You’ve been to the Baxter Building before, of course--it’s a standard field trip location for elementary school kids, after all--but never quite like this. Since becoming Spider-Man, you’ve been up to these top-secret levels a few times and gotten to see where all the cool stuff really gets done, but this time is way different even from that. Before, you’d always been outside of the giant glass test-tube; it had only ever been MJ or Gwen or one of those freaky clones of yourself on the inside.
Now, you’re the test subject.
Tony had dumped you off and left with hardly a word, though first he’d submitted to a decontamination shower just in case, and you’ve been standing in here waiting ever since. Your backpack and your mask and your suit are already gone, though you’d managed to keep a hold of your cellphone long enough to call both MJ and Aunt May; the former had told you that yes, she and Gwen and Liz all got away 120% safe and were all at her house right now for an impromptu sleepover, and the latter gave her hesitant permission for you to stay out extra late tonight since you’re ‘busy working on a special project with some friends.’
You’d only just told her that you love her (and promised to call her if you end up staying the night at someone else’s house) when one of Dr. Richards’ hyper-extended (gloved) hands had gently pried the phone away. Which had left you utterly alone in this miniature isolation ward-slash-oversized test-tube, which was not at all surprising since that’s the whole point of isolation wards in the first place.
To make things even better, with your suit gone you’re also naked, save for your lucky dark blue boxers, which you’ve decided can’t possibly be as lucky as you once thought they were, though they are still less embarrassing the pink and purple polka-dots or the ones with the little dinosaurs would have been, so you’re glad you wore them today anyway, lucky or not. On the plus side, they did finally get those friggin’ ice skates off you, and with no fuss either. When her husband had moved in close to double-check your vitals, Sue Storm (or…technically it’s ‘Sue Richards’ now, right, or is it ‘Sue Storm Richards’), just snatched a pair of normal office-supply-store-issue scissors from a nearby desk and passed them to Dr. Richards, and within a few seconds you were free, and oh my GOD if you ever get out of here, you are absolutely going to kill Wolverine for leaving you in those ridiculous things like that.
Well. Kill him, or web his butt to the pinnacle of the Empire State Building and leave him there for a few hours, either/or. Maybe both.
Anyway, it looks like you’ll have plenty of time to make up your mind about that, because you’re definitely not out of here yet, nor do you have even the most remote idea when (or if) you will be. After maybe five minutes, you decide that you don’t really like this kind of ‘alone time,’ because now that you’re not being tackled, shot at, pantsed (which now that you think about it actually happened twice, thank you so much Logan), bodily flung through the air, semi-kidnapped, or almost-Hulk-smashed, you finally have the time to take stock of your current physical condition. Which immediately makes you wish you hadn’t, because you’re really not feeling so hot. Or actually, you are feeling hot, which is a big part of the problem. You can see some of the computers’ readout screens from where you’re standing (…okay, half-sitting, half-slumping back against the glass wall of your test-tube), and you’re no doctor, but you still know that 40.5° C/104.9° F is Really Not So Good.
You get a decontamination shower just like Iron Man’s, then as expected you’re poked and prodded and have all sorts of painful and unpleasant or just mortifyingly awkward samples taken, and then you’re asked a bunch of questions. You do your best to answer, though part of you really wishes you could be on the other side of the glass, because you’ve never gotten your fill of looking at all these machines and this is the closest you’ve ever been to them, so it sorta sucks that you can only see so much from where you are.
What’s the prognosis, Doc? you try to chirp, though you’re currently feeling way more light-headed than light-hearted. Dr. Richards looks up from taping down an IV needle and gives you a reassuring smile.
“It’s nothing to worry about, Peter. This solution should rehydrate you somewhat, as well combat the virus itself. We ran every test we could think of, and it turns out you aren’t contagious to other humans or most superheroes as far as we can tell. It looks like it’s a much more species-specific virus than that, so interestingly enough, you never even have been contagious to most people…but since it’s a Doom Virus, we thought it best to err on the side of caution for now, which is why you’re still in this tube.”
DOOM VIRUS? you yelp inwardly, but can’t find the breath or the energy to say aloud before Dr. Richards finishes checking your IV and disappears from view. So it turns out that you aren’t not-really-sick or even actually-definitely-very-sick, because you don’t have a cold or the flu or strep or mono or anything normal. No, you have a VIRUS OF DOOM. Oh. Well, great. That definitely sounds Full of Safe. Nothing to worry about at all, really, just a small case of DOOM!
You’re not sure whether you want to laugh or cry, it’s just so ridiculous-sounding, but you’ve just about settled on laughing when whatever kind of drugs Dr. Richards added to your IV drip kick in, and you kind of check out for a few hours.
When the world swims back into full-focus, the IV is gone, and you’ve got a Donald Duck band-aid over the place where it used to be. There’s Pluto and Goofy ones further up your arm, another Donald Duck on your side over a cut you don’t even remember getting, and two more over those scrapes on your cheek and jaw from the skating rink; you can’t really see what’s on those ones, though judging by the vague reflection in the glass, they’re either Mickey or Minnie. For maybe a minute, you just stare at them in disbelief before it clicks as to why the Fantastic Four would use band-aids with cartoon characters on them: oh, Franklin and Valeria. Right.
You’re still alone in that jumbo test-tube, and there’s no one around outside so far as you can see, but although you’re still not feeling all that good, according to the readouts you can actually see, your fever’s gone way down, back to normal levels. Now that your body’s not trying to cook itself from the inside out in an effort to fight off that Doom Virus, you realise how cold it really is in here. And that makes it feel like time is passing even more slowly than it does in study hall when you’ve already done all your homework and worked ahead and MJ’s absent or else sitting too far away to pass notes to. Ugh. Boring. So you try to amuse yourself with some super-serious and highly scientific ways of passing the time. Like…counting the number of consoles. Counting the number of buttons and dials on all the consoles. Counting all the visible screws in all the consoles and estimating how many more you can’t see. Sighing really loudly and hoping someone is listening and will come let you out or at least give you blanket and talk to you about what the hell is going on. Reconfiguring the build of your web-shooters in your mind to allow them to hold more web fluid. Sighing really loudly again. Seeing how far up the smooth glass walls of your ginormous test-tube prison you can get before slipping and sliding back down to the bottom. Another sigh. Another fifty-eight failed attempts at climbing to the top of your curved-glass cage. Studying your fingertips and memorising each arch and whorl in your fingerprints.
Fascinating as all of that is, at some point you happen to look up…and find Cap standing there on the other side of the glass.
For a second you don’t really believe it--maybe your fever’s back or suddenly got way worse and you’re hallucinating, or maybe you dropped off to sleep again--but the former IV site at your wrist and the crook of your arm where they drew all that blood twinge when you raise your hand to press it against the glass, and you blink and Cap’s still there.
You blink again, reflexively opening your mouth to say something obnoxious like hey there, howyou doin’, but this time Cap beats you to the punch.
“Peter. I know you must have questions—”
Yeah, well, if wanting to know what’s going on means someone’s gonna throw the Hulk at me again…I think I’ll pass on that, thanks you say. You’re feeling more than a little snippy, because according to that wall clock you’ve been here for about seven hours now and not only is it cold, you’ve had what feels like a good fourth of your blood drawn and you were already feeling dizzy before that, and the blood loss is decidedly Not Helping. Plus you’re hungry and tired and even if your temperature is normal now, having a fever as high as you did for as long as you did still really took it out of you. And cool as the idea of a one-on-one heart-to-heart chat with Cap is, right now you just want to go home.
…Okay, actually, you want your stuff back, and an extra-large pepperoni pizza, and a hot shower that doesn’t involve decontamination foam, then you want to go home and sleep for a year. Getting home via some safe and comfortable method of transportation that you don’t have to pay for or pay attention during would be nice too, but after the day you’ve had, you don’t dare get your hopes up that much. Even the pizza is probably pushing it.
Cap doesn’t take offense, though it’s probably pretty hard for a seasoned war veteran to get seriously mad at a skinny, half-naked sick kid stuck in a humongous test-tube who’s sporting half-a-dozen band-aids with Disney characters on them. He just gives you a contrite, deeply apologetic look, then turns to Dr. Richards, who seems to have suddenly appeared out of nowhere, which is weird because you thought that was his wife’s trick, not his.
“Not contagious, and well on the way to recovery,” Dr. Richards pronounces after taking and examining one last blood sample. “Nothing to worry about.”
So they finally let you out of the gigantic test-tube, and Sue’s right there to give you some clothes to change into (Johnny’s, judging by the profusion of Abercrombie and American Eagle labels as well as the scent of the cologne still clinging to them) as well as a mug of hot broth. It’s not an extra-large pepperoni pizza, but hey, it’s warm and free and you’re a teenager and you are starving. You’ll take it.
After that, Sue and Richards both quickly clear out, leaving Cap alone with you and your supposedly-not-contagious-to-humans Doom Virus and all those machines.
Yet again there’s an awkward silence, but this time you actually manage to not fill that conversational dead space with totally-joking-but-still-inappropriate pick-up lines that would definitely only further bewilder Cap, and also probably make you wish Dr. Richards had placed you in some sort of serious lock-down quarantine for the rest of your natural life, or that the Doom Virus--or is it ‘Virus of Doom,’ because either way sounds equally melodramatic and therefore terrible--had proved mercifully lethal.
You can see from his expression that Cap really wants to apologise, but at the same time he above all people knows that actions speak louder than words, and after all the actions taken around you or done to you today, a simple I’m sorry isn’t going to do much for anyone. Instead, he simply bows his head slightly and starts explaining.
He tells you that Doom was attacking New York City in general and Queens in particular because he wanted a sample of the virus you’re carrying—a virus you’d happened to pick up when you’d helped the Avengers on that mission to Latveria the month before, when you’d very literally crashed one of Doom’s more sketchy-sounding laboratories. Dr. Richards’ tests had confirmed that it was a virus that only affected arthropods…or in this case, anyone carrying arthropod DNA.
(…You take a second to think that over, because let’s see, that means you, and Jessica Drew, and probably not Eddie, and gosh, who else, Carol Danvers and that one kid from the Young Avengers and Noh-Varr and Captain Marvel and holycrap the whole Kree Empire, what the heck was Doom planning here and did anyone else make this same connection, surely they must have, though even if they didn’t maybe it’s not so important anymore since soon this virus will be gone from your body…uh, at least you hope it will…)
As Cap goes on about month-long incubation periods and cross-species transmission and antiviral drugs and virucides (since it is a virus, and therefore antibiotics won’t work on it) and Doom’s apparent plan to get a blood sample from you and then probably take a page out of Stryfe’s book and create something similar to the Legacy Virus (for the Kree, you add silently), you just listen without a word and fight back any and all sense of disbelief, because this is Cap. Nick Fury might lie to you to protect you or if it furthered one of his plans or it if kept someone else safe, and Tony might lie to you to be funny or sneaky or just because he felt like it, and even Dr. Richards might lie to you if Nick Fury told him to; but Captain America isn’t going to lie to you, of that you are wholeheartedly certain. Which means everything he’s saying about averting possible future pandemics and the Avengers (read: Bruce Banner and Hank Pym) not being able to find a treatment for the virus that didn’t have a chance of turning you big and green and angry or else just big and then small and then big again (which is why, thankfully, you’re here with Dr. Richards instead) and even about Doom specifically targeting you…is absolutely and unequivocally true.
…Ohhh yeah, the Bizarro Circus is totally back in town. You really don’t know why anything surprises you anymore.
“…So since we couldn’t treat you, but Fury told us that you weren’t contagious--don’t ask me how he figured that one out, I doubt either of us really wants to know--we thought we’d have to wait for you to beat this thing on your own. We’d just have to keep Doom away from you until you had, or else bring you here if it looked like you weren’t getting any better.” The skin around Cap’s eyes relaxes visibly, his gaze softening just slightly. “You have Tony to thank on that one. He’s the one who decided you were really looking rough, and that bringing you here was your best bet.”
Ahh, the bromance. Well, if Cap and Tony could get to be BFFs after the kind of rocky start they got off to, maybe there’s hope for you and Hawkeye yet. (…And Cap and Hawkeye, and Tony and Hawkeye, and…well, mostly just Hawkeye in general, though he seems to get along well enough with Dr. Banner and Thor. And Natasha too, but then, what healthy red-blooded male wouldn’t try his best to get along well with her?)
You allow a few moments of silence to descend on you while you make doubly sure that you understand everything and have put all the pieces into place before you look up at Cap and slowly say, Okaaaaay, so…why all the secrets? Why didn’t you just tell me all this from the start?
“Most of us wanted to, but Nick Fury was decidedly firm on the point of…‘Letting You Live Your Life’,” he says with an obvious pause and even more obvious skepticism. You can hear the quotation marks and capital letters in those last five words, and it’s easy to tell they’re Fury’s, not Cap’s.
…Reeeeeally now, you deadpan, looking at him sideways as your eyebrows make a pretty impressive attempt to hit your hairline. ‘Cause you know, crashing field trips is not exactly ‘Letting Me Live My Life.’ You’re careful to keep those way-obvious quotes and capital letters in that phrase as well, and it earns another of those corner-of-the-mouth twitches as Cap (no, right now he’s not just a teammate, he’s a friend, and what’s more he’s your friend, so he’s ‘Steve’) fights the urge to smile. So you decide to go in for the kill.
I mean, it all came out okay this time, so there’s no hard feelings. But I draw the line at you guys showing up for ‘Bring Your Most Involved Relative-Slash-Guardian To School Day’ or the Science Fair. Any and all dances are strictly off-limits too. Even Prom. ESPECIALLY Prom. And don’t get any ideas about any of the school plays, either. I know you guys can’t help but love me and want to be around me 24-7, but please, try to contain yourselves.
Steve stares at you askance, eyes wide and startled, and you can almost hear those mental gears turning as he pictures himself and the other Avengers casually showing up at your high school’s various social functions—
I don’t go to any of the sports teams’ games, you continue on, still talking so fast you’d make that guy in the old Micro-Machines commercials cry with shame and envy if he could hear you, but that’s probably a good thing since Hulk might get angry if we were losing and EVERYbody gets justifiably upset at the highway robbery that is every concessions stand ever and he’d take up way too many bleacher-seats anyway, and people might get mad at him for green not being one of our team colours or for blocking their view of the court or field or whatever.
—By now you can practically see the smoke curling out of Cap’s ears as his brain short-circuits, so you hide your grin and deliver your deadpan coup de grace with a completely straight face:
OH--and parent-teacher conferences? Are right out.
For a second or two, you almost think he’s choking. Maybe being trapped in that iceberg for half a century had done something weird to his lungs and he has some sort of top-secret health issue, like pneumonia or bronchitis or—but no, that’s not right at all, because you’re almost certain that it’s…a laugh. It sounds almost unwilling at first, half-strangled and plainly unexpected, but the rust of disuse quickly falls away, swelling and ripening and growing deep and hearty, and it’s a lovely sound. You can’t help but gape a little at the sight of Cap--er, Steve Rogers, that is--clutching his sides and letting his head fall back as he continues to laugh, that eternally grim and serious face of his almost unrecognisable now that it’s sporting an unabashedly ear-to-ear grin. His laughter is contagious though (plus the idea of any pair of Avengers showing up in full costume for a little chat with your homeroom teacher is snicker-worthy at the very least, though the thought of Tony and Clint coming in together is literal laugh-out-loud material and would take every cake in every bakery in Queens), and awed and taken aback as you are by what you’re seeing--what you caused--you can’t quite repress a grin of your own.
Well. There’s one of your life’s goals that you can cross off your list already. Wow.
He’s still chuckling a little as he looks over at you, blue eyes twinkling, and all of a sudden you feel extremely self-conscious, because this is Cap. You duck your head a little, but the heat flooding your cheeks actually feels kind of good, not feverish or unpleasant at all, just...warm.
“Fair enough. No more unexpected superhero chaperones in your real, non-superhero life,” Steve says, a smile in his voice as well as on his face. “But we’ll still be looking out for you, just in case.”
Still smiling, he reaches out and rests a hand on your shoulder in what feels very much like a fatherly manner, almost exactly the same way Uncle Ben used to, and at that thought tears prickle at the back of your eyes and you almost stop breathing for a second because this can’t be happening, this can’t be real.
The rational scientist part of you knows that it’s hero-worship plain and simple, but another, decidedly more childish part of you wonders if this is how other kids felt when they were, like, six, and sincerely believed that their dads were perfect, that they could do absolutely anything. That they were heroes.
Yeah, well, you manage, the words a sheepish half-mumble. I doubt Nick Fury would let you guys do anything less.
Shockingly enough, Steve promptly tells you precisely what Nick Fury can do to himself, and in language colourful and contemporary enough that you suspect he must have picked it up from Logan. “—Especially if he thinks one of his own people can be thrown into the breach at his every whim, but can’t be trusted with information that directly concerns them and their welfare, under-age-eighteen or not.”
Those robin’s-egg-blue eyes have gone glacially cold, his grip on your shoulder tightening in a manner you could almost interpret as protective, and you can tell that Cap is Not At All Pleased by Nick Fury’s involvement in today’s escapade. His expression softens again when you give an involuntary flinch at his ominous demeanor, though, as does his voice.
“And as for you, Peter…you should stop saying ‘you guys.’ That makes it sound like you’re not part of the team.” Cap raises an eyebrow, mock-serious and stern. “Understood?”
Fighting an insane urge to snap out a salute, you endeavour to keep your voice as steady and somber as possible as you reply with a solemn, “Yes, sir.” You’re feeling pretty proud of yourself, because those words (all two syllables of them) actually came out properly for once, not squeaked or stuttered, even if the totally and embarrassingly goofy smile you’re sure is plastered across your face probably ruined the effect somewhat.
That hand on your shoulder gives an affectionate squeeze, then with the faintest trace of a smile and a fond smack to the side of your arm, Cap heads for the door, leaving you alone with what’s left of your whacked-out Doom Virus and all of Dr. Richards’ machines and your thoughts, which really doesn’t sound so alone when you think about it that way.
You find yourself smiling and absently touching your shoulder, and as the memory of that kindly warmth and reassuring pressure fades from your skin, you can’t help but admit to yourself that crazy as it was, maybe today really hadn’t ended up being One Of Those Days after all.
- "Spidey On Ice" - Marvel Comics [Part II]