Peter felt dizzy.
He should probably be more focused on the aching in his limbs, or his other injuries; the men hadn’t had any problem with cutting him up a bit or beating him as they waited for Tony to pay the ransom or for the first four hour mark to be up.
Maybe he should be afraid; after all, he’d seen their faces, and he knew where they were. Even if Tony paid up, they couldn’t have any intention of actually letting him go free. The plan had to be to kill him to ensure his eternal silence.
Or, he could have focused on the grief of May’s untimely death, the brutality of her murder and the disrespect Leader had shown her body.
But, no, he could only feel dizziness.
His head swam and he whimpered around the gag. He was severely dehydrated; he hadn’t had much water today and he’d cried his heart out after May was killed. Now he felt weak and useless.
He tried to focus on something else. He couldn’t focus on the weak, dizzy feeling- if he did, he worried he’d be tempted to fall asleep.
But the only thing he could think to focus on was all the reasons he fucked up that morning and caused May’s death.
I left my suit in my room.
But he never wore his suit in the mornings- he was a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man during the afternoons and evenings.
I didn’t hear them come in.
He was taking a shower, and from what he could tell they’d probably knocked and then forced their way in when May answered.
It wasn’t her fault and it wasn’t yours either, a small voice told him.
Yes it was, a stronger voice replied. It was all my fault.
Bruce had insisted on visiting the apartment before they searched for Peter once Natasha, Clint, and a few other Avengers had turned up. It had taken a lot of fighting to make Tony agree to it.
“There may be clues there,” Bruce told him. “And we have to get to May.”
Tony had finally reluctantly agreed. Peter was still alive and in danger, but maybe the attackers would have been stupid enough to leave something behind.
Even if they didn’t, May deserved to be treated with some respect by whoever found her. He didn’t want anyone carelessly tossing her in a truck.
So, when they made it to the apartment and Tony saw her, still bound to her chair, but knocked pathetically over onto the floor, he felt unfathomable rage.
“Tony-” Steve began, but he shot him a dark, warning look.
Steve held up his hands in surrender, and Tony moved to where May was lying on her side. He carefully unbound her hands and legs from the chair and laid her on her back with her arms folded over her stomach, as if she had fallen asleep.
“I’m going to rip those bastards into pieces,” he spat fiercely once he’d stood back up.
No one said anything.
Tony looked down at Peter’s aunt. He suddenly didn’t know what to do. Half of him wanted to find Peter and kill whoever had done this. The other half wanted to just curl up and die. He should have protected Peter and May better. Why hadn’t he insisted they move to the base? Why had he thought that Peter’s Iron Spider suit was enough? The idea was laughable now, really- he didn’t wear that all the time. Tony had been an idiot. He had been a fucking idiot. And now Peter was in danger and May was dead. He had caused this. This was all due to his carelessness. He should have known better.
He heard someone move behind him. Then he felt Thor rest a hand on his shoulder.
He said nothing.
Somehow, the gesture still said everything it needed to.
Tony closed his eyes and took a deep, cleansing breath.
He could hear Clint murmuring in a low voice to the others.
He turned. “We need to find Peter.”
“We think we might have a lead,” Steve said.
“Good. We’ll start there.” Tony moved to walk out the door. Clint stopped him and rested a hand on his shoulder.
“Tony. I’m sorry.”
Tony paused for a moment, then blinked and murmured, “Thanks, but I didn’t know her that well.”
He could see that Clint knew he was lying- sure, he didn’t know May as well as Bruce or Pepper, but he had known her, had thought of her as family of his own in a way- but he said nothing.
“We need to get going,” Tony said, reaching the doorway.
“I’m staying here to look for more clues,” Bruce told him.
Tony nodded wordlessly, then led the way out of the apartment.
“Get up, Spiderling,” growled Leader fiercely, pulling Peter roughly into a standing position.
Peter had to work hard not to slump; he didn’t want this man supporting him in any sense. If he was going to crumple, he’d rather do it without this man trying to keep him up.
“Your first four hours are up,” Leader told him mockingly. Peter didn’t hear much annoyance in his voice like he’d expected; perhaps the men were hoping it would take Tony up until the last minute to deliver the funds so they had an excuse to keep him alive and torture him on camera.
Part of him wondered vaguely if Tony had even seen the first email. He might have just ignored it. He could get very absorbed in his work in the lab with Bruce- Peter remembered he had once been so caught up in it he’d been almost an hour late in picking Peter up from school and was surprised to find Ned waiting with him, as he hadn’t seen Peter’s email asking if he could tag along.
Leader pushed Peter out of the room- more of a glorified closet, really- into a much bigger room, though it wasn’t much better in terms of coziness. It was just as barren as the closet had been: empty, save for a single chair, and, in the case of this room, the camera on its tripod.
Red, Smirk, and Baldy were already in the room. Peter was not pleased to see any of them, and he didn’t like the looks on their faces. They were excited.
Leader forced him roughly into the chair.
Peter didn’t need him to say anything. He’d tested the bonds after they’d attacked him as he came out of the bathroom and bound him across from May. They were stronger than his enhanced abilities. Ergo, staying was not going to be a problem.
“Ready when you are, boss,” Baldy said, checking the camera.
“Good. Let’s begin,” Leader said, as the four began to pull their masks back up over their faces.
Baldy nodded, pressed a few buttons, and once again gave Leader the thumbs up.
“Starky!” Leader said, his voice jovial. “I have to say, I’m very disappointed in you, Starky! You’ve left your little Spiderling completely at my mercy!” He laughed. “Well, that’s fine. I’m sure Spiderling and I can entertain ourselves until you can finally manage to get what you’ll need to collect him.”
He strode back to Peter, gun in hand. “Now, Starky, I know I promised not to shoot your little spiderling unless you didn’t pay us after a whole twenty-four hours….But, see, I only promised not to blow his pretty little brains out.”
He pressed the cold metal barrel of the gun to Peter’s temple. He froze. Had his heart stopped beating? Or was it going so fast he couldn’t even feel it in his chest? He thought he had twenty more hours.
“Now, I’m afraid the temptation to put a bullet in your smart little spider is too much. But I’ll keep my promise.”
The barrel was pulled away and Peter was surprised he managed to stay conscious. His head was swimming; was it possible to pass out from relief? That’s what he felt like doing.
“I won’t blow his brains out.”
There was a bang- the same bang that had taken the life from May- and Peter felt a rush of pain in left shoulder. He screamed as loudly as he could; he’d known getting shot had to be painful, but this? He’d never in a million years would have imagined this.
“What a pretty little song he sings,” Leader said cheerfully, like Peter was five years old and mimicking the calls of a pet canary. “Are you sure he’s a spiderling, Starky? Perhaps you should rename him- I quite like Songbird. Don’t you?”
Red and Smirk laughed.
Leader crouched down at Peter’s side. He was panting hard, trying to wrap his head around the pain. Trying to process the agony. Leader ripped the gag out of Peter’s mouth.
“How do you feel, kid?” he asked in a falsely sympathetic voice. “Maybe you should tell your daddy how much it hurts.”
Peter could feel tears of pain forming in his eyes, but he blinked them back. “Y-you’re wasting your time,” he spat. “He’s n-not my dad. H-he d-doesn’t give a damn about me.”
“Is that so?” Leader asked. He raised his eyebrows, his expression one of mock interest. “So you’re telling me that Tony Stark doesn’t care about you at all?”
“N-not for a fucking second,” Peter growled. He knew he was lying, but somehow being shot made him a lot more angry. He wasn’t in a position to kill Leader, Red, Smirk, and Baldy for killing May, but he was in a position to at least place a seed of doubt in their plan. He hoped. And there was another, bigger reason for the lie. The real reason, not the seed of doubt bullshit he was trying to convince himself of.
He didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of getting him to beg Tony for rescue a second time.
“Well, in that case,” Leader said, getting to his feet, “I suppose I’ll have to appeal to Iron Man instead of Stark. And Iron Man can’t stand for three against one, can he?”
Leader beckoned Red and Smirk forward. Peter could see the curl of Smirk’s lip even under the mask. God, if his hands were free and he could get them around that bastard’s throat-
Smirk kicked the chair over, and Peter toppled out of it while it skidded away.
Peter gasped as he landed, hard on the hardwood floor.
“Hold him down,” Leader ordered.
Red pinned Peter down, and Peter struggled to free himself from his grasp.
Smirk stepped forward, then paused. “Maybe he’ll care after this?” he suggested. His voice was unusually high- kind of squeaky. For a moment Peter wondered how anyone could be intimidated by him. Then he stepped on Peter’s injured shoulder.
Peter howled in pain, and thrashed under Red’s hands and Smirk’s foot. He tried to free himself, but the two of them kept him pinned.
Finally, Smirk lifted his foot. The pain lessened some, but not much. Still, any relief was a blessing. Peter panted hard, then tried to take deep breaths. He tried to calm down.
Please calm down. Please. Please. Please calm down.
“I once heard a rumor that he heals fast, boss,” Smirk said. His unnaturally high voice was cold, but it had an terrifying falsely innocent edge to it. “Should we test that?”
“Well, that is interesting,” Leader mused. “May as well. What did you have in mind?”
In answer, Smirk moved to stomp down hard on Peter’s lower ribs.
Peter felt two, maybe three ribs break. He screeched in agony, and he heard all of them laughing.
“I think that’s enough for now,” Leader said at last. “You’ve got twenty more hours, Starky. You’d better hurry up, I think the bones are going to knit poorly. That is, if the healing rumors are true, and if you’re planning on saving him at all.”
“All set, boss,” Baldy called after a short pause.
“Good, glad to hear it,” Leader smirked. “Get the brat back in his room.”
Red’s grip shifted from pinning Peter down to lifting him up from his armpits. He dragged him towards the closet, and Peter didn’t know what was worse; the pain from the gunshot or the pain from his broken bones. He looked up and caught sight of the trail of blood following him. The scarlet color jumped up from the light hardwood floor.
The sight was chilling. It was strange; the blood on his skin felt so warm, but the blood in his veins felt ice cold. How in the world was that possible?
Red dumped him unceremoniously in the closet.
“Do you think he might bleed out?”
“Doubt it. We’ll check on him in an hour or two. If it hasn’t stopped bleeding we’ll get him a fucking towel or something.”
Red shrugged and walked out, slamming the door behind him.
Peter lay in the pool of blood, listening to his own ragged breathing.
I wonder if he really will try and save me.
FRIDAY’s voice filled the small aircraft they all stood on. “Sir, you’ve received a second email from Peter Parker.”
Tony his heart both plummet into his stomach and leap into his throat. He wasn’t sure how that was possible.
“It is entitled, Waiting: Part 1.”
“How long has it been since we received the first email?” Tony whispered.
“Four and a half hours, sir,” FRIDAY told him.
Oh god. It’s all my fault. I didn’t find him fast enough and now it’s all my fault, whatever they did is my fault.
“Pull it up on the screen,” Tony demanded.
“Tony, that might not be-” Steve began, but Tony rounded on him.
“Don’t give me that bullshit, Rogers. Don’t. Peter’s a fucking kid, and whoever has him made it very clear that if they didn’t get money from me in four hours they’d hurt him again. If they went through with that shit, it’s on me. All of this shit is on me. When I find that kid, I want to be ready to apologize for every single fucking thing I put him through.”
“Tony, if they hurt Peter again, that’s on them, not you,” Nat said.
“No, Nat, it’s not,” Tony snapped. His tone made it abundantly clear that that was the end of the matter. “FRIDAY, play the video.”
The video crackled to life on the screen, and Tony set his jaw as he glared at that fucker with the stupid eyebrows.
Peter was sitting in a chair behind him, bound and gagged, and he looked awful. The poor kid looked exhausted. His eyes seemed sunken in. Tony doubted they’d even considered giving him any water.
“Starky!” The man said, his voice jovial. “I have to say, I’m very disappointed in you, Starky! You’ve left your little Spiderling completely at my mercy!” He chuckled. “Well, that’s fine. I’m sure Spiderling and I can entertain ourselves until you can finally manage to get what you’ll need to collect him.”
‘He walked towards Peter, a gun in his hand. “Now, Starky, I know I promised not to shoot your little spiderling unless you didn’t pay us after a whole twenty-four hours….But, see, I only promised not to blow his pretty little brains out.”
He put the gun to Peter’s head, and Tony felt his heart stop.
No. No. No no no no no. Don’t kill him. He can’t be dead.
“Now, I’m afraid the temptation to put a bullet in your smart little spider is too much. But I’ll keep my promise.”
He pulled the gun away from Peter, and Tony gasped in relief.
“I won’t blow his brains out.”
He moved the gun behind Peter’s shoulder and pulled the trigger. The blast was loud, and Tony flinched.
Peter was screaming.
Tony’s head was spinning.
He fucking shot Peter.
“What a pretty little song he sings,” the man said brightly. “Are you sure he’s a spiderling, Starky? Perhaps you should rename him- I quite like Songbird. Don’t you?”
The two goons laughed at the comment.
The man bent down beside the panting boy and pulled the gag away from his mouth in a swift movement.
“How do you feel, kid?” he asked, fake concern in his voice. “Maybe you should tell your daddy how much it hurts.”
“Y-you’re wasting your time,” Peter managed to growl. “He’s n-not my dad. H-he d-doesn’t give a damn about me.”
Tony actually felt a rush of hurt. Was it some sort of teenage snark at exactly the wrong moment, or did Peter actually believe the words he’d said?
Did Peter really believe that Tony didn’t care about him?
“Is that so?” The bastard asked. “So you’re telling me that Tony Stark doesn’t care about you at all?”
“N-not for a fucking second,” Peter replied darkly.
“Well, in that case,” the leader said, “I suppose I’ll have to appeal to Iron Man instead of Stark. And Iron Man can’t stand for three against one, can he?”
Tony’s eyes widened in horror. They wouldn’t seriously….
The leader motioned for the scarred redhead and the greasy-haired man to step forward. The greasy-haired guy was smiling under his mask.
He kicked the chair over, and Peter was thrown out of it while it skidded across the floor away from him. Tony heard Peter gasp as he landed.
“Hold him down,” the bushy-eyebrowed leader ordered.
The scarred redhead pinned Peter down, and Tony watched as Peter struggled to free himself from his grasp.
The greaseball stepped forward, then paused. “Maybe he’ll care after this?” he suggested. Tony took a moment to note that his voice was unusually high. Then he stepped on Peter’s injured shoulder.
Peter screamed, writhing under the scarred man’s hands and fought to pull himself away from the greasy-haired man’s foot.
After a few moments, he lifted it. Tony listened to Peter pant, trying to breathe and cope with the pain.
“I once heard a rumor that he heals fast, boss,” Greasy said as Peter panted. “Should we test that?”
“Well, that is interesting,” Eyebrows mused. “May as well. What did you have in mind?”
In answer, Greasy moved to stomp down hard on Peter’s lower ribs.
Tony heard the sickening snapping of Peter’s ribs and immediately felt sick.
“I think that’s enough for now,” Eyebrows said. “You’ve got twenty more hours, Starky. You’d better hurry up, I think the bones are going to knit poorly. That is, if the healing rumors are true, and if you’re planning on saving him at all.”
The video cut out.
Tony swayed a bit where he stood. He felt nauseous.
“Tony-” Steve began.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Tony muttered, turning on his heel.
“Tony,” Clint said, “we’re going to find him.”
Tony took a deep breath, then turned to Clint, nodding once.
“And when we do, they’ll pay for what they’re doing.”
Tony closed their eyes.
What they’re doing.
Somehow, the fact that Clint was willing to acknowledge that they still had Peter and were still hurting him helped.
Peter. We’re coming.