The Plane Ride Over
Dear god, what have I gotten myself into?
It had been wider than he'd expected on the inside, and a bit of an overload to the senses. Leather, oil, metal, cologne, and stale alcohol were just a handful of the powerful smells that flooded over him upon entry, and seemed more poignant than ever now. The hum of the engines sounded dull to the one other occupant of the aircraft, but to him was a deafening roar that reverberated through his whole body and made the floor quake beneath his feet. He sat at the end of a row of empty seats, trying to soak it all in, jittery and wide-eyed.
I'm on the Quinjet. The Avengers' freaking Quinjet! This is insane—crazy! W-what was I even thinking about before all this happened? Grocery shopping, web-shooter upgrades, that Italian culture project that I still haven't started? Oh crap! Will this count as an unexcused absence? I hope I'll be home before school tomorrow so that's not an issue. He can work something out for me if I'm not, right? I mean, he's an Avenger, and who the hell wouldn't listen to—?
"How's it feel, kid? Fit well enough?"
Peter Parker was startled from his thoughts by the voice, and glanced up quickly. "Huh? Oh, uh, y-yeah, I think so. Good. Great. Like a spidery glove." He pulled at the red material above his wrist and snapped it against the back of his hand, astonished by how dramatic an upgrade the suit was from the piece of crap he'd thrown together from garbage scraps and dared called a superhero costume. From the delicate web details, to the dual spider insignias, to the popping red and blue color scheme—it was amazing, unreal. His dry throat couldn't even find the words. "I—I can't believe you actually made this for me."
Tony Stark, aka the famous Iron Man, simply shrugged without turning to face him, resting a hand casually on top of the wheel. "Don't sweat it. Trust me: it was made with primarily selfish intentions. If I had to meet up with the rest of the crew with you in your baggy long johns, I think I would die of secondhand embarrassment."
Peter chuckled nervously, slipping the Spider-Man mask off his head and draping it over the armrest with care. The glossy eye lenses stared up at him in a menacingly charming way, and he rubbed at the back of his neck. "Heh, I probably would too, Mr. Stark. You guys—you're all just so cool, with your outfits and tech and perfectly styled hair..." He rubbed his hands together in his lap, trying not to sound as starstruck as he felt but failing remarkably. "Do I...actually get to meet them?"
"We're all joining up in Schkeuditz. Rhodey's there, tracking Cap's movements. Nat and T'Challa are just ahead of us, and Vision's just behind. Our window's very small, so there won't be time for chit-chat. We've gotta jump right in and finish this before Ross decides to get involved, and things get bloody."
He recalled in that moment why he had been summoned by the great Tony Stark in the first place: this wasn't some happy-go-lucky field trip for small talking with the most awesome people in the world. There was serious stuff going on here—serious enough to split the Avengers team right down the middle. He'd gathered some bits and pieces from the news, but overall was pretty uninformed on the whole situation, and could hardly bring himself to believe it. Captain America and Iron Man...fighting? The pair were, like, his biggest idols ever (hero-wise, at least; science-wise, Banner had to take the cake). He knew their disagreement had something to do with their fallout in Sokovia and that weird, evil robot, but Peter couldn't imagine what kind of controversy could polarize two of the greatest heroes on the planet so brazenly.
After an uncertain pause, Peter opened his mouth to ask a question, closed it, then opened it again, when a tremor suddenly passed through the ship. Then, out of nowhere, the entire aircraft jerked to the left, and Peter nearly flew out of his seat with a yelp of surprise. Stark quickly seized the wheel with both hands and yanked it upright, steering the plane back to a level position.
"Whoa, haha. Sorry 'bout that," he said. "Just a little turbulence. You haven't really had the true Quinjet experience yet until she's thrown you into the walls and ceiling a few times."
Spider-Man gingerly crawled back into his chair, shaken. Just when he thought everything was okay again, another violent quake shook the aircraft, and he shrunk against the seat.
"Now that I think about it, you and Aunt Hottie probably don't travel much, huh? Hell, kid, have you even ridden in a regular airplane before? Is this your first time flying ever? Well, it's probably not too shocking, seeing that you flip above skyscrapers on the regular, right?"
When no response came, Tony frowned, then finally turned around. He was surprised to find the kid practically buried into his seat, fingers gripped like iron to the armrests, face pale. He was glancing around the cabin with evident fear in his eyes and wincing at every bump and bounce of the plane.
"Hey, what's the matter?" he asked. Peter turned to him sharply, a tinge of embarrassment rushing to his cheeks, his words shaking as they left his lips.
"N-nothing, Mr. Stark, it's nothing. It's just...is this thing...? Is it, y-you know, safe?"
Tony snorted in amusement. "Yes, Spider-ling, it's safe. Certainly safer than taking the subway. I designed this beauty myself, so give me a little credit and quit cowering like a baby kitten back there."
But Peter did not quit cowering like a baby kitten. His reassurance did not seem to ease the kid's anxiety at all. The Quinjet hit another rough patch of air at that moment, and Stark watched Peter flinch harshly and squeeze his eyes shut. His whole body grew rigid and defensive.
Immediately, Tony realized that something was wrong. This was not the normal nervousness or unease that the young recruit was bound to experience amidst all of this chaos and excitement. He recognized the kid's fear as something seeded and irrational, something that he'd seen in himself for a long time.
Smile fading, Stark switched the plane to autopilot and rose from his seat. He carefully made his way to the belly of the ship and spun a chair around, plopping right next to Spider-Man. When Peter realized the Avenger had seated himself beside him, he straightened his spine with a start.
"Alright, spill. What's eating you, kid? You look like Thor watching Neighbors for the first time. And if you say you're scared of heights, I'm going to throw you all the way back to Queens."
Peter swallowed painfully and forced a very unconvincing smile on to his face. "W-what? No, no. I'm fine, Mr. Stark. Great, in fact. Peachy. Rad. Whatever the kids are saying these days. I mean, who's living better than me right now?" The Quinjet leapt under their feet again, and he impulsively cringed against the backrest, gritting his teeth together.
"Yeah, well, it looks to me like you're scared out of your spandex. Is it really the plane thing? 'Cause I figured it'd be after we landed when the nerves might set in. I guarantee you've got nothing to worry about while flying with me, alright?"
"I know," he agreed sheepishly. His knuckles were white and shivery as he gripped on to the arm rests, and a line of sweat was beaded along his brow. "I know, I know. It's just—it's stupid, okay? It didn't hit me until the...the turbulence thing." He averted his eyes to the floor, trying not to look out the wide window ahead, mortified by how childish and panicky he was acting in front of his idol. "It just made me think about...my folks, y'know? That's all. But I'm—I'm fine now, Mr. Stark. Fit as a fiddle, whatever the hell that means. Honest."
The boy's words nicked at Tony's heart. He knew that the kid had lost his parents when he was little, and only recently faced the unexpected death of his uncle. From what Stark had read up on him, Peter Parker had been through a lot, despite only being fifteen years old. And that was without mentioning the whole "gaining superpowers" ordeal that had led to him donning a spidery alter-ego and lumping even more problems on his already over-loaded, teenage shoulders. Sudden guilt rose into his throat at that moment as he thought about how he was now dragging him into this entirely new mess of superhero drama to deal with, but he quickly swallowed it down. They needed the numbers, and the ability to capture and contain their misguided friends quickly and without anyone getting hurt if they resisted. Spider-Man was essential to their mission for that in itself, and more.
"Your folks?" he repeated back, crossing his arms against his chest. Then it hit him. "Oh. It...it was a plane crash, wasn't it?"
After a pause, Peter nodded reluctantly without meeting his gaze. "And...it's not like I really knew them or anything. I can barely remember them, if at all. So it's just this weird—it just came over me. Yeah, I've never flown before. And I know it's stupid for me to actually be worried that that could happen, but...I don't know."
A sad smile pulled at Tony's lips. "It's alright. It makes sense for it to freak you out a bit. Everyone's got something, y'know? I used to have anxiety attacks over my fear of aliens and wormholes. Imagine trying to explain that to a therapist."
Peter glanced up at Tony, his expression brightening hesitantly. A small giggle escaped him. "Really? That's funny. I mean—no offense, Mr. Stark. Because, um—because the alien attack in New York that you guys stopped?"
"Yep. Messed me up something awful. Everyone's got some tick they don't want anyone else knowing about, and everyone eventually finds a way to deal with it. My anxiety thing resurfaces every now and then, but I've got a better cap on it. It just takes time." He sighed quietly and patted his shoulder. "For now, do me a favor and try not to stress, 'kay? You're safe."
Spider-Man's body had relaxed a little, and he had pried his fingers from the armrests and placed them calmly in his lap. He exhaled levelly, then nodded. "Okay. Yeah. Thanks. I'm—I'm good now."
"Good," Tony replied, slipping his phone from his pocket and tapping on the screen, "'cause speaking of 'caps', it's time to talk about the trouble we're facing with one in particular."
A picture of the infamous star-spangled super-soldier suddenly flickered to life on the small device, then expanded into a large, holographic image. Immediately, Peter's uneasiness concerning the plane shrunk away, and his focus rerouted to the much bigger and more threatening issue that glowed before him in brilliant 3D.
"Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, is on the run right now from the government and the police. He and a few of his friends, including a flying bird-man and his psychotic war buddy, have created a wake of destruction and casualties in their attempts to escape capture. Cap's being irrational, uncooperative, and a general pain in my ass. Evidently, he has to be stopped." Photos of the two other men appeared alongside Captain America, along with headlines highlighting the damages their actions had resulted in over the last few days. "Our team's got less than fifteen hours to bring them all in before General Ross sends out some special ops force to take them down, and he's willing to use lethal force to do so. That's why we have to stop Cap and his crew ourselves; quickly, and in as civil a manner as we can manage. Does all that make sense?"
"Mr. Stark," Peter chimed in, his head swimming with the flood of information, yet one question standing out prominently in his mind, "um, about Captain America. He's...he's not a bad guy, right? I mean, I've looked up to him for so many years. He's helped you save the world over and over again." He shook his head perplexedly. "What happened?"
Tony sighed. "The world's become a darker and stranger place, kid. It's so much harder to tell the difference between right and wrong anymore, even for a man like Cap. No, he's not a bad guy. But he's let his loyalty to one seriously messed up fellow cloud his judgement and drive him to do some very bad stuff, and we can't allow it to continue. He genuinely believes that what he's doing right now is right, even though it's so clearly wrong, and that makes him dangerous. Hell, I wouldn't even put it past him to try to convince you that he's right if he ever gets the chance. Don't let him get to you. He's gotta be brought in, for everyone's safety."
Peter mulled this over for a little while, considering the many lapses in judgement he'd had over his short superhero career, and warily swallowed it down. "Okay. I guess that makes sense. So...what do you want me to do?"
Tony Stark clicked his phone off, slipped it into his jacket, then interlaced his fingers against his knee, a smirk playing along his lips. "You, Captain Underpants, are here to help us out in case things go the way I'm predicting they will once we intercept Steve's entourage in Germany. Meaning south, as in he doesn't come with us peacefully and quietly like we'd all appreciate. I'm ninety percent sure he and his friends are going to put up a fight, which means we're going to have to put up a fight back. But I don't want things to have to get all explosive and bloody—and that's where you come in."
"Yeah, you. That webbing of yours is great for pinning people down, slowing them up, annoying the hell outta them. It's exactly what we need to stop Cap's crew without having to beat them unconscious. So while we're all wailing on each other, I want you to flip around the scene and web up all hostile ass. Don't engage directly with any of them—the big boys will take care of that. I don't want you getting hurt and your aunt having a cow or something. Just do your thing from a distance, and we'll have this whole predicament bagged in a jiffy."
"I can hold my own in a fight, Mr. Stark," he said quickly. "I've been in plenty already. I have powers. I can help you guys on the ground or in the air or wherever you might need me, especially since I have this weird thing in my head that tells me when something bad is about to happen, which I like to call—"
"You're not fighting, Peter," Tony interrupted, shutting him down without a second thought. "This is something entirely different than beating on purse snatchers in parking garages. These guys are expert killers that eat little greenhorns like you for breakfast. And it's not Cap I'm worried about—it's the other two, one of which is an over-powered murdering machine who would shoot you in the head, stab you in the face, or snap your scrawny neck in half without blinking. Or all of the above at the same time. There's also a chance that Barton—bow-and-arrow brandishing assassin—and Wanda Maximoff—witch-lady—might be there as well, both of whom are more than capable of breaking you like a toothpick. I'm not taking any chances, kid."
Peter blinked, wide-eyed. "Hawkeye is going to be there too? Oh man, this is the best day of my life!" When Tony shot him an unamused glare, however, he quickly sobered up. "Uh, sorry. I mean, okay, I'll try not to get killed. But what if one of them comes after me or something? Then I'll have to fight."
"You're much faster, nimbler, and smaller than most of the guys on their side. Add that to the fact that you can climb walls and zip around like an acrobatic ninja on steroids, I think you should be able to avoid direct confrontation. But here's my rundown, in case you do: If it's Clint, web up his quiver so he can't get to his arrows. Wanda: don't let her catch you with her magic. Nail her in the hands or eyes or something. Wilson—bird-man—web up his wings. Cap: get that shield out of his hands. If you can't, go for his legs. No matter what he's doing—even when he goes full turtle-mode and hides his entire body behind his shield—his legs are always exposed. Exploit it. As for Barnes...just don't. Yeah. Run for your life. I'm kidding, but also kinda not. Just stay alert and be smart, kid. You'll manage." Inhaling resolutely, Tony held out his palm. "Let me see your hand."
Puzzled, Peter slowly stretched his arm forwards. Stark took hold of it and turned it over so his palm was upright and tapped on the small device secured to his wrist. "Have you tried them out yet? I added some minor modifications to your web-shooters and made you a brand new, tricked-out pair, with a little extra Stark-style flair sprinkled in. Fully loaded with your nasty web fluid and everything."
Peter's eyes lit up. "Whoa, really? N-no, I haven't!" He glanced down at his wrist, stared around the cabin, then hunched his shoulders shyly. "Can I...?"
Stark gestured with a careless wave of his hand. "Fire away, kiddo. Same principle: press down on the triggers on your palms with your fingers, and out comes the funk. Just don't hit anything important."
He nodded eagerly, then stood from his chair. Eyeing a bottle on top of the plane's dashboard, Peter focused his enhanced senses, aimed his arm in front of his body, then carefully folded his fingertips to his palm. Instantly, a line of webbing shot from the device with incredible speed and latched on to the far-off object, causing it to shake and stagger from the impact. Peter laughed with delight, turning back to Tony excitedly.
"Wow, haha! Awesome! It's all been improved! The—the balance, the precision, the velocity—everything! It's all so much better than my old ones! How'd you fix them?"
Tony shrugged passively. "Just a little fine tuning and some higher quality tech and materials. All the design aspects are the same as your originals. If you had the resources I did, you could've built the same things—probably even better ones."
With a jerk of his wrist, Peter whipped the bottle across the plane and snatched it out of the air. "All that, and no loss of tensile strength. Is this my same web fluid?"
"Yep. Barely had to touch that stuff. You must be quite the little science whiz to have come up with that concoction yourself." He poked at the lines of black fabric stretched along Spider-Man's waist, causing him to jump a little. "See these tiny capsules here? They're full of extra web fluid in case you run out. Just open the top of your shooter, pull out the empty capsule, snag a full one off your side, and pop that sucker right in. It takes two seconds."
Peter ran his fingers against the little containers, picturing the steps he'd take in his head if it came to that. "Huh. I've never carried extra web cartridges with me. You'd think I would've thought to do something like this after the third or fourth time I nearly plummeted to my death." He laughed lightheartedly. "I wish I'd known you when I first got my powers. You're always thinking one step ahead of everything, Mr. Stark."
Tony looked at him with a mixture of pity and admiration."Yeah. I try, kid. But y'know, it never seems to make a difference during the moments it really matters."
Peter's smile faltered slightly, and he watched as the middle-aged icon lifted from his chair with a stretch, rubbed at his tired, sunken eyes, and stumbled down the belly of the plane all the way back to his seat. He slumped into the chair with defeated-looking movements, scrunching up his brow and massaging his temples with his and forefingers. There was an exhaustion to the man when standing in his presence that Peter had never recognized in all of the billionaire's TV interviews and press conferences. He always looked so cool and composed and confident, until now. It was a bit disheartening.
He couldn't imagine what this must be like: having to hunt down your friend and deliver them to the police, and haunted with the knowledge that if you didn't succeed, they might be killed. Knowing that they would likely never forgive or understand your actions. He wondered, wherever he was in Germany at that moment, if Captain America was sitting alone as well, struggling with the same painful truth for his friendship with Tony Stark.
Before he could conjure anything to say to try to cheer up the weary Avenger, Tony released his face, then motioned with his head towards the skyline. "Schkeuditz is coming up just ahead. We'll be there in about six minutes, and then things are going to get real. You sure you're ready for this, kid?"
Peter's heart fluttered in his chest as his eyes revisited the wide windows gaping down to the dark land miles below. That was a good question, he realized. Was he? He, Peter Parker: fifteen-year-old nerd from Queens who lived in a dingy apartment with his aunt? He had never been involved in anything on this scale as Peter Parker or Spider-Man. The fallout of what happened over the next few hours could change the world, and be a matter of life and death for who knows how many people. Not to mention that Spider-Man would no longer be some no-name vigilante from New York. This really meant something. By joining this war, he was taking a stand as a new kind of hero. However it ended, there was no turning back from that.
The teenager swallowed the lump lodged in his throat, then locked his gaze on the approaching cityscape.
"Y-yeah. I think I am."
"Great," Tony exclaimed, clicking a button that caused the landing gear to unfold beneath the aircraft, "because I've already come up with a plan for when Cap inevitably resists us that involves you."
Peter blinked. "Really?"
"Uh-huh. When I give the signal, you're going to jump out, do some crazy flip thing through the air like you always do, snag Cap's shield right from his hands, then stick a perfect superhero landing. If you do it right, it will make you seem way more intimidating and badass than you actually are, and maybe everyone will take you a little more seriously than—well, you know—a fetus in colorful panty-hoes."
Nervous excitement rushed over the teenage superhero. He threw on his Spider-Man mask and ran to Tony's side. "Seriously? You'd let me do that? Oh, I am so down! W-what should I say? When I stick the landing, I mean? Or maybe when I'm in the air? What would you say? Do you think, even though we're all kinda fighting and stuff, it would make Cap think I'm cool? I'm sorry, but I'm still such a big fan of his. He's awesome. I mean, y-you're awesome too, Mr. Stark, but, y'know—Captain America. And oh, hey, what's—what's my signal going to be?"
Tony chuckled softly at the kid's youthful giddiness, and wished for a moment that he could step into the young man's shoes for a day and see the world through his naive, untainted eyes. Heaving a lofty sigh, Stark wrapped his arm around Spider-Man's back and gave him a few solid slaps on the shoulder, forgetting about the hell that awaited him at the end of this plane ride and allowing himself to simply enjoy the company of the zealous hero, if only for just a instant.
"Trust me, kid. You'll know."