A/N: Here's another chapter to send you into the weekend. The end of the chapter will hint at some of the trouble on the horizon, but I'm not ready to give everything away just yet. We'll continue to see some of Peter's journey through grief. I'm working up to a significant moment between Peter and Tony, but it will be a slow build. I'm a counselor, so I don't like when stories gloss over how difficult the process of grief can be. Plus... we're going to learn that Peter is harboring even more pain beneath the surface. Pain that may or may not be directly related to May's death.
Also, I am going to try writing a little bit of every character. However, I cannot guarantee that each team member will have a one-on-one moment with Peter. There are some relationships that I want to focus on more than others. I really only like to write moments that make sense in the overall story-line. However, please let me know if you have any requests. If there is a character you REALLY want to see connecting with Peter, I will try to make it fit as best as I can.
I wish I could claim these characters, but they still belong to Marvel.
Chapter 6: I Get by With a Little Help from My Friends
Tony was more than a little concerned. It had been over 2 weeks since he and Pepper talked to Peter about going back to school and possibly moving. Since then, Peter had grown quiet. The kid had definitely gone into survival mode, only doing what was necessary to get through each day. He continued to do his studies online, and he was doing quite well with that work based on the progress reports that came from the school.
Principal Morita had been very understanding of the whole situation. He was aware that Tony and Pepper were taking over as Peter's guardians as a result of May's death. Tony was even surprised to learn that the principal was the grandson to one of the Howling Commandos, the men who fought alongside of Steve Rogers during World War II. It was for this reason, that the principal was willing to sign a nondisclosure agreement. Morita felt as though it would honor his grandfather's relationship with the First Avenger if he cooperated with another Avenger. Whatever the man's motivation, Tony was just grateful that he didn't make things harder for Peter. He didn't, however, know about Peter's identity as Spider-Man. For now, that secret was safe.
While Peter was doing surprising well at keeping up with his schoolwork, it was the lack of engagement in other areas that worried Tony. Peter did not go out as Spider-Man, and he rarely showed any interest in training with the others. The closest thing he did to training was to use Steve's old punching bags. Peter had followed through on his plan to use the bags as an outlet for his anger. Tony didn't really mind that Peter used them; however, he was concerned about when Peter used them. FRIDAY had informed him that Peter frequently visited the gym and training area in the middle of the night, when he should be sleeping.
Peter seemed to be keeping odd hours. He didn't seem to sleep at night, and he would just stay in his room and nap at various times throughout the day. He did make sure to eat, but he seemed to avoid eating at times when he was likely to run into the others.
When Tony confronted him about things, Peter claimed to be following the guidelines Tony had set. While he did have an outlet for his anger, Tony didn't really think that Peter was talking to him about his feelings or keeping a healthy routine. Peter, of course, claimed that he was trying, and Tony wasn't looking to pick a fight with him. His aunt's death was still fresh, and Tony was trying to give him the space he needed.
He just felt like Peter was isolating himself for too long now. So, he had decided to invite Ned up to the compound as a surprise. He wasn't really sure if the "surprise" part of the plan was the best idea, but he was more afraid that Peter might refuse to see his best friend if he asked.
Happy had, reluctantly, played chauffeur to the young man, and Tony greeted Ned as soon as he arrived.
Ned excitedly stepped out of the car and walked towards Tony, "Hi, Mr. Stark! It's so nice to see you! Thanks for inviting me! I am so stoked to see Peter. I have so much to tell him! He won't believe who Flash is dating!" As always, Ned's words rattled out quickly, and it made Tony miss the days when Peter would ramble on just like him. Ned looked around a little, seeming confused. "Where is Peter? I thought he would come out to meet me, too."
Tony wrapped an arm around Ned and walked him inside, not failing to notice how excited the kid became by the contact with one of his heroes. "Here's the thing, Ned," Tony told him. "This is more of a surprise visit."
Ned froze and stopped walking. "Peter doesn't know that I'm here? No wonder his texts to me seemed weird earlier."
Tony turned to him. "Did you say anything about coming?"
Ned shook his head, "Not directly. I was just telling him that we should build the new Star Wars Podracer set. It's part of the 20th Anniversary edition for Star Wars Legos, and I thought he would be stoked to put it together. So… yeah… I thought it was weird when he said we'd find a chance to put it together sometime… you know… because I was coming over today."
Tony nodded in understanding. "Did you bring it with you?"
Ned nodded enthusiastically. "Totally. Plus… like… five other new sets!"
"Good," Tony commented. "Let's hope this works." He ushered Ned forward again.
The young man looked confused, "What works?"
Tony led the teenage boy onto the elevator and pressed the button for Peter's floor. He looked at Ned and sighed, "He's not doing too well, kid. I haven't really been able to get him out of his room. He just hides away and mostly works on his schoolwork. When he's not doing that, he just sleeps. Clint suggested that he might need someone his own age, so…"
Ned gave Tony a sad smile. "So… you had Mr. Happy come and get me." Ned shifted a little, suddenly looking uncomfortable. "Mr. Stark, what if… what if he doesn't want to see me?"
Tony turned his own worried eyes to look at him, "He has to see you. If he doesn't, I have absolutely no idea what I'm going to do next."
Ned studied the older man carefully. "Are you alright, sir? I can't imagine what this must be like for you."
As the elevator stopped and the doors opened, Tony turned and attempted a confident smile before saying, "I'm always alright." He then stepped off the elevator and motioned for Ned to follow.
Ned did not fail to notice that Tony's words didn't really match the sad and worried look on his face. He didn't get to think on that for too long, though. Because he noticed that they were not alone when they stepped into the sitting area off the elevator. "Holy shit!" Ned whispered in amazement.
Sitting in front of him were most members of the Avengers. Natasha, Bruce, Rhodes, Sam, Vision, Wanda, and Bucky lived at the compound regularly, so they were all there. Joining them were also Clint, Thor, Scott, Hope, and Stephen Strange. The only ones really missing were Carol Danvers and the Guardians, who were off doing something out in the cosmos somewhere. Still, it was pretty much a full house, and Tony was suddenly realizing that today may not have been the best day to bring Ned up here.
The kid brought a hand up and held it over his heart. "Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god…" he breathed out quickly. "I can't believe Peter lives here with you guys! This is SO AWESOME!"
"We don't really live here," Scott said awkwardly, pointing between himself and Hope. "We're still a bit new around here."
Hope smiled, "I prefer to stay close to my parents… and Scott just can't seem to leave me alone."
Thor smiled widely in greeting, "Welcome! It is nice to see that Peter has a Midguardian friend that is kind enough to visit him during his time of sorrow."
"You alright, kid?" Clint asked. "You're not, like, gonna pass out on us or anything, are you?"
Ned just continued to stare with wide eyes. It was like he was afraid to blink or something. Maybe he thought they might somehow disappear if he closed his eyes for even the briefest of moments.
"Leave him alone, Clint." Natasha scolded. "You idiots are a lot to take in."
"Hey!" Sam whined. "I know you are not putting me in that idiot category!"
"I'd never dream of it," she answered sarcastically.
Ned finally seemed to get up the courage to speak to them directly. "W-what are you all doing here, then?" His face grew excited. "Is there a mission? Are you all going on a mission? Can I stay back and be your guy in the chair?"
"Guy in the what?" Bucky asked, looking at Sam. "Is that some 21st century thing that I don't know about yet?" Sam just shook his head and shrugged.
"I'm sorry… I'm confused," Dr. Strange said, looking at Ned. "Who exactly are you?"
Ned didn't have to say anything. Wanda answered first, "Isn't it obvious? He's clearly a friend of Peter's."
"This young man appears to overwhelmed," Vision added. "Perhaps it would be best if we moved back down the command center."
"You don't have to do that!" Ned said quickly.
Rhodes chuckled at Ned. "Good to see you, kid. I'm glad you're here. I think Peter could use the company. We're actually here to take care of some other business. We took a break in hopes that we might catch Peter when he came out for food or something."
"What other business?" Ned asked, hoping to get a clue about what they were working on.
"Trust us…" Bruce spoke up. "… you don't really want to know. It'll just give you a headache." As he finished the last sentence, he rubbed as his own head as if to say he was fighting a headache of his own.
"Oh…" Ned said. He continued to stare at the team, clearly uncertain of what to say or do. He wished he could find someway to impress them. His eyes grew wide as he seemed to come up with an idea. "Well… if you all ever need help with computers, I'm totally your guy! I even helped Peter hack into Mr. Stark's stuff!"
Tony just rolled his eyes, knowing full well that Ned was responsible for hacking into the systems he installed into Peter's Spider-Man suit.
The Avengers laughed a little, and shared a few responses of surprise. "Seriously?" and "No way!" and "That's hilarious!" were just a few things that could be heard.
"Perhaps we should listen to the child," Thor said, looking thoughtful.
"Absolutely not!" Strange interjected. "It's bad enough that one teenager is involved with all of this."
Bucky grew defensive, "Hey! Peter isn't just your average teenager, doc!"
Natasha stood. "Okay… I think this means that our break is officially over. We tried to catch Peter, but I think it's safe to hand him off to Ned."
"The Black Widow knows my name," Ned whispered in amazement.
"Hold it together, kid," Tony told him.
Rhodes stood to join Natasha. "I agree with Natasha. We still have a lot of… things… to discuss."
"It appears we have overstayed our welcome," Vision commented to Wanda.
"It's okay, Vis," she told him. "Our break was long enough."
"We shall resume our task!" Thor said enthusiastically.
"Let's just get on with it already," Bucky commented, following the other Avengers out of the sitting area.
Clint stayed back and approached Tony and Ned. "Hawkeye," Ned said in reverence as the man approached. Clint just gave him a confident smile.
"I guess you took my advice, huh?" Clint asked Tony. He looked at Ned, "Peter must be excited to see you. No wonder he was avoiding us! He must be waiting for you!"
Ned shuffled on his feet a little and cast a nervous glance at Tony. "Umm… actually, Mr. Hawkeye, sir… my visit is, like… a surprise."
Clint's eyebrows shot up, "Tony! You didn't even tell Peter that his friend was coming!"
Tony looked a little sheepish and shuffled on his feet in a way that wasn't too different from Ned. "I thought he might like the surprise."
Clint just shook his head. "Bold move. I know I said that Peter might like to see his friends, but I thought you might run it by him first."
Tony shrugged, "It's kinda hard to talk to Pete these days. Besides, Ned here isn't just any friend. He's more like a brother to Peter. It'll be fine."
Clint wasn't sure if Tony was trying to convince him or if he was trying to convince himself. "Sure… well, good luck, kid!" He looked at Tony. "You know where to find us if you need anything." With that, he went off to join the rest of the team.
"That had to be the best moment of my entire life!" Ned stated, seeming to be a bit stunned by the encounter.
"Yeah, well… as Pete's best friend you were bound to meet them all sooner or later," Tony told him.
"Badass…" Ned mused.
Tony just smiled. "How about we see what Pete's doing?"
Ned looked a little nervous, but he nodded and followed Tony towards Peter's room.
Peter was sitting on a chair in his room, staring up at the ceiling and lazily tossing a stress ball into the air and catching it again. Pepper had given the ball to him in hopes that it might help in some small way. It didn't, but he still appreciated the gesture. He wasn't really sure how long he had been sitting there. He was surrounded by food wrappers and empty water bottles. There was dirty laundry piled everywhere, and he hadn't felt like taking a shower in days.
He had been struggling with nightmares ever since he first learned about the new timeline. The nightmares had only intensified since May's death. Some of the nightmares were about being trapped in space. Other nightmares involved May. His most recent one had him swinging around Queens as Spider-Man. He had spotted May walking down below, so he called out to her. However, no matter how hard he tried to get her attention, she just kept walking. He tried to swing after her and catch up to her, but she was always out of reach. No matter what he did, she just seemed to move away again… never turning around or acknowledging his presence. That nightmare had definitely been a brutal reminder of how she would never turn her brown eyes to him or smile at him ever again.
Afterwards, he had gotten up and done a few push-ups and sit-ups. He even flipped off his walls, trying to work off the agitation that had been brought on by the dream. He debated about going down to the gym, but it was the wrong time of day. Too many of the others were likely to see him, and he didn't want to have to answer any questions. He was so tired of all of the questions. They always wanted to know how he was or what he was feeling. It was exhausting!
Or maybe he was just literally exhausted. With all of the nightmares, Peter didn't really know how much sleep he was getting. He just took naps here and there between submitting homework and assignments.
As he was tossing the ball and thinking about taking another nap, there was a knock on his door. Peter grabbed the ball out of the air and looked over at the door. He didn't move to get up, though. He had heard the voice of the team out in the lounge area earlier, and he figured that one of them finally decided to try to coax him out of his room. He stayed quiet, hoping that they would just go away if he didn't answer.
But they just knocked louder.
Peter groaned, "What? Who is it?"
He heard voices whispering on the other side before someone finally answered. "Um… Hey Peter. Think I could come in?"
Peter frowned in confusion. "Ned? What is Ned doing here?" He stood up from his chair and finally walked over to the door, but he didn't open it. "Maybe I heard wrong. It couldn't be him."
"Peter?" Ned's voice called again.
"Ned?" He finally called in response.
He could almost hear the relief in his friend's voice as he said, "Yeah… it's me. Could you open your door?"
Peter looked down at what he was wearing and glanced around his room. He was more than a little embarrassed to let his friend see him like this. "Uh… what are you doing here?" He wasn't really trying to be rude. He was just really surprised. It wasn't like Ned to drop by unannounced. Unless…
"Let the poor kid in, Peter. He's like a lost puppy out here," Tony called to him.
Of course. Leave it to Tony to ambush him with one of his friends. Peter scrubbed a hand of his face and reluctantly unlocked and opened his door.
Both Ned and Tony made faces when they saw him.
"Woah…" Tony said, leaning back and scrunching up his face. "That's… um… quite the scent you're rocking there, kiddo."
Ned wrinkled his nose a little, too; however, Peter thought he was trying to be a little more polite about it. "Uh… Hey, Peter! I guess I should have given you some more warning, you know? Maybe given you a chance to… um… get ready?"
"Clean up…" Tony corrected. "He means he should've given you a chance to shower and clean up a bit. Wow… how long has it been, Pete?"
Peter wasn't really in the mood to be criticized about his hygiene. He made a face at them and began shutting his door in their faces.
"Wait!" Ned cried out, sticking his foot in the door. "I have the new Star Wars Lego Sets! The Boba Fett Slave 1 Starship has a ton of pieces!"
Peter halted his action of shutting the door and looked at his friend. "How many pieces?" he asked.
"1,007!" Ned answered in excitement.
Peter took a moment to think, clearly interested. He gave his friend a small smile and opened the door for Ned to enter.
"You won't regret this!" Ned told him. "It's going to be so cool!"
Peter let Ned enter his room. He didn't really watch Ned's face as he entered because he was pretty sure his friend would just be worried based on the condition of the room.
Tony stayed out in the hallway but leaned in to look around. He locked eyes with Peter and attempted a smile, "Sorry, kid. If you didn't want to see or talk to me, I thought you might like some other company instead." He nodded his head in Ned's direction. "Plus, your friend was getting to be a little lost without you."
Peter turned towards Ned to see him clearing away some trash that was on floor in an attempt to make room for the lego sets that he was pulling out of his backpack. Peter blushed and turned back to Tony. "It's fine, I guess. But… I should probably help Ned clean up and make room for the legos."
Tony looked pleased, likely happy that he wasn't going to chase Ned away. "Sounds good." He gave Peter a pointed look, "You may want to… um… clean yourself up, too."
Peter blushed a little more and began forcing his door closed. "Goodbye, Tony!"
"Love you!" The man called, surprising Peter a little. It had sounded like it was said in a way that was meant to be a gentle tease. It was said as something to remind him that Tony wasn't trying to be too critical. He clearly just wanted Peter to know that he cared. He probably should have said something in return… something to let Tony know that he cared about him, too. But… he just couldn't bring himself to say anything out loud.
Peter turned around to find Ned studying him. But his friend quickly went back to his task as if he was hoping that Peter hadn't seen his close inspection.
"So… which one do you want to build first? We could start small and do the Podracer, or we can go straight for the Starship!" Ned tried.
Peter didn't answer. Instead, he moved over and opened a window. He knew his friend would appreciate it if he let some fresh air into the room. "Sorry, dude! I should've… I mean… it's not usually this messy, but…"
"It's fine, Peter," Ned said. His eyes were sincere and full of concern. "I don't care about any of that! I'm just happy to see you. It hasn't been the same without you, dude!"
Peter offered him a small smile. "Thanks, man. I really did miss you!"
Ned just smiled back at him. He could always count on his best friend to see the best parts of him.
Peter quickly grabbed a trash can and started stuffing food wrappers inside as he made his way over towards the adjoining bathroom. "Um… why don't you make yourself comfortable. I think I'm just going to get a shower quick."
"No problem," Ned told him. "Peter… you're my best friend and I need to be completely honest with you, dude…"
Peter stopped and looked at him.
"…I would really appreciate it if you got that shower." Ned's smile grew, knowing that Peter would understand that the teasing was all in good fun.
Peter rolled his eyes, but smiled at his friend. "Shut up!" he said, moving over to the bathroom and walking inside.
As he was shutting the door, he heard Ned call out, "And take your time! Scrub every nook and cranny!"
Peter smiled a little more as he turned on the water and began to get undressed. Seeing Ned really did help to lift his spirits. His best friend might be the only one to help him feel normal again.
Tony was relieved. At first, he was afraid that Peter wasn't even going to open the door for Ned. The poor kid looked so nervous standing there, too. In hindsight, it probably would have crushed Ned if that whole thing had backfired. Then he would have had to deal with two heartbroken teenage boys. He let out a sigh of relief, "Thank god that actually worked!" He did, however, feel a little guilty about subjecting poor Ned to Peter in that condition. For his sake, he hoped Peter would finally get cleaned up.
As he made his way down to join the others in the command center, he also made a decision to send up some of the cleaning staff later. That room was long overdue for trash pickup, laundry, and most likely clean sheets.
The Avengers looked up at him as he entered.
"How'd it go?" Clint asked.
"Ned's in," Tony told him. "Although, I feel a little bad for leaving the poor kid with Peter right now."
"What do you mean?" Natasha asked, concerned.
"I have no idea when Peter showered last!" Tony stated. "That kid was RIPE!"
The others laughed a little and shook their heads.
"Hey man!" Sam said, looking at Bucky. "Guess we dodged that bullet, huh?"
Bucky shrugged, "Yeah… it's probably good we didn't see Peter earlier."
"I do not think I would be able to notice such things," Vision stated. As an android, he wasn't impacted by things quite like the others.
"Then perhaps we can send you to fetch him in the future," Thor teased. The others nodded in agreement.
"Yeah, yeah…" Tony told them. "It happens to the best of us. The kid hasn't really been sleeping well. He probably didn't even realize how much time had gone by since his last shower."
It was quiet. No one really knew how to respond. The situation with Peter was still so heartbreaking. They all loved the kid, and they hated that they couldn't do more to help him. Of course, he would have to let them help him first.
"Ahem… anyway… how are we doing down here?" Tony asked, changing the subject.
"It's a lot to figure out, Tony," Bruce told him. "Computers all over the world experienced glitches and malfunctions. I can't believe we didn't do something about this sooner. We should've known this would happen!"
"We've got war criminals who were released on a technicality because evidence files went missing, top secret encrypted files that were suddenly decoded, some files disappeared, and others seemed to appear out of nowhere!" Natasha told him.
Stephen Strange stepped forward, "The interrupted timeline was virtually unnoticeable for humans, but computers…"
Bucky shook his head, "The world was better off when everything was on paper!"
"Tell that to the trees," Hope commented.
"Is Tree here?" Thor asked, misunderstanding the comment.
"His name is Groot!" Rhodes corrected. "She meant…"
"Can we focus, please?" Bruce asked impatiently. "We may have nuclear codes to worry about!"
"According to my calculations, someone would have acted by now if access to nuclear codes had been obtained," Vision explained.
"Okay… let's prioritize. Did anyone talk to T'Challa? Is their vibranium still secure? Did it seem like any of their files were corrupted or impacted in any way?" Tony asked.
Bucky shook his head, "I talked to Shuri. She said something about their technology being safe and unaffected compared to the antiquated stuff used by the rest of the world… or something like that."
"That's great. I'm glad we had Grandpa Barnes talk to the Wakandans about the state of their 21st century technology stuff. That was good thinking," he reprimanded jokingly. "Anyone else have anything?"
"We don't need to worry about Wakanda," Natasha said, knowing T'Challa had a handle on it.
"I'm more worried about government files. We didn't know about some of these inconsistencies simply because people weren't looking at some of the files right away. However, red flags have gone up in CIA and NSA databases. Some of it is related to weapons and terrorists," Rhodes commented.
"Anyone or anything particularly dangerous?" Tony asked.
"Possibly Hydra," Bruce admitted, making Bucky visibly flinch.
"There's some project that seems to be connected to area 51, too. It may be nothing, but some video files we found seem more than a little off," Rhodes added.
"Tic Tac and Honey Bee were talking about checking into the area 51 situation, but I'm thinking maybe I should go with them," Sam said.
"It's Wasp!" Hope corrected, slightly annoyed.
Tony shook his head, "You'd probably draw more attention. Scott and Hope are probably the best bet for getting in and out of there undetected. Wanda and Vision… It might be good to have you two on standby in case that situation goes wrong. I doubt they could stop either one of you if things were to get messy."
Everyone nodded in agreement.
"Sam, Thor, and Strange could look into the Hydra situation. We should make sure all of their old bases are still vacant. You guys can all travel around easily; get in and get out without much issue," Tony said. "It would probably be good to have Bruce and Barnes on backup for that one." He gave Bucky a look, "If you think you're ready for that?"
Bucky nodded, "If Hydra is up and running somewhere, it will be my sincere pleasure to take them down."
"What about us?" Clint asked, motioning between himself and Natasha.
"I'll need your help with the comms and transportation. You both could probably help with either mission, so it's your choice," Tony responded.
"Iron Man would sure be a help looking into those old Hydra bases," Natasha said.
Tony shook his head, "I made a promise. I'm retired. I'll keep an eye on what's happening from here. You'll each have access to FRIDAY through your comms."
"I can do it," Rhodes said. "War Machine isn't so different from Iron Man."
Tony smiled, "You just stole a suit and renamed it!" He looked at his friend and grew more serious. "Are you sure, Rhodey? I thought you were having some more pain lately?" he asked, referring to his friend's old injury.
"I'll be fine. I want to help," Rhodes said. "Besides…there may not even be anything there."
"Let's hope not," Tony said. He clapped his hands together, "Okay! Sounds like we have our teams coming together. Now all we have to do is make a plan. Let's do this, shall we?"
With that, they all started working on their mission plans. They all missed Steve's leadership, but the man taught them a lot during his time with the team. They would make him proud. Tony knew it was only the beginning. There would be a lot of leads to follow. Some were likely to be a dead end, but they still had to be sure. They had reset the timeline and caused the computer systems to glitch. It was their responsibility to ensure that the world was safe.
As the team worked, Tony sat back and let his mind drift to Peter, Pepper, and his unborn child. They were his world. He just hoped that he could keep them safe, too.
A/N: So... is it a Hydra problem or an alien problem? Or is there another problem that the team is missing? How will this all affect Peter as he tries to get his life put back together?
As always, reviews = love.