„No, you can go. Dad’s going to be here any minute.” Peter smiled reassuring.
“You sure, honey? I could try and ask Harold to go and catch Penny.”
Ned’s mum looked at him uncomfortably. She had completely lost track of time while watching her favorite TV-show at home and forgot to pick up the boys in time. The two boys were out watching a movie at the theatre, but didn’t really mind when Mrs. Leeds car was nowhere in sight. Ned knew what she wanted to do tonight and almost didn’t expect anything else. Without further ado they moved over to the nearby playground, sat on the swings and went crazy over their new Lego project plans, only glancing over to the parking lot every now and then to check if she finally came running. As time went by they caught the attention of two police men, who surprised them with the not-that-much-of-a-choice offer to go and wait at the police station as Ned finally called his mum.
It only took 15 minutes for her to stumble into the station with what felt like a million possible ways to apologize. As she wanted to leave with the two of them, the chief – quite a tall guy – stepped in Peter’s way and ruined their fun lego night plans with the news that he had also called Peter’s father and that he was already on his way.
The reason Mrs. Leeds felt even more uncomfortably was that she had also to go and pick up Penny from her friend’s house, where she was meant to spend the night but apparently didn’t feel too well and wanted to come home. What a night.
“Honestly. You don’t have to stay and wait. I’m total fine here.” Peter grinned and pointed to the vending machine. “They even have snacks!”
Although she was still not very happy over this development Mrs. Leeds slowly started nodding. “Alright, but call in case you need us anyway. Does your mobile still have enough battery?”
“Mum! He’s got the new STRARK mobile. It never runs out of it.” Ned rolled his eyes. Did she expect Peter Stark to run around with an old Nokia?
“I'll call if I need anything. Promise.” Peter walked over to one of the benches and made himself comfortable. “But I’ll be fine.”
Ned waved at his friend and pushed his mother to the exit. “Don’t push me Ned! See you later, Peter!” And Ned added a quick “I’ll call you tomorrow” as they both disappeared into the night.
Only two minutes later, Peter just studied over the variety of snacks, Chief Harris appeared behind him and pulled him with harsh words to the back of the building. “You can’t wait here. We don’t wanna spend our time babysitting you.”
“No one has to babysit me.”, Peter defended himself as he tried to slip out of the man’s grip. “Miraculously enough, I can actually take care of myself.”
Almost slipping free, Harris tightened his grip around Peters arm and pulled him down the corridor. Peter tried to squirm away, but it only made him wince in pain.
“Ever since you stepped into the station, we are the ones responsible for you – Peter Stark.”, he almost spit his name out. “And we don’t want anything to happen to our VIP.” Peter bend down, hoping to ease the pain caused by the ruthless grip as Harris suddenly pulled him up with a rough motion.
Peter yelped as he got thrown forward. He tried to catch himself before he’d hit the ground, but didn’t see the ledge fast enough and hit its edge with his cheek.
His heart was racing like crazy as he moaned and tried to push himself up to turn around and see whatever Harris was doing next. But before he could even turn his head, something pushed him down flat on the ground and squeezed all the air out of his lungs. Chief Harris was half standing on the whining boy and displaced his weight further and further onto Peter's back.
He laughed at the sight underneath him. “What? You don’t like that, VIP? It’s usually the other way around isn’t it? You looking down on others. Well, that’s what it feels like. Not that good, right?”
Peter didn’t understand what was happening. He'd heard the way Harris said his name, so it was clear that the man knew exactly who he was, who his father was. But so what. He didn’t do anything wrong. Neither did his dad. He never looked down on others. He never would. It was usually the other way around in school.
His vision started to blur since he could barely breathe. He desperately tried to get at least some air into his lungs, but it was nearly impossible. Tears were long running down his face, due to pain, fear and the lack of oxygen.
A sudden relief was streaming through his body as the pressure on his back lightened slightly. Harris bend down to him and ran his hand through Peter's hair. Peter turned away from the unwanted touch, when his head got pulled up harshly.
“... why…”, was all he could get out as more tears streamed down his face.
Harris cupped his chin with one hand and bend down even further. “I hate guys like you. Guys that were born with silver spoons in their mouths.” He hissed in Peter’s ear. “I admit this might be a bit drastic, but you should learn that life isn't only made out of sun and rainbows. Everyone needs to learn that. Even something like you. Be grateful, son. I am doing you a favor.”
Peter closed his eyes, trying to block the man’s words out. When he called him son, he felt like throwing up. He started to concentrate on breathing alone again, since he was only steps away to break down into a massive panic attack.
“Your father completely failed in raising you. Arrogant and whiny. A fine elite! Don’t make me laugh. I bet he's all show. Acting all high and mighty in front of the camera, but a good for nothing behind it. Arrogant fuck.” He released Peter's head with a harsh smack forward and got up.
Peter curled into himself as oxygen shot in his lungs again and started coughing. “That’s…not…true.”, he managed to get out. “My father is nothing like that… not at all.”
Harris just snorted derisively. “No? What is he then? A hero? Why? Because he's saving some people every now and then, when he sees fit? That’s just part of his arrogance. Bet he's just doing it for some good publicity. I save lives as well. Do you see me showing off about it? Man on man I could easily beat him. He’d be nothing without that damn suit.”
“You don’t know him at all!” Peter turned fully around. Defending himself against the man was one thing. He could ignore the insults. All he was doing and saying didn’t reach him... much. But no one was allowed to say things about his father. He was doing everything he could to keep everyone save, he'd always jump into his suit as soon as there was a place he could be of help. He had nightmares every other day because of what happened on some missions with or without the Avengers and beat himself up when he couldn’t save everyone. In no way would he let anyone talk ill about him. “You've never seen him after one of his missions. You have never seen him after days of work without sleeping even once, because he wanted to help as much as he could. He made that suit by himself, because he is smart. As smart as anyone could be. The suit is a part of him. Not a god given goody. And even without him being my dad - the BEST dad - he's a hero and a better man than someone as stupid as you could even be in a thousand years!”
He knew the moment he said that he would pay for it, but he didn't regret it for a second. Even when Harris grabbed him by his throat and pushed him against the wall. His face was so close that Peter couldn’t see anything else except for the stars infront of his eyes, from when his head had hit the wall. “A fine hero. He can't even look out for his own son. Can't protect him in any way. Or do you see him anywhere, huh?! Say another word and I put you together with that bold guy down the hall. I think he’d have a thing for you. That’d be a different lecture for you.”
Peter’s whole body trembled as he starred at him fearful. After what felt like an eternity Harris released his grip, threw him to his side and stumped towards the door as Peter lost himself in coughs. “Before I forget… no one called the hero. A night in here will be good for a little shit like you.” And with a loud bang he shut the door, locked it and turned off the light, leaving Peter alone and shaking in a pitchblack room.
Officer Clara Wells was restlessly sliding around in her chair. She had been absorbed in some left over work, when the boys had said goodbye to one another. She had liked them. They were nice, polite and quite funny. Things you don’t find that often in teenagers these days. Or in any person.
She didn’t really notice when the taller boy got up and went to the vending machine, before Harris suddenly dragged him away. She knew his short-tempered personality. She was more than once on the receiving end of his hissy fit. And she was questioning herself more than once if she should just quit. But she loved her job and she depended on it too, so those thoughts were in vain.
It didn’t feel right seeing Harris disappear to the back of the building with the boy. She just hoped his dad would really show up any second. That he would be like Hulk and kick Harris ass. She grinned at that thought but got pulled back to reality as she heard a short yelp. Was that the boy? As silent as possible she scurried around the corner and down the corridor. She felt only slightly paranoid as she realized she was walking on her toes. Why couldn’t she work in a station with more than two people around at night.
Finally she heard voices and spurt to the last cell. The bunker? Why were they in there? They barely used this cell, mostly only for very drunk guys. It had no windows, no source of light and not a single sound could reach it once the door was closed. So why would he take the kid there? She peaked around the corner and pushed one of her blonde strands out of her face, as if it would help her understand what she saw. She watched in terror as Harris was almost standing on the child lying on the ground. Harris hissed his words but she could hear him loud enough.
She stumbled backwards. She knew her boss. Knew what kind of person he was. But she never thought he’d do something like this to a child. WhatdoIdowhatdoIdowhatdoIdo. Suddenly a certain fear hit her and she ran back to her desk. When Harris really thought his dad would show up any minute, why’d he do that. Why couldn’t he just leave him alone and wait in the foyer. She grabbed the remaining bag on her desk with the kid’s stuff they collected out of routine. The other bag was gone with the other kid’s’ mum. She dumped everything in there on her table and swallowed hard. His phone. It was still here. Harris couldn’t have called his dad. She grabbed the phone and ran to the restroom. Guilt was already getting a hold of her. She should have helped him. Should have tried at least. Even though she kind of knew he would not have stopped.
She locked both doors behind her and starred at the strange phone. “How the hell does that thing work? Where is the damn button?”
“You are not Peter.”
Clara almost dropped the phone. “…'scuse me?”
“You are not Peter.”
She stared down at the phone in her hand and couldn’t shake off the feeling that it was staring back at her.
She shook her head. Get a grip. So the thing is talking to you. Modern stuff. So what. “Uhm… is that the boy? The one who owns this phone?”
“No, I… my name is Clara Wells. I work at the Newport police station. The boy… I mean Peter is in trouble. I need to talk to his parents!” She still stared at the black screen of the phone as if it were alive.
“I’ll connect you with Mr. Stark.”
Clara's hands were shaking as she held the phone to her ear. Was Harris still with Peter? Did he notice she was gone? Was he maybe already in front of the door listening in?
“What's up, kiddo? Miss me already?”
“Uhm... sorry, this is not Peter. I'm Clara. Clara Wells. I work at the Newport police station. Are you Peter’s father? You need to come here. Now!” Although she tried to talk as quite as possible, her voice was overflowing as she answered with one breath.
She could already hear the man running. “What happened? Is he alright?” His voice sounded hard and strangely calm, but he still couldn’t hide the worry in it.
“Y… yes… no. I don’t know. He was here with a friend. Nothing happened, his mother just forgot to pick them up after a movie and we wanted them to stay and wait in here. My boss was taking care of it.”, She had no idea if he could follow her rambling. “He said he had called you too and Peter should wait for you here. His friend is already gone.” She noticed a strange metal sound at his end.
“No one called me!”, now his voice sounded quite angry. “Where the hell is my son? What is happening?”
As his phone started ringing Tony was in complete Stark-mode tinkering in his workshop. At least that’s what Peter called it. Tinkering. Tony always felt like a primary kid working with scissors and paper to create a Christmas star he could proudly present to his parents.
He’d never picked up if not for his son's name showing up. After a quick word to JARVIS the music ended with a last Thunderstruck from Dave Evans. “What's up, kiddo? Miss me already?”
“Uhm... sorry, this is not Peter. I'm Clara. Clara Wells. I work as a receptionist at the Newport police station. Are you Peter’s father? You need to come here. Now!”
Tony froze for a second before he ran up the stairs with a quickening pulse. Police station? Why? And why did that woman sound so panicked? “What happened? Is he alright?”
Tony was everything but dumb, but he couldn’t make much sense between what he heard and what tone she had in her voice. Apparently Mrs. Leeds forgot the boys. Not brilliant, but it happens. So what was going on?
Under normal circumstances he would have just taken the Audi and hurry to get Peter, but the urgency in Mr. Wells voice made his choice easy. He reached the balcony and activated the Iron-Man suit, which smoothly wrapped around him.
“No one called me! Where the hell is my son? What is happening?”
“Uhm, well… my boss dragged him to one of the cells. Which didn’t make sense, since you were supposed to come any minute. And when I looked, well, Peter was on the ground and he was kind of standing on top of him. He said … things he shouldn’t say, especially to a child and… I don’t know what to do. I'm alone here. Please! Please hurry!”
Tony had listened to her with a tightening heart. He still had no idea what exactly was going on, but he understood that someone was hurting his son. That was enough to know for now. No one would get away with that. His teeth were painfully pressed together when he made a feral noise, he'd never heard himself make before, and flew faster than he ever did.
“Already in the system, Sir.”
Every possible picture appeared in front of his eyes. Every way of someone hurting and belittling his 14-year old child and it pained him deeply.
“Mrs. Wells. You still with me?”
“Where is your boss?”
“I don’t know, I locked myself in the restroom to call you.” She swallowed hard and got up. At least she owned the boy to help his father save him. “Wait, I’ll go out.”
Clara opened the door almost expecting Harris to wait on the other side. But the corridor was empty. She shouldn’t act that scared. As far as Harris knew she was working and just went to the loo. It was perfectly normal to be here. She stretched herself and walked over to her desk. Where was Har…
Chief Harris frowned as he came out of the cell block. She quickly pulled herself together. “Sorry, you surprised me. What can I do for you?” With a smooth move she let the phone slide into her pocket, so Tony could still hear everything.
“The boy's ass father just called me, saying he couldn’t make it until tomorrow, so he’ll have to stay here tonight. He’s quite upset about it and wants to sleep, so let's not disturb him... It’s your job to stay here anyway.” Without even turning red, you pig. Clara’s fear suddenly turned into anger. But she swallowed it down. Help is on its way.
In the meantime Tony tried to calmed down solely with the thought that at least Peter was no longer with this guy. But the second he talked and lied so brazen, even blaming Tony his anger flared up again. He was almost thankful for it though. It was easier to concentrate on his anger than getting overwhelmed by his worries. Sure Peter was alone for now and he would not let anyone get to him again before he did, but he was scared of what condition he was in. Of whatever happened while Clara called him.
“JARVIS, call SHIELD. I want a unit and a doctor on screen.”
Clara heard the “Yes, sir!” quite well and was more than happy that Harris didn't, since he just mumbled he was going to smoke on the roof and walked away.
She picked Peter’s phone out of her pocket. “Mr. Stark. I’ll call for backup now. Chief Harris is no one easy to talk to or if need be to take down. You’ll need help.”
“I don’t think so”, was everything Tony answered as he came crushing in without any regard to damages.
Clara almost crushed the phone in her hands as she jumped. Her eyes grew big when she realized what caused the loud bang and what just landed in front of her desk. “Stark…”, she mumbled as she could feel every convolution of her brain working. “Tony Stark… Iron Man. Oh… OH!”
Tony’s visor slid back but his face was a mask of its own. “Where is he?”
“Down there.” She pointed at the corridor and went ahead. “In the Bunker. Chief Harris is on the roof to smoke.”
Tony felt his insides crumble. “Bunker?”
“Uhm, the last cell. When the door is closed it’s cut off from the rest of the world. No light, no noise...” Her voice grew smaller with every word till it almost sounded pleading. She left him there. A child.
Tony felt like screaming. He was so worried and angry that he felt nauseous. At least that fuck was not with him right now, was what he reminded himself over and over again, so the mask of his face wouldn’t crumble. He pushed past Clara when she admitted to not have a key. “Move!”
Tony raised his hand and with one boost of the suit the door jumped open.
Peter clutched his knees and curled in to himself. He had a terrible headache, his stomach didn’t feel right, his chest ached and after touching his cheek, he knew it was not only hurting but bleeding. He swallowed cautiously and grimaced at the sudden stinging sensation in his throat. He could still feel the man’s grip.
He closed his eyes as he felt more comfortable with the natural darkness behind his eyes instead of the consuming darkness of this room.
He had crouched in a corner of the room, between the wall and the ledge he assumed was the bed. He wouldn’t move from there, even though he knew it was barely a real shelter should Harris decide to come back. But for now this was where he felt the safest.
Other than the darkness it was this crushing silence what took the greatest toll on him. It was like he could even hear his heart beating and his blood rushing. He’s never felt more alone in his life. No one knew he was here. No one knew he needed help. That he was waiting for his Dad. At the thought his breathing increased again. When would Ned call him? Would he realize he wasn’t ok and call his dad or would he just assume he was still asleep or tinkering in the workshop?
He tried to shake the thought off, concentrating on the only thing he needed now. His dad. He pictured him sitting in front of his screens, holding something in his hands that was bursting with energy, making DUM-E quite nervous in the progress with his fire extinguisher ready at all time, while he would be bobbing to any random AC/DC song. Just as usual. Peter would give anything to just be with him right now. To hear him laugh as he’d put his arm around his shoulders, watching what Peter was just working on and listening to him as he enthusiastically blabbered about even more ideas, while his hand would brush through Peter’s hair every now and then.
“Dad…”, Peter's eyes burned again and he fought the urge to just openly cry again. “…dad, please… I want to go home.”
As on cue the door got almost blown away and light was flooding the room. Peter squinted his eyes and raised a hand as his heart skipped a beat just to come back beating way faster than before.
“Peter!” His name almost sounded like a little prayer.
He just bluntly stared at his father like he was some sort of mirage as Tony literally let the Iron-Man suit fall off around him, staring at Peter with a pained expression. With two large steps he fell to his knees in front of his son. “Peter. God. Peter!”
“…Dad… why are you… how’d you know… DAD!” His tears finally found their way out as he let himself fall into his father’s arms, burying his face in his sternum. Tony protectively put his arms around his son and pulled him closer. His heart was still racing and with one hand on Peter’s head that was softly stroking his hair, he tried to shake of the picture that welcomed him in here. His son in a dark corner of a small room, visibly injured. His eyes were swollen and red from tears, there was dried and fresh blood on his cheek and his throat was strangely discolored.
What the hell happened in here? What did that fuck do to his son, while he was carefreely working at home knowing nothing? He tightened his grip around Peter when the boy suddenly winced.
He immediately let go of him and pushed him back by his shoulders, studying his son’s condition up close. Peter was holding his left side and made a painful face. “…hurts…”
“Where, Pete? Where does it hurt?!” Tony heard the slight hysterical sound in his voice and tried to pull himself together. Peter needed to feel safe right now.
“My... my side… and chest… and…”, Peters voice croaked pitiful. It was more like a rough whisper than proper words. He tried to clear his throat, but only fell into a miserable cough. “I do… n’t know… everything… Dad!”
“Should I call an ambulance?”, Clara almost sounded like crying herself as she watched Tony pulling his son back into his arms.
“No, I have someone on the way.” Tony had managed to make his voice sound collected again and switched back into a professional mode he so often used with the press. But Clara could hear the dangerous sound in it. A lion defending his cub couldn't be any more dangerous. And it was true. Tony was struggling not to scream and smash something – preferably the face of this fucking so-called cop.
“CLARA!” An angry voice cut through the air and heavy, fast approaching footsteps echoed down the corridor. Harris cigarette break was apparently over.
Peter winced and Tony could feel it when the boy started to violently shake in his arms, crawling impossibly closer to him. His breathing grew heavier and even his fingers gripped deeper into Tony’s shirt. “Ssh. Hey, Pete... It’s ok. I’m here now. Nothing's going to happen to you! You hear me!?”
He straightened as best as he could in his kneeling position and with the terrified kid in his arms to face the man who caused his son's condition. Clara backed away and stammered something incomprehensible as Harris rushed in.
Tony stared at the man with an unfazed but deadly look, noticing how the man was at least a head taller than him. In height and muscle mass. Harris's puzzled for only a second when he spots Tony. “Why the hell is he in here?”, he snaps at Clara.
Only his will to not let go of his trembling son stopped Tony to throw himself at the man. With or without his suit, him being smaller or not. He knew he could thank him in an appropriate way for the hospitality he showed his son. But instead he chose a less stressful way for Peter's sake.
“The better question would be, why my 14 year old child is in here?!”, he answered harshly.
“Because I thought it best.” Harris shrugged nonchalant.
Tony’s resolution began to crumble as he now trembled with utter rage and sharply hissed: "And why's that?"
Harris simply shrugged again and crossed his arms. “Teaching. Bet he always expects to get special treatment, just as all of your arrogant lot. Thought he could use a lesson of real life instead. You should thank me. Without my good hiding a spoiled little brat like him would never grow to be a real man.”
Tony was furious as he finally jumped up, Peter losing his grip on his dad’s shirt due to the sudden movement. He let out a scared whimper fearing Tony could leave him behind, if only for a few seconds, but instead the outraged man unconsciously puts a reassuring hand on Peter’s head to comfort him, while glaring at the man infront of them. This brute had been in here with his son. Alone. Hurt him. Told him god knows what disgusting crap. And god help him, if he wouldn't make sure that he’d never touch him again, nor anyone else.
“I couldn’t care less what a neanderthal like you thinks about my lot.” Tony pushed his son's head closer to him. “But whoever comes too close to my son, lays a finger on him or simply looks at him funny, will regret that for the rest of his life! You realize that this will have consequences for you in ways you can’t even begin to understand!?”
Harris’s face turned red. “If you think you can get me fired, then…”
“Your fucking job is by far the least of your problems." Tony spits. "What did you expect I'd do, huh!? Take my son and go home as if none of this ever happen?” Tony shouted so loud that Peter flinched. He just wanted to go home. His head hurt so much that he had to fight the urge to throw up or simply lie down on the cooling floor. "Apparently you know damn well who I am. So you should know that there's literally a whole army standing behind me, including the best lawyers on this damn planet. I'll make sure you'll serve such a long time behind bars, you won't even be able to remember the look of the sun."
Harris finally looked intimidated and hesitantly stepped back, as a sudden tumult in the foyer got him moving again. Someone was calling for Mr. Stark and came storming down the corridor. Overwhelmed with panic Harris rushed forwards raising his fist. Peter instinctively grabbed at Tony’s pants as the rather unimpressed man stepped fully infront of his shivering son and simply activated the gloves of the Iron-Man suit with one quick move. Both wrapped around his hands so fast that Tony was easily able to catch the man’s flying fist while he returned the gesture with his other hand. With full satisfaction he felt some of Harris’ rips break under his hands before the man flew out of the door hitting the wall on the other side with a loud thump. Realizing Harris wasn’t going to get up again and seeing the first SHIELD agents appearing next to him, Tony lowered his guard. He was almost disappointed. He would have loved to do that a few times more.
One of the agents stepped into the small room. “Mr. Stark!?”
“Lock him up. I’ll deal with him later.” Tony replied as he returned his full attention to Peter. He crouched next to him and gently stroked Peter’s unharmed cheek. “You ok, Pete? Do you think you can get up?”
Peter nodded weakly.
With Tony’s help he slowly struggled to his feet, taking in as much air as he could. Clara, who’d disappeared from the room for a minute, hurried back to them with a bottle of water in her hand. “Maybe this’ll help?!”
Peter smiled as he took the bottle thankfully and sat down on the ledge. He tried to drink the water as careful as possible but he couldn’t help to make a painful face while swallowing.
Tony, who hadn’t taken his eyes off of his son, frowned. “How did this happen?” He barely slid his fingers along Peter’s neck, but that was already enough to make the boy flinch away with a painful expression.
“Sorry.” Tony quickly pulled his hand away. “… Why is your throat like that, honey?”
As if on cue the doctor JARVIS had called entered the room and after a quick talk with Tony she started examine the exhausted boy.
“I think you have at least one or two bruised ribs, if not broken. And a heavy bruise on your back. I can take care of the wound on your cheek right here. It won’t hurt, don’t worry.” She smiled encouragingly as Peter looked at her with little enthusiasm. “And your neck… were you strangled?”
Tony immediately tensed visibly as Peter nodded slightly.
“He said… he said insulting things about you.” Peter looked at his father. “Things that weren't right. I just told him he was wrong and he…” Peter shrugged his shoulders. “You're the best dad in the world and I wouldn’t let him talk bad about you.”
Tony smiled softly as he ruffled his son’s hair. How did he deserve this child?
“Your voice will gradually become stronger again. Your vocal cords are swollen, which is pretty normal, giving the circumstances. But we will keep an eye on that to make sure the swelling doesn’t increase.” The doctor looked at Tony, who was already nodding. “I won't let him out of my sight.”
Tony said it so solemnly that Peter had to smile. Best dad indeed.
___ the end ___