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out of the shadows into the light

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MARCH 27th

 

 

@TonyStark: Press conference. Avengers Compound. 28th March, 11am.

 

@PepperStark: Tony and I are hosting a press conference at the newly rebuilt Avengers Compound at 11am tomorrow, to honour the eleventh anniversary of our son’s disappearance. Big news to follow.

 

Out there, somewhere, a Twitter account clicked into existence. @PeterStark. It was private with zero followers. It laid dormant, in wait. Only ten minutes later, an Instagram account with the same name appeared, hidden and empty.

 

-

 

The Avengers Compound was bigger and better than ever. The rubble and remains of the old building were gone, and in their place a sleek design with more bedrooms and better facilities than before. The Avengers filed into the compound on the 20th, finding their rooms and – in some cases, like the Bartons – entire wings, kitchens and living spaces included, for their families. The buildings linked together with archway bridges, stretching over clean-cut grass and well-tended flower beds.

The training room was larger, the security was higher and the Iron Suite no longer neglected a place for the Stark son. Now, with him back, a large bedroom with soft grey walls was filled with books and possessions. Posters of Peter’s favourite movies lined the walls; a few Lego models sat on shelves – ones Ned insisted he keep after they spent four hours building them together; and on one wall, behind a retractable skyline print of New York City, were his favourite toys – ninja stars, throwing knives, nun chucks all hidden within his room.

Only, Peter Parker wasn’t there. Despite the Avengers returning to their home, Peter didn’t. Not yet, at least.

Most of his things went up, but he stayed in the Manhattan house, watching the people across the street doing their everyday, normal chores. He leaned against his window, forehead pressed against the glass. His room was empty, bar a small duffle bag of clothes and one of his backpacks, wires spewing out across the floor.

“We’ll still own the house,” Pepper said behind him, leaning against the door frame.

“I know,” Peter replied. “It’s home, though.”

“You’re going to have a lot of homes in your life,” she said. “The trick is learning how to carry them with you, even when you’re apart.”

Peter looked over to her. She was dressed like she was supposed to be in a meeting – which, with Pepper Stark, was likely. Her smile was soft and sad, and when she moved across the room, her heels were silent against the carpet. Pepper slipped a hand over Peter’s shoulder and turned to the view; it wasn’t much, just lines of houses, skyscrapers rising out from their roofs.

“The compound is safer,” she said.

“They got in before.”

“They won’t get in again.” Pepper’s voice was firm on this.

“No one found me here. Tomorrow – tomorrow, they’re going to know where to look.”

Pepper blew out a breath. “They won’t get to you,” Pepper swore. “HYDRA can try all they like, but I’m not letting you leave me again. I’m not letting you go. Here.” She slipped Peter’s StarkPhone into his hand. “I set up your accounts. Don’t use them or take them off private until after the announcement.”

One of Pepper’s hands carded through Peter’s unkempt hair. He’d been running his hands through it all day over the notion of moving far from Queens and Midtown. He only had a few months of school left; he thought they’d at least stay until the school year was done, but the moment the announcement was over, Peter’s life would be in danger again.

This house was nothing in terms of protection compared to the compound.

“We’re leaving in ten,” Pepper told him, her hand in his hair and her lips pressing a quick kiss to his temple.

After Pepper left, Peter took a long look around his room. He bundled the wires and gadgets into his backpack, slipping the straps over his shoulders, and hefted the duffle bag from where it sat on the bare mattress of his bed. This was his room. The only room that he could remember being his alone.

But Pepper was right – as was usually the case. Home could be carried; it wasn’t stagnant, within the walls of a house. He’d take home; the feeling of it that he’d had to relearn; with him wherever he went. He’d take Pepper’s hugs and Tony’s laugh and the memory of the Soup Incident, of Saturday movies, of long talks and working in the lab with him no matter where he ended up.

Peter took a long trip around the house, silently saying goodbye to the bathroom he didn’t like to use (it was haunted) and the bathroom he did (it wasn’t), to his parents’ bedroom and the open plan kitchen-living-room-diner, to the stairwell and FRIDAY who was going to lay dormant until someone walked back inside, and to the lab, emptied and a bare shell; just a few work desks and a space full of potential.

He met his parents by the front door and together, they climbed into Tony’s Audi – the last car they had in the area – to make the drive to the compound.

 

 

MARCH 28th

 

 

There was something strange about the day, like there was a cloud, shrouding the hours and how they were supposed to pass. Peter knew what the day was, but he didn’t know it would feel like this; didn’t know he’d be so aware of it.

At the breakfast table, his parents were silent. They’d decided to eat in the Iron Suite, rather than the communal kitchen, just because of the day. Because it was their day; it was Peter’s.

He looked between his parents, noting the tinge of blue beneath their eyes, the way Pepper’s skin was three shades paler than normal. They were all being careful to stop their spoons from clinking against their cereal bowls, as if the sound was poison; as if it would break the fragile shells of the Stark family.

Peter couldn’t imagine how they’d spent this day before he returned.

He knew it was worse, though. He knew they’d likely not leave their beds, not eat, not work; they’d lie there and be unable to even sleep. Peter knew their bodies were so used to mourning, that even on a day that didn’t need to be mourned any longer, they were going to do it like a reflex.

When Peter was done eating, he swallowed whatever strange feeling sat in his throat (it felt a lot like embarrassment, but he didn’t want to analyse it), and kissed Pepper on the cheek. He moved and wrapped his arms around Tony’s shoulders from behind, pressing his face into the crook of his father’s neck.

“I’m glad I’m back,” he said, giving Tony a slight squeeze before grabbing his bowl and heading to the sink. He refused to look back at their faces, at whatever expression they might be sharing, and washed up in silence. By the time he turned around again, Pepper and Tony were standing from the kitchen table and tugging him into a hug.

Peter smiled into the embrace, his parents’ arms wrapped around him.

“We love you so much,” Pepper whispered in his ear.

 

-

 

He was deciding what to wear to the press conference when there was a knock at his bedroom door.

“Yeah,” he yelled, and the door clicked open. Peter glanced over to find Tony, a slight smile on his face.

“You busy?”

Peter shrugged. “Trying to decide what to wear to the most important event of my life,” he said. “So, no, not really.”

Tony smiled and made his way through the mess of Peter’s room. Peter, throughout his HYDRA years, didn’t have many possessions to keep tidy – but they had a structured inspection, where the agent in charge of the cadets would mark their trunk’s tidiness, and the lowest score would result in cleaning duty. Now, however, Peter had things. Many things, in fact, because Tony liked expressing love through spending, as well as through meaningful physical affection, and liked to buy Peter whatever he asked for. (The money he’d won in a hustle of an arm wrestling competition had been hidden away in the bottom of a backpack or a box somewhere in the room, to wait for a rainy day – at least, the portion of it that Sam didn’t take as a holder’s fee, that is.)

Tony studied Peter’s wardrobe until he pulled out a bomber jacket with a raised eyebrow. “These were in style when I was a kid.”

“They’re back, apparently,” Peter replied, taking the jacket from Tony’s hands.

“I’d personally recommend something smart, but I have a feeling the last time you wore even a casual suit was when Pepper and I used to dress you.”

Peter hesitated before nodding. “To be fair, I think I wore a suit like, once on a mission. It was really uncomfortable, not fun to fight in, and provides no protection from bullets whatsoever. Learned that the hard way.”

Tony didn’t even flicker, just nodded and searched further through Peter’s clothes before finding an outfit Peter had probably worn a hundred times.

“Just be comfortable, kid,” Tony said, pressing a pair of jeans into his hands. “If you look uncomfortable, everyone’s going to notice. The press want to see confidence – well, actually, they want to see weakness, which is why we give them confidence.”

Peter nodded before a t-shirt was placed atop the pile of clothes in his arms. It was plain white, and Peter figured it’d be better than wearing one of the science pun shirts Tony had bought him. (His favourite had an image of a molecule with shades on, and the word ‘molecool!’ written above it.)

“There,” Tony said. “Get changed and meet me in the lab in five, okay?”

“Which one?” There were at least six labs in the compound. Six. Three of them were private ones for Tony. One was off limits – but Tony had told Peter it was for Bruce Banner (the Bruce Banner – he’d read all his papers since moving to Manhattan and understood like, eighty percent of what was being said) if he ever returned from wherever the quinjet took the Hulk, a few years before. The other two were labs for the staff of the compound; scientists with thorough background checks, all from Stark Industries, pulled to work for different projects or in conjunction with SHIELD.

“The top one,” Tony replied, turning to leave. “And for the love of God, don’t wear those broken Converse you’re wearing a hole in, okay? No one needs to think we’re depriving you of good shoes.”

Peter laughed, dumping the clothes on his bed. Seven minutes later, he was in the elevator, heading up to the top floor of the compound. The lab up there had no Iron Man armour, and Tony decided it would be the one he used for his less explosive projects, like Stark Industries products. He wanted a space that reminded him of the one in the Tower; overlooking everything, with large windows that gave him a view for miles.

From that lab, the whole compound stretched out before them, and then the woods that surrounded it on all sides. In one direction, New York stood, tall and proud. Peter could even pinpoint Stark Tower by its curve.

Tony was waiting for him by a work desk, staring intently at a computer screen when Peter biometrically scanned his hand to get the door to slide open. (Fury, decidedly, had not liked the amount of access Peter had been given. Tony, in response, had flipped him the bird and gave Peter the codes to Thor’s private bathroom.)

“What’s up?” Peter asked, and Tony nodded him over. On the screen, a YouTube video played on mute. Peter recognised it almost instantly; the poorly-made suit, the New York skyline, the bus he caught with his bare hands. They watched Peter swing into action, settle the bus back down on the ground, and then pull the jammed doors open to let everyone out. He frowned when he realised that Tony’s expression towards the video was inscrutable.

“Why are we watching this?” he asked as the next video played. Spiderman swinging straight through the open window of a burning building and reappearing, moments later, with two small children in his arms.

“Friendly neighbourhood Spiderman,” Tony said, not taking his eyes from the screen. The mother of the children, out on the street, pulled Peter into a fierce embrace before he climbed back into the building to check for other survivors. “Not the universe, not the world, but a neighbourhood.” Tony turned to him. On screen, Peter lowered an old man from the topmost window using one of his webs. “Queens appreciated you,” he said. “They’ve noticed your absence.”

When the next video played, Peter didn’t want to watch anymore. Silently, the news report and footage of his battle against the Lizard rolled; Spiderman being flung around and eventually luring the reptile up onto the rooftop. Tony stopped talking to watch Kurt Connors appear; watch him struggle and crawl away from Peter. Then, the two of them watched him fall to his death; watched Spiderman shake and eventually leap away.

“Even in a neighbourhood, Pete, there’s going to be causalities. Not on the same scale as Sokovia or New York – but there’ll be causalities, and it might be worse for you, because you’ll meet them first. You’ll see their faces and you’ll promise to help, and then they might die anyway.”

“This isn’t very inspirational,” Peter muttered.

“It’s not supposed to be. It’s the truth. I want you to know what you’re getting in to – because Pep and I, we’ll support you, we’ll help however we can, and you bet your ass there’ll be curfews and ground rules – but if you walk out there like you’re never going to see someone die, like every fight is going to turn out perfect, like you’ll never get hurt, yourself, then we can’t let you do that.”

Peter frowned. “I don’t understand.”

Tony looked him straight in the eye. “You’re not going out as Spiderman if you’re going to think you’re invincible,” he said. “You’re not going to go out as Spiderman without understanding and acknowledging that sometimes things will go wrong, sometimes we can’t save everyone, sometimes the bad guy gets away. I don’t want you going out there, swinging around, without an understanding of the reality of being a hero.”

Peter swallowed, looking from Tony to the frozen still of the empty rooftop, bare of Kurt Connors and Peter Parker, and looked back again. He nodded. He already knew that missions couldn’t always go right. But he knew the difference between a HYDRA mission and one as a hero was that he’d at least try to save whoever he could. It was his responsibility, turning up on the scene with powers like his, to at least try.

“I understand,” Peter said.

Tony nodded. “Okay then.” He pushed away from the desk and headed to the far wall, Peter following behind. “Curfew on school nights is eleven, on the rest, one AM – that means you’re home by that time, not heading back at that time, got it?”

“Got it.”

“If something’s too big, there’s no shame in calling in the police or an Avenger. There’s no shame in calling me for help, because-” he turned to send Peter a look, “-if you call, I’ll be there. No matter what. So if there’s a hostage situation, if there’s ten guys with machine guns, if there’s just something too big to do on your own, call me. Also: if you’re injured and you don’t tell me or Pepper, you’re grounded.”

“Grounded.”

“Yes, both Spiderman and Peter. If you’re out of action or half dead and you’re still out there and you don’t call so you can get help, then I’ll ground your friends, too.”

“I don’t think you have that power.”

Tony scoffed. “Oh, Peter, it’s like you haven’t been paying attention at all. I’m Tony Stark. I once met a guy who had a bad likeness of me tattooed on his arm. I can convince Ed and Mary’s-”

“Ned and MJ.”

“-parents to ground them, easy.” Tony stopped by the wall; there was a seam in it, like a hidden door. “Now. Final rules.”

“There’s more?”

“Super important ones,” Tony replied. “No removing the tracker. No messing with the protocols without me present and advising. No deleting Baby Monitor footage. If you break it, you tell me so it can be fixed. After every parachute use, you need to tell me so it can be replaced.

Peter nodded. “I’m hearing a lot of rules about communicating with you,” he said.

“That’s because you’re a teenager and teenagers don’t tell their parents shit.”

“Hey, I tell you stuff.”

“No, you conveniently forget to tell me stuff and then tell me two weeks after its relevant.”

Peter shrugged. “I didn’t mean to forget about parents evening.”

“And yet you did and Maria Hill had to take you and pretend to be your guardian.”

“To be fair,” Peter replied, “you and Pepper couldn’t have gone anyway.”

To be fair,” Tony mimicked, “Maria Hill would’ve liked more notice than three hours.”

Peter cracked a grin and Tony rolled his eyes. “Do you want your present or not?”

“Yes, yes, please.”

Tony waved a hand at the seam in the wall, and said, “FRI.” The seam slipped apart, the wall sections dividing until a glass capsule appeared, spinning to face Peter. Encased in glass was a suit. No – not just a suit. It was a vivid red, offset with dark blue; tight and looking like a spandex material – but surely something stronger, if Tony had made it. The mask’s eyes were a bright white and the chest held a small spider logo.

Peter’s breath caught in his throat.

“This- this is for me?” he choked out.

“Well it’s not for me,” Tony said, “and you’re the only other one here.”

A smile crept across Peter’s face. He itched to try it on; to slip on the webshooters and take it for a spin, all the way back to New York City. He couldn’t though – the press conference was in half an hour – so instead, he shoved himself into Tony’s arms, squeezing him in a hug and laughing brightly into his shoulder.

“I assume you like it.”

Like it? Oh my God, Dad! Look at it!” He pulled away. “It’s so much cooler than the other suits! And there’s a tracker in there? And a Baby Monitor? You mean it’ll record what I see?” Tony nodded and opened his mouth to reply but Peter carried on. “And a parachute? How the hell do you fit a parachute in that? That’s skin tight! Holy shit! Look at it! That’s like the best shade of red I’ve ever seen, it’s official. Holy-”

“Red was always your favourite colour,” Tony said with a smile that told Peter he was proud of himself.

Peter let himself breath for a few beats before he nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “It’s always been my favourite colour.”

Tony slapped a hand on Peter’s shoulder. “Alright, if I leave you alone with the suit, you promise you won’t take it for a joy ride?”

“The press conference-”

“Is in half an hour, yeah. I need to go over my cards with Pepper, and you’re going to get there at least ten minutes before it starts, alright?” Peter nodded. “Good kid. You can take it for a spin later – I just wanted you to know, before everything changes, that Pepper and I are with you on this, okay? We’ve got your back.”

Tony turned and left the lab, Peter’s whispered thanks, Dad, barely heard before the door slid shut behind him. Peter span back to the suit, asking FRIDAY to open up the capsule, and he stepped inside, pressing his hand against the mannequin’s chest. The shape and style may have been similar to the Black Spider, but this was anything but.

Peter blew out a breath, then he turned around and left, the wall closing up behind him. He had a press conference to get to.

 

-

 

@DailyNewsUSA: LIVE: PRESS CONFERENCE AT AVENGERS COMPOUND WITH TONY AND PEPPER STARK

@DailyBugle: Peter Stark’s abduction anniversary! Tony Stark hosts a press conference at the new Avengers Compound in his honour!

 

The Avengers were hidden in a room behind the press hall. They sat on sofas and leaned against walls, watching the screen as live footage of the press conference began playing. It showed the hall; all chrome and glass, and then the podium. At the back of the stage, the wall held the Avengers logo.

Peter sat with the Avengers in wait. His leg jittered, his hands clamped together.

“Relax,” Bucky said, nudging him, “or I’ll make Wanda force you.”

Peter rolled his eyes. “You wouldn’t relax if you were me.”

“Sure, but no one out there needs to see you as a pile of nerves.”

Peter slumped back into the sofa, in the small spot he’d procured between Bucky and Sam. His foot started tapping against the floor.

On screen, Tony and Pepper stepped onto the stage and made their way to the podium, where their notes sat. Tony wasn’t great at following lines, but he’d sworn to do his best this time around.

“Welcome,” Pepper began, looking out at the sea of reporters. On screen, there were flashes every few seconds; photos being snapped to sit on the front page of newspapers tomorrow morning. “We’d like to thank you for coming today. We haven’t held a press conference on this subject for around five years, now, and we didn’t expect to again. However, recent events in our lives have brought us back here.”

Tony took over. “On the 28th of March, 2007, our son Peter was abducted from our home in Malibu. A nationwide search started, and thousands of hours of man power were poured in to help us find our son. We appreciate every one of you, who helped us; those who went on the walks, the police departments that took on the case, the military that took it over and Colonel Rhodes, who led that search for a while. The effort put into the search for Peter has always been sincerely appreciated.”

“And,” Pepper continued, “for the first time in eleven years, truly felt as if not in vain.” There was an interested rumble throughout the reporters, but Pepper continued, making them fall silent. “Only a few years ago, HYDRA – a criminal organisation that we believed to be extinct – resurfaced, having infiltrated their way into SHIELD, the FBI and many other organisations that keep the world safe. They may have been brought out of the shadows and into the light only recently, but they were there, festering, since World War II. Which means that when Peter was taken in 2007, it felt right to turn to the Ten Rings, after their abduction of Tony – but it doesn’t mean it was correct.”

“In the past year,” Tony started, “we have found that Peter’s abductors were not the Ten Rings, but HYDRA. And he was imprisoned there for many years after being taken.”

They let the reporters have their gasps and shock. They let the questions fly across the room; shouted and called, dignity left by the reporters’ feet. Sam nudged Peter until he got up and moved to the door. One of the staff was waiting there to open it for him, but he almost didn’t want them to – almost wanted them to let him do it, to let him choose not to, and scurry back to the sofa and hide for the rest of the day.

Peter stared down at the outfit Tony had picked out for him. Black Converse – the non-broken ones – dark jeans and a white t-shirt. He wore a blue bomber jacket so dark it was almost a shade of black, the sleeves pushed up his forearms. He’d stared at his hair in the mirror too, trying to make it look somewhat presentable, knowing that the images taken in the next ten minutes would be the images that would never leave; that would stick by his side, by his name, for the rest of his life.

These were his last few moments as Peter Parker.

As much as he liked the name; liked the alliteration and the way it rolled off the tongue, he was okay to be shedding it. Okay to leave Richard Parker and his experiments, his spiders, behind him. He’d miss the name, in some strange way, but it was never his to have. It was someone else’s, given to him as a label; to tell everyone whose pet project they were looking at.

But beneath it all, Peter had never truly been a Parker. He was a Stark – he’d just forgotten it for a while.

On the screen, Tony continued and the reporters shut up to hear him. “Understandably, you want evidence to support this claim. The investigation is run by SHIELD, and after today will also be handed over to the FBI, but most aspects will remain confidential, due to the dangers HYDRA poses. However, there is a piece of news from all of this that we can confirm.”

Peter watched as Tony took a breath. His parents met each other’s eyes, and Pepper nodded almost imperceptibly. Tony looked back out to the cameras.

“Our son, Peter Stark, is alive. And we’d like you to meet him.”

The noise was almost enough to make Peter turn and run for the hills. The shouting, as he took his last breath as Peter Parker, was close to overwhelming; it flooded him, the door opening to the press hall. He couldn’t make out the words in the blur. Just a loud noise, like a wave of static, washing over him.

For a moment, he floundered. Then he met his mother’s eye.

Pepper smiled at him, something soft and private, and she held out a hand.

It was a lifeline, and Peter wanted so badly to reach it, so he moved forward, he stepped onto the stage, he took his mother’s hand and let her pull him into her side. He smiled, because she was smiling, because Tony was smiling; because this was a family and he was a part of it, and the white noise slowly became words. They became coherent.

Peter looked out to the reporters. The image of his half smile, of him standing by his parents’ sides, would be the photo of the year. It would be one of the biggest pieces of news for the decade – the only good news to make that standing, alongside the Triskelion, the Mandarin, Germany.

The world and their investment in the prolonged existence of Peter Stark was something Peter would never fully come to grips with, but it would always be evident.

It was clear in the photos, in the shouting, in the wide eyes of the reporters and the shocked faces of the news anchors who’d take back the screens at the end of the conference. It would be clear in the fan videos, of people who cried and were overjoyed about his return, in the articles and essays and Tweets. The world cared about Peter, and he’d created a hole in that world at only six years old.

At seventeen, he returned to fill it.

Tony nodded at a reporter and the others quietened.

The reporter floundered before asking the simplest of questions. “How- when did he come back? Where were you?”

“Peter came back to us during the summer of last year,” Tony replied, causing a small riot from the reporters who’d been kept in the dark for the better part of a year. “The reports of Pepper and I appearing less at work and in public was a result of that; was a result of us trying to find some sense of normality again. And Peter-”

Pepper jumped in. “Peter was raised inside a HYDRA base,” she said, then turning to smile at him. “And the best day of my life was the one where he came home.”

The questions came again and again. Peter stood by his parents’ sides as they were called out. He watched their reserved replies; holding back the information none of them were allowed to say. Even the questions directed at Peter were answered by Tony and Pepper; the ones asking how they know for sure (“A DNA test run by my AI; there is no doubt in my mind about Peter’s parentage”), about how he was adapting to normal life (“It wasn’t the fastest, but he’s made great leaps in moving away from who he was under HYDRA’s control”), about if he knew his identity the whole time he was away (“No, Peter was unaware, and it wasn’t until the DNA test that he found out, too”).

Then, there was a question he wanted to answer.

“Yes! Peter, you’re seventeen years old, now. Have you gone back to school? Do you have friends? How is ‘normality’ for you?”

Pepper opened her mouth but Peter nudged her. She looked to him, a raised eyebrow in question. Tony and Pepper had promised that he didn’t need to answer anything if he didn’t want to – that he just had to stand there for half an hour and then leave. But he wanted to.

Pepper nodded and he turned back to the reporter. “I started school in September,” he said, and the room hushed to hear him, as he forced the words out. “I’ve never been before, so I watched a lot of movies about high school to find out what it was like. I didn’t go in with high expectations after that.” There was a quiet wave of laughter, and the corners of his mouth quirked into a smile. “I think Tony referred to me starting school in my senior year as a lamb headed to the slaughter, but it’s been alright – it’s been good. I have two friends there – Ned and MJ – both geniuses in their own rights, and its – it’s good. I don’t know if it’s normality, but it’s a routine and it’s something I can get behind.”

“Are you enjoying your classes?” the reporter asked. “What are your favourites?”

“Oh yeah,” Peter said, smiling more now. Rather than his hesitant words from before, he picked up speed. He vaguely remembered what Tony said about confidence. “I’m really into science – biochemistry is my favourite right now, but I’m really into physics. And we don’t get to do engineering, but I get to do that at home instead, and that’s always really fun – I finally built an engine by myself, if you’re wondering.”

He was grinning and Tony let out a surprised bark of laughter.

“That’s dark,” Tony said. “Like, seriously, kind of morbid.”

“What?” Peter said, amusement in his voice. “They were impressed when I was six, I’m sure they’re they’ll be impressed now, too. Oh! And I like Lit. Well, kind of. I’m not a fan of analysing the text but I like reading the books.”

“The kid doesn’t stop reading,” Tony agreed.

“He’ll read anything you put in front of him and come back five hours later and tell you why Jane Bennet was his favourite Pride and Prejudice character.”

“She’s just so nice,” Peter insisted, turning to Pepper. “I’m not surprised Mr Bingley wanted to marry her, I do too. And besides, Rosamund Pike is a national treasure.”

The photo taken that moment, of the three Starks, grinning at each other, is the other photo; the one that the world looks at and finally breathes a sigh of relief over. Because the Starks are reunited, they’re back together and they’re, genuinely, happy.

 

-

 

That night, a photo was posted on the @PeterStark Instagram and Twitter accounts, officially followed by all the Avengers members and the Stark parents. It’s of Peter on the sofa between Pepper and Tony, their arms around each other as they grin; there’s low lighting, a bowl of popcorn sitting on the corner of the coffee table and a blanket across Pepper’s lap.

The shirt Peter wore was a familiar one from a recent internet scandal. It read: I AM TONY STARK’S SON.

 

@PeterStark: I didn’t realise the shirt was insensitive the other day. I wore it because it’s true.

 

After Tony Stark retweeted it (it hit 500,000 favourites within half an hour), he commented.

 

@TonyStark: I told him this shouldn’t be his first Tweet, but he insisted he gets his brand clear right off the bat.

@PepperStark: @PeterStark I expect a t-shirt with ‘I AM PEPPER STARK’S SON’ next or you’re grounded.

@PeterStark: @PepperStark yes mom

Chapter Text

MARCH 29th

 

 

guy in the chair: i’m away from the internet for ONE DAY and u tell the world you’re a stark?????????????

Peterman has changed their name to Mr Stark

Mr Stark: do I look like a stark yet

guy in the chair: u told the world u only have two friends and u name dropped me and mj

guy in the chair: hey now that ur officially rich, can u buy the next lego set

Mr Stark: I can buy the next ten OR I can see if I can get you into the compound

guy in the chair: dEAL

 

 

MARCH 30th

 

 

“Welcome back to America: Today! Tonight, we have three very special guests with us. They’re all anyone can talk about, and I can absolutely see why. Can we have a round of applause for Tony, Pepper and Peter Stark!”

The in-house audience cheered, climbing to their feet in a standing ovation as the three of them walked out onto the stage. Peter wasn’t sure if he liked the spotlight after a decade of hiding in the shadows, but he had to admit, it was roomy. And he liked watching the news videos that came up on YouTube about him and reading Ned’s commentary as he found more and more articles obsessing over him. There was a Buzzfeed article dedicated to Tony Stark’s Son Grew Up Hot, That’s the Real News Here. (He bookmarked that one. The images were very flattering.)

“Thank you so much for being on the show, tonight. I know you’re all very busy, especially right now. So, I have to ask, Peter, what was it like, finding out Tony and Pepper are your parents?”

He felt the eyes on him as he sat in the middle of the sofa. It wasn’t very comfortable and the lights were warm on his shoulders. He thought about the question. When he’d found out, he’d frozen. He was pretending to be asleep as his parents talked about him.

“I, uh, it was surreal, for sure. But it made sense, too. It just fit, I guess? Like, I was told a truth that I didn’t know but just made sense.”

“And it must be crazy, having Iron Man as a dad.”

“Oh yeah,” Peter said, resisting the urge to roll his eyes at the thought. “I mean, I’m ten years down the line of being told that Iron Man is a scourge on the planet and Tony Stark is some kind of narcissist that the world is better off without, and then I met the guy and was like, huh, no, that doesn’t sound right – so yeah, it was weird to say the least.”

“You could’ve just said, I love Iron Man! It was totally crazy!” Tony drawled, rolling his eyes.

“I could’ve but that would’ve been a lie.”

He got a light jab in the side for that one and laughed in response. The interviewer, across from them, was grinning like this was the highlight of her year.

“What has it been like, having a son again? Was there a lot of change in your lifestyles?”

“Absolutely,” Pepper said with a nod. “It’s been absolutely wonderful having Peter back, but very quickly we had to change how our lives worked to make the space for him again. We couldn’t both work such full weeks anymore, Tony cut down on Iron Man, and Peter eats like nobody’s business – the food bill has rocketed.”

Peter snorted and the interview ran on, the three of them answering the questions and joking amongst themselves to stay entertained.

Finally, it happened. “And what about HYDRA?” the interviewer asked. “Announcing Peter’s return must place a target on his back again? Are you worried that they’ll take action against you for announcing their crimes?”

Peter looked to Tony, because he’d been asking the same questions for weeks.

“Of course, they’re a worry,” Tony said, “which is why we waited until the compound was up and fully functional again before announcing anything. It’s a safe place for Peter to be – but he does have the Avengers, he has SHIELD looking out for him, and the kid can hold his own pretty well. If they come back, I’m optimistic about our chances.”

“The compound was, in fact, destroyed and infiltrated nine months ago,” the interviewer continued. “How have you improved it to make sure an event like that doesn’t happen again?”

“We isolated the flaws of the building and we improved them,” Tony replied. “That’s what I do – I look at a problem, and I search for solutions.”

“Peter, it was announced at the time that HYDRA was the source of the attack. With what we know now about your abduction, I must ask, were you present during the compound destruction?”

He hesitated. “Y-yeah. I was. I was totally unscathed though; made it out of there just fine and taken to a safe place.”

“Is it safe to assume that the attack was a reaction to your escape from HYDRA?”

Tony jumped in. “HYDRA attacked soon after Peter was out of their hands and into the Avengers’,” he confirmed. “It’s likely that they attacked in retaliation or to take him back. The event was a tragedy and many lives were lost when the building went down and during the fighting, but Peter made it out just fine and was kept away from the battle.”

It was strange, bending the truth. Unscathed, totally fine, kept away. He remembered running through the battle, the gun in his hands, shooting a man who worked in the compound. Pepper and the broken heel in her hand. The glass shards in his knuckles. The bullets in his body. The agents he took down and the cracks in the ceiling. Holding up the building long enough for Pepper to escape it.

Oh yeah, I made it out of that one without a scratch.

Everyone cared about Peter Stark’s prolonged existence but he wondered how much they’d care if they found out what HYDRA had made him. If they found out what he’d done.

 

 

APRIL 1st

 

 

@PeterStark: i’m not actually tony stark’s son

                                                           

“Peter Benjamin Stark!”

Peter could hear Pepper’s voice through three walls in the compound and he knew he’d fucked up. He couldn’t pinpoint what exactly had done it. Clint was the one to tell him about April Fool’s Day. He’d also given him a lot of tricks and tips for practical jokes to spend the day doing.

There was the sugar for the salt switch – which was very amusing that morning when Sam scooped it into his coffee by the tablespoon and promptly spat it out across the kitchen.

There was the clingfilm over the toilet seat – and Peter hung out outside the bathroom in the living room for half an hour before Steve went to use it and said, quietly, so only Peter and his enhanced ears could hear, “Oh for the love of fuck”.

There were the series of meetings he’d booked across Pepper’s schedule through FRIDAY, so she’d be attending empty conference rooms all day.

Actually – maybe that was why she was yelling.

Peter ducked down behind the sofa and prayed to God she wouldn’t find him.

“FRIDAY,” Pepper demanded upon entering the room. “You said he was in here.”

“Peter is currently hiding behind the sofa,” FRIDAY helpfully replied.

“Traitor,” Peter muttered.

The clicking of Pepper’s heels had never been more terrifying.

“Write a retraction,” she ordered.

Peter frowned. “What?”

Write a retraction.”

“You’re not here to complain about the schedule?”

“I don’t care that I went to three meetings that didn’t exist today,” she told him, hellfire burning in her eyes. “FRIDAY told me after the third one that you’d booked the meetings in, so I’m going to assume they’re all fake all day.”

“Yeah,” he admitted.

“I’m angry about the Tweet.

Oh? Oh.

“Ah.”

Ah,” Pepper mimicked. “The Tweet went viral two hours ago and you have done nothing to retract it! Do you know how many news agencies are speculating about whether it’s a joke or not? Do you know how many phone calls I have dealt with today, Peter? I’m currently trying to reconvince the world that we didn’t make up our son coming home! Retract the Tweet!”

When Peter froze, wide-eyed like a deer in headlights, Pepper clapped her hands in his face, pulling him out of his daze.

“Right, right, okay, yes, retracting,” he said, pulling out his phone. “Clint was the one to tell me about April Fool’s.”

“Let’s not blame Clint right now,” she ordered. “He’s in his own set of trouble for replacing the water in the sprinklers in one of the labs with marinara sauce. He’s cleaning that up by himself as we speak.”

 

@PeterStark: oh right guys, it’s april fools i was joking about not being tony stark’s son i thought you guys would get that whoops

@PeterStark: my bad

@PeterStark: my mom made me tweet this i’m in trouble thanks guys

 

 

APRIL 4th

 

 

The Tweet contained a photo of Peter with two men. They’re grinning at the camera.

 

@PeterStark: @BuzzfeedUnsolved somehow got it right???? I’m honoured to be their first official solve

@PeterStark: (peter quill was totally aliens, i’m 99% sure)

@BuzzfeedUnsolved: @PeterStark VINDICATION

 

 

APRIL 6th

 

 

He finally got the chance to go out as Spiderman.

He was only Spiderman for a month before Kurt Connors, but Queens missed him and he missed it. At last, after a week of interviews and photos and having to go out in public so the world could get their fill of seeing Peter Stark, alive and well with his parents, Pepper officially called the media storm dead and said they were limiting contact with it from now on. Which meant that Peter didn’t need to feel as watched, even if he was.

He was finally back at school, too. He’d started the day before, and the students went deadly quiet when they saw him walking through the front doors. They stared at him and Peter forced himself not to look at them, to keep walking and pretend they weren’t there. At his locker, Flash had been waiting with a half-hearted glare.

“You’re fucking kidding me,” was the first thing he said.

“About what?” Peter asked, nudging him aside to open his locker. He’d started keeping things in there because he felt like he should. Today, there were a few slips of paper shoved in the vents of the door, and he took them out, slipping them into his backpack without looking at them.

“You’re Tony Stark’s son,” Flash replied.

“Apparently.”

“And you’ve been his son the whole time.”

“Uh huh.”

“And you didn’t fuckin’ tell anyone.”

“I mean, no. Ned and MJ found out by accident. Or a purposeful accident. An event that seemed accidental but was actually half-heartedly orchestrated by yours truly.”

“Stop talking, Peter,” MJ said, approaching from behind. “It’ll do us all a world of good.”

He flashed her a smile. Someone in the hall was taking photos – they’d appear online within minutes, PETER STARK IS BACK IN SCHOOL, WHO ARE PETER STARK’S FRIENDS?, FLASH THOMPSON AND MICHELLE JONES HANGING OUT WITH PETER STARK. (Flash could ride that wave of popularity all the way down to hell for all Peter cared.)

“Let’s not be mean to Mr Stark,” Ned greeted with a grin. He held his hand out and Peter returned it with their overly long, complicated handshake. Someone else was recording that, too.

“Hey, it’s Peter,” he grinned. “Mr Stark’s my father.”

The boys snickered and they walked away from Flash, MJ by their side. By the end of the day, the school was used to having Peter among them. The Stark Industries Tour Incident was also slowly making more and more sense, too.

“Hey, Parker!” Flash called at lunch. Someone was recording and Peter raised an eyebrow at the camera before looking to Flash.

“Technically, it’s Stark now,” Peter replied. On one side of him, Ned laughed into his sandwich, and on the other, MJ didn’t look up from her book.

Flash leaned against the table across from them. “Tell me, right now. The Stark internship. Was it a load of shit?”

Peter barked out a laugh. He felt the eyes of the school on him. “Yeah,” he said. “You guys were all questioning why Happy was picking me up from school – it was Tony’s idea to claim the internship though. It would stop you guys from asking questions.”

“But people knew you at SI,” Flash continued. “They said you were Stark’s personal intern.”

“Yeah, that was Pepper’s doing. It was a team effort. We go to a school for the smartest kids in New York,” Peter said, rolling his eyes, “eventually, someone was going to put Peter Parker and Peter Stark together if I didn’t give you another answer.”

“I fucking knew you didn’t have an internship,” Flash muttered.

“Not much of a victory,” Peter said, an easy smile on his face. “I don’t have an internship but I work in Tony’s personal lab anyway.”

Flash grumbled, pushing away from the table. MJ held her fist out in Peter’s direction and he looked at it blankly until Ned bumped it with his own. That’s where the recording stopped, when he watched the video later. The PR department already hated Peter for what his school was putting out into the world, but this one would make them cry in frustration.

A day later, he was leaving school, scrolling through his mentions on Twitter. Occasionally, he’d answer a few Tweets aimed at him. While PR hated his very existence publicly, they were insistent that he continued to have an internet presence and keep the public happy with him.

 

@Iron_Fan: @PeterStark did u legit fake an SI internship to cover up your family that’s hilarious

@PeterStark: @Iron_Fan I probably could’ve explained myself better but yeah. It worked though and I was That Guy With The SI Internship for like three months

 

He pulled up his hood and ducked into an alley, slipping behind a dumpster to see if anyone had followed him. When he was sure that no one had, he crouched down, pulling his backpack off his shoulders. He’d told his parents that Spiderman was coming back today. They’d said to call if he needed a ride back to the compound.

As he rummaged through his backpack, the suit tangled up with his books, he frowned. Peter pulled out three slips of paper, vaguely remembering them from his locker the day before. He’d never actually looked at them.

One was on a luminescent pink post-it note. It had a phone number, a name and a heart. Another was on a torn off slip of white paper with a YouTube link written out. The last felt like a business card; a small, firm piece of card with the words, typed: FOURTEEN DAYS.

“That’s ominous,” he said, sticking it back into his backpack. Crouched behind the dumpster, he pulled out his phone and typed in the YouTube address – it was unlikely the two were connected, and he was right when the video was three minutes long, entitled I Think Peter Stark Is Alive and Goes to My School?? It had less than a hundred views, three comments calling them a dumbass for thinking he was alive, and seventeen thumbs down. Peter watched the video from a girl who looked maybe fifteen, talking about how there was a rumour about Peter Parker and his internship, about how she doubted the Starks would have someone so close to them with the name ‘Peter’, how he’d been picked up from school by Bucky fucking Barnes.

Peter snorted when he saw the date it was posted: February 18th.

He Tweeted the link.

 

@PeterStark: someone at my school is a goddamn genius they figured out who I am over a month ago and nO ONE BELIEVED THEM

 

After, he thought back to the business card. Checking the area, Peter shoved off his clothes and pulled on the Spiderman suit before slinging the backpack over his shoulders. He fiddled with the webshooters before climbing up the wall of the apartment building he was hiding behind and jumping onto the roof. It was there he stuck his backpack to the corner of the wall.

Fourteen days. Until what? What was going to happen on – he did the math – the 19th of April? Or, maybe, even earlier – he didn’t know when the card was left in his locker. He hadn’t been at school for a week.

“Hello, Peter,” a familiar voice said in his ear.

“Hey, Karen,” Peter replied. “How have you been doing?”

“I’m working at optimal efficiency,” Karen, the suit’s AI, replied. Peter had trained in the suit at the compound for the past week, figuring out its limitations and abilities. After pestering his father enough, Tony turned off the Training Wheels Protocol to let Peter access his suit’s full set of capabilities, including the AI that Peter had affectionately named Karen. “Where would you like to begin?”

Peter moved to the ledge of the roof and looked out over Queens. He was only a few blocks from his school and it was only a little after three. He had a long time before he had to get home.

“Let’s start small,” he replied. “Work our way up.”

“Of course, Peter,” Karen said. “I’ll monitor police radio frequencies and let you know when something shows up.”

“You’re the best, Karen,” Peter said before leaping from the roof. He shot a web to the opposite building and went flying, swinging out across traffic and grinning the entire way. When people pointed and stared, he felt it, and it felt good. Not to be looked at as Peter but as Spiderman. As a hero, not as the poor kid who finally came home.

He started with a grand theft bicycle, then gave a woman directions to her subway station. He helped a kid cross the street, helped two cats down from the trees they were stuck in, and flipped on command. When he started to get hungry, he found a sandwich stand and bought one, climbing onto the van’s roof to eat his dinner. As people passed, they pointed and waved, took photos or asked loudly who he was, to which he called back Spiderman and they complimented the upgrade.

While he ate, he pulled out his phone and scrolled down his Twitter feed. MJ had sent him the link to an article called 10 Best Dressed Celebrity Children, where Peter was ranked as number three. There were two photos of him – one in the press conference outfit, bomber jacket sleeves pushed up his forearms, and another taken by Pepper and posted on her Instagram (captained he gets his sense of style from me) with boots and jeans and a soft, long sleeved grey jumper, a lot like the one he’d worn in the box.

Peter snorted and Tweeted the link, because he could.

 

@PeterStark: @vogue i’ve been wearing the same hoodie for four days

 

This was true, and Peter was planning to wear it for four more. It was comfortable.

Soon after, he was flying through the air again, Karen telling him of a car chase six blocks away. Grand theft auto, not bicycle, this time.

Peter smirked when he caught sight of the car, speeding down the street and weaving between traffic. As it passed beneath him, he leapt, landing heavily on the roof. He stuck to it, leaning over the edge to knock on the window.

“Knock knock,” he said. The window rolled down.

“What the fuck-”

“No,” Peter huffed, “you’re supposed to say who’s there.”

The driver had a gun – he was the only one Peter could spot in the car, and he shot out a web, yanking the gun from the guy’s hand and promptly sticking it to the roof.

“Let’s start again,” Peter said. “Knock knock.”

The thief tried to roll up the window, but Peter darted his hand in the way and shoved against the mechanisms, strong enough to make them useless.

“Who’s there,” Peter said in a deep voice. “Cargo,” he replied in his regular one, before pushing the window all the way down, the screech of the mechanism protesting under his hands. Peter leapt into the car, flying past the driver and landing in the passenger seat. He turned suddenly, kicking his foot out into the thief’s face.

“Cargo who,” Peter replied in the lower tone, before slamming his foot down into the driver’s crotch. He yelled out in a mix of pain and anger, his grip on the wheel loose as he tried to hit Peter with a fist. Peter caught it, quickly moving his other hand up to the back of the man’s head, before slamming it down into the steering wheel. The horn sounded once and Peter laughed.

“Cargo beep beep,” he said, before kicking the driver’s door open and shoving the guy from the car, webs shooting at the same moment to catch him, dangling from a street lamp. Peter leaped into the driver’s seat, then, slamming a foot on the break and desperately manoeuvring the car out of danger.

A moment later, he smiled to himself, satisfied. When he climbed out of the car, the flashing lights of the police were nearby, as were the cops, approaching the car thief, hanging from Peter’s webs.

“Wasted a solid joke on that guy,” Peter mumbled. Then he shrugged. “He’ll remember later and realise how funny it was.”

 

-

 

When Peter returned home that night, he did it in the back seat of Happy’s car, his hoodie warm and soft as he dozed. Patrol made him tired; all the running and leaping and flipping wore him out after so little continuous physical action in so long. After HYDRA missions, he was never tired; he was always wired and jittery, like he could go on another thirty-six hours without taking a breath.

He remembered HYDRA too clearly for his liking; remembered the faces and the names.

When Peter entered the Iron Suite, he went in search of Tony.

“Are there cameras in my school?” he asked, dumping his bag on the kitchen table.

“Good evening,” Tony replied, not looking up from his StarkPad. There was a half-eaten sandwich on a plate in front of him, and what may well have been his twentieth cup of coffee of the day. “How was your day? Mine was fine, thanks for asking. Did patrol go okay? I don’t see any blood, so I have to assume it went fine.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Peter said, waving a hand. “Patrol was fine. Told a great joke but the criminal was too busy committing crimes to laugh.”

“That’s my boy,” Tony said, then, “Hey-” as Peter stole the other half of his sandwich.

“I’m a growing boy,” Peter defended through a full mouth. “Does Midtown have cameras inside the school?”

“Yes,” Tony said, “in the halls. I would’ve thought you would know that with your whole-” he gestured vaguely at Peter, “-ex-evil agent thing you have going on.”

Peter shrugged. “I have never once said I was a good evil agent. Maybe I was the worst of the batch. Maybe I was actually really shit at it and you never bothered to ask.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Why do you want to know about the cameras?”

Peter stuffed the rest of the sandwich in his mouth before fishing the business card out of his backpack. He flicked it onto the table, where Tony picked it up, frowning at the words printed on one side.

“What’s this?”

Peter shrugged. “Found it in my locker yesterday. If there’s cameras, I can find out when it got put there. I can’t count days if I don’t know when to start.”

“This is probably bad news, you know that?” Tony asked, but he stood anyway, taking the plate to the sink.

“Probably,” Peter agreed. “But we can’t say we weren’t expecting bad news.”

They went to the lab and Tony brought up a holoscreen and a protocol he’d already made that gave him access to the Midtown security cameras. Peter ignored the fact that he’d already used the cameras before and went about directing him to the hall with his locker.

Tony scrolled back the footage to the morning of the day before, and found Peter approaching his locker, where Flash stood.

“Who’s that?” Tony asked.

“A kid at school,” Peter replied. “He’s kind of a dick.”

“Kind of?”

Peter shrugged. “Everyone’s gotta have a nice side, right?”

On the holoscreen, Peter opened his locker and slipped the pieces of paper into his backpack. Tony started rewinding the footage, the students walking backwards, the hall getting emptier and emptier. At one point, a little before eight AM, a girl slipped a single piece of paper through the locker vent.

“Her,” Tony said. She turned around, on screen, to keep walking.

“No,” Peter dismissed. “She’s the one with the YouTube video.”

“The YouTube video?”

“It’s like you don’t even read my Tweets,” Peter replied. “But she’s not the one. That’s a different piece of paper.”

“How many notes do you get?” Tony asked, exasperated, before turning back to the screen and rewinding further. The girl walked backwards off screen and then the lights turned off as it reached early morning. They rewound a whole extra day before seeing it.

At the end of the school day, on the 4th of April – only about twenty minutes before Peter spotted the Buzzfeed Unsolved guys in the city and ran over to get a photo – a girl with light brown hair and a leather jacket approached Peter’s locker. She pulled a small white card from her pocket, slipped it through the vent and kept walking.

Tony paused the video has her face, just for a second, slithered into view.

“No,” Peter breathed, because it couldn’t be.

“Do you know her?”

Peter shoved away from the table. He remembered all the names, all the faces. She would never be an exception.

“Peter,” Tony said, turning in his seat. “Who is that?”

“She’s- she’s HYDRA,” Peter said. “We trained together. We- we grew up together. T-Tony, Dad,” Peter span to face him, worry painted across his face. “She’s worse than bad news.”

 

 

2 YEARS EARLIER

 

 

“Hey, Spidey!”

Peter turned in the hall, searching for the voice. He smiled when he saw her running over; her hair pulled into a tight ponytail and a duffle bag at her side. He frowned at that – and at the Kevlar she hadn’t fully finished strapping around her torso.

“Hey,” he said. “You going somewhere?”

“Yeah, actually,” she replied, glancing at her getup. The was a semi-automatic poking out of the duffle bag.

“A mission?” Peter’s missions were almost always solo, now he had the spider bite, but before, he’d only ever been on team missions. She though – she went on her first solo at thirteen, the best of the cadets, and had been going on them ever since. She was the future of HYDRA, everyone always said – she was the future in a different way to Peter.

“Kind of,” she replied. “Uh – your guy, Parker, he’s requested me in another base.”

Richard Parker only returned to this base to check on Peter’s progress, now. His experiment was a success; Peter was a success. Apparently, he went off to do bigger things with more money.

“I thought Drew was your guy,” Peter replied. Some of the cadets had guys, as they called them. The scientists or agents that took responsibility for them; that considered them pet projects. They labelled the cadets that way, stripping them of whatever name they had before and giving them their own.

“He’ll be there,” she said. “But, uh, apparently I won’t be coming back for a while. It’s a big deal. A lot of higher-ups are pushing it through – it being whatever I’ll be getting up to. I’m out of here in ten, so I thought I’d say goodbye.”

Peter cocked an eyebrow. “Didn’t think you were the sentimental type.”

Her mouth turned up in a smirk, her eyes rolling. “Sorry, Spidey, just thought I’d say goodbye to my best friend. But I guess he doesn’t want to say goodbye to me-”

Peter barked out a laugh and pulled her in for a quick hug. He caught her smile before his fingers pulled at the Kevlar straps, finishing them off for her.

“Kick ass,” he said, “and tell me all about it when you get back.”

“Obviously,” she replied. “I’ve gotta get going. I’ll see you, okay?” She took a few steps back, to head back the way she came.

“I’ll be here,” he promised.

“Don’t forget me, Peter Parker.” She was smiling in that cocky way, like she knew what he’d say before he said it; like she knew him better than he knew himself.

“I wouldn’t dare, Jessica Drew.”

Chapter Text

APRIL 8th

 

 

The days became a countdown to April 18th. They became crosses on a calendar, where the 18th was circled in red and Peter was gnawing on his lip every time he looked at it. The only upside was that Jessica Drew was a woman of her word; if she said fourteen days, she wouldn’t arrive even a minute early.

They had the Avengers springing into action almost immediately. Nat and Clint immediately vanished, likely going underground to get every scrap of information about current HYDRA locations and sightings of Drew, while Tony had FRIDAY scan every camera he could reach for her face.

Fury had never heard of her, when he arrived at the compound to a group-wide investigation; everyone crammed in Tony’s lab and staring at their computer screens. Maria Hill stood somewhere behind him, arms crossed and listening intently. She always had a smile for Peter, but not today, apparently. Not when they’d been given a deadline.

“Tell us about her,” Fury said. “We’ll get a better idea about her if we know more.”

“Okay, okay,” Peter replied, pacing the space in front of Tony’s computer. Nearby, Pepper was sitting on a desk, her ankles crossed and a frown on her face. It had been two days since they first saw Jessica’s face, and Pepper had cancelled her entire day of meetings to be here.

“Jessica Drew. She’s seventeen – eighteen in December, I think. She arrived at my base when I was eight or so? I think she was at another base before that; completely born and bred HYDRA. We always guessed she was an orphan or something, because she took her agent’s last name. Kids who have HYDRA parents tend to stick with their own names, but ones like us – well, they brand us as something else, you know?”

Peter wasn’t looking at anyone as he spoke, just rambled, eyes darting across the room. Floor, feet, eyepatch, ceiling.

“Top of our class. Best cadet there was. Started solo missions at thirteen. First kill at ten.” He looked to Bucky, briefly, “She’s the one who thought you were attractive in a rugged, murderous way? Oh! Also the one who coined the term emo raccoon for you – that was our codename for you so we could talk about you without anyone else knowing. Alright, she and I were really close; I mean, we trained together for eight years and we ate lunch together every day. I totally had a crush on her when I was eleven but I don’t think that’s relevant. She’s kind of a cold hard bitch sometimes, and other times she’s just the coolest person-”

Peter caught Tony’s frown and he backtracked. “Not that, like, a HYDRA agent could be a cool person, of course. Because they can’t. They’re evil. Evil, Nazi, bad person all around. Coolness is relative when genocide is on the table, you know?”

“Peter, breathe,” Tony said.

“Alright, alright. Okay, so when I was sixteen? Or just about to turn sixteen? Or just after I turned sixteen? She went. She got called out and I just- just never saw her again.”

“Where did she go?” Fury asked.

Peter shrugged, trying to recall the conversation. “It was last minute, I think. Richard Parker – he’s the guy who made the spider that bit me? – he wanted her for something he was working on. Some new project, I think. She was probably leading a team or something – maybe she was the one getting the equipment? Sometimes they made strike teams for that? To take certain people or certain findings that’ll help their research? But, she said she’d be back, and she wasn’t. She just left. Neither of us knew why my guy wanted her but not me, but she couldn’t say no, you know?” Peter trailed off, frowning.

He knew it was wrong on some level, but he missed Jess. She was his only real friend in HYDRA – he got along with the other cadets, but not in the same way. There was always this feeling of loyalty to the cause, but not to each other – but Peter always knew Jess had his back. He was the one person she would come back for.

He hadn’t thought about her much since leaving HYDRA. Maybe one thought every now and again, but it had already been a year since he last saw her, running off down the corridor to catch a jet to god-knows-where, when he met the Avengers. In HYDRA, the people around you were ever-revolving. Even the attachments you made were temporary; eventually they’d be gunned down or reassigned.

“Mm, just because we’re best friends doesn’t mean it’s forever,” she’s said once. “It means we’ll be friends until circumstance tears us apart.”

“God, you’re fucking depressing.”

“Take it back or I’ll take back the rum.”

Peter had held the bottle of rum she’d stolen from an agent that morning out of her reach, and she tried and failed to grab it from him. They laughed in their tipsy haze, hiding in a large maintenance vent.

“If you can reach it, you can have it back,” Peter had laughed. Eventually, he’d given it back anyway, because he didn’t want to be the only drunk one. The rum had burned the whole way down and left an uncomfortable taste in his mouth, but he hadn’t cared.

“It’s teenage rebellion, baby,” Jess had teased.

Peter shook the memory from his mind, knowing there were eyes on him. Eventually, Fury turned away to look at Hill.

“I want every bit of research Richard Parker has ever done,” he said. “I don’t care how we get it. We need to make a timeline of what she’s been up to and what the hell she’s doing leading the assault.”

“Jess is a shepherd, not a sheep,” Peter muttered. She’d said that to him once with a playful elbow to the side. He felt the eyes on him but he ignored them and slumped into a seat. This was going to be a long two weeks.

 

 

APRIL 10th

 

 

They had to keep up appearances, like he wasn’t being stalked by HYDRA and a particular ex-best-friend-type-agent. He still went out as Spiderman but kept a close eye on his surroundings. Still, nothing came to him as suspicious; the eyes on him were normal, not calculating, and there were no figures he saw multiple times as if they were following him. No blasts from the past either.

On the 10th, a Tweet went viral.

 

@BlackWidowIsBae: alright call me crazy but isn’t it weird that peter stark reappears around the same time that Spiderman does with a cool Stark-made suit?????? i’m smelling a conspiracy

 

By the end of the day, there was three articles on the subject and two YouTube videos by popular YouTubers, talking about the conspiracy. Peter huffed – he knew it would happen eventually, but he didn’t really want it happening so soon and in the midst of Jessica Drew’s reappearance. When Flash Tweeted on the subject –

 

@FlashT: if I didn’t go to school with the guy I would say this is a reliable conspiracy

@CinD: @FlashT don’t u remember the field trip though and how he kept his identity a secret the WHOLE SCHOOL YEAR

 

He had to do something about it.

 

@PeterStark: @FlashT @CinD *coughs* NDAs are legally binding *coughs*

 

@PeterStark: apparently there’s a theory going around that i’m spiderman meanwhile i’m over here having asthma attacks over two consecutive flights of stairs

@PeterStark: cool idea not realistic

 

Pepper texted, saying they’ll need something stronger than that – like maybe someone wearing the Spiderman suit, taking a photo with Peter, to show them both at the same time. So they did. They put Vision in the Spiderman suit – because he was the only one able to change his body type in mild ways; like making himself slightly leaner – and Peter took a selfie with him to post online.

 

@PeterStark: spiderman would be a cool career path but unfortunately it’s already taken

 

“I know it’s strange,” Pepper said at dinner. They were eating in the communal kitchen; a few of the Avengers eating on the sofa and others at the table with the Starks. “But some of this PR stuff is going to keep you from being a bigger target than you already are.”

Peter shrugged. “It’s fine. It’s just a lot of time spent focusing on my Twitter presence, you know?”

Tony opened his mouth to reply when FRIDAY spoke over them.

“Apologies for the interruption, but I have successfully made a ninety-eight percent match with the facial recognition software.”

“You found her?” Peter asked.

“Put it on the screen,” Tony ordered.

Clint groaned as whatever sports game he was watching flicked off, replaced with a greyscale security feed from a familiar angle.

“That’s the house,” Peter said. “That’s in Manhattan.”

He was right; he could see the houses across the road – this was the same view he’d looked at when Ned and MJ tracked him down on Valentine’s Day.

“This footage was taken two minutes ago,” FRIDAY provided and Peter’s chair scraped back as he stood.

On screen, Jessica Drew stood, hands in her leather jacket pockets. She wore a zip up hoodie underneath, the hood up over her hair. She stared directly at the hidden camera and just… stood there. There was the beginning of a familiar cocky smirk on her face; a slight tilt to her head as if issuing a challenge (how are you going to stop me, huh?) and her eyes were alight with something like dark amusement.

“Send an Iron Legion scout from the Tower,” Tony said. “Have it check the area.”

“Understood,” FRIDAY responded.

The footage played on. Jessica just stood there as Peter slowly made his way over to the screen. She looked a little older, but still the same. She was still the same person he used to know – and maybe that was going to be the problem. Peter was the one who’d changed. Peter defected. Peter wanted to be good. Jessica, on the other hand, had always relished in her work; she’d enjoyed the act of killing because it gave her power and control. She’d excelled at fighting and pain had never been something to make her pause; it always spurred her on.

Jessica Drew was HYDRA’s perfect soldier.

And she stood outside their vacant secret Manhattan house for exactly two minutes before turning and disappearing down the street.

“The suit has arrived,” FRIDAY announced as the footage paused. “I do not see anything out of the ordinary, nor is there any sign of the target.”

“Why the hell would she do that?” Sam asked, his dinner plate long forgotten. “That was creepy as shit.”

“She’s trying to intimidate us,” Bucky replied. Peter wondered if he recognised her, now he saw her in person – but Bucky hadn’t immediately known Peter, either. There were memories jumbled in Bucky’s mind that might never be clear again.

“She’s threatening us, is what she’s doing,” Tony groused. “She found the safe house.”

“Not so safe anymore,” Sam muttered.

Peter’s hand wavered, like he wanted to reach out and touch the screen where Jessica had once been standing.

“FRIDAY,” he said, “rewind it.”

The footage went back until Jessica walked back onto screen and Peter asked for it to stop. His eyes caught on hers and he swallowed. He couldn’t imagine Jessica wanting to kill him. HYDRA may have invested time and money into Peter and his powers, but they’d have him dead if he were a liability. But Jessica wouldn’t do that – he’s the one person she’d go back into the burning building for. Or, at least he was, once.

She was smiling in her challenging way, like she’s tempting him into hiding in the vents and drink the stolen rum with her all over again. She was trying to intimidate the Avengers, yes, but she wasn’t trying to intimidate him.

At least, Peter didn’t think so.

She wasn’t trying to scare him – she was trying to remind him of who he used to be. Of who he was when they worked side by side.

HYDRA may have sent her to kill him, but Peter didn’t think she was going to do that. Instead, Peter thought she had come to get him back.

Jessica wanted him to be the Black Spider again.

 

 

APRIL 11th

 

 

He didn’t tell anyone. Peter didn’t want to tell them in case they called him crazy; in case they thought he was wrong. He let them prepare for their battles; they were still trying to track down Richard Parker’s work and dig up information on Jessica and her handler, Agent Drew. The SHIELD agents in his school were on high alert, because he had to maintain appearances and go anyway, and Peter knew there were more, watching the school.

When he arrived, he found another card in his locker.

SEVEN DAYS, it read in the same typed font. He texted Tony to say there was another card and shoved it in his backpack, like he had with the other one. Jessica was making her way around New York without being spotted. Queens to Manhattan and back again, only appearing on the cameras she wanted to be seen on. She wanted to let them know that she knew about his hiding places; that she knew about his school and she could get there without a single agent noticing her enter.

“You look twitchy,” MJ commented, sidling up beside him as he shut his locker.

“I am twitchy,” he said. At MJ’s raised eyebrow, he shrugged. “I feel like I’m being watched.”

“That’s because you are,” she said. “The whole world has an eye on you now.”

Peter leant against his locker, arms folded across his chest. “This is gonna sound weird, but if you see anyone lurking, can you let me know?”

“Lurking?” MJ sent him a pointed look. “Has this got to do with whatever imminent threat you’re under?”

“Yeah,” Peter said, his eyes scanning the hall. Jessica wouldn’t show up during the school day, would she? Or maybe she would, just to show him how close she could get without him noticing. “I think it’s gonna happen soon.”

“You know, you still owe me an explanation as to what you did in HYDRA for ten years.”

Peter shrugged. “It’s a long story. Probably illegal. Doesn’t make me look great, ethically.”

MJ nodded. “Come on, let’s get to class. I hear Flash has plans to get you to introduce him to Spiderman.”

“After Penis Parker?” Peter asked. “No way. I’ll invite everyone in the class but him to a party with Spiderman, and then maybe he’ll learn to be less of a dick.”

MJ snorted and they walked to class.

 

 

APRIL 12th

 

 

“Richard Parker,” Nat announced, Clint standing at her side. “Two PhDs in biology and biochemistry, expressly interested DNA and gene mutation. At the beginning of his career, he worked briefly with one Kurt Connors, and the work they did together eventually led to both the Lizard’s existence and, we believe, the radioactive spider.”

“He disappeared off the face of the planet about fifteen years ago,” Clint continued, “and HYDRA took him in, promising to fund his research and give him willing test subjects. We found a small amount of information on Specimen 19365, who reacted positively to an extensive, eight-year-long trial. We believe that’s you, Peter. The spider was encoded with your DNA, so the serum would only work on you.”

“His work was successful, and he went from there to work on bigger projects with HYDRA. Better funded, too. Last year, his body was found, mutilated. It’s believed he died of the bullet in his brain however.” Nat pursed her lips. “Mercy killing.”

The lab was silent until Tony blew out a breath. “Fury sent a message. He said Parker had a base in Austria. He has an infiltration team out there right now to search for it.”

“So, Drew was probably in Austria, too,” Nat replied. “I’ll comb through the public files again, see if there’s anything about a Drew or Austria to give us a hand.”

Peter stared at the still of Jessica that hovered on the holoscreen. He made a bad decision in that moment.

 

 

4 YEARS EARLIER

 

 

He was Peter, regular, non-enhanced Peter. And she was Jessica, exceptional, incredible Jessica.

When the Winter Soldier threw a punch, she glided beneath it, spinning to deliver one to his gut. When he kicked out a leg, she dodged it like she was a dancer; graceful and elegant with her turns, feet perfectly positioned the whole way. It was a dance, this fight. It was smooth and flowing; one move into the next, his hand grabbing her hair and her spinning until she could hit him in the throat. When it ended, her on the ground and the Winter Soldier standing above her body, breathing heavier than he had for any of the other cadets, the room was silent in awe.

The Winter Soldier held out a hand to pull her up and she took it, thirteen-years-old and two weeks away from her first solo op.

“Holy shit, Jess,” Peter hissed when she came over. A broad grin spread across her face.

“I think I blacked out for all of that,” she said. “Did I do okay?”

Okay? You did amazing – I can’t believe you fought like that!”

It didn’t matter that Peter was good at this too; that he was trained harder than the other cadets, for whatever his experiment was asking after him. He was always in awe of Jessica.

Later, they walked the halls back to their room, staying out of the way of the older agents that always seemed in a hurry. Peter relaxed onto his bunk and Jessica onto hers, next to him.

“Okay,” she said, “tragically orphaned, my parents died in a house fire trying to save my life.”

Peter rolled his eyes. “You always use that one.”

“Maybe that’s because my heart knows it’s true.”

“Alright, okay – my parents are high level HYDRA operatives but they couldn’t have children and do their job so they had to give me up. One day, when I’m done with training, they’ll come back and show me off to all the other high-level agents.”

He turned to look at Jessica’s grin. “Your parents are always successful in your stories,” she said. “You never go for tragic.”

Peter shrugged the best he could. “I don’t want a tragic backstory,” he said. “I want to have something to look forward to.”

“You’re too sweet for this place,” she muttered.

“Hey!”

“It’s true.” Jessica pushed herself up and swung her legs off the bunk. She studied him in that way she always did; like he was some sort of puzzle that she simply couldn’t figure out. “You’ve gotta have harder skin if you want to be here, that’s what Drew said. He said that agents have to be thick skinned and lethal. We can’t get caught up in wanting or searching for parents that didn’t want us.” Peter frowned but she continued. “We have to fight to get through, okay? We have to have each other’s backs and forget about what we can’t have.”

“You’re the one that always starts the game,” he grumbled, sitting up.

“I always kill off my parents,” she retorted. “You always keep yours alive and missing you dearly. You never once make them the enemy, either – pesky SHIELD agents that were slaughtered by Barnum and his men, and you the prize they won for their trouble.”

Peter bit the inside of his lip. She was right. He needed to get thicker skin. He needed to be the soldier they were expecting him to be. But he didn’t like imaging the family he must’ve once had dead. So he didn’t.

“Why do you always think you’re right?” he asked.

“Because I usually am,” Jessica replied.

She moved to her trunk and rummaged through it, pulling out a towel so she could take a shower. There was always a queue for the showers after training, which was why they always hung out in the bunks for a while first.

Jessica looked up at him and smiled. “Drew said when I’m older, I’ll get a partner.”

“Yeah?”

She nodded. “Yeah, we’ll work ops together and they’ll be like my best friend. Drew says they’re the only person you should ever take a bullet for, and even then, sometimes you gotta let them go.”

Peter raised his eyebrows. “I wouldn’t let my partner go,” he said.

“Me neither,” Jessica agreed. Then she straightened, dumping her towel back in her trunk and moving to Peter’s side, landing heavily on the bed. “What if we get to be partners?”

“You and me?”

“Yeah, you and me! You’re the only person around here I’d ever take a bullet for, anyway.”

Peter grinned. “You’d take a bullet for me?”

“Of course, dummy!” She lightly shoved his shoulder. “Wouldn’t you take one for me?”

Peter laughed. “Sure I would.”

“Then it’s settled,” she decided with a nod. “We’ll be partners. And we’ll have each other’s backs.”

She held out a hand for him and he slapped his against it, before bumping fists.

“Drew and Parker against the world,” she said.

“Parker and Drew, you mean.”

“Mm, you’re right,” she replied. “Age before beauty.”

Jessica darted away before his elbow could land in her side, her laughter echoing around the room.

 

 

APRIL 13th

 

 

@PeterStark: one of my favourite places in the city is the queensboro bridge idk i just really like the view

 

Peter climbed the wires of the bridge that evening as Spiderman until he reached the top. Then he settled in. Tucking himself out of view, he pulled out his backpack and grabbed the sandwich he’d bought from the van and scrolled through Twitter and Instagram in wait.

It might not work. Maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe she wouldn’t realise he was talking to her, or maybe she would realise and ignore it. Jessica was a woman of her word, after all – maybe she’d stick to fourteen days. The 18th. Maybe she wouldn’t come five days early.

There were a lot of maybes – like how she would reach him, way up at the top of the bridge, but he knew her, and he knew she’d have her ways.

So Peter pulled his mask up to his nose and ate, waving off Karen’s attempts to see if he wanted any frequencies scanned or to call anyone about needing a ride home.

Eventually, the sky darkened, the car lights glowed in the night. They made fairy light strings across the bridge, one after the other. Eleven PM was making its way towards him, stalking him from behind; creeping. Karen warned him that the last possible time he could leave and make it back in time was approaching, and then she told him again when it passed. She suggested calling for a ride, telling Tony he’d be home late, but he didn’t. He kept sitting there.

When eleven PM was five minutes out, he tugged off the mask entirely and shoved it into his backpack. He switched off his phone and let it follow.

“Come on,” he muttered. Jessica wouldn’t miss a perfect chance like this, would she?

It wasn’t too long later that the helicopter flew overhead. Peter knew he wouldn’t have much more than half an hour after curfew before Tony reached his spot, probably in the Iron Man armour.

Jessica was cutting it close.

The helicopter moved in close, but it couldn’t reach where he sat without hitting a rotor. Peter climbed to his feet and stared at the cabin, at the door sliding open and the hair that whipped about in the wind.

He held out a hand to her, an unspoken message. I’ll catch you.

Jessica leapt towards the bridge, and he shot out a web, connecting to her stomach and pulling her onto the platform without trouble. The helicopter reared back and pulled away, settling over the water.

Jessica Drew stood in front of him, a curious smile on her face.

“Spidey,” she greeted, as if there wasn’t a divide.

“Jess. Cutting it a little close, you know? I’ve got places to be.”

“You’ve got a bedtime, you mean,” Jessica replied, a teasing edge to her voice. She looked around at the view, occasionally pulling her hair from her face. “I won’t keep you long. I know Iron Man’s ten minutes out.”

He raised an eyebrow. “I shouldn’t be surprised,” he said. “I should’ve learnt not to question your apparent knowledge of everything a long time ago.”

The laugh that broke from her mouth surprised the both of them. She smiled ruefully before walking to the railing at the edge of the platform and leaning out over it to catch the view of the city. She knew her wouldn’t push her.

“I hear you’re a good guy now,” she said. “Spiderman. The hero of Queens.”

“Yeah,” Peter said. “We all have our callings.”

“That we do,” she agreed. “You’re apparently a hero now, and I’m… the next you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Peter joined her by the railing and Jessica shook her head.

“They had so much faith in you,” she told him, “but I always knew it was misplaced. Not because you weren’t good at what you did, you were. But because you always had this edge to you; this softness. Some people have killer all over their faces, but I look at you-” she turned to him, scrutinising his features, “and I see a baby lamb.”

“A baby lamb?” he asked, almost laughing.

She smiled with a shrug. “Or a baby deer. Bambi. Yeah. Too innocent for this shit. So I wasn’t surprised when I was told you turned on HYDRA. I was surprised though, when I watched the footage.”

Peter frowned. “What footage?”

“Body cams. I’m not sure where you were, but there was you and Pepper Stark and three of our guys. And when they raised their guns, you pushed her out the way. You took two bullets for her and then killed the gunners.” She shook her head and Peter’s mind flew back to that day in the compound attack. To the red on his shirt. Then it flew back further. Was she surprised that he pushed someone out of the way of the bullets, or that he took them for someone that wasn’t her?

“What do you want, Jess?” he asked, suddenly feeling tired. This girl in front of him was so much like the one he used to know, but he knew he couldn’t care about her like that anymore. He couldn’t have her as his friend, as his family, because they stood on opposite sides of a war that he didn’t want to be fighting.

“I want you to come back to base with me,” she said. “I want you to remember who you are, who we are. Because we can have it all back, Peter. We can go right back to the way things were before I left. We don’t have to worry about the press and the news and the expectations. We can just do what we’re good at.”

Peter shook his head. “Who I was isn’t who I am.”

Jessica rolled her eyes. “If you don’t come back with me, they’ll kill you,” she said, a promise beating through her words. “They’ll kill everyone you think of as family. I know they will.”

“I can protect them.”

“No,” she said. “You can’t. But I can, right now. If you just let me, I can protect them all.” Her hand was on his arm, her eyes wide and voice sincere. They were so close Peter could hear her heartbeat, erratic in her chest. “Come back with me,” she said.

Peter stared. He knew the answer he wanted to say, knew how to form the words but they were just lost on his tongue. No, he was going to say. My family is here now. But there were what ifs running around his mind – the kind he wasn’t supposed to play with. Like, what if he could change her mind? What if he could get her to join his side? What if she defected like him and joined the family he was building?

But he took too long playing with those thoughts, because her head snapped to the helicopter that drew closer. “Iron Man’s closer than we thought,” she said. “Five days. I’ll be back. It’ll be your last chance, Peter.” For a second, her hand was on his cheek, freezing cold. “Five days.”

Then she was standing on the railing and leaping for the helicopter. A man inside the cabin grabbed her arm and pulled her up as the helicopter turned, speeding away into the distance. If she’d fallen, Peter would’ve been too dazed to save her.

A moment later, the golden thrusters of Iron Man appeared in his sight. They drew close and Peter let out a sigh, turning and slinging his backpack over his shoulders.

Iron Man settled down on the platform and the faceplate looked almost angry. The voice was Tony’s, edged with something like rage:

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Chapter Text

APRIL 14th

 

 

It was sometime past midnight when Tony dropped Peter off at the front door of the compound and flew off to enter via the lab. The ground’s lights were dimmed, glowing yellow, and the inside of the building was mostly dark.

Tony hadn’t spoken a word to him since he lifted off and Peter knew he was in deep shit. But, to be fair, he’d known he would be. That was the risk he’d been willing to take.

The lights inside flickered on when he walked in and Peter took the route to the Iron Suite in silence, feeling the walls judge him. The Iron Suite door unlocked automatically upon his arrival, and he stopped when he saw who waited for him in the living room.

Peter had assumed he’d get reamed out by his parents. That was a given. He didn’t think the rest of the Avengers would be there to watch it, steely expressions on their faces and arms crossed over their chests. Many of them were still fully dressed, like they’d waited up. A few were wearing clothes akin to pyjamas, and Peter ducked his gaze to the floor.

God, this was going to suck.

Peter let his backpack slip onto the floor and sighed, before raising his eyes to the Avengers, and making sure they stayed there. For a moment, there was silence, like they were waiting for him to make the first move.

Pepper broke it. “You have thirty seconds to give us a good explanation as to why you were meeting with a known HYDRA agent alone, after curfew, or I’m calling Fury down here.”

Peter tipped his head back, letting out a breath.

“She was my best friend, once,” he said. “I can’t just—forget that. I wanted an explanation, you know? And I knew she’d come if I invited her; I knew she wouldn’t hurt me.”

“She’s threatening you,” Tony retorted. “She’s been giving you a countdown for a week and you think she won’t hurt you?!”

“I do,” Peter replied. “Because she doesn’t want to.”

At least three Avengers scoffed and Peter huffed, feeling determination rise in him. “It’s true! She doesn’t. She came to warn me, to tell me that she’s not gonna be the one to kill me-”

“She’s just going to let someone else do it,” Nat interrupted. “She’s going to stand by and watch.

“We have history,” Peter insisted. “And neither of us want to hurt each other. She came and, yeah, she asked me to come back with her – but she could’ve killed me tonight and she didn’t.”

“How honourable of her,” Bucky drawled.

Peter turned to him with a glare in his eyes. “If I remember rightly, Steve came back for you.”

There was silence for a beat. “That’s not the same thing,” Steve said.

“Sure it is. Bucky wanted to kill you and you came back for him anyway. You believed you could take him from HYDRA and you did.

“I wasn’t there by choice, kid,” Bucky said. “Your friend – she is.”

“You need to trust us,” Steve agreed.

“I do,” Peter replied. “But I trust her, and she still trusts me.”

“You’re on opposite sides,” Tony said, firm. “In five days, she’s going to come back and she’s going to kill you, even if she doesn’t want to. Her trusting you-”

“She jumped out of that helicopter,” Peter said. “She knew I’d catch her. And she leaned right over that railing and knew I wouldn’t let her fall. She still trusts me and she’ll change her mind-”

Oh no,” Clint said, standing from the sofa. He was shaking his head. “Don’t go there, kid.”

“Where’s he going?” Pepper asked.

“He’s going to where we went,” Nat replied. “But Clint and I are not prime examples here.”

“But-”

“No,” Clint insisted. “Pete. You know I’m a fan of yours. You know I care. But you’re not going to get her to change sides. She’s not going to join us or SHIELD, or suddenly inform on HYDRA-”

“Nat did.”

“Nat was the target,” Clint replied. “With us, I was hunting her, and I was the good guy. That was my job, Pete. But here, she, the bad guy, is hunting you. She’s not plagued with the same moral code I was; she’s not going to feel sorry for you and bring you back and volunteer to be your partner and watch out for you – Drew’s going to kill you, or she’s going to die trying.”

The room was silent and Peter locked his jaw, defiance setting in. They didn’t even know her. They did not get a say in who she was going to be.

“Go to bed,” Tony said suddenly, sounding weary. “We’ll talk about turning off your phone and staying out past curfew tomorrow. Spiderman, by the way, is grounded for the foreseeable future.”

Peter rolled his eyes, yanking his backpack from the ground. “Fuck that,” he said, turning away from the living room and back to the doors of the Iron Suite. He shoved one open. “It’s always one thing for you guys and something else for me. You’re such hypocrites.”

He let the door slam shut behind him and tried to tune out their voices; the way someone’s footsteps – Tony’s? – were moving to the door to come after him, and someone else – Steve? – was saying that went well.

Peter ran through the compound until he found the maintenance closet that led to the vents. They weren’t nearly as big as the ones in the Tower, or the ones at the HYDRA base, but they were big enough for him to dump his bag at the base of and crawl into. Eventually, they opened out large enough for him to sit up and glare at the tunnel opposite.

He knew what he was doing, right?

He and Jess cared about each other. They weren’t going to let each other die.

 

 

6 YEARS EARLIER

 

 

They watched the world end on the television.

All the cadets shoved together on the floor, watching enraptured as aliens poured out of a wormhole in New York. The older agents sat on chairs or stood around the room in silence. They all looked stiff, almost nervous at the sight of the extra-terrestrials.

And Peter – Peter was shitting it.

Peter’s legs were shaking as he watched the battle on the news. Then there were superheroes – who, Peter thought, were pretty cool. Superheroes who saved people and killed aliens and did their best to protect the world from the invasion.

Later, they’d be told that those same heroes didn’t stand for the same things HYDRA did. They’d tell the cadets that these billionaires in their suits wanted glory and fame. That Captain America represented the kind of America HYDRA intended to burn down. That the Hulk was a monster that shouldn’t be let out onto the streets – how hadn’t they imprisoned that beast? How was that safe for the world?

But for the moment, they watched what could be the apocalypse.

Jessica pressed her knee against his to stop it from shaking, though she didn’t look over.

On screen, a missile was headed for New York.

“Holy shit,” an agent said, somewhere in the room. “The government are nuking New York.”

This got some of the agents moving; making calls and sending out alerts. Peter had a feeling a lot of people lived in New York – a lot of agents, too. And they were all going to die because the government was willing to blow up its own people.

“I can’t believe they’re doing that,” Peter whispered. “Why would the President blow up New York?”

Jessica shrugged. “Maybe he’s a bad guy. Wait, look-”

She pointed at the screen the moment Peter saw it. A flash of red and gold, meeting the missile and flying with it, slowly curving it upwards towards the wormhole. Iron Man, someone had said on the news. Tony Stark – the man who was stolen by the Ten Rings and fought all those drones at the Stark Expo. He was the worst of the lot, Peter was told. Narcissistic, arrogant. He traded in death and destruction; sold weapons to enemies of HYDRA and America.

But there he was, guiding the nuclear bomb away from New York. Saving people.

Even if his motive was bad, he was doing a good thing, right?

Peter wasn’t sure but still gasped when the wormhole closed and Iron Man fell, limp as a rag doll, towards the ground. He wasn’t sure if it was relief filling him when the Hulk caught him. He wasn’t sure about anything right then.

Later, Peter and Jessica hid in the vents, because they’d found that place once and they liked knowing it was theirs. They crawled in and pulled their knees up to their chests, whispering to one another – though, one day they’d learn that their favourite spot was hidden enough that even when they yelled, it was difficult to be heard from outside.

“Lots of people died today,” Jessica whispered, then she shook her head. “I wanna fight aliens one day.”

“I don’t,” Peter replied. “I just want to go home.”

“You are home, dumb-dumb,” Jessica said, rolling her eyes. “You live here.”

“Yeah, but, don’t you ever just want to go somewhere you feel, I don’t know, safe? Home home, you know?”

Jessica shrugged. “I like it here. This is home. All our friends in the bunk rooms – the cafeteria ladies always let me hang out in the kitchen if I want to. And you’re here. Is this not-” Jessica frowned. “Am I not home for you?”

Peter shrugged, tipping his head back against the vent. “New York almost exploded today.”

“That’s not an answer.”

“Maybe New York is home.”

“You’ve never been there,” Jessica replied.

“Maybe I have. Maybe that’s where I lived with my parents. Maybe I had a life there before coming here-”

“Peter,” Jessica interrupted. “You’re doing that thing again. You’re breathing too fast. Are you – are you gonna cry?”

“No.”

“Yes, you are.”

“No, I’m not.”

“It’s okay if you wanna cry. I won’t tell anyone. Not even Drew. Sometimes I wanna cry, too.”

Peter clenched his jaw to stop the tears falling. He was eleven, dammit. Too old to be crying in a vent. Too old to be showing vulnerabilities, as Barnum called it. Peter dropped his head on Jess’ shoulder anyway, because she always did it to him.

“We could play a game,” Jessica suggested after a moment.

“Your games are always depressing,” Peter mumbled.

“Not the who were your parents game,” she replied. “What about the what’s your future game.”

“That doesn’t sound like a game.”

“It totally does! Here, I’ll go first. When I’m older, like, twenty or twenty-five or something, I’m going to get a dog, and I’ll have a house or an apartment or something. I’ve always wanted a cool leather jacket. Oh! And Drew said his ex-girlfriend used to have loads and loads of plants. I want plants everywhere. Just a home of plants and a dog. Your turn.”

Peter huffed into her shoulder. He watched as Jessica’s fingers twitched with indecision before she placed her hand in his, gently squeezing. They were eleven and she was the only friend he’d ever had and she was holding his hand in the vent.

“I want a dog too,” Peter whispered. “And a fancy car – one that goes really fast. And I could live in the city, in one of those apartments with my friends.”

“You don’t have any friends.”

“I have you.”

“Okay,” she said. “We could have a dog and lots of house plants and an apartment.”

“And a fast car.”

“And a fast car,” she agreed. “And when you think I want to go home, you’ll have somewhere you can go and be happy.”

“And you’ll be there?” Peter asked, pulling his head from her shoulder. He hadn’t felt so small in a long time; not since he was trapped in a cell, not knowing where he was or what he was doing. But seeing the sky open up to another part of the universe frightened him to his core. He’d never felt tinier and so insignificant.

“If you want me there,” Jess replied. “I’ll be there.”

It was her smile that made him kiss her. Eleven and holding hands in the vent in the aftermath of an alien invasion. Eleven and foolish and heartbreakingly romantic. Eleven and wanting something that would make him feel okay – and she had been that thing for him for three long years already.

When they pulled apart, they stared at each other, wide eyed. It was a short kiss. The kind where you barely had a chance to close your eyes before it was over. They stared at each other, before at last, Peter cracked a smile, letting a laugh fall from his lips.

Jessica relaxed suddenly, giggling by his side.

They collapsed against the wall of the vent moments later, short of breath and grinning widely. It was not long later they made a pact to never kiss each other again; to be best friends forever – which would one day change to friends until circumstances tear us apart when they’re tipsy in the same spot, a bottle of rum passing between hands. But right then, Peter thought about their dog, their plants, their apartment that they’d have one day.

And he noticed – then firmly pushed aside – that he didn’t picture HYDRA in that future. Knowing Jessica though, she probably did.

 

 

APRIL 14th

 

 

They didn’t send him to school so he didn’t go, and eventually made his way to his room as the sun just began to peek over the trees. He slept through the day and woke to see his suit hanging on the chair next to the desk, not as confiscated as he would’ve assumed it’d be.

In the kitchen, there was a note on the fridge that said they’d been called out on a mission, and Pepper would be home after work.

Peter took a glass of water and a bowl of cereal and returned to his room. He didn’t come back out of it.

 

 

APRIL 15th

 

 

“Explain it to me,” Tony insisted, sitting on Peter’s bed. “Make me understand why you don’t think she’ll hurt you – because we checked her out. She’s got a record and a half. She’s dangerous.

“She was always dangerous,” Peter mumbled, curled up in bed. He couldn’t see Tony past the duvet. “She’ll listen to me. She’ll change her mind.”

“You can’t be sure of that,” Tony replied.

“Doesn’t mean I’m not going to try.”

 

 

1 YEAR EARLIER

 

 

Peter rolled his eyes, staring at the whimpering man with a bag over his head. Peter’s suit stretched with him, and he rolled his neck, a gun in one hand.

“Would you shut up?” he complained and the bagged-man jumped, his whines dying down a little. “Thank you. You’re giving me a headache. Now, I’m gonna ask one more time for the location of the serum, and then I’m gonna get shooty.”

“I don’t know!” the man cried. “I don’t-”

Peter ripped the bag off the man’s head and crouched to his level. They were in a brick cell, a single yellow light bulb hanging from the ceiling. Peter always got taken more seriously in the suit than out of it – people saw Peter and they thought he was a child, not a killer. You’re both, his mind whispered.

“If you don’t have the location of the vial,” Peter said, slow and losing patience, “then just tell me the formula. It’s so simple, Angus-”

“It’s Andrew.”

Andrew. So easy. You give me what I want, you get to go home to your family tonight. How is your daughter, anyway? Maggie, I believe?”

He whimpered some more and Peter rolled his eyes, shoving him back until he was sprawled on the floor, hands and feet bound separately. Peter looked to the one-way mirror next to the door. No doubt his superiors were watching, waiting for their answer. Peter didn’t have the effort to interrogate or torture tonight – he’d heard Jess was flying into the base for all of an hour, and he was going to miss her at this rate.

“Andrew,” he said, hard, flicking off the safety of the gun. Andrew whined. “I have places I’d rather be. I have a limited amount of patience and a fully loaded gun, so give me what I’m after and you’re not gonna get hurt.”

“I don’t have what you’re after-”

Peter shot at the man’s ankle, and he screamed. A bloody hole appeared, the bullet likely wedged in the bone. Peter groaned.

“Look what you made me do. Our janitors aren’t paid very well and they’re gonna have to come in here and clean up your blood.” Peter crouched by his side, pressing the gun into Andrew’s temple. He whimpered, tears leaking from his eyes. God, Peter was so over this. Killing was a mundanity; it always left him feeling slightly off – it was the thrill of the mission he loved. Trying to steal someone or racing through streets. He liked the struggle and the fight. He liked winning. This part –

This was the boring part, and he always had to get his suit cleaned after.

In his ear, there was a voice. “If you kill him without answers, you’re telling Barnum.”

Peter suppressed a curse. He might just do it anyway. This guy wasn’t giving him anything – so either he was actually trained in not fucking talking or he genuinely didn’t know a thing.

Peter pulled the gun away from his temple and Andrew breathed a sigh of relief.

“Fine,” Peter said, standing. “I’m gonna go find Maggie instead. Maybe she’ll be more cooperative.”

“She’s six!” Andrew yelled as Peter walked to the door. “You’re a sick bastard if you’d kill a six-year-old!”

“You have the answers for me, Andy?” Peter asked. “Because you live at 18 Sycamore Lane and your wife is there right now with your daughter. And maybe they don’t know shit, but I’m sure their brain matter is pretty.”

God, he disgusted himself sometimes. He needed to get out of here. Someone else should be doing torture – he didn’t like it. He was missing Jess – her plane had landed forty minutes ago at least.

“Fine!” Andrew called behind him. At last. “Fine- just don’t touch them!”

“You have my word,” Peter replied. He wasn’t going to kill a six-year-old, anyway. Peter had a few lines drawn in the sand and one of them was kids. The wife was debatable – he’d do what he was told. But a child? Fuck no.

Andrew rambled out sentences that only made half sense to Peter. Addresses, names and details that Peter couldn’t care less about. When Andrew was done, he was breathing heavily.

“Can I go?” he asked. “Can I go now?”

Peter looked to the mirror. “He can go,” the agent on the other side said, offhandedly. “The information looks good.”

Peter looked back to Andrew. Andrew Pauls, if he remembered right.

“You’re free to go,” Peter said. Then he raised his gun and let Andrew’s blood paint the walls.

He didn’t make it to see Jess, despite all his trying. There was a voicemail on his phone, and he listened to it, mask in hand, staring at the spot in the hangar where her plane had recently been.

“Spidey! I missed you! I caught like, thirty seconds of your interrogation, right at the beginning – man, that dude was a crier. Next time I’m in the area I’ll see you, okay? We can hang out or something. Or spar. Or drink – I don’t know. Shit’s crazy for me right now. The work with Parker is insane, I can’t wait to tell you about it. You’re either gonna love it or hate it and I have no idea which I want more. I’ll see you, alright? Call me later and tell me how it went with the cry baby – I love a good interrogation story.”

 

 

APRIL 18th

 

 

Five days felt like forever and Peter still hadn’t made his mind up about what he wanted to do. He wasn’t HYDRA anymore, but Jess was. He wasn’t bad anymore, but Jess – Jess was. But despite it all, she was his friend.

He wasn’t allowed out of the compound, because if they were coming today, they were going to give him the best security they could. Still, at breakfast, Peter’s phone pinged with a notification.

 

Unknown Number: last chance

Unknown Number: I don’t want to watch you die

 

Peter swallowed, his appetite gone.

“Mom,” he said, looking over to Pepper. She was a little agitated, knowing what was coming. Last time there had been an attack, the ceiling had fallen in. Only this time they knew it was coming. “You know when you’re pretty sure something’s a lie, but you want to believe it anyway?”

“Like Tony saying he’ll get sober,” she supplied.

“Like when a bad guy says they’ll spare your family if you give them what they want.”

Her face considerably darkened. “Right.”

“I used to tell people that,” he said, quiet, his mind lost in the memories. “I used to hold guns to their heads and tell them I’d let their families live if they told me what I wanted to know.”

“And would you?” Pepper asked, almost in a whisper.

“Sometimes. If I shot the person, their family tended to survive. But if they didn’t give us what we wanted, their families always died.”

Pepper reached across the table, slipping her hand into his. “I wish I could’ve kept you out of this,” she said. “I wish I could’ve been there and stopped them from taking you. I wish a thousand things had gone differently.”

“But they didn’t,” Peter said.

“No, they didn’t. The world kicked us when we were down again and again. The world’s going to keep kicking us no matter what we do next, so when I say this, Peter, I want you to take it on board, okay?” Peter nodded. “They want you. That’s what they’re coming for. You believe that if you give yourself up, we’ll be okay – but we won’t, honey. We won’t. Maybe they’ll kill us anyway, or maybe we’ll have to live with you being taken again. Either way, we’re dead. We’re gone – baby, I can’t handle that again. But if you fight – if you fight and you win, then we’ll be okay. If you stand up to them and say no, I’m not going with you, then you’ll make it out, because you’re a survivor and that’s what you do.”

“If I say no, they’ll kill you.”

Pepper shrugged. “I know what it feels like to die,” she whispered. “I’ve felt myself burn alive both inside and out. I can handle that pain. I can’t handle losing you again.”

“Mom-”

“Peter, please. We don’t make deals with devils.”

Peter’s jaw locked as he stared at her; the blazing fires of her eyes, the way she held his hand in a vice-like grip. Mom. He hadn’t had one of those in a long time and here she was, willing to die for him, when it should be the other way around.

“That’s sweet,” a voice said behind him, and he knew that voice in his sleep.

Peter darted up, spinning to see Jessica leaning against the doorway of the Iron Suite. She was alone, her head tilted in interest, her eyes narrowed. Her pose was almost casual, but there was a rigidity to it. Her hands in her jacket pockets were likely tensed. It was strange, though, like she was wearing the jacket over a full-length, deep red unitard.

Pepper’s chair scraped back as she stood, pulling Peter by the hand to her side of the table, and placing herself in front of him. He hated that move. He hated the way Pepper wanted to protect him. He hated the way Jessica’s lips quirked up into a smile.

“I find it funny,” Jessica started, pushing herself away from the wall, “that all your years of guessing that you had a loving family out there, waiting, was actually justified. As if all your I bet they’re looking for mes, and they’ll see me one day and be so prouds were actually right.” She scoffed. “Wouldn’t it be amusing if my parents really did die in house fires and plane crashes? If we were both right all along.”

“I’m not laughing,” Peter replied, mild. “How did you get in here?”

Jess shrugged. “I’ll admit, your compound is very secure. But, apparently, your AI just doesn’t look closely enough at faces. Either that or it’s broken, right, FRIDAY?” Jess looked up at the ceiling, as if there was going to be a response, but there was none. There was no alarm, sounding for the HYDRA agent – there was nothing. Where were the Avengers? Where was his dad?

“Jess, we could not do this, you know.”

“I know,” she said. “That’s why I’m here. The rest of the squad is hot on my heels, you know. They’ll come through, shoot your mother dead and then they’ll take you, whether you agree to come along or not.”

There was something seething inside Peter; writhing with rage and contempt.

“You’re not touching him,” Pepper said, her voice like steel.

“Cute thought, unrealistic,” Jess replied, mockingly wincing as she went. “What’ll it be, Spidey?”

Peter shook his head, forcing Pepper behind him now. She struggled but let him stand ahead – he should’ve been wearing his suit. He should’ve changed into it last night, slept in it, been prepared. Instead, he was still wearing his pyjamas.

“I don’t want to fight you, Jess,” he said. “But I can’t go back there. I can’t be that person. I can’t keep hurting people and pretending we’re fighting for some greater cause. HYDRA are Nazis, Jess. They’re terrorists. I’m not going to do that again.”

The look on Jessica’s face looked, for a moment, genuine. Like she was actually sad to see it go this way. Like she didn’t want to fight him. “Shame,” she said, and the disappointment was real. “What happened to best friends forever, huh?” she asked, a rueful edge to her voice.

Ned was his best friend now, Peter knew. It was Ned – unthreatening, ever-enthusiastic, genuine Ned – who helped Peter become a vigilante without hesitation, who saw him on his first day of school and took Peter under his wing, who never once questioned Peter joining all the same clubs as him just because he didn’t want to be alone. For half a heartbeat, Peter tried imagining Jess finding joy in building a Lego Death Star, and he realised he couldn’t – because she was a soldier first, child last. And being a person – a person who cared about others – wasn’t really on the list at all.

Peter swallowed. “I thought it was friends until circumstances tear us apart,” he replied.

She nodded, pursing her lips. “I guess I was right.”

She shucked off her jacket, then, and Peter realised what he’d been missing before; what he hadn’t allowed himself to think about. She wasn’t wearing a deep red unitard, she was wearing a suit. A dark red suit that stretched all the way across her body and stopped short of her fingers. Across her chest, a large, white spider symbol sat, and around her neck her mask, pulled down. She didn’t pull the mask up, though, to cover her face – she left it down, almost like a courtesy.

If I’m going to kill you, I might as well look you in the eye.

Then, she darted forward, and met Peter as he flipped over the table. Their bodies clashed in a brawl; hands shoved into fists or digging fingers beneath bone. Their moves were fast and violent; punches jabbing and feet flinging out to trip the other. He flung her across the room, for her to shoot out a web and pull herself up to the ceiling.

He swallowed, watching her crawl, hair dangling.

“I guess I know what Parker wanted you for,” he said.

“They called me the Scarlet Spider,” she replied, almost uncaring. “But the other day, someone saw you on the news and called me Spiderwoman. How about that?”

They leapt at the same time; him to pull her down and her, fist out in front of her. They tangled together in a mess of flying limbs; Peter’s senses telling him where the next hit was going to be and his body doing its best to dodge it. Her foot landed in his gut and he was shoved onto his back, only to hear the door of the Iron Suite open and footsteps pour in.

Peter forced himself to his feet and looked about; saw the familiar faces toting guns, black Kevlar around their chests. Jess climbed to her feet like she had all the time in the world.

“Someone get her,” she said, sending a vague gesture towards Pepper.

Peter darted forward to stop the one that moved, tackling them to the ground, only to be pulled off by gloved-hands and thrown away, his body skidding across the floor. It was Jessica’s foot that slammed into his face next. Then her hands that shoved him down when he tried to get up.

He heard Pepper’s protests, her struggling.

He saw the way they man-handled her.

Peter tried to listen to find Tony; to locate the Avengers in the building, but he couldn’t hear anything past the blood rushing and his heart thumping.

He staggered to his feet and Jess watched, an absent look in her eyes.

“I didn’t want to hurt you,” she said, quiet, stepping forward, into his personal space. His fingers twitched with the need to punch her; slam her head into the ground and watch her bleed. But this was Jess, so he stood, frozen and breathing heavily. “I would’ve taken a hundred bullets for you, I hope you know that.”

“Then take them for me now,” he whispered. “Be the person I’ve always thought you were.”

She smiled sadly. “You know this is who I’ve always been.”

When they fought this time, it was quiet and bloody. It was rough and heart breaking. The gunmen just watched. The people he’d trained with; the agents who were once cadets with him. They just looked on, silent, uncaring. They didn’t move to intervene, they didn’t say a word.

And eventually, when Jessica slammed her knee into Peter’s face and dropped him back on the floor, his vision blurred and darkening, he saw the way they watched him. Like they’d never known him at all.

Like he was nothing more than a target they barely recalled the name of.

Chapter Text

@AmericaToday: BREAKING: The Avengers Compound has been infiltrated and all three Starks are MIA. Will update as the story unfolds.

@CNN: Tony, Pepper and Peter Stark are all missing following a break in at the Avengers Compound.

 

Guy in the chair: peter the news says you’re missing

Guy in the chair: peter seriously answer me

Guy in the chair: PETER

 

Flash Thompson: aye parker are you dead

Flash Thompson: aye *stark are you dead

 

MJ: peter

MJ: come on

 

 

APRIL ???

 

 

The room was dark, almost pitch, and there was the sense that he was being watched.

Peter woke up with a pain in his head, like a drill digging further and further into his skull. His limbs ached and his heart beat so rapidly he was scared it would just jump right out of his chest.

“Mom,” he whispered into the dark, because she was the last thing he remembered – there was a fear in Pepper Stark’s eyes like she was watching the world crumble before her. Maybe she had been. Maybe watching Peter fall was the same as watching the world burn.

God. He remembered Jessica, too. Remembered the way he didn’t want to hurt her, even when she stepped into his space, arms lowered and head tilted. She treated him like a curiosity; like an animal at the zoo that she wanted to prod and poke, waiting to see if it would bite back.

And Peter – Peter didn’t want to bite back. Not her, anyway.

Anyone but her.

He groaned as he sat up, the springs in the bare, metal bed screeching with each movement. As his eyes adjusted, he saw the thin line of yellow light from underneath the bolted door. There was a strip light on the ceiling, turned off, and a metallic toilet and sink on the other wall. It was a lot like the cells he’d stayed in; a lot like the one he’d ridden out the nausea of the spider bite in.

When Peter’s life changed, he always ended up in a cell just like this. He figured they marked change or a new start, and so far, they hadn’t been for the better.

He watched the yellow line of light for a while, scared to stand and make whoever was watching him enter. He didn’t want to see them yet, didn’t want to let them know he was ready for whatever they had in store. Peter passed the time by asking questions and trying to answer them.

Where was his Mom? Jessica had said that if he didn’t come willingly, she’d be killed – but Jessica also had the cadets pick her up, rather than shoot her in front of Peter. That had to mean something.

Where was his Dad? Peter couldn’t figure that one out. Surely, he would’ve come running. Surely, he would’ve burst in with the Iron Man armour – but Peter hadn’t heard even the whine of the repulsors before falling unconscious.

And the Avengers. Did they live? Because Peter hadn’t heard fighting. He hadn’t heard a struggle, and he couldn’t imagine HYDRA taking him from the compound without the Avengers doing something about it.

But it was Jessica. And Jessica had a way of defying the impossible. She had a way of breaking expectations and leaving them in the dust.

Which led him to a question he couldn’t hope to answer: which base was he in and how was he supposed to get out?

 

 

APRIL ???

 

 

Days were passing but Peter couldn’t keep track of them. There were no windows in the darkness of his cell; just the single yellow line of light beneath the door that never went out. He stared at it for hours on end, his stomach screaming with hunger and his eyes close to drooping shut. But sleeping left him open; they could be waiting for him to sleep just to wake him up, just to march in and hurt him while he’s vulnerable.

So Peter stayed awake until he couldn’t anymore, until the darkness became darker than the inside of his eyelids, until he slept for all of an hour before waking fitfully, gunshots echoing through his dreams and a building, heavy on his shoulders.

His hands flew to his shoulder and hip where the bullets had broken through the skin. He slipped his fingers beneath his t-shirt to feel the skin there, unmarred as if nothing had ever happened, as if they hadn’t scarred over and left him aching for days. Peter pressed against the gunshot wounds that weren’t until his heart slowed and his breathing took on a gentle pace.

He thought for a while about the things he hadn’t said.

About all the I love yous he could’ve told his parents, about the story of HYDRA he should’ve given to MJ. There were a hundred questions he never asked Bucky and maybe one day he would’ve called Clint ‘Uncle Clint’, just to see his reaction – but now he might not, because HYDRA was not in the business of letting their prisoners escape.

When Peter finally fell asleep again, his will breaking beneath his fingertips, he didn’t dream. He just saw a light, gentle and golden, like he was being pulled back to his childhood. The faint feeling of soft hands on his accompanied it, with a bright, distant laugh echoing around the back of his mind.

 

 

APRIL ???

 

 

When the light finally flooded the room, Peter lurched over the side of the bed and vomited. There was nothing inside him, though; a hollow shell that had barely moved in what felt like years. Bile splattered against the floor, barely visible in the shadow of the agent standing in the doorway.

“Oh, how the mighty have fallen,” a familiar voice said, and Peter looked up, blinking through the burning yellow light.

“Barnum,” Peter greeted, his voice hoarse. “I wouldn’t call his fallen exactly. I’ve just been starved for a while, is all.”

There was contempt in his voice, “Good thing I brought you food then.”

The tray was dumped at Peter’s feet and he sat up, blinking away the dots that appeared in his vision, and grabbing the almost-stale bread roll he spotted. Peter forced himself not to eat it quickly and take his time. The thought that the food could’ve been poisoned crossed his mind a little too late, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.

Barnum watched from the door, wide open, as Peter ate the measly offerings.

“You have options, Parker,” Barnum said eventually.

“Stark,” he corrected.

Barnum ignored the correction. “You can come back to us – we’re open to that. You’ve always been a great agent and we can go back to that. Drew has been asking after you as her partner ever since she was fourteen.” The thought made him both warm and queasy. “I know you wanted the same thing, once.”

“I don’t anymore,” Peter mumbled. “I want to go home.”

“You are home,” Barnum replied. “And you’ll see that. Because if you don’t, your parents aren’t going to live to see you again.”

Peter looked up sharply, only to see Barnum smile. “It’s like you forgot everything we taught you. Have no attachments and you’ll have no weaknesses, Parker. You gave in to Drew and you’ll die for Mommy and Daddy.”

“Screw you,” Peter muttered, swallowing the last of his meal. For a moment, his eyes caught on the doorway, wide open, and the hall that laid beyond it. But he didn’t move. He was too weak to make it past Barnum, and even if he did, he could see the shadows of the guards standing outside.

“Think about it, Parker,” Barnum said. “Mommy and Daddy don’t have much time left.”

Barnum swiped the tray from Peter’s bed and left, the door slamming shut behind him. Peter heard the bolts and the buzzing of something more mechanical, locking him in. He sat for a while before climbing to his feet and moving to the sink, cupping his hands under the taps and letting the water pool enough for him to drink.

Barnum would come back soon enough. He’d give Peter another choice and then his parents would be killed.

Peter’s jaw clenched. He hadn’t forgotten how ruthless HYDRA was, but he’d certainly pushed the truth away as he hid in the nondescript house in Manhattan. Peter had definitely ignored the reality of the matter: that everything was a game of life and death, and the only way for him to live was for his parents to be shot in the head.

 

 

APRIL ???

 

 

The only way for Pepper and Tony Stark to survive was for Peter to give himself up.

And as much as he hated the thought of them having a life inside a cell, rotting away and not knowing if he were alive or dead, Peter knew they had better chances that way. If they were alive, they could be saved. His options, when he thought about it, were simple:

Struggle, fight and die at HYDRA’s hand, his parents joining him soon after.

Or live and give himself over to the monster fighters and beast slayers, his parents being given a slither of hope as he did so.

When he phrased it like that, it was a no brainer.

He’d join HYDRA, no matter how the thought made him itch, and he’d use his position on the inside to get them out. He’d save their lives. They’d go home. And maybe, if he was lucky, Jessica wouldn’t be on his tail. (Maybe, if he was even luckier, she’d leave with him.)

So he waited, the days stretching past him and his body aching with the slightest of movements. There was no food in his stomach, no heat in his bones.

The door finally opened.

Peter hated the yellow light flooding in, but this time he kept the bile down and resorted to blinking and groaning.

“Made your mind up?” Barnum asked, because it would only be Barnum, who’d raised him and taught him how to live this life, that would get the privilege of visiting.

Peter’s eyes adjusted to the hall’s glow and he nodded, his jaw clenching in response.

“And?”

“I’m not a fan of dying,” Peter replied through gritted teeth. “And I don’t want my parents dead, either.”

Thought Barnum was silhouetted by the hall’s light, Peter could see the stretch of his smile. “Welcome back to the cause, Peter Parker,” Barnum replied. “I’m sure the Black Spider suit will still fit.”

He was led out, as if it were that easy all along. Men with guns followed them through the hallway as Peter swayed on uneven feet and trudged through concrete corridors without socks or shoes. Barnum didn’t speak as he was led up a set of stairs and into a corridor that clanged with metal beneath their feet. Pipes ran through the walls and Peter focused on staying upright, until he was led into another room.

It was a makeshift medbay. There was a single bed, bare, with an IV stand next to it and a large screen on the wall opposite. Peter sat on the bed at Barnum’s nod, watched and didn’t bother wincing as the IV was slipped into his skin.

“We understand that you have reservations about this,” Barnum said, quiet. The gunmen remained by the door. The lights of the room were low, easy on Peter’s sensitive eyes. “But we raised you to fight for our cause, and you’ll find your place here again.”

Peter swung his legs onto the bed before a woman in a white lab coat brought in a new tray of food, with a bottle of water resting on top.

“Take your time eating,” she said, “we don’t want you throwing it all back up.”

“What day is it?” Peter asked, crossing his legs and taking the tray.

“The twenty-seventh,” she replied. Nine days in solitude. Peter knew he could’ve lasted longer if there weren’t lives on the line, but there were. There were always lives on the line these days.

When the lady left, Barnum’s eyes were still on him. Peter ate his food in silence, the gunmen still standing at the door. It was strange, the moment was silent and stretched out. He was weak and tired and he was still a little sure that if he turned his back, someone would stab it. Only when he was done eating did Barnum move again.

He took a remote from the side and clicked on the television. Immediately, Peter felt like throwing up his food.

On the screen, there was a dimly-lit cell. The insides were dirty and stained and contained only a single, thin bed. Peter lurched forward at the sight of it. At the bodies curled together on the old, disgusting mattress.

He refused to let the words slip from his mouth. Mom. Dad.

Tony and Pepper held each other in frozen silence. They didn’t move or speak and were likely asleep. They just sat in each other’s arms like they feared being pulled apart. But they didn’t seem injured. Peter couldn’t spot blood or bruises – they were likely deprived of water and food but hadn’t been hurt upon arrival.

They were okay. And they’d stay okay if he did as he was told.

Their safety was riding on his shoulders and he felt its weight, almost similar to the world.

“They asked after you a lot,” Barnum said, his voice devoid of everything except a sliver of interest. “They care about you, Parker.”

He nodded, numb and silent.

“When we told them you were dead they screamed bloody murder.”

Peter retched all of a sudden, and Barnum placed a hard hand on his back as he keeled over. Peter wouldn’t let anything come up, though. He refused.

“I’ve never heard such agonising screams,” Barnum continued. “You would’ve thought I would have by now – but not like that. Parents losing their child for the second time is a lot to take, Parker. I thought they would’ve mercy killed each other by now; put each other out of their misery.”

“Why would you tell them I’m dead?” Peter demanded, voice hoarse.

“Hope is a very strong thing,” Barnum replied. “It keeps prisoners going for longer than they would otherwise. They’re alive, though, for now – and we’ll keep them that way if you comply.”

Peter nodded. “I understand.”

When he looked at Barnum’s face, he saw a smile almost sympathetic. “I don’t think you do.” The hand slipped from Peter’s back and in a heartbeat, Peter felt the shiver run up his side. MOVE, it told him, and he tried to; he tried to leap to the side, away from Barnum, but there was a tube in his arm and his limbs were heavy and aching, so the taser lit up the insides of his eyelids that slammed shut and sent volts of electricity sprawling through his limbs.

When Barnum pulled back, Peter’s muscles tensed and untensed, over and over. They shuddered and shook and Peter’s breathing was there and not, a mess of inhales and no exhales.

He was shoved up until he was sat at the end of the bed and the agents at the door moved to bring in a contraption. One limb at a time, he was attached to it; his hands above his head, his head held up so it was staring at the screen where his parents cowered in the corner of the bed. Peter was dragged up until he was standing, relying on his arms to hold him up when his legs buckled at the knees.

He was forced into place until he couldn’t sit. Until Peter was either standing or letting his shoulders pop out of place if he fell. The agents, finally, pulled open his eyes, wide, and attached something to his face.

His voice was slurred when he tried to speak. “Wha’ are you doin’?”

“Don’t you worry, Parker,” Barnum said, stepping between him and the screen. Peter tried to blink but found the contraptions on his face holding his eyes wide open. “You’ll be out of there as soon as you’re back again.”

“I don’ un-erstan’.”

Peter’s eyes were watering now and Barnum’s smile was cruel. “The Black Spider needs to return to HYDRA as a loyal agent,” he said. “This is how we’ll make sure of it.” He turned to the screen and clicked the remote, Peter immediately yearning to see his parents again when the image changed.

Instead of the footage of the cell, there were shifting white and black lines, swirling and dancing and spinning across the screen.

Peter knew what this was.

Hell, he’d been present when it was used on others.

“I’ll come back when you’re more pliant,” Barnum said, before stepping towards the door.

Peter’s eyes were on the screen and he tore them to watch Barnum leave. He knew that soon enough, he wouldn’t be able to look at anything else. He would watch the swirling lines until his mind was quiet and pliable and someone would whisper in his ear a suggestion, an idea, become The Black Spider again and serve HYDRA.

He swallowed, wishing he’d drunk more of his water before this began.

When he opened his mouth to yell for Barnum to come back, to scream to let him go, to let him see his parents, to-

A strip of silver tape was stretched across his mouth and Peter’s unfocused eyes somehow landed back on the screen.

 

 

APRIL 28th

 

 

“Twenty-four hours,” Barnum noted, impressed.

Peter glared at the screen, his entire body quivering with effort. He couldn’t stop standing or his shoulders would dislocate as he fell. So he stood, and he stared and he couldn’t tear his eyes from the dancing patterns.

He couldn’t do anything but succumb to numbness.

 

 

APRIL 29th

 

 

They threw the Black Spider suit at his feet.

“New and improved,” Barnum said, untying the straps on his wrist. Peter collapsed to the floor, the suit in front of him darker than he remembered it. “Rest and then we’ll get you in your new outfit.”

Two agents lifted him to his feet and deposited him on the bed. Peter couldn’t stop thinking about the lines, the twisting circles going around and around and around. Above it all, there was the image of the suit. The white spider across the chest.

When Peter fell asleep, it was the last thing he thought about.

 

 

3 YEARS EARLIER

 

 

He didn’t miss the vomiting.

The spider bite had brought nausea and hallucinations upon his body, and he’d spent days retching into a toilet bowl, stained with his puke.

But, then he’d woken up feeling better. There was almost a spring in his step, and when he looked at himself in the grimy mirror above the sink, he saw differences. He was already strong, having trained for so long, but now he was lean; muscled and carefully taut. His senses weren’t running havoc anymore, and he wasn’t hearing everything to ever exist – he could use them like limbs to stretch out and listen instead. The breathing of the guards in the hallway. The prisoner in the next cell over.

Peter turned on the water too hard.

“Shit-” He leapt back, his body springing high enough to grab onto the ceiling and—stick there. As the water from the tap sprayed across the room, Peter stared from that disaster to the other; to his fingertips, pressed against the ceiling and holding him there. He let himself drop a moment later and turned to the door.

The cell door wasn’t locked. He wasn’t a prisoner but an experiment. An agent. He pulled it off its hinges without realising what he was doing.

“Oh, fuc-”

“What the hell?” The guard turned to him with wide eyes and Peter tried dropping the door, honest. But no matter what he did, the door handle was stuck to his hand like glue.

“Oh, come on,” Peter grumbled, shaking his hand until the door slammed to the floor. He looked at the alarmed guard. “I’m feeling much better.”

“I’ll, uh – I’ll call Parker.”

“You do that,” Peter mumbled, stepping out into the hall as the guard jogged off in the direction of the main base.

Peter was only wearing vomit-stained sweatpants, but he started off in that direction too. He’d sweated through the rest of his clothes and didn’t want them back anyway. When his feet moved from concrete to the metal grates, he felt the change in textures shiver through his skin. A moment later, a grate was pulled up with his right foot – he barely even noticed the tug.

“This is ridiculous,” Peter muttered, pulling the metal from his foot. He slotted it back into place with a frown.

“What the hell are you doing?” a voice asked and Peter looked up, seeing Jessica staring at him with a quirked eyebrow.

“I’m incredibly sticky,” Peter replied.

For a moment, she looked at a loss for words, which was a victory when it came to Jessica “Never Shuts Up” Drew. Then she shook her head. “That doesn’t answer the question.”

Peter shrugged. “I feel fine.”

“Parker said you were still sick.”

Peter straightened, looking at his hands and the way the just felt stronger. “I’m great,” he said. “I don’t feel bad at all.”

Jessica frowned at him but nodded back in the direction she came. She tilted her head. “You’re looking better, too.”

“Yeah, I mean, I haven’t vomite-”

“No,” she said, gesturing to his torso. “I mean, you’re looking better.

He frowned and reassessed his body. He didn’t want to brag or anything, but he was looking a lot better than he had the day before. Peter quirked his head at Jessica. “What do you care? Don’t you like girls?”

She snorted. “I wasn’t complimenting you, Parker. If anything, I’m saying you weren’t really looking too great last week.” He rolled his eyes as she clapped her hands together. “Anyway! We should go find your guy. He’ll probably want to know about the stickiness. Whatever that means.”

“I doubt he planned for it,” Peter replied, following Jess back along the hall. “I mean, what person actively tries to make a sticky soldier.”

Jessica’s face screwed up. “Can we stop saying the word sticky?”

Peter laughed for the first time in days, flinging a bare arm around Jessica’s shoulders. He came to regret this only twenty seconds later when she tried to duck out of his grip and found she couldn’t.

“Peter, let go,” she said.

“I’m not holding you,” he replied.

“You are. Let go.”

“Jess! Look, I’m not holding on!” He stretched out his fingers and she glared at them as if they’d done something wrong.

“But I can’t- Peter.”

Jess.

“Jesus Christ,” she muttered, and shoved them both over to a wall where she could brace herself. “Just pull, okay? This is such a design defect.”

“God, what if I stick to everything for the rest of my life?” Peter asked, bracing one hand around a pipe on the opposite wall of the corridor.

“I’ll stop being friends with you,” Jess replied. “I don’t need that in my life.”

“Thanks. I appreciate that.”

They both pulled in different directions, two things happening at once.

First, they separated; Jessica yelping as a few strands of hair that had been stuck to Peter’s hand were yanked out of her head. Second, the pipe that Peter was pulling on snapped out from the shaft.

“Oh no.”

Steam immediately filled the corridor, hot and burning.

“Come on!” Jess called. The two of them ran down the corridor, away from the burst pipe, Peter dropping the evidence on the way. They made it most of the way to Parker’s lab by the time Jessica started heaving. Peter, on the other hand, felt fine. Like he could go for another mile or so before starting to feel run down.

His best friend frowned at him before shaking her head. “We were never in the corridor,” she said.

Peter nodded once, holding out a hand. “We were never in the corridor.”

She glared at the offending hand as if she might stick to it again, but Jessica slapped it anyway and followed it up with a fist bump with no problems. Jessica rolled her eyes.

“God, you’re so weird now. Let’s go tell the scientist to make you less weird.”

 

 

APRIL 29th

 

 

Peter couldn’t exactly remember why he hadn’t been the Black Spider for a while, but he knew the suit felt familiar, like he’d missed it. The material was stronger than spandex and twisted with his body – it was a little different, like it was thicker or more durable, and he carried the mask in his hand as he left the medbay room. He’d been given a well-deserved sleep, though he didn’t know why he’d deserved it, just that when he’d fallen unconscious he had been tired straight through to his bones.

Now, he felt refreshed and ready. A few people stared as he went by, but that was usually the case. People liked to get a look at masked assassins. They especially liked to get a look at how young he was and laugh about a baby-faced killer.

Peter made his way down familiar halls – bases were all the same, though he didn’t know which one he was at. He followed the corridors until he came upon a room of glass walls where a conference table sat in the middle. Peter recognised a few of the agents in the room, including Barnum by the end of the table, and Jessica, slouched in a chair near the centre. He had the feeling he’d seen her recently but couldn’t remember the meeting – otherwise, it had been two years. Two years!  Peter hesitated outside the door – was he supposed to go in?

He hadn’t been given orders or told where to go – maybe he was off duty, getting his strength back. But Jessica’s eyes lit up when she saw him and she straightened, her mouth moving too quickly for him to decipher her words.

Barnum looked over his shoulder with some of the other agents, a friendly smile crossing his face. He gestured for Peter to enter, so he did.

“Parker,” Barnum greeted with a nod. “Take a seat. We were just going over the mission specs.”

“Mission?” Peter asked, walking around the table and watching as an agent slipped out of the chair next to Jessica and chose another. He caught his friend’s faint smirk as he sat in the vacated chair, placing his mask on the table.

“Of course,” Barnum said. “Elimination special, your favourite.” The agent slid a file across the table and Peter picked it up, flipping through the pages. They were partially redacted official documents, with photos clipped to them. There were six people, three of which were siblings, it seemed, though Peter barely glanced over the names.

Peter didn’t care what they’d done. He nodded and placed the file back on the table.

“So you’re in?” Barnum asked and Peter frowned.

“Since when do I get an option?” he questioned. “If you say I’m in, I’m in.”

The smile that spread across Barnum’s face was proud. “That’s my boy.”

 

-

 

They went out that night when the sky was dark and cloudless. It wasn’t a big city, as far as Peter could tell, but he didn’t know which one they were slipping into. Peter sat in the back of the van, staring at Jessica opposite. Her mask was down by her neck, and she was watching him with curiosity. He hadn’t had a chance to speak to her since the meeting – she being whisked off to training and Peter being pulled into other meetings about other missions.

They asked his opinions on different targets – occasionally, they’d give him the option of which one he wanted to take. He chose one in the alps, because he’d done one there before and he really enjoyed snowboarding. Plus, killing someone while snowboarding was always an interesting time.

That mission would set off in a few days, but for now he was on this one. He was confused though, tilting his head at his friend. Her eyes brightened a little, acknowledging the motion, but she didn’t speak. Since when had Jessica had powers? Let alone a suit like his.

He didn’t remember the reunion with her, either – unless they hadn’t had one; there was a vague and confusing feeling about having seen her before today. Unless today, in the conference room, was the first time they’d seen each other in a few years. Peter’s head felt cloudy, like he was missing time, but he blinked the thought away. It wasn’t for him to worry about right now.

The van slowed to a halt, the six others on the benches all checking their guns one last time.

“You know the plan,” an agent said over the comms. “Spiders, move top down. We’ll head in on the ground floor – Chekov, Rumin, check the basement.”

Everyone sounded off their agreement and the van doors opened, Peter and Jessica pulling on the masks. The street was empty and silent – more of a residential apartment street than a city road. Peter nodded towards the building and the alley down the side and Jess followed behind.

His suit was a little more advanced than it used to be – the webshooters seemed stronger and there was a display inside the mask that gave him icons for the comm system down one side. He flicked the comms off for a moment.

“Since when have you been Spider Girl?” Peter asked, his voice hushed as he started crawling up the wall, bathed in darkness.

Jessica scoffed. “Scarlet Spider,” she replied. “It’s why Parker wanted me, remember?”

Peter remembered her leaving like it had only been the day before. “I thought you were HYDRA’s perfect soldier,” Peter said, glancing back to spot her climbing the wall behind him. “Why would they make you an experiment?”

“What, jealous you’re not the only one anymore?” she asked, teasing ringing through her tone.

“Totally,” he replied, rolling his eyes.

“They’re making more of us,” she said. “You were the prototype – the first success in fifteen years of research. I’m two-point-oh. Proving they can change the DNA and have the serum still work. Plus, I can control spiders.”

“Wait, seriously?” Peter jerked to look at her and he could hear Jessica’s stifled laugh.

“No, not seriously,” she replied. “I’m sure three-point-oh will have that, though. They’re working on a whole load of them.”

“But Parker’s dead.”

“How do you know that?” Jessica asked as Peter swung his foot over the side of the roof. He frowned, watching her crawl over to his side. How did he know that? He shook his head and shrugged.

“Don’t know, someone must’ve mentioned it,” he replied.

Jessica looked at him for a second too long before moving forward, finding the skylight leading into the penthouse apartment. “His research is all still good,” she said. “They only killed him because he was a traitor.”

“He was?”

He joined her side and looked down through the window, to where a well-dressed man sat watching television on a flat screen. She nodded before reaching forward and prying the window open.

When it was open enough for a body to climb through, she nodded to him and he slipped through the gap, sticking to the ceiling and crawling along until he was above the man. He flicked on his comms, the whispered reports of agents coming through.

“Basement clear.”

“I have eyes on target 4.”

“Black Spider is approaching target 2.” This was Jessica’s voice, who was peering through the skylight, searching for any others that might be in the building.

“Lock on target 5.”

There was a beat. Peter eyed the man – he was so oblivious to HYDRA’s presence. Peter didn’t care to wonder what he did, just tilted his head and watched as he took his last breaths.

“Engage targets.”

Peter leapt from the ceiling, tackling the man onto the ground. His yelp was cut off short – Peter didn’t like a gory battle, he liked quick, sudden deaths without preamble and struggle. He snapped the man’s neck and stood, stepping from the body now on the floor.

“Target 2 eliminated, Peter said, hushed.

Above him, Jessica climbed onto the ceiling and Peter stepped through the penthouse apartment, deadly slow. Somewhere below him, gunshots rang out. Immediately, he ducked behind the furniture and Jessica froze on the ceiling. Only a few seconds later, a door from the hall sprung open, and a man walked out, eyes hazy like he’d been sleeping.

“Hey, Jack, did you hear that?”

Jessica had the clearer shot and she went for it, landing on the floor and taking him to the ground a moment later. Jessica took her time with the kill so she could enjoy it. Peter didn’t watch her tear the man to pieces and investigated the rest of the apartment, unfortunately empty.

“Target 5 eliminated.”

“Target 4 eliminated.”

“Target 3 eliminated,” Jessica confirmed.

Peter reappeared in the living room and darted his eyes away from the blood that drenched the kitchen.

“I see why you wear red,” he commented, not caring about the comms amplifying his voice.

“Can’t see the blood,” Jessica agreed.

“Target 1 eliminated.”

“Does anyone have eyes on target 6?”

There was a gunshot and Jessica flipped backwards, the bullet landing in the kettle across the room. Peter span, darting away from the next shot and moving across the room in a series of leaps and web-slings.

“We do!” Jess called. “Big boy bringing a gun to a fist fight. Parker’s got it handled.”

I do? Peter wondered, but the next second he was on the wall and pushing off of it to tackle the man with a gun. He looked frightened, nervous – but that was often the case. Peter slammed him to the ground with a few choice punches, then ground his foot into the man’s neck when he tried to get up.

“Please,” the man choked as Peter reached for the gun that had skidded across the ground. Across the room, Jessica watched in silence, arms crossed. “I have a family.”

“That means nothing to me,” Peter replied, rolling his eyes. He flicked off the comms, pushing away the distracting chatter of the other agents.

“Don’t you have a family?” the man asked, crying and heaving. His voice was strangled, his arm bent the wrong way. He wasn’t getting up and he knew it.

Peter tilted his head, checking the gun. “’Spose so,” he replied, nodding over to Jessica. “She’s over there and just fine. I’m sure your family will be okay, too.”

“T-they need me, pl-please.”

“Nice sentiment, buddy,” Peter replied, pointing the gun at the man on the ground. “Unfortunately, HYDRA doesn’t care.” He sent the three remaining bullets into the man’s brain, then chucked the gun across the room.

“Target 6 eliminated,” Jessica said, before turning and leaping back to the open skylight.

 

 

APRIL 30th

 

 

They got back early in the morning, Jessica drenched in blood that wasn’t hers and the others tired, but fine. Peter felt buzzed, like he usually did after a mission, his legs shaking the whole way back.

Peter held his mask as he walked through the base. He didn’t know where his room was here, but an agent showed him the way. It was a bunk room, with two bunk beds and a few trunks for possessions. Peter didn’t know where his was – he must’ve been hit really hard to forget where his things were at the other base.

He dumped his mask on the single empty bed before leaving the room again. He wasn’t tired yet. Instead, Peter strolled through the halls, Black Spider suit still on his body, peering through doorways and into the training rooms. Eventually, it was Barnum who found him.

“You did a good job today, Parker,” Barnum said. Peter nodded. “I’ve got a treat for you, if you want it.”

“You know, a man your age should not be saying those kinds of things to a minor.”

Barnum lightly slapped Peter across the head but he smiled. “Come on. I’ll show you.”

They wandered back through the base and down more steps than Peter knew it descended. They went further than his cell until they reached a row of three doors, covered in darkness. Barnum switched on the hall light and it flickered erratically.

“This one,” Barnum said. A few guards with semi-automatics stood nearby, watching as Barnum unlocked the door and lifted the bar across it. The room inside was pitch black, with a rectangle of yellow lurching in. If Peter didn’t have such good eyesight, he wouldn’t have seen the figures, crowded on the bed.

“Up and at ‘em,” Barnum called, banging on the door. The figures jerked, one moving off the bed quicker than the other. They pulled each other to standing, and Peter’s eyes adjusted to get a good look at their faces; worn and incredibly shocked.

“Well, ho-ly shit,” Peter said, smirking with a tilt of his head.

Peter,” the woman breathed. The man stood in front of her, just a little, a hand almost reaching out to Peter. He raised an eyebrow at that.

“How the hell did you get Tony and Pepper Stark?” Peter asked, crossing his arms and leaning against the door frame.

“Oh, it was easy really,” Barnum replied, waving a hand. The prisoners were trembling and Peter had never thought he’d see the day where he’d meet Tony Stark in person, let alone in a prison cell. “We just took what mattered most to them. After that, they stopped trying.”

Chapter Text

APRIL 30th

 

 

This wasn’t the base that Peter remembered, but there was still a pretty good vent system to hang out in, albeit smaller. From where he sat, he could hear a lot of the base’s movements; the vents snaking around the structure. He could hear the footsteps, the hushed murmurs, the clinking of beakers. Peter breathed in the sounds of everyday life for the base and then let them all out in an exhale.

“Thought I’d find you here.”

Peter looked up as Jess climbed into the vent shaft, curling in on herself as she sat down by his side. She was no longer wearing her suit, and her civvies were unlike the black of the rest of the agents. Instead, she wore jeans and boots, her leather jacket dumped by her side and her plain white t-shirt torn and stretched.

“Heard you met Iron Man,” she said. “What’s he like?”

Peter frowned. Tony Stark had lifted a hand towards Peter as if to grab hold of him and Pepper Stark had whispered his name like a prayer. “Quiet,” was all Peter said, trying to latch onto a fumbling of a memory. It was there but not, right in the periphery and dodging away whenever he turned to look. Peter looked to Jess. “Why do they have the Starks?”

Jess shrugged. “Found them on mission or something,” she replied. “I wouldn’t know. But they haven’t even interrogated them yet.”

“Really?”

She hummed. “They’ve just sat in that room. No heat, one meal a day, that’s it. I can’t figure what they’re going to do to them.”

“I would’ve thought they would’ve tried to get at the Iron Man armour at least,” Peter replied, because he’d asked Barnum as they left the cell early that morning if they had the suit, and Barnum had said they’d caught Stark without it. “Get some designs or something.”

“Stark wouldn’t do it,” Jess said with a shrug. “You remember the stories about Afghanistan, right?”

Peter nodded. The Ten Rings were only a few men with a few guns now (thanks to Colonel Rhodes), but once they’d been big. They’d been dangerous and scary and they’d taken Tony Stark and asked him to build the Jericho missile. Instead, he’d built Iron Man.

HYDRA wasn’t dumb enough to make the same mistake.

Peter could feel the way Jess was staring at him, like some cipher she was determined to solve. He could practically hear the cogs in her brain turning, but when he met her eyes, she darted her gaze away.

“I heard there’s a torture sesh in the basement in about ten minutes,” she said, as if it were a class or a football game they could catch. “Wanna come watch with me?”

“Why do you wanna watch?”

Jess shrugged. “They’re using electricity and I want to see if the poor asshole will get shocked so hard we’ll see their skeleton like in cartoons.”

Peter rolled his eyes. “Sure, I’ll come.”

Jess grinned and Peter followed her from the vent. They watched the torture from a high up window overlooking the lab, reminding Peter a lot of the men and women that had studied him, strapped to a table as a spider crawled across his chest. The “poor asshole” was a SHIELD agent, and they died from the volts before they said anything but fuck you. Peter stayed to watch their body be carried out.

 

 

MAY 1st

 

 

His mission would be on the second of May, so Peter spent the first in the training room. He alternated between punching bags, sparring and running so fast on the treadmill that a few agents who’d never seen the Black Spider up close before stopped to watch. Peter kept going until his limbs felt like putty, and he eventually slumped down to the floor at the side of the room, watching the agents weight lift and fight in a much more normal manner than Peter would.

Eventually, Jess slipped into the training room and Peter studied her stretch and warm up. He watched her run and lift weights and pretend she didn’t know he was staring at her. But Peter wasn’t sure what he was seeing; whether this was the Jess he used to know or someone else entirely.

It felt like her, and this girl definitely sounded like the Jess he used to know, but there was something more in there. Something that grew bigger than when he knew her before; something inside her. It was dark, whatever it was, and maybe it was brought to light with the powers. Maybe the spider exaggerated whatever was inside her, because Peter couldn’t remember seeing the dark glint to her eyes as children. He couldn’t remember her lips curling up like that.

He tuned back into the room just in time to see an agent wink at Jess.

“Looking good, Spiderwoman,” he said.

Jess pointed her middle finger at him. “Bite me,” she said, and Peter frowned as the agent walked off with a laugh.

“What’s Spiderwoman?” Peter asked. He ignored the looks he got from the nearer agents and the way their eyes darted over to Jess, waiting for her response.

She shrugged. “It’s what they keep calling me,” Jess replied. “Guess they think it sounds better than Scarlet Spider.”

Peter nodded, slow, but the name nudged something in the back of his mind. He pulled himself to his feet and took a quick look at those who still had their eyes on him. It was like they all knew something he didn’t; like there was a secret he wasn’t in on.

“Whatever,” Peter said, heading off to take a shower.

 

-

 

For whatever reason Peter couldn’t discern, he slipped into the surveillance room that night and clicked through the screens until he found the Starks. He’d told the guys who worked in the room to go take a coffee break, and Peter settled into one of the chairs, squinting into the darkness of the room.

There wasn’t any audio, so he watched the silent footage. Tony and Pepper Stark curled together on the bed. Peter watched Tony press a kiss against Pepper’s hair, then rest his head back against the wall. They didn’t do anything else, and Peter had no idea why the sheer thought of them was getting at him.

He got up and left.

 

 

MAY 2ND

 

 

Peter flew to the alps.

He watched the snow glisten in the sun from the quinjet and was dropped off in a lodge by himself. Solo missions were always his favourite. He preferred working without hot breath down his neck.

He checked in under his false name, Kaine Parker, and performed a quick sweep of his room, just to check that no one was listening in. When it was safe, he emptied his duffle bag, dutifully loading the semi-automatic and the handgun he brought with him, as well as sharpening the knives and slipping them into place on his person.

Unfortunately for him, he knew he wouldn’t get Jennifer Sellens while snowboarding – though if things went to plan, he might have enough time to go anyway. There was a conference here at the lodge and she was the keynote speaker. Peter was pretty sure the conference was on physics or chemistry, but he hadn’t looked into it too deeply. Instead, he changed into the civvies that were packed for him and went on a journey through the lodge, feeling the familiar weight of the handgun at his hip.

Strange thing was, Peter was pretty sure people were noticing him – which didn’t usually happen. Normally, he was good at vanishing into thin air, at being a stranger in the crowd. Instead, it was like people were spotting him and tilting their heads as if they might recognise his face.

When he saw a stranger separate from their conversation, seemingly with the intent of coming to talk to Peter in the lounge, he ducked out of the room and slipped into a storage cupboard, listening to them pass.

Peter frowned and returned to his room. He hadn’t managed to spot Sellens but he couldn’t risk leaving his room without the suit in case people noticed his face again. Why they noticed him at all was beyond Peter.

In his hotel room, he studied the file on Sellens and decided to go after her that night – her room number was printed in black and white on the third sheet of paper.

When darkness fell, Peter climbed into the Black Spider suit, left the weapons in the duffle bag bar the knives, strapped to his thigh, and skulked around the dead corridors until he found her room. Breaking in wasn’t difficult – he’d been picking locks since before he’d learned to shoot a gun – and he entered the room, finding it dark apart from the yellow glow of the bathroom.

The door was wide open, and Peter stepped inside. His hand was over her mouth before she could let out a scream and they stared at each other in the bathroom mirror; her, pale face and messy blonde hair, him with his jet-black suit and white, emotionless mask eyes.

“Jennifer,” he said, making his voice lower. “Sorry about this.”

He snapped her neck and caught her body before it fell. Peter pulled down the shower curtain, wrapped her in it and left her in the bathtub. Then he swept her room, searching through her bags until he found her laptop, her research and her address book.

For a hot second, he considered setting the lodge on fire to cover it all up, but that was a lot of effort and he was pretty sure that would put more attention on the place than a single murder might.

Peter returned to his room without being spotted, packed up, called the quinjet back, and climbed out the window to meet them. But in the shadows of the night, he didn’t notice the man following him away from the lodge and up the mountain until it was too late.

Peter dropped the duffle as their hands flew around his shoulders, and he thrashed for all of a second before gathering his bearings, planting his feet on the ground and forcing himself forward to flip his attacker overhead.

“Well fuck me gently with a chainsaw,” Peter said, catching sight of the man climbing out of the snow and back to his feet. “Maybe I’ll get a pay rise for killing the Winter Soldier.”

In front of him, there was a glower on the Winter Soldier’s face, and he scoffed. “They don’t pay you as it is.”

“Fair,” Peter replied, ducking out of the way of the assassin’s punch. He jabbed back with his own, caught the next hit and took the brunt of a kick to the side. Peter scrambled up from the ground, leaping back into the fight, tumbling back down the slope as they went.

“What the fuck are you even doing here?” Peter spat when they were forced apart by a short fall. He climbed to his feet, watching as the Winter Soldier did the same a few metres away.

“A few scientists at a conference in the alps Tweet about a possible Peter Stark sighting? Yeah, I’m gonna check that out,” he replied.

Peter frowned. “Who the fuck is Peter Stark?”

The leapt back into it – or Peter did. The Winter Soldier was holding back and that enraged Peter for too many reasons. This man had kicked his ass before, and yet he wasn’t now. He was just going through it, getting the fight done, not aiming to win it by a landslide.

It was when Peter spotted a shape in the sky did he send a harsh kick to the assassin’s stomach, the Winter Soldier falling back and tumbling down the mountain. Peter ran back up the slope, using his webs to slingshot him back to the duffle bag. He was pretty sure the man with wings was called Falcon, but he didn’t get a chance to ask.

From nothing, a quinjet materialised, and Peter stuck a web to it as the ramp lowered to let him in. He dodged the shots from the Falcon’s weapons, held tight to the duffle bag and pulled himself into the jet. The quinjet shot off a few projectiles as a warning, and Peter watched the Falcon stop and swoop down to help the Winter Soldier, instead of following.

Peter lowered himself to a crouch and looked up at the only agent in the jet, leaving the jet on autopilot. Drew, Jessica’s guy, wasn’t nearly as old as Barnum, but he had enough scars on his face to make him look beaten and weathered. He looked almost judgemental over Peter’s job, but he resigned himself to going through the duffle and nodding at Peter’s finds.

“Target eliminated?” he asked and Peter nodded. The mission could’ve gone on for all three days of the conference if he’d wanted it to, but he got it done in six hours instead.

Peter looked back to the ramp door, as if he could see through it and back to the mountain beside the lodge. “Why the fuck did Avengers show up?” he muttered.

“You tell me,” Drew replied, settling on the floor with the laptop. He pulled out a device that bypassed the password to start searching through the hard drive.

“They said they had heard that Peter Stark was there.”

Drew looked over to him with a raised eyebrow. “You know who that is?”

Peter pulled a face. “Sounds familiar. Isn’t that the missing kid of Tony Stark?”

Drew hummed. “Yeah. Never found him though.”

Peter yanked off his mask and sighed. Peter Stark. The name felt important to him but he couldn’t pinpoint why. He didn’t like the idea of a missing child with the same name as him, though he was pretty sure HYDRA had renamed him entirely when he joined. Peter likely wasn’t the name he was given at birth when – as Jessica said – those pesky SHIELD agents, or rebels, or renowned but dangerous scientists were taken down by HYDRA.

He shook the thought of out his head. “I’ll kill the Winter Soldier next time,” he promised.

“I’m sure you will, kid,” Drew replied.

 

 

MAY 3rd

 

 

He’d barely slept when someone shook him awake.

“Rise and shine.”

“Fucking hell. Can’t you let me get one full night’s rest?”

Barnum snorted. “We’ve got a fun day ahead of us.”

“Oh, yippee.” Peter rolled his face until it was smothered by the pillow.

“Heard you kicked the Winter Soldier’s ass last night. Good job, Parker.” Peter groaned into the pillow. “Alright, alright. We’re fucking with the Starks today. Decided to get some weapon specs and passcodes and see if we can remake some of those weapons of mass destruction they keep lying around the house. Or, you know, just mutilate them a little for funsies.”

Peter turned to look at Barnum, who was leaning against the opposite bunkbed with a smile. The rest of the room was empty, the agents having already left for the day.

“Tony Stark stopped manufacturing weapons years ago,” Peter said.

“No, he stopped selling weapons years ago. He still builds all that Avengers shit every day. And now we’re going to get some Avengers shit.”

Peter coughed and sat up. “He’s not going to give you anything. He took waterboarding and still didn’t give up a damn thing.”

“Mm, but this time we have a secret weapon.”

“What?”

“His family.”

 

-

 

Peter had changed into the Black Spider suit and was sitting, ready and waiting, inside the lab. It wasn’t used for science, but for torture, and this was the same place that a SHIELD agent had been electrocuted only a few days before. The viewing gallery was already filled up and bustling with agents who wanted nothing more than to watch Iron Man squirm.

Peter rolled his neck and blew out a breath through the mask. He sat on the metal table and kicked his legs in wait. Torture really wasn’t his thing and the sight of the SHIELD agent’s tensed, quivering body still echoed behind his eyelids. He had never learnt their name. They must’ve had one, beneath it all.

Finally, the door opened and two figures were hauled in, in the arms of agents, and cuffed to the wall. Their heads were covered with fabric bags and they were followed by Barnum, wearing a new set of clothes that the blood wouldn’t show up on so easily.

Peter looked to the gallery, at all the excited faces. He spotted Jessica without trying.

“Alright,” Barnum said, clapping his hands together. “Let’s get this show on the road. Parker, what’s your favourite technique?”

Peter rolled his eyes and slipped off the table with a shrug. “You know torture isn’t my thing, Barnum,” he said, stretching his arms. “I don’t know, something with lights.”

Barnum raised an eyebrow and sent him a dead look. “Something with lights?”

“Yeah. Something flashy. With pizazz.” Peter gave the most half-hearted jazz hands he could and Barnum glowered at him.

“I should’ve called Drew in here instead.”

“Probably,” Peter agreed. “But you’ve got me instead.”

“Take their hoods off. Bring Stark over here.”

Peter snorted, spinning on one foot to face the prisoners. The room was dimly lit, with tiled floors and high ceilings. The two Starks were cuffed to the pipes on the wall and Peter crouched down in front of them, tilting his head as the agent by the door slipped the cuff keys into his outstretched hand.

“Which Stark?” Peter asked. “They both have the same name.”

“You’re going to be the death of me, kid. Tony Stark. The one we want shit from.”

“Got it.”

Peter yanked off their hoods and took the time to watch them blink. Pepper Stark let out a whimper at the sight of him and Tony Stark looked plain mad. They’d certainly heard the conversation up until this point, and somehow, the people who knew his name were still affected by his presence.

Pizazz?” Tony asked, anger and incredulity battling it out in his tone.

Peter shrugged, reaching forward to unlock his cuffs. “Personally, my torture style involves a gun and shooting in mostly non-lethal places until they give up. I don’t have an opinion on waterboarding vs being sliced open.”

“Stop talking with the prisoners, Parker,” Barnum ordered, and Peter rolled his eyes, grabbing Stark’s arm and yanking him to his feet.

“If you struggle I’ll snap your wrist,” Peter warned but Tony Stark came with him without problem. He only struggled when Barnum tried pressing him down onto the metal table, and then Peter had to shove him into place, holding him down as other agents tightened straps across his arms and legs.

Barnum produced a pair of scissors and went about cutting off Stark’s shirt. Peter couldn’t help but stare at the knot of scars in the centre of his chest, where the arc reactor once sat. He tilted his head at it, tried to imagine the blue glow, then without scars there at all; just plain, smooth flesh. Peter shook his thoughts away and stepped back.

“So, Stark,” Barnum said, fiddling with a tray of knives and tools. “We’re going to start easy. Passwords, codes, weapon specs. Just give us some information and we’ll let you out.”

Tony looked at Peter and met his eye. “Peter, come on, kid,” he said, his voice strangled. “We’ve gone through this all before. You know who you-” His voice was cut off by his own sudden scream as Barnum stabbed a scalpel into his shoulder.

“That didn’t sound like passwords,” Barnum noted. “Now, we’ve hacked into FRIDAY before. Took some time, but we got around the firewalls – still, there was a lot that wasn’t connected to her system, and a lot of codes and information that was hidden on different servers entirely. We’re just asking-”

“Your name is Peter Benjamin Stark,” Tony said, ignoring Barnum entirely. “You’re seventeen years old. You were born in Malibu, you live in New York, you’re allergic to strawberries, just like Pepper.” Barnum ran the scalpel down the length of Stark’s left arm. It wasn’t deep, just painful, and Tony jerked against the restraints.

Peter took a few steps back, his jaw tightening. He could hear the commotion in the gallery, the whispers, the what’s going ons and someone needs to stop thiss coming from their mouths. Peter pinpointed Jessica’s heartbeat; he knew it like the back of his hand, and he calmed, breathing in time to it, matching his breathing with hers. She wasn’t worried, he could tell. She was steadfast and calm.

“Parker,” Barnum said. “I want his wife to watch.”

Peter nodded numbly and stepped back to grab Pepper Stark, listening to Tony Stark’s strangled howls. He was clearly trying to stay quiet, and yet Barnum wasn’t letting him.

“Peter,” Pepper whispered, her eyes shut tight. He caught how her wrists were raw from pulling at the cuffs. “Listen to me.”

“Stop talking,” Peter said, sharp and she opened her eyes to stare at him. “I’m not listening to this horseshit. Get up.” He unlocked her handcuffs and tugged her along before she was even on her feet. Pepper scrambled up and Peter dragged her over to the side of the table, where he locked her into place again. She had nothing to look at but the streams of blood on her husband’s torso.

Cuts crisscrossed over his skin, and Peter ignored the way Pepper Stark whispered Peter’s name and Tony Stark grunted it out like he was begging for him to do something about it. But what was Peter supposed to do? Yell at them for the bullshit of him being Peter Stark? He wasn’t. He knew he wasn’t.

He was Peter Parker and maybe he wasn’t even that.

He was the Black Spider.

He was a HYDRA assassin.

He was the best friend of Jessica Drew and the orphan of unknown parents.

He wasn’t wanted.

He was left behind.

He was raised in captivity and trained to be a killer.

If Tony and Pepper Stark were his parents, they would’ve found him by now. They would’ve taken him home. They wouldn’t have let him go anyway.

It was bullshit and he wasn’t going to listen to it.

Barnum switched tools – a longer, sharper knife this time (Peter heard the way the heartbeats of the watching agents picked up just by looking at it) – and Pepper cried when it was brought over Tony’s body.

“Give us anything,” Barnum said.

“This really wasn’t planned, huh,” Tony drawled, though his voice sounded hoarse. “You don’t even know what you’re searching for.”

“You’re right,” Barnum replied without hesitation. “We don’t want anything from you, really. We just want to watch you squirm. I just want to watch you die.”

There was a beat of silence before Barnum moved to stab Tony and only stopped at Pepper’s sudden screaming. Barnum jerked backwards with the knife for a moment, then nodded sharply at Peter.

Peter’s hand latched around Pepper’s throat before he felt it move, and he brought her face close to his own, looking into her wide, frightened eyes.

“Would you like to take Stark’s place?” Peter asked, his voice deadly slow and menacing. He’d perfected that tone before. He didn’t get to use it often.

Pepper didn’t reply, she just whimpered, a single tear trailing down her cheek and onto Peter’s gloved hand. He watched it the whole way, before reaching up and pulling off his mask. He wanted to see it with his own eyes, wanted to see the way hers softened at the sight of his face.

For a split second, he pictured Peter Stark. A kid who could’ve had anything. A kid probably dead because if anyone in the world could’ve found a missing child, it was the Starks.

Peter held Pepper’s face in his hands and he tightened his jaw. Maybe he was a missing kid, too. Maybe he was one of those assumed dead. He squeezed just a little, a gasp falling from her mouth.

“Peter!” Tony yelled. “Cut that shit out!”

In one swift move, Peter kicked out a leg and made Pepper’s knees buckle, until she was on the ground, staring up at him.

“Peter! For fuck’s sake!”

Peter tore his gaze from Pepper to Tony, dead-eyed.

“I’m not your son, asshole.”

Peter slammed his fist into Pepper Stark’s face and watched her crumple to the floor. Tony yanked at his bindings then, and Peter watched Pepper hang from the cuffs around the table, coughing and sobbing at his feet. Peter used his foot to kick her down, her back on the floor, her arms taut above her, her shoulders this close to dislocating.

She whimpered his name and he glared. “You don’t know me,” he bit out. “Stop acting like you do.” He slammed his foot down on her chest, her scream echoing around the room as one shoulder popped out of place.

Tony yelled but Peter couldn’t make out the words. He was too busy staring at the smile on Barnum’s face – it made his spine crawl and his skin itch. He looked proud, but he looked like there was some sick joke Peter wasn’t in on.

“Pizazz, huh, Parker?” Barnum asked. “What do you prefer, gun or drill?”

The drill had more pizazz, but he always preferred a gun, so he took his foot from Pepper Stark’s chest and walked around the table, picking up the gun offered. He turned his back on the Starks, on Barnum, and flicked off the safety. God, Pepper Stark’s scream was still in his head. It was like it had drilled right through into his skull.

“Peter,” Tony said from behind him, as he studied the gun. “Don’t do this. This isn’t who you are. You’re my fucking son so just remember that. Remember the past year of your life – remember school and your friends and Spiderman. Remember that safe house in Manhattan and- and-”

“That’s enough, Stark,” Barnum said, cutting him off. Peter turned around to look at Tony Stark, his torso bloodied, his wife on the floor next to him. “Parker. Make him bleed.”

Peter’s finger rested light on the trigger as he pressed it into Tony Stark’s chest, right over the spot where his heart was beating erratically inside his rib cage. Peter could hear it, could feel it vibrate through the gun.

“Don’t do this, Pete,” Tony whispered. “Please don’t do this. I love you so much and I don’t want you to go through life with this on your shoulders. Just remember. Remember anything. Remember the Soup Incident and the sprinklers going off, or movie night or that stupid t-shirt MJ made for you. Remember something.”

“Parker,” Barnum warned, standing behind him.

Peter moved the gun to Stark’s temple, as if that was any better, as if that was making him shake less because he couldn’t remember any of these things, but Tony Stark was saying them with such passion in his voice that he wanted to.

“Please, kid.” Tony’s eyes stared directly into his and it was like Peter had stared at them a hundred times before. Had he? Had he been the missing Stark son this whole time? “The golden memories. I know you have them. Pepper’s hair. Her laugh. Hands. Please.” Peter froze, because he did have those memories. Because of everything he couldn’t place, he had the gentle hands in his mind and the sun-coloured hair, just out of reach.

“Parker!”

Peter moved the gun back down to Tony’s torso, a frown on his face. He straightened and looked back at Barnum. In that moment, his mind ran through eventualities. He saw them all; saw himself killing Tony Stark a hundred times and saving his life another fifty. He saw asking Barnum about Stark’s words and confronting him in front of a gallery of trained agents. He saw a lot of things, and he made his confused decision in a split second.

“Sorry,” he said, cold. “Guess he was just getting to me.”

“I thought you were better than that.”

“Yeah, so did I,” Peter replied, then he looked back to Tony Stark and shot him in the shoulder. He heard the faint sound of the bullet stopping at the metal table beneath him, but it was masked by Tony’s shout of pain, by Pepper’s scream. Was it a new one or was it just the one that wouldn’t leave his head?

Peter met Tony’s eye for only a second, trying to convey his apology through only a look. He wasn’t sure it went through.

Peter turned back to Barnum. “If you keep him alive, he’ll lose his fight eventually,” he said. “He’s already lost everything else in his life, I can’t imagine he has all that much will power left.”

Barnum nodded, slow and Peter clicked the safety back on the gun and dropped it on the side table. He moved back around to the side Pepper was cuffed against and looked down at the red swell where he’d hit her. It was likely he’d broken her cheek bone – Peter’s strength often got carried away with itself. He looked at the way her shoulder wasn’t in place – someone would have to reset that tonight.

Barnum shoved his thumb in Tony’s bullet hole and leaned over to speak to him, pretending to shush his cries.

“Parker’s right,” he said. “You’ll be much more fun to play with after we kill your bitch tomorrow.” Tony’s drew in a sharp breath and Pepper’s entire body stiffened. Peter didn’t mean to meet her eyes but he did anyway. “Enjoy your last night with her. Parker, you’ll get the honour of killing the famous Pepper Stark in the morning, got it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Come up with something better than pizazz or I’ll stick you on this table with her.”

Peter’s jaw tensed and he nodded once.

Barnum waved at the agents by the door. “Get them out of here. Someone sew up the wounds. I don’t want him bleeding out before he watches her die.”

Chapter Text

MAY 3rd

 

 

I love you so much.

 

Pepper’s shoulder was forced back into place and her scream matched the one already in Peter’s head.

 

Remember something.

 

Peter left as they sewed Tony Stark up on the table and waited in the hall, staring at the opposite wall and just trying to get a sense of quiet for a minute.

 

The golden memories. I know you have them.

 

The prisoners were marched past him on shaky legs, bags covering their faces. Peter didn’t follow them all the way back down to their cells, just took long, deep breaths and avoided Barnum’s gaze.

 

Hands.

 

Pepper’s hair.

 

Her laugh.

 

He hadn’t had a full night’s sleep in a long time, and now it was morning but he returned to his bunk anyway, stripping off the suit and bundling himself under the threadbare blanket. Tony Stark’s voice wouldn’t leave his head, like he’d crawled inside and was shouting until Peter could drill him out.

 

Hands. Hands. Hands.

 

Peter remembered them. They were always gentle, always a little calloused. They held him, held Peter’s hand, handed him toys and ran through his hair, scratching at a spot behind his ear. He saw them on the backs of his eyelids; saw the hands and their fingers flexing, saw the way they moved. They were building hands. Fixing hands. The hands of a mechanic.

Peter shoved his head beneath the blanket, eyes shut tight, but still, there they were.

And there was this:

 

Pepper’s laugh.

 

He didn’t know if it was hers but it fit that it might be. It sounded different to her screaming; the noise that was still echoing because deep in his core he felt sickened to have caused it. His knuckles were still red from slamming into her cheek. He still felt the sick crack and the pop as her shoulder was yanked out of place. Her scream mixing with a gunshot and a gunshot curling around Stark’s yell.

Then there was the sun-coloured hair. The golden tinged memories. And something else, just out of reach until he turned away and caught the colour; blue. Blue in that expansive way. Blue in that endless way. Blue like he’d never seen before – but he had, because he knew this blue, knew this shade and how it had stretched on for miles.

The ocean; the view from the cliff. He knew it was a cliff but he couldn’t pinpoint why, just like he knew the hands in his dreams were Tony Stark’s and his I love you so much was a desperate plea as much as a reminder.

Peter changed back into his suit when he shoved himself out of bed. What felt like two minutes had been two hours and he marched through the base like a man on a mission – and maybe that’s was this was. Maybe he had a mission he couldn’t define because this time tomorrow Pepper Stark was getting a bullet through her brain by Peter’s own hand and he didn’t want to be the one to do that.

 

Remember the Soup Incident and the sprinklers going off.

 

He couldn’t remember these things but he believed the words from Tony Stark’s mouth. If he said there were sprinklers then Peter believed in the sprinklers. He stopped at a corner suddenly, blinking back the sudden thought that he’d forgotten. That there were things he was supposed to know but didn’t – things that were taken from him and he could no longer locate.

They were there, though. Peter felt them. He felt them at the back of his mind, just out of reach, and he inhaled, sharp as a dagger when he thrust himself into the closest room – a maintenance cupboard with shelves of bleach and mops.

“What am I missing?” he breathed, words barely audible as he crouched. His heartbeat was erratic at the thought of missed time, of a life he’d lived but couldn’t remember. He repeated his words over and over until he caught hold of it; of the faint sense of reuniting with Jessica before the glass conference room, but not being able to remember it.

Jessica had powers now. Powers she’d gotten from Richard Parker. Richard Parker who was dead-

Who had told him that? How had he known?

Because Peter wouldn’t feel that man’s death like a kick in the gut. He wouldn’t know. He must’ve been told but the memory wasn’t there; it was just knowledge that filtered into his mind and stayed hidden until it was knocked.

Maybe he needed to knock the memories out. Maybe he needed to find the trigger and pull on it, and the memories would spring back into action.

 

I love you so much.

 

Tony Stark. Pepper Stark. Peter Stark.

He felt the bile rise and swallowed it, his feet scrambling against the ground until his back was pressed up against the door. Peter Stark. It had a ring to it he couldn’t pinpoint, and the name echoed around his head, joining Pepper’s screams, her laughter and the image of hands holding his-

“Be rational,” Peter hissed, the thoughts slamming to a halt. They peered at him from inside his mind, tilting their heads and quirking curious smiles. They acted like Jessica, these memories, and Peter shoved them away. “Be rational.”

Tony Stark was a public figure. If Peter Stark was him there would be coverage. The world would know of Peter Stark’s return.

Peter moved to his feet and slipped out of the cupboard like he hadn’t collapsed on the floor, like his heart wasn’t breaking the bones of his ribs as he strode down the halls. He swerved into the closest lab – they always had computers – and moved to the back of the room, noting the eyes on him as he went.

Okay, Parker. You don’t want anyone knowing what you’re doing.

He didn’t know why exactly, but he knew that was the case.

Peter spotted a tablet on the counter, deciding to aim for that rather than a desktop. His eyes darted around the room, formulating a plan with bits and pieces he could see. There were beakers sitting precariously close to the edge of a desk. He elbowed the table as he passed and they fell, smashing to the ground, the liquid inside them running out and mixing together, hissing and bubbling.

Peter kept his face neutral, stopping himself from smiling. He hadn’t realised the chemicals would react badly together, but it worked better than just broken glass. There was a call of shock, a yelp, and then a red button on the wall was hit.

“Alright! Let’s get out of here! That gas could be toxic to inhale, we’ll come back with the proper equipment to deal with it.”

Peter slipped out of the back door, sliding the tablet off the desk as he went, and didn’t look back.

Peter nodded to everyone who nodded at him and kept his eyes firmly ahead. At the edges of his being, there was the need for sleep, sinking into him. He’d only slept a few hours before Barnum had woken him up, and he’d only slept a few hours the night before. But Peter shook his head, looking to the tablet and swerving suddenly down the left-hand passage. He made a quick stop in a tech room, swiping one of the devices that broke past passwords, and continued walking like he hadn’t.

He was almost at the entrance to the vents when he hesitated.

Jessica knew to find him there, and well, he trusted her, but-

Parker and Drew against the world.

No. Maybe not this time. Not if he was missing time and she wasn’t telling him about it. Not if she knew where his memories had gone – had they reunited before the conference room? Why wasn’t she happier to see him? Why wasn’t she catching him up on the past two years of her life-

Peter moved to the wall to let a group of agents pass.

The past two years of her life. Of his life. He remembered her leaving like it was yesterday; the duffle bag slung over her shoulder, the Kevlar she hadn’t finished strapping, her hair pulled back when she only even wore it down.

He could remember a year going by. Not seeing her when she and Drew stopped by the base for an hour; getting caught in an interrogation he didn’t want to be doing anyway. And then-

Nothing. It was two years but he could only remember the first one.

How did he lose a year of his life?

 

Remember anything.

 

Tony Stark was still talking to him – the only one who wanted Peter to remember the things he couldn’t find.

Peter turned and slipped through the corridors until he found another cupboard, this time in the back of the gym, filled with broken punching bags and an old treadmill. He climbed over these things and settled himself at the back, between the wall and a pile of heavy duty rope.

He connected the password cracker to the tablet and watched them work together, the numbers spinning around until they were in the right order and the home screen appeared. Clearly, this tablet was used for surveillance over scientific projects more than anything else, but it had an internet connection and that’s what he needed.

Peter typed. Peter Stark.

Before clicking enter, he read the autocomplete options with a frown.

 

Peter Stark alive

Peter Stark dead

Peter Stark Stark Industries

Peter Stark Twitter

Peter Stark abduction

 

For all of a heartbeat, he remembered all the looks he’d been receiving, all the curious glances. Maybe it wasn’t about him being the child killer, assassin boy. Maybe it was because everyone in this godforsaken base knew who he was and they were all sworn to secrecy. Maybe they were all watching to see if he’d remember.

The first article that appeared made him swallow, and he skim-read it with wide eyes.

 

TONY, PEPPER AND PETER STARK M.I.A., PRESUMED DEAD

 

On the 18th of April, there was a confirmed HYDRA attack on the newly rebuilt Avengers Compound in Upstate New York. Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America, announced that the three Starks – who were only reunited in the past year after a decade apart, and made the announcement of Peter’s return less than a month previous – were taken. No staff members or other residents of the compound were injured during the attack, but there are reports of falling unconscious after the release of an unknown gas or toxin was released into the air.

In the official statement, Rogers said, “We will do everything in our power to bring them home,” but so far, no progress of finding their whereabouts has been reported…

 

Peter stared at the photo they’d printed with the article. He stared at it and he felt his ribs break and stab through his skin, felt them slice him up from the inside out, because he was staring at himself.

Because there he was – Peter Parker (Peter Stark) – in a bomber jacket and white t-shirt, standing by Pepper Stark’s side as she grinned at him. As Tony Stark, on her other side, laughed. As Peter smiled so widely, no one could doubt his happiness.

And Peter didn’t remember this moment. He didn’t remember the photo – which he searched all the way back to the press conference, announcing his return. He didn’t remember the interviews and the questions that he’d answered, the talk shows he’d been on and the magazines he’d spoken candidly to. He didn’t remember Twitter, either. Didn’t remember the t-shirt he was wearing in his first ever Tweet-

 

(That stupid t-shirt MJ made for you.)

 

@PeterStark: I didn’t realise the shirt was insensitive the other day. I wore it because it’s true.

@TonyStark: I told him this shouldn’t be his first Tweet, but he insisted he gets his brand clear right off the bat.

@PepperStark: @PeterStark I expect a t-shirt with ‘I AM PEPPER STARK’S SON’ next or you’re grounded.

@PeterStark: @PepperStark yes mom

 

He didn’t remember the shirt – I AM TONY STARK’S SON – though it felt hard to argue what it stood for in that moment. He didn’t remember any of it. But it was his. It was his life and his memories and-

Peter lurched forward, coughing out the vomit that rushed up his throat. It splattered across a punching bag and Peter slammed himself back into the wall, swallowing the next lot down and focusing on the solidness of the concrete. His breaths were all forced and laboured and he couldn’t stop thinking, couldn’t stop realising over and over-

He’d punched his Mom.

He’d dislocated his Mom’s shoulder.

He’d shot his Dad.

He was going to kill his Mom tomorrow.

 

No. No he fucking wasn’t.

 

-

 

Peter needed to work fast. He was on a deadline, and that deadline came in the form of a gun in his hand, the barrel pressed against his mother’s temple. No. No. It wasn’t going to go down like that. Peter only knew a few things about this situation – he only knew his vague memories from before HYDRA, that Pepper Stark’s screaming hadn’t left his head, and that there was a photo of him staring at his parents as if they were his whole world.

He didn’t need much more than that.

He’d spent his whole childhood dying for parents that would love him and want him. And he wasn’t giving up the shot to have that, not after-

 

I love you so much. I don’t want you to go through life with this on your shoulders.

 

Peter wasn’t going to walk around for the rest of his life having killed his parents, so the only option left was to save them. The idea of how came from the article he’d read. Steve Rogers. Captain America. The rest of the Avengers were out there, and they were looking for him. They’d found him once in the alps – The Winter Soldier and Falcon rushing him on that mountain – and all they’d needed was a few Tweets, claiming to see him.

Peter could probably do one better.

He spent the day learning the layout of the base, which he hadn’t dedicated much time to before. He walked the corridors again and again, figuring out the quickest routes from A to B and back again. He found the exits, the hanger, the sewage drain that was big enough to crawl through – though he wanted to avoid that one if possible. He watched from distances and learnt codes too; memorised the way the keypads beeped or the fingers moved until he had the lines of numbers stored in his mind, ready to use.

He avoided Barnum at all costs and stayed away from talks of missions and interrogations. He left the tablet in some room he passed and took the device back to the tech room. He moved from place to place, never staying anywhere particularly long.

Jessica found him eventually, but then, he’d known she would.

“Hey,” she greeted, catching him in a hall. “I haven’t seen you all day.”

Peter hummed. “Yeah I’ve been learning the base a little more. I keep getting lost, you know?”

Jessica nodded, and for a moment, her face was almost sympathetic. She placed a hand on his arm, light, like she didn’t really want to be doing it. “I know that was weird in the Stark interrogation this morning.” Peter bit back a remark along the lines of you call that an interrogation? “Stark’s been after his missing kid for years. He’d say anything to get you to stop, you know?”

Peter nodded. “Yeah, I know. It was strange but I’m trying to forget it.”

Jess pulled back her hand and Peter wondered how she could stand lying to someone she cared about. Or said she cared about. But he didn’t wonder for long because he had the answer: it was her way. She’d been lying since they met; she’d lied because she was trained to. About her family – died in a house fire, or maybe they were skinned alive for being terrorists – about the Starks – I wouldn’t know why they’re here. She had to know.

Peter couldn’t imagine HYDRA sending anyone else to pick them up.

“I saw Jackson with a bottle of bourbon, earlier,” she said, changing the subject. “If I can swipe it, you wanna share it tonight?”

Peter smiled and only half of it was real. “Yeah. Sure. If you can swipe it.”

Jessica’s face lit up with a smirk. “Oh ye of little faith. Just you watch. Ten PM, the vent, alright? Prepare to eat your words.”

She strode off down the hall and Peter turned back on himself, heading the way he’d come. She was a kid, wasn’t she? Like him? Like the cadets?

Or was Jessica a different breed to Peter? Were they cut from different cloths and no more alike that guns and lightbulbs-

Because Jessica could lie and Peter would never question it. He would never have questioned her denying knowledge of the Stark capture, not if he hadn’t been a Stark himself. As he walked, he remembered the gym, the man who winked and called her Spiderwoman.

Guess they think it sounds better than Scarlet Spider.

That was a lie, too, because the name Spiderman entered and exited his mind like a bullet. He couldn’t catch it, but he’d heard it. He’d heard the word, knew that it was for him.

Peter traced his route through the base once again.

 

-

 

It was getting dark when Peter made his move.

With all the silence, he’d had too much time to think. Too much time to ponder over the words that were shouted in agony and spat back from his very own mouth.

Pepper’s whispered Peter.

Tony’s pleading this isn’t who you are.

Peter’s bitter I’m not your son, asshole.

He thought about being left behind, unwanted – but he’d read the articles, scrolled through his very own Twitter, watched clips from the interviews. Peter had been so fucking wanted. Peter had been so fucking loved. Peter had been stolen. Peter had been taken. Peter wasn’t HYDRA’s property. Peter wasn’t the Black Spider.

He was the prodigal Stark son.

And he was going to go home.

 

-

 

@PeterStark: find me find me find me

 

-

 

He deleted the tabs from the search history, spared a glance for the broken camera in the surveillance room he sat in, and then manually shut down the cameras to every cell in the base. Then he left.

 

-

 

Peter fingered the mask in his hands, running through his lines.

He made it down to the lowest level of cells, where the three doors sat, heavily bolted. He knew which cell his parents were in – he’d watched them on the monitors before cutting the feeds. The hall was lit with the ugly yellow glow, and the single guard, semi-automatic in his hands, looked up at his arrival.

“You’re not supposed to be down here,” the guard said.

“Feed got cut to the Stark’s cell,” Peter replied. “Just check on them, would you?” The guard eyed him for a moment and Peter tipped his head back. “Fine. I’ll check on them. They’ve been shot, beaten and starved, dude, they’re not scary.”

“No- no, I’ll do it,” the guard said after a beat. “It’s my job.”

“Whatever,” Peter muttered, watching at the guard lifted the bar and clicked over the bolts. The door opened with a squeak, the light unfurling across the cell floor. Peter moved behind the guard as he peered in. The figures were on the bed and Peter caught an inch of Pepper’s face, looking up to the visitor.

“The camera looks fin-” Peter reached forward and swiftly snapped the guard’s neck. His body crumpled to the floor and Peter spared a single glance for the empty hallway before nudging him into the room with his foot.

“Time to go,” Peter said. “I cut the feed, they’ll notice soon and then we’re screwed.”

Peter.” This was Pepper, who climbed out of bed on unsteady legs and walked into the light, her hands quivering. Peter swallowed at the sight of her face; the left cheek an ugly purple – he’d almost definitely cracked the cheekbone by how it swelled. His teeth gritted so hard at the sight they hurt, and Peter let Pepper press a cold hand against his face.

For a moment he lost his words, eyes stuck on the bruise that he’d caused. He’d punched his Mom. He’d dislocated her shoulder. He was supposed to kill her tomorrow.

“I’m sorry,” Peter said, a barely audible whisper.

Pepper nodded, her hand on his cheek, the start of a smile pulling at her lips, tears welling in her eyes. “It’s okay, sweetie. It’s okay.”

Peter only let one tear fall before moving away, checking the coast was still clear. He swiped the offending tear off his face, tensing and avoiding Pepper’s eyes.

“We’ve got to go,” he said, as if he wasn’t ready to cry. God her shoulder was twice the size it was supposed to be. And in the corner, Tony was standing and Peter didn’t want to see the crosshatch cuts across his chest and the fucking bullet hole in his shoulder.

He’d shot the same shoulder on Tony that he’d dislocated on Pepper. He hated the symmetry of that.

“You remember,” Tony said, though his words were quiet and hoarse.

Peter paused and shook his head. “I don’t remember,” he replied. “But I believe you. I found the articles and photos and-” he let a harsh breath cut him off for a second, then shook his head to rid it. “We looked happy.”

“We were,” Pepper whispered.

“We will be,” Tony agreed.

“Then let’s go. I know the way out.”

It was Tony’s idea to wear the guard’s uniform, and it was probably for the best, because his shirt had been cut away by Barnum and his chest looked like a knife’s playground. Pepper didn’t have a uniform, but Peter decided they’d figure something out.

“You got an extraction plan?” Tony asked as they started up the steps. They were quiet with their footsteps, after locking the guard in their cell – Peter was listening out for others coming this way.

He held out his hand, palm down and shook it from side to side.

“Is that a no?”

“It’s a sort of. I Tweeted.”

“You Tweeted.”

Peter shrugged. “I used decryption software to break into my own Twitter, and I turned off the programme that masked the location. With the resources the Avengers have, they should find us easy.”

Peter raised a fist as they came to a corner and the three of them froze. Peter could hear the footsteps of the lone guard walking down the hall, and he waited until he was about to turn to move out and punch him.

It was a one punch knock out; the nose breaking under Peter’s knuckles, and he caught the body before it fell, dragging it back around the corner.

“Help her get into his clothes,” Peter whispered to Tony, and his parents started pulling off the Kevlar and shoes until Pepper could climb into them. Peter kept watch, kept an ear out, and desperately tried to ignore the thumping of his heart.

When Pepper had changed, Peter blew out a breath where he was crouched.

“It’s gonna be okay, kid,” Tony promised. “We’ve been in worse situations than this.”

“We have?”

“Yeah, like that building falling on us that you held up despite having been shot,” Pepper said.

“Or that time you stopped a moving bus with your bare hands,” Tony agreed.

“You killed three agents who were pointing guns at us.”

“Oh, and when Stark Tower was infiltrated you took out a whole room of bad guys without using your powers while your whole class watched.”

Peter blinked at them, then hissed, “I did what.

His parents – parents parents parents – cracked knowing grins at each other, somehow able to smile despite everything that was happening. Tony placed a hand on Peter’s shoulder.

“You’ve got this, Spiderman.”

Peter frowned for all of a second before standing. He hefted the unconscious agent’s body and carried him to the ceiling, using his webs to hold him up there before dropping down with barely a sound.

“Alright,” Peter whispered, and he saw Tony and Pepper’s faces steel over. “I don’t know what Spiderman is, exactly, but I know it’s me. But right now – for this… Spiderman’s not going to get us out of this. The Black Spider is.” Peter took a breath. “I’m about to kill a lot of people, and I know I will. I know it’s coming. So-”

“Peter,” Pepper said, low. “We love you. More than anything. Do what you have to do now, and we’ll sort through the aftermath together, okay?”

Peter nodded, looking down to the mask in his hands. He pulled it over his head and straightened. If this didn’t work, it wasn’t only Pepper dying in the morning. It was all of them, and their bodies would be thrown into an unmarked grave to rot away. Peter swallowed.

His parents were looking at him like he was their everything, like he was going to do the one thing he knew how to do, and he was going to do it well.

Peter Parker – Peter Stark – was going to fight his way out of this shit, and he was going to take Tony and Pepper with him.

“Let’s go home,” Peter said, and the escape began.

Chapter Text

MAY 3rd

 

 

They followed the route Peter knew was quickest, but it was only forty-five seconds after they left the lower levels of the base that the alarm sounded. Red flashing lights turned the hall into something muted, and Peter stopped in his tracks, pulling himself to the wall as a group of agents ran past. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Tony and Pepper duck to the side as well, their uncovered faces lowered, the semi-automatics clenched tightly in their hands.

The overhead system started up as the group of agents rounded the corner, out of sight. “Attention: Tony and Pepper Stark are not in their cell. They are loose in the building. I repeat: Tony and Pepper Stark are loose in the building. Shoot on sight.”

Peter shoved them into the closest room, locking the door behind them and sending his gaze free-wheeling around the empty lab.

“Shit,” Tony muttered.

“I thought we’d have a least another two minutes,” Peter replied, before moving to a button that lowered shutters down over the windows. A moment later, he was searching the rooms for cameras, and leapt onto the wall to dismantle the ones he saw.

“We’re alone in this, right?” Tony asked, watching Peter crawl across the ceiling.

For a moment, Peter thought about Jessica, but he quickly pushed her away. “Yeah. There’s no help inside these walls.”

Below him, Pepper and Tony moved about the room, their feet fast and loud. They collected hazmat suits from one wall and pulled them on without preamble over their uniforms; the tinted window in the face mask able to hide at least part of their identities.

“How far are we from the door?” Tony asked.

“Two floors,” Peter huffed, jumping down to the ground. “That’s the main door. There’s a secret exit on this floor but it’s more heavily guarded. Oh, and the sewers.”

“The sewers run through here?”

“Beneath. But they’re small – we’d have to crawl the whole way out, and I don’t know if they get smaller or not. I only checked out the first part.”

He saw the cogs turning in his parents’ minds and Peter started on looking through the chemicals around the room. He cleared off a desk in a hurry, laying them out in their beakers and tearing up a lab coat. Peter’s hands moved on autopilot and soon enough there were four makeshift chemical Molotov Cocktails sitting in front of him. They just had to be lit.

“Smart move,” Tony said, absent. “You got any idea what country we’re in?”

“Nope,” Peter replied. “Was kind of busy trying to find a way out, reconciling the idea that I have parents and then reconciling the idea that I’d tortured my parents. Had a lot on my mind, today.”

He didn’t look to see their reaction, just caught sight of the vent in the top corner of the room and went about climbing the lockers to get to it.

“Hey,” Peter said as he pulled the grate from the wall. “How did they capture you, anyway? Wouldn’t your compound be super, I don’t know, secure?”

“We thought it was,” Tony said, behind him. Peter dumped the grate on top of the lockers. It was a tight squeeze but he could probably make it through – he knew they opened out further down the line. But he’d be leaving Tony and Pepper on their own if he did that. His mind ran over the possibilities as Tony continued, “I think some of the staff we hired were HYDRA. FRIDAY was taken down and there was this gas released everywhere. I couldn’t even call a suit to me, and then I woke up in the cell. Pepper said you fought, uh, your friend?”

Peter looked down at him. Pepper was over by the makeshift bombs and Tony was watching him as if he might fall. Peter shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t remember. Do you think you can handle yourself for like thirty seconds while I check out the hall?”

Tony nodded. “Don’t take too long.”

Peter climbed into the vent as Tony turned to Pepper, and he had to push the thought of them out of his mind to keep going. It was a squeeze but he managed to shuffle through, finding the grate that led into the hall not long after. For now, it was empty, and Peter shut his eyes, remembering how the vents in this place ran everywhere, how he might be able to hear-

There. The sound of a voice through a radio only two rooms down. He couldn’t make out every word but he knew they were doing a top-to-bottom sweep of the base. Peter opened his eyes and shuffled backwards until he could pull himself out of the vent.

He dropped to the ground.

“That was more like a minute,” Tony said, and Peter shrugged.

“They’re doing a full sweep. We’ve got to find somewhere better to hide or we’ve got to stay on the move.”

Tony nodded, hefting his gun. Peter picked up the beakers, attaching them with webbing to his hips and grabbing a lighter as he went. The three of them stood by the door as he listened out, and then they moved out.

The progress was slow.

They had to jump into rooms and dart around corners to avoid being seen. Peter felt like they were just delaying the inevitable. He was going to kill everyone in this base and they all knew it. But for now, they pretended they were trying to escape without loss of life. They hid in cupboards and Peter blinked his comms offline after the sixth call.

In the stairwell, the fighting started.

They couldn’t avoid it, this time. There were six agents above and four agents running up below and there was gunfire everywhere. Pepper and Tony and HYDRA agents shooting one another and ducking out of the way last second. Peter fought hand-to-hand, kicking one agent over the railings and breaking the knee of the next. Eventually, they made it to a door without too much commotion behind it, and Peter lit the first cocktail, throwing it down into the fray and pulling his parents with him when it exploded.

They ran because what else was there to do. They ran, they shot, they fought. Peter lit up a lab and the windows exploded out, sending glass shards into the agents that were chasing them and knocking Peter to his feet just briefly. Pepper grabbed his arm and pulled him up, and then they were off again.

Peter’s danger sense was screaming in his ear, in his heart, in his spine. It was shaking and vibrating and crying all at once and he just wanted it to calm for a second – but bullets were flying past his ears, barely dodged, and the sixth sense was the only thing keeping him alive.

MOVE.

RUN.

JUMP.

GO.

GO.

GO.

He grabbed Pepper’s arm and pulled her when it told him to. He ignored her grunt of pain from that morning’s dislocation. He ignored Tony’s stitches reopening and so did Tony. They ignored a lot of things. They kept moving.

There was no other way.

Eventually, close to the exit but not nearly close enough, they found themselves surrounded. Peter couldn’t explain how it had occurred – but one minute the agents were behind them and the next they were in front, their guns raised, but not shooting.

Not shooting.

Shoot on sight.

What were they doing?

“I can’t say I’m surprised.”

Peter swore, turning and spotting Barnum, making his way through the rows of agents, all with their guns raised.

“Hypnosis really is a con.”

Peter scoffed. Through the mask’s eyes, Barnum looked enraged, like his blood was boiling beneath his skin.

“How many days did it take for me to break out of that, huh?” Peter asked. There were no bombs left on his body, no lighter. All he had was a handgun and an iron will to kill the son of a bitch that hurt his family. “Four days? God, HYDRA does so many stupid-ass things, but what always takes the cake for me is that you do this shit, and it always goes wrong. You sent me on a fucking mission and people recognised me, Barnum! The godforsaken Avengers showed up!”

Still, Barnum was smiling like he was both mad and amused, his hands on his semi-automatic, his shoulders relaxed. “The hypnosis treatment has worked before. You can attest to that. It seems that you still are what you’ve always been – too smart for your own good. Too soft, too. Too weak to shoot who I tell you to shoot and too naïve, questioning the shit we use to placate you. Parker, if you won’t be our assassin, you won’t be anything.”

Peter leaned back, tilting his head with a smirk. “Is that a threat?”

Barnum raised his gun. “You know it is.”

When Peter fought Barnum, he lived for it. He lived to finally punch this asshole in the face and finally see blood be spilt across the floor. No one raised their guns to shoot – not when Barnum held a hand for them not to. Not when Barnum wanted to kill Peter himself.

Barnum had trained Peter, had raised him, had put every bad thing that lived inside his body there. He’d whispered lies into his ears and thrown him into the ring even when he was bloodied and bruised. There was no mercy with Barnum, not with his training and not now, in the fight.

Peter had expected no less.

His gun was gone fast, but then he kicked Barnum’s away too and now it was the both of them with their fists raised. Peter took a few to the face – the ones his danger sense said, TAKE THEM AND FIGHT BACK. When he swung out his foot to knock Barnum’s legs out from under him, the agent dodged, and then it was a game.

It was a back-and-forth, cat-and-mouse kind of game. It was chasing each other with quick hits and fast feet and not landing. It was rolling away, moving to the floor, jumping on the wall and shoving himself back again.

The crowd watched in silence as crowds do when there’s too much on the line.

Pepper and Tony watched with their backs pressed together, their guns raised because as soon as this was over, one way or another, the bullets would begin flying.

Peter, for his part, couldn’t wait to kill Barnum, because he fucking deserved it.

He stole him from his home.

He raised him to be a monster.

He told his parents he was dead, then brought Peter in to torture them.

The asshole was going to die and Peter was going to live for it. He was going to remember how his face broke under his knuckles, he was going to savour the blood splatters and the last, heaving breaths.

Peter flipped over Barnum’s head, grabbing his face as he went and pulling him to the ground in a smooth arc. His skull cracked against the concrete and Peter wasted no time in climbing on him, in punching him until the knuckles of his suit turned red with blood, until Barnum’s face was unrecognisable, and his eyes were rolled back in his head.

Peter didn’t know if he was still alive, didn’t want to check and feel a pulse after all of that so he pulled himself off the agent, and picked up the discarded handgun, lost within the first few seconds of the bout.

He nodded once to his parents. Get ready. The crowd watched, silent. Were they frozen or were they just waiting for him to do it?

Peter didn’t care. They weren’t saving their boss, though, and he didn’t give a shit as to why.

“трахать тебя,” he spat. Fuck you. Peter unloaded the entire magazine into Barnum’s face, and then the riot started once more.

 

-

 

Later, when drilled about the circumstances of this fight, Peter wouldn’t know how to explain it. It didn’t fit into words. There was too much happening; too many bullets flying through the air to dodge them all (he was hit twice, once in the left arm, once scraping through the skin above his right hip), too many explosions sounding, too many shouts and cries and yelps and Peter was still trying to keep his parents alive.

The hallway, after the battle, was filled with corpses. The lucky ones were webbed to the ceiling or walls. Everyone else was a spill of blood or a snapped neck. They were a body, littering the floor. They were nothing but something Peter wouldn’t be able to put into words – because he couldn’t explain how he flipped through bullets, stole weapons and shot multiple targets at once. He couldn’t explain how he covered his parents like his life depended on it, how he ripped grenades from belt loops and threw them into the fray.

At the end of the fight, the door to the world was open – broken and busted like there had been an explosion, and three men stood in the door way, one holding a gun, another a circular shield and the third in a silver suit of armour.

“Found you,” War Machine said. Found me.

They were hustled out the door to the awaiting quinjet, but half way along, Peter stopped, watching Pepper be lifted onto the ramp and helped up. Tony noticed his absence and turned, ripping off his hazmat suit as he went.

“Kid, let’s go.”

“No,” Peter said.

Tony frowned but there was an edge to it. “They’ll come after us, Pete. They’ll kill us if we don’t go.”

“Then don’t wait for me.” Peter turned back to the base. The entrance was a hole in the ground in a clearing, dense forests on all sides.

“Peter!” Tony caught up with him despite however much blood was pouring out of his body. “Come on. We need to go.” Tony’s hand on Peter’s shoulder felt familiar in all the ways Peter didn’t know it could. He was glad for his mask, then, because it hid whatever pain fell across his features. Dad, Dad, Dad. He clenched his teeth and looked back to him.

“I’ve got to do this,” he said. “If I don’t, I’ll regret it.”

“Then I’m coming with you.”

“No, go help the others. Get on the quinjet and get out of here.”

Tony shook his head, and when he looked at Peter, he already knew what he was going to say.

“I’m not leaving you, kid. We’ll do this together and then we’ll go home, okay?”

Peter paused before nodding, and watched Tony throw his gun to the side and rip off the bulk of the Kevlar and equipment. Only a moment later did the Iron Man armour fly out of the quinjet and assemble around his body, red and gold locking into place, the faceplate sliding up last.

Peter tilted his head at the suit and knocked the chest piece twice with his knuckle.

“Red’s my favourite colour,” he said, then turned back to the door. Soon, agents would be pouring out of there. Peter couldn’t let that happen.

He heard Tony rattle off an explanation to the Avengers as they marched back towards the base, that they wouldn’t be long. After a second, there was a warning light in Peter’s display as Tony hacked into the comms, his voice appearing in his ear now.

“Care to tell me what we’re doing?” Tony asked.

Peter considered it for a moment. Considered telling him his plan and how it was likely to go, but instead he shrugged. “Nope. Let’s go.”

They stormed the base as if they hadn’t just escaped it, but Peter wasn’t filled with the same dread he faced when leaving. Now he was filled with something like determination. Pepper wasn’t in the firing line and Tony had his bulletproof armour. Peter was going to go in, get this done and get out.

And then he’d never look at HYDRA again.

“Hey, Tony,” Peter said as they climbed back through the rubble and destruction they’d wrought on the corridor. “You think you can track my suit?”

“I know I can track your suit,” Tony replied. “Why?”

“There’s another suit like this one. It should be linked to the same server – do you think you could find it?”

“I can’t even pretend to know your plan,” Tony muttered, but he addressed someone called FRIDAY and they kept going. Soon enough, they found small swarms of agents on the evacuation route. They took them down, one by one, and kept going, Peter fighting without a word. It had always been more fun to fight with jokes and quips – but Peter wasn’t sure he felt like it right now. This felt too serious for him to laugh at.

“Found it,” Tony said at last. “FRI’s plotting a course. Follow me.”

Peter gritted his teeth but followed anyway, stopping occasionally to kick out the legs of an agent and shoot them with their own gun. The Iron Man repulsors charged and shot again and again, throwing people through doors and lab windows.

“Much further?” Peter asked.

“Should be down the hall,” Tony said, continuing forward.

“Great, I need you to do something.”

Tony turned, his faceplate sliding up. “You need me to do something?”

“I need you to bring down the building.”

What?

“Destroy it. All of it. The best I can do is set it on fire unless I can get into the armoury and find the detonation devices and bombs and-” Peter huffed. “I don’t care how you do it. I need this place gone. Ashes.”

“Kid, everyone’s dead – the information this base holds on its servers-”

“Then download a copy of the hard drive first!” Peter interrupted, then took his voice back down to a hiss, glancing down the hall. “I need you to do this for me. I know this has been a shitty-ass day and I know I shot you like, this morning, so maybe there’s some bad feelings here that we need to work through, but I need this place gone.”

“Why, Peter?”

Peter huffed. He couldn’t explain it exactly, but he needed to put it into words somehow. “You see that room, over there?” Peter pointed down the hall, to the doors at the end of it, where the suit was said to lie behind. “That’s the room you were taken to this morning. That’s the room I shot you in. That’s where… That’s where bad things happened. I can’t have a place like that still existing. I can’t know that it’s still out here, not with what I did, not when-”

“Peter.” Tony rested his armoured hand on Peter’s shoulder, cutting him off. Peter’s voice had broken somewhere along the line, and now he had to steel himself again. He couldn’t go in there a wreck. He wouldn’t make it back out alive. “I’ll bring down the building, if that’s what you want. I’ll come get you before I do that, okay? I’m not burying you again.”

Peter nodded, tried to ignore the word again, because Tony Stark had thought his child was dead more than once and Peter didn’t have the heart to think about that right now. “God, I’m gonna need so much therapy after this.”

Tony scoffed. “Good thing I’m rich then, huh? Pretty sure we can afford it.”

Peter smiled for all of a second, then twitched his head to the side, hearing footsteps approaching from the way they’d already been.

“Incoming,” Peter said. “Can you hold them off?”

Tony smirked and his faceplate slipped back up. “Can I hold them off? Kid, I’m Iron Man. Of course I can hold them off.”

Peter turned to go down the hall but hesitated. “If I tell you to blow the place then you need to do it, okay? You need to just do it.”

“I’m not leaving you here, Peter.” Tony wasn’t looking at him, but Peter nodded anyway and started off down the hall.

“Fine.”

Peter took a deep breath before he entered the room but he didn’t hesitate. It looked exactly the same as that morning; metal table, viewing gallery on the wall, the counter of weapons and knives, the stained tiles underfoot.

Inside, however, there were three people. Two agents in all black and in the centre, sitting on the metal table, wiped down of Tony Stark’s blood, was Jessica, mask pulled up over her face. Scarlet Spider.

She hummed at the sight of him. “Figured you’d come,” she said.

He didn’t question how she knew. Jessica just always did.

Peter raised his empty hands as he stepped into the quiet of the room. “I’m not here to fight you.”

“I know,” Jess replied, light. “You’re here to turn me. To beg for me to come with you. To make me betray the people who raised us just like you did.”

“Yeah,” Peter said. “I am. So, please, Jess. Just come with me. We can sort everything out but I don’t want to leave you here. I don’t want to lose you to this.”

Jessica slipped off the table, the armed agents watching her for orders. They were cadets, most likely; people that Jessica could inspire awe and fear in with little effort. It was difficult for Peter to offer her this chance, because he knew what she was. He knew how she was. But above all the bad things she’d done, he cared about her and he couldn’t leave her behind. He couldn’t.

“You lost me a long time ago, Spidey,” Jess said, as if her pet name for him didn’t shoot ice through his veins. She turned, knowing he wouldn’t do anything with her back turned, and slipped a bottle from the table she’d been sat on. Peter swallowed at the sight of the bourbon.

Jessica twisted the cap off the bottle and pulled down her mask to take a swig. She winced but swallowed anyway.

“I was so happy when you came back,” she said. “Was so happy when I was told that we were going to bring you home, truly bring you back to us. The hypnosis – it works ninety-five percent of the time, you know? And you were the same person you used to be. Drew agreed to make us partners, you know. The two spider assassins. Drew and Parker against the world.”

“Parker and Drew,” Peter corrected, though the words came out strangled. Somewhere, in the hallway he’d come from, there was the sound of fighting, of guns.

“Right, right,” she smiled. “Age before beauty.”

Jessica’s smile was sad and Peter hated that, so he glared, yanking off his mask. He knew his cheek was bruised and swollen from his fight earlier, that his lip was cut and the blood congealed. Jessica tilted her head at the sight of him as he dropped the mask.

“Heard Barnum gave you a run for your money,” she said.

“Not really,” Peter replied. “The problem with teaching someone everything you know is that they know all your tricks.”

Jessica exhaled a smile. “I’m going to miss you, you know.”

“You don’t get to say that.”

“That I’m going to miss you?” She quirked an eyebrow.

“Yeah,” Peter replied. “You don’t get to miss me. You don’t get to act like this is out of your control, or that you’re sad that I’m leaving. Because this is on you, too. This place, Jess, HYDRA, is a cess pit and it breeds only the ugly in people. You all stood there so fucking amused as I beat the shit out of my own mother – do you not see what’s wrong with that?” Jess’ face closed off, but Peter kept going, the gunfire in his head now, not just behind his back. “Are you so obsessed with power and bloodshed that you let your insides become so ugly and cruel? You’re not the girl I used to know, Jess. For her, there was at least a shred of kindness. There was compassion in there. Empathy.” He took a breath, shaking his head. “I don’t even know you, do I?”

Peter caught sight of the muscles in Jessica’s jaw working and she took another swig of the bourbon before slamming it onto the table.

“You were just like me-”

“No, I wasn’t.”

Yes, Peter, you were. You and I were raised just the same. You killed as much as I did. You went on just as many missions. You didn’t have to abduct Saudi Arabian royalty but you volunteered. You weren’t even called on to assassinate the ambassador of Sweden in the alps, but you wanted to – you couldn’t stop talking about it for a week. You gave just as good as you got. You kicked people’s asses and looked so damn proud of yourself when you were done. You fucking love the fight, Peter. You love it. Maybe you were softer, maybe you were more hopeful, but you’re as much of a cold-blooded killer as the rest of us.”

An explosion went off in the hall and the doors rattled on their hinges. The two of them stared at each other, glared, not willing to be the first one to budge.

“You did this,” Jessica hissed. “You went with the Avengers and you let them change you. You let them take you apart and build you back up in their image. The Avengers stole who you used to be – stole my best friend and this Peter… I don’t even recognise you. So, let me tell you, Peter, when I say that I have no reservations about killing you, I mean it. Because you are not Peter Parker. You are not the Black Spider. You’re some traitor with a face I used to know. You’re Peter Stark and Peter Stark is – decidedly – not my friend.”

Jessica yanked the grenade off of the closest agent’s belt, throwing it in his direction and leaping over the table, pulling it down to shield her from the blast.

MOVE. Peter’s body moved before he told it to, leaping to the side and skidding across the tile as the grenade exploded behind him. Shards of tile flew through the air, cutting through the back of Peter’s suit, but he didn’t care. He climbed to his feet and sprinted, spinning in the air and kicking the gun out of the first agent’s hand; grabbing his neck in one hand, kicking the heel of his foot into the knee until it snapped. Peter slammed their head into the floor, the skull cracking and blood splattering.

He didn’t stop.

Peter dodged the flying bullets from the second agent’s gun, then shoved it up, hitting them in the face with the butt of his own gun. Peter yanked it out of his grip, shot the agent through the head and then turned to where Jessica was leaping out from behind the table – TURN – shooting and missing her all but in the calf.

Her landing was shoddy and she hissed at the spurt of blood.

Then they were in close-quarters, the gun knocked from his hands, their movements in sync like a dance they hadn’t rehearsed. Her right hook dodged and his left hook blocked. Knees knocked aside by forearms and flying fists slipped beneath. They were fighting fast and fighting dirty.

Jessica got the first upper hand, grabbing his left arm and hitting it so hard the bone cracked beneath her fist. Peter yelled, sending his knee into her side, his hand landing on the back of her head and sending her down, her forehead hitting the counter-

The fight was in short bursts, their breathing laboured beneath it all.

There was fighting in the background, fighting in the foreground, fighting inside Peter’s head and fighting between his ribs.

He broke her fingers and she bruised his bones.

There were explosions in the distance, there was rumbling and shaking and they separated when their spider senses yelled MOVE at the same time, a chunk of concrete ceiling falling where they had been.

Peter focused on breathing, wiping the blood from his eyes, and forcing himself onto his feet.

“Guess this place is going up,” Jessica huffed between breaths. Then they were flinging themselves at each other because neither were who they thought they were, neither were Peter or Jessica – they were monsters and beasts wrapped in skin and they didn’t know each other at all.

Jessica was the Scarlet Spider and Peter was a Stark.

And maybe Stark’s didn’t fight dirty, but Peter did. Jessica screamed when his thumbs found her eyes but he was soon on his back, holding her off for all he was worth, a knife in her hands pointed so clearly at his throat.

They rolled apart to make room for the falling concrete, for the ceiling, cracked and splintering and coming down on them, around them. This was their grave, Peter knew. This was where they would be buried, two spiders who didn’t know each other at all.

Their faces were bruised and bloody, their hair in disarray, suits sliced up and torn. At some point, Peter had pulled so hard on the mask that rested around her neck, it had choked her before tearing apart. At some point, Jessica had driven a knife so far into his leg that he could taste the metal in his mouth.

“We’re going to die here,” Peter said.

“I know. I know.”

Neither of them fought it. Neither of them moved, staring at each other across the room. They breathed, they choked on ash and dust and blood. They ignored the tears staining their cheeks.

Somewhere, in Peter’s mind, he was saying, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. He was saying, Mom, Dad, Mom, Dad, Mom, Dad. He was saying, find me, find me, find me.

Outside, he said nothing.

He just looked up as a detonation sounded and the ceiling came crashing down.

Chapter Text

MAY 3rd

 

 

There was more ash and dust and smoke in his lungs than there was air.

Each breath was a strain on his lungs and Peter couldn’t do it without choking, without aching and feeling a sharp pain in his chest, right beside his heart.

His left arm was shot through and broken, now caught beneath concrete, and his right was throbbing the whole way along the muscle. Peter coughed and the dust rose in clouds around him, almost orange in the light of the fires that flickered.

He couldn’t think many things in that moment, but he could think of one. I want my Dad. Peter locked his jaw, squeezing his eyes shut tight. He’d had that thought a thousand times over the years, never knowing who it pertained to, who this thought was calling out for. But he knew now. He knew it was aching for Tony Stark, and he was thankful for a lot of reasons, not least because Tony Stark had the Iron Man armour, and if anyone was going to save him, it would be Iron Man.

He opened his eyes with a gasp when another explosion sounded and the rubble that held him down shifted. He had to get out of here. He couldn’t wait on Tony Stark, couldn’t wait on Iron Man saving him. He had to save himself before he was crushed to death.

Peter forced back the cry of pain that threatened to erupt as he moved his arms into position. His left arm was screaming at him to stop, begging him not to use it – but Peter wasn’t going to pick himself up one-handed. So he pulled his left arm out from the concrete that pressed it down, and let the bulk of the weight fall into his right as he pushed the rubble from his chest.

Peter’s scream echoed through the base. It was torn, violent, and he couldn’t remember a time when such a noise came from him.

He screamed the whole way through because there was nothing but screaming to do when pain collapsed over his body, slicing at him and stabbing, eviscerating him from the inside out. He could feel the bones crying, could feel them move and the nerves light up, on fire.

Peter screamed swears and he screamed as if he were dying, because he might well be with the pain in his legs and the sticky, red blood that poured from his chest. The suit was torn and his skin was only visible through the drenching of his insides, crawling out of his body.

It was a long, drawn out process of pulling himself, piece by piece, out from underneath the concrete slabs of fallen ceiling. It was agonising and torturous, every shift eliciting another yelp and tear to fall from his eyes, squeezed tightly shut.

I want my Dad, I want my Dad, I want my Dad.

He wanted to be saved, but as he moved, Peter became incredibly aware of how unlikely it was. Peter wasn’t one to be saved by others, whether out of choice or not. Peter had always had to save himself.

When at last his body cleared the pile, he let the concrete drop, the echo of it hitting the ground low and booming, the dust billowing up, getting in his eyes and mouth. Peter coughed through it then laid back, resting his head on cracked tiles to remind himself how to breathe.

Maybe, if he still had his mask, the comms might still be up. Maybe he could talk to Tony – but he couldn’t and the mask was lost, like him, like Jessica-

Jessica.

Peter sat up, groaning as he went and then gasping at the pain from his chest. Blood ran in rivulets down his torso, and he watched it, enraptured in how it poured. The wound must’ve been deep to cause something like that, but Peter didn’t have the time to find out what was happening – he was awake, that was important. He was awake and at this moment, he had the chance to escape.

Peter fiddled with the webshooters on his wrists – neither were broken but neither were working as well as they should’ve been. He used the one from his right wrist to cover the wound, hissing at the stinging sensation of it. Maybe the webbing was acidic – hell, Peter didn’t know. He used it again on the bullet wound on his right arm, and then on the jagged slash across his legs. After that, he climbed to his feet, swallowing back the overwhelming pain and trying to focus on finding Jessica.

She wasn’t his friend anymore, she couldn’t be, but he couldn’t leave her down here.

Peter didn’t want to settle on the thought of their fight, on how she was going to kill him. Would he have killed her, if he’d have won? She was dangerous to leave alive, he knew that – but would he have gone through with it and killed her?

Peter didn’t know, didn’t want to know, and used his one good arm to climb over the concrete piles in the direction he thought she was last.

“Jessica?” he called, his voice hoarse and almost inaudible. Peter stopped to cough up a lung and spat out the blood. That was never good. “Jess?” he tried again, a little louder this time.

He climbed down the pile and started on the next one over, listening to the distant echoes of the base, crumbling in on itself. It wasn’t fully destroyed – maybe it was a measure against attackers. A self-destruct mechanism Peter hadn’t known about. Only, everything was still shifting and moving under the surface, while all the detonations had gone off. When he looked up, he could see all the way up to the top floor, to the cracked ceiling up there – if much more moved, he might be able to see the slithers of light from the outside world.

But where he was, everything was quiet. It was just the sound of his shuffling feet, his smothered gasps and his voice, calling Jessica’s name.

“Jess?” he called again. “Drew, come on. Please.”

“’s long ‘s you ask’d nicely,” a voice mumbled, and Peter wouldn’t have picked it up if it wasn’t for his hearing, despite the faint ringing that was taking its time to leave.

“Jess?” he asked, turning to the source of the sound. He had to clamber over a lot more of the wreckage before he found her, trapped beneath a mountain of concrete, lying on her front. Her head rested on her hand, eyes barely opening, as another hand stretched out far ahead of her, bloodied and cut open, her broken fingers mangled.

Peter collapsed in front of her on his knees, holding his bad arm to his chest. “Jess,” he murmured. “Stay awake.”

She hummed, her eyes flickering open. “No can do, Spidey.”

Peter brushed the hair from her face, noticing the cuts and slices along her forehead. They dripped blood down her cheeks, and Peter took a moment to wipe the red from her eyes.

“You win,” she said.

“I don’t wanna win like this.”

“Too bad.”

Her breath rattled, like there was something shaking inside her lungs. Peter shifted closer to the concrete.

“I’m gonna get you out,” he said, as loud as his voice would allow. “When I lift, you gotta- you gotta move.”

She hummed the negative. “Leave, Peter. Go.”

“I’m not leaving you.”

“You were always too soft for this.” The words came out slow, between gasping breaths and Peter frowned, trying to get leverage. As he pulled, Jess’ mouth only opened for a faint scream and he stopped, collapsing back down again. Peter didn’t have it in him to lift the concrete from her. He shifted to look underneath it, and swallowed at the sight of the metal pole, piercing through Jessica’s lower back and pinning her to the floor.

Peter didn’t even have enough energy to vomit properly, so he spit out the offending puke and bile, before laying down on his back, trying to slow his breathing. His heart was beating too fast, like it was over compensating for the blood that had already poured out of him.

“We’re gonna die here,” Peter mumbled.

Jessica hummed. “Sho-shoul’ve drun’ the bourbon with me instead.”

Peter frowned, staring up at the ceiling, all the way up. He could hear the shifting of the rubble and concrete, survivors maybe trying to escape their deaths.

“You’re so negative,” Peter whispered.

“’n you kill’d us all.”

Peter blew out a long breath that ached in his chest, shutting his eyes. They were going to die down here – or, at least, Jessica was. And Peter had no aim to get up and leave her, no matter what she’d say to push him away. Maybe it was some foolish kind of loyalty to someone who wasn’t loyal to him. Maybe it was just because he’d spent eight years of his life, trusting her with all he had. Maybe it was just because no one deserved to die alone.

He listened as Jessica choked on her own blood, hacking it up onto the cracked tiles in front of her. Peter rolled his head to the side, opening his eyes to watch her.

“Don’ look at me like tha’,” she muttered. “Jus’ go, Pe’er, jus’ go.”

He let out a ragged breath. “I’m staying.”

“We’re no’ bes’ frien’s, you know. No’ anymore.”

“I know. We’re just strangers now, Jess.”

She hummed a positive, her head minutely nodding against her hand. “S’rangers. You go’ a new bes’ frien’ anyway.”

He raised his eyebrows. “I do?”

“Mm. Ne’. Ned.”

“I don’t remember him. Is he nice?”

“Naïve,” she replied, her voice a whisper. “Sof’.” Peter figured that meant he was and tilted his head away. The rumbling of moving rubble was getting louder and closer, and Peter stared up at the ruins of the base as, finally, he caught sight of the moving concrete. From it, the red and gold armour of Iron Man flew into the hole above him, the suit looking scratched and damaged, but still functional.

Iron Man looked around before spotting them and flying down to meet him.

“Peter, Pete.” The faceplate shot up, revealing the bruised and bloodied face of Tony Stark, who knelt down beside Peter’s prone body, lifting him up and cradling him in his arms. “Shit, kid.” Peter hummed. “You’re gonna be okay. We’ll get you help, okay? We’re gonna go.”

“No, no,” Peter protested, frowning and struggling against Tony’s arms.

“What?”

“Jess,” he said, tipping his head back. Jessica’s eyelids were flickering again, like she was struggling to keep them open. “I’m waiting.”

“Until what?” Tony asked, letting Peter shift in his arms so he was holding him up, supporting him, rather than carrying him from the ground. Peter turned to watch her.

“She’s not dying alone,” Peter said, a slur beginning to find its way into his voice. He heard Tony’s long exhale, but he didn’t protest.

It was a struggle, but Peter reached out his one good hand and grabbed onto Jessica’s outstretched one, careful of her broken fingers. She blinked her eyes open, confused, then frowned at their joint hands.

“So sof’,” she murmured.

“That’s not a bad thing,” Peter replied.

Jessica didn’t speak again, just tipped her head to the side to meet his eyes. They stared at each other, listening to her strangled breaths and hisses of pain. The webbing across Peter’s chest was slowly growing darker as it failed to hold back all the blood, but he ignored it, ignored Tony’s concerned looks and quiet murmuring along his comms. They just waited in the quiet.

“Woul’ you jus’ en’ it?” Jessica asked at last. “I’ hur’s.”

Peter gritted his teeth for all of a moment before blowing out a breath. Jessica Drew asking for a mercy killing was the last thing he’d ever expected to see. She met his eyes though, her chin dripping with the blood that must’ve been slowly filling her lungs. He knew she meant it. He knew she’d never say it unless it was what she wanted. He also knew that in that moment, she must’ve let go of whatever resentment she was harbouring against him, because if she didn’t her pride would never have let her ask for him to kill her.

“Are you sure?” Peter murmured.

Jessica didn’t move at first, then nodded barely. He watched the first tear slip down her cheek, dripping onto the dust-covered tiles below her.

“Alright,” Peter replied. “Alright.”

Everything about the moment was quiet, from how he turned to Tony who was holding him up and used his shoulder as leverage to stand. From how Peter shuffled through the rubble, to the knife that was left, strewn on the floor. From how he knelt next to Jessica’s dying body, carding the hair from her face and meeting her eyes one last time. To when she closed them, resigned, and Peter balanced the blade by the side of her head, right over the place he knew would kill her quickest.

When it happened, her body shuddered, once, then fell still.

And Peter’s tears mingled with her blood, and Tony gently picked him up off the floor, careful of his wounds and injuries, and they flew up and out of the base, into the darkness of the night.

 

-

 

Peter was in and out of consciousness on the ride back home. The pain was gone, though. The pain was a memory he didn’t like having. It was familiar, always tapping him on the back but never visiting.

At one point, when he opened his eyes, he saw his mother’s bruised face above his, sweeping his hair off his forehead and smiling as gently as she could.

It felt wrong to know she was his mother without any memory of her being so. It felt wrong to already be so attached to her when he didn’t have the right, didn’t have the context of who they were to each other. It felt wrong to whimper the word Mom and have her shush him quiet, her hands gentle in his hair, on his face, her smile peaceful as if they hadn’t fought a thousand bloody battles to get here.

Another time, when he woke up, he saw Tony above him, his father, and asked in the quietest of whispers, “I don’t have to go to school tomorrow, right?”

His father’s laugh was one of the best sounds he’d ever heard, and it was loud and bright through the silence of the quinjet. It pierced through the heaviness and made Peter’s lips curl up into a smile before he fell back into his slumber.

The last time he woke up, there was no feeling in his body and a faint murmur around his head. His eyes blinked open and he saw a woman he recognised but couldn’t put a name to, standing over him. Her shirt was bloodied – Peter’s blood? – and she rubbed at her eyes before pulling her hair down from the mess she’d pinned it up into. Peter couldn’t make out the words, not until his eyes were shut once more, and he was slipping away again.

Only then did he think Helen Cho and only then could he work out what extensive damage… he might not make it could possibly mean.

 

-

 

For a long time after that, he floated and ceased to exist. He wasn’t anywhere, sometimes. Wasn’t aware or conscious, just out like a light and resurfacing sometime after, not knowing how long it had been and barely able to think in coherent sentences.

His time inside a void he created was nebulous and confusing. It was peaceful, though. It was calm.

And then sometimes it was the opposite. It was a whirlwind of emotions and memories thrown back in his face and barely able to be caught.

Here: Jessica on the ground, the pole through her body, eyes shutting for the last time. Drew and Parker against the world. Parker and Drew. You’re right, age before beauty.

There: his mother crumbling under his fist, turning to ash before his eyes.

Here: his father pleading with him to remember on a loop that never ended. It swallowed Peter then spat him out and still it continued. Remember anything. You are my fucking son! Remember. Please.

There: a firefly he once caught in his hands, so small, so bright. He folded his hands around the bug, amazed at how the light glowed. Then, hands cupped around his, twice the size and a hundred times more calloused. Let it go, Petey. Watch it fly.

 

Here: a firefly, fluttering up and away into an endless night sky, the large hands still cupping his.

 

There: the beach and an endless ocean he couldn’t remember the smell of.

 

Here: a scream that belonged to Pepper Stark but he couldn’t comprehend why.

 

There: a hand enclosed around his, the shortest kiss in history, a pact to never do it again.

 

Here: I love you so much.

 

There: rum burning his throat, laughter making his lungs burst.

 

 

Here: a glass box. A single chair on the other side and a woman, sitting there with a tilted head and a kind smile. I had a son named Peter.

 

 

There: a man and a woman dressed to the nines, kissing in a tiny, yellow-lit kitchen.

 

 

Here: tendrils of red energy at the edges of his being, willing him to be pulled from the darkness, but just too far from his reach.

 

 

There: This is Cadet Drew. Parker, show her the ropes.

 

 

Here: I’ve got your back, Parker.

 

 

There: Always, Drew.

 

 

Here: a friend or an enemy or someone he once knew snapping his arm like a twig and calling for his death.

 

 

There: a warm kiss pressed against his forehead.

 

 

Here: You’re good. You’re so good.

 

 

There: You are more than they ever made you to be.

 

 

MAY 18th

 

 

Peter awoke with a gasp.

The hand he registered to be clamped around his right squeezed suddenly. There was the sound of a chair scraping back, a face appearing above his own. A bright smile. A beard that had not be shaven in a while. Hair that hadn’t been washed in a few days.

“Peter?”

 

 

MAY 19th

 

 

He was awake properly this time and listened as Dr Cho listed through his injuries. The jagged cuts across his legs from the concrete that fell on him, the broken arm, torn muscle, bullet holes, stab wounds. Then the big one: the hole in the centre of his chest where a slab of metal had pierced into him during the collapse of the building. (The building Tony didn’t need to blow to kingdom come because HYDRA did it for him.)

The slab of metal that his enhanced healing had tried to keep inside him and grow around, only to be torn apart again upon removal. The slab of metal that had splintered inside him, that had taken four surgeries to fully remove and fix the damage for. The slab of metal, broken into piece of shrapnel, that caused carnage inside his chest, that Tony Stark had been forced to build a miniature arc reactor for, to keep the pieces from moving inside his body.

Peter was silent throughout the explanation, throughout the story of getting an arc reactor on day two of being unconscious and having it removed on day nine. Of his coma, not medically induced but something he fell into himself and couldn’t be pulled from, not even when Wanda tried to slip into his mind and find a way to grip onto him and bring him back to the surface.

Of fifteen days of silent sleep, buried in his memories and hidden in the void.

When Cho left, Peter let the first of his stubborn tears slip out at last. Pepper and Tony, on either side of him, let him cry and held his hands as he did – but Peter wasn’t sure what he was crying for anymore.

Lost time, lost memories, lost friends. The list kept going on and Peter couldn’t count all the shit he’d been through, couldn’t devote enough time to each individual thing without becoming a wreck twenty-four-seven. So he cried until his mother slipped onto the bed beside him and pulled him into a warm embrace, and when he finally quietened, he fell back asleep and hoped that when he woke up, things would be better.

 

 

MAY 20th

 

 

“Your face,” Peter murmured upon waking.

Pepper frowned, looking over. “Do I have something on it?” she asked, moving her fingertips to her good cheek as Peter pulling himself out of his sleep. He was always a slow riser, like he was just edging on consciousness and took the time to bring himself back to the real world.

“It’s not purple anymore,” Peter replied.

Pepper’s frown morphed into a soft smile and she nodded. There was still a faint bruise across her cheek, but she didn’t seem like she was in any pain. Peter’s eyes moved to her shoulder and found no issue with it.

“My shoulder’s just fine,” Pepper promised. “I had a cracked cheekbone but it’s healing up great. Cho says there won’t even be a bruise this time next week.” Her voice was quiet and Peter was thankful for it. He didn’t want to loudly hear about the pain he’d caused her.

“What about Dad?” Peter asked.

Pepper’s eyes lit up for a second before she replied. “He’s okay. There’ll be some scarring from the cuts and the bullet, but he’s healing just fine. Doing his physio for his shoulder everyday like he was told to.”

“Did he get hurt when the building fell?”

Pepper shook her head. “The suit protected him.” She moved forward and brushed her fingers through his hair, and he melted into the touch without meaning to. He didn’t feel much like himself, or at least, the self he knew. He felt like he was too many things at once, but rather than struggling against them all, they were all waiting on the side lines for him to think about later. “And you’re going to be fine. Your enhanced healing has been working on the bigger things first, like your chest and the nerve damage in your legs, but Cho’s confident you’re going to be up and about in no time at all.”

Peter nodded, his eyes moving carefully around the room. It was clearly a hospital room, but there was no bustle of people and patients. Instead, everything was perfectly quiet – even the heart monitor on mute. The room was sterile and white, and through the door there was a hallway, the shadows of people could be seen through the windows.

“I know it’s difficult, sweetie, but do you remember anything?”

Peter shrugged as well as he could in the bed. “I don’t know, it’s a mess.”

“That’s alright,” Pepper replied. “When you’re awake a little more, Wanda’s going to try and help you like she did before. Do you remember her pulling out some of your childhood memories?”

Peter strained for the scene and found the feeling of Wanda’s red, curling energy. He swallowed. “There was a barbeque on the beach once. With Uncle Rhodey.”

Pepper’s face broke into a smile and she nodded. “Yeah, that’s something Wanda brought back for you. Uncle Rhodey was the one who found you.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, sweetie. He saw the message you put online and he traced it all the way back to you. Led the team, found the base.”

Peter smiled. He had the faintest idea of Rhodey searching for him before but never finding him. Peter closed his eyes. “Rhodey found me,” he said. “Can you tell him thank you?”

 

 

MAY 21st

 

 

He read the article that was published the day after Jessica died.

 

 

STARKS FOUND: PETER IN CRITICAL CONDITION

 

 

Fifteen days after the Stark family – Tony, Pepper and newly returned Peter – were abducted from their home in the Avengers Compound in Upstate New York, we have received confirmation that the trio has been found and brought home.

The past two weeks have been tense for all involved as the Avengers led a series of missions and attacks against various HYDRA-run warehouses and bases across the world, hoping to find the missing family. On the 3rd of March, however, a single Tweet was posted to Peter Stark’s very own Twitter account, saying “find me find me find me”. Believing this to be a call for help from Peter Stark himself, the Avengers used the Tweet to find the family and bring them home.

The mission was led by the US military’s own Colonel James Rhodes, who, we have heard, has been offered – and declined – a medal to honour his service during this time. In the press conference in which the Starks were announced safe and returned, Col. Rhodes said, “I appreciate the offer, of course, but I didn’t do this out of a sense of duty to my country or its people. Rather, I did this out of duty to Peter, who I failed to find when he was taken at a young age. I’m never going to fail that kid again.”

It was also announced during the press conference that the youngest Stark, Peter, sustained critical injuries during the escape from HYDRA. While all three Starks were injured (it is rumoured that Tony Stark was shot and an insider allegedly saw Pepper Stark’s face covered in blood and bruises), it seems that Peter Stark is worse off, having been rushed into emergency surgery after returning from the HYDRA base he was kept at in an uninhabited part of Brazil. It is unknown whether the youngest Stark will survive, on account of his injuries, but Col. Rhodes is hopeful.

 

-

 

When Bucky visited him, they didn’t say much, just sat quietly in each other’s presence, knowing that words wouldn’t be able to fix what had happened. Before he left, Bucky slipped a book into Peter’s hands. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy.

“You’ve read it before,” Bucky said, quiet. “But I thought you might like something light-hearted.”

When Nat and Clint visited, they played cards on the bed, Natasha speaking in fast, almost incomprehensible Russian to explain to Peter about the alliance they were forming against Clint, who was laughing the whole time, complaining about how obvious they were when they cheated.

Sam and Steve often visited together with soothing voices, never prying. Sam knew how to listen and Steve knew how to ask the right questions, and when Steve said goodbye and Peter said, “See you later, Mr Good and Righteous,” all three of them froze and Steve laughed so hard Peter thought he might cry. “It’s just Steve,” he replied eventually, when the laughter subsided. “Mr Good and Righteous is my father.”

When Rhodey visited, they talked about anything and everything. Peter’s favourite conversations were the ones when Rhodey recounted stories about Tony and Pepper from before he was born; telling Peter of what Tony was like at MIT and his disastrous first, second and third dates with Pepper until he was laughing so hard his chest hurt.

Wanda and Vision came to visit him, and Vision occasionally tried to tell jokes (Wanda had been trying to teach him some), and Wanda would sit behind him on the bed, letting Peter relax against her as she searched through his mind to pick out bits and pieces of the life he couldn’t fully remember.

It came back, slowly, when she did. Like they were on the periphery and he’d have to lunge for them. But the memories were there and they were becoming more tangible by the hour. Ned. MJ. Flash. School. Then there was the Soup Incident, the indoor rain. Pride and Prejudice and hustling New York with Sam Wilson and Jessica Jones.

Pepper and Tony came back first when Wanda went searching, because they were what Peter was straining for. He’d spent his whole life looking for a family and it was just a matter of finding it in his mind. When Pepper in her work attire – dresses, blazers, heels – came back to him, he grinned. Then there was Tony in an AC/DC t-shirt, grease covering his hands. An engine they built together. An engine Peter built alone.

The memories fumbled back through his mind and Peter loved picking them up in the silence of an empty room and examining them for the first time. There was Ned at his computer, fixing a tracker, and there was MJ with her nose stuck in a book. There was track club and running until Peter’s lungs hurt, and there was Spiderman, who Peter used to be and might one day become again, swinging through Queens.

The feeling of home came back last, as Peter thought it might. A not so foreign concept when it was all around him. A concept he knew intimately, somehow. A concept that he took with him, wherever he went. You’re going to have a lot of homes in your life, Pepper had said in the bedroom of a safe house that was no longer as safe as it used to be. The trick is learning how to carry them with you, even when you’re apart.

 

 

MAY 23rd

 

 

Peter started walking again and didn’t pretend that he didn’t see Pepper crying, and instead walked straight over to her and pulled her into a hug that she didn’t hesitate to respond to.

 

 

MAY 24th

 

 

“What about school?” Peter asked.

“What about school?” Tony replied. They were in Tony’s favourite lab, because despite having three of them to himself, he had a favourite. Peter’s arm was still in a cast as his body focused at last on speeding the healing of the gunshot wound. The mark in his chest, where he’d been pierced through and an arc reactor had sat for a week, was still present and scarred. Peter had a feeling it was here to stay, a vivid reminder of who he used to be.

“I missed so much,” Peter replied. “And exams – it’s my senior year, or well, my only year. Exams have already started and I’m missing them! What about college?”

“You didn’t apply to any colleges,” Tony replied, mild. “You were still getting used to not being HYDRA, remember? Gap year and all that.” Peter frowned. He didn’t remember that, actually; sometimes the holes in his memories were more present than he’d like.

Tony looked up from whatever he was tinkering with and smiled, soft. “Hey, kid, don’t worry about it. The school knows why you weren’t around – hell, the whole world does – so we’ll sort it out. Either you do the exams during the summer, or you can do them next year with the year below. Until then, you’re focusing on healing, alright?”

Peter smiled. “Yeah, yeah, alright.”

 

 

MAY 25th

 

 

Peter woke with a scream, catapulted out of a nightmare.

It was only a moment later that the door to his bedroom opened and his parents rushed into the room, shutting it behind them. Enveloped in darkness, they climbed into bed on either side of him, hands gently running down his spine as Peter fought back the harsh breaths and screaming headache of a panic attack.

“I- I did it,” Peter muttered.

“You don’t have to talk about it,” Tony whispered, and Peter leaned over, pressing his head into his father’s good shoulder. “It’s alright.”

“It’s not alright,” Peter replied. He was forcing back tears – he’d never cried so much in his life than the past year. Pepper always told him that it wasn’t a bad thing. “I shot you.”

Only for a moment did Tony tense, then Pepper’s hands were carding through Peter’s hair and Peter was held in an embrace in between the two. It was the only dream he’d had since waking from the coma.

Pepper’s throat in his hands. Her body, crumpling as he punched her. Her shoulder dislocating as his foot on her chest shoved her down. Then Tony, bloodied with crosshatch cuts, being shot as he pleaded with Peter. Begged.

“I’m fine now,” Tony whispered. “I’m okay. Pepper’s okay. We’re fine. No lasting damage.”

“I did it.”

“We forgive you.”

“You shouldn’t.”

“Yes, honey,” Pepper replied. “We should. But we’ll tell you every day for the rest of your life if you need to hear it. We forgave you the moment you did it. It’s okay. We’re okay. We love you and we know this is hard on you.”

“I hurt you.”

“We’re not afraid of you.”

And like every night since Peter woke up from the coma, his parents stayed there with him long after he fell asleep.

 

 

MAY 26th

 

 

“You saved me,” Peter said in a sing-song voice, appearing behind Rhodey on the sofa. Rhodey rolled his eyes and looked to where Peter was draped over the back of the sofa, particularly close to falling forward.

“The way I remember it, you saved yourself and your parents and then went back inside to get beaten up again.”

Peter smiled then stopped, despite Rhodey’s teasing tone. “I was gonna save her,” he said, quiet. “I was gonna save her and bring her back here, like you guys did with me.”

“I know, kid,” Rhodey replied, just as quiet. “But things don’t always go to plan. She made up her mind and you made up yours.”

“She wanted to kill me.”

“I know.”

“If you hadn’t come to get us, I would’ve died when the building exploded. Tony wouldn’t have had the Iron Man armour. We would’ve been stuck in a forest in Brazil. You found me, Rhodey.”

Rhodey smiled, then pulled on Peter’s good arm until he yelped, falling over the back of the sofa and onto the cushions. Peter frowned up at him.

“I take it back. You’re a traitor.”

The two of them laughed. Everything felt good.

 

 

MAY 27th

 

 

“I was joking about therapy,” Peter said as he approached the office in the compound that Tony had set up for an in-house therapist. They didn’t have one just yet, but Tony’s therapist, who knew about everything Peter had gone through anyway and had been sworn to secrecy, was willing to work in the compound when she was needed.

“I wasn’t,” Tony said. “It helped Pepper and I a lot. Marriage counselling and then individual weekly therapy sessions. You’ve been through a lot, Pete. Sometimes it just helps to have someone who will sit and listen.”

The compound had gone under a major purge of staff. Everyone had been vetted four times over, FRIDAY’s systems had been entirely overhauled and security tightened. The fact that HYDRA had sneaked up on the place twice was one of the Avengers’ biggest concerns of the moment; especially as Jessica had walked straight through the compound and entered the Iron Suite.

The fact that Tony’s therapist was able to enter the compound at all was interesting to Peter, but he figured it was probably because he wasn’t allowed outside yet. The world wasn’t to see him until the press conference and they wanted him healed better before going into the city.

(He’d been given his phone back a few days after waking up. He’d replied to the panicked texts from his friends and told them all he was okay, even if he didn’t always feel like it; even if, at the time, he wasn’t able to walk again yet. Even Flash had sounded worried about him, had called him (briefly, maybe so there wouldn’t be any screenshottable evidence of him caring) to wish him good luck on recovery. Ned and MJ had both reamed him out separately, then together on a conference call, and then in text form for worrying them.)

Tony patted him on the back and Peter entered the office, where a short woman with a comforting smile greeted him. They talked about easy things first, like how he was settling back into the compound, if he felt safe, what was worrying him, and Peter had to admit that it felt nice to talk to someone whose job it was to listen.

So eventually, when their hour was nearly over, Peter said, “I killed Jessica.”

The therapist, Dr Baker nodded, unsurprised. He’d already told her about Jessica, but now she placed down the pad and pen she’d barely used, to give him more attention. “Why?”

“Because she asked me to.”

“Was she in pain?”

Peter nodded. “She was dying. I think it would’ve taken a long time for her to bleed out. She didn’t want to hurt anymore.”

“Do you regret your actions?”

Peter hesitated, then shook his head.

“Why not?”

“Because she would’ve hurt so much more if I’d let her die on her own. I don’t – I didn’t owe her anything, you know? But she was in pain. She was hurting.”

“You cared about her.”

“She betrayed me.”

“Still,” Dr Baker said. “You cared about her.”

Peter nodded. “I cared about her even when she was trying to kill me.”

“Unfortunately, that’s sometimes the way,” Dr Baker replied. “Sometimes, we care about people who only want to hurt us. We care about people who don’t care about us. The only thing we can do then, Peter, is find it within ourselves to move on. To leave Jessica behind you and push forward.”

“She was my best friend for eight years.”

“And yet, when it really mattered, she called you a traitor and decided she wanted you dead.”

 

 

MAY 28th

 

 

@TheDailyBugle: Two months after the announcement of Peter Stark’s return, the Starks are holding another press conference to discuss the abduction of the family.

 

@PepperStark: Press conference. Today. 11am.

 

 

Peter stared at the outfit Tony had pressed into his hands. He vaguely recalled doing this two months earlier to the day. There wasn’t a bomber jacket this time, though, just a t-shirt. And the jeans were dark blue rather than black, and he let him wear the converse Peter had practically torn holes in, only to patch up with duct tape.

“If they think we’re mistreating you, though, that’s on you,” he’d said before leaving the room.

Now, they waited for the press to settle down, so they could walk out on the stage. Peter was still sporting his cast on his left arm, bright red and signed by all the Avengers, his bullet wound freshly healed, skin practically unmarred. His legs had stopped aching, though sometimes they would after physio or standing too long, but Dr Cho had assured him that his accelerated healing was working on it. The scar down the centre of his chest still remained, white in colour and looking years old, rather than weeks.

Pepper’s face looked almost back to normal, even if there was a slight discolouration she’d covered with makeup, and no one would even know Tony had been hurt. They stuck close together as they waited, Pepper’s hand in Peter’s.

“Remember, you don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to,” Tony told him. “If you want to answer a question, that’s fine, but if not, we’ll do all the talking.”

When the doors opened and they approached the podium, centre stage, the reporters were already talking a mile a minute, shouting to be heard over each other. This time, Peter stood in the centre, and Tony quietened the crowd so he could read his prepared card.

“Thank you for coming today,” he began, one hand on Peter’s back. “We’ll be taking a few questions, but first I would like to publicly thank the Avengers, and my best friend Colonel Rhodes for saving our lives, as well as anyone else who had anything to do with the extraction and escape on the third of May. We understand that you have a lot of questions, but many things about the time being a HYDRA captive are confidential, under SHIELD’s orders.”

When Tony stopped, the reporters started up and he gestured to a man in the front row.

“All three of you sustained injuries during your time away. How did they come about?”

Peter glanced between his parents before Pepper spoke. “Tony and I’s injuries largely came from the HYDRA agents, themselves. We were malnourished during our time away, and, um-” she looked to Tony, who blew out a breath.

“I don’t want to use the word torture,” Tony supplied, “but we were definitely injured during our time there.”

“And what about Peter?” the reporter asked.

“Peter’s injuries were sustained during the escape.”

“How did you escape?” someone else called out only a moment later.

“Peter saved us,” Tony replied. “He did all the heavy lifting on this one.”

A few more questions and answers were fired and Peter stood there, watching it all. When a question was brought up about the sightings of Peter Stark in the alps, Tony said, “I can confirm that Peter was not in the alps during his time in captivity. It must’ve been a hell of a lookalike, because when Sgt. Barnes and Wilson went to follow up the lead, they found no trace of Peter there at all.”

One day, Peter assumed, the truth would come out. But that day wasn’t today. Not after the past two months. Not when he wasn’t even back up to full health. But someday, the world would learn who he used to be, just like they did with Nat and Bucky – they’d learn about the things he did. He could only hope they’d still be attached to his continued existence when that happened. He could only hope that they’d be understanding.

In the end, the photos that were taken lived in the public’s memory longer than the answers themselves did. They weren’t as popular as the photos taken on the day Peter Stark was announced alive and reunited with his family, but they were a close second.

It was hard not to like the pictures; hard not to smile at their grinning faces when Pepper told a joke.

That afternoon, Peter posted one of them – his favourite one.

 

@PeterStark: couldn’t help myself. with thanks to dad for the t-shirt.

 

The picture was of three of them, their arms around each other, standing by the podium. They were smiling, each of them, just so happy to be alive and together. Just so happy to still be breathing, despite all the people who weren’t. Just so happy to be putting the past behind them, no matter how much it wished to grab on and follow them through their lives.

This was a happy photo. This was Peter’s favourite and he framed it as soon as he got the chance; placing it on his bedside table so he could see it in the morning when he woke up, not immediately remembering who he was and where was lying. The photo brought back memories, told him with zero hesitation who he was and who he loved.

Pepper, her hair perfect and her dress sleek, beautiful. Tony, a three-piece suit and a smile so wide Peter couldn’t help but grin back.

And Peter, standing between them, thankful and lucky and alive, in a plain white t-shirt that read I AM TONY AND PEPPER STARK’S SON.