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I Never Knew I Was Broken

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The first time Tony met him was in a routine HYDRA takedown.

Everything was going smoothly. Shoot a couple bad guys here, punch a dozen more over there. Check if the rooms are empty. Announce that hallway ‘X’ in wing ‘Y’ is clear into the comms and receive a smattering of sarcastic quips and jabs in return. Move on to the next section and repeat.

It was the sixth ‘move on to the next section and repeat’ that made the smooth routine grind to a halt. As Tony rounded yet another corner into yet another corridor that looked exactly the same as the five previous ones, (white walls, ceiling and floors, clinically bright tube lighting and evenly spaced doors) he probably should have taken more notice to the fact that the second half of the corridor’s lights were out, drenching the end of the windowless area in complete darkness.

But he didn’t, deciding to focus more on three weasely looking HYRDA scientist’s as they scurried fearfully out of rooms. They clutched stacks of slightly crimpled paper which most definitely contained their life-long research of morally sinful medical discoveries.

Taking pity on the way each froze when they saw Iron Man approach, Tony made their punched induced knock-outs swift and brief, though their restraints were just as tight as the rest. He checked the rooms that the men had scrambled out of and Tony wasn’t too surprised to see that they were empty.

It was always the cowardly and narcissistic researchers of HYDRA that refused to leave empty handed, even when faced with mortal danger.

"Iron Man,” a familiar voice came through the comms, “Any updates?”

Tony couldn’t help but roll his eyes, “Everything’s peachy where I’m at Cap and did you seriously just call me Iron Man? I thought the formalities ended when I first called you Capisicle.”

A few snickers from the other Avengers filtered into the comms but Steve merely sighed, “This is a mission Tony we have to be at least somewhat professional.”

Tony scoffed, “Yeah and you once told me to watch my lang– oh shit!”

A swift punch connected with his face and Tony fell to the ground, Iron Man suit and all.

He froze in shock for a few seconds, allowing his brain to catch up and process what had just happened. Tony had never met anyone with enough strength to knock him down with a single hit apart from Hulk, Vision and Thor (not that they ever had). He supposed he’d been distracted and hadn’t exactly been in a ready fighting stance but still, Tony wasn’t even sure if Steve was capable of doing that without the help of his shield.

Tony lifted his head up to see who the culprit was but the hallway appeared empty. He boosted back up into standing position, repulsors aimed at the dark corridor that lay before him. Someone or something was over there, he was sure of it. But what?

“Uh, Tones?” Rhodey asked nervously, “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Tony’s eyes didn’t leave the dark corridor, “Yeah about that, I might need back up. I think I’m dealing with something more advanced than your typical HYDRA agent.”

Before the others could reply, an all too cheery and sarcastic voice came from the dark, “Advanced you say? Well, I would hope so,” The owner of the voice stepped out of their shelter of blackness to reveal, well…

More black? Tony could barely distinguish the outline of the figure who now stood almost lazily under the bright lights. They were wearing a suit that covered them from head to toe which was so dark, it was as if somebody had cut a human-sized shape out of reality to reveal a void completely devoid light. In fact, the only part he could see clearly were the comically exaggerated outlines of eyes in a dulled, matt white and the fabric encased in them which was a slightly lighter black than the rest of the suit.

“But truly Mister Stark, I’m honoured,” The figure continued, seemingly unfazed at the lack of movement from Tony. His voice sounded light and youthful, as if it had barely come out of puberty but that couldn’t be right, could it? This thing, this person couldn’t be a child.

Right? 

Before Tony could interrogate, the figure lifted his arms and two thin strings came out of his wrist area so quickly that the action seemed blurred. The strings connected to both of Tony’s gauntlets and encased them in— was that webbing?

The shock of the situation was all too much and he barely acknowledged the figure pulling him forwards until it was almost too late. In haste, Tony blasted his repulsors at full, snapping the webs, and he once again found himself landing on his back; this time with his repulsors facing the ceiling.

Cap’s voice returned, “Tony? Are you okay? Hang in there Natasha and I are coming.” 

“Tell them not to bother,” The figure responded, walking over to where Tony lay, “They won’t do much.” 

“Hang on,” Tony said recovering just slightly from the shock to realise what the figure had said, “How the hell did you hear them? That was coming through my comm.”

The person merely shrugged, his white rimmed eyes moving to resemble his changing expressions, “Wouldn’t you like to know? Well I mean- you obviously would, considering you asked. That’s what questions are for right? Finding answers and stuff. But I’m afraid you don’t always get answers and on this occasion, I just don’t feel like telling you.” 

Man, this guy talks a lot Tony thought but he wondered if that was necessarily a bad thing. Maybe he could buy the others some time to get here. If he just lay where he was and didn’t make any fast actions the guy might either take too long to do his job and back up would arrive or Tony could get him close enough to aim a blaster at his face. 

It was worth a shot.

“So, do you just lurk in the shadows for fun? Because you weren’t really much use at protecting your scientist buddies.”

The figure snorted, walking over to the closest scientist that laid crumpled and unconscious on the floor and gave him a gentle nudge with his foot, “Yeah, I guess protecting them was my job but they’re dicks so I didn’t. Plus, I’ve always wanted to beat the shit out of them so seeing you do that was pretty satisfying.”

Now that surprised Tony. Why would a person of HYDRA want to see other people of HYDRA get hurt? “What’s wrong with them?” Tony taunted, “They hurt you by making your suit a little too tight?”

Whether intentional or not, the stranger ignored the blatant teasing, “Something like that.”

The figure’s playful voice had disappeared and was instead replaced with something filled with acidity and lacking in empathy.

“It doesn’t really matter if they get caught or not, they aren’t really high ranking and it’s not like they have any information to give you that you don’t already know. Hell, I don’t even think they know about me, just done stuff that’s affected me. This was more of a favour for my boss cause he’s got a soft spot for them, but I don’t,” The figure turned to face Tony, his white rimmed eyes squinting slightly, “There’s cool scientists and there’s uncool scientists and let me tell you, these guys are definitely not cool.”

The way he spoke, Tony was sure this guy wasn’t an adult. Nobody over the age of twenty-one said ‘uncool’ in such a serious way, especially in such a serious situation.

He decided to chomp at the bit, “How old are you?”

“Sixteen.”

Tony’s brain seemed to short circuit for a moment. That couldn’t be right that couldn’t be right.

“Hang on, did you just say tha—“

“Uh-uh” The figure – kid – interjected, raising a hand tentatively to the back of his neck as he cocked his head ever so slightly to the right, “Huh. Well this chat’s been fun but I gotta go, I think your friends are coming and I was told to keep a low profile.”

What was this kid talking about? Tony couldn’t hear anything, and the comms had been silent for a while. He figured the guy was just trying to avoid the topic of his age.

“No way, we are not done here kid. How the hell does a sixteen year old get involved wi—“

Tony didn’t even attempt to finish his sentence.

Once again, his brain seemed to process what was happening seconds too late to stop it. The kid jumped, his hands and feet sticking to the ceiling (the fucking ceiling!) as he crawled and aligned himself so that he was directly above Tony.

In hindsight, Tony could see that this would have been the perfect time to shoot his repulsors which were still facing directly up at the figure. Instead, he lay there like an idiot while the kid released his hands from the ceiling so that he was standing upside down.

Tony watched with an almost glazed expression as the kid shot so many webs at him that by the time he was finished Tony was trapped under multiple layers of the thick, durable substance. His repulsors still faced the ceiling but the kid had moved out of his range so if he used them, they would hit nothing and he would go nowhere. Yep. Tony had officially fucked up. 

As if on cue, Tony could hear the hurried footsteps of his allies making his way towards him. About time he thought bitterly.

He focused back up at the kid who had his hands once again attached to the ceiling. Tony watched as the figure who still appeared to be nothing more than a void of black gave him a small and mocking salute.

“Pleasure meeting you Mister Stark,” he quipped and without another word the kid turned and scurried back to where he came from, into the depths of the darkened corridor.

What. The. Fuck.

The stellar timing of the situation continued as seconds later, Cap and Natasha rounded the corner from the right and stopped at the beginning of the corridor, staring with wide eyes at the sight they saw before them.

“Holy crap Tony,” Steve marvelled, “what in the world happened here?”

“I’m trying a new fighting tactic,” Tony deadpanned, “What the fuck do you think happened here? I got my ass kicked now help me out.”

Steve sighed – he seemed to do that a lot when it came to Tony – then stepped forward and used his shield to cut the webs off. Tony stood, attempting to pick some of the stray webbing off of his suit but to no avail as it merely got stuck to his gauntlets.

Giving up, he pointed at the darkness, “He went back into there." 

“Is he still there?” Natasha asked.

“I have no idea,” Tony replied.

“There’s only one way to find out,” Natasha pulled a small flare out from her belt, ignited it, and threw it into the darkness.

When the flare went off Tony didn’t know what he expected to see. Anything he supposed. But instead they were greeted by an empty hallway, the doors blocked with slabs of metal haphazardly drilled over them and a single vent grate popped off the wall and lying abandoned on the floor. The three Avengers stared at the opened vent that looked just as dark as the corridor had been.

Tony sighed.

“He’s gone,” Tony said, not caring that he was stating the obvious.

“The rest of the team are making their way towards us. Should we go after him?” Steve asked, his tone softer than it tended to be on missions.

“No, no,” Tony deflated, knowing that there was no point, “The kid’s definitely gone.”

Natasha turned to him, “Kid?”

They had a lot to talk about.

 


 

Peter let out a triumphant whoop of delight as he popped open an HVAC and crawled out onto the concrete roof. He relished in the feeling of cold night air as he stood up and ran full speed towards the edge of the flat roof, his eyes set on a black helicopter with the HYDRA logo painted in dark red on its side that had begun to fly away from the compound.

An adrenaline induced smile overtook Peter’s face and he leaped off the building, shooting a web out that attached to the bottom of the of the helicopter, swinging himself under and over it. He let go just at the right time and flung his body into the open door of the helicopter, landing perfectly with his knees bent and one hand gently touching the floor.

Nice.

A woman cleared her throat, and Peter looked up to see his mission leader – Agent Dina Stallard – staring down at him. Her blue eyes could pierce his own even through the spider mask.

“Hi,” Peter said, a little too confidently for what seemed appropriate.

“Take it off and sit down,” Dina replied. She’d never been one for pleasantries.

Sighing, Peter stood and took off his mask and watched as the suit faded back into its usual colour when camouflage wasn’t enabled. Gradually, his suit turned a bright and almost illuminating white, a stark contrast from the black it was seconds a go. The only pieces of the suit that remained a dark ebony was the large spider insignia on his chest and the black HYDRA logo on his left bicep. The fabric of the eyes turned white and the rims inverted to black. 

Peter didn’t think he looked as cool this way, preferring the scarily opaque black to the white so bright he might as well be target practice.

Pushing a stray curl from his fore-head, Peter sat down next to Dina and stared directly ahead at the line of HYDRA agents sitting against the opposite wall who were chatting to one another. They were used to him by now, Peter’s presence impressed nobody.

It never really had.

He sat in silence for a while, focusing on the whirring of the helicopter blades and the loud hum of the engine as they flew over some random forest on the East Coast of America, though he wasn’t exactly sure where.

Dina was the one to break the silence, “Did you save them?”

“No,” Peter replied, continuing to stare straight ahead. There was no point trying to make eye contact because she never bothered to herself.

“I thought you wouldn’t,” A pause, “Did you at least try?”

“No,” Peter repeated, this one firmer than the last.

Dina sighed, “Doctor Moller won’t be happy.”

Peter’s heart-rate picked up slightly. When Doctor Moller wasn’t happy, bad things always happened to Peter. Especially when Peter was the cause of said unhappiness. For once though, Peter didn’t care as much as he usually did.

“I don’t give a shit Dina I—“

For,” Dina interrupted, the seemingly random word immediately resonating with Peter as he felt the rebelliously confident part of him subside slightly.

“I don’t seem to mind, Agent Stallard,” Peter amended, reverting back to the formalities he had learned long ago, “On any other occasion I would have followed Doctor Moller’s orders but this was different. You know what these men did to me.”

“They didn’t do anything, White Spider,” Peter’s ears instinctively pricked to his codename for missions. Though it was being used casually, he couldn’t help but expect the following sentence to be an order, “What happened to you was unintentional and what they did was an accident. You act as if they bit you themselves.”

If the first of those words hadn’t been spoken only seconds ago, Peter would have replied with a sarcastic and snarky comment. He settled for diplomacy instead, “Agent Stallard, one of the first lessons I learnt was that ‘accidents do not exist, only miscalculated actions made by the incompetent’. Those scientists made the spider and did not properly store it. They gave it the opportunity to escape and if they hadn’t done so my DNA would not have been altered.”

Okay, so that wasn’t as diplomatic as Peter had hoped it would be but he was angry and he’d never been good at keeping his cool when it came to disagreements.

“The lessons you were taught only apply to you White Spider, you should know this by now. And your DNA would have been altered eventually, you know that. This merely excelled our plans for you.”

Peter couldn’t help himself, “Yeah, it excelled my training by at least five fucking years and changed my DNA into something it was not meant to be changed into. Doctor Moller was going to give me the super-soldier serum, not the venom of a radioactive spider.”

Silence.

He had gone too far. He knew it. The first word was his warning but Peter chose to ignore it.

He was so screwed.

“Although your dedication to HYDRA has not faltered, you’re understanding of where your place is in the ranks has yet again,” Stallard said matter-of-factly, “If you do not change your attitude towards me I will have no choice but to inform Moller of your behaviour and suggest he use the rest of the words on you.”

The blood drained from Peter’s face and he couldn’t help the tremble in his fingers, causing his mask to slip slightly in his grasp. Peter could cope with punishments, pain was a common sensation in his life. But the words? They scared him the most. He’d heard what the Winter Soldier’s words did and he was sure his were worse. Much, much worse.

Peter swallowed thickly, “Th-that won’t be necessary Agent Stallard. I will do better, I promise. I’m sorry.”

He was sure Stallard had heard his nervous stutter, no matter how subtle it was. Timidly, Peter allowed himself a quick glance at Stallard though he knew he wouldn’t see any form of sympathy.

Stallard’s face was always expressionless, her pale blue eyes always steely and cold. She never smiled, barely frowned and never showed fear or concern. Despite that, Peter knew she had a soft spot for him, he could feel it. He just hoped that her soft spot was big enough to save him today, despite it residing in the heart of an otherwise apathetic woman.

Peter turned away and faced forward again. The other agents were paying attention now, staring in silence at the pair and supressing their grins of satisfaction. They only seemed to care for Peter when he was being punished or scolded and Peter wished they’d just ignore him like they would any other time. It would make these situations less humiliating.

“I suppose I can refrain from speaking to Moller,” Stallard mused, “but in return you must report directly to him once we land and tell him what you did. If you accept your punishment willingly that will be proof enough that you have remembered your place.”

Peter couldn’t help but let out a sigh of relief, “Thank you Agent Stallard Ma’am. I will not disappoint you.”

“Let’s hope so.”

Chapter Text

 

“Do we have anything else on him?”

Tony sighed, leaning back in his chair in the designated Avengers conference room and rubbed his face with a calloused hand, “Apart from the ultimately brief conversation I had with him before I almost pissed my pants watching him suction cup to the ceiling? No, Banner I’m afraid we don’t.”

“Graphic,” Sam muttered under his breath. 

“Unnecessarily Graphic,” Clint concurred. 

“Okay, well there’s got to be some way to find out more about him,” Banner continued, ignoring Sam and Clint’s decidedly unhelpful comments, “What about those scientist’s you guys took in, huh? You said that the kid mentioned they did something that affected him.”

“Nat, Wanda and Rhodes are interrogating them as we speak and once that’s done you and I can go through their paper’s and see if there’s any connection ourselves. Until then, we can’t do much.”

Banner nodded awkwardly, “Oh, right.”

Since returning from the HYDRA compound Tony had retold his experience to the team about a million times, each person eager to know all the details.

No one had bothered to sleep despite returning home in the very early hours of the morning. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement that finding answers was more important than basic self-care. 

And Tony understood that, he really did. Just as they thought HYDRA had nothing left up their sleeves, they revealed a card so morally confusing that it made Tony’s head spin just thinking about it. 

The card was a kid.

But the kid was a part of HYDRA.

The kid didn’t stop Tony from beating up some HYDRA scientists.

But the kid seemed to do that for his own benefit.

Honestly, Tony didn’t know what to think. The kid was dangerous and seemed to have a series of powers unlike anything anybody had seen, they couldn’t just let him go scot-free. Though there was something about the way the kid talked and held himself, it seemed impossible to Tony that he was completely evil. There had to be some good in there and Tony wanted to find it.

Whichever way he looked at the situation, they needed to find the kid. The only issue was they didn’t have a name or a face. It was going to be hard.

Steve cleared his throat, “Well you know, maybe if you would consider asking Bu-“ 

“No.” 

“Tony come o-“ 

“Cap, I’m already letting the man live in the compound with us on your request and out of the kindness of my own heart. Forgive me for not wanting to include him in every aspect of my life, Avengers business being one of them.”

Unsurprisingly, Steve sighed, “Tony, I understand why you want to distance yourself from Bucky. I get it. But he has inside information and he wouldn’t mind helping. Can’t I just ask him?”

Tony pinched the bridge of his nose. Siberia had happened about a year ago and when Steve had first reached out to make amends and work on fixing the Accords as well as get the team back together, Tony had been more or less relieved. He’d never wanted the team to come to such an ugly end and it felt like a second chance.

What he hadn’t accounted for was that the second chance would also extend to the man who had killed his parents. 

“Okay,” Tony said, “If we don’t get anything crazy useful out of the scientist guys I’ll call him in.” Baby steps Tony thought, baby steps. 

Steve offered a small smile, “Thank you.”

A few minutes later Natasha, Wanda and Rhodey walked into the conference room, the latter holding a single piece of paper. 

“Anything?” Tony asked somewhat hopefully.

Nat scoffed as she sat in a vacant seat at the table, “Barely. The kid was right, these guys know jack-shit.”

“Well, there was one thing we got,” Wanda said as she made her way to stand beside Vision who was his usual quiet and observant self, “Though, it is not much.”

Tony shook his head, “When I said anything, I meant it. What did you get?”

It was Rhodey’s turn to speak, “Well, they had no knowledge of there being a super-kid within HYDRA but you did say the kid was kind of spider-like, right?”

“Right.” 

“So, I asked them if they’d done any spider-related work and they referred us to this,” Rhodey slid the piece of paper over to Tony who hesitated slightly before picking it up.

He read through the small report and when he was done all Tony was capable of saying was, “Huh.”

“What is it?” Banner asked eagerly.

“It says here they were working on a genetically modified Whitetail Spider but the research on it looks to have stopped a couple years ago.”

“Holy shit,” Clint said, “You don’t think—“

“It has something to do with the kid?” Banner supplied shrugging, “Not sure, but it can’t be a coincidence.” 

“Well, does that help us anyway?” Sam asked, “I mean, sure it could have something to with the kid but it’s so vague…”

Tony sighed, “We know just as much as each other and although this potential backstory is positively thrilling it’s not really getting us anywhere when it comes to finding the kid.”

Steve looked up from the cup of coffee he had been staring into, “So…”

For what felt like the umpteenth time that meeting, Tony placed his head in his hands. He really didn’t want to do this, “FRIDAY tell Barnes to meet us in the lounge… we need his help.”

“He’s desperate,” Natasha whispered to Rhodey.

The Colonel let out an amused huff, “You could say that again.”

 


 

Heavy panting and laboured breaths were the only sounds that filled the HYDRA training room. At least twenty agents lent against walls or lay practically motionless on the ground - each nursing their own respective injuries. 

Double that stood, staring intensely with hands still in fists at the figure who had fallen on to the blood and sweat covered concrete as he had many times before, though this time he did not immediately get back up.

Eventually, Peter rolled over and reset his jaw.

It wasn’t one of his favourite punishments if he was being honest. Although he justified it in his head as a merely intense form of training. All Peter had to do was stand in the centre of the room and fight off any person who came at him.

The catch was that for every person he knocked out, two more took their place and it only ended when Peter could fight no longer, his exhaustion and injuries getting the better of him.

“Are you done, my boy?” A mockingly sweet voice came from a corner of the room.

Blood gushed out of Peter’s nose and one of his eyes had been beaten into a deep purple while the other was swollen shut. Yellow and green bruises traced his cheekbones and a thin line of red travelled down his chin with the source being a busted lower lip. His arms and legs ached with bruising and fatigue, begging to be given a break and he had lost all sense of feeling in his feet. Two fingers on his left hand and one on his right were surely dislocated and every time he breathed, a cracked rib painfully contorted within him.

“Yes… Doctor M- Moller,” The response came out through gritted teeth and grunts of pain. It hurt to speak.

“Good,” The man clapped his hands twice and the forty remaining agents left the room, taking those who were injured with them. Peter made sure to glance at Dina Stallard who gave a small nod of approval before silently slipping away and Peter couldn’t help but let out a sigh of relief. Now, him and Doctor Moller were the only ones left.

Doctor Moller was six-foot-two and bald. He always wore a lab coat and circular tortoise shell spectacles that were pushed far up the bridge of his noise. At first glance, the man seemed unthreatening and depressingly plain but Peter knew better.

He knew that the man was as physically fit and skilled as any trained HYDRA agent. Peter used to experience his technique on a regular first-hand basis when he was younger.

“Though your willingness to perform orders you do not like has increased greatly over the years, I didn’t really ever expect you to save those men. It would have been too good to be true.” 

Despite every inch of his body screaming in protest, Peter stood as his Mentor approached him. A stiff groan escaping his lips as he used his injured fingers to push himself off the ground. His voice wreaked of bitterness, “If you knew that then why did you send me? I haven’t disobeyed orders in months.”

The Doctor shrugged as he handed Peter the mask to his suit which had been confiscated before the punishment began, “I wanted to see how much you had improved and although you failed the main objective, you followed everything else to a T.”

Peter nodded. The rest of his orders had been relatively simple. They were to not let the scientists know he was there, engage with the enemy only when necessary but let at least one know of his presence and to – under no circumstances – kill the Avengers. That would come later. 

And okay, maybe it wasn’t necessary to have had a full-blown conversation with Tony-Fucking-Stark but Peter had been told to introduce himself to one of the Avengers. No order however, had detailed how or why. So, he’d decided to improvise.

Without warning, Doctor Moller reached out and cupped Peter’s chin, pulling him forward to examine the damage done. The hold was too tight to be considered anything close to affectionate, fingers pressing harshly against fresh bruises, and yet Peter instinctively leaned into the touch.

It took all the self-restraint he had to not beg for just a little more contact, keeping his eyes steady and swallowing whatever sounds of need he had away. Maybe Peter could have gotten away with asking for such things when he was younger, however it was a moment of weakness he hadn’t indulged himself with for years now. The punishment he would receive was never worth it.

The hand disappeared and Peter straightened his posture, shame for wanting something he wasn’t meant to need already bubbling within.

Peter wasn’t meant to feel simple desires like that. The White Spider’s personality was meant to consist of only three traits:

Decisive. Apathetic. Focused.

Doctor Moller’s eyes flicked up and down the White Spider’s beaten form once more before turning away, “Fix yourself and shower Peter then meet me in the briefing room.”

His mouth dropped open. Another mission already?

“It’s the middle of the night,” Peter pointed out

Moller stopped walking but did not turn around, “I know.”

“I just came back from a mission and then I was immediately punished for like, three hours straight. Can’t this wait ti—“

“Fix yourself and shower Peter then meet me in the briefing room,” Doctor Moller repeated, cutting off the boy’s protests, “That’s an order, little White Spider.”

Peter hung his head in defeat, “Yes, Doctor Moller.”

Seemingly pleased with this response, the man left, letting the heavy door to the training room close behind him. Peter listened to the echo of the door shutting as he stood alone in the centre of a blood-stained floor. 

He reset one of his fingers, let out a yelp of pain and headed to his quarters.

As soon as Peter shut the metal door that lead from the hallway to his room, he dropped the mask, sat on his small, creaking bed and focused on his breathing as he reset his remaining dislocated fingers.

The teen opened his mouth and released a silent scream of pain into the empty room. Peter knew people would hear him if he made any loud noises and he really didn’t feel like being told to shut up. However, the tears that ran down his face couldn’t be heard so he let them be.

Peter stood and peeled off the white suit, throwing it carelessly to the ground. He’d wash it later, if he had time. His ice-cold shower sent the expected shivers down his spine and the water stung as it seeped into cuts that had yet to heal.

He stared lazily as dried blood washed away from his hair and skin and swirled into the drain. Sometimes Peter wished he could just stay in the shower; it felt like a place where time didn’t exist. HYDRA needed him though, and Peter had learnt that that was more important than relaxing a long time ago.

Sighing, Peter stepped out of the shower and used his already dirty towel to dry off and stop his dripping hair. While actively avoiding the cracked bathroom mirror so he didn’t have to see his face and body littered with bruises and cuts, Peter threw on one of his many black long-sleeved shirts and combat pants.

Before leaving the relative safety of his quarters to make his way towards the briefing room, he dried his eyes with the sleeves of his shirt and took a deep, rattling breath. 

Decisive. Apathetic. Focused. 

He could do this.

He had to.

As Peter walked through the maze of corridors, he listened to the electric hum of the lights that were a little too bright and the sound of his bare feet stepping on cold concrete floors. His attempt to shove them into black combat boots had failed miserably, his feet too swollen and sore.

Peter had considered wearing socks but that just seemed weird, considering he was in a top-secret facility going to a top-secret mission briefing. Socks just seemed inappropriate, almost too casual.

So fuck it, feet would do.

He knocked on the metal door and waited for confirmation that he could come in. When he did, Peter entered the room.

Sitting on one side of a metal table was Agent Stallard and Doctor Moller.

As usual there was no seat for him so he stood with his hands behind his back and stared straight ahead. Peter did his best to not shift his body weight as his soles began to ache in protest of being used.

Luckily, his superiors didn’t seem to notice his lack of shoes. Sometimes Peter just got distracted by the smallest of things.

“Even with your advanced healing, you still look like shit,” Dina Stallard noted.

That was probably a bigger thing. 

“I know,” Peter replied. 

“Well, I did order you and your people to punish him harshly,” Moller countered.

Dina’s eyes stayed on Peter, “I’m aware of that. My comment was more an appreciation of our work than a criticism of his abilities.”

“I see.” 

Peter cleared his throat, desperate to change the subject, “My mission?”

A small and rather amused smile appeared on Moller’s face, “Eager to know, are we boy?”

Peter nodded.

“Good. Although I will say now, this is one of the most important missions you will ever do. The method of it is unorthodox and yet failure is not an option. Disobeying even the tiniest of details cannot be overlooked.”

That’s a lot of pressure Peter thought, more so than usual. Usually briefings were exactly that; brief. There was never a warning, never a threat. Punishments due to disobeying tended to be an unspoken understanding between them all. Peter just couldn’t help but wonder – why was this time different? 

“And if I don’t?” Peter asked nervously, “Follow every detail I mean.”

Without a word Doctor Moller lifted his hands which had previously resided under the table and with them he revealed a small, cream coloured, leather book. It had a black spider insignia pressed onto the front. He placed it gently on the table.

Peter’s eyes shot open as wide as they could with his still healing injuries. His heart pounded and a feeling of nausea and fear settled at the base of his stomach. Suddenly the blood in his ears was too loud and breathing became even more difficult than it already was with a still healing rib.

It was the book that he saw in his nightmares. The book that made him lose all sense of what he thought made Peter – well – Peter

His breath hitched only slightly and he swallowed the bile rising in his throat, but Moller could still see the uncontrollable terror in Peter’s eyes.

The Doctor stared, “Are we clear?”

“Y-yes Doc-Doctor Moller. W-we um, We’re clear. Very.”

Moller’s smile only grew, “Wonderful. Dina, shall we begin the briefing?”

Unfazed by what had happened, Agent Stallard spoke without hesitance, “Of Course. White Spider, your mission is to dispose of the Winter Soldier.”

Well shit.

 


 

“So, Barnes, I guess you’re wondering why we called you here,” Tony said as he tossed a now empty pizza box onto the growing pile on the glass coffee table.

“Why Tony called you here,” Natasha corrected somewhat smugly, opening up a can of soda and allowing the fizz to emphasise the end of her comment.

Tony waved a hand her way, “Details.” 

He watched as Bucky – who was sitting on the couch furthest from him – leaned forward and placed his untouched slice of pizza on the coffee table, “Well, considering FRIDAY told me that you ‘need my help’ I would say that I am pretty curious.”

“She didn’t have to be so specific,” Tony muttered under his breath.

It felt so odd to ask a man he had once sworn to hate for help. Maybe he didn’t have to ask? What if he just let the whole ‘I need your help’ thing go? Tony was smart enough to find the kid himself, surely.

“So, Barnes, how about attending the Gala celebrating the reunion of The Avengers in Central Park? It’s in a couple days and it's gonna be a blast.”

“Seriously Tony?”

“What Rhodes? I’m extending another olive branch. It’s been my thing lately; including people. You should try it sometime.”

“Wow.” 

Bucky sighed, “Sure, I’d love to go. Now what am I really here for?”

The group looked at Tony expectantly, their eyes trained on him as they were teachers and he was a school kid known for bad behaviour. 

Suck it up he thought before half-heartedly flicking a finger Steve’s way, “Alright Cap, you know the guy best and with topics like this I tend to be what some would call ‘tactless’ so take it away.” 

“Oh, right,” Steve turned to face Bucky who was sitting next to him and cleared his throat, “Well, you see Buck we need some information about HYDRA.”

Bucky smiled softly, “Yeah I figured. What do you want to know?”

“Did you ever work with or run into a teen with scary spider powers and weird sticky limbs!?” Simultaneously, The Avengers slowly turned their heads towards Clint – even Sam seemed unimpressed.

The Archer shrugged, sinking further into the couch, “I got impatient.”

“And people say I’m tactless,” Tony shook his head in disbelief.

“Well, that wasn’t exactly how I was going to put it but he sums it up pretty well,” Steve turned back to his best friend, “So, have you met a genetically enhanced minor in HYDRA?”

Bucky shook his head, “As far as I know I was the only enhanced soldier active during my time there. I never met a kid with abilities.”

“But you met kids?” Natasha clarified, “You said none had abilities but you didn’t scrap the thought of kids completely.”

“Well, I saw kids but most of them were children of HYDRA workers. They grew up in that world and were following their parent’s footsteps in becoming scientists or agents.”

Rhodey pressed on, “So you met no kids that could have potentially turned into a professional assassin by the age of sixteen?”

“I mean, none that would be—” Bucky paused halfway through his sentence, a wave of realisation crashing in on him, “Hang on, did you say that whoever you met was sixteen?”

Tony nodded, “That’s what the kid told me when I asked him.”

“Him?" 

“Well…he sounded like a he.”

The ex-assassin stood up and started pacing back and forth, “Holy shit. It can’t be though, can it? I mean he wasn’t supposed to be – at least not until he was – Oh my god.”

“Bucky calm down,” Steve grabbed his friend’s arm when he walked past and gently pulled him back onto the couch, “What’s going on?”

“Yeah, an insider’s scoop would be useful about now,” Tony added.

“I think I know the kid. Or at least I knew him. I met him about nine years ago when he was seven.”

“Making him sixteen currently,” Clint concurred.

Bucky nodded, “He was meant to become the next ‘great soldier’, the next me. But when I met him, the kid was so young and so scared of everything – hell I’m pretty sure he needed an inhaler even when he was just jogging.”

“So, why was he going to be the next you?” Wanda asked, “Why not pick another child of HYDRA?”

Barnes looked around frantically, as if the memories would appear before him, “That’s just it. He wasn’t a kid of HYDRA, he was a kid for HYDRA. He wasn’t born into the organisation he was brought into it at a young age.”

“May one assume he was abducted?” Vision pondered aloud.

“Probably. They wanted somebody with no emotional attachments to people on the inside, that way sympathy wouldn’t get in the way of his training. But when I met him, I was told he wouldn’t be enhanced until his early twenties. They wanted to train and test him first, you know? Make sure they had the right kid. I’ve got to be honest though, the way the kid acted, how sensitive and non-violent he was, I didn’t think he’d make it. He was smart, sure, but that isn’t enough. Kid seemed like a goner to me, I was sure HYDRA was going to break him and then toss him to the side.”

“That’s terrible,” Wanda muttered.

Bucky shrugged, “That’s all HYDRA is capable of, terrible things.”

A heavy silence settled upon the group. There seemed to be so many questions that nobody wanted to ask, Tony included. The difference between him and the other Avengers though was that he needed to know more. He refused to let someone go through a shittier childhood than the one he had, it wouldn’t be fair

“What else do you know?” Tony asked quietly

“His full name. Although, he probably doesn’t remember his own last name, HYDRA wasn’t too keen on the kid having something that connected him to his past.” 

“Tell us anyway,” Steve said. 

“His name was Peter. Peter Parker.”

Tony looked towards the ceiling, “FRIDAY?”

“On it Boss, I am currently looking through all records of children with the name Peter Parker. I will send the relevant information to your personal computer in the lab.”

Tony stood and clapped his hands, “Wonderful, I’ll go down now,” Before leaving he pointed a finger at Bucky, “I’ll be seeing you at the Gala.”

“Seriously?” Bucky exclaimed, “I thought you were joking!”

Tony was already stepping into the elevator, “I never joke about Galas, Miss Potts would kill me.”

The elevators doors slid shut and Bucky sighed, “Why is he just so…”

Steve patted his shoulder reassuringly, “I get it Buck, I get it.”

 

Chapter Text

Peter couldn’t believe it. The ONE time he didn’t have to wear a HYDRA issued uniform and his clothes were still black and white. 

What kind of sick and twisted fate was that?

Sure, it made sense that he was wearing a tuxedo considering he was going undercover as a waiter at some fancy Gala but still. Couldn’t they have just thrown in a splash of blue? Maybe a hot streak of red? Just any article of clothing that wasn’t either absorbing or reflecting every single wave length of light coming its way? 

Apparently not.

So, there Peter was. Dressed in an almost too tight tuxedo (bowtie and all), holding a metal serving plate covered in full glasses of sparkling champagne. His White Spider suit was hidden beneath the layers of fancy fabric, the only part visible being his hands which posed as slim white gloves. Even his hair was gelled back into a neat style – something he’d never had to do before.

There were a lot of things Peter wasn’t a fan of in this mission. Ever the optimist though, he tried to focus on the list of things he didn’t mind too much.

Peter had never been to Central Park before – hell – he’d never been anywhere that wasn’t an illegal underground bunker or a secluded and highly dangerous compound. Missions seemed to always fall under one those categories so seeing people – normal people – dining on The Great Lawn within Central Park and sitting on ornate chairs while eating on non-metal plates that rested on large circular tables with pristine white cloths covering them was… different to say the least. 

And the music. The music was good too. In the centre of the Lawn was a circular make-shift stage where men in similar black tuxes and women in elegant black gowns sat and stood, masterfully playing various string instruments. Peter had never really heard music, well, at least not in the past decade or so and the sound of what he presumed was the ‘classical’ genre was so mesmerising he couldn’t fathom how guests were talking to one another rather than just simply listening. Normal people didn’t make sense, Peter decided.

He also liked the lighting. Each table had a small dish in the centre where large white candles illuminated the seating, wax lazily dribbling down the sides. Thin strings of plastic zigzagged between large poles over the heads of the guests, and small lights twinkled within them. It was so soft, so unaversive that for once in what felt like years, his eyes didn’t hurt without wearing the mask. And Peter liked that, quite a lot actually.

Everything else though?

Shit.

Absolute shit.

The man in charge of the waiters was a pompous prick who continuously patronised Peter because he was a ‘rookie’. Now, Peter was used to relatively strict and harsh bosses, and he was used to them garnering some sort of respect. But taking orders from a guy who Peter could kill in three seconds flat without even so much as squeal? It was just ridiculous, and irritating.

Also, the whole ‘disposing of the Winter Soldier’ thing was kind of annoying too. Mostly because he had rather conflicting feelings about it.

Ever since Doctor Moller had first made seven-year-old Peter look through a window into the training room and had pointed out the Winter Soldier taking out agent after agent during sparring, he’d been obsessed. Ever since Doctor Moller bent down and whispered in his ear while watching the Winter Soldier, “One day you will be just like him, but better,” Peter had been obsessed.

The Winter Soldier became his hero, his idol. From age seven upwards, all Peter wanted to do was be just like the infamous assassin. To be as devout to HYDRA as Doctor Moller had told him the Soldier was. To be as strong, as fast and as successful as the Winter Soldier. It gave him the courage to work harder and to be braver, so that one day he could become the Soldier’s equal. At the time, Peter couldn’t think of anything better than that.

And then one year ago, Peter was told the Winter Soldier had betrayed HYDRA and left and Peter’s training would once again be excelled a couple years so he could take his place.

And Peter was mad.

Really fucking mad.

Peter had learnt about the Soldiers lucky escape from death in one of his ‘History of HYDRA’ lessons. As far as he knew, the Winter Soldier would have been long gone if it hadn’t been for the mercy of HYDRA. Yet, the Soldier had abandoned them.

How could the Winter Soldier – his hero – leave HYDRA, when they had saved his life so long ago?

HYDRA was the place that had taken Peter in when he was left with no one and all of a sudden it wasn’t good enough for his hero? He wasn’t good enough for his hero?

Doctor Moller had mentioned that the Soldier could be an arrogant man. 

Peter had never thought he would be so much of one to turn his back against the people who had protected and trained him for so long.

In some ways killing him would be the perfect way to get revenge. He could spit in the Soldiers face and say, ‘take that you two-faced fucker’. But there was still a part of Peter that looked up to the Soldier with awe and respect.

Killing the man he wanted to be one day wouldn’t do either of them any good. And if Peter was being honest with himself, there was an even smaller part of him that couldn’t help but wonder wh—

“Hey, rookie!”

Peter was snapped out of his thoughts as he saw the pudgy head waiter walk towards him, his face a beetroot red.

“This might come as a shock to you kid, but you aren’t getting paid to stare off into space like some mindless goldfish. Get your scrawny ass moving and start handing out those drinks.”  

Fighting the urge to snap the man’s neck, Peter managed a small smile, “Of course sir, my bad.”

“Damn right it is,” The man muttered as he walked off to who knows where.

Peter took a deep breath. There were two emotions battling to gain control within him; fear and anger. Right now, Peter desperately needed anger to win. Otherwise everything would go to shit and he couldn’t have that. Not this time. 

As soon as his ‘boss’ was out of sight, Peter’s smile dropped and he willingly pushed himself into mission mode.

Decisive. Apathetic. Focused.

Emotion? Anger.

Peter scanned the crowd of tables and it didn’t take him long to spot the Avengers table. They had a large circular table twice the size of the rest that was positioned directly in front of the musicians.

Immediately, Peter spotted the Soldier sitting between Captain America and Falcon, silently nodding his head as the people either side of him made conversation. 

Step One was going to be easy. 

He made his way towards them. Swerving gracefully between tables as Peter diligently placed a drink wherever he was motioned to do so. 

Like a shark circling its prey, Peter served the nearby tables of his target. He willed his heightened hearing to focus in on the Avenger’s conversations – particularly those sitting by the Winter Soldier. 

“So that’s it? That’s the only kid in New York with a name match and he’s gone?” Sharp and confronting, yet there was a sense of easiness in his voice.

The Falcon, Peter decided. 

“That’s what it seems. No living relatives that are blood related and the body of him was found a couple years ago. Well, the remains of it.” Strong and commanding, yet it was not lacking in politeness and sincerity. 

Captain America, Peter thought.

“Christ Cap,” Nailed it, “Are we sure there’s no one we can talk to that would know more?”

“Well, there is an Aunt who married into the family but she—“

“As much as I love you two girls gossiping about our top-secret mission at a Gala being attended by – I kid you not – hundreds of people, why don’t we leave discussing my latest research until after. Sound good?” Peter didn’t even need to analyse that voice, he’d heard it before.

Iron Man. Without a doubt. 

“Right, sorry.”

“Yeah, my bad.”

Interestingly, the Winter Soldier had yet to speak. He’d never been much of a talker when Peter had known him, so it really shouldn’t have really come as a surprise.

Peter just thought that at an event which was created with for the sole purpose of celebrating him and his colleagues the guy might be more… cherry.

Once a brooding mess always a brooding mess, Peter thought wearily. 

The conversation died and Peter only had one drink left. It was time to make his move.

Without hesitation, he walked up to the Avengers table, bent over between Iron Man and Captain America to replace the formers drink and dropped the champagne glass. 

It was an accident. Of course it was. 

Of course. 

The bubbling liquid spilt everywhere. It sunk into the tablecloth and pooled on nearby plates and cutlery. 

“Oh Iro- I mean, Mister Stark, Mister Rogers – sirs. I’m so sorry I-I didn’t mean to,” Peter stuttered, feigning nervousness as if it were second nature and lightening the tone of his voice in the hopes it wouldn’t sound so familiar to Stark. 

Iron Man turned to look at him, irritation as clear as day on his face. Automatically, Peter allowed his eyes to grow wide and his lower lip to quiver. Doctor Moller had said whenever he did that he looked like a kicked puppy. It was useless when facing his usual opponents who lacked a soul but with someone like Stark? Well-

The man’s eyes softened, “Hey don’t worry about it, it was an accident.”

Bingo.

“Yeah, it’s okay, Tony and I will go find some napkins to clean this up while you pick up the glass. No harm no foul.” Captain America didn’t even need the puppy dog treatment, his voice was already dripping with care.

Peter fought to contain his smirk.

“R-really?” He asked in a way that was almost comically hopeful, “T-thank you so much sir, that’s very kind of you.” 

Iron Man stood, buttoning his suit jacket and gave Peter a wink, “Don’t mention it, we’ll be back in a bit. Come on Cap.”

With kind smiles, both Captain America and Iron Man left the table in search of napkins or whatever the fuck they’d said. Peter honestly couldn’t have cared less, they were gone and that was the only thing that mattered.

He bent down and silently began picking up the pieces of shattered glass, ensuring he kept up the whole ‘oh woe is me’ act by allowing his fingers to tremble slightly. As soon as he’d picked up every shard and had placed them on his tray, he slid closer than what was necessary to the Winter Soldier’s now vacant side.

The man shuffled slightly but otherwise didn’t move. Peter couldn’t help a small grin slip as he whispered so quietly that only he and the Soldier could possibly hear, “Приветствую Гидру.”

Hail HYDRA.

Simple, but effective.

Extremely effective. 

Peter only had time to see the man’s eyes go wide with shock before he turned and walked away as casually as possible from the table.

He didn’t need to look back to ensure the Soldier’s eyes were following him, nor did he feel compelled to sneak a glance behind him when his senses spiked slightly and he heard footsteps not too far behind his own follow him towards the edge of the Gala.

It was the Winter Soldier, he knew it.

Peter shoved his tray into the hands of the head waiter as he passed him. He didn’t bother to stop.

“I quit.”

The head waiter called after him, “Hey rookie you can’t just—“

“Just did,” Peter called back, a small raise of his hand to indicate his goodbyes.

The White Spider’s pace quickened when he finally escaped the maze of tables and headed towards the trees which lined the lawn.

Step Two was a go. 

Peter swerved through trees and cut across paths. He could hear the Soldier keeping up with him yet actively keeping his distance, just as the teen had hoped for. 

Finally, Peter made it to the edge of The Ramble. Tall and twisting trees loomed over him like dark figures in the night and the faint rush of water that could be heard from a stream nearby.

The Soldier’s footsteps grew louder, twigs snapping under his dress shoes. He stopped a few feet behind Peter and allowed his laboured breaths to announce his presence. 

Peter grinned smugly to himself. What felt like a gentle stroll through the park to him sounded like it had been a struggle for his hero. 

His hero.

Was he still his hero? The person who he’d hardly spoken to but had still idolised for years? The person who he’d been told he would one day replace? The person he was replacing? 

The person who had left him?

Peter balled his fists. No, he decided, He’s not anymore.

“Peter,” The Soldiers voice seemed different to how Peter remembered it to be, not as angry or as harsh as he thought it was, “Peter is that you?”

Peter closed his eyes, he could do it now. Skip Step Three and end it here so he could just get it over with and move forward. It wouldn’t be a big deal, he would still be getting the job done, he would still be following orders— 

“And if I don’t?” Peter asked nervously, “Follow every detail I mean.”

Without a word Doctor Moller lifted his hands which had previously resided under the table and with them he revealed a small, cream coloured, leather book. It had a black spider insignia pressed onto the front. He placed it gently on the table.

It was the book that he saw in his nightmares. The book that made him lose all sense of what he thought made Peter – well – Peter.

The Doctor stared, “Are we clear?”

Peter opened his eyes and took a deep, rattling breath.

Decisive. Apathetic. Focused.

“Well Soldier, you’ll have to find out.”

“Wait what do yo—“

Peter didn’t wait. He ran into The Ramble, quickly ditching the worn trails as soon as he heard the sound of the Soldiers heavy footsteps following.

The White Spider sped up, running in dubious circles and side-stepping around trees just for the sake of confusing his chaser. When the running of the Soldier was only a faint sound in his hears, Peter headed with purpose towards a large oak tree.

Without hesitation, he began scaling the tree in record speed. Adrenaline coursed through his veins and it felt as though there was no room left for blood.

He swung himself on to one of the broad, aging branches and crouched by the base of it, allowing himself to catch his breath.

Peter stared down through bunches of leaves and clusters of low hanging branches as he waited for the Winter Soldier to catch up.

The Soldier came into view moments later, his pace had dwindled to a jog and he looked around aimlessly in all directions.

Expect for up, that is.

Peter pushed the sleeves of his tux up slightly before he shot two thick cords of webbing downwards, watching with a sense of satisfaction as they wrapped around the elbows of the Soldier who let out a shout of surprise.

“Here we go,” Peter muttered through gritted teeth as he twisted the end of the webbing around his closed fists and pulled with almost all of the strength he could muster. The Soldier shot up through the trees and landed on the branch with Peter beside him. 

The Soldier didn’t have any time to react and before the man knew it, his back was pressed against the trunk with legs straddling the branch, feet helplessly dangling. Layers upon Layers of webbing smothered his chest and arms.

Peter watched as his former hero pulled experimentally against the restraints with his metal arm. It was buried in so much of the white goo that they could barely see the glinting metal fist and the restraints merely tightened with every harsh movement he made. 

A groan of frustration tore out of the Soldier. Peter watched the man looked up and lock eyes with him for the first time in almost a decade.

Step Three had begun, finally.

Peter tilted his head slightly and forced a smile, “Hi.”

From afar, the Spider could’ve sworn the former assassin was different and being up close only confirmed it. Though the man seemed pissed – and rightly so – there was no longer a cruel vacancy in his eyes, it was as if it had been filled.

Something twisted within Peter’s heart and his head began to fill with questions and conspiracies. The White Spider pushed the surge of feelings down into his stomach and allowed the butterflies to fade away.

Now wasn’t the time. He needed to be decisive. He needed to be apathetic. He needed to be focused.    

The murky blue eyes seemed to have darkened slightly and the Soldier’s jaw tightened.

“What are you doing?”

Peter’s smile dropped, “What I’m told.”

The teen turned away and reached for the black duffel bag he had stashed within the branches leaves earlier in the evening. Methodically, Peter unzipped the bag and began riffling through its contents.

The Winter Soldier sighed, “Peter, you—“

“Actually,” Peter interjected as he found his white mask and pulled it over his head, “It’s ‘White Spider’ on missions now. You might’ve known that if you had visited me at the Compound more than that one time like a decade ago.”

“Peter you know that I—“

“Oh wait,” the White Spider turned to face the Soldier and sneered, “Of course you wouldn’t know, considering you abandoned the people who had watched over you for almost an entire fucking century. You did that, what? A year ago? Silly me, I should’ve thought of that.”

“Peter, taking my life isn’t going to change any of that.”

“You lost your life when you turned your back on us. I’m just making it official.”

Peter was losing his cool and he knew it. Decisiveness and apathy seemed to fly out the window when it came to chewing out his former hero.

Did he care anymore though? Not really. He knew in a couple of minutes the Winter Soldier would be dead and nobody but himself would be alive to remember his immature and hurt ramblings. Though, venting his frustrations wasn’t as important as focusing. That was something he had to do.

He couldn’t fuck up.

He wouldn’t.

The Soldier seemed lost for words, “Kid, I—“

“Save it,” Peter turned away from the man and began removing the web cartridge from his left-hand shooter, “I’ve got orders to follow and having a heart to heart with my victim wasn’t one of them.”

He placed the cartridge in a side pocket and reached for the cartridge filled with lethal web– wait. Where had Peter put that again? It wasn’t in any of the side pockets. Shit. This is what he gets for packing last minute.

“Fine, but can I at least ask why? Why are you all of a sudden hell-bent on killing me?”

Peter didn’t bother to turn around, still searching through his poorly packed bag for the tiny vial of poison, “I just told you, I was given orders. They were specific and I have to follow them.”

Where the fuck is it? It should be right here.

“Peter, I’m sorry I never saw you again, but that wasn’t my fault. You know just as well as me that…”

Why did leaving a small cartridge loose in a big bag seem like a good idea? Maybe asking the kitchen staff for a zip lock bag would work better next time.

“…aren’t decisions I got to make. Missions were an entirely different thing, sure there are orders you have to follow but you don’t need to follow them perfectly. As long as you…” 

Oh, there it is! Thank fuck. Now just gotta put it in the shooter and this will all be over.

“…and get most of the job done, they won’t mind. Maybe I could help you, just tell me what you need to do and we can figure this out. Nothing bad will happen to you if go you back without my head. I promise.”

Wait, what did he just say? He can’t be fucking serious.

The White Spider clicked the cartridge into place, “You’re wrong,” He stated.

“No, I know what I’m talking abou—“

No,” Peter turned around to stare at the ever-defiant Soldier, his mask eyes squinting as he focused, “You’re wrong. You have no idea what they said to me at briefing. What they told me they’d do if – if I didn’t succeed. Do you really think I would’ve done all this – this convoluted bullshit in order to kill you if I wasn’t fucking threatened with something other than the usual punishments? If it was my choice I would have poisoned your food or snapped your neck as soon as your stupid ass was out of sight from the Gala. I wouldn’t be following every detail if I did that though, so I didn’t.

“This isn’t just some game where I get to pick and choose what I do. This my life, something you know jack-shit about. You can pretend to care about me as much as you want if you think that’ll stop me from doing this, I don’t care. If it gives you any sort of comfort though, I’m not exactly happy with what I’m about to do either, but I’m still going to do it. I have to.”

Tears had begun to flow down Peter’s face, causing the mask to uncomfortably stick to his cheeks and chin. His voice seemed to be cracking and stuttering with frustration and fear –though he’d never admit to the latter –  and his hands shook uncontrollably. 

The Winter Soldier stared back with a mix of pity and guilt, two emotions Peter had been told were dangerously deceitful. 

“Peter, it’s okay I’m not trying to—“

“Shut up! Just shut up. For the last few moments of your life just go back to your usual moody self and let me do this in silence. God, even begging or bargaining with me would be better than whatever bullshit tactic your pulling now.”

Peter raised his trembling left hand towards The Soldier’s face, the lethal webbing waiting to be released as his fingers nervously rested against the trigger.

“I’m sorry Winter Soldier, I am but—“

Suddenly, the hair on the back of Peter’s neck stood straight and his whole body was taken over by shivers that seemed to scream ‘Danger! Danger! Behind you! Danger!’.

He’d taken too long.

He’d lost focus.

He’d fucked up.

No.

Decisive. Apathetic. Focused.

Instinctively, Peter turned around just in time to see Black Widow pull herself up on to the branch. She was still wearing a floor length gown and no doubt high heels as well but Peter didn’t let that deter him. ‘Never underestimate another spy’ had been a lesson he’d learnt early on.

Silently, Peter stood and raised his fists just as a manicured punch was swung his way. He ducked only to be greeted with a knee to his jaw. Before Black Widow could lower her leg, Peter grabbed her calf and pushed, causing her to stumble back. As she attempted to regain her balance, Peter gave a swift punch to her gut before using a leg to sweep under her feet. 

The Black Widow fell, her side slamming against the branch before she began to slide off. If it was any normal enemy Peter would have let her fall, but Natasha Romanov was an Avenger. Peter had been told he couldn’t kill them yet; that still had to come later.

So instead of watching her land on the ground and break her spine, The White Spider grabbed her wrist and let her helplessly hang below the branch. Her legs furiously kicked out in search of a foot hold.

Natasha’s other hand slid below the neckline of her dress and produced a small knife. Before she could do anything with it, Peter grabbed a ball that looked like one used for golfing from his duffle bag and threw it at Black Widow’s knife-wielding hand.

The ball exploded into a bundle of webbing which encased Natasha’s hand and knife in the sticky substance.

Seconds later, Peter’s senses alerted him of danger coming from below and he let out an audible groan of frustration. Tears were still streaming down his face but he didn’t have enough time to figure out why.

“If you try pull a knife or any other shit on me, I’ll crush your wrist,” Peter seethed.

He was sure he heard Natasha spit an insult back but he chose to ignore it. Turning away, he staring down at ground in time to see his next opponent emerge from the shadows. The man’s back faced Peter.     

Without his shiny shield, Captain America never stood a chance.

The White Spider didn’t hesitate before shooting yet another web down, but instead of going for the arms, Peter aimed for the legs. It felt right, for some reason.

The webbing hit the back of the man’s calves. Steve spun around to see what had just grabbed him only to involuntarily turn into even more of the webbing, causing his calves to be stuck in a loop of sticky string. 

Peter pulled and attached the end of the webbing to the branch. He watched as a suit wearing Captain America swung helplessly upside down. If the situation wasn’t so dire, Peter probably would have out right laughed. 

Instead, he opted for a wet and half-hearted chuckle then turned back to Black Widow whose was staring in shock at her colleague dangling across from her. Peter shot a web at her elbow and quickly twirled it around the length of her fore-arm before sticking the end to the branch. That way, when he let go of her wrist, her whole body wouldn’t be relying on one joint and her arm wouldn’t snap in two.

The White Spider was an assassin, sure, but he wasn’t a fan of prolonged pain and torture.

He waited for his senses to alert him of another Avenger approaching, but it didn’t. Peter let go of Romanov’s wrist and turned back to stare at his former hero.  Looking at him with an expression of shock horror. 

Peter swallowed before speaking with a voice that trembled ever so slightly, “Now – uh, w-where were we?” 

Finally, it seemed to Peter that the Winter Soldier was rendered speechless. His mouth silently hung open and his eyes stared unblinkingly wide. For the first time since their reunion, The Winter Soldier looked genuinely terrified. Peter couldn’t decide how he felt about thatn- but it didn’t matter. He’d won.

Well, almost.

The White Spider’s sixth sense went off too late, and for years to come he’d ask every single person who might know why. How did the sense that had never failed him do exactly that? Was it fate? Bad luck? An entirely unpredictable short-circuit of the brain?

Every person would just shrug and say, “He never misses.”

Peter’s body screamed ‘Danger!’ and less than a second later, he felt a small prick on the side of his neck. 

The White Spider’s eyes drooped. His reflexes turned to that of a snails and exhaustion won over the anger and fear.

Woah, wha’ was… wha’ was tha—“

Peter had barely slid off the branch when he slipped into unconsciousness.

 


 

Wanda slowed his fall and Tony caught him. 

Nobody said a thing as Clint shot an arrow through the cords that suspended Steve and Natasha, or when Nat freed her other hand from its sticky cage and began cutting through Bucky’s restraints. 

In fact, the next time anybody spoke was a muffled, “Are you okay?” from Steve to Bucky who merely nodded numbly in return. 

It was when everybody was back on solid ground that Tony decided to share his thoughts.

“And that team, is why you don’t run off to rescue a person without a plan first.”

“We stalled him and bought you all time to get here,” Natasha countered. 

“Yes, and you almost got killed doing it. I get you and Cap were concerned but acting irrationally will get us nowhere. I would know.”

Steve locked eyes with Tony, “It kept Bucky alive.”

“Did too much blood rush to your head Cap? Because if I recall it was Clint who sto—“

“Shut up,” Natasha said as she cautiously edged towards Tony and stared down at the teen’s bright white mask.

“I thought you said he wore black.”

Tony sighed, “Apparently he had a costume change. Come on we’ve got to head back to the Compound. Sam, Vis, Rhodes and Banner are already there and I told them to call Fury so we can work this out.” 

Natasha nodded though she didn’t really seem to have absorbed everything Tony had said.

“Can I take off his mask?” She spoke softly, as if her words could break glass, and turned to Bucky like she was asking for his permission. 

Bucky hesitated before nodding silently. His face was sickeningly pale and the man refused to meet anyone eyes, staring at the ground as if he could drill holes in the soil. 

With a great volume of care that Tony never knew she even possessed, Natasha gently removed the mask from the unconscious figure. 

A pale face too young to exist in their crazy world was revealed. A tangled mess of sweaty brown curls caked in gel hung loosely around it. Bags darker than the bruise on his chin shadowed his eyes and his cheeks were stained with the trails left by tears. 

Tony’s heart cracked like a dropped a tea cup. 

“Is this Peter?” Steve asked Bucky, his voice barely audible despite the tense silence that surrounded them.

His eyes didn’t move from the ground, they didn’t need to. Bucky nodded, “Yeah, that’s… that’s him.”

“He’s just a kid,” Clint whispered.

Tony swallowed the lump in his throat, “Yeah, yeah he is. Come on guys we’ve got to—“

Tony’s words were cut off by the nimble body he held beginning to slowly shift in his arms, accompanied by small groans of discomfort. 

“That tranq is meant to knock him out for at least six hours,” Clint muttered. 

“Well the kid doesn’t seem to agree. Wanda would you mind—“ 

Wanda never got the chance. 

Peter sprung to life, clumsily tipping himself out of Tony’s arms and on to the ground before scrambling to his feet a moment later. 

His movements weren’t nearly as refined as they had been, stumbling backwards until his back was against the tree he once occupied. Wide brown eyes ricocheted off the Avengers faces. 

Steve stepped forward cautiously, hands out in a non-threatening gesture as his voice turned light, “Woah, woah. Hey pal, Peter right? Everything’s okay. We just want to talk.” 

Peter swallowed nervously and frantically shook his head, “N-no I-I can’t. Y-you’re—“ 

The teen stopped speaking when his eyes landed on the mask in Natasha’s hand. He lifted a hand of his own to his face, body trembling all over. 

“Kid, we aren’t gonna hurt you. You’re safe,” Tony tried.

Apparently, that was the wrong thing to say. 

Peter snapped.

No! S-safety do-doesn’t exist out here!” The teen all but screamed at the Avengers.

As he spoke, he stuck out a hand and a string of webbing attached itself to his mask, pulling it out of Natasha’s grasp and into his own.

He began to move like a blur, turning and scrambling up the tree. Peter grabbed the duffel bag still hidden in the leaves and flung it over his shoulder. 

Tony didn’t know what to do. He could stop him by activating the gauntlet in his watch but he didn’t want to scare the kid more, let alone hurt him. 

The rest of the team seemed to feel the same way. They stared at him with deep looks of concern and watched him haphazardly toss his mask into the bag before zipping it up.

“Peter,” Bucky called out, stepping forward slightly as he spoke.

The teen’s head whipped around to face him, frozen in a crouched position.

“Peter, you don’t need to be afraid of us. Nothing will happen if you let us help. Don’t go back to them, I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

Peter seemed to hesitate slightly as if he were considering his options. His eyes softened and his posture relaxed and for a brief moment, Tony was almost certain they’d convinced him.

He was wrong.

Without another word, Peter turned away and leaped to a branch on another tree, moving away from Avengers. He did it again and again and again until the team could barely see him.

Shit.

“What do we do?” Wanda asked.

Tony swallowed away the nerves in his voice, “What I should’ve done the first time. We’re going after him.”

The group didn’t need any more prompting. They began following, Steve running ahead in order to keep an eye on the kid.

As Tony and the other’s started to make their way out of The Ramble and headed towards to bustling streets of New York, he could only think one thing. 

He was going to help this kid, no matter what.

 


 

Peter jumped from roof to roof, the duffle bag jostling uncomfortably against his hip as he ran and leaped through the humid air of a summer night in New York. The only thing going at a faster pace than his movements was his heartbeat.

Mission failed. Mission failed. Mission failed. Mission failed.

He couldn’t think properly, a million streams of thought and panic toppled over one another in an attempt to gain his full attention at the fore front of his mind.

The White Spider had never failed a mission so completely before. He was known for his accuracy, efficiency and level-headedness. The White Spider was meant to be invincible, no one could stop him. But tonight, he had stopped himself.

That wasn’t okay. Nothing was okay.

Fear, uncertainty and guilt melded together within him. Peter cursed himself to no end for allowing himself to be distracted and lose focus. If he hadn’t shouted at The Winter Soldier, if he hadn’t packed so poorly the night before, he would’ve completed the mission, he could’ve— 

A voice in his head stopped his ramblings, a lesson taught by Doctor Moller resurfacing. 

“Excuses made for your failures are just as pathetic as the failures themselves.”

Peter sucked in a breath. He couldn’t break down now. He had to accept the punishment he deserved and move forward. 

Slipping into the dark alley he had been told to meet at, The White Spider straightened his dirt-covered dress shirt and blazer and tightened his loosened bowtie. He made his way towards the non-descript looking black van that was parked in the back shadows of the alley.

Before he could knock, the van’s door slid open to reveal a stoic look Agent Dina Stallard. 

Peter didn’t need to explain. Just one look at his red puffy eyes, tear stained cheeks and bruised chin said it all.

The White Spider had failed. 

Peter had failed.

It didn’t matter how. 

“Were you seen by anyone?”

Peter nodded numbly.

Agent Stallard leaned out of the van and slapped him, “Use your words White Spider. You do not deserve pity. Pity is for the weak.”

Peter straightened his back and levelled his eyes with Agent Stallard though her gaze was hard to hold, “Yes Ma’am. I was seen by majority of the Avengers.” 

“And you failed.”

It wasn’t a question but still Peter answered, “Yes. I failed.”

“Doctor Moller will be furious.”

“I know.”

His superior reached out and grabbed the front of his collar, pulling him forward so he was mere inches away from her face. Dina twisted the fabric in her hand and Peter found himself struggling to breathe.

“You have let me down White Spider, I had faith in you. Doctor Moller did not raise you to be weak but the tears suggest otherwise. You are a coward and that cannot be tolerated by HYDRA.”

Peter released choking gasps in a futile attempt to inhale full breaths. He knew very well that he could pull Stallard’s hand away with his strength but that would get him into even more trouble.

Instead he dropped the duffle bag and held his hands behind his back as he had been taught to, watching through stinging eyes as Dina looked on with disgust and disappointment.

“If it were my choice, I would use the words on you right now and throw you into solitary for a week. But Doctor Moller has other plans for you. A backup mission was created in case you failed like you have.”

“A-agent Stal-la-ard I-I’m s-sorr—“

“Did I say you could speak?” Agent Stallard drove a harsh punch into his mouth and right eye before releasing her grip.

Peter collapsed on to his hands and knees, gulping in breaths of air as pain exploded in his eye and blood pooled in his mouth.

“We do not have much time as I am sure you have recklessly allowed the Avengers to follow you so I will make this quick. You will wait here and allow yourself to be captured by the Avengers.”

What?

“We will rescue you in exactly one month. If the Winter Soldier is not dead by then, the words will be used and Doctor Moller will punish you however he pleases for as long as he wants. Do I make myself clear?”

Oh.

The teen spat out a clump of blood and nodded, “Yes Agent Stallard. I-I understand.”

“Good. And Peter?”

Peter’s ears perked at his name, Dina never referred to him by it. He tentatively turned his head her way and looked up into her piercing blue eyes. 

“For.”

On cue, The White Spider stood up and faced Agent Stallard once again, hands behind back and feet planted firmly.

He could’ve sworn he saw the corners of Dina’s lips curl up for a second, “Hail HYDRA, White Spider.”

“Hail HYDRA Agent Stallard,” Peter echoed, his focus trained on his superior’s movements.

The van door closed and Peter barely had enough time to pull his duffle bag out of the way as the vehicle started up and sped off, leaving Peter alone.

Peter wished he could relax and move around, slump his shoulders or lean his back against the filthy brick walls, but he couldn’t. Not when the first word was still running fresh in his mind. The urge to behave was stronger than it had been just moments ago.

So, he re-centred himself. 

Decisive. Apathetic. Focused.

He was fine. He was still Peter.

Peter began to count.

Three hundred and seventeen seconds passed before Captain America ran into the alleyway. His chest was heaving almost as much as Peter’s heart.

Two hundred and thirty-six more seconds passed after Captain America called out to his colleagues and they too entered the alley, the Winter Soldier bringing up the rear.

Almost immediately, Tony Stark began attempting to console Peter who merely shook his head and forced a weak and trembling smile.

“I lost. I’ll go with you.” 

He unclipped his web shooters and tossed them on to the duffle bag before locking his hands behinds his head, eyes to the ground. 

The Avenger’s stared at him in shock for one hundred and twenty-two seconds.

Peter looked up nervously, “Uh, are you guys going to take me now or something? Sorry I’ve never done the whole surrendering thing before… I-I’m not sure how this works.” 

The Avengers continued to stare. Peter quickly wiped some dripping blood off his chin before placing his hand back behind his head, his nose sniffing in an attempt to stop running.

Tony finally cleared his throat, “Uh, Wanda? Could you…”

“What? Oh, right.”

The Scarlet Witch stepped forward and placed her hands on either side of Peter’s head. A red glow emerged from her fingertips and for the second time that night, Peter felt himself drift into unconsciousness.

This time, he welcomed it.

 

Chapter Text

The Avengers sat in silence, ties loosened and stilettos discarded as they all listened to Fury finish his opening admonishment.

Honestly, Tony was kind of sick of having to listen to his voice and if it weren’t for Pepper massaging his shoulders in a soothing way he would’ve stormed out of the lounge. She had just flown in from a meeting out of state and was the only thing keeping him sane.

Fury’s tirade had been pretty predictable. It mostly consisted of lines such as;

“You knew about him for five days before this and didn’t tell me?!”

And; 

“Just when I think your stupid asses have hit a new low you go and surprise me!”

And of course;

“I have bigger problems than you guys attempting to play hide and seek with a sixteen-year-old assassin but I’m still here refereeing this shit.”

Tony rubbed a hand over his face, “Look, I know we fucked up and a lot of that was on me but could we please move forward? Peter is currently sitting unconscious in an interrogation room and I’d like to think we won’t leave him there until he’s legally able to drink.” 

“Tony’s right,” Steve added. 

Rhodey let out a low whistle.

Pepper chuckled, “Well that’s a first.”

Tony leaned his head back to look up at Pepper, “You know, if I didn’t love you I’d fire you.”

She smiled in return, “I know.”

“Who’s going to interrogate him?” Banner prompted, desperate to keep the meeting on track. 

Fury gave him a nod of gratitude, “Romanov and I will. We’ll work out who he is or thinks he is and then we can decide where he goes from there.”

Wait, Tony thought.

“I don’t mind doing it, but shouldn’t Barnes come with us?” Natasha asked.

Sounds good but hang on.

“No,” Bucky replied, his voice quiet and his eyes refusing to make contact with anyone else’s, “The kid isn’t the biggest fan of me right now. I know the whole ‘attempting to murder me’ makes that pretty obvious but it goes beyond the orders he was given. I need to give him space, at least for now.”

That sucks but wait a minute.

Steve nodded, “If you say so Buck.”

Tony cleared his throat, “I’m sorry to back-pedal through the conversation but what do you mean by ‘where he goes’? Won’t he just stay with us?”

Fury turned his attention to Tony, “If he’s too dangerous he’ll have to be moved to a SHIELD facility. He may be a minor but he’s potentially as deadly as some of the adults we’re holding.”

“Woah, woah, woah,” Tony said, “We aren’t sending some kid to a place filled with merciless nut jobs. If we want to give Peter a chance, pulling him out of that environment is the best chance we’ve got.”

I don’t want him out of my sight he added in his mind, but he didn’t vocalise it. Caring about a kid he barely knew was a shock to him, Tony couldn’t even imagine what the others would think of it.

Fury grimaced, “Fine, but if he stays here, Secretary Ross will have to get involved. The new Accords might not be finished but the kid will most definitely have to be a part of them.”

Before Tony could, Clint let out an exaggerated groan, “Teddy Ross? Seriously? I think I’m speaking for everyone when I say that he’s untrustworthy.”

Fury shrugged, “I don’t care if you’re a fan or not, he’s running the Accord’s on the Government’s side and that makes him important. You can gossip about him in the bathrooms all you want but if you want to keep the kid here, he has to know. Any questions?”

Sam sighed, “I feel as though that question was rhetorical.”

“You’re damn right it was. Tell me when the kid wakes up, I have some phone calls to make that don’t concern the Avenger’s schoolyard antics. And get some sleep, you all look like you just came back from a tragic prom.” 

With that, Fury made his way towards the elevator and placed all of his attention on his phone. 

No one spoke until the doors closed.

“I don’t think I’ve been given such a stern telling off since high school. I feel like one of my kids,” Clint announced.

“Can I ask a question?” Bucky stiffened slightly as everybody’s heads turned towards him, “Not rhetorical, by the way,” he assured. 

Steve smiled, “Course Buck, go for it.” 

“How did you know I was in danger?” 

Natasha raised an eyebrow, “A kid whispers something in your ear and walks away, you follow him with some weak excuse of needing a drink. It wouldn’t be that suspicious if we hadn’t been researching a mysterious kid with a connection to you hours before. 

“We waited until Tony and Steve came back and then we went to find you. The Ramble seemed like an obvious choice considering how concealed it is compared to other parts of the Park.”

“Nat and Steve went to find you,” Tony corrected, “The rest of us stayed back and made a plan of what we would do when we found you which included Clint grabbing his weapons from under the table unlike Captain Best Friend over here who left his shield.” 

“Here we go,” Rhodey muttered. 

“I stand by what I did.”

“I’m sure you do Cap, but if it wasn’t for Cli— “

“Oh no,” Pepper interrupted, moving her hands away from Tony’s shoulders to grab his arm, “You are not doing this now. Fury was right, we need sleep. All of us. Peter won’t wake up for at least a couple hours, we’ve got time.” 

“But Pep I— “

“Nope, no excuses,” She said, pulling him up from the couch and leading him towards the elevator, “We are going to bed and so is everyone else.” 

Tony sighed, “Still can’t fire you, can I?”

“Nope.”

The Avengers disbanded upon Pepper’s request and began getting ready for bed. Tony couldn’t help but feel more awake than ever.

His head was spinning, Peter existing didn’t make sense. He had researched ‘Peter Parker's’ before the Gala, and the only likely match that came up said that they had found the remains of a four-year olds body two years ago. By all accounts, Peter should be dead. 

If the Gala’s unexpected events were going to keep him up all night, he couldn’t imagine what tomorrow would be like. Hopefully better. 

At least for the kid’s sake.

 


 

Peter hugged his knees and slowly rocked on the small metal framed bed.

He couldn’t remember how he’d got here. How had he got here? Why was he alone? Where was mommy and da—

Oh, that’s right.

They were gone.

A four-year-old Peter cried harder.  

He’d woken up a few hours ago and had found himself in a room with concrete walls and floors, dull lighting illuminating the empty space.  

Peter didn’t like it. Not one bit.

Just as he began to wonder if he’d done something wrong, the large metal door opened.  

A man stepped into the room. He was wearing a lab coat and had funny looking glasses on. He didn’t have much hair too. Peter wouldn’t mention that though; his Uncle had told him it was rude to.

The funny looking man knelt down beside Peter and smiled, “Hello little one, how are you?”

Peter sniffled, “Bad. Wh-where am I?”

The man chuckled, “That’s not very good. Don’t worry though you’re safe now. No one else will leave you.”

That didn’t make sense though. He wasn’t meant to be here, he was meant to be with his Aunt and Uncle.

“Wh-where is m-my Aunty and Uncle? They said they’d keep me safe now.”  

Peter watched with wide eyes as the man frowned and shook his head, “I’m sorry my boy, but they left you. They aren’t coming.”

The child shook his head furiously, reaching a hand under his crooked, red rimmed glasses to rub an equally red eye, “Th-that’s not t-true. They told me to sit on the park bench and wait. They said they would be back. Aunty kissed my head.”  

“I’m sorry little one, but they lied. Your Aunt and Uncle left you there. They didn’t want you.”

Peter gasped. What had he done wrong? Why did they leave him? Why did they lie? Adult’s weren’t meant to lie. They weren’t allowed to. Were his Aunty and Uncle bad adults?

He began to sob.  

A moment passed and soon Peter felt a hand softly rubbing his back and heard a voice hushing him in a nice kind of way.

“It’s okay child. I know it’s hard but we found you. You’re safe. When I passed by the bench I saw you asleep and alone. There was no one else there. I looked for your Aunt and Uncle but they were gone. You don’t need them though, you have us.”

Peter continued to cry for a few more minutes, struggling to speak through his tears and hiccups and very runny nose.

He lifted his head from his knees and blinked at the man, “Wh-who are you?”

The man smiled, “My name’s Doctor Moller and I am a part of HYDRA. That’s where you are.”

Peter rubbed his nose with the sleeve of his shirt, “What’s HYDRA?”  

“HYDRA is a group of people trying to change the world. We’re very important.”  

“S-so you help p-people?” Peter asked through a couple of weak hiccups.

Doctor Moller nodded, “In a way, yes. We want you to help too.”

That sounded okay. Peter liked helping people. It was good and fun to do.  

“D-does that mean I’m a part of HYDRA now?” He asked somewhat hopefully.

The man shook his head, “No my boy, only people born into HYDRA are a part of it.”

Peter deflated slightly, “Oh.”

“That’s okay though little one. You will still help us. You will do things for HYDRA and we will keep you safe.”

He tilted his head to the side, “For?”

“Yes, my child. For. Does that sound okay?”

Peter thought for a moment. It did sound okay. This man seemed nice. He was helping people. Maybe he was a good adult.

Peter let out a small hiccup before nodding his head slowly.

Doctor Moller’s smile grew, “What’s your name?”

“P-Peter. Peter— “

The man rubbed Peter’s knee reassuringly, “Peter will do. Now why don’t we get you some food, hm?”

Peter smiled weakly. Maybe doing things for HYDRA wouldn’t be so bad after all.

*

He woke with a gasp. His shoulders heaved as he regained control of his breathing and his head swam as he separated dreams from reality.

Peter was sixteen, not four.

He didn’t need glasses anymore.

Adult’s lied, they hardly ever told the truth. Neither did he. 

Was he safe? Well, he wasn’t sure. 

Where was he?

Oh, that’s right, the Avengers.

“You failed.”

“Back up mission.”

“One month.”

Shit.

Peter took a deep breath through his nose. How had he fucked up so badly? Agent Stallard was so pissed beyond belief, she’d shown emotions – it was that bad.

The White Spider wasn’t meant to be weak, he’d killed before. Why couldn’t he do it this time?

You know why, a thought crept into his head.

Shut up, Peter replied… to himself.

Geez, was he going insane? That wouldn’t be good. 

It also wouldn’t be the worst part of the whole situation though. Worst of all, he’d cried and people had seen. Agent Stallard had seen, the Avengers had seen. That was not only the most pathetic thing he’d done in years but the most embarrassing. If he wanted the Avenger’s to take him seriously, he’d have to prove himself.

Decisive. Apathetic. Focused.

Peter kept his posture relaxed and his eyes closed as he began to survey the situation through his senses. 

He could hear the electric hum of lights, and a slightly duller hum that seemed to come from all around him. Part of it must be from security cameras, but the rest? Peter wasn’t sure.

He could smell fresh coats of paint, not strong enough to give him a headache but enough to be noticeable. Peter realised with a flip of his stomach that he was probably in the new Avengers compound. That was both terrifying and cool. 

(Though he would never admit to either.) 

His head rested against a cold surface that was without a doubt a metal table and he sat on a chair that he assumed was metal too. Thick bands attached his ankles to the chair legs and his wrists were bound together with similar restraints.

Peter gave an experimental tug. The bands on his wrist were stuck together and wouldn’t budge. A cool shiver to match the feeling on his table-pressed-cheek ran down his spine as he concluded they must be vibranium. That was just plain terrifying. 

(And no, he still wouldn’t admit to it.) 

Finally, his eyes. Peter cracked open one and sighed with relief when the lighting didn’t immediately force it shut again. The lights were a bit too bright for his taste but nearly all lights were, he could deal with a dull headache.

Slowly, the teen lifted his head and surveyed his surroundings. The room wasn’t large, but it wasn’t small either. To his right was a white wall with a single door. To his left was another white wall but instead of a door, a giant silver decal in the shape of the Avengers ‘A’ logo was plastered over it. Well, at least it confirmed his suspicions regarding his location.

What lay in front of him was the interesting part.

Across the table were two empty chairs but beyond them was wall covered entirely by a mirror.

Double sided, no doubt.

Peter stared at his reflection and it stared back. His bruises had disappeared which suggested at least a few hours had passed – if not more. He still wore the dirty tux and the white material encasing his hands confirmed he still had the White Spider suit on underneath.

His hair was a mess. Tangled curls were covered in a thin layer of dirt, sweat and gel that now resembled grease. His eyes were blood shot and the dark bags under them were a perfect contrast. 

Sickly pale skin accentuated the purple shadows even more but that didn’t bother him too much. Peter only ever went outside during missions which were usually at night, a lack of Vitamin D was normal.

Wait. Could he hear talking coming from the mirror’s other side? The voices were too muffled to understand or pin to a person but they were definitely there. The Avenger’s would have sound proofed the space but the mirrored wall seemed weaker. Huh.

Double wait. Why was he focusing on the people in the other room? Peter had better things to do. He needed a strategy for the interrogation. Usually he was good at them but he shouldn’t just— 

The door opened, Natasha Romanov and SHIELD Director Nicholas Fury walked into the room and took their seats.

Well, Peter thought, This’ll be interesting.

 


 

The kid slept for twelve hours. Wanda said only four of those were caused by her.

Tony slept for five but only two of those weren’t restless.

He felt worse for Peter.

When FRIDAY announced the kid had woken up, Tony was the first to make it to the observation room behind the one-way mirror. Steve and Bucky arrived shortly after.

“How you feeling Barnes?” Tony didn’t take his eyes off the kid who had just begun to stir.

“I’m fine. No injuries.”

Steve sighed, “Wish we could say the same for the kid. He looked pretty beat up last night.”

“Well he was sporting a new bruised eye and bloody mouth when we ran into him,” Tony tore his eyes away from Peter to face Cap, “How do you think he got them?”

Steve shrugged, “Kid was in hysterics last night, could’ve easily tripped or ran into something.”

As if on cue, said kid lifted his head and began taking in his surroundings.

He had no bruises.

They were gone.

“Well how about that,” Steve marvelled.

Tony blinked, “Something tells me this kid has more than just strength and Velcro limbs.”

Peter turned to face the mirror, his head slightly tilted and his brow minutely furrowed. He still looked like shit, that was for sure, appearing impossibly tired despite sleeping half a day away. 

Although, he didn’t appear to be the emotional wreak he was the previous night. The kid seemed more focused, almost relaxed.

Tony was about to say as much but before he could, the door to the interrogation room opened and in walked Natasha and Fury.

Here we go.

 


 

Peter hadn’t been counting, but it felt as though the two had sat down at least five minutes ago. Neither had said a thing.

They just, stared.

He raised an eyebrow, “You know, if you guys are trying to do that thing where you create an awkward silence so I start rambling in the hopes to get me to say something stupid by accident, you’ve got another thing coming to ya.” 

It was true. The ‘weird silence so you fill the void with words’ tactic was his favourite. Mostly because he loved to talk and he was too smart to give anything up.

“Okay,” Peter said, resting his cuffed hands on the table, “How about we mix things up? I’ll ask the questions and you answer them, sound good?”

More staring.

Peter flashed his signature ‘Interrogation smile’ (also known as a shit-eating grin) and leaned forward in his chair in a mock gesture of focus.

The truth was, he was already focused. Keep up appearances and don’t show your weak side because there was no weak side. There couldn’t be. 

“I’ll take your silence as a yes,” He spoke easily, as if his stomach wasn’t in knots, “First question; how long was I asleep?” 

Surprisingly, Natasha answered, “Twelve hours.” 

Peter whistled, leaning back in his chair, “Wow. Time?”

“Twelve thirty in the afternoon,” Fury’s voice sounded just as indifferent as Natasha’s.

“Really? I missed breakfast?” Peter let out an exaggerated sigh, “I didn’t have dinner last night either. No wonder I’m starving.”

It might have been a joke, but not entirely wrong. With his advanced metabolism, skipping one meal was like skipping two and now that Peter thought about it, his stomach did feel uncomfortably empty. 

Still, they stared.

“Okay, one more question – and it’s a good one. Did you guys have breakfast? Because if so, that’s not cool. Sharing is caring – or well, I think it is. I read it on a poster a couple years ago during a mission in some alleyway. Weird place to put a poster, right?” 

Even more staring.

“Wait I asked two questions, didn’t I? My bad, you can just answer one if you want. I don’t mind which.” 

“Peter,” Fury began.

“Or neither. Neither’s good too.”

“We have some questions we’re going to ask you but because there’s so many we’re splitting them into three segments.”

It was a statement, but Peter still nodded, “Sounds good. What um, what are these ‘segments’ exactly?”

“You, HYDRA, last night,” Natasha listed, her arms folded.

Last night. Peter didn’t want to relive that just yet, but he swallowed his nerves.

“Well,” He said, “Fire away.”

Fury sighed, “How about we start with you? Pretty easy, right?”

His voice was borderline patronising and Peter wanted to reply with all the genius wit he had but he restrained from it. The babying could work in his favour. If they went easy on him then maybe this wouldn’t take too long. Peter just wanted to get to his cell so he could start planning. He had mission to complete and that was infinitely more important than the Avenger’s own agenda.

Peter straightened his posture, “Easy.” 

Natasha’s eyes flicked over him once before speaking, “Name?”

Huh. That was easy, “Peter. I thought you guys already knew that?”

“I mean your full name.” 

That, was confusing. 

“What?” 

Natasha sighed, “What’s your last name?” 

Peter blinked, “Oh. I don’t have one.”

Natasha raised her eyebrows and Peter heard the voices behind the mirror again. Who was back there?

“Let’s move on,” Fury said, “You got parents?” 

“Dead.”

“Any family?" 

Peter shrugged, “None that I’ve talked to or seen in the past twelve or something years. They could be dead too. I don’t really care.”

It was true. They hadn’t cared about him so he didn’t care about them. Eye for an eye. 

“Do they have names?”

“Probably but I don’t remember them.” 

Fury lent back in his chair, exasperated, “Kid, what do you know about yourself?”

“My age. Sixteen.” 

“Great. Got a birthday?”

“A what?”

Fury breathed out through his nose, even Romanov shifted slightly in her seat.

Peter was making them frustrated, which was okay. The only problem was, he didn’t know what he’d said to do that.

“Do – you – know – when – you – will – be – turning – seventeen?” Fury spoke slowly, as if Peter could trip on the words.

“Oh, you mean the day I was born? Yeah, it’s sometime in August but I don’t know when exactly. My boss usually tells me when I’ve changed age.”

“And you never bothered to memorise the date?”

Peter tilted his head, “Why would I?”

Suddenly their demeanours changed and they both stared at him with the one thing he had been desperately trying to avoid.

Pity.

 Why were they pitying him? Were ‘birthdays’ important? Did they think he was weak? 

Agent Stallard’s voice echoed through his mind, “You do not deserve pity. Pity is for the weak.”

Ashamed, Peter broke eye contact and shifted his gaze towards his hands, watching as he nervously tapped on the table.

Peter cleared his throat, “Do you, um, do you have any more questions? About – about me?

That seemed to snap them back into focus. Fury’s gaze hardened, “A few. Where are you from?”

Once again, Peter was confused, “HYDRA. I thou— “ 

“Before that Peter,” Natasha elaborated, “Where were you born?”

Peter swallowed, “Here, i-in New York.”

Why did they want to know such basic things about him? Usually interrogations were about top-secret issues and his answers were either lies or vague. This time, the questions were suspiciously mundane and the answers weren’t important enough to hide. They were bound to ask something important soon. Right?

Fury leant back in his chair and folded his arms, “Now you’re not exactly human, are you?”

Ah, there it is.

“What gave it away?” Peter asked dryly, “The lack of bruises on my face or the whole punching Iron Man in to the ground thing?” 

More talking behind the mirror. Hearing someone but not being able to understand them was infuriating, it was doing Peter’s head in. 

Natasha’s lip twitched upwards slightly, “I was quite partial to you crawling on walls and tree trunks.”

Peter shrugged, “Everyone has a preference. I thought you’d have liked the one where I can sense people sneaking up on me though.”

Fury leaned forward, “Hang on, how many powers do you have?”

“Many.”

“List them.”

Peter sighed, eyes floating up to ceiling. Did they really think he’d just tell them? That was information they could use against him, he wasn’t stupid.

“Why would I do that?”

“Because I just told you to and you’re currently not in a position to bargain.”

“So… what if I just, didn’t? I like talking but silence is fine by me. I could use the sleep.” 

“Kid, I swe— “ 

“How about this,” Natasha interrupted, “You’re hungry, right?”

The teen hesitated before nodding slowly. There was no denying it, he was famished. The lack of food combined with all the physical exercise and emotional… stuff had left him weak. If he didn’t eat in the next couple of hours Peter was sure he would faint.

“If you tell us two more of your abilities, we’ll give you food and continue this interrogation later. Sound good?”

As he mulled it over in his head, Peter couldn’t see a downside. Two powers weren’t that much if he counted all of his senses separately, which meant he’d still have some up his sleeve.

Peter’s jaw tightened and he gave a firm nod, “Fine.”

Fury motioned for him to continue, “Go ahead, kid.”

“I have an enhanced metabolism, meaning everything I put in my system wears off at an insane speed. That’s why Hawkeye’s tranq didn’t work on me, it wasn’t strong enough. 

“And food,” Peter added quickly, “I-I need more food than a normal person my size. Like a Captain America amount.”

The voices behind the mirror leaked through once again. That’s it, he was done with this shit.

Natasha nodded, “Okay. What’s the second ability?”

Peter didn’t even bother to contain his smirk, “I have enhanced hearing as well. Which means I can hear whoever is behind that dumb mirror talking.”

Fury almost had a heartache, “You what!?”

“Don’t worry, it’s not good enough to make out what they’re saying but I can definitely tell people are back there.” 

Peter leaned to the side of the table and grinned at his reflection, “Hello whoever’s back there! I think there’s three of you – I’m not sure. Next time you should join us in the main room, it could be more fun that way!” 

Fury rubbed the bridge of his nose, “Kid, you’re going to be the death of me.”

“That’s pretty likely, actually.”

Natasha stood and motioned for Fury to do the same, “We’ll get you food. Sit tight.”

“I don’t have a choice,” Peter replied as he watched them leave the room.

He could hear the smile in Natasha’s words, “I know.” 

The door shut and Peter was left alone with his thoughts.

 Crap.

 

Chapter Text

Fury said they could keep the kid.

He didn’t say why, just said, “I’ll call Ross and get him up to speed. Get the kid some food.” 

And he left.

Tony was more relieved than he would like to admit. 

When he’d been watching the kid’s interrogation, the kid hadn’t seemed fazed by last night. It was like he’d forgotten what had happened or didn’t think it mattered anymore. His upbeat personality and snarky commentary had been a shock to them all – even Natasha admitted she was thrown – because they all expected him to still be scared, and he just… wasn’t. 

Tony couldn’t tell which sides of Peter were genuine and which were fake.

Also, Peter knew nothing about himself or the outside world. Hell, the fact that Tony knew the kid’s last name from Barnes and Peter didn’t know it, didn’t even know what a birthday was let alone his own was…

Tony sighed. This kid needed help, needed some version of normality, and the more he thought about it, the more he wouldn’t to introduce Peter to normal.

Which is why when Sam finished making an outrageously large stack of waffles for Peter, Tony jumped at the opportunity to give them to him.

“He’s on my way to the labs,” He’d said with a nonchalant wave of his hand, “It’s no biggie.”

Before turning into the corridor which lead to Peter’s interrogation room, Tony slipped on his sunglasses.

“FRIDAY, give me surveillance of Peter’s room. 

The video feed flashed before his eyes. Peter’s elbows were propped on the table, head leaning against his still cuffed hands. Wait was he—

“Zoom in on him FRI.”

The camera cut to a closer shot and just as Tony had thought, the kid’s whole body was trembling. His hands clenched fists full of his own hair and the bowtie he wore was now untied and hanging dejectedly around his neck.

Tony’s stomach flipped, “Oh shit,” He muttered under his breath. 

Tapping the side of his glasses, the feed disappeared and Tony rounded the corner, practically speed walking to the door. He balanced the tray on one hand as he unlocked the door with his thumb print. Slowly opening it, he peaked his head around.

Peter was leaning back in his chair. Hands resting on the table top as he idly twiddled his thumbs, a bored expression on his face.

What the fuck? 

The kid turned to face Tony, an easy smile forming.

What the actual fuck?

“Mister Stark!” Peter greeted, “It’s good to see you again.”

As casually as possible, Tony slipped into the room and let the door shut behind him. He willed himself into the cocky and easy-going personality he knew so well, ignoring the pounding in his chest and the millions of questions racing through his mind. 

“Well, considering you’re in my building I wanted to make sure you weren’t doing any serious property damage,” He joked, placing the tray in front of Peter.

“Bit hard to do when I’m literally bound to a chair by my ankles but I’m so glad you’re thinking of me,” Peter shot back without missing a beat.

Eagerly, the kid looked down to survey his food. Tony watched as Peter’s brow furrowed and he frowned.

“Something wrong with the food kid? It may not be gourmet but I didn’t think you’d be picky.” 

“Hm? Oh, no it’s fine I just don’t…”

“Don’t what?” Tony prompted.

“I – uh – I don’t know what it is,” Peter’s head ducked slightly as his cheeks flushed red with embarrassment.

Of course. 

“They’re waffles kid, an American staple. You can eat them for breakfast and lunch.” 

“Really? I uh,” Peter cleared his throat, “I didn’t know that." 

Tony’s heart flipped slightly and he resisted the urge to squeeze the boy’s shoulder in comfort, opting for a simple shrug instead.

“Well, now you do. Eat.”

 A small smirk appeared on Peter’s lips. 

“I would love to but,” He lifted his cuffs and wiggled his fingers, “My hands are tied.” 

“Shoot, right.” 

Tony reached into his pocket and pressed a small button on a remote no larger than a car key. 

Automatically, the bands around Peter ‘s wrists detached from one another, leaving him free to eat. 

“Woah,” Peter said, inspecting the metal bands, “These aren’t just vibranium, are they?”

“Well actually— “ 

“Vibranium must only be on the outside,” Peter continued, “The inside must be made out of a magnetic material.”

Tony watched as the teen slowly turned his wrists, hands lightly grazing over the restraints. 

“Vibranium’s strong and absorbent so it can’t just be a standard metal like steel or alloy, right? It has to be fairly strong in order to get through the vibranium. I’m thinking neodymium?” 

Peter looked up at Tony who was to say the least, impressed. 

He paused for a couple seconds before nodding and speaking with an air of nonchalance, “Got it on the dot kid. You like building or something?’

A smug smile grew on Peter’s face as he turned and pulled the tray towards him, “Engineering and science, yeah.”

Peter shovelled a hefty amount of waffles into his mouth with the plastic fork provided (there was no way they were going to give him anything that even resembled a weapon) and Tony’s heart flipped as the kid’s eyes widened in shock.

“Holy shit,” Peter exclaimed through a mouthful of waffles, “This is amazing! I can’t believe I’ve never had these.”

Tony raised an eyebrow, “What do you usually have for breakfast and lunch?”

Peter didn’t bother slowing down his eating as he replied, “Well, breakfast is usually porridge and water while lunch is some sort of sandwich with a protein drink or whatever.”

“Well at least they feed you something warm in the morning. You put fruit on your porridge?”

The teen’s eating slowed slightly as he turned to face Tony, a puzzled expression on his face.

“Wait, porridge can be eaten warm? And you put stuff on it?”

Just like that, Tony’s heart cracked once more and if they continued this conversation he knew it would just get worse. So, he chose to reply with a roll of his eyes which was hidden by his glasses and changed the subject.

“I gotta say kid, I didn’t expect you to know anything about science,” Tony said as he sat on a corner of the table, “Doesn’t seem like information HYDRA would’ve taught you.”

Peter paused, his fork hovering mid-air with a pile of waffles, “What do you mean?” He asked through a mouthful. 

“Well, last time I checked, fighting and stealth is more in your line of work. I’ve never heard of the Winter Soldier being taught Newton’s Laws.”

The fork lowered and Peter swallowed as if the food had turned to gravel, “I am the superior version of the Winter Soldier in every way. I am more powerful, intelligent and skilful and more devote to the HYDRA cause. The knowledge I have been taught helps me to work for HYDRA. When the time is right I will replace him and the Winter Soldier will no longer be our enemies biggest threat, I will.” 

Peter spoke with determination and efficiency. It was as if he had said the words may times before and they were drilled into his head. His face was devoid of all emotion.

Just like that, Tony remembered he wasn’t talking to a normal teen. He was talking to a human weapon – and a dangerous one at that. His blood turned to ice while his heart cracked a little bit more.

Tony removed his sunglasses and began to clean them with the hem of his blazer, a tactic he often used to avoid eye contact yet still remain casual.

“So, you believe that?” He asked quietly, straining to keep his voice light, “You believe you’re the next big HYDRA asset? The next big killer?”

The teen had abandoned his food completely, hands placed either side of the tray as his stoic expression intensified with the tightening of his jaw.

“I don’t need to believe that, it’s a fact,” Peter stated, “I am also not an asset. An asset is defined as a piece of valuable property. I am not property, I am a human.”

“And the Winter Soldier wasn’t human?”

The question seemed to catch Peter off guard and Tony pretended he didn’t notice how the kid’s hand’s tensed slightly or the quick tremble that ran through his body.

“The Winter Soldier is not human because he has no self-control. He had to be trained and controlled and could not think logically. He may look like one of us but he doesn’t think like one of us.”

Tony hummed, “Did you think he was still a mindless ‘asset’ when you saw him at Gala? He seemed pretty human to me.”

“It doesn’t matter what he is now,” Peter added quickly, “He is irrelevant. I am who people should focus on now. The Winter Soldier is no longer our enemies biggest threat, I am.”

Tony paused before slipping his sunglasses back on, staring down at Peter whose eyes seemed to be focused straight ahead, looking at his own reflection.

“And that means you’re the Avengers biggest threat?”

Peter relaxed slightly, his eyes travelling up to meet Tony’s while a corner of his lip rose to form a small, menacing smirk. 

“You have no idea.” 

Tony tilted his head slightly, “But we arrested you last night. Doesn’t that make your whole ‘biggest threat’ thing null and void?”

The glint in Peter’s eye remained though his smirk faded. He opened his mouth to speak but decided against it, opting to cross his arms and lean back in his chair instead, eyes refocusing on his food.

Tony sighed, “Look kid I— “

“Fury said I would be interrogated in three separate segments. I’m not talking about last night until it comes to that segment.”

Tony nodded in acceptance despite wanting to push further. He wanted to ask why Peter had just given himself up or what had made him hesitate when trying to kill Barnes if he didn’t think of him as a human.

Peter had walls – a lot of them – and Tony knew that he if he tried to pull them down all at once he would make a mess. The kid wasn’t a loss cause, but he wasn’t exactly a quick fix. It was going to take time but as long as they had Peter in custody, Tony believed he had all the time in the world to help him – and he would.

The silence was broken by FRIDAY’s voice filling the room, “Boss I have been told to inform you that Secretary Ross will be on video call in five minutes and your presence along with the other Avengers is required.”

“Woah,” Peter gasped as he stared up at the ceiling, “Is that— “

“An AI?” Tony supplied, “Yup, but don’t try to talk to her. She won’t reply to you.”

The kid’s head turned towards Tony, his face riddled with confusion and disappointment. Just like that, Peter looked and sounded like a regular teen again and Tony was left as baffled as ever. 

“Why not?” Peter asked. 

“Because,” Tony said as he began to stand, “You’re not authorized to speak to her due to the whole ‘being custody’ situation.” 

“Oh,” Peter replied quietly, his face turning red with embarrassment, “I mean, uh – right.”

Tony began to make his way towards the door, “Yup. Have fun eating your Captain America amount of waffles, someone will come and check up on you later.” 

“Captain Ameri – hang on. Were you one of the people watching my interrogation? And aren’t you going to stick my cuffs back together?”

Tony stood in front of the door and turned to face an extremely confused and shocked Peter, “First answer, yes I was. Second answer, no I won’t. When you’re done eating FRIDAY will re-attach the cuffs herself.” 

“She can do that?”

“Kid, the only thing she can’t do is talk to you.”

Peter rolled his eyes, “Very funny.” 

“I know." 

Tony turned to open the door but as he placed his hand on the knob, he was overcome with the urge to say something that he knew he shouldn’t. It wasn’t the time or the place and he definitely wasn’t the person.

Despite, all that Tony found himself looking over his shoulder and locking eyes with the teen.

“Parker.”

“What?”

“You’re last name. It’s Parker.”

“Wha- wait, h- ho- how do you—“ 

“You’ll find out later but just trust me. You’re Peter. Peter Parker.”

Peter continued to stutter protests as he desperately searched for the right words or question to ask but Tony didn’t wait. As he slipped outside and closed the door with a click Peter’s incoherent rambles quietened and Tony didn’t allow himself to breathe until he was down the hall and around the corner. 

“FRIDAY,” he said as he made his way to the elevator, “Show me Peter.”

Once again, the video feed flashed before his eyes. Peter was staring blankly ahead, his hands resting on the table.

Relief washed over Tony. The kid seemed more confused and dazed than upset. Maybe introducing him to the outside world wouldn’t be that—

In one swift action, Peter grabbed at the white suit fabric that still covered his hands and tore it off, doing the same with his other hand soon after. He ran his hands through his dirty hair before pulling them over his face. Tony didn’t need audio to know the kid heaved a sigh when he leaned back in his chair. 

“Boss,” Friday said, “Ross and the Avengers are waiting for you.”

Tony tapped the side of his glasses with a shaky finger and watched the feed disappear, guilt and regret pooling in his stomach.

Ross was going to be fun.

 


 

“Wha- wait, h- ho- how do you—“

“You’ll find out later but just trust me. You’re Peter. Peter Parker.”

“I – uh – I- I’m – what? Y-you c-can’t – I mean yo- you – I’m – wha—“ 

The was door shut. The lock clicked. 

Parker.  

Peter Parker.

He had to be lying. 

There was no way Tony Stark knew more about Peter than Peter did, it wouldn’t be fair.

“Life isn’t fair boy,” Doctor Moller’s voice whispered in his head, “Only HYDRA shows fairness through our actions towards our enemies.”

So, if life wasn’t fair, then maybe Stark was telling the truth? Why would he lie about that? Why would he tell him something like that. 

“The world outside of HYDRA is fake my boy. The Avenger’s will pretend to keep the world safe but they lie. Truth and safety doesn’t exist out there, the Avenger’s made sure of that.”  

No, that sounded right. Doctor Moller had to be right. The Avengers were dangerous, Peter had been taught that as soon as the team was created. Tony Stark was obviously trying to trick him, make him feel cared for and relaxed – he was being brainwashed. That must be it.

Then why did ‘Peter Parker’ feel so right?

Suddenly, Peter’s senses spiked. The humming of lights and mysterious electricity which was most definitely FRIDAY became too loud and incessant. His headache worsened as the bright lights flared and the smell of fresh paint burned his nostrils.

And his hands. His hands his hands his hands. Peter couldn’t feel them, couldn’t feel anything. There was only the sensation of that white high-tech fabric which covered his fingertips and stuck to the groove of his palms.

He had to get them off.

Before he could process just what he had done, Peter looked down to see the two gloves torn away from the rest of the suit, limply lying in his sweaty hands.

Doctor Moller and Agent Stallard were going to kill him. 

His sixth sense ran light shocks of warning down his neck to indicate danger. It felt like the warning he had gotten just before Mister Stark had entered the room, giving Peter time to pull himself together. Except this time, nobody came through the door. 

Another shock down his neck made Peter realise he was being watched through the hidden cameras in the room. It was the only explanation that made sense.

Peter tossed the pieces of his torn suit on to the table before running his hands through his hair. The crusty gel and dirt caused his fingers to get stuck in knots and covered in grime.

Gross.

In exasperation, Peter rubbed his face with his hands in the hopes it would dull the headache or stop the stinging in his nostrils. Instead, he just made his face feel sticky and smudged his cheeks and nose with dirt.

Double gross. 

Peter heaved a sigh that ran through his whole body as he leaned back on the metal chair.

The warning on his neck faded and with that Peter knew he was finally alone and he felt his body relax a little.

What the fuck was going on?

When he was six, Peter had asked Doctor Moller if he had a last name.

“All the other kids at HYDRA have them,” Peter had said, “All the adults do too. Even the outside people do. Why don’t I?”

“Because my boy, you are not worth one.”

Peter had laughed nervously, “I’m not worth one? That’s kind of mean Doctor Moller. Why am I not worth one?” 

“You come from nothing Peter and you are nothing now. You are only special when you do things for HYDRA but you are still in training so you have done very little. If you were worth one you would have one and I would have told you.”

Peter frowned. At this time, he had yet to learn the consequences of questioning his superiors, “But Doctor Moller, I think I am worth something and I think I had a last name when I was younger before HYDRA.”

“You are not and you didn’t.”

“But I—“

Doctor Moller turned from his work and slapped him, leaving a bright red handprint on Peter’s face and knocking his glasses askew. Then, Peter had only been slapped a few times and he was still getting used to it. Instead of crying out or apologising, Peter had frozen in shock, a small hand covering his red cheek.

“If you had one wouldn’t you remember it boy?” Doctor Moller had hissed, “Wouldn’t that be important? Wouldn’t that be worth something? Face it, you are Peter and that’s it. You will never be worth something but you can do things that are worth a lot.” 

After much gawking, Peter found his voice, “H-How?” 

“By doing things for HYDRA you do things that have worth.

Peter swallowed, “S-So I’m just Peter?” 

Doctor Moller’s snarling face and voice softened, “Yes my boy you are Peter and what do you do?” 

“Things for HYDRA.” 

“And what are you worth?”

“Nothing.”

“Exactly. Now get to training before it starts.”

Despite the first outcome, Peter dragged a hand over his face again as the memory resurfaced. For and Worth. The first two of those words that were ingrained in his head and struck fear into his heart were in a memory from years ago that felt so relevant now.

Doctor Moller lied about a lot of things, but he’d never lied to Peter about Peter, he was sure of it. Peter was being stupid. He was becoming soft under the watch of the dumb Avengers and that was just how they wanted him to get. Why? Peter had no idea but it was the Avenger’s so it couldn’t be anything good. He wasn’t meant to trust the Avengers so he wouldn’t.

Peter didn’t have a last name. 

But why did ‘Peter Parker’ sound so familiar? 

Frustration bubbled over the confusion and a scream tore through his lips as Peter rose his fists and slammed them on to the table. The metal crumbled under the force and when he took his hands away, two fist shaped indents laid in his wake.

Whoops.

Peter let out another sigh. There wasn’t anything he could do now. Until they take him to his cell or where ever they were going to keep after interrogation, all he could do was wait and think. 

The thoughts and memories drifted away as Peter turned back to his food and took a bite of waffle that he had left piled on his fork. The Avenger’s might be his enemies, but they had pretty good food. Another way to soften him, he supposed.

The Avenger’s wouldn’t soften him though. Peter wouldn’t let them because he had a mantra that rang through his head like the bells of a church.

Decisive. Apathetic. Focused.

He might have been Peter Parker once but that didn’t matter anymore.

He was Peter. He was The White Spider.

By the end of the month, he would kill the Winter Soldier.

He wouldn’t be just the Avenger’s biggest threat, he would be the worlds.

A strained smile crossed his lips.

All he had to do was prove it.

 


 

“So, I hear you’ve acquired a very special HYDRA member.”

“Wow,” Tony said, “Not even a ‘hello’ or ‘how are you doing?’ I gotta say Ross, I thought you were classier than that.”

Ross gave a tight-lipped smile, “Well, I’m not so sure that swaddling a HYDRA assassin with protection is classy either so I suppose we’ve both lost our touch.”

“He’s a kid,” Bucky stressed.

“Yes, which is the only reason he hasn’t been sent to the Raft. It might be useful to remember Barnes that the only reason you’re still free is because you’ve got ties with Rogers.”

No one bothered to distinguish that comment with a reply. Partly, because it was true and they all knew it.

It didn’t matter that Steve had taken Bucky to Wakanda and had his mind cleansed of all HYDRA brainwashing, Ross and his cronies still wanted him gone. Steve was the only thing saving Barnes and giving him a fair chance at a normal life – or as normal as their lives could get. 

Rhodey broke the silence, “Okay let’s not go down that road now,” he stepped forward in order to see the video feed better, “How about we focus on Peter. Fury said he can stay with us.”

Ross nodded, “That he did, but it isn’t going to be that simple Colonel. The assassin comes in direct violation of the Accords regarding enhanced minors. He might not have to reveal his identity to world like adults actively using their abilities do but he’s still got to be watched over.”

“That’s exactly what we’ve been doing,” Tony snapped, “The kid has video cameras on him twenty-four seven and my AI can tell me if he ever goes HYDRA ape-shit. Which, may I say seems very unlikely considering he surrendered himself.”

“And you don’t think that’s strange?” Ross countered, “Some HYDRA terrorist just gives up and goes with you? Don’t be stupid Tony, we both know there must be something more to it.”

Natasha sighed, “He’s got a point. There’s no reason that Peter couldn’t have escaped, he had the chance to.” 

Tony had in fact, thought about it. Of course it was suspicious that Peter had just given up, but that didn’t mean he thought the kid was a lost cause.

“Well what do you suggest we do? We can interrogate him for hours on end but Peter will still need a more permanent place in the compound eventually. I’m not going to treat him like some run of the mill terrorist.”

“He is though, Stark.”

“He’s a kid, Ross.”

Ross’ jaw tightened, “Look, I only have a few requirements you need to follow when it comes to the HYDRA minor and the rest of the time you can do whatever you want with him. Dress him in a school girl outfit if you find pleasure in that, I don’t give shit.”

Steve stepped forward, his voice as hard as his stare, “What kind of sick person wou— “

“The first requirement,” Ross said, completely ignoring Steve, “Is that he stays in whatever room you decide to keep him in. If a toe of his so much touches the corridor of whatever cell you put him in— “ 

“It won’t be a cell,” Tony interjected.

“—let alone goes outside, I’ll take him to the Raft. That includes no contact to people on the outside as well. Need I remind you he’s an enemy of America and not just the Avengers. We can’t trust him which is why you’re also required to have a way to… restrain him while he’s in his room.”

“We aren’t going to tie him to a pole with leash Ross,” Clint said, who had been doing his best to stay out of the conversation previously, “I doubt even HYDRA had him caged like an animal.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Ross replied with a glint in his eye, “My team and I have already figured something out. The blueprints will be sent to you and you can put them to use. If you don’t— “

“He’ll go to the Raft,” Clint finished with a roll of his eyes, “We get it Teddy Ross. What’s the next requirement?”

Ross’s harsh stare bore into Clint for a second before he continued to speak, “The next requirement is that you get him tell us everything he knows about HYDRA and whatever experiment made him the freak he is. See what pushes his buttons, get him to talk by any means necessary and we won’t have a problem.”

“Let me get this straight,” Tony cut in as he folded his arms, “You want us to trap him like an animal, interrogate him until he’s got nothing left to hide and then find out how to break him in the hopes we can find out more?”

Ross smiled, “Is that too much to ask?”

“Yes, actually. It is completely too much to ask.”

“Well I never said to break him, just get him to talk. He’s no use if we can’t get anything out of him.”

“Ross, how many times do we have to say, he’s a kid— “ 

“—And I don’t care. Either keep him contained and get him to spill or I’ll take matters into my own hands. This minor is technically Government property and unless you can follow these simple rules I’ll be forced to treat him as such. Do I make myself clear?”

Tony clenched his jaw, resisting the urge to punch to screen which proudly displayed Ross’ heartless face.

“Crystal.”

“Great. Although, I have one more requirement.”

The Avenger’s shared a collective sigh.

“Seriously!?” Bucky exclaimed, “What more could you do to ruin this kid’s life?”

Ross raised an eyebrow, “Getting attached now, are we Barnes?’ 

Bucky let out a huff, “I think I have a right to be all things considered.”

“I suppose you do but don’t worry, I think you’ll quite like this requirement actually.”

 “Stop with the dramatics and get to the point Ross,” Tony demanded, he was getting tired of the pointless back and forth. 

“From the files I was sent I see that you may have uncovered the minor’s identity before he became a part of HYRDA. More specifically, how they faked his death.”

“You’re Peter. Peter Parker.”

The nerves rose like bile in his throat but Tony swallowed it back down, “You’re point?”

“Find out more about his past. Where he was born, why he was taken, how he was taken. See if he has any living relatives. Don’t go talking to them or announcing the kid’s alive obviously – we want to keep this whole thing under wraps – but look into it.”

The Avenger’s shared suspicious looks between one another. They had been planning to look into Peter themselves despite what Ross would say. The fact that Ross was not only encouraging, but ordering them to find out about the kid’s life before HYDRA seemed unorthodox coming from the man who would only call Peter a ‘minor’, ‘terrorist’ or ‘assassin’.

“Why?” Steve asked, his posture guarded.

“Because I think it might be useful to know exactly who we’re dealing with here. HYDRA wouldn’t just pick up any four-year-old they saw, there was probably a reason. I want to know that reason.”

Steve nodded, “Okay. We’ll follow the requirements.”

Ross flashed yet another callous smile, “Of course you will. I’ll check in on how you are handling this situation tomorrow. Don’t mess this up, it won’t end well for the assassin.”

With that, Ross disconnected from the call and the video feed disappeared. 

“I know we all know this but I’m still gonna say it,” Clint said after a moment, “I hate him so much.”

“At least he’s letting us keep the kid,” Natasha replied.

“Oh, and what a gracious being he is for doing so,” Sam jeered as he stepped out of the corner he had been hiding in, “Someone call Thor and get him to hand over Mjolnir, we’ve found somebody whose just as worthy as he!”

“Okay, we get Sam but things could be much worse,” Steve tried, “At least he’s not shipping Peter off to the Raft immediately.”

“Right but if Fury and SHIELD weren’t involved it would be a completely different stor—“ 

“I’m sorry to interrupt but Peter has requested me to inform you that he finished eating ten minutes ago and is getting bored.”

The Avenger’s stared at the ceiling in shock, their mouths hanging open.

“Hang on FRI,” Tony said, “I told you you couldn’t speak to Peter. I also told Peter he couldn’t speak to you when I dropped off his food. How the hell are you telling us this?”

“Peter pointed out that you said we could not speak although you did not rule out morse code as a way of communicating.” 

The frustration, shock and confusion in Tony made way for a sliver of relief. It seemed as though telling the kid his last name hadn’t sent him into the whirlwind of existentialism Tony had thought it might. That was good, at least. 

“The kid knows morse code?!” Clint exclaimed.

“Yes. He is very good at it.”

“And you replied back in morse code?” Bucky clarified.

“Indeed. Peter can be very persuasive and made a good argument on doing so.”

“And how does he know it’s been ten minutes since he finished eating? There isn’t a clock in the interrogation rooms and he wasn’t wearing a watch.” Steve added.

“Peter counted. He is also very good at keeping an extremely accurate measurement of time in his head.”

“A teenager who can out smart Tony’s AI? I have got to meet this kid,” Clint muttered mostly to himself.

Sam nodded, “I’m with you on that.”

Tony sighed, “Jesus Christ.”

Nat barely supressed her grin as she spoke, “I’ll go down and get the kid’s tray, maybe grill him a little bit more while I’m there.”

Tony nodded, “FRIDAY, stop communicating to the kid. No more talking to him in any way until I say so, so beep away your goodbyes to him or whatever.”

The room was silent for a couple minutes until FRIDAY spoke up again, “I have informed him of these new conditions and Peter’s last message to you is that you are almost as fun as his teachers at HYDRA and they – as he put it – ‘sucked’.

“I mean,” Bucky tried, “He’s probably not wrong about his teachers sucking.” 

Clint and Sam proceeded to break into fits of laughter while Natasha’s smile only grew as she left the room.

Tony ran a hand over his face, “Can it Tweedledum and Tweedledee. I’m heading to my lab to work on whatever blue print Ross sent me and prevent myself from strangling this kid. You guys do whatever, I don’t care.” 

“Can we see the kid?” Clint asked eagerly.

Tony raised an eyebrow, “He’s not a fucking puppy Barton.” 

“Come on.” 

“Fine, fine. Wait until Nat’s done then knock yourselves out but I’m telling you now that the kid isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. He might threaten to kill you.”

Clint shrugged, “Who hasn’t?”

And Clint, Tony decided, had a point.

 

Chapter Text

All things considered, Peter was pretty surprised when the Black Widow entered his interrogation room fifteen minutes after he had sent out his message through FRIDAY.

He really hadn’t thought it would work. Nobody ever came to him when he asked, whether it be for help or company.

Just like the first time, Natasha sat down and stared at him and he stared back.

“Fury isn’t stopping by this time?” He asked in a mild tone. The Black Widow was a world-renowned spy after all. Peter was sure that if he let his overly confident mask slip now she would be able to read him like a book, and he really didn’t want her to discover the tumultuous inner turmoil that was wracking through his mind.

Natasha folded her arms, “Funnily enough, no. Fury has more important matters to spend his time on than you.”

Well, Peter figured that made sense. He was never a major priority in people’s lives, there was always something more important – that was just how it was.

The way Natasha and spoken to him though, it was as if she meant it to be an insult. Was he supposed to feel important right now? Peter wasn’t an important person though, he did important things but he himself didn’t matter. 

Just as Peter had guessed, the Black Widow seemed to pick up on the lack of response to her quip. 

“You don’t seem bothered by what I just said.”

Peter decided to voice his thoughts, “Was I meant to?”

Natasha hesitated slightly, “Well, most people like to think their interrogation is worth other’s time… especially when said people are anomalies that nobody knew existed.”

“And I’m guessing I’m the anomaly requiring attention in this situation?”

Natasha leaned forward, “You don’t think you are?”

Peter steadied his gaze, “More of a mistake rather than an anomaly and I’m not usually a priority so I don’t see why I would think I’m one now.”

She raised an eyebrow, “Then tell me Peter, when are you a priority?” 

“When I need to do something for HYDRA that has worth. Other than that, I’m nothing.”

It seemed so simple to Peter, wasn’t that how everyone thought? 

A slight head tilt, “And you’re okay with that, are you?” 

Peter shrugged, “Why wouldn’t I be? Being nothing and following orders is what I’ve always done. I don’t see the problem.”

Natasha sighed and leaned back, her calm persona already slipping before Peter’s well-trained eye.

“Shit kid.”

“What?” 

“You’re pretty fucked up.”

He couldn’t help but shake his head, “I don’t think I am, I’m just a realist.” 

“Well then, you’ve got a pretty fucked up reality.”

“Or maybe yours is the fucked up one and HYDRA is the only thing that isn’t.” 

She opened her mouth to argue, but her demeanour changed as she decided against it, moving on to the next topic she had in mind instead. 

“I see you’ve done some damage to our table.” 

Shit. Peter had completely forgot about the fist shaped dents he’d made.

Play it cool Peter, he thought to himself, Don’t tell her about your mental break down.

He shrugged, “I was bored.” 

“Clearly.” 

“How about these?” Natasha said as she picked up the torn white gloves and waved them through the air.

“They were getting annoying,” Peter replied without missing a beat. After all it was kind of true, the gloves were annoying him but he didn’t feel the need to explain it was because of a sensory overload. That would just make him look weak.

Romanov looked down at the gloves and inspected the loose threads and seams where the gloves had been ripped away from the suit, “I didn’t think HYDRA agents were ones to destroy their own property.”

Peter breathed out a laugh lacking in humour, “Yeah, I probably shouldn’t have done that but I don’t think the punishment will be too bad if my boss finds out.”

Natasha eyed him, “Punishment?”

He nodded, “Probably half an hour of waterboarding or something.”

If he failed the mission though, it would be worse. So much worse.

Natasha didn’t know that though, she didn’t need to.

“And you’re okay with punishments?”

“Well, actions have consequences, right?” A snarky smile spread across Peter’s face, “I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t know that though, the Avenger’s seem to get away with everything.”

Natasha didn’t reply, instead she slipped the gloves into her jacket pocket. Peter decided not to mention it, it wasn’t like he’d be needing them anytime soon.

“So,” Peter prompted, “Are you going to interrogate me or what?”

“Sure. We’re going to talk about segment two; HYDRA.” 

Peter smiled, “Good luck with that.”

And boy did she need it. 

Over the next two hours, Peter gave away nothing regarding HYDRA. Nothing about his past missions or HYDRA compound and hideout locations. Hell, Peter didn’t even tell her about small things like the different lessons he’d been taught or what he did in training. All he did was reply to her questions with a question of his own or give a vague answer that provided no real information. 

It seemed that even though the Black Widow was a brilliant spy she had forgotten one thing. 

“And what’s that?” Natasha asked as she stood to leave the room, taking his tray as she did.

Peter couldn’t help but grin, “I’m just as good a spy as you.”

A small smirk quirked at her lips as she spoke, “Maybe, but at least I don’t smell like shit.” 

Peter leant back in his chair in mock exasperation, “I can’t do anything about that! I’ve been in this room for a whole day and nobody has bothered to throw me even a stick of deodorant.” 

“You’ll get to shower when we move you to a more permanent place.”

The teen’s interest in the conversation perked up at that. A permanent place meant he could finally start making a semi-decent plan about how he was going to finish his mission once and for all. 

“When will I be getting a permanent place?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?”

“It would have been today but we’ve had to make some… renovations to the space.” 

Peter raised an eyebrow, “I’m that much of a threat, am I?”

“Something like that.” 

Just before Natasha opened the door she turned to face him and Peter couldn’t help but feel a twist in his gut and a sense of déjà vu for his conversation with Stark. 

“Hey, Peter?” 

If Peter wasn’t cuffed, he would have crossed his arms. 

Instead he settled for a long sigh as he turned to face her, “Yes, Romanov?”

“No matter what they’ve told you, you’re worth something.”

Peter couldn’t help but let out a small laugh. 

“Oh, really?” His voice dripped with sarcasm, “And why would that be?” 

“Because even though you live in a fucked-up world, you’re still sane. I’ve never met a person who could live the life you have still be okay. You’re a good kid Peter, just wait until we prove it to you.” 

The amusement drained out of Peter’s face as he looked at her with wide, disbelieving eyes.

“Well, I uh—“

Click.

The door locked.

Peter was once again alone and this time, he didn’t know what he was feeling.

Whatever the emotion was, it was nice. Confusing, but nice.

Damn Avengers.

 


 

The next people to visit Peter and pull him out of the confusing whirlwind that were his thoughts and emotions came hours later and brought him dinner.

They placed the tray on the table and he was relieved to see this meal was made up of food he had had before. Steak, potatoes and vegetables – it felt familiar in a day consisting of only new things.

Peter looked up to face the two who had just sat down and as predicted, they stared back. It wasn’t the unnerving and judgemental stare Romanov threw though, it was of excitement and anticipation. Upon realising this, Peter decided this conversation might be more fun than the previous ones. 

He laced his fingers together and smiled, “Clint Barton and Sam Wilson, what can I do for you?”

Without hesitating, Clint proceeded to jab a finger at one of the table dents, “Did you do this?”

Peter nodded, “Yep.”

Sam whistled, “Damn kid, how strong are you?”

“Very.”

Clint produced a small remote with two buttons and pressed one which disconnected Peter’s cuffs, “Can you show us?” he asked.

Peter couldn’t even hide his shock towards such a request, “I’m sorry what?”

“Yeah,” Sam said, “Break a leg of the table or something.” 

“I’m not doing that.” 

Clint frowned, “Come on, why not?”

The teens eyes moved back to focus on his food, “Because I’m not one to show off and I kind of need a stable surface in order to eat.” 

Both Clint and Sam leaned back in disappointed as Peter took a bite of his steak and— 

“Holy shit,” Peter whispered through a mouthful.

Sam raised an eyebrow, “What? Never had steak?” 

Peter rolled his eyes, “Of course I have, but not like this. It’s got flavour and it’s kind of pink in the middle, not just brown, and it’s warm! I’ve never had warm steak before.”

The mood in the room dropped like a guillotine. What first seemed to be an air of playful teasing turned uncomfortable and tense. Sam and Clint shifted uneasily in their seats as they stared at Peter, taking him in for a second time as if their first impressions weren’t quite right.

There it was again, the looks of pity. What had he done wrong this time? Peter figured he must have shown weakness, but how? It didn’t make sense.

“I’m sorry kid,” Clint said in a voice barely louder than a whisper. 

“Why?” Peter asked defensively, “Is it for that time you shot me with a tranquiliser and ruined my mission? Because if so, don’t sweat it, the tranq didn’t even work and I— “

“—It’s just… nothing. We’ll leave you to it.”

Sam gave him an apologetic nod as he stood and without another word, they both left the room. 

Click.

Peter froze for a beat before tossing his cutlery on to the plate and resting his head in his hands. What was going on? Every conversation he had with Avengers seemed to be anything but straight forward.

Their talks would constantly teeter between serious and relaxed and without fail Peter was left with more questions than answers, mostly about himself.

Sure, he didn’t know or experience the same things as people outside of HYDRA but did that make him weak? Was that why they pitied him? Could a person be pitied for something other than being weak? When people showed kindness and sympathy, was it always a bad thing? Was it always intended to be degrading like he’d been taught it was?

What was he missing?

Wait, what was he thinking? The Avengers were getting to him, worming their way into his head and making him soft. He couldn’t allow that, he wouldn’t.

He was Peter.

He was the White Spider.

Decisive, Apathetic, Focused. 

That’s all he was. 

“You’re Peter Parker.” 

No.

Gradually, Peter pulled himself together and began to eat again though the food seemed to have turned to rubber. By the time he’d finished eating, his meal had gone cold but Peter didn’t care because that’s how food is meant to be, right? 

Minutes later, his cuffs snapped back together and the lights dimmed.

“It is currently nine-thirty at night,” FRIDAY’s voice spoke up, “The Avenger’s request you sleep now in order to wake up early in the morning.”

Peter didn’t even bother to argue, emotional fatigue getting the better of him. Without a word, he pushed his tray away and pressed a cheek against the cold, metal table. 

As he drifted between sleep and consciousness, Peter allowed himself to cry out his frustrations and confusion.

After all, tears were silent and in the dark, they were practically invisible.

 


 

Bright lights flickering on woke Peter up as they seeped through his eyelids.

He slowly peeled his check away from the table and made to rub his eyes, starting slightly when two hands made contact with his face instead of one. Oh right, he was still handcuffed. How could he forget? 

Through bleary eyes, Peter looked around the room before staring at his reflection and yep, he still looked like shit. His hair was matted with blood, dirt, sweat and dried gel which forced unwanted curls and tufts to stick out at precarious angles. Smudges of said filth still adorned his cheeks and nose from when he had brushed a hand over his face and his dirty tuxedo remained ruffled and unkempt. 

If the Avenger’s didn’t get him at least a new change of clothes he was going to pass out from his own gross stench. Not to mention he really needed to use the—

Faint shocks of warning ran up his neck just as they had before any Avenger came to see him. His sixth sense was not quite screaming ‘danger!’ but it still prepared him for possible confrontation.

Usually the warning came a minute or so before his visitor entered the room but this time, Peter had barely turned his head to face the door when it clicked open to reveal a person he’d never expected to visit him.

Steve Rogers; HYDRA’s longest and most hated enemy and by extension, Peter’s.

When he had seen Captain Rogers at the Gala, Peter hadn’t really allowed himself to think about the overwhelming detestation he had for the War ‘hero’. It could have distracted him from his mission and lead to him failing it, which he did anyway… so much for that precaution. 

Now that his mission wasn’t so specific, so technical, Peter didn’t see any harm in shitting on the Captain as much as he pleased. After all, he was one of the reasons the Winter Soldier left him in the first place, why shouldn’t Peter be mad. 

“Hey kid, how are you doing?” Steve asked rather kindly.

Decisive. Apathetic. Focused.

Peter sneered, “Fantastic. Sleeping while bound to a chair by my ankles with my hands cuffed has always been a dream of mine.”

Taken aback by the rather blatant jeer, Steve stuttered slightly, “Oh, I didn’t mean—“

“Of course you didn’t,” Peter interjected before tapping the metal table, “Why don’t you have a seat? A war hero like you shouldn’t have to stand in front of someone like me.”

Peter spat out the word ‘hero’ as if it had a bad taste in his mouth and in response, Roger’s gaze hardened as he crossed his arms. It was clear he had caught on to the blatant hostility being thrown his way.

“I would rather not,” He said curtly, though Peter couldn’t help but notice the politeness that filtered through his voice, “I’m just here to take you to your new room.” 

Peter groaned, “Finally. Is there anybody else who could take me though? Somebody who – I don’t know – didn’t suck.” 

Steve sighed, “Listen kid— “

“No, you listen,” Peter snapped, determined to gain control of the situation, “You can’t just show up unannounced and cart me off somewhere. I want to talk.” 

The man hesitated slightly before nodding, “Fine.” 

Once again, Peter tapped the table, “Have a seat.”

Steve looked to the ceiling, as if asking God why this was happening before moving to take his seat. 

Once he did, Peter stared at Steve and Steve stared back.

This time, the visitor spoke first. 

“So,” Steve said, trying (and failing) to keep his voice casual, “What’s on your mind?”

“I don’t like you.”

Rogers huffed a short laugh, “I’ve gathered.” 

“Everything you do seems to get in the way of HYDRA plans and that’s pretty shitty for me. Like, do you know how many times I’ve had to go on rescue missions to save agents and scientists from being arrested? A lot, like a shit tonne.”

“Well it’s kind of my thing kid. I’m meant to stop the bad guys.”

“Hey man, HYDRA aren’t the bad guys.”

Steve folded his arms, “Really?”

“Really.”

“Well, I’m not sure what HYDRA’s morals are, but killing, kidnapping, stealing, and other illegal activities seem pretty bad to me.” 

“That’s all done because it needs to be done,” Peter countered, “It’s for the bigger picture.” 

Peter himself had asked about all the bad they did in his early stages of training. 

“You said you help people,” He had said, “Why are you hurting people?” 

“My boy,” Doctor Moller had replied, “Sacrifices must be made for the greater good. HYDRA’s future is the greater good.”

Steve didn’t seem to agree.

“And what is the bigger picture?”

Peter hesitated then because to be honest, Peter didn’t know. Every time he had asked someone they always replied with the same two words.

So, Peter did the same. 

With a small menacing smirk and a glint in his eyes, he spoke the two words he justified all his actions with. 

“You’ll see.”

“Will I?” 

Peter nodded, “Definitely.” 

Steve shook his head, “Okay, kid whatever you say. I know that you work for HYDRA but trust me when I say I don’t stop them because I enjoy it, but because I have to. Kid, some of the things HYDRA has done, you wouldn’t believe— ”

“I agree.”

“What?” Roger’s looked just as shocked as he sounded.

“Well, yeah,” Peter said casually, “I think some of the stuff HYDRA does and gets me to do is pretty shitty, no denying it. But that really isn’t really for me to decide,” Peter huffed a laugh, “I mean, do you think I get punished nearly every day back at HYDRA because I follow orders? God, I used to be the worst.”

“Used to?” 

“Well yeah, I’ve gotten better at taking orders and not asking questions but sometimes I still slip up. I mean, I think HYDRA’s doing this all for some good reason, but that doesn’t mean I agree with it all.”

“So… if you agree with me on HYDRA doing immoral things, why do you hate me?”

“You’ve done more than just stop HYDRA. You’re whole existence fucking sucks for me too.”

Steve stared for longer than what would be considered necessary before moulding his face into a frustrated frown. Peter must have struck a nerve.

“You sound like Tony when I met him,” He sighed.

Peter snorted, “Well, Mister Stark was on to something.”

Irritation crept into the Captain's voice, “What do you mean? Come on kid, now you’re just being ridiculous. My personal life has nothing to do with— “

“You helped him leave,” Peter muttered. 

Immediately Peter’s eyes snapped back on to Steve’s as his face flushed pink with embarrassment and shame and his heart began thrum swiftly in his chest. The words were just as much of a surprise to him as they were to Roger’s. 

“What?” Steve asked, his voice more demanding than anything, “Who?”

Why did I say that? Why did I say that? Why did I say that? 

Peter swallowed his panic and shook his head, “It doesn’t matter, just take me to my room.”

“Peter come on, are you talking about— “

“I said to drop it,” The teen demanded, his eyes searching frantically around the room as if there were an escape, “You came here to get me and take me to my room. Let’s just- let’s just do that, okay?”

A pause.

A sigh. 

“Okay.” 

Peter gave a small nod of appreciation though his lips remained a tight line and his eyes still focused on the dented table.

Silently, Steve moved himself to stand by Peter’s side, hesitating slightly before speaking. His tone was soft, as if his words could hurt and for once, Peter didn’t mind the sympathy,

“Before I release your ankles from the chair, I’m going to hold on to your arm. Is that okay?”

The question threw Peter off for a second, he hadn’t expected it. Nobody had ever asked if they could touch or grab him before they did, he didn’t think they had to. Although the question seemed pointless in Peter’s battered mind, part of him appreciated Steve asking, it felt nice.

(Though he would never admit it.)

“Uh, sure. That’s cool,” said Peter lamely. 

Steve gripped his arm in a painless yet tight hold before fishing out a remote similar to Clint’s and pressing one of the buttons.

The restraints on Peter’s ankles snapped open and it took a moment for Peter to realise Steve was waiting for him to stand up on his own, not by force. 

Roger’s used his grasp on Peter’s arm to help steady the teen as he stood. No matter how advanced his agility was, sitting in a metal chair for over twenty-four hours and sleeping with his head on a table had drilled small aching points of pain and stiffness into his back and legs. 

“You okay there?” Steve asked.

Peter raised an eyebrow, determined to not show any more weakness, “I think I know how to stand Captain. I might be socially inept but I’m not physically inept.”

Steve sighed, “Whatever.”

The left the room and walked the halls in silence, Steve still gripping on to Peter’s arm. As they passed by rooms and rounded corners, Peter looked everywhere he could, hoping to understand the layout of the Compound even a little bit. 

Quickly, Peter became aware of how compliant he was with the whole situation. Steve was surely expecting him to make a break for it or at the very least spit out insults on his way to the new room. Peter had kind of expected himself to as well.

So, he did. 

The teen began to squirm in Steve’s grip, purposely changing the speed and pattern of his walking in the hopes to trip his chaperone up.

“Can you cut that out kid?” Roger’s snapped after a couple of minutes.

Peter grinned, “Nah, being an asshole is way too much fun, but I thought you already knew that.”

Steve let out his longest sigh yet, “I don’t understand you.”

“Really? That’s a shock, I really thought we had a connection. I mean, we’re both arrogant assholes who don’t seem to be big fans of regular human DNA. Like seriously dude, I could go on and on and on…”

And that’s exactly what Peter did all the way there, insulting Steve whenever possible through his ramblings and nudging him into corners whenever they rounded one. Steve’s pleas for Peter to stop formed into silent brooding and a face which had a ‘kill me now’ kind of vibe.

Peter grinned as relief washed over him. If Steve thought he was weak before, he certainly didn’t now. 

Though Peter was beginning to think that some weakness might not be so bad.

Maybe.

Kind of. 

Just a little. 

(Hopefully.)

 


 

The blueprints Tony had received from Ross weren’t great, but they weren’t necessarily horrible. If they had to restrain Peter in extreme situations then this wasn’t the worst way imaginable.

Plus, it didn’t take too long to build and set up in the room, so Tony decided Ross could get a pass on this one. Tony worked all night in order to have the room prepped for the morning, occasionally checking up on Peter through FRIDAY and ensuring that yes, he was sleeping. 

He hadn’t gone to visit Peter since their last conversation because the thought of facing him made Tony's heart pound. He had no idea how Peter would react to seeing him again, how he himself would react. After all, it was a pretty dick move to tell Peter his last name – making him question his own identity – and then leave without an explanation and Tony really didn’t want to face it.

Throughout the night and the meeting with Ross, Tony had considered telling the other Avenger’s and Pepper that he may or may not have told Peter his last name, but he knew that none of their reactions would be good. After all, the plan had been to make sure Peter was settled before revealing reality crushing personal information, but when had Tony ever stuck to a plan that wasn’t his own? in his defence, they should have seen this coming.

When it was time to take Peter to his new room, Tony had been quick to decline, claiming he had ‘too much work’ and didn’t think he could ‘handle a kid this early in the morning’. Sure, they were weak excuses, but they worked.

“I’ll take him,” Steve had offered, “The kid has super strength and with Wanda and Vision out on a mission, I’m our best bet to keep him restrained if he tries to make a break for it.”

Turns out that wasn’t such a good idea. 

“You’re going to have to meet them at Peter’s room,” Pepper said has she rubbed Tony’s back soothingly, “He won’t listen to Steve and somebody’s got to explain his living rules." 

Tony sighed, “Can’t you do that Pep? You’re good with kids.”

She raised an eyebrow, “I’m not sure my experience with kids will transfer to dealing with a teenage HYDRA spy, plus he already knows who you are and as far as we can tell, he doesn’t hate you.”

“He might now,” he muttered. 

“What?" 

“Nothing, nothing,” dismissed Tony with a wave of his hand.

Pepper’s stare intensified as she looked at Tony and he knew there was no getting out of this.

“Fine, I’ll go wait for them but if I come back with a black eye and a plastic fork impaling my shoulder, I’m blaming you.”

Pepper laughed as she pushed Tony out of his lab, “I wouldn’t expect anything else.”

 

Chapter Text

“…And dude,” Peter rambled as Steve ushered him down yet another corridor in seething silence, “Your shield seems pretty useless. Like seriously, it’s like the size of a— oh shit.” 

Somewhere between ‘Your shield’ and ‘Like seriously’, Steve unlocked a door with his thumb print. Upon opening it, Peter was too shocked to continue his train of thought as he stared at the cell that lay before him and the things inside it.

Because it wasn’t cell, not really.

It was a room – a big one – and in some ways, it made his room at HYDRA look like a cell in comparison. Huh.

The far wall was a floor to ceiling mirror, making the room appear bigger than it probably was. Peter was sure that it was a one-way just like the interrogation room but he got the feeling this one would be more soundproof. Black Widow has said they were doing renovations, after all.

Directly in the middle of the room, a dark pole that seemed embedded into the floor and ceiling made its present known. It was too thin to be anything close to a support structure and Peter was pretty sure it wasn’t just there for interior decorating. He didn’t ask about it though, because that wasn’t the biggest surprise in the room.

His ‘oh shit’ wasn’t directed towards the suspiciously welcoming room, or the pole that stuck out like a sore thumb. It was for the man casually leaning against said pole, a hand in his suit pocket and sunglasses on despite the harsh indoor lighting.

“Welcome to your room kid,” Mister Stark joked though the slight twitch of his lip and the flick of his wrist indicated to Peter he was more nervous than he wanted to let on.

“Tony,” Steve said, clearly unware of the anxious signs Peter had picked up on, “didn’t expect to see you here.”

Mister Stark pulled himself off the pole and walked towards them, “Yeah well, the security cameras suggested you might be having trouble with the kid and I thought what with being the selfless person I am I’d help you out.”

“Pepper told you to, didn’t she?”

Tony stopped walking and sniffed, “Irrelevant. What matters is that I’m here and you,” Tony pointed at Steve, “are relieved of your duties.”

Steve raised an eyebrow, “You sure? I don’t think we shou— “

“You’ve done the hardest part Cap, all I’m going to do is give him the grand tour and the ground rules.”

“I know Tony but I still don’t think it’s safe t—“

“Kid,” Mister Stark interjected and Peter’s eyes snapped up to meet his.

“Yeah?”

“You’re not going to kill me, are you?”

Peter tilted his head slightly before shaking his head, “Can’t kill you yet. I haven’t been given orders to.”

“See?” Tony exclaimed, gesturing to Peter with his hands, “I’m not even on the kid’s hit list yet.”

Steve sighed, “Fine, I’m going,” Steve nudged Peter further into room, “Good luck.”

“Won’t need it,” Mister Stark replied, earning a chuckle from the Captain as he turned and left, the door locking behind him. 

“So,” Peter said after a moment of awkward silence, “This is my cell?”

Mister Stark’s jaw clenched, “Not a cell really, more of a room for you to stay in while we work out what’s going on in that head of yours.”

Peter raised an eyebrow, “Can I leave it?”

“Well… no.” 

“Is there surveillance?" 

“Kid, there’s surveillance in every room.”

He shrugged, “Still sounds like a cell to me.”

Stark sighed, “I’m not gonna argue with you on this kid, we’ve got bigger issues to deal with.”

Peter nodded, “Fair enough.”

“Here,” Tony said as he fished the remote out of his pocket, “Take a look around.”

With a click of a button, Peters cuffs snapped a part and for the first time in over twenty-four hours, Peter realised all his limbs were free and he could walk around. 

So, he did.

Like a cautious animal stepping out of a cage for the first time, Peter walked the perimeter of the room, lightly brushing a hand over walls and furniture as he passed them, including a bed that had a mattress too thick, a blanket too fluffy and a pillow too puffy for Peter’s comfort.

“Walls, ceilings and floors are Hulk, Vision and Super Soldier proof,” Stark said as he watched Peter explore the room, “Door can only be opened with thumb print recognition, which of course excludes your thumb. Questions?”

Peter nodded as he peaked into a small archway and saw a white tiled room with a toilet, sink, and shower.

“Okay,” Peter replied as he turned back to face Mister Stark, “What’s the pole for?”

Tony’s eyes darkened, “This.”

Peter didn’t even see Stark press a button, it happened too fast. The cuffs snapped back together before dragging him towards the pole with such speed and force that his feet lifted off the ground.

The metal bands hit the pole with a loud clunk and there they stuck. Peter blinked away the shock as he tugged at the cuffs, though he already knew they wouldn’t budge.

“Oh,” Peter said weakly.

“it’s a security measure in case you decide to go AWOL on us,” Stark explained, “Not my idea but it’ll do.”

Tony nodded towards him and Peter’s cuffs snapped away for the pole and one another. Did the thing have a sensor? Was it motion-controlled? Peter couldn’t tell but he figured he’d have to work it out if he wanted to avoid it.

“Whose idea was it?” Peter asked.

“Secretary Ross’.”

“Hold up, Secretary Ross as in Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross?”

Stark nodded, “The one and only. To be fair though, one of his cronies probably came up with the idea, he’s just enforcing it.”

“How is Ross even involved with me?” Peter demanded rather indignantly. Was he seriously that big of a deal? Why were so many people and organisations concerned with him?

“He’s involved as much as he wants to be kid,” Tony replied curtly, “it’s not up to me.” 

Peter decided not to press it, choosing to nod in understanding as he slowly made his way over to the bed and sat on the edge.

Man, this thing is soft, Peter thought. Usually, Peter wasn’t a fan of soft. He had been taught soft surroundings were misleading, a tactic used in the outside world to make people weak.

Compared to his bed at HYDRA though, Peter couldn’t really see the downside of such a soft bed. Maybe every nice thing wasn’t meant to make him weak. After all, did Peter even know what weakness was really? 

“Anyway, I think we’re done here,” Tony said as he checked his watch, “If you’ve got any other questions ask the AI and she’ll tell you what you’re allowed to know.”

Peter sat up bolt right, “Wait, an AI? I thought I couldn’t use it." 

“Correction kid, you can’t use my AI so I made you your own including fun limitations and restrictions to answers. She’ll answer any of your questions that are deemed innocent and will keep an eye on you when none of us are. Say hi, AI.”

“Hello,” a voice came from the ceiling, “It is a pleasure to meet you Peter. I have been informed of your situation and therefore know a lot about you.”

Peter stared at the ceiling in awe, “No way. You made this for me?”

Tony waved a hand, “More for me than for you. We don’t have to watch the baby monitors twenty-four seven if you’ve got a built-in babysitter. Anyway, she needs a name, you got one?” 

Peter didn’t bother to mention he wasn’t exactly sure what a baby monitor or babysitter was, but he felt as though he had a good idea from context and was – quite honestly – a little offended.

He decided to focus on the name instead. Staring fixated at the ceiling for probably longer than Stark expected to before turning to him with a triumphant smile.

“Her name is Karen.”

Karen?” Tony repeated, seemingly taken aback by the mundane nature of the name, “Why Karen?”

“Because you said she would answer my questions and Karen was the name of my favourite teacher at HYDRA.”

Peter didn’t even realise a small smile had crept on to his face until he finished talking. He quickly plastered on the neutral expression he’d grown so accustomed to and hoped that Stark hadn’t seen it, but that was doubtful. 

“Huh,” Tony said, shifting his weight between legs, “Why was she your favourite?” 

He didn’t have to think before replying, “She let me speak to the other kids.”

Once again, that unnerving heavy silence descended on the room and rested like weights against Peter’s shoulders. He silently cursed himself for saying something so obviously dark in comparison to the bright and loving place the outside world pretended to be.

Stark swallowed a lump in his throat before speaking, “You can’t talk to other kids?” 

Peter shook his head. There was no point lying about it now, and besides, it wasn’t as if he was giving away any secrets.

“Why not?”

Peter masked his sadness with neutrality, “The other kids are a part of HYDRA while I’m only for HYDRA to use.” Peter said that word timidly – as if he could trigger himself mid-sentence, “They have parents who work in HYDRA; careers and legacies and all that junk. I don’t have any of that, I’m just there to follow orders and get shit done. There’s a hierarchy and even though we’re all the same age, they’re kind of like my superiors.

“The teacher’s and my boss thought a good way to establish my place to the other kids was to show I’m separate from them. I sit at the back, don’t ask questions, do my work alone and only talk when the teacher tells me to. Karen didn’t give a shit though, she let me talk to the other kids and even though I’m not friends with them, it’s cool to talk to people around my age, you know? She also let me call her by her first name – I’ve never met anyone else who’s let me do that.” 

Stark cleared his throat, “Karen sounds like a pretty cool person.”

This time, Peter allowed a small smile, “Yeah.”

What Peter failed to mention was that Karen died almost ten years ago, and it was his fault. He didn’t mention how they got too close and Moller saw their relationship more as a threat than anything else.

Peter didn’t tell Tony about how Moller had held his hands steady and forced his fingers to press against the trigger and pull it back. He didn’t describe the details of the deafening bang and the sound of a restrained Karen falling slack in her chair.

Peter didn’t talk about how Doctor Moller had whispered in his ear, “You must know your place my boy,” before hitting his jaw with the butt of the gun.

Peter didn’t point out it was his first kill and he was only seven.

Or that ‘place’ was the third word.

Instead Peter watched as Stark turned to leave the room and decided to comment on the thought he’d been having since their last chat, because it hurt less to think about.

“I don’t believe you,” Peter announced.

Tony turned to face him, “About what?”

“About my last name,” He clarified, voice unwavering, “I think you made it up.”

Stark heaved a sigh, “Why would I do that?”

“To me make me feel special or something,” Peter shrugged, “Didn’t work though, I know you’re lying.”

“I’m not lying.”

“You sure about that?”

Tony made to answer but stopped, rubbing a hand over his face before pointing a finger at him, “Wait here,” he said as he turned and made to leave the room.

“I don’t have a choice,” Peter called out.

“Shut up,” Stark retorted as the door shut behind him, locking automatically. 

Peter sighed, flopping back on to his bed and stared up at the ceiling.

“Peter,” Karen said, voice filling the room, “May I suggest you shower while waiting for Stark to return? There is a towel in the bathroom and a fresh set of clothing under your bed.”

“I smell that bad, huh?”

“As an AI, I am unable to detect sent, although the state of your clothing, hair and visible skin suggests you have not showered in at least thirty-two hours. Showers are also great stress relievers.”

 Peter groaned before pulling himself up from the bed, “Fine, I’ll shower.”

“Good choice, Peter.”

He smiled, “Thanks, Karen.”

“Anytime.”

 


 

Tony was so engrossed in his search for Peter’s file, he didn’t notice the conference room’s door opening.

“What are you doing?”

He didn’t bother to turn around and face Natasha, “Proving that little shit of a kid wrong.” 

“Tony,” Steve said from behind him, “What happened?” 

“He doesn’t believe me!” Tony insisted, pushing away a stack of research and pulling another closer, “The kid thinks I’m lying!”

Natasha stepped closer, “What did you tell him?” 

This time Tony hesitated before speaking, though he didn’t really see the point in coming up with an excuse anymore, “I might’ve hinted to the kid that his last name was Parker.”

“You what?” 

“Okay well I definitely told him but— There it is!” Tony pulled the file labelled ‘HYDRA, Peter’ out of the stack of papers he had been flicking through.

Steve stepped forward and placed a hand on Tony’s shoulder, slowly turning him around, “Tony, I left you alone for five minutes. How the hell did you tell him his last name in such a short time?” 

Stark eyed Steve’s hand before flicking it off his shoulder, “I told him his last name yesterday when I gave him breakfast, he’s just decided to mention he didn’t believe me now.”

“Tony,” Nat said rather coolly, “We agreed we wouldn’t say anything until he was at least familiar with his room. Why in hell did yo— “

“It slipped out Romanov, okay? The kid was spouting depressing shit about how his destiny in life was to be the world’s greatest threat and that he didn’t think food could be warm. I couldn’t just walk away and leave the kid who knew more about powerful metals than the proper way to eat porridge or himself. I had to tell him something that would – I don’t know – make him feel normal?” 

Roger’s and Romanov shared a knowing look before turning back to Tony.

“Steve and I were just talking with Clint and Sam and we’ve all had similar experiences. One second he’s an incredibly sheltered teen and the next— “ 

“He’s an assassin with a serious case of Stockholm Syndrome,” Tony supplied.                                                       

They both nodded. 

“Then you understand why I need to show him this,” He waved Peter’s file in the air. 

“Tony,” Steve tried, “I’m not sure that’s a good idea. We don’t want to— “

“Don’t want to what Rogers? Scare him? If I was a betting man – and I definitely am – I would say he probably is already. This file might prove to him that he belongs outside of HYDRA, that he’s safe." 

“I get that Tony but I still don’t think— “

“Show it to him.”

The three whipped their heads around to see Bucky standing in the doorway, arms folded.

“I’m sorry Marcel Macreau, how long have you been standing there?” Tony asked.

“I remember leaving HYDRA and the one thing I wanted to know was what my life was before it,” Bucky continued, pointedly ignoring Stark.

“Peter had just turned seven when I met him and he was still a shy, weak kid. I know he’s changed but there’s still got to be that six or seven-year-old in him somewhere. Showing him the file might help.”

Tony nodded gratefully, “I never thought I’d say this to you Barnes, but thank you.”

“Don’t mention it.”

“Fine,” Natasha said, “You can show him the file but I have some conditions.”

Tony huffed, “Geez you sound like Ross.” 

She rolled her eyes, “Speaking of, we have to tell Ross that you’ve told Peter about himself.  If we don’t he might throw a temper tantrum and try take Peter way.”

“Okay,” Tony said, “Next?”

“Peter doesn’t need to know about the status of his Aunt and Uncle or the fact that HYDRA framed his death a couple years ago. It’ll just mess him up and we should introduce the heavy stuff later.”

Tony sighed before slipping out the relevant reports and news articles that matched Nat’s requirements and chucked them on to the table.

“Are we done?”

Barnes gave a small smile, “Good luck.”

Tony rolled his eyes as he pushed past his team mates and headed out the door, “I already told Cap this; I don’t need it.” 

The kid needed good luck though.

Tony just hoped he could provide it.

 


 

Warm food, Peter decided, was almost has good as warm showers.

Almost.

He had to admit, he was pleasantly surprised when Karen said, “Let me help you with that” after Peter turned on the cold water and watched – or felt – in awe as the chilling spray rose in temperature and steam curled around his body, fogging up the shower’s glass walls.

Cold showers had always been some sort of sanctuary for Peter, a place where rules and regime ceased to exist and relaxation was encouraged. Hot showers still brought on the same affect, the same gooey feelings, just amplified to a hundred. 

The vanilla and apple scented soap and shampoo didn’t hurt either.

If Peter could be given the choice, he would want to be buried in a shower filled with warm water when he died. Morbid? Yes, but his new-found love for warm showers knows no bounds.

He stayed until his fingers pruned and the water’s heat became almost uncomfortable. The clothes provided – black sweatpants and a plain white t-shirt – were softer than any other clothing he had worn before.

At first, Peter had considered not getting changed into them, worried that the softness of the fabric would trick him into feeling safe just as Moller had told him it would. But when he looked back at his dirt and blood covered tuxedo and the White Spider suit that stunk of sweat and grime, he gave in. Peter would just have to remind himself that his new clothes were evil. He could do that. Totally.

Peter kicked off his dress shoes with fraying souls and brown socks that had started out white before padding back into the main section of his room, old and dirtied clothing bundled in his hands.

This time, Peter wasn’t as surprised to see Tony Stark waiting for him as he had been the first time. Maybe it was the familiarity of his position, Stark sitting on a wooden chair in the corner of the room with a leg crossed over the other, a hand resting protectively over a file that lay on the table. 

It reminded Peter of the way Doctor Moller would sit when he visited Peter’s room at HYDRA after his curfew, usually to lecture him or give a mission briefing too confidential for a generic HYDRA member to hear.

Peter raised his eyebrows and shrugged before tossing his dirty clothes on to the bed and turning to face Stark. 

“You came back.”

“And you waited here.”

Peter rolled his eyes, “Ha ha.”

A silence emerged between them as Peter considered whether he should be standing or not. Usually when someone brought a file to Peter at HYDRA, it was for a mission and mission briefings tended to be a formal occasion where Peter stood and whoever was in charge sat. 

Technically, Stark was in charge of him, but Peter didn’t want to be exactly compliant. He wanted to show that Stark didn’t scare him, that he wouldn’t follow his dumb rules, but not to the point where his dumb acts of defiance would be cause for a punishment or in this case he supposed, a torture session.

At HYDRA, sitting and standing was a big thing, Peter never got to choose whether he sat or not, it was always up to his superiors. Peter sitting on his own accord was almost as bad as spitting in Moller’s face, practically begging to be punished for hours on end.

Internally, Peter sighed. Things were so simple at HYDRA. There was a hierarchy and orders and rules. How did Peter even get into this mess?

Peter settled for a casual stance, folding his arms and tilting his head in a way that could only be read as disrespectful, but he was still standing. Still giving him his attention. It was the best of both worlds, Peter thought.

Tony stared at him for a beat before leaning over his chair and patting the bed, “Have a seat kid.”

Peter froze.

Tony noticed. 

“Everything okay there, Peter? 

He swallowed the shock before speaking, his voice failing to sound anything except strangled and awkward, “Oh, oh yeah. I um… it’s just, well – actually – never mind. I’m just gonna… sit. Yeah. Sitting, so cool. Yep.” 

Starks lips quirked and his eyebrows raised, but he didn’t say anything else, watching as Peter gingerly sat on the bed with fumbled movements as he moved his dirty clothes out of the way and struggled to find a comfortable position.

How the fuck do you sit on a bed for a briefing? Peter wondered, Is there a formal way to bed-sit? Bed-sitting etiquette?

He settled with sitting cross legged, his hands resting on his knees and his back straightened.

Peter looked at Stark and noticed he had that amused and unreadable expression on his face. It was the way Stark or the other Avengers looked at him when he did something they considered odd and at first, Peter had thought they looked at him like a wounded animal, as if he were weak and to be pitied.

Slowly though, Peter was realising they were looking at him with something else. It was similar to the feeling he got when he yearend for more physical comfort from Moller, it wasn’t meant to be something he wanted, but he always had. 

Affection, Peter realised. Tony fucking Stark was staring at him with affection. 

Peter didn’t know whether to throw up, run or cry. Probably a bit of all three would do.

Instead, he decided to recite the words that had yet to fail at re-centring him so far.

Decisive. Apathetic. Focused.

Peter cleared his throat and stared back Stark, waiting for him to speak. If only he could figure what was going on in Stark’s mind, then he could maybe have better control over his stupid fucking emotions.

 


 

Peter, Tony thought, looked even younger in normal clothes. 

Maybe it was the way the sweatpants were a size too big or the way the t-shirt clung to his slightly damp body, showing exactly how small and skeletal his figure really was. Despite Peter’s insistent claims to needing a lot of food, HYDRA certainly wasn’t feeding him enough.

Or it could be the fact that his towel-dried fluffy hair was slightly too long to be considered neat, making the tips of curls frame a face in a way that really accentuated the kids baby-face.

His awkward movements and reactions when Tony was even half of a decent person to him only added to it. Hell, the way the kid looked at him when he offered him a seat, when he asked if he was okay… it was as if Tony had just told a regular teen he wasn’t going to ground him for getting bad grades, just to try harder next time.

In other words, Peter looked shocked. Nervous, sure, but definitely shocked.

Tony slipped the file off the table and handed it to Peter without a word. 

“What’s this?” Peter asked, attempting to sound more confident than he probably felt, “Some sort of blackmail?” 

Tony snorted, “Kid, I don’t know what we could even blackmail you with.” 

“Good point.”

Slowly, Peter opened the file and took out the individual documents. 

“Peter Benjamin Parker,” Tony recited as he watched the kid’s expression stay fixed on a particular piece of paper, “Born August 10th, 2001. Son of Richard and Mary Parker.”

Peter swallowed slightly, his hands shaking as he stared at the document in his hands, “Wh-what is this.”

“It’s your birth certificate. A copy of it, actually.”

The teen tore his stare away from the paper, eyes blown wide and brow furrowed as he spoke, his voice barely whisper, “Why?”

Tony focused on keeping his voice steady and calm. They didn’t need two people having a mental breakdown, “Because kid, you said you didn’t believe me and I don’t blame you. So I brought you proof.”

Peter shook his head in defiance, his shoulders which had slouched slightly now straightened, the kid doing his best to keep himself together. 

“You could still be lying,” Peter tried, “It’s easy to fake documents. This could all be for some big plan.”

“And what plan would that be?”

“To make me think I’m something out here.

Peter said the word ‘something’ as if it were dangerous. As if the word alone was just as treacherous and fickle and untrustworthy as any one person in Peter’s life. Like the word left a bitter taste on his mouth. Like it was poison.

“Kid, I don’t know what you think ‘something’ means,” Tony moved off the chair to sit beside Peter, who shuffled away slightly, “But you aren’t just a ‘something’ you’re a somebody. You have an identity and a family and a whole life you missed out on.”

Wide brown eyes avoided Tony’s gaze as Peter stared at the cuffs on his wrists, lower lip trembling ever so slightly.

“Here,” Tony said, picking up a couple of pages off the bed, “Look at this. This one is a receipt from when your parents took you to an optometrist and this one is from when you’re Aunt and Uncle got an inhaler prescribed to you.” 

Peter’s breathing had turned ragged, his eyes blinking furiously as they stung red, hands clasped together.

“I don’t need glasses,” He protested, defiant as ever, “I don’t have asthma. You’ve got the wrong person's medical notes.”

“Well, you might not have asthma now, but an old buddy of yours mentioned that when he met you as a kid, you were still carrying an inhaler around.”

Peter rested his head in a hand, elbow balancing on a knee, nose turning red as the blood drained from his cheeks. He didn’t say anything.

“And the glasses,” Tony continued, slipping a hand behind him in reach of his next rather damning piece of evidence, “Well, you might have been wearing contacts by the time you were seven but you definitely didn’t at first.”

A picture cut out of a newspaper article slipped into the pairs eye line. In it, a boy with brown, fluffy hair and thick red rimmed glasses looked out. He smiled wide with his teeth and freckles that had since faded lightly dotted his nose. Not even the red and yellow striped t-shirt he wore looked brighter than the kid’s beaming face.

The title beneath the picture read; "Peter Parker - Aged Four, Missing".

Peter didn’t bother to stop the silent trail of tears trickle down his cheeks and pool at his chin. His face had paled to the colour of chalk, as if he had seen a ghost.

And technically, he had.

Peter had seen his own ghost. The ghost of who he was meant to be.

Maybe his tears were a way mourning.

Tony’s heart cracked once again as he watched the fire in the kid’s hollow eyes dampen to mere licks of flames.

“Kid,” Tony said softly, “I know you knew all these things I showed you, and I think the reason you didn’t want to believe me is because you’ve lying to yourself.

“You still have family members out there who care for you, and I- we care about you too.”

Peter still refused to speak, but the slight shift of his head and curl of his toes proved he was still listening, still thinking.

The silence drew out between them. To Peter, it probably felt like seconds, but to Tony, it felt like hours. Emotions weren’t ever his thing, and comforting even less so. He wanted to be there for the kid, wrap his arms around him and tell him he was safe, that he wasn’t any more broken than Tony was.

Tony didn’t want to push it though, didn’t want to fuck everything up.

So instead, he asked one last question.

“Do you believe me now, kid?”

The feeling of hours passed by again.

Peter nodded.

Tony nodded back, blinked away his own tears, stood, and left the room.

Behind him, one of Peter’s many walls was finally pulled down. 

For the first time in years, Peter allowed himself to crumble.

An oblivious Tony kept walking.

 

Chapter Text

“Peter Benjamin Parker,” Tony said as Peter stared at the official looking document in his trembling hands while his mind went numb. 

No. 

“Born August 10th, 2001.”

No. 

“Son of Richard and Mary Parker.”

No, no, no.

 


 

“You still have family members out there who care for you, and I- we care about you too.” 

Peter tried to speak, but his mouth wouldn’t open and there was a lump in his throat that hinted to an oncoming surge of bile. He curled his toes tightly in a desperate attempt to remain grounded in reality and tilted his head as his vision swam. 

He was listening, he just couldn’t think.

The silence drew out between them. To Peter, it felt like years, and to Mister Stark? He didn’t know, couldn’t tell. The man seemed so calm, so poised, as if his world wasn’t fractured and the situation was under control. 

Tony Stark was a complicated man, sure, but at least he knew who he was. Peter didn’t.

Stark asked one last question.

“Do you believe me now, kid?”

The feeling of years passed by again. 

Peter nodded.

Tony cleared his throat, stood, and left the room with ease.

 


 

Peter sat frozen as past lessons from Doctor Moller marched through his head like a military parade with a copious amount of arsenal, led by droves of driven soldiers.

“Life isn’t fair boy,” Doctor Moller’s voice stomped through his mind, setting the pace for the thousands of thoughts that followed, “Only HYDRA shows fairness through our actions towards our enemies.” 

“The world outside of HYDRA is fake my boy. The Avenger’s will pretend to keep the world safe but they lie. Truth and safety doesn’t exist out there, the Avenger’s made sure of that.”

Face it, you are Peter and that’s it. You will never be worth something…”

Moller had lied to him. 

Peter had believed him.

The pounding inside grew and grew until it was almost overwhelming and nearly all consuming. 

Peter slowly realised the source of the marching was not in his mind, but in the beating of his heart which pushed against his chest as if in hopes of escaping. 

A headache tried to fill the void in his mind which Moller’s words had occupied only moments ago and his breathing worked to match his thrumming heart; short and quick but leaving a lot to be desired.

His senses dulled and the world became blurry through a sheen of tears.

“Peter,” Karen’s voiced broke through the internal clamour but she sounded underwater, far way, “Your heart rate has elevated dramatically and suggests you are in emotional distress. My protocol advises me to alert the nearest Avenger of your situation.” 

“Don’t,” Peter croaked out, his voice high and wheezy, “I-I don’t want th-them here. It- it’ll just make i- it worse.”

“Are you sure, Peter? Many credible sources suggest that company in a time of distress is beneficial— “

“I work alone!” he practically shouted before hastily amending his statement, “I-I mean I work th-through this- this stuff a-alone.”

He took another shallow breath before quietly adding, “Please Karen. Please.”

The AI didn’t reply immediately, and when she did, Peter could’ve sworn there was a tinge of sympathy in her pre-programmed voice, “Okay Peter, but if you’re heartrate becomes dangerously high I will have no choice but to inform someone.”

Peter breathed out a small “Thank you,” before burying his face in his hands and allowing wave after wave of sobs to shake through his body. 

He hiccupped and sniffled and cried as if he were a four-year-old again and Doctor Moller had just explained how his Aunt and Uncle had abandoned him. 

He cried like he had after the training session when he was six and Moller told him he was nothing.

He cried like he had after Karen’s body was dragged away and Peter was thrown into solitary for the first time. The silence had been terrifying and when he left three days later, he was introduced to The Winter Soldier. 

Since then, he had never made a noise when crying, only allowing tears to paint his cheeks in silence.

Crying like this now, shoulders heaving and throat raw and knowing that he wouldn’t be caught or yelled at, it was almost cathartic in some twisted way.

When the tears stopped falling and emotional fatigue washed over him, Peter became acutely aware of the pent-up adrenaline coursing through his veins. 

So much energy being released in a way that wasn’t physical was… different. Peter’s body wasn’t used to it, he didn’t know how to react when for the past decade he had trained himself to get rid of emotions through exercise and work. 

Slowly, Peter stood up from his bed, his back and knees aching from being bent for so long.

“Karen,” He said, surprised at how even his voice was, “Is there any rule against me working out?”

“No there is not, but if your activities can be interpreted as threatening my protocol requires me to— “

“Inform the nearest Avenger,” Peter finished, wiping stray tears from his stinging eyes, “I-I get it.”

He rolled his neck and cracked his knuckles, shaking away the jitters in his hands and feet before running at full speed towards the opposite wall.

Just before he collided with it, Peter kicked up his feet and used the wall to lift himself off the ground and up to the ceiling. From there, he stayed stuck with his palms – feet dangling in the air – and did what many people considered to be the weirdest set of pull-ups in existence.

Afterwards, Peter flipped back down to the ground, ran towards the wall again, and repeated.

Peter did this cycle again and again and again. He ran until his legs ached, jumped until his knees were weak, did pull-ups until his lats and biceps and deltoids burned cruelly and until his already raw throat begged for water, but the bathroom sink felt miles away and he was too ashamed to ask for some.

Flopping back on his bed, with fresh clothes now wreaking of sweat, Peter listened to the heavy heaving of his chest and the beat of his heart which was still too fast but nowhere near the pounding it had been.

He closed his eyes as the adrenaline faded and the exhaustion resurfaced, hoping that he could maybe fall asleep and forget everything that had happened. Peter wanted to drift into dreams where he could pretend his world still consisted only of HYDRA and nothing else. 

No birth certificate, no truths, no affection.

Nothing.

Doctor Moller’s voice returned in spite.

“My boy, sacrifices must be made for the greater good. HYDRA’s future is the greater good.” 

Was Peter’s life a sacrifice made? 

“You must know your place my boy.” 

Was HYRDA his place?

Was HYDRA where he belonged?

Of course it is you idiot, Another voice rang in his mind, above the thunderous march of Moller, HYDRA found you. They kept you. Your Aunt and Uncle never did that. Stop being soft and weak, there is no space for those things in here.

With a chill that ran down his spine, Peter realised that the new voice was his own. 

And it – he –  was right. Whether Peter was a Parker or not, he was dedicated to HYDRA now, and the present mattered more than his blurry past.

Agent Stallard joined the parade. 

“You do not deserve pity. Pity is for the weak.” 

“Doctor Moller did not raise you to be weak but the tears suggest otherwise.”

Huh. Now that… that was more complicated.

Peter could already feel the guilt and shame rise within him as it so often did after he cried or acted weakly but this time, something else was accompanying it. Something quieter, yet just as persistent.

Doubt. 

For the first time in his life, Peter was doubting the words of Stallard and it was over something so trivial as ‘weakness’.

Were the Avengers getting to him? Was there affection and assurances of him being worth something just a ploy to wear him down? Or was he finally allowing himself to question the things he’d never dared to before?

At this point, Peter couldn’t tell.

Did the Avengers really care? 

Peter didn’t know about that either, but he couldn’t ignore the hope that rose in his chest. 

Finally, fatigue won out and Peter drifted away into restlessly dreamless sleep.

The last thought to cross his mind was one he had stored in the back of his head since Stark had left. 

“Peter Benjamin Parker.”

“…you aren’t just a ‘something’ you’re a somebody.”

Somehow, through his drowsy and senseless haze, Peter allowed himself to mourn the name with a smile.

 


 

‘Jailbreak’ by AC/DC was turned up so loud that Tony didn’t know Rhodey had entered his lab until a hand tapped him on the shoulder.

“What the fu— “, Tony started, turning around with screwdriver in hand for self-defence.

When he saw Rhodey’s unimpressed face and judgingly raised eyebrows, Tony let out a sigh of mixed with relief and mild annoyance and tossed the screw driver back on to the work bench. 

“You know sneaking up on me does nothing to help my high profile and rather serious heart condition, right Rhodes?” Tony rubbed some grease on to his old jeans as he leaned back against the workbench in order to face his friend-turned-intruder.

Rhodey continued to look unimpressed, “Well I wouldn’t have had to if you didn’t have outdated music blasting while your conveniently holed up away from all your Peter-related issues.”

Tony folded his arms, “’Jailbreak’ is an underrated masterpiece in my books, but for you I’ll get FRIDAY to turn down the volume by 30%.”

As the music quietened Tony turned back to the gauntlet he had been working on.

“So Rhodes, what brings you to my neck of the woods? I assume it’s nothing good considering you look as though you just sat through a less than sub-par flick.”

Rhodey scoffed, “Did you seriously ignore what I just said?”

“No,” Tony said slowly as he began arranging the wires in his gauntlet, “You said that my music was too loud and too old – which might I say, is rich coming from an old-timer like you. I then graciously defended my music taste and lowered the volume so we could have the best of both worlds. Honestly Rhodes, were you listening? Cause it kinda sounds like you weren’t.”

“Oh no,” Rhodey said, shaking his head despite Tony having his back to him, “You are not spinning this on me. I may be old but I do not have amnesia and you are definitely choosing to ignore the fact that I came down here to talk about Peter.”

Tony held a small pair of pliers in the corner of his mouth as he began connecting wires together with his fingers instead, “Oh yeah?” he answered around the tool, “And what do you want to talk about that concerns me with Peter? Kid need a new pillow case or something?” 

“Tony, you can’t keep having these heart to hearts with him and then go hide yourself away so you don’t have to talk about them! We need to be kept in the loop, especially when you tell the kid new information about himself that could potentially change his behaviour around us.” 

“I’m not having heart to hearts with him,” Tony stated, struggling to keep the frustration out of his tone, “I just have a conversation with him like everyone else does.” 

“So, the fact that every time you’ve talked to him he’s been less guarded is purely a coincidence.”

“Yep.”

“Tony that’s bullshit and you know it. You care about him.” 

His calloused hands faltered slightly as Tony fought to keep his voice even, “Everyone cares about him.”

“Yes, but Tony you care about him more than us. You like the kid.”

He scoffed, “And you don’t?” 

“I’m not the one who’s gone to visit him three times in the past thirty-six hours.”

“I’m not visiting him I’m just— “

“Just what, Tony? Because the way you seem to talk to him shows you definitely aren’t there to interrogate. Jesus Tones, I’ve known you for decades! I can tell when you care about a person and wallowing in self-pity after every interaction with them is a dead ringer.”

“Yeah well maybe you- shit!” Tony’s bottled up frustration had made its way to his shaking fingers. Sparks flew as two wires made contact and the accompanying heat caused Tony to drop them.

He gripped the edge of the workbench and focused on his heavy breathing. Tony didn’t want to have this conversation, he really didn’t. Talking about it would make all these parental… feelings real and he didn’t think he could handle that.

He didn’t have a choice anymore though, did he?

“Okay, so maybe I care about him," Tony admitted, gripping the table tighter, “But so what? It’s not like I can just push myself into the kid’s life and help him.”

Rhodey placed a reassuring hand on Tony’s shoulder, “You’re already doing that Tony.”

 “But what if I fuck up?” his voice came out barely louder than a whisper as he turned to face Rhodey, “You know how long it took me to sort myself out, how I’m still sorting myself out. Hell, compared to the kid’s shit, my problems are nothing. What if I just make his worse?”

“Tones you’re overthinking this. You aren’t gonna mess up and if you do, we’ve got all the team here to help out.”

Stark blew out a breath, “Okay,” he said simply.

Tony knew that no matter what Rhodey said to him, he’d still have nerves. He’d still have reservations and fears whenever he talked to Peter about anything because the idea of making him worse was almost as bad as not helping at all. 

Sure, the idea of getting close to the HYDRA raised teen so quickly was scary, but it wasn’t as scary as failing him.

Rhodey gave him a kind smile, “Good, now come on. Ross has heard about Peter learning his last name and he’s demanding a video chat with us. I think we’re about to have some fun with a very pissed-off Ross.”

Tony rolled his eyes, “Can’t wait for that, sounds like a blast.” 

Rhodey laughed, “I thought so.”

 


 

The conversation with Ross did not go well. Not for Ross and especially not for Tony.

Saying that Ross was irritated with the fact that Peter was learning about himself was a massive understatement. 

“I don’t get it,” Clint said after Ross’ opening spiel, “The last time we talked to you, you said you didn’t care what we did with the kid as long as we stuck to your requirements, and we have. Why would telling Peter his last name and date of birth impact anything to do with the interrogation?” 

“You’re giving him ammunition,” Ross snarled, “Telling the assassin these things give him the potential to pretend he’s changing. He’s a spy, Barnes. The HYDRA minor’s a professional liar and you’re playing right into his hands.”

“We’re humanizing him,” Steve tried.

“No, you’re coddling him,” Ross snapped, “Have you all forgotten why he’s here? He’s a HYDRA assassin with dangerous and unnatural abilities whose only use to us is the fact he has information we want. You can play around with him as much as you like but giving him more information than we’re receiving isn’t going to help us.”

“He’s opening up to us—“

“—Are you sure about that Rogers? For all we know he could be faking the whole thing. Spies and teenagers are some of the best liars in the world and he’s both of those things.”

Tony stood at the back of the room, watching the conversation unfold. It felt like they were going around and around in circles; Ross refusing to change his point of view while the Avenger’s continued to try and make him see their side of the argument. 

Talking Ross out of his opinion wasn’t getting them anywhere, but maybe listening to him would.

“So what do you suggest we do?” Tony said, stepping forward to get a better view of Ross as his teammates fell silent, “You want information and you don’t like how we’re trying to get it, so give us an alternative.”

Ross’ eyes shifted onto Stark and he stared at him for a few seconds before speaking, “Do what I suggested in the first place. We want information and we want it fast. Get the minor talking by any means necessary and if he gets hurt along the way no one will blame you for it.”

Tony’s blood boiled, “We aren’t going to torture him Ross.”

“Then I’ll find someone who will. I can take him to the Raft at any time and maybe I’ll have a better hold things with him there. This little project could be so much more… proficient if my men deal with it themselves.”

A heavy silence fell on the group, only to be broken by Tony’s dangerously calm words, “Are you blackmailing us?”

Ross shrugged, “Think of it more as an incentive. Get some information out of him by the week’s end and we won't have a problem.”

Tony slammed his hands on to the conference table, pens rolling and glasses shaking. 

“You sick bastard,” he growled, “I can’t believe you’re threatening a child’s basic rights just to get information.”

“For the information we could get? I think it’s a fair price.”

“I don’t.”

“Well then I’ll find someone who does.”

“You mother fu— “

“Deal.”

Everyone’s heads whipped around to see a stoic Natasha fold her arms. 

“Nat…” Steve began, his voice filled with more hurt than anger.

“The next time I interrogate Peter and he doesn’t say anything I’ll make things more… serious,” she said, sounding just as indifferent as she appeared.

Ross’ lips curled into a cruel smile, “Excellent.” 

She shrugged, “Whatever it takes to keep him out of the Raft.”

“I’m a man of my word.”

“Unfortunately so." 

Ross’ smug smile twisted into a grimace at Natasha’s words but he said nothing of it. The Secretary gave one last nod before ending the call.

Then, all hell broke loose.

Simultaneously, every team member turned on Natasha and began giving her the scolding of a lifetime.

“What the hell Nat?” 

“—Come on Romanov, you’re being totally— “

“—What the fuck’s gotten into you?” 

“—I can’t believe you would— “

“—Why is it every time we talk to Ross you side with him on— “ 

“We have no choice,” Natasha said above noise, causing everyone to fall silent, “It was either agreeing to his terms or losing Peter. I told Ross what he wanted to hear.”

“And are you going to?” Steve said, jaw clenched, “Are you going to hurt Peter?”

She hesitated, “If he hasn’t given me anything by the end of the week then I don’t think I’ll have a choice.” 

Once again, the team fell silent. There were so many things to say. So many protests about how this was morally wrong or how there had to be some alternative way to get him to talk, but nobody said anything.

Nobody said anything because Tony figured they were probably thinking the same thing he was. 

They didn’t have a choice. 

That seemed to be the case for a lot of things in Tony’s world lately. Having so many options with only one that was feasible. 

He hated it, and he hated the fact that his promise to help Peter would have to be broken in order to help him in the long run. 

He hated it but he didn’t have a choice and that just made everything worse.

As Nat turned to leave the room, Tony finally spoke up.

“Romanov.” 

She turned, “Yes?”

Tony swallowed away the fear in his voice though he knew he couldn’t hide it from his face, “Don’t hurt him today, please. He’s already gone through a lot with him finding out his name and everything and if we pile something else on to him then I-I don’t know if— “

“Okay,” she said, simply, “I promise.”

The door shut behind her and the room dipped into yet another awkward silence.

None of them realised Barnes had been standing silently in the corner throughout the whole meeting until he marched out of the room seconds later. 

Steve went to stop him, “Bucky wai— “ 

The door slammed shut in his face and Barnes’ mad footsteps could be heard as they faded away down the hall. 

“He’ll be fine,” Steve said, mostly to himself, “I’ll talk to him once he’s cooled down.”

Tony wasn’t so sure about that. 

Rhodey came up a stood beside Tony, “Are you okay?”

A few seconds passed, “I’ll be fine,” he replied stiffly.

Tony wasn’t so sure about that either.

But he was sure about one thing.

“Where are you going?” Rhodey asked as Tony made his way to the door.

“To catch up with Nat,” he said, not bothering to slow his pace, “If she’s gone to see the kid she needs to get him some food and I think I know what he’d want.”

 


 

Peter woke up to the familiar warning of ‘danger!’ from his neck and a pounding headache. 

Opening his eyes only made the pain increase as his eyes stung with the bright lights. The sound of crinkling paper was almost too loud and Peter realised with a sliver of shame that he’d fallen asleep on the file and its contents. 

He sat up groggily, groaning as the his headache worsened and his insides threatened to crawl back up his throat. 

Before Peter could compose himself, the door opened and in worked Natasha Romanov, her heeled boots clicking unnecessarily loud in Peters ears.

“Peter, how are— “

He winced at the sound of her voice, just barely restraining himself from covering his ears with his hands as he screwed his eyes shut. Headaches always made his hearing and eyesight even more sensitive than they usually were, and most of the time he could handle it. 

But with his disorientation and unnatural sleeping pattern and emotional… confusion, the increase on his ears and eyes was a bit too much. Not screaming and crying on the floor too much, but definitely uncomfortable. 

Romanov hesitated halfway through her sentence before continuing to speak, “Hey kid, are you okay?” 

Peter winced again, “Yeah fine,” he lied, “I’ve just got a headache and my hearing is… sensitive.”

It's quiet for a moment but soon Peter heard quick footsteps and a usually faint creak as Romanov sat on what Peter guessed was the wooden chair.

“Doesn’t sound like you’re okay then,” She said, lowering her voice.

“I’m fine,” Peter insisted, trying – and failing – to keep the frustration out of his voice, “It happens now and then, no big deal.”

“And so I’m guessing you having your eyes closed isn’t a big deal either?” 

Peter hesitated, “My uh, vision is kind of acting up too but it’s still fine.”

“So you have enhanced eyesight too?” 

Shit.

“Yeah,” Peter confessed, “B-but it doesn’t really hurt that much. I- I’m fine.”

He secretly hoped that maybe if he said it enough, Peter would believe he was fine in more ways than one. 

“Uh-huh,” Romanov did not sound convinced.

“R-really,” Peter tried again, “Having my eyes closed isn’t a big deal, I’ve been blindfolded before.”

“Wait, wha— “

“Peter,” Karen piped up, conveniently cutting off Romanov’s question, “Would you like me to turn down the lighting by 25%?”

Peter tilted his head towards the ceiling, “You can do that?”

“Yes, would you like me to?”

“Uh yeah sure, that would be um- that would be cool.” 

A moment later, the pain in his eyes subsided and he blinked them open, thankful to see the dimmed lighting and only a couple black spots on his vision. 

“Better?” Natasha said, drawing Peter’s attention from the ceiling to her.

Just as he had suspected, she had sat down and was staring patiently at him with that unreadable expression all spies seemed to master. She held a tray with a glass of water and a bowl of some food Peter supposed was for him, and slid it on to the table beside her. 

“I –uh yeah,” he replied, still trying to shake away his headache and drowsiness, though he was now awake enough to muster up a bit of the asshole personality he used as a defence, “What are you doing here anyway? And what time is it? I haven’t exactly been given a schedule to follow.”

Romanov tilted her head, “It’s midday and I’m here to give you some food.”

“Great because you guys keep on forgetting to give me breakfast and I’m— “

“—But first,” She said, her expression now grimmer than it was apathetic, “I’ve got to tell you some things.”

The bile crawled up Peter’s throat again but he swallowed it back down. Was she going to tell him yet another world-altering fact about himself? About the life he never had but was apparently meant to have lived? 

He might have been putting on a brave face but Peter still felt weak inside. As if at any moment he could snap and burst into tears again. Admitting this to himself seemed almost as scary as actually sobbing in front of his enemies… again.

Peter really didn’t want a repeat of the Gala night, it was embarrassing enough already.

“Look,” Peter started, “I don’t really want to know anything else abou— “

“Don’t worry,” Romanov assured, catching on to what he was thinking, “I’m talking about the interrogations.”

“Oh.”

“We’re not getting anywhere with them.”

Peter didn’t bother to hide the smug grin on his face, “Yeah, you’re not very good at it.”

“That’s about to change,” she said rather curtly, “I have a deadline to get something useful by the end of the week.”

He snorted, “Good luck with that.”

“And I’m going to meet that deadline by any means necessary.”

It didn’t take long for him to figure what Romanov was insinuating.

Peter sat up right, “You’re going to torture me aren’t you.” 

It wasn’t a question. 

Her eyes flicked over Peter’s sweaty body before meeting his eyes, “I wasn’t planning on going the painful route but I haven’t got a choice.”

Something Peter hadn’t even realised was within him dropped to his stomach.

Of course, he thought bitterly, The Avenger’s don’t really care, they’re just like HYDRA said.

How could he have been so stupid?

“The world outside of HYDRA is fake my boy. The Avenger’s will pretend to keep the world safe but they lie. Truth and safety doesn’t exist out there, the Avenger’s made sure of that.”

Maybe Moller hadn’t lied about everything after all.

“Stark only told me that stuff so I would talk more, didn’t he?” Peter said, the sound of betrayal dripping from his voice as he rubbed the cuffs on his wrists self-consciously, “When he said the Avenger’s cared about me he was talking about my intel and not me right?”

“Peter that’s not— “

“Whatever,” he said quickly, dipping his gaze from Romanov’s, “I don’t care, just- it’s good to know what’s coming up I guess. If that’s it you can go. Unless you wanted to start now?”

“Kid we’re only doing this becau— “

“It doesn’t matter” Peter insisted.

Natasha sighed, it seemed as though she was just as shitty with feelings as he was, “I’ll see you tomorrow. Your foods on the tray.”

Before he could stop himself, Peter asked, “What is it?” 

Natasha stood, “Porridge with fruit and other things, Stark said you might like it.”

Suddenly, the gesture didn’t seem as genuine as it could have been.

Peter nodded.

As she walked towards the door, Natasha waved a hand in his direction, “Bye, Parker.”

His heart stuttered at the name and his mouthed went even dryer than it already was, “Wh-what did you just call me?”

“Parker,” Natasha said simply, a hand on the door knob, “That’s your last name, right?”

“W-well yeah bu- but I don’t— “

“Then I’m going to use it,” she stated, “It suits you.”

“What? I uh- I don’t think— “

The door clicked shut and once again, Peter was alone.

His bewilderment quickly faded as his eyes grazed over the bowl of porridge again.

“… and I- we care about you too.”

Peter sighed. It turns out Stallard had been right all along. 

Weakness was a dangerous trap, and Peter had walked right into it.

One month, Peter thought to himself, Kill the Winter Soldier and then this will all be over.

He’d almost forgotten about his mission. Now, it was all he would allow himself to think about.

Decisive. Apathetic. Focused.

And just like that, a wall was built back up. Weaker than before, but there.

Still there.

 

Chapter Text

It was three in the morning and Tony couldn’t sleep.

The meeting with Ross still made his blood boil and the guilt of promising to protect a kid he now couldn’t weighed down on his chest. Not to mention, the fact that Nat refused to tell anyone anything about her recent conversation with Peter caused his mind to race and his stomach to churn.

He now understood why the team hadn’t liked his own radio silence. It was fucking annoying.

The coffee he had made was bitterly black and the chillingly empty common room reminded him of a time when the Avengers weren’t on speaking terms and a shitty flip phone was the only thing connecting them.

Tony didn’t like the silence that the hollow room provided. 

He wondered if anyone else’s thoughts were keeping them up too.

If Peter’s were. 

“FRIDAY, is anybody else up?”

“Yes Boss, it appears that both Miss Romanov and Sargent Barnes are currently in the third-floor training room.”

Huh.

It wasn’t who he was hoping for, but at least it might be useful.

Even through the soundproof doors, Tony could hear the sound of fists making harsh contact with punching bags.

Natasha’s hair was pushed off her face, hands wrapped tightly and beads of sweat trickled down her forehead. Barnes was in a similar state, just at the opposite end of the room. Both were so caught up in beating the shit out of the bags that they hadn’t heard Tony enter. Hell, they might have not even realised that the other was there in the first place.

Tony walked over to Natasha, sipping his bitter coffee as he did.

“Having fun there Nat?” he said when he was within ear-shot. 

“It passes the time,” she did not slow her punches. 

The mug of coffee paused at the edge of his lips as Tony considered her response before raising his eyebrows and taking a sip, “I guess that’s one way to justify insomniac habits.”

She did not reply.

“Speaking of passing the time,” he forged on, keeping his voice as casual as possible, “How was your chat with Peter? Kid like the porridge?” 

Each forceful blow to the punching bag intensified as a beat of silence slipped comfortably between them. Natasha’s breathing deepened and her gaze hardened on the bag in front of her, pointedly avoiding Tony’s eyes.

“I don’t know,” she said finally, “I left before he tried it.”

Tony drowned the remainder of his drink, “Didn’t hang around to chat with him?” 

“I had places to be,” Romanov insisted.

“Really? When you came back from him you went straight to your room, and it wasn’t even time for dinner,” Tony shot back, an accusatory tone now tinting his voice

“Thought I might have a nap to balance out my sleep schedule,” her punches became more frequent, almost earnest.

“Instead of talking to the kid? I thought you two were getting along.” 

“Well that was before— “, she cut off the end of her own sentence as her technique turned needlessly sloppy and each blow elicited an echoing ‘thump’.

“Before what?” Tony pressed, shouting above the noise. 

“Before I— “, Nat’s stance slipped and she missed her next punch, barely stopping herself in time as she fell into the suspended punching bag. She swore under her laboured breaths, brow creased in frustration. 

Tony watched in silence as Romanov slowly straightened her posture and turned to face him, a steely, almost unreadable gaze settling. Other times she had served him such a terrifying stare, Tony had left whatever room they were in in record time – especially if he was the cause of said stare.

It was different this time though. With every punch she’d thrown that was more powerful than the last, every shift of her feet and hardening of her expression, Tony’s new and almost unwelcome sense of parental feelings towards Peter intensified.

Something had happened between him and Nat. Something bad.

Romanov began unwrapping her knuckles, “Before I fucked up,” she practically spat, as if the words were almost as bitter as the coffee Tony and just consumed.

He kept his voice steady, “What happened?” 

“I told him about the deadline and what I would have to do to get information out of him, and he took it well.”

Tony shook his head in shock, taken aback by the frankness of her words, “I’m sorry, what? He took you threatening to torture him ‘well’?” 

Nat let the rolled bandages drop to her feet, “He didn’t even blink.”

“Is this a spy thing because I must be missing a key point here,” Tony insisted as he followed her to a nearby bench, “The kid didn’t care about being tortured, which is about as normal as if Cap became a Nazi, but you also claim that you fucked up, even though the kid ‘didn’t even blink’?”

She paused to take a sip from her plastic water bottle, “Exactly.”

“Explain.” 

“I wasn’t that surprised about him being indifferent to the threat of torture. Parker’s probably been trained to take it and he’s told me about the punishments HYDRA give him – they’re just torture under a different name. It was the fact that he was almost… disappointed.”

“In what?”, Tony asked tentatively.

Nat shrugged, “In me, you, the Avengers. I think your talk with him made Parker start to consider the possibility we actually did care about him, now with the whole torture business, he feels betrayed.”

The guilt that washed over Tony was like being submerged in frigidly cold water, “Peter said that?”

“He didn’t have to, I could hear it in his voice. Parker’s a damn good spy, but he’s young and sometimes his performance slips when it comes to keeping emotions hidden. He’s done it in front of all of us, especially when he doesn’t know how to react to a situation – or doesn’t want to, you know?”

A stream of memories rushed through Tony’s mind.

Peter’s terrified face when he’d woken up in Central Park, his subconscious bashfulness and shock upon discovering food could be warm, the utter bafflement after hearing the surname ‘Parker’ for the first time in a decade, Peter’s faded smile as he mentioned his favourite teacher Karen, those awkward and stumbling movement’s when Tony offered him a seat on his own bed. 

A sickly pale expression with hollowed eyes and accompanied by flowing tears as Peter realised he was more than HYDRA taught him to believe.

Yeah, Tony knew exactly what Romanov meant.

“But it wasn’t like torturing him was our idea.”

“He doesn’t know that.” 

Tony paused as he allowed the cold water to settle in his stomach and pool at his feet, “Why didn’t you play him the clip from our meeting with Ross?” he asked quietly.

“I panicked.”

If Tony had any coffee left, he would have done a spit-take.

“You,” Tony said incredulously, “Natasha Romanov, panicked?

She sighed before sitting on the bench. Her arms rested on legs and she fixed her eyes on her intertwined hands, knuckles turning white. The quiet that grew between them lasted longer than any other had before, and Tony took the opportunity to sit beside her, setting his mug on the floor by his feet. 

After the feeling of hours passed, she spoke.

“Seeing Parker so disappointed – not just pissed but disappointed – i-it scared me. Every time I interrogate him, I pretend he’s an adult to make things easier, but this time I couldn’t. He reminded me of myself when I was his age, scared but unable to show emotions and brought up to believe that every word spoken is a lie except for the ones that told you they were in the first place. When part of him cracked through that asshole exterior he puts up, I couldn’t handle it.

“Even when I took off his mask that night at the gala, I froze. I know we call him a kid, but part of me refused to believe it. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to accept that he’s living through a childhood worse than mine. When I could see him starting to get upset, I wanted out. I left as quickly as I could and pretended that everything was fine.”

Tony blew out a breath, “Natasha, that’s— ” 

“That’s not entirely your fault,” A voice cut in and Tony and Nat looked up to see Barnes standing beside them, metal hand clenched in a fist. 

They had been so caught up in their conversation, neither had remembered that Barnes was still in the room with them. Tony flicked his eyes over to Nat, fearing to see her shut herself up again just how he would’ve, how Peter did. Instead, her face softened.

“How?” she challenged.

Barnes walked forward slightly, casting his shadow across Nat’s face as he did so, “You tried to give him a warning about what’s to come in the first place. You care, you wouldn’t have done that if you didn’t. I know Peter might not think that now, but he’s a smart kid. He’ll figure it out. Leaving might have not been the best thing, but we can’t blame you for how you felt. Hell, I haven’t even talked to kid since he arrived, I’ve just being sitting on my ass and worrying about him without doing anything. You’re trying Nat, and that’s enough.”

She shot him a weak smile, “Didn’t know you were so in tune with your emotions, Barnes.”

He cracked a grin and shrugged, “I’ve read a few self-help books in my free time. Plus, therapy isn’t as bad as they say." 

Tony snorted. Barnes raised an eyebrow his way before turning his attention back to Nat.

“You can fix this,” he said, offering a hand out to her, “All you’ve got to do is talk to him.”

Romanov hesitated slightly before accepting Barnes’ hand and allowing herself to be pulled up, “I’ll show him the clip tomorrow.”

Barnes’ smile softened, “Good idea. Before you do though, I think somebody should check on him before you see him again. The kid’s sensitive, somebody will need to ease him out of the whole ‘betrayed’ feeling.”

Nat nodded once, “Are you offering?”

Barnes noticeably stiffened, “I- I can’t see him, not yet. Somebody else has to. Somebody who could cheer him up.”

Tony sighed in defeat as he stood up, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think I know just who would fit the job.”

Once again, Barnes raised an eyebrow his way, “You?”

Tony barked out a laugh, “God no,” he said. Not anymore, he thought, “But I’ve got an idea… or two.”

 


 

Despite Karen’s suggestion, Peter let the shower water run cold.

Warm showers meant comfort and relief. Warm showers meant affection.

The White Spider didn’t need affection, so neither did Peter.

Each stream drilled icy pricks of discomfort into his body, but still he stayed. Peter watched his fingers prune and the goose bumps on his arms spread like an infection across his body. He would’ve stayed for longer, if the buzzing at the nape of his neck hadn’t flared and his room’s – no, cell – door hadn’t clicked open. 

Plus, the rather loud scraping and banging and profuse swearing was kind of hard to ignore, especially with enhanced hearing. 

Different options of who or what it might be ran through his mind. It couldn’t be Romanov, she was too lithe and composed to make such an awful racket and Captain America probably wouldn’t be caught dead making so much noise as well. Based on the ‘Enemies of HYDRA’ lessons he’d been given, Tony Stark was a possibility, as long as the guy had quit his sober-streak and was drunk out of his mind.

Peter found that a small smile had snuck on to his face at the thought of a drunk Tony Stark stumbling around, shouting and flaunting his eccentric personality, but he shut it down quick. Tony Stark – Iron Man – was HYDRA’s enemy, and by extension an enemy of Peter. Nothing about the man could be seen as good news. 

“and I- we care about you too.”

Nothing.

What if it’s HYDRA?  A corner of his mind loudly challenged. It was the voice that had reminded him how important HYDRA was and how dangerous weakness could be – it was his own. What if they’ve come back for you already?

Why would they do that? A different voice whispered back. It was the same as the other except filled with something close to hope, less serious in a way. This was the voice that Peter thought made Peter – well Peter.

He liked listening to it, but he never trusted it. He couldn’t. It was too hopeful. Too weak.

Still he let it speak, It hasn’t even been a week yet, why would they come now?

Because, you idiot, His other voice snapped, proclaiming itself to be the voice reason, not terror, You’ve almost failed. Stallard always thought you were weak. Maybe she’s right. Maybe HYDRA has realised you’re not good enough for this and is taking you back. Moller was never one for second chances, why did he give you one in the first place?

The voice of reason was convincing enough. Peter didn’t bother listening to his hopeful side. Nothing good ever came out of that one. 

(“Do you believe me now, kid?”

Peter nodded.)

Nothing.

His own voice – the loud one – the right one – finished its tirade with six simple words.

They might be waiting for you.

Another chill ran down his spine and this time it wasn’t from the cool water still cascading. As quick as his enhanced body would allow, Peter shut off the shower and wrapped a towel around his waist, not bothering with the pile of crumpled and sweaty clothes on the floor. They would take too long to put on and more importantly, they were soft. HYDRA didn’t like soft. HYDRA didn’t need to know that Peter kind of maybe sort of did.

No you don’t, The right voice whispered, If HYDRA doesn’t, then you don’t.

Right, of course.

Decisive. Apathetic. Focused. 

Peter stepped out of the bathroom and into the main roo- cell. Into his cell.

He turned to face the door, back straightening and hands immediately folding behind him on reflex. If HYDRA had come to punish him, the least he could do was— 

What. The. Fuck. 

The door was wide open with Sam Wilson otherwise known as the-fucking-Falcon sticking his leg out to stop it from closing, a relatively large box at his feet. His back was turned away from Peter as he held tightly on to the armrest of a battered grey couch and pulled.

A couch which was currently jammed half way through the door frame.

What. The actual. Fuck.

Peter had hoped to work on his Winter Soldier assassination plan after his shower. He was pretty sure he could get out of his cell, he just needed to figure out how to get his hands on some tools for the rest of the mission.

By looks of the whole scene going on in front of him though, that didn't look like it was going to be happening anytime soon.

“Push harder man!” Sam exclaimed as he lent back further in the hopes of getting a better pull on the extremely stuck couch and groaned out of either frustration of physical exertion – probably both.

“I’m trying!” came another equally strained yell from the other side of the couch which sat stubbornly out in the hallway, “It’s not like we measured the fucking thing before bringing it!”

“I can see that bird-brain, but I can also tell that you aren’t pulling your fucking weight!” 

Pulling? Did you just say fucking pulling? Pulling’s you’re job man,” a red-faced Clint Barton popped up from behind the couch end and pointed an accusatory finger at Sam, “I’m not here to—oh, hey kid!”

Clint had spotted Peter, and his expression had shifted into a much more welcoming one than the stormy glare he had been giving Sam.

Peter let his hands go slack, “Uh— “ 

Sam turned to face Peter and gave an equally friendly smile, “I didn’t hear you get out of the shower. You’re pretty light on your feet.”

“He’s a spy, Sam.” 

“Right but you are too and half the time you suck sneaking.”

“Hey!”

“Uh,” Peter said again, “What are you doing?”

Clint leaned over the arm of the couch, “What does it look like champ? We’re trying to get this couch in here.”

“Why?”

“To sit on it. Mind helping us out?”

Peter considered it. The door was wide open, he could easily leave. It wouldn’t take much effort to knock the guys out and make a break for it. All he would have to do is find the Winter Soldier, snap his neck, and leave.

Only problem with that plan was the fact that Karen or FRIDAY would notify the others and that HYDRA wouldn’t be coming for him for weeks. He couldn’t very well hide out in the city without being caught on CCTV, especially in only a towel. 

Sighing, Peter tightened the towel around his waist and walked over to the couch. Sam stepped out of the way for him and held the door open as Peter gripped either end of the arm rest.

As if it were made of paper mache, he lifted the couch and twisted it so that it was diagonal in the air. Peter shifted a hand further down the side of the couch and slowly backed up until he was sure the whole thing was in the confines of his cell.

 He dropped the couch back onto the ground and looked up to see the two Avenger’s gawking at him. Peter’s face remained cool as he actively ignored the funny feeling in his chest that bubbled at the sight of seeing Clint and Sam impressed.

“Now what?” he prompted.

“Holy shit,” Clint stage-whispered. 

Peter folded his arms, “Either close that door or I’m escaping.”

Clint’s face visibly paled, “Oh, right,” he rushed through the doorway and allowed Sam to slam the door shut behind him. 

With very few words exchanged, the three moved the couch so that it was facing the mirrored wall and was wedged securely between Peter’s bed and the metal pole which was still embedded into the centre of the room. 

Both ‘adults’ immediately jumped on to the couch, Sam pointedly taking the middle while Clint snuggled up to an arm rest. Once settled, they looked expectantly at Peter to follow suit.

“No.” 

“Come on kid.”

“You’re my enemies.” 

“Well we don’t reciprocate those feelings now go get changed and sit down.”

“I don’t have any clean clothes.” 

Sam grinned, reached into his trusty box and produced a fresh pair of black sweats, a white t-shirt and underwear which he promptly threw Peter’s way. 

Peter caught them with one hand but didn’t move.

“Come on kid,” Clint tried, “You’ve gotta feel awkward in just a towel in front of us.”

Memories of lying naked on an exam table, men and women in clothed white coats poking and prodding at his body, sticking needles in and cutting samples out just three days after the spider bite flashed through Peter’s mind. At that time, being naked had been the least of his concerns. 

He shrugged, “Not really.”

Sam didn’t mean to do what he did next, Peter was absolutely sure of it. It was a mistake, a slip of the tongue as he choked on his own frustration. It happened anyway though, and Peter couldn’t do a damn thing about it. 

For—, “ Sam didn’t finish his sentence, choosing to sigh into his hands instead. The word was meant to be forgotten but it stayed jammed in Peter’s mind, much like the couch in the doorway.

For. 

Immediately, Peter straightened his posture and clasped his hands behind his back, eyes staring straight ahead.

The two didn’t notice, Wilson’s face still buried in his hands and Barton’s eyes focused on his suffering friend.

Wilson kept talking, “Just- for crying out loud kid, just put on the damn clothes and come sit down.”

“Yes Mister Wilson,” Peter replied, rushing to the bathroom and shoving on his clothes with great speed. When he went and sat on the couch he sat as far away from the others as possible, his hip nudging the vacant arm rest.

Peter’s eye line snapped up to stare at mirror in front of him, not risking a peek at the other two. All he concentrated on was his own eyes, the same bland brown he’d gotten used to, so much so that the corners of his vision went out of focus. Peter couldn’t see the odd look both Wilson and Barton were directing his way.

One of those awfully uncomfortable and tense silences swamped the room for exactly sixty-seven seconds (Peter counted) before either of the Avenger’s spoke.

“Hey kid,” Barton said almost kindly, “You don’t need to sit like that, just relax.”

Peter glanced down and noticed how straight his back was. How his palms were firmly planted on both knees and how his feet looked almost stuck to the floor.

In this state, relaxing was one of the only orders Peter couldn’t do. Still, he forced out a weak laugh and turned to face Barton and Wilson, “I’m fine Mister Barton,” he lied, “I am curious why you brought a couch in here though.” 

That seemed to distract them and Wilson smiled wide, “Ever seen a movie kid?”

Peter thought for a second, “Do documentaries about the history of HYDRA made by HYDRA count, Mister Wilson?”

Wilson frowned, “No.” 

“Then, no, Mister Wilson.”

Barton clapped his hands and rubbed them together excitedly, “Well you’re in for a treat, kid. We’ve got all the best one’s lined up.”

Wilson pulled out a large bowl of what Peter vaguely recognised as popcorn – he’d seen posters of it outside cinemas during those rare city missions – as well as multiple brightly coloured packets and bags. He tossed a green one to Peter which said ‘Sour Skittles’ on the front. 

“I think we’re ready to go,” Wilson announced as he leant back, “Hey kid, what’s your AI’s name?”

Peter tore his eyes away from the packet to look at the two Avenger’s and swallowed thickly, “H-her name is Karen, Mister Wilson.”

“Okay then, Karen start it up and kid, call us Sam and Clint or just Wilson and Barton, the formalities are weird.”

Huh. That had never happened after the word was used. 

“Yes Mi- I mean, Wilson. Just uh- just Wilson.”

As if on cue, the lights dimmed and the mirror turned into a giant TV screen because of course it could do that. He nervously glanced over to see Sam and Clint’s eyes already fixed on the movie, hands grabbing popcorn and opening packets as if on auto pilot.

Hesitantly, Peter decided to follow suit as he felt the effect of the word drift away. This tended to happen when there was a lack of enforcement or orders barked his way straight after it was used. It was only the first word after all, a warning more than anything else.

He settled down slightly as the opening scene began to play.

 


 

After many, many hours, Peter decided he liked movies. And candy. And popcorn. And squishy couches. A lot.

He also decided that ‘Footloose’, a movie which Clint had claimed was a “musical masterpiece” was, in fact, pretty shit and he said so as the final scene cut away.

Clint, was for better lack of words, extremely offended.

“It’s illogical,” Peter tried as he easily dodged a handful of popcorn thrown his way, “Some guy promoting dancing can’t change an entire community’s way of thinking, that’s just unrealistic!”

Sam raised an eyebrow, “But Star Wars was?”

Peter shrugged, “What can I say? A world where a brutal and dangerous organisation takes a member of the rebellion in order to maintain control seems more relatable to me.” 

“Good point.” 

After sitting in a comfortable silence for a while Clint turned to Peter, “Wait, do you think HYDRA are the rebellion in Star Wars and we’re the Imperial Force?” 

Peter grinned wickedly, Clint’s eyes were as wide as saucers, “Hang on, do you think you’re Princess Leia?”

Peter shrugged, “Well…” 

More popcorn was thrown his way and this time, Peter caught most of it in his mouth, much to the frustration of Sam.

“Show off,” he muttered.

“If anything, fucking Ross is Darth Vader and the Imperial Force all on his own,” Clint continued, reaching for a Red Vine and taking an angry bite out of it.

Peter perked in interest, “You’re talking about Secretary Ross, right?” he asked, remembering how Mister Stark had briefly mentioned him before. Maybe he could find out more about why the guy was suddenly involved in his life.

Clint let out a dry laugh, “Got it one kid, you’re former HYDRA buddy said you were smart.”

Sam sobered slightly, “Clint…” he said as if he were warning him of a dangerous event.

“He’s not my ‘buddy’,” Peter said curtly, the giddiness he’d subconsciously allowed himself to feel washing away, “He’s my enemy.”

“Yeah sure kid,” Barton dismissed with a wave of a hand.

Peter’s face turned to stone as did his heart. Before he could say anything else though, Clint continued to speak as if there had never even been a serious interlude in their rather light-hearted conversation.

“Every year Ross just seems to become a bigger prick. First the whole Raft thing and now what he’s making Nat do to you?” Clint scoffed as he bit off a chunk of his red vine, “He’s a fucking asshole.”

Wait, what?

“Wait, what?”

They both ignored Peter as Sam shook his head, “Can’t disagree with you there,” he turned and lightly swatted Peter’s shoulder with a hand who in turn twitched at the unexpected physical contact, “Hey kid, go easy on Nat, okay? She’s just as pissed about the rules as you are.”

Peter tried his hardest to form a coherent sentence, he really did. But his mind was running a mile an hour and every phrasing of words didn’t seem to work. 

Instead, he opened and closed his mouth a couple times before clearing his throat and settling for a stiff, “Uh- okay. Cool.” 

That seemed to be a good enough answer for the both of them, who checked their phones and decided it was time to go. Peter ignored the swell of emotion he felt in his chest as he watched the two pick up empty wrappers and throw them into the box. The emotion might have been disappointment, he didn’t know. Peter wasn’t going to analyse it, he didn’t want to.

He didn’t even say a word as Sam scolded him for leaving dirty piles of clothes everywhere and tossed the outfit he’d abandoned in the bathroom into the box, as well as the crumpled bundle he’d left under his bed a couple of days ago.

It was the tuxedo, and the White Spider suit.

Logically, Peter knew he should have mentioned something about that. Maybe he should have made a quick joke or bartered for it to be kept in his possession. Instead he watched as Sam threw the suits into the makeshift trash can as if they were nothing – even going so far as to wrinkle his nose at the smell.

Peter knew why he let it go so easily, but he didn’t want to admit it. There was no way that watching the HYDRA suit leave made him relieved, as if a weight of pressure had been lifted off his shoulders. That totally wasn’t it, and if it was, he certainly wouldn’t admit to it.

Absolutely not.

Nope. 

(Maybe.)

He turned on the couch to watch the two leave, arms hanging loosely over the back of it, chin resting on the edge.

“See ya kid!” Clint called, “We’ll do this again sometime yeah?”

Peter also decided to ignore the way his heart jumped excitedly and settled for a nonchalant shrug, “Whatever.”

Clint chuckled, “Good enough for me. Oh! Also, Nat said something about calling you Parker from now on, so next time we’ll do that.”

His dangling hands gripped the edge of the couch as Peter straightened himself, “Wait, what?”

This time, Sam answered, “Yeah, something about helping you adjust to the new information. Sounds like a good idea to me.”

Peter blinked, “If you uh- w- why didn’t you call me that today?”

Sam shrugged, “Didn’t want to overwhelm you,” he shot one last smile at Peter, “Alright, see you later Parker!”

The door clicked shut.

Peter was alone again, and he didn’t know how felt about that. In fact, he didn’t know how he felt about many things. Romanov, Stark, the Winter Solider. It all seemed to be a jumble of confusing emotions.

He did know one thing though. Peter fucking loved this couch. He’d have to convince Moller to get him one if he goes back to HYDRA.

When, the right voice in his mind corrected.

Right. When he goes back to HYDRA.

When.

 


 

The sixth sense briefly warned him of danger before the door opened but Peter was already expecting her.

Since Barton and Wilson had left, he’d moved the couch in front of the pole and centred it for a better view. He’d asked Karen if there was anything he should watch that the greater population might know about and she’d promptly put on the first of (apparently) many Harry Potter films.

He liked it.

Something about the whole thing intrigued him that was beyond the magic and whimsy the movie happily boasted, he just couldn’t put his finger on exactly what.

Natasha seemed to know.

“A story about a boy whose family was taken from him and is then forced to live in a place he hated and didn’t belong until a group of caring people opened him up to a world he’d never been allowed to see,” she sat down beside him, “Sound familiar?”

Peter continued to stare at the screen, “I don’t hate HYDRA,” he said evenly.

Natasha smirked, “I never said HYDRA were Dursley’s.”

Shit.

“You implied it,” Peter shot back.

“You’re being forced to live with us too,” she said, “We could have easily been the Dursley’s in your mind.”

Peter didn’t like where this conversation was going, so he decided to change its course before they couldn’t turn back.

“You don’t want to torture me, do you?”

Twenty-three seconds of silence, only filled with the sound of the actor’s cheering on screen.

“No, I don’t. How did you figure it out?”

He shrugged, “Something Barton and Wilson said about Ross. I think he’s making you do it.”

Romanov sighed in confirmation, “You’re a smart kid, but I should have told you and not just left you to figure it out.” 

“You didn’t have to, it wasn’t like I needed to know,” Peter said casually, watching as Harry chased after the golden snitch. 

“I guess you’re right, but sometimes it’s good to tell people why things are going to happen to them anyway.”

Finally, Peter turned to face Romanov, her eyes stayed on the screen, “Why?” he asked.

“To show that they’re important and that they can have some control in their lives.”

“Huh,” Peter said warily, “I’ve – uh – I’ve never thought like that before.”

“I know.” 

They lapsed into another silence, this one slightly more comfortable than the many other’s they’d shared, though Romanov didn’t care. 

“I want you to listen to something,” she said, finally turning to face him, though she only gave him the usual impassive expression.

Suddenly, it dawned on Peter why he found it so easy to talk to her.

She reminded him of his mission leader, Agent Dina Stallard.

Romanov didn’t have the steely and cold gaze that Agent Stallard had though. There wasn’t that blank, unconcerned expression that Stallard looked at him with. Peter had always thought that he could feel that Stallard cared for him somewhere, somehow, just deep, deep down.

He didn’t need a hunch to find Romanov’s soft spot for him though, he could see it in her eyes. She looked at him with restraint, but ever so slowly that same expression he’d pinned on Stark seemed to seep through the façade.

It was affection. Peter still wasn’t sure if he liked it.

Too busy analysing, Peter had missed Romanov telling Karen to pause the movie and play an audio file until the sound already filled the room and he couldn’t help but listen.

The audio cut in with an unfamiliar voice. Peter assumed it was Ross.

Have you all forgotten why he’s here? He’s a HYDRA assassin with dangerous and unnatural abilities whose only use to us is the fact he has information we want. You can play around with him as much as you like but giving him more information than we’re receiving isn’t going to help us.”

Peter swallowed thickly. Ross kind of reminded him of the way Moller talked about HYDRA’s own prisoners, just before he sent Peter to beat the shit out of them.

“He’s opening up to us—“

That voice sounded like Roger’s – and it was defending him.

Holy shit, Peter thought, The Avengers are defending… me?

“—Are you sure about that Rogers? For all we know he could be faking the whole thing. Spies and teenagers are some of the best liars in the world and he’s both of those things.” 

“So what do you suggest we do?” Tony-fucking-Stark said, “You want information and you don’t like how we’re trying to get it, so give us an alternative.” 

Peter could hear the glee the Ross’ voice, “Do what I suggested in the first place. We want information and we want it fast. Get the minor talking by any means necessary and if he gets hurt along the way no one will blame you for it.”

Stark kept fighting, “We aren’t going to torture him Ross.”

“Then I’ll find someone who will. I can take him to the Raft at any time and maybe I’ll have a better hold things with him there. This little project could be so much more… proficient if my men deal with it themselves.”

Stark’s voice was dangerously, “Are you blackmailing us?”

“Think of it more as an incentive. Get some information out of him by the week’s end and we want have a problem.”

It was a losing battle, Peter could tell. Ross just held too much power.

Still, Mister Stark fought for him.

“You sick bastard. I can’t believe you’re threatening a child’s basic rights just to get information.”

“For the information we could get? I think it’s a fair price.”

“I don’t.”

“Well then I’ll find someone who does.”

“You mother fu— “

Finally, Romanov’s voice came from the hidden speakers.

“Deal.”

The audio cut out and only then did Peter notice how tight his throat felt.

“You did the right thing,” he managed to choke out, “Ross would have taken me if you hadn’t agreed.”

“I know,” Romanov said quietly, “The others didn’t see that at first but you… you’re a spy. I knew you’d understand.”

“What about Clint Barton?”

She huffed a weak laugh, “Clint’s got a soft spot for kids.”

So do you, Peter thought.

“So, when are you gonna torture me?” Peter said.

“Not until I have to, on the last day of the deadline."

“When’s that?”

“Saturday.”

“What’s today?”

“Monday.”

“Why not Friday?”

“Friday’s August 10th.”

“So?”

“It’s your birthday, Peter.”

He’d already forgotten. He was also still unsure what people even did on birthdays.

“Oh,” he said awkwardly, feeling the heat on his cheeks, “Right. I- I’ll try to remember that.”

“Good.”

This time to comfortable silence lasted a couple minutes, Peter didn’t bother to count this time. For once, he wanted to be in the moment.

Despite the strange sensation of enjoy another’s company, Peter had to break the silence.

“If you’re going to torture me, you’ll probably need a couple days. I don’t break easily.”

She looked at him, a small grimace in her lips, “And I don’t go easy.”

“Nobody does.”

“They do when compared to me.”

Peter laughed humorlessly, “You’re pretty confident. I can’t wait to see what you’ve got up your sleeve.”

“Unless I get you to talk before then.”

“You won’t,” Peter said solemnly.

Her grimace turned into an amused smile, “Is that a challenge, Parker?”

He shared his own maniacal grin, “It just might be, Romanov.”

Her smile only grew wider, “Game on.”

She proceeded to interrogate him for the next couple of hours without breaks. Even when Steve Roger’s came in to hand them dinner, she just took the plates from him and slammed the door in his extremely bewildered face.

Peter like a challenge, and the added layer of competition to the interrogations only fuelled his determination to not crack.

Decisive. Apathetic. Focused.

That was all that ran through his mind, but it felt different to all the other times. The mantra didn’t feel like orders, they felt like skills.

And damn was Peter good at them. 

When Karen announced it was midnight, Romanov finally left with a “See you tomorrow, Parker,” and Peter turned back to the paused movie, Harry Potter frozen as he triumphantly raised the golden snitch in his hand. 

Suddenly, his cell didn’t feel like a cell anymore. It felt like a room - his room.

 

Chapter Text

For the next three days, Peter fell into some sort of unspoken routine with the Avengers. It probably wasn’t an intentional routine, and nobody had given him that damn schedule he’d asked for but from the moment he woke up to the minute he was told to sleep, someone was always with him. Talking to him. Keeping him company. 

Peter still didn’t know if he liked that, or if he was meant to. And, if he did like it (which he totally probably didn’t) was he even allowed to? Was liking talking to them – the Avengers – an okay thing to like? 

His voice in his head told him to stop being stupid and that, of course it’s a bad thing they’re the fucking Avengers you idiot have you learnt nothing from HYDRA’s warnings?

But, if he pushed aside that voice for a moment and listened to the smaller one, the hopeful one, it didn’t seem to mind the company. In fact, it almost encouraged these – these positive feelings that came with it. Peter didn’t really trust the little voice, but it was nice to hear a different view on things.

Man, if this was what schizophrenia was like, Peter was pretty sure he’d gone mad long ago.

Despite his twisted mind wringing itself tighter, the accidental routine forged on in a desperate attempt to maintain normalcy. For the past few days Peter would wake up, shower and return to his main room to find a tray of breakfast as well as Clint and Sam preparing some movie.

They’d watch a couple and Peter would decide which one was the worst at the end, much to Clint’s annoyance. 

(“You prefer Shrek over Monsters Inc.!?”

“Yeah, you guys are kind of like Lord Farquaad.”

“Oh, fuck off Parker.”

“Clint, you know I’d love to but I both legally and physically can’t.”

“We’ll see about that.”

“So, you want me to escape?”

“No! Kid, we don’t want that. Clint, shut the fuck up.

“Yep, shutting up.”) 

They’d leave and shortly after, Steve Rogers would arrive with lunch.

On Tuesday Peter threw a pillow at him as soon as he opened the door.

“Why?” Rogers had asked, setting down the tray.

Peter had shrugged, “I felt like it.”

The following (attempted) conversation didn’t go much better.

So, on Wednesday, Rogers brought a friend.

And Peter lost his shit.

“Holy shit!” Peter had exclaimed, dropping the pillow that was already aimed for the door and thus by extension, Steve’s face, “You’re Bruce Banner!”

Bruce blanched, “Uh… I uh,” he turned to Steve and whispered, “Does this mean he wants to kill me too?”

“Bruce, you don’t have to whisper, Parker can— “

“Yeah, yeah super hearing and all that,” Peter cut in with a wave of his hand before focusing back on an extremely startled Banner, “Dude, why would I kill you if I didn’t have to? You’re like, the least shitty out of all the Avengers.”

“Uh… thank you?”

“No seriously, your research on Biochemistry, Nuclear Physics, and Gamma Radiation is insane! I read some of your stuff a couple years ago and man was it good. Like, better than HYDRA research good,” Peter paused slightly before quickly adding, “Don’t tell HYDRA I said that.”

Bruce blinked a couple dozen times, “H-HYDRA uses my research… and teaches it?”

“Yes. Well… no. They use it but don’t teach it, I’m just an exception because of the whole me being ‘the next biggest threat’ or whatever. A title like that kinda needs me to be competent in all areas you know? When HYDRA let me read your papers they didn’t tell me your name but I hacked our research archives later to find out. Let me tell you, the punishment for that stunt was not fun but it’s totally worth it now that I know I’m talking to the guy who wrote the papers.”

Rogers and Bruce just stared at Peter as he spoke, his awkward and enthusiastic ramblings catching both of them off guard. 

“So, what are you guys doing here?”

“Chess,” Rogers supplied, holding up the board game he’d had tucked under his arm.

The had teen grinned, “Set it up.”

Rogers didn’t bother to play, choosing to sit on the side-lines and let Peter go toe to toe with the genius. Originally, Bruce went easy on him, and Peter promptly told him to “knock it off or else I’m gonna stop playing.”

Childish? Yes, but Peter didn’t want to be babied. He wasn’t meant to be. 

It was easy to get lost in the game and Thursday’s session was no different. Everything just seemed to make sense. He was improving on a skill just like he would back at HYDRA. It was a familiarity from his childhood that he welcomed. Plus, not being electrocuted every time he lost or was too slow to move a piece was pretty cool too.

Not that he’d ever admit any of this. 

It was the afternoons though, where Peter got a weird and undefinable feeling in his stomach. It wasn’t just because of what they did, or what he did, but also who he spent that time with.

The world just loved to see Peter in constant conflictions, apparently.

 


 

Stepping into Peter’s room while holding a box, Tony hadn’t been sure how the kid would react. After all, the last time he’d given Peter something he’d also rather effectively blown the kids mind – and not in the ‘Wow! That’s amazing I can’t believe it!’ way but more in the ‘Oh my god everything I’ve been told about myself is a lie I don’t know what’s real and what’s fake anymore.’ kind of way. 

They were very different.

Tony had considered hiding out until the kid’s birthday but that plan went to shit as soon as Pepper caught him retreating to the lab and gave him one of those looks that used to terrify him even in his playboy days. So, he swallowed his pride (and fear) and went to go spend time with the emotionally unstable teen he already cared far too much for.

Peter twisted around on the couch that had most definitely not been there the last time Tony visited and gave him a raised eyebrow and a straight face. 

“What’s in the box?”

Tony returned the expression, “Sam and Clint showed you the movie ‘Seven’?” 

Peter shook his head, “They wanted to but Karen said it violated the ‘Keep It PG’ protocol. Didn’t stop them from explaining the plot to me though.”

Well. That kind of defeated the purpose of the ‘Keep It PG’ protocol but Tony let it slide. He’d talk to Sam and Clint about it later.

“So, do you have a guess as to what might be in the box? I’ll give you a hint and tell you it’s not my fiancée’s head,” Tony said, doing his best to keep the conversation light in a weirdly morbid way. It worked for Natasha, He thought bitterly. 

“It could be more well-kept facts about myself but I didn’t think you’d wanna be the bearer of bad news again,” Peter replied.

Tony adjusted his grip on the box, “I wouldn’t say learning your last name qualifies as bad news.”

The kid shrugged, resting his chin on the back of the couch as his eyes drifted to the floor and his curly fringe flopped over his eyes. They really needed to give him a haircut.

“I’m not really sure what bad news is anymore,” Peter sighed. Clearly, there were other things on the kid’s mind.

Tony resisted the urge to pry though, Peter was clearly still working through the motions and Nat has said that this week wasn’t the time to unload more emotional baggage. At least not before, well, the deadline.

“You know what? I’ve never been a fan of guessing games, I’ll just show you.”

Tony picked up an object from the box and threw it at Peter who caught it without even lifting his eyes off the ground. Stark mentally added ‘inhuman reflexes’ to the long list of abilities the kid seemed to have.

Peter looked at the object for a beat before speaking, “A screwdriver.”

“Correct. I knew that big brain of yours would come in handy.” 

A scathing look was sent Tony’s way, but there was no heat behind it or any harsh insult to match.

He cleared his throat, moving to place the box on the table, “There’s other things too. Tools, wires. Scraps from old projects and broken electronics. I thought you might have some fun playing around with it.”

Parker’s eyebrows raised again as he peered further over the couch, eyeing the box as if something might jump out of it.

“Aren’t you worried I’m going to make something dangerous? A bomb? Weapons? Because I totally could, you know,” Despite the blatant threat, Peter’s tone was filled with suspicion more than anything else.

Tony looked away from the box and made eye contact with the kid, “You still can’t kill me, right?”

Silence.

“…Yeah.”

“Which means you aren’t going to make anything stupid that could immediately hurt me. And if you do try to go all MacGyver I can just confiscate whatever you’ve created.”

Peter’s brow furrowed, “What’s a ‘MacGyver’?”

“What do you mean what’s a—“ Tony sighed. Right. Sheltered HYDRA kid. He’d almost forgotten, “It doesn’t matter. Look, you start to make something dangerous, I’ll take it. Capiche?”

The teen hesitated again and Tony swore he was going to lose his mind, “Do you also not know what capiche means beca— “ 

“Capiche, word of Italian origin. I’m uneducated in Western pop culture, not dialects Stark,” Peter bit back before softening slightly, “I just thought that— I mean, giving me free reign on tools seems like a lot of—“ Peter cut himself off before shaking his head, “Whatever. I get what you’re saying. Sounds like fu— It uh, it sounds cool. I’m um, down to build.”

Tony tilted his head slightly, “‘Down’?” he repeated. 

The teen’s face reddened slightly, “I think so? Clint and Sam have been trying to teach me more slang.”

‘Slang’?” He tried to suppress his amusement though it clearly showed on his face.

Peter’s cheeks had reddened even more as he stood up from the couch and rushed to Tony’s side, “Can we just start making stuff? Please?”

“Sure thing, Parker.”

Tony had pretended he didn’t notice the small smile that crept on to Peter’s lips. 

Before he knew it, Peter was sitting cross-legged on the floor with a pile of scraps in his lap, a pair of pliers in his hand, and a couple loose wires trapped between his lips. The kid’s brow furrowed in concentration and narrowed eyes glued to his own mini invention.

His laser-like focus reminded Tony of his own, the kind where FRIDAY had to remind him to eat and sleep. This was affirmed when Tony tried to get the kid’s attention and had to snap his fingers in front of Peter’s face after saying his name five times without even the slightest reaction.

Yep, the kid was growing on him. Too much. But to his shock, Tony didn’t seem to mind.

He also needed to get Peter a birthday gift. And after watching him for hours on end, babbling techno jumbo to himself as his quick fingers and big brain tinkered away, Tony had an idea.

 


 

On Tuesday, Peter made a clock.

On Wednesday, he fixed a camera that had been abandoned years ago.

On Thursday, a Walkman was repaired and Peter discovered the beauty of cassette tapes only a couple of decades late.

Mister Stark had laughed. Peter had told him to shut it as he listened to (albeit, outdated) pop music for the first time.

It was fun. Really, really fun. 

He didn’t say that though, obviously.

Peter also didn’t ask for Stark to stay just five minutes longer like he wanted to every time the afternoon bled into the evening. There were just some things Peter still refused to do, and showing his appreciation was one of them. One thing Peter did do though, was steal. And he ignored the twisting feeling in his gut every time.

On Tuesday, Peter stole a small pair of pliers and hid it under his blanket when he went to take a ‘nap’.

On Wednesday, a screwdriver ‘accidentally’ rolled under the couch which nobody bothered to retrieve.

On Thursday, a couple pieces of wire were ‘somehow’ stuck to the bottom of the table with tape.

Tony didn’t know, and Peter didn’t say anything.

Because when it came down to it, Peter had a mission and his own deadline and he really didn’t want to fail. He couldn’t. 

Not again.

It didn’t mean that when he looked at Mister Stark – Tony Stark – and saw that unexplainable affection, or when the man himself gave some advice or complimented him on his work, he didn’t feel anything. Didn’t mean he didn’t feel something uncomfortable settle within him due to what he was doing, because he did.

You shouldn’t, his mind said.

And Peter knew that, of course he did. His plan needed tools and he’d been given the opportunity to acquire some. No hard feelings.

Except there were some, a lot of them, and he wished they’d just fuck off.

Luckily, he didn’t have to think much about the twisting feelings on Friday because Friday was his birthday.

Nobody had exactly told Peter what a person did on a birthday, just that they were going to ‘celebrate’. Peter had celebrated things at HYDRA, of course he had. Things like completing a mission in record time or getting information out of a particularly stubborn prisoner – the usual stuff.

Though, he got the feeling that HYDRA’s version of celebration (Doctor Moller saying Peter did well and allowing an extra fifteen minutes to compose himself before training) was probably different to the outside worlds version.

So, when Peter got out of the shower Friday morning only to find every person who had come to visit him over the past week crowded around his room, he wouldn’t say he was surprised just… overwhelmed. In the best way possible.

"Happy Birthday!" They all shouted in unison.

Peter blinked a couple times, "Uh..."

"You're seventeen now kid," Steve said with a smile, "Almost an adult."

"Oh yeah, that's um... that's awesome! I think?"

Natasha raised an eyebrow, "You really have no idea how to celebrate a birthday, do you?"

"Not a clue," Peter confessed with a sigh.

Sam just laughed, "Come on Parker, we'll show you how it's done."

Peter shrugged, "If you say so."

They pushed the couch against a wall so there was more room and sat in a circle on the floor as they gave him gifts. Not gifts like what HYDRA considered his powers to be or what a new gun or mission suit was portrayed to be, but gifts wrapped in colourful paper and string and targeted towards his interests.

Clint and Sam gave him Star Wars movie posters, Bruce and Rogers had bought a joint gift which was a hand-crafted chess set and board.

Natasha handed him a first aid kit while saying “You’ll need it,” much to the horror of everyone else but all Peter could do was crack an unwittingly large smile and say, “We’ll see.”

Even Colonel Rhodes and Pepper Potts came in to introduce themselves and wish him happy birthday. Pepper gave him a whole pile of clothes other than just sweatpants and coloured t-shirts – jeans, sweaters, graphic tees, beanies – and told him that they were his to keep, no more disappearing clothing after one use. She also called him a handsome young man. Peter announced that she was tying with Bruce for ‘least shitty person here’ and ignored everybody’s booing as he replaced his party hat with a dark red beanie.

The Winter Solider didn’t stop by though, and Peter wasn’t sure whether he was glad or not. He didn’t want to think about it. Thinking lead to spiralling and spiralling lead to the right and loud voice in his head screaming. So, he settled for distracting his mind as one last gift was revealed. 

“Open it kid,” Mister Stark said, handing Peter a small box covered in bright red paper.

Peter carefully tore away the wrapping and opened the small leather box within to reveal a watch. It was sleek and black with accents of dulled red and gold around the analogue face. 

“Tap the screen,” said Stark with a wave of a hand.

Peter did, and his whole world was filled with light.

A hologram hovered above the watch displaying multiple buttons and options for who knows what. He lightly brushed a finger over the display and the options scrolled by, revealing more and expanding into a constellation of applications. 

All built for him. 

For Peter.

Not Peter, working for HYDRA. 

Not Peter, the White Spider.

Not Peter, who was worth nothing. 

But for Peter Parker, a person worth something in the outside world.

All built by Tony Stark, for him.

Peter fucking Parker. 

Not even the chocolate cake they’d brought him seemed as sweet as that.

For once in his life, Peter was speechless – and not because of confusion or sadness or fear. He was speechless because no words in any of the multiple languages Peter knew could describe how he felt. 

There wasn’t a way to say how his heart swelled and beat like a humming bird drinking nectar, or how if it wasn’t for the years of suppressing his emotions, Peter’s face would be adorned with an infectious and incurable grin. He couldn’t find the words to describe the feeling of dopamine and serotonin and those goddamn endorphins rushing through his brain and destroying his own demanding voice in his mind if only for a second. 

Peter was happy. Uncontrollably, undoubtedly, unashamedly happy. And he supposed the threatening spill of tears was a product of that too.

His eyes stayed fixed on his personal digital stars as Stark ran through the specs.

“This should have everything you need. It can check your health, heart rate, connect to Karen and to all the lighting, heating, and whatever in your room,” he cleared his throat before continuing, “It even has a GPS and a phone which is currently disabled but it’ll be there for the future.” 

“Future?” Peter mumbled, surprising himself with how small and breathless his voice was.

“Well yeah kid, you can’t live your whole life in one room. Eventually, once everything’s been sorted out, we’ll help you get your life back on track. Maybe school and university, maybe something to do with science or you could focus on fighting if that’s what you’re really into,” Stark shrugged nonchalantly, “When we get there, it’ll be up to you.”

It’ll be up to you.

Peter disguised his heartfelt gasp with a small wet cough. 

From day one, he knew this was temporary. He knew that Stallard was coming back at the months end and life would go back to normal. 

At HYDRA, his life had been laid out from day one. Train. Learn. Train. Serve. Serve and learn and train until he was ready for the serum at nineteen then serve some more. Serve until he was old and grey and then teach his replacement to learn and train and serve like he had. 

Yeah, the spider bite had kind of messed up the serum part, but the basics were there. Just train harder. Learn less. Serve longer. In some ways, that seemed to work better for HYDRA, didn’t matter what it did to Peter.

But, the Avengers didn’t know he was still planning the assassination of their team mate, or that he was stealing tools from them to push the plan into gear. They didn’t have the faintest clue that in three weeks, all hell would break loose and they would never see Peter again until he inevitably came back to kill them. 

They were looking past this month, to the future. The Avenger’s wanted him, not how HYDRA wanted him, but in a way that seemed more personal, affectionate. Something he wasn’t meant to need but they were more than willing to give. 

“So, kid,” Tony said, drawing Peter from his thoughts, “What do you think?”

And if Peter was meant to need these simple desires of affection, and if he was allowed to reciprocate them, he would’ve hugged the living shit out of Tony Stark.

Instead he settled for a couple of words which held just as much weight in his damp eyes and touch-starved mind.

“Thank you, Mister Stark.” 

If someone had told Peter a week ago he would be thanking an Avenger with all sincerity, he would’ve laughed in their face – and then have gotten punched for laughing in their face.

But there he was, wearing a soft beanie and sitting in a circle with the Avengers, meaningful gifts placed at his feet and a slice of a cake made just for him by his side. Peter strapped the watch just below one of his metal cuffed wrists. 

Once he’d said thank you, he couldn’t stop.

“T-thank you so much,” Peter continued, staring at his small pile of gifts, voice still quiet and his eyes still glistening wet.

“All of you. I – well – I’m guessing you guys already figured it out b-but I’ve never had anything like this. Ever. A-and you didn’t have to get me these thing– gifts, b-but you did. I-I’m not meant to have stuff like this be-because they think it’ll make me…”

The word ‘weak’ died on his lips. Still, Peter pushed forward, knowing he’d probably never be brave enough to be this honest again.

“I-I know I can be difficult and there’s part of me that still thinks th-that all of this is just some big trick. I don’t u-understand why else you would be so – so nice. B-but if it isn’t then… thank you.”

The words settled and breathed amongst the group. Peter rubbed his eyes and let out a maniacal laugh, “Oh my god, i-if my boss heard me right now I-I’d be fucking dead.

A few light and slightly forced chuckles flitted through the air. 

“Don’t worry Parker, your boss won’t find out,” Clint assured with a soft smile, “And for what it’s worth, none of this is a trick. We care about you bud, we’d never hurt you like that.”

Natasha cleared her throat, “Except for tomorrow.”

“Romanov!” Rogers scolded.

Peter laughed weakly, more genuine this time, and waved him off, “No, no it’s- she’s fine. You guys have a deadline, right? I-I know how important they are. Plus, she wouldn’t have to if – if I just answered the questions. B-but doing that would mean betraying HYDRA and…” I don’t think I’m ready for that yet, “I can’t do that. Not willingly, at least.” 

“You’re a brave kid, Parker,” Nat complimented, “If there was another way to find out information by Saturday night then— “

“I know,” Peter breathed. “I – I know.” 

Just as Sam began to suggest watching a movie, Stark stood up and cleared his throat. His eyes were unusually wide and he was fumbling to get his phone out of his pocket. 

“Sorry to hit and run but something just came up and I’ve got to go.”

“What is it? Do you need any of us?” Steve asked, beginning to stand on his own accord.

“Nope, don’t worry your handsome head about it Capsicle I’ll leave you guys to it. Trust me,” His last two words were more forceful than the rest and Rogers nodded before sitting back down.

Stark turned to Peter and gave him a small smile, “Happy Birthday kiddo, I’ll be back as soon as I’ve got this shi- stuff sorted out." 

Peter’s shoulders sagged in disappointment but he didn’t let that get into his voice, “Yeah okay. I’ll see you whenever and um – thanks again for the gift.”

“Don’t mention it,” and just like that, he left.

Stark didn’t come back during the movie. Or when they all had dinner afterwards. Or when everyone left for the night and Peter fought to keep the fear that he had said something wrong at bay.

It wasn’t a big deal. Tony Stark was known for being somewhat flaky. It was a defining characteristic in a way. Everything was fine.

 


 

On Saturday, everything was clearly not fine.

At least, not for Peter.

Peter was awoken by the sound of the door to his room opening and the clicking of heeled boots making their way towards him. He didn’t need to open his eyes to know that it was Natasha.

“Ugh… no,” Peter groaned as he turned over on his bed to face the wall.

The clicking heels stopped by the side of his bed.

“Come on Parker, get up. We’ve got a big day.”

Peter flicked his watch into his eyesight and checked the time. Six thirty in the morning.

He groaned again, “It’s a little early, don’t you think? Can’t we start in the evening. You know, like how we’ve been doing for the past week?”

The sound of a sharp intake of breath filled the air. Natasha was getting impatient. 

“I thought we’d get a head start. See if I could wear you down so I don’t have to…”

She didn’t finish her sentence, but the implication was as clear as day. Peter didn’t feel so tired anymore.

“Oh, right,” he mumbled, finally sitting up in bed to see Natasha towering over him, her arms folded. Peter began to stand, “I’ll just have a shower and then we can— “ 

“No shower today kid,” Natasha said as she pushed a hand against Peter’s chest, forcing him to sit back down.

“But I feel kind of gross.”

She shrugged.

“Fine then. Food?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“You’re trying to make me uncomfortable, aren’t you?” he accused, “So that I’ll be more likely to talk.”

“I’ve got to start somewhere, don’t I?” 

Peter stared at his feet, the realisation of what was to come finally settling in. Saturday was no longer some date in the near future, Saturday was today and part of him had wished the day would never come.

But it had, and it was his fault. If he’d just talked at their other interrogations it wouldn’t have had to come to this.

What are you thinking? His voice whispered in his mind, You can’t betray HYDRA. You must suffer and endure for the great cause.  

Peter sighed before raising his eyes to stare into Natasha’s.

Decisive. Apathetic. Focused.

“Go ahead.”

“Who made your suit and weapons?” 

I did.

Peter shrugged, “I don’t know.”

“Is HYDRA planning on making more people like you?”

Not unless I’m perfect.

“Who’s to say?” 

You always say that you were an accident but HYDRA had always planned to make you into a threat. Care to explain?”

Low ranking scientists can’t keep spider’s in their damn cages and this is the result. 

Peter looked away and whistled a random tune.

And around and around they went.

Then, the clock ticked over to midday and Peter sat and watched as Natasha finished her lunch. His stomach growled and he wiped the drool from his lips.

She put down her empty plate and sat next to Peter on his bed.

“Why won’t you tell me anything?”

“We’ve been over this. I can’t betray HYDRA.”

“But you’re never going to see HYDRA again. They’d never know and if they did, they’d never get to you.”

“You don’t know that.”

Silence.

“Do you think HYDRA’s coming for you?”

Peter looked up to meet her gaze, “Absolutely.”

“When?”

In exactly twenty days. 

“I don’t know.”

“Did someone tell you they were coming?”

After strangling and punching me in the face she did. 

“No.”

Natasha sighed, “Peter— “

“They’re coming,” Peter snapped, “I know it. So, are you going to continue with this interrogation or waste more time?” 

Romanov looked at him with pity. Not affection, pity. It was getting pretty easy to distinguish between the two and Peter wasn’t sure which one he disliked more.

“Fine. Let’s move on to segment three.”

“Segment three?”

“The night of the Gala.”

Oh god, Peter had completely forgotten about that. He’d pushed those memories and the guilt so far back into his mind that he’d expected the others to have done the same. But it was all flooding back, and Peter had no choice but to accept that.

He swallowed, dry throat yearning for a drink, “O-okay.”

She asked about the planning for his ultimately failed mission, if he had a code name, what the Winter Soldier meant to HYDRA. What the Winter Soldier meant to him.

Peter chose to combat these questions by playing up his asshole persona in the hopes it would make him appear less afraid and cease the slight tremble in his hands.

“Why did you surrender?”

“You guys were following me and I couldn’t lose you,” he lied easily, “I didn’t want to lead you back to HYDRA so I gave myself up.” 

“Weren’t you worried your team would be upset?”

She said ‘team’ as if HYDRA could be compared to the Avengers.

Peter couldn’t help but snort at that, “I was running late and my mission leader,” he corrected, “probably figured out I had failed. I didn’t want make things worse by dragging down my mission leader with me so I went with you.”

“I thought HYDRA members weren’t meant to surrender.”

“They do if it’s for the betterment of HYDRA.”

“Do they?” 

“Sure,” Peter said, with shark-tooth grin, “You know what we say; cut off one head and two more shall take its place.”

Natasha only hummed in response and continued her line of questioning. Soon, her dinner plate was empty as well and Karen’s voice filtered into the room to inform them there was only one hour until midnight.

Romanov stepped out of his room only for a moment and brought back with her a metal chair almost identical to the one in the interrogation room except this one had arms. She also carried a box with the metal contents rattling around inside. 

Finally, panic set in.

Peter didn’t want to be tortured. Peter really didn’t want to be tortured by one of the only people he’d ever felt comfortable around. Peter didn’t want to make it to midnight without spilling any secrets and be sent to the Raft where there was no chance in hell he’d be rescued and he would automatically fail his mission yet again.

Peter didn’t want any of that. But Peter also didn’t want to betray HYDRA and make his inevitable punishment anymore worse than it was going to be.

Natasha stood behind the chair and commanded, “Sit.” 

Maybe if he gave away some small things, he’d be let off the hook. 

“I made my suit and weapons,” he confessed, his own desperation evident.

Romanov tilted her head, “How?”

Too much information, Peter thought.

“I don’t know if HYDRA is currently making more people like me,” he continued as if she had never spoken, “but I think they will if I’m successful. I was accidentally bit by an enhanced Whitetail Spider when I was visiting some HYDRA compound. You arrested the guys responsible for the spider, you can talk to them.”

“We already have. They were useless.” 

“Oh, well then, then…” Peter looked around the room frantically as if he could find more basic HYDRA information lying around, “My uh- my training was rushed by five years so I could be more useful after I was bit. I was unprepared for my mission on the Gala night. I um- I— ”

“Peter,” Natasha interrupted her hard gaze melting slightly, “I need better information. I need names, locations, schedules, plans. You’re barely scratching the surface.”

He hung his head in defeat, “I know.”

“Then sit.”

Peter go to his feet and walked over to the metal chair, his whole body feeling numb. When he sat, his ankles were automatically cuffed to the chair legs and his wrist cuffs snapped to the arms.

He watched silently as she pulled out two high-tech looking nose plugs from the box and let her shove them up his nose, blocking even his own advanced sense of smell. Peter immediately knew what her torture angle was; sensory deprivation, and god was it a bitch. 

To his surprise though, Romanov took out a file that looked suspiciously like the one he’d shoved under his bed days ago.

“Wh-what’s that?” the nose plugs made his voice nasally, but it didn’t seem funny at the moment.

She didn’t look at him, “The rest of your file.” 

His heart sped up, “Th-the rest of my file? B-but I thought Mister Stark— “

“Stark gave you the harmless stuff. This is the rest which isn’t so soft.” 

“L-like what?” 

“Like the whereabouts of your remaining family.” 

Peter shook his head vigorously, “N-no. I don’t w-wanna know a-about them. Th-that’s not—" 

“Well, if the physical torture works, then you won’t have to.”

A set of sharp blades were laid out on his bed and a thick blindfold was wrapped tightly around his eyes. His sixth sense was going nuts, the back of his neck tingling painfully and screaming at him to run away though he knew he couldn’t.

Peter’s energy was unwillingly focused on his remaining senses; hear, taste and feel. He could hear Natasha pull something out of the box and slip it over his ears, no doubt being headphones which with one flick of a button, would eventually cancel out all sound. He could taste the bile slipping up and down his throat and he desperately tried to swallow it and his nerves down. 

And he could feel, god could Peter feel. His hunger pains seemed to have tripled and the cold metal chair bit at his skin. He became horrifically aware of the beating of his heart in his chest and how he no longer had any choice but to breathe through his mouth, making it harder and harder to keep the bile at bay. 

Heels clicked towards him. A hand grabbed a side of the headphones while a thin knife was pressed against the pale skin of his arm.

That was another thing about blocking out all of his senses; pain became more intense. And naturally intense pain? That became unbearable. 

This was going to be unbearable.

Still, Peter refused speak.

“Tell me when you want to talk and this will all be over,” Romanov whispered by his ear.

Peter gripped the arm rests, he hands now shaking uncontrollably. He did his best to focus on taking deep breaths, leaning his head back in the process, but the urge to throw up was only encouraged.

The back of his neck kept screaming, ‘you’re going to die! you’re going to die! you’re going to die!’ and no logical thought could beat the fear that came with those words.

The knife pressed down deeper and he could feel his skin begin to break under the blade. In a second, blood would begin the leak from his arm and paint it red and there was nothing he could do except think about how he was soon going end up betraying HYD—

Bang. 

The door to his room swung open and hit the wall, accompanied by heavy breathing.

“Stark,” Natasha said, stepping away from Peter in shock, “I told you not to come down here. What are you— ”

“I found them,” Stark said through his panting, “I found the HYDRA compound Peter’s from. I-I found it.”

A beat.

“Oh thank god,” Natasha dropped the knife and let it clatter to the ground. 

Peter allowed his body to go slack in his restraints and felt his blindfold dampen with tears. His chin rested on his chest.

“Kid?” Mister Stark said softly, slowly making his way into the room, “Peter are you okay? I found the compound kid, Nat’s not going to do anything to you.” 

He let out a ragged breath. 

“Kid, are you okay?”

Only one word came to mind.

Shit.

 

Chapter Text

As soon as his limbs were snapped free from the chair, Peter ripped off the headphones and keeled over, arms wrapped tightly around his midsection.

Shit,” he whispered again, “Shit. Shit. Shit…”

It seemed to be the only thing he could say. 

Even with the blindfold still on, his world was spinning. Despite his bare feet still firmly planted on the ground, Peter felt as though the floor was a million miles away and there was nothing there to anchor him to reality.

A hushed voice assured him, “Hey, hey kid. Peter. Come on kid, it’s okay. Everything’s okay. You’ll be okay,” It was Mister Stark, he thought, but he wasn’t sure. No sound seemed to be registering properly. It all melded into a single monotone drone as it filtered through his ears.

His voice in his mind though, that was as clear as day.

Moller will blame you. Stallard will blame you. You are to blame. You are a failure.

“…Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit…”

God, Peter just wanted to find the floor again. Up here, in the cold, detached and loveless space that was his mind, Peter felt like he was losing himself. He needed to float back down. Slowly, gradually, pull himself away from his own voice and wait for the spinning to stop. But if he came down too fast, he just might—

A hand closed over his shoulder, strong and warm. The sensation of harmless physical contact was grounding. Peter’s mind slammed back into reality, bringing his nausea with him.

It happened fast.

Too fast.

In a hasty panic, Peter ripped himself out of the unfamiliar touch, stumbling forward slightly as he stood. Another hand reached out to stable him, this one slenderer than the last but just as strong, and Peter pushed it away 

He staggered towards where he believed the bathroom to be, clinging to the door frame as he blindly tripped on to the tiled floor. Clumsy hands reached out desperately until they grabbed on to the toilet that was barely in reach.

Peter lent over the bowl and finally let the bile spill out of his mouth through a series of splutters and retches. The lack of food in his stomach meant the gagging quickly turned into uncontrollable dry heaving and the sour taste of bile and mucus coated his mouth and lingered in his throat.

The feeling of years passed by until his body finally stopped trying to turn itself inside out. Peter collapsed hopelessly beside the toilet, an arm still draped over the bowl while the other wiped at his mouth.

Somewhere through the whole ordeal, the nose plugs had popped themselves free, but he couldn’t find it in himself to feel bad about potentially ruining a multi-million-dollar invention.

A hand not belonging to Peter slowly pulled his blind fold off.

Peter blinked up at the significantly dimmed lights and the concerned face level to his own.

“Parker?” Mister Stark said in a hushed tone, “Peter buddy are you with us?”

Peter didn’t have the energy to feel embarrassed.

He nodded mutely.

“Okay kid, that’s good. Do you need anything?”

Yes. I need to crawl into a hole and hide away for a couple thousand years.

“’m tired,” he slurred out.

“Jesus,” Stark muttered under his breath, though his voice remained soft as he spoke to Peter, “Okay then kid, you’ve got to make it to your bed. Think your legs won’t crumble if you stand?”

Even though there had been no torture, Peter felt beaten. He wanted to ask for help. Just reach out a hand towards Stark or to Nat who lingered in a corner, something vaguely reminiscent of concern etched onto her face.

But Peter remembered first arriving at HYDRA, being so eager to help people after Moller told him that was what Peter was going to do – what he wanted Peter to do.

Moller had failed to mention that HYDRA’s version of ‘helping people’ was different to what his tragically naïve mind had thought it to be. He had, however, made it extremely clear that Peter didn’t get to receive help, only gave it. So Peter had thrown away whatever concerns he’d had regarding equality in order to condition himself to agree.

Old habits die hard, Peter supposed.

“N-no ‘elp,” he garbled out defiantly, “I-I can s’and on my own." 

Peter used his shaking hands to push himself up, only to immediately collapse on top of Mister Stark’s crouched knees.

“Shi’,” he groaned, subconsciously burying his face into Stark’s leg.

"Yeah, okay Lucky, you and the rest of the 101 Dalmatians can be go getters tomorrow but let's just get you to bed. Nat could you— "

“No,” Peter repeated, “I-I’ll jus’,” he gracelessly rolled himself off of Stark and on to the floor, “I’ll jus’ sleep here.”

His eyelids grew heavy and he happily let them shut. It seemed like the perfect way to escape the reality he’d crashed back into.

“Jesus Christ. Kid, you can’t sleep on the floor. We’ve gotta get you…”

If Mister Stark finished that sentence, Peter didn’t notice.

Instead his breathing evened out and the sour taste in his mouth became only a minor nuisance as he slipped into a deep, guilty sleep.

 


 

After carrying Peter to his bed and ensuring Nat would check on Peter when he woke up, Tony ran to the conference room and called Fury and Ross up on video chat.

“Well, this is unexpected,” Ross said as soon as his feed blinked to life.

“Stark,” Fury started, his anger evident, “This better be some important shit if you’re calling me up at one in the morning. I— ”

“I found Peter’s compound.”

“What?”

“I figured out where Peter’s HYDRA compound is. The current Accords require me to get permission from you two to raid it. Give it to me.”

“How did you find out such a valuable piece of information Stark?” Ross’ smug face was practically preening, “In such a short amount of time too. I suppose you had some tricks up your sleeve?”

God, he wanted to fucking kill him.

“Yeah, I used my head, Ross.”

And he had.

While Tony had been listening to Peter – a kid who had just celebrated his birthday for the first time despite turning seventeen and who had begun to cry and profusely thank everyone for giving him gifts – talk about how he wasn’t mad at them for planning to torture him, Tony’s heart had cracked a little bit more.

And when Nat had said, “If there was another way…” Tony’s big brain had realised that there was, in fact, another way and it was so fucking simple he was mad at himself for not realising it sooner.

Security cameras.

Of course.

So, he’d left the party early, figuring he could talk to Peter about his gift later when Tony had made sure Peter wasn’t going to be bleeding out in the next forty-eight hours at the hands of a former Russian super spy.

It was easy to find a camera pointing at the alleyway they’d found Peter in. It was even easier to see a black van parked there and a figure reach out and grab Peter and beat him to hell and see Peter take it and still stand to attention even after being thrown to the ground.

Whoever the fuck that was, they weren’t going to survive the compound break.

What had been hard though, was following the non-descript van out of the city. He’d had to jump from security cameras to dashboard cams, and eventually had to hack his way into people’s old Snapchats and Instagram stories in passing cars in order to keep the van in sight. It had taken hours. Tony hadn’t taken a break.

Eventually though, some teen’s archived Instagram Live showed the van in the background slipping off road and into one of the many forests on the outskirts of New Hampshire. Tony sent a high-tech drone to the location the van had disappeared and after almost sixteen fucking hours of waiting and panicking and waiting some more, it finally picked up an unusually large number of electromagnetic wavelengths for the middle of nowhere.

Which is to say, any at all.

Then it was just a quick satellite search to find a rather suspicious clearing that couldn’t be anything other than a secret base.

Peter’s base.

Tony was just glad it was located in America and not the other side of the world.

 “Now,” Stark continued, “Permission. Yes? Or no? If it’s a no I’m doing it anyway and pleading the Fifth.”

Fury looked at Tony sceptically, though his anger had simmered away, “When do you plan on heading out?”

“Tomorrow.”

“That’s too soon.”

“I don’t care.”

“Stark, it’s one in the morning. You don’t have enough time to tell the team, make a plan, and raid the compound.”

Tony sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. He hated it when other people were more right than him.

“Fine, fine. We’ll go the day after.”

Fury nodded, “Considering Maximoff and Vision’s mission isn’t set to finish for another couple days, you’ll want to take the rest of the team with you. If this compound was the home to someone as potentially dangerous as the kid, it’s probably a major base.”

Stark’s eyes snapped up to meet Fury’s, “But, someone needs to watch over Peter.”

“Last time I checked, Miss Potts isn’t an Avenger and Bruce is only sent on to the field for world-ending stunts.”

This seemed pretty world-ending to Tony.

“Also, you might have forgotten this Stark, but one Bucky Barnes currently resides in your facility. The three of them should be able to handle Peter." 

God, Tony wouldn’t mind killing Fury too. Only temporarily, of course.

“Pep left for Shanghai this morning,” he said through gritted teeth, “and Banner’s gone to a Science conference in California. If you think I’m leaving this kid under the supervision of Barnes who hasn’t even spoken to Peter since the assassination attempt then— “

“Then I’ll send a couple of my top agents to watch over him and Barnes can stay with SHIELD while you’re away,” Fury cut in, “He’s not going die the moment you leave his side Stark. The kid’s trained to be competent, he can handle himself.”

Yeah, tell that to the kid who I just watch disassociate and vomit for almost an hour before collapsing on to the fucking bathroom floor.

Stark forced himself to nod, “I guess you’re right.”

“Great. Then if we’re done here, I’m going to sleep like a normal person and I’ll send the agents over on Monday.”

“Oh, and Tony,” Fury said as an afterthought, “Take a shower, you look like shit.”

“Wow, okay thank you,” Tony replied sarcastically, “How very courteous of you Nick. Have a good night Asshole.”

Fury shot one last glare his way before ending the call.

Stark’s attention immediately flickered over to Ross’ screen who had been uncharacteristically quiet throughout the conversation.

Ross was patiently staring back.

“Well, that’s your queue Ross,” Tony clapped his hands together, “Thanks for stopping by, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Or do, if you’re into that.”

“I’m coming for a visit on Tuesday.”

“Absolutely not.”

“I asked for information and you’re getting the bulk of it on Monday. I’m coming over Tuesday to see it all.”

“No,” Tony said, trying his best not to pull out his own hair, “You asked for us to get information by today and we did. We got the compound location without even having to use your twisted methods. You aren’t relevant to anything else about to go on.”

Amusement twinkled in Ross’ eyes, “Oh, but I think I am.”

“I know you’re not.”

“Then tell me Stark, who’s going to make the minor’s identity re-official in the eyes of the government? Who’s going to clear the assassin’s criminal record and pardon him from all his crimes? Who’s going to alter the Accords so the freak isn’t in violation of them?”

Tony’s silence cut while Ross’ smile slaughtered.

“Face it Stark, you need to play nice with me for a few more days if you want any chance of our little project getting off scot-free. I want to see the information you acquire from this raid and you’re going to show it me. If not, there’s plenty of space on the Raft for one more… resident.”

Tony hung his head in defeat and sighed, “You’re an asshole, do you know that?”

“I’ve been told.”

Stark snapped his head back up to make eye contact with Ross, “Fine. You come Tuesday but you can’t fucking touch or see the kid, got it?”

Ross placed a hand over his heart while the other was raised lazily, “Of course Stark, scouts honour.”

“Great. Now get the fuck off my screen.”

“You know,” Ross said casually, “Fury was right. You do look like shit.”

Before Tony could retaliate, the feed ended and silence swamped the meeting room.

He hadn’t even realised he had white-knuckled fists until he slowly unfurled them, small crescents adorning his palms.

“FRIDAY, time?”

“It is currently one-thirty in the morning Boss.”

Right. Sleep first. Plan later.

Tony flicked off the meeting room lights and mentally prepared himself for a night of restless sleep.

 


 

Peter’s head felt like mush, he was jet-lagged to hell. Still, Moller had called for Peter to go to his office – a place where the boy had never been allowed to go before – as soon as he’d stepped off the plane. Sleep could wait a couple more hours.

Agent Dina Stallard followed quickly on his heels, refusing to slow her pace and forcing Peter to walk briskly. His stiff joints begged for death.

They stopped at the entrance to the wing that was strictly out of bounds for Peter. Stallard pushed him aside and swiped a key card at the door.

She opened it and pushed him inside.

The door slammed shut.

Peter could see his destination at the end of a seemingly endless hallway.

“You didn’t do anything wrong, Peter. You nailed it. Everything’s fine,” he assured himself.

Peter walked down the corridor. It seemed so similar to all the others in the compound, he wondered why it was off limits.

He warily approached the unusually large metal door and knocked.

Moller’s voice was slightly muffled, “Enter, Peter.”

So, Peter did.

Immediately, he realised why this part of the compound was out of bounds. Moller’s office seemed like a whole new world.

The floor was wood panelled and the furniture was carved from a similar tree. Large book shelves lined the maroon walls and – paintings? Peter was pretty sure they were paintings, hung beside them. Covering part of the floor was a thing that looked like a really large training mat, except it was thinner and intricately designed, and kind of soft too. There were so many colours – red, blue, green and holy shit, was that gold? – on the mat and in the paintings that Peter was sure he was hallucinating.

Moller sat behind his desk in a grand wooden chair upholstered with red cushions – and he was smiling. Beaming, almost.

That was almost as rare as Peter getting a day off.

“My boy!” Moller exclaimed, standing up from his chair and walking towards Peter, “Congratulations.”

As trained, Peter hid the preening he felt from the praise and settled for a firm nod, “Thank you, Doctor Moller.”

“No need for formalities now Peter,” Moller lightly nudged Peter’s shoulder who twitched in response, “We’re celebrating! You achieved something great today.”

Warily, Peter allowed himself a small smile, “O-okay.”

Pleased, Moller turned back to his desk and poured himself a small glass of strong looking alcohol from a fancy glass decanter. The whole situation seemed so surreal to Peter. Moller had told him dimension hopping wasn’t possible (yet) but Peter was sure that he was in some sort of alternate universe. Like, when the hell had Moller ever praised Peter, let him go to his study, and told him to not be formal? Never, that was when.

“Only eleven years old,” Moller leaned against his desk and smiled at the boy, “and flawlessly executed a mission. You eliminated all designated targets without gaining any attention and apprehended the prisoners with minimal damage.”

Peter’s small smile grew giddy and wide.

“And not to mention,” Moller continued after taking a sip from his drink, “you were the perfect communicator and translator between the English-speaking HYDRA members and Arabic-speaking members. I’m sure that the Morocco HYDRA sector was practically begging for you to be permanently transferred.”

“Yeah,” Peter admitted, testing the casual word on his lips, “they asked.”

“And what did you say?”

“I said that I worked for Doctor Moller and he needs me in America,” Peter recalled with a bashful grin.

“Atta boy!” Moller downed the rest of his drink and poured himself another, “You know Peter, I think you’re ready for the next step.”

“No way, really?” Peter’s eyes grew wide and he shuffled closer to Moller.

Moller placed a hand on Peter’s back. Timidly, Peter relaxed into the touch, checking for any signs of anger from Moller, though he didn’t seem to mind. Yeah, this was a good day for Peter.

“Indeed, Peter. You’re coming along well and in less than a decade I’m sure you’ll be even better than the Winter Soldier.”

“You mean it?”

“Of course. My boy, when have I ever lied to you?”

Peter was left speechless, though his face gave away the pride he felt.

Moller picked up a remote from his desk and pressed a button.

A piece of the wall behind his desk slid away to reveal a T.V. that was so much wider and thinner than the ones Peter had seen before. It kind of reminded him of a chalkboard.

The screen flickered to life.

“What do you see, Peter?”

The video was clearly from one of the cells in the compound. A door screeched open and two people – a man and a woman – were pushed inside, their hands bound and their mouths gagged. The guards fastened their wrist bindings to metal loops on opposite walls before leaving them alone.

Peter smiled slightly, “Those are the prisoners we just brought back.”

“Correct, and do you know what is about to happen?”

“Well… usually Dina or another mission leader would interrogate them, right?”

Peter looked up at Moller and gave him a hopeful grin who nodded in response.

“And how do we interrogate stubborn prisoners Peter?”

“I mean, if they won’t talk then… torture.”

“And that my boy, is where you come in.”

Oh.

“Y-you want me to torture them?”

Oh god.

“Yes. I think you’re finally ready.”

Oh god no.

“B-but, wouldn’t you want someone str-stronger to do it? S-someone who’s, I don’t know, more powerful?”

Moller barked out a laugh, “Oh Peter, you don’t need strength to torture – just resilience. The tools inflict the pain and all you have to do is use them.”

Peter could feel his breath getting tight. A hand curled protectively around the inhaler in his pocket.

“So, my boy,” Moller rubbed Peter’s back lightly, “What do you say?”

Peter swallowed.

“No.”

The rubbing stopped. Moller’s smile faltered.

“What did you say?” The man’s voice was eerily calm.

“No. I-I won’t torture them. I-It’s just, I can’t hurt people for a long time and make them feel pain. T-that doesn’t seem… ethical. I’m sorry Moller but I refuse to— “

The hand on his back moved to grab a fistful of his hair and pulled back with vigour. A dull crack echoed from the boy’s neck as it adjusted to the dangerous angle. Peter gasped at the unexpected pain and Moller moved so he stood in front of the boy, staring down into Peter’s eyes who had no choice but to look up.

“How dare you deny an order I gave you,” he hissed.

Peter reached up, uselessly swatting at the hand on his head, “B-but you j-just said— ”

“And now you talk back to me?!” The man’s free hand punched Peter’s right cheek and the boy was torn from Moller’s grip as his body helplessly flung itself to the floor.

Peter gasped for breath. He pulled his inhaler out and shakily brought it to his lips as his other hand pushed himself up off the—

The inhaler was engulfed by a larger hand, nails digging deeply into the back of Peter’s. Moller pulled downwards. Hard. A sickening snap echoed from the boy’s slim wrist. Peter dropped the inhaler and gasped – a bloodcurdling scream trapped at the back of his throat.

He fell back down to his knees.

“D-Doctor M-Mol-ler p-pl-please…”

“Did I say you could speak?!”

A small whimper escaped from Peter’s lips, his eyes stung with the sensation of burning tears, threatening to roll over his swelling cheek though the pain was nothing compared to the fire in his limp wrist.

“Don’t you dare cry boy. Look at me,” Peter kept his eyes on his wrist and a hand dug itself back into his hair, “I said, LOOK AT ME!”

Peter didn’t.

His wrist was freed and a moment later, something cold and hard made contact with his right shoulder. It shattered and released waves of liquid that burned into fresh cuts now littering his face and neck.

The glass decanter.

Peter’s mouth opened wider to scream but the thin shards of glass only embedded themselves deeper into the skin of his cheek. He closed his mouth and ground his teeth.

“How long have I been taking care of you?!” Moller snarled.

The boy’s lungs were threatening to explode. His mind couldn’t focus on any one point of pain.

“ANSWER ME!”

“S-seven,” Peter managed to gasp.

Seven. Fucking. Years,” Moller punctuated each word with a punch to Peter’s face. Alternating between drilling in the shards of glass and creating a whole new stream of pain in the boy’s whiskey filled eye, “SEVEN. FUCKING. YEARS. Isn’t that right, boy!?” Moller shook Peter’s fragile body with the hand in his hair, “ISN’T IT?!”

 “S-seven,” Peter agreed, his voice barely audible, “S-seven. Seven. Seven…”

He repeated the word over and over as Moller sent blow after blow.

“I gave you the world seven years ago, boy. I took you in when the rest of the world saw you as a useless pest. I’ve clothed you, fed you and trained you for seven years. I taught you how to protect yourself when you were seven-years-old. I showed you the dangers of getting close to people when you were seven. I told you your future when you were seven, and you can’t repay me? You can’t do what I say? You act just as weak as you were when I saved you seven years ago.”

Moller ceased his blows and shoved Peter roughly towards the ground, releasing his hand from the boy’s hair.

Peter’s face collided with the softly woven mat. His small figure trembled as alcohol and blood completely stained his right side which pressed against the floor, the glass cutting through to his inner cheek. He cradled his snapped wrist to his chest.

“…Seven,” he continued to repeat in a wary daze, “Seven. Seven. Seven…”

Moller wiped his bloody hand with a wad of tissues from his desk and leant back against it as his anger steeped.

“You, boy,” Moller said evenly to the quivering figure before him, “Will torture those prisoners until I tell you otherwise. Do I make myself clear?”

“…Seven. Seven. Seven. Seven…”

“I said,” Moller stepped closer to the boy again, “Do I make myself—“

“Yes!” Peter shouted, snapping out of his haze at the sound of the man’s approaching footsteps, “I-I u-understand, D-Doctor M-Moller.”

The abrupt movement of his mouth made the shards squirm beneath his skin and he bit his tongue to silence his pained whimpers.

“Excellent.”

Peter placed his head back on the floor as Moller left his office, leaving the broken boy alone.

“…Seven. Seven. Seven. Seven. Seven. Seven. Seven…”

“…ter?”

Oh god. Was Moller back? No, no that’s not how it went. Moller didn’t come back he didn’t he—

“…Seven. Seven. Seven. Seven. Seven. Seven. Seven…”

“Peter? Peter, you have to wake up.”

That was a women’s voice. Stallard didn’t help him up though. Nobody did. He got up on his own. Who was—

Fingers touched his shoulder.

“Parker!”

“Seven!” Peter gasped, quickly sitting up as a hand flew to his right cheek.

Smooth skin.

He was okay.

The scars disappeared after the bite.

He didn’t need an inhaler anymore.

His wrist wasn’t broken.

Everything was fine. 

“I found the compound kid,”

Never mind. Everything definitely wasn’t fine. In fact, the memory seemed less scarring than his reality.

“Parker, are okay?”

Peter turned to face the woman who sat at the edge of his bed.

Natasha.

Peter sighed, “Yeah, yeah I’m fine. Just a…”

“A bad dream?”

More like a bad memory.

“Something like that,” he conceded.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“No.”

“Didn’t think you would.”

An uncomfortable silence lingered. It had been so long since Peter had experienced one with Nat, he’d almost forgotten how awkward they were.

“Listen Parker, I— ”

“If you’re here to talk to me about the compound break, don’t,” he cut in, desperate to have control over something, over someone just once, “The only person I’m going to talk to that about is Stark. He found the compound and that means he knows the most.”

Natasha hesitated for a moment before nodding, “Fair enough.”

She then handed him a glass of water just as he become horribly aware of the lingering taste of yesterday’s throw up in his mouth. He accepted it and drank it all in one go, silently placing the glass on the floor afterwards.

Wait.

Yesterday.

“…Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit…”

Peter groaned and put his head in his hands.

“Shit.”

“You really need to learn another swear word. What’s got you worked up this time?”

“Last night,” he mumbled.

“Which part?”

“The,” Peter swallowed, “The me being um… out of it part.”

Just like my dream, he thought in his head, but he didn’t say it out loud. Things were already a little too personal for his taste as is.

Natasha smirked, “Yeah, I guess that wasn’t one your greatest moments.”

“I probably looked so fucking weak.”

“Pity is for the weak.”

“Kid, you’d almost been tortured and had just been told that the place you’ve grown up in for over a decade in secret has been found. I’m pretty sure a person is allowed to be weak in moments like those.”

Peter huffed a dry laugh, “Maybe other people are, but I’m not.”

“Doctor Moller did not raise you to be weak…”

“Christ Parker, is you being afraid of showing weakness another thing HYDRA shoved into your brain?”

What?

Peter’s head snapped up, “Uh…” he stuttered, “I-I mean…”

“Is that why you were willing to be tortured? Even though you knew you were going to talk eventually?”

“Well, i-it wasn’t the only reason but— ”

“Okay, Parker. I’m going to tell you this now so you don’t emotionally combust twice a year like you did last night for the rest of your life. You’re allowed to show weakness. It’s healthy, and human.”

Peter’s mind screeched to a halt. The information seemed to be taking a while to process in his brain.

“W-What?”

“We won’t look at you as a lesser person or ‘threat’ as HYDRA seems to have labelled you. Crying or showing fear doesn’t make you any less brave, it just shows us that you care about things… and yourself.”

Huh.

“Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

“So, people in the outside world show weakness?”

“Yep.”

“And nobody cares?”

“It’s pretty normal.”

Denial ran through his veins. Peter wasn’t just going to take that at face value. He needed a second opinion.

“Karen, tell Rogers to come see me.”

“Right away Peter.”

“Steve? Parker, why do you want Steve? I thought you didn’t like him.”

“Well… I don’t, but I’m pretty sure it’s illegal for Captain America to lie to minors. You know, he’s got his whole ‘perfect morals’ thing?”

Natasha raised an eyebrow, “Right.”

The door clicked open and Steve stepped inside.

“Hey kid, what do you— ”

“Is weakness bad?” 

“I mean, why do you— ”

“Shut up and answer the question, Steve,” Natasha snapped and Peter nodded appreciatively towards her.

“W-well, some people might think it is…”

Aha! Things were starting to make sense again.

“…but it can’t really be helped. Everyone is weak in some way and we all have to accept that part of ourselves." 

Shit. Never mind.

Peter groaned and flopped back on to his bed.

HYDRA life was sounding less and less idealistic every day. Moller and Stallard seemed to be the only people who had ever lied to him – not the other way around.

He desperately tried to ignore the hopeful voice in his mind that whispered, See? It’s okay. Being Peter is okay. Weakness isn’t bad, but it was getting harder and harder to.

Maybe – just maybe – the quiet voice was the right one, and maybe the loud voice wasn’t. Maybe HYDRA wasn’t right. Maybe, maybe—

No, the loud voice whispered, You cannot betray HYDRA. You cannot betray the people who raised you. 

Right. Peter couldn’t just villainise HYDRA completely over a couple mistakes they’d made. Moller tried to care for him. Moller wanted the best for him. HYDRA might not be the best place in the world, but they couldn’t be the worst. 

Right?

“Okay, thanks Rogers. You’re dismissed." 

A beat.

“J-Just before I leave, can I ask you something? It’s only fair.”

“Life isn’t fair boy,”

Woah, what? Whatever. Peter could deal with the legitimacy of ‘fairness’ later. 

“What the hell, go for it Rogers.”

“I-If your old um… teammate were to come and visit you…”

Peter’s blood ran cold again. Rogers was talking about the Winter Soldier. His whole world felt like it was falling apart for the umpteenth time that week. 

“…Would you try to kill him?”

Peter sat up, “Oh…” he said in genuine surprise.

Yesterday? Probably. Today? Well…

“Would this teammate be visiting me while you’re all out destroying the place I lived at for about thirteen years?” he asked bitterly.

There was no point trying to hold up a façade at this point. The Avengers had seen the different sides of him by now, they didn’t care about formalities.

That didn’t mean they needed to know everything though. That didn’t mean he trusted them.

(Yet.)

“No,” Rogers said rather firmly, “He’s going away while we’re doing… that. This would be afterwards.”

“…I-I’m not sure,” Peter confessed.

Steve said nothing for a while. Clearly, that wasn’t the answer he was hoping for.

“Okay, well thanks for telling me. I’ll just… go.”

The door opened and shut. It was just Peter and Natasha again.

His throat suddenly felt strangely tight.

“You’re allowed to show weakness.”

“Hey, Natasha?”

“Yes?”

“I-I don’t know what’s happening,” Peter admitted.

Or what I’m going to do.

“I know. I’m sorry I can’t change that right now.”

Natasha’s voice was surprisingly soft. Softer than he’d ever heard it before. Weaker, in a way. Maybe Romanov had some issues with weakness too.

Peter nodded, “I-It’s okay. I just… I’m confused.”

And scared.

Natasha opened her mouth to say something else, but instead directed her attention to her watch.

“It’s about midday. Do you want me to leave so you can think things over? Your lunch is on the table.”

Peter sat up and smiled weakly, rubbing one of his tired eyes.

“Yeah, that would be cool.”

Natasha nodded and made to leave.

As was tradition in her case though, she stopped just as she reached the door.

“I’m sorry about almost having to torture you, Parker,” her voice wavered slightly and Peter chose not to mention it, “I never wanted to hurt you.”

He nodded despite Natasha not facing him, “I know. It’s okay.”

She nodded herself, “I left the rest of your file on the table too.”

Oh god.

“You can look at it whenever you’re ready.”

“O-okay,” he managed to choke out.

“We care about you Parker. You’re going to be okay.”

The door clicked shut.

“…and I- we care about you too.”

Peter looked over to where the file sat innocently by his food.

Peter knew he would never be ready. 

But that didn’t mean he should delay the inevitable.

 


 

 After Steve debriefed them on the compound raid, Tony went to go see Peter at around half past ten at night. 

He wasn’t surprised to find the kid wide awake, sitting on the side of his bed and fiddling with the hem of his t-shirt. It was another one of those moments where if you took away the metal wrist-bands, he almost looked like a normal teenager.

Almost.

The newspaper clipping displaying the supposed skeleton of a four-year-old Peter Parker is what gave it away. 

Tony shoved his hands in his pockets, “Natasha gave you the rest of the file?” 

He already knew the answer, of course, but it was somewhere to start.

Peter didn’t look up. 

“Yeah.” 

Silence drew out between them and Tony let it. This wasn’t a conversation he could take the lead on. This wasn’t a moment in time that he could take control of and steer towards his own curiosities and concerns. This was Peter’s time. 

“I was fourteen when the spider bit me,” the kid said after a while, his tone was void of emotion and he kept his head down, “Went to that compound we first met at for some special training in knife throwing or whatever, it wasn’t a big deal. 

“Second day there, I was heading to the bathroom at night and I’d already taken my contact lenses out so I was blind as shit. Took a wrong turn, turned around to go back and ran straight into a fucking genetically altered spider that had gotten loose and was dangling from a web. It bit me on the neck and I forgot all about it until the next day when I threw up halfway through training. 

“I had a fever so high my boss thought I was gonna die. He even sent me back to the main compound and put me into the infirmary which I didn’t even know we had. Three days later I was this.” 

Peter gestured half-heartedly to himself before picking up the news clipping. He rubbed the thin piece of paper with his thumbs. 

“This was published exactly five days after we figured out I had powers. I can almost guarantee you that HYDRA dug up the body of a fucking four-year-old and planted it somewhere with fake evidence,” his hands began to tremble and he shook his head, “Guess my boss finally decided to fully invest in me.” 

Tony didn’t know what to say. Nat had warned him that Peter was processing everything, but not like this. Not the fact that Peter Parker wasn’t just trying to work out what was happening, but what had happened to himself. 

Stark’s heart splintered just a little bit more. 

“Kid I— ” 

“And do you want to know what makes everything shittier?” Peter looked up now, frustration burning his face red and wet anger framing his eyes, “This- this article says, ‘The only remaining family member of Peter is his Aunt who married into the Parker family. She was distraught at the discovery of her nephew’s body but is glad to finally have closure.’

“Do you know what that means, Mister Stark? That means m-my Aunt hadn’t stopped searching for me for a whole decade. It means that my fucking Uncle died at some point and I didn’t know. And if I had, I probably wouldn’t have cared because I thought they’d abandoned me.” 

He scrunched up the article and threw it across the room. Peter dropped his head into his hands as his elbows dug into his legs.

“I don’t even remember their names,” he choked out in a whisper, “I don’t even remember their fucking names.”

Tony acted on instinct.

“Hey kid, Peter,” he walked over and sat beside him, their legs almost touching, “you can’t beat yourself up about this. You couldn’t have known. None of this is your fault, you know that." 

“Yeah, I know that,” Peter sniffed, interlocking his fingers and resting them on his knees, “And I also know that HYDRA is to blame, my boss especially. But… but no matter how hard I try, no matter how much I want to, I– I can’t hate them. I can’t hate him. I know that I should. I know that I really fucking should but I- I just can’t.

“H-he raised me, Mister Stark. H-he might not be the one who was meant to, but he did. He taught me how to survive and how to behave and he might not be the most… affectionate guy, but he taught me how to deal with that. He taught me everything I needed to know for the life he gave me, and no matter how many times I screwed up, he never abandoned me. Ever.

“All I ever wanted to do was to prove myself. M-my boss is like my father and as fucked up as this may sound to you… I-I think I might love him. I-I don’t know i-if he loves me b-but I love him.” 

“But you shouldn’t,” Tony said quietly.

“But I shouldn’t,” Peter agreed, “But I had to. B-because i-if I didn’t, I probably would’ve lost it after the Winter Soldier left HYDRA. I was so mad. I would’ve done something…s-something stupid. I-I don’t know what but… something.”

Neither of them needed to elaborate on what that ‘something’ might’ve been. That could wait for now.

“Sounds like the Winter Soldier meant a lot to you,” Tony looked away, focusing on the opposite wall. 

Peter chuckled wetly, “Y-yeah. H-he was… yeah,” he paused, clearly lost in thought. But the small smile forming disappeared as quickly as it came and he clenched his jaw.

“Tomorrow you guys are going to go in there. A-And I know I can’t stop you and that this has to be done so that we can move forward. S-so that I can be free from… everything. B-but it’s gonna hurt. It’s going to really fucking suck and I just wish there was a way for everyone on both sides to come out… okay.”

Not matter how hard Peter had tried to hide it, Tony could hear the small and desperate plea in his words. But he couldn’t walk into that compound and act as if it wasn’t going to be different from all the other raids. Not everyone was going to survive and Tony couldn’t feed Peter’s hope that they would. That wouldn’t be fair to him.

“Kid,” Tony sighed, “I’m not going to lie. Tomorrow won’t be pretty. We aren’t going easy and I can’t be certain who from the other side is gonna make it,” Peter flinched slightly but said nothing, so Tony continued, “But if there’s anything you want me to get for you. If there’s anything you want me to save. I’ll do that for you. It’s the least I can do.”

The kid froze for a second, and it was clear that the cogs in his head were turning just as they did when he tinkered. Peter sat up straighter and wiped away his tears and snot.

“T-there’s one thing. But if you get it, you have to promise me you won’t open it.”

“Why no— ”

Those big puppy eyes stared directly into his own. Determination and intensity setting them alight and extinguishing the remaining tears.

“Promise me.”

Tony swallowed.

“I promise.”

Peter stared at him for a moment longer.

Then he nodded.

“Th-there’s this… book,” he said the words carefully, as if one might set off an explosion, “I-It’s kind of white and has a black spider on the cover. You’ll find it in my boss’s office and you’ll know which room is his… trust me. Just… get me that book and don’t let anybody see it. I- I won’t be able to move on if I don’t have it. I-If I don’t have control over it.

Peter paused, as if he was letting the words sink into the walls around them and fortify himself.

“Can you do that for me, Mister Stark?”

Slowly, Tony slid an arm around Peter’s shoulders and pulled him close. At first, the kid went stiff like a mannequin, scared and unsure as to what to do.

But Tony waited. And eventually, he felt the boy’s skeletal frame relax and lean further into Tony’s side. A small sigh left Peter’s lips, a fresh pot of tears welled in his eyes, and Tony had a feeling that these tears weren’t there for a bad reason.

“For you kid?” Tony said quietly, squeezing Peter’s shoulder as he did so, “I would do anything.”

Peter rested his head on Tony’s shoulder.

“Thank you.”

Tony swallowed away his own tears.

“It’s what I do.”

It was then, with Peter’s tired body leaning against his and the boy’s breath tickling his chin, that he realised the walls Peter had built around himself had fallen down. If there were any left, they’d fall down soon too and Tony would be there to sweep away the debris like he just had.

Tony was finally helping Peter, and it wasn’t as great as he thought it would be.

It was better.

So much better.

 


 

The next day, Peter woke up with all the familiar aches one gets with crying, but he didn’t mind.

Peter could feel the two voices in his head switch roles. He could feel the loud one becoming quieter and the quieter one becoming louder. Neither voice would go away for a long time – he knew that – but it didn’t matter. Now, he could work through his guilt and worry and confusions without the fear of being punished for it.

Because today was the very beginning of his new life. A life which might have been forced upon him like his last one, but there was a big difference between the two.

Peter wanted this life. Peter was going to make choices in this life.

And nothing could top that.

He didn’t have to be ashamed to admit that he missed the feeling of Mister Stark’s arm wrapped around him when he woke up.

After all, Mister Stark had listened to him, comforted him, hugged him. Sort of. And he’d asked for nothing in return.

Because Moller might have cared about him, but Stark cared more.

Opening the file had been scary – terrifying, even – and the only thing he’d read from it was the news clipping from two years ago, but it was enough. It tore away a large chunk of the remaining veil Peter had desperately tried to keep up in order to justify HYDRA and Moller’s actions and it made him realise what was important.

Peter was important.

But, no matter how much he didn’t want him to be, Moller was important to him too.

He’d have to work on that.

In his new life though, he’d be able to. Peter was going to ask questions and not get punished for it. He was going to ask every question imaginable and learn everything he could and nobody would stop him. In fact, most people would encourage him.

Not threaten. Encourage.

That was pretty great too.

Sure, he might not trust the Avenger’s completely. Peter might have not told them everything and he might not for a while, but they’d get there. He was sure of it.

Time, he realised, was something he had. And time came with freedom and that was unquestionably priceless.

He swung his legs out of bed just as a hum crawled up his neck and stayed there.

Peter frowned. That was odd. His sixth sense had stopped seeing the Avenger’s as a threat around the time of his birthday. Maybe someone new was coming to meet him? Or maybe Fury. He hadn’t seen that guy in a while and he probably wanted to check up on him.

Yeah, that was it. Fury was probably here.

His door opened. A man and a woman walked in wearing matching suits and smiles.

His heart stopped. Peter’s mouth went dry.

“Hi there!” said the overly cheery man, “My name’s Agent Bryan Walker and this is my partner Agent Sophie Carlisle. We’re representatives of SHIELD and are here to check in on you while the Avengers are away.”

No.

Oh god no.

That wasn’t Sophie Carlisle. That wasn’t a SHIELD agent. That was… That was—

“Hello Peter,” Agent Dina Stallard said with a smile Peter had never seen before, “How have you been doing?”

His heart stuttered back to life, and with it came fear. 

Nothing was ever going to go his way, was it?

 

Chapter Text

From an observer’s perspective, the HYDRA takedown probably appeared to be the same routine as the others.

Except bigger. Much, much bigger. 

Seriously, how did Peter ever memorise this place? How did he remember all these people?

Tony hoped he hadn’t, but knowing Peter, he probably had. Curse that kid and his thoroughness.

Everything was going relatively smoothly. Shoot a couple dozen bad guys here, punch a hundred more over there. Check if the rooms are empty. They’re probably not. Punch those people too. Announce that hallway ‘X’ in wing ‘Y’ is clear into the comms and receive a smattering of strained grunts and pleas for back up in return. Ignore those pleas because there are already too many people nearby. Move on to the next section and repeat. 

It was the sixteenth ‘move on to the next section and repeat’ that made him abandon the routine completely.

As Tony rounded yet another corner he came face to face with a door demanding a key card to unlock it. So far, this was the only door Tony had seen that required a key card, all the others were simple locks on door knobs or heavy bolts. 

That meant this wing might be special.

“Hey guys,” he said into the comms, “I think I might have something coming up. Someone’s gonna need to cover my section so I can check it out.”

“Really Stark?” Steve grunted back, the sound of his shield hitting people echoing through, “We’re already way in over our heads. Clear your section first then come back to it.”

Tony kept staring at the door as he thought. This was the most secure and guarded base they’d ever been to. A door with extra security measures here meant whatever behind there was important, and with the raid well under way, all the important and top-secret sections would soon be cleared out before they could get to them.

Faintly, Tony wondered if Peter would have been one of the top-secret things cleared out, or if he would’ve stay behind to fight back. Tony wasn’t a betting man (well, anymore) but he was pretty sure he knew what the answer was, and he didn’t like it at all. 

He raised his gauntlet.

“Fine. I’ll make this quick.”

The door blew off its hinges and landed with a grating clang halfway down the hall.

Huh.

It was yet another corridor that looked exactly the same as the fifteen previous ones. There were white walls, ceiling and floors, clinically bright tube lighting and evenly spaced doors. The only difference was the extra door at the end of the hall.

“FRI, got any heat signatures down here?”

“The only one I am able to identify is located at the end of this hall, boss.” 

Of course it was.

He boosted himself towards the hallway’s end and as soon as his metal boots made contact with the ground again, a voice from behind the door called out. 

“The door’s unlocked, come in,” a man’s voice said.

Tony ripped the door off its hinges anyway, tossing it aside. 

A lab-coat wearing man blinked behind his round spectacles, not bothering to stand up from his chair.

“Well, that was a bit unnecessary now, wasn’t it?” not even a hint of concern in his voice.

Stark chose to ignore the man in favour of taking in his surroundings and he immediately realised why this part of the compound had higher security measures. The place looked like a Victorian era study room, completely out of place in the bland and clinical hallways of HYDRA.

This was without a doubt the office Peter had told him about. Which meant that the book was somewhere in here. Which meant that this weasley looking HYDRA scientist was… 

“You’re Peter’s boss?” It wasn’t a question, not really.

Almost immediately his comm was flooded with panicked voices.

“You found Parker’s boss? Tones, what’s you loca— ”

“—Where are you Stark? I’m coming as soon as I— ”  

“—Is there anybody else there? Do you nee— ”  

“—Stark do not engage; this man could be dangerous. Tell us where— ”

Tony ordered FRIDAY to turn off his comms. He couldn’t think with all his teammates rabbiting away in his ear. 

Plus, if they came here, they’d stop him from getting Peter’s book. They’d stop him from asking the bastard questions. 

He needed time. 

The man only smiled at Stark before gesturing over his desk, “Why don’t we have a chat Stark? Please, have a seat.” 

Tony looked at the single elegant wooden chair before the desk, conveniently covering a large stain on the intricately woven rug so dark and horrid it could only be one thing. 

Blood.

He didn’t sit down. Instead, Tony retracted his faceplate to make direct eye contact with the unnervingly calm man, taking a few steps into the room as he did so. 

“What’s your name, asshole?” 

The man only smiled. It looked as though Tony was in for the long haul. 

He couldn’t wait.

 


 

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, n—

“Peter?” Agent Walker prompted, his friendly smile becoming slightly concerned, “Are you okay there, bud?” 

Peter blinked a couple times, his eyes staying fixed on Stallard’s.

Hold eye contact. Don’t show weakness, that familiar and insistent voice pestered, flinging Peter’s mind back into the state he had just decided to leave. 

“I-I uh…” he stuttered helplessly, looking to Stallard for her to take the lead just like she always had in their relationship.

But she didn’t. She just kept smiling.

“W-what um. What q-question?” he tried.

“Agent Carlisle here asked how you’ve been doing, but by your reaction you might not be doing too good…” 

Peter filtered Walker out as he watched Stallard slowly pull her gun out of its holster, eyes locked on Peter. 

No. 

Peter shook his head.

Stallard’s smile grew.

“…need to lie down? I know when I’m feeling under the weather a good rest always hel—“ 

A sickening thud is elicited as Stallard hits the butt of her gun directly on Walker’s temple. He crumpled to the ground in an unconscious heap of creased suit, a trickle of blood running along the edge of his neatly cut sideburn. 

Peter let his shoulders slump slightly, relieved that the gun hadn’t been used how he originally thought it would be. 

But the lack of tension was short lived. Peter’s eyes snapped back to Stallard’s face which had promptly lost its eerie smile, her usual apathetic stare replacing it. 

He swallowed away some of his nerves, unsure what to say or do. Once again, Stallard didn’t seem keen on taking the lead and continued to stare expectantly. 

“There’s security cameras,” he said dumbly, immediately regretting the words as soon as they left his mouth. 

“The technology department hacked into the system and altered the feed. Archived footage of you sleeping is being played in this cell. All the AI’s have been temporary disabled and has been done so under the guise of a routine update.” 

Her voice was uncaring, unforgiving. A tone that sent a small sensation of nostalgia through his mind. 

Peter didn’t want to feel nostalgic for HYDRA though. He shouldn’t.

“I-I thought HYDRA had been wiped out of SHIELD,” he tried again, pushing as much force into his voice as possible.

“We were, but after your failed mission and commencement of Plan B, I took the place of a woman who was newly recruited to the organisation in order to keep an eye on you. Moller and I did not have full faith in you and after reviewing the past week’s security footage, it is clear we were right to think so.”

Peter felt his stomach drop to the floor. Stallard had been watching. Stallard knew everything he’d done, everything he’d said in the past week. Peter balled his hands into fists to stop the trembling as Stallard’s piercing eyes drilled deeper into him. 

He’d fucked up.

Again.  

“One week,” She said, her voice barely raised, “and you’ve already reverted back into the soft and ignorant child Moller found you as.”

Anger bubbled in Peter’s chest, “I am not soft or ignor— ”

“No? Then tell me, White Spider…”

Stallard paused and watched as Peter reacted to the codename like it was a punch to the gut. He found himself being hurtled further back in time as a shiver ran down his spine with every syllable spoken, his back straightening on reflex. 

Stallard’s lip twitched. Barely. 

“…if you aren’t soft then why are you calling half of the Avengers by their first names? Why are you thanking your enemies and having second thoughts about your ideologies? And if you aren’t ignorant then why are wearing a manipulative bribe from Stark on your wrist? Why are even humouring the idea of betraying HYDRA?” 

Peter’s ears were tinged pink and a finger subconsciously stroked the watch on his wrist. No matter how much he wanted to though, he didn’t dare break eye contact with his superior. 

“I would never betray HYDRA,” he declared, and he wasn’t lying.

Last night, he’d practically told Mister Stark that he could never, would never betray HYDRA. Peter had learnt that the organisation might not be what he’d originally thought it was, but that didn’t mean he could turn his back on them completely. Peter was raised the be a devout follower of HYDRA and that’s what he would always be. Whether or not he was proud of that or wanted to actively express it in life moving forward was something else entirely. 

Stallard seemed to know what he was thinking, so she amended her words, “You may not have betrayed HYDRA, but you were certainly thinking about abandoning us. You were thinking of abandoning the people who have trained and protected you for so many years because you believe you do not need us anymore. That is arrogance, White Spider, a trait that both HYDRA and the outside world agree is despicable.” 

Fear and anger were snakes that twisted through Peter, though guilt seemed to be a new contender that had previously been hiding in the tall grass of his mind. The unwavering guilt struck and took control of him as he realised that what Stallard had said were the very things Peter had said when the Winter Soldier left.

He’d called the Winter Soldier selfish for leaving the people who had saved him. He’d been told the man was arrogant and Peter had believed it – still believed it – because that was the only viable reason the Winter Soldier would have abandoned HYDRA without warning. And now Peter was doing the exact same thing. 

He’d always wanted to be like the Winter Soldier, but not like this. 

“Stallard I— ” 

“And now you’re talking back to me? One week, and the Avengers have already begun to undo all we’ve taught you. I never thought the White Spider would be so easily swayed into forgetting the manners they’ve been taught.”

Her voice stayed even but Peter knew she was mocking him, referring to him as if he wasn’t there was proof enough.

Slowly, Peter corrected his posture and placed his hands behind his back, the familiarity of the position making him want to sigh with relief and cry out of fear all at once.

“I apologise, Agent Stallard,” He replied, focusing on hiding the emotion in his voice rather than showing it. 

Decisive. Apathetic. Focused. 

She gave him a curt nod, “Better. Now, tell me White Spider, why were you planning on leaving HYDRA?” 

Peter considered lying, but that would just get him into deeper shit. Stallard had seen the security footage, she knew why, she just wanted him to say it. Peter had forgotten how degrading life at HYDRA was, but he still couldn’t shake the feeling that he deserved it.

“The Avengers gave me undeniable proof that I had an identity prior to my arrival at HYDRA,” Peter desperately wanted to say ‘abduction’, but that would just make things worse. In fact, he was surprised he hadn’t been punished yet, “They also interacted with me differently and it made me wonder if how I was treated at HYDRA was entirely necessary.

“Plus…” he continued on, despite every inch of his mind telling him to stop, “They made me feel happy and valued as well as let me have choices in life. And I like that. A lot.” 

“So, you’re leaving for your own selfish benefit?” 

Peter’s eyes widen and he shook his head vigorously, “No. No I just meant that— ”

“Have you forgotten, White Spider, that we warned you of how manipulative and deceiving the Avengers could be? The Avengers are masterminds at tricking people and allowing them to hear what they want to hear. You have fallen into their trap just like so many others have. You are weak.”

Finally, Peter tore his eyes away from Stallard, choosing to stare at his feet instead.

“The Avengers told me that weakness wasn’t a bad thing,” he mumbled, voice barely audible. 

“That is a prime example of the Avengers feeding you the lies you want to hear. You are weak White Spider, but you cannot afford to be. You have not been trained enough yet to combat their mental torture, you are failing. 

“And,” Stallard added casually, as if her next words wouldn’t mean everything to one Peter Parker, “Your Aunt and Uncle were poor and couldn’t afford to take care of you. They were planning on putting you into foster care. What your Aunt said after ‘discovering’ your body was just a generic statement she had been forced to make. If Moller had left you, you still would’ve been alone. You would have been nothing because that was what you were born to be and that is what you are now.” 

“You come from nothing Peter and you are nothing now.” 

Peter cautiously met Stallard’s gaze again, though he desperately wanted to look away as soon as he did.

“H-how,” he swallowed down more nerves, “How do I know you’re not lying?”

“How do you know the Avengers aren’t lying? If they were so sure of your validity in the outside world, then why did they leave out the fact that weren’t ever wanted in the first place? But, if you need evidence then…”

Stallard pulled out a news clipping and presented it to Peter, who gingerly took it. It was the one with the picture of a smiling four-year-old Peter, though this time the actual article wasn’t cut out.

Peter skimmed the passage until his eyes landed on the piece that made his heart jump into his throat. 

‘Peter’s Aunt and Uncle were left to provide for Peter after his parents passed in a plane crash. They admit that due to financial struggles they were considering placing Peter into the foster care.’ 

The next sentence was cut off, but Peter wouldn’t have needed it anyway.

The Avengers had lied. 

Tony Stark had lied. 

And Peter had believed them. 

Peter didn’t just feel betrayed, he felt humiliated and he didn’t know which was worse. 

Romanov’s words crept back into his mind; 

“No matter what they’ve told you, you’re worth something.”

Had she even meant that, though? 

Stark’s soon followed; 

“But you aren’t just a ‘something’ you’re a somebody. You have an identity and a family and a whole life you missed out on.”

But he didn’t. Peter had thought that having a last name would finally make him worth something but the harsh truth was, nothing had changed. Peter Parker was an orphaned kid who nobody had ever cared for and the White Spider was an abandoned kid that people only cared for if he was of use to them. 

At least HYDRA was honest about this. At least HYDRA wasn’t lulling him into a false sense of security.

The Avenger’s do care, the quiet voice in his mind desperately whispered, Of course they do. Stark said he’d do anything for you and he meant it. It’s okay to believe them. It’s okay to trust them. 

Peter shook his head. He couldn’t trust them, he already knew that. But he’d thought… well, he’d hoped that maybe – maybe one day, he would.

“You’re lucky, White Spider,” Stallard continued, dragging Peter out of his thoughts, “that only Moller knows the words off by heart because if I knew them,” Stallard’s eyes flicked over him, “I’d have already said every single one.”

Realisation hit Peter like a brick in the face. 

“T-The Avengers,” he sputtered out, “Th-They found the c-compound. They- They’re- I— ”

“Shut up boy,” Stallard snapped, “Of course I know that the Avengers are at the compound, and Doctor Moller knows as well. I doubt he has told anyone else though, I believe he is planning on letting the Avengers believe they have the element of surprise in order to not jeopardize our own missions.”

“Oh,” He said, as something similar to disappoint crept into his veins, “I just thought that i— ”

“—That if the HYDRA compound had been destroyed you would be able to leave HYDRA without feeling as though you had abandoned us?”

Peter nodded slowly, the grand number of emotions flowing within him becoming so overwhelming his mind began to numb.

“Well, I can assure you that I am not going anywhere and if the compound is destroyed, there is a backup one set up for you to return to. Isn’t that fortunate?”

“Y-yes Agent Stallard,” he replied, though he couldn’t decide if he actually agreed with her or not.

Stallard gave one approving nod before taking a step closer to Peter who in turn had to fight every muscle in his body from taking a step back. 

“Now White Spider, I need a progress report on your current mission which I am sure you’re still invested in.”

Peter nodded again and Stallard stomped one of her heels on to Peter’s bare foot. 

He took a deep breath through his nose and bit his tongue to silence a shout of pain as Stallard retracted her shoe and blood began to bubble and drip between some of his toes.

“I have been lenient with you so far but you aren’t stupid, you know the rules. And what rule did you just break?”

“U-use my w-words to answer a q-question,” He replied through panicked breaths.

“Correct. Also, I noticed that your stutter has gotten significantly worse over the last week. We can deal with that later but for now,” Stallard produced a small knife from inside her blazer and locked eyes with Peter, “I believe you are deserving of a punishment, don’t you think?”

Peter’s nails dug into his palms and dread washed away every other emotion that had been raging war within him. 

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, n—

Decisive. Apathetic. Focused. 

“Yes, Agent Stallard.”

 


 

“My name is Doctor Moller but I believe you are here because you want to know more about Peter rather than more about me.”

Tony’s heart pounded at the sound of Peter’s name coming out of his bosses – Moller’s – lips. It was so natural, so nonchalant and Stark hadn’t expected that. He’d expected some sort of malice from the man. He’d expected a hard-ass who used brute force and to get his way and while Tony had no doubt he did use physical intimidation on occasion, it was clearly not his preferred style. 

Moller poured himself a drink from a glass decanter that did not match the whiskey glasses provided and nodded towards Stark.

“Thirsty?”

Tony snorted, “No thanks, Blofeld. I’d rather skip the pleasantries and get straight to your evil monologue.” 

Moller simply laughed and took a sip of his drink, “So witty, so proud, I’m glad you live up to your reputation Stark. I can see why Peter would be easily swayed towards you at this time.” 

Tony stepped closer, “What are you talking about?”

The drink was lowered from Moller’s lips, “I suppose you are quite out of the loop in regard to my boy’s life at HYDRA, aren’t you?”

A feeling of discomfort and repulsion flooded Tony’s stomach at the way Moller referred to Peter as his boy – as if he owned the kid or even worse, he saw him as a son. It took all his self-control not to shoot the man then and there but he let it slide for the sake of learning more about Peter. 

Tony nodded for the man to continue.

Moller traced the edge of his glass with his finger as he began to speak. 

“You see Stark, I’m a man who has made very few mistakes in his life. The mistakes I do make are almost always easy fixes; just and couple grand here and a few more missing persons there and I’ll be back on top. But, I will admit that my treatment of Peter was my biggest mistake.” 

Tony pointed a finger at Moller, “You’re damn right it wa— ” 

“I was impatient.” 

He lowered his finger as his heart skipped a beat.

“Excuse me?”

Moller nodded, “I saw his unexpectedly gained powers as a sign from the universe to push him forward. I believed he was capable of achieving what was originally thought to take years more of training. But I was wrong. Because you see Stark, my boy is a perfect soldier for HYDRA. He is devout, ambitious, intelligent, and a skilled perfectionist. He’s everything I could’ve wished for.

“Peter was ready to advance in every way except for the one area which I actively neglected. I thought it wasn’t important – a habit that he would eventually grow out of just like all the others we’d stripped him of. Do you know what I’m talking about?” 

Tony opened his mouth to answer despite having no clue what the man was talking about. Moller waited –  watched as Tony slowly closed his mouth again and spoke through gritted teeth.

“Enlighten me.” 

Moller sighed, massaging his forehead with a hand, “I’m talking about his emotions, Stark. The boy feels more so than most. He cares too much, he grows too attached to people and ideas and at first, it was a great asset to his personality. It made it easy to get him to pledge allegiance to HYDRA and become invested in the work he was being prepared to do. 

“Over time though, it became a hindrance. He was too afraid to act out of malice or inflict pain on our enemies. I even had to force my boy to take his first life. A rather… harrowing experience for him but that’s the price one must pay for perfection.” 

His voice remained calm, deceptively caring, as if the mental and physical torture he had put Peter through had been some great sacrifice he had no choice but to perform. Tony couldn’t tell whether Moller actually cared about Peter or just cared about the outcome he desired Peter to be.

Maybe Moller didn’t know the difference between the two.

“And when the Winter Soldier left,” Moller continued, “I thought it was yet another sign from the universe that my boy was ready to take up the mantle the Asset had left behind. Instead of training him until the end of his teen years, I decided to push him into becoming HYDRA’s official biggest threat. 

“I was wrong to do that Stark. My boy needed more time. Peter still desperately listens and follows whoever he believes will praise him the most. He does not know what he thinks, but only what he feels. This leads to blind curiosity and blind curiosity…” Moller tipped over the remainder of his drink and watched as the whiskey spilled on to his desk, “Leads to chaos.” 

He spoke with so much conviction, so much assurance that it was almost intoxicating. Stark could see how a kid as sensitive as Peter could fall into the palm of Moller’s hand. His logic and moral’s might be screwed to high hell, but he acted as if they were God’s words.

It was terrifying. 

“You’re insane,” Tony breathed through his frustration and shock, “You talk about the kid as if you know who he is, but you don’t. You don’t have the slightest idea what Peter thinks, what he’s capable of. You’re just an entitled psychopath who gets off from having people under the thumb.” 

Doctor leant back in his chair and shook his head. He twiddled his thumbs and ran his eyes over the Iron Man suit once before making direct eye contact with Tony once again, a small smile playing on his thin lips.

“You’re wrong Stark, I am the only person who knows Peter. I am the one who chose him out of all the kid’s in the world to indoctrinate into the HYDRA cause. I saw in him the intelligence of his parents who died oh so tragically. I saw the bravery my boy had received from his uncle but had yet to discover within himself.

“I am the one who tore him down only to build him back up. I am the one who shaped Peter into the person he is today and the person he will always be. My boy thinks he knows himself. He thinks he can decipher between the parts of himself that were natural and the parts HYDRA infused, beyond what the spider bite did. But he can’t. I am the only one who is capable of bringing out the real Peter and taking away the parts of him HYDRA generously gave.” 

Tony’s mouth dropped open. What was wrong with this guy? Was he one every hallucinogen imaginable? How did he ever come to these sorts of conclusions? 

“Okay, am I being pranked? Has MTV Punk’d been revived for one special episode? You’re a madman, Moller. You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Moller smiled, a wide manic grin, “Oh, but I do Stark. And if you sat Peter down, if you merely said to my boy, ‘You have it the wrong way round’ he would know exactly what you were talking about. He would know you were right. That I am right. Trust me Stark, once you see what he is really like, you’ll thank me for all the work I put into my boy.” 

“Yeah, okay,” Tony said, taking a step forward and raising his gauntlet, “That’s enough crazy talk out of you, we’re done here. It’s time to take you to the crazy house.” 

Moller didn’t flinch. Instead, he calmly opened a draw in his desk.

“I didn’t expect you to believe me. Although, once you use this, I’ll gladly receive my apology.”

He revealed a small, cream coloured, leather book. It had a black spider insignia pressed onto the front. He placed it gently on the table, as if he’d done it a million times before.

It was the book.

Peter’s book. 

Tony hesitated, lowering his gauntlet slightly.

Moller gestured to the book as he stood, “Take it, Stark. I already know the contents like the back of my hand. And, until Peter is back in my care, I suppose it’s only right for his temporary guardian to have the proper disciplinary tool.”

He hesitated before stepping forward, raising his gauntlet as a warning which Moller readily accepted and stepped backwards as a sign of compliance.

Just as Tony slipped the relatively thin book into his metallic hand, the thunderous sound of multiple heavy boots crashed through the hallway behind him. 

Stark looked up to make eye contact with Moller, who sent a friendly smile his way.

“I’m sure you have more questions, but I’m afraid I have to go. I have another job opportunity lined up that I would rather not miss, but my friends here are sure to keep you occupied.”

Tony twisted his head towards the hall and saw the surge of ten, twenty, fifty HYDRA agents running towards him, all armed with heavy guns and determined glares. 

“Son of a bitch,” Stark muttered as he tossed the book back on to the table and shot a repulsor at the first wave of agents who had just entered the study.

“FRIDAY, connect me to the team,” he ordered, dodging a wave of bullets as he knocked out an agent who had somehow dodged his first repulsor blast. 

“You are now reconnected with the team Boss.” 

“Stark,” Steve broke in immediately, “You can’t cut us off like that again. That was extremely dang— ” 

“Yeah, yeah Cap, you can tell me off later. Right now, I need major help stat. FRIDAY will give you all my coordinates and then I need everyone to run their asses over here.” 

“Tones,” Rhodey began, “What’s going o— ”

Tony shot another blaster just as an agent lunged at him. 

“I have about fifty agents on me right now and I swear to God if none of you are here in the next thirty seconds I’ll change the Netflix password.”

Needless the team arrived to help. To Tony, the fight felt as though it went on for hours, more and more mindless agents running in just as they’d knocked the last few out. By the time it was over, the Iron Man armour was dangerously overheating, Clint had no bows left and Natasha was sporting a newly fractured elbow. 

Not to mention, the office had been torn to shreds with bookcases toppled and broken and new stains of blood on the rug to match the original. 

The office.

Peter’s boss’ office. 

Moller. 

Stark had completely forgotten about the man and when he scanned the room for him amongst the panting and bruised Avenger’s and the piles of unconscious HYDRA agents that littered the room and the office, he was nowhere to be seen.

Although, a space in the wall where a bookshelf had once been was now visible. It displayed a dark tunnel that led to who knows where and vaguely reminded Tony of the vent Peter had crawled into when they’d first met so long ago. 

Moller was gone.

Shit. 

Half-heartedly, Stark turned around to look at the desk, and was surprised to find the book was still there. Somehow during the fight, the desk had been cracked in half by a HYDRA agents body which now lay limp in the wreckage of the furniture, the book resting on their chest.

“Okay team, let’s head out,” he heard Steve say, “And Tony, we’ll be talking about this when we get back.”

Tony turned around and nodded, “Aye, aye Cap, I can’t wait.”

He watched as the team collectively rolled their eyes and made to leave, waiting until they’d left the long, battered hallway. 

Stark picked up the book and walked out of the room himself, fatigue and concern finally catching up with him.

He needed to talk to Peter.

 


 

Peter stood in the shower. His cuffs had been snapped together – though he wouldn’t have tried to fight back anyway – and his graphic tee and sweatpants had been discarded so he was left in his underwear.

Blood stained his skin from his chest downwards.

He bit the inside of his lip to silence a pained groan as Stallard methodically dragged the knife over the side of his calf, this line crossing over the last four shallow cuts she’d made. 

This punishment was one Peter had rarely received, but fuck did he hate it.

Agent Stallard decided that one cut for every hour Peter had considered leaving HYDRA was more than appropriate. She’d also decided that Peter had been trying to leave HYDRA ever since he had arrived at the Avengers compound.

That was roughly nine days ago.

That meant about two hundred and sixteen hours.

Which meant about two hundred and sixteen cuts.

Which Stallard kept track of by slicing rows of tallies over his body. 

Peter tried to explain that that was way too many but Stallard just threatened to add on more. So, Peter had shut up and grit his teeth, knowing any obvious signs of weakness would just lead to more pain.

Stallard was careful to only leave the marks in places which would be hidden by Peter’s clothes, meaning his back, chest, stomach, and legs were riddled with thin, angry, red lines. 

Each tally could clearly be seen and had been carefully carved – not deep enough to cause any major bleeding or injury but not too shallow so that they wouldn’t heal until tomorrow morning. Small beads of blood wept from every cut and left trails like raindrops on windows.

His whole body stung and sweat and adrenaline coursed through his drained veins as his healing factor desperately tried to keep up though it didn’t know where to start. 

It was hell.

But, it was what Stallard thought he deserved. 

Whether Peter agreed with that or not didn’t make a difference.

Finally, the last cut was drawn just above his ankle and Peter’s trembling body sagged with relief as Stallard stepped back to admire her handy-work.

She wiped the remaining blood off of her knife on Peter’s arm. 

“What have you learnt, White Spider?” 

“For you kid? I would do anything.” 

His voice cracked, but only slightly. 

“Th-That I’ll never abandon HYDRA.”

Stallard hummed and Peter unfurled his hands and felt blood drip from where his nails had dug in too deep. 

“And why is that?” 

“No matter what they’ve told you, you’re worth something.”

Peter swallowed.

“Because HYDRA is the only place that I can do things that have worth.” 

Stallard nodded approvingly, hitting a button on one of those small remotes which made his cuffs snap apart. 

“Excellent. Hail HYDRA, White Spider.” 

“Hail HYDR— ” 

He hissed in pain as his superior turned on the shower to wash away the excess blood, the cold water eliciting a new wave of pain from the cuts.

Stallard flicked the shower back off and threw a t-shirt and sweatpants at him – both predictably black, “The Avengers will be here in roughly and hour. Get dressed and meet me in your main cell room for your final test and a mission progress report. 

Final test? Hadn’t he proved himself enough by standing silently while she sliced into him for however many hours?

Peter stopped himself from talking back though, settling for a strangled, “Yes, Agent Stallard” as she left the room.

Just like he used to, Peter pointedly avoided the mirror as he got changed, not wanting to see the full effect of his punishment. He felt it though, as every movement sent another stinging shot of pain through some part of his body.

He walked back into his room to find Stallard standing next to the still-unconscious body of Agent Bryan Walker who Peter had honestly forgotten about until he re-entered the room.

Stallard waited as Peter positioned himself in front of her and placed his arms behind his back.

“How far have you gotten with your mission, White Spider?”

“I have figured out how to escape my roo- cell. I believe I can also hack into the security system with the tools I have gathered, but I don’t know how I’m going to leave the tower after I locate and assassinate the Winter Soldier.”

Peter didn’t really listen to what he was saying, allowing his mind to go on auto-pilot as he rattled out the details of a once abandoned plan. Guilt pooled into his stomach again but he couldn’t tell whether it was towards HYDRA or the Avengers.

Probably both.

His superior nodded, “I will be able to aid you in the escape and assassination portion of your mission. I have been told I will be coming to the compound every Friday to assess your assimilation progress for SHIELD, though I will use this time to provide you items that may be beneficial to our cause.”

Peter swallowed away the bile in his throat as he said, “Thank you, Stallard.”

“It is the only way this mission will be completed, considering you are incapable of performing it yourself.”

He ducked his head at that, shame and embarrassment tinting his pale cheeks pink. 

“Now,” Stallard continued, pulling out her gun and handing it to Peter, “Your final test is to prove your devotion to HYDRA. Do you think you are capable of doing so?”

Peter nodded again, “Yes. I can.”

“Eliminate the SHIELD agent.”

Stallard didn’t even blink.

Peter definitely did.

“Wh-what?”

“To prove you are as devoted to the HYDRA cause as you were prior to your arrival at the Avengers compound, you must eliminate the SHEILD agent. You’ve done this before, White Spider, this shouldn’t be different from the other times. Unless, you want it to be different?”

Oh god.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, n— 

“B-but— ”

“We can’t let him live. He will wake up and blow my cover to Fury. Either kill him now or I will and unlike you, Spider, I won’t be so… merciful.”

He knew what she meant. She was going to torture and then kill him. Peter couldn’t let that happen. Torture was inhumane, and pointless torture with no hope of living was worse than a simple death in Peter’s eyes.

Fuck.

He lifted the gun and aimed it at Walker’s limp head. Peter locked eyes with Stallard instead of looking at the unconscious figure, knowing he’d chicken out if he watched himself.

Peter hesitated. 

“Think of it as practice for the end of this month.”

Peter still hesitated.

“If you don’t shoot in the next five seconds, we’ll see how long this man can hold his breath in your sink.” 

Bang.

Peter didn’t look.

The first ever genuine smile Stallard had ever given him spread across her lips.

Clearly, he hadn’t missed.

Stallard place two fingers to her ear and spoke some Russian into it.

Peter didn’t even bother to translate.

Stallard turned and opened the door, three HYDRA agents Peter hadn’t seen since the night before the Gala mission entered.

Two of them didn’t even spare him a second glance. They simply walked over to the body and carried it out.

Peter still refused to watch.

One of them handed Peter a mop and a bucket.

Peter cleaned up the pool of blood and handed the items back.

The three agents left.

“If anyone asks, White Spider, you will say that only Agent Sophie Carlisle visited and asked if you were okay before leaving. Do I make myself clear?”

“Y-yes.”

One syllable was all Peter could manage.

“I will see next Friday, White Spider.”

Agent Dina Stallard left.

Peter didn’t even realise time had passed until Karen’s usually soothing voice switched back on and spoke.

“Hello Peter, it is currently ten thirty-three at night. Boss would like me to inform you that the Avengers have been delayed and will not be home for another hour.”

Shit. 

Peter became awfully aware of the pain riddling his body and the hunger infesting his stomach. Stallard hadn’t given him anything to eat the whole day. The lights were too bright and the scent of blood and cleaning chemicals stung his nose and made his eyes water. 

Peter ran as fast as his broken body would allow back into the bathroom and towards the toilet, feeling an oncoming surge of dry-heaving as bile climbed back up his thought.

His head ache was so painful, his vision became riddled with white dots.

This time, when Peter threw up what little was left in his stomach and collapsed onto the tiled floor, nobody was there to carry him to bed or tell him everything was okay.

His last thoughts should have been about how he deserved this. How he had to prove himself to Moller and how he wouldn’t mess up again.

But instead, he found himself apologising to Tony Stark and wishing he was here.

Peter didn’t know how to feel about that, but if he did, it wouldn’t matter.

It wouldn’t make a difference.

Because Peter Parker was the White Spider.

And the White Spider wasn’t allowed to feel.

The White Spider didn’t get to make choices.

Ever.

 


 

Tony held Peter’s book in his hands after the other’s left the conference room to start a team talk in the lounge.

He’d hidden it under the other files, memory sticks and books of information the team had gathered from the raid.

Damn, he wanted to open it.

But Peter had made him promise not to.

But Moller had stated that whatever was in this book was important.

But Peter had—

Tony sighed. Maybe if he talked to the kid everything would be clearer.

“FRIDAY, is Peter awake?”

“Peter is not currently awake. Would you like Karen to wake him up?” 

“No, no it’s fine, I’ll talk to him in the morning. Kid needs a lot of sleep anyway.”

Jeez. When had Tony begun to sound like a dad. He’d never expected that of himself.

He wasn’t complaining though.

“Boss, the teams waiting for you.”

Tony shoved the book under a stack of files, “Okay, fine. Tell them I’m heading over to my public shaming as we speak.”

“Will do.”

He would talk to Peter in the morning.

A small bubble excitement rose in his chest at the thought of seeing the kid.

Damn, Tony cared about him.

He really, really cared.

 

Chapter Text

“You’re an idiot.”

Tony scoffed and leant back against the breakfast bar, “I think my MIT Master Degrees in Engineering and Physics would say otherwise, Rogers.”

“You purposely go off book and head down a hallway you weren’t assigned to— ”

“The hallway wasn’t in the plan, nobody was assigned to it— ”

“—Then you meet Peter’s boss and instead of telling us your location, you mute the comms—  ”

“—I couldn’t hear myself think! And telling you the location could’ve caused chaos— ” 

“—And then you let him get away instead of following him and leaving the fighting to us.”

“You needed my help! We were outnumbered! And by the time I’d realised the son of a bitch had left it was at least an hour later, he was probably long gone. Plus, I had just walked into one trap, and if my sleuthing skills are still halfway decent, following him into a big dark tunnel would’ve most likely led me to another.”

“Those weren’t your calls to make— ”

“Well they weren’t yours either. I— ”

“Ladies, please,” Natasha interrupted, stepping forward and patting a rigid Steve on the shoulder, “It’s been a long day. Why don’t we skip the petty ‘he said, she said’ and get down to the important stuff, hm?”

“I second that,” Clint added.

“I third,” Sam piped up.

A tense silence stretched between them all, seemingly waiting for someone to make the next move. Eventually, Steve unclenched his jaw and stepped back to lean against the side of the couch, his arms folded.

He sighed, “What did you find out about Peter’s boss, Tony?" 

Tony’s anger morphed into mild frustration. Of course Captain Morals would take the high ground, he thought, Always perfect.

Before he could spit out any sort of admittedly childish insult, Rhodey cleared his throat and looked pointedly at Tony. His facial expression could be read clear as day; What would Pepper say? Don’t be a douche and get over your grudge.

Stark sighed and stared down at his feet. Damn it. Rhodey was right. This wasn’t the time to be petty and arrogant. He needed to talk.

He dragged a hand over his face and took a few quick paces back and forth, folding his arms as he did so.

Tony looked back up at the group – his team – and flitted his gaze over to Nat who gave him a small nod.

“The guy’s called Doctor Moller,” he began, slight irritation still evident in his voice, “Didn’t get a first name, if you’re wondering. Although that would have been spectacular information to receive.”

“Did he say anything?” Steve prompted.

Tony eyed him before shoving his hands in his pockets and sighing. It was late, almost midnight, and Stark just wanted to get through this talk so he could sleep.

“Nothing a sane person would say,” he admitted, “A lot of bullshit about how Peter would be perfect if he couldn’t feel and how the kid was lucky to have been abducted by HYDRA. Guy didn’t use the word ‘abducted’ of course, but I could read between the lines.”

“Well, was there any useful information?” Rhodey asked, “At all?”

Stark nodded, “Kind of. He mentioned towards the climax of his angry spiel that he basically picked Peter, as if he had been watching Pete for a while before HYDRA cradle robbed him. Moller also not so subtly hinted that HYDRA had something to do with the death of Peter’s parents which at this point, shouldn’t be much of a surprise considering it’s pretty tame compared to what they did to the kid.”

His old t-shirt was loose but Tony still tugged at the neck of it as if it were strangling him, “God, this is serious. If this was five years ago I would’ve had enough shots to black out by now.”

Natasha ignored his complaints and stepped forward, “And what did they do to Peter, Stark? Learn anything about that?”

Her tone was more suspicious than curious, as if she already knew Tony was hiding something. As if she already knew about the book. Even with an arm in a sling because of her elbow fracture, she still looked menacing.

It was impressive, and terrifying.

Not that he’d say that, though.

He shrugged as casually as he could, “Talked a bit about how HYDRA ‘shaped’ Peter. Made it sound as though they got rid of his personality and replaced it with their own, kept the parts of him they liked or weren’t serious turn offs. Sounds like a complete load of horse shit to me but I didn’t expect much sanity out of a real-life Lex Luthor.”

Natasha hummed, “Okay. So, what did you take from his office?”

Called it. Also, Fuck.

Tony turned and made his way around the kitchen island, grabbing a glass and filling it with water, his back facing the group.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He heard Clint sigh, “Tony, you left the hallway at least five-minutes after we all left and you just said you didn’t follow Doctor What’s-His-Name down the tunnel. So, you were either admiring the décor or nabbing something of value and considering you had just had a rather long conversation about some pretty serious HYDRA stuff, I’m guessing you picked something up that Peter’s boss mentioned.”

Stark whirled around and pointed a finger at Clint, “You know what Barton? I thought you were recruited to the team as comic-relief and a good shot. This whole spy thing is really pissing me off,” he took a sip of water.

Clint chuckled and shook his head, “I have fun Stark, but I’m not an idiot. Also, I saw you shove something into one of the boxes when you got on the Quinjet. So, what is it?”

Tony pursed his lips.

“I don’t think I can tell you.”

The following onslaught of complaints and cries of outrage from his team was overwhelming, but definitely expected.

“Don’t be a dick Tony,” Sam almost shouted over the uproar, “We’re your fucking teammates. We have a right to know!”

Tony downed the rest of his water as if it were a shot before slamming the glass down onto the bench. The noise silenced the room and brought the attention away from the groups anger and back to him.

“I know that, Wilson,” he ground out, “And trust me, I would tell you if I could, but the thing I got – well,” Tony sighed and ran a hand through his hair, “It’s important to Peter. H-he told me to get it for him, but not to open it. I promised him I wouldn’t open it.”

He looked up to his friends, their eyes softer and their faces solemn.

“The kid’s starting to – trying to – trust me. This promise, this little side mission he set me up with is a big step. I can’t fuck this up. I don’t know if he wants you to know about it, I don’t even think he would’ve told me about it if he could’ve gotten it on his own. I just…”

Tony was lost for words, desperately searching for the right way to explain how crucial this felt. How he still trusted his team, still cared about them, but couldn’t risk messing up the kid even more so if Peter thought he’d betrayed his trust. Again.

“We get it,” Steve said, breaking the quiet, “It’s fine. Just… a little heads up next time. We don’t have to know what it is but maybe let us know you have something planned before changing tracks halfway through a mission, yeah?”

Tony nodded, “Yeah,” he agreed, “And I’ll talk to Peter about everything tomorrow, see if he’ll tell me more about it and let you guys in on the secret.”

The Avengers all nodded in agreement. They could handle being left in the dark for a little longer if it meant Peter would be better.

“Okay team,” Steve straightened his back and stepped towards the elevators, “Let’s head to bed. Bucky isn’t coming back till midday tomorrow and he won’t need a welcome wagon so we can all get some rest. I’ll talk to him about if he’s ready to meet Peter again once he’s settled.”

Tony raised an eyebrow, “Barnes wants to?”

Steve nodded, “Now that HYDRA isn’t so much of a threat, he thinks it might be okay if him and Peter had a chat.”

“Would Peter be okay with that?” Nat asked in that same knowing voice she’d used before.

Steve gave her some sort of look before shrugging, “He doesn’t know himself, I’m not sure if he ever will. But they can’t avoid each other forever, especially when Peter is back to a normal life.”

“And when will that be?” Rhodey said.

“Soon,” Tony cut in, tucking his hands into his pockets and steadying his determined gaze.

“Definitely soon.”

 


 

Tony’s alarm went off and he groaned in frustration, rubbing his face and leaning over to turn on his bedside table lamp before calling an equally irritated Pepper up on Facetime.

“Tony, I’m about to head out to a dinner with clients, what— ”

“FRIDAY,” he cut in, eyes raised dramatically up to the ceiling, “I thought I told you to disable all alarms that weren’t for world and or life-threatening emergencies.” 

“You did Boss, but Miss Potts implemented an exception where an alarm will be set off for important meetings and events. This protocol is called ‘Common Courtesies’.”

Pepper’s distressed face softened slightly as Tony raised an eyebrow.

“When did you do that?” he asked.

Pepper fought a smirk, “Five minutes after you disabled all alarms that weren’t for world and or life-threatening emergencies,” she parroted.

Tony scoffed in disbelief as Pepper rolled her eyes and continued, “FRIDAY, who is the alarm for?”

“It is for Boss; Secretary Ross has arrived to discuss the information gained in the recent HYDRA raid.”

“What?” Tony said, flicking his watch up to check the time, “But it’s only… five-thirty in the morning. When I said he could stick his nose into our shit today, I thought that it would be in the afternoon or at the very least, after sunrise.”

“I do not believe you specified a time. Would you like me to replay the audio from your discussion?”

“God no. Just tell Ross to take a nap on a couch and I’ll be right out in say…” he checked his watch again, “nine hours.”

Tony flopped back on to his pillow and shoved his phone under it.

Pepper clapped her hands loudly. 

“Could you quiet down?” he mumbled half-heartedly, taking his phone out and bringing it back up to his face.

“Tony, you have to go. This is important.”

“Yeah, and do you know what’s also important? Getting eight hours of sleep and talking to my beautiful fiancée who I haven’t seen for two whole days.”

“You mean that same fiancée who has gone to Shanghai in the place of her own fiancée who opted out of one of the most important Sales meetings of the year so he could stay at home and obsessively watch over a kid who already has a rather large network of support?”

“…Stunning fiancée?”

“Tony.”

Sighing, Tony sat back up, “Fine. I’ll go see what he wants, but only for you,” he pointed at his screen.

“And for Peter,” she added, her voice soft.

Tony hesitated slightly before nodding and getting out bed, “Yeah, and for Peter.”

 


 

Peter had a lot of time to think after waking up on the bathroom floor, too weak to move.

He’d blearily wondered what the time was, but he didn’t trust his voice to ask Karen and he couldn’t bring himself to look at his watch. It would remind him of those fuzzy feelings that came with serotonin and dopamine and endorphins as well as his birthday that now seemed like more of a hazy day-dream than an actual memory.

Stallard had also said that it was a manipulative bribe. An object made for him to lull him into a false sense of security. And she was right – probably – because Mister Stark was meant to be his enemy. An enemy who had hugged him and listened to him and told him things about the world and about himself that no one else had bothered to tell him. An enemy who had lied and said he was wanted when he wasn’t because his Aunt didn’t want him and no one but Stallard had bothered to tell him that.

So, he didn’t look at the watch.

But, he didn’t take it off either.

Funny that.

Then, Peter wondered why his heart was beating so fast and why his palms were still sweating and why every time he snaked a hand under his shirt to feel the rows of freshly scabbed injuries over his body, his breath stuttered for just a second.

It took him longer than what was probably necessary to realise he was scared.

Scared that Stallard would come and drag him back to HYDRA and hurt him again and Moller would look at him with those disappointed eyes that seemed to know more about Peter than Peter did. Maybe they’d finally decide that the White Spider was far from perfect and get rid of him, or even worse, they’d force him back into his HYDRA routine and act as if his time with the Avengers had never occurred at all.

He was scared that if he did kill the Winter Soldier, Stallard would be proven right and the Avengers would look at him like he was some monster with no morals. Natasha would say she wouldn’t hold back next time they had him in custody and Peter would stare into the eyes of Mister Stark and see nothing even reminiscent of the affection that had once filled them. They would be cold and uninterested, just like how all the eyes at HYDRA were.

It took even longer to realise that he was scared that HYDRA and the Avengers were the same. Just different names using different techniques to get Peter to be who they wanted him to be.

Scared that no matter where he went or who he was with, he would always be anything but himself. Because nobody wanted all of Peter, they just wanted different parts of him.

But he shouldn’t be thinking these things; because the White Spider wasn’t meant to show fear and nobody cared enough about Peter Parker for his fear to mean anything.

Peter hadn’t realised he’d started crying until a wet drop slid over the bridge of his nose and landed beside his tile-pressed cheek.

Eventually, his sixth sense settled beside his fear and whispered ‘danger! danger! danger!’ and Peter couldn’t bring himself to get off the tiled floor. If it was Stallard, she’d drag him on to his feet and punish him and he’d end back up on the floor. If it was Mister Stark, he’d pretend he cared and ask Peter if he was okay and help him onto his feet and hold him as he cried and hid in the man’s arms and shoulder.

Either way, Peter would come off looking pathetic. But at least with Mister Stark, Peter could pretend everything was okay and that Stark cared about him, even if he probably didn’t.

The ‘danger!’ warning became louder and his metal door clicked open and Peter waited for someone to speak. But nobody did. So, he breathed a shaky breath and pushed himself off the ground. The scabs on his bent knees broke and bled and his joints clicked and popped and his head spun as it re-centred itself.

Peter used the wall to stable his balance as he made his way towards his cell-room to find out who it was and what they wanted from him.

Or better yet, who they wanted him to be.

Before Peter could even step into the room, his legs picked off the ground and his hands snapped together and he flew towards the metal pole in the middle of the room.

His cuffs hit the pole.

So did his head.

Blood dribbled from his hairline.

Shit.

 


 

God, Tony was going to kill Ross. And then thank Pepper and then be nice to FRIDAY and then hug the living shit out of Peter.

But first, he’d kill Ross.

Because, after he’d thrown on some jeans and a band t-shirt and slipped on some shoes and padded over to the conference room, he’d found it empty. But the files were a mess, and after a quick and desperate search, his worst fears came to light as the only thing missing was a book.

Peter’s book.

He screamed at FRIDAY to get the Avenger’s to Peter’s room stat and ran there himself. His heart bet with fear and his head raced with it too. The only thought in his mind being Peter.

Peter Peter Peter Peter Pe—

He tried to open Peter’s door.

It stayed locked.

“FRI why the fuck can’t I get in!?”

“It appears Ross has activated the ‘HYDRA AWOL’ Protocol. Peter’s room and AI will remain in lockdown until Secretary Ross deactivates this mode.”

“Fuck!”

Tony slammed his hands against the metal door, as if that would somehow make it pop open. It didn’t.

This time, he swore under his breath.

“Change of plans, get the team to meet me in Peter’s observation room. Code beyond fucking red. You got that?”

“I do, Boss. The Avengers have been notified and are on their way.”

Tony didn’t wait. He ran the length of the hallway, turned the corner and yanked open the first door, flicking on the lights and skidding to a halt in front of the mirrored window.

They’d never used the one-way mirror for Peter’s room, never had to. Because Peter had never been crazy dangerous or plain crazy, they’d never had to keep their distance.

But now, Tony was being forced to, and the sight he saw was unbearable. 

Peter.

 


 

He lay sideways on the floor; legs sprawled and his upper body awkwardly pulled off the ground due to his cuffs that had attached themselves almost halfway up the pole.

“So, you’re the freak they’ve been keeping. I have to say, I knew you were a minor but I never expected an assassin to look so… weak.”

Peter lifted his sluggish head, the trail of blood had trickled into his right eyebrow and was pooling in the crease of his eyelid, forcing him to squint slightly.

A man stood in front of the door and smiled down at him. He had a neatly trimmed haircut and moustache and his hands were clasped behind his back, similar to how Peter stood at HYDRA. His suit was immaculate.

The information took a while to process, Peter’s head working through the sudden shock and confusion of the situation. He had never seen this man in his life, but he knew that voice. Peter had heard those words be used to describe him before and knew that the pole was the man’s own design.

“You’re Thaddeus Ross,” he stated, pulling his body up into a sitting position and straightening his back as much as he could. Scabs along his waist cracked and blood stuck to his twisted shirt, the black fabric hiding the oozing red.

Ross smiled wider, “Did you work that out all by yourself? My, aren’t you clever.”

“I’ve been told. What the fuck do you want?” he retorted, because Peter was over it.

He was constantly being treated like shit or being used by nearly everyone in his life and he’d come to terms with that. But he was over the babying. The constant degrading talk as if he was still some stupid child and Peter’s whole life wasn’t him being forced to harden up. He didn’t see point. If it was some tactic to make him feel as if he needed these people in his life, that was stupid. Peter already knew he was nothing. He knew that he was born to work for others rather than himself. Stallard had reminded him of that just last night and he wasn’t going to forget. Acting as if he was unintelligent just rubbed salt into an already infected wound.

Plus, Ross wasn’t a part of HYDRA. He wasn’t an Avenger. Sure, he had power and control over Peter, but not like the others. Peter didn’t feel indebted to the man in the same way he desperately did for HYDRA and shamefully had for the Avengers. Ross was just a man who seemed to be taking an interest in Peter without purpose and if there was anything Peter knew, it’s that anything worthwhile has to have a purpose.

It has to.

Ross tutted and shook his head, “Now, that’s no way to talk to your superior, is it? I was hoping for a little bit more respect than that.”

Peter snorted in response, “Yeah, Ross? And I was looking for answers. The Avengers raided my base. They have all the information you could ever want so you don’t need to send me to the Raft. Which is why – once again – I’m going to ask you,” Peter used the same demeaning tone that Ross had and spoke slowly as if he otherwise wouldn’t understand, “What. Do you. Want?”

The Secretary laughed, “You’ve got a bit of a mouth on you, haven’t you? Even when you are clearly the inferior in a situation. I doubt you act like this when HYDRA is around, hm?”

Peter opened his mouth to bite back an insult but Ross held up a hand.

“Now, now, no need to turn to your barbaric ways. Although I don’t appreciate how you’ve spoken out of turn, it was a rather fair question that I’m quite willing to answer if you are willing to listen. How does that sound?”

God, Peter wanted to kill him. Peter had met many – like so many – arrogant assholes at HYDRA who treated him like shit, but none had ever been so blatant and cruel. He wanted to scream, but that would only prove Ross’ point.

So, Peter nodded, fists clenching to stop himself from lashing out.

“Good,” Ross said, his smile settling into his face and his beady eyes glinted with something that made Peter’s stomach lurch.

“You see, I’ve looked over the information they’ve gathered from the raid and it is quite extensive; base locations, names, bank accounts, mission reports. The whole nine-yards of information that could help in taking down HYDRA in at least North America, maybe South America too. But…”

Ross paused and walked forward, the ends of his shoes only a foot away from where Peter sat. In turn, Peter tilted his head back to keep eye contact, his stiff neck aching in effort and his shoulders clicking as he readjusted them to account for his arms which were still strung above him, knuckles brushing against the cool metal pole. The blood on his eye began to move again and made its way down, catching itself on Peter’s too-prominent cheekbone.

Secretary Ross raised his eyebrows in amusement, “…I think, you know more than what’s in the files. I think there’s more to you than what’s detailed in lab and progress reports and mission recounts.”

Peter’s blood turned to ice and his tongue felt too big for his mouth.

“Wh-wha – I uh- I – I don’t… wha— ”

“There’s no need to feign innocence, we both know what you are. You’re an assassin, a terrorist, a murderer, a freak. Take your pick, any of those titles work. What I’m interested in though, is how deep all that goes. Sure, there’s reports on your training and rather unique set of abilities, but nothing explains what made you a freak – what makes you the unnatural anomaly you are, or better yet how to re-create it. There also isn’t a lick of reference on your conditioning. How a… dogged individual such as yourself can be controlled and become submissive. These are things I’d love to know, and I think you’re one of the only people in this world who can tell me.”

Peter was lost for words. He felt trapped. Ross was asking questions about things that weren’t on record for a reason. Moller had kept extreme details out of HYDRA’s endless bank of information so that Peter could remain a one-off until HYDRA concluded him to be worthy of re-creating. Ross was acting as if Peter was an original movie script he wanted the rights to, as if he could be owned.

If it weren’t for the hunger pains and empty stomach, Peter would’ve thrown up.

Instead, he channelled his blinding fear into anger.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Go to hell,” he spat.

Ross’ raised eyebrows lowered and his mouth twitched downwards ever so slightly.

“It’s exhausting having to look down at you. Stand up,” he commanded.

“Fuck off,” Peter replied.

In the blink of an eye, Ross’ easy going smile turned into a cruel frown and his voice became harsh, like crashing waves against jagged rocks.

It reminded Peter all too much of Moller.

“What did I just say about your manners? You can’t talk to me like that. In fact, you shouldn’t be allowed to talk at all unless a superior tells you so. You’re a tool to be used, not to be listened to. HYDRA seems to have been lenient for the most part, allowed you to gain some sort of confidence so you wouldn’t slit your own throat when the going gets tough. But I know they weren’t always so gentle with you. I know that when they really wanted you to behave they could make you and you weren’t able to stop it.

“So, tell me, how did they do it? I want the words to come out of that whiney mouth of yours. After all, following orders is the only thing it’s good for, isn’t it? Unless, your superiors ever used it for something els— ”

Peter let out a scream as he swung a leg out. Ross stepped back just in the time, barely missing the blow that surely would’ve knocked him off his feet.

Both froze for a moment. Peter stared up with defiant eyes, panting from his weak body using so much exertion as the scabs on his hips and leg broke and bled while Ross stared at his own feet, seemingly processing what could have happened and what he would do now.

When Thaddeus Ross spoke again, he didn’t sound mad. Disappointed? Maybe. Amused? Kind of. But definitely not mad.

Peter wished he was.

“Well,” Ross sighed, “I didn’t want to do it this way, but it’s clear you’re not willing to play ball. Don’t forget that I gave you a chance to answer yourself. I was just hoping I wouldn’t have to pull out the big guns but you’re leaving me no choice, so…”

Without another word Ross presented his hands which had previously resided behind his back and with them he revealed a small, cream coloured, leather book. It had a black spider insignia pressed onto the front. He held it out for Peter to see.

Peter’s eyes shot open as wide as they could, his right eye twitching as his lashes trapped themselves in the red pool on his eyelid. His heart pounded and a feeling of nausea and fear settled at the base of his stomach. Suddenly the blood in his ears was too loud and breathing became even more difficult than it already was as a new wave of panic washed over him.

It was the book that he saw in his nightmares. The book that made him lose all sense of what he thought made Peter – well – Peter.

His breath hitched only slightly and he desperately attempted to swallow away the dry feeling in his throat, but Ross could still see the uncontrollable terror in Peter’s eyes.

“H-how…” he stuttered helplessly before he could think not to, “Wh-where d-did you- M-mister Stark… K-karen, get Mister Stark! P-please get— ”

“Karen’s your little AI I assume? How fascinating, I read about a certain Karen in this book of yours. She seems to be connected to part of your conditioning. God awful what you did to her but it looks as though HYDRA got something worthwhile out of it. It helped to put you back in your place, didn’t it?”

Peter’s heart squeezed. A pang of buried guilt swam to the surface before diving away and leaving a space for even more fear.

He knows the words. He knows the words. He knows the words.

Ross shrugged his shoulders carelessly, nonplussed by Peter’s reaction, “Anyway, your new Karen can’t hear you, I’ve turned her off. The door’s been put in lockdown too if you were curious. It’s just going to be us for a while.”

His mouth ached as he desperately tried to form words though no sound came out.

“Now then, what did I just say about speaking out of turn? I believe I also requested you to stand.”

Peter shut his mouth and pulled himself up onto shaky legs. He straightened his back as much as he could and curled his trembling hands around the pole.

Ross’ smile returned and it seemed so much sinister than it had been before.

“There we go. Do you think I could detach you from the pole without having you attack me? I promise you, you want be able to get very far.”

Peter closed his eyes and breathed through his nose, desperately trying to hold back a swell of tears and stop his mind from floating away from reality.

He nodded.

“Wonderful." 

The cuffs released and his arms fell limp by his sides. Almost immediately, Peter tucked them behind his back. He opened his eyes again only to see Ross casually flicking through the book as if it were light reading.

“Look at that. The same information repeated in what must be a hundred languages. Do you understand all of them?”

He nodded again, too scared to speak.

“Well, isn’t that impressive of you? But I have to ask; why so many languages? Surely just English would do. You can speak now to answer me.”

“I-it’s so if my b-boss wants to u-use th-the b-book the people around us w-won’t understand what he’s s-saying. H-he’s the only person who knows e-everything that’s in th-the b-book, Ross,” Peter answered, his voice barely louder than a whisper.

Ross’ eyes flicked up from the book to stare into Peter’s, “That’s Secretary Ross to you, freak.”

Peter nodded vigorously, “Y-yes Secretary Ross. I-I apologise.”

Ross smiled again, flicking through the book once more, “Of course you do. So, would it be fair to say your boss – Moller I believe his name is – is a rather thorough and intelligent man, yes? After all, the contents of this book must be rather special for him to be so secretive.”

“V-very s-special,” Peter agreed.

“Well, if that’s the case, why don’t you tell me more about it? I have a lot of questions to ask and you have nowhere to be. I promise I won’t use the book on you if you answer my questions, scouts honour.”

Peter didn’t want to tell him anything. He already had to book. He had everything. He had all of Peter. But if it meant Peter wouldn’t have to lose himself, if it meant he could be safe, aware, he would.

Where’s Mister Stark? That tiny hopeful voice in his mind whispered, Mister Stark would save us. Where is he?

But Mister Stark wouldn’t be coming. Peter wouldn’t be saved by anyone. He had to save himself.

Decisive. Apathetic. Focused.

“O-okay Secretary Ross.”

“Perfect. Let’s begin, shall we?”

 


 

Steve, Natasha and Clint made it to Tony just as he watched Peter slowly stand, his back facing the mirror.

They didn’t get to see how Peter so completely broke and collapsed as soon as the book was revealed. They didn’t hear the kid cry out for his help, unaware of the fact that Tony was right there, behind him, watching, with nothing he could do.

Just as Peter’s matted curls nodded desperately and apologised to Ross in a way only a terrified child could, Steve placed a hand on Tony’s shoulder and finally snapped him out of his shocked daze.

“…ony. Tony. What’s going on? What does Ross have?”

“He has the book,” Tony said, breathing the fact into existence and making the situation so terrifyingly real, “He has Peter’s book.”

“Is that the thing that— ”

“That Peter told me to get?” Tony cut Natasha off and finally turned to look at the concerned faces of his team, “You’re damn fucking right it is and I-I think it’s dangerous. Whatever information is in that is making Peter shit his pants and we need to get Ross out of there now.”

“Can’t you just unlock the door?” Clint asked.

“If I could, don’t you think I would have already? The door is locked from the inside, there’s no way to get in unless…” his eyes widened in realisation and he turned and ran to the far wall where an electrical panel was.

Tony flipped open the panel and began fiddling with the wires inside.

“Unless what?” Natasha prompted.

“Unless I can override the security protocol manually. FRIDAY, got an estimated time?”

“I believe it will take a minimum of twenty minutes to completely override the ‘HYDRA AWOL’ protocol boss.”

“That’s too long. How do I make it five?”

“If you allow me to assist you, it is possible to decrease the time, although five minutes is an improbable estimate.”

“I don’t give a shit about what’s probable FRIDAY, help!”

“Right away Boss.”

“We’ll see if we can break down the door,” Steve announced, turning back into the hallway.

“Good luck with that. In order to get out of there you’ll need Hulk and Vision powers combined, there’s no way you’re getting in there,” Tony sneered as he pulled out even more wires and attached his phone to a plug in the panel.

“We have to try,” Steve said.

“No,” Tony snapped, turning around to face them, “When don’t have to try. We have to stop him, we have to get Peter.”

“And we will,” Steve affirmed calmly, “But we have to try everything possible.”

Tony sighed in frustration, “Fuck. Fine, go do your thing. Grab Rhodey when he gets down here and get him to use War Machine. Send Sam my way and get him to call FURY.”

They all nodded.

“Will do,” Steve said, “And Tony? Everything’s going to be okay.”

“So, little assassin…”

Simultaneously, the group stared back through the window to Ross who had begun to speak again, after doing a slow deliberate circle around Peter, surveying him like a potential pet at a rescue shelter. A mutinous smile danced on his lips.

“M-my name’s Peter, Secretary Ross,” Peter mumbled back diffidently and Tony was now at an angle that allowed him to see one side of the kid’s frightened, pale face.

Ross’ tone was surprisingly mild, “I don’t give shit what your name is,” he spared a glance back down at a page in the book, “It’s not like HYDRA considers you to be worth one, right?”

Peter’s eyes suddenly found the floor rather interesting. The kid shivered slightly at the emphasis Ross had put on the word ‘worth’ and Tony knew he wouldn’t have needed to be a genius to realise it meant something more. Only problem with that was, Tony had no idea what more it meant.

“Besides, I’m getting kind of sick of you speaking without my permission. Maybe I should just use the first one on you…it’s only a warning, right?”

Peter’s jaw went slack and he shook his head aggressively, staring up at Ross with wide, pleading eyes.

“N-no please don’t. I-I’m sorry, Secretary Ross. I’ll shut up. Y-you don’t have to. I-I promise I’ll shut up.”

Ross drew out a pause and nodded slightly, “Fine. I’ll give you another chance. Are you finally ready to answer my questions?”

Peter hesitated, his mouth opening and closing timidly as he tried to decide whether he could speak or not.

Ross chuckled, “You can answer me now, but good god. Isn’t it amazing how these five little things can make you wrap around my finger? HYDRA’s conditioning is truly something else.”

“Yes, Secretary Ross. I-I’m ready to answer your questions.”

The Secretary laughed, “Well, third time's the charm.”

The team shared a pained, angry expression as they watched Peter bow his head once more and Ross casually read through the book.

Tony turned away and went back to work.

“We’re wasting time. Get going.”

Hurried feet turned and ran back down the hallway.

 


 

“…HYDRA’s conditioning is truly something else.”

Peter’s heart thumped in his chest, but his stubbornness didn’t sway. Peter could be beaten to shit, ordered to act out the most heinous of crimes and be forced to believe the lie that there were people who loved him – but this was where he drew the line.

The words, that loud voice screamed in his mind, Be compliant or the words will be used. Do what you would at HYDRA. HYDRA has the best interests for you.

Damn it. Right.

Decisive. Apathetic. Focused.

“Yes, Secretary Ross. I-I’m ready to answer your questions.”

The Secretary laughed, “Well, third time's the charm.”

Peter ducked his head when he saw Ross return to casually reading the book. Something told Peter that this guy wouldn’t want him to maintain eye contact like Stallard and Moller did. His superiors at HYDRA were preparing him to be fearless and strong – that clearly wasn’t Ross’ angle at all.

“You’re familiar with the Winter Soldier, I presume?”

His heart beat fumbled.

“Y-yes, Secretary Ross.”

“And you also know of his book, correct?”

Peter squeezed his eyes shut to stop the dizzy feeling.

“Yes, Secretary Ross.”

“Do you know why your book interests me so much? Why you’re personal conditioning is so remarkable when compared to the Winter Soldiers? Hm?”

It’s worse than his. So much worse, Peter thought, though he wasn’t sure what Ross was referring to.

For starters, Peter’s book didn’t just contain mission reports, but significant events in his life that led to the creation of his words. His book also worked in multiple languages, not just Russian. But Ross had already asked about that so he had to be referring to something else. Mayb—

“Stop daydreaming and give me an answer,” Ross snapped, shaking Peter out of his thoughts and forcing his eyes to blink open in alarm.

The dizziness hadn’t stopped.

“I- uh,” Peter stuttered, “I-I’m n-not sure, Secretary Ross.”

Ross’ lips curled. He gave Peter a grating once-over before speaking with that same deeming voice, “Of course you’re not. But I’ll save you the work guessing and just tell you.”

He stepped back a bit, as if Peter were a frightened animal that could lash out at any time. Which, Peter supposed, was true.

“Your book is so much more intimate,” his voice was burning ice, “There’s an explanation for every horrible thing you’ve done. Every word has a backstory written down... except the last one, which looks to have been added only a few years ago.”

Peter swallowed.

The Fifth word.

His shuddered involuntarily.

“So, little assassin, care to tell me the story behind a word that is so… momentous to you?”

Peter shook his head. He wouldn’t, he couldn’t. That memory was still fresh in his mind. It was a laceration in his temporal lobe that had yet to scar and heal over, like the others eventually had. It was a memory that he still worked to bury into the subconscious, not yet distant enough to think about without the visceral emotions and pain that it came with.

“Secretary Ross, I- I— ”

“You what?” he snapped, voice raised louder than it had ever been so far, “You can’t? You won’t? You’re too selfishly sensitive to give me the information I desire? You’re a criminal. An illegal experiment retrieved and owned by the government who will only be pardoned if you comply. I’ve given you chance after chance and still you won’t do as I say and answer a question so basic, so simple, that even a toddler could. I asked you for one memory, not an autobiographical about your life. So skip the sob story and whiny bullshit emotions and tell me!

Peter’s lip wobbled. Each new sentence made the bruise on his heart deepen and the coil of fear wrapped around his lungs tighten. Breathing felt like a tireless chore.

“Need I remind you what I’m holding in my hands? If you don’t answer me in the next three seconds, I won’t refrain from putting it to good use.”

“If you don’t shoot in the next five seconds, we’ll see how long this man can hold his breath in your sink.”

God. Ross’ and HYDRA’s threats was terrifyingly similar. Peter didn’t have a single doubt in his mind that their execution of said threats would also be the same; leaving nothing to be desired on their behalf.

“I-it’s from a c-couple of years a-ago,” he murmured, eyes cast down so he did not have to see Ross’ jeering grin, “I-I had just gotten…” bitten by a spider and almost died, “my… abilities and I’d started to learn how to control them.”

“Oh, the little freak learned a couple new tricks, did he?”

Peter face burned crimson and he nodded, “Y-yes Secretary Ross.”

“How delightful. Please, continue your story. Tell me all about how you messed up and caused a new step in your conditioning.”

“I-I got t-too confident. I thought I was m-more than what I had been be-before.”

I thought I was worth something.

“I said s-some things and D-Doctor Moller reminded me of my pl-place. H-he told me th-that I would never be…”

“This?” Ross supplied, tapping a finger on to a page of the book which most certainly had the fifth word on it.

“Right, Secretary Ross.”

Peter sneaked a glance upwards and was met with the smug face he had been dreading to see.

His sixth sense spiked, the warning of danger growing louder and pulsing through his mind.

“What a sad story,” Ross said without sympathy, “Although, it does make me more curious about what this little list does. Don’t you agree?”

Danger! Danger! Danger!

No.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, n—

Peter’s shoulders sagged and his hands fell limp by his sides. The dizziness became a more prominent feature as his vision blurred and swayed. He blinked rapidly, his mouth unhinging without consent and the drop of blood on his cheek bone dribbled on to his cheek.

His squeezing heart squeezed tighter. The coil of fear wrapped around his lungs loosened and snaked its way around his brain. The thumping in his chest seemed to shake his very being.

“B-but you promised— ”

“I know what I did. I also know I said that my promise was a scout’s honour. But here’s a little thing you don’t know about me, freak,” Ross’ dangerous eyes swam passed Peter and beyond him, as if he were looking at someone else through the mirrored wall.

His grin grew as lethal as his gaze.

“I was never a Boy Scout.”

Peter’s stomach plummeted. He didn’t know what a Boy Scout was but even so, the message was painfully clear.

Ross flicked to the beginning of the book, stroking a hand affectionately down the page.

In blind, desperate panic, Peter began to lunge forward with his hands helplessly reaching out.

“Don’t you fucki— ”

“For.”

Peter froze. His posture corrected itself. Hands behind back. Eyes forward. Heart pulsating terror.

Decisive. Apathetic. Focused.

“Secretary Ross, I would greatly appreciate it if you did no— ”

“Worth.”

Eyes down. How dare you look at him? his mind seemed to say, Do not defy him.

Still, Peter’s shaking hands told him he could not give in.

“Secretary Ross sir, if I cou— ”

“Place.”

Hands in front. Head bowed. Your opinion does not matter, the right voice was louder now, too loud, He is above you. Behave.

The White Spider bit the inside of his chee— wait. Was that his name? What was his name again? He had a name. It started with P, or maybe B? Oh god, he couldn’t let this happen. He couldn’t, he couldn’t, he coul—

“Sir, p-permission to spea— ”

“Seven.”

He dropped to his knees. Hands on lap. Head bowed. Blood dribbled from his cheek to his chin. Do what makes him happy, his voice whispered, You are the White Spider. Your duty is to work for others. You will be praised.

Something was still wrong though, the White Spider could tell. He didn’t want this. He didn’t like this. His body was quivering and it wouldn’t stop. How could he stop it? He needed his superior to stop.

The boy spoke as quietly as he could.

“P-please…”

“Free.”

His mouth snapped shut. A drop of blood fell on to his hand. The voice in his head only repeated one word over and over and over. 

His Superior laughed, “Well then, would you look at that? Kneeling before me like the mutt you are. I would say this interrogation has been a succe— ”

The sound of a door being flung open ringed in his ears and shouts and thumping vibrated through the floor before him.

 


 

Tony had finished the manual breakdown of the protocol just as Sam skidded to a halt beside him.

“I’ve called FURY,” Sam said, clearly out of breath, “He’ll be here in thirty. How’re things looking?”

Tony shrugged absently, eyes glued to the back of Peter as Ross continued to scream bullshit at the kid. He wasn’t really listening though. Sentences missed his ears and dug straight into his heart, a new crack forming on the organ every second.

“I’ve done everything I can, it’s up to FRIDAY to close it all down.”

Sam nodded, “Th-that’s good. That’s— ”

“B-but you promised— ”

The change in Peter’s speech pattern made Tony tune in again. The kid was losing his poise. His voice sounded more panicked, his posture unconsciously loosening. What was going on?

“I know what I did,” Ross said, “I also know I said that my promise was a scout’s honour. But here’s a little thing you don’t know about me, freak,” his eyes looked passed Peter and through the mirrored wall.

Ross made eye contact with Tony.

“I was never a Boy Scout.”

Sam blurted out, “What?” and Tony yelled, “Bastard!” just as Peter lunged for the book.

“Don’t you fucki— ”

“For.”

Peter froze. His posture corrected itself. Hands behind his back once more.

Fuck. God. No.

“The words,” Sam breathed in disbelief, “Peter had words just like Buck— ”

“Secretary Ross, I would greatly appreciate it if you did no— ”

“Worth.”

Tony was stupid. So unbelievably stupid.

“FRIDAY!” he screamed over the blood rushing in his ears, “How long!? Hurry up!”

“An estimate of twenty-five seconds left, Boss.”

That was too long. That was too long. They needed to—

“Secretary Ross sir, if I cou— ”

“Place.”

Peter’s hands moved in front of him. His head bowed. Tony and Sam banged on the glass and yelled for Ross to stop, but it was no use. They couldn’t hear them. There was nothing they cou—

“Sir,” Peter’s weak voice came, “p-permission to spea— ”

“Seven.”

Peter dropped to his knees, head still bowed. Tony’s heart continued to break. He didn’t know what to do. There was no way he could help. He could only watch.

Peter’s voice was miniscule. Fragile.

“P-please…”

“Free.”

Peter didn’t reply.

Ross closed the book.

“Shutdown complete, boss.”

Sam and Tony began running down the hallway just as Ross began to laugh.

They made it to the door as Clint pushed it open. Steve ran in and tackled Ross to the ground. He fell with a shout of surprise and the other’s followed hurried to help restrain him.

The book went flying but Tony paid no attention to it. Instead, he headed straight towards Peter and knelt before him. Blood ran from his hairline all the way down to his chin. There were splatters of it on his neatly placed hands. Apart from a slight flinch, Peter didn’t acknowledge Tony.

“Kid,” he said, his voice cracking, “Kid, Peter, it’s me. Can you hear me?” Tony placed his hands on Peter’s narrow shoulders. He still didn’t move, “Kid I need you to say something. Anything. Please, Peter are you okay?”

“It’s too late,” Ross called out from where the side of his face was being pressed to ground. and a hand was pinned to his back by Steve. The rest of the Avengers holding down his body.

“He’s gone Stark. I’ve reset him. The freak is noth— ”

Clint stuck a dart in Ross’ neck. He fell silent. The team dragged his unconscious body out of the room and down the hall.

Natasha stayed behind to retrieve the book.

Tony shook Peter’s shoulders slightly, desperately.

“H-he’s not listening to me,” Tony said, mostly to himself, “Peter? Kid? Look at me kid. Come on. Please.”

Nat stepped forward as she skimmed a page of the book.

“He doesn’t know his name anymore,” her voice was tight, her emotions struggling to be kept in check, “He’ll only react to two names and there’s a sentence I have to say in order to get him to start… responding.”

“Then say it!” Tony snapped before his voice fell to a hopeless whisper, “J-just get him to talk.”

“You won’t like it.”

Tony looked at Peter’s blank face, his kneeled form and lips that trembled ever so slightly every couple of seconds. He wiped the trail of blood away from the kid’s cheek, smearing it onto his palm.

“I don’t care. Do it.”

Natasha sighed. There was a breath of a second as she steadied her voice before speaking in an uncaring, commanding tone.

“Boy,” Peter’s head snapped up, eyes trained on Natasha.

Tony sucked in air. Natasha kept going.

“Current status report.”

When Peter spoke, he did so in a way that was both soft and hollow.

“Ready to obey.”

And just like that, Tony’s heart shattered.

 


 

Obey. Obey. Obey.

A Superior knelt beside him. The boy did not move.

The Superior was talking. He hadn’t not addressed the White Spider yet so boy did not listen in. That was not his place.

Obey. Obey. Obey.

The Superior touched boy’s shoulders. It’s a test. He was not worth touch. The White Spider must not move.

Obey. Obey. Obey.

Another Superior was talking now too. The boy did not listen in.

“Boy.”

Obey.

The White Spider lifted his head. Eyes focused on the superior’s mouth. No eye contact allowed.

The Superior spoke again.

“Current Status Report.”

The boy spoke clearly. The White Spider did not show emotion. The boy also spoke softly because the White Spider was not meant to be a loud distraction.

“Ready to obey.”

Silence.

Obey. Obey. Obey.

 

Chapter Text

At age nineteen, Tony’s parents died and his whole world turned upside down.

Rhodey and Obidiah had forced him to go see a Therapist. He only went to therapy once because in his young and freshly traumatised mind, all therapy did was make a person seem like a baby who couldn’t handle things. And Tony could handle things, because nineteen-year-olds were adults and Tony was a Stark and Starks who were also adults could handle everything. No doubt about it.

But before he had stormed out of the Therapist’s office and had called her a ‘useless, badgering bitch’, Tony learnt one thing that would stick with him through every mournful tragedy he’d ever have to endure in his adult life.

There were five stages of grief.

And after Peter said the words “Ready to obey” and Tony’s heart finally shattered into the millions of fractured pieces that had formed ever since he’d met this kid who had been tangled into his life, Tony went through all five stages within five hours.

That had to be a record, right?

There were five stages of grief and the first stage was Denial. Tony had already started to deny that anything was wrong before Peter had even robotically professed his undying submission because there couldn’t be anything wrong. There couldn’t be.

They were so close to giving Peter a free life. A life where every day could be just as good as the morning they’d celebrated his birthday or when Clint and Sam watched movies with him, or when Tony and he tinkered and talked about nothing, or even better than that. They were so close and they couldn’t be further away again. They couldn’t be.

Tony repeated this to Peter over and over and over until finally Steve and Rhodey were able to pry his fingers off of Peter’s shoulders and dragged him away, leaving Nat and the book to watch the kid.

“What are you doing?” he said as soon as Steve shut the door to Peter’s room and blocked it with his body, “I need to be back in there! I need to help Peter. I can’t do anything if I’m out here an— ”

“You can’t do anything if you’re in there either,” Rhodey said, “You’ve been hanging on to Parker for an hour Tones and it’s gotten you nowhere. The kid isn’t talking. I know this sucks but the only thing that could even possibly help Parker come back is the book and Nat’s— ”

“Well then Natasha should hand the thing over so I can help,” Tony him cut off, “She still has a fractured elbow and an arm in a sling which she should be looking after instead. I’m sure I can fix whatever’s going on with Peter in a couple minutes if I can just— ”

“You can’t.”

Tony turned to look at Steve whose hard glare was a great contrast to his quiet voice.

“What?” Tony said.

“You can’t just fix Peter in a couple of minutes,” Steve continued, “Even when Bucky came back from his words, there was always still a part of him that was affected by them,” he swallowed hard, looking everywhere but Tony, “It took Wakanda months to finally get the word’s out of his brain and that was when he wasn’t even under complete control. If Peter’s words are anything like Bucky’s, it’s not going to be easy to bring him back.”

Tony shook his head in defiance, “No. Peter’s words aren’t like that. They don’t make him a mindless killer they make him… they make him— ”

“Nothing,” Rhodey answered, saying what Tony couldn’t bear to say himself.

He brushed off Rhodey’s comment with a wave of his hand a tremble in his voice, “It doesn’t matter, I know that if you just let me have that book then I’ll— ” Tony paused halfway through his sentence.

“Hang on,” he said to Steve who was still trying to mask the pain in his eyes, “How do you know Peter had words used? You weren’t in the observation room when it happened. You couldn’t have heard.”

Steve shifted uncomfortably, “Well, it’s not like Ross is trying to hide anything, so when Fury asked him he was pretty hone— ”

“Fury’s here?” Tony stressed, “And he’s talking to Ross and nobody told me?”

“You’re not in the right headspace to go see them man,” Rhodey tried to explain, “We don’t think you should— ”

“I’m going to kill those bastards,” Tony growled as he pushed Rhodey out of the way and headed towards the elevator, “I’m going to find those fucking assholes and gate-crash their secret meeting and murder them by myse— ”

As the elevator doors opened, a hand grabbed his shoulder.

“Tony,” Steve said, worry etched into his words, “You can’t do something stupid. You need to be here for Peter. You need to have a rest. Don— ”

Tony whirled around, knocking Steve’s hand away and jabbing a finger into his chest.

“Just because you had to cart Barnes off to Wakanda because you couldn’t help him doesn’t mean I’m going to sit on my ass and let other people do the work for me too,” he snapped, watching as Steve finally allowed the pain to settle on his face, “Peter is my responsibility and I’m going to do everything in my god damn power to keep it that way.”

There was a moment where they just stared at one another. Two different pairs of eyes experiencing two different types of pain deciding if either one of them pushed the other too far. Heavy breathing filled the air until Rhodey made a last-ditch attempt to reach out.

“God, Tones— ”

Tony stumbled back into the elevator, slamming the close door button as hard as he could and watched as the two stared on with anguish devoted only to him.

“I’m not a fucking coward,” he spat as the doors slid shut, “And I’m not going to back down until Peter is safe and Ross is dead.”

There were five stages of grief, and the second stage was Anger.

 


 

Obey. Obey. Obey.

The Superior had been holding onto the White Spider’s shoulders for four thousand five hundred and nine seconds.

Obey. Obey. Obey.

The White Spider’s felt stomach shrivelled and ached. It was hollow and light just like the dizziness in boy’s head. He didn’t mention it though because The White Spider did not speak about topics unless told to do so.

Obey. Obey. Obey.

The Superior still hadn’t addressed the White Spider yet so he tried very hard to not listen to what was being said, despite his Superior shaking his body and attempting to make eye contact.

The boy was not disobedient though. He knew that this was a test. The White Spider did not deserve touch. Or food without permission. The White Spider was not worth eye contact. The White Spider was nothing.

Obey. Obey. Obey.

After four thousand five hundred and fifteen seconds, two more Superior’s took the Superior holding him away. The boy kept his focus fixed to the Superior holding the book in one hand in the corner though. That was where boy had last been called to attention. Until new orders, the White Spider would not look away and ignore his hunger pains.

Obey. Obey. Obey.

A door slammed shut. Loudly.

The loud sound made his spinning head spin more. The White Spider fought a flinch but couldn’t stop from blinking rapidly.

No.

The White Spider should not have blinked so much. That was disobeying. The White Spider knew what happened next.

Obey. Obey. Obey.

He dropped his head and held his harms out, palms facing the ceiling.

Fourteen seconds of silence.

“What are you doing, boy?” his Superior asked.

Obey.

“Ready to receive punishment, Superior.”

Seventy-eight seconds of silence.

Obey. Obey. Obey.

“Wh-why would I punish you, boy?” his Superior asked. Her voice was not as strict as expected but the White Spider did not analyse it. That was not his place.

Obey.

“Boy disobeyed the rule; ‘The White Spider cannot noticeably flinch due to unrelated environment occurrences’, Superior.”

Fifty-two seconds of silence.

Obey. Obey. Obey.

Footsteps made their way towards him. The sound of a book being dropped to the floor. The White Spider could sense his Superior standing inches away from his outstretched hands.

He tensed his muscles, preparing himself for the punishment. The White Spider would not cry out in pain.

Obey. Obey. Obey.

A hand touched one of his own and curled its fingers around it. Holding it.

No pain came.

The boy waited.

“You haven’t done anything wrong boy,” the Superior said, “I won’t hurt you.”

No.

Obey. Obey. Obey.

“Superior is testing boy’s obedience,” The White Spider stated, eyes still down, “Boy will not disobey you. Punishment is in order as has been taught by previous Superiors.”

The Superior attempted to speak again but couldn’t seem to decide on the next order. The White Spider did not pressure her though. She was free to think for as long as she wanted to, boy was not.

Obey. Obey. Obey.

After twenty-two seconds of thinking, the Superior sighed before speaking again.

“Y-you are correct boy,” she said, her voice still not as strict as what it should usually be, “Test past. No punishment is in order.”

Obey.

“Yes, Superior,” The White Spider lowered his hands, but his Superior still held onto one.

“You’re going to be okay, Parker,” his Superior said, squeezing his hand lightly, “We’re going to work this out.”

The boy was not Parker, he was the White Spider. His Superior must no longer be talking to him, so he would no longer listen. 

Obey. Obey. Obey.

 


 

Tony went to every interrogation room.

Every. Single. One.

He stormed up and down the halls, throwing open doors and looking in with only a passing glance before moving on to the next.

They weren’t in any of them.

After at least half an hour of checking each room once, twice, three times, he finally let out a groan of frustration and kicked the wall. It left a sizeable dent but Tony couldn’t care less, he’d get some employee to patch it up eventually.

But first, he’d kill Ross.

“Are you looking for anything in particular, boss?” FRIDAY asked innocently, as if she wasn’t an AI who knew exactly what Tony was doing.

Tony seethed, “Where are Ross and Fury?”

“Captain Rogers, Rhodey, and Director Fury have encouraged me to keep you away from Secretary Ross while you are in your current emotional state. Based on your recent outburst, I can’t help but agree with— ”

“You’re my AI,” Tony snapped.

“Yes, but I believe it is in your best interest if I— ”

“I don’t give a shit what you think FRIDAY!” he shouted up at the ceiling, “You’re my AI and I programmed you to do what I say.”

“Miss Potts also implemented protocols to ensure I support a healthy life-style for you both physically and menta— ”

“Initiate, ‘I’m the Boss’ protocol. Override all other protocols not implemented by me.”

FRIDAY went silent and when she spoke again, Tony could’ve sworn the AI sounded pissed.

“Protocol’s overridden,” she relented, “What can I do for you, boss?”

“Tell me where Ross and Fury are.”

“They are in the primary conference room.”

Of course.

The elevator ride seemed slower than all the others he’d taken before and when the doors finally opened, it was just in time to see Fury shutting the door to the conference room behind him.

Tony marched straight for him without hesitation and swung a fist.

Unfazed, Fury caught it and held his hand in mid-air.

“Do you really want to do that?” he asked.

Did he? Tony didn’t really know or care. All that was on his mind was beating the living shit out of Ross and if he had to punch a few SHIELD Directors to get there? So be it.

The hesitation in his answer seemed more than enough confirmation for Fury who merely sighed.

“That’s just petty, isn’t Stark? Don’t you think you’re past solving all your problems with violence?”

Tony ripped his fist out of Fury’s grasp with a scowl and stared defiantly into his one good eye.

“Let me see him.”

“No.”

“I just want to talk to him.”

Fury laughed, making his way to the elevator with Stark quickly following behind. Tony figured he could go back to Ross as soon as he’d dealt with Fury. It wasn’t like the Secretary was going anywhere.

“Yeah,” Fury said, “and I want to lose my other eye. Come on Stark, don’t bullshit me.”

“Well someone has to do something! He can’t get away with this shit.”

The elevator doors closed and Fury finally looked back at Tony.

“Stark— ”

“Oh, don’t you fucking ‘Stark’ me Nick. That asshole just destroyed Peter’s life and you’re fucking protecting him? You’re setting him up in a cushy conference room rather than interrogating and torturing him like the fucker deserves and you think I’m out of line? You think I’m the petty one?”

Tony laughed a bitter, hopeless laugh and slammed the emergency stop button. The elevator ground to a halt.

“If you won’t let me at him then you better have your own fucking punishments lined up or else— ”

“He has punishments Tony,” Fury said evenly.

“Oh yeah?” Tony sneered, “And what are they?”

“He won’t be allowed near Parker anymore unless the kid directly breaks any of his rules. He’s also banned from the compound for the next week and half.”

Tony waited.

Fury didn’t say anything else.

“That’s it?” Tony exclaimed, “That’s fucking it?! He just emotionally manipulated a fucking minor without reason and he gets away with a fucking slap on the wrist?” 

“It’s not that simple.”

“It isn’t? Then explain to me what the fuck I’m missing before I slam your head into the wa—”

“He’s government property Stark!” Fury shouted.

Tony fell silent.

“Parker’s a mutant who gained his abilities through illegal experimentation,” Fury spoke low and fast and spat each word out with venom, “He’s a minor who also just so happens to be an assassin and spy and mass-fucking murderer for an organisation that has been the number one enemy of America for almost a hundred years.

“He was caught red-handed attempting an assassination by you and your team and since the Accords, your team’s work and results on the field are owned and approved by the government. Parker’s a weapon Stark. An illegal weapon you acquired and you look after on behalf of the government. Until this kid gets fucking pardoned, he’s property of the government and they can do whatever the fuck they want to him. That includes testing the extent of Parker’s abilities and mental state which is what Ross just claimed he did.

“It might be unethical Stark. It might be fucking inhumane and unjust but that’s just tough shit. In the eyes of the government, Parker’s a felon and an ‘it’ not a ‘he’. The only reason he isn’t on the Raft right now or in one of SHIELD’s maximum-security prisons is because I argued to a panel of government officials that he’s a minor on your behalf. You should be kissing my feet instead of acting like a baby who just watched his favourite toy be broken by the person who bought it.”

“I’ll kill him anyway,” Tony insisted.

“And what’s that going to do? Hm? You’ll end up in fucking prison and you won’t be here to help fight for Parker to be pardoned. If you kill Ross, the next time you’ll see the kid again will be when he joins you on the Raft.”

God.

Tony searched furiously, desperately. For anything. For something in Fury’s face that suggested he was lying. That this was just a petty excuse of his own. But all he saw was frustration and pain.

Something told Tony that his own face looked just like Fury’s – except worse.

“B-but Barnes — ”

“Barnes was pardoned because of his connection with Steve and the fact that nearly everything he did for HYDRA was an unconscious decision. Peter has no connection to anyone of significance prior to meeting you and as far as we can tell, did most of his work consciously and somewhat willingly.”

Fury sighed and shook his head in defeat. He seemed to pity the world around him and curse it all at once.

“I’m sorry it’s like this Stark. I really am. This is a shitty situation that I’m doing my best to get us out of behind the scenes but I can only do so much.”

Fury hit the button to make the elevator start its journey again.

Tony didn’t stop him.

They hadn’t lost yet. Tony knew it. Fury might not, but Tony knew. There had to be someone he could talk to. Someone who could help bring Peter back and exchange something for the kid’s safety.

The elevator doors opened to the lobby.

Fury stepped out.

“I’m going to get Barnes. I doubt he’ll want to hear what’s happened from me so I trust you or Rogers will be here to tell him what’s happened. Lord knows you’ll all need each other to get through this.”

The doors began to slide shut again but Tony held a hand out to stop them.

He levelled his stare with Fury.

Fury stared back.

“I’m going to get Peter back,” he said evenly, “I’ll talk to Ross, to old HYDRA prisoner’s, to anyone and find a way to get Peter back. I don’t care what it takes Fury. I’m bringing Peter back before the day is out no matter what.”

Fury stared for a little bit longer before nodding. It wasn’t a nod of agreement, though. It was a nod of disappointment, of pity.

“Get some rest Stark.”

With that he turned and left the building, leaving Tony to ride the elevator back up alone with only his thoughts and determination to accompany him. 

There were five stages of grief, and the third stage was Bargaining.

 


 

Obey. Obey. Obey.

The Superior with an arm in a sling and who held the White Spider’s book in their other hand sat on a wooden chair in front of him.

She’d moved it there after holding his hand silently for two-hundred and thirty-nine seconds. The boy never held her hand back, because it was a test and he wasn’t meant to.

Obey. Obey. Obey.

His stomach was twisting itself as the empty feeling dug deeper and deeper. He felt unusually tired. He did not say so though because the White Spider did not let his feelings show.

Obey. Obey. Obey.

He kept his eyes firmly planted on the Superior’s lips and chin and listened to the flipping of pages that occurred in irregular time lengths. The boy still counted the differing seconds between each page flip though, just in case his Superior needed to know.

Obey. Obey. Obey.

“Boy.”

Obey.

“Ready to obey Superior.”

A fifteen second pause.

“Have you been listening to everything I’ve been saying?”

Obey.

“Not unless you are talking directly to the White Spider, Superior.”

“Have—” the Superior sighed, “Have you been listening to me when I talk about Peter Parker?”

Obey.

“No Superior.”

“Why not?”

Obey.

“Because the White Spider is neither Peter nor Parker. Boy does not listen in to conversations about others unless told so.”

Nineteen seconds of silence, followed by something suspiciously similar to a sniffle.

“Boy, I want you to listen in to all Avenge—Superiors conversations from now on.”

The boy didn’t even question the order. It was not his place to do so.

Obey.

“Yes, Superior.”

The opened. A Superior walked in.

“Steve,” the Superior on the chair sighed as she got up to greet the other.

The White Spider’s eyes focused back on his lap. He should not look at a Superior when he was clearly no longer needed.

Obey. Obey. Obey.

“Nat,” the other Superior greeted. His voice was quiet just like the Superior with the book. The White Spider was not used to such light tones, though he did not question it.

Obey. Obey. Obey.

“Where’s Rhodey and Stark?”

“Rhodey’s gone to call Pepper and Bruce. I’m not sure where Tony is. He’s really not taking this well. I think Fury may’ve got to him before he made it to Ross but I can’t be sure.”

“What about… Barnes? Is he back yet? Does he… does he— ”

“He isn’t back and he doesn’t know. I’ll tell him though.”

“How do you think he’ll take it?”

“What? The news that the one kid – the one thing from HYDRA that was good, is gone?” the Superior huffed, “It won’t be good Nat. He- he’ll think he’s responsible for this in some way. It might make him worse. I don’t want Buck to get worse Nat. After everything he’s been through…”

The Superior trailed off and the other was quick to fill the quiet seeping between them.

“I-I didn’t realise how much Barnes cares about him. He hasn’t even talked to Parker since—  ”

“Since the Gala, I know, I know. He just thinks that being away from Peter was the right thing to do. But he’s ready to see the kid now, finally worked up the courage to get me to ask Parker what he thought about it, and now he can’t.”

“Well, isn’t that ironic?”

“Much of the world his, Romanov.”

The Superior made a noise unfamiliar to the boy. It was light and quick and lasted for three and a half seconds.

“Laughing through the pain, are you Nat?”

“It’s keeping me sane. I keep reading through this book and it just keeps getting worse and whenever I get Peter to talk i-it’s not him. H-he’s just so b-blank a-and he talks in th-third person and he thought I was going to beat him for blinking t-too much Steve. A-and I-I— ”

The Superior cut herself off when a quick inhale of breath and a whimpering noise. The Superior was crying. Crying was weakness, but Superiors were never weak. Superiors must be allowed to cry. The White Spider wasn’t.

Obey. Obey. Obey.

“Hey, hey, hey,” he heard the other Superior say, the sound of footsteps shuffling closer together and clothes rubbing against each other.

“It’s going to be okay Nat. This isn’t forever.”

“I-I want him back Steve,” The Superior’s words were muffled, as if her face was pressed into cloth – or a shoulder, “I haven’t cried in decades and now it’s all because of this d-dumb kid.”

“You care about him,” The Superior whispered.

“More than anything in the fucking world, Rogers.”

Seventy-eight seconds of quiet filled with the sound of a hand rubbing over the other Superiors back.

In that time, The White Spider’s world tilted.

The pain in his stomach became too much. Boy felt his head both ache and spin and he could no longer maintain his posture.

The boy lent forward and let out an unintentional whine of pain.

No. Bad boy. Bad Spider. No.

Boy weakly extended his arms out, waiting for punishment.

The Superiors rushed over to him.

“Nat, what’s Peter doing? What’s wrong? Peter, are okay? Parker?”

“H-he won’t answer to those names Steve, he doesn’t know who he is.”

“God.”

The newer Superior was now kneeling in front of him, having moved away the chair with a loud scrape that elicited another unwarranted groan out of the boy.

No. Bad boy. Bad Spider. No.

The White Spider was finding it harder to focus. He felt tired. Weak.

No. Bad boy. Bad Spider. No.

Obey. Obey. Obey.

“How do I get him talk Nat? Nat, what do I say?”

“H-he only answers to two names.”

“What are they?”

The boy heard an object be passed from one Superior to another.

The Superior kneeling before him spoke.

“O-oh god… these are it? I-I can’t call him— ”

“Steve, that’s all we’ve got.”

“Shit… fine. B-boy?”

Obey.

The White Spider used a little of his remaining energy and coherency to lift his eyes to the Superiors lips.

The Superior’s lips trembled and his jaw clenched.

“Holy—boy, what’s wrong?”

Obey.

“B-b-boy disobeyed the r-rules; ‘T-the White S-spider cannot sh-show weakness’ a-and ‘The W-white Spider m-must not move o-or make noise wi-without per-permission’, Superior.”

There was a silence but the White Spider didn’t know how long it lasted. He couldn’t count. All of boy’s energy was focused on staying conscious and obeying.

Obey. Obey. Obey.

The Superior swallowed and tentatively placed a hand on the back of the White Spider’s shoulder. The weight was warm and affirming. It made boy’s head spin more and his senses go haywire for a short time. Boy did not say this though, the Superior could do what he wanted to the White Spider.

“Park—boy, what’s wrong with you?”

Obey.

“B-b-boy was b-bad. B-boy dis-disobeyed the ru— ”

“No, I got that. I just— I meant—” The Superior sighed, “Okay. Let’s try this a different way. Boy, why did you disobey the rules?”

Obey.

“Boy i-is weak. B-boy ca-annot ig-ignore the p-pain.”

Undetermined seconds of silence.

“Nat, did you do— ”

“What kind of question is that Rogers?! I didn’t fucking hurt Parker,” A sniff. A choked breath, “W-why w-would I— ”

“Right. I know. I’m sorry. It’s just that you said he asked for a p-punishment before and – well – I didn’t think you would b-but mayb— ”

“Rogers, either start talking to Parker or I’m going to rip your head off.”

The Superior nodded. He looked back at boy. Boy focused on his lips and chin.

“B-boy, why are you in pain?”

Obey.

“Hu-hunger pains, S-superior.”

“Hunger—you’re hungry, boy?”

Obey.

“Y-yes, Superior.”

“I’m on it,” The Superior standing said.

The door opened and shut.

“Fuck,” The Superior who was still kneeling before boy, a hand still placed on boy’s shoulder muttered, “W-why didn’t you tell me? O-or Nat— I mean, another Superior?”

It’s a test. It must be.

Obey.

“The Wh-white Spider w-would be breaking the r-rule; ‘The White Spider m-must n-not ask for things fr-from Superiors’, S-superior.”

“Oh. Peter…” The Superior trailed off. His lip wobbled, “I-I’m so sorry. We should have known. There’s just so many rules in this fucking book and there’s no order to them… i-it’s okay Par— boy. N-no need for punishment. Wait for food.”

Obey.

The White Spider lowered his hands.

“Y-Yes, Superior.”

The other Superior came back. She knelt before the boy as well and spoke with assurance and no emotion.

It was more familiar to the White Spider.

“Boy.”

Obey.

The White Spider moved his eyes to her lips.

“I am going to feed you. You must eat.”

Obey.

“Y-yes Superior.”

A spoon was placed at his mouth. The White Spider ate. The food was warm and light and the taste was strong. He had never had it before. Boy did not ask what it was though. He was not allowed to.

As the Superior kept feeding him, the other Superior started to speak in that same quiet tone.

“Nat, I— ”

“Shut it, Rogers.”

“I was just panicking. I-I jumped to conclusions. I never actually thou— ”

“I know Steve. I would have done the same. It’s fine. Just read through that book for me and work out if Peter can do any of the basic necessities a human has without permission.”

The sound of flicking pages. The White Spider’s stomach and head were back to a dull ache and a feeling that merely brushed at the sensation of emptiness.

The boy was tired though. Uncontrollably tired.

Obey. Obey. Obey.

“No,” the Superior said, “While he’s under all five words he can’t do anything. Eat, sleep, use the bathroom, shower. Nothing.”

The other Superior sighed, “I’m not surprised. After he finishes his food we’ll order him to bed and then start some sort of roster with the others. Until we can work out how to get Peter back, he’ll need someone with him twenty-four-seven.”

“Right.”

Ninety-seven seconds of silence. The White Spider could count again. He was no longer weak.

Obey. Obey. Obey.

“Steve?”

“Yeah?”

“I hate him.”

“Ross?”

“No. Parker. Or— not Parker. Whatever he is now. Boy, the White Spider. I-I hate him. I hate this.”

“…So do I.”

“We have to get Parker back.”

“We will. I promise.”

Obey. Obey. Obey.

 


 

Tony made it back to the conference room without any of his colleagues ambushing him. When he opened the door the though, it was a different story.

“Out Stark.”

Tony raised his arms in surrender, “Cool it Barton, keep your pants on. I’m not here to do anything stupid.”

“Really?” Sam added, “FRIDAY made it pretty clear that you were on a war path.”

“And I still am,” Tony confirmed, “But a different kind. My desire for death and destruction is in the past. I’m on more of a gathering knowledge war path now.”

“Come on Stark, you know this probably isn’t a good idea. We’re just waiting for his driver to come pick him up. Go back to Pe— ”

“He can stay.”

All three men looked to the back of the conference room where Ross sat at the head of the table. Apart from a rumpled suit and dishevelled hair, he looked as calm and collected as ever.

Tony clenched his fists and jaw.

“Take a seat Stark,” Ross continued, “I’m willing to be questioned if you’re willing to be civil.”

“You know, usually if you’d said something like that to me I would’ve looked for ways to deplete your funds or humiliate you on the spot.”

Stark pushed past Clint and Sam and moved to stand beside Ross. He looked down at the seated man who had merely turned his face up a fraction to maintain eye contact.

“But?” Ross prompted.

“I have more important things on my agenda now than wasting my breath talking to you any more than I have to.”

Ross’ face remained neutral, “Fair enough. Take a seat.”

Tony sat.

He stared at Ross.

Ross stared back.

“If you’re going to ask me why I did it,” he sighed, “I think we both know why.”

“You’re right,” Tony said, the anger creeping back into his voice, “We do. It’s because you’re a piece of shit asshole with a fetish for pow— ”

“Stark,” came Clint’s warning from behind.

Tony cursed under his breath and leant forward in his chair.

“That’s not what I want to talk to you about,” he tried again, “I’m actually here to ask for… help.”

“Help?” Ross didn’t bother to contain his smirk.

“I— I need to know how to undo what you did,” Tony confessed, each word grating against his pride, “I need you tell me how to get Peter back.”

“What’s in it for me?”

“I won’t kill you.”

Ross had the audacity to laugh, “Come on Stark. We both know that you can’t even consider that option right now. Killing me would effectively destroy you and that little creature you’ve grown so attached to. You’re bluffing and I hold all the cards. I’m not just going to fold for any reason.”

Tony looked away for a second. He weighed the pain and the humiliation and the anger and the desperation against one another. In the end, the pain and desperation won out against the humiliation and the anger.

“I’ll retire.”

“What?!” Sam and Clint shouted.

“I’m listening,” Ross replied.

Stark laced his fingers and swallowed away the lump in his throat.

“From the Avengers. I-I’ll quit. The only reason you can’t do half the things you want to with the team is because of Fury and me. I can’t tell Fury to step down but I can pull myself out. You’ll get more leeway with the Accords and have more control over the Avengers.”

With an amused grin and a single raised eyebrow, Ross leaned back in his chair.

“You’ll do that?” he asked, “You’ll risk your relationships and career and the world’s possible safety for a single orphaned degenerate?”

“If that’s your price,” Stark confirmed.

“I never thought you were a bargaining man, Stark.”

Tony shrugged, “I’m whatever I need to be when it comes to getting what I want.”

Ross’ grin grew, “So am I.”

“Tony…” Clint muttered in disbelief.

“So?” Tony prompted, opting to ignore Clint, “Do we have a deal? Are you going to tell me how to get Peter back?”

Ross’ smile dropped, “I can’t,” he stated.

“You can’t or you won’t?” Tony demanded.

“I can’t,” Ross repeated, “I have no idea how to bring him back unless you do it the right way. Shape his personality over however many months it takes and wait for the effects to wear off on their own. But that’s not what you wanted to hear, is it?”

“Like hell it isn’t,” Tony growled, his voice steadily rising in volume, “Why did you play along then? Why did you ask for something in return when you knew your answer would be no?!”

Ross shrugged, “I was curious how far you’d go for the little shit. I’ve got my answer. You can be on your way.”

Tony saw red.

“Oh you mother fuck— ”

Before he could even properly lunge out his seat with arms raised and the intent to strangle, Clint and Sam swooped in from behind and grabbed his shirt.

Fury’s voice came as a warning in his head.

“If you kill Ross, the next time you’ll see the kid again will be when he joins you on the Raft.”

Right.

He was on a mission and he’d wasted all his breath on some asshole for no reason. But Peter still needed his help. Peter still mattered.

The red in Tony’s vision dulled and he shook himself out of his friends’ grip, opting to stare down at a glaring Ross with daggers for eyes.

“You’re disgusting,” he spat before turning to leave.

“See you in a week and a half!” Ross called after him.

All Tony heard was Sam’s exasperated plead of “Man, will you shut up?” and Clint’s worried calling of, “Stark, where are you going?” before the door slammed shut and he was halfway down the hall.

“FRIDAY,” he called to the ceiling as he walked to who knows where, “Got any HYDRA members in custody that might have a clue about Parker’s book? High-ranking officials from his base?”

“Unfortunately, boss, it appears that all high-ranking officials from Peter’s base were made deceased during your raid of the base or are unaccounted for such as Doctor Moller, Peter’s boss.”

“Fuck. But there’s gotta be someone else FRI. There has to be someone else who— ”

Tony stopped, frozen. Somehow, his feet had taken him back down to his lab – a place he subconsciously associated with safety and comfort. On one of the screens, playing over and over and over was the security feed from the night they found Peter in the alleyway. It was a video he’d totally forgotten about during the tornado of events that had happened but the footage showed everything he needed.

Someone in the shadows of a van hitting Peter.

Peter falling down.

Someone in the shadows of a van saying something.

Peter standing to attention.

Someone in the shadows of a van driving away.

That Someone was who Tony needed to find.

“FRIDAY, any idea who the person in the van is?”

“I believe Miss Romanov interrogated Peter on August 11th with some regards as to who was with him during his mission. Would you like me to play the relevant section from the audio file?”

“Fuck. Yeah, do that.”

A few breathless seconds of waiting occurred before Romanov’s voice cut in.

“Why did you surrender?”

“You guys were following me and I couldn’t lose you,” Peter replied, and god did Tony already miss his voice, “I didn’t want to lead you back to HYDRA so I gave myself up.”

“Weren’t you worried your team would be upset?”

Peter snorted, “I was running late and my mission leader,” he said, emphasising the title ‘mission leader’, “probably figured out I had failed. I didn’t want make things worse by dragging down my mission leader with me so I went with you.”

“I thought HYDRA members weren’t meant to surrender.”

“They do if it’s for the betterment of HYDRA.”

“Do they?”

“Sure,” Peter said, and Tony could hear the grin on the kid’s face, “You know what we say; cut off one head and two more shall take its place.”

Oh god.

“That’s enough FRI,” Tony said, straining to keep his voice steady, “Cut off the audio. I-I don’t need… I don’t want anymore.”

FRIDAY stopped the audio and the lab was filled with the faint buzzing of half-finished inventions and the hum of the air-con and Tony’s laboured breaths.

That – that audio right there was the well needed and brutal realisation Tony had been bargaining for. This was his Benjamin Franklin and Kite experiment. He’d found his electricity, the answer to his question. But he had also gotten shocked along with it and the pain that jolted through him felt like more of a deep ache than anything else.

Peter hadn’t been alone that night. Tony had always been a little suspicious at the beginning about how easy Peter had just… given up. He’d surrendered without even putting up a fight, though Tony had always hoped that it was a secret – possibly subconscious – cry for help from Peter. A kid desperately looking for a way to escape HYDRA.

“You know what we say; cut off one head and two more shall take its place.”

Tony was wrong. So very, very wrong.

Peter had lied to Natasha.

Peter had lied to him.

Peter had lied to everyone.

And Tony had believed him.

It looked as though Peter had been forced to stay behind, ordered to, and Tony didn’t know why because Peter didn’t tell him because the kid didn’t trust him.

There were so many questions he needed to ask Peter. Tony almost turned to leave his lab and head over to the kid when he remembered why he was here in the first place. Peter couldn’t talk or remember or smile or lie. Peter couldn’t do anything and that was what Tony had come to fix. He could talk to the kid later, once he’d gotten him back.

So, he decided to focus on the task at hand.

“…my mission leader,”

Right.

Peter’s mission leader.

“FRIDAY, look through the HYDRA base information. Find anyone associated with Peter and the title ‘mission leader’.”

“On it, boss.”

Tony watched the video of Peter while he waited.

Someone hitting Peter.

Peter falling down.

Someone saying something.

Peter standing to attention.

Someone driving away.

Over and over and over.

“…I gave myself up.”

Bullshit.

“I have been able to locate the file of a mission leader known as Dina Stallard, boss,” FRIDAY supplied.

“Show me.”

A hologram flickered to life in front of Tony and he scrolled through the file contents with a raised, shaking finger.

There was no picture or age.

Tony zoomed on the section titled ‘Agent’s current status.’

‘Intended to have returned from classified mission on August 3rd with White Spider and team. Did not make it to the base. Agent currently MIA –  presumed dead." 

Dead.

That was it. Tony’s last trail, his last hope for finding someone who would bring Peter back had been blown away. There was nobody left who Tony could ask. He had been willing to get on his hands and knees and beg but he didn’t even get the chance to.

The Benjamin Franklin and Kite experiment was considered fake by some, anyway.

There was a small bundle of anger still in Tony that suggested he should scream and shout. He should throw things against the wall and run back upstairs and throttle Ross until the man couldn’t breathe without assistance.

But Tony couldn’t bring himself to.

From day one, Tony had promised himself that he would help Peter, but he couldn’t. He had failed.

So, Tony was tired. He felt lost, hopeless. That deep ache in his body started to fester in his heart and mind.

“Boss, Sargent Barnes has arrived and is waiting in the common room for both you and Captain Rogers.”

Fuck. How was he going to explain all this to Barnes? Was there any point in telling him? If he couldn’t help Peter, was there any point in doing anything at all? Peter couldn’t do anything so, why should he?

No. The kid would want him to talk to Barnes, right?

Tony left his lab and headed for the elevator.

He felt tired. Tired and empty and tired. So, so tired.

There were five stages of grief, and the fourth stage was Depression.

 


 

Obey. Obey. Obey.

The White Spider had finished eating what one of Superior’s had called ‘stewed apple’. The original Superior said something about taking the bowl to a kitchen when a Superior boy couldn’t see spoke from above.

“Captain Rogers, Sargent Barnes has arrived and is waiting in the common room for both you and boss.”

Three seconds of silence. 

A Superior stood up. 

“I’ll take the bowl back with me Nat. You get Parker to bed.”

“Steve… do you want me to come wi— ”

“No. Sorry, I just— we’ll be fine. I’ll be fine, don’t worry about it.”

“…Okay.”

The Superior handed the other the bowl who in turn handed back the book.

Seven seconds of silence.

There were footsteps and then the door opened and closed.

It was just the White Spider and the original Superior alone again.

Obey. Obey. Obey.

“Okay Par—Boy, let’s get you to be— ”

The door opened. 

“Hey Nat, I was wondering if you—oh my god.” 

The Superior stood up from where she had been kneeling and turned to face the new Superior.

“What’s wrong Rhodey? Is Steve okay? Tony? Did Barnes— ”

“No, no it’s not like that it’s just…” The White Spider could hear the Superior swallow, “Peter…”

The Superior with the book turned to look back at the White Spider who bowed his head in return, staring at his hands. No eye contact allowed. The Spider was not worth it.

Obey. Obey. Obey.

“He’s been like this for a while Rhodey, I thought you kne— ”

“There’s dried blood on his face.” 

“What?!” 

“And his hand. Christ Nat, didn’t you notice?”

The book dropped to the floor with a thud. 

“I-I…” The Superior stuttered, still staring down at the boy and blinking rapidly, “I guess I… I didn’t. Oh my god. How didn’t I notice? I haven’t left his side since… and Steve didn’t say… oh my god.”

Without hesitating, the Superior ran into the room adjacent and water ran for all of fourteen seconds before kneeling before the White Spider again. The boy felt two fingers left his chin up and he kept his eyes down as a warm, wet, cloth brushed over the side of his face and then his hands. 

Boy didn’t know what was happening. He didn’t understand why the Superior was touching him without aggression, but he didn’t question it. The White Spider didn’t ask things, just obeyed. 

Obey. Obey. Obey. 

The Superior by the door made his way over as the Superior with the cloth stood up and stepped back. Boy tilted his head once again.

“Hey, it’s okay. A lot’s been going on and you didn’t get time to readjust to everything, and Steve… god Steve was just barely keeping it together when I passed him in the hall. It’s fine. Parker’s going to be okay and so are you and we’ll get this kid cleaned up and in bed and then rest, right?” 

Twelve seconds of silence. 

“You need to rest Nat,” The Superior continued, slowly bending down to retrieve the book from the floor, “I’ll stay with Parker if you want. Just… just tell me how to look after him and I will okay?”

Nine seconds of silence.

“…Okay.”

“There you go. So, how do I get the kid’s attention?” 

“Like this. Boy.”

Obey.

The White Spider snapped his head up, eyes trained on the chin of the Superior with the cloth.

“Ready to obey." 

“Christ, Nat. That’s…”

“Horrific?” 

“I was going to go with creepy.” 

“That works too. You know, he also responds to ‘White Spider’.” 

“…Right. I’m just gonna stick to… boy.” 

Obey.

The White Spider flicked his eyes over to the other Superior’s chin.

“Fuck, kid. Do you have any idea how to get him back to his self?”

“There’s nothing in the book, and he doesn’t have any memory so… no. Not yet.”

The new Superior sighed, “Man, I wish there was a way to see what’s going on in his head. Maybe pull his memories back.”

The other Superior made that same unusual, light sound from before – a laugh. 

“Yeah, but that would be— shit.”

“What?” 

“I got it. I know how to get Peter back.”

“What?! How?!”

The Superior with the rag made their way to the door.

“I’ll explain later. Look after the kid and read the book so you know what’s up.” 

“Nat wait— ”

The door shut.

Sighing, the Superior turned back to the White Spider and grimaced.

“God, Peter. The world just won't stop hitting you down.”

Obey. Obey. Obey.

 


 

Tony let Steve do most of the talking.

It wasn’t like he couldn’t explain what had happened better, he could. He could describe the tremors that ran down Peter’s body as the words were used and how he watched the fight die in him as soon as the book was revealed. He could explain the merciless twinkle in Ross’ eyes and how, as if by magic, Tony’s heart seemed to only beat between each spoken word.

“For.” 

Boom. 

“Worth.”

Boom, boom. 

“Place.”

Boom. 

“Seven.”

Boom, boom.

“Free.”

Boom.

And then, for a second, it had felt as though his heart had stopped beating all together. 

But he didn’t say any of that, because he couldn’t see the point really. He couldn’t see the point in anything. And now, looking back on it, the things he’d said to Steve were horrible and spiteful and full of anger. He should apologise. He was going to apologise, but now wasn’t the time. It didn’t matter as much.

Nothing mattered as much, really. 

So instead he sat back and watched as Steve tried his damn best to explain in the gentlest way possible the cause and current state of Peter. How each of the words seemed to have pulled more of Peter away. How there was nothing they could do to stop it. How he left Peter with Nat and Rhodey, fed and breathing but still kneeling. Still not Peter. Still nothing.

“We could never have seen it coming,” Steve tried softly, “None of us knew what was in the book, and if we did, we would wouldn’t have guessed that it would have… this type of effect on Peter.”

Tony watched as Barnes’ posture changed from casual, to tense, to slack as Steve retold more and more of the past four hours. Four hours of denial and anger and bargaining and now nothing. Nothing but the feeling of emptiness and pointlessness that seemed have engulfed Tony’s very being.

By the end of Steve’s speech, Barnes didn’t seem to be in very high spirits either. 

“Bucky?” Steve said, placing a cautious hand on Barnes’ shoulder, “Are you okay?”

“I was trying to protect him,” he whispered, voice raspy and broken as he stared a hole into the floor below him, “I thought if I stayed away from him, he wouldn’t have to remember HYDRA. He wouldn’t want to go back.”

“Bucky…”

“That night at the Gala, he screamed at me,” Bucky mumbled, voice low, “Told me I never cared about him. That I’d abandoned him.”

Steve sighed, “God Bucky, that’s— ”

 “He was right in some ways,” Bucky finished and the tense and quiet in the room seemed to get even tenser, even quieter, if that were possible, “Back when he— when he was just a little punk kid, small and sickly and...” he sighed, “Everyone talked about how he was his just the Boss’ pet-project that was maybe a month away from the chopping block.”

“Sounds…” Steve swallowed, “Sounds a lot like me back in the army.” 

Bucky nodded, “Yeah, I guess. That might have been the reason that while I was at his base, I still talked to him even if I thought he was on death row. Kept me sane having something vaguely familiar around, even if my reasoning for it was subconscious. He asked questions and followed me places and whenever he fucked up and they beat or electrocuted or drowned him until he was barely conscious, the kid always came to me for help. Even when I was the Winter Soldier, I didn’t mind having him around because he was a ray of sunshine in the god damn pitch-black sewage system HYDRA calls life, but I never got attached.” 

“You didn’t?” Steve sounded surprised. 

Tony didn’t have all the facts. He knew that Steve and Barnes had talked about Peter in their own time, but he didn’t know what they had said. So, he watched as Steve’s mournful face furrowed slightly and the hand on his friend’s shoulder moved back to his lap.

Barnes shifted in his seat, “I got attached to you and then I didn’t think I’d see you again. Or remember you, if I’m being honest. I guess I didn’t want to lose someone like that again,” he reasoned, missing how Steve looked so humbled and yet guilty for Barnes’ past thought process.

Tony saw it, though. He could hear Barnes’ words too. And something about that combination was starting to resonate with him. 

 “I knew me being there was temporary,” Barnes continued, “and I knew – I thought his life was temporary too. I mean, he had a fucking inhaler Steve. How did I expect HYDRA to put up with that?”

Finally, Barnes looked up. His face was gaunt with eyes rimmed red and a brow set so heavy, so frowned, it looked as though it would be stuck like that permanently.

He looked hurt. He looked mad. He looked upset.

His heart looked shattered.

Maybe Tony wasn’t the only one taking this whole thing almost too personally. Maybe he had been the only vocal one and Barnes had been suffering alone, in the quiet.

Barnes balled his shaking hands into fists and rested them on his knees.

“I was wrong,” he gritted out, “I was so wrong and now there’s a kid downstairs kneeling on the floor after having words used in a way that messed me up for decades. At least when I was under my HYDRA stuff, I still had basic survival instincts. I could still look after myself, make decisions,” he sniffed and turned to look at Steve, “You said he can’t do anything?” 

Steve nodded and Barnes swallowed. Nodded too, then turned away again.

“I didn’t even know he had words, and you know what? He might have had them when he was younger and he might’ve told me about them but I don’t know because I never listened.” 

“It’s not your fault, Buck.”

“I-I know that. I know that, I know. It’s just…”

Barnes shook his head and sighed. Then, he looked over to Tony. Silent, shattered, crumbling Tony.

“Can I go see him?”

Oh. 

Tony supposed he should laugh or shout or make a big deal of such a request.

But he couldn’t be bothered. Reaction’s took effort and having to care – he didn’t know if the things he cared about mattered anymore. He just felt empty.

“You know where he is,” he said instead, “Kid doesn’t know who anyone is. He doesn’t care.” 

The ‘so I don’t either’ went unspoken, but they all knew it was there. Bridled and bitter and desperately empty, but there. 

Barnes nodded, stood up and started making his way out. Steve followed and soon after, Tony joined the slow trail. There might have not been anything out there that was worth doing, but Tony still cared about the kid. Sure, he had failed Peter, and there was no hope left to bring him back, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t see him.

It didn’t mean Tony couldn’t mourn.

So, he followed. The three of them snaked down to the lower levels, like a grieving trio making their way to a casket. When they got to Peter’s door, Barnes didn’t stop. He didn’t hesitate. He made his way straight past the door and into the observation room.

The panel in wall was still popped out. The wires were still hanging loosely outside of it.

All three of them stared silently through the one-way glass. 

Peter was there. And so was Rhodey.

Rhodes sat on the wooden chair, flicking through the book as if it were a loved one’s last message before passing and occasionally looking over to the bed.

Peter lay on said bed. Curled up with his head tucked into his chest and his back pressed against the wall. He looked peaceful, as if he could wake up at any moment and be back to normal.

Barnes cleared his throat.

“You know,” he said, “I know that he’s not really a kid anymore. Never was in first place, I guess. But… he’s in there. The kid’s somewhere in his brain. He’ll be hard to find and Peter might be like this for a while, but we’ll find him.”

“Kid’s gone Barnes,” Tony sighed, “Kid’s nothing.”

Barnes looked at Tony and considered his words for a moment before nodding.

“There might be nothing right now, but he’ll be back to something eventually. We might have to build him back up ourselves, or wait for however long it takes for this to wear off, or some other way. If Steve could get me back, then we’ll get a kid back in Peter one day. Nothing’s nothing forever.”

Tony didn’t know what to say. He swallowed and rocked on the balls of his feet for a while before croaking out, “You’ve got a lot of hope there.” 

Barnes shrugged, “It’s what keeps me going.”

“Good for you.”

The smallest whisper of a smile crossed Barnes’ face before he turned to leave the room, an uncharacteristically quiet Steve in tow. 

Tony stayed. He stayed and watched his best friend watch over the kid that in less than a month had turned his world upside down and made him care in a way he’d never cared before.

Because that was just it. Peter was a kid. He was young and impressionable and he – well, he usually didn’t have his emotions in check. Moller had told Tony that they’d never bothered to stop the boy from feeling, so Tony figured that Peter was still feeling now. He just… didn’t know how to comprehend those feelings. But they were there. He wasn’t empty, he wasn’t fully broken. He never was.

So lost in his thoughts, Tony didn’t hear the clicking of heels until they were stopping barely two feet away from him. He turned in their direction, and his breath caught in his throat.

Tall. Shining reddish hair. Eyes that could share a million secrets with his own without the use of words.

“Pepper.”

She didn’t wait. Pepper closed the gap between them and wrapped her arms around Tony, allowing him to bury his face in to her shoulder.

“Oh god, Tony,” she whispered.

“Pep— ” he choked out, “P-Pep… I— how? I— ”

“I lied Tony,” she whispered, “When you called me I was on a Quinjet halfway home to surprise you and I… god, I didn’t think this would happen.”

He stuttered a watery laugh, “Neither did I. B-but Pep… it’s— I— he –  and I— ”

She hushed him softly and rubbed small circles on his back, “I know. You don’t have to say anything. I know.”

Finally, Tony let go.

He cried into her shoulder. Silent sobs wracked his body as he finally came to terms with what had happened, what he was doing.

He was mourning a kid. A kid he cared for so much it was ridiculous and who was pulled away so fast it felt as though Tony’s heart was ripped apart with him.

He wanted Peter back. He wanted to get Peter back.

“It’s going to be okay,” Pepper whispered into Tony’s ear, “We’re working on it. Everything’s going to be okay.”

“Nothing’s nothing forever.”

Tony breathed out another muffled sob as he nodded into his Fiancée’s dampening shirt.

They were right. Everything would be okay. It might not be now, but it would be. It had to be. And that in itself was okay.

There were five stages of grief, and the fifth stage was Acceptance.

 

Chapter Text

 

Nobody saw Natasha for the rest of that day.

It was as if she’d had an epiphany and then disappeared, gone to chase after her dreams.

Tony didn’t like to wait, he’d never been good at it. Waiting, he figured, tended to come with being left in the dark about information and things that were happening. Tony needed to know everything all the time because without knowing what was happening minute to minute he might lose control.  

Like how he lost Peter.

There wasn’t a way to track Natasha and she hadn’t told anybody where she was going, so Tony was forced to wait. He had to stay hanging around the compound until Natasha returned with whatever magical cure she’d drummed up in her head.  

There wasn’t much Tony could do.

He sat by Peter’s bed most of the time, holding Pepper’s hand and feeling the silent reassuring squeezes from it every now and then. Sometimes she’d leave to grab them food and coffee, or to have a shower, but she never asked Tony to take a break from guarding the kid because she knew it was futile to attempt.

“Are you going to read it?” she asked at one point, her thumb gently stroking his knuckles.  

Tony cast a wary glance at the small, cream coloured, leather book that had a black spider insignia pressed onto the front. It rested on his lap, closed. The book had been in his possession ever since Rhodey had gone to sort out the finer details of the Ross situation (i.e. making sure Ross wouldn’t tell anybody about the book) but before leaving, he’d explained as gently as possible to Tony how the kid was doing.

The book hadn’t left Tony’s side since, but he hadn’t dared to look in it either.

“I-I don’t think I should,” his eyes stayed stuck to the book, “I know Nat and Steve and Rhodey did, but that was so they could see if there’s anything useful in it. The kid never wanted anyone to open it, and now that Nat might have a way to bring him back…” Tony shrugged, “Doesn’t seem like there’s any reason for me to look.”  

“Without his permission,” Pepper added.

“Without his permission,” Tony confirmed.

Eventually, Pepper left to sleep. She was jet lagged and it was late and Tony kissed her goodnight and muttered a soft thank you before she left, but he didn’t follow. He couldn’t. Someone had to stay and watch Peter through the night and although the others came down and offered to stay up, Tony always refused, and the others didn’t push him. They knew just as well as Pepper that he wouldn’t leave the kid’s side for anything, not until he was okay.

Funnily enough though, Peter did look okay.

All curled up on his bed, face and body posture lax as his chest rose and fell with steady breaths. He looked peaceful, kind of like when they had unmasked him at the Gala.

Peter still looked young. Too young to be thrust into the world and the life he lived in.

Throughout the night, Tony hoped – wished – that Peter would wake with a start and be back to business. He’d lock eyes with Tony, say “What the hell are you doing here?” and then make a joke about having no schedule. Tony would say something terrifyingly honest back like, “I was worried about you kid, I just wanted to make sure you’re okay” and Peter would struggle to hide the swell of emotions inside him and reply with a simple, fragile, “Oh.”

When he did wake up though, around nine in the morning, none of that happened.

His eyes blinked to life and before Tony could get a word out, the kid slid off his bed, onto the floor, and knelt. Hands on lap, head down. Nothing.

Damn.

Damn, damn, damn.

Tony downed the rest of his coffee as if it were a shot of vodka and licked his chapped lips.

This wasn’t Peter. Tony knew that. There was no way Peter would kneel like this without shame and be so silent for so long. His fight and humour and forced apathy and poorly concealed empathy wasn’t on display.

This wasn’t Peter. Peter wasn’t here right now. Tony knew that.

And yet…

“Kid?”

Nothing.

“Kid… Pete, h-how are you doing?”

Nothing. Nothing.  

“Peter – Parker, bud, did you sleep well?”

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

Tony sighed, scrubbing a hand over his face.

He didn’t want to call the kid ‘boy’ or ‘White Spider’ or give orders unless absolutely necessary. Tony knew how susceptible Peter was right now. He knew that any habits, any personality traits or relationship boundaries he tried to impose on the kid would stick because that’s just what this stage of the words was meant for. Re-shaping Peter. A new personality, a new sense of morality and… obedience. A new everything.

“You know…” Tony said after a while, knowing fully well Peter couldn’t care about what he was saying, “If I wanted to, I could convince you that HYDRA is evil and that the outside world, the Avengers, me… aren’t. I could order you to think that right now and you’d agree. Sure, it would make this whole rehabilitation thing a hell of a lot easier, but…” Tony huffed a pathetically wet laugh, “I can’t force that on you, kid. Tampering with your skewed morals and misplaced loyalty’s – even if it’s for your best interests – isn’t something I can bring myself to do.

“Because…” Tony looked at Peter, kneeling with his head down and facing the far wall, seemingly oblivious to the world around him, “It isn’t right to change your mind without your input. HYDRA did that and I’m… I’m better than HYDRA. I am. Kid, doing that to you would be like breaking your trust, and to be honest, I’m not even sure you trust me yet.  

“I don’t know if you’ll remember me saying any of this… or if it makes any sense to you right now honestly, but Peter, kid. I- I care about you. A lot. As soon as we get you back, as soon as you’re up and shouting and insulting me like it’s your life long mission again… I’ll still be here. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t any different, or if you are. I’ll still be here to support you and help you and make sure you get out of this damn room and have a life and legacy of your own. I won’t force you to do anything. You’ll get to choose whatever you want and I’ll be right by your side if you want me to be.”  

Tony swallowed his nerves, “Kid… I— ”

The door to Peter’s room swung open and hit the wall with bang. Tony jolted in surprise, shaken from his stream of thought as he turned to see who it was.

Sam was breathing heavily and he held the door in place with one hand.

“Wilson?” Tony asked cautiously, “What’s going on?”

Tony didn’t receive an answer immediately, watching as Sam caught his breath and moved forward to shut the door behind him.

Okay, now Tony was worried.

“What’s going on?” he repeated as he slowly rose from his chair, “Is something wrong? Did Ro— ”

“Chill Tony,” Sam said, “No it’s nothing like that. It’s… well, before I tell you, you have to listen to me say some other things and agree to doing one thing. Can you do that?”

Tony raised a weary eyebrow, “I’m not really sure if this whole cryptic business suits you, Wilson. Maybe you should consider another career?”

Sam sighed in exasperation, “Just say you’ll listen and say yes? Please? I don’t want to drag this out.”

“Is any of this stuff going to hurt Peter?”

Sam noticeably stiffened and shook his head, “Of course not,” he promised, “He’s safe Stark, we won’t let anything happen to him… again.”

Tony glanced over to Peter. Still stoic. Still silent. But, still stable. Kind of. He looked back over to Sam’s sincere, concerned and determined expression. Out of everybody on the team, Tony knew him the least. It wasn’t that they didn’t like each other, it’s just that he’d always been Steve’s friend, and after the whole Accords thing… there was an unspoken rift between them all. They were working on closing that rift. It was taking a while, but they were working on it.

So this seemed like a perfect opportunity to shrink the rift and pull the seams closer together. By trusting Sam with something he’d mindlessly trust Rhodey with. By saying yes.

Tony nodded and sat back down, loosely gesturing to the seat beside him.

“Fine. Speak now, or forever hold your peace.”

Sam hesitated, his agitation gnawing into the features of his face and the twitching of his fingertips. Tony raised an expectant eyebrow and Sam seemed to snap back to life, giving one firm nod before rushing to sit on the vacant seat at Tony’s side.

His leg bounced and his knuckles were clenched pale.

With a deep, chest rattling breath, Sam closed his eyes and spoke.

“What happened with Peter... I could’ve — well Clint, I mean — we could’ve stopped it.”

Tony’s posture turned rigid, a reflection of Wilson’s. His impatient thoughts screeched to a halt as the colour drained from his face and his brain tried to process what Sam had just said.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“We’d seen the words used before,” Sam clarified, “Or, one of them.”

Wilson’s voice was soft and full of pain. His eyes met Tony’s, revealing dark pits of guilt.

Trust, Tony thought somewhat bitterly, This was meant to be a chance to trust.

How ironic.

“Wilson,” he said through near-blind anger and gritted teeth, “I’ll need you to elaborate before I bite your head off.”

“When Clint and I first hung out with Parker. We were trying to get him to watch a movie with us and change into sweats ‘cause he was just in a towel and looking like some pale malnourished puppy, and he kept refusing. Kid was still pissed at everything and upset 'cause Nat had just told him… whatever. I got frustrated, tired of arguing. I said ‘For’ and then sighed before finishing the sentence.”

“That’s the first word,” Stark mumbled, casting a quick glance over to Peter as his stomach twisted into knots.

Sam nodded, “He did what I asked him to do after that. Got changed. Sat down. Starting calling me Mister Wilson. I thought it was just some weird reaction. As far as I knew, he hadn’t experienced kindness in a while and I thought that was his way of dealing with it - by being polite.”

Wilson sighed, his voice laced with frustration, “We should have realised something was up. We should’ve told you guys. If we had then maybe we’d have been able to stop this and Peter wouldn’t be— ”

“No.”

Sam paused, “No?” he repeated, surprised.

“It…” Tony swallowed, “It wasn’t your fault.”

“But— ”

“Nobody expect maybe Barnes would’ve been able to piece it together. And if you had, then what? We’d have still gone after the book and Ross would have still wanted to come to the Compound and he still- he still would’ve…” he sighed, “You can’t blame yourself for this Wilson. There’s no point in pointing fingers at someone.”

“But I— ”

“Did you shove the words in Peter’s brain Wilson?” Tony demanded.

“Well, no. Bu— ”

“Did you give Ross the book?”

“No, that— ”

“Did you say every single word yourself on purpose just to watch the kid disappear?”

“What kind of question is that? No!”

“Great,” Tony said, “Then it wasn’t your fault and you have to believe that’s what I think because otherwise I would’ve killed you already if I still had the blame pinned on to your ass.”

Sam stayed quiet for a moment as he searched Tony’s face. Tony didn’t care. He was tired and the hope he was harbouring for the sake of Peter was more important than all of this. Wilson was just looking for a reason, a solution to how all of this could have happened and how helpless he’d been to stop it. After all, he’d been by Tony’s side as Ross read from the book. He saw it all unfold and then had to deal with the aftermath of a smug, careless Ross while Tony had an emotional breakdown.

“Okay,” Sam said after a while, “Thank you.”

“Does Clint think any of this?”

Stark wasn’t sure is he’d ever mentioned them the Sam, but Clint had kids of his own. If Barton had any sort of inkling that this was his fault then…

Tony couldn’t even bear to think how the man would feel.

“No,” Sam said to Tony’s relief, “He didn’t hear the words. I didn’t tell him. He doesn’t… he isn’t beating himself up.”

“Good. Don’t tell him.”

“I won’t.”

“And the other thing?”

“What?”

Tony didn’t even bother to contain his sigh, “You said I had to agree to something before you tell me the big news?”

“Oh,” Sam said, nodding his head, “Yeah, right, that.”

“What is it?”

Sam sighed and clapped a hand on Tony’s shoulder, “You’ve gotta sleep, Stark.”

Tony pushed Wilson’s hand off of him.

“No.”

“Just for a— ”

“No,” Tony repeated, “Absolutely not. I’m pretty sure I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m not sleeping until the kid’s back. I need to watch over him.”

“Stark, you haven’t slept in— ”

“I don’t care!” he exclaimed, rising from his chair to pace around the room, “I have no clue how much of anything the kid’ll remember when we get him back, but I want to make sure that he knows we didn’t abandon him while he was like… this. That I didn’t just walk away as if I didn’t care.”

Sam’s posture had gone rigid. He followed Stark’s angry pacing with steely eyes and swallowed away the air trapped between his clenched teeth. Tony stood before Sam and understood how much fire there must be in his eyes. How determined and tyrannical and paranoid he must sound, but he didn’t care.

“I’m not leaving this room,” Stark declared with an unsettling calmness, “Until Peter is independent enough to not need orders to piss on his own. You got that, Icarus?”

The chair scrapped back slightly as Sam stood up from it. He seemed to be assessing Stark in his mind, weighing up the pros and cons of the situation at hand. It didn’t matter what his outcome was though, Tony wouldn’t budge, especially when it came to staying loyal to the kid.

“Okay,” Sam said quietly, arms folded over his chest, “You can stay, but as soon as the kid’s back, you sleep. I don’t care if this means your heartfelt reunion is set back by a few hours, or if Parker and his own paranoid brain has to have the past twenty-four hours recounted by someone who isn’t your overbearing ass. You sleep, or else I get Rhodey and Pepper and even goddamn Rogers to guilt you into sleeping like they never have before.”

He took one step closer to Stark.

“Have you got that, Tin Man?”

Compromise. That’s what Tony had to do right now. Compromise.

He looked to the kid, still kneeling and sickeningly obedient and still. He didn’t want to see that anymore. Tony couldn’t stand seeing that for much longer. Sure, he wanted to be there for when the kid came back and the hours directly after it, but he didn’t need to be. Besides, nobody knew what Peter’s reaction would be when he came back, and maybe he wouldn’t want Tony there either.

Stark looked back to Sam and held out his hand.

“Deal.”

Wilson grabbed Tony’s hand, “Deal.”

Handshake over, they shoved their hands into their pockets and gave identical sighs of relief. Both men turned to stare at Peter, affection and pain simultaneously warping their faces.

Tony huffed a weak laugh, “Pleasure doing business with you Wilson.”

The corner of Sam’s mouth turned up in response, “Yeah, you too Stark.”

“So, do I get to know the big surprise now?”

“Of course, I’ll go grab her and she’ll be down in a minute.”

Tony whipped his head back over to Sam.

“Her?” he repeated.

Sam nodded.

“Nat’s back.”

Compromise and trust; they were always worth it.

 


 

Obey. Obey. Obey.

“It seems risky,” the Superior who had presumably stayed all night with him said to the Superior with red hair who had stayed with him for approximately fourteen thousand and four hundred seconds of the day previous, “I’m not sure if— ”

“Tony,” the other Superior cut in, “This is our best option to get Parker back quickly. I know how you feel about it, and I wouldn’t have even suggested it if I knew there was another way. There isn’t. Not on such short notice, at least.”

“What if it goes wrong?”

“I don’t see how Parker can get anymore worse than this.”

“Exactly. What… what if he gets stuck like this?”

“He won’t.”

“How do you know?”

“Seriously, Stark do you really think I would’ve traveled halfway across the country to interrupt a mission if I thought it definitely wouldn’t work? She said she can do it. You need to trust us with this Stark.”

“I-I just don’t want anything to happen again Nat.”

“Nothing will, I promise, we’re going to start off slow. No big jumps. So, are you gonna let her do her thing?”

Thirty-seven seconds of silence.

The Superior nodded, “Let her in.”

The door opened. A Superior the White Spider had never seen before walked in. She knelt in front of boy. Boy did not look up from his lap. It was a test. They were not equals. The White Spider was nothing.

When the Superior spoke, she spoke quietly, as if to whisper.

“Hello, Peter. We have not officially met yet. My name’s Wanda and I’m here to help you,” the Superior gently placed a hand over one of the White Spider’s own, “Is that okay, boy?”

Obey.

The White Spider looked up to the Superior’s chin and lips. The latter were red, but not like blood. The colour didn’t seem dangerous.

Boy knew this was a test. The White Spider could never say no to a Superior. That would break rules.

Obey.  

“Yes, Superior.”

The corner of the Superior’s lips curled upwards ever so slightly.

“Wonderful. Thank you, Pe— boy.”

Obey. Obey. Obey.

 


 

Tony was nervous.

Really fucking nervous.

After he’d scolded Sam for making him wait when Natasha was literally a few floors away from him and Peter, Tony had made him go get her.

He hadn’t expected Wanda to come down as well, considering she was still meant to be on a mission with Vision for another day or two.

He did however, expect Wanda to wait in the hallway while he talked to Nat about this plan inside Peter’s room.

“So, your idea is to get Wanda to dig through Peter’s mind without his consent in the hopes that her little witchy business does some good?”

Natasha raised an eyebrow, her face as stoic as ever, “We know what she’s capable of.”

“Yeah,” Tony scoffed, “Bringing out the worst in people, something we don’t want to risk with Peter.”

She sighed, “Stark. Wanda can do more than that. She can see into people’s minds, pull forward memories and push others back. Wanda said she might have to make Peter remember the… triggering memories first in order to get him to understand where the trauma’s coming from, but after that she can tuck them away and Peter will be back.”

Tony swallowed the lump of coal in his throat and shoved his hands into his pockets to quell the shaking. He didn’t like it, not one bit. There were so many things that could go wrong and even if it did work, the possibility of Peter resenting what they did, feeling betrayed by him and Nat for allowing Wanda to see his darkest memories… he didn’t know if this plan was worth that.

Eventually though, Nat convinced him otherwise. That the potential pros out weighed the highly potential cons and taking a chance on the woman who still hadn’t quite forgiven him about the whole Accords ordeal was his best bet.

When Wanda finally walked into the room, Tony didn’t say anything. He just nodded at her in acknowledgement and acceptance and hoped to god that for once in his life, things didn’t just okay. He hoped they went great. Not for his sake, but for Peter’s.

Always for Peter.

He stood at the entryway to Peter’s bathroom, the kid kneeling directly across from him and an equally silent Nat by his side.

Wanda knelt down in front of Peter and spoke to him.

Peter’s reply was still so soft and hollow and lacking that Tony decided this risk had to be worth it. Any risk had to be worth it.

Wanda gently placed her hands on either side of Peter’s head. Wisps of scarlet pooled from her finger tips and swathed the kid’s still slightly matted curls in a crown of fluidity.

Tony held his breath, and waited.

 


 

Obey. Obey. Obey.

The red smoke around the White Spider’s head was a not-cold, enveloping sensation on the exterior. It blurred boy’s vision ever so slightly. He didn’t know what was going on, but he didn’t ask. The White Spider never asked things, he wasn’t allowed to. His Superior’s could do whatever they wanted. Boy was nothing.

Then, without a transition, the interior of the White Spider’s brain went cold. His vision flashed from red to blurry to black and back without even closing his eyes. Something seemed to be moving around inside his brain. It pushed and pulled and his vision continued to spasm and boy’s heart began to beat quickly and some horrible knot of unknowing rooted itself inside his stomach.

It couldn’t be fear though. The White Spider did not feel fear.

His vision started to clear, but not back to the room he was in. It went back to different images, a different place that was familiar despite the White Spider believing that all he knew was this room, and these Superiors. The new image — new place became clearer and clearer and seemed to pull boy further and further into it, though he did not remember moving. Sound faded away and the White Spider could no longer feel his body, or control it. Everything was a cold, detached, nothingness.

The images slammed forward and boy fell into them.

Down, down, down.

“Get up boy.”

“I don’t want to.” The White Spider replied, but it wasn’t him, not currently, “I don’t want to do any more practice. I don’t need to.”

A Superior with glasses and a bald head loomed over where boy reclined. The White Spider didn’t remember meeting this person, but he knew him. Of course he did. It was The Superior. How could boy forget The Superior?

“I never said you could sit, or stop,” The Superior growled, “You know the rules about doing such things without my permission.”

Boy laughed — that’s what it was, laughter, and he dared to make eye contact with The Superior, “So what?” he seemed to challenge, “I don’t have to follow those rules anymore. I’m better than them now. I’m The White Spider now. You can’t control me.”

“Is that so boy?”

“You’re damn right it is. I don’t need you anymore, you need me. I’m special. I have powers that you want me to use,” The White Spider felt himself shrug, “I’ll use them on missions, as long as I get to do what I want otherwise.”

The Superior’s eye twitched.

“What… you… want?” he repeated.

“Yep. In fact, I will do what I want, and you can’t fucking stop me.”

The tension in The Superior’s shoulders melted away and he smiled a wide, toothy smile.

“Of course my boy,” The Superior relented, “After all, you are HYDRA’s special project, correct? Why don’t you come take a look at some new web-shooters the Weapons And Technology Department have created for you?”

The White Spider snorted but stood up anyway, “I made my own. I don’t need new ones.”

“Of course my boy, but there’s always room for improvement, right?”

The White Spider nodded and The Superior produced two thick, black bands from his lab coat’s pockets.

The White Spider tried them on.

“They feel…heavy,” he muttered.

The Superior’s smile grew wider, “Of course they do, they are made for dual swinging, intended to give you more leverage. Shoot them at the ceiling, you’ll see.”

The White Spider did.

The webbing was thick metal rope.

It snapped to the ceiling with an echoing clang and then began pulling the White Spider upward at a dizzying speed.

The ropes snapped taught halfway up.

The White Spider’s shoulders popped.

He screamed.

The Superior growled.

“Wh-wha—”

“You think you get to make decisions in this world?” The Superior seethed, “That just because you have more duty now than before, you are special? You are important? You are someone?”

“D-Doctor” The White Spider gasped through the pain, “M-my arms…p-please.”

The Superior took no notice of his cries and simply pulled out another pair of black bands, attaching them to The White Spider’s thin, wildly thrashing ankles. The same thick metal cords shot downwards and snapped to the floor below a few feet below.

They also pulled.

The White Spider’s knee sockets also popped.

He screamed louder.

“You are mine,” The Superior spat, “You are HYDRA’s. Everything you do is for HYDRA. You aren’t anything outside of these walls, outside of my command, you aren’t worth anything. You belong to HYDRA and your place here will always be at the bottom, below the cooks and hostages and sewer rats. When I showed you the Winter Soldier at age seven, did you think he had control? Did you think he could do whatever he wanted?”

The White Spider was still trying to feel anything other than pain.

The Superior reached up and pushed his torso, causing joints to pull further away from their sockets.

The White Spider shrieked.

“Answer me boy!”

“N-no, no, no, no, no” he rambled out, barely aware of what he was saying, “P-please ple-please sir, d-down. I-I ne-ed need need d-down. Gr-ground. Ple-please pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease—”

The Superior clicked a button on a remote and the cords attached to The White Spider’s wrists detached from the ceiling. He fell to the ground with a thud and a crunch.

The pain was still blinding, but it was no longer white hot.

The White Spider desperately worked to move himself into a foetal position, muttering a never ending stream of “thank you” as he did so, willing his tears to stay behind his eyes.

The Superior loomed over him once more.

The Superior snapped his fingers and a handful HYDRA workers stormed into the room. Two held boy up by his armpits and one forced his head to remain still and upright.

“Sir…” The White Spider mumbled, looking at The Superior’s lips and chin, too afraid to stare into his eyes.

A HYDRA agent handed The Superior a metal muzzle and a black blindfold.

The White Spider shook his head, “N-no. Nonononono. I-I’m so s-sorry sor-sorry s-so s-sorry. Please sir. P-please.”

The Superior tsked.

“My boy,” he chided, hooking the muzzle under his boy’s chin and clamping it shut at the back of his head, “You have become too arrogant for your own good. You must remember that you are not a simple person, you are less. You were always meant to be — destined to be. These powers don’t add to your value as an individual, only as a human being HYDRA can use.”

The Superior moved to tie the blindfold around the boy’s head who whimpered in response, the sound going no further than behind his clenched teeth, muffled by the muzzle.

“I’ll be leaving you here for a few days, like this, so you can remember where you belong, who you belong to. Then, we can see just how useful this advanced healing really is. And when I come to collect you, you will tell me how many seconds you were left here to think. I also expect you to kneel before me, before everyone when I return, because we are all your Superiors. You must remember that.”

Another snap of the fingers. The HYDRA workers dropped boy and left the room, footsteps echoing down the hall and the door slamming shut.

The Superior tilted The White Spider’s head up one last time. Boy could feel The Superior’s teeth scrape against his ear as he whispered.

“You will never be Free.

Click. The restraints tightened. The White Spider was once again suspended, trapped mid-air as pain seared through his joints and liquid metal swirled down his throat from his bitten tongue.

The Superior’s footsteps echoed and faded.

The door slammed shut.

One…

The images were pushed away and the White Spider fell back to the real, solid ground. His  mind no longer felt cold and the red swirling around it faded. Everything no longer blurred, and once his vision was completely clear, the boy sighed.

And then, he collapsed. Into a pile of un-dislocated limbs that were accompanied by a shaking chest.

The White Spider breathed through his mouth, taking in gulps of clear, un-bloodied air.

A person knelt beside him, shaking too, but he did not know why.

“Boy?” someone, a Superior maybe, called tentatively.

The White Spider wanted to look their way, but he couldn’t. Not looking was breaking a rule, but breaking one rule wouldn’t mean the end of the world right? The White Spider was struggling, the superior’s could see that, surely.

He had to clear his mind. Work out reality from what must have been a memory and figure out exactly what was happening.

He had to be focused.

Obey. Obey. Focused.

 


 

Seeing Peter’s eyes glaze over for less than a minute before crumpling into a shaking mess may have been one of the most alarming things Tony’s ever witnessed. Even Wanda, after she pulled her hands away with a small groan of exertion, seemed concerned.

And terrified. Wanda looked terrified.

Natasha didn’t waste a second. She straight towards Wanda and helped her on to shaking legs.

But Tony… Tony stayed where he was, afraid that moving might break whatever fragile strand of possible success they still had. If he called out to Peter, and the same thing that he’d always done for the past however many hours — his head snapping to towards him, emotionless and cold — occurred, then this would have all been for nothing. They would have just put Peter through experiencing a memory that was clearly a living nightmare, damaging him further, and it would have all been for nothing.

But, if they left him. If nobody moved or spoke out or touched him, then Peter might be okay. They would never know if this jump had worked or not, but at least there would still be the possibility that it had. That way, there would be no definite failure.

Schrödinger theories were a bitch.

Romanov cleared her throat, pointedly. She jerked her head towards the kid while Wanda stared at the ground, desperately trying to regulate her breathing.

Tony shifted his weight and nervously flicked his wrist. Right. She was right. Natasha might have not said a thing, but he could tell what she was thinking. They couldn’t just leave Peter like this forever, that was impossible. Tony was simply denying the inevitable for his own comfort, as if he could wait long enough and one day be magically ready to find out the results.

He would never be ready though, Tony knew that.

Swallowing away the lump in his throat and trying to distract himself from the unusual prominence of his thumping heart, he called out, tentatively.

“Boy?”

Peter twitched, ever so slightly. A sound similar to that of a whine rose from his throat and filled the room, though if it wasn’t so quiet already it would have barely been heard.

He didn’t turn to look at Tony.

Didn’t even try.

Instead Tony watched as the kid’s breathing evened out over the span of a few minutes and Peter shifted himself so he was laying more comfortably. Fists clenched.

A shred of hope.

“Nat,” Tony said, tossing Peter’s book to her as Wanda moved to sit on one of the chairs, “Check what it says about how he acts under four words.”

Romanov didn’t argue. She opened the book and rapidly flicked through the pages until she stilled, dragging a careful finger over one.

These few seconds felt like the longest in Tony’s life.

Abruptly, Nat looked back over to Tony, eyes filled with too many emotions to accurately decipher.

“He’s meant to only do what people say,” she told him quickly, as if the information might escape her, “Unless he’s in real danger or serious distress, then he’ll speak up. He shows his feelings more. Still silent, but not a zombie. Not on a complete suicide mission.”

They both looked at Peter. His eyes were clenched tight, and he was taking purposeful, planned breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. A couple tears had begun to silently stain his face. He looked distressed.

Distressed.

It had worked.

It had actually fucking worked.

“Oh my god,” Tony breathed.

“Boy,” Nat said, her voice tinged with maniacal eagerness, “Are you okay?”

Peter stiffened. His breathing maintained it’s deep control as he slowly pushed himself into a kneeling position again. He kept his head down, but his fists were clenched. It was a small difference that to Tony, meant the world.

It meant hope.

“S-Superior,” he whispered, almost desperately, “P-please. I don’t know… what’s… White Spider knows White Spider should b-but White Spider doesn’t… I-I’m sorry. I’m s-sorry. White Spider can obey b-but I…”

Tony was close to tears. His voice. He’d missed the kid’s voice so much that it almost overwhelmed the nausea he felt from hearing Peter sounding so soft and fragile. So utterly scared and confused, desperately trying to remembering if he was a person or simply ‘White Spider’.

But… not Peter.

Yet.

“It’s okay, boy,” Tony rushed to say, “We will explain everything. You must rest first. You are tired. Please, sleep on the bed now.”

Peter nodded idly, unconsciously, “Y-yes, Superior. Thank you, Superior.”

Peter stood, and took the few short steps to his bed before rolling himself on to it gracelessly. He was out like a light in less than a minute, despite having woken up from a full night’s sleep less than two hours ago. Having one’s mind pillaged must be some type of mentally and emotionally exhausting, at least.

Natasha and Tony made eye contact again as soon as it was clear Peter was asleep. Tony could tell that she was feeling the same worry and disbelief and relief as him. He cracked a small, marginally insane smile first and she followed suit quickly after.

“He’s going to come back,” Nat declared, slightly giddy.

“Yeah,” Tony agreed through a laugh and a sigh, “We’re getting him back.”

“No more today.”

Wanda’s voice was certain, commanding, definite. She lifted her head from here it had been hanging and revealed her pale yet determined face. Her eyes were rimmed red.

“That boy has been through too much, I’m not doing anymore today. Not after that.”

The initial tidal wave of euphoria Tony had felt finally washed away and he sobered at the words and inflection of Wanda. Wanda had been through hell — they all had in some way — but she’d been through her own personal HYDRA hell. One where she was a somewhat willing lab rat. Where she would have experienced the treatment of HYDRA at some of their coldest, most inhumane times.

If whatever Wanda had seen in Peter’s head was so bad that she wanted a break, it couldn’t have been anything remotely okay. It must have been unthinkable, unbearable, unimaginably appalling.

Even the concept of that made Tony sick to his stomach.

“What did you see?” Romanov asked, because Tony was too afraid to.

Wanda shook her head and glowered.

“Too much,” she replied, “And not enough. I saw what they did. The memory that is the origin of what I am guessing is the last of five words. It was… it was… I didn’t know people could do that. That people would do that. Peter was put through so much pain, all because he acted like a typical Western teenager for once in his life. Then they left him. His boss and his team left him in constant, worsening pain alone for possibly days and I didn’t get to… I didn’t get to see what happened once they came back, or when they did. If he didn’t have his healing, his legs and arms… they would’ve — they should’ve — been ampu…”

She trailed off, swallowing away the rest of her sentence.

“These are the people he lived with?” Wanda asked fervently, “That man… Doctor. That’s who he was taught to be loyal to? Who he must have begun to trust? It was him?”

Tony didn’t need anymore details to answer Wanda’s question.

“Yeah,” he affirmed, nodding stiffly, “You probably saw his boss.”

Wanda shook her head, “He is no boss. He is a tyrant.”

“When can we do the next jump?” Nat asked. She’d crossed her arms and was staring at Peter somewhat wistfully, all the features of her face were soft, teetering on the line of fragility.

Tony had never seen her like this, so openly empathetic. He never thought he would.

“Tomorrow,” Wanda replied almost immediately, “I’ll be able to pull into two more words tomorrow. I… I had to push through the others to get to this one, it was buried so deep. And when I passed through them, even if it was only for a second, I could tell that they were better. They aren’t as scarring as the one I saw today, not anymore. Enough time has seemed to have passed since the other’s occurred for Peter to have come to terms with them. He can channel his emotions and thought process better. They won’t be so draining, so…” she looked towards Peter and frowned, “So fresh.”

To be honest, Tony didn’t want to wait until tomorrow. They had found a way to get the kid back and he wanted to complete the task to 100% now. A 'Wham Bam Thank You M’am' sort of procedure, but he knew that wouldn’t work. If they pushed Wanda to far, she might grow too weak in so many ways and suffer from exhaustion. And if they tampered with Peter’s already unstable mind too much, in the precarious corners of it especially, they could break him. Completely.

Patience. This was all about patience.

“Okay,” Tony said, “We’ll pick this back up tomorrow. You guys get rest and I’ll stay with the kid, be here for him we he wakes up.”

“Oh no,” Natasha snapped, whipping around to face him, “You’re going to bed. Didn’t Wilson make you promise to do that once we got Peter back?”

“Yes,” Tony snipped, crossing his arms to mimic her, “But if you had read the fine-print of that agreement, you would also know that I said I would as soon as ‘Peter is independent enough to not need orders to piss on his own’ and the way I see it, kid isn’t even looking at a bathroom by himself until at least tomorrow.”

Natasha looked like she wanted to argue, she really did. But Romanov was too smart to do that, she knew Tony too well, and Tony was beginning to think he knew her pretty well too.

“Fine,” she said shortly, “Stay with Parker. But as soon as he understands the concept of free will and bathrooms again, you’re not coming down here for at least nine hours.”

Tony rolled his eyes, “Can’t wait.”

And with that, Wanda and Natasha left, the former sending Tony a wary look while Natasha just scowled with disapproval as she shoved the book back into his hand, closed.

Alone with Peter, Tony sat back down on a chair and stared at the kid.

Peter was once again all curled up on his bed, face and body posture lax as his chest rose and fell with steady breaths. He didn’t look very peaceful though, as if his mind was still slowly trying to unravel the tangled knot of reality and memories in his mind.

But that didn’t matter, because now he was more Peter. The furrowed brow suited him better, it reminded Tony of how the kid looked when focusing during a tinkering session, or when someone explained to him something that was so common in the outside world, but so foreign to Peter.

Peter wasn’t back, not yet, but they were getting there and Tony couldn’t wait.

All he had to do was figure out what he was going to say when the kid woke up again.

Shit.

 


 

Obey. Obey. Focused.

 The White Spider didn’t dream.

When he awoke, it was slowly. When he remembered what had happened just before he fell asleep, it was quickly, like being slammed into a wall. There were a lot of thoughts banging around and the White Spider needed to sort them out in order to do what he was born to do. Be focused, and most importantly, obey.

Thought One.

For the past day or so, the White Spider hadn’t been thinking like he usually did. It hadn’t felt right at all. He hadn’t liked it. He hadn’t wanted it.

Thought Two.

Now that his emotional awareness seemed to have come back, he realised that the superior’s around him hadn’t liked his behaviour much either. That wasn’t good. The White Spider was born to make his superior’s happy and work for them. He had failed that. He wouldn’t be praised.

Thought Three.

The White Spider had forgotten his memories. A superior had made him remember one of them. He hadn’t liked that memory either, but he felt bad for forgetting The Superior. The Superior had the most control over the White Spider, and he had forgotten him. Where was The Superior now? The White Spider didn’t know if he was still in trouble, if he still deserved to be punished. If he was going to be kil…

Thought Four.

The memory had helped the White Spider remember more. He was now more aware than he had been previously. He liked that. These superior’s seemed to also like it too. He hoped they did. The White Spider’s duty was to please them after all. If he pleased them, then he would be praised.

Thought Five.

The White Spider was trembling because he was scared. He wasn’t allowed to be scared of anything except his superiors because that meant respect. And he was scared of them. The White Spider didn’t want to disappoint his superiors or get punished. He didn’t want to do anything wrong and fail them. Failure meant weakness and he could not be that.

You are awake, his mind hissed at him, Kneel before your superiors to show you are ready to follow orders or risk being punished.

The White Spider quickly slipped off the bed, losing his balance slightly as he awkwardly landed on the floor. The White Spider spared a glance around the room and noticed the male superior sitting and watching him. Holding his book. The White Spider scrambled to kneel and placed clenched fists on his lap, desperate for the shaking to stop.

Obey. Obey. Focused.

 


 

Tony watched Peter tumble off the bed and hurry to kneel. It still hurt to watch him so distant from the Peter he knew, but at least the kid was showing emotions now — even if he seemed terrified. It was a step in the right direction, and that was enough.

He cleared his throat, “Hey uh, hey there. H-how are you doing?”

“Y-yes, superior,” Peter rushed to say, “I…” he hesitated, seeming to consider his next words carefully, “I-I…White Spider is doing well. Superior.”

Well.

Peter answered Tony without even having to hear the name ‘boy’ or ‘White Spider', another improvement that just added a little more hope. He still seemed scared though, as if Tony was going to lash out at any second and Tony… Tony didn’t really appreciate that.

Tony sighed as he stood from his chair and slowly began to approach Peter, noticing how the kid was shaking liking a leaf for no discernible reason. It hurt to see the kid this way, but Tony kept his voice light and conversational. Maybe it would make him less of a threat.

“That’s… that’s good kid, or uh, boy. Are you- do you have any questions about what happened yesterday?”

“N-no superior,” Peter said, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment, “The White Spider has- I have… successfully analysed the previous events and can now tell the difference between a memory and reality.”

Tony went silent. He was speaking more, which was good, but he still sounded like a robot. Like he could never talk about anything other than business. It kind of reminded Tony of the conversations he’d have while Peter was in the interrogation room. While Peter was still firmly HYDRA.

It reminded him of what Moller had said. About how he had gotten rid of what made Peter Peter and had given him a totally new personality. How everything they were trying to get back — his sense of humour, his wit, his determination and independent thought — wasn’t really that independent at all. It was tailor made by HYDRA.

Tony’s stomach lurched at the thought. Had Moller used all the words on Peter before? Had he changed the kid’s personality recently? It was almost too heartbreaking to comprehend.

So he didn’t. Tony just kept talking.

“Listen,” he said, “you know the memory thing that happened yesterday?”

“Y-yes Superior,” Peter replied instantly, still staring at his clenched knuckles.

It was odd that Peter refused to look at Tony now, almost as if it was a step in the wrong direction. That wasn’t great, but maybe it was due to feeling more rather than suppressing.

“Good. So uh, Wanda — she’s the one who helped you remember — she’s gonna come in and do that a couple more times soon. I-it won’t be as scary these times. It’ll be easier, and once she’s done, you’ll feel better. Is that okay?”

Peter barely hesitated before replying, “Y-yes superior. Th-that is o-okay.”

“Great,” Tony said. He was genuinely pleased with Peter’s response and he hoped the kid could tell.

Tony pulled out his phone and checked the time. Shit. It was six in the morning. Peter had fallen asleep at around midday yesterday. How much had the kid slept in the past week? Almost too much, he was sure. Maybe Peter was more tired than they’d ever really known.  Maybe a series of life altering emotional occurrences and being isolated to one room with a bed had been good for Peter in some ways.

Well, at least that’s what the positive part of Tony hoped.

Peter definitely hadn’t been eating enough though. He looked just as thin and sunken as when Tony had first seen him posing as a waiter at that now seemingly pointless Gala. He needed to eat. But, Tony wanted Peter back ASAP. Maybe food could wait just a little longer.

Well, at least that’s what the selfish part of Tony hoped.

“Thanks kid. I’ll just uh… you’ve been asleep for almost twenty-four hours and I know, well, I’m guessing you’re probably hungry but I was wondering if we could just do one wor- memory first? It’ll be quick and afterwards you can eat. Is that okay?”

“Y-yes superior. I am ready.”

“Cool. Hey Karen? Get FRIDAY to tell Wanda it’s time.”

 


 

This time when the superior (Wanda was her name, but the White Spider never used it. He wasn’t allowed to) knelt before him, and the red smoke around his head felt like a warm, enveloping sensation, it still blurred his vision ever so slightly. He knew what was going on though, so he didn’t want to ask. His superior’s could do whatever they wanted, and he would probably never ask why. They were meant to decide things for him. He was nothing, and that was okay.

When he fell into the memory, it still felt like he was really there. He still felt the bottle hit his face and the pain burn through his skin. He still felt every punch and every emotion under the sun; regret, fear, guilt. It still hurt, it was still scary.

But when he came back, things made more sense again. He remembered more.

Like, how in the memory, The Superior wasn’t ‘The Superior’, he was Doctor Moller, and Doctor Moller was the one who had all the power over him. Because Doctor Moller had raised him, and for that, the White Spider would be forever grateful.

That was the other thing.

He had another name. It started with ‘P’. That seemed too good to be true though. Even if it felt right, it didn’t mean…

“Hey kid, you okay?”

He looked up to where one of the superiors was standing over him, talking to him. He also remembered now, that these superior’s had names. The man who was talking to him with a gentle voice and bags so dark under his eyes they looked bruised, was called Iron Man. He wasn’t allowed to use the name, but he knew it.

He also knew that Iron Man was an Avenger, and the Avenger’s were meant to be his enemies. But up until recently, he thinks, they stopped being that to him. They were something else now. He just wasn’t sure what yet.

Slowly, the White Spider got to his feet. He wasn’t allowed to sit or kneel without being told to. Why had he been in the first place? Had the other memories made him? He had to stand at attention and be ready for whatever people wanted him to do. He had to be brave,  and not allow his feelings get in the way of his duties. He could feel them, just not think about them. And that was okay.

Hands clasped in front of him and head down, he tentatively spoke.

“S-sir… p-permission to ask a question?”

Eleven seconds of silence.

“Of course kid, go ahead.”

“Th-thank you sir. I was just, I wanted to know if I…”

Obey. Apathetic. Focused.

He swallowed away his fear.

“What’s my name sir?”

Iron Man and the other two Avenger’s standing beside him, the Scarlett Witch and Black Widow, gasped in unison, and the energy in the room was electric.

“Peter,” Iron Man said, “You’re name is Peter.”

Peter. That was right. His was the White Spider but his name was Peter.

Peter fought to hide the smile from his face.

“Thank you sir.”

“It’s no problem Peter, really.”

“Hey Peter,” Black Widow chimed in, sounding slightly choked up, “Want some food?”

“Yes Ma’am.”

 


 

 

When Peter had asked for his name, Tony had almost cried.

Natasha did, but nobody mentioned it.

The whole ‘asking permission to ask a question thing’ wasn’t great, but at least he was asking. Peter wouldn’t have been able to do that a few minutes ago.

They were almost there. Almost back.

Almost.

“He’s almost ready to use the bathroom on his own,” Wanda whispered in Tony’s ear as Natasha reintroduced Peter to waffles, “You know what that means.”

“Shut up,” Tony said, but he didn’t really mean it.

“Excuse me, Mister Stark,” Karen cut in, “There is somebody outside of Peter’s door requesting entrance.”

Tony stilled, as did everyone else in the room. Even naive, slightly more curious Peter, looked up at the ceiling in awe.

“W-who is that?” Peter seemed to unconsciously whisper to himself.

If Tony wasn’t so on edge, he would’ve considered that reaction somewhat cute.

Instead, he ignored Peter and spoke directly to the AI.

“Huh. That’s weird, who is it?”

“Agent Sophie Carlisle of SHIELD,” Karen supplied, “She is her for her weekly assessment  of Peter on behalf of SHIELD. It was originally scheduled for tomorrow on Friday though it has apparently been pushed forward a day but SHIELD due to recent events. Agent Carlisle has been informed of Peter’s current status and—”

“I’ll go talk to her,” Tony interrupted, heading towards the door, “Wanda, Romanov, stay with the kid.”

“Tony, are you sure—”

“I’m fine Wanda,” he said, not looking back, “I’ll just… talk to her.”

There was no way hell Agent whoever was entering this room without Tony giving her an interrogation first.

He opened the door and slipped into the hallway, firmly shutting the door as he did.

Agent Carlisle had bright blue eyes and neat hair and a smile so red and white and bright it could have easily been mistaken for a candy-cane.

“Mister Stark,” she greeted, stretching a hand out, “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Tony looked at the outstretched hand and hesitated before taking wearily, shaking it as if it might explode any second. After all, he’d never met this person in his life and there was no way he was going to be anything other than amicable to this lady, especially with a still fragile Peter mere feet away from them.

“Yeah,” he said, “Ditto. So, are you new to this? You’re new to this right? I mean, I tend to not associate myself with SHIELD workers in my spare time but I’m pretty sure you weren’t one of Fury’s lackeys last year.”

Carlisle’s smile only grew. It was oddly unsettling.

“That’s very true Mister Stark. I was recently hired by SHIELD as a Behavioural Psychologist and Trauma Therapist. My job is to check in on individuals being monitored by SHIELD and analyse there progress towards becoming a more stable citiz—”

“Uh huh, fancy,” Tony cut in giving her another once over. Her pant-suit was all black and immaculate, “And uh… what were you doing before this SHIELD gig? Working as a counsellor at the local rec centre?”

Carlisle’s eye twitched, slightly. Tony gave her props for being able to hold it together without blowing her top off.

“No, Mister Stark,” she said, tone somewhat patronising, “I was a Special Agent of Psychology and Counselling for the FBI.”

Tony raised an eyebrow, still skeptical, “Right… and what did you say your name was again? Agent Stella Carlisle?”

“Sophie,” she corrected, “Sophie Carlisle.”

Tony nodded, “Okay. FRIDAY?”

“She checks out boss.”

Damn it.

“Yeah, no. I’m still not letting you in.”

“Mister Stark, if I could—”

“This isn’t like any other case you’ve had to deal with. Peter is a special circumstance, and I know you’re just doing your job but I don’t think your specialties are really necessary at this time.”

“Director Fury sent me—”

“Well, I’m sending you back to him. Come back next week, or the week after. Right now isn’t a good—”

“I was the Agent who looked after Peter while you were raiding his base,” Carlisle finally snapped, her smile twisting into something reminiscent of concern, “I was the Agent sent to watch over him while you were all gone. I talked to him about his time at HYDRA. It took him a while to open up to me, but he was in such a difficult place and he needed someone to talk to and I had to make sure that he was…”

Agent Carlisle sighed and looked away, before turning back to Tony and pasting on her bright, stretchy smile once again.

“Peter is a very special individual,” she said, “He has qualities unlike any I’ve ever seen and is capable of so many… great things. It is my duty to see that he reaches his potential. I want him to succeed, Mister Stark. I want him to leave this room as much as you do and the only way that is possible is if I can help him, if you let me help him.”

Tony stared at her once again. She sounded so passionate and determined, as if that once conversation she’d had while they’d gone to wreck his base had meant so much to her. Had it made that much of an impact on Peter to?

“It seems like you clicked well with the kid them, am I right?”

“Certainly. I feel as though I’ve known him for years.”

Tony sighed, “Fine. You can stand at the back of the room for a couple minutes so you can honestly tell big bad Fury that Peter’s improving. No talking to him though, he’s still a bit unsure about people.”

“Of course Mister Stark,” Carlisle said as they walked into Peter’s room together, “Thank you so much.”

“Don’t sweat it.”

Maybe Carlisle wasn’t that bad.

 


 

 

As soon as Peter finished eating his waffles, he asked permission to ask another question.

When they said yes, he asked for them to go into his memories again.

“Are you sure?” The Scarlett Witch asked, “Are you not tired?”

He was. Very. But Peter also wanted to know more. Wanted to get through this and figure out what was going on. It was like he was trapped in a puzzle, and this was the only way to solve it.

“I am sure M’am.”

But then, the door opened and Peter snuck a glance up fromm his feet to see Iron Man stepping back into the room with another person following him.

Peter knew that person. It was Agent Dina Stallard. She was the person who had the second most amount of power and… control over him. Peter thought she didn’t like the Avengers, so why was she here? And Agent Stallard was smiling. She’d never smiled before. Not in Peter’s memories. Nevertheless, his back automatically straightened upon seeing her face.

Stallard’s smile grew as well.

“Don’t mind me,” Stallard said to the room, “I’m just popping in to see the status of Peter here, I’ll only be a few minutes.”

Something twisted in Peter’s stomach. He had a feeling that there was more to what Stallard was saying. It felt as though she was hinting to a bigger issue, a memory and event Peter couldn’t comprehend just yet. If only he could—

“Tony, are you sure she should be—”

“Don’t worry Wanda,” Iron Man said with a wave of a hand, “FRIDAY checked her out and I asked some questions. Agent Carlisle here poses no threat.”

The memory came back at full force, harder than any of the Scarlett Witch’s.

“Moller and I did not have full faith in you and after reviewing the past week’s security footage, it is clear we were right to think so.”

I believe you are deserving of a punishment, don’t you think?”

“If anyone asks, White Spider, you will say that only Agent Sophie Carlisle visited and asked if you were okay before leaving. Do I make myself clear?

“I will see you next Friday, White Spider.”

Agent Stallard was undercover. She was watching him, making sure that he did what he was meant to do, because he was here to do something. He can’t remember what though, or why. Was he breaking rules now? Was she going to punish him once they left the room? So far, the Avengers hadn’t forced him to do anything he didn’t want, but maybe that’s because they didn’t know that they could, or should. Agent Stallard knew though, and the fear that dribbled down his spine felt like a stream ice water.

As soon as he dared to make frightened, baffled eye contact with her, Agent Stallard’s smile dropped and her face turned into one of hatred for barely a second before smiling once more.

She knew he remembered her. She knew Peter was still scared of her, still confused.

“I can see that he is progressing well, I’ll report to my boss things are running smoothly. Thank you for your time Mister Stark. I’ll be back next Friday.”

“Yeah, sure. Take care, Carlisle.”

And with that, she left.

Because she’d done her job, she’d scared him and reminded him and now it was up to Peter to wait and hope that what he was doing was okay. That he was succeeding in his forgotten mission and he would be praised by her and HYDRA.

Something told him that wasn’t quite right, though.

Before he could dwell more on the topic though, the red surrounded him again and he fell into another harrowing memory.

He was seven, in this one. He held a gun with the guidance of Doctor Moller and stared his favourite teacher Karen in the eyes as her restraints were tightened and tied at the back of the chair and she gave him a shaky smile as Peter was forced to pull the trigger.

He saw her blood, and the fragments of her skull and matter sprinkle her limp boy and stain the concrete ground and then his jaw was bruised by the metal of the gun and Doctor Moller was screaming horrible, horrible things at him.

And then Peter Parker was back, and he remembered everything.

And everything meant that Peter felt furiously and horribly relieved.

And embarrassed. Peter felt embarrassed, because what he’d seen, what the Scarlett Witch had seen, were things nobody was meant to ever know about.

And Mister Stark, Agent Romanov, Colonel Rhodes, Mister Wilson, Rogers… everybody had seen him at his lowest. At his weakest. Peter didn’t need full autonomy to decide that that was the last thing he’d ever wanted the Avengers to see.

The White Spider who was their number one enemy, had been their pawn for forty-eight hours.

A Decisive. Apathetic. Focused pawn.

Who blindly obeyed.

Shit.

He needed everyone to leave. Now. Or else he might cry in front of them. And the White Spider would never cry in front of the Avengers.

At least not yet, anyway. 

 


 

The red wisps appeared and disappeared faster than they’d ever had before.

Without prompting, Peter lifted his head but kept his eyes to the floor.

It was the first time he’d held his head up high in days, and just that slight change made Peter seem more like Peter than he ever had before.

“Hey Pete,” he said, swallowing the lump in his throat, “How are you doing?”

“I-I remember everything Mister Stark sir,” Peter said, and just saying Tony’s last name brought tears to his eyes and a small, disbelieving grin to his lips.

Peter continued, “Although, I still have two of those… w-words activated. I still need orders, but they should wear off on their own by tomorrow.”

“It’s good to have you back kid,” Mister Stark mumbled, nodding his head in understanding.

Peter’s eyes stayed stuck to the ground.

“Th-thank you Mister Stark sir.”

“Peter,” Natasha called, her voice still so soft and sincere as she searched Peter’s face for something that maybe still wasn’t there yet, “Peter, I’m glad you’re back to I… how much do you remember about the past couple days?”

Then, Peter’s posture stiffened even more and he closed his eyes and took a big breath before speaking clearly, barely a shake in his voice.

“E-Everything, Agent Romanov Ma’am. I… I remember everything.”

Natasha bit her lip at that and face paled considerably, hands wringing themselves.

“T-thank you, Miss Wanda M’am for helping me,” Peter forged on, “I-I w-would like some privacy n-now though p-please. I-I want th-the other w-words to clear on them own and I want to use the bathroom too.”

“It was no problem,” assured Wanda, though her bags were deep and her smile was weak, “Please, do what you want. We will be on our way.”

With that, Peter nodded before briskly walking over to the bathroom door and ducking out of sight.

Tony didn’t know what to do. What to say. The kid was practically back. He still seemed too serious, a bit down in the dumps but that was understandable, all things considered.

Finally, things could get back on track again. By Peter’s calculations, tomorrow he’ll be able to talk and laugh and build mindless inventions again. They’ll be able to teach him about the outside world and reintroduce affection and care and understanding into his life.

And Tony… Tony was going to be there for every single minute of it.

Natasha sidled up next to him, “Looks like the kid can piss again. You know what that means.”

He could hear the shit eating grin in her voice.

This time though, Tony didn’t bother to fight. He just rolled his tired eyes and headed for the door.

“Yeah, yeah, a promise is a promise.”

“See you in nine hours!” Natasha called after him.

Tony didn’t let them see his grin, but when the elevator opened up on his floor and he saw Pepper sitting on a sofa in all her glory, her beautiful eyes searching his tired face, he smiled wider than he knew possible.

Pepper smiled back too, because she knew, and Tony knew too.

Peter was back, and everything was going to be okay.

And that, in itself, was pretty fantastic.

Patience and trust, Tony decided, were the most important things in the world. And for the past few days, he’d had both on his side.

Life couldn’t get any better than that.

 

Chapter Text


Peter didn’t stand in the bathroom for too long. He did his business and then waited, listened, until he heard three pairs of feet finally leave his cell... room.

No, cell.

No, room.

No—

Cell room.

He waited until they left his cell room.

It happened gradually.

First to leave was Mister Stark. The one that Peter would be able to hardly look in the eyes, even without two of... those words still drumming throughout his brain.

Because while the others had seen him in the same fragile state, while Maximoff had dug into his mind and saw the worst parts of his life. The parts which still forced him to wake with shaken sweats in the night and made him want to hold on to any surface for stability as he reminded himself it’s over it’s over that’s not now you’re okay you’re okay you...

Haven’t been abandoned.

Have a last name.

Haven’t gotten as close to anyone since.

Have no glass shards littering your cheek.

Haven’t been left strung up again with joints dislocated, all alone to just count and wait and obe—

Peter took a deep, shattering breath.

...Tony Stark had talked to him. He’d confided in Peter while Peter was in his coma-like state and the things Stark had said to him made all the thoughts and feelings in his head and body twist and turn and...

“It isn’t right to change your mind without your input. HYDRA did that and I’m… I’m better than HYDRA. I am. Kid, doing that to you would be like breaking your trust, and to be honest, I’m not even sure you trust me yet.”

“Peter, kid. I- I care about you. A lot.”

You’ll get to choose whatever you want and I’ll be right by your side if you want me to be.”

Well, Peter didn’t have the power to unpack all of that right now. After all, he was still unwillingly standing to attention.

It took Mister Stark fourteen seconds to leave after Peter dipped into the bathroom.

It took Wanda Maximoff twenty-eight.

“I am going to rest now too,” she had said not long after Mister Stark had let the door shut, “I suggest you should do the same.”

“In a minute,” Natasha replied, and there was something in her voice that had reminded Peter of the tears that were once in her eyes.

“But Peter said—“

“I know,” Nat cut off, not unkindly, “I just... I’ll be up soon.”

Eight seconds of silence.

Wanda’s heels clicked and the door opened and shut.

Natasha Romanov only stayed for sixty four seconds.

To Peter, it felt like years.

She just... stayed. Didn’t speak or walk around too much, but when he heard a light thud, as if something had hit the bed, he understood.

The book.

She left his book, and then she left.

And then Peter willed his body to move back into his cell room. He still couldn’t sit, couldn’t relax, could barely feel. So he stood and waited as the effects of the words dripped away like molasses and all the fear and confusion and unparalleled shameful embarrassment hit him ten times harder than it had before.

In some ways, he wished the words never faded away, so he couldn’t feel or think and just be. That seemed so much easier right now.

So much easier because everything was too much right now. In fact, too much had happened since Peter had last been well, Peter.

The Avengers had raided his base, and he still didn’t now how ‘successful’ they had been. Where was his boss? Did anyone meet Doctor Moller? Mister Stark had found his book and brought it back so clearly they hadn’t failed completely.

And then Stallard had come and— oh god. The shouting. The news article about almost being sent to foster care. The feeling of betrayal. The murder of the SHIELD agent who had been there to help. That one was his fault. Peter had killed another person, added to that tally of names which seemed to never stop growing.

Tallies.

The punishment.

Last time Peter had been even close to conscious his body was littered with cuts. Shit. How long had been under? About one-hundred and eighty-three-thousand-four-hundred seconds? That was a little over two days. Which meant...

Peter lifted his shirt up to stare at his stomach.

The cuts were gone.

Dried blood stained his... everywhere.

Blood - even large quantities of the stuff - had never fazed Peter. It was about his life and his work and the stench was often eerily familiar. The thing is though, blood was never a surprise. It wasn’t something he ever saw in unexpected places because it was expected everywhere, all the time.

Except for now, that is.

Each inhale and exhale made red crack and flake and oh god how had Peter not felt the itchy, crusty feeling that traveled from his collarbones to his ankles before? He could smell the iron and the more he pulled up his shirt the more he felt it peel away.

He restrained from the urge to gag.

“Peter,” Karen’s voice said, and just that direct acknowledgment from the AI made Peter want to cry and sigh all at once, “I have detected an unusual amount of a substance on your body which I am currently unable to analyse due to various protocols being temporarily disabled. However, I am assuming it is dried blood, despite your vitals being at their regular. Is this a concern?”

Peter swallowed.

“N-no Karen,” he stuttered out, surprised at how even his voice was, all things considered, “It’s... it’s fine. I’m fine. It’s not blood, j-just sweat. Yeah. S-Sweat. I’ll go take a uh… shower.”

“Okay, Peter. I will not inform anyone of this then.”

Peter didn’t even know that his shoulders had finally sagged and his arms had loosened until he felt the ache of relief in his muscles.

He sighed, “Thanks Karen.”

“Anytime Peter, I’m always here for you.”

The memory of words said to him which now felt like lifetime ago echoed again through his mind;

I- we care about you.”

Suddenly, Peter felt that overwhelming confusion and embarrassment again.

Don’t worry, A voice whispered in his head. A voice that he hadn’t heard since… before. A voice that meant lightness and reminded Peter that he was, well, Peter.

It was the quiet, hopeful voice, and he closed his eyes to listen as it indulgently reassured him. You are back now. You’re okay. The Avengers care. They never hurt you.

And god, had he missed those thoughts. Those thoughts HYDRA didn’t want him to have. The thoughts he shouldn’t be ever having, because they meant weakness. Although right now, while his mind was racing with paranoia and fear and his heart beat to the tune of embarrassment and shame, and guilt ran through his veins like molten lead in a freshly cast bullet, Peter couldn’t help but indulge in these somewhat gentle thoughts for a while. Just for once.

No! The loud voice came back with a bang louder than a gun. It was the voice Peter had always listened to, had been solely listening to for the past few days. It reminded him who he worked for. What he was worth. Where his place was. Why the number seven was so important. And, above all, how he would never, ever, be free.

It was the right voice. The HYDRA voice. Yet despite how much as Peter hated to admit it, the voice was, without a doubt, his own.

Are you mad? It snapped, The Avengers were leading you into a false sense of trust. HYDRA made those words for a purpose. They cannot be trusted. You cannot betray HYDRA. You cannot betray the people who raised you. You cannot fail. You are failing and you cannot. You are weak. You are nothing. You are—

Peter let an animalistic sound tear its way through his throat as he flicked the shower water on and stuck his head under the pelting spray. No. Not now. He couldn’t deal with all the thoughts right now. It was too much, too overwhelming. Like a sensory overload situated solely in his mind. The differing thoughts weren’t going to do him any good right now. Now, Peter needed to shower and when he came back out, everything would be cleaner. Clearer. Right?

Right.

Right.

 


 

Well.

The shower helped, somewhat. It allowed Peter to focus himself back into reality and prevented him from drowning in all of his emotions. Peter didn’t remember feeling so much when he came back from the words when they were used at HYDRA.

But then again, he doesn’t remember much of that experience anyway.

Whatever. The shower had helped and he’d watched as the dried blood gradually melted away and sunk into the drain, leaving behind smooth, scarless skin. With the blood gone, there was no proof of his punishment. Of what Stallard had done. Well, there were his blood stained clothes, but he could fix that easily. Peter had decided he didn’t want any proof of what happened, because what would proof get him? Questions. Peter didn’t really want to answer any questions right now. 

He’d also taken the time to wrap his head around his problems and think logically about his situation.

Obviously, there were some things he couldn’t deal with until he talked to certain people. Like how the base raid went, or what exactly foster care was and why the hell he’d almost been sent to it. Or who gave Ross the book and how much shit Peter was in with Stallard because of it. Those were pretty big ones, he supposed.

But there was no way in hell that Peter was going to ask for someone to come down and explain this all to him. He wouldn’t dare request for Stallard - or Agent Carlisle, whatever - to come visit him. That would be too suspicious. And did he really want to see Stallard so soon anyway? Nope. Not really.

And for all the other things he wanted to know, Peter’s best bet was to call Tony Stark down here.

Tony Stark.

Peter wasn’t even sure what he’d do if he saw Stark. Be mad? Stark had lied to him about being wanted after all. Although, there was a big chance Peter might cry too. Because what Stark had said to Peter while Peter had been under - about caring for him and wanting the best for him and… supporting him, it had been so sincere.

So… soft.

Nope. That definitely wasn’t gonna happen either.

So, Peter decided he’d focus on the things he could deal with right now.

Like feelings.

Peter could deal with feelings.

Not well, but still. He could try.

Since all his hysteria and panic seemed to have been washed down the drain with all the blood, it was obvious what emotions still resided. That included confusion and fear and some small weak thing that wanted… affection. Peter physically shivered at that one. He wasn’t used to being open about that. Not even in his head.

The emotion that presided above all those though, was embarrassment. Even when it didn’t look it, Peter always had some control over himself. At least enough to maintain survival instincts and his own batch of somewhat HYDRA-prohibited morals. The words had temporarily taken those away though, and losing that control which he quietly and defiantly prided himself on was mortifying.

Honestly, Peter felt so drained and over just… everything that at this point, he wasn’t even going to try to predict what was to come next. It’s not like he had control over it, clearly.

Clint had once made a joke about how when things became too much, you start ‘giving zero shits'. Peter was finally starting to understand what he meant by that.

Peter sighed as he finally stepped out of the shower and dried himself off. Avoiding the mirror as usual, he grabbed a blue t-shirt with some shitty saying on the front about Astrophysics being ‘out of this world’. He also grabbed some grey sweatpants.

They were the first things on top of the pile of clothing Pepper Potts had given Peter on his birthday which he’d put in the bathroom before… everything.

Then, Peter grabbed a wad of toilet paper and stuffed it into the obnoxiously-deep sink’s drain and flicked on the tap. Once the water had risen about three quarters of the way, he turned to water off and threw his black t-shirt and sweatpants that were covered with blood into the sink, pushing them down and watching them submerge underwater.

It was how Peter had washed his clothes back at HYDRA.

The water quickly turned a rusty brown and Peter grabbed the dripping bundle of clothing and threw it into the shower with a satisfying splat before unclogging the sink and allowing the water to drain away.

There. Now there was absolutely no evidence. If anyone asked why there was a pile of wet clothing in the shower, Peter could just claim he was stupid and forgot to take them off.

Okay, so maybe Peter still had a little control.

Maybe he still gave a few shits.

Peter allowed himself a small smirk and turned to exit the bathroom. What was he going to do in his cell room? Maybe expel the last of all his emotions by doing a couple laps of the ceiling? Honestly he had no clue, but at least there was more space to wal—

Oh god.

Oh fuck.

Never mind. Peter decided he gave so many shits. So many shits that they were all immediately cancelling each other out and boiling down to just one emotion.

Anger.

Why? He asked the world. Why now? After everything. Why was this happening now?

Why not? Seemed to be the world’s gruelling answer.

Because right there, right in front of him, were two people his sixth sense should have warned him about, but hadn’t. To be fair, Peter’s sense hadn’t been alerting him of other people as much anymore, as if his subconscious was changing who it deemed to be a threat.

These people were threats to Peter. At least, they were emotionally.

And personally.

Captain America stood by the door, his arms awkwardly crossed over his chest as his eyes flicked back and forth between Peter and the other man.

Peter almost let out a deranged laugh at the absurdity of it all. Right there, right in front of him was the reason why he was even here in first place. Staring straight at him. Literally.

The Winter Soldier.

 


 

“Are you working? And you’re using paper?

Tony restrained from rolling his eyes at Pepper’s incredulous tone as he fished an old Stark Industries pen out from his bedside tables draw.

“No,” he replied, flipping open the old, barely used notepad, “I’m just making a quick list and then I’m going to sleep.”

Pepper sat on the bed beside him, “About what?” she asked.

Tony swallowed, “Things I need to talk to Peter about later.”

His fiancée’s sigh was nothing short of exasperated.

“Tony,” she chided, “I’m sure you don’t need a list in order to talk to Peter. And if you do, can’t you make one later when you’re not a walking zombie?”

The clicking of the pen was enough of an answer as it was a dismissal to Pepper’s words. Tony knew that if he didn’t get all his thoughts out now he wouldn’t be able to sleep. Plus, what if he forgot something? So much had happened and Tony wanted to be prepared to talk to Peter when he was allowed to. Yeah, he had missed the kid, and he was worried about him, but there were also a lot of things that needed the be established and explained. Tony didn’t want to risk forgetting any of them.

Tony,” Pepper stressed just as he finished his list.

“Done,” he assured her as he made a grand gesture of putting the notepad and pen on the bedside table, “See? All done. Just a little housekeeping and we’re done. Bedtime now. I know the drill, no matronly scolding is needed from you tonight, Miss Potts.”

Pepper tried to hide her smile with a roll of her eyes. She stood up and allowed Tony to get into bed before heading to the door.

“Hey,” she said just as Tony was reaching to turn off the bedside lamp.

Tony turned to look at her, tired eyes taking longer than usual to focus.

“Yeah?”

“He’s going to be okay.”

Tony didn’t bother to hide his smile and nodded, “I know,’ he said, “I know he will.”

Pepper returned the smile, “I love you.”

Tony flicked off the light, “Love you too.”

With that, Pepper slipped out of the bedroom and closed the door, and Tony finally rested his head against his pillow.

 


 

If it weren’t for the steady flow of warm steam curling it’s way out of the shower, the air would have been solely frigid. Instead, it was borderline suffocating. Tendrils of moisture and heat crept into the space and rose towards the ever-dimmed lights, a heavy fog hanging above their heads.

They stared at each other for a while; observing, absorbing, analysing. Then, the Winter Soldier opened his mouth, as if to say something.

Peter simply held up a hand, effectively silencing the traitor. It was more of a shock to the system that his hand wasn’t shaking than it was that the Winter Soldier had been compliant to his action. Orders were something Peter had assumed the Soldier thought he was too good for now, since he had left HYDRA.

Since he had left Peter.

The Winter Soldier closed his mouth and swallowed as if he were choking. Part of Peter wished that it was on his own tongue.

Lowering his hand, Peter took the time to assess his own mind and found that there was no inkling of trepidation or fear inside. Maybe it was the shower, or the purge Scarlett Witch had done within his brain which had no doubt dislodged some trivial fears he’d been desperately grappling on to in the past. Whatever it was, Peter felt more lucid, more level-headed than he had since the Gala.

It was calming in a way, allowing Peter to have more control over his anger and actions and understand that finally, finally he was over it all. All the hiding and pretending and acting and the fucking bullshit stream of - or lack of - emotions he had forked out for the Avengers and HYDRA in order to appease them. Even when he was at his most vulnerable, Peter was always playing damage control, always trying to predict his action’s outcomes and which result would be the most amicable.

Well, not anymore.

Peter didn’t care. He was going to be a petulant, self-conceited, refreshingly blunt asshole right now and there was nothing that would stop him.

So, Peter strode passed the Winter Soldier with his head raised high. He passed the pole which made his cuffs vibrate and his fingers twitch when he got too close. Peter passed the door Rogers was guarding and took no mind of the barely susceptible flinch it got out of him. He passed the comfy grey couch that was still pressed up against the one-way glass opposite to Rogers.

Peter headed straight for his bed.

Unceremoniously, he lay down, staring up at the ceiling and the lights and the steam which still curled and crept and hung and lingered.

Silence passed again and for a while Peter let it. He relished in a life before this conversation commenced, a life before what was to come. A life before an outcome he couldn’t predict.

“You know,” Peter began, his voice absent and unsettlingly casual, “You used to be my hero.

“The Asset,” he somewhat marvelled, “Killing machine. Unbeatable. Bravest thing out there. Took his punishments like a champ and knew exactly what to do. The perfect addition to HYDRA. The one, the only, ‘Winter Soldier’.”

Peter sat up and swung his legs over the side of his bed. He raised his hands and shook them furiously, and a faint “Ahhh” escaped his lips as he imitated a crowd cheering. Eventually he stopped, smiling at his own bitter, stupid joke and dropped his arms to his knees. He bent over slightly to stare at the space between his feet.

He cleared his throat.

“I wanted to be just like you.”

Peter heard the Winter Soldier’s intake of breath stutter for a moment and peaked up to see the Solider look over to Rogers, whose jaw merely clenched in response. Then, the Winter Soldier looked back to Peter and Peter averted his vision back to the floor.

“Did you?” the Winter Soldier asked, voice gravelly and low.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Peter said, “Did I want to be like you, or did HYDRA tell me that I did? At this point, I don’t really see a difference but I guess you do,” he paused, “Do you know what happened before I met you?”

“I… no.”

Peter clenched his fists, “The day I first saw you, I was seven. I had just been released from my first time in the pitch black, no food, no bathroom, no inhaler, no glasses hell of solitary confinement. The only time I ever saw… anything was when somebody opened the door and shoved half a litre of water down my throat once a day. And I knew - I knew that it would keep on happening if I didn’t start doing what I was born to do. I needed to get it together and please Doctor Moller somehow or let the punishments get worse. You remember Doctor Moller right? My boss? I'm assuming Rogers in the corner over there knows who I'm talking about, considering he helped destroy the place where I lived for over a decade a couple days ago."

Rogers shifted uncomfortably and had the courtesy to look at least slightly embarrassed while the Winter Soldier merely nodded in response.

“Right," Peter continued, "So, Doctor Moller finally let me out of solitary and I apologised for being… weak. Then the first thing he did was take me to see you.”

Peter looked up to see the Winter Soldier’s reaction, and at first glance, he seemed as stoic as ever but there was something his eyes and the way they looked down. Something less frigid than Peter had thought was possible.

“You… you were so cool,” Peter continued, refusing to break eye contact, “You were practically emotionless and taking out agent after agent in training and when I was made to introduce myself, all you said was ‘Hail HYDRA’ in Russian and that was even cooler because it showed how dedicated you were to the Russian precinct and to the cause and I- I finally understood what my boss wanted from me, you know? I could be a badass killing machine and understand where my place was in the system and if I did that, then I would be worth something and by boss would - he could…”

Love me.

Peter broke eye contact.

“Whatever. I worked harder, got better at listening and learning. I tried to do everything you could do because then I would know that what I was doing was right. I learnt about different ways to kill and stopped crying like a bitch when I had to practice on real people. I found out that you knew at least two languages fluently so I learnt a couple dozen more and the basics of others just to be safe. Yeah, I still messed up. I’ve never been great at taking orders that I don’t agree with and sometimes it’s hard for an un-enhanced seven-year old to do the things only adult agents can typically do, like strangle a person or something, but when I was punished, I was always allowed to go and get help from you. That was the only time I was ever allowed to ask for help and you were the one person who I was allowed to ask for help from. You kept me alive.”

Peter laced his hands and bobbed his head.

“And then, one day, you left.”

The Winter Soldier sighed and spoke gently, as if he was capable of sympathy, “Peter, I talked to you about this. You know I only left the base because HYDRA’s orders for me were to— ”

“I’m not talking about that!” Peter snapped, finally straightening his back and lifting his chin, “You know I’m not. Sure, it sucked when I woke up to go to training and found out you’d been relocated, and yeah it would’ve been great to have someone to help me out when the spider bit me and I got a new set of enhanced DNA. That would have been nice. What I’m talking about though, is when you left HYDRA halfway through your mission to kill this guy,” Peter jabbed a finger in Rogers’ direction, “for no good reason. How you abandoning with no explanation resulted in the downfall of over fifty-percent of HYDRA’s high-ranking members and most elite bases in the world. Bases I had to help rebuild and re-conceal by the way.

“I’m talking about how HYDRA didn’t know where you were for ages and then you show up, get framed for bombing the U.N., and then you leave again less than a month later. To what? Beat the shit out of Iron Man and fight against the Accords? Something that wouldn’t have even affected you if you’d just stayed with HYDRA? Only because all of a sudden you’re best friends with Captain fucking America?”

Peter raked a hand through his hair and ignored the sharp, angry stinging in his eyes, “You left,” he said, “and my life got immediately worse. All of a sudden, I had to be HYDRA’s greatest weapon with less than half the training and experience you had. I had to become an expert in strategy and planning and undercover work overnight just so I could stop HYDRA from completely crumbling. I had to immediately be just like you because you were perfect, but also not be exactly like you because you were a traitor as well. I had to work harder and better and quicker than you ever had just so I could prove to Moller that there was a reason to still keep me around.”

“Kid…”

“Did you ever think, that maybe, just maybe, you leaving might have had an impact on the people left in HYDRA? Huh? The people whose whole lives were grounded in HYDRA and who didn’t get a chance to escape when it was falling apart because they didn’t even get to choose when they got to sit down, much less where they got to work?”

“No.”

“Did… did you ever,” Peter ground his teeth and rubbed his burning nose, “Did you ever think about me?”

The Winter Soldiers' voice broke and that, and he opened and closed his mouth a few times while his skin turned pallor.

“No,” he finally settled on, “No. I didn’t.”

“That’s what I thought,” Peter said.

Tears scratched at his eyes.

“You know, sometimes I think I can understand why you didn’t care for the people apart of HYDRA, because despite looking after us, they can sometimes be…” Peter thought about the security cameras and how Stallard was definitely watching him right now, “…tough,” he decided, “And all the agents, Moller, everyone told me that you couldn’t feel emotions which was just another way you were better than me. But I knew they were wrong, because you used to take care of me after punishments. To do that, you had to feel at least a little bit. I’m kind of realising now though, that you didn’t care about me then either.”

“You’re right,” the Winter Soldier said, “I never… I never cared. I just did it because healing your injuries meant more efficiency in trainings and missions.”

Peter nodded, “Right.”

“But I should have.”

“Listen Winter Soldier, you don’t have to— ”

“James.”

“W-what?” Peter stiffened his posture, “What?”

“James,” the Winter Soldier repeated, “My name is James Buchanan Barnes. Although,” he added with a glint in his eyes, “My friends call me Bucky.”

Peter was completely frazzled. He shook his head as he deftly garbled out, “But - but… you were… I mean, you are - and Moller s-said… a-and you—”

“I was a Sergeant for the U.S. Army during World War II, but I guess you’d only know that war as HYDRA’s First Uprising, if I remember you telling me about your history classes correctly.”

“Uh…” said Peter intelligently, “I—”

“HYDRA kidnapped me and my fleet and injected me with the Super Soldier serum by some crazy scientist called Zola,”

“You mean the Doctor Zola? Right hand man of the HYDRA founder, Red Skull?”

The Winter Soldier - or Sergeant Barnes, Peter supposed, grimaced but nodded.

“Yep,” he said, “That’s the one. Anyway, Steve over here got me out of there but when we went to go take down HYDRA once and for all I… almost died. And you’re right, HYDRA did save me, they just also kidnapped and cryogenically froze me for decades at a time and brainwashed me so much that I would periodically forget my former identity.”

Peter sat silently for a moment, absorbing all this new information.

“They uh… they didn’t teach us about any of that in our History of HYDRA classes,” he mumbled.

“Didn’t think they would,” Sergeant Barnes replied.

“I guess that also means you’ve known him for a long time?”  Peter jerked his head towards Rogers., whose posture was loose yet his fists and jaw were clenched.

Barnes nodded, “Since we were kids.”

“Oh."

This was a lot, Peter decided. Sure, things had been turning out to be a little different than what he had originally thought these past couple weeks, but this was entirely something else. It wasn’t life changing, not for him anyway, but it was definitely a shift.

With that shift, something clicked.

“That’s why you left,” Peter said, “Because you never wanted to be devoted to HYDRA in the first place. You never believed in or agreed with the cause, so you left when you weren’t under your… words. And… and you never killed Rogers and Rogers helped you leave not because he was manipulating you, but because you are best friends. Literally. So he knew… he knew you wanted out.”

“You’ve always been smart Parker.”

“But how do I…” Peter clutched the edge of the bed, he always seemed to be asking this lately, “how do I know you’re not lying?”

Sergeant Barnes raised his eyebrows and twisted his head to look back over at Rogers. Rogers just shrugged in response.

“Well,” Barnes said, turning back to Peter, “I think you know I’m not because you’d already figured out part of the truth a while ago anyway, it was just a fact of whether you wanted to accept that or not.”

“Why wouldn’t I have wanted to accept the truth then?” Peter asked.

“Because if you’d accepted and believed in the parts you had figured out - how HYDRA isn’t great, how I’m not a total mindless asset, how we deserve better - and told someone, you probably wouldn’t be here right now.”

God.

Why was it that somehow, people seemed to know more about Peter than Peter did himself? How was that fair? Doctor Moller had always said life wasn’t fair, but Peter thinks that some things should be. Things like having opinions should be. Things like knowing who you are should be.

“Peter.”

Peter hunched over slightly as Sergeant Barnes took a couple steps forward, bridging the gap between them.

“I can’t apologise for not caring about you in the base because that wasn’t me, but I what I can apologise for is leaving you. When I escaped, I didn’t even think about how it might have hurt the innocent people left in HYDRA. You never crossed my mind as the person who would have taken the punishment from HYDRA for me. The… the things that they made you do, that they did to you, just because I wasn’t around anymore is… that’s on me. Completely. I was selfish to think that just because I was out, I didn’t have to think about HYDRA anymore, or I didn’t have to think about you. Since you’ve been here, since Tony first met you at that base takedown, you’ve been the only thing on my mind. I failed you and I should have taken care of you because if we were in each others positions, you would have gone back for me. You’ve always been better than me kid, because you’ve always had a heart.”

Unshed tears finally spilled out over Peter’s face, once hot and angry now cool and dismal.

“Why come see me now then?” Pete whispered, “I’ve been in the Avengers custody for twelve days now, why didn’t you say all this sooner? Why weren’t you there for me when… during… the words?”

“Because I thought staying away from you would stop me from screwing things up again, when I should have realised keeping my distance would have made things worse. As for the words, I didn’t know you had them, and when I found out… there wasn’t much I could do.”

“You could have come talked to me.”

Barnes smiled a sad, wistful smile, “I could’ve, but if I had done that while you weren’t you, then I wouldn’t have gotten to finally listen.”

Peter’s heart fumbled at that and something eerily similar to longing and pride overtook him.

"Thanks then,” he said, “For well, you know, thinking, and waiting till after,” he cleared his throat of something stifling and tight, “I told you this at the Gala, but I never really wanted to kill you. Didn’t sit well I guess.”

“Well, do you want to now?”

Peter huffed, “Would it even matter now?”

“It might.”

Peter stiffened at that. Does Barnes know why he’s really here? How would he know? He’s just paranoid, right? There’s no why that—

Peter stood up and offered a hand out to Barnes, pushing away his paranoia for a moment, “Thanks for being honest and uh, apologising, I guess. No ones ever done that to me before.”

Sergeant Barnes didn’t hesitate before accepting the handshake, “You deserve it.”

A small, timid smile.

Huh.

“Yeah. Maybe I do.”

The suffocatingly heavy tendrils of steam that had curled and crept and hung and lingered as a fog above their heads faded away, and finally things seemed clearer.

Much clearer.