Peter has decided that he can really do without waking up bound.
He struggles his way back to consciousness, his shoulders already aching from where his arms are anchored behind his back. He’s tied to a chair, hand and foot with an additional length of chain wrapped around his torso. A couple of tugs confirm he’s not going anywhere, and he would put a curse on the people who brought vibranium into the world if they weren’t Shuri’s ancestors and therefore probably pretty cool people.
He’s barely processed kidnapped drugged chained when the bucket of seawater catches him full in the face.
“Wakey-wakey, Spider-Man! Your friends are waiting for you to join the party.”
That gets Peter’s attention even more than the water does, scrambling for the continuity between whatever he was doing last and how he’d ended up…wherever here is. He’d been following a tip regarding suspicious activity at the docks, to do with the weapons dealer he’s been messing with for months. Sam and Bucky had eventually taken the case into their own hands and told him to stay out of it, that they had it handled. But it had been weeks, and nothing had been happening, so Peter had gone back on the down-low to sort out the case himself. Neither of them had even picked up the phone when Peter had tried to call in his latest discovery earlier that day. Now he can see why.
Bucky’s bound the same way Peter is, also in a reinforced chair with half a dozen extra bonds around his metal arm, while Sam is stuck to his chair with what look like industrial-grade zip ties, and both of them are looking at Peter like he just set fire to the American flag.
“We told you to stay out of this.” Sam struggles in his bonds, looking at Peter with an exasperation that could match Tony’s when it comes to Peter finding himself in dangerous situations. Or, Peter just finding dangerous situations in general. And then running into them without much more of a plan than stop bad guys doing bad things.
“Yeah, kid,” Bucky joins in the telling off. “We told you we had this.”
Peter uses his chin to gesture to the chairs they’re tied to. “No offense, but this doesn’t really look like 'having this’.”
“Enough.” A man steps into Peter’s field of view, and Peter’s stomach drops as he recognizes him. He’d only seen the face once, and then it had been unscarred, but the description Karen had given had been enough to stick the face in his mind. “This reunion is cute and all, but we have plans for you three, and I’ve waited long enough for this, Peter Parker.”
Peter glances down at himself, realizing with a start that he’s still wearing the Spider-Man suit. Sans mask. His heart pounds a little harder. “How—”
“Toomes wanted to be noble about it,” Mac Gargan goes on. “Given you’re barely out of diapers and all. But I don’t give a crap about your age if you’re messing with my operations, and Toomes didn’t hide his wife and daughter quite as well as he thought he had.”
Peter’s insides twist a little tighter. “Did you hurt Liz?”
“Friend of yours? Interesting. But she’s fine. Price of that outcome being you under the knife instead. Nobility tends to go out the window when loved ones are on the line.”
Peter feels the mistake a second after it’s made, but he can’t help it, it’s instinct. The second Gargan says loved ones, Peter’s eyes slide over to Sam and Bucky.
Gargan follows the movement, chuckling. “So you do care for them. Good. When I set this up I had Stark in mind, maybe your aunt or one of your little school friends, but then these two came stumbling right into my trap. It’s almost poetic.”
“Then you have crap taste in poetry,” Bucky bites out. He’s still straining in his bonds, more subtly than Sam is, searching for weaknesses.
Sam turns his attention to Peter instead. “Peter. We’re fine. You focus on you, okay?”
“That’s sweet.” Gargan gestures to a man over by the door, reminding Peter to take in his surroundings now that the remnants of the knock-out drug are clearing. The building indicates they’re being kept somewhere in the docks still, if the scents of boat oil and spoiled fish are anything to go by, with a single door that’s bolted shut from the inside. There are four other people in the room that Peter can see, although his spider-sense tells him there’s one more behind him, out of sight. All of them are armed, but none of them are enhanced, and Peter reckons it’ll only take getting one of the Avengers in the room free to even out the odds. Problem with that being he can’t see a way any of them are getting out of the chairs.
The man by the door is bringing over a contraption Peter doesn’t like the look of at all; a black box with jumper cables attached to it. The henchman pauses between Sam and Bucky, looking at Gargan for instructions.
Gargan deliberates, clearly enjoying himself, before pointing at Sam. “Start with that one.”
Any nonchalance Peter has been feigning about the situation evaporates. “Stop,” he tries, struggling against the chains. “It’s me who’s been messing up your operation, and who got Toomes arrested, and—”
“And gave me this?” Gargan points to the gnarled scarring creeping over his face. “Yeah. I know it was you. I also know that whatever I do to you won’t hurt nearly as much as making you watch whatever I do to them.”
“Don’t listen, Peter,” Sam interrupts, face stoic even as the henchman leans down to pull off Sam’s shoes, then attaches a jumper cable to each of Sam’s big toes. Sam screws up his face as he tries to throw him off, but his ankles are bound too tightly. “This better not be a foot fetish thing. Because you do not have my consent for that.”
Peter risks a look at Bucky. The super-soldier has redoubled his efforts to break free, occasionally throwing worried glances at Sam, but the chains keep him stubbornly in place.
“This is how this is going to work,” Gargan announces. “I want to play a game, Spider-Man.”
“I don’t,” Peter says weakly, eyes rooted on the cables now locked on Sam. There has to be something he can do to stop this, he’s not letting this happen, there’s no way—
“I’m going to torture one of them,” Gargan smirks, smile widening when all the color drains from Peter’s face.
“That doesn’t sound like a game,” Bucky calls out, face blank. Now that he’s stopped struggling, he looks almost bored. “That just sounds like very middle-of-the-line sadism.”
Gargan ignores him, keeping his eyes on Peter. “The game part,” he continues, rancid breath hitting Peter right in the face. “Is that you get to choose who we hurt.”
Every quip about breath mints and toothpaste is eradicated from Peter’s mind as he darts his eyes between Sam and Bucky, panic rising. “No. No, there’s no way, I’m not choosing—”
“If you don’t choose, then I do.” Gargan nods at the man standing next to Sam. “Get it ready.”
There’s the distinctive hum of electricity, and Peter’s brain completely shorts out in panic, but Bucky’s jumping in before he can. “Choose me.”
Gargan finally shows interest, every trace of apathy gone from Bucky’s face as he glances between Peter and Sam. “Don’t,” Sam responds, just as quickly. “Don’t play, Peter. I’m fine.”
“He's not playing if I make the choice,” Bucky presses. “Do it to me. We both know I’m stronger.”
Sam looks more put out than anything. “Oh, and what am I? Captain America, that’s what. I got this.”
Bucky isn’t even paying attention to Sam, eyes still rooted on Peter. “Hydra. Seventy years,” he says bluntly. “There is absolutely nothing these stooges can do to me that they didn’t. I can take it. Choose. Me.”
“Stooges?” Sam repeats. “Man, if that is your most recent reference then we have some movies to watch.”
“Enough.” Gargan cuts into the brewing argument, turning to Peter. “I’m going to fry Wilson’s insides now. You want to change that to Barnes, you just let me know, okay?”
He pats Peter’s cheek even as Peter flinches away, heart hammering. This isn’t happening. It isn’t.
Then the man beside Sam switches the machine on, and it is.
Sam’s panicked gasps quickly turn to screams, pained, stifled things that sift through clenched teeth, Sam’s body rigid against the chair.
“Stop!” Peter full-body rails against the chains, but they aren’t moving. “Stop hurting him!”
“You want me to stop?” Gargan comes around the back of Peter’s chair, reaching out and gripping his chin, forcing him to look at Sam. Peter could close his eyes, but it feels like such a coward’s move to cop-out when Sam can’t. So Peter watches as Sam continues to jerk and spasm, sweat quickly soaking his forehead and dripping onto the Captain America uniform. “You know what to do.”
“Do it to me,” Peter pleads. “You want me to choose someone? I choose me.”
“That’s not one of the options, Spider-Man.” The grip on his chin tightens, swiveling his head between Sam and Bucky.
Bucky’s yelling, trying every trick to get free, alternating between shouting insults at Gargan’s crew and pleading with Peter. “Tell them to do it to me!” Bucky demands. “I can take it, Peter, I’m a goddamn super-soldier, do it to me.”
A tiny part of Peter’s mind is screaming at him that it’s the rational choice; that Bucky’s pain tolerance is higher, that he’s the one less likely to sustain any long-term damage, but the logic of it doesn’t reduce the horror of deliberately sentencing one of his friends to torture. Then Peter catches the scent of burning skin, Sam’s burning skin, and the words are tumbling out before he’s even really made up his mind to say them. “Switch!” The word comes out muffled, and Peter jerks his head out of Gargan’s hold so as to free his jaw. “Switch,” Peter repeats, the strength to watch gone as he stares at the floor. “Switch…switch to Bucky.”
The sound of electricity shuts off, as does Sam’s yelling, turning to harsh, ragged breaths instead. There’s a noise that sounds terrifyingly similar to a sob and Peter’s heart stutters, because somehow the idea of hearing Sam cry is even worse than hearing him scream, until Peter realizes that it came from him. His cheeks are wet, wrists rubbed raw from trying to get free, and the henchmen are moving over to Bucky and god, they haven’t even really started yet.
“Parker. Eyes here.”
It takes every bit of resistance Peter has left to look up at Bucky as the super-soldier's shoes are shucked just like Sam’s were.
“I got this,” Bucky assures him. “Little bit of electricity? It’s nothing. Barely a tickle.”
“Hey,” Sam complains, voice still hoarse, but Bucky doesn’t let it deter him.
“Hydra used to shove me in a chair and fry my brain until I couldn’t remember my own name,” Bucky goes on. “I’m still here. Still fighting. This is my choice, okay? Not yours.”
Peter knows the words are meant to be a comfort, but they have little effect as the machine is switched on once more.
At least Bucky wasn’t kidding about his pain tolerance. That almost makes it more horrible, knowing that he can take this only because Hydra put him through so much worse. He shakes and jerks in the bonds but keeps his teeth gritted shut, deliberately not giving Gargan the satisfaction as however many volts are sent coursing through his body.
“Okay,” Gargan says finally, raising a hand for the machine to be shut off. “This is getting boring. Move on to the next one.”
“The next one?” Peter repeats. “But—”
“Oh, kiddo, did you really think I only have one form of pain cooked up for your little action figures over there? Give me some credit.”
“Do it to me,” Bucky says, yet again. He’s hunched over, sweating almost as bad as Sam is by now, but the grim determination on his face hasn’t changed. “Don’t you dare switch back to Sam, you hear me? You do it to me.”
“Drama queen,” Sam mutters, slumping back in his chair. He’d been staring resolutely at the ceiling throughout Bucky’s torture, the look of concentration on his face indicating that he’s been trying to puzzle a way out. Peter hopes he’s made some progress because he has nothing.
“Get it,” Gargan orders, and then Henchman No. 2 is stepping up with a flat blade.
Bucky laughs in his face. “Go ahead. I’ve been needing a manicure anyway.”
The guy works his way through four of Bucky’s fingernails before Gargan holds up his hand for him to stop. “One more,” Gargan muses. “And this one has already lost so many. So what do you say, Peter? Think good old Captain America can take one for the team? Or are you going to make his sidekick take all the damage?”
“I’m nobody’s sidekick,” Bucky mutters. “And if I was, I definitely wouldn’t be Sam’s.”
“You can be my sidekick,” Sam offers. “I’ll let you be on the merch and everything. Just one size smaller than me, got to remember who’s on top.”
“Let me out of this chair and we’ll see who’s on top.”
“Okay, getting weirdly sexual,” Peter cuts in, making both Bucky and Sam stop in their tracks.
“As if I would ever,” Bucky starts.
“Yeah, I have standards,” Sam cuts in.
“And why would I bother,” Bucky finishes. “When I already have the superior Wilson sibling just waiting for—”
“Watch it, Buck.”
“Oh, you want to tell Sarah she’s not the superior Wilson sibling?”
“We both know she is, and that’s why you’ll never—”
“Enough!” A sharp pain suddenly splits Peter’s lip, making him taste blood, and Sam and Bucky instantly fall silent. “Choose, Parker. One last fingernail. Who’s losing it?”
“Me,” Bucky says, even as Sam starts to protest. Bucky shoots him a glare. “No you don’t. You may have inherited that shield but you don’t get Steve’s self-sacrificing bullshit too. I’m taking the rest of whatever these idiots have to throw at us, all of it.”
“Hypocrite,” Sam accuses him, but whatever new round of banter they’re about to have cuts off as the henchman rips Bucky’s last fingernail from its root.
It doesn’t stop there. After the fingernails, there’s a blowtorch, drowning, a hammer taken to Bucky’s already abused hand. Bucky takes all of it in stride, although Peter can tell that he’s finally beginning to flag as the last of his fingers breaks.
“Stop,” Peter tries—no, begs. He’s begging. He doesn’t even care at this point. “Do it to me, whatever you want, just let them go, please.”
“Sorry, little spider.” Gargan doesn’t sound sorry at all. Quite the opposite. “This is what you get for messing up my plans.”
“And messing up your face.” Bucky’s words are slurred, but he still manages a crooked grin as he spits blood onto the floor. “And I thought Sam was ugly.”
The insults are weak, but it’s an indication that Bucky’s hanging on, and Peter will take what he can get.
“This is getting old,” Gargan decides.
“Nice to know I’m not putting on a good enough show,” Bucky answers drily.
“Oh, you’re doing just fine,” Gargan replies. “It’s Peter here that’s not living up to his part. The whole point of the game was for you to switch between them, kiddo.” He ruffles Peter’s hair. “Maybe that’s on me. Maybe the choice is too easy—one with super-healing, one without, and all. Maybe I should go after Stark after all. Perhaps pick up your pretty aunt on the way. Maybe they’ll give us a better time, what do you say?”
“I say good luck even getting near them,” Peter retorts, only to have it ruined by the quaver in his voice.
“I’m tempted,” Gargan admits. “But in the meantime, I’ll make do with what I have. Bring out the last one.”
The tone in the room shifts at the word last. Peter hasn’t even considered what comes after, and he realizes with a numb kind of dread that Gargan's probably going to have them killed. They’re all going to die, and it’s his fault, and there is nothing Peter can do to stop it.
The ‘last one’ is presented in a small, innocuous grey box. The member of Gargan’s crew who has been lingering behind Peter finally comes forward, presenting it with almost reverence. Gargan indicates for her to show the box to Peter, Peter peering inside to see a small silver disc, barely bigger than Bucky’s now-missing thumbnail. “What is that?” Peter asks, not even sure if he really wants to know the answer.
“That,” Gargan drawls. “Is a handy little device that can access memories. Specifically traumatic memories.”
Sam’s head jerks up, on high alert, while in contrast Bucky goes statue-still.
“After it accesses them,” Gargan goes on. “It makes the wearer relive them. As though they were there.”
Bucky’s breath has picked up. For the first time since their capture, there are the traces of fear on his face.
“Nasty thing,” Gargan muses. “Drives people quite insane, I’ve seen it. Not ideal for interrogation, but as a deterrent? Very powerful.”
“Deterrent?” Peter asks.
“From messing in my affairs,” Gargan snaps. Then seeing the surprised look on Peter’s face, he adds, “Did you think I was going to kill you? And, what, have the Avengers on my tail forever? No. Two of you are going to walk away with this with your minds intact, to tell your other pals just what will happen to them if they cross me. One of those people is you, Parker. Who’s the other one going to be?”
“It’s going to be Bucky.”
It’s the first time Sam’s spoken since the last fingernail was plucked. He’s had his eyes fixed on the ground, taking long breaths through his nose, but now he lifts his head to meet Peter’s gaze.
“Sam,” Bucky starts, but Sam cuts him off.
“Worst memories, huh? Like, I don’t know, being turned into the Winter Soldier?”
Bucky darts his head towards Peter. “That programming’s gone. It’s gone.”
“And what do you think reliving the memories of them putting it in is going to do, Buck?” Sam turns to Peter. “It’s okay, Peter. Switch back to me for this one.”
“No,” Bucky protests. “No, don’t, I volunteered for this—”
“Because you’re stronger,” Sam gets out, his voice steady. “Because your pain tolerance is higher. Because you heal faster. And I knew those things, so I let you. But this isn’t physical. This is mental. And it doesn’t take Dr. Phil to see that I have a massive headstart in that area.”
“I’ve done therapy,” Bucky gripes, but that hint of fear is quickly turning to full-blown panic as the situation dawns on him. “You don’t know it’ll set me back."
“You won’t know me or Peter if it does,” Sam points out. “You won’t discriminate us from anyone here if you start hurting people.”
“I—” Bucky tries again, but he’s out of arguments. Everyone in the fish-stinking room knows what has to be done.
“I don’t want to.” The words leave Peter’s mouth before he can think about them, and he immediately hates himself a little for how childish they sound.
“You’re not. My choice,” Sam assures him, repeating Bucky’s words from earlier. “I’m choosing this Peter, alright? Not you. Me.”
“That’s not how the game works.” Gargan claps Peter on the shoulder. “Little Pete here has to choose.”
They’re just words. The choice has already been made. It doesn’t make them any easier to say. “Switch,” Peter manages. “Switch to Sam.”
Gargan ruffles his hair again. “Attaboy. I have to say, taking out Captain America, even the knockoff version—that’s kind of a moment, you know?”
“Sam's not a knockoff anything you—” Bucky starts, only to be cut off with a grunt when the henchman behind him squeezes his damaged hand.
Sam doesn’t rise to the bait at all, leveling Gargan with a steely look. “You’re going to pay for this. I hope you know that. I’m literally on a team called the Avengers, what do think they’re going to do once they learn you’ve taken out their leader?”
Gargan isn’t bothered, gesturing to the woman with the device. “Run and hide, most likely. Or have another one of you receive the same treatment. We’ll see which comes first.”
The woman pries the tiny disc out of the box.
“Wait—” Peter says, or maybe Bucky says it, or maybe both of them. Whoever says it, there’s nothing either of them can do as the small circle of silver is pressed against Sam’s temple and switched on.
For a moment, nothing happens. Sam looks more confused than anything, blinking a few times before he relaxes. “Sorry to break it to you, but I think your little toy is—”
Then he cuts off, going rigid, leaning back into the chair with a gasp as his eyes go blank.
“Sam!” Bucky strains against the chains, the movement so much weaker than before. Bucky is one big mess and Sam is staring straight ahead, seeing something they can’t, and Peter is stuck in a stupid chair unable to help either of them.
“Well, I think that’s our cue.” Gargan reaches over to rest a hand on Sam’s shoulder.
“Don’t touch him,” Bucky snarls and, wow, Peter is glad he officially joined the team after all of Bucky’s Winter Soldier programming was removed, because he would not like to be on the receiving end of that look ever.
Gargan just smirks, locking a hand around the back of Sam’s neck instead. Sam doesn’t seem to notice, his mind somewhere else. “You know,” he muses. “I wonder if it’s enough. Just one Avenger. If that’s a strong enough message.”
He lets go of Sam, only to make his way over to Bucky instead, scooping up the bloodied blade that had been used to pry up Bucky’s fingernails.
“No!” Peter throws himself against the chains, but the chair doesn’t so much as shift. “You said I had to choose! That it was my choice! I chose…I chose Sam, so leave Bucky alone!”
“Hm, you didn’t really choose though, did you?” Gargan toys with the blade. “They chose for you, really. Doesn’t make it much fun for me. And if you get to break the rules, why can’t I?” And he shoves the blade deep into Bucky’s stomach.
Bucky doesn’t respond beyond a pained grunt, eyeballing Gargan as he twists the blade. “You’re going to die,” Bucky promises him.
“One day,” Gargan agrees. “But not by the Avengers’ hand.” He makes his way towards the door, turning back for one more look at Peter. “It’s been fun, Spider-Man. I know I should hope this dissuades you from coming after me—you heroes are terribly bad for business and all—but I’d be lying. This game was fun, I’d just love to play again sometime. Maybe next time we can invite Stark after all, yeah?”
Then he’s gone, along with his crew, locking the door behind him.
The second they’re alone, Bucky’s talking. “Sam. Look at me.” Nothing. No reaction. Bucky sees Peter looking at the wound in this stomach. “I’ve had worse, I promise.”
“You keep saying that.”
“Because it’s the truth. I’ll be okay. We’re going to be okay, alright? Just—”
He doesn’t get any further. Sam lets out a small cry of distress, lurching against his bonds, face twisting as he sees something that isn’t there.
“Sam,” Bucky tries again. “Sam. Sam. Look at me!”
It doesn’t make a lick of difference. Sam can’t hear them.
“Someone will come,” Bucky says, although Peter suspects at this point it’s more for his benefit than Peter’s. “Sam’s not going to—It’s fine. It’s fine.”
The cry makes them both flinch, looking over at Sam with trepidation. Bucky starts up a mantra again, trying to break through, but it only takes energy he doesn’t have as blood leaks onto the floor from the stab wound, and none of it gets through to Sam anyway.
“Don’t shoot her!” Sam riles up against the restraints, so hard and so sudden that for a moment Peter is sure they’re going to break. They don’t, but Sam’s skin does, blood trickling from his wrists over the zip ties. Sam doesn’t even notice. “No! She’s just a kid, don’t!"
Bucky’s words stutter and then halt, crushing realization rolling across his face.
“Karli!” Sam cries, and Peter just—shorts out for a moment. The Avengers are a lucky dip of mental illnesses and traumas, but Sam has always been their rock. Their voice of reason. Seeing him this way is wrong. Even as Peter has the thought, he recognizes how unfair that is. Sam has been through as much as the rest of them. Maybe he has better coping mechanisms in place, but he's still coping.
“Karli!” Sam shouts a second time, before his pupils dilate, so quick it’s frightening, from blown to small and then back to blown again, and when Sam speaks again his voice is smaller. “I’m sorry. Steve, I’m sorry.”
Bucky freezes in his attempts to get free. “Sam. Sam, come on, it’s Bucky, look at me.”
“I’m sorry,” Sam repeats, and this time it comes out as a sob. “I never meant for it to happen, I know I messed up, with the shield and the blood and I’m sorry, I shouldn't want the shield at all, I’m so sorry.”
Bucky lets out an agonized yell that Peter is sure has nothing to do with the litany of injures littering his body. “It doesn’t matter what Steve thinks,” Bucky tries. “All of that was on Walker, Sam, not on you, none of that was on you.”
But Sam’s pupils have already blown wide again. “Get up,” Sam whimpers. “Get up, Riley, come on, get up.”
Peter's own eyes are hot. He doesn’t want to listen to this. It feels so private, so naked, and definitely not for their eyes or ears. He doesn’t even know who Riley is, and for the first time he realizes that he doesn’t really know Sam, not outside of the Avengers. He never talks about this stuff, and Peter’s never asked and maybe…maybe that’s a mistake on his part.
It only gets worse.
Sam seems to cycle through a few of the same memories—Karli, Steve, Riley—before his pupils flare again and he draws in a shuddering gasp that's more painful than the rest. Peter glances at Bucky, seeking an ally in the room, any kind of reassurance, only to see that Bucky is slumped back in a pool of blood, unconscious.
“Bucky!” Peter thrashes in the restraints, his skin long since bruised and red, but it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. He’s trapped, Bucky’s bleeding out and Sam is—
The absolute terror in Sam’s scream jerks all of Peter’s escape attempts to a halt. He’s never heard—Sam isn’t meant to sound like—
“Stop,” Sam begs, voice different than before. Higher. Younger. “Stop, I don’t want to see it, I don’t—don’t—”
And Peter just. Whites out again. Gone. This is so private. So intimate. He shouldn’t be hearing this.
“Stop,” Sam gasps. “Stop, stop it, MAMA! HELP ME! HELP!”
Peter squeezes his eyes shut as though that will close his ears as well. He has absolutely no idea what childhood memory Sam is being forced to relive right now, doesn’t want to know, and it’s his fault, Gargan’s only doing this to hurt him and it’s working.
“HELP!” Sam screams again, and Peter curls his hands into fists so tightly that his nails break skin. That and a split lip are the only injuries he’s sustained through this whole ordeal, and it’s not fair, it’s not—
And then, as though, Sam had summoned their rescue, the door to their prison bursts open, and a flash of red and gold is sprinting towards them. “Peter? Peter!”
Tony locks eyes on Peter, apparently seeing nothing else until yet another choked howl of anguish from Sam splits the room.
“Get Sam first,” Peter pleads. “There’s a device thing. On his temple. Switch it off.”
Tony's helmet melts away, torn between helping his mentee and the teammate who needs it most.
The words are enough, and then Tony’s lunging forward and ripping the small silver circle from Sam’s forehead before snapping the zip ties binding him to the chair. Sam collapses forward, hacking and coughing, Tony letting the gauntlets melt away so he can sit Sam up with bare hands. “Alright, Goose, there you go. You’re okay.”
Sam draws in a full breath, and that’s enough for Tony to justify making his way to Peter instead.
“Why it is always you, kid?” Tony’s voice is tight with worry, pulling out a small device that he aims at Peter’s handcuffs, Peter feeling the metal there starting to melt without heat.
Peter looks between the unconscious and bloodied Bucky to the shaking and pale Sam. “This time it wasn’t me at all.” His hands come free, Peter rolling out his shoulders in relief as Tony moves onto his ankles. “Where’s everyone else?”
“Coming. Twenty minutes out.”
“We were busy! I don’t know why the bad guys always target New York.”
The chain around Peter’s chest is last, and the second he’s free he’s staggering to his feet, pins and needles erupting up all four limbs.
“Woah, kid, hang on,” Tony tries, but Peter’s already making his way over to Bucky. The man’s breathing at least, and the blood seems to have clotted, but a piece of paper has more color. Tony goes a little whiter himself as he looks Bucky over, melting his restraints away the same he did Peter’s. “Who?” he demands, voice dark.
“Doesn’t matter.” Then seeing Tony’s expression, “Doesn’t matter right now,” Peter amends. “We can get him later. Hospital first.”
“You’ll bet we’ll get him later.” Tony looks between the three of them, realization dawning. “And I can only carry one of you, at least safely.”
“Take Bucky,” Peter decides without hesitation.
“I’m fine,” Peter insists. “I already told you, he…he didn’t touch me. So take Bucky and then come back for me and Sam, okay?”
He can tell Tony hates it, but there’s no chance of either him or Sam dying any time today. The same can’t be said for Bucky, so there’s no choice. Or, there is a choice, but it’s the same choice Peter’s had all day. One or the other. And he has to choose the best of two awful options.
“Fine,” Tony grumbles, looking Bucky over. He goes as though to lever him into a fireman’s hold, reconsiders due to the knife sticking out of Bucky’s side, then gives a put-upon sigh as he lifts Bucky into a bridal carry instead. “I don’t get paid enough for this.”
“Technically, you pay us.”
“I don’t pay you, I’m your sponsor. Big difference.” Tony hoists Bucky more securely into his grip. “I’ll be back, or the rest of the gang will show up. Do you think you can manage to not get into trouble before one of those two things happen?”
“I make no promises.”
Tony sighs. “That’s probably for the best.” Then he bundles Bucky towards the door, and Peter hears the sound of repulsors as they fly off into the skies, leaving Peter and Sam alone.
“Sam?” Peter tries. The man is still in his chair, head in his hands, shaking. Cautiously, Peter approaches. “Sam. It’s Peter. We’re safe now.”
It feels odd, giving an adult assurance, especially the one who is known for giving the comfort and not receiving it. Peter swallows, thinking about Sam’s anguished cries as he was put through the events post-Blip again. Definitely a mistake on their part, letting Sam take care of them and not the other way around.
Peter gets within touching distance, gently laying a hand on Sam’s shoulder.
It may as well be red hot, the way Sam reacts. He jumps so violently that he falls out of the chair, Peter diving forward to catch him before he can hit the ground. “Sam! It’s just me. It’s Peter.”
There’s an awful moment when Peter is sure that rescue came too late, that Sam’s mind is already broken. Then Sam blinks, recognition coming back. “Peter.” Then, beyond relieved, “Peter. You’re alright. Where—” He turns around and sees Bucky’s empty chair, the blood.
“He’s fine,” Peter says quickly. “Tony took him to the hospital. There are more people coming for us.”
“Okay. Okay.” Sam is desperately trying to pull himself together, even though he’s still shaking violently. “Alright. That chip thing? Not a fan. Where do the bad guys even get this stuff?”
Sam doesn’t laugh. He sits back against the chair, wrapping his arms around himself, and then just...stares at his knees.
“Um, Sam? Are you good?”
Sam doesn’t move.
“Sam, you’re um, kind of freaking me out.”
Nothing. As though all Sam had needed was to know that Peter and Bucky were safe, that help was coming, and then he’d checked out.
“Okay.” Peter fiddles with his sleeves, feeling in some ways even more freaked out than when Sam was being tortured. "We’ll just wait then.”
Sam’s still shivering, and Peter wonders if at least a part of it is cold—it is chilly down at the docks, he’s never liked it. He scoots over so he’s right next to Sam. “Okay, so I’m going to, um…” With extreme caution, he wraps an arm around Sam’s shoulders. “Is this alright?”
Sam doesn’t respond, but he does lean into Peter’s touch, so Peter takes that as a win.
“Cool,” Peter mutters, drumming his free hand on his knee. “I’m sorry. That you had to see all that stuff again.” Then it all comes tumbling out. “I’m sorry I went off on my own, and that he caught me, and then he took it out on you and Bucky—”
The words are so low that Peter almost misses them. “It’s not fine,” he insists. “You’re not—and Bucky’s not—neither of you are fine!”
There’s a long pause, where Peter has absolutely no idea what will happen next. But whatever he’s expecting, it isn’t Sam to lean forward and start sobbing into his chest.
Peter freezes, utterly unsure of what to do for a moment, until instinct takes over and puts his other arm around Sam, ready to wait it out. It goes on for some time; long enough for Peter to wonder how long Sam has needed to do this.
Finally, the sobs turn into hiccups, and then Sam is pushing himself upright, hastily mopping his eyes on his sleeve. “Sorry.”
“Hey,” Peter tries for a light tone. “You’re the one who’s always pushing healthy emotional expression on us.”
Sam gives a wet laugh. “Yeah, but I shouldn’t be—you’re a kid. I shouldn’t be offloading to you.”
“Then who are you offloading to?”
Sam goes quiet then. “I’m the leader,” he says quietly. “That comes with—there are expectations.” Sam looks over at the now empty chair. “When I was—during. Did you hear…?”
Peter considers lying for all of one breath before he nods his head instead. “I’m sorry,” he says quickly. “I know it was…it sounded, you know. Private.”
Now it’s over, a part of him wants to know what the childhood memory was, but the wiser part of him that sounds like May knows he can't ask. That some things aren’t meant to be shared.
“I’m okay,” Sam says quietly. “Or at least, I’m working through that stuff. Slowly. It takes time. And it’s hard. But I’m working through it.”
“I’m glad,” Peter says, meaning it. “That’s good.”
“I know it’s good, Parker.” Sam sobers. “None of this was your fault. You know that, right?”
Peter fidgets. “He only went after you guys—”
“Because he’s a sadist,” Sam finishes. “No other reason. Okay?”
“Let me hear you say it.”
Peter sniffs, the exhaustion of the day finally catching up to him. “It wasn’t my fault.”
“And now like you actually mean it.”
“It wasn’t my fault.”
“There you go.” This time, it’s Sam who puts his arm around Peter’s shoulders. They stay like that, together, until rescue comes for them at last.