“What are you watching?” Peter asked, leaning over Ned’s shoulder during lunch.
“Buzzfeed Unsolved,” Ned replied, not looking up from the screen. Peter’s best friend had one headphone in, hunched over his phone and ignoring his lunch as he watched. “There’s a new episode out about the disappearance of Peter Quill.”
“Who’s that?” Peter asked and Ned shrugged.
“Some kid that went missing like thirty years ago. Literally gone. No trace. No clues. Poof – into thin air.”
“It’s probably aliens,” Michelle said from across the table. Peter had been informed that Michelle’s friends called her MJ. Peter was not there yet.
“You think?” Peter asked.
She shrugged, looking up from whatever book she was reading. “I mean, aliens exist. There’s a lot of evidence for it. Aliens are the only things I can imagine would take a kid so easily. Do you watch the show?”
Peter glanced to Ned’s phone, catching sight of the two men talking to the camera. He shook his head. He’d never heard of it before.
“Well, you should watch the episode that came out right after the battle of New York,” she said. “They had a fucking conniption. A joint one. They shared it. They did a bunch of episodes revisiting the alien theories, only now they felt validated, you know?”
That night, Peter opened his laptop in bed. It was already getting dark outside, and the street lights in their neighbourhood had flickered on outside his window. He thought Tony was in the lab – his parents had made an agreement that they would try to keep at least one of them in the house whenever Peter was in. It made everyone feel slightly safer, considering HYDRA might still be looking for him.
Peter searched Buzzfeed Unsolved, letting thoughts of homework slip from his mind as he relaxed into his pillows. He didn’t feel like starting from the beginning of the show and scrolled through the episodes. He found the ones Michelle had mentioned, about the aliens, deciding to start there first.
The first thing that appeared on the screen was two men. They stared at the camera for a second before the one on the right screamed “VINDICATION!” and the one on the left rolled his eyes, letting out a bark of laughter.
Peter settled in to watch.
He’d been watching for almost two hours when he saw it. He could’ve sworn his heart skipped a beat.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF PETER STARK
Peter had both the urges to throw up and go find Tony. He wasn’t sure he wanted to be alone when he watched it, and he wasn’t sure he was going to keep his dinner down, either. They’d made an episode about him. About his disappearance.
The only reason he didn’t go find Tony before hitting play was because he’d probably been through enough. Peter was gone for over ten years. He highly doubted his parents had avoided every article and conspiracy theory out there. He didn’t want to put either of them through it again.
The episode was dated almost two years back. Long before he ever met the Avengers; he’d probably only been the Black Spider for a few months. They wouldn’t connect him to the HYDRA assassin; wouldn’t connect him to the blood and corpses he’d left in his wake.
Still, he hit play.
“This week on Buzzfeed Unsolved, we’re covering the kidnapping of Peter Stark.”
The screen showed the two men again – Shane and Ryan – sitting at their desk. In front of Ryan was his signature case file.
“This is a biggie,” Shane said.
“Oh yeah,” Ryan replied. “This was less than a decade ago. Everyone was talking about this one.”
“Do we have some outrageous conspiracy theories for this?”
“Totally. Without a doubt. Let’s get started.”
The screen flicked over, showing a greyscale photo of Peter as a child. The top half of his face was blacked out as if the whole world didn’t already know what he looked like. As Ryan detailed the history of the Starks and the event, the screen showed photos, magazine covers and newspaper clippings.
“So we all know the story of the Starks. Howard Stark developed technology back during World War II – was a personal friend to both Captain America and Peggy Carter. He helped start SHIELD, way back when. Howard Stark started Stark Industries, the leading weapon design company, married Maria Stark and had Anthony – AKA Tony Stark.”
“Ah, Iron Man,” Shane interrupted. “No super powers but still a super hero.”
“Is he an inspiration to you?” Ryan asked, almost mockingly.
“If I had approximately a million dollars more than I do and the smarts to build a suit of armour, yeah. I wouldn’t call him an inspiration for us everyday joes, though.”
“I’m more of a Hawkeye kind of guy,” Shane replied. “Not because I think he’s cooler or anything – but because he’s just a regular guy who can shoot a bow and arrow really, really well. Like, if I took three archery courses, I could be Hawkeye.”
“I mean, yeah.”
“Isn’t he a spy though?”
“When have you ever seen Hawkeye do anything remotely secret agent related?”
“Well, isn’t that the point? You wouldn’t see it. It’s secret agent business.”
Peter snorted and the screen faded back to the main point.
“Tony Stark is now known for being Iron Man and creating clean energy with Stark Industries, but before, when SI still produced weapons, he married his personal assistant and newly-promoted partner of the company, Virginia “Pepper” Potts. This was a criticised move, business-wise, but Potts proved herself very quickly to be what’s best for the company. Soon after marrying in 2000, they had their first and only son, Peter, in 2001.
“By all accounts, Peter was a genius for his age, following in his father’s footsteps. He built his first circuit board at age four and was known for being a genuinely kind and enthusiastic kid.”
Peter felt strange, listening to strangers talk about him. But he didn’t remember this time; he didn’t remember his childhood spent with his parents. The images that came on the screen, Peter’s face blacked out for being a minor, but his parents’ not, were ones he had only seen in Google searches. They were on the beach, smiling at the camera, with baby Peter between them. Or in bed, or in the kitchen, or at charity events sitting on Pepper’s hip or on Tony’s shoulders.
Peter, despite being in these photos, didn’t know these people. It was almost like they weren’t even talking about him; but some poor kid who was taken from a loving family.
“Sometime after his sixth birthday, on the twenty-eighth of March, Peter Stark was abducted from his home in Malibu, California.” March was a good six months away – the eleventh anniversary. “According to the reports, Stark and his son were in the basement lab of the mansion at two thirteen PM, when ten black-clothed figures broke into the security system that ran the building, went down to the lab and took Peter.
“Tony Stark was knocked out in the process, but later reported that all the men were carrying guns and this was confirmed on the small amount of security feed that was recorded before the system was shut down.”
“What was the kid even doing in the lab?” Shane interrupted. “He’s six. He’s not going to be building a missile, is he?”
“Stark said they were working on building an engine at the time; following in his dad’s footsteps and all that. Plus, according to the SI reports, all weapon manufacturing was moved to a different lab when Peter was old enough to walk.
“After being taken by the men, no one ever saw Peter Stark again.” The image flicked back to the guys at their desk. “There have been reported sightings all over the world, but nothing has ever been confirmed.”
“We all like the Starks now,” Shane said. “Since the whole Iron Man thing, we’re in agreement that they’re pretty nice people – no matter how that weird Avengers fighting in a Walmart parking lot thing went down.”
“I think it was an airport in Germany,” Ryan replied.
“Same thing. But I remember at the time, common people didn’t care for them because they were war mongers, you know? But suddenly, they lose a kid and everyone cares about them.”
“It’s a tough thing to go through.”
“No doubt. But one day we all hate Tony Stark and the next we’re his biggest fans. Especially when he went missing too-”
“We’re gonna get to that,” Ryan promised. “Shall we look at the theories?”
“Is one of them aliens?”
“Actually, no,” Ryan replied. “Surely, since the battle of New York, there have been some alien theories surrounding this, but Stark said the people who took his son were humans, you know? The kid didn’t just vanish into thin air. He was taken.”
“So, we have three theories today. The first is this: the US government stole Peter Stark.”
“You’re shitting me.”
“Hear me out,” Ryan said. “In 2007, when Peter Stark was stolen, Stark Industries, then led by Tony Stark, Pepper Stark and Obadiah Stane, was in a mess with the US military. Their weapon contracts were up for renewal, Hammer Tech was coming in from the side, offering weapons at a cheaper rate and SI was asking for more money than they had before. The US military has always shown a preference for SI weapons, despite Tony Stark’s frequent appearances in court arguing with them, and his reputation as a lazy playboy. Though, by this point, it can be noted that he had cleaned up his act a lot, since getting married and having a son.
“So you may ask ‘why would the US government want to take Peter Stark?’ Well, the only answer I can find for that was to use him as leverage or a distraction. With their son gone, the Starks left SI in the hands of Obadiah Stane to run, and he both knocked a few figures off their contract price and made several other deals during that time that the Starks had been hesitant about-”
“I want to remind everyone that Obadiah Stane is a piece of shit,” Shane interrupted, “who tried to murder Tony Stark. Like, just looking at his business practice – behind the Starks’ backs he made deals they didn’t want to do. I don’t blame Tony Stark for killing him and getting away with that – which, by the way, how the hell did he get away with that?”
Ryan laughed. “I have no idea. I heard that Pepper did it though. It was Tony’s idea to overload the arc reactor, but she’s the one who did it.”
“God, they’re a murder couple,” Shane replied. “Killing the bad guys-”
“Didn’t Pepper Stark also kill Aldrich Killian?”
“Should we be doing an Unsolved episode on the murders the Starks have committed?”
Ryan wheezed. “Oh my god, probably.”
“Anyway, the theory that the US government took Peter Stark doesn’t have a lot behind it. Largely just speculation. Plus, if they had taken him, wouldn’t they have given him back after the deals went through? They clearly didn’t use him for leverage, because if they had, we would’ve heard about it from Tony Stark – that guy is always telling the press secrets.”
“So,” Ryan continued, “theory number two. HYDRA.”
Peter started choking.
“You think HYDRA took Stark?”
“I mean, it’s a possibility. There’s not a lot of evidence behind this, actually, other than men in black with guns seems to be a HYDRA trademark-”
“Yeah, them and every other gunman in the world,” Shane said. “Even the police dress like that. SHIELD. Guys in movies.”
“Exactly. But no one really knows why HYDRA would take him. Why target the Starks? The kid was six years old when he was taken; you would’ve thought he would’ve been used as leverage with them. You know, to get Stark to build them some weaponry or something. But the theory is that HYDRA took Stark and killed him.”
“Simple as that?”
“Yeah. There’s no evidence for it, really. We didn’t even know HYDRA existed until a few years ago when they took down SHIELD. Who knows how long they’ve been around for since World War II. Maybe they took the kid, killed him-”
“Maybe they raised him,” Shane said. “Wouldn’t that be wild? They take the son of a billionaire, raise him and then make him kill his own father.”
“Tony Stark is still alive.”
“Maybe it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe he’s been raised to be another Winter Soldier. Maybe Stark’s gonna die in like two years, and then everyone will go, ‘Oh shit, that guy from Buzzfeed figured it out’.”
Ryan laughed. Peter couldn’t breathe. “For everyone’s sakes, I hope that’s not true.”
“The last theory is the most likely, in like, all opinions. It’s got the most evidence to back it up-”
“It’s not a crack pot theory?”
“No, it’s like, the police’s theory. Three months after the abduction of Peter Stark, his father Tony was taken, too. This was during a weapons demonstration in Afghanistan in 2008. He was demonstrating the Jericho missile, and on his way back to his plane, the caravan of vehicles was attacked by the terrorist organisation known as the Ten Rings, and Stark was taken. During the attack, shrapnel embedded itself in his chest, and a fellow prisoner, renowned scientist and surgeon, Ho Yinsen, saved his life. Stark made the first ever miniaturised arc reactor to replace Yinsen’s magnet, and then the Mark I Iron Man suit. When he returned from Afghanistan, he discovered that it was Stane who paid for the hit on his life – that the Ten Rings didn’t actually go through with, in favour of making Stark build them a Jericho missile first – and he was then killed by, I guess, both Tony and Pepper Stark.”
“Murder couple,” Shane supplied.
“The theory that the police landed on, that even the Starks agreed was most likely, was the Ten Rings taking Peter Stark, as hired by Stane. Stane wanted the company, and it would be easy to force Pepper out – or kill her, too – and take it for himself, if both Tony and his heir are out of the way.”
“It’s a solid theory,” Shane agreed. “I can see why the police decided on it.”
“Totally,” Ryan agreed. “It makes sense. Stane wants the company – he takes out the competition. You could argue that the reason Stark was killed in Afghanistan was because the Ten Rings were based there, though. How would they get to America to take Peter?”
“Maybe there are America factions,” Shane said. “Oh! Or maybe Stane hired HYDRA.”
“Oh, I see what you’re getting at,” Ryan replied. Peter did too, very suddenly, and frowned.
“Yeah. Stane’s already a bad dude. We can’t think that he’s not capable of talking with Nazis at the same time as terrorists, you know? He couldn’t get Peter out to Afghanistan, so he had HYDRA take the kid. Probably kill him, too.”
“Pretty smart,” Ryan agreed. “If Pepper and Tony hadn’t lived and figured out it was Stane, who knows what would’ve happened to them?”
“While we’re here,” Shane said, “can we just give a moment of appreciation to Pepper Stark? I mean, her husband and child are taken and presumed dead within three months of each other. Her husband is gone for three months, her son is still gone-”
“That woman is strong as all hell.”
“Absolutely. And she turned up for a lot of press conferences and events to help search for her son and raise awareness during that time? Like, you never once saw her crack.”
“Some people thought that she did it, at one point,” Ryan said. Peter’s eyes all but bugged out of his head. “They always think the parents did it – but I can’t look at either of them and think they’d kill their own kid.”
“Nah. I watched those interviews. They were genuinely heartbroken.”
The show wrapped up, Ryan ending it with a “I hope the mystery of Peter Stark is unravelled one day, and we learn what happened to him, but until then, this case remains Unsolved.”
After the show ended, Peter slowly lowered the screen of his laptop until it shut. He sat in the darkness of his room, staring into space. He couldn’t believe that anyone had ever thought that his parents had hurt him, but that wasn’t what he had his mind on.
Peter flung himself out of bed, leaving his room and making his way downstairs to the locked door of the lab. He typed in the passcode, the door beeping affirmatively before he could push it open. Inside, Tony Stark sat at a desk, staring at a holographic screen in front of him. It was covered in code that Peter couldn’t be bothered to decipher, and rock music played quietly from the speakers.
“Hey, Tony?” Peter asked.
Tony looked up, spinning in his chair. “What’s up, kid?”
“I just had a thought… about HYDRA.”
Tony sighed, tipping his head back. “You’re not going to tell me another secret about them that you should’ve remembered earlier, are you?”
Peter cracked half a smile. “Not right now. Probably tomorrow, though.” He was remembering a lot of things that he should bring up with Fury. Sometimes he didn’t find the things he remembered important, other times he just liked the way a small smile would tug at the corner of Tony’s mouth when he realised Peter knew something else.
“What is it?”
“I was just watching Buzzfeed Unsolved-”
“I’m not even going to pretend to know what that is.”
“It’s a show on YouTube where two guys talk about unsolved mysteries. You know, aliens, crimes, that sort of stuff. There’s an episode on me.”
“On my disappearance.”
Tony nodded slow and Peter could see his jaw tense. This was why he hadn’t asked to watch it with him. Tony had spent ten years in the shadow of that event, and now it was behind him, Peter knew he’d do anything to forget it ever happened.
“They said something that I found interesting – I’ve been wondering about it for a while now, especially since moving in with you guys.” Tony sat up in his chair and Peter nodded, leaning against a desk. “Stane ordered the hit on your life. What if Stane ordered the hit on mine?”
Tony paused. Opened his mouth then shut it again. “You think Stane got HYDRA to take you?”
Peter shrugged. “I’ve been wondering why they did it in the first place. They didn’t get ransom money, they didn’t do it because I was already enhanced – but they saw the opportunity when I was there to use me as a test subject. I guess they didn’t have anyone as young as me and they needed all the time they could get to work on the serum. What if Stane paid HYDRA to kill me, but just like the Ten Rings decided not to kill you and use you instead, HYDRA decided to keep me alive?”
“Then Stane is really shit at follow through,” Tony replied.
The whole thing was a bad thought, but Peter could see that Tony was glad that Stane was dead; that he’d failed twice.
It had just taken Peter a little longer, was all.
Neither of them wanted to talk about it anymore, but Peter didn’t want to go back to his room and think about it, so he pulled up a chair next to Tony, took a look at the code and ignored the way Tony smiled as they bumped shoulders.
In school the next day, Peter said, “I watched like ten episodes of Buzzfeed Unsolved last night.”
“It’s great, right?” Ned asked with a grin. “Which one did you watch?”
“Uh, the one about Peter Stark.”
“Going missing must be a Peter thing,” Ned said and, at Peter’s frown, rolled his eyes. “It’s a quote from the newest episode. About Peter Quill.”
“I don’t think he’s there yet,” Michelle said, looking up from her book. “But, anyway, you should keep that quote in mind. We don’t want you going missing on us, Parker.”
Somehow, Peter thought that was a compliment.