“Shit, fuck, shit!”
“Would you calm down, please? I’m fine, I promise.”
“You are not fine! You are bleeding everywhere! Fuck!”
Ned Leeds was not having the most relaxing of winter vacations. It had started out quite nicely, with a calm airplane flight and group hugs and walks around all his favorite high school haunts and college stories shared with his old friends. His mother had bought him new shoes. His father had taken him out for dinner.
And then Spider-Man, nine days after Christmas, had to go and get himself shot.
Now, Ned liked to think that he was generally pretty great. He was smart and cool and he had great friends even if he did feel horribly jealous and unworthy of their attention sometimes. What he wasn’t was a field medicine professional.
“I thought we were just gonna buy Legos!” Ned yelped as he helped Peter stumble around a street corner and avoid crashing into a light post. The road was empty, even in the middle of the afternoon. Ned was too distracted to think that that was weird.
“We were,” Peter wheezed. He looked down at the hand pressed against his hip and grimaced. “It’s not my fault someone decided to crash the party.”
“You know what normal people do when they see guys with guns walking into a store down the street? They call the police,” Ned said, trying to keep the hysterics out of his voice.
“I’m better than the police.” Peter leaned against his shoulder. “Turn here.”
Ned looked up at the building beside them, with its suspiciously tall double doors and out-of-place stairs that were shallow enough for even a recently shot teenager to scale easily. “Now can I call 911?” he wondered. “Or Mr. Stark? Or, y’know, somebody?”
“Just knock on the door, Ned,” Peter said. His words slurred a bit.
“Okay! Okay! I’m doing it! Just please don’t die!”
Ned scurried up to the door and knocked as loud as he could, smearing a bit of Peter’s blood on the wood. It joined the faint impressions of other smears. He clung to Peter a little tighter, not quite sure who was holding who up anymore.
The door swung open a few moments later. Ned stiffened, but no one appeared. The beautiful old foyer of the building was empty, and Ned hesitated a moment before helping Peter over the threshold. The door closed of its own accord. The lights brightened in one corner to direct Ned’s eyes to a wooden chair.
“Ooookay,” Ned mumbled. “Okay then, that’s normal, all this is totally normal—”
“Relax, Ned,” Peter said as he slid down into the chair with a pained huff. “We’re safe here.”
Ned puzzled through those words for a second. “Oh. Oh, shit, this is where Doctor Strange lives, isn’t it? Oh my God.”
Ned jumped. Peter turned his head lethargically. They both peered at the little girl standing on the steps beneath the window in abject surprise.
“Who are you?” the girl demanded. She pointed a finger at them, her red hair shining in the lamplight.
“Nobody!” Ned squeaked, but Peter held up a hand.
“Wait,” he said. “I know you. You’re one of the kids from the Fletcher Project.”
“And you’re bleeding all over Doctor Strange’s furniture,” the kid said. She sounded distressed.
“Even the seven-year-old can tell you’re not!” Ned yelped.
“I’m ten and a half,” the girl said petulantly. She took a couple of hesitant steps toward them. She was fidgeting nervously with her hair, and Ned glanced back at Peter.
His friend was pale, eyes shallow with pain. He could hardly hold his head up. Ned didn’t know how bad the wound was, but he knew Peter had fought on it for almost three minutes after the gunshot. His hand had lost the strength to put pressure on it.
“Where’s Doctor Strange?” Ned squeaked to the girl. His fear seemed to rub off on her, and her eyes filled with tears.
“I don’t know!” she said. “But I—I’ll look! I can find them.”
But she didn’t move. Instead, she let her eyes slide closed, and the lights around them dimmed slightly. The mosaic floor around her feet seemed to change its pattern. Like she’d blown patterns across it.
“They’re coming,” the girl said, and opened her eyes.
“Sasha, I heard the wards activate; what are you doing down here?” Doctor Strange materialized out of a flash of light and stopped in their tracks. “Oh for fu—god’s sake. Not again.”
Peter raised his eyes and tried to speak. Only a breath escaped. Ned’s heart twisted, and he knelt next to Peter, taking his hand and looking desperately toward Doctor Strange.
A roll of bandages nearly smacked him in the face. “Hold those,” Strange ordered. “Sasha, can you do something for me? I need you to soothe Peter’s pain so he can sleep. Just like you’ve been practicing.”
“O-okay,” the girl, Sasha, said. Her voice was full of tears but she closed her eyes anyway, and the lights got even dimmer.
And to Ned’s abject shock, Peter’s breathing evened out. His eyes closed, and his fingers stopped twitching in Ned’s, and the pain was wiped quietly from his face.
“Holy shit,” Ned whispered.
Doctor Strange gave him a sharp look. “Language,” they said. “There are children present.”
“Yes, sorry si—I mean, Doctor.”
Strange gave him a nod and turned their attention to Peter’s wound. The scars on their hands were hidden in the dim light, but Ned could still see the tremble. He offered his bloody palms. Anything he could do to help.
“Open this,” Doctor Strange said. A bottle of antibiotic ointment appeared in Ned’s hands, and he did as he was told.
By the time they’d bound and dressed Peter’s injury, Ned’s hands were shaking as hard as Strange’s. His vision was a little blurry. Ned took a breath and a step back, and the doctor’s grey eyes drifted to him. They softened.
“He’ll be okay,” Strange said.
“I know,” Ned said shakily. “He always is.”
“Come here.” Strange stood, beckoning him toward what looked to be a kitchen. The mosaic floor swirled. Ned’s feet felt frozen to it.
Sasha grabbed the bottom of his shirt and tugged. When Ned looked down at her, she smiled. “Your friend isn’t scared,” she told him. “He wasn’t when you came in either. He knew you wouldn’t let anything bad happen to him.”
Ned wanted to cry. He let Sasha lead him over to where Strange was waiting for them, and followed them into the kitchen.
“The sink’s over there,” Doctor Strange said. “To get the blood off.”
Ned realized he wanted that so badly that the thought of waiting another minute made his hands feel like they were going to fall off. He scrubbed viciously at the skin until all trace of Peter’s injury was washed away. The water was the perfect temperature. So perfect that Ned stood and watched it run through his fingers for a long while after his hands were clean.
When he was done, he felt better. He turned to Doctor Strange properly this time and opened his mouth to thank them.
“Oh please don’t,” Strange said before he could. “Really, I should thank you. I’m glad you brought him here.”
Ned nodded slowly. “It was his idea.”
“I figured, but you can never be sure these days. Sasha found my address on Google after all. I can’t tell you the number of memories I’ve had to wipe.”
Ned blanched. Strange rolled their eyes. “Don’t worry,” they said. “I’m not going to make you forget your star sign or anything. I am a bastard, but not that much.”
“Right,” Ned said and wondered what the hell his life was. “I, uh, can leave if you want. I’m not supposed to be here.”
Strange looked at him. “Why on Earth would you think that?”
Ned realized he wasn’t sure. He shifted a bit, leaning back against the counter. “I’m not a hero or anything.”
“Nonsense,” Strange snorted. “You just saved your best friend’s life. And besides, you needed my help. My Sanctum is always open to people who need my help, especially smart, determined kids like you.”
Ned didn’t know how to answer that. He felt self-conscious and proud all at once. “Um. Thank you. I don’t think we’ve ever met, but Peter did tell me you were, ah, awesome.”
Doctor Strange smirked. “Awesome, huh? Tony’s only ever ‘cool’ in Peter’s words, for your information.”
Ned found himself smiling a little. “He says Ms. Potts is ‘badass’.”
“Oh, I agree completely,” Strange said without hesitation.
“I like her,” Sasha said. “She’s nice. She runs the Fletcher Project gives me phone calls sometimes.” The girl glared at Strange. “You only send letters.”
“Letters are objectively superior,” Strange said primly, settling onto one of the stools with a grin.
“Peter and I mail each other instructions from Lego sets,” Ned found himself saying before he could clamp down on his blatant instinct to out himself as a complete nerd. He flushed. But Sasha looked ecstatic.
“I love Legos!” she said happily.
Ned gave her a thumbs up.
Before he knew it, he’d been towed into a chair by an excited ten-year-old to discuss various Lego architecture specifics. Strange made him coffee when he asked, nervously, for something to drink. It wasn’t bad.
(Ned was pretty sure the mug was one he’d seen on Tony Stark’s podium during his occasional press statements. He tried not to think about that. If he spent too much time remembering that he was in a wizard’s castle drinking from Iron man’s favorite mug, he’d probably drop dead on the spot.)
He was having a pretty good winter break, all things considered.