A/N: So, this story is still in my own AU. The subject matter is very much for adults, though, unlike my other two stories. Not so much because of sex, nudity and violence – although with the rating on it, I won't take any of those off the table – but because of the topic of death and dying. It can be upsetting for children and I'd suggest anyone who is letting their younger children read it, read each chapter first just to make sure they can handle it. I love writing angst, but I don't want to make anyone cry who isn't ready for it!
Stephen Strange looked down at the open file he was holding and felt like someone kicked him in the gut.
"It's Richard Dailey," May said, sitting in the chair across from him, watching quietly as he looked over the file. "I know he isn't you, but from what everyone told me, he's a leading authority."
Strange nodded, unable to look at her just then.
"I'm not asking for a second opinion," she told him. "He's my second opinion."
"Does Peter know?"
"No. Not yet."
"Just you, so far. I wanted to be sure, obviously."
Strange closed the file and set it on the table beside him with a sigh. Then he closed his eyes and rubbed his face, suddenly feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders.
"I didn't know what to do," May admitted, sounding distraught and worried, although she was obviously trying to hide it. "Who to talk to, first. It's… I don't…" She trailed off, and he opened his eyes, watching her struggle with something that was so painful she couldn't even articulate it. And he knew May to be extremely articulate when she wanted to be. Tears welled up in her eyes. "When he came to live with me, I promised him that I'd always be here for him… and now I won't be. How do I tell him that?"
"This can't only be about Peter, May," Strange said, handing her a tissue. She was so upset that she didn't even notice when it seemed to appear from out of nowhere. "You're the one who-"
"It has to be about him," she interrupted. "I can't stop what is happening to me, and he's the one who is going to suffer because of it. You know how sensitive he is. From what that file says, in less than a month, I'll be gone, and he'll be alone and forced to deal with it."
A lot less than a month, from what Strange had read.
"He has to be told, May."
"And you know he'll never be alone."
"I'm not going to see him turn sixteen," she said, wistfully. "Or meet his first crush. Or see him graduate…"
Stephen was silent, aware that she wasn't seeking a response just then.
"How do I tell him?" She asked again, wiping her eyes with the tissue. "You're a doctor. Surely you've had to give out bad news. How did you do it?"
"I have to admit that it's not even close to the same thing," he told her. "I was never emotionally invested in the person I was giving the news to. If you want my advice, I'd tell Tony, first. Between the two of you, you know Peter better than anyone, and love him the most. Then you'll know how to tell him."
She nodded, wiping her eyes again.
He reached over and picked up the file once more.
"If you don't mind… I know that you aren't asking for another opinion, but I'd like to go over these test results."
"Of course. Thank you."
"I don't need to tell you this, but I will. If you need anything, let me know."
"At the compound." She smiled, despite her distress. "Natasha's been teaching him a little karate or something, and he's been practicing every day so he'd be ready to show off what he's learned."
Strange forced a smile that didn't come close to being cheerful.
"Do you want me to call Tony?"
"How's he doing?"
Steve Rogers snorted, gesturing at the activity in the gym.
"Are you kidding me, Tony? The kid is ridiculously fast."
"Yeah. But is he any good?"
Being fast didn't mean anything if he couldn't use that speed to keep himself safe, after all.
"Are you watching the same people I am?"
They were watching Peter and Natasha spar. The boy had long since gone beyond simple blocking and punching, kicks and lunges, and now the two were going at each other full speed, and neither could land a blow – which was impressive. Not just for Peter, who had an amazing defense thanks to those spider senses of his, but also for Natasha who found that sparring with Peter kept her in top condition. Between the boy and Steve, she had a couple of the best sparring partners she could ever wish for, and was all the better for it.
Then Steve had decided that they needed to make things more challenging for both of them, and had added four guys on the outer perimeter of the sparring mat. These four were standing beside buckets that held baseball sized playground balls. Rubbery and bouncy, they were far from deadly, but the four were throwing them at the two combatants as hard as they could, trying to land a hit in the middle of the bout.
It was awesome to watch the way the two ducked, weaved and turned to avoid a ball while at the same time dodging or blocking a punch or a kick from the other person.
"Give him a few years, and nothing will ever be able to touch him."
Stark felt a surge of pride at that. Before he could respond, though, his watch chimed, notifying him that someone wanted his attention. A quick glance made him smile, and he pressed the appropriate button.
"Stephen. If you're calling to borrow money, I have a couple of cars that need washed."
"I need you at May's, Tony. As soon as you can make it."
The smile faded.
"Do I bring Peter?"
Stark looked over at Steve, who hadn't missed the conversation.
"We'll keep him occupied," Rogers said. "Go ahead."
"I'll be right there," he told Strange. And he walked to the entrance to the gym, the Ironman suit already activating.
Steve turned his attention back to the sparring match, but now his expression was worried.
"You're getting pretty good," Natasha told Peter, putting an arm around his shoulder as they walked with Steve to the lounge.
They'd finished their bout, cooled off and had showered, and now it was time to relax for a while. They had him for the weekend, and Natasha had made sure to clear her schedule to have time to spend with him. Sparring, yes, but also to just be with him. Peter Parker was easily one of her favorite people, and the fact that he could handle himself in a fight with her made it that much safer for her to be close to him.
She didn't have to worry that someone could use a threat to him to hold her sway.
"It's because I have good teachers," Peter told her, pleased at the praise, of course, but proud that he had managed to hold his own with her. He knew how good she was, and loved that she and Steve were always willing to teach him hand to hand.
It made the weekends even more exciting.
"Where did Tony vanish to, Steve?" Natasha asked, wondering why Rogers was so quiet.
She knew him well enough to tell that something was worrying him, but he hadn't said anything, yet.
"Something came up," Steve told her, evasively. "He said he'll meet us later."
He didn't say anything else as they walked to the lounge, and Romanoff wasn't the only one to pick up on his silent concern. Peter kept looking over at him, wondering if there was something bothering him, and if there was anything he could do to distract him.
It was more than an hour later when Tony Stark finally walked through the lounge entrance with Strange at his side. The doctor stopped at the entrance, and Tony went over to the table that Peter, Natasha and Steve were sitting at. Natasha and Peter were playing Battleship, and Steve was watching them, gloomily.
All three looked up when Stark approached, but Peter's automatic smile faltered when he saw Tony's expression. The man's eyes were red, and troubled, and he was obviously trying to hide that he was upset, but was failing.
"What's wrong?" Natasha asked, noticing just as quickly as Peter had.
"I need to borrow Peter for a minute," Tony replied, looking at the boy.
Peter stood up, hesitating, and Stark wondered just how sensitive those spider senses of his were. He knew he wasn't hiding his emotions very well, but did the boy know something bad was coming? How much in advance did the warnings come?
"What's up?" Peter asked, noticing Strange at the lounge entrance, waiting.
"We need to talk," Tony told him, gently. "Let's go to your quarters…"
Peter nodded, and Stark put his hand on the boy's shoulder, steering him toward the exit, and Strange. Natasha looked over at Rogers, her expression somewhat alarmed.
"What's going on?"
"I don't know, Nat, but it's bad, whatever it is. And I think it has to do with his aunt."