It feels like Peter’s entire body is drenched in sweat. His muscles ache, his breath coming out in rough pants. He can’t find the energy to move from this position, laying passively where he’d been thrown.
Peter glares up at the roof. It’s unfair; Natasha and Steve are breathing a little roughly, sure, but they aren’t even sweating. Natasha’s hair is unruffled. Their clothes look freshly ironed.
“This is bullying,” Peter tells the gym roof. He lays there, sprawled like a starfish, for a long moment. His back throbs where he’d been thrown and landed roughly. His face hurts.
“It’s not bullying,” Steve admonishes lightly. “It’s training. Vital training.”
Natasha brushes a non-existent strand of hair out of her face, and adds, “You have to stop relying on your powers to protect yourself, Peter. What happens if you’re cornered? Or something messes with your powers?”
Peter levers himself up onto his elbows, staring at her open-mouthed. “My powers can be messed with? Is that seriously a thing?”
“Maybe,” Steve says. “So far all you’ve come up against are run-of-the-mill street criminals, and inexperienced villains in fancy costumes. One of these days, you could come up against someone who’s experience trumps your spider-sense and web shooters.”
Peter groans at the ceiling, and resists the urge to throw his fists and feet down on the matt like a toddler throwing a tantrum. Unfortunately, he knows they’re right. He’s been improving in leaps and bounds since he was brought on by the Avengers and had a network of a experienced superheroes to better help guide him, but still. He’s not improving enough, not nearly fast enough.
It gets old being the youngest, untrained member on the team.
“That doesn’t make getting beaten up on the daily by my teammates any less suck-y,” Peter tells them. He is not pouting. He’s an adult and a fully-fledged member of the Avengers and he is not pouting.
Steve extends a hand and helps Peter to his feet. The blond claps him around the shoulder, smiling comfortingly. “If it makes you feel any better, Sam’s making breakfast.”
That… that actually does make Peter feel a lot better. Peter finds himself missing his Aunt everyday, but god, he does not miss her rubbery pancakes. Sam is a blessing.
“Can you bully Tony into making us coffee?” Peter asks, words slipping into a whine. It’s so early, the sun only just beginning to rise outside the Tower’s sleek windows, and he still has to trek to his university campus for class later today. Peter and early mornings are not friends.
Steve laughs a little, the sound light and fond. “We’ll see.”
Tony is almost as good at brewing coffee as Sam is at making large, home-cooked meals. Living a life of wealth has taught Tony to accept only the best of things—buying coffee beans from obscure little farms in Europe, and learning professional recipes, being taught how to create perfect cups of coffee.
Peter is far, far cheaper. His cups of coffee are either near tasteless or ridiculously bitter, a result of living on the cheapest brands or scrapping by on the barest amounts.
Steve falls back into an easy fighting stance, hands curled loosely in front of him. Natasha falls into step alongside him.
“Coffee and food after,” Steve says. “Three more rounds, then we’re done.”
Peter groans, but obeys, falling into step.
“It’s so, so early, please be nice,” Peter tries, “and go easy on me?”
Natasha smirks, just as Steve lunges forward and Peter rolls into a defensive crouch.
“Not a chance,” she says.
“Everything is awful,” Peter announces into the soft silence of the communal kitchen.
Sam is sizzling bacon on the stove. Sitting several cupboards over, perched on an empty countertop, is Clint. He’s playing with an orange, throwing it up before catching it.
The archer takes in Peter’s put-upon expression, the way he’s rolling his shoulders, rubbing at his sore muscles, and snorts. “They didn’t go easy on you, huh?”
Peter throws himself down at the breakfast bar. “No,” he answers. That whiny quality is beginning to creep into his voice again. It makes him sound petulant, somewhat childish, but it always earns Peter smiles from the other Avengers. Peter can see Sam biting back a smile.
“Well, I’m training you tomorrow,” Clint says. The orange continues it’s loose arch, up, down, caught and thrown again in expert hands. “I’m going to show you some real moves. Street moves. Be prepared to get your ass kicked.”
“One of these days,” Peter begins. “One of these days, I’m going to beat all of you. The whole team! At once! Spider-Man VS the Avengers; it’d be the beat-down of the century.”
Clint snorts, and Sam laughs from his place at the stove. “Oh, yeah?” Sam asks.
“Yeah,” Peter says. He crosses his arms over his chest. “Just you wait. You and me. Epic beat-down.”
Clint throws the orange at him. Peter catches it without blinking.
“Just you wait until tomorrow,” Clint says, a thread of challenge in his words but an easy grin spread across his lips.
Peter throws the orange back at Clint. “We’ll see,” he says, grinning, before ducking out of the kitchens for a shower.
When Peter returns, almost an entire hour later, he’s dressed haphazardly, skidding into the kitchen on socked feet. His hair is dripping wet, and his sneakers are held in one hand, satchel full of textbooks in the other.
From his place at the breakfast bar, Thor beams at him. “Good morning, Peter!”
Peter hops from foot to foot, tugging on his sneakers without untying the knotted laces first. “Not a good morning! A late morning!”
“Late?” Steve asks.
Peter looks sheepishly at his leader. “I may have fallen back asleep in the shower. And I forgot I had a morning class today. Thought it wasn’t until this afternoon…”
Clint huffs a laugh from his place at the breakfast bar. There’s empty plates and cutlery spread out before him, a telltale pile of orange peels by his elbow. “You missed Sam’s breakfast."
There’s no sympathy in his voice. Peter wishes he had another orange in hand to throw at the archer.
Steve slides a steaming travel mug over. Peter looks up at his team leader with wide, adoring eyes. “This is why you’re my favourite.”
Thor looks affronted. “I thought I was your favourite!”
Sam, stacking things away by the pantry, raises his eyebrows at him. “Pete, last week you told me I was your favourite.”
“Hey!” Tony protests. The billionaire emerges from deeper into the kitchen, moving away from his prized coffee maker to scowl at his gathered teammates. “I made that coffee, Rogers. How dare you take my credit.”
Peter is too busy correctly re-buttoning his collared shirt to acknowledge that with anything more than a, “Snooze you lose, Tony.”
“Jarvis,” Tony says loudly, “my team is ungrateful and doesn’t appreciate me for the talented human being that I am!”
The answer is dry and amused, “Indeed, sir.”
“Late,” Peter insists. “No time for sass, guys.”
Just before he leaves, Sam pulls out a bacon sandwich wrapped neatly in grease paper, and hands it to Peter. “I had a feeling,” Sam says simply.
“I take it back,” Peter says, a little awed. “Sam’s my favourite again. Sorry, Steve.”
“Oh, no,” Steve says dryly, “how ever will I go on?”
“Go, Peter! You’re late, remember?” Sam tries to usher him off. “Have fun in class!”
Peter offers him a wobbly salute. “Will do, mom.”
Peter slings the strap of his bag over his shoulder and makes for the door. As he passes, he’s offered quick goodbyes and passing touches from the other Avengers —shoulders bumping into his, hands teasingly ruffling at his hair, pats on the back.
He doesn’t duck away from them like he might have once. After he’s slowly grown to know the team—after he allowed himself to adjust to the constant presence of seven other people, allowed friendship to bloom between them—it doesn’t feel so weird. Peter doesn’t feel so lonely anymore.
The elevator door closes on the sight of the Avengers fondly teasing Sam, laughing together over the breakfast bar.
His Professor barely even looks up when Peter dashes into the room, windswept and wide eyed. He’s used to Peter’s tardiness.
Class passes by easily. After, Peter stops by the library to return books, to check out new ones. He picks up lunch on his walk home, and manages to prevent a purse snatching without even putting on the suit.
Half a dozen blocks from Avengers Tower, Peter passes by an electronics store. Wide flat-screens are on display in the gleaming storefront. All of them are switched to a news segment, and show a continuous stream of footage from the base of Peter’s newfound home.
Peter freezes on the sidewalk. People swear at his sudden stop and roughly move around him, shoulders bumping aggressively, but Peter doesn’t care. Doesn’t move. Doesn’t breath.
On screen, the Tower stands as high and proud as ever, but the upper floors have been damaged. Plumes of thick smoke billow off of the Avengers’ quarters, and several windows have been smashed wide open.
The script along the bottom of the screen reads, Avengers Tower attacked. Status of Avengers unknown.
Peter fumbles for his pocket, pulling out his phone, but finds it blank. No alerts, no missed calls or messages. Nothing.
There’s a sudden lump in Peter’s throat that makes it hard to breathe. His teammates had been attacked, likely only hours after breakfast, and he hadn’t known. He hadn’t been there for them.
And for them to not message him, not even Jarvis sending him an update…
Peter changes into his suit and swings the rest of the way there.
When Peter arrives at the Tower, his worries are not reassured at all.
There are police scattered along the base of the Tower, and barriers have been erected to keep the panicking masses at bay. There are dozens of people, hundreds even, far more than Peter might have expected. He knows the Avengers are loved by the general public, but to see the sheer size of the crowd amassing along the street, driven by concern and curiosity after hearing their heroes were attacked, is still surprising.
There are reporters, too. News vans, gaggles of journalists talking into cameras, photographers snapping shots of the ensuing chaos.
Peter doesn’t bother swinging down there. He’d be bombard by the crowds, and he can’t be distracted. Not when his team is in danger. He ignores the shouts that erupt from the people below when they see him swing by, his bright, iconic suit obvious under the midday sun, and quickly scales the Tower.
The rising smoke and long, dangerous cracks in the Tower’s windows seem far more menacing up close.
Peter climbs into the communal kitchen. Hours ago, his teammates had sat around the same breakfast bar, teasing one another and laughing at Peter’s poor time-keeping skills. It’s state now is jarringly when compared to the soft, easy atmosphere of the kitchen earlier.
Shards of glass litter the carpet, and the flat screen hung in the connecting living room is cracked and lopsided. The stools have been knocked over, plates smashed, repulser marks scorching one of the walls.
Peter wet his lips, and tries, “Jarvis?”
The ensuing silence is unnerving. Jarvis always responds immediately.
Peter tries again, “Jarvis? Can you hear me, man?”
Something shifts beyond the couch. Peter’s spider-sense hums a low warning in his head, but it’s Steve that comes into view. The man stumbles to his feet, confused and disjointed. An open gash reddens his temple.
“Steve,” Peter says, sighing with relief. “You’re okay.”
Steve doesn’t answer him. Barely even looks at him. Peter’s ringing spider-sense doesn’t ebb as his leader steps closer.
“You know,” Peter begins, tone light, “if you guys didn’t want me to go to class that badly, you could’ve just said, no need to panic and trash the place—”
When Steve finally looks up, Peter can see that there’s something… off about the man.. His stance is stiff, almost robotic. There’s something in his face, something in his eyes—dark and glazed beneath the bloody gash and blooming bruises—that makes Peter’s stomach turn. Makes his spider-sense scream behind his eyes.
Peter moves without thinking.
Steve throws himself over the back of the couch at the same time Peter throws himself onto the ceiling. Steve dashes forward again, leaping up off of the tiled floors, swiping long arms to try and get at Peter.
“Ohmygod!” Peter cries. “Oh, my god!”
Peter drops back down to the floor. He has to duck as Steve throws a punch aimed for Peter’s beck. His spider-sense is flipping out, and Peter can barely think around the panic and confusion.
“Steve!” Peter tries, as though Steve was lost underneath fog or heavy rain and Peter’s shouting to be heard above it. “It’s me! It’s Spider-Man—it’s Peter!”
It’s like the man is in a trance. Steve doesn’t falter, and doesn’t even flinch when Peter is too slow to duck his swinging fist and is flown across the room. Doesn’t even blink when Peter cries out in pain.
“Please let this be a crazy training exercises.” Peter manages to flip himself up and jump away as Steve lunges for him again. “Like—like the opposite of a surprise birthday party. Surprise, we’re going to try and kill you! For training!”
Peter's spider-sense and fast reflexes are doing him a lot of good against the assault, but Steve is more experienced. Laughably more experienced.
“Sorry for not taking you seriously this morning! I get it, I should have listened when you said I was going to come across more more experienced people. But you’re starting to freak me out…” Steve has never come at him with such unadulterated intensity before. He’s always tried to pull his punches.
Steve moves like a man possessed. His eyes aren’t focussing on anything, flat and distant, features scrunched up like a feral animal’s.
Peter realises quite suddenly that this isn’t Steve. It’s—it’s something, maybe some distant part of him, but not the leader Peter has come to known. Those eyes—those aren’t Steve’s.
Not a training exercise, then.
“You’ve been whammied,” Peter declares. He’s not sure if this makes him feel better or worse, knowing his teammate is being compelled against his will. “So, so whammied. Was it gas, or magic, or mind control—”
Steve snags Peter’s leg, his hold like a vice, and hurls Peter fully across the room for a second time. Peter collides against the far wall, and feels something in his torso crack.
Ribs. Steve—his teammate—his friend just cracked his ribs.
This isn’t so funny, anymore.
Steve advances again. He’s a pillar of muscle, broad shoulders and strong legs, large hands that could cause serious damage. Peter skitters away until his back hits the wall.
Don’t panic, he tells himself. Don’t panic.
So his powerful, superhuman teammate has abruptly turned against him, but he shouldn’t panic. Sure, Captain America has years upon years more experience than him, and Peter has yet to take him down when they spar, and this is Steve, his friend, who he can’t bring himself to hurt even though the man seems determined to rip him apart with his bare hands—
But that doesn’t mean he can panic. Get it together, Parker.
“As fun as this has been,” Peter says lightly, flipping himself back onto the ceiling and scuttling toward the window, ignoring the flaring, burning pain in his ribs as they’re jostled, “I have to skedaddle. Things to do, people to see. Maybe we could reschedule? Maybe you can try and kill me another time? We could do brunch!”
Peter has one arm out of the window, when Steve snarls like a wild animal and lunges after him, all dead eyes and bared teeth.
Peter doesn’t hesitate as he jumps and climbs up the side of the building, away from his enraged teammate.
Below him, Steve growls furiously. If Peter wasn’t still in shock, he would’ve been able to appreciate how strange that was.
The gym is in a similar state to the kitchen.
This room also has glass littering the floor, and broken, tipped over furniture. Unlike the kitchen, though, weapons are scattered about the room. Each one is mangled beyond use, laying in warped piles.
The Tower has never made Peter afraid before—not even his first few visits, when everything was big and shiny and so new—but now, with broken guns lying abandoned on the gym floor before him, Peter can’t help but feel deeply unnerved. He has a major case of the heebie-jeebies.
Peter heads deeper into the room. “Hello?! Anyone home? Hellllllllo?”
His spider-sense pings. Peter stills, one hand braced on the wall, ready to make a vertical retreat. Had Steve followed him up here? Even a super soldier would have taken longer to—
Natasha steps into view.
She’s in a similar state to Steve, disheveled and bloody with flat, glazed eyes. Her hair falls in a messy tangle, a long cut dripping along her cheek. Worryingly, his spider-sense doesn’t ease with the appearance of another teammate.
“Natasha,” Peter says cautiously, “what happened here? Steve attacked me, and if there was ever a sign that something was wrong, it’s having the embodiment of Truth, Justice, and the American Way throw you across the room—”
Natasha comes closer, her stride controlled. Nothing necessarily out of the ordinary, but there’s something in her face, in her eyes—
Natasha jumps across the space and slams into Peter, hard.
This morning, when Natasha had thrown Peter to the gym matt, she’d strategically done it. The wind knocked out of him, and his muscles ached as they had fought against her, but it hadn’t hurt. She hadn’t pressed her entire weight against him, sharp elbow pressed into the tender skin of his cracked ribs, like she does now.
Peter struggles against her, trying to twist and flip out of her grasp, but she counters each move.
She immobilises easily. One of her hands wrap around Peter’s throat, grip tight, too tight, squeezing and choking until Peter’s urgently spluttering for air.
“Na—” he tries, “na—ta—”
She grabs something from the floor beside them. Soon, Peter is frozen against the gym floor, one of Natasha’s hand holding him down by the throat, the other holding a gun to his temple.
The gun is cold against his sweating skin. Natasha looms above him, her red curls swaying around her face.
“Natasha,” Peter pleads, breathlessly. “‘Tasha, please—”
The gun makes a hollow, broken click in her hand.
Natasha had fired. If the gun had have been functional, Peter would be dead.
Peter’s stomach lurches. He wants to throw up.
Natasha snarls and throws the weapon away, furious that it hadn’t worked. It’s all the time Peter needs—he repositions his legs, and flips their position, scrambling out of her hold. (Natasha had taught him that move herself, only days ago. She’d said it might save his life one day.)
Peter races for the gym door. “We should do this again sometime,” he calls over his shoulder. “It’s been so much fun. You can join Steve and I for brunch!”
She shrieks, animalistic, at his retreating form and chases after him.
“Yeah,” Peter mutters under his breath as he darts into a corridor, sprinting away from the murderous former-assassin, “that’s what Steve said, too.”
There’s a low rumble on the other end of the hallway, a gravely sort of growl. Peter looks up, and almost trips over his feet.
Clint, stood on the opposite side of the corridor, has his bow poised in his hands, arrow nocked, the tip aiming for Peter’s chest.
Clint releases the arrow, and Peter’s breath catches his throat. He’s never seen Clint miss a shot before—
The bowstring recoils in on itself, snapping. The arrow falls uselessly to the ground.
Peter stares at the broken bow with wide eyes. It must have been sabotaged, destroyed beforehand. Someone had not only gotten to Clint’s favourite weapon, but had managed to break it so efficiently that it would break when used…
Peter is able to avoid death via arrow, and he’s grateful for that, but the sight of that beloved weapon sitting useless in the archer’s hands is… wrong, somehow. Disconcerting.
“Someone is going to pay for that,” Peter says idly—he doubts Clint and Natasha can understand him in their state, but still, babbling helps ground him—as he gestures at the bow, “and I really hope you don’t try and blame me, man. I’m kind of having a rough enough day as is.”
Natasha throws herself at Peter’s turned back. He dodges, skidding away from her reaching hands. She recovers quickly and scrambles after him with raised fists.
Peter is so busy trying to avoid her vicious swipes, that he doesn’t notice Clint stalk forward and slide an arrow out of his quiver until the archer has plunged it fully into Peter’s thigh.
The arrow lodges itself deep in his leg, and Peter can’t bite back a shout of pain. He rolls, back to the wall, and doesn’t waste any time; he tugs the arrow out of his thigh with a horrific wet sound and a scream muffled into his palm. He throws the bloodied arrow away and pants roughly— his is chest tight, his stomach rolling with pain and panicfearhorror—before climbing up the wall, away from the two super spies, and across the ceiling.
He doesn’t offer a parting quip this time. He’s too busy gritting his teeth and trying to work through the pain.
Peter escapes into an air vent. The winding, metal tunnels are easy to follow deeper into the building. He crawls through the dark space until the sounds of his teammates snarling and scrambling to follow have faded into silence.
He clasps a hand against the bloody wound in his thigh, and inhales deeply. His exhale is caught on a high, desperate laugh. It sounds more like a sob in the small, quiet space.
Okay, okay. This is no big deal. His teammates have just gone rouge and are trying to kill him. Teammates that he trusts and cares for. Who all have more experience and skill than him. No big deal. No big deal.
His head falls against the vent wall with a dull thunk. This doesn’t feel real. Several hours ago, Peter had stood amongst the other Avengers, crowded along the breakfast bar, enjoying amiable teasing and their comfortable morning routine.
Now, Peter’s friends are trying to kill him.
Peter slides out of the air vent, and peeks around the room cautiously.
He finds his way to Bruce’s floor. The scientist had left to meet up with contacts outside of the US, and wouldn’t be back for another week. Hopefully, that meant his rooms were empty.
Peter edges across the space. His spider-sense is silent.
Someone growls to his left. Peter freezes, half expecting to see someone charging out from the bathroom. There’s nothing, just the sound of struggling, metal scrapping against skin, and heavy, frustrated breathing.
Peter tip-toes further into the room. The growling grows louder.
“Ohmygod.” Peter ducks behind the couch on instinct when his teammate comes into view. There is no shame in that, he reasons—Thor looks terrifying in his state.
Thor is strapped against a thick, reinforced wall. Vibranium chains encircle his struggling form, wrapping around each bulging shoulder and intertwining over his heaving chest.
“Thor?” Peter manages around his surprise. He almost makes a bondage joke, before deciding he’s above that. “Y’know, you could’ve just texted me and said you’d gotten tied up.”
The quality of his jokes are rapidly declining. It’s tragic, sure, but Peter is doing his best with cracked ribs, an arrow wound in his thigh, and a building full of murderous teammates. Cut him some slack.
“Why are you all tied up, though?” Peter wonders. Thor doesn’t answer, throwing himself against his bounds and snarling. It’s kind of terrifying; Peter knows that if the demigod got loose, he’d be dead before he could run. “Who tied you up…?”
Peter remembers the weapons he’d seen destroyed throughout the gym. He remembers the way Natasha had raised one without hesitation, aimed it over Peter’s heart, the useless click as the trigger was pulled and the broken equipment failed to kill him.
The guns. The bows. Steve’s lack of shield…
There had been an attack on the Tower, and the Avengers had been effected by something—be it magic or a gas compound, Peter isn’t sure—but they must have had enough time before they went feral. They must’ve realise what they’d been infected with, and the damage they would wrought, and so did their best to lock away dangerous weaponry and tech.
Which, apparently, includes chaining up their impossibly strong alien teammate.
Peter hates himself for the cold shock of relief that floods his system. Thor looks hurt. And he must have truly been afraid for those around him if he had agreed to be chained up like this.
Still, Peter realises how terrifying the thought of coming up against a feral Thor is. But Thor is relatively safe. Thor can’t hurt him.
Peter laughs, and this time it’s less hysterical, more genuine. He plants himself down across from Thor, sitting cross-legged with his hands perched in his lap. The two of them have sat like this many times before—when Peter was teaching Thor to play Uno, the night Thor had found Peter on the rooftop, curled up and shaken after a vicious nightmare…
That time, Peter confessed to watching his Uncle die and knowing it was his fault. Thor had admitted to his past mistakes, the arrogance that dictated his youth, and his lingering guilt over Loki.
Now, Peter’s thigh wound drags blood on Bruce’s cream carpets when he fidgets. Now, Peter is hiding from their teammates, and Thor is chained so that he doesn’t viciously murder him.
“I have a bone to pick with you guys,” Peter starts, adopting a light tone. “Seriously, I was gone for three hours and you guys managed to wreck the Tower and get yourself turned into mindless, violent slaves. In three hours. I can’t leave you guys alone for THREE HOURS?”
Thor growls and bucks against his restraints. The Vibranium holds against him.
Peter levels his teammate with a decidedly unimpressed look. “I don’t think you’re being very sympathetic, man. This is when you’re supposed to look all regretful and apologise and, like, bake me a cake for putting me through this.” Peter points at the arrow wound in his leg. “Do you know how inconvenient this is? I was going to go patrolling this afternoon! And now I’m babysitting violent Avengers?”
Peter smiles underneath the mask. It’s off-putting, seeing Thor in such a state, but the other man is still reassuring. Familiar, even violently possessed like this. Peter tries not to think about how weird that is.
“You guys are going to owe me so much cake when this is over—”
The sudden jolt of his spider-sense and the whine of repulsers is the only thing that saves Peter from a blast to the shoulder. Instinctively, he jumps to the side, rolling into a crouch. The repulser scorches the carpet where he’d just sat.
Tony stands behind him, sans armour, a half-completed gauntlet fitted on one hand.
If Tony was locked out of his armour, if Jarvis was locked away, then that meant Tony’s workshop might be locked away too. If Peter could get in, he might be safe.
“Sorry for not being more grateful about the coffee this morning,” Peter says as he creeps up the wall, edging around the room. “I really did appreciate it. Ten out of ten. Would drink again.”
Peter jumps into the air vent just in time to avoid a second spray of repulser fire.
The workshop vents aren’t ever closed off, even in cases of emergency. Air flow seemed more important than security, especially in such a dangerous environment.
Peter is desperately glad for this as he slides into the workshop. The place is bare—bots and weaponry stored away, the more dangerous tools locked away in their proper containers.
Several Iron Man suits sprawled along the floor, as though all their strings had been abruptly cut. They look dead.
“Jarvis?” Peter calls out, nervous.
He receives an answer—as full of static and jumbled as it is, as Jarvis is being blocked—and almost slumps in relief.
“Mr. Parker… there… breach in… override… y—u ne— to—”
“Jarvis? I can’t—I can’t understand you—”
“Communicator,” is all Jarvis says, before abruptly falling silent.
The comm is one of only things left open on the table, among dirty plates and mugs, old screws and turned off tablets. Peter retrieves it quickly, picking it up and fiddling with it.
“Hello?” The thing hums beneath him, stuttering to life under his fingers. “This is Spider-Man, is anyone—”
The voice shouting on the other end is clear, familiar, like beacon of light through the fog, “Peter!”
“Bruce!” Peter’s grasps the communicator tightly, and the flimsy metal creaks under his fingers. He adjusts his hold on it, cradling it carefully, pressing it gently against the skin between his ear and cheek. “Bruce,” he says, the word softer, thicker.
“It’s me, Peter,” Bruce says. His voice is garbled through static but kind and familiar, and Peter sags with relief. “I’ve been trying to contact the Tower for ages. Are you okay?”
Peter inhales shakily. “Okay enough, I guess. Bruce, the other Avengers, they—”
“I know. I helped Tony shut down all the technology in the Tower from my location when they realised they were going to lose themselves.”
Peter swallows, his throat suddenly dry. (Tony had contacted Bruce immediately, but no one had contacted Peter? Had they… had they thought he couldn’t help them?)
Peter finds himself sliding to the ground, legs curled up on the workshop’s cold floor. He has only been at the Tower for a few hours, and yet he feels so tired, burnt out. He’s still strong and capable, the remnants of adrenaline chasing it’s way through his system, but he doesn’t want to hold his own weight anymore. He wants to just be here, with Bruce, forget about his friends turning feral and violent.
“The rest of them did their best to immobilise themselves, too,” Peter says, “but they’re still—they’re still running around and dangerous, and let me tell you, I have no idea why super-villains would still try and take over the world when they have to face that, the Avengers, coming after them, because holy crap—”
Bruce’s voice cuts through Peter’s panic, clear and concerned, “Peter, did they hurt you?”
Peter is so desperately grateful that Bruce is here. It’s reassuring, after coming up against the other Avengers. He hadn’t realised how badly that had shaken him up until he’s sitting huddled on the workshop floor, quiet and safe, Bruce’s steady voice in his ear.
“I’m fine, Bruce,” Peter says. “I was lucky, considering.” Considering how powerful the Avengers are. Considering how inexperienced and—and weak he is in comparison. Considering that it could be six against one, if the other Avengers learned how to work together in their state. “Nothing that won’t heal up with a little TLC.”
“Peter…” Bruce sounds so, so concerned. It makes something in Peter’s chest ache. “I’m sorry you had to go through that. I can’t get to the Tower just yet, so you’e—”
Peter is momentarily assaulted with images of Bruce, usually full of quiet, worried smiles and familiar salt and pepper hair and ruffled plaid shirts, turning feral.
To think of the Hulk—someone Peter has never been afraid of, someone who has often planted himself bodily in front of Peter, a giant, shielding pillar of muscle—turning on him… Huge green fists and roaring rage, nothing Peter could hope to fight.
After the last few hours, Peter doesn’t think he could survive that. Physically, or mentally.
“Don’t come,” Peter says quickly. “Please, whatever happens—don’t come.”
Bruce’s voice on the other end grows soft, worried. “Peter…”
“Please, Dr. B,” Peter says, equally as quiet, “we can’t take the chance that there’s any lingering gas might effect you. We can’t risk you hulking out and going feral.”
Bruce breathing is hitched on the other end of the line, barely audible above the rush of static. Peter suspects he’s imagining the same thing as Peter.
“I’m fine on my own, Bruce,” Peter reassures, “and I’m going to continue being fine, okay? You try and find cure. I’ll handle things on this end.”
“I know, but Peter, if the Avengers get out of the Tower in their state, they could do some serious damage—”
Peter’s breath catches in his throat. He hadn’t… he hadn’t considered that the Avengers might find a way out of the Tower.
He thinks about the growing mass of people gathered at the base of the Tower. The crowds of police officers and journalists just doing their jobs, the civilians driven by fear for their heroes, all of them innocent. Defenceless.
And if the Avengers so much as touched an innocent person, let alone injured them or, god, killed them, they would never forgive themselves. Peter has to protect them from that.
“I won’t let anyone get hurt,” Peter says. He feels a little desperate, fully beginning to realise the task set before him; he has to protect the surrounding crowds of people, the entire city, but he also has to protect his teammates. He has to contain the Avengers in their feral state.
Peter’s not enough. He’s just one subpar superhero, he needs more than his fists and this wavering courage. He needs—something else.
“We can’t let anyone get hurt,” Peter goes on. “You’re right, if the others get out, in the state they’re in, they’ll hurt someone…” His teammates would fall apart under the self-loathing and guilt, the public would loose all respect for Avengers, the government might try and round them up, confiscate their weapons, lock them away.
Peter takes in a deep breath. Lets it out. He frantically tries to recall all of the failsafes Tony had told them about. He’d rolled his eyes at the time, but now Peter’s thankful the billionaire’s a little paranoid.
Peter continues, voice firm, “Do you remember the defensive measures Tony put up? We’re going to have to work together to put the steel walls. You do what you can on your end, and I’ll activate it from within Tony’s workshop. And we have to keep the steel down, Bruce. No matter what. Until the others are cured.”
From Bruce’s shaky inhale, Peter knows the other man remembers those steel walls. The ones Tony had built to keep anything out of the Tower. It seems strange, now, that these steel walls are going to be used to keep something in.
“And, what? Trap them in there? With you?”
Peter sighs a little in relief. Yes. Bruce understands. “Exactly.”
“That… God, that may actually work.” Bruce doesn’t sound happy about that. “But Peter, what about you?”
Peter laughs a little, confused. “What? What about me?”
“You’re going to be trapped in there, with six Avengers that have gone feral. They’re going to be hunting for you. They’re—they’re going to be trying to kill you.”
Peter gathers himself to his feet. He feels a little numb—his stomach has settled, and the pain in his ribs, in the arrow wound, is no longer so sharp. His heartbeat is still thundering, hammering an unbidden tempo in his chest, and his palms are slick with sweat. He—he feels a little shaky. Like he’s not really here.
He stumbles over to the control panel. Jarvis still has control over the network, able to handle things internally but locked away from his external access. With Bruce’s help, Peter is able to log back into the system, work together with the AI and the other teammate, until the steel walls have been triggered.
Bruce’s voice, in his ear, sounds like final, like a sentence handed down; “It’s done.”
Peter steps back. “We did it.”
“The steel will lock itself down in a few minutes,” Bruce begins. “Peter—there’s still time, if you run you could get out of the Tower—”
His spider-sense shouts a warning. Peter’s listening to it—ducking to the left and scaling up a nearby all—before he registers the thought. The comm is dropped as he moves, lightning fast.
From his position against the wall, Peter can see Natasha, hovering where Peter had stood moments before. Her hands are poised to break his neck.
“What is with super-spies?” Peter swallows thickly, firmly pretending he’s not as shaken as he is. “We should get you guys bells.”
Clint climbs roughly out of the air vent, less stealthy than Natasha had been. His arrows are still strapped to his back, and he’s holding two kitchen knives, the long, broad kind used for chopping vegetables.
Clint hands Natasha her own knife, and she twirls it in deft fingers. Not only are they working together, but they look like one of those murder happy couples from bad horror movies. The kind Peter used to go behind his Aunt and Uncle’s backs to watch when he was younger, the kind that would give him nightmares.
“I swear if someone uses the overdone ‘here’s Johnny!’ reference, I’m going to use that knife on myself.”
Instead of laughing, Natasha throws her knife at Peter. He flinches to the side, but he’s too slow; the blade manages to slice him across the arm, leaving behind a long, bleeding wound.
“Whoa, rough crowd!” Peter claps a hand against the wound. He inches towards the air vents, blood gushing against his fingers. He laughs, shaky and high, but it does little to make him feel better. “You guys really don’t like my jokes, huh?”
Clint plucks at his knife. Natasha shifts by his side, fingers twitching, visibly itching to wrap around Peter and squeeze.
Peter, for once, can tell when it’s time for him to leave.
“Gotta-go-bye!” Peter shouts. He moves for the air vent as Clint throws his knife. The blade buries into wall where Peter’s head had been moments before.
Peter makes it into one of the living rooms. The room’s empty, albeit broken and destroyed.
He rolls onto the floor, grimacing as the new cut in his shoulder is stretched. It’s flowing freely, blood already dripping down from it, running down past his elbow, down his wrist, dripping over his palm. Gross. The arrow wound is only bleeding sluggishly, and his ribs are a dull ache, a reminder every time he breathes too deeply.
Peter’s whole body feels like one big bruise, even though he’s only been fighting a few hours. Normally, he could fight through street patrols and alien invasions and the Sinister Six’s abrupt schemes.
There’s something about this situation that seems infinitely more exhausting than usual. Peter wants to collapse on the sofa and sleep for hours. Sleep for the rest of the day. Sleep forever.
Peter is able to glimpse the world outside of the Tower—the day is bright, the sky blue, an news helicopters flit about in the sky, like birds dancing in the sun—for only a few moments.
The steel lowers itself too fast, like a door slamming shut. There’s not enough time for Peter to run across the broad expanse of the living room and jump out of the window. Not with his injuries.
Peter gets this, this one quick look goodbye at the outside sunlight before the steel lowers completely, blocking out all light and sound outside of the building.
The living room is bathed in the artificial glow of the overhead lights, but Peter feels as though everything has suddenly gone dark.
Peter is beginning to realise the true severity of his situation.
Your comments have all been amazing! It might be sappy to say that your kind words helped me make my day easier, but it’s true. Thank you, for that.
I would also like to reassure everyone that this is NOT a death fic. The fact that I’m reassuring you of this probably doesn’t bode well for Peter’s state in this chapter though, right? ;) Sorrynotsorry.
Warnings for violence, more injuries, and a little bit of gore.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Peter doesn’t know how long he’s been in the Tower—a few hours, maybe—but he’s growing hungrier as he grows more exhausted.
Apparently, fighting your rabid teammates hell-bent on your destruction makes you hungry. Who knew.
Peter knows there’s a tupperware container full of muffins above the microwave. He’d watched Sam make them only yesterday, hovering over the older man’s shoulder impatiently before he was finally allowed to lick the bowl after it’d been used.
He knows there’s leftover pizza (supreme and cheese; Peter had helped everyone polish off the other dozen boxes last night). There’s an army of water bottles in the fridge, protein bars, a bowl full of fruit sitting on the breakfast bar.
Peter ends up following his growling stomach into the kitchen.
When he drops from the ceiling, he half expects to see his friends sat around the kitchen. Maybe see Sam controlling the cooking; Bruce and Natasha chopping vegetables and meats, fending off Clint, trying to steal pieces from the cutting board; Thor trying to pour everyone drinks; Steve trying to monitor Thor’s over-enthusiastic bar-tending to make sure no one dies of alcohol poisoning.
But there’s no Thor trying to slide Peter a cocktail. No Steve swooping in to put an end to any underage drinking before it can start. No Sam laughing by the oven, no Tony trying to interfere with Bruce’s tentative cooking; no Clint throwing bits of vegetables at people.
At the same time, Peter expects to see Steve charging him from the doorway, or Natasha collecting another kitchen knife, or Tony levelling his repulsers at him.
But the kitchen is empty. There’s no one here, and it’s full of broken plates, glass shards, tipped over furniture but it still looks like their kitchen. It still conjures up memories of late Sunday breakfasts and scuffles over who ate the last of the cereal. It’s still Peter’s favourite part of the Tower.
Peter shakes himself, and fetches an organic tote bag from underneath the sink—the front displaying a farmer’s market logo, and god, which one of his teammates had brought this home and avoided being teased—and sets about filling it up. Bottles of water, the entire container of muffins, a bag of apples, and cheesy buns.
Peter munches on a blueberry muffins, practically inhaling the thing. Having a super-metabolism is so inconvenient. Whenever he expends energy—like, say, when he’s busy running for his life from his violent teammates—he’s struck with this burning, aching hunger, and the need to eat half the kitchen.
Peter stops chewing. Spider-sense ringing in his ear, the muffled sound of booted feet and heavy breathing—
Peter throws himself flat against the ceiling.
Sam stands below him, thankfully without his flying gear, staring up Peter with this—this look of pure hatred, of unadulterated disgust, that makes Peter’s stomach swoop. It’s the gas, he knows—the thing that’s driving them. The person beneath him isn’t really Sam. Sam doesn’t actually hate him.
That’d be ridiculous, of course.
Still, the look burns deep inside of Peter. He wonders if he’ll ever be able to forget it.
“Hi, Sam,” Peter says, falsely chipper. “It’s—it’s good to see you! I was beginning to hope that maybe you had gotten away safely, but nope, no, you’re trapped in this fun house too, how wonderful is that—”
Sam stalks further into the kitchen. Peter scuttles along the ceiling, away from him.
“Now, let’s not do anything rash…”
But Sam is already sliding open a kitchen draw. The metal equipment glints under his dark hand, full whisks and spatulas and sharp bladed knives. Peter can spot a cheese grater, too, right alongside a handheld blender and potato peelers.
Peter wonders, abruptly, if the Avengers are aware and intelligent enough to torture him. He knows they want to kill him, or beat him, or whatever, but… torture? Would any of them stoop so low?
That morning, Peter hadn’t realised this was how his day was going to go. He hadn’t had any idea that he’d have to genuinely weigh up the possibility of his friends trying to peel his skin off.
Living with the Avengers definitely keeps you on your toes, he supposes. Keeps you fresh.
Sam reaches for a steak knife and Peter grabs a hard piece of fruit from his tote and ditches it at the man’s hand.
The apple collides with the back of Sam’s hand. The knife is dropped, and the older Avenger howls and jumps away, clutching at his wrist.
“Sorry,” Peter says, before throwing another apple at him. This one hits Sam’s torso with a loud thud. The second and third apples are aimed at his legs.
He has to remember to thank Clint when they get out of this; fruit throwing ends up being pretty useful. Sam will have a few painful bruises after this, for which Peter can’t help but feel guilty for. It’s better than letting the man get to the kitchen equipment, though. Much, much better.
Peter drops from the ceiling, and lowers himself into a crouch. Sam starts forward but Peter webs his feet to the floor.
This is so easy. Peter had been far too panicked before, thrown off kilter when suddenly attacked by his teammates. He hadn’t thought to immobilise them with his webs. Stupid, Parker, so stupid.
Peter makes quick work of webbing up Sam, careful to ensure that the bonds aren’t too tight, so Sam can breathe easily and won’t be left with anymore bruises.
Peter crouches down beside Sam, hands braced on his knees. “You guys should have called me,” Peter tells him. Serious. A little bitter. “I know you don’t—you mustn’t think I’m capable or strong enough, or whatever, but if you’d called me, I could’ve helped tie you all up safely.”
Sam snarls up at him, trying to twist under the webbing. Peter frowns at him. He has a thought that makes his stomach twist almost as much as the sight of Sam’s snarling face does:
“Do you… do you guys not trust me—”
Peter’s cut off as his spider-sense begins to ring, loud and urgent. Before he can leap away, a thick body collides with his, and Peter’s thrown across the room.
From his position on the floor, Peter can see Steve, growling, crouched protectively in front of Sam.
“Oh, hi, Steve. You know, when I said we should reschedule, I didn’t mean today—”
Steve lunges for him, and Peter flips himself upward. His ribs protest painfully, and it slows him down, long enough for Steve to grab onto his ankle and tug him down.
Peter makes to web him up, but Steve reaches out and rips the web shooters from his wrist. He forms a fist, the tiny shooters in his palm, and crushes them.
Peter makes an embarrassing whimpering noise, seeing the flattened, broken pieces of his web-shooters fall to the ground. This is probably how Clint would feel if he’d been in his right mind, as he felt his bow snap under his hands.
Steve pays no mind to the noise. He roughly grabs Peter’s wrists again—his hands are so broad, long fingers able to complete encircle Peter’s wrists and then some—and Peter fights him, throwing his weight and strength away from Steve.
He manages to slip partway out of the hold, but again, he’s not fast enough. Hasn’t been fast enough all day.
Steve snaps three of the fingers in his left hand, one bent almost entirely back. They make a sickly loud noise in the quiet kitchen. Peter collapses against the kitchen cabinets, hand cradled to his chest.
“My fingers,” Peter pants. “You broke my—”
Strangely, Steve doesn’t lunge at him again, but kneels beside Sam and starts tugging at the webbing.
They’re—they’re working together. The thought sends ice cold terror over Peter; he won’t win if they all start working together.
The webbing around Sam begins to come loose, and Peter decides to retreat. He forgets the tote bag in his haste, leaping over the breakfast bar and away from Sam and Steve, toward the—
He can make out the sounds of Clint and Natasha in the air vents. Ah. Okay. Okay, new plan.
Peter runs through this floor as he hears the others start after him. He sprints through the corridor, past bathrooms, past living rooms. (He will never get over how strange it is to be here, in such a familiar, domestic setting, in their home, while people chase after him with murderous intent.)
He reaches the stairwell and throws himself down that, using the railings to climb like a monkey.
Peter’s rooms are only a few flights away, and he reaches them quickly. He twists the doorknob but it doesn’t budge. He frowns, throws his weight against it, but still, his door won’t open.
His rooms are locked. All of his gadgets—the few weapons he reluctantly owned, half a dozen spare web-shooters—are out of his reach.
There it is, Peter supposes, the evidence that the Avengers had attempted to protect him in the wake of this. They must have thought that he’d go straight to his rooms, enter from the outside, from the window. That way, he’d be safe inside his rooms, cut off from the other Avengers.
They’d miscalculated, obviously. Dramatically miscalculated.
Peter is still bitter about not being contacted beforehand. He knows the Avengers hadn’t really had time, that they were more focussed on destroying their weaponry and locking down dangerous tech, but if Peter had known, if they’d sent him a quick text, he might not have thrown himself head first into this situation. He could’ve webbed them up safely, and then helped Bruce in finding a cure.
He supposes he can’t blame the Avengers, though. He hadn’t been there. He should’ve been here, but he hadn’t.
Still, Peter really, really wishes he had more web-shooters.
His teammates are catching up to him and Peter abandons his locked rooms to keep running. He can’t run forever, he knows.
Maybe he can hide?
“This never works for people in horror movies,” Peter mumbles to himself, as he dashes into Steve’s empty rooms. “They always die. Violently. God, what am I doing?”
He always knew he would be one of the first to go in a horror movie.
Peter’s hasn’t felt this alone in months. Years, maybe.
New York makes it hard to feel alone—so many people crowded together, all of them eager to interact with him once he’s donned his mask. His teammates also help, having drawn him into their comfortable circle, making sure Peter never feels like he’s facing anything by myself.
Peter’s in the Tower with six of his teammates now, but he feels so alone again. He hadn’t felt this keenly since George Stacy. Since Uncle Ben.
He’s ducked into a closet to have a tiny freak out. Chest huddled at the wall, good hand braced against the steady surface, taking deep, even breaths. He’s alone here, but it’s better than being outside. He’s safer in here.
His spider-sense abruptly flares to life, Peter freezes, and—
Someone stabs a knife into his back.
It’s small, the blade only a few inches long, and it misses anything important, hitting only muscle and fat and skin, but god, god—
Peter flinches away, tripping over his feet and landing in the corner. The fast movement yanks the knife free of his body, a secondary pull of pain.
Clint stands over him, bloodied knife in hand, his face drawn and tight. He takes a step forward, twirling the knife.
“Clint?” Peter takes a deep breath, lets it out in a frustrated sigh. “God, I’m—I’m so sick of this. I want you guys back already. I just, just want you guys to be here, in your right minds, and fussing over me and annoying me in medical and just. Just.”
Is it selfish of him, Peter wonders, to not want to deal with this? To wish he’d been in the Tower when they’d been attacked, so he could be one of the ones effected and let someone else worry about controlling the violent superheroes?
“Screw this,” Peter decides. “Screw this.”
He pulls Clint into the linen closet, avoiding the swipes of the knife, before jumping out, and locking his teammate inside. Peter mangles the doorknob and slides a desk from a nearby room over the closet.
He can still hear the sound of Clint struggling within, throwing himself bodily at the door.
“Sorry,” Peter tells the door. “I’ll unlock you later. And I, er.” Peter fidgets, pulling off his mask—he feels constricted as is, he doesn’t need something else choking him—and running a hand lightly over the arrow wound in his thigh. His back hurts where Clint had stabbed him, another distracting point of pain.
Peter tells the closed door, “I forgive you, for. Y’know. I hope you forgive me for locking you up.”
He goes to see Thor next.
Peter’s a sucker for a familiar face. He needs to reassure himself that at least one of his friends is vaguely okay.
But someone is already there, leant over Thor. Peter had assumed that Tony would’ve moved on, chased him deeper into the Tower, but no, no, there the billionaire is, tugging at Thor’s chains, trying to pry Thor loose. Trying to melt the chains off with repulser blasts.
So they’re all working together, then. And in intelligent ways, more than just Natasha and Clint’s murder duo, or Sam and Steve’s defence and offence tactic.
The thought is infinitely terrifying. The idea of all of them, these three pairs of people, finding each other and uniting against Peter. Six of his teammates, his friends, focussing their combined experience and skill and the array of weapons from the kitchen—weapons Peter can’t bring himself to collect; he can’t use a knife on his friends, he just can’t—on Peter.
Peter can’t breathe. The seconds stretch out, and Tony’s turning to look at him, roused by Peter’s sharp inhale, but Peter’s frozen. His lungs feel tight, constricted, more than just a result of cracked ribs. Like—like Natasha is choking him again, like all the air in the room has been sucked out, and Peter is left floundering, gasping uselessly.
If Thor gets loose…
If Tony manages to figure out the locking mechanisms, finds the lock and manages to successfully pick it—which he will, he will, he’s a genius—then Thor will be out. Thor, with muscles rippling with impossible strength, teeth bared, that same hatred icing his usually soft blue eyes.
Peter—Peter can’t breathe—
A repulser blast hits him square in the shoulder. He looks up, trying to inhale, to think around scorching pain, and sees Tony with his gauntlet stretched out.
Peter dodges too slowly. The second repulser blast connects solidly with his knee.
Peter collapses to his hands and knees, teeth bared around the pain. Tony takes a step closer, and aims the gauntlet at Peter’s head.
Adrenaline pushes him to his feet. Peter rolls to the side, sweeping the billionaire’s feet out from under him with his uninjured leg, before straddling him quickly, twisting Tony’s arms behind his back. Tony thrashes beneath him.
He has Tony pinned, pressing the billionaire’s face into the cream carpets. The smell of burnt flesh lingers in the air, emanating from the scorch marches on Peter’s skin. Shoulder. Knee. Smouldering wounds that leave Peter with ruined, hitched breath and tears of pain.
Tony doesn’t stop struggling, even against Peter’s super-strength. Thor is still bucking against his restraints.
They’re not going to stop, he realises. None of them are. Peter keeps collecting injuries, still thirsty and hungry after having had to abandon his food in the kitchen when Steve came after him.
They’re not going to stop, and Peter’s only going to get more exhausted, and slow, and they’re not going to stop. They’ll find him, catch him, and Peter—
And Peter might die here. He realises, quite suddenly, that he doesn’t know how far away a cure is. If he falters, for even a second, the Avengers will kill him.
Peter stares intently at the back of Tony’s head. It’s a little wet and matted he notices, a bleeding cut hidden beneath Tony’s brown hair. Even thrashing and snarling as the man is, Peter still feels something in his chest twist at seeing his teammate injured.
At that moment, Peter understands that he can’t let it end like this. That if something happens to him, if he doesn’t make it, he has to—he has to say goodbye. Peter has to say goodbye to them.
“Tony,” Peter begins, slowly, and it feels so good to say the words, even if it’s to violent shells, “Thor. I want you to know that this isn’t your fault.”
Tony snarls against the floor, legs kicking out uselessly. Peter holds him tighter. He has to say this. To each of them.
“You’re probably going to blame yourself, regardless,” Peter continues. “And, I mean, I don't like being pessimistic, but there are six of you, and one of me, and I have to hold back. You guys—you guys don’t.”
Peter presses his hands flat against Tony’s back, fanning his fingers along the man’s shoulder blades. His broken fingers protest against the movement, and Tony bucks and cries out and continues fighting him, but the man is warm, wearing a soft band t-shirt.
“I forgive you,” Peter says to Tony’s back. He glances up, looks Thor’s growling form in the eye, and tells him, “I forgive you, too.”
Peter carefully knocks Tony out—one thump to the back of the head, Natasha had taught him, enough to give them a headache upon waking, but not enough to permanently hurt them—and goes to find Bruce.
Peter finds the comm beneath a desk in the workshop. The tiny light is still blinking on the side, a sign that it’s on.
Peter clears his throat, and says into it, “Bruce? Hello?”
The reply comes quickly, Bruce sounding almost frantic on the other end, “Peter! Peter, are you alright? The comm went quiet for over an hour—”
“Sorry.” The feeling of guilt has grown familiar to him over the years, but it never stops being uncomfortable. These past few hours have been a testimony to that, full of selfish fear and gnawing guilt. “Sorry,” he says again, “Natasha and Clint found a way into the workshop, and I had to run.”
“Did they hurt you? Peter, are you okay—?”
“Still standing.” Mostly.
“Peter,” Bruce says. Peter can hear the reluctance in his voice. The worry. It makes something ache in Peter’s chest. Past the repulser blast, past the bruises—Bruce’s words make his chest feel tight and pained in an uncomfortable way.
“We finished synthesising the cure,” Bruce continues, and Peter’s heart jumps in his chest.
“We finished a little while ago, but because of the steel, we haven’t been able to get in to transfer it to the Avengers’ systems.”
The thought of a cure being complete while he remained locked inside with his feral teammates makes his stomach lurch. When exactly had it been finished? When Tony shot him? When Clint stabbed him? Or further back, earlier, when Steve was breaking his fingers?
Peter clears his throat. When he next speaks, his words are traitorously wobbly, “So I should bring the steel up, right?”
“Right.” Bruce sounds kind, sympathetic. Peter decides not to tell him that it’s going to be difficult to work on the tablet’s touch screen because of his broken fingers. “I've got Jarvis open on my end, can you…?”
Bruce helps Peter work back into the Tower’s network. He works through the spasming pain in his fingers, Bruce’s voice in his ear. Together, they disable the steel walls.
“The Tower is no longer on lock down,” Bruce cautions, “so while that means SHIELD agents can get in to deliver the cure, it also means the Avengers are able to get out.”
At that thought, Peter’s throat feels dry. “I should distract them, then? Keep their focus on me?”
“Or at least guard guard the entrance to the Avengers quarters.” Bruce sounds apologetic. It only makes Peter feel worse. “We can’t have them getting out.”
“Yeah,” Peter says, forcing a laugh, “we can’t exactly have Captain America murdering innocent people on the 8 o’clock news. I know.”
“Tony’s been working on some weighed ties—modified bolas, I think. They’re in one of the draws. It’s a defence tool, so it hadn’t been a priority to hide them.” Peter obediently looks through Tony’s draws, finding tablet pens, screws, on of Steve’s sketch pads, until he finds a set of sleek ropes bundled together. It’s a relief to finally have something to defend himself. “They should help you immobilise them.”
“Thanks, Bruce,” Peter says honestly, relief colouring his voice. He holds tightly onto the bolas. They feel good in his hand. He feels less helpless.
“Soon, this’ll all be over soon—”
Maybe, Peter thinks, but still. Still, he needs to say the words.
Peter wets his lips, unbroken fingers twisting together nervously, and interrupts, “Bruce… Bruce, you know it isn’t your fault that you’re not here, right? This isn’t—this isn’t your fault, and even if it was… I’d forgive you. I forgive you.”
Bruce sounds soft, sad and affectionate on the other end, “I know, Peter. Thank you.”
“Okay. Okay, good,” Peter says. “Goodbye, Bruce.”
On the other end, Bruce swallows and says, a little hoarsely, “Bye, Peter.”
He finds the three free Avengers on the stairs.
Natasha has found her way to Steve and Sam, and they’re gathered together on a landing, crouched low on the ground like primates. The feast Peter had been trying to grab from the kitchen is laid out before them. The organic tote bag is ripped and lies flat by Natasha’s foot, half-eaten apples and ripped pieces of muffins littering the ground.
They all look up at his arrival, stilling.
Peter tries to smile at them. “Is this party invite only, or…?”
The three of them leap up at once, food rolling out of their hands. Peter dashes back the way he came, the others clambering after him.
Okay, step one—find the free Avengers—accomplished. He assumes Clint, Tony, and Thor are all out of the picture still. That only leaves these three.
He throws two bolas at Steve first, one around his legs, one around his torso, and the man goes down hard. Then, he doubles around to tie Natasha up, using the rest of the bolas to secure her—ankle tied against ankle, arms pinned to her sides, snarling up at his retreating back—and he tricks Sam in one of the spare bedrooms.
Peter slams the door in Sam’s snarling face. He breaks the doorknob and pushes a solid piece of furniture—the couch, so much more difficult to shift in his beat up state—in front of the door, just like he’d done to Clint.
“Sorry,” Peter pants at the door. He lays a hand on the door. On the other side, Sam throws all his weight at the door and the wood shakes, quivering from the force. Peter quickly snatches his hand back, swallowing thickly. “A cure is coming,” he says. “And I, er. I forgive you, Sam.”
He dashes back the way he came. Natasha is still tied up on the carpet.
“Sorry,” he tells her quickly, “and I forgive you, too.”
Peter should go check on Steve, should go meet the people who have the cure several floors away, but he’s distracted; from his place in the living room, he can just make out the kitchen entranceway and the huge ceiling-to-floor window taking up one wall.
His feet bring him forward without thinking. He reaches out, fingers brushing reverently against the glass.
The steel is gone. Peter can see the sun setting over New York, the sky awash with muted purples and blots of soft orange. He can see high-rising skyscrapers, the cars like ants below—and he notices the crowd has since grown, almost doubled in numbers, spilling out onto the road and causing built up traffic.
He’d missed this view. He’d missed being able to see his city, his home, sprawled neatly beneath him. There’s a freedom in this view that Peter desperately missed, trapped underneath steel walls and the constant danger of his teammates.
The Avengers are immobilised. The steel is gone. Peter is—Peter is free, finally.
He’s nearly dizzy with relief and exhaustion. His spider-sense attempts to twirl him around, get him to move, but Peter feels sluggish and too slow. He isn’t able to dodge the thick arm that wraps around his throat.
Peter’s thrown bodily over the breakfast bar, and he lands roughly on the tiled floors. Steve follows him into the kitchen. The ties mustn’t have held up against the man’s super-strength, only managing to delay the super soldier.
Peter manages to get an elbow underneath him to prop himself up, but Steve grabs him by the back of the suit and twists them, slamming his back against the floor, spread flat beneath the blond.
“You aren’t one to hold a grudge, right?” Peter asks, lacking the usual confidence behind his quips. “No hard feelings about me trying to tie you up?”
Steve straddles him, winds his arm back, and punches him solidly around the face.
“Steve,” Peter gasps. Steve punches him again. And again, and again.
Peter’s face explodes with pain each time. It feels like his brain is being knocked around, disorientating, unable to concentrate on anything outside of the pain.
“Stop,” Peter tries. His heartbeat is his ears, and he’s shaking, limbs spasming, and he—he just wants Steve to stop, to leave him alone— “Stop! Steve!”
Steve’s not wearing the cowl; it’s a bare face that Peter sees swimming above him. As Steve rears back for another punch, as his fist drives home.
His teammates seems almost clinical now that he has Peter beneath him. He’s no longer snarling or growling, all his anger burnt out. He seems detached, almost. Like Steve doesn’t care. Like Steve doesn’t care about Peter, trembling and bleeding and cracking apart under his relentless punches.
It’s Steve. Blue eyes, blond hair, strong jaw. A little dishevelled, with a red cut healing along his left temple, but still Steve. Still his teammate.
The punches don’t stop. The skin in his cheeks breaks under the assault, his lip splitting open. The skin around his jaw and eyes are beginning to swell.
Peter realises, suddenly, that he’s going to die like this. Under his leader's fists.
He thought he might die fighting a super-villain. Go out in a blaze of heroism, sacrificing himself to a bigger cause. He never thought that this might—that something like this might happen—
Peter once thought he would die with calm thoughts, with a quiet apology to his Aunt on his lips, thinking about how he was going to greet his Uncle and Gwen and all the people who had raced on ahead of him—
But now he’s clawing against Steve’s arm, broken fingers useless, spluttering around blood. There’s this panic, this desperation; he doesn’t want to die, he doesn’t want to, he doesn’t.
“St—f.” Peter can barely force the word out. Too many punches to the mouth; he’s losing teeth, his lips spilt wide open, face a wreck of mangled skin, spit, tears, so much blood. “Pl—please. Nn. N-no.”
The skin on his cheeks ripped, eyes swollen. Nose broken. His vision is blurry, and it’s getting hard to breath around the blood pooling in his mouth.
There’s a sound further in the Tower, a door slamming open. Peter assumes it’s another teammate, come to join Steve, until the thundering footsteps halt, replaced by a sharp, panicked inhale.
“Hey!” That’s not an Avenger, Peter thinks between punches, that’s—that sounds like a stranger—
“HEY! GET OFF HIM!”
Steve pauses then, bloodied fist frozen where it’s pulled back to deliver another punch. Peter squints past Steve, just able to see the form of a furious police officer planted in the doorway. The man has his gun trained on Steve.
“You’re—! Oh, my god, you’re Captain America—” The officer glances from the blond to Peter’s wrecked form. His mask is off, but his face is unrecognisable beneath the swelling and the blood. Peter can track the moment the officer’s gaze lands on his stretched out chest, the spider icon, by the way his eyes go wide with horror. “Spider-Man! You—you—get off him, you fucking—”
Steve does. His hands are still in fists, feral snarl returning as he advances on the officer.
Peter realises, abruptly, that Steve is going to kill the man. An innocent cop.
“NO!” Adrenaline and courage and strength return to Peter dizzyingly quickly as he lunges forward. His legs are weak and shaky, and he can’t stand straight, tilting obviously to one side. He spits out the blood dribbling thickly over his chin, and says, only half coherent, “Steve, no—nono, it’s me you want—”
“Spidey,” whispers the cop. His wide eyes are trained on Peter as he sways, pawing at Steve’s arm, trying to stop the blond pillar of muscle from charging the officer. “Spidey, you need an ambulance.”
But Steve doesn’t stop, and the man doesn’t run, and Peter has spent so much of today feeling useless. There are tears mixed with blood, wet on his wrecked face, and his shaking hands aren’t strong enough to hold Steve back.
“Go,” Peter shouts at the officer. “He’ll kill you—go! Get out!”
The man doesn’t listen, frozen. Steve locks his knees, as though to jump at the man.
Peter stretches out on his tip-toes and jams his sharp fingers, the ones broken and the ones not, into Steve’s eyes. His teammate howls and grabs Peter by the arm, throwing him across the room. He doesn’t go after the officer, but runs at Peter.
“SPIDEY!” shouts the stupid, stupid officer.
Steve is hovering above him again. Peter’s back is pressed against the kitchen cabinets, leaving behind a bloody streak—he knows it’ll stain, a permanent mark in their shiny kitchen—with Steve like a wall above him, long torso and broad shoulders trapping him in.
Again, Steve punches him solidly around the face. The collision makes a wet sound against Peter’s broken skin.
“Leave him alone,” shouts the officer, as Steve punches Peter again, all brutal strength and lack of restraint.
Peter doesn’t register the sound of gunfire. He doesn’t hear Steve cry out in pain, or the officer shout desperately into his comm for an ambulance. But he does see the way Steve pales rapidly, the way red soaks the shoulder of Steve’s grey shirt.
“Steve,” Peter cries. Steve snarls again, and slams a fist into Peter’s curled torso, against his cracked ribs.
This time, Peter hears the second shot. He sees Steve flinch as another bullet buries itself in his arm.
“Stop!” Peter shouts at the officer, who’s shaking but is holding the gun steady, finger on the trigger, eyebrows drawn in concentration as he studies Steve. “You’re hurting him—!”
“He’s KILLING YOU,” the man shouts back. They both sound hoarse, panicked. “I’m not just going to stand here while he fucking kills you, Spidey—”
“You’re going to kill HIM!”
Steve rocks backward, unsteady, but Peter’s seen the man take two bullets only to get back up and save the city.
Steve snarls and punches him again. There’s a faint pop and a blinding pain as Peter's jaw comes loose.
“GET AWAY FROM HIM!”
That’s a new voice, and it’s mirrored by more shouts, more voices and people stepping forward, pouring from the entranceway and swarming over the room. Steve stiffens, crouched over Peter’s bloody body, all feral and dangerous.
Peter thinks there are more guns, too. People in black combat gear holding rifles, people in sleek jumpsuits holding something long and pointed, like needles. All of them are shouting. At Steve. At him.
His heart is loud in his ears, washing away all sound. It sounds like Peter’s cupped beach shells to his ears, and he can hear the deceptive sound of the ocean, of waves crashing.
Peter squints blearily up at the people edging themselves toward Steve, shouting, trying to usher him off of Peter. He knows it won’t work; Steve can’t be reasoned with or fought. He tries to open his mouth to tell them, trying to push the words out, but his jaw is loose and his face is swollen and so, so wet.
Someone is close and shouting and waving that long shaped object near Steve, but the man shifts and snarls and throws all his weight down onto Peter, crushing him.
Shouts erupt around the room again, but Peter can’t breathe. His body breaks further underneath the pressure, ribs blinding, jaw moving in a sickening way under his skin, and he—and—
Peter passes out as Steve is ripped off him and hands rush to catch him.
The angst train does not stop here, kids. Now comes the emotional pain! Guilty!Avengers is going to be so, so much fun. Who’s excited? I’m excited.
It’s 1AM and my eyes hurt. Here’s a chapter. Enjoy the angst, kids.
Mild warnings for injuries and mentions of medical stuff. The latter is non-graphic because I am a weeny who is afraid of hospitals and needles, so fear not, readers.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Peter wakes to the faint beeping of a heart monitor, the artificial inhales and exhales of the ventilator assisting his breathing. The pain is there almost immediately, pulsing from every beaten part of him. His whole body feels stiff, useless, like it always does after bad enough injuries.
There’s a man sat in a plastic chair by his bedside. Hunched over, elbows braced on his knees, hands clasped over his closed eyes. He’s dishevelled, unshaved, his pepper and salt hair uncombed, clothing rumpled like it had been slept in.
Peter opens his dry, stiff mouth, and tries to force out a garbled, “Br’ce?”
Bruce looks up, meets Peter’s blown eyes, and straightens in the chair, alert now. “Don’t talk,” Bruce tells him.
Peter attempts to clear his throat, to wet his lips, but his whole face screams in pain. He winces, but that only inspires another wave of agony. Peter’s not one to back down though, not even when he should, and so he pushes past that, stubbornly managing, “Brroo. Bruce. H-rts.”
Bruce swallows thickly. The pained look is back, intensified. Now that Peter can see the older man's face, he can see his eyes are rimmed with red. His glasses have been shoved into his shirt pocket, along with a handful of wet tissues.
Has Bruce… has Bruce been crying?
Peter recognises the expression the older man wears now, seen it too often in the past—it’s grief, fresh and raw, a mourning that crumples your face and makes your eyes glassy and wet.
What exactly had happened? Had one of the Avengers been—
Peter remembers, suddenly, locking Clint and Sam away, knocking Tony out, tying Natasha up. He remembers Steve entrapping him against the kitchen cabinets, the way his fist drove home, blood thick on Peter’s face, and the officer, dressed in navy police blue, shooting Steve in the back.
And the cure, Bruce had said there was a cure; had it not worked? Did it have consequences? Did one of the people administering it mess up, end up killing an Avenger instead of helping them—?
“Peter,” Bruce says quickly. He’s on his feet, hands braced on the metal railing around Peter’s bed. Bloodshot eyes huge and worried, all that mourning directed his way. Peter’s way. “Try and take some even breaths for me, okay? You’re alright, you’re in SHIELD intensive care—”
Bruce fumbles for Peter’s hand—his right one with an IV taped to the back, the left covered in splitters—and gently squeezes it. Peter stares down at the of point contact. For some reason, he feels like crying.
“Br-s,” Peter mumbles. It feels like his mouth has been stuffed with cotton balls, drained of all liquid, with his jaw aching fiercely. Still, he needs to say this, needs answers, “Wha’ happ—hap—”
“What happened?” Bruce drags the plastic chair closer, as close to Peter’s bed as he can manage. He doesn’t let go of Peter’s hand.
Before, Peter would have rolled his eyes at the contact, tried to pull away in embarrassment at the intimacy of the act, but now his weak, shaking fingers do his best to reciprocate, squeezing pitifully light back.
“Aft’r,” Peter specifies. His syllables are a little jumbled, slurred from whatever SHIELD approved medication the IV is feeding him. Bruce understands easily, though.
“After we got to you?” Peter makes a confirming hum in the back of his throat. Bruce sighs, rubbing at his temple in a way he does when he’s tired, or stressed, or uncomfortable. Peter wonders again about his teammates, and reaches out further, fumbling with the hem of Bruce’s sleeve.
“The others are okay,” Bruce hurries to reassure. Peter frowns like he doesn’t believe him. “Honestly, Peter. The cure was correctly administered to the Avengers. They were unconscious for about an hour or so, but when they woke up, they were back to their normal selves. Steve received treatment for the bullet wounds, but he’s fine.”
Bruce’s other hand curls on the starch blanket of Peter’s bed, curling into a tight fist. Bruce is shaking; Peter can feel the vibrations.
Peter eyelids are heavy, his thoughts like liquid, running uselessly through his fingers, with the stiffness and pain of his body making every minor movement hard. Still, Peter sees Bruce begin to crumple. Peter doesn’t miss the red flush that works its way across Bruce’s face, almost exactly like the green tinge of the Hulk trying to burst force. He sees the way Bruce’s mouth forms a tight, wobbling line. The way Bruce’s shoulders hunch and tremble, his eyes reddening further as they grow wet.
“Brr,” Peter cries around the stitches in his lips and healing jaw. “Brss!”
“Sorry,” Bruce says, even as the wetness in his eyes begins to spill over, tears over red cheeks. “S-sorry.” Peter’s no longer sure that Bruce is apologising about crying. There’s a sincerity in his voice, something urgent and meaningful, that makes his voice shake and Peter’s heart hurt. “I’m so, so sorry, Peter. So sorry, so sorry, I should have known—”
Bruce is completely bowed now, forehead inches from the bedside rail, hands clasped in fists on Peter’s sheets. His entire body is violently shaking from the force of his sobs.
“Br’ce,” Peter says again, careful with his syllables. He clings to Bruce’s sleeve, wrist brushing against the man’s tight fist.
When Bruce looks up, his cheeks blotchy and shining wet, Peter can see the grief and regret in his face. Wet, brown eyes survey Peter, desperately drinking in every broken, bloodied line. As though memorising this, or maybe questioning himself, wondering how each injury happened, how each one could have been avoided.
Peter remembers his first trip to the Avengers’ medical wing. He’d only been a part of the team a few weeks then, and had deviated from his teammates, from back-up, too used to working alone in the field. The others only knew he’d been hurt by the sound he made, his cry of pain and the loud thump his body made as it collided with the pavement audible over the comms.
When he’d awoken, the remnants of a nasty concussion muddying his thoughts, the entire team was crowded into his medical room.
Thor had taken Peter’s hand in his and told him, very solemnly, “I am sorry I did not catch you, Peter.”
“S’not your fault,” Peter had said.
“Well, if he hadn’t run off,” Tony interrupted, casting a glower in Peter’s direction, “you would’ve been there to catch him, Thor. I would have been there too. Sam, as well.”
“Stay with the team,” Steve had said, stood solidly at the base of Peter’s bed. “We protect each other. Let us look after you. Let us feel guilt when we can’t.”
Peter knows now that Bruce is feeling that same, nagging guilt; Bruce hadn’t caught him. It’s not Bruce’s fault, of course—the man hadn’t been there, hadn’t even been in the same country—but still. Still.
“Sorry, sorry,” Bruce says, words a litany. A hoarse, choked prayer. "I hadn't realised it was so bad in there, if I had have known--"
“Nn,” Peter manages. His fingers grip tighter on Bruce’s sleeve, trying to bring his teammate closer, closer. “Nnt. N-t your—your fault.”
Bruce only bites at his lip, closes his wet eyes, and shakes his head fiercely. Peter knows that there’s not much he can do for the man. Not in this state.
He wants more answers. He wants to know where his teammates are, how they really are, why they aren’t here by Peter’s bedside, cheering him up. Medical isn’t fun unless you have Clint Barton making faces at the medical equipment and throwing balled up pieces of paper or ripped napkins at everyone.
He wants to know how SHIELD is handling this, if there will be any negative consequences for the other Avengers (and if someone tries to punish Peter’s teammates for this, Peter will get out of his hospital bed, injuries or not, and hunt them down). He wants to know how long he will be stuck in this bed, how bad his injuries really are, and god, has someone contacted Aunt May? What lie did they feed her—?
But Bruce is choking on each ragged inhale, running on what is likely days without sleep and the minimum amounts of food and water, and the stress of having his entire team fall a part while he was stuck in another country.
Instead of trying to force any more questions out, Peter tightens his grip on Bruce and tries to make wordless, soothing noises. When Bruce looks at him, Peter tries to muster up a smile. It makes his split lips ache, makes him taste blood, but earns him a shaky, tentative smile from the older man.
Peter counts it as a win.
When Peter wakes next, his eyes are sticky with grit. The pain is present, but not overwhelming. Mildly crippling, really. His jaw feels looser, his limbs less stiff.
Thank you, healing factor.
Peter hears movement away from his bed, the sound of whispered voices, and stills. They're purposely quiet, but with his abilities, he can hear them easily.
It’s a private conversation, he knows, but he can’t help but listen in. He lets his limbs fall loose relaxed, eyes kept closed, feigning sleep.
“They’re not… coping.” Peter recognises Bruce’s voice easily. “Not in any healthy ways, anyway.”
A woman huffs, and says, “Since when have the Avengers been known for healthy coping mechanisms?”
“Sure,” Bruce says, “but… no one’s seen Natasha or Clint since they escaped Medical. Thor’s staying with Jane in her apartment, Sam is hovering around like he’s lost, but he’s not talking to anyone, not really. Doing a lot of jogging, from what I hear. Too much, like he’s trying to burn himself out. And Tony’s holed up in the Tower. He’s only letting Pepper inside.”
Bruce sighs—the frustrated, tired kind of exhale Peter has only ever heard on the battlefield, when Bruce was relaying unfortunate news over their comms. “You saw him this morning, all stiff and withdrawn. He’s acting exactly like he did when he first got out of the ice.”
“Fuck,” says the woman.
“Yeah. I’m… I’m trying to handle it. I’m the only non-partial party on the team, so I think I’m the only one the others might talk to if I badger them enough, but I don’t want to leave Peter alone…”
There’s a pause. Peter suspects they’re both looking his way, looking him over. He carefully makes sure his breathing is deep, posture relaxed as though unconscious. Finally, the woman asks, softer, “How is he?”
“I don’t know,” Bruce says. “I kind of… I didn’t get to evaluate how he was last time, beyond the physical. I’m ashamed to say I—I broke down on him—”
“You’re going through a tremendous amount of stress too, Bruce.”
“I know, but I’m worried about him. We both saw the tapes. What Peter went through…”
The woman begins, voice carefully measured, choosing her words wisely, “Bruce, you have to prepare yourself for the possibility that Peter might not pull through this. Mentally, anyway. He might never recover enough to be around the teammates. If he decides that he can’t handle that, you have to respect that. You have to let him go.”
Bruce sounds worried, a little afraid. “You think he really might—might not be okay? He might… not come back?”
“Maybe. Maybe not.”
Bruce exhales, not quite a sigh but forceful enough, mournful enough. “God, I—I hope not,” Bruce murmurs, as though to himself.
“You know, Pepper probably has the override codes,” says the woman. “You should go talk to her, then go talk to Tony. The man needs you.”
“Peter’s on a lot of medication to boost the healing process. You know that. He hasn’t woken up since yesterday. He won’t wake up for hours.”
“Are you sure?”
“And you’ll call me if he does wake up…?”
“Yes, now go, Bruce. Go talk to Tony.”
“Alright, alright.” Peter hears the sound of Bruce pulling away, the sound of his beat up loafers squeaking against the floors. “Goodbye, Peter,” whispers the older man, quietly, a little sadly, before the door closes shut behind him.
The woman stays. Her heels click as she comes forward and quietly takes a seat by Peter’s bedside.
“Spider-Man,” she says. “I’m a SHIELD agent, do you honestly think I don’t know you’re awake?”
Peter sheepishly opens his eyes, peeking up to see Maria Hill frowning over him. “H-Hi. Hello. Good morning.”
His words are still a little slurred, the syllables still a little jumbled from his mostly healed jaw. He’s coherent enough, though.
“It’s late afternoon,” Hill corrects.“It’s been about 36 hours since you were brought in. Bruce has been sitting with you for a large portion of that time, but I’m glad I get to privately talk with you.”
His spider-sense is quiet, but Peter is still immediately weary. “The last SHIELD agent that needed to ‘privately talk with me’ tried to threaten me into signing my powers, identity, and entire life over to SHIELD. If Tony hadn’t intervened—”
“There are some… bad eggs at SHIELD, I’ll give you that.” Hill smiles, a little tight lipped, strained but polite. “But trust me. I’m on both yours and the Avenger’s side. I only want what’s best.”
Peter nods, but remains suspicious. Steve seems to trust and like Hill, which is more than enough for Peter.
“Alright,” Peter allows, “I won’t start screaming for an adult, but if you want my blood, you should know SHIELD probably already has vials of the stuff, so you’re wasting your time—”
“I want to talk about your position on the Avengers,” Hill says, and all of the air goes out of Peter’s lungs, “and whether you still have a place on the team.”
There are vending machines in the SHIELD base.
Peter might've thought that vending machines, of all things, would’ve clashed with the whole minimalist, secretive vibe SHIELD was going for, but apparently not. It sits in plain view, flagged on either side by long stretches of cold, metal walls and dark spotless floors, stocked full of candy bars and soda cans.
Peter abruptly remembers that Tony has had a heavy hand in many SHIELD designs. The obnoxiously coloured machine stuffed full of snicker bars begins to make sense. A lot of sense.
Peter’s stomach rumbles. He hasn’t had a proper meal since Sam’s bacon sandwich. It feels like a lifetime ago.
“Frick,” Peter mutters, fumbling with the strings of his hospital pants. Of course, no pockets. No money. “Broke. Again. At least this is familiar…”
He slumps against the side of the vending machine. His body is beginning to ache in earnest now, his impossible metabolism churning through the last of the painkillers. He should be resting, certainly shouldn’t be up and walking around in the state he’s in, but a little thing like health and safety has never stopped Peter before.
Hill’s words sit in his mind, fresh like a newly carved wound, making Peter’s chest feel tight. He’d had to get out of his Medical room, even if he only managed to stumble down a few hallways. He won’t be able to escape into the familiar streets of New York, as much as he desperately wants to. Not yet. Not without proper clothes, money, and a body that doesn’t threaten to give out on him.
The long expanse of the hallway is preferable to his stifling hospital room. The walls were beginning to close in on him.
Peter had woken up barely 24 hours ago, and the caged, shaky feeling—like Peter is still in that Tower, still about to be attacked at any moment, still fighting for his life—has yet to ebb.
“Frick.” Peter runs his fingers, bandaged and not, through his bed-head. He’s shaking, heartbeat frustratingly fast. He hates this plaguing anxiety. “Frick.”
The worst thing is, Hill had had a point. The things she told him, the reasons beyond the ultimatum she gave him, weren’t necessarily wrong.
If Peter still feels like this while tucked away safely in a SHIELD base, then maybe he won’t get better. Maybe he is more of an inconvenience, too hurt to even fight, too shaky to even get up and find the other Avengers. To find anyone. To apologise.
And the other Avengers… They’re struggling after what happened. Peter’s presence would only aggravate their guilt, make them recall how they were controlled against their will, turned feral and violence and so terrifying—
It’s not about Peter, though. Not only. It’s about the Avengers, about the team’s PR.
Maybe they would be better off without him. Maybe Peter should quit, regardless of how lonely that thought of is, how it makes his chest feel tight and his eyes feel itchy and wet even imagining it.
Somewhere along the way, the Avengers had become more to him. As Peter began to adapt to having teammates out on the field, he’d started to adapt to having friends off of it.
Peter doesn’t have many friends these days. Non-Avengers ones, anyway.
The thought of never seeing Thor’s beaming face, to never see the way Natasha smirked as she slyly joked, to see Sam smacking Steve out of a reckless plan, to see Tony roll his eyes at him, to never have Clint try and steal food off his plate, to have someone throw their arm casually over his shoulders, to have someone to fall asleep against during movie nights—is just—the thought is just—
Booted feet knock against Peter’s legs, and he flinches violently, curling in on himself.
“Whoa, dude! I didn’t see you there—” Peter looks up. A short woman with thick curls and glasses stands over him. She blinks when she meets his face, all annoyance leaving her. “Are you… alright there?”
Peter realises his position, curling away from her, shaking, the grief that’s probably obvious on his face. Not to mention the bruising, the cuts, the stitches.
“Y-Yeah.” The words comes out mangled. Peter clears his throat, and tries again, “Yeah. I’m fine. Do you want me to move?”
The young woman blinks at him, looking up when Peter gestures at the vending machine sitting cold and silent at his back.
“Wha—? Oh, nah, you’re good, man. Just…” She squints at him. “You sure you’re okay?” Peter nods, a little embarrassed. She doesn’t seem convinced. “Hey, I have the right to be concerned here, you’re a doe-eyed teenager beaten to all hell, curled up and alone in the middle of a SHIELD base. Do you have parents? Are you, like, Nick Fury’s adopted nephew? Should I somehow be worried about being drop-kicked by an overprotected ninja-spy?”
Peter laughs despite himself, shyly hiding his smile in the tops of his knees. “No, no parents. And god no, no Fury. I’m, er. I’m here by myself.”
The woman plants herself across from him, sitting cross-legged. “That only raises more questions, little man. Have you been abducted? Is that why you’re all beat up? Do I need to call someone?”
The woman is nothing like anybody else here at SHIELD. She’s wearing jeans with rips along the knees, a Thor t-shirt beneath a black peacoat, and a thick, maroon scarf. The opposite of SHIELD’s brand of professionalism.
“For the last time,” Peter says, still smiling a little, “you don’t need to call someone. I’m nineteen. An adult. Like I said, I’m here by myself.”
“‘By yourself’, huh?” She takes him in for a second time, carefully searching his face for something, some kind of clue in this unofficial guessing game. “Not Fury’s nephew, not a kidnap victim, not underage—”
Her eyes go wide. She points at him, her mouth falling open as she shouts, “You’re SPIDER-MAN, aren’t you?”
Peter sits bolt upright, heart pounding. “Hey, secret identity, lady!”
“Dude, if I’m in a scary SHIELD base, you should know that I can keep a secret. Or that I know Tony Stark. Both of these things are true in my case.” She grins to herself, excited. “Oh, my god, you’re Spider-Man. The little red and blue guy himself.”
“Um,” Peter says.
“I’m Darcy,” she introduces, offering her hand out to him. Peter takes it, all the fingers in his right hand thankfully unbroken, and shakes it. “I’m a friend of Thor. I tasered him once. It was cool.”
“Um,” Peter says again.
Darcy ignores him. “So Spider-Man, why are you sitting in the middle of a hallway by yourself?”
“It’s Peter, and I just.” He shrugs, looking down at his barefeet. He wriggles his toes, if only to use some of his built-up, nervous energy. “I just had to get out of Medical for a while. My room feels so small. I feel so small.”
Darcy goes quiet, all her chattering falling away as she watches him. For once, she seems oddly serious. “Yeah,” she says finally, but she sounds off, as though she’s talking more to herself than to Peter, “Thor was acting the same way. I should’ve figured the whole thing would’ve messed you around as well.”
Peter blinks. “What?”
Darcy doesn’t clarify, too busy jumping to her feet and offering a helping hand to Peter. “Well, come on then.” She gestures at the vending machine behind him. “I’ll buy you lunch, because I’m a gentleman, and keep you company because you look like a sad puppy sitting all by yourself.”
Peter lets her haul him to his feet, wincing as the movement pulls at his torso. He hadn’t thought the damage was too bad there. He’d assumed the worst of his injuries were from the arrow and stab wounds, the repulser marks, the broken fingers, but as he pulls up the front of his shirt, he’s greeting by skin that’s heavily mottled with deep purples and sickly patches of yellow.
“Holy fuck,” Darcy gasps, hands clapping to her mouth. Her eyes are wide again, the concern back in full force. “Are you alright?”
Peter pokes at the skin above his bellybutton. His ribs have been wrapped tight—and oh yeah, his cracked ribs had been broken by Steve, Peter had forgotten about that—but the rest of the visible skin is dark. Violently bruised.
“Oh,” Peter says simply. He tries to poke at his torso but Darcy bats his hands away. “I hadn’t realised it looked that bad.”
Darcy levels a disbelieving look at him. “Really? Your face looks like a small, bloodied version of that—” She gestures at the dark array of colour that sits on Peter’s chest. “—but you thought it ‘wasn’t that bad.’”
“… My face looks like this?”
“You didn’t know that? Little man, your face looks worse, if anything. Seriously, what did you do to your jaw to get it that colour?”
His fingers ghost over the curve over his jaw; it still pulses hot with pain, now more so than ever. Peter really shouldn’t have left the bed. Or taken out his IV.
“Dislocated it,” Peter says idly. He’s not looking at Darcy, studying his feet again. “I thought it had healed already…”
“Nope, you look like you were hit by a bus. Several buses, in fact.” She pulls out a crumpled wad of dollar notes from the pocket of her jeans, shoves them into the vending machine, and punches in a bunch of numbers on the machine’s keypad. “Also, we’re going back to your room. You’re too injured for me to risk breaking you out. If Spider-Man dies on my watch, the Avengers and the whole of New York will kill me.”
Peter bites at his lip. The thought of going back to his designated room in Medical is sickening.
Darcy points a finger at him. “No arguments, Spider-Brat. And I’m coming with. Your bed. This junk food. My magnetic personality.”
“I had an… uncomfortable conversation with someone there,” Peter admits. “I don’t really want to go back and deal with it.”
Darcy collects her change and the food the vending machine had spat out. She spins on her heel and marches down the hallway, calling over her shoulder, “Then I shall deal with them for you, if they’re still there!”
Peter hurries to catch up with her. The short half-jog leaves him panting, one hand clutching at his aching ribs. Okay. Okay, he really shouldn’t have gotten out of bed.
“She’s scary,” Peter warns.
“Babe, I have little to no self-preservation. Do you think I’d be here, at SHIELD, befriending an abused vigilante, already friends with half of the other Avengers, if I knew what was good for me?” She throws him a smile over her shoulder, not waiting for an answer. “Exactly. So march on, little dude. Junk food awaits.”
Peter smiles at her back, and decides he likes her.
“Can I ask what the scary lady and the uncomfortable conversation was about?” Sitting in the plastic chair by his bedside, booted feet propped up on the metal rail, Darcy works on decimating a bag of doritos. She nudges Peter gently with her foot. “Come on, angst-muffin. Spill.”
Peter dusts cheeto dust off his fingers, and shrugs. “I don’t want to think about it.”
“I can see you thinking about it from here. I can literally see the cogs in your brain working as you stress over this.”
Peter sighs and sets the half-full bag of chips down on the pile of empty wrappers. He shouldn’t be eating these things, and will probably suffer a lecture from an angry medical professional later, but still. Worth it.
“Do you know what happened?” he asks. “The other day, with the Avengers?
“You mean how you got all…” Darcy waves a hand at his bruised face. Peter nods, head ducking in uncomfortable embarrassment. “Yeah, I know. Thor told us the abridged version. He’s guilty as hell, moping around at Jane’s place. Hurts to look at all that sadness.”
Peter’s hands reflectively form tight fists. White knuckles. Grounding pain. It’s hard to hear about the pain his friends are in. Thor has no reason to feel so guilty. He hadn’t hurt Peter. Scared him, yes, but he hadn’t even touched him.
“Yeah. Apparently, the rest of the team is like that too, guilty and sad and not coping. This woman just. Just pointed that out to me.” Peter wraps his arms around his torso, discreetly pressing down on his belly. The pressure on his bruises creates little bursts of pain. “The Avengers might not cope after what happened. At least, they won’t while I’m still there. So I should make an effort to, er. To not be there.”
Darcy frowns. She pulls her feet away, flat-footed on the ground as she sits up straight in the chair. “That’s dumb,” she says. “It’d only hurt them more if you left.”
“Maybe, but I don’t know if I can act like nothing happened when they’re around. What if I’m all—all messed up from this, and freak out when they get near?”
“You probably will,” Darcy admits reluctantly, “but that doesn’t matter, Pete. You’ll freak out, yeah, but then you’ll pick yourself back up. And you’ll have everyone there to support you through this. Go back whenever you’re ready. Take your time. Don’t rush it. They’ll understand.”
Peter shakes his head. Hill’s words echo through his head, and he clearly remembers the threats that had left him with a cold shock of terror and a stomach full of lead. “I don’t have time. I can’t wait, if I don’t go back to the Tower tomorrow, SHIELD will—”
Peter is cut off as the door swings open, and Bruce shuffles in. He seems surprised to see Peter, sitting propped up against his pillows, a pile of wrappers by his elbow. He looks even more surprised to see Darcy by his bedside.
Bruce looks just as crumpled now as he had the last time Peter had seen him. Though he’s showered and changed, his clothing still sits weirdly on him, like he’s been tugging at the rumpled fabric. The bags under his eyes have only grown, and the subtle wrinkles along his face are more pronounced.
He hesitates by the door, surveying Peter. His frown only deepens as he takes him in—Peter knows now the image he must make, bruised stitches holding his face together. Peter tries to smile, tries to look less pathetic, dwarfed as he is by the long white bed and the machinery surrounding him.
“I hadn’t realised you’d be up,” Bruce says finally. “I would’ve come back sooner, but Hill said you’d be asleep—”
“It’s okay,” Peter reassures him quickly, swallowing thickly and forcing a smile. Darcy had helped him let go of the trapped feeling, the constant anxiety that had been plaguing him if only for a little while, but after discussing the reality of his situation with her, it’s back again. A low, shaking tremor has began to make its way up his hands. “Darcy’s been keeping me company.”
Bruce eyes them. “I hadn’t realised you two knew each other.”
Darcy shakes herself, tearing her worried eyes off of Peter, to offer Bruce a little wave. “Hey, Doc. I met Peter out in the hallway. He was so sad, sitting there like a kicked puppy—”
“Hallway,” Bruce echoes, as Peter groans and slides further into his pillows. Here it comes. The lecture. “Peter, you shouldn’t be out of bed—”
“Oops,” Darcy says, levelling an apologetic grimace in Peter’s direction.
“Bruce,” Peter says. He tries for a winning smile, all brash humour—the kind Tony uses constantly, often to elicit a smile in Bruce—and fake confidence. “I won’t sneak out again, I promise, but I’m not the only one in the wrong here. I mean, no flowers? No get well soon balloons?”
Bruce looks pale and drawn, the result of high levels of stress. His eyes are still a little bloodshot, though whether that is from tears or tiredness, Peter cannot tell. His hair is still in a tangled fluff, clothing rumpled, expression heavy, but he cracks a small, half smile at Peter.
“Should I go out and get some, then?” Bruce fires back. “I think I saw some sad looking daises in someone’s garden, I can steal those—”
Bruce makes to leave, and something in Peter’s stomach twists, a sharp spike of panic at the thought of Bruce leaving him alone. Before, with Hill, Peter had been half-asleep, more drugged than he is now, enough to squash any codependency before it could develop.
Now, though, Peter reaches out and takes hold of Bruce’s sleeve without thinking about it. It’s comforting, having this worn fabric between his fingers. As grounding as it had been the first time Peter had awoken, heavily drugged and disorientated, watching Bruce crumple before him.
“I don’t want flowers,” Peter tells him.
The words I just don’t want you to leave catch in his chest. He can't—he can't say that.
Peter fiddles with the white blankets with his other hands. Pain shoots along his healing left hand when he twists his fingers roughly. Again, it’s grounding. Completely different from the kind of pain he’s been forced to deal with in the past 24 hours. At least in this, Peter has some semblance of control.
Peter clears his throat, and smiles hugely up at Bruce. The stitches in his lip protest, pulling his tight, healing skin taunt. Peter fights back a wince.
“You don’t look so happy to see me,” Peter says finally, pretending to squint up at Bruce. “I feel unloved, Bruce. Unloved.”
Bruce laughs. It’s shaky, tired, but genuine, the smile on his face a little more real. There’s more white than red is his eyes today. “You’ve spent way too much time with Tony. You’re picking up his mannerisms.”
To Peter’s credit, he only falters a little at the mention of their teammate. “Tony Stark’s mannerisms… Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
“I haven’t decided yet,” Bruce says, with an awkward little shrug.
Peter falls silent. His hand still rests on the hem of Bruce’s sleeve, grip weak, loose enough that Bruce could untangle them easily should he want to. Peter wants the man to be comfortable—always wants that, especially now days, now that he knows how much Bruce struggles with things like trust and physical gestures after so long spent with the Hulk—but a selfish, yearning part of him doesn’t want Bruce to pull away.
“ALRIGHT,” Darcy announces loudly, and Peter starts, flinching back against his pillows. He’d almost forgotten she was there. She doesn’t miss his flinch, shooting him a worried look, but thankfully continues on, “I can see where I’m not wanted.”
“No, no,” Peter says quickly. There isn’t that same panic at the thought of Darcy, this strange woman he met only an hour ago, but he still doesn’t want to push her away. He likes her. She seems to not hate him. A promising start to a friendship. “You don’t have to go. Stay.”
Bruce smiles at her politely. “Stay, Darcy.”
She throws her hands up in defeat. “Okay, okay, I’ll stay. I came to talk to you about Thor, anyway.” Bruce raises his eyebrows in question, but she shakes her head, inclining her head meaningfully at Peter when she says, “Later.”
Without Peter in hearing range, then. Ah. Okay.
Peter clears his throat
“How is everything?” Peter asks finally. His gaze is fixed downward, on the point of connection between him and Bruce. “How are they? You didn’t tell me too much yesterday.”
Bruce scratches the back of his head with the one hand free of Peter’s grip. “They’re struggling to come to terms with… with what happened, I guess. They feel—”
“—guilty,” Peter finishes. He sighs, lets go of Bruce, and shoves both hands over his face, eyes squeezing shut. He’s presses down, presses against almost healed broken fingers and stitched up cuts and bruises; again, the feeling of pain is grounding.
Bruce snags both his hands, pulling them away from his face. “None of that,” Bruce says. “None of that. The others will be fine, Peter.”
“Do they… do they want to see me?” Peter asks quietly.
Bruce tilts his head, shrugging. “Of course they do, but they don’t feel like they deserve to see you, after what they did.”
Peter squints up at Bruce, frowning. “What they did? That’s dumb, it wasn’t them. It was the gas. And I’ve already forgiven them.” Peter lets his gaze drift to the white ceiling. “‘Deserve to see me.’ So dumb; they deserve whatever they want from me.”
“He has a major guilt complex,” Darcy whispers to Bruce. “Honestly, what is it with superheroes and guilt complexes? Is it, like, one of the job qualifications, outside of ‘superpowers’ and ‘looking good in spandex?’”
Bruce ignores her, and says, “They’re afraid of freaking you out, Peter.”
“I’m not going to freak out,” Peter says firmly. He’s not. Whatever Hill said, whatever Darcy said, whatever Bruce is implying—Peter likes his team. He’s not to going to succumb to some mysterious freak out just because they’re in the same room as him.
Just because Peter couldn’t stop that selfish, trembling terror when he was locked inside the Tower, just because he was left shaking and weak after being confronted by his friends in their feral state, doesn’t mean anything.
It’s over now. It’s done. They can all just—move on. Stop thinking about it. Put it behind them.
“I want to go back to the Tower,” Peter says. “I hate Medical. I want to go home.”
“The Tower?” Bruce asks. He shares a look with Darcy. “Peter, I’ll not sure if that’s such a good idea—”
“Yeah, little man,” Darcy interjects, leaning forward with her elbows on her knees, “that might not be a good idea. Take your time, remember? Take it slow.”
“I already told you, I don’t have time to take it slow, I need to go back to the Tower or else—”
“‘Or else’ what?” Bruce asks, eyebrows raised. He looks suspicious. His unwilling deal with SHIELD is not something Peter wants to burden Bruce with. Sharing with Darcy is one thing, but Bruce? No.
“Or else I’ll go crazy locked in here,” Peter finishes, only half lying. “And I’m not rushing. I want to go home. This… this is my decision.” He takes a deep, solidifying breath. Lets it out. Says, firmly, “Tomorrow. I’m going back to the Tower tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow, then,” Bruce says. He still sounds unsure. By Peter’s bedside, Darcy is worrying at her lip with her teeth.
“Tomorrow,” Peter echoes, and forces a smile.
I love Hill, I really do, she was simply amazing in Winter Soldier, but I needed someone to deliver SHIELD’s message to Peter. Said message will become clearer later, but you guys probably have some idea as to what it is already.
Also, Darcy is wonderful. I adore her to pieces. I'm not sure if I'll include more of her later, what do you think?
A longer chapter is my Christmas present to you all. Enjoy.
Warnings for panic attacks.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Peter tries to keep his head down, his eyes focussed on the floor immediately in front of him, ignoring the stares of people they pass. His clothing (his softest, too-large hoodie, pulled out only when Peter’s feeling low; his faded jeans and sneakers; his slouch beanie and thick glasses, hiding his face) stand out here, amongst pristine businesspeople and scientists. Peter is used to it; a teenager is out of place in Avengers Tower. People eye him like he’s going to steal something.
Still, he can’t help but feel uncomfortable. Especially now, as shaky and on edge as he is. The eyes that follow him leave him feeling red-hot, worsening the tremors in his hands.
The bruises on his face probably don’t help. Some of his stitches have been taken out—all but the ones in his left cheek, where the flesh was ripped nearly entirely open. That was where Peter had caught the brunt of Steve’s swing.
There’s still bruises along his jaw, and his black eyes are a healing yellow. His lips have healed enough to look like unfortunate split lips, rather than the destroyed, gaping mess they’d been. His hoodie hides most of the bruising on his neck, but the people who pass close enough can still see the discreet shapes of fingers in the form of healing bruises; Peter can tell by the way they visibly balk.
“Bruce,” Peter mumbles, “everyone’s—everyone’s staring.”
“People always stare here,” Bruce says with a small apologetic small.
Still, Bruce slows his pace and holds out a hand. Peter snags the back of Bruce’s soft plaid shirt, just above the back of his elbow, and holds on tight. It’s become something of a habit, grabbing on to Bruce’s shirt. The man doesn’t seem to mind in the least, even offers his sleeves out to Peter when he’s visibly anxious. He seems to prefer it to the way Peter sometimes treats his injuries, the way he sometimes grabs them roughly to inspire sparks of pain.
He knows it’s immature. Like a child, hanging on to the back of his mother’s skirts. But it’s helped stave of panic attacks before. Peter would rather hang onto Bruce and suffer a little embarrassment, than have a breakdown in the lobby of Avengers’ Tower, crammed full of employees in the mid-morning rush.
“Well, I hate it,” Peter grumbles. Bruce nods his agreement. They stared at him—a famous scientist and a known Avenger, a beat up teenager hanging off his sleeve—too.
The Avengers Tower has always been welcoming, like a home, but the lobby has always left Peter feeling unnerved. Nobody knows he’s Spider-Man. All they see is a scruffy, poorly dressed teenager, awkward around the pristine, minimalist foyer.
The secretaries used to stop Peter every time he tried to use this entrance. Several times, security had been called. It had only stopped after Tony had specifically hired someone—Mandy, with her no-nonsense personality and former military background—to permanently man the front desk, and personally introduced her to Peter.
There are chairs lined up on the other side of the reception desk, pushed up against the wall. A man sits there, back ramrod straight, fiddling with his hands. He leaps to his feet when Bruce and Peter come into view.
“Sirs,” the man says, rushing forward. His gaze drifts past Bruce, locking onto Peter, who can’t help but duck further behind Bruce.
“Can I help you?” Bruce asks, clipped. Usually, he’s awkward around strangers. Now, he’s glaring at the man, one hand braced in front of him, almost curled protectively around Peter.
“I just…” The man falters. He’s staring at Peter, scrutinising him, as he asks, “Are you him? Are you…” He glances around the crowded lobby for eavesdroppers, voice dropping to a loud whisper, “… y’know, the spider guy.”
“I’m calling security,” Bruce decides, hand reaching for his phone.
The man’s eyes go wide. “No, no! Sorry, I just suspected, from the bruises.” He gestures at Peter’s healing face. Peter lowers his eyes, shuffles even further behind Bruce. The man sighs and scrubs a hand through his hair. “Sorry,” he says, calmer. “I’m the police officer that was first on the scene the other day? When Cap was… was hurting you…”
Bruce’s hands pause over his phone. Peter looks up.
“Yeah,” says the off-duty officer, taking a defeated step back. “I should’ve known better than to come here and harass you. I was just worried—”
“I am,” Peter says, side-stepping Bruce. He bites at his lip; one tiny flare of pain. His palms are wet. “I am the—the guy. The bug guy.”
The man blinks at him, thrown, before his eyes go wide. “Oh. Oh. Hello. It’s an honour to finally meet you.”
Peter lets go of Bruce. He takes a few steps forward, coming closer to the man. He pretends not to notice the way the man—middle aged, a fatherly air about him, roughened but kind—sweeps his eyes over him, taking in Peter’s comfortable hoodie, the nasty looking bruises, how young he appears.
“Why did you come here?” Peter asks, then realises how rude he sounds, eyes going wide, and rushes to correct, “I mean, not that you’re not welcome to come here! You—you saved my life, so of course, of course you can be around here! I’m just I’m not sure why you’d want to—”
The man laughs. It doesn’t sound mean, but fond. Endeared. “I was worried about you. I wanted to know how you were.”
“Worried?” Peter echoes, surprised.
“Yeah. I saw my city’s hero get hurt real bad. I want to make sure he’s alright. For my sake, for my family’s sake, for the city’s sake.”
Peter stops breathing.
When he was on his way to the Tower—escorted by Bruce, driven here by Happy in one of Tony’s too flashy cars—he expected the scathing looks from Stark employees. He expected Mandy’s concerned gaze from over the top of the reception desk. He expected to be shaky and stupidly anxious. And all of that had happened so far.
But he hadn’t expected this man, standing before him with huge earnest eyes, worried about Peter’s wellbeing. A police officer caring about Spider-Man days after the incident.
“I—I—I’m not—” Peter swallows down the mess of syllables, and tries again, “I don’t know what to say to that. I mean… really?”
“Really,” the man says.
They both must see Peter’s shallow breathing, his wavering confusion, because Bruce comes forward and rests a comforting hand on Peter’s shoulder. At the same time, the officer steps away with a polite smile. “I’ll let you get back to it, then,” says the man. “Sorry for bothering you. It’s good to see you’re still in one piece.”
The officer makes to go, but Peter calls out, “Wait!” The man pauses, turns back.“Thank you. For checking up on me. And—and for saving my life. Thanks.”
The man takes a small, hesitant step forward, palms facing Peter, an unreadable expression on his face. Peter stares blankly at him, until Bruce whispers in his ear, “I think he wants to hug you. You don’t have to, not if you’re not comfortable.”
But Peter doesn’t flinch away. Bolstered by the man’s kind words, by his support, Peter opens his arms invitingly, and let’s the man stride forward and wrap him in a hug.
The officer is taller than him, arms long, grip strong but not smothering. The hoodie is huge and thickly padded, protecting Peter’s injuries from being jostled. The hug is… surprisingly nice.
“Take care,” the man says as he lets go.
Peter smiles, genuine this time, and says, “I will.”
The elevator dings open to the Avengers’ communal area. Peter is surprised to find the place spotless.
It looks as though nothing out of the ordinary had taken place. Like it had a week ago, before the attack on the Tower, before Peter was locked inside and their quarters were trashed. The couch has been replaced, and the crack in the flatscreen fixed. It looks clean. Untouched.
Peter can’t tell if he feels relieved or terrified. He has warring memories about this space. He remembers sitting here, introducing Thor and Steve to the joy of Star Trek, bowls of chips spread out on the coffee table. He also remembers being chased down like dog, twisting around the corners, his fast reflexes catching Natasha with the bolas.
“It looks,” Peter manages, “…nice.”
“Tony cleaned everything out almost immediately,” Bruce says, stepping out of the elevator. He looks at Peter patiently, analysing his reaction, ready to intervene if necessary. Peter’s surprised it’s not Sam that’s dogging his every move, trying to talk to him about coping methods and positive forms of recovery. Peter loves Sam, but Peter does not love councillors.
Bruce clears his throat, and adds, “Apparently, there was a lot of blood when the Avengers came to.”
“Blood?” Peter asks sharply. “You said the cure didn’t hurt the others—”
“No, it didn’t.” Bruce scrubs a hand over his face, tired, before admitting, “There was lots of blood, yeah. Red handprints. Puddles. But most of it wasn’t the Avengers’.”
Peter exhales roughly. His hands form reflective fists—fingers almost entirely healed, but still sore, tender, aching dully when pressed harshly against his palm. The thought of the Avengers waking up after being controlled like that, likely exhausted and sore and disorientated, and finding their home destroyed, broken weapons littering the ground, Peter’s blood smeared along the walls and the floors…
The sight of the destroyed kitchen had freaked Peter out when he’d first arrived on the scene, and that was without blood marking the walls.
Peter eyes the pristine walls. They’ve either been thoroughly scrubbed, or repainted. The carpet looks almost new. Peter doesn’t blame them for the extensive measures.
“Oh,” is all Peter says.
He moves past Bruce, past the spotless walls, past the bathroom door. The ceiling-to-floor window that takes up an entire wall bathes the rooms in bright sunlight. The sky is cloudless and blue, the street below bustling with everyday activity. There aren’t any crowds blocking up the roads, no news helicopters hovering around the Tower.
It’s reassuring. The view, spread out beneath him—even after all that’s happened, even after being attacked looking at his view, Peter still loves it. His city is teeming with life, a sprawling metropolis that sits, safe and untouched. Usually, when Peter is almost beaten to death in fights, the city will be partially on fire, the super-villains of the hour having wrecked chaos while Peter was laid out on the sidewalk.
But, no. All the damaged was contained.
Thankfully, the only person hurt this time was Peter.
Peter lets his hands brush up against the glass. The cool surface is grounding beneath his fingertips.
“Peter—” A hand clamps down on the juncture between Peter’s neck and shoulder. He acts without thinking, twirling around and sweeping the person’s legs roughly out from under them, before leaping upward, taking refugee in a ceiling corner.
Bruce is sprawled on the ground. He squints up at the youngest team member, and his face is screwed up in pain, even as he swallows, and asks, “Peter? What—?”
Bruce. It’s Bruce staring up at him. Bruce, laid out on the carpeted floor, confused, and non-threatening, and not Steve. Not Steve.
Peter’s hands are trembling where they’re stuck against the ceiling. He feels nauseous with stupid, unshakeable fear.
There’s the sound of a door slamming open, fast footsteps, and then Sam rushes in, gun in hand. “I heard the sound of fighting—is everyone alright? Are we being attacked—”
Peter’s stomach drops, as Sam turns, surveying the room for a threat, catching sight of him out of the corner of his eye and raising his gun in instinct.
The nozzle of the gun focussed his way, Sam’s face beneath him. Peter’s heartbeat is loud in his ears, panic seizing his stomach and chest and throat, and he tries to scuttle out of range, across the ceiling, but he missteps, looses his grip, and falls, landing roughly on the floor, too disorientated to catch himself.
The fall knocks the wind out of him, and Peter is left gasping up at the ceiling, sharp spikes of pain radiating from where he’d fallen on the knife wound in his back, his healing ribs and bruised torso jostled on impact.
He tips his head back. Bruce is climbing to his feet, using the breakfast bar to steady himself—and huh, that’s the kitchen beyond that small half-wall. The kitchen. The kitchen.
Sam is still before him, gun lowered, face slack with shock. “Peter,” the older man repeats, starting forward, and Peter pushes past the tight, constricted feeling in his chest, past the way his lower torso is burning, as he flips himself over and presses his back against the wall.
Peter's eyes are wide and his mouth has fallen open and he’s shaking. Sam stares at him in horror, empty hand raised as though to reach out and touch the teenager.
“D-don’t,” Peter chokes out.
“I—I wasn’t,” Sam begins, and all can Peter is see is that familiar face snarling up at him, those hands digging through the kitchen draws, rifling through potato peelers and cheese graters and knives. The gun is still in Sam’s hand.
Peter’s whole body aches, his heart hammering and muscles tense in that desperate, clawing fight-or-flight panic. He’s sent back to three days ago, where he was nearly consumed by adrenaline and fear, pushing himself to run even as his body screamed with injuries.
But, but there’s Bruce, by the breakfast bar, wobbly on his feet. A reassuring figure. Bruce, with a worried, pinched expression, and that soft plaid button up, and a hand braced against his back because Peter had hurt him—
Sam takes a step forward, and Peter’s mind whites out, running entirely on instinct as he throws himself past the older men and fully out of the window.
Peter crawls into his rooms. He stumbles across his personal living room, and bunkers down on the couch, hands braced on his knees, trying and failing to take deep, even breaths. He ignores his instincts screaming at him, to get out, to run, to climb somewhere high and safe and curl up into the smallest ball possible.
The panic attack hits him full-force, and it’s all Peter can do to hunch over, hands bunching tightly in his hoodie, and try to keep all his pieces together.
When he emerges, face still hot and blotchy, chest tight and pained, he feels drained.
Peter is suddenly grateful that his rooms had been left out of this situation, unlike the living room and kitchen. These rooms feel safe, untainted by the event of two days ago.
Even his rooms have been cleaned thoroughly—Peter is a busy person, alright, he doesn’t have much time to clean up after himself. The walls are shining, the carpet freshly cleaned and still with vacuum lines. His dirty laundry is missing. Likely folded and put away.
And there, taking up one half of the back wall, is the largest get well soon balloon Peter has ever seen. The looping letters are in bold, standing out against the silver, glittering surface, the balloon bobbing against the ceiling, tied down by a series of weights.
Peter stares at it. The balloon is longer than him, and easily as broad as three Thors.
“Jarvis,” Peter says loudly, not taking his eyes off the thing.
“Why is there a giant balloon in my rooms?”
“Sir deemed it an appropriate coming home present,” Jarvis provides, and Peter immediately understands. Tony enjoys nothing more than bestowing presents upon his friends—often large, showy gifts that people have no real need for—and then disappearing, as though pretending said gift giving never happened.
“He would,” Peter says, conjuring up a small, strained smile. “Y’know, I half expected him to be sprawled in my sofa.”
“Sir is holed up in his workshop, I’m afraid. Sir—” And here the AI hesitates for a microsecond, sounding almost reproachful when he continues, “—does not want to burden you with his presence for the time being.”
“Oh.” Peter tugs at the balloon’s string, bats at the helium plastic, watching the way the balloon bounces, dancing under his administrations. “Oh, well. That’s fine, I guess. I bet he’s working on important stuff, anyway.”
Jarvis sounds as though he disagrees with Peter’s assessment, even as he says, “Indeed.”
Peter flops back down on the couch, drawing his knees to his chest. “It’s good to hear your voice again, J. I kind of missed it.”
“And I, you, Mr. Parker.” Again, Jarvis pauses. “I sincerely regret and apologise for not being there to assist you in the aftermath of the attack on Avengers Tower, several days earlier.”
“S’not your fault,” Peter says, waving a hand at the ceiling. “They locked you and all the systems down. And I’m fine now. It’s—it’s all over with now.”
Jarvis doesn’t respond to that, letting his silence speak for himself. Peter finds himself standing, striding across his personal living room, and hovering before the door to the stairwell. The door that was locked several days ago, preventing Peter from escaping into these rooms.
He wonders if it’s still locked. If they wanted to, if they were compelled to, would the Avengers be able to easily get into his room through this door?
Peter twists the doorknob, and it opens easily. The empty white stairwell stares back at him.
Peter slams the door closed. “Jarvis, can you lock this door?”
“I’m afraid not. The outer doors to personal quarters can only be locked in the case of emergency.”
Peter fetches a wicker chair and positions it under the doorknob. It won’t keep him safe, he knows. If they—if someone wants to force their way into his rooms, one chair won’t keep them out. Still, it makes him feel marginally better.
“Don’t tell Bruce I did that,” Peter orders. “He’ll—he’ll think I’m freaking out again, which I might be, okay, alright, I’m totally freaking out again, but. But don’t tell Bruce.”
Peter shoves himself back onto the couch, back facing the window, front toward the door and the chair.
Peter used to sleep the best in Avengers Tower. Sometimes, in his old apartment or his Aunt’s house, he was overcome by this nagging paranoia that someone had discovered his secret identity and one of his many, many enemies were going to hunt him down and kill him while he slept. Or, worse, had followed him home and was going to hurt his Aunt while Peter was sleeping ignorantly upstairs.
It’s not an insane fear; people have tried to hunt and stalk him before. Super-villains, yes, but also civilians, random people scrambling after his identity, with entire blogs dedicated to unwinding the mystery that was Spider-Man, or talk shows spending entire episodes gossiping about who exactly the many masked vigilantes were.
When faced with those jittery, sleepless nights, Peter would often swing to the Tower. He’d curl up in his personal quarters, or—if the nightmares were bad enough—find his way to the communal area, where someone might be watching late night reruns, kept up by their own insomnia.
Now, though, Peter doesn’t feel as though the Tower is his safe haven. Logically, he knows nothing can get to him here. Not without Jarvis warning him, or the others ringing him, but then again, they hadn’t contacted him last time they were attacked and that had led to Peter being beaten bloody against the kitchen cabinets by his friend—
“This is stupid,” Peter mumbles against his fist.
His personal rooms are clean and beautiful. Furnished with lush carpeting and gaming consoles and full bookshelves, curtesy of Tony. It’s the ideal place. And yet here Peter sits, wedged up in the corner of the sofa, bundled in this oversized hoodie, plagued by ridiculous paranoias.
“I’m so stupid,” Peter repeats, louder.
“You are not.”
Peter scowls at the ceiling. “I am. I’m scared of nothing.”
“Your fear is completely understandable when one takes into account the trauma you’ve undergone—”
Trauma? “One fight gone wrong isn’t trauma, J.” Peter doesn’t give the AI a chance to respond to that, jumping off of the sofa and heading back toward the window. “I’m going back down there. Is Sam and Bruce still there?”
“They are. Although, if I may—”
“Nope, no, you may not.”
Peter glances at the giant balloon, bobbing innocently up and down. The Avengers care about him. Sam is his teammate, his friend, and is probably concerned about the way Peter reacted. Concerned for him. Peter shouldn’t have freaked out unnecessarily like that.
Peter has to get over these inane anxieties. For the team. For the threats SHIELD had been forced to hand out through Hill, lest Peter wimp out like they’d expected him too, try and hide away and make an issue of something so small.
Peter opens the hatch to the window, and jumps back down to the communal area.
Sam and Bruce are still there, hovering in the threshold between the living room and the empty space behind the breakfast bar. Bruce is talking softly to Sam, hand braced reassuringly on his upper arm. Sam's gaze is downcast, not looking at Bruce but not pulling away.
“‘Morning, all,” Peter greets loudly as he slides through the open window. The place is open and full of sunlight, the familiar area reassuring and terrifying all at once. Peter very purposefully doesn’t look in the direction of the kitchen. “Or is it afternoon already? I never can get that right.”
Both Bruce and Sam startle at his entrance. Sam goes stiff, alarmed by Peter’s presence.
Only a week ago, Sam would’ve rolled his eyes and reached out to fondly to poke at him. He wouldn’t have done this—wouldn’t have stood there as though moving slightly would set Peter off again, just staring at him, all quiet and solemn, like Peter’s some kind of wounded stranger.
“C’mon,” Peter says, his bad hand bunching painfully in the thick material of his hoodie, superhuman grip threatening to rip the soft fabric, “don’t be like that. What’s an emotional breakdown between friends, amiright?”
When Sam speaks, his voice is rough and quiet, “Peter. I’m—”
“Please, don’t apologise.” Peter takes a deep breath, wrestling down the anxiety that’s beginning to creep into his tone. Instead of stumbling away from his older teammate like he wants to, running back out the window and into his private rooms, Peter forces himself to stand up straight. He squares his shoulders, keeps his breathing steady, and looks Sam in the eye.
And it’s still Sam. This here—dark eyes, familiar face drawn down in regret and dogging concern—is Sam, his friend, one of the pillars of support Peter has finally allowed himself to lean on in the past few months.
“Sam,” Peter says, hoarsely. “I missed you, man.”
Sam laughs, the sound breathless and relieved. “I missed you too, Pete.”
Peter steps forward, pushing past the initial burst of fear, pushing down the instinctive flare of panic, and bridging the gap, long steps eating up the space between them.
He wraps his arms around Sam’s neck, face squashed into the older man’s shoulder, and just—just holds on, feeling Sam’s hands reflexively come to rest on Peter’s back. Sam's grip is purposely gentle, careful, where it would have once been strong, and his hands are too close to the knife wound in Peter’s lower back, but. But.
But Sam is warm and solid and there. Both physically and mentally. Here, with Peter.
Peter peeks over Sam’s shoulder to see Bruce smiling encouragingly at him.
‘Hey,’ Peter mouths over Sam’s shoulder.
‘Hey,’ Bruce mouths back.
‘Sorry,’ Peter offers, pressing his cheek against Sam’s neck. Sam can’t see their silent conversation, but at the action, his hands tighten a little around Peter.
Bruce shakes his head seriously, eyes kind as he rejects the apology. Peter opens his mouth, tries to apologise again, to insist, but Sam is pulling away.
Sam holds him at arm length, hands loosely holding on to Peter’s wrists, and just drinks in the sight of Peter, worried eyes tracing each broken line of his face.
“You didn’t do this,” Peter tells him, because he can see the guilt washing over Sam as he takes in the deep, deep bruising. He musters up a teasing smile. “You didn’t get close enough to, old man.”
“Then who—” Sam begins.
Peter closes off, all that false bravado falling away, smile dropping. “It doesn’t matter. Just—I just want you to know that you didn’t hurt me.”
“But you still freaked out at the sight of me, Peter. What exactly did we do—?”
Peter shimmies out of Sam’s grip. He doesn’t let himself run away from this, but he can’t help his eyes from dropping to the floor, studying his shoelaces. “No,” he says. “No, I don’t want to talk about it.”
Sam tries to ask again, to push the issue, questions on the tip of his tongue. Peter braces himself for the uncomfortable onslaught, tensing in Sam’s grip, but Bruce smoothly cuts in.
“We have lunch,” Bruce announces.
Peter’s gaze remains fixed on his scuffed up sneakers. “In the—in the kitchen?”
There’s a pause. Peter assumes the older men are sharing meaningful looks. “We’ll bring it into the living room,” Bruce says finally.
Bruce directs Peter to the sofa. It crinkles under his weight, the leather hard, not worn; the thing is definitely brand new. Peter finds himself stupidly missing their old couch, with its soft leather and white wine stains, where Thor had knocked Natasha’s glass during a rambunctious retelling of a past battle.
Bruce and Sam disappear into the kitchen for too long—for people who live with former super spies, they aren’t discreet when they have these secret conversations, no doubt about Peter—before returning with platters stacked with sandwiches.
Bruce lays a soda by Peter’s elbow, and takes a seat by Peter’s immediate left. Sam carefully sits on the other side of Bruce, leaving the scientist between them. A buffer. A wall.
Bruce fiddles with the TV channels while Peter starts in on a peanut butter sandwich. It feels too dry in his mouth. Wrong, somehow. The too loud silence only makes him feel worse.
“Tony got me a coming home present,” Peter says loudly.
“Oh?” Bruce asks.
“Yeah.” Peter nods, picking at the crust of his sandwich. “This ridiculously huge balloon. Probably making up for the gifts you didn't bring, Bruce.”
Peter expects Bruce to laugh, but the man just glances at him from the corner of his eye. He looks weirdly guilty.
“Hang on a moment,” Peter begins.
“Alright, fine. You caught me.” Bruce sighs and places the remote on the coffee table, leaving the TV muted on a random reality show. The gaudy colours of a dress and the outraged face of an older woman flash in the background. “I may have mentioned the lack of proper presents to Tony yesterday.”
“Bruce! You know how overboard he goes with gifts!”
“I know, I know, but when I asked, SHIELD said they wouldn’t let me bring you any presents while you were still there!”
“You don’t seem too mad… Did you see the giant teddy bear he left in your bedroom?”
Sam chuckles into a can of coke. “I heard it was so large he had to fly it up in the Iron Man suit and fit it through the window.”
Peter glares at the plate of sandwiches. The Avengers know how much he dislikes gifts, especially huge, unnecessary, expensive gifts. “If it wasn’t for SHIELD’s warnings, I would totally pack my bags right now and go have a nice, present free holiday with my Aunt—”
“SHIELD’s warnings?” Sam echoes from the other end of the couch, and Peter stiffens. “What do you—”
“About my identity,” Peter says, the lie spilling easily from his lips. He’s gotten good at this, worryingly good, too skilled at lying to his loved ones. “Kind of suspicious if a teenager is photographed hauling suitcases through the Tower’s lobby while the Avengers trail after him, begging for him to come back.”
Sam snorts a laugh, and Bruce rolls his eyes fondly. Peter feels some of his courage steadily returning. Maybe he can do this. Bruce warm by his side, a platter of sandwiches before him, comforting lies coming easily to him. Maybe Peter will get over this.
But Bruce is nudging at him, smiling gently, washing all of Peter’s anxieties away. Peter finds himself reaching out instinctively, fingers curling around Bruce’s forearm. He can’t even see Sam from his position, blocked as he is by Bruce.
“Jarvis said something about Tony,” Peter says. “About being holed up in his workshop again? I’m worried about him.”
Peter can’t hang on to Bruce forever. This habit of clinging to the man, developed only yesterday, needs to be broken before it can escalate. He can’t use Bruce like a safety blanket anymore. He needs to force himself to confront this problem head on.
“You should go find him,” Peter tells Bruce.
Bruce casts a glance at Sam, then back at Peter. “Peter, I don’t know—”
“We’ll be fine,” Peter says confidently. “Go. Tony’s probably about to blow something up, or collapse from exhaustion.”
“Okay,” Bruce says, though he doesn’t sound convinced, casting glances back at Peter even as he stands and makes for the elevator, “if you’re sure. I’ll only be a few minutes away, just ask Jarvis and I’ll come right back—”
The elevator closes on Bruce’s worried face, fingers fidgeting nervously together. Peter glances at Sam. “Should we be worried about the Hulk re-emerging, with how jittery Bruce has been lately—”
Sam shakes his head. “He’s just worried about you.”
Peter nods, allowing them to lapse into silence. He risks a glance at Sam; now is his chance to fully overcome this, to breach the gap between them and do away with all the awkwardness and uncertainty that’s risen up between them. Without Bruce there, Peter will rely only on his own courage, and fix their friendship—
“Ouch.” Peter winces and gingerly presses his fingers against his split lip. It’s still sore, still a little bloody, and the soda he’d been drinking had only agitated it. “Stupid bubbles.”
Sam places his own soda on the coffee table. He cocks his head to the side, as though remembering something. “You know, I have a few bottles of fruit smoothies in my fridge. I ran out of flour and sugar and eggs, and so ended up digging through all my fruit and blending it up into a smoothie.” He catches the strange look Peter throws him, and shrugs. “Hey, man, don't look at me like that. I stress bake.”
“I know you stress bake,” Peter says, because he’d seen it frequently over the past few months. Often, in the wake of a mission gone sour and/or a teammate being seriously injured, Sam would take over the kitchen—his own, and then when he needed a larger space and more ingredients, the communal kitchen, bustling everyone out of what was then his domain. Said injured teammate’s medical room would be stacked full of their favourite foods, more than they could possibly eat, and the rest of the Avengers were duty-bound to gather and help eat their way through the products of Sam’s anxiety. “But stress blending? Stress-smoothing? Really?”
Sam shrugs, not meeting Peter’s eye. “You love fruit smoothies. The real kind. You like how ridiculously sweet they are.”
There’s a sudden lump in Peter’s throat. He tries to laugh it off. “Did you at least remember to add honey through the manic stress blending haze?”
Sam doesn’t mimic his teasing tone, his eyes serious. Sad, almost. “I added lots of honey,” Sam agrees. “I know you like that, too.”
Peter puts his can down beside Sam’s. “I’d, er. I’d love some then. If you’re offering.”
“I’m offering.” Sam stands, leaving Peter to the muted reality TV and sandwiches and silent, empty living room as he makes his way to the elevator. “I’ll bring back a few glasses, yeah? Don’t be tempted to drink the soda again—it might hurt your lip.”
Sam disappears into the elevator. In his wake, the room feels bigger. Peter feels small. The silence is too large, the living room seemingly stretching out forever. There are too many entrance points; hallway, stairwell, elevator, kitchen.
But Peter’s fine, of course. There’s sunlight filtering in from the wide windows and a heaping pile of sandwiches. Nothing is going to jump him.
Peter is embarrassed at the wave of panic that had overcome him just at being left alone in the Tower. In the open, communal area…
“Jarvis,” Peter begins, if only to hear his own voice. He clears his throat, shifting on the couch, uncomfortable.
“I detected a spike in your heart rate and breathing, Mr. Parker. Would you like me to contact Mr. Banner?”
“No, no! I’m fine, just. Just could you turn the lights up a little? And turn the TV's volume back on?”
The words have barely left his lips when the overheard lighting flares brighter, chasing away any shadows that might’ve lingered in the doorways or huddled in corners. The room is quickly filled with the sound of a hysterical man, shouting loudly at another contestant and waving a swath of maroon fabric in the air.
Peter relaxes, slumping in the couch. “Thanks, J.
He looses himself to the easy world of reality TV, anxiety slowly draining away, intrusive thoughts fading away under the force of fictional drama. He picks up another sandwich—cheese and salami and spinach leafs, with Peter’s favourite kind of mustard—and relaxes further into the leather cushions.
He’s asked Jarvis to turn the TV up so loud, he misses the sound of someone else entering the room until they’re freezing next to the couch, only just catching sight of Peter.
“Peter,” Steve gasps.
This time, when the panic swells forward, there’s no logical thoughts at the back of his mind, trying to compel him to calm down and remind him of the lack of danger. The instinctive panic is overwhelming, an insurmountable rush that pushes him to raw, unthinking action.
The sandwich tumbles out of his hand. Peter throws himself back in an uncoordinated sprawl of limbs, scrambling over the length of the couch. Steve’s tries to say something, tries to move forward on impulse and reassure him but Peter cries out in fear and throws himself across the space of the room. He doesn’t run to an exit, though his instincts are screaming at him to escape—he runs to the first door he comes across.
A bathroom. Windowless and without any heavy furniture to help barricade himself. Still, Peter stumbles into the room without a second glance backward, slamming the door close and viciously turning the lock.
He backs away from the door on unsteady legs. He’s trembling so hard, whole body wracked with violent tremors, and Peter can’t stand under the force of this shaking, of his heart-beating terror, tumbling to the cold floor.
He presses one hand against the tiles, his healing left one against his chest, as though trying to force his heart to slow down, to stay in his chest. He throat is too tight, chest seized with a terror Peter can’t hope to overcome, and he can’t breath around his feeling, this fear, staring at the locked door with blurry eyes, because god, god, he’s back there, he’s right outside the door and he can break it down and Peter can’t breathe—
It’s Peter’s second panic attack of the day. It’s far worse than the first.
Peter spends too long on that tiled floors. He’s shaking all over like some kind of petrified animal, and his breathing has been reduced to sharp, useless inhales—and oh good, maybe now Peter can add hyperventilating to his growing list of fun, constructive hobbies—but his thoughts have cleared a little. The haze of panic has ebbed, if only slightly.
Peter fumbles for the edge of the bathtub, hauling himself up, back pressed reassuringly against it. The cool marble is solid under his shaky hand.
Peter leans his head against the bathtub, trying to work through the anxiety that’s still there. This is useless—it’s already been two days, and Peter’s still not over it. He’s not over it. He should be over it.
He shouldn’t be reacting like this. Like a coward, like a scared little kid, like—like—
“Peter?” That’s Steve’s voice, coming from just outside the bathroom door. His name is spoken softly, almost gently, but Peter freezes, his grip on the bathtub tightening until the marble groans and begins to crack under his superhuman strength.
Peter lets go. He tries to take a breath, but the inhale is ragged, choked, and his throat is too still tight to allow air in. His eyes are fixed on the locked bathroom door.
“Peter, it’s me,” Steve continues. “I’m not going to come in, okay? I’m not even touching the door.” When he next speaks, Steve sounds impossibly sad, like the thought brings him physical pain, “I’m not going to hurt you.”
Peter’s hands curl back into fists. “I kn-know,” Peter manages to gasp out. He’s angry, beyond frustrated. Not with Steve. With himself.
He knows, logically, that Steve isn’t going to hurt him. The man isn’t even in the same room as him, and if he tried to get in, force himself through the meagre wooden door, all Peter would have to do it call out for Jarvis and the super soldier would be gassed before he had the chance to wrap his hands around Peter’s throat.
He knows this, like he knows he’s not really choking, that his lungs work fine, but he can’t stop the panic attack cutting off his air. He can’t stop the way Steve’s voice makes him recoil in on himself. It’s—it’s awful. Peter likes Steve, likes him a lot, looks up to him both as a hero and as a friend.
He wants to go back to the days where they’d sit amiably on the couch together, with nothing but the soft scratching of Steve’s pencil as he lazily sketched Peter, the low background noise of the TV, and Peter chattering inanely into the quiet. He misses when Steve would walk past and reach out, casually tracing Peter’s shoulders as he passed. When Peter and Steve could just—just be without Peter flipping out and acting like a baby—
“Peter.” And that’s not Steve, that’s Natasha, her voice calm and steady, creating a new wave of panic so great Peter feels like he might drown beneath it.
“We’re not going to open the door,” Steve reassures; they can probably hear his choked breaths from the other side. “No matter what, Peter.”
“There’s a taser,” Natasha starts, “beneath the sink, at the back of the bathroom cabinets. It’s hidden behind a stack of towels.”
Steve sounds alarmed, definitely annoyed, a bite to his voice, “Natasha! What do you think you’re—?”
But Peter’s already scrambling for the cabinets. He pushes aside shampoo bottles and soap holders, and finds the taser easily. It’s larger than his palm, completely black, with a dangerous, sleek front. Nothing sold to civilians. This was made specifically for super-humans.
“I put it there,” Natasha says, completely calm despite Steve’s spluttering. “As soon as we got back, I asked Bruce to stash a bunch of weapons around the Avengers’ quarters. He’s got a map of the Tower and all the weapons’ locations, and he’s going to give it to you Peter, okay? And none of us know where the other weapons are.”
Peter stares down at the taser in his palm. He’s reluctant to believe her. “Wha—what ab’t this one?” Peter manages around wet, hitched breaths.
“The only one I placed,” Natasha reassures. “The communal area was probably going to be the first place you visited, and the first place you’d panic. And the likely place to run would be the nearest bathroom.” Peter feels flushed with shame knowing she’d anticipated this, expected him to panic and run away. Natasha’s voice drops a little, going quieter but no less sincere, “I know something about living where you’d once been hurt. I know a lot about being hurt all together.”
Peter wraps his fingers around the weapon. Carefully, he scoots himself back, until his shoulders bump against the tub. He aims the taser at the door, where Natasha and Steve must be hovering, finger drifting toward the trigger.
He wouldn’t, of course. Even if they went feral again, forced himself through the locked door, he doubts he could bring himself to do it. Still, it feels weirdly good to know he can protect himself. He feels safer. Less helpless.
“Um,” Clint’s voice says, “why are you guys stood in front of the bathroom door…?”
Steve makes an aborted shh! noise. Natasha whispers something lowly, and then Peter can clearly hear Clint says, “Oh! Oh, shit. Do you want me to go through the air vents to help him—?”
Clint says something else, and faintly, Peter can hear Steve and Natasha protest, loud and vehement, but Peter is too lost beneath another wave of choked, useless breaths. He’s beginning to hyperventilate seriously now, heart pounding, fingers trembling around the taser. He’s in danger of passing out.
The air vents. Clint is—is going to go through the air vents—to get him, to get Peter, to drag him back through the locked door, to deliver him to Natasha and Steve—
There’s a shout of pain from the other side of the door—Clint’s, he can tell, having heard it enough throughout his friendship with the archer—but that only makes him feel worse, knowing one of them is in pain, has been hurt, jarring something tender in his chest. Natasha’s voice hisses over the sound of Clint’s yelp, “We were just making progress, you moron—”
Peter’s vision is going blurry. He can’t—he can’t—oh god, why can’t he just—
“Spider-Man, breathe,” Steve orders with the same voice that has been obeyed a thousand times on the battlefield, that voice in each Avengers’ ears, and Peter does. Sucks a lungful of air as ordered. Holds it. “Let it out.”
Peter exhales. It’s shaky, but this time, it doesn’t catch on anything.
“Good.” Peter stares firmly at the door, but it stays as it is. Just a door. Just a blank slab of wood. Steve’s face and broad shoulders and muscled arms aren’t there to tarnish the image. “Good work, Peter. Breathe again for me.”
Peter does, several times in quick succession. His vision is no longer blurry.
It’s silent for a long moment, just the sounds of Peter’s continued breathing as he calms down.
Then: “Holy shi—guys! Did you freak Peter out—?!”
Sam. This time, Peter only stiffens a little, but this time, his fingers tighten around the taser and the door remains locked and closed, and it’s easier to relax. To feel safe again.
“Yes,” Natasha says.
“Yeah,” Clint says, and he sounds mournful, definitely regretful. Quieter than normal.
“He had a panic attack,” Steve explains.
Sam’s voice is tight, strained, as he says, “Peter had a panic attack. Peter had a panic attack, probably about the three of you being around, and you morons thought it would be a good idea to follow him to this locked space—where he can’t escape or defend himself—and forcefully talk to him.”
“He has a taser,” Natasha offers.
There’s another pause, and then, “Natasha, what—?”
“I want him to know be can take us down,” she says. “He won’t have to again, but I want him to know that he can.” Louder, pointedly, she says, “That he can and should do anything to protect himself.”
“No,” Peter says, wobbly at the thought of hurting them. “Nn-o I can’t—”
“Peter,” Sam starts.
“Peter!” And that’s Bruce, finally, arriving back the communal area with an edge of panic in his tone. Peter can hear him barging through the crowded Avengers, trying to get to their youngest member. “Is he in there? He’s in there, right? Is he okay—?”
“I’m okay,” Peter says, and thankfully, his voice only sounds a little choked up.
“I’m sorry for leaving,” Bruce begins. He genuinely sounds remorseful about it, apology heavy with guilt and regret, despite the fact that it had been Peter’s suggestion that he leave. It was Peter stupidly ushering him out of the door, reassuring him that he’d be fine, because he’d thought he could handle sitting quietly on the couch wouldn’t be too much for him. Apparently, he was wrong.
“S’not your fault,” Peter interrupts, before Bruce can apologise further. “Sorry for—for. For freaking out on everyone.”
There’s some shuffling as everyone shifts, making room for Bruce to crouch down in front of the door. Like Steve, his voice is softer, gentle; “Are you going to be alright, Peter?”
Peter swallows thickly, presses his bad hand into a tight, aching fist, and says honestly, “I dunno.”
And yes, after the events of his chapter, SHIELD/Stark Industries politely steps in to make sure the police officer keeps his silence on Peter's identity.
Happy holidays, everyone!
EDIT: Amazing art for this chapter by unoriginalsam!!!!! Thank you so much!!!! - http://unoriginalsam.tumblr.com/post/136578911708/more-art-inspired-by-in-the-home-still-in-sketch
I would like to apologise in advance for this chapter. My chapters keep getting progressively longer, and I keep getting progessively eviler. Sorry, Pete.
Warnings for injuries, panic attacks, and children in dangerous, possible harmful situations.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Please don’t say anything to SHIELD,” Peter says into the blanket, hands bunched in the soft fabric. He can only just see Bruce over the comforter, covered as he is from toes to nose, only his bruised eyes and messy hair exposed. “Please, Bruce. ”
Bruce takes a seat on the edge of the bed. He reminds Peter achingly of Aunt May like this, kind eyes and warm, parental concern. Peter misses her. Desperately. He can’t count the times he’s wanted to call out for his Aunt throughout the past few days.
“Why can’t I tell them?” Bruce asks.
Peter shrugs against the pillows, avoiding Bruce’s gaze. “SHIELD just can’t know about my freak outs. They can’t.”
Bruce lays a comforting hand on Peter’s knee, curled up beneath the blankets like a scared, huddled kid. The point of contact is warm, hot, and Peter is hyperaware of it. “Are you embarrassed, Peter?”
Peter almost jolts away from Bruce. Embarrassed? Bruce thinks Peter is begging for his silence because he’s embarrassed?
That sounds so petty and childish, and Peter almost snaps at Bruce right then. He’s struck with the compelling urge to lay it all down in front of the older man. How humiliating the entire situation has been—from the way Peter had naively walked blind into the Tower days ago and was pinned, humiliated and helpless, to the way he’s allowed himself to panic around his teammates, allowed himself to be reduced to such raw, baseless fears. He almost tells Bruce how embarrassed and stupid and scared he feels even now, how these feelings haven’t left him since Natasha had pinned him against the gym matt, cold, broken gun aimed between his temples. How petrified he is of SHIELD’s threats. How he doesn’t know how he’d live with himself if he let SHIELD go through with the threats, leaving him alone and without his team. Even after all that’s happened, Peter doesn’t know how he’ll to live without his team.
Peter pushes the words back. Embarrassment is a good lie, his bruised ego and stupid feelings aside. Embarrassment is justifiable, if it’s him. If it’s Peter.
Peter nods against the pillow. Bruce’s expression melts into something soft and sympathetic.
“Oh, Peter,” he murmurs. His comforting hand drifts up, resting on Peter’s shoulder. “You have nothing to be embarrassed about. Nobody will fault you for your panic attacks.”
SHIELD will. The team should, too.
Peter shakes his head, burying his face further into the soft pillow. Bruce wasn’t entirely wrong—Peter is embarrassed by what happened, by this conversation. Although that’s not what’s driving him.
“Don’t tell them, Bruce. I’m asking you—don’t tell SHIELD.”
Bruce sighs, but relents, “I won’t tell them.”
After Bruce—with Sam’s help— had pushed the three Avengers away from the bathroom door and out of the communal rooms entirely, Bruce had bustled Peter down to his rooms. Peter had been too tired to argue, the panic attack having left him drained. Exhausted.
(To Peter’s credit, he’d barely flinched when he entered Bruce’s personal living room. He’d taken in the new, bloodless cream carpets and the freshly painted walls, free of any chained demigods, before lowering his gaze, focussing only on Bruce in front of him.
Bruce had directed him to the spare bedroom with plush bedding, taking far too much joy in wrapping Peter up into a blanket burrito and helping him relax, even just a little. His teammates, all much older than him, enjoyed mothering Peter way too much.)
But now, Peter was clear-headed enough to untangle the blanket nest and slink out of the unfamiliar bedroom. It didn’t feel safe here, even with Bruce’s soft snores drifting through the walls. And as much as Peter enjoyed Bruce’s presence, he needed some space from the older man. He felt embarrassed around Bruce—both due to the fact he had witness Peter freak out twice in one day, and the stupid, stupid habit that plagued him, that urge to reach out and clutch at Bruce’s sleeve every time he saw him—and terrified of the threat SHIELD posed. Bruce, kind-hearted, unknowing, could potentially tell them everything.
Even after Bruce promised not to tell, Peter is still wary. Still afraid of SHIELD.
What if Peter stayed, only to freak out later in the night, driven to another humiliating panic attack by a nightmare? And then Bruce reported Peter to SHIELD, and then SHIELD delivered on the threat, and then Peter would be left alone and team-less and—
No. Peter would just have to take refugee in his own rooms.
When Peter climbs back into his living room, he finds the huge balloon still bobbing in the corner. But the wicker chair is sat by the table, removed from underneath the doorknob.
“Jarvis,” Peter says sharply. “The door—has someone been in my rooms—”
“Sir and Mr. Wilson visited your room several hours previous,” answers Jarvis. “I assure you they meant no harm. They brought gifts.”
“Gifts?” Peter casts another look at the ridiculously large, gaudy balloon. “More gifts?”
Peter heads to the table, and runs his hands over the back of the wicker chair. For one, traitorous moment, he thinks that maybe the gifts are something ominous, like traps, something malicious laid out in his personal rooms.
His heartbeat skips at the thought, his stomach rolling. He’s tugging the chair back across the room and toward the door before his mind catches up to him, wrestling down the idea, reminding him that this building is full of friends. Guilty, hurting friends, who don’t want to harm Peter. He shouldn’t, shouldn’t think such horrible things.
Peter frowns. The door that stands before him has something sleek and black attached, wrapped around the base of the doorknob. Beneath that, sits an old-fashioned deadbolt, thick and blocky, like something out of a zombie movie, something designed to keep out the dawning apocalypse.
Peter traces it with one, cautious finger, as Jarvis says, “The doors to your personal quarters now lock from the inside. And you, Mr. Parker, are the only one who has the access and ability to lock them.”
Experimentally, Peter slides the deadbolt across the door. It clicks into place, the sound loud and final. Strangely, it makes Peter feel a little better, knowing there’s this barrier between him and the rest of the Tower.
“Gifts,” Peter repeats.
“Gifts,” Jarvis agrees.
The first lock, twisted around the doorknob, clearly came from Tony’s hands—technology stitched together perfectly, without the hint of a seam, without a single loose thread. The black screen on its side glows a faint, waiting blue.
“It’s activated via your fingerprints, sir. Only your fingerprints.”
Peter presses a finger against the screen, feeling the telltale thrum of the lock starting up, before something in the door twists and clicks into place. Peter unlocks the deadbolt, and tries to open the door, pushing all of his weight onto it.
It doesn’t budge.
“The door has also been reinforced, and in the case of a technological failure, or if the Tower’s network is taken down, the deadbolt will hold.”
“Thank you,” Peter manages. His throat is choked up again, chest tight, but this time, there’s no fear pushing ruthlessly against Peter’s boundaries, trying to drown him. His anxiety hasn’t been this low in days.
The infliction in Jarvis’ tinny voice sounds different, somehow, softer, just like Tony, as he says, “Anytime.”
Peter clears his throats, dispelling the traitorous wetness building there. “You said Sam left a gift?”
“To your left, sir.”
Peter looks back, and there, there—Sam’s gift standing on Peter’s coffee table. The three water bottles—emptied out and refilled with purplish smoothies, little chunks of strawberries and ice still visible within—sit harmless before him, lined up like a trio of soldiers, label brands facing his way.
“Food from Sam,” Peter murmurs, with a small smile. “That’s just like him.”
He collects one of the bottles of promised smoothie, uncaps it, and takes a tentative sip. The natural sweetness only blended fruit and honey can provide makes him groan, eyes slipping shut. Sam truly is a blessing. Peter is so, so grateful for his teammate’s skills in the kitchen.
He loves his Aunt, but god. Years of dry, heavy meatloaf makes a man thankful for good food.
Peter’s already drained half the bottle, gulping at it like a deprived, overheated man, when he stops, lowering it from his mouth.
His Aunt May. Her dry meatloaf. Her broad, open arms, and her eyes softened with concern. The way she’d soothe his fringe back, wrinkled hands gentle, and make him feel a little better. Less lonely. Like everything might just be okay in the end.
“Jarvis,” Peter begins around the tight, painful feeling in his throat, “is my Aunt alright?”
“She is physically well, sir, though I imagine she misses you tremendously.”
“Right.” Peter puts the half-empty bottle back on table. His stomach feels too full, stuffed with too many sandwiches and too many of Peter’s useless, built up emotions. Homesickness, like a pile of rocks in his belly, sloshing around with Sam’s smoothies, weighing Peter down.
“Do you wish to see her, Mr. Parker? I’m sure a visit to your childhood home in Queens would not go amiss—”
“No!” The word comes out too fast, too vehement. Peter takes a breath, and says, slower, “No, it’s fine, Jarvis. She shouldn’t seen me in this, er. In this state.” And Peter doubts he’d get halfway there before SHIELD became aware of his intentions and dragged him right back to the Tower, anyway. “Besides, she’s probably busy.”
Jarvis sounds reproachful, “I doubt she is busy enough to refuse a house visit from her nephew—”
Peter cuts through the AI, “No, Jarvis.”
The AI falls obediently silent. Peter tries not to feel bad about that. Fails. Focuses on the half empty smoothie in front of him.
Tony and Sam have been thinking about Peter, about ways to make him feel better. All of the Avengers worry needlessly about him, he knows, and now they’re unable to go about their business in their own homes because he’s around, threatening to—to flip out again, like an unexploded bomb.
They put effort into this. Into giving Peter gifts. The least Peter can do is get over his stupid fears.
When Peter was younger, he’d been terrified of the dark. His Uncle and Aunt had been understanding. Hallway lights were left on at night, torches bought and placed by Peter’s bedside.
For a while, after Uncle Ben was killed, that fear only worsened. Peter got over that trembling, burning fear by pushing himself into the dark, making himself acclimatise to dark rooftops and alleyways thrown into shadow. He made himself push through panic attacks and memories of his Uncle’s desperate, shaking hands reaching for his nephew as he bled out.
After a while, Peter had just… gotten over it. Dealt with his fear of the dark. (A part of him still wonders if he’d just replaced one fear with another—darkness giving way to the nagging terror that a loved one would leave him again. Someone else killed despite Peter’s efforts. Another person dying beneath him. That fear kept him up at night.)
Peter just needs to familiarise himself with the Avengers again. He can’t burry himself in soft comforters and Bruce’s easy, reassuring presence—he has to force himself to get over this fear. He has to get used to his friends’ faces, like he’d gotten used to the dark.
Neither can hurt him, he reminds himself. The dark. His friends. Neither will really hurt him.
“Jarvis, can you print out photos of the other Avengers? Not me, and not Bruce, but the others. Sam, and Tony, and the other Avengers.”
Jarvis doesn’t ask what they’re for. “Right away, sir.”
Tony had gifted Peter with a printer when he’d first moved in. Peter had been embarrassed but grateful, as he always is when receiving presents. The thing is amazing; it prints high quality photographs, the ink vibrant on glossy paper, colours popping, adding something special to Peter’s shots.
(In response to the gift, Peter had taken several photos of Iron Man; glimmering in the soft hues of the sunrise, the New York skyline spilt out behind him; poised in a landing, the red and golds bold and glinting under the midday sun; a group of beaming children in Central Park, dressed in homemade Avengers costumes, a brunette boy in the middle of the shot, dressed in a red shirt and plastic gauntlets, an Iron Man helmet held in his excited hands.
Tony had hung them all up in his workshop. The latter was the largest, framed and blown up as large as it would go.)
Peter collects duct-tape and the printed photos, and spreads them out on the table. Worrying his lip between his teeth, anxiety thrumming unbidden in his veins, he focuses on each photo. Each familiar face staring up at him.
There’s a younger, more innocent Sam in the combat green of the military, a proud, greying woman by his side. His mother, Peter assumes. There’s Clint sticking his tongue out at the camera, SHIELD’s black briefing room in the background. There’s Thor and Jane in front of glinting restaurant, decked out in a smart blue dress and tailored suit.
All of them, staring up at him. Peter’s team. His friends. Their faces, the same faces that had twisted into snarls, hatred burning in their eyes, focussed and deadly and all of them, all of them, on his dining table, beneath Peter’s trembling hands—
Peter exhales roughly. Curls his healing fingers into a painful fist.
“They’re just photographs,” Peter tells himself, angry, frustrated. He’s getting worked up over photographs. He’s still exhausted, only having caught a few hours of sleep after Bruce had ushered him into his rooms, but still. Still, there’s no excuse.
Peter takes another look at the photos. They remain stationary, harmless. He sees one of Steve—the man sat on the balcony in his pyjamas, sketchpad in hand, annoyed and glaring up at the camera—and has to fight to keep his breathing even. He doesn’t drop his gaze, but stares at it. Stares at the photo, at Steve.
Acclimatise. Force himself to get over the fear making his stomach roll.
Peter plucks a photo from the table—Natasha covered in flour, glowering at a ball of lumpy cookie dough, Sam laughing himself silly behind her—and tapes it to the wall. He grabs another—Tony, sunglasses pushed into his hair, cocktail in hand—and tapes it next the first. Another. Another. Their faces stare at him as he continues.
This is better, Peter tells himself. He was letting himself cling to Bruce, so he had to push the man away. He was beginning to let his personal rooms be something separate, removed, a place without the Avengers, so he’s brought them into his personal rooms, even if it’s just in the form of photographs.
Peter can’t hide himself away and pretend they don’t exist. He owes it to them to fight this fear. Acclimatise. Acclimatise.
The silence in this big, empty room is unnerving. Distracting, leaving Peter feeling on edge, anxiety ramped up.
“Can you turn the TV on, J?” Peter asks, as he picks up a photo of Thor and Steve, dusty and a little bloody but grinning, post-battle. “Just something random. A news station, maybe.” The television flares to life. “Thanks.”
“You’re very welcome, sir.”
He’s pinning up a photo of Tony and Clint—back to back, the former wearing expensive aviators, the latter green shutter shades, holding finger guns in front of their faces like spies on a movie poster, clearly a little drunk—when the onscreen jingle trying to sell lawn mowers comes to a close. A news program fills the screen.
Peter riffles through more photos, grabbing another, barely paying attention to the background thrum of noise. The mention of his team catches his attention, and he freezes, head snapping up.
The blond newsreader says smoothly, “Despite the Avengers best efforts, the destruction in downtown Manhattan is widespread, with no end in sight. Police recommend people stay in their homes, until the chaos caused by the super-villain group is under control—”
The photos spill out of Peter’s lax hands. “Jarvis? Are—are the Avengers out fighting? Did I miss the call to assemble?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Parker, but I was instructed not to alert you in the case of any external emergencies.”
“The team doesn’t want me there?” Peter squashes down the stupid flash of hurt at that, pushing away thoughts about how the team doesn’t want him near,not after he failed them earlier, when he was unable to keep a level-head while sitting in their own living room. No wonder they don’t trust him. Peter can’t fault them for thinking he’s a liability. “Right, of course, that’s fine.”
Peter leaves the half-finished wall of taped photographs, and dashes into his bedroom. He almost trips over his own feet in surprise when he takes in the giant teddy bear. It’s larger than the balloon, taking up one wall, its feet pressed against the side of his bed. It’s a soft golden colour, fur fluffy and clean, with a red bow around its neck. It’s stomach reads, I’m bear-y happy to see you!
Right. Tony’s gifts. The one Sam and Bruce had mentioned.
Peter shakes himself. He moves past the bear, fetching one of his spare suits from his closet. He throws off his oversized hoodie and jeans, and puts the spider suit back on, worn spandex easing into place, like he’d never taken it off.
Slipping into the mask is like slipping into an old skin, familiar, comforting. Even after how badly things had gone a few days ago, after everything that had happened while he’d worn it, Peter still loves his suit. Nothing could change that.
“Sir, I must advice against this—”
“Sorry, Jarvis,” Peter says, and his voice is more confident than it’s been in days, with no hint of a tremor. The mask always has made Peter feel like something bigger than he really is. Something so much more than lousy Peter Parker, small and weak and with fears too large to be contained. Spider-Man is a symbol of hope. An icon for his city, a hero, someone strong and unwavering, who wouldn’t let stupid fears get in the way of his life.
As Peter makes his way back into the living room, the newsreader says, “While the six other Avengers are all present, there is no sign yet of Spider-Man. After the events of several days ago—”
Peter ignores it, racing for the window, flipping up the hatch Tony had designed there.
“Sir, please—” Jarvis is almost begging.
“I have to do this,” Peter says. He has to; for himself, for SHIELD, for the people of his city. He forces a laugh, waving a goodbye at the ceiling, before throwing himself off the building and into free fall. “Catch you on the flip side, J!”
Even without the comm in his ear, without Steve’s voice directing him toward the fight like usual, Peter found the Avengers’ battle easily. Plumes of smoke rose from the point of contention, visible suburbs away, guiding Peter through the city like the north star.
Also; screaming civilians. If you ever wanted to find trouble in New York City, run in the opposite direction to the fleeing people.
Most of the people running shrieking through the streets, hands braced over their heads as though to protect themselves from aerial attacks, were tourists. The majority of locals meandered easily away from the fighting Avengers, used to frequent superhuman battles taking place on their streets, or hovered on the outskirts, pressing up against the erected police barriers to watch the ensuing fight, like spectres at a sports game. Several of them had hotdogs or soft drinks in hand, eating an early dinner while watching the famous heroes battling it out with super-villains. Over half had their cellphones out, filming the heroes.
Peter swings close by them, waving cheerily when they look up at him.
“‘Morning, all!” He uses a lamppost like a springboard, flipping to a crouch on the asphalt. “Nothing like a terrorist attack to start your day, right?”
A toddler claps her hands together, bouncing in her mother’s arms. “‘Pider-Man!” she shrieks. “‘Pider-Man! Pider-Man’s okay!”
“Better than okay,” Peter agrees, making a show of jumping to his feet, rocking back on his heels. As Spider-Man, Peter is full of energy, all constant movement and easy jokes. Nothing like anxious, unsure Peter Parker, with his hunched shoulders and trembling hands.
Another child, a younger boy with a bright shock of red hair and glasses, peeks out from behind his father’s legs. “There’s a bad guy,” says the boy, pointing at where one of the villains darts about in the sky above them, dodging Tony’s repulser blasts, Thor’s lightning. Peter has been purposefully not looking at them. “He ruined our day out! We were going to get burgers! We can’t get burgers now!”
“Davey,” admonishes the father gently.
Peter’s ribs are still tender, his muscles sore, but Peter ignores the ache in favour of making a show, jumping onto the bonnet of a nearby car and panting his hands on his hips. “Do not fear, young citizen! The Avengers will avenge your burgers!”
The children bounce and cheer, awe and excitement at seeing a local hero. The little girl is shrieking with happiness, and the younger boy, Davey, is tugging at his father’s pant leg, beaming up at his parent.
Kids. Gotta love them. Peter always feels proudest of his city, of his tenure as Spider-Man, when in the presence of kids.
His young fans and the presence of his familiar, comforting mask, spurs Peter on, gives him to the courage to swing back into the sky to join the battle.
Judging from the ripped up concrete, the tipped over cars and sidewalks splattered with debris and shards of glass, the way the villains only seem to revel in the screaming tourists, Peter assumes they're after chaos. They want a huge spectacle, seeking out destruction and burning, screaming city streets.
He swings up into the air where several villains are laying siege to the buildings’ higher storeys.
“I know rent is crazy here,” Peter calls, as he scales the side of an untouched apartment building, “but c’mon, don’t take it out on the buildings.”
The man scowls at Peter, hands raising to take him out, but before he can, shards of red feather-like metal pierce his arms and he’s sent tumbling out of the sky.
Falcon swoops into view. “Pete—Spider-Man! What are you doing here?”
The sight of Sam doesn’t inspire that familiar terror, not like this—a protective visor hiding half his face, the streak of red that sits on the metal bone of his wing catching Peter’s attention, focusing on the broad wings instead of the man’s face.
“Enjoying the evening sunshine, same as any other normal New Yorker,” Peter says.
There must be an argument on Sam’s comm, because the man pauses, a little crease forming between his eyes, before he says, “No, he’s here, but I didn’t tell him—I didn’t—”
Peter knows what that’s like when too many of them try and talk at once, half a dozen clambering to be heard, talking over one another. It feels strange to be on this side of things. Normally, Peter is right there with them, chattering along, in the very thick of the fighting, throwing webs and jokes with ease.
This side of things—empty ears, unconnected to the Avengers’ conversation—makes Peter feel like he’s back in high school again, excluded by his peers, on the outside looking in. Isolated. It’s not a nice feeling.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Sam finally settles on, directing this at Peter.
“Um,” Peter says, “yes I should? I know you six wanted to play mother men and treat me like glass, but the city is being attacked. You can’t coddle me when lives are at risk.”
“No, Peter—” Sam starts.
A woman with a flowing, black cape flies low, hands outstretched and glowing a bright orange. The light flows from her hands, moving like a living thing. When it connects with the road, ripples of energy are sent outward, the asphalt cracking, glass of nearby windows shattering. The cars parked close by are sent flying.
A pick up truck is thrown into the air. The people gathered behind the police barriers scream as it flies toward them.
Peter drops off the building, into free fall, just in time to catch the truck with fast shots of web. It dangles above the pedestrians, like a fly spun by a spider. Peter reinforces it, and quickly flits above the crowd, creating an intricate web, like a safety net to protect the innocents below.
The people cheer, clapping at his work. It’s a good feeling.
The caped woman flies back down, teeth bared when she sees Peter’s handiwork.
Peter shrugs at her. “Sorry, lady,” he calls, “I’m a superhero, this is what I do. Saving people, hunting things. The family business.”
She drops fully to the ground. Her hands begin to glow once more—the orange light looks like flames, licking up her pale skin.
His spider-sense hums. “Folks, you might want to run,” Peter shouts down to the New Yorkers.
Before they can probably accept his advice, the villain presses her hands against the hard asphalt and everything—cars, people, Peter himself—are sent flying through the air, propelled by that hot wave of energy.
Peter collides with a brick building, unable to right himself in time, the energy like a solid, un-fightable wall. His head knocks against the bricks, pain flaring against his temples, but Peter shakes it off. Shakes off the pain, the dizziness. His healing ribs are screaming, healing fingers scrambling to find purchase.
Peter drops to the floor, ignoring the burn in his side. Shake off the pain, Parker. Shake off the pain.
The street is in chaos, tipped over cars and debris littered through the road, the police barrier gone. Many of the people are bleeding, limping, but uninjured enough to pick themselves up and bolt in the opposite direction. The crowd is no longer a cheering mass of onlookers, but panicked, hurt, a mob sprinting for safety.
A little boy lays in the middle of the road, crying into his hands, a bloody cut along his knee, his glasses missing. Davey’s hair is red, vibrant. A man lies on his back several metres away. He's staring up at the blue sky, his eyes blank and unblinking. He's not moving.
He's Davey's father, Peter recognises, a sick feeling in his belly. Davey's father. Dead.
The villain still stands in the street, grinning at the destruction that laid around her. She sees Davey, sobbing and parentless, and her smirk grows.
Peter’s spider-sense goes off, and this time, he knows it’s not because he’s the one personally in danger of getting hurt. Even his instincts knows how much watching a child die would hurt Peter.
The woman’s arms are outstretched, reaching for the boy. Peter darts into the street and scoops Davey into his arms. “This isn’t yours,” Peter tells her, before bolting down the closest alley, the child cradled in his arms.
“Spider-Man,” Davey says against Peter’s shoulder. His small arms clasp onto Peter’s shoulders, holding tight.
“Hey, kiddo,” Peter says. He turns a corner, the woman disappearing out of sight, before scaling a wall, ready to put several streets distance between them and the villain. Time to regroup. Bring Davey to safety, find the other Avengers. Work as a team. “Ready to go for a ride?”
“I d’n’t want a ride,” Davey mumbles, words thick with tears. “Want my Daddy.”
“I know, I know,” Peter says, “but this’ll be fun, I promise!”
They drop into the low arch of his swing, propelled through the street by Peter’s webs, and Davey stops crying, laughter falling from his mouth as they turn a corner, tumbling and flipping carefully.
“See, what did I tell you? Fun.”
There’s another explosion from somewhere to their left, streets away. It’s so large, the tremors so hard, that Peter slips, his web missing his mark, and they tumble onto the street.
Davey spills out of Peter’s arms, toppling along the asphalt. It’s not a hard fall, Peter making sure to swing them close to the street anyway, but his ribs are still jostled, his sore muscles screaming. But Davey is unharmed. The six year old looking more shocked than anything.
“Whoa,” Peter says loudly, theatrically, to put Davey’s mind at rest. “That was a silly fall! I’m such a klutz—”
It works, Davey’s face clearing after the jarring fall. Peter makes a show to jumping to his feet, and bounding across the street. The fall had separated them, put metres of space between them, and Peter races back to grab Davey. There’s probably emergency services nearby, people who can look after Davey and make sure he gets home to his family.
Peter’s stomach lurches. Does Davey have any other family? Does he have a mother, a sibling, or is he orphaned now, left parentless because Peter wasn’t fast enough to stop the villain—
His spider-sense screams as Peter’s booted foot connects with cold, hard metal that clicks as its pieces slot into place. He looks down quickly but finds nothing beneath him, only air and asphalt, even as the contraception snaps, and sharp, slicing teeth clamp around his leg, sending Peter colliding against the road with a muffled scream.
“Spider-Man!” Davey shrieks.
Peter lunges forward, tries to pull himself away, to pull him toward Davey, tug the boy into his arms and out of the battlefield, to safety, but the movement only tears something in his leg. Pain erupts up from his wet, wet ankle, and Peter doesn’t move. Stuck against the metal thing. Trapped, like a shackle around his ankle.
“Spider-Man!” Davey’s little face is red and tear stained, screwed up in fear.
“Stay there,” Peter instructs. He casts a glance up at the sky, but finds it empty, both of villains and heroes. If he had his comm now, he could simply call for back up. One word, and Sam or Tony or Thor would fly down and bundle up the boy, or Natasha would dart out from an alley and offer protection.
But his comm is presumably with the team. His ears are silent. His leg is screaming in pain.
Davey flinches at the sound of a nearby explosion that wracks the ground with tremors, sending dark swirls of smoke into the blue sky. Fire licks up the side of a high rising building only a street away—the villains are closer than Peter had thought.
“Spider-Man,” the boy mumbles, hands in fists against the asphalt. He sniffs and curls up tighter. “Spider-Man is here, everything will be o—okay.”
Peter’s heart twists painfully in his chest. He has to get them out of here.
Peter inspects his left ankle, and his stomach lurches at the sight; jagged metal teeth have sunk into the meat of his calf. Blood drips over the metal, running down his leg to soak the boot, and Peter can see ripped flesh poking up around the contraception’s teeth. The wound is deep. Dangerously deep.
The sight is nauseating, and sharp, unadulterated pain makes him slow, makes it hard to think. Peter does his best to push through it, forcing himself to sit up and inspect the metal device with both hands.
He runs his fingers down the outer rim of the metal and finds a chain connected to the thing’s huge, closed jaws, and his stomach swoops.
It’s a bear trap. It’s image flickers into reality, invisible one moment, cold and solid the other.
Peter looks up sharply, staring down the street—parts of the air are shimmering, like a mirage on too hot day. Unnoticeable before, but now that Peter’s looking, he can see where someone has cast concealments in the air.
Traps must lie beneath. Bear traps, with open metal mouths waiting for someone to stumble in, waiting to snap closed around someone’s leg, or arm, or god, what if someone had tripped into it and landed chest first—
Traps, laid out in a public street, waiting for panicked people to run straight into them. The attack is merely a distraction, Peter realises. Something to drive the scared masses.
There’s no one else on these streets, all the heroes directed towards the villains several streets over. The civilians haven’t run this way yet, but Peter knows its only a matter of time—these streets were emptied, and then these traps were set, and now the villains are going to be guiding their attack from a different direction, scattering the civilians, herding them like unwitting cattle toward the camouflaged bear traps. It makes Peter feel sick.
“Spider-Man,” Davey gasps. He’s crawled closer, elbows pulling him toward Peter, and is staring down at the mangled leg with wet eyes. “Your—your leg—”
“Don’t look,” Peter says. His sharp instruction only makes the boy flinch, eyes lowered. Peter tries again, softer, kinder, “Hey, it’s going to be okay. I’m tougher than most. Being a superhero is about getting hurt and getting back up and kicking butt, no matter what.”
Davey only looks sad. “You get hurt a lot.”
“I do,” Peter admits, “but it’s nothing. You probably play outside a lot, and scrape your knees and your elbows, right?” The boy nods, eyes still a little wet. All his focus is on Peter. “And you still get back up and go back to playing. For me, superhero-ing is the same.”
“You must be so tough,” Davey says, eyes shining with embarrassing hero worship. “Like—like as tough as the Hulk! I always cry whenever I skin my knees, and I didn’t ride my scooter for weeks because I crashed it and broke my ankle, and that hurt.”
“Maybe not that tough.” Peter can’t help but remember his own skinned knees—they came in the form of broken fingers, knife wounds to his back. In fists that bloody his face like they're tenderising steak. “I still cry too, when I’m scared or hurt.”
“That doesn’t mean you’re not still tough,” Davey insists. “Mommy says it’s okay to cry when you’re hurt, as long as you don’t let what happened keep you from moving on. You’re tough, because you got hurt real bad a few days ago by your friends, but you didn’t let what happened keep you from moving on; you’re still here fighting bad guys with your friends.”
The boy nods, pleased with his simple logic, but Peter stiffens against the asphalt. This boy is talking about—about the incident, at the Tower, with the Avengers and the gas and the entrapping, lowered steel, as though he knows what had happened—
“What do you mean? What happened a few days ago—?!”
Davey furrows his brows, confused by Peter’s own panicked confusion. “When you got hurt,” he explains slowly, “by the other Avengers. Mommy said they didn’t mean to actually hurt you, so it was okay, but we should still be worried because you were all red when you came out of the Tower…”
The boy glances back at Peter’s wrecked leg. The jaws of the bear trap and the road beneath are slippery. Red.
“You’re hurt again.” Davey looks sick, frightened, but his eyes are beginning to glaze over, the shock of the situation settling in. “Did the Avengers do it this time…?”
“No,” Peter says, though his mouth feels dry, useless. He knows, just from hearing the boy’s words, that SHIELD is going to be furious. “No, the other Avengers’ didn’t do this.”
Peter wets his lips, nervous all over again, and asks, tentatively, “Davey, how did you know about what happened a few days ago? When the Avengers—when they hurt me?”
“It was on TV,” Daveys answers, oblivious to the way his words make Peter’s stomach lurch, dread a heavy weight in his chest, “and the newspapers, and my big sister’s laptop. The news tried to say it wasn’t real, that everyone had gotten it wrong, but Daddy says they were just covering it up. That you really were hurt.” Davey suddenly looks at Peter with such concern, such care, eyes softening in a way that makes Peter’s heart ache. He doesn’t deserve the love behind that stare. “My family was really worried. My neighbours too, when we talked to them on the way to school, and my teacher looked sad when she saw me drawing Spider-Man. Daddy said he was glad that you’re alright now, that you’re out fighting again!”
“I’m glad I’m alright too,” Peter tries, but the words are wobbly, and feel wrong in his mouth. People had been concerned for him. A family of strangers, a father who’s dead now because Peter didn’t save him. Peter swallows, and adds, “I hadn’t realises anyone knew.”
Peter hadn’t given a thought to the people outside of the Tower several days ago. Not really. The presence of journalists and cops and curious onlookers had registered, but he had ben more concerned with their safety, with their inability to protect themselves against rabid Avengers. He hadn’t thought about the press. The photographers. The dozens of people with smart phones, cataloguing the incident.
It’s over—the cure had been administered, and the Avengers are back to normal, and it’s done. They should be able to go back to the way things were, before the attack on the Tower.
But it isn’t over. The Avengers aren’t back to normal, not really. Not with Peter back in the Tower, a living reminder of their shortcomings, the moment they were controlled and turned violent without their consent.
Peter couldn’t forget what had happened with his stupid fear, the unbidden panic attacks when a teammate caught him off guard. How could he have expected the rest of the world to forget it, either?
And now SHIELD will—will—
Davey screams as a series of waves of energy rain down over the street, sending the pavement cracking, the glass in the buildings shattering. Davey rushes to Peter, letting the teenager grab him and position him underneath him, back pressed against Peter’s chest. The woman responsible grins from her place in the sky, her smile proud, as though she’d only used her powers to scare Davey. That caped woman. The one who had killed Davey’s father.
The villain lands. Her cape flares out behind her, a black shadow, and she stands triumphantly by Peter, surveying the grotesque, twisted flesh of his leg. Davey sniffles under him. Peter can feel the kid trembling against his chest, through the spandex. Weirdly, his ribs don’t hurt too much, the bruises undisturbed despite the tiny, quivering bundle pressed tight against his torso.
Too much adrenaline, Peter supposes. Blocking out the pain. Davey’s safety is more important.
“Spider-Man,” she greets.
Peter grits his teeth at the pleased, enthusiastic look in her eyes. She’s enjoying this way too much, deriving too much pleasure from the sight of him laid out beneath her, a scared child protected by his body, leg bloody and twisted. “What do you want?” Peter demands.
The woman’s fists glow a bright orange. She aims it at Peter’s head.
“Your team is already so fractured after beating you bloody with their own fists,” she drawls, slow and mocking, the making of any good super-villain speech. “Maybe having you die without them, while they’re off elsewhere, will finally be Avengers undoing. Maybe if I kill their pet spider, it’ll destroy them.”
She crouches down to his level. Peter wants to twist away, to duck and run and find the others, but his leg is ensnarled in trap, and Davey is crying beneath him. Peter can only curl up tighter, trying to hide Davey from view.
“Our gas didn’t have its desired effect,” she says, her fist still glowing vibrantly. Peter almost throws up all over her heeled boots. “I guess we’ll just have to take a more direct approach.”
Before the hot, searing glow of her hand can make contact, someone lands loudly beside them, and demands, “You will STAY AWAY from him!”
The villain cocks her head to the side, taking in Thor’s growling form with a scowl. Peter squints up at his teammate, seeing Thor’s softly curled hair blowing in the wind; the way he holds Mjolnir up, residue gold energy crackling over the hammer; the way Thor’s face is twisted into a snarl, burning with hatred.
That anger—that face, the promise of retribution and violence in his eyes—
Peter whimpers against the asphalt, like a kicked dog visited by its abusive master. He curls Davey closer, closer, tucking the small, wet face into the curve of his neck, hiding him from the two adults. He drags his legs closer to his chest to protect his stomach, his vital organs, and the bear trap is dragged along with it—metal clinking against metal, the agonising burn and slow, wet drag of ripped flesh and heavy embedded teeth.
The woman catches Peter’s whimpers. Her eyes focus on him, calculating, and Peter feels like she can see directly through him, all his secrets and weaknesses laid out for her to see.
“Maybe our efforts weren’t a completely waste,” she muses. The orange glow of her hands goes out.
She kicks him in the thigh, right over the healing arrow wound, and Peter is spent sprawling on his back, the vulnerable plains of his stomach and Davey exposed to the world.
The woman rips Davey away and shoves a nondescript canister into the kid’s arms. Davey reflectively grabs hold of it.
“Think fast!” she says, before bodily tossing Davey, and Thor does, catching the child with gentle arms. Davey is sobbing, and clings to the blond.
“What is your purpose, wench? You will not—” Thor is interrupted as the canister in Davey’s hand explodes. Gas spills over the pair, the smog thick and green. Thor stumbles back in surprise, and his mouth drops open, swirls of green inhaled in.
Thor’s eye aren’t focussed. Glazed. Davey is still. No longer crying. Both of them are frozen.
“What did you do?” Peter demands. He braces himself on his elbows, trying to lever himself up, but his leg can’t be moved, too twisted and bloodied inside the shackled trap.
Thor blinks, once, twice, and shakes his head as though trying to dispel something, like a dog shaking water out of his ears. Davey’s face has scrunched back up, but not in fear this time. Something else, something that burns, that turns his innocent eyes dark.
The villain steps away casually, a satisfied twist to her lips. “What we did a few days ago,” she says, with a knowing glance back at Peter. “Of course, you know all about that, don’t you? You were the one locked away with them and the aftereffects of that gas.”
Davey bucks in Thor’s grip, tiny arms and legs thrown wildly about, mouth open in a shriek. It doesn’t look like a child’s tantrum, but something more, resembling a wild, trapped animal desperate to be released.
“He’s just a kid,” Peter begs. Thor’s eyes are beginning to clear. The gas works slower on his larger, alien system, but still, still, the man is coming to, eyes dark. “Please, please, he’s just a kid—”
“All the better,” says the woman. “Can you imagine, after an Avenger kills an innocent child in broad daylight?” She looks down at Peter—taking in his defeated, trapped form, his mangled leg, his harsh, terrified breathing—and grins broadly. “I wonder how everyone will react after that. After he throws the child’s broken body away, and then your teammate comes and kills you, Spider-Man.”
The woman draws away, laughing, before throwing herself back into the air, taking flight, leaving Peter trapped in the street, Thor and Davey metres away, wisps of green dissolving in the air.
Peter takes a deep, steadying breath and focuses on Davey, twisting and thrashing in Thor’s frozen arms. An innocent child.
“Thor,” Peter says slowly, “you need to let the kid go.”
Thor shakes his head again. When he opens his eyes, they’re clear and blue and settle on Peter. There’s something vulnerable about his expression, desperate and terrified.
“Peter,” Thor chokes out, and his voice is raw, wrecked. “It’s happening again—I can feel it, I can feel the burning in my chest—”
“You have a child in your arms,” Peter tells him plainly, making sure to keep his words slow and even so Thor’s addled brain can make sense of it. Thor glances down at Davey and quickly puts him down, taking several large steps away from the child.
Davey tries to make a break for it, sprinting on small legs to find someone to attack, the gas compelling him furiously forward, but Peter shoots a web at him. It connects with Davey’s back. Peter pulls him back, the web tugging a struggling Davey into his waiting arms.
“Call the Avengers,” Peter orders, as Davey tries to fight him, little fists hitting at Peter’s healing ribs. It hurts, bright flares of pain against his bruised skin, but it’s nothing that Peter can let distract him. He brackets his body around Davey, mirroring the position they were in only minutes ago, before the gas, using his own body to trap Davey against the ground. A cage. A human shield.
He wants to let Davey go, let the boy run as fast as he can away from Thor even if Peter can’t, but the attacking group is only streets away, the destruction widespread. The gas would likely only pull Davey towards the chaos, like a moth to the burning light, and the child would be crushed. Or trampled. Or killed by a wayward villain.
Or maybe Davey would get far enough away, and they would lose him for good, and Davey would be stuck in this state forever. If a cure isn’t administrated, who knows how long Davey will be lost in this feral state. He has a life. A family. Peter can’t let that happen.
Until help can arrive, Peter will just have to hope his weak, bloodied body is enough to protect Davey. Even if all he can do is slump over him, a protective wall of flesh.
“The Avengers, Thor,” Peter repeats, when Thor just stares dumbly at him, gas swirling in his mind, slowing his thoughts, his awareness.
Thor blinks rapidly, and manages, “Right—right.” His words are slow and clumsy, like he’s drunk. To the others, he says, “Myself and a young child were effected by the same gas that turned us feral days ago. I—I’m afraid—I’m already beginning to lose control, I received a potent dose, straight to my face—”
Thor’s words dissolve into stuttering as he loses control over his voice, lost under the frantic replies of the other Avengers. Peter feels so lonely, so bereft, without his comm, knowing he can’t tap into that conversation. Unlike last time, he can’t run through the Tower, can’t climb the walls and the ceilings to escape, can’t find Bruce’s voice to murmur reassurances at him.
Peter’s stuck in this trap, bloody and weak, a little kid struggling to get away, to run off and get hurt. And Peter’s useless to do anything but buckle down and use his body as a shield, to urge Thor away, because—because god, god, it’s happening again, even though they’d all said it was over, but it’s not over because Thor is right here and it’s happening again—
Davey claws at Peter’s forearms, trying to pry himself out of the teenager’s hold, and Thor falls silent. His eyes are clouded over, muscles going tense. Peter’s chest feels tight. Already, he’s struggling to breathe.
What good is Peter, trapped, already panicking? How can he protect others like this? Davey, Thor, the other civilians? Peter can’t help them if he doesn’t get a grip, doesn’t snap out of it and deal with this—
In the distance, something explodes. Peter can hear footsteps growing louder as the tourists and particularly flighty locals change directions, fleeing this way. A frightened stampede, headed for a minefield.
“STOP!” Peter shouts, pushing his sore voice as loud as he can. “DON’T COME THIS WAY!”
He shoots a web over the opening of the street. It’s wonky, and won’t do anything to hold back the crowds should they push onwards. But the panicked people don’t ignore it. It works—they stop. Like the webbing is a police tape, sectioning off the road.
The tourists may be easily frightened, the locals’ self preservation worn down to nothing, but still, they respect the webbing. Spider-Man is an Avenger, and amazingly, amazingly, people still listen to them. Respect them. Adhere to their orders.
The crowd hovers, a pulsing, shifting mass of energy, thrumming with anxious tension and anticipation. All eyes gravitate toward Peter’s twisted form, Thor several metres away, shoulders hunched, shaking with the effort of holding himself back. They’re watching like this is a movie, phones being plucked out of pockets and bags, flipped on, trailed on the heroes. Videoing. Photographing.
But Peter can’t worry about that now. Thor’s eyes only grow darker.
“Thor, are you with me?” Peter asks, hesitant.
Thor shakes his head. “I’m—I’m—”
His teammate comes closer. Peter flinches away, holding Davey tight, but Thor doesn’t strike him. Thor crouches down, clasping the ends of bear trap in hand, and yanks them apart. The trap breaks with the sound of snapping metal and a wet slop as the teeth are pulled deep out of Peter’s skin.
Peter bites back a scream, breathing roughly.
“Sorry,” Thor says, voice gravelly but sincere. He throws the broken bear trap away, and takes several steps away, putting that distance in-between them again. “Sorry,” Thor repeats, and he sounds distance, all his awareness gone. Delirious. “Sorry—sorry, sorry—”
Thor’s legs can no longer support his weight and the man collapses to the ground, shaking on his hands and knees. Peter can see how badly he’s trembling. His heartbeat is loud in his ears, worry for his teammate twisting in his chest, ruthless fear making him feel hot all over, palms sweaty and breath reduced sharp, useless inhales.
Then, Thor stops shaking. When he climbs to his feet, his movements are strong. His hands ball into fists. His face is twisted into a snarl that bares his teeth, eyes focusing on Peter with a single-minded intensity that makes him fight back bile.
There’s that anger in his eyes again. That familiar, burning hatred. The look Peter doesn’t think he’ll ever forget.
It’s not over. Of course, of course. It’s not over.
Peter feels like he never really left the Tower. Like the steel never lifted, help never really came. He’s still back there, Steve lurking somewhere in the shadows, Natasha nearby, armed with broken guns and knives, Clint by her side.
“Thor,” Peter murmurs. His eyes are growing wet beneath the mask, tears coming hot and fast. Peter didn’t cry last time, but this time, he can’t seem to help himself. Something hot and desperate is sitting in his chest, making Peter choke on fearful breaths, sobs clogging his throat. “Th—Thor.”
Thor tries to collect Mjolnir from its place on the ground, but the hammer doesn’t budge. Like a stranger is trying to pick it up, it stays flat and unmoving on the asphalt. Thor growls and yanks at it, to no avail. In this state, Thor isn’t worthy.
Behind the webbing, the dozen onlookers are frowning. Some of them observe Thor with keen eyes. They can tell something is wrong.
Thor abandons the hammer and turns toward Peter, fists poised by his side, all the weapons Thor needs. When his teammate steps forward, Peter scrambles backward. He takes Davey with him, one arm around the boy’s waist to haul him along. Davey struggles the entire way, and Peter’s leg is a dead weight, and his chest and throat and face are hot and wet with choked sobs, but he has to keep moving. He has to put space between them. No longer trapped by the bear trap, Peter has to get them away from Thor.
But he’s only got his elbows to propel himself back, one leg useless, his arms wrapped around Davey. Peter can’t crawl away fast enough, can’t get away—Thor’s closed fist slams across his face, so painfully reminiscent of Steve, and Peter is sent sprawling along the asphalt. He tastes blood.
Sharp gasps erupt from the crowd. Peter raises a hand to protect his face, but Thor grabs his wrist, pulling Peter half-off the ground, and punches him across the face with his other hand. Again, Peter is thrown. His cheek is split open, face drenched beneath the mask with more than just tears, with blood, cheeks torn and thoughts disorientated. The street spins around him.
There’s more gasps, more people crying out, shouting above the rush of blood in Peter’s ears. He blinks, trying to clear his blurry vision, to see people starting forward, trying to get around his webbing.
“Don’t,” Peter shouts, even as his voice cracks. Several stop, but a man, tall and dressed in a black shirt and stained apron, is spurred on, trying to get closer to Peter and Davey and Thor. “DON’T! Stay there, you’ll be KILLED—”
This is too much—too similar to the scene in that kitchen, the police officer shouting at Steve, Peter’s face split open under his leader’s fists. This time, though, there’s a child at risk and a demigod looming over him and there’s no help coming, no one coming to save him, no Bruce and no SHIELD—surely, SHIELD has written him off by now, after he failed to keep up his end of the bargain—and Peter’s going to die here—
Thor raises his fist, but a repulser blast connects and Thor is sent stumbling back, howling, clutching at his hand.
Thor shakes it off, anger flaring brighter after being attacked, and lunges at Peter again. This time, Iron Man jumps in front of Peter, grabbing Thor around the wrists. They grapple together, Tony gradually losing the tug of war with Thor’s wrists as the demigod snarls and shrieks at the cold faceplate.
“You’re up to bat, Jolly Green,” Tony announces.
Hulk lands in the street, making the concrete crack and tremble around him. He grabs Thor in green hands, holding their enraged teammate back, no matter how much Thor twists and thrashes and tries to escape the Hulk’s grip.
Tony takes a step toward Peter, but Peter is too disorientated. He doesn’t see Tony, doesn’t see the familiar red and gold of Iron Man—he sees a towering adult with thick arms and a cold, metal face. He flinches away, scrambling backward. His leg drags behind him, bloody and useless.
“Peter,” Tony tries, soothing, low. “Peter, it’s alright, Thor’s been restrained—”
The tears are still there, his eyes too hot and vision too blurry. Peter throws an arm over his head, the other wrapped tight around Davey. Huddling against the asphalt, violent tremors making it hard to brace himself, hard to move, to think, and he’s—he’s so afraid, the fear choking him worse than the sobs, worse than the blood pooling in the back of his throat, and he can’t breathe—he can’t breathe, curled tight around the thrashing boy—
Tony reaches a hand out to grab at Peter, to restrain or maybe reassure, but Peter screams, the sound cracking and animalistic, flinching away from the gauntlet.
“Sstay away—stay—don’t—” Tony takes another step. “NO—STAY AWAY—“
Peter’s shaking too hard, his teeth chattering from the force, and he’s still trying to scramble away. His vision is blurring, black spots appearing—he’s not getting enough air and he’s bleeding so heavily, his ribs aching, his leg screaming, but it’s the fear, the panic, that’s drowning Peter. Burning him alive, a wave of flames too hot for him to crawl away from. You can’t escape what’s inside you.
Peter tries to stand, gather himself to his feet to run away, even as Tony comes closer. He presses Davey’s heavy weight against his chest, curling around the boy. One hand is raised to protect himself, even if he can’t because he’s too weak and useless, this fear bigger than his body, lungs burning without air. The spots are worsening, blackening his vision. Peters gets one foot under him, shaking under his own weight, and when he raises the leg, pressing down, the wrecked and twisted flesh gives up beneath him—Peter tumbles back just as cold gauntlets reach out and pull Davey safely away.
Peter’s head collides with the hard asphalt, and knocks him out.
Happy 2016, guys!
Next chapter shall include a bunch of overdue answers, some revelations, and more Avengers.
I admit, Maria Hill was beyond awesome in Winter Soldier, but SHIELD's characterisation changes rapidly from series to series, so I'm taking some liberties. Besides, they strike me as the type to do whatever necessary to achieve their desired results, regardless of the consequences.
Warnings for panic attacks and SHIELD’s usual brand of dickish-ness.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Peter’s blinks awake. His eyelids are heavy and sticky with grit, a headache pounding behind his eyes.
SHIELD medical stares back at him, as sterilised and lifeless as it had been several days ago; the blankets are still too thin, and the medical equipment hums that same, tired old hum. Peter’s joints are still stiff, but not because they’re healing—no, because the wounds have been freshly beaten into him.
He hurts all over, pain like a blanket lying over his prone body. Or like shackles, looping over his arms and legs, keeping him pinned and unable to move.
Peter groans. His throat is sore.
“Oh!” Brown curls and thick rimmed glasses swim into view. Peter blinks through the pain; every thought hurts. They mustn’t have him on as many painkillers this time. “You’re awake! How’re you feeling, little dude?”
“Like I—like I got pummelled.” Peter swallows, trying to dispel the choking dryness in his throat. “By a truck.”
Darcy winces. “Well. You’re not not that far off…”
Peter squints at her, at the room around them. He tries to shift, testing the feeling of the deep bruising on his torso, like weights sat on his chest; the telltale pinch that is new stitches in his face; the swelled, tender skin around his sore eyes. Goddamnit. Peter’s old black eyes were just beginning to heal properly. Now, they’re probably back to dark purple, almost black.
He can feel stitches in his legs too, tight and painful and—and they remind Peter of sharp, biting teeth, a metal jaw swallowing down his ankle. His breathing hitches. The phantom ache of the bear trap is there, the contraception in the bed with him.
He glances at Darcy. She’s sitting upright in her plastic chair, staring at him carefully. His breathing is too fast, a little shallow.
Peter shakes his head at her. He’s starting to remember; the bear trap and his wrecked leg, his body bracketing Davey, the caped woman and her pleased smile, her canister of thick, green gas and—and Thor—
Peter gasps sharply. Thor. Thor, golden hair and bared teeth and Thor.
His hands form fists in the bedding. Darcy stands quickly. The chair makes an awful screeching sound on the vinyl floor as its pushed back. “Pete, you need to breathe—”
Peter squeezes his eyes shut. He can’t focus on her when the memory of Thor is pressing down on him, those burning eyes and twisted snarl, that fist, like Steve’s but stronger, stronger—
“Oh my god, you’re having a panic attack.” Darcy reaches out, sliding her hand around Peter’s wrist, fumbling with his bunched fist. “They warned me this might happen. Okay, grab my hand, and take some deep breaths. Focus on me. On being here. On the present. You’re safe now.”
Peter inhales roughly, letting his eyes open. Darcy is there, curls swaying around her face, hand slipping into his. Her palm is warm, dry against his sweaty one.
He lets his breathing get slow, but the welling pool of anxiety and guilt and shame only grows, flooding his insides, creeping into his lungs so each ragged breath is a little wet, a little hitched, catching on the ache inside of Peter.
He’s here. In Medical. Again. The first incident hadn’t been enough—the people responsible for the gas had come back. Which means they could come back again. At any time. There’s more gas out there, the people responsible waiting, the caped woman ready to barge back into Peter’s life with her wide, superior grin.
Peter feels sick. That pool of emotions—like dirty water, rotting Peter’s insides—expands, lapping at his skin like an ocean’s tide. He feels nauseous, and wants to throw up, if only to expel the sick feeling inside him.
He swallows back bile. He breathes in. Breathes out.
“There you go,” Darcy says, smiling. She sits back down in the plastic seat, but her hand stays interlaced with his. “It’s good to see you awake.”
His head falls back against the pillow. “Y—yeah. Yeah, it’s good to see you again.”
“I didn’t think Bruce would let me see you so soon after last time. He was worried about me overexciting you or feeding you too much junk food or something, but the universe has returned you to me anyway!”
Peter raises a weak hand in the air in mock celebration. “Yay.”
“Yay,” Darcy echoes, her own voice sardonic, a little twist to her lips. She’s reassuring. Everything rolls off her easily. She helps make light of his situation.
If it had been Bruce here, once again reduced to tears, Peter doesn’t know if he’d cope. He needs to be strong, to keep all his pieces together, and he doesn’t think he can do that with Bruce falling apart in front of him.
But Bruce isn’t here. It’s easier to swallow the lump in his throat, because it’s Darcy that’s here, smile easy and unwavering, and not Bruce, not his team—
His team. Peter’s team.
Peter bolts upright. His chest protests, injuries screaming, but he pushes past it, past the feeling of heaviness in his head and the tight ache in his side.
Darcy sits up again too. “Peter? What is it now—”
“My team,” Peter says. “The Avengers—my friends, where are my friends—”
“They’re… not here.” Darcy watches him carefully. “Peter, what’s wrong?”
Of course the Avengers aren’t here. Of course, of course—SHIELD is probably keeping them away.
He’s screwed up. He had freaked out on a public street, in front of Thor and the Avengers and all of New York, and let everyone know how broken up he was after the incident in the Tower. Bared the jagged, useless parts of himself to the harsh sun.
Which meant he’d breached the terms of SHIELD’s agreement. Which meant—which meant—
“My team,” Peter repeats. This time, when he twists his hands in the bedding, the sheets rip under his super-strength, breaking in his shaking fists. “No—no, not my team, please, they can’t take them—”
“No one’s taking anyone,” Darcy soothes.
Peter shakes his head. His eyes are growing wet, and the pool of guilt is back, growing, seeping into his lungs and throat like a flood. Peter tries not to choke. His team, his friends—SHIELD will take Peter away from them. They’re going to remove Peter, make him stop being an Avenger, stop the others from seeing him—Peter will be alone and they’ll come after him—
A ragged sob leaves him hunched over.
“Peter,” Darcy says. Her eyes are huge and sympathetic. There’s pity there too, spades of it, and Peter suddenly realises that she knows. She knows he’s been taken from his newfound family because of his own weakness. Because he had to freak out again, in public, under the gaze of Thor and Tony and so many other people—
Peter’s freaking out again, he knows that logically, but he can’t stop, he can’t make himself stop. What does it even matter now? By now, SHIELD would’ve already done their worse. It doesn’t matter what Peter does, if he has another stupid, stupid freak out. The Avengers are gone anyway. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Peter’s not an Avenger anymore.
“I’m not an Avenger anymore.” Saying it out loud seems final. Definite. Peter gulps at the air, trying to get more in around the wet burn in his chest He’s babbling, words spilling deliriously from his lips, “I’m not—I just wanted to be with my—my family—why did I have to mess up, and make—make SHIELD take them from me—!”
Darcy’s voice is firm. It would be grounding, if Peter didn’t feel like he was floating away. “Peter—you’re still an Avenger. No one is taking them away from you.”
Peter shakes his head frantically. “SHIELD is,” he says. “SHIELD is. They made me promise to act like nothing happened and—and now that I’ve messed up and SHIELD is going to take me off the team—”
Darcy draws away from him. Her eyes are no longer soft and concerned, jaw tightening.
“What do you mean?” Darcy asks slowly. She seems to dread the answer, like she doesn’t want to know the truth. “Did—did SHIELD threaten to take the Avengers away from you?”
Peter’s breaths are still coming out in shaky hitches, fists still tearing the sheets with his strength, but he gives her a jerky nod. She swears furiously.
“I need a grown-up.” After a beat, Darcy amends, as though realising that both herself and Peter are adults, “A more grown up grown-up.”
She runs out the door, leaving her black peacoat looped on the plastic hair and Peter gasping for breath on the sterile bed.
“I want to talk about your position on the Avengers,” Hill says, and all of the air goes out of Peter’s lungs, “and whether you still have a place on the team.”
“A place—?” Peter chokes out.
Hill is coldly professionalism, detached, even as she frowns at him. “You know what I mean. After what happened yesterday, we think it would be best if you were removed from the Avengers.”
“Removed—!” The broken ribs and the soreness of bruises pressing down on his chest are nothing. Hill’s words are what leaves him breathless, leaves him with a tight chest and a bubbling feeling of panic. “N-no—ple-ase—”
Hill surveys him cooly. Then, she reaches out and fiddles with the IV bag, adjusting his dosage. Within moments, the pain in is jaw has loosened, and Peter can speak easier. The rush of medication leaves his thoughts feeling even more like fluid, malleable, manipulatable.
Hill says, “Do you expect us to believe you would still be able to cooperate with the team? You wouldn’t hold a needless grudge?”
Peter nods furiously. His jaw aches, his head feels heavy and useless. Still, he begs, “I won’t. They’re my friends—I won’t.”
“Who’s to say you won’t panic around them? They hurt you, after all, can you work with them—”
“I can. I will,” Peter vows.
Hill stares at him intently for a moment. “Will you? We can’t trust that you won’t fall to pieces and bring apart the Avengers. You do understand how valuable an asset the Avengers are, don’t you? ” Her stare sharpens, pinning Peter to the bed. “The team is far, far more important than you.”
Quietly, Peter mumbles, “I know.”
“So you can understand why SHIELD won’t risk it,” Hill concludes. Her tone is still slick and easy, like a corrupt salesman.
“Please.” Peter’s hands bunch in the sheets. He can barely talk around the unbearable tightness in his chest, gripped by this desperate panic as Hill talks so casually about taking people who mean so much to Peter, taking away the life he’s painstakingly built for himself. “Please—whatever it takes, I’ll—”
“We’re not heartless,” Hill says, and smiles politely, as though she’s trying to reassure Peter, like she isn’t the one tearing him to pieces. “We’ll give you a choice.”
“Anything,” Peter promises, and means it; he’ll give anything. All of himself, all his piece. Anything, for his team.
Peter can’t stay here. He has to get out.
Darcy disappears further into the building, and Peter tries to get up, throwing his legs over the side of the bed. The railing makes it hard. The clunky cast and the sharp, devastating pain make it even harder.
The cast is a thick plastic—a specialised air cast, to stop him from further damaging himself should he try and stand. SHIELD’s medical staff are smart. They know superheroes and their penchant for escaping medical facilities.
His feet connect with the vinyl floor. Peter stands, and wobbles, but remains in one panicked, drugged piece.
Putting one foot in front of the other is hard. Even after Peter snags a pair of crutches from the side of his room, it’s an effort. The plastic of the cast may be supportive, durable, but even then Peter has to fight the urge to look down and make sure the teeth of the bear trap aren’t still deep inside him.
He grabs Darcy’s abandoned jacket, throwing it on over his SHIELD issued scrubs. The black peacoat is too small, falling just past his hip. On Darcy, it brushes her knees. The cuffs sit half way down his forearms.
He settles the crutches under his arm. When he peeks out the door, Darcy is still gone. The hallway is empty.
He should stay, he knows. He’s hurt and confused and scared—a lethal combination—but he’s at SHIELD. The thought of staying here and waiting until someone comes for him, cementing his future…
Peter needs to get out. Impulsively, stupidly, he winds his way through the hallways with crutches and bitten back sounds of pain, and makes his escape.
“If you forget any of this even happened,” Hill says, “then you’ll be allowed to remain with the Avengers. Of course, it’ll be a tentative position, and we will remove you if you create trouble. For now, you’ll return to the Tower, and interact with your teammates, and work seamlessly with them in the field, as you have been for the past few months.”
Peter blinks; is it that easy? “That’s all?”
Hill smiles at him. “I told you we weren’t heartless. We just want to put this whole incident behind us.”
“So do I,” Peter confesses. He smiles back at her, small and a little shy, but genuine at the thought of returning to his makeshift family.
“Although,” Hill begins, “if you start acting differently, especially around your teammates or in view of the general public—start acting like you’re a victim, when we both know you’re very clearly not—then there’s nothing SHIELD can do. Our hands will be tied. You’ll be removed immediately from the team, and moved out of the Tower. SHIELD will no longer cooperate with Spider-Man, meaning you will lose all privileges previously afforded to you, including our protection.”
Peter swallows down the panic. This doesn’t feel much like protection.
“What do you mean,” Peter says, “by ‘act different?’”
“No alerting the public to the events of several days ago, including letting anyone know of your injuries. You won’t avoid your teammates, you won’t pretend to be actually hurt by them. You won’t leave Stark Tower.
“My Aunt—” Peter begins.
“Is an unnecessary risk,” Hill cuts in.
Peter stares at her in abject horror. “You mean I can’t see my Aunt—”
“No, you can’t. Your focus needs to be primarily on the Avengers and maintaing your position there. No seeing or contacting anyone outside of your team. Especially your Aunt.” Peter opens his mouth, ready to hotly refute that. Hill smoothly talks over him, “We’ll be monitoring you. Any detours to Queens, and you’ll be taken back into our custody, and I can’t guarantee what’ll happens to you.” Hill pauses, considers it, and adds, “I can’t guarantee what’ll happen to your Aunt, either.”
“Don’t you dare—”
“Just do as we say, Peter. Or maybe you’d rather a career as a solo vigilante again? With the NYPD breathing down your neck and people gunning for your identity again—”
“The NYPD are allies with Spider-Man now.” Peter remembers clearly that slow progression from wanted menace to valued hero. Even before the Avengers, public opinion had shifted, the city coming to terms with his role as protector, welcoming him, celebrating him. “And I wear a mask, I mean—”
Hill seems to be getting annoyed now. Impatient, almost. “SHIELD’s power far surpasses that of the general public. A few phone calls is all it takes. You think the city and its officers are really that loyal to you? A hero that’s been thrown off the Avengers?” She settles back in her chair, letting that cool facade slip back into place. “It would be so easy, to turn them against you. To reveal your identity. To take your team away. I thought you liked having a team, Peter. But I guess if you don’t like it all that much—”
“I do,” Peter says quickly. He swallows, and says, painfully honest, “The Avengers are one of the best things to ever happen to me.”
Hill shrugs. “Then I suppose it’ll hurt when you’re no longer a part of the team.”
“Don’t take my team from me,” Peter says. A desperate edge has crept into his voice. He shifts, trying to press himself closer to her, but her cold, detached expression remains. Peter’s broken ribs shift under his skin, creating sharp flares of distracting pain.
“We will,” Hill says firmly. “We will, if we have to. Don’t disobey us.”
“I’ll do anything,” Peter agrees, all the fight draining out of him, body weak and tired and aching. “Just—just let me keep my team. Please, let me keep them.”
“Well,” Hill says, standing up to leave, “that’s all up to you, Peter. Have a good day.”
Peter manages to hobble out of SHIELD’s backdoor with one leg held together with stitches. Getting back in will be harder, he knows, but for now, none of the agents bother him.
It helps that Peter doesn’t really look like a threat. A skinny, red faced teenager with a limp and colourful bruising. Hardly a worry to national security.
On the street, his injuries garner some attention. But even then, any stares drop politely away when he catches them staring, and it’s still early. The skyline is ablaze with orange, the burning sunset turning the clouds smokey, like a distant bushfire. The people on the streets are groggy eyed, too focussed on their own tired trudge to work to pay Peter any attention.
He only makes it a few blocks, though. The dregs of adrenaline and panic, and the crisp morning air can only get him so far. With painkillers wearing off, Peter needs to get out of the street before he crashes.
He slumps against the side of a newsstand, breathing heavily. People pass him, ignoring him for the most part, pausing briefly to look at the stacks of newspapers and magazines, the racks of candies.
The piles of newspapers sits by his elbow. Peter peers at it, and stiffens.
The headlines bare his name in thick letters, and the accompanying photos are all red and blue, hazes of smoke, and the dull shine of Thor’s golden head. In the closest, Peter can make out himself flinching against the asphalt, Thor above him, a snarl frozen on his lips, wisps of green curling around the edge of the photograph.
“It’s horrible.” Peter jumps. A man has fallen into place by his side, frowning at the stacks of papers.
“‘Horrible?’” Peter echoes.
The stranger—late thirties with rough stubble and tired eyes, donned in a yellow Hi Vis vest, and thick, dusty boots—shakes his head, gesturing at the papers. “The way the Avengers have been treating Spidey. Our guy just can’t catch a break.”
Peter’s breath sticks in his throat. “The Avengers didn’t mean it, though. They—they were being affected—”
“I heard that, but still. This already happened once, and now it’s happening to Spidey? Again?” The man’s hands ball into frustrated fists, lips curling. Peter has to bite down the instinctive, nervous rush at the visible anger. This stranger isn’t going to hurt him. His spider-sense is silent, and this man poses no threat—he wouldn’t be able to match up to Peter’s super-strength and abilities, even if he wanted to hurt Peter.
He tears his eyes from the angry man, making himself look back at the newspapers. They stare up at him, unchanged. The photo still shows him—huddled on the asphalt in one shot, crouched low over Davey with Thor looming over him in another—terrified and injured, only from different angles. It makes Peter’s face flush hotly. Makes his skin itch, like it’s too tight. This is humiliating.
“So?” Peter finds himself muttering bitterly. “Spider-Man shouldn’t have flipped out and panicked like that. He shouldn’t have let himself get into that situation in the first place.”
“Excuse me?!” says the man, loud and indignant. He’s turned to Peter, and that previous flicker of anger has burned into something hotter, something defensive. “You think it’s Spidey’s fault? The Avengers shouldn’t have let the little guy out into the field so soon after they almost beat him to death. They let this happen to him. They should’ve at least gotten rid of that shit that made them turn violent—”
Peter stares wide-eyed. The rant has drawn the attention of nearby customers. People in the street even pause, glancing over at the construction worker as he continues. Peter can feel his pulse racing, his palms slick with sweat, fingers trembling in their tight fists.
“They should’ve been protecting New York, and that little boy, and Spidey,” continues the man, not slowing in the slightest. Peter’s can feel that tightness encroaching on his chest again, squeezing his throat. The warning signs of a panic attack. “It isn’t Spider-Man’s fault, how the fuck could you even try and blame him?! After he laid there and protected that little kid as a fucking god tried to kill him, for the second time—”
Someone smoothly interjects, “I think that’s enough.” And suddenly, there’s a body between Peter and the man, one hand spread over the stranger’s chest in warning. In the proximity, Peter gets a face full of messy, red curls.
The construction worker blinks down at the woman. “Wait, aren’t you the—!”
“I am,” Natasha says. She reaches behind her and takes Peter’s hand gently. He finds himself gripping back tightly, his hand wet and shaky against hers. She helps. Something inside him quivers a little at her presence, but for the most part, she’s grounding, reassuring, like a protective wall between him and the furious stranger. “And you’re bothering my friend. You need to back off.”
“Oh, so you’ll protect some random kid beaten half to hell, but you won’t protect your teamma—” The man falls abruptly silent, all the words falling out of his mouth as he stares past Natasha’s shoulder, widening eyes looking at Peter. The pieces fall into place in his head, and the man inhales sharply.
“Back off,” Natasha repeats calmly. People are still watching them. Peter makes sure to hide his face, inching closer to Natasha, huddling into the folds of Darcy’s jacket.
All the breath leaves the man in one huge exhale as he deflates like a popped balloon. He nods silently and takes a step back, letting Natasha and Peter pass.
Natasha’s hand remains in his. She guides him away, her hand warm, her stride unwavering, towards the parked sports car on the curb. It glints in the soft morning sun, as sleek and beautiful and dangerous as Natasha herself.
Peter slides in the passenger seat. He’s thankful for the dark tinted windows.
Natasha buckles herself in beside him. Peter risks a glance her way; she’s wearing dark sunglasses, the huge rounded kind that hide half of her face, and a plaid shirt that’s too large and faded, clearly Clint’s. There’s nothing angry or threatening about her expression, as solemn and carefully blank as it is. It makes his jerky heartbeat calm some.
“Are you alright?” she asks.
“I’m fine,” Peter mumbles. He fiddles with the short sleeves of Darcy’s jacket. “How’d you find me?”
That earns him a crooked little smirk. “You know you’re not the first person to escape SHIELD medical, right? Clint sneaks out all the time. He goes to this street, it has the most shops to lose himself inside.”
Usually, this is where Peter would smile broadly and compliment Natasha on her finely honed spy skills. Make a cheap joke. Grin wider when Natasha tries to bite down her own smile at his bad humour.
But now, the reminder of her tracking skills leaves him feeling ill. Sick and uncomfortable and tense all at once.
Natasha jerks the car to a halt. The people behind them honk furiously, leaning out their windows to shout abuse when she refuses to move. But she only has eyes for Peter.
“You can get out,” she says. “If you want to, if you’re uncomfortable being here with me, you can hop out.”
Peter glances at the doors, at the street behind the tinted windows. “Do I have to?”
“No. Honestly, I’d rather you didn’t, but if you do, I won’t stop you or track you down or tell anyone where you might’ve gone.” She shrugs a little. They both ignore the insults hurled their way from the other drivers. “It’s your choice, Peter.”
Peter considers it for a moment. Really, properly considers it—thinks about bolting out of the car and into the crowded streets, of disappearing into the bustle of the city and becoming anonymous, even for a little while—but finally decides, “I’d rather stay.”
Natasha restarts the car. “If you want to get out, just say and I’ll stop. Okay?”
Peter doesn’t know why Natasha seems so serious. If she wanted him gone, she’d have said, wouldn’t even have picked him up in the first place. And this can’t be about something as petty as Peter’s feelings. He doesn’t matter, not to her; he won’t even be her teammate soon. Soon, Peter won't have any teammates.
The thought makes his eyes sting.
“Okay, Peter?” she presses, not unkind.
“Okay,” he says in a small voice.
They pull into a nearby parking lot. SHIELD’s headquarters looms across the street, discreet and sleekly designed, like any of the office buildings around them. The people passing by it on the street are oblivious to the building’s true purpose.
Natasha doesn’t immediately get out of the parked car. She turns to him, leaving her sunglasses on, and asks, “Would you like to go in by yourself, or with me?”
“With you,” Peter says.
“Can you walk, or would you like me to help you?”
It’s not so bad being with her. It’s almost comforting, having her familiar features nearby without her making any sudden movements, while knowing he can get away. She’s still his friend, after all. He cares about her.
But the thought of having Natasha pressed up against him, her arm around his shoulder or back, hands drifting close to the vulnerable curve of his neck—
“By myself,” Peter says, a little breathless.
Natasha nods and doesn’t press. When they get out, walking the short distance across the street, she stays half a metre away. Out of his personal space. Close enough to know she’s there, to know his friend is with him, but not smothering. Not threatening.
They enter the clean, minimalist lobby, full of SHIELD agents dressed in neat business-wear, save for the man waiting awkwardly off to the side, casting nervous glances around him.
Bruce perks up when he sees Natasha and Peter, compulsively eyeing Peter up and down, seeing all his limbs bloodless and mostly intact, and wheels the lightweight wheelchair over to greet them.
“A wheelchair?” Peter complains. “Brucccce.”
“The only reason your leg is even attached to the rest of you right now,” Natasha says, “is because of that cast.”
“And a lot of stitches.” Bruce smiles almost apologetically, even as he comes forward and guides Peter into the wheelchair.“Sorry, Peter.”
Natasha steps away as Bruce pushes his wheelchair into the lobby.
“Natasha,” Peter calls, when she makes no motion to follow. Bruce stops. Peter twists out of the chair as best he can, around the stiff and aching feeling in his chest, and looks back at his teammate. She hovers by the door, bug-like sunglasses still in place.
“Peter,” she says slowly.
“You coming or not?”
“You want me to?” She sounds surprised.
Peter nods, and beckons her forward with a wave of his hand. “Of course,” he says, as easy and kind as he always is. “You’re my friend. Of course I want you to.”
She takes a few slow steps forward. Like the questions she’d asked in the car, she seems to be desperately careful not to impose on Peter. Not to do anything he doesn’t want her to.
This is her guilt, he realises. This is how her guilt and her regret manifests, through micromanaging their interactions, making sure Peter feels in control and relatively safe around her, having his full consent before putting herself in his space.
“I want you to,” Peter repeats. Then, to reassure her, he adds honestly, “I like having you near me. I like having all of the Avengers near, really. I just—I just haven’t learnt how to control myself yet. Those stupid reactions. My dumb freak outs.”
“They’re not stupid,” Bruce interjects.
Peter huffs. “They are.”
“They’re not,” Natasha agrees. “Nothing about the way you feel is stupid or dumb, Peter. You’re emotions are legitimate and you’re allowed to feel them.”
Peter shakes his head. “No, no, I have to get over this. I do like having you guys near me. You’re my friends—even if we can’t hang out anymore, I guess. But—yeah. Yeah.”
Peter trails off awkwardly, fidgeting with his hands and looking away from Natasha and feeling very, very small.
“We can hang out,” Natasha says. Her voice is softer, pitched quiet. Not quite gentle, but considerate. “You need to recover, yes, but you don’t need to hurt yourself in the process. If you take it slow, we’ll understand.”
Peter doesn’t respond directly to that. He remembers too keenly the consequences of yesterday’s accident. She’s only being kind to him even though they both know he’s not going to be a part of the team for much longer. Like a friend moving out of state, reassuring him they’ll stay in touch, that a long distance friendship will work, when they both know it won’t. It won’t.
He realises he should spend time with them now. While he still can. Should savour these small moments.
Peter says, “Come with us. Please.”
Natasha finally nods in agreement. She moves to take her large sunglasses off, but Peter makes an aborted sound in the back of his throat. It’s mostly instinctual, Peter startled as he thinks about those eyes, her eyes, as sharp as a knife, focussed intently on him.
Natasha slides the glasses back up her nose. She doesn’t comment on his slip.
“Up we go then,” she says, and directs Bruce to lead them away.
SHIELD Medical is a windy set of corridors, divided into unmarked sections—for field agents, for classified persons, for superheroes. As they approach the area in which Peter’s room is held, the sound of raised voices drifts down the corridor.
Peter frowns. “Is that… Is that Tony?”
Bruce winces. “The yelling? It’s Tony and Sam.”
“A little bit of Clint too,” Natasha says. “Steve is one of the quieter voices.”
“They’re yelling.” Peter’s fingers ball back into a fist, one of his many new habits. His fingers have mostly healed, but his nails dig into the soft flesh of his palm, biting, creating hidden half-crescent marks in his skin. “Why are they yelling?”
Natasha slows. “You don’t know why?”
Peter shakes his head. “Should I?”
Natasha and Bruce both stop. Peter squirms under the weight of both their stares.
“Peter, what has SHIELD said to you?” Natasha asks.
“SHIELD?” Peter echoes. Maybe if he plays ignorant… “What are you talking about—”
The innocent act would never work on Natasha, the human lie detector. Peter should know better. Natasha looks decidedly unimpressed, and continues, “What did SHIELD tell you, Peter? They got into direct contact with you, without any of us knowing. What did they say?”
Peter shrugs a little. “They just—just made some stuff clear to me.”
Bruce lays a hand on Peter’s shoulders. Both adults seem gravely serious, Natasha’s mouth pressed into a thin line beneath her round glasses, Bruce worrying nervously at his lip, as though fearing Peter’s answer.
“Tell us everything,” Natasha instructs.
He know he has no choice. As much as he didn’t want to be burden them with this, he knows he has to now. Peter doesn’t like to lie, but since Spider-Man, that was all he did, all deception and white lies, becoming as easy as breathing. Easier than telling the truth.
And now, with SHIELD’S consequences looming over them regardless, he supposes he doesn’t have much to lose. Not when everything is already being taken from him.
Peter takes a deep, grounding breath, and tells them.
“I should be—”
“You should be resting.” When Peter tries to sit up, Bruce gently presses him back down, flat on the mattress. “Resting, Peter.”
Peter sighs, but doesn’t get back up. “I feel so useless just laying here,” he grumbles. “I want to get out and do something.”
Bruce takes a seat by his bedside. The older man doesn’t seem put off by Peter’s complaints, still watching his teammate attentively. The threatening green has faded from his neck, but there’s still a spark in his eyes, something deeper and different to Bruce. The Hulk, sleeping behind Bruce’s pupils.
Natasha and Bruce had hardened the longer Peter spoke. Bruce grew hot, skin glazing over with green, while Natasha hardened, turning cold. Peter had mumbled most of it to his feet to avoid looking at either of them. Then, when he’d finished, Bruce’s hand had found his shoulder.
Natasha had promised, “We won’t let them take you.”
“No, Peter. You’re an Avenger, for as long as you want to be. Okay?”
“Okay,” Peter had mumbled, cheeks hot.
Natasha had nodded and offered a clipped goodbye, before turning sharply on her heel and striding away, marching a war path down the corridor. Bruce whisked Peter back to his room.
“Let us take care of everything,” Bruce says. “Don’t worry about SHIELD. We’ll take care of everything.”
Peter drops his gaze. He feels shy and small, yet stupidly thrilled at the thought of the Avengers digging into his problems, baring some of Peter’s responsibility. He should feel guilty. He should get up and follow Natasha’s retreating footsteps, help her clean up this mess with SHIELD.
But he doesn’t. Instead, he settles back against the pillow and lets Bruce take sentry at his bedside. Peter feels light, like a huge weight has been lifted off his shoulders. He feels like he could just float away, no longer tethered by SHIELD’s threats.
“Will Natasha be okay?” Peter asks, if only to give himself something to focus on. “And—and Darcy?”
“They’re both fine,” Bruce reassures. “Darcy went back to help Jane at their apartment, and Natasha has gone to rain down hellfire.”
“Hellfire?” Peter echoes.
“On SHIELD. For hurting you. For thinking they can manipulate people close to her.”
“They didn’t hurt me, though,” Peter says, frowning. He understands that SHIELD shouldn’t have pressed him, that the ultimatum he was offered was a little harsh, not by the books, but hadn’t physically hurt him. Just stressed him out a little. “It’s—it’s really not that big of a deal, Bruce.”
Bruce watches him carefully. “It is a big deal. They freaked you out. They made you feel like everything in your life—your relationship with your city, your Aunt, your home—was going to ripped out from under you at any moment, while you were recovering from a very traumatic experience. You should’ve gotten the chance to recover in your own time, Peter. You should’ve been allowed to choose how fast or slow you wanted to take things, been allowed to adjust slowly, to go see your Aunt, to take a little time away. But instead they pressed you and made you feel like—like—”
“Like crap?” Peter asks. He tries for a light, easy tone, but his voice cracks traitorously.
“Like this was your fault,” Bruce says finally. “Peter, this? All of this—from the gas to your injuries to your panic attacks—is not your fault.” Peter drops his eyes, focussing on his nervous, twisting fingers. Bruce rests a hand on his arm, gently pulling Peter’s gaze back up to him. “Peter,” he says softly. “This isn’t your fault.”
Peter presses his fingers against the flat of his stomach, hands clenching. “But I—”
“No. I mean it. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“But I trusted SHIELD, how can you not think that—”
“They made you feel like you couldn’t tell us.”
Peter opens his mouth, the beginnings of an argument on his tongue, when a shout echoes down the hallway.
“What—” Peter begins, sitting up. Bruce reaches over and pushes him back down again.
“Will you be alright here, if I go check that out?” Bruce asks.
“Yeah,” Peter says. “I’ll shout if any scary SHIELD agents backflip into the room.”
That earns him a little smile from Bruce, even as the man makes for the door, slipping out into the hallway. He leaves his jacket sitting on the chair. It feels remarkably like earlier, when Darcy had darted away without her peacoat, but this time, Peter’s breathing is deep and even, and he doesn’t immediately flee the room. Instead, he reaches for Bruce’s jacket, and plucks the Stark Phone out of the hidden pocket, bringing up Thor’s number easily.
He knows Bruce would disapprove, but he needs to do this. Needs to hear his friend. Make sure he’s alright, after what happened.
The phone rings one, twice. Then, a roughened voice asks, “Bruce?”
“Thor? It’s—it’s me.” Peter twists at the sheets. He’s nervous, not frightened, but anxious to speak to his friend after this gaping distance has opened up between them, between all of their teammates. Thor should be here. He would be, if everything was how it should be. If things went back to their easy, stark black and white, instead of this weird and awful grey, where everyone and nobody is to blame.
“Peter.” Thor sounds wrecked. There’s none of that loud, overzealous happiness, that welcoming boom of laughter. He sounds exhausted. “Are you alright? Where is Bruce?”
“Bruce stepped out for a moment,” Peter says. “I’m alright.”
“But I hurt you.” Peter’s never heard Thor sound like this, so sad, so ruined. “I hurt you. I don’t deserve to even talk to you—”
“No, no.” Peter’s grip on the phone tightens. He wants to climb into the phone and hug his teammate. Wrap his arms around Thor and never let go. “I want to keep talking to you, Thor.”
“I’m sorry,” Thor says gravely. “From the deepest reaches of my heart—I’m so sorry for hurting you, Peter Parker.”
Peter swallows thickly. “S’not your fault.”
“Intentionally or otherwise, I owe you,” Thor vows solemnly, in that same mournful tone. “Until my dying breath, I will do everything in my power to atone for harming you, my friend. Even if that means leaving the Tower. Even if that means fleeing this realm in shame.”
Peter scrubs a hand through his hair. It’s unwashed, dirty with sweat and a little blood, sticky up underneath his nervous fingers. “Geez. Geez. You don’t have to leave Earth, man. You have a life here.”
“If it makes you feel safe—”
“It won’t,” Peter says honestly. “You’re my friend, Thor. I don’t want you to go away.”
Thor pauses for a long moment. The demigod has sectioned himself off from his teammates for Peter’s sake—for something as inconsequential as Peter’s feelings—and is offering to leave this world. His girlfriend, his friends and teammates, his Earth home; abandon all of it for Peter.
The thought makes something twist in his stomach. Peter feels like something precious and innately unworthy all at once.
Finally, Thor says, “I will leave my future in your hands. Whatever you wish, I shall do. This, I owe you.”
“Let me,” Thor begs. “Let me do whatever I must, whatever you wish of me, to make amends. Please.”
Peter never has been able to deny his friends anything. Even something like this.
“Alright,” Peter allows. “Can you… can you just stay on the phone with me then? For a little while? You’re, er. I like listening to you.”
“I will stay with you, like this,” Thor says, “until a thousand battles have passed and your sun has burnt itself out.”
Peter finds himself laughing, easy, reflective. “Maybe not that extreme. Maybe, for like. Half an hour?”
“As long as my presence doesn’t disturb you…?”
Peter considers that, then shakes his head. “No, you’re okay. I think… I think it’s easier, hearing you over the phone. You’re my friend, Thor. I like spending time with you. You’re comforting. Even if—even if I might struggle seeing you in person, I can talk to you like this. Like all of those conversations over the comms, all those times we texted.”
“At least my voice cannot hurt you,” Thor says, and Peter’s heart hurts. His teammates sounds like he’s drowning in his guilt.
“Your voice is nice,” Peter says dumbly. It’s all he can think to say.
He rolls onto his side, settling into the lump of pillows Bruce has left him, one ear to a pillow, the other covered by his phone. He curls up like that, letting himself get comfortable on the stiff bedding, as painkillers wash into his system and Thor’s deep voice rumbles in his ear. Thor tells Peter about Jane’s apartment, about Darcy flittering about in the background—shouting a hello to Peter, an apology to leaving him, a threat for the safety of her abandoned black peacoat. He tells Peter about exotic, Asgaridan dishes and high-rising spires and the minute cultural differences between their worlds.
Peter thinks he could fall asleep like this. He’s so tired, strung out and exhausted. It feels nice to make himself forget about everything. To focus on the sound of Thor’s voice and forget about the way his fist felt when it struck him.
Above the sound of Thor, Peter can make out the sound of hurried footsteps and clambering voices in the conjoining hallway. He sits up abruptly, phone dropping away. He listens, and thinks he almost recognises some of those voices…
The phone lays in his lap. Thor sounds tinny and distant, as he says, “Peter? Peter, are you still there? Would you like me to hang up?”
Peter picks the phone back up. “I think something’s happening in the hallway. It sounds loud.”
“Peter, perhaps you shouldn’t—”
“I’m going to check it out,” Peter says, and hangs up on the sound of Thor’s objections.
He slips into the hallway, pressed flat against the wall. On the other end of the corridor, stand his teammates, confronted several SHIELD agents dressed in standard blacks. They’re glowering at Clint, who’s stood solidly in front of them, like a barricade between them and Peter’s room. Tony stands by their side, loudly dishing out threats, promises, ordering them to back the hell off. Bruce seems to be trying to dispel the situation, voice pitched low, but his calming exterior is belied by the green creeping up his neck and the burn in his eyes, the hard way he glares at the agents.
The Avengers are pissed of, that much is obvious. Peter doesn’t think he’s seen them this angry since—since—
A hand rests gently on his shoulder, and Peter can’t bite back the flinch. His legs skitter out, trying to hold his weight as he jerks back, almost topples over, landing flat against the hallway wall.
Natasha steps away, her back against the opposite wall, placing space between them.
“Sorry for startling you,” she says. She’s still wearing those bug-eyed glasses. (Peter loves them, and feels immediately bad; they make her look kind of classy, almost glamorous, and they’re so her, the sunglasses almost a manifestation of her personality, screaming Natasha, Natasha at him. Reminding Peter that it’s her, it’s his friend, someone he loves.
He hates that he also likes them because of how big they are. Because the obscure half her face. Hide her eyes. eyes. He shouldn’t hate her eyes as much as he does.)
Peter swallows thickly. “It’s alright.”
Down the corridor, the others aren’t paying them any attention, caught in the riptide of hot, indignant anger, and the promise of a fight. There’s that tight feeling in Peter’s chest again. His teammates look so dangerous, so furious. Peter’s not sure what he’d do if it came to a fight.
He can hear Bruce, talking in tight, clipped syllables, like every word is measured and controlled, bit out between clenched teeth, “Tony, lower your voice.”
“Lower my voice?” Tony repeats, loud and indignant. “Lower my—Bruce! Did you hear what these fucking parasites just said?” To the agents, he spits out, “Spider-Man is one of the best heroes I’ve ever seen, but it’s more than that, you leaches—he’s a goddamn Avenger, and doesn’t deserve to be—to be thrown out on the streets after everything he’s done for us. And he is NOT broken.”
“And if you ever imply that again…” Clint says. He trails off, letting the threat sit in the air. Peter’s inhales are growing shallow again.
“We have jurisdiction over the Avengers—” begins one of the Agents.
“I can have my lawyers down here so fast your head will spin.” Tony’s voice only grows louder, working his way to a full on shout. “And how about we take this public, huh? I’m sure the general public would love to hear about an Avenger being threatened. And if you ever dare to go above my head to hurt one of my own again, I SWEAR—”
“Tony!” The billionaire cuts himself off, breathing hard, and Bruce repeats, “Lower your voice. Peter’s room is right there. Do you want him to—”
“Too late,” Natasha interrupts. Peter’s heart rate had risen with Tony’s voice. He’s slumped against the wall now, with it supported nearly all of his weight, shoulders curled and head ducked protectively. Everyone turns to look at him and Peter slips a little further down the wall, hands fluttering up to press against his racing heart.
“Peter!” That’s Bruce, voice high and alarmed.
“Peter…” Tony, low and horrified, stricken at seeing Peter so close, so afraid of him again. Faintly, Peter remembers that this is the first time he’s seen Tony since the incident at the Tower. Iron Man intercepting Thor last night hadn’t counted, not really; Peter’s awareness had been smothered by pain and building panic, and Tony had been sectioned off with his cold faceplate and armour.
“Nat, what’s he doing here—?” Clint. This is the first time he’s seen Natasha and Clint too, since the two had talked him into a panic attack, braced on the other side of a locked door in the communal bathroom.
And then there’s another hand on his shoulder, and Peter flinches back a little only for Bruce to swoop down and catch him, guiding him into a sitting position. His heartbeat is still too fast, climbing alarmingly, like it has been the past few days. Peter feels like he’s running on fumes, something dangerous swirling beneath his veins. This panic, like a drug, like an illness, making him scrunch his eyes up and shake violently.
“Peter, it’s okay. You’re safe here, I promise.” Bruce is soothing, reassuring. But it’s like a cold glass of water thrown onto a blazing inferno. Nice, but ultimately useless.
“Bruce, should I go?” Natasha asks. She’s still close, crouched beside Bruce’s elbow. Her wide glasses and swaying red curls hover in his periphery. Not cause for worry, but there. Nice. A shot glass of ice on the flames.
“No, I think you’re fine, the damage has already been done—”
“I didn’t—” Tony chokes out. He never has been one for proper apologises. He speaks better with actions, with selfless sacrifice or endless gifts. “I’m sorry, I just—”
Pounding footsteps, echoing the blood pumping loudly in Peter’s ears. Then, Steve, barking out a loud, “What’s going on here? What’s happened?”
Sam follows at his heels. “Oh, my god, Peter!”
Peter quakes at the noise. Bruce babbles something more, something about being safe and protected and out of harms away, slipping his hand into Peter’s.
“SHIELD agents were trying to get into Peter’s rooms,” Clint reports. “They were trying to get to him. We stopped them.”
“I was shouting.” Tony sounds small. He never sounds small. “I hadn’t realised Peter was out of his room—”
“Is he okay?” Sam asks.
Bruce purses his lips. Peter gulps in air as he fumbles for Bruce’s fingers, intertwined with his, trying to pull him closer, closer. Bruce is safe.
“I’m,” Peter manages, “o—okay.”
“Peter,” Bruce says uselessly.
Peter makes himself look up then. Makes himself take them in, lingering as he looks at each of them. Tony looks ready to bolt, full of regret, usually gelled hair full of fly away wisps, designer jacket rumpled. Beside him, Steve’s posture is stiff, military, ready to take control of the situation or run the other way, should someone tell him to leave. His eyes are bright and blue and so sad. Sam looks frozen, caught in the middle of a sharp inhale, wide eyes frozen on Peter. So still. So worried.
Clint is hunched in on himself, leaning against the wall, a few feet from Natasha. He’s watching her, but lets his gaze drift, meeting Peter’s eye. Clint’s eyes flick away and back to Natasha before Peter can even flinch.
Natasha is sitting down on the opposite wall, mirroring Peter. She’s still, not making any sudden moments, but seems the most relaxed of all of them. Peter knows not to infer too much from that.
Bruce is at his elbow. Trying to relax Peter and monitor his vitals, but their linked hands seem more than just for Peter’s sake. Bruce’s grip is especially tight.
It still hurts to look at them. Memories of that day, that night in the Tower, are still there. Like an afterimage, juxtaposing itself over the present.
But all of their faces are open with regret and guilt and something pained that only an injured friend can inspire. That shared, nagging worry that leaves them looking vulnerable, soft and wounded rather than that hardened burn of the gas. It makes it easier to look at them. Like Natasha’s sunglasses, they help.
And they were supposed to be taken from him, Peter remembers. His team. They are—were going to be snatched away from Peter. But now they’re here. With him.
“I should go,” Tony says.
“Yeah,” Clint agrees, hoarsely, kicking away from the wall.
“Don’t,” Peter says loudly, the word high, catching on one of his sharp inhales. They stop, look back at him. “Stay.”
“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea—” Bruce begins.
“It’s up to Peter,” Natasha cuts in. “Peter, would you like Clint and Tony to stay?” Peter nods, jerky but sincere. “And me?” Another nod. “And Steve and Sam?” Another nod.
“You’re still my team?” Peter desperately wants that clarification; he’d been reassured earlier, yes, but there’s still that traitorous part of his mind that disagrees. That tells Peter that maybe, maybe SHIELD has interfered. Maybe they don’t want him anymore.
“Of course we are,” Steve says. There’s no room for disagreement in his tone.
“SHIELD are assholes,” Sam says. “Don’t listen to their threats. You’ll always have a place with us.”
“For as long as you want,” Bruce says, one hand encased in Peter’s, the other reaching over and rubbing soothing little circles into the back of his shaky fist.
“Don’t go,” Peter says. His voice is as breathless as his lungs. There’s still that fear pressing at his throat, but it’s easier to ignore now.
“We’re not going anywhere,” Sam promises. The other Avengers echo the sentiment with nods, with little steps forward, with kind eyes sweeping worriedly over Peter. “You’ll always have a home with us, okay?”
Bruce is at his side and the others scattered around him, nonthreatening and real. Here, with Peter, in their right minds. For the first time in days, SHIELD isn’t here, physically or metaphorically. The agents have fled, and the threat that has been looming over Peter has been subdued, soothed if not completely retracted.
The sight of their familiar faces still leaves him with a tight chest and sweaty palms, and his breathing is still too fast. But Peter feels like he has a little control, able to grip onto Bruce and ground himself in the present, in the realness of his teammates. Like maybe this isn’t a lost cause.
This moment feels fragile and precious—like a house cards, able to be blown apart at the smallest of winds—and he still doesn’t know if this will last, but still. Still, he’ll savour this. Every part feels familiar and comforting and real, his fractured breathing, Bruce’s hands, warm around Peter’s own, his little family bracketed around him.
“Okay,” Peter says, exhaling shakily. “Okay.”
Peter feels a little like he’s come home.
Honesty, support, and control are, in my personal opinion, the only way anything’s going to get better. Peter and the Avengers shared a rather open, safe relationship prior to this. Now, we just have to find our way back to that. There’s still a lot of problems that need to be addressed. A lot of communication need to happen. But I felt as though if the beginnings of some progress didn't happen soon, then everything would fall apart.
Also, I enjoy making Peter interact with blue collar workers—like construction workers—because he’s the “workers’ hero.” He protects the people. And I'm a sucker for NY/Spider-Man.
Until next time. :)
Warnings for food porn (the non-sexual kind, that is). Maybe don't read while hungry?
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Avengers Tower isn’t an overly large building. It doesn’t dwarf the neighbouring skyscrapers with its height nor its breadth, but it commands a presence. In this city, it’s a point of awareness. There, that building just there, with the sleek lines and the glowing A; those are our heroes.
The base of the Tower would always be crowded with reporters, if it weren’t for Stark Industries’—and SHIELD’s—security measures. Even without the demanding throng of journalists to pass through, they’re all careful when entering through the front doors. To go in as a collective, with Peter at their heels, would be too conspicuous.
It wouldn’t take much to see six famous faces and a trailing, heavily injured seventh, and come up with Spider-Man. Natasha had already made that mistake yesterday, in defence of Peter. She wasn’t about to do it again.
Steve enters first, attention trailing on his broad shoulders. They wait a handful of minutes, counting the seconds carefully, before Bruce and Peter walk slowly inside. Peter’s head is ducked low, head covered in a hoodie and a knit beanie and thick glasses he doesn’t really need.
The secretary—Mandy, with her strict persona, but soft spot for Peter—peers over the countertop of the reception desk. She meets his gaze, eyebrows dipping in worry. Peter nods back; I’m okay. Mandy smiles, soft and relieved.
They reach the centre of the lobby. Peter’s crutches make an audible tap, thud on the polished floors.
A group of interns, only a few years older than Peter, bustle out of an elevator, talking amongst themselves. Their attention drifts to Bruce, then to the hunched head gripping tight at the scientist’s sleeve, cast dragging on the ground—
“I don’t care if I have to fly there in the Iron Man armour!” Tony struts through the glass doors with a purposeful stride, swinging arms, handless bluetooth attached to his ear. His voice is loud, frustrated. Tony’s face is more famous than Bruce’s, especially here, in his own building, and the interns stare openly at him. “Just get me that meeting. I will be seeing with them, whether they want to or not—”
The private elevator open for them. Bruce ushers Peter smoothly inside.
The doors slid neatly shut, and the lobby disappears from view. Peter lets out a loud, relieved sigh.
“Do you want to go to your own rooms?” Bruce asks as the elevator climbs upward. “Or mine? Or the communal area—”
“Communal is fine,” Peter says, shucking off his hoodie and beanie, letting his hat hair poof back up. “I’m starving.”
Sam and Natasha and Clint are waiting in the living room. They cheer when Peter limps out.
“Welcome back,” Natasha says. She’s wearing an off the shoulder sweater, and those sunglasses from yesterday, bug eyed and tinted. They’re a little strange indoors, but no one comments on them, and Peter appreciates it.
“I survived an elevator ride,” Peter says, sarcastic but secretly a little embarrassed, a little pleased, “yay.”
“An impressive achievement,” Clint agrees. It’s harder to see him compared to the others. Peter’s had the least exposure to the archer so far, save maybe Thor and Steve, but he’s able to focus more on Sam’s genuine face, on Bruce by his side, and relax a little.
The elevator delivers them Tony shortly after. The man exits with a flourish and a triumphant grin. “The plan went perfectly. Everyone was too focussed on yours truly and the boy scout. We should celebrate. Drinks—”
“Or breakfast?” Sam butts in.
“Okay, fine,” Tony relents easily, “breakfast. But it better be good, Wilson.”
“It’ll be good. And big.” Sam eyes Peter dubiously. Peter’s not sure if it’s the stress, or the fact that his access to food has been limited between dodging attacks and recuperating in medical, but he’s lost weight. A noticeable amount of weight.
After he’d joined the Avengers, Peter had put weight on. Not too much—he doubts he could, due to his super-fast metabolism—but enough to get rid of the worrying sharpness of his collarbone, the almost concave curve to his stomach. It’s hard not to put weight on in the Tower, with the sheer amount of food Tony keeps at hand, and the way Sam shows he cares, by pushing food onto his friends with spotty histories of remembering to eat.
But now Peter’s back to that gaunt thinness. All his Sam’s work, disappearing beneath Peter’s shirt.
“I can make pancakes or waffles,” Sam continues, making a beeline for the kitchen. “Maybe some of those omelettes that makes Clint almost wet himself with excitement. Or some fruit, some more sandwiches—”
“I feel like waffles,” Tony announces, following him, Natasha and Clint on his heels.
“It’s not up to you,” Sam says back.
Bruce makes to follow, but Peter stays where he is. His eyes are focussed on the threshold between the living room and the communal kitchen. The floor-to-ceiling window gleams behind it, the sky a soft morning blue, the city safe and bustling beneath them. The kitchen stands in his periphery. The other Avengers bustle past the breakfast bar obliviously, opening up cupboards, pulling out ingredients, switching the stove on. Peter’s feet won’t bring him any closer.
Bruce pauses. Looks back. Whatever he sees on Peter’s face makes him retrace his steps quickly.
Bruce tugs him gently away with a hand on Peter’s elbow. The edge of the kitchen disappears from view.
“Take a deep breath,” Bruce says. Peter inhales hugely; he hadn’t realised he’d stopped breathing for that long, long moment.
“I just,” Peter begins uselessly. He can’t explain it, the way the sleek expanse of the marble countertops, the basket of fruit, the line of high stools at the breakfast bar, could make him stiffen so abruptly. Why, for that long moment, Peter was frozen.
Bruce rubs a thumb over the soft inside of Peter’s elbow, and doesn’t make him apologise.
In the kitchen, Tony and Sam are still chattering about breakfast options. Peter can hear the sound of eggs being cracked into frypan, the faint sizzling of bacon thrown on a warming surface.
Natasha watches from the threshold, surveying Peter with those keen, perceptive eyes. That gaze, that intensity, still makes him want to shrink back into Bruce, but there’s no hardness, her eyes full of soft concern, a warm simmer rather than the awful, scorching burn of the gas.
“I feel like take out,” Natasha says loudly. The people in the kitchen fall silent.
Tony scoffs. “I’m not having take out for breakfast like an animal.”
“Or a college kid,” Sam says. Peter still can’t see them, but he doesn’t want to come any closer to bring them back into view.
“Same thing,” Tony says.
I’m a college kid, Peter might say in response. Ordinarily, he might even pretend to be offended. Make some jibe about Tony’s impossibly high standards and silver spoons and the beauty of greasy pizza and strong coffee for breakfast. But his throat is dry and the small distance between himself and the kitchen hurts. Like the gap is more than just air, a wall of electricity that bites at Peter’s exposed skin, making him feel on edge, a current thrumming through his veins.
“Take out sounds wonderful,” Bruce says.
“Et tu, Bruce?” Tony ducks out of the kitchen to frown at Bruce. “We’re about to trick Sam into making us a full breakfast feast, and you and Romanoff are stabbing us in the back by—”
There must be something on Peter’s face, something that reflects the strung out, electric feeling sitting beneath his skin, because Tony stops. He steps into the threshold, next to Natasha, as all his gusto falls away.
“Jarvis,” Tony begins, “can you pull up some 24 hour joints? Maybe some pizza, some Chinese. Some places that deliver huge quantities of pastries?”
“Right away, sir.”
Clint steps out of the kitchen too. He presses his chest against Natasha’s back, his hand slipping almost onto her waist, and says, “Pizza for breakfast? Sign me the fuck up.”
“But Sam’s breakfast—” Peter tries to argue, but his voice comes out weird, not strong enough to be believable. He needs to work on that.
“Don’t worry about it, Peter,” Sam says easily.
But Peter isn’t deterred. The thought of raw, yolky eggs and abandoned bowls of flour and sugar, the beginnings of pancakes and cut up fruit laid out, makes his stomach turn. He feels sick, knowing he’s rejecting Sam’s cooking. Making them desert the kitchen, and eat greasy take away instead of lavish home cooked meals. He feels selfish, sickened; like he’s asking for more than he deserves.
“But you already started,” Peter says.
“Doesn’t matter, this way I can at least sit down and enjoy the morning,” Sam says, before moving past them and sitting down on the far side of the couch, and smiles, wide, unconcerned. Peter almost believes him, but he remembers how much the older man enjoys cooking.
Peter lets Bruce pull him deeper into the living room. He folds himself into one of the beanbags, and Peter sits next to him, torso curling up while his legs stick out, one socked foot, one bulky cast.
Clint takes the other end of the couch and Natasha sits next to him, their arms brushing. Tony collapses into the armchair.
Jarvis plays something soft and easy, guitar strings filling the empty space between them, the kind of “indie bullshit” Tony often complains about Peter liking. An muted episode of Friends is playing on the flatscreen.
For his part, Peter sinks further into his beanbag, curling into his hoodie, and watches the others chatter between themselves. Sam and Bruce are discussing new chairs to add to the living room, with Tony chiming in to bitch about the aesthetic of the room and Clint enthusiastically voting for more blankets and Natasha shrugging, like she couldn’t care less. Peter sees how she slyly seems in favour of the hanging egg chair Bruce describes. She likes curling up in chairs and sofas and little nooks, with a book in her lap and sun warming her face.
“We could put it by the window,” Natasha says simply.
Tony sighs, exaggerated, but relents, “Fine, fine. Order whatever you like.”
“And these beanbags are getting old,” Bruce says, inspecting the fraying corners of his square beanbag with a frown. “The fabric is worn.”
“I saw these new Avenger patterned ones, and granted, they were marketed for kids, but I could pull some strings—” Tony begins.
For the first time since sitting down, Peter speaks up, his voice a little rough, hesitant, “I like them like this. Worn. It’s comfortable.”
“We’ll keep these beanbags then,” Bruce says simply, and that’s that, they move onto arguing about the merits of elevator furniture.
The take away arrives in sets. The pizza comes first—boxes stacked open on the coffee table, grease soaking the cardboard bottoms, and Clint dives for a slice immediately—followed by Chinese. Even Peter, with his clammy hands and that lurching, uncomfortable feeling in his stomach, fills a bowl full of honey chicken and fried rice, a slice of pizza dripping over the lip of the bowl. He hasn’t realised how truly hungry he is until he’s started eating.
On the sofa, Natasha and Sam are laughing at Clint, jeans soaked in grease, wiping cheese off his nose. Tony leaves and returns from the elevator with trays of take away coffee cups.
“You got coffee delivered?” Bruce asks, with a little smile and a thank you as Tony hands him a cup. It even has his name sprawled on one side.
Tony hands another cup to Sam. “‘Course I did. If we’re having take away for breakfast, I’m going to go all out.”
“Oh, my god,” says Sam as he takes a sip of his drink. Natasha takes hers, and hums happily to herself as she drinks it. Clint’s moan is obscene.
“This is why I got delivery,” Tony says, with a victorious smile. He passes Bruce one of the last cups. Bruce hands it to Peter.
It has Peter’s name on the side, and when he takes a sip, he tastes hazelnut and chocolate, the rich coffee only an aftertaste. Peter usually takes his coffee however he can—whether that be cheap and instant and without milk, or elaborately poured by Tony himself, heaped with sugar and cream—but he’ll admit, if only to himself, that he likes it sweet. He feels ridiculously spoiled, but grateful. So grateful.
Someone delivers stacks of waffles, with a side of fresh fruit and cream. There are a smaller accompanying box of pancakes too, and a few bags of donuts.
“How are we supposed to eat all of this?” Peter asks, even as he cuts off a piece of his waffle, spooning up half a sugared strawberry with it.
“We won’t,” Sam says, rolling a pancake up with his hands, “but someone will later. This can be lunch. Or dinner. Or someone’s post-training snack.”
Peter supposes that’s true; in the Tower, leftovers don’t last long. Even so, when three delivery men march in from the elevator, carrying towering boxes, it all feels a little ridiculous.
“This is so much food,” Peter tries. “Too much. Why do we need this much?”
Tony shrugs, even as he goes about tipping the delivery men, handing off boxes to a struggling Clint. “Like I said, I enjoy going all out. Go big or go home.”
“I think I need to go home,” Clint says, straining under the mass of boxes. One tumbles out of his hand and Natasha snags it out of midair, settling it on the carpet. There’s no more room on their coffee table.
A stack of empty dishes sits by Peter’s beanbag, but when Bruce picks out a little selection of pastries from the box, arranging them carefully on a plate before handing them to Peter, he simply accepts it. And eats it, because he’ll never turned down free food. Never.
Tony and Clint are bickering over the last of the spring rolls. Natasha and Sam are shoulder to shoulder, inspecting the boxes of pastries with identical smiles. Bruce is laid back in his beanbag, hands resting on his stomach, eyes scrunched up, too full. Peter munches on a glazed cherry danish, and closes his eyes. His hand reaches out idly, brushing up against Bruce. He’s pleased when Bruce’s fingers reach out to meet him.
He’s only about halfway through his danish, the plate of pastries spilt in his curled up lap, when the chattering grows softer, from loud bickering to muted whispers. Full, warm, Bruce’s fingers against his own, Peter dozes off, and sleeps easier than he has in weeks.
It’s quiet when Peter wakes.
The music has stopped, the TV switched off. The ceiling light is off, and the room is lit only by the sunlight that filters in from the ceiling-to-floor window beyond the living rom.
He blinks sleepily. Half-eaten pastries are sat on his knees, but for the most part, he feels comfortable, contented, lazy with a stomach that’s still happily full. Bruce is still dozing beside him. His glasses are askew on his face, and he’s folded half-off the beanbag in an awkward position, but he doesn’t look in danger of waking.
Peter hasn’t felt this relaxed in weeks.
A paper cup tumbles off the coffee table, and coffee spills out onto the carpet. “Oh, shit.”
Peter rubs at his eyes, squinting past his feet—tangled in Bruce’s—and past the stacked pizza boxes, to see Steve leant over the coffee table, a garbage bag in hand. Peter stiffens. The bubble of quiet, safe happiness—containing this moment, blanketing everything in soft drowsiness—pops.
“Sorry,” Steve whispers. “I’m just cleaning up. Go back to sleep.”
But Peter’s body has gone stiff, no longer sleepy and soft, his muscles gone taunt with panic, with instinct.
He watches, frozen, as Steve dabs at the spill with a cloth. Peter watches, heart thumping loudly, as Steve sweeps the paper coffee cup into the garbage bag. Wraps up several pizza slices. Wipes away bits of stray fried rice and maple syrup.
When Steve reaches to scoop up the pizza boxes, inches from Peter’s socked foot, he reacts on instinct, scrambling away, over the beanbag, stumbling over his cast in his haste to put distance between them.
Steve’s eyes go wide with surprise. Peter steps back a few more paces.
“Peter,” Steve says, alarmed, “I’m—I’m sorry, I thought we were okay, I thought you were okay to be around us—”
Around that awful, awful choked feeling in his throat, Peter manages, “I thought I was okay too.”
Bruce is beginning to wake up, roused when Peter’s stray foot had knocked against him. Peter’s hands are in tight, shaking fists, and Steve is looking up at him with these sad, regretful eyes, and Peter just—just—
He was fine moments ago. Better than fine. Happier than he’d been in so long.
This was a scene Peter was familiar with; eating himself to sleep on these very beanbags, dozing off to the background chatter of the Avengers, only to wake with someone nearby, reading quietly in an armchair or cleaning a weapon by his side. Steve often came in to wrap up the leftovers before they went bad. Peter has woken up to Steve’s face before, to Steve holding an innocuous garbage bag or a spray bottle and smiling quietly, apologetically, at him.
And Peter was fine before. He was fine around five Avengers. He hadn’t panicked like he is now. Didn’t stumble back at ever small step they took forward.
“Steve?” Bruce mumbles, voice thick with sleep. “Peter? What’s going on…?”
Steve looks like he’s at a loss. He keeps glancing between Bruce and Peter with those eyes, with that guilt, like he feels like he should be doing something to help but doesn’t quite know what.
“I’m sorry—” Steve begins.
“It’s fine,” Peter says quickly. Bruce is starting to wake up properly now, sleep chased away at the sound of Peter’s voice, small and breathless, choked around this flighty, caged feeling in his throat.
Bruce wobbles as he tries to stand up. Pastries are spilt over the carpet, where Peter had jumped to his feet and the desserts in his lap were sent tumbling.
“Peter,” Bruce starts, but Peter just. Just. Doesn’t want to deal with that right now. Not with Steve still crouched on the carpet, looking like a kicked dog. Not with this stupidly familiar feeling in his chest.
“No,” Peter says quickly, “no.” He shakes his head, once, twice, like he’s trying to dispel water from his ears, before following that flight feeling in his throat out of the living room, into the elevator, and back to his rooms.
Peter deals with this like he deals with a great deal of his problems; he climbs into bed, throws Netflix on, and pretends not to exist for a while.
Half a season into rewatching Steven Universe and Peter no longer feels like he’s drowning on dry loud. There’s still this weird, weak feeling in his body, like all his super-strength was sucked out with the panic.
By the time Lapis Lazuli makes an on-screen appearance, Peter’s fingers are itching and his mind is beginning to wander. Peter deals with that too, pulling out his web-shooters and his torn suits and setting to work modifying, stitching. Peter works diligently as the Crystal Gems sing in the background, thread and small screws and ripped fabrics splayed out on his comforter.
The city grows dark outside his window. Peter doesn’t think about leaving, dealing with the mess he’s left downstairs, even though he should. He takes his responsibility seriously, but he’s an introverted at heart. Sometimes, he can’t help but retreat in on himself like this.
His laptop pings with a new email. The notification hovers over Steven’s beaming face.
It’s from Bruce, despite the older man being just floors away. Why would he email Peter when he could just—
A simple lay out of the Avengers Tower takes up his screen. Their floors are labelled neatly in black script, but there are bright flecks of colour dotted around the Avengers’ quarters, glowing points with attached labels—there, behind a fire extinguisher in the stairwell, is a pepper spray gun. Hidden in a counter in the kitchen, behind the plastic cups no one uses, is a heavy duty taser. A rescue knife in one of the pot plants on the roof.
Peter stares at it with wide eyes.
“Natasha really wasn’t kidding,” he says, mostly to himself. “But why would she let Bruce hide heavy duty weapons around our home—”
“I believe the gesture is to make you feel more secure, Mr. Parker,” Jarvis interupts. To Peter’s credit, he only startles a little. “If it makes you feel uncomfortable, Agent Romanoff and Dr. Banner are ready to remove the weapons from the premise.”
Peter studies the map carefully. “I don’t… I don’t know what to think.”
The map with outlined weapons glares up at him. It’s mostly innocuous, because Peter doesn’t ever intend on using any of the hidden things, but the responsibility is heavy. The knowledge. The longer Peter sits there, curled up against his headboard, the more his stomach turns.
Without thinking, Peter plucks his phone out from the mess on his comforter and dials Thor.
The demigod picks up after the third ring. He sounds disorientated, voice slurred with sleep. “Hello?”
“Thor?” Peter glances at the dark windows. He hadn’t thought about how late it is, nearing midnight. He shouldn’t have called, shouldn’t have woke Thor up—
But Thor already sounds more awake. “Peter! I hadn’t expected a call.”
Peter fiddles with his comforter. “Yeah, I know, I should’ve given some notice. I hadn’t meant to wake you—”
“No, no, don’t worry; I was only dozing.” Thor is not a skilled liar. Peter appreciates the effort nonetheless. “What makes you seek my presence so late at night? Not that I’m bothered by your call, that is. I will answer any of your summons, no matter the hour.”
Peter doesn’t say anything at that. Doesn’t even muster up a laugh. The glare of his laptop is painful, too bright in his dark room.
“What’s wrong, Peter?” Thor asks, concerned.
Peter wets his lips nervously. “This is going to sound dumb, but… I mean, I know that it’s wrong to hurt someone. Of course, it’s wrong, especially if it’s someone you care about.”
Thor sounds sad, his voice heavy, as he says, “If this is about my actions under the influence, several days ago—”
“No, no,” Peter hurries to correct. He should’ve realised that was what Thor would assume. “That’s not it!”
“—because I was definitely in the wrong, you must know that. No one should get to hurt you, my friend.”
“That’s what I was calling about. It’s—it’s kind of hard to be around the Avengers at the moment, after what happened.” Peter folds himself into a ball as he explains what Natasha had asked Bruce to do, how the older man had agreed, littering defence weapons around the Tower, sending Peter the map. Peter tucks his feet under him and rests his chin on his knees, curled up almost shyly, gaze still fixed on his laptop.
“Natasha is as shrewd and intelligent as ever,” Thor decides when Peter finishes. “I’m grateful we both have her as a friend.”
“But is it right?” Peter presses. “To—to carry around this information? To know there’s weapons in our home, that I could potentially use on any of you?”
“But you wouldn’t,” Thor says gently. He knows Peter too well.
“But I could! It’s the potential, the fact that I could if I wanted to.”
“After everything that has happened,” Thor says, and his voice isn’t so loud, quiet almost; Peter can hear the muffled sounds of traffic on his end, and suspects Thor is stood on Jane’s low balcony, gazing across the city at the bold glow of Avengers Tower, bright even against the lit up cityscape—all that distance between them, the Tower serving as Thor’s green light across the bay, “you deserve that small mercy. It’s not the potential to attack your friends that Natasha has gifted you with, but the ability to further defend yourself. It’s the feeling of safety you’re chasing, Peter. Not malice. Not violence.”
“Safety,” Peter echoes. He looks past his laptop, past the oversized teddy bear that still haunts a corner of his room—an unprecedented get well soon gift from Tony—to his tall window. He can’t see Jane’s apartment amongst the jumble of buildings. “So… it’s alright, then? For me to have this information?”
“I think so,” Thor says. “I think you can let yourself have this much, Peter.”
There’s the sound of voices on the other end, and the clinking of cutlery against dishes.
“Hello, Peter,” Jane yells in the background.
“Tell Jane I say hello back,” Peter instructs, smiling a little as Thor does so. He likes Darcy, and though he’s only ever seen Jane a handful of times, mostly in passing, he likes her too.
“She’s brought me a midnight snack,” Thor says. “Leftover fettuccine.”
“Hello, Peter!” And that’s Darcy, shouting like Jane had. “Don’t think we’re ridiculously nice to your teammate—I just wanted the rest of the pasta and Jane wouldn’t let me eat it all until her boyfriend had some. Boo.”
“Tell Darcy I say hi, too,” Peter says. He can’t help but smile at Darcy, even as he thinks enviously of pasta, of chopped bacon and creamy sauce, hunger gnawing at his stomach. “I forgot dinner…”
“A warrior needs his food!” Thor sounds scandalised. “You should eat immediately, my friend. Preserve your strength.”
“Alright, alright,” Peter concedes, climbing to his feet. He hadn’t wanted to leave the sanctity of his rooms, but he supposes he has to now. At least for a little while. He can’t hide himself away with cartoons and sewing equipment forever.
“Would you like me to stay on the phone with you, Peter?”
“I’ll be fine,” Peter says. “Goodnight, Thor. And thank you. For listening.”
“Whatever you need, my friend. Whenever you need it. Goodnight, Peter,” Thor says in that quiet, rumbly voice, like a wave crashing gently upon shore, before hanging up.
The television is playing softly when Peter steps out of the elevator. He hesitates, prepared to beat a quick retreat, but it’s only Bruce that squints over at him from the armchair.
“Peter?” Bruce mumbles.
“I didn’t wake you, did I?” Peter asks quietly, tip-toeing across the carpet.
Bruce yawns into his hand. “I came out here because I couldn’t sleep, so no. You’re fine.”
Sam peeks over the top of the sofa. “Heya, Pete. You alright? I heard about earlier…”
Seeing Sam so unexpectedly doesn’t send Peter into a panic, not quite, but his heart does skip a beat, breath catching for just a second, before he’s able to loosen his fists, to take a deep, purposeful breath, and relax. Sam. Only Sam.
“I’m okay,” Peter says. “Really. I just came out for a midnight snack.”
Bruce sits up so abruptly he bangs his foot against the coffee table. He yelps, clutching at it, and says through clenched teeth, “Crap, shit, I was going to bring you up dinner, but I forgot—!”
Sam and Peter both stay still. In the distorted light of the TV, Bruce’s features are pale, the bags under his eyes pronounced but his skin lacking any green. It’s a habit by now, to give Bruce some allowances. Make sure their teammate is always capable of catching his temper. It’s second nature to all of the Avengers to give him space, or to step up and calm him down, when his emotions catch on the jagged edge of the Hulk.
Peter supposes that’s what they’re trying to do for him now, too. Giving Peter allowances. Making sure his emotions don’t catch on some traumatic memory. It’s an embarrassing thought.
“It’s alright,” Peter says finally, “I didn’t even realise myself.”
“There’s plenty of leftovers in the fridge,” Sam says, side-eying Bruce.
“Thanks.” Peter only gets a few steps before stopping. The threshold of the kitchen looms before him, the ceiling-to-floor window just beyond it. “Um.”
Bruce seems to realise the problem a moment after Peter. “Sit down, Peter, I’ll go reheat something for you. Any requests?”
“Whatever Clint hasn’t already gotten into will be fine.” Peter takes a seat on the sofa a few cushions down from Sam. Bruce bustles around in the fridge, and Peter bites at his lip, thinking. “M—Maybe some of those danishes from this morning? The ones that tasted like cherry? If there are any left…”
Peter feels a little bad, like he’s asking for too much, but Bruce says easily, “Cherry danishes, coming right up.”
Sam is flicking idly through TV channels, trying to find something half way decent amongst the 2AM dribble.
He flicks past reruns of shows from the 90s; a brightly coloured cartoon; a news program in a foreign language. A rerun of yesterday’s talk show flickers over the screen, and Sam hesitates on it long enough for one of the women to purse her shiny lips, and say, “I just think the situation was handled badly; they’re supposed to be professionals, this shouldn’t even have happened—”
“It happened twice,” agrees the other woman, a little younger, hair chopping into a dark bob, “when it shouldn’t have happened at all.”
“I think they should’ve made sure the situation was fully controlled sooner,” volunteers the man on the far right. The gaggle of them are seated around a set of couches, the set full of soft colours and domestic furniture to mimic a living room. But the group seem more serious than friends talking over coffee should. “They should have apprehended the people responsible immediately. They have the resources, don’t they? They’re supposed to be the best of the best.”
The only person who seems annoyed, with an opinion that differs from his colleagues, is an older man with small eyes and crossed arms. “You’re blaming the group? It’s Spider-Man that shouldn’t have been out on the field. We all saw the footage immediately after he left the Tower—why did he think it was okay to get out in a fire-fight two days after he’d been hurt so badly? When he knew he’d chicken out like he did—”
“Um,” Sam says, sitting up sharply. He’s only just realised what the talk show hosts are discussing so furiously.
“—putting other lives and the cohesiveness of the entire Avengers at risk—”
Sam slams his thumb on the remote. The TV screen goes black, the man cut abruptly off.
Peter’s jumped to his feet, wobbling on his one good foot. Sam looks horrified, guilty, an apology on the tip of his tongue.
But Peter shakes his head. He palms at his chest with one hand, as though to push down the lump of tight, crippling anxiety sitting heavy in his lungs. “Is everyone talking about it?” Peter asks. The talk show hadn’t look local. It had looked familiar, something bigger, famous. National, maybe. “About me? The whole country—”
Bruce is at his side immediately. He’d run in from the kitchen, half an orange still in one hand, a kitchen knife dripping juice in the other. “Peter—”
Peter steps back too quickly, and trips over the coffee table. Peter’s head smacks against the carpeted floor, the thud loud in the quiet room.
“Peter!” Bruce and Sam say loudly.
They leap up to help him, but Peter is stronger than a bump to a head. He’s survived far worse, and his bones are stronger than both of their’s, superhuman durability giving him metal beneath his skin, even as his insides feel like they’re being crushed.
Peter throws a hand up and they both stop in their tracks. “Put,” Peter manages, “put the knife away. Please, Bruce.”
Bruce looks as equally wide-eyed and horrified as Sam, and dashes back into the kitchen. When he returns, Sam is hovering several metres away from Peter, as though afraid of getting too close. Peter’s eyes are closed, and he’s still sprawled out on the floor where he’d fallen, just breathing deeply in, out, in. He looks a little panicked, a lot frustrated, as he forces himself to catch his breath out of sheer force of will.
When Peter opens his eyes, Bruce says, “I’m sorry, I should’ve known not to bring a knife—”
It’s not his fault. Bruce hadn’t even realised; Peter hadn’t told him. It’s none of their faults, really—the team should’ve known that Peter couldn’t go into the kitchen, and Steve should have known not to get too close to him when he was sleeping and unaware, and Peter shouldn’t be so surprised that national talk shows are discussing Spider-Man and the Avengers, after he’d seen photographs of himself and Thor splayed out on the front page of national newspapers. But he hadn’t realised. Hadn’t made that connection. Kept out of the loop by simple miscommunication.
“We need to talk,” Peter decides, propping himself up on his elbows. “All of us. Properly.”
Bruce doesn’t seem thrilled at the idea of having to talk this out, always so uncomfortable at the prospect of an honest, possibly invasive conversation, but he relents, for Peter. Sam, however, seems pleased. He knows how vital communication and honesty can be with helping one move on and overcome trauma.
Together, they push back the furniture in the room—sofa pressed agains the back wall, armchair and coffee table by the TV cabinet, beanbags dragged into a lumpy pile in the corner.
Jarvis alerts the others, and they slowly trickle down from their rooms, and sit where directed, gathering cross-legged in a wonky circle like grade schoolers. Bruce sits close to Peter, while Natasha disappears into the kitchen to help Sam carry out trays of coffee. They need the caffeine; none of them are sleeping again tonight.
It feels a little strange, sat in a circle amongst other superheroes, some half-sleep and in pyjamas, some dressed in jeans with purpling bags under their eyes. Leftover pastries are heaped on a tray in the middle, and Peter snags three immediately.
Steve fidgets when he sits down. “Peter, are you sure I should be here—”
“Yeah,” Peter says, even as his throat feels a little choked up at the sight of Steve, of his broad shoulders. “Everyone needs to be.”
“But if it bugs you, I’ll go—”
Natasha shoves a coffee mug into Steve’s hands, then bends down and shoves a pair of sunglasses onto his face. They’re similar to the ones she’d worn when she’d collected him from that newsstand, just a little bigger, a little darker, with a thick stripe of blue along the top.
“Um,” Steve says. The glasses look ridiculous on him.
Natasha stands back up. She produces the original pair of sunglasses from the pocket of her thick woollen cardigan, flashing them at Peter and arching an eyebrow.
Peter peeks up at her shyly. “Would you mind?”
“Of course not,” she says, and slides the sunglasses on. “I have more, if you want me to go get them—”
“No, it’s fine,” Peter reassures.
“And did you get the map of the Tower I made Bruce draw up?”
Thinking about the map full of brightly coloured points, outlining where all the stashed weapons were, still made Peter a little uneasy. But as he sat there, watching his teammates filter in, watch Steve fiddle with the glasses and Clint march into the middle of the circle to grab a donut, towering over Peter without meaning to, he remembers that taped to the back of the TV cabinet a few metres away is a stun gun. There’s a taser in the air vent to his left.
Peter wouldn’t use the weapons, but he feels weirdly reassures nonetheless.
“I did,” Peter says. “Thank you.”
“Anyone else confused by these two?” Tony asks as he sits down. He’s still dressed in ratty jeans, and engine oil is smeared down his left forearm, unnoticed by the billionaire. “Is this a private conversation? Are you teaching Peter the language of the assassins, Romanoff?”
“Shut up,” Natasha tells Tony. She throws an eclair at him. It smacks him right in the face, but doesn’t even complain, just sets about eating it, icing in his goatee.
Finally, they’re all seated on the living room carpet. Peter feels Thor’s absence acutely, wishing he could be here, but knowing with certainty that he couldn’t handle that. Not yet. It’s taking all his concentration just to sit here, surrounded by his team, while controlling his breathing, and managing that tight, heavy ball of fear that sits in his gut.
“Would you like to start?” Bruce asks. “Or would you like me to?”
Peter shifts. It’s uncomfortable to sit on the ground with his cast, and everyone’s eyes keep wandering to him, curious, waiting. It’s a little awkward, a lot unnerving, but it needs to be done. Peter knows this needs to be said.
“I’m worried this isn’t going to work out,” Peter admits finally. He keeps his eyes on his coffee, long fingers tracing the wet rim of the mug. “Even without SHIELD’s threats, I’m worried that we won’t—we won’t be able to work as a team—as friends—”
Peter takes a breath. He’s a little clumsy with his words, but the Avengers just wait. Let him finish.
“I want everything to go back to normal. I want to keep living in the Tower, and spending time with everyone, and to eventually get back to fighting crime with you, but I’m so worried that that’s not going to happen. Not with how we’re progressing.”
“We all want that, too,” Steve says, a little gentle, almost cautious. He’s used to taking the lead in things like this, guiding conversations, helping them map out a plan. But after waking up Peter, sending him spiralling so quickly into panic, he seems terrified to tread wrong. To hurt Peter again. “What can we do to help, Peter?”
Peter breathes out noisily. “That’s the thing—I don’t know.”
“Not to point out the obvious,” Tony says, “but what’re we doing here if we don’t have have a game plan yet?”
Peter shrugs, feeling a little awkward. “I just know that we should, like, communicate or something, but other than that, I don’t—”
“Communication,” Sam repeats. All eyes drift to him. “Yes, yeah, you’re right, Peter. I think to get through this, we just need to communicate with each other.”
“We’re not great at that,” Clint says, and they all laugh a little, because yeah. None of them are too skilled at communicating their feelings. Their fears. Until the Avengers, it was hard for all of them to let people get close.
“It’ll take some work, some cooperation,” Sam continues, “but we can get through it. Peter, you’ll need to tell us when we need to back off, or when you don’t mind us coming closer and hanging out. Let us know what freaks you out.”
“Maybe just avoid picking up any big kitchen knives when I’m around,” Peter says, making sure to smile at Bruce and Sam, like he’s sharing an inside joke with them. He’s meant to be teasing, but judging from the horrified looks on the rest of the team, his joke had fallen short. “Er, I mean—”
“Kitchen knives?” Steve chokes out. “Did I—”
“No, no!” Peter waves his hands frantically. “Well, you didn’t, but—”
“Oh, my god,” Clint says. He’s looks like he’s going to be sick. “Did we—did I—”
“Clint…” Peter hopes Clint doesn’t push the issue; this late night meeting was supposed to help put everything behind them, help forget about the awful things that had happened, not bring them up again.
“I need to know,” Clint says firmly. He looks to Natasha for help, but she only shakes her head and refuses to divulge any information. “Guys, Peter, I need to know.”
“Hey, man, don’t push him,” Sam buts in.
“I need to know—”
“You did,” Tony says. They turn to him, a little confused, a little horrified, but Tony only has sympathetic eyes for Clint. “I’m sorry, Clint, but you stabbed him. Twice.”
Clint makes a choked sound in the back of his throat, and Peter spits out, “Tony! What the hell, man—?!”
“He should know,” Tony says.
Peter shakes his head, feeling betrayed, and tries to climb to his feet. The cast and Bruce’s halting grip on his arm keeps him in place.
“Let me go, Bruce,” Peter snaps. “We were supposed to be getting over this, not bringing everything back up and playing the blame game.” Clint looks away from his angry gaze, which is strange, which feels too much like their positions have been reversed. Peter instantly feels a little bad. His teammates had gone through something awful too. Clint, especially, with his history. He knows what it’s like for something otherworldly—be it gas or Loki’s magic—to take his control away and make him do terrible things.
Peter deflates, all his energy leaving him. “Who else knows?” he asks, wary and tired. “Who else has seen the footage?”
“I have,” Bruce admits guiltily, but Peter waves him off; he already knew that.
“I have,” Natasha says.
“Yeah,” Tony says, “me too.”
“That’s it?” Peter asks, glancing around at the team.
Natasha is the one that nods. “SHIELD showed Bruce and I. Clint would have seen it too, but he disappeared as soon as he was conscious. And Tony…”
Tony shrugs. “Jarvis helped me dig up the tapes.”
“I would like to apologise for my part in this, Mr. Parker,” Jarvis says. Tony looks betrayed.
Peter manages to keep his breathing steady, even as he studies the carpet and tears apart a pastry with his strong, nervous fingers. “Okay, so three of you know. That’s alright, I guess. That’s not so bad.”
“Would it be so bad if the rest of us knew?” Sam asks.
“I don’t want you to see that. I just—want you guys to forget about it, for the most part.”
“They need to know a little,” Natasha says. She hasn’t spoken up much since arriving, but her gaze has been steady, assessing; she’s been a conscious, alert part of this conversation from the get go, not contributing much verbally, but ready to intervene should Peter need that.
“How much is a little?” Peter asks, reluctant.
“Enough to roughly know your limits. Who you’re the most comfortable with, who you still need time to get used to.”
Peter nods. Alright. Alright, he can do that much.
“I feel pretty fine around Sam,” he begins, “and Tony, a little. I saw you both the least during—yeah. Natasha did—she knows how much she did to me, but I feel weirdly okay around her. With the sunglasses, and the way she asks me questions. I feel like I have some control in that.” He risks a glance at her. Her lips are curled, her shoulders relaxed; Peter can tell she’s pleased by this. “Bruce is good, of course. More than good. Great.” Bruce rests a hand on Peter’s knee. His palm is warm through Peter’s jeans. “But, er. Clint is a little less okay, I think, but if everyone is there, I’m okay. I don’t have to focus so much on each person. And Steve…”
Steve must catch Peter’s sad, apologetic look, because he soothes, “I understand, Peter. It’s okay if you can’t be around me.”
“I can!” Peter insists, because this is Steve, his leader, his friend. He likes Steve. “I am right now! Just… Maybe don’t sneak up on me, especially if I’m not paying attention, or I’m asleep, or I’m alone. Maybe, only with the others? And with the, er—”
“I actually don’t mind the sunglasses,” Steve says, with a small smile.
“They’re fetching,” Tony agrees.
“Sorry,” Peter says. No matter how many times they go over this, Peter still feels like he’s imposing. Asking too much. He knows they make allowances for all of their teammates—like Bruce with the Hulk, and Tony a few months back, when he was truly struggling to kick his alcoholism—but he feels like he’s making them needlessly baby him.
Maybe it’s because he’s their newest member. Maybe it’s because of his age. Maybe Peter’s just that kind of person, doomed to be insecure and awkward, always imposing on people, treading on their toes.
From his other side, Sam rests a hand on Peter’s other knee. “Don’t apologise.”
Behind the sunglasses, Natasha’s stare is intense, attentive. “Why did you apologise?”
Peter squirms, but admits, “I just feel like I’m—I’m imposing on you guys—”
They all try and dispute that immediately, voices clambering to be heard over the top of one another.
“I shouldn’t make you all do this,” Peter argues over them, waving a hand to gesture at the room—the pushed back furniture, the cups of coffee that’ll keep them up for the rest of the night. “You should all be asleep, not dealing with me in your home—”
“You’re a part of our home,” Sam says. “And you’d do this for any of us, wouldn’t you?”
Peter worries at his lip with his teeth. “Yeah, I guess—”
“We’re a team,” Steve says. “We look after each other.”
“And we’ll just have to keep reminding you of that, until you understand,” Sam says.
Even in the city that never sleeps, 3AM is quiet and unworldly. Peter feels like this moment is removed from time. The world outside is dark. Distant. The team is united in this shared moment.
Over cooling coffee and leftover pastries, they talk about boundaries and triggers. They talk about dealing with guilt, how to overcome feelings of displacement and panic. The sky outside stays dark and starless, and they talk until their coffee is gone and their throats are sore, and Peter’s eyelids are heavy with tiredness.
Peter learns more about what’s been happening; he realises how brutally public the incident with the Tower had been. Reporters and cameramen had actually caught glimpses and footage of Peter being wheeled out on a gurney, spider suit in place, face bloodied and torn. They tell him about the sheer amount of gossip that had began to circulate as a result. How Davey was coping, fatherless but cured with his bruises wrapped up, safe in the hands of his grieving mother.
When the sky begins to lighten outside, it’s like the spell is broken. The quiet seriousness of this conversation seems strange in the dawning sunlight. Inappropriate, almost.
Steve almost stands to gather up everyone’s empty mugs, but pauses, gaze flittering to Peter behind those dark sunglasses.
“I got it,” Sam says instead. “Tony, you’re washing up.”
Tony looks so offended at being ordered around in his own home, that Peter can’t help but laugh into his hands. The billionaire doesn’t even argue though, standing up and dutifully following Sam into the kitchen, mugs and crumb covered tray in hand, grumbling as he goes.
The night has taken it all out of them. Peter feels exhausted, but lighter somehow. Like maybe Peter can figure everything out. Can overcome this.
“What’re we having for breakfast?” Peter asks loudly.
“I would say pastries, but a bunch of people seems to have mysteriously eaten them,” Tony shouts back from the kitchen.
“I’m still hungry?” Peter admits, a little embarrassed
“Me, too,” Steve agrees, nodding.
Clint shrugs. “Yeah, I could eat.”
Tony makes a helpless sound, loud enough to be heard even over the sound of running water and clashing dishes. “You vultures are going to eat me out of house and home!”
“I vote we send Clint to McDonalds,” Natasha suggests, smirking. Clint makes a betrayed, wounded sound that just makes Natasha smirk wider. “I want more coffee and hash-browns.”
“Pancakes, please,” Bruce says, as Steve asks, “Do they still have those egg and cheese wraps…?”
From the other room, Sam chimes in, “A breakfast burrito! One with sausage!”
Clint groans and gets to his feet. “Fine, I’ll go start a list.”
Clint bustles around looking for his lost phone to start up a list and Steve hops up to help, even as Natasha leans back on her hands and smirks at the both of them. Peter suspects the phone is stashed somewhere on her person. In the kitchen, Sam and Tony are bustling around each other, washing and drying in tandem, their easygoing chatter inaudible under the sound of splashing water and crashing dishes.
Bruce leans a little into Peter, and asks, “Are you okay? We’ve all had a long night.”
Peter lets himself fall against Bruce’s shoulder, curling up with his head resting on the older man. Bruce doesn’t move away from his touch.
“I think so,” Peter admits. He untucks his legs, laying them flat in front of him. His good foot nudges against Natasha’s, and she looks away from where Clint’s digging through his pockets, to smile at Peter, real, reassuring, before nudging him back with her heel. “But I’m craving McMuffins, and if Clint doesn’t hurry up soon—”
Natasha throws a stray couch cushion at Clint, catching his attention, before lobbing his phone across the room. The archer catches it easily. “Go,” Natasha instructs.
“I’ll text you our demands.”
Steve leads Clint to the elevator, intent on going with the archer, if only to help him carry the bags. The doors close softly behind them, and Peter is left with the distant sounds of Sam and Tony washing dishes, Bruce's breath ticking his hairline, Natasha smiling over at him, their feet playfully knocking together, like wheat grass swaying in the breeze.
Peter feels like he’s been caught up in whirlwind marathon over the past few weeks, feet struggling to keep up with the brutal pace, lungs burning, chest heaving. But he feels like the distance in front of him is beginning to shorten. He feels like the finish line is in sight.
I feel like Peter would binge watch a lot of TV shows in his free time (which he has very little of, really), and I like to imagine Steven Universe being one of them. SU is an adorable cartoon and helps me a lot whenever I’m feeling anxious, so I wanted to gift it to Peter, too. I headcanon that Thor and Natasha would sit down and watch an episode (or ten) with Peter one day, too.
Updates will continue to be sporadic, because of responsibilities and junk. Since my last update, I was accepted into University (for writing, ahhH?), so. That’s a thing that’s happening.
And I'd like to say, thank you all so much for the continued support. The love means so much to me, I can't even tell you. xx
Thank you all for being patient. I hadn't expected the wait between chapters to be so long, but I hadn't expected university to being so damn overwhelming, either. Gahh.
Warnings for violence, gun mentions, and copious blood.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The week passes slowly, almost tentatively, but it does pass. The media coverage ebbs. The bruises fade, Peter’s cast comes off—thank you, super healing—and it stops feeling like he’s walking on eggshells around his teammates so much.
Everyone’s still careful; not invading Peter’s space, not startling him. But everything has relaxed. Peter feels more comfortable around them. A little off-kilter, sometimes, his anxiety a constant thrum under his skin, and he’s still caught off guard by the sight of their faces or looming figures in his periphery, and there’s the nightmares that have started up, vicious and too real, but—
But Peter’s made an improvement. He thinks. He’s pretty certain he’s made an improvement. He can hold conversations and joke around and forget, if only for a little while, that he was once afraid.
His teammates obviously think he’s improved too, because for the first time since Peter had snuck out of the Tower and into a complete clusterfrick, they’re going on a group outing. Steve’s idea, with Bruce backing him up, citing Vitamin D deficiency and cabin fever.
Leaves twirl from trees, a thick layer of fading browns and oranges on the pathway, crunching underfoot. They’re walking slower than the families around them, dawdling almost, but Peter’s enjoying himself. It’s nice to just wander like this—outside, finally, the sky big and blue, bracketed by happy New Yorkers and wide, stretching trees—after spending so long cooped up inside.
Up ahead, the other Avengers are bickering to themselves. Tony stands firmly in the middle of the unfolding argument, waving expressive hands at Steve. They all looked a little ridiculous, holding various cups of coffee, wearing various brands of sunglasses.
Natasha officially decided both Steve and herself would wear sunglasses in the Tower, in Peter’s presence, and the other Avengers had jumped immediately on board. Tony ordered in novelty glasses. Steve looked pained at the ones Tony had shoved at him—the eyes shaped like twin guitars, coloured with the American flag—while Clint quickly laid claim to a pair of bright purple shutter shades.
“Good to see Natasha and Sam are as cool as ever,” Clint says—shutter shades in place, iced mocha in hand—as he points at their teammates. Bruce looks long-suffering, but Natasha and Sam are smirking, black, sugarless coffee in hand, dark sunglasses in place, both wearing worn leather jackets.
“Face it, dude,” Peter says, “we’ll never be that cool.”
“Let a man dream, Parker.”
The park ends at a busy street, and they lose the others immediately.
“Ten bucks says Tony is dragging them to scope out the fancy pants restaurants on this street,” Clint says.
“Ten bucks says they’ll ignore him completely, and Sam or Natasha will drag him off to some hipster hole-in-the-wall place that’ll make his skin crawl.”
Clint’s eyes go wide. “Ten bucks says Steve takes them to, like, Denny’s just to fuck with them. Pretends that he thinks it’s some new delicacy store or something.”
Peter chokes on a laugh. “Oh, my god, I’d pay to see that!”
“Ten bucks says Tony would complain the whole time about shitty food, and chain stores, and hygiene standards, but would end up enjoying it the most.” Clint and Peter share grins; dining out as a group may be an ordeal, but it’s a fun ordeal, usually. A bonding, disastrous ordeal. Entertaining, at the very least.
His spider-sense brings Peter to an abrupt stop. His smile drops, his apprehension slamming home. His teammates are gone. All he has is an unarmed Clint—crunching ice cubes between his teeth, oblivious—and his wobbly courage, and a warning of danger, danger, danger pulsing behind his eyes.
“Peter?” Clint eyes the stiff set of Peter’s shoulders. “You’re not about to have an anxiety attack, are you?”
But Peter’s not listening. He’s hyperaware of Clint’s presence—the warm and vulnerable body of his teammate beside him.
“Because Natasha will literally throw me off the top of the Tower if I fuck this up, and Sam will not fly down to catch me—”
An armoured van skids down the street, leaving a trail of furious, honking drivers in its wake. Its side door is thrown open, and a man decked out in kevlar, assault rifle tucked to his shoulder, open fires on the public street.
The bullets are too fast for the human eye to catch, but Peter, spurred on by his spider-sense and a familiar, welcoming rush of adrenaline, grabs Clint around the arm and bolts out of the guns path. Civilians are scattering like a pack of frightened seagulls, wings flapping and squawking in alarm.
Peter drags Clint into an underground subway station, not even pausing for breath on the stairs, darting past unaware New Yorkers and straight onto a waiting train.
“The others—” Clint begins, bracing a hand on a graffitied window, panting.
“They’ll be fine,” Peter says. The doors slide shut behind them. The train shutters. The wheels scream against creaky tracks as they barrel away from the station. No one had followed them onto the train, and Peter’s spider-sense is quiet, but he still doesn’t feel safe. Not yet.
Clint collapses onto a free seat. “I am so, so glad I’m friends with the supernatural spider duo. Between you and Nat, the full force of the KBG could rain down on me again, and I’d be fine.”
Peter takes the seat beside Clint. “S’not big deal,” he says, a little shyly. He frowns at Clint. “Wait, again? When did—?!”
“The important thing is that we’re not dead. And that the others aren’t dead. Assumedly.”
“Assumedly,” Peter repeats. There’s this useless knot of worry in his chest, even though he knows the Avengers were together, half of them superhuman, the other half with impossible reflexes and experience. Still, he itches to climb out of the train, to swing back to Central Park and track them down, make sure they’re safe.
Clint nudges his shoulder. “Sucks that those bastards ruined your day out, Pete.”
“Do you think they’ve been monitoring us?” Peter asks. Clint frowns; it’s a real possibility. Peter hasn’t left the Tower in over a week, not since Thor’s unwilling attack. Partially because of the cast entrapping his leg, like a ball and chain around his ankle, and partially because of his worried teammates.
“Maybe,” Clint says. “We can’t know until we meet back up with the others—”
Their train slows and pulls into the next station, shaking noisily from the effort. The doors slide open, a stream of passengers exit, and a dark stranger steps off the platform as Peter’s spider-sense screams—
“Timmme to go,” Peter decides, grabbing a handful of Clint’s plaid shirt and hauling the other man down the train. Peter weaves through the other passengers with ease, but Clint, tugged along faster than his bulky boots can keep up, is clumsier, tripping the pair into people. “‘Scuse me, ‘scuse me—whoops, sorry!”
“I take it back,” Clint says, as they jostle a woman and her armful of groceries are sent tumbling, tomatoes and tinned beets and a whole cantaloupe rolling across the floor. People squawk and stumble back, dodging errant fruit. “You aren’t stealthy. At all. You don’t deserve to be a spider, Natasha would be ashamed.”
Peter steps over a squashed loaf of bread. “I’m plenty stealthy, I’m just not used to having ordinary, ungrateful teammates weighing me down—”
The woman waves her fist at them, empty shopping bags in hand, ruined groceries split out at her feet, yelling furious after them. Peter doesn’t speak spanish, but he knows when he’s being insulted. Or threatened. Possibly both at once. With expletives.
Clint evidently does speak Spanish, because he winces. “This is your fault, kid. Minus 10 points from Gryffindor.”
Peter shoots him an insulted look. “I’m a Ravenclaw, actually.”
“Of course you are, you unbelievably nerd.”
“Let me guess; hufflepuff? Figures.”
“Hey, what’s wrong with being a Hufflepuff—?!”
One of their fellow train go-ers looks past Clint and Peter’s bickering, past the furious Spanish woman, and pales. “Is that a GUN?” she shouts, and that goes off as well as you might expected.
The train carriage erupts into panic, people screaming and throwing themselves backward, ducking under trains seats or pressing themselves up against windows and doors, as though they could sink into the train if they just pressed themselves close enough.
Where there was once a crowd of people, trapped in the train like sardines in a can, there’s now open space. Peter’s stalker, coat dark and billowing out to his knees, raises his gun. Peter rolls, ducks. The bullets whizz over his head, his spider-sense hums. Clint cries out and collapses.
“Clint!” The archer is a pile of limbs, a puppet who’s strings have been cut, blood seeping from his gut. “No—no—!”
The people lining the train are panicked, shrinking back even further in fear, as the gunman raises the gun again. Aims at Peter’s head.
The old train shakes as it pulls into the station. Peter heaves Clint up, fireman carry. He can feel the wetness from his teammate soak his sweater, and it’s that, that grotesque reminder of Clint’s condition, that makes Peter tremble, falter, threaten to drop Clint.
A bullet embeds itself in the window. A second follows. The window threatens to shatter, the plastic-like glass cloudy and full of spidery cracks.
The doors slide open, and crowds of terrified people rush out, all of them pushing up against each other, shoving, shouting. They gush out onto the platform, startling those waiting to board.
Peter slips into the crowd. He ducks low, moves fast, trying to be as inconspicuous as one can be with an unconscious Avenger over one shoulder.
“Come out of the Tower, they said,” Peter mumbles under his breath. “You’ll have fun, they said. Don’t worry about being a superhero for a while, they said.”
Peter pushes through the crowds, all sharp elbows and desperate adrenaline. He takes the subway steps at a sprint. The sunny street seems wrong after the artificial brightness of the underground subway. Less than half an hour ago Peter was drinking coffee with too much cream and laughing in a park full of families. Now, Clint’s breathing is erratic and hitched, and he’s not moving, not shooting off that dumb mouth, his blood dripping down Peter’s shoulder—
“Don’t bring your webshooters, they said,” Peter continues, bitter, furious with himself. “You won’t need them, they said!”
Peter’s being tailed; the shooter from the train has no doubt followed them out, and the van is probably looping back around. There’s someone in front of him, bald head shining in the sunlight, gloved hands cocking off the safety of the gun.
Peter sprints across the footpath, volts over the public bench, and dropkicks the new gunman across the jaw. His spider-sense shouts again, the man’s gun coming up, but Peter uses his free hand to knock it away.
Surrounding pedestrians gawk openly. Peter readjusts his grip on Clint, and ignores them.
His teammate is slumped unconscious over his shoulder, likely bleeding out, and Peter is going to get his friend to safety even if it kills him.
A police cruiser tears down the street, lights flashing and sirens whirring. His spider-sense hums, pushes Peter off of the brightly lit street and into a hollow little alley, full of shadows and walls he could scale with one hand if he needed to.
There’s a second screech of tires. Peter glances back, and quickly regrets it; at the mouth of the alley, decked out in guns and padded vests, are a gaggle of angry looking mercenaries.
“As fun as this is,” Peter says, “how about next round, you hide, and I seek.” Bullets skid off of a neighbouring dumpster. “Okayyy, what about hop scotch? Jumaji? You won’t shoot us over Monopoly, would you?”
Peter climbs the alley wall expertly, palm and feet and knees over damp brick as easy as breathing. He crosses the rooftop in a short sprint. A larger leap onto a neighbouring apartment building, another sprint, another jump. Clint stays silent and unresponsive against Peter’s back.
Peter knows he’s getting further and further away from the Tower, and they’re too far left—and too bloodied—to head to his Aunt’s.
“Nng,” Clint says. “What’s…?”
“You are the saddest sleeping beauty ever,” Peter tells him. “Too much blood and not enough blond hair. I should let the dragon eat you.”
Evidently, Clint is too out of it to make much sense of that, because he moans some more, feverish forehead pressed against the curve of Peter’s spine.
“Hey, don’t go back to sleep!” Peter panics a little. A lot. The adrenaline hasn’t faded—if anything it’s increased, the feeling like steel beneath his skin, like springs beneath his feet, pushing him to move faster, to be stronger, Clint a vulnerable, almost weightless package in his grip. “We’re getting closer to the hospital, alright? Clint? Clint!”
Clint slumps, boneless. The adrenaline stops feeling like strength, and starts feeling like something dangerous, panicked and furious and threatening to swallow him whole.
The buildings’ heights get too sporadic to leap to. Peter jumps from the ledge and lets them land heavily on a dumpster, the metal crunching beneath his feet. Peter’s bones ache, pain shooting up his spine; he barely feels it.
He runs another block at a sprint, people’s concerned eyes following him the entire way, before the bullets start back up. Peter could normally loose gunman easily, but without his webs, with Clint on his back, he feels achingly vulnerable.
Peter glances behind him. The gun is trained on him, the man’s finger on the trigger, his spider-sense tingling—
Natasha rushes around the corner like an avenging angel and takes out the closest man’s knees. The gunman collapses, and the Black Widow tucks out of her roll, springing to her feet with bouncing red curls and a bloodied knife tucked out of her fist.
“Nat!” Peter says, relieved.
“Peter,” she says, eyeing him for injuries. Her gaze catches on Clint, unresponsive and wet in Peter’s arms.
A group rush around the corner Natasha had appeared from, and she pounces, a twirling blur of movement, the red of hair burning through the air. The gunman drop before they can run at Peter; there are no more guns heaved up, no more bullets peppering the pavement terrifying close. Peter feels less manic, safer, with Natasha here.
Clint squirms in his hold. His eyes are blurry when they squint up at Peter and he tries to push away from the teenager.
“Clint, you’re hurt, don’t move—” Peter tries to keep Clint still, but the man keeps fighting him, legs kicking weakly against Peter’s chest. “Clint—Clint, it’s me! It’s Peter!”
The van tears down the street. It’s door has been torn off, the paint job scratched and the bumper dented. Iron Man follows behind the speeding car.
“Peter, take Clint and go!” Nat shouts over the sound of gunfire. She unsheathes the widow bites stored in her boots, and falls back into a loose stance, expression shuttering into something cold and intense. Her sunglasses have long since been knocked away.
“We’re too far from a hospital—” Clint’s breathing is uneven. He needs medical attention, and soon.
Iron Man lands heavily in front of Peter. The van tries to speed up onto the pathway, to take out Peter and his armful of archer, but Iron Man catches the van around the front and shoves back. The tires squeal uselessly on the pavement, trying to push against the Avenger.
“Widow’s right,” Tony says, voice tinny and firm. “Get off the streets. Get somewhere safe.”
Peter glances between the two Avengers. His brain feels slow, thoughts drowned out by panicked worry and the dregs of adrenaline. “But—”
Two men jump from the van, dual machine guns in hand. Natasha throws herself at them, tackling them with her weight. “GO!” Tony and Natasha shout together.
Peter’s feet take him somewhere he’s never been before, not in person. He’s seen it in passing (Thor flying behind Peter’s arching swings, pointing excitedly and yelling, “Look, that’s where my lady dwells! Good evening, Jane! I hope you can hear me!”) and memorised the address, but he’s never been there. Doesn’t even know if he’d be welcome.
Peter bangs a fist on the french doors of the apartment’s balcony, panting a little. His injuries are pretty much healed—reduced to innocuous bruises, smears of colour on his cheekbones and ankle—but he hasn’t been regularly fighting and patrolling for weeks. He misses it. His burning lungs miss it, too. Ugh, he’s out of shape. Steve and Natasha, his training tormentors, would kill him if the circumstances were different.
The doors open. Thor stands in the doorway, big and blond and surprised. Peter knees are shaky under Clint’s weight.
“We need your help,” Peter says. “Please—I need your help.”
Peter sits on a wall in the living room. HIs feet and the flat of his back are pressed against the wall, his hands resting on his knees. He barely moves, barely breaths, straining to hear something from the room behind him. Thor had carried Clint into the nearest bedroom immediately, Darcy emerging from the kitchen—a coffee mug in hand, still dressed in pyjamas despite it being mid-afternoon—and followed the Asgardian quickly in.
Bruce had arrived quickly after. He only spared Peter a quick, worried glance before striding into Clint’s room, looking stressed but firm, clothing rumpled, new medical supplies bundled under one arm.
Peter’s desperate for something—a squeak of pain, maybe Thor welcoming Clint back to consciousness. Something other than the soft clinking of medical implements and Bruce’s soft murmurs.
He’s listening too intently, focussed so keenly, that he misses the sound of approaching footsteps out in the hall, until three of his teammates burst into the apartment.
Peter’s head snaps up, all muscles in his body going tense. He’s coiled for an attack.
“Peter,” Steve breathes out, “you’re okay. Where’s Clint?”
Peter jerks his head to the door to his right. He’d left the anxious babbling of Peter Parker behind suburbs ago, back in that park, when the bullets had started flying. But he’s past the bravado and the jokes of Spider-Man, too wound up, too alert. Like this, he’s tense and serious and weirdly nonverbal. Steve, at least, seems to understand.
“Tell me, is Clint okay?” Steve says. It’s more an order than a question. Peter shrugs. “And you, are you okay?” Peter nods, a little jerky, but a confirmation nonetheless.
“No matter how many times I see him do that, it never stops being creepy,” Tony says. He’s eyeing Peter’s gravity defying crouch with a frown. His hair is sweaty, that post-battle messy, and he looks haggard. Exhausted.
Natasha pushes past them. It’s subtle, but Peter can tell she’s holding herself differently. She’s coiled like Peter, in hyperdrive after the threat they’d just faced. Ready to defend if attacked.
She stops in the threshold, appraising Peter with a steady eye. Her sunglasses are still absent, and her curls are wild, bouncing messily around her face. She holds that cold, rigid attentiveness Peter has seen a hundred times before—in battle, in painful press conferences. In the Tower, Clint furious by her side, wielding identical kitchen knives.
“You’re okay,” Natasha notes. It’s not really a question.
“I’m okay,” Peter agrees. It’s not really a lie.
Peter gestures to the room beside him with a jerk of his head. “He’s in there.”
Natasha nods once, business-like, and disappears into the room. After a pause, Steve and Tony follow after her.
Peter unsticks from the wall, sliding down and tucking himself down, back to the wall, feet flat on the ground. He makes himself small, watches the apartment door, and waits.
Eventually, Darcy comes out of the bedroom. Her soft blue pyjamas are stained with spots of blood, her hair fizzy and tied back. She looks worn out, but smiles at Peter when she sees him folded up.
“Hey there, little dude,” Darcy says, sliding down the wall and curling up next to him. She doesn’t seem bothered by the drying blood on her clothes. “How are you holding up?”
“Me? You’re the one covered in blood,” Peter says, managing a little smile.
Darcy looks at him, searching, for a long moment. Then, she says gently, “Peter, you’re covered in more blood than I am.”
Peter blinks, looks down at himself. Swallows down the thick lump in his throat.
His clothes are ruined. The green of his sweater is barely recognisable, gone beneath the muddy red of dried blood. His pants, too, are dark where Clint had leant against him, the archer’s wet hands leaving fingerprints on the back of his jeans, his wounds having dripped their way down his entire front.
Even his sneakers are a little ruined, blood splattered on the laces.
“Oh,” Peter says. “I—I hadn’t noticed.”
“Come on, then.” She helps him to his feet, her hand steadying on his arm. “Let’s go get cleaned up.”
She leads them into the bathroom, tiled a soft pastel blue. Darcy steals some clothes from Jane’s rooms, and lays them out on the cabinet top, before shooing Peter towards the shower.
“You should really have the first shower—” Peter manages. Darcy slaps him on the forearm.
“You’re the one that ran from one side of New York to the other, carrying that sad sack of archer over your shoulder. You’re sweaty and bloody, and it’s making me feel weird. I thought I was incapable of this caring, maternal shit until I bumped into you.”
“Me?” Peter echoes.
“You.” She gestures at him with a sweeping arm. “You’re, like, a tiny, malnourished puppy with sad hair.”
“I’m taller than you.” Peter frowns at her. “And how can my hair be sad.”
“Take a shower, Parker,” Darcy tells him, pointing emphatically at the shower curtains. “And put some warm clothes on before I’m forced to tackle you and shove you into a sweater.”
“I’m already wearing a sweater?”
The door slams closed behind Darcy. Peter, at a loss, methodically strips down and has a shower.
It’s disorientating, standing beneath the spray and watching the water run red. It’s not a first for him—his post-patrol showers often involve scrubbing dried blood off of his skin. But usually the blood is his. Or a stranger’s, at least.
Peter swallows, and squishes the soap cake in his hand. He tries not to think about how much blood washes off his skin, how much is scrubbed from his hands, from the hallows in his throat and collarbone, and hair. Tries not to think about Clint, bleeding on Darcy’s sheets.
His clothes aren’t salvageable. Even the t-shirt he’d worn beneath his sweater is stiff, dried blood cracking on the cotton. The borrowed clothes are a little old and don't fit right, but they’re comfortably worn and warm.
“I showered,” Peter reports. Darcy, in fresh clothes, claps happily from the kitchen.
“Here’s your reward!” Darcy holds up a mug of coffee and a plate of sandwiches when Peter pads closer, socked feet silent on the hardwood floors.
Peter looks at the sandwiches, cut a little crookedly, bread a little smooshed, then back at Darcy. “Does you feeding me have to do with the me-being-a-puppy thing?”
“A little, yes.”
The clothes she’d procured for Peter don’t fit right. The sweatshirt obviously belongs to Darcy or Jane, because it ends at Peter’s bellybutton. The tracksuit pants are Thor’s, the strings pulled as tight as they could go, the ends rolled up to reveal his feet.
Darcy pokes at his exposed hip bones, sticking out sharply.
“I mean, look at you,” she continues, poking at him again. “How could someone not want to dress you in warm clothes and feed you? You’re like one of those stray dogs who’s ribs you can see.”
“Please stop comparing me to dogs,” Peter says, tired. He takes the sandwiches, regardless of his pride. Hungry is hungry, and Peter’s a poor college kid; he doesn’t reject free food.
The door to Darcy’s room creaks open. Thor pokes his head out. He looks nervous, timid almost, as he says, “Peter? Clint’s awake.”
Peter almost drops the sandwich in his haste, skidding across the apartment. Thor’s broad shoulders take up most of the space in the doorway, but Peter is shorter, definitely thinner, and squeezes past him. Their arms brush. Thor looks surprised at the contact, like Peter’s touch burns.
Peter doesn’t pay him any attention. It’s Clint that catches his eye, laid up against Darcy’s pillows, sheets tucked up to his chin.
“Hey, kid,” Clint says. He sounds so tired, his voice wrecked, the pallor of his skin worryingly colourless. Still, he manages a smile for Peter. “You look like shit.”
Peter finds himself laughing, finds himself sitting on the bed by Clint’s elbow. “I look like shit? Take a look at yourself, old man.”
“You bled all over my sheets,” Darcy says, sliding into the room after Peter. “Worst houseguest ever.”
“That’s very rude of you,” Natasha tells Clint, her smile just this side of brittle. She’s crouched on the other side of the bed, tucked between the wall and Clint.
“Sorry,” Clint huffs, good natured, “I promise not to bleed on anyone’s sheets again.”
“I suppose you’re forgiven,” Darcy allows. She’s tries to hand a sandwich to Bruce, but the older man just shakes his head, holding up his bloodied hands. He exits the room to wash, as Thor takes some of the sandwiches eagerly.
Clint’s eyes are unfocussed, every blink sluggish, so tired he can barely stay awake. His bandages peek out from under the comforter, fresh but already reddening—the sight makes Peter feel sick. With worry or guilt, he’s not sure.
Clint nudges Peter’s bare hip. “Hey. Quit it.”
“Quit looking like someone just killed your dog. I’m okay. A few bullets aren’t going to keep me down for long.”
“You shouldn’t be here at all,” Peter says. His hands are tight balls in his lap, his jaw tight.
“It’s not your fault, kid,” Clint says, because he knows Peter. He knows what the teenager is thinking. “You saved my life. If you hadn’t gotten me out of there—”
“I should have pulled you out of the way,” Peter argues. “I have superpowers, Clint. What good is a spider-sense and a reflexes if I can’t push you out of the way of a few bullets?”
Peter’s been thinking over the past few hours over and over again. He should’ve brought his suit with him, so he could swing around the van, draw the attention of the gunmen away from Clint and the civilians and towards him. There were so many people on those trains, dozens of defenceless people, and a stray bullet could have killed someone. Peter should’ve fought the gunman head on, maybe wrestled the gun away—
Clint slaps him around the head.
“Hey!” Peter says loudly, hand against his temple. The hit hadn’t been especially hard, the other Avenger too weak with blood loss, but still.
“Clint,” Thor says from the doorway. “Is it wise to hit Peter after everything he has been through, after what we did—?”
“Probably not,” Clint allows, scowling up at Peter, “but this moron needs to learn that shit isn’t his fault. Did you blame us when we got whammied by those psychos and beat the shit out of you?”
“Clint!” Thor warns. The attack on the Tower is a sensitise topic, but Clint has never had much tack. Peter kind of likes bluntness. It’s honest in a brutal, admirable way.
“Did you blame us?” Clint presses.
“No,” Peter says.
“And I don’t blame any of you for what happened today.” Clint glares at the top of Natasha’s head. “That means you too, Nat.”
Natasha levels him with an unimpressed look. When Clint turns the glare back his way, Peter has to stop himself from squirming, feeling petulant and a little argumentative, the built up adrenaline sitting in his chest, his body anxious for a fight that never really came.
“Peter,” Clint says. He looks tired.
“Okay,” Peter says, because Clint almost bled out against him little over an hour ago. Peter knows when to stand down.
Clint squints up at him. “Do I need to smack you again?”
“It wasn’t my fault,” Peter parrots, a little robotically. Clint looks suspicious, but lets it go.
“Good. Don’t be an idiot and go beating yourself up, okay?” Again, Clint side-eyes Natasha. He really does know his teammates well. “You too, Nat.”
Natasha flips him off.
Bruce advises against moving Clint, and the Avengers won’t move without him, so Tony and Sam arrive with sleeping bags and pillows piled in their arms. Sam stumbles a little as he lands, his load bulky and awkward.
“We’re probably going to be on the news now, aren’t we?”
Tony’s faceplate flips up. “Two Avengers flying sleeping bags across the city? Yeah, we’ll be on the news.”
The hardwood floors are swallowed up by thick comforters. Pizza is ordered in. They laugh when Clint whines about missing it, making faces at his healthy, homemade salad.
“You’re body needs all the help it can get. The salad is good for you.” The words are said gently, but the Hawaiian pizza dripping cheese onto Bruce’s button up belies his comforting tone.
“Fuck you,” Clint says, hoarse but emphatic.
Natasha stays near Clint. She eventually uncurls from her position, even drifting out into the living room to grab food, to drink, to greet the other Avengers as though she wasn’t keenly listening for any sounds of Clint’s distress in the other room. She remains brittle for hours, tension coiled in every tight line of her body.
But Clint is fine. The bullets missed anything important. The archer sits propped up in bed, looking pale and exhausted, and sounding scratchy, but mostly just annoyed.
(“We finally have a team sleepover and I can’t enjoy it,” Clint grumbles. Thor, sat by his bedside, pats him on the knee with great solemnity.)
The adrenaline seeps from Peter like the heat leaving the dead—slow but eventual. His body finally lets go of all that pent up energy, recognising that the threat has truly passed.
Peter’s left feeling devoid. Tired and weak limbed, he takes a space of padded floor for himself. His teammates are still quietly talking despite the growing lateness, and there’s still pizza slices available on the tabletop, but Peter’s eyes are heavy. The tremors in his hands are faint but steady, threatening to build into something that might shake him apart. His mouth won’t open, his feet won’t bring him to his friends.
The floor is hard even through the makeshift bedding. Peter barely notices.
Peter is in his bedroom at Aunt May’s house. She knocks lightly on his door and smiles gently when she enters.
“Peter, you have guests,” she says. She slips into the room, revealing Steve’s broad form standing in their tiny hallway.
“Hey, man,” Peter says, setting down his homework. A smile is on his face.
Peter stands, reaches forward to greet his friend, but the blond strides forward, taking up so much space in Peter’s cramped room. Steve’s lips remain pressed in a tight, cold line, even as his eyes burn, a scalding intensity that has Peter skittering backward, collapsing back onto his bed.
“Steve? Steve, what are you—”
Steve’s over him. On him. His hands reach for Peter’s throat.
Peter feels caged, pinned down on the bed. Steve is huge, heavier and taller and stronger, and the bed is hard beneath him, the older Avenger bare inches above him. Peter’s trapped, the hands cutting off his air.
“Steve,” Peter tries to say, but his voice is gone. He can’t speak. He can’t scream. Someone has taken his vocal cords.
He thrashes uselessly. His arms are useless, and his legs won’t move. He tips his head to the side but it’s not Aunt May that’s watching on, it’s Natasha, her expression colder than Steve’s.
Natasha shuts the door firmly. Locks it with a deafening click. Peter’s bedroom shrinks in size.
“Peter—Pete—!” On the other side of the room, collapsed by the closed window, is Clint, bleeding out onto Peter’s floor. His skin is pale and clammy, and when he extends a pleading hand to Peter, his fingers shake violently.
“Clint,” he tries to shout. He tries to squirm. He tries to fight back against Steve—he needs to help Clint, needs to get to him before the archer bleeds to death, but he can’t, he can’t move, not with Steve pushing him into the bed, broad hands choking him.
Clint’s blood pools out onto the floor. Steve claws at him, hits him, pushes him down harder on the bed. Peter’s strength is gone, his voice abandoned him, so he can’t even scream—
Peter gasps like a drowning man as he wakes.
He’s sweats, and pants, and shakes against borrowed sheets. Peter presses a hand against his mouth to silence himself. The room is dark around him, quiet save for the soft snores of his teammates and the distant sounds of the city that never sleeps.
Peter sits up, pulling his knees to his chest. He makes himself look over the lumpy floor of the apartment, where his teammates are bundled up and asleep. The balcony light is on, drifting through the french doors, bathing the room in a soft, artificial glow.
“Peter,” Thor murmurs loudly.
Peter almost jumps out of his skin. Thor’s holding the french doors ajar, hovering in the doorway to the balcony.
Peter swallows thickly. “Yeah?” he whisper-shouts back.
“I made hot chocolate, would you like some? I borrowed some of Darcy’s mini marsh melons.”
Peter untangles himself from his drenched blankets, and weaves his way through sleeping Avengers. He slips past the doors, shutting them silently behind him, before looking intently at Thor. “Marsh whats?”
Thor holds up a bag of mini marshmallows. “March melons. For the hot chocolate.”
The sky is dark and starless, the city as quiet as it ever gets. The distance sounds wash over him—beeping traffic, winds blowing against the high up apartment, people arguing several apartments down. It’s comforting. The night air soothes the itching, claustrophobic feeling sitting beneath Peter’s skin.
Thor passes him a mug of hot chocolate. Peter takes it gratefully.
“Would you like any marsh melons?” Thor asks. “You should know, they taste amazing.”
His eyes are open and blue, but there’s that tightness in Peter’s chest. His nightmare has left him spinning.
“I’ll trade you,” Peter says, plucking a pair of sunglasses from the balcony’s small table and handing them to Thor. “These, for some marsh melons.”
Thor takes the glasses. They’re blocky and too-square for his already defined face, the tint dark and the frames solid. Peter likes them.
He drops a huge handful of marshmallows into his drink, and watches the marshmallows slowly melt. Thor’s quiet by his side. The city is less so.
“I’m told Midgardians find comfort in talking about their traumas,” Thor says after the long, long stretch of quiet.
Peter snorts into his half empty drink. “Like Asgardians don’t?”
Thor grins a little. He likes convincing people that Asgardians are mostly a battle hardened race that doesn’t deal with petty things like sentimentality and emotions. Peter sees through it easily. Thor’s one of the most emotionally open people he knows.
“Do you wish to talk about it?” Thor asks.
Peter watches what’s left of his marshmallows swirl in his drink, before admitting quietly, “I keep getting nightmares.”
“You have always had nightmares. For as long as I’ve known you.”
Peter exhales loudly. “These ones are about—about the team. Attacking me.”
Thor grows quiet. He puts his mug down on the balcony ledge, and says, “Oh.”
“It’s not always about that. Sometimes it’s about getting locked in somewhere small with the walls coming down around me, or like. Like. That little kid, Davey, and his father. My dreams are just—” Peter squeezes his eyes shut. “—just full of that feeling of helplessness, and people I can’t protect, and people I can’t fight against.”
“Like us,” Thor says.
“Like you,” Peter agrees.
It’s quiet again. All of their teammates are still asleep behind them, safe and removed from this moment. After yesterday, spent on edge and hyped up with adrenaline, the calm of the too early morning is welcome.
Having Thor here also seems to calm the anxiety that’s always threatening to swallow him up. Even after spending a week avoiding seeing the Asgardian in person—exchanging soft-spoken phone calls and encouraging texts, but still feeling his mouth go dry whenever he looked at his walls, saw the photos of Thor taped there—Peter shouldn’t be so comforted by his presence now.
“I missed you all,” Thor admits. “I love Jane, but I missed my team.”
Even with the glasses, Peter knows the older man is staring at something, some point out in the cityscape. Peter follows it and there, glowing brightly like the North Star, is Avengers Tower. Peter can make out the bold ‘A’ from this distance.
The past week was long. Peter wonders how much of it Thor spent on this balcony.
“I’m sorry,” Peter says, instead of, ‘I missed you too.’ He doesn’t want to lie to Thor.
“It’s alright,” Thor says, instead of ‘I understand.’ “Do you want to go back inside and sleep?”
“No,” Peter decides. He sits down on the cold brick of the balcony, back to the french doors. After a moment, Thor sits next to him. Their knees knock gently together, Peter’s borrowed sweats against Thor’s scratchy jeans. “I think I’d rather stay out here for a while.”
Jane arrives a few hours after the sunrise, looking windswept and carrying several bags of groceries.
She kisses Thor in greeting before she’s over the apartment threshold. Thor takes her heavy shopping bags in one hand, helping her out of her coat with the other.
Jane sweeps through her apartment with a welcoming, only slightly frazzled smile. The other Avengers greet her happily, enthusiastically. Steve thanks her for allowing them to stay in her home, and Tony kind of bombards her with questions about her conference and recent scientific ventures—Bruce at his shoulder, politer but just as eager for answers— and Natasha silently shakes her hand, looking grateful, looking welcoming and a little haggard beneath her melting exterior.
Jane accepts Darcy’s huge hug. Sam’s hug is noticeably more withdrawn, but warm enough. Jane accepts that, too.
She doesn’t notice Peter, tucked away in the hallway, sat with his back to the wall, knees to his chest. She almost trips over him on her way to the bathroom.
“Oh,” she says, stumbling only a little. “Sorry, I didn’t see you there—”
“It’s okay,” Peter says quickly, tucking his gangly legs even closer to his torso. He’s good at pressing himself into tight spaces. “It’s my fault.”
“He does that a lot, don’t worry about it,” Darcy says as she passes by the hallway entrance. “The sitting huddled in hallways thing, I mean. And also the blaming himself for random crap too.” Jane shoots Darcy a look, and Darcy surrenders, putting her hands up and leaving them be.
Jane drops down on the floor next to him. “I’m Jane.”
“Peter,” he says. “I assume you know that I’m, er.”
“Spider-Man? Yeah, I know. Thor talks about you a lot.”
Peter looks up, surprised. “He does?”
Jane laughs a little. “Oh, yeah. He talks about all of the Avengers, really. You especially, lately.” She bites at her lip, looking suddenly nervous and regretful, like she shouldn’t have said that. Like she expects Peter to fold in on himself if she mentions the past few weeks.
Peter clears his throat; her awkwardness is contagious. “Right.”
“I should, er—” She points in the direction of the living room, where her boyfriend and best friend are. Peter nods, and she scuttles away.
When Peter excuses himself to sit out on the balcony wall, legs dangling over the edge, Jane finds him again.
“For a second there, I forgot you were a superhero who wouldn’t die if he fell,” Jane says in greeting.
“No, I’d die,” Peter says easily. He kicks his legs out like a little kid—he likes the stretching, empty distance between his sneakered feet and the tiny cars far below. It makes everything seem far off. His problems small in comparison to his towering height.
She falters. “But you have webs to catch yourself, I mean.”
“My webshooters are back at the Tower. I usually always have them on me, but Steve insisted. He knows me to well, I guess. Knows I would’ve snuck away and tried to get back into crime fighting.”
“Okay,” Jane says slowly, “if you don’t have your webs, maybe you should get down.”
Peter shimmies in place, laughing at Jane’s horrified expression. “I’d die if I fell,” Peter agrees, “but I’m not going to fall. Superhuman reflexes, balance, the whole sticking to walls thing. Nothing short of Thor could push me off this ledge.”
Jane continues to look unnerved. Peter sighs and flips himself back over the edge, landing flat footed on the balcony.
“Thank you,” she says, and deposits a muffin in his hand. His reward, Peter guesses.
“What is it with people and giving me food,” Peter wonders.
Jane raises her hands in defence. “Hey, I was just heading out here when Natasha shoved that at me and told me to give it to you.”
“Natasha told you that?”
“Are you really that surprised?”
Peter thinks about his teammates. He recalls the tiny gifts that have been slowly accumulating in his personal rooms over the past week—reinforced security, and little novelty toys, the plastic, cheap kind that can be found at the bottom of cereal boxes, and wrapped sandwiches, and thermos of warm things, and tiny pockets of exotic chocolate, and just so much food, seriously, what is with these people—and decides, “No, not really.”
He unwraps the muffin. He breaks a piece off the bottom, pops it in his mouth, and feels warm. The muffin is room temperature, but the thought of Natasha’s gift is warm, spreading from his chest and outward.
“I watched that video,” Jane starts abruptly. “The one on YouTube, of the attack last week? With those awful traps, and that awful drug, and Thor…”
Peter is very glad that he’s down from the ledge, now. He might have fallen in surprise at that. “It’s on YouTube?”
Jane winces. “Yeah, sorry.” Peter shrugs; invasive media coverage isn’t exactly unfamiliar to him. Jane wets her lips, and continues, “I watched it, and I saw—yeah. I saw all of that, I saw how Thor looked when he—”
Peter looks away. The sky isn’t dark and starless like it had been earlier, when it was Thor stood beside him. This feeling is weird too, but less calm. More embarrassed, that itchy anxiety worse now.
“I’ve never been afraid of Thor,” Jane says. “Not really. Not even in the beginning, when he was just some muscled nut job I’d hit with my car.”
Peter blinks at that. Darcy and Jane both have weird relationships with Thor. He shouldn’t be surprised.
Behind the closed french doors, Thor emerges from the kitchen with a stack of glasses and a half empty carton of orange juice. They watch as he grins, laughs, hands out glasses to his teammates and fills them up with juice.
He’s traded the sunglasses for a pair of Clint’s shutter shades, his hair twisted in twin braids, his smile brighter than the morning sun. He’s thrilled to interact with his friends again, and his absence in the Tower has been similarly missed. It’s a nice view, Thor beaming at the Avengers and the Avengers beaming right back.
Peter wets his lips, and admits, “I have. I am. Even with him like this, all bouncy and harmless, I’m still a little bit afraid of him.”
“The video was freaky. It was so weird and wrong to see him like that, all angry and dangerous, but… but I’m still not…”
“But you’re still not afraid of him,” Peter finishes. There’s an entire foot between Jane and Thor height wise, and a greater difference between their individual strengths and powers. If anyone had reason to be unnerved by Thor, it’s Jane.
Jane, not Peter, who’s been steadily growing more comfortable with the Tower and his teammates over the past week, only for their location to change and the sun to rise and, what? Suddenly Peter is just all jittery and nervous like this? It’s not fair.
“I didn’t go through what you did,” Jane says.
“I’m a superhero though, and I’ve been getting better—”
“Recovery is a long process. It’s not always linear, Peter. Sometimes, it’s improvement and growth, but sometimes it’s one step forward, two steps back.”
Peter scowls at his muffin. “That sucks, though.”
Jane laughs, and breaks off a quarter of his muffin. Peter lets her take it. “Yeah, it is, but it’s normal.”
“Everyone’s going through a lot right now…” Peter says. “With Clint being so injured, and Thor being reunited with us. And they were all so excited for me to get better. Yesterday, I was fine being around Thor. I was fine being around everyone without sunglasses, and now I’m…”
“Adrenaline,” Jane says. “That wasn’t your fault, and this isn’t either. The adrenaline crash you experienced—that you’re probably still experiencing—and the fact that Thor is here after not seeing him since that attack, combined with everyone having to squish together in our cramped apartment; it’s understandable you’re not feeling so great.”
Jane reminds Peter of Bruce, in a way. She’s not as socially clumsy as Bruce, but she’s just as soothing, nonthreatening and soft spoken, with enough medical knowledge to keep her advice logical.
Peter likes her. He’s glad she’s an Avenger-in-law. His teammate-in-law.
“Sam made eggs!” Darcy announces, opening the transparent doors with a flourish. In one hand is a plate of eggs and bacon slices, in the other a pair of metal tongs. “Also, that man is coming to live with us, Jane. He’s hot and he cooks.”
“Um,” Sam says, following Darcy out onto the balcony, “what?”
“You can stay in my room,” Darcy tells him seriously.
“Um,” Sam says again.
Peter’s breath stutters, and he squishes the remains of his muffins in his fists. Jane nudges him, encouraging.
“Er, Sam,” Peter tells the other man’s chest, “can you. Can you not, er, be here?”
He cringes, feeling awkward and embarrassed and god, he never should’ve opened his mouth—
“Okay,” Sam says. “Bruce?” Peter shakes his head, no. “Okay. I’ll tell the others this is a no fly zone?”
Peter nods. Sam quietly retraces his steps, closing the door behind him without fuss.
“See?” Jane says. Like, see how easy that was.
“I feel bad,” Peter says. “Even though they told me I could ask them, I still…”
“That’s dumb,” Darcy says. She stashes the tongs in the front of her apron—red, emblazoned with ‘Santa’s Favourite Helper!’ on the front—and plucks a bacon slices from her plate. Peter takes a few too, Jane rolling a fried egg between her fingers. “You don’t need to feel all guilty, dude. They want to help. Telling them to back off is probably showing them that you trust them enough to let them.”
“Even if I’m trusting them by pushing them away?”
“Temporarily pushing them away,” Darcy corrects.
Peter frowns. Jane reminds him, “Recovery is a process.”
“You have all the time in the world to recover,” Darcy says. “Don’t rush.”
“I feel like I’m rushing,” Peter says. “Like I’ve always been rushing. Ever since I was fifteen.”
“You don’t have to, anymore,” Jane says. “Not if you don’t want to.”
“I don’t… I don’t think I want to,” Peter says. The city is louder in the day, but no less lovely. There are clouds gathering—white and round above their heads, like a blanket pulled over the metropolis. It’s still morning, and the sun still hangs low. The day is laid out before them. Peter tells it, “I don’t think I want to rush anymore.”
Thor’s “marsh melons” are in reference to Star Trek: The Final Frontier, and the camping scene that killed me dead.
Lots of people are in favour of ‘Avengers watching the tapes’, but the thing is—Peter isn’t. Peter is very much against that, and at the moment, he’s trying to retake control of his life and his relationships, and I'm not going to take that away. I can say for certain that there will not be any tape watching in the remainder of this fic, although I have been considering a follow up one-shot... We'll see. Maybe.
There's only a chapter or two left of this fic! Updates will continue to be sporadic and most likely late, as I try and crack out the resolution.
This chapter is a collection of important moments. The flow is a little choppy, and I fought myself over that for a while, but I decided I really liked that.
Thanks to everyone for sticking with me throughout my longest work to date. It's been a lot of fun, but we've finally reached the end.
“Natasha took my bell.”
“And we’re all very thankful for that,” Bruce says. Clint whines like a begging dog, and Bruce ignores him.
“Who even gave you that bell?” Peter asks from his upside down crouch by the ceiling light.
“Darcy,” Clint slurs, a little glassy eyed and unfocussed from painkillers. “She uses it when she’s sick; Jane’s spacey and forgets about her otherwise.”
“Well, you don’t need a bell,” Bruce says as he puts away the velcro heart monitor and steps away from the bed. “You can have Jarvis call us if you need to.”
Peter extends a foot and nudges Bruce’s forehead with his toe. “Don’t give him ideas,” Peter orders. Bruce makes a face and steps away from the errant leg and wagging toes.
“I’m injured! You should be kind to me!” Clint cries, wriggling in thick layers of bedding like a very drugged, very petulant caterpillar.
Bruce swats at him. “Stop moving like that—”
Clint wriggles even more. The cotton sheets slide loudly against his bandages, and Bruce looks ready to climb into the bed and tie the archer down with stethoscopes.
“Why,” Bruce says flatly, “does everyone in this forsaken Tower act like children the minute they’re injured?”
“Pretty sure they act like children even when they’re not injured,” Peter points out. He stretches his leg as far as it will go, dangling midair, trying to reach Bruce. The older man frowns at it.
“Good point,” Bruce tells Peter’s leg.
Jarvis pipes up before Peter can scoot around the light fixture and toe Bruce right in the glasses, “Dr. Banner, terribly sorry to interrupt this fascinating conversation, but Sir requires your assistance.”
Bruce gathers up his Medical equipment. “Oh, thank god. An excuse to leave.”
Bruce makes for the door, but pauses in the threshold when Peter stays routed to the ceiling.
“Peter? Are you coming?”
Peter flips and lands flat footed on the carpet. He edges towards Clint. Clint goes very, very still as Peter climbs onto the bed.
“I might stay here,” Peter says; his tone is relaxed, even as the archer goes stiff, all taunt lines and wide, hazy eyes.
Bruce studies Peter. “You’re sure?”
He wets his lips, and says, “Yeah, I’m sure. Uh, if it’s alright with Clint?”
“It’s alright with me,” Clint says, hoarsely.
Bruce nods, and there’s something in his face, something bright in his eyes, in the curve to his smile, that makes him seem proud, somehow. “Don’t let Clint do anything stupid,” Bruce says, and leaves the two of them alone.
Clint seems even more tense with Bruce gone. Peter settles against the headboard, wrapping his arms around a pillow like its a teddy bear, and says shyly, “I can go, if you’d like.”
“No!” Clint says too loudly, too quickly. His smile turns embarrassed. Quieter, he says, “That is. You can stay. Should stay. If you want to, I mean. Erm.”
Peter’s own smile is unsure. It’s never been like this between them before, so awkward and hesitant. They’re fumbling, turned too polite, like two strangers rather than long time friends.
Peter plucks Clint’s shutter shades off of the bedside table. Clint reaches to take them, to put them on, but Peter slides the glasses on himself. He grins at Clint. The shades slip down his nose, crooked, too big for his face.
“How do I look?” Peter asks, seriously. The garish purple stands starkly out against his pale skin.
“Awful,” Clint tells him, and when he laughs, it washes away their uncertainty. His stitches pinch and pull when he moves too quickly, but the tension is gone; Peter’s presence and that old, familiar smile soothes something inside of Clint.
Natasha doesn’t look up when the door cracks open. “You can come in,” she tells her paperback.
Peter shuffles in. “Um. Clint’s asleep.”
“I know,” Natasha says evenly, but Peter catches the way paper crinkles and bunches under her tightening fingers.
“I heard he kicked you out earlier,” Peter says. She nods. He bites at his lip and scuttles a bit closer. “Don’t take it personally. He’s just really drugged right now and in a lot of pain, and probably just doesn’t want you to see that, because the wound is still really high risk—”
“I know that,” Natasha snaps. “And I know that you know. You were the one that was there when he got shot, after all.”
He blinks and drops his gaze. Stutters out a breath. Tries, “Sorry, I just—I just thought—”
“Okay,” Natasha interrupts loudly, not because it’s okay, but for the way it makes Peter quieten, words dissolving on his tongue.
Her face is bare. She wears big, cosy sweats, but her lips are pressed thin and her eyes are hard when they flick up to meet Peter’s—
He stumbles over his sneakers. The doorknob is slippery under his sweaty, shaky palm. “I’ll—” His throat is tight. Words and air closing off, stolen from him. “—just go then.”
He goes. The door clicks closed behind him.
Dinner is quiet. Tony and Bruce are caught up in their workshops. Natasha doesn’t make an appearance. Steve is quiet and withdrawn.
Sam hesitates in the threshold of rooms. He glances back at the kitchen. “Do—do you want to try and maybe…?”
Peter considers it for a moment—how hard would it really be to walk those few steps, let himself sit at that long breakfast bar and feel the cold granite beneath his fingers? The cabinets and counters stacked around him like a fence, or like soldiers, watching him eat. Cold marble and cold wood cabinets, places where he once stood shoulder to shoulder with laughing friends, tired over breakfast or energetic over lunch or whispering over midnight meals.
A tessellation of tiles that feels cold like stone when you’re pressed into it, or hanging metal cutlery that throws, that catches in skin, or a wall of cabinets like white picket fences, slippery with blood, that will do nothing as Peter slides until fists—
“No,” Peter says. His skin feels tight. His throat feels tighter. “Um. Sorry. Sorry.”
Steve swallows and withdraws a little further, shoulders held tighter, curled closer in. He doesn’t look at Peter.
Sam gathers up their plates. “That’s fine, Peter. Maybe another time. When you’re ready.”
They eat in the living room. The sauce is sticky on his fingers and sour on his tongue. The late night news plays; Peter barely hears it.
The gym is clean and functional—new, improved gear has been added since Peter was last here. The walls are whole and unmarked. The floor isn’t littered with broken guns and warped weapons. That’s a plus, he supposes.
“Hey, Steve,” Peter greets.
The super soldier starts. His gym clothes are soaked with sweat, a towel looped around his shoulders. He lowers a water bottle, and smiles a little awkwardly. “Hey there, Pete. What’re you doing here?”
“Looking for you.”
“Well, you found me…” Steve wipes at his brow with a corner of the towel. Casually, measured, he says, “Any particular reason you need me?”
Peter’s smirk is a little crooked. “Can’t a guy just want to chat?”
“I suppose,” Steve says, a little wearily. “Er. Now?”
Peter waves at the reinforced punching bag still swaying off to the side. “Go ahead. Don’t let me stop you mid-work out, Mr. Muscles.”
“Are you… Are you sure? Maybe that’s not such a good idea—”
“Go,” Peter instructs. “Show us how it’s done.”
Steve hesitates, casting dubious, worried looks in Peter’s direction, but drops the towel and the water bottle. He methodically winds protective tape around his knuckles, and steps back to the punching bag. Peter leans against a pillar, all long, relaxed limbs and carefully constructed calmness, and watches his leader start in.
His fist connects with the bag. His fingers skidding off the shiny surface are loud, the slapping echoing. The real impact is muffled by layers of insulation. It’s felt deep in the bag’s centre.
Maybe Peter should be kinder to gym equipment; after all, he can relate to it now. It knows how much it sucks to be on the business end of the Avengers.
“So,” Peter starts idly. His feels a detached relaxedness. One hand is hidden behind his back, wound into a white-knuckled and painful fist, but his breathing is even. “I want to know how you’re doing.”
“How I’m doing?” Steve echoes.
“Yeah. Y’know, what’s up? Wuss happenin’, my main man?”
“Exercise,” Steve answers. “Exercise is what’s up.”
“Gross. But seriously: how are you?”
“Like I said. Exercising.”
“Okay, different question: do you blame yourself for almost killing me?”
Steve’s fist hits the bag wrong. It twirls, rebounds, and hits him squarely in the nose. “Ow! Shit!”
“Steve!” Peter rushes forward, hands flapping. “Oh, my god, I thought it was clever of me to surprise you with the question, but—”
Hand held to his throbbing nose, Steve shakes himself. Shakes off the pain and jarring surprise. “It’s—it’s fine. I’m fine, Peter. Why would you think otherwise?”
“Because I’m not stupid?” Peter says. He levels an unimpressed glance at Steve, and the super soldier finds himself fighting the urge to squirm under the scrutiny of a teenager several inches and a lot of pounds smaller than him.
Peter hasn’t seen Steve like this much before, so uncomfortable, flailing a little with a throbbing, bruised nose, but they all have off days. Natasha’s having one. Steve’s allowed one, too.
“Cut it out,” Peter tells him lightly. “Stop blaming yourself and taking it out on poor, unsuspecting punching bags. They might take it up with the High Gym Council and you don’t want to get sued for unlawful assault, do you?”
Steve stares at him. “What?”
“No? Not funny? Alright, I can see where I’m not wanted. Go back to pummelling the equipment, big guy.”
Steve stills the swinging bag with a hand. “Peter…”
The teenager heads for the door. At the last moment, he twirls on his heel, and calls out, “Oh, right, I forgot; Steve, I forgive you!”
“What?” Steve calls back.
“I forgive you! For everything!”
Steve’s expression flickers, there and present and raw one minute. Gone the next. “You doing the rounds, huh?” he says, a casual crook to his smile. “Telling that to everyone?”
“Nope. Just you.” Peter meets Steve’s eye across the long expanse of the gym room, and says, “I didn’t get the chance to, back then. I was going to, but then you—well. It doesn’t really matter now.”
“I forgive you. Alright?”
Steve twists at the binding on his slippery knuckles, and says, “Alright. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Peter says. He slips out the door before the punching starts back up. It still echoes with each shuddering blow, still sounding fast and determined but maybe, maybe this time, a little less desperate.
Natasha finds him after dinner. After his visit with Steve.
He’s on the roof, computer propped up on his knees. His university assignment stares up at him, and Peter fights the urge to stick his tongue out at the frustratedly incomplete essay.
“Peter,” Natasha says. She waits until he looks up and nods a greeting before stepping into his personal space. “Here.”
A cappuccino, thick with froth and melting chocolate flakes, is held out to him. He takes it. The paper cup is warm against his palms, against his lips and throat and stomach when he sips.
“I’m sorry for earlier,” she says.
“It’s okay,” Peter says, and takes another sip. It’s good. It’s not Tony or his coffee machine’s hard work, so she must’ve gone out of the Tower to buy it.
Someone else might’ve pushed their apology further, laid it out and pulled it apart until Peter was squirming and repeating his forgiveness in an uncomfortable litany. But Natasha just watches him take another slow drink, before turning away.
“Good luck on your assignment,” she says, and leaves him be. The night air is cold and dark. The cappuccino keeps Peter warm.
“Don’t hurt yourself, Peter,” Steve says. He looks worried. Hasn’t stopped looking worried since Peter had first come to the both of them with this plan and newfound courage. “This isn’t… this isn’t some kind of punishment, is it? You’re not—”
“This isn’t punishment,” Peter says. “It’s training. Vital training, remember?”
“Still,” Natasha says.
“Still,” Peter allows, “if I need to stop, I will.”
They both look at him, doubtful. No, you won’t, their faces say.
“Okay, I probably won’t,” Peter says. “But I trust you guys to stop me when I need to?”
Steve exhales noisily. “Trusting us isn’t always enough, you know.”
“I know,” Peter says, and he feels that wobbly anxiety keenly, pushing and squirming and making him swallow around his fear. The feeling is an old friend at this point, but now, there’s also steel under his skin. A determination. Peter has been through so much, he can get through this. “That’s why I need to do this.”
To improve. And to face them. Two birds, one stone.
“Okay,” Natasha says.
Steve splutters, “Natasha! I’m really not sure if this is a good idea. What if we take him backwards by attacking him like this—”
“C’mon,” Peter whines. He’s not pouting. He’s not.
“Sam’s making us breakfast afterward, if that makes you feel better,” Natasha says.
“It doesn’t,” Steve says flatly. To Peter, he asks, “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure,” Peter says, and steadies his feet.
He cries out as he hits the ground. Steve moves forward to help him, but Natasha holds him back.
“Peter?” he asks, worried.
“S—sorry,” Peter pants. He rolls onto his front, sweaty forehead pressed against the cool training mat. “Just. Just give me a moment.”
His breathing is rough. His lungs are constricted, full of a panic that blooms, that expands hot and relentless. That panic moves to his shaky, clammy hands, to his squirming stomach, to his weak, jellylike legs.
Steve and Natasha have fallen back. Peter focusses on the blue of the mat, and wills away the visceral images of Steve’s twisted face as he breaks his fingers, and his burning eyes as he throws Peter across the room, and his cold, emotionless expression as he dislocates his jaw.
He thinks, instead, of Steve hovering nearby, looking worried and guilty. Steve looking strict in his Captain America getup. Steve smiling at him above his civvies and plates of take out.
“Peter,” Natasha urges.
Peter’s answer is a long, drawn out groan.
“Want to try that again?”
Peter un-peels himself off of the gym floor. “I’m okay,” he says, still not looking at either of them.
“Uh huh,” she says.
“Really.” He falls into a fighting stance. It’s a little sloppy, but low and tight. “I’m okay.”
“If you’re sure,” Natasha says. She waits for Peter’s opening strike before defending.
He doesn’t win the first time they spar. No one wins. Peter waves a hand like a white flag, and flees to the bathroom to splash his face with water and stave off a panic attack.
The second time it’s harder to persuade the two to train with him again. Which is saying a lot, considering the drawn out convincing Peter had had to do the first time around.
Natasha wins that time. She pins Peter, and when fear flashes across his face, she lets go, steps away, and lets him sit and catch his breath. The third time, she wins again, but he just groans and complains and doesn’t shrink away in fear.
Peter struggles through each training session. Sometimes, he has to stop. Sometimes, Steve and Natasha make him stop. He thinks he’s good at hiding panic attacks, but they see through him pretty easily. They know when his panting breaths are from exertion, and when they’re from cloying, choking fear.
A month and a half after Steve pins him against the cabinets and bursts his face open, Peter punches Steve across the face. Accidentally.
“I’m so sorry!” Peter says immediately, bouncing from foot to nervous foot.
Steve’s broken nose gushes blood over his lip and down his chin. When the super soldier looks up at the teenager, he beams. “You did it!”
“He did it!” Natasha agrees. She high fives Steve.
Natasha nudges Peter’s side, and Steve grins wider. Peter hides his proud, guilty grin behind his hand, and goes to fetch Bruce. He did it.
The kitchen is a place without air. Peter can’t quite step inside there. Not yet.
They eat breakfast in the living room. On days like today, when there’s much food and so many of them, they push the couches out of the way and gather in a wobbly semicircle around the TV, cross-legged and happy. The stacks of waffles and bowls of fruit and huge tubs of yogurt are placed in the middle of them, a free for all. Clint spills his mug, and the others yell at him through their laughter, and Steve fetches paper towels to mop up the mess.
Peter’s muscles are sore. The fork trembles in his shaking hands, and the food is a little hard to force down, but his friends are laughing in front of him, wearing sunglasses and smiles.
Peter’s own smile is tired, but huge and more honest than it’s been in weeks.
The photographs are still taped up on his walls. His friends smiling down at him.
Peter put the photos there to force himself to get used to his friends. To force himself to get over that ingrained anxiety, push past the instinctive rush of fear and see his friends like this, in these quiet domestic moments, rather than the harsh, violent images burned into his memory.
Peter doesn’t need the photographs anymore. Not really.
He keeps them up, anyway.
It’s raining, soft but constant. The paved steps are wet, and water drips from the awning like beaded curtains, shielding the tiny house. It drips onto Peter’s hair and speckles his glasses.
He raps his knuckles on the peeling yellow door, and holds his breath.
“Just a minute!” Pots clang together in the kitchen, and then he hears hurried footsteps. The door swings open, and there’s his Aunt, flyaway strands of hair framing her face, her eyes widening and her lips falling open. “Peter!”
“Hey, Aunt May,” Peter says. He offers the bouquet in front of him like a sacrifice. “I, um. I bought you flowers.”
Aunt May touches the daises gently. Like they’re something sacred. “Peter,” she says again, softer this time. Both her eyes and voice are wet with tears.
Peter drops his gaze. He feels regretful, now. He’s torn between wishing he’d come sooner, and wishing he’d never come at all.
The porch is small and a little crowded, but it’s so homely and familiar. Potted plants droop from the rafters, and a worn blanket drapes from the swinging chair to his left. Everything is saturated with memories; Peter remembers being small but full of energy, following his Aunt around with a watering can and stretching on his tip-toes, trying to water high-up plants. He remembers his Aunt laughing and taking the can gently from his small hands, feeding the plants herself with a kind smile.
He remembers curling up with Uncle Ben on that swing, blanketed by the thick rain and his Uncle’s soothing voice. Aunt May delivering them hot chocolate.
But Peter’s taller than the pot plants now. And his Aunt cries just seeing him, and his throat is tight, and Peter feels like an intruder in his childhood home.
“They’re squished,” Peter realises. His gifted flowers lilt to the side, tiny petals drooping or bent. “Oh, god, I’m so sorry, I tried to be gentle with them, but I didn’t—I just—”
Aunt May wraps him into a hug. His face is pressed into her neck; her’s pressed into his.
Her perfume is the same. Soft and feminine and the same as it’s always been. It’s that, of all things, that puts tears in his eyes.
“I don’t care about the flowers,” Aunt May says. “I care about you, Peter. You—you came home to me.”
Peter swallows thickly, and tucks himself closer to her. “I’m sorry. I’ve been a bad nephew—”
“Don’t apologise,” she scolds. “You’re here now.”
“I’m here now,” Peter agrees.
Her hands bunch in his sweater. They’re shaking a little, and he knows she’s crying. He thinks he might cry, too.
The downpour grows heavy outside. The smell of pasta and cooked tomatoes wafts from the open house. Peter is wrapped safely in the sound and fresh smell of cleansing rain. The promise of a cooked meal and his Aunt’s familiar warmth and smell. His childhood home waiting for him.
He feels a little silly for thinking he wouldn’t be welcome here.
Aunt May doesn’t ask where he’s been.
A little over a year ago, Peter had began to realise how prominent he was becoming as a hero. With growing public support, came growing threats. A few weeks after his 18th, the threats to his person became to feel real. He had a few close encounters with his identity, and more than one super-villain threatened his family. They recognised how quiet and furious and desperate Spider-Man would grow whenever they spoke of his loved ones, of them finding and slowly killing them, and leaving his house painted red with blood, his family dismembered, their mangled bodies waiting for him to come home—
When the Avengers offered him membership and greater security, Peter accepted. He moved out soon after.
Aunt May had fretted and tried to persuade him, but eventually gave in. He’s not sure if she truly believes his story about dorms at his university, and being busy with assignments and friends. She bites at her lip and looks worried, but she doesn’t push. She’s so good like that.
“You’re thinner than you were last time,” she says with a frown.
“I’ve been distracted,” Peter admits, rubbing at his neck. “Haven’t been eating as much as I should have…”
Her eyes narrow at that. When she dishes up their dinner, his bowl of spaghetti is so full it threatens to tip out the side. Peter’s not sure if this is her fussing, or some form of revenge.
One socked foot in front of the other. Past the threshold, past the lit up cityscape behind the ceiling-to-floor window. Past the breakfast bar. Easy. Just don’t think about it.
Peter rocks a little on his feet. Anxiety shivers down his back, sends tremors down his jittery hands.
This isn’t so bad. It’s not—it’s not so—
He thought it would be easier to go into the kitchen by himself, late and dark at night without the harsh glow of lights, but nope, no, he feels a little like the silence might swallow him up.
He hurries back to the living room.
“Motherhugger,” he hisses under his breath. His hands clench into fists. Unclench. Clench back up. Okay. Okay, he can do this.
He takes half a dozen steps with scrunched up eyes. Cold tiles underfoot, the quiet hum of the fridge. Long, stretching countertops. Snow white cabinets, and hey, Tony must’ve replaced those too, because that much blood would stain something such a pure colour—
Peter’s back in the living room, choking on rough, uneven gasps, before he’s even registered the need to get out of the kitchen.
“MotherHUGGER,” he says again. “You can handle the heat, Parker. You don’t need to get out of the kitchen.”
The violent shaking in his fingertips says otherwise.
He collapses onto the couch, elbows on his knees, red face in his hands. At this hour, he should be asleep, or maybe out patrolling his neglected city, not—not fumbling to walk a few paces to the left.
The living room is cluttered with his teammates’ things. Someone’s tablet is resting on a couch cushion, an upturned hardcover sprawled on the armchair, and an abandoned pair of sneakers left lying by the foot of the couch. There’s a handful of coffee cups. A pile of pens. Steve’s weathered and loved sketch book half obscured by a watercolour palette.
Peter stares at the mess.
“How may I be of assistance, Mr. Parker?”
“I’m going to need some stuff…”
Blurry eyed and a little sleep deprived, Tony picks his way to the kitchen. It’s too early for any respectable human being to be conscious, but he has stuff to do. His Tower is full of weirdos who are also allergic to healthy sleeping schedules, so. That’s his excuse. Peer pressure. Or something.
Bruce steps in front of him before he can make it to the kitchen, a little nervous but biting back a smile. There’s something green smudged along his chin. Non-Hulk green. Something orange is smeared along his hairline.
“Tony,” Bruce says slowly, “don’t freak out.”
“Huh?” Tony says, distracted. There’s a stripe of magenta on Bruce’s shirt collar. Can science even do that? No science Tony’s ever seen.
“Remember that things are just things, and everything is replaceable—”
“Bruce, get out of the way. You’re standing between me and my coffee.”
“—and don’t freak out, okay? Okay, Tony?”
“Okay,” Tony echoes. Bruce finally steps out of his way with great reluctance, and lets Tony enter his kitchen.
It’s… It’s not how he’d left it.
The pristine white of his cabinet doors are gone, swallowed up by long strokes of paint. The artwork is messy and clumsy, half of it still wet and dripping. Patterns wind their way over his doors. There’s a smiling sun with tendrils of yellow rays stretched over several doors; a blue night sky and a thousand painted stars; abstract swirls of colour and haphazard triangles; a shaky Spider-Man swinging through a crowd of grey skyscrapers, criss-cross webs bordering several doors; an Iron Man zooming on a conjoining cabinet, blue rockets coming out of his boots like smoke out of an exhaust pipe.
“What in the eff…” Tony begins.
Clint looks up from his place on the floor. If Tony had thought Bruce was colourful, it’s nothing to the archer, who has half a face of canary yellow, and a literal black eye, and rainbow stained jeans.
“Morning!” he says, throwing his grummy, paint splattered hands up in the air.
“Why has a rainbow thrown up on my kitchen?” Tony asks slowly. He’s not a parent, and yet here he is, feeling like he’s wandered in on his rowdy children drawing all over his poor, innocent walls. “Who let a rainbow throw up in my kitchen?”
“Um,” Peter says, pulling away from a cabinet door. A paintbrush drips paint down his hand and onto his destroyed pyjama pants. If Tony thought Bruce and Clint were unclean, it’s nothing compared to Peter. He can barely see the kid under all that colour.
“I said not to freak out!” Bruce scolds.
Tony gestures at his kitchen. “They vandalised my kitchen, Bruce! What else am I supposed to do? Take them to court over it?”
“Oh, my god, please don’t,” Peter says.
Natasha unfolds herself from her place on the countertop beside unused art supplies. She’s messier than Bruce—purple on her jeans and red on her shirt—and there’s a wobbly sunflower painted on her left cheek. She shoves a paintbrush into Tony’s hands.
“We’re all out of yellow,” she informs him, “and you can’t use up the orange, because Peter’s in the middle of drawing me.”
Tony glares at the paintbrush. Glares at the paint that’s dripped onto his floors and been trodden into brown slush. Tries to glare at the teenager responsible and gets another paintbrush shoved at him for the effort.
“Maybe you can draw Steve,” Natasha says. “We don’t have a Captain America, yet.”
“I’m drawing myself, but you’re totally welcome to draw another Hawkeye,” Clint tells him. Tony squints, and can kind of see the purple smudge he’s working on. It’s vaguely humanoid.
“You two aren’t in on this?” Tony asks Bruce and Natasha.
“I don’t do art much,” Bruce says. “Not a fan, really.”
Natasha points at the flying Iron Man. “I already drew you.”
Tony lights up. “Hey, you did a great job, too!” he says, and she smiles back in return. If Peter wasn’t already halfway through a Black Widow, Tony would definitely paint her in return. “I’m going to paint the Hulk.”
“I’ll go fetch more green paint,” Bruce sighs.
Tony grabs a palette and half empty tubes of green and purple, and plops down in front of a blank door. He doesn’t have much artistic talent, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t going to try his hardest.
Peter hasn’t turned back to his painting. He fiddles with the paintbrush, and hunches his shoulders a little. He doesn’t meet Tony’s eye.
“I’m. I’m sorry for—” Peter begins.
“Are you kidding me?” Tony asks. “I haven’t had this much fun in ages. This was a great idea.”
“But… but I destroyed your kitchen? This place must’ve been expensive—”
“It needed to be lightened up a little,” Tony says with a smile. “Don’t sweat it.”
He turns back to his painting. He draws a wobbly green head, and big green muscles, and green, waving arms, before he runs out of paint. He steals some of Clint’s white, and paints a wide, happy smile on the Big Guy’s face.
Bruce returns with crate of paints and the rest of their teammates.
Thor lights up at the paintings spread across the cabinets. Natasha hands him a palette and a handful of brushes, Bruce hands him tubes of paint, and the Asgardian throws himself down beside Peter, praising the younger man’s ingenuity.
“I feel honoured to have your masterpieces adorning our home,” Thor says, and Peter squirms under the praise. “I am less thrilled about Clint’s, however.”
Clint flips him off. His middle finger is half purple.
Sam doesn't question the paints. He accepts the supplies offered to him, sits cross-legged next to the painting of Iron Man, and starts on drawing himself, Falcon's long wings outstretched and glinting. By the end of the morning, Sam will have a flower painted on his cheek, like Natasha's, but in looping vines of blooming purple buds.
“What is this…?” Steve asks.
“It was my idea,” Peter confesses.
Steve looks confused. Tony would’ve thought that, out of all of them, Steve would be the most excited about graffiting their kitchen. “Why?”
“It was annoying me,” Peter says, “not being able to go in the kitchen. Then I worked out that it was the white cabinets that were giving me the most trouble, so if I were to get rid of them, and replace them with something else, I’d be able to go in here.” He waves a hand at his surroundings. “So here I am. In the kitchen.”
Steve takes some paint supplies when they’re offered to him, but still looks lost. “What’s wrong with white cabinets…?”
To the drying painting of Natasha, Peter says, “Because I kept remembering being pinned there and beaten to—to—” A tube of orange scrunches in his fist, squirting paint all over his knuckles. Peter eases his grip, and exhales shakily.
“Oh,” Steve says. He switches subjects with ease. “Okay, aren’t you guys always giving me grief for being the one artist on the team? Where’s my cabinet door? I have to paint Tony.”
“Nope, I beat you to it,” Natasha says, pointing at her Iron Man and beaming.
“I saved you this,” Peter says, and swings the pantry closed. The long, blank door stares out at them. A canvas waiting to be painted.
They eat breakfast like that, sat on the wet floor, next to drying paintings. When they drink coffee out of their cups, they leave handprints on the outside of their mugs, the more filthy of them creating rings of paint on the lip.
The kitchen is almost covered by the time they’re finished. They all need a shower. Tony’s definitely going to have to find something that will preserve their artworks, something that’ll turn them water proof and untouchable.
There’s dozens of tiny drawings on the counters—some bigger ones spanning multiple doors, some tiny ones squished into corners when they’d run out of room. Elaborate portraits of each other, or shimmering paintings of the sea, or names and taunts and tiny floating dicks.
(“Clint! You did this, didn’t you?” Tony shouts when he discovers the dick pointing at his doodle of pirate Fury. A confused Clint catches a flick of paint to the face, while the true culprit ducks behind Steve and laughs silently to herself.)
The pantry door is swept with red and blues. Spider-Man hangs upside down from a web, legs curled up and arms stretched outward, as though to web the viewer. Steve’s artwork looks like something that belongs in a museum, not paired with Thor’s clumsy drawings of alien beasts and Clint’s insulting graffiti and Tony’s grinning, campy Hulk.
“Good work, team,” Tony declares. “Good work, Pete.”
They nudge Peter in celebration, in thanks for a morning of gleeful activity, and Peter grins and doesn’t flinch away. None of them are wearing sunglasses, only splotches of paint and wide smiles.
Peter insists on sparring again that morning. Steve and Natasha pull their punches, more than they had before. He doesn’t win, but he doesn’t quit halfway through either. That is it’s own victory.
When he enters the kitchen—paintings still on the cabinets, but paint scrubbed off the floors—Clint is drinking coffee and playing with a stress ball in his hands. The Hulk stress ball, green with tiny printed fists and bared teeth, arches evenly through the air.
“Morning,” Peter says, wiping sweat off his brow with a hand towel.
“Morning,” Clint says, eyeing him. “You know you don’t have to spar with them—”
Peter chucks the damp towel at Clint. The archer bats the sweaty thing away with disgust.
“Okay, okay, I’ll let the issue go!” Clint surrenders. He throws the stress ball at Peter, who catches it without blinking. “Did you beat them, at least?”
“Not yet,” Peter says. “But you just wait until tomorrow.”
“And then you’ll beat them?”
Peter grins and shrugs. “Maybe.”
Clint snorts. “Against Nat? You can dream, kid.”
“I punched Steve in the face last week.”
“What? You liar! You did not.”
“Oh, yeah?” With a flick of web and super-quick reflexes, Peter swings the sweat-towel off the ground and into Clint’s face. The older man shrieks a little and paws at it.
Sam pokes his head out from the living room. “You deserved that,” he tells Clint.
The archer throws the towel with vengeance, and they watch it soar across the room like a vaguely crumpled bird.
“I hope you never win against Natasha, you brat,” Clint says, scowling. Peter pokes his tongue at him.
Sam laughs, and says to Peter, “Go shower, kid. Breakfast will be ready soon.”
“Aye, aye,” Peter says. He snaps a tired salute, collects the guilty towel, and wanders off to do just that.
When Peter returns, hair still wet, Thor is sitting in the living room, shirtless and grinning.
“Good morning, Peter!” Thor greets with a wave.
Natasha is tucked into a corner of the couch in fresh workout clothes, reading. Clint has managed to worm his way against her side, using her belly as a pillow.
“Thought you had morning classes,” Clint says against Natasha’s bellybutton.
“It’s just a lecture,” Peter says, flopping into an unoccupied beanbag. “I’m skipping it; my lecturer always records them and puts them online.”
“Reckless,” Clint taunts. Peter can’t decide if he looks ridiculous or sickeningly adorable, cuddled as he is into Natasha. She barely even looks up, paperback open and balanced on the crown of Clint’s head.
“Maybe, but I refuse to miss out on Sam’s breakfast. Sacrifices have to be made. I’ll go to the classes I have after lunch.”
“Morning, Peter,” Steve greets, coffee mugs in hand. He hands one to Peter and the other to Natasha.
Clint whines, “Where’s mine?”
Natasha bats at him. “Hush, bookrest’s don’t talk.”
Steve sits down, and Thor beams and wishes him a good morning, and Sam comes in from the kitchen—
An explosion. Shockwaves reverberate up from the lower floors, and the Tower quakes and shivers, the floor shifting beneath their feet.
Natasha’s coffee and paperback crash to the ground as she springs up. Mjolnir crashes through the window and into Thor’s waiting hands.
“What—” Peter tries, but his sentence is drowned beneath a second explosion, louder and closer than the first. The Tower shakes and his teammates stumble. Peter’s sticky feet keep him upright.
Sirens begin to wail. The lights dim and flash red, a visible warning to follow the verbal one. The light reflect off of his teammates faces, casting shadows. They look otherworldly, ghostly under the spray of bright red.
“And here I thought I was actually going to make it my afternoon classes,” Peter says above the scream of sirens.
“Gonna have to skip those too, you big rebel,” Clint says.
Tony’s voice is hard and furious across the comm systems, “It’s that glow-sticks-for-hands asshole and her Super Friends. Brace yourselves, kids.”
Shudders race through the other Avengers. Natasha shifts, grows cool and hard like unbreakable diamond. Steve stands like he’s expecting a war.
A third explosion wracks the building. The other Avengers stumble, but Peter doesn’t. The sirens sound far-off. Distant. Everything feels a little like it’s in slow motion.
“Everyone suit up,” Steve orders. His voice hardens and turns sharp as he shifts into a leader’s mindset. “Use Tony’s filtering systems, but try not to get hit.” The Avengers scramble away. Peter’s sticky feet are glued to the floor. The Tower could crumple around him and Peter wouldn’t move. “Peter, are you going to be alright to fight?” Steve asks methodically. “I understand if you’re compromised, but I need to know now—”
“I’m not a liability,” Peter says, the words out of his mouth before he’s even considered them. “I want to fight.”
Steve pauses for the briefest of moments. “If you’re sure—”
“I’m sure.” This is more Peter’s fight now than theirs.
“Then suit up. You’ll find a filtering system in your room; it’ll stop the gas from getting to you.”
Peter nods, and leaves. Steve lets him go.
The men’s shrieks are muffled behind their web gags. The two swing in a sickening pendulum, struggling in their binds.
“This Tower is invite only,” Peter informs them. “To fight the Avengers, you have to take a ticket and wait your turn like all the other super-villains, m’kay?”
“Mmm!” they shout.
Peter nods. “You raise a valid point, but sorry. Them’s the breaks.”
They squirm and holler some more, but Peter’s attention is draw by the screeching of distressed metal and the whining of repulsers. Iron Man flies across the sky like he’s been thrown.
The billionaire is followed by a woman in a dark cape and bright orange hands. She wraps herself around the damaged armour, hands spread along his chest plate, bracketing the Arc Reactor. The metal burns and bubbles beneath her skin.
“Hey!” Leaving the webbed pair behind, Peter throws himself after his teammate. He grabs the woman and they tumble into the building.
Tony and his spluttering boots disappear, flying haphazardly off to safety. The caped woman falls on the landing, while Peter tumbles past her and down the stairs.
The surrounding walls are nothing more than rubble. When she stands, the woman’s cape is like smoke, billowing and dark, a brutal contrast against the blue, open sky. Her smile is sharp. His spider-sense won’t shut up.
“Hi there,” she says. Chills race down Peter’s spine.
“Hiya,” he says back. “Come here often?”
She shrugs one-shouldered. “Once, before.”
Walked into that one, Parker. “Yeah, well,” Peter begins, like his palms aren’t sweaty, like he’s not burning with anger, “I think you’ve outstayed your welcome. Gonna have to ask you to leave.”
She looks at the rubble littering the stairwell, the warped metal railings, the exposed metal innards of the building sticking out of whats left of the wall, and laughs. “But it’s so nice here.”
Peter glares at her. The spandex of his gloves creak around his tightly balled hands.
“So classy,” she adds, full of fake sweetness, eyelashes and cape fluttering. “Love what you’ve done with the place.”
“Thanks,” he says.
“Thanks?” she mocks. “That’s all you’ve got to say?”
Peter climbs the wall like a spider-money, leaping at her. She jumps out of Tower, hovering in the air with a raised eyebrow. Peter swipes at empty air.
“Run out of things to say?” she says. Her laughter carries on the wind. Her hair and cape reach for Peter, the fabric flapping loudly against her spandex pants.
“What is your problem?" Peter asks through harsh, desperate breaths.
“You are,” she says. The look in her eyes match the burning glow of her fists. “You are,” she repeats. “The Avengers had to be taken down, but then you got involved. Twice now you’ve stopped us by—by putting your body in front of the bullet. Are you that brave or just that stupid?”
“You’re just a kid!” She’s getting worked up now, throwing her arm out to gesture at him. “A nobody dredged up from the grime and violence of this awful, bitter city, and you’re on the Avengers! You! You’re not even a mutant!”
“Would you like me more if I was?”
“Yes! This entire self-righteous team thinks they’re almighty, but none of you are mutants. You have the city’s infatuated love and government funding, while mutants are left to rot! People throw trash at us while you sit up in your ivory tower—!”
The worst villains are the ones Peter can sympathise with. When he can kind of understand where they’re coming from.
“Hey, have you seen the kinds of things the Bugle writes about me?” Peter says. “And when I first started out, people threw trash at me, too.”
The woman bunches her hands in her hair, tugging at it, and snarls, “That’s not the same! You were not attacked for simply being who you were born to be!”
“That’s fair,” Peter says because yeah. Yeah, there’s no comparison. “But, er. Can you not?”
The hair falls from her tight fists. The orange is gone, the twisted anger dwindling. “Can we not?” she asks, suspicious. “Not what?”
“Like, not attack us.” Peter eyes the crumbling remains of a wall. He was thrown against it earlier, and the twisted steel pipes almost skewed him. That is not an experience he ever wants to relive. “I get that you think we’re the root the problem, but we’re not, okay? We’re firmly on your side.”
“I don’t care who’s side you’re on,” she spits. “I care about how the city views you! Idolises you! We’re trying to turn their opinion of you backward. Make them hate you, too. Prove that non-mutant superheroes are not the superior—”
“You ruined my life and killed people,” Peter begins slowly, “…to prove a point?!”
Her eyes burn. Peter’s burning a little now, too. Red hot from the inside, the feeling bubbling up his throat and down his arms, sitting in shaky, clenched fists and making him want to wrench.
The anger makes him taste blood, heartbeat quickening almost painfully, but it feels like steel. All hot and fast and gonna punch this lady in the face.
The woman nods. “Essentially.”
“Okay,” Peter says. He steps over the debris, towards her. “Okay,” he says again, and jumps out of the building. He lands on her, sticks to her skin, and the two of them tumble through the sky.
Tony scowls. The Tower is destroyed again—windows and outer panels cracked or gaping open, the inside quarters full of upturned broken furniture and debris.
“Jarvis, can we sue?”
“Seeing as how the people responsible are currently being detailed and will locked away for their crimes, I would think not, Sir.”
A light fixture splutters and crashes to the ground. “Damnit.”
“Nnnuugh,” says Clint, and flops face first into a pile of ripped stuffing that was once the couch.
“Aye,” Thor says, and falls onto a much harder looking pile of broken wood and rubble, just as content and loose-limbed in his nest as the archer.
Tony makes a face at them. “Lazy bums.”
The elevator pings open. Sparks of electricity rain from the ceiling, but Steve and Natasha look unbothered, exhausted and bloodied as they step into the living room.
Face still buried firmly in couch stuffing, Clint raises one halfhearted hand in greeting. “Mmm.”
Natasha hums back at him. Her weapons gleam from her waist, and blood drips from matching, open gashes along her temple and collarbone. She makes a beeline for Clint, and drops down onto his nest, curling up against his back.
“Everyone okay?” Steve asks. The round shield is set down by the elevator door. Its owner sets himself down close by, back to the wall, legs sprawled out in front of him.
“No, Steve! Look at my beautiful, beautiful Tower!” Tony says. “The state of my baby… it’s the most important causality of the day.”
“I will mourn with you, friend Stark,” Thor says solemnly.
“Causality?” Steve asks, sharply. Neck craned, he counts out the Avengers gathered before him, like a worried mother counting her children.
“He’s just being dramatic. All the civilians are accounted for,” Natasha assures. She points at Bruce’s unmoving figure curled in the armchair, the lone piece of furniture to survive the siege. “He’s just unconscious.” She pokes Clint in the soft flesh of his side. He squirms and whines softly. “And he’s sleeping.”
Steve’s posture is stiff. “And Peter? He’s—he’s not here—”
A finger and an eyebrow raised to the ceiling. Steve follows them, breath caught in his throat—
Tony snorts. “Where else?”
“He fought valiantly,” Thor says. Every part of him from his broadening smile to his curling, excited fingers shows how proud he is of his younger teammate. “We’re blessed to have such a courageous warrior on our side.”
“Tired himself out,” Steve notes. The tension bleeds out. The stress and adrenaline ebbs, and in their place, exhaustion slams home. With their Tower defended, with his team safe and in sight, Steve finally lets himself feel how tired he really is.
“You should’ve seen the kid, Cap,” Tony says. “It was like—like a raging storm contained in gangly limbs and spandex. He really is a force to be reckoned with.”
Wrapped in torn couch pieces and half-asleep archer, Natasha tips her head to the side, watching her youngest member carefully. A smile curls, soft and true, along her lips. “He’s improved.”
“He’s recovered. Gotten better,” Steve corrects. “Healed. Mostly.”
Natasha inclines her head at that. “Mostly,” she agrees.
Curled in looped, hanging webs above his exhausted and proud teammates, snoring with one cheek pressed against the ceiling, Peter sleeps better than he has in weeks.