The rest of the evening was spent in the grim boardroom, tossing ideas back and forth. Almost all were quickly shot down, but far worse were the ones that were not. To have a glimmer of hope, an idea that seemed to have promise, to run with it and build it up and to think "yes, yes we have it, we might actually survive this" and then for someone to suddenly poke at an unsteady detail and watch the whole thing crumble around them, to feel that hope drain away to leave them empty and gutted, that was almost unbearable.
Outside, a gorgeous red sunset lit the compound and cast the drab concrete walls in a rosey pink. But inside, drenched in artificial white light, they were aware of none of this. The sheer scale of the threat they faced was sinking in. So many planets had already fallen, planets far more advanced than Earth would be for centuries to come if it survived that long, which was looking less and less likely by the minute. Chances were, they were going to die and there was absolutely nothing they could do but batter helplessly against the walls of fate. Fuck, it was Thanos all over again.
By the time Strange declared that they had all had enough and would be better off sleeping on the issue and coming back tomorrow with fresh eyes than exhausting themselves, the list of possible plans was pitifully short and they were all about asleep on their feet. Fury ordered drivers for most of them, told the Guardians to please move their ship to somewhere that wasn't the goddamn front entrance. Strange disappeared through a glowing orange portal and the Wakandans simply fizzled away as their holograms died.
A stern agent, looking more than a little disgruntled at being called out of bed in the early hours of the morning but far too professional to say anything about it, took Peter's keys and drove him home in his own car. How the man got back to base was a mystery Peter would never solve, largely due to not really caring so long as he did it safely. Aunt May was sleep on the sofa when he crept into the apartment. Her blanket had fallen askew. She looked so much younger when she slept, he thought, the years melted off her face as she relaxed. Now, though, there was a slight pinch to her brow. Peter silently cursed himself for forgetting to text her. She was probably worried about him. Even now, though he was an adult and had every right to stay out as late as he wanted, she still worried all the time.
He scribbled a quick note on the pad stuck to the fridge. He'd apologize to her properly in the morning, but now he needed to sleep. He had a lot to process and couldn't afford to be bleary in the morning, and he would also feel even more guilty if he woke her up now. Yes, he thought as he trudged to his room and closed the door as quietly as he could, tomorrow was for apologies. Now was for sleep.
But sleep escaped him. The bed was both too hard and too soft, he sheet wrinkled under him, his pillow was in all the wrong places, his eyes would not close, his brain would not stop working and though it all the coming inescapable fate hung over him like a sword of Damocles. Outside, his aunt slumbered on the couch, worried about him as though he was the vulnerable one. The whole world was coming to an end, the whole universe, again.
In six months, everyone on earth would die if he and his team couldn't find some way to save them, find a way that countless planets with far more advanced civilisations with better computers and hardware and resources and more experience dealing with extraterrestrial threats had failed to. It seemed so impossible now, so far beyond their capabilities that they may as well go home, hug their loved ones and wait for the end for all the good fighting back would do. For the millionth time, Peter found himself wishing Mister Stark were there. One theme that had come up repeatedly in the meeting was the lack of Stark. The latter suit designs(including Peter's own Iron Spider) had all incorporated nanite technology, making the genius one of the most qualified in the world on the topic. There was no guarantee that Tony would know what to do, hell, it was highly probable he wouldn't. Maybe it was just Peter's hero worship, but the genius had always had a way of making it seem that the answer was just a brainwave away, like he had things under control even when the world was clearly spinning out from under his feet. Peter was older now, and he understood better how much his mentor had struggled. But some starry eyed part of him was still convinced that if Mister Stark were here, he would have been able to find a solution. Because that was what Mister Stark did.
But the man was gone, had given his life to save the universe and was never coming back. It was up to them now.
At some point, as the first streaks of dawn cut the sky, Peter drifted off into a short and fitful sleep.
The next day was, thankfully, a Sunday. Which meant May went to church in the morning and Peter was allowed to wake up at eleven without having to worry about uni. May was not yet home when he levered himself out of bed and shuffled, yawning, to make coffee. On the way he stopped at the bathroom to wash his face. It was startling to catch sight of himself in the mirror, to see the dark shadows under his eyes and the hair atop his head that bowed to no-one, not even gravity. He looked, he thought as he scrubbed a hand over the smattering of rough stubble on his chin, like his head felt. He had to freshen up before Aunt May saw him, or she would know something was wrong in an instant. Drinking in excess was not his game and he had been allowed plenty of time to sleep, so it would probably take one look at his wrecked face for the questions to start pouring in. Already he would have to try and explain away his unexpectedly late night and right now he just didn't feel emotionally strong enough to deal with more, or even worse, her inevitable concern. The fate of the world was, quite literally, resting on his shoulders and those of the other Avengers.
Nope, the fate of the world could wait until he had had his regularly scheduled dose of caffeine.
Coffee tasted more bitter than normal and he pulled a face as it washed over his tongue, chasing the sleep down his throat.
The sunday service meant he had time to wake up properly and gather his thoughts before having to face his aunt, a fact he was eternally grateful for when she arrived home at noon to find him looking relatively put together.
"Peter" she said sternly.
"Hi Aunt May," he said, deciding to just get this over with, "I'm so sorry about last night. One of my tutoring kids had a test emergency after the party and I lost track of time. It won't happen again."
May frowned up at him. "See that it doesn't. I thought we had left this sort of thing behind years ago."
"I know," he placated, "I'm sorry. I really didn't mean to worry you."
"Well, whatever you meant, you did worry me, a lot. You didn't call, didn't text, didn't give me any indication of when you would be home, and didn't answer when I tried to ring you. None of your friends knew where you were. What was I supposed to do other than worry?"
"I'm sorry, I had to put my phone on silent because I kept getting spam calls while I was helping the kid. And I know you are going to worry anyway but I promise, I really can take care of myself. I just didn't think to call, I'm really sorry."
Aunt May snorted. "Really, Peter, what's the point of that big brain of yours if you're not using it to think?"
Aunt May's expression softened. "I know you are, Peter. Just please, I know you're all grown now and I can't tell you what to do but as long as you live with me, I need to know you're safe."
"I'll do my best"
She smiled. The creases that encroached around her eyes deepened. "Thank you, I know you will...and also for the note on the fridge. Whatever kid you helped had better ace that test."
With a gentle pat on his shoulder, she headed off to the kitchen. Peter watched her go. It seemed so silly, again, for her to be fretting over him getting home late while completely oblivious to the certain death looming out in space. She still thought of herself as his protector, even though he was twenty three and had secretly saved more lives than he could count. And now he didn't know if he could save her, or anyone. The whole thing was suddenly so overwhelming...so big ...he had to get out.
The Avengers were scheduled to meet up again at three, which meant he had a few hours to kill. His Iron Spider suit unfolded over him at the push of a button, the high-tech material running across his skin like static. It fitted like a glove, the nanites settling and moulding to his form perfectly. Peter ran a hand down his chest. It was strange to think that what he was wearing was made up of the very thing that was threatening the entire universe.
A faint beep echoed in his ear as the suit powered up.
"Good morning, Sir," Karen's prim voice seemed to project from inside his skull, "The date is Sunday the sixteenth of April 2028, the temperature is sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit. Clear skies with a five percent chance of rain in the evening. Humidity at sixty-five percent. A beautiful day all around. Would you like to hear the crime reports?"
"No thanks," he replied, "I'm just gonna blow off some steam right now. Let me know if there's an emergency but otherwise, let me be."
With a quick shout to Aunt May that he would likely be gone most of the day, Peter was out the window and into the city.
For several minutes, he just swung. There was something about being above the concrete jungle, about soaring weightlessly and then the thrill of plummeting again, the strain of his arms and the twist and stretch of his body as he flipped and spun between skyscrapers. Up here, the air was fresher, colder; it burned his lungs and cleared his head. The sun was almost peaking, bathing the city in brilliant daylight.
"Simba, Everything the light touches...is our kingdom"
New York stretched below him as he landed lightly atop a gargoyle, dropping into an easy crouch. He closed his eyes and let his spider senses take hold. All around him, the city was alive. Babies wailed. Cranes rattled and groaned as they raised their massive loads, mixing with the roaring of trucks over asphalt. Cars hooted and chased each other through the streets in endless games. The smell of heated tar wafted up. Manhattan was alive around him. It was his city, his to protect. Just like Aunt May, it would be gone soon if he couldn't find some way to save it.
Fuck, who he hell gave him this much responsibility? Who the hell thought this was a good idea? What oh earth had Mister Stark seen in him?
Damnit, now he was thinking about Mister Stark again. Would he have had any idea of what to do? He had experience with nano-tech, Peter knew. He'd done things with nanites that shouldn't have been possible for decades, if not centuries. Even if Mister Stark hadn't conveniently written a paper titled "How to save the universe from a massive swarm of self replicating nanites, an instructional guide", it was probably worth looking through his notes. In fact...
"What can I do for you?"
"Can you run a search of Stark Industries files for nanites, nanobots, self-replication or anything relating to those terms?"
"Indeed I can. Would you like me to include Tony Stark's personal files in the search?"
Uhh…Should he? That felt...invasive. Why did he even have access to that stuff? But this was the world on the line, the entire universe even.
"There are three thousand and sixty two files on Stark Industry's Research and Development server that contain the word "nanite" or synonymous, and ninety-three that contain the term "self-replication" and or synonymous."
Well that was a result.
"Do any of the files contain both of those terms?"
"Eleven files contain both of these terms," Karen told him, "would you like me to open them?"
"That depends. Do the two terms pertain to each other?"
"They pertain to each other in nine of the files"
"Oh shit, how? Are any of them contingencies."
"No, each instance is only a note stating that nanites should never be given the capability to self-replicate."
"Damnit, then don't bother."
Fuck, a dead end. There was so much on the line. Why couldn't there be an easy answer? This was a nightmare.
"Would you like to hear about the personal files now?"
"Were those not in the R&D files? Yeah, sure."
Fuck, this was the invasive bit. He wasn't exactly keen, but at the same time, that juvenile spark of curiosity at seeing what his mentor had worked on in his private time. He felt bad for indulging, but it wasn't like he had a choice. Mister Stark would have probably wanted him to do this... probably.
"There are thirteen files containing both of these terms or synonymous."
Handly surprising, but he dared not get his hopes up
"Do they relate to each other?"
"It would appear so."
Jackpot! Peter felt his chest tighten in excitement and had to intentionally lower his expectations. There was no guarantee that any of the files would contain the answers he needed, but that silly part of his brain lit up again with a trill of "Mister Stark will know what to do!".
No, it could be nothing at all, it could be a mention, could be a footnote, could just be some random ramblings the man had decided to record for later consideration. It would be foolish for him to get his hopes up.
"Can you list me the files?"
"I cannot. I can, however, tell you that the files are all contained under the same project folder."
A project? Could Mister Stark actually have a project dedicated to the problem? Ever since Wanda had messed with his head and kicked off the whole Ultron incident, he'd been paranoid and though Ultron had tempered his insane spurt of innovation, he'd never stopped working on contingencies in the event of global or even more extensive disaster. Out of control self replication of nano-technology was not a new threat and there was every likelihood that Mister Stark had had at some point turned his brilliant brain to it. Or was it something else entirely? Was his mentor actually working with self replicating nanites? That was risky, so very risky. Had the project progressed and something gone wrong, he could very well have kicked off the very disaster they were facing. He'd given a lot more care to ensuring that his inventions didn't backfire since Ultron but there was always risk. He definitely had to look into this, either to search for answers or identify possible future threats.
But why couldn't Karen read him the names of the files? If he had clearance to search them, then surely he should be able to read the names.
"Can you tell me the project name?"
"Indeed I can."
That was a start. There was a pause as he waited for the AI to continue.
"Would you like me to tell you the name?"
"The project is listed under the name "Bleeding Edge.""
The name didn't give much away but goddamn did it sound cool. And if it held the answers he was looking for…
"Karen? Open project folder Bleeding Edge for me please."
"You do not have access to this folder."
"What? Why not?"
"You do not have the necessary clearance."
Sometimes he hated Karen, he really did. Okay, no, that was a lie, but there was something very unsettling in the way she delivered soul crushing and fantastic news alike with the same crisp, calm monotone as anyone else would read a list of groceries. Sure, it was helpful in the middle of a fight when everything was going to hell around him for the voice in his ear to be cool, calm and collected, but right now he really wished she'd sound a little more disappointed.
"Can you override? Use biometric authentication."
"You do not have clearance to override this restriction."
Fuck! Just when he thought he might be on to something. So much for not getting his hopes up. But all might not be lost. Just because he didn't have access to the folder, didn't mean he didn't know anyone else who did. There were others Mister Stark had known longer, had trusted his whole life. Pepper, Mister Rhodes, hell maybe even Mister Rogers or Director Fury might have the clearance to override whatever was keeping him out.
"Who would have clearance then?"
"In order to access the project folder labelled "Bleeding Edge", you would need verbal or written permission from Anthony E. Stark."
Well, that was a problem.
"But he's dead."
"That is correct."
"So how am I supposed to get permission from him?"
"The folder cannot be access without verbal or written permission from Anthony E. Stark."
"You already said that."
"That is correct."
"Is there anyone with verbal or written access to the project?"
"The list of people with verbal or written permission to access project folder "Bleeding Edge" includes-"
"-Anthony E. Stark."
"Are you doing this on purpose?."
"I don't know what you mean."
"Is that the only name on the list?"
Peter wanted to cry. He actually just wanted to sit down, here on a gargoyle's head some two hundred feet above the ground and sob his eyes out in frustration. The AI wasn't messing with him. She hadn't been programmed to have much of a sense of humour. But right now it seemed the most tempting thing in the world to rip the earpiece out of the suit and fling it as far as he possibly could, which, with his enhanced strength, might land it in the harbour.
There was so fucking much on his shoulders, not even considering the insane pressure of university and all the shit that came with that and the lifeline he thought he'd found had dissolved like his webbing after a few hours in the rain.
There went his hopes of appearing at the afternoon's meeting with the beginnings of a plan, or even just some useful information.
But at least now he knew that information existed. That was a start. It might not be much, but he would work from that. He wasn't a boy anymore, and he couldn't just give up because things weren't going his way. He'd speak to Pepper. Maybe she'd have more information for him. He checked the time, quarter past one. Still time.
"What can I do for you?"
"Dial Pepper Potts for me please."
Pepper picked up after only two rings.
"Hey Peter, what's happening? Did your meeting go alright last night?"
"Hi Miss Potts, the meeting was...well that's sort of why I'm calling you...in a roundabout way."
"What's happening? What do you need?" upon her realising that this was not a social call, Pepper's voice changed to one far more serious.
Peter hesitated. He hadn't thought beforehand through how much he should tell her. Fury had been very very explicit in his instructions to keep the whole matter confidential for now, but this was Pepper . He could trust her. Hell, she was one of the new Avengers primary sponsors. Still, orders were orders. Fuck, he wasn't a kid anymore, why did he have to be so damn indecisive?
"Yeah, sorry Miss Potts, I was just trying to figure something out." he said hurriedly.
"Please just call me Pepper." she reminded him for the ninety-seventh time(he'd kept count).
"Sorry Pepper, but please, I need to know about a file on Mister Stark's private server."
"Tony's...how do you have access to the private server?"
"I don't, but for some reason I could run a keyword search. There was one project folder, labelled Bleedi-"
"-ng Edge that matched all of my keywords and this is re-"
"-ally really important, like world ending important so I need to take a look at that project-"
"Peter stop!" Pepper's voice was sharp.
"Listen to me for the moment, please. This is not a conversation to have over the phone. If you want to talk, we can talk, but I think we should talk in person."
"Are you free now?"
"Yeah, though the Avengers are meeting again at three."
"There's time, I'll send a driver to pick you up. Where can they meet you?"
Peter glanced down, over the nose of the gargoyle, and picked a street corner not too far away that also wasn't too busy, though, being that this was Manhattan, 'wasn't too busy' was relative.
He told Pepper the address and she promised him a ride in five minutes. After a brief "see you soon", they hung up.
Peter stood. He stepped forward to stand just on the tip of the gargoyle's nose. All around him, the city yawned openly. He took a moment to feel the rising air buffet his outstretched arms. Then he closed his eyes and let vertigo take him.
The car Pepper had organised for him was luxurious, seats plush and every surface spotless. The driver held the door open for him and he clambered in, adjusting the collar of his hoodie just to be sure it completely covered the suit beneath. The Iron Spider was a masterpiece of design, seemingly endless features packed into a suit that was sleek enough to be hidden beneath only slightly baggy clothes.
The ride was as smooth as everything else about the car and it seemed like no time at all before they were pulling back up the driveway he'd left only the day before. Today though, only Pepper stood in the driveway. She welcomed him as he stepped out of the car and thanked the driver. Then the car pulled away, gliding over the brickwork and out the gate almost silently and they were alone.
"So Peter, you wanted to talk?"
They headed inside. The house seemed empty.
"Devon's taken Morgan to play at her friend's house," Pepper informed him, having obviously cottoned on to what he was looking for, "We have a few hours of privacy. Coffee?"
Like hell was Peter turning down an offer of Pepper's coffee. That shit probably cost more per cup than the food he ate in a day(which, with his spidey metabolism, was a lot more than what his physique suggested) and it showed. Pepper might have less expensive tastes than Mister Stark, but that was not difficult and she demanded quality in everything she did, including but not limited to the coffee on her shelf.
"Anything to eat?"
"Oh, no thanks."
He sat quietly on a comfy sofa in the living room while the coffee machine did its thing. After a few minutes, Pepper reappeared with two steaming mugs and rested them on the coffee table. She added a small fruit bowl, despite Peter's declining of food.
"So," she said, sinking easily down onto the chaise lounge, "you want to access Tony's private server?"
"And I take it you've already tried overriding security?"
"Yep, didn't work."
Pepper frowned. "Then I'm not really sure I can help you."
"Please Miss Potts,-"
"-this is so ridiculously important. I absolutely have to get access to the Bleeding Edge project folder, and the only way to do that is to get access to the server. But the firewall is ridiculous."
"Of course it's ridiculous. Tony wrote it." there was a faint smile on her face as she sipped her coffee.
"Well now that's working against us. I need to get in and I wasn't given override clearance-"
"Peter, what is Bleeding Edge?"
That brought him to a halt. "You-you don't know?"
Pepper grimaced. "I'm afraid not. I was never very involved in Tony's R&D or personal work. I never really had an interest in it and besides, admin has always been my thing. After the first snap, Tony was withdrawn, defeated. He didn't work for a long time, that I know of. When he recovered he began creating again, but I was focused on making sure the company survived in the economic crisis that everyone disappearing had caused, so I was only focussed on his R&D and humanitarian efforts. And then Morgan came along and I absolutely forbade him from any sort of combat-based work in the house. Basically I know of almost none of the non-Stark Industries projects he had going on."
Peter wasn't sure why, but that felt like a gut-punch.
"So please, what is Bleeding Edge? Why do you need it so badly?"
"I'll be honest, I don't know what's in it. But I ran a keyword search, and got a whole lot of results for what I need in the Bleeding Edge project folder, but I can't access it. It's the best lead we have right now though, so I need to check it out."
"What were the keywords?"
Peter chewed his lip, hesitating to answer. Pepper was a very smart woman. If he told her, she'd be sure to put two and two together and understand what was happening. He still didn't know if telling her was the best idea, not when he'd been sworn to secrecy.
"Sorry, it's just, Fury's ordered a complete media blackout on this. I'm not supposed to tell anyone ."
"Peter," Pepper said shortly, "I am the CEO of one of the largest tech companies in the world, running over a million top-security servers and owning literally hundreds of thousands of patents. There are things in my head people would, and have tried to sell their own families for. Believe me, I know a thing or two about discretion."
"I know, I just-"
"And on top of that, who do you think supplies most of the funds that keeps the Avengers in business? Because it sure as hell isn't the government, or the military, or the United Nations and it's most certainly not Nick Fury. What the Avengers do is my business."
Fuck it. Pepper had a right to know. The whole world did, really, but right now the whole world knowing would be counter-productive. But Pepper? She'd spent more time with Mister Stark than anyone. She'd been there with him through everything and had supported him in the face of unspeakable terrors. She could handle this.
"Are you sure you want to know? I almost wish I didn't. At least then I could get a good night's sleep."
Pepper frowned. "Is it that bad?"
And so he did.
By the time he was done, it was nearing time for him to leave and their luxury coffee had been forgotten, long cold, on the table. Pepper was pale but composed, resting her chin on steepled fingers. She'd had questions, of course she had. The number that Peter had been able to answer confidently was painfully small. Peter felt awful. Just four years ago, she'd lost her husband in a desperate bid to save the universe, to save her child. Now she'd just learned that his sacrifice may have been for nothing. Every single life he'd saved at the cost of his own, over half the universe, were going to be lost anyway.
Her eyes snapped to him and she lifted her head from her hands and sat up straight.
"Don't apologise," she said firmly, "I wanted to know. Now I do. And maybe I'll regret it but I asked you."
"You know," she said, "I never used to understand when Tony would throw himself so deeply into his work. But after Thanose snapped half the universe away, I got it. Tony was always paranoid and it only got worse with time. Once the universe opened up to us and we all realised how much bigger and more dangerous it was than we ever imagined, he suddenly had to protect the earth from everything out there too too because if he didn't, who would? There were threats out there that we didn't even have an inkling of and so his projects kept having to be bigger and better and he had to constantly outdo himself because there was always something more dangerous. That fear, that desperate drive, that need to do something , I'm feeling it now and its killing me because I don't think I can help you."
Peter's felt himself slump. He'd known it was a long shot, sure. Mister Stark had set himself as the only one able to override the servers security measures, but dammit, he'd desperately hoped Pepper would have some secret key, a code Tony had given her or sneaky patch that would fool the firewall into thinking she was its creator.
"Are you sure?" he asked, dreading her answer.
Pepper picked up her cold coffee and despondently swirled the cup, disturbing the milk which was beginning to congeal on the surface.
"I-no, no I'm not sure. But if there's a way I can help you, I don't know of it. That server, Tony set security measures in place. Certain files were released to me within a week of confirmation of his death, stuff like his private work on green energy and medical applications for nano-technology which he thought the world would be better off with access to. I sent some of them off to the groups that I thought could make the best use of them, kept others for their patent value. But other projects, the dangerous ones he didn't trust anyone else with, those are time-locked. He didn't think the world was ready to have access to that stuff, that it could be misused if it fell into the wrong hands. If you couldn't access a file, then that would be why. Whatever Bleeding Edge was, it was important to Tony."
Time-locked. Fuck. Of course Mister Stark would have time-locked his more sensitive work in the event of his death. It was good business and, given the extremely dangerous nature of his work should it fall into the wrong hands, the responsible thing to do.
Only now it might actually end up killing them all. How ironic.
"Do you when the time-lock will open?" he enquired. This whole train of events had been one failed long shot after the next, so what was one more?
"Well, the timelock had three settings that I know of;" Pepper started, "immediate release, one year and ten years. Since the first two have passed, I can only assume the timelock was set to open ten years from the time of his death. Four of those have passed so six years. The time lock is set to open in 2033."
"We'll all be dead by then." Peter said bitterly.
"No, you won't," Pepper insisted, pulling out her Starkphone and beginning tap away at the screen with her carefully manicured nails, "because you're going to find another way to fix this. Just because Tony can't help you anymore doesn't mean you're useless. You were his protege, he meant you to surpass him, not live in his shadow. You are Spider Man, not Iron Man 2.0. The Avengers is made up of brilliant people. You will find a way so save this planet and the rest of the galaxy."
Peter smiled. "I don't think-"
"No, I'm not asking you. I'm telling you, as a mother. You will find a way to save us. I have complete faith in you. Now get going. It's almost time for your meeting. A driver will be waiting for you by the time you get outside."
Peter stood up to leave. He glanced ruefully at his cold mug, sitting folornely on the coffee table with a third of its contents undrunken.
"I'll show myself out. It was nice to see you again so soon. Give my best to Morgan and Devon."
"It was lovely to see you too. Keep me updated please."
"I will. Thanks for the coffee." he said and headed out to the door.
As he pulled it open, Pepper called after him, "Oh, and Peter?"
"Yes Miss Potts?"
"I just checked the server. I was right. Bleeding Edge will be released in 2033. But i can see brief details on the project. Peter, it's dedicated to you."
Oh. Oh. Oh wow. Peter stood there dumbly for a moment in the open doorway. The same driver pulled up in the same gorgeous car as before. Peter couldn't move. Mister Stark had bleeding Bleeding Edge, a project so important and sensitive he had decided to delay its release for twn years after his death, to him. Tears welled up and he blinked them away.
"Close the door on your way out please," Pepper called again, "and call me Pepper."
The ride was as smooth as ever, but Peter couldn't appreciate it. His head was spinning. Bleeding Edge was dedicated to him. He had meant that much to Mister Stark. The look on his mentor's face when he'd seen him in that final battle, the ghost of his arms around him came back to haunt him in full force. That expression, it had been more than shock, more than disbelief. Mister Stark had been unable to take his eyes off him and for a few moments, had been so overwhelmed that he could do nothing other than grab Peter's shoulders and hold him, as though he were afraid that if he let go, Peter would disappear into dust once more.
Now Mister Stark was gone. He wasn't around to save them anymore. Now it was up to the new Avengers. As the car reached the edge of the city, Peter set his shoulders. Mister Stark was gone, but his family remained. All around the world, countless families were living their lives. The Avengers would not let them down. Peter would not let them down. They'd find a way.
They didn't have a choice.