- - -
The room had been hidden behind one of the work benches in the basement. It was fairly small, but there had been folding cots tucked in one corner, as well as a large cache of canned food, a case of whiskey and several shotguns, rifles and a few pistols on a rack taking up one wall. There were two beat up recliners that still had unwashed shot glasses on the arm rests. There was also a stack of old board games, a small police scanner and a crank powered radio. The room had its own bathroom that Peter guessed probably wasn't connected to the normal plumbing in the house, but had its own arrangements. The whole room had been dusty and the air in it was stale and smelled faintly of alcohol and cigarette smoke, but it made a good bolthole.
Peter had dragged the inflatable mattress into the room and put MJ on it rather than put her on one of the cots. When he'd tucked her in to rest, he'd assumed she would be awake soon. That had been yesterday. She was still asleep, curled up in a fetal position. She hadn't moved since he'd put her there.
There was a flutter in the back of his mind as one of the few of Ed Whelan's memories that were still with him presented itself. His mother, sleeping. Exactly the same.
"No ideas? None? At all?" Peter grumbled unhappily as he paced in the Stacey living room.
Let her sleep, Connors voice whispered in his mind. Her vitals are strong, there doesn't seem to be anything physically wrong with her. She's not displaying any symptoms-
Peter growled under his breath, "We've got multiple molecular biologists, the leading experts in Hydra research, a registered nurse, a paramedic, Boy Scout first aid training and access to the internet in my head and the best we can come up with is 'let her sleep'?"
You have to admit, what you did for her is considerably outside anything that anyone else, short of Professor Richards or your mother, have managed. Connors pointed out dryly. The argument had been repeated off and on for most of the past day and he'd made this same point several times already.
"I'll be sure to document my results for publication." Peter replied sarcastically.
I know you're worried about MJ, Donna chided gently, But arguing with us really isn't the best way to spend your time. She's safe enough in the panic room. You should try to get some rest.
"I'm not tired." He said, realizing that he was fighting down a yawn, now that his attention had been called to it.
You've been awake over thirty six hours now, Donna replied. Maybe we need sleep, maybe we don't, but if MJ does wake up anytime soon, you will be too tired to help her.
"I'm not..." Peter began, but was cut off as the yawn finally won free. "MJ's been out for over a day now. I'm too keyed up to sleep."
No y'ain't. Cletus snorted. You've been ready to conk out for hours now, yer just stayin' awake cause yer worried she'll wake up without you there. Y'know... in case she's gone crazy and y'gotta put her down.
Peter whirled around and scowled hard at his reflection in the glass covering one of the paintings of flowers in the Stacey living room. He could almost imagine his features in the reflection shifting briefly to a flicker of Cletus's malign smirk.
I mean it was hard enough to get you to leave the room in the first place and that's only cause Cain offered to keep an ear on her heartbeat and breathing. Cletus continued. Yer gonna crash soon anyway, why not go take a nap on the same bed with her. Betcha that'll make sure you wake up when she does.
Peter stopped his pacing long enough to give his reflection another hard glare. "Aren't you the one who kept advising me not to stick it into crazy?"
Cletus made a dismissive noise, Y'all wouldn't diddle a sleepin' woman. Yer too uptight for it. Sleep next to her and we'll be right there in case she needs us.
There was a long pause and Donna began to speak, but Cletus cut her off to add, To eat her.
As much as I hate to agree with him, Donna noted primly, ignoring Cletus's interjection, That does seem like a good idea. The sleeping, I mean. It's not like you're going to be a threat to her virtue.
He nodded tiredly, more to himself than for his mental audience. The exhaustion really was catching up to him. Physical, mental and emotional.
After he ate the police band scanner by accident a few hours ago. An event that he was still sure one of his mental roommates had nudged him into doing, Cain had been monitoring those as well. There hadn't been any chatter within the immediate vicinity, but the cops were helping the military outside the expanded cordon with evacuations.
Peter had done his work in thinning out the infected population of Queens, but enough infected had gotten away and enough time had passed that he was fairly certain that they must have rebuilt at least some of their numbers.
Rebuilt their numbers, he scoffed in the privacy of his own head. Infected more people. That's what would've happened.
The Thunderbolts teams were still operating in the area and were sweeping through what was left of Forest Hills and the outlying areas, going house-by-house, building-by-building, rooting out all the infected that they could. No mention of any new hives or hordes. Nothing about Manhattan. Cain had been keeping track of all those reports well enough, but still... nothing about the people that really mattered to him.
He hadn't heard anything about Anna, Aunt May or the Staceys on the military radio frequencies. He wasn't even sure how he would face them after what he'd let happen to MJ. He'd lost everyone else to the Oscorp Security team who theoretically should have taken them to safety, but he had no way of confirming that. On top of that, MJ simply wouldn't wake up and they were both still deep within infected territory.
His mind whirled with worry. About her, about everyone else, the best case scenarios, the worst case scenarios. He'd been forced to shove those thoughts to the back of his mind, where they continued to murmur away with paranoid and worrisome thoughts just to keep Pete's own thoughts clear. Somewhat. He could still catch it if he paid attention.
He sighed and walked around the couch, heading towards the door that led to the basement stairs. An hour or two of sleep probably would help.
He certainly wasn't doing MJ or anyone else any good wearing a hole in the floor with his pacing.
There was a knock on the door.
It startled Peter badly, but a wild, irrational hope flooded through him. Aunt May, Anna and the Staceys had come back. They were safe and someone else could be there to help him take care of MJ.
He rushed to the door and was already turning the knob when he registered several things.
Opening the door a tiny crack had let the scents in from the outside. Another thing was Cain's urgent and very angry voice roaring in his head.
Are you trying to get killed, you idiot?! Don't open the door!
Violence and rubber. Gunpowder, smoke and Hydra. Thunderbolts.
Cletus wailed, We're gonna get the chair!
Stop that, Connors whispered. New York doesn't have a death penalty.
Then we're probably gonna have one a 'em 'accidents' in custody. I just know it.
Peter choked back a squeak of panic and hurriedly tried to shut the door again, but there was a loud thump and a huge hand slapped the door open, ripping the knob out of Peter's hand with the speed of the movement.
The scent closest to the door was even a familiar one. Definitely not who he'd wanted to see.
Peter's heartbeat spiked with fear and adrenaline and his body shifted to its accustomed combat form, his face blanking out to Cletus's featureless mask, his 'clothes' thickening to ballistics rated armor.
Stupid, stupid, stupid, Peter cursed himself repeatedly. Now the Stacy house was going to get trashed, but that was fine. Okay, not quite 'fine-fine' but acceptable losses at this point.
His hands clenched into fists, muscles tense and ready to shift into tendrils and blades. He wouldn't let them take MJ. The panic room was still open. He'd have to duck back down, grab her, then somehow fight his way past an entire Thunderbolt squad.
Not just any Thunderbolt squad.
Peter got a good look at the immense, dark-skinned man filling the door. "Mr. Parker, I presume?" The man rumbled.
He was no longer wearing the Hazmat suit uniform, although the scent of it clung to him. He was in black and gray urban camo fatigues, combat boots and a bright yellow, oversized armored jacket in the same shade as the usual Hazmat gear. His head was clean shaven and his expression was a study in neutrality. The man's eyes were a dark brown. Old. Tired.
Peter recognized him as Captain Bradley. The man in charge of Shield Team.
One hand was still on the door, pressed flat against the wood and holding it open. His other hand held a large pistol- Colt M1911A- pointed directly at Peter's face. The man seemed large enough that Peter imagined he actually could manage to fire that gun one-handed without any problems.
Peter's mind had blanked out. This was it. They had him. And they knew a head shot would put him down. If he was down, even if he could heal from it, they would have him and they knew that too. They could pack him up for dissection. Then they'd get MJ.
Panic whirled through his thoroughly exhausted mind and he replied. The words came out of his mouth, seemingly without any conscious input from his brain.
"Mr. Parker?" He inclined his head to the left a bit, "Uh... you want next door."
Yep. He's gonna fall for that one, he thought sarcastically to himself.
The side of the Bradley's mouth quirked slightly.
Peter's mind whirled furiously. Okay, still not shot yet. There's still some hope. He wondered just how thick he could make his own skull. Thick enough to take a point blank .45 caliber bullet to the face? The first time they'd shot him in the head, he didn't have as many tricks as he did now.
Bradley's rumbling voice broke into his thoughts, "Trying to decide if you're faster than I am? Or if you're faster than a bullet?"
"Maybe?" Peter hedged quietly.
Bradley inclined his head slightly over his shoulder, "You think you're faster than a lot of bullets?"
Peter focused over Bradley's shoulder and realized that there was an APC with a rear-mounted machine gun aimed at him in addition to Bradley's pistol. A glance over Bradley's other shoulder confirmed a second machine gun on a second APC, set up to perfectly catch him in a crossfire. They were manned by Thunderbolts personnel still wearing the yellow hazmat gear.
He could possibly get Bradley, but they would get him. Peter licked his lips and swallowed nervously. How the hell did they get all of that here without you noticing?! Peter blurted at Cain in the privacy of his own mind.
You'd had me paying attention to the girl. Cain shot back testily.
We're gonna get the chair for sure. Cletus whimpered.
Connors made a noise that sounded like the clearing of a non-existent throat and pointed out, Why is Bradley not wearing the hazmat uniform?
And why hasn't he shot us yet? Cain added.
Cause he wants something, Peter realized. He gave a sickly grin, or as best of one as he could produce with a mouthful of razor sharp needle-like teeth, and spoke with forced nonchalance, "So... can I get you a cup of coffee or something? Maybe something for your men?" He glanced over Bradley's shoulder at the Thunderbolt soldiers on the APC, "Hey, guys."
"Gol dag!" A large uniformed men cheerily responded in a familiar voice. Peter was actually glad that at least Blake had managed to escape the collapse of the Gentek Building unharmed.
"What are you?" Bradley asked intensely. "From what we've seen, you're strong like a Rhino, fast like a Scorpion. You move like a Vulture, fight like a Hunter, rational like a Hive and look like a Tracker. Did I miss anything?"
"My winning personality?" Peter blurted out with a nervous grin.
Your mouth is going to be the death of us all. Donna sighed.
Bradley actually allowed a chortle to escape at that.
Peter prattled on nervously. "What I am actually is kind of terrified at having guns pointed in my face."
Bradley seemed to mull this over for a long moment, then nodded. "Fair enough." He tucked the pistol into an underarm holster hidden by his coat.
Peter blinked in honest surprise.
Good. Now reach out, grab his throat. We hold him hostage and we can get out of here. Cletus whispered urgently.
Cain began to respond Can't. His men are still-
Bradley suddenly glanced over his shoulder and gave a small nod. The Thunderbolts at the machine guns seemed to relax slightly. "My men seem to think you're willing to talk. You also seem to be trying to help clean up our little Hydra problem." He held his hands open, palms up. "Maybe we can help each other."
Perfect. Take him hostage now and we can-
I want to know what's going on, Connors murmured cutting off the voice that had sounded vaguely like a mix of Cain's, Cletus's and Peter's drawl. Something's changed.
"Uh..." Peter said slowly, "I actually have no response to that."
Bradley snorted and would have responded, but another familiar voice cut him off from the other machine gun, "Please, sir I'll be happy to answer all your questions is usually a good answer!"
There was some good-natured snickering from the other Thunderbolts.
"I'll keep that in mind, Schultz, thanks." Peter responded sourly before turning his full attention back on Bradley. In the back of his mind, he could hear arguments breaking out, but he ignored it choosing instead to respond to the man in front of him.
He answered slowly, "You guys have me outnumbered, outgunned, surrounded and you want answers." Peter held his hands up. "I'm a little surprised, cause I was under the impression the Thunderbolts were more shoot first, interrogate never operation."
Bradley shrugged and not for the first time Peter wondered if the man really was as indifferent and relaxed as he seemed. "Yeah, well usually infected generally don't go out of their way to save me or my men. Or, y'know... talk."
Peter continued to stare at the larger man for a long moment before hesitantly replying, "I guess... that's okay?"
"I don't think I've introduced myself formally. Captain Isaiah Bradley. US Army, Thunderbolts." He held a hand out.
Peter gave a bemused glance at the extended hand- Sink our claws in. Hold him! Dammit, we need to get out of here!- before he shook it. Bradley's grip was firm. Very strong, but not crushingly so.
"P- Puh- Parker. Just... you can keep calling me Parker, I guess." He stammered, catching himself before he could give his actual name. Well... that really was his name, but he was content to let them keep thinking he was Richard Parker.
Connors murmured thoughtfully, He's not afraid to touch us. He's not scared of infection.
Pym's memories unspooled themselves behind his eyes. Decades back. The same man, in drab fatigues. A sergeant's chevrons on his rolled-up sleeves. Same handshake. Same professional expression, but he had hair in a crew cut then. "Bradley, I" over his breast. Another man introducing them to one another. A muscular blonde man, with old-fashioned all-American good looks. "Rogers, S." That man had a Captain's ranks on his shoulders.
Cain rumbled, He's not afraid of us, period.
"Something on my face?" Bradley asked politely and Peter realized he'd been staring.
"Sorry... you reminded me of someone I met." Peter replied apologetically, before adding, "It was a long time ago."
Bradley didn't seem to give anything away but replied, "I'm older than I look."
Up close, the background Hydra scents no longer hid the underlying carrion scent that surrounded the man. Not quite sweetly decayed meat. Dried blood. Iron with a sweet undertone to it. It also smelled old. Musty and muted, easily overwhelmed by the more vibrant strains of Hydra in the air.
"May I come in?" Bradley asked formally.
Peter realized that he'd been woolgathering once more. All the suggestions from the voices in his mind weren't providing him anything useful.
He glanced from Bradley back to the men on the APCs. "Those bullets can probably go through the walls and they've got Infra-red gear to keep me in their sights even if we close the door, right?"
"I wasn't really intending on mentioning it," Bradley shrugged once more, his lips quirking slightly in a flicker of a smile.
"I'll just pretend I didn't notice then?" Peter blurted out.
"Might be for the best."
"Keep things civil. Yes."
There was a drawn out pause, before Bradley asked once more, "So, may I come in?"
Peter looked at Bradley, then to the street, then back over his shoulder at the neat living room. Aunt May had insisted on straightening up before they'd left. "If it's all the same with you, Captain Bradley, I think I would feel more comfortable if we talked on the porch."
Bradley nodded and took a step back.
Peter's nerves were drawn taut. Cain and Cletus kept whispering plans and thoughts to try and get out of this, but most of those plans hinged on the Thunderbolts outside being very stupid or Peter being very lucky. Peter asked finally, "How did you even find me?"
Bradley gave him a flat, if somewhat amused stare. "This is your old partner's house."
Peter laughed. "Oh."
Obvious in hindsight. Donna murmured.
There was a flash of guilt from Cain as it appeared that he hadn't even realized that they could have figured that out from the assumption that he was Richard Parker.
"We also figured you would need to rest up a bit after your busy day yesterday." Bradley continued with a shrug. "I'll admit, this wasn't the first place we checked."
"So..." Peter said cautiously, his gaze flickering back to the still armed Thunderbolts, "You've got me. What do you want to know?"
Bradley pinned him with an intense stare and graveled out, "Everything."
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