“Peter….Peter….It’s time to wake up, Peter.”
He slowly lifted his head, looking around. The scene was murky, and somehow thick- it felt like he was wading through sludge.
May’s voice called out again.
“Peter….Where are you…?”
“May!” Peter tried to call, but his voice didn’t work. The thick air had somehow choked the words as they left his tongue.
Peter slipped and fell slowly through the air, trying to claw for purchase. He couldn’t grip anything. Once he’d landed he tried to claw his way back to his feet, but he felt like something was trying to drag him back down.
Peter finally managed to stand. He saw May was standing before him, and he collapsed into her arms, crying.
“I thought you were dead!” He sobbed, his whole body shaking.
May’s arms wrapped around him, and she ruffled his hair. He felt her rest her chin on his head.
“Why did you let me die, Peter?”
“Wh-what?” Peter pulled back, looking at May’s face, and screamed.
She stood before him, a bullet hole in her head pouring blood over her face. Her face was scarlet with her own blood, and Peter flinched back, tears falling down his face as he retreated from her in fear.
“Why did you let me die?”
“I didn’t- I-”
“You let me die, Peter,” May accused, advancing on him. He could see tears in her eyes, mixing with the blood on her face. Her face twisted into a sad smile. “I’m dead, Peter. I’m dead. AND IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT.”
Peter jerked awake, gasping in fear, then hissing in pain as he shifted his injured shoulder. He could feel the wound healing, and he doubted it was healing well. His ribs ached, and Peter immediately felt tears in his eyes.
Half of him wished his sleep had been dreamless, but the other half was grateful for the confirmation from May that her death had been his fault. He lay on his side, and closed his eyes, remembering May’s face; tear-soaked, bloodied, and turned up in that heartbroken smile.
“May….” He whimpered, shaking as his body was wracked with a fresh bout of sobs, although these were tearless- he was too dehydrated to waste any water on tears.
He sobbed as the memory of her death flew into his mind. He wished with all his heart that this would end soon.
He wanted to die.
At least if he was dead, he might get the chance to apologize to May.
Maybe she had been right. Maybe there was an afterlife.
But if there was, was Peter worthy of it?
No, hissed a voice in his head. You can’t ever see her again. She’s dead because of you. If the afterlife exists, you don’t deserve to see it.
Tony listened as Bruce listed clues he had found in the apartment, not really listening. He could see Steve, Bruce, Natasha, and the others hanging on to his every word, but Tony couldn’t force himself to listen as much as he tried. He finally gave up and interrupted Bruce instead.
“What did they do with her?”
“What?” Bruce asked, looking up.
“May. What did they do with her?”
Bruce took his glasses off, looking down and off to the side. “They took her to the morgue.”
Tony nodded wordlessly.
“They told me they’re going to do an autopsy. What they do with her body is up to you and Peter when you find him.”
Tony closed his eyes. What they do with her body. God, how could he face Peter after this? How would he ever be able to look that boy in the eye again?
“Tony, we’re going to find him,” Bruce said. “Everything is going to be okay.”
“They shot him,” Tony growled. “They shot him and broke his ribs.”
Bruce was silent. “I didn’t know,” he murmured at last. “I’m sorry. But he is going to be okay. I know he will be. Once he’s safe on the base with us and he can focus on healing, I know he’ll eventually be okay.”
Tony just breathed in and out slowly, trying to calm himself, and ignoring Bruce’s words. As well-meaning as they were, they were of no use to Tony Stark.
Peter could hear the men talking. They were in another room, one that shared a wall with his prison of a closet, and the wall was thin enough that their voices were clear.
“It’s getting closer to being time,” Red said.
“We’ve got to start thinking about how we’re going to dispose of him,” Smirk said.
“Let’s worry about that later,” Leader replied, his voice unconcerned. “Besides, I think we could just shoot him and leave him here once we get the cash.”
“Just shoot him?” Smirk asked incredulously. “Are you kidding?”
“What? How else would we kill him?” Baldy asked, surprised.
“I know you want to strangle him, but that’s too messy for my taste. It takes too long. I’d rather just get it over with.” Leader said. He was moving around. Maybe the other room was a kitchen? Maybe he was getting food? It would explain the wrapper noises he could hear.
“But shooting him is so impersonal!” Smirk protested. “If we strangle him, we feel the life drain out of him.” His voice was dreamy. Peter whimpered and shuddered. If they were going to kill him, couldn’t they at least make it quick? He hadn’t realized May’s nearly instantaneous death had been a blessing.
“You’re sick,” Baldy said, but he and the other three were laughing.
“We’ll talk about it,” Leader mused. “Perhaps you can have a bit of fun sooner than that. But I warn you, if you kill him before I say so, you’ll regret it.”
“Yes sir,” Smirk said eagerly.
“Let’s set everything up. It’s about time we got ready. The kid’s only got fifteen minutes before his next session.”
“Or before-” Smirk began.
“Or before we kill him,” Leader agreed. “Right.”
Peter felt his mouth go dry.
He knew it.
If Tony paid up, if he gave them what they were after, that was the end.
Peter Parker either had sixteen hours to live, or much less.
His heart was in his throat. He wasn’t sure if he was ready to die.
But he wasn’t sure if he was prepared for sixteen hours of torture either.
He lay in the puddle of his drying, cold blood, and simply thought about his fate.
“Come here, kid,” growled Red, forcing Peter to his feet again. Peter whimpered but didn’t have the strength to fight back. He allowed Red to drag him back out to the chair, let him force him into it.
He stared past Baldy, Smirk, and Leader, not really seeing them as they watched him, laughing.
The sky was beginning to grow dark. Peter was a bit sad that the window wasn’t facing the west. What he wouldn’t give to see one last sunset, to appreciate one more of those before he died.
“Ready for another round of fun, kid?” Leader asked, smirking at him.
Peter shuddered and whimpered.
He wished they wouldn’t call him that.
Tony called him “kid”.
He’d always thought of it as a term of endearment- seen it as Tony teasing him even though he really did care about Peter. It was almost like a pet name a parent might give a child.
Now the thought of anyone calling him “kid” made him feel ill. If he lived through this he never wanted to hear that fucking word again.
But if he lived through this, how was he going to tell Tony he now hated that name with every cell in his body?
No, Peter thought. That wasn’t accurate. He hated that name more than that.
With every mitochondria in his body, maybe.
Wildly Peter’s brain began to chant, mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell mitochondria is-
Peter tried to push the chant away. Was this an effect of the captivity? The lack of water? Maybe it was the poor sleep. Whatever the cause, god, he did not like the side effects.
None of them seemed to be all that concerned with their prisoner. Leader was looking at something Red was showing him, nodding. Baldy was focused on the camera. Smirk was winding something around his hand.
Peter froze, anger and fear rising in him.
It was one of May’s scarves.
It was sheer and pretty; something Ben bought her just before he died, a prized possession of May’s. It was black, with silver stars, moons, and planets dancing around the fabric.
Seeing it in Smirk’s hands enraged Peter.
Knowing what he was going to do with it made him want to vomit.
“Let’s get started,” Leader said brightly.
Peter wanted to cry. He didn’t want to get started. He wanted to go home. He wanted to sleep.
He wanted Tony to rescue him.
He wanted May to be alive.
The four all drew their masks up, almost as one, and Baldy fiddled with some buttons as Leader moved to stand before the camera.
“Ready, boss?” Baldy asked.
“Ready,” Leader confirmed. “What about you two?”
Red and Smirk voiced their assent.
“Then let’s begin.”
Baldy held up a thumbs up.
“Hello, Iron Man,” Leader smiled. “Since your Spiderling says you don’t care about him, we may as well drop all pretense, don’t you agree?” He smiled under his mask, then wagged a finger chastingly at the camera. “But even if you don’t love him, it’s irresponsible to let us torture him, Iron Man,” Leader told him. “You should be paying up so this can all stop.”
He sighed, as if what he was about to do was going to be a drain on him. “I want you to remember, Starky, this is all your fault.”
Leader reached into his pocket and pulled out the gun again. Peter barely had time to see the flash of silver before Leader had turned swiftly on his heel.
Peter felt the bullet tear through his knee before he heard the crack the gun made. He screeched horribly; had the previous gunshot hurt this badly? He didn’t think so. He sobbed, threatening to fall out of the chair.
“What’s wrong, kid?” Leader asked, his voice falsely sympathetic. “Does it hurt?”
“P-please,” Peter sobbed, looking up at him. “P-please s-stop.”
Leader, Red, and Smirk all began roaring with laughter.
“Look at that!” Leader laughed, turning back to the camera and advancing on it. “Look at your precious boy now, Iron Man! He broke so easily! Is this your prodigy? This weak excuse for life?” He walked to Peter’s side and grabbed the boy by his jaw, squeezing it hard. Even though Peter knew he couldn’t, a part of him feared that Leader was going to break his jaw with him bare hands. “This is the brat you waste money and technology on? This is the whelp you want to become a hero? He’s nothing. He’s a fucking weakling.”
He snapped his fingers, and Red hurried forward.
“But we’re just getting started, Starky,” Leader purred. Smirk was following, a bit more slowly. He was wrapping May’s scarf loosely around his own throat as he walked behind Peter, placing his hands on the back of the chair the boy sat in.
Leader turned to the pair, nodding. Smirk jerked the chair out away from Peter, laughing cruelly when the boy cried out in pain as his injuries landed on the hardwood floor.
“Hold him down,” Red ordered coldly.
Smirk forced his hands down on Peter’s shoulders, and Peter screamed again as Smirk purposefully pressed down hard on the gunshot wound in his shoulder.
“Aw, look at that,” he teased in his high voice. “He has no idea what he’s in for.”
Red ignored Peter and Smirk, instead testing the weight of the mallet in his hands.
“Which did we decide was first?” he asked himself. “Oh, right.”
He seized Peter’s right wrist and pinned it away from his body, raising the mallet in the air with the other hand.
“Watching his ribs heal wasn’t very interesting,” Leader said cheerfully. “And it was a bit hard to see. So….” He trailed off, shrugging.
Peter screeched in fear, fighting to free himself from Smirk and Red’s holds, but neither loosened their grip.
Red brought the mallet down with all the force he could on Peter’s upper arm.
Peter screamed again; how much longer would he be able to scream? He could feel that his arm was broken. He felt sick and hurt.
He sobbed, wishing he was free.
At least if I was dead I wouldn’t be in pain anymore.
Red moved away from his arm, focusing his attention on Peter’s left leg. He brought the mallet down twice this time, breaking his tibia and fibula.
Peter had screamed himself hoarse at this point. If he really was rescued, would he be able to ever talk again? Surely his vocal cords must be frayed by now.
“Don’t forget his collarbone,” Leader reminded Red.
“I won’t,” Red replied coolly. “But that doesn’t need this.” He tossed the mallet away carelessly, raising his hand. He held it out almost like a knife, then plunged in down towards Peter’s left clavicle.
Peter’s screech was cut off. He just didn’t have it in him to scream any more. He wanted to- he wanted more than anything to scream and wail and beg for them to leave him alone, to stop- but he couldn’t. His voice had given out.
Red got up, and Peter saw him glaring down at him. Red’s expression was one of pure hatred, and Peter wondered why. What had he ever done to Red? Did he just resent Peter for causing him so much work?
As Red left him, Peter lay on the floor, the pain hard to comprehend. What hurt more? His collarbone? Maybe his arm?
Probably his leg; it was sporting a gunshot wound and two broken bones.
Peter could barely open his eyes and look around. He was just so tired….The idea of falling asleep was so tempting. Maybe May would come and take him away.
Wouldn’t that be nice, Peter thought to himself. If she forgave me enough to come get me.
He vaguely registered Smirk forcing him into a sitting position, a painful position in this state, and he felt as Smirk wrapped the soft polyester scarf around his throat. Peter breathed in the scent of May’s perfume and began to panic.
May! His brain screamed.
The scarf tightened around his throat.
Peter gagged. He struggled to gasp for breath, but air did not come. He writhed in Smirk’s grip, clawing at his aunt’s scarf and desperately trying to get the air he needed. Despite the pain in both of his arms, he continued tried to claw at the scarf, instinct overtaking pain. He felt his nails digging into his throat, felt them drawing blood as he tried to pull the scarf away so he could feel some form of relief.
He could hear Smirk laughing from what sounded like miles away.
Was he underwater? It sounded like he must be.
Pinpricks jabbed at his face as he slowly began to give in, a gurgle dying on his throat. Stars popped in his vision, but blackness was overtaking his vision.
Am I going to die? He wondered vaguely. I thought they wanted me alive.
Then the scarf was gone. Peter gasped loudly and panted, drawing in deep, gulping breaths of air. He’d never been so relieved to feel air in his lungs. He’d thought swimming to the surface after a cannonball in the deep end of the pool was bad. What a stupid mistake to make. He should have known it would be a million times worse when it came to Smirk.
Leader and Red were almost crying with laughter. “Look at his face!” Red howled.
Smirk wasn’t laughing. Instead, he leaned in so Peter could feel his foul breath on his ear. “That’s how I’m going to kill you,” Smirk hissed.
Peter was still gasping like a fish out of water, but the threat stuck with him.
That was what they were going to do to him.
He suddenly envied May.
At least she hadn’t suffered through torture or faced that kind of pain.
“I think we’ll leave him there,” Leader mused carelessly. “Too much of a pain to move him back to him room.” He turned back to the camera. “That’s eight hours down, Iron Man,” he said in a teasing voice. “You have less than sixteen left.”
“We’ve got to narrow it down,” Hawkeye was saying.
“We’ve narrowed it down to three places,” Rogers argued. “We should just pick one and start searching.”
“That’s too dangerous. Imagine the state we could find him in if we got him after a few more videos.”
At the word, Tony checked the time.
It had been nearly eight and a half hours since the first video.
A new video should be arriving any-
“Mr. Stark,” said FRIDAY’s cool Irish voice, “you have a-”
“Just play it,” Tony growled, turning to look at the screen.
“Yes, sir,” FRIDAY said smoothly.
There was a pause, then the video appeared on the screen.
“Hello, Iron Man,” the bushy-eyebrowed leader said, smiling. “Since your Spiderling says you don’t care about him, we may as well drop all pretense, don’t you agree?” He was smiling under his mask, as if he could sense the hurt that the sentence would cause Tony, and he wagged a finger at the camera, as if reprimanding the billionaire. “But even if you don’t love him, it’s irresponsible to let us torture him, Iron Man,” Leader told him. “You should be paying up so this can all stop.”
He sighed, like he was sleep deprived and just wanted to take a nap that was being denied to him. “I want you to remember, Starky, this is all your fault.”
He pulled out a gun and shot Peter in the left knee so swiftly Tony barely registered the movement. Peter wailed in pain immediately, slumping in his seat as he cried.
“What’s wrong, kid?” the leader asked him in a mocking voice. “Does it hurt?”
“P-please,” the boy whimpered, looking up at his captor, and Tony hated to see the level of pain on the child’s face. “P-please s-stop.”
Tony felt his heart break. Peter was losing his fight. He could see that. He could see that Peter was ready to give up. He wanted to snatch the boy up and protect him.
“Peter, hold on,” Tony begged, even though the boy couldn’t hear him. “I’m coming to get you, Peter, I promise.”
The three men all howled with laughter, as if Peter’s pleas for mercy were the most amusing joke any of them had ever heard.
“Look at that!” Eyebrows crowed, turning to the camera and moving forward, his movements almost predatory. “Look at your precious boy now, Iron Man! He broke so easily! Is this your prodigy? This weak excuse for life?” He turned and walked back to Peter, seizing the teenager’s jaw roughly with his hand and forcing the boy to stare into the camera. “This is the brat you waste money and technology on? This is the whelp you want to become a hero? He’s nothing. He’s a fucking weakling.”
If he wasn’t protected by a screen, Tony could have strangled the bastard. Peter was worth more than a million of each of them.
Eyebrows snapped his fingers. The scarred crony hurried to Peter’s side.
“But we’re just getting started, Starky,” Eyebrows said, and his voice was a sort of silky purr. Greaseball was following, though slower. Tony saw he had May’s favorite scarf and was wrapping it loosely around his own throat as he walked behind Peter, placing his hands on the back of the chair the boy sat in.
Eyebrows turned to the pair, nodding. Smirk jerked the chair out away from Peter, laughing cruelly in his unnaturally high voice when the boy cried out in pain as his injuries landed on the hardwood floor.
“Hold him down,” Scar ordered coldly.
Greasy pinned his hands down on Peter’s shoulders, and Peter howled with pain again as Greaseball purposefully pressed down hard on the gunshot wound in his shoulder.
“Aw, look at that,” he said mockingly in his high voice. “He has no idea what he’s in for.”
Scar wasn’t paying any attention to the pair. He was busy testing the weight of a mallet in his hands.
“Which did we decide was first?” he muttered. “Oh, right.”
He seized Peter’s right wrist and pinned it away from his body, raising the mallet in the air with the other hand.
“Watching his ribs heal wasn’t very interesting,” Eyebrows explained brightly. “And it was a bit hard to see. So….” He trailed off, shrugging and grinning at the camera before turning back to watch.
Peter screeched in fear, fighting to free himself from the mens’ holds, but neither loosened their grip.
Scar slammed the mallet down with all the force he could on Peter’s upper arm.
Peter screamed again, and Tony physically flinched. But he felt a rush of horror when he realized Scar wasn’t done.
He moved away from Peter’s broken arm, focusing his attention on the boy’s left leg. He brought the mallet down twice this time, breaking his tibia and fibula.
Peter screamed so loudly and for so long that eventually his voice faded away. Tony thought his vocal cords must have given up. He wasn’t surprised.
“Don’t forget his collarbone,” Eyebrows said cheerfully.
“I won’t,” Scar replied, his tone uncaring. “But that doesn’t need this.” He tossed the mallet away carelessly, raising his hand. He held it out almost like a knife, then plunged in down towards Peter’s left clavicle.
Peter’s screech was cut off, and Tony knew it was because he’d lost the ability to scream at this point. He wasn’t surprised, and he didn’t blame the boy.
But damn, these fuckers were going to pay for this.
Scar got to his feet, and gave Peter a look of purest hate. Tony couldn’t fathom why. Was it hate for Tony directed to Peter? It had better be.
Scar then turned and left, not sparing the child he had tortured a second glance. Peter was just laying on the floor. Tony couldn’t imagine the pain he must be in.
Tony watched fearfully as Greaseball forced the dazed child into a sitting position. Peter seemed to barely realize anything was happening to him. Then Tony saw the space-themed scarf was no longer wrapped loosely around Greasy’s neck.
Then the sadist wrapped May’s favorite scarf around her nephew’s throat and began to choke the life out of him.
Peter was gagging, struggling to gasp for breath, but air did was not coming. He writhed, completely at Greasy’s mercy, clawing at his aunt’s scarf and desperately trying to get the air he needed. Raising either of his arms should be immensely painful, and nearly impossible to do, but still he tried to claw at the scarf. He nails were digging into his throat, and Tony saw Peter was drawing blood as he tried to pull the scarf away so he could breathe.
As Peter clawed and choked, Greaseball was laughing. It was a high, cold, disturbing sound. Tony was ready to end him for this.
Peter’s efforts began to leave him. He slowly stopped trying to remove the scarf from his throat, stopped trying to get air. He seemed to be giving up on living.
Greaseball removed the scarf just before Peter could pass out. The teenager gasped loudly and panted, drawing in deep, gulping breaths of air. He collapsed to the ground, drawing in breath as he tried to recover from what Greasy had done.
Tony could hear Eyebrows and Scar laughing mockingly at Peter. “Look at his face!” Scar howled gleefully.
Smirk wasn’t laughing. Instead, he leaned in and whispered quietly in Peter’s ear.
Tony couldn’t hear what he said, but he saw the fear in Peter’s eyes and the expression like he would cry if he could. Tony was fuming
“I think we’ll leave him there,” Eyebrows said, like he was picking pizza over Mexican food for dinner. “Too much of a pain to move him back to him room.” He turned back to the camera. “That’s eight hours down, Iron Man,” he said, a teasing note in his voice. “You have less than sixteen left.”
Tony watched as the video cut out.
“Tony-” Natasha began, but FRIDAY cut her off.
“Sir, they have made a mistake with their encryptions,” FRIDAY told him. “I have managed to track their IP address and received a physical address from that.”
Tony looked up sharply.
“You know where they are?”
“Put the coordinates in,” Tony said, walking to the ramp button, “and send them to me.”
“Tony,” Steve said warningly, “you can’t fight them alone.”
“Bullshit,” Tony snarled. “You won’t be far behind, and I won’t kill them. But I’m not leaving my kid alone with them any longer.”
The ramp was open. Without another word, Tony let the Iron Man suit envelop him, and he leapt gracefully out of the aircraft, flying away in the direction FRIDAY had indicated for him.
Leader laughed as Baldy stepped back to admire his work. He’d place a dog collar around Peter’s neck, and was now standing over him.
“Speak,” Baldy said mockingly, his foot hovering over Peter’s broken leg.
Not wanting to find out what it would feel like if Baldy really did step on it, Peter began to bark weakly at him. He felt broken. He was exhausted. He wished he was dead. But there hadn’t been any relief. They’d sent another video to Mr. Stark, and now here he was, barking like a dog to save himself from a little extra pain.
“You’re a sick piece of work,” Leader laughed. “And you say Benny’s fucked up.”
Baldy laughed too. “Think Stark would be more likely to pay if he saw that?” he said mockingly.
“At this rate, I doubt it,” Leader shrugged. “But, oh well. Bottom line is we still get to kill the kid. And I guarantee you, that shit will fuck with Stark forever.”
“Think he’ll ever find us?” Red called from another room.
“Maybe,” Leader allowed. “But we’ve got what we really wanted, don’t we?”
The group all called their assent.
“Make the kid bark again,” Smirk called, pulling a phone out of his pocket. “I want to keep that forever.”
Baldy obliged once Smirk had indicated he was filming, his foot hovering over Peter’s leg as he ordered him to speak.
Again, Peter began to bark in earnest, becoming more panicked as Baldy threatened to step on his leg anyway.
Everyone jumped as the door was smashed in.
Peter stared up at the red and gold armor, noting the bright blue-white of the arc reactor, and couldn’t help feeling surprised as he stared at it.
Mr. Stark really came to save me?
“Get the fuck away from my kid,” Tony snarled darkly, advancing on Baldy, who scrambled back.
“H-how did you-” Leader asked, looking around wildly.
“How I found you doesn’t matter,” Tony spat coldly. “What matters is what I’m going to do with you now that I’ve found you.”
Leader drew a gun, and Tony shot forward, knocking it aside and crushing Leader’s hand in his own, making him scream.
“Sorry, does that hurt?” Tony asked mockingly. “Too bad.”
Baldy tried to throw himself at Tony, but he knocked him aside so hard he sailed through the door to Peter’s closet prison and out the other wall.
Smirk tried to lunge for him too, but Tony seized him by the throat, and in a swift movement threw Smirk through the wall too.
Red was watching him warily from the doorway, clearly trying to decide how he was going to attack Tony for maximum results.
Tony glared at him. “Go on, Scarface,” he spat fiercely. “Try it. I fucking dare you.”
Smirk seemed to think better of it, and instead retreated into the room. Tony didn’t know if he was trying to flee or check on his accomplices. Tony didn’t care either way.
He turned to Peter and quickly noted the new addition to his appearance. They’d placed a thick, bright red dog collar around Peter’s neck. The tag hanging off it read Stark’s Bitch.
Fuck the justice system, Tony was just going to kill them now.
But the thought was quickly dashed from his mind; Peter was whimpering with pain. Tony quickly moved to the boy’s side.
Peter physically flinched away from Tony at the word, and the man drew back in surprise. “Peter? Peter, it’s going to be alright now,” Tony said, gently reaching out to cradle Peter protectively in his arms.
As soon as Peter was in Tony’s arms, he broke down, sobbing into Iron Man’s chest.
“Shh,” Tony urged him. “Shh. It’s going to be alright.”
He barely registered that Sam was yelling from somewhere nearby, that Steve, Natasha, and Thor were throwing themselves past him.
He only noticed that backup had arrived when Clint crouched beside him and Peter, and carefully placed a water bottle at the boy’s lips, helping him drink.
Tony sat in Peter’s hospital room, waiting for him to return from x-rays. The doctors were still trying to determine the extent of his injuries. So far, he had multiple lacerations, bruising, and dehydration.
He looked up as Bruce entered.
“They’ve been arrested, and they’re being processed now,” he told Tony.
“Who are they?”
“The guy in charge was Charles Granger. The one who worked the camera was Dennis Reid. The one who broke Peter’s bones was Finnigan Walsh. The one who strangled him was Benjamin Curtis.”
Tony pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger, trying to process all of this.
“Any idea why?”
“They all have a grudge against you,” Bruce murmured. “For one reason or another.”
“And those reasons are?”
Bruce didn’t answer. Peter was being wheeled into the room again.
Tony leaped to his feet, hurrying to the boy’s side.
“Later,” Bruce said firmly. Peter didn’t need this right now, even if he wasn’t conscious, and he didn’t appear to be.
“Later,” Tony agreed.
The billionaire pulled a chair up to sit beside the youth.
“We’ve determined his right humerus, his left clavicle, his left tibia and fibula, and two of his lower left ribs are broken,” the doctor murmured to Tony. “A third lower rib is fractured. He was also strangled.”
Tony nodded, brushing some of Peter’s hair out of his face. “Thank you, doctor.”
“We’re working on a treatment plan now,” the doctor told him. “We will let you know when we’ve got it as finalized as it can be.”
Bruce watched as Tony worried over Peter, brushing his fingertips over his face and keeping a firm but gentle hold on his hand. Knowing that his friend was going to be preoccupied for a while, Bruce quietly slipped out of the hospital room to let the other Avengers know what was going on.
Tony, meanwhile, just prayed that Peter was going to recover.
I’ll do whatever I need to to help you make it through this, Peter, he promised. I’ll do whatever it takes to help you find some sort of normal. I promise. Just please, please, don’t give up on me.
“You were so brave, Peter,” Tony murmured quietly to the exhausted, sleeping teenager. “I’m so proud of you.”
A dog was barking somewhere.
“Help me,” Peter sobbed, hugging himself in the dark gloom. “Please, somebody help me!”
May stood over him, a bullet wound in her head, blood pouring down her face. “Peter, you failed me. It’s you faaaaauuuult…..” May’s mouth opened and blood poured like a waterfall from her mouth.
The barking dog grew louder. Peter tore his eyes away from May to search for it and screamed.
Lying on his side was his own corpse, beginning to rot, bleeding. The thick red dog collar was around his neck, a few notches too tight; it had strangled the life out of him. The tag message continued to change: Worthless, Weak, Foolish, Burden.
As Peter watched, his own corpse opened its mouth, its eyes still staring sightlessly past him, and barked. A pool of blood appeared under his mouth, and Peter whimpered in fear.
Peter turned again.
Tony was striding towards him, giving him a comforting smile.
“Kid. It’s okay. I’m here.”
Tony bent down and hugged Peter close. The teenager clung to the billionaire, sobbing.
“Mr. Stark! I’m sorry!”
“You should be.”
Peter suddenly gasped in pain as hands closed around his throat, and Tony turned from Leader, to Red, to Smirk, to Baldy, back to Leader, touching on each of their faces in turn.
“If it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t have had to kill May.”
Peter screamed as he awoke.
“Peter!” Tony yelled, his eyes wide with shock and fear. “Peter! Calm down! Peter, it was just a dream! Calm down, please, calm down!”
Slowly Peter managed to slow his breathing to something closer to normal.
Then he began to cry.
Tony felt his heart break.
He leaned forward and gently hugged Peter, careful of his injuries. “I’m so sorry, Peter,” Tony said, hugging the boy. “I’m so, so sorry. But you’re safe, I promise. I’m not going to let anyone hurt you ever again.”
Peter sobbed hard, and Tony hugged him a bit tighter. The boy wasn’t really in any position to hug back.
“You’re never going to be in a situation like that again,” Tony told him firmly. “I promise, Peter. You’re going to be safe from now on. No one is going to get in the base and hurt you.”
“Th-the base?” Peter whimpered.
“I’m not going to let them throw you in foster care,” Tony said gently. “I’m going to keep you safe. You’re going to live on the Avengers base with all of us, and I’m not going to let you get hurt. No one is going to hurt you like this again.”
Peter sat in silence for a few moments after Tony finally released him.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“Don’t say you’re sorry,” Tony told him firmly. “You have nothing to be sorry for.”
“I was trying my best to be brave,” Peter told him in a small, shuddering voice. “I really tried.”
“You were brave,” Tony told him. “You were braver than most people would have been in that situation.”
“They made me bark,” Peter sobbed. “They made me bark like I was a dog.”
“Peter,” Tony said firmly, “look at me.”
Peter reluctantly turned his gaze on Tony.
“They had all the power,” Tony said firmly. “They were threatening to kill you.”
“Th-they said they were going to kill me no matter what,” Peter whimpered.
“Exactly,” Tony growled. “You did what they said to survive, Peter. And I’m so, so proud of you for that. Doing that might have saved your life. And I don’t know what I would have done if you died.”
Tony gently brushed Peter’s hair out of his eyes.
“I don’t want to ever lose you. You’re like my son, kid.”
“Mr…..Mr. Stark?” Peter mumbled.
“Can….can you not call me that anymore?”
Tony felt a stab of pain. Had they called Peter ‘kid’ while they tortured and threatened to kill him? Had they stolen his nickname for the boy away?
Then he remembered: yes, they had. And he was furious that they had taken that nickname from the pair of them.
But he pushed the thought aside. This was about Peter, not him. He had no right to be selfish like that.
Instead, he nodded, gently tucking Peter in as much as possible.
“Whatever you want, Peter,” he told him gently. “Now, get some sleep.”
Peter looked like he wanted to protest, but Tony began to hum some soft tune, something comforting and reminiscent of a lullaby, and that was all it took.
Peter drifted off to sleep, comforted by Tony’s hand gently holding his own and the soft, sweet lullaby he hummed him.
Tony just hoped this sleep was dreamless.