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Ghost Town

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A thunderstorm was blowing in on an August evening, 2009. Peter had turned eight years old just a few weeks prior. He was nervous about the thunderstorm, but his babysitter was there to keep him company. Ben and May had gone out for date night, leaving Peter with his older friend Skip.

Skip had promised last Wednesday to bring over his brand new Iron Man comics, and he hadn't disappointed Peter that evening. The two were currently sitting up against Peter’s twin sized bed, perusing the colorful pages of the comic book. Peter was so excited to be reading about Iron Man, the newer (and awesome) superhero.

Peter finished the second comic book and turned to Skip, expecting to be handed the third comic book Skip had brought over. Instead, Peter was handed a… well, it wasn’t a comic book. But it did have pictures. A shirtless man that looked nothing like Iron Man was on the cover of the book.

Peter looked up at Skip, a confused expression featured on Peter’s face. Skip smiled down at Peter. “Open it, Einstein. It has some really fun pictures in it that I would like you to look at.”

Peter was quite confused, but Skip was Skip, which meant he knew what he was doing. He must have known Peter would like this comic too, right? Peter opened the “comic” and turned the pages that contained pictures of naked people. Peter felt uncomfortable, but continued to look at the pictures per Skip’s words of encouragement. 

Peter finally stopped turning pages and looked up at Skip. “This isn’t Iron Man, Skip. I don’t know why you’re showing me this comic?”

Skip smiled and said “I want to play a game, Einstein. It’s a game friends play all the time. You and I are gonna try and be the people in the comic… kinda like we’re the superheroes. You wanna play with me?”

Peter didn’t want to play that game, but wanted to earn Skip’s approval. So Peter nodded his head, agreeing to play the odd game with Skip. 

It started with the two in separate poses, Skip helped Peter into the positions every once in a while. Skip would then take a picture or two of Peter on his Polaroid camera, and tucked the pictures into Skip’s backpack.

Peter grew more and more uncomfortable with the game. The longer it went on, the touchier Skip got. He started touching Peter in more private areas. Peter tried to tell Skip to stop a few times, but Skip would insist that all the older kids played the game. 

Skip touched Peter more and more inappropriately, the posing long forgotten. Peter was not happy, and he wanted to stop and go back to reading Iron Man comics. Peter tried to focus on anything else while Skip touched him.

A few hours later, Skip and Peter were sitting on the floor again. This time they were reading some old Captain America comics that Skip had brought over. Peter was intensely focused on the comics, trying to forget the phantom hands he still felt on his clothed skin. Peter felt the stains of tear tracks that had run down his face just a little while ago.

Peter woke with a start, his breathing shallow and his face wet with sweat… or is it tears? He looks out his bedroom window over Manhattan. A blizzard rages in the January night. Peter looks at his alarm clock, it reads 1:42am. Peter knows he isn’t going to fall asleep anytime soon, so he figures he should go warm up some tea to help calm down.

Peter gets up and opens his bedroom door, and flips the hallway light switch. Nothing happens. Peter flips the switch a few more times before turning around and grabbing his phone from his nightstand. “FRIDAY? Is the power working…?” Peter asks. No response.

Peter exits his room again, this time with his phone flashlight on. He checks the kitchen and the living room, expecting to find one or two of the adults hanging out. But no one’s there. Peter begins to feel a slight wave of anxiety creep up his neck. He walks down the long hallway, and pushes open each of the Avengers’ bedroom doors. No one is in their rooms.

Peter pushes down his panic and opens his phone to check the news. The only reason none of them would be home was because of some Avengers-level threat. Surely enough, a news article about a small battle in Times Square pops up.

Peter runs to his room and suits up, ready to swing to Times Square and help protect New York City. He can’t let down any other civilians, not after the girl from yesterday. He opens his bedroom window and releases a web to the nearest building.

When Peter arrives in Times Square, he’s only shivering slightly. The only thing giving him any sense of physical comfort against the cold is the heater in his suit. Peter takes in his surroundings. The Avengers seem to be fighting six people with some serious ice powers. Four women and two men. He doesn’t see Falcon or Black Widow. They must be on civilian duty. I guess tasers and mechanical wings won’t do well against snow and ice.

Peter also doesn’t see Captain America. He looks around in the thick assault of snow and sees a human-shaped block of ice. That- that’s Mr. Rogers! Peter sees Captain America frozen and sudden - The tears run down Peter’s face as Skip slides off the bed, pulling out a Captain America comic book-

Peter snaps back to reality and realizes someone is facing him. A tall blonde woman with blue eyes stands in front of Peter. He doesn’t recognize her, so she must be one of the ice queens.

“Hey, you’re in one of my favorite cartoons!” Peter tries to joke. His voice comes out slightly wobbly. The woman glares at him and yells something in German. She shoots a beam of ice at Peter, who tries to dodge before slipping on the thick layer of ice underneath his feet. Peter shoots a web at her, trying to make her fall so he can get back onto his own feet. The tall lady easily dodges What, so ice doesn’t affect you, huh?

Peter manages to stand back up and jumps onto the wall of the nearest building, quickly shooting a web at the woman and pulling her right into the wall below him. The woman doesn’t get back up. Peter jumps down and quickly checks for a pulse before webbing her up. -He can feel hands lightly caressing his chest-

Peter turns around, searching through the snowy haze for a certain red and gold suit. He catches a glimpse of Iron Man fighting one of the two snow men. Hehe, snowmen. Peter starts swinging through the howling wind toward Tony. “Hey, Mr. Stark! I’m here to help. What can I do?”

Tony blasts the ice man in his chest before whipping around to Peter. “What are you doing here, kid? You’re gonna freeze. FRIDAY, check Spider-Man’s vitals”

“I’m fine Tony, I promise.” Peter says, before shooting a web at the ice man. -Skip whispers things in Peter’s ears. Things Peter doesn’t understand- The man dodges him before shooting a jet of ice at the duo, who both avoid the beam.

“Kid, we have gotta talk about your bedtime curfew.” Tony jokes. The ice man hits Iron Man with an ice beam, knocking him a few blocks over.

Peter quickly turns to face the snowman and freezes. He almost slips, but quickly regains his balance. Tall. Blond hair. Blue eyes. The man standing in front of Peter is -Skip sliding his hands lower and lower down Peter’s body-

Peter’s knees give out under him, and Skip hits Peter with a blast of ice, knocking Peter backwards into the Disney store. Peter can’t breathe, he can’t breathe and he feels like he’s going to die. Peter rips off his mask, trying to catch his breath. He’s kneeling in the back of the store, and surely Skip has forgotten about Spider-Man and is fighting an actual Avenger right now, right?

Peter turns toward the store window and sees a tall figure standing about ten feet from him. Skip squints at Peter, and then his face contorts in shock. “Einstein?” Peter winces at the nickname. Skip walks toward Peter, who’s frozen where he stands. Skip has a twisted smile on his face. He grabs Peter’s arms and trails his hands up and down them.

“Look at us now Einstein, now WE are the superheroes. Just like in the comics we used to read together. The ones we read right after we had fun.” Peter is shaking violently, a reaction unrelated to the cold weather. He tries to swallow, but can hardly even blink.

Skip starts running his hands over Peter’s chest, pushing him down toward the floor. Peter is trying to move, why can’t he just move. Skip grabs Peter’s crotch and squeezes. Peter feels himself flinch. Skip is kissing his neck and grabbing Peter’s crotch and his hips are between Peter’s legs and it’s all too much, and then-

“NO!” Peter yells and pushes Skip with all his might. Skip flies through the store and out the front window, back into Times Square. Peter gets up and puts his mask back on. Wh- What just happened. Peter is shaking in disbelief and disgust. He’s trying to reign in his panicked thoughts. Peter’s making his way to the storefront when he sees Bucky lay Skip out. Skip falls to the ground unconscious.

Peter’s out of the store walking up to Bucky. He’s having trouble breathing. Suddenly the wind and snow pick up, creating a complete white-out. Peter can’t even see his own hand in front of his face. When the snow clears, all six of the villains are gone. Only light flurries fall. 

Peter sees Bucky and stumbles over to him, clutching onto his arm. “Bucky, I- I can’t breathe..” Peter’s eyes roll into the back of his head, and his knees give out. The last thing Peter feels is Bucky catching him as his world goes into complete darkness.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Peter wakes up with a thin sheet and blanket covering him. He’s no longer cold, and he seems to be breathing just fine. The lights are on in the tower again. Peter looks to his right and sees Mr. Rogers, no longer frozen. Steve does have a thick heating blanket on top of him, though. In between Peter and Steve’s beds sits Tony. Tony looks up when he notices Peter is awake.

“Jesus, kiddo. Are you okay? What happened. You gave Bucky a hell of a scare-” 

“Mr. Stark, it’s okay. I- I’m f-fine.” Peter smiles, hopefully convincing. “I was sti-still um, pretty cold and trying to pay attention to everything in battle was a- a little chaotic. Yanno, with everyone fighting a lot and the snow and the wind it got a little loud.. I think uh it was just uh sensory overload.”

Tony relaxes just a little bit. “Are you sure, kid? Bucky was pretty worried, and Lord knows I’m always worried about you.” Peter feels guilty about that tidbit. He doesn’t want Mr. Stark or the rest of the team constantly worrying about him. Which is why he can’t tell Mr. Stark about what really happened. If the team knew how weak and disgusting I am, they’d walk on eggshells around me. They wouldn’t let me help fight. They wouldn’t let me protect people.

“Mr. Stark, I’m sure. Maybe we can find a way to up the heater in my suit without burning my skin off.” Peter tries for a joke but it falls flat. “What time is it, anyway?” Peter asks.

“It’s about 10:00 am.” Tony answers. “You feelin hungry, kid? I know I am. Steve is fine, he was awake a while ago. He got under that heating blanket and *pop* out like a light.” Tony chuckles. 

Peter changes into some clothes that had been brought down for him while he was asleep in the med-bay bathroom. He comes out in a baggy MIT sweatshirt (aka Tony’s sweatshirt) and sweatpants. 

When Peter and Tony step out of the elevator doors into the Avengers common area, they’re greeted with a chorus of “Peter!” and “How’re you feeling?” Peter waves away the concern, just saying that he’s slightly hungry and ready for breakfast. They all meet in the kitchen, where pancakes and eggs sit, ready to be eaten.

Peter eats a few bites before pushing around the food on his plate, trying to make it look like he ate more than he did. His stomach is too upset to eat. Everyone else is indulging in their own breakfast and don’t notice that Peter hardly ate anything. Peter tells Bruce he’s going to lie down in his room for a little while.

Once in his room, Peter collapses onto his bed. He feels sick. He feels gross. He can’t believe the past 12 hours happened. He rushes to his en suite bathroom before throwing up what little breakfast he had. He then turns the shower on. Hot. Peter rips off his clothes and steps into the steaming water, scrubbing and scrubbing. He doesn’t know how long he’s in there, but it doesn’t feel like long enough to wash away the feeling of hands on his skin.

Peter steps out of the shower, anxiety only cut down slightly. He puts on his boxers and the baggy MIT sweatshirt. Peter runs into his room and searches his nightstand drawer before finding what he’s looking for. Peter returns to the bathroom and sits on the closed toilet seat. Peter takes his BIC lighter in his right hand and raises it to the inside of his left thigh. Peter feels a burning sensation against his skin. He flinches at first, before going right back to what he was doing. 

When the burning barely quenches Peter’s anxiety, he grabs for his razor under the sink. Peter makes cuts along the top of each of his thighs. This is not a new habit for him. Peter plans to only make a few cuts on each thigh, but before he realizes, there’s 10 or 12 cuts on each leg. But at least he can finally breathe again.

Peter waits for the bleeding to stop before pulling his black sweatpants back on, relishing the sting the pants’ pressure brings when he pulls them up. The cuts will be faded almost completely by tomorrow anyway. Peter cleans up the bathroom and leaves, going to lay on his bed. He puts his lighter back in the drawer and pulls out his phone.

[Missed call from Ned]

[Missed call from MJ]

[Two missed calls from May<3]

[To May<3]

hey, may. kinda tired rn, but wanted to let u know that im completely fine. times square went smoothly, i wasnt injured or anything. anyways love u and ttyl <3

Peter debated calling Ned and MJ before opening their group chat.

[Peter] hey guys, whats up

[Ned] DUDE are u okay??? What was with that whole snow crew? We haven’t seen them before right?

[MJ] Yo why did they all look like the same person lol

[Peter] haha yeah im completely fine. got some sensory overload from the battle, but i made it lol

Peter almost smiles at his friends’ texts. They’re definitely helping take his mind off the recent events.

A knock startles Peter out of his moment of calm. “Come in.” Peter states.

Tony appears in the doorway. “Hey, Underoos. Just wanted to make sure you were okay. We’re gonna have lunch in a couple of hours if you want to join. After that, I’m thinking you and me have some lab time?”

“It’s you and I , Mr. Stark. Anyways- uhm. Sure. Sounds good.” Peter looks back down at his phone. Ned and MJ were sending stupid gifs back and forth.

“Alright, kiddo. Take a quick rest and then come out to the kitchen when you’re ready.” Tony exits the bedroom and closes the door behind him.

Peter lets out a breath he didn’t even know he was holding. Mr. Stark had believed that Peter was just fine. He was getting better at this acting fine thing. Peter continues texting his friends for a while, relishing in the moment of peace and quiet. 

He must’ve fallen asleep, because when Peter comes to it’s 3:00pm. Peter gets up and sways for a second. His vision goes black at the edges. Peter waits for his vision to clear before heading out of his bedroom toward the kitchen.

When Peter arrives, he sees Steve, Rhodey, and Sam all seated at the island playing cards. Steve is wrapped in a smaller heating blanket, but seems to be completely fine. They look up when Peter enters the room. “Hey, Pete. Make sure you grab something to eat before you head down to the lab. Tony made it clear he won’t allow ‘fainting spider-kids’ in his lab.” Rhodey laughs.

Peter grabs an apple and a granola bar before heading to the elevator. He eats his apple with surprising ease, but struggles with his granola bar. The smell hits him and he realizes he isn’t going to be able to eat it. 

Peter enters the lab and throws the apple core and granola bar in the trash. He heads over to where Tony is sitting and the duo begin working on Peter’s heater in his suit. They also start bouncing ideas off of each other on how to make the suit more bulletproof. It’s nice, having Peter’s mind off of any negative thoughts. The pair work for hours together until finally

“Hey, Mr. Stark. The ADHD is definitely kicking in full swing.” Peter jokes. He’s had some serious trouble focusing and connecting his thoughts together for a few minutes now. Listening to anything Tony said went in one ear and out the other, causing Tony to repeat himself multiple times. His mind had probably gotten a little overloaded with information for the day. Peter and Tony call it a day and head to the elevator.

When they step out into the living room, the team is sitting on the couches. Buckets of popcorn are sitting around the room. Peter sits on one of the couches, Tony sitting next to him. Bucky sits on Peter’s other side. Wanda and Vision are in a blanket pile on the floor. Everyone else sits on some other couch or chair. The team agrees on watching the Alien movies. Peter quietly asks Tony if they can turn on subtitles so he can focus on the movie better, which Tony happily obliges. (Clint liked the subtitles anyway, but apparently Peter forgot the archer was deaf.)

The team spend the rest of the night eating popcorn and watching movies. Peter even manages to eat a decent amount of popcorn himself, his nerves having calmed down. In this moment, surrounded by people who consider themselves to be one big family, Peter feels safe.