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Let's Whump the Spider-Kid and Friends!

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“Well, this can’t be good.”

Peter’s standing. It’s not usually the first thing he remarks on when he wakes up in an unfamiliar place, except that he has woken up in an unfamiliar place, and he’s done it standing up. Which is odd. Unsettling is probably the better word. Eerie, maybe. Peter’s having trouble finding words to describe the situation at all right now.

He can feel the comforting embrace of the Spider-Man suit encasing him, even though the mask is missing, and checks himself for injury. Nothing, not even the fuzzy aftertaste of knockout drugs. It’s as if he’d been ending study group one moment, preparing to head up the Tower to see what Tony will not stop calling the ‘super brat squad’, and then he’d blinked into…wherever this is.

The room is so dark that Peter can’t see the edges of it, stretching into pitch-black nothingness beyond. The only reason he can see anything at all is the glowing symbols shining up from the floor. They form eerie red circles which light up the feet of nine other figures, none of whom he can see the bodies or faces of.

“Karen?” Peter tries, although he’s not particularly surprised when he doesn’t get an answer. He remains equally unsurprised when he can’t locate his phone or comms either, although his trepidation does increase when none of the functions of his suit decide to work. There’s an infinitesimal amount of fluid left in his web-shooters, but that’s it.

“Hello?” he calls out, half-expecting his voice to echo around the fathomless room. It doesn’t. In contrast it feels muted, contained, as though he’s in a sound booth. “Okay, Peter,” he mutters, trying to decide on the best course of action. “You’re kidnapped by an unknown enemy. Surrounded by people you can’t see. Without a working suit or any means to call for help. That’s fine. This is fine.”

He glances down at his own set of symbols, currently illuminating his toes. The circle they’re forming is barely a foot wide, meaning he can’t shift his feet without brushing up against one of the glowing signs. He doesn’t recognize any of them, even as his mind supplies alien. He peers at the feet of the person to his right, nudging a foot over his circle in order to get a better look.

The result is two forms of agony slamming into him simultaneously. The ear-splitting alarm that shrieks through the room is accompanied by an electric shock cracking through him, making him taste blood as his teeth go through his tongue. Peter spits out red, gasping, hastily returning his foot to his assigned foot of space. “Okay. Ow. I’m guessing that means you don’t want me to step out of the circle. Also, again. Ow.”

He doesn’t get an answer. Peter shuffles his feet, nervous energy rising as he feels sweat begin to form under the suit, but he's not willing enough to take another shock to try moving again. That first one had been brutal, even for him—he’s not even sure he can take another one without something of importance getting damaged.

“Hello,” Peter calls into the abyss again. “Don’t you know it’s rude to keep people waiting? At least offer me a glass of water, ask me to take off my shoes, or—ah!”

His hands fly up to his face, shielding his eyes as a bright light suddenly bombards him from above. Stars blink in front of his eyes, hot white spots that seem to take forever to die away, only to reveal that he’s not the only one in the room illuminated. That he can see the other nine figures now.

He recognizes every one of them. His heart sinks, the stakes of the situation tripling.

The first person Peter sees is Harley. The older boy is standing directly across from him, standing but unconscious, like a doll waiting for activation. “Harley,” Peter calls over. “Harley. Wake up.”

“Peter?” The voice from Peter’s left is achingly familiar and yet not so, because Peter is not used to hearing MJ sound confused or unsure about anything. “What’s going on?”

Peter swallows, trying to put some authority into his voice when he says, “I don’t know. But we’ll figure it out.”

“Oh, what now?” The Wakandan accent brings Peter’s attention to Shuri, and also the person standing between her and MJ.

MJ notices too, brow furrowing. “What the hell is Flash doing here?”

“Who the hell is Flash?” asks the person on Harley’s right, and Peter’s dread increases as he takes in Lila Barton, standing in the circle next to the one that holds AJ Wilson. Lila sees AJ too, muttering a curse. “Who dragged the ten-year-old into this?”

As if Lila herself isn’t barely thirteen. Peter forces himself to keep his breathing in check as the rest of the room starts to wake up. Cassie Lang is on a now stirring Harley’s other side, while completing the circle is Ned to Peter’s right, and Betty Brant in between Peter’s best friend and AJ.

“What the—what is happening?” Flash’s head jerks up, eyes flying wide as he takes in the strange room, the people both familiar and not so gathered around him. “Where are we? Is this a prank? I am so telling my dad.” He makes to step out of his circle of symbols.

“Wait!” Peter cries out. “No one move!”

Flash freezes, only for his eyes to narrow when he sees Peter. “Nice Halloween costume, Parker.”

“Really?” MJ sends Flash a scathing look. “Now?”

“I tried to step off before,” Peter explains, ignoring Flash. “I got a shock. A big one.” He scans the rest of the room, at the nine very much not enhanced humans in here with him. “One I don’t think anyone in here should risk.”

“Please,” Flash scoffs. “If you can take it—” And he makes to step off the circle.

Peter doesn’t hesitate, raising his web-shooter and firing a web, gluing Flash down. “Don’t, Flash. Okay? Whoever put us here doesn’t want us to move yet.”

Flash is staring down at the web, eyes bugging out of his head. “No. No way.”

Peter has half a second to reflect that he’s just given away his biggest secret to Flash Thompson of all people, when he’s distracted by stirring on his right.

“Ugh. What? Ugh.” Ned blinks blearily around at them all, eyes focusing when he gets to Betty. “Betty! Are you okay?”

Betty nods, even though her hands are shaking. “I’m okay, I think. You?”

“Um…good question.” Ned casts a confused look over all of them, relaxing a little when sees Peter. “Is this an Avengers thing? Do I finally get to be a part of an Avengers thing?”

“Avengers?” Flash is still reeling at the Spider-Man suit. “This is bullshit. Penis Parker is not Spider-Man, that is the stupidest thing I’ve ever—”

“Shut up, Flash!” MJ snaps at him. “Literally the lowest priority thing right now.” She turns to Peter instead. “Is this an Avengers thing?”

“I don’t know. Do you know anything?” Peter asks Cassie and Lila, but they shake their heads. “Shuri?”

Shuri bites her lip, grim. “Wakanda has enemies, sure. But this doesn’t feel targeted at me. Bringing along Avengers’ kids, sure, we have an alliance with you guys after all. But why them?” She gestures at Peter’s high school friends.

“Hold on,” Flash cuts in. “Are we seriously going to not talk about the fact that Parker is Spider-Man?”

“No, we’re going to talk about how to escape,” MJ retorts.

Lila’s raking her eyes over Flash, wearing the exact expression her dad does when someone is about to get seriously hurt. “What did you call Peter before? Because that didn’t sound like his first name.”

Flash shoves a finger at Lila. “Who the hell is she?” Then in a sweeping motion to the rest of the room, “Who the hell are half of these people?”

“Friends,” Peter tries to calm him. “Like it or not, everyone in this room is a team now, and that means Flash is on it. So let’s figure this out, together.”

“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Betty speaks up. “But I actually think Flash has a point.”

Ned turns to her, horrified. “Take that back and then never say it again.”

“Peter being Spider-Man is a pretty big deal!” Betty points at Peter. “And did that girl refer to the others as Avengers’ kids?”

“Oh, Tony’s going to have to do so much paperwork after this.”

Peter’s head whips across the room to where Harley has just woken up, rubbing his head and taking them all in, wary. “Harley,” Peter calls out. “First of all, don’t step off your circle. Second—are you okay?”

Harley surveys the room. “I knew something like this was going to happen when I moved in with Tony. You lot are so weird.”

“Tony,” Flash repeats. “As in Tony Stark? How the hell does this random know Tony Stark?"

Harley shrugs. “We’re connected.” He takes in the rest of them, eyes resting on the still unconscious AJ. “Oh, hell no. Grabbing the rest of us is one thing, but these two?” He gestures between AJ and Lila. “Someone’s seriously getting their asses kicked today.”

“I’m fine,” Lila glares at him. “I’ve had more training for this kind of thing than nearly all of you have put together.”

“That depends on what kind of thing this is,” Shuri mutters, as Cassie and AJ finally start to come to.

“Don’t move!” nearly everyone calls at once.

AJ goes rigid, taking them all in. “What—where am I?” He looks around them all for assurance, eyes selecting Peter.

Peter aims for what he hopes is a reassuring smile. “We’re going to be okay, AJ. We’re making a plan.”

“Well. This whole set-up is unsettling.” Cassie looks down at the symbols surrounding her feet. “I assume there’s a reason we’re still standing in these.”

“You’ll get shocked if you step outside of them,” Peter warns her. “I already tried, and I think I only survived because of Spidey stuff.”

“Which we only have his word for,” Flash mutters, looking down in distaste at his still webbed foot.

“That’s actually a good point,” Betty states.

“Betty.” Ned turns to her. “It’s Peter.”

“Who is also Spider-Man,” Betty counters. “Something we weren’t privy to until a few minutes ago.” Her eyes narrow, taking in Ned’s reaction. “Or something Flash and I weren’t privy to, at least. You don’t seem that surprised at all.”

“I didn’t…it’s not that…” Ned stutters, casting a panicked look between Peter and Betty. “I swore I wouldn’t tell anyone!”

“I am your girlfriend!” Betty retorts, outraged. “I’m not anyone!”

“Of course you’re not,” Ned replies hastily. “But Peter’s my best friend, and—”

“And that makes you choose him over me?” Betty looks past Peter to MJ. “Michelle doesn’t look surprised. So Peter told his girlfriend.”

“Actually, I figured it out,” MJ corrects her. “It was super obvious.”

Ned ignores that. “Yes, but that’s Peter’s girlfriend—that’s different!”

“How?” Betty demands.

“Because it’s a really big secret and it wasn’t mine to tell and we haven’t even been dating that long so—”

“Relationship problems later, you two,” Shuri interrupts them. “Peter is Spider-Man. You finding this out is not the most shocking thing that has happened today. Work it out when we don’t have electrical charges under our feet.”

“I want to go home,” AJ mumbles, fidgeting in his circle.

“You will, AJ,” Peter assures him. “We all will. As soon as we figure this out—what is that?”

“What is what?” Cassie asks, before her eyes widen. “Wait, no—I hear it too. Everyone shut up.”

“No one was talking,” Flash grumbles.

“You’re talking,” Lila shoots at him, before she glances at the floor, brow furrowing. “Okay, I hear it now. Like a hum, right?”

No sooner has she said the words than the floor in front of them lights up. Peter stares, fascinated, at ten long triangles spread out in a circle before them.

“There’s one pointing at each of us,” MJ muses. “That is ominous as hell.”

“Seriously, what is this?” Flash demands.

“None of us know,” Harley replies, surveying the triangle pointed at him. “So shut up and help us figure it out.” He looks over the rest of the Midtown students in the circle. “Let me guess—he never does any of the work in the group projects and still takes all the credit?”

“Yep,” Peter, MJ, Ned, and Betty all say in unison.

“Look,” Shuri announces. “It’s reactive.” She has her hand out in a fist in front of her, twisting it back and forth while watching the triangles.

Peter frowns, but Betty says the words before he can. “Nothing’s happening.”

Shuri’s head shoots up, confused. “I’m choosing which triangle is lighting up. You guys can’t see that?”

“Let me try.” MJ shoves her own fist out in front of her, face lighting up when she begins to twist it in a mirror image of what Shuri’s doing. “Okay. So I can move it around too.” She lifts her head, taking in the perplexed faces. “But you guys can’t see which triangle I’m choosing.”

The rest of them shake their heads, putting their arms out too, Lila encouraging AJ to try with them. Peter follows suit. Sure enough, as soon as his arm is extended, the triangle to the right of him—the one pointed at Ned—lights up with a soft golden glow. He moves it slowly around the circle, through Betty, AJ, Lila, Harley, Cassie, Shuri, Flash, and then finally back to Ned, skipping over the triangle pointed at him. “I can’t light up the one in front of me.”

“Neither,” MJ confirms. “Everyone else’s, but not my own. And we can only see the ones we’re lighting up. We can’t see what triangles other people have chosen.”

“What is this?” Flash repeats. “What the hell is going on?”

“We don’t know,” MJ reminds him. “But we’re trying to figure it out, so why don’t you actually help for once?”

“Any ideas about what the hell is happening?” Cassie puts to the room.

“We’re being pranked?” Ned offers. “Intergalactic reality TV?”

“Reality TV,” Shuri murmurs, still fixated on the triangle. “Like a game show.”

Ned looks a little panicked. “I was kidding. It’s not actually an alien game show, right?”

“It’s not much of a game,” Harley snorts. “Be nice if they told us some rules. Maybe asked for consent, you know. That fun stuff.”

“I don’t want to play a game,” AJ bursts out.

Betty’s expression softens as she looks over at him. “Maybe we won’t have to,” she tries to comfort him. “I’m Betty, by the way. What’s your name?”

“AJ,” AJ sniffs. “I know everyone else. Except him.” He points at Flash.

Flash folds his arms. “Well, I don’t know you either. Or most of you.”

“I’m happy to keep it that way,” Lila mutters.

Cassie’s fixated on the triangles, same as Shuri. “Maybe there’s a pattern,” she suggests. “We all have to work it out together, as we can’t see what the other people are choosing.”

Harley cocks his head, considering that. “How are we meant to figure that out though? There are no clues.” He checks his feet. “We all have the same symbols around us. Not like there’s a code there to figure out.”

“Maybe it’s not the symbols?” Ned suggests. “Maybe it’s something to do with us instead. A pattern between us somewhere.”

“Or maybe—” MJ begins, only to cut off as the hum begins again. “Oh hell no. What now? More triangles?”

“It’s another clue,” Harley says. “It has to be. Or, the first clue, really, seeing as they didn’t really give us—”

Harley halts, all of them freezing as more lights turn on—spotlights, just like on the ten of them, except these ones are a few yards behind each of them. Ten new participants, all standing on their own set of symbols, all unconscious.

Peter sees who’s behind Harley and starts forward without thinking. “Tony?”

“Don’t move!” Shuri’s voice makes them all halt at once. “This is so clearly a trap—do not move.”

“Peter…” Harley’s voice trails off, dread sinking into Peter’s stomach as Harley first roots his eyes on whoever is standing behind him, and then slowly starts to travel around the room. Peter follows him, horror mounting as he sees each new face that has been added to the game.

Tony behind Harley.

Clint behind Lila.

Scott behind Cassie.

T’Challa behind Shuri.

Sarah Wilson behind AJ.

Betty’s father behind her.

Ned’s mother behind him.

MJ’s grandfather behind MJ.

A woman Peter doesn’t recognize behind Flash.

There are gasps from around the room, names called out, and over all of it the reminders to each other to not step off their circles, that that is likely only going to make things worse. The guardians behind them who are Avengers are still dressed in their various suits and uniforms, as though they’d been taken from a mission or even the Tower. Peter doesn’t want to think about what that implies about their captors.

Peter doesn’t want to look behind him, even though he knows who’s there. He’d promised her that he’d keep her safe. That Spider-Man stuff would never affect her. He’d promised.

He locks eyes at Harley, who seems to be in the same dilemma Peter’s in, not wanting to turn around. “So,” Harley says finally. “Tony’s behind me right now?”

Slowly, Peter nods. “May?” is all he says in response, stomach twisting when Harley confirms it.

“What is happening?” Betty demands. “Why am I part of this? Why is my dad a part of this?”

“We don’t know.” Lila had barely glanced over her shoulder before turning to AJ instead to try and keep him calm. The boy is currently staring at his statue-like mother in complete horror, calling out to her softly without response. “None of us know.”

“Well, you should know!” Flash shouts at her. “Some of you have Avengers behind you. The rest of us just have ordinary people who aren’t a part of anything!”

Peter looks at the woman behind Flash again. She’s a Chinese woman who looks to be somewhere in her forties, and Peter has met Flash’s mother. This definitely isn’t her.

Then, without warning, a klaxon sounds. Even with all the yelling, it’s the first sound in the room that has felt loud since everyone woke up.

“What is that?” several voices yell at once. Peter casts about, looking for clues, meaning, anything, but all that happens is the alarm gets louder, almost unbearable, until—

Ned’s spotlight turns red.

Ned’s face loses all color, staring up into his spotlight, even though it appears to be sourceless. They can’t even see the ceiling. “Guys? Why did my spotlight go red?

“The triangles,” Shuri points out. “Look at the triangles. Can everyone see the one that’s lit up?”

They can. It’s the one pointed at Ned’s feet. The rest are dark.

“Hold on, man,” Peter says quickly. “We’ll figure this out. You’ll be okay.”

He’s not even finished saying it when there’s a flash, an electronic whir, and then Ned and his mother both vanish.

Everyone reacts at once, mixed reactions from panic to confusion to shouting at everyone else to shut up. Peter just stares at the smoking circle where his best friend had just been standing. The spotlight is dark now, as is the one which held Mrs. Leeds.

“NED!” Betty screams above the rest of them. The room is back to normal now. Peter squints off into the darkness behind Tony’s unconscious form, but still can’t see the edge of the space they’re trapped in, even with the extra spotlights. “What happened to him?”

“Is he dead?” Flash gasps. “Is he seriously dead?”

“Of course not,” MJ says quickly, but she doesn’t look as though she believes it. “We don’t know that.”

Betty turns to Peter, pleading. “You’re Spider-Man, right Peter? You know about this stuff. What happened to Ned?

Peter opens his mouth, then falters, not even sure what to say, when Shuri beats him to it. “We voted for him.”

The entire room falls silent. “No one voted,” Betty says finally. “No one. Who would do that?”

Shuri is twisting her wrist again, focused on the triangles, her face grim. “Who had the triangle pointed at Ned lit up last round?”

“Round?” Harley repeats.

Peter barely hears him. “I did,” he admits, his throat dry.

Betty stares at him. “You what? Why would you do that?”

“I didn’t mean to!” Peter buries his face in his hands, the movement jostling his bitten tongue, making him swallow back the taste of blood. This isn’t happening. Ned didn’t just—he didn’t. “I was just trying out the triangles the same as anyone else, I didn’t mean to leave the one I could see on Ned!”

“But you did,” Shuri presses.

MJ finds her voice. “Leave him alone. None of us knew.”

“No, we didn’t,” Shuri agrees. She's taking in the symbols around his feet, something like recognition in her expression. “But now we do. And we need to collect data before it happens again.”

“Again?” Betty repeats, horrified. “We’re not doing this again!”

“Peter,” Shuri insists. “Did you vote for Ned?”

Peter swallows against the lump in his throat. “Yes,” he whispers, voice hoarse. “Yes, I did.”

Shuri nods. “Me too.”

Cassie glances between Peter and Shuri then admits, voice small, “I think my triangle was on Ned's as well. I didn’t know.”

“But now we do,” Shuri presses. “So when it happens again—”

“How do you know it’s going to happen again?” Harley interrupts, then throws his hands up when Shuri eyeballs him. “I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m just trying to follow your logic.”

“It’s like Ned said,” Shuri replies. “It’s a game. Games have rounds. Games have rules. We just learned what one of them is.”

“So we’re voting who should die,” Lila confirms. “And not just that person. Their guardian dies too.”

Peter suddenly feels the full weight of having May right behind him. From the looks everyone else throws over their shoulders, he senses that everyone else is feeling that exact same pressure.

“We don’t know they’re dead,” Peter tries, not willing to accept yet that Ned is just gone.

“We don’t know they aren’t,” Shuri counters, then softens when she sees Peter’s reaction. “I’m sorry about your friend. But grief comes after battle, not during, or we will never see victory.”

“That some Shakespearean crap?” Flash gripes at her. “Like English class is going to be helpful right now.”

Shuri gives him the full I am royalty stance. “It’s Wakandan. African. A saying centuries older than your little bard in tights.”

“Not my bard,” Flash mutters. He twists his hands together, eyes darting around at them all. “Maybe the people in the inner circle don’t die. Maybe it’s just the outer ones. Like a test.”

“Why the hell would only the outer circle people die?” Lila snaps at him. “In what world does that make sense?”

“I’m just saying,” Flash retorts. “That if we approach it from that angle, it makes choosing a lot easier.”

“We’re not choosing anyone,” Peter insists. “If this is a game, then we aren’t playing.”

“No. Hold on. What did you mean?” The entire room turns to look at Lila, who’s staring down Flash like she wants to incinerate him. “That only having the outer people’s lives on the line makes it easier to choose?”

Flash quails for half a moment before standing his ground. “Well, most of these people are like, middle-aged, right? All except for—”

MJ doesn’t let him finish. “Don’t you dare finish that sentence, Eugene. Don’t you dare.”

“What?” Flash points at MJ’s grandfather. “He’s old! He’s lived his life! Everyone else in here has decades left. You’d let one of them die for someone who only has a few years?”

The room erupts again, MJ the loudest, but Peter is distracted a moment later by movement to his right. “Betty, don’t!”

Betty freezes, her foot an inch from the edge of her circle. “Why not?”

They have the room’s attention again. “You’ll get shocked,” Peter warns her. “Like I did. It was definitely enough to kill a normal human.”

Betty’s breath has sped up. “I’m not just waiting around here to die.”

“No one’s dying,” Peter promises her.

“Someone’s already died!” Betty shrieks back at him. “My boyfriend. Look!” She points at where Ned was previously standing, and Peter’s stomach swoops. It’s not true. It can’t be. He’s not accepting that. “So why don’t we just leave?”

“Because this is too well set-up,” Shuri tries to reason with her. “Look around. They know what they’re doing. They’ve done this before.” She opens her mouth to go on, but before she can, the klaxon sounds.

“No.” Betty’s shaking her head. “No, no.” She whirls around to where her dad is standing. “He’s right there. Let’s just get them and go!” She moves to leave the circle, and Peter fires his web-shooter.

But there’s no burst of webbing. There’s just a click. It’s empty. Betty’s foot hits the darkened floor, away from her circle.

There’s a moment where everyone is holding their breath together. Peter braces, waiting for the jolt, knowing there is nothing he can do to stop it as the klaxon whines on.

Betty lets out a little laugh, looking down at herself. “See? Nothing’s going to happen. It’s all a big trick. We can just—”

She and her father vanish.

There’s a response of swear words, shouting, a sob Peter is pretty sure comes from AJ. Forcing down the horror of seeing two more people disappear (not dead, not accepting that) right in front of him, Peter focuses on the youngest of their group, ignoring the fact that the only reason he has a clear line of sight now is because Betty and Ned are both gone. “AJ. Hey.”

AJ looks up at him, teary and breathless. “Peter?”

“We’re okay,” Peter tries to reassure him, even though they’re not, they’re not okay. “It’s going to be alright.”

He looks over at MJ as he says the last part. Her eyes are wet, locked on where Ned and Betty had been standing.

“We don’t know they’re dead,” Peter finds himself saying.

“We don’t know they’re alive either,” MJ breathes.

“Focus,” Shuri calls their attention back to her. She's still taking in the symbols making up their circles. “Okay. Now we have more data.”

“Nice to know you see those of us who aren’t your friends as data,” Flash accuses her.

“Says the guy who was more than willing to execute his friend’s grandfather a few minutes ago,” Lila retorts.

“Yeah, he’s not my friend,” MJ adds, then turns to Flash with a defiant expression. “My paps has as much right to live as every other person in this room, whether he has five years left or fifty.”

“We’re not going to hurt him,” Peter says, the words aimed at Flash. “Or anyone else. No one is voting here! We don’t trade lives.”

“Not sure we’re going to have a choice,” Harley mutters. It brings Peter’s attention back to him, eyes sliding off Harley onto his unconscious mentor beyond. A part of Peter would give anything for Tony to wake up right now, to take charge, to tell them what to do. But if the adults were going to wake like the rest of them, they would have by now. They’re on their own. “This doesn’t feel like the kind of game with an opt-out button.”

“I don’t want to kill anyone,” AJ says in a tiny voice. “I don’t want to vote.”

“We won’t make you,” Cassie tries to calm him, but Shuri contradicts her.

“Yes. We are. Hear me out,” she adds, before anyone can protest. “That countdown? It’s two minutes. More accurately, there are two minutes between rounds. Two minutes for us to decide to choose who goes. Either by voting or by sacrifice.”

They all look at Betty’s empty square. “Sacrifice,” MJ repeats, a little stunned. “That wasn’t her intention.”

“The circle doesn’t care about intention,” Shuri points out. “It only cares about the final result.”

A noise makes them all look at MJ. “Sorry,” she murmurs. “Just…I’m not sure if that’s true. About the room not caring about intention. Why else would they do this?”

“The room has a moral high ground?” Harley replies. “What, they’re seeing who we choose and why?”

“Like a test,” Lila adds. “Are we being tested?”

“Irrelevant,” Shuri heads them off. “The why doesn’t matter right now. What matters is buying ourselves as much time as possible to figure out the how. This isn’t magic.”

“How do you know?” Harley asks. “This isn’t like any tech I’ve ever seen.”

“I’m used to far more advanced tech than you, including this one."

"You know this tech?" Peter asks, surprised. "How?"

"No time to explain this round. Let's just say for now that this tech is different and alien and…and weird, but it’s not magic. Which means I can figure out how to get us out of here. And for that I need more data.”

“There’s that word again,” Flash mutters.

“What do you suggest?” Cassie asks Shuri.

“We all vote for the person on our left,” Shuri says. “Rig the vote. Maybe if there isn’t a majority, no one has to go.”

“Or we all go,” Flash counters.

“That is a very real possibility,” Shuri replies coolly, draining the color from Flash’s face. “But I’m going to bet it’s not a likely one. Whoever is doing this wants this to play out as long as possible.”

“And is that based on data too?” Flash retorts.

“Life experience,” Shuri replies. “Lots of bastards in this world. Plenty more in all the others.” She puts her fist out, twisting it to the left to vote for Cassie. “Alright, come on. Let’s do this.”

Peter almost protests, asking if they could vote for the person on their right instead so he doesn’t have to cast a killing vote for his girlfriend and his best friend all in one day. Then he realizes that, with Ned and Betty gone, that would mean he’s voting for AJ, and he doesn’t really want to vote to execute a terrified ten-year-old and his mother either.

MJ seems to read his mind. “It’s okay, Peter,” she whispers to him. “Vote for me.”

Lila already has her fist pointed out, grimly casting her vote for AJ before she encourages him to do the same. “I don’t want to vote for Peter,” AJ’s saying.

“No one wants to vote at all,” Lila assures him. “But this is a good plan. Because it’s Shuri’s plan. You know how smart Shuri is, right?”

“Very smart,” Shuri adds, giving AJ a wink. “It’s okay, AJ. No one else is going to vote for Peter. It’s not going to hurt him.”

“Yeah, watch me choose Lila,” Harley says, casting his vote. “I like her brothers better anyway.”

“Well, I like your sister better than you,” Lila shoots back.

The room is nearly ready, with everyone preparing a vote for the person on their left. MJ shoots Flash a dangerous smile as she votes for him. “Better hope no one changes their mind, Eugene.”

“No one is changing their mind,” Shuri states. She’s assured, calm, but Peter’s known the princess for long enough to know that those are her tells for when she’s scared. Truly confident Shuri is witty, sarcastic, quick with a joke. All of that is long gone now as she takes charge of them all.

The klaxon sounds, and everyone tenses as the countdown begins.

“No one move!” Shuri shouts over it. “This is going to work. It is.”

Peter twists around to lock eyes with MJ. I love you, he mouths.

She nods. Love you too.

Peter’s so focused on MJ, on the hammering of his own heart as the countdown reaches zero, that he almost misses it—the slight twitch of Flash’s wrist as he twists it to his right just as the klaxon issues its last chime.

MJ’s spotlight turns red.

“No!” Peter yells, preparing to launch himself across the space. It’s not going to happen, he’s going to stop it, he’s going to save her.

MJ shakes her head at him, even as she realizes what's about to happen. “Don’t. Please don’t move, Peter, don’t—”

He can’t just not move. He can’t just do nothing. It’s MJ.

“Peter Parker, stay where you are!”

The voice brings Peter up short, shoes scuffing on the edge of his circle just as MJ and her grandfather both disappear.

Peter looks around wildly for the source of the voice, only to see Harley’s eyes watching him, overbright and terrified. “Jesus, dude. I thought you were going to jump.”

“You…” Through the horror of what’s just happened, Peter registers something he thinks is disappointment creeping through. “I didn’t just hear Tony?” Peter had been so sure it was him, but Tony is still behind Harley, unmoving and silent.

“Please.” Harley tries for a smile. In the white spotlight, it looks grotesque. “I know what Tony’s ‘you’ve made me mad because you’ve made me scared’ voice sounds like.”

“You stopped me from jumping by copying Tony’s voice.”

“Worked, didn’t it?”

Peter turns back to the circle where MJ had been standing just a few seconds ago. “I could have gotten to her.”

Cassie shakes her head. “No, Peter, you couldn’t have. None of us could do anything.”

“I could have!” Peter bursts out. It’s too much. He can’t lose Ned and MJ in the span of six minutes that’s—no. That shouldn’t be possible. It isn’t possible. “I could have gotten to her.”

“Focus,” Shuri orders. “Now we know—”

Peter rounds on her. “Are we not even going to take five seconds to acknowledge my girlfriend just died?”

Shuri doesn’t back down. “No, we’re not. Because our clock is already ticking down to losing someone else. I know you, Peter. I know you don’t want anyone else in this room to get hurt. Battle first—grief later. And I saw what you did.”

For a disorientating moment Peter is sure she’s talking to him, before she turns on Flash. “You idiot. Why the hell would you do that?”

Flash goes pale. “Do what?”

“Do not play stupid with me,” Shuri comes at him. “You voted for MJ. I saw you.”

“Dude,” Harley breathes, staring at Flash in disbelief. “You didn’t.”

Flash flails, seeming to consider denying it. Peter doesn’t give him the chance. “I saw you too.”

Flash freezes. “I—I didn’t.”

“You did,” Peter whispers. “You killed her.”

“One of those votes wasn’t mine, Parker.”

It’s a punch to the gut that feels so physical that Peter nearly stumbles out of his circle with the force of it. He voted for MJ. He voted for Ned. Even Betty—that wouldn’t have happened if he just kept on top of his web fluid levels like Tony keeps telling him to.

“Don’t you dare put this on Peter!” Lila shouts at Flash “We agreed to all vote for a different person. We would have all been safe if you had followed the plan!”

“You don’t know that!” Flash retorts. “Maybe we all would have gone. Or you heard what Michelle said—one of you could have changed your vote for me. I know you’re all thinking it.”

“Well I am now,” Lila snarls at him. “I don’t know about you guys, but I think we have a pretty strong candidate for our pick next round.”

Flash changes from indignant to terrified in an instant, throwing a look over his shoulder at the woman behind him. “No, wait—don’t hurt her!”

“No one is hurting anyone,” Shuri interrupts the brewing argument. She’s bent over her circle, careful not to leave it, running her hands over the symbols around her in purposeful movements. “This time, we’re doing the plan properly.” She fixes her eyes on Flash, even as she doesn’t pause in her work. A click and a snap, and Shuri is suddenly lifting one of the symbols out of the floor, with an assurance that displays she’s worked with this kind of tech before. “I am watching you, rich boy. You wasted a round, you got one of us killed—”

"Peter."

“—and this time you are playing by my rules, or everyone in this room will vote for you. Got it?”

"Peter!"

“Ah!” Peter claps his hands over his ears. As much as he wants to give into the chasm that’s rapidly tearing his heart apart, Shuri’s right. If he falls apart now, more people are going to die. He needs to focus, and hearing MJ’s voice in his head right now isn’t helping.

"Peter, I don’t know if you can hear me—"

"PETER! Maybe if we try together?"

“Don’t,” Peter whines, shutting his eyes, ignoring the concerned words from his remaining friends in the room. He doesn’t want to hear Ned either. Battle first. Grieve after. That’s what he needs to do right now.

"Betty, you too—count of three."

Peter blinks. That’s a…weird thing for the manifestation of his dead best friend to say. Unless he’s properly cracking, which isn’t allowed, because Shuri and Harley and Cassie and Lila and AJ and even Flash all need him, he needs to—

"PETER!"

The volume of it almost knocks Peter out of the circle. Three voices combined slam into him, deafening now that he’s listening for it. And it’s not coming from inside his head. It’s coming from above him.

Peter whips his head up to the ceiling so fast that he cricks his neck. “MJ! Ned!”

"Peter," MJ’s saying. "If you can hear us, we’re alive, we’re okay. The circle doesn’t choose who to kill. It chooses who to save."

Then it cuts out, gone, as though a new layer of soundproofing has been slid in between them.

“Damnit!”

Peter cuts his gaze to Shuri instead, head rising from her circle to meet his look. The symbol she had been holding is gone, replaced in the seamless floor as if by magic. “What are you doing?” Peter asks her.

“You heard them?” Shuri presses.

“I—yes, how did you—”

“I told you. It’s all just tech. These,” she gestures to the circles around their feet. “Aren’t killing devices. They’re teleportation circles.”

A weight vanishes off Peter’s shoulders and he bends over, catching his breath like he’s run a marathon. MJ’s alive. Ned’s alive. All six people who have left the circle are alive.

“Are you sure?” Harley presses her. “Not a mistake we can afford to make here.”

“I don’t make those kinds of mistakes,” Shuri states.

“And I heard them,” Peter backs her up. “Briefly. Can you do that again? Remove whatever that sound dampening thing is?”

“Yes, but I don’t think that’s the best use of our time.”

Flash looks almost as relieved as Peter is. “If we’re all getting teleported to safety one by one, what’s the rush? We’re going to be fine, right? Right?”

“No.” They all look at Lila, who’s chewing on the inside of her lip. “No, that’s not right. What’s the point of this if we all just get out?”

“Maybe we weren’t supposed to figure it out,” Cassie offers. “Maybe they wanted to make it look like we were all killing each other and wanted to see how we’d react. We did say this might be a test.”

“Or,” Harley says quietly. “It’s not about choosing who dies first. It’s about choosing the person—people—who have to stay behind at the end.”

There’s a rapid movement to Peter’s left, and he twists his neck round to see Flash desperately trying to free himself from the webbing still keeping his foot glued to the circle. “You’re kidding,” Peter says.

Flash glares at him. “You said we’re getting out, right? What does it matter what the order is?”

“Because maybe not all of us get to go,” Harley reminds him.

“You don’t know that,” Flash fires back, but he sounds unsure.

“No, but it’s a good theory,” Shuri says. “Karma. Imagine people fighting to kill off their friends to save themselves only to realize at the end that it’s the most brutal person who gets zapped instead. That’s the game show I’d watch.”

Cassie raises an eyebrow at her. “You’d watch that?”

“If I was sick and twisted enough to set this up, I’d watch that,” Shuri amends. “And our two minutes are nearly up, so we need to make a decision.”

“AJ should go next,” Cassie says immediately. AJ has curled up on himself as much as he can, arms wrapped tightly around his torso as he sends occasional looks back at his mother. “Then Lila. They’re the youngest.”

“I’m fine,” Lila insists. “I got this.”

“You’re thirteen,” Cassie counters. “That’s too young. We should choose her after AJ.”

“I’m fine,” Lila repeats. “I’m trained for this. I got it.”

Cassie goes to argue, but her eyes aren’t on Lila. They’re behind her—on Clint.

Peter feels the presence of May behind him again, still not wanting to turn around and actually see her. If it was just him, he’d be okay to remain behind if that meant saving the others. But he can’t run from the fact that every round he chooses to stay in, every time he chooses to risk getting closer to that finish line, he’s dragging May along with him.

“We should all vote for the person to our left again,” Shuri decides, just as the klaxon begins to sound again, indicating their time for voting is almost up.

“Why?” Harley calls back. “Cassie’s right, we should get AJ out of here.”

“Because we need data,” Shuri insists. “And the asshole with the stupid name over there messed that up. We need to see what happens if there's a tie.” She’s already got her fist out, twisting it towards Cassie again. “Maybe more people get out. Maybe we skip a round and don’t have to choose anyone. Maybe an equal-way tie ends the whole game. We need to know this, and there’s no time to argue. Vote for the person on your left—now!”

With their time almost up, everyone scrambles to cast a vote. Something sick twists in Peter as he’s forced to choose Flash as his pick to save. He doesn’t want Flash to die, but he’s still reeling from the image of his former bully sending MJ to her supposed death with nothing more than a flick of his wrist.

The klaxon ends. All the triangles light up at once. No spotlights turn red.

“It worked,” Harley breathes. “We didn’t choose anyone. It worked.”

Which is the exact moment both Lila's and Cassie’s spotlights turn a blindingly bright gold.

“What’s happening?” Cassie asks, looking down at herself, getting steadily more panicked as she looks from Lila, to Clint, and finally whirling around to look at Scott. “Why are mine and Lila’s gold? What does it mean?”

“Guys.” Peter twists his wrist back and forth. He can only light up one of two triangles now. Lila or Cassie’s. “I think it’s forcing us to choose one of them.”

Shuri nods, satisfied. “Good. That’s good. If we can make a tie every single round, that’s going to increase time in between voting. Give me more time to see if I can figure out the teleportation circles and make sure we all get out.”

Cassie takes in a breath, throwing a slightly desperate look to Scott before she says, “We said little ones first. That’s what we agreed. Vote for Lila.”

“Stop calling me little! I’m fine!”

“I know you are!” Cassie retorts, anger boiling over. “But it’s not just about you!”

Some of Lila’s bravado falters. “Of course I want to save my dad. But I also know that he wouldn’t want me to when there was someone who needed it more. Or a better option.”

“Better?” Cassie repeats, incredulous. “What do you mean better?”

“Smarter,” Lila clarifies, then extends her next words to the whole room. “We’re doing this wrong.”

Shuri’s brow furrows. “Wrong? How?”

“I get why you would want to send me and AJ out first, I do.” Lila looks to Shuri. “You said you think that you can get us out another way? Without us having to play at all? Like hacking their tech?”

“Hack isn’t the word I’d use, but yes. I think that can be done.”

“So, hear me out—we shouldn’t choose who to save based on who is the most vulnerable in here. We should vote based on who is the most useful out there.”

The whole room goes quiet as they take in her words.

“She’s got a point,” Shuri agrees. She looks over to Scott, still dressed in the Ant-Man suit, even though the helmet is missing. “What if there’s a gap somewhere in here that only Cassie’s father can find?”

“Or the comms in the suit could activate once he’s out of here,” Harley offers. “Not every Avenger is in this room—there’s still back-up we could call.”

“But…” Cassie looks torn.

“What?” Lila challenges her. “You call me out for not wanting to prioritize my dad’s safety, but you’re not going to prioritize yours even when there’s a practical reason for you to do so right now?”

“Of course I want my dad to be okay!” Cassie shouts back, tears springing into her eyes. “But I want to save Clint too! I don’t want either of them to die, and I don’t want to make that choice!”

Lila looks completely thrown, and Peter’s not far behind her, until it all makes sense. Clint raised Cassie for five years through the Blip, when they didn’t have anyone but each other. Of course his safety’s a priority for her.

“No one’s dying, Cassie,” Peter assures her. “We’ll get everyone out before there’s one person left. We’re not going to get to a point where we find out what happens to the last person standing, I promise.”

The klaxon starts up again.

“Vote,” Shuri instructs them, raising her hand and flipping her wrist over to her left, in Cassie’s direction. “Lila’s right. We need to be practical about this. Extend our time and open as many options for escape as we can.”

“Agreed.” Harley also votes for Cassie, twisting his wrist left instead of right. “Besides, we all know Lila Barton is tougher than Thor’s hammer. She’s got this.” He sends Lila an encouraging smile, which she returns.

Lila tries her own wrist, and grimaces. “Looks like neither me or Cassie get a say in this one. AJ,” she prompts the boy next to her. “Vote for Cassie.”

AJ still looks small and scared, but nods and casts his vote.

“Good job,” Lila tells him, and gets rewarded with a tiny smile. “You’re doing great.”

“Flash,” Shuri prompts.

Flash blinks, seeming to come back from miles away. “What does it matter? Majority vote’s already been cast.”

“Would be nice to know if you were on the same page,” Shuri rolls her eyes at him, but the klaxon is nearly at an end, and Peter only has time to throw his vote for Cassie too before it shuts off, turning Cassie’s spotlight red.

She looks out at them all, a single tear spilling down her cheek as she takes in all the friends she’s leaving behind, ending on Peter. “Figure this out,” she tells him, throwing a meaningful look between Tony and May. “Fast. Don’t put yourself in this position.”

Then she vanishes too.

Shuri immediately gets back to work on the teleportation tech. Peter bends down to his too, tries to examine it, but he doesn’t even know where to start. Maybe if he had a lab where he could open it up and take a look under the hood, but it’s completely foreign to him in a way it doesn’t appear to Shuri.

“Who’s next?” Lila asks, only to be interrupted by the tiniest sob that Peter’s ever heard, as though the person crying is desperate to hide it.

“Okay, listen,” Peter says, not being able to take the image of AJ not only terrified but now trying to mask it from them. “I know we just had a long conversation about getting out the most useful people first, but I really think AJ should be next.”

“I’m fine,” AJ insists, but it’s undercut with a wobble in his lower lip. “I can be brave.”

Harley looks up, meeting eyes with Peter, an understanding passing between them. “I agree,” Harley announces. “He’s too young for this. Let’s get him home.”

“No.” Shuri straightens up. She takes them all in, and then states in a voice that leaves no room for argument, “We’re going to vote for me.”

“You?” Flash scoffs. “What, are you more important than all of us now?”

“I think the word we were saying is useful,” Shuri counters. She surveys the room. “I can’t get us out from the inside. But I do know this tech well enough to know that I can do it from the outside. I just need to get there. We’re sending me.”

“You keep saying you know this tech,” Flash repeats, disbelieving. “You know how this weird, alien tech stuff works. And now it can suddenly be defeated from the outside. How convenient.”

“I didn’t want to say so until I was sure I couldn’t do it from here,” Shuri fires back. “And now I’m sure.”

“How do you know?” Harley presses her, but he sounds more curious than anything.

“Because it’s the same technology the Children of Thanos used,” Shuri explains. “Or use, if they’re not quite as dead as we thought. And one of their spaceships ended up right in our backyard when Thanos did. I’ve been studying it ever since I came back from the Blip.”

“Children of Thanos,” Peter repeats, shuddering as he remembers the one he had encountered—the one Tony had called ‘Squidward’ that had taken Doctor Strange. “Is this them?”

“Or someone with access to the same technology. Either way, I know how it works, and I know I can fix it from the outside.”

“Or you’re lying,” Flash replies. “And you just want out right now.”

Harley looks between Shuri and AJ, unsure. “We can’t send AJ first? And then Shuri?”

“The more time you can give me, the better.” Shuri looks to AJ, softening. “I’m really sorry, AJ, but that’s the way it has to be. For everyone’s sake.”

AJ nods, sniffing. “That’s okay. You can go first.”

“It’s not okay!” Flash is glaring at Shuri. “Don’t give me that ‘best for everyone’ crap. You just want to save yourself. Leave all us useless people to rot.” He gestures at the empty circles. “I didn’t miss that the first three to go before we knew we were saving and not executing were the other three with no association to the Avengers.”

“Ned was an accident,” Peter reminds him, temper rising. “Betty stepped off her circle before anyone could vote at all that round. And MJ’s gone because you were a coward and voted for her to save yourself!”

Flash casts a nervous look at the woman behind him again. “Come on, Peter.”

“Oh, so you do know how to use my first name.”

Flash flushes a little, but doesn’t let it deter him. “Useful. That’s what they’re saying. Tell me—how exactly is your aunt useful by their standards?”

“I trust Shuri,” Peter argues. “No one is dying. She can get us out.”

“You trust her, huh? To do what’s best for everyone?” Flash folds his arms, turning smug. “Well, tell me this then. We need an engineer on the outside—to get useful people outside. Tony freaking Stark is in this room, and she hasn’t even suggested him and the other kid go next.”

“She has a name,” Shuri says drily. “It’s Shuri. That’s Harley. Not that you bothered to ask.”

Flash looks at Harley as though seeing him for the first time. “What are you, like Tony Stark’s secret kid or something? Don’t you want your dad to be okay? Why aren’t you fighting for him?”

“I moved in with Tony last month,” Harley says flatly. “And of course I want to save him. I just care about people other than myself, douchebag.”

“What, and she does?” Flash desperately tries to put the blame back on Shuri. “Surely Tony Stark, Iron Man, is the best choice of engineer there is, not some random chick who thinks she can boss everyone around. But no—she just wants to be the one to go next.”

“You’re right.”

“I—what?” Flash turns to Shuri, confused. “I’m right?”

“For the record,” Shuri says, very clearly. “I’m sure that I can get us out from the other side. It makes sense for all of us to send me next. But if there’s the tiniest chance I can’t? I’m not going to be the one left behind here. Or, to clarify—I’m not leaving him here.” And she points over her shoulder at T’Challa.

“Well, I don’t want to leave my —” Flash cuts off. “My person here either. Why do you get to save yours first?”

“His name is T’Challa, and he’s my brother,” Shuri says, voice dark. “And if he was just my brother, then yes, it would be the same stakes as it is for everyone else in here. I’d wait my turn, I’d play it out. But he’s not just my brother. He’s my king.”

Shuri folds her arms, daring anyone to challenge her. No one does.

“This isn’t just a case of rescuing someone I love,” Shuri continues. “It is following through on my sworn duty to protect the king of my country. The king of my people. The king of my home. They survived without the Black Panther for five years. It wasn't pretty. I’m not sure we’d survive that loss a second time. I’m not just another kid in here—I’m a ruler and I have to think about my people. So I’m going, and I’m taking my king with me. Any arguments?”

Peter takes a breath, feeling May behind him, seeing Tony and Harley across from him, taking in the two youngest kids chosen as well as Clint and Sam’s sister to his right. “It’s not going to matter anyway,” he says finally. “Because you’re going to get us all out.”

Shuri relaxes a little. “Of course, I could have stepped off my circle and gone,” she points out. “But I think that’s what you Americans call a ‘dick move.’ I’d rather do this with your blessing.”

“Hey,” Flash calls across the room, and it takes Peter a second to register that he’s talking to AJ. “Little kid. AJ, right?”

AJ looks up, panicked.

“Leave him alone,” Lila warns.

Flash ignores her. “You’re hearing what they’re saying right? They’re going to get out all the important people. Look around—every pair in here has an Avenger as part of it, except for me and you. They’re going to leave us here.”

AJ’s eyes fly wide, but Harley cuts Flash’s next words off. “Jesus, dude. We’re not leaving anyone.” He puts his fist up, twists it to the left. “A vote for Shuri is a vote for escape and getting the hell out of here.”

“Catchy slogan,” Lila remarks, doing the same. “AJ. Vote for Shuri. She’s smarter than Tony anyway.”

AJ looks a little thrown, looking over to Shuri for reassurance. “You’re going to get all of us out?”

Shuri gives him a reassuring smile. “You bet.”

AJ rallies himself, casting his vote for Shuri too. “Good job,” Lila whispers to him.

Peter throws his vote Shuri’s way too, as the klaxon sounds. “I trust you.”

“You’d better, white boy.” Shuri’s spotlight turns red. “Keep doing the tie-breakers. Give me as much time as possible.” Then she and T’Challa are gone too. Half the spotlights are extinguished now, the darkness growing even more oppressive

There’s a sob and a sniff from Peter’s right, and his heart breaks a little at seeing AJ trying to hold himself together. “Nearly there,” Lila promises him. “You and your mom are going to be fine, AJ, I promise.” She looks over to Harley. “I think we should get you and Tony out next. Give Shuri all the help we can.”

Peter doesn’t miss the look of relief that crosses Harley’s face, even as the older boy tries to hide it. Something loosens a little in Peter’s chest too. None of them are going to die, that’s not going to happen, but he still relaxes a little at the idea of taking Tony off the chopping block.

“Of course that’s who you choose,” Flash scoffs. He’s still wiggling his foot in Peter’s webs, but it’s stuck fast.

Harley glares at him. “You suggested Tony last round!”

“No,” Flash counters. “I was making a point. That you’re going to prioritize all your superhero friends and leave us ‘worthless’ people to figure out who has to take that last spot ourselves.”

“There isn’t going to be a last spot!” Peter retorts. “Also, this argument coming from the guy who said ‘let’s kill MJ’s granddad because he’s the oldest’? Really?”

Flash ignores him. “AJ.”

“Don’t you dare,” Lila growls at him.

“You know I’m right,” Flash presses.

“Stop talking to him!” Lila snaps. “What is that even going to achieve?”

“Oh, so you don’t want to save the now traumatized ten-year-old who’s worried about his ‘useless’ mom dying in front of him?”

That makes AJ cry harder, and Flash is damn lucky that Lila doesn’t have her bow in her hands right now. “We need to choose what’s best for the group,” Lila reminds Flash. “To maximize all our chances of getting out okay. Get on board with that already.”

“Easy to say when you have an Avenger standing behind you, which apparently makes you more valuable than the people who don’t.”

Lila finally loses it. “I had a chance to get my dad out, asshole! I could have gone instead of Cassie. It was me who suggested you choose her instead, because her dad has a more useful skillset than mine does to help us. But I chose to stay. I chose to risk my person. Because I want all of us to live, instead of manipulating ten-year-olds into saving my own skin.”

“It’s not just my skin!” Flash snaps. “It’s my …” He flicks his eyes behind him again and then, to Peter’s surprise, aims his next words at him. “Don’t laugh.”

“I can’t find a single funny thing in this situation right now,” Peter counters.

Flash swallows, color creeping into his cheeks. “She’s my nanny. Okay? Her name’s Fen.” He glares out at all of them. “And before any of you start off with she’s worth less than your guardians or something because she’s not related to me, or that I don’t care about her as much as I would a blood relative, I’ll point out that both my parents are alive and kicking and yet whoever set this up chose her. She has even less to do with whatever this is than I do and I’m not letting her die just because she doesn’t have a use.”

“No one is saying that, Flash,” Peter replies, even as something starts in his gut as the other boy’s words. He can still hear AJ crying quietly, trying to hide it from them.

“Listen,” Harley tells Flash. “I know what it’s like to have someone look after you who isn’t a parent. That bond isn’t worth any less than a blood one. But that’s not how we’re choosing who to vote for here. I’m not saying Tony and I should go next because we’re worth more, I’m saying we should go next because—”

“Flash isn’t wrong.”

Harley cuts off, staring at Peter like he’s just grown an extra head. “You did not just say that.”

Flash whirls around to face Peter, eyes wide as he senses the escape coming. “Really? You’ll let me and Fen leave next?”

“This isn’t about you,” Peter retorts. The sting of seeing Flash vote for MJ hasn’t abated. “But I am saying that maybe just going purely by ‘most useful’ isn’t fair either. There’s more at play here—like the fact that two pairs of people in this room…” He feels May behind him again. “Two and a half pairs of people in this room signed up for a life that includes these kinds of situations. And two pairs didn’t. Isn't it part of our bond as heroes to rescue civilians first?”

“Yes,” Flash agrees immediately. “That’s exactly what I’ve been saying.”

“Which is why we should vote for AJ,” Peter finishes. “He shouldn’t be here. He’s too young for this kind of thing. And his mother has nothing to do with this except for being Captain America’s sister.”

“Wait,” Flash blinks, staring at AJ. “You’re related to Captain America?”

Peter ignores him. “He’s young. He’s scared. Let’s get him home.”

“No,” Lila says flatly. “I’m sorry AJ, I am. But we should vote for Flash.”

Flash starts, as though he’s sure he’s misheard. Peter’s not far behind. “Lila?” Peter says. “We’re voting for people to save, remember?”

“Oh, I know,” Lila says coolly. “I also know that Shuri asked for as much time as we can give her. And I know that we can’t vote for ourselves. We don’t know how long it’s going to take Shuri to get us out, but it could well be long enough that it comes down to two people. And as those two people will have to vote for each other, there’s no way to pick a winner. So I’m guessing the final round of the game is meant to be who jumps off their circle first.”

Peter swallows, seeing the picture Lila is painting. “We’re going to be left with two people who might need to wait out those final two minutes,” he finishes. “To give Shuri as much time as possible.” He looks at Flash’s webbed foot. The boy is still fighting it, and the minimal amount of web fluid Peter had left is looking like it’s starting to weaken. Peter has no idea if it will hold all the way to the final round.

“One of those last two people can’t be Flash,” Lila points out. “He’ll save himself the moment he can. He won’t give Shuri the time she needs to work to save the last person and their guardian.”

Peter pictures the clock counting down, trying to stay still with May’s life on the line. From the look on everyone else’s faces, they’re thinking the exact same thing. “AJ shouldn’t be one of the final two people either,” Harley states. “That’s not fair to put that kind of pressure on him.”

The klaxon starts to sound, and Peter’s heart rate jumps. The countdown’s begun, and they haven’t chosen yet.

Lila shoves her wrist out. “I’m voting for the idiot over there. He’s just going to compromise things for the rest of us if he stays.”

“I’m going to vote for him too.” Everyone looks at AJ, who has his own shaking fist out, looking tearfully at Flash. “I am related to Captain America. He’s my uncle. I can be brave like him.”

“I’m sure you can,” Harley assures him. “But you shouldn’t have to be. I vote AJ. He shouldn’t be here.”

“Peter,” Flash pleads. “Come on. The girl’s right, I’m just going to mess things up for you, you’ll have a better chance if I’m not in your way.”

Peter puts his hand out, and makes up his mind. “No one is dying. Doesn’t matter if they’re related to an Avenger or not.” He looks to Flash. “I will keep you and Fen alive. I promise.” Then, to the group at large. “I vote for AJ too.”

Flash curses, then twists his hand just as the countdown ends. “I vote for Peter then.”

The klaxon ends, and both AJ and Flash’s spotlights light up gold.

“Bastard,” Lila spits at him. “You split the vote.”

“The bossy girl told us to! I’m doing what you guys wanted!”

“What I want is for you to get out of here as soon as possible so you don’t screw everything up!” Lila doesn’t move her hand. “I vote for Flash again. He needs to go.”

“I still vote for AJ,” Harley counters. “Flash can suck it up and get with the program. I’m not putting a little kid through another second of this.”

Everyone in the room looks to Peter. The deciding vote here is his.

“Peter,” Flash tries again, but Harley’s faster.

“No. Peter doesn’t even need to vote.” Harley turns to AJ. “Just step off the circle, AJ. It’s okay—go.”

“What?” Flash looks down at his own webbed foot, not yet weakened enough for him to escape. “That’s not fair!”

AJ is frozen, with no idea what to do.

“Go,” Harley prompts him. “It’s fine, AJ. Just step off the circle.”

But AJ shakes his head. “Flash is right,” he says, voice small. “It isn’t fair. It should be everyone’s choice.”

“Think about your mom—” Harley starts, but Lila cuts him off.

“Don’t. Don’t you dare put that on his shoulders.” It’s too late though. The words have hit hard, and AJ starts crying anew.

“She’s right, you know.” Flash is pointing at Lila, but he’s looking at Peter. “About me messing it up. I will. Best to get rid of me now.”

“Nice,” Harley glares at him.

“Accurate though,” Lila argues. “Vote him out, Peter. Then we can get Harley and Tony out to help Shuri, then AJ, then you and me can do the final two minutes.” She keeps her head resolutely forward through the last part, very deliberately not looking back at Clint as she says it.

“I don’t…I don’t know!” Peter lowers his hand, all too aware of the precious seconds ticking away until a choice has to be made. Every sob AJ’s making pulls at his heart, but he turns to Flash. “You’d seriously sabotage us. Really?”

“He voted for your girlfriend,” Lila points out. “Didn’t give a crap about her. Only himself.”

“That’s not true!” Flash shoots back. “It’s not just me! It’s—” He breaks off with a hitched breath, burying his face in his hands. “None of you understand! What she’s done for me. What she means to me. It’s not fair that she’s here!”

“None of us understand.” Harley’s voice has gone deadly. “Really? None of us understand?”

Flash lifts his head, eyes bright. “She’s a good person. She’s not—she’s not like me, I promise. She doesn’t deserve this.”

“What, and you think the rest of the people in this room do?”

“I can’t lose her!” Flash shouts back at him. “She’s the only person I have left!”

“I mean, that wouldn’t matter, because you’d both be dead,” Lila points out.

“Not helping,” Peter quiets her. “And no one is dying.”

Harley isn’t done with Flash. “You want to know why whoever set this up chose Tony for me? And no, it’s not because I’m his biological kid. To be honest, we weren’t even that close until after the Blip. It’s because if the criteria was guardian, then Tony’s the closest thing I have. Because my mom’s dead. Barely a month ago. Cancer. Don’t get me started on my dad.”

Something like confusion crosses Flash’s face. “I don’t—what?”

“You want to yell at us about only having one person left?” Harley gestures behind him. “I get one last adult in my life who gives a crap about me. And he’s up for execution too, Flash.”

Flash doesn’t back down. “Yeah. And we already said we’re getting him out. That’s pretty much a guarantee that you’re both going to be fine. It’s not the same.”

“Okay,” Harley counters, then points a finger at Peter. “What about him?”

“Harley, don’t,” Peter tries to warn, but Harley’s not stopping now.

“What about Peter?” Flash asks, cautious.

“You want to shout at us about how awful it would be to lose a guardian? How none of us understand? When you’re standing right next to someone who has not only lost three, but hasn’t put him or his aunt forward as a voting option since we started. None of us have.”

Flash goes white. “I didn’t—I didn’t mean—” He swallows, looking around at them all. “You don’t under—" He cuts off, tries again. “Fen saved me. I can’t even describe—I have to save her back. And I thought—”

“That you’d appeal to Peter to save you?” Harley finishes. “I’ve known Peter long enough to know who you are, Flash Thompson. Little late to start being nice to him now.”

Flash trembles, staring at his shoes. “Not Peter,” he mumbles, so low that Peter almost misses it. “Spider-Man.”

Peter looks down at the Spider-Man suit. He’d almost forgotten he was wearing it. “Flash…”

“You’re my freakin’ hero, do you know that?” Flash continues. “Spider-Man, always there to save the day. I always figured if I was in trouble…I don’t know, it was a comfort. Knowing Spider-Man would save me.”

“Except you’re not the only person who needs saving,” Lila reminds him. “You say Spider-Man’s your hero? Then act like it. Do what he’s doing right now.”

“Flash,” Peter prompts, mouth dry. “Look at AJ.”

Flash peers up, seeing the crying kid standing across from him.

“Come on, man,” Peter says. “I want to vote for him. But if you really meant what you said about trying to sabotage the rest of us in the next few rounds, then I’ll send you out instead.”

The klaxon begins.

“Flash,” Peter tries again. “This isn’t about Spider-Man saving everyone right now. It’s about all of us working together to save each other. I need your help here.”

Flash swallows, then laughs wetly. “Spider-Man needs my help. Wow. That’s a moment.”

“Yeah. Big time. We’re all going to be okay, I promise.”

Flash nods. Sucks in a breath. Then— “Okay. Vote AJ.”

With a second to go, Peter twists his first right, and AJ’s spotlight lights up red. AJ bursts into tears in sheer relief, looking up at Flash. “Thank you.”

Something crosses Flash’s face that Peter’s never seen there before, and then it’s only Peter, Flash, Harley, Lila and their respective guardians remaining.

“Okay,” Peter breathes, then clears his throat and tries again. “Okay. Our goal now is to give Shuri as much time as possible. We’re going to split the next vote between Harley and someone else, wait that full two minutes, and then Harley and Tony are going to go help Shuri.”

“Who do we split with?” Lila asks.

Before anyone can answer, a voice echoes down from above. "Peter! I really hope you can hear me."

Peter jerks his head to the ceiling. “Shuri?”

"I’ve managed to remove the sound dampener from this side," Shuri’s saying. "None of us up here will be able to hear you, but your hearing should be able to pick up my voice now."

“What’s she saying?” Harley asks, but Peter shushes him, focusing on trying to hear Shuri. Even with his enhanced hearing, he has to strain to catch the words.

"We’re okay," Shuri continues. "But none of the people who were unconscious in the room are waking up."

Peter’s heart jolts. They’re not waking up? At all?

"They’ll be fine," Shuri assures him. "We just can’t wake them up here, which changes the plan. I can see what needs to be done, but I need you or Harley—preferably both—on the inside to help."

Peter’s stomach sinks. They’re not getting Tony out next round after all, and the selfish part of him he’s been trying to suppress since this whole ordeal started hates that change in plans.

“The guardians aren’t waking up when they get out of the room,” Peter explains, deliberately not looking at Harley when he says it. “Shuri thinks they’re going to be okay eventually, but—”

“But there’s no point getting Tony out next,” Harley finishes.

“And we need to stay.” Peter makes himself lock eyes with Harley. “Shuri needs help on the inside, and we’ve got the most engineering experience. It has to be us.”

Harley takes a moment to absorb that. “Fine. Lila and Clint next then.”

Flash opens his mouth as if to argue, then closes it again, gritting his teeth.

Peter has to fight to keep his breath steady. It’s happening—the very position Cassie warned him not to get himself into. It’s going to come down to May or Tony. Except it’s not. Because they’re all going to live.

“Let’s start by splitting the vote,” Peter says. “Get ourselves an extra two minutes. Flash and Lila—vote for each other.”

Lila does so, even though it’s with obvious distaste, watching Flash’s wrist movements the whole time. “I’m voting for you,” Flash insists.

“Yeah, yeah,” Lila replies, clearly disbelieving. “Still not over the MJ thing, if we’re being honest.”

Harley raises his fist. “I’m voting for Lila. What?” he says off Peter’s look. “I’m not voting for the douchebag over there, even if we are splitting the vote.”

“Fine.” Peter votes for Flash. It’s the quickest decision they’ve come to so far, and it makes the two-minute countdown somehow even worse now that they have to wait it out without having anything to talk about during. Peter can’t find where to look, that mental block refusing that he turn around to see May. A small of him worries that if he sees her, he’s going to crack. He’s going to step off his circle and leave the others if it means she’s safe and out of harm’s way. So he doesn’t look, but looking straight ahead isn’t an option either, because then he can see Tony instead.

It feels so wrong, seeing his mentor so still and inactive. He’s usually always a hive of activity, with at least one screen going or moving them from place to place, unable to stay still for more than a few minutes at a time except when he’s buried in a project—which works for Peter, as that’s something they have in common. He can look to either side, but on his right is Lila and Clint, and on his left is a still teary Flash with an innocent woman a few yards behind him.

In the end, Peter elects to look at his shoes, so he doesn’t have to see anyone until the klaxon finishes sounding, and Flash and Lila are both bathed in blinding gold.

“Okay,” Lila says, still glaring at Flash. “You got your wish. You get to go.”

“Lila,” Harley starts.

“He’s a civilian,” Lila reminds him. “So is his nanny. Fen. They should go next.”

“No.” Flash raises his head, eyes closed, looking like it takes every ounce of strength for him to say, “Choose Lila.”

“What?” Harley’s shock turns to suspicion. “You trying to pull something?”

Flash shakes his head. “Early on, we said. We said. Youngest first.” He manages to open his eyes. “She’s just a kid. She’s barely older than the other—than AJ. If we said he should go, so should she.”

Lila blinks at him. “It’s a trick. This is a trick.”

“It’s not!” Flash shouts at her, then reels it in, looking to Peter. “I’m sorry. About Michelle. That was—I panicked. That’s all it was, I swear, I didn’t mean to. So let me…” He gestures to Lila. “Let the little girl save her dad.”

For a moment it looks like Lila’s going to argue, like she has been this entire time. Instead her lip trembles, tears forming, and Peter is suddenly forcefully reminded that he was at her thirteenth birthday party only a few weeks ago. The tears spill over, and for the first time since the ordeal started, Lila Barton looks her age. “Dad always taught me civilians first,” she whispers, voice wet. “I can’t—He wouldn’t want me to—”

“Lila,” Harley says softly. “If it was just him, probably. But I think if Clint was awake and had a say, he would have chosen you to go first.”

Lila breaks down properly now, the stress of the situation destroying the rest of the strong facade. “I do want to go,” she sobs. “I’ve wanted to go since the beginning. I want my dad to be okay.”

“Then go,” Flash prompts her, trying for a smile. “Save him.”

The klaxon sounds. A few seconds remaining. Lila pulls herself together a bit, glaring at all of them. “The rest of you better get out. Or else…or else.”

“Right behind you,” Peter promises. “You’ve been so brave. Clint is going to be beyond proud of you. Now get him out of here.”

Lila nods, takes a breath, and then steps out of her circle.

“And then there were three,” Harley mutters. “So how are we doing this?”

“Three-way tie,” Peter decides. “I vote for Flash, Flash votes for Harley, Harley votes for me. The room will choose two for us to vote between, but Flash can just step out of his circle.”

“Um,” Flash wiggles his webbed foot. “Not sure that’s going to work.”

“Here.” Peter digs in his suit for his web solvent, tossing it to Flash, who catches it, surprised.

“Peter,” Harley hisses. “You should have waited!”

Peter locks eyes with Flash. “It’s fine. He’s not going to use it until the last minute—right?”

Flash takes in a shaky breath, but nods. “No. I’ll stay.”

“Good. So until then…”

"Peter."

Peter holds up his hands for the others to be quiet. “Shuri’s talking.”

"You better be able to hear me. Alright, I know the way out. Going to walk you through it now."

“She’s figured out how to get us out,” Peter announces, feeling a good chunk of the tension in the room lift at the words.

"I’m doing some rewiring outside, but you’re going to need to do some on your circle too. Harley too, if he can."

Peter’s already crouching down, indicating Harley to do the same.

"I can’t shut it down," Shuri’s explaining. "Not with the time we have. But what we can do is rewire it to work in a way that it’s not supposed to. It’ll overload the entire system and that will shut it down. Now, follow my instructions. Symbol to your left. One that kind of looks like pi—press on it as hard as you can."

“Press on the pi-looking symbol,” Peter relays to Harley. “Really hard.”

Harley nods, spotting the correct symbol. Peter places a palm down on it and forces it, not with full strength at first just in case Shuri meant as hard as a regular person could. When nothing happens, he forces harder, and then even harder that that, until the symbol sinks into the circle around him.

“Woah,” Peter breathes. He peers down into the exposed wiring.

“How’d you do that?” Harley demands, trying to follow suit.

“Super-strength.”

“Figures.” Harley stands up, clearly frustrated, but doesn’t press it, letting Peter focus instead.

"Hopefully you can see the wires now," Shuri says. "Now do exactly as I say, and let’s get you guys home."

Peter’s so absorbed in the work that he barely notices when the klaxon sounds and Harley's and Flash’s spotlights turn gold. He’s vaguely aware of Harley reminding Flash to stay right until the end, when they get their warning alarm, but other than that he’s entirely focused on what Shuri’s saying until— “Peter.”

Peter finally glances up, locking eyes with Flash.

“Thank you,” Flash says. “And sorry again. For Michelle. For all of it.”

“Tell her yourself.”

Flash nods, then steps out of his circle, just leaving Peter and Harley remaining in the game.

Peter’s distantly aware of Harley’s nervous shifting, but only pauses to throw his last vote Harley’s way. This is it. It’s so close, right down to the wire, but they’re going to make it. They’re going to do this. Everyone is walking out of this.

"Final step," Shuri says, and Peter’s heart leaps. "See that wire with the weird ridges along it? Like spikes? You’re going to take that and—"

The klaxon sounds, and Peter panics as it drowns out Shuri’s final instruction, only for that panic to increase tenfold as the exposed wiring beneath him vanishes, the symbol snapping back into place, looking completely untouched.

“No. No!”

“What happened?” Harley demands.

Peter shoves his palm against the pi-like symbol again, but it’s not budging. “No. Open. Open!”

“Peter…”

Peter’s head jerks up as his spotlight turns gold. So does Harley’s. And Shuri’s voice is gone.

“No.” Peter slams his fist into the symbol, and then into every single symbol in the circle. “No! We were getting out. We were all getting out!”

“Peter!”

Peter raises his head, sees Harley’s panicked face. “It’s not working,” Peter breathes, horrified. “I don’t know—I can’t hear Shuri—I don’t know what happened!”

Harley whirls around, looking desperately at Tony before glancing over Peter’s shoulder at May. “Peter. We…we have to…”

He can’t say it. Neither can Peter. But they both know it.

It’s time to make the final choice.

“What if we both step off at the exact same time?” Harley suggests. “Maybe—”

“It won’t be exact,” Peter argues. “Even if it’s by milliseconds, someone is going to hit the ground outside their circle first.”

“Oh god,” Harley breathes. “Oh, god. Two of us are really going to die.”

Peter’s right there with him. If it was just him there, alone, it would be easy—he’d tell Harley to take Tony and go—but it’s not just him. If he sacrifices himself, he takes May with him. May.

Harley’s face is wet now, Peter not far behind. “I’m sorry,” Harley’s saying. “I’d—I’d stay but—”

But Tony.

But May.

Peter squeezes his eyes tight shut, trying desperately to think of some way out of this where none of them die.

“You’re fast,” Harley suggests. “Really fast. What if you just—I don’t know—I don’t know!”

Peter doesn’t either.

“Maybe the last two people don’t die,” Harley suggests desperately. “We don’t know that. We don’t know that.”

They don’t know that. And yet they do. It’s the point of the game.

The point of the game.

The point of—

“Harley.” Peter straightens up, mind racing. “Why are they doing this?”

Harley looks at him like he’s gone crazy. “You think that matters right now?”

“Yes!” Peter shoves his brain into overdrive, trying to reach the solution he knows is there. “Children of Thanos. But Thanos’s whole thing wasn’t just massacring people. It was reducing populations. It had a point.”

Harley opens his mouth, then shuts again, trying to keep as calm as he can given the circumstances. “So what’s the point of this? Not just, I don’t know, sadistic entertainment?”

Peter shakes his head. “Imagine you want to reduce populations. But you improve upon Thanos’s plan. It’s not random. You want to choose specific people. But you don’t know what specific people need to be saved. What would you do?”

Harley’s eyes go wide in realization. “You’d gather data.”

“This whole time,” Peter breathes. "This whole time. That’s exactly what we’ve been giving them. Valuing certain lives over others. Choosing who should and shouldn’t be saved. Based on survival tactics, skillsets, age. That’s what this machine is measuring. And maybe if we can’t manually rewire it to work a way it shouldn’t—”

“Maybe we do it ourselves,” Harley finishes. He swallows, tries to calm his panicked breaths. “We don’t choose.”

“We don’t choose,” Peter confirms. “Both of us stay.”

Harley’s breath hitches, clinging to the last vestiges of resolve as he looks over his shoulder at Tony. “And what if it doesn’t work? What if it just kills all four of us? At least if one of us goes, we’re guaranteed to save two of us.”

“I know,” Peter replies. “But that’s how it expects us to act.”

Harley licks his lips, breathing hard through his nose. “You really think this is going to work?”

Peter almost says yes. Offers the comfort Harley is so clearly fishing for. But he’s not lying, not now, so instead he says, “I have no idea. But I’m also done trying to put values on the lives of the people we love. Aren’t you?”

Harley takes that in. Weighs it. Then nods. “Yes. We don’t trade lives.”

“We don’t trade lives,” Peter agrees, as the klaxon, the final countdown, begins.

“So we’re agreed,” Peter calls out over it. “We stay.”

“We stay.” Harley nods, shifting his feet, planting them firmly in his circle. “No one’s life is worth more than anyone else’s.” He lifts his head. “Hear that, sadist alien assholes? We’re all worth the same!”

The klaxon is ringing on, approaching the end. Peter and Harley lock eyes, bracing themselves.

Please, Peter finds himself thinking. Please work. Please don’t kill any of them. Please.

Just as the final alarm sounds, he has a moment of weakness. He could just go. Step off. Save May. Save himself. Get at least two of them out of this.

From the way Harley’s leg twitches, Peter’s sure Harley has the exact same thought.

But Harley doesn’t move.

And neither does Peter.

Both remain in their circles as the final alarm bell rings.

The game is over.

 


 

"Whose idea was it to have a freaking games night?”

Harley leans against the wall where Peter’s currently loitering, offering him a Barton Farm home-brewed cider from the stack of them currently chilling in the fridge, the door of which is slowly being filled up with postcards from Wanda and Vision’s honeymoon. Peter takes the bottle, looking out at the range of games currently scattered across the Bartons’ living room carpet. “Yeah. I think I’m done with games for a while. Or forever. Forever sounds good.”

“Same here.” Harley takes a sip of his own cider. The house is mostly empty, what with it being such a beautiful evening outside. The living room window gives a perfect view into the backyard, and for the past few minutes Peter has just been watching.

Watching Clint and Scott argue lightheartedly over the best way to barbecue. Rhodey and Happy chatting with Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne over beers. Watching Laura pass Nate to MJ to bounce on her knee as T’Challa talks politics with her and Betty, while Ned and Cassie are tag-teaming entertaining Cooper, AJ, Cass and Morgan. Lila can be spotted in the background, currently in a BB gun shoot-off with Bucky which Sam has insisted on supervising, which in turn had Natasha insisting on supervising Sam’s supervision. She had originally pulled Steve alongside her, but he has since vanished along with Sharon with a line about making up for lost time. Peter is sure Bucky is letting Lila win, although he’s rather distracted as he flirts with Sarah in between shots. Thor has introduced Jane to Hope and Valkyrie, who are in an animated conversation with Pepper and Darcy, while Erik, Shuri and Bruce seem to be in some kind of heated scientific discussion. Probably solving all the world’s problems at once.

And there, in the far back, laughing over ciders on the picnic table, May and Tony are talking. Peter doesn’t know what they’re talking about. It doesn’t matter. They both look happy. They’re both safe.

Harley follows Peter’s gaze, seeing what he’s looking at. “I need to tell you something.”

“Go for it, man."

Harley looks down into his cider. “Right at the end,” he mutters. “I thought about... You know.”

Peter nods. “Me too. But you didn’t.”

“You didn’t either.” Harley nods, as though Peter’s answered a question. “Okay. Good to know. And it worked. Machine broken."

"Machine broken," Peter repeats. "Guess it didn't know what to do when we stopped choosing who was more valuable." 

"Where is it now?"

"Wakanda. Shuri's breaking it down so we never have to see or think about it again. Or be even more prepared for if they come back."

"Are they coming back?" Harley asks quietly.

Peter bites his lip. He wants to say no, to be reassuring, especially after those last few awful moments before he realized that everyone was safe. He'd still refused to believe it, even as May and Tony had finally woken up, confused and disorientated. He still hadn't believed it even as Shuri had told them that she was going to activate the teleportation circles, taking them to where their friends were having their own tearful reunions. Peter had just gotten a glimpse of Sarah Wilson comforting a crying AJ next to where Cassie had sandwiched herself between Scott and Clint, Clint's other arm wrapped tightly around Lila, before he was being slammed into from both sides as MJ and Ned had run to embrace him. Even then, Peter hadn't dared to believe they were safe.

He hadn't believed it until Shuri had shown them out of the alien pod they were being kept in and he had gotten his first glimpse of blue, clear skies.

"All we know is that they're not on Earth," Peter says finally. "That makes them the Guardians' targets now. If Captain Danvers doesn't find them first." He tightens his hands on his cider. "But they are gone. And they're not our responsibility anymore."

"Yeah, I think it's fair to say that we did our part. And it's over now."

"It's over now," Peter agrees, surprised to find that he means it. "We did it."

"We did it," Harley repeats. "All of us. Surprisingly. Speaking of—have you heard from Flash?”

“Kind of. We still go to school together.”

“Are you guys…” Harley seesaws his hand. “Well, not okay, because you guys have never been okay, but…you know.”

Peter nods. “I don’t think I’ll ever forgive him for voting for MJ on purpose. But he’s not going to reveal to the world I’m Spider-Man so, you know. That’s something.”

“Yeah, because Tony would sue his ass six ways from Sunday if he tried.” Harley finishes his cider. “And thanks. For not…you know.”

“We don’t trade lives.”

“We don’t trade lives,” Harley agrees. His eyes slide past Peter onto the mess of abandoned games. “Oh hey, UNO. I can’t remember the last time I saw a pack. You game, Parker?”

Peter goes back to window-watching. He just wants a little longer to take it all in. “Maybe in a bit?”

“Alright.” Harley claps him on the shoulder. “I’ll see if any of the little ones want to play.”

Peter continues looking out the window long after Harley’s left. They’re all here, happy, safe, alive. He takes a moment to savor that, to tuck that image away for safekeeping, and then goes outside to join his family.