Peter was sitting on one of the benches outside the compound, his hands cupped in his lap, a small pile of birdseed held between his palms. Small birds, Chickadees, Starlings, and others hopped all over him, pecking at the seeds in his hands.
Tony had caught him sitting out there before feeding the birds and never let him live it down, calling him a Disney Princess. Peter took the teasing in stride, grumbling but not denying it either. Small animals had always loved him. He was always feeding the pigeons when he was on patrol.
A cool breeze rustled the leaves. It wasn’t the best weather, but it was still nice. The sky was overcast, the temperatures just starting to get chilly enough to need a sweatshirt. It was still comfortable, though.
He liked being at the compound. It gave him a place to relax and unwind. He didn’t need to worry about people bothering him there or hiding who he was. Tony, Happy, Pepper—they all accepted him for who he was, no matter the number of soulmarks. It was something he didn’t think he’d ever have. He even would go a couple of days not needing to wear any excesses clothes, not having to hide around them.
A small movement by the end of the bench caught his eye, and he looked over. A chipmunk had gained enough courage to clammer up beside him, sitting with its paws curled at its chest. The corners of Peter’s mouth lifted at the curious expression the chipmunk was giving him. He was about to extend his hand to the little guy when he felt the slight prickling of his senses. He looked around, not seeing anything unusual, but then he heard it. A low hum, barely audible to even him, pulsing through the air. It sounded similar to a quinjet.
Gently, he shifted and poured the seed onto the bench beside him, causing the birds to scatter and the chipmunk to scurry away back into the grass.
“Sorry, little ones,” he murmured as they took off.
He kept an eye on the sky as he made his way to the back of the compound where the landing pad was. If a plane was coming, they'd be heading there. Part of him knew he should head inside, but his curiosity got the better of him, and he soon found himself hiding in the trees overlooking the landing pad.
The hum grew louder and a plane—no, a jet—appeared, hovering over the landing pad before touching down. It was sleek and black, not much different than one of the quinjets. Peter chewed his lip, hands gripping the bark of the tree in front of him. The jet powered down and the back opened, creating a ramp. He watched the opening, curious who would appear.
He was shocked by who he saw. It wasn't a government official like he'd thought it might be. No, it was someone much more surprising, someone Peter wasn't entirely sure how to feel about. A bearded Steve Rogers, Captain America, stepped forward, dressed in his uniform, looking just as intimidating as ever.
Peter kept watching, curious if he was alone. He wasn’t. Something shifted in the shadows behind the Captain, and the man looked over his shoulder. He said something but he was too far away to make it out. A moment later, Natasha Romanov appeared at the Steve’s side. She was dressed like she was on a mission and Peter's mind whirled with possibilities.
He hesitated, thinking over his options before deciding on a plan. He didn’t know why they were there, but he didn’t fully trust them—not with the people he cared about, especially the ones that he shared marks with. He didn’t want to believe they’d hurt Tony, but it was a chance he didn’t want to take. He knew some bad things had happened between Steve and his mentor. He just didn’t know what.
Pushing himself from the tree, he walked out of the woods, trying for casual, but knowing he failed. He knew his steps were too calculated and posture too rigid. He couldn’t seem to relax. He barely made it a foot from the treeline before Steve and Natasha turned to him, both straightening their shoulders and narrowing their eyes.
He tried to will his body to relax, attempting to ease a smile onto his face, but it was a losing battle. He knew his nerves were showing. Taking a steadying breath, he continued walking toward the pair.
Natasha’s eyes found his, and she tilted her head slightly as she studied him. Her stance eased, seeming to have seen something in her assessment. Not looking away from Peter, she whispered something to Steve. The man nodded slowly and raised his chin, looking Peter over as he came closer.
Once he was nearly there, he plastered on his best smile and met Steve’s gaze. “Oh my god, are you Captain America?”
Steve eyed him warily as he came to a stop a few paces from the heroes. He glanced at his partner and cleared his throat. “That depends—who are you?”
Peter grinned, playing up the friendly vibe, hoping to get information. “Peter Parker, I’m one of the interns. What are you doing here?”
Natasha cocked her head to the side. “What’s an intern doing here?” she shot back. “Why aren’t you at the Stark Industries building?”
Peter slid his hands into his pockets, fingering the pieces to the web-shooters he’d forgotten to leave in the lab. “Tony’s here—I’m his personal intern."
Steve nodded slowly, like that made sense to him, but Natasha placed her hands on her hips. Peter couldn't help noticing how her fingers brushed over the handles of the knives there. “Why are you here today? I thought he took it off.”
Peter paused, dragging his eyes away from the knives and to her face. “He did?” His nose scrunched in confusion. “But we always work Fridays.”
Natasha raked her gaze over him, pausing on May’s mark before exchanging a look with Steve. They shared a silent conversation, ending in mutual nods. Feeling exposed, Peter tugged his sleeve down to cover the chain of lilies, earning a curious look from the assassin. Steve seemed to notice Peter hiding the mark as well, his eyes falling to his wrist.
Straightening his shoulders, he lifted his chin, trying to project the strength he wasn’t sure he had. Anytime people looked at his marks, it bothered him—even if there was no way they could tell how many he had. It always set him on the defensive.
Steve frowned at the shift in Peter's body language. "Well, I think we should get on our way. Tony's expecting us."
"I'll go with you," Peter offered. "I'm his intern, after all."
Natasha eyed him. "No offense, kid, but this is above your pay grade."
Peter frowned, about to rebuttal, but before he could undoubtedly talk himself into a corner, Tony's voice shouted across the lawn, making them all look toward the doors. "You’re early."
Steve drew himself up. “We agreed on today at noon.” He paused to look at his watch. “We’re actually ten minutes late.”
Tony scrunched his face. “Huh, must have gotten distracted. I thought it was only ten.” He jogged over to them, stopping beside Peter and putting a hand on his shoulder. “You should head inside, kiddo.”
“But I can—”
Tony shook his head. "Nope, zip it. Do what I say."
Peter scowled, not liking the order but paused to observe him a little closer. He could see his mentor’s jaw twitching, showing his agitation. Whatever was going on, it had him on edge.
Tony jerked his chin head toward the building when Peter didn’t move. "I'm not playing, Peter. Inside and in your room. I'm sure you’ve got some homework you could do."
Sighing, Peter glanced at the confused expressions of Steve and Natasha before heading inside.
"Just an intern?" Natasha asked, cocking her head to the side. "Seemed like a little more than that."
Tony stiffened. "No idea what you're talking about."
She hummed. "Maybe not, but I've seen that look before. You were worried about him. Makes me think he's someone important to you." She paused, pursing her lips. "Like a soulmate."
"Sorry only have two—Pepper and Rhodey," Tony replied. "Now, we ready to take this inside?"
She studied him for a moment longer. "Interesting."
Peter sat slouched in his office chair, tapping his fingers on his desk. The clutter spread out over the surface rattled, making him notice that he was putting more force into his ministrations then was necessary. Peter pulled his hands away and ran them through his hair, making his chair squeak as he leaned back. He'd done as Tony had asked and gone to his room, but that didn't stop him from worrying why Steve and Natasha were there.
The last time he'd seen Steve was in Germany. He really didn't think the guy was bad. In fact, he was the furthest thing from it. He wasn’t like Peter with multiple marks. It was in all the history books. Steve only had one soulmate—a platonic that matched his best friend Bucky. He couldn’t help but be a little jealous of how easy it must have been for him growing up.
An hour past, and Peter was beginning to go stir crazy. He was spinning idly in his chair, occasionally pushing off the desk to start his momentum again. Peter respected Tony and his rules, but he hated feeling confined. He needed to do something.
Still spinning lazily, Peter called out, "Friday, where's Mr. Stark?"
"I'm afraid I can't answer that, but if you’d like, I can pass along a message."
Slowing to a stop, Peter groaned and shook his head. "Don't bother him."
His stomach took that moment to rumble. Realizing he hadn't eaten since breakfast, he decided it wouldn’t really be breaking the rules if he went to find something to eat, especially since Tony was always telling him to take better care of himself.
Decision made, he headed out of the room and toward the kitchen.
There didn't seem to be anyone around, the whole floor was quiet. The lights to the kitchen brightened automatically as Peter approached.
He wasn't a great cook, so he decided to stick with something light—a sandwich would do. Opening the fridge, he began pulling out what he needed, pausing to eye the random glitter pen and glue stick someone had left in the produce drawer. He swore he could feel his brain twitch.
Nudging the fridge door shut with his foot, he turned and dropped his supplies on the counter in a heap. He was getting out a few slices of bread when he heard someone speak behind him, making him jump, causing him to send the bread flying into the air.
"This part of your internship?" a smooth voice said.
Spinning around, he saw Natasha smirking at him. Her arms were crossed over her chest, weight shifted to one hip.
Peter bent down and grabbed the bread from the floor. "Uh … no? Maybe? I don't know?"
He almost thought he saw a hint of a smile before her cool mask of indifference returned.
She tipped her head to the bread in his hands. "You should probably throw that out."
He nodded, tossing it into the bin. "I thought you had a meeting with Mr. Stark—not that it's my business."
She shrugged a shoulder and shifted her stance, moving to lean against the counter. "What he doesn't know won't hurt him. Steve will keep him busy for a while."
Peter raised a brow at her. “That sounds vaguely threatening. Were you going for threatening?”
She tilted her head to the side, the corners of her mouth curling upward. “You’re perceptive.”
“So, um”—Peter fidgeted, tapping the butter knife on the counter—“are you hungry? There's enough here if you want a sandwich, too.”
Natasha’s expression softened. “I'm good. I was actually here for something else,” she told him, moving past him and pulling open a drawer.
Reaching inside, she stretched her arm to the back, pausing for a moment before something clicked. The sound of wood moving against wood made him frown. He had no idea what she was doing. It all became clear, though, when he saw what she pulled out.
“Dude—you have a secret stash of chocolate?”
She nodded, sliding the panel back into place. In her hand was a bag of Lindt chocolate truffles. She dug one out and unwrapped it, taking a small bite.
She narrowed her eyes as she chewed. “Not a word—understood?”
Peter nodded a few times quickly. "Yeah, yeah, sure," he agreed. "Didn't see a thing. Totally forgot. What were we talking about again?"
He was surprised when Natasha laughed. It wasn't fake or forced. It sounded genuine.
"I like you." She popped the last of the truffle in her mouth, studying him for a moment as she chewed. "Stark must really like you, too."
His brows pulled together. "What do you mean?"
She shrugged again, tossing the wrapper in the trash. "Something he said, or should I say, didn’t. He lied to me today—not many people are willing to do that."
Peter frowned. “Is that strange? He lies about stuff all the time.”
“True,” she admitted, “but not like this.” Studying him, she twisted another truffle free of the wrapper and offered it to him.
Peter stared at it for a second before reaching out to take it. He felt her eyes on him as he took a bite.
“Good?” she asked.
He chewed and swallowed. “Yeah, thanks.”
Nodding with satisfaction, she continued, “I think you're more than just an intern to him. I know Tony has three marks.” She informed him. “It was never officially announced, Howard made sure to keep it quiet, but rumors spread. The number of his soul marks got him a lot of bad press and helped earn him his nickname—The Merchant of Death."
She paused and tilted her head as she observed him. “You see, Pepper confirmed the number to me once, I know he has three, but he lied today when I confronted him—said he only had two. He didn't like it when I suggested that you were his last one."
Even though he knew Tony meant nothing by it, he still felt a little hurt that Tony had pretended not to be connected to him. The rejection stung—real or imagined.
It must have shown on his face because Natasha straightened, brows pulling together. "So, I was right. You're one of his."
"What? No. I didn't say that." Peter was quick to respond.
Her lips pressed together in a line. "You didn't need to. It's written all over your face."
Peter swallowed. "Uh, maybe I should get back to my room."
"You're a multiple, at least three."
Her statement was so sure, so confident that it made him freeze, panic weaving through him, cutting off his breath. There was no way he was going to convince her otherwise. She was the Black Widow. No one kept secrets from her.
He stumbled back, falling into a defensive stance, his palms sweaty and his heart hammering against his ribcage.
Natasha's face softened considerably, showing no trace of any anger or disgust. “It's alright,” she said quietly. “I'm not going to hurt you. I would never hurt anyone because of how many soulmarks they have.”
Peter stared at her, unblinking. His instincts screamed for him to run.
Her mouth twitched, so slight it was barely visible. Peter doubted a normal human would have caught it.
“Are the others still alive?” she asked.
“What?” Peter croaked, completely caught off guard.
Natasha hummed, rubbing a thumb over the back of her left hand, drawing his gaze. A faded, scarred over mark marred the skin there. It was so old that the previous image was unrecognizable. “From my experience, people who are multiples lose their mates quickly. You’re still young, but I can tell by your eyes that some have already fallen.”
He felt himself slipping away. A gunshot and the sound of something falling echoed through Peter's mind, the smell of blood, the sticky texture of it on his hands as he held his uncle. His long cold mark burned like ice.
Pulling a stubborn breath, he pushed the feeling down and locked it away. “What are you saying?” he asked, blinking, still caught on the shock of Natasha's words. “What do you mean, from your experience?”
The question was redundant. Peter knew what she was getting at. He recognized the look she was wearing. He saw it reflected back at him every day in the mirror.
She pulled out another chocolate and started to twist the wrapper around it, her expression conveying in a few simple lines all he needed to know—she saw right through him.
“I have six,” she informed him bluntly, “but it doesn't matter the amount, not really. Anything above three is monster territory, regardless of intent. I know what you've gone through, and I know that you don't deserve it.”
Peter’s breath caught in his throat, and he stared at her, gaping, as she bit into the truffle. Stepping forward, she reached out toward him. Peter reacted blindly and brought his palm up to stop her, but before he managed to hit her though, she cupped his cheek. Her thumb rubbed over his cheekbone. She looked at him, her green eyes full of nothing but sympathy and sorrow.
“I won't tell anyone." Her voice was soft, forgiving. “Tony would only lie if he was protecting someone important—someone he cared about. I won't go between that.”
Drawing back, she walked passed him and disappeared down the hall. Peter watched her go, his sandwich now forgotten.