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Checkmate

Chapter Text

“Hey Bruce?”

The scientist briefly peered up from the code layed out in front of him, humming softly in response. Tony paused in his work and stared blankly in front of him, softly gnawing at his lip as thoughts whirled about in his mind. Noticing the lack of response, Bruce turned to look at his friend, eyebrows furrowing at his expression. “What’s wrong, Tony?”

Sighing softly, the billionaire shifted his gaze downwards, his hand falling limply on the table in front of him. “What if this isn’t enough?”

“What do you mean?” Bruce asked, scanning Tony’s expression worriedly. “We’re already creating more than advanced than we’ve ever attempted. There isn’t much else we can do.”

“I know, but,” Tony sighed, turning to look at Bruce, “What if it’s even stronger? Sure, we’re making an artificial intelligence, but what if the threat’s beyond technology?” Bruce tensed slightly seeing Tony’s eyes become distant, and he took a step towards him, setting a hand softly on his shoulder.

“Tones, you’re getting in your head again,” Bruce said softly, quickly cutting him off when the billionaire opened his mouth to respond, “and I get it, I really do, but you can’t let your anxiety consume you like this. Some things are just out of our control.” Tony fell silent after his words, continuing to stare in front of him, and Bruce could see the gears spinning in his head. He sighed, taking his hand off his shoulder.

“Tony--”

“But what if we could control it?” The engineer looked at his friend, a wild look in his eyes. Bruce stared at him for a few moments, his mind trying to process his words.

“What?”

“What if we could just start it over?” Looking back at the holographic lines of code in front of him, Tony scanned it over, the soft blue light reflecting something fiery in his eyes. “We’re essentially making a digital brain right now, right? We’ve already achieved that, so what’s to say we can’t transport our own?” Holding out a hand, the philanthropist zoomed out of the code with his fingers so the two could see the full holographic structure, and with a few more taps he pulled up a picture of the bifrost’s rainbow beam next to it. “Einstein-Rosen bridge travel’s already a thing, and we all know what the opposite of traveling at lightspeed is.”

Eyes widening in realization, Bruce muttered, “You can’t be implying what I think you are.” Tony looked back at him. “Think about it, Bruce. It isn’t as far-fetched as it seems. With the two of us putting our brains together, this could really work.”

“I-I don’t know,” Bruce stammered, taking a step back from the table. “An artificial intelligence is one thing, but time travel?”

“We would only use it for emergencies,” Tony started, “and it wouldn’t mess with any time paradox shenanigans either. Think about it--we scan a person, identify who they are, right? Then we scan their brain, transfer it temporarily into an AI, and send it back. We have a sea of arc reactors here already, so energy won’t be an issue. We would be able to go back and undo things just like that.” He snapped in time with his words, and his eyes lingered on his hand for a brief moment before moving back to the doctor. Taking a step closer to Bruce, Tony met his gaze. “This could really save our ass one day.”

Staring at the hero, Bruce noticed something different in Tony’s eyes. When his friend had approached him about the idea of Ultron, all he saw was a man being trapped by his own mind, and his eyes showed nothing but a man captured with fear. The only reason Bruce had agreed to help him was because he knew the billionaire was stubborn, and this was going to be the only way that he would be relieved of at least some of his anxiety. He couldn’t stand seeing the haunted look in Tony’s eyes whenever New York was mentioned, so he really had no choice but to agree. But now, Bruce saw something else buried underneath that fear. It was only for a split second, but the genius could’ve sworn he’d seen something lighter in his eyes. A glimmer of hope.

Nodding softly, Bruce spoke softly, “If you think it’ll help, you know I’m right behind you.” A giddy smile broke out on the hero’s face, like one you would see if a parent granted their child access to the candy isle while at the grocery store. Bruce couldn’t help but reflect his smile. “But we have to finish Ultron first. I don’t think I can handle both at once.”

Tony’s smile faded a little, but the billionaire nodded nonetheless, “Right--yeah, of course. Ultron comes first, time travel thingy afterwards.” He turned back to the blue light of the code, muttering something about coming up with a name to himself before taking a sip of coffee. Pulling up his section of the hologram, he turned to Bruce, flashing his signature toothy press smile before urging him, “Well, since we have an order, let’s hurry up and finish this bad boy. We’re almost done, anyways.”

“Right,” Bruce smiled, shaking his head fondly as Tony quickly started to edit the code, before turning to do the same. As much as he hated being dragged along, he relished in the moments where Tony felt comfortable enough to allow himself to feel happy. The billionaire barely got a break between his responsibilities with Stark Industries and his own issues with his mental health, and Bruce understood how it felt to carry that baggage around with out. The defined dark circles and constant companion of coffee wasn’t something he wasn’t familiar with, and it killed him to see Tony fall into the same hole he had fallen down, and still sometimes found himself in. He just wished Tony would be able to open up to someone about what he saw in New York sometime soon. Whatever it was clearly haunted him, and Bruce would be lying if the thought of something larger didn’t terrify him as well.

Maybe that’s why he agreed to work with Tony on Ultron, he mused, tapping away at the lines of the code in front of him. Maybe he wanted to work on these crazy projects because he himself was concerned about the same things as his friend was, albeit not as strongly. Regardless, Tony was putting his hope into these creations, and into Bruce for allowing him to work on them with him, and he wasn’t about to let his friend down. Not when many lives could be at stake. Pausing in his work to take a small sip of tea from his cup, Bruce let out a heavy breath, his eyes meeting the softly glowing yellow stone resting on the table in front of them.

He just really hoped this would work.

---

That up there? That’s the endgame.

Chapter Text

“I hope they remember you.”

Tony could barely process the titan’s words through the intense pain that was shooting through his open wound, and he pressed his hand tighter against it, gasping in pain from the pressure. He shifted back slightly, resting his free hand on the rock behind him and coughing wetly, grimacing as he tasted the metallic tinge of blood on his tongue. Gritting his teeth, he managed to force his gaze back upwards, collapsing to his elbow from the disorientation. His eyes darted around the looming titan’s form in front of him. This is it, he thought, his heart pumping wildly in his chest to make up for the blood seeping through his fingers. I’m going to die.

Hearing the soft hum of the infinity gauntlet, Tony flinched, eyes darting away as soon as the stones started to glow on the knuckles. He swallowed harshly, shutting his eyes as the anticipation coursed through his veins. His mind immediately made its way back to the important people in his life, and he felt a pang of guilt as he realized that he wasn’t going to be able to say goodbye. Pepper, Rhodey, Happy, Peter--god, Peter. Tony’s heart gave a tug at the thought of the young boy, and he unconsciously smiled with a bit of fondness. That kid had so many good things coming for him in the future, and although he regretted not be able to be present for it, he knew he had nothing to worry about. He knew the kid would be distraught from his passing, though, and he hated how he wouldn’t be able to tell him it wasn’t his fault. He acted exactly like Tony after all. (For better or for worse, he didn’t know.)

Tony would be lying if he himself hadn’t thought about his own death, and, disregarding the situation, he was surprisingly happy with how his life was now. Dying now wouldn’t be such a bad note to end on, he mused to himself. Though the titan attempting to kill half the universe was, but that’s besides the point. He had faith in the people fighting for their cause. His only regret would be that he wouldn’t be able to properly say goodbye, and a part of him longed to continue to be a part of the fight. However, all good things come to an end, and he’d lived a good life. It would be fine if he--

“Stop.”

Tony’s head immediately whirled towards the source of the voice, stumbling a little from the nausea the action caused. He quickly blinked away the spots forming in his vision, his eyes eventually landing on the injured sorcerer in front of him. He tried to yell out to Strange to ask him what the hell is he trying to do--but nothing came out except for a small grunt of pain. Thanos had shifted his gaze to the man as well, and he brought the gauntlet back down to his side as he waited for an elaboration. Strange panted for a few moments, mulling over his thoughts, before looking up at the titan.

“Spare his life,” he stressed, “and I will give you the stone.” Tony immediately tensed at his words, and tried shifting forwards, gasping loudly at the fiery, throbbing pain the movement caused. Thanos studied the sorcerer in front of him, narrowing his eyes slightly.

“No tricks?” He asked, and Strange shook his head, his gaze falling downwards.

“Don’t,” Tony choked out, and Strange met the billionaire’s pleading gaze, engaging him in a silent exchange of words. I have to, his eyes spoke, and Tony didn’t have the energy, nor the means to tell him otherwise. That man was as stubborn as he was.

The sorcerer then glanced at the sky behind them, holding a hand up as a star in the distance began to glow a pale green, intensifying as soon as Strange’s fingers captured it. With a sharp pulse of light, the stone appeared in front of him.

Strange gazed at the stone in front of him for a few moments, his eyes swimming with a sort of heart-wrenching attachment. Tony found himself pitying the man through his haze, his thoughts quickly cut off by movement in the corner of his eye that he identified as the titan urging Strange on, reminding him of what was at stake. Taking in a labored breath, the hero ripped his gaze from the scene in front of him, unable to bear the scene any further.

Extending his hand, Strange let the stone float away from him and slowly make its way into the Titan’s grip, and Thanos took it, letting his fingers hover around it in the same way Strange had. The titan then took one last glance at Tony before he moved the stone over the slot on the knuckle of his thumb, letting it slip into the gauntlet. A surge of power exploded out of the metal as the stone entered it, and Tony took a shuddering breath as he heard a ring emanate from the titan’s form. He took a moment to look at the almost-full gauntlet, his mind shattering under the weight of an unyielding fear.

“One more to go.” Each word was like another weight piled onto his chest, and the Titan gave a sickening smirk that made Tony want to throw up right then and there. It was disgusting. He couldn’t believe that there was someone sick enough to smile while trying to--

Boom!

A bright spark of energy slammed into the top of the gauntlet, and Thanos’s eyes widened before more pellets of energy rained down towards him. A loud yell echoed from the distance, and the titan pressed down a finger, creating a blue swirling portal behind him. He stepped back as a form jumped out and whirled towards him, closing the portal as the figure zoomed through the spot where the titan once stood. Tony, albeit a bit slower than usual (probably from the pain, he reassured himself, his mind wandering to Peter’s jabs at his age), recognized the man as Peter Quill. Quill’s eyes widened seeing the titan disappear, and he stumbled as he landed on the ground, quickly retracting his helmet.

“Where is he?!” He exclaimed, holding out a gun as his eyes darted around. Strange remained silent, and Tony brought his free hand over to his wound, pressing down on a button and wincing as he started to seal his wound shut. Understanding dawned over the captain’s face, and Quill lowered his gun, his hand trembling slightly as he did so. “Did we lose?”

Tony looked away from the man, not having the heart to respond as his gaze flitted towards the sorcerer. “Why would you do that?” He muttered softly, unable to mask the sorrow in his tone. Strange stayed silent for a moment, leaving nothing but the soft pants of the three heroes filling the air.

The sorcerer eventually lifted his gaze again, staring out in the distance as he took a shuddering breath, “We’re in the endgame now.”

Quill continued to stare at the two hopelessly for a few moments, his mind rearing as he tried to process the current situation. “You gave away the time stone.” He said slowly, staring hopelessly at Strange. “Why the hell would you do that?” There wasn’t any fire behind the accusation, and Tony could only assume the man felt just as drained as he did. Strange said nothing in response, and the billionaire mustered up the strength to sit up.

“You said you wouldn’t,” he whispered, setting a hand on the rock to steady himself. “You promised.”

“What’s going on? What happened?” a higher voice asked softly to his right, and Tony didn’t need to look back to identify the young hero. Peter looked around at the scene as a wounded Mantis and Drax slowly walked up behind him, and his doe eyes were wide and shining with worry. “Where’s Thanos?”

Silence met the teen’s words, and he shifted uncomfortably, gaze unconsciously flitting over to his mentor. “Mr. Stark?” He said nothing.

“I gave away the time stone,” Strange announced softly after a pregnant pause, and various protests and exclamations immediately followed his words. (“What?! Are you serious?” “But that’s the one thing we couldn’t--!” “What kind of warrior surrenders his honor?!”) The sorcerer let out a pained breath, his face twisted in an expression that made him look ten times older, and Tony felt a pang of sympathy. “It was a last resort, I had no choice.”

“Last resort?” Quill scoffed, disbelief working its way onto his face. “Last resort, are you kidding me? You gave that bastard exactly what he wanted!” Huffing out a small laugh, Tony shook his head and muttered under his breath, “Like you’re one to talk.”

“Excuse me, what?” Tony shakily pushed himself to his feet, wincing at the spike of pain as he wound stretched. Meeting Quill’s eyes, the billionaire shrugged. “I don’t know. This is just a thought, but maybe if you hadn’t gone all spastic about your girlfriend, we might have the gauntlet right now.” Peter gave Tony a small look, and he raised his shoulders helplessly.

The guardian stayed silent for a moment and looked down at the ground, nodding a little. Tony could sense the anger bubbling under the man’s skin as he said softly, “Okay. So that’s how we’re going to play this.” Quill walked over to Tony, stopping just in front of his face, and stared him in the eyes.

“Listen here buddy,” he spat, unable to keep the venom from spilling into his voice, “I don’t know if you’re educated about the way emotions work, but that woman that he killed meant everything to me.” He took a shuddering breath, his eyes glossing over lightly at the mention of his late girlfriend. “Gamora was the most important person in my life, and he killed her for a fucking stone. He killed his daughter, and my girlfriend, for a stone. So excuse me if I lost it, Mr. I-Have-Money-Up-The-Ass, because I unlike you, I can’t buy her life back.”

“I know,” Tony answered with a soft sincerity, and Quill blinked, taken aback by the lack of anger. “I know exactly what it’s like to lose someone Quill, and I’m sorry. If I could bring her back I would, but I can’t, and neither can you. And I get it, the anger, the frustration, but that guy? When the entire universe is at stake?” He took a pause to take a small breath. “You’ve gotta keep your head in the game.”

A silence passed over the group and Quill mulled over his words, and Tony waited, his eyebrows furrowing when he heard a uncomfortable shift of weight behind him. Looking back, he noticed Peter biting his lip, and, making the connection, he rolled his eyes, chuckling at the ridiculousness of the thought.

“Pete.” The teen deflated.

After a few moments, Quill let out a soft breath, finally returning to Tony’s gaze. “Look, I’m sorry, okay?” He muttered, voice softening towards the end. “I’m sorry.” Nodding approvingly of the sincerity in his tone, Tony smiled weakly, falling silent soon after.

“What do we do now?” Mantis softly broke the silence, her beady black eyes sparkling with underlying anxiety. “Thanos only has a stone left.”

“We can’t do much,” Drax muttered from her side, his hand loosely clutching onto a gash on his ribs. “He left.” Peter looked helplessly between the two, fiddling with his fingers in a (cute) nervous habit Tony had picked up on a while back.

“But there’s gotta be something, right? We can’t just let him leave like that,” the spiderling urged, turning back to look at the sorcerer for confirmation. “Right Mr. Strange?”

Silence.

The teenaged hero twiched uncomfortably, “Mr. Strange?”

Noticing the teen’s discomfort, Quill took a small step towards Strange, voicing softly, “Doctor, you said we won in a timeline. How’s that looking for us?” The sorcerer shifted, slowly rising to his feet.

“It’s too early to say,” he replied, with quick, meaningful glance at Tony, “but the probabilities are slim.” Tony’s eyebrows furrowed at the doctor’s action, and he glanced down slightly, the gears in his mind starting to turn once more. Am I missing something? He thought to himself, the conversation occurring in the background becoming a mere afterthought as he continued to wrack his brain.

“But they’re still there,” Quill concluded, nodding a little. “We still have a shot.” A soft creaking emanated from his left, and for the first time since the end of the battle, Nebula spoke, “What else can we really do?” The heroes gazes shifted to her, none willing to pipe up with a response.

“Thanos is gone, as is our stone,” she continued, looking over them with a grave expression. “There’s nothing left.”

“Not quite,” Tony answered softly, still looking dowards, his lips pursed in thought. Strange perked up slightly at his side, and Quill furrowed his eyebrows in confusion. “What do you mean?”

Taking in a soft breath, Tony picked his eyes back up to the rest of the group. “When Bruce and I were creating Ultron, I had an idea,” he announced. “It was a sort of worst-case-scenario device that seemed redundant at the time, but we worked on it anyways. We didn’t exactly finish it together, since he disappeared after Sokovia, but I was able to manage on my own. It isn’t exactly stable, but it works.”

“What is it?” Peter inquired.

“It’s a cerebral transversion device,” Tony answered with a smile. Noticing the blank looks around him his expression dropped, and he rolled his eyes, sighing heavily, “A time machine.” The group seemed to exhale a collective “Ooooh” while Peter’s eyes glittered with awe. (“Oh my god Mr. Stark, that’s so cool…”)

“Will this actually work?” Quill asking, turning to Strange. “When there’s the option of success, there’s always the possibility of failure,” Strange stated, causing the surrounding heroes’ expressions to deflate. “However,” he continued, and everyone took hopeful breath, “the probability of success will increase if the child is the one to use it.”

Blinking, Peter looked around slightly before pointing to himself, “Me?” The sorcerer sighed softly before nodding, and if Tony wasn’t on the verge of another panic attack he may have teased Strange for the smile he caught creeping onto his face.

“No,” the billionaire stated tensely. Peter’s immediately dropped into a pout as he began to protest, “Mr. Stark--”

“No. Nu-uh. There’s absolutely no way I’m sending my kid alone into an unstable time machine to save the universe.” The teen crossed his arms, his expression tightening into an almost-glare. “But you said it yourself, it’s to save the universe.”

Tony immediately shook his head, ignoring the teen’s outcry of frustration. “There has to be another way,” he stressed, fixating his gaze on the sorcerer next to him. “Strange, back me up here.”

“I’m sorry Tony, but I can’t,” Strange answered apologetically, not blind to the man’s parental tendencies. “Out of all of us here, Peter would be the most discreet and would have the most flexibility with going back in time. The guardians, from what I recall, are busy protecting the stones and protecting the galaxy previous to this, and I don’t think they would listen very well.” Various protests piped up from the guardians and Strange looked at them. “Sorry,” he said unapologetically, turning back to the billionaire before continuing. “And you staying here with Nebula is vital for our success.”

“Okay,” Tony responded quickly, briefly acknowledging his words as he rolled through his options. “Then why can’t you go?”

“Because I’m the only one who can transport someone to Earth from here, and creating such a portal will kill me.”

A pregnant moment of silence passed over the group as they stared incredulously at the man, before Tony broke the silence with a loud, “What?

“Kill you?!” Peter exclaimed, his eyes wide and darting with fear and guilt. Tony nearly rolled his eyes in mild amusement at the observation. (Jesus, this kid, it didn’t even happen--) The teen continued to stammer and splutter hopelessly, unable to process the man’s words, “Mr. Strange, you can’t--you don’t need--we can--”

“Look, I’m sorry,” Strange quickly cut Peter off, “but there is no choice, and, spoiler alert, half the universe is going to die in about five minutes. That’s our reality, and there’s no changing it now.”

“Unless we do this,” Tony added, and Strange nodded, responding with a strong, “Exactly.”

The hero’s gaze fell as he slipped into thought, biting his lip as he thought about letting Peter leave. He knew there was no choice, and he knew they had to, but a part of him was still begging to keep him somewhere he can see him, somewhere safe. Mentoring a superpowered teen was one thing, but sending a child on a lone mission to save the universe was something he certainly did not sign up for. (And he didn’t sign up for getting attached to said child either.) In truth, Tony wanted to do nothing more than tell Strange to fuck off and hug the teen until he was sure that Thanos was long gone. Looking back at the teen, he met those shining doe eyes, and he felt his heart clench with unidentified emotion. God, he was so young.

But you have no choice, his mind whispered, you have to. You have to let him go.

You have to let go.

Swallowing harshly, Tony slowly made his way over to the teen (kid), placing his hands gently on his shoulders. “Pete,” he began softly, forcing his voice to remain steady, “you know the panel I always tell you not to mess with? The one in my room?” Peter nodded. “I want you to open it up and enter the code 2E348.” He said the code slowly, studying the spiderling’s expression and waiting until he saw it relax to continue. “Then, tell FRIDAY to activate Protocol: MARIA. A door will open up in my lab and the machine will be in there. You with me so far?”

“Yeah,” Peter responded, his voice small. Tony’s heart gave a painful tug.

“On the front will be a panel that will tell you to enter a day, month, and a year,” he trailed off at the end, tearing his eyes away from the teen’s to think. After a brief moment, he continued, “Enter in October 2015. Any day that’s late in the month is fine.”

“2015?” Peter asked incredulously, his eyes growing wide. “B-But that’s so far back!”

“Yes, and it’s also before the accords.” Peter’s mouth snapped shut as his words, all thoughts of protest dying on his tongue. Tony knew the teen hadn’t thought of the complications the accords would cause, and he honestly didn’t want Peter to see such a dark version of himself at face value. October was a decent amount of time after Ultron, and he remembered things being peaceful. Peter’s eyes fell as he nodded, muttering softly, “Right.”

The thoughts whirling around in Peter’s head were almost visible because of how quick they were moving, and Tony clenched his teeth, sensing the anxiety wafting off of the teen. Eyes shining with unshed emotion, the billionaire spoke softly, “Pete...you shouldn’t have to do something as big as this, let alone on your own. I’m so sorry.”

The teen’s head snapped up at his words, and he quickly reassured, “Don’t apologize, Mr. Stark. I...I am a little scared, but we don’t have a choice. We need to stop Thanos.” Tony’s heart ached from the teen’s words, and he pulled the small form into his arms, hugging him close. Those words shouldn’t have to come from a sixteen-year-old’s mouth, he thought darkly. Peter let out a muffled yelp from the suddenness of the hug, body tensing and eyes widening from the intimacy of the action. Tony half expecting him to pull away, but much to his relief, the teen melted into arms soon after, wrapping his arms around Tony’s chest.

“I believe in you kid,” the billionaire whispered into Peter’s soft curls. The teen tightened his grip around his mentor and he rested his forehead gently on his sternum. “Thank you, Tony.” Tony chuckled at the spiderling’s words, and Peter picked his head up in surprise.

“So that’s what it took for you to call me by my name, huh?” He mused. A soft pink rose to the teen’s cheeks, and he gently pushed at Tony’s chest, pulling away from the hug with a smile. “Shut up.”

“You know I won’t.” Tony smiled back warmly, ruffling Peter’s hair. The spiderling puffed up his cheeks and looked down in an attempt to hide the smile rising to his lips.

Quill smiled at the interaction warmly, watching with a sad admiration at the closeness of the pair. His attention was drawn from the two when he felt Mantis tense behind him, and he turned to look at her, eyebrows furrowing.

“Mantis? What’s up?” He asked. The alien looked up at him, beady eyes shining with a tense fear, and he noticed the rest of the group turn towards them with curiosity.

“Something’s happening,” she whispered, and Quill felt her skin turn rough and patchy underneath his fingers, before crumbling under the weight of his hand. He felt the blood drain from his face in horror as his companion started to flake away into ashy dust in front of him, disintegrating and being swept away into the wind. Tony’s hand automatically went to grip Peter’s shoulder tightly, and he looked at Strange, expecting an answer.

“He did it,” Strange said shakily, and he almost immediately held out his hands, quickly swirling them around, creating an orange spark in front of him. “Kid, get over here.” Peter didn’t respond to his words, and he stared at the spot were Mantis stood, a haunted look on his face.

Hurry!” The sorcerer hissed, gritting his teeth as the orange spark arced and connected, creating a circle in front of him. The teen immediately started moving at the change of tone, pausing slightly when he felt Tony’s grip loosen on his shoulder. He turned back to face his mentor, biting his lip, before rushing over to Strange.

“Quill,” a soft voice spoke from behind the captain, and Quill quickly turned around to meet eyes with a disintegrating Drax. He watched in a stunned silence as another one of his teammates vanished in front of his eyes, and he felt his hands start to shake with building grief.

Drawing back the group’s attention, Strange let out a short cry of pain, opening the portal, and the familiar light of the tower’s living room shined brightly on the other side. The sorcerer’s eyes bulged with an orange light, his veins pulsing with so much strain Tony thought they were going to pop. His hands shook as he choked out a soft, “G-Go.” The teen swallowed harshly and turned back to Tony helplessly, tears shining in his eyes.

Swallowing back tears of his own, Tony cried, “Peter, go!” Hearing a breath hitch to his right, Tony’s attention was brought to Quill, and he immediately tensed seeing the man’s arms start to crumble.

“Be steady, Quill,” he spoke softly, his voice trembling slightly. Quill met his eyes with a pained expression as the dust crawled up to his neck. “Oh man,” he whispered, before crumbling into the wind. And with that, Peter bit his lip and forced himself into the portal.

As soon as the teen’s body disappeared into the portal, Strange fell to a knee, coughing harshly and bringing a hand to his mouth as the portal closed. His veins continued to bulge and pulse, and he shakily brought his hand away from his mouth, now covered with crimson. Tony stared blankly at the portal for a few moments, a dull ache in his heart and he realized that Peter was now officially out of his reach. His eyes started to fill with liquid, and he went to wipe them before pausing to notice Strange’s legs starting to dry and crumble. Tony froze, coming to a sickening realization as to why Strange was so ready to give up his life for the portal.

He knew was going to die anyway.

“Tony,” Strange gasped, breaking the billionaire out of his thoughts. He looked up at him, meeting Tony’s grief-stricken eyes and said softly, “There was no other way.”

And he was gone.

Tony stared at the spot the sorcerer had once stood for a few long moments, his brain desperately trying to process what had just happened. He swallowed harshly, staggering back slightly, and sat himself down on a rock, folding his hands in front of him and resting his head against them. Taking a few moments to control his breathing, he bit his lip, briefly wiping at his wet eyes with his wrist.

This is it, he thought to himself, closing his eyes. After this, we really have nothing. Shoulders tensing at the realization, Tony curled in a little, scrunching his eyes shut a little tighter as he felt the familiar tightness in his chest, and a tear fell down his cheek as he finally allowed himself some vulnerability.

Please be safe, kid.

---

Peter bolted into the tower, running through the living room and down the stairs, rushing through hallways and corridors, his legs moving faster than they ever had before. His mind was pulsing with adrenaline, and his chest was tight, his body responding to nothing but hurry, hurry, move--

“2E348, 2E348,” he whispered breathily to himself, turning a sharp corner and rushing to his mentor’s room. “2E348, 2E384, 2E…” Reaching the panel, Peter paused, his eyebrows furrowing as he tried to remember the code through his frenzied panic. Hands trembling, he quickly typed in the digits 2E384, hoping that it was--

“Access denied,” FRIDAY’s voice filtered through the ceiling, and Peter felt a sharp sting of panic hit his chest. The teen bit his lip, his breathing picking up slightly as his eyes bolted across the keyboard. He quickly typed in another version of the code, scrunching his eyes shut when he hit enter.

“Access denied.”

No!

“Access denied.”

Come on, please, god--

“Access denied.”

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me! I don’t have time for this!” Peter yelled in a mixture of anxiety and anger, hitting the edge of the console. The mental dented slightly and he froze, feeling a sweat creep up his back. (Mr. Stark probably won’t see that.)

Taking in a shaky breath, Peter took a moment to breathe, briefly closing his eyes as he tried to recall the access code. Think Peter, think, he tried to urge himself, and he opened his eyes again, tensing as he slowly typed in another version of the digits.

2E348…?

“Access granted.”

Letting out a loud sigh of relief, Peter’s shoulders sagged, and he laughed softly. “Thank god,” he muttered to himself, and he momentarily rested his hands on the edges of the panel, looking up as he spoke, “FRIDAY, activate Protocol: MARIA.”

“Protocol: MARIA, Maybe A Really Important Asset, activated. Granting access.”

Peter forced himself back upwards and he quickly rushed into his mentor’s lab, his moment of relaxation slowly fading into a memory. Jogging inside, Peter caught sight of a door opening itself towards the back of the space, and he made his way over, stepping inside the newly opened room. The room was fairly small and empty, the only object filling the space being a pod-like machine towards the back, with large tubes connected to the top of the machine. On the front was a holographic panel with the words day, month, and year on it, just as Tony had said it would. In a normal circumstance Peter would’ve gaped a bit more and maybe freaked out because of how cool this thing is, oh my god, but right now he didn’t have the time.

Walking up to the panel, the teen quickly entered in what the billionaire had told him to, speaking softly as he did so. “2015, October,” he muttered softly, and paused looking at the empty slot for the day. He thought for a moment, trying to figure out a date to enter.

“21st?” He thought aloud, pausing for a moment before shrugging. “21st seems fine.”

The spiderling lifted a hand to resume typing, and he started to move his fingers, but paused when he didn’t see anything appear on the screen. Eyebrows furrowing, he looked down at the keyboard and he completely froze when his eyes met nothing but empty space. Vision quickly darting to his arm, he saw that it was slowly disintegrating, fading into the same ashy dust that the guardians had on Titan. Expression shifting into a mixture of horror and panic, Peter quickly tore his eyes from his arm, and he typed in the date with his other hand, pressing enter just as that hand disappeared into dust. Peter choked out a slightly hysterical sob as he mind retreated into nothing but panic, panic, panic--

“Please, please, open, please,” the words spilled out of his mouth uncontrollably as the door finally opened with a soft clink. Peter went to move forwards and stumbled as his foot disintegrated underneath him, and he fell halfway into the pod. He gasped softly as his lungs met the hard metal underneath him, coughing lightly and panting. Grunting, he started trying to push himself into the machine with his other foot, letting out a sob as it faded after the action.

“Oh god,” he whimpered, tears starting to slowly roll down his cheeks. “I-I’m going to die.”

He barely registered the low hum of the machine as it powered up, and he continued trying to push himself, trying to utilize his knees and shoulders, his sobs growing louder as he felt them disappear after a few attempts. (I don’t want to go, I can’t go, not yet, Mr. Stark, help--)

Panting heavily, Peter lay limp, his vision blurred by tears as he started to pray to himself that he would make it in time, telling himself to hang on, just a little longer, please hang on. The machine’s buzz started to grow lighter and the world around him started to light up and he felt his consciousness slowly start to fade, his lungs desperately trying to work despite his body disappearing. With a shuddering sigh, his eyes slowly started to close, his body no longer able to keep himself conscious.

I’m sorry, he thought weakly, and the world around him faded to black.

Chapter Text

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Peter’s face scrunched up slightly as he gently floated into consciousness, a soft orange glow filtering into his eyes as they slowly opened. He squinted slightly from the light as his vision came into focus, groaning as he brought a hand to his forehead.

Where am I?

Shifting his free hand, he slowly pushed himself into a sitting position, dropping his hand from his forehead. He sat there for a moment, mind fuzzy from unconsciousness, and he allowed his head a moment to clear before picking his head up to look at his surroundings. The sky was nothing but a soft, misty orange, the kind of orange that reminded him of the orange sherbert he would eat as a kid, swirling and expanding out as far as the eye could see. Below him was a thin layer of still water, softly rippling and reflecting the sight of the rolling orange clouds. The water didn’t exactly feel like water though, he noted, and he gently threaded the liquid with his fingers as he looked at it with interest. It acted like water, and it looked like water, but it wasn’t wet. There wasn’t any water soaking through his suit as he sat in the water; his hair wasn’t wet from lying in it; his hands weren’t saturated. He pulled a hand out of the water and rubbed his thumb against his pointer finger. It was dry.

Peter sat there for a few more moments, pondering the science behind the water-like liquid below him when suddenly, as if a small string snapped, memories started to rush back to him like fire expanding across a paper, falling and accelerating like a line of dominos falling one after another. He gasped audibly, his heart stammering and pounding against his ribs as he remembered what had occurred before he ended up here; Titan, Thanos, the stones, Tony--

The machine.

The machine.

Scrambling to his feet, Peter looked around with wide eyes, throat becoming dry.

Did I…?

“Did you do it?”

The teen jumped at the suddenness of the young voice, a jolt of surprise rushing through him as his eyes darted around quickly, searching for the source of the voice He soon realized it was pointless as the voice--a young girl’s voice--continued to echo around him, multiplying and fading with every passing moment. Swallowing harshly, Peter tensed, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end.

“This is definitely a horror movie,” he softly thought aloud, voice shaking as he tried to keep some calm. “I hate horror movies.” The sound of his own voice comforted him slightly, and he exhaled a soft breath. (And not because he enjoyed hearing himself talk, thank you very much)

Continuing to look around helplessly, the echoes started to fade into nothingness, the world around him falling into a slightly less comfortable silence. The spiderling took a moment to regather his bearings, and he took a shuddering breath before asking shakily, “Who are you?”

Nothing.

Bringing up a hand to grip his wrist, the hero curled into himself slightly, getting more and more nervous as the minutes of silence continued to pass.

“Where am I?” He tried again, his voice a little more steady this time. He waited for a few more moments, and, hearing nothing again, he let out a heavy sigh. “This isn’t good,” he muttered to himself, shifting his arms so they were crossed over his chest. “Silence is always bad in horror movies. Always. Something’s going to happen, I know it.” Peter continued to ramble softly to himself, running a hand through his hair as his anxiety continued to spike. Looking up, Peter bit his lip, eyes darting across the expanse of orange sky once more.

“Why aren’t you talking to me?” Peter questioned, voice louder than before. “Did you bring me here? Where are you? What is this place?” Unsurprisingly, he was met with silence again, and he clenched his jaw slightly, his anxiety spiking even more. He did not like this. At all.

“Hello?!” He called, his legs involuntarily starting to tremble. “Why won’t you answer m--”

“What did it cost?”

Peter froze hearing the girl’s voice once more, the words evoking a strong fear inside him for a reason he couldn’t pinpoint. The words started to echo in a similar way as they had before, and his breathing started to pick up slightly.

“What do you mean? What did what cost?” The teen quickly inquired, his tone slightly panicked as the words continued to echo around him, lingering a bit longer than he remembered before. He fell silent as the question continued to repeat, over and over again, seemingly growing louder with every moment that passed. His breathing starting to pick up unwillingly as the echoes grew louder and louder, growing bigger and surrounding him, trapping him as the continued to ask that same question over and over and over again.

Peter brought his hands over his ears with a cry as the voices started to pile on one another, the sheer volume of them vibrating his entire body. Everything was so loud--it was too much. The orange of the light started to grow brighter, and he slammed his eyes shut as the girl’s voice kept asking--

What did it cost?

What did it cost?

What did it cost?

His thoughts started to mirror the words and they grew, inflating the space like a balloon, swelling bigger and bigger with air until it becomes so inflated that one poke will make it burst. He couldn’t think--the volume was so overwhelming that he couldn’t focus on anything else--there wasn’t anything else. It was so, so loud, and accusatory, and he felt like he did something wrong, wrong--

What did it cost?

What did it cost?

What did it cost?

Peter couldn’t think.

He couldn’t think, he couldn’t move, he couldn’t breathe. The words themselves no longer felt like just words, just sound; they felt like physical barriers, falling down over him and crushing him, pressing him against the ground and suffocating him like the warehouse when he fought the Vulture on Homecoming, and the pressure was just so much--it was hurting him. It hurt so much.

Breaths quick and short, tears running down his cheeks and dripping into the liquid below him, the teen curled into himself and started to hope, pleading that it would stop, just let it stop, let it all end, please, I just wanna go home, help me--and taking in as much breath as he could muster under the pressure, pressure, he let out a loud, bloodcurdling scream, filled with agony and the wish to just please, please just let it stop, and--

Crack!

Everything stopped.

For a long moment, Peter didn’t move. He stayed curled in his small ball on the ground with his hands clenched tightly into his ears, nails painfully digging into his skin (When did that happen?) as he let out soft, shuddering sobs, now audible in all of the silence. He waited for it to start again, not trusting the space around him to stay silent. And he continued to wait. And wait.

Nothing.

With great hesitance, the hero shakily uncurled from his ball, breathing ragged and uneven, and he slowly pulled his trembling hands away from his ears, tearing his fingers away from his skin like glue to paper, a part of him really not wanting to take that risk. He stared at the ground for a moment, ears still ringing, tense and ready to curl back up if the noise suddenly continued. After a few bated breaths he started to feel himself relax, adrenaline fading and ears meeting nothing but silence. Resting his hands back on the ground, he sat down, his gaze very slowly trailing upwards until his eyes met a sight that made his heart stop.

Slicing through the orange mist of the sky was a large, jagged crack, piercing through the skyline like shattered glass. Inside the crack was nothing but inky darkness, and shards of the sky were left floating in the middle of the space, suspended in time. Peter stared at the scene with a mixture of horror and awe as he slowly rose to his feet once more, barely aware of his movements as he spotted a small shard suspended at his height a few feet away from him. His legs started to take himself closer to the shard, as if something was physically pulling his body towards it, taking his mind away from here, away from this place. Stopping in front of it, he gazed at the shard for a few hypnotizing moments, watching as it glittered and sparkled in front of him before reaching out, his skin growing closer, ten inches, three inches, two centimeters, a millimeter, until--

Peter awoke with a loud, shuddering gasp as he shot up in his bed, panting heavily and drenched in a cold sweat. His heart thumped loudly in his chest and he stared in front of himself blankly, slowly gathering his bearings as his mind started to reorient itself for the second time in the past few minutes. (Hours, minutes? He honestly had no idea)

“Peter! Time to get ready!” A woman’s voice shouted from elsewhere in the building, and the teen jolted suddenly, half expecting it to echo around him and--

No, he quickly scolded himself, chest tightening, don’t think about that right now, Peter. You’ll freak yourself out.

“Peter?” The voice called again--May, he realized with a start, eyes growing wide--with a less urgency and more worry lacing the tone. “O-Okay!” Peter hurriedly responded, cringing as his voice cracked.

Ew.

Pants now having slowed to a regular pace, Peter took a moment to look around the new space he found himself in. Lifting himself up slightly as he crossed his legs, the teen quickly realized when he bumped his head on the wooden board above him (which really hurt, by the way) that he was sitting on the bottom bunk of his bunk bed. It didn’t take him long to realize that he was in his apartment back in Queens, and he let out a heavy breath of relief he didn’t realize he was holding. Glancing at the different Star Wars posters hung up in his room, and the various papers and gadgets on his desk, his lips tugged up in a smile. He almost laughed at the normality of the space--one moment he was on an alien planet, fighting alongside Iron-Man and intergalactical space protectors, and the next he was in his room, being beckoned downstairs by his aunt to head to school. It was almost too good to be true.

So, unsurprisingly, a small part of him didn’t believe that he was really there. I mean, how could he? For all he knew, it could all be another weird orange shatter-y place situation all over again. He softly bit his lip as the thought crossed his mind, his smile quickly fading from his face. Peter’s eyes slowly started to wander over to his desk as anxiety started to bubble up in his chest, and he paused as they met the sight of his old iPhone. Quickly reaching over to grab at it, he took the small phone in his palm, eyes shining with nostalgia as he gave a small smile. Oh iPhone 5S, how I miss your portable size, he thought fondly. (Though he wouldn’t trade his current Starkphone for the world)

Tapping in his passcode, he furrowed his eyebrows as he started adjusting his hands, trying to acclimate to the small size of the smartphone. He immediately tapped on the calendar icon, pausing as he noticed the familiar red circle highlighting the number 21, residing in the month of October, 2015. Relief started to bubble in his chest as he continued to stare at the date, chuckling softly to himself as he smiled widely.

“It worked,” he whispered softly, laughing bubbling in his chest again. He probably sounded crazy, but at the moment, he didn’t care. It worked. Taking a glance at the time, Peter set his phone down on his bed, knowing that he still needed to get ready for school before he could get away with doing anything further. The teen let out a soft breath before standing up, wincing slightly as his foot slammed into something on the ground. Swiftly moving his foot out of the way, Peter looked down, breath hitching slightly as he caught sight of the object.

It was one of his old web shooters.

He smiled fondly at the model, bending down slightly to pick it up and place it on his bed, remembering when he started working on the prototypes for the object. It seemed as if this was one of his first fully functional models, and he chuckled noticing the slightly chipped red and blue paint splattered on the metal. Spotting the other web shooter towards the front corner of his bed, he picked that up as well, setting it next to the other one. He almost thought they were cute in a strange way, he mused as he started to gather up a pair of clothes. It was weird seeing where he started compared to where he was now, and it was refreshing to think about. As much as he got down on himself for not being experienced enough, he did have some experience, and that was something he should be grateful for.

Though I could do without some of it, he thought with a small wince, thinking back to Thanos. Peter walked out of his room, heading down the hall and into the bathroom, now donned in an iconic science pun t-shirt (his personal favorite in fact; it was a light blue t-shirt with gray text on it that said, “You left me an opening for a science pun and I Lepton it.”), his sweatshirt, and a pair of dark gray sweatpants. He stepped into the bathroom and grabbed his toothbrush, quickly wetting it and putting some toothpaste on it before sticking it in his mouth and bringing his head up. Starting to brush his teeth, the teen peered in the mirror and froze, catching sight of himself.

He looked like a fucking toddler.

Where he used to revel in his defined cheeks and jawline sharpening with age were puffy, young cheeks, smooth with baby skin and free of any acne. He was significantly shorter than he remembered, and his hair was wild with untamed, unmanaged curls. (If he was going to be completely honest though, he didn’t really learn how to style his hair until he met Tony, so it was a fairly recent development) There were no signs of the stubble he now starting having to shave on his face either. His skin was smooth. Upon close inspection, he also noticed the severe lack of an Adam’s apple on his throat. Well, it wasn’t completely gone, it was just smaller. It still was pretty good though, considering he was thirtee--

He was fourteen.

Fuck, he was fourteen. And he was going to see the Avengers.

(And as much as he wanted to salvage his pride, the Adam’s apple wasn’t there)

Toothbrush dropping out of his mouth, he spit out some toothpaste into the sink, groaning, “The Avengers will never take me seriously like this…”

“Peter, come on! You’re going to be late!” May shouted from downstairs. Immediately picking his head up, Peter quickly turned on the faucet, rinsing off his toothbrush before washing out his mouth. “Coming!”

Walking back into his room, the hero took a swift glance at the web shooters on his bed before taking them and slipping them into his backpack, mumbling quietly, “You’ll have to do.” Picking his head back up, he looked around his room, setting his hands on his hips and he let out a breath.

“Now for a mask,” he thought aloud, continuing to scan over the room before spotting a small bit of red fabric hanging off of his chair. Taking it in his hands and holding it out in front of him, the fabric unfurled into a mask shape, with eye holes cut out on one section of it. “Bingo.” He smiled brightly, putting that in his backpack as well. He then slipped his arms through the straps of his backpack, hauling it onto his back, and grabbed his phone, shoving it and his earbuds temporarily into his pocket before walking downstairs.

“You’re getting later and later every morning Pete,” May said, not looking up from her glasses as he walked into the room, and she grabbed a small cloth from her glasses case to start cleaning one of the lenses. “I can’t keep forcing you up like this.”

“I know May, I’m sorry. I’ll start getting quicker, I promise,” the teen assured, feeling a small pain of guilt when he spotted a small, pocket sized picture of May and Ben next to May’s purse. It’s only been a few weeks, he thought grimly, and bit his lip. His aunt let out a tired sigh, before pausing to look up at him, “Don’t say it, do it.”

Nodding, he voiced softly, “Okay.” Peter gave her a warm smile, the corner of his lips tugging down slightly as he noticed the dark circles sinking in under her eyes. She looks like Mr. Stark did after Germany, he realized, his heart dropping slightly in his chest as he remembered his mentor hunched over the counter of his lab, empty mugs lined up along the edges and dark circles sagging under his eyes. He looked lost for a long time after the fight, and the sorrow in May’s eyes definitely reflected the same pain. (Wait, when did he start comparing her with Mr. Stark…?)

“Alright,” May responded quietly, glancing quickly at the time on the microwave behind them, which read 7:30. A half an hour before school started. She made her way over to him and softly ruffled his hair with, gazing at him with a (slightly forced) smile. “Have a great day at school, okay? And be safe.” Peter leaned into her touch slightly, reveling in the comfort of her words and he nodded, swallowing down a lump that had formed in his throat.

“I will.” May’s smile widened and she moved her hand down to cup his cheek, pressing a soft kiss to his forehead. “I love you,” she said softly, her voice slipping dangerously towards sorrow. Peter set his hand over hers and nodded, squeezing it softly in reassurance. “I love you too, May. You have a good day too, okay?”

His aunt chuckled softly, pulling her hand away to start walking back into the dining room. “Of course, little man. When have I ever let you down?” She joked with a wink.

“Never, May,” Peter responded with a soft sincerity, eyes twinkling with unshed emotion as he spoke. “Never.” The seriousness didn’t last long, though, as he broke into a smile, turning around and walking to the door. “I’ll see you after school!”

“See you later!” May smiled, watching as he opened the door and turned back to wave at her. “Bye!” Peter called, beaming at her. She waved back, chuckling softly.

“Bye!”

Closing the door behind him, Peter darted down the road, looking around at the familiar buildings around him with bright eyes. Everything looked just as he remembered it. The streets were lined with hot dog venders and people selling “I Heart NY” t-shirts, people were rushing to work and he saw some of his classmates heading to school, cars were honking, the streets were loud, and Delmar’s sandwich shop was seated right at the corner of the block. He even saw an open shop that was selling little Avengers figurines, and he laughed seeing a significantly shorter statue of Tony standing next to Captain America. Looking up at the wide skyscrapers and taking in the smell of pizza and venders, and hearing the sound of early morning buskers and watching the loud, roaring cars and busses in the streets, Peter couldn’t force down the wide smile that tugged at his lips.

God, he loved this city.

Spotting an alley in front of him, the teen peered into it, and, after identifying it was empty, he ducked into it, quickly slipping behind a dumpster and setting his backpack down. He unzipped the bag, taking out his web shooters and clasping them onto his wrists, smiling at the familiarity of the sensation. The hero then took out the makeshift mask out of his backpack (replacing it with his phone because, as he realized a while back, a phone case is certainly no match high speed swinging at high altitudes. He still tears up at the traumatic memory of his phone falling to this day), hesitating slightly when going to slip it on as his mind flitted back to his aunt, and the picture of Ben and the dark circles sagging under her eyes. He had forgotten how hard Ben’s death had hit her over time; he was too young to realize how much she held back from him at the time. He was only focused on Spider-Man--designing his suit, making his web formulas, going out and doing something--to even realize how much she was hurting. And he didn’t stop to think how going out and putting himself in danger would affect her. It was different in his time--May had made more friends after she got promoted, and she started talking with Pepper and Happy (Happy especially, which was mildly concerning?)--but in this time, everything was still fresh. And here he was, planning to team up with the Avengers to save the universe after traveling back in time and possibly dying.

Damn, now I almost feel guilty for skipping school, Peter thought to himself as he slipped on the mask and threw his backpack up into the air, webbing it to the wall of the alley. The spiderling then looked up at the wall, quickly scaling it and surfacing on top of the building. Stepping to the edge of the building, he looked along the street, smiling as he lept off of the edge, feeling as rush of adrenaline as he plummeted towards the ground. A few civilians gasped loudly as they spotted him falling, and he laughed softly before shooting a web at a nearby rooftop, shifting direction and propelling himself down the street.

Almost.

---

Walking into the living room of the floor, Natasha let out a sigh seeing no sign of the billionaire who owned the tower, yet again. She looked around at the part of the team that was assembled (which was everyone, except for Tony) for the mission they were assigned, which consisted of Sam Wilson, Steve Rodgers, Wanda Maximoff and herself.

“Where the hell is Tony?” She asked, walking over to the couches where they were seated. “We have to leave in ten minutes.”

Sam shrugged, fiddling with the settings on Redwing, who was seated on his lap. “I don’t know, the lab probably?” He guessed, moving to tap at various buttons on his goggles.

“He said he was working on a new project of some sort,” Steve said from a chair off to the side, not taking his eyes off his shield, which the soldier was currently wiping down. Wanda pursed her lips, crossing her arms and sighing. “He needs to hurry. Fury will have our heads if he doesn’t.”

A low hum emitted towards the back of the room as Vision phased into the area, walking over to the group. He was sporting a baby blue sweater and a pair of sweatpants that were slightly too big for him. Recently, he’d taken interest in human fashion, and with all the cleanup after Sokovia, they hadn’t had the time to go shopping yet. So, Tony allowed him to order a few things online, and although Natasha didn’t want to outright admit it, it was cute. The ex-AI had come to her a few times while trying to decide what to wear, and it was amusing to watch his uncertainty and he tried to choose what to try. (“B-But, do you really think blue compliments my color scheme? I don’t know if the vest is too bold either, it might be too much with the shirt, don’t you think?”)

“Do you want me to fetch him for you?” Vision asked with a soft smile, looking around at the band of heroes.

“Please?” Wanda asked sweetly, turning to look over the back of the couch at him. Vision’s expression brightened just a hair hearing her, and he nodded. “Of course, my lady,” he grinned, turning towards the direction of the lab before phasing back out of the room. Wanda giggled softly at his words, a light pink dusting her cheeks as she brought a hand to her mouth.

Sam made a gagging noise from his position on the couch, and Wanda’s expression immediately deadpanned as the pillow next to her started to glow faintly. With a flick of her wrist, she threw the pillow at the man before crossing her arms, sinking into the couch with a small puff of her cheeks. “Shut up.”

Natasha leaned against the island in the kitchen with a small sigh, resting her hands on the edges of the countertop to rest her weight against it. Steve took quick notice of the action, and his expression softened as he noticed her tense demeanor.

“Nat, relax. He’ll be out,” the solder smiled reassuringly. The spy nodded, meeting his eyes with an unfeeling stare. “I know.”

Steve’s expression dropped further as he saw this, and he nodded a little, turning back to his shield to continue cleaning it. She knew exactly what was running through the soldier’s mind, and she despised it, albeit knowing it was somewhat true. She wasn’t going to deny it--she had been a bit more tense after Bruce disappeared during Sokovia, and, to be honest, she hadn’t let her emotions slip this much in years, but it wasn’t nearly enough to completely render her immobile. Was she worried? Maybe. But she wasn’t dumb. Bruce wouldn’t want this to get in the way of her work, and Natasha wouldn’t have let it get in the way regardless. It was something she would walk off, just like she had with everything else. She wasn’t being defensive, she simply had it figured out.

Well, aside from Steve’s unending worry. He was like a dog--she loved the guy but he wouldn’t leave her alone. That man was the definition of a mother hen; he was constantly hovering over her as soon as she got quiet, and was bombaring her with questions about her health and how she felt. He was like this after New York when he saw how hurt everyone was too, and that included the civilians and SHIELD agents. A part of her wondered if he was also like that in the 40’s.

She pitied the commandos.

“So, I heard from a little birdie that the common folk were begging to be graced by my presence,” a voice rang from the side of the room, and it certainly didn’t take a genius to figure out who. “And I am here to deliver.”

“And with only six minutes to spare,” Sam said from the couch, leaning back to watch and Tony walked into the room. Natasha narrowed her eyes at the billionaire. “You cut it real close this time, Stark,” she spoke lowly, and Tony raised an eyebrow.

“Ooh, the classic last name card has been drawn. Am I in trouble?” He teased with a shit-eating grin, earning a chuckle from Sam that she quickly shot down.

“Tony,” Steve said sternly, and the hero’s expression deflated.

“Sorry.”

“So, what were you working on in there?” Sam asked, setting Redwing down beside him as he stood up.

“Undisclosable,” the billionaire swiftly shot down, and begrudgingly elaborated when they all gave him a look. “It’s a bit more personal than my other projects.” Sam nodded, noting the sincerity in the man’s voice. Tony seemed to relax at that, and he let out a breath. “So, we’re heading to where, Ukraine?”

“Yeah. Uman,” Steve responded. “There’s a HYDRA base up there.”

“Well, that’s a shocker,” Tony muttered sarcastically, and Steve broke into a small smile. Wanda laughed softly and rose to her feet, saying, “We’d better get going. We can talk about this on the way.”

“Yeah,” Sam agreed. “Wouldn’t want to keep the Nazi’s waiting.”

Tony snorted, smiling brightly. “Jesus Christ, and I thought I’ve heard everything.”

“Oh my god,” Wanda muttered with a smile, and Sam broke out into a wide grin. “Ain’t that for a motivational quote, am I right?”

Shaking his head, Steve stood up and grabbed his shield, reigning the light-hearted atmosphere in and looking around at them with the familiar militaritive authority he used during all of their missions. “Alright team,” he announced. “Suit up.”

“Roger that, Rogers,” Tony smirked, and just like that, the atmosphere broke. The super soldier rolled his eyes and Sam groaned loudly as the team started to move out of the room, complaining, “If this is what we’re dealing with the whole trip I’m quitting.”

“There are people that would kill to work with me, okay?” The billionaire retorted, though it was obvious he was playing around. “Don’t be selfish.”

“Selfish? Damn, I pity people who have such low standards.”

“Literally.”

Tony’s jaw dropped at Wanda’s jab, and he sputtered for a few moments before recovering, picking himself up and hurriedly rebuilding his egoistic exterior.

“Well, at least I’m not known for being a bird.”

“Weak.”

“No it’s not!”

“That one was pretty weak, Tony.”

“Yeah, Stark. I caught you off guard.”

“You didn’t. It’s a perfectly good quip. Birds and filthy, and they shit everywhere. It’s an insult.”

“Uh huh.”

“Whatever you say, buddy.”

The heroes fell into a series of quips and retorts as they made their way to the ramp the new Quinjet was residing on, and Steve paused, noticing that Natasha was still by the island, staring down at the ground with her arms crossed. He stopped to look back at her, and gave her a soft smile.

“Come on, Nat,” he encouraged, and the spy blinked, looking up and meeting his twinkling eyes. The playful banter of the team had faded into the background as Natasha continued to stare at him, before deciding to allow a small smile to slip onto her face.

“Right.”

---

Landing softly on a rooftop next to the famed tower, Peter looked up, scanning over the skyscraper closely. Although he wasn’t the most familiar with the building, he had been there more than the average person, and he had wandered over occasionally if he needed Tony to repair his suit or update it. He knew things about the upper floors of the tower, which were the ex-Avenger’s living and training rooms, and Tony’s labs. He also knew about Tony’s private entrance that he entered through when he used the suit, which, if he was correct, should be right over...

Bingo.

Shifting slightly to the right, Peter spotted a balcony extending off of the tower. He smiled brightly, jumping to the building on the side of him to get a better view. Okay, so the private entrance is on that balcony, he thought. And there’s an entry code, which I think was...uh…

Wait, what was it again?

His thought were interrupted by a loud whoosh overhead, and a large gust of wind hit him as he looked up to see the source of the noise, which was none other than the Avenger’s own Quinjet. The teen’s eyes widened as he watched it fly off at an incredible speed into the distance, a bright spark of excitement and awe erupting in his chest as a smile tugged at his lips.

“Awesome,” he breathed, staring at the jet for a few more moments before tearing his gaze away and shifting it back to the tower. The Avengers not being present made his job a lot easier, and he quietly thanked the universe before dropping down onto the ground and slowly making his way over to the side of the tower. As he slipped behind a tree, he noticed a familiar bodyguard standing at the front entrance of the tower, looking slightly younger and hair a bit more full than the last time he saw him. Peter laughed softly, smiling at the man.

“Nice to see you again, Happy,” he joked softly to himself before very carefully making his way to the side of the building, eyes constantly darting around to make sure no one had spotted him. Finally sure that he was safe to move, the spiderling set his hands on the side of the building and started to climb up the side. The climb was fairly easy, aside from a few close calls with some security cameras (“H-Holy fuck! When did you get there?!”), but after about five minutes or so, he climbed up onto the balcony. (I’m finally James Bond, May. Are you proud of me?)

“Okay,” he exhaled, plopping his feet down on the balcony. “Now all that’s left is to get in.” With a quick scan of the area, Peter easily spotted a panel plastered on the wall of the tower, and he moved over to it to take a closer look. There wasn’t any panels to type in a password, and taking into account Tony’s innovative nature (Read as: laziness), it was probably voice activated.

“Uh,” the teen looked at the panel dumbly, brain kicking into gear and he started trying to think of the password. He didn’t think his mentor had ever mentioned the password to this entrance before. I guess I just have to guess, he thought, smirking a little at the wordplay. Guess I have to guess. Guess to guess.

God, I’m such a loser.

“Um...Tony Stark?” he hesitantly asked, almost sure that it was incorrect.

“Access denied.”

“Thought so,” he muttered, before letting out a sigh. “Pepper Potts?”

“Access denied.” Peter’s mouth ran dry as his chest slowly started to fill with dread.

“Happy Hogan?”

“Access denied.”

“James Rhodes?”

“Access denied.”

Steadily paling with every guess, Peter stared at the panel, unwanted familiarity rising out of the situation.

This is going to suck.

---

This sucks, Peter thought to himself, lying face down on the hard concrete of the balcony, every ounce of excitement he once felt now replaced with a horrible hopelessness as he continued to guess his mentor’s stupid password.

“The best Avenger?”

“Access denied.”

“Nick Fury.”

“Access denied.”

“Genius dude?”

“Access denied.”

Yeah, that last one was a bit of a stretch, he winced, rolling onto his stomach as he looked up at the dreaded blue panel, eyes narrowing as he spoke, “Howard Stark.”

“Access denied.”

“Oh, come on!” He fumed, jumping to his feet as his frustration started to bubble over. “Can’t you just tell me?!” There was no response from FRIDAY, of course, and the teen let out a breath, forcing himself to reign in his anger.

This is no time to freak out, he told himself. Come on Peter, think like Tony Stark. What would you use as your password?

The hero fell silent as he started to think, racking his brain to try to remember any indication his mentor might have slipped to him as to what his password would be. He stayed silent for a few more moments and suddenly jerked, blinking as an unlikely memory of the two tinkering in his lab came to mind.

Didn’t he mention…? But he wouldn’t use that, no way, he quickly shot down, shaking his head. But, taking a second look at the panel, he paused, biting his lip in a show of indecisiveness. It wouldn’t hurt to try, would it?

Cringing a little, Peter turned to face the panel and cleared his throat, hesitantly speaking, “War Machine rocks?”

“Access denied.”

The teen let out a loud groan, bringing his hands to his temples as frustration bubbled back up in his chest. “Come on!” He complained loudly, glaring at the panel with more annoyance than he felt towards Flash, and that was saying something. Heaving a large breath, he started to guess at a rapid speed, softly rubbing his temples as he did so.

“War Machine sucks.”

“Access denied.”

“Iron Patriot sucks.”

“With a ‘cks’ or an ‘x’?”

Peter immediately froze, slowly looking up and staring at the panel with disbelief.

Holy shit. This was it.

The teen’s heart beat rapidly in his chest and he continued to stare blankly at the panel, brain trying desperately to reboot. After a few moments, he blinked rapidly, his thoughts finally starting to process and make their way to his waking consciousness.

“Um,” he started, audibly gulping as his heart thrummed rapidly. “x?”

“Access granted.”

A tidal wave of relief rushed over the teen as the words were spoken, and a stupid grin formed on his face and he watched the door open, the sheer amount of joy the action caused bringing tears to his eyes. I would like to thank the academy, my aunt, and most importantly Jesus Christ for giving me this opportunity, he thought as he slowly walked inside the tower, the familiar white walls around his still seeming surreal. Giddy laughter bubbled up in his chest as the doors closed behind him, and he blinked a little as his eyes adjusted to the bright lights of the tower.

Peter began to look over his surroundings and he paused as his eyes met a window, his smile quickly fading as he saw how close the sun was to setting. It wasn’t too dark outside, but school was most likely out. He could probably put it off as marching band running late or something, but May was still going to kill him for not giving her a call. He couldn’t exactly do that now, though, as his phone was still in his backpack in Queens, and he definitely wasn’t willing to leave the tower so soon after getting in.

Another sharp realization hit him as he remembered that the Avengers weren’t currently there. They had left in the Quinjet earlier that day, on what he could only assume was a mission, and the teen deflated as he realized he probably wouldn’t be able to talk to them for a while. I guess I could head back to Queens, he thought with a sigh, his lips forming into a pout as he crossed his arms. Though I might be able to contact Nick Fury. He’s probably an important dude to talk to, right? Thinking back to the pictures he’d seen of the known organizer of the Avengers, he gulped slightly picturing the man’s dead stare. But the real question is, do I have the balls to talk to him?

Before he could answer his own question (To which the answer was a large hell no), a loud crunch echoed out from another room in the tower, and the hero’s ears perked up as he tensed, eyes darting around. Is there someone else in here?

Quickly moving to a wall, Peter pressed his back to it, tensing as another loud crunch rang through the hall. The teen bit his lip as he slowly started to move towards the noise, silent cursing himself for his own curiosity as his body and mind screamed at him to run away, leave, go! But what kind of hero would he be if he ran away?

As he continued to move, the crunches started to grow nearer and louder, and his breathing unwillingly picked up as he started to grow more nervous. Pausing at a corner, another crunch filled the air, clearly centering from the room right on the other side. Peter’s breath hitched as he rested his head against the wall, mouthing reassurances to himself as the nervousness grew tenfold. (Come on Peter, you can do this, you’re Spider-Man, you’re a badass, just go for it!)

Taking in a deep breath, Peter shot out from behind the corner, body in full view as he took in the source of the crunching, the sight making him instantly regret every decision he had made in his life thus far.

In front of him was none other than Hawkeye, donned in full costume with his bow and quiver attached tightly to his back, holding a bag of salt and vinegar kettle chips. The man froze seeing Peter, about to take another bite, and the two stared at one another, basked in a very uncomfortable and awkward silence as they both tried to process the situation at hand.

The teen continued to stare as his mind raced with unwanted thoughts (Holy mother of all things holy that is Hawkeye--oh god what do I do what do I do), and he swallowed harshly, mouth drying as he tried to fill the silence with the first excuse that had come to mind.

“Uh.” His voice wavered as he continued to dumbly stare at the Avenger in front of him. “I didn’t break in on purpose?”

Crunch.

Chapter Text

“In time, you will know what it is like to lose.”

---

Slowly coming to, Peter let out a soft groan, feeling a dull throb on the back of his head. He scrunched his face up in displeasure from the pain and slowly opened his eyes, thoughts still muffled from sleep. The teen slowly opened his eyes, squinted slightly as his eyes adjusted to the apparent brightness of the room he was in. Where am I? He thought slowly, picking his head up as his vision started to focus. What happ--

“It was an accident, I swear--”

“How the fuck do you accidentally break into somewhere?”

“I don’t know! On drugs maybe?”

“Are you on drugs?”

“No! Of course I’m not on drugs!”

“You look like you’re on drugs. What are you even wearing, a sock?”

“Sure, says the guy who looks like he belongs in My Chemical Romance.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Wow, you’re old--they’re an emo rock band angsty teens listen to.”

“What the hell, I’m not emo--wait. Did you just call me old?”

“...no? I-I mean, not intentionally--wait, wait, wait--we can talk about this, we can talk--”

“Call me old again buddy, I dare you.”

“Old! Wait, fuck--where did you get a vase?!”

“Sayonara, drug boy.”

“Oh, come on--!”

Oh.

Maybe jumping out in the open wasn’t the best idea, he winced, thinking back to the crash of the vase against the back of his skull. No wonder his head hurt so much.

Shifting slightly in the chair he was sitting on, Peter went to rub the base of his head when he felt his wrists brush against cool metal, and his eyes widened as he tried to move his hands. The spiderling looked down to see metal cuffs bound to the chair, and he bit his lip, pushing up against the metal to test its strength. With a little effort, the metal bent, and he smiled before relaxing his wrists again. Even though he could easily break out, he wasn’t dumb enough to reveal his strength so quickly. He was lucky that they used regular cuffs on him, and, to be honest, he didn’t exactly want to leave either. He went to the tower to talk to the Avengers, after all.

With a quick glance around the room, Peter concluded he was in a holding cell of some sort. The walls were made of a smooth gray stone, with nothing etched onto them or cut into them, nor any windows. He also spotted a camera in the corner of the ceiling as well as signs of a speaker system built into the ceiling behind it. It was probably safe to assume that the Avengers were watching him, and he would be lying if that fact didn’t make him a little nervous. (And it was without any warning, so he really wasn’t emotionally prepared for this whatsoever)

Hearing the soft click of a door behind him, Peter tensed and looked behind him only to see the Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff, and the Scarlet Witch, Wanda Maximoff, step inside the room. The hero gulped at the two made their way in front of him, quickly averting his gaze as Natasha met his eyes. He could tell her eyes were still on him as they stopped, and he tried hard to control his breathing. Although he was on their side and wasn’t planning on lying to them, he still was scared as hell (and fanboying just a little bit). He was going to be interrogated by the Black Widow. The amount of horror stories he’d heard from Tony about HYDRA agents getting stuck with Natasha and not coming back out were enough to instill some sort of primal fear of the woman in him.

Eyes narrowing and slowly scanning over his small form, Natasha crossed her arms. “Middle school?” She suddenly spoke, causing his head to snap up in her direction. “Freshman?”

“E-Eighth grade,” Peter barely choked out, his chest constricting under the weight of her stare. Natasha nodded at his words, seemingly coming to a conclusion as she leaned back, eyes no longer boring into him.

“Alright. So you’re fourteen then,” she responded, and he didn’t think he needed to confirm for her to know she was right. Staring him in the eyes with a cold, barren stare, the spy continued, “This is how this is going to work. I’m going to ask you a series of questions, you’re going to respond, and Wanda,” she gestured towards the witch, “is going to confirm your words. If you lie or refuse to answer, she’ll know anyways, so I suggest to say it yourself.” Peter quickly nodded, body tensing hearing the masked threat.

“O-Okay. Yeah. I-I get that.” He internally cringed at how novice he sounded. Oh god, I’m making myself look like an idiot, he thought. I want them to take me seriously, not treat me like a little kid. I’m an Avenger too, right? I can take this. He nodded slightly to himself, before blinking as another thought occurred to him. Though, wait, they are though, right? If they have me locked up here, they must think I’m some sort of threat, right? I’m scary. As soon as the thought crossed his mind, Natasha chuckled softly to herself, shaking her head. He felt a strong hit to his pride as he saw this, and any hope he had quickly deflated like a balloon at a child’s birthday party. The teen’s shoulders hunched a little in defeat. Goddamnit.

“Kid, I’m going to be honest with you,” the spy said, meeting his eyes once more. “We don’t usually do this with kids, and you seem like a good one, but breaking into the tower isn’t something we take lightly. It’s a high offense.” Peter nodded quickly, swallowing harshly as she continued. “We know how you did it. You have some pretty impressive perseverance.”

Oh god, did they watch the whole thing? Peter’s eyes widened ever so slightly as he cringed internally, thinking back to his small bursts of frustration throughout. That’s so embarrassing.

With an amused expression, Natasha watched as his emotions played out on his face as he thought, though Peter did happen to catch on to this as he glanced up. The spy immediately started to take action as he noticed her observations, and she smiled warmly. (Which surprised him, to be honest. He didn’t know she even did that)

“What’s your name?” She asked him softly, crouching down slightly to meet him at eye level. The teen blinked in surprise, taken aback, and he responded, “P-Peter Parker, m-miss Black Widow. M-Ma’am.”

“Just Natasha is fine. It’s nice to meet you, Peter,” Natasha responded with a smile, and holy shit he was on a first name basis with the Black Widow--

“What do you like to do?” The spiderling’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion at the question, and he tilted his head slightly to the side. “For fun,” she elaborated. “Any hobbies?”

Eyes widening slightly in realization, his ears reddened in embarrassment. “O-Oh. Um, I like science and experimenting with stuff.” Remembering a small incident from around the current time, he swiftly added with excitement, “I-I actually just recently made a computer for extra credit, but my teacher wouldn’t take it because we apparently weren’t doing that kinda engineering for a while which sucked because--” Peter paused in mid-sentence, realizing with a horrifying start that he almost started rambling in front of the Black Widow. And possibly the Avengers through camera. Why did I do that, why did I say that oh god that was a horrible idea, he thought as his eyes widened in terror. Through his immense regret, he did notice a small smile on Natasha’s face, and his heart dropped seeing the amused glint in Wanda’s eyes. The spiderling immediately started to flush a bright red, and he shut his mouth with a soft click of his teeth. “S-Sorry.”

“It’s alright,” she smiled reassuringly. “So, you like science? What kinds?”

“Physics and chemistry,” he answered a little easier. Talking about science always made him comfortable in any sort of social situation. The spy was probably doing that intentionally, he noted, but he was still going to play along to keep some composure. “But biology’s cool too, obviously. I’m just not as interested in it, though genetics is really awesome.”

“I see,” Natasha said. “So you experiment with chemicals too?”

Peter nodded. “Yeah.”

Natasha then reached behind her, slipping something out of her pocket and holding it out in front of her. Seeing the familiar chipped red and blue paint plastered over it, Peter’s breath hitched as he recognized his signature device. “So, I guess it’s safe to assume you made this device yourself, hm?”

“U-Uh…” You’re not lying Peter, remember that. You’re on their side. He nodded, not trusting himself to say more.

“Why did you make it?” She asked, taking note of his visible discomfort.

To be a weapon, he thought grimly, but he couldn’t just say that, could he? That would sound suspicious. “J-Just, uh, for fun,” he said shakily, trying desperately to make it sound as natural as possible. He obviously didn’t succeed as Natasha turned to Wanda, and he tensed realizing she was going to peer into his mind.

“Light taps only,” Natasha reminded the young woman, and she nodded, turning to Peter. Wanda’s eyes glowed softly as she held out a hand in his direction. He surprisingly didn’t feel anything weird as she read his mind, though he didn’t know what he expected to happen to begin with. After a short beat, she lowered her hand and turned to her fellow Avenger.

“They’re intended to be weapons,” Wanda said, and Natasha raised an eyebrow as she looked back at the teen. “Weapons? What does a kid like you need a weapon for?”

Peter blinked. What was he supposed to say to that? Oh, no reason, I’m just a superhero vigilante that you haven’t heard of and that hasn’t come into existence because I went back in time. No biggie. He scoffed internally. Uh, hell no. He wasn’t going to drop all that information at once. The story itself is crazy, and if he said everything then and there, there was no way he was going to gain their trust. So, instead, he opted to stay silent, since lying wouldn’t get him anywhere. He would just have to trust the “light taps” Natasha spoke of didn’t go too far.

The super spy turned to Wanda once more in response to his silence, and the witch nodded, eyes glowing once more as she read his mind. Eyes widening, the glow quickly dimmed, and she stared at him, lips slightly parted in a mixture of shock and confusion.

“What is it, Wanda?” Natasha asked, gaze hardening slightly as the witch struggled to form her words.

“He’s...a vigilante of sorts,” Wanda started slowly, not taking her gaze off of him, “but in his memories he looks older than he is now.”

“What?” The hero’s eyes widened, and Wanda shook her head slightly before turning back to her teammate.

“I-I don’t know,” she managed. The room fell into a small silence as the revelation settled, the three of them mulling through their thoughts all for different reasons. Wanda spoke up after a moment, voice softer than it was before. “It almost seems like he went...backwards.” Natasha took in a sharp breath at her words before looking back at Peter, who tensed as she took a step towards him.

“Kid,” she began, briefly pausing as she tried to figure out how to word her statement before continuing, “what Wanda is telling me implies that you managed to come here with technology and knowledge we have yet to obtain.” Locking his eyes in a tense stare, she asked him softly, “Did you travel back in time?”

The atmosphere seemed to thicken as soon as her words were spoken, and Peter tensed, curling into himself uncomfortably under the weight of it all. Taking in a slow, shaky breath, the teen managed a nod. The heroes in front of him tensed visibly.

“What year,” Natasha demanded, and Peter flinched hearing the bite in her tone.

“2018,” he answered softly. “Late 2018.”

Natasha fell silent hearing him, her gaze dropping to the ground, and he watched her tensely, feeling uncannily similar to how he did when Tony spoke to him after the ferry incident. The deafening silence that settled between them as his mentor decided whether or not to take his suit oddly matched the atmosphere that surrounded the three now, and he shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He felt very vulnerable, like he was about to be yelled at. Wanda seemed to pick up on this, and her eyes gave a brief flicker of sympathy as she turned her attention to Natasha.

“Light tap?” The witch asked softly. Natasha didn’t move her gaze. “Just check if he’s lying.”

Wanda did as she was asked, and when the glow in her eyes faded, she didn’t appear to be any less tense, maybe even more so, as she did before, which was enough of an indicator of the result to the spy. Still, she said softly, “He’s telling the truth.”

Body still tense, Natasha nodded, looking back at Peter. She walked closer to him, and Peter unconsciously keened back in his chair as she stopped, looming in front of him. Noticing his posture, she crouched down as she did before to meet him at eye level before speaking again.

“So in here,” she spoke softly, and tapped the side of his temple for emphasis, “you’re sixteen.” Unable to muster up the courage to speak, the teen simply nodded in response, watching her closely.

“Did you pull this stunt with the intention of catching our attention, then?” She asked, and he nodded again, a bit less tense as he realized she wasn’t particularly upset, or, at the very least, wasn’t showing it. “Why?”

Peter paused then, biting his lip as he tried to figure out a safe way to word his answer. After mulling over it for a brief moment, he responded softly, “That’s a loaded question.” He laughed softly, before taking in a breath, “I-I’ll tell you everything. I want to tell you everything, and that’s why I’m here, but I think everyone should be here to hear it.” Hearing no immediate response, he quickly added with a nervous chuckle, “A-And I don’t really want to be cuffed to a chair. No offense.”

“None taken,” Natasha responded, looking up at the ceiling. “And those terms are acceptable. Steve?” A soft crackling emanated from the ceiling as a tenor voice came through, ringing through the open space of the cell.

“Copied,” the familiar voice of Captain America answered. “We’re heading down now.” WIth a small crackle, the soldier’s voice faded, and the room fell into a silence once more. Peter watched as the super spy turned her back to him and looked towards the floor, as she mulled over the information she was just given. From what he’d gathered, the Avengers weren’t expecting this interrogation to be anything special or ground-breaking. They’d assumed that he was just a regular kid doing something stupid for attention, and he understood the weight of the information he’d just shed. Time travel was something that wasn’t thought possible until the day he came back in time, so their surprise was definitely understandable.

I just hope this works out, he thought, letting out a soft breath. There was a lot of risk that came with what he was trying to do, and a lot of uncertainty. What would happen if they weren’t able to regather the stones? What would happen if Thanos was still stronger? He didn’t want to have to see everyone die--or to die again. And it was all on him this time. He had the information, and he was the only one that knew what was going to happen.

“What if somebody had died today? Different story, right? Because that’s on you.” Tony’s words rang through his head as clear as glass, and he swallowed harshly. He was right. This time, it was on him.

And he’d be damned if he let Thanos win again.

Breaking through the silence, Wanda let out a soft gasp, causing both his and Natasha’s heads to snap up in her direction. He noticed the remnants of red flakes in her eyes and he bit his lip, starting to tense and she stared at him. The witch brought a hand to her mouth as a series of emotions passed across her face, and Natasha quickly made her way over to her.

“Wanda?” The hero asked softly, and Wanda flinched slightly hearing her voice. The witch blinked, forcing herself out of her stupor as she turned to Natasha, hand still covering her mouth.

“I-I’m sorry, there was a small block the last time I tapped and I went past it and...I-I’m sorry.” The words quickly tumbled out of Wanda’s mouth and Peter visibly tensed, eyes widening in dread as he muttered, “What did you see?”

The witch turned to him, eyes reflecting sadness, and Peter bit his lip, options quickly narrowing down. “It was only brief but I saw your body…” Wanda trailed off, and the hero’s breath caught in his throat as flashes of the dust, crumbling and panic, panic, help flowed into the front of his mind. His eyes started to pool with fear as he quickly forced the memories back, taking a deep breath to rebuild some of his composure.

“Don’t look in my mind again,” the teen voiced softly, avoiding Wanda’s gaze as he took another calming breath. “Please.” The witch only had the time to nod before the door opened once more, the sound of footsteps quickly overtaking the conversation and redirecting their attention.

A weird mixture of fear and excitement pooled into Peter’s stomach as he watched none other than the Avengers (minus Vision, he noted) file into the room, each of their eyes directed towards him with a similar studious stare to Natasha’s as they circled to his front. A chill went down his spine as he met each of their eyes, feeling especially vulnerable in those moments. Each of them had a trained stare that bore into him, searching for any semblance of something as they studied at him. He’d never felt more unqualified than he did in that moment. They were all trained warriors, heroes that had been through thick and thin, and fought countless battles while holding the weight of the world, and he was just Peter, a kid. He felt like he’d just caught the attention of a beast ten times larger than him, by tempting a beast ten times larger than that, and he was just a few inches tall.

As they continued to move, his eyes were almost immediately directed towards Tony, who walked into the room last, and his breath hitched audibly as he met his gaze. There was no trace of the familiar parental warmth that was present in his mentor’s eyes whenever they met, and no glint of familiarity that he desperately searched for. Tony--this Tony didn’t know who he was, and was treating him like a stranger. Peter couldn’t help the tears that filled his eyes as his heart ached from the distance between them, the feeling of the man’s arms around him nothing more than a ghost against his skin.

“Underoos!”

He flinched, the memory catching him off guard as he continued to stare in his mentor’s--the man’s eyes, and he quickly turned away so the rest wouldn’t notice his turmoil. He knew Tony wasn’t going to recognize him when he went back, but he wasn’t prepared for how bad it was going to hurt. Tony had become such a big part of his life in the past few years, and he filled holes he didn’t even realize were empty. His mentor had gone far beyond being just a mentor at that point, and everyone around them knew it (and teased them for it relentlessly), but both of them were too stubborn to say otherwise. Now, though, he wished more than anything that he’d said something while he still could, because anything was better than this, than looking in his eyes and seeing nothing.

With a small shuddering breath, Peter picked his eyes up again, wincing slightly when he saw the concerned glances of Natasha and Steve. They had quite clearly picked up on his emotions, and he was pretty sure the rest had as well, they just weren’t showing it. None of them spoke a word about it, though, and for that he was grateful, but it didn’t help him shake the pool of loss filling his chest.

The Tony he knew was gone. And there was nothing he could do.

Peter shook his head slightly as the thought crossed his mind, and he quickly replaced the loss in his eyes with determination. I can’t think about this now, he thought, starting to tug at the cuffs around his wrists. Mr. Stark sent me here with a purpose, and I’m going to fulfill it.

Noticing him tug at the metal, Steve started to walk over to him, moving to crouch down to the level of the chair. “Here, let me help you with that,” the soldier offered, starting to reach for the cuffs.

“No, I got it,” Peter said quickly, shaking his head before adding, “Thanks for the offer though.”

Smiling at the soldier, Peter gave the cuffs one last tug before snapping the chains connected to the chair. He exhaled a breath of relief as he brought his hands in front of him, snapping and making quick work of the metal left around his wrists before placing the remains on the floor. The spiderling shifted slightly in his chair before rubbing his wrists, pausing when he noticed the surprised gazes of the Avengers.

“Is me being enhanced really such a surprise?” The teen asked, still tense and cheeks flushing from the attention. “Two of you are already, and you work with a god.”

“But you’re so small,” Clint responded, and Peter’s eyes immediately snapped towards him, narrowed in a playful glare. The spiderling puffed his cheeks, the vase’s sight of impact on his head throbbing suspiciously.

“I’m not small,” he countered defensively, the banter coming naturally as he crossed his arms. The archer, scoffed, lips showing the hint of a smirk as he responded, “Are too.”

“Am not.”

“Are too.”

“Am not. You’re just old,” he shot, trying to bite back a smile as he watched the man tense, giving him a slightly offended look.

“And you’re on some fine drugs,” the man quipped, “but am I calling it out? No.”

“You just did!” Peter exclaimed, before quickly adding, “And I’m not.”

“Are too.”

“Am not--

“Children, please,” Sam interrupted, holding out his hands as he looked at the two, a playful glint in his eyes. “You’re getting off task.”

“Sorry mom,” Clint teased, and Peter laughed. “Yeah, sorry.”

Glancing up at the man, the teen smiled, feeling a weight lifted off of his shoulders from the playful banter. His eyes widened slightly as he realized he didn’t necessarily feel too nervous or stressed anymore. He didn’t do that on purpose, did he? He knew he could be reading too much into the situation, but knowing the Avengers, everything had a purpose, big or small. Clint looked over to his side a little and met Peter’s eyes, giving him a soft smile. The spiderling’s expression brightened at this, and he quietly mouthed a “Thank you,” to which the Avenger nodded.

“So, what are we doing exactly?” Tony broke in, and Peter’s heart dropped into his stomach at the sound of his voice.

“Waiting for the kid to explain what’s going on,” Natasha responded, now leaning against a wall off to the side with her arms crossed. The teen blinked, flushing lightly and saying, “O-Oh! Right. Sorry.”

Hearing no response to his words, Peter shifted in his seat uncomfortably for a moment, readying himself to speak. “So, um,” he started, taking a deep breath, “the reason why I went back in time was because we--the Avengers--got into another big, world-ending fight. It was with this big purple alien guy named Thanos.” Some of the Avengers nodded as he spoke, hanging on to every bit of information he gave them. Peter paused, throat becoming dry as he slowly started to remember the dust, panic, panic, gone, gone, help on Titan as he watched the guardians and his own limbs disappear in front of him.

“We lost,” the teen stated shakily, and the heroes tensed around him. “Really badly.”

“Just how badly?” Steve asked softly after a few moments of silence, as the Avengers absorbed the information.

“Half the universe died,” he spoke, voice barely more than a whisper. A jolt of shock shot through the room as everyone in the room shifted, expressions morphing into various forms of horror. “I was sent back out of necessity, because there’s no other way to fix it other than to do it again.” Silence met his words once more, and he shifted in the chair, hand gripping his opposite bicep in an attempt to curl away from the sound, or lack thereof.

“I-I don’t know if I trust this,” Sam spoke after a few moments, shifting the attention towards him. “I mean, he’s a kid. Kids come up with a lot in their head.” The rest considered this, and Tony nodded.

“You’re not wrong,” he said, and everyone turned to him with varying degrees of shock, and Peter could get why. The man would rather be caught dead than to agree with an opinion other than his. Especially if it’s a buddy of Captain America’s, the teen thought grimly. Sam’s jaw was dropped as he continued to stare at the billionaire, eyes conveying a holy shit Tony Stark agreed with me. (Mood, he thought, holding back a snort of laughter at his own stupidity)

“What?” Tony asked, eyebrows furrowed slightly as he looked around. “I’m just saying, kids have a wild imagination.”

"How can we trust you're telling the truth?" Steve spoke up, his eyes slightly narrowed as he looked the boy up and down. Peter tensed under his gaze, swallowing harshly.

“You just have to trust me," he said weakly, unable to come up with any other reason because they had none. He was honestly a bit surprised they trusted him this much. Clint looked around at them with desperate eyes, shaking his head. "Come on guys, he's just a kid.”

“A kid that could be trying to get attention,” Sam countered.

“Or he could be sent by HYDRA,” Steve added, crossing his arms. Peter's eyes widened at his words, and he started to feel himself growing more defensive. “I wouldn’t put it past them to use a kid to get to us. Look at what they did to Bucky.” The rest of the group considered this, some nodding as he spoke.

"I'm not!” Peter exclaimed, eyes pleading. “I swear, I..." The teen trailed off, biting his lip as he decided what to say.

Choosing his words carefully, he said softly, "I know what you saw in the wormhole, Mr. Stark." The Avengers almost immediately snapped to attention as soon as the words left his mouth, and he saw his mentor grow visibly tense in front of him.

Peter met Tony's gaze.

"And all we have left on the board is our king."

The room fell into a silence as Peter continued to look his mentor in the eye. He knew Tony could tell he was telling the truth by the haunted, distant look in the man’s eyes, and because he knew he was wearing the same one. The atmosphere in the room thickened as each of the Avengers realized that Tony, the same stubborn man who questioned the existence of magic even though he had seen it in front of his eyes and the same man who questioned the truth in his words just a moment earlier, was now wholeheartedly in belief of a child. Clint let out a heavy sigh, bringing a hand up to massage his temples.

“I’m going to need a drink.”

---

“You need to rest--”

One more breath.

“No.”

“It’s been hours, Stark, your body needs rest.”

One more hour.

“I said no! Damnit, Nebula, give me the wrench!”

“I may not have known your child, but he would’ve wanted you to take care of yourself. Think of Peter--”

One more bolt.

You don’t know me! You didn’t know him, and you don’t know me, so stop pretending like you do!”

One more nail.

“...Stark--”

One more day.

“Just give me the wrench.”

For Peter.

Chapter Text

“Kid.”

Turning around quickly, Peter searched across the barren alien terrain for the source of the voice, blinking as a piece of red fabric appeared in front of him. Jumping back slightly, he let out a little laugh, poking the fabric. “Don’t scare me like that, Cloakie.” The cloak jerked slightly at the poke, shaking a little in a motion that mimicked laughter before floating back, wrapping around Strange’s form.

“Cloakie?” Strange asked with a raised eyebrow, lips curled up in an amused smile. Peter flushed a little, scratching at the back of his head. “I didn’t know what else to call it.”

The cloak gave a little flutter at this, and Strange chuckled softly (which Peter found to be slightly out of character, considering how the man was acting earlier). “I think Cloakie works.” Peter smiled at this, giggling softly.

“Peter,” the sorcerer said softly, tone suddenly becoming serious. The teen’s expression slowly dropped in response as he watched the man move closer to him. “I’m going to tell you something very important, alright? Remember it.” Peter immediately nodded sharply, and Strange’s lip tugged up slightly.

“If you ever need my assistance, my address is 177a Bleecker Street, in Greenwich VIllage,” Strange said, and Peter’s eyes widened.

“O-Okay,” the teen stammered, nodding quickly. “177a Bleecker Street. Got it.” Strange only looked at him for a moment, causing Peter to shift uncomfortably, before shaking his head slightly and letting a soft smile slip.

“Stark was right about you.” Eyes widening slightly, Peter opened his mouth to ask what the man meant, but, in the blink of an eye, Strange was gone.

“You really are the best of us.”

---

“Tell me his name again,” Tony said, resting his elbows on his knees as he looked up at Peter, back arched away from the couch. The teen was slowly pacing around the living room of the tower, the remaining Avengers splayed out across the room at random.

“Thanos,” Peter said, stopping in front of the billionaire. “He’s a horrible person...he invades planets and wipes out half of their population, and he sent Loki to do the same to us. The attack on New York? That was him.” His ment--the hero tensed in front of him, letting out a shaky breath as he fell silent, expression tightening. He only gave Peter a curt nod in response.

“So his plan is to wipe out half of the universe,” Clint spoke, pushing himself off his spot on the wall to move closer to the teen as he nodded. “What’s his motive?”

“Limited resources, I guess,” the spiderling responded with a small shrug. “His planet was destroyed because there were too many people for the resources they had.”

Sam’s eyebrows furrowed at this, and after a brief moment he spoke, “If this dude’s so powerful, why doesn’t he just make more resources?” Peter took in a sharp breath, pointing at him with an energetic nod. “Exactly!”

“Regardless,” Natasha interjected, cutting the short exchange off, “wiping out half the universe isn’t something someone does in their sleep. How did he do it?”

“The infinity stones.” Some of the Avengers’ eyes lit up in recognition at this, and Peter could tell by their body language that a few were a bit put off that he knew that information.

“You mean the ones Thor told us about?” Steve said slowly, and Peter gave an uneasy shrug. “I guess? They were a result of the Big Bang. Six of them were made and each of them control a specific aspect of our universe. They’re extremely powerful. If anyone held one, they would actually melt, so Thanos made a gauntlet to harness their power.”

“Thor’s vision,” Natasha muttered under her breath with slightly wide eyes, speaking many of their thoughts.

“Do you know where they are?” Tony inquired softly, his tone tight and on edge. Peter had to force himself to swallow back any unnecessary emotion before responding.

“Not all of them, but yeah,” he said, pausing briefly to organize his thoughts before listing off the stones. “The mind stone is the one in Vision’s forehead, the time stone is with a sorcerer named Doctor Strange in the city, the space stone, or the tesseract, is on Asgard, and I know Thanos killed someone named Gamora to get the soul stone, so she’s involved somehow. I have no idea where the reality and power stone are, though.”

“Okay,” Steve said softly, eyebrows furrowing in thought as he absorbed the information.

“Wait, back up, sorcerer?” Tony asked incredulously, eyes widening. Clint nodded slightly in response to this, his own eyes widening as well. “Who the hell is Doctor Strange?”

“He’s a really strong sorcerer, yeah. He can like, teleport people places and duplicate himself and travel through dimensions--he’s super cool,” Peter responded, gushing slightly while he spoke, the rest of the team looking at him with varying expressions of disbelief (aside from Wanda, who was just nodding along as he spoke). “Oh!” The teen added with a blink, “He also has a floating sentient cloak he uses to fly.”

A beat of silence passed across the room, and Tony shook his head, bringing a hand up to rub his temple as he leaned back into the chair. He let out a sigh, breaking the silence, and muttered softly to himself, “Jesus, I don’t get paid enough for this.” Wanda’s head snapped towards Tony at this, and she narrowed her eyes in a sort of glare, crossing her arms. The billionaire met her eyes for a brief moment before sinking away, huffing slightly.

“And this man has the time stone?” Steve asked, seemingly recovered from the intake of information. His expression was tightened slightly, and Peter could see the creases starting to form between his eyebrows. Natasha was wearing a similar expression to the soldier’s, lips pursed in a thin line in what Peter assumed was thought.

“Yeah,” the teen answered with a nod. “He guards it.”

“Do you think he’d be willing to help us?” Steve questioned.

“Of course!” Peter smiled, though it faded fairly quickly as his mind flashed back to the sight of Strange’s empty eyes after he looked into their future on Titan. Not now, brain. Later. “He could probably track the other stones to be honest.” He paused for a brief moment before adding as an afterthought, “Or at least the guardians.”

“Guardians?” Clint asked with a slight chuckle. “How many more enhanced people do we not know about?”

“I think this is it, actually,” the hero laughed softly, albeit tense. “The Guardians of the Galaxy helped with the fight against Thanos, and Gamora’s on their team. I also think they might know about the power stone.”

“Are they like, the Avengers of the galaxy or something?” Sam joked with a small chuckle, lips tugging into a smile as Clint snorted.

“Yes, actually,” Peter quipped, smirking slightly when their playful expressions dropped. “They’re pretty strong. The leader of the group is actually named Peter too, which is really cool. He’s super nice.”

“Don’t tell me they’re aliens or something, kid,” Tony muttered, and Peter’s heart gave a soft flutter hearing the familiar nickname come out of his mouth.

“I mean...not all of them? Peter’s from Missouri and one of them is apparently a talking raccoon--”

A talking raccoon?!

“So,” Natasha promptly interjected before the billionaire could lose his mind (“A talking raccoon…” he mouthed, eyes wide with disbelief. It took all of Peter’s self to control to keep his expression straight), “as of right now, there’s two infinity stones on Earth. Doctor Strange might be able to locate a tie to the soul stone and power stone, and the tesseract is on Asgard with Thor, so it should be in safe hands.” Some of the Avengers nodded at her words, and Peter tensed slightly at the mention of Thor to the dismay of the others.

“What is it?” Wanda asked Peter softly, gathering the full attention of the rest. The teen shifted uncomfortably on his feet, taking in a small breath as a weight seemed to press itself onto his chest.

“Um...I don’t know the full story, but the guardians told me that Asgard was destroyed, and the refugee ship was demolished by Thanos. They were able to save Thor but not anyone else,” Peter responded, voice soft.

“Thanos destroyed Asgard?!” Steve exclaimed in alarm, eyes widening and Clint clenched his fists to his side. The rest of the team seemed rightfully disturbed by this information, each of them showing it (though some of them opted not to) in their own way.

“That son of a bitch,” the archer cursed, “I swear to god I’ll kill him--”

“He didn’t, he didn’t!” Peter hurriedly answered, holding his hands out slightly. “Asgard is going to be destroyed with or without him. The guardians said that Thor told them that it was their only choice, whatever that means.” Steve seemed to relax, albeit slightly, at this, though Clint seemed to still be tense.

“Still…” Clint protested softly.

“Then there’s no need to lose our heads. All we need to worry about is getting the refugee ship to safety,” Wanda said softly, meeting Clint’s worry-laced eyes. The archer gave a small nod at this, relaxing when he met her eyes.

“What’s our timeline for that?” Natasha asked, turning to Peter, whose eyebrow furrowed slightly as he tried to recall the information he heard.

“Um...not for a while,” the spiderling answered. “The ship actually doesn’t get destroyed until late 2018.”

“So we have time,” Steve concluded, and the teen nodded, cuing the soldier to continue. “Alright. Is there any other information we need to hear?”

Peter tensed slightly at this, his mind almost immediately whirling to the notorious Civil War that introduced the teen to the group of heroes in the first place. He knew the information was vital to the group’s success against Thanos (because separation clearly didn’t work), but he didn’t want to worry them about such materialistic things so soon. The stones were more of a priority at the moment, and he felt like he could tackle that issue later. Probably.

Hopefully.

“...yes,” he eventually answered, “but it’s not Thanos related, so it can wait. This is more of a priority, trust me.” Steve raised an eyebrow at the answer, which he assumed was because he took so long to respond. He cursed himself for that internally--he needed to get better at that.

“Are you sure?” The soldier asked, and Peter made sure to nod more swiftly, shifting his stance to something more confident. “Yeah, I’m sure.”

“Alright,” Steve said with a nod, and he stood up, not pursuing the topic any more. The teen let out a soft relieved breath, and he figured Natasha would probably notice, but at the moment he didn’t really care. “All we have the ability to do right now is locate Doctor Strange and gain his assistance, then,” he continued.

“Do we even know where this wizard dude is?” Sam asked, and Peter gave a blink before responding in what seemed to be reflex. “177a Bleecker Street, in Greenwich Village,” he recited, thinking back to the sorcerer’s words from what seemed like years before. All eyes fell on the teen and he looked around for a beat, before shrugging awkwardly.

“What? He told me his address.” Clint gave the teen a look and Wanda spoke up from her position on a chair, effectively shifting the topic of conversation. “Who’s going? We shouldn’t bring too many people, he’d probably think it’s an attack or something.”

“Not me,” Tony said quickly, standing up and stalking off towards the direction of his lab. Turning around in his regular flamboyant, Tony Stark-esque style, he spoke to them as he walked backwards. “I’d rather not deal with all this alleged ‘magic,’ thank you very much.”

“I think I might agree with the old man and hit the hay,” Clint said, laughing at Tony’s indignant squawk at the comment. (“Old?! You look five years older than me, at least.”) Sam nodded in agreement, muttering a soft “Yeah” before leaning back in his chair.

“Peter? What about you?” Steve asked, and the teen perked up slightly in response to his name.

“Um…” His eyes trailed off towards Tony’s retreating figure, and he briefly met the man’s eyes, causing the billionaire to pause. Peter almost immediately tore his eyes away, and nodded with resigned emotion. “I’ll go.”

“Alright,” Natasha said with a small smile. “I guess there’s nothing keeping us then.”

“Right,” Steve agreed, and he turned to Sam questioningly, to which the man shook his head.

“I think I’ll tap outta this one, Cap,” he said with a soft smile. Steve nodded, his lips tugging up in response before he shifted his eyes to Wanda expectantly. The witch paused for a moment, pondering her options, and she eventually nodded. The captain nodded briefly in return, gaze making its way back to the teen in front of him. “Anything you need before leaving?”

“I need a lot of things, Mr. Rogers, but they aren’t in this building,” Peter quipped, and Clint let out a loud, boisterous laugh along with Sam and Tony, although theirs were a bit quieter. Steve broke out into a wide smile, shaking his head and chuckling, and the teen couldn’t help but break into a grin of his own.

“With that god-awful sense of humor, there’s no doubt you’re one of us,” Natasha said dryly, although she didn’t bother to mask the amusement sparkling in her eyes.

“Is that a good or a bad thing?” Peter asked, lips tugging up into a smile.

“I haven’t decided yet,” she responded, smirking widely

“We should get going, no?” Wanda asked, stepping towards the group. Her expression seemed to radiate a sort of resistance that Peter didn’t quite understand, but Steve’s eyes shone with understanding as he nodded.

“Right,” he said, donning his familiar all-American-PSA voice as he looked over them. “Let’s head out, team.”

And with that, Steve opened the door and exited the room, and the four of them started to file out the door behind him.

“Wanda.”

The witch paused in her step, halfway through the door as the other three heroes started down the hall. Turning back behind her, she noticed that Tony had stopped in the middle of the kitchen, and was looking at her with an unreadable expression as he folded his hands in front of him. The billionaire bit his lip, pondering his words as he started to play with his thumbs.

After a moment, he spoke softly, “I...need your help with something. If you don’t mind.”

“I…” Wanda trailed off, shutting the door behind her as she slowly started to make her way over to him. “What is it?”

“Can you maybe show me uh, those memories you were talking about earlier?” Tony asked, his words slightly quicker than usual. At the witch’s confused expression, he explained, “About the vigilante thing.”

Wanda studied the billionaire’s face for a few moments, watching as a series of emotions passed over his face. His eyes seemed to relay a mixture of anxiety and curiosity, and for a brief moment she could’ve sworn she saw what she could only assume was an affection of sorts. Or possibly a form of determination--it was difficult to tell the difference between the two when it came to Tony. Briefly glancing down towards Clint, who was watching the scene curiously from the couch, she met the archer’s soft eyes. He gave her a small nod of approval, and she turned back to Tony, mustering a small smile.

“Sure.”

---

“You got the GPS?” Steve asked, glancing over at Natasha and he started to make his way over to a section of the garage. The spy was currently typing something into a holographic interface that came out of a watch of some sort (he’d have to ask about the tech later because that was awesome), and she nodded before pressing a button.

“Location synced,” FRIDAY’s soft metallic voice rang from the watch, and Natasha gave a small smile before turning to Steve. “Yup.”

The soldier gave her a small smile before pausing in his steps, sparing a glance at the closed door behind them. “Guess Wanda isn’t coming.”

“I had a feeling that would be the case,” Natasha said softly. Steve glanced back at her at that, meeting her eyes in a sort of silent conversation Peter couldn’t really decipher (It’s like they all can read minds. What did I even miss?) before the assassin broke it, shifting her eyes to him. “So, who’re you riding with?”

Peter blinked. “Uh…”

“I’d personally suggest you ride with Natasha,” the soldier said, lips tugging up suspiciously. “These 21st century cars are still pretty new to me.”

“...okay?” Peter said uncertainly, raising an eyebrow at him. The soldier was radiating a weird childish sort of excitement, the kind of excitement that he was a bit scared to endorse. However, he couldn’t exactly bring himself to say no to Captain Freaking America, so he had to oblige. “I guess I’ll go with her then?”

“Kay,” Natasha said, breaking into a wide smile. “Meet you there, Cap.”

“Yeah, meet you there,” Steve smiled, turning the opposite way and taking a ring of keys out of his coat pocket. “Happy driving, kid,” he called before making his way out of the area.

Peter stared at the place the super soldier once stood, barely processing the events of the past few minutes as he blinked helplessly in confusion. The remaining hero only gave him a soft smile as she walked over to a closed-off section of the garage, typing in a short code. The large metal door began to open slowly as he finally began to look over, still stuck in his stupor as the doors fully opened with a soft click.

“So,” Natasha began, breaking through the silence. “You ever ridden a motorcycle before?”

“What?”

---

aaAAAAAAAAAAH--

“Don’t worry, we’re almost there. I’ll make it a quick drive,” Natasha said with a smile, suddenly speeding up and swerving around another car (“I’m too young to die Natasha please!” Peter screeched in terror) as she brought a hand up to her ear, pressing down on her com to speak. “Steve, we’re approaching Bleecker Street. ETA’s about ten minutes.”

Stopping at a spotlight, Natasha glanced to the left, noticing a strip of empty space tucked against the side of the road. She smirked, lowering her voice as she said into the com, “Make that five.”

“This is simultaneously the scariest and coolest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life,” Peter said shakily, panting softly as he looked around at the stopped cars.

“It’s about to get a little scarier. Hold on tight,” Natasha warned, before revving up the motorcycle.

The teen paled, jolting up in alarm. “Wait why? Natasha? What are you--” He was interrupted by the sudden jerk of the motorcycle starting as the light turned green, and the two suddenly swerved sharply to the left as Natasha started to drive perpendicular to the flow of traffic, and Peter felt his heart stop as they narrowly avoided a car. “Holy shit!

As the motorcycle fully straightened out, the spy continued to lead them through the rows of moving cars, Peter babbling endlessly in panic as they continued to make their way to the left.

“Oh my god I’m going to die, this is it, my short young life is going to end, I’m going to die in jail forever oh god--”

“Calm down. We’re just cutting some traffic,” Natasha said as they finally made their way through the moving cars, now running against the stopped cars at the left side of the intersection.

Just cutting some traffic?! We almost got hit by a car like, five times, and now we’re running against traffic!” Peter exclaimed, pulling himself closer to Natasha. The assassin chuckled, and he could feel the rumble in her chest as the light turned green behind them. “Yup.”

“You’re crazy,” Peter breathed shakily as they sped against the flow of vehicles, staying close to the side of the road as to avoid any cars. Natasha smiled, slowing down as she moved closer to the curb, moving to pull up in front of another motorcycle with a familiar frame sat atop it.

“Nah. Just an Avenger.”

Gradually coming to a stop, the two stopped just in front of the motorcycle, and the rider of it stepped off of it, taking his helmet off as he smiled at them.

“Your timing’s a bit slower than usual,” Steve said with a smile, and Natasha returned it.

“I just went easy on the kid,” she said, hopping off of the motorcycle and slipping her helmet off, hanging it off of one of the handles. Turning to the e building, Natasha scanned over the building in front of her, eyes almost immediately falling onto the rusty gold plate with the digits “177a” displayed on it.

“This it?” The spy asked, turning back to Steve, who nodded.

“Looks like it,” he responded. At this moment Peter began trying to climb off of the motorcycle, slipping off his helmet and stumbling a bit when his feet touched the ground. Steve noticed this and chuckled softly, causing Peter to blush. “You alright?”

“Yeah, aside from the near death experience,” he muttered, hanging his helmet next to Natasha’s.

“You’ll get used to it,” Steve said with a chuckle, and once the teen rejoined the group the soldier led the group to the door. Raising a fist, he went to knock on the door, going to rest his fist on the wooden frame when--

Fwoom!

Almost as soon as his hand touched the door the world around them instantly changed to something completely different, as if they were teleported or something (which they probably were, considering they were visiting the home of a sorcerer). Peter stumbled slightly from the sudden shift, as did the others, and his eyes grew wide as they looked around. The room was fairly empty, the only object filling the room being large bookshelves pushed against the wall and a small coffee table and armchair pushed into the corner. A dark red carpet with a golden trim covered the dark, wooden floor, and a small crystal ball was set on a stool next to a bookshelf. There was an opening across the room that he presumed led to a different space, lined with different patterns carved into the wood. The space itself seemed to be very old-time magic themed, like something straight out of Harry Potter. For someone who hates being called a wizard, he sure lives up to the stereotypes, he thought with a small smile.

“I would’ve thought with the deal with Dormammu that the rest of you zealots would’ve disappeared from this earth, but I guess I was wrong,” a familiar voice rang from a different room, and, as if on cue, small, orange glowing portals appeared by each of their limbs, and an orange tendril flew out, wrapping around their wrists and ankles and binding them in the air. Steve almost immediately started to tug at the restraints, but to no avail. “It was a bold move of yours to come charging in here like this. I would’ve preferred it you’d waited until after the renovations.”

“He sounds like Tony,” Natasha said dryly, and Peter chuckled uneasily, nodding slightly. “Yeah…”

“We are not here to harm you in any way, Strange,” Steve announced into the room, eyes darting around to try to spot the sorcerer. “My name is--”

A red blob suddenly flew through the opening of the door, slamming into Steve’s face, effectively cutting him off. Fabric engulfed the soldier’s face, and he spat, some of it getting into his mouth. Peter’s eyes widened at this, and he gasped audibly, face lighting up in a mixture of relief and happiness.

“Cloakie!” He exclaimed, and the cloak jerked towards his voice, ruffling slightly in happiness at the sight of him. Task forgotten, the fabric flew over to him, circling around him and wiggling in excitement. Peter laughed, smiling brightly. “It’s nice to see you too!”

As Peter began a somewhat one-sided conversation with the floating satin, Steve and Natasha could only watch, mouths parted in utter disbelief. They watched as the boy continued to converse with the article of clothing, and it began to almost vibrate in excitement as they talked.

“Hey!” Strange’s voice shook them out of their stupor, and Steve’s head snapped to the door as the sounds of rapid footsteps approached the doorway. “Get back here, you disobedient--” Noticing the cloak’s position by Peter, the sorcerer paused, staring in dumb shock at the continued conversation between the two. (“Man, you thought that too? Yeah, I thought Mr. Stark was being a bit harsh about that. Wait, what? What do you mean Mr. Strange told him that?”)

Briefly scanning over Steve and Natasha, Strange took a step forwards towards the teen, and the Eye of Agamotto around his neck started to suspiciously glow a pale green as he did so. The hero looked down, eyebrows furrowing. Peter paused at this, and he looked over at Strange, watching as the necklace began to glow brighter and brighter with every step he took towards him. The sorcerer narrowed his eyes into a pointed stare as he stopped a few paces away from the teen, scanning him over.

“You’re an anomaly.”

Peter gave him a tense nod. “I am.”

With the raise of the sorcerer’s hand, the cuffs around Natasha’s and Steve’s limbs broke off, causing them to drop to the ground with soft thumps. Strange then moved closed to Peter, dropping his hand as he studied him with interest. “What is your purpose here?”

“Um...well, that’s a broad question,” Peter answered with a nervous chuckle. “Do you mean, like, in the past general, or specifically here? Or do you mean just in general because I have absolutely no clue--”

“In being here,” Strange cut him off sharply, a slight edge in his tone. “Why are you here?”

“To get your help,” the teen answered simply, and as Strange opened his mouth to speak, Steve stepped forward, drawing both of their attention.

“If I may,” the soldier started, “we’re not here to harm you. We’re the Aveng--”

“The Avengers, I know. It’s still not reassuring.” Flicking his hand up, the cuffs around Peters limbs snapped in two, and he fell to the ground with a soft yelp, rubbing his wrists. Strange then turned away from them, the cloak flying onto his back as they suddenly appeared in yet another room, causing both Peter and Steve to stumble from the change. Natasha, unsurprisingly, didn’t bat an eye.

“Wong, get the locator ready,” Strange said to a different sorcerer that was standing towards the corner of this new room. “Identify any infinity stones inhabiting the galaxy within our radar.” The other sorcerer, Wong, nodded, stepping out of the room without sparing them a glance.

Steve’s eyes widened at the statement. “How…”

“Lucky guess,” Strange responded, raising a pedestal out from the ground with a large, old looking book sitting atop it. Opening it up, he started to flip through chunks of the pages, briefly scanning them as he went. “The infinity stones are the only factors that connect you Avengers with myself. The time stone is the only reason anyone seems remotely interested in me, really.” Pausing, the sorcerer raised a hand, plucking a hair from Peter’s head (“Ow, what the hell?!”) as he continued to flip through the pages with his other hand. “Paired with the fact that you’ve brought a time anomaly to me, one can only assume the stones are, or will be, in danger.”

With that, Wong stepped back into the room, holding a blackened silver ring. He walked over to Strange, who gave him a nod in thanks as he took it from his hand and slipped it on his finger. Wong then headed over to the rows of bookshelves littered across the room (When did those get there?), searching through the shelves as Strange turned back to face them. “So, who or what should I be concerned about?”

“Thanos,” Natasha responded. “He’s an alien who aims to collect all of the stones to destroy half the universe.”

Strange looked down slightly at this, pausing in his search through the book and pursing his lips as the words sunk in. He nodded after a brief moment, letting out a breath. “That’s concerning.” The cloak shifted around him, peeking out from behind him to give him a ‘look’ that said “You think?” Peter laughed a little at this, but his expression quickly neutralized when Strange gave him a pointed look. “Sorry,” he muttered softly.

Starting to flip through the pages once more, Strange continued, “It’s also a disappointingly simple task if you have a vessel to hold all of the stones and grab them in the right order, which would place the power stone at the top of his list, if he’s smart.” The sorcerer then looked back at them. “And if you needed to seek me out he must be.”

With that, a soft silence passed over the group, only to be broken after a few brief moments by a quiet shuffling that came from Steve, who was looking over the different object resting on a table nearby. Strange sighed, shaking his head slightly as the soldier moved to run his fingers along a book that was resting towards the edge.

“I wouldn’t touch that unless you want your hand bitten off.” Steve immediately jerked his hand away from the book in response, moving to cradle it by his chest, eyes wide and disturbed.

“Why haven’t we seen you before?” Natasha asked softly, looking at the sorcerer with interest.

“Because I operate somewhere different than you,” Strange answered, turning back to his book and skimming over a few pages. “You protect the world from physical threats, and I protect the world from the things you can’t really see. The stuff that threatens reality.”

“Like?”

“Like if someone attempted to get rid of sunlight, or revived an ancient demon, or went back in time to kill someone to they wouldn’t affect the future, stuff like that,” Strange answered. Pausing for a moment, the sorcerer looked back at them. “Speaking of, did you use the stone?”

Peter blinked and stared at the man for a moment, realizing that the question was directed towards him and responding hurriedly with a flush, “No, I used a machine built by Mr. Stark. By then you’d already given the time stone to Thanos.”

Eyes widening, the sorcerer froze in front of them, his eyes reflecting an unshakable fear for only a moment before he covered it up with a sort of emptiness, and Peter quickly recognized the expression as the one the sorcerer bore on Titan, causing the teen to tense. Strange swallowed harshly, looking down at the Eye and shakily clutching a gloved hand over it, letting out a soft breath.

“...tell Stark I thank him,” the sorcerer voiced softly, the sincerity in his tone taking the heroes slightly off guard, minus Peter, who nodded at him with a soft smile.

“I’ll be sure to,” the teen answered warmly.

“We also need you to locate a group called the Guardians of the Galaxy, if it’s in your power,” Natasha said softly, changing the topic of the conversation. Strange visibly relaxed at this, sending a grateful look towards the spy. She gave him a slight smile before continuing, “A member knows the location of the soul stone.”

Letting out a sigh, Strange nodded, moving back to the book and running a hand down a page. “I’ll try,” he said softly, the ring on his finger starting to glow as he read over the book’s words. “Things have been quite odd lately, to be honest with you. Just last week your friend Loki decided to stop by and leave his father, Odin, at a nursing home.” Peter let out a loud snort at this, quickly covering his mouth as he bit back laughter. Steve, who had now moved up closer to the group, had also cracked a smile, though he was actively trying to force it back.

“When does this event take place, by the way?” The sorcerer asked.

“Late 2018,” Peter responded, and Strange let out a heavy sigh of relief. “Good, so we have time.”

“Stephen, the food’s here,” Wong’s voice rang out from another room, and Strange’s eyes suddenly glistened with excitement.

“Thank god,” he said, tearing his eyes away from the book. “Just set it on the table, I’ll be done soon,” he yelled back, before looking back at the three. “Now, I don’t mean to be overly rude, but could you maybe leave? I just got back from bargaining with an ancient demon about not destroying the world and I’m very fatigued.”

“Of course,” Steve quickly responded, eyes widening. “We wouldn’t want to overstay our welcome or anything.”

“Don’t worry, you aren’t,” Strange said. “But that doesn’t mean I like you. Though I did trust the kid in the future, for some reason.” Meeting the teen’s eyes, Peter sent Strange a soft smile, eyes shining as he remembered the Strange from his time. Although they know each other for very long, the sorcerer was in his company for the last days of his time there, and they bonded much over battle and their common enemy. Getting to know the man was an enjoyable experience, and he grew to trust and admire him very quickly. Eyes reflecting nothing but warmth, Peter noticed the man’s lips start to tug up just as they had only a day ago, though it faded as quickly as it appeared.

“Go,” the man said softly, tearing his eyes away from the teen. “I’ll find you when I’m done.”

“Alright,” Steve said with a smile, nodding. However, the soldier didn’t make any move to leave, and the four heroes stood there for a few awkward moments as Steve froze, looking around the room. “Um,” he flushed, scratching the back of his head. “Which way is the door?”

Strange wordlessly pointed to the exit of the room.

Nodding once more, Steve ducked his head in embarrassment, and he turned to Natasha, who was smirking widely. “Shut up,” he mumbled, walking to the exit. The two followed right behind him, Peter turning back briefly to wave and yell, “Bye Cloakie!” before exiting. The cloak waved a corner in return, frilling happily behind Strange.

Hearing the echoes of footsteps outside the room, Strange let out a heavy breath, slipping off the ring and his gloves, setting it down on top of the book. He then teleported into the dining room with a blink, taking in the sight of Wong in a seat, eating a Big Mac, surrounded by the rest of the food they ordered. Walking to the seat next to him, he paused, seeing a colorful box set in front of it.

“They accidently gave you a happy meal,” Wong said, looking over at him with a suspiciously tense expression. Strange looked at his friend in the eyes as he slowly picked up the children’s meal, Wong’s lips quivering as he opened it up. Hesitantly peeking inside, the sorcerer took out the different parts of the meal--the chicken nuggets, french fries, and apple slices--until he made it to the small toy in a clear plastic cover. He brought it out in front of him, and he quickly recognized it as a small Captain America bobblehead with a shield next to it that could be attached to the arm. The man froze, staring at the toy with a scarily blank expression, and something that suspiciously sounded like a snort came from next to him as he continued to stare.

After a long moment, Strange suddenly set both the toy and the box on the table, the movement causing the cloak to fly off of his back in surprise, and he walked out of the room, expression remaining stoic as he cursed, “I hate this fucking timeline.”

Chapter Text

Stepping off of the motorcycle, Peter slipped off his helmet, letting out a long, shaky breath as he hung it on the handle. This time he only stumbled slightly, though his legs still felt weak, like jelly. Looking up, Peter saw that the sky had gotten significantly darker in the time that they were gone, and he could see the incoming darkness of night approaching in the distance.

“You coming, kid?” Steve asked, and Peter’s head turned to meet the soldier’s eyes, and he nodded, smiling a little. The hero gave him a slight nod back, and he turned to walk towards the tower with Natasha. Peter jogged up to catch up with the two, eventually meeting their pace and fell into thought as they walked to the door. Man, it’s getting pretty late, he mused. I wonder if it’s time for dinner yet...I really hope May’s cooking something at least a little bit edible because I’m starving. Realizing what he just thought with a startling crash, Peter froze, causing both of the heroes to look back at him.

May.

“Peter?” Natasha asked as Peter’s face steadily started to grow pale (Oh god I’m in so much trouble, she’s going to kill me--). “Are you alright?”

“Y-Yeah, uh, I…” Trailing off slightly, Peter bit his lip, dread slamming onto him in large, suffocating waves. “I need to make a call. You guys can go ahead.”

A knowing look passed between the two Avengers as he spoke, and Steve nodded, giving him a soft smile. “Alright. We’ll be inside if you need us.”

Peter nodded, and he watched the two move closer to the door, taking in a sharp breath when he reached into his empty pockets. His eyes widened as he continued to search, suddenly realizing where he left his phone.

“Wait!” He exclaimed, caused the two heroes to stop. “Can I have my web shooters?”

Natasha furrowed her eyebrows and looked back at him. “Your...web shooters?” She asked, the words sounding foreign on her tongue.

“Yeah,” the teen nodded. “Y’know...thwip thwip?” He made the gesture of shooting his webs as he made the noises, almost immediately cringing afterwards. (Why did I do that?)

“You mean these?” Natasha asked with an amused smile, taking the web shooters out. Peter’s eyes immediately lit up. “Yeah, those!”

The spy held out the shooters, chuckling softly as he rushed over to her, grabbing the devices and slipping them around his wrists. Glancing around quickly, Peter spotted a large building towards his left and he smiled brightly, holding out a hand towards it as he looked back and said, “Thank you!” And with that, Peter shot a web at the building’s roof and propelled himself upwards, shooting another web at a building towards the right and falling into his usual rhythm, blissfully unaware of the startled expressions of Steve and Natasha he left behind.

It didn’t take him long to reach the alley he left his backpack in, which surprised him a bit. Usually it took him about ten minutes to arrive home from the tower, but he felt oddly lighter than usual as he moved. He figured it was because he was a bit shorter in his younger body, and smaller objects tend to move faster. A very small part of him thought it was because of his weight, but that was a bit unreasonable as he literally had a six pack. But is the six pack just something that’s going to just exist regardless of anything? His eyebrows furrowed as the thought crossed his mind. Can I even get fat…? No, that’s stupid, I can. Maybe.

Approaching the alley he left his backpack in, Peter shook the thoughts away and dropped onto the ground, taking quick glances around before making his way over to his surprisingly untouched backpack. He hurriedly opened it, taking his phone out, and he winced seeing the many notifications from May and Ned, their missed calls and messages littering the screen. 47 missed calls from Aunt May, he read with a wince. I’m going to die.

Hand shaking slightly, he slid the notification bar over and called May, bringing the phone to his ear. The phone only rang once or twice before his aunt picked up, and for a few moments all he could hear from the other end was a soft ruffling. Eventually, the noise stopped and the call went silent for a pregnant pause.

Peter?” May’s soft, weary voice broke through the silence, and Peter felt a large stab of guilt hearing her voice. “Is that you?

Swallowing back a large lump in this throat, Peter nodded, “I’m here, May.”

Oh, Peter,” she cried, her voice shaky as she let out a soft sniffle. Oh god, she’s crying, I made her cry--Jesus Christ, where are you?! I got a call from the school that you weren’t there, and I called Ned’s mom and she said you weren’t there either and no one’s seen you all day, and I already called the police and--” Her voice broke as she let out a soft sob. Peter’s eyes started to fill unwillingly, and his heart sank into his stomach with guilt.

“I’m so so--” He tried, but she cut him off sharply.

Sorry isn’t going to cut it this time, Peter!” She exclaimed. “You scared the living hell out of me! You can’t pull something like this--I was so scared that you were taken or…or something!” The dead was left unsaid.

Peter fell silent, the full weight of May’s stress causing him to sit down, and he wiped his eyes. He’d forgotten just how torn Ben’s death had left the two, and just how much of a toll it had taken on his aunt. He knew he had to go see the Avengers, and he knew it was important, it had just been a while since May hadn’t really known. After homecoming, May and Tony had adapted a sort of back and forth schedule (after she had chewed him out for bringing Peter to fight in Germany, of course) and both of them helped him balance his schoolwork with Spider-Man. If something big came up, she understood, and it had become so regular that he could just look at her and she’d know that he needed to leave. But this May, the one he was on the phone with, was different. She hadn’t adapted to Peter’s antics yet--she hadn’t even accepted the fact that Ben was dead yet. Even years after his death, Peter still got anxiety about losing Tony like he lost Ben, and when Tony went off on missions he could barely sleep because he didn’t know if he was safe. He knew exactly what that fear was like.

Guilt thickened in his stomach as the thoughts crossed through his mind. He felt awful for doing this to her. He had reasons, but he should’ve been more sensitive to the time, or let her know he was going to be out or something. Speaking of, he needed to come up with some sort of cover as to why he was out. Sure, he could tell her the truth, but even if it was a responsible decision, he couldn’t do it while she was so emotionally worked up. If his May’s response (which consisted of a lot of yelling and crying) was any example, he should wait until she was a bit more calm.

Where were you?” May asked, snapping him out of his thoughts. Her voice had a slight hysterical edge to it, and it shook a bit as she spoke. “Why did you skip? Oh god, Peter, don’t tell me you’ve gotten involved with a gang or something--

“I’m not! I…” The hero swallowed harshly, mind whirling as he spit out the first excuse he could think of. “I went to Uncle Ben’s grave.” He winced as soon as the words left his mouth. His aunt fell silent on the other end, and he swallowed harshly, feeling significantly worse than he did before.

“I’m sorry I scared you,” Peter added softly, hoping for some sort of release from the hurt on the other line.

Just come home,” May said shakily with a soft sniffle. “We’ll talk about it when you get here. Do you want me to pick you up?

“No, I’ll walk, it’s fine,” Peter said.

Alright. Just be home by seven, please,” his aunt said desperately, and he quickly nodded. "Okay.”

I love you, Peter,” May said softly, her voice so vulnerable that it made his heart ache.

“I love you too, May.”

I’ll see you later.

“Yeah, see you,” Peter whispered, and ended the call, bringing the phone down from his face with a soft sigh. He then stuffed in back in his backpack and zipped it up, swinging it around his shoulders in one swift movement before crawling up the side of the building. Crouching on the edge, the teen sighed, looking down at the streets below him. I still need to let the Avengers know where I’m going so they don’t freak out, he thought, his heart still fluttering childishly at the thought of working with his heroes. Maybe I’ll get Mr. Stark or Happy to give me a ride home. Yeah, that should be simple enough. Nodding a little for the extra confirmation, Peter stood up, shooting a web at the building across from him and swinging across the street.

Just gotta get back, first.

---

“Where’s the kid?” Sam’s voice cut through the room, and Steve paused in the doorway, sighing heavily as Natasha walked past him.

“Hi Steve! How’re you doing Steve? Nice to see you, Steve!” the soldier mumbled to himself, and Sam snorted, causing a smile to rise to the super soldier’s face. The winged hero looked back over the couch with a wide grin. “You’re an ass.”

“Peter’s making a call,” Natasha said, leaning against the island counter bearing a smile of her own. “Probably family.”

Clint nodded at this, standing up from his spot on the couch and walking over to the spy, setting his coffee on the island. Natasha raised an eyebrow at the choice of drink, and the archer only shrugged in response. “How did it go?”

“Surprisingly well,” Steve said, walking into the kitchen and opening a cabinet full of glasses. He grabbed one, setting it down on the counter as he closed the wooden doors. “He agreed to help us, and he’s tracking the stones and the guardians now.”

“Was there actually a sentient cloak?” Sam said with a snort, taking a sip of tea from his mug. Steve nodded, causing the hero to pause mid-sip, blinking rapidly as he set the mug down.

“Oh.”

Steve chuckled softly, and the room fell into a soft silence. Clint sat down on one of the stools by the island, shifting uncomfortably as he looked around at his teammates.

“What do you guys think of Peter?” The archer asked softly, taking another sip of coffee. Steve paused at this, furrowing his eyebrows as he looked over at Clint. Sam seemed to do the same, taken aback by the sudden question.

“What do you mean?” Natasha asked, voicing Steve’s confusion. Clint only shrugged. “I don’t know, just...what do you think of him?”

“He’s young,” Steve said slowly, choosing his words carefully as he took his glass and moved over to the fridge. “Too young.” Pressing the glass into the water dispenser in the door of the appliance, the group fell into another bit of silence, the only sound filling the room being the sound of water pouring into the glass. “Even with the time travel, he’s only sixteen,” Steve continued after a moment, filling the glass completely. Clint nodded, and the soldier assumed that was what the archer was trying to get at.

Sam stood up from the couch, shaking his head as he walked closer to the small group. He leaned against the wall, crossing his arms and holding his mug just underneath his lips as he looked them over. “His eyes say otherwise,” he said. “He has the same look as the soldiers I counsel. He’s not a normal kid.”

“That’s not right,” Clint said softly, and Sam shrugged.

“Well, that’s life.”

“But he still shouldn’t be so deep in this, he can’t even vote for god’s sake,” the archer protested, turning to look at Sam. “We should…” Clint trailed off at this, and Natasha raised an eyebrow.

“We should what?” She pressed, and the question was answered with silence as Clint slowly met her eyes. “I’m pretty sure you know he’s already involved in a much deeper way than we are.”

“Then we should distance him or something. Send him with Laura and the kids, let him go to school and be with his friends. He gave us the information we needed, his work’s done here,” Clint beseeched, crossing his arms.

“I can already tell you that’s a bad idea,” Natasha said. “He won’t like it one bit.”

“Tough luck!” Clint exclaimed. “He’s a kid, Nat. He shouldn’t be doing this--you know what it did to us. We can stop it now before it’s too late.” He kept eye contact with the spy knowingly as he spoke, and a flash of uncertainty crossed her eyes as he finished. She continued to look at him, lips sealing themselves shut as she battled with the rebuttal, her emotions starting to conflict with her argument. Steve furrowed his eyebrows at this, and he pointed his gaze on Clint.

“No,” the soldier spoke up, gaining the attention of the two agents. “He needs to finish this.”

“Finish what?” Clint said tartly, narrowing his eyes.

“This fight.”

“So now we’re sending children off to war? Is that what this is?” The archer challenged, rising to his feet.

“He’s already at war,” Steve snapped, raising his voice, which caused Clint to tense. The rest of the room seemed to fall silent as a result and Steve let out a breath, softening his voice and continuing, “His entire world was destroyed, Clint. You know what it’ll do to him if we take him out of it now.”

“I know,” Clint responded softly, falling back down onto the stool. “I just…” He rubbed his temples, letting out a somewhat frustrated breath as he tried to organize his thoughts. “Cooper’s ten. And I know Peter isn’t mentally fourteen but to hear the things he said from that body just…”

Natasha walked over to the now hunched form of the archer, pulling out the stool next to his to sit down. “I know,” she said softly, setting a hand on his shoulder and squeezing it reassuringly. “We know.”

“I guess since we’re already kinda on the topic,” Sam started after a moment of silence, “the kid’s a little weird around Stark.”

“Yeah,” Steve nodded.

“I mean, they were probably close in the future,” Natasha said, leaning back slightly and pulling her hand away from Clint’s shoulder. “Three years is a long time.”

“Honestly, I’d say close is an understatement,” Clint muttered, voice soft as he picked himself up slightly. “He looks at Stark like he’s looking for his dad. Stark’s not picking up on it either.”

“Do you think they’re related?” Sam asked, taking another sip of tea.

Steve shook his head. “They don’t look it,” he said, falling silent for a moment before he let out a soft sigh. “I think there’s just a lot we don’t know right now, and speculation’s not going to help anything.”

“I guess…,” Sam responded.

“I feel bad for the kid,” Clint whispered, and Natasha nodded mutely by his side.

The conversation lulled as the room fell into a somber silence, each of the heroes slowly spacing out as they mulled over the others’ words. Nearly everything surrounding Peter was a mystery; they knew next to nothing about the boy’s powers or his family, or even where he lived. What caused Peter to fight against Thanos in the first place? It wasn’t everyday a teenager decided to fight against an alien superpower, and, as Sam said, the conviction and pain reflected in Peter’s eyes was unmistakable. And sure, kids had the conviction to fight in wars in the past, but not so much any more. There had to be a reason Peter was even involved in all this. The mysteries surrounding the boy’s intentions were more than intriguing to the Avengers, especially since he claimed to be one of them. By his show of strength earlier, he was more than qualified, not to mention he deliberately chose not to escape them. He seemed to have a strange relationship with Tony, he knew the address of a sorcerer, and he knew about the infinity stones, and the only time the heroes were aware of that information being disclosed was from Thor himself, which only begged the question:

What the hell was going on with this kid?

Suddenly, a dim yellow flash filled the right side of the room as Vision phased through the wall, the rest of the Avengers’ eyes being drawn to the android as they broke out of their thoughts. He looked over at them, his face an unreadable expression as he made his way over to them.

“I apologize if I’m interrupting,” Vision started, “but I took the liberty of doing some research after Natasha and the Captain left, and I think there’s something you should see.” The heroes perked up at this, and the android began to make his way over to large TV planted onto the wall, the four others following not too far behind. Vision then closed his eyes, the stone glowing faintly as the TV flickered on, showing an article with the picture of a man, dressed in an odd looking red and gray suit with what Steve thought was a gas mask preparing to throw a punch at a man in a black and yellow suit, with appendages coming out of the back that seemed to resemble stingers. The title was plastered above the picture in big, bold letters, and below it was a large paragraph that read:

ANT-MAN - A REVOLUTIONARY SUPERHERO

ANT-MAN SHUTS DOWN A LINE OF SUPER SUITS INFUSED WITH QUANTUM TECHNOLOGY!

Darren Cross, the CEO of Pym Technologies and former protege of world-renowned scientist Hank Pym was recently caught and accused of selling quantum technology to the Nazi organization HYDRA during a recent “unveiling” ceremony. The technology consisted of a suit that had the ability to shrink a man down to the size of an ant while still maintaining his original density and mass, which temporarily would give the individual power equal to that of a super soldier. This is done through the harnessing of Pym Particles, or subatomic quantum particles, which was discovered by Doctor Hank Pym in the 1960s. The world-renowned scientist and former SHIELD agent created a suit of his own that he used to aid the agency in missions against the Soviet Union. He resigned in 1989 for reasons he would not disclose when approached about the topic. The suit recently made a comeback, however, when it was revealed that Darren Cross, Doctor Pym’s chosen successor, was attempting to release his quantum technology to the public. “Technology like this shouldn’t be monopolized,” said Pym, when a reporter from NBC questioned him about this retaliation. “It needs to be contained and monitored, if we’re concerned about the preservation of our planet.”

It was been confirmed by the scientist himself that he did have a hand in the revival of his alter ego, though he refuses to comment on the identity of this new superhero.

“Sam, isn’t that the guy that kicked your ass a few weeks ago?” Natasha asked, turning to the man with a small smirk. Sam huffed, crossing his arms as he moved his eyes away from the article plastered in front of them.

“I let him win.” Natasha gave him a look.

“I figured that since Doctor Banner is MIA for the time being that we could use the help of more scientists of some diverse areas of study,” Vision broke in, looking around at the heroes. “Doctor Pym seems to be a likely candidate, since he’s been active recently.”

“Yeah, we need all the help we can get,” Steve agreed, looking at the android. “We’d have to ask Tony about it, though.”

“Once he’s off ‘do not disturb,’” Clint muttered, and Steve nodded with a small sigh.

“I could do more research into quantum technology if you’d like, Captain,” Vision offered.

“Yeah, that’s a good idea. We want to know what this guy’s capable of before we let him in on anything,” Steve said, and Vision gave him a soft smile and retracted the article in front of them, turning the TV off.

“I shall take my leave then. Goodnight everyone,” Vision said with a small nod, earning smiles from the rest of the group.

“Night, Vision,” Steve spoke softly, reflecting the others’ smiles. With that, Vision gave the group one last glance before floating back in the direction he came, disappearing through the wall with a soft, golden glow.

---

Elevator doors opening, Peter stepped out onto Tony’s private floor, letting out a soft breath as the familiar space surrounded him. There didn’t seem to be any drastic changes made to the room since he visited in his time, just a few things here and there that were moved around, like potted plants or the remote. He made his way through the living room without much thought, walking towards the metal entrance to Tony’s lab, which seemed to be sealed shut at the moment. As he got closer, he could hear the faint sound of the iconic guitar riff of “Back in Black” by AC/DC, and he chuckled hearing the familiar tune. Looking up, Peter stopped just in front of the door, clutching the strap of his backpack a little tighter as he silently prayed that this Tony wouldn’t be too mad at him for interrupting his work.

“FRIDAY, override code, ‘Stubborn Stark,’” Peter said.

“Override successful. Access granted,” FRIDAY’s metallic voice rang, and the door slowly slid open. Immediately, the sound of the music increased tenfold, and Peter flinched, his enhanced hearing not appreciating the noise all that much. He slowly walked inside, swallowing harshly as he spotted Tony’s back, situated at the far end of the lab, with various holograms of different molecules and materials spread out around him. The counters were all a mess; there were machine parts and empty coffee mugs and water bottles spread out all over the place. To his side, he spotted the familiar front panel of MARIA resting on one of the few empty countertops, and next to it there was a large blanket of red fabric sprawled out across the space. Peter titled his head in confusion at this, though he chose not to question it.

Stepping a little bit further into the space, the teen cleared his throat, speaking up nervously, “Um, Mr. Stark?”

“Not now Rhodey, I’m busy,” Tony said loudly, not looking away from the machinery in front of him. Peter bit his lip, inching a bit closer as he tried again, a bit louder this time.

“Mr. Stark!”

Tony sighed heavily, setting down a piece of metal as he turned away from his workspace. “Seriously, Rhodey, I’m--” Words cutting off abruptly, the billionaire froze, catching sight of the teen in front of him.

“FRIDAY,” Tony slowly spoke, eyes wide as he continued to stare at the teen. “Turn off the music.” Almost immediately, the loud, rumbling sound of the music stopped, leaving nothing but an eerie silence behind. Peter squirmed slightly under the philanthropists’ unrelenting stare.

“How did you know that override code?” The man’s words were soft, and they held a sort of vulnerability that was rarely seen of the hero. Peter stared at Tony’s eyes as he began to process the billionaire’s words, taken aback by the drastic change in his demeanor. It was rare that he saw something raw and unguarded in Tony’s eyes, though, for some reason, a small bit of familiarity rose in him as he stared at the man. There was unadulterated shock present in his face, and his eyes reflect a bit of sadness, but not in a way Peter could really figure out. His mentor began to walk towards him with a soft smile on his face, and the teen continued to stare at him, his eyebrows furrowed in confusion.

“Peter.” A hand met his shoulder, and Peter’s eyes widened, surprised by the sudden gesture. He felt a twinge of sadness as the act reminded him a little of Ben, but he quickly shook those thoughts away.

“I’m just going to preface this with the fact that I’m bad at this whole emotions thing, so forgive me if this isn’t very coherent,” Tony said, and Peter laughed softly, making the billionaire smile, “but there’s something I want to give you.” The spiderling blinked in surprise at this. A gift? For what?

“As you’ve probably figured out by now, I have a lot of uh, issues, to put it mildly,” the man said, dropping his hand from Peter’s shoulder and shoving both of the appendages into his pockets. “And I struggle a bit with coping with things, like you with the Vulture thing.”

“PTSD,” Peter whispered, and Tony gave him a small nod, that weird glint of sadness in his eyes again.

“Yeah. When I’m, I guess you could say, emotionally charged, I tend to lock myself in here and work, and I pull a lot of all-nighters and stuff. Don’t really eat much either.” Peter’s eyes widened at this, and a spark of worry filled his chest as he watched his mentor.

“But, Mr. Stark, that’s…,” the teen trailed off, and Tony sighed.

“Unhealthy? Dangerous? I know,” he muttered. “Because of that, Rhodey, Pepper, and I decided to make a code that would let them enter the lab without my permission when I decide to get like this. I usually don’t trust people with this because, well,” Tony shrugged, rocking back and forth on his feet a little to distract him from his discomfort, “I don’t really like showing people that part of me. It’s vulnerability, y’know? But I do trust you.” The man stopped rocking at this, and looked Peter in the eyes.

The teen’s eyes widened as he realized where his mentor was taking the conversation, and he immediately sputtered, quickly saying, “Mr. Stark, that’s--I mean, i-it’s your privacy! I wouldn’t want to intrude, or--”

“Pete.” Peter stopped talking at this, swallowing harshly as the billionaire walked closer to him.

“I trust you. And trust’s not an easy thing to get from me,” Tony said, voice a bit softer as he spoke. “I wouldn’t be telling you this if I didn’t want you to know, alright?” Peter nodded, carefully maintaining eye contact with Tony as he spoke. There was a certain warmth in the man’s eyes that made him push away his doubts about getting this close with him. Since the beginning of this ordeal, a part of him believed that he didn’t belong by Tony’s side because he was just Peter Parker, a loser, and Tony was...well, Tony. But now, something in his mentor’s eyes told him that it was okay, and if Peter didn’t know any better, he would almost say that he felt really loved by the man.

“The code is ‘Stubborn Stark,’ by the way,” Tony said after a moment, and Peter immediately snorted, covering his mouth with a hand, shoulders shaking as he tried to restrain his laughter. His mentor rolled his eyes with feigned annoyance as he turned back to the workbench, saying, “Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. Rhodey and Pepper came up with it.”

“Well, they’re not wrong,” Peter managed out before bursting into laughter. Tony gave the teen a shocked look as he set a hand on his chest. “I show you a sign of my trust and already you betray me?”

“I’m just saying Mr. Stark, you’re a stubborn old man.” His mentor audibly gasped at this, causing Peter to snicker as he made his way next to Tony’s spot at the workbench.

“You need to learn some respect, young man,” Tony said, saying the last two words mockingly while giving him a pointed look.

“In what, respecting your elders?” Peter quipped, and the exasperated look Tony gave him only made the teen dissolve into more giggles. He didn’t miss the way his mentor’s lips tugged up at this, though.

“Where is all this sass coming from today? It’s like I’m talking to a new Peter,” Tony mused, and Peter could only shrug in response. “I learned it from the best.”

“Oh, great. I’m corrupting him,” the billionaire muttered sarcastically, and Peter knew it was meant to be a joke, but he still gave the man a pointed look.

“I also learned that getting help doesn’t mean you’re weak, and that wearing a mask doesn’t change who you are inside,” Peter said softly, causing Tony to pause and look at him, his expression startled. “And that emotional wounds are just as bad as physical ones, and they still deserve to be treated, even though you can’t see them. Not to mention a bunch of cool things about reactors and nanotech.” The teen couldn’t help but break a smile at the last bit, though it faded as he caught sight of Tony’s shocked face. He immediately flushed a bright red, heart starting to hammer in his chest as he began to wonder if he stepped over a boundary and oh god I think I scared him, what the hell was I think--

The feeling of two strong arms engulfing his small form broke him out of his thoughts, and, eyes wide with shock, Peter began to slowly register that Tony Stark was hugging him. Excitement lit up in his chest as he realized the fact, but it slowly gave way to content as he melted into his mentor’s strong arms, wrapping his own around his chest and pulling himself closer.

“I love you, kid,” Tony whispered softly, and Peter could sense the unshed tears in his voice. The teen smiled softly as he buried his face in Tony’s chest, warmth spreading across his body as the man continued to hold him tightly.

“I love you too, Mr. Stark.”

Memory slowly fading, Peter swallowed thickly, desperate to keep his tears at bay as the warmth of his mentor’s arms melted away. “You gave it to me,” he muttered softly, voice a little tense as he tried to keep it from shaking. Tony chuckled, the sound causing Peter to tense and he shook his head, bringing a palm up to his face.

“Kid, I don’t think you quite understand,” Tony said, massaging his temples. “That code is something I only give to people in my inner circle that I wholeheartedly trust, which doesn’t include you, by the way,” Peter flinched at this, although he knew it was true considering this Tony had never met him, “and out of the eight people in that circle, I’ve only given it to two. How the hell did you get your hands on that code?”

The teen swallowed back the lump of emotion in his throat, the sudden lack of trust sending sharpy, stinging tears to his eyes. “Like I said,” he muttered softly, “you gave it to me. About a year and a half after I met you, you told me the code.”

“Bullshit! I have a really hard time believing I gave a very confidential code to some kid,” the billionaire spat, and Peter tugged on his lip harshly, taking in a large breath of air to keep himself composed. Although he knew the man was very territorial of his privacy and didn’t really mean what he was saying, the statements still hurt. The only time he’d heard such a tone from Tony before was after the incident with the Ferry, and that had taken a bit of a toll on him. He’d never outright degraded Peter like this before, though, and the thought alone made his heart clench.

Eyes shining, Peter looked Tony in the eyes and shakily managed out, “I know you think it’s crazy, but a lot of things can change in a couple years. You opened up to me a lot after you started mentoring me, which I know you don’t do usually--you told me that too--but, one day, you just gave it to me because you said you trusted me. I honestly didn’t want to accept it because it’s private but you insisted.” The man’s body started to relieve some of its tension as he worked through Peter’s words, and Peter could see Tony’s mind whirling through what he knew was his worry and anxiety.

“Kid…,” Tony trailed off, breaking eye contact with him, guilt radiating off of the philanthropists’ body as he began to calm down.

“I know you didn’t mean it. You don’t let letting people in, and I get that,” Peter softly reassured the man. “And you don’t need to explain the kid thing--I know about that too.” He’d actually heard this bit of information from Rhodey a few months after the Vulture attack. After the incident Tony had taken to allowing him to come over to visit, and once or twice he mentioned his father during one of their heart-to-hearts, and the teen had asked Rhodey to elaborate in one instance when Tony was out on a sudden mission during their lab time. The man had carefully explained Tony’s relationship with Howard and how he feared turning into him, causing him to avoid the prospect of children altogether. It shed light on a lot of the distance he’d felt between him and the billionaire after the Civil War, and Peter had a newfound perspective on the elusive hero.

Currently, said elusive hero was simply staring at Peter, unmoving. To be honest, Peter didn’t quite understand why his actions were such a shock to the billionaire, but, of course, there were also many things that functioned differently in the past. Maybe he’d never been confronted like this before, though that seemed a bit strange considering him and Rhodey had probably had hundreds of talks like this before. Was it because he knew so much about Tony? Well, actually, that option was very likely considering, from Tony’s perspective, they met today.

Oh god, I think I broke him, Peter thought, restraining his smile as he watched the frozen billionaire stare and occasionally try to form words. “I think that’s enough of the serious talk though,” the spiderling said after a few more moments, deciding to spare the poor man. “I came up here to ask if maybe Happy could give me a ride home? My aunt wants me home by seven and I think I’d probably fall asleep midway if I just swung there.” He laughed sheepishly, the mention of the action drawing attention to the sudden weight growing underneath his eyes. This seemed to snap Tony back to attention, and he almost immediately reformed his composure and returned to his normal, slightly arrogant posterior.

“Of course, I can call him up,” Tony said with a tight smile. “Where to?”

“Queens.” The billionaire furrowed his eyebrows.

“Just Queens?”

“Yeah,” Peter flushed, before elaborating, “I told my aunt I’d be walking home.” The implications of the statement seemed to be quite clear to the man and he nodded, turning to look up at the ceiling.

“FRIDAY, sent a text to Happy and tell him he needs to give a kid a ride to Queens,” Tony announced.

“On it, boss,” FRIDAY responded.

“I think I’m going to go say goodbye to the others,” Peter voiced softly, adjusting his backpack straps slightly as he gave Tony a small smile. The billionaire nodded, and Peter started to move, pausing as he turned back. “Goodnight, Mr. Stark.”

“Night kid,” Tony said with a tense smile, and Peter turned to walk out of the lab, a large breath leaving his body as he made his way back into the living room.

I guess that was a little progress, he thought to himself as he entered the elevator once more. He didn’t seem too weirded out. I mean, he did kinda freeze up but I don’t think that was because he thought I was weird, right? He was just a little shocked. And that makes sense. Pressing the button for the next floor below, the doors closed, and he felt the elevator start to move down. If a time traveling kid telling stories of the apocalypse knew all my deepest secrets I would probably pass out. Oh god, no wonder Mr. Stark looked like he was going to faint. The doors opened with a soft ding, and Peter stepped out onto the Avengers’ main floor.

The first thing Peter noticed was that The Office was playing on the TV (“Depression? Isn’t that a fancy word for being bummed out?” “Dwight, you ignorant slut!”), which almost immediately lifted his mood. Sitting on the couches and chairs set out around the TV were Natasha, Steve, Sam, and Clint, although Clint seemed to be the most engaged in the show. It didn’t take long for the heroes to notice him, and they all greeted him with a smile, making his heart warm considerably.

The interactions themselves were brief, consisting of just simple goodbyes, although him and Natasha exchanged phone numbers, as well as Clint, who caused an uproar at Peter not giving him his number. (“What am I, chopped liver? I caught the squirt, I at least deserve his number!”) After a few more goodbyes and a couple hugs, Peter left the tower feeling content and a bit hopeful, and as he stepped into Happy’s car, he smiled softly, eyes growing heavy as he began to move closer to his home.

---

To say May was worried would be a large understatement.

Ever since she’d gotten the call from the school, there was a nervous fluttering in her chest that she couldn’t shake regardless of what she’d try to do. It tugged at her heart, and it caused her hands and her voice to shake, and there was that part of her brain that screamed it’s just like Ben, he’ll be gone just like Ben--but she knew that wasn’t the case after getting Peter’s call. And the call did cause her anxiety to subside, but it still was going to be a constant until she was able to see her nephew in front of her and had him in his arms so she would finally be able to know if he was safe.

When Peter had told her that he was at the graveyard, a small piece of her heart sank into her stomach. May knew that he was reacting too calmly to his death, her gut had been telling her time and time again to talk to him about it, but seeing his happy, energetic smile every morning before he’d leave for school took all of her worries away. She should’ve realized that he was grieving Ben too, and she felt so guilty for letting it fester up to this point. Pacing through the kitchen, she ran through these thoughts over and over again, passing by the bags of Thai she had ordered sitting on the counter.

I should’ve paid more attention, god, I should’ve paid more attention, May thought, sniffling softly as she gnawed on her lip for the umpteenth time that afternoon. I need to be there for him. I need to make sure he’s okay, oh god just please let me see my nephew, let him be safe--

Hearing the doorknob turn, May’s head immediately snapped up and her eyes flew to the door, watching it wildly as it opened. “Peter?”

“Hey May,” Peter said softly, giving her an awkward smile as he walked through the door. Closing it softly behind him, he watched as May quickly began to make her way over to him, dropping his backpack to the ground as she enveloped him in a tight hug.

“Peter,” she breathed, clutching onto the back of his sweatshirt tightly. Peter hugged her back just as tight, careful to reign in his strength as she started to tremble. His heart clenched at this, and he closed his eyes tightly, burying his face in her neck.

“I’m so sorry May,” he whispered, voice cracking slightly as he spoke.

“No, I’m sorry,” May responded, shaking her head. “God, I should’ve paid more attention...you and Ben were so close.” The teen felt his throat close off a little at this and he could only nod in response, unable to force any words out.

His aunt gave a soft sniffle, a small tear trickling down her cheek as she said, “Just let me know next time, okay? If you need a day off from school I get it, but you can’t skip like that.”

“Okay,” Peter nodded.

“And talk to me. I need to know what’s going on with you, Peter. And you don’t need to go through this alone,” May said, wiping her tear from her cheek. She smiled softly, slowly threading a hand through her nephew’s hair. “I honestly don’t get it with you two. Both you and your uncle have this thing over sacrificing yourselves. God know you’re stubborn like him, too.”

Peter laughed softly, sniffling, “I will, May.”

Pulling away from the hug, May brushed Peter’s hair away from his forehead and planted a soft, tender kiss against his skin. Peter smiled, giggling softly as she pulled away. “I brought some Thai home, if you’re hungry.”

“Sounds great,” Peter said with a smile, spotting the bags of food set in the kitchen. He started to walk over, but paused, suddenly remembering the sight of the missed calls and messages from Ned littering his phone screen. “But I think I’m going to call Ned first. He left me a bunch of voicemails and texts too and I don’t want him to be freaked out or anything.” May nodded, smiling softly at him.

“Alright, baby. Take all the time you need.” Peter expression warmed, and he smiled.

“Thanks May.” Walking out of the room, Peter quickly stepped up the stairs, making his way into his room as he took out his phone. Sitting on his bed, he turned on the device, staring at the screen as he exhaled softly. There’s no way I can cover this up alone this time, he thought grimly. I could barely handle just Spider-Man stuff when I had the internship excuse along with Ned’s, but now, without Mr. Stark and having to go help the Avengers… Peter’s heart fluttered as a spike of anxiety rose in his chest, doubt filling his mind as he clicked on Ned’s contact. Before, his friend found out on accident. He had never intended to tell Ned anything about his alter-ego--he hadn’t ever intended on anyone knowing. Every time his identity was outed, it was caused by something that was out of his control. But now, he was about to willingly spill all of his secrets for the first time. He was going to tell Ned everything that he had tried so hard to keep to himself, and that terrified him. Suddenly standing up, Peter quickly shook his head, forcing those thoughts out of his mind.

Peter Parker, for once in your life be responsible and do things the right way. Tell him.

Taking in a shaky breath, Peter pressed the call button, making his way over to the door and closing it as the phone rang. The reaction to the call was almost immediate; the phone only rang once before Ned’s nervous voice rang through the call, and Peter found himself smiling as a sense of familiarity washed over him.

Peter! Are you there?” Ned said breathily, sounding like he had ran to catch the phone. Peter’s heart tugged at this. He already felt bad because he’d worried May, and he hadn’t realized that he could’ve caused Ned just as much worry.

“Yeah, it’s me,” Peter responded, and Ned laughed joyously.

Oh my god dude, you scared the crap out of me! I thought you were sick or something but then your aunt called my mom and the both started freaking out cuz you went missing, and I called you a billion times and you didn’t respond so I started freaking out and then we all started freaking out,” Ned paused in his rant to catch his breath before continuing, “and it was a huge mess. Are you okay?

“I’m okay, don’t worry. I’m at home now,” Peter reassured him, a small smile rising to his face.

Okay. Okay, that’s good,” Ned said with a nod. “Where were you all day though? What happened?

“Uh, that’s actually kinda why I called you,” Peter said, a small spike of anxiety rising in his chest as he spoke. “I need to tell you something.”

Peter, what did you do?” Ned asked, with an accusatory type of seriousness that made Peter let out a nervous chuckle.

“Don’t worry, it’s not what you’re thinking. It’s actually probably the last thing you would ever think of.”

Ned gasped. “Did you hook up with a high school girl?!

“Ned, no,” Peter laughed, slightly forced as he felt a small stab to his pride. “Just,” he paused, letting out a breath as his heart continued to flutter with anticipation, “promise you won’t tell anyone, okay?”

Oh, this is a secret,” Ned realized, and Peter could picture his raised eyebrows as he spoke. “Yeah, I got you.

“And I know it’ll sound kinda crazy, but I’m not lying, I swear,” Peter said.

I got it dude. I’ll believe whatever you’re about to say.” A small bit of relief hit him at this, and the teen let out a breath as he nodded.

“Okay. Okay,” he muttered, swallowing harshly.

“So, you remember that field trip we took to Oscorp?”

---

Wandering through the hallways and rooms of the tower, Vision hummed softly to himself, studying all of the different object within the room with great notice to detail as he floated about aimlessly. After the fight with Ultron, Vision had taken to developing a greater understanding of human emotions and habits, to try to be able to understand his teammates better as they continued to fight together and meet. He desperately wanted to be able to experience all of the things he’d missed out on. Sure, he was aware of things such as vacations and celebrating a birthday and cracking jokes, but he had never really taken part in such things and wasn’t sure how to go about doing them. So, he was going to start by observing these things in person, and studying the things that his teammates interacted with on a day to day basis. The things he had noticed so far were quite interesting. He’d noticed that different members of the team reacted to different things with different emotions unique to themselves. For example, if Tony were to crack a joke, Clint might laugh loudly, but Sam’s laugh would be more reserved. Steve would chuckle at most and Natasha would crack a smile. The range of emotion between all of the different members of the team was vast, and it was something that took a lot of close observation. Their body language around each other was a whole other field that Vision had yet to look into, but it related very closely to the emotion that was reflected in their eyes. The emotion in their eyes was different than their expressions, by the way.

As he wandered through the halls, a small sniffle interrupted his ponderings, causing him to pause in his movement. The noise seemed to have come from one of the rooms lining the halls (he had wandered into the living areas, he realized), and as he paused to listen more, he noticed it was coming from the end of the hall and, as he got closer, he identified it as Wanda’s room. Slowly making his way over to the doorway, he bit his lip, hesitantly opening the door.

“Wanda?” Vision asked softly, causing Wanda to jump as he peeked into the room. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah,” she said quickly, nodding as she quickly glanced at him, eyes almost immediately returning downwards. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?” He asked slowly, stepping into the doorway. “Is...is there anything you need to talk about?”

“Um…,” the witch trailed off, curling in slightly as she continued to look at the small frame in her hands. Vision’s eyes widened at the gesture, and he quickly spoke, “I-I, um, don’t mean to overstep or anything, if you don’t want to talk about it that’s completely fine too.”

Wanda nodded a little at this and slowly looked up at Vision, and he noticed that her eyes were slightly blotched and teary, and he realized with a start that she had been crying. Shifting so she was facing the doorway, she thumbed at the frame in her hands.

“He a lot like him,” she muttered softly, and Vision tilted his head in confusion. “What?”

“Peter,” Wanda said softly, wiping her eyes with her sleeve. “He reminds me of my brother.” The android fell silent at this, the weight of the words leaving them hanging in the air as the room fell into a soft silence. Shifting uncomfortably on the bed, the witch set the picture down, the new angle allowing the android to see the picture inside. The picture consisted of a much younger Wanda and Pietro in the middle of what seemed to be a park or the woods, Pietro tugging at Wanda’s hair as she grabbed for his sleeve, both laughing and smiling widely. Vision’s heart gave a soft tug at the image and he smiled, starting to make his way over to the bed as Wanda began to speak again.

“It’s kind of funny, honestly. I mean, Peter, Pietro...what kind of coincidence is that?” The witch laughed softly and sniffled. Vision sat down next to her on the bed and she brought her knees up to her chest. “I know, me getting all emotional like this is stupid. They’re not even close in age or look anything alike, but…”

“But?” Vision pressed, and Wanda took in a shaky breath before continuing.

“But he reminds me of how we were before our parents died. Before HYDRA.” She paused, wiping her eyes once more as tears began to gather in them again. Sniffling, she took in another breath, swallowing to try to keep her voice steady. “Pietro had this sparkle in his eyes whenever he talked. Everybody loved him. How couldn’t you? He was so charming and funny, and he always went out of his way to make everyone’s day a little better. Everyone in the neighborhood called him their little treasure.” Wanda smiled softly at the memory, and Vision moved a little closer to her, picking his legs up onto the bed.

“I’m guessing young Peter has this spark you speak of as well,” Vision said softly, and Wanda nodded.

“I always kind of envied him for it, to be honest,” she muttered, looking down. “I was always so scared to go and talk to people and offer my assistance because I was afraid they would say no, or they would hurt me. But Pietro didn’t really seem to care, and just...god, I don’t know…” She shook her head, lip trembling as a tear slowly rolled down her cheek. “He should be here instead of me.”

“No, Wanda,” Vision whispered softly, an emotion he had never felt before (it was very similar to sadness, but it had a different edge to it. Pity, maybe?) lighting up in his chest as the witch buried her face in her knees. He softly set a hand on her shoulder to reassure her. “Wanda, what happened has happened, and there’s not much we can do to change it. Maybe you’re right, I don’t know enough to agree or disagree, but you are here now. All of us are here. We need to make the most of it while we can.” The witch said nothing, a soft nod being her only reaction to his words. Reaching a hand out, Vision softly set a hand on her cheek and led her face upwards to look at him, and his heart clenched seeing the fresh tear marks on Wanda’s cheeks.

“Wanda,” Vision said softly, “you’re possibly one of the most stunning people I’ve ever met. You’re beautiful, kind, considerate, and so, so strong, and I’m blessed to have been able to meet you. Pietro unfortunately had his time cut short here, and we should honor and remember him. But we don’t know how much time we have left on this Earth either, so let’s try to make the best of it together, okay?” A light pink rose to Wanda’s cheek as his touch lingered, and she nodded a little, looking up at him.

“Yeah, together.” Vision smiled, softly rubbing her cheek with his thumb as he looked at her, a warm fluttery feeling enveloping his chest. She gazed back at him, her eyes just as warm as he imagined his to be, and she leaned slightly into his hand, causing him to pause, blinking as he realized with a start what he was doing.

“I-I, um,” Vision stammered, pulling his hand away quickly. “I just, uh, forgot I need to...f-fold the laundry.” The android moved to stand up, stumbling a little as he misjudged the distance to the floor, and Wanda giggled, causing his face to warm. “Um,” he started, looking down with burning embarrassment, “It was nice spending time with you, Miss Maximoff. I hope you feel better.”

“It was nice spending time with you too, Vision,” Wanda smiled fondly. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Vision said a little breathlessly, meeting her eyes once more as he smiled. He stared at her for a few moments, taking in the different dimensions of her face as that warm feeling enveloped his body once more. Vision then paused, eyes widening as he realized he was supposed to be leaving.

“Um.” He looked around awkwardly, turning to the wall as he gave her a small wave. “Bye.”

Watching him phase through the wall, Wanda waved back, chuckling softly at the android’s antics.

“Bye.”

---

“...and now I’m home,” Peter finished. The call fell silent as he concluded his story, Ned trying desperately to absorb all of the information he had been told.

That’s…,” Ned said weakly after a moment, voice trailing off as he tried to find any kind of word to describe what he was feeling.

“I know, it’s a lot,” Peter responded with a soft laugh, looking down as he played with his fingers. “And it’s a little hard to believe, but I swear it’s true.”

I believe you dude, don’t worry. It’s just...wow,” Ned breathed.

“Yeah,” Peter nodded, a small smile finding his way to his lips as he sensed the building excitement on the other end. Wait for it.

And like...all that happened. For real.

“Mhmm.” Wait for it…

Dude, you’re an Avenger.” A pause. “Holy shit. You’re an Avenger!”

There it is.

Wait, Peter, oh my god this is actually one of the coolest thing I’ve ever heard in my life!” Ned exclaimed. “You have superpowers! You went into space and fought aliens! And you went back in time using a real life time machine!! You’re like, a cooler, more awesomer Marty McFly and Tony Stark’s Doc!” Ned then gasped loudly as he realized what he just said. “Oh my god you know Tony Stark.”

“Ned…,” Peter said with a slightly exasperated laugh.

Hold on, just,” the other end of the call became muffled as his friend cut off his sentence, and the sounds of a far-off scream reverberated through the phone. Peter let out a loud laugh at this, and the muffled noises briefly resounded through the call once more as Ned picked up the phone again. “Okay, sorry, I know this is a lot more serious than I’m acting it is, I just needed to let that out. I’m good. Or well, for now. Because this is so cool. You’re so cool.

Peter felt a spark of pride at this, and he temporarily let his ego inflate as a smile rose to his face. “Yeah, I guess it is,” he said with a small laugh. “But uh, I just really need your help with handling all of this, I guess. I have a lot of stuff to do now to help prepare for Thanos so I need someone to cover for me while I’m at the tower.”

Yeah, I can do that. Definitely,” Ned asserted, excitement still underlying his tone.

“Thanks, Ned. That actually means a lot,” Peter said sincerely.

It’s no problem. I mean, it’s literally the end of the world. Like, what you said with the dust and the stone things and stuff is honestly terrifying. I could never even imagine that kinda thing happening in real life,” Ned said, tone taking a turn towards something more serious, and Peter nodded.

“Yeah. I still can’t either, to be honest, It all feels kinda surreal,” the hero muttered softly. “I was really excited at the beginning of all this, y’know? I freaked out over hanging out with Mr. Stark and going on missions and stuff because it all seemed so cool and new, but after Thanos it suddenly seems so…”

Real?” Ned softly offered.

“Yeah.”

The two fell into a comfortable silence as the words started to settle. After a brief moment, Ned took in a breath, and said, “It makes sense. You saw people die, and you went back in time. I really can’t imagine what that must be like. Just the thought of going back and having to do three years over again is crazy. I mean, no one would remember all the cool stuff we did and the funny stuff we said and all that. And I know I don’t remember a lot, but I’m still here for you Peter. You don’t have to go through all this stuff alone.

As he listened to his friend, Peter felt wetness start to gather in his eyes, the familiarity of the situation lifting a weight off of his chest that he didn’t even realize was there. After long, and particularly heavy patrols the first person Peter thought to go to about it was Ned. The two would very often have long calls at night to try to process through the events of his patrol and take his mind off of it, and the fact that it was happening again truly made Peter feel like he was in familiar territory. It was one of those things he didn’t want to leave behind, and that fact that it had come back made him feel stronger.

“Thank you,” Peter managed out, and he could feel Ned’s warm smile from the other end.

You’re welcome,” his friend softly. After a small pause, Ned’s voice came through the voice again, much more lively than it was just a moment ago. “Hey, so like, can I help you though? If you ever go out and fight.

“What do you mean?” Peter asked, eyebrows only furrowing slightly before he realized where the conversation was heading.

You know in movies how the main guy has his friend with all the computers telling him where to go?” Ned asked, before elaborating, “The guy in the chair. I could be your guy in the chair!

Peter could help the bright smile that rose to his lips. “The guy in the chair?”

Yeah! Come on Peter, that would be so sick!” Ned pled. “Can I do it?

Sighing, Peter nodded, “Sure. Yeah, you can be my guy in the chair.”

Sweet!” His friend exclaimed excitedly. “Oh my god this is going to be so cool! I’m like, the Robin to your Batman, but I don’t actually go out and fight or have a cool costume or anything--wait, oh my god we should make costumes--

“Hey, why don’t we talk more about this tomorrow at school,” Peter quickly cut in before Ned could start rambling. “It’s getting a bit late, and I’m pretty tired.”

Yeah, that’s true. Okay!” Ned said. “Night Peter! See you tomorrow!

“Yeah, see you tomorrow!”

Bye!

“Bye.”

Ending the call, Peter set his phone down on his bed with a sigh, plopping down on his mattress. He really was tired; the day was really eventful and long, and he felt like he’d been moving non-stop--which was true, he had been moving non-stop for the past couple of days. The past three days of his life had consisted of going into space, crashing onto an alien planet, meeting alien superheroes, fighting a giant purple alien, dying, going back in time--god, it was so much. And now, he was stuck in an unfamiliar body in what seemed like a completely different world, with the literal weight of the universe on his shoulders.

As he rolled onto his side, he realized with a start that he wanted to go home. Not his literal home, because he was in his room, but his home as in his time. He didn’t want to do everything over again, he just wanted to be able to go out and be Spider-Man, and sleep over with Tony on the weekends and gossip with Pepper about her fiance's antics. He wanted to be able to chat with May about his nighttime activities and joke around and make spider puns without feeling weird and insecure, and he wanted to be able to joke around with MJ about how stupid Flash was. He just wanted his life back.

But that was naive, he thought, blinking back the tears that had crawled into his eyes. He knew that there was no physical way he could be able to go back whether he wanted to or not, and he knew he couldn’t afford to want to either. There was too much at stake for him to let these feelings get in the way. It was going to be long and difficult, and he’d have to rebuild relationships and trust that he had worked hard to gain, but it was something he would have to do. Thanos was a real, eminent threat to their world, and it was his duty as a hero and as an Avenger to protect everyone he could. Mr. Stark sent me here with a purpose, he reminded himself once more, bringing a pillow up to his chest as he hugged it tightly. We have to win this time. This is our last chance to save the world from Thanos, and we need to do it. And I’m going to do it.

Whatever it takes.

Chapter Text

A week later...

You’re strong. But I could snap my fingers and you’d cease to exist.

It was dark. Pitch black; the type of black you’d see when looking up at the night sky in the middle of a forest, or the type of black you see when your eyes are closed and you’re about to go to sleep. But Peter knew his eyes were open, so the situation didn’t really make any sense to him. He knew he was standing, that much was for sure, but he had no idea how he got to this place. It was weird, really. No matter how hard he tried to look for some semblance of light, there was none. The walls were black, the ceiling was black, the floor was black--if he didn’t feel something solid beneath his feet he would’ve thought he was floating.

Hesitantly moving to take a step, Peter felt solid ground hit his foot and he let out a sigh of relief, slowly starting to walk through the darkness. If he was going to be stuck here, he was going to make the best of his time and try to find a way out. He wasn’t panicked in any way, which he found to be a little weird. Based on his memory, in any kind of situation similar to this one of the first emotions he would feel was anxiety, but right now he felt oddly calm. As he continued to walk, he found himself relaxing in the silence, existing as if this was normal and a part of his everyday life. It felt comforting in a way, the seclusion, and he felt a sort of warmth in being alone in this space.

Suddenly, a soft thump filled the space, echoing behind him, and Peter immediately froze, blinking as he finally felt the beginnings of anxiety work into his system. Someone was here. Someone was in this space--his space with him. He was alone with someone else.

“Peter.”

Hearing his name, Peter tensed, swallowing harshly as his brain slowly began to process the familiar, gentle voice. He slowly turned around, heart thrumming in his chest only to come face to face with a middle-aged man, with slightly graying hair and comforting smile. It would’ve only taken a glance for him to put a name to the face, but the man stayed in front of him, watching him with loving eyes and causing him to stare with bated breath as he waited for the man to disappear, for he knew it couldn’t be real. It couldn’t--he was dead. How could he be here, alive and breathing, if he saw him die?

“I’m so proud of you, Pete,” His uncle--Ben spoke softly, that familiar glint in his eye that made Peter want to cry out because this can’t be real, he’s going to disappear, don’t do this to me, I can’t lose him again, please--

“So, so proud.”

“Ben,” the teen softly choked out, emotion welling in his throat. Ben only continued to smile at him, giving off an aura that achingly felt like home.

“You’re going to do great things, kid. Great things.” Although Peter could see that Ben’s mouth was moving, the voice suddenly shifted behind him, as if someone had a speaker playing the sentences and his uncle was only mouthing what he’d recorded. The voice also seemed to change in tone to something that he couldn’t quite pinpoint, and he furrowed his eyebrows as he tried to place it. It was familiar, that much he was sure of, but he didn’t know how or why.

His curiosity getting the best of him, Peter turned around, eyes searching for the source of this new voice. As he continued to look, he heard a soft whoosh behind him, and as soon as the noise softly filtered through the empty space he felt as if his heart had stopped. Memories, bright pictures and scenes of all sorts, poured into his mind, whirling around his head with a vengeance as he suddenly realized that the sound had come from dust, dust, oh god oh god Ben was dust he was dust dust dust-- (Mr. Stark, Tony please I don’t wanna die alone I don’t wanna go oh god oh god, please work, please)

A new figure snapped him out of his mind, standing in front of him, seemingly appearing out of thin air. This figure was garnishing a tailored suit, hair gelled and styled meticulously and a very familiar goatee grown on his face.

“You know I love you, Underoos,” Tony said softly, a rare, warm, genuine smile plastered on his face. Peter’s eyes welled with tears as he stared at the man, the weight of Ben’s disappearance only just sinking in as he realized the inevitable fate of his mentor.

“T-Tony,” he gasped, panic and dread clawing at his chest as he wished he would get that stupid smile off of his face because he’s going to turn into dust dust dust-- (I don’t wanna go, I don’t wanna go, I don’t wanna die--)

“You’re already so much better than me, kid. So much better,” the hero whispered, that familiar glint he’d seen in Ben’s eyes flashing in his and it made his heart ache from the pain it caused. He didn’t want him to be so loving, he didn’t want him to care because it made it that much harder when he went away, because he knew he was going to go away. They all were going to go away--they always did.

“We all love you, Peter,” a female voice said, this time more towards his right and he noticed a figure appear in his peripherals. He let out a loud sob, refusing to tear his eyes away from Tony because he knew the man was going to disappear and turn into dust dust dust he’ll turn to dust the second he looked away. And god, he hated Tony because all he was doing was smiling at him with that same warm smile, a sad look in his eyes because he knew, because Tony always knew, and he hated it.

Don’t make me look, Peter pled silently to whatever force was behind this sick game of theirs. Please, please don’t make me look.

“I’ll always be right here, Peter. Always,” May said softly to his side, making his tears run faster. “You know I larb you.”

As if some force had suddenly taken control of his body, Peter turned to the side, facing his aunt fully as Tony filtered out of his sight. Out of the corner of his eyes he could see the awful sight of his mentor’s skin graying, flaking as he slowly began to disappear, slowly turning into dust dust, no, no no please, no more dust and fading into the air with a soft whoosh. Peter began to sob, unable to contain the grief that was piling up in his chest, and May’s expression softened, making him feel comforted and pitied and safe in all the right ways as she normally did.

“M-May,” he whimpered softly, taking a step towards her as his body begged for her warmth because god, she’s the only one I have left, please--

“Don’t cry baby,” she softly soothed, and she reached out a hand, a graying hand, he realized, and he let out a loud, ugly sob. “Everything’s going to be alright.”

With those words, Peter fell to his knees, and he wept loudly and openly, fat tears rolling down his face as he watched her body start to disappear with blurry vision. He continued to cry, choking out broken, unintelligible words as every cell in his body begged for her to stay with him.

“Everything will be alright,” May whispered softly, and that soft whoosh rang once more as his aunt disappeared.

Staring at the place where his aunt once stood, eyes wide and brimming with tears, Peter let out a loud, grief-stricken scream, voice breaking as he fell into a harsh sob. The teen wrapped his arms around himself tightly and curled into himself, trembling as he continued to cry out. It seemed like the weight of the world had pressed itself into his back and curled around his chest, constricting it and pushing him down to the ground, making it hard for him to take in air as he sobbed. He choked and sputtered as he struggled to take in a full breath, his thoughts running at a hundred miles an hour as he cried out why why why did you take them from me, why, why, give them back, give them back, give them back--and he took in a loud gasping breath as he felt his throat constrict with emotion, setting a hand on the rough ground as he struggled to keep himself upright. His vision started to darken at the edges as he continued to struggle for air, having worked himself up to the point of hyperventilating, and he clenched his fist around the ashen ground, trying to take in more breaths as he--

Wait.

As if numbed, his panic and grief suddenly ceased as he began to take in a new space around him, the blackness of the voice having been replaced with the barren landscape of a very familiar planet. The sky was the same, awful red hue it had been before, and in the distance he could see the hulking figure of the large, abandoned Titan building that they were seated by when they landed on the planet.

Panting softly, Peter shakily brought up his hand from the ground, red dirt slowly falling from his fist as he uncurled it. He stared at it for a few moments, mind blank as the wetness slowly started to dry on his cheeks, and he sniffled softly, arms dropping limply at his sides as he continued to stare at the expanse in front of him. As he looked, he spotted a soft glimmer in the corner of his eye, and the hero immediately turned in the direction of the sparkle, only to see a large object shining with the reflection of the light pouring into the planet. It was seated between two large blocks of stone, tilted on the edge and swaying as if it would fall at any moment. The light moved around a bit and shifted on the object, and he watched as it methodically moved, swaying picking up and moving faster and faster and faster, and the object began to shake with an uncontrollable power until it plopped on the ground with a loud clank, and only then could Peter identify what the object was.

Sitting on the ground in front of him was a shiny, golden gauntlet with six brightly colored stones seated on the knuckles of each finger, with one in the middle. Peter took in a sharp breath as soon as he saw the object, and his eyes widened as he was suddenly thrown into another whirlwind of memories as he suddenly remembered the panic, panic, pull Peter, pull, come on come on, we’re so close (“We almost got this off! Quill!”) as he was clutching onto that very gauntlet that was seated on Thanos’ hand, tugging on it with Tony when Quill came to terms with his girlfriend’s death.

As if something had taken control of his body, Peter surged towards the gauntlet, heart thrumming in his chest with nothing but the burning desire to obtain the object as he reached out, arm stretching as he moved closer and closer until--

His fingertips just barely touching the golden metal, the gauntlet was sharply tugged out from in front of him, and Peter fell on the ground, hand clutching nothing but more dirt. A spark of anxiety lit in his heart, soon filled with dread as a large shadow started to cover his body and the ground in front of him. The teen immediately lifted himself to a sitting position, and he whirled around, quickly scooting himself backwards helplessly with his hands as his eyes fell upon the looming form of none other than Thanos himself, brandishing the golden gauntlet on his hand once more as he stared at the teen. Peter could only stare with raw terror as the Titan loomed closer, gently brushing a large purple finger against his cheek, the rough pads of the alien’s skin making him want to throw up.

“I commend you, little one,” Thanos said, pulling his finger away. “You were close.”

A soft glow drew Peter’s attention from the Titan’s face, and his gaze slowly moved to the gauntlet, the knuckle of the pointer finger glowing a bright purple as Thanos raised it in front of him with a sickening smirk.

“But not close enough.”

With a soft click, a bright, burning purple light enveloped Peter’s vision and his eyes immediately began to burn, his body completely lighting with nothing but pure power and the teen opened his mouth to scream, only to have the sound be swallowed by the immense, world-ending energy surrounding him. His ears rang with the sheer force of the blast, and his chest tightened with a horrible burning sensation as the light only grew brighter, and his eyes welled up with tears as their temperature rose, his body lighting up more and more with heat, and the ringing only grew higher and higher in pitch as a terrible tingling numbness overcame him, the pain from the blast becoming cool as the temperature peaked over the point his body was able to process. His head shook with the sheer power of the noise around him, and as darkness began to overcome him, he heard a distant, heart-breaking scream that melded perfectly with the ringing in his ears, increasing the volume tenfold as it resounded around the space around him.

Papa!

Almost immediately, Peter’s eyes snapped open, panting heavily as his vision began to focus, the ringing slowly fading from his ears as he came to awareness. The teen sat up with a start, body drenched in a cold sweat and dry tear tracks visible on his cheeks as he began to take in the sight of his room around him, and he clenched his sheets, grounding himself in reality as the memories of the horrible dream began to fade.

The harsh ringing having now dimmed to a soft hum, Peter was able to hear the faint sounds of his alarm clock going off in the corner of his room, and he shakily brought a hand up to wipe his forehead of the sweat that was clinging to his skin. Swallowing harshly, his entire body gave a tremble as he buried his face in his hands, the intense emotion of the nightmare catching up to him as his eyes began to fill with tears.

Oh, god.

“Peter!” His aunt’s familiar voice rang from downstairs, and Peter gave a slightly hysterical laugh as the soft reassurance that she’s alive started to drain the anxiety from his chest. “Time to get ready!”

“Okay!” He called back, voice slightly weak as he shook his head, snapping himself fully to attention and he pulled his hands from his face and set them on the bed. Staring at his sheets, Peter slowly swung his legs to the edge of his bed, and, with a small push, he brought himself to a standing position, leaning back slightly as his spine gave a satisfying pop. Leaning forwards again with a soft exhale, the teen’s eyes made their way to his backpack, which was set in the corner of his room. He filled his cheeks with air, letting it out sharply as he mind finally cleared of the horrors of his night and began to fill with his thoughts of the day ahead. Walking to his desk, he looked at his still-beeping alarm clock, and tapped the top of it, effectively shutting it down as he stepped back, looking out his window as the sun softly filtered into his room.

Here we go again.

---

“I thought HYDRA was supposed to be smart,” Sam said with a huff as the back of the Quinjet opened in front of him. Natasha and Steve were following close behind, Steve with his shield strapped tightly to his arm and Natasha with her widow’s bites still attached to her wrists. “I mean, really, fingerprint locks? Basic.”

“Well, we should be grateful we got a quick one,” Natasha said, walking into the Quinjet. “Now we can go home early.”

“Hell yeah we can,” Sam responded, sitting down on one of the benches to take off his goggles and wipe them off. “A soft couch and some cheap beer sounds great right about now.”

“Mhmm,” Natasha hummed softly in agreement, and Steve gave a slight nod before walking over towards the front of the ship, loosening his shield around his arm and setting it down against the wall. He then took a towel off of a small hook, turning away from the two and began wiping down his face. Sam set his goggles down on the bench and walked towards the chair seated in front of the control panel, pausing as he passed by Steve and whistling as he eyed his backside.

“Damn Cap, that new suit does wonders for your figure,” the hero said, and Steve let out a snort, turning back to him as he began to wipe his neck.

“You mean my ass?” The soldier asked, making his friend chuckle.

“I didn’t know you wanted specifics,” Sam smirked, raising an eyebrow and cocking his head to the side. “You tryin’ to tell me something here Cap?”

“I don’t know, am I?” Steve responded, breaking into a wide smirk as he wiggled his eyebrows. Natasha gave them both a blank stare.

“Ew. Get a room,” the assassin muttered, unclasping her widow’s bites from her wrists. Sam laughed hearing Natasha, and shook his head.

“We’re just playing,” he said, setting his goggles on one of the hooks.

“Yeah, Nat. Just guys being dudes, as the kids say,” Steve spoke, sitting down on a bench facing the opposite of Nat.

“Oh, I’m well aware. Staring at a man’s ass is a hobby of many, it seems,” Natasha quipped.

“I mean, what else am I supposed to do?” Sam asked incredulously, pointing at Steve’s rear. “See that? That right there? That’s America’s ass.” Steve gave a booming laugh in response to the man’s words, doubling over and covering his mouth as a snort escaped his lips. The sudden boisterous laugh startled the other two heroes, though they quickly followed the captain’s example, breaking into loud laughs of their own. Natasha stood up and slapped Sam’s arm, bent over slightly as loud laughter racked her form, only causing the two men to laugh even harder.

“I’m serious,” Sam spoke after a few moments, walking to the front of the chair, still chuckling as their fit began to die down. “That ass right there is bigger than Texas.”

“America’s ass…,” Steve muttered to himself, still laughing softly as he wiped tears of hysteria from his eyes, an arm clenched around his abdomen from the intensity of the laughing fit. Sam sat down in the pilot’s seat and shut the back of the Quinjet, starting the engines, a wide smile still plastered on his face. Eventually, the air of humor faded completely, leaving the three in a comfortable silence as they lifted into the air and began their journey back to the tower.

Steve exhaled softly, leaning back against the wall of the jet as he crossed his arms, staring at the ground as he started to slowly lose himself to his thoughts. Albeit all of this Thanos stuff suddenly appearing out of nowhere, which was concerning, don’t get him wrong, there was still something that was still gnawing at his mind, constantly pushing its way to the front of his thoughts and diminishing the whole situation to nothing but a pea sized worry. He obviously knew the importance of stopping the Titan and was wholeheartedly dedicated to saving the universe from his reign of terror, but that didn’t stop a certain unresolved conflict from distracting every so often during times he was left to his mind.

It, of course, was Bucky.

Ever since the situation concerning HYDRA and SHIElD arose nearly a year ago at this point, Steve hadn’t heard a single whisper of his best friend. He’d looked, he’d always been looking for some sort of obscure news story across the sea concerning a suspicious looking man with a metal arm, but there’d been absolutely nothing that hinted even a little towards Bucky. It frustrated him. All he wanted was to be able to talk to Bucky, only once, in a controlled, civilized environment. He needed it--that man was the only tie he truly had to his old life before this, before the Avengers and Loki and Thanos.

After the Battle of New York Steve was so sure that he’d be able to leave behind that old war-hero life of his back in the 40s. He’d been fully prepared to die when he’d crashed into the ice, and although realizing no one he knew was alive (Except for Peggy, he thought with a sharp twinge of his heart) was difficult to deal with, he’d figured it was the same as death would’ve been. He would’ve been alone, without everyone regardless of what had happened. But when he fell into that lake and he saw those familiar, sharp blue eyes of Bucky’s pulling him out of the water, he knew he had to talk to him. Bucky was a living, breathing reminder of what had been, and it killed him to not get at least some closure. Hell, he’d thought Bucky was dead even before he’d woken up in the twenty-first century, and now, to have that part of his life that he thought was long gone right in front of him was torturous.

There’s still some of Bucky left in him, I know it, Steve thought to himself, eyebrows furrowed in thought and he stared intently at the ground with a strong determination in him. I just gotta find him. I have to.

“Is it him?” Natasha asked softly, breaking him out of his thoughts. Steve exhaled softly, meeting her rare, warm eyes and nodded.

“You knew we can’t do anything about him. At least not right now,” Sam piped up softly from the front of the plane.

“I know. It’s just been so long since we’ve heard anything about him, and I’m worried,” Steve responded, uncrossing his arms and clasping his hands together, shoulders tense.

“Barnes can take care of himself,” Natasha said, the certainty in her tone welcome, but not much help.

“That isn’t what worries me,” Steve whispered, and a hush fell over the other two heroes, the same thought crossing all three of their minds. It stayed like that for a few moments, each of them dipping into their own minds until the Quinjet landed, the silence being broken by the sound of the back of the jet opening up. Sam exhaled softly, standing up from his seat and turning to Steve, flashing him a comforting smile before speaking.

“Well, regardless,” he started, “you have some say in any decision that might be made. You’re Captain America, for god’s sake.” The man walked over to Steve and clasped a hand on his shoulder, patting it reassuringly and looking at him in the eyes.

“The government would never turn against you.”

Meeting Sam’s friendly eyes, Steve couldn’t help the cold grip of uncertainty that clawed onto him as he thought back to Bucky’s cold, steely glare, and the whispers of the SHIELD-turned-HYDRA agents in the elevator as he stepped inside, surrounded by people that he thought he could trust.

Would they?

Blinking, Steve quickly shook those thoughts away, because they wouldn’t, they’re all good people, and he allowed himself to relax, nodding slightly as he mirrored the pilot’s smile.

“Yeah.”

“Come on,” Natasha said, standing up and giving him her usual smirk. “Let’s head inside.”

Steve mutely nodded, and he stood up, no more conversation being said as the three silently made their way into the tower, the doors opening up automatically as the three walked through the rooms of the floor and eventually into the elevator. The doors gave a soft ding as they opened, allowing the three heroes inside, and with the click of a button, they had arrived on the Avengers’ main floor in only a minute.

Walking into the open-concept living room, dining room, and kitchen combo, he spotted none other than Tony leaning against the island, heavy dark circles underneath his eyes and a cup of coffee in his hands. He was wearing a simple MIT hoodie and a pair of sweatpants, contrary to his normal Armani suits and expensive material. The billionaire quickly spotted the group and flashed them his signature cocky smirk before straightening up.

“And here they are!” Tony announced loudly, though with a little less energy than normal. “Regina George and her posse have returned, everyone.”

“Nice to see you too, Tony,” Natasha said dryly.

“You look like shit,” Sam commented, earning a sharp look from Tony before the billionaire turned to deliberately smile sweetly at the assassin in front of him.

“Nice to see you too, Widow,” he said, setting down his coffee cup as he looked around at the three. “Funny coincidence you guys showed up, because I actually have some good news to share.”

“Good news?” Steve echoed, raising an eyebrow in suspicion as he eyed his teammate.

“Don’t be so skeptical, I’m capable of giving good news,” Tony said, giving the soldier a look.

“Well, what is it?” Natasha asked.

“Hill was able to get into contact with that ant scientist guy Vision said you guys talked about last week,” Tony responded, smiling at the brightening expression of the three as the words sunk in.

“And? What did he say?” Steve inquired, a bit of excitement slipping into his tone as his eyes widened slightly.

“He’s on board,” Tony said with a wide smile. “Both literally and figuratively. They’re flying over now.”

“Tony, that’s great,” Natasha said softly, a wide, genuine smile finding its way onto her face as she looked at him. “That’s really great.”

“See? I told you I was capable of good news,” Tony said smugly, and Sam laughed with a wide grin of his own.

“Yeah, yeah,” the pilot said, his annoyed tone betraying his expression.

“We’re finally going to get somewhere,” Steve said softly, looking around at the three.

“Hopefully,” Tony added.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” Sam asked, and the other three heroes turned to him, each bearing expressions of confusion at his words. He sighed, shoulders dropping as he elaborated, “The kid. Peter.”

“Oh,” Tony said simply, blinking as something quickly flashed over his face at the mention of the teen’s name.

“I’ll shoot him a text and get Clint to bring him here,” Natasha spoke, taking out her phone and sparing a glance at the time before opening it. “He’ll be out of class in about ten minutes.” Steve nodded slightly in response at this, eyeing Tony as the billionaire continued to stare, and the soldier could see his mind whirling. He looked at Natasha with a small smirk, and the assassin reflected it before looking at the man.

“You might want to change into something other than your pajamas if Pym is on his way, Tony,” Natasha commented, causing the billionaire to snap out of his daze, blinking as he looked down at his clothing.

“Right--yeah, that’s wonderful advice. Thank you,” he said, beginning to move towards the door as he stumbled into the counter, nearly spilling his coffee mug as he set a hand on the island to ground himself. Tony flushed, clearing his throat a little as he adjusted his glasses, letting out a soft breath before ducking to the door.

“I’ll be right back.” And with that, Tony had left the room. The three heroes started at where the storm of a man had exited for a few moments, and Sam looked at the two, setting his hands on his hips as he addressed them.

“He’s definitely whipped,” the pilot said with finality, and Natasha rolled her eyes, pulling her phone up to her ear and stepping out of the room.

---

“--and it has over five hundred pieces. It’s crazy cool!” Ned exclaimed, and Peter nodded, slipping his backpack off of his shoulders as he went to grab his jacket from inside his locker, slipping his arms through the sleeves as his friend bubbled excitedly next to him

“Yeah, sounds super cool,” Peter responded a little absentmindedly as he glanced over his locker. He reached to the shelf seated at the top and grabbed a small bottle from the back of the compartment.

“What’s that for?” Ned asked, furrowing his eyebrows as he moved closer to get a better look at the bottle. Peter bit his lip, falling silent for a moment as he looked around at the groups of students around them, checking to see if any of them seemed any interested in their conversation before flipping the bottle over to reveal the label taped on the front.

“It’s the fluid for my web shooters,” the hero said softly, turning around slightly so Ned could read the label.

“Your web shooters?” the boy asked softly, head tilting to the side in slightly confusion before his eyes widened, his mouth dropping to a gape as he quickly spoke, “Wait, you mean for Spi--”

With a sharp breath, Peter quickly clamped one of his hands over Ned’s mouth, body tensed as he hushed loudly, “Shh!!” Some people around them turned around at the noise, and Peter winced, slowly taking his hand away from his friend’s mouth.

“Ned, you need to stay quiet about that!” Peter chastised softly, causing his friend to quickly nod, eyes still wide.

“I know, I know, I’m sorry, but that’s honestly so cool!” Ned exclaimed softly, his expression bright with excitement as his eyes practically sparkled from his happiness. “I really can’t believe that you’re doing all this stuff, it’s just so…”

“Cool?” Peter asked, expression breaking into a fond smile as he watched his friend continue to bubble with childish excitement.

“Cool! You’re so cool!” Ned said, bouncing a little on his feet. “I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for involving me in his part of your life because this honestly the best thing that has ever happened to me. Thank you so much, dude.”

“Ned, I already said you don’t need to thank me. You’re my best friend,” Peter smiled, lightly tapping Ned’s arm with a fist in a playful gesture. Ned’s eyes widened slightly at the contact, and he stared at his arm with a dulled awe before nodded.

“Yeah,” he said absentmindedly, eyes not moving from his arm. Peter chuckled, turning back to his backpack to put the web fluid inside before a sharp, loud voice interrupted his actions.

“Aww, well isn’t this just adorable.”

Tensing, Peter immediately whirled around, shoving the fluid behind his back as he was met with none other than a shorter, younger version of Flash Thompson, the resident rich-boy dickhead that had been a constant in his life ever since he’d started middle school. Ned deflated at his side, and he sighed, turning to the bully with an unamused expression.

God, not this again.

“Flash, go away,” Ned said, and Flash ignored him, opting to zero in on Peter as he usually did during exchanges like these.

“What are you both freaking out over, huh? I bet it’s something nerdy,” he sneered, taking a step towards the two. “You fangirling about how much you wanna stick your tongue down Luke Skywalker’s throat or something?”

“Go away Flash,” Peter muttered, a small edge to his tone as he spoke.

“Why? What is something I said?” The teen said, smirking as he noticed Peter’s arm hidden behind his back. “Whatcha hiding, Penis?”

“Nothing,” the spiderling said, body tensing as he tightened his grip around the bottle.

“Nothing? Well, it sure doesn’t seem like nothing,” Flash said, narrowing his eyes as he reached out of his palms, looking at him expectantly. “Hand it over.”

“No,” Peter responded almost immediately.

“Hand it over,” Flash urged, pushing his palm forward a little as Peter shook his head defiantly.

“No!” v“Hand it over, or I’ll force it out of your sweaty little hands myself,” the bully hissed, and Ned flinched slightly at his side, looking at Peter with nervous eyes. The hero only shook his head once more, lips tightening into a line as he swallowed harshly, almost certain of what the boy in front of him was going to do next, and he tensed, bracing himself for his actions. Don’t engage, he thought quietly to himself, forcing down all urges to quip and jab at the boy in response to his words.

Flash looked at him, waiting with his palm extended for a few more moments before slowly bringing his hand back to his side, chest puffing out slightly in arrogance as a smirk played at his lips. “Fine,” he said, clenching one of his hands into a fist as he began to raise it up. “You asked for it.”

With a sharp crack, Flash brought a fight down sharply onto Peter’s cheek, and he winced slightly, expression tightening as he head snapped to the side. Ned’s eyes widened, a gasp escaping his mouth as he exclaimed, “Peter!” His friend then turned to the bully, expression morphing into one of shock. “He just said no! You didn’t have to do that!”

“Well, I did.” Setting his hands on the front of Peter’s shirt, Flash pushed him back slightly towards his locker. “You’re not gonna fight back, are you? Puny little Penis Parker can’t fend for himself, huh? Has to be babied by his precious widdle aunt because he’s all alone?” He taunted, gripping the arm holding the web fluid as he tried to pull it out from behind his back. Peter’s eyes narrowed and he quickly slapped Flash’s hand away, the bully tensing slightly as he glared at the teen.

“Don’t talk about May,” Peter spoke softly, glaring at the boy.

“Why shouldn’t I?” Flash jested as he gave the spiderling’s arm another sharp tug, this time pulling his arm out and snatching the web fluid out of his hand. “Web fluid?” He read, eyebrows furrowing as he spun the bottle around. “The hell is that?”

Ned stared in shock as the bully ripped the fluid bottle right out of Peter’s hands, and his eyes widened substantially as he looked at his friend with a pleading stare, the spiderling meeting his eyes and he locked him in a silent conversation, mouthing, “What are you doing? Fight back!” Peter’s eyes softened at this, an unidentifiable emotion passing over his face as he shook his head, quickly turning back to Flash, who was still examining the bottle with confusion.

“This some kinda nerd juice or something?” the bully asked, and Peter nearly scoffed at the ridiculousness of the insult. He bit back the urge to quip something back, instead opting to give the boy a tight response.

“It’s none of your business.”

“Oh?” Flash’s eyebrow quirked up, and he smiled, pinching the bottle’s top as he dangled it from two fingers above the floor. “So you won’t mind if I just drop it right here?”

“Flash, don’t!” Ned exclaimed, clearly treating the bottle as something much more valuable than Peter was. However, Peter didn’t exactly want to tell Flash to go ahead and smash it because the web fluid was in such short supply, so he opted to stay silent instead. The bully seemed to disregard Ned altogether as he watched Peter’s silent form with a mean smirk, shaking his head slightly as he tightened his grip around the bottle, preparing to throw it towards the ground.

“Alright. Here goes nothing,” Flash taunted, raising his arm slightly and bringing it down, sm--

It’s for Tony Stark!

Flash froze in his movements at the sharp cry, and the students around them paused as well, now taking note of the conversation. Peter immediately began to pale, strings of curses flowing through his brain as the one thing he didn’t want his friend to say slipped out of his mouth. Ned, you idiot--

“Peter...he-he has an internship with Tony Stark!” Ned said, a little breathless and pink from the sudden attention. “It’s a super secret project he has to do for him.” Flash stared at his friend, blinking as his hand dropped to his side, and Peter could see the gears whirling in his head as he tried to process the information.

“An internship with Tony Stark?” he repeated slowly, turning to Peter to eye him up and down, eyebrows raised. “Really?” The bully broke out into a smirk as he continued to look over the spiderling, a loud laugh escaping Flash’s lips, causing even more people to stop and look at them. Peter’s cheeks burned as he continued to laugh harder, bordering on hysterical, and he looked down to avoid his peer’s gazes.

“Hear that, everyone? Penis Parker has an internship with Tony Stark!” A few giggles could be heard from the small crowd of students, and Flash’s lips tugged up into a cheshire grin as he walked closer to Peter, stopping just a few inches in front of the teen and he loomed down over him.

“You must really be a whore for attention if you need to make stupid claims like that to get people to look at you,” Flash hissed softly. “Take your stupid ‘secret project.’” The bully then shoved the bottle of fluid into Peter’s hands, and the teen’s hand slipped a little before he gripped the bottle tightly. “You make me sick, Parker. Sick.”

Training his eyes on a spot on the ground, Peter forced his expression to stay neutral, staying silent as he patiently waited for Flash to walk away, cheek still stinging slightly from the punch. The students started to shift a little around them as, from further down the hall, a security guard started shouting at the crowd, pushing through them and urging them out of the way.

“Move it, move it! Head to your busses!”

More of the kids started to dissipate as the shouting grew closer, and Flash leaned back slightly, giving Peter one last dirty look before walking away. The spiderling let out a soft breath of relief when the bully’s presence faded, and his gaze shifted to his backpack, left neglected on the floor, and he crouched down to finally put the bottle of web fluid inside.

“Peter, what are you doing? Why didn’t you fight back?! You’re way stronger than him now--you’re an Avenger!” Ned said, looking at him with slightly panicked eyes.

“That’s why I didn’t fight back,” Peter said softly, zipping up his backpack and slipping it onto his back. Rolling his sleeve up a little, he wiped his cheek and pursed his lips seeing the small dot of blood that soaked into the fabric. That’s gonna bruise later, he thought with a wince before looking at Ned. “If Flash realizes he can’t fight me, he’ll fight someone else who isn’t as strong as me. Plus, I can’t exactly use super strength on a middle schooler.” He said the last two words with emphasis, saying them with a slightly distaste and a tone that implied they took place a bit lower down on his list of preference than normal people.

Hey,” Ned spoke, giving him a playfully but slightly genuine offended look.

Peter laughed softly. “Sorry, but it’s true.”

Looking at his friend for a moment, Ned eventually sighed, expression softening as he exhaled. “Okay, yeah. You’re right,” he muttered, pausing slightly before adding, “and uh, I’m sorry about saying the internship thing. I know you said it was kind of a problem before.”

“Don’t worry, it’s fine,” Peter said with a small smile, starting to walk out towards the busses, Ned keeping pace with him at his side as he moved. “It’ll give me a good excuse if any Avengers decide to show up here.”

With those words, Peter walked outside, the two falling into a soft silence until he felt a small tap at his shoulder. The teen paused, eyebrows furrowing as he turned around, only to spot a very familiar figure brandishing a baseball cap and a pair of sunglasses, smiling widely at him. Peter’s expression morphed into a deadpan.

Speak of the devil, and he shall appear.

“Hey kid,” said none other than Clint, shoving his hands into his pockets as he gave him a toothy grin.

“Hey Clint,” Peter grumbled, and the archer laughed seeing his obvious annoyance.

“What, too cool to be seen with a guy like me at school?” he asked, and Peter puffed his cheeks slightly, eyes darting around as he kept a close eye on who seemed to be looking in his direction.

“More like too nerdy,” he muttered under his breath, and Clint’s eyebrows furrowed, and he opened his mouth to respond only to be interrupted by Ned, who had, until then, been staring at the Avenger with a slightly gaped jaw, eyes wide with shock.

“Clint? You mean like Clint Barton? Like, Hawkeye the Avenger Clint Barton?” His friend asked, voice slightly breathless as he stared up at the man in awe. Said Avenger stole a glance in Peter’s direction, a silent ask for permission as he knew Peter’s identity was important to him. It was one of the first things the team had figured out about the elusive teen during the week they’d known each other, and after a slight freakout concerning a call from his aunt (“You told her I was at the tower?” “Well, I didn’t think--” “That’s right, you didn’t think! God, she can’t know about this, not right now, not after--not--” “Peter, breathe--”), they realized not to pry too much into his personal life. Peter nodded at the man in response, giving him a reassuring smile to indicate that it was okay. The archer smiled, eyes falling back onto Ned as he began to speak.

“The one and only,” Clint said, his tone turning slightly smug as he watched Ned sputter and gape helplessly out of sheer awe at coming in contact with the man.

Oh my god,” Ned managed to choke out, though it ended up being something more like a whisper. The archer laughed softly in amusement, and sent his gaze back to Peter, raising an eyebrow as he looked him over.

“Kid, what the hell happened to your cheek?” Clint asked, and Peter immediately flushed, looking down self-consciously in a feeble attempt to hide the small bit of swelling.

“Nothing. I’m fine,” he muttered a little coldly, causing the archer to blink in surprise. He fell silent for a soft pause at this, choosing not to press about it, which Peter was grateful for. The Avenger’s expression then turned serious as he began to speak, voice lowered slightly as he looked at the teen.

“Well anyways, Fury was able to get through to Pym and they’re heading to the tower now,” Clint said, becoming tense and keeping a close eye on the kids wandering around them. Pulling his phone slightly out of his pocket, he checked the time, quickly pushing the device back in afterwards. “They’ll probably be there by the time we get through traffic.”

“Really? That quickly?” Peter asked, raising an eyebrow in surprise.

“Apparently,” Clint said. Peter then blinked, the information fully registering in his head as he gave the archer a blank stare, cocking his head a little to the side.

“Wait, what do you mean we?” He questioned.

“I’m here to pick you up,” Clint spoke, taking a hand out of his pocket to point at a sleek black car parked just outside the school. Definitely one of Tony’s cars, he thought, and Ned gave a small squeak at his side as the boy’s body was further seized by shock. Both heroes turned to his friend, looking at him for a few moments as he continued to look forwards, unresponsive. Clint gave Peter a questioning look, and the teen shook his head.

“He’s just excited.”

“Right,” Clint muttered, giving Ned one last look of confusion before focusing his attention once more on Peter. “Kid, you do realize we need you for this, right? You’re basically leading this whole operation.”

“Well, I mean,” Peter flushed hearing the words being spoken out loud, “I realized but I didn’t really...I don’t know.” He shrugged helplessly, causing Clint to chuckle and sling an arm around his shoulders in perfect dad fashion, ruffling his hair as he spoke.

“Oh, how humble and naive you are,” he said fondly, patting the teen’s shoulder. “But seriously, we need to get going before Nat kicks both my ass and yours.”

Peter laughed, nodding. “Okay,” he said, smiling as he looked at Ned. “Hey Ned, is it alright if I tell May that I’m at your house?” Ned only nodded in response, staring at the pair with a blank form of shock. The expression pulled a laugh out of the spiderling and he smiled, waving at his friend as he began to be ushered away by Clint.

“Thank you! See you tomorrow!” Peter said with a smile. Ned waved, eyes still wide. Clint chuckled, turning behind him to wave at the boy as well.

“Bye Peter’s friend!” The archer said, and the two began moving towards the car parked a little ways away. Clint pulled his arm away from the teen, adjusting his sunglasses as he walked.

“So, you guys close?” Clint asked, tilting his head back slightly to gesture back towards Ned. Peter nodded, a smile rising to his lips.

“He’s my best friend,” he responded. “We’ve basically grown up together.”

“Aww,” the Avenger smiled, causing Peter to flush lightly in embarrassment. “What’s his name?”

“Ned.”

“Ned. He seems like a really nice kid.”

“He is,” Peter smiled, thinking back to the countless times his friend had pulled him out of his head and helped lift him back on his feet. “He’s the best.”

Clint only smiled warmly at this, walking up to the car and around to the driver’s side, tapping the top of the vehicle as he said, “Hop in, kid.”

With a nod, Peter opened the door and slipped into the car, and, in no time, the two were off for the tower.

---

Stepping out of the elevator, Peter walked onto the Avenger’s main floor with Clint close behind him. He made his way towards the living room, voices echoing out into the hall as people conversed inside. His head perked up slightly at this, listening in on the small talk as he continued to walk closer.

“So you used the particles instead of the regulation circuit I used,” Tony muttered, his tone taking something akin to awe.

“In summary, yes. I believe so,” another voice responded, a male one, a bit more gravelly and old than the teen was used to hearing.

“That’s fascinating,” the billionaire responded, and Peter walked in the room, causing the man to quickly turn around to look at him. Tony was standing by the kitchen island with another older man, brandishing white hair and a pair of black glasses. The other man turned around, and the teen’s eyes widened as he recognized the face of none other than Hank Pym.

“And there’s the man of the hour,” Tony said with a smile.

“You must be Peter,” Hank spoke, a small smile gracing his lips as well. Peter’s eyes widened, and a blush quickly rose to his cheeks as he became overwhelmed with the man’s attention.

“U-Uh,” he stammered for a moment, nodding quickly as more redness rose to his cheeks. “Yes, I am. I-It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. Pym.”

“It’s an honor to meet you too. I’ve heard much about you,” Hank responded, stealing a glance at Tony as he continued, “Though for a moment, I did doubt your judge of character.” Tony’s eyes narrowed into a small glare at this, and he scoffed, crossing his arms over his chest. Peter smiled a little at the jab, to the billionaire’s displeasure.

“Dad, I’ve gathered the data like you asked,” a female voice rang from outside the room, and soon, another three figures had entered the room. Turning towards the door, Peter watched as a woman, somewhere in her thirties, entered the room, and from the light of recognition in Hank’s eyes, the teen realized that the woman must be Hope Van Dyne, Hank’s daughter. His eyes sparkled with awe as two other very familiar figures, a man and a woman, entered behind her, each holding their own air of authority as they moved. The eyepatch covering the man’s eyes was all Peter needed to put together that the pair was Nick Fury and Agent Maria Hill, and Peter barely caught himself as his jaw began to unconsciously drop open, eyes widening as he watched them.

Hope stopped at the side of the group, holding a small flash drive in her hands, and she glanced around the room, quickly taking note of Peter and looking him over. “This the kid?”

“Y-You’re Hope Van Dyne,” Peter said softly, mind whirling as he tried to process through the absolute awesomeness (Oh my god, how is this my life?!) of the situation.

“Yeah, that’s my name,” Hope said with a small upwards twitch of her lips. “I’m looking forward to working with you, Peter.”

Oh my god they all know my name this is amazing, he thought with wide eyes, nodding slightly as he sputtered out, “Y-You too.” Blinking softly, Peter’s thoughts slowly caught up the words he’d said, and he immediately flushed.

“I-I mean me too,” the teen quickly corrected, causing both Hank and Hope to give him amused smiles. Fury only raised an eyebrow at this, stealing a glance at Tony, who only sighed in response. The direction then looked back in the direction of the teen, stepping forwards, catching Peter’s attention.

“Since we’re doing introductions, I might as well join in the fun,” Fury said, holding out a hand towards Peter. “Nick Fury.”

A part of Peter’s brain short circuited at the gesture, and, without much thought, he grabbed the man’s hand tightly. “P-Peter Parker.”

“Tight grip,” Fury noted with a smirk. The spiderling’s eyes widened with surprise at this, and he quickly pulled back his hand.

“O-Oh, sorry. I just, uh--” Flushing with embarrassment, Peter quickly cut the beginnings of his rambling off, still retaining some semblance of dignity through his immense fanboying. Opting for a quicker explanation, he simply muttered, “Strength and all that.”

“So I’ve heard. You’re enhanced, right?” The director asked. Peter nodded slightly, and opened his mouth to respond when--

“No. We’re not doing this today,” Tony quickly cut in, holding out a hand as he looked at Fury with a pointed look. “You? Keep your creepy recruiting to yourself.” Turning back to the three scientists, the billionaire continued, “We’re going to head over to the labs so we can talk business or whatever. Science and all that.” Hill raised an eyebrow at this, looking at Fury with a knowing look and smiling. Fury only chuckled softly in response, showing that same glint in his eyes.

“Lead the way,” Hank said, gesturing for the billionaire to move, and Tony immediately began to walk towards the doorway situated at the side of the room. Hank, Hope, and Peter followed close behind the man as he made his way into the hallway, glass-rimmed and sparkling in all of its glory. Peter gazed out the window with fascination as he watched all of the various agents and workers move throughout various rooms and up and down hallways, and he could see Hope doing the same. Hank seemed to pay no mind to it, though.

Eventually, they reached the end of the hall, and Tony set his hand on a panel by a metal doorway, opening it and leading them into his lab.

Turning back to face them, Tony announced, “This is only the first floor, so if you need space to work you can head upstairs.” Hank nodded, walking slightly ajar from the group to examine the space more closely.

“Thank you, Stark,” the scientist said, and Tony gave a small smile. Hope began to make her way over to the computer situated at the from of the lab, and she plugged the small flash drive into the computer and started to download the information into his mainframe, blue holograms popping up around them at random as the information began to process.

“I’ve downloaded both our files and yours into this flash drive so we can stay somewhat organized,” Hope said, turning back to look at them. “I’m assuming the first thing we’ll need to do in order to start creating something that can come into contact with these infinity stones is to determine what they’re made of, correct?”

“Or what they give off,” Hank added.

“Well, we know from the studies on the Tesseract that they give off heavy gamma radiation,” Tony said, exhaling as he leaned against one of the counters. “And technically we’ve already created things that work with said object, like a portal to space.”

“But that doesn’t exactly manipulate the stones like what we heard in the debriefing,” Hope countered. Tony shrugged.

“It’s a start.”

Hank exhaled softly, walking over to one of the holograms and pulling out each of the files that showed a drawn diagram of each stone. “We need to figure out what exactly is contained inside these things.”

“Well, we know they’re self-sustaining energy sources,” Hope stated.

“And they give off radiation and light. Like a star.” Tony walked up to one of the stone’s holograms, the reality stone, and looked at it closely. “They were made in the Big Bang, so we know their composition must be something related to objects created there. It could just be a really, really condensed star.”

“That could explain why people burn up when touching them,” Hope suggested, but Peter furrowed his eyebrows, shaking his head.

“No, that’s not right,” the teen said softly, causing the three scientists to look at him. “I’ve seen Thanos create a black hole in his hands using the space stone. There’s no way a star could do something like that, regardless of how dense it is. The stones have a sentient control over the matter around them.” Letting out a small breath, his voice dropped to a mutter as he added, “I’d almost go as far as to say they create matter.”

“That can’t be,” Hank said after a small pause. “If that were true, the Law of Conservation would be false, and everything we know about space would have to be rewritten. There’s no way.”

“It’s plausible.” Hope looked at her father. “The time stone would have to have free control over lightspeed in order to travel back and forth in time at our size. These infinity stones basically break everything we know about the laws of our world.”

“Well then, how the hell do we do this?” Tony asked, hands dropping to his sides. “How do we harness something that shouldn’t even exist?”

“The same way Thanos did,” Peter said softly. A hush fell over the room at his words, and they all looked down, dropping into thoughts of their own as the mulled upon what the teen said.

After a few moments, Hope looked up, drawing in the other’s attention as she took in a short, audible breath. “What did the gauntlet look like, Peter?”

“Uh.” Peter paused, thinking of how to describe the intricate object’s workings. “I could sketch it out if you like?” He offered with a small lift of his shoulders. “It’s a little hard to describe.”

“I got you,” Tony said, and with a tap on one of the holograms, he pulled up google images and searched up the word ‘gauntlet.’ Immediately, a page of pictures of various metal gauntlets filled the screen and he looked back at Peter. “Pick one. You can manipulate the structure after.”

Peter’s eyes widened as he looked over the large array of images, and he nodded, speaking a soft, “Okay.” He walked up to the display and scrolled for a few moments, searching through the pictures until he spotted a golden gauntlet that looked similar to the one Thanos was brandishing. Tapping it, the picture expanded into a 3D image, and he quickly got to work, pulling and prodding at different areas and working at it as the other scientists began to softly discuss different ideas.

“Maybe a little wider,” the teen muttered softly to himself, tugging at the end of the image to expand it outwards. After a few more moments of editing and fine-tuning, he stepped back to fully look at the image in all of its glory. A chill went down his spine as he gazed upon the edited gauntlet, swallowing harshly as images of Thanos using his own gauntlet came to mind. He’d definitely gotten the picture to look accurate. Maybe a little too accurate, he thought as he began to pale slightly.

“That’s what it looks like,” Peter spoke, words slightly choked, and the three looked at the image with a close interest, each of them scanning over every little detail of the gauntlet.

“And those holes are where the stones went?” Tony asked, and Peter nodded, responding with a short, “Yeah.”

“Do you know what kind of metal was used?” Hope inquired, looking at the teen.

“Something alien, probably. I doubt it was made with anything on Earth,” Peter responded, and Hank cursed softly to himself as soon as the words exited his mouth. The teen swallowed harshly seeing the grim faces his answer caused, and he bit his lip, eyes widening slightly as something floated to mind.

“Vibranium works,” he said softly with wide eyes. The scientists immediately looked at him, causing him to flush. “A-At least I’m pretty sure. In your new suit, Mr. Stark,” Peter turned to Tony at those words, “you added vibranium alloy into the nanoparticles. When we were fighting Thanos on Titan, you were able to block the energy from the power stone and it didn’t even leave a scratch on the suit.” Tony’s eyes widened at this.

“I’d love to ask more about the nanoparticle thing, but I’d like to know where I got my hands on some vibranium. I thought we ran out,” the billionaire said, and Peter laughed a little.

“From Wakanda, duh.” His eyes darted around at the blank stares he got in response to the statement, and he bit his lip uncomfortably as regret began to crawl up his back. “Shit, they didn’t open their borders yet, did they?” He muttered, the blood slowly draining from his face.

“Language,” Tony muttered softly, and Hope cocked her head to the side in confusion.

“What do you mean?” She asked, eyebrows furrowed.

“Um, well, in reality, Wakanda isn’t a poor country at all,” Peter began to explain, words coming out slow as he tried to find an apt way to drop the information. “They’re actually a hidden sort of utopia--they have a forcefield shield thing around their country that creates the illusion of a forest to keep themselves hidden. Inside, they have access to large vanes of vibranium, and they process so much of the stuff that they have it woven into their clothes. Their tech is way more advanced than ours because of it, but we do catch up eventually.” Silence followed his words as they each stared at him with varying levels of surprise. It stayed like that for a few moments as they each replayed his words in their minds to process it, and the teen shifted uncomfortably on his feet from the lack of a response.

“Well damn,” Tony muttered with raised eyebrows, breaking the stunned silence.

“How long until they open their borders?” Hope asked, voice soft as she spoke. Peter furrowed his eyebrows in thought as he began to think back to when Wakanda first became a large deal in the news.

“Late 2016 probably,” he said after a moment. “So about a year.”

“We can’t afford to wait that long,” Hank said, gnawing at his lip in worry as he looked down at the ground. “We need at least a small supply to start so we can begin making prototypes.”

“Don’t worry about that,” a voice said towards the doorway, and the four immediately snapped their heads up towards the source of the voice, redirecting their attention. “I can get that handled.” Fury was standing in the somehow opened doorway of the lab, and although Peter wanted to question how he got in so silently, he figured it would be futile considering how elusive he was.

“...just how long have you been standing there?” Tony asked, pointing to the man with feigned shock, his eyes reflecting no real surprise at his presence. Fury’s lip twitched upwards at this.

“Long enough,” the director said simply. “I’ll send a notice once we get into contact with Wakanda. Until then, don’t stress about it.” And, as quickly as he entered, the man stepped out of the doorway, metal doors closing behind and leaving the three in silence once more. Peter blinked dumbly at he continued to stare at the doors.

“Is he usually like that?” Hank asked after a moment, to which Tony sighed.

“Unfortunately, yes.”

“Well, I guess we don’t have to worry about vibranium anymore,” Peter said with a soft smile, the atmosphere in the workshop lifting a little at his words. Hope reflected his smile, laughing a little, causing Hank to smile as well, and Tony exhaled softly, pushing himself off of the counter.

“Alright,” the billionaire started, looking over the group with an air of authority as he addressed them. “Let’s start drawing up some blueprints, shall we?”

Chapter Text

“You’ve got to be shitting me--come on!” Strange exclaimed in frustration, growling as he moved his hand in another small circle. In front of him was a large, transparent map laid out onto the air, a grid spread out over what appeared to be areas of space. Towards the center was a small circle that was centered in on a ship, magnifying the object and moving with it as it flew through space. From the light dancing from his palms, a smaller green circle was forming at the center of the ship, sparks of light slowly floating towards the map and attaching together to create the ring. However, the ship suddenly jerked slightly to the side, causing the light and the circle to fade, making the sorcerer let out a short curse.

“At this rate, I don’t think we’ll be able to make it to Chinatown before dark,” Wong muttered softly. “And I was looking forward to some peking duck.”

“Shut up, I’m going to get it,” Strange muttered, hands glowing green once more as he started the circle over. Wong sighed heavily, moving over to take some books on various infinity stones off of the table, stacking them all into a neat pile at the corner of it.

“You said the same thing an hour ago, Strange,” the sorcerer sighed, and the ship moved again, causing blood to rush to Strange’s face as he let out another loud curse.

Fuck!

“Yelling at it won’t make it happen any faster,” Wong said, grabbing the stack of books and walking over to the array of bookshelves in the corner.

“It’s a speck, Wong. A tiny little dot that’s incredibly hard to locate and keeps moving when I don’t want it to,” the sorcerer hissed through gritted teeth, the green light covering his hands again.

“I know, but getting frustrated just makes it more difficult,” Wong advised. “If you’re patient you might actually get a result or two.”

“If I’m patient,” Strange repeated slowly, face incredulous as he let out a slightly hysterical laugh. Something small snapped in him as he turned away from the map to face his friend, his current task momentarily forgotten. “How am I supposed to be patient when this fucking ship keeps moving when I try to put a marker on it? Tell me Wong, really, I’d like to know.”

Wong paused in his movements hearing his friend’s words, face hardened as Strange waited for him to respond. Opening his mouth to try to reason with the man, he quickly cut himself off, noticing an orange glow beginning to creep up onto the sorcerer’s hands in place of the green. Eyes widening in surprise, he slowly set down the pile of books, their weight suddenly becoming heavier as he swallowed down a lump in his throat, watching the light and muttering shakily, “Strange…”

“Every single time I get even a little bit close to finishing the marker--which takes a while, by the way--they end up using lightspeed and going someplace different! Do you know how frustrating that is?” Strange continued, and Wong bit his lip as the orange continued to creep up the man’s hand.

“Strange--”

“I’ve been up for thirty-eight hours Wong. I was up at four o’clock yesterday morning, still trying to track these--these idiots,” he spat the word distastefully, “because god knows when they’ll get this close to Earth again, and they were still moving around even then. Sure, it may not be night for them, but surely I’ve been up long enough for them to have fallen asleep at least once, right? But apparently they don’t sleep, and they have to keep moving because the ship has ADHD or some shit! I don’t know!” The orange had fully enveloped the green on the man’s hands at this point, and Wong was steadily paling at how bright the glow was getting.

Strange--

“I’m too tired for this. I just can’t do it,” the sorcerer muttered, shaking his head. The dark circles under his eyes somehow became more pronounced as he spoke. “Coffee isn’t doing shit, I’m tired, I’m hungry, and I want to lay down in my bed and be able to rest my head on a nice, soft pillow, but you know what? I’m stuck trying to track this goddamn ship! I’m done!” He spoke the last two words sharply and deliberately, the light on his hands fluctuating and increasing in response to his sudden emotion.

Strange took in an angry breath, face flushed with anger as the glow began to steadily brighten, fuming, “Y’know what, fuck it! Fuck the stones! Fuck Thanos, fuck the Avengers for even making me do this in the first place, and fuck that ship!” Throwing his hands into the air with finality, the glow suddenly disappeared from his hands and a loud fwoom resounded outside, causing the blood to completely drain from his friend’s face.

Stephen!” Wong yelled, eyes widening as a large, orange orb flew up into the sky at an incredible speed, slowly disappearing into nothing but a small dot and appearing at the very bottom of the map in front of them. Strange perked up at the sudden use of his first name, and he shifted to look at his friend.

“What?” the sorcerer asked, suddenly sobering as he noticed Wong’s pale face. Slowly following the man’s gaze to the map, Strange quickly spotted the orange dot as it rose into the air, floating higher and higher on the map and slowly crawling closer to the circle magnifying the ship. It crept closer to the ship, entering the magnified area of space and in the blink of an eye, the ship was enveloped in a bright orange light. The wing of it quickly shattered on impact, breaking into small pieces as smoke started to rise from the back engines, causing the ship to begin to fall, the pull of Earth’s gravity becoming too much for it as it was forced into its atmosphere. Swallowing harshly, Strange slowly turned back to Wong, who was giving him a glare so sharp it could cut steel. He chuckled nervously, body tense as he began to sweat.

“Um...whoops?”

---

Peter pursed his lips, frantically erasing the line of measurements he’d just written and he let out a soft breath, starting the equation over with a slightly altered length. At the current moment he and Hope were working on design plans for the holding device they were planning to use to contain the stones and to ultimately use the stones. He had been working for a few hours at this point--he hadn’t gotten up to check an exact time--and he’d come up with maybe half of his design, which he was pretty proud of. Tony and Hank had originally been assisting them with the blueprints, but they all decided it would be best to split up the work and have the two men begin mapping out the molecular structure of the stones and their energies via FRIDAY.

The teen arrived home pretty late yesterday because of their research, which unsurprisingly didn’t blow over well with his aunt. He didn’t get grounded, thank god, but he now officially had a curfew for how long he could “stay at Ned’s house,” which he had to embarrassingly reveal to the other scientists and the Avengers. They all understood, of course, and Hope even reassured him that Hank and Tony had humiliated themselves much worse than he had when Hank first arrived. (He didn’t think he needed the reassurance, but he still listened, especially since he was getting some wonderful insight on this time’s Tony. You gotta love some tea, he thought with a wide smirk.) Apparently one of the first things Hank did when he arrived was ask about FRIDAY, and he somehow verbally coded the AI to respond only to him. Tony blew up, of course, yelling at him for messing up his work and Hank said, in Hope’s words, that, “Maybe I can help you make the programming a bit better sometime, although it isn’t my specialty.

Hope refused to give any details after that.

They’d eventually set aside their differences, however, and started discussing the stones and such. Peter found it slightly odd that Tony got over something like that so quickly, but there was something in Hope’s eyes that make him think twice about asking.

Finishing the new equation, Peter set his pencil down and stared at the markings, beginning to zone out as his thoughts paused. It seemed as if the world around him started to become a little fuzzy, and he fell deeper into his trance, not a single thought crossing his mind as he stared, the soft noises around him becoming muffled. It felt nice and peaceful, almost natural--a little like sleep, he mused--and he allowed himself to begin to drift away, li--

“Peter, your phone is ringing,” Hope’s voice broke through the stupor, and Peter quickly blinked, body snapping into movement once more. His eyebrows furrowed as he regained awareness, noise slowly filtering back into his ears. Jesus, I really need more sleep, he thought grimly to himself, yawning slightly as he shook away the remaining fuzz from his vision. Then, remembering the reason why he snapped out of his stupor, he turned to his phone, which was set on the workbench next to the blueprint, and saw that it was indeed buzzing. On the screen he could see May’s contact, and he immediately grabbed it, shooting a soft “Thanks” to Hope before answering.

“Hello?” He asked, bringing the phone up to his ear.

Hey, sweetie. I forgot to mention that the lunch I made for you has some stuff that needs to stay cold, so don’t wait too long to eat or else it’ll get all gross,” May’s voice filtered through the phone, and Peter laughed softly, nodding.

“Okay, I won’t.” May paused on the other end for a moment, the silence pondering.

You boys are staying put, right?” She asked slowly, and Peter blinked, furrowing his eyebrows in confusion.

“Yeah. Why do you ask?” He questioned, tilting his head a little as he readied his pencil to write.

I’m just wondering, that’s all,” his aunt said. Peter’s eyes lit up with a small realization and he let a sigh pass through his lips.

“May, if this is about Tuesday--”

Hey, it’s not every day you accidentally get lost at Avengers tower,” May said pointedly, causing Peter to groan.

“It was an accident,” the teen exasperated, the protest falling a bit weak from the countless times he’d repeated it.

I’m just saying, it’s pretty convenient considering how obsessed you are with Tony Stark. I don’t really think you should be putting him on such a high pedestal Peter, honestly.” Peter rolled his eyes, his face dropping into his hands. “He’s kind of an asshole. I mean, when he was younger he did some stuff that young boys like you really shouldn’t--

“Nat, come on! Give me back my quiver!”

May paused. “What was that?

“Oh, uh,” Peter stammered, the echoes protests of Clint continuing to resound through the space, fading a bit as the archer moved further away from the room. “Just-just a movie. We’re watching one right now.”

Okay. Well, I don’t want to take up too much of your time. But you better not be running off to someplace like Avengers tower again, okay?” May instructed. “You’re lucky that they were nice enough to try to get you home. You could’ve gotten arrested for trespassing.

“May, I know, I get it.”

I know how you and Ned are, Peter. Just because you met them once doesn’t mean it has to be a thing. Don’t get conveniently lost there.

“I won’t, May. I love you,” Peter said, and May let out a breath over the phone.

I love you too. You boys have fun, okay?

“We will. Bye.”

Bye.

Peter let out a loud sigh hearing the call end, and he pulled his face away from his hands. Setting his phone back on the table, he turned back to his blueprint, pausing as he met Hope’s eyes, the woman’s expression curled into a knowing smirk. The teen’s cheeks burned from the look, and his eyes immediately dropped to the paper in front of him, his body curling in slightly as he did so. Sticking his nose in his work once more, he began to reevaluate the equations on the page and started drawing some more sections of the device as footsteps slowly began to echo downwards towards the stairs leading to the second floor of the lab. Peter didn’t have to pick up his head to know it was Tony and Hank, and the two men began down the steps, babbling about another theory on the stones as they did so.

“I still think it’s similar to neurons,” Tony stated as he stepped onto the first floor. “Sure, we’ve only scanned the mind stone, but they have to be sentient somehow. I mean, one of them can turn me into a rat for god’s sake!”

“Yes, but when you think about how they interact with life and how unpredictable they are, you could see how they could just be an example of harnessed quantum energy. Trust me, I’ve been working on this for most of my life,” Hank responded, and Tony’s eyes narrowed into a small glare from the distasteful response.

“Guys, I appreciate the science talk and all, but none of that actually explains how they can create matter,” Hope piped up, swirling around in her chair with her pencil still in hand.

“Maybe it’s dark matter?” Peter suggested with a small shrug, still looking at his blueprint as he erased one of his lines. “There’s theories but technically we don’t know what it looks like. It could just be invisible matter, and the stones are manipulating that to burn it into energy or something.” Tony paused for a moment at this, and the teen looked up, a small spark of hope igniting in his chest as he awaited some praise from the man.

“I mean, it’s a nice thought, but then how do you explain the reality stone transforming an object into something else? It’d have to be able to manipulate regular matter too, and dark matter and regular matter doesn’t mix,” the billionaire said, and Peter deflated, the spark dying almost as soon as it was born. He exhaled heavily, turning back to his blueprint, though his attention was almost immediately redirected as the doors to the lab opened, the sharp click of heels meeting his ears as Pepper stepped in the room. Peter broke into a wide smile at the sight of the woman, though he quickly forced it down to something more reasonable because that’s just creepy, Peter. Don’t be creepy.

“Break time. It’s been four hours,” Pepper said, and giddy excitement flourished in his chest at her familiar voice. The two had met shortly after the homecoming fiasco with Toomes, as per her request, and her warm inviting aura was already enough for Peter to trust her. They both hit it off right away, and they quickly bonded over the difficulties of handling Tony and his “emotional constipation,” as Peter liked to call it. Unfortunately, they weren’t given nearly as much time as him and Tony were due to her schedule as CEO of SI, but he knew he could go to her for help if he needed anything. A part of him was expecting the woman to notice him and shoot him a warm smile and a wave, but it seemed as if she didn’t notice his presence at all, the empty lack of contact serving as a bitter reminder of his current situation.

“But Pep, that’s barely any time as it is,” Tony protested.

“Break time, Tony.” The billionaire broke into a small pout, and Peter almost smiled at the action. Pepper only narrowed her eyes, setting her hands on her hips sternly.

Out.” Tony ducked his head, nodding a little as he quickly deflated. Hope smiled in amusement at the exchange, and Hank patted the hero’s shoulder reassuringly, giving Pepper a bright smile.

“Thank you for looking out for us,” he said sincerely, making Pepper’s lips tug upwards.

“You’re welcome. I’m glad someone appreciates it,” the woman said, shooting Tony a sharp look. The man’s jaw dropped slightly as his eyes widened, and he looked between the two, arms held out in an “are-you-serious?” gesture.

“Oh, come on! Really?” This time, a small chuckle erupted from Peter, a smile gracing his lips. Hank, Hope, and Pepper started filing out of the room, Tony begrudgingly following them as he grumbled to himself. The teen followed behind the man, expression dropping slightly. The distance between him and his ex-mentor felt like it had grown tenfold in the exchange, and he didn’t like it one bit. He shifted a little uncomfortably, pulling his sleeves down to his hands and eyes darting around as he bit his lip, an idea playing in his mind. Stopping at an intersection, Peter watched as the group continued down the hall, and he quickly slipped off to the left, effectively parting from the rest.

Crossing his arms, Peter started down the foreign hallway, keeping his head low to avoid making eye contact with anyone else in the area. The uncomfortable feeling of disappointment and loss had pooled its way into his chest again, along with the sharp sting of something similar to neglect. He didn’t mean to feel this way, but in some ways, he couldn’t help it. He just missed his Tony.

It’s not that he wasn’t expecting this to happen. After the Civil War, Tony hadn’t spoken a word to him until he first came into contact with the Vulture. Tony had even mentioned in passing that he would’ve thought himself to be crazy if he told himself he would become close to Peter in a few years. The teen had no reason to think that this version of Tony would treat him the way his Tony did, but he still did. He knew it was completely unfair too--this version of Tony still had a lot of emotional stuff to deal with--but a part of him longed for that familiar parental warmth he had grown to know and love. He knew that he probably freaked Tony out when he talked to him last weekend too. After he’d revealed that he was close to the future version of him, it almost seemed as if the older man had been avoiding him. Well--not avoiding him per se, but avoiding falling into a conversation with him. Peter didn’t blame him, he threw a lot at the man.

Needless to say, he really regretted running his mouth.

Now, it almost felt as if Peter was an outsider to Tony’s inner circle. The only instances he’d interact with the billionaire would be in passing while they were working. There was no small talk--only the occasional quip--no spontaneous dinner invites, no movie nights, no “Hey Peter, how was school today?” in that annoying, obnoxious dad voice he would always use when Happy would drop him off at the compound--nothing. There was no Peter and Pepper ganging up on Tony when he’d slip up and accidentally say something affectionate about Peter (“Oh? So he’s your kid now?” “Aww, Mr. Stark, you do love me!” “Shut. Up.”), just the occasional glimpse of Pepper on her phone and a small interaction between her and her boyfriend here and there. There was no Peter and Rhodey messing with FRIDAY’s coding to rename Tony’s protocols to piss off the man when they were bored on a rainy day. (“FRIDAY, can you zoom in on that building real quick?” “Sure thing, boss. Activating Old Man Bifocals Protocol.” “...what the everloving fuck did you just say to me?”) It was just them and him. He wasn’t a part of their family anymore. Hell, he wasn’t even sure if he was part of his own family anymore. Since May didn’t know about his relations with the Avengers anymore, it felt like a wall had created between him and his aunt. He absolutely hated lying to her, but what else could he do? He couldn’t push everything onto her.

A few tears pricked his eyes, and Peter quickly wiped them away with his sleeves before they could fall. He couldn’t help but feel like this was all his fault. He’d freaked Tony out, he was lying to May--he couldn’t even get the fucking gauntlet off of Thanos’ hand. He was so, so close to taking it off, but he just wasn’t strong enough to get it off all of the way. If he’d just pulled a little harder, none of this would’ve happened. Now, his Tony was probably driving himself insane because he knew the older man had separation anxiety, this Tony was freaking out because Peter was too close to him, and Thanos killed half of the universe.

And it was all his fault.

Swallowing back a sob, Peter shook his head, trying to force the thoughts out of his head. He knew he shouldn’t blame himself, he was just being stupid, this whole thing was just stupid, stupid, god, why am I so stupid, this is all my fault, all my fault, stupid, stupid, all my fault--

Uumph!” Peter bumped into something--someone, he realized as he stumbled slightly and lost his balance, falling face first into the fabric of the person’s shirt. He almost immediately flinched back, ducking his head in shame as his face flushed, an apology stumbling out of his mouth. “I-I’m so sorry, I-I didn’t mean--I wasn’t--”

A familiar, rumbling laugh broke him out of his stupor, and he looked up to see Steve standing in front of him with his textbook bright smile and warm eyes. “Don’t worry, I wasn’t really paying attention either,” he reassured. “Are you alright?”

Peter quickly nodded, “Y-Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.” It wasn’t until then he noticed that his eyes were wet, and he swiftly wiped them, sniffling softly as he tried to compose himself. “I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?” Steve slowly asked, his voice becoming soft as he noticed the teen’s tears. “Do you want to talk about it?”

No,” Peter quickly snapped, eyes widening in surprise at his own tone. Steve seemed to be a little taken aback as well, and the spiderling muttered, “It’s nothing you need to worry about, okay? I’m fine.”

“Hey, you don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to,” the super soldier said, holding out his hands in a submissive gesture. He then looked over the teen, who currently was trying to calm himself down by taking a couple deep breaths, and spoke once more.

“Why don’t you come down to the gym with me and spar a little?” The hero offered, and Peter’s eyes widened. “It’s good for clearing your head.”

“I--really?” Peter asked, blinking in surprise as the soldier nodded.

“Mhmm.” A moment of silence passed, and the teen studied the man’s face before breaking into a small smile, a bit of childish excitement filling his body as it began to sink in that Captain America had just asked him to spar because no, he wasn’t over the hero worship just yet (at least not over this Captain America), and he nodded.

“Hell yeah, let’s do it!” The spiderling said, and Steve broke into a smile of his own.

“That’s the spirit,” the captain responded and started down the hall, Peter following him close behind. The teen had never personally been to the compound’s training room before, but he was aware it was on the opposite side of the building than the labs. He hadn’t realized he’d walked so far while he was wrapped up in his thoughts, especially so quickly. Unless it hadn’t been as little time as he thought, and Tony and the others were looking for them as they spoke. But, no, that couldn’t be the case, because FRIDAY would’ve probably called for him, right?

“...yeah, I will. I know, I know.” Peter paused hearing the soft voice, and turned to the side, peering down a hallway they were just about to pass and saw none other than Clint. His back was turned to Peter’s direction and a phone was pressed to his ear, but a small smile rose to his face nonetheless at the sight of the archer. He heard the faint voice of a woman speaking through the phone, and Clint laughed in response to whatever had been said.

“Okay. Love you, babe--tell Nathaniel I love him too, okay? Okay. Bye.” Ending the call, Clint pocketed the phone and exhaled softly, turning around and starting to walk, blinking in surprise when he noticed the pair--Steve had paused when Peter did, the teen realized, having followed the archer’s gaze.

“Oh, hey Cap, hey Pete! What’s up?” He said with a cheery smile.

“Sparring,” Steve responded, and Clint raised an eyebrow.

“With the squirt? He looks like a noodle.” Peter’s jaw dropped and he make a noise of indignance.

“Hey, I’m enhanced too,” the teen huffed, crossing his arms in front of him. Clint’s eyebrow raised further at this, though he quickly caved with the spiderling gave a pout and ruffled his hair playfully.

“We’ll start light, don’t worry,” Steve smiled. “You wanna spot?”

Clint sighed, shrugging a little as he started to look away. “I dunno, I’ve got some stuff…”

“C’mon Clint, please?” Peter asked, pulling his puppy dog eyes out to annoy the man. The archer gave him a dry look, and the teen somehow deepened his pout in response. After a few moments, he caved.

“What the hell, sure, why not.” Peter immediately broke into a shit-eating grin, and he threw a hand up into the air in triumph.

Yes! Let’s go then, come on!” The spiderling bounced out in front of the group, gesturing for the others to follow, and began running down the hall, practically bubbling with excitement. Steve smiled softly in relief and the teen’s energy, and Clint chuckled, breaking into a jog and following him. The captain followed, keeping Clint’s pace as they made their way towards the training room.

“Jesus, this kid,” the archer sighed, shaking his head, before raising his voice to yell over to Peter. “Slow down, not all of us have the calves of a god.”

“I thought only Thor has those,” Peter yelled back, slowing a little to turn and look back at the pair. Clint sighed.

“You know what I mean!”

Steve laughed at the archer’s side, and the man’s feigned annoyance quickly dropped as he joined his friend in laugher. After a few brief moments, Peter stopped in front of a pair of large metal doors, looking over them with curiosity. The pair stopped behind him only a second after, and the teen turned towards them, head tilted slightly in questioning.

“Is this it?” He asked, and Steve nodded, looking over the doors with a small smile.

“Yup,” the soldier said before looking up at the ceiling. “FRIDAY, can you open up the doors, please?”

“Of course, Captain,” FRIDAY’s voice rang throughout the space, and soon, the two metal doors began to slowly pull open, revealing a large room on the other side.

Stepping into the doorway, Peter gazed upon the sight in front of him, eyes widening as he began to take it all in. The room was vacant, brightly lit up with natural light from the large glass panels that acted as the wall situated to his left. The floors consisted of the same light metal that made up the rest of the room, dancing around reinforced glass in intricate patterns. Encasing the entire room, aside from the glass wall, were sloped metal structures leading up to a small slit of glass which showed a hallway on the other side. The teen could only assume that the hallways lining the training room had to be at least two or three floors above them because of the sheer height of the walls. Directly across from him was a platform branching out at about half the height of the wall with another set of metal doors situated behind it.

“Holy shit,” Peter whispered, eyes glittering in the sunlight. Steve smiled at this, and he began to make his way across the room, turning around about halfway and looking over the area, pursing his lips in thought.

“FRIDAY, can you set up for sparring in grid four?” The captain asked.

“Right away, Captain.” With the confirmation, the panels of the floor started to shift, and, as Peter watched with wide eyes, the metal and glass intricacies were replaced by soft mats. Steve kicked off his shoes and nudged them over to the side of the mat. He then stepped on top of the area with a satisfied smile.

“Would you say five minutes is a good place to start?” The soldier asked. A small bit of silence followed his question and Peter eventually blinked out of his stupor, flushing slightly as he noticed the word were directed towards him. He nodded, making his way over to the mat with Clint. He knocked off his shoes, following the captain’s example, and nudged them next to the older man’s, ignoring Clint’s snort at the difference in size.

“Five minutes sounds good.” The teen stepped on to the mat and looked around. The area they were situated in was about halfway through the room, though the mat was pressed up against the metal wall on the right. A small smirk made its way onto his face at the convenience of the placement, and he bounced slightly on his feet in excitement, his spider instincts already urging him to climb the large incline. “Am I allowed to use the walls?”

The soldier blinked in surprise at the question. “Um…” He looked over to Clint, who only shrugged, before turning back to Peter. “Sure?”

“Great!” Peter said a little too cheerily as he broke out into a wide smile. The spiderling then dropped into a fighting stance, which was one of the few things he recalled from his training lessons with Tony and Rhodey, with Steve following suit soon after.

“Alright!” Clint announced once the two had gotten themselves braced, clasping his hands together. “Some basic rules when sparring: When enhanced and fighting a non-enhanced, pull your punches, but this doesn’t apply so we’re good there. No weapons or magic unless otherwise specified, all electronics must be discarded, and don’t let your guard down.”

“Shit, hold on then,” Peter mumbled with a surprised blink, pulling out of his stance and slipping his hand into one of his pockets, taking out his phone. Clint barked out a laugh at this, and he looked at Steve with a smug look on his face.

“See? I told you we say those for a reason. It’s useful!”

“Yeah yeah,” Steve muttered with a chuckle, relaxing his stance a little as Peter made his way over to where their shoes were situated. Crouching over, the teen set his phone down next to his shoes, and, picking his head back up, he absentmindedly glanced across the room one more time. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted two very familiar figures walking down the glass-lined hallway lining the top of the room, the familiar expensive Givenchy suit clad figure particularly catching his eye as they walked. His ex-mentor paused as he turned to peer into the training room, and Peter met the man’s eyes, freezing as he locked himself into the hero’s gaze. The expression on the billionaire’s face seemed to tense into a weird mixture of pain and guilt (which didn’t really make all that much sense to Peter because it was his fault), and he was almost sure he was reflecting the expression.

“Pete, you good?” Clint asked from behind him, and Peter quickly snapped out of his stupor, blinking as he absentmindedly gave the archer a nod.

“Yeah, I’m good,” he said with a strained smile as he made his way back to his spot on the mat, soon dropping back into a stance. Looking up, he saw that the two Avengers were looking at him with concerned expressions, and, almost in reflex, he plastered a wide smirk on his face, forcing his usual Spider-Man snark to the forefront of his mind to relieve the two of their worry.

“You think you can keep up, old man?” The hero taunted, eliciting a surprised laugh from Steve.

“Oh, I’ll try alright,” the soldier responded, and he dropped back into his stance. Clint smiled at the two and, taking a quick glance between them, began to slowly count them down.

“Starting the match in three...two...one…”

Go!

---

Letting out a soft sigh, Tony set his coffee cup underneath the coffee machine, bringing up a hand to rub at his temples, trying to soothe the dull ache that had wormed its way into his head. The dark circles weighing down on his eyes felt heavier than ever, and although he knew he was responsible for their appearance, it didn’t stop him from despising their existence. He was starting to get to the point where focusing on words was becoming difficult, regardless of how much caffeine he pumped into his system. Ugh, I’m going to need another nap soon, Tony thought to himself with a grimace. Soft footsteps shifted his attention away from his exhaustion, each soft tap sending a dull throb through his head.

“Jesus, another one?” The voice of Rhodey carried through the room as his friend entered, and Tony let out an annoyed breath.

“Fuck off, Rhodes,” the man grumbled, dropping his hand from his face and setting it on the handle of his coffee cup, the machine nearly done filling the cup with the delicious liquid.

“No nicknames? Must really be in a bad mood,” Rhodey said, pulling out a stool from the island and sitting down, a soft smile gracing his features. “When was the last time you slept?”

“Last night,” the billionaire responded, back still turned to the lieutenant colonel. He really wasn’t in the mood for being questioned, though, knowing Rhodey, he wasn’t going to let up very easily. The knowledge only sent a spark of annoyance into his chest. Why did he have to be so stubborn?

Hypocrite, his thoughts whispered. Tony quickly pushed the voice away.

Rhodey let out a sigh at his response, and he leaned against the island, bringing his arms up to cross over his chest. “Let me elaborate. When was the last time you slept for more than one or two hours?”

Somewhere during his friend’s words the cup had finished filling with coffee, and, not sparing a glance at the sweeteners set beside the machine, Tony blew softly on the liquid. He didn’t bother to respond to Rhodey (his silence was loud enough of an answer anyways), annoyance and a weird mixture of his other repressed emotions still sparking up in his chest. Taking a small sip of the liquid, the billionaire pulled out a stool situated next to his friend, and he sat down wordlessly, only sparing the man a glance before sipping the warm liquid contently.

Tony,” Rhodey chastised, and the man let out a breath.

“I know, honey bear. Don’t have to remind me,” Tony said softly, and his friend’s expression softened.

“I thought the therapy was working,” Rhodey softly spoke.

“It was, until some kid from the future who somehow knows every little thing about me appeared out of nowhere confirming what I saw in New York,” the hero muttered, setting down his mug. Rhodey paused at his side, his expression morphing into one of soft pity. They sat in silence for a few moments as the man processed through Tony’s words, and honestly, the billionaire would’ve felt bad for dropping that on his friend all at once if they hadn’t been friends for years. He’d be fine.

And, true to his beliefs, Rhodey soon recovered, shifting his position slightly to get more comfortable. “Well, the last part I’ll admit you’re completely right to be stressed over,” his friend said softly, “but the kid…”

“He knew the override code and about Howard platypus, I don’t think it gets much more inner circle than that.” Tony took another long sip of coffee before continuing. “And I don’t know how I feel about that.”

“I mean, if you told him that in the future it means you trusted him. You trusted him a lot, Tones,” Rhodey gently spoke. Swallowing harshly, the hero looked down at his cup, watching his reflection ripple slowly in the brown liquid.

“Well,” he began, “that Tony isn’t me for a reason. I don’t do kids. I don’t plan to ever do kids.”

“You don’t, or you’re scared to?”

The question elicited a harsh laugh from Tony, because god it was such a Rhodey thing to say. Eyes shining against his will, he looked over at his friend, giving him a weak smile.

“Is it wrong to say both?” He whispered, hating the way his voice failed towards the end of his sentence. Rhodey mirrored his weak smile, eyes shining with sadness, and he set a hand on Tony’s shoulder, rubbing it softly in a gesture of comfort. The billionaire only nudged his hand softly with his shoulder in response, opting for another sip of coffee instead of more words.

“What’s his name?” Rhodey asked after a small pause.

“Peter,” Tony responded. “He was sixteen before he came back here. Bit of a chatterbox, but smart. Kind.” Pausing, the man bit his lip, a lump forming in his throat as he spoke his next words. “The way he looks at me, Rhodes...he looks so lost. And I know people think I don’t see it, but I do, and--fuck, I just--”

“Hey, it’s okay,” his friend softly reassured, but Tony shook his head, meeting the lieutenant colonel’s eyes.

“He looks at me like he’s looking for someone else,” he muttered softly. Exhaling softly, Tony brought his hands to his head, resting his forehead in them as he looked down at the table. “Jesus, it’s only been a week and I’m fucking him up.”

Rhodey’s face almost immediately tightened at this. “Tony, don’t start with this--”

“But it’s true. He looks up to me, it’s obvious. And in return, I brought him into all this Avengers shit. He’s scared--he doesn’t want us to know that he’s scared, but I can tell he is. Hell, he had a panic attack because we told his mom or his aunt or whatever that he was at the tower,” the billionaire began to ramble, eventually pulling his hands away from his face.

“But that wasn’t you,” Rhodey rebutted.

“I know. That’s kinda the problem.” He gave a harsh chuckle at this, though his expression quickly dropped soon after. “Regardless of how much I try to deny it or how many excuses I come up with, it’s a fact that whatever future me did was good. He did something right with that kid, and I don’t think I can ever live up to that expectation.”

“Well, of course you can’t, Tones. It’s the future--you need time,” his friend said. “I’m sure the kid realizes that too.”

“Maybe, but it’s still hurting him. He--He needs something better than me. He deserves that other me, the better me, not...this me.” Voice weakening, Tony took a moment to regather himself, willing down the knot that had formed in his chest before continuing. “I’m an asshole, Rhodey. I’m ignoring him because he’s something I don’t know how to handle, like I always do with all of my problems, and--shit, I’m doing it again. I called him a problem.” The hero groaned, dropping his face in his palms once more, feeling nothing more than helpless at the current moment. Rhodey’s expression remained soft and, sensing that Tony was done speaking, he took the opportunity to respond.

“There isn’t exactly much I can do to fix the situation because that’s all up to you, but, Tony,” the man started, taking a small pause, “if you really are as bad as you say you are, then why are you worrying so much about him?” The billionaire froze at this, eyes widening, and he slowly pulled his hands away from his face. He slowly opened his mouth to try to argue, but no words came to mind, causing him to close his mouth again and stare blankly in front of him. (He’s right, he’s right--but he can’t be right, I can’t deal with a kid, I--)

“Come on, why don’t we go take a small walk?” Rhodey offered with a small smile, gently nudging his arm. “Take your mind off of this.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Tony said half-heartedly, and his friend gave a playful huff of annoyance.

“Come on, Tony,” the man urged, and the hero looked over at him, eyeing him for a few moments.

“I’m bringing my coffee,” Tony stated, eliciting a chuckle from Rhodey.

“Alright. Fine by me.” With that, Rhodey stood up, pushing the stool back in its place and, begrudgingly, Tony followed his example, picking up his coffee cup and taking another sip of the liquid as he did so. The two walked to the edge of the room and out the right exit, and began making their way down the hallway it extended into, settling into a comfortable silence as they walked. Tony held his coffee cup close to his mouth, arms wrapped around his chest, and absentmindedly looked through the glass walls, watching people walk through the building at random. Rhodey stole a glance at him at his side, a series of unidentifiable emotions passing across his face, and his eyebrows furrowed slightly. After a few moments, the billionaire started to shift his eyes back to the area in front of him, and the lieutenant colonel’s head quickly whipped forward, and he cleared his throat slightly before speaking.

“So, how’s everything with Pepper?” Rhodey cut through the silence, stealing a glance at the man.

“Distant, as of lately,” Tony responded softly. “Both of us have been really busy--SI sales are kinda wonky from the whole Ultron thing still, and I’m trying to deal with the Thanos stuff.”

“Thanos?” Rhodey asked, eyebrows furrowing.

“The stuff,” the hero said with a simple point up to the sky. Understanding dawned on the lieutenant colonel’s face, and he gave a soft nod.

“Huh.” Rhodey paused. “Who the hell names their kid Thanos?”

Tony was slightly embarrassed by the volume of the snort the question forced out of him, and he quickly covered his mouth with a hand, a small blush unconsciously making its way onto his cheeks. His friend looked over at him with amusement clearly visible on his face.

“I’m serious. It’s a weird-ass name.” he continued, and Tony chuckled, shrugging.

“I dunno, some douchebag,” the billionaire responded, taking another sip of coffee.

“Bet he looks like one too,” Rhodey muttered.

“Probably.” The conversation lulled before Tony spoke again. “I’ve come up with a new idea recently.”

Rhodey raised an eyebrow. “What is it?”

“It’s a sort of memory projection...thing. For therapy. I want it to be able to scan the user’s brain and help project memories--preferably traumatic ones--to help them be able to heal and stuff,” Tony explained, and his friend’s eyes widened slightly as he continued to look at him.

“That’s a great idea,” the man said honestly, a soft smile tugging on his lips. “What brought this on?”

“Dunno,” Tony shrugged. “I was thinking I could use Vision’s stone as a starting point for where to go with the program and whatnot. I’ve been trying to decide on a name too. Something like, I don’t know, Augmented Binary Capsule or…” He made a gesture with his hands, words trailing off.

“Retro-Framing?” Rhodey offered. “Binary Retro-Framer?” Eyes widening, Tony snapped, turning dramatically to look at the man with his usual Tony Stark flare.

“Binarily Augmented Retro-Framing,” Tony said with a wide smile, meeting Rhodey’s eyes.

“Or BARF,” his friend responded, lips trembling as he forced a smile back. “For short.” Tony paused his movements at this, and Rhodey followed, unable to hold back a smile. The two continued to stare at each other, the weight of the words still lingering in the air. Both of their expressions started to suspiciously curl upwards, smiles growing larger and larger, until, like a rubber-band snapping, they burst into loud, boisterous laughter. The sudden noise caught the attention of some of the employees passing through the area, and a few of them turned to the pair, startled, but once they noticed who they were they went back to their tasks all the same. Tony clutched his stomach as he continued to howl with laughter, the high making him slightly hysterical, and Rhodey stumbled slightly and had to lean against the wall because he was weak with giddy laughter. Eventually, though, their laughs started to die down, and soon they were left only with flushed faces and teary eyes, strength returning to them.

“Ah god,” Tony said breathlessly, a few more chuckles escaping him before he could continue. “That was great.” He wiped his eyes with his hand, softly giggling. (Giggling? Tony Stark didn’t giggle. No--stop it, he does not.)

“I don’t think we’ve laughed like that since college,” Rhodey mused, lips still extended in a wide smile.

“Yeah…” Tony muttered with a small sigh, finally able to catch his breath.

“Hey, remember when we went to McNamara’s party?” Rhodey asked, and a smirk rose to Tony’s lips.

“You mean Jake the kiss-ass?” He responded with a quirk of his eyebrow, and Rhodey laughed.

“Yeah,” he smiled. “And the entire school came up with a plot to fuck up his house, and we ended up trashing the whole space?” Tony nodded in response, the two rounding a corner as his friend continued to reminisce. “I remember we went up to his dad’s room and hacked into his computer to look at his search history, and we ended up finding this weird porn site or some shit, and…”

Still listening to his friend’s words, Tony’s eyes started to wander off, and he peered into the room next to them, and as soon as he caught sight of the figures standing inside he froze. Towards the middle of the room stood none other than Clint, Steve, and Peter (nokidsnokidsnokids--), the latter two standing on top of a mat with the former off to the side, presumably going over rules. He watched with a petrified stare as Peter made his way over to the edge of the mat to set something down--a phone, he noticed, lips quirking up slightly because ah, the joys of today’s youth--and the boy slowly began looking upwards, all but freezing as he met Tony’s eyes. As soon as those wide doe-eyes met his own, the billionaire felt a jolt of some sort of weird twist of emotions pass through his body and his chest tightened, causing his body to tense. He found himself unable to tear his eyes away from Peter’s, and with every moment their eyes stayed locked Tony found it harder and harder to move away. Suddenly, the boy’s head jerked away, and a breath he didn’t even realize he was holding shakily left his lungs. Peter then made his way back onto the mat, and the man still found himself staring at him, watching as he dipped into a fighting stance and began sparring with Steve.

“...which was so fucking funny to watch, and--Tony?” Rhodey paused, noticing the man’s actions, and his smile slowly dropped from his face. Hearing no response, he furrowed his eyebrows, following the billionaire’s eyeline and noticing the two enhanced beings sparring in the middle of the room. The two danced around each other, effectively throwing and dodging strikes, and Rhodey’s expression softened noticing the younger of the two. “That him?”

“Yeah,” Tony whispered, not taking his eyes off the pair. Rhodey started watching them as well, eyes widening as the two swifty traded punches and kicks in an intricate dance that was almost too fast for him to see. Peter then crouched down in front of the large soldier’s form and launched himself into the air with an inhuman strength, flipping over Steve and kicking at his back, effectively pushing him to the mat. The lieutenant colonel’s eyebrows raised and he whistled in surprise.

“Either Steve is pulling his punches or the kid is hella strong because he just kicked Cap’s ass,” Rhodey commented, his expression a more muted version of the one of shock Clint was now bearing. Tony ignored the painful lurch of his heart as the archer gave the kid a high-five, the pair breaking out in hearty expressions of happiness.

“Probably a mixture of both,” he responded, taking a sip of his now somewhat-cold coffee. “Kid said he was enhanced. Apparently a part of the team, too.” Rhodey then looked over at him, noticing his slight shift in attitude as the trio exchanged pleasantries, expression mellowing.

“Tony, you don’t need to be scared,” he said after a pause, and Tony gave him a look.

“Rhodey.”

“I’m serious,” the lieutenant colonel said. “Just talk to him.” The billionaire fell silent at his, his will to argue fleeting, and Rhodey took it as an opportunity to continue. “You won’t know what he’s really thinking until you do.”

“I know,” Tony said softly. He swallowed harshly, eyes dropping to the floor as he clutched his cup a little tighter. Taking a small breath, he spoke, “I--”

“Boss, a man who is calling himself Doctor Strange has arrived,” FRIDAY’s voice rang throughout the hallway, and both Tony and Rhodey’s heads snapped upwards towards the ceiling.

“Alert the team,” Tony said quickly, body becoming tense. “Where is he?”

“In the common room. He says it is important.”

“Doctor Strange?” Rhodey questioned, giving Tony a look.

“Don’t question it,” he muttered, quickly starting to jog towards the common room. His friend silently followed, keeping pace with him as they made their way through the hallways they had just traversed when, eventually, they re-entered the kitchen. Quickly setting down his coffee cup on the counter, Tony moved around the corner only to come face to face with a man brandishing a strikingly familiar goatee (He’d have to ask more about that later) and clothing that looked like it came right out of some greek tragedy or Harry Potter or something. He unconsciously gave him a look, to which Strange countered with a glare.

“Strange,” Steve said as he entered the room, Clint and Peter following close behind. The two enhanced were slightly out of breath and a little sweaty, and Clint cocked an eyebrow noticing Strange’s clothing.

“Um, is that getup normal or…” Clint trailed off as Strange eyed him with a similar glare, his cloak shifting on his back. (What the fuck?)

“Right,” the archer muttered. “Not the time.”

More footsteps resounded around the area, and soon, Natasha, Wanda, and Sam had entered the room. Strange exhaled softly as soon as they got settled and turned to address the room.

“I found the guardians,” he announced. For a moment, a spark of excitement lit up in Tony’s chest, but it quickly deflated noticing the sorcerer’s oddly pale face, the nervous expression he was trying to conceal slightly slipping through his mask.

Peter’s eyes lit up. “You did?! That’s great!”

“Yeah, great,” Tony repeated, eyeing the man suspiciously. Wanda crossed her arms.

“What happened?” She asked, and Strange let out a slightly resigned breath.

“Their ship was shot down. On accident.” Tony felt the wince the man gave after those words escaped his mouth.

What?” Sam asked incredulously, and Natasha’s eyes widened.

“You shot them down?!”

“Well, yes--but--” Tony cut him off.

“Great. Just great,” the billionaire said, throwing his hands out dramatically. “You see, this is why science is more reliable. I could’ve just made a tracker and--”

But.” Strange interrupted, sending Tony a glare. “Before you go and get livid--they’re all alive and they landed on Earth.”

“Yeah, sure, they landed on Earth but they probably won’t like us all that much,” Clint said.

“Well, maybe Rocket and Gamora will be upset--I’m not sure because I haven’t really met them--but the rest of them are pretty forgiving from what I’ve gathered. It should be fine,” Peter said.

“Thank you, Peter,” Strange spoke with a smile, with Peter returned readily.

“No problem, Mr. Strange!” The spiderling said happily. “I’m sure it was an accident.” Tony huffed, crossing his arms around his chest. Natasha raised an eyebrow at him, but he opted to feign ignorance and ignored it.

“Strange, are you doing alright?” Steve asked after a moment, taking in the man’s dark circles and tired expression. Tony took note of this (familiar) sight, almost letting out a laugh at the harsh, sarcastic smile Strange gave the soldier in return.

“Just peachy,” the sorcerer said tightly. Me too, the billionaire mused with an internal grin.

“Alright,” Steve responded, already much too familiar with a stubborn resistance to honesty. The others seemed to share the sentiment, each of them displaying their own variation of “Oh god, not another one” on their faces, aside from Peter, who had a wistful smile plastered on his face.

“No news on the reality stone?” Nataasha eventually asked after a brief pause.

“Unfortunately, no,” Strange responded with a soft sigh. “I’m still working on that one, though the guardian may be able to speed up the process once we get in contact.”

“Speaking of, where exactly did their ship land?” Clint asked, and the sorcerer paused.

“Um…” Trailing off, Strange’s hands started to glow a muted orange, the light extended to his eyes for a small moment before fading. “Rose Hill, Tennessee.”

Tony’s body went cold.

“I-I’m sorry, could you say that again?” The billionaire stammered, letting out a slightly nervous chuckle.

Strange’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “Rose Hill, Tennessee?”

Almost instantly, Tony the blood drain from his face as memories of forests, potato guns, anxiety attacks, a broken suit, and one, small boy filled his mind, the others turning to him with questioning stares as a lump began to form in his throat.

“...shit.”

---

Somewhere, in a small, wooden shed situated in a small town in the middle of the forest was a twelve-year-old boy, seated on a stool with earbuds in, screwdriver in hand, tinkering with a small metal chip. Technology unlike anything one would expect out of such a small town was splayed out across the shed, blue lights illuminating his face as music danced in his ears, and the boy shifted slightly in his seat as he continued to work, a small smile on his face as he did so. As he continued to work, the soft sounds of voices started to cut into the music, sharp, biting tones of anger, but the boy opted to ignore them and resumed his activities. Though, the longer he worked, the louder the voices got, and eventually, after a few minutes, he threw down his screwdriver, burying his face in his hands with a groan.

“Fuckin’ hell,” Harley grumbled, ripping out his earbuds and pushing out his stool. “Can’t get a moment of peace and quiet around here.” Standing up, Harley began to make his way over to the window of the shed, muffled words working their way into the room from outside.

“--because you weren’t paying attention to where you were going!”

“No, it’s your fault because you’re so damn loud! If you weren’t yappin’ away in the back I wouldn’t have had to look back to shut you all up in the first place!”

“Oh, so you’re blaming everyone else now?” A scoff. “I see how it is.”

“...don’t give me that look.”

“What? What look? What are you talking about?”

That look.”

“What look?!”

Peeking outside, Harley looked into the woods to find that there was a group of individuals walking through the woods, noticeably battered and beaten. As they got closer, he could make out the two that were arguing, which appeared to be a man and a--was that a talking raccoon?--smaller, rodent-like figure. As they continued to banter, they eventually stopped, and a woman, who’s skin appeared to be green, stopped to their side, shaking her head with visible disappointment. On the opposite side of the pair was a large gray-ish bald man with a small living tree cowering behind him, and next to them stood a woman with antennae and black eyes.

“The look that makes me feel like this is my fault!” The rodent (?) continued, arms out in an exasperated gesture.

“Oh, so you admit it?” The man asked, raising an eyebrow, and the rodent sputtered.

“What--no! No--are you even listening to me?!”

“Guys, calm down,” the green woman said, and the man shook his head.

“No, Gamora. It’s okay, you don’t need to handle this. I got it, I’ll put him in his place.”

“‘My place?!’ What the hell is that supposed to mean?” The rodent exclaimed.

“Nothing. Just, y’know,” The man smirked, “the place where a raccoon is supposed to be. The woman--Gamora (What kind of name is Gamora?)--rolled her eyes, turning away from the pair as the now-confirmed raccoon seethed with rage.

“You motherfucker!” With that, the raccoon launched itself onto the man and started scratching furiously at him in a blind fit of rage.

“Rocket--ow, ow, ow! Stop it!”

I thought I told you not to call me a raccoon!

Ow!!

Staring blankly, Harley took a few steps backwards and blinked. His mouth opened and closed mutely as his brain scrambled to process what his eyes were laying upon. The man and raccoon’s argument fading into the background, Harley looked down, expression still frozen in the same stunned form, and he continued to blink dumbly, mind only functioning enough to produce one, single thought.

Fuck you, Tony.