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child's play

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Time is a funny, funny thing.

 

This dawns upon Peter Parker as he's clinging to a wall, bare fingertips aching. To him, it feels as if he's been stuck to this wall for an eternity; but then he squints blearily at the shattered face of his wristwatch and comes to realise with an overwhelming amount of debility that it's barely been five minutes.

 

Time is the funniest thing, but it doesn't make Peter laugh.

 

He rests his forehead against the surface of the wall, taking comfort of the cool brick against his skin. In the distance both near and far, he can hear many things — after all, this is New York, and New York isn't exactly famous for it's silence — but he carefully tunes it all out until what he's searching for becomes divided from the hum of the traffic outside.

 

Voices; both dramatically different, akin to the men who own them. One is gruff and accented with a sharp tang of something Russian, while the American's is lilting and kind and definitely counters the tone of the companion he so closely follows.

 

Peter swallows and it roars in his ears so emphatically that, for a moment, he thinks it could give his position away. He's not really the most practical hider — he's always been the kind of person to get himself included rather than to withhold from it — but he supposes that clinging to a wall in a cutaway of the alley, body positioned so that he is concealed in the shadow cast by the streetlamps outside, is good enough for him.

 

The Russian man swings his foot at a trashcan and it topples over, scattering crushed cans and empty Chinese takeaway boxes across the floor. "Where the fuck could he have gone?" he curses, head snapping towards his accomplice as if he's to blame. "I saw him go in here! A dead-end alleyway... no way out. Where could he have gone?"

 

He trails off, then. A small voice in the back of Peter's mind tells him that he's been caught — that his stupid hiding spot isn't as smart as he thinks it is. But this is thankfully proven incorrect when the American begins to speak, his serene tone the voice of reason. "Maybe he just... slipped out of the alley without us noticing. He was pretty scrawny."

 

Peter’s unappreciation for the insult burns into the wall.

 

"I would have seen him," the Russian insists, his accent growing stronger the more fury he pumps into his words. He kicks another trashbin over; this one spills multiple empty doughnut boxes. Does this man have no regard for New York’s littering laws? "Honest to God. He's here somewhere."

 

"It's possible you didn't see him go," the American counters patiently. He goes to put his hand on his companion's shoulder, but visibly hesitates; Peter understands that this highlights who is the more dominant — and dangerous — of the pair.

 

Peter assesses his situation further. If he were to drop to the ground, there is an extremely high chance of him being found and chased down — and Peter's body really doesn't run nearly as fast as it used to. The amount of trouble he's been put through just because he can't find it in himself to sprint faster or jump further is growing ridiculous.

 

He glances up the wall. The light from the streetlamps hits the building on the other side of it, and crawling from the wall to the side of the building could also give his position away. Besides, his backpack — which holds everything he owns — is still tucked behind one of the giant metal skips in the alley and he really, really cannot afford to lose that.

 

He hates that he's unfortunate enough to be in this situation, and all because he napped outside of the wrong apartment building.

 

Parker luck does that to you, he supposes.

 

"Let's just go," the American says — no, pleads, in a voice so innocent that Peter finds he nearly likes the man. "It was just some homeless kid. All he was doing was sleeping. It wasn't like he was breaking our windows or vandalising the side of the building."

 

The Russian doesn't appear to be pleased by this new information, for he violently kicks over yet another trashbin with a roar, and the clatter sends alarm bells ringing throughout his whole body all at once. It takes a couple of minutes for the man to agree with his patient companion, but he agrees nonetheless, and Peter holds his stuttering breath as the pair walk right underneath him. He watches their backs; watches the way the Russian fingers at the tip of the dagger he'd wanted to sink into Peter's chest; watches the way the American skips like a jolly school girl as they hit the street again.

 

He waits. Listens for their footsteps until he can't tell the difference between theirs' and everyone else's.

 

Inhaling a lungful of polluted New York air, Peter drops quietly to the ground. The bitter cold wind sends aggressive shivers up his spine, his thin coat doing nothing to protect him from the bite of December weather. "Ah, fuck," he whispers to himself as he pulls out his backpack from behind the bin, his numb fingers barely having enough strength to hold it. "Fuck me."

 

Of course, the cold is nothing he isn't used to; after he'd been kicked out of May's apartment a year or so ago, his body gradually adjusted to the merciless winter temperatures. The cold hadn't been that big of a problem for him until the lack of proper sleep and proper meals and too much exercise started to weigh down on him. Now, his body can't seem to warm itself up anymore.

 

(In the back of his mind, something reminds him that spiders can't thermoregulate. Of course they can’t. That’s just Parker luck.)

 

It would be much easier to manage if he had his suit. He had built heaters in that and everything; there isn't a day where he doesn't miss the presence of the spandex pressing against his skin. When May had found out about his nightly activities, she'd promptly locked him in his bedroom and burned the suit until it was just another layer of glowing embers on the fireplace. His trusty webshooters had been crushed with a hammer in front of his own eyes.

 

All his hard work gone to waste.

 

To be honest, he isn't entirely mad about the suit. Sure, he misses it, but he still has his acrobatic flexibility and his sticky fingers (he wishes there were a better way to describe them), and he's okay with that.

 

He's more angry that May thought it was okay to kick him — her own nephew, her last family member — out of the apartment completely. Whenever he went back and tried to reason with her, she'd just slam the door on his face and tell him to 'fuck off, I thought I'd already told you that you're not welcome here anymore'. Which is fine. He's fine with that.

 

(He isn't.)

 

After ten minutes of walking aimlessly up and down a somewhat deserted section of street, his shoe hits a pile of sludge. The wetness soaks through to his feet, unprotected by a decent pair of socks. "Fuck," he murmurs, staring down at his feet in a trance of complete displeasure. He isn't surprised; just frustrated that his shoes are going to stay damp and cold forever. "Fucking shit. Fuck you, December."

 

He'd have gone about cursing his emotions out more if it weren't for his spider-sense, interrupting him with a tidal wave of sharp needles that travel down the back of his neck and ring ever so quietly in his ears.

 

He doesn't want to do anything dramatic, not until he knows what to be dramatic about. Instead, in order to appear as if he is unaware of whatever he's been warned about, he does what a homeless person does best; sitting solemnly against a random wall.

 

The ground is ice cold and hard enough to ache underneath him. He drops his backpack to his side, hooking his arm through the shoulder strap out of pure habit (the last time he didn't, his bag got stolen — along with everything he'd once owned). His spider-sense isn't what he could call ringing anymore, but it's still there, like a low whine of white noise in the back of his mind. Something is wrong. Nothing entirely fatal, so to say, but definitely wrong.

 

It becomes clear to him when he hears a feminine voice on the rooftop of the building he's leaning against. His thumbs rubbing absently over the palm of his fingerless gloves, he focuses his enhanced hearing on that particular voice. The noise of New York's streets steadily become a low rumble along with the whine of his spider-sense.

 

"It was just some homeless kid. He was probably looking through the dumpsters in the alley."

 

The fact that she thinks he'll actually search through a dumpster...

 

"Barton, chill. Homeless kid. Nothing more, nothing less."

 

The name 'Barton' sounds somewhat familiar to him, but Peter files that matter away for later. The only subject on his mind is what in the world the woman is doing on that rooftop, and what business she has watching him as she is. She's talking to someone, but they must be on the phone or on a commlink, because he cannot hear a response even if he strains.

 

Part of him longs to go back and take a proper look in the alley. He had been too busy hiding from an insane Russian man to admire the sights in the area, but even the concept of something with potential value piques his interest...

 

He shakes his head, then, and reminds himself of the situation at hand. Going down the alley now would draw the woman on the roof to him even further and that's the last thing he wants.

 

"It's getting late, Barton. Let's go back to the Tower and we'll try again tomorrow."

 

Her footsteps are just loud enough for him to pick up and even then Peter has trouble dividing it from everything else within his audio range. He waits until he cannot hear her anymore before he finally allows himself to relax, her presence having been the only thing that'd been keeping him from falling asleep right there and then.

 

Trying to make sense out of the fragmented information is pointless, and even wishing to follow the woman even more so; sleep is tugging at his eyelids, energy leaving his legs as he finds some traces of comfort sitting against the rough concrete of the pavement. People are hitting his legs as they walk around him but he hardly even notices in this state.

 

He falls asleep lying against the wall, the name 'Barton' lingering on his mind.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

When Peter wakes up, there's a one dollar note by his feet.

 

It's not often that the people of New York are willing to give anything more than a cent and a dirty look to the homeless population and so Peter assumes he got it purely out of pity. Probably because he's young and skinny and he doesn't have a ratty blanket draped over his legs because he can't afford one.

 

Not that he opposes it, of course; if the pity gets him enough to buy something to eat and a water bottle, then he isn't going to go around complaining about it. Over the time he's been homeless and alone, he's learned that he has to take advantage of everything he can if he wants a good chance of surviving on the streets. The pity he gets — especially as a teenager — is one of his easier forms of income.

 

He picks the dollar up and climbs to his feet, his feet and fingers numb and stiff from sleeping the night in the bitter cold. The crick in his neck doesn't go away until he's halfway down the street and still struggling to haul his backpack over his shoulders. There isn't much he can buy with a dollar — and he doesn't know where any dollar stores are, so that's out of the question — but he's going to hope that there's a cashier somewhere that won't mind taking a little less money for a product for once. It's not like it'll damage their business too much.

 

Putting his hoodie over his ears, he sets off down the street, rubbing a thumb protectively over the dollar as if it would disappear. His shoes squelch when he walks and there's water running down the back of his neck from the melting frost in his hair, but he's feeling decent today, and it shows in the form of a skip in his step as he strolls into the closest corner store he can find.

 

"Hello," the cashier says politely, "please dry your shoes on the mat before you come in."

 

Peter’s shoes are soaked through to his skin thanks to the sludge on the sidewalks, but he deems it too unimportant for the cashier to know — he just rubs his feet halfheartedly on the mat and brushes off the cashier's following thanks in favour of browsing the sandwich aisle.

 

There isn’t a lot of selection. He searches every label but doesn’t find any decent newer fillings that interests him, so he goes for the only one he knows he likes — chicken mayonnaise. Even just holding the package in his numb hands unleashes the gnawing hunger from its cave, its claws cutting lines into his stomach lining.

 

But his heart withers in his chest and sickening anxiety begins to settle in his stomach in place of the hunger when he notices the price of the sandwich. For a crappy corner store meal in cardboard packaging, he’d have thought that $3.50 would be a little excessive.

 

Nervously, he glances down at his dollar. Maybe the cashier will let him off on this one.

 

"Just this?" The cashier asks as he dumps the sandwich onto the counter. Even through the dazzling smile he puts on, Peter can see that he's a little nervous of him from the way that his shoulders tighten and his teeth worry his bottom lip. It must be either the hoodie or the blossoming bruise on his jawbone that's giving him the threatening 'teenage delinquent' look.

 

Not finding his voice in himself, Peter nods in the affirmative. He’s never been good at conversation.

 

Anxiety twists his insides further as the cashier scans the sandwich. "That'll be $3.50," he says, smiling again. When Peter puts the dollar on the counter and unsuccessfully tries to swipe the sandwich away before he notices, the cashier's polite facade fades only by a fraction. He pulls the sandwich away from Peter's immediate reach. “That isn't enough. I'll need $2.50 more before you can take this."

 

"This is all I have," Peter says, voice wavering nervously. "Can't you just take the dollar for it and I'll pay you the rest another time? I really need this, man...”

 

But the cashier isn’t phased and his voice remains calm and steady as he replies, “no can do, I’m afraid. That can cost me my job if I’m not careful.”

 

“It’s just a sandwich. It’s not even that expensive,” Peter points out, sounding a little more desperate than he'd intended. Hunger is a really big issue — the biggest issue, he could argue — for anyone homeless, but with his enhanced metabolism he really cannot afford to go too long without anything to eat. Not that the cashier can know that, of course.

 

”If it isn’t that expensive, then why can’t you afford it?”

 

Peter huffs and the man's smile grows smug.

 

"Sorry, kid." The cashier doesn't look sorry at all. "I can’t lose my job just because you’re hungry and can’t afford a little sandwich. Get your mom to make you something at home. Shoo.”

 

Peter inwardly groans at his choice of phrasing, but doesn’t feel up for starting himself a pity party by telling him that his mom is, in fact, dead. “You can't just give me this one thing?"

 

"No."

 

He knows he should back down, but he’s always been the persistent kind of person. "Please?"

 

This, apparently, had been clutching at the last straws, because the cashier's personality suddenly flips a dramatic 180. His fists hit the counter with such raw aggression that Peter's spider-sense jars and he jumps back a couple of steps, startled like a deer.

 

"Look," he snaps, his voice climbing. "I can't give you the fucking sandwich, alright? I tried to be nice about it, but you're just getting on my nerves now. Get the fuck out of here before I knock your lights out, yeah?"

 

(Peter wonders whether yelling and threatening a customer will get him fired as giving him a sandwich will.)

 

"Get lost!" he shouts again.

 

Peter feels his stomach twist with every syllable he speaks. "Okay. Jus-"

 

He cuts himself off without noticing, distracted entirely by the purposeful footsteps making their way towards him from somewhere else in the shop. He pulls his hood down to run an anxious hand through his hair, still damp from the melted frost. There's no way he's going to steal the sandwich — Spiderman stops petty crime instead of embarking on it — and he doesn't think that it's fair to endanger the cashier's job by convincing him to take the dollar for it. He's only following the set store regulations, after all.

 

Just as he's about to swipe his dollar from the counter, another voice joins them. "What's happening over here, then?" it asks, it's tone jarring in a sense of it’s casual, friendly dominance. Peter tries to place where he’s heard the voice before, but his memory promptly fails him.

 

The cashier's personality flips once more; this time, he's more on the submissive side. He seems immediately intimidated by the arrival of this new character and Peter — as he carefully picks his battles and keeps watching his feet — finds himself enjoying it quite a bit. "No-nothing," he manages out.

 

"It didn't sound like nothing," the voice comes again. "Why were you yelling, then?"

 

The cashier chuckles nervously. "It wasn't much. Just this kid trying to grab this $3.50 sandwich for a dollar. Kept persisting when I kept saying no."

 

"He looks like he needs it. The floor that interesting, kid?"

 

Peter looks up to snark at the man, then, but his mouth dries when he meets blue-green eyes he definitely recognises.

 

"Hawkeye?"

 

"In the flesh," Hawkeye responds, lopsided grin that beams pure honesty. Peter nearly doesn't recognise the man; with a hoodie, faded jeans and a mop of messy blonde bedhead, he looks alien compared to the man who wears the fitting suit and never misses a single shot he fires. Not nearly as threatening or cool; just a normal dude wielding popcorn and Doritos instead of his infamous bow.

 

It's nearly grounding, to see a man with such incredible ability and impact — an Avenger, of all people — standing in a shitty corner store on a street infested by rats and the occasional homeless person. Makes him seem more human and less ass-kicking superhero.

 

"Barton, chill. Homeless kid. Nothing more, nothing less."

 

"It's getting late, Barton. Let's go back to the Tower and we'll try again tomorrow."

 

And, all at once, two things dawn to him: who 'Barton' is, and what the 'Tower' is.

 

Hawkeye is watching him now, his eyes moving up and down his body, something he's seeing pinching his brows together. "God, you're like a walking stick. No wonder you were so desperate for the sandwich," he concludes eventually. Then he turns to the cashier, who seems to have no say on the matter anymore. "I'll pay the money for the sandwich as well as my food. Give me that card machine."

 

"I can't believe Hawkeye wants to use my card machine," the cashier whispers, just about audible enough for Peter's enhanced hearing to pick up, as he hands it over to the Avenger.

 

"You got somewhere to go, kid?" Hawkeye asks as he slots his card in and hits a couple of buttons on the machine. "Apartment?"

 

Peter doesn't find himself in a situation where he doesn't know what to say very often, but he's gradually finding that this is turning into a good example of one. A rush of heat spreads across his cheeks and to the tips of his ears. "I used to," he manages out eventually.

 

Half of him expects Hawkeye to turn around and start to mother him, like a lot of little old women try to do whenever they pass him napping on a street corner, but then he remembers that this is an Avenger, and Avengers don't have time to deal with scrawny homeless kids when there are better things to do out there. Like, chilling in Tony Stark's expensive Avengers Tower, or whatever else people living rich do with their spare time.

 

But he doesn’t. He just seems to understand. His eyes are full of questions — that much is obvious — but he thankfully doesn't vocalise any. He passes the card machine back to the cashier and turns to make his leave. "You stay safe, kid. The wind'll blow you away if you aren't careful," he says instead, pressing the sandwich gently into his shaking palms.

 

Peter pretends not to notice the ten dollar bill that comes with it.

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

He sees more of Hawkeye after that.

 

The first time, there isn't too much interaction. Just the perfect amount, really.

 

Peter had taken to sitting in his usual spot when he needs to clear his head; on the wall of a hidden backstreet, leaning against the adjacent corner of a building with one leg dangling off the side and the other laying in front of him. It's not an alleyway, so to say, but it's quiet enough to be considered one, and there aren't many people who come this way for it doesn't lead to anything save for old, rundown housing.

 

Peter still doesn't know why Hawkeye had even been walking down there and he doesn't dwell on it very often. It's best not to question his odd, unpredictable character even at this early stage.

 

He'd seen the Avenger before the Avenger had seen him, but his heart still skipped nervously when their eyes met for the briefest of moments. If Hawkeye had felt similarly, he didn't show it — he only grinned and waved at Peter as if he were greeting a friend of several years, before continuing down the road with half a skip in his step.

 

The second time had also been entirely unexpected.

 

He'd been especially hungry that day, so instead of retreating to the wall he'd taken to the streets and sat down near a particularly busy food store in the hope that someone would be nice enough to buy him something while they were doing their weekly shopping. It's unlikely, especially in this area, but it never hurts to try and the shop manager never tries to drive him away as most others do.

 

It may be a wealthier area but, even with that knowledge in mind, Peter definitely didn't expect to see Hawkeye strolling into the food store wearing his costume with the bow strapped to his back. Peter would have believed it were a cosplayer if he didn’t know better, but that messy blonde hair and light, knowing smile is something he can recognise anywhere.

 

When he'd come out with two shopping bags and a gaggle of swooning women who seem to hound his trail, he'd stopped next to where Peter had been sitting against the brick pillar and crouched down to meet his level. He'd handed him a chicken and mayo sandwich in a package identical to the one in the rundown corner store and said to him, "you're looking less cold today, kid. How've you been?"

 

Peter doesn't recall his reply, but he does remember that Hawkeye — an Avenger, in the flesh — had ruffled his hair before making his leave.

 

The third time, Hawkeye had been more talkative.

 

Peter had been sitting against his wall instead of on top of it, too exhausted to scale it for the first time in his life. He hadn't eaten in a good few days and he couldn't seem to make his fingers stick to the surface of the wall as well as he used to be able to — the effort it would take to climb it without using his abilities would have probably killed him before he got to the top.

 

(An exaggeration, but Peter was worried that it could be a possibility he doesn't want to think about.)

 

Hawkeye had come around the corner wearing sweatpants and holding a plastic bag over his shoulder. Upon noticing Peter half-asleep against the wall, he'd come and sat down beside him without hesitating. "You tired?" he'd asked genuinely.

 

Peter had turned his head to look at him, but didn't say anything. Living on the streets with no one to talk to really doesn't turn you into the most talkative of people.

 

"You're too skinny and pale, kid. Makes me worry about you." Hawkeye had turned his head so as to get a better look at his face then, and he'd made an alarmed noise. He'd then pulled out a blanket and then a McDonalds takeaway bag. "These were for Steve — he's feeling under the weather, and he loves cheeseburgers and these blankets that this old lady knits for her favourite people a block over — but I feel like you need them more. He'd understand."

 

He'd hesitated, unused to such generosity, but Hawkeye had put them in his lap before he'd managed to object. "Hawkeye," he'd whispered, his voice wavering as emotion clawed at his throat. God, how nice it was to get gifts like that...

 

"Call me Clint, kid. I hope you aren't one of those freaks who doesn't like McDonalds," the Avenger had replied with a fond chuckle. He'd stood up to make his leave, ruffling Peter's hair again. "I need to go. Catch you later, kid."

 

That was the time that Peter remembers the most. The blanket is still rolled up in his backpack for safe-keeping, actually.

 

This time, though, Clint isn't alone.

 

Since the lane in which the wall is found is practically deserted all day, Peter thinks that Clint had actually come to find him in order to introduce his friend — a thought which spreads warmth through his chest and reminds him that there are good people in this harsh, harsh world.

 

His friend isn’t smiling as him and Clint come to stand at the base of his wall, but Peter knows a friendly face when he sees one — gentle brown eyes and easygoing expression, hardly batting an eyelid as he meets his gaze. A good, honest person who Peter immediately recognises to be the second coolest Avenger named after a bird — Falcon. Huh.

 

”Hey, kid. Sam wanted to meet you,” Clint says. “You want to come down or are you alright up there?”

 

”I’m fine here,” Peter replies, quiet. “You can sit if you want.”

 

”Nice,” Sam says. He passes Clint the plastic bag he’s holding, braces his arms on the top of the wall (because of course he’s tall enough to do that) and seats himself with little more than a soft grunt to represent his effort. “I can see why you like it here. It’s nice and quiet.”

 

Clint passes the bag back up to his teammate and also takes a seat on the wall, squeezing himself between Sam and Peter. “We got some McDonalds, if you’re interested. Got you another cheeseburger and a diet coke,” he says, leaning back so Sam can pass the bag over him.

 

It’s still warm when he takes it out of the box and his cold fingers soak it in immediately. “Thanks,” he mumbles, through a mouthful of slimy burger and bun.

 

“You got a name, kid?” Sam asks as he digs into a sweet-chilli chicken wrap.

 

Peter would have hesitated if it were anyone else, but he’s found that he’s trusted them faster than anyone else he’s met while living on the streets — and not only because they’re Avengers, although he'd be lying if he says that it isn't part of it. Maybe it’s the way that they don’t throw him pity parties, or how they treat him like a person and not some piece of homeless scum living only to be an inconvenience.

 

He swallows his mouthful and says, “Peter.”

 

”It’s nice to meet you, Peter.”

 

He doesn’t say anything else; just offers Sam the dopiest grin he can manage with a burger between his teeth. Clint huffs and steals a bite of his teammate’s chicken wrap. “Delicious."

 

”You have your own! Lay off eating everyone else’s food.”

 

Clint’s eyes narrow accusatorially. “Are you fatshaming me?” he hisses.

 

(And that’s when Peter realises how much he’s beginning to enjoy the company of Sam and Clint.)

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Clint isn't sure what to think of Peter.

 

If there's one thing he knows for certain, it's that Peter is a good kid. He's a little on the quiet side, but Clint knows an honest person when he sees one; he's got a smart head on those narrow shoulders of his and, although clearly grateful whenever he shows up with some extra food, doesn't act greedy or as if he were expecting Clint to have food whenever he's around. It's a good trait. Good kid.

 

He's got tawny brown hair (that's a little long, but is still trimmed every so often, meaning he either does it himself or there's someone nice enough to give him free cuts) and big brown eyes, doe-like and curious, yet clouded over with a thin layer of something sadder, hardly noticeable yet still so obvious all at once. His skin is pale and the dark circles under his eyes are a constant but he seems more animated rather than a little dead on the inside.

 

And he doesn't treat Clint as an Avenger, but as an average person (even when he comes around wearing his suit and his bow on his back). He's so used to civilians acting like he's some sort of bigshot, attention-worthy celebrity that being around someone who acts like he's just Clint is startling — and extremely appreciated.

 

It's these factors beside many more that keep him intrigued; keep him coming back to Peter whether he wants to give him an extra cheeseburger or just have a chat.

 

He fears that Peter thinks he's only around because he pities him, so he makes it very clear after their first few meetings that he isn't. Sure, the father side of him worries for the kid and how he's far too young to be stuck on the streets of New York, hungry and cold with nowhere to go and no one to rely on. He shouldn't have to go through something as damaging as that.

 

No one should.

 

But then he remembers that Peter is independent and strong and can manage just fine without the occasional meal and company from Clint. After all, he's been just fine before they even met, for however long he's been out on the streets (which is information he plans to get, eventually). He's a good kid. A good, smart kid who is determined to kick life in its cruel ass.

 

When him and Sam go out to buy breakfast muffins (because Tony's questionable cooking just won't do) in their sweats and hoodies, they hardly notice that they order an extra one.

 

When they leave the shop and turn the complete opposite way from the Tower, they don't bat an eyelid.

 

When they show up at the base of Peter's wall, they start to grow concerned.

 

Where Clint expected Peter to be sitting on the top of the wall, one leg hanging off the side and his fingers tapping a rhythm against his thigh as per usual, the space is entirely empty: and he isn't sure why he feels as if something terrible has happened to him. It's not like he's always on the wall.

 

"He's gone," Sam states with a sullen expression.

 

"Good observation," Clint snarks, rubbing his forehead with cold fingers. "I know that the kid isn't always on the wall, so it shouldn't be weird that he isn't here, but something feels wrong, Sam." He sighs, glancing up to where Peter usually sits again, half-hoping that he'd randomly show up if he were to look again. "Maybe I'm being dumb. Am I being dumb?"

 

"No." Sam braces his arms on the top of the wall and peers into the thin space behind it. "His backpack is stuck in the gap between the building and the wall, but not like it's been done purposefully to hide it," he observes, pulling it out and showing it to Clint with a worried grimace. There are scuff marks all over it, but it's intact otherwise. "It's like it fell."

 

Something that makes his stomach drop occurs to Clint, like a switch turning on. "He never goes anywhere without his backpack."

 

Sam bites his lip, his eyes watching a corner of the ground as he thinks. "I know that there are a million perfectly okay reasons for him to be gone without his backpack," he starts, swallowing loudly, "but I can't help but feel like something happened."

 

And that's when they hear it — a scuffle of feet from further down the lane; a shout of anguish; the unmistakable sound of a fist hitting skin.

 

Clint drops the bag of breakfast muffins and races towards the noise without so much as hesitating. He nearly wishes he had his bow with him, because breaking up fights — and there is no doubt that breaking up a fight is what he is about to do, because he knows the sound of one like he knows the back of his hand — is so much easier when you have a deadly weapon at hand.

 

He slows down as he reaches an even thinner alleyway branching off the main one. There's the cackle of cruel laughter and more shouting, even more frightened as before, but it sounds muffled and considerably weaker. Anger curls through his stomach, but he channels it into his fists instead of his voice as he stalks into the alley, Sam close at his heels.

 

And... it's Peter.

 

Only, he's the one on the floor, a hand over his mouth and a pair of strong arms pinning him to the floor so hard that Clint fears his shoulders will break. There's fear in those gentle brown eyes and a stream of blood running from a mess of bruises and gashes on his forehead and jawline — a mess that sends not just anger but pure fury through Clint's veins, because these guys are beating on a defenceless homeless kid.

 

(Not just any homeless kid, though — his homeless kid.)

 

The two men holding him down are dirty-looking skanks, all muscle but clearly no brain in their ugly heads, and don't seem to be phased by the sudden appearance of Clint and Sam. One of them — a tan man with a tangled beard and black eyes that stink of pure stupidity — cackles and hits the back of Peter's head against the floor again. "You out yet, kid?" he spits.

 

Sam steps forward, taking a less violent approach to the matter, but Clint can see the justified anger in the way his jaw tightens. "Let him go," he says, eyes flashing.  "You've done enough to him. This isn't the way to-"

 

But the other man, with dirt smeared across his skin and a sick grin toying with his features, interrupts him with a sharp cackle. "We've only been at it for ten minutes,” he tells them, and Clint's fist clench harder as he puts a foot on top of Peter's chest. "Kid fought back, but we got 'im quiet eventually. Been a while since I've felt this alive!"

 

Peter is watching them through eyes shrouded with panic and pain, latching onto their appearance as if they would disappear if he were to shift his gaze away. He looks tired, probably from loss of blood and the numerous blows to the head he's clearly received, but he unwaveringly stays awake — probably with the knowledge that he could never wake up if he had severe brain damage in mind.

 

Never has Clint wanted to smother a kid that is not his own with affection more than he does now.

 

"He's a kid," Sam attempts to reason. He looks somewhat queasy. "You're really enjoying beating on a kid?"

 

"Best part of my day," Tangled Beard answers.

 

"This one has been a good screamer!" Dirt Face declares, a finger up in the air, as if he were proud (and there is no doubt that he is).

 

Tangled Beard's eyebrows waggle suggestively. "Gets me excited, y'know?"

 

That's the last straw for Clint. He dives forward, sending a foot into Tangled Beard's chest and following it up with a kick to the head driven by complete and utter anger. The blow is hard enough to knock him unconscious immediately and he collapses limply into a rotting trashbag, blood running from his nose where it made contact with the floor. "You're fucking disgusting," he spits onto his motionless body.

 

Dirt Face jumps away from Peter to tackle Clint, but Sam catches it quickly as ever; he drives his fist into the man's cheek and then another into his stomach, then kicks him to the ground beside his companion where he, too, lays still and unconscious with blood running from a cut in his forehead. They aren't dead, but Clint wishes to Hell that they are.

 

"I can't believe people like that exist," Sam says eventually.

 

But Clint is too occupied with the shivering figure on the ground to respond. He crouches down beside Peter steadily, throat tightening as he notices the tears pricking at the corner of the poor kid's eyes. He's cold and terrified and hurt and he doesn't know how to go about this without overwhelming him.

 

It's now that he notices the extensive damage dappling the skin across his face and neck; the bruises swell deep and dark and the gashes are deeper than he first thought. Blood from a couple on his cheeks run off his face and onto the ground underneath him. There's most likely more underneath the thin shirt and skinny jeans he's wearing, but he doesn't want to check until Peter is comfortable.

 

"Hey, Pete. Can I touch you?" he begins, voice wavering.

 

The kid hardly even pauses — just nods his consent and winces.

 

"You're okay." He runs his hands through his tawny hair, which, with a dash of terror, he realizes is slick with blood. He makes no immediate reaction save for showing his hand now stained with blood to Sam over his shoulder, who curses and pulls out his phone. "You're fine, Pete."

 

"Tired," Peter murmurs, voice slurring.

 

His eyes close slowly but Clint catches it fast, lightly tapping his cheeks to keep him alert. "Hey. Hey, Peter. Don't close your eyes, yeah? Keep looking at Sam, Peter. Keep your eyes on him." There's probably extensive bruising on his ribs and stomach, so Clint doesn't try to set him up against the wall; just holds his head in one palm and his hand with another.

 

"We had a breakfast muffin for you, Petey," Sam says. "Blueberry. You like blueberries?"

 

A hazy grin lights up Peter's bruised face, despite himself. "M' aunt... she made g... good blueb'rry pancakes..."

 

"Was she a good cook?" Clint asks next. It's clearly draining for the kid to be talking, but they need to keep him awake, and distracting him with conversation is the best they can do before help arrives. Sam shows him his phone screen - a text message from Happy, telling them that he's going to drive a car to their location. "Really? To the Tower?"

 

"It's easier," Sam answers. Then he turns back to Peter, who remains barely awake, yet still regarding them with a slight smile. It's amazing that he's managed to stay conscious for this long; he's received countless blows to the head if the mass of blackening bruises and the blood-slicked hair is anything to go by, and there is no doubt that there's more to see under his clothes, too.

 

Peter's skin looks pale where it isn't mottled and he's gripping onto Clint's hand so hard that his knuckles are bone-white - as if he might disappear if he were to let go. Despite being in such a bad condition, he still manages to hold on, and Clint is reminded of how strong and capable this kid really is.

 

It's familiar. He can't quite place it.

 

"No hosp'tals," Peter says suddenly.

 

At this statement, Clint's mind stutters. Maybe he's just being paranoid at this point, but he's pretty sure that refusing treatment at a hospital is something to be suspicious about, and questions that remain unvocalized surface in his brain. The only reason plausible to Clint is that going to hospital will mean that the CPS will be alerted, because he's homeless and — judging by his appearance and size, though that could just be malnutrition — likely running from them.

 

Head tilting to the left, Sam leans in closer. "No, you're not going to the hospital. We're taking you to the Tower's medical wing, kiddo. Banner is a lot better than those doozies," he promises, a chuckle bubbling from his throat when Peter's eyes light up at Bruce's name.

 

"Bruce B'nner?" he slurs.

 

"The one and only," Clint answers. "You're a fan?"

 

But Peter doesn't reply; just gazes past Sam, out of the thin backlane. Clint follows his eyes to see that one of Stark's cars is parked outside, with Happy's concerned face peering at them through the open window. "How urgent is it? I need to know how fast to drive," he asks them loudly.

 

Sam turns away to answer him, and Clint refocuses his attention onto Peter. The kid is still awake, but that small dash of energy in his eyes is starting to fade faster and faster behind his half-closed eyelids. "Pete," he says, hitting his cheek softly. "Pete, keep your eyes on me, yeah? We're going to get you in the car. Just stay awake, even if it's hard. Try for me."

 

"M'kay," Peter murmurs, readjusting his grasp on Clint's hand. His hands are so small - so pale.

 

"Good kid. You're doing really well."

 

It takes them some time and a lot of patience, but they eventually get Peter lying in the backseat of the car, his head resting atop of Clint's lap. The archer, while running a hand through his blood-soaked hair, is telling Peter that he'll be okay, that they're getting him help - mostly to comfort the kid, but also to comfort himself, too. He hasn't stopped shaking for twenty minutes.

 

"Thanks for coming so fast, Happy," Sam says from the passenger seat, turning to the driver.

 

"It's no problem," he answers as he takes to the roads. "I have to ask, though — what happened to him?"

 

"Some dickwads beat him up." Clint huffs, feeling anger biting at his throat again. "There was no reason. They didn't want money. They just wanted to have some fun." He shakes his head, glancing down at the half-unconscious kid in his lap. "He has a lot of head injuries."

 

"I can see that," Happy says, watching them in the mirror. "Who is he, then?"

 

Sam is drumming his fingers against his knee — something he does when he's anxious, Clint has noticed over time. "His name is Peter, and he's a homeless kid Clint met in a corner store," he explains, speaking somewhat faster than usual, like there's far too much nervous energy and no other way to expel it. "He introduced us once. He's a good kid. Deserves better than what he has."

 

"We bring him food sometimes," Clint continues, "whenever I buy something like... I don't know, a cheeseburger, I buy extra and bring it round to him. To help him out, y'know? It can't be easy being out on the street, as young as he is."

 

"That's nice of you," Happy observes.

 

"Yeah. I'm just glad we got to him. Imagine what could've happened if we didn't show up when we did..." A visible shudder shakes Sam and Clint swallows, feeling queasy at the thought. He hasn't felt this shaken up and scared for someone else as much as he is now in a while, and he is quickly finding that it's not a feeling that is very much welcome.

 

Happy hums. "Strange that he doesn't want to go to the hospital," he points out after a while.

 

"I thought it was to avoid CPS. I don't know how old he is, but I hardly think that he's older than eighteen... " Clint looks down at Peter again, noticing his eyes are closed and his grip on the archer's hand has loosened considerably. A streak of anxiety races through his chest. "Hey, Petey. You awake? Stay with me, yeah?" He pats the boy's cheek with shaky fingers.

 

"'m awake," Peter manages out. "Wh... where..."

 

No one says anything when Happy passes the speed limit.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Sam doesn't think he's ever seen Clint as nervous as he is now.

 

It's rather peculiar, actually; Clint usually holds himself a witty, confident and satisfyingly mild-mannered sort of person when he isn't behind his infamous bow and — though he clearly does care for the people he surrounds himself with, because he'd have taken himself out of the building and back home to his family if he didn't — he's never seemed as anxious for their safety as he is for Peter.

 

When Sam ponders about it more, he comes up with two reasonable conclusions; the first is that Clint is suddenly aware of how normal — as in, not superpowered like nearly everyone else in this building — and defenceless the kid really is. Sure, he can clearly take care of himself; but when people more powerful and as sick-minded as the ones they confronted earlier come into the equation, it really highlights how so very average and young he really is.

 

Which brings Sam to his second conclusion; Peter reminds Clint of his kids back home. Clint adores his kids — heck, there are pictures of them in his wallet and everything — and it wouldn't be considered odd for him to subconsciously think of Peter in sort-of the same way. He cares for Peter. He wants to make sure he's okay. And now he's hurt, he's worried for him.

 

Not to say that he himself isn't worried, of course; Sam maybe doesn't feel as much for the kid as his teammate does (he hasn't known him for very long, after all), but there remains a special spot for Peter in his heart. The kid doesn't deserve what he got. He doesn't deserve being out on the streets, or whatever drove him there in the first place.

 

It's all one very big worry-fest, really.

 

The archer is sitting with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands, staring at nothing in particular and biting his bottom lip. His hair is a mess and his knuckles are grazed and barely bleeding, but he seems otherwise okay. Perhaps a little too full of nervous energy, if his bouncing leg is anything to go by.

 

"Clint?"

 

Seated across from him, Clint looks up at Sam. "Yeah?"

 

Sam takes in his tired eyes and offers him a warm, hazy smile. "We should probably let Stark know there's a homeless kid in his infirmary soon," he says, voice thundering in the tense quiet of the corridor. He admires the cracks in his knuckles with a sense of half-hearted pride. They serve reminders both good and bad to earlier's events; good because he got to punch terrible people, and bad because he had to in the first place.

 

"JARVIS," the sharpshooter says decidedly to the ceiling, "tell Tony to come to the infirmary, please?"

 

In his soft British intone, the AU obliges. "Certainly, Mr. Barton."

 

Sam isn't sure how Tony will react to the information, but he's confident it will mostly be positive. The billionaire will probably be insistent on researching Peter as he has done to everyone who has stepped into his Tower and he might needlessly complain (because that's what he does best, of course), but there's no way even someone as casually uptight as Tony Stark will deny the kid of the help he needs.

 

He just isn't that kind of person.

 

Besides, Bruce had been more than happy to help upon seeing Peter's bruised face and blood-stained hair, and he hadn't even asked questions — if Tony were to object to the treatment, Bruce would be one of those gently persistent people who are able to convince him otherwise. Most likely with words along the line of, 'it's not like you can't afford it!'.

 

Just then, the door to the infirmary opens, and Bruce steps outside with a beaming grin on his face; which Sam has learned, over the time he's been living in the same building as the intelligent doctor, usually means that everything is going well. His whole body sags in immediate relief, exhaustion settling instead of worry. "What's the news, doc?" he asks raggedly.

 

"It's good," Bruce says, rocking on the balls of his feet. "No telling brain damage to report, though we’ll know for certain when he’s up. Likely a bit of a concussion, but it shouldn’t be anything he can’t handle. No broken bones, though his ribs are a bit on the bruised side. He'll be fine in no time as long as he doesn't move too much and jar his gashes."

 

"The blood on the back of his head?" Clint prompts anxiously.

 

"Just a small cut, Clint. Head wounds bleed a lot."

 

The archer seems to watch Bruce's face for any lie for a good minute, but the doctor's soft smile is as honest as it always has been, and so he falls back into his seat with a sigh of relief so dramatic that Sam collects the energy to giggle. "Oh, thank the Lord," he breathes, grinning at the ceiling as if he just won a marathon. "I've been worrying for so long that I can't imagine what it's like to not worry."

 

"It's good," Bruce says again as he takes a seat beside Clint, reclining back a little and stripping his hands of his blue medical gloves. Then his expression changes to one of the slightest confusion, the smile remaining. "In fact, it's better than good. Some of the bruises are starting to fade around the edges already..."

 

"That's fast," Sam comments. The 'almost too fast' is an unspoken truth.

 

"Yes, strangely so," Bruce agrees apprehensively. "You can see him once JARVIS tells me he's awake. I don't think he'll appreciate being woken up with the headache he's going to be nursing."

 

Sam puffs out his cheeks. He can only imagine what the kid'll wake up to; with that many blows to the head, there's going to be some serious backlash. Something tells him that there's going to be quite a few headache pills gone after all of this is over. "I'm certainly not envious of him," he says, chuckling halfheartedly.

 

Just then, the elevator at the end of the corridor opens, and Tony Stark steps out with a spring in his step and a hot paper cup of coffee in his hand. The sweats and hoodie he's wearing are covered in oil and some sort of unknown white powder (if he weren't tired as anything, Sam would've made a cocaine joke of it), suggesting that he's been working on some project again — and his bitter expression means that he isn't glad to be interrupted.

 

"JARVIS told me that Clint is in the infirmary," he states, clearly unpleased, "and that he needed me up there. Is it really so important that I had to stop halfway through my work to come and see what you idiots did this time?"

 

The archer looks scarcely guilty, but then his expression hardens. "Yes, Tony, it is important. And I'm not the patient. Not this time."

 

Tony's expression changes for the briefest second and Sam takes the chance accordingly. He clears his throat to gain attention to himself. "Clint and I have this, uh, friend. We were getting breakfast muffins — because you gave me food poisoning last time I ate something you cooked — and went over to give him an extra one..." He trails off, looking to Clint for help.

 

"And he was getting beat on. So we helped him." Clint pauses, rolling his tongue in his mouth as he thinks. Then he adds, "But we got there a little late and he's a bit banged up, so we took him here."

 

"First of all, the cooking thing offended me," Tony begins. Then he turns to look Clint in the eye, gaze a threshold of unreadable emotion. "So, I take it that friend knows you're Avengers?"

 

From where'd been sitting quietly, Bruce snorts. "Who doesn't?"

 

Tony, too, snorts. "What was I thinking? Of course he doesn't." Then his expression melts into one of swelling pride; a turn which mildly surprises Sam, because it isn't often that the billionaire is proud of anything save for his own work. He steps forward to clap Clint and Sam on their shoulders. "I'm proud of you two for looking after this friend of yours. What's his name, then?"

 

"Peter," Sam supplies.

 

He hesitates to add anything more; partly because he feels uncomfortable disclosing information of someone else, but mostly because he doesn't know much more himself. Now that he thinks about it, the only thing he really knows of Peter is his name and that he likes his cheeseburgers without any pickles. Everything else hasn't really been deemed important until now.

 

When he looks over to Clint, he observes that the marksman looks just as conflicted as he feels. He would have thought that he'd have more on the kid since he's known him a little longer, but, if his expression is anything to judge by, he doesn't know much more than Sam does.

 

Peter is one big mystery, and now Sam is curious enough to crack it.

 

"... is that all?" Tony prompts carefully. "No last name?"

 

Suddenly all too aware of just how little he knows, Sam awkwardly rubs the back of his neck. "Not that we know of," he confirms eventually, upon realizing that Clint isn't going to do so. "He's a little... uh, quiet about himself. Actually, he's a little quiet in general. Uh."

 

Tony's eyes narrow and his head tilts a certain way. "That isn't suspicious at all," he says, suspiciously.

 

"He's not bad, Tony," Clint inputs, hurrying to recover Peter's reputation in the eyes of the billionaire. It's so very unlike Clint to behave in such a desperate sort of manner that Sam finds himself wondering whether he's been replaced by a completely different person; it seems that ensuring Peter's well-being has thrown his entire character on a loop. "Honest to God, he's a good kid."

 

"Kid?" Tony repeats.

 

It's now that Bruce chooses to speak again from where he's slouching oddly in a chair, scrolling through something on his phone. "He's really young, Tony. My guess is around fifteen or sixteen — couldn't be more than eighteen by the size of him. Though that could just be the malnutrition..." He trails off distractedly, showing particular interest to something on his screen.

 

"Malnutrition? Kid?" Tony repeats again, worriedly taking a sip of his coffee. He looks entirely conflicted now, like he isn't sure what to do about the situation - an expression not common on the billionaire's usual intelligent composure. "If you two kidnapped a fucking kid from his fucking parents, I swear to God..."

 

Clint stammers, "the thing is about this kid is that he's, uh, a little homeless," and offers Tony the sweetest shit-eating grin he can manage in his half-exhaustive state - which, to be completely honest, looks more like a ragged grimace than anything else.

 

The billionaire goes quiet for all of two minutes. Not a lot of anything about Tony Stark can scare Sam (he's half the size of him, for fuck's sake), but if there's one thing that does, he cannot deny that his silence shakes him to the core. It's not often that the man is silent, even as he thinks; he's always filling up the room with his constant stream of chatter, whether he's talking to a teammate, Pepper, an intern in his public labs downstairs, or even just the loyal AI in his ceiling.

 

It's never particularly annoying, though. His sort of chatter is the kind that can either engage people into conversation or just melt into comfortable background noise and make the room just that tiniest bit less tense; his talkative nature is sometimes what keeps the team from falling apart after certain events and he doesn't even realise it most of the time.

 

Regarding this, his silence is strange and entirely unreadable. Sam can't latch onto what's running through his mind, because he usually says it all anyway. Part of him is anxious that he'll decide Peter isn't worth the quality medical care he has in the Tower; that he'll heartlessly cast the kid aside onto the street.

 

(Which definitely won't happen, he tells himself.)

 

It's a few minutes before the billionaire eventually speaks again. His eyes are knowing and bright. "If I'm allowing a homeless kid in my infirmary, I'm going to need to know all the deets. Can't do a lot of research with just his name, but I'll manage. You said it was Peter, right?"

 

"Yup," Sam confirms, popping the 'p'. It's entirely expected and understandable that Tony'll want to look up this kid; he's sure that Peter wouldn't feel the same, but he doesn't have a choice in the option anymore.

 

The billionaire gives Sam his most charming smile and a thumbs-up (that makes him feel far more validated than it should, but he keeps it to himself) before he spins on his heel like he's billowing a cape and strides back to the elevator he came in on. "I'll be back!" he calls over his shoulder. "JARVIS, tell me when he wakes up?"

 

"Of course, Sir."

 

Clint and Sam promptly highfive.

 

 

.

 

 

"Mr. Barton, Dr. Banner has asked me to inform you that Peter is awake. Would you like me to tell him that you will come when you have eaten your cereal?"

 

At the sudden appearance of JARVIS' voice, Clint's hand flinches and sends milk violently flying across the counter-top. "Aw, shit," he curses under his breath, watching the milk puddle across the surface and drip onto the floor. He casts a glare to an unparticular spot in the ceiling. "Way to scare the shit out of me, J."

 

JARVIS replies, "I apologize."

 

He discards his bowl of half-soggy cereal and unused spoon in the sink and rolls the sleeves of his worn green sweater past his elbows. The milk is still dripping onto the floor from the counter and the thought of having to clean it up himself releases an internal groan that shudders through his body. "Get someone to clear this up?" he says as he hardheartedly dabs at the puddle with a dirty washcloth.

 

"Of course. I will send one of Sir's personal cleaners." The AI pauses for only a moment, and then says, in a tone of insistence, "Dr. Banner tells me you must come to the infirmary immediately."

 

And that's when Clint finally registers it; Peter is awake.

 

The whole world seems to stop. The archer, forgetting about the spillage entirely, drops the washcloth onto the floor and nearly slips over on it trying to rush to the nearest elevator. JARVIS helpfully opens the doors and takes him up to the sixteenth-floor infirmary -- where they took Peter, because it's the newest one Tony has installed and Peter deserves only the best -- without having to be told.

 

(And people wonder why AIs are so nice to have around.)

 

When he gets there, Sam steps out of the elevator at the end of the other end of the corridor at the same time as he steps out of his own. The man looks to be both happy and extremely nervous all at once — no doubt that Clint's expression looks very much similar — and his eyes are still somewhat grey with the remnants of sleep. He must've taken a nap.

 

They both stop outside of the infirmary, sharing a look. "Why are you nervous?" Sam asks.

 

Clint's eyes narrow comically. "I could ask you the same thing," he counters. There's something particularly nerve-wracking about heading into anything medical and Clint has never been able to understand it — he doesn't even have a medical phobia or anything.

 

"It's just Peter," Sam says next, turning back to face the door and releasing his bodily tension with an audible exhale. As if hyping himself up (or as if to rid of excess energy, which is the more likely reason), he briefly jumps up and down on the spot. "Just Peter and Bruce. Really, I don't know why I'm nervous."

 

"Neither do I," Clint answers, and opens the door before he loses the nerve to.

 

It's quiet inside. Dauntingly so, really; even to Clint's impaired hearing, every footfall seems to cut through the air like a warm knife through butter. There isn't even the soft, constant beeping of the heart monitor or the gentle whirr of an oxygen machine to break the tension.

 

Bruce is sitting on a swivel chair and signing papers, softly humming a nameless under his breath as his pen flies across the page. He's not in his lab coat anymore, but instead in a t-shirt and old black jeans, his hair akin to a bird's nest. The blue medical gloves are discarded in the bin under his desk and he doesn't seem to be paying mind to the patient in the bed at all.

 

Said patient's face lights up when Clint and Sam shuffle into the room and he nearly bursts forward on the bed with the rustle of bed sheets. He's looking a lot better than he did earlier; his hair is damp from water instead of blood, and there are little stetri-strips holding the worst of the gashes on his head closed. The blood that had previously been dripping down his face is cleaned off and his skin, where there aren't bruises, isn't so pale anymore.

 

Clint comes to realise that whatever magic Bruce performed has worked, and a smile spreads across his face.

 

"Hey, kid!" Sam grins, parking himself on the side of Peter's bed. "How're you feeling? That head of yours hurting?"

 

The archer sits on the opposite side of the bed, crossing his legs across the bedsheets. The kid looks positively beaming at their presence and it causes something warm to settle within Clint's chest. "Hey, Pete," he greets, his tone the picture of kindness. He's careful to not let any sort of pity soak through into his voice. "Bruce been treating you good?"

 

Peter shoots a certain look at the doctor's back. "He called me a squirt," he huffs.

 

Bruce doesn't turn to look at them, but Clint can see him smiling down at the paper he's signing. "I did not," he claims, though his somewhat guilty tone suggests otherwise.

 

The sound of Sam's laughter seems to melt the heavy tension away like sand through his hands. For that, Clint is glad; Peter seems to be getting more and more comfortable as time passes despite his predicament. Clint would have thought that he'd be a little more scared to wake up in an unfamiliar environment with someone he hardly knows such as Bruce.

 

Not to say that he's complaining, though — no, Clint is over the moon that Peter feels comfortable around them. Part of him thinks that he's more relaxed with Bruce around because, without his lab coat and latex gloves, he looks less like a doctor and more like a guy that just wants to help. Knowing him, the knowledgeable ass probably took it all off just for that reason.

 

Clint regards Peter as he attentively listens to whatever story Sam is telling him. The bruises and gashes on his face look a lot better — strangely so, for only a couple of hours could have passed since he got them in the first place — but they're still horrifically dark and just as unsettling as they'd been when he first saw them.

 

Boy, does Clint hate people who beat on kids.

 

The lighting of the infirmary, as it is in every medical facility, it seems, is harsh and coloured an ugly white, casting shadows across Peter's skin and defining just how skinny he really is. Clint can see his collarbones and his cheekbones and how his jaw is too sharp where it should be more of a soft slope. He'd never noticed it much before, but now every detail just screams at him for attention.

 

Nevertheless, the bruises and the malnutrition don't matter as much as Peter's happiness does right at this moment. His tawny hair is starting to go from dry to adorably fluffy and the corners of his pale pink lips are upturned in a soft smile, his scrawny body leaning forward in anticipation as Sam's drawn-out story eventually comes to an end.

 

"Amazing," he whispers, still watching Sam with wonder in his eyes.

 

Sam's eyes scrunch up when he smiles. "You're adorable, did you know that?"

 

At this, red dusts along Peter's cheeks, and he rubs at the back of his neck. Clint feels warmth spread across his chest. "The most adorable," he confirms.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

"G'morning, Pete."

 

Clint draws open the curtains and light floods into the infirmary, effectively blinding Peter as he tries to make sense of what's going on. Groaning, he lets his head fall back into his pillow limply and squeezes his eyes shut against the glare of the rising sun outside.

 

Across the room, Clint is laughing. "Did I blind you? Sorry," he chuckles, something somewhat fond in his sleepy voice, the bed dipping to his weight as he perches on it. "Bruce told me that he needs to check your ribs, but he thinks you should be okay to move more now that you've had a decent sleep through the night. Must feel great to be sleeping on a bed and not on a wall, huh?"

 

"Mmf," Peter confirms into the pillow.

 

Indeed, sleeping through the night on this bed has been pure heaven — even if it's just a medical bed and not a 'proper' one, it's been absolutely paradise compared to what he's used to. After so long of sleeping against walls and on the floor and occasionally on a bench, his whole body is singing to be on a proper bed with a mattress and pillows (more than one!) and a duvet.

 

Not to mention the fact that he hasn't slept as good as he did last night for a long, long time — he hasn't had a full night's sleep ever since he was kicked out of May's apartment. He's used to waking up exhausted out of his mind and with an ache all over that lasts for weeks, but today he feels fresh and comfortable as ever.

 

(It's going to be hard to get him to get up anytime soon.)

 

"Thought so," Clint murmurs, a smile evident in his voice.

 

Peter cracks open an eye to regard the archer. He must have only woken up a little while ago, because his blond hair is mussed up and he's still wearing old black sweatpants and a t-shirt. It's odd to see an Avenger — an assassin who's never missed a shot, who's killed countless without so much as batting an eyelid — looking so nonchalant and human. It's frighteningly domestic.

 

Realizing that Peter's eyes are open, Clint pokes his tongue out in the manner of a child. "Hello, sleeping beauty," he teases, tilting his head to the left and adjusting his seat. "You ready for Banner to come and check you?"

 

Peter nods, not finding it in himself to talk just yet.

 

The archer doesn't mention his silence, nor does he push him to answer verbally; just nods and smiles softly, as if to let him know that he understands. He says to the ceiling, "JARVIS, could you get Bruce to come up to the infirmary? He'll know which room and floor."

 

"Certainly, Mr. Barton."

 

While Peter didn't expect Clint to ask the mysterious voice in the ceiling instead of getting the doctor himself, he definitely isn't surprised to realize that Tony Stark has an AI (what else could it be?). Most likely, the most intelligent one created in the world; because everyone knows Mr. Stark has both the money and the brains to build it. He feels honoured just to hear it.

 

Clint must notice him eyeing the ceiling, because he claps a large hand on his shoulder and says, "that was Tony's AI. His name is JARVIS." His forehead creases and his brows furrow. "No one knows where the speakers are. I'm pretty sure even Tony forgot where he put them."

 

"It is nice to meet you," JARVIS greets.

 

Peter visibly flinches and Clint grins, shrugging. "He's always listening," he mentions.

 

The AI says, "that I am."

 

There's something incredible about the emotion the AI conveys despite it being entirely — as far as Peter knows, anyway — artificial. To Peter, it really highlights just how intelligent Mr. Stark really is. Even the smartest scientists in the world couldn't make anything as complex and as fantastic as him and whoever he works with can. And Peter is in the same building as him!

 

Part of him wishes he could do something like that someday.

 

While he's living out on the streets, there's never a moment where what he'll do in the future — once he's turned eighteen and old enough to be hired by employers (because no one hires underage homeless kids out of pity as they do in the movies. Unless it's for drug runs, of course) — ever crossed his mind. He's always so focused on where he's going to sleep and what he's going to eat that he hardly thinks of anything else.

 

He isn't sure how long he's going to stay in the Avenger's Tower; whether he'll be asked to leave, or whether they'll somehow convince Aunt May to take him back; but he's just glad that, for the first time ever since the first night he spent sleeping on a sidewalk, he doesn't have to think about all of that above all else.

 

It's just so refreshing.

 

The door to the infirmary opens, and Bruce's familiar smiling face steps in with a clipboard in hand. Just like yesterday, he isn't wearing his white lab coat — just a pair of jeans and a worn, grey sweater — and his hair is just as mussed up as Clint's is. "You're looking better, Pete. Good sleep?" he begins, his manner and smile as friendly and welcoming as ever.

 

"Yeah," Peter responds, quieter than he could have hoped.

 

"That's good." The tone of Bruce’s voice doesn't so much as waver, but he can tell by the way his eyes light up that he is happy to hear Peter speak. "I'm going to check on your ribs, yeah? Just to see how the bruising is healing. If it's still bad, I might have to put some more of that cream on it. Sounds good?"

 

"Sounds good," Peter repeats.

 

Clint, now moving from the bed, collapses into Bruce's swivel chair and lets it slowly drift across the room. He doesn't look as if he's going to be leaving the room anytime soon, just as if he's happy to wait until the doctor is done, and Peter is glad for his comforting presence. Although he's aware that Bruce isn't going to harm him, he feels a little safer with someone he knows around.

 

Which bring him to wonder where Sam is, because he's come to grow attached to attached to the guy and he's suddenly becoming very much aware of the lack of his presence. He opens his mouth to retaliate the query, but Clint, who seems to have adopted mind-reading abilities while seated on Bruce's chair, says, "Sam is still sleeping. "That man could sleep for a year and still be tired when he wakes up..."

 

"That's impossible," Bruce comments absently, his attention divided. "Pete, would you mind lifting your shirt?"

 

Clint bites his hand around his grin. "That... sounds disturbing out of context."

 

At this, Bruce's expression sours, though light-hearted humour remains in the corners of his coffee eyes. "You're going to destroy his precious, precious innocence," he says accusatorily, and then, turning to Peter: "let me check your bruises before Clint ruins you."

 

Having done this yesterday for Bruce, Peter obliges without hesitation. The shirt is one of Sam's; a black long-sleeve that's loose enough to not bother his bruises too much and so much more comfortable than the ratty t-shirt he's been used to wearing all the time. It's a little massive on his thinner frame, but it's better than having to wear his old shirt, so he's not complaining.

 

The doctor's fingers fly expertly over the bruises on his ribs. They haven't been bandaged, for Bruce had been confident that they would do little more than make him sweat, and they don't ache as much as they did yesterday.

 

"They're looking good..." Bruce's brows dip, "...the bruises are fading around the edges already..."

 

A dash of anxiety races through Peter's stomach. They know. They know about the enhanced healing.

 

Peter's always been grateful for his enhanced healing for keeping his mind at ease, even through the malnutrition and sleep-deprivation — but this is one of those rare moments that he wishes it simply didn't exist. Even if he tries his hardest to keep it from them, chances are that they'll find out anyway (because they're the Avengers, and it always seems to be the way these things work).

 

He doesn't want to necessarily keep it from them, so to say, but he can't even think of a situation where he can admit his previous second identity without it seeming awkward and forced. Spiderman hasn't been part of him ever since he got kicked out of—

 

don't think about her—

 

—ever since he lost the suit. And, as easy as it sounds to suddenly think of Spiderman as part of him, it really doesn't feel so simple. Not yet.

 

Bruce's finger prods at an especially dark bruise, sending bursts of muted pain up his torso and to his chest. The sensation makes Peter's face tighten into a slight grimace and he shifts, subconsciously attempting to ease the pain. "Did that hurt as much as it did before? Do you think you could move with less pain?" the doctor questions, regarding him with a face of somewhat parental concern.

 

He wriggles around, testing his limits as best he can while lying in the dingy infirmary bed. There's little more than a throb when sits up, but a sharp twinge when he tries to twist his torso. "I think so," he replies, putting a tentative hand on his stomach where the pain had been the most severe. "just when I..."

 

"Twist?" Bruce thoughtfully taps a finger against his chin. "That's normal."

 

Slouching awkwardly in the doctor's swivel chair, Clint is beginning to grow fidgety. "You two want any breakfast when you're done? Sam said he's going to make some of them kickass pancakes," he says.

 

"He said that?" Bruce asks, turning away from Peter, who takes the liberty of pulling his shirt back down.

 

"No, but he will when I tell him he said it."

 

The conversation goes on, but Peter doesn't pay particular attention to what they're talking about. The only thing on his mind right now is breakfast — just the thought of it makes his stomach complain. He can't remember the last time he ate something that wasn't charity offers from old women (or Clint and Sam, but they don't count because he likes them) or terrible street food.

 

But the thing that warms his heart isn't the thought of eating a decent meal with a roof over his head for the first time in ages; it's the fact that they offered breakfast to him in the first place. And they didn't make a massive deal about it.

 

(Makes him feel like he's wanted, y'know?)

 

The sharp movement of Clint standing from the swivel chair catches the corner of Peter's sensitive eyesight. "I'm going to go wake Sam up now, or I'm positive he'll melt into the mattress," the archer announces with a finger placed dramatically in the air. He pauses to ruffle Peter's hair on his way to the door.

 

"You do that!" Bruce calls after him, just as his body disappears through the threshold and the door is left ajar behind him. Peter listens to his footsteps travel all the way down the corridor and the sound of what can only be an elevator door rolling open.

 

Damn enhanced hearing.

 

When Clint's movements are out of his (extensive) audible range, Peter looks back over to Bruce, who is scrolling on what he assumes is the newest model of the infamous StarkPad and furrowing his brows every so often as he reads. Something anxious places itself within Peter's stomach. "What is it?" he inquires, before he can take control of his immediate curiosity.

 

The doctor looks very conflicted when he looks up to meet his gaze, and Peter almost regrets asking. "It's... it's nothing," he stammers, sounding startlingly uncharacteristic for someone such as Dr. Banner. "Let's go downstairs and meet the others, yeah?"

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

Peter didn't realize what 'meeting the others' detailed until he strolled into the kitchen of the Avenger's Tower.

 

He isn't sure what he expected this situation to be like, but it sure wasn't as domestic and as nonchalant as it is turning out to be.

 

For starters, Tony Stark — Tony fucking Stark, who is famously one of the most intelligent man on the face of this plant and who he's looked up to for as long as he can remember — is fucking standing three meters away from him, pouring himself a mug of coffee in a pair of black sweats and a hoodie that has frayed edges on both sleeves.

 

Then there's Thor — a literal God with the power to control lightning itself, may he add — leaning on the island counter in a t-shirt that says 'the wearer of this shirt is no thordinary man', while drumming a nameless tune onto the surface with his fingers. And his hammer is sitting next to his (rather sizeable) mug of coffee, like it's a (thor)dinary houseplant instead of a literal weapon of mass destruction.

 

Inside, his entire mind melts into bubbling putty, because he's standing in the same room as fucking Tony Stark and Thor, and they're both in their fucking pyjamas , but in reality he just stands and half-smiles at Thor when he looks his way. He's been getting better at repressing his emotions lately.

 

Besides, having a nerdgasm in front of the fucking Avengers would be one of the most embarrassing moments of his life. He'd never be able to live it down.

 

"A child?" the God says, cocking a brow.

 

Behind Peter, Bruce moves to sit down opposite Thor. "He's a friend of Clint and Sam's," he states simply. "He's going to eat pancakes with us."

 

"We're having pancakes?" Tony spins dramatically on his heels, spilling half of his mug on the floor in the process. Then his eyes snap up to where Peter remains lingering awkwardly on the threshold and his expression wavers by a mere fraction. "You're awake! And you're so small."

 

"Indeed!" Thor agrees, his voice booming throughout the kitchen. Up close, he isn't as intimidating as he seems; but that may be because he's wearing an awful pun on his shirt and a pair of sweatpants instead of his armour and cape. There isn't a lot to be intimidated about when you look at him. He has kind, curious eyes and has that kind of air around him that radiates warmth and loyalty.

 

It makes him seem strangely humanized compared to how he's represented in the media - and that's an odd thought in Peter's perspective, because he technically isn't human at all.

 

Meanwhile, Tony Stark doesn't radiate the same kind of energy; he's got the kind of look on his face that makes you feel as if he's constantly analysing you; constantly judging you; watching your every move and calculating your way of doing everything. Just that piercing gaze alone makes Peter feel like the man is staring into his soul and discovering every secret.

 

Every secret.

 

Peter automatically shrinks back at the attention, but a familiar hand clapping onto his shoulder brings him back. "Good morning, Pete," Sam says jovially. His sudden appearance is a breath of fresh air for Peter's growing anxiety. "This is Peter, by the way. He's my friend, so don't traumatize him by being yourself."

 

"Morning," Peter says, waving shyly.

 

"Hello, Peter," Tony says, leaning on the counter, his head falling to the side as the billionaire regards him.

 

Sam seems to notice Peter's discomfort, because he gives Peter that certain smile he uses when he's trying to reassure someone. He steers Peter into the stool beside Bruce and then moves to put on the navy blue apron (that reads 'don't kiss the chef, please') hanging on the back of the kitchen door. "What do you feel up to: plain or chocolate chip?"

 

"Plain,” Bruce and Thor say in unison.

 

"Chocolate chip, you dumb fucks," Tony counters incredulously.

 

If looks could kill, Tony would be headless on the floor, because Sam can really glare when he wants to. "There are kids in the room, Stark," he snaps. Then, turning to Bruce and Thor waiting patiently on the island counter, "sorry, you two, but I was actually asking Peter. What is it, Pete? Plain or chocolate chip?"

 

He's never had a favourite and he couldn't care less about what he has either way, but Thor looks close to crying and Bruce has been so fucking kind to him that he says 'plain' anyway. Tony makes a dramatic sigh and his whole body slumps into the counter. "Your kid has a taste nearly as bad as yours, Sammy," he grumbles in the manner of a bitter old man.

 

"Plain it is!" Sam ignores Tony entirely.

 

"Plain?" Clint's voice says, and the owner of said voice follows with a spring in his step and brandishing a spatula as if it were his bow. "I'm going to guess that Tony isn't happy about that choice."

 

The billionaire doesn't say anything; just glowers at Sam and takes an ominous sip of his coffee.

 

Clint promptly hands the spatula to Sam, who busies himself with finding the pancake mix in the cupboards above the stove. "Hey, kid," the archer says as he slides into the seat next to Peter and fondly ruffles his hair. He looks up to glance at Thor, who is watching their interaction with mild interest. "I see you've already met a couple of these asses—“

 

"Language," Sam warns.

 

"God, you're spending too much time with Capsicle," Tony snickers, putting his mug down. As if a switch has been flicked, his previously bitter expression melts into a more relaxed, friendly one. "Where is everyone, anyway? I want to see their reaction when they see we have a kid living in the building. I bet Cap'll have a stroke!"

 

Peter may love the Avengers, but he doesn't think he can handle meeting them all at once. Even just meeting two of them just this morning has been a little close to the overwhelming side for him and they haven't even gotten to asking him questions about why he's here and who beat him up and why he got beat in the first place and who his parents are yet.

 

(Plus, he's positive that he'll end up having the biggest nerdgasm of his life if they all walked into the kitchen right now. If he wants to be cool with the Avengers, he has to be cool in the first place.)

 

"They're getting breakfast muffins because they think you're cooking," Thor says, drumming his fingers against the handle of his hammer.

 

Tony looks so genuinely heartbroken that Peter can't swallow his smile. "Is my cooking that bad?"

 

"Yeah." Clint casts Tony a glance of faux-sympathy. "Sorry to break it to you, but no one else likes their toast charred until it looks like the embers on a fireplace. Or their sausages basically raw. I don't understand how you can eat that and not die."

 

There's a moment where Tony — for what Peter assumes is the first time in his life, because he's a literal fucking genius — looks somewhat clueless, before his smug expression returns. "It's called... eating so much junk that your body becomes immune to it. AKA, science."

 

"That's not science," Sam declares, as he pours pancake mix into the pan with a steady hand. It sizzles and pops as it makes contact with the melted butter smothering the inside of the hot pan and a cloud of the most beautiful smell — absolute heaven to Peter's nose — floats throughout the kitchen. "That's just plain freaky. How have you not gotten food poisoning yet?"

 

"I'm going to throw my coffee at your head," the billionaire deadpans, picking up his mug.

 

"Do it, I dare you," Sam challenges fearlessly. He stops prodding at his pancake in the pan to point the spatula at Tony's head.

 

(And that's the moment that Peter realizes that he doesn't want to leave the Avengers Tower.)

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

It's 3:28 in the morning, but the Avenger's Tower remains awake.

 

For the most part, anyway — as far as Clint is aware, Thor is dealing with matters elsewhere for the day and Peter is soundly asleep in his bed in the sixteenth-floor infirmary. He's only four floors above the quiet laboratory where the rest of the Tower's residents are gathered, sleepy and eating a fresh (and too large) batch of Bucky's infamous peanut butter cookies ("because we all need cookies to function at this time of the day").

 

The only person who's not close to falling asleep is Tony. Part of Clint wonders whether it's because the man doesn't sleep in the first place. He's perching on the end of a counter with a tablet in his hands and a cookie between his teeth, the arc reactor's blue glow soft in the dim lighting of the room. He yawns every so often, yet that's the only sign of fatigue he shows.

 

Meanwhile, Steve and Bucky are lying haphazardly on the worn leather sofa tucked in a corner of the lab. Clint is rather amused to note that Steve is starting to doze off against his friend's shoulder and Bucky seems rather content to just sit and run his metal hand through his hair — God, if only he had his camera, because it's not often you see the resident supersoldier duo become so soft.

 

Sam is sitting on a stool right next to where Bucky left the tray of cookies, half-asleep against his hand but somehow still chewing on his fourth cookie. Bruce is seated just as tiredly beside him; which is somewhat uncharacteristic to Clint, because Bruce seems to have developed Tony's terrible habit of not sleeping for days at a time and is therefore just as immune to exhaustion.

 

Even Natasha — the queen of remaining frighteningly professional all the fucking time — is looking a little off-balance, sitting on the floor against the cabinet beside the sofa with her eyes closed and her lips open by a mere fraction. Again, Clint is kicking himself for not bringing his camera, because there is so much amazing blackmail material in the room right now.

 

Clint himself is lying on the floor, hands behind his head and his legs splayed out. There's nothing to look at on the ceiling but that's where his eyes are anyway, for lack of better entertainment. By the time he finally glances away, he's aimlessly counted 63 ceiling tiles.

 

"Remind us why we're in here?" Steve's voice cuts into the tsunami of comfortable silence in the air.

 

The archer on the floor awkwardly moves his head to look at the supersolider. He's not much more awake than he had been before, but at least he's now sitting up and not leaning on Bucky (who doesn't look too happy about the loss of his best friend's contact).

 

Tony looks up from his tablet for a brief moment of thought. "Because JARVIS asked you to be here," he answers eventually.

 

"No, you asked JARVIS to ask us to be here," Sam corrects him around a mouthful of cookie.

 

The corners of Tony's lip turn, like they always do when he's even slightly amused. "That's true. I actually did that for a reason, but I got distracted..." he trails off without seeming to realize that he did so and continues to stare at his tablet. Then, suddenly snapping his head to look at Sam in the eyes, "you should lay off the cookies, Wilson. Might have to adjust that suit if you're not careful."

 

"Are you fat-shaming me?"

 

Next to Sam, Bruce takes another cookie and pops the whole thing in his mouth. "I don't have to worry about getting fat because I'm already fat," he retorts.

 

Clint snorts. From the cabinet, Natasha releases an unpleased groan. "Tell us why we're here so we can go to sleep, Stark."

 

"Oh!" As if a switch has been flicked, Tony seems to brighten up just a fraction more. "Sorry. I keep getting distracted by..." The billionare puts down the tablet on the counter next to him, swinging his legs like an excited schoolgirl. "I did some research about that Peter kid."

 

"You mean the 'homeless charity case' that Clint and Sam took pity on?" Steve murmurs, expression screaming uncertaincy. There's nothing particularily venemous in his voice, but Clint can tell by the way his fingers twitch that he doesn't like the sound of Peter very much. And he hasn't even met the kid yet.

 

"Why can I hear the quotations around 'homeless charity case'?" Bruce mumbles. It goes ignored for the most part.

 

On its way to take another cookie, Sam's extended hand pauses. His eyes latch onto Bucky so fearlessly that even Clint can feel the chills. "He's not a charity case, Ice Pop. He got hurt, and we did the right thing and helped him as best we could."

 

"Helped him get into the Tower," Steve counters. Bucky's metal hand wraps around his arm, but the supersolider discards the contact wordlessly and stands up from the sofa. "We just gave this kid a free pass into the Tower, just like that. Have you not considered that this could be a plot to get information? That some higher power in control of this kid noticed your relationship with him and used it to get into the Tower?"

 

"That's ridiculous," Sam claims immediately.

 

Steve's face tightens. "But it's very possible."

 

"Both of you have good points," Tony says, cutting off Steve just as he opens his mouth with an argument on his tongue, "but you interrupted me. We can focus on that later. As I was saying, I did some research on the kid, and the results I got are... interesting, so to say."

 

This gains everyone's attention. Steve sits back down and Clint stands up, moving to take a seat beside Sam (mostly to dig into the tray of steaming cookies, but also because he wants to pay attention). Even Bruce perks up and entirely discards the cookie he was about to eat whole in favour of listening to the billionare.

 

"I started on missing kid reports, and there's been zero. Well — on our Peter, anyway. Then I checked local school archives, which is when I found..." Tony picks up the tablet and drags at the screen, which moves the information to the holographic touchscreens next to him. It displays on numerous screens around the room so that everyone can see the picture. "Peter's school record."

 

Indeed, Clint could see a lot. He went to Midtown High. His last name is Parker. He's fifteen - too fucking young. He's really, really smart, but Clint already knows that. The photo of him is somewhat embarrassing (but all school photos seem to be, so it's not laughable). And he was pulled out of academics around a year ago, the details of where he lived and his guardian's contact number with it.

 

Interesting.

 

"Do they always take the guardian's information out when they move from that school?" Bucky asks sleepily, squinting at the hologram. Next to him, Steve is sitting up and leaning on his knees, tension evident in his body language as he reads the report.

 

"I think it's part of the regulations," Bruce answers slowly. "I'm... I'm too tired to remember."

 

"Aw." Like she's looking at a puppy, Natasha softly smiles at the photo. "He's adorable. Is he more adorable in person?"

 

Clint glances at the grainy picture some more — he looks visibily healthier and happier than the Peter he got to know, with eyes that are much brighter and a face that isn't too skinny and goofy grin that must've brightened every room he whipped it out in. "Maybe less... y'know, healthy, but definitely more adorable. School photos don't do anyone good."

 

"I looked like a disgruntled egg in all mine," Sam comments.

 

"Nothing's changed, then," Clint bites back so fast that he could call it a reflex. The cheeky remark earns him a cookie to the head and snatches it out of the air with his teeth like a hungry vulture.

 

"You guys say I'm distracted, and yet..." Tony shakes his head, seeming disappointed despite the amused smile touching at his lips. "Anyway. From that, I indefinitely concluded that he's been homeless for about a year, which is essentially useless information to me. But, from that pointless conclusion, I discovered a follow-up realization that makes me a little more than upset."

 

If the tension in the room wasn't high before, it certainly is getting up there now. Sam shares a somewhat concerned look with Clint and Bruce's hands tighten in his lap. Natasha perches on the cabinet instead of against it with her teeth worrying her lip; a tell-tale sign that she's in thought. The sleepy supersoldier duo are both sitting up now — quite literally on the edge of their seats.

 

Tony seems to find the silence unnerving, because Clint can see his anxiety spiking very slightly even from the distance he's sitting from the billionare. To ease his nerves, the archer gently prompts, "come on, Tony."

 

"Right — sorry. I realized that the kid must have been kicked out on the streets by his guardian, instead of him running off like I assumed he did when I was first informed he came to the Tower. Which means that the kid really does have nowhere to go."

 

"How do you know?" Steve challenges.

 

"If the kid had run on his own terms, he wouldn't have taken the time to pull himself out of the school, would he? Unless the kid ran and the guardian pulled his details out afterwards instead of filing a missing persons report, which is unlikely..." The billionare's usual smug demeanour is noticeably more unsettled. "And, if he had somewhere to go, he'd have gone there way before Clint met him."

 

Her calmer expression returning, Natasha tries, "and you're sure there's no missing persons record? Anything from the CPS?"

 

"If there was, I would know."

 

"What if you can't find everything, Tony? You don't know that you have nothing on him."

 

The billionare's gaze snaps up to meet the Captain's with a look so chilling that Clint can feel goosebumps roll up his arms and to his shoulders. "I have plenty on him, if you'd let me finish," he snaps, deterring Steve from asking anything more. He takes the school record off the holographic screens and scrolls through his tablet as he speaks, "there's a lot here that seems a bit personal."

 

"Personal enough to not tell us?" Natasha prompts.

 

Tony shrugs vaguely at the agent. "You guys remember Richard and Mary Parker? Those SHIELD agents who died during that Red Skull fiasco a while ago?" He looks up to regard his teammates, and Clint feels the harsh realization of reality stab into his heart like someone is twisting a dagger into his chest.

 

He didn't know them on a particularily personal level, but Clint was very much aware of the couple's existence and impact within the organization. They perhaps weren't as high up in the ranks as him and Natasha were and they therefore didn't cross paths very often, but they certainly were not at the bottom of the metophorical ladder either.

 

Captain Richard Parker, before he had been recruited by Nick Fury to the C.I.A, had been a decorated soldier of the United States Army Special Forces. Mary Fitzpatrick was the daughter of an O.S.S agent ("Wild Will" Fitzpatrick), attended the best of schools throughout the whole of her childhood and eventually became a C.I.A translator and data analyst.

 

They had met and fallen in love on the job — Clint knew that much. When Mary eventually became a field agent, it gave the couple an easy cover as a married couple while embarking on undercover missions. Their most interesting mission was one Clint was very much aware of, which is how he knows they existed in the first place; they were assigned to investigate Baroness Adelicia Von Krupp, who had captured an agent of a "friendly power".

 

(And this "friendly power" turned out to be the Wolverine, apparantly.)

 

The last Clint heard of Richard and Mary, the third Red Skull had taken down their plane while they were travelling to Sweden in order to turn in reportedly unknown details of a discovery, consequently murdering the couple. They were declared 'missing in action/presumed dead' as the two bodies in the crash scene were never officially identified.

 

He hadn't been sad at the time, but he's sad now.

 

"Yikes," Bruce murmurs, biting down on a cookie. "I don't know who they are, but Clint looks unsettled, so I am too."

 

The supersoldier duo are huddled up closer on the sofa again, looking considerably sobered up. "That's tough," Steve comments, letting Bucky play with his air. "Do you think the kid knew his parents were SHIELD?"

 

Clint digs into a cookie too, trying to distract himself before he starts to pity Peter for the loss of his parents. He didn't even realize Parker and Fitzpatrick had a kid together while on the force anyway (which really shows how little he paid attention to most of his fellow agents, really); he'd always assumed that they'd steer clear of the idea altogether, considering the amount of time they were away from home for their jobs.

 

"Maybe, maybe not." Tony shrugs and continues to read his tablet. "Says here that he was taken in by Ben and May Parker — his uncle and aunt, his only remaining family. And... his uncle died a little while later. Murdered in the street with a gunshot to the chest." The billionare's lips upturn at the corners. "... which means we know who had guardianship over Peter before he was kicked out."

 

The cookie in Clint's mouth is suddenly tasteless. This kid — this poor kid, who's only fifteen, who is incredibly smart and really doesn't deserve to be living out on the harsh the streets as he has been — has lost so many people close to him at such a young age.

 

And then the last person who he had kicked him out and left him on the streets. Just like that.

 

He could never imagine kicking his kids at home out.

 

"Chirst almighty," Sam mumbles, putting the last bite of his cookie in the bin under the counter.

 

The archer silently shares the feeling. He can't help but be nervous about facing Peter again, because he knows that all he'll think about is how Peter's parents are dead and how his uncle got shot and how his aunt kicked him out on the streets; because he knows that he'll end up pitying the kid, for things Peter doesn't know that they know. It all just feels so wrong.

 

Natasha stands up, moving to clap a hand on Clint's shoulder. "There's no point in pitying him. The only thing it will do is make it all worse for him." Her eyes meet his and, for once, her gaze is warm. "He probably got over it all ages ago."

 

"Yeah." Clint bites his lip. "I know."

 

 

.

 

 

Later on that day, Clint sees Tony and Bruce talking to each other in the laboratory as he walks past, and there's a news report of what he thinks is detailing Spiderman's absence on a holographic screen.

 

He chooses not to ask.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

"I'm going to dump this robot out the window."

 

Bucky makes his displeasure all too clear as he strides into the communal living room. Without even having to turn around, Sam can tell by the way that his feet fall heavy and fast on the ground that his sensitive temper is flaring.

 

Sam, who is sprawled out on the couch munching on a bowl of stale Doritos, mutes his episode of Friends and twists his neck to check on his teammate. Though there's flashing anger in his eyes and his jaw is tight with the tension of his mood, he can tell that Bucky isn't close to lashing out. The way his hands remain lax by his sides and his breathing is steady is a telltale sign that he has control.

 

It's clear that he's only just gotten out of bed - his hair is uncombed but pulled into a bun on the back of his head and his tanktop, revealing arms both flesh and metal, is ruffled and wrinkled. There's remnants of lingering sleep under his eyes in the form of faint purple marks.

 

And there's a wet patch all over his crotch and down his legs. God - Sam really hopes that isn't piss.

 

"There's a lot of robots in this building, Bucky," Sam comments carefully.

 

"Dum-E, or whatever his name is," the supersoldier clarifies, almost spitting at the mere mention of stark's robotic assistant.

 

Rolling into the living space past the Winter Soldier with a familiar mechanical whirr is the AI itself; he skirts around Bucky as if he were avoiding the plague, his little claw grabbing at the air as he trundles towards Sam. "Hello, lil' buddy," he says jovially, one Dum-E has pulled to a stop beside him. "What've you been up to?"

 

The robot's single arm dips in response, claw poking at Sam's outer thigh. Though it's hardly a response that could be considered anywhere near understandable, Sam is once again awestruck by the eerily humanised intelligence that the AI showcases. How Stark managed to build a machine so technologically advanced that it somehow seems to feel emotions is something he could never live up to.

 

"Don't treat it as if it feels things!" Bucky objects as he watches their interaction from the threshold, making his disagreement all too clear.

 

"He does feel things." Just to add fuel to the fire that sparks Bucky's hatred, Sam pets the joint that connects Dum-E's claw to his arm as if the robot were a dog. The whine that the AI produces sounds somewhat pleased. "And stop calling him an 'it'. Tony clarified that Dum-E and U are both-"

 

"Does it matter?"

 

Dum-E's next whine sounds nearly upset. Sam makes sure that his pity for the robot is clear, just to make Bucky that little bit more annoyed - he's always loved pushing his teammate's buttons. "Treat him nicely. He's got a sensitive soul," he sniffles.

 

"It's heartless," Bucky insists dramatically. "It tried to hand me my water glass and tipped it all over my bed. And me." He motions towards the stains on his grey sweatpants.

 

Relieved that the Winter Soldier didn't piss himself as he originally assumed, Sam lets himself laugh. Classic Dum-E; trying his hardest to be as useful as possible, but not quite getting it right. Tony Stark did a good job on his creation nevertheless. "He was only trying to help," he reasons serenely. "He's clumsy. That's why he's called Dum-E - he's a bit of a dumbass."

 

"You got that right," Bucky grumbles.

 

The AI beside him makes a whine that Sam can only assume means he's disagreeing (or is he agreeing? He hasn't touched up on his robot communication skills recently) with what he's said. There's only one person who can decipher what the robot is saying and, understandably, that person is the same person who created him.

 

And, as if Sam's thoughts summoned him, that person comes striding into the room with a coffee in one hand and a StarkPhone in the other.

 

"Who's trashtalking my favourite robot assistant?" Tony Stark demands as his eyes fall upon Sam and Bucky, his tone sounding threatening but the humour in his coffee eyes suggesting otherwise.

 

He's clearly had a powernap (and they call them 'powernaps' because he never sleeps a full night), because the remains if sleep remain impassive in his eyes and his hair is mussed, sticking up all over the place and desperately in need of a good combing session. His sweatpants are stained with oil and his hoodie has burn holes in the stomach and fringing the sleeves. In his chest, the arc-reactor glows a steady blue.

 

Tony is always disarrayed - always ruffled up, always so unorganised to everyone other than himself that even JARVIS struggles to keep up sometimes. It's the Tony that he's used to that he looks at now, and knowing that there's next to no chance that he'll ever change is almost a constant comfort to everyone.

 

"Your favourite robot is Dum-E?" Sam questions, brows dipping. If he had a dollar for everytime he's overheard the billionare insult and threaten to severely mutilate that poor robot, he might possibly be as rich as Tony Stark himself.

 

Tony, looking at the ceiling for the briefest of moments, carefully nods his head. "Dum-E was my first ever robot. If course he’s going to be my favourite," he explains with a nonchalant shrug, sipping at his coffee. "Not to say that I don't love JARIVS. JARVIS is the second smartest person in this building." Sam assumes that the first on his list is himself. "But Dum-E is probably my favourite with a physical body, yes."

 

"And I'm your favourite without a phyisical body, Sir?" JARVIS intones.

 

The billionare grins. "Without a doubt, J."

 

"I heard you call DUM-E a glorified waffle iron yesterday," Bucky points out.

 

"It's called tough love."

 

In the spur of the moment, Sam blurts out, "can Dum-E make waffles?"

 

Smartly ignoring the out-of-the-blue question, the Winter Soldier crosses his arms. Sam can see in the way that his lips are upturned at the corners that his anger is turning down the playful route. "Well, your crumb-filled dishwasher over there went ahead and spilled water all over my bed. And my sweatpants!" He motions once more to the water staining his clothes.

 

Tony gaze runs down the mess all over the supersoldier's legs. His expression unwaveringly smug as ever, he tells him, "probably deserved it, Robocop."

 

"Oh, suck my dick."

 

"Maybe later, Greased Lightning."

 

Sam chomps on more Doritos, enjoying the entertainment. It's like a terrible comedy movie in his own living room.

 

"I hate you, Stark."

 

"Nothing's new, then," Tony drones, somewhat distracted as he taps at the holographic screen beaming from the face of his wristwatch. Then he looks up to where Dum-E is still lingering beside Sam; "come on, you 8-inch floppy disk. You've got some wires to hold for me in my lab."

 

The AI is all too happy to oblige; he trundles gleefully after his creator, following him out of the communal living space and into the corridor. Sam watches the pair disappear from over the top of the sofa before affectionately commenting, "what a cute robot. You think I can convince Shellhead over there to make me one of my own?"

 

Bucky opens his mouth, most likely to tell Sam that they'll ruin his life or needlessly insult him in some way, but is cut short when another presence makes himself known in the room. Their eyes fall upon a figure hanging back in the threshold that Tony and Dum-E just left through moments ago.

 

Peter is small, but he's never looked as small as he does now, even when Sam and Clint had found him bruised and bloodied in that alleyway a few days ago. It isn't the kind of small that Sam could associate with weakness, though, for the kid is absolutely the opposite of so; he's just small in stature, and it makes Sam's heart both warm and cold all at once.

 

(Warm; because he's so incredibly adorable, and his cautious smile could probably light up the whole universe, it shines so brightly. Cold; because a fifteen-year-old shouldn't be that tiny.)

 

Though he's wearing a hoodie that belongs to the smallest member of the team (Tony, but you won't catch him admitting it aloud anytime soon), it still manages to swallow Peter's lithe body whole. The black sweatpants - also Tony's - have been tightened and tied with the string around the waist and rolled up past the ankles to keep them from dragging on the floor.

 

Even so, he looks a lot better than he did previously; he's clearly had a shower and a haircut, if his cleaner skin and fluffier, shorter hair is anything to judge by. There's still remains of purple and yellow bruising on his cheekbones and there's a plaster on the left side of his forehead, but all other signs of the scuffle in the alley are gone from his face. No doubt that the story is different under that hoodie.

 

Peter stops almost as soon as he steps into the room, eyeing Bucky with what seems to be a conflicted mix of nerves and admiration. It's hard to tell from the distance Sam is sat at, but he thinks he can see the kid's eyes glancing towards the metal arm the most.

 

The supersoldier's body seems to relax immediately upon Peter's arrival and he even offers the teenager a loose smile; something Bucky doesn't initiate often. Sam can almost interpret it as an attempt to make sure the kid knows that he's not a threat to his safety. It's a nice sentiment to witness, honestly.

 

"Hey, Pete," Sam greets, grinning. "You missed out on saying hi to one of Stark's robot assistants."

 

"Yeah?" Peter crosses the room and sits on the edge of the sofa opposite to Sam, eyes flickering uncertainly back to Bucky every so often. He doesn't seem afraid of the Winter Soldier; rather unsure of whether he's welcome around him. It's clear by the way he fiddles with his hands in his lap that he isn't sure what to do with himself.

 

This is when Bucky decides it best to break the tension between them; he moves to stand behind Sam's sofa, a distance not far enough to be weird, but not close enough to be considered too forward. "Peter, right?" he begins, seeming somewhat unsure of himself.

 

"Y-yeah."

 

"Bucky. It's nice to meet you." The Winter Soldier has always been a little more than hopeless at interaction, but he's oddly easy-going around Peter. It's a refreshing change of character to witness, if not a bit startling.

 

(Part of Sam wonders whether it's because he's young and small and reminds him of a certain spangled blonde before the muscle came into the picture. He doesn't know a lot about Bucky and Steve's past together, but what he does know points him in that vague direction.)

 

"You too," Peter murmurs, openly regarding Bucky with a tilted head. There is no doubt that he's inspecting the metal arm (he's not even trying to hide it), but Bucky doesn't appear too bothered by the attention and instead keeps himself occupied by observing the muted episode of Friends playing on the flatscreen. It's good to see the guy making an effort to be considered a friend in Peter's books.

 

"Good sleep, Peter? Did you consider Tony's offer yet?"

 

Peter worries his bottom lip with his teeth. "I'll get to it," he tells Sam eventually.

 

The offer wasn't much, in the wide perspective of things; Tony had come and poked his head in while Sam, Bruce and Peter were hanging out in the infirmary room and asked whether he wanted to have a temporary bedroom instead of living in one of the medical wings. 'Because the mattresses are so much nicer and it doesn't stink of hospitals in there,' he'd said.

 

It's a simple enough question to answer - and, quite honestly, Sam had expected Peter to say yes. When Tony Stark himself is asking if you want a room in his Tower, then who wouldn't?

 

But Peter had thought for a good minute before he'd carefully answered, 'I need to think about it'. And he doesn't seem to be particularly keen on detailing why he didn't want to move from the infirmary. He doesn't even need to be there anymore - Bruce had declared his condition well enough hours before the offer'd been proposed.

 

Sam accepts the answer, though not without an inward sigh of disarray. He just wants Peter to feel comfortable, and if that means allowing him to stay in the infirmary wing, then so be it.

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

Peter wants to say yes.

 

Honestly, he really does - there's nothing he wants more than to have a chance to sleep in a bedroom rather than an infirmary. The smell of disinfectant and the piercing white walls (why does everywhere medical have white walls?) is starting to get on his nerves and the blinds don't seem to want to close properly.

 

But, at the same time, he really wants to refuse the offer entirely.

 

Of course, if he were to speak of the reason, anyone would tell him that it's completely ridiculous. And it is; refusing a bedroom just because he doesn't want to feel as if he's going to be staying for very long - heck, he'll probably have to go before the week is over - is probably extremely stupid and he should probably just disregard the insecurity entirely.

 

He doesn't live here. No matter how much he wishes he did, the one thought that has been lingering in the dark shadows of his mind is that he does not live here. He is not a permenant resident. He is not welcome to live with the Avengers - he is only welcome to be here for a few days because he was hurt. Once he's all better, they'll kick him out and his life will be grey again.

 

'Kick out' is a strong term, but it's the one he's accustomed to using. It's the term that Aunt May had used when he'd been kicked out of her apartment and it's the one he's used ever since, on those dreary days where all he can think about is how much he misses home.

 

The Avengers wouldn't 'kick him out', so to say - they'd ask him to leave.

 

And he's really starting to like them, too. Not to say that he didn't like them beforehand, of course, but there's a difference between liking them as superheros and liking them as people.

 

They've all been so welcoming as of yet; so kind to him, so easy to get along with; so understanding to his problems. They don't ask an overwhelming amount of questions. They don't pry on his business. They let him exist within the Tower in peace - let him adjust to the environment and the people in his own time. It's nice. Peter can't express how much he appriciates it.

 

The best part of staying in the Avenger's Tower, though, is finding out more about the people he's looked up to for so long. The little mannerisms are the things he likes to observe the most; like how Tony has stupid nicknames for everyone, and how Clint whistles when he's in a good mood.

 

He hadn't felt welcome anywhere before he'd woken up in the Avenger's infirmary.

 

He's yet to meet Captain America. Behind the TV screen he'd watched in gym classes, the national icon was nothing more than a lesson gone boring. Behind his TV screen at home, the man was seen as a hero. There's no doubt that he's much different when you first meet him in person.

 

He'd met the Black Widow - Natasha, she'd insisted, because her 'superhero alias' is apparantly much too formal for her friends - when he'd seen the communal living room for the first time. Naturally, he'd been hanging back in the threshold, gaping at the size and the impressive technological enhancements of the place, when she'd walked in just to introduce herself.

 

Despite what the media conveys of the spy's personality, Natasha seems to be a very kind and understanding sort of person. The way her eyes are so gentle remind Peter somewhat of Bruce, except she carries herself in a manner that is much more confident and maybe even threatening. It's clear just by looking at her that she's a very independent person.

 

He grows to like her company very fast. It's hard not to, what with someone as witty and as smart as she is. And if his spider-sense didn't so much as twitch at her, then neither did he.

 

If there's one thing he's learned on the streets, it's to trust his spider-sense.

 

It's saved his ass from countless out of control cars; dozens of bullets thrown his way (though that experience remains partial to Spiderman only, as it seems); kept his backpack from getting stolen when he falls asleep on the pavement. He's been so used to it whining constantly in the back of his mind that, now it's finally quiet, he almost misses it.

 

God, he's dreading the day he'll leave this place.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

It's 2:31am, and the Avengers are awake.

 

Some of them, anyway. It's more of a SHIELD agent meeting rather than an Avengers meeting, so the others' attendance isn't particularly important. Everyone other than Clint, Natasha and Tony - who's not an agent, but he's awake as usual anyway - are taking full advantage of the chance to sleep a full, undisturbed night.

 

This time around, there's none of Bucky's peanut butter cookies to snack on, but there are fruit smoothies made by Dum-E and U on Tony's blender - and, for drinks created by robots, they are strangely delicious. Clint finds himself favouring them over the one Steve forces him to drink (but probably because Steve makes them from vegetables and protein powder instead of fruit and honey).

 

Natasha is entirely relaxed against the cushions on the couch, contentedly sipping at her smoothie. It's not often that Clint sees her as serene as she is; and though she looks perfectly tranquil in her leggings and sweater, he certainly has no doubts that there are at least three weapons on her person. She's always been the sort to be prepared for any situation, no matter how unlikely it is.

 

The billionaire is again on his usual perch on the countertop, pieces of scrap metal moved out the way in complete disarray in order to make room for him. He's probably been wearing the same pair of oil-stained sweatpants for a good two days now, but his hoodie is different - plain black and thin enough for the arc-reactor's blue to glow through.

 

(Clint likes to see the arc-reactor's light. It's nice to know that Tony is comfortable enough to expose it in front of them - when they'd first met, it'd been a different story entirely.)

 

Meanwhile, Clint is sitting on Tony's creeper (which is actually meant to be in his private lab a few floors up; why is it here when there's nothing to use it for?) and absently letting the wheels drift along the floor, doing nothing to interfere with its aimless trajectory. His back is starting to ache from the awkward sitting position and the lack of support but it ignores it.

 

None of them are tired. In fact, Clint feels more awake than he did when it had been light outside earlier.

 

"Sorry for the delay. Just... sorting out a few things for a sec," Tony murmurs, rubbing his eyes as he stares at the screen of his tablet. The billionaire's eyebags are starting to grow darker and darker with every night he stays awake, but it's useless trying to convince him to have a full night of sleep at this point. He eventually puts the tablet down beside him.

 

"Can we know what those things are?" Clint inquires.

 

If Tony hears his question, he doesn't acknowledge it. Across the room, the blender suddenly comes to life, the lid shaking dangerously atop the appliance and drops of reddish smoothie leaking over the container. Tony doesn't look up as he asks, "Dum-E, you idiot, mind stopping that blender for a bit? And don't even consider touching it, U."

 

Both Dum-E and U oblige immediately, though not without vocalizing their complaints through a string of whines and beeps. Dum-E (who is smarter than his name implies, really) even grabs an oil-stained rag with his claw and attempts to mop up the growing pool of smoothie around the counter, though, as expected, the robot's cleaning skills aren't up to par.

 

"But my smoothie!" Clint objects.

 

Tony deadpans, "you're going to end up pissing the stuff if you don't quit drinking it, Katniss."

 

"I don't see why that's a problem!" Clint exclaims - not really thinking about what he's saying until it comes out - and Tony makes an incredulous face.

 

"In Clint's defence," Natasha begins, and Clint marvels both inside and out because Natasha never says anything in his defence unless it's some sort of life and death situation, "they're pretty good. Who knew robots make good smoothies?" She gazes at the thick liquid in her cup, having taken a particular liking to the banana and strawberry ones.

 

"I knew."

 

Mild amusement upturn the corner of Clint's lips. "I would hope so. You invented them, after all."

 

"And I did a damn good job, didn't I?"

 

Tony twists his head to gaze at his bots, who are now squabbling over who gets to use the surface cleaner on the sticky part of the counter, where the smoothie spilt. Anyone else would have found his affection for his robotic inventions strange, but Clint finds it oddly adorable - considering Tony's backstory with Dum-E and U, he can understand where the love comes from.

 

(Besides, it's not like no one else loves those bots. There's been so many situations where they've come in handy and made everyone laugh with their antics that everyone who doesn't could be considered a monster. Or maybe a technophobe.)

 

"That you did," Clint agrees.

 

Natasha clears her throat. "I think we're getting off-track."

 

"Right," Tony says, picking up his tablet. "Got a little video message from Eyepatch for you two."

 

He swipes up on the tablet and then horizontally in the air, transferring the video feed onto the holographic screens. It's paused on a shot of Fury looking somewhat stern, and though the look is a usual constant on his face, a dash of fear still tightens Clint's throat - a stern Fury has never told them of good news.

 

Tony hesitates to unpause the video, noticing the increase of anxiety within the room. "You two ready?" he says.

 

Collected as ever, Natasha keeps her face blank. "Yeah."

 

"Nope. Unpause it," Clint urges.

 

The billionaire obliges and the video comes to life. Fury is only quiet for two seconds before he begins to address them, but it's enough to send anxiety bursting through Clint's veins. "Agents, this is a video regarding the search for Spiderman. I have been reminded that - from today - it has been one year, two months and five days ever since his missing status has been declared. Correct?"

 

Clint is aware that the video isn't live, but he finds himself murmuring 'correct' anyway.

 

"It has been a long time since we've had any leads as to who Spiderman really is and why he's stopped playing hero on the streets. The only information that's been useful to us is merely an assumption made by adding up minor clues."

 

The only thing they know of Spiderman is that he goes to school. And they only know this because they figured out what time Spiderman begins his patrol, and it happens to align exactly with the time that students get out of most schools throughout New York. Even if they have no concrete evidence of it, Clint thinks it's safe to say that they're correct.

 

Fury's solid expression falters so slightly that Clint nearly misses it. "And I am beginning to get to that point where I think that it's pointless to continue this search."

 

"What?" Natasha snaps, standing up.

 

Clint's breath bates. This isn't what he'd been expecting.

 

"I know that Spiderman has had an impact on the population on New York and that there are people who need the kind of help that Spiderman offers to them. I know that there are people who thought of Spiderman in the same way that they think of the Avengers - beacons of hope and safety. And I know that the people do miss him. Don't think I don't know that.

 

"But we are getting to the stage where the search is becoming fruitless. Think about it; what if Spiderman doesn't want to be found? What if Spiderman decided he wanted to hang up the suit and leave the vigilante business in order to pursue something of a different nature?"

 

The man has a point - one Clint has hardly considered as of late. If Spiderman didn't want to be found; wanted to get away from being Spiderman and simply be the man under the mask; then who are they to continue to scour for him? Who are they to try and pull him back into the life he doesn't want to be near?

 

Of course, there's the bleak possibility that Spiderman has been put to rest - that he met someone who he couldn't charm with his witty banter and defeat with his webs and his fists.

 

Clint doesn't want to think about it.

 

"And then there is the acknowledgement of the fact that Spiderman is not affiliated with SHIELD, nor with the Avengers. We have no rights over what Spiderman does and whether he wants to continue being Spiderman."

 

"Then why have we been searching?" Natasha gripes out.

 

And, as if Fury can hear her, he continues, "our search has been conducted simply because we began to notice how Spiderman impacted New York's population. How that, now he's gone, people are beginning to grow agitated - people are getting hurt by the little things the Avengers have never focused on. Like muggings, or store robberies. That was how he made his mark.

 

"We began this search, and the search is unsuccessful. There isn't much more we can do. Of course, there is nothing stopping you from continuing this search yourself, but just know that SHIELD will not be doing that any longer."

 

The screen goes blank. Tony, who intelligently remained quiet and impassive throughout the entire video, swipes a finger through the air, which dissipates the holographic screens. "D'you think you guys are going to continue searching yourself?" he asks, voice cutting through the tension in the air like a warm knife through butter.

 

Neither of them say anything. Clint never knew Spiderman on a personal level, but he definitely knew of the guy and what he did for New York. The Avengers never worked with petty crime such as bank hold-ups or bike stealing, but now that Spiderman isn't around anymore, the increase in it has definitely been made clear. It makes Clint realize just how important he really is.

 

Spiderman gave people peace of mind. He worked to protect the population and not the city - not as the Avengers do. Sure, helping a lady cross a street and delivering a mugger to a police station is no battling giant space caterpillars, but his work is just as significant. He was a beacon of hope and protection while swinging over the streets of New York.

 

And, as an Avenger, Clint has a duty to give the people that same peace of mind - and if that means spending day and night trying to, at the very least, find out why Spiderman isn’t around anymore, then so be it.

 

Natasha has always been difficult to read, but when Clint looks over to her, all he can see is how her jaw is tight with tension and how her face screams honest conflict. It could be startling if he didn't feel exactly the same way. "I don't know," she says eventually. "I really don't know."

 

”I guess that Fury has a point,” Clint begins to ponder. ”We won’t have luck finding what doesn’t want to be found.”

 

Tony sits back, his hand absently placing itself over the arc reactor in his chest. That familiar expression of deep thought returns to his face. “I mean, we don’t know what his reason for disappearing is, but you know that there’s a chance he... died, right?”

 

”I hope not,” Clint murmurs, biting his tongue as suspicions and assumptions of the worst surface in his brain. No matter what he does, he can't seem to shake the notion that Spiderman could very well be dead already. “That’s something I really don’t want to have to consider.”

 

”And yet, here we are, considering it anyway,” Natasha says. “Can we get more of those smoothies?"

 

 

.

 

 

Peter misses Spiderman.

 

He always has. Ever since Aunt May locked him in his bedroom back at the apartment and burned it until it was yet another layer of embers on the fireplace, there's been an empty space in his heart, yearning for the thrill and the satisfaction that he's giving people hope and safety to fill it once again.

 

One could say that Spiderman is his other half. Maybe even his better half. Spiderman saves lives; Peter burdens them. Spiderman is loved and appreciated by the public; Peter goes by every day without so much as being noticed.

 

It's been a while since Spiderman has been around, both in the streets and in his heart. He's well aware that the suit and the webshooters didn't make him Spiderman (that the little spider at the laboratory gave him these gifts, and he just made use of it), but he can't seem to find it in himself to try and gain that part of him back yet. The energy, the money, the motivation... it's all gone down the drain.

 

And Peter isn't sure what to make of the person it's left behind. The changes living on the street has enforced upon him are evident to himself and yet he can't seem to change himself back again - can't seem to snag that witty banter he used to charm with. Can't seem to turn himself into the proud person he was when he donned that red and blue suit.

 

So, yeah. Peter misses Spiderman.

 

It's this that he thinks about as he perches on the island counter in the communal kitchen, his palms circling a steaming mug of coffee (with milk and sugar, because black is just too bitter for his enhanced sense of taste), soaking in the comfort of its heat.

 

His sadness must show, because when Bruce comes trudging into the room with a serious case of bedhead and a pair of glasses on the bridge of his nose, the first thing he says to Peter that morning is, "are you okay, Pete?"

 

He looks up at the doctor. Bruce Banner must be the world's most genuine and gentle-hearted man - it even shows in his eyes, the way that coffee gaze radiates pure an unfaltering kindness. "I'm fine," Peter lies, finding the energy to offer him a soft smile. "Honest."

 

"It's okay to not be fine."

 

"I know."

 

Bruce opens the fridge and pulls out an apple, inspecting it in the light. "It must be overwhelming," he begins, "to go from living out on the streets and from relying on no one but yourself, to staying in a place as high-end as this. With people like this. And yet, you've adjusted so well. Makes me realize just how strong kids these days feel like they have to be."

 

Sipping at his coffee, Peter meets the man's eyes. "You've all made it so easy for me."

 

"Bucky isn't the best at meeting new people, did you know that? He finds it difficult because his anxiety makes a bit of trouble for him. It's the same with Tony." Bruce juggles the apple from one hand to another. "Sam told me that, when you and Bucky met, he was entirely calm about it. Usually, his voice stutters when he gets anxious, but Sam said he wasn't even shaking."

 

Peter wonders why Bruce is telling him this, and it must show on his face, because the doctor smiles and continues, "I'm trying to say that you put the team at ease, Peter. They haven't known you for very long, but they adore you. You're welcome in this Tower, Peter. I just want you to know that."

 

It's something akin to relief that washes over him, like a tidal wave of calm. "I haven't met Captain America yet," he says.

 

"You two just keep missing each other," Bruce points out, "he isn't avoiding you or anything, before you start thinking that. He spends a lot of time in the gym and in his private floor and you spend a lot of time on the communal floor and in the infirmary."

 

Peter smiles tensely and says, "I know."

 

The corners of the doctor's lips upturn. He tosses the apple to Peter, who catches it easily in one hand. "You're a good kid. Make sure you eat your greens."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

Light floods his eyelids and he sits up.

 

--the suit doesn't burn easily, but she's determined--

 

Peter puts a quivering hand to his damp forehead but doesn't try to wipe the moisture off, his arms proving to be too shaky. Clint is watching him from where he'd been opening the blinds just moments before with a worried sort of intensity, eyes understanding as much as they are concerned, forehead creased in his immediate apprehension. "Pete?" he says softly.

 

The archer sits on the infirmary bed and it sags to his weight. His hand twitches as if he wishes to offer contact to Peter, but he doesn't try to touch him, and for that, he's glad; he doesn't quite want the comfort of his action quite yet. With one of his best comfort-smiles, he gently tells Peter, "if you want to talk about it, you can. If not, that's okay too."

 

Peter shakes his head in the negative. Nevermind talking about the nightmare; he can't find it in himself to talk at all at the minute.

 

(Is this what selective mutism is? Is he selectively mute?)

 

Clint regards his expression carefully for a moment before he asks, "can I touch you, Pete?"

 

He considers the offer for barely a moment before he's eventually nodding, letting Clint's long arms envelope him in a comforting hug, his head burying itself into the archer's shoulder as he bites down a sob that yearns for his old life back. It's the most intimate contact that he's had ever since he's met Clint and he'd be lying if he said that he hasn't missed it.

 

There's always been a swelling dislike for the Aunt who kicked him out of the apartment and yet here he is, close to crying into an Avenger's shoulder at the mere memory of the day everything was ruined - the day that he realized that he was wrong to keep May out of the Spiderman equation. God - he must look so weak. This is definitely one of the most embarrassing times of his life.

 

If Clint thinks the same, he doesn't say so. Instead he waits until Peter breaks the hug apart and puts a hand on his quivering knee, making sure to look Peter right in the eye as he says, "if you want to talk about it, I'm always here. I can understand if you'd rather not right now, but I advise that you talk to someone if you're having trouble, Pete. Only if you want to."

 

And he does - all he's ever wanted is someone who can listen to his problems; someone who can be both a friend and anchor. And now that he has it, he just wants to curl up and be alone with his thoughts for a bit.

 

Figures.

 

When he doesn't say anything, Clint helpfully changes the subject. "Just so you know, Pete, we're going away for a mission today. An Avengers' mission. Nothing dramatic, but our expertise is needed for this one, so the military asked for our assistance. Don't worry - Bruce will still be here, because the Hulk isn't required for something as lowkey as this."

 

Part of Peter wonders whether Bruce is actually staying behind because they don't want him to be alone in the Tower and not because the Hulk isn't any use for them, but he brushes it off. "Good luck," he murmurs.

 

"Thanks, Petey. How do you feel about breakfast?"

 

 

.

 

 

 

"One waffle for you--"

 

"--thank you, chef--"

 

"--and for you--"

 

"--they look great, Sam--"

 

"--and two for Peter, because he's my favourite." The waffle slides off the plastic spatula and lands on Peter's plate with the most beautiful plop and he immediately takes to dousing them in what must be half a bottle of syrup, entirely disregarding Thor's whining of the matter - he's been craving this much sugar for Lord knows how long and no one can tell him he can't satisfy it.

 

Clint, who's been eyeing him oddly ever since he trudged into the communal kitchen that morning, snatches the syrup off Peter the moment he flips the cap closed. "You want waffles with that syrup?" he asks incredulously.

 

"Where is my waffle?" Thor demands, his voice deep and booming in his displeasure.

 

Panicking at the oven, the rate at which Sam stacks an overwhelming amount of waffles (when and how did he make that many so fast?) increases considerably. "I can't keep up with how much you eat anymore, big guy," he says. "You're really going to eat ten waffles? Do all Norse Gods have bottomless pits for stomachs?"

 

"Indeed! My brothers and sisters in Asgard eat impressive feasts for any meal!"

 

The God speaks often of his home, Peter concludes when he sees the entire room roll their eyes in a variety of manners. He thinks that it's sort of nice that he's so incredibly fond of Asgard and, even though he can most likely return to his homeland at any time he wishes, he's perfectly content to remain in the Tower with his teammates. It's hard to stay away from home.

 

"May? May, please, I'm sorry. Let me in."

 

"Give me time, Peter. Just-- just a bit."

 

Peter shudders. Don't think about her. You promised yourself you wouldn't.

 

He takes to watching Sam place the wobbling tower of waffles in front of Thor, who wriggles in his seat like a gleeful slug at the mere sight of his breakfast - ten sizeable waffles, stacked and drowned in melted butter. The God hardly hesitates before he's drizzling syrup atop his glorious monstrosity of a meal.

 

Peter feels he can eat twice as much as that if he really wants to - his enhanced metabolism is starting to catch up to him now that his meals are growing more consistent, making itself known in the form of stabbing hunger that curdles in his stomach like an upset volcano. He can't eat as much as he craves, however, what with the Avengers remaining unaware of his abilities.

 

--just tell them you're Spiderman, it would be so much better for you--

 

--you're not Spiderman, not anymore--

 

Besides, Bruce often reminds him not to eat too fast or too much at once over fear of overwhelming his stomach - and, crazy metabolism or not, he supposes that he's still a little sensitive and shrunken from the sudden change in his diet's consistency.

 

The scene he regards is about as domestic as the Avengers can get - everyone crowded around one island counter; digging into steaming waffles; chattering and laughing and enjoying  Peter doesn't listen to what they're saying - all he can think about is how normal it seems and how normal he feels to be apart of it. It's been a while since he felt as if he fit in as he does now.

 

--you don't live here, don't forget that--

 

Even Tony is here - Clint mentions that the billionaire fails to show up for meals - and he looks awake, his hair flattened under his hoodie, chewing at his waffle as he laughs at whatever Bruce is saying. Watching the man who has unknowingly shaped him up to the person he is today eating breakfast and cackling over stupid science jokes is... strangely anchoring.

 

He used to get that giddy feeling around the Avengers that anyone gets in the presence of a celebrity, but he finds that it's gone; in its place a nonchalant sense of friendship, as if they were simply just people and not unreachable celebrities as he's always known them as. The 'holy shit, they're real and in front of me' mindset he'd adopted previously is gone along with his discomfort he'd felt in the presence of the Avengers.

 

Needless to say, he's starting to grow a lot more comfortable in the Avengers' Tower.

 

... and he doesn't like it.

 

Growing comfortable in the Avengers' Tower means that leaving will be even harder. Growing comfortable means that, when his welcome eventually runs out, he'll have to adjust to living on the streets all over again. Growing comfortable means that he might just forget about the good memories Aunt May gave him, even if she'd ended their relationships with bad ones.

 

--watching Say Yes To The Dress complaining about the prices of the wedding dresses with her over dinner--

 

God, he doesn't want to leave.

 

He'd met Captain America - 'call me Steve, kid. Steve Rogers' - one rainy afternoon when they'd happened to be in the communal kitchen at the same time, Peter in search of water and Steve in search of a sandwich. That calculating, careful expression that the Captain had looked upon him with when he'd come strolling into the kitchen remains burned into his mind.

 

Burned in his mind, because he could tell from the way that Steve had regarded him that damp afternoon that he wasn't sure of him. He was suspicious of him and his intentions and to say that it didn't make Peter feel that tiny bit intimidated by the supersoldier would be a straight-up lie.

 

--he doesn't want you to stay--

 

He doesn't question it, nor does he mention it to Sam or Clint or Bruce or anyone. After all, Steve has an unspoken right to be suspicious of Peter - he’s in his house.

 

Despite that, the man had been proven to be friendly enough. His voice when he'd introduced himself had held nothing similar to the look in his eyes, but kindness and understanding instead. Even when he's just speaking, he sounds like he's either scolding you or giving you a dramatic superhero speech - Peter happily dwells in the realism of it all.

 

Steve is next to Bruce, digging into his plate with quiet satisfaction. There's no syrup on his waffles, just melted butter, and Peter wonders whether he's on a diet (not that he needs it) or if he's just a 'plain waffle' kind of guy.

 

"These are literally orgasmic," Tony moans, having practically inhaled two syrup-drowned waffles like a vacuum cleaner.

 

"Please don't mention orgasms while I'm trying to eat," Sam says, eyeing Tony from where he's taken his seat across from Peter and finally digging into a waffle of his own. He only has one - the fact that it's much bigger than everyone else's and positively drenched in warm, melted butter and practically a whole bottle of syrup doesn’t escape Peter’s notice.

 

"Don't mention orgasms at all," Steve continues incredulously. He's on his third waffle already - superhuman metabolism, Peter concludes.

 

Natasha has considerably a lot quieter ever since Peter sleepily shuffled into the kitchen that morning, and her voice sounds tired when she finally speaks up. "There is literally a child in the room and you're talking about orgasms?"

 

--I'm not a child--

 

"No, Tony is talking about orgasms," Clint answers.

 

The billionaire's fist hits the table. "And so are you!"

 

Wisely choosing to keep quiet regarding the matter at hand, Bruce's face grows considerably more exhausted as the topic continues. He leans over to Peter and whispers, "I'm going to apologize on their behalf. It's like this a lot."

 

Peter wants to tell the doctor that no, he's having fun; that listening to the Avengers argue about orgasms over plates of waffles makes him feel more happy and welcome and comfortable than he has felt ever since that first night he’d slept on the cold streets of New York city, but he can’t quite find his voice around so many people. Instead he just shakes his head and smiles in an attempt to convey it without using his words.

 

Bruce smiles back, eyes fond as ever as they meet Peter’s. “You’re enjoying yourself, then?”

 

He nods bashfully. In a very Clint-like manner, Bruce ruffles his hair.

 

--just like Aunt May used to do when he made her smile, because it was hard for her to feel happy after Ben’s death and she loved how hard he tried--

 

He squeezes his eyes shut and looks away, trying to swallow the memory as it re-surfaces. If Bruce notices, he doesn’t comment on it.

 

It's perhaps ten minutes later when everyone’s plates are empty, positively satisfied by their teammate’s delicious cooking. Peter’s metabolism is screaming for more substance - like a pot bubbling over, curdling and stabbing and yearning - but he’s smart enough to know not to overwhelm his stomach just yet.

 

Clint, Thor and Natasha all take to washing the dishes --just like he used to do for Aunt May, because she used to give him fond smiles and friendly kisses on the forehead when he offered to relieve her of the chores-- and suddenly the kitchen is all soap bubbles and splashing water; all giggles as they sprayed each other and all screams when they touch the damp leftovers floating in the sink.

 

(It's stupidly domestic.)

 

Thor, Sam and Steve leave the kitchen in favour of heading to their private floors respectively, for reasons they leave unsaid. Bruce tells Peter that he needs him in the infirmary later, just so he can check up on the bruises and how well their healing is going (they're completely healed, Peter thinks), before he too leaves in order to take a shower and shave.

 

It's another two minutes before Tony springs from his seat, and says much too cheerfully, "I'm off to my lab. Want to come, Pete?"

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

"You seem distressed, Mr. Barton."

 

JARVIS has no visible external hardware, but Clint finds himself looking to the ceiling anyway. He runs an anxious hand through his blond hair, already oily from the number of times his fingers have been through his quiff. "I am," he frets. "I can't find Peter anywhere. He's not on the communal floor or in the infirmary and he doesn't even have access to be anywhere else."

 

"Would you like to give him access to your private floor?"

 

Now - Clint trusts Peter well enough to be sensible, but not quite to the point where he can be relaxed about leaving a curious teenager with access to meddle with his things. He has dangerous firearms - his spare bows and explosive arrows and a few handguns, just to mention a few - and he knows better than to leave that out in front of a child. "No, JARVIS. Just find Peter for me, yeah? Thanks."

 

"Certainly." JARVIS goes quiet for a moment. "Peter is located in Sir's private workshop. Would you like me to relay a message or possibly tell him that he is to come to you on the communal floor, Mr. Barton?"

 

"Can you ask Tony if I can come join the party?"

 

It's certainly odd to hear of Tony allowing anyone in his private workshop, let alone a kid he hardly knows. He's always been very touchy on who comes and goes in that place and everyone in the Tower is happy to respect his space. No one save for the bots and Tony have permanent access into the workshop, and Clint has only ever been allowed in once or twice himself.

 

The archer can only hope that Tony isn't attempting to experiment on Peter in some way, or bore him into his grave with his constant stream of babbling.

 

When JARVIS' voice eventually appears after minutes of silence, Clint startles. "Sir has permitted you temporary access into his workshop. He has told me to tell you that he can and will revoke your access the moment you step out of the room once again," he intones obediently, British voice serene as always.

 

"Thanks, J. Tell him I'm coming."

 

"Will do."

 

When Clint gets to the workshop, the glass doors slide open for him automatically. The familiar sound of AC/DC is turned down for the first time in forever - Clint usually hears it through the floor when he's eating breakfast on the communal floor - and in its place is the peaceful whine of the resident robotic assistants and the occasional echo of a tennis ball hitting the floor.

 

He doesn't see them immediately. Tony is, as per usual, sitting on his worn swivel chair, his eyes trained onto the Iron Man gauntlet resting on it's stand in front of him. The repulsor on the palm is open, exposing a complicated mass of wiring and tubing that Clint cannot even hope to understand in this lifetime. How Stark manages to build those things, he will never know.

 

Meanwhile, Peter seems to have taken a liking to DUM-E; he's sitting on the couch at the back of Tony's workshop, throwing the tennis ball for the bot to catch and bring back as if it were a puppy playing fetch. There's a smile upturning the corners of his lips, hair freshly-washed and a mass of fluff atop his head. Clint silently notes that his face is beginning to fill out bit by bit.

 

In any other situation and with any other person, Tony would have probably told DUM-E to get back to work, but the billionaire seems pretty happy to let Peter play with him for the moment.

 

"Having a party without me?"

 

Peter looks up, eyes bright. "I met DUM-E," he says, and Clint doesn't sarcastically tell him 'I know' as he would have with anyone else because he is too darn cute when he's excited, "and now I'm attached."

 

"What about U?" Clint says, warmth spreading in his chest as he regards Peter. The kid really is looking better and healthier each day he's living at the Tower - the consistent meals are making him look less like a twig and more like the boy he'd seen in that grainy school photo the other day; his eyes are brighter; his smiles are becoming a daily occurrence instead of a rarity.

 

Seeing him looking better is a comfort to Clint; he's even been sleeping better at night ever since he came to the Tower. When Peter'd been out on the street, he'd stay awake in his bed for a good couple of hours, somewhat haunted by the unwavering knowledge that the kid had been sleeping out in the cold while he's wrapped up in the warmth of his bed. The guilt would eat him alive.

 

But there's that realization, set right in the back of his mind to be drawn out when he's alone with his mind, that Peter might not be able to live at the Tower permanently after Bruce feels he's healthy enough to be deemed free. It's not that Tony would be unhappy with it - he has no doubts that the billionaire has the space and patience - but their status as Avengers makes it that little more difficult to determine.

 

"Charging," Tony says, jabbing a thumb in the general direction of the robot's wall charger. Indeed, U is parked and plugged into the wall, his arm lowered to the ground and claw hanging open.

 

Clint drops onto the sofa beside Peter, who continues to toss the ball to DUM-E. This time, instead of fetching, DUM-E focuses on hitting it back to Peter as if he were playing a whack version of volleyball. It's kind of cute, in an awkward, robot sort of way. "Does Peter have a permanent pass to this workshop?" he asks Tony, watching Peter and DUM-E interact.

 

"He sure does, except when I lock it down. JARVIS and the bots promised to make sure he won't accidentally touch anything he shouldn't."

 

"That's more access then I have!"

 

The older man's grin grows smug as ever. "What can I say," he begins, only pausing to curse when the gauntlet sparks and catches his hand, "I prefer Peter over you, without a doubt. He's so much better company than you." The billionaire sneaks a glance at Peter, eyes somewhat fond. "And he's smart. He keeps correcting my math. And I'm really good at math, Clint."

 

Peter snorts and says, "debatable."

 

Tony makes a dramatic noise of defeat and Clint throws his head back to laugh. "You're hanging around Snarky Starky too much, kid," he comments, patting his shoulder affectionately. Peter doesn't shy away from the contact as he used to.

 

"Please don't call me Snarky Starky," Tony gripes, though it's clear from his smile that he doesn't mind the nicknames whatsoever (he mentioned once that it makes him feel validated?). "I prefer Shellhead or Ironass over Snarky Starky." The gauntlet sparks again but he snaps his hand away just in time to avoid it, dropping his pair of rubber tweezers onto the floor in the process.

 

Clint opens his mouth to retort, but JARVIS' British intone interrupts him. "Sir, Mr. Barton; Dr. Banner is inviting you to an Avengers' team meeting in conference room 02. He tells me that it is required that all Avengers show up to this meeting as it is mission-related. He says that Peter is welcome to come but his presence is not required. Would you like me to tell him that you will be there?"

 

(It doesn't escape Clint's notice that JARVIS isn't giving Tony a chance to refuse; the billionaire has a habit of either being seriously late to meetings or not showing up at all, too wrapped up in his work to pull himself away.)

 

"We're coming, J," Tony replies immediately, waving away the holographic projections scattered around the workshop. He turns off the electricity temporarily powering his gauntlet during its wiring repairs, closing the casing on the repulsor. Then he turns to look at Peter, who seems to have no intention of leaving the couch he's slumped on. "Are you coming, Pete?"

 

The archer expects the kid to jump at the chance to witness an Avengers' meeting - any kid would, he's sure - so he's rather surprised when Peter tells Tony that he wants to stay behind. "Really?" he says incredulously.

 

"I won't do anything dumb," Peter says quickly, leaning over to give the tennis ball to DUM-E, who's long arm spins in absolute glee in favour of the gift.

 

(That goes without saying. Of course Peter won't do anything dumb. Not with JARVIS watching over him like a hawk, he won't.)

 

"That's okay, Pete. If you leave, ask J to lock it down, yeah?" Tony tells him, and Clint can see even from a distance that his anxiety is disagreeing with his decision regarding Peter's freedom in the workshop from the way that his hands are worrying the edges of his sleeves. "Feel free to tinker with anything that doesn't look important. J will tell you if you pick up anything you shouldn't."

 

Peter's eyes light up like a firecracker.

 

 

.

 

 

 

"I'm not sure about Peter."

 

Steve has that serious look on his face again and Sam just sighs, silently unwilling to listen to what Steve has to say this time around. The guy may be his team leader and a very respectful person in his own right, but he's just so tired.

 

Next to him, Clint's brows dip. "What did he do to you?"

 

"Nothing, but--"

 

The supersoldier cuts himself, having noticed Clint's face scrunching up, disagreement fresh on the tip of his tongue. He regards the archer carefully for a couple of moments before he continues. "He hasn't done anything, but that isn't the point," he begins, voice steady and calm as ever. "There's something about him, Clint. I think there's something he's hiding."

 

"No shit, Rogers. The kid probably has a hundred secrets."

 

Steve's fists clench and unclench, the previous patience in his eyes deteriorating bit by bit. "You're missing the point. Just listen to me for a second, Clint."

 

Sam puts a hand on Clint's shoulder, his touch reminding him that there's nothing worth getting worked up over. The sharpshooter has always been a little highly-strung underneath the mask of calm he puts on, only falling away when he's feeling an aggressive influx of emotion. There's no doubt that he's angry at the accusatory tone Steve speaks about Peter with.

 

To be fair, he feels where Steve is coming from. There's something about the kid that gives Sam an odd sort of vibe - nothing threatening or dangerous, of course, just... odd. Maybe suspicious, if he didn't trust Peter as he does. There's really no other way to describe it.

 

Clint remains quiet, watching Steve, and the supersoldier takes this as a silent greenlight. "I'm not saying that I'm accusing Peter of anything, because, really, I'm not. He hasn't done anything to warrant accusation."

 

"Then why are you telling me this?" Clint challenges, bristling.

 

"I just needed it off my chest. I needed to tell you before it started to bug and worry me too much." It's clear by the way he's speaking - low and steady, like he always does in tense situations whether they're on duty or not - that Steve is making a conscious effort to avoid the discussion turning into an argument. "These odd feelings don't settle well with me."

 

The archer nods, considering. His voice is milder by miles when he eventually asks, "can you tell me why he's giving you an odd feeling, at least?"

 

"There's a lot of important tech in this Tower. The lower floors store a lot of SHIELD data and technology that is crucially important to the organization. The upper floors - these floors - house the most powerful people in New York and some of Stark's most valuable technology. There are things in this Tower that could do a lot of damage to the team and to SHIELD if it were infiltrated.

 

"We have a lot of enemies who'd do anything to get into the Tower - even if it means exploiting a kid to gain your trust and to get an opening into the Tower. There are some terribly deranged people out there, Clint - deranged, but clever enough to know that kids are easy to manipulate and hard to accuse." The supersoldier regards Clint carefully. "You see where I'm coming from?"

 

Sam decidedly inputs, "it's not impossible."

 

"I don't know..." Steve murmurs, rubbing the back of his neck with an anxious hand. "Maybe it's the paranoia talking."

 

"Definitely the paranoia," Clint agrees.

 

"We can't overlook the possibility, though," Sam continues, choosing to ignore Clint's following glower. "Although I personally don't think Peter's a mole, I'm not going to rule it out completely. It's not like we don't know people who wouldn't do this kind of thing. For example..."

 

A grimace tightens Steve's expression. "Hammer?"

 

"A bastard," Sam whispers deviously.

 

For all of two seconds, Clint is quiet and visibly thoughtful - a look seen only very rarely by his closest of friends, for the archer isn't exactly famous for his 'deep thinking'. When he speaks again, his voice is little more than a murmur. "I guess you have a point," he grumbles, "but I don't believe Peter would be a mole. Peter's the most innocent guy I know."

 

"And that makes him all the more suspicious," Steve says, his left eyebrow cocked smartly at Clint, who blows out a huff and crosses his arms. "Think about it, Clint  - who would suspect a kid to be a mole? Who would expect someone like Peter to be attempting to infiltrate SHIELD or the Avengers? You have to think outside the box about these things."

 

The tension in the room increases tenfold. Clint's right eye twitches and Sam decides it best that he intervenes before the shouting match begins and fists come into the sum. "Look, Steve. I'm not doing to deny that you have a good point, and that it's possible someone is taking advantage of Peter's innocence to infiltrate us," he begins firmly. "But you can't act on them. Not now."

 

"Peter feels safe here. He may not say it, but I've been looking carefully. He's so much more comfortable and welcome than he was when he first woke up here and... and it's really nice to see him happy, you know? I just worry that letting him know that you feel suspicious about him will damage that. He really doesn't need that right now. Maybe I'm being too protective, but I just want to see the kid happy and healthy and loved."

 

Clint is smiling. "You're so smushy."

 

"Shut up," Sam snaps, and delivers a playful punch to his shoulder.

 

Steve nods. "I wasn't planning on acting on it." And, after a moment, he adds, "he seems like a nice kid."

 

"He is," Clint says, sounding fond. "He reminds me of my kids at home."

 

"You're the smushy one," Sam snarks, and Clint giggles, melting against the arm of the sofa they're sharing and shoving Sam in the shoulders with his feet. He bats the archer's feet away as if he were swatting flies. "Now that this is sorted, can I go? Cooking waffles for you lot really takes it out of you. You're like..." he smiles, "black holes of snacks. Snack holes."

 

"Accurate," Steve agrees.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Clint Barton’s speciality has always been long-ranged firing.

 

As a highly-trained marksman with an unmistakably accurate shot, he doesn’t really see the need to come off the rooftop he’s perched on, loading and firing and destroying his targets dead-on every time. It what he’s always done and what he’ll probably always do, right until the day he retires; call him selfish, but he’d rather leave his teammates to do all the upfront battling and take out the targets from afar. Even if his bow does turn into the world’s coolest baton now (a precaution Stark advises he take and take it he did), the Avengers fare much better at close combat than he.

 

Doombots aren’t much of a threat anymore. Judging by the fact that they’ve hardly changed over the years the Avengers have been dealing with them, Doom isn’t exactly very creative with what he chooses to unleash upon the streets of New York - it’s such a commonplace sight, now, that even the locals are beginning to grow accustomed to the sight of them. From the rooftop of this police station, he can see people still sitting outside the nearest coffee shop, watching the battle take place as if they were watching a parade. It’s only the tourists that run away screaming nowadays. He’d laugh if he weren’t otherwise occupied.

 

“Watch your sixth, Legolas!”

 

Clint spins faster than a freight train, bowstring pulled tautly. The Doombot, clearly not expecting to be noticed so soon, rears back as the arrow hits the space between its eyes and explodes upon contact. The sheer force of the blowout decapitates it in a mess of wires and jagged shards of metal and the body, separated from its power source, promptly takes a swan-dive to the ground. Clint doesn’t dwell on how disturbing it is to watch them die up so close; instead focuses his undivided attention back onto picking off the Doombots crowding Thor.

 

“You good, Legolas?”

 

“Stop calling me Legolas,” Clint drawls, hardly paying attention to Tony’s voice in his comm.

 

“You like it.”

 

“It’s rather fitting,” Bucky adds bemusedly.

 

The supersoldier has two guns attached to his back and yet he doesn’t use either, opting instead to rip the heads off the Doombots that try to go near a crowd of screaming tourists with only his arms. It would have been an impressive sight if Clint didn’t know the guy as well as he does; it’s hard to admire a man when you’re aware he’s gotten his arm stuck to the fridge like an angry and oversized magnet, too.

 

Steve - ever the Debbie Downer - warns, “what did I say about joking around on the comms?”

 

The archer can see the man in red, white and blue only a few meters from the base of the police station. He has no trouble decapitating the Doombots, what with the force he throws his shield back and forth with - like some overpowered Frisbee, he’s always thought. “All I need is the luscious long hair,” Clint comments out of pure good humour, grinning to himself.

 

“You’re too ugly to be Legolas," Sam drones, waving at Clint from where he’s spinning through the air, letting his wings slice through the Doombots who try to tackle to him to the ground. For only a moment, the sharpshooter stops firing arrows to flip him the bird (hah). He continues, “and I don’t think I’ve ever seen you ride a horse before. You have to be able to ride a horse to be considered as cool as Legolas.”

 

“Where would one get a horse in New York?” Thor asks loudly. His voice is strained as he slams his hammer into the stomach of countless Doombots, immobilising them until Natasha is available to come and decapitate them.

 

Tony hums. “You guys want a horse AI in the Tower? I can do a horse AI. I’ll even make a- what do they do? Jumping? I can make a horse jumping course on the gym floor.”

 

“Guys,” Steve says again.

 

“A horse AI,” Clint repeats.

 

“I’m game," Natasha says, characteristically sounding amused and somehow so monotone all at once. It’s the first thing she’s said other than affirming orders given to her by Steve or Tony. “I've always wanted to ride a horse properly. I watch it on TV sometimes."

 

"Who knew the Black Widow likes horses?" Tony laughs over the familiar whine of his repulsors. The sharpshooter watches a blast of brilliant blue carve a hole right through the chest of a Doombot as the Iron Man suit swing low to the ground beside it. It only serves to stutter its steps and so it moves to aim its own gun towards Tony, but another merciless blast to the forehead takes it down before it even gets a chance to charge it’s shot. "You're like Tina from Bob's Burgers. Really edgy, but horse-obsessed.”

 

Clint grins. "You watch Bob's Burgers?"

 

"I’ve been exposed. Surprise, I sometimes watch shitty cartoons.”

 

"And I sometimes watch horses. Guess we both lost our dignity today, Stark."

 

“Guys!” Steve snaps, frustrated.

 

The sound of Sam’s wings cutting the air catches Clint’s attention and he turns around to see the man himself touching down on the rooftop, eyes warm behind the red tint of his goggles. Even from a few meters away, Clint can see the layer of sweat that sheens his exposed arm; can see his chest heaving as he tries to catch his breath. “Mind- mind if I sit? Just for a bit?” he asks wearily. Compared to how tinny he’d sounded over the comm, his voice is jarringly clear. “I’ve been flying for an hour straight. There are so many fucking- fucking robots. So many .”

 

Clint takes his hand off the bowstring to stick him a thumbs-up. The guy is only human, after all; they can’t expect him to be able to keep up with a team of aliens and supersoldiers for as long as he has been. The sheer amount of Doombots swarming around today (there’s more than usual today, he’s noted with some amount of worry) is exhausting even to the more superpowered of the bunch. As he pulls out another handful of bows from the holster lying by his feet, he says into the comm, “does anyone know how many there are right now? In the field?”

 

The first to answer is Tony. “JARVIS is telling me that there are exactly 294 active right now,” he reports, breathing hard. Clint takes a moment to watch Iron Man take down a Doombot that lands so hard, it dents the pavement and leaves long cracks five meters up the street. “293.”

 

In the corner of his peripheral vision, Sam is climbing to his feet again, metal wings unsheathing from his back. He presses a button on his wristwatch and a holographic screen projects from its interface, displaying numerous buttons and dials that Clint can never hope to understand - he’s never had any use for a lot of Stark’s more advanced technology, not when he’s perfectly capable with nothing save for a bow and arrow. He turns a dial on the screen and some of the metal plates on the end of his wings contract into their inner structure, shortening their wingspan. Catching Clint’s eyes, Sam beams him with his best shit-eating grin and tells him, “shorter wingspan faster turns. Time to take these motherfuckers out .”

 

Another arrow hits the temple of a Doombot and it blows it’s head off before it can even raise its gun. “Go do that,” he murmurs distractedly.

 

“I have an idea!” Thor declares loudly, driving his hammer through the body of a Doombot so hard that the following explosion resounds even through the comms. “Why don’t we use that device with the electromagnetic pulses? An EMP, as I recall you saying? It should be effective in taking down all of the Doombots at once, no?”

 

“An EMP would kill Tony,” Natasha answers dismissively. Momentarily distracted by the conversation happening in his ear, Clint watches the Russian spy disable a Doombot with nothing but a single foot and a baton. “Remember what happened last time we used an EMP? Do you want to repeat that again?”

 

“I don’t,” Tony says.

 

Clint remembers it as if it happened yesterday. They’d been dealing with a swarm of giant robot bees (seriously, why are they always robots?) that were being manifested and released into the streets from the sewer system. With their large numbers and erratic tactics in battle, even the Hulk found himself struggling and overwhelmed while working to subdue the worst of them. The amount of collateral damage being dealt to the streets and to the citizens that lingered were causing too much trouble for them to handle all at once - trying to clear people out of the danger zone while battling with the danger in it isn’t an easy feat, even for the Avengers.

 

In the middle of the stress, Steve only saw one way to get the job done quicker; turning on the EMP. It could have turned out okay if he’d communicated this idea through the comms first but he didn’t mention it until they’d started to notice that the bees were dropping - and, with them, Tony.

 

The Iron Man suit had hit the ground hard, but no one had been worried about any broken bones (of which he had none, thanks to the suit’s effective impact protection). No - everyone had only started to get concerned when they realized that the glowing blue disc in the billionaire’s chest wasn’t glowing any longer.

 

Bruce had been able to reactivate the arc reactor with JARVIS’ help before Tony succumbed to the shrapnel in his chest, though, so it turned out to be a successful plan in the long run; just another near-death experience to add to the list, Tony had joked five minutes after waking up in medical that very same day.

 

“Oh, I forgot about that until now ,” Thor murmurs, his downcast voice merely whisper against the angry roar of a Doombot.

 

Sounding guilty, Steve hums. “Let’s not consider the EMP again,” he suggests.

 

“Agreed,” Sam says, sucking in a breath. He isn’t panting anymore but that same exhausted expression remains burned into his face, ragged and tired. Seeing it almost makes Clint feel guilty; he’s not exerting himself nearly as much as his teammates are while hanging on this rooftop, firing arrows and joking around. “Thanks for letting me hang on your rooftop, Legolas.”

 

“Bye, sweetcheeks.”

 

Sam throws a crushed can at the back of Clint's head but there's that fond affection in his eyes that lets the sharpshooter know it's out of pure, good humour. He pushes into the air, jetpack screaming with the effort, wings tilting as he tilts himself towards the ground with the grace and fire of a real falcon. Then, only moments later, his voice appears again in the comm. “Uh- Stark, it isn’t time to go home yet.”

 

Clint doesn’t look away from the cluster of bots he’s targeted but he can see the Iron Man suit in the very corner of his peripheral vision, the repulsors on his feet burning molten hot. Something in his stomach twists - it’s not like Tony to retreat back to the Tower during a battle, especially not one against something as customary as a swarm of Doombots. Somewhat unsettled, Clint says, "Tony?"

 

“There he goes again. Probably doing something stupid,”  Steve grumbles, no trace of humour in his voice. “Tony, where are you going? What are you doing now? Come back, we have to--"

 

“--there’s a bunch of DoomBots heading for the Tower!”

 

He’s never stood up so fast.

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

“It’s so empty,” Peter says to nobody.

 

The white expanse of the infirmary room’s ceiling offers no response and he just sighs, letting his eyes fall shut. The Tower has never felt as empty as it does now ever since Peter first woke up in the very bed he’s lying in at that moment; without Clint, Sam and the rest of the Avengers hovering over him at every second of the day with their warm smiles and domestic shenanigans, the sheer size of the Tower suddenly makes him feel so much smaller and so much more alone. Even the infirmary feels a little bigger than what he’s comfortable with.

 

Bruce had left him to his own wits in favour of completing some unfinished work in his laboratory (he’d been very reluctant to leave him by himself, but Peter didn’t want to be any more of a burden to the doctor than he already is) and the bots are restricted to Tony’s floor when the billionaire isn’t around to keep them in line, so for the better portion of the afternoon Peter is left with nothing but himself, the ceiling, and…

 

He glances to his left, where his webshooters lay on the bedside table.

 

There’s no real reason why he made them. Not one that doesn’t make him look insane, anyway. After all, Spiderman isn’t really a part of him anymore. The webshooters don’t belong to Peter Parker - because Peter Parker likes Legos and science and Star Wars, and Spiderman likes helping old ladies across the street and retrieving stolen bikes and pretending he’s making a big impact on the streets of New York. And Spiderman went missing a year and a bit ago. Spiderman went missing when the suit was burned.

 

When Tony Stark had left Peter in his workshop, he’d had no intention of making the webshooters. There’s no reason why he should. There’s no way he’ll ever use them anytime soon.

 

But everything he needed to make them had been right there (nickel-plated annealed brass, silver, copper, welding torches…) and it’s almost as if he went on autopilot - as if Spiderman took the wheel and locked Peter in the trunk. Apart from some strips of light leather for the wrist strap and the webbing solution itself, the webshooters are better than ever and can even hold 2x more cartridges than before.

 

For only a moment, something inside of him wonders whether Dr. Banner would have what he needs for webbing solution.

 

He considers breaking them again - to keep the thought of what isn’t a part of him any more out of his mind, far from his reach - but then his mind replays that memory--

 

--”Aunt May, what’re you doing? Let me-- me o-out!”

 

He stares at what’s left of them, shattered like glass shards on the counter.

 

“Dude,” he whispers, looking away from the webshooters.

 

The silence is a deafening thunder in his ears. Stiff from lying awkwardly for an elongated period of time, Peter sits on the edge of the bed and cracks his back. He wants to do something, but he doesn’t know what he wants to do, or what there is to do in the first place. Tony’s workshop is a far walk from the sixteenth floor. The communal floor doesn’t feel right without everyone else there to make it so. He’s living in the place he’s always dreamed about living in - with the people he’s always dreamed about meeting - and yet it just doesn’t feel right .

 

He picks up the webshooters, entertaining restless fingers with the comfort of their customary weight. They feel natural in his hold - so much so that Peter feels almost disgusted by how familiar it all seems. He recalls the day he’s first made them like it happened yesterday; how excited he’d been to finally add onto his ridiculous spider gimmick; how satisfying it felt when he shot a strand onto his ceiling and swung from his desk to his bed (he’d smacked into his bedroom wall the very first time, but no one needs to know that); how proud he was of himself for managing to pull off what he thought could only be an idea.

 

Absently, he lets the pad of each finger stick to the spring steels; lets himself identify the spinneret nozzles and the solenoid needle caves and the hinge points simply by touch. That same excitement isn’t there anymore. The number of times he’s had to put together and rebuild the webshooters during his time as Spiderman chased it off long ago.

 

He tucks the webshooters safely behind a box under the infirmary bed and stands up, cracking his back again. This time it makes a satisfying pop and he grins, momentarily taken back to the times when he’d randomly crack his bones (he’s one of those people and he’s proud of it) and Aunt May would cringe and try to tell him that he’ll end up with terrible arthritis at twenty if he did it anymore.

 

(“You’re disgusting, Peter,” she says, reaching over to ruffle his hair.

 

Looking at her from over his glass, he grins and says, “maybe, but you love it.”

 

“You’re right. I do.”)

 

Twenty minutes and too much aimless wandering later sees Peter sprawled out on Clint’s favourite beanbag in the communal living room, a share bag of hot twisted Cheetos lying in his lap (they’re labelled ‘SAM’S CHEETOS’ but it doesn’t say anywhere on the packet that Peter can’t eat them, so he took the liberty to do so upon himself), flicking through the television channels. Peter hasn’t had so much control over a television in so long that he’s forgotten whether he likes half of the programs available or not.

 

“JARVIS,” he murmurs around a particularly large Cheeto, “do you have Star Wars?”

 

“Of course. Which movie would you like to watch?”

 

He doesn’t so much as hesitate - he’s very well versed as to what his favourite Star Wars movie is. “ The Force Awakens , please. Thank you, JARVIS,” he says as he dips his hand into the bag of Cheetos again. Having the AI around is certainly one of his favourite parts about his temporary living situation.

 

“It is no problem, Peter.” JARVIS promptly brings up the movie onto the extensive television screen, but doesn’t play it immediately. “Before I unpause the movie, Dr. Banner would like to know how you are doing. He would also like you to know that you are welcome to come to his laboratory if you would wish to do so.”

 

At that, Peter can’t suppress a smile. It’s comforting, being reminded of Bruce’s presence, even if they’re not in the same room. Even just being aware of him makes him feel that little less lonely and small in the expansive space of the Tower. “Tell him that I’m alright and perfectly comfortable watching Star Wars in the living room,” he says around a mouthful. He pauses to lick the hot, orange Cheeto dust off his fingers. “And tell him that I’ll take him up on that offer when the movie is over. I haven’t watched TV by myself in ages.”

 

“I have relayed the message. Would you like me to unpause your movie now?”

 

“Yeah. Thanks, JARVIS.”

 

“You are certainly welcome.”

 

He grins as the AI obediently unpauses the movie, shifting in the beanbag so that he’s closer to lying it in it rather than sitting upright. The beanbag has definitely seen better days; the battered purple and black design are worn thin in places and yet it isn't close to the point of ripping. It's stuffing, victim to Clint's ass over the years, is flat to the stage where it's comfortable no matter how awkwardly he sits in it.

 

(It reminds him of the sofa at May's house. He briefly wonders whether she's managed to get the spaghetti stains out of it from that one time, or if she's replaced it with that expensive one she's always thought would good look with the colour of their walls from the shop down the street yet. Or maybe she re-painted the walls...)

 

Two fingers pinch at the space between his eyes and he sighs, willing himself to just focus on the movie. It's like every moment of contentment gets beaten down by memories of her . Can he not just enjoy The Force Awakens in peace?

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

"Bruce! Bruce! Answer me, dammit!"

 

The comm is lying half a room away and yet Bruce can hear Tony's voice, loud and clear as if the guy himself were right in front of him. He frowns, hurriedly rolling his swivel chair over to it and fitting it into his ear. "Hey- hey. I'm here. Are you okay, Tones? Is someone hurt? Do you need the Other Guy?"

 

Tony must be flying fast, because Bruce can hear the whine of his boot repulsors over the sound of his frantic, heavy breathing. "I- the Doombots are heading for the Tower, Bruce. They're too fast for me to catch up and the others are busy handling the stragglers who- who are trying to kill ci- get over here , Doombitches-"

 

Already standing from his chair, Bruce makes a beeline for the elevator. JARVIS quickly moves him down a couple of floors with no prompting. "Tony- Tony! Chill. Chill, yeah? I'm heading to Peter right now, okay?"

 

"Doombots are easy to take but there's no way that Peter--"

 

"Tony!" he snaps, and the billionaire's breath hitches in his throat. "Focus on getting rid of as many as you can before they reach the Tower--"

 

"Shit! They're--"

 

Tony is shouting, but it’s a dim whisper over the sound of the windows smashing on the floor beneath him.

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

Apparently, peace is too much to ask for.

 

He’s hardly an hour into the movie when his spider-sense rings painfully in the back of his head and the wall of windows cave inwards, sending sharp shards of glass through the air so fast that Peter barely manages to dodge them before they’re cutting into the skin of his forearms. They don’t hurt, what with pure adrenaline fighting off the tiny pulses of pain before he registers it, but he worries that the wounds will heal over the pieces of glass stuck in his body and that’s going to have to be something he has to deal with forever if he’s going to keep his identity anymore. Droplets of blood leave thin red trails on the pale of his skin.

 

Peter’s body hits the ground hard as he vaults over the back of the sofa and he just groans, rubbing at his eyes with the ball of his palms. It takes him a moment to gather the energy to sit up against it, already feeling tired of whatever has come to shit on his day. It’s just his luck, isn’t it? Just good old Parker luck, coming back to bite him in the ass after waiting so long in the shadows. Good old Parker luck.

 

The footsteps that resound throughout the room are heavy and metal, but Peter doesn’t think that they’re Iron Man’s. There are at least eight pairs of feet, their steps slow and dangerous, like predators stalking their prey. The ominous quiet of the room sends cold anxiety running through his veins.

 

It's almost concerning, really, that Peter's first coherent thought is 'will I ever get to finish my movie?'

 

“JARVIS?” he whispers.

 

“Dr. Banner and Sir are on their way, Peter. Please remain hidden from sight until it is safe enough for you to get out of harm’s way,” the AI says, British intone frightfully calm.

 

The superhero in him itches for the webshooters under the infirmary bed but he just shakes his head, trying to steady his breathing. No matter how much he wants to spring up and attempt to take whatever just infiltrated the Tower down, he’s not going to move. He’s going to stay behind this sofa and wait for Bruce and Tony to get here, because he is Peter Parker - and Peter Parker definitely does not jump into battles with supervillains. Peter Parker watches Star Wars and plays with Legos and stays away from the danger.

 

But then his spider-sense screams and there's a shadow looming over him.

 

It's an ugly thing - all grey and green metal, two slanted slits in the outer armour of the face glaring and red. Its arm is pointed directly at his head and it takes Peter a moment to notice that there's a gun built into its structure, the end whining and glowing a daunting shade of white.

 

On reflex he jumps onto the wall and the gun fires, burning a spot right into the floor where he'd been sat only moments before. His spider-sense is a constant presence drumming in the back of his head - screamingscreamingscreaming for him to get the fuck out of the Tower, to get himself somewhere where the stupid robot and the stupid gun can't reach him--

 

"What the fuck," Peter hisses through his teeth, crawling away from the bot as it unloads shots into the wall behind him. "What the fuck . What the fuck ."

 

Without the webshooters, he has no way of defending himself. They’re his most effective weapon and defence all at once. He doesn’t even want to engage these ugly things in battle - he just doesn’t want to die face-to-face with the white of their guns, y’know?

 

From where he is on the wall he can finally see just what he's dealing with at its proper scale; there has to be maybe ten identical bots in the room, all aiming their guns in his direction, red slits watching him with some sort of blood-lusting intensity. He can hear a few out in the corridor on the other side of the wall and there's a couple more flying (of course they fucking fly - Parker luck comes into play as per usual) towards where the window is broken in.

 

The guns fire and he takes to the ceiling. Thankfully, their shooting skills aren't exactly up to par - they seem to have to calculate their shot before they take it, meaning that they're essentially only effective against targets that don't move. The pause between each shot gives Peter a good chance of getting out of the way before it lands. He doesn't dare to try and initiate contact; he has no idea what those dumb robots could do and how to take them down without his webshooters.

 

A blast of white brushes too close to comfort but he doesn't register it, moving too fast to feel anything except the heat it radiates when it marks the ceiling. Their inability to aim seems to only anger them more, if their frustrated roars and their growing rate of fire is anything to judge by.

 

"J-JARVIS," he murmurs, "where are- uh-?"

 

"Dr. Banner is approaching by the door to your left. Sir is currently occupied with some of the Doombots outside of the Tower."

 

Despite the situation, Peter can't swallow his giggle. "Doombot?" he repeats, dropping to the floor and vaulting over the cocktail bar as shots burn into the ceiling where he'd been only a few seconds beforehand (he can't have Bruce seeing him crawling on the walls, not even if it means he has a better chance surviving this bullshit). "That sounds-"

 

"Peter! Peter, where- oh shit -"

 

Bruce usually has that calm, patient vibe surrounding him, so the raw panic in his voice is something terrifying in itself.  Peter picks up a glass from the shelving in the cocktail bar and throws it over his head, hoping it serves to alert the doctor of his presence. "The cocktail bar, Bruce!" he shouts, voice shaking as he feels the heat of a passing shot that digs a steaming, charred dent into the wall nearest to him. His spider-sense is blaring again, painful like a migraine, and he grits his teeth. "Br-"

 

"I'm here, Pete!" comes the doctor's voice as he skids to the floor next to him, panting harshly, his head hitting the bar. There's a sheen of sweat on his forehead and his eyes are wild with worry as they look Peter up and down. His hands shake when they reach up to take hold of his forearms, to which Peter doesn't shy away from. For only a moment, his spider-sense is calm. "Are- are you okay? Are you hurt, Peter?"

 

"I'm fine. Really, I'm alright. I managed to get over here before they got anywhere near shooting me." He grins despite himself, breath shaking. "They're not the best shot in the world, are they?"

 

"They're not exactly intelligent machines." Bruce slowly rubs at the salt-and-pepper curls on the back of his head. "I'm pretty sure they've forgotten that we're here already."

 

Indeed, the shots fired in their general direction have stopped in their entirety - as long as they stay here together, Peter is sure he's safe enough to get through this. His spider-sense is now nothing but a low rumble in the back of his head, not so much as twitching as the bots move around on the other side of the cocktail bar. He lets out a long sigh and rubs two thumbs into the corner of tired eyes. "JARVIS said they're called Doombots."

 

"We deal with them a lot," Bruce says, "which is why they didn't call me out to deal with them. The Hulk causes more damage than the Doombots do, most of the time." Something in his face changes and he looks away from Peter, back to where the shot had burned the wall a few minutes beforehand. "Did that nearly hit you? Are you sure you're fine, Pete?"

 

"Bruce."

 

The doctor looks him in the eyes wearily. "You're so calm for someone who's never done this before."

 

Ah, if only Bruce knows how wrong he is - while he's never dealt with these Doombot fuckers before, he's certainly has been in similar situations against similar villains. Perhaps his experience is nothing compared to the Avengers but it's a good amount of experience nonetheless. Peter wants to laugh but he restrains himself, instead opting to respond with nothing more than a shrug and a smile.

 

Bruce looks at him for a beat longer before his hand goes up to his ear. "Tony, I'm sitting next to Peter behind your cocktail bar on the communal floor," he says into what can only be a comm. The teenager can hear a voice responding to him, but it's too tinny and far away to make out what it’s actually saying. "Yeah. There are maybe nine or ten in here with us. They're not shooting at us anymore.”

 

“Anymore?” he thinks he hears Tony shout.

 

“They were shooting at Peter but he’s okay- Tony .” Bruce looks weary, but he’s still smiling. “Tony, listen. He’s fine. None of them landed a shot on him. He’s right here next to me. You want to talk to him?”

 

Hardly a second passes before Bruce is unhooking his comm and offering it to Peter. He takes it hesitantly and puts it to his ear. The sound Iron Man’s repulsors charging and firing assaults his ear almost immediately. “Hi, Tony. It’s- uh, it’s Peter.”

 

“Are you okay, Peter?”

 

“Bruce already told you I was fine. I was eating Sam’s Cheetos and watching Star Wars when they came in, and I got behind the cocktail bar before they could shoot me.” He breathes out a chuckle. “They’ve got a shitty shot, let me tell you that.”

 

Tony laughs, long and loud. “That they do. I’ll clear them out in a second. I’m just dealing with some that got loose in the lower floors and then I’ll be right up, yeah?”

 

“Yeah. I’ll give you back to Bruce now.”

 

“Don’t bother. See you in a second, Pete.”

 

The rumble of the repulsors shuts off like a switch and Peter hands the comm back to Bruce, who hooks it back into his ear. “We’re lucky that they’re not built to listen to audio,” the doctor says, the epitome of indifference despite the situation at hand. “Otherwise we’d be piles of ashes right now.”

 

“I thought you’d have let the Hulk beat them to smithereens by now, you know.”

 

“As I said, he causes more damage than he prevents. It’s easier to let the others take care of this and,” he smiles, reaching forward to ruffle his hair and suddenly its May that’s sitting in front of him in Bruce’s place, “for me to take care of you .”

 

He swallows. Blinks May away. “That’s corny.”

“Yeah? Well, so am I.”

 

It’s then that the Doombots behind them scuffle and suddenly there’s a whining repulsor. “Fuck, there’s so many of them in here. How did not one of them land a shot on you, Pete?” Tony’s voice bites out, over the sound of metal bodies falling.

 

Peter doesn’t look around the cocktail bar but he knows that Tony is clearing them out fast; he can tell that much just by the rate at which he can hear the repulsors fire and the metal collapsing. He figures that, once you get to know their weak spots and their own strategy in battle, they’re probably not difficult to beat at all. If he’d been more prepared and had his webshooters with him, he could have probably managed the Doombot swarm by himself.

 

It’s another minute or so before Tony finally stops firing and Peter scrambles onto his knees to peer over the top of the cocktail bar. With his faceplate up and exposing a face shiny with sweat, Iron Man stands in the midst of motionless metal bodies, their heads separated violently. He looks ragged and tired. “That was the last of them, hopefully,” he says, shooting both Peter and Bruce a worn smile. “Let’s just pray that the others are capable of getting rid of the rest of them downtown, huh?”

 

“That was eventful,” Bruce comments.

 

“You think so?”

 

The billionaire casts another look at the mess of robots in front of him before his eyes flit up to look at Peter, running up and down his body as if confirming his presence. “You’re sure you’re alright? No secret wounds you’re not telling me about? Because I don’t think my poor old heart can take much more panic today, Pete.”

 

Peter looks down at where the glass had cut his arm and isn’t surprised to see that the slices have healed already, leaving nothing but faded trails of blood that stain the pale skin of his forearm. He tries to rub the marks off on his shirt as to not arise suspicion. “I’m fine,” he says, “I promise I’m okay, Tony. Just a little bit peeved that I couldn’t finish my Star Wars movie and Cheetos, to be honest.”

 

(Which isn’t a lie in its entirety.)

 

“You’re really not shaken up or anything?” Bruce says, side-eyeing him. “I know too many people who would be crying in the corner after nearly getting killed by some robots. And they’re all older than you.”

 

“Clint,” Tony remarks. The doctor snickers.

 

There’s really no other way he can justify his behaviour at this point: “I grew up in New York. What’s there to be worried about?”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

“Let’s go out for breakfast,” Bucky sleepily suggests over a cup of coffee one morning.

 

Ever since the ordeal involving the Doombots a few days ago, everyone has been in surprisingly decent moods. The Tower has been cleared of decapitated robots, the shattered glass from the windows has been swept up and repaired and the burn marks have been scrubbed off the wall and ceiling. There is no evidence that they ever broke into the building other than the memories the incident left behind.

 

Tony had decidedly kept the most salvageable Doombot and it’s in his workshop now, gathering dust as it awaits further investigation for anything that could be of use -- for wires, for parts, for video feed, for  anything  that could clue them into wherever these swarms were coming from. He’d insisted that there would surely be some sort of homing device or traceable tracker within their networks.

 

The first thing Sam recalls thinking when he’d seen the mess left in the communal living room is  ‘how is Peter perfectly okay after this?’ .

 

The kid had walked out if it all with nothing more than some minor bruising from where he’d apparently vaulted over a sofa for cover and landed hard on his back. Which, to be fair, is understandable in Peter’s case; if there’s one thing he’s learned about the kid, it’s that he’s definitely fast on his feet. There are certainly no doubts that he could outrun Sam if he really wanted to.

 

But it’s a little abnormal, he thinks, to not even be so much as  shaken  by that sort of experience. That kind of incident isn’t the sort that leaves the victim perfectly alright -- he could have  died . If he hadn’t moved fast enough, those burn marks on the ceiling would have been on  him . Surely, Peter is smart enough to know that. Does he really have so much exposure to similar situations that he just blows them off his shoulder like this all the time?  Is there something he’s hiding?

 

He’s noticed over time that Bruce has been suspicious, too. The doctor hasn’t actually  voiced  this, so to say, but Sam is much too trained to miss the way he observes Peter out of the corner of his eye whenever the topic surfaces in conversation; the way he squints and purses his lips as if he’s deep in thought whenever Peter uses the  ‘I’m a New Yorker, I’ve seen this sort of thing so many times before’  excuse in order to justify his casual attitude towards the whole ordeal. That sort of nonchalant demeanour is only consistent in people with day jobs alike the Avengers’.

 

But, for now, Sam dismisses his thoughts in order to enjoy his morning. The cheery air surrounding the Avengers (plus Peter) is muted, everyone somewhat sleepy and still waking themselves up with mugs of steaming coffee. No one is eating, likely waiting either for Sam to get up and start making them food, or for someone to direct them to a place to go and get it.

 

“McDonalds for breakfast?” Tony says, looking vaguely hopeful.

 

The resident billionaire isn’t one to show up for-- well, anything, but he’s been getting better at it recently. Something tells Sam that Peter has something to do with the sudden spike in attendance. His face is worn and his hands are wrapped around his coffee as if his life depends on it, but there’s this warmth about his eyes that Sam soon decides is the look of a man who is, at that very moment, content with his life.

 

“Not McDonalds,” Steve warns around his own mug.

 

“But  Dad ,” Clint grumbles, slumping in his seat like a disgruntled toddler. The sharpshooter has been relatively bouncy all morning, and so DUM-E had been instructed to make him a hot chocolate instead of a coffee in order to avoid ramping up his energy even further. It doesn’t seem to be working -- if anything, the sugar in his drink has just made it  worse .

 

Sighing dramatically, Natasha slides off her barstool, leaving her empty coffee cup in the sink. “I’ll go on a Subway sandwich run. What does everyone apart from Steve want?”

 

“Why apart from me?”

 

“Because I know what you want anyway. You always have exactly the same thing. Italian bread, chicken, no cheese, toasted, lettuce, cucumber, no sauce.”

 

Steve shoots her a pair of fingerguns. “You got me there.”

 

“No, that isn’t what I meant,” Bucky says, waving his hands around his head to get everyone’s attention. He pauses to drain what’s left of his coffee like it’s a shot and throws DUM-E his mug, who catches it with trained ease and puts it in the sink beside everyone else’s. “I mean we should go out to eat breakfast together. As a team.” His eyes flit to Peter, who’s looking a little less dead and more attentive to the topic at hand. “And Peter.”

 

At this proposal, Bruce brightens up considerably. He’d finished his herbal tea a while ago and has been reading this morning’s paper since, his salt-and-pepper curls unruly around his ears. He pushes his glasses up his nose and squints over the top of his newspaper. “I agree. I don’t think Peter has been outside ever since he got here. The kid’ll die of vitamin D deficiency if we’re not careful.”

 

“Let’s get him clothes while we’re at it,” Sam suggests, side-eyeing the teenager slouching next to him. “I’m tired of Peter wearing all my stuff. It reminds me of how twiggy I am when a shortstack like him can fit into them.”

 

(He doesn’t miss the way Tony’s lip twitches at that.)

 

Peter collects the energy to look offended. “I’m not  short ,” he says ignidantly.

 

“Yeah, and pigs can fly.”

 

“On Asgard--”

 

“Shut up, Thor.”

 

The God looks away, grinning into the swirling cinnamon brown of his coffee cup. “You hurt my feelings,” he murmurs to Sam, who just claps a hand on his back.

 

“So, we’re going out for breakfast?” Natasha says from where she lingers in the doorway of the communal kitchen, running delicate fingers through her ponytail. Donned in black leggings, a tanktop and a pair of crimson trainers, she looks as if she’s ready to go out for a morning jog. “Any idea where we’re going, then?”

 

“How about Westway?” Steve suggests helpfully. “I’m craving their egg and bacon English muffins -- you know the ones that Marcie makes us, with the little triangle flags in the top?”

 

“Ooh.” Tony gives his empty coffee mug to DUM-E, who is more than happy to put it in the sink (they have a dishwasher, obviously, but Steve and Bucky seem to like doing the dishes themselves) for him. “Those are  good.  The egg yolk with the salt tastes so great when it’s all runny and warm. I could do for one of those right now.”

 

“Me too,” Clint murmurs, starry-eyed.

 

Bucky adds, “I’m fond of her pancakes.”

 

Picking up his hammer and tossing it from hand to hand, Thor loudly declares, “I quite enjoy their vanilla milkshakes. Do you think I can get a vanilla milkshake with my egg and bacon English muffin?”

 

“You sure can, Sparkles.” Tony grimances and rubs at his ear with a finger.

 

“And there are clothes shops right around the corner from Westway, right? We can go get some breakfast and then go buy this kid some clothes for himself,” Sam inputs, grinning over at Peter, who is biting his thumb and looking around at the Avengers with a sense of warmth in his cinnamon eyes. That is an expression he recognises clear as day -- he’s finally growing to understand what it’s like to have a family again, after spending so much time fending for himself in the street.

 

“This is so exciting!” Clint also gives his hot chocolate cup to DUM-E and stands up off his stool, smoothing the creases in his shirt. “I’m really glad you suggested this, Buckaroo. I can’t remember the last time we went out and got breakfast together. Tony is so rich that he just orders everything in all the time.”

 

“What  else  am I going to do with all my money, huh?”

 

Bucky is smiling. “I’ll do the dishes while you guys shower and get dressed. I’m not going to be seen with you when you all look like sweaty apes. Except for Natasha… who always seems to look immaculate, for some reason.”

 

The SHIELD agent in question tilts her head and looks at Bucky with a comfortable sort of venom in her eyes. “That’s because I shower regularly.”

 

Peter gives his mug to DUM-E and gets up to leave the kitchen. “I am  not  a sweaty ape,” he gripes from down the corridor.



 

.



 

The journey to Westway is only fifteen minutes on foot and so the team (plus Peter) collectively decided the walk would be good for them. Everybody seems to be in good spirits under the brilliant gold of the early morning sun that bounces off windows and leaves pools of light to warm the pavement. Even Natasha -- who is somewhat reserved and serious at the best of times -- chatters with Bruce and Thor nearer to the front of the group and Clint thinks that it’s good to see that she’s comfortable.

 

And though he shares that refreshed mood, the marksman finds himself gradually gravitating towards Sam and Peter, who walk side-by-side nearer to the back of the group, not so much as talking but instead enjoying the tranquillity of each other’s company.

 

He falls into step on the other side of Peter. The kid acknowledges his presence with nothing more than a timid smile, but he doesn’t say anything. Just crams his hands into the pocket of Sam’s hoodie like the anxious teenager he really is.

 

Clint takes this chance to look Peter over. Though he’s still skinny as a stringbean (it doesn’t help that Sam’s clothes are too big on him, either), he’s looking to be a weight that is less unhealthy and more average for a kid of his size and age. The professional haircut that Tony forced him into has really done him good regarding his looks; where his hair previously curled around his ears and brushed the back of his neck, they’ve shaven the underside short and left it long on top, giving him a flare of charm that even Bucky begrudgingly admitted the look suited his face well.

 

Not only does he look better, but Clint begins to recognise a new, distinct look about his eyes; complete and utter  contentment .

 

It makes him happy to know that the kid is doing alright.

 

But seeing him so comfortable also makes him wonder how permanent his position in the Avengers Tower is. He knows for a fact that every single Avenger are more than happy to house Peter. There is no reason to think otherwise, after all -- everyone, out of pure affection, has gone out of their way to make the kid feel comfortable and welcome in their living space. They’ve made sure he feels included. They’ve made sure that he knows he can come to them for help. They’ve made sure that he knows that he’s not so much an outsider from the group anymore. Steve’s suspicions have reportedly lessened over time and he thankfully never enlightened Peter on them. Tony even gave him access to his most private workshop (only when he’s in there, too, but it’s more than what everyone  else  has). That’s not what people do when they want someone to  leave , is it?

 

Only, his legal guardian is still the woman who booted him from his previous home -- Clint doesn’t care to remember her name -- and so it’s not like they can just decide where he can live, no matter what Peter wants. Though she was heartless enough to kick him out, the woman still has full legal rights over his custody. They have no right to decide that Peter can take permanent residency in the Tower unless they get explicit permission from the woman or get legal custody over him.

 

Even if they get that sorted, there is still the matter of convincing the law that they’re capable of having custody over a minor. Their lifestyle isn’t exactly kid-friendly at the best of times, what with the danger that accompanies their jobs -- not to mention the fact that he could become a potential target used to manipulate the Avengers if some sort of evil power were to gain knowledge of the Tower’s newest resident.

 

With that in mind, the idea of having Peter living in the Tower permanently seems distant.

 

And it sucks, it really does. He doesn’t know whether Peter wants to stay -- it’s too early to ask and the team hasn’t really discussed it extensively as of yet -- and he’s finding it increasingly difficult to rely on his observations in order to gain insight on the matter. Peter is generally content, but he’s determined to stay out of everyone’s way when he thinks that it’s what everyone wants. Hell, the kid hasn’t even moved out of the infirmary despite being given an offer to do so, which can only mean that he’s expecting to be asked to leave soon enough. That thought in itself is really quite saddening.

 

(He’s been kicked out of his home by the last of his living family -- that kind of heart-wrenching betrayal just doesn’t leave anyone perfectly okay no matter how strong they believe they are. It leaves emotional scars. Gives you underlying fears that, the moment you think you’re going to be okay, it will happen all over again. Knowing that the kid is going through that does not sit well in his stomach.)

 

There are no doubts that Tony is already preparing his legal team to start on the case soon enough. Really, Clint wouldn’t be surprised if someone were to tell him that they’re trying to contact Peter’s legal guardian right now.

 

“You ever been to Westway before, Pete?”

 

Peter owlishly blinks up at Clint. “No,” he murmurs, running a hand through his hair, “but if you guys like it, then I think I will too.”

 

“You think so?”

 

“They have pretty a good breakfast menu,” Sam adds, shrugging. “It’s a wonder we haven’t been here with you yet, Peter. We go quite a lot.”

 

“Oh.”

 

The silence drags on. Ahead of them, the others fill the space with chatter Clint can’t understand and laughter that could light up the entirety of New York. Even Bruce -- somewhat quiet, reserved Bruce who prefers to only add his two cents upon matters that are important -- is taking the chance to get out of his shell a little more.

 

The teenager stretches his arms above his head like a sleepy cat, blissfully closing his eyes against the golden freckles of sun that break through the thick wisps of cloud. The winter cold nips at the tip of his nose. “It’s nice to be outside again,” he comments after a while.

 

“It’s nice to see you outside again,” Sam agrees fondly.



 

.



 

The Doombot is disturbing to look at, propped up in one of those old armour stands.

 

Tony knows all too well that they’re nothing more than an inconvenience on the best of days and yet he cannot help the sick feeling that crawls in the pit of his stomach as he regards the Doombot from across the room. It’s powered down, head lolling to the side and that glaring red previously alighting the rectangular slits of the snuffed out by their thumbs -- and, in a sick, twisted sort of way that even he can’t comprehend, it looks even more intimidating when it’s dead.

 

It’s well and truly dead, too. Tony’s repulsor left a hole in the very centre of its chestplate so wide that he could fit his arm up to his shoulder through it. The edges of the hole are melted inwards and black from the heat of the repulsor blast. He’d have decapitated it to make sure, but he figures that the wiring in the head is probably the most important part of the whole thing.

 

He kept it so he could take it apart. Underneath those flimsy sheets of metal, from that shitty network of wires and pulses inside of the helmet, he figures that there’ll be something he can salvage. A homing device of sorts would be useful -- maybe they’d finally be able to figure out where these fuckers are coming from and take them on at the source.

 

“J, where do you think we should start?” he calls out.

 

“I believe the head would be most efficient.”

 

“Head, it is.”

 

Ten minutes later and he’s collapsing into his swivel chair, observing the mess of frazzled, twisted wires he ripped out from under the thing’s breastplate with half-hearted interest. There’s nothing vaguely useful in it’s networks. Even the lifeless powersource, which he set to the side to get a closer look later, could serve little purpose to him. With technology as advanced as his, there’s no reason why he should have anything less so.

 

Maybe just to laugh at.

 

(He did. Quite a bit.)

 

“Hammer, DUM-E,” he orders, and the robot obediently pauses it’s sweeping to pass it to him. He picks up the disembodied head (it took quite a bit of effort to get it off with his hands, but he just about managed without the Iron Man suit) and hits a dent into where the faceplate attaches to the main exterior of the scalp, which essentially weakens the joint and lets him pull it off with little more than a soft tug. DUM-E helpfully collects it from underneath his chair and puts it on the table before returning to his original job.

 

The wires inside rip out easily and they join the mess on the table. With them gone, the shell of the head is nothing but an empty cavern, and it doesn’t take long for Tony to spot the homing device tucked into the circuit of the inside surface. He takes the tweezers off the only empty space on the table and uses it to pull it out.

 

He studies it in the light. It’s a delicate piece of technology; a small, yellow chip that looks like it could fit into a phone and not numerous killer robots. Now  this  is the sort of progress he’d been hoping to make.

 

“JARVIS, can you tell me where the homing signal for this is coming from?” he says into the air, holding it up higher above his head so the AI can pick up the readings that little bit easier.

 

“This isn’t a homing device, Sir.”

 

Tony flinches. “Really? It isn’t?” he murmurs, somewhat disbelieved that he labelled it incorrectly. “What is it?”

 

“It holds the camera feed, sir. I believe there’s a camera between the eyeholes.”

 

He picks up the faceplate with his free hand. Right where JARVIS said is a small circle of black in the silver metal -- a tiny camera lense, he recognises immediately. How could he have missed something as obvious as that? Has he slept so little over the past few days that he can’t find the easiest of details?

 

“Camera feed, huh?” he says to no one, smiling and peering into it more. This is bound to give him what he wants -- a camera will let him know where the Doombots are coming from for sure. He slots the chip into the nearest computer with a thumb. “Put it on the big screen, J. Let’s watch a movie.”

 

He can only hope the camera feed starts when the bots turn on.

 

Only, it doesn’t.

 

Tony blows out his cheeks and leans back in his swivel chair. The beginning of the feed shows that it’s flying over New York and he can hear the sound of Sam’s wings cutting the air behind it, meaning that the camera feed turned on halfway through the fight and not on it’s way over to it. “This hasn’t been tampered with?” he says to JARVIS.

 

The AI replies, “not that I can tell.”

 

“Which means it hasn’t.”

 

Doom must have thought ahead and adjusted the cameras so they started recording at a certain point instead of when the bot itself turned on so as to protect the location in which they come from. He glares toward the empty shell of the faceless helmet. There must be some sort of homing device still jammed up in there somewhere -- it’ll just take some time to find it, is all. That’s only two days of lost sleep, probably.

 

He continues to watch the footage. The different point of view is actually rather interesting -- seeing the fight in the perspective of the enemy is something that he doesn’t see very often. He watches it dodge his repulsors; watches it shoot it’s gun at where Clint is crouching on the edge of a rooftop. The marksman doesn’t so much as flinch when the shot of light flies past his ear, only tilts his head the other way so it doesn’t singe the edges of his hair. That man is really something else.

 

It’s not long before he loses interest in the video, instead choosing to divert his attention to finding the homing device in the head of the Doombot. There’s so many tacky little pieces that he has the right mind to think that Doom put half of this shit in just to confuse anyone who tries to tamper with it. He wouldn’t be surprised if that were really the case. It’s always the annoying villains who tend to be the most slippery.

 

With the amount of focus he’s putting into his task, the sound of the video gradually fades into the background. It’s only brought back to his attention when he hears the jarring sound of a shattering glass panel.

 

This is a bot he picked up from the communal living room. Of course it would show this section footage.

 

He watches Peter vault over the sofa with the grace of a gymnast, and then hears his muted groan as his back hits the floor. The Cheetos he’d been eating had been thrown in a random direction in the panic of the ordeal and there’s a rip in the seam of the beanbag he’d been slouching in from where his foot had broken into the fraying stitches, the inside spilling out like sand through one’s hands.

 

Even though this isn’t live footage and he’s aware that Peter gets out of it with nothing more than mild bruising, Tony feels his heart hammering against the metal casing of the arc reactor. He knows all too well how terrifying it is for your peace to be broken so suddenly like that, but he cannot imagine it in Peter’s perspective. He’s just a  kid  -- he doesn’t have any kind of experience with any of this no matter how ‘used to it’ he insists he is.

 

He watches the bot advance forward toward the sofa in slow steps that echo throughout the empty walls of the communal living space. Smashed glass crunches beneath the wide area of its feet. The whole swarm of Doombots seem to be moving in the same direction -- for the couch.

 

They saw Peter before he hid.

 

Tony feels the knife in his stomach twist. God, this must have been scary.

 

The camera comes to a stop at the base of the sofa. The bot is momentarily stuck in a pregnant pause, and though he knows otherwise, Tony finds himself hoping that it would forget about Peter and try and find someone else --  anyone  else -- to harass.

 

His hopes are expectantly snuffed. The camera feed shifts forward and over the edge of the sofa so that Tony can see Peter look up, skin visibly whitening as he registers the situation, coffee eyes wide and glossy with present fear, staring like a deer in headlights into the barrel of a whining gun.

 

And then he--

 

“What?”

 

Tony raises his hand and JARVIS obediently pauses the video. Discarding the head onto the floor over his shoulder, he gets up off his chair to get a better look at the screen. “What the fuck? What am I-- what? What am I looking at?”

 

“I believe Peter is on the wall, sir,” JARVIS offers helpfully.

 

“Yeah, no shit,” he snaps, combing shaking, oil-stained fingers through his hair.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Intellectually, Tony is aware that he should tell the team about this. The Captain, unbearably abiding to protocol as he is, has made numerous good points about telling the team of any new, important developments such as this -- insisting that it results in less conflict and better overall integrity and more trust in each other both as friends and as coworkers , whatever that’s supposed to mean. He’s never really listened to Steve’s ‘do good, be good’ speeches.

 

But there’s some distant part of him who looks at the kid and can only think that there is no way that he -- twiggy little Peter Parker, who eats his popcorn one at a time and still gets excited when he has the chance to hang out with Bruce (which he is not jealous of, at all) -- is Spiderman. And he thinks that, if he wants the team to properly believe what he saw, he needs to do so himself.

 

So, over the next week, he tries to convince himself.

 

It isn’t hard to keep an eye on Peter. With JARVIS on his side, he can monitor every room in the tower aside from the team’s personal floors (which he reluctantly implemented out of pure respect for their privacy, because he’s nice like that) -- and with Peter still stubbornly residing in the sixteenth floor infirmary, he has full clearance to monitor that room however he likes. Of course he doesn’t watch it himself, because that’s incredibly disturbing and likely illegal; he simply gives JARVIS instructions to alert him of any odd, spider-like behaviour and leaves it to settle.

 

The first alert is given to him via his smartwatch while he’s hanging in the communal living room with Clint, Sam and Bruce and JARVIS quietly shows him footage of Peter placing some odd pieces of technology behind a box of bandages under the bed. When Thor takes the kid to the park later that day, he takes it upon himself to investigate, only to find a pair of what he can only identify as Spiderman’s webshooters. The spinneret nozzles, empty canisters and spring steels are dead giveaways.

 

He’d placed it back afterwards. He didn’t want to spook the kid away if he picked up on Tony’s discovery.

 

It’s as if discovering one spidery train enlightened him to a dozen more he’d been brushing off as nothing but odd quirks. For instance, he immediately picks up on the fact that his reflexes seem honed to the max when he throws the kid a spoon and he catches it without so much as glancing away from his book. And he noticed a little while later, Peter was absently turning the pages by simply pressing a finger against the paper. Part of Tony wonders whether it’s a force of habit or something he does purposefully.

 

A day after that, he’d gone about researching Spiderman’s known mutant abilities. Sticking to surfaces, superstrength, superhealing, enhanced senses of a sort and perhaps some kind of early warning system. Of course, most of these things are only rumours conjured by curious citizens while watching his behaviour in action, but Tony has no reason to think that they’re unrealistic; he lives in the same house as a God , for fuck’s sake.

 

And so he decides to dig into the specifics of the operation and decides that nothing could be more telling than a DNA sample. He’s never gotten anything from Spiderman but he can only assume that there’s something abnormal there, what with the weird spider superpowers and all. It’s hard to believe that none of that is biological in some way or another.

 

He manages to swipe the kid’s fork while volunteering to wash the dishes after a sleepy Wednesday dinner. It doesn’t take a genius to spot the irregularities in his DNA structure; a structure he can recognise from some sort of spider -- that part is obvious -- but not any breed he’s seen before. He labels the sample as ‘jacked up spider’ and then tells JARVIS to remind him to look into that more some other time.

 

By Friday, he comes to the conclusion that Peter has to be Spiderman. The DNA, the reflexes, the hand thing all adds up eventually.

 

The reality that Spiderman is a kid -- a fifteen year old, who they found homeless and beat up -- leaves his whole body feeling hollow. Spiderman has been hit with cars and shot and stabbed and beaten up and-- and he’s just a kid

 

—a kid who can stop a bus with his bare hands—

 

—but he’s fifteen

 

—no. No. Tony cannot comprehend how on earth Peter got these spider powers and why he decided the best thing to do with them was to fight crime in New York alleyways, but he isn’t incapable or stupid. Peter -- Spiderman -- may be young, but he can clearly take care of himself, and who is Tony to suddenly come and start mothering him over it? Peter is his own person who can make his own decisions. Tony is not his parent or guardian; he is simply just offering him a place to live until Peter can decide where he wants to go and what he wants to do.

 

So how did he end up homeless?

 

What happened to Spiderman?

 

… has he hung up the suit for good?

 

It’s a comfort to know that Peter is happy in his home. He just wonders about the future of it all.

 

“J, what should I do?”

 

His voice echoes in the expanse of his personal floor, with no one but JARVIS to keep him company.

 

“I suggest telling Mr. Barton and Mr. Wilson first, sir.”

 

It makes sense. Sam and Clint were the two who saved Peter from those assholes in the street and brought him back to the Tower. They’re the closest to the kid out of them all. He notices that they gravitate the closest to him when they’re all doing something together, like a couple of moons on their orbit. Like two annoying older brothers who secretly care about their younger sibling more than they care about anything in the world.

 

He decides it’s best to add Natasha in too. Her and Clint have been searching for Spiderman even without the support of SHIELD (they think he doesn’t know that they leave the Tower late at night but JARVIS tells him every time) for God knows how long and Tony finally found him right under their noses this whole time. Besides, he thinks it won’t be long before she finds out herself if she hasn’t already.

 

Tony works the crink out of his back as he stands up from his couch. “Good idea, J.”



.



Sam wakes up to catch the pillow before it hits his face and he throws it at whatever presence is trapping his legs against the bed. “Piss off, ghost.”

 

“Tony ordered waffles for breakfast,” the ghost tells him, and another pillow thumps the side of his head before he can detect it’s swing.

 

“What time is it?”

 

“Seven.”

 

“Fuck off, Barton.”

 

The sharpshooter cackles like a witch high on laughing gas. “I love you too, man. Let’s go eat our body weight in waffles before Steve beats us to it.”

 

“I’m sure Tony can afford to order more,” Sam says, and Clint rolls off his legs to let him get up.

 

The distinctive scent of sweet waffles and warm syrup hits Sam like a freight train the moment he steps into the communal kitchen and he is pleasantly surprised to see everybody eating their breakfast somewhat normally for once. Even Tony joins them this morning -- he’s sitting on the countertop instead of at the table, but he’s here nonetheless, and Sam admires his effort to actually get out of his workshop once in a while. The man really does hole himself up to the extreme sometimes.

 

Steve pats the empty seat between him and Peter, who has positively drowned his share of two large waffles in an unholy amount of syrup. “Come sit here, Sam. Is two waffles okay? And do you want the syrup? We had to open a new bottle after Thor drained the last of the other one.”

 

“It does taste delicious,” Thor reasons with a shrug. His hammer is sat just beside his plate, the harsh, white light of the ceiling lamp hitting the flatter edges of the corners and reflecting dull lines onto the surface top.

 

“Sounds perfect, Steve” Sams says as he sits down. “Good morning, Pete.”

 

Around a mouthful of waffle, Peter says passively, “morning.”

 

Bucky passes him his breakfast, the fork stabbed upright in the middle of the stack and the syrup bottle sat on the side of the plate. He doesn’t get to use it before Clint, though, who is quick to snatch it and follow Peter’s example of smothering his share of three large waffles in the stuff. “Thank you, Buck.”

 

“So polite,” Bucky murmurs and crams a forkful of waffle into his mouth.

 

It’s unusual to have a quiet breakfast time, but Sam cannot say he doesn’t enjoy it. With a team as upbeat and as energetic as this, it’s not often he sees them as tranquil as they are right now, and the calm of it all is appreciated in the tired grey of the early morning. He can still feel the throb from where Clint hit him with a pillow behind the weight of sleep lingering under his skin.

 

Soon enough, Thor is dropping his fork into the space where a stack of five waffles had been sitting. The noise is enough to jar everybody out of their state of peace. “I have finished!” he declares helpfully.

 

“Leave your plate there,” Tony tells him, still tucking into his first waffle. “U will take it later. Right, bud?”

 

The friendly AI, who has been quietly picking up the empty delivery bags and putting them in the bin ever since they started to eat breakfast, spins his arm in the affirmative. “That isn’t DUM-E?” Clint says, pointing his syrup-stained fork in the bot’s direction.

 

“Obviously not,” Tony snaps.

 

“They look the same.”

 

“But they act differently. They have their own personalities .”

 

Steve makes a tired face into his waffle.



.



It’s two hours after breakfast and Sam is locked in a trance as he watches the plot of Dunkirk unfold slowly on his television screen, the sheer impact of the silence and the raw beauty of each and every shot leaving even his packet of hot Cheetos tasting somewhat dull the more he eats. Even the reddish-orange dust on his fingers -- that is usually considered the best part of the whole bag -- doesn’t compare to whatever he feels over this movie.

 

He’s watching Tom Hardy fly his plane when the movie suddenly pauses and the familiar British intone of JARVIS talks through the quiet in the room, voice a knife through warm butter. “I am sorry to interrupt, but I must tell you that Sir requires your presence in the open laboratory, Mr. Wilson. He asks me to tell you that Mr. Barton and Miss. Romanov are also there, so you can not worry about, and I quote, ‘being eaten alive by my sheer presence’.”

 

His stomach flips. He says, “I’m guessing you can’t tell me why he wants me.”

 

“That is correct, Mr. Wilson.”

 

“Call me Sam,” he murmurs absently, advancing for the elevator with too much energy in his step. There isn’t much to justify the sudden bout of nerves -- he supposes that there’s just something intimidating about his presence being required , especially by Tony Stark. Half of him is afraid he’s going to be turned into a science experiment, or an AI, or something.

 

(“It’s unlikely, but not impossible,” Bruce had pondered thoughtfully, when Sam asked him whether he’d ever be turned into a robot by Tony not too long ago.)

 

“Take me to--”

 

“You do not need to ask, Sam.” JARVIS sounds as formal and as polite as ever and yet Sam can detect the tiniest fraction of frustration in his tone.

 

The elevator jerks into its descent down a couple floors and the few minutes of complete silence gives him time to worry about what is to come. Anxiously, his leg bounces, a subconscious habit born out of nothing he can remember. Tony has never done anything to him; nor have the two resident superspies, save for perhaps Clint, who has a habit of attacking him with pillows or water pistols when he’s just minding his own damn business.

 

So why am I so worried about it? he asks himself, and cannot think of a reasonable answer.

 

The elevator stops with jarring movement and the doors take what feels like a decade to open, to expose the sleek grey design of Tony Stark’s favourite open laboratory. As expected, the man himself is sitting on a countertop, scraps of metal and a beaker full to the brink of a strange, steaming blue liquid pushed away to make room for him and his accompanying coffee cup. There’s a fading oil stain on his right cheek, a feature that seems to be on the permanent side nowadays. The arc reactor’s blue disk of light barely shows through the thick, reddish material of his AC/DC hoodie.

 

Clint, meanwhile, is slouching on the couch in the corner, decked out in his Hawkeye gear with his bow lying on the floor beside his feet. The sharpshooter must’ve been training. He gives Sam a quick once over as he steps out of the elevator. “You’re nervous,” he concludes a moment later.

 

“I see it too,” Natasha adds. She’s sitting on one of the stools wearing leggings and a sweater, hands hidden under it’s sleeves. The fact that she looks relaxed makes Sam feel that little bit more comforted.

 

“Do you know how chilling it is to be ‘required’ by Stark?” Sam says, and flops onto the sofa beside Clint like a tired cat.

 

“I won’t bite,” Tony defends uselessly.

 

Clearly uninvested with the conversation at hand, Clint carefully tries, “so what’s this about, then?”

 

Tony’s hands are kneading together in his lap.

 

“I found Spiderman.”

 

Both Clint and Natasha are out of their seats in a moment. The sudden loss of weight on one side of the couch startles Sam more than their movement does. “What?” Natasha demands. “Are you sure?”

 

“After all that time we spent searching for that little cunt -- all the sleep I sacrificed -- and you found him?” Clint snaps, and falls back into his seat. “You found him! You!”

 

Tony simply says, “sit down, Nat.”

 

Sam isn’t sure why he’s been called to attend this meeting, too, but he plays along nonetheless. He hasn’t been searching for Spiderman as much as Clint and Natasha have -- hell, he can’t remember a time he tried at all . How little he contributed to their tireless searching almost makes him feel guilty -- and he wasn’t even part of the set mission in the first place.

 

“I can’t believe you found Spiderman,” Clint says again, as if trying to convince himself. “I can finally sleep a full night. I can finally stop prowling around New York like some kind of child abductor.”

 

“I need an explanation, Stark,” Natasha is demanding again. There’s surefire venom practically dripping off her words and yet Tony remains cooly impassive, his eyebrows not so much as twitching.

 

“Why am I here again?” Sam tries, but one seems to be listening to him.

 

Tony fingers drum against his knee. “J, play the video,” he says, and a video feed comes to life projected on a holographic screen in the middle of the room. Sam has to crane his neck to look at it properly.

 

It starts off with a cinematic shot of New York. Sam almost admires the beauty of the image, observing how beautiful his city can be from a birds-eye view such as this, but the footage then suddenly dives down and he realises as he notices himself in the shot that this is the viewpoint of one of the Doombots.

 

He watches it dodge Tony’s repulsor blast. “Did we do bad in that battle?” he asks.

 

Tony gives him a look akin to as if he were eating a lemon. Behind his shoulder, the video continues to show the Doombot pounce at a pre-occupied Nat and escape before she can land a hit. “You did fine. Why’re you asking?”

 

“Why else would you be showing us this?”

 

“I’m a little confused too,” Clint says uneasily.

 

(He wonders whether Natasha already knows his intentions. That woman knows everything.)

 

“JARVIS, skip ahead fifteen minutes and… thirty seconds,” Tony says, and the AI obliges.

 

The video jumps to a shot of the Tower getting gradually closer and closer, a small swarm of perhaps six or seven Doombots flying ahead of the one they’re watching the view of. They don’t stop as they reach the glass of the window, just crash right in through it and send shards of glass flying in every thinkable direction. Sam’s heart skips a beat when he sees Peter throw his bag of Cheetos across the room and vault like a gymnast over the couch the moment they break in.

 

God -- this must have been terrifying for him. Sam can only remember the bone-quaking fear and nothing else before he’d gotten used to this kind of thing. Maybe the point Tony is trying to make is that Peter needs better protection if he’s going to be staying in the Tower for a while. Maybe he just needs to work harder to keep the kid safe.

 

This, like white noise, is the only thing on Sam’s mind as the Doombot advances towards the couch.

 

“Oh my god,” Clint murmurs right next to his ear.

 

“Why are you showing us this, Tony?” Natasha says.

 

The billionaire doesn’t reply, just motions to the video. The Doombot is leaning over the couch now. The distinctive sound of a whining repulsor blast -- much like the one that the Iron Man suit makes and yet so much more sinister -- is muted to the sound of his own blood running in his ears. Peter’s eyes are glossy with mounting terror as he looks up into the Doombots face and-- and--

 

Climbs up the wall?

 

“Stop it, J,” Tony says quickly, and the sudden loss of the video feed’s humming background noise leaves the room washed over in an overwhelming tidal wave of tense silence.

 

It’s Sam who speaks first. “What the fuck?”

 

“That’s what I was thinking,” Clint says.

 

“What the fuck?” Sam reiterates, because what the fuck?

 

He’s seen that kind of wall-crawling before. He’s seen it on the news; flashes of it in the streets; on YouTube videos he occasionally finds himself watching. There’s not many people who have that kind of crawling. In fact, that kind of crawling is special to only one person in this whole damn city.

 

Spiderman.

 

And-- and--

 

What the fuck?

 

“What are we going to do?” Natasha asks, strangely calm.

 

“What the fuck,” Clint says.

 

“Peter is Spiderman?” Sam says, hoping to God himself that Tony is going to say no , that the walls just happen to be crawlable, that Peter fucking Parker is not the missing vigilante that they’ve all been looking for.

 

But it all adds up. From what they derived from the school report, Peter could have been homeless and kicking for over a year -- which is round about the same length of time that Spiderman has been missing. Peter can catch things without looking up. Peter’s hand once got stuck to his jacket and it isn’t like he had glue on his hands. It all adds up and he’s fucking kicking himself for it .

 

“Peter is Spiderman.” Tony repeats. “I have a DNA sample. J?”

 

The AI projects an image of DNA through a basic microscope. Sam isn’t a genius nor does he know anything about DNA, but even he can spot the odd irregularities in the sample. It makes him feel like he’s looking at a peeled lime, or someone in the bath; like he’s looking at something he shouldn’t see.

 

“So that’s what you were doing with his fork,” Natasha says, and Tony shoots her a somewhat unnerved eye.

 

“What the fuck,” Clint says again.



.




“Peter is Spiderman?”

 

It’s like someone took a knife and twisted it into his gut. He regrets snooping. Oh, God, he regrets snooping. They know. They know. Tony knows. They knowtheyknowtheyknowtheykn--

 

“W-window, J.”

 

“I am not sure that letting you out is a good idea, P--”

 

“I swear to God-- open t-the window!”

 

The window opens and Peter is gone.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

It is a bleak Friday evening when she finds out.

 

A normal day to start. Peter wakes up in a brilliant mood, aces his surprise chemistry test and even manages to get out of doing homework simply because of his good attitude in his lessons. Even the rain hasn’t been enough to dampen his high spirits, especially when he gets to witness Flash slip on a puddle on his way out of the front gate. It's things like this that keep him coming to school every day.

 

In spite of the harrowing weather, he goes out on patrol after school. He figures that, even though he finds it impossibly difficult to thermo-regulate (which he assumes is a trait he’d developed from the spider bite), the safety of the New York population is a matter he regards as much more important than his own health.

 

But crime apparently has much more sense than him and decides to stay inside this damp evening, for there was little more to deal with than an old man exhausted by the mere thought of carrying his groceries into his apartment five floors up and a young woman whose wife was puking her stomach into a trash can outside of a bar.

 

And so with that sorted he goes home, somewhat glad that he doesn’t have to stay in the cold rain for too long. Though the suit has built-in heaters, it doesn't do much in the name of keeping the water from getting in — he hasn’t exactly nailed that part, yet. It's a long process of research he really doesn't want to do at the moment.

 

An average day, so far.

 

Only, when he gets to his bedroom window, he tries to pull it open and discovers with a twisting stomach that it refuses to budge. He peers through the glass to see that someone has flipped the catch closed. The reason he’s always kept it open is so that he has easy access after patrols, but May must’ve finally noticed it. She's always fretted about people breaking in via the windows.

 

He can’t fault her for that, really. Anyone who cares about their home would do the same, including himself it he didn't need it open. She doesn't know the real reason as to why Peter keeps the catch flipped but he's frustrated over it nonetheless; getting out of the suit is always a struggle what with the tight fit and the awkward contours of his body, but it'll be even harder with the weather and there's nowhere nearby to change save for a damp alleyway full of dripping drains.

 

That's just... great. Just perfect.

 

But then he recalls what May had told him that morning — “I’m going to be at work until tomorrow, so you’ll have to feed yourself tonight, Peter. Is that okay? Will you be okay with that?” — and whips out his door key from his backpack, taking advantage of the late night and quiet apartment building to get through in the Spiderman suit without being noticed.

 

His mission is successful. He checks the corridor before he rips off his mask, the air becoming considerably fresher as the material is removed off his face. A deep breath ripples through his lungs. “I’m so ready to take a nap,” he murmurs, and lets himself into the apartment.

 

Only, there’s a voice responding to him as soon as the door opens, one he certainly didn’t expect to be home until tomorrow.

 

“Oh, me too, Peter. I’m home ear-“

 

He doesn’t hear anything else. He steps backwards out of the apartment and slams the door behind him before she can finish.

 

Oh God. Oh God, Oh God, Oh God. He should have gotten changed in the soggy back alley. Oh God.

 

Is it normal for a human heart to be beating so fast that it’s thumping against one’s skin?

 

Oh God. Oh God.

 

Why isn’t she at work?

 

“What’s the racket? I’m trying to feed my birds,” the croak of an elderly voice says from the door to the left, and Peter is so, so glad that the only neighbour who’s curious about the noise is blind.

 

“Nothing, Mr. Nelson. Sorry for bothering you,” he says. The shake isn’t easy to keep out of his voice but he manages well enough to satisfy Mr. Nelson, who just hums thoughtfully and goes back into his apartment once more.

 

He tries his only other way out — getting to the alleyway and taking off the suit again, so as to make sure May doesn’t see again what he’d actually been wearing — but he’s hardly a step down the corridor before his apartment door is opening again, and May is peering out at him through her wire-rimmed reading glasses. “Pete?” she says, faintly. “What are you wearing?”

 

It’s like there’s a knife in his stomach, twisting and stabbing and making him bleed the liquid of guilt and that indescribable this is it. This is where it ends emotion that no one can even fucking understand--

 

And then he’s back in the rain.

 

There’s drops of it running down his skin, down his arms, down the thinner material of the new hoodie Thor kindly brought him just a week beforehand. It’s drenched, now, probably ruined, and he wonders through the onset of panic if he can call it a metaphor of his mood.

 

They know , his mind reminds him. They know. They’re going to be mad at you for not saying anything. They know.

 

He knows, intellectually, that they will not have a problem with the whole superhero-slash-viglinate thing he used to have going on. They’re superheroes themselves — and though they never kept a secret identity themselves, so to say, they should have some form of understanding regarding his situation. He knows that.

 

But there’s May’s voice in his head, controlling his fear, yelling into his ears you should have told me! And I thought you trusted me! And how could you do this to our family, Peter? and even you could have stopped him from dying and-- and--

 

And he just--

 

There’s no air. No air. No air.

 

May is there, next to him. How could you, Peter, she’s whispering. How could you do this to us? To me?

 

I was trying to protect you!

 

He can’t breathe.

 

There’s someone crouching in front of him, a warm, unfamiliar hand on his shoulder, but he doesn’t try to see who it is. He doesn’t want to see who it is. He-- he just needs to-- he just needs to--

 

He doesn’t know.

 

His feet are moving before he can register it. Why he’s running, he isn’t sure. Where he’s running… he isn’t sure of that, either. He just needs to escape. Needs to-- needs to do something. Needs to get out before they can kick him out themselves.

 

He isn’t sure if he can take that again.

 

.

 

“Sir.”

 

Tony’s head jerks up from where he’s resting it against the table. Around him, Clint, Natasha and Sam are still shouting at each other. JARVIS is barely audible over their incredible racket. “What is it now, J?

 

“Peter has left the building.”

 

“What?”

 

“Peter has--”

 

“I heard you!”

 

He’s loud enough to be heard this time. The shouting dies down all at once, like a switch has been flipped. Clint says, his eyes watching the billionaire with superspy scrutiny, “what is it, Tony?”

 

The onset of anxiety is like water through his brain and he kneads his hands together before they can start to visibly shake. “J? Care to-- to explain?”

 

“Peter was eavesdropping. He then demanded I open the window, and he promptly left.”

 

It’s quiet for all of five seconds but Tony feels a decade older when Sam finally decides to speak, his voice a razor in the silence. “Wh-- What? Why did you open it?! You shouldn’t have let him-- you shouldn’t of let him go!”

 

“Sir had given me specific instructions to let Peter leave whenever he wishes, so as to make it clear he is not trapped here. I tried to object, Mr. Wilson, but I had clear orders. I apologise for this, Mr. Wilson. If it helps, I can tell you which direction he went in up until he was out of sight of my outdoor security cameras.”

 

The AI sounds so sincere that even Clint is casting half-dirty looks towards Sam, who is still huffing despite being considerably subdued. “Why didn’t you tell us he was listening to us?” he says.

 

It’s Tony who answers, though. “We never asked.”

 

“But-- but shouldn’t J--”

 

“Let’s not worry about this now,” Natasha says, forever the voice of reason, “we have a loose Peter, remember?”

 

Sam coughs. “Right, right. Let’s summon the team, then.”

 

Anyone could have thought that utilising the whole of the Avengers team to find one kid is the easy way to do it, but Natasha clearly disagrees; her brows furrow and she takes a single, half-subconscious step towards the elevator. “No. We can’t tell the team.”

 

“Why?” Tony asks.

 

“It’s too much at once. What are you gonna say, ‘oh hey, by the way, Peter is Spiderman and now he’s missing so we’re all going to go out in the rain and find him’? They’d ask too many questions and it just adds on time we don’t have.”

 

“Speaking of time we don’t have...” Sam mumbles.

 

Tony opens his mouth, but it’s that Clint steps in this time. “She has a point. It’s just easier if we get him back and then explain everything, right?” he offers mildly.

 

It’s a good idea. Find Peter and then explain everything afterwards. The organisation, though little thought has gone into it, at least gives him a peace of mind.

 

“Right, right. Let’s go. Tell them we’ll be out for a bit, J. I’ll need those video camera clips, too. And-- and find me that suit!”

 

“Certainly, Sir.”

 

As he’s stepping towards the elevator, Clint ponders, “no one says ‘Avengers assemble’ anymore, do they?

 

.

 

It’s an incredibly miserable day, but the weather is the last thing on Clint’s mind. All he can think is where’s Peter, where’s Peter, where’s Peter, like a mantra in his head, or a hammer hitting his skull over and over and over and over--

 

And he takes a deep breath. Clears his head. Registers the cold fingers of the rain sliding across his skin.

 

“Where do we start?” he says into his commlink.

 

Across the street, Sam is checking every alleyway he passes. There’s a sense of panic to the way his breath shakes over the commlink as he walks but he is entirely calm to the naked eye, if not a little disturbing if the way he pauses at every alley is to be judged. He, like everybody else embarking on this mission, is dressed in everyday clothes so as to not draw attention to himself and therefore stir any kind of panic.

 

Clint himself takes to the rooftops. His scrappy, Hawkeye-themed hoodie (buying merchandise of yourself is funny) do nothing against the rain, but with the new possibilities opened up by his newfound knowledge regarding his alias, he thinks battling out the awful weather to search in the high-up nooks where only spider-enhanced teenagers could hide is worth it if it helps him to find the kid. God, he just wants to know if he’s okay .

 

Meanwhile, Tony and Natasha have taken to searching nearer to Midtown High after having figured that he could have gone to somewhere he’s familiar with. They, too, do not wear their suits -- not even Tony, who sticks to his strange, technologically-advanced not-glasses instead of wearing his Iron Man armour for once.

 

“Just alleyways. Places to hide,”  Sam suggests moments later. “He’s probably a bit scared. I think I would be, too.”

 

“I just don’t get it,” Clint says around a grunt, as he climbs atop an old skip to get a good look at the alleyway behind it. There are people looking at him as if he were a crazy person -- he is, really -- but they’re not on his mind. “Why would he not trust us with it? We’re superheroes. We’re the Avengers. What would we do with that information? Why would we leak it?”

 

There’s a static pause. Sam’s voice is somewhat strained when it comes back to him. “You have to think about it in his perspective, though. We don’t know why he’s running, but he wouldn’t be running for no reason, would he? There might have been an issue regarding his identity -- maybe someone found out about it and it didn’t end well, and he doesn’t want to go through that again. We can’t know for sure.”

 

Some indescribable sense of pity seizes Clint’s heart, the weight of his teammate’s words heavy in the forefront of his thoughts. Even just the concept of Peter being so jarred -- so scared, so upset -- by an experience regarding his secret identity makes him want to wrap the poor kid up in blankets and protect him from the flaws of this population.

 

He knows better than that, though. Living with a human disaster such as Tony Stark has taught him as much. People like Peter -- people so brave, so fucking strong-willed when life hits them with the worst -- do not want to be shielded from everything. People like Peter resent to being mothered, to being treated as if he were made of glass. People like Peter are determined to take care of themselves; to take the brunt of everyone else’s hurt, just so he doesn’t have to watch them fall and burn.

 

Part of him admires that in Peter, but the other part of him just frets.

 

“Clint?”

 

“Mmm?” He stoops and peers into an alleyway from the rooftop above.

 

“You never answered me.”

 

Oh. “Sorry. What did you say?”

 

He can see Sam stopping at the corner of the opposite street to speak into him commlink. It’s hard to see his face from a distance, but Clint’s eyesight is good enough to see how set his shoulders are. “Do you remember that wall that Peter liked so much?”

 

“Wall?”

 

“You know what wall I mean. We ate McDonalds with him on top of it too many times for you to forget it.”

 

Wall?

 

Oh!

 

Realization hits him like a freight train. Of course Clint remembers the wall. How could he forget it? It was the closest thing he’d had to a home in the homeless period of his life, Peter had mentioned to him over a Netflix binge session one sleepy Sunday evening. Nearly everytime they went out to buy food for the team, him and Sam would always subconsciously head for the wall to give Peter his share, too, and he’d be there nearly every time.

 

He jumps onto the lid of a bin from the roof and then to the ground, feet silent like a cat’s. “I remember where it is. Come on,” he mumbles into the commlink.

 

“Lead the way.”

 

As he waits for Sam to cross the street, he switches the commlink into their second channel, in which all four of them are tuned into. “Hey Nat, Tony. Any luck on finding him yet?” he asks.

 

It’s Tony who answers him. “Not yet. Although I did encounter an unpleasant child who tried to convince me to hire him or whatever. Says he’s called Flash. How much did his parents hate him to give him a name like Flash, huh?”

 

“And then he called me sexy,” Natasha says next. She doesn’t sound too impressed.

 

Clint snickers. "Bet you loved that."

 

"Mmm. No."

 

Tony asks, “any luck on your end?”

 

“Not yet, but we have a lead. I’m just waiting for Sam to cross the damn street. I’ll report any findings, yeah?”

 

“Sounds great. Good luck.”

 

“You too.”

 

It’s then that Sam finally manages to reach him, the knees of his sweatpants covered in a layer of grit and old, grimy dirt from car wheels. Upon seeing Clint’s questioning look, he just wheezes and says, “I fell over in the road.”

 

“You’re as clumsy as a drunk on roller skates,” Clint observes, and they both laugh despite the weight of their mission.

 

.

 

He’s there. At the wall.

 

Sam’s breath hitches when he sees the shivering figure curled up at the base of the wall, knees to his chest and hiding his face. It’s clear even from a distance that he hasn’t been under the cover of the buildings around the deserted backstreet for long, the rain soaking his hoodie and jeans to a state akin to ruin a giveaway in itself.

 

He can feel Clint stagger to move beside him and he grabs the sharpshooter by the bicep before he can take a step. “Tell Tony and Nat that we found him. And get Tony to buy some hot chocolate for all of us,” he whispers, and then, calling out to Peter’s quivering form this time, “Pete? It’s Sam and Clint.”

 

The kid must hear him because he visibly flinches, looking up for hardly a second as if to confirm it before burying into himself again. Concern swells in the very forefront of his heart. For some reason, the anxiety practically radiating off Peter strikes a chord in Sam's brain. What happened previously that made Peter this scared?

 

This isn’t a reaction he can say he understands very well -- he may be an ex-military counsellor, but he doesn’t have experience regarding secret identity exposures that are severe to this extent. It’s almost alien, to be completely clueless as to what someone is feeling, to not have an idea of the general structure of their thoughts.

 

Clint is muttering into his commlink and Sam takes to moving closer, keeping his footsteps heavy so Peter can tell that he’s approaching. He takes a seat in the puddle beside the kid, ignoring the water soaking through his tattered sweatpants in favour of the situation at hand. “Hey, Pete.”

 

Peter doesn’t move.

 

Sam takes it in his stride. “It’s really wet, here. Did you know you’re sitting in the middle of a puddle?”

 

Nothing.

 

“Tony and Nat are coming, too. They have your coat and a hot chocolate.” He grins at his shoes, and then adds, “for all of us.”

 

“Do you want cream and marshmallows, Pete?” Clint calls, wisely having not come closer yet.

 

He doesn’t look up, but Peter tentatively raises a thumb in Clint’s direction, and the response alone is enough to comfort Sam’s therapist brain. His behaviour itself is a worry overall, but the fact that he's at least trying to communicate — even if it is non-verbally — is a good sign.

 

He has a lot to work through, but he’ll be okay eventually.

 

"Okay. They're five minutes out." It’s now that Clint comes over, sitting in the puddle to Peter’s other side. Neither of them try to touch him, nor do they directly encourage him to say anything — just let the warmth of their presence alone comfort Peter. It’s important to not overwhelm him too fast, Sam thinks, because the last thing they want is to push him further into himself.

 

“I think we need to have a Just Dance session tonight,” Clint comments, seemingly unphased by the water seeping through his jeans and probably ruining them for good, “haven’t had a good one in a while. Not since you moved in, I think, Pete.”

 

“The only person I can beat is Bruce when he sits on the couch and waves the remote around,” Sam giggles, recalling. Their Just Dance sessions may always result with him at the bottom of the scoreboard thanks to his two left feet, but they are a precious memory he holds close to his heart nonetheless.

 

“I bet you could beat Steve,” Clint says, more to Peter now. “He’s the reigning Just Dance champion. Weird to think someone who’s like, three thousand years old can beat us young’uns.”

 

Sam’s grin grows. “Sorry, but a 47 year old can not call himself a ‘young’un’ anymore.”

 

“You’re 47?”

 

The kid’s voice is quiet, but it always has been, hasn't it? Sam would be lying if he were to say it didn’t bring joy to his heart. Talking without being directly provoked to is a good fucking sign.

 

“Yeah. We call him grandad now.”

 

“Since the fuck when?” Clint objects, and even Peter breathes out a laugh under his breath.

 

Ten minutes of this later and Tony and Natasha show up, brandishing Peter’s favourite black coat and five cups of steaming hot chocolate. Neither of them wonder aloud as to why they’re all sitting on the floor; just join them in the giant puddle, pass around the hot chocolates and conversate as if they aren’t sitting in a dirty backstreet somewhere in New York, pelted by the wind.


This, Sam thinks, as he watches Peter and Tony laugh and sputter hot chocolate down their chins, is what okay looks like.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

In the daunting silence of the elevator ride, Peter’s mind replays only one thought: they hate me.

 

It’s irrational, he thinks, to tell himself that when they so clearly do not. People who hate him wouldn’t spend their precious time looking for him in the rain. People who hate him wouldn’t sit in the same puddle he was, just because they thought it would make him feel better (it did). People who hate him wouldn’t leave reassuring hands on his shoulders or ruffle his damp hair or press him close to their sides, almost as if they were too scared to let him go again. They don’t hate him. They don’t.

 

But there’s some detached part of Peter that reminds him that these people are technically celebrities — who knows the motive behind their actions? Could they be providing him with all of this for the media attention, or could they be doing it out of pure kindness? Does anything they’ve ever done for him matter anymore now that they know?

 

No. No. He can’t let his mind ruin this for him this time. Even if he is just another ploy to give them a good name in the public’s books, he isn’t going to let his own insecurities ruin the chance of getting a family he feels wanted in.

 

But he didn’t tell them that he was Spiderman…

 

How could you do this to us, Peter?

 

No. They’re not like that. They understand. Right?

 

What if you died? And I would be sitting here… waiting for you… without even- even knowing! Why would you do that to me?

 

They have a grasp on secret identities. They understand that keeping one protects the ones you love — only, that isn’t the reason Peter had been keeping his alias under wraps, and the only person he has in his life to love is the same person who kicked him out onto the streets of New York in a scenario just like this one.

 

They understand, though.

 

Right?

 

The elevator jarrs to a halt, then, and the doors open to reveal not the communal living room as he’d expected but Tony’s open lab instead.

 

In the tense quiet of the lab, Peter can hear his own heartbeat as if it were next to his ears. It’s not the kind of comfortable, collective silence when everyone is just chilling in each other’s company and doing their own thing — it’s the kind where everyone is just waiting for someone to break it, even though everyone knows that they’re all too scared to. It’s the kind of silence that has his heart hammering and his stomach twisting and his hands just shake and—

 

He clenches them and then unclenches them. Admires the way the bones ripple under his skin when he rolls his fingers. Makes a beeline for the seat furthest away from the others because he just can’t deal with their— the disappointment in their eyes—

 

“We don’t hate you, you know.”

 

Clint’s voice brings him to a stuttering halt mid-step.

 

The sharpshooter starts again, this time as he perches like a lingering bird on the arm of the couch: “I could practically hear the cogs turning in your brain in the elevator, Pete. And I’ve got the worst hearing out of everyone in this Tower.”

 

From the floor, Sam snorts. Sitting cross-legged next to him, Natasha does too.

 

Meanwhile, Tony has taken to sitting on the countertop like a rebellious teenager in a classroom, and Peter notes with some sort of muted amusement that his legs don’t reach the floor.

 

Clint watches him indifferently. “I can’t really say that I know what you’re thinking, but I can take a couple guesses and say that you’re thinking we’ll hate you. For not telling us that you’re Spiderman, that is. And you think that, now we know, we’ll… I don’t know. Boot you out of here or something. Right? How right am I?”

 

His thoughts are all just one big jumble, each one contradicting the next, and so Peter doesn’t really know how right Clint is because he doesn’t really know what he’s actually thinking. It’s because of this that whatever words he did have die in his throat.

 

Clint doesn’t so much as hesitate to add, “honestly, Pete, we just want to know why you ran off. That’s all.”

 

That’s the thing, though — Peter doesn’t really know why he ran off. It was as if everything happened at once, at that moment, only an hour or so ago; his mind threw him back to when Aunt May was peering at him through her wire-rimmed reading glasses that one miserable evening and it just felt like everything was closing around him , on top of him, heart beating, crushing, crushing, crushing—

 

Tony’s at his side, suddenly, hand hovering somewhere near his bicep but not daring to touch it. “Breathe, Peter,” he murmurs and Peter frowns because he is breathing , but oh God it’s too fast and everything is fast and it’s crushing, crushing—

 

“Peter,” Tony says again. It sounds like his whole word has been dunked underwater. “Peter, you’re having a panic attack.”

 

Is he?

 

“Can I touch you, Pete?”

 

Peter can barely hear him. It’s like he’s underwater, getting deeper… deeper… deeper…

 

And then someone is pressing his hand against something warm and Peter, through the blinding washes of water lapping at every crevice of his existence, registers the rise and fall of a chest underneath his palm.

 

“Breathe with me, Peter,” Tony’s voice murmurs, somewhere.

 

He tries to. Really, he does. But it’s so, so hard and he falls that little bit deeper and everything is getting underwater further… and further… and further…

 

There’s a presence on his other side, then, and the familiarity of it throws him back to the time he was lying on the cool floor of that alleyway — pain lacing across his ribs and stomach in powerful ripples, something warm pooling from the back of his head, Clint running his hand through his hair and showing a bloodied hand to Sam, who lingers over his shoulder like a hoverfly  — and he sucks in a breath that has his head spinning all over again.

 

“Peter,” Clint’s voice says, “Pete, kid, can I touch you?”

 

“M’not a kid,” he manages.

 

It’s faint, blurry, but Peter thinks he catches Clint smiling. “You’re okay,” he’s saying again and again, almost like he’s trying to convince himself and not just Peter, “just breathe. Focus on breathing in time with Tony.”

 

But he instead just crumbles into Clint like a wet biscuit and the marksman doesn’t even hesitate to wrap his arms around Peter — holding him closer to his chest, enveloping him in the comfort that his warmth brings — and some part of Peter just dissolves and suddenly he’s sobbing.

 

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he finds himself saying, voice warbled by the onslaught of emotion clawing at his throat, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

 

“Hey, hey, hey,” Clint is whispering. “I’m not mad. I promise, kid. None of us are mad that you didn’t tell us. None of us are mad that you ran away. I promise.”

 

“I just— I’m s—”

 

“I promise, kid,” Clint repeats, firmer this time. “No one is mad.”

 

“I’d call this interaction adorable if I didn’t feel so aggressively sad,” Sam murmurs to Natasha from somewhere nearby and even through the tightness in his throat and in his chest he’s starting to smile.

 

Maybe, just maybe, they’re telling the truth. Maybe he won’t get booted onto the street again. Maybe they’re not mad at him for not telling them about Spiderman. Maybe they’re not mad about him running away.

 

God, this is embarrassing.

 

“No, it isn’t,” Tony says from behind him, and Peter grins because isn’t it just so cliché that he didn’t even realise he said it out loud?

 

Eventually he manages to rein in some of the tears and he pulls his head away from Clint’s shoulder, glad that the man’s clothes are already too damp for the stain he’d have undoubtedly left to be noticable. He says sorry again, so fast it’s like a reflex.

 

“Stop apologising,” Clint replies.

 

Peter breathes out a laugh.

 

“Do— do I have to tell the others yet?”

 

“No, Pete. They’ll know when you want them to know. We can promise that,” Sam tells him, and the words are like a shot of relief flooding his veins.

 

Thank God. Oh, thank God.

 

He can feel the cold of his rain-soaked clothes now, hanging heavy on his frame like he’s tied to blocks of granite. They’d never gotten changed after their hot chocolate session in the puddle for they’d been too caught up in everything to even notice that they’ve left pools of water throughout the Tower in their wake.

 

There are no doubts that some of the others are beginning to feel it too and so he suggests, voice small, “I think I want to get changed now.”

 

“I was hoping someone would say that,” Sam huffs, standing up. “I was beginning to freeze my dick off.”

 

“Stop talking about your dick in front of a child,” Natasha snaps.

 

Sam cackles as he disappears into the elevator.


.

 

 

Natasha jumps out of the vents just as Clint is pulling his wet shirt over his head and the sound of her feet hitting the floor sends him reeling backwards, screaming murder.

 

“Didn’t you hear me coming?” she says.

 

“No! What the fuck!” He balls up the wet shirt and throws it at her face, hitting her cheek with a cringe-worthy slapping noise. “You can’t do that to a man when he’s exposed and vulnerable, tosser!”

 

“Go and find a shirt. Your man body looks weird.”

 

“You say that as if my body shouldn’t be a man body.”

 

“And you don’t even care that I called it weird?”

 

“Not every woman can be heart-wrenchingly attracted to my dashing six-pack, can they?”

 

Nashata snorts, “dashing is a debatable term.”

 

He flips her the bird as he leaves the room to find a shirt. When he comes back, Natasha is sitting on his sofa, her damp hair now tied into a ponytail instead of hanging around her shoulders and leaving marks on her dry shirt. “We need to talk,” she tells him.

 

“What is this, therapy?”

 

Seriously, Clint.”

 

Suddenly his heart is hammering that little bit harder. It feels like he’s in the principal's office awaiting punishment all over again. He takes a seat on the sofa opposite her and rests his elbows on his knees — a feeble to at least appear nonchalant.

 

“It’s nothing bad. I can hear you worrying from here,” she begins. When Clint says nothing, she continues: “it’s just… he worried me, back there in the open lab. Something happened to him, something to do with his identity — that much is obvious, right? — and I don’t think I can let this issue sit in the water for too long. If that makes sense.”

 

“Yeah. No, I get you.”

 

Even just the memory of Peter panicking and sobbing into his shoulder clenches his heart in an indescribable ache. It’d been the first time Peter truly initiated contact with him and, while he hates it had to be in that kind of situation, he can’t say he’s not glad that the kid finally trusted him that little bit more.

 

The importance of touch is often underestimated, he’s always telling himself.

 

“I think we should leave it for today. I don’t think overwhelming him when he’s just been through all that panic will help anyone. Maybe get some food in the kid and give him a chance to wind down and take a nap before we touch that subject, y’know?” he suggests. “And… maybe we should tell the others at one point. If Peter wants us to, that is.”

 

“That’s what I was going to say.” Natasha stands up, absently rolling her shoulders and wrists. “Come on, let me blowdry your hair and we’ll talk about that more. It annoys me when it’s all wet like that. J, do us a favour and let Tony and Sam know about what we’ve been saying, please?”

 

“Certainly.”


.


Despite everything that had happened only a few hours before, dinner isn’t even that awkward. They’re eating spaghetti and that in itself is enough to cause a ruckus over the table, for Clint isn’t the cleanest eater and Thor is still grasping the concept of the point of the pasta itself. If anyone notices how detached Peter is from the rest of the team, they don’t comment on it — after all, it isn’t unusual for the kid to eat quietly in the midst of the chatter.

 

Sam regards him one tiny glance at a time. Now that he’s dry, he doesn’t look nearly as miserable as he did beforehand; his hair is fluffy and his cheeks are dusted rose-red with the warmth of the kitchen heat and some of that raw anxiety in his eyes has been replaced by something… calmer. Steadier.

 

But his therapist’s mind doesn’t let him be that naive. He can see lingering worry and inner conflict simply through the kid’s body language — the way he’s fisting his shirt under the table, staring at the surfacetop in a trance as if he were deep in thought are both telling signs that he’s having a battle in his brain.

 

Sam notices Bucky, next, detaching himself from the conversation at the other end of the table and looking at the kid up and down. There’s no doubt that he’s figured out something is up  — he’s always been very good at reading the body language of his friends. “You’ve been quiet, Pete,” he observes.

 

Peter doesn’t look up at him. “Have I?”

 

“Mmm.” His eyes are fixated on Peter, searching for something on his face. There’s something akin to — and yet, not quite — maternal concern in this baby blues. “You’re a quiet person, but you’re not usually this quiet.”

 

“... maybe.”

 

Patiently, Bucky continues, “want me to leave it alone?”

 

Peter just shrugs. “Maybe.”

 

Shovelling another forkful of spaghetti into his mouth, Bucky shrugs too. Sam supposes he’ll only leave it until after dinner — he hasn’t known the guy as long as Steve has, but he’s known him long enough to know that he wouldn’t let the topic drop just like that.

 

After dinner, Sam is on his way to find Clint when Bucky stops him in the corridor behind the communal living room. The taller man’s hair is brushed back into a neat ponytail and, most noticeably, his face is slathered with a peppermint-scented, blueish green facemask. Draped over his lean frame is one of Steve’s older hoodies and a pair of boxer shorts. It’s certainly not a look Sam would have expected to find the supersoldier wearing but hey — what’s he to do about it?

 

“What, a man can’t care for his skin?”

 

“That’s not why I’m looking at you. What did you stop me for, Bucks?”

 

Bucky scratches the nape of his neck; a nervous habit of his, Sam realizes. “You know something’s up with Peter,” he says.

 

Now, Sam could have expected the supersoldier to go asking about Peter’s wellbeing, but he’d assumed that he’d just go looking for the kid himself. It isn’t often that Bucky initiates conversation with him — with anyone (save for Steve), really. “I do.”

 

“Can I know?”

 

Sam wants to tell him — really, he does — but it isn’t his business to tell. There’s no way in the world he’d betray the kid’s trust like, especially when they’ve gotten so far with developing it already. He’s steering clear of anything that could compromise his relationship with the kid, fragile already thanks to the recent events. “Uh, no. Sorry.”

 

“Mmm. Okay. I respect that.” Bucky distractedly adjusts the hair-tie that secures the ponytail in place. “He was worrying me, at dinner. I know he’s not really…” he pauses to consider his words, “... the most extroverted person in the world, but he’s not usually so… down. Y’know what I mean?”

 

“It’s alright, Bucks. You’ll know about it soon enough.”

 

When Peter is ready for it, they all will. He’s not going to go about telling the whole team about the recent events until he gives them the greenlight  — the most essential parts of this stage are both trust and communication. Going behind his back for the sake of letting the others in on it all is betraying that promise he made.

 

This doesn’t mean that they’re not going to talk about it, however. JARVIS had told him that Clint and Natasha suggested giving the kid a break before they delve deep into that shithole but there’s no way he’s going to let the subject drop completely — resolution is the best way around this dip no matter how differently he looks at it.

 

“I respect that,” Bucky says mildly. He’s never been one to push into people’s business and for that, Sam is eternally grateful. “I guess I’ll understand better when the time comes — just don’t expect me to worry about Peter any less for now. Thanks anyway.”

 

“It’s no problem.”

 

The supersoldier touches two tentative fingers to his cheek and then draws them away to check if any of the mask came with them. He makes a face when nothing does. “This isn’t supposed to dry completely. I’d better leave before it gets tattooed into my face permanently. See y’around.”

 

Sam doesn’t even have to say anything for the man is already making his departure, walking to the elevator much faster than he usually does. He can only wonder whether the facemask will actually improve his skin or not.


.


 

“I’m sorry.”

 

Clint, halfway through creating two cups of his famous, homemade Oreo milkshakes, takes his hand off the blender’s power button and turns to look at Peter, exasperated. “I thought we went over this.”

 

“I know,” Peter claims defensively. He holds the whipped cream can in one hand in preparation for the milkshake he waits oh-so-patiently for. “I was just being sure. Just in case.”

 

“Just in case,” Clint repeats. He goes back to blendering the milkshake mix until he’s positive that the oreo chunks to liquid ratio is just about perfect, before busying himself with finding two suitably-sized glasses that will fit both their beverages and the whipped cream that will soon be topping them. Once successful, he pours Peter his glass and slides it across the counter towards him. “Take that. It’s so good you’ll see Jesus himself.”

 

Peter shakes the whipped cream can and proceeds to top his milkshake with a swirl so perfect that Clint wonders just how much he’s practised. “You’re a whipped cream professional,” he gasps in exaggerated awe as he takes the can, capping his own milkshake with a swirl not quite as beautiful. “Teach me your ways, Oh Great One.”

 

But Peter just slurps his milkshake loudly through his straw and Clint smiles, wondering where the hell the kid got all this casual cheek from.

 

“I’m sure you want to know.”

 

Clint frowns, his lip barely touching his own straw as of yet. “About what?”

 

“Why I… freaked out. Earlier.”

 

Oh — Clint didn’t expect for Peter to initiate this conversation, but he can’t say he’s complaining about it. It’s a good sign that he wants to be open about it instead of them pressuring him to be. “Don’t feel obligated to tell us about that,” he says, and takes a loud, smacking sip of his milkshake, just to wear away some of the tension in the air.

 

“I want to,” Peter says. He carefully places his milkshake on the countertop, having drunken next to none of it so far, and lifts himself so he’s seated on the space beside it. “It’s… not a complicated or long story. Not— not really.”

 

As promised, the story isn’t long — probably only about five minutes, what with how briefly Peter explained it — and it isn’t so much as near complicated, but by the time it is finished, Clint is so sure he aged a decade out of stress that he reaches up to touch a tentative finger to his face as if to check for wrinkles. Halfway through the story he’d had to take hold of Peter’s arm to keep him steady and he doesn’t let go even now.

 

It’s the shock that gets to him first. It twists his stomach like someone would twist the moisture out of a towel, letting it spread across his torso and chest like a slow tide up a beach.

 

And then it’s the anger — raging, bubbling, boiling anger that spills over the lid and sets everything on fire, because who the fuck gives their nephew emotional trauma to that extent? Who can relax knowing that their kid is starving? Who the fuck can sleep at night when they know that the kid they vowed to care for is out on the streets?

 

“Clint,” Peter says, “Clint, my arm.”

 

He looks down and notices with a hammering heart that he’d started gripping Peter’s arm so hard that the faint shadow of bruising is starting to colour fingermarks. He lets go as if he’s been burned. “I’m sorry,” he says, voice warbled. “I’m so sorry, Peter.”

 

“Clint-"

 

“No, Pete. I’m sorry that you had to go through all that shit. I’m sorry that your fucking— fucking Aunt made such a mess over—“

 

“It’s my fault!” Peter yells, and the emotion in his cracking voice is raw enough to silence Clint. “It’s my fault that she reacted so badly. We— she lost Uncle Ben and— and that night, the night he was s—shot dead, she got a phone call after he was— and she was so, so— so scared and— and— oh, God, Clint. Why doesn’t— why doesn’t she want me?”

 

Clint doesn’t ask this time; just envelopes the kid in his arms and lets him cry into his shoulder for the second time that day. Every sob that racks the boy’s frame sends ripples of pain down Clint’s heart that forces the oxygen out of his lungs. God. God.

 

When will this kid get a break?

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

“I’d like to start off by saying that I’m sorry.”

 

If it were anyone else, Sam would be expasterated by that sentence alone.

 

However, this is Peter he’s talking about — and Peter has got to be the most needlessly apologetic kid he’s ever had the pleasure of knowing. The amount of times he’s over-apologised for the smallest of faults could almost be considered excessive, though Sam understands it to be the fault of some sort of squashed anxiety issue more than anything else. The kid could get hit by a bus and he’d say sorry to the driver for being an inconvenience.

 

But he’s also kind-hearted and determined and he’s literally fucking Spiderman — what were the chances that the homeless kid Clint took a liking to in a corner shop that one murky winter’s day is also the arachnid vigilante they’ve been searching for all this time? Trust him to collect stray teenage superheroes on his way to buy Netflix snacks.

 

Everyone is watching Peter expectantly, now, the pause between them painfully pregnant. “Sorry for what?” Steve says eventually.

 

“It’s… complicated,” Peter answers, fingers tapping an anxious beat onto his knee.

 

Sam already knows what this is about, though. The kid put a lot of thought into it and, only a day or so after he’d bolted from the Tower in panic, he’s finally going tell the team about his arachnid counterpart.

 

The good part of it is that he made this decision entirely by himself. Sure, he’d consulted Clint and Sam about it when they were watching Netflix together late into the evening (Clint had suggested it to help the kid get comfortable with them again — it worked quite well. By the end of the series, he was melting into Sam’s side like a wet noodle), but ultimately it was his idea and that is definitely a step forward.

 

He, Clint, Natasha and Tony took the news very well — the fact that their resident marksman happened to pick up Spiderman, of all people, isn’t much of a surprise when you think about it — but he cannot say the same about the rest of them. That’s the bad part of it. He suspects that Steve will be the only one who actively objects the idea, Bruce will put a ton of research into it before he believes it, Thor will tell him what a great warrior he or something and Bucky will probably be pretty passive about it — but he just can’t be sure, can he?

 

There’s going to be some collective confusion over it. That is to be expected. Peter may be Spiderman factually, but one could not look at him and correlate him with the vigilante at all. Spiderman is quick-witted and Peter is quiet. Spiderman is loud and Peter is bashful. They just don’t have many similar qualities.

 

Except for the whole “spider powers” thing, of course.

 

“We have time,” Steve says gently.

 

“You can leave if you want to,” Clint murmurs, shifting so that he’s a fraction closer to Peter’s side and placing a hand on his knee and a base of comfort, “if it gets too much. Don’t feel like you’re obligated to stay.”

 

Peter glances at the sharpshooter’s hand and then up to his face. “I’m okay,” he tells him, the shake barely touching his voice and yet still so loud, “just need to get it over and done with, right?”

 

“Right.”

 

Maybe it’s the father in him, but Clint really does act differently around the kid.

 

Tony, chewing on a mouthful of corn beef sandwich in the moth-eaten beanbag on the floor, starts to nod. “We’re willing to wait as long as you need,” he manages as he’s swallowing. “We don’t mind, do we?”

 

“Not at all!” Thor announces, grin goofy as it’s ever been. Trust Thor to be completely unaffected by the tension — the guy has never been great at reading the room. That isn’t always a bad thing, really.

 

“There’s something I’ve keeping from you,” Peter begins. “And I’m… really sorry. That- that I didn’t tell you, that is. I’m- I’m sorry.”

 

“I’m getting nervous,” Bruce mumbles and rubs at his arms.

 

“Are you coming out?” Bucky says, grinning.

 

Peter giggles nervously and some of the tension from the room lifts, replaced by soft, collective laughter. “No. No, it’s something else,” he murmurs.

 

“Take your time, Pete,” Sam says in hopes to keep the room talking. There’s nothing that gives one more general anxiety than a quiet room cemented by tension — Sam himself is getting jittery and he’s not even the one doing the admitting.

 

The kid sucks in a breath so loud that Sam can hear it.

 

“I’m Spiderman.”

 

They sit knee-deep in silence. The air is so brittle that it could snap — and if it doesn’t, Sam thinks that Peter just might. No one is talking and it roars louder than a thunderstorm. He can see the way the kid getting more and more anxious the longer the quiet drags on, the nervous beat he’s drumming onto his knee growing more and more rapid.

 

Clint picks up on Peter’s anxiety almost immediately. The man’s voice cuts through the constrictive silence like a warm knife through butter, or a hand through water. “I’m proud of you, Pete,” he’s saying.

 

“What?”

 

Everybody’s eyes go to Steve. Sam bites his lip, hoping to God that the supersoldier isn’t going to be an idiot and deny the idea completely. He doesn’t want the kid to end up thinking he isn’t capable of telling them anything because he feels as if he’ll just be shot down and rejected for it. That would be a step five million miles back.

 

“You’re Spiderman,” Bucky repeats, nodding. “I always thought there was something… spidery about you.”

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

Bucky shrugs. “Spiders are cool. It’s a compliment.”

 

The kid is smiling, now. Bucky’s passive, accepting personality has never been as welcome as it is now — Sam can only hope that the others will notice how it eases Peter and therefore follow his example.

 

“It makes sense,” Bruce says eventually. “It hadn’t been confirmed, but I’d always heard reports that Spiderman — well, you — had rapid healing abilities. When you first came to the Tower, your bruises healed faster than they should have. Bruises like your had tend to take maybe five to ten days to fade, but yours disappeared completely by the third day you were here. This confirms those reports. How fast is your healing?”

 

“I can’t say I’ve ever timed it,” Peter says, shrugging.

 

Bruce squints. “Hmm.”

 

Of course Bruce is more interested in the science side of it. Of course. There are no doubts that he plans to research these abilities more. The fact that Peter is the spider-themed vigilante doesn’t even matter to him, apparently.

 

“What?” Steve says again.

 

“Why do you treat this as if it’s something to be defied, Captain?” Thor asks loudly. He stands up from the couch and pats a massive hand onto Peter’s shoulder, grin dopey. “You are a worthy ally both in mask and not. We are proud of you for telling us about this.

 

“You’re so nice, Thor,” Tony comments.

 

“He’s like... a puppy,” Natasha observes thoughtfully.

 

Thor declares, “I love baby dogs! They are so small.”

 

“You’re Spiderman,” Steve repeats. The supersoldier isn’t even listening to the (off-topic) conversation at hand, too caught up in the new information to even so much as register what they’re saying. “You. Spiderman. You’re really Spiderman.”

 

Peter scratches the back of his head.

 

“What’s the problem?” Tony says.

 

“He just doesn’t… he just doesn’t seem like Spiderman. At all.” Steve sits forward on the sofa, elbows on his knees and his head in his hands, looking right at Peter this time. “Spiderman is so talkative. He’s all over the place. He bounces around so much that he infuriates. You’re just… not like that. It’s a big difference.”

 

“I know,” Peter says, fidgeting.

 

“Spiderman went missing around a year and two months ago. Everyone thought he died .”

 

“I know. I’m sorry.”

 

Bucky warns, “Steve.”

 

The blonde sits back again. Sam doesn’t think he looks angry — perhaps just a little riled up, what with the scale of his new discovery.  “I’m not mad that he — you — stopped being Spiderman, Peter. And I know that it’s perfectly…” He stops, then. Rubs his face. Runs a hand through his thick hair. “I don’t know how to word this. I’m just struggling to understand. Why didn’t you think to tell us when you first came to the Tower? Did you think that we wouldn’t believe you? That we would reject it?” he says.

 

Peter’s fingers are drumming again. “It’s… it’s weird. Something happened. When someone important in my life found out about it accidentally. Something happened and… it made me feel weird about Spiderman, you- you know?”

 

At this, Sam’s stomach flips. So his suspicions are correct, then — he isn’t sure whether he’s glad about that or not. By the way that Clint visibly stiffens, Sam can only guess that he already knows about it.

 

“You don’t have to tell us if you don’t feel like you can,” Natasha states softly.

 

“It was my Aunt,” Peter says, his throat tight. “My Aunt May. She’s an amazing woman. She works in a hospital. Not the best cook, so we went out to eat a lot, but I didn’t mind. She knew how much I love cheap Chinese, so we ate that most nights.

 

“My bedroom window was always unlocked, yeah? So that I could get in and out to go on patrol easily. Only, when I got home this one evening — it was really wet, rainy, so I wasn’t out very long after school — the window was locked. She’d done the catch up. Which I don’t fault her for, because she just wanted to make sure no one broke in. That’s just normal parent- normal guardian stuff. Right?”

 

“Right,” Bruce murmurs.

 

“Right. That morning, May- she’d told me that she’d be at work until the next day. Something about a shortage of staff at the hospital. So I just thought, ‘fuck it’, and went up the stairs to get in through the front door. I was lucky that no one was on the stairs or in the corridors. That… would have been hard to explain.”

 

He breathes out a laugh. “And so I unlocked the door. I didn’t have my mask on. And she- she was there! Right in the kitchen, making herself a cup of coffee in her pajamas. I think they didn’t need extra staff on duty after all and she didn’t- didn’t tell me. Why would she? There’s no reason to warn me that she’d be home that she knew about.

 

“And- and I just shut the door. I was panicking. All ‘oh no. What do I do? How do I explain this?’. I- I guess I just didn’t- I just didn’t know what to do! And I was so… so scared . She would hate me. She did. After all she’s been through — after she’s lost everyone important to her — she didn’t deserve that. To- I-”

 

He stops and rubs his eyes. Sucks in a deep breath. “I was so scared. And she… she came out the door, looking at me through her little reading glasses, and asked me what I was wearing. What could I say? Cosplay? Gymnastics suit? There was nothing I could have said that would explain it other than the truth. So… so that’s what I told her. I said, ‘I’m Spiderman’ to her. Just like that.

 

“And she was so mad. So- so mad. She locked me in my room and burned the suit on the fireplace. I guess it satisfied her to have that little bit of control over it, right? I guess I should let her have that. And- and when I broke my door’s lock, she was smashing my webshooters with a hammer. A fucking- fucking hammer.”

 

His breath is shuddering, now, and Sam’s heart swells in sympathy for the kid. “Pete,” he murmurs, “Pete, you’re okay.”

 

“Do you need to stop?” Steve asks worriedly.

 

“No. No. I haven’t- that’s not the full story. I’m nearly done.” Peter rubs his eyes and then his throat. “She yelled. For a long time. I let her. I guess I deserved it a bit. I thought that maybe, in a month or so, everything would be okay again. But… but it just doesn’t go like that, does it? She was so angry and… she said she needed time.

 

“So I left. I took a bag and what money I had — which wasn’t much, I don’t think. Probably about a twenty — and I left to give her time. To let her cool her head for a bit. I thought that, if I did that and came back a bit later, we’d be able to talk about it properly.”

 

“And she didn’t let you back in,” Tony says.

 

Peter’s eyes fall to his feet. “She didn’t. I stopped trying after a month.”

 

God. So that’s why he was so afraid to tell them — he was worried that they’d reject him like she did.

 

God.

 

“Oh my God.” Bruce is chewing anxiously at his nail. “Oh, God. I’m so sorry, Peter.”

 

Clint plants a hand on the small of Peter’s back. “We’re proud of you, Pete.”

 

Sam doesn’t say anything. All he can feel in his chest, in his stomach, in his head, is nothing. Nothing at all. The very thought of having to through that — realising that the only person you have left just doesn’t want anything to do with you anymore, coming to terms with the fact that you’ve been barred out of your own home — makes him feel hollow inside and out.

 

And he just can’t imagine how someone could be so close-minded about it. Sure, it’s a big discovery — he can respect that. But to reject your kid for it before you can even talk about it? To kick them out of their home because you just don’t want to deal with it? To leave them feeling so alone and scared like that?

 

How can she live with herself?

 

It’s the anger that sets in, then. His voice, his fists, his legs, shake with it. “I just…” he manages out. “I’m so sorry, Peter. I can’t imagine how it must’ve felt to… to go through that. Thank you for finding the courage to tell us.”

 

Peter looks down at his feet again. There are tears welling up in his eyes. “I’ve come to terms with it by now.”

 

“You’re a brave kid,” Steve offers.

 

“What he said,” Bucky continues easily.

 

“It is a valiant tale,” Thor announces. He grins at Peter, an attempt to offer him some sort of subtle comfort. “You are a worthy and determined warrior.”

 

The kid smiles bashfully. It’s as if a weight of a billion tonnes have been lifted off his shoulders. “Thanks, guys,” he says, “for everything.”




.




After that, things get… a lot better, actually.

 

It’s safe to say that they are all absolutely enraptured by his inhuman abilities. He uses them a lot more now that he’s comfortable doing so. Clint has made a game out of throwing objects at his head to test his reflexes, Tony likes sticking things to the ceiling and asking him to walk up there and grab it — and Peter can’t say he minds. It’s best to just humour them at this point, he thinks.

 

He finally took Tony up on his offer, too. Saying yes to having his own room in the Tower is like agreeing on living there permanently. It was a big decision of his, but he thinks he made the right choice. Moving out of the infirmary not only did good for his nose (the smell of disinfectant gets on your nerves after a while) but it did good for his sleep too. Now he’s getting to sleep earlier.

 

He hasn’t felt as if he’s belonged anywhere like he does here for a long time now.

 

It’s this that he thinks about as he sits at the island counter in the kitchen at 6:51 in the morning, a rerun of Will & Grace playing on the tablet in front of him and a hot cup of coffee in his hands. Outside, rain patters against the windowpane and the first streaks of sun paints the sky in a golden halo against a black canvas. It only just touches the city that never sleeps, casting light across buildings once stranded in darkness.

 

The Tower is quiet, eerily so — so when Clint comes into the kitchen singing Bohemian Rhapsody and playing air drums at any given chance, Peter nearly falls off his chair out of relief. “Morning,” he says, and pauses his episode.

 

“Morning. Is that Will & Grace?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Good taste.” Clint opens the fridge and pulls out a plastic container of leftover pizza, put in there after yesterday night’s dinner. “Why’re you up so early?”

 

“Why are you up so early?”

 

“Can’t sleep.”

 

Peter doesn’t unpause his episode, just shuts down the tablet and moves it out of the way. He reaches across the island counter and steals a piece of pizza from the container. It’s ham and mushroom — one of his favourite mix of toppings. “Neither,” he says, ripping a piece of pizza off with his teeth.

 

“Why’s that?” Clint asks.

 

The truth of it is that Peter was just thinking too much. Thinking of what he could have done better with Aunt May. Thinking of what could happen to him in the future whether he stays at the Tower until he doesn’t have to or decides he wants to try to go to her again. Thinking of that- that stupid dog he met in the streets and forgot about so, so long ago. It’s weird, he thinks, to consider how far he’s come.

 

But what he says instead is, “too much coffee.”

 

(Explaining feelings is hard sometimes.)

 

“Ah, I know what you mean, Pete,” Clint says, chuckling. His pizza slice is eaten to the crust now, and he eats the rest slowly. “Don’t drink too much caffeine two hours before you sleep. That’s what Steve always tells me.”

 

“Right, right,” Peter says, and dismissively flaps a hand. “Doesn’t matter. I’d rather be eating cold pizza with you than sleeping.”

 

“That’s so weird.”

 

“You’re weird.”

 

Clint plants his chin in his hand to look at Peter. His eyes are warm. “You’ve been thinking a lot. I can see those cogs in your brain, turning and turning.” He nods, then, and tilts his head to the left. “Penny for your thoughts, kid.”

 

“God, you’re such a walking clich é .”

 

“Maybe.”

 

Peter sighs and his eyes drops to the counter. “I met this dog while I was homeless.”

 

“Oh?” Clint says, encouraging him for more.

 

“I never named him — I guess I just thought of him as a dog.” He takes another slice of pizza, just to lift some of the tension from the room. “He had black hair with a lighter snout. Like it’d been dipped in a pot of honey, I always thought.

 

“And I remember feeding it a piece of this bagel I had. It looked skinny but I wouldn’t have called it starved, you know? And... I got the bagel for free, you know, because the manager of this bagel shop thought I could use it. Like you did in that shop, remember?”

 

“I remember,” Clint murmurs.

 

“Anyway, anyway. This dog and I, we became good friends. Him and I would sit together and walk around together. We’d try to keep each other warm when it was especially cold. Sometimes he disappears for a few days, but he’s always back at the wall. Waiting for me. It was… nice. To have someone, even if it was just a skinny street dog.

 

“This dog would give me food sometimes. Dog standard food isn’t quite the same to mine so I didn’t always eat it, but he would look so proud of himself that I would just rub his ears and tell him I love him anyway. I think it was good for both of us.

 

“Sometimes it got too much, you know? I’d be crying, and this dog- he’d always come and sit on my lap, and put his head on my knee, and licked my hands and my face and my tears and…”

 

Peter pauses. Lets out a breath.

 

“... and one day, the dog disappeared for good, and I forgot about him.”

 

Clint watches Peter in for a good minute. In the thunderous silence of the communal kitchen, his voice is small. “You have us now, Pete.”

 

And Peter says, “I know.”

 

And he does.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

“The kid needs to go to school.”

 

Tony, who crouches on the floor of the living room driving a screw into DUM-E’s hand joint, oil soaking tussled hair and staining his band shirt, breathes out an airy laugh. “You think he needs it? Kid’s smarter than anyone in this Tower.” He pauses, then, and grins. “Except for me, of course.”

 

“I knew you’d say that,” Sam says, and rolls his eyes. He sits down on the floor so he’s at Tony’s level. DUM-E, still unable to use his hand while the joint is being repaired, acknowledges his arrival with a string of low whines and clicks – much like a dolphin, Sam is thinking affectionately, as he listens to the AI’s friendly tune.

 

The billionaire doesn’t say anything and so Sam speaks again. “He’s going to have to go to school at one point, you know,” he tells him. “That is, if he wants any chance of getting a job in the future. No one will hire a kid who has no qualifications.

 

“He doesn’t need a job,” Tony retorts. “He’s living off my income. I have more than enough to provide everything he’ll ever need for him, you know.” He finishes tightening the screw and delivers a final, firm pat to the joint. When an unfamiliar rattle from inside of the structure follows the blow, he frowns and picks up the screwdriver once more. It’s a wonder that he’s still paying attention to the conversation on hand at all, what with how intensely he seems to be working on DUM-E.

 

Sam puts a hand on Tony’s arm and looks into his eyes. “I’m serious, Tony.”

 

Not yet phased by the austerity of the matter, Tony shoves the screwdriver into his unsuspecting palms and launches to his feet. “Hold this,” he says, and disappears from the living room faster than one could snap a finger.

 

Sam glances at DUM-E, who slowly swivels his hand to the left and to the right, as if were the head of a puzzled dog. Whatever is broken in his joint rattles again with the movement. He puts a placating hand on the robot’s arm. “He’ll never focus on anything other than you, will he?” he says with a grin.

 

The bot replies with nothing more than a low whine and, while Sam has no idea what it’s supposed to mean, he takes it as an answer anyway.

 

It’s then that Tony steps back into the living room clutching one of his many toolboxes. He resumes to his previous spot on the floor, plucking the screwdriver from Sam’s palm. “Thanks.. DUM-E, bud, you’re going to have to sit still for a bit longer,” he says, and the bot obedienty lowers his claw to his creator’s level. “What was it you were saying, Wilson?”

 

Sam isn’t sure that the older man cares about what he has to say in the first place, but he’ll take what he can get when it comes to Tony – it isn’t often he emerges from his lab, especially before Peter came into the picture. “I was saying that Peter needs to go to school, Tones. The experience, the qualifications – it’s all valuable. We can’t deprive him of that.”

 

“He doesn’t even need to get a job, why-”

 

“Tony.”

 

“DUM-E, hold still.”

 

“Tony, just listen-”

 

A metal plate falls from DUM-E’s outer joint structure, hitting the floor with a painful clatter, and Tony’s moth opens in an owlish ‘o’ shape. “That isn’t normal. Who beat you up? Was it Bucky?”

 

Sam can feel his temper grating the longer Tony ignores him. “You don’t unders-”

 

“Do you not see what is happening to my child?”

 

Tony.”

 

Something in his tone must jar the man because he finally pauses, and his eyes steadily look up to meet Sam’s. There’s something he can’t figure out on his face, something he isn’t willing to try and understand. “Fine,” he says shortly. “I guess the kid could do with getting out a bit. We don’t want him to get- you know, socially awkward. From talking to no one but us.”

 

Sam thinks back to every time Peter has spluttered and turned red while trying to communicate with store employees and says, with a smile, “I think it’s too late for that, Tones.”

 

“Mmm.” Tony picks up a miniature LED torch from his toolbox and uses it’s narrow beam to peer into DUM-E’s structure, his focus implied by how his tongue sticks out from between tightly-set lips. “Ooh, buddy. You must be in so much pain.”

 

Now, Sam knows that Tony has never been one to pay attention to what’s important, but it’s beginning to grow frustrating. He only just manages to swallow the anger that swells in his chest and in his throat as he asks, “are you listening?”

 

“Listening? Yes.” The man looks up at Sam and then shoves the torch into his hand. He scoops a pair of tweezers from his toolbox. “Hold that. No, not like- no, shine it into here. Press that button and the beam widens- ah, you know it. Hold it there for me. And keep it still.”

 

Sam obliges, though he does so with some reluctance. The torch beam keeps a steady glow onto the internal structure of DUM-E’s joint, exposing a mass of wiring and levers that he could never hope to understand. He asks, “Peter is still out with Clint, Nat and Bruce?"

 

"Thankfully, yes.”

 

“He’s not that bad.”

 

The billionaire swears as something sparks. “He’s a good kid.” It sparks again, and this time he sighs. ”You know how long they’ll be with that farmer’s market happening.”

 

The Tower has been strangely empty as of late and Sam regrets declining the offer to go out with Peter, Clint, Bruce and Natasha when he’d been given the chance. At the time, he’d felt as if he just needed a day to chill out with no one but himself for company, but it was a few hours after they’d left that he’d realised just how much he yearned to stretch his legs. Their plan detailed going to the park and getting ice creams to battle the increasing heat, but there’s a farmer’s market in the area and Sam knows for a fact that Natasha will drag them through it for hours upon hours without end. They’d be much too scared to object – that’s just how things work around here

 

As for Steve, he’d taken Bucky out with him and gone to buy new clothes. He’d been talking about how ratty all his shirts were getting and decided it was time to go to the mall and find some more. They planned to go out to eat afterwards and then tag along with the others at the farmer’s market. Calling it a ‘cheesy old man date’ got old fast.

 

Meanwhile, Thor has gone back to Asgard for a while, speaking of an incident involving some sort of creature he hadn’t ever bothered to elaborate on – no, things are never that simple for him. He’d simply announced his departure and then took off from the Tower’s roof, lightning cracking in his wake. Without his large body and voice to fill the expanse of the building, it’s been so much quieter, so much emptier.

 

“Here’s the thing,” Tony begins, “if we want to send him to school, there’s a lot of- fuck, this wire-”

 

“Of what?”

 

Tony exhales heavily. He’s frustrated, but Sam has always been one to press matters, especially when they’re this important. “Of legalities. We don’t have custody over Peter. The school would look at who his legal guardian really is and they’d begin to ask questions. The police would be involved.”

 

“So… it’s illegal for him to be here?”

 

That’s where it works for us. Legally, we can harbour Peter here. There’s no where else for him to go. But we don’t have the legal custody over him that we’d need to keep him here and let him continue a public education.”

 

“I know someone with a real good team of lawyers.”

 

Tony nods wistfully. “Me too. I heard he’s really rich.”

 

Sam rolls eyes for the second time during this conversation. Trust Tony to take the first chance he can to boast about his wealth or his intelligence.

 

“Perfectly legal, especially if his previous guardian kicked him out.” Tony grins mischievously. “Adjust the torch. Perfect, thanks.” He twists the tweezers to the left and then to the right. “We just need to prove to the court that we are deserving of his custody, and his asshole Aunt is not. Which, considering that she kicked him out and we haven’t killed him yet, should be perfectly easy. This’ll be over in no time and we’ll have him in school again in maybe two weeks. Sounds good? Yeah?”

 

“Yeah.” Sam feels a weight lift from his chest. “Yeah, sounds good.”

 

The older man’s smile turns more sincere. “J, contact my lawyers."

 

 

.

 

 

 

Turns out that getting custody is not as easy as they thought.

 

When Sam learned that they had to go and talk to the kid’s asshole Aunt in order to get permission for the custody switch, he’d felt his heart drop to his toes. Talking to her is the last thing he wants. Even just the thought of seeing her makes liquid disgust rise in this throat. He’d hoped that they didn’t have to even see her at all, but nothing can be as easy as that, can it?

 

Unsurprisingly enough, Clint had gotten excited when Sam told him of the news. He’d been waiting to rip into the woman ever since he’d learned the whole story of how Peter ended up on the street - and no one can blame him, really. Of course he wouldn’t dare do anything close to physical but Sam knows that he longs to, deep inside.

 

(They all do, really.)

 

They didn’t have to talk to her themselves, though. Upon hearing this, Sam’s heart’d leapt back up again. Tony assured them that his team of lawyers are all too willing to do all the work – there’s a good reason as to why they’re paid so much money to do their job – and they could get it done smoothly within maybe a week, if communications with the asshole Aunt go well.

 

However, Clint had been adamant of the idea that maybe convincing her would be easier with a more personal perspective of how Peter is managing in the Tower. This, both Tony and his team of lawyers had agreed on – and it was then that the plan was set.

 

They would contact Peter’s Aunt, they would get her permission to sign over Peter’s custody to themselves, and then the case would be taken to court. From there, Tony’s lawyers would battle it out until they come to a conclusion in their favour – and Sam is positive that it will be.

 

However, there are some issues that they’ve yet to address – such as making sure that his Aunt doesn’t expose the true reason as to why she booted Peter out (Peter explicitly  tells them that he doesn’t want his identity exposed as of yet, so it seems that convincing her to lie in court would be the only way to adhere to that). The aggressive lifestyle that the Avengers live is also something that would predictably come up in court, for their target-ability would make a dangerous environment for any normal teenager.

 

This is Peter, though. Spiderman. The same Spiderman that took down muggers just because he can. The same Spiderman that helped everyone above himself, no matter what. The same Spiderman who looks out for everybody, who sacrificed so much to do what is right. The same Spiderman who lived for a year alone on the streets after the only family member he has kicked him out of the house.

 

The same Spiderman who is perfectly capable of caring for his own ass when he has nothing left to care for.

 

So, they know that Peter fucking Parker can take care of himself. The problem is making sure that the law doesn’t know why he can take care of himself… while letting them know that he can. Sam gets a headache just thinking about it.

 

The issue that Sam is most concerned about, though, is telling Peter the news.

 

What if the mere mention of his Aunt sends him spiralling into another bout of panic? What if even the possibility that he may have to see her again makes him react badly? What if he gets angry, starts to fight against them? How are they meant to know whether or not he’ll have to see her?

 

It’s with these questions in mind that he’s sitting Peter down in the living room one Thursday evening, Clint by his left side, the soft patter of rain dappling the window outside a soft tune of white noise behind the murmur of the Tower. The low rumble of approaching thunder tumbles through the clouds miles away, accompanying every growl a bolt of lightning that momentarily bathes the city in flashes of white.

 

Peter looks like the embodiment of anxiety, sat on the opposite sofa bouncing a leg under drumming fingers. His hair is ruffled and only slightly greasy from the amount of times he has run a hand through its strands. At the short distance he’s sat away from the kid, Sam can see his breathing beginning to grow shorter with every inhale. The atmosphere is panicking him – he can tell that much.

 

“I feel like a dad about to lecture my child,” Clint comments into the silence.

 

Sam wants to snicker, because that’s exactly what it feels like.

 

But Peter doesn’t laugh. He doesn’t smile. He doesn’t so much as do that stupid giggle he does when someone makes a joke he doesn’t find funny, but he wants to be polite about it anyway.

 

Instead, he looks up and asks, “are you kicking me out?”

 

And… something inside of Sam shatters.

 

They sit in silence for a full minute and it is the tensest silence he’s ever felt. It’s the saddest, most dreadful silence that pulls at Sam’s heart and twists daggers through his stomach and sends electricity through his very heart. It’s a silence that leaves Sam time to think about how tragic Peter’s sentence really fucking is. How it highlights how much his Aunt’s foolishness has imprinted into his brain. How much that fucking upsets him. He feels so much at that moment, but all he can think of to say is, “are you fucking joking?”

 

Peter’s shoulders tighten, and Sam gets to his feet. “Are you joking right now? Are you kidding? Do you really think that we’d kick you out, Peter? You really think, after all we’ve done for you, after all we’ve fucking done, that we would just- just fucking leave you on the front door? Just like that.”

 

“Woah, man,” Clint says, standing too. “Chill-”

 

“No! No, I won’t chill. Because- I’m just so mad, that Peter’s fucking asshole Aunt has damaged her kid’s mindset this much, has made him think we’ll kick him out and he’ll be alone all over again- I just-”

 

“Calm down, man,” Clint all but murmurs into his ear, “you’re scaring him.”

 

This jars Sam and, when his eyes catch sight of Peter pressed into the back of the couch, watching him as if worried he’d pounce upon him at any given moment, his sudden bout of anger all but melts away. He sits back into the sofa with a long sigh. “Sorry,” he says, then. “It wasn’t you, Pete. I just get angry at- at her.”

 

“Yeah.” Peter shrugs passively. “Yeah, me too.”

 

“I hope you realise that what she did to you wasn’t okay,” Clint adds, then. “What she found out was… it was big. Finding out your kid is Spiderman couldn’t be a walk in the park. But kicking you out to the streets without even listening to your side of the story, without hearing your perspective… that just isn’t okay. Not at all.”

 

Peter fidgets helplessly in his seat. He glances down at his hands and then away from them again. Finally, as he looks back up at Clint and Sam, he asks them, “why were you guys so… so cool about it, then? If it’s a big thing to find out?”

 

“Because we’re used to it,” Sam tells him honestly. “We’re surrounded by people with superpowers, Pete. Take Steve, or Bruce, or Thor. Learning that the ratty kid Clint picked up one day while going out to get Netflix snacks is actually Spiderman? The Spiderman who’s been missing for more than a year? It’s not exactly something surprising.”

 

“Not to say that finding out that you’re Spiderman isn’t surprising,” Clint says. He smiles easily at Peter, something small to let him know that the conversation isn’t supposed to be as heavy as it has been. “I can’t lie – I didn’t see it at first. I really didn’t. But now I’ve gotten to know you even more after finding out and I can see it. Really.”

 

“See it?” Peter repeats, frowning.

 

“You’re honest. You’re heroic. You always try to do the right thing. You think about everybody but yourself first, even if you’ve never met them before. You’re kind. You’re smart – God damn, you’re definitely smart. And I think the most important thing is… is that you’re just so good.” Clint takes a seat beside Peter and pulls him into his chest closer. “You’re so, so good, Peter. And I don’t think that’ll ever change, whether you’re Spiderman or not.”

 

The emotion that Peter conveys then is the most touched, most validated emotion that Sam can feel from where he sits, and he traps Clint in a hug not even the Hulk could escape from. The archer doesn’t try to get out, though; he wraps his arms around the boy and holds him. Sat alone, Sam tries not to feel awkward.

 

It’s half a minute later when Peter finally unhooks himself from Clint’s grasp. Moisture touches the corners of his eyes – the happy kind of tears, Sam thinks. Voice choked, Peter says, “I feel like you didn’t sit me down here just to tell me that I’m good.”

 

Sam feels his heart drop.

 

“Here’s the thing, Pete...”

 

 

 

Chapter Text




“I’m guessing I don’t have a choice in this.”


Peter can see Sam’s eyes flit away from the flatscreen - they’re watching a shitty old action movie this peaceful Monday afternoon, and neither of them are really paying much attention to it anyway - and towards him in the corner of his vision. Around a mouthful of salted, buttered popcorn that Clint picked up for them the other day, the man says, “in what?”


“You know what.”


Sam swallows his mouthful in one big, awkward gulp. As if to read the mood, JARVIS wordlessly pauses the movie, leaving the communal living room in a silence so tense that Peter is sure he could slice it with a knife. “Of course you have a choice in it, Peter,” he says, frowning. “You really don’t have to meet her if you don’t want to.”


The thing is that he doesn’t know. He just doesn’t. What he does know is that, whether he does agree to meet up with her again or not, he’ll always wish that he chose the other option. Sam and Clint would leave with Tony’s lawyers to meet her without him and he’d wish to the Gods that he’d agreed - but if he did go and meet her, he’d wish he were anywhere but there. It’s just the way he is. His Aunt used to playfully call him an “indecisive punk” and ruffle his hair for it.


Instead of communicating a helpful answer, he just slides further down the worn couch cushion so his legs are splayed across the floor in front of him and shrugs. Sam sighs out a long breath and puts the popcorn bag aside.


“I know what you’re thinking,” he says, “and I get it. You don’t know what you want to do. You don’t know whether you can handle meeting her again or not, and I totally get that. You have a lot of time to think about it, so don’t feel pressured about it. We haven’t even started to try and contact her yet.” He puts a large hand on Peter’s shoulder and the teenager feels that tiny fraction of tension he didn’t realise he’d been holding melt away. “Just know that it’s totally your choice. Whether or not you meet her, we’ll be working hard to get the same result.”


“My custody,” Peter murmurs.


“Your custody,” Sam repeats. “Which is okay with you, right?”


Definitely okay, Peter finds himself thinking. More okay than anything in the world right now. His new roommates may be completely off their rockers, but they’ve shown him nothing but unconditional support ever since Clint and Sam took him in from the streets that one day that now feels so long ago, and he feels nothing but thankful for it.


If May doesn’t sign over his custody and they then don’t win it in court, there’s a good chance that he’d be whisked away to social services. The possibility haunts him day and night, but with how hard everybody is fighting for him, he thinks that they have a better chance of winning than they do losing. There’s no way he can even begin to word how much he appreciates their efforts.


“Very much okay,” he says.


Sam’s face breaks out into an easygoing smile. “Just making sure. Think about whether or not you want to see her again, yeah?” He reaches over for the bag of popcorn again, peering inside of it to see what’s left and then offering it to Peter. “Do y’want the rest?”




.




He agreed to meet her.


He doesn’t know why. Really, he doesn’t.


But, strangely, he doesn’t regret it.


Not even as he’s pulling on his favourite hoodie - one that is coloured a pretty pastel yellow, that has sleeves that are just long enough to cover his knuckles, that makes him feel that little bit more confident in himself. He looks at himself in the mirror. Black jeans, a yellow hoodie and custom-made, traditional-style Vans that pair with the shade exactly. His favourite outfit, probably. It matches!


He doesn’t regret it as he’s brushing his hair. It’s a little tangled and messy from where he didn’t brush through it after his shower last night, but they comb right out in one go, and soon enough his hair is fluffy and brown as it ever was. The haircuts he’s been getting lately have been a little different to the ones he used to get when he lived with May.


He doesn’t regret it as he’s bouncing into the elevator, either. JARVIS asks if he’s had a good morning and he says yes, that he has, and returns the question. The AI states that his morning has been good, too. Peter still finds it incredible that JARVIS is smart enough to differentiate good and bad mornings.


Bruce is sitting on a couch reading a newspaper and sipping at a coffee in the communal living room when he steps out of the elevator. He must’ve been awake for a while. “Morning, Bruce,” he says heartily as he passes. The doctor waves to him over the back of the couch.


“You’re looking very chipper this morning, Pete,” Tony observes as he enters the kitchen. He’s still in his pajamas, but Clint and Sam - who sit at the island counter sipping at smoothies - are both fully dressed and as ready to leave as he is. “Are you ready to see your Aunt?”


“Sure am,” he says.


“That’s good, then,” Clint comments. Him and Sam share a somewhat surprised look and Peter pretends he didn’t notice it. “We’re leaving in half an hour, then. Don’t eat breakfast. We’re going to go and eat it with her. Do you want a smoothie, Pete?”


“Legalities are my favourite breakfast,” Sam says, rubbing his palms together.


Clint snorts. “Mine are pancakes.”


“That’s a yes on the smoothie, by the way,” Peter says. “Is Nat still sleeping? Steve? Bucky?


As he’s pouring apple juice over the top of the multitudes of fresh fruit in the blender, Tony replies, “she hasn’t left her room yet, so probably. Same with Cap and Buckaroo.” He caps the apple juice carton, stepping away from the blender. “Does this look good to you, Pete? Strawberries, raspberries, bananas and apple juice. I can add some blueberries if you feel like it.”


“Blueberries sound good,” Peter says, waving a hand at him. He takes his seat beside Clint at the island counter to wait for his smoothie.


He hopes to every God out there that today goes well. He isn’t entirely sure how long ago it was since he saw his Aunt and he doesn’t know whether to expect her opinion to be any different than it was back then. Maybe she’ll have realised that kicking her nephew out of the apartment was a mistake and she’s going to start to beg for forgiveness - or maybe she’ll still hate his guts as much as she used to.


Either way, he knows that they’ll get what they want. If she refuses to sign the papers no matter how hard they try, then he thinks that they have a pretty good chance of winning it in court. He’s looking forward to the day it will all be over and done with. They all have confidence in their case. Not only him, but Sam, Clint and even Tony’s group of lawyers.


Tony puts down the cup of smoothie in front of him. It’s an appetizing colour - pink with a touch of lilac. “Enjoy,” he tells him. “I’ve got to go and check a few things. You guys will be gone before I come back, so I’d like to say now that I wish you all luck, and that I can’t wait until I can finally ground Peter.”


“Old man,” Peter grumbles.


“Young man,” Tony snaps, but he’s smiling.


“You two are so cute,” Clint says in an extraordinarily feminine voice, flapping a hand at them.


“Thanks for the luck,” Sam says. “Later.”


Tony’s laugh comes from deep within his chest. The arc reactor glows at Peter from underneath his shirt, dimmed by the dark material. He picks up his own smoothie and turns to leave the kitchen. “Later gator!” he calls, and finally disappears into the communal living room.


Watching him go, Peter takes a sip of his smoothie. It tastes great - probably the nicest smoothie he’s ever had the pleasure to drink. He’s just about to express this contentment to the other two, before Sam suddenly places a hand on his shoulder and says to him, “are you sure you’re ready to do this? You’re awfully confident. A lot more confident about it then you were a week or two ago. I don’t want you to feel as if you have to put on a mask about this.”


He swallows a tense breath and tells him, “I’m ready. I promise to you that I’m ready.”


Sam’s left eyebrow cocks, and Peter realises then that maybe he isn’t feeling so sure as he thinks he is. Yeah, he’s confident that they’ll get the job done smoothly - but is he confident that he has what it takes to see her again? To sit down and look at her in the eyes, knowing exactly how she hurt him? To talk to her without screaming all of the anger and frustration he’s pent up for so long?


But then he thinks that maybe he can express that anger and frustration to her without yelling. Without losing his mind. Maybe he can tell her how the whole thing made him feel so rejected, so worthless, so alone , and go on to tell her that he forgives her for all of it.


Because he does. It’s odd - he knows that - but he’s forgiven her for all of it because he understands. He gets that maybe it was scary, that maybe she felt hurt by all the lies he’s been feeding her, that maybe she just didn’t know what to do and was too scared to confront it. He gets that because he’s scared, too.


Just because she’s forgiven doesn’t mean she’s going to go back, though. The whole dynamic of their relationship will be changed and he’s happy where he is. He can’t express how happy he is with the Avengers right now. Not because of all of the luxury they own - that’s just a bonus, really - but because they’ve done so much to make him feel welcome and as if he belongs, and he just doesn’t want to leave that right now.


He thinks about all of this and thinks that yeah, he’s ready. He’s ready to face her. Maybe it will be hard, and maybe he’ll rethink that choice when it comes to the time, but right now he’s ready and he doesn’t plan to change that decision.


“I’m ready,” he says, looking right into Sam’s eyes. “I am.”


Sam watches him for all of a few seconds, but his shoulders finally sag and he warmly ruffles Peter’s hair. “I’m proud of you,” he says. “Now drink your smoothie. I’ll make you another one before we go if you want. You know, to take on the road.”


“God,” Clint snorts, and Peter only just remembers that he’s still there. “You’re such a dad, Sam.”


“Shut up.”


“Okay, dad .”



.




They get to the breakfast cafe in Queens at quarter to eleven in the morning, fifteen minutes before they scheduled the meeting. It’s a homely little place of pale blue walls and scuffed white booths, napkins and sauces and silverware all set out in a little pot in the middle of each table next to a pot of pretty pink orchids. A picture-book worthy establishment, Clint thinks to himself.


It’s a quiet little cafe. Public, but not too public. There aren’t many customers and there’s only one person behind the counter; a dark-skinned man looking maybe a couple of years older than Peter, donned in a black polo and jeans to match. He greets them enthusiastically as the bell above the door announces their entrance.


One of Tony’s friendliest and smartest lawyers accompanied them; a woman of Russian descent with short black hair and kind brown eyes who calls herself by the name of ‘Veronica’. “We are early. Should we order breakfast now?” he asks as they take their seats in one of the booths further back.


“I don’t see why we can’t order some coffee now,” Clint says, glancing at the others. Upon seeing no objection, he puts his hand up and calls for a waiter.


It’s five minutes after they all get their drinks - Sam and Clint both got lattes, Veronica got a black coffee (such a typical lawyer drink, Clint thinks to himself), and Peter got a mocha latte - that the bell above the door rings again and they hear the worker behind the counter greeting somebody. She thanks him and orders a black coffee.


Clint feels Peter go tense next to him. He can see that Sam, who sits opposite him, has noticed it too. It must be the voice he recognises, because he hasn’t turned to look at the newcomer as of yet. “You’re okay, Peter,” he whispers, putting a hand on his shoulder so as to provide some subtle comfort. “You can leave if you want. No one will mind.”


“No, I’m good,” Peter says. “I’m good. I’m good.”


Clint wants to tell him something else but is soon disrupted by someone taking a seat opposite him, next to Veronica.


She’s… she looks kind. Clint isn’t sure why he’s surprised - maybe it’s because he imagined her as some kind of horrible monster - but she looks so very kind, not like someone who would kick their own nephew out. Her hair is a frizzy mix of brown and grey and reaches just past her shoulders. Her skin is nearly the exact same shade as Peter’s and her eyes, the same colour as her coffee, are gentle and understanding.


The woman hasn’t looked at Peter yet, and Peter hasn’t looked at her. Suddenly the state of his nails have become very interesting to him.


“It’s been a while, Peter,” she says eventually.


This grabs at his attention. His head lifts away from his lap slowly, hesitantly, but he catches her eye with his firmly. He doesn’t say anything, just looks. Clint doesn’t know what he’s thinking, but he can see the pent up frustration swirling in his eyes, in his face, in his body language.


“This doesn’t have to take long,” Veronica says, then. “All we need you to do is sign these two papers-” she pulls them out of her briefcase (again, very typical for a lawyer, Clint thinks) and places them on the table, “-and we can be done here in ten.”


“Who are you?”


“My name is Veronica Barinov and I am one of Tony Stark’s lawyers. It’s nice to meet you, May Parker.” She sticks out a hand to shake, but May doesn’t take it.


Instead she breathes out a sigh, and sits back in her seat. She watches Peter fidget for a couple of minutes, before she straightens up and finally says, “you’re looking great, Pete. That haircut of yours really suits you.”


He doesn’t say anything. No one does.


May continues to speak. “Look. I know… I know that you hate me. I know that you hate me for what I did. I hate myself for what I did, for being so rash … I haven’t stopped thinking about what I did. Not since you stopped knocking on the door every day, begging to be let in, begging for forgiveness, begging for me to stop and listen to your perspective. I haven’t stopped thinking about everything I’ve done wrong, everything I could have done better.


“I went looking for you after a while. After too long, I think. I looked everywhere for you, I kept an eye out for you every time I left to go to work or to do errands. I asked people to look out for you, to tell me if they saw you… but I couldn’t find you. I don’t know if it was because you didn’t want to be found or if it was because you were already living with… with them.


“Look… I know, you probably don’t want to hear this. You probably don’t want to see me ever again. You probably don’t, and that’s fine. I’m okay with that. I don’t deserve to know you after what I did to you. And I’m… the point I’m trying to make is that I’m sorry , Peter. I’m so, so sorry. I can’t express how much I regret it, how much I wish I could redo everything and fix it all. And I know that apologises might mean nothing. They don’t fix this, they don’t erase the past. And…”


“May.”


“I don’t expect you to forgive me. I don’t deserve that of you, I really don’t. I don’t expect anything of you. I just want you to know that I regret everything I did, and-”


“May.”


“Just know that you- your secret identity is safe with me. I won’t- won’t tell anyone. I owe you that much. I’m so proud of the work you’ve done as Spiderman. You’ve done so many great- great things, trying to help people. And that’s such a- a great quality in you, and I’m so, so-”


“May, stop. Stop.”


She does, this time. She watches her nephew with wet eyes, eyes that scream so many different things, eyes that let Clint know that what she says is what she genuinely means. The marksman can see her hands quivering around her steaming coffee cup on the table.


“May,” he says, sucking in a deep breath. “Just know that… I forgive you. And I shouldn’t forgive you for what you did, but I do. I really do. I get it. You were scared, you were hurt, and I understand that. I forgive you.” He rubs a finger into his eye. “I forgive you.”


Clint breathes a little easier, then. It looks like everything is going to be okay, that everything will be sorted quicker than they thought it would be, that everything will go smoother than they thought it would.


May swipes tears from under her eyes. She says, in a voice frail and shaky and emotional, “can I ask for one thing?”


“Anything,” Peter says.


“Can I have a hug?”


They hug for a long time. May’s shaky breaths turn to crying the moment they make contact, and then to incoherent sobbing after he wraps his arms right around her waist.


Clint, Sam and Veronica don’t say anything. They don’t need to. They don’t want to. They don’t want to risk disrupting a moment so fragile, so one-in-a-million. It’s as Peter steps away from May and goes to take his seat again that Sam finally says, “it’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Parker. I’m Sam Wilson. You may know me as Falcon.”


This time, she shakes the hand offered out to her. “Are you the one who found my boy alone on the streets?” she asks, in a voice tightened by emotion.


“That was me,” Clint dips in. He, too, holds out a hand for her to shake. “I’m Clint Barton, otherwise known as Hawkeye. Me and Peter actually met for the first time in a convenience store.”


“He bought me a sandwich, May.”


The woman sniffs. “Was it chicken mayo?”


“It was chicken mayo,” Peter confirms, grinning bashfully at the table.


May puts a balled fist to her mouth. “That was always your favourite,” she says. “I stopped asking you want you wanted in your packed lunches halfway through elementary because you always said the same thing. You always said chicken mayo.”


Peter laughs boyishly. “Yeah…”


They both go quiet for a moment. Eventually, May turns to look at Clint. “Thank you,” she says shakily. “Thank you so much. Thank you for looking out for my boy when I failed. Thank you for giving him a chance. Thank you for giving us a chance to see eachother again. I cannot put how much I appreciate it in words. Thank you. Thank you.”


Clint finds himself smiling. “It’s all good, Ma’am. He’s been a great roommate.”


May nods, sitting back in her seat again, not as if she were done but as if she were perfectly content. “If I sign these,” she says, motioning to the papers and pulling out a pen from her bag, “do I still get to stay in contact with my boy? Even if you are his legal guardians?”


“If that’s what he wants,” Sam says.


All eyes fall upon Peter. It’s without a moment of hesitation that he says, “of course we can stay in contact. Give me your phone here, I’ll put my new number in it.”


As she’s obliging, she breathes out around a grin. “Thank you,” she says, “for giving me a chance to fix things with you. I know it won’t ever be the same, but it doesn’t have to be.”


“We can meet up for breakfast on Sundays. You don’t work, I don’t have school,” Peter points out. “And no, you’re never paying for me. I’ll be paying for you this time. Tony won’t miss the money.”


“Such a gentleman,” Clint coos, and Peter swats at his face.



.



“Guess what just came in the mail, Peter!”


The door crashes into the wall so hard that Peter is sure it’ll have left a dent as Clint comes barging into his bedroom, waving a sheet of paper like it were a white flag of surrender. Peter jumps down from where he’d been doing stretches on his bedroom ceiling. “My wall paint isn’t invincible,” he grumbles, “don’t go ahead and ruin it like that.”


“Who cares about your wall? Look what I have!”


Peter rolls his eyes and snatches the paper away from the older man. He’s expecting something stupid, something he couldn’t possibly care about, but what he’s faced with is-


“My… the custody papers.”


He reads the first line with just his eyes. ‘Dear Mr. Barton. This letter is to confirm that you now have full custody over Peter Benjamin Parker until he turns eighteen years of age.’ He reads it again. Again and again and again. Just so that he knows it’s real. So that he knows this isn’t all a dream. Again and again until he knows the line like the back of his hand.


He keeps reading it until one big swell of emotion hits him at once and he pulls Clint into a hug so hard that he nearly knocks the sharpshooter off his socked feet. It’s as the older man pulls Peter in closer with his own arms that the relief washes over him; it’s like every single worry he’d ever felt in that time he spent alone on the streets dissipated at once, like everything is okay again.


He detaches himself from the hug again a minute or so later, wiping his left eye with a balled fist. “Sorry,” he murmurs. “I felt like it was necessary.”


“It was very necessary,” Clint agrees. He claps a hand on Peter’s shoulder. “Oh, and you’re not getting out of school. We’ve put you in for classes next Monday.”


“Dang,” Peter grumbles, but in reality, he really isn’t that disappointed. He’s always found school pretty enjoyable and he’d be lying if he were to say that he didn’t miss it. It’s going to be interesting to see how different it will be to go back, he supposes.





.






It’s when they’re enjoying their first batch of celebration smoothie that Peter humorously asks Clint, “hey, does this mean I can call you ‘dad’ now?”


“If you call me ‘dad’ even once, I’m disowning you.”


Peter laughs and throws a napkin at his face.




Chapter Text

 

 

 

He went back to a different school, of course. Going back to Midtown would be much too complicated for his bashful teenager’s brain to take. Everybody would be crowding around him wondering why he was gone for so long, asking why his clothes are all so expensive when he used to wear the same three sweaters and ragged sneakers everyday, interrogating him until he wants to pull his own hair out.

 

Going to a different school made more sense, anyway. They applied him for a tidy-looking, reasonably equipped school closer to the Tower so that he could take his bike there in the place of public transport. Tony suggested having someone drive him in one of his cars to make a good impression, but Peter has always been one to favour the low-key kind of reputation when he’s not wearing the mask. Expensive cars get you popularity and he doesn’t really want to be popular, you know?

 

He wears his favourite outfit on his first day. That one he wore when he met up with May that one time in the plucky little breakfast cafe. Those customised yellow vans, black jeans that are a little baggy around the knee and a yellow hoodie that match the shoes down to the shade. Clint ruffles his hair and tells him how good he looks as he’s using Nat’s hairdryer in front of the mirror. Bruce informs him that he looks like a bumblebee. He doesn’t know whether or not to take it as a compliment, so he thanks the doctor anyway.

 

The school day… is okay. That’s all he can say about it. No one really paid attention to him when they didn’t have to. The girl he sat next to in chemistry called him ‘adorable’ - Clint choked on his protein shake when he heard that one from Peter later - and he ended up getting her number by the end of the period. Platonically, of course.

 

Later that same day, maybe three hours after he got home from school, Peter meets Nick Fury through a screen. They talk about Spiderman things, like how great it is that they know who he is now, and how good it is to see the neighbourhood dweller ‘looking healthy’, and whether or not Spiderman will be running missions with the Avengers anytime soon.

 

Not until he’s at least eighteen, he’s told. Bummer.

 

He can’t say he minds, though. Tony designed him a brand-spanking-new suit and he gets to go back to being Spiderman - as long as he’s home by twelve, Sam tells him - and the public are absolutely ecstatic. People squeal when they see him swing through the middle of the streets. They shout greetings at him as he passes. He sees himself on the news, sometimes, usually with some cheesy headline like ‘Spiderman is BACK!’ or ‘Our neighbourhood hero returns!’. Even the police are kinder to him; shaking his hand, thanking him for his help, telling him how glad they are to see him around again. The positive attention is definitely uplifting. He really did miss this.

 

He still meets up with May on Sundays, too, in the same little cafe. Their relationship will never quite be the same, but it’s building gradually, and it’s never been awkward. Peter buys them both waffles and coffee and they sit and talk about anything and everything for hours and hours until their cups are empty and their plates hold nothing but crumbs and smudges of toffee sauce. It’s… it’s nice to be able to catch up with her again, even if he can’t quite bring himself to call her ‘Aunt’ anymore.

 

Peter thinks about all of this as he sits in AP American Literature one slow Thursday morning. Thinks about that day Clint bought him his chicken mayo sandwich in that rundown corner store. Thinks about the time the Doombots came crashing through the windows while he was watching Star Wars and eating Sam’s Cheetos. Thinks about the day that Tony and Clint coached him through a panic attack. Thinks about all of the wild breakfast conversations he’s overheard.

 

He sits, and stares out of the window, and thinks about how everything is great. Absolutely fucking perfect.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

hey!

 

sorry, but this isn't another chapter. i bamboozled you.

 

thought i'd just drop in and say hey, thanks for supporting my fic so much.  you guys have shown this fic so much love. and i really don't know what else to say other than thank you. THANK YOU SO MUCH for enjoying my work and keeping up with my awful update schedule and my depression episodes and my terrible spelling errors and how much i overuse commas and my awful attempt at sprinkling in a dash of humour. thank you so much for helping me to feel motivated enough to write.

thank you. thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

& hey! i always have other fics in the works! hit me up with some ideas and maybe i'll get set and do them someday!

 

here's a final link to my discord server. i really love seeing y'all in there and we have loads of fun (and our very own minecraft server on the pc!) so it's worth a join!!

and here's a final link to my tumblr. i don't know how to use tumblr. lol

 

i love you

- spicyjarvis