CHAPTER TWENTY- I Was There When it Happened
It's hard to breathe. It's hard to do anything but stare at the crowd of people rushing around the ship and shouting commands and calling questions.
Right now, I don't feel like an Avenger, or Spiderman. I feel terrified and small, and hyper aware of my own mortality.
Because that's freaking Captain America they are hauling up onto a table, strapping monitors to. And that steady high pitched beeping? That's the sound of his heart not beating.
"Oh my god," I whisper, hand lifting to cover my mouth where I stand, outside of it all, outside of myself.
The flashes of light, the hissed orders, the whining charge, the muffled thump, the curses and the rushing around...it's all swirling around my head, too loud, too bright, too scary. I'm already dizzy with it, sick with fear. What if Cap actually...what if he-?
My stomach lurches, heartbeat stumbling, and then my eyes latch onto a lone figure, the only other person besides me who isn't doing something, who's just standing there, paralyzed. There's a twisting sensation in my chest, and I'm pushing off the wall to make my way over to him, sidling past bodies and trying to ignore that horrible, steady tone.
He's not dead. He's not dead. He's not dead.
My first instinct when I reach Bucky is to hold his hand, because that's what you do to comfort someone, to show them they're not alone. But his hand is missing, ripped off along with his arm and left on the surface of a jungle planet none of us ever want to see again. So I put my hand on his shoulder, just above the stump where his metal arm should be.
Bucky's unnaturally, horribly still. His expression is a mask, his blue eyes riveted, unblinking on the crowd surrounding Steve Rogers.
That's his best friend lying there. His best friend.
What if that was Ned?
A lump forms in my throat, my insides feeling warped and heavy as my grip on Bucky's shoulder tightens.
"He's gonna be okay, man," I say quietly, but firmly.
Bucky doesn't say anything. Just stares.
"Move!" Thor demands, nearly in a roar, and the group around Steve backs away as the god lifts a hand, blue lightning crackling between his fingers before he slams his palm upon Cap's chest.
I flinch as his whole body jerks, and so does Bucky, but then that horrendous beep skips, and begins a slow, but steady rhythm that has both of our shoulders relaxing slightly. Bucky lets out a quiet, shaky breath.
"Here!" calls Rhodes, and I see him place a crate on one of the metal counters bolted to the floor. He lifts the lid, revealing felt lined compartments filled with thick glass vials, ranging from clear to inky black, symbols etched into the surface. "These have gotta be their poisons."
"And where there are poisons," Natasha says tightly, lifting a vial to the light and frowning at it. "The antidotes are always close by."
"Yeah, but which one is it?"
Vision and Wanda are huddled in another corner, a sample of Steve's blood pressed between glass as T'Challa's ship works to analyze the compounds and chemicals within.
My heart starts beating faster, lifting with hope. "This is gonna work," I breathe.
Bucky says nothing.
"No, really, look!" I say excitedly. "Vision's getting a list of all the chemicals and compounds in his blood, and-and over there, Shuri and Mr. Stark are breaking into the Dravek database! So once they get to the files containing the lists of poisons and corresponding antitotes, Loki will translate it, they'll cross reference the information with Vision's data, and they'll know which antidote to use! This is great!"
But when I look at Bucky, he doesn't share my enthusiasm or my hope. He's still staring as Dr. Banner and Sam work to keep Cap stable.
"Hey," I shake his shoulder a little, mindful of his wounds, and my own. Finally, his eyes move to meet mine. It's an effort not to cringe at the dead look in them. "Dude, it's Captain America. And these are the Avengers, and we have a plan. It's gonna work."
And even though I shouldn't, and it's totally not within my power to say so, I add, "Promise."
The chaos has dissolved into tense, focused, organized...well, still chaos, but everyone has a job, and even though they're working against a clock, a plan is in place, and all they gotta do is keep working until the answer reveals itself.
"Come on," I say, and urge him forward.
Reluctantly, he follows me over to the table containing Steve's outstretched form. Sam's monitoring his vitals, and Dr. Banner is hooking up an I.V., but there's room enough for us to stay close without getting in their way.
I look at Cap and try not to show how horrified I feel. His skin is white, like white, and the black veins stretching out from his stitched wound remind me of-
Nope. Not going there.
"Anything I can do, Dr. B?" I ask, barely keeping the tremor out of my voice.
He does a double take. "You could try not passing out for starters," he says with disapproval. "You should not be on your feet right now."
I really shouldn't. My head is pounding and the ship is tilting slightly beneath my feet. Not to mention, the various sores and aches are definitely making themselves known at this point. I wave him off, "Super healing, doc. I'm okay."
Bucky looks down at his friend, still hiding his expressions beneath a blank mask. I nudge him gently with my elbow. "Say something."
He shoots me a look. "He's unconscious."
"So? In the movies, they always say something when the guy is in a coma or unconscious or-" I stop myself. "And the guy always hears it, and he always comes back."
Always is a bit of an over exaggeration. But Steve might hear it, and it might help. If anything, it'll help Bucky, who I can just tell is absolutely losing it on the inside. I know I would be.
He doesn't say anything.
So I do. "Uh, hey Cap. It's me...Peter."
Wow, I feel stupid. But I see Sam give me an encouraging nod from the corner of my eye, and it's enough for me to say, "You're really freaking us out here, man. We didn't survive the nastiest aliens in the universe just to lose you now….You told us back on the ship to fight back, to survive. So fight back. We need you."
Steve's chest rises and falls, the color drained from his skin like he's never seen the sun. His eyelids don't even twitch.
"This is it," breathes Shuri. "We're in."
"Nice work, princess," Mr. Stark claps a hand on her shoulder.
"Stand aside," says Loki, eyes riveted to the screens. Clint and the other Wakandans stand half a step behind him, a steady threat.
I feel Natasha's eyes on me, but when I look up, she's examining the vials of poisons again, Rhodes and now Thor and the guy with the sword at her side. Korg sits in the back of the ship, holding Miek, and when he sees my gaze, he gives me a reassuring wave that I return. I notice Scott, knocked out with painkillers, gray bandages around his shoulders, leaning against the rocky alien, fast asleep.
"You never gave up on me."
Bucky's voice is so quiet I almost miss it. He continues. "So I'm not giving up on you. I'm with you. 'Till the end of the line."
It feels like an intensely private moment, and I can't help but feel like I'm an intruder, so I keep my gaze on the others working hurriedly, the holographic screens displaying scrolling data and foreign symbols at breakneck speeds, their glaring lights piercing through my eyes to add fuel to my headache.
Sam sees something on the monitors that has the muscles in his back going rigid. "Where we at on that antidote?" he calls tightly.
"Patience," Loki murmurs distractedly as his eyes flit back and forth across the Dravec writing. "Is always justly rewarded."
Sam bristles. "Say that again," he says in a low voice. "Tell me to be patient again while my friend lies dying at my back."
Loki half turns over his shoulder, his eyes innocent but an almost smile playing at the corner of his mouth. "You wouldn't want me rushing to translate and selecting the wrong antidote, would you?"
"Loki," warns Thor as Rhodes says, "I would not be making threats if I were in your shoes."
"Threats? Hardly. If your precious captain dies, it will be no fault of mine, I assure you. It is not my incompetence that placed him on that table."
Bucky tenses beside me and takes one menacing step towards the Asgardian, who notices the Winter Soldier's attention and stiffens ever so slightly.
Before it can escalate further, Mr. Stark puts a hand on Loki's shoulder. "Hey. Eyes up front or I'm taking twenty points from Slytherin."
There's not even a trace of humor in his steely voice, and I see his fingers dig in with warning.
"I've finished analyzing the blood sample," Vision announces, half turning to face the others, Wanda's eyes lifting with hope. "Sending the results to you now."
"See?" I say lightly. "We got this."
Then, miracle of miracles, Steve begins to stir, his brow furrowing as his chapped lips frown. Dr. Banner is on him in an instant, a hand on his chest. "Steve? Buddy?"
His eyes flutter open, his gaze glassy and feverish as they look around. Dr. Banner leans in. "We're right here, Cap. You're in good hands."
Steve gives him the barest hint of a smile, then notices Bucky on his other side. His lips part to speak, and goosebumps erupt with warning all along my skin. Cap's throat goes tight a second later, tendons rising as he inhales raggedly and coughs. Bright red blood sprays across his lips, his chin, a few drops hitting his chest.
Dr. Banner curses violently, and then that steady beeping turns rapid and high pitched. Sam calls out statistics that I don't hear, as both men start moving, as Mr. Stark and Natasha rush back towards us. Steve's coughing still, his back arching slightly as he tries to get in breath, as more blood and spit spray the air.
I put a hand to Bucky's arm, pulling him away a few steps as the others converge, as T'Challa leaves Okoye and Clint to guard Loki and Shuri, and calls out orders to the ship itself, machines whirring to life.
The blood drains from my face, and I can't make sense of any of it.
Bucky's staring again, and this time, I don't have the words to offer him any more assurances or promises. They get stuck in my throat, by a barricade of my own swollen panic. And despite myself, I keep thinking, what if Captain America doesn't make it? What if I watch him die, after finally getting off that nightmare of a planet, after finally being safe again?
My hands curl into fists, and beside me, Bucky's does the same.
I hear snippets of frantic words. Terrifying ones, like "his organs are shutting down" and "It's spreading too quickly" and "We need that antidote, goddamn it! Now!"
I want to slap my hands over my ears, want to shut it all out and close my eyes, and just as my fingers twitch, I hear a different voice calling over all the others in a steady, unhurried tone. "There."
Multiple sets of eyes look up, my own included, to the line of Dravec symbols Loki is pointing at, his expression victorious and smug. "There is your antidote."
Eight hours since the antidote was administered. Eight hours since Steve Rogers underwent extensive surgery to stop the internal bleeding and reverse the damage done by the Dravec poison. It wouldn't have been possible on one of our quinjets, even with the impressive amount of technology Tony Stark has in his possession.
The delicate instruments, the machines that whirled to life in near silence, hovering and steady and creating a sterile environment in such an enclosed space...the surety on the young Wakandan princess's face as she and Dr. Banner oversaw the procedures and administration of the antidote, Sam close on hand to assist them..
It's all a blur. And yet it was probably the longest eight hours of our lives.
By some cosmic miracle, all their efforts paid off. Steve Rogers lives, and is expected to make a full recovery.
Now there's just one order of business to attend to before we make the trek home.
Steve sleeps, a steady stream of medicine slipping into his veins through an I.V., a mask over his face to ensure he gets enough oxygen. His wounds have been cleaned and dressed, and he's been made as comfortable as possible. Barnes, dressed in fresh clothes, his own wounds take care of, keeps a steady guard at his side, refusing to move away for anything.
The rest of us stand together at the front of the ship, before the long, curving windows set above the controls. It's silent, the air taking on a solemn weight as we all stare across the vast, dark reaches of space to the large Dravec craft in the distance. The ship is an ominous creature still, even knowing no Dravec have been left alive. It seems to watch us, quietly seething, resenting us for our survival and retaliation.
I hate it. Hate it with every piece of my heart. And for not the first time, I wish that my powers were not so depleted from the battle so that I could tear that ship apart myself.
Vision squeezes my hand, pulls me close as if to comfort. Instead, it reminds me that those monsters nearly took him from me. Nearly took all of us. My eyes begin to burn, and I know the faintest sheen of red taints my irises.
"Prepare the cannons," T'Challa commands Okoye steely, and hard faced, the general obeys.
The whole ship shudders as massive weapons on the outside of the ship begin to shift into place, locking onto the Dravec craft in the distance.
"I feel like someone should say something," murmurs Scott. "I swear I had something for this."
Natasha raises a brow. "You had something for blowing up a hostile alien ship after they kidnapped us and tried to wipe us all out?"
"Yeah, I did. It was really good, too….nope, lost it."
"I have something," Tony says, standing, of course, in the center of our battered group. We glance at him, then move our gazes to the Dravec ship. "Yipee-ki-yay-motherfuckers."
Okoye's look is savage as she activates the weaponry, and then twin blasts of pale light surge out from the Wakandan cannons, spearing silently through the black night sky as Peter looks up at his mentor with a grin and mutters, "Sure, you get to say it."
A beat of silence, and then the ship explodes, shattering into three massive pieces as metal chunks go flying into the stars, glittering like glass, all the while bursts of orange and red light billow out in all directions, so bright we can barely stand to look. But even though it burns our eyes, none of us glance away as the Dravec ship is destroyed, as the remains of their horrific civilization are obliterated into nothing. Many smaller explosions follow, eerily silent, like some perverse, solemn fireworks display.
The Dravec are gone.
And we are going home.
The descent into Earth's atmosphere and flight to the Avengers compound seem to take a thousand years. Sore, restless, and incredibly homesick, I'm bouncing on my feet by the time T'Challa's ship touches the ground. I imagine falling face first onto the lawn outside the facility and breathing in the smell of grass and hugging my planet that I never, ever want to leave again.
My injuries are on the mend enough that I actually consider it, dignity or no.
As the ramp lowers into the compound's hangar, Steve is wheeled out first on a stretcher, still unconscious, but recovering. Bucky, Natasha, Dr. Banner, Sam, and the Wakandans form a tight entourage around the Captain as they move him quickly and purposefully to the medical wing.
I bolt down the ramp next, vibrating in my skin and feeling like I might actually explode. I want to get outside, I want to-
I stop short.
Aunt May is standing some distance away. Her face is drawn and pale, and I can see the glitter of tears in her eyes behind her glasses as her lips curve into a wobbly smile. My throat swells into a tight knot, and I feel my own eyes start to burn as I rush towards her.
I hug her tight, burying my face in her shoulder as her arms curl around me just as fiercely, her lips pressing a hundred kisses into the top of my head.
This...this is home. I'm home.
The muscles in my throat tighten painfully as I stifle the part of me that wants to break down, fall to my knees, and weep. All the terror and trauma of the past...I don't even know how long, hits me in a brutal rush, and it takes all my effort to shove it away and just relish the fact that I'm safe and alive.
I pull back, giving her a tremulous smile as her thumb brushes away the tear that slides down my cheek.
"I thought I told you to be safe," May says through her tears.
I let out a little laugh. "Didn't exactly turn out like I thought it would….is there any of that meatloaf left?"
It's May's turn to laugh. "That meatloaf went bad already, but you can bet your ass I'll make you as much as your stomach can handle, mister."
My stomach rumbles in response. "It can handle a lot, trust me."
That's when I notice the cupcake in one of her hands, a candle poking out of the mountain of chocolate frosting. The wick is black, like it had just been lit and blown out. My brows knit together in confusion, and I look back up at May.
"Your damn plane blew it out," she huffs, then holds it out to me. "Happy Birthday, Peter."
I gape at it, then her. That can't be right. My birthday's not for another...god, I don't even know what day it is. "That's...I'm...it's my birthday?"
May does a good job of hiding it, but I see that flicker of haunted agony in her eyes before she covers it with wry humor. "Three days ago. Your friends wouldn't stop calling."
My stomach clenches at that, and I take the cupcake from her slightly shaking hand. Three days ago I was fighting for my life on an alien battlefield with the Avengers against the Dravec soldiers. It's a bizarre feeling, knowing that I missed my birthday, that I spent it trying not to die. That I'm sixteen.
"Thank you," I tell her earnestly.
"I thought we'd save your presents for when I can take you home. We can go out for thai, invite your friends, get a real cake afterwards? What do you think?"
"I think...nothing has ever sounded better."
"Here," May hands me my phone. "If you don't call Ned, the poor kid might actually explode. I nearly had to ask Happy to tranq him to stop him from following me to the compound."
"Happy said no?"
"Happy didn't have tranquilizer darts on him at the time," May says wryly. "Come on, kiddo, let's get you inside. I was told you have to be cleared by the medical personnel before you do anything else. They'll also probably want to keep you here a day or two to make sure you didn't pick up any alien viruses or parasites or-"
She cuts herself off abruptly, going pale and looking sick. "Oh, honey, I didn't mean-"
"It's ok," I assure her quickly. "No parasites this time. I'm parasite free."
My smile is a hair too tight, but then again, so is hers. The Venom debacle is just a bit too fresh in our memories to joke about alien parasites. I have to fight the urge to pull up the security footage of the Wakandan vault Bucky and T'Challa installed on my phone after Christmas.
May pats my cheek affectionately and pulls me along after the others to the medical wing. "Alright mister, remember our deal when it comes to mission homecomings?"
"Technically this wasn't a mission."
The look on her face has me amending, "Uh I remember. No lying, no leaving anything out-"
"No bullshit," we say together.
"Alright then," May says. "Spill."
Korg makes his way off the ramp, Miek in his arms, and May stops short at the sight of the massive rock alien and the bug like creature cradled against his chest.
"Hi there," says Korg cheerily. "'Name's Korg."
"Um. May Parker," May says automatically, starting up at him.
"Oh, are you debriefing? Need a hand?" Korg asks me.
"Nope!" I pull May away by the shoulders, quickly steering her by the shoulders to the open double doors into the compound. "All good here! I got it!"
"Nice to meet you!" calls Korg pleasantly. "Oh, New Miek! Don't forget to tell her about how I saved you from being strangled by that Dravec leader who nearly branded you! You were in real peril there for a moment!"
May stiffens in my grasp.
"You fought with THOR?!"
"Do we know another Thor?"
"You rode alien dinosaurs into battle with Thor and the Hulk and...and EVERYONE. DUDE. I...I can't even right now. I'm losing my mind."
"You and me both."
"You realize you're going to have to tell me everything, right? And I mean EVERYTHING. Every fantastic, horrible, nerd-gushing detail. WAIT. Did your mask record it? Can I see what happened?"
"Ahhh that would be a no on the video montage. Karen was offline the whole time."
"Damn. I still can't believe what happened. It's like a mix of every sci fi and fantasy movie we've ever watched! Being hunted in the jungle, alien predators, dinosaurs, traps, sword wielding badasses and space! The only thing missing is rescuing a princess."
"She sort of saved me first," I admit. "Shuri is King T'Challa's sister. The alien ship she commandeered was sort of under attack and going down, so Hulk threw me and-"
Ned lets out a wistful sigh. "Peter. Your life. I like, need it to be mine, but am also totally fine with living vicariously through you so I don't have to get so close to, you know, dying and stuff."
"Ok, so I'm coming over Saturday to celebrate your birthday. Total mission debrief then?"
His tone is excited, but I can hear the slight hopeful, uncertain note in it. Because the last time something as big as this happened, I'd kept him out of it and lied to his face. "Yeah, of course. As long as my present is something awesome."
"When do I ever not get you something awesome?"
"Last year you gave me a gift card to Toys R Us."
"It was for your inner child."
"Toys R Us died, dude."
"So it might have been an old gift card from my great aunt. Last year really wasn't a good time for me. But, good news, I heard Toys R Us is making a come back. You're welcome."
"Sure, sure," I roll my eyes with a grin, flopping down on the pillows of my bed at the Avengers facility.
Ned and I have been talking on the phone for nearly an hour now. May had given me some privacy, saying something about finding Happy to get some coffee. I'd frowned at that, knowing she knew exactly where the coffee station was already, but then Ned was screaming in my ear from the phone, and my attention had quickly been diverted.
"You're okay, right? Like...okay, okay?"
"Yeah, man. I'm pretty much all healed already," I assure him. It's not a lie. I'd been cleared by the medical staff and given salves and creams to minimize the scarring. Now it's just waiting for my bruises to fade, which should be another day or two. A few days of good food and sleep and sunshine, they said, and I'd be right as rain.
"Yeah, but...like, are YOU okay?"
I think about that. "Right now...I'm...I'm mostly tired and sore and happy to be home. But...I'm not gonna lie, Ned. It was really scary. Fighting with the Avengers in space was cool and all, but I was mostly just trying to stay alive, and there were...a few close calls."
"Like...how close are we talking?"
A burning whip cinching around my neck, a wrist blade driving for my throat, plasma blasts ripping through the jungle, a weight at my back as I fall down, down, down-
I swallow. "Close. Cap...Cap almost died."
"Holy shit," Ned breathes. "Peter, that's...woah."
"I know. So, I'm okay, but...I don't know how it's gonna hit me yet, you know?"
"Well, however it does, whenever it does. I'm here."
"Anything for you, Mr. Frodo….Oh. Also...um...So I think...I think MJ maybe doesn't buy the whole 'sick with the flu' thing. Or were we going with mono?"
I sit up in bed. "Why do you think she doesn't buy it?"
"Oh, you know, just...Okay so she totally pinned me up against the lockers and interrogated me and I swear I didn't crack or anything but there was a lot of sweat and raising of eyebrows and she just has that tone, you know? And dude. I support your relationship and all, but Michelle is TERRIFYING. I was actually frightened for my life."
"Sorry," Ned heaves a sigh. "It's been super stressful without you here."
"I'm sorry," I say sincerely. "I don't mean to keep doing that to you."
He laughs. "Yeah, I know. And I'm pretty sure your stress levels were higher than mine. Anyways. If I were you, I'd call MJ. Like, soon. And you better be convincing, because I am not going down with THAT ship."
I scrub my face with my hand, hating the feeling of my insides curling into anxious knots. "I'll do my best."
"Cool. I'll let you get to it. See you Saturday?"
"See you Saturday."
I hang up the phone and thumb over to the text messages. There were a LOT of missed calls and texts from Michelle, each one becoming increasingly short and ominous. Ned didn't even have to tell me that MJ wasn't happy for me to know it.
Blowing out a breath, I close my eyes and try not to grip the phone too tightly. I can't even relish the feeling of being freshly showered, stuffed with food, and laying on a mass of pillows in an air conditioned bedroom.
What am I going to say to her? Oh, hey, MJ! Yeah I've missed all this school because of this insane flu. Because being home sick means I have virtually no access to my phone. Totally valid excuse.
"Ughhh," I groan, rolling over onto my stomach to smother my face in my pillow.
MJ is not an idiot. She's the smartest girl I know, and her texts and interrogation of my best friend made it pretty clear that she isn't fooled by the excuse, even if we did come up with the whole, 'it was actually mono' thing. Which, gross. Not exactly something I want her thinking I had, even if people get it all the time just from drinking out of the water fountain at school.
No, MJ isn't going to buy it.
So what, then? What's left other than the truth?
I could...I could tell her I'm Spiderman.
The thought sends my heart galloping into overdrive. And why not? I'd thought about telling Liz, hadn't I? And she'd just been a crush from a distance. MJ...MJ is sort of my girlfriend, I think, though I haven't officially asked her yet. I'd come close a few times, but talked myself out of it, worried how she would feel about labels.
But anyways, I feel a lot more for Michelle than I did for Liz. I know MJ. I mean, I'm starting to. I know how passionate she feels about important topics like inequality and sexism and corruption in society. I know she's really good at drawing, and sometimes uses this skill to make political cartoons that are as impactful as they are well drawn. (I keep trying to get her to submit them to the school newsletter, but she just rolls her eyes and says she's waiting for a more substantial platform than 'Midtown Tech Weekly'.)
She has a wicked sense of humor, to the point where half the time I don't even know if she's joking or not. She's pretty and cares about people and-
And I should tell her. MJ is one of my best friends now, more than that, and I should trust her with this.
The pillow is becoming stifling, and it's starting to smell like my lunch, so I roll back over onto my back and look at MJ's contact picture. Her expression is unimpressed, her chin resting on her hand as she stares off in the distance. I'd taken it when she wasn't paying attention, and MJ's response was to raise an eyebrow at me and ask if I had permission to take her picture without her consent and if I wanted to be sued for violating her fundamental rights for privacy.
I'd stared at her wordlessly before she rolled her eyes and laughed at me.
The truth would be so much easier than continuing to lie to her, especially with her not believing it anyways. But...but what if I tell her, and she freaks out? What if she doesn't want to be dating Spiderman? Or…or what if something happens to her? What if this ridiculous trend of mine for getting in over my head overlaps into Peter Parker's life and puts her in danger for being close to me?
Well, I think, that's going to happen whether she's aware of it or not, isn't it? But if she knows the truth, then she can be better prepared. She could decide if that's a risk she wants to take or not.
And I'm doing a disservice to her by taking that choice away from her, a subject I KNOW she'd have a lot of furious words on.
So there's really nothing left to think about. I have to tell her the truth, and hope that I'm worth all the trouble.
My thumb hovers above the green phone icon next to her picture. It's trembling.
I drop the phone to my chest and press my palms into my eyes with a groan. How the hell am I going to tell her? Over the phone so she can't pummel me for lying, and I don't have to see the look on her face? Is that as crappy as breaking up with someone over the phone?
Oh god, is she going to break up with me over the phone?
There's a sharp rap on my door.
I jump out of my skin, finding my heart somewhere in my throat and my body in a defensive crouch on the bed, the webshooters I'd strapped to my wrists now aimed at the partially opened doorway, where Mr. Stark's head is now poking through.
"Easy, Nick Grindell. This town is in fact big enough for the both of us."
I frown. "Isn't that from Toy Story?"
"The Western Code. 1932. Uncultured swine," Mr. Stark enters the room and leans against the now closed door. "At ease, soldier."
I do a good job of relaxing my stance and plopping back down onto the bed, full of teenage nonchalance.
"That bad, huh?" asks Mr. Stark sympathetically.
Damn. Guess I wasn't as convincing as I thought. I sigh. "Remember when you told the world you were Ironman at a press conference?"
"What made you think it was a good idea? I mean...why did you do it?"
"To be honest, there wasn't a lot of thought involved. It was a spur of the moment decision."
"What? You? Spur of the moment?"
"Shocking, I know. I may be the world's best mentor now, kid, but I, too, was once a reckless youth like you."
I snort, and Mr. Stark comes to sit beside me on the bed. He looks me over. "What's on your mind? Thinking of putting together a press conference of your own?"
"God no. Just...okay. So, lying to May...to Ned...it was really hard and it sucked, and it ended up being a mistake."
"I'm worried I'm still making a mistake by not telling my...friend."
"Your totally platonic friend Michelle Jones that you didn't kiss for the first time on New Year's Eve?"
I look at him sharply. "What? How-"
He waves me off. "Happy and I talk, you know. Not as much as he and your attractive aunt talk, but still."
I frown at that, but shake my head and demand indignantly, "How the hell does Happy know I kissed MJ on New Year's?"
"If you want your first kiss to be a private moment, maybe don't do it out on the porch."
"Why was he even there in the first place? May was the one who took me to that party?"
"Just checking in. The holidays were a little rough for you last year, in case you forgot. And you're getting off topic. So you want to tell your girlfriend about your late night Underoo adventures."
"Well...yeah. I think...I think she deserves to know. And I don't want to keep lying to her."
Mr. Stark's expression goes serious. "You sure she's someone you can trust?"
"I'm not going to tell you whether or not you can reveal your identity to your friend. That's not up to me, and it's not my secret. Clearly I'm not one to advise playing things close to the vest. That would be more Clint or Natasha's area of expertise. But I will say this," Mr. Stark meets my eyes. "Be careful, kid, and be sure. That's not something you can take back. Especially with you wanting to keep your identity a secret."
The decision weighs heavily in my gut. "Yeah."
"Take some time to think about it. And while you're doing that, there's something else I want you to think about."
I eye him warily. "What's that?"
"I think it would be a good idea for you to spend your weekends, or at least part of them, here at the compound. For various reasons, one of which I still have to talk to Cap about when he decides to open those dreamy eyes of his. Anyways, I want you to think about meeting with Sam."
"Sam? For what?"
"He used to run group sessions for war veterans suffering PTSD. I know what you're thinking," Mr. Stark raises a hand and rushes on. "And I'd probably hesitate if I were in your shoes too, but-"
"I'll do it."
"I'll do it," I shrug. "He's offered before, I've just never taken him up on it. After everything that happened up there with the Dravec...and down here, with Venom and Hydra, I think...I think it might be good to talk to him. Make sure it all doesn't hit me at once so I crack again in the middle of my P.E. final."
"That was...easier than I thought it would be. Where's the teenage resistance against authority and all things related to seeing a shrink?"
"Pretty sure it got left in the jungle," I say with a wry smile that apparently doesn't quite hide the haunted tone of my voice.
Mr. Stark puts an arm around my shoulders. "I'm proud of you, you know. You handled yourself like an Avenger up there."
My spine goes straight at the praise, despite my skin shuddering at the too recent memories. "I didn't...feel like an Avenger. I felt...it was really scary. Not an experience I'd ever care to repeat. Being hunted like an animal...man, Mr. Stark, I'll tell you, I'll never be able to watch the Discovery channel again."
"I'll let you in on a little secret. Being an Avenger isn't something you feel. It's something you do. God, I'm starting to sound like the dear old Captain, aren't I?"
I grin. "A bit. Is he doing okay?"
"Super healing is kicking in nicely. He'll be fine. Between you and me, I think he just wasn't getting enough attention."
I laugh as Mr. Stark gets to his feet, and the older man ruffles my hair.
"Enjoy your homecoming, kid."
"Thanks, Mr. Stark," I say when he reaches the door. "For coming to get me. Again."
He takes a steady breath and gives me a small smile. "Always."
"And they say I'm the dramatic one."
Steve's eyes crack open, a glint of blue. I sit back in my chair, arms crossed, my body poised in artificial ease as he takes a deep breath and looks around the room, taking in the white sheets, the overly sterile smell, the monitors and IVs stationed at his bedside.
"You are the dramatic one," Steve counters, voice heavy with sleep.
"Whose heart stopped and induced a full fledged, panic filled medical drama on board King T'Challa's ship in the deep reaches of space?" I point out. "Grey's Anatomy couldn't have come up with something more far fetched."
"I...don't remember any of that."
"I'd be worried if you did."
"You found an antidote?"
"Me? I'm flattered, but no. Your subsequent revival and recovery are in fact due to a combined effort of Asgardian, Wakandan, and...whatever the hell Bruce is. You'll be ever so pleased to hear that if it wasn't for Loki of Asgard, you'd be deader than a doornail."
I say it lightly, like it wasn't one of the scariest moments in my life. Like my own heart hadn't stopped at the sight of my friend, pale and lifeless on the floor.
Steve winces. "Great. A life debt to that madman is exactly what I need."
"To be fair, he murdered a lot of our people the last time his pointy boots were on Earth. Even saving Captain America doesn't balance that out."
"True." He glances around again. "So we are back on Earth, then?"
"You missed the delightful trip home, I'm afraid," I say tapping my fingers on the arm of the chair.
"Do I even want to know?"
I think about the chaos that had erupted when Steve Rogers had stopped breathing. The rush of tests and translating and defibrillating and magic and science. The horrifying moment when we thought it was too late, when Peter Parker had gripped my arm so tight it had left bruises, his horrified eyes on Cap's too still body. The melting relief when his chest started rising, when those horrific black lines started to fade.
Then there was travelling back to Earth, a ship meant for at most twelve carrying twenty. Most injured, all exhausted, and tensions unbearably high from such an ordeal. And of course, the close proximity to a god that had tried to murder half of us not that long ago.
"No. Although you would have liked seeing the Dravec ship being blown to hell."
Steve's eyes sharpen. "You destroyed it?"
"Technically T'Challa did. He and Thor had apparently placed Dravec explosives in strategic spots while they were over there, and one blast from the guns on his highness's ship set them all off in a rather spectacular fashion. Better than the fourth of July."
"I've always liked fireworks," Steve says with a grim smile.
"Patriotic through and through, aren't you?"
"Thank you, Tony," Steve says in all seriousness, the air growing heavy between us.
I go to wave him off. "Who says I was there to save you? I wanted my intern back."
Steve's not having it. "If it wasn't for you, for all of you, we wouldn't have made it. I...I wouldn't have been able to keep them safe. Or bring them home."
I can see how much he hates that, how much it weighs on him. All of the responsibility for those lives on his shoulders, right where he put them. "You would have found a way," I say firmly. "You always do."
"It was a close thing," he breathes out, his eyes taking on a haunted quality that I've seen before.
"It was," I agree. "Too close. I think we need to start training the fresh blood. Start honing the skills they already got."
Steve's eyes lighten with focus. "That's not a bad idea. Team training would make a world of difference too. It's been too long since we've all fought side by side. Together."
"We're a little out of practice, I'll give you that. But we still won, in the end."
"What if we don't, next time? What if there's no miracle last minute save? We need to be stronger as a unit for when the next big thing comes."
A chill skitters down my spine. The next big thing. I can't even argue or tell Steve that he's exaggerating or being an old worry wart. Because the next big thing always comes, and it always gets bigger. "I know."
We sit in silence for several moments each lost in our own thoughts. My fingers tire of drumming on the arm of the metal chair I've been residing in, and so I shift in my seat, leaning forward to rest my forearms on my knees. "Are you gonna be ok?" I ask abruptly.
He stares at me, brows furrowing. "As...far as I know? I feel like that's more of a question for Helen or Bruce than me. I've been unconscious for days."
"No," I wave him off. "Physically you'll be fine. Fit as a fiddle and all that. I mean...I mean you guys were abducted and hunted like animals for weeks. That has to leave some kind of mark. So I'm asking. Are you gonna be ok?"
There's that haunted look again. The same one that used to come up whenever Bucky was brought up, before he got Hydra removed from his head. Steve says slowly. "This isn't about me, is it?"
I meet his eyes. "It is. And it isn't."
Steve nods. "Look, I'm not going to lie and say that what happened with the Dravec isn't going to leave a mark. It will. It has. But I don't think it's something that any of us can't come back from. It might just take time...and some help."
I heave a breath, staring at the wall like it will have some answers. We did what we set out to do. We got our people back, and everyone managed to survive, which was more than we could have hoped for. But I'm still worried as hell about them. As Avengers, we go through nightmares and hell itself so that other people don't have to. I know better than most what that's like. And what the effects can be.
"Have you talked to him?"
I glance at Steve. "A little. Seems a little more on edge than normal, but ok. I still asked him to start talking to Sam regularly. Kid's not going to do himself a favor by shoving all that PTSD down to explode later."
Steve's eyes are unbearably understanding. "Yeah, no kidding. I don't think any of us should be on our own right now."
"I'm pretty sure that buddy of yours hasn't let the kid out of his sight since we've gone back."
He doesn't look surprised. "Bucky has a tendency to take responsibility for gangly things that like to get themselves into trouble. I would know. Does it bother you?"
"It would have, a long time ago," I admit. "Now? After all that we've been through, I think Peter could use as many people looking out for him as he can get. Kid's a magnet for trouble."
"That he is. How is Bucky? And...didn't I hear Scott dying on the ship?"
I snort. "Scott Lang lives. And won't stop bragging about his epic battle with the Dravec Queen, I might add. Barnes is fine, too. Being outfitted with a fancy new vibranium arm, courtesy of his highness. Let's see, who else? Vision's getting some cradle time for the wound on his chest, the princess and general are staying a few more days to oversee the Dravec tech's transfer to Wakanda, the aliens are recovering before taking T'Challa's ship back into space to rejoin the others. And everyone is making a full recovery. Even you, though you tried your hardest to bow out early."
"What are we going to do about Loki?" Steve asks, all amusement gone from his voice.
I rub a hand over my jaw. "That is an ongoing argument that has yet to resolve itself. Thor insists on vouching for the bastard, though I can't fathom why, and the case could be made that without him, we would have had more casualties, you and Wanda included."
"That doesn't negate what he's done."
"I'm not saying it does. Nor do I think the short amount of prison time on Asgard is sufficient for the likes of him. However," I say with a sigh. "I don't know that it's our call to make."
"You seemed to think a lot differently back on the Dravec home world."
"Let me put it this way. If Thor were to hand him over to us for justice, what then? What kind of trial can we put a god on? What prison can hold him for long? Aren't we all better off with him as far away from Earth as Thor can take him?"
Steve's gaze is even. "So you're saying we let him go. That we take the easy way out."
"No. Christ," I pinch the bridge of my nose. "Don't do that."
"Do what? Say it like it is? Don't you want justice? Isn't that what we fight for?"
"I want a break," I say abruptly, leaning back in my chair and looking at him frankly. "Chitauri, Ultron, Hydra, Venom, Dravec, all the other guys in between. I'm tired. I am wrung out. I think we all are. So we let one go and hope for the best. Considering he saved your life, I'm inclined to let him be Thor's problem."
His jaw sets, and he looks away.
I look away too, feeling the weariness settle over me. "I want to get married. I want to go a month without some big evil hanging over our heads, or a few weeks without worrying about that kid getting himself in over his head. I want some goddamn normalcy. And you know what I really want? An authentic philly cheesesteak sandwich."
Steve snorts, then sighs. "I'd kill for a cheeseburger."
"I'll get Happy on it. Least I can do," I rise, putting my hands in my pocket. "I'll let Barnes know you're awake."
"You just worry about recovering, yeah? We'll handle the rest."
When I get to my office, she's there, leaning against the desk, arms folded across her chest.
"Security," I say lightly. "There's a stalker in my office."
Pepper strides over to me, grabs a fistfull of my shirt and pulls me down for a kiss. I savor the feel of her lips on mine, letting my eyes fall shut as I sink into the sensation. Then she pulls away abruptly and punches me in the chest.
"Ow. That was totally unnecessary."
"Unnecessary?" Her tone turns sharp and incredulous. "You're joking, right?"
"You went into space."
"Wouldn't be the first time."
"New York gets invaded by aliens uglier than the Chitauri, and then you went after them into space."
"Invaded might be a strong word. They were only here for-"
"Spare me, please. I'm going to have to get a child leash just to keep you from going off planet for five minutes."
"Bondage, huh? Sounds a little extreme."
"I had to go, Pep. They took my things. I don't like it when people take my things. What were you going to do? Say no?"
"Maybe," she says, eyes flinty. "I'm sure the others would have done just fine without you."
Pepper kisses me again, and I brace myself for another punch, which quickly follows. "I was worried."
My eyes soften, and my hands move to her waist, pulling her against me. "I know. I'm sorry."
"You owe me big. I was half convinced you orchestrated this whole thing to get out of planning our wedding."
"I would never...but you finished the wedding planning, yeah?"
She rolls her eyes, but can't help a smile. That's my favorite thing, when she's exasperated and annoyed with me, but I can still draw out the curve of her lips. "Still plenty for you to do, don't you worry."
"Isn't the groom supposed to just show up?"
"Not in this wedding. You have to do at least twelve percent of the work."
This time I'm the one who's smiling. "Twelve percent huh? What do you say we go on a vacation?"
"Tony, we can't skip town this close to the wedding. There's way too much to plan and figure out, and then there's the company and the-"
"Let's elope. Get married on the beach in Fiji."
"I have not put in this much work to throw it all away and get married in Fiji with Avneet as our minister."
"I thought you liked Avneet."
"I might like him more than I like you right now."
"Think about it. We could put all the work you've already done into a wedding for Bruce and Natasha, and then go disappear on a tropical island that we could have all to ourselves. Tell me that doesn't sound appealing."
Pepper rolls her eyes again, wrapping her arms around my neck and moving closer. "Hey, I gave you that opportunity months ago. It's your own fault we're doing the big white New York wedding."
"Ah, so much regret."
She looks at me. Really looks at me. "Tell me you're okay."
I sober up a little. "Never better."
At her expression, I amend, "Okay, I've been better. But I'm alright, now that everyone's back and that murderous alien species is wiped out. And now that I'm with you."
"I hate space. It keeps trying to take you away from me. No more, got it? Don't do that again," she orders, fingers winding in the belt loops of my pants.
"Yes, Mrs. Stark."
"Uh-uh. You don't get to call me that until we leave that altar, pal. It's still Miss Potts to you."
"Yes, Miss Potts."
I kiss her, taking her in my arms and breathing in her scent, relishing the feeling of home.
I jerk awake, a denial on my lips, but I swallow it back to take a few heavy breaths and wipe the sweat from my brow. Nausea roils in my stomach, leftover vestiges of panic still clinging to my racing heart as the images repeat in my mind's eye with every beat.
Steve on the floor of the ship. Pale, unmoving. Gone. The panic that had ensued, the rush to save him as I'd stood there, staring and helpless, my single hand curled into a fist. Was this how he had felt when he saw me fall from that train so many years ago? Unable to do anything but watch?
I sit up in bed, flexing the metal fingers of my newly installed arm, connected to me so thoroughly, I swear I can almost feel nerves in the vibranium fingertips. The sensation of having the older version ripped from my shoulder still sends phantom pains along my left side.
Every night I dream of the Dravec. I dream of Steve, dead on the ship, poisoned and still. I dream of a knife plunging into my side, of feverish stumblings through a sweltering jungle. I dream of Peter Parker, determinedly bolting from the cave for my sake, to pay back a debt he hadn't needed to, of the massive Dravec hunter holding him by his throat, seconds away from slaughtering him in front of me.
I dream of being hunted. Of being the hunter. Sometimes, it's me stalking through the jungle as a pale faced, gangly teenager sprints for his life away from me.
But they're just dreams, I remind myself. I am no stranger to nightmares. What's a few more.
We're all alive. Recovering. Safe. For now.
Still, it takes a few breaths for my heartbeat to slip back into its normal pace, and by then, there's no going back to sleep. I change into jeans and a t-shirt and make my way through the compound, the night sky still darkening the halls and casting them in eerie darkness. Blues and grays and blacks.
Anything but red.
My eyes are already adjusted, the air from the A.C. vents above cooling the sweat lingering on my skin, so very different from the damp, oppressive heat of the jungle.
I think about stopping by Steve's room to check on him, but decide against it. I don't want to wake him and disturb the rest he so desperately needs to recover. So I walk the cool, dark halls of the Avengers facility, trying to pretend that I belong here. Trying to pretend that I'm not making sure there are no threats. Trying to pretend that I don't feel on edge, like enemies could be lurking at every corner.
Just a walk, I tell myself. That's all.
I reach the entry hall, the entire wall made of windows bared to the night sky, moonlight filtering through and casting everything into hazy blues. Movement has my muscles tensing, my eyes narrowing as my heart leaps into action, preparing for the rush of adrenaline that's sure to follow.
But it's one of us that's sitting there on the ottoman, not a Dravec hunter.
Still, I'm surprised. Of all the people I might have run into tonight, I didn't expect this. I consider moving on, continuing my rounds through the facility. Instead, my feet carry me to the bench beside him, and I ease myself down to stare out into the night.
"How's the arm?"
"It's good," I say after a moment, looking down at the gleaming vibranium to flex my fingers. "Still takes some getting used to, whenever I get a new one."
Tony Stark shoots me a look. "Let's have it be awhile until the next time you need a new arm, yeah?"
"That's the plan."
I swear I can almost hear the crickets through the thick glass of the windows, the trees beyond it swaying gently in the wind.
"From all the accounts I heard," Stark says slowly. "I gathered that Peter's survival depended heavily upon you. Am I right?"
I hesitate. "It was a mutual endeavor. I probably wouldn't have made it myself if he hadn't led the Dravec away that night."
"I thought I told you that I was tired of thanking you," he says lightly, but I hear the authentic note in his voice anyways. "I'd say stop it, but then I wouldn't have an intern right now. Clearly his well being is not something I can't handle on my own."
I snort. "Peter's a full time job. No one could do that on their own." After a moment, I say, "He reminds me of Steve. How he used to be."
"Gangly and stubborn?"
"That," I say. "And with the inability to stay inactive when someone's in trouble. Even when it was a bad idea, Steve couldn't help himself. Always had to charge into the fray anyways. Can't tell you how many times I had to save him from getting his ass kicked by a dumpster."
Stark heaves a sigh. "Sounds about right. Guess that makes us on the same team, doesn't it?"
"What team would that be?"
"The keep noble idiots from getting themselves killed team. I should make t-shirts."
I smirk at that, then another thought comes to me. "I heard there was a bet. Back on the Dravec's home world."
"Oh," Stark waves it off. "That. That wasn't important."
I raise a brow. "Meaning you lost?"
"Who won? Who killed the most Dravec? I'll admit I never kept count. Too busy trying to keep your moron kid alive."
Stark lets out a short laugh. "Fair. The winner of that particular bet would be Okoye of Wakanda. Her vendetta was slightly more personal, and the Dravec certainly paid for it."
I'd heard about that. "I would have bet on Wanda."
Stark makes a nose of agreement. "I bet she could have given Okoye a run for her money, had she actually kept count."
We fall into companionable silence, the easiest there's ever been between us. I doubt he'll ever fully forgive me for the past, not that I blame him, as I'll never fully forgive myself, brainwashing or no. Still, the scrawny idiots seem to bind us together. Give us common ground. And it makes things a little bit more bearable, for the both of us.
"Coffee?" Stark offers, pushing to his feet. He has dark circles under his eyes, and has to be exhausted, but I can't blame him for not being able to sleep.
"Sure," I say, and follow. And I find that the anxious edge, the one waiting for an enemy around every corner, has dulled almost to the point of relaxation.
Well I'll be damned.
"MJ? ...It's Peter."
"I gathered. Smartphones generally let you know who's calling."
I laugh awkwardly. "Right. SO um...how-how are you?"
Silence. I can practically hear her deadpan expression, and it makes me clutch the phone tighter to my ear.
"Peachy. How's mono?"
It's nearly impossible to tell, because MJ is always...well, MJ, but I'm pretty sure I catch the dark sarcasm in her question, as well as the defensive edge in her voice. Like she's expecting me to lie.
I swallow. "MJ...can we talk?"
"Isn't that what we're doing?"
"I mean...like, in person? I'm not...not contagious, or anything."
A beat of silence, then her voice, almost sounding uncertain, which is so unlike Michelle, the knots in my stomach double. "In person? As in, you don't want to do this over the phone?"
I frown. "Do what?"
"Are you breaking up with me? Is that what this is?" she asks straight out. "'Can we talk?' Really?"
"NO! God, no! No, that's not...I just...look, I've missed you like crazy, and I-"
"Peter, you didn't answer any of my calls. Reply to any of my texts. I'm not stupid, okay? My cousin had mono once, and her thumbs didn't fall off or anything so she couldn't text back. And also, Ned's a terrible liar. So whatever scheme you guys have cooked up-"
"There's no scheme! I promise! Look, I...can we please just meet up, maybe tomorrow? I don't want to...I mean, on the phone feels...can I just see you? Please."
"I'm leaving tomorrow."
"My mom's taking me to a political rally in D.C."
"Oh. Oh, that's...when will you be back?"
"I don't know. Whenever the protest ends. I've already gotten the next few weeks of homework, just in case."
Sweat slips down my neck, and I scrub at it impatiently with my free hand.
"Whatever it is, can't you just tell me now?"
MJ's voice is impatient, but I hear what she's not saying anyways. Or at least, I think I do. She knows I've been lying. She knows I'm hiding something big, and I'm not telling her, and it hurt her. She's nervous. I don't know that I've ever seen her nervous. God, I hate that so much. But...to tell her over the phone…?
Nerves prickle all over, knotting deep in my stomach and swelling in my throat. I open my mouth, but the words...they won't come.
"Ok. I get it." There's no mistaking her disappointment. "I'll see you when I get back. Glad you're feeling better."
There's a click, then silence, and I look down at the phone to see the "End Call" over her picture before it goes back to my home screen. Hurriedly, I call her back. Telling her the truth about me being Spiderman isn't something I wanted to do over the phone, but it beats this.
She doesn't answer.
"Crap," I hiss, pulling the phone from my ear to text her.
I start typing, 'MJ, can we please talk? I promise I'll explain everything."
Nothing. Not for several minutes as I debate the merits of telling her I'm Spiderman through text. Then…
MJ: I've gotta pack.
I stare at the phone with dismay, running my hand through my hair to pull at the roots. I've messed this up so bad, I've-
MJ: I'm glad you're okay.
MJ: Can we talk when I get back?
I blow out a breath in relief.
Me: Yes. Please.
Me: I really...really missed you.
MJ: I missed you too.
A grin splits my face. Then falls a few seconds later. I...think I really screwed that up, that maybe I've screwed everything up by lying to MJ from the start.
Whatever happens, when she gets back, I'm telling her the truth.
No matter what.
I am fond of Midgard and its people. Loki thinks me a fool for it, but his misguided disgust does not damper my affections. I had thought I understood Earth. And it's capabilities. But every time I think so, it seems to surprise me.
I, for one, never saw Wakanda coming.
Of the many countries I have travelled during my time with the Avengers, not one nation has come close to rivalling Asgard, but this one...this one stands a chance of doing so.
I stand with my fellows in solemn rows on the plains of Wakanda, knee high yellow grasses swaying about our calves. Ahead of us, the grass gives way to stone that stretches out a distance away before dropping to sheer cliffs. The roar of mighty waterfalls is the only sound breaking the solemn silence as the last of Earth's sun drops behind the horizon.
Loki to my left, Heimdall to my right, we watch along with the other Avengers as King T'Challa, dressed formally in black and silver robes, a necklace of fangs about his neck, strides forward.
His general, Okoye, stands at his side with the rest of the Dora Milaje. T'Challa's mother and sister wait at the edge of the wide circle formed around him, surrounded by their warrior guards, and beyond them, the people of Wakanda all stand together, garbed in ceremonial dress.
I glance to my right, seeing Wanda's hand clasped tightly in Vision's. Next to the Wakandans, the Avengers look foreign and largely out of place. I'd considered that T'Challa's people might think us intruders on such an occasion, but they'd instead welcomed our presence, perhaps understanding that we, above all, understood what their people had went through under the cruel hands of the Dravec.
My fingers curl into tight fists.
Were I able, I would raise those fiends from the dead to offer them a slower, crueler end, perhaps even handing them to the Wakandans themself to enact their vengeance upon.
I'd mentioned as such to Okoye, seeing in her a kindred warrior flame. She'd shaken her head. "My people have gotten justice. Their murderers are slain, disgraced without burial, burning, or funeral rites. Left to rot like the monsters they are. And what was left of our fallen, we have brought home. To think of the Dravec any more allows them to reign over our hearts, and I will not give them that satisfaction."
"That is noble of you. I will admit myself less so. I am, after all, both Avenger and Revenger."
"Revenger?" She'd raised a brow.
"Yes, well...there wasn't time to think of a better name."
Earlier this day, several animals were slaughtered, as is their custom, and the meat boiled without spices to be consumed by the families of those Dora Milaje taken and killed by the Dravec. The Wakandan princess had been the one to explain the rituals to us, her own father's still fresh in her mind.
Now, we all stand around the hole dug into the earth, torches burning bright as the stars above begin to emerge.
The remains of the Dora Milaje uniform found in the Dravec ship are folded neatly in the king's hands, and he holds them out so hat Okoye's hands join with his beneath the material.
"Buyela e mhlabeni ukulala," says T'Challa, his voice carrying solemnly over the plain.
A few paces away, Natasha murmurs softly, "Return to the earth to sleep."
Together, T'Challa and Okoye lower the uniform into the hole in the ground, kneeling to place it at the bottom. When they rise, Okoye's cheeks are tear stained.
The king gestures to the people waiting on the other side with an outstretched hand. "Abasebenzi ukukunceda uhambe."
Several women come forward, carefully carved walking sticks in their hands that they lower into the ground.
Natasha translates quietly, her voice as gentle as the grasses rustling at our feet. "Staffs to help you go."
"Food for you."
More women come forward, platters and jugs filled to the brim that are added to the collection.
Banner removes his glasses, his fingers brushing at his eyes as Stark places a hand upon his shoulder. Wanda rests her head against Vision's arm, and the boy, Peter, watches the proceedings with wide eyes.
"Izambatho zakho, izixhobo, zakho. Ubutyebi ebomini, sinikela ekufeni."
Clothes, Dora Milaje armor, and personal trinkets are lowered, brought forth by weeping family members.
"Your clothes, your equipment. Wealth in life, we surrender to death."
T'Challa and Okoye now stand alone, and the king kneels to take a handful of earth. He scatters it into the grave as he rises. "Hamba ngoxolo, odade. Phumla ekugqibeleni."
Natasha takes a deep breath. "Go in peace, sisters. Rest in the end."
"Kuze sidibane kwakhona," Okoye says, voice choked with tears as she adds her own handful of soil.
"Until we meet again."
T'Challa and I clasp forearms, our grips strong as our eyes meet.
"I am grateful to call you friend and ally," I tell him. "Thank you for lending us a ship. Once I find a place for my people, I will be sure to repay you for all that you've done."
"There is no need for that. You are our first alliance among the stars, my friend," T'Challa smiles. "Be sure we will call on you for aid, should the need arise."
I turn next to Banner, who offers a small, rueful smile and says, "I suppose there's no point in asking you to stick around, huh?"
My arm goes over his shoulder as I guide him toward the awaiting ship. "My people need me. Heimdall assures me they live. However I fear the drunken antics our friend Valkyrie has gotten them into."
Banner snorts. "You'll tell her I'm sorry I couldn't join you guys?"
"Of course. Although I wish you'd reconsider my offer. New Asgard could use a man with your brilliant mind."
"You just want me to come so you have the big guy's extra muscle in case of a fight."
"What? No. Of course not. I told you, I prefer you."
"Uhuh. Make sure you visit now and then, will you?"
"Oh, be sure of it. My return shall be quite a spectacle. I expect Stark to throw the grandest of revels on that day."
A distance away, a newly outfitted and armored Miek walks up the ramp, casting a wave over his shoulder as Korg pats Peter Parker on the hand. The boy flinches, but doesn't stagger.
"Bye then, New Miek," Korg says cheerfully.
"Thanks for everything, Korg," Peter wraps the rocky alien in a hug. "I honestly don't think I would have made it without you."
"No, probably not," agrees Korg. "They would have filleted you like a Norkalian fish, most likely. Lucky for both of us, they didn't, and the revolution was a success. Cheers, man! Have fun avenging and whatnot."
I glance over at Loki, who leans against the ship with his arms folded across his chest, blue eyes trained on Wanda Maximoff and Vision, who are speaking to Heimdall.
Bruce says, "I'll uh, leave you to it then. See you, Thor. Try not to blow up any more worlds, yeah?"
"I'll do my best," I smile at him and pat his back as he heads back to the others. Approaching my brother, I fold my own arms over my chest. "I was barely able to convince them to let you go, Loki. Do not consider what it is you're contemplating."
"And just what do you imagine I am contemplating?"
"Mischief. Chaos. What else?"
Slyness curls the corner of his mouth.
"Brother," I warn.
"Oh relax. I will trifle no more with Midgard or its so called protectors," Loki says, but I hear what he isn't saying out loud anyways.
"I'd tell you to never attempt to trifle with Wanda Maximoff, or Vision, for that matter, but we both know how fond you are of heeding my warnings, so I won't bother. Besides, I think I will enjoy watching her tear you apart."
Loki snorts derisively, but I catch the gleam in his eyes as he shoots her one last look. "Your faith in me is astounding, brother."
He pushes off the ship to head for the ramp, but is cut off my none other than Steve Rogers. The man is finally back on his feet after recovering from the Dravec poison, and by the fierce look on his face, is also ready for a fight. Loki stiffens.
"Thor," Steve nods towards me, then directs his sharp eyes to my brother. "Loki."
"Captain," Loki nearly croons. "How refreshing to see that even a close brush with death can't take that righteous spark from your eyes."
Steve smiles coldly. "I just wanted to thank you in person for your assistance in saving my life."
Loki practically oozes satisfaction at the sight of Captain America thanking him. I think of warning my brother to tread carefully, but decide to watch his stupidity unfold instead.
"How that must pain you," Loki grins. "To be in my debt, Captain."
"Debt?" Steve raises a brow. "That's a little presumptuous, don't you think? Considering what happened last time you were on Earth?"
"I served my time for that venture."
"A short stint in an Asgardian cell," Rogers scoffs. "Not exactly justice."
"Then why don't you enact your vengeance upon me here and now?'' Loki's arms spread wide. "Come, Captain, I know how desperately you'd like to unleash your might upon me. Go on. I won't even raise a hand to stop you."
Heimdall meets my eyes, and I notice the attentions of the others start to turn towards us. I shake my head. Steve can handle my brother.
"I would," Steve says thoughtfully. "If you were god enough to actually face me in person instead of hiding in the ship behind an illusioned version of yourself."
Loki's eyes narrow. "How-?"
"I've come to learn that a snake might shed its skin, but it's still the same, slinking, slithering beast it was before."
"I've got another one for you." Steve leans in close to my brother's illusion, and his voice drops so quiet, I can't even make out the words, though I am standing right there. When he's finished, Steve steps back, and Loki's face has gone several shades whiter. My brother's lips press tightly together, and he casts a furious glance at the others before stalking up the ramp.
"What did you say to him?" I ask Steve curiously.
"It's between me and the snake," Rogers says easily. "Stay safe out there, and watch your back. Or your brother may put a knife in it."
"Eh, wouldn't be the first time. Farewell, my friend."
Heimdall and Korg join me up the ramp as I cast my friends and allies a final wave of farewell.
At long last, we return to the stars. To my people. To create a new home for them, for me. But I have not forgotten my quest. Once New Asgard is established, I will continue my search for the infinity stones, the ones I once saw in a vision. And perhaps this time, I won't be alone.
"Don't just throw them in the corner and sleep on your mattress like last time," Mom warns from the kitchen as I trudge to my room with an armful of clean sheets. "I'm not raising a savage."
"God, mom. I won't."
I nudge my door open, resigning myself to having to make my bed.
My jaw drops, and the sheets go tumbling onto the floor with a muffled thump. I think I also whimper.
"Ned, I thought I said not to throw those sheets!"
"S-sorry! I uh… yeah, I'm on it," I say dazedly, kicking the door shut behind me. "Hoooooooooly shiiiiiiiiit."
My room's pretty sweet. I got a bed by the window, a desk set up with my playstation, tv, and computer, and two bean bag chairs that are overly squished from how many times Peter and I have sat in them playing video games together. Then there are the shelves of my extensive Star Wars Lego collection and the posters lining my wall and the door to my closet.
But this? This is new. And insane.
I look around, eyes nearly popping out of my skull and my mouth still gaping open. Then I try to not freak out and fail miserably.
The desk with my playstation has been moved to the corner, and looks miserably, hilariously small compared to what now takes up the majority of the wall. A sleek black, multileveled desk, with not one, not two, but four monitors set up behind an extensive keyboard, a blue light glowing in between the black keys. The consoles are hid neatly within the confines of the desk, and when I open up the drawer, a gleaming headset rests inside.
"Woah," I breathe, and slip it on, the memory foam cushions fitting comfortably over my ears. "What the fu-"
I jump out of my skin, the headset slipping off my head. Squeaking in alarm, I lunge for it before it hits the ground, smacking it up and fumbling with it for a few heart stopping seconds before I put it back on.
Panting slightly, I swallow hard. "Uhhh...hello?"
"You're alone I take it?"
"What? Yeah, I mean yes, I mean...who the hell is this?"
The middle right screen blinks on, light flooding my darkened room, and then my jaw is dropping towards the ground again as I start gaping like a fish.
"Y-You're Tony Stark!" I gasp out in disbelief.
"You're the guy in the chair," Tony Stark, seated at his own desk, raises a brow at me.
A squeak gets swallowed up in my throat. Oh my god. Is this really happening?
"Er yes. I mean, yes sir. I'm...yeah. Peter's...guy...in the chair," I trail off, realizing how ridiculous it sounds saying it out loud in front of Tony freaking Stark. Then it hits me. "You did all this?"
"That I did."
"Why?" I blink. "I mean, don't get me wrong, this is freaking awesome, and talking to you, like, wow. I'm a huge fan. But what is it for? Am I coming to work for Stark Industries? Am I gonna be an intern too? Is this the set up to a top secret base for Peter to sneak into because he can't have the entrance at his apartment-"
"Wow, this is spiralling quick. Yeah, hi. I'm gonna talk for awhile, cool?"
Mr. Stark sits back in his chair, steepling his hands together and looking confident and so badass. "Mr. Parker's told me a lot about you."
"And as I understand it, you were crucial in the efforts to prevent Adrian Toomes's heist of the Avengers equipment on moving day."
"Look, I can watch out for Peter here in the compound, and his A.I. is with him in his suit. But in case you haven't noticed, your buddy likes to get himself in precarious situations. Can't hurt to have another set of eyes watching his back," Mr. Stark raises a brow again. "If you're gonna be his guy in the chair, if you're gonna be backing him up, you're gonna need an upgrade."
Freaking out. I am freaking the hell out.
"So this...it's all for me?" My voice gets so high pitched I nearly cringe. "Seriously?"
"Seriously. Put it to good use, Mr. Leeds. I'm counting on you."
Do not pass out. Do not pass out. Do not-
"Oh, and one more thing."
He sets stern eyes on me. "Use any of this tech to go behind my back to help Peter in one of his idiotic schemes, or to try to hack into things you shouldn't, i.e. my things, all of this will go away faster than you can say, 'It's a trap'. Capiche?"
"Capiche. Yes. Anything. I won't let you down," I promise earnestly.
"Glad we understand each other. Happy trails."
The screen goes black. I can see my stunned face reflected in the monitor, and have to take a few deep, disbelieving breaths. Then it hits me, and I'm grinning so hard my face feels like it might split open. I spin in my seat, throwing up my hands in victory.
"Guy in the chair."
END CREDITS SCENE:
"You're taking us where?" I snap, whipping around in my seat, panic and fury welding my spine straight.
Even Rocket turns his head so fast I hear a crack in his neck. "It was a joke. He's joking, right Quill?" Rocket winks at him, fangs bared with all the subtlety of a volcanic eruption.
"What? No, I'm not joking," Peter looks at us with an incredulous look on his face. "Did you not hear how much they're gonna pay us for this job?"
I unbuckle the straps across my chest and push to my feet, storming up to him. "Turn us around. Now."
"Woah, relax." Peter raises a brow and gives me one of the smiles he thinks is so charming. "And weren't you the one who insisted on the rule, no unbuckling during hyperspeed?"
My hand shoots out to grip the shoulder of his chair so fast he flinches, eyes going wide. "If you don't turn this ship around right this second, I'm going to-"
"I am groot."
"Groot!" Rocket exclaims, disgusted. "That is not what she was going to say. Where the hell did you even hear that garbage?"
"I am groot."
Drax laughs as Rocket levels a glare at him. The raccoon snaps, "Hey! Let's not be teaching the moody teenager more shit that's gonna bite us in the ass later, shall we? That was disgusting."
"I like teenage Groot. He thinks all my jokes are funny."
"I am groot."
Rocket whirls on him, but Groot doesn't look up from his video game. "What did you just say to me? So help me, I will come back there and show you what funny is-"
"Enough!" I shout over them. "Peter!"
"Alright! Jesus!" Quill gives me a look like I'm being completely unreasonable as he holds his hands up in surrender. "Can we just talk about this?"
"There's nothing to talk about. We are not going into Dravec territory. Have you lost your mind? Don't you know who they are? What they've done?"
"So they've kidnapped a few people. Big deal. Who hasn't?"
"On my planet," Drax says. "We would kidnap the unwed females of an enemy tribe and-"
"Drax! Not in front of Groot!"
"What? I was just going to say-"
"We are here," Mantis intones, leaning forward in her seat.
I whirl, and the rainbow of cosmic light flying past us dissipates into inky black space, broken up only by a handful of feeble stars, a cold, distant sun, and an ominous planet waiting for us.
My blood turns icy, and we all look out as one, leaning forward to take it in. The hair on the back of my neck rises, and I hold my breath, eyes searching for the legendary warship of the most feared predators in the universe.
"What the hell?" Rocket says. "Did someone beat us to it?"
I want to snap at him that of course not, no one is stupid enough to take on the Dravec except us apparently, except the evidence before me says something different. Debris floats idly by our ship, chunks of metal plates and glittering clouds of glass, broken cases and scraps of shattered weaponry...and bodies. Pieces of them.
A Dravec arm hits the windshield with a muffled thud, its wrist blade gleaming in our spotlights as it slowly slides up and over our ship.
"Great!" Peter throws up his hands. "You jinxed us."
I don't respond. I'm too busy scanning the horizon for whoever, or whatever did this. The only being powerful enough that I know of to take on the Dravec and live is…
"Jinxed?" asks Mantis, antenna quivering curiously.
"Yes, jinxed. Gamora made a fuss, and now someone took the Dravec out before we could get here, and now the Nova Corps ain't gonna pay us squat."
"Not necessarily true," says Rocket with a sly smile. "Whoever did it left in a hurry, which means we can still swing this in our favor, if you get what I mean."
Drax frowns. "You want to swing the arm of the dead Dravec around to gain favor?"
"No, you gray idiot. I'm saying we collect some of this junk and take it back as proof that we did the job ourselves. Dravec get dead. We get paid. No one's the wiser."
"I like it," Peter says.
"What's not to like? I'm brilliant."
"You mean, lie?" Mantis frowns.
"Well, it wouldn't exactly be a lie," Peter adds. "We tell them the Dravec kicked it, which they did, and we collect the money. We did fly all the way out here and need to be compensated for our trouble."
Rocket turns in his seat. "Great. Go suit up and gather Dravec pieces."
"Hey, don't you be givin' me orders, pal. I'm the captain of this ship. You go dig through the trash. Isn't that your specialty?"
Drax lets out a boisterous laugh. "Hahaha, he is referring to the time he called you a trash panda!"
"I'm aware!" Rocket snaps. The raccoon's fur rises as he bares his teeth.
"Stop it, both of you," I say quietly. And miraculously, they shut up. "I don't like it."
"Oh come on," Peter rises. "You didn't like it when they were alive and waiting for us, and now you're unhappy they're dead?"
"The Dravec have been feared all over the galaxy for centuries. Centuries, Quill. Now their corpses are strung across the stars like they were nothing more than prey," I say, my voice growing sharper. "Whatever killed them was stronger. That should scare you."
"Yeah, well, it doesn't."
I roll my eyes, fiercely questioning why I got saddled with the biggest idiots in the entire universe.
But there is one encouraging thought in all this. Whoever killed the Dravec...it can't be...him. Not when those warrior predators aided his agenda of balancing out the universe by weeding out the strong and leaving the weak to be cut down like grass.
"I say we go down to the surface of the planet," says Drax. "See if there were any left for us to kill. My body is ready...for violence."
"Thank you for finishing that sentence," Peter mutters.
Rocket shakes his head. "Why would we do that when we get all the crap floating around, ripe for the taking?"
"I am groot."
I look at Groot along with everyone else, surprised that he'd torn himself away from the video game long enough to contribute to this conversation.
"Groot has a point," Peter says, tapping his chin thoughtfully. "If there's anymore Dravec alive on the planet, them showing up later would look pretty bad on our part if we go tell the Nova Corps that we wiped them all out."
"Alright, alright," Rocket concedes, messing with the controls to take us into the planet's atmosphere. "If you're gonna be logical about it."
Reluctantly, I get back in my seat, spine rigid with tension. I don't like this plan, not at all, but it seems I've been outvoted. My palms itch for my swords, and I silently vow that if there are any Dravec still alive on that planet, I will kill them before they kill my idiot team.
That pleasure is mine alone.
"I am groot."
"Yeah, no kidding," Peter says as he kicks a chunk of still smoking debris.
"What happened?" Mantis asks, awed and horrified by the smoldering remains of a vicious battle strewn across the grassy plains framed by jungle.
"The Dravec got their asses handed to them, that's what," Peter answers her, stepping over one of the corpses. "Damn."
"Whoever massacred them must have been exceedingly powerful," Drax nods, knives drawn as he surveys our surroundings.
"Who could have done this?" Mantis's antennae quiver. She starts to reach for one of the Dravec bodies, then thinks better of it and shies away.
"Well, I mean we could have," says Peter. "Easily. We just didn't get here first."
I roll my eyes skyward. If we'd gotten here first, we would have been outnumbered and overpowered and slaughtered. But there's no use saying it out loud. Quill's pride isn't worthing arguing over. Instead, I kneel by one of the bodies, examining the arrow sticking out of its throat.
Plucking it out, I eye the make of it, the foreign metal arrowhead painted black, likely to avoid catching the sunlight. I lower my hand and look around. "This wasn't done by one person."
"You think the Nova Corps set us against another team?" Qull asks worriedly. "To see who would get there first?"
"No," I shake my head. "I don't think so."
"Good, because otherwise we'd be wasting time here while the other team collects the bounty."
"I am groot."
"Yeah, where did Rocket get off to anyways? We need to start hauling some of this shit to the ship," Peter glances around.
Worry clenches my gut, and I am instantly alert, swords drawn. "Damn it. I told him not to go wandering off on his own."
"Since when does Rocket listen to anyone?"
Movement flickers in my peripheral, and I whirl, blades pointed towards the threat. Behind me, I hear the others draw their own weapons.
A metal hand reaches over the edge of the hillside, fingers stretching up as if in surrender, or in a request for aid. I go rigid, muscles tensing to charge as the hand raises higher, revealing a metal plated wrist and forearm.
"What the hell?" Quill mutters beneath his helmet.
A burst of hysterical laughter reaches my ears before the rest of the arm raises into view, held with two paws by Rocket, whose face is scrunched up with hilarity. "You should see...your faces!" he bursts, sniggering and wiping his eyes as he waves the metal arm around.
"Damn it, Rocket!"
"That wasn't funny! We could have killed you!"
He chortles. "Yeah. Okay! Sure! I'm quaking over here."
Fuming, I go to turn away, but then frown as I look at the metal arm closer. "Where did you find that?"
"In the trees over there next to one of the bodies."
"That's...that's no Dravec arm."
"No, I'm guessing it's from one of the suckers who kicked their asses," Rocket agrees, tucking the metal, muscled appendage beneath his own arm. He starts chuckling. "Can you imagine? Some guy is just wandering around...with ONE ARM."
The air is filled with the raccoon's hysterical laughter as he clutches his prize to his chest and pats his own back with it. I grimace with distaste as Quill rolls his eyes and yells for the others to start loading up the ship so we can get the hell out of here.
"Let me see that," I sheathe my swords and reach for the arm.
Rocket jerks away. "Get your own!"
My patience snaps, and I pluck the metal arm out of the raccoon's grip and hold it up so I can see it, ignoring his tirade of curses and protests. I run my fingers over the smooth metal and frayed wires, frowning at the small logo imprinted almost invisibly at the seams of one of the plates, as if whoever made it wanted it hidden.
"Stark Industries," I mutter. Then it's torn from my grip as Rocket glares at me, holding his prize far from my reach.
"Go get your own arm," he growls, then slings it over his shoulder and stalks towards the ship. "This one's allllll mine."
"Yeah, I'll get that arm."
I LOVED Bucky and Rocket's interaction in Infinity War, and so the whole reason I had Bucky's arm ripped off in the first place was so that Rocket could finally get his arm. XD XD XD XD
DUDES THIS IS THE END! I CAN'T BELIEVE WE MADE IT! THREE STORIES IN THE SERIES DONE! WOW!
It is beyond hard dealing with such a massive cast of characters, so I hope I did everyone justice and resolved everything that needed resolution. lol.
I hope this extra long chapter (THE LONGEST I HAVE EVER WRITTEN) makes up for the time it took for me to write it. You guys will no doubt be pleased to hear that I already have quite a bit, including the first couple chapters, already written for the next book in the series, Hunted. Which I will try to post soon! So make sure you guys add me to your Followed Author pages, so you get the notification when I start posting that new story. And if you haven't already, please favorite this story if you enjoyed it, and let me know what you thought of this chapter and this ride in a review down below!
I CANNOT freaking believe how many reviews and follows this story has gotten. I am truly thankful and unbelievably blessed by you guys. So a HUGE THANK YOU for sticking around and being the best review squad a girl could have.
NONE OF THIS WOULD EXIST OR BE POSSIBLE WITHOUT THE INCREDIBLE PIPPINSTRANGE! She is the world's best beta, the inspiration for this series, and where I go to read the best Marvel fanfics on the entire site. If you haven't read her work, GO NOW! Where They Go is the balm my soul needed after Infinity War, Marvel's the Departed is an INTENSE AND GLORIOUS AND INCREDIBLE AND DRAMATIC ride that IS SO IN CHARACTER it should be canon, and her newest fic turned me into a fangirling puddle like nothing has ever before. Not to mention Down Came the Rain was what inspired me to write Spiderman and Avengers fanfiction! LOVE YOU BETA!
So usually this bit is at the end of the author's note and describes the next chapter, but since this is the last chapter, I thought I would include it here to give you an idea of what to expect in the next story. PippinStrange and I were talking, and scale wise, Paint it Black was like Winter Soldier, Silent Night was like Civil War, and Riders in the Sky was like an Avengers movie. So, if I were to compare Hunted in that regard, it would be most like Spiderman: Homecoming, in the way that we are once again focusing largely on Peter Parker, though there will be PLENTY of other characters in the mix as well. This story takes place shortly after the events of Riders, with Peter dealing with the aftermath of all he's been through, and a new villain hot on his heels. Oh, and did I mention there will be a wedding? ;) You guys have already picked up on some foreshadowing that hints at what is to come, and I am so excited to start sharing it with you. This will ALSO be a very, very, very belated birthday fic to none other than PippinStrange! You guys are gonna love it! Peter Parker isn't done being hunted yet. Mwuhahahaha
AS ALWAYS, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR REVIEWS AND SUPPORT! IT IS SO INSPIRING! I'D LOVE LOVE LOVE TO HEAR YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS CHAPTER AND THE EXTRA SPECIAL END CREDITS SCENE. ;)
sparklydog9: Lucky for our Avengers, no Dravec king to contend with. ;)
DarylDixon'sLover: Bucky's there! Just not in the foreground in the last chapter
monkeybaby: I KNOW IM SO MEAN
SvalbardGirl" I'm sorrry! I'm so mean! Lol! Thank you so much! Lots of peter in this chapter and LOTS more for him in the next installment.
Mojomonster: I KNOW I AM SO SORRY! LOL! Thank you so much! I'm glad to hear how much you enjoyed it! LOTR references are soooo fun
HuffleCat: Ah thank you! And one of the upcoming fics most certainly will. ;)
JustAFemaleGeek: :D :D :D :D :D :D
Heroes21: LOL! BEST HASHTAG EVER XD. Also LOL! Your second review! XD You will see, my friend, you will seee.
JustAnotherFan57: OMG wow, thank you so so so much! Reading that made me so happy!
PippinStrange: DUDE THANK YOU OMG! IM SO GLAD YOU ARE MY BETA I COULD NOT DO THIS WITHOUT YOU! THANK YOU FOR EVERYTHING!
LoonyLovegood1981: I did! I hope the long chapter made it worth it!
syed: He did, but he turned into the Hulk, so that alien cache got lost in the jungle when he transformed, and they didn't know Steve was poisoned until they got on the ship.
niyah606: LOL! Sorry, bruh, I promise not to do it again...for a little while at least. ;) I love Scott too!
cargumentluv: Was that enough? :D
64Felicity: Thanks so much! I know I am way too attached to my cliffhangers
Krystal Fox: Nice name, first of all. ;) Thank you so much!
KiernanCo: Thank you very much! I am feeling much better!
gandalf537: DUDE THANK YOU
WolfsHonor: I'm sorry! LOL! I can't help myself. And I'm glad you liked the Dravec Queen! She was a last minute addition. ;)
seireidoragon: It really doesn't! lol! Yay for Aunt May reunions!
MewWinx96: Thank you!
Tightpants182: OMG thank you for reviewing, and welcome aboard to the review squad! I fangirled so hard reading your reaction to my series. I am so so so so happy to hear how much you have enjoyed it so far! There is definitely lots to come!
EleanorGardner: I KNOW! IM SORRY! LOL!
RedHood001: Always adore reading your reviews and all your favorite bits throughout the chapter. Seriously makes me so happy. I fangirl so hard and it just puts the biggest smile on my face. :D :D :D THANK YOU SO MUCH!
lucyolympus17: I know XD And I really liked that series! It's been a long time since I've read them, but when I did, I enjoyed them very much!
curry-llama: KORG IS LIFE! LOL! I was sad to see him go. He was such a delight to write.
Little-warrior2: I KNOW I AM SO SORRY! I WILL NEVER ABANDON I PROMISE!
maili-chan: Wow. Your review SERIOUSLY made my day. Thank you so much for putting so much thought into it and saying such wonderful things about my writing! It means so much to me! Thank you for being part of my review squad and I look forward to hearing your thoughts and seeind you in the next one! And I maybe did give you a hint with Tony needing rescuing. ;)
That's it, dear readers! You've reached the end of Riders in the Sky! Hunted will be released soon, and though I haven't had any time to work on My Country 'tis of Thee, I hope to get going on that one again soon as well. THANK YOU EVERYONE FOR STICKING WITH YOU! LOVE YOU ALL SO MUCH!
See you in Hunted. ;)