And Tony thought it was all going so well.
Steve slapped the manila folder on the kitchen table and said coldly, “Sign this and you can go do whatever you want with your lover. Clearly what we’ve had for twenty years isn’t good enough for you.”
“What are you talking about?” Tony asked, taken aback by his husband’s statement.
“Don’t bullshit me. I know you’ve been seeing Stephen behind my back. Bucky told me. Just sign the papers and you can make love in his car like you do.”
“It’s not what you think?”
“Explain then,” Steve said calmly.
“It’s just that...we had a spark. You and I had a spark and I don’t know if it’s you or me, but somewhere in these years we lost it. I thought...well, truthfully, I wasn’t thinking.”
“Are you mad?”
“Of course I’m mad. The love of my life betrayed me after eighteen years of giving him my all. I’m mad as hell and I have the right to be. But I’m not gonna start a fight because in the end, I can’t change how you feel about us.”
“What about Peter?”
“Custody terms are in the papers. You’ll get him on the weekends. I already found an apartment close to his school. I don’t want you influencing him to think that being unfaithful is okay, so I’ll have him the majority of the time.”
“Steve, can we sit down and think about this for a minute? I think you’re rushing into this,” Tony said.
The metal chairs scraped against the linoleum as the two men sat down on opposite sides of table. Tony ran his fingers through his graying hair as he took a deep breath, unsure of what to do next. His heart rate picked up at the suddenness of the whole situation. One minute his secret was safe and the Stark-Rogers family was like any other, and the next minute...
“Tones, let’s not drag this on and make this harder,” Steve said quietly, voice on the verge of breaking into tears. “Just sign the papers so Peter and I can get our things and...and go.”
“What makes you think this is best for our family? You didn’t even bother to talk to me before–”
“Tony,” Steve interrupted. “I said it before, I don’t want to fight. I know that if we tried to talk it through, it’d end in arguments and nobody will win. With these papers, at least we get some peace of mind.”
As much as Tony hated to admit it, Steve had a point. The best he could do as a partner and a parent was to spare the family the grief of a messy divorce and just get it done quickly and cleanly. So he picked up the pen and in a few swift strokes, he sealed the deal.
Peter and Ned ate their cookies and milk in the silence of Ned’s apartment, save for the sounds of Mrs. Leeds baking another tray more. After Peter moved his things to the new apartment in Queens, he had been hanging out with Ned and MJ a lot more. Perhaps it was because his building smelled like cheese mold. Perhaps it was because the WiFi signal went on and off at the worst times. Perhaps, it was because Peter resented his fathers for signing those damn divorce papers and turning the entire family upside-down in the blink of an eye. Or maybe it was just because Ned lived right across from a Starbucks. Whatever the reason, fourteen-year-old Peter Stark-Rogers missed his family’s old home in Stark Tower, even after a month after the divorce. Despite his new residence and weekends at his old one, neither place felt like home. Peter would’ve said that home was where his fathers were, but that seemed to be the case less and less as the days slowly passed.
Peter’s birthday was approaching soon. Both Tony and Steve kept asking him what he wanted. After all, fifteen was a semi-important milestone. Peter wanted so badly to say that all he wanted was the Stark-Rogers to get back together, to talk and laugh like they used to. But he knew he was kidding himself. Tony made things official with his new boyfriend, a doctor named Stephen Strange, and Steve didn’t seem to care less about his ex-husband. As Peter thought about it more, he realized that Steve’s friend, Bucky, hung around the apartment a lot more. But maybe the boy was overthinking things.
Peter had confided in Ned and MJ as soon as it happened. Ned was empathetic, and MJ understood what it was like to lose a father figure in a way.
He remembered that night clear as day.
It was the night after Peter and Steve moved into the new apartment in Queens. Peter kept himself together as the two hauled box after box, but once the last things were unpacked he didn’t think he could hold it much longer. He texted Ned and MJ, told them to meet him at Delmar’s in thirty. Thank heavens above that his friends were so supportive as to show up at almost eleven at night, and thank the gods above that Mr. Delmar was always glad to host his favorite customers, despite almost closing time.
Peter met his friends outside the door. They went in and found the most private corner booth the restaurant had to offer. Peter ordered a Number Nine and an orange soda, Ned got a Number Six with extra mustard, and Michelle got a Number Twelve without pickles or onions.
Once the kids’ orders were placed, Ned scooted closer and asked, “Hey Peter, what’s up? You look upset.”
“That’s what I came to talk to you guys about,” Peter said. “Dad and Pops...they got a divorce. It, it happened so suddenly and...and I d-don’t know what to do. Pops, he said Dad was seeing someone else and I just...I wanna know w-why they don’t love each other a-anymore.”
Peter couldn’t keep the floodgates back and broke into tears on the spot. MJ switched seats and offered Peter her shoulder. He wiped his tears with his sleeve and let the girl pull him into a comforting embrace. Ned reached a hand out across the table and took Peter’s, unsure of what to say other than a sorry for something that wasn’t Ned’s fault.
“Peter, I know you feel like crap right now but I assure you that none of this is your fault,” MJ said.
“Why don’t Dad and Pops love each other?” he asked.
“I wish we could tell you,” Ned said. “I wish we could.”
Peter squeezed Ned’s hand, and Ned squeezed back.
Peter returned to the apartment carrying some of Mrs. Leeds’ leftover cookies (as per her insistence) and was greeted by silence and darkness—something he had grown accustomed to over the weeks. He slipped off his shoes and went to Steve’s room, cracking the door open just a crack to make sure the latter was sleeping soundly, and sure enough, he heard the soft breathing of his father. Peter was glad for that. That made one person.
After a night of tossing and turning, Peter finally got some shut-eye, only to be awoken minutes later not to the familiarity of his alarm, Stark Industries’ AI Jarvis, but to his phone beeping obnoxiously on the small night table next to him. Groaning, he pulled the covers off of himself and shivered at the cold air that touched his body.
Peter locked the bathroom door behind him and looked at himself in the mirror. He barely recognized himself. His eyes were red and puffy at the edges from crying, and the tears left some salty residue on his rosy cheeks. His nose, too, was also red from crying. His brown curls stuck to his forehead with sweat. Peter splashed some cool water on his face and and the color faded away slightly. He instantly felt more awake despite getting no sleep.
Once he brushed his teeth and changed into decent clothes, he went to the kitchen and reached for his usual box of cereal when he noticed a yellow sticky note on the fridge.
I’m helping Bucky remodel his apartment today and since it’s below the ground floor, I
probably won’t get signal. If there’s anything you need you can call your Dad or Bucky’s
Love, Pops xoxo”
Below that was a ten-digit phone number, presumably Bucky Barnes’ because Tony Stark had a different area code. Peter folded up the note and tossed it in his wallet next to Steve’s many other daily refrigerator memos. Just as he reached for his usual Frosted Flakes, his phone buzzed in his pocket. It was a text from MJ.
“Since you don’t seem to have plans this Friday you wanna come to a party with me?”
“Um...why?” Peter texted back.
About a minute passed before his phone buzzed again.
“It’s your birthday isn’t it?”
Peter mentally slapped himself. He couldn’t believe he forgot about his own birthday coming up soon. And since he couldn’t think of anything better to do, he texted MJ back with a solid, “Sure, why not” . He was supposed to stay with his dad the weekend, but he doubted that Tony would mind. So what if Peter didn't know who was throwing this mystery party? After all, if Michelle Jones of all people was going, how bad could it be?
I'm gonna put this disclaimer right now since this story does touch on a lot of sensitive subjects.
I am doing my best to write these as realistically as possible, but they may not be accurate or pertain to the characters specifically. On the topic of divorce, I'm doing my best to write from Steve and Tony's perspectives but I've only ever been the child of a divorce and thus am more able to write from Peter's side. On the topics of dating, relationships, and sex, I'm writing based on my outside observation of other people's healthy relationships because all my experiences have been abusive and toxic. On the legal system, I will do my best to research laws in New York but again, some of my own experience might seep in and there may be discrepancies because I've only been in the Minnesota legal system. And finally, on the subject of substance use and mental illness, I am basing the feelings largely on how it was like for me, but keep in mind that they affect individuals differently.
Nonetheless, I will do my best with this story and I hope you guys enjoy it.
Chapter 2: Rum And Cola
“Are you sure your dads are okay with this?” Ned asked.
“I mean, yeah, technically,” Peter replied.
“What do you mean by ‘technically’?”
“Well, you know.”
“You didn’t tell them, did you?”
“Ned, I’m fifteen. I think I can take care of myself for one night. And I told Dad that I’ll be with you and MJ, which is true.”
“But Peter! What if we get in trouble or something?”
“Ned, MJ invited us remember? I trust her,” Peter assured his friend.
“Alright, if you say so.”
The bus slowed to a halt at a dimly lit suburban street corner just a few minutes outside of the city. Peter and Ned thanked the driver and made their way past the rows of almost identical driveways and picket fences. Peter couldn’t help but remember one of Steve’s vocal musings from many years ago. Back in the day, his pops planned on moving to the suburbs with Bucky. Steve wanted a home in a safe town with a vegetable garden, a nice view for painting, and perhaps a dog or two. But that was long before the Stark-Rogers family was a thing. Was. As in not anymore. Peter wondered if his pops planned on pursuing that dream, now that he no longer was confined to the metropolitan headquarters where Stark Industries was located.
“Hey,” Ned said, interrupting Peter’s thoughts. “Are you sure we’re going in the right direction?”
Peter glanced down at the GPS on his phone. “I think so. It should be in five hundred feet on the corner of Crown and Highly streets.”
The boys walked forward another half minute before they spotted a block packed with parked cars and numerous bicycles strewn across the front lawn.
The house itself was a modest one. It stood at three stories tall with walls made of champagne-painted wood slats. The front of the place was lined with yellow daffodils with ceramic lawn gnomes placed every few feet. In the front yard was a table laden with food and several coolers filled to the brim with purchased-in-bulk ice cubes and glass bottles. Lively music and chatter came from the garage, entryway, and foyer despite the dark clouds that rolled over the night sky, threatening to rain. It was as if the darkness was a literal end of times, and all the people focused on living up their last moments.
MJ, sat on top of a closed cooler, waved to Peter and Ned as soon as she saw them.
“Hey guys! Glad you could make it. I was getting a bit tired of being a forty-seventh wheel,” she said as she opening a fresh bottle of cola and poured in a small amount of an amber liquid from a paper cup.
She glanced up when she noticed Peter and Ned staring. “Well don’t just stand there like a couple of losers. Help yourself, food and drinks are compliments of the host.”
Peter and Ned each grabbed an orange soda and a popsicle as they milled about, casually observing the other partygoers. They didn’t recognize anybody; all of them seemed to be their age, but from different schools. Some of them danced in the garage, some hung out in the yard, and some were inside the house. One kid sat in a kiddie pool filled part way while he smoked a cigarette. And Peter swore he heard moaning from one of the bedrooms. At this point, Peter knew the only people of familiarity to him were Ned and MJ. That was until he blindly bumped into a familiar figure in the driveway, causing both people to drop what they were holding.
“Holy crap I’m sorry—” the person stopped when he looked at Peter. “Wait a sec, Peter Stark-Rogers? I didn’t know you had friends other than Ned and Michelle.”
“Crap,” was all Peter thought.
“Well, um, MJ invited me so, um, yeah,” he stammered.
“So this your first time, Peter?”
“Yeah, basically. MJ invited me here for my birthday and-”
“Holy shit, it’s your birthday?” Flash exclaimed.
Flash held up Peter’s hand as if they’d won the Olympics and hollered, “Hey everyone, we got a birthday right here! Let’s give Peter a birthday welcome!”
As everyone scream-sang ‘Happy Birthday’, Peter noticed that this Flash Thompson was unlike the one he dealt with at school. The absence of Penis was also a dead giveaway. That was when Peter noticed a strong smell coming from Flash. An acrid one, almost like an antiseptic.
And sure enough, when everyone was done singing, Flash reached for a a bottle of vodka and poured some into his lemonade before he proceeded to compliment Peter and Ned’s outfits. Though he knew underaged drinking wasn’t a good thing, Peter decided that he liked drunk Flash much better than a sober one. He was relishing in the Nice Flash when Ned pulled Peter aside.
“Dude, I don’t care if MJ’s our friend but I think her judgement was seriously flawed this him,” Ned said. “Literally everyone here is drunk or high or something. We’re gonna get in so much trouble.”
“I dunno, man. Maybe just give it another hour. These guys don’t seem that bad,” Peter said.
“I think we should go home and forget all this,” Ned said, concern growing in his voice.
“I think we’ll be fine.”
Ned reached for his phone. “Peter, I have a really bad feeling about this. I’m gonna call my mom to pick us up.”
MJ came over to the boys and asked, “What’s up?”
Ned replied, “MJ, no offense, but I really don’t think any of us should be here. We could get arrested. Or worse. I’m calling my mom right now.”
“Come on Ned,” MJ said. “The party games are just about to start, and we haven’t even given you guys the proper newbies welcome.”
“No, no, no,” Ned said, backing away. “I will NOT be part of whatever dangerous or illegal things you planned.”
“Technically, I didn’t plan it. The host did,” Michelle defended.
“Same thing! I don’t want any part of this.” Ned scrolled through his contacts.
“Wait!” Peter said. He reached for his wallet and fished out several quarters. “Here, take this so you can catch the eight o’clock bus home. Just please don’t tell anyone MJ and I are here, okay?”
Peter wasn’t sure what came over him. Normally he and Ned had the same sense of responsibility, but tonight, something inside made him want to try something different—rebellious, even.. Maybe do something out of spite or needing attention. Peter didn’t know whom he wanted to spite or get attention from, but he ignored his head and went with the burning desire in his gut.
Ned hesitated before taking the money. “I’ll tell my mom that you got tired.”
“Atta boy,” MJ said as she patted his shoulder. “Better get going, it’s 7:53.”
“I can walk you to the bus stop,” Peter offered. It was the least he could do.
“I’m good,” Ned said. “Just don’t do anything stupid.”
“O-okay..” Peter said.
Once Ned was out of sight, MJ nudged Peter.
She said, “Come on, games are gonna start downstairs in five. Don’t wanna miss it.”
Chapter 3: King Of Nothing At All
Steve hadn’t expected for everything to be so okay in such a short amount of time. A month ago, Steve wanted Tony to fight back tooth and nail against signing those papers in the stubborn manner that highlighted his personality. Steve wanted Tony to pull him close and tell him and he refuses to let go. He wanted him to beg for a second chance. Steve wanted Tony to show that he really cared. And at the time of the divorce, Steve was more than disappointed that his ex-husband, frankly, was almost apathetic to the whole situation. What happened to the love they once shared?
Steve couldn’t help but wonder what went wrong, and whether or not it was his fault instead of Tony’s. After all, Tony wouldn’t have cheated unless he felt unsatisfied. Was Steve not good enough? Was it his cooking? The way he smelled? Bad sex? The fact that the two spent more time with Peter than each other? Of course, Steve didn’t blame Peter. The kid’s only a teenager. He couldn’t have done anything wrong. It was Tony’s fault for cheating, but somewhere inside Steve felt that he wasn’t good enough. He checked over his shoulder quickly before he lifted up his arm, took a quick sniff, and shrugged. At least he smelled decent.
He was interrupted when his longtime best friend (and sort-of lover), Bucky Barnes, entered the living room with a plate of warm tuna melt sandwiches and a pitcher of lemonade. Bucky handed Steve the one without tomato—just the way he liked it. He plopped on the couch next to Steve and draped his non-prosthetic arm over the blond’s shoulders.
“Are you gonna keep sniffing your armpits or are you gonna pick a movie?” Bucky gestured towards the TV.
“I want to watch whatever you want to watch,” Steve replied sheepishly.
“Well I want to watch whatever you want to watch.”
“But I want to watch whatever you want to watch.”
The men went back and forth for a couple minutes before Bucky said, “How about Star Wars? The originals, not the prequels.”
Steve chuckled. “Sure, but don’t tell Peter. He loves those movies.”
Bucky nodded and rested his head on Steve’s chest as music played and yellow paragraphs scrolled up onto the screen. Steve planted a soft kiss into Bucky’s hair, taking in the sweet fragrances of sugar plum shampoo and athletic-strength deodorant. His heart fluttered ever so slightly underneath his light blue t-shirt, and for a second he swore their two hearts synced perfectly. He unconsciously fiddled with his keychain with three keys; his house key, Bucky’s house key, and his car key. And even though it was just him and Bucky, Steve instinctually groaned when Jar Jar Binks showed up on the TV—a habit he picked up from his son. Steve wondered how different things would’ve been if he married Bucky instead of Tony. Where would they live? Would they have adopted Peter or another child? Would there be warlike arguments or just playful bickering over the last can of cola?
“Whatcha thinking there, punk?” Bucky asked, eyes meeting Steve’s.
“Just how much I wanna murder whoever created Jar Jar,” the latter replied playfully.
Bucky craned his neck upwards and placed a quick, gentle kiss on Steve’s lips, sharing the taste of lemony sweetness. Steve reacted with a kiss back of equal volume and the men turned back to the movie, bodies pressed close to keep out the nighttime cold.
Smooth. Sweet. A little on the nutty side but classy nonetheless. Stephen Strange could’ve been describing the glass of Muscat Blanc that he swirled around in his hand, the maple-glazed chicken that the waitress recommended to him, or his boyfriend, Tony Stark. Tony was the embodiment of glamour, or “extra”, as kids these days called it. Because no one else would take their partner to a rooftop restaurant for a six-month anniversary and pre-ordered a hundred-dollar bottle of white wine while an orchestra played the partner’s favorite songs. Stephen felt a bit underdressed compared to Tony (granted, the latter was five minutes late). Though their tuxedos were almost identical black and white, Tony’s was decked with gold disk cufflinks and a Givenchy logo embroidered onto the handkerchief. Again, so extra. But Stephen was going to do the opposite of complain, as he found the man absolutely ravishing.
“Sorry I’m late,” Tony said as he took a seat. “Had to give Peter some change for bus fare. I offered to have Happy drive him wherever he was going, but you know teenagers.”
Stephen smiled. “I wouldn’t know. I never had one.”
“Well Peter’s a great kid, remind me to introduce him to you some time. He’ll grow on you real fast,” Tony said, pouring himself a glass of wine.
“Any family of yours is family of mine,” Stephen said. “So how about you? What have you been up to all this week?”
“You know, the usual. Had to delay my flight to Berlin because it overlapped with an important multi-corporational conference, ran a bunch of paperwork by Friday, and picked Peter up from Steve’s after school today. Also, I finally went underwear shopping. I can show you later tonight.” Tony waggled his eyebrows.
“Only if I can show you a nice playlist to go along with it.”
Tony raised a glass and said, “To us.”
“To us,” Stephen agreed.
Their glasses clinked just as the waitress returned to take their orders. Tony studied at her quizzically before he said, “I’ll have the special of the day. Also, haven’t I seen you before?”
The waitress—Doris, her nametag read—chuckled bitterly. “Well, my husband was in the news a while back. But that’s history. What about you? What can I get you?” She turned to Stephen.
“I’ll have what he’s having,” Stephen said.
“Alright, it’ll be out shortly,” she said, collecting the menus.
“So, doctor, what have you been up so lately?” Tony asked, taking Stephen’s hand and squeezed it between his own two.
“Removed a bullet from a kid’s head, diagnosed like ten old people with Alzheimer’s, and found out that Mexican place by my office has a two-for-one on chimichangas,” he replied. “Maybe we can meet up there tomorrow during our lunch breaks.”
“You know I love every excuse to see you.”
“And you know that after this, I’m gonna make an excuse to see that new underwear you bought.”
Tony growled like a hungry tiger in response—a green light for Stephen to go ahead whenever he wanted.
After a few more minutes of conversation, Doris came back with two plates of chicken and a basket of bread and butter. The men thanked her and began eating while conversing. Just as Stephen was in the middle of monologuing about a careless lab technician, Tony’s phone buzzed. Only then did they truly realize how much time had passed. Stephen checked his watch and sure enough, it was almost 11:30. Tony checked his phone underneath the table and typed rapidly before he slipped it back into his pocket.
“Everything alright?” Stephen inquired.
“Yeah,” Tony said. “Just Peter telling me he’s sleeping over at someone’s house. Some guy named Wayne or something, I didn’t read too closely. I’m sure he’ll be fine. He needs to work on his typos though.”
“Of course, I understand. Well, not really. I don’t have any kids.”
Tony laughed. “How about I foot the bill and tips, and we can go back to my place.”
“Now that would be delightful.”
After Tony signed the check, the couple walked off into the glowing New York lights, Stephen’s hand in Tony’s back pocket as they made their way home for the night.
Chapter 4: Everything Is A-Okay
Peter followed MJ as she seamlessly navigated the maze of a house. He slowed down momentarily as they passed a well-decorated living room. The couches, arranged in a half-circle, were shifted and covered in popcorn, tortilla chips, red plastic cups, and two sleeping patrons entangled in a knot of limbs. Despite being August, the bottom of the fireplace was lined with pumpkin and Christmas elf decorations. In the right corner sat a high-definition plasma screen TV that could give Stark Industries a run for its money. On the mantle sat multiple picture frames. One appeared to be an old, slightly faded school photo of a brunet boy in a suit and tie. The one next to it was a framed People magazine clipping with a picture headlined “2010 Sexiest Man Alive” . A third one was of a young man, probably in his early twenties, donning a gray sweatshirt and sweatpants, his hands shoved in his pockets, the hood barely concealing a heavily scarred face. Peter hurried along to catch up with MJ’s quick pace as she snaked past a hallway full of people.
She stopped so abruptly that Peter rammed into her from behind. “One sec, I need to let them know we’re here,” she said.
She rapped the door in a sequence of short knocks, broken every few seconds by a pause. The door swung open, revealing Flash in a dark hoodie that he definitely was not wearing when Peter first saw him. Flash had a red drawstring bag slung over his shoulder and thin glass tube with a bulb on the end in one hand. He motioned the two down a flight of dimly lit stairs. Peter narrowly dodged dirty cobwebs and held his breath so as to not breathe in the thick atmosphere of dust and smoke. MJ carefully closed the door behind them and locked it with a key on her bracelet. Once they reached the bottom, Peter was met with an empty floor furnished with bean bag chairs and cushions and somebody laughing at a joke. MJ took a seat on a cushion and asked Peter to join her. He sat down and looked around at the set of strangers.
Besides him, MJ, and Flash, there were only two other people. One was an African-American girl with wavy black hair that hosted an artificial silver streak on one side. She wore a sheared red dress and heels, and the mixed smells of perfume and smoke wafted from her place all the way to Peter’s nose. Which made sense, considering her cherry red lips took another drag of the cigarette between two of her fingers. The second person was the young scar-faced man in the photo—sweatshirt and all. He leaned back on a bean bag as he took a sip from the martini glass in his hand. Peter was instantly drawn to the man’s hazel eyes that held glimmers of mischief, sadness, and potential. Peter averted his gaze before things turned awkward.
“Hey Michelle, you gonna introduce your friend?” the girl asked.
“He’s a big boy, he can introduce himself,” MJ said.
All eyes turned to Peter.
“Hi. My name is Peter,” he said awkwardly. “Um, Peter Stark-Rogers. Yeah.”
The red dress girl’s eyes widened. “Stark-Rogers? As in the Tony Stark and Steve Rogers? No wonder Michelle brought you here. I’m Liz, by the way. Liz Allan.”
“W-what does that mean?” Peter asked, looking to MJ for answers.
The scar-faced boy leaned over, shook Peter’s hand, and said, “Nice you meet son of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. The name’s Wade Wilson. Listen, I’ve been emailing Stark for the past year about a chimichanga vending machine idea, and I was wondering if you could-”
“Jeez man, give the dude some space,” Flash interjected. “He probably doesn’t even know why he’s here.”
Liz tossed her cigarette butt into an ashtray on a table ten feet away. It landed with extreme accuracy and slowly smoldered itself out.
“So,” Liz said. “Let me give you the rundown. Everyone in this room has daddy issues. They,” she gestured to MJ, Flash, and Wade, “met at one of Wade’s block parties a year and a half ago and bonded over that fact. I joined last September. My dad was in the media too, not sure if you remember. I know it’s weird and a lot to process Just say the word if you want out.”
Peter looked around. A squad of people who understand what he’s going through? People who he can talk to and hang out with to take his mind off things? Sure, Flash was there, but other than that Liz’s offer didn’t seem that bad. He had to make sure to thank MJ for bringing him.
“I’m in. Why not?” Peter said.
“Awesome,” Wade sang. “Initiation time!”
“Don’t worry Penis, it’s not that bad.” Ah, there was the Flash he knew. “And if you do it, I won’t tell people at school that you’re still a virgin.”
“Hey!” Peter exclaimed, the same way he did when Flash smacked his ass at the hotel when the team snuck out to the pool the night before decathlon nationals.
“Again, don’t worry. It’s just one shot.” Flash fished a glass bottle and a Minnesota Nice gift shop shot glass from the drawstring bag.
He poured a clear liquid into the glass. Peter saw a few gold flakes swirl and settle to the bottom. Flash handed it to Peter.
“Just take a shot this and you’re in. It’s my pa’s finest Goldschlager.”
“I don’t know,” Peter said.
“You’re not gonna turn down my pa’s finest, are you?” Flash asked intimidatingly.
Peter gulped and lifted the glass to his lips. The alcohol almost made his eyes water. He tilted his head back poured the whole ounce into his mouth and swallowed as fast as he could. Peter winced as it burned the back of his throat and left a spicy cinnamon flavor on his tongue. He felt warm and fuzzy., Oddly enough, he liked it.
“Alright, you’re in,” Flash said, patting Peter on the back. “You guys can start the fun, I’ll be back with drinks. We got an old fashioned for me, a cosmopolitan for Wade, mojito for MJ, and a martini dry for Liz. What about you Penis?”
“Um, surprise me?” Peter said.
“The Flash Thompson Special it is!”
The boy went over to a mini bar on the other side of the room and Peter watched in awe as he flipped bottles, stirred drinks, and added lemon wheel, mint leaf, and olive garnishes. Meanwhile, Wade got up and grabbed a ketchup bottle from a mini fridge.
“Spin the bottle? What are we, thirteen?” MJ snorted.
“More like Spin the Seven Minutes in Never Have I Truth or Dare,” Wade replied.
“What?” Peter asked.
“It’s Spin the Bottle with Seven Minutes in Heaven combined with Never Have I Ever and Truth or Dare. Basically, you ask a Never Have I Ever question, then you spin the bottle and whoever it lands on gets to either ask you a Truth or Dare or do a Seven Minutes in Heaven in the place of their choosing. Who wants to go first? How about our guest, eh?”
Flash rejoined the group with a tray full of cocktail cups. He handed a tall cup with an orange-ish mix to Peter and said, “Here you go, the Flash Thompson Special. Now with more alcohol.”
Peter took half a sip. He recoiled at the intensity of the alcohol. Then the fuzzy feeling got to his head and he decided that he could roll with that. He spun the ketchup bottle, which pointed to MJ.
Peter said, “Never have I ever...nicknamed anyone Penis.”
Flash grunted and took a sip from his dark brown drink, before saying, “Penis, truth or dare.”
“Dare,” Peter said.
“I dare you to inhale from this for fifteen seconds.”
Flash placed the glass tube from earlier into Peter’s hand.
“You’ve never seen a crack pipe before? Jeez, you’re really sheltered for a famous kid.”
Not wanting to look like a wimp, Peter placed the lit pipe between his lips and inhaled as the others counted to fifteen in unison. He wanted to cough and spit it out so badly; it tasted like...well...nothing, because the smoke numbed his mouth as soon as it touched it. He finally let out a huge exhale and a series of dry coughs when the fifteen seconds was over. A rush came over his head and, as if a god revealed a prophecy, Peter felt more confident. King of the world, even. Flash wiped down the pipe with a napkin before having a puff himself. A twinge jealous, Peter kind of wanted the glass object and its contents for himself.
“My turn,” Flash said, taking the bottle.
The game went on as such for several rounds. MJ dared Flash to take a vodka shot standing on his head. Liz confessed to stealing a fifty-dollar Oscorp gift card. Liz and MJ had a few minutes of fun in a running shower stall, both in their underwear. Flash dared Wade to play the ukulele with his toes, and Peter dared Liz to eat one of many dead bugs on the dusty windowsill and wash it down with warm milk. Each time, they took turns smoking from Flash’s pipe or Liz’s box of Newports.
By the time Peter’s turn came around his glass was empty, his shirt was drenched in sweat and draped over a barstool, and boy did he feel great.
He spun the bottle and watched as it went around. And around. And around even more, as if taunting him. Then it slowed to a stop, the cap pointed at Wade.
“Never have I ever eaten Oreos with peanut butter,” Peter said.
“That’s a fucking lie,” MJ said. “You and Ned had a bunch the last day of sixth grade.”
“Fine, fine. Never have I ever...uh...kissed anyone?” It came out more like a question than a statement. Everyone took the last swigs of their drinks.
Wade then said, “Peter. You, me, wardrobe, now. We’re gonna go find Narnia, and then do some other stuff.”
Peter let out a light, bubbly laugh, clearly plastered from the god-knows-how-much alcohol and crack pipe and cigarette puffs. Wade offered his hand, and Peter took it. The two hurried into a walk-in closet and closed the door. Almost grabbing Peter’s face on accident, Wade groped around until he found the light switch. Then things began to heat up.
“So you’ve never had your first kiss?” Wade asked, moving his body in Peter’s direction.
“Nope,” Peter said.
“Is it okay if your first one is in a closet with an acquaintance at a party?”
“Sure, why not?”
Wade leaned in and softly pressed his lips against Peter’s. Both boys closed their eyes. Peter took in the aroma of the older one’s cologne, the taste of spearmint chapstick and cranberry juice and peach schnapps. A soft moan escaped the boy’s lips as Wade made his way down his neck, leaving tiny bite marks all the way from Peter’s jawline to his collarbone.
“You’re really fucking hot,” Peter said between breaths.
“So are you.”
Peter wrapped his legs around Wade’s torso as the latter pressed the former up against the closet’s cream-colored walls. So far, this was better than Narnia.
It was only when they were kissing that Wade unzipped Peter’s pants, and the boy had second thoughts. He broke the kiss and held back the hyperventilating.
“Something wrong, cutie?” Wade questioned.
“I-I don’t know,” Peter stammered. “I don’t know if I can do this yet. Sorry.”
“Hey, it’s okay if you’re not ready. We can totally stop if you want to.”
“Really? I don’t wanna seem like a chicken. I don’t think it’s even been five minutes.”
“That’s okay, Petey-pie. I won’t make you if you don’t want to. Where’s the fun in that? Plus, Michelle and Liz were only half-naked in the shower for, like, three minutes before they both didn’t feel like it, which is perfectly fine. It’s normal.”
“Okay, yeah,” Peter said with a nod. “How’s about we go back and maybe have Flash make us a couple for drinks.”
“Sounds good to me.”
Peter zipped his jeans and the pair stumbled out of the closet together. The girls squealed like children and Flash whistled at the sight of the lovebites forming on Peter’s neck. Wade told Flash to make two Manhattans. The group played a couple more rounds of Wade’s game as Flash did his thing, then moved onto some Texas Hold’Em. It was almost as if they were all over twenty one, spending their spring break living it up on the Las Vegas Strip. The house above them quieted as the other strangers left one by one, until it was only the five of them gathered in a circle on the floor.
MJ yawned and folded her cards. “I’m gonna sleep in the upstairs guest room. Don’t wake me up unless there’s a fire.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Peter said.
“Oh man, I should probably head home. Mom will be done with work soon,” Liz said. “It’s been nice meeting you Peter, and I’ll see you guys around.”
“See you!” the boys said at the same time.
“So now what?” Flash asked.
“What time is it?” Peter questioned.
He checked his phone and it was 11:30. “Dad probably wants me back home,” Peter said.
His head swam when he stood up from his chair, and things were just a tad bit blurry and spinning. Peter headed towards the barstool where his shirt was, but made it about halfway before stumbling and gripping the wall for support. He felt a pair of arms steady him from behind. He looked and saw Wade helping him keep his balance.
“Do you wanna stay for the night? It’s kinda dangerous going out there now,” Wade offered.
“Sure, just let me text Dad,” Peter replied, stifling a yawn.
He typed up a sloppy text and hit send without checking it twice. He slipped his phone back into his pocket and felt those same pair of arms lift him up bridal style.
“I figured this is faster than trying to get you to walk upstairs,” Wade said. “You can have my bed tonight. Michelle’s got the guest bed and Flash is probably gonna take the sofa. I can get a sleeping bag on the floor.”
“Waaaaaade, I can’t let you do that,” Peter protested.
“But you’re the guest.”
“But you’re Canadian.”
“The hell is that relevant?”
“Can you sleep with me then pleeeeeeease? You’re really warm.”
“Whatever you want, Petey-pie.”
“Yaaaay!” Peter giggled.
Wade set Peter down on the velvet sheets in the bedroom and told him he’d be back after brushing his teeth. When Wade re-entered, however, Peter was already out cold, his soft snores filling the otherwise quiet room. Wade adjusted himself underneath the blankets and flicked off the lamp.
Still asleep, Peter shuffled closer and wrapped all four of his limbs around Wade’s marred body, and mumbled something along the lines of “that’s better”. Wade smiled and wrapped his arms around Peter’s small figure.
Wade never had a love at first sight nor did he believe in it, but Peter Stark-Rogers made it pretty damn close.
Chapter 5: Run Them Red Lights
“Good morning Petey-pie.”
Somewhere in the night, it was established that Wade was the big spoon, as he cradled Peter from his backside in bed, sun shining through the curtains.
“Wha-,” Peter winced at a huge pain shot through his head. “Ow, my head hurts. What happened? And where’s my shirt?”
“How much do you remember?”
“Coming here. Um...Flash not being as much of a jerk. Some sort of hybrid game. Something smoky. And uh, Manhattan? Are we in Manhattan, Wade?”
Wade chucked. “Nah, that was just some drink he made. I’m guessing this is your first hangover? Michelle and Flash left without a problem.”
“Is that what this headache is?”
“Yep,” Wade said, popping the ‘p’.
Groaning, Peter sat up on his elbows and asked, “Where’s your ibuprofen?” He winced as another thunderbolt of pain coursed through his skull.
“Easy there, baby boy,” Wade said. “You stay in bed. I’ll bring some painkillers and water. And maybe some food. What would you like to eat?”
Before Peter had a chance to respond, a wave of nausea hit him like a truck. Covering his mouth, he sprinted to the bathroom and hurled the contents of his stomach into the porcelain toilet bowl. He vaguely felt Wade’s hand between his shoulder blades and heard the man’s soothing voice as his body cleansed itself of the poison from last night. And just when Peter thought it was over, his stomach decided to go for round two. And round three. It felt like he was crouched in the bathroom for an hour, when in reality it was only about fifteen minutes. Panting, he flushed the toilet and leaned away and felt Wade’s arms wrap around him from behind.
“It hurts,” the boy mumbled.
“I know, cutie. First times are never a charm,” Wade said. “How ‘bout I clean up downstairs while you freshen up. I got some spare clothes in the closet and hotel toothbrushes in that bottom drawer.”
“M’kay,” Peter replied as Wade lightly pecked Peter’s cheek and left him alone in the bathroom.
Peter pulled himself from the floor and looked in the mirror. Shirtless, wrinkled pants with the waistband of his underwear showing, tousled curls. Great way to start the day, besides the fact that he woke up in someone else’s house. Peter shuffled through the pile of stolen hotel toiletries in Wade’s bottom drawer (seriously, he got away with stealing towels ) and settled on a simple toothbrush with a pale yellow handle. After brushing his teeth, Peter splashed some water on his face. Then, like some genetic force of habit, he lifted his arm and recoiled when his body smelled like ass—in this case, stale liquor and teenage dude B.O. He quickly went to Wade’s closet and picked out a simple pair of brown khakis, a Ramones t-shirt, and gray hoodie. Peter stepped into the shower and allowed cold water to run over his body as he scrubbed himself with the stolen hotel soap. All while humming ‘Today Is Gonna Be A Great Day’ .
“So...this is embarrassing, but I think people ate all the food last night,” Wade said, rubbing his neck. “Uh, wanna go out to eat? You don’t have to, since you can eat at home or something.”
“I’m down for going out,” Peter said.
“What do you wanna get?”
“I wanna get what you wanna get.”
“Well I wanna get what you wanna get.”
“But I wanna get what you wanna get.”
Wade thought for a second. “I know this Mexican place a couple blocks down from the hospital. They have a two-for-one on chimichangas, and their margaritas are to die for.”
“Really Wade? Day drinking?” Peter scrunched his nose.
“Well I have these voice boxes that won’t shut up without booze,” Wade said. “Shit, hope that wasn’t too weird.”
“What if I like weird?”
Peter and Wade had to take two busses and a subway to get to a general hospital in the middle of New York City, then they had to walk past an emergency room and Starbucks before they arrived at a small, family-owned restaurant. It was shaped sort of like the Alamo, with the outside painted pink. Barn-red tiles sloped down the roof, stopping just short of windows decorated with advertisements and a glowing open sign. A few tables were set up outside underneath the shade, and though the restaurant was spacious, Peter spotted only a few customers: a rambunctious group of four preteens sat in a booth by a large potted plant and a lonely-looking bearded man in a doctor’s uniform looked over a menu with a glass of water beside him. An African-American woman greeted Peter and Wade as soon as they step foot.
“Wade, darling, glad to see you again!” she exclaimed, arms outstretched. “And who’s this dashing young man? Is he your date?” She smiled at Peter, who smiled back awkwardly.
Wade leaned over and gave her a quick one-armed hug. “Doris, great to see ya. This is Peter, we slept together.”
He winked and Peter said, “That’s a bit of a reach.”
“Well let me show you to a seat. Table, booth, or bar?” Doris asked, taking two food and one drink menu.
“Is bar okay?” Wade asked Peter.
“Sure,” he replied.
The two climbed onto a couple barstools a few seats away from the bearded man, who glanced at Peter and Wade in a strange way. Peter ignored him and flipped open the lunch specials. He sensed something was wrong as soon as he and Wade ordered two chimichangas, with Wade throwing in a margarita.
Peter looked up as the wind chimes in the front door signaled a person’s entrance, and as soon as he saw who it was, he flipped up the hoodie and looked the other direction.
“Hey Wade,” he whispered. “Can we get our stuff to go?”
“Yeah, sure. Why, what’s up?” Wade asked, voice laced with worry.
As subtle as possible, Peter pointed to the bearded doctor as he greeted Tony Stark of all people in the universe. Wade motioned to Peter and quickly led him to the kitchen, where they asked Doris to pack up their stuff to go. She told them that they couldn’t take alcohol to go, which was how the sort-of couple found themselves sipping a margarita as fast as they could by the restaurant’s freezer. Peter felt that alcohol buzz again, but it was better than the feeling of getting in trouble with his dad after explaining why he was sort-of holding hands with a twenty-something-year-old man whom he met and shared a bed with the night before.
And after they took the food home, they found themselves on Wade’s couch, Peter’s head on Wade’s chest, Wade’s hand playing with Peter’s hair, as they marathoned Phineas and Ferb. The takeout boxes, now empty, were strewn about the coffee table alone with plastic utensils, two upside-down shot glasses, an ashtray, and what could easily be passed off as a USB.
Wade took another drag of his menthol cigarette, then handed it to Peter, who had a couple puffs for himself.
“Wade?” Peter asked, exhaling smoke from his mouth.
“Yeah?” Wade responded.
“Can I kiss you?”
“You don’t even have to ask.”
Peter craned his neck upwards as they pressed their lips together in an innocent, not-so-innocent fume-flavored kiss. Wade moved his hand from Peter’s hair to the small of the boy’s back, and caressed Peter’s cheek with his other hand. When they pulled apart, Peter snuggled closer as he brought the cigarette to his lips once more, inhaling deeply, exhaling only when his lungs felt like it.
“What are we?”
“I dunno.” Wade shrugged. “I’m cool with any label. You have the green light to decide.”
Peter shrugged back. “I don’t like labels. Labels means expectations and commitment. I’d rather just let things flow and see where we end up.”
“I get what you’re saying.”
Though as far as Peter was concerned, he was okay with how things turned out so far.
Chapter 6: Smoke In The Summer Rain
Two days later, back in Steve’s apartment, Peter was...erm, doing things in his room with the door closed and a website open when he got a text from Flash.
“Hey Penis,” it read. “My cousin works for Juul so he got me a bunch of free samples. Wanna try them with me and Liz at the park tonight?”
“Hey Pops!” Peter called from his bed as he buttoned up his pants. “Can I go to the park with Flash tonight?”
He waited a minute for a reply before he groaned and pulled himself up and went to the living room. Must he do everything by himself? Peter found his pops on the couch wearing headphones as he drank his coffee from a ‘World’s Okayest Dad’ mug. Steve took out one earbud when when he saw his son.
“Hey Pete, what’s up?” Steve asked.
“Can I hang out with Flash tonight? Thompson. Flash Thompson” Peter asked.
“Flash? I thought you hated that kid? Just two weeks ago you were talking to Ned about ways to avoid him.”
“You listened to my Skype call?” Peter asked.
“Uh...no?” Steve took another sip.
“But that was two weeks ago so that’s really outdated information.”
The man raised an eyebrow. “You really wanna talk to me about outdated?”
“Well, you know what I mean! Flash and I are cool now. So can I?”
“Yeah, sure, just be back by ten.”
“Ten is too early though,” Peter said. “How about eleven?”
“Ten-thirty. Take it or leave it.”
Peter gave a slightly stereotypical teenage sigh. “Fine, I’ll be back by ten-thirty.”
“That’s my boy. Also Bucky’s coming for an early dinner tonight so can you do the dishes please?”
Ninety minutes and a bunch of dishes later, Peter was helping Steve set up the table for a ‘family’ dinner with Bucky. Though Peter was happy for his father, there were two things about his father’s relationship that he wasn’t fond of. First, Bucky scared him. Like, who wouldn’t be scared of Bucky’s high-tech metal arm and overall I-can-kill-you-and-bury-your-body-before- breakfast demeanor? As far as Peter knew, Bucky was not one to mess with. Second, Peter couldn’t help but feel that his pops was trying to replace his dad. It had been, what, barely over a month? Yet dinners with Bucky were a regular occurrence and there was no mention of Tony or even Stark Industries as a corporation. It was as if they were never married; as if the Stark-Rogers family never existed.
Peter nearly crapped himself when Bucky let himself in with a spare house key. The boy automatically straightened out his spine in a soldier-like posture just in case slouching made him look like a delinquent.
“Hello Sergeant Barnes sir,” Peter said.
“Look kid,” Bucky said with a faint smile. “I’m a sergeant, but I’m not your sergeant. And drop the ‘sir’, it makes me feel old.”
Steve approached from the kitchen with a piping hot lasagna in one hand and a salad bowl in another.
Bucky kissed Steve quickly on the cheek. “And how’s my star-spangled pain in the ass doing this fine evening?”
“I’m doing better now that you’re here.” Steve returned with a kiss on the lips.
“Okay, first: gross,” Peter interjected. “Get a room.”
“And second, is having a son not enough to make you feel good?” Peter wondered in head head, but said nothing out loud.
“And second, I call the corner piece.”
“Well pops, thanks for the dinner, but I better be meeting Flash right now,” Peter said, grabbing his phone and wallet.
“I thought he hated that kid,” Bucky silently mouthed to Steve, who only shrugged in response.
“Stay safe and be back by 10:30,” Steve said.
“No promises,” Peter joked.
“Peter,” Bucky warned.
“I’ll stay safe,” Peter said, spine stiffening involuntarily yet again.
“That’s our boy.”
Peter considered taking the taxi because Central Park was a considerable distance away, but he decided against it when he realized he forgot his dad’s Stark Industries credit card in his room and only had about five dollars in loose coins, a Dairy Queen punch card, and his subway card in his wallet. So he took two trains and walked three blocks after. He spotted Flash and Liz under a tree with a cardboard box full of what were definitely not USBs. Peter greeted them and picked up a nice light brown one. One puff was all it took before he began to cough and gag from the awfully bitter flavor.
“What the hell was that?” he asked.
“Coffee,” Liz said. “I know, not a fan either.”
“Tastes like ass,” Peter said.
“Oh yeah, you would know what ass tastes like,” Flash joked between peach-scented puffs. “Or at least what Wade Wilson’s ass tastes like.”
Peter felt his ears burn up. “At least I didn’t have a crush on Mr. Harrington!”
“Hey, leave me out of this.” Liz playfully slapped Peter’s arm, who stuck his tongue out.
He fished through the box, occasionally taking a puff of one before deciding he didn’t like it, until he settled on a nice pink one that tasted like candy.
“Wanna see my dragon’s breath?” Flash asked, inhaling deeply.
“He’s gonna do it anyway,” Liz told Peter.
Flash held his breath for a few seconds before exhaling the smoke through his nostrils in two thick columns like, well, a dragon. Hence the name.
“Wait, wait, watch this,” Liz said.
She inhaled the menthol smoke and made an ‘o’ shape with her mouth and slowly released it, only to suck it back in at the last minute.
“My turn,” Peter said.
He inhaled and exhaled into an empty water bottle and closed it promptly so that he had a bottle of weird smoke to use as a prank.
“My dads are gonna hate me for this!” he laughed. “I should get them into a closed room together and just yeet it like a smoke bomb.”
“I should yeet it into my dad’s cell.” Liz chimed in.
“Wait wait wait,” Flash said. “What if we yeeted it to my dad across town?”
The trio cackled as New Yorker’s kept walking and tourists stopped to stare.
“What if we recorded it with my dads and it went viral?” Peter laughed once more. “Oh man, wait, what if we got them to vape? I can see it now: Tony Stark and Steve Rogers Sexing and Smoking.”
Flash added to the joke. “Harrison Thompson Gets Nic Sick.”
“Adrian Toomes Juuling In Jail.”
The jokes were dark and frankly quite crass, but Peter didn’t care. For once he wasn’t alone in the bitter resentment against parents for leaving one way or another. The park was shrouded in darkness save for the glow of street lamps and e-cigarettes, but the kids were too deep in their own world to even care. A world where getting buzzed a ton was okay and all they thought of was fun, fun, and more fun. A world where fathers remained faithful and the euphoria never ended and life wasn’t a bitch, but rather life was their bitch. But that world only existed in tooth-rotting, marshmallow-candy-land fairy tales, and the teens were forced to acknowledge that when Flash’s mother called him home. On the plus (?) side, they went through three whole juul pods along with a few of Liz’s regular cigarettes, and Flash even managed to sneak some dark rum and plastic shot glasses.
“Hey Penis, I’m dropping Liz of at her place, wanna come with?” Flash asked.
“Nah, sorry man. I’m going the other way.”
“Cool. Stay safe. See ya,” Liz said.
“Don’t get raped in the dark!” Flash said with a laugh.
Peter waved goodbye to his companions and watched until they were out of his line of sight. At this point, the entire place was almost dark and he had no sense of direction, and maybe was stumbling. Just a little bit. He pulled out his phone and opened the GPS. He just needed quick directions to the nearest subway station and he knew the way from there.
“Turn left in one hundred and fifty feet,” the device’s robotic voice instructed.
Just as Peter rounded the corner past two large adjacent tree trunks, his senses told him something was off. But before he even had a chance to look behind him, a cold hand squeezed his neck hard and a dense rag was placed over his nose and mouth. Colorful spots swam through his vision, and before everything went dark, he heard someone say, “Jackpot.”
Chapter 7: Dirty Laundry
Trigger warning: contains sexual assault, view at your own discretion.
Pain. Red hot searing pain wracked Peter’s whole body as he blearily opened his eyes. Before he did anything else, he remembered one of his pops’ survival tips. His head felt dull and fuzzy as he tried to focus his senses on making at least five observations about his surroundings.
One: he wasn’t at home. Nothing about the air reminded him of home.
Two: he smelled something rancid. Like a blend between rotten eggs, fish, and chlorine.
Three: the place was almost pitch black, save for the miniscule amounts of light that shone through cracks in the concrete ceiling.
Four: he was tied to something. A bed or mattress perhaps? Something soft but also itchy and lumpy.
Five: his clothes were all stripped off and bunched together at the end of his feet. And chances are, his phone was either in one of his pockets or lost completely.
“Judy, where’d you put the champagne?” a blond man’s voice rang through the place.
“We don’t have any,” a woman, presumably Judy, replied. “Ran out last Saturday.”
“Damn, wanted to use it on the guy. Y’know, being a fancy Stark kid and all.”
“Yeah, we really struck gold. Like what are the odds?”
Without thinking, Peter shouted, voice hoarse and throat raw, “Who are you guys and where am I?”
Judy cursed. “I told you it wasn’t enough chloroform, Skip.”
“Chloro-wha?” Peter mumbled softly.
“Well it lasted for three hours so I think I did a decent job,” the man, Skip, argued.
Peter wriggled and tugged at the bindings that tied him down to the mattress. The two strangers noticed him struggling and immediately went over. Peter felt a body on top of his, presumably the female because of the strong perfume scent and long hair (though he wasn’t one to judge). Her forearm pressed against his neck, as if threatening to strangle him between the arm and the bed. Peter’s limbs thrashed wildly as the other person joined in pinning him down.
“Now, now,” Judy said in a fake-sweet tone. “You gotta respect your elders.”
“Open up,” Skip said, prying Peter’s jaws open, stuffing something into his mouth. “Look how cute he is, still got that baby fat and all. We should show him the magazines, he’ll love it.”
It tasted foul, to say the least. Like moldy cherries mixed with warm, salted milk. Peter felt the thing move back and forth, triggering his gag reflex every time. The lady’s nails dug into his skin as she pinned him down even harder, whispering obscene sweet nothings to him. He felt her hot beer breath and spit on his face and gagged even more, if that was even possible at that point. Then, as if his body had a mind of its own, Peter’s fist jerked upward and he heard a groan as Skip’s foreign object exited his mouth. He took that chance and pushed Judy onto the hard floor. Skip came at Peter again, but the boy met the man with a backhand slap to the face and a punch slightly below the stomach. The man doubled over in pain and that was when Peter gathered his things in his arms and ran. He just ran as fast as he could, staying away from any human given his current state.
Peter must have sprinted at least half a mile through a maze dark alleyways before he found an unlocked public restroom. He quickly went in and locked the door shut. The single-person bathroom was illuminated with a single light above the mirror, revealing its green tile walls and floor all covered in grime, and it smelled like a herd of cows. The toilet looked like it hadn’t been fixed in a decade, and the same could be said for the sink, but the boy was willing to use the former as he threw up. Peter was glad, though, that the soap, toilet paper, and paper towel dispensers weren’t empty. He shuffled through his things and kept a mental note of what he had. Sweatshirt, check (and it was clean, so that was a plus). Socks and shoes, check. The t-shirt and jeans were stained but at least he had them, so check. Peter was still wearing his boxers. He dug through the pockets and nearly praised the gods above that he had his wallet, but unfortunately, his phone was clearly missing. He had no way of telling the time or contacting anyone. It was 2018, nobody remembered numbers for god’s sake! And he wasn’t about to go to the police because the last thing he needed was to get arrested for underaged vaping or minor consumption.
Peter placed his things on top of the paper towel dispenser and turned on the sink, partly surprised that it still worked. Cold water leaked from the faucet. He scrubbed his hands and face vigorously with soap until his skin turned pink, as if to try and erase those people’s touch, and he rinsed his mouth a hundred times in attempt to wash away the foul, offending grossness from inside him. Despite the mineral-laced taste of the tap water, it was still a boon compared to what happened. Peter’s mind still couldn’t wrap around the entire situation. To say he felt disgusting would’ve been a grave understatement. He wanted to curl up on the floor and scream and cry, but he needed to figure out how to get home first. There was plenty of time for emotion later.
But Peter couldn’t bring himself to wear the tainted clothes, so he needed a better way to clean them than wash them in the sink and let them air dry. He gathered his clothes and peeked out the door to make sure no one was following him. The boy made his way into the streets, sheltering himself from view underneath shadows and dark spaces. After minutes of tiptoeing and constantly looking over his shoulder, he spotted some street signs and instantly deduced his location. Bucky and his pops were so going to kill him for ending up all the way in Bronx.
Peter saw the glowing neon lights of a twenty-four hour laundromat across the street. He looked both ways for witnesses and dashed across the crosswalk. He winced as a bell rang when he opened the door, but the only employee there—an old woman with sunglasses—just stirred slightly as she continued sleeping at the desk. Other than her, Peter was alone.
Peter counted out about a dollar’s worth is coins and inserted it into the machine. He threw in his soiled clothes (underwear and shoes included, he wasn’t taking any chances), along with a detergent pod someone left behind, into the machine and let it run the longest, heaviest cycle possible. In the meantime, to preserve modesty, Peter managed to find a pair of green flip flops, an oversized ‘I Survived My Trip to NYC’ t-shirt, and some Hello Kitty pajama pants. He sat on the bench, wallet in hand, as he watched his clothes spin round and around and around in a hypnotizing manner. There really wasn’t anything like the ambience of a laundromat at dick o’clock in the night. Or morning. Likely the latter, considering Peter was knocked out for a few hours by the chloroform.
The washer buzzed after the rinse cycle, alerting Peter to the real world. He rubbed the impending sleep out of his eyes and moved everything from the washer to dryer, inserting another dollar into the machine. He had three dollars left, and most of the subways from Bronx to Queens stopped running. He could walk for five hours, but that was implausible at best. He then remembered folded up piece of paper and nearly hollered in relief.
Peter went to the sleeping employee and tapped her on the shoulder a few times.
“What the-,” she awoke with a start. “What the hell do you want?”
“Can I borrow your phone?” he asked.
“Sure, like I care. Just dial 8 before the number.”
Peter dialed the number on the not-so-sticky sticky note. It rang once, twice, three times. After half a minute, it sent him to voicemail.
“Goddamnit,” Peter muttered, dialing again. “Please pick up.”
No answer. Peter tried again a third time. Then a fourth. On the fifth time, after one ring, he got an answer.
“Hullo?” a groggy, half-asleep, annoyed voice came from the other end.
“Bucky!” Peter exclaimed. “It’s me, Peter.”
“Wait what?” Bucky asked, incredulously. “What the hell? Where have you been? Where are you? Your father has been up all night worried sick! He’s been calling Tony and the cops nonstop. He almost got the Avengers and SHIELD involved.”
“I’m at a laundromat in the Bronx.” He gave Bucky the address.
“Why and how the hell are you there?”
“Bucky please, just come pick me up and we can talk later. Please, I need you.” Peter’s voice cracked at the last bit.
“I’m on my way. I’ll be there in ten.”
Peter sighed in relief and as the weight lifted off his shoulders, tears began flowing from his eyes because of well...everything. He wiped them away quickly as he grabbed his clothes from the dryer and changed in the bathroom. He came out just in time to see a startled employee and hear the revving of a motorcycle engine. And as he saw Bucky park the bike, he stopped holding the everything back and fell to his knees, sobbing on the sidewalk.
“Hey hey hey,” Bucky crouched down to Peter’s level. “What’s up?”
“I’m— (hic) —sorry,” Peter cried. “I— (hic) —messed up. I’m so sorry.” His breathing sped up rapidly and his head spun.
“Kid, look at me. You’re alright now.”
“I’m not alright. I’m not alright, Bucky.”
Bucky almost put an arm around Peter when he noticed the boy closing inwards on himself.
“Peter, is it okay if I touch you?” he asked.
“NO!” Peter screamed. “No touching! Please!”
Bucky’s expression darkened, but he didn’t let the teenager see that. “Peter, can you tell me what happened tonight?”
Peter’s sobs died down to sniffles as he shifted so that he was sitting cross-legged on the pavement. Bucky did the same.
“It...it was after meeting Flash and Liz. They were gonna ride home together but I couldn’t because Pops and I live the opposite way. And I was using the GPS a-and this person, this person comes out of nowhere and he—or she—put a hand ‘round my neck and shoved this cloth thing in my face a-and I passed out. And next thing I knew, a few hours later I was in this place. Some warehouse or construction thingy like half a mile down. And...and there were these two people. Adults. A man and a woman. Dangit, I forgot their names but one of them starts with an ‘S’, I think. Th-they took my clothes and made me do stuff with my body while I was awake. N-not sure about when I was out but...but I’m guessing the same stuff. They pinned me down but somehow I hit back and I just grabbed everything and ran like hell and, and, and I feel so dirty a-and used , Bucky.”
Peter broke down, bawling into Bucky’s chest, clinging onto the man’s shirt for dear sweet life. Bucky concealed his expression, but his metal arm clenched around the curb, cracks forming in the cement. His gut filled with rage and his heart broke as he sat there, helpless at the fact that he could neither protect Peter before nor provide solace after the fact. All he could do was let the boy cry into his shirt on a sidewalk halfway across the city at three in the morning.
“Please don’t tell anyone,” Peter mumbled. “Not even Dad or Pops.”
Bucky was taken aback. “Why not? Don’t you want to report them?”
“I don’t wanna cause trouble. I don’t even know their names or what they look like.”
In that moment, Bucky confirmed that the sobbing boy in his arms was, in fact, the son of Steven Grant Rogers through and through. Bucky rubbed his flesh hand in small circles on Peter’s back as he assured him that it would stay between the two of them as long as Peter wanted.
Bucky dropped Peter off and watched him enter the Rogers’ apartment, hoping only for the best for his kid. Then he revved up his bike and rode to the last place he expected to be at the time.
“FRIDAY, first, don’t tell Stark I’m here. I’ll be in and out real quick. Second, I need all surveillance footage of the area within half a mile of the Clean Rite laundromat in the Bronx,” Bucky ordered the computer.
“May I ask the reason, Sergeant Barnes?” FRIDAY inquired.
“Someone hurt my kid, and they are going to pay."
Peter followed his pops’ orders without question, because he knew he was in deep crap, and the last thing he wanted was to dig himself into even deeper crap. But the moment his butt touched the couch cushion, he immediately wanted to run out the door. And he almost did, until he saw one person guarding the entryway and the other person at the balcony door. Steve must have known that he would’ve tried to run.
“Um...what are Uncle Clint and Uncle Scott doing here?” Peter asked.
“Fatherly instincts,” Steve replied curtly. “Now, I’m giving you sixty seconds to explain before I punish you.”
Peter looked nervously at Scott by the front door and Clint by the balcony and he went with the first lie his brain conjured up. “Well, after hanging out with Flash I...uh...ran into Aunt Nat! Yeah! And, and I was gonna grab some stuff I left at her place, but we stopped for ice cream first and then I fell asleep on her couch and—”
Peter’s thoughts were interrupted when his aunt Natasha emerged from the bathroom and raised her eyebrow. He always knew deep down she had a maternal instinct too. Even though she was just wearing a sweatshirt and yoga pants with her hair in a messy bun, her gaze intimidated everyone nonetheless.
“Would you like to try again, Peter?” she asked.
Peter hung his head as she continued. “You father was up all night worrying about where you were and you have the audacity to lie to his face?”
She didn’t scream at Peter or anything, but it was the tone of her voice that scared him, and by the looks of everyone else’s faces, Natasha just voiced what the other men thought. Not anger, or at least not as much anger as Peter expected. It was disappointment. Somehow, that felt so much more painful.
“Peter,” Steve said. “Look kid, just tell me the truth. That way I can get these rubberneckers to leave.”
“I...I can’t,” Peter said.
His father’s voice grew sterner. “Peter, it’s almost four in the morning and nobody has slept all night, so I want you to tell me right now.”
On one hand, Peter wanted to confess everything; to run into his pops’ arms like back when he was little and always fell off his bike. But another, more venomous part whispered not to. That he’ll do nothing but cause unnecessary trouble. That he’s foolish and weak. That he shouldn’t complain because others—child brides, sex slaves—had it worse.
“I’m sorry Pops. I’m not telling you.” Peter firmly stood his ground.
Steve glowered as the anger swelled up. “I am your father and I have the right to know why my son has been gone all night and why he couldn’t even simply text me.”
“How ‘bout let’s all go to bed and forget this ever happened?” Peter suggested, getting up from his seat.
“We are so not done here,” Steve said, towering a whole four inches above the boy.
“But we are.” Peter walked towards his bedroom.
“Get back in here!” Steve grabbed Peter’s wrist and tightened his grip on the boy.
Adrenaline flashed through Peter and in the blink of an eye he twisted his arm free and said, “Don’t fucking touch me.”
“Peter Benjamin Stark-Rogers, you better watch your attitude, young man–.”
“Make me.” Peter interrupted.
Suddenly, he felt a sharp sting on his left cheek and saw Steve lowering his hand in realization of what he’d done. Without thinking, Peter shoved back and cursed him again. Natasha stepped between the two before either could make another move. Clint held Steve back and Scott did the same for Peter.
“You guys need Jesus,” Clint said. “Like a family therapy Jesus.”
“You shut up and go back to your ceiling vent,” Peter snarled.
“Peter! What has gotten into you?” Scott exclaimed.
“Oh nothing much, other than America’s Golden Boy going all Guantanamo Bay on me,” Peter replied sarcastically.
“Because you’re too stubborn to answer a single question,” Steve said angrily.
Peter was about to lunge forward but Scott wrapped two arms around him and pulled him back.
“I SAID DON’T FUCKING TOUCH ME,” Peter screamed.
“Peter!” the adults yelled.
The boy elbowed Scott hard in the diaphragm and Scott released as he recoiled from the hit. Peter dashed to his room and slammed the door shut. He locked the door and just to be safe, he also used his desk as a barricade.
He heard the grown ups banging against the door, demanding him to come out. He heard his father to threaten to use his strength to knock the walls down. The sounds, the arguing, the hitting, it was all too much for Peter. He needed to get away.
“Peter, come out please,” Natasha said.
“I’m gonna eat your twinkies if you don’t come to sort this out,” Clint said.
Peter needed to get away. So he emptied out his backpack and put the essentials—clothes, deodorant, his Iron Man plushie, and the five hundred dollars hidden under his mattress. He decided to add his electric throw blanket from Wakanda, a water bottle, and some protein bars because he wasn’t really sure where he was headed. But he needed to get out. Peter put his hood up and pried the window open. After tugging a few times, there was an audible plik and he slid the window up. The family was still banging on his door, getting madder by the second. Peter climbed down the fire escape and leapt the last seven feet or so. Pain shot through his ankle as it rolled along the concrete pavement. He winced and pulled himself up just as he saw light flooding through his bedroom window that wasn’t previously there. Regardless of how much it hurt, Peter ran.
“I have ninety-five reasons and ninety-five ways to break you and kill you. Give me one reason why I shouldn’t snap your bones and blow your brains out right now.”
“P-p-please mister Winter Soldier,” Skip Westcott begged, sobbing. “I won’t do it again, I promise. And I won’t tell anyone about you. P-please let me go, sir.”
“Who was the other woman with you?” Bucky asked angrily.
“J-Judy L-Lewis. Please don’t hurt us, sir.”
Bucky’s metal hand gripped Skip’s shoulder even harder as bruises began to form. “You should’ve fucking thought about that before you hurt my kid.”
“I won’t do it again I promise.”
“Oh, I’ll make sure you never do it again. I’ll make sure you can’t do it again.”
“I-I-I didn’t know it was wrong,” the white-haired young man blubbered, tears streaming from his two black eyes.
“Bullshit,” Bucky spat. “You know what you were going. You took the kindest, smartest, most amazing kid in the world and you ripped his innocence away, you disgusting, filthy, low-life pedophile. And you know what, I’m actually not gonna kill you.”
“Really?” Skip looked hopeful.
“Really. Death is too merciful. I want you to feel the consequences of your actions, starting with this.”
Bucky squeezed Skip’s shoulder and heard two satisfying cracks—one from the shoulder dislocating, and another from the collarbone snapping. Skip yelped in pain and began to cry even more. There was another crack, and another, and another as Bucky repetitively kicked Skip’s ribs.
“Please stop,” Skip begged.
“No,” Bucky said, lifting Skip by the shirt collar.
Skip wailed, and Bucky smashed the guy’s head on the concrete floor of the empty construction site where Skip and his friend had hurt Peter. Though Skip was still very much conscious, the blood spatters on the floor looked like a murder scene and Bucky wasn’t even done. Just then, a woman entered the site.
“Skip! Oh my gosh!” she exclaimed, running towards her friend.
Before she got close to Skip, Bucky’s metal arm shot out and wrapped around her neck.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Judy!” Skip said. “Get outta here!”
“So you’re Judy.” Bucky’s eyes narrowed.
“Y-yeah I am, what–”
Bucky lifted her three feet into the air and Hulk-smashed her onto the ground next to Skip, breaking her nose and maybe the front of her skull. Blood poured from her nose and a flesh wound on her forehead
Skip groaned in pain. “Jude, this guy knows the Stark-Rogers kid and he ain’t happy.”
Judy held the blood spewing from her nose. “No shit, Westcott.”
Bucky slapped them both. “Shut up, annoying asses. And don’t touch anything or anyone until I’m done with you. And after that, you’re still not allowed to touch anyone.”
“W-what will you do to us?” Skip whimpered.
“I will slice off both your arms and then both of your legs and then I will slice your face right off your head. You will be these armless, legless, faceless things, won’t you? Going down the street like a turd in the wind. That’s the least you deserve for hurting my kid.”
Ooooooooooooooooh sp00py Bucky. Have a safe and happy Halloween ya'll!
“Wha–” Wade opened a bleary eye and glanced at the glowing red digits of his alarm clock.
Who in the world could be at his door at fuck-this-o’clock in the morning? He rolled off the bed and draped a bathrobe over his half-naked body and trudged down the cold stairs. When he opened the door, his brain and body woke up instantly.
“Peter, what’s up?” he asked.
The boy said nothing as he collapsed into Wade’s arms, tears streaming down his face and hair matted down from rain. Wade’s heart clenched as Peter let out a series of choked sobs. Instinctively, he wrapped his arms around him as he led the way to the couch. Peter dried his eyes.
“You must be freezing,” Wade said. “Why don’t you go change and I’ll make us some hot chocolate, okay?”
Peter nodded, and as Wade made their drinks, Peter came back down the stairs wearing Wade’s sweatshirt and pajama pants. He graciously accepted the hot chocolate and as they sat in front of the fireplace, Peter telling his story and making himself at home with his new young love.
“Hey, this is Peter! Clearly I’m not available right now, so leave a message after the beep. And if you’re another tabloid: I don’t have any Tony Stark sex tapes and Captain America was not born on the Fourth of July.”
Steve groaned as he reached Peter’s voicemail for the umpteenth time. It’d been over three days and he had gotten nowhere in trying to reach his son. Steve tried waiting twenty-four hours in hopes that Peter would come to his senses and returned home. But when thirty-six hours passed, he began to panic. He called everyone—the Leeds, the Jones, the Thompsons, the Avengers, Midtown Tech, and even T’challa on the off chance that the boy ended up in Wakanda. He filed police reports in every New York precinct, and with all those reports, the media caught wind of everything and within minutes conspiracies spread like a disease.
‘Captain America’s son ran away’
‘You won’t believe what happened to Peter Stark-Rogers’
‘Inside look: Hawkeye talks about his nephew’s disappearance’
‘Kidnapped son and plot against Stark Industries’
‘Peter Stark-Rogers deactivates all social media as of yesterday’
Steve almost scrolled past the last one as he checked the Internet for any possible updates. Curiously, he went to Peter’s Instagram and Twitter, and sure enough, the accounts were all deactivated recently. He clicked on the latest Instagram photo. It was a black-and-white mirror selfie from two days ago, but his son lacked his sunshine smile and his eyes didn’t glimmer under the light like it used to. Underneath was a caption that broke Steve’s heart.
‘I want to disappear...’
The post was flooded with comments of confusion and concern, but what stood out the most were the hateful comments calling Steve’s son weak or an attention whore. If Steve didn’t hate social media before, he sure did now, because even though he and Peter had their fallout, his son would always be an angel in his eyes. His phone buzzed again with yet another call from Tony—the conversation he had been trying so hard to put off. He couldn’t bring himself to discuss matters with his ex-husband.
“You really should tell him,” Bucky said from the kitchen, sipping his steaming coffee. “Peter is Stark’s son as much as he is yours. Stark deserves to know.”
“You’re right, babe.” Steve swallowed his pride and answered the phone.
He recoiled as Tony screamed over the line, “CAPSICLE! I’LL GIVE YOU FIVE SECONDS TO TELL ME WHAT’S GOING ON WITH PETER.”
Steve heard someone else on the other side telling Tony to calm down.
“Look,” Steve said. “I’ll tell you what I know but please don’t panic.”
“Of course I’m gonna panic, nobody’s seen my son in days! What happened?”
“A few days ago, Peter and I got into a fight because he got home late. Like really late. He refused to tell me where he was and he started cursing at me and the others–”
“Nat, Clint, and Scott.”
“I know you’re mad at me and you should be. I got carried away and I feel really bad about it and I’ve been trying to find him for days but he won’t answer my calls or texts and he shut down his social media and I’m so sorry.”
There was a pause, and Steve practically heard Tony angrily rubbing his temples and thinking of a solution.
Finally, Tony said, “You keep doing what you’re doing over there. I’ll see if I can access any street cameras or pinpoint his devices’ location, and I’ll also send a Stark Industries representative to manage the PR crapfest.”
“Alright, I also have some of the Avengers patrolling around looking for him,” Steve said.
“Is SHIELD involved?”
“Not yet, but if we don’t get results soon…”
“Let’s see if we can do this without Fury. Last thing we need is a global manhunt. What say we do our own things and rendezvous at that shawarma place this weekend for any updates?”
“Y’know Pete, everyone’s really worried about you. Your parents are looking for you everywhere,” Wade said one morning as they sat over their smoothie bowls.
“Mm, I know,” Peter said nonchalantly. “Don’t care.”
Wade sighed and took Peter’s hand. “Look, I know you’ve been through hell the past few days. I can see it in your eyes, darling, even if I don’t know the full story. But I don’t want you to live the kind of life where you run away from all your problems.”
“I know,” he said quietly. “I just...need some time to think without distractions and let myself unwind.”
“You’re welcome to stay with me as long as you like. Though I can’t guarantee the ‘no distractions’ thing because I’m throwing another party this weekend,” Wade joked.
“Parties are good for letting loose, though.”
Wade smiled. “Yeah. God knows you need to do that. You sure there’s nothing else you wanna talk about.”
“Don’t really feel like it right now.”
“That’s okay, sweetheart. How ‘bout another Golden Girls marathon?”
Peter and Wade cuddled up on the couch with a bunch of fuzzy blankets, and despite just having woken up a few hours ago, Peter somehow drifted into a dreamless sleep amidst the laugh tracks, cigarette plumes, and his phone incessantly vibrating in his pocket.
Blah blah blah work, blah blah blah finals. Here's another chapter after heaven knows how long. Merry Christmas!
“Peter Benjamin Stark-Rogers, you are one sexy motherfucker.”
He slicked his hair back with his fingers as he winked at his own reflection. His white t-shirt and cargo shorts stuck to his skin, and his skin glimmered with sweat underneath the fluorescent bathroom light. His face was flushed pink like he got a sunburn in Hawaii. Once he fixed his hair, he grabbed his empty red cup and stumbled out of the bathroom to join the rest of the party.
“Yo Flash, hit me with another one!” Peter shouted over the blaringly loud music, waving his cup in the air.
“You got it, Pete,” Flash said, a bottle in one hand and a mints tin in the other. Flash poured some amber whiskey into the cup and handed Peter a pressed yellow circle with a smiley face that almost looked like candy. “Hang on, I wanna put this on my story.”
Flash popped a piece of ‘candy’ in his mouth and held up his phone to take a selfie with Peter. MJ and Liz stumbled through, breaking the boys apart just as Flash took a second picture. They laughed as the girls kept walking. Peter washed the bitter-tasting ‘candy’ down with the drink and his feelings of euphoria practically doubled as his brain accepted the happy chemicals.
Wade was in the kitchen playing beer pong with a stranger as a crowd cheered him on. Peter entered just as his lover chugged another pint, beer foam dripping onto the wooden floor. He grabbed himself a Bud Light from the cooler and shook it up before he opened it to create a geyser of alcoholic foam that he proceeded to down in under half a minute before giving Peter a sloppy victory kiss.
“Hey Peter!” Liz called from the other room. “We’re going out, wanna come?”
Peter nudged Wade. “Hey Wade, wanna blow this pop stand with the others?”
“Hells yeah,” Wade said, slurring ever so slightly.
Outside, Flash offered Peter another pill, saying, “It’s practically impossible to overdose, don’t worry.”
Peter took it with some soda just as a black minivan pulled up the driveway with a stranger in the driver’s seat. The driver looked at Peter.
“Hey, ain’t you that Stark-Rogers kid?” the Brooklyn-accented driver asked.
“The one and only,” Peter replied energetically with a quick jazz hands.
The driver looked at MJ and Liz. “You wanna take the rich-ass Stark-Rogers kid to a lousy Taco Bell?”
“He’s just a person,” MJ said. “Now let’s go, I got the munchies.”
Peter went along with the flow of things. Flash called shotgun and practically dive-bombed into the passenger’s seat, forcing Peter, Wade, Liz, and MJ to squeeze into a backseat made only for three people.
“You can just sit on my lap, baby boy,” Wade said with a wink.
“Maybe next time,” Peter laughed. “Right now I just want tacos.”
“You heard the dude,” Flash said to the rideshare driver. “To Taco Bell!”
“Excelsior!” the partygoers chorused.
Two whole burritos and a large lemonade later, Peter and the others were ready to get back to partying. The night was pitch black and light pollution blocked the stars, but the tipsy Brady Bunch couldn’t care less. They stumbled onto the bus and rode back to Wade’s place, where the party went on as if no time passed at all. As soon as Peter got off the bus, he knelt beside a tree and hurled his guts out. He heard a camera flash but was too busy to care.
“You good, Peter?” Liz asked, kneeling beside him.
Peter wiped his mouth. “Yeah. Plus, it just makes room for more.”
“Peter, are you sure–” Wade began, but was interrupted by Flash when the latter said, “That’s the spirit! Come on, let’s do some shots.”
Wade went along, since he was the host, but he couldn’t push down the feeling that this was about to snowball real fast.
The last thing Stephen Strange needed after working an emergency room shift was to see his boyfriend’s son trending all over social media for all the wrong reasons. The evening had started out as normal as it was for doctors—finish an hours-long shift, grab some hospital cafeteria dinner and coffee, and drive home to a penthouse alone because his boyfriend was working late at Stark Industries.
Stephen unlocked his phone when he got home and did his usual routine of using it while on the toilet. Something everyone undeniably did. He was just scrolling through his tweets when he saw a recurring hashtag.
Stephen looked through the multiple photos and short videos circulating online. Tony was busy, so Stephen concluded to wait to tell him if he didn’t know already.
Peter Stark-Rogers gorging himself on Taco Bell burritos.
Peter Stark-Rogers downing one shot after another.
Peter Stark-Rogers making out with a twenty-something-year-old man.
But what caught Stephen’s attention—and not in a good way—was Peter Stark-Rogers posing with another boy his age, both boys holding pills on their tongues. And being the medical professional Stephen was, he knew without a doubt that Tony Stark’s son was playing with fire. And in this case, the fire’s name was Molly, and it was only a matter of time before it burned the sweet teenage boy to the ground.
Slightly shorter than usual, but oh well. Still eight more chapters to go, so hang in there.
White. Wheat. Sourdough. Pumpernickel. But Bucky couldn’t find the rye bread as he pushed his shopping cart back and forth through the supermarket. He was doing Steve’s groceries, and for someone who grew up during the Great Depression, Steve was awfully picky with his food choices.
Bucky’s shopping cart collided head-on with someone else’s. The contents jostled upon impact and Bucky looked at the other man he bumped into. The man was neatly combed with a pretty cool shave and snazzy outfit, but he looked exhausted with a phone in his hand; Bucky presumed he was too busy texting and walking.
Bucky coughed awkwardly. “Sorry, I was busy looking for something.”
The man looked up from the phone. “Oh, yeah, I was distracted.” The man tilted his head at Bucky. “Have I seen you somewhere before?”
Bucky hummed casually. “Maybe. I’ve been told I appear in quite a few books.”
The man snapped his fingers. “Oh yeah! James Barnes, right? I’ve been reading a history novel with you in it. I’m actually a big fan.” He cordially offered Bucky a handshake.
The war veteran shook the stranger’s hand with his nonmetal one. “You can just call me Bucky. And you are…?”
“Stephen Strange,” the man said.
“Like the famous doctor Stephen Strange?”
“The one and only.”
This time it was Bucky’s turn to have his miniature fanboy moment. “I saw you on TV the other week! I’d say, those were some tough interview questions but you really knocked them out of the park. That was awesome.”
“Not as awesome as living through the forties,” Stephen said. “Say, there’s a sandwich shop close by. Wanna grab a bite after? You seem like cool guy.”
He smiled; rarely did someone other than Steve ask to hang out with Bucky Barnes. “It’d be an honor.”
“Hey Peter, is it just me or does it smell like strawberry?” Delmar asked.
“Oh, uh…” Peter thought quickly as he concealed the strawberry juul pod in his hoodie pocket—a belated birthday gift from Flash. “It’s my new shampoo.”
“It suits you,” the shopkeeper said. He handed Peter a wrapped-up sandwich. “Here you go, a Number Eleven with pickles and a grapefruit Red Bull.”
“You’re the best, Delmar,” Peter said.
His hood was up like some sort of teenage delinquent, and he chose a recluse corner table by the side door, where no one would notice him. He rubbed his hands together almost like a cartoon character before he unwrapped the sandwich and popped open the energy drink.
“Food Baby, come to Stomach Daddy.” Peter half-regretted saying that out loud as he took a ravenously large bite.
Over by the cash register, two grown men placed their orders, and as their food was being cooked, a longer-haired one said to the other, “Y’know, this is my kid’s favorite place.”
The other replied, “I think I’ve seen my boyfriend’s kid once or twice so I don’t know much, but he seems like he’d like this place too. Which is weird. No one would expect a Stark kid to eat local or anything.”
“Wait, did you say Stark? As in Tony Stark?”
There was an incredulous laugh. “What are the odds? Here I am, out for lunch with my boyfriend’s ex-husband’s boyfriend.”
Peter paused mid-chew at the familiarity of those two voices. He lifted his head enough to get a good view, and when he saw who it was, he immediately lowered his head, and the only thing that ran through his head was, “What the hell are they doing here?!?”
Peter gobbled up his sandwich as quick as he could. His table was close enough to the back door of the store, so he could make an easy getaway so long as the two men weren’t looking in his general direction. He adjusted his hood and threw his wrapper away, making his way to the door with his half-finished energy drink. Peter had made his way past the bathrooms and down a narrow, dimly-lit corridor, past empty boxes and locked storage rooms. His hand was literally three inches away from the doorknob when he felt a firm tug on his hoodie as it was pulled down.
“Not so fast, buddy.”
Peter turned around and flashed his most innocent-looking smile, though he knew it’d do nothing to change the situation.
“Hey Bucky, what’s up?” Peter asked, voice raised half an octave as he shot finger-guns at the man. “Haven’t seen you in...a while.”
His eyes shifted five feet to the right and locked with his dad’s boyfriend’s.
“Dr. Strange. How’re things down at the hospital?”
“Not the time, Peter. Explain,” Bucky said.
There was an awkward silence as Bucky and Stephen waited, expecting Peter to give an explanation out of his own volition. Stephen’s arms were crossed and he looked like a parent who was THIS close to being done with their child. Bucky looked angry too, but behind his eyes, Peter saw a sense of relief washing over. But still, the boy let his fear of being caught and getting in trouble trouble overtake him.
Following a pregnant pause, he said, “I’d rather not, y’know? I’ll just...be on my way...”
“No, you’re not–” Stephen grabbed Peter’s arm and pulled him back into the conversation.
“Don’t touch me!” Peter wringed his arm free and shoved Stephen away with some considerable force.
“No, don’t. G-get away from me!”
He stepped away, back hitting the cold concrete wall as images flashed through his head again. The guy, Skip, and the girl, Judy. Their sadistic expressions and voices played out in front of him, intermingling with Stephen and Bucky’s worried expressions, and Peter felt...the touch. Oh god, their touch. The assailants’ cold, clammy hands roamed his body as if they had returned to the store at that moment, ready for seconds. Peter didn’t know it was a phantom sensation, for it was all too horrifyingly real. His lungs felt tight, like the air in and around him had been sucked out by a vacuum. His fingers were numb and his head spinned and vision blurred and he wanted to cry and scream and run away but his body couldn’t. It wouldn’t. Like it was its way of reminding Peter that all of it was his fault. Reminding Peter that he shouldn’t have stayed out so late and should’ve taken a ride with Liz and Flash the night it happened.
Through the images and sounds of the past, Peter managed to pick out a calm voice among the shrill screaming from his memories. A tiny, almost insignificant thread. It was enough for Peter, though, as he grasped it and slowly felt himself being tugged back into reality.
Between gasps of air, he uttered, “Don’t...touch me. Please.”
Somehow, he wound up sitting on the floor, knees drawn to his chest. He was cold and his throat was drier than Death Valley and he still couldn’t register a hundred percent of what was going on.
A hushed voice said soothingly, “It’s gonna be okay, son. Follow my breathing. In and out. In and out.”
Peter nodded mutely, trying to follow Bucky’s breathing despite the fact that his lungs burned and screamed at him to start hyperventilating again. In...and out again.
Stephen easily pieced together the boy’s words and subsequent reaction. “Peter, I’m sorry. I didn’t know, but I should’ve asked anyway. Is there anything I can do?”
“W-water?” Peter asked in a raspy voice.
“Water. Got it,” Stephen said.
Once Stephen was out of earshot, Bucky turned to Peter and asked, “Was it about…?”
Peter nodded furiously. He curled closer in on himself and buried his head in his hands.
“Peter, can I touch you?” Bucky asked.
Peter silently shook his head.
“Alright, I respect that.”
Stephen returned with a bottle of water in hand, slipping a Stark Industries credit card into his shirt pocket.
“Should we go back to your Pops? He’s been worried sick,” Bucky said.
Peter shook his head.
“How about your dad’s?” Stephen suggested. “He fixed the XBox and bought that new Star Wars movie on DVD. Tony’s upstate for a company meeting so you won’t have to worry about anything from him.”
One movie, two rounds of a first-person shooter multiplayer game, and three mugs of hot chocolate later, Peter actually fell asleep. Not a fitful, nightmare-ridden sleep from the memories, or a light nap to recharge his brain. An actual, delta-wave rest, with a fuzzy tiger-patterned throw blanket draped over his body and a famed neurosurgeon’s lap as his pillow.
If Stephen were to be totally honest, he didn’t quite know how to feel about the scene in front of him. On one hand, it was nice—relaxing, in fact. Like Stark Tower was no longer just another date night location, but rather felt like a second home to the doctor. On the other hand, it was weird because though he’d been dating Tony for quite some time, he hadn’t forged the same father-son connection that Peter and Bucky shared.
Speaking of, the metal-armed man re-entered the tower. Peter gave Bucky Wade’s address earlier, so Bucky grabbed the boy’s things for him. He set the bags down next to Vision’s charging station, gently so that he wouldn’t wake Peter.
Stephen turned and whispered to Bucky, “When should we take him back to his pops? Steve technically has custody of Peter right now.”
Bucky sighed, plopping onto an armchair near the sofa. He ran his fingers through his hair. “Depends. Peter’s scared. Steve’s like...a mix of pissed and worried. Same goes for Stark. Why do you ask?”
“Why do I ask? ‘Cause it’s gotta happen sooner or later. If this was any other parent with their kid I’d say to rip the bandage off and be done with it so things can go back to normal. But I know Peter and Steve.”
“And let me guess. You don’t want either of them to be hurt?”
Bucky nodded. “Steve’s stubborn, and Stark’s stubborn, and Peter inherited it from both of them.”
Stephen glanced down at the sleeping teen and said to Bucky in a lower voice, “Do either of his fathers know?”
“What he’s been through. You know…”
“No. He told me not to tell him. How’d you know? Did he tell you while I was out?”
Stephen grimaced. “Part of getting a neuroscience PhD is learning human psychology.”
There was a short silence before Stephen said, “Should we take him back to Steve’s place and put him to bed or something? Then deal with everything else in the morning?”
Bucky looked from Peter to Stephen to the door to his boyfriend’s contact in his phone as he mulled things over for a short moment.
“We can help him out with that second part when the time inevitably comes. For tonight, though, he can be our kid.”
Yes, it's been a while. Yes, I apologize. No, I won't bore you with a story.