The call came not far past midnight.
The pseudo family were out celebrating the hallmark of a first term of New York schooling completed for Harley, with good grades, nonetheless. New York offered all the entertainment one could need, but all that was requested from Harley was a movie. Distracted by an afternoon in the lab, their early dinner plans were cancelled as they ran late for the movie, holding their hunger at bay with cheap popcorn. With the movie ending an hour before the new day began, Harley, ravenous for food and adventure, begged the adults to continue the fun. It was his night after all, he pleaded. A relentless force wearing them down with ease, Tony, Pepper and Happy allowed Harley to lead. This proved difficult as he stopped at each store front, taking in the lights, the smells, the buzz of New York. His eyes bright as he settled on his destination, he grinned mischievously as he led the four into all night pizza parlor, knowing Tony’s distaste at such a dingy diner. For all his constant awe at New York's commodities, Harley, though he’d vehemently deny it, was still uncomfortable with the world outside Rose Hill. The move to the city had been a shock, and Tony found it best not to push, allowing Harley to take exploration at his own pace. The exception to that was Peter. Whether it was dignity, comfort or the desire to please, Harley never openly displayed his unease around the native New Yorker, allowing himself to be pulled in any direction.
Peter was, in part, the reason he’d brought Harley to New York in the first place. When questioned about his decision to host the teenager, Tony cited good press, extra set of hands, and an excellent opportunity for a bright mind in a small town, but his recent relationship developments with Peter had Tony yearning for more. Seeing Peter’s joy at learning, at helping, he cast his thoughts back to the small boy he’d met so long ago, and just hadn’t quite shaken from his head. The thoughts were accompanied of feelings of joy as a teenage Harley first took step into Tony’s life.
So that was the reason he allowed himself to be pulled into a ratty fast food joint close to midnight, wiping down the greasy seats with a grimace and a napkin before he sat.
Harley spoke animatedly about the movie as they ate, Tony lost in thought. He couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the two,too smart for anyone else to properly understand,only at ease when thinking or fixing and a charming sass about them, and the apparent lack of father figure. In Harley’s case, until recently. After the initial shock of Harley playfully referring to him as a father, Tony took it in stride trying his damned best to make sure Harley turned out better than he ever did. And seeing how happy he was from a simple pizza and movie night, he was pretty sure he was doing something right.
He was broken from his thoughts as his phone rang, Tony frowning at the caller ID.
“What’s up, dad ,” Harley mocked as Tony stared a moment too long at his phone. “Is that a booty call? Are you really going to answer that in front of Pepper?”
“It’s May Parker,” he replied, swallowing.
Harley gaped, looking at the clock. “That’d be real weird if you two were hooking up,” he said, his words boasting bravado but the wobble in his voice suggesting otherwise.
Tony’s eyes flickered to Pepper as he answered. She nodded, and moved out of the booth to pay.
The instant the phone connected, May’s worried voice came through.
“Something’s wrong with Peter,” she rushed out.
“Speak to me.”
“I don’t- I don’t know. He just came in a few minutes ago, crawled through the window and now he’s locked in the bathroom. He won’t let me in, Tony, I can’t break it down,” her voice rising in panic.
Tony let out a sigh of relief. So the kid wasn’t hurt. But still worry gnawed at his heart, something had to be wrong, wrong enough for him to shut his aunt out, for her to call Tony.
It clenched as she continued. “He’s covered- Tony, there’s so much blood.”
“Is he in his suit?”
“You know I keep an eye on him, May. I haven’t had any alerts, nothing to say he’s hurt,” Tony said as they pushed out the diner, Happy running round the block to get the car.
At the word hurt, Harley shuffled closer, Tony’s concern mirrored in his own face.
“I’m not sure it’s his,” she whispered back. “He, ohmygod, it’s all down the hall. Peter?” She called out, having obviously reached the bathroom again. “Peter, honey, please talk to me.”
Tony could hear the silence through the phone.
“Okay, it’s okay, May. We’re actually not too far away, we’ll be there in a jiffy. Just hold tight, okay? He’s fine, Karen would let me know if he wasn’t.”
Happy pulled up, and they clambered in. He needed no instruction to turn the car in the direction of the Parker’s apartment. Pepper shot him a look as they drove, but he just shook his head, taking her hand in one of his, the other continuing to hold his phone. Though he didn’t doubt himself, he pulled up his phone once more, pulling up an app he had connected to the Spider-Man suit. Tony furrowed his brow as he viewed the screen.
“Karen disconnected. 27 minutes ago.”
“What do you mean? How can that happen?” Harley pressed.
Tony shrugged, looking out the window as Happy drove towards Queens, far too slow for Tony’s racing heart. He barely pulled over before the car door was pushed open.
Harley was first to reach the apartment, Tony not far behind. Door slightly ajar, the younger of the two pushing through into the lounge area without delay. He paused in the hallway.
May had understated when she told Tony there was blood down the walkway. Tony would describe it more of a complete paint job, dark red flooding the floor. Not just a paint, he noted, there were areas of texture. A greater sense of fear than curiosity pushing him forward, he ignored the small specks of inconsistency as he led the way, side stepping to reach the tiny patches of white still shining through. Falling slightly with unbalance, he pushed himself off the wall to straighten, his hand touching wet. Unnoticed with the previous shock of the floor, he now noticed a trail of blood along the wall, suggesting Peter stumbled his way through his apartment.
Reaching May at the bathroom door, they shared a far from impassive look. Harley appeared moments behind him, eyes darting between the too. He reached forward as the two adults paused, but a small noise, a gasp, stilled his hand as Pepper reached the apartment, taking in the massacre.
“Peter?” Harley called out, not disguising the panic in his voice.
There was no reply, being the reply they expected.
Tony pushed Harley gently out of the way, one hand already on the doorknob. “Pete?” He said, just as gently. “Kid, it’s Tony. Do you want to let me in?” He spoke slowly. “Just me buddy, whatever’s happened, we can work it out.”
The lack of response begun to surface more worry, as the silence roared in his ears, briefly deafening him.
He tried again, more firmly this time. “Alright, Pete. I’m coming in. I’m going to break the door down, so stand back.”
He smiled apologetically to May as a gauntlet appeared around his wrist. “I’ll replace it,” he said, giving a hard twist to break the lock.
Forgoing his previous strength, he pushed the door open.
It swung open slowly to reveal Peter, impossibly small, curled in the corner, his face pressed to the ground. He was as still as death.
Tony rushed forward, slipping slightly as he did, but as his hands neared Peter’s pale face, marred only by a splatter of both liquid and lump blood, his eyes flickered open, lips parting to allow the smallest breaths of air in.
The grip on his heart lessened slightly, the knowledge of life allowing Tony comprehended the rest of the scene. The delicate art display continued onto the tiles, a shoeprint trampled in it, pooling by his stomach as it dripped slowly off his customer Stark Industries Spider-Man suit. His hand gripped his mask.
“Alright Underoos, up you get,” Tony grunted with the effort of lifting Peter upright. He rested the boy’s back into the corner he was favouring, Peter finally moving as he pulled his knees towards his chest. His hand stayed tightly gripped on the mask, so tightly Tony feared the delicate bones in his hand would break with the strain. “C’mon kid, talk to me. Are you hurt?”
Peter stared blankly at the shoe print on the floor, huddled as far back as he could.
“Peter?” A smaller voice asked, Harley from behind. “Let us help you.”
At this, the grip on the mask tightened further before a sudden release. It fell to the ground, spraying a new coating of blood as it impacted.
He continued to gaze forward, eyes unseeing, but as Tony opened his mouth to speak again, Peter’s own lips moved.
They continued to move, though no sound pushed through. He tried again, continuously forming words, the movement of his mouth causing the small fragment to slide down his cheek.
“That’s it buddy, keep going. You can do it.”
Not meeting his gaze, Peter repeated the phrase, growing bolder and bolder with each attempt.
“It’s not my blood.”
“What was that?”
“It’s not my blood,” he said, his gaze shifting suddenly to his mentor. “It’s not my blood,” he said louder, his hands trembling with the volume.
“It’s not my- oh god,” he said, looking down at his hands, redder than the suit allowed them to be. “It’s not my blood,” he dropped back to a whisper.
“It’s okay buddy. You’re okay.”
“No,” he shook his head as vigorously as his hands. “No. No. Get it off,” his hands scraped against each other. “Get it off!” His voice rose as he grabbed Tony’s shirt, immediately transferring hand prints.
“Alright, into the shower,” he spoke firmly, reaching one arm between Peter’s back and the wall, the other under his knees.
Peter’s stickiness kicked in at that exact moment, keeping him firmly gravitated to the floor.
“No,” he pushed away at Tony, the force enough to send him backwards, his hands sliding behind him as he tried to steady himself on the wet floor.
“Get it off,” he said again, louder. He wiped his arms down in the same motion as his hands previously, brushed down his chest, flicking off droplets of blood. “Get it off,” once more as his hands reached his face, pausing as they touched the mass on his cheek. Pulling it from his face, he swallowed dryly at the sight, understanding flashing in his eyes.
“GET IT OFF,” he screamed, flinging it to the ground.
Tony leapt forward again, gauntlets suited up both arms to help him rip the flailing boy off the ground. Turning on the spot in the small bathroom, he placed Peter in the bathtub, turning the water on, not caring about the temperature.
“GET IT OFF,” he started to sob as May reached forward to alter the temperature, settling on a warm stream in the cool New York night.
Tony reached forward to press at the Spider symbol on his chest, expanding the suit slightly. He ducked his head as Peter’s arms flew, reaching unsuccessfully for a sleeve.
“Shhh, Pete, it’s okay. C’mon, work with me,” he grunted as he tried again to fulfill Peter’s needs.
Harley skirted around Tony to enter the bathtub behind Peter.
“No, Harley, watch out,” Tony said, painfully aware of how human Harley was in the presence of Peter.
“It’s okay,” he said to Tony, pushing Peter’s suit forward from behind. “It’s okay,” he said again as Tony pulled the arms off with the newfound access, wrapping his arms around Peter’s stomach. “It’s okay,” he continued to murmur as the rest of the suit was removed, Peter’s boxers soaking immediately.
Tony removed the shower head and brought it closer to the naked body, somehow still bloodied through his bulletproof suit. He washed quickly, looking for wounds, but Peter was unblemished. Confused by the blood, Tony knew even his advanced healing was not that quick.
“Get it off,” Peter sobbed as the stream of water moved towards his hair, spluttering as it entered his mouth. “No, get it- get it off.”
Tony brushed his hand through the wet curls, his hand catching on a solid form. Tugging slightly, Tony pulled it from his head.
Beneath the blood, a fully formed fingernail.
In horror, Tony dug further through the curls, Harley heaving in the background at the sight.
He pulled out another chunk, a small slice of bone covered in flesh.
The room went silent as words left Harley, so Tony took over.
“It’s okay,” he murmured as Peter saw the water beginning to pool in the shower, unable to drain as body parts, someone else’s body parts, blocked the drain, bloodied water swirling at his toes. Peter vomited, undigested dinner mixing in the the rain, as Tony reached forward to dig out the obstruction. He gestured to May, who brought a small bin forward, desperate to stop touching whomever he was touching.
“It’s okay," he continued as Peter vomited until no more solid or liquids appeared.
“It’s okay,” he whispered as Peter’s body wracked with sobs, Tony suspicious that it was only Harley holding him upright. He felt close to tears himself.
“It’s okay,” he repeated as the water finally ran clear, Tony having aimed the shower head over every inch of his skin.
As his cries quietened with time, a flash of movement caught the corner of Tony’s eye as Pepper moved away. A small click, and she returned with two towels. May, having been previously frozen, tears streaming down her own face as she watched her nephew’s despair, nodded in recognition and moved away to bring dry clothes to the bathroom.
Harley relaxed his grip on Peter as Tony lifted him beneath the armpits. Satisfied that he could stand on his own, but keeping his eyes on him in case, he reached a hand out to Pepper for a towel. He dried Peter quickly but gently, lifting him fully out of the bathtub when he was done. He passed another towel to Harley who did the same.
“Here,” May muttered as she reentered, handing spare clothes to Harley.
Peter had begun to tremble again in the cool air, staring blankly ahead. He didn’t seem to notice May dressing him like a child, nor Tony carrying him to his room.
Tony placed him gently in his bed, but before he could pull the covers up, Harley slipped in behind him.
“I’ll stay,” he said softly as he curled his body to match Peter’s.
Pausing a moment, Tony placed a reassuring hand on Peter’s hip. “Are you sure?”
“I don’t think he should be alone.”
“You’re a smart kid Harley. I don’t think that either. But it doesn’t have to be you.”
“I’ll be okay,” Harley was whispering by now.
“We’ll be right outside,” he smiled sadly at Harley, pushing his weight off the bed, allowing May to lean in for a gentle kiss.
He shut the door quietly behind them as she exited.
“Go home, Pepper. It’s late, and there’s nothing you can do.”
“Let’s go, Pep,” Happy said from the doorway as she stood still. “We’ll come back first thing.”
Tony stood somewhat guiltily in the middle of the lounge room as May prepared for him to sleep on the couch.
Desperate to get it over with, Tony spoke first.
“I’ll get you a new door tomorrow. And a new carpet,” he added as he eyed the hallway with new knowledge of the hunks on leading to the bathroom.
May sighed as she shook out a blanket. She stilled listening to Peter’s cry, before shaking her head.
“I don’t understand. How could he- you said he was safe. Karen really didn’t say anything?”
Tony slipped his hands into his pockets, unsure how he wanted to continue.
“She’s disconnected at the moment, May.”
“How could that even happen?”
“I’m hesitant to ask Peter in his current state, but I have my own ideas. A blow might be powerful enough to short circuit the wiring or even knock the systems if he was hit in the right place.”
“What do you mean, a blow? He doesn’t look to be hurt. Not that I can see.”
“Something, maybe something as powerful as an explosion. Something Peter would be able to sense, to dodge, to move quick enough or righten himself after,” he said dreading the words that came next. “Something that someone else might not be able to escape.”
May stared at him, confused.
“I was pulling chunks of a body out of his hair, May. I think- I think there may have been a bomb.”
May’s hand flew to her mouth, gasping.
The noise from the room down the hall suddenly ceased.
The change caused Tony to run towards the room, worry settling in his heart once more that night, for both Peter and Harley.
May not far behind him, he whipped open the door, only to stop in his tracks at the comical scene before him.
Eyebrow raised, he mused “I’m not even going to ask.”
Harley lay atop of Peter, his whole body pressing the other boy into the bed.
“I’m not weird,” he promised, his eyes wide as if he was caught frozen in an act. “I think it calms him, look,” he said, rolling off Peter slightly, immediately returning to his position as a small whimper resulted.
For the first time in what seemed an eternity, Tony chuckled. “I guess I can start calling you a weight blanket instead of a wet blanket now.”
Harley stared back, his expression blank.
“You know, weighted blankets, they help people with anxiety sleep.”
“I know what a weight blanket is, old man,” he drawled, his mouth turning down at the corners. “But when in the heck have you ever needed to call me a wet blanket.”
Tony chuckled again, shrugging slightly as he did so. “I have on occasion. You may or may not be present in those times.'
Harley glared at him.
“What, you get moody!”
Harley opened his mouth to retaliate, but his attention turned back to Peter as the boy shifted slightly beneath him.
“Do you think he’ll be okay?” Harley questioned, softer than Tony had ever heard him.
He moved forward to ruffle Harley’s hair, still damp from the spray of the shower.
“We’ll all be okay.”
“We’ll all be okay,” he promised again to May as they left the room.