"Why do you keep making me do this?"
Pepper doesn't even look at Peter. "Please don't climb on the ceiling; I don't want Morgan getting ideas."
Peter sighs but drops, flipping in midair to land on his feet. Pepper acknowledges the move with a quick smile, but still doesn't look up from her tablet.
"It's not like I'm not in favor of the Memorial," he says, definitely not whining, not even a little. "I just don't know why I have to be involved."
"Because you're an Avenger, because you were Tony's protege, and because it's important that everyone has a say."
Pepper finally drops her tablet, blowing her breath out hard in exasperation. "Peter, I can't make you go anywhere you don't want to. I would like you to be here, but you don't have to. Okay?"
"Yeah." Peter hangs his head with a bit of guilt, because yeah, maybe that had gotten a little whiny. "I know. It's okay."
Of course, he's totally in favor of a memorial; the entire site of the Battle of Earth has been cleared and the first landscaping has started. It's going to be a park, a huge one, with trees and flowers on a scale that boggle the mind of a kid from Queens. And in the middle, there's going to be The Memorial.
So many things in his life start with capital letters now.
Everyone agreed on the idea of a statue to honor the fallen Avengers: Vision, Natasha Romanoff, and Tony. Valkyrie, Thor and the other Asgardians were very insistent about including Heimdall, their fallen guardian, and no one else really wanted to argue. Rocket had quietly asked for his friend Gamora to be included, and it was apparently so weird for Rocket to ask for anything, much less quietly, that everyone else had immediately agreed.
That was all fine. It's just that, after that, everything started…. devolving.
There'd been a whole lot of arguing over material, size, location, who to commission -- someone famous, someone new, abstract, representational, neoclassical, modern… Pepper had finally overridden absolutely everyone, and sent out press releases. The announcement of an open invitation to submit designs for The Memorial had sent a momentary shockwave through a world still trying to recover from the sudden return of half of its population. Some of the media had been scathing in their condemnation of what they called "pointless ego-boosting" distracting from the vital jobs of getting agriculture and industry up and running again, and yeah, there were still a lot of shortages.
But there had also been over 10,000 submissions in the first week alone, from countries and people all over the world (and a few from other worlds, via the Guardians). Peter's personal favorite had come from an 8-year-old in Nairobi; it hadn't made the third cut, but it was framed over his bed and he'd sent a personal letter of thanks to the kid from Spider-Man.
Making it to the third cut had been where things got seriously scary. Peter had tapped out after the second meeting dissolved into yelling, threats and superpowers being deployed, and gone to hide with Morgan.
"Hopefully, this will be the last big meeting," Pepper tells him more sympathetically, probably remembering the same thing. "With everyone here, we can agree on the final design, and then, it'll be all over but the building. I promise."
"Hopefully is doing a lot of work, there," Peter points out, not to be a jerk, but just because… yeah.
Pepper smiles wryly. "I know. Believe me, I know. But Valkyrie and Okoye are going to be here in person. They'll be acting as mediators and, let's say, reminders of what could happen to anyone who… misbehaves."
Peter considers the two women in question, and decides he wouldn't cross them, for sure. "Okay, that sounds like it might work. I hope."
"It'll be fine," Pepper assures him. "Now, you are very early; go upstairs, grab some food, and play with Morgan, since I know that's what you really came to do. She's still working on her Big Perfect City, you'll have fun. I'll send someone to get you when we're ready."
"Cool deal." Peter leaves the private auditorium and hurries through the currently blocked off and curtained corridor to the private elevator, trying not to notice the number of security guards scattered around. At least two of them are Wakandan, and he doesn't really like the implications of that.
Happy looks long-suffering when Peter appears, but orders extra food for breakfast without any other comment. Morgan greets him with her customary enthusiasm, peppering the breakfast conversation with questions about stars, electricity, and will he help her talk her mom into getting a puppy. Peter copes with the first two, and refuses to commit on the third.
Happy sends her off to wash hands and face, and Peter takes the opportunity to ask, " What's up with all the extra security downstairs? I know this is the Big Day, but with this many Avengers and Asgardians around, not to mention Okoye's people?"
"It's just a crazy world out there right now, kid." Happy makes a show out of putting dishes in the dishwasher, which doesn't help him sell it. Peter just looks at him silently, which usually works.
"Okay, look." Happy breaks faster than usual, so he must really be worried. "There've been some more threats, against the family and against the Avengers. Political crazies, religious crazies, different combinations of both… A lot of people just aren't handling the Return all that well, much less another attack by aliens, so we're making damn sure no one gets close enough to be crazy at Pepper, or the Avengers, or any of you kids."
"And that's all?"
Happy spreads his hands, a dishtowel still held in one. "And that's all. Except--" He hesitates, then asks, "You got your shooters on?"
Peter holds up an arm to show the cuff around his wrist. "Never leave home without them anymore."
"Good. Keep it that way."
Peter isn't really happy with the conversation, but Morgan reappears and drags him to play with her current project: the miniature city covers half her room and includes a complex monorail system but no cars, as Morgan is very serious about clean energy. Peter settles in willingly enough to kill a few hours, debating the merits of regular sidewalks versus sliding sidewalks, and how many quinjet landing pads there should be, and managing to not think about the ordeal ahead.
"Room for anyone else in here?"
Peter manages not to web Hawkeye -- Clint -- even though the retired Avenger hadn't bothered to knock. Clint's smirk says he knows how close he came to being webbed and doesn't care, but he does have his body angled so it would have blocked the kid on his hip.
"Nate!" Morgan pops up from the floor and somehow avoids every piece of building material on her way over to her buddy as Clint drops him. They perform a little routine that's probably eventually going to be a secret handshake, before converging back onto the growing city, already deep in discussion and ignoring the adults and Peter.
Peter takes one last look to make sure there aren't any components laying around that could be used to build bombs or killer robots, because it's Morgan, then bounces to his feet. "Hey, Clint. Brought the whole family, huh?"
Clint shrugs. "Not happy about it, but Laura figured they had the right, since it's Nat's memorial, too. It's under the radar, though," he warns darkly, really working the 'former assassin' mojo.
"Totally," Peter assures him. It's not like he doesn't appreciate secret identities and keeping the people you love out of danger. "Anyone else here?"
"Pretty much everyone; the quinjet got delayed by air traffic. You watching the kids, or joining us?"
"Is watching the kids an option?" That's a legitimate excuse, and sounds a heck of a lot better than being a room full of squabbling superheroes and aliens.
But Happy, coming in behind Clint, kills all hope immediately. "Sorry, pal, I've got kid-sitting orders. No hiding in here for you." He tries to sound sympathetic, but he's understandably gleeful, so it doesn't really work.
Peter sighs, but follows Clint out of the room, resigned to his fate.
They'd had no choice but to set up in the Stark Industries auditorium downstairs instead of the briefing room; Pepper and Okoye had agreed on the wisdom of giving everyone room to breathe. Laura Barton greets Peter with a hug as soon as he comes through the door. "Peter, how are you, sweetie?"
"Uh, good. Good, thanks." He hugs her back awkwardly, super-aware of Clint right behind him. He hasn't seen Laura since the last of the funerals, but she seems to consider everyone under the age of eighteen to be in urgent need of mothering. "Aunt May said to say hi if I saw you. Um, Nate and Morgan are building the city of the future and we might not see them for a week."
"Good, they both need playmates their own age. I wish we lived closer, but we'd have to uproot the kids and…" Laura sighs, then takes a determined breath. "Pepper is down front with Okoye and the Van Dynes, Bruce and Shuri are setting up the connection to the Benetar so the Guardians and Thor can be involved--"
"--because that's really going to contribute to keeping things peaceful," Clint observes, and he's not wrong.
Laura elbows him anyway. "--Doctor Strange is still making it clear he doesn't want anything to do with this, and Carol's said she doesn't feel like she has a right to an opinion."
"Okay," Peter says absently, scanning the room. Nick Fury is all the way on the other side, exactly where Peter would like to keep him, Valkyrie and a couple of Asgardian representatives are checking out the refreshments (no beer until after everyone comes to an agreement, because Pepper is really smart), and other people have already grabbed all of the seats that are out of the direct line of everyone's fire.
Which would be a problem for anyone else, but not for Peter. "Thanks for the update, let me know if you need an escape route," he tells Laura, then leaps to the ceiling in blatant defiance of Pepper's earlier request/order (hey, it's not like Morgan's around) and crawls upside down to a back corner behind one of the snack tables. He settles in up high and out of the way, his back to a wall, just where he wants to be.
For about 30 seconds.
"Are you seriously hiding? Like I'm supposed to have any respect for Spider-Man now?"
Peter looks down at Harley, who is looking up with an expression of disgust, dressed in the same 'attempting to look adult' uniform of khakis and button-down that Peter is. "Sorry, did you have respect for me before?"
"Well, yeah. But that was, you know, before I met you."
Peter grins appreciatively, and crawls further down the wall until he's hanging at Harley's eye-level. Upside-down, because, come on. Respect. "I didn't know you were in on this."
Harley shrugs without uncrossing his arms, the movement of someone who doesn't want to be here, but has been ordered by authority he can't rebel against. Peter can relate. "I was supposed to be doing the mid-session review for my internship. It turned into this." He shrugs again. "But it's pretty cool to see all of the Avengers someplace that isn't a funeral."
"That's because you weren't here for the other planning meetings. If you had been, you'd be hiding, too."
Harley looks at him with all the superior skepticism of a whole year of college. "How bad can it be?"
"Pepper had to rebuild a wall in the meeting room because Bruce and Wanda have really different taste in art."
"Swear to god." Peter makes the Boy Scout sign for good measure. He wasn't a Boy Scout, but Harley hadn't been either, he doesn't think. "They apologized after, but still. Pepper says everyone's still really emotional, and no one's really dealing with things yet, and it'll get better."
"And you believe that?"
"Long-term? Sure. Sam's already making noises about forcing everyone into therapy whether they want to go or not. Short-term? Like, today?" Peter shakes his head. "Someone's gonna throw a chair."
Harley rolls his eyes. "And now I know why Pepper made everyone disarm at the entrance. Jesus, and these guys saved the universe?"
"Hey, I helped." Except that line of banter isn't actually very funny, and they drop it at the same time.
"So, uh, how's MIT?" Peter asks after a long second of awkward. He and Harley have only met a few times, usually with Pepper as a buffer, but at least they have tech in common.
"It's good. You'd love the labs; they're almost as good as StarkTech."
"No way," Peter objects immediately. "SI has all the coolest toys."
"Yeah, but at MIT, they actually let you use them, instead of hoarding them for themselves." They share a look of mutual loathing for one particular SI lab director who made Harley's life miserable last year (no, six years ago, geez) and is doing it to Peter this summer.
"Can we hide here with you guys?" Harley and Peter both twist to look at the older Barton kids, Peter still upside-down. Cooper is slouching in faded jeans and a battered old army jacket, but Lila has made an effort with a summer dress. She's the one looking expectantly up at Peter; Cooper is trying not to look at much of anything.
"Sure, but we're not exactly well-camouflaged," Harley points out.
"I was doing fine until everyone tried to steal my hiding spot." Peter backs a few feet up the wall to make his point.
"That is so cool," Lila grins. Cooper tries to look unimpressed and doesn't make it, and Peter suddenly realizes he's in a room full of people, some of whom he barely knows, using his powers with no mask on.
And he's not freaking out, because the Barton kids have been keeping secrets their entire life, Harley was exposed to Tony Stark really early and doesn't seem impressed by much of anything anymore, and everyone else either has powers, hangs out with someone who does, or saw him swinging all over a battlefield without his mask.
These are His People. There's an entire world out there of people who only know Spider-Man, or only know Peter Parker. But everyone in here knows both.
That's really terrifying. And so cool.
"Yo, Pete!" Harley snaps his fingers in front of Peter's face, and Peter becomes aware he's got a pretty stupid grin on his face. "They're getting started. You're supposed to be protecting us and shit."
"Hey, I baby-sit Morgan and no one else," Peter objects automatically, but shifts to higher ground and a better view. Everyone is starting to find seats -- the Wakandan contingent sticks together, and so do the Asgardians. There's a holographic display showing the inside of the Benatar, with half of the Guardians trying to cram in front of the receiver; everyone else in the room is making strategic seating choices based on not being in the front and not being anywhere near Hulk (probably not necessary) or Barnes (better safe than sorry).
"It's like watching the first day of school," Harley says under his breath, and Peter and Cooper both snort-laugh.
Lila tries to glare at them like her mother would, but winds up smirking like her father instead. She hikes herself up onto a clear space on the snack table and swings her legs idly, swatting her brother when he tries to make her shove over. "You snooze, you lose."
"Who the hell even are all these people?" Cooper grumbles. "Do they all have to be here?"
Peter shrugs. "If Pepper thinks they need to be here, I'm not gonna argue with her. Ever."
"Whatever." Cooper slouches down further into his jacket. "How many of them even knew Aunt Nat, or any of those other guys?"
Which is a fair point. "I only really knew Tony," Peter admits. "I met Ms Romanoff and Vision once, but it was… a weird thing. Not really any 'getting to know you' time. Heimdall I didn't know either, but he was really important to the Asgardians -- that's the group down in front, with the tall and all of the braids -- and he died trying to protect them from Thanos. And Gamora, I kind of met in the middle of the fight, only it was a different version of her from the past than the one who died, and--"
Three pairs of eyes are looking at him with open skepticism at this point and he gives up, switching to the short version. "Anyway, she died pretty early on, and the Guardians of the Galaxy feel really strongly about it, except all of them feel differently as near as I can tell. Half of them have been arguing she shouldn't be on the memorial because there's a version of her that's alive, and the other half--" Aaaand it's gotten complicated again. "Anyway, those are the aliens on the holoscreen. And Star-Lord, who isn't technically an alien, but he might as well be."
The others absorb all of that for a second. "You have a really weird life," Harley finally says.
"Your life, too, pal."
"Hell, no. As soon as this is over, I'm going back to my internship and normal shit, like black holes and nanotech."
Lila and Cooper stay quiet, maybe absorbing the reality of their dad's and Aunt Nat's lives for the first time. Peter webs a couple of cookies and drops them into their hands. "Hey. Your dad's retired. You don't need to worry about this stuff."
"Until it drops out of the sky and kills half the planet," Lila says, more grimly than a 12-year-old should say anything.
Peter sighs and snags a cookie for himself. So much for being the mature voice of reason. "Yeah. But not until then."
Harley looks at him expectantly, and finally asks, "Don't I get a cookie?"
Peter webs a piece of ice and drops it down his back. Harley yelps and swings at him, Peter scuttles up out of range, and it's worth getting glared at by Laura, Pepper and Okoye to hear Lila giggle.
An hour later, no one has hit anyone else yet, but Peter thinks that's mostly because the Guardians are out of range of everyone except each other. Drax isn't allowed to talk anymore, which doesn't stop him, and five different people have threatened to shoot Star-Lord if he doesn't shut up, which doesn't stop him, either.
Pepper is standing at the front of the room with her arms crossed, her expression suggesting nearly exhausted patience; legendary calm-dude T'Challa might be looking for someone to hit and Valkyrie definitely is. Peter doesn't really know Princess Shuri, but he's pretty sure she's seriously considering blowing something (or someone) up. Bruce is starting to look really green.
Two memorial proposals have been rejected, since everyone can mostly agree on what they don't want, but it's down to three remaining designs, and things are starting to get loud. Enough that Okoye and two other Wakadans wandered over ten minutes ago to put themselves between the teenagers and the rest of the room. Bucky Barnes drifted over as well, but Peter thinks he's just trying to get some distance from the increasingly bad vibes in the room.
Someone from the Wakandan contingent makes a loud point about Wakandan losses not being represented (again), someone from New Asgard yells back about how Wakadans don't know about losses (again), Rocket makes a comment Peter doesn't catch but that is definitely not helpful, and Lila has slipped off the table and is trying to pretend she's not sort-of hiding between Cooper and Harley.
Two more of the Asgardians suddenly jump to their feet and start yelling at the Wakandans. Several Wakadans surge forward and yell back. Drax shouts something that is probably, "Fight!" One of the Asgardians picks up a chair (called it!), Bruce is loudly (and even more greenly) calling for people to calm down, Wanda's hands and head start glowing red in a way that is not going to be good news for anyone, Barnes is fidgeting in a scary Winter-Soldier way, and Peter has abruptly had enough of all of this.
Five precision casts, and suddenly the loudmouths can't shout around the webbing on their faces. A sixth shot and he's swinging to the ceiling in the middle of the room, landing with a thump. "Knock it off!" he yells at the top of his lungs. "You're scaring the kids!"
And, weirdly, everyone shuts up. Except Rocket, who points out, "You're one of the kids, Spider-boy."
"Yeah, and you're scaring the crap out of me!"
Rocket shrugs, like, that's fair, and Peter swings back on the rest of the crowd. He's not actually scared, but he is really, really mad.
"We are here because people died saving half the universe. Gamora, Heimdall, Vision, Natasha Romanoff, Tony--" He has to stop for a second, when his voice tries to crack, but pushes through on anger. "--Tony Stark, and a lot of other people. So everyone needs to stop working out their issues, and start acting like adults. People we loved are gone, and we need to make sure we never forget that, and we need to do it together!"
And that's when he runs out of anger as abruptly as it came, at the same time he suddenly realizes that he's yelling at a whole lot of adults, including all of the Avengers, a bunch of aliens, and three members of royalty. "So, knock it off," he finishes, with incredible lameness, because he can't think of anything else to say. "Pepper?"
"Thank you, Peter." Pepper says calmly, like a war, or at least a major brawl, hadn't just been narrowly averted. "If everyone has got all of that out of their systems?" she asks pointedly.
Valkyrie is yelling at her people quietly but vehemently, and T'Challa is having what looks like stern words with the hotheads from his contingent. Sam Wilson is talking Wanda down, and Scott Lang, who's been keeping a low profile until now, is suddenly nine feet tall and looming threateningly over everyone.
"Nice work, kid," he says out of the corner of his mouth, now on the same level as Peter's head. "I'd get out while you can."
"Right." Best advice ever. Peter swings back to the others and they retreat from the room under Okoye's escort without having to discuss it. Laura Barton is right behind them, but Clint stays inside, presumably to start shooting everyone who scared his children.
"I want it noted that I am not a kid," Harley tells Peter as soon as they're in the private lobby and the door has closed behind them. Lila kicks at his ankle and he staggers more than the kick calls for.
"That sucked," Cooper observes succinctly. "Aunt Nat would have shut all that crap down."
Laura hugs him with one arm, which he doesn't seem to welcome, but doesn't move away from. She hugs Lila with the other. "I'm sorry, guys. I thought they'd manage to behave like grown-ups, and we really did want you kids to be involved."
"I'm good with not being involved anymore," Peter says. He's not, really, but he's tired of this. He wants to go upstairs and build a city with Morgan and Nate, or go outside and swing through the skyscrapers with the wind flowing around him.
Anything that lets him forget that even the adults don't know what they're doing, even they can't cope with all of this, so what chance does he have?
"You did very well," Okoye tells him with a regal smile, like she's reading his mind. Peter likes Okoye; she treats him like a cross between a respected ally and a really amusing pet, and he's surprisingly okay with that. "It is unfortunate that emotions are being allowed to disturb such a solemn occasion, but it's better that they all yell now and be done with it, than that they spend the next twenty years yelling that they were not heard."
Okay, maybe. Okoye does always seem to be right about things like that. So at least one adult knows what they're doing, and that's surprisingly comforting.
Laura sighs and lets Cooper and Lila go. "I need to stay here and keep your dad from shooting anyone. Why don't you kids head upstairs, and find some food. Real food, not just ice cream or cookies," she warns, and Cooper and Lila exchange 'busted' looks. Then Laura softens and adds, "But ice cream for dessert is fine. Don't give Morgan or Nate too much."
"Still not a kid," Harley grumbles under his breath, but follows everyone else to the elevator. Okoye's scary-awesome warrior ladies stay with them all the way up.
Happy already has lunch out for the little kids, but Pepper must have warned him they were coming, because the taco bar on the counter has way more food then two five-year-olds are going to eat, even with Happy's help.
"Dig in, guys," Happy invites them. Peter didn't think he could eat, but man, the tacos smell really good. There's a certain amount of pushing and shoving -- Lila has sharp elbows and isn't afraid to use them -- but they finally settle around the table and start eating.
"Got pretty bad down there, huh?" Happy asks with forced casualness after everyone's blood sugar has had a chance to go up.
"Superheroes," Harley says with succinct disgust; Peter can only nod in agreement.
"Well, it was mostly the not-superheros doing the yelling and throwing things," Lila points out to be fair.
"Only because Wanda hadn't had a chance to get going." It had taken an extinction-level bombardment from Thanos' ship to stop Wanda during the Battle; Peter tries to keep a room between himself and her at all times. Just in case.
"What's she do?" Cooper asks. "I saw the red glowy stuff."
"Telekinesis and weaponized telepathy," Peter answers and Happy makes a coughing noise that might be an objection. Peter rolls his eyes, but dutifully adds, "which is not information you should share with anyone else. Obviously."
Cooper and Lila look disgusted; Harley just gets up to get more tacos.
The little kids finish eating and start throwing pieces of lettuce at each other; Peter and Lila intervene before it turns into a replay of downstairs, and get them settled in with a dinosaur activity book, which will keep Morgan distracted for about 10 minutes. Happy waves them off when they offer to stay and help babysit, so they follow the others into the living room, throwing themselves on the couch and the floor.
"Okay, the little kids aren't here, let's see 'em," Harley says as soon as they're settled.
"Huh?" Peter blinks at him.
"The web-throwing things. Let's see them." Peter obediently extends his arms to display his web-shooters again, because why not, and Harley looks at him like he's an idiot. "No, dude, up close. I want to see how they work."
"Oh. Um... okay." He takes off the left web-shooter and starts showing it off, although he's not going to break it down, not even here. Harley asks questions and pokes at things, and Lila gets into the act, asking how he can keep all the webbing in there.
Peter shows her the reservoirs. "It's a fluid under super-high pressure, so it expands as it hits the air," he explains. "It looks kind of like those little sponge animals you put in water and they swell up?"
He thinks he might be making it insulting simple, but Lila just nods, concentrating intently. "Got it. How do you get it off? Or are you, like, leaving industrial spider webs all over New York?"
"Special solvent, or just wait. It breaks down in about two hours. Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is also a friend of the environment."
"Cool." Lila is definitely enjoying herself now. "Can you shoot something? I didn't get to really see it downstairs."
"I'm not supposed to do it inside," Peter confesses. "Pepper -- Ms Potts -- she doesn't like running into them with bare hands." Or bare feet. There had been shrieking, that first time.
"Man, you are terrified of Pepper," Harley says, mostly just to be a jerk.
"I respect Pepper," Peter shoots back, because he's succeeding. "She's been really nice to me, since… and she's got a lot on her plate and I'm not going to upset her if I don't have to. She's dealing with enough."
Cooper didn't get in on the scientific exploration; he's just pacing across the back of the room, back and forth, his hands deep in his jacket pockets and his shoulders hunched. "So how the hell are we supposed to deal with all of this crap if the adults can't even deal with theirs?" he suddenly demands of no one actually in the room.
Peter is caught a little off guard -- he'd almost forgotten Cooper was there -- but Harley doesn't even really blink. He just sits back on his heels and looks up at Cooper. "They have different shit than we do. And adults always think their shit is way bigger and more important than ours, so they expect us to cope."
"My Aunt May's been pretty amazing," Peter offers, slipping his webshooter back on his wrist, because apparently they're talking about this now. "And so is Pepper."
"And the rest of them?" Cooper gestures downwards.
"Well... yeah. Maybe."
"Mom and Dad are really trying," Lila says, staring hard at her knees. "It must have been pretty hard on the adults when we were gone. I think… Dad really does not want to talk about it, so I think it got really bad."
(Peter caught a conversation he wasn't supposed to about what Clint had done during the Snap, because certain Avengers keep forgetting he can hear. He's got a pretty good idea of how bad it got, and yeah, he's really not going there.)
"It's hard on us, coming back," Cooper persists, "but we're not throwing chairs at people. Except maybe Spider-Dude here."
"Not chairs, that often," Peter clarifies. "Cars, sometimes. But I try not to."
"You got to fight that asshole Thanos," Harley says. "That's better than we got."
"That was the single most terrifying thing I've ever done," Peter admits. He really doesn't want to talk about the Battle. At all. He can still feel Thanos' soldiers piled on him, their weight pushing him down, cutting off the light… He shakes the memory off before it can take over. "And I didn't even do that much. Carol Danvers had to rescue me and take the gauntlet, or I wouldn't have walked away."
"Still. You got to fight. You got to do something." Cooper stalks over to the windows. "It feels like all I get to do is sit in classes with strangers because my friends mostly graduated, and pretend to understand memes I've never heard of and current events I wasn't here for."
"That's weird," Harley agrees. "I mean, there wasn't much new tv or movies while we were gone, people were too busy surviving and figuring out how to run factories and farms and stuff, but… yeah. The memes thing is weird."
"The farm down the road was sold by the county because the whole family was snapped," Lila says quietly. "Now the first owners are back -- my best friend's family, they showed up in the living room, they'd been watching TV -- and no one knows what do yet."
"I came back in the middle of the MIT labs with a bunch of other people." Harley grins wryly. "One second we were working, the next second it's locked and dark. We had to get a custodian to let us out. It took hours."
"We came back outside the house," Lila offers in return. "It was all messed up and the lawn was covered with weeds. Mom called Dad and he answered, but then... Dad says that's when Thanos' ships came."
"Nate kept asking us what was going on, like we knew." Cooper scuffs his foot on the carpet. "We didn't know anything. Even the news was crazy, people coming back right in the middle of a broadcast."
Peter has seen that broadcast; it was a local station out of Chicago. Total chaos. "I was on another planet," he says slowly, still not really wanting to talk about it, but it doesn't seem fair not to. "With the Guardians, and Doctor Strange, and Mr. Stark. Tony. One minute, we'd lost to Thanos and were trying to figure out what to do next, then…"
He remembers the Snap; not many people do, or maybe they just don't want to admit it. But Peter's nanosuit was trying to hold him together, and so he remembers. It makes him want to throw up, the feeling of his body crumbling away, trying to hold on to Mr Stark with hands that were turning to dust, and knowing even Iron Man couldn't stop this…
He shakes his head, hard. The others don't need to hear about that. No one needs to hear about that, ever. "Then we were back on the planet, and Tony was gone, but Doctor Strange was there, and the Guardians. Doctor Strange started throwing these inter-dimensional portals around, and then we were in New York City and he was yelling at people through some more portals, and then we were in the middle of the Battle. There wasn't any time to think, or react, or figure things out. Not until after."
After the Return. After the Battle. After Tony….
The others are watching at him with quiet sympathy, and that's not something Peter is really comfortable with, especially not from Lila and Cooper. They're younger, he's supposed to be protecting them from this stuff.
"Anyway," he says, jumping from the floor across the room and landing impressively on the window. He feels more comfortable off the ground, where he can look down and see the city stretched out below him, almost like he's swinging. "Cap told me once -- um, old Cap, not Sam -- that sometimes when people fight a battle, they can't leave it behind. The war is over, but they're still looking for something to fight afterwards. I think... I think that's what a lot of people are doing now. Trying to find someone to fight, but there isn't anyone. Thanos is dust, and so are all his people, so there's just us."
"Like PTSD." Harley nods slowly. "Yeah, I get that. Maybe."
"Everyone wants something to shoot, so they're ready to shoot each other," Cooper sums up grumpily, but he's not wound as tightly as he had been. "They're all nuts."
"I would kind of like to have something to shoot at sometimes," Lila offers, half joking, half not.
"You always want something to shoot at." Cooper walks over and gives her a mild noogie. "My sister, the archer."
Lila bats him away, but she's smiling a little now. "Maybe they should finish taking down the old memorials before they put up new ones," she thinks out loud. "Maybe being reminded isn't, you know, helping. We tore down the ones outside town."
"Some of those people are still dead, though," Harley points out, pretty gently. "The ones who died right before and after the Snap, in the planes and cars. That acrobat in Cirque du Soleil whose catcher got snapped."
"The Asgardians Thanos killed," Peter continues the litany, almost to himself. "The Wakandans who were fighting Thanos the first time. Rocket's friend Gamora. Vision."
"Yeah. You're right. A lot of people are still dead." Lila pulls her knees up and wraps her arms around them. Cooper stares at the wall, his shoulders hunched and his hands deep in his jacket pockets.
Natasha Romanoff's ghost might as well be in the room.
The elevator suddenly lights up, and Peter instinctively adjusts his stance until he has a clear line of sight. Lila comes to her feet, and Harley gets himself between the elevator and the Bartons. After what seems like a long time, Friday announces, "Visitor incoming -- the boss has approved her."
"I come in peace," Princess Shuri says archly, taking in their stances as the doors open, two of Okoye's people escorting her. Everyone else relaxes, trying to look like they'd never been tense.
Shuri walks to the middle of the room, her guards staying behind, and stops, before making a formal gesture with her hands. "My brother the king has sent me to make certain that no one has been disturbed by our people's behavior, for which we offer our deepest apologies. Of course," she adds, dropping the formality, "he also wanted me out of the room before I started handling those fools myself."
Lila makes a movement that may have been an aborted curtsey; Peter sympathizes, since he spent a second wildly trying to figure out how you should bow when you're currently stuck to a window. Harley settles for raising one hand in a gesture that's almost cool, and Cooper still seems to be looking for someplace to hide. But that might just be because Shuri is seriously cute.
"They're still at it, huh?" Peter relaxes back against the glass of the window.
"Better than before," she allows. "My brother used your magnificent performance to shame our people: 'Do the warriors of Wakanda need a boy to remind them of honorable behavior?'" Her imitation of her brother is pretty good, but Peter still makes a face. She makes one in return. "You're not a boy, of course, but it was very effective."
"Glad I could help," Peter grumbles, and makes his way down from the window. It's starting to seem rude.
Shuri throws herself on the couch with the boneless grace that Peter has come to associate with combat training, and looks around at them. "But finally, I'm in a room full of rational humans! I'm Shuri. I know Peter--" she gestures at him, then at Cooper and Lila, "and you're the Bartons."
Cooper nods, mostly politely. "I'm Cooper, she's Lila. Our brother Nate is in the kitchen with Morgan."
"Morgan!" Shuri's eyes light up. "I brought her the toys I promised: more building kits and a new Kimoyo bead to control them."
And that sounds like they might be a lot of fun for people besides the little kids, but-- "No explosives," Peter says on reflex, about half a second before Harley.
Shuri gives them a Look. "Of course not. Explosives are for adults to play with, not children." Her Look seems to include both of them in the category of children; Harley bristles a little, but Peter just gives her a Look back, and she relents. "I'll ask the Dora to bring the gifts up and we can all play."
"Cool." Harley relaxes. "Harley Keener."
Shuri grins and shakes his offered hand. "Ah, Tony Stark's other protege. I wish I'd been able to meet him and compare notes. Wakanda hid our technology for so long it was impossible, but his creation and refinement of the arc reactor, and his advances in nanotechnology, were very impressive, particularly with no real access to vibranium."
"He was an impressive guy," Peter agrees, a little sadly.
"Among other things," Harley adds, not really under his breath. Shuri's grin grows as she makes her call to the Dora using her beaded bracelet (Peter's seen the tech before, but he really wants a closer look).
"Would you like something to eat?" Lila offers, a little tentatively, when the small hologram vanishes. "There's still taco bar left, and we promised the little kids they could have ice cream later."
"Thank you, but I'm stuffed full of cookies." Shuri strips off her cropped jacket, and flops back onto the couch, her braids bouncing against her shoulders. "T'Challa kept handing them to me to keep me from talking."
"Did it work?" Lila asks.
"Of course not. That's why he sent me up here." Shuri and Lila fist-bump, bonding over little-sister victories. Harley and Cooper, both older brothers, eye roll at each other. Only-child Peter is mostly just entertained.
"They have made some progress, though," Shuri continues. "It's down to two designs -- the obsidian sculpture and the abstract silver."
"Those were both okay," Peter says.
"Yes, they're very nice, but there may be bloodshed before they choose between them."
Everyone flinches a little, and Shuri blinks. "I'm exaggerating. Mostly."
"It's okay," Harley tells her. "We were just talking about coming back from the Snap, and PTSD, and dead people. Really cheerful conversation, thanks for saving us."
"Oh, that. Yes. You're welcome." Shuri's smile twists a bit; she clearly has stories of her own. Peter remembers seeing her blasting away in the middle of the Battle, and he thinks he'd like to talk to her about that someday.
Not today. But someday.
Shuri catches his eye, and he's pretty sure she's thinking the same thing: they were the only ones who were there, the only people their age who know what it was like. Dying and coming back to life and jumping into battle and watching death come again, all in the space of thirty minutes.
Yeah. They'll talk someday.
Right now, Okoye's people come back, this time bearing gifts, and Morgan comes racing in from the kitchen, still clutching both crayons and activity book, magnetically drawn either to Shuri, or to presents. The source of the secret Nate handshake becomes obvious as Morgan and Shuri demonstrate theirs, once Morgan drops her crayons.
"Peter! Shuri brought me toys!" Morgan grabs one and bounces across the room to show it to Peter. "We can put lights in the city, you can help!"
"Yeah? That's really cool. You said thank you, right?"
"Yes!" she says proudly, and Peter gives her a high five. (Well, a low-five for him, but she has to reach up.) Nate appears from the kitchen with Happy behind him, and serious conversation is forgotten in playing with very cool Wakandan tech.
Ages 5 and up.
By the time an adult besides Happy reappears, the city has been wired for power (not using an arc reactor, Pepper said no) and the little monorails are zipping around courtesy of the Kimoyo bead Shuri added to Morgan's necklace. Peter hadn't noticed the necklace before, but Shuri tells him quietly that it provides medical information, and a way for Morgan to be found at all times, so he's in favor.
It was a gift from the Wakandan people, Shuri adds, out of respect for Morgan's father.
Pepper and Laura come in together, and the little kids are still bouncing enough from cool toys to race over and hug their moms. Happy gets up to say something to Pepper, who nods and motions him out of the room; the others just adjust their positions on the floor so they can look up.
"Is it done?" Harley asks. "Or are we going to continue to be held prisoner?"
Pepper raises an elegant eyebrow at him. "I'm sorry, were you not having fun playing with advanced technology?"
Trapped, Harley backs down on the snark. "As it happens," Pepper continues, too classy to smirk, "We have not been able to reach a final agreement."
They collectively groan and roll their eyes; even the little kids get in on it, although they probably don't understand why. "Why can't grown-ups ever make up their minds?" Morgan asks, hanging onto her mom with exaggerated exhaustion.
Okay, so maybe they do understand some of it. Peter makes a mental note to remember that the kids can hear, too.
Pepper and Laura wait them out. "Because they weren't able to decide," Pepper finally says, with gentle emphasis to remind them that they're supposed to be listening, "It was suggested, and agreed--"
"Eventually," Laura says wryly.
Pepper acknowledges her with a head tilt, and keep going, "--that we should check in with all of you. You get to break the tie."
"Cool!" Morgan bounces, echoed by Nate.
"Huh," Harley says. "Lucky us."
"What if we tie?" Cooper asks rebelliously.
His mother gives him the stink eye. "That might happen, but I'm sure all of you are sensible enough to compromise." 'Unlike every single person downstairs,' she doesn't say out loud, but it's still out there.
"We should see them again," Shuri proposes, and raises her arm. Two holograms lift from her bracelet and rotate in front of them.
Peter's seen them about a thousand times, but he sighs and takes another look to make sure he has the details straight. Cooper and Lila lean in, and Harley tries to pretend he's not interested. Morgan throws herself on Peter's lap to get a closer look, and Lila pulls Nate onto hers.
The first one is the obsidian sculpture: Tony is in the center, the top of his armor showing although his helmet is off. He looks both tired and heroic. He's surrounded on all four sides by four smaller busts: Natasha, Heimdall, Gamora, and Vision, all with a similar expression of calm nobility. The whole thing, Peter remembers, is about six feet tall, and has plaques on each side with backstory. Peter doesn't know a lot about art, but it's impressive.
He just... doesn't think Tony would like it. He'd like having a big sculpture of himself, sure, but… it just doesn't feel right.
The second model is much more abstract: a center fountain of silver that reminds Peter of Iron Man in flight, rocketing upwards. Four more strands twist around it, both offering support and reaching towards the stars. Each of them is engraved with a wide line stretching the length of the strand, made of intricate designs that are suppose to represent the five heroes; if they choose this one, Peter foresees more debates over what exactly those details should be.
He likes it a lot more. But it's... still not quite right.
He shakes his head and looks over at the monorail instead, still running in circles around Morgan and Nate's city. Pepper's hand touches his hair lightly. "I know it's a big decision," she says quietly. "It's okay."
He shrugs, but doesn't try to move away. "I like the silver one. I just… I feel like we're missing something." He watches the sunlight beam through the huge windows and sparkle off the monorail as it circles down into a miniature station, and hears Lila's voice again: A lot of people are still dead.
"Everyone else," he hears himself say. "We need to have everyone else, too."
"That'd be a pretty big statue," Harley says, but not like he disagrees. Lila is nodding.
"Not on the statue. Around it, maybe." Peter thinks out loud, groping towards an idea. That school trip, years ago, to Battery Park and the 9/11 memorial… the labyrinth. "Like a labyrinth, maybe? A walking path, to make room for everyone else."
"Yeah." Harley nods slowly. "But.. not a labyrinth. A spiral, a barred spiral, with two paths." Everyone looks at him and he points upward. "Like the galaxy. They saved more than Earth, you know?"
Yeah. Yeah, that works.
"We can put out plaques," Cooper says suddenly. "Not on the path, not to walk on. They could, like, line it on the sides, propped up so you can read them. One for each person. Maybe different metals for the Asgardians and the Wakandans, the Ravagers--"
"No," Lila says firmly. "They should all be the same. They all fought together, so we should let them stay together, not split up."
"Yes," Shuri agrees immediately. "We can randomize the selection, so there are no groups, no factions. Just warriors, at rest as one in the next world."
Pepper takes a shaky breath, and Peter looks up to see her eyes shining a bit. "Friday," she asks carefully, "can you--"
"Already done, boss. Princess Shuri, may I?"
"Of course." Shuri taps a Kimoyo bead, and a moment later a new hologram forms -- the silver statue in the middle, a barred spiral galaxy radiating around it, silver plaques glinting in an artificial sun. It will be huge.
And maybe it will be right.
"What do you think?" Lila asks Nate, because the little kids should get a say, too.
His forehead wrinkles in concentration, and he leans over to reach for one of the strands of the statue, his fingers drifting through it. "It's shiny," he says finally. "Aunt Nat should be shiny."
"Morgan?" Pepper prompts her daughter, and Peter hugs her a little closer.
Morgan also takes a long time to answer, but finally asks, "We can put daddy's face there? In the little drawings on the side?"
"Lots of drawings," Pepper agrees. "His face, his suit, maybe even DUM-E, huh?"
Morgan finally gives a little smile and a firm little nod. "That's good, then. I like that."
"All in favor?" Peter asks, because they should be formal about this.
Six hands go up after only a moment; Cooper is slower, but he finally lifts his and looks sure when he does. "Yeah. That's what Aunt Nat would like. She'd hate having everyone be able to see her face."
"Yeah," Lila echoes, and leans against her brother's shoulder. Laura kneels behind them and hugs them all.
"Okay," Pepper says, hugging Peter and Morgan the same way, her cheek resting briefly on his head. She touches Harley's shoulder, then asks Shuri, "Would you send that to your brother, please? Ask him to show the room?"
Shuri nods with great dignity, and does something to her beads, and Peter has really got to get her to show them more about how those work.
They sit in silence for a few moments, then Morgan squirms and looks up at her mom. "Can we have ice cream, now?"
"I could go for ice cream," Harley agrees, and almost manages to not sound completely desperate to get out of all of this emotional stuff.
"Thirded," Cooper and Peter say at the same time, also not desperate, and the solemn moment dissolves into trying to get seven people off the floor without stepping on the little kids, or the city, or any pieces of the city.
Less than 10 minutes later, after they all have ice cream with assorted toppings in front of them, Shuri's bracelets lights up again. T'Challa and Valkyrie appear, and bow towards them all in miniature.
"We are grateful today to have been guided by the wisdom of the youngest among us," T'Challa says with Wakandan formality, but a smile he can't quite hide.
"The Memorial will move forward as you have decided," Valkyrie finishes, then grins suddenly. "Bruce says good job. And save some ice cream for us."
Peter almost catches his laugh, and looks down at his ice cream, feeling something warm and glowing in his chest. It's kind of like happiness. Harley elbows him good-naturedly and Peter elbows him back.
Pepper smiles and smooths Morgan's hair. "Thank you, T'challa. Thank you, Valkyrie. Happy will be right down to open the bar."
T'Challa and Valkyrie bow again, now both grinning, and the faint sound of a roar of approval sneaks through the hologram. Then it closes, and they all look at each other for a moment.
Then Cooper points out, "Ice cream's melting," Nate drops his spoon and splatters chocolate syrup everywhere, and Morgan starts demanding that Shuri show her how the bracelets work and Peter is all-in for a demo. Pepper intervenes, Shuri fires the hologram generator back up, and okay, this day is ending a lot better than it started.
And no one actually threw a chair.
That's a win for your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.