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In Which Peter Makes A Friend (His Own Age)

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Peter steeled himself before making his way past the block of lockers where Flash and his friends hung out every morning, prepared to ignore the imminent “Good morning, Penis!”. When it didn’t come, he was so surprised that he stopped and turned to look at the gang of boys, who hadn’t even realized he was there. They seemed to be busy pinning a shiny-haired boy that Peter had never seen before against a locker. Peter only hesitated for a moment before marching up, arms crossed.

“Leave him alone!”

Flash sneered. “Or what, Penis? Gonna get your mommy to threaten me? Wait, she’s not even your mom.”

“You’re only mad because that worked,” Peter replied. “Leave this guy alone, he didn’t do anything.”

“I don’t think we will, Penis. We’re just having so much fun, y’know?”

“What’s going on here?” a booming voice called, and Peter was pleased to see that Flash scurried back, cowed by Principal Morita. The new boy dusted off his clothes, giving the principal a toothy smile.

“Nothing, mister.”

“Are you sure? It looked like these boys were bothering you.”

“It’s not a big deal,” the boy said, shrugging. “Do you know where room 117 is? I tried to ask these dudes, but they’re not very friendly. Except for the one that got called Penis.”

Peter turned red, and Mr. Morita raised his eyebrows. “Well, I’m sure Peter knows where 117 is. He can take you.”

“Sure,” Peter squeaked, hurrying off with the new kid behind him.

“You’re Peter?” the kid asked. Peter nodded. “Cool. I’m Ned.”

“Nice to meet you,” Peter managed. Social interaction, still not one of his fine skills. Luckily, Ned didn’t seem to mind.

“Why do they call you Penis? They seem more like dicks than you do.”

Peter’s eyes widened, and he let out a surprised little laugh. “I don’t really know. They’ve been doing it for years.”

“That sucks, man. Why did you stop? Most people would’ve kept walking.”

“It didn’t seem right to leave you,” he said, shrugging. “It’s usually me that they pick on.”

“Dude, that’s really nice of you. Thanks,” said Ned.

“No problem,” Peter replied, cheeks tinging pink. “You said room 117, right?”

“Yep. Spanish with… Mr. Avocado?”

Peter snorted, covering his mouth. “Señor Alcaldo. Don’t let him hear you say that.”

“Good to know,” Ned said, grinning. “What class do you have?”

“Same as you,” said Peter, and Ned looked pleased.

“Awesome. I hate not knowing anybody.”

“I wish I didn’t know anybody,” Peter sighed. Ned gave him a sympathetic pat on the arm.

“Let’s trade. I’ll be you and you be me. I always wondered what it’s like to be white.”

“Probably pretty different,” Peter said, considering. “I guess I never really thought about it. White privilege right there.”

Ned laughed. “Yeah, man. Our country’s messed up.”

“Super messed up,” Peter agreed. He looked up at the clock as they entered room 117; they were ten minutes early. Ned took the desk next to Peter, which was usually empty.

“Where did you move from?” Peter asked.

“Warwick, Rhode Island. It’s the second biggest city in the state, but it’s -like- nothing compared to New York. This place is huge.”

“Did you like it there?”

“It was alright,” Ned said, shrugging. “Some kids were kind of dicks.”

Peter winced. “This place might not be much improvement, then.”

“Nah, it’s better already. I’ve got you, assuming you want to be my friend, which I probably shouldn’t… but hey! Live life on the edge, am I right?”

“You want to be my friend?” Peter asked, eyes widening.

“Yeah! You seem cool, and you helped me out back there.”

“You can totally be my friend!” Peter definitely didn’t squeak..

“Aw, really? Thanks, dude!” Ned grinned. “Peter and Ned. Oh man, my parents can suck it. They didn’t think I’d make any friends.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, it was pretty realistic of them, to be honest.”

“I suck at making friends too,” Peter said.

“Do your parents give you crap about it?”

Peter looked down at his desk, pausing for a moment and debating his response. “No, not really,” he finally said. Which was true. Pepper and Tony didn’t bother him about having friends, and they were his adoptive parents.

“Mine want me to have better social skills, or whatever, so I can get a good job when I’m older. I keep trying to tell them, you don’t need social skills if you have a job in computer programming.”

“That’s true,” Peter said. “I mean, most of the people I live with don’t have social skills, and they’re functioning adults. Sort of.”

“The people you live with?” Ned asked curiously. Well, it was sort of inevitable, Peter thought.

“I -um- my parents died when I was little, and then my uncle and my… my aunt died, so now I live with my adoptive parents and their friends. It’s like a really big family.”

“Oh, dude, I’m really sorry,” said Ned. “Are you the only kid in your house?”

“Technically, yeah. But some of them… like Clint, Pepper sent him to etiquette class because he’s got the manners of a six-year-old. That was funny. And Bucky’s current obsession is legos.”

“Dude, I love legos! Have you seen the Death Star kit? I wish I had the money to buy it!”

Peter’s cheeks went slightly pink. “Bucky bought it, and we haven’t started building it yet. If you want, you can come over and…?”

“Dude, really?” Ned said excitedly. “That’d be great!”

“Cool!” said Peter, relieved. “I’m free whenever, really…”

“I’m free after school today, is that good?”

“Yeah, for sure!”

“Sweet!” Ned said. “Dude, I’m so excited!”

“It’s-” Peter was interrupted by the bell and a large stream of students that filtered into the classroom. Several did double-takes when they saw someone sitting next to Peter.

Buenos días, clase. Tenemos un nuevo estudiante hoy. El se llama…” Señor Alcaldo paused to check his attendance sheet. “Ned. Diga hola, clase.”

Hola,” everyone chorused dully.

Bueno. Hoy, vamos a practicar los pronombres relativos. Completaron ustedes la tarea?

----

At the end of the day, Peter met Ned on the concrete steps in front of the school. Ned had texted his parents for permission during lunch; they seemed shocked that Ned had made a friend. Ned had done a little victory dance that made Peter laugh hard enough to trip and nearly faceplant in the cafeteria, and Ned had wheezed with laughter in turn. The strain in Peter’s chest was a comfortable one; he could get used to it.

“Who’s this, Peter?” someone asked as they stepped onto the sidewalk, and Peter jumped about a mile before turning to find Natasha smiling innocently at him. Ned gaped.

“You… are you… You look like the Black Widow!”

“This is Ned,” Peter sighed. “Ned, Natasha.”

“You… you know the Black Widow?”

“It’s a long story.”

“Oh man! I thought this day couldn’t get any better!”

“Just you wait,” Peter said, slightly rueful. Natasha clicked her tongue at him.

“You didn’t warn him?”

“No… I mean, I was going to… On the way to the tower.”

“Tower? What tower? You mean… you mean the Avengers Tower?” Ned bounced on his feet. “Duuuude!!!”

Peter hid behind his hands.

“Sorry! Sorry,” Ned said. “I’m kind of freaking out. I’ll try not to be weird, I swear.”

“It’s fine,” said Peter. “They’re used to it.”

“I mean, I’d probably get annoyed if I was famous and people freaked out over me all the time… but dude! You live with the Avengers!!!”

“Peter did his fair share of blushing and stuttering,” Natasha said, and Peter’s cheeks turned pink.

“Natasha! No I didn’t!”

Natasha raised a frighteningly flawless eyebrow, and Peter relented.

“Maybe I freaked out a little.”

Ned laughed. “This is so cool, man.”

“Everyone’s excited to meet you,” Natasha said evenly. Both Peter and Ned’s eyes widened.

“Really?” squeaked Ned.

“You told everyone?” Peter asked, faintly indignant. Natasha gave him an amused look.

“Pepper made Clint promise not to embarrass you. He had his fingers crossed, so watch out, маленький паучок.”

----

Sure enough, the moment the elevator doors opened and they stepped out onto the common floor, there was a loud “Petey made a friendddd!” and Clint was flapping over, grinning broadly. Peter blushed vigorously and tried to wave Clint away to no avail.

“I’m Clint! What’s your name? If you’re a dick to our precious Petey, I’ll throw you down the garbage chute!”

Peter covered his face with his hands. Natasha shoved Clint into the elevator as the doors closed, and he squawked unceremoniously as he was trapped. Natasha brushed her hands together in a businesslike manner.

“Problem solved. Excuse Clint, he will not be throwing you down the garbage chute,” she said before striding off to the kitchen. Ned stared after her admiringly.

“She’s so cool.”

“She is,” Peter agreed. Ned’s eyes drifted over to the coffee table and widened comically.

Dude,” he said. “That is so many legos.”

Peter grinned. “We’re almost done with our castle! We were going to make a catamaran next because Bucky hadn’t seen one and he thinks they’re weird.”

“They look like they should sink,” said Bucky, poking his head out from behind the castle. Ned let out a little shriek.

“Don’t scare him, Barnes,” Natasha called from the kitchen. “We want him to come back.”

Bucky looked at Ned, assessing. Ned’s eyes caught on the metal arm and stuck there, his jaw dropping before he hastily closed it.

“You’re Ned.”

“I… Yeah,” Ned stammered. Bucky turned to Peter.

“Approved. You can keep him.”

“I don’t know if that’s how friendship works, but thanks, Bucky,” Peter said amusedly. Bucky shrugged and scooped up a handful of legos to work on the castle’s roof.

“You gonna start the Death Star?” he asked.

“Yeah!” said Peter, dropping his backpack and motioning for Ned to sit. Bucky passed the box containing the pieces of said Death Star, and Peter tried and failed to get it open.

“I think there’s tape on the sides,” Ned said, picking at a piece of clear adhesive.

“You’re right. Bucky, can I have a knife?”

Bucky pulled a knife from god-knows-where and tossed it to Peter, who caught it deftly by the handle.

“Don’t let Steve see you doing that!” Natasha called.

“Steve can suck my ass,” Bucky muttered. “‘S just a knife.”

Ned looked dismayed and amused at the same time. “Why do you have a knife?”

Natasha let out a sharp laugh. “A knife. That’s funny.”

“So… why do you have multiple knives?” Ned asked Bucky. “I should probably be scared of you, right?”

“Protection detail,” Bucky replied. “Everybody should be scared of me.”

“Don’t listen to him,” Peter said. “He’s soft and fluffy inside.”

Bucky looked terribly offended. “I have knives.”

“You’re like a hedgehog,” Ned remarked. “Spiky on the outside, squishy on the inside.”

“I am not squishy,” Bucky said. He gave Ned a Murder Glare™, and Ned squeaked in alarm.

“Not a hedgehog! I didn’t say anything!”

Bucky seemed satisfied with the redacted statement and returned to building his castle.

“Don’t intimidate Peter’s friends,” Natasha scolded, tossing her apple core in the trash.

“It’s our job.”

“Evaluate benefit-risk ratio.”

“Deny.”

“Barnes…”

Bucky huffed. “Identified: fifty-three percent chance of irreparable damage. Eighty-seven percent chance of emotional discomfort.”

“Analysis?” Natasha prompted.

“Risks higher than benefits.”

“Are you going to apologize?”

“No.”

Natasha sighed. “Barnes is sorry. As long as you don’t hurt Peter, you’ll be fine.”

Ned looked alarmed at the thought. “I won’t, I promise. That would be sort of hypocritical, ‘cause he saved my ass this morning.”

Bucky’s head snapped toward Peter. “Injuries?”

“None, don’t worry,” Peter said quickly. “They didn’t touch me.”

Bucky squinted at him dubiously.

“They didn’t, I swear,” Peter insisted. “Ned, back me up here?”

“They didn’t touch him,” Ned confirmed. Bucky swiveled to look at him.

“And you?”

“Me?” Ned looked confused.

“Did they touch you.”

“Only a little,” Ned said. Bucky looked thunderous, and Natasha smiled.

“He likes you, Ned.”

“Shut up, Romanova,” Bucky grunted. “Was it Flash?”

“Flash?” Ned looked confused, and Bucky turned back to Peter, who gave his answer by averting his eyes.

“That sonofabitch,” Bucky snapped. “I’m gonna fucking-”

“Easy, Barnes,” Natasha said. “The boys are alright.”

Bucky muttered something in Russian that made Natasha’s face scrunch. She gave a short reply, and he stiffened before relaxing a bit.

“Fine,” he bit out. “Я прослушаю завтра.”

"Хорошо.”

“Are they Russian?” Ned asked.

“Natasha is,” Peter replied, unfolding the directions for the Death Star. “Bucky learned it.”

Ned ripped the first bag of legos open. “Cool. I like languages, but I’m not very good at them.”

“Same. I’m terrible at Spanish.”

“No you’re not,” Natasha said. “You just need to put in more effort.”

Bucky nodded in accord, though he looked displeased to be agreeing with her. His face was still hard around the edges. Peter reached up and tugged on a metal finger, pulling Bucky to sit beside him. Bucky yielded willingly, his knee pressing into Peter’s as he crossed his legs.

“You can start building the base if you want,” Ned said, offering Bucky a stack of thin, gray plates. Bucky’s eyes softened a little, and he took the legos. Peter moved the instructions to give Bucky a better view, and Bucky loosened even more as they worked, listening to Peter and Ned’s chatter. They were in the middle of a debate over how nice Ewoks really were when the elevator doors opened, revealing Tony, Bruce, and Clint.

“A little birdie told me that you have a friend over!” Tony crowed.

“I’m the little birdie,” Clint added, in case it wasn’t obvious.

“This is Ned,” Peter said. “Please don’t scare him away.”

“I would never,” Tony replied with a grin. Ned looked like he might explode.

“It’s really nice to meet you, Mr. Stark!”

“You too, kid. You can call me Tony.”

Ned let out a little squeak, and Tony laughed.

“Are you staying for dinner?”

“I… If that’s alright…”

“Do you like Indian?”

“Y- yeah, Indian’s good…”

“Excellent. We’re ordering out tonight. Don’t forget to text your parents or something, aren’t kids supposed to do that?” Tony waved a hand. “Just don’t get me in trouble for kidnapping you.”

“I will! I mean, I won’t! I texted… my parents don’t really care, as long as I’m home by nine.”

“Good, good. Ooh, did you start the Death Star?”

“Yeah!” Peter said.

“Finally! Hey Elsa, did you finish your castle?”

Bucky scowled, but there was no heat to the look. “No.”

Tony faked a gasp. “You abandoned your baby? What gives, Vanilla Ice?”

Bucky rolled his eyes. “Fuck off, Stark.”

“I came out to have a good time and I’m honestly feeling so attacked right now,” Tony deadpanned. Clint snorted and headed for the kitchen; Bruce followed him.

“Tony, do you want a peanut butter or chocolate chip granola bar?” Bruce called.

“Chocolate chip, thanks, Brucie!”

“Don’t call me that,” Bruce replied, sounding faintly disgruntled. He returned with two granola bars and two sodas and made his way towards the elevator.

“Gotta go, kiddos! Have fun with the Death Star!” Tony said before hurrying off after Bruce. Ned turned to Bucky, trying to cover an amused look.

“Vanilla Ice?”

“He gets away with the nicknames as long as I don’t know what he’s talking about,” Bucky said.

“To be fair, I don’t know what he’s talking about half the time either,” said Clint, flopping down on the couch with a bag of cheese puffs. “But I’m pretty sure Vanilla Ice is a rapper.”

Bucky gave him an odd look. “A… wrapper?” He made a little foldy-gesture with his hands. Clint laughed.

“No, a rapper. Without the ‘W’. It’s someone who does rap music.”

Bucky did another foldy-motion and wrinkled his nose. Peter tried not to giggle and failed.

“You’ve probably heard it,” Clint continued. “It’s popular.”

Ned looked confused. “How do you not know rap music?”

“He sort of lived under a rock, in a sense,” Peter said. “... Kind of. It’s complicated.”

“JARVIS, can you play Juicy by The Notorious B.I.G.?” asked Clint.

“Of course, Mr. Barton.”

Biggie’s voice filled the living room, and Bucky tilted his head, listening. He didn’t look offended, but maybe a little suspicious. Half the song passed before Clint asked JARVIS to pause.

“What do you think?”

“Doesn’t really sound like… music. Not how…” Bucky shook his head, rubbing his temple. “Play more.”

“Can we have Lose Yourself by Eminem?” Clint asked JARVIS, and the song began to play. Bucky frowned slightly as the beat picked up. Ned started to bob his head, and Peter tapped his foot to the rhythm. Bucky’s brow furrowed deeper and deeper as the lines passed.

“Pause, please. Barnes, you don’t like this one?”

“He sounds angry,” Bucky said uncertainly. “Music wasn’t… I don’t remember… Play more.”

“Alright,” Clint said. “JARVIS, how about Work It by Missy Elliot?”

Bucky listened as the song started; he looked like he was concentrating hard. Finally, he shook his head. His eyes were dull.

“I don’t remember.”

Ned looked like he wanted to ask what was going on, but didn’t.

“You don’t have to remember anything, that wasn’t the point,” Clint said, sitting up. “This was an educational experience. I’m pretty sure they didn’t have this music… before.”

“Oh,” Bucky said, looking relieved. “Okay.”

“Have some cheesy poofs,” Clint said, passing Bucky the bag. Bucky took it, sniffing the puffs suspiciously before taking one and eating it.

“Is this supposed to be cheese.”

Clint laughed. “Don’t knock it ‘til you try it, man.”

“I tried it. Doesn’t taste like cheese,” Bucky said, passing the bag back. Clint shrugged.

“All the more for me.”

“You’re not going to share with us?” Peter asked, widening his eyes pitifully. Clint sighed.

“I can’t say no to that face. You and Steve, you’re puppies. Or witches.”

Peter grinned and took the cheese puffs from Clint, offering some to Ned.

“Thanks, dude!”

“Sure,” Peter said.

“Don’t get not-cheese on the legos,” said Bucky.

“We won’t,” Ned assured him. Bucky nodded, studying Ned carefully out of the corner of his eye as he worked on finishing the base of the Death Star. Peter gave the cheese puffs back to Clint and got up to wash his hands; Ned followed him. When they sat back down, Bucky gave Ned a direct look.

“You are kind.”

“Uh… Thanks?” Ned looked surprised.

“You were curious. You didn’t ask questions.”

“I mean… my social skills aren’t great, but I kind of got the ‘it’s-classified’ vibe, and I don’t want to be annoying or anything, so…”

“You care about Peter. You are a mission-assist,” Bucky said. Ned seemed fairly confused.

“Hey, congrats, Ned!” Clint exclaimed. “That’s huge! Mission-assist on the first day!”

“... Thanks? I… what does that mean?”

“Mission-assist means friend,” Peter explained.

“What’s the mission? Is it-” Ned stopped himself. “You know what, I won’t ask. I’m getting the it’s-classified vibe again.”

Bucky nodded approvingly.

----

They managed to build the walls on the lower level of the Death Star before it was time for dinner; Steve came in carrying several bags of Indian food, followed by Hill. Bruce ambled in after them, waving to the lego crew before heading off to set the table.

“Hey Buck, hey Peter,” Steve greeted. He looked faintly surprised to see Ned, and smiled. “Who’s this?”

“This is Ned,” Peter said. “Ned, that’s Steve.”

“That’s Capt-” Ned cut himself off, looking starstruck for a moment. “Okay, okay, don’t be weird, Ned. Hi, I’m Ned. Wow, it’s… Hi.”

“Good to meet you,” Steve said pleasantly. “Do you go to school with Peter?”

Ned bobbed his head. “Today was my first day.”

“How was it?”

Ned seemed shocked that Captain America would want to know how his day was. “Good! Good. It was good.”

“He’s in my Spanish class,” Peter said. “And we have the same lunch.”

Steve smiled. “That’s great. I’m glad you made a new friend.”

“Hurry up! I’m starving!” Clint called, and Steve dutifully headed to the dining room with the food. Ned clambered to his feet first and offered a hand to Peter, who took it gratefully. Bucky followed them as they made their way to the dining room, where an extra chair had been pulled up next to Peter’s usual seat.

“Pepper said to start without her,” said Tony, sauntering in and pulling off a pair of sunglasses. “Her meeting’s running late.”

Steve made a sympathetic sound.

“She said that she’ll kick Clint’s ass if he eats all malai kofta.”

“Who? Me?” Clint said, wide-eyed and innocent. “I’d never.”

“Bullshit,” said Bucky. Ned sniggered.

“There are children here, Buck,” Steve reprimanded, serving himself some masala.

“Sorry,” Bucky replied, not looking particularly sorry at all.

“We’re not children,” Peter added. “We’re teenagers.”

“Old Man Jones can’t tell the difference,” Tony said. Bucky bristled on Steve’s behalf. “When you’re ninety like- ow!”

“Keep it civil,” Natasha told him, sounding bored. Tony rubbed his smarting shoulder mournfully and took a bite of his tandoori chicken.

“You’re evil,” he said, chewing and swallowing. “Oh god, don’t glare at me. Your glare’s almost as bad as Terminator’s.”

Ned turned to Peter and mouthed “Terminator?”

“Don’t ask,” Peter whispered, taking the malai kofta from Clint and scooping himself a serving before handing it to Ned, who thanked him.

“Could you pass that when you’re done, please?” Hill asked Ned.

“Sure!” he squeaked, looking intimidated. Hill seemed to have that effect on people. Peter figured that it was a mix of her sharp eyes and the way that she held herself; he’d marked her down as someone not to piss off when he first met her. Bucky also seemed regard her highly, which meant that she was probably even more dangerous than she looked. He hadn’t thought about that before. Eep, Peter’s brain provided. Ned made a similar sound when Hill smiled at him.

“Ned, is it?”

“She’s not trying to be scary,” Tony told him. “I mean, probably not. She’s just like that.”

“Who’s scary?” Pepper said, taking a seat and looking very pleased at the fact that Clint hadn’t eaten all of the malai kofta. She took it from Hill and gave herself a large helping, digging in with a content expression.

“I’m scary,” said Hill, amused.

“According to who?”

“Me, probably Clint, probably Bruce, probably Peter, definitely Ned,” Tony said.

“Ned?” Pepper looked up, and her eyebrows lifted upon seeing Ned for the first time. “I was so hungry, I didn’t even notice…” She laughed. “I’m sorry I didn’t introduce myself when I came in. I’m Pepper.”

“I’m Ned. It’s nice to meet you,” Ned said earnestly, and she smiled.

“I hope everyone’s made you feel welcome,” she said, her voice light on the surface with a touch of warning beneath.

“Oh, everyone’s been really nice,” Ned assured her.

“Excellent,” she said. “Everybody gets dessert, then.”

“I’m pretty sure Bucky controls who gets dessert,” said Peter. “He makes the dessert.”

“Barnes makes the best cookies,” Clint told Ned. “Seriously, they’re like… soft, pure, fluffy goodness.”

“It worries me that you could also use that sentence to describe dogs,” Hill said, and Clint looked terribly offended at the implication.

I don’t eat dogs. How dare you.”

Hill lifted her hands, her fork pinched between her thumb and her palm. “Just saying.”

Clint slouched in his seat and took a large bite of palak paneer, chewing cantankerously.

“Point is, the cookies are delicious,” Natasha said, businesslike. Clint glared at Hill.

“I can’t believe you insinuated that I eat puppies.”

Pepper sighed, giving Ned an apologetic look. “I would say that they’re usually better-mannered than this, but that would be a lie.”

“I have manners,” Hill said regally. “Clint’s the one you sent to etiquette class.”

“They do etiquette class for adults?” Ned asked, trying to cover his amusement. Tony sniggered.

“They don’t, actually. Pepper sent him to a kids’ class. He fit right in.”

Ned laughed and covered his mouth quickly. “Sorry.”

“Oh, no, don’t apologize. It’s hilarious,” Tony assured him. Clint pouted and set down his fork, crossing his arms. Natasha stole a piece of his tandoori chicken and he flailed in indignation, knocking his glass of water into his lap and letting out a yelp as he tried to retrieve it. He made a despairing noise and slouched further, his back cracking as he sunk into the chair.

“Ow.”

Bucky patted the top of his head with his left arm, the metal thumping audibly against Clint’s skull, pushing him down so far that his butt hung off his chair. It reminded Peter vaguely of whack-a-mole.

Ow.

Bucky didn’t look terribly apologetic. Ned glanced away, probably trying not to laugh again, and met Bruce’s eyes.

“Yeah, it’s usually like this,” Bruce said, resigned.

“No knives in the table yet, though,” said Peter seriously. “It might be a record.”

----

Bonus: Bucky as a hedgehog! He curls up with his knives and gets grumpy when he gets up and drops them! (My art)

Bucky as a hedgehog!