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Cause and Effect

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“I think I’m losing my mind.”

“You are.”

“I don’t know what’s real anymore.”

“Who’s to say any of it is?”

 

It started like this.

Peter was minding his own business, everyone else was minding his. He was trying not to be annoyed.

“Mr. Parker? You still paying attention?”

“Yes, sir.” Peter ran a hand through his hair, tugged a few curls, and forced himself to look at the notes his teacher was writing on the board.

“You used to be better at this,” MJ whispered. She was staring at the teacher, looking every bit the attentive if slightly bored student, dutifully taking notes.

“Better at what?”

“The whole not paying attention without getting caught thing.” She grabbed a highlighter and traced over a few lines of notes. “Pretty sure Mr. Thompson never looked twice when you were whipping up that web mess during lab last year.”

Peter glanced around, but no one was listening. “You noticed,” he pointed out.

“I’m observant,” she reminded him. “Now start doodling or something, at least make it look like you’re trying to take notes or he’s gonna make you stay after class again.”

Peter quirked an eyebrow.

“Not that I care or anything,” she added, eyes still on the teacher.

Peter grabbed his pencil, propped his chin on his fist and started drawing webs in the margin of his notebook.

“Subtle.”

“Shut up, MJ.”

“Parker,” his teacher called. Peter looked up to see a dry-erase marker pointed at him angrily. “Stay after class.”

Peter groaned.

By the time school ended Peter was ready to be done. Like done done. He didn’t want to go on patrol, and he definitely didn’t want to listen to his friends tell him that he had to start trying harder. He was already getting that from his teachers.

He was trying as hard as he could.

He just wanted to go home, strip down to his underwear, and sleep until Sunday.

“At least you didn’t get detention again,” Ned pointed out, and yeah, that was good. Ned found a silver lining, look at that. “I mean, I’m pretty sure you’re like one tardy away from suspension anyway.”

Bye-bye silver lining.

“I’m pretty sure they don’t suspend you for being late,” Peter countered.

“They do,” MJ corrected. She pulled on a pair of sun glasses and zipped her backpack. “It’s called in-school suspension and it sucks ass.”

Ned frowned. “How would you know?”

“You sit at a desk all day and stare at a wall,” MJ said with an unimpressed glare. “Doesn’t take a genius to figure out it wouldn’t be fun.”

And that was that. Peter listened to Ned and MJ argue as they made their way to the bus stop. They only had a few weeks left in school, and Peter was determined to make it to the end without getting in trouble.

He did his homework, he made good grades, and he tried his best to make it to class on time. All in all, he thought he was doing pretty well.

His English Lit. teacher thought otherwise.

“So, what do you think, Peter?”

Peter looked up and blinked. “What?”

“Dude, this is why Mr. Reinke keeps busting your balls, you keep spacing out on people.”

“Sorry,” Peter mumbled. And he was. He just had a lot on his mind.

The bus was crowded, but honestly, Peter couldn’t remember a time when it wasn’t. He climbed on behind MJ, pushed his way to the center, and grabbed on to the overhead bar before pushing his nose against his bicep.

Spider senses turned things to eleven, and public transportation didn’t need mutated senses to offend. There was sweat, perfumes, stale coffee, cheap soap, and an unnecessarily strong presence of urine. Always.

Given the choice, Peter would rather smell his own arm pit over someone else’s pissy pants.

The ride was smooth, as smooth as a bus ride through Midtown could be. Peter held on as the bus swayed and bounced, one hand reaching out occasionally to help steady MJ or Ned, once the old lady standing next to him who, instead of a thank you, young man gave him a warning sneer and clutched her purse closer to her chest.

Yeah, you’re welcome. No one wanted your peppermints or coupons anyway.

Peter closed his eyes and let his head hang down, feet parted for balance as his body swayed with the rhythm of the road.

But then that all familiar tingle began to buzz at the back of his head, the little hairs on his arm stood at attention, and something bitter began to tickle at his nose.

“D’you smell that?” he asked, eyes popping open to scan around the bus.

“Trying not to smell anything, to be honest,” MJ said.

Peter ignored her and continued to look around. That bitter scent was turning sickly sweet as it strengthened, reminding Peter of stagnant fruit and floor cleaner.

“What is that?” he asked, worry building as the warning buzz in his head continued to grow.

Ned was frowning again. “What is what?”

“We need to get off this bus.”

“What?”

“Peter, where are—what are you doing?”

There wasn’t time to answer. Something was about to happen.

Peter tried to push his way to the front of the bus, people cursing and pushing him back as he went.

But then the cursing stopped, the pushing shifted, turning to a desperate pull as they tried to grab on to something before they fell.

And they all fell. One at a time. Slumping and crumbling to the ground, against the windows, against each other.

Against the steering wheel.

Peter saw the driver slump forward, felt a bump and sway as the bus began to veer to the right. Peter had to get to him, he had to stop this. Peter had to help him.

But Peter needed help.

The smell was everywhere now, in his nose, in his mouth. Peter felt the ground shift beneath him, whether it was him or the bus was anyone’s guess. He stumbled, tripped over someone’s arm, and landed hard on his knees.

He fought the urge to throw up, forced his eyes to focus on the watch Tony had given him months before, and pressed his thumb to the edge, activating the panic button.

It was a just in case kind of thing, a worst case scenario inclusion.

Peter’s head hit the floor of the bus, his eyes a few inches from the sole of someone’s boot.

The buzzing in his head grew.

His watch flashed once, twice.

And the bus crashed. 


 

Peter woke up alone.

His right cheek was pressed to the floor and he could hear the engine rumbling against his ear. He blinked, winced at the pain in his head, and blinked again.

“Ned?” he mumbled. His dry tongue stuck uncomfortably against the roof of his mouth making him want to gag. “MJ?”

Peter pushed himself up, his arms shaking as he tried to climb up to his hands and knees.

The bus was empty.

There was no Ned or MJ, no untrusting old lady with an oversized purse, no driver.

No nothing.

He looked down to his wrist. His watch was gone.

“Hello?” he called as he pulled himself to his feet. “Anyone?” He closed his eyes when a wave of dizziness threatened to put him back on his ass.

“What the hell?” he muttered, blinking slowly as he reached out for something to hold on to. “Hello?!” he called again. When he opened his eyes and looked out the window, he realized no one was going to answer.

There weren’t any cars. No other buses, no taxis, no bikes or skateboards.

But there were people.

Each of them on the ground. No one was moving.

When Peter was little, his dad had bought him a bag of little green Army men. There were over a hundred and he used to line them up all over his floor, their little green bayonets and rifles all sticking up like blades of grass.

He’d get them where he wanted them and then he’d wreak havoc. Whether it was with a baseball or a plastic dump truck or a pair of pounding light-up sneakers, the soldiers would fall, each one toppling over to lay on the ground, plastic on plastic. It was a sea of fallen green.

Peter was looking at a sea of fallen bodies.

It looked as though they had all just fallen where they’d been standing, their arms and legs overlapping, clothes rumpled.

The first few steps were staggered, Peter’s knees wobbling as he made his way to the front of the bus. It took him a few moments to figure out how to get the door open.

His hands were shaking, his heart was racing, and he felt like he couldn’t breathe. Were they alive? Where they all dead? Where were Ned and MJ? What happened?

He stumbled on the stairs. His knees giving out before they slammed into the sidewalk, the skin of his palms scraping as he tried to catch himself.

He landed next to an old man with a goatee like Tony’s. Next to him was a woman in a pair of scrubs. A man with dreadlocks. Another who was bald. A girl. A boy. One right after another.

A jumbled pile of little green Army men.

Peter reached forward and pressed his fingers into the man’s neck. Nothing. He moved them an inch, felt again. Again and again before he crawled forward and laid his head on the man’s chest.

There was no heartbeat, no breathing.

None of them were breathing.

Peter felt snot pooling on his upper lip as tears started to fall down his face.

He didn’t know what to do. They were dead, they were all dead. MJ was gone, he couldn’t find Ned. He was alone.

But then he heard a sound. It was soft, familiar, and steady. Peter stood and started to follow it, mindful of the people around him. He stepped over them, feet landing on the little bits of pavement between their arms and legs, next to their heads.

Fluh-flop. Fluh-flop.

He knew that sound, heard it every time May went down to check the mail or when it was her turn to take out the garbage, her sandals flapping up and down the hall.

She was at the end of the street, her hair pulled back in a braid as she walked through the sea of bodies. Occasionally, she would stop and bend down next to one, her hand grabbing something from the ground and putting it next to her ear before letting it fall back to the pavement.

“May?” Peter called. His voice echoed off the buildings, the overwhelming quiet of the city feeling both oppressive and cavernous all at once, like screaming in an empty stadium. “May, are you okay?”

She didn’t answer. She simply continued on, bending down and grabbing something, a phone maybe? Maybe she was trying to call for help. Peter felt his pockets. His own phone was gone.

He kept walking towards her, cringing when he stepped on someone’s finger. “Sorry,” he whispered, as if they could hear him.

“May?”

He watched her pick up another phone and put it to her ear. But before she dropped it, Peter heard a quiet but distinctive click.

A sea of little plastic men. Their bayonets and rifles all pointed to the sky like blades of plastic grass.

She wasn’t picking up their phones. Soldiers wouldn’t have a phone.

She was picking up their guns. One right after the other, a pistol to the head.

Click.

Click.

Empty chambers.

Go to the next.

“Aunt May?”

Click.

She dropped the gun, stepped over a man’s legs, and picked up another.

“What are you doing?”

She put the gun to her head, but didn’t pull the trigger. She looked at him, the little wrinkle between her eyebrows deepening. “They’re dead, Peter.”

“I know,” he said, arms stretched out, palms up, pleading. “I know they are, but-- but what are you doing?”

“We’re all dead, Peter. Even you.”

And then she pulled the trigger.

There wasn’t a click.

Peter screamed.


 He felt the scream before he heard it, a deep, scratchy burn in the back of his throat just before the sound reached his ears as an echo, bouncing off tiled walls and laminate floors. And suddenly, he wasn’t alone anymore.

His knee hit the floor hard, a sharp pinch pulled at the inside of his elbow as a strong arm wrapped around his chest.

“Peter…”

He jumped at the sound of her voice, the image of her blowing her brains out still vividly fresh. He jerked his head up, trying to find her, but all he accomplished was a massive round of vertigo, the arm wrapped around his chest was the only thing keeping him from kissing the floor.

He closed his eyes and let his head fall back, not too concerned when it came to rest against someone’s shoulder. But then her hands were there, ice cold against his skin, one hand on his cheek, the other on his neck, fingertips pressed against his carotid.

“Peter, look at me,” she ordered, and he obeyed.

He squinted his eyes open, fighting against the instinct to close them in the too bright fluorescent lights. May’s face was inches from his own, her knees knocking against his as she knelt down in front of him.

“Why’d you do that?” he asked, the sound coming out as a dry whisper. He studied her temple, not really recognizing the absence of a bullet hole. He did recognize the confusion on her face though, worry making the dark circles beneath her eyes stand out.

“Why’d I do what, sweetie?” She rubbed her thumb along his cheek bone. Her voice was soft, gentle like she was afraid she might frighten him, her eyes occasionally darted over his shoulder to whoever was holding him in place. That was when Peter realized that he wasn’t on the street anymore, that May had never walked amongst a sea of bodies.

Peter glanced to his right, eyes locking on a concerned looking Tony Stark. He was tense, his fingers twitching as he studied Peter, like he wanted to do something but didn’t know what.

Peter blinked a few times, the feel of grit and something like sand making his eyes burn. He tried to move, to reach up and rub the grit away, but that same someone still had their arm in the way, the pinch and pull stinging the bend of his elbow.

He let his eyes wander to the source of the pinch, frowning when he saw an IV trying to rip out of his arm. There was a small trickle of blood, a few more sores suggesting this wasn’t the first IV he’d managed to dislodge. “What happened?”

“Are you asking about how you ended up on the floor, or how you ended up in the infirmary?” asked a familiar voice right behind Peter’s ear. Peter knew that voice, he’d heard it filtered through a TV every school year since sixth grade. He was still getting used to the whole hearing it in person thing.

Peter tensed, but otherwise managed to remain still, not wanting to risk another round of vertigo or another pull on the IV. He tried to turn his head, to look at the Captain and ask why he had Peter in a bear hug, but May’s hands were still on his face, still holding him in place. “Both,” he answered, his sore throat making speaking difficult.

“You hit your panic button,” Tony explained, he still looked tense, his fingers still twitching at his side, but he looked more at ease now that Peter was talking. “Found you and about twenty others passed out on the bus. Managed to sneak you here before the CDC got ahold of you.”

“CDC?”

Tony walked forward and knelt down beside May. “Someone released an unknown gas onto a public bus in the middle of Midtown,” Tony said, speaking slowly like Peter wouldn’t understand otherwise. “Homeland Security and CDC are on speed dial for things like that.”

“Oh,” was all Peter could think to say. At least until he remembered that he hadn’t been alone on that bus. “What about MJ and Ned? Are they okay? Are they here?”

“They’re fine,” May assured him. She ran her hands through his hair, her nails scraping soothingly against his scalp. “They’re at the hospital, but they’re fine. Everyone’s fine.”

Peter frowned, searched her face for any sign that she was lying and looked to Tony for confirmation. “They’re gonna be the CDC’s new pin cushions,” Tony said, “but yeah, they’re fine.”

Peter closed his eyes and remembered the smell of something sweet and bitter, remembered that heavy feeling and the way his arms didn’t want to move. He remembered waking up on an empty bus. “Who did it?” he asked. “Who released the gas?”

“They’re still working on that,” Steve explained.

May removed her hands from Peter’s face, prompting him to open his eyes, bringing his attention back to the cold exam room. He looked down, eyes landing on the well-muscled arm lying across his chest. He frowned when he noticed the pale blue exam gown, felt the coolness of the tiled floor seeping through the fabric of his boxers. He was about to ask where his clothes were when a blur of movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention.

He turned his head, the vertigo tagging along as he tried to see over the gurney beside him. But all he saw was a tangle of sheets and a stretched out IV line. No shadow, no blur.

“Peter?”

May’s cold fingers found their way back to Peter’s face, forcing him to look at her. He tried to swallow, the dryness on his tongue making it difficult, making the inside of his mouth feel sticky, tacky. “What?” he asked, realizing the others had been talking and he hadn’t heard a word.

Before anyone could answer, another blur darted through the room, this time closer to the door. He tried to follow it with his eyes, his head unable to turn thanks to May’s worried grip.

“Peter, what do you hear?” Tony asked, shifting forward a bit. Peter looked at him and frowned in confusion at the weird question.

“What?” Peter asked again, using the only word his scrambled mind could come up with. But then the blur was back, stopping just behind Tony and looking a lot less blurry and a lot more like a little boy with a hole in his head right between his eyes.

“Hey!” Peter yelled, whether at the boy or at the people ignoring the boy, he wasn’t sure, but the one un-trapped arm flew out, the IV finally coming loose as he tried to reach past Tony.

“Damn it, he’s not hearing anything, I think he’s seeing it!” Steve yelled, tightening his hold on Peter, trying to keep him down. Tony grabbed the free arm, his fingers smearing the line of blood that was leaking from Peter’s elbow as May leaned closer, her nose practically touching Peter’s, her fingers digging into his cheeks.

“Peter! Baby, listen. Whatever you’re seeing, it’s not real! Do you hear me?” She sounded desperate and her nails were hurting his skin and all he could do was look into her eyes, alternating between the left and the right. “Do you hear me?” she asked again, leaning back a few inches so she could take in his whole face.

Peter glanced to Tony, eyes straining to see the now absent Blur Boy. He nodded as he felt May’s fingers dig deeper. “It’s not real,” he said, both to show he heard her and to assure himself. He closed his eyes, not really wanting to see the boy again.

Slowly, more slowly than he’d like, things started to smooth out in his mind. Someone had released a gas on his bus, a hallucinogen apparently. Ned and MJ were fine, they were at the hospital.

And he was at the tower.

“Why am I here?” he asked. When May and Tony frowned and shared a worried look, Peter figured he should probably clarify. “I mean, why here at the tower? Why not the hospital with the others?”

Tony’s frown morphed, but it didn’t really disappear. “Unless you want tomorrow’s headline to be about Spider-Man’s true identity, we thought it best to keep you away from the CDC.”

And okay, yeah, that made sense.

Steve shifted behind Peter, his hold on his chest loosening. “What do you say we get off the floor?”

Without another word, everyone began to move in sync. May stepped out of the way as Tony and Steve picked Peter up beneath his arms and knees, easily lifting him off the floor and placing him back on the gurney.

The whole act was smooth and seemed so choreographed that Peter wondered if it was the first time they’d done it. Looking at the torn skin from the past IVs, he guessed not.

Peter tried to relax as Tony tried to reinsert the IV and May worried with the lines connecting to the heart monitor. He took a deep breath and frowned.

“What smells funny?”

“That would be you,” Tony said with a distracted smile, his eyes narrowed as he tried to line the needle up with a vein. “Exposure to an unknown chemical agent calls for a head to toe scrub down with a special soap.”

Peter decided he didn’t want to know who had scrubbed him down. “Was it poisonous? The gas?” he asked instead.

“That’s what Bruce is trying to figure out as we speak,” Tony answered. He gave a pleased smile as he successfully inserted the needle in Peter’s arm. “But from what we can tell so far, the answer’s ‘no’.”

And that was good. Other than a few bumps and bruises and one case of a badly sprained wrist, all the passengers on the bus would get to walk out of the hospital with nothing more than a headache and one hell of a story to tell.

And some extra voices in their heads, because apparently the gas caused auditory hallucinations.

Except for Peter. He was seeing dead little boys.

“Think of it like a really bad acid trip, kid,” was Tony’s advice. Peter didn’t exactly know what an acid trip felt like, but he was working his way towards the hangover phase pretty quick.

His head was pounding, his throat was dry, and every muscle in his body from his calves to his freaking eyeballs was sore.

But he was alive, his friends were alive. They were all going to be okay. That was the important thing.

“What I want to know,” Steve said interrupting Peter’s attempts at falling back asleep, “Is was that bus targeted randomly, or were they after someone specific?”

“You mean Peter?” May asked, sounding half accusing, half worried.

“I mean Spider-Man.”

Okay, that seemed important, too.


Three days later and the gas attack was still the top story in the news, if for no other reason than people liked drama. It had trended on Twitter for a day and sparked a new debate in the political arena that every daytime talk show host felt the need to offer an opinion on.

Officially, Peter wasn’t listed among the victims. SHIELD had stepped in the second Tony phoned Nick Fury and said that Spider-Man may have been on the bus. They weren’t necessarily taking the lead, couldn’t without going on record to say that an “advanced individual” was involved (which kind of defeated the point), but they were in the mix.

The first concern had been the bus’s CCTV footage.

But that wasn’t a concern for long.

Whoever had released the gas had also disconnected the cameras.

“Is that good or bad?” Peter asked. It was somewhat intimidating looking at Nick Fury’s perpetual scowl, even if it was directed towards a screen of static and not Peter.

“A little of both I think,” Bruce answered. He was still shifting through Peter’s blood samples and comparing them to the records he’d gotten from the CDC. “We might not get to see who released the gas, but we don’t have to worry about the media getting a video of Iron Man swooping in to snatch up an unconscious and unnamed kid off the floor of a crime scene and passing him off to Captain America.”

“It also means that your true identity is still a secret,” Fury added distractedly. He continued to frown as he shifted through reports and photos. “This would be a lot less of a headache if you weren’t still a minor.”

“Uh…sorry?” Peter said, drawing Fury’s glare away from the computer screen and towards Peter. Peter had been a bit distracted at the time, but he still remembered the now infamous “he’s a fucking kid” conversation that had echoed through the tower the day Nick Fury learned Spider-Man’s true identity.

Fury’s disbelief and ire had died down a little since then, not much, but some. Sort of.

It was a work in progress.

They were getting there.

“So good news,” Bruce interjected, “I’ve finished analyzing all of the samples you’ve provided and I can’t find any anomalies. I think you’re officially in the clear.” It was suspiciously perfect timing, probably meant more to distract from the cloud of discomfort that had taken over the room than to really inform, and while Peter appreciated Bruce’s effort, it didn’t really work.

Only because it reminded Peter of the incredibly awkward life experience that involved the Hulk’s alter-ego requesting a stool sample, not once, but twice, because yeah, it’s every nerd boy’s dream to have Dr. Bruce Banner dissect their poop.

Peter was still coming to terms with that.

Another work in progress.

“So I can go home?”

He could go home, but only because there was no evidence that Spider-Man/Peter Parker had been the target of the gas attack.

“It’s just bad luck, kid. Better than having someone trying to kill you.”

That was the official line, the one said in front of May to help calm her nerves as she drove Peter home, but Peter knew better. Tony liked coincidences about as much as he liked reporters and kale, and if Peter had learned anything in the last two years, it was that Tony wasn’t going to let this go.

“You sure you’re feeling better?”

“May, I’m fine. Dr. Banner gave me a clean bill of health, relax.”

May’s forehead wrinkled as she studied him. “And you’re sure you’re ready to go back to school?”

If it meant getting away from needles and tests and overly concerned parental figures, then yes. He was so ready.

Besides, Ned and MJ were going back.

“So, they really don’t have any idea who’s behind it?”

“No, Ned.”

“Not even a guess? I mean, what are the odds that some random psycho just happens to attack the one bus that Spider-Man just happens to be on?”

Peter didn’t have to tell Ned to shut up. MJ did it for him. Or sort of. She drove her elbow into his ribcage, but it had the same effect.

“Besides,” Peter whispered, “Spider-Man wasn’t on the bus. Peter Parker was.”

But not officially, which was why no one was really interested in Peter Parker. They were more interested in Ned and MJ. People they had never even met before would walk up to them in the halls, push Peter aside and ask Ned and MJ questions about the attack. Teachers would start class by welcoming them back, letting them know they were missed.

It was weird, but Peter was fine with it. Ned seemed confused and smiled awkwardly, like he didn’t know what to do when the attention was on him.

MJ just glared. At everyone.

Even the teachers.

But with everyone’s attention focused elsewhere, no one was actually looking when Peter passed out.

One minute he was standing at his locker, listening as Ned told a group of freshmen all about the crash, the next Mrs. O’ Bryan was standing over him, her knuckle pressing way too hard on his sternum.

“Peter, can you hear me?”

Peter pushed her hand away and frowned. He was lying on the floor, his binder spilled out beside him, and everyone was staring.

Peter wanted to tell them to mind their own business.

He leaned to the side and puked instead.

“I knew something was wrong,” May all but hissed. She was shaking her head, glaring at the cars in front of them.

Peter closed his eyes and leaned the passenger seat back. “All the tests came back fine, May. It’s probably just…”

“Just what?” she asked, and yeah, he could tell she was scared, but there really wasn’t anything to worry about. Bruce had said nausea was to be expected.

“Just a lingering side effect,” he finished lamely.

Bruce agreed, but he still took more blood, made Peter pee in a cup, and ordered another brain scan.

“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Bruce assured them. “But it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

May made it clear that they weren’t leaving without a more definitive confirmation than “I’m sure it’s nothing” and Tony agreed.

So much so that they ended up spending the night in the tower. Peter would have enjoyed this if he hadn’t been treated like a science experiment.

“You act like they’re torturing you.”

“May, I have been poked and prodded everywhere. This is overkill.”

“It’s being thorough, baby. Now quit moving, you’re messing up the monitor.”

Peter groaned, allowed May to adjust the wires connecting him to a machine, and tried to go to sleep.

Apparently, he succeeded, because when he woke up the next morning he felt better than he had in days. The small headache that had been a constant since the bus crash was gone. He was no longer dizzy, no uneasiness in his stomach.

“So you think you’re good to go?” Tony asked.

And Peter was.

May drove him home, he took the day off from school, promised to let them know if he started feeling sick again, and life went on as usual.

Up until a week later when Peter woke up to find Uncle Ben sitting on the couch.

Chapter Text

The apartment smelled like coffee and shampoo, which made sense because Peter could hear May in the shower and he could see a fresh cup of coffee sitting on the small table next to the couch. The same couch that Ben was sitting on.

The same Ben that had died two years before.

Peter felt like he was going to throw up. Or cry. Maybe a little of both, because Peter knew Ben was dead, knew that he’d been buried in Maple Grove cemetery. Peter knew it for a fact because he was there for both events, and yet, there Ben sat. Having the indecency not to look the least bit dead.

Peter didn’t really know what to say. There wasn’t really a set of social guidelines you were supposed to follow when conversing with the dead.

He finally decided on “What are you doing here?” It came out sort of choked, something a little more than a whisper, but Ben heard it all the same.

He looked up from the newspaper he was reading, eyes peering at Peter over the rims of his glasses, the same glasses Peter knew were supposed to be in a box in the top of May’s closet along with old photos, an engraved watch, and a handwritten copy of their wedding vows.

“Oh, hey, Pete,” Ben said, smiling that crooked smile and sounding way too happy for the occasion. “I was starting to think you were never gonna wake up.”

That didn’t exactly answer Peter’s question, but Peter wasn’t really up to asking it again. The urge to throw up subsided, but the urge to cry was quickly becoming a thing, because Ben sounded just like he used to, just like Peter remembered. His voice wasn’t really deep, but it definitely had a rasp to it, like he was always out of breath, the way you got when you’ve just had a good laugh and forgot to breathe through the joy.

Peter felt his eyes fill with tears, knew by the way Ben’s smile fell that he was about to ask Peter what was wrong, but then the bathroom door swung open and May stepped out in all her rushed and disheveled glory.

She was soaking wet, hair drenched and dripping with something that looked like a blouse hanging down from between her teeth as she tried to secure the towel wrapped around her. She caught a glance of Peter, said “Oh good, you’re up,” and tossed him the blouse before making her way to the coffee pot. “Can you throw this in the dryer to try to get the wrinkles out? I have a meeting at 8:30 and I already know I’m gonna be late.”

She was busy adding creamer to her coffee, muttering under her breath about everything she still needed to do, so it took her a few moments to notice that Peter hadn’t moved.

She put the lid back on the sugar canister, grabbed her steaming cup of coffee and turned to go back into her room when she stopped. Peter could feel her eyes on him, but he needed a moment because sometime between Peter turning to catch the shirt May had tossed him and looking back, Ben had disappeared.

“Peter?” she asked, voice concerned. “Are you okay?”

Peter blinked, wiped at his eye with the heel of his hand, and turned to his aunt. “What?”

May set her coffee back on the counter and moved towards Peter, movements slow and cautious, like she were approaching a scared toddler and not a teenage boy. “Baby, you’re crying.”

Peter wiped at his eyes again and sniffed. “Did you uh, did you make the coffee?” he asked, trying to sound nonchalant and not on the verge of a breakdown. He failed miserably.

“Yeah, I set it to brew before I got in the shower.” She reached forward and brushed her fingers through his hair. “Baby what’s wrong?”

“Nothing, I uh…,” Peter looked to the empty couch, to the table without a coffee cup. “I think I’m just having a hard time waking up.”

“Peter,” May said softly, clearly not convinced.

“I just had a bad dream,” Peter added, trying his best to smile and reassure his aunt that everything was fine.  He didn’t really know how to admit he’d just seen a dead man sitting on the couch. “I just need some coffee, something to wake me up.”

May still didn’t look convinced, but she let it go, partly because she was still running late, but mostly because Peter didn’t give her any other choice. He grabbed her coffee, took a large sip before handing it to her with a gentle shove towards the bathroom. “You’re gonna be late, remember?”

And that was that.

May bustled back into the bathroom to blow dry her hair and Peter tiptoed into her room to look in the small, carved box in the top of the closet. Ben’s glasses were inside, right where they were supposed to be.

Peter put the box back, got dressed, and proceeded to spend the majority of the journey to school staring at his phone, googling waking dreams. He didn’t really find anything useful, at least nothing that would calm his nerves, but he guessed he should probably take comfort in the fact that he wasn’t the only person in the world seeing dead relatives.

“Dude, are you okay?” was how Ned decided to greet him. It was better than MJ’s “you look like shit,” but still, not the way Peter wanted to start the school day.

Although, it was admittedly better than thinking his dead uncle was haunting the apartment.

“I just didn’t sleep well,” Peter told them, emptying his backpack into his locker, “I’m fine.”

“Still look like shit,” MJ added, but that was all they said on the matter. Peter went to his first class, then his second, and then things got weird.

One minute he was packing up his stuff to go to lunch, the next he was being hit with a dodgeball. Coach Wilson’s whistle echoed through the gym. “You’re out, Parker!” he called, sounding completely uninterested.

Flash was laughing. Peter was confused.

“That means leave the court, dipshit!” Flash yelled when Peter just stood there. He tossed another ball, but Peter caught it, let it fall to the ground, and walked over to where MJ and Ned were already sitting on the bench.

“You know,” Ned began as Peter climbed onto the bleachers, “it probably wouldn’t hurt anything if you, you know, actually kicked his ass. Not like for real, but like at least in dodgeball.”

“Yeah,” Peter mumbled, looking around, frowning at the crowd of students still on the court. “How did we…,” he licked his lips, rubbed his hand down the front of his gym shirt, “how did we get here?”

“Get hit with a ball, you’re out,” MJ informed him, her eyes never leaving the book she was reading.

“No, that’s…that’s not what I meant.” Peter ran his fingers over his bare knees, trying to remember when he had changed into shorts.

MJ looked up from her book, her face set in an expression that hinted she was about to drop some sarcasm.

Instead, she took one look at Peter and frowned. “Are you okay?”

Peter frowned back. “What?”

“You look—”

“Like shit, yeah, I know.”

“Yeah, you look like shit. But seriously, what’s wrong?”

Peter didn’t really want to say he was seeing dead people and jumping through time, at least not to Ned and MJ. There wasn’t really much they could do about it other than worry and give him concerned looks like he was losing his mind.

Tony, however…

Peter took one more look around, decided now was as good a time to tell the man as any, and left. He ignored MJ and Ned’s alarmed questions, ignored Flash’s annoying taunts of “Going to pout, Penis?” and barely even registered Coach Wilson’s distracted and unconvincing reminder that he “couldn’t leave the gym without a hall pass.”

He didn’t even take the time to change. Peter simply went to his locker, grabbed his bag, and left. He was barely out the front door when Tony answered the phone.

“Shouldn’t you be in class?” Tony asked, sounding way too much like May.

Peter could hear chatter in the background. “Remember how you made me swear to tell you if I started feeling sick again?”

He heard something shift on the other end of the line, a door open and close, and then silence, hinting that Tony had gone somewhere more private. “What kind of sick are we talking about? The kind where you puke on your calculus test, or…?”

“The kind where I’m hallucinating my dead uncle and losing track of time.”

More silence and then “Where are you? I’m sending Happy.”

“Don’t bother,” Peter told him, arm raising as he hailed a cab, “I’m already on my way.”

It took a little over half an hour and a little under thirty dollars for Peter to make the trip. Peter paid the cabbie and tried to ignore the look the security guard was giving his yellow gym shorts.

“You doing okay, Parker?” the man asked, leaning over the front desk when Peter began repeatedly pushing the elevator’s call button.

“Yep,” Peter said, turning enough to give the man a smile. “Just gotta talk to Mr. Stark.”

“Isn’t today a school day?”

“Yep.”

“Mr. Stark expecting you?”

“Yep.”

“Alright, I figure he’ll throw you out if he doesn’t want you here,” the man said, returning Peter’s smile. It was a running joke, something the security guards tended to say whenever Peter showed up unexpectedly.

Mostly because Pepper Potts had told them that both Peter and May had permission to visit whenever they liked.

Eventually, the doors slid open and Peter slid inside, pushing himself into the corner as men and women in lab coats and business suits crowded in around him. He took a deep breath and resigned himself to a slow ride up.

The cameras were hidden, but Peter knew they were there. He looked into the upper left corner and gave a small wave, hoping F.R.I.D.A.Y would know to take him to the penthouse without him having to actually ask.

A few of the occupants gave him curious glances, but none spoke to him. Peter was fine with that. It was a lot easier to keep the anxiety fueled freak out internal if people didn’t ask him questions. He took another deep breath, reminded himself that Dr. Banner and Mr. Stark would know what was wrong, and pulled his backpack to his chest like some weird pseudo-teddy bear.

The elevator stopped twice, let a few people off, a few more on, and continued its journey up. Only somewhere between Human Resources and the penthouse the doors opened again, but no one moved.

Peter frowned, tried to see through the group of people before him, and was just about to ask what was wrong when a voice that was undeniably Tony’s asked, “Is there a kid in there?”

The small crowd parted, every head inside turned to look towards where Peter was leaning against the back wall. He gave them an apologetic smile, gripped his backpack tighter, and pushed his way out the door.

Tony was there waiting, eyebrows knitted in concern as he did a visual inventory, scanning Peter from top to bottom like he’d be able to see what was wrong with him. “You doing okay?” he asked.

Peter nodded and gave a lopsided close-lipped smile. “You think it’s just lingering side effects from the gas attack?”

“That’s what we’re going to find out,” Tony said. He placed his hand on Peter’s shoulder and steered him further into the lab. “Now come on, kid. Doc’s waiting.”

Peter let himself be led, trusting Tony not to let him trip into anything because Peter was too busy looking around his new surroundings to pay attention where he was going. He’d been in Tony’s lab before, more than one of them. But those labs were of the engineering variety, reimagined mechanical shops with every bit of computer and robotics software imagined with the occasional chemistry set thrown in for Peter’s benefit.

This lab looked like something more akin to what a mad scientist would have thrown together. If said scientist was a billionaire and a neat freak.

Everything was pristine and simultaneously gave the appearance of being brand new and very expensive. There were machines and equipment everywhere, some Peter recognized, but others he could only guess what they were meant to do, and even then, he felt he’d be wrong.

There were shelves full of beakers, unused Bunsen burners, and empty flasks. Stark pads were propped up at almost every work station, their screens dimmed to a pale blue, like they were just waiting to wake up.

There were monitors and panels full of buttons that Peter wanted to press, and the occasional robot arm that looked like a smaller, more defined, better behaved version of Dum-E.

Tony walked Peter past it all and down a short hallway that ended in what was undeniably a medical suite, complete with a couple of doctors.

“Kid, you remember Strange, right?” Tony asked, gesturing to the man as he moved to stand next to Bruce.

Peter nodded, gave an awkward wave, and said, “Uh, yeah. Hi.”

“He’s gonna take a look at you this time,” Bruce explained. He took Peter’s backpack and gestured for him to get on the exam table.

“Are you gonna use magic to do it?” Peter asked, climbing onto the table and trying not to sound skeptical.

Dr. Strange made a face that made it clear he was trying to be patient and pulled on a pair of rubber gloves. “No, I’m going to use medicine.”

“Turns out the doctor is an actual doctor,” Tony said, jumping up and sitting on the counter along the back wall. “He’ll hopefully find whatever we missed.”

Except he didn’t.

Test after test, question after question, and they still had nothing. Not even when May barged in wearing the same shirt Peter had tossed in the dryer earlier that morning and a look that hinted she was either about to yell at someone or cry.

Peter turned to Tony and glared. “You called May?”

Tony wasn’t the least bit sorry. “Chill, Haley Joel. Your brain starts backfiring, parental figures get informed. It was in the original peace agreement, remember?”

Peter remembered. Didn’t mean he had to like it, so he just sat there, shivering in the ridiculous gown they’d given him while May drilled Dr. Strange about what was happening to her kid, Dr. Strange stared on in shock, apparently unsure how to handle May Parker, and Tony leaned back and smiled, clearly glad it wasn’t happening to him for a change.

It was a little surreal, especially when May and Peter got subjected to an impromptu science lesson by three of the smartest men on the planet.

“We can’t just run his blood through a machine and automatically know what all is in it. That’s not how blood tests work,” Bruce explained. He pulled a tube out of a centrifuge and held it up to the light, eyes squinted as he tilted it to the side. “We have to know what we’re looking for, and then we test to see if it’s there.”

Tony took one look at the unsure frown on May’s face and decided to step in. “For example,” he began, slapping Peter affectionately on the shoulder, “If we suspected the squirt of smoking pot—“

Peter frowned. “I don’t smoke pot.”

“—then we’d take a little blood or urine and look for THC. But we’d have to actually go looking for it. Like Bruce said, we can’t just plug the kid into a computer and get a list of everything swimming around inside.”

May was still frowning but she seemed a little less confused. “So what have you checked for?”

Everything, apparently. Bruce pulled up a list of everything they’d already tested for. Nothing in Peter’s system could explain what was happening to him.

“There are minute traces of something that matches the chemical structure of some of the gas’s components, but…” Bruce scratched his head and frowned. “It’s not an exact match and the amount is almost negligible and if I had to guess, I’d say it’s just left over from the gas attack.”

The fact that both Strange and Tony agreed didn’t really do anything to calm May down. Peter either, but he didn’t voice it aloud. But they had nothing.

“So I’m just supposed to take him home?” she asked.

The answer was yes, by the way. It was the only answer they got too, other than a promise that they’d keep looking into it.

“Do you see him now?” May asked later that night. They were sitting on the couch, legs folded beneath them as they faced one another and the pizza box between them.

“No,” Peter said, grabbing his third slice of pizza.

“But you definitely saw him this morning?”

“Yeah, he was sitting right here.” Peter pointed to the seat cushion beneath him as he took a bite of pizza.

“Any reason you didn’t tell me then that he was here?” May asked, trying and failing to sound casual and not at all accusing.

Peter let it slide. “He wasn’t really here, May.”

May looked up and frowned. “I know that,” she snapped defensively, “But answer my question. Why didn’t you tell me you thought Ben was sitting on our couch?”

Peter took another bite of pizza and chewed, all while enduring his aunt’s worried but accusing gaze. There was a reason he hadn’t told her, a few of them actually. The one that made him most uncomfortable, though, was the fact that he didn’t know how.

It wasn’t like he could have looked her in the eye and said “You remember your husband I got killed? He’s staring at me and drinking our coffee.”

May arched her brow, prompting.

Peter just shrugged and said, “I don’t know.”

May sighed and picked at the cheese stuck to the lid of the pizza box. “What if he was a ghost?”

There was the other reason he hadn’t wanted to tell her. Discussing Ben was like an emotional minefield. It was anyone’s guess if his name would evoke good memories or bad. And thinking maybe Ben really had been there, even if just in spirit? That was bad.

Peter waited until May looked at him to say, “Ghosts aren’t real, May.”

May rolled her eyes and tossed her uneaten crust into the box. “Yeah, well the God of Thunder wasn’t supposed to be real either and yet you play Halo with him.”

And yes, she had him there, but it didn’t matter. Peter might not have known why he had hallucinated, but he knew that’s what it was. A hallucination. Not a ghost.

No matter how much he wanted it to be.

He took out the trash, stripped down to his underwear and climbed under his covers. He expected to lie awake all night, to stare at the walls and worry about whether or not something was really wrong with him. But he was asleep in no time at all.

Too bad he didn’t stay that way.

Several hours later, Peter woke with a start. He was covered in sweat, his pulse pounding, and his lungs refusing to cooperate as he worked to drag in breath after breath.

He looked at the clock, saw it was half past four, forced himself to take a deep, calming breath, and tried to get his breathing under control.

Once he managed that, he tried to figure out what the hell had woken him up, but then he felt it. That all familiar tingle at the base of his skull, his own personal security alarm.

His Spidey senses were going crazy. The little hairs on his arms stood at attention, so did the ones on the back of his neck. He felt an unexplained sense of panic and then a buzzing, just beneath the surface of his skin.

He jumped up, turned on the light and looked around. There was nothing there. He ran to the window, half expecting to see someone staring back, but all he saw was an empty street and a panicked reflection. He double checked that the window was locked, then did the same with the front door and the window by the fire escape.

He even peeked in on May, but she was fine, still fast asleep. Peter pulled her door shut, careful to keep the door knob turned until it was closed, not wanting to wake her. He gave the darkened apartment another scrutinizing glance and took a deep, relieved breath.

Maybe it was just another dream, maybe it was just a delayed adrenaline reaction to the drama of the previous day.

Peter triple checked the locks and told himself he was just overreacting.

He almost had himself convinced of it, too, until he walked back into his room and felt that warning buzz all over again.

He stood there in the doorway, scanning his room, searching for anything that could be causing his senses to go haywire, but there was nothing. At least nothing that he could see.

He closed his eyes, tried to listen for anything unusual, anything that could hint that danger might be close, but all he heard was May’s light snores and the sound of the neighbor’s cat scratching at something it probably shouldn’t be.

Peter cast another glance towards May’s closed door. He thought about waking her, about telling her that something was freaking him out. But then he realized she’d probably just call Tony and something about that thought made Peter cringe. Whether it was the thought that Tony would think he was crazy or that he would scoff at the fact that Peter was apparently suddenly and inexplicably afraid of the dark, Peter didn’t know. He just knew he didn’t want Tony knowing.

Not at least until he found the cause for the alarm.

So Peter started looking. He didn’t know what he hoped to find, whether it be a masked villain hiding under his bed or a bomb hidden in his closet…

He knew he probably looked paranoid, but his senses were telling him that something was wrong. And it wouldn’t hurt anything just to double check.

So he gave the locked window one more cursory glance and dropped down to his knees so he could see under the bed. There was nothing there, nothing dangerous at least. Not unless dirty clothes, a lost notebook, broken Wii remote, a worryingly dirty paper plate, or a handful of Legos could be counted as dangerous.

Peter climbed to his feet and frowned. He opened his closet and looked at the stack of old shoe boxes and plastic totes that lined the top shelf. Nothing there looked suspicious. He scratched his head, pulled on his hair, turned with a frown.

His Spidey sense was still tingling, still whispering that something was wrong.

He wrenched open his desk drawer, emptied out the markers and pens, torn post-it notes and half-dead batteries. He took a deep breath and let it out in a heavy huff. When he turned to go look in his dresser, he tripped on the edge of the rug. He tilted his head, thought what the hell, and pulled the whole thing up, flipping it over until he could see the mesh-like underside. But there was nothing there.

He moved to his dresser, pulling out each drawer and dumping them out, right onto the now rug-less floor so that he could look at the bottom of each drawer. There was nothing there, and for some reason, the absence of anything bothered Peter. Something was setting of his senses, and he wanted to know what.

He took the pillow cases off the pillows, the sheets off the beds (both the top bunk and the bottom). He looked through his closet, emptying old boxes and bags, pulling clothes off hangers and checking the pockets. By the time he finished and made his way into the living room, the bedroom looked like a bomb had exploded in it.

When May found him nearly an hour later, he’d already overturned the couch cushions, unplugged the TV and DVD player, emptied the bookshelves and was now working on pulling the fridge out to see if anything had been placed behind it.

“Peter?” May asked. Her voice was doing that thing where she tried to sound calm but Peter could tell she was freaking out. “Baby?”

Peter looked up from where he was leaning over the counter, trying to see if there was  some type of listening bug or something tangled in the coils on the back of the fridge, and froze. May was standing in the door of her bedroom, her hair a mess, her eyes wide as she looked around the destroyed living room.

“I’m gonna clean it up,” Peter hurried to assure her, “I promise.”

But that wasn’t what May was worried about. “I’m calling Tony.”

“What? No, May, listen.” Peter jumped over the mess, tripping a little on the pots and pans he’d pulled from the cabinets, and grabbed May around her waist, pulling her back and stopping her from going back to her room to get her phone. “Just wait okay. Let me explain.”

May took a step back. “You can explain this?” she asked.

Peter tried. He told her about his Spidey sense waking him up, and it warning him that something was wrong. He explained that he was just trying to find the source, that there was no need to bother Tony if it was just a false alarm.

May didn’t agree. “What if your sense thing isn’t really acting up? What if this is just another hallucination?”

Peter shook his head and rubbed his hands down his face. “It doesn’t work like that, May.”

“How do you know?” May stepped forward, her glare looking a combination of angry and terrified. “Tony Stark can’t explain how your powers work, he told me.” She took another step forward. “He also told me that you don’t understand how they work either, so maybe this--maybe this is just another symptom for whatever’s going on with you.”

Peter leaned back against the door frame, shoulders slumping as he looked over the destroyed apartment. “I just don’t think we should call him unless something’s wrong.”

May grabbed Peter’s wrists, let her hands slide down until her fingers tangled with his. “Baby, look around. Something is wrong.”

Peter couldn’t really argue with that. But he didn’t have to, because in the little gap of time between Peter realizing he wasn’t going to get his way and him actually relenting to let May call Tony, his phone began to chime, his alarm going off to wake him for school.

He pulled his hands from May’s, stepped around her, and began traversing a path towards his room. When he came back, phone in hand, May was right where he’d left her. She had wrapped her arms around herself, and Peter could tell she was about to cry.

“I’m gonna take a shower,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand as he gestured towards the bathroom door with the other. “I’ll uh…I’ll clean this all up after school.” He tried to give her a smile, failed, and added a softly spoken “I promise” as he grabbed a clean pair of underwear and locked himself in the bathroom while May shut her bedroom door.

Thirty minutes later, Peter was grabbing his keys and trying not to feel guilty about the fact that May still hadn’t come out of her room.

“You’re not dying are you?” Ned asked, once again forgetting how to properly greet people.

Peter nearly choked on the granola bar he was trying to scarf down. “What?”

“He’s trying to say you look like shit,” MJ explained. “Again. You sick?”

Peter tossed the granola bar in the trash bin. “I’m not sick.”

“Dude, you passed out last week, and then you totally bailed in the middle of gym,” Ned countered. “If it had been any other teacher than Wilson, you’d have probably been suspended.”

Peter looked around, decided there were too many people within hearing distance and promptly began to steer his friends towards the nearest bathroom.

There was only one other kid inside. He gave an uncomfortable look MJ’s way while Peter checked the stalls and promptly left.

As soon as the door closed and Peter was sure they were alone, he took a deep breath, opened his mouth to explain, panicked, and closed it again.

“If you’re trying to convince us there’s nothing to worry about, you’re doing a shitty job at it,” MJ informed him. She folded her arms across her chest and leaned against the wall next to the urinals, doing a pretty good impression of not being concerned.

But if Peter listened, he could hear her heartbeat, and he knew she was worried. Maybe not as much as Ned, but still…

“I’m not dying,” Peter repeated, trying to sound as convincing as possible.

“But?” MJ prompted.

“But I’m…,” Peter frowned as he tried to think of the word he needed. Was he sick? Was there something to worry about? Or was it just a delayed reaction to the gas attack? Maybe a small mental breakdown brought on by stress? Superhero puberty?

Ned wasn’t really in the mood to wait for Peter to decide. He rubbed tiredly at his eyes and groaned, “Peter, dude, if you don’t start talking, I’m gonna seriously start to freak out.”

“I’ve been hallucinating,” he blurted. When Ned looked even closer to freaking out and MJ actually looked worried, he clarified. “Just once.”

“Are we counting the time right after the bus?” Ned asked. “Didn’t you see, like, a dead kid?”

Oh yeah, Peter forgot he’d told them about that. “Okay, twice. I saw Ben.” Peter shrugged and tried to act like it wasn’t a big fucking deal. “But he didn’t look dead. He was just drinking coffee.”

MJ was no longer leaning against the wall. She narrowed her eyes and leveled Peter with a glare that was way too reminiscent of May Parker for Peter’s liking. “Does Stark know?”

“Yeah, he knows,” Peter assured her, happy not to have to lie. “And after this morning, I’m pretty sure May’s already called him again.”

Ned’s frown now matched MJ’s. “What happened this morning?”

Peter tucked his bottom lip between his teeth and cringed. He’d had time since leaving the apartment to think back on the early morning wakeup call and his impromptu search. The more he thought about it, the more embarrassed he felt and the more he was absolutely certain he’d overreacted.

And just as much as he didn’t want to tell Tony, he didn’t want to tell MJ or Ned.

But for the second time in as many hours, Peter was saved by the bell. Literally.

Before he had time to try to come up with a lie, to think of a something that would make them worry less, the bell rang, signaling the start of the day.

Peter gave them an apologetic smile and started for the door. But MJ wasn’t having it. She jumped ahead, placed her arm across the doorway and leaned in until she was close enough that Peter could see each individual eye lash. “Answer the question, Peter,” she said. “What happened this morning?”

Peter had just enough time to think “Am I gonna tell her?” before he blinked and he suddenly found himself sitting in the middle of his third period U.S. History class. He looked down, saw about a page of notes, complete with a little chart outlining the governmental balance of powers all in his scratchy little handwriting.

It was one of the few classes he didn’t have with either MJ or Ned. Flash was there though, but seeing as he was leaning back with his phone hidden beneath the desk, thumb slowly scrolling through Instagram, Peter figured he hadn’t done anything embarrassing during the last few hours.

And while it was nice not to have Flash making fun of him, it sucked not knowing what the hell was happening, what he had done, what he had said.

Did he tell MJ and Ned about what happened?

He did. They told him so at lunch.

“Maybe it’s a tumor,” Ned offered, ignoring his lunch in favor of diagnosing Peter.

“It’s not a tumor, Ned. They’ve scanned my brain like four times.”

“A mental disorder,” MJ suggested. For once she didn’t have her nose in her book. Peter was also surprised not to see her sketching him, because he’d never really been more distressed. “Have they checked for those?”

“If it can be looked at in a blood test, under a microscope, or with an MRI, it’s been done,” Peter mumbled. He was sitting with his forehead pressed against the lunch table. “Dr. Strange is pretty sure it’s nothing like that.”

“And he’s a real doctor?” MJ asked.

“Neuro-surgeon.”

“Just checking.”

The rest of the day went by slowly, and thankfully without any more missing pieces. Peter finished up chemistry, grabbed his bag and made a beeline for the door.

The plan was to get something to eat and get home so he could clean up the mess he’d made before May made it home.

Happy didn’t care about Peter’s plan. And neither did Tony.

“Tony said it was non-optional.”

“I don’t need a shrink, Happy.”

“Psychiatrist.”

“That’s so much worse.”

“Humor us, kid. May called this morning. You really gonna stand there and tell me that wasn’t anything to worry about?”

Peter wanted to, but seeing how past experiences hinted that it wouldn’t go over well, he remained quiet.

That was enough for Happy. “That’s what I thought, now get in the car.”

Peter gave Happy one more pleading look, which Happy ignored, and got in the car. He waited until they’d left the school and were on their way out of Midtown before he finally spoke. “Do you think I’m going crazy?”

Happy cast him a look in the rearview mirror and switched lanes. “I think it won’t hurt anything talking to the doctor.”

“That’s not what I asked,” Peter said.

Happy gave him another look, passed a taxi that was going too slow, and sighed. Peter thought he was just going to ignore him, but eventually they came to a stoplight. Happy took a deep breath, let it out through his nose and turned to face Peter in the backseat.

“I think whatever’s wrong, no matter what it is, that we’ll take care of it.” The light changed green and the car behind them laid on the horn. Happy glared, waved his middle finger at them and started driving again. He caught Peter’s eye in the rearview mirror and asked, “You still listening to me?”

“I’m listening.”

“Good,” he said. He inhaled like he was about to carry on, but then sighed, shoulders slumping, fingers flexing around the steering wheel like he’d lost his steam and didn’t know how to continue. He took another deep breath, ran a hand over his mouth and looked back in the rearview mirror. “You’re not crazy, kid. But if something’s wrong, you’re not gonna go through it alone.”

Peter leaned back, propped his knees on the back of the seat in front of him, and started chewing on the callus around his thumbnail. He waited until they were pulling into the tower’s parking garage before he admitted, “It happened again.”

Happy looked up from where he was scanning his security badge and frowned. “What happened again? Another hallucination?”

Peter shook his head and cleared his throat. “I lost track of time,” he explained. “There’s like three hours I have no memory of.”

Happy rolled up the window and turned into the private parking area. He didn’t say anything, not until after he’d parked the car and both he and Peter had climbed out, and then it was only to ask, “You’re gonna tell the doc about this right?”

Peter stepped into the private elevator, leaned against the wall, and pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes and groaned. “Why am I seeing this guy anyway? Doctor Strange already looked me over and he couldn’t find anything.”

“This is a psychiatrist, they’re doctors of the brain.”

“Strange is a neuro-surgeon. Brain is literally in the title,” Peter countered.

Happy rolled his eyes and pressed the button for the penthouse. “Strange messes with the squishy part of the brain, this guy deals with the more complicated bits. Just give him a chance.”

And Peter did. He smiled awkwardly when Tony introduced them and tried not to panic when Tony let on that the guy knew about Spider-Man.

“It’s okay, kid. He’s with S.H.I.E.L.D. Keeping secrets is part of his gig.”

So was asking increasingly uncomfortable questions. They started out mild at first, the standard type of things one would expect from a shrink. Things about Peter’s personal life, his relationships with his friends, his aunt, and Tony, his past relationship with Ben. But somewhere between asking if Peter was dating anyone and whether or not his aunt was cool with the whole Spider-Man thing, the doctor switched gears, asking things like whether or not Peter had ever used drugs, what were his thoughts on the Accords, did he ever think that some criminals deserved more severe punishments than others, had Peter ever tried to hurt himself, had he ever thought about it?

“Are you trying to figure out if I’m a super villain or something?” Peter asked after the doctor questioned whether or not Peter had ever tried or thought about hurting someone else.

“I’m trying to gauge a baseline for your mental state.”

“Because you think I’m crazy?”

The doctor tilted his head and looked at Peter. “I prefer the term mentally ill, and no, I don’t think it would apply to you. At least not in the way you’re thinking.”

Peter arched an eyebrow challengingly. “I see dead people. Pretty sure that’s a checkmark in the ‘mentally ill’ column.”

The doctor nodded and gave Peter a patient smile. “Normally, I’d agree with you, but hallucinations, the time losses? While these are all symptoms of some of the more debilitating mental illnesses, the fact that they’ve all come on all of a sudden, all at once, with no other signs or symptoms...combine that with the facts that your blood work and scans have been clear and there’s no family history, I don’t think you’re ‘crazy’.”

He said the last bit with air quotes and added in a slight disapproving frown, but Peter didn’t care, he’d just been told he most likely wasn’t looking at a future full of doctors and pills.

Of course, that just left an even bigger problem. If Peter wasn’t sick, if everything that had happened over the last week wasn’t the onset of some serious mental illness, then what was happening to him?

“He said you were okay?” Tony asked, trying to look over May’s shoulder as she read through the doctor’s notes. “You’re not sick?”

Peter decided not to mention the bits where the doctor mentioned unhealthy coping mechanisms and PTSD, and just shrugged. “I’m not schizophrenic if that’s what you’re worried about.”

May flipped through the pages, frowned, and pursed her lips to the side. “He doesn’t say what is wrong with you though.”

Tony reached around, snatched the papers out of May’s hand and started flipping through them, eyes squinting as he tried to decipher the hand-written notes. “Did he at least make a guess?”

Peter shrugged again. “Stress induced psychosis?”

Tony looked up from the papers. “He said that?”

“It was mentioned.”

Tony pursed his lips to the side just as May had done moments earlier, before dropping the notes on the counter with a defeated sigh. “Well that’s a load of bullshit if I ever heard it.”

May gave Tony a disapproving glare and retrieved the notes. “It’s more than you’ve managed to come up with.”

Tony waved a dismissive hand and pointed at Peter. “That kid’s been though more traumatic shit in the last few years than most full grown men have in a lifetime. Pretty sure if he was going to have stress induced psychosis, it’d take way more than a random gas attack on a bus to do it.”

It was May’s turn to shrug, her nose wrinkling in reluctant agreement. “So what do we do now?”

The answer was another round of blood work and a trip to the supply closet. Tony handed Peter a small notebook, the kind that detectives used in movies when they were taking notes and trying to look serious. “You’re gonna start tracking your movements. Dates, times, actions. Got it?”

“Why?”

“I figure this is the best way to figure out what you’re missing. You said you had taken notes during your class right? Even though you didn’t remember it?”

“Yeah.”

Tony just clapped his hands and made a “there you go” kind of gesture. He handed Peter a pen and pointed to the notebook. “Go ahead and start now.”

So Peter did. He documented everything, when he left the tower, when he made it back to the apartment, when he and May tried to decide what they wanted for dinner.

He wrote down when May threw a fit over him wanting to go out on patrol.

He threw the notebook against the wall when she called Tony and the traitor agreed with her.

He picked the notebook up again and wrote down when he was ready for bed.

It turned out to be a pretty good idea, the notebook thing, because over the next two days Peter lost more time.

He’d taken to calling them shifts, if for no other reason than he didn’t know what else to call it when his brain decided to pull a mental time fuck.

And if blinking and suddenly finding yourself four hours in the future wasn’t weird enough, reading back on your day and learning you had carried on just fine with absolutely no memory of it definitely was.

“Did I really tell Flash to go to hell?”

MJ made a noise that sounded like a deep chuckle. “Yeah.”

Peter looked at the notebook again and frowned. “What did he do when I said it?”

MJ looked up from her sketchbook. “You didn’t write it down?”

“No.”

MJ shrugged and went back to drawing. “Probably for the best. Pretty sure you’re better off not knowing.”

“Seriously?” Peter complained. MJ just smirked and held up her sketchbook to show a partially drawn Peter frantically scribbling in a miniature notebook.

Two days wasn’t really a long time to gather sufficient empirical data, but it was enough time to find a pseudo-pattern.

If Peter added in the previous instances, the shifts seemed to happen sometime in the early hours of the day, sometime between Peter waking up and him getting through his first few classes. Other than an annoying headache and the nearly constant but subtle buzzing of his spider senses, the remainder of each day was ultimately uneventful.

Up until Peter thought he saw what looked like a giant, green troll staring at him from behind a dumpster.

Chapter Text

Peter was on a strict schedule now, one set by May and enforced by pretty much everyone else Peter knew. He was to go to school and go straight home. Nothing else. Which was why he was already home on a Thursday afternoon and not out patrolling.

He’d just turned the corner onto his street, pressed the button for the crosswalk and texted May, letting her know he’d made it home when the near constant buzzing of his Spidey senses spiked. Peter glanced up and locked eyes with something he thought only existed in movies and video games.

It was green, its color a little less vibrant than Hulk’s and a little more muddy. Its ears were pointed, its eyes bulbous and squinted in a sneer Peter could only define as ‘pissed off’. The thing was a little taller than Peter and looked like a cross between an Orc from Lord of the Rings and one of the goblins that could be found in Elder Scrolls.

It was hiding in the shadows of a narrow alley, the bulk of its body tucked behind a dumpster. If Peter’s senses hadn’t prompted him to look, he never would have seen it, wouldn’t have noticed the way it glared at him.

No one else seemed to notice the creature, each too busy with their own lives to bother looking down a small alley. Peter didn’t really know what to do, he just stood there, staring at it. At least until the creature smirked, gave Peter a wink, and turned away.

Peter didn’t even realize he had started to follow it until the sound of a horn blaring and breaks squealing echoed down the street. The car stopped in time, the driver yelling angrily as Peter waved his hands, apologizing as he continued across the street, a little more mindful of the oncoming cars and the fact that he couldn’t really count on his senses at the moment.

But when Peter reached the alley, it was empty, nothing more than a dumpster, a few broken bottles, and some empty, wet cardboard boxes.

His Spidey sense was still going crazy, but that was nothing new. When Peter made it to the end of the alley without finding any clue as to where the creature had gone, he began to panic. Well, not panic, but there was definitely some anxiety.

Mostly because he couldn’t really decide what needed to be done first.

Part of him wanted to grab the stupid little notebook and write thur. 4pm-saw some goblin looking thing creeping by aptmt, but another part of him wanted to actually find the thing.

Then there was the tiny bit of his brain that pointed out this could all be another hallucination.

But it was just a tiny bit.

Peter looked around, made sure people were still ignoring the alley, pulled his backpack around, and reached inside.

When he didn’t immediately feel what he was looking for, the anxiety ratcheted up another notch. It blossomed into full blown panic when he set the bag down, dug around and found nothing but notebooks, a calculator, and broken mechanical pencils.

But it was fine. No need to freak out. May probably took it. She probably just hid it from him, not trusting him not to go out on patrol.

Peter tossed another glance towards the end of the alley he thought the creature had gone, sighed in defeat, and took off for the apartment.

He sprinted the whole way, right down the length of the alley, through the lobby, and up seven flights of stairs because he didn’t think he could stand patiently while waiting for the elevator.

The apartment was still a mess. Not as bad as it had been, he and May had managed to straighten up a little since Peter’s little search party, but not enough to really make a difference. Mostly May had picked the pots and pans up off the floor and Peter put the furniture back where it belonged.

The books and movies were pushed to the edge of the room, neither May nor Peter bothering to put them back on the shelves.

Peter’s room was still destroyed, but it made it a little easier to search for his suit. Everything was already out in the open, exposed for all to see. But it wasn’t there, no red and blue, no nothing.

Peter ran to May’s room, and without bothering to feel the least bit guilty about digging through her things, began searching for his suit. He looked anywhere he thought she might have hidden it, a few places he thought she wouldn’t, and was ready to scream in anger when he came up empty.

He grabbed his phone, dialed her number and started pacing, one hand pulling on his hair while he waited for her to answer.

“Hey, baby. D’you make it home okay?” were her first words when she finally answered.

Peter tripped over a book, kicked it out of the way, and asked, “Where’d you put my suit?”

“What?”

“My suit, May. Did you hide it?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Peter gave his hair another tug and groaned. “Please don’t do this,” he begged as he marched back into her room. He started searching her closet again. “I need it. It’s an emergency, okay? Karen can keep an eye on me, it’ll be okay.”

“Who’s Karen?”

“I don’t have time for this!” Peter yelled, slamming the lid to May’s empty suitcase. “May, just--” Peter closed his eyes and tried to get his emotions under control. He took a deep breath and asked as calmly as he could, “Did you take it?

“Peter, I swear I didn’t take anything,” May assured him. “But I still don’t—“

Peter hung up before she could continue. He couldn’t find his suit, and if May really didn’t hide it…

He went back to his room, grabbed his backpack from where he’d dropped it and turned it upside down, emptying its contents onto is bare bed.

Just like in the alley, there was no suit.

Did he lose it? Had he taken it out and left it somewhere?

That panic was starting to grow. The first thought had been to backtrack, retrace his steps and search each and every place he’d been until he found it.

That had many problems, the biggest being that Peter couldn’t remember everywhere he’d been. What if he’d left it somewhere? What if someone else found it?

He had to tell Tony.

He knew he was looking at another lecture, but it was better to get it out of the way now. Besides, Tony probably knew exactly where the suit was thanks to that annoying tracker he’d reinstalled.

Peter grabbed his phone and went to his contacts list. But Tony’s name wasn’t there. He scrolled back up towards the H’s and frowned. Happy’s name was gone, too.

He went to his messages, scrolling through the different conversations, looking for the ones he knew should be there.

But they were gone. Nothing. There were hundreds of texts from Ned, half as many from MJ, and even more from May.

But nothing from Tony and Happy.

Peter frowned, tried to remember Happy’s number, and dialed it. It rang once before an automated voice came on the line. “The number you have dialed is not in service.”

Peter hung up, and tried again but he switch the two and the seven at the end. This time it rang and rang before a man with a heavy New York accent answered. “Hello?”

“Uh…Happy?”

“What? Who is this?”

Peter just hung up.

He started digging through the stuff on his bed, looking for the little notebook Tony had given him a few days before, hoping he’d written down the reason he seemingly deleted Tony freaking Stark’s phone number, but it was gone too.

Which was definitely not good.

Peter’s hands made their way back to his hair as he slowly spun around the room, looking at the chaos that had been spilled onto the floor. He couldn’t tell if he wanted to cry or just scream.

Not that either would help anything. His senses were going crazy, and not just the spider ones. He felt like he was on the verge of sensory overload, and he needed to get out.

He grabbed his key, made sure his phone was in his pocket, and headed straight to the elevator.

Where he ran into Mrs. McClursky from down the hall.

“Peter, are you okay?” she asked.

Peter smiled, tried to keep his hands from shaking, and pressed the button for the elevator. “Yes, ma’am. I’m fine.”

She gave him a look that hinted she didn’t believe him, but let it go. At least until Peter reached forward and pressed the call button again. “That won’t make it go any faster.”

Peter gave her another smile. “I know.”

“You sure you’re okay? You look a little pale.”

“I’m fine, I promise.”

“You’re not up to something you shouldn’t be, are you? Your aunt doesn’t deserve that.”

Peter closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I’m not up to anything, Mrs. McClursky.”

She gave a short disbelieving hum, but didn’t say anything else. It didn’t matter, Peter was already on edge, and the last thing he wanted was to endure a seven floor elevator ride with an old woman who probably thought he was on drugs.

He gave her one more disarming smile and excused himself before heading for the stairs.

The cab ride from Queens was a hell of a lot more expensive than the one from Midtown, but Peter didn’t really have any other choice. He was in a hurry. Not only was there (maybe) an unknown creature lurking about, but he had lost his suit.

He paid the driver, slammed the car door shut and made his way through the front doors of the tower.

He had just pressed the elevator’s call button when a familiar voice called out to him. “Hey, kid. Can I help you?”

Peter smiled at the guard. “I just gotta talk to Mr. Stark for a minute.”

The guard laughed, shared a look with his partner, and turned back to Peter. “And is Mr. Stark expecting you?”

“No, but—“

“Kid, just get out of here,” the guard said, waving his hand towards the front door. He looked annoyed, not at all the joking, familiar guy Peter had been expecting.

“What?”

“Tony Stark is a busy man.” The guard leaned over the front desk, his face stern. “He doesn’t have time for fanboys. Let’s go.” He gestured to the font doors again.

Peter frowned. “Greg, what are—“

The guard frowned back. “How do you know my name?”

“What?” Peter felt like he was in a bad dream. “You know me,” Peter explained.

“Do I?” Greg mocked. He had come around from the desk, one hand resting on the stun gun on his belt.

Peter took a step back. He looked to the camera, hoping F.R.I.D.A.Y would see him, that she’d help him out, but she didn’t say anything.

The elevator finally arrived. As the doors began to slide open, Peter thought about jumping inside, wondered how far he’d get before Greg the guard used the taser on him. But then Tony walked out, Happy right behind him.

“Mr. Stark!” Peter called, feeling relieved. Tony glanced at him, gave him a friendly wave, and headed for the door.

When Peter started to follow, Greg grabbed him by the arm, holding him back. Peter tried to pull away, but was surprised when he couldn’t. He looked at Greg’s tight grip around his bicep, gave one more try to get away, and failed. He looked back to Tony’s retreating form, panicked, and yelled. “Tony!”

Tony was halfway out the door when he stopped and turned back towards Peter. “You’re just gonna yell like that? That’s rude. Your mom not teach you that?”

“What…no? I need to talk to you.” Peter looked at Greg who was holding Peter’s arm, and added, “In private.”

Tony took off his sunglasses and gave Peter a look that hinted at impatience and annoyance. “Look, I don’t have all day, okay? What do you want? An autograph? A selfie?”

Peter felt his stomach drop. “What?”

Before Tony could reply, Happy stepped forward, tapped Tony on the arm and said, “Boss? We have to go.”

Tony glanced at his watch, looked back to Peter and shrugged. “Tough luck, kid.” He winked and walked out the door, following Happy to a waiting car.

“Mr. Stark!” Peter screamed, but both Tony and Happy ignored him.

“Come on, let’s go,” Greg said, pulling Peter towards the door after the car drove off. But Peter was too in shock to make his feet work. Greg pulled again. “I said let’s go, or I’m calling the cops.”

“Wait,” Peter pleaded. “You really don’t know who I am?”

Greg frowned and looked Peter over. “Should I?”

Peter wanted to say yes, that Greg had seen him at least once a week for almost two years. The man loved to make fun of Peter, laughed at him when he and Ned geeked out over Star Wars, and refused to answer when Peter called him Mr. Hendricks.

But Peter didn’t say any of that. He stepped back as far as he could with Greg still holding his arm and threw up.

Right on the floor of the lobby.

Greg finally let go of Peter’s arm. “What the fuck, kid. You on something?”

Peter ignored him. He took a deep breath, wiped his mouth with the bottom of his shirt, and ran out the door.

And he kept running, up until he started to run out of breath. Peter ducked into the first empty alley, leaned against the side of a building and tried to get his breathing under control. It was hard, but that probably had less to do with the few blocks he’d just ran and more with the fact Peter was on the verge of full on sobbing.

He dropped down, ass to the pavement and leaned his forehead against his knees. “This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening.”

Except it was.

Whatever it was.

Peter wiped at his eyes, took a shaky, deep breath, and just sort of collapsed, his head and shoulders hitting the wall behind him as his legs fell, knees dropping to either side.

It was like all the energy had just left him. He didn’t even have it in him to cry. He stared at the wall opposite him and tried to think over the day, at least the parts he could remember.

Tony had definitely known who he was that morning. Peter had woken to a text from the man, a short little, “how you doing” followed by a “don’t do anything stupid” reminder.

Peter had written it down in his notebook. The same notebook Tony had given him.

Peter remembered eating breakfast, promising May that he’d be careful, that nothing bad was going to happen.

He remembered getting to school and the way MJ gave him a scrutinizing once over, like she didn’t trust him to tell her if he was really okay so she was going to have to look for herself.

Peter remembered the way Ned had nervously asked if Dr. Strange had made any progress.

Peter remembered blinking and suddenly being in the middle of chemistry.

Finals were in a week and pretty much every class was spent reviewing what they’d already learned. Peter remembered MJ pointing this out and thinking he was lucky. He wasn’t really missing anything new.

He’d gone to lunch, and then gym. Calculus, English Lit, and then home.

And who could forget the green freak in the alley. The goblin.

Peter remembered everything. Mostly.

The problem wasn’t that Peter didn’t remember them. It was that they didn’t remember him.

Peter banged the back of his head on the brick wall and made a noise between a growl and a muffled scream. No one paid him any mind. No one had time for another angst fueled teen. The all just kept walking by the alley without a second look.

Peter could feel his heart pounding in his chest, his lungs still sore, still heaving more than they should.

Peter frowned.

He shouldn’t be this worn out, not from that short of a run. He lifted his hand and flexed his bicep, frown deepening when he felt the oncoming bruises from where Greg the Guard had grabbed him.

He should have been able to pull away from Greg, no problem. Peter pushed his sleeve up. There, a few inches above his elbow, were three distinct finger shaped marks that promised to be bruises.

A thought entered Peter’s mind, one that he didn’t like at all.

Heart beat increasing in tempo, Peter climbed to his feet and turned so that he was facing the side of the building. He wiped his sweaty hands on his shirt and slowly placed his fingers against the brick. If he had done this yesterday, he would have felt a slight pull, some resistance as his fingers stuck to the wall. But not this time.

Peter moved his hand higher and tried again. He pulled, but his hand only slid down.

He couldn’t climb. And while his senses were still going crazy, Peter was starting to think that might be due to the sudden spike of anxiety. He could still hear, but not like before. Peter closed his eyes and tried to feel his Spidey sense. It’d been nearly constant the past week, but now…

Was it still there and Peter had just gone numb to it? Or were his powers, just, gone?

He tried sticking his hand to the wall again, but it just slid down.

Peter took a sudden step back, hand jerking away from the wall like it had burned him. This could not be happening.

He was Spider-Man. He was Spider-Man.

Peter threw up again.

He reached for his phone and pulled up his photos. There were hundreds of pictures, mostly of him and his friends, a lot of May, and about a dozen or so of random landmarks throughout the city, little snip-its that Peter had captured when the angle was right and the lighting was perfect.

But none of Tony Stark. None of the lab or Peter in his suit. Even the picture of Happy glaring while eating a corndog was gone.

The selfies Peter had taken with Captain America and the Black Widow, the blackmail photo he’d managed to get of Clint stealing the last of Sam’s Oreos, pictures of Bruce and Pepper, of Rhodey.

They were all gone.

Peter could feel himself starting to cry. He gave a loud sniff, wiped at his eyes angrily, and tried calling May.

Only she didn’t answer.

Neither did MJ or Ned.

He needed someone to tell him that this wasn’t real. That this was all just another mind fuck and everything was going to be okay.

He needed someone to tell him he was still Spider-Man. But there was no one. He was all alone.

Peter gave May’s number another try, but hung up when it went to voicemail. He had exactly nineteen dollars left to his name, not counting the sixty dollars he had stashed in the empty battery chamber of a broken flashlight.

But that wouldn’t do him any good now. Not when it was on the floor of his messy room in Queens and he was in the middle of Manhattan.

It was going to cost a hell of a lot more than nineteen dollars to get back home.

Peter tried calling Ned again.

Then MJ.

Then he put his phone in his pocket and started walking to the nearest bus stop. It took nearly two hours to make it to Queens. By the time he passed Delmar’s the sky had already begun to grow dark.

Peter remembered to look for passing cars before crossing the street, was sure to check every alley he passed as he got closer to home, mindful of the memory of bulbous, yellow eyes and sharp, sneering teeth.

When Peter finally reached his street, he looked towards his building, counted up seven windows and frowned. The apartment was dark, no lights on, which was weird. May should have been home by now. Peter grabbed his phone, hoping to see a missed call or text from his aunt, letting him know she’d be home late.

He was so busy looking at his phone, that he wasn’t watching where he was going. One minute, he’s fine, the next he’s running face first into a girl, hitting her hard enough that she spilled the hot cup of tea she’d been holding.

It wouldn’t have been that bad if the tea hadn’t landed on the front of the guy she was with. Peter grabbed the girl’s shoulders, steadying her before she could fall off the sidewalk, and quickly tried to apologize. “I’m so sorry,” he said, bending to pick up the dropped, paper cup. “I wasn’t watching where I was going, I can—“

The girl didn’t seem overly bothered, but the guy she was with definitely was. Peter had barely begun to stumble through his apology before the guy stepped forward, placing himself between Peter and the girl, and promptly shoved Peter.

Peter’s foot stepped on the edge of the curb, his ankle buckled and he tumbled back, falling hard on his backside right onto the street and in the path of an oncoming car.

The second Peter landed and the headlights blinded him, Peter felt that warning buzz again, the one he’d been afraid he’d gone numb to. It was there and it was screaming. Peter didn’t even think, he just moved.

One minute he’s lying on the ground, the next he’s flying. Not really, that was an exaggeration, but he was definitely no longer on the ground. He jumped, lifting his feet over his head and flinging himself into the air in what would have been a pretty impressive somersault had he not panicked in surprise.

It didn’t matter though, messy or not, it did its job. Peter jumped out of the way of the car just in time. He landed hard, stumbling and falling to his knees as the car swerved by, horn blaring. Peter fell forward, his hands on the pavement as he tried to catch his breath.

“Holy shit.” It was a whisper, more in horror than in wonder. Peter looked up to find the couple staring at him, along with a few other people on the street. More cars were honking now, probably because Peter still hadn’t moved.

He gave an awkward smile and tried to stand back up on his suddenly shaking legs. This shouldn’t have been that hard, but the fact that his left hand had seemingly glued itself to a manhole cover made it less than easy.

Peter tried to relax, tried to get his hand to unstick itself, but it wouldn’t work. He was too worked up. He gave up when another car honked its horn and just pulled, taking the heavy, metal cover with him.

There was another muttering of holy shit, but Peter just ignored it. He ran the rest of the way across the street and right into his building, not stopping until he was in his apartment.

The moment he slammed the door and locked it, he dropped the manhole cover to the floor, placed both feet on top and pulled. Hard.

His hand came loose and Peter fell back, crashed into the front door, and slid to the ground. He took a few deep breaths, looked to the manhole cover, then at his hand, and smiled. It was a small smile, but it still counted.

Then Peter looked to his bedroom door and the smile fell. If his powers were back…

Peter jumped to his feet, stepped around the manhole cover and jumped over the dining table as he made his way to his room. The second he turned on the light, he looked to his bed, and froze. There it was, crumpled up beneath notebooks and pencils. His suit. The notebook was there too, on the floor right beside the bed where it must have fallen when Peter emptied his backpack.

Peter’s hands were shaking with relief as he picked up his mask. He had to feel that it was real. And it was. He reached in his pocket and grabbed his phone. He had eleven missed calls, nine were from May and Tony, two from Happy. There were an alarming number of text messages, each of them variations of “where are you?” and “are you okay?”

Peter sat on his bed and clicked on Happy’s name. It rang once before a blessedly familiar and harried voice answered and demanded, “Please tell me you’re okay?”

Peter pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to keep his breathing slow and calm in an effort not to cry. There were too many emotions going on, and relief was at the top. “Just to clarify,” Peter asked, voice way too shaky, “do you know who I am?”

Happy must have heard something in Peter’s voice because he took a moment and quietly said, “You’re Peter. Peter Parker.” He waited a moment more and added, “occasionally Spider-Man.”

Peter didn’t even bother to fight it now. He felt his resolve break as he laid back on the bed and began to cry.

“Kid,” Happy said over the phone, “Just tell me where you are okay? I’ll come get you.”

“Home,” Peter whispered. He cleared his throat and tried again. “I’m in my room. I don’t know where May is.”

Happy made a noise that was part sigh, part something else, hinting that Peter wasn’t the only one having a hard time with his emotions at the moment. “She’s with Tony. She went straight to the tower when she got home and you weren’t there. We’ve been trying to find you, kid.”

“Things got messed up again.” It was the only way Peter could explain it. He could hear horns honking over the line, then Happy made that annoyed sigh, the one he always did when he was trying to get through traffic but the other drivers weren’t playing along. “Where are you?”

“I’m about ten minutes from your place. Tony’s been tracking your phone,” Happy explained. “You want to explain why you’ve been running all over the city?”

“Not really.”

“Do you remember what happened?”

“Yeah, I remember,” Peter mumbled. He reached down and grabbed his mask again. “I’d just rather not talk about it. Not yet, anyway.”

“I’m not promising Tony and your aunt are gonna let it go,” Happy pointed out, “But I’ll give you a pass if you do me a favor.”

“What?”

“Stay where you are until I get there.” Happy’s voice was flat, but stern. “You got that little notebook Tony gave you?”

“Yeah.” Peter leaned over the edge of the bed and grabbed it.

“Good,” Happy said. “Write that down. ‘Happy said not to move.’ Underline it if you have to.”

Peter wrote it down and then did exactly as it said. He laid there, one foot on the floor, the other on the mattress, knee propped in the air as he held his phone and mask in his hands.

He didn’t even have to get up when Happy arrived.

Happy used his spare key, the one May had made for him in case of emergencies. Peter watched as Happy blinked in the darkened doorway, noticed the mess, and apparently decided not to comment on it.

He looked towards Peter’s opened door, visibly relaxed when he saw Peter lying on the bed, and began to make his way towards the bedroom.

“You okay?” Happy asked.

“Been better,” Peter answered.

Happy nodded, said “Come on, let’s go,” and patiently waited for Peter to gather up his suit and notebook, put them in his backpack, and follow him out the door.

Happy was a lot more calm than Aunt May.

“I’m fine, May. I swear.”

“Bullshit.” The moment Peter had stepped off the elevator into the penthouse, May had immediately gone into momma bear mode. “This is so far beyond fine, Peter.”

Peter looked to Tony, hoping for some support. He didn’t find it. Tony simply looked up from Peter’s notebook, pointed to May, and said “Ditto.”

It turned out Peter wasn’t the only one having a really shitty afternoon. May had arrived home to find her room destroyed and her nephew gone. Add in a nosey, but well-meaning Mrs. McClursky hinting that she thought Peter might be up to no good, and May immediately went into panic mode.

Peter not answering his phone hadn’t helped.

She had then recruited Happy and Tony to share in her worry, and the three began looking for Peter. They started by tracking his suit. But it was at home. Then they had tracked his phone, only to see that it was somewhere in Manhattan and slowly approaching Queens.

“And I want to know why,” May informed Peter. So Peter told her.

He explained about how he couldn’t find his suit, about how Tony and Happy’s numbers had just disappeared from his phone.

He told them about coming to the tower and Tony not recognizing him. He told them about the guard throwing him out and the bruises on his arm. He explained about his powers not working and the girl with the tea.

When he got to the part where he was trying to explain why there was a manhole cover in the middle of the kitchen, May cut in with “Why were you even looking for your suit? I thought we’d agreed no patrolling until we sorted this out?”

Oh, yeah.  He forgot that part. You’d think trying to convince a group of people that there was a green being roaming New York would be a lot easier, especially since Bruce Banner himself was standing in the corner.

But no.

“It was like this troll, goblin type thing,” Peter tried to explain. “I don’t know.”

Tony arched an eyebrow. “You saw a goblin?”

“Yeah,” Peter nodded. “It was green.”

“So, there’s a green goblin sneaking around Queens,” Tony thumped the little notebook on his palm and asked in a would-be casual tone, “Did anyone else see the goblin?”

It was not what Peter needed. Not now. His life was almost literally falling apart and he didn’t know up from down anymore. The last thing he needed was to be made fun of. He said as much.

Peter hunched down on the couch, elbows on knees, and pressed the palms of his hands into his eyes. “Do not make fun of me.”

He felt someone kneel beside him. He could tell it was Tony by the smell of his cologne.

“I’m not making fun of you,” Tony said. When Peter didn’t respond, Tony reached forward and grabbed his wrists. “Look at me, Peter. I’m serious, kid.” He waited until Peter looked up to continue. “No mockery, I swear. But I need to know if this was another hallucination or if we have a baby Hulk wondering around Queens that needs to be taken care of. Understand?”

Peter nodded.

Tony nodded back and sat down on the coffee table, his knees knocking against Peters. “So, I’ll ask again. Did anyone else see this green troll slash goblin thing?”

“I don’t know.”

Which was only one of their many problems. Tony set F.R.I.D.A.Y to search for any reports or footage of little green men and set to solving one of the more pressing issues.

“Kid, you never came to the tower today, not before now any way.”

“Yes, I did.”

“No, Peter. You didn’t.”

F.R.I.D.A.Y had no record of Peter entering the building before 8:00 PM. There had been no run in with a forgetful Greg or Tony, no panicked vomit session in the middle of the lobby. He might have traveled to Manhattan, but he hadn’t come near the tower.

He also hadn’t spoken to May.

“I swear, May. You were on the phone.”

“The same way you swear your suit was missing?”

Peter slouched down in defeat until he was slumped on the couch, head leaned back as he stared at the ceiling. May must have taken pity on him, because she scooted closer and grabbed his hand, tangling her fingers with his the way she’d always done when she wanted to offer comfort.

It worked too, the hand holding, up until she frowned, let his hand go and reached for his cheek. “Do you have a fever?” she asked. Before Peter could tell her that he was fine, she leaned forward and kissed his forehead, “You’re warm.”

Bruce looked up from where he was scanning Peter’s notebook and frowned. “He is?” he asked as he stood and approached the couch.

Peter slunk down further into the cushions. “Please don’t kiss me.”

Bruce ignored him and placed the back of his hand on Peter’s forehead.

He had a fever. Which was both good and bad. Good, because it might explain the loss of reality. Bad, because, well, when else was a fever ever good?

Peter endured another round of blood work, he peed in a cup, and listened to Bruce mutter under his breath unhappily when the results all came up blank again.

He let them give him an IV and tried to relax as he listened to them theorize and plan.

“What if it’s viral?”

“What part of his blood work being clean did you miss?”

“Environmental?”

“No, no one else is sick.”

It went on for a while, but ultimately they all fell short and eventually they ran out of things to say. At least, until Peter announced he was ready to go home. It was a school night after all.

Which did not go over well at all.

“Congrats, kid. You get parental permission to play hooky.”

“It’s finals next week, Mr. Stark.”

“It’s your brain misbehaving, Mr. Parker.”

“I can’t just miss finals! If I miss, I fail!”

May stepped in when Tony’s face turned red and that little vein on his left temple started to stand out. “Just tomorrow, Peter. Okay? We’ll figure it out.”

Tony wanted them to stay at the tower. To keep them nearby in case there was another “episode”. May said no, told him to think of it as a compromise; Peter wouldn’t go to school or out patrolling, but he at least got to go home.

“The kid used to love it here,” Tony argued.

“That was before he became your newest science experiment,” May argued back. “Let him get a good night’s sleep without any needles or specimen cups being waved in his face, and I’ll bring him back tomorrow as soon as I get off work. Promise.

Tony relented. Sort of. He stood right in front of Peter, toe to toe, and looked him in the eye. “I want you to swear to me, right now, that you won’t do anything stupid.”

“I swear.”

“This is all encompassing, kid. No loopholes. You are to go home, and stay there. Take it easy. I want for the most stressful thing you do to be trying to decide what to watch on Netflix. Got it?”

“Got it.”

Tony narrowed his eyes like he didn’t believe him. It was the same look MJ had given him that morning.

Peter arched an eyebrow and asked, “Do you want me to pinky swear?”

Tony smirked. “Will it make you keep your word?”

Peter rolled his eyes, grabbed his backpack, promised not to be a dumbass, and followed May to the car.

“It’ll be okay, sweetie.” May gave him an encouraging smile as they headed towards the bridge. “Besides, you said you’ve just been reviewing everything right? You can study at home just as well as you would at school. It’ll be okay.”

She kept saying that. “It’ll be okay.”

By the time they made it home, Peter had begun to realize that she might be saying it more to herself than to him. It was another one of her things, one of her little quirks and tricks she did when she was trying to calm someone down.

When Peter was stressed, she would hug, hold his hand, or run her fingers through his hair.

When she was stressed, she paced and muttered under her breath. Or yelled. Or repeated platitudes. Or baked. It varied.

Peter figured it must have been working, because she barely even blinked when she opened the front door to find a dirty manhole cover sitting on her floor. She simply stepped right over it and pulled Peter into another hug.

“I love you,” she said, squeezing her arms around him tightly. “Let’s just go to bed, don’t even think about anything else, but getting a good night’s sleep.”

She pulled back enough to look up at him. “It’s—“

“--gonna be okay,” Peter finished for her, returning her smile.

She reached up, pulled him down, and kissed his forehead. “Go to sleep, baby. We’ll deal with everything tomorrow.”

Peter showered, pulled on a clean pair of underwear, and tried to ignore the way his Spidey sense was misbehaving. The constant buzz was disturbing, a constant reminder of how on edge Peter was. It was like he was physically incapable of relaxing.

Eventually, he gave up on sleep. He pulled on a t-shirt and went to the kitchen. They had exactly one pack of pop tarts left, two boxes of uncooked noodles, and a slew of other ingredients that required a recipe and a stove.

Peter grabbed the pop tarts and leaned against the counter. That’s how May found him a few minutes later, munching distractedly on an outdated pop tart in the dark.

“Couldn’t sleep?”

“No.”

“Did you try?”

“Yes.”

May sighed, broke off a piece of his pop tart and frowned at the staleness. “Okay, come on.” She grabbed his hand and led him to her room. “You need sleep. It’s the only way you’re gonna get better.”

Peter wanted to say that they didn’t even know what was wrong with him, let alone if he was going to be able to get better, but figured it was probably best not to point that out and kept quiet.

May’s room wasn’t near as messy as Peter had left it. She’d kicked her shoes, bags and boxes back into her closet and closed the door, put the dirty clothes back in the hamper, and put the pillows back on the bed.

It looked more like a normal messy room, like May just wasn’t good at picking up after herself rather than a disaster area that had been ransacked.

May made her way to her nightstand and rummaged around in the side drawer. “I don’t really know how the whole superhero metabolism thing works, so let’s just start with two, okay?” She smiled and tossed Peter a small bottle with no warning.

It hit him in the chest and he had to fumble for it to keep it from dropping, but when he finally held it up, he saw that it was a bottle of sleep medicine, the ones May had started taking sometime after Ben died.

“Let’s try three,” he suggested.

May frowned. “The bottle says you only need one. You’re taking two.”

“Fine, two,” Peter agreed, and turned to go back to his room.

“Nope,” May said, stopping Peter in his tracks. “I’m not about to drug my kid and then leave him unsupervised.”

Peter shook the bottle. “These probably won’t even work on me, May. I’ll be fine.”

But May wasn’t having it. She shook her head and pointed to the opposite side of her bed. “You’re sleeping in here, and look, you can borrow this.” She turned back to the dresser and picked up an eye mask. It was pale pink and had the words “Beauty Rest” stitched in black across the front.

She tossed that to Peter too and reached for her phone. “And there’s this app that’s supposed to help you sleep,” she explained, climbing into bed. “It’ll play whale sounds, rain forest sounds, just plain white noise…”

When Peter didn’t move, she dropped the phone in her lap and looked at Peter pleadingly. “Just do this for me, please?”

Peter sighed and climbed in the bed beside May. “You’re overreacting.” He took two pills out of the bottle and washed them down with the water May kept by her bed.

“Maybe,” she conceded. “But seeing how you managed to have conversations with not one, but four different people today without any of us actually being there, I think I’m allowed a little overreaction without judgment.”

Peter scowled, but laid down without further argument.

May smiled and did the same. “Now, whale sounds?”

“White noise,” Peter decided before pulling down the sleep mask. He remembered May putting the phone on to charge and turning on her little noise app before thinking “this is never gonna work.”

And then he remembered nothing else. Not until he woke up hours later.

He was lying on his stomach, the pillow damp with drool. His left arm had fallen asleep at some point from where he’d been lying on it all night. Peter pushed the sleep mask up onto his forehead and cringed at the sunlight filtering in through the window. May was gone, her side of the bed cold.

He could hear the TV in the living room. Apparently, she’d decided to play hooky today, too.

Peter rolled onto his back, forced his eyes to stay open, and eventually convinced himself to get up and obey the commands of his bladder.

He climbed to his feet and had to reach for the wall to steady himself when he stumbled a bit. He was having a hard time waking up. It wasn’t the meds, Peter knew the kind of drowsy that followed a drug fueled sleep. No, this was something more, and he almost felt relief when he realized what it was, nothing more than his body trying to hold onto the first true, deep sleep he’d had in a long time.

He yawned, stretched his arms over his head and twisted until his back popped. It was a pleasant way to wake up, way nicer than alarm clocks and insistent aunts. Loads better than malfunctioning spider senses.

Peter pulled the sleep mask off, tossed it on the bed, and proceeded to sleepily make his way out towards the rest of the apartment and what promised to be a day spent trying to convince May that he wasn’t about to drop dead.

Peter felt another yawn coming and went with it as he pulled open the bedroom door. He rubbed at his eyes and frowned when he heard a man on the TV say the line “This deviant behavior evolved into what would become a series of murders.”

What the hell was May watching?

Peter dropped his hands and turned to ask his aunt just that, when he realized it wasn’t his aunt watching TV.

MJ was sitting on the couch, her socked feet propped on the coffee table as she watched Peter transition from sleepy to very much awake when he realized just who was on the couch. She smirked a little when Peter looked down, realized he was in his underwear and hurriedly grabbed one of the throw pillows to casually hold before him.

Like she hadn’t already seen him.

Way to go Peter. Be a loser.

“Your aunt told me to ignore the mess,” she said, choosing not to comment on Peter’s boxers and forever earning his gratitude.

 

Peter held the pillow a little tighter. “What are you…uh, what are you doing here?” He tried to make it sound friendly, added an uncomfortably awkward laugh in the middle, but yeah. Awkwardly greeting his crush in his underwear first thing in the morning was not how Peter wanted to start his day.

 

But MJ didn’t seem the least bit uncomfortable with the situation. “Making sure you don’t do anything stupid,” she explained. She paused the TV and pointed to the manhole cover that someone had moved and propped against the coffee table. “Can I keep that?”

 

Peter took a step forward, frowned and unintentionally lowered the pillow. He quickly replaced it when MJ raised her eyebrows. Smooth, Parker. “That’s not what I meant. Why aren’t you at school?”

 

“Why aren’t you?”

“Because I’m going crazy. You’re turn.”

“Mental illness isn’t something to joke about.”

“I’m not laughing, I promise.”

MJ gave him a squinty-eyed once over, doing that thing where she silently judged him, like she was weighing his sins. After a moment of even more awkward silence, she pulled her feet onto the couch, and leaned forward. “May asked if I’d sit with you.”

“You’re my babysitter?” he scoffed.

“I’m your friend,” she corrected, tone not offering any room to argue.

So Peter didn’t. He hurried to the bathroom, took care of business there, and then hurried even faster to his room to find some fucking pants, because what the hell May? She couldn’t have given him some warning?

It would have been easier if everything he owned wasn’t lying on the floor. He looked for a pair of pajama bottoms, couldn’t find any that weren’t covered in pink kittens, and grabbed the first pair of basketball shorts he could.

He made sure they didn’t stink, pulled them on, and looked in the mirror on the back of his closet door. He looked decent. Decent-ish anyway. The dark circles that had formed under his eyes over the last week had lightened, his hair wasn’t too out of control, and if he made sure not to slouch, he no longer “looked like shit”.

MJ apparently agreed, because when he made his way back to the living room and sat on the couch beside her, she said, “You look better.”

“I feel better.” And he did. May’s little white noise, sleep mask, chloroform pill cocktail worked. “What are you watching?”

“Documentary outlining famous unsolved murders throughout history and their impacts on society.”

“Sounds fun.”

MJ just smiled and turned up the volume.

It was a nice way to spend the morning, at least it was until Peter fell asleep again. It was sometime after the narrator began explaining the famous World’s End murders in Scotland that Peter’s eyes began to droop. Peter couldn’t tell you anything else after that because one moment he was watching a reenactment of a bunch of party goers dressed in disco era clothing parade through a bar and the next he’s frowning face first into the couch cushion.

He would have thought he’d shifted again, except his neck was cramped from leaning against the armrest and his chin was covered in drool.

“Good you’re awake.”

Peter blinked, wiped at his chin, and stared up at a frowning MJ. She knelt down beside him and gave him another of her trade-mark scrutinizing looks. “Open your mouth,” she ordered, and before Peter could ask why, she was waving his phone and a thermometer in his face. “I’ve had your aunt, Happy, and two different Avengers calling to ask if you still have a fever.”

Peter rolled his eyes and sat up. “How long was I asleep?” He wiped the end of the thermometer with his shirt and put it under his tongue.

MJ shrugged and glanced at the clock. “About three hours, but you looked like you needed it.” She went to the kitchen and opened the fridge. “I’m guessing grocery shopping is still on your to-do list?”

Peter held the thermometer between his teeth and mumbled something that sounded like, “We’ve been busy.”

“No judgment,” MJ assured him. She shut the fridge with a lazy push of the door. There wasn’t really much to choose from, not unless they were in the mood for dry spaghetti noodles. MJ gave the nearly empty pantry one more disappointed glare, pursed her lips, and asked, “You up for a field trip?”

Peter stopped trying to cross his eyes so he could see the little screen on the thermometer and looked up with a frown. “What?”

“Food. Your aunt said to make sure you ate something when you woke up. You’re awake, so…food?”

Peter spit out the thermometer, looked at the readout, figured his brain wasn’t about to boil, and said, “I thought I was under house arrest.”

MJ rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. “Don’t be dramatic. And it’s not like you’re going alone.” She hitched her thumb over her shoulder and pointed at the fridge. “And unless May expects you to lick butter for lunch, we’ll need to go out.”

“So jailbreak?”

“You’re still being dramatic, but yes. Jailbreak.”

Peter smiled and jumped off the couch. MJ gave him a matching smile, tossed Peter his key, and followed him out the door. “Besides, it’s just two blocks. What’s the worst that can happen?”

Peter was going to have to explain to MJ the way the universe worked, at least when it came to Peter and its overly dramatic need to generally fuck him over. But that conversation would have to happen later, because she’d already said the words. And whether MJ believed in superstitions or not, she’d just jinxed them.

Chapter Text

Peter closed the door, remembered to double check that it was locked, and turned to find Mrs. McClursky staring at him. She was holding a large wad of sales papers and looked generally surprised to see him, which sort of made sense seeing how it was noon on a Friday and he should have been in school. She gave him a quick glance before her eyes slid over to MJ. And then her face wrinkled up in a way that only old ladies who were being way too judgey and hella nosey could accomplish.

“Peter,” she greeted with a well-practiced smile. “How’s your aunt?”

“She’s fine, Mrs. McClursky.” Peter smiled in a way he hoped was disarming and charming, pressed his hand into MJ’s back, and urged her to hurry her pace to the elevator. “I’ll tell her you said hi.”

“You do that!” Mrs. McClursky called. Peter made sure to keep his smile up and the elevator doors had closed before he slumped back and banged his head against the wall. He imagined the scandalous phone call his nosey neighbor was probably sending to his aunt right at that moment, warning her that Peter was up to no good, skipping school, and with a girl! He banged his head against the wall once more. Just for good measure.

MJ looked like she was caught somewhere between wanting to tell the nosey old woman to mind her own business and laughing at Peter’s obvious discomfort.

“Sorry,” Peter apologized. “She means well.”

“I still don’t like her.”

“Yeah, me either.”

They made it the two blocks to Delmar’s without any trouble. It was nice, a little awkward at times, and Peter was quickly realizing that he’d come to rely on Ned to fill in any uncomfortable silences. But MJ didn’t seem to mind. She walked right by his side, unimpressed expression in place with the occasional smirk.

It was nice.

Peter paid for their sandwiches and MJ managed to snag a table in the back corner. It was sticky, covered in crumbs and crusty mustard, but it had two chairs and only wobbled a little. It would do.

Peter took a giant bite of his sandwich, remembered to swallow before opening his mouth, and asked, “Do you have any plans for the summer?”

MJ shrugged and pulled a tomato off her sandwich. “Maybe. Columbia is offering a seminar on racial diversity in modern feminism that I’ve been trying to get in, but they’re really picky about the whole having graduated high school thing.”

“That sounds fun,” Peter lied.

MJ arched an eyebrow and ate a chip.

“Well, for you,” Peter added. “Because you’re into…that sort of…thing.” He felt his ears burn and took another bite.

MJ smirked. “So what about you? Stark gonna keep you busy once school lets out?”

“Only if we can get this whole shifting thing under control.”

“Shifting?”

“It’s what I call the--” Peter gestured towards his head and shrugged, “--whatever’s happening to me. It’s easier than saying ‘I forgot most of the day’ every time it happens.”

Remember when MJ jinxed them? Well, the universe was still listening, because as soon as Peter began talking about shifting, it happened.

One minute he’s worried about having food stuck in his teeth in front of MJ and the next he’s standing in the middle of an empty parking garage, in his suit, mask gone and all alone.

Based on the sounds and the fact that the only light Peter could see was from a dusty security light in the corner of the garage, he was underground.

“Hello?” he called out tentatively, very much aware of the fact that he didn’t have his mask. “MJ?”

But MJ didn’t answer. Peter tried to listen for any sound that would hint he wasn’t alone, but all he could hear was his own quick, panicked breaths and the sound of loose gravel shifting beneath his feet as he walked.

He tried going up, following the ramps and barely-there painted arrows that all pointed towards an EXIT sign. But he just kept going. There was no sign of anyone else, no sign of his mask or MJ, or any clue that would explain why he had gotten there or where ‘there’ was.

That little niggle of panic slowly began to morph into suspicion as Peter continued to climb. On his fifth trip around the ramp, he stopped, glanced towards the level he’d just left and frowned. He should have made it to the surface by now.

Peter felt for his phone, but couldn’t find it. He didn’t have his mask, his watch, he had no way of calling for help, no way of checking if this was even real.

“Hey, Pedro.”

It was a familiar voice, one Peter still heard in nightmares. And though it’d been over a year since he’d last heard it, it sounded exactly the same.

Peter slowly turned and then froze. There at the top of the ramp leading towards the next level was Adrian Toomes. There was no sign of his wings or helmet, no alien tech in sight. He was dressed in a pair of slacks and a button down shirt, looking every bit the suburban dad he had all that time ago when Peter first arrived at his house to pick up Liz for the dance.

“Long time no see, Spider-Man. How’ve you been?”

Peter didn’t know what to say. He just stood there, silently flexing his fingers as he gritted his teeth.

Toomes just laughed. It echoed in the large empty garage, and Peter had a sudden flashback to an empty warehouse, to crumbling walls, that terrifying sensation of being buried alive.

“You’re not real,” Peter told him. He tried to sound brave, but Toomes wasn’t fazed. He put his hands in his trouser pockets and began slowly walking towards Peter.

“I saw that new girl you were with,” he said, smirk morphing into a small sneer. “Gotta say, you’ve got a type, Parker. You gonna break her heart like you did my little girl’s?”

“You leave MJ alone,” Peter ordered before he could stop himself. Only after he said it did he remember that this probably wasn’t real. Toomes was in prison, far away from MJ and Queens.

But Toomes’s shoes made the same sounds Peter’s did when he stepped on the loose gravel. His voice echoed off the cement walls the same, the one security light cast the same shadow where he stood.

Was this real?

“Tell me, Pedro,” Toomes continued, getting closer with each step. “What would you do to save her?”

Peter took a step back. “You’re not real.”

“Is that what you’re going to tell her?” Toomes asked. “Michelle? That was her name right? Oh, wait. You call her MJ.”

Then a sound began to emerge from the lower levels of the garage. It was like a buzzing at first, before sharpening into something angry and loud. Peter knew what it was. If Toomes’ snarky “Hey, Pedro” haunted Peter’s dreams, the sound of those wings lived in them.

Peter turned, expecting to see the mechanical appendages tearing their way through the parking structure, carving chunks out of the concrete walls, but they were nowhere to be seen.

“I’d hurry if I were you, Pedro,” Toomes sneered. “I doubt MJ can hold up a building like you.”

And then an even worse sound came from below.

“Peter!” MJ screamed.

Peter started running. “MJ!”

Suddenly the once quiet garage was now full of noise. MJ was screaming, begging for help. Peter was screaming right back, telling her to just hold on, he was on his way.

Peter could hear his heartbeat pounding in his ears as those fucking mechanical wings crashed through walls just out of sight.

All the while Toomes laughed.

“Peter!”

She was close. He could hear her, he just couldn’t see her.

Until he could.

One second Peter was running, screaming her name, and the next she was standing over him, practically in his lap.

“Peter!” she hissed. She was holding his face with one hand, the other pressing a knuckle into his chest, and wow, Peter wished people would stop doing that because it freaking hurt.

But there were more important matters…

“MJ!” Peter jumped to his feet. He grabbed her by her shoulders and just stared at her, looking for any sign that she was hurt. “Are you okay?”

MJ’s eyes were wide, her mouth pressed into a tight line. Her hands dropped to his elbows and held on. “Am I okay? What the fuck, Peter?”

Peter frowned. He was breathing fast, hands shaking as he squeezed MJ’s shoulders. “Where were you?”

MJ’s face fell into something between worry and fear. She looked around, squeezed Peter’s elbows, took a deep, calming breath, and said “Just sit down for a second, okay?”

Peter frowned even more and looked around. They were back in Delmar’s, at the sticky, wobbly table. “How’d…?”

“Please,” MJ pleaded. The people at the next table were trying not to be obvious that they were staring. “You wanna take a picture?” MJ snapped. They frowned, but looked away.

“How’d we get here?” Peter asked. He was still holding onto her shoulders. She let him.

“I need your phone.” It was the only warning Peter had before MJ stuck her hand into his pocket.

“What’s wrong with yours?”

“I’m texting Happy,” she said, ignoring him. “He’s gonna come get us, and we’re going to the tower.”

“Why?” Peter asked, but MJ was too busy texting. He shook her shoulders, leaned down until he got her attention and asked, “What the hell just happened?”

MJ hit send and looked up. “You spaced out,” she explained. She rubbed her hands down her face, and for the first time that Peter could remember, she looked scared. “You just-- Peter, it was like no one was home, okay? I was saying your name, but you just sort of…sat there.”

“I was with Toomes,” Peter whispered. He laid his head down on the table, right next to his half-eaten sandwich. “He had you.”

“Peter, you didn’t go anywhere,” she told him. “And I’m right here.”

Peter’s phone chimed. MJ looked at it and Peter watched as her face switched from worried to determined.

“Alright, let’s go,” she ordered. She stood up and pulled on Peter’s arm, holding him tight as she steered him towards the door. “Happy says to wait at the apartment. He’ll meet us there.”

She waited until they made it outside before speaking again. “Has this happened before?” she asked. She was still holding his arm. To anyone passing by, they might look like a lovey-dovey couple.

“Kind of,” he said, letting her lead the way. He was doing good to put one foot in front of the other. “I saw a goblin.”

MJ gave him a startled look, but kept them walking. “Like in Harry Potter?”

“More like Lord of the Rings,” he explained, slowly veering to the edge of the sidewalk.

MJ pulled him back towards her and said. “There aren’t goblins in Lord of the Rings.”

“Like a green orc,” he clarified. He frowned because all he could smell were pickles. He looked down to see if any had dripped onto his shirt from the sandwich.

“Did you tell Stark?”

“Yep.”

MJ gave him another worrying look. “And?”

“And what?”

“What did Stark say about your green orc?”

“Goblin,” Peter corrected. He lifted his hands to see if the pickle juice was on them.

“Fine,” MJ said, pulling on his arm when he started to veer too close to the road again. “What did Stark say about your green goblin?”

“Do you smell that?” Peter asked. Only it was more a mumble. He tripped over his feet, tried to correct himself and tripped again.

“Smell what?” MJ asked, but Peter couldn’t answer. He stopped walking, not caring that he was blocking the sidewalk. MJ tried pulling on his arm, but it was no good. It wasn’t that he was resisting, it was just that he suddenly forgot how to make his feet move.

“Peter?”

Peter looked up, and he could tell that MJ was starting to get scared again. He wanted to tell her that it was going to be okay, that he was sorry.

He blacked out instead.

When he woke up he thought he might have shifted again. He was on his back, a woman he didn’t know was leaning over him, asking him questions he wasn’t really following.

“What?” he slurred. Or tried to anyway. His mouth felt heavy. The woman kept talking, but every time Peter would almost catch on to what she had just said, she’d say something else and he’d get lost all over again.

He closed his eyes and focused on the movements around him. It took him a minute to realize he was swaying, took another minute to catch on it was because he was in a vehicle.

He opened his eyes again and looked around. He was in the back of an ambulance.

“MJ?” he asked, trying to see around the woman leaning over him.

“Hey, you’re okay,” she said, pushing down on Peter’s chest. “Your friend’s not here, but she’s calling your mom. Okay? They’ll meet us at the hospital.”

Peter frowned because his mom was dead.

But so was Ben and he got to see him not too long ago.

“Can you tell me your name?” the lady asked, but Peter was still stuck on the whole mom thing.

“You had a seizure, sweetie,” she explained, clearly not bothered with the fact Peter wasn’t answering. “But you’re gonna be okay. I promise. We’re almost to the hospital.”

But that wasn’t right.

Peter didn’t know why, but he knew that was bad. He tried to tell the lady that, but she wasn’t having it.

“Just try to stay calm, okay? It’s gonna be okay.”

But it wasn’t. He needed MJ to explain it to the lady, but MJ wasn’t there.

“I need to leave,” Peter said, and began to pull on the straps holding him down. For a moment, he was afraid it was like before and that his powers would be gone, but one good tug and the strap broke away from the gurney.

The paramedic jumped back. “Whoa,” she said, before jumping forward in an effort to hold Peter down. But Peter just pulled his other arm up, snapped the strap in two, and shook his head.

“I have to go,” he tried to explain. “I can’t go to the hospital.” It didn’t cross his mind that he couldn’t tell her why he couldn’t go to the hospital, only that he just couldn’t.

He heard her start yelling at the driver, felt the ambulance begin to slow, and knew it was now or never. He pulled on the straps holding his legs in place, winced when he pulled on the IV in the back of his hand, and pushed on the door.

There was a brief moment of “oh shit” when he realized the truck was still moving, but it didn’t matter. He jumped and for the third time in two days, cars swerved and honked as Peter found himself once again in the middle of oncoming traffic.

“Sorry,” he mumbled. He stumbled, steadied himself on the bumper of a taxi, and took off running. He had no idea where he was or where he was going, but it didn’t matter. He just needed to put as much distance between himself and the well-meaning paramedics as possible.

He stopped when he saw the Brooklyn Bridge in the distance. He was definitely going the wrong way.

He slowed down, looked to make sure no one was following him, and dropped onto the first set of stairs he could find. He was drenched in sweat, heart pounding, and out of breath. The freaking needle from the IV was still in his hand, buried beneath tape.

He also couldn’t find his phone. Did he leave it in the ambulance?

A vague memory of MJ touching his face and of Adrian Toomes laughing made him stop searching his pockets. MJ had his phone.

Or he hoped she did.

He looked around. There weren’t really any payphones around anymore. Not on the street, anyway.

He had to ask three different people before one of them would let him borrow his phone, and even then, she insisted on being the one to dial.

“Who is this?”

Peter could hear Happy’s trademark growl over the phone.

“I have a young man here,” the lady began, glancing towards Peter with a look of both concern and mistrust. “He’s asked me to call you.”

“Tell him it’s Peter,” Peter said. “Peter Parker.”

The lady smiled, gave an address, and then hung up. “He says to stay here and that he’s on his way.”

Peter thanked her and walked back to the set of stairs to wait.

And he waited.

Peter wasn’t wearing his watch, but he could tell it’d been too long when school buses began to pass and kids with backpacks started to parade by.

Happy should have been there by now. He tried finding someone else who would let him use his phone, but after four no’s in a row, Peter gave up and just started walking.

He alternated between thinking Happy had just changed his mind and suspecting that the entire phone conversation might not have happened at all.

Peter pressed his thumb into the small bruise on the back of his hand. It was sore and still tacky from the tape that had held the IV in place.

That part was real at least.

He was too tired to run, too exhausted both mentally and physically to move faster than a steady, slow pace. Peter found a bus stop, asked an old man when the next bus to Queens was running, and sat down to wait.

He made it home a little over an hour later. His feet dragged as he walked down the corridor to his apartment. He opened the door and found both May and MJ pacing.

“Oh thank god,” May cried. Her eyes were rimmed in red and Peter could tell she’d been crying. “Oh god, you had me scared to death.”

MJ looked like she wanted to say the same, but where May looked relieved, MJ still looked worried. “Are you okay?” she asked.

Peter shrugged, and tried to move to the bathroom. He felt dizzy and tired and his mouth was doing that thing where it kept watering. “Sick,” he said, not really able to get out more than that. Whatever strength he’d gained while waiting for Happy and the bus had quickly left him. He felt worse than he did before, if that was possible.

May grabbed his arm and cupped his face. “It’s gonna be okay, alright?” she rubbed her hand up and down his arm and gave him a watery but encouraging smile. “Let’s just get to the car, okay? Tony’s waiting for us.”

Peter shook his head and gently pushed her hand away. “No,” he said, and stumbled to the bathroom.

“Peter?” MJ asked. But Peter couldn’t answer. As soon as he got to the bathroom, he dropped to his knees, lifted the lid to the toilet, and threw up.

A lot.

He had hoped it would help, that puking would somehow make him feel better, but he was wrong. He leaned his cheek against the toilet seat and groaned.

May knelt next to him, pushed his hair off his forehead and frowned. “Peter, baby, you have to talk to me okay? What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know,” Peter admitted before turning his head and throwing up again.

“Call Stark,” May ordered, and Peter looked up in time to see MJ dialing on his phone. “It’s gonna be okay.”

Peter just laid his head back down and closed his eyes. The next thing he knew more hands were pushing his hair back, but these weren’t May’s. These were bigger, rougher, the fingers calloused.

“Come on, kiddo. You gotta work with me here,” said that long gone breathy voice. Peter opened his eyes to see Ben looking down at him, his eyebrows bunched together in concern.

“Did I die?” Peter asked, only to make Ben’s frown deepen.

“No, Pete. You’re very much alive,” he ran his hand through Peter’s hair again before dropping it down to feel Peter’s pulse, “even if it feels like you’d rather not be.”

“Why are you here?”

“To check on my favorite mutant,” Ben said, trying to smile. It was obviously fake, but Peter appreciated the effort.

“’M not a mutant,” Peter mumbled. He lifted his cheek off the toilet seat, propped his arm across it instead, and let his forehead lay on that. “Just got mutant powers.” His voice echoed in the toilet bowl.

“To-may-to, to-mah-to, kid.” Peter felt Ben’s hand squeeze the back of his neck and rub at the space between his shoulders. “But all joking aside, you gonna talk to me? Tell me what’s happening here?”

Peter shook his head, stopped when it made him feel like throwing up again, and simply shrugged. “Are you gonna leave again?”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Ben promised. “At least not without you.”

Peter let his head roll on his arm, side to side. “I don’t want to go with you,” he hiccupped. He was trying not to cry, but Ben wasn’t making it easy.

That and the fact that his stomach felt like something was trying to stab him from the inside. It made him think of that really old movie where the alien popped out of that guy’s stomach.

“I’m going to pretend not to be offended,” Ben said, giving Peter’s neck another encouraging squeeze, “But you want to explain why you don’t want to come with me? I distinctly remember there being a time when that was all you wanted.”

Peter leaned up a little, spit into the toilet, and laid his head back down. “I don’t want to die.”

“You’re not dying, Peter.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I just need you to trust me, kid. Okay?”

Peter tried to shrug off Ben’s hand, but it didn’t really work. “I can’t trust you,” he whispered.

Ben suddenly became very still. “Why not?”

Peter sniffed and wiped his eyes on the back of his arm. “Because you’re dead.”

Ben was suddenly moving again. He put a hand on Peter’s chest, another on his arm and pulled him away from the toilet. He was probably aiming for Peter to sit up and look at him. That wasn’t happening, though, not with the way the room spun every time Peter turned his head.

Ben must have realized it wasn’t going to happen either, because he leaned Peter back until he was half sprawled on the floor, half propped up on the side of the bathtub. “Hey, come on. Look at me, Parker.”

Peter opened his eyes.

“You looking at me?” Ben asked.

Peter nodded, then let his head lean back against the tub. The cool porcelain felt really good on the back of his neck.

“Hey, eyes open,” Ben snapped, gently slapping the side of Peter’s face. “Come on.”

Peter frowned, and then blinked his eyes open. When had he closed them?

“Alright,” Ben continued when Peter was once again looking at him, “Now what’s my name?”

Peter frowned again. “What?”

“My name,” Ben repeated. “What is it?”

“Ben?”

Ben’s face fell and May, who was standing in the doorway, made a noise that might have been a sob if she hadn’t tried to stop it. MJ’s face just paled.

Ben moved so that he was sitting right in front of Peter, his knees on either side of Peter’s prone leg. “I need you to listen to me,” he began, voice slow, each word pronounced carefully like he didn’t think Peter would understand him otherwise. “I’m not Ben.”

“Then who are you?” The last few days had been so colossally messed up, that Peter was willing to give the benefit of the doubt.

Even if Ben was looking right at him.

“It’s Tony, kid,” Ben said. “Mr. Stark? Remember?”

Peter shook his head and tried to sit up. He managed to pull himself up a little, at least to where he was no longer slouched. He was still leaning against the tub, though.

“Yes, Peter,” Ben insisted. “Come on. Look at me.”

So Peter did and then he did again. He still saw Ben, but the more he looked, the more he saw that the lines around his eyes were a little too deep, that his hair was all wrong, too short and too dark.

Then there was the goatee. Ben hadn’t been able to grow a beard to save his life.

Peter couldn’t help it. He started to cry.

“Oh, Peter,” May cried, but it was Tony who leaned forward and pulled him into a hug.

“I gotcha, kid,” he said, cupping the back of his head and rubbing a hand up and down his back. “You’re gonna be okay.”

Peter nodded, tried not to think about the fact that he was getting snot all over Tony Stark’s jacket, and asked, “What the hell is wrong with me?”

Tony sighed. “That’s the question of the day.” He gave Peter’s back another encouraging pat. “What do you say we get off the bathroom floor, huh?”

Peter leaned back, nodded, and then threw up in his lap.

And a little in Tony’s, because why not? It wasn’t like the day was bad enough already.

“Jesus,” Tony hissed, leaning back as far as he could in the cramped bathroom. To his credit, and much to Peter’s appreciation, he didn’t say anything else other than to turn to May and ask for a little help.

But May was already on it. She was wetting a washcloth in the sink and pushing Tony to the side before Tony had even managed to fully turn around.

“MJ, sweetie,” May called out as she handed Peter the wet cloth, “Can you grab a clean shirt off Peter’s floor?”

“Thanks, May.” Peter tried to smile.

May tried to smile back, but her already red eyes just got redder. And wetter. Which made Peter’s do the same. “I’m sorry,” he said, but she just smiled and shook her head.

“You have nothing to be sorry for, sweetie.” She squeezed his knee, took the now dirty washcloth and offered it to Tony. “Except maybe for having lousy aim. You gonna be okay there, Stark?”

Tony took the rag and tried to wipe off the knee of his jeans. “Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time someone’s puked on me.”

“It’s not even the second,” Happy added, emerging in the doorway. “Car’s ready, Tony.”

“Alright, Underoos. This is the plan,” Tony tossed the dirty washcloth into the tub and put on an encouraging but still obviously fake smile. “We’re gonna get you cleaned up, and then we’re gonna go for a ride. And I promise, kid. I’m not letting you die.”

Which was a pretty big promise to keep, because if Peter wasn’t already feeling like the literal definition of death warmed over, he’d probably have died from embarrassment alone.

MJ brought in a clean shirt and a wrinkled pair of gym shorts and then did Peter the biggest of favors by disappearing back into the living room.

Of course, that left May and Tony to help him change into the new clothes, and he needed the help. By the time May was pulling his new shirt over his head, Peter felt and looked like a rag doll, all loose and floppy-limbed.

Tony and Happy had to practically carry him to the car. They each put one of his arms over their shoulders and pseudo-dragged him to the elevator. Peter tried to help, but coordination wasn’t really happening, so they did most of the work.

The universe must have decided that Peter had suffered enough, because no sooner had MJ and May crawled into the backseat to sit on either side of him, Peter passed out again.

Or blacked out.

Whatever. It’s not important. Basically, he doesn’t remember anything from the time May tried to fasten his seatbelt to him waking up on a cot in a very empty, very sterile looking room, which was weird on its own.

The glass walls?

Weirder.

His shoes were gone and someone had grabbed him a pillow and blanket.

“Peter?” Peter turned to find May standing on the other side of the glass wall. Her voice sounded distant and a little automated, like it was coming through a speaker. “Are you okay?”

Was he? He definitely felt better. There wasn’t any more dizziness, no more sharp Alien flashback inducing stomach pains.

“Yeah, I’m okay.” He dragged the blanket with him, pulled it over his shoulders like a depressed cape, and walked towards the glass wall and his aunt barefoot. “Where are we?”

May smiled and rapped a knuckle on the wall between them. “Tony called it the Hulk Tank. Apparently, this is where they put the Hulk if he gets too angry. It’s like a time out room for angry Avengers.”

That was cool. Sort of. Except…

“Why am I in it?”

May’s smile fell and she looked down at her suddenly clasped hands. “What’s the last thing you remember?”

Peter thought about it, cringed, and asked, “Did I puke on Tony Stark?”

“Yes,” May said, sounding a little apologetic, like his embarrassment was contagious.

“Then that’s the last thing I remember.” Which wasn’t good, because apparently a lot had happened since then, or else he wouldn’t be in Avenger time out.

“You got a little confused,” May explained. She still wasn’t looking at him. “I think you thought you were in danger or…or something.” She finally looked up, offered one of her encouraging smiles, and added, “Tony thought it’d be safe, you know, to keep you in here. Just in case.”

“Did I hurt somebody?” Peter whispered. He suddenly felt like he needed to throw up again. “Oh, god! MJ!”

“MJ is fine,” May hurried to assure him. “Happy took her home about an hour ago.” Peter figured the look of panic still hadn’t left his face, because May added, “Everyone’s fine, Peter. You just started to freak out, and we thought it best to keep the confused teen with super strength in the unbreakable room just in case. This is to make sure you don’t hurt anyone.”

It wasn’t the most reassuring thing he’d heard, but beggars couldn’t be choosers, or whatever. Peter sighed, and leaned his head against the glass.

“How’re you feeling?” May asked. “MJ said you had a seizure.”

Peter shrugged. “I don’t remember it.”

May nodded and started picking at her nails, chipping away at the polish on her thumb. It was another one of her little quirks, a sure sign that she was stressed and quickly approaching her limit. “She called me, nearly hysterical. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her be anything but…subdued.”

Peter made a noise that could probably pass as a chuckle. “Me either.”

May looked up and offered a small smile. It only lasted a moment though, before she said, “Apparently, you went down in front of a crowd. They had all called 911 and had you in an ambulance before she could do anything.”

Peter figured there wasn’t really a lot she could have done. He remembered the look she had given him when he got back from the nightmare with Toomes, the way her eyes had been wide with fear. He figured he should probably call her, at least text, ask if she were okay.

He was just about to ask where his phone was when Tony barged in, door slamming open, hands clapping together much too loudly. He had changed clothes and was now wearing a pair of sweat pants that were probably a lot more comfortable and smelled a lot less like digested pickles.

He also had a black eye. It was small, just a little bruising around the socket, but still, it was there and Peter very distinctly remembered him not having one earlier.

Tony didn’t seem concerned, though. He walked towards the glass wall, gave Peter a once over from head to toe, then turned to May. “So, I’ve got good news and bad news.”

But Peter had questions. Mainly, “What happened to your eye?”

“Good news,” Tony continued, acting as though Peter hadn’t said anything, “We think it’s almost definitely environmental.”

May looked like she was trying to decide whether to get excited at the possibility of an answer or to still be confused and worried. “How?”

“That’s where the bad news comes in,” Tony explained. “Several of your neighbors have lost their pets in the last week.”

“Mr. Stark, what happened to your eye?” Peter asked again.

Tony ignored him. “And when I say ‘lost’ I mean they died.”

May settled on worried. “Oh, my god.”

Tony nodded and reached for his quietly vibrating phone. He looked at the caller ID, frowned, and put it back in his pocket. “Apparently, there’s something in your building that’s killing anything with more than two legs.”

May went back to confused. “How’s that explain what’s happening to Peter?”

Peter slammed his hand on the glass. When both May and Tony finally looked at him, he asked, “Did I hit you?”

Tony ran his finger along his eyebrow, let it trace down the line of the bruise. “It was more like you elbowed me,” he admitted. “But chill, kid. It’s all good. Bigger problems right now, okay?” He raised his eyebrows, gave Peter one of those lopsided, ‘Trust me, I know what I’m talking about’ smirks, and turned back to May. “And like I said, something is hurting every non-human thing in that building.”

Peter was pretty sure May wasn’t the only one looking confused. “But I’m human.”

Tony arched an eyebrow. “Are you though?”

And that was the problem. He wasn’t, at least, not entirely. Not anymore. Not since a class trip to Oscorp left Peter half-dead two and a half years ago. And that wasn’t an exaggeration. Yeah, he got better, even managed to walk away with super powers, but it was close.

“We think whatever it is, it’s affecting the spider part of your DNA,” Dr. Strange explained. He was standing with his hands in his pockets, staring at Peter through the glass. 

“It would explain why your Spidey sense has been going crazy,” Bruce added, never looking up from the tablet in his hand. “It tells you when you’re in danger, and well, you’ve been in danger.”

May had stopped picking at her nails and had started pacing. “But what is it? Something in the water? Another gas attack?”

“No.” Everyone turned to look at Peter. He pulled the blanket further around his shoulders and tucked his feet up onto the cot. “I could smell the gas on the bus. I haven’t smelled anything like it since.”

Bruce frowned and looked back to the tablet. “We’re not ruling anything out until we actually find something.”

So they started to look.

It wasn’t the easiest task, a slew of suddenly dead pets didn’t exactly go unnoticed, and the city had already begun investigating. Luckily, Tony was on a first name basis with the mayor, so no one really questioned why a handful of Avengers were wondering around an apartment building in Queens wearing gas masks.

At least, they didn’t question it out loud.

Peter, of course, couldn’t help. He couldn’t even leave the time out room, and after learning that he’d given Iron-Man a black eye, well, he wasn’t about to ask to be let out.

No matter how badly he wanted to.

So he sat on the floor, back to the glass and talked with May, texted Ned and MJ, let them know he was fine, and tried and failed to assure Pepper that he wasn’t hungry.

“Seriously, Miss Potts. I will puke peanut butter all over the Hulk’s room.”

To Peter, it felt like hours since Tony had gathered everyone in an SUV and took off for Queens. But when Peter asked F.R.I.D.A.Y how long it’d been, he was strongly disappointed.

“There’s no way it’s only been an hour.”

“I’m sorry, Peter. But Boss left exactly fifty-seven minutes ago.”

Peter leaned back until he was lying on the floor and groaned. “This sucks.”

May laughed. “It could be worse.”

And then it was. One minute Peter was blinking up at the ceiling of his little cell, the next he was being handed a piece of paper by his Spanish teacher. “Pay attention, Señor Parker.”

“I’m sorry?” he asked. She frowned and set the paper down on the desk in front of him and then walked off. Peter looked down and groaned. The words POP QUIZ were written at the top followed by a page long list of what Peter guessed were Spanish verbs he couldn’t recognize.

“Alright, class,” his teacher called once she’d made it to the front of the room. “Let’s see how many of these you can conjugate.”

Peter picked up his pencil and started writing. It was mostly guessing, a combination of deductive reasoning based off the rules of conjugation Peter already knew and just blindly making up tenses as he went.

Besides, Peter was pretty certain this wasn’t real. Probably. At least he hoped not. He was fairly decent at Spanish and he was willing to bet his grade that most of these words were just made up. A few even looked French.

He made it to the end of the page, wrote his name at the top and turned it in before walking back to his desk to wait for whatever happened next.

As the seconds ticked by, he found he was very aware of his blinking. He counted them, got annoyed, and then tried to focus on something else, to distract from what should have been an automatic thing.

He focused on his breathing instead. He leaned forward and pressed his forehead to the desk. He took in a deep breath and, as he exhaled, forced his muscles to relax. His shoulders drooped, his back bowed a little with the loss of tension. He let his head fall to the side, his cheek coming to rest against the desk.

The wood of the desktop acted as an amplifier in a way, highlighting the sounds of every movement, every scratch of a pencil and sniff of a runny nose.

Peter closed his eyes, flexed his fingers and began to time his breaths.

In for two.

Out for three.

But the world shifted again and the cool texture of the desk morphed to an even colder, harder surface. The sniffs and scratches of pencils disappeared, and Peter was vaguely aware of May’s voice filtering in, sounding like a recording that was slowly having the volume raised.

He opened his eyes, blinked, and frowned as he saw his breath puff out, leaving a smear of quickly disappearing condensation on the dark, tiled floor.

May was still talking. She was sitting on the floor, shoulder pressed against the protective glass, legs stretched out before her as she rattled on about vacuum cleaners and empty cages.

“—God, you were inconsolable, and Ben kept making it worse, calling it--”

“Hamstercide,” Peter cut in, brain catching on to what she was saying and the memory she was describing.

May didn’t really jump, but he could tell he’d startled her. Her head lifted up, eyes going wide as she looked to him. He didn’t move, kept his cheek pressed to the floor, but he offered her a small smile.

It must have been enough, because the corner of her mouth lifted up in something that was a cross between amusement and relief.

“Hamstercide,” she echoed, tone bland. “Like I set out to murder my nephew’s hamster with a Hoover.”

“Negligent homicide?” Peter offered.

“Manslaughter at the most,” she countered, arching one eyebrow in a Spock-ish sort of way. “I’m not the one that left the cage open.”  She smiled, bit her lip, and looked down. She was back to picking at her nails. “Where’d you go?” she asked, like he had simply taken a trip and wasn’t losing his fucking mind.

“School. I had a Spanish test.”

“Well…that’s not so bad. Right?”

“I hadn’t studied.”

“Oh. No bueno.”

“No bueno.” He rolled onto his back, frowning at the way his cheek wanted to stick to the tile, his skin practically glued to the floor from sweat and drool. He took a deep breath and asked, “Is it still Tuesday?”

May hesitated then said, “It’s Friday, baby.”

“Oh.” He knew that. Didn’t he? “Was it Friday before?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. That’s not so bad.”

They sat in silence for a while, both pretending it wasn’t heavy, that they weren’t freaking out on the inside. Eventually, Happy arrived with a bag of fast food burgers and a tray of milkshakes. He let himself into the little glass room and held up the bag. “Think you can eat these without throwing ‘em back up?”

“Probably not.”

“Pretend you can,” he said before tossing Peter two burgers wrapped in yellow, greased stained paper. “It’s this or we let your aunt cook whatever health food crap Pepper’s got in the pantry.”

May glared as she accepted her milkshake. Happy just smiled and offered her a burger. Then he sat down and the three of them began to eat.

The food was good. Like really good. Peter ate one burger and was halfway through a second before he remembered to slow down, that swallowing a burger whole probably wouldn’t help his queasy stomach.

Except his stomach wasn’t queasy anymore. He finished off the second and was nibbling at the cheese stuck to the wrapper when Happy knocked on the glass and held up a third as he cocked his eyebrow questioningly.

Any other day, Peter might have said no, might have told Happy to just take it, but for the first time in a while, Peter actually felt good and the thought of another fully loaded cheese burger sounded like heaven.

Happy had just entered the small room and was about to hand Peter the burger when his phone went off. It was on vibrate and it was just a short little blirp muffled by fabric, but Peter still heard it, and Peter let him know it. “Are you gonna get that?”

Happy rolled his eyes and pulled out his phone. He stared at it for a moment, moved it away and squinted, hinting that he needed his glasses, and finally said, “They found something.”

Both May and Peter were on their feet. “What?” they asked.

The answer was a lot. In addition to the three dogs and two cats that had already been reported dead, Steve, Clint, and Tony found three dead rats, a disgusting number of belly-up cockroaches, and just as many spiders.

They also found a canister in the air vents.

It was about a meter long, high-tech, well-made, and offered up exactly zero clues as to where it was from. At first glance, it looked like an oversized, misshapen scuba tank. But then they cracked it open and found dozens of capsules, each about the size of Peter’s hand and connected to a small computer.

Peter would have been impressed, if it hadn’t been designed to hurt him.

“Honestly, it looks like something I’d make,” Tony admitted, albeit somewhat reluctantly. “It’s got a time relay on it, set to disperse one capsule at a time.” They had all gathered in the lab, including Peter who had been let out of time out. The canister was sitting on the counter, or what was left of it.

Dr. Strange and Bruce had started testing the capsules while Tony dismantled the canister. Completely. He took it apart one piece at a time, down to the last screw, looking for a clue as to where it had come from, to who had planted it. But other than some pretty impressive mechanics, he had found nothing.

Peter picked up one of the circuit boards and ran his finger over the ridges. It was expertly made, right down to the near seamless soldering. “This was in the air vents?”

Tony nodded, forehead wrinkled in thought. “In your air vent,” he clarified. “There’s no way to know exactly how long it’s been there, but I’m guessing at least as long as your symptoms. It just took a while for the gas to seep into the other apartments.”

Steve stepped forward and picked up one of the capsules, his patented Captain America frown fully in place. “Which leaves the question, what was it dispersing?”

And that’s when things got interesting.

“What do you mean you don’t know?” May asked calmly. It was a fake calm, the kind where her tone was stern but she put forth the effort to keep it steady, her voice just a tad bit lower than normal.

It would have been less intimidating if she had yelled. Or at least Peter had always thought so. Apparently, Bruce Banner did as well, because he gave a nervous swallow and tried to explain.

“It’s similar to the gas from the bus attack, but it’s different. I can’t fully identify its chemical components.” He ran his hands through his hair and gestured to the 3D molecular structures spinning on the screen. “There are elements here that I can’t even name. They don’t exist.”

May frowned, pointed at the rotating diagrams, and said. “They obviously do.”

“What he means,” Tony stepped in, “is that they shouldn’t exist.”

“How’s that possible?”

Tony shrugged. “Someone created them.” It was said matter-of-fact, like manipulating reality and playing god wasn’t that big of a deal.

It was Steve’s turn to frown now. “Can someone do that?”

“Mr. Stark created an elemental substitute for palladium,” Peter pointed out. He faltered a bit when everyone turned to look at him. “I mean if…if he did it then, then it’s totally possible for someone else to do it now. Right?”

Steve gave a heavy sigh, crossed his arms over his chest and made a face that hinted he was not excited with this new information. “So we’re not just talking about a scientist. We’re talking about a genius.”

“Evil genius,” Clint added unenthusiastically. He was lying on the gurney Peter refused to get on, ankles crossed and arm draped dramatically over his eyes. “Just what we need.”

Bruce nodded and picked up a piece of the canister. “With access to cutting edge technology. I mean, look at this thing.”

Clint lifted his head and looked at the switch Bruce was holding up. “Okay, well, that has to narrow it down, right?” He looked from Tony to Strange and back to Bruce. “Exactly how many people are smart enough to do this?”

Tony hopped up on the counter and started messing with the canister again. “In all of New York? Not a lot, but still too many to just narrow it down. Shit, I mean, between the two doctors here, me, and the kid, we’ve probably got a combined IQ close to 800 and that’s just in this room.”

Peter looked up, checked to make sure he was the only ‘kid’ present, and turned wide eyes to May. May simply smiled and winked.

Strange, however, just rubbed tiredly at his forehead. “Well, I doubt a teenager did this. We’re talking advanced chemistry here.” He turned to Peter. “No offense.”

Tony grabbed one of the now empty capsules and tossed it in the air. When he caught it again, he stared at it, rubbed his thumb over the edge of the casing and offered a reluctant sigh. “Yeah, well, I would have said the same thing two years ago, but that one over there managed to develop a high tensile flexible polycarbonate out of zit cream and potassium carbonate in between reading Shakespeare and taking math tests.” Tony pointed towards Peter, whose wide eyes got wider while he tried not to blush. “And I couldn’t replicate it without looking at his fucking notes.”

Okay, he was definitely blushing now. May just winked again.

Strange rolled his eyes and turned to Peter. “You got any enemies at school?”

“Not smart ones.”

Tony smirked.

And while they could almost definitely eliminate the entirety of Midtown Tech as suspects, they couldn’t really eliminate anyone else.

“It’s got to be someone connected to this Toomes guy,” Steve argued. “Who else outside of us knows that Peter is Spider-Man?”

But Tony wasn’t convinced. “The kid might be freaky smart, but he’s shit at keeping secrets. I mean, his girlfriend found out.”

“MJ’s not my girlfriend.”

“Not to mention I found out. Whoever this asshole is, if he’s smart enough to chemically engineer a targeted gas attack that will affect only one person in an entire building, then he’s smart enough to figure out the identity of the short kid swinging around Queens in a onesie after school hours.”

Insults aside, Tony was right.

Any way they looked at it, Peter was screwed. Mostly.

Now that they knew what was fucking with his mind, they could fix it. This of course meant Peter got to play the role of lab rat again, but seeing how he made it through the remainder of Friday, all of Saturday, and to lunch on Sunday without and more shifts, it was something he could deal with.

Peter hadn’t really noticed, not at first. In the beginning, there was the dramatic sense of panic of oh fuck, someone knew his identity and constantly being worried that he should still be in the Hulk tank because what if he lost control of reality and freaked out again?

But those worries slowly shifted, focusing more on trying to counteract the gas, which meant more needles and tests and frowns.

But sometime after F.R.I.D.A.Y compiling a list of all the known labs in the country with the ability to create the canister and Bruce taking Peter’s blood pressure for the ninth time in two days, May walked up and forced a sandwich into Peter’s hand.

“Peanut butter and banana,” she said. “Protein and potassium.”

Peter smiled in thanks and ate the entire thing in five bites.

“So, any more trips?” May asked after Peter had managed to swallow half the sandwich.  

Peter wiped the milk from his upper lip, licked some peanut butter off his finger and frowned. “What?”

“You know,” May said, waving a finger towards Peter’s head. “Any more unexpected Spanish quizzes or little green men?”

Peter was in the middle of dusting crumbs onto the floor when he realized what his aunt was saying. There hadn’t been any more hallucinations, at least not that he’d noticed, not since the whole pop quiz fiasco Friday night.

He also hadn’t been losing time. For the first time since the whole nightmare began, Peter could remember everything that happened. He could trace back and recount each and every detail of the day, no little notebook required.

For the first time in weeks, Peter finally had a reason to smile.

“It could be that you finally built up a tolerance to it,” Bruce offered when Peter pointed out the lack of shifts. He tapped his fingers on the counter, and shrugged. “Or it could just be that the gas has finally worked its way out of your system. I mean, your last known exposure was over thirty-six hours ago.”

As Tony would say, to-may-to, to-mah-to. Bottom line, Peter had his mind back.

And he planned to keep it.

Everyone else planned to help him.

“Alright, kid. We are officially roommates.” Tony dropped a pair of unfamiliar rucksacks on the ground at Peter’s feet a few hours after the peanut butter and banana sandwich. “Here’s some of your stuff, newly dry-cleaned and properly sanitized of any delirium causing hallucinogens.”

Happy rounded the corner a moment later with two more matching bags. Tony nodded to them, “And some of your aunt’s. She’s staying too.”

Because she had too. The official report was a gas leak, which technically wasn’t a complete lie. Needless to say, the Parkers and the rest of the building’s inhabitants had been evacuated and weren’t allowed back in until it had been fixed.

Which was an unimpressive way of saying that Stark Industries employees were currently combing over every square inch of the building, both ensuring that there were no more canisters and that every surface had been scrubbed clean, promising no residual residue for when Peter moved back in.

There was also the fact that some evil super genius not only knew Spider-Man’s true identify, but also knew where he lived, and obviously was out to get him.

“We’ve got three days left of school,” Happy said, falling into his Head of Security persona. “You go in, take your exams, and come right back out. Got it?”

“Got it.” Peter pulled at his seatbelt and slouched down in his seat. He had a security detail now. So did May, though May’s wasn’t being a hard ass about it. “But I’m pretty sure I can get through a day of school without any problems.”

“What if you have another episode?” Happy countered.

“I haven’t had an episode in like two days. I think we’re good.”

Happy frowned in the review mirror, pulled into the drop off lane, and locked the doors before turning around. “What’s the rule?”

Peter rolled his eyes. “Come on, Happy…”

“Rule, Parker.” Someone honked, Happy ignored them. “Say it.”

Peter sighed. “I’m not to leave the building unless it’s on fire or there’s another alien attack.”

Happy nodded approvingly and unlocked the door. “Your girlfriend and the weird kid have my number. They’ll tell me if you’re being a dumbass.”

Peter scowled, choosing to ignore the whole girlfriend remark. “I’m aware.”

“And I’m gonna be right across the street.” Happy pointed towards the buildings on the other side of the football field. “You call if you need me, and don’t forget—“

“Yeah, I know,” Peter grumbled, grabbing his backpack and climbing out of the car. “The second the bell rings, I’m to get my ass in the car.”

“Hey, it’s that or I follow you around all day.”

“Yeah, no thanks. I’ll be here.”

The SUV behind them honked again. Peter shut the car door before Happy’s angry response could be heard.

“So you’re good? No more trippy hallucinations?”

“I’m good, Ned. Nothing’s happened since Friday.”

“MJ said you had a seizure.”

“Yeah, but not since Friday.”

“But someone did it to you, right? I mean, like they actively poisoned you? The guy’s still out there. What if they attack you here?”

Peter looked around to make sure no one was listening. “Chill, dude. We’re fine.”

Ned didn’t look convinced. He frowned and leaned closer towards Peter’s desk. “But what if—“

“Alright, students,” their teacher called out, effectively cutting off whatever paranoid question Ned was about to ask. “I want phones off. If I see or hear one, it’s an automatic fail. Calculators can be used only on the first half of the exam. If you—“

Peter turned to Ned, offered him a reassuring smile, and said, “Everything’s gonna be okay. Promise.”

And it was. Peter made it through the last three days of school, finished all of his exams without feeling any existential dread, and best of all, no longer had any symptoms. There wasn’t a single instance of time loss or seizures. Not even one hallucination for five entire days.

So when Peter barged into the kitchen afterschool on Wednesday, he fully expected to get his suit back so he could start the summer vacation in style.

But he was unfairly overruled.

“What do you mean ‘no’?”

Pepper and May were both sitting at the table, one on a laptop the other stuffing flyers into envelopes. Neither looked overly concerned with Peter’s dramatics.

“You do remember that someone is trying to kill you?” May asked.

Peter rolled his eyes. “Someone’s always trying to kill me. This isn’t new.”

May froze on her way to grab an empty envelope and glared. Tony, who was busy peeling kiwis and stuffing them into a blender, hissed. “Hey, kid. Maybe leave that part out.”

“Come on, Mr. Stark,” Peter pleaded. “Help me out here.”

“Nope.” Tony plopped a freshly peeled kiwi into the blender and attached the lid. “I’m with your aunt. You’re officially under house arrest.”

“What?!”

Tony’s only answer was to turn the blender on high. Peter scowled and patiently waited until he was finished and the sound of the obnoxious whirring quieted. “Why can’t—“

Tony turned the blender back on.

“Oh, come on!” Peter yelled. Tony just smirked and turned it off again. Peter waited, glaring until Tony finally lifted his hands as if in surrender. The bastard was smiling the entire time.

Peter took a deep breath, and asked as calmly and reasonably as he could, “Why am I being sidelined here? I could be out there, helping try to find this guy.”

Tony poured a glass of green sludge and leaned his hip against the counter. “Ignoring the fact that you have no idea where to start, let’s talk about the whole blackout thing that’s been happening. What exactly is your plan if you started having a seizure the moment you jump off a building or a bad guy pulls a gun?”

“I haven’t had any symptoms in a week,” Peter pointed out. “Dr. Banner said I was good to go!”

“Yeah, well, he also wasn’t able to figure out what was wrong with you in the first place,” Tony pointed out.

“So what? I’m just supposed to stay grounded forever? No more Spider-Man?”

“Don’t be so dramatic, kid.” Tony put the glass down and looked to May. “What do you say? Two weeks?”

“Two weeks!” Peter exclaimed. He turned to his aunt. “May, come on.”

May folded her arms on the table and leaned forward. “Would two weeks really kill you?”

“Yes!” Peter lied. “And if you think about it, it’d really be three weeks if you add in last week.”

May squinted her eyes. “A week and a half.”

“One week,” Peter countered. “From last Friday. So, like two more days.”

May looked back to Tony, and lifted a shoulder, quietly asking for his opinion.

Tony took another sip of his smoothie and tapped his finger on his chin while he made a thinking face, because Peter wasn’t the only one being dramatic. “A week from last Saturday, since that’s the first day you went without any symptoms.”

“So, like, three more days,” May finished. “Take it or leave it, buddy.”

Peter took it, but not before pointing out that they were all being overly protective. They didn’t care.

The next three days passed in what was possibly the slowest start to summer holidays ever, mostly because both Ned and MJ agreed wholeheartedly with the whole waiting thing.

“It’s just a few days, man. Better safe than sorry.”

Peter pulled a pillow over his face and groaned.

MJ was even less supportive than Ned. “I would have ignored your whiny ass and made it two weeks.”

Peter just flipped her off. She returned the favor with a smile.

But then Saturday came, and Tony decided to start the day by barging into Peter’s room at seven o’clock in the morning and dumping the suit atop his head.

Peter didn’t mind. He pulled on the suit, climbed to the roof, and jumped off. It might have only been three weeks, but it felt like so much longer. Peter spent the first hour just flying through the city, not even thinking of actually looking for crime, so much so that nearly every building between the East Village and Carnegie Hall had at least one strip of slowly dissolving webbing stuck to its surface.

By lunch time #Spideysback was trending third on Twitter and Peter was feeling like king of the world. Eventually, the high began to die down enough that Peter could remember there was an actual job he needed to be doing, and he slowly made his way back to Queens.

The criminals obviously didn’t check Twitter, because they all looked surprised to see him. Peter rounded up the bad guys, gave one cop a high five, avoided the scowling glare of another, and made his way back to the tower.

He woke up Sunday and did it all again. When he got home, sweaty and smiling, he endured another round of questions and let Tony test his blood pressure again, but everything was fine. Peter had no more symptoms, confirming that he was, in fact, cured of the gas’ effects.

Or so he thought

Monday rolled around and Peter decided to sleep in. He wasn’t supposed to meet his friends until noon and there was no other reason to leave the comfort of his bed, so he didn’t. It wasn’t until his aunt wandered in some time later, a worried look on her face that Peter even thought about waking up.

“You feeling okay?” May asked. She sat on the side of his bed and felt his forehead for a fever. He didn’t have one, hadn’t in a long while, but she still felt the need to check at least once a day.

“’M fine,” Peter mumbled into his pillow.

“I was just wondering.” May stood and started grabbing dirty clothes off the floor to put into the hamper. “It’s getting late.”

“It’s summer holiday,” Peter pointed out. He rolled onto his back and stretched. “I’m allowed to sleep in.”

“I thought you were meeting Ned and MJ today.”

“Not until noon.”

“It’s 11:30.”

“Oh shit!” and Peter was suddenly out of bed, grabbing the pair of jeans his laughing aunt was trying to put into the hamper, and running to the bathroom. He brushed his teeth, made sure to put on extra deodorant, and patiently endured a safety rundown from not only May, but Tony, Pepper, and surprisingly Happy.

“It’s my day off, Parker. Don’t make me have to come rescue you because you did something stupid.”

“I love you too, Happy.”

“You have your web shooters?”

“Yes.”

“What about your phone? Fully charged?”

“Yes.”

“Panic button?”

“Guys, relax. This isn’t my first time on my own.”

“Someone tried to poison you, sweetie. We’re allowed to worry.”

Peter relented, let them finish their questions, promised he’d be safe, and hurried for the front door.

He made it in time, beating MJ to the theater by two whole minutes. Partly because he knew a shortcut, but mostly because he didn’t have to worry about crosswalks and crowds when jumping from one building to the next.

Peter was halfway through his handshake with Ned when MJ arrived, face scrunched as she looked at her phone. “I’m supposed to remind you that you have a curfew,” she said, clearly unenthused as she held up the phone, a text from a blocked number clearly displayed. “Apparently, you’re to be back home by 9:00.”

“Nope,” Peter shook his head. “Tell him we agreed on 10:00.”

MJ glowered and put her phone in her pocket.

“Or I can tell him,” Peter mumbled, reaching for his own phone.

“Since when does Spider-Man have a curfew?” Ned asked.

“Spider-Man doesn’t have a curfew.” Peter typed out his text, added a few pleading emojis, and hit send. “But Peter Parker does.”

“Makes sense,” MJ declared. When both Peter and Ned turned to her with identical looks of confusion, she shrugged and said, “I mean, if Spider-Man gets attacked, he can defend himself, no big deal. People would expect it. But if some skinny white boy gets attacked…,” she gave another shrug.

Ned looked around, like he half expected some masked boogie man to emerge from the nearest alley wielding a knife. Peter bumped his shoulder against Ned’s. “Chill, dude. Everything’s gonna be fine.”

And it was. For exactly two hours and nineteen minutes.

They watched the movie, gorged on popcorn and cherry slushes, and then decided to walk a few blocks so they could gorge on tacos.

They rounded the corner and could just see the line of food trucks when Peter felt that all too familiar tingle. Once the gas was fully out of his system, his Spidey sense had returned back to normal, only flaring up when Peter needed it.

Ned was trying to figure out how many tacos he could buy with twenty dollars when Peter stopped and looked to his left. There, hidden behind a dumpster just as it was the first time he’d seen it, was a tall, lanky, bulbous eyed goblin.

Peter had enough time to panic at the thought that he might be hallucinating again before the goblin turned and started running.

Peter followed.

“Peter!” Ned yelled, but Peter didn’t have time to explain. Either he was hallucinating again and the nightmare wasn’t over or there really was a goblin looking thing lurking around the city.

Peter dashed into traffic, jumped onto the hood of a passing car and leapt onto the opposite sidewalk. He ignored the yells and shouts of surprise and outrage and followed the length of the alley, emerged out the other end and ran down the side street. He was panting, eyes wide as he looked from left to right, trying to see which way the creature might have gone. When he spotted an old lady with a hand on her chest, gaping open mouthed at the roof of the building next door, Peter figured it was worth a gamble and jumped, grabbing the ladder to the fire escape and pulling it down.

He was halfway up it when Ned and MJ emerged from the alley, both screaming his name.

“Peter, what the hell is going on, man?” Ned was out of breath, gasping as he tried to follow MJ up the ladder after Peter.

“Didn’t you see it?” Peter asked, already four stories up. “It was there.”

“See what?” MJ huffed. But Peter ignored her. He’d reached the roof.

And there it was, leaning against the edge of an air conditioner condenser, looking for all the world both bored and expectant. He was wearing a black shirt and matching slacks, his hands hid in his pockets, posture loose and relaxed, like he didn’t know he was fucking with Peter’s reality.

Peter slowly climbed onto the roof and took a cautious step forward.

“Peter!” MJ called as she reached the top. She had just peeked over the edge of the roof, when she froze, hands glued to the ladder’s handrails, eyes bulging almost as much as the creature’s.

Ned had finally reached the top of the fire escape. “Guys,” he called out, “this is really high up and I’d like to get on more stable ground, so could we…” He looked back to the ground and nervously trailed off.

Peter took pity, and with one eye still on the creature, he slowly pulled MJ onto the roof, before helping Ned. “Please tell me you see—”

“A green goblin?” MJ whispered. “Yeah. I see it.”

The creature cocked its head to the side and grinned, as though it were amused. “Green goblin?” he said. “Is that what you think I am?”

“Holy shit,” Ned hissed. “It talks.”

“Oh, I do much more than that.” His voice was a calm tenor, familiar in a way that made Peter think of pompous old men on Wall Street or the bad guy in a James Bond movie, if the bad guy was from Long Island.

“Who are you?” Peter asked. He placed himself between his friends and the goblin, tried to make his voice as steady as possible.

“Would it be too dramatic if I said ‘you’re worst nightmare’?” the goblin asked, curling his lips into a smile that sent Peter’s Spidey senses tingling again. “What’s the matter, Spider-Man? You look nervous.”

“How do you—”

“I know a lot about you, Peter Parker. More than you could imagine. For example, I know how you got your powers, about that little spider that bit you.” He sneered on the word ‘bit’, eyes almost glowing with hate. “What I don’t know, though, is how you survived.”

Peter swallowed nervously and took another step to his right, further blocking MJ and Ned from the goblin’s view. “That makes two of us.”

The goblin laughed and gestured towards Peter. “You know, it’s adorable what you’re doing there, this whole, protect your friends thing, but you don’t have to worry. They don’t interest me.”

“But I do?”

“Indefinitely.”

And then the goblin did something Peter did not expect. He turned and walked away.

“Wait!” Peter called, shrugging off the tight grip MJ had on his arm. “You can’t just leave.”

The goblin stopped and turned back towards Peter. “Can’t I?”

“No.” Peter frowned. “Who-- I mean—how do you know who I am? How do you know about the spider, and, and--” Peter trailed off. There were too many questions fighting to be asked. “Who are you?”

“What was it your friend called me? Green goblin?” the goblin asked, smiling. “Let’s go with that.”

And then he walked to the edge of the building and stepped off.

“No!” Peter yelled. He ran across the roof and leaned over the edge. He expected to see a mangled body, its brains splattered on the concrete below, but there was nothing there. Nothing more than a stray dog tearing into a trash bag.

“Peter…”

Peter turned around to see both Ned and MJ staring at him.

“What the hell, dude?”

Peter couldn’t think of a more accurate phrase to describe his life at the moment.

It took them almost an hour to get back to the tower, each of them actively freaking out the entire time.

“Dude, it knew your name!”

“I know!”

“Both your names. Like it even knew about the spider!”

“I know!”

“What are you gonna do?”

“No idea.” Which was not a lie. This was so far outside the realm of normal, Peter didn’t even know where to begin.

Okay, that one was a lie.

He needed to tell Tony. If anyone would know what to do, he would. Peter was sure of it.

They gathered into the elevator, pressed the button for the penthouse, and tried to act like everything was normal as they slowly rode their way up.

But the elevator didn’t go to the penthouse. It started to slow a few floors before then, opening up somewhere Peter hadn’t expected.

“Uh, F.R.I.D.A.Y?”

“Boss wants you to meet him in the lab,” she explained. So, with MJ and Ned in tow, Peter stepped out of the elevator and began to make his way down the familiar hallways towards the lab and the sound of excited voices.

If Peter thought finding a green mutant in business casual stalking him through Manhattan was weird, finding half the Avengers and his aunt huddled around a computer screen was a close second.

The second Peter entered the room, everyone turned to look at him. May and Steve looked confused, Tony frustrated, but Bruce looked excited. Smiling, Bruce turned to Peter and declared “I figured it out!” He was holding one of the gas capsules from the dismantled canister in one hand, and gesturing towards the screen with the other. “It was targeted to your specific DNA, your spider DNA.”

“Well, they could have gotten that anywhere,” Tony pointed out. “Kid’s bled on half the city at this point.”

But Bruce’s excitement only seemed to grow. “No, that’s just it. We can’t differentiate between the two species.” Bruce’s smile widened, fingers flying across the keyboard as he excitedly explained what he’d uncovered. An image of a DNA double helix was slowly spinning on one side of the screen while a series of letters and numbers began to stream across the other. “The spider part of Peter’s DNA is intertwined with the human, there’s no distinguishing between the two. Not now anyway, not since they’ve combined.”

Steve frowned. “So how did—“

“Someone had to have the DNA of the spider that bit him,” Bruce explained. “I’m talking the actual, literal exact spider, radioactive mutations and all.”

Peter felt like a sickening puzzle piece had just slid into place. “Oscorp,” he whispered.

Bruce’s excitement at figuring out the secret of the mysterious gas finally started to fade as he seemed to remember that someone had used it to go after Peter.

“Oscorp?” Steve turned to Tony. “Isn’t that the company Stark Industries is always competing with?”

“One of them,” Tony confirmed.

“Do they have the ability to manufacture the gas?”

“Definitely.”

Steve’s posture straightened a little, his expression lightened, like he’d just been waiting for someone to give him a target and he’d just found it. “Okay,” he clapped his hands together and looked between Tony and Bruce. “How many scientists does Oscorp employ? How many of them are capable of this?”

Tony rubbed his forehead and sighed. “Too many.”

“But it does narrow it down?” May asked, speaking up for the first time. “I mean—you’ll be able to find this guy right?”

But before Tony could assure May, once again, that nothing bad was going to happen to her nephew, another puzzle piece fell into place, one that made Peter feel a little faint. “I think I saw him today.”

All eyes were once again on him. Peter opened his mouth and stumbled over the words. “I, uh—I saw,” but it was like he couldn’t get it out. What if none of it had actually happened? Goblins weren’t exactly known for wearing business casual. What if it was all just another hallucination?

It must have shown on his face, because MJ squared her shoulders, turned to the adults and said, “We saw a talking green goblin.”

Tony’s eyebrows climbed his forehead. “All of you saw it?” he asked, speaking over Bruce’s question of “It could talk?”

Ned nodded his head up and down. “Yeah. Near the food truck on 9th.”

Peter suddenly found his voice again. “He knew about the spider bite.”

“How?”

“I don’t know. Literally every one I’ve ever told is standing in this room.”

There was also Happy, but seeing how Peter trusted the man with his life, he highly doubted Happy would have been the one to spill the beans. Besides, Peter’s Spidey sense never went off when he was around Happy.

Even the spider part of him trusted the man.

“So, what are we thinking here?” Tony asked after Peter and the others had fully recounted their story. “Is this thing an alien, another Oscorp science experiment gone wrong, no offense, kid, or just another run of the mill mutant who drew the short straw on abilities?”

No one had an answer.

The only thing they could all agree on, was that the man…goblin…creature— was definitely associated with Oscorp in some way.

But even that was pure conjecture. Yeah, it was based off of logic and common sense, but still—no solid proof.

“Just to clarify,” May had begun rubbing her temples, another sign she was stressed, “We think the lizard man was the one who gassed our apartment?”

“He wasn’t a lizard, May,” Peter reminded her, “But yeah, either that or he’s at least working with whoever did. I mean, I’m pretty sure Mrs. McClursky would have mentioned a green goblin breaking into our apartment.”

“It’s possible your neighbor wasn’t there to see anything,” Steve suggested with a shrug.

May paused in her temple rubbing and glared. “That woman sees everything. Trust me.”

They began to compile a list of every employee Oscorp had ever even thought about hiring. It was a long list, one that was drastically whittled down when they remembered just how smart someone would have to be to genetically engineer a chemical attack towards part of a single individual’s DNA.

Then there was the question of motive.

“Why would our green guy want to go after the kid? Where’s the benefit?”

That just opened up an entirely different set of questions, ones they still didn’t have answers to. F.R.I.D.A.Y still couldn’t find any video evidence of the goblin roaming the city, making Peter even more thankful for his friends and their incessant need to ensure he wasn’t constantly running into danger.

He had to keep reminding himself that they saw it too.

But eventually, they hit a dead end. Short of Tony calling up Norman Osborn and asking if any of his scientists wanted Peter dead, there wasn’t a lot they could do, other than wait.

At least, that’s what Peter was told.

“That’s a load of bullshit,” MJ declared later that night. “You and I both know Stark is hacking Oscorp as we speak.”

“Oh, I know.” Peter laid his head back, stole one of Ned’s gummy bears, and tried not to feel like he was being sequestered to the kid’s table. It wasn’t the first time Tony left him out of the loop. “It’s his way of trying to keep me safe.”

Which was more bullshit, but whatever. Peter wasn’t going to argue, not if it might mean getting locked back in the Hulk Tank, his suit taken away with a promise that he could have it back when the bad man was gone.

Other than being shut out of the investigation, life went on as usual. Peter still patrolled as Spider-Man, though now with a strict curfew and the promise that Karen was to notify F.R.I.D.A.Y the second she suspected trouble. MJ and Ned still came around, though they tended to stay more indoors. This wasn’t as big of a bummer as it could have been, mostly because Peter and May continued to live in the tower, despite their apartment building having long been cleared.

“It’s just for my peace of mind,” Tony explained. “Until we find out exactly who’s after you, I think it’d be best if you had a little extra security. You’re only gonna get that here.”

But Tony didn’t have to convince Peter, because he was all for it. Not only could he sleep without having to worry about a masked figure sneaking in and trying to kill him, he also didn’t have to worry about May.

But that weekend turned into a week, and then another, and before long they were approaching their third week of summer vacation and the end of May’s patience.

“We can’t live here forever, Tony. What if you never find the guy?”

“It’s not like there’s an expiration date on the guest rooms, May. And you can’t honestly tell me you’re comfortable going back to that apartment knowing that that thing’s still out there.”

And she wasn’t which was why they were still camping out in a pair of guest rooms that were bigger than their apartment. But May was right, they couldn’t go on like they were forever. She waited until that third week and then put her foot down. She was going back to the community center to help. Yes, it could run without her, but it ran so much better with her.

Besides, she still had her security detail, and now that Peter was officially back on Spider-Man duty, he no longer needed Happy following him around.

Peter wasn’t sure which of them was happier with that, but Happy wasted no time in accepting Tony’s invite to tag along with May to the community center after work in order to give her other guard a break.

And thus, began a new routine. The first part of the day would vary. Sometimes Peter would hang out with his friends, sometimes he’d work in the lab, other’s he’d go out on patrol. More than once, he’d just sleep until noon because he could.

The end of the day was always more structured. Circumstances willing, Peter always tried to find his way to the community center, to help his aunt close it down for the night. Sometimes he’d arrive in time to help stack chairs or file paperwork, other times he’d arrive just in time to see Happy pull the car around while May locked the doors.

The community center wasn’t anything extravagant, but then again, anything that ran on tax-dollars and donations rarely was. But Peter had practically grown up there. Way back when, it was just a casual thing, something May did on occasion, but after Ben died, it became something more, a way for her to distract from the fact that something was missing.

She organized fundraisers and solicited donations. Somehow she got tasked with scheduling and keeping track of what organization had reserved the activities room and when. Peter had always found that surprising, mostly because May had never been what people would call organized, but somehow she made it work, so much so that she eventually found herself with an actual office and a name plate on the door that said “Deputy Director”.

It was about as fancy as you could get in Queens, which wasn’t very fancy at all.

But May loved it, so Peter did too, ugly old building and all.

And it was old, though maybe not as ugly as it used to be, thanks to May. It was only two stories tall, made of faded orange brick on the outside and cheap threadbare carpet and linoleum on the inside. And while the back entrance usually smelled of week-old garbage and burnt diesel, the front had colorful posters and potted plants in the windows, trying their best to be as welcoming as possible.

But it also had a third entrance, sort of. There was another door on the roof, which was pretty handy for those nights Peter would show up as Spider-Man. May had long ago made certain that Peter had a key to the rooftop door. The hold-latch on the door was notorious for slipping and slamming shut, subsequently stranding anyone unlucky enough to have ventured up top without a key and no way of getting back down, something ten-year-old Peter had learned the hard way.

It was a well-known problem, something all frequent visitors eventually learned, and seeing how there were only three keys in existence, two of which were in a Parker’s possession, Peter felt pretty confident slipping inside on those nights he hadn’t had time to change out of his suit, like now.

It was late, but a quick text to May let Peter know that he still had time to help if he hurried. He’d had a busy night, two muggings, one would-be car theft, and a pair of confused and lost German tourists.

There was a little mishap at some point, with the muggers not the tourists, which ended with Peter crawling his way out of a dumpster. It didn’t really matter who was to blame about Peter falling into the dumpster, but the important point to remember was that he didn’t get shot and Bad Guys number two and three of the night were going to jail.

Peter tried to dust off what he hoped was nothing more than wet coffee grounds, tightened his hand around his backpack strap, and dropped down onto the darkened roof of the community center. The door immediately opened to a darkened stairwell, something that screamed potential lawsuit and was probably more to blame for the OUT-OF-ORDER sign at the bottom of the stairs than the actual broken door.

Peter used the light from his phone to pull off the dirty suit and pull on the change of clean, albeit wrinkled clothes he had stuffed in the bottom of his bag.

“Parker, is that you?”

Peter rolled his eyes and grabbed his shoes. “What would you do if it wasn’t me, Happy?”

“Probably shoot you,” Happy called up the stairs. “It’s why I carry the gun.”

 “I’m pretty sure that’s why you shouldn’t carry a gun.” Peter made his way down and sat on the bottom step so he could pull on his shoes. “D’you order dinner yet?”

Happy hefted a large cardboard box with the words “disposable cups” written on the side onto one of the nearby tables and shook his head. “Tony said he was gonna order pizza tonight.”

“Did you remind him—”

“He’s met you, kid. He knows to get stuffed crust.”

“He forgot last time.”

“Pepper ordered it last time. She doesn’t like you as much.”

“Lies. She said I’m adorable.”

“You’re a tiny orphan. It’d be a PR nightmare if she said otherwise.”

“Happy?”

“Yeah?”

“You’re an asshole.”

“Shut up and go help your aunt with the chairs.”

 Peter grabbed his bag and took off to find May, but not before Happy called out “You stink, by the way!”

It could have just been a parting shot, a lame attempt for Happy to get in the last word in their familiar banter, but apparently it was true, because no sooner had Peter walked up to his aunt to give her a loving kiss on the cheek did she wrinkle her nose.

“I love you. You know this, but you smell like a gorilla’s sweaty arm pit.” She placed two fingers on the center of his chest and gently pushed him away. “Why don’t you go take a shower? Huh? I can finish up here, and then we can all go home. Happy said Tony was ordering pizza.”

“You wound me, May.” Peter tried to act offended, but he had a nose. He knew he stunk.

May just pinched her nose and gave him another shove. “I’m about to wound you, if you don’t back away.”

Peter laughed, grabbed his backpack, and made his way to the communal showers near the gym. The majority of the building’s lights had been turned off, so Peter made his way in the dark, working off of memory and the little bit of lights that filtered in through the windows or the emergency exit signs.

The showers didn’t really have a door, just a series of corners, a little three turn maze made of cinder blocks and lead paint at the end of a long, dark hall that hid the room from the rest of the building. Peter hated the showers, not just because they always smelled of used soap and mold, or because they looked like something out of that old Stephen King movie about evil clowns.

No Peter hated how open they were. It wasn’t about modesty, or at least, it wasn’t entirely. Yeah, he hated the idea of using them when they were crowded, would rather have walked home covered in sweat and smelling like swamp ass than strip down in a room full of strangers, but that wasn’t the issue, because he never used them unless he was alone.

No the problem was the overwhelming sense of vulnerability.

It was all too wide open, no stalls, nowhere to hide. Just a series of shower heads sticking out of a concrete wall, some leaking, others rigged not to with a wad of duct tape.

It was unnerving, and even after six years, Peter still felt that same sense of unease as he dropped his bag on the bench and began pulling off his clothes.

None of the showers faced the door, which meant that Peter’s back was exposed, another reason he hated it.

He grabbed the bottle of body wash May always kept in her desk drawer just for him and stepped up to the shower head furthest from the door. He stood to the side, turned it on, and waited for the water to warm.

It didn’t take long. That was one thing Peter had to admit about the community center, yeah it was old and creepy as hell after hours, but it had amazing water pressure and a reliable heat source.

He showered, washed his hair, scrubbed under his arms and gently ran his hand over the bruise that was not quite ready to heal on his left thigh, another souvenir from his trip in the dumpster.

Once he was sure he no longer smelled like the backside of a sweaty gorilla, thanks May, he toweled off and turned to get dressed.

He’d pulled on his underwear and his jeans and was just reaching for his shirt when he felt a sharp tingle run up his back, almost like someone had taken their nail and scraped it along his spine. The little hairs on his arm stood at attention and the overwhelming sense of vulnerability peaked until it was near debilitating.

He dropped down onto the bench, back to the wall and stared out into the empty room. He watched the doorway, half expecting to see a green tinged, bulbous eyed sneer round the corner.

But nothing happened. He was alone.

Except for the steady drip drip drip of the showers and the slow miasma of steam wafting through the room, nothing moved. Nothing made a sound.

Peter pulled on his shirt, tucked his socks into his shoes, grabbed his bag, and began to make his way back towards his aunt and Happy.

There was about a twenty degree difference between the showers and the rest of the building. The second Peter rounded the corner into the hall, the little hairs on his arm, which were already raised, stood rigid. His bare feet left damp footprints on the linoleum as he quickened his pace.

He couldn’t hear anyone. Which would have put him on alert even without his Spidey sense. He should hear Happy grumbling, May laughing. But except for the steady whir of the air conditioner and the sound of the city sneaking in from outside, the building was quiet.

The light was still on in the activities room. It poured into the darkened hallway, peaking out around the edges of the double doors, looking every bit the scene from a cheesy horror film. Peter had never wanted to tell a light to fuck off before, but weirder things had happened.

He adjusted his backpack on his shoulder and slowly pushed the door open. It swung closed behind him, the hinges squeaking and disrupting the quiet of the room.

May was sitting at one of the tables, her hands in front of her, palms down, fingers pressing into the tabletop so hard the tips of her fingers turned white.

Happy was nowhere to be seen, but May wasn’t alone. Sitting across from her, leaned back in one of the metal folding chairs was a man who Peter thought he’d never meet in person.

He was middle-aged, a little older than Tony, thick, wavy hair, combed back so that it highlighted the little touch of grey starting to grow at the temples. He was clean shaven with dark, heavy lidded eyes and dressed in a three piece suit that looked out of place in a room full of plastic folding tables and handmade flyers reminding people about G.E.D services and afterschool youth groups.

Peter tightened his grip on his shoes and just stared, eyes going back and forth between his aunt and the man who was slowly starting to smile.

“Hello, Mr. Parker,” the man greeted. “I take it from the gob smacked look on your face that you know who I am?”

And Peter did. Even though he’d never met him, Peter would recognize him anywhere. He licked his lips, gave a nervous swallow, and said, “Norman Osborn.”

Osborn gave a satisfying nod, then looked to May before turning back to Peter. “If you’re looking for Mr. Hogan, I’m afraid he’s unavailable at the moment.”

Peter tried not to show just how much that statement scared him. “What are you doing here?”

Osborn smirked and jutted his jaw to the side, knuckles rapping twice on the cheap tabletop. “I guess hanging out with the famous Tony Stark has cured you of any immature, star-stuck stupidity.”

“That or I’m just not easily impressed.”

“I see Stark’s sense of humor is contagious as well.”

“Why are you here, Mr. Osborn?”

“I want to ask a favor. Just a little something.”

Peter looked to May. Her eyes were wide and she was very slowly, oh so subtle shaking her head, doing her best to silently plead with Peter not to do whatever Osborn was about to ask.

Peter looked back at Osborn. “What favor?”

Osborn smiled and reached into his pocket. “I don’t want you to fight back.”

There was a click and then a hiss and then the edges of the room began to blur, or at least that’s what it looked like to Peter. He felt that familiar tingle up the length of his spine, felt a sharp stab of pain in his stomach, and then he smelt it—that sickly sweet smell that reminded him of floor cleaner and overly ripe fruit.

It took May screaming, “Peter, run!” for him to realize that Osborn had somehow released a gas that was quickly filling the room.

Peter let his Spidey sense take control, giving in to the sensation and letting it control his instincts.  He dropped his bag and his shoes, leapt forward and pushed Osborn, who was in the process of pulling on a small gas mask. The man fell back with a scream, the metal chair clattering against the floor as Osborn crashed to the ground.

Peter jumped over the table, grabbed May’s arm and started to run. “Where’s Happy?”

“I don’t know!” she screamed, following Peter through the double doors and out into the dark hallway. “He went to the kitchen to put away the last box and never came back.”

Her voice was starting to sound funny, sort of wobbly. At first Peter thought it was because she was trying not to cry, but then the walls began to move, the posters and windows almost pulsing in tempo with the wobbles, the highs and lows of her cries.

“Come on,” he urged, pulling harder than he probably should. He could apologize later, they needed to leave.

They weren’t moving fast enough, and with each step, each pulse of the walls, Peter felt like they were slowing down. “May…” he groaned, falling to the ground. He let go of May’s arm and reached for the wall, trying to pull himself back up, but it wasn’t happening.

“Peter!” May screamed. She grabbed his elbow and pulled. “Come on, baby. Get up! Get up!”

But Peter couldn’t. He turned, saw Osborn emerging from the double doors framed in that goddamned light. The mask definitely did not help the horror show cliché.

“May, you gotta go,” Peter slurred. He tried to shake his arm free and push her towards the door, but she was making it difficult. She was still pulling on his elbow, trying to get him to stand back up, begging him to keep running, put Peter couldn’t move.

He tried to tell her to run, to go get help, but all he managed to say was a whispered “Tony.”

It didn’t matter though, because May fell to her knees, her eyes blinking slowly as she pulled on the sleeve of Peter’s shirt, her movements getting slower and slower.

“It’s almost touching,” Osborn declared just as May collapsed, her head falling forward to rest on Peter’s chest. He stepped forward and nudged May’s limp arm with his leather shoe.

His voice was muffled by the mask and Peter was finding it harder and harder to focus, but he heard Osborn sigh before he knelt down and reached forward. He was almost gentle in the way he pushed May’s hair aside, tucking it over her shoulder and exposing her face. “She really loves you doesn’t she?” he asked.

Peter barely heard it. He wanted to push Osborn’s hand away, to yell at him and tell him to get his hands off of her.

But he still couldn’t move.

Osborn gave another sigh and looked at his watch. “You’re stronger than I thought.” He reached forward and placed two fingers on Peter’s throat, feeling for his pulse. “You should have passed out by now.”

Peter tried to turn his head, to shove off Osborn’s hand, but it didn’t work. His head just fell to the side, his ear falling to rest on Osborn’s wrist.

Osborn made a sound that was either a laugh or an annoyed grunt before reaching into the inner pocket of his jacket. He pulled out something that made Peter think of his old asthma inhaler. It was solid white with a silver canister and looked to be made of plastic. Before Peter could wonder what the hell Osborn planned to do with it, Osborn reached for Peter’s hand, grabbed onto his middle finger and wrenched it back until it made a crunchy snapping sound.

Peter might not have been able to talk, but he could still scream. It was strained and almost garbled, sounding more like a moaning sob, but it got the point across—Peter was in pain.

As soon as Peter cried out, Osborn dropped Peter’s hand and pushed the inhaler right up to Peter’s face, clacking the plastic against his teeth. When the cry died out, and Peter braced himself to inhale, Osborn pressed down on the small canister, dispensing more of that sickly sweet gas.

Peter had just enough time to register May’s body being pushed out of his lap before he blacked out.

Chapter Text

Despite it recently having happened more times than he could count, Peter still wasn’t used to waking up in a strange place with no memory of how he had gotten there.

Unlike before, though, this time was a little slower. It took a moment for things to sort themselves out in Peter’s head, to align with reality so that he could register what was happening.

He had a massive headache, his mouth so dry that his tongue was almost glued to the roof of his mouth. His eyes burned, his nose was running, and he had a taste in his mouth that threatened to send his gag reflex into overdrive.

On top of it all, his Spidey sense was acting up again. It was there, almost constantly present like it had been weeks before, but it was different now. Slower. Where it usually was a tingle, a sharp buzzing that radiated out from his spine and the back of his head, this was softer, almost lazy. It made Peter feel like there was something moving along his limbs, like warm water flowing back and forth, making tiny waves just beneath his skin.

It was unnerving.

It didn’t take a lot to recognize that he’d been drugged. He remembered the gas, the way the walls in the community center had warped, and the way May’s voice had distorted into something almost unrecognizable.

He remembered Osborn breaking his finger before dosing him with more of that gas.

Peter tried to move his right hand. There was pain, it wanted to be sharp, but it just trolled along the length of his hand, stopping around his wrist in something that imitated a dull throb.

Definitely drugged.

Peter blinked his burning eyes and looked around. He was lying on an exam table, similar to the one back at the tower, only Peter knew that wasn’t where he was. The tower’s infirmary was always well-lit and somewhat comfortable. It was unfortunately familiar.

This place was darker, the only light being directly over his head, like a spotlight or those annoyingly bright lamps dentists used to shine down on your mouth while they complained about flossing.

Peter groaned and turned his head, trying to see something other than lights and shadows. To his right was nothing but dark walls, tables pushed back with small boxes of varying sizes stacked haphazardly amongst overfilled binders and darkened computer screens.

When he turned to his left, however, he realized he wasn’t alone. Norman Osborn was sitting in a chair, one leg crossed over the other as he stared at Peter, expression almost impatient.

“You were out longer than I expected.”

Peter squinted his eyes, tried to look past Osborn into the shadows behind him, to see if there was anyone else, but all he could make out was blurred shapes and more darkness. “Where’s May?”

“Not here, but don’t worry. She’s fine.” Osborn unfolded his legs and leaned forward. “Can you move?”

Peter frowned. “What?”

Osborn furrowed his brow and pointed a tired finger towards Peter’s body. Peter looked down to find a strap laid tightly across his chest, holding him down and securing him to the gurney. He flexed his hand again, ignored the dull pain of his broken finger and pulled, only to find his wrist similarly restrained.

Peter thought back to the ambulance ride, to the wide-eyed look of surprise from the well-meaning paramedic when he pulled the restraints from the gurney.

He tried to do it again, but to no avail. He couldn’t make them budge.

“I was wondering if it would hold you,” Osborn admitted, standing and adjusting the strap over Peter’s chest. “I’ve watched all of your videos, you know. The ones on YouTube?”

Peter wasn’t sure if that was supposed to be a compliment or not. Osborn didn’t give him a chance to ask.

“I knew the moment I saw you catch that bus, what you were.” Osborn placed his hands on either side of Peter’s neck and leaned over him, brow furrowed as he studied Peter’s face. “I knew you were one of mine.”

“Not yours,” Peter informed him, albeit somewhat slurred.

Osborn just smiled. “Yeah, you are. Stark might have made the suits, but I made you.” He stepped away from Peter and walked into the shadows only to return a moment later holding a small, glass jar.

Peter’s eyes were still burning, his vision still blurring in and out, but when Osborn held the jar right above Peter’s chin, he was able to see what was inside.

It was a spider. Dead, with its legs curled in, its once brightly colored abdomen dulled until it was a pale imitation of the bright red it used to be.

“Do you recognize it, Mr. Parker?” Osborn asked, turning the jar and tilting it so that the light hit it just so. “They found it outside its habitat, dead on the floor beneath the lab table. Five months later, there’s a video of a man in Queens stopping a bus with his bare hands, the comment section littered with mentions of a Spider-Man.”

Osborn trailed off near the end, eyes still lingering on the dead spider as it slid from one side of the jar to the next. He turned and gently set it on a side table before turning back to Peter. “Didn’t take a genius to put two and two together. My scientists made that spider, that spider gave you your powers, ergo, I made you who you are.”

Peter tried pulling on the restraints again. He froze when he heard a sound like metal straining. Osborn heard it too, because he frowned and rechecked the restraints.

Peter licked his lips, tried to find some moisture that would make it easier to talk. It didn’t help. “How’d you know it was me?”

Osborn scoffed, his face falling into an annoyed sneer. “I didn’t at first.” He walked back into the shadows only to drag a tray towards the exam table. He grabbed a set of rubber gloves and began pulling them on. “We checked the cameras, checked the logs, but the problem was we didn’t know exactly when the specimen had escaped its enclosure. Combine that with the large number of people that had entered the building…we had no way of narrowing it down.”

He pulled the gloves until they were tight and reached for a syringe and a small vial full of something clear. “I’m not going to lie, I did not expect you to be a kid.” He filled the syringe, depressed the plunger just enough to get the air out and turned to Peter.

For just a moment, Peter expected Osborn to stab him in the neck, but before Peter could panic too much, Osborn twisted the needle off and attached the syringe to something lying next to Peter’s shoulder.

“You’re what, sixteen now?” Osborn asked, slowly emptying the syringe. “So you would have been fourteen when you were bitten.”

Peter felt a slight tug, a small but sharp pain on his neck a few inches above his shoulder, and then an almost ice cold sensation flowing through his veins. He tried not to freak out when he realized that Osborn had attached an IV to his neck.

“Did you get sick?” Osborn asked, dropping the now empty syringe onto the tray. “After the bite?”

Peter felt a little dizzy, kind of woozy as the coldness continued to spread. He nodded his head and breathed a tired, “yeah.”

“How’d you keep it a secret?” Osborn asked, once again placing his hands on either side of Peter’s neck and leaning over him, waiting for the answer.

“Didn’t,” Peter told him. His tongue suddenly felt like it weighed ten pounds. He rubbed it along the roof of his mouth and gave his lips another lick. “Took me to hospital.”

That obviously wasn’t what Osborn had expected. “And the doctors didn’t find anything odd?”

“Thought it was a weird flu, a virus,” Peter explained. “Got better.”

Osborn stepped back, sneering as he shook his head. “Idiots.” He took a calming breath, turned back to Peter. “How do you feel?” He reached forward and pulled back one of Peter’s eyelids.

“Weird.” Peter tried to lick his lips again. “What was that?”

“Sedative,” Osborn admitted. He gave the restraint on Peter’s wrist a sharp pull. “Try pulling these again.”

Peter tried to lift his head to look at his hand, but gravity wasn’t cooperating. The sedative might be hitting him slowly, but it was definitely hitting him. “What?”

Osborn just smirked, clearly satisfied. “Any hallucinations?”

Peter blinked and turned his head. He felt dizzy and could see little lights dancing across his vision, but he was almost certain that had more to do with the overhead spotlight threatening to blind him than with any hallucinations. “Don’t think so.”

“Good.” Osborn grabbed Peter’s chin and turned his head to face him and the annoyingly bright light. “I altered the formula a bit more. Let me know if you start seeing or hearing anything.”

“You made the gas?”

Osborn nodded as he felt Peter’s pulse before stepping away. “I wasn’t sure how it would affect you. I only had the spider’s genome to work with, and I could only guess at what it had done to yours.”

Peter couldn’t do anything more than watch as Osborn rearranged a few tools on the tray. There wasn’t really anything that looked super terrifying, just a few more syringes, needles included, and what looked like a scalpel still in its sterilized packaging.

“What are you going to do?” Peter asked.

Osborn smirked. “Science,” he said, looking up from the tool strewn tray. Peter’s fear must have shown, because Osborn chuckled. “Don’t worry. I assure you I’m quite good at it.”

He stepped back into the shadows and started digging through the boxes, going from one to the other until he found what he was looking for. “I had planned to have you before now, but you weren’t exactly making it easy. And then Stark had to go and lock you away. I had hoped the gas would have a stronger effect on you.” He returned to the tray and started laying out little test tubes each with different colored caps.  “I suppose you’re still more human than you are spider.”

“Trust me,” Peter said, “The effect was strong enough.” There was a small clank and then a whirring noise, signaling that the air conditioner had just kicked on. Peter felt the cool air hit his skin. He shivered and closed his eyes. “You still haven’t explained how you knew it was me.”

Peter heard something rattle, something else that sounded like a plastic wrapper being torn open. He kept his eyes shut.

“The bus was a test,” Osborn began. “See, I thought it might be you, but I still needed proof. You had the same build as Spider-Man, the same height and stature, you had been to Oscorp within the timeframe of the spider escaping and had since acquired an internship with Stark Industries, so you had access to the Avengers, to Stark and his ridiculous suits. But I needed actual confirmation.”

Peter felt another pull on the IV in his neck and opened his eyes to see Osborn drawing blood into one of the tubes.

“The bus attack gave me that,” Osborn continued, brow furrowed as he switched out the now full tube for an empty one. “Why else would Tony Stark intervene? And when I learned the CDC had no record of you? That your name wasn’t listed among the victims? Well, it was like all my questions had been answered. Or most of them. That bite should have killed you, but instead, it made you inhuman, altered your DNA until you were—something more.” He held up the blood filled tube to the light and frowned, like he had expected it to look different somehow.

“Tell me, Peter, didn’t you ever wonder what that spider did to you? Why it gave you powers?”

Peter felt another shiver, tried to pull on his wrist again, but the most he could manage was a lazy twist. “There were radioactive warnings on the spider tank,” Peter remembered aloud. “I just figured its venom was radioactive, and that’s how it happened. Like the Hulk.”

Osborn set the blood filled tube onto the tray and leveled Peter with a look of dismay. “You’re telling me you saw the warning signs and still proceeded to trespass?”

“I was fourteen,” Peter defended, “I just wanted a picture. It’s not like I’m the one who opened the tank.”

“Age does not excuse stupidity.” Osborn grabbed the blood samples and walked back to the shadows. There was a clank then a click and then the sound of a centrifuge spinning blended with the whir of the air conditioner. “But you’re only partially correct. The spiders had become radioactive, to a degree.”

Osborn came back over and sat down. He pulled off the rubber gloves, tossed them aside and stared at the floor, eyes almost unfocused. “Arachnids are one of the few species that can handle OZ without their neural systems breaking down.”

Peter felt his Spidey sense stir, the little waves picking up speed. “What’s OZ? Is that what’s in the gas?”

Osborn was still focused on the floor, but he smiled. “OZ is my brain child,” he said, almost reverently. “It’s the holy grail of science, my entire life’s work brought to fruition. And no, the gases are just a means to an end, though I am proud of them, just not…as proud.”

Peter had never heard of OZ. If it was supposed to be as big a deal as Osborn was making it out to be… “Why haven’t I heard of it before?”

“You have,” Osborn said, “Sort of. Another version of it, anyway.” He leaned back in his chair, propped his ankle on his knee and folded his hands in his lap. “Do you know who Steve Rogers was before he was Captain America?”

Peter stopped trying to twist his wrist out of the restraint and frowned. “What do you mean? He was a soldier—”

“He was a nobody,” Osborn cut in. “A skinny little wimp with enough health issues that he was probably one bad cold away from a premature grave. But look at him now. The prime example of a human specimen. Practically perfect.”

Peter could only imagine the face Tony would make if he had heard that, could practically see the epic eye-roll. He almost did it himself, except the sedative was starting to mess with his stomach. He swallowed, groaned, and tried to fight the urge to vomit.

Osborn didn’t seem to care about Peter’s distress, however, because he simply carried on, his eyes almost wild with something like excitement. “That serum that the government used back then, it was a precursor to OZ, the grandfather that started it all.”

“You’re trying to build a new super soldier serum.”

“I’m trying to build a better world.” Osborn smiled and took a step towards the exam table. “And there’s no try, Peter. I succeeded, obviously, or else you’d be dead.”

“You gave the spider OZ?”

Osborn nodded. “And then it bit you. I’m not going to lie, it didn’t work out the way I had envisioned, but you are the only human to both survive the inoculation and maintain your powers.”

It took Peter a moment to register just what that meant. “There are others?”

Osborn’s eyes turned hard and he stared at Peter. Eventually, he sighed as he crossed his arms and said, “In a manner of speaking. They’re not what I would call a success. Not like you, Peter.”

Peter frowned as another puzzle piece fell into place. “The goblin.”

Osborn laughed then, loud and sharp, startling Peter. “The green goblin. I almost forgot that’s what you’d called it.”

“He was one of the others? Another test subject?”

“You could say that.”

“Who is he?”

Osborn narrowed his eyes, bit his bottom lip and once again stared, rather creepily, at Peter like he was trying to decide whether or not he wanted to answer and let Peter in on a secret. After a few awkwardly tense moments, he stood up and walked back into the shadows.

When he returned, he was carrying something in his hand. It was long and cylindrical and reminded Peter of Ben’s old EpiPen he used to carry around.

Osborn rolled up his sleeve, grabbed the injector, and stuck it to his bicep about an inch above his elbow. He looked up, caught Peter’s eye, and grinned before pressing the button on the end, injecting whatever was inside right into his arm.

Peter didn’t know what to expect, but he knew it wasn’t this.

At first, nothing happened. Osborn simply tossed the used injector onto the tray and took a deep breath, like he was preparing for something.

Then his mouth snapped shut, the muscles along his jaw flexed as he grit his teeth. He fell to the floor, shoulders bowing, head dropped down as he panted, fingers clawing at the ground. Peter could hear Osborn’s nails scrape along the floor as his groans and gasps elongated into agonized screams.

“Mr. Osborn?” Peter tried pulling on his restraints again, but it was like his muscles refused to coordinate. “Are you okay?”

But Osborn didn’t answer. His arms gave out and he collapsed, face pressed onto the tile as he spasmed, legs twitching and back arching.

Peter could do nothing more than lean towards the edge and watch in horror as Osborn’s skin began to take on a muddied green hue, his ears and nose elongated, and his eyes bulged as though they were about to pop out of his skull.

“Osborn!”

The cries and groans tapered off, dying down into a pain filled moan as Osborn climbed to his feet.

Except it wasn’t Osborn anymore.

It was the green goblin staring at Peter with the same pissed off sneer as before.

“Holy shit,” Peter whispered. He felt like his eyes were probably bulging as much as the creature’s—as Osborn’s.

Because Norman Osborn was the creature, he was the green goblin.

Osborn popped his neck, fixed his shirt collar, and took a step towards Peter.

Peter just stared. “I think I’m hallucinating again.”

“I assure you, you’re not.” And holy shit, that was Osborn’s voice coming out of the goblin’s mouth.

Peter pulled at the restraints again, but Osborn just clicked his tongue and shook his head. “You’re just going to hurt yourself if you keep that up. But I guess it wouldn’t matter would it? You heal fast. That’s one of your abilities?”

“You’re the green goblin.” Peter gasped, still pulling on the restraints despite Osborn placing his clawed hand over his and squeezing.

“You’re not the only one with surprises,” Osborn smirked.

Peter looked to the discarded injector. “What was that stuff?”

“OZ.”

“The same stuff that was in the spider?! That’s in me?!” Peter all but screamed. He looked at Osborn’s yellow eyes, the way his teeth were just a little more pointed than they should be. “I could have turned into a goblin?!”

“Hardly,” Osborn sneered. “We tried to replicate what happened to you, but it was failure after failure. We tried integrating spider venom, but it never took. The specimens kept dying, and we were forced to move on.”

“What did you…I mean—” Peter licked his lips nervously. “What did you use instead, that made you—”

“That made me look like this?” Osborn asked, eyes narrowing as he curled his claw tipped fingers into fists. “Does it matter? All that’s important is knowing it didn’t work. I wanted another Captain America, another Spider-Man. Instead, I’m left with the Green Goblin,” Osborn spat. “Oh, I’m strong now, but only in this form. And it doesn’t last.”

He turned to the tray and grabbed the scalpel.

Peter couldn’t help the panic now. “Wait, wait! What are you going to do?”

“I told you, science.” Osborn ripped open the protective plastic and slid the scalpel out with practiced ease. “I want to know why you were so special. Why you survived, why you were able to keep your powers even after the serum wore off? I want to know what was so unique about you that you’re the closest science has come to replicating Captain America?”

This was all too much. Peter hadn’t done anything. He followed the rules, he’d stopped hiding things, he’d called and told Tony when something was wrong. He didn’t try to fix it all himself.

It wasn’t fair. This shouldn’t be happening.

Peter couldn’t think straight. He could feel his heart beating, knew that if he could look at his chest, he’d see it thumping beneath his t-shirt. He could hear the blood rushing in his ears, drowning out the whir of the air conditioner and the uneven spinning of the centrifuge.

Osborn stood over him, his deformed head partially blocking the spotlight above them.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, just wait,” Peter begged. “Okay? Just wait!”

Osborn was a greyish black blob with the light behind him. He tilted his head to the side. “Wait for what?”

Peter didn’t know. Wait until help arrived, until the drugs and gas wore off so he could defend himself. He decided to go with the one thing that had been playing on his mind since the whole nightmare began. “Is my aunt really okay?”

“That’s what you’re worried about?” Osborn snapped.

“I just—she will have told Mr. Stark by now. He’ll know it’s you, you don’t want to do this. Okay?” Peter licked his lips again and pulled on the restraints. “He’ll come after you.”

“Oh I know. I figured it was only a matter of time before Stark figured it all out when I noticed he’d been hacking into Oscorp’s systems. I decided to get ahead of the curve, take initiative and take you while I still had a chance.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“I told you already.”

“Please, I don’t…if I did someth—"

“Shut up! This is about so much more than you and your silly costumes and ridiculous need to stop bike thefts and escort old ladies across the street. Don’t you see what you are? You have—” Osborn closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, clearly trying to calm his nerves. “We’ve been working for years, testing everything from single celled organisms to primates, trying to improve strength, dexterity, intelligence, prolong life.

“Captain America was just the beginning. I mean, a man with super strength who can survive buried in the ice for seventy years without aging a day? Scientists the world over have been working on that miracle cure, on stopping death and improving the human condition. Oscorp was close, I knew we were, but we were still decades away from human testing, and then one day, some fourteen year old asshole who couldn’t follow directions stumbled into one of my labs and fast-forwarded years of research with one reckless, irresponsible move, and he just disappears. Decides to take my life’s work and play dress up so he can pretend to be an Avenger.”

Osborn leaned in. He was so close that Peter could smell his breath and feel spit fly from his mouth as he hissed in anger. “You should have come to me the second you were bitten. You should have come crawling, begging for my help when you started to get sick, but no. You decide to throw away years of research, and fuck all what you could mean for science and medicine, for the future of humanity, you wanted to play superhero.”

Osborn stepped away, his shoulders visibly shaking in anger. “But not anymore,” he said, much more calmly than before. “Now, you’re my lab rat.” And he spun around, lifted the scalpel, and brought it down on Peter’s hand.

And that was only the beginning.

Peter felt like Alice in Wonderland after she fell down the damn rabbit hole. It was just like before.

There were more shifts, blank spaces of time that Peter couldn’t remember. He was actually glad for those, if he were honest, on a selfish level. The way his body hurt, he didn’t want to remember what had happened.

There were more hallucinations too. Whatever adjustments Osborn had made to the gas, it wasn’t enough, because Peter was still seeing things that weren’t there.

Sometimes he saw Osborn himself, or a demented version of him. He was still the goblin, but his features were more distorted, his claws longer, his teeth sharper, stained black and yellow as he leaned over Peter’s prone form.

Peter tried to keep track of what was real and what wasn’t. Sometimes it was harder than it should have been, other times it was depressingly easy.

Imaginary Osborn would hiss and sneer as he cut into Peter’s chest, threatening to dissect his heart. Real Osborn would roll his eyes when Peter asked to go to the bathroom before grabbing a plastic bottle and humiliating Peter to no end by holding it in place while Peter peed.

There was no set pattern, no way of knowing when the hallucinations would take hold. Peter just had to endure them.

There were more drugs, more testing of the restraints every few hours. At one point, Osborn leaned over and pulled back Peter’s eyelid. “Are you familiar with the vitreous humor, Mr. Parker?” he asked, “It’s the jelly part of the eyeball. Sometimes it can tell us more than a simple blood test.”

Peter watched in horror as Osborn reached behind him and grabbed a syringe with a long, thin needle.

“This is another hallucination, right?” Peter asked, eyes following the needle. “This isn’t real. You’re not—you won’t do that, right?”

“Cross your heart and hope to die?” Osborn sang, “Stick a needle in your eye?”

Peter didn’t know if it was real or not, because he looked away from Osborn and the needle and glanced at the blinding spotlight above him. When he looked away, he was standing in Tony’s kitchen, watching as the man sliced bananas and tossed them into a blender.

“Tony?” Peter gasped, before dropping to his knees.

Tony looked up and frowned. “Hey, hey, hey. Why are you crying?” He walked around the counter and knelt down next to Peter.

“Because this isn’t real.”

“Peter…”

“And I don’t wanna go back.”

Tony reached forward, grabbed the back of Peter’s neck and pulled Peter to him, holding him against his chest as he rubbed his hand up and down Peter’s back. “It’s gonna be okay. You don’t have to go anywhere.”

“Yes, I do,” Peter cried, snot and tears soaking into Tony’s shirt. “I’m already there.”

“Kid, you gotta spell it out for me, because I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Peter closed his eyes and cried harder when the feeling of Tony’s arms disappeared. He could no longer feel a comforting hand rubbing soothing circles on his back, but he could feel the restraints holding him against the table, wrapped around his wrist, keeping him in place.

He started shaking and squeezed his eyes shut harder, trying to stop himself from crying, but then someone touched his knuckles, tentatively sliding their hand around until their fingers tangled with his.

“Hey, loser.”

Peter opened his eyes to see MJ standing beside him, stray curls falling out of her low ponytail to dangle over her eyes. “MJ,” Peter hiccupped before choking back a sob.

“You know this is lame, right?” MJ asked, squeezing his hand.

“Totally lame,” Peter agreed. His tears were falling down the sides of his face, pooling in his ears. “But you’re gonna stay, right?”

She didn’t.

Peter wasn’t sure when she left, but at some point when he looked up, it wasn’t MJ leaning over him. It was Osborn. He was no longer the goblin, though his skin still had a greyish green tinge to it.

“You’re you again,” Peter observed.

Osborn glared. “Not all of us are fortunate enough to have our powers last.” He picked up Peter’s hand and turned it over as far as the restraints would allow. Peter knew he was looking at the stab wound, trying to see how much it had healed.

It still hurt when Osborn pushed on it, but the wound had obviously closed. “I wonder if the drugs affect your healing capabilities.”

“You could stop giving them to me and we could see.”

Osborn looked up from Peter’s hand, obviously unimpressed. “Has anyone ever told you that you talk too much?”

“It’s been mentioned.”

“Hmm,” Osborn hummed, and then he moved his focus towards Peter’s fingers. He ran his thumb over the pad of Peter’s ring finger. “How do you stick to things? Is it like a spider? Do you have setules?”

Peter dropped his head back on the table and tried to focus on the ceiling beyond the light. He had wondered the same thing. After an hour spent stuck in his room with his hand seemingly glued to the doorknob, Peter had looked up everything there was to know about Spiders. Setules was one of the first things he had learned about, but there were no little hairs at the ends of his fingers. Just normal, human skin. “I’m just sticky, dude.”

Osborn glared again, but Peter was perfectly fine letting him wonder. Or he was up until Osborn turned and grabbed the scalpel again. “What are you doing?”

“I’m going to examine the skin under a microscope.”

“Can’t you just bring the microscope over here?”

Osborn didn’t answer, he simply lowered the scalpel.

“I don’t have setules, okay?” Peter tried to curl his fingers into a fist, but Osborn had them pinned to the table. “We’ve already tested it, Mr. Stark says it’s like some type of electrostatic force. It’s why I can still climb even in my suit! Come on, please!”

But Osborn wasn’t listening. “If you don’t stop fighting, I’ll just take the entire finger.”

Peter froze, or he tried to. He bit his lip and looked away, but he could still feel it as Osborn slid the scalpel along the tip of his finger.

Peter remembered learning that there were 10,000 nerve endings in each individual digit, which is why it hurt so much when you got a paper cut or stubbed your toe.

This was so much worse than that.

It didn’t take long, no more than thirty seconds, but Peter was covered in a fine layer of sweat when it was all over. As soon as Osborn walked away, Peter lifted his head and tried to look at his finger.

There, right on the pad of his left ring finger was a little square of angry red, no bigger than his finger nail, where his skin used to be.

“I’ve marked the time,” Osborn said, somewhat distractedly as he placed his newest tissue sample into a microscope, “Let’s see how long it takes to heal.”

Peter didn’t respond. He simply closed his eyes and tried to focus on anything else. Maybe if he tried hard enough, he could force a shift. Even an imaginary place was better than here.

But that wasn’t how it worked.

Which was okay, sort of. Not really, but Peter supposed it could have been worse, because not long after fucking skinning his finger, Osborn returned with another syringe.

He hooked it to the IV port. “I think you’ve earned a break,” he said, and Peter agreed.

It took a few minutes for the sedative to really kick in, but when it did, Peter knew right away that it was way stronger than the last one.

His breathing slowed, his limbs loosened until he was all but a rag doll lying on a table. His eyes felt heavy, and Peter was almost relieved at the idea that he was about to pass out. No more demented hallucinations or evil scientists flaying him alive.

He’d forgotten about the nightmares, though.

Peter was used to nightmares. It was a side effect of being a superhero, of watching your uncle die, and burying your parents before you could really grasp the idea of death.

What Peter wasn’t used to, were the drugs and the effects they would have on his dreams.

His dreams were usually fluid, even the nightmares had a sort of predictability to them. Usually.

Now, however, there was no rhyme or reason, no pattern to be followed. His thoughts were disjointed and intangible, gone before he could fully grasp what had happened. He only knew fear and when he woke, gasping and thrashing, it was only with half-spoken echoes in his mind and not a clear memory.

Osborn rushed to him and tried placing something over Peter’s face, but Peter wasn’t having it. He tossed his head from side to side and screamed.

“Get off of me!”

“Relax! It’s just oxygen,” Osborn yelled back. But Peter kept fighting, kept pulling at his restraints and tossing his head.  “Fine,” Osborn snapped, throwing the oxygen mask on the floor. “Go without.”

Peter laid there, gasping, just staring at Osborn. Osborn stared back.

“When this is all over,” Peter began. He was still shaking and he didn’t know if it was from the cold or the nightmare he couldn’t quite remember. “Are you going to let me go?”

Osborn kept his face blank, and passively asked, “Do you want the truth?”

“Yes,” Peter lied.

Osborn inhaled through his nose, and crossed his arms. “You’re smart, Peter. What do you think will happen?”

“I think you’re going to kill me.”

Osborn waited a few moments, just quietly staring, arms still crossed before he said, in a calm and reassuring voice, “Just know that it’ll be for science.”

“You don’t have to do this.” Peter was tired, and he sounded it. “You can take all the samples you want. I won’t fight you.”

Osborn shook his head and turned away. “You’re a lab rat, Parker. And you know what happens to lab rats after they’ve outlived their usefulness.” He sat at a stool near the far wall and started messing with a microscope. “They’re killed and dissected until every last grain of knowledge is pulled from their bodies.” He switched the slides and adjusted the lens. “But I promise it will be quick, painless.”

Osborn ignored him after that, no matter how much Peter begged and pleaded. Eventually, Peter stopped trying.

As it would turn out, shutting up was probably the best thing Peter could do, which was weird, because a quiet Peter usually meant trouble in one form or another. Or so Tony liked to say.

But that was one of the many differences between Tony Stark and Norman Osborne. Yes, they were both brilliant, successful businessman who had made their mark on the world of science, but they didn’t operate the same.

Tony was tactile, always moving and touching something, someone. Whether it be fiddling with tools, or his phone, or dismantling the dishwasher to see why it stopped working and completely voiding the warranty. He would pat people on the back as he walked by, squeeze their shoulder when he was trying to make a point.

Tony paid attention to the people around him.

Osborn did not.

Where Tony liked to talk the entire time he worked, whether to Peter or Rhodey, or one of the many machines he’d created, Osborn preferred silence.

There wasn’t even any music.

So when Peter stopped talking, Osborn seemed to sort of forget he was there until he needed something.

This was good for two reasons. One, it meant the worst thing Peter had to endure was boredom. That and an uncomfortably full bladder, because he was not about to go through that again. And while the first reason was good, the second was even better.

The longer Peter laid there, the clearer his head got. After making sure not to look directly into the light, he noticed his vision was slowly starting to clear, and he could see more than just shadows and boxes. He could see what he guessed were boarded up windows on the far wall and a short set of steps that led to a railing and a heavy looking door.

If he closed his eyes, he realized he could hear better, too. Yeah there was still the annoying whir of the air conditioner and the occasional noise of the equipment Osborn was using at that moment, but Peter could make out other sounds as well. There was an occasional horn that either belonged to a train or a barge. Seeing how Peter could also hear something that sounded like waves sloshing against something heavy, Peter was willing to bet it was the latter.

His Spidey sense was no longer acting up, or he assumed it wasn’t. He couldn’t feel those lazy, warm waves lapping just beneath his skin.

Peter turned his head and craned his neck. Osborn was sitting on the other side of the room, the screen of a laptop lit up his face and reflected in a pair of reading glasses. He still wasn’t paying attention to Peter.

Peter turned his head back around and tried to lift it up as high as he could. He saw that there were two straps, one on across his chest, another over his legs just above his knees. Then there were the ones on his wrists, but if he was right, and please let him be right, they wouldn’t be a problem.

Peter checked again to make sure Osborn wasn’t paying attention. He then closed his eyes, took a deep, slow and calming breath. “You can do this, Peter,” he whispered to himself, the words barely making a sound. “You’ve got this. You’re Spider-Man.”

He took in another breath, in through his nose and out through his mouth, set his jaw and pushed his arms out to the side as fast and as hard as he could.

There was a ripping noise and the unmistakable sound of metal creaking as it bent.

Peter heard Osborn’s chair clatter to the ground as he cursed, but Peter didn’t have time to turn around and look. He grabbed the strap across his chest with his left hand, the one across his legs with his right and pulled.

It wasn’t as easy as it should have been, due to the awkward angle and the fact that the drugs clearly hadn’t completely worked their way out of Peter’s system. But it didn’t matter, he had enough of his strength back to pop the stitching and jump from the table.

That was a lie. It was not that smooth. Peter fell from the table, gravity grabbing him and slamming him to his knees, his hip crashing into the leg of the table in a sharp and painful way.

Before he could get his feet under him to run, he felt a hand grab his shoulder. Peter turned to look now. Osborn was livid, his eyes wide, teeth bared as he pulled Peter back and shoved him to the ground. Peter saw Osborn’s arm raise, saw the syringe in his hand, and knew it was now or never. He wasn’t going to get another chance.

He went with the motion, allowed Osborn to pin him down. As soon as his back hit the floor, he raised his legs, pulled his knees into his chest and kicked out.

Peter was trying to hit Osborn’s chest.

He missed and hit his arm instead.

Peter still considered it a win, because there was a sickening snap, then Osborn’s eyes widened and he screamed.

Karma.

Osborn dropped the needle and fell forward, cradling his suddenly floppy arm. Peter just pushed him off, grabbed the edge of the gurney to help pull him up, and started to run as best he could on wobbly legs.

He didn’t bother going to the stairs. He ran straight for the railing and pulled himself up, climbing over the edge and falling next to the door.

Osborn had made it to his feet again. His right arm was hanging limp at his side, while the left was reaching for another of those cylindrical injectors.

Peter hurried and climbed to his feet, hands fumbling for the door handle. He might be able to take Osborn in his condition, but he doubted he could take whatever the green goblin had to offer.

The door was heavy, made of metal and normally wouldn’t be a problem.

Except it was locked and Peter had to try three times to grab the handle because there was suddenly two of everything everywhere he looked.

“Come on!” he screamed. He placed his foot on the wall next to the door for leverage, and pulled. There was a whine, and then a loud pop as the door frame splintered. Peter fell back, hit his head on the railing, gritted his teeth and crawled through the now open door.

Osborn was screaming in the background.

Peter didn’t care.

The door opened into a short, darkened hallway, with open doors spaced out every few feet and a gloriously dilapidated door at the end, complete with an old and cracked EXIT sign above and a vinyl sticker showing a stick figured man walking down a flight of stairs below the words “in case of fire, use stairs”.

Peter had never seen something so fucking beautiful in his life.

He ran as fast he could, bare feet slapping on the thread bare carpet. He crashed into the door with his full body. He nearly laughed when it opened without a problem.

There were emergency lights in the top corner of the stairwell, and as Peter approached the railing, he could see he was several floors up. He couldn’t see the bottom, it was just an Escher-esque maze of darkened, repeating stairs and shadows that never ended.

Peter had a sudden thought, one that made him hiccup a quiet sob.

What if this wasn’t real?

What if he was still tied to the table, Osborn sharpening his scalpels to dissect him once he was dead?

It didn’t matter.

Real or not, Peter wasn’t about to give up. He could hear Osborn coming, his angry screams and hisses hinting that the goblin had returned.

Peter held on to the railing and ran down the stairs as fast as he could.

 He tripped a few times, but he kept going, the green goblin behind him the entire time, gaining distance.

“Stop running, Parker,” Osborn ordered, panting. “It’s useless!”

“Yeah, I heard you the first time,” Peter mumbled under his breath. He could see the bottom of the stairwell, and another heavy door with blessed light peeking through the long, slim window. Peter was still a floor up, the goblin a few steps behind him.

He forwent safety and simply jumped over the railing. He would have totally stuck the landing if Osborn hadn’t freaking jumped after him.

The door was within Peter’s grasp, it was literally inches away. But Osborn had landed on his back, and was currently sitting on his legs, trapping Peter face first onto the floor.

Peter didn’t know exactly how OZ worked, but it obviously accelerated healing to a tremendous degree, because Osborn’s arm no longer seemed to be broken.

He grabbed Peter by the hair with his right hand, the one that should have been useless, and pulled, forcing Peter’s back to arch, his neck to strain. With his left hand, Osborn reached around and stuck something in Peter’s face.

That fucking inhaler.

Peter was already panting, his lungs fighting for air as his neck stretched and his muscles bucked against Osborn’s pull.

It was almost instantaneous. He heard the hiss, remembered too late to try to hold his breath, and felt that familiar burn as he breathed in the gas once again.

Peter wanted to cry, but he heard May’s voice telling him it was all gonna be okay, remembered the way Tony had promised he wouldn’t let Peter die.

Peter exhaled and let his limbs flop to the ground, tried to let his muscles relax. It made the strain on his neck and upper back so much worse thanks to the hold Osborn still had on his hair, but it had the desired effect.

Osborn’s grip slowly lessened until he just let Peter’s head go, letting it flop down onto the cement floor.

“You’re supposed to be smart, Parker,” Osborn growled, taking his weight off of Peter’s back and sitting solely on his legs.

Peter just grit his teeth and slowly moved his arms until they were directly under him, his palms pressed into the floor, waiting. He wished Osborn would hurry the hell up, he could already feel the gas starting to do its thing.

The double vision began to triple and the sounds that had just been almost too loud moments ago were dulling.

“You’re lucky I’m not finished with you yet,” Osborn grunted as he climbed to his feet.

Peter all but snarled as he pushed himself onto his back and kicked upwards as hard as he could.

He had better aim this go around.

Right in the groin.

Osborn fell as Peter jumped to his feet and ran.

He nearly cried when he pushed through the door and saw sunlight, sweet, beautiful sunlight.

He was right, they were near water, but that was all he knew. There were a few buildings that looked like they were either used for storage or as offices, each of them looked abandoned.

There was rusted equipment, old fork lifts that had long been stripped of parts, work trucks with missing wheels and broken windshields.

There were dilapidated boats that had been pulled ashore and left to decay. Piles of rotted tires and rows and rows of old oil drums with rusted orange paint.

But there was no one in sight.

Peter tried looking for a truck that looked like it might still run, thought about jumping into the river and swimming away, remembered that he was probably about to pass out thanks to the gas, and decided his best bet was to find a good hiding spot until he could make a clean getaway.

It didn’t happen though.

Peter started running for one of the old boats. He was halfway there when he heard a loud sound, almost like a car backfiring or a tire exploding.

For a moment, he thought he’d been wrong. Maybe all of the trucks weren’t a complete loss. Maybe Osborn had gotten one to run.

But then he registered a sharp, blinding, burning pain in his leg, about halfway between his hip and his knee.

He stumbled to the ground, crying out at the jarring impact. He rolled onto his back and reached for his leg. There was blood everywhere.

He tried to press down on it, but jerked his hand back when it just caused the pain to flair.

He looked up and saw Osborn stomping towards him, limping slightly with a small gun hanging at his side.

“You shot me,” Peter mumbled. He couldn’t believe it. The man actually shot him. “You—you shot me.” It was almost a whisper, like he was trying to process a betrayal.

Peter collapsed onto his back. He was shaking all over. He knew he should put pressure on the wound, but he couldn’t get his muscles to listen to him. He couldn’t sit up anymore, couldn’t do more than reach pathetically towards his throbbing leg. He still couldn’t quite grasp that he’d been shot.

Osborn stood over him, that now familiar sneer that Peter’d seen far too many times was distorted in rage. He raised the gun and pointed it at Peter again. It was shaking, and Peter just knew that Osborn’s anger was going to override his need for answers.

Peter was going to die.

But he should have learned by now to have a little faith.

Tony always kept his word.

Peter braced himself for the second shot. He grit his teeth and forced himself to meet the goblin’s eyes.

And then something that Peter hadn’t expected came flying through the air, hard and fast. It hit the goblin square in the stomach, and had knocked him to the ground before Peter could even register what had happened.

When he lifted his head it was to find Osborn lying on the ground, his bulbous eyes opened wide as he sucked in air.

Captain America’s shield was lying next to him on the ground, half covered in gravel dust and mud.

Peter had just enough time to think a jumbled combination of ‘holy shit’ and ‘thank god’ before something big slammed down onto the ground beside him.

Peter blinked and tried to focus on the Iron-Man suit that was suddenly standing above him.

“Cutting it close, aren’t you?” Peter laughed. He had to squint his eyes against the bright sun, but even then, he was still seeing two blurry Iron-Men. He chose to focus on the one to the left.

Peter could just make out a vaguely Captain America shaped blur running by as the Iron-Man suit dropped to its knees, the faceplate opening to reveal a very worried looking Tony Stark. “Jesus Christ, Parker.”

Peter thought he should probably say thank you and promise to never ever ever take him or the rest of the Avengers for granted again, that he was so grateful to have them in his life but he was even more grateful that he was still alive, and holy shit Mr. Stark, he was just fucking glad that they were there. His mouth must have agreed, because words were tumbling out and Peter only realized it when Tony placed his hand on Peter’s forehead and said in a soft but worried tone, “Hey, you’re good. It’s okay, it’s okay.”

He had his other hand pressed to Peter’s leg and the freaking bullet hole. Peter was aware of this mostly because it hurt like hell.

He was just about to tell Tony as much when Clint joined them, sliding in beside Peter like a fucking baseball player trying to still steal second base. “Fuck, kid.”

“Hey,” Peter greeted, trying to offer a smile in between his now permanent grimace.

“Hey back at ya.” Clint smiled at Peter before turning to Tony. “I’ve got him,” he said, unbuckling his belt and pulling it loose from his belt loops in one quick movement. “You go help Steve.”

Tony waited until Clint had looped the belt around Peter’s thigh before letting go. He leaned down until he was staring directly into Peter’s eyes, until Peter had no choice but to stare right back.

“No dying,” he ordered.

“Okay,” Peter promised, and then he was gone. Peter tried to watch him go, but he must have blinked or something, because one minute he’s staring up at a very stern Stark and the next he’s watching the clouds drift through the sky.

He turned his head to look at what Osborn was doing, but the goblin was gone. So was the shield and the Captain America shaped blur.

If he focused on listening he could vaguely hear the sounds of a fight, of gun shots and blasters. But soon all he heard was Clint grunting and saying, “Sorry, kid. This is gonna hurt,” before pulling tight on the belt and making Peter wish he kinda had died.

“Hey, Mr. Barton?” Peter mumbled, one hand reaching blindly to tap on Clint’s chest.

“Yeah?”

“I’m gonna pass out, okay?”

Clint looked up from Peter’s leg, his eyebrows furrowed in an unhappy V. “Can I talk you out of it?”

The answer was no.

Chapter Text

It happened again, that thing where Peter woke up not knowing where he was or how the hell he’d gotten there.

He wasn’t as scared this time around though. Probably because Captain America was holding him bridal style.

Or sort of, if the bride was all limp.

Peter woke up with his head tilted back, his neck propped on the bend of Steve’s elbow. It made the world look upside down.

It was disjointing.

Add to that the fact that they were moving fast, Peter thought he might throw up.

He should probably ask the Captain to slow down.

He lifted his head, squinted at the underside of Steve’s well defined jaw and asked, “Are you real?” instead.

Steve looked down, clearly surprised to see Peter awake. “Yeah, kid. I’m real.”

“Okay. Just checking.” Peter let his head fall back, frowned at the way the world flipped again, and decided it was best to keep his eyes closed.

He didn’t open them again until Steve turned a corner and he heard Tony’s voice order, “Put him here.”

Tony was still in his suit, but had lost the helmet at some point. He was all sweaty, his hair was plastered down, and he had a gash that was slowly bleeding on the left side of his forehead.

“Did I hit you again?” Peter asked as Steve lowered him onto a gurney.

Tony made the same face Steve had earlier, like he hadn’t expected Peter to be awake. It was only for a moment though, because then it softened into something more Tony-ish, hinting he was about to be a smartass. “No. But you did scare the hell out of me.”

“Didn’t die, though.” Peter could be a smart ass, too.

“No. You did not,” Tony conceded, the corner of his mouth threatening to rise in a smile. “Let’s keep it that way, okay?”

“Okay.”

Peter was about to ask what had happened, but some asshole started messing with his leg. Peter figured that was as good a time as any to pass out again.

The next time he woke up, it was a little more startling than the last, but only because someone was lying on top of him.

Beside him?

Someone was definitely cuddled up to his right side, their head resting on his chest, their arm thrown over him.

He could tell by the little snores and the worn out yellow scrunchie holding up a mop of hair that it was May.

“Hey, F.R.I.D.A.Y?” he whispered.

“Yes, Peter?” F.R.I.D.A.Y whispered back.

“What happened?”

There was a short pause and then, “Boss is on his way. He will explain everything.”

And okay, that was good.

He looked around, recognized the tower’s infirmary and sighed. There was a clock hanging on the wall above the door. It read 4:17, but he had no idea if that was morning or night. There weren’t any windows, no way to see if the sun was out or not.

His ring finger had a band-aid around the tip, there was another stuck to the side of his neck in the same place the IV had been.

He lifted his head and tried to see his leg. It was propped up on a pillow, and if he ran his hand along his thigh, he could feel a bandage beneath the blanket.

But it didn’t really hurt.

At least not until he decided to move. Dumbass.

“Ahh,” he hissed when he tried to shift his leg. It was quiet, not at all a loud cry of pain, but it was enough to wake up May.

She jumped off the bed and turned to Peter all in one fast, fluid move. She took one look at Peter, and her eyes widened in panic. “Oh god, did I hurt you?”

“No, May. You’re good.”

“Are you sure? I can go get someone.”

“I promise. You don’t have to go anywhere.” Peter gave her a once over, trying to see anything that might be wrong, but she looked okay. Relatively. Her hair needed washed and the circles under her eyes stood out more than she probably liked, but all in all, she didn’t look hurt.  “Are you okay?”

May sat down on the edge of the bed. “Yeah, baby. I’m fine. He didn’t hurt me.”

“What about Happy? Did he—“

“Happy’s fine,” she assured him, reaching up and cradling Peter’s face in her hands.  “He got hit on the head, had to get a few stitches, but he’s good. He’s fine.”

“And you’re totally okay?”

“Completely.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” she said. She was still holding his face, her thumb moving back and forth on his temple. “But how offended would you be if I got Stark to put a tracking chip in your arm?”

Peter felt his nose wrinkle in confusion. “What?”

“Lisa from work did it with Charlie.”

“Charlie is a poodle, May.”

“Charlie gets into less trouble than you.”

“You’re doing that thing where you overreact again.”

“To be fair, kid, you got shot.” May and Peter both turned at the sound of Tony’s voice. “I think she’s got a point.”

Tony was leaning against the door frame, his arms folded across his chest as he smiled. “How you feeling?”

Peter thought about it. “Woozy,” he admitted. “Like, the good kind.”

Tony laughed. “Yeah, you should be. You take a bullet, you get the good stuff.”

Peter didn’t think getting shot was worth it. But that didn’t matter. “Did you catch him?”

Tony’s gaze sort of fell to the floor. He reached up and rubbed his knuckle against his bottom lip, like he was stalling, delaying saying whatever he was planning on saying.

May must have sensed Tony’s discomfort, because she offered him a reassuring smile before standing and declaring that she was going to go take a shower and find some food.

“I love you,” she said, bending down and kissing Peter on the forehead. “I’ll be back, okay?”

Peter frowned and looked between his aunt and Tony. “Love you, too,” he said slowly, unsure why she was leaving.

May pushed the hair off his forehead. “I see you worrying. Don’t. It’s all gonna be okay.”

Peter nodded, but he was still worried.

May left, giving Tony’s arm a reassuring squeeze as she passed.

Tony sighed, ran his hands down his face and slowly pulled a chair next to Peter’s bed.

Peter tried to think of a reason for Tony to look so hesitant. May said everyone was fine. Steve had carried him in, and someone would have told him if Clint had been hurt. Right? That left…

“Did he get away?” Peter asked.

“Not exactly,” Tony sighed.

“What does that mean?”

Tony leaned his head down and rubbed the back of his neck, before sighing again. “We got him. Steve did a number on him, and I know I hit him with the blasters. But he fell into the river.”

“And?”

“And we can’t find his body.”

“He heals fast.”

“So do you, but—“

“No, like super fast. It’s like—“ Peter froze, because his mouth couldn’t move as fast as the thoughts that were swirling in his head. He needed to tell Tony about OZ about the super serum. He needed them to know that there might be others out there, other test subjects that didn’t live up to Osborn’s standards of perfection. He needed Tony to know that he was afraid that the green goblin was still alive.

“Peter, look at me.”

Peter did.

Tony leaned forward. “You’re safe. Okay? He’s not going to get to you again.”

“If he’s still alive, he’ll come after me.”

“But he won’t get to you. I promise.”

Peter leaned back into his pillows and shook his head. “You can’t promise—“

“Yes I fucking can.” Tony stood up and sat on the edge of the bed, mindful of Peter’s propped up leg. “Despite what Pepper might say, I am good at keeping my promises. And it’s not just my promise, kid. You’ve somehow managed to convince the whole of the Avengers that you’re some lost little puppy—“

“Because I’m adorable.”

Tony narrowed his eyes, totally judging, but continued. “And good luck to anyone who thinks they can hurt you. So yeah, you’re officially the most protected kid in New York. Hell, even the Hulk likes you.”

“The Hulk doesn’t know me.”

Tony held back a laugh. “He might not have met you, but he knows of you. And trust me, Parker. He’s a fan.”

Peter frowned. “Was he at the river?”

“Oh no,” Tony shook his head, rubbed his hand along his bottom lip again. “No, he was in the tank. Remember your little glass room? Bruce hulked out after we found out you were taken.”

“No way.”

“Yes way. Like I said. Lost little puppy.” Tony sighed and rubbed his hand atop Peter’s head, ruffling his hair. “And if you think Osborn’s little green act was intimidating, I promise, it’s nothing compared to the Hulk’s.”

Peter couldn’t stop the smile that followed. But it didn’t last long. “Do you think he’s still alive?”

“I don’t know,” Tony admitted. He blew out a heavy puff of air, cheeks billowing slightly. “There’re too many variants. I mean, it depends on how badly we hurt him, how fast he heals, whether he can swim…”

So more unknowns.

But it could be worse. Maybe.

Peter could be dead.

Instead, he was hobbling around on crutches, enduring not only May and Tony’s need to keep him in sight, but Happy’s as well.

Even Pepper, Steve and Bruce felt the need to check on him more than once.

Time was fluid again, but in a normal way. It slowed in the infirmary, flew by when Ned and MJ visited, and practically stalled when Peter hobbled by the living room and saw Norman Osborn’s face looking back at him from the big screen TV.

Apparently, he’d been reported missing. The police were exploring all avenues and hadn’t yet ruled out foul play.

Oscorp’s official statement was a big, convoluted “I don’t know” and a request for the public to respect the family’s privacy.

But unofficially…

Ex-Oscorp employees and Osborn acquaintances were flooding social media with theories and stories. Apparently, Norman had a history of being a fucking psychopath, and Peter wasn’t the only one he’d hurt.

People had been questioning his motives and methods for years.

And more than one angry scientist was using the hashtag #OsbornOuted to spill all of Osborn’s dirty little secrets.

PETA was having a field day with the mention of animal testing and mutated spiders.

“Shouldn’t we tell someone?” Peter asked after another night passed and Oscorp’s missing CEO was still the top story.

“Fury’s handling it,” Tony said, grabbing the remote from Peter’s hand and turning off the TV.

“What’s he telling them?” Peter asked. He tried to turn around and look at Tony over the back of the sofa, but stopped when the movement pulled on his leg.

Tony shrugged and tossed the remote out of Peter’s reach. “Don’t know, and I don’t care as long as he keeps your name out of it.”

So more unknowns.

Which was starting to be a thing.

Except when it came to Peter, because everyone was constantly asking him questions.

“Are you okay?”

“Do you feel alright?”

“Where were you?”

“You’re not pushing yourself too hard are you?”

 It was just like before. Peter was trying to mind his own business, everyone was minding his.

He knew they meant well, that they were worried and just wanted to make sure that he was okay, but he was already dealing with his own issues. He didn’t have time to deal with theirs as well.

More than once Peter had caught himself looking around corners, expecting to see those yellow, bulbous eyes.

The first night back, he’d had a nightmare which led to him trying to climb the wall to search in the air vents.

He’d popped a stitch.

And then got yelled at.

He’d started asking F.R.I.D.A.Y to confirm that everything was okay, that the security systems were all in place and that what he was experiencing was real.

She must have told Tony, because sometime between the third and fourth time he’d asked her, Happy had sat down and walked Peter through the entirety of the tower’s security network, right down to what cameras were pointing were and F.R.I.D.A.Y’s unrivaled facial recognition software.

“If that bastard’s still alive, he’s not getting near here without us knowing about it. Okay?”

And yes, that was good. It handled the physical aspect of Peter’s worries.

But what about the mental ones?

He just thought he was crazy before. But now, he knew he was.

“It’s called PTSD, Peter,” Tony said after F.R.I.D.A.Y had alerted him to another of Peter’s nightmares. “You’re not crazy, kid. You’re traumatized.”

“That isn’t any better,” Peter snapped. He apologized, but still. He was tired of people telling him that it was going to be okay, that he had nothing to worry about.

They didn’t know, they couldn’t possibly understand what it was like to have someone fuck with your literal brain.

Except maybe Clint.

But it took a while before Peter realized that.

It wasn’t really intentional, but Peter ran away. Kind of. He was still in the tower, but had decided to ditch the ever watchful eyes of the grownups and make his way somewhere a little less crowded.

He eventually found himself in the gym. Then he ditched the crutches, and ditched gravity while he was at it.

His leg was healed anyway, mostly, and it only hurt if he put weight on it.

Or moved it wrong, or flexed the muscle too fast.

But it was fine.

He hobbled to the middle of the room, dropped the crutches in the center of the mat, and then fired his web shooter into the rafters.

It took about twenty minutes before someone came looking for him. Although, if anyone had asked Peter, he would have thought it’d be May or Tony, maybe even Happy.

Definitely not Clint.

But there he was. He sauntered into the gym, frowned at the crutches lying on the floor before turning, eyes tracking the empty room.

Eventually, he remembered who he was looking for and glanced up. As soon as he saw Peter, he gestured to the abandoned crutches and yelled “You know, it’s shit like this that makes them worry.”

Peter was sitting on one of the rafters, his back to the wall, his injured leg stretched out before him with the other dangling over the edge. “I didn’t put any weight on it,” Peter lied. “It’s fine.”

“Kid, I’m gonna get you a damn dictionary. Because you’re idea of fine and mine differ.”

He then took a running start at the wall, and with a few very impressive acts of parkour, scaled the length of it and climbed to the rafters. He then walked towards Peter oh so casually, like he was walking down the street and not balancing on a ten inch wide pole fifteen feet in the air.

Clint sat down, straddling the beam a few feet away from Peter’s foot. He sighed, looked around at the rafters and ceilings, noted the cobwebs in the corner, and asked, “So. Come here often?”

Peter snorted.

“I just needed some space, just—” Peter rubbed at his eyes and let his head lean back against the wall. “Just a few minutes without everyone freaking out over everything I do.”

“Well, I can’t say your disappearing act helped the whole freaking out thing, but sure, I get it.”

“F.R.I.D.A.Y knew where I was.”

“That’s not the point, Peter.”

And Peter knew that. It’s not that he was deliberately trying to be a little shit, he was just having a hard time focusing on everyone else’s problems. Even if everyone else’s problems were focused around Peter.

Clint adjusted his balance, brought his feet up onto the beam and propped his arms on his knees. “Look, this is new for Tony,” he said. “You gotta cut him some slack.”

That was not what Peter had expected. “What do you mean?”

“Tony’s never been a dad before.”

Peter frowned. “He’s not my dad.”

“No, but he loves you just the same.” Clint smiled and gave Peter a challenging look, like he was daring Peter to argue. “And kid, there’s nothing more terrifying than thinking your kid’s about to die.”

Peter shifted and tried to focus his attention elsewhere. He started playing with a loose thread on the hem of his t-shirt.

He didn’t know why, but it always made him a little uncomfortable when anyone made a comment about Tony being his dad, even as a joke. There wasn’t a reason for it and he couldn’t put it into words, but the first time May had joked about it, Peter hadn’t been able to look Tony in the eye for a solid week.

Although, he was willing to admit Clint had a point. But that fear went both ways.

He rubbed at his thigh, massaging the still healing muscle and said, “It’s not any easier watching your parent die.”

There was a moment of silence that stretched into two, and when Peter looked up it was to find Clint staring at him, his expression almost apologetic.

“No. I don’t suppose it is.” Clint let his knees fall open, his legs folding Indian style. “Alright, I’m about to bug you and I want you to be honest with me, okay? No bullshit. How are you?”

“I’m fine.”

Clint narrowed his eyes.

“No bullshit,” Peter promised. “I feel—fine. Like, way better than I have in a long time.”

Clint nodded, but he wasn’t done. “Dizzy?”

“No.”

“Headache?”

“A little, but it’s not—I’m good.”

“Any more mental fieldtrips? Loss of time? All around brain fuckery?”

Peter snorted. “Not that I’m aware of.”

“Good.” Clint smiled, like that was exactly what he had wanted to hear. He nodded again, looked back out at the empty gym and said quietly, confidently, “You’ll be okay.”

“Yeah, I know.” Peter sighed and leaned his head against the wall again. Everyone had been telling him that, reassuring him that the bad would pass. They meant well, but Peter was kinda tired of it.

“You’ll doubt yourself, doubt your reality for a while,” Clint continued. He was still looking elsewhere, his sight seemed to have landed on a distant weight bench, his gaze unfocused. When he turned back to Peter, he looked tired, a little worn. He looked like Peter felt.

“Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Okay?” Clint continued. “Your people love you, Parker. They’ll look out for you.”

It was then that Peter realized that Clint knew, like he actually knew. It wasn’t like with the others, where they were all trying to be sympathetic, offering support for something that they couldn’t possibly understand.

But Clint more than understood. He’d been there.

Yeah, maybe he hadn’t been systematically poisoned by a psychotically deranged megalomaniac, but a power hungry god of chaos with access to universe altering magic was close enough.

Peter forced himself to meet Clint’s knowing stare, and asked, “How long before it all gets better?”

Clint’s smile turned sad. “I’m not sure.”

“You still—“

“No. No, I haven’t had any problems with that in a while, I just—” Clint inhaled and held it, his gaze once again drifting towards the weight bench below. He let his breath out on a slow, controlled sigh. “I used to question everything, everyone right after Loki, you know? Laura was constantly having to assure me everything was fine. And I just got sort of used to having that paranoia around. And then one day I just…woke up and it was gone. Didn’t notice it for a while, but yeah, it went away.”

He turned back to Peter, clapped his hand on Peter’s exposed ankle and squeezed. “And it’ll go away for you, too.”

Peter sniffed and blinked, trying to convince his eyes not to freaking water as much. It didn’t work, though, because he felt a tear slip through. He wiped it away.

Clint pretended he didn’t see. He gestured to the rafters and the ceiling that was only inches away, nodded towards the crutches strewn on the floor. “But not if you do shit like this.”

Peter groaned and rubbed his hands down his face. “I just felt like I couldn’t breathe.” 

Clint’s phone chimed. He pulled it out of his pocket, smirked at the screen, and then looked back at Peter. “You good now?” 

Peter wiped the neck of his t-shirt across his eyes and sniffed again. “Yeah. I’m good.”

“Good,” Clint said, putting his phone back in his pocket, “Because according to Natasha, your aunt’s about five seconds from grabbing a ladder and coming to get you.”

Peter laughed, and then laughed again because he completely believed May would do it.

Clint grinned then turned a worried look towards the gym door. “Honestly, I’m surprised Stark hasn’t grabbed that damn suit to come get you yet.”

“Pepper’s probably holding him back,” Peter guessed.

It was Clint’s turn to laugh. Then he looked to Peter, tilted his head and gave him a look that was so much like one Ben used to give him, that Peter felt a physical pain in the center of his chest.

“You know,” Clint said, “Happy told me how you used to be.”

Peter felt his ears burn at the thought of what Happy could have told Clint. “The texts?”

Clint laughed again, his features looking less like Ben and more like the Hawkeye Peter was slowly getting used to. “Yeah, that too,” Clint said. “But I’m talking about the secrets, the way you used to try and handle everything all by yourself, like you thought you had to save the world all on your own. You’ve grown, Peter. You’ve learned to trust others, learned to ask for help.”

Peter started playing with that loose thread again. Clint reached forward and squeezed Peter’s ankle once more.

“Don’t back track, kid. Like I said, your people love you. They’d go to the ends of the world for you and drop everything if you asked them to. Let them.”

Peter looked up, not even bothering to hide the new tears. “I’m trying.”

Clint gave Peter’s ankle one more squeeze, nodded, and clapped his hands on his knees. He looked down at the floor and said, “Good, now come on. Let’s go before the cavalry comes running.”

Peter wiped his eyes again and sighed. “Yeah, okay.” Then he shot his web shooter again and slowly dropped down to the floor.

He had just grabbed his crutches and was about to turn to the door when Clint called out, “Yeah, no. It’s fine. I can get down on my own.”

Peter looked up and smirked. “Do you want me to send Tony and his suit?”

Clint frowned. “We were having a moment, Parker, and you just ruined it.”

Peter laughed and left him up there.

When he walked into the living room, it was obvious that everyone was waiting for him. They were trying to make it not obvious, or at least May was, but she sucked at it.

Tony didn’t even bother trying to hide it. He was sitting on the couch, arms folded, clearly pouting.

Peter stopped halfway between the elevator and the coffee table. He adjusted the grip on his crutches, looked from Tony and Pepper to May, and said, “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have anything to be sorry about,” May hurried to assure him. She rounded the coffee table and wrapped Peter in a hug.

He hugged her back.

“Nope,” Tony said, standing with an unhappy look on his face. “No, that’s not true.”

Pepper reached for Tony’s arm, but he batted her hand away. “No, Pep. The kid’s fucking traumatized. He’s officially seen some shit. How many times over the years have you screamed at me to let you help me? He needs to—”

He stopped talking when Peter walked up, dropped the crutches and wrapped his arms around him in a tight hug. On reflex, Tony returned it, folding his arms across Peter’s back before he probably even realized what he was doing.

“Peter?”

“Thank you,” was all Peter said.

Tony tightened the hug, one hand wrapping around the back of Peter’s neck, squeezing slightly. “Am I allowed to ask what for?”

“Everything,” Peter said. He thought about what Clint had said, about how Peter’s people would move the world to help him. He thought back to the way they had done just that.

May had literally raised him. She had rearranged her whole world to include him in it, and she told him she loved him at least twice a day. Blood or not, she was family.

Tony, however, had no such responsibilities.

And yet, he had given Peter a panic button to carry around, and the first time Peter had to use it, the man had grabbed Captain America and come to the rescue.

He’d forced a secret government agency to investigate a gas attack, convinced a wizard to return to medicine, and opened his home when theirs was no longer safe.

And that was just in the last month.

“Peter?”

Peter shook his head and turned until Tony’s shoulder was pressing on his eyes. “Just—for everything. For caring enough to—to take care of me.”

Tony squeezed Peter’s neck again, his tone softening. “You’re welcome, kid.”

Peter sniffed, took a deep breath and blurted out, “I’m gonna say I love you, but you can’t make it awkward, okay?”

There was a moment’s pause where no one did or said anything, and then Tony just sort of patted him clumsily on the back and gently pushed him away. He turned and walked into the kitchen, his face hidden as he asked in a strained and nasally voice, “Anyone up for tamales?” He sniffed, cleared his throat and tried again, in a much calmer, more relaxed tone, “I’m in the mood for tamales.”

Pepper glanced at Peter, smiled, and mouthed the words, “Thank you.”

Peter just smiled back and then said loudly, trying his best to sound casual, “I could eat a tamale.”

“Good.” Tony returned, his keys in his hand. His eyes were bright, a little watery. “I’m gonna go get some. I’ll be back.”

He waited until he got halfway to the elevator and asked, “You coming, Spidey?”

Peter grinned, picked up the crutches, and hobbled over.

So yeah, Peter might not be crazy, but things were still a little fucked.

But they were gonna get better.