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Illegitimate

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The first thing I remember is work.

I was born on a small farm in southern Ireland. I lived with my mother and my maternal grandparents. My father was never in the picture, but it was hardly ever a problem. I never dwelled on him other than in passing thought. On our farm, we lived rather simply, raising cattle and horses to sell on the market. My grandparents had made a rather modest living, but couldn't afford to hire helpers. Since my mother never worked, the chores fell to me.

From a young age, I was taught how to work. As soon as I could walk, I was fetching buckets and animal feed and helping out in any way I was able. Without the help of my mother or any possible farmhands, it was always my grandparents and I rushing around the farm to get all the chores done. But outside of that, I was rarely addressed. My mother certainly never spoke to me, and I never attended school and was given no formal education. The kids in the town nearby always laughed and threw rocks at me, making me learn from an early age that leaving the farm was bad. So I never did.

I wasn’t abused or anything. I was never hit, or verbally mistreated, or overly controlled. I was simply… unwanted. I was generally left to do my own thing when not earning my keep through my work. I, quite literally, grew up having almost no one.

Still, it was all I had ever known. And since I was never hit or hurt, it wasn’t bad, either. Tusla (Child Services) couldn’t take me away if they came to my house, at least. I grew up, helped work on the farm, and outside of that was completely ignored. Life wasn't good, but it wasn't bad, either. 

Then, I learned how to read.

If there was one thing in my grandparents’ house, it was books. My mother read the days away, and so I followed in her footsteps. Around the time I turned seven, I taught myself how to read. I read a lot. Fiction, mostly. I loved stories such as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings especially. I was fascinated by these far-off and exciting places, was taken by them completely. I read whenever possible, realising just why my mother loved it so. But there was a downside to this development. 

I realized that I was very much alone.

In my books, the protagonist always had a loving mother, or if not, it was a bad thing. The good mothers read bedtime stories, kissed their children and hugged them. My mother had never done any of those things to me. I couldn’t help but wonder why.

It occured to me, one day when I was around eight, that I should try to hug her.

It went about as well as you might expect. She had been reading underneath a tree. I just… walked up to her and tried to hug her. I certainly surprised her. She froze for a moment, in utter shock, until she composed herself enough to violently shove me away and give me a bloody nose. Then she said something, something that remains with me to this very day.

“If only I’d had the courage to kill you when you were born,” she’d hissed, with tears in her eyes, then walked away. That night she hailed a cab and left the farm, never to voluntarily return.

Maybe something was wrong with me.

That’s the conclusion I came to. I realised how lonely I really was after that day. The animals were my only friends, the only ones I could ever talk to. I read. Worked. Ate. Slept. It was a monotonous life, and one I was no longer satisfied with now that I’d tasted the idea of a different and much better life.

But at least it was something.

 


 

It was a late Sunday evening. The sun had long since set, and yet I’d been told, quite plainly, not to move from my spot in the entry hallway. I was dressed in brand-new, neat clothes that were the nicest things I’d ever worn, a white button-up shirt and slacks. I shuffled nervously. What was going on? My grandparents had been acting odd all day; I'd been given almost no chores to do, something that had never happened before.

Just as the thought passed through my head, there was a single knock at the door. Then, it opened.

I watched as a man, in his mid-to-late forties, walked into the room, wearing a very expensive suit. He nodded at my grandfather, who, to my astonishment, bowed deeply, as my grandmother curtsied. He said nothing to him, though, bringing his bright hazel eyes to me. Unsure of what to do, I copied my grandfather and bowed sloppily. Then I started.

Hazel. This man had the same color eyes as me.

Who was this man? I’d hardly ever seen anyone outside of the farm before, and no one ever visited, save for the post and delivery men. I found myself drinking in every unfamiliar and familiar feature on his face. He had wrinkles, a receding hairline, and looked to be very tired. I wondered why.

“Hello,” The man announced, leaning down slightly, as if he wanted to get a better look at me. “My name is William Tybur. I am your father.”

What?  

I echoed the thought aloud, barely a whisper. I was so lost. Had I done something wrong, messed up a chore so badly that I couldn’t stay any longer? If my father was here now, where had he been before this?

“We need to go,” William announced. “We don’t have much time.” He looked to the side, where I caught sight of my mother for the first time in two years, just outside the house. She was leaning against the doorframe, terrified and refusing to look inside or at her family.

I looked down for a moment, grabbing my favorite book for comfort from where it was perched on a nearby shelf as I followed my… father and my mother out of the house. There was a dark car outside, sleek and top of the line, waiting for us. William took my hand, and I kept close to him while we walked down the long driveway, frightened. There was a tingling sensation at the base of my neck, a sense of danger and warning seeping through my veins, pumping adrenaline into my blood.

And suddenly, my mother screamed.

I jumped and clung to my father, eyes wide as I looked around, trying to see what my mother had seen, then freezing. We had somehow been surrounded by men in dark cloaks, watching us menacingly. William stepped back, now looking unnerved, placing one hand on my shoulder as if to reassure himself that I was still there. My mother stepped back, looking as if she wanted to make a run for it. Two men shot out and grabbed her by the back before either my father or I could react. My mother screamed again.

“Lord Tybur, we must act you not to act so rashly,” one of the men holding my mother warned, long, dirty blond hair dropping out of a black hat. “Are you feeling uneasy because of the recent incidents? Or—” he looked over to me, blue eyes shining. He had an accent. “Has something else happened? Why are you bringing Catherine here and not only the boy you’re holding on to?”

William tensed but said nothing, his grip on my shoulder loosening slightly. I took advantage of that, yanking my shoulder out of his grip and taking several tentative steps towards my mother, Catherine. Had I never known her name before now? It didn’t matter. She was my mother and I loved her.

“Mother—” I began, reaching out a hand to the man held her captive.

“No!” My mother shrieked desperately, moving away from me as much as she could in the man’s grip. “I am not this child’s mother! I have nothing to do with him!”

“Don’t do this, Kenny,” William spoke in low tones. “Please. Gwen—”

“Gwen is dead, isn’t she?” The man, Kenny, accused. William bit his lip, and his eyes watered. That was answer enough. “Then I am loyal to HYDRA. Is what this woman said true? Do you not know her and that girl?”

My father paused briefly, before nodding stiffly. “So that’s how it is,” he whispered. “Yes. It is true.”

“Good.” He shoved my mother onto the ground and yanked out a long knife from his robe. The men seemed to make an even tighter circle around us. “You never existed, woman. No one knows who you are. You never worked in Lord Tybur’s mansion.”

“Ah…” I slowly let go of my book, moving towards her mother. The book thudded into the dirt. My voice hardly seemed to work. “M-mother…”

The woman was shaking as Kenny brought the knife to her neck, but yet she, for the first time I could ever recall, looked me straight in the eye.

“If only you had never been bor—” Her words were abruptly cut off as the knife went through her throat. I let out a whimper, now shaking violently as my mother’s body fell to the floor, blood staining the grass a crimson red. Kenny discarded her as if she was a sack of rice, then moved to me.

I was frozen, unable to take my eyes away from Catherine’s corpse. It was only Kenny placing a hand on my head that prompted me to look up as he placed the knife, slick with my mother’s blood, to my throat.

“No, Kenny!” William moved forwards. Kenny paused, with the knife still to my throat, and looked at him disinterestedly. “You can’t kill him.”

“Why not?”

“You know why.” Kenny’s gaze moved back to me. “No. He poses no threat to you. Let him live a life of his own, anonymously.”

Kenny shot William an unreadable look, then he waved a hand, prompting his men to step back. William sighed heavily, then placed a hand on my shoulder when I didn’t move, taking me away from the knife. My mother’s blood traced a red line across my neck. 

I couldn’t move. Only just barely did I hear William’s next words.

“Your new name… is Peter Parker.”

 



After that… incident, I was taken away from William. It would be that last time I ever saw him as a child as well. The man who had killed my mother handed me off to some of the other strange men, and I was off, away from the farm for the first time in my life.

They were taking me somewhere where they could keep an eye on me, they said, but also out of the way so I didn’t make things any worse than I already had. I never said anything, stayed silent and obedient like they wanted me to be. They never told me who they were or what my father had been trying to do that night. I felt so utterly lost. A nine-year-old boy, surrounded by large, burly men who looked very much like they just wanted to kill me and get it over with.

It took me years to figure out why they didn’t.

There were three rules to follow, they told me after several hours on an airplane. One: Never tell anyone about your past. Two: Do whatever you want, but don’t put yourself in the public spotlight. Three: When you graduate high school, join the military. Go get yourself killed for a greater good.

And so it was. That day, Peter Parker was born. And I did my best to put the past behind me.

I was taken to New York City, a place I had honestly thought was imaginary since I had only read about it in my fiction novels. They gave me to a woman who called herself May. She was my Aunt now. I was put into a public school for the first time in my life. I had my own room, my own toys. May treated my nice enough, but I could tell that it was all a show. She had a favor owed to the men, she told me. Her husband, Ben, had gotten on their bad side, and he, his brother, and his brother’s wife had been assassinated as a result. May had only been spared to care for me. 

May wished that she hadn’t lived while her family died; I could see it in her eyes. I was a burden on her, too, then. Another person whose life had been ruined by my existence. 

I was left to take care of myself. Make my own meals, clean up after myself. May didn’t interact with me more than necessary and I liked that. It was the only thing that hadn’t changed since I’d been taken from the farm, so I clung to it like a life jacket. I made sure to stay out of the way and do as I was told.

I am Peter Parker. I am Peter Parker. That became my daily mantra. 

But I wasn’t. I wasn’t Peter Parker and I knew it. I saw it in how awkwardly I dealt with the other kids, how I had such little tolerance for school and sports. The other kids avoided me, and I them. Every time I went to school I was reminded of the children who lived in the town near my farm in Ireland. I wasn’t social. I was scared by big crowds. I kept to myself. I rarely spoke. I didn't know any math and my writing skills were minimal. The city frightened me. Technology frightened me. I was terrified that I was becoming too much of a burden on May, who had begun to start drinking. This wasn’t working.

If I couldn’t be Peter Parker, I’d have to become Peter Parker.

The revelation came to me abruptly one evening, perhaps a month after coming to New York. The person I currently was was not who I was meant to be. He was useless, a burden, hated by the world for making it a worse place. Peter Parker, though…

It came to me in a rush. Peter Parker, the boy who stood up to bullies and protected the underdog. Peter Parker, who kept straight A’s and always knew the answer to the problem the teacher wrote on the board. Peter Parker, slightly awkward but willing to give up his life for others. Peter Parker, the boy who played video games and with legos (that was what normal kids did, right?). 

Peter Parker, a good person. 

Peter Parker, a boy who didn’t exist.

I needed to make that good person exist.

Chapter Text

It had been May’s idea to go the Stark Expo thing, around six months after I’d come to live with her. I personally hadn’t cared for it much, though I’d jumped for excitement when I’d been told that we were going, wanting to please her. We’d be there for a good portion of the entire event, actually, meaning that it was taking me away from my self-assigned studies (I’d checked out old textbooks from the library to get as smart as possible so that I didn’t slow anyone down; currently I was on grade 2 in math and science and grade 5 for English and History). 

But May couldn’t find a babysitter for me and she had to be there for her most recent odd job or something. And I certainly didn’t want to be a burden, especially since she’d been acting nicer to me after I’d decided to become Peter. So I went without a fuss, ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ whenever I thought I should. 

May was working a merchandising booth, selling Iron Man products, and I quickly settled myself behind her on a folding chair, watching the people go by. It made me uncomfortable, seeing so many different people, several of which could be them , but I made sure I acted like Peter Parker would, grinning and waving at those who expressed interest in me. I stayed in my seat, though, making sure that I was always where I should be in case May needed me. 

“Peter.” 

I jumped, turning from where I had been watching a mechanical display a little ways down from the booth we were working in. I turned to look at May, a jolt of fear shoot shooting through me even as I smiled. Had I done something wrong, somehow?

“Yeah, Auntie? Do you need any help?”

May’s eyes flickered with an emotion that I couldn’t catch, and her lips quirked up slightly. 

“No, Peter. You’ve been very good over the last couple months, and…” she trailed off for a moment, looking over her shoulder to make sure no one was nearby or listening. Then she leaned towards him, lowering her voice. “Look, I need to start treating you better. I’ve noticed how you’ve been looking at that display over there…” she motioned to the display I had been looking at. She was right, it did look cool, but I was content at watching from a distance. Where was she going with this?

“Auntie?”

“Here.” She placed two items in his hands, beginning to blush. “I’m not good with kids, but, well… You can go out and take a closer look, alright?”

Part of me viciously wanted to say no, I was already intruding in her job enough, but at the same time, I didn’t want to bother her anymore by saying no either. And that display was pretty cool. I looked down at my hands. May had placed a toy Iron Man mask and gauntlet into them. Light-up ones, too, the best she was selling at the booth. I looked back up at her, surprised, but May just smiled sadly, ruffling my hair.

“Be back in a half an hour, okay?” she asked. I nodded, suddenly not trusting myself to speak, and jumped off my chair, the toys in my arms. “And don’t go out too far.”

“Alright!” I schooled my face into one of excitement. “Thanks!” I rushed off, trying to make myself feel excited to see the display.

To my surprise, it was fun. Night was coming quickly, and perhaps fifteen minutes passed with me gawking at the displays. I donned the mask and gauntlet that May had given me. A lot of the booths further inside were displaying newer technologies, and I watched in fascination as an engineer gave a small presentation on how a pair of sunglasses could be used for night vision. Ten more minutes passed, and I knew it was almost time to get back to May. Pulling away from the booth, I checked a clock on a nearby wall, noting that I had five more minutes. Hm. That rifle booth seems pretty cool

As soon as the thought passed through my mind, there was a distant explosion, gunfire, as a shattering of glass. A moment later, screaming followed. I jolted in shock, heart thumping almost painfully in my chest as time seemed to freeze for both me and everyone else at the expo.

And then I was surrounded on all sides by people. I found myself swept in the throng with them, rushing out of the building and outside into the cold air. I stumbled down the steps, people rushing past me on all sides. It was too much. Too many people.

Suddenly, I was back on the farm, the dark men all around me and my mother kneeling on the ground, her throat sliced and pooling with dark red blood. I was alone and lost and they wanted to kill me why else was this happening? I sobbed softly for a moment, hands shaking violently as I was pulled along with the crowd, but eventually managed to compose myself enough to pull the Iron Man mask over my face to try and hide how terrified I felt. Calming down slightly, I realized that I was outside the Stark Expo, with distant explosions sounding in the air.

People were still screaming, and chunks of rock and concrete were falling to the ground as more blasts rocked the air. I let out a shuddering breath, and slowed as I felt a new presence take shape behind me. 

This was it. The men were back. I had done something—anything—wrong, and now I and everyone else was going to die because I was such a screw up that I couldn’t even pretend to be a good person .

I turned, and the world slowed around me as a man(?) in a bulky metal suit strode up to me, stopping just two feet in front of me. My body was frozen. I could only lift my head and listen to the painful beating of my heart as I looked up at the thing that was about to become my killer.

Sluggishly, I thought about what Peter Parker would do in my situation. Would he just stand there and accept his fate, like I was? I thought I knew the answer. 

Slowly, I raised the toy Iron Man glove and pointed it at the suit.

A gun poked out of its shoulder and pointed at me.

There was a low clank behind me, and the charge of an engine.

Then a blast of energy exploded into the face of the suit, shattering the metal and causing it to collapse onto the ground. I jumped back in shock as another suit, this one in red and gold, stepped out from behind me, already blasting back into the sky.

“Nice work, kid.”

Then Iron Man, the Iron Man , was gone, blasting off into the night. I stared off after him, my breaths shallow in my throat.

I’d done what Peter would have done, and Iron Man had saved me.

“Nice work, kid.”

And suddenly everything was clear. 

 


 

The mask of Peter Parker became much easier to keep up after that.

Time passed. I continued to go to school, making friends with a kid named Ned because he was bullied and bullied kids need a good person to help them. All of my free time was dedicated to studying, though that time drastically shortened once I entered middle school. In seventh grade, I took up band and cross-country, and tried my best to immerse myself in the life I had been forced into. On the home front, May began to be nicer to me. She started talking to me at dinner, giving me gifts and even made up a birthday for me when I confessed that I didn’t know mine. 

It felt… nice. But it was all for Peter. 

Ned was friends with Peter. May was getting closer to Peter. Peter was the one getting straight A’s in school and throwing himself into co-curriculars. Peter Peter Peter.

Who was I, then?

Peter was becoming a part of me. Acting like him every day, forcing up emotions that I really wasn’t feeling was tiring at first, but once I turned eleven and passed the two year mark, it became even easier. I began thinking in terms of what Peter would do, how he would react to the situations thrown at me from day to day. At this point, I had fully fleshed out Peter’s character—everything, down to the little quirks of his, like how he tended to procrastinate until the last minute and was a terrible liar (I added that part to be ironic). That was good. My plan was working; by becoming Peter, I was becoming a good person.

Then why was the thought of truly becoming Peter starting to scare me?

 


 

There was a small opening onto the roof of my apartment building that I used a lot. Technically, I probably wasn’t supposed to be able to get up there, but then again, I was more flexible and much stronger than most of the kids in my class. Squeezing through the small trap door in my room and wiggling through the rusty attic and onto the roof was tricky and oftentimes painful, but it was worth it.

Now I was eleven, and the rooftop was the only place where I could truly relax. I’d made myself a little cove by the air conditioning unit, which, though rather loud and annoying during the summer months, was silent that early October evening.

I slipped onto the rooftop quietly, as usual. The day had been rather easy enough—though I had raced in cross-country earlier that day (and came in first), I still felt rather energetic. I’d chatted with Ned already, claiming that I had homework to do to get out of going over to his house. I told May I was going to bed early (it was only seven), then had come up here.

The sun had already set by now, and the air frosted around me with each breath I took. Winter was only a couple weeks away now. I walked across the rooftop, ignoring the humming of the traffic below me, which had yet to become white noise even though I’d lived here for almost two years now. Humming an old tune that I didn't remember learning, I sat against the old air-conditioning unit, and slowly let Peter Parker peel away from my features, one by one.

If someone had been watching me, the most noticeable change was in my posture. By far the hardest part of becoming Peter was his body posture, which for some reason I had decided had to be completely different from mine. I tended to sit at attention, yet be rather relaxed doing so. Peter, on the other hand, was always tense and singing with energy. So my shoulders sagged slightly and I closed my eyes and let out a long breath. 

I leaned back, tilting my head up to rest on the cool metal. I closed my eyes again, continuing to let Peter fall away, piece by piece. It felt nice. 

I sat there for awhile, reviewing the events of the last couple days. I'd gotten first in my race today, but it didn't tire me out much and I couldn't help the guilty feeling that rose in my chest, saying that I'd cheated and stolen the spot from someone else. I resolved to run slower next time. Again. 

There was a girl who had dropped her books in the hallways yesterday. I was late to class and couldn't help without being tardy. Fail. Ned flunked his English test because I couldn't study with him a couple days ago. Fail. Another girl was crying but she ran into the bathroom before I could offer help. Fail. Flash and some other kid got into a fight and Flash had gotten a black eye. Fail.

Fail fail fail. I placed my head in between my knees. Bad person bad person bad person.

That was one thing I wouldn't mind if I really became Peter, I supposed. The mean thoughts would go away. And maybe I could work better at becoming a good person. May said that she was proud of my grades, so perhaps I could focus on that achievement. If I got good enough grades and got into college, then perhaps I could get a job in medicine and help others--

Wait, no. I wasn’t allowed to. The military. That was where I was going. Where I was going to die.

I didn’t really mind the thought. All my life I had been something unwanted, so sacrificing myself for the greater good was probably the best way I could go out. Still, though, sometimes I would catch myself following this train of thought when on the rooftop, despite how silly it was. It always left a strange ache in my chest when I reminded myself that I was only ever destined to die young. 

I sat in my thoughts for a while longer, listening as the tail end of the New York rush hour wound down, and the lights in the city continued to turn on, lighting up the blackened sky so that only the gibbous moon was visible. I missed the stars in Ireland.

But after perhaps fifteen minutes, something tickled in the base of my neck. I frowned, fingers twitching as the uneasy feeling increased. Something wasn’t right. I hadn’t had this feeling since I had last seen my parents…

My eyes widened fractionally, and before I could even register what I was doing, I somersaulted away from the AC, just barely missing the object that whizzed past my ear and clanged into the metal of the unit. Eyes widening at what I had just done, I looked around, trying to find the source of whatever had been thrown at me. Finding nothing, I turned back to the AC, and my breath caught in my throat.

A knife, frighteningly similar to the one I had seen used to kill my mother, lay half-buried in the metal. Hands trembling, I yanked the knife out of the AC, shakily inspecting the weapon. It was a good three or four inches long, with a grip that fit surprisingly well into my hand.

If I hadn’t moved when I did, I’d be dead.

My senses screamed at me again, and I caught the very light ‘thumping’ of boots landing on stone behind me. My fingers tightened around the hilt of the knife even as my hand trembled, and turned around slowly to face the man who had joined me on the rooftop.

I almost screamed right then and there, but when I opened my mouth, all that came out was a terrified squeak. The man wore a black vest, a kind I had never seen before, along with similarly colored pants and a muzzle that covered the lower portion of his face. A long rifle was strapped over his back, and he had several knives in multiple pockets, but that wasn’t what truly drew my attention.

The guy had a metal arm. A metal arm with a red star on the side.

Before I could even try and take a moment to collect myself to scream for help (who would hear me?), the man was rushing at me. Once again, my instincts took over, and I ducked underneath the blade that came at my face, my leg lashing out and striking at the man. He didn’t budge from the blow, and a moment later grabbed my left arm so roughly that I was sure it’d be bruised to high heaven in the morning. I desperately slashed the knife at the man, but it bounced uselessly off of his metal arm.

“You are weak.”

It took me a moment to realise that it was the man who had spoken. His voice was gravelly and low, as if he hadn’t spoken in months, and completely lacked emotion. But I chose not to dwell on that for long. Yes, I knew I was weak, but I couldn’t go down like this! I knew I had to die, but I refused to go down in such a fashion. 

Anger and desperation fueled an adrenaline-spiked attack. I jumped up, using the man’s grip on my wrist to pick up my two feet and lash out at the man’s face, just barely clipping him on the chin. It distracted him well enough so that I could twist around in midair and wrench my wrist free of the man’s. I fell to the ground and rolled away almost instantly, gasping for breath as I looked back at the man as I took a kneeling position. I gripped the knife so tightly that my knuckles turned white.

He hadn’t moved from the position he had taken when I kicked him—head tilted back, and his legs staggered slightly. After a moment, he stepped into a more relaxed position, the knife twirling in his hands almost subconsciously.

“But.”

I blinked, and took an experimental step backwards. The shaking had faded, but that was probably because I was operating completely on my instincts.

“You have potential.”

It was almost as if he was talking to himself, but I knew the words were directed at me. The man cracked his neck.

Инициировать ангела проекта.”

I didn’t know what the man said, but he stopped twirling the knife, instead sheathing it in his belt. Icy blue eyes turned towards me, and I flinched.

But he said nothing more. He turned around and began running, gaining enough momentum to leap the ten-foot gap to the next rooftop. He rolled on the landing, turned around a protrusion on the roof, and was gone.

The whole encounter had lasted for less than five minutes. It felt like an hour. 

I don’t know how long I knelt there, my rapid breathing clotting the air around me a frosty white. But once I felt fairly sure that the man wasn’t coming back, I stood up. I still had the knife. I fingered it for a moment, finally finding the time to marvel at how well it fit into the palm of my hand. 

Eventually, I found the strength to go back to my room. I hid the knife under my mattress where May wouldn’t find it, and snuck some ice from the freezer to put on my wrist, which was quickly turning a deep purple. I didn’t fall asleep until well after midnight.

I dreamt of the farm in Ireland, when in the winter it would storm so bad that all I could see was white.

When I woke up in the morning, the bruise on my wrist was gone.

May complained that the AC wasn’t working.

Chapter Text

It took me a couple weeks to work up the courage to go on the roof again. When I did, it was mostly because I felt like I was going to burst if I didn’t drop Peter for a couple hours. So when I came up one chilly November Saturday and found the man from earlier standing by the AC, lazily flipping his knife in between his fingers, I shrieked. 

The knife flipping stopped. I took a step back, ready to run back through the attic and into my room, even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it. My fingers flew to my pocket, where I had stuck the knife when coming up, just in case. Thank goodness I was paranoid.

“Don’t scream, kid. Or I will kill you.”

Again, the man’s voice was emotionless, and what I could see of his face matched his tone. 

“Who are you?” I whispered, too frightened to speak at a normal tone. The man leaning on the AC seemed almost like a caged animal; any sudden or threatening movements, and I’d be dead.

“The Winter Soldier.” Then the man dashed at me, blade swinging in his arms. My instincts flared up once again, and I ducked, rolling underneath the incoming arm. I stopped my roll abruptly and brought up the knife to block the blow that was coming my way. However, the man, this Winter Soldier , was much too strong, and though I stopped the blow, the blade clattered out of my hands from the force of it.

“Well, that doesn’t sound like your real name,” I quipped as the knife flew out of my hands. Certainly not the best idea, taunting the enemy, but I hadn’t let Peter go yet, and that seemed like how he’d react to a situation like this.

I received no response, but the kick that struck me in the gut a second later definitely told me that Winter (I was definitely calling him Winter, “The Soldier” just sounded like an object and I wasn’t going to refer to him as an object) didn’t like that. I felt something in my chest give way slightly, and a burst of pain exploded in the area.

Dammit, Parker! Stop thinking!

I collapsed onto the ground, rolling away to just barely dodge the boot that came down several inches to the left of my face. I forced myself up into a kneeling position, one hand grasping my abdomen. Yeah, definitely going to bruise there, though I wasn’t sure how long it’d last considering how quickly the bruise on my wrist had healed last time.

“Ow,” I muttered. Forcibly, I shoved my instincts to act like Peter down and did my best to bring my actual self up. I’d never really switched personas this quickly, but it seemed to work. I was able to catch the knife thrown at my face, at least. 

I blinked, realising that it was mine. Well, the one that had been left over from our first fight, anyways. I stood up, wincing at the pain in my abdomen as Winter waited for me to recover. What was with this guy? Was he trying to train me or kill me?!

Shut up Peter. I don’t need you right now. Stop bleeding into my thoughts.

Was I insane? Probably. Usually I wanted to be in my Peter persona, but right now he seemed more like a hindrance with wanting to avoid fighting and providing distracting quips.

I blinked, forcing myself to stay focused as I ducked the next attack. Working on my instincts once again, I grabbed Winter’s arm—the human one—and pulled. To my surprise, it actually worked, and Winter flipped over me. However, the victory was short-lived as he moved with the momentum, taking me with him and throwing me onto the concrete. Now thoroughly stunned, I simply laid on the ground, trying to recover and blink the black spots out of my vision.

“Hn. Lasted longer than last time. Make it to three minutes next time.” Winter’s voice was still emotionless, and the statement sounded more like a command than anything. Still, when my vision stopped swimming and I was able to sit up, he was long gone.

 


 

“You know, when I detected that they had finally fished you out of the Arctic, I just had to come and see you in the flesh.”

Steve paused, fist freezing from where he'd been hitting the punching bag. The gym was usually deserted at this time of night, and no one was supposed to know yet that Captain America was alive. Instantly, that ruled out everyone not from SHIELD coming to see him. He frowned, turning to the man who had come to meet him. He was… familiar. Very faintly, though, like he was a long-lost relative he had last seen decades ago. Except that all his friends and family were either long dead or aging, and this man couldn’t be over thirty. Perhaps he was related to someone he had known.

All of this ran through Steve’s head in the five seconds he let pass before he spoke.

“Did Fury send you? Another therapist to try and ease me into the world? Tell him thanks, but no thanks. Angelica is working fine enough for me.”

“Actually, Fury is quite unaware that I am here. The rest of SHIELD as well. I don’t like being monitored.” The man scoffed, looking up at a security camera in disdain. “Honestly, they aren’t even trying to hide the fact that they’re watching your every movement.”

Steve shrugged, knowing the truth to that statement but not answering. In all honesty, he just didn’t care. Didn’t care about much these days. SHIELD had left him to get acclimated to the 21st century with some minimal help here and there, but they honestly just floated around in the background. And he was adjusting well enough. 

But it just didn’t seem real. Every day he expected to wake up with a bucket of water to the face as Bucky laughed in the background. To go take out HYDRA bases and fight the Nazis. Yet every day he woke up to a world at peace, a world he didn’t know. It left him feeling quite aimless, if he was being truthful with himself. He didn’t have a purpose. That was the problem, he supposed. All his life it'd been standing up for the little guy, fighting the war, saving others. Now there was no little guy to protect, no war to fight, and no one needing saving.

“Stop pitying yourself. You are going to make me feel sick.”

Steve frowned and gave the punching bag one last, good hit. At least punching bags hadn’t changed too much.

“Are you going to talk any more, or have I expended all your words for the day?”

Steve let out a long breath and counted to ten. He really didn’t want to deal with anyone tonight, especially this annoying man. How had he even gotten in here without Fury knowing? 

The silence lasted a minute or so this time, before the man spoke again. However, he seemed to let something about him drop, and his expression softened ever so slightly.

“You have Sarah’s eyes, you know. I don’t know if anyone’s told you that. The serum, on the other hand, seems to have taken most of her figure out from you. A pity, really. Though I suppose you like not having that breathing problem of yours anymore. She always found it to be quite a hindrance in her own life.”

Steve froze at his mother’s name. The third sentence sent a painful pang through his heart, and the last two made him suspicious. What was this man getting at?

“Who are you?” He asked, giving the man a long, hard look. “What do you want?”

“It’s complicated,” the man shrugged nonchalantly, shoving his hands in his pockets. “No doubt in a couple months we’ll both be trying to blow each other’s brains out. Now, though? Think of me as a sort of benefactor.”

Steve folded his arms. “And I suppose that brings us to why you’re here.”

“Indeed. Would you accept that I’m merely here to assure myself that my investment alive and well?”

Steve filed away the words ‘my investment’ for later. “Take a wild guess.”

“Very well.” The man laughed. “Though that is part of the reason. I’d hate to accidentally kill you when we go to battle against each other. The other? I’m keeping a promise I made to your mother.”

“...What?” His voice was a whisper. The man laughed almost wildly. 

“Oh, I’ve pictured this reaction for ages.” He leaned forward slightly, despite the fact that there was at least fifteen feet between them. “Why do you think you didn’t die when you entered the ice, boy? I owe your mother a favor. And I may be an attempted mass murderer, but I keep my promises.”

“You’re superhuman.”

“Yes. Took you long enough.” The man hummed to himself, thinking for a moment. Then he shook his head, turning around to leave. “My, seeing you here is bringing back a lot of old memories. I think I’m done here.”

“You’re stronger than me. And I’m a pawn in your plan.”

The man paused. 

“You’re a lot smarter than you look. I like that. But. You’re a pawn in a lot of people’s plans, Rogers. I suggest you keep both eyes open at night. Just because I’m not going to kill you doesn’t mean that I won’t hesitate to kill everyone else, or that others won't hesitate to kill you.” He stopped talking for a moment, and tilted his head, as if listening to something. “And now I must go. SHIELD has discovered that I’ve looped their security feed. You mind not mentioning this encounter?”

Steve just stared at him.

“What am I saying? Of course you won’t. Good evening, Mr. Rogers.” 

The man marched decidedly out of the room with a flourish. Steve stared after him for a moment, before following him out and finding nothing.

 


 

Over time, Winter’s visits—honestly, though, they were more like pounding sessions—became the staple of my life. They were irregular, ranging from twice a week to once every two months, and I came out of them severely bruised on good days, on the cusp of fainting on bad ones. I was getting better, from lasting only three minutes to almost half an hour, but it Winter kept on upping the difficulty as I got better. Curiously, I always seemed to heal most, if not all of my injuries overnight, and the ones that didn’t I hid from May so she didn’t notice.

Because, as messed up as it was, Winter was probably the only living person who knew me for me, not Peter. He never hesitated in hitting me, only held back enough during our fights so that I didn’t die, and didn’t even seem to remember who I was half the time, but it was all I had, and I took it. He never spoke to me more than necessary, no matter how much I talked to him, so he remained an enigma in my life, someone I did but didn't know at the same time.

And even if Winter never seemed to make a connection with me, I made one with him. It was perhaps a year into the impromptu training sessions that I realised that I was no longer frightened of him. Another six months and I thought positively of him. Six more and I was looking forward to his visits. Twisted and kinda sick, I know. But it happened. 

Sometimes I look back and laugh at the sad fact that the only person who knew me for me was a Russian assassin prepared to kill me the moment I made a wrong step.

But beggars can’t be choosers.

However, throughout those two years and as I matured somewhat, I began to see a different side of Winter. It was only flickers, usually. Momentarily widened eyes when he almost knocked me off the roof once, pulling back a punch so that he only cracked my ribs instead of breaking them. Every time I saw him, this hidden side of Winter, I couldn't help but relate to him. 

There came a point, I'm not really sure when, that I realised that Winter was kind of like me. Willingly or not, this man had put up Winter as a mask in an attempt to protect him as well (though I tried not to think from who. I did not want to meet someone who frightened Winter). But his mask was much more fluent than mine; if I didn't have one myself, I never would have noticed. He certainly didn't seem to realise that there was someone else underneath his icy blue gaze.

I began to refer to this hidden side of Winter’s as Clark, after Superman’s secret identity. I had recently begun reading the comics with Ned, and it had struck me how someone could lead such drastically different lives without anyone knowing. Even Iron Man and Captain America had revealed who they were to the general public. I thought the name was appropriate. Winter and Clark. Peter and I. 

Things began to change, though, starting almost two years after meeting Winter.

 


 

I was on the roof again, sitting by that old AC unit and flipping my knife absentmindedly, a habit that I had picked up from Winter. The knife, the same one that Winter had “given” to me in our first fight still worked extremely well, though I had to buy a sharpener to keep it from dulling. 

The sun was about to set. I huffed quietly, standing up as I looked over the Queens skyline. Winter wasn't coming today then, I supposed. Part of me considered just practicing knife moves on my own like I usually did when Winter didn't show up, but I was feeling lazy today. I had a test in History tomorrow, maybe I should study?

Nah. I didn't feel like trying to care about much today. Just trying to keep Peter up had been harder than normal. A good part of me honestly just wanted to go to bed and never get out again. Ugh.

Then, my senses twinged in warning, and my hearing (which, I had discovered recently, was actually much higher than a normal person’s) picked up the footfalls of someone landing on the roof. I perked up a bit, knowing who had come, but paused for a moment. Winter was late today, and he was never late. But maybe he'd just been held up. 

“Hey, Winter,” I greeted amicably, though I didn't bother trying to smile (I'd done more than enough of that today), turning around. “What are we doing—”

My eyes landed on the man, and I cut myself off. 

The man standing in front of me was Winter, but everything about him was off. For one, he wasn't wearing the battle vest and pants I knew him for, but instead a ratty old jacket, T-shirt, and jeans that must have been scavenged up from a dumpster. His long hair was pulled back into a ponytail and his metal arm covered with a glove, odd since he usually displayed both almost proudly. And he looked… uncomfortable and almost afraid, shifting his weight around almost imperceptibly. 

We watched each other awkwardly for a moment. It took me that long to realise that, for the first time, I was truly seeing Clark. Actually seeing him, not just the flickers I glimpsed every once in a while.

Dozens of questions popped into my head. How, why, who, the whole shebang. If I had been Peter, I definitely would've asked them. But Peter was safely tucked away right now, and I knew from personal experience that it was best not to push things most of the time. So I said what I thought was best.

“Hey, Clark.” I gave a little wave, making sure to relax. This man looked like a cornered animal, and I wanted him to know that I wouldn't hurt him. “Why are you here today?”

The man almost flinched, and I watched his right hand vanish into his jacket.

“Who are you?” he asked. “I know twelve different ways to kill you if you're a threat to me.”

“You would probably be doing the world a favor,” I shrugged, forcing myself to stay calm. Clark gave me an odd look, and then I remembered his first question. “My name is Peter. Peter Parker.”

“Why do you call me Clark? Is that the name I gave you?”

Did this man have memory problems? I knew Winter didn't act like he knew me, but I always thought it was just that: an act. If he didn't remember me… I suddenly felt sorry for Clark.

“Well, no. You said you were The Winter Soldier, I just shortened it to Winter. I'm calling you Clark because you aren't Winter right now.”

Clark looked shocked. “And what do you mean by that?”

“Winter would be beating my brains out right now in his definition of training. You are doing the exact opposite. Trust me, I can tell when someone switches between masks.” I gave him a small smile. “I've seen glimpses of you before, but never as long as this. I gave you the name Clark, because you aren't Winter and thus need a different name.”

Clark looked at me oddly, then shrugged. We lapsed into silence again.

“I don't remember much of what I do as… Winter,” he murmured after a moment, pausing at the name Winter before spitting it out as if it was a disease. “I don't remember much of anything. You are one of the few missions I remember. But you aren't HYDRA or SHIELD. What makes you so special that my orders would be to train you and not kill you?”

I shrugged. We both seemed to be doing a lot of that lately. I tucked the names Clark had mentioned away to look up later. I knew better than to ask about them.

“I'm not special or anything. Just a bastard child with no place in the world,” I responded. “Maybe in that respect we are similar.”

“Your name isn't Peter, is it?”

I paused for a moment, debating as to whether I should tell the truth or not. What the hell. Who'll he tell, his employers who probably already know who I am?

“No. But most things about me are a lie.”

“Same with me.”

The ice broke, if only slightly. Clark’s lips twitched upwards almost imperceptibly, and I smiled tentatively, a real one this time. It felt nice; it'd been a long time since I'd last really smiled.

“I won't ask you any questions if you don't ask me any.”

Clark nodded. 

“Deal.”

 


 

I left the department store the next day with several large bags in hand. It was a brisk Friday evening, and with May out on the graveyard shift for her job, I had the house to myself for the night. I had cancelled hanging out with Ned tonight as well, leaving my weekend open. I had gotten some odd looks, a thirteen-year-old kid shopping on his own, but Peter was responsible and likeable, so no one really brought it up. As long as May never found out about the detours I took during this trip, things would be good.

It was a short trip through the subway to get home. Again, I got some odd looks for travelling on my own, as well as some rather unsavory ones, but I wasn't afraid, not as Peter. After all, I very well knew how to defend myself; Winter had seen to that. Thankfully, though, I was able to stick to the crowds as I entered Queens and made it safely to my apartment building. 

Shuffling my bags so I could grab my key, I unlocked the door to May’s apartment (for it wasn't mine, I was only a long-staying guest) and ducked inside, shutting the door behind me with my foot. The two-room house was silent, so my movements seemed much louder than usual. I dropped the groceries May had wanted me to get, along with my backpack on the table, taking the eggs out of the bag and putting them in the fridge.

The rest for my quarry still in hand, I went into my room, taking the now all too familiar route through the trapdoor in my closet and into the attic, I almost tore the plastic bag in my hands before I made it onto the roof, and got a large splinter along my arm anyways. Huffing in annoyance to myself as I made it onto the roof, I pulled it out with a wince.

Then, I dropped Peter, folding him back into the recesses of my mind, and walked over to the AC unit. Sitting there in a sort of half-dose was Clark, still in the same clothes as yesterday. As I approached, his eyes flickered open, his hands flying not so subtly towards the pistol holster in his jeans before realising that it was me.

“Oh. Hello, Peter,” he greeted, I nodded in return.

“Hey.” I dropped my bag and sat down a couple feet away from him, at what I hoped was a comfortable distance. “Do you know how long you'll be staying here?”

“Not for long. Just until I find somewhere else to stay. This place is too open and… close. It'd be too easy for me to be caught if I stayed here longer than a couple of days.”

I didn't bother asking the questions that popped into my head. Harkening to our agreement last night, I hadn't questioned anything when Clark had come to me. Instead, I'd offered him sanctuary for as long as he needed up here on the roof hardly anyone came up here, anyways.

“You could try the Midwest,” I offered. “Heard that place is really easy to get lost in. Or Europe, maybe, if you have or can get a passport.”

Clark’s eyes flickered, but he said nothing. I opened the bag and tossed some clothes at him, which he caught with a start. It was a long sleeved magenta shirt and a pair of jeans. He sent me a confused look.

“I got you some clothes,” I muttered, cheeks beginning to take on a red hue. “If they fit, I mean. I guessed your clothes size. I thought that if you were travelling more, then you would probably not want to look like a hobo.”

“Last I checked, I was homeless,” Clark responded, though his lips twitched upwards as he held up the magenta shirt. “Thank you. I think they'll fit just fine.”

I smiled. That was a relief; I'd spent my last four months’ allowance on that shopping trip. I hadn't wanted to risk using May’s money.

We lapsed into silence for a while. I  brought out a package of granola bars and fresh plums that I had bought while out, and we ate them as a makeshift dinner. With our agreement not ask questions about each other, there wasn't much to talk about. But there was still a certain sense of comradeship between us. Clark had only warmed up to me slightly, and he certainly didn't trust me, but that was okay. I was simply glad that he was able to come out for once, and not Winter, and that I was the person he chose to go to when he had no other options.  

As the sun set, the weather chilled, and Clark took a moment to change from the dumpster clothes he had salvaged into the shirt and jeans I had bought him. And as the sky darkened and the lights across New York turned on in response, I remembered something.

“Oh, there's something else I wanted to give to you, Clark.” I grabbed my plastic bag again, and pulled out a set of notebooks, sticky notes, and pens. I passed them on to the long-haired man.

“What are these for?” he asked quietly. I suddenly felt very self-conscious.

“Well, um, you mentioned yesterday that you didn't remember a lot of things. And, uh, boy, this sounds really stupid now, I thought that you might want something to record what you do remember. Just in case you forget again.”

There was a brief moment of silence, and I tucked my knees into my chest, now thoroughly embarrassed. I'd already bought the man clothes and food; had I guessed wrong on the notebook? 

Please don’t be mad please like it please think I’m a good person.

“Thank you.”

I looked back up, hardly daring to believe it. Clark was smiling at me. Actually smiling. It wasn't a happy smile, and it, in actuality, was really sad. But it was a smile. I felt my own lips curve upwards. Neither of us were truly happy, and both of us were broken in our own ways. Soon, Clark was going to leave, and I would be alone again. 

But we were smiling.

And maybe that was a start.

Chapter Text

Hello  Peter.

I've found a place to stay. I don't have an e-mail or a computer, so expect letters for now. Enclosed is a penlight. You'll need it. Burn the letters after you get them. Soak the ashes.

~C


It was a few weeks after the whole Loki fiasco that Clint received his first flash.

It was a normal morning. He had just gotten back to Avengers Tower from visiting his wife and kids on the farm (going on a quick solo mission to the rest of the team) the night before, and had just woken up. JARVIS reported that it was nearing noon, and that the team had to attend some kind of meeting for the government. Something about accepting an award, Clint honestly hadn't been paying that much attention.

He had been standing in front of the mirror, brushing his teeth so that he'd look at least semi-presentable, when the intercom beeped.

"Hey, Clint. You almost ready to go? Tony's getting antsy."

Clint chuckled at Pepper's partially annoyed, partially amused tone.

"What's he done this time?" He laughed, leaning back slightly, and taking a comb through his hair as a final touch.

"Besides almost setting the Other Guy off on all of us? Not much. Yet."

"Well, I came back at, like, two in the morning. I just got up. Tell Tony I'll be done in just a sec—oh, shit!"

For just a moment, the scene around him changed. The long mirror of Stark Industries transformed into an old-fashioned round mirror, his shaving cream and other toiletries into hair gels and sprays. The walls flickered from metal to a homey wood, almost like a cabin.

But what really caught Clint's attention was his reflection.

Because it wasn't his.

Staring into the mirror was a young woman, around eighteen or nineteen years old. She was beautiful (and this was coming from a happily married man!), with straight, long brown hair and round hazel eyes that sparkled like emeralds. Her face was screwed into one of slight concentration as she methodically brought the brush down through her hair. Clint's limbs followed her movements, too-small hands reaching up with the brush and pulling it through hair that had suddenly grown down past his shoulders.

Then the second was over, and reality slammed back into place. It happened with such force that Clint cursed, stumbling backwards and tripping over his own feet to crash onto the floor. A split second later, his instincts kicked in and the knife he kept hidden in his boot was up in his hands and in a defensive position.

"Clint! Clint, are you alright?!"

It took the Avenger a moment to realise that Pepper was still on the intercom. He paused for a moment, letting his heart rate sink back to normal, before responding.

"Yeah."

"What happened? Are you alright? JARVIS?"

"Mr. Barton seems to have fallen over. His heart and blood pressure have both abruptly elevated, but I can sense no threats in the area."

Clint relaxed slightly at JARVIS' analysis, lowering the knife and taking a deep breath. A sweep across the room revealed nothing immediately amiss, and he stood up, though still tense at the chance of someone attacking him. Nevermind that Avengers Tower was one of the most secure buildings in the world. SHIELD habits die hard, he supposed.

"I'm fine, Pepper," he announced with a grunt. "Just… fell over."

"Fell over?" Her voice was laced with skepticism. Clint couldn't blame her. After all, he was Hawkeye, the guy whose job was to get up to high places and not fall over. "Are you sure you're alright?"

"Yeah. Just tired from the mission. Tell Tony I might be a couple more minutes late."


Peter,

I hope you've figured out how to use the penlight I gave you to read this message. Can't exactly write in normal ink, as you can probably tell. As I said earlier, I've found a place to stay. I won't say where, but I think I'll be able to get along fine here without my past catching up to me. For a while, at least.

Thanks for the notebooks. They've been a real help; I remembered my birthday the other day. Wrote it down just like you advised.

~C


It was perhaps two weeks after Clark left that I started sticking to things. Gave May a heart attack the first time I did it, too. I'd gotten the flu around that time, and she'd gone out to get some groceries. When she got back, I was delirious from the fever. And hanging from the ceiling.

May didn't back down, though. Not like I thought she would. She took me by the hand and said that she wasn't going to report me to 'them.'

It had taken us four years, but it was around then that I realized that, perhaps, we had grown to care for each other.


"Aunt May, I'm home!"

I ducked into my 'aunt's' apartment, shutting the door behind me with my foot, as per usual. It was another Friday evening, another day coming home from Ned's house. We'd built a LEGO x-wing, with Ned doing most of the work since I didn't want to intrude on his fun. Even though we'd been friends for going on three years now, I was still terrified of losing him. Well, I was. Peter just was having fun building an x-wing. I swallowed the bitterness the rose in my throat—why was I feeling sad? I was Peter—and smiled as I put my backpack on the table.

Then, I paused. May hadn't responded yet, which was unusual. Normally, she'd shout a greeting, then as I passed her in the living room on my way to my bedroom, she'd jump up and give me a quick hug. Frowning, and wondering if anything was wrong, I ducked into the living room.

Something was wrong. If there was anything I knew about May, it was that she was a terrible liar. Well, no, she was actually really good at keeping big secrets, such as my past and the truth about her family's deaths. But ask her to not tell someone something, and there's a 90% chance that she'd end up blurting it out anyways.

So when I found May sitting on the couch, arms folded and looking apprehensive, I knew that she wouldn't lie to me when I asked her what was up.

"Aunt May?" I asked tentatively, not sure of what to say. May looked up at me, and forced a smile, patting the open spot on the sofa next to her.

"Peter, can you sit down for a moment?"

My flight or flight instincts flared up, and I tensed involuntarily, fists clenching, before I forced myself to relax. This was May. She wasn't going to kill me or anything. Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, I sat down, becoming much more serious to match May's demeanor.

"What do you want to talk to me about?" I asked, trying my hardest to look pleasant. Had I gotten in trouble? I'd always tried my hardest not to! Was she going to kick me out? Had May finally decided that she'd had enough of dealing with me? The questions whirled in my head, and I didn't even realise that I'd begun hyperventilating.

"Peter? Peter, look at me!"

The was a hand gripping my wrist, and I yanked it away easily, before realising what I had done and looking back at May. Oh, I was in for it now. She was going to get rid of me and I'd have to either go back to them or go find Clark and—

"Peter."

A gentle hand cupped my face, and was startled to find out that it was wet. I had started crying?

"Peter, you're having a panic attack. Look at me. Breathe."

She took a deep breath, then waited for me to copy her. It took me a couple minutes, but I eventually managed to take a breath that wasn't a panicked gasp. Some of the black that had started fuzzing my vision around the edges faded away.

"Peter. Peter, you're alright now. I'm not going to do anything to you. I just want to talk. Nothing is your fault."

I didn't trust myself to speak.

I'd panicked again.

Really, it wasn't a shock that I'd had one, but that I'd had it now. Usually, my panic attacks were triggered when I was alone in bed at night, when I woke up from a nightmare, or on the roof when I convinced myself that I wasn't worth it. Usually, I would just sit down, curl up into a ball and wait for it to pass. I'd only ever slipped up twice, once when I accidentally broke a project Ned and I had been working on two years ago, and once when fighting against Winter. I had convinced Ned not to tell, and I was certain that he had forgotten about it by now, and it wasn't like Winter was going to tell anyone (when it had happened, he'd stopped fighting me until it passed, then picked up where we had left off. It was the one major act of mercy he had ever given me).

Never had I had an attack in front of May. The horror rose up in me, and I almost relapsed again at the implications of it.

"Oh, Peter, baby. I know how it feels." Suddenly, there were arms around me. I didn't want them there, and perhaps I had tensed up because they were gone as soon as they had come. "You shouldn't be ashamed, you know. I get those, too."

"Y-you do?" What? I blinked a couple times in surprise, wiping the tears off my face. May had panic attacks?

"Yeah. Here, let me tell you what I wanted to talk to you about, okay?" May's voice was calm and soothing; she kept one hand resting on my forearm, but other than that didn't touch me. It was comforting, to not be so overwhelmed by touch and yet have just enough to keep me grounded in reality.

After a moment, I nodded.

"Peter, have I ever told you just why I was chosen to be the one to take care of you?"

I shook my head.

"Well, almost ten years ago now, my brother—your "father," Richard Parker—began researching something. He wanted to see if he could recreate the super-soldier serum. You know, the one that gave Captain America his powers back during World War II. He thought…" her voice cracked, and she paused for a moment before pressing on. "That if he found it, he could sell it to the government. Make enough money to keep his wife, brother-in-law, and I set for the rest of our lives. He was an experienced geneticist, you see. Since Ben was an engineer and Mary had a degree in archeology and history, he thought that we might've been able to do it if we worked together.

"I didn't think we could do it. Recreate the super-soldier serum? Others had been trying for over fifty years. Ben tried to get me involved, since I have a degree in nursing, but I refused." She chuckled to herself, lost in memories from long ago. Her eyes shone with unshed tears. "Really, that was what probably saved my life. And Ben didn't push the issue. That was what I loved about him; he never tried to make me do something that I didn't want to do.

"It was four years ago when Richard said that they were getting close. Mary had gotten her hands on some old Nazi papers and several studies on Captain America's biology, and they were getting close. I was so happy for them."

"What happened?" I asked quietly. May sighed.

"They went out to dinner. To celebrate, since they were mere weeks away from completion. A truck ran a red light on their way home—Mary, Ben, and Richard were all killed immediately or passed away in the hospital within the next two hours. There was a gas leak in the lab were they had been working. Everything was burned. Our computers were hacked and all information was wiped clean." She spread her free hand out across her lap. "All evidence of those six long years of work, gone in a night."

"It wasn't a coincidence, was it?" I murmured. May shook her head.

"No. I knew that, and I was terrified that they were going to kill me, too. But then… one day a man came up to my doorstep and told me I was getting a kid. This kid was Richard and Mary's son; he was nine years old and with them dead I was now his legal guardian. But I wasn't an idiot; I read in between the lines. The people who had killed my family needed to get rid of this kid, but they couldn't kill him. So they were dumping him on me, because I couldn't say no."

I looked down at my hands.

"Now, Peter, when I first met you, I think we both know how I felt. I didn't give you the attention you needed and withdrew into myself. I convinced myself that I just wasn't worth it. I got panic attacks. Depression. You know the drill. I let you do your own thing and that isn't something any guardian should do."

"I think it was a good thing," I murmured, remembering those first awkward months. The words came out of my mouth on their own accord, and I found myself unconsciously leaning into May's touch. "Everything was so different; being ignored was the only familiar part of my life. It helped."

For the first time, I had just revealed part of my past aloud. It felt strange, the words heavy on my tongue. It was almost as if speaking them made the events from so long ago real. I didn't like it, and May, thankfully, didn't press any further.

"That doesn't excuse my actions, though. But when that event at the Stark Expo happened, I thought, for a while, that you were dead. And I was so terrified that I had lost you, that when I found you, I knew that I was going to treat you right. Be the aunt," she laughed at the false term. "That you never had. And somewhere along the way—" she smiled lovingly. "I really did start loving you as the son I never had."

Suddenly, everything made sense. Why May had abruptly gotten so attached to me, her quick recovery. How easily, after the Stark Expo, we had fallen into the role of loving nephew and overprotective aunt. But I had one major question.

"Why are you telling me this?"

May let out a long breath, as if gathering her courage.

"Peter, I've been thinking about this for a long while. You've always been a lot stronger than the other kids, and now, with this sticking to walls, thing… well, I wanted to know if you could tell me about your past, like I did mine. What happened to you that put you in my care?"

I froze. I couldn't…

The rules the men had told me, so long ago, rang loudly in my head. I had to follow them, but I hadn't seen them since I was nine. Would they even know? How would they? Was May just testing me right now, ready to report back to them if I broke? Did I even want to tell her?

"Peter." A hand caressed my cheek, and I looked up. May gave me a long, loving look. "You don't have to tell me right away. How about… What's your name, Peter? Your real one?"

My name… my real name? I hardly remembered it. It took me a full minute to bring it up from the few times it had been spoken on the farm, and that honestly scared me. But then it came, and I whispered it, just loud enough for May to hear.

"Thank you," she murmured, smiling, and a warm feeling rose in my chest when I realized how happy I had made her. "You can tell me the rest whenever you like. Or never, if you don't want to. Do you want me to call you by your real name?"

I immediately shook my head. I was a bad person, Peter was good. I wanted to be a good person, so Peter I would be.

"Alright then, Peter. Can I hug you?"

I nodded jerkily, my vision blurring once again.

We didn't let each other go for a long time.


And so Aunt May joined the group of people who knew who I really was. Well, it wasn't a very big group, considering that the only other member was Clark, but it was such a relief to know that she cared for me, the real me. Despite that, though, I didn't drop Peter (usually) when she was around, mostly because I still didn't trust her.

Oh, I cared for May, I really did. Sometime during the months following she became "Aunt May" in my head to match my cover story. I didn't… love her, per say, but I cared for her deeply.

Sometimes that didn't feel like enough. And I tried, so hard, to trust her, to let her be my mother, because she loved me, and I wanted to be the son she wanted for her. But I couldn't. Whenever I tried, I just saw my real mother again, held back by the man with the trench coat and a knife to her throat.

It was too soon. No matter what I told myself, I had never recovered from that night in Ireland, and I was starting to fear that I never would.

Chapter Text

Hey Peter,

I'm remembering more and more. Some of its bad, really bad, but some of it isn't. It's odd, what I'll remember at the most random of times. A date with a girl. Killing a politician. Training you. All within an hour. It’s disorienting, honestly. But the notebooks help.

I've realized something during the past couple weeks, something I think you should know: training you has probably been the best thing that's ever happened to me. I don't know if you've realized it yet, but only when I was with you did I ever really come to battle Winter. I don't think I ever would have escaped him when the time came if you hadn't softened me up first.

‘Cause Winter likes you, Peter. It's a sick way to look at things, but he likes you because he doesn't have to kill you. Not that he particularly cares if you live or die, but that he’s taught you to fight like him, that you might be a great asset to the organization we worked for. That you have the potential to become even greater than him. And me, by proxy. And believe me, I think you could do it if you worked hard.

Don't worry about any organizations coming for you, though. They've been… forcibly disbanded. So if you're hiding from them, don't worry. I've taken care of them. If anything does happen to you, though, I'd know. I'd get you out of there, Peter.

That is, if you didn't get yourself out first. I wouldn't put it past you. 

~C.

 

P.S. I'm staying in Ankara for a couple weeks. Try and send me a letter back. It'd be nice to hear from you. The address I've chosen is enclosed.

 


 

“Uh, Aunt May, I don't think that we're supposed to be here.”

I shifted, feeling slightly uneasy as we walked through the gym. It was Thanksgiving morning, and the usual 24/7 building had been closed for the national holiday. And yet Aunt May had gotten me at six (contrary to Peter, I was a morning person and was usually up by five) and taken me here, brandishing the keys to the place like she owned it and turning off all the alarms before they could go off.

It left me utterly confused. Even for Aunt May, this was a bit odd. All questions I'd asked about where we were going, however, had been swiftly deflected.

“Don't worry, Peter,” May grinned, twirling her keys around her index finger. “I got a friend who owns the place. I cashed in a favor to get the place to ourselves for the morning.”

“And why is that?” I asked, uneasy.  My instincts shifted, my attention flickering from one point to another. My gut was telling me that I wasn’t in danger, but a gut instinct and my mind were two very different things. 

“Don’t worry, kiddo! It’s in the name of science! We’re going to test the extent of your abilities today!”

I blinked. Then blinked again.

I knew I was different than the other kids. I was naturally stronger and more flexible, and if my couple seasons in cross-country were anything to go by, much faster, too. I was fairly certain my instincts were much more attuned to the world around me, and Winter’s training had given me reflexes. Then there was that whole sticking-to-walls thing that had started a couple months ago. I tried as much as possible to avoid doing that.

But I had never tried to test the real extent of my abilities outside of my fights with Winter (and since I had no idea how strong he was, I couldn't scale myself compared to him), and I couldn’t help but wonder how far I could go.

May gave me an optimistic look, and I smiled back despite my worryings. I was Peter, after all, and he didn’t give much thought to stuff like that. So I let her lead me over to one of the bench-presses. She pulled out the bench and grabbed a bar, grunting under the weight of it. I was quick to take it from her, eager to help. I handled it much more effortlessly.

“Well, I’m out of shape, then,” May laughed, partially embarrassed as I placed it on the rack. “That’s really impressive though, Peter. I never see you working out.”

I blushed, but laughed it off. “I’ve always been in shape. Fast metabolism, I guess.”

“Well, let’s see how far this strength goes.”

I sat myself down on the bench, and May placed two 45’s on each side of the bar. With the 45-pound bar, that made the whole weight at around 135 lbs. I sat down and lifted it easily, able to take it all the way to my chest and back. May whistled, and added two more 45’s. I lifted it easily as well—I could barely feel the difference.

That didn’t really surprise me, though it made my super-strength feel all the more real. After all, I had survived against Winter’s bionic arm for years for a reason.

May added a third set of 45’s. Same results. A fourth set. Same thing. By that time, we gave up on the plain old lifting thing, having no more room on the bar to put on weights.

“I wouldn't be surprised if you’re able to lift a car,” May announced once I put the bar back on the rack and sat up. “That was a whole 405 pounds you just lifted like nothing  I’m in awe. Your genes must be extraordinary. You could even be at the level of Captain America. Imagine that.”

I didn’t like that idea. I just wanted to be a good person, not a better person! I could never do what Captain America did. He was certainly my role model, being the pillar of morality that I wanted to be someday, but he just seemed to be an unreachable goal. Someone I wanted to be but never could.

But I smiled. “That’s so cool! Let’s try the next machine!”

I hopped over to a random workout machine, and May showed me how to use it. For the next couple hours, we tried to find a limit to my strength. And failed. Again and again. I hardly even worked up a sweat! On one hand, the hand that was Peter, I found this really cool. But on my hand, it was worrying. Was this why my father had wanted me alive?

Go get yourself killed for a greater good.

My hands shook subtly from time to time as the words that had been spoken to me rang in my ears. It seemed that Aunt May didn’t know that I was set to die for the sake of others. 

How was I going to tell her that?

My throat closed and my eyes blurred.

I cared for Aunt May. Maybe I didn’t trust her, or really love her, but I was well on my way. And that was the mistake I’d made, I realized. How was I supposed to tell her that I was going to die? May had already lost so much. She didn’t deserve to lose me too. Because May had gotten attached to me, she was going to grieve when I died. For how else would this all end? May had only ever been my guardian, but now that had changed. Because I had come into her life, she was going to go through so much pain. My chest constricted, and I felt a panic attack coming on. 

“May.” I was barely able to get the words out before the attack hit full force. May, who’d been prepping a machine, turned in a flash to help me. The attack lasted for a couple minutes before receding, and left me a sobbing, trembling mess.

“Peter?” May asked once it was done, cupping my cheek with a hand. “Can you tell me what triggered the attack?”

I shook my head. How could I tell her that I was going to die? Instead, I just held out my arms, silently asking for a hug. Aunt May immediately complied, embracing me tightly. And once again, we held each other tightly before going home. 

My stomach twisted in my gut the whole time.

 


 

Hey Clark,

Thanks for giving me the address. It took me a couple days to figure out what ink you used to make the letter invisible, but I managed to figure it out.

I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to be doing in my life, Clark. I’ve started sticking to things lately. Walls, the ceiling, any surface my body touches, even through clothes, I can stick to. It’s starting to freak me out. What’s happening? I’d really appreciate it if you could help me, or give some suggestions to help. Superhuman to superhuman, you know?

Anyways, life is going pretty well now. School’s good; I’m bullied a bit but it really isn’t that bad. There’s not a lot for me to say, really. I’m really glad you’re safe. It’s always a relief to see your letters come in through the mail. My guardian (she’s officially my aunt, but not really. You know the deal) doesn’t seem to notice, which is a relief. I'm not sure what I would say if I told her I was receiving letters from a man on the run.

No offense intended, of course. 

Write back soon. Tell me what Ankara’s like. I've always wanted to go to Turkey.

~P

 


 

It does not have a name.

It doesn't really know what it is, either.

It is the medium of wherever it is, that it knows. The swirling tendrils of energy, all in little threads that bundle together and form and break bonds with one another. It can sense them all, constantly shifting and in motion. Every thread a separate consciousness, bonds forming and snapping every moment. Energy sang in the place where it resided, constantly shifting in tandem with the threads.

There are four threads, though, that interest it in particular.

It doesn't have emotion or much sentience in particular, but if it did, then it would say that it was rather fond of these four threads. It would like to see them become and remain strong. And though it is not in it ’s place to give it self a name, that hasn't stopped it from giving a title to the four threads it watches more than the others.

The oldest of the threads it calls The Heart. It is by far the most physically strong of the four threads. It has no sense of time, so it cannot say how old The Heart is, only that they (for it has no concept of gender, either) had existed before the other three came to be. The Heart is bonded to nine main threads. Five of them are strong, pulsing with energy. One is new, a blossoming bond. One is tattered, old, and would have fallen apart if it hadn't been for The Heart literally shoving the bond into its place and forcing it to work. The last two are empty bonds, the threads The Heart had bonded to having fallen away before the others had arrived.

It wonders what it must feel like. The Heart has existed before almost all of the other threads around it. The Heart must be kind and wise, then.

The second thread it calls The Singularity. They're the weakest of the threads, but it watches them nonetheless. The Singularity has been around longer than the other two, but shorter than The Heart. It gave The Singularity their name because all their bonds are empty, the threads hanging off into emptiness. The Singularity simply sits, drifts, and waits, though it has little idea what for.

The third thread is the newest of the four. Pulsing with a strong energy, it calls them The Hatchling.

Like The Singularity, The Hatchling has very few bonds. One hangs off into nothing, but another is with a smaller thread that it has very little interest in, save that their bond with The Hatchling is growing. There is another bond, one weak yet shining with energy at the same time, to the thread that The Heart is struggling so hard to stay bonded to. That is not something it has seen many times. 

Then there is the bond The Hatchling holds with the fourth thread, the one it watches the most.

It calls them The Coordinate.

The Coordinate is important, very important. It ’s only job, technically, is to watch, protect and communicate with The Coordinate, though the latter has not occurred for some time. The Coordinate is at the center of all the threads in this place; every thread is bonded to The Coordinate in one way or another. Some bonds are strong, some barely hanging by a string, but they are all there. If a thread appears, it must go first through The Coordinate and then through it to become a true thread. If one must disappear, the same process is followed. But The Coordinate is bonded to several threads significantly. There are seven bonds The Coordinate is particularly fond of, and a very strong bond with another thread in particular. There are several bonds hanging into nothing as well.

But what it really watches is the bond The Coordinate has with The Hatchling. Their bond is like nothing it has ever seen before. It’s strong, unbreakable even to it . That is… unusual. Though it has very little intention or need to break their bond, it can break any of the other bonds without effort, yet with this bond it knows it cannot. It wonders where the bond came from. Usually, bonds would form gradually, some at slower and some at faster paces. But this bond had blasted in from nowhere, saturating this place with energy before settling into a highly energetic state, strong and free between The Hatchling and The Coordinate.

It is not worried about the bond ( it cannot, for it is not sentient enough to feel emotion), but it is abnormal. So it watches the bond as it pulses with such a high energy. It wonders how long the bond can last under such pressure before it bursts.

The Heart. The oldest and strongest.

The Singularity. Completely alone.

The Hatchling. The youngest and strongest-bonded.

The Coordinate. The most powerful of them all.

It watches them.

And waits for The Coordinate to call upon it s power once again.

 



Peter,

Ankara was very… busy. Lots of stray dogs and stuff. I don’t want to say too much about it lest this letter is intercepted. I’m going on communication silence for a couple months while I try to lose them, so don’t be alarmed when I don’t send you a letter for a while. Ran into a rogue cell of the organization I worked for a week ago, shortly after receiving your letter. I had to fight my way out and leave the country immediately. I’m not saying where I am now for your safety, but know that I’m relatively unharmed and safe at the moment.

Thanks for the letter. It’s a relief to know that you’re reading this (if you aren’t Peter, then *these words has been blacked out* off. If this is you Peter, then I blacked out the swear words. You’re what, thirteen? Don’t complain). 

I don't really know what to say about your abilities, except that you should try and hone them and use them to your advantage. I’m expecting you to keep up your training while I’m gone. I know it’s difficult to stay in shape on your own, but do your best. 

~C

Chapter Text

“What kind of powers do you have?”

Clint paused from where he’d been crunching on his midnight Pop-Tart, surprised to see Wanda step into the kitchen. Caught in the middle of taking a bite, he chewed slowly as he debated why the Sokovian woman had asked him such an odd question. It was nearly one in the morning, and the only reason why he was awake was because he couldn't sleep. 

Wanda had been put under house arrest after the events in Sokovia, which had occurred a little over a month ago. Usually, she would've been sent to prison for a long time for her actions, but Steve had deemed the death of her brother punishment enough and had negotiated a six-month “trial” period for her in which she was only allowed to stay at the Avengers Facility and the grounds surrounding it. It was actually a pretty good deal, and the rest of the Avengers had been in and out of the compound often enough to keep her company. But she was still grieving over Pietro (they both were), and hadn't interacted with anyone more than necessary. Which was why it was odd for her to be talking to him of all people, especially at one in the morning.

“Don't have any,” he replied after a couple moments. “Just a super spy who's really good at shooting arrows. Cool, but completely without enhancement.”

“It's been bothering me,” Wanda spoke slowly, stepping into the kitchen. She slipped onto the counter, a good five feet away from him to keep a good amount of space between them. “That I don't think you're telling the truth.”

“Don't think?” Clint responds, pausing to take another bite out of his Pop-Tart. “Aren't you a telepath? Just read my mind or something.”

“I could,” Wanda replied slowly. “But I'd have to get close to you and use my powers in extremely close proximity to you. Considering how that went last time, I'd rather avoid doing that. Besides, Steve says it's rude.”

“Damn right,” Clint muttered as he finished off his Pop-Tart. Usually, he'd be nicer, but it was the middle of the night and he was tired. “What makes you think I'm lying?”

Wanda shrugged. “Call it a feeling. You're different from the rest.”

“A feeling?”

“Pietro felt it too. When he fought you back at that HYDRA base.” Her voice wavered on the subject of her brother, but she didn't pause. “He told me. It was easy to hide in the thick of battle Pietro was always a good actor but he said it felt as if he'd been energized the moment he came into contact with you. Like his capacity for power had been dialed up to 200 percent.”

“Huh.” Clint let out a long breath, filing the information away for later. “And I’m guessing you want to know why?”

“Yes.”

“Why now?”

“Why not? You’re leaving in the morning, anyways.”

Clint’s chest constricted as he remembered just why he couldn’t sleep. He was retiring. For good, this time. He was happy, certainly. Finally, he could be the father Cooper, Lila, and Nathaniel deserved, but part of him would always miss the feeling of finishing a mission, either with the Avengers or Natasha at his side.

But they’d be fine. It wouldn’t be like they’d be missing much. Physically, at least.

“No, I’m not lying to you,” he responded. Wanda’s face remained blank, and she turned away, flicking a strand of her hair behind an ear. “But maybe there’s another explanation.”

Wanda looked back at him, confused.

“You got your powers from the Mind Stone, right? After being put in close contact with it.” 

The young woman nodded stiffly.

“I've been put in close contact with the Mind Stone as well.”

“The Chitauri invasion.” 

“Yes. I'm assuming you know the story?” Wanda nodded, and Clint let out a breath, glad he wouldn't have to relive those particular memories. “I was put under the influence of Loki through the Mind Stone. It is possible that some of its residue is still clinging to me. You and Pietro felt that.” Does it have any affect on me, even now? Is Loki still in my head, somewhere?

“Thank you.”

“No problem.”

Wanda slipped off the counter. “I should get to bed. Thanks for answering my question.” She gave a small smile. “I appreciate it.”

Clint inclined his head towards her and took a chance. “If you ever need a place to stay, I'm here.” Wanda paused in the doorway. “Seriously. I have a family—that's why I'm retiring. My kids would love you.”

“I—” This time her voice did choke from the emotion. “I may take you up on that. If I'm allowed.” 

“Good night, Wanda.”

“Good night. I'll see you in the morning.”

Then she was gone.

Clint listened carefully as her soft footsteps drifted away and up the stairs into her room. He sighed, and once he knew she was gone, collapsed onto the floor. He placed his head in his hands, trying to see if he could feel anything, anything in his head that wasn't his own. 

Loki. Loki was never going to leave him. Not really. A memory tickled the back of his mind, a faint burning, but he couldn't grasp it. Was that it, then? Was the Mind Stone just going to sit there, waiting for the right moment to strike and take him under again? He'd thought that after Natasha had freed him he'd been himself, but maybe that wasn't the case? Wanda and Pietro could still feel the Stone's touch.

He wasn't going to sleep tonight.

 


 

Sometimes, Steve wondered how the others would react if they knew he had a tattoo.

He’d gotten it when he was very young, from his mother. She had taken him aside when he'd turned seven, and given it to him herself. She'd said it was a tradition, passed down for generations in his family. When he married and had children of his own, he was to pass the tattoo on to them. It wasn't a secret, not really, but tattoos weren't seen in a very positive light back then, so they simply never mentioned it. Bucky and the Howling Commandos had known, of course. They'd given him flack for it, but had laid off when he had revealed why he had it. 

With modern-day technology and the placement of the tattoo, he usually hid it with concealer and held himself so it was out of sight. No one besides his doctors and Fury knew, but it was such a small thing that no one really even thought to mention it. 

He wondered how the other Avengers would think of it. Tony would tease him mercilessly, that was for sure. America’s golden boy, tattooed. Thor would be confused as to why it was such a big deal. Bruce would be surprised, but in the end both he and Natasha wouldn't really care. Clint would either fall in Tony’s category or Thor’s. There was no in between with that man.

He didn't know why he still kept it a secret. Habit, he guessed. 

Sometimes, when couldn't sleep, he would study the blue and white wings patterned over the inside of his left wrist, maybe an inch long, and think of his mother, and the soothing words she had whispered to him when he'd gotten it.

 


 

It was May’s idea to become Spider-Man.

Well, not really. She was the one who gave me the idea, though. To become a superhero and save lives. I could see it in her eyes, whenever she would speak of her old family. Even though she hadn't helped in their attempted recreation of the super-soldier serum, I could see how her voice would grow wistful and nostalgic whenever she spoke about it, which was much more often now that she had revealed her past to me.

It was really only a matter of time until I thought about becoming a superhero myself.

Of course, May knew about it. It was her idea to go along with the whole spider theme anyways, after I pitched the idea to her. She helped me come up with the concept design and helped with the uniform and webs. I figured out how to make said webs in chemistry, and May bought the parts I needed for the shooters.

There were two conditions, of course. The first was that May always had to act like she didn’t know about Spider-Man. I knew from the stories about Pepper Potts, Mr. Stark’s CEO, that letting others think that she could hold valuable information about me was a bad idea. The second was that I didn’t go out fighting major villains. I was just to be “Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.” Fine by me. I had to stay under the radar anyways.

Maybe if I died saving someone and standing up for what was right, I'd be worth it.

So I took to the streets as a young vigilante, doing whatever I could to help people and be a good person.

 


 

Peter,

I’ve lost them, finally. It’s a good feeling to write to you now. Currently I’m holed up in this apartment in Romania. Not bad compared to the other places I’ve stayed in. They have really good plums. 

I hope you’ve been doing well. If I remember correctly, you should be fourteen by now. It’s odd to think about, really. These last few years seem to have just flown by so fast. I still catch myself thinking of you as that scrawny eleven-year-old kid who could barely hold a knife. Speaking of, I hope you’ve been training more often. Your powers should get more manageable as time goes on, but that’s no excuse to slack off. I know better than most what it’s like to not be familiar with your own body.

Anyways, be safe. Don’t pull a Steve and do something stupid.

~C

P.S. I’ll be staying here for a bit. My address is enclosed.

 


 

Clark,

Thanks for the address again. I’m so relieved to hear that you’re safe. How’s Romania? Do you even speak Romanian?

Also, I’m now a vigilante hero named Spider-Man, so… sorry? And who’s Steve? Did I pull a Steve? You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. Currently and for the foreseeable future, I’m staying really low on the villian spectrum. Just muggers, petty thieves and the like. My guardian’s been helping me a bit with the design and such. I have to admit, it’s kind of cool. I get to swing around on synthetic spider webs. The costume is currently just a red sweatshirt and blue sweatpants, since both of us are pretty useless when it comes to costume design. 

I hope you’re alright with this. What do you think?

~P

 


 

There was a young woman.

She was hurriedly stuffing the bare essentials of what she owned into a bag. It was late at night, the rest of the house long asleep. An electric lamp was lit next to her bed, casting a dull yellow glow over her bright blond hair and blue eyes. She was dressed practically, in a dress designed for constant movement and travel, hair in a low bun and a shawl over her shoulders.

His heart broke when he saw her.

“Sorcha,” he whispered, watching her with saddened eyes. The blond woman looked up is surprise, drawing her bag to her chest as her bright blue eyes, the ones he had loved so much as she grew, fell upon him now in fear for herself.

“Uncail!” She exclaimed, then gathered herself and replied more guardedly: “Cian.”

“When did I become that to you?” Cian asked. A pang of betrayal pierced his heart. “You’ve never shown any signs of changing, until…” he trailed off, horror seeping into his veins as a sick reality sunk in. “The man in the village. The new servant you’ve recently acquired. I knew something was off about them. The servant dulled my senses, and you’ve spent many hours in the village now.”

“He’s asked me to marry him, Cian,” Sorcha said quietly. 

“I do not approve,” Cian replied instantly. “He is an Englishman, Sorcha, and not one of the families we have entrusted our secret to.”

“He doesn’t know,” Sorcha declared. “He knows something is different about us, but he knows I cannot risk telling him. And I am going to marry him. Whether you say so or not.”

His heart broke more. “Sorcha…”

The woman took a deep breath, and stood up. She picked up the box that had been entrusted to her on her sixteenth birthday, the tattoo kit that gave the family their mark, the blue and white wings that had been passed down from generation to generation for millenia. She stood up, and for a moment, Cian’s breath left him as he saw the beautiful young woman Sorcha had become. Even at seventeen, she’d already cemented the beauty that was sure to stay with her for the rest of her life.

“I wanted to leave without telling any of you,” Sorcha sighed. “Not only because you wouldn’t let me and would try to stop me, but because saying goodbye would be so difficult.”

“And yet here I am,” Cian echoed softly. Sorcha shook her head.

“But you aren’t going to stop me.”

No. He wasn’t. Cian didn’t want to admit it, but she was right. Despite the fact that he had the powers of heaven and earth at his disposal, Sorcha had always been the light of his life. Alena had always teased him, saying their grandfather’s spirit was too powerful in him, that Sorcha had him wrapped around her finger, but only now did he see that her words had been a veiled warning. 

Cian wouldn’t, couldn’t lay a hand on his own niece.

Sorcha gave him a sad look, and stepped forwards.

“This family has a legacy of blood, innocent and guilty, staining its path,” she murmured. “I will never abandon my birthright, you know that. But I will not aid you any longer.”

Cian looked down. A tear traced down his cheek. He knew she was in the wrong, but he could not find it in him to protest. 

Sorcha did not look at him again. After a minute, she was out the door.

Cian never saw her again.

 

Clint saw up straight in bed, sweat dripping down his face as he gasped for air as if he’d just had a terrible nightmare. For a moment, he was Cian, still in that nineteenth-century house, Sorcha looking up at him with those eerily familiar eyes. Then everything settled back into place, and he was home once again. Clint. The thought rang clear in his mind. His name was Clint Barton. Not Cian.

“Clint? You alright?” 

He looked over to see Laura blearily open her eyes, startled awake by his sudden movement. 

“It’s nothing,” he murmured quietly, rubbing some of the sweat off his face. “I just had this vivid dream. It felt so real…”

“It was only a dream, honey,” Laura murmured, already going back to sleep. Nathaniel had them up at all hours of the night, and they were both exhausted from it. That had to be why he’d had such an odd dream. Clint nodded to himself, lowering back onto the bed.

Yeah.

Just a dream.

 


 

Peter,

Kid, you do you. I don’t really have the right to tell you what you can or can’t do. But you need to get a better suit. What if you get shot at?

Steve was an old friend of mine. We knew each other as kids. A lot of my recovered memories are about him, actually. They’re all over the place and putting them in chronological order is nigh impossible, but they’re coming back. Once again, your notebooks are a great help. 

Life in Romania is pretty monotonous, but I think that’s what I really need right now. There’s not much to say about what I do here. I do speak Romanian, actually. I think my mother immigrated from here to New York, and taught me Romanian when I was little. It’s a cool thought, even if I’m not 100 percent certain that it’s true. 

Beat up those muggers, kid. Gotta have someone looking out for the little guy.

~C

Chapter Text

It was a normal Tuesday afternoon.

Really, I shouldn't have been surprised that it happened on a Tuesday afternoon. I really shouldn't have.

Anyways, I walked into the apartment as Peter, totally prepared to drop him for a little while and unwind after a particularly tough day. Ned and I'd had our midterms for Biology that day, and I was completely exhausted from the stress that I knew I probably shouldn't be experiencing but was anyways.

"Hey, May!" I called as I entered the apartment, dropping my bag on the table as I listened to my 'Aunt' respond in kind.

"How was school today?" She asked.

"It was okay." Like I was ever going to complain about school to May. She had enough on her plate with her job and my whole Spider-Man jig. I tossed my keys onto the kitchen counter. "There's this crazy car parked outside—"

I turned around, and instantly threw up every wall I could think of. I even froze physically for a moment, though thankfully that could pass for Peter being a bit starstruck fanboy. For a terrifying moment, I even felt a panic attack coming on, but I took a few deep breaths and it mercifully subsided.

"Oh, Mr. Parker," Tony Stark, the Iron Man, replied to me, sitting on the sofa. May was sitting right next to him, sending me a couple 'Please don't panic' and 'Did you know about this?' looks.

"Um," Think think think! Tony Stark was in the living room. What was I supposed to stay? No no, what was Peter supposed to say? "Wha-What are you doing— Uh, hey! I'm Peter."

Idiot! He already knows that!

"Tony." Oh, so maybe that wasn't a bad idea. Oh, what in the world was going on? "It's about time we met."

May shot me an expression that was halfway between 'Holy crap Tony Stark is on my sofa' and 'I think he knows be careful.' I twitched an eyebrow in an 'Like I didn't know that.' Thank you, Peter, for your witty one-liners.

"You've been getting my emails, right?" No. What emails? Was I supposed to be getting emails?

"Yeah, yeah," I replied, noting the 'Go along with it' look that he was shooting me. This conversation had three different levels going on simultaneously and it was starting to get a bit overwhelming just trying to keep track of them all. "Regarding the…"

"You didn't even mention the grant." May saved me.

"About the grant," I finished weakly.

"The September Foundation," Mr. Stark added. "Remember when you applied? I approved, so now we're in business."

Okay, Peter had applied to the September Foundation and gotten a grant from whatever that was. I could take on that persona. It slipped on like a glove.

But Mr. Stark wanted something, and I was becoming more and more certain that it had to do with my powers. After all, May's default position in anything to do with that was to pretend not to know anything, and she was being left quite in the dark of whatever Mr. Stark wanted to do. My brain rushed through a thousand possibilities, each becoming more ridiculous than the last.

I took a deep breath. Acting like this was like a chess game. A very high stakes chess game. But one I had a lot of experience in. May was my old partner slash opponent. Mr. Stark was the newcomer, entering in with unexpected and worrisome moves.

"But you didn't even tell me anything. What's up with that?" May asked, her expression soft to portray that she was only playing a part and didn't mean any of it. "You're keeping secrets from me now?"

"I just know how much you like surprises, so I wanted to let you know…" I let the words trail off like Peter would, then picked up again. "Anyways, what did I apply for?" I raised my eyebrows in an 'I don't know anything' to Aunt May, and shoved my hands behind my back to portray a sense of amateurness.

"That's what I'm here to hash out," Mr. Stark answered.

"Okay. Hash it out, okay." I crossed my arms and gave a little shrug. I could almost see Mr. Stark begin to lower his expectations of me.

Check, Mr. Stark. I'm no threat.

"You know, it's so hard for me to believe that she's someone's aunt," Mr. Stark continued, glancing over at May. As the words left his mouth, I knew that I'd lost the check. How much did he know? Was he with the people who'd sent me here? Or had he found out through other means? He was Iron Man for a reason. If anyone could figure me out, it was Tony Stark.

"Yeah," May responded, giving a nervous laugh that portrayed how she was a bit off-put by the comment as well. "Well, we come in all shapes and sizes, you know?"

"This walnut date loaf is exceptional." Okay. What the hell Mr. Stark. Are you a threat or not?!

"Let me just stop you there." I dropped my expression to a slightly more serious one.

"Yeah." Mr. Stark was still completely relaxed with the air of a man who was in complete control of the situation. Perhaps he did have the upper hand. Or maybe he just thought he did. Either way, his previous comment about Aunt May had me on extremely high alert.

"Is this grant got money involved or whatever? No?"

"Yeah, it's pretty well funded."

"Wow."

"Look who you're talking to." Was I reading into the conversation too deeply to be assuming that this may be a cleverly concealed threat? Maybe. But I filed the statement away for later. "Could I have five minutes with him?" Oh yes. That was most definitely a threat.

"Sure." May angled her eyebrows at me, letting me know that all I had to do was holler if I needed help. I nodded and made sure not to do so. If Mr. Stark had me in such a way that my acting and fighting skills couldn't get me out this, she would only be putting herself in unnecessary danger. Still. The appreciation felt nice.

I lead Mr. Stark to my room, adrenaline singing through my veins. Immediately the man made himself at home, inspecting my rather old computer and desk.

"Whoa, what do we have here? Retro tech, huh?" It took me a moment to process his words as I froze in terror. I'd left out my most recent letter from Clark on the table. Thankfully, Mr. Stark's eyes glazed right over it, not bothering to read its contents and instead going to inspect my computer. I let out a breath of relief. "Thrift store? Salvation Army?"

"Uh, the garbage, actually." I'd gotten it as a birthday present from May when I'd started being Spider-Man. Time to start testing the waters. How much did Mr. Stark know about me?

"You're a dumpster diver?"

Ha! One move back to check, Mr. Stark.

"Yeah, I was, um… I definitely did not apply for your grant—"

"Ah-ah! Me first." I had to resist clenching my fists and in general keeping my posture loosened. What are your terms, Mr. Stark? "Quick question of the rhetorical variety." He pulled out his StarkPhone and played a recording of one of my more recent exploits as Spider-Man, taking down a car robber. "That's you, right?"

I had never come so close to having a panic attack in my life. Oh God. Oh God, he knew.

"Um, no. What do you mean?" Calm thoughts, calm thoughts. He had my queen, not my king. The game could still be won.

"Yeah." He switched the video to one of me catching a moving car. That one was older—I'd pulled that stunt around three weeks ago. I'd landed wrong while stopping the car and twisted my ankle. May had bandaged it and given me a lecture on staying safe. I'd had no idea that it'd been videotaped. "Look at you go. Wow, nice catch. 3,000 pounds, 40 miles an hour. That's not easy. You got some mad skills."

"That's all on YouTube, though, right?" Play the innocent game. At the very least it would lower Mr. Stark's expectations of me. "That's where you found that? Because you know that's all fake. It's all done on the computer."

"Mm-hm." Yep, he wasn't believing me. Oh well. That expectation was only a long shot anyways. Time to make Mr. Stark underestimate me.

"It's like that one video. What is it?" Mr. Stark turned away from the computer. I took my chance and hurriedly stuffed Clark's letter into my pocket under the guise of cleaning up my desktop.

"You mean like those UFOs flying over Phoenix?"

"Exactly!" I turned around just as I heard my trap door open.

Well, the cat is now officially out of the bag.

"Oh, what do we have here?"

"No!" I grabbed the suit and shoved it into my closet. My queen was gone. Now the real question was if Mr. Stark had my king.

"So. You're this Spider-ling." So far, so good. "Crime-fighting spider. Spider-boy."

"Spider-man," I muttered, stepping away from my closet and folded my arms, putting up the appearance of giving in.

"Not in that onesie, you're not." Excuse me?

"It's not a onesie." My powers had been developing extremely quickly over the past year. At this point they were getting difficult to deal with when actually crime-fighting. I needed practicality over fashionability! "I don't believe this. I was actually having a really good day, Mr. Stark." Okay. That was most likely the biggest lie I'd told all day. "Didn't miss my train, found this perfectly good DVD player sitting around, and…" Not Biology. I hated Biology. "Algebra test. Nailed it."

"Who else knows? Anybody?"

I leaned over on my desk and allowed myself to relax just for a moment. That one statement confirmed to me that I still had my king. Mr. Stark knew about my powers, not my past or Clark. I could work with that.

"Nobody." Check.

"Not even your unusually attractive aunt?"

"No no no! If she knew, she would freak out. And when she freaks out, I freak out—" Thank goodness May hadn't freaked out when my powers had started revealing themselves. I don't know what I would have done if she'd been anything but supportive.

"You know what I think is really cool? This webbing." My shoulders slumped just a fraction of an inch. Check and mate, Mr. Stark. I knew what I was dealing with now. He threw the canister he'd gotten from who-knows where and threw it at me. I caught it with ease. "It's textile strength is off the charts. Who manufactured that?"

I fidgeted, feeling the beginning of a blush coming on. But Peter wasn't easily embarrassed like that, so I tried to draw his attention away from my discomfort by throwing the webbing canister into the closet.

"I did."

"Climbing walls? How're you doing that? Adhesive gloves?"

"It's, ah, a long story. Uh.." Shit. I had never come up with an excuse as to why I'd gotten my powers!

"Lordy! Can you even see in these?" Thank you God for creating ADHD and giving it to Mr. Stark. The billionaire had grabbed my goggles and had pulled them on. I was too relieved to even feel properly embarrassed. "I'm blind!"

"Yes. Yes, I can." I snatched the goggles away from him, though, mentally apologising as I ran through a dozen different explanations as to why I'd gained my powers. There was definitely no chance I was telling him that I didn't know. Or the extremely high chance and May's current theory that I was a mutant. "I can see in those. Okay. It's just when whatever happened, happened—" I really needed to think of an explanation. C'mon, brain! "It's like my senses have been dialed to eleven." Every lie had a grain of truth. "There's way too much input, so they just kinda help me focus."

"You're in dire need of an upgrade."

Nope. No thank you. Not only would taking charity and wasting Mr. Stark's time make me feel bad, but I had very little idea what his motives would be after I helped him with whatever he needed my help for. I'd prefer the onesie, thank you very much.

"Systemic, top to bottom, hundred point restoration." No thank you, Mr. Stark. But of course I couldn't say that. From a checkmate to check. "That's why I'm here." Now that's most definitely a lie, Mr. Stark. I sat down on my bed. "Why are you doing this? I gotta know, what's your MO?"

I shifted. In this question, at least, I had to be at least partially honest. What else could I say? Just have Peter be a bad person in front of Mr. Stark?

"Because…" I picked at my right hand. "Because I've been me my whole life, and I've only had these powers for six months." Partial truth. I'd been Spider-Man for six months. "I read books, I build computers. Yeah, I would love to play football—" Total lie. Social interaction, no thank you. "But I couldn't then, so I shouldn't now." So to say, I had an advantage that I didn't deserve so I shouldn't flaunt it. Go Peter.

"Sure. Because you're different."

"Exactly. But I can't tell anyone that, so I'm not." Because, in the end, I really wasn't. I paused for a moment, prepared to go in rather deep. "When you can do the things I can, but you don't…" Mr. Stark leaned forwards, nodding. "And then the bad things happen, they happen because of you."

"So you wanna look out for the little guy, you wanna do your part? Make the world a better place, all that?"

Oh no. The tingling sensation in the base of my spine came in full-force. I desperately tried to signal that I didn't want to help him out.

"Yeah. Just looking out for the little guy. That's what it is."

Mr. Stark stood up and took a few steps towards me.

"I'm gonna sit here, so you move your leg." I hurriedly did as I was told, and Mr. Stark sat down next to me, clapping me on the back. "You gotta passport?"

Nope. Oh man, this man wanted to take me out of the country. I hadn't left New York since I'd arrived here, and even before then the only place I'd ever been was the farm.

"No, I don't even have a driver's license."

"You ever been to Germany?"

No and I never want to go! The second rule flickered in my head. Stay out of the public eye. How long was that going to last now that Mr. Stark had entered the picture?

"No."

"Oh, you'll love it."

"I can't go to Germany." The words slipped out of my mouth before I could stop them, and I froze.

"Why?" Besides the obvious? I made quick save and used my next most valid claim.

"I got homework."

"I'm gonna pretend you didn't say that."

"No, I'm being serious. I can't just drop out of school!"

But Mr. Stark was already heading towards the door. "Might be dangerous. Better tell Aunt Hottie I'm taking you on a field trip."

That was it. He brought Aunt May into this. I was up in an instant, giving up all of my normal kid pretenses and firing a web to stick him to the door. Mr. Stark gave me a look, but I met his eyes with a steady gaze.

"Don't tell Aunt May." Don't put May in danger like this.

"Alright, Spider-Man." I let out a long breath of relief, hardly even noticing that time was passing until Mr. Stark spoke up again, gesturing to the webbing on his hand. "Get me out of this."

That unfroze me.

"Sorry. I'll get the scissors."


I told May what had happened after I went through a couple panic attacks.

Tony picked me up within the next four hours. It was enough time to pack up, burn Clark's letter, and prepare myself to keep up Peter for the next few days.


Oh.

No.

No no no no no.

Shit.

I froze, just for a moment, as I landed on the glass ceiling of the Berlin Airport and caught a glimpse of the two men running inside. One I was able to identify as Falcon, and the other….

It'd been over two years since I had last seen him, and he was much less ragged and worn down, but Clark's face was instantly recognizable. My stomach turned into ice. I knew Clark's real name now, I supposed.

Clark was Bucky Barnes.

I'd heard a bit about Bucky Barnes over the last few days, though any pictures of him I had seen had been too blurry to properly distinguish. It was hard not to. According to the news agencies, he'd bombed a UN meeting and killed over a dozen people, and was currently on the run. Mr. Stark's assistant, Happy, had told me that Mr. Stark and Captain America—the Captain America, a man that I had idolized long before I'd heard of Iron Man—were having a disagreement over the Sokovia Accords (I had looked up the document online and given it a brief look-over. I both disagreed and agreed with it on certain points) and through it the case of said Bucky Barnes. Captain America thought Barnes was innocent just because he was his childhood friend, and Iron Man's job was to bring Barnes into custody. Captain America was in the wrong, but we had to convince him that he was wrong.

Purposefully vague, but then again, I was fifteen, and Peter didn't really ask questions. I had to read in between the lines while Peter acted like the good person that he was. I knew that sneaking a peak in on Mr. Stark and what he was doing was really a bad thing, but I had to know what was really going on.

Though Peter was firmly allied with Iron Man, I hadn't really chosen a side yet.

But right now I found myself extremely tempted to drop everything and join Captain America's faction.

Then my eyes met with Clark's, just for an instant. He and Falcon were talking about something that I wasn't really registering, but I knew Clark (should I refer to him as Bucky?) knew who I was right off the bat. After all, he was the only other person besides May (and now Mr. Stark and Happy) who knew about Spider-Man.

There it was. Just for a moment, there was a tiny flash of a smile, recognition flickering in his eyes. Within the next second he was back to talking with Falcon, but it was enough to ground me in reality once again.

New mission: Protect Clark (I decided that for now I was still mentally referring to him as Clark) and keep him away from the main fight as much as possible.

I launched myself into the air, firing a web and gaining the appropriate velocity to smash through the glass walls and drop kick Falcon. Clark wasted no time trying to punch me, but my instincts and years of experience with fighting against the man let me catch the arm with ease.

Wait.

It was his metal arm.

How strong had I gotten over the last few months? If Clark's shocked expression was anything to go by, he was caught off guard just as much as I was.

"You have a metal arm?" I asked, spouting off the first thing I thought Peter would say. "That is awesome, dude."

Another flicker, this time only in the eyes. Pride. I was honestly caught off-guard. Pride? Why would Clark be feeling pride?

I was so distracted that I didn't even see Falcon coming. He full-force tackled me, picking me up as I attempted to escape. It took me a couple seconds, but it seemed that Falcon was only a normal human and I was soon swinging in the rafters once again. I barely ducked the next projectile that was thrown at me, shouting some witty one-liner as it nearly decapitated Clark.

Sorry! I mentally apologised, berating myself. My job here was not to get Clark killed or arrested, thank you very much.

I decided that it was probably a good idea to just focus on Falcon, and I did just that, using a web to throw him into a booth and webbing him to the railing facing opposite an escalator.

"Those wings carbon fiber?" I asked, landing on a nearby pillar. Maybe if I distracted these two long enough, I could properly keep them out of the fight.

"Are these things coming out of you?" Falcon shot back. Appropriate question. I'd been asked it while on patrol in New York before. But then Clark was rushing to free Falcon, and on instinct I shot a web and drop-kicked them through the glass railing, webbing them both to the ground below.

There. If Clark couldn't fight, it'd be easier to keep him safe.

"Guys, look, I'd love to keep this up, but I've only got one job here today—" Clark shot me a deadpan look that made me shift. He was definitely seeing through my Peter facade. I couldn't decide whether that was a relief or really unnerving. "And I gotta impress Mr. Stark. So, I'm really sorry—"

I moved to web them up more, but abruptly a cord wrapped itself around my wrist. Before I could even register what had happened, I was dragged up into the air, smashed into the ceiling and dragged out of the building.

Well.

Mission semi-success?

Either way, my view of Clark had just changed drastically.

When he and Captain America managed to escape, it was a breath of relief. Though I still erupted into worry over whether he was safe or not.


Peter,

Well, I suppose this will be the last you hear from me for a while. Maybe even longer than that time I was almost caught by HYDRA in Ankara. As such, I suppose that it's time I tell you my story. My real story. Hopefully, now that you're your own semi-Avenger, I won't be putting you in too much danger by telling you my past. You deserve to know that much, at least.

My name is James Buchanan Barnes. My friends call me Bucky, though. I was born on March 10, 1920, in Brooklyn. I grew up with Steve Rogers as my only real childhood friend. I don't remember how we met, but Steve says that our mothers were friends. Either way, I definitely do remember getting the punk out of the back alley fights he got himself into every other week. Two years after after America joined World War II, I joined the army, leaving Steve behind. I think you know what happened after that. It's all over history books these days.

I don't remember falling off the train during the mission that officially killed me, but I do remember Steve shouting my name. Next thing I knew, it was 1956 and I was only known as The Asset. My codename as the Winter Soldier came into use sometime in the seventies, I think.

HYDRA was… *Erased words*horrible, for lack of a better word, though I know you've probably already figured that out. They wiped my memory, everything who I was, and made Winter out of the clean slate left over; the same Winter you met four years ago. Now HYDRA's super assassin, I was put in stasis in between missions, which is why I'm still so young.

Then, in 2012, I was given a new mission. My first non-assassination. That was training you. I've already told you that part of my story.

Perhaps a week before I, as myself (or as you call me, Clark), met you for the first time, I was sent to kill Captain America, or Steve Rogers. I failed, as you can probably tell. The punk refused to fight me once he figured out who I was and quite literally almost died before I remembered him. The idiot. But anyways.

When I came to you that day in New York, I was confused. I had very little idea who I was. My memories were a jumbled, blurry mess when present at all. You were one of the few clear memories that I had, and the only person I could think of that wasn't directly connected to either HYDRA or SHIELD. And I really want to thank you for helping me out in my time of need. You, and especially your idea to keep the notebooks, really saved me. I was in a dark place at the time, as you can probably imagine. Our letters really helped ground me in reality my during my years on the run.

So really, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for helping to save me, even though you had no idea who I was.

I don't know who you really are, Peter, but I think that's alright. You have your own battle going on right now, one that I think you have a decent chance at winning. There was a reason that HYDRA wanted me to train and not kill you, and that I was the one chosen to do so even though my only purpose was to kill. Perhaps it has something to do with your past, or with your powers. Maybe not.

I'm going into stasis again. I've found a safe haven with Steve and the rest of our team in an undisclosed location for your safety. I've talked with the doctors here, and they agree with me, that putting me back under is the best choice to make until they can finally get rid of Winter once and for all. So I guess this is goodbye. Worst case scenario I'm under for a couple years, best I'm out in a couple months.

Well, what I guess I'm trying to say is that I found myself again, and I hope you can say the same one day. Peter, I really have no right telling you how to live. You are the only person in charge of yourself and your actions *Erased words.* This, then, is really just a far-fetched wish of mine.

Live your life with pride.

~Clark

~James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes

Chapter Text

It was time to head out again. Steve sighed as he shoved the last of his clothes in his duffel bag. Natasha, Wanda and Sam were meeting him down in the entrance hall to head out on their first mission after the Avengers’ “Civil War,” as the media had taken to calling it. It honestly felt odd, not going out without Tony at his side, and especially as a fugitive. But that was how life was now, he supposed.

The burner phone whose number he'd given Tony weighed heavy in his breast pocket, and Steve did his best to ignore it. Tony would call if he ever needed him, and he really had no right to contact the billionaire. The super soldier shook himself, trying to focus. Tony was safe. Bucky was safe. This really wasn't the best case scenario, but certainly not the worst, either. 

“You really cannot keep yourself out of trouble, can you, my friend?”

Steve nearly jumped out of his skin, whipping around to see a figure land in his room, the silver blast of the bifrost abruptly appearing and disappearing around him. 

Steve tensed as the man stepped forwards, examining the room T’Challa had lent him for his stay in Wakanda. It was rather sparse and medium-sized, but it served its purpose very well.

“So, are you here to try and kill me, too, or do something else?” Steve sighed, rolling his eyes as the man made no move to attack.

“Now I'm simply getting offended!” Thor huffed as he flopped onto Steve’s bed, already making himself at home. “Do you know how hard it was to make certain both you and Stark didn't kill each other? Very difficult!”

“You saw the fight?” Steve winced. He was already well on his way to regretting the fight in Siberia.

“Indeed. Worry not, my friend. Jane and Selvig were kind enough to help me keep an eye on you through Tony’s… AI, I believe the word is? Either way, I do not see why I could not have helped personally.”

Steve just shook his head to himself and stuffed the last of his supplies into his bag.

“I told you no, Thor. You're technically an ambassador from Asgard and aren't held to the same rules us Earthlings are. There's no obligation for you to sign the Accords. If you had sided with me during the fighting, then it most likely would have been taken as Asgard’s official position in the matter and opened up a whole new can of worms. Better for you to stay in the shadows.”

Thor deadpanned him, then shrugged. 

“I just do not see how this disagreement is such a big deal. Loki and I have had many disagreements, and we never took it this far.”

“Did you know?” Tony demanded.

Steve hesitated. Had he? Had he really?

“Yes.”

Steve shook the memories out of his head and hefted up his duffel bag. 

“Well, Peggy always said I had a flare for the dramatic,” he responded after a moment. “Add in that practically everyone on the team internalizes their issues instead of actually talking about them, and you get a fiasco like this.”

“I do believe you are not speaking only about the rest of the team,” Thor replied. Steve chuckled humorlessly.

“It's a problem. How's the search going?”

Thor’s eyes flashed, indicating he didn't appreciate the change of subject, but went along with it anyways.

“Mildly well,” he answered. “Though not as fast as I wish it would be. I've tracked the power stone to a world known as Xandar, and they are holding it safe in their vaults, but the people there are weak. I've contacted Heimdall and alerted him to the situation. Other than that, however, I have exhausted all but a few leads. Sif is following a lead on a map to the Soul Stone. Mind, Time, Space, Power, and Reality have all been accounted for, if not secured. All that is left is Soul.”

“And Jane?”

“As well as ever!” Thor laughed. “She and Darcy are attending a conference in Dubai; we've said our goodbyes.” He mellowed somewhat before continuing. “I’m taking a detour from my mission for a year or so. I’ve located a demon named Surtur, who rules a distant realm and whose existence threatens Asgard. After defeating him, I will be returning home for a time.”

Steve smiled. “That’s good. Maybe after all of this is over you can finally take me to Asgard.”

“Indeed! That is a day I look forwards to.” Thor’s expression became more serious, now, and Steve stopped the last of his packing to listen. “Steve, I didn’t just come to say farewell. Something’s been off on Earth recently.”

Steve straightened, instantly on alert. “What? Is there a threat?”

“No. Not yet, at least. It’s bothering me ever since the Avengers formed, you see. Only now do I think I’m starting to understand what’s going on, and it doesn’t seem very good.”

Steve nodded, indicating that he understood, and Thor continued:

“When I arrived on Midgard for the second time, to deal with Loki, as you know, I noticed, especially after the Battle of New York, that something was off compared to the last time I had been there, in New Mexico with Jane. It wasn’t anything obvious, just an overall sense that something was missing. Of course, I didn’t have much time to dwell on it, and so I forgot about it for the next few years, until I returned to Earth after the battle with Malekith. I started studying the differences a bit more then, and it hit me what had happened when I visited Ireland this past week with Jane, where the disturbance is particularly strong.” He twisted Mjolnir in his hands, obviously a bit disturbed and uncomfortable. “Steve, when I first arrived on Earth, it had a particular vibrance that’s hard to explain unless you have some experience in magic. This vibrance gave Earth, not a sense of life, per say, but a that of connection . Everything seemed connected, pulling and pushing against each other and feeding to a source. When I returned a scarce year later, that connection had vanished.”

“Ireland?” Steve echoed, thinking. “I might be able to drop by there eventually. My mom emigrated from there. Irish Gaelic is my first language.”

“Really?” Thor hummed, looking thoughtful, and stood up. “If you have the time, but I'll doubt you'll be able to sense what I can. And I don’t think it poses any immediate danger to us. Not like the Infinity Stones.”

“Speaking of, how’s the Loki thing going along?”

“He's having a lot of fun with this game of his. I know he didn't die on Svartalfheim, but I have no clue where he is or how he's doing. I have the worst feeling that he's sitting right in front of me, and I'm too blind to see it.”

Steve hummed, hefting up his bag. “I have to go, Thor. Want to say hi to Nat and Sam?”

The god of thunder shook his head. “Best to keep this secret between us; I have to leave as soon as possible, anyways. Tell them I wish them well. If you ever need me, just call for Heimdall.”

Steve nodded. “I'll… see you around, then.”

Thor clasped his friend on the shoulder before walking back onto the balcony. Raising Mjolnir, he announced:

“Within two years my search will be finished. I'll take you to Asgard then!”

The Bifrost burst into being around him, and then Thor was gone.

 


 

“So….” May looked at me, frowning as I picked miserably at my food. “What’s up? You’ve been off all night and now you’re hardly eating.”

I let out a breath. We were out eating Thai food tonight, sitting in a corner bench in the restaurant to give us a bit of privacy. Even so, I had Peter wrapped completely around me, still in partial shock that Ned had figured out my secret. I had yet to figure out how to tell May. 

“Just… the Stark Internship,” I shrugged, using my cover as a codeword for my duties as Spider-Man. “And I’m tired.”

May raised an eyebrow at me, not believing me but deciding to drop the subject since we were in such a public space. “I gotta tell you, I’m not a fan of that Tony Stark.”

I shrugged. Personally, I still didn’t have much of an opinion of the man. Sure, he’d given me my suit, but he’d been silent since the events in Berlin, content to cast me aside when he no longer needed me. Which, sure, I got, but I just had the feeling that I could be doing so much more. Not as an Avenger, like what Peter wanted, but as a first responder of sorts, going up against bigger enemies and saving lives.

The news channel on the public TV behind us switched to a story covering a bank robbery and explosion from a few days ago. I winced slightly as I listened to the anchor describe the damage. That had not been a good night. The men had practically gotten themselves killed, and the whole thing had really made me wonder if I was destined for something more—like helping the Avengers—or if I really was just making everything a whole lot worse.

It had been keeping me up for quite a bit now, and I couldn’t help but wish Clark were here, so that I could confide in him. But no, he was Bucky Barnes and currently in cryostasis. He was different in my mind now, almost as if he was actually a real person, and not some faceless entity behind the letters that would arrive in the mail every once in a while. Now he had value, and suddenly I wasn’t so comfortable divulging information to him anymore.

“I hope you’ve been careful lately,” May announced, drawing me out of my thoughts. She had a worried expression on her face, but said nothing more since we were in such a public setting.

“Yeah yeah yeah,” I nodded seriously, forcing myself to focus. “Yeah. Of course.”

May frowned, but said nothing more as a waiter brought us more food. Once he left, I gathered up my courage and quickly whispered: “Ned knows.”

May’s eyes widened, and she checked around us to make sure no one was listening before continuing.

“Will he say anything?” I shrugged helplessly. May scowled. “If he does, so help me—”

“No!” I cut her off a bit too loudly, then sheepishly lowered my voice. “Look, it was my fault. I’d totally forgotten that he’d come over to finish our Death Star.”

“That doesn’t change anything,” May replied, worry evident in her voice. “You have to learn how to stand up for yourself too, Peter. With the Avengers now on your tail and school and now this… I’m just worried for you.” 

“So am I,” I admitted softly. May’s expression softened, and she placed a hand on mine.

“Hey. You can stop whenever, you know. Take a break and have a mental health day.” She brightened. “You and I can finish watching Sherlock and eat ice cream all day. What do you say about that?”

I smiled, uneasy but knowing Peter would feel reassured. 

“Sounds good.”

 


 

I sucked in a tentative breath, removing the tile of the roof and preparing to set myself down. I took a look below me, found nothing, and thus slowly begun to lower myself inside.

It was homecoming night, and I had ditched my date to instead stop a super-villian from stealing Stark technology and selling it on the black market.

Wasn’t my life fun

Still, however, I felt as if I really shouldn’t be doing this. In the beginning, when I’d first discovered Vulture and what he was doing, I’d let Peter do the work, like I did most of the time. He’d ditched Academic Decathlon to try and stop him, and failed. He’d tried to stop him on the ferry, and failed. Hell, he went on a date and failed at that, too! I was really getting scared. Peter had always been a safety blanket to fall into, a good person that I could be so that I wouldn’t let anyone down.

But here I was, letting everyone down. Tony had taken my suit and had all but said he hated me, May was freaking out over all of this, and I couldn’t even fathom why Ned was still on my side. Probably because of Peter, and that brought a sick feeling into my mouth because somehow this situation was still getting worse and Peter couldn’t be the one making mistakes because he was a good person so the problem had to be me, always me.

My feet touched the floor, and I crouched down silently, eyeing the warehouse. There were several high-tech computers showing some kind of diagrams, another displaying a camera feed directly on the Avenger’s Tower.

I looked behind me, finding a pair of very ugly looking wings displayed for all to see. That immediately raised alarm bells in my head, and I moved cautiously down the stairs and around the pair of wings to see what was behind them. There was a dim light and the sound of something mechanical, which ticked off even more warning bells in my head. Even so, I followed the sound, entering into a large open area, held up by pillars and a lone desk with a lone man standing in plain sight.

This whole setup screamed trap . And Winter had ambushed me enough times for me to recognize it right off the bat. Suddenly, I found myself wishing I had my knife in hand, yearning for it’s familiar hold and comfort, even if Peter technically had no idea how to use it.

“Hey!” I called out, figuring that the best to figure this all out was to, as Obi-Wan once said, spring the trap . “Surprised?!”

“Oh, hey Pete,” Toomes greeted me amiably. I didn’t stop walking, however, deadly serious as I continued walking, aiming for a spot just several feet in front of him. I could take this guy. I knew it, and no doubt he knew it as well. Keeping him at a distance was more of a risk than keeping him close, since all of my training with Winter had been in close combat. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Like hell you didn’t,” I scoffed, approaching my spot and staying there. Toomes eyed me uneasily, and then the words that I’d spoken hit me full force. Oh, shit. That was something I would say, not Peter! But it was too late to back down now, and I forced myself to exclude Peter’s youthful, perhaps even naive, confidence. “Look, I know you probably aren’t going to listen to me, but this needs to stop. Now. What is Liz going to think when she finds out about all of this?”

“You know, Pete, I really admire your grit,” Toomes shrugged off my last question, pulling on a jacket. “I see why Liz likes you. When you first came to the house, I wasn’t sure. I thought: ‘Really?’, but I get it now.”

“How could you do this to her?”

“To her? I’m not doing anything to her.”

My patience ran out. I’d just lost what little trust Stark had in me, Liz probably hated me for ditching her, and May was probably worrying her heart out. I was tired, I was stressed, and I didn’t want to deal with a madman(?) spouting out nonsense. You didn’t become a good person by bettering yourself. You became a good person by bettering others! I just wanted to go home and forget that this ever happened. I wanted the Avengers to just forget that I existed. I wanted Spider-Man gone. And, for one heart-stopping moment, I wished I had never left the farm. 

“Okay, can we just cut to the part where you say, ‘ it’s a trap!’ and try to kill me?” I burst, throwing up my hands. “Toomes, I most definitely do not want to fight you—what would that do to Liz?—but you aren’t going to step down and neither can I. So maybe can we spring the trap instead of me trying to get you to change your mind and you not really listening because you’re trying to stall me for whatever you want to do?”

Toomes looked at me, shocked. Then it was gone in a flash, and he chuckled. “You keep on surprising me, Peter. You really do know how this world works, at least to a certain degree.” He tilted his head, thinking, then he blinked, as if just realizing something, and turned back to me, now with a hint of—was that respect ? “You’ve seen it too, haven’t you? The worst this world has to offer. I discovered it when I found out how Tony Stark really made his fortune, using the black market and selling weapons to it. You’ve discovered it as well. And yet here you are, spouting what you’ve been told to say.”

“I’m not being told to say anything.”

“Yes, you are. ‘ This is wrong .’ ‘ What about Liz? ’ I expected you to be someone else, Pete, but that really isn’t the case. You know exactly why I do what I do, perhaps because you’ve gone through it too, and yet here we are, on completely different paths.”

My heart thudded in my chest, so loud I was certain Toomes could hear it.

“People deserve to have their own chances at life,” I murmured, my previous confidence draining away. People whose lives got worse after I entered the picture. And yet, somehow, I found myself sympathising with the Vulture. Toomes shook his head.

“I wonder if you would have said the same to a person like Hitler.”

His hand moved down onto the desk, reaching for something. I was moving before I even realized what I was doing, tackling Toomes as he pressed the button on his remote. There was a loud roar of wings, then the Vulture suit screamed overhead the two of us, so close the tailwind slammed against my back.

The remote clattered to the floor, and Toomes lunged for it, but I was more than ready. Keeping an ear out to track the roar of the Vulture suit as it crashed through the warehouse, I easily caught Toomes in one of the various holds Winter had “taught” me, pinning him to the ground. Never I had I expected to use his training like this; it was honestly a little stunning. Had situations like this one been the reason why I had been trained?

Either way, I had gone completely into “Winter training” mode. Peter was completely dropped as I fought to keep Toomes pinned, who was now shouting something I couldn’t hear over the crashing of rock on rock and the roar of the Vulture suit and I could get to the remote if only my foot would stretch just an inch longer and the loudest sound I had ever heard in my life exploded in a thunderous sonorous all around me

I blinked open my eyes, unaware that I had ever closed them, to the worst, most deafening pain I had ever felt in my life and a crushing weight on my shoulders.

What? That was the only thought that was able to pierce through the haze of my pain-addled mind. I took a deep breath, only to cough as dust clogged my lungs. A burning fire made itself aware in my left leg, worse than any injury Winter had given me. My lungs struggled to suck in every breath, and in a panicked frenzy, I tore off the mask and goggles from my suit, fighting for air.

It was dark, and a cold blast of wind hit my face, momentarily sucking the air out of my lungs. I stared out at the rubble and the night sky above it for a good five seconds before realizing that the building must have collapsed on me. I tried to move, to get out to the freedom that was only mere inches away, but my left leg, the one that felt as if it was on fire, was pinned, screaming at me in such a blaze of pain that at the slightest movement all I saw was white.

My midsection seemed to be propped up halfway by a large chunk of concrete, having torn through my shirt and scraped along my chest. It left a triangular space below me, and it only took a moment for me to realize that there was a soft something underneath me. A glance downwards revealed Toomes knocked out cold beneath me, bleeding profusely from a head wound. 

How long had I been out? A minute, maybe more? I didn’t know, but I was trapped under a building and everything was crushing me and I couldn’t breathe and there was a man who needed medical attention below me and I needed to get out out outOUT

I sat there and sobbed for a solid five minutes, struggling to just breathe evenly and slowly just like May had taught me in case I ever went into a panic attack on my own. It took another five minutes for me to calm down enough to even think clearly through the haze of panic and pain.

“Okay.” I mumbled the word under my breath. “Okay. I’m good. I’m good.”

I had a lot of experience in believing the lies I told myself.

“Help!” I screamed at the top of my lungs, hoping to high heaven that someone was nearby. Someone had to have heard the warehouse collapse and come running. Right?

No one came. I screamed until my voice went hoarse, but there was never any reply save for the whistle of the wind on the concrete and the echo of my own voice. After some time, I wasn’t sure how long, I finally stopped, breathing heavily as the fiery pain in my leg forced my attention back to it.

I couldn’t see my injured leg, but it didn’t take a genius to figure out that I was hurt really bad. I breathed in deeply though my nose, and positioned my free and relatively unhurt leg beneath me, right under Toomes’ armpit, and heaved. The metal and concrete above me creaked and moaned menacingly, and out I fear of it falling apart I collapsed back down to my previous position, gasping for breath.

“C’mon Peter,” I muttered under my breath, not allowing myself to think because if I did I would just give up entirely. “C’mon, Spider-Man!”

I heaved once more, this time determined to not give up, because I was Peter Parker, and I was going to get out of here. I braced my shoulders and my good leg between me and the ground below, determined to not falter for even a moment. The concrete groaned once again, but this time I—no, Peter—refused to let the fear take hold of me. I groaned and gasped, but continually pushed up, up, up until the debris finally became blissfully light, rocks and metal tumbling and crashing, a deafening roar in the evening night.

It took a moment for me to realize that I’d just lifted an entire building to save a man who just moments before had tried to kill me.

I fainted again.

 


 

“Peter Parker, you better wake up this instant!” 

My eyes fluttered open once again, and I heard an unearthly moan pass through the air. It took me a moment to realize that the sound had come from me. 

“Oh my god, oh my god…” There was someone chanting that phrase over and over in the background, sounding as if she—the tone was distinctly female—was about to cry. “Dad, Dad, please wake up!”

“Peter!”

I blinked several times and gasped, lunging forwards before gasping in pain. A pair of hands pushed me back down again into something soft. Someone’s lap. Finally, I took a moment to register the faces hovering above me.

Ned’s face hovered hardly a foot above mine, pale and frightened. MJ, a girl on my Academic Decathlon team, was the lap I had fallen on, and she looked down at me with a worried and vaguely suspicious expression, the yellow and white dress she’d worn to homecoming now dusted in a light mixture of brown and gray.

“What…?” I slurred, not knowing what else to say. Ned practically collapsed, relief flooding his features.

“Welcome back to the land of the living, Peter,” MJ announced, turning away. The was a white-hot fire from my leg without warning, and I let out an involuntary cry, arching my back as MJ and Ned hurried to hold me down. 

“Warn us next time!” Ned exclaimed, both frightened and angry.

“Sorry,” came a quiet apology. “Didn’t want you to stiffen before I bandaged the last of it.”

The white faded from my vision, and as soon as I could breathe normally again, I looked down to see a girl with curly brown hair kneeling over my leg, tying a piece of cloth—no, a jacket, I realized—around it. Blood was already starting to seep through it, and I quickly looked away before I was sick.

It took me longer than it should have to place the girl bandaging me as Rose Evans, the girl who sat next to me in English class. We’d been friends back in middle school, but we’d drifted apart to more of an acquaintanceship since starting ninth grade. I frowned, wondering why she, and everyone else, was here.

The murmurings from before started up again, and I looked over to see Liz bent over the still unmoving body of her father. She was shaking, and it took me a moment to realize that she was crying.

“...What?” I murmured, blinking slowly. Michelle looked at me, unimpressed, while Ned grinned crookedly.

“Rose and MJ got me out of trouble with the teachers and asked what was going on,” Ned explained. “We ran into Liz afterwards and I told them that you’d heard about that black market deal going on and had tried to stop it, since the police wouldn’t listen to you.” He angled his head not-so-subtly to indicate that it was a cover-up for Spider-Man. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes at the lame excuse. There was no way MJ and Liz would believe that for long. I wasn’t so sure about Rose, since we didn’t know each other that well.

“We drove out here to try and find you, since Ned said that was where you were headed,” said girl spoke up, leaning away from where she was bandaging my leg, and tilted her head so that I could see the phone pressed to her ear. “Yeah, Peter’s awake. I’m talking to him now.”

“And, you know, a collapsing building isn’t that hard to spot,” MJ finished. “The police and ambulance are on their way. Rose’s on the phone with them right now.”

“Ah,” I mumbled, relaxing. “That’s good.” My body felt like it was made of lead, and the world seemed to spin around me as MJ spoke. Everything was sluggish. “‘M gonna sleep now.”

I didn’t put in the effort necessary to identify the next voice. “No, Peter, don’t—”

But I was already out like a light.

 

Chapter Text

He hated this place, more than he could ever put into words. As he walked down the dimly lit hallway, he did his best to reign in the disgust he felt for them. His bodyguards (though in all honesty they were only a formality) led him through a set of wrought-iron doors, and they closed with a resounding clang behind him.

“Thank you for coming today, Eren.” Levi was standing in the “waiting room,” as it was called. Eren’s guards swiftly raised their arms in the typical HYDRA salute and bowed to the leader. They were tense, afraid of this man and what he could do. Eren would have found that funny, considering that Levi was 5’2 and sported an almost childlike small stature, but he knew better. Knew exactly what Levi was capable of.

“Levi Ackerman. Titan and Head of the Ackerman Clan.” He crossed his arms, voice cold and emotionless. Levi’s eyes flashed knowingly, and he let out a long-suffering sigh before he bowed shallowly.

“Eren Kruger. The Coordinate and Head of the Tybur Clan,” he announced. “I am glad that you have finally agreed to the alliance of our clans.”

But there was a price to that alliance. That was, after all, why he was here, in this dreadful bunker in the middle of the Siberian was here. And he hated that he had to pay this price, hated that the Ackermans would be so stuck in there ways, so adamant in their allegiance to HYDRA that he had to resort to this to ensure that they wouldn’t bring the world to its knees.

“Leave us.” Levi waved to the guards when Eren didn’t reply to him, and they left promptly. Eren paid little attention to them.

“Bring me to him,” there was a resigned edge to his voice, but if Levi sensed it (and he did, he was a Titan, after all), he said nothing. They walked out of the waiting room and down a stone hallway. Eren’s breath frosted in the Siberian air, the temperature swiftly dropping as they made their way down the hallway, but again, he paid little attention to it.

They reached another set of iron doors. Levi pulled out a small, red notebook from a pocket inside his coat, flipped it to a certain page, and punched in a code. The doors opened with a creak.

“I’ve gotten everyone out of here,” Levi announced, stepping to the side and allowing the other man to pass him. “I’m well aware you will want to be alone.”

Eren chuckled despairingly to himself and walked inside, leaving the Ackerman out in the freezing air of the hallway. The metal doors once again slammed shut behind him, leaving him alone with the man strapped to the chair before him.

James Buchanan Barnes was now only referred to as the Asset, but Eren personally could not bring himself to ever refer to a man in such a way. The man, recently made a Titan himself, could not see him in the dim light, but his eyes nevertheless found its way over to his general direction. Not surprising. The Titans naturally gravitated towards the Coordinate; they could sense the threads that rippled around him with every step. And James was the same, bright, terrified blue eyes following his general movements, even though Eren was completely shrouded in shadow. No doubt he was confused as to what was going on. Eren would be surprised if the man even knew he was a Titan himself, much less of the legacy that ran through his, Eren’s, and Levi’s blood.

“Who’s there?” James called out, putting up a very brave front. Eren’s heart twisted. This man was so strong, still exhibiting strength even after over a decade of freezing and torture. 

It was the talent of his Clan, after all.

“I am Eren Kruger, head and Coordinate of the Tybur clan,” he announced, stepping in front of James so that he could see him clearly. “You are James Barnes, Titan of the Jaeger clan.”

James’ eyes flashed with confusion, but it was quickly masked with a scowl. “Bucky,” he hissed. “You call me Bucky or nothing at all.”

Eren’s eyes stung.

“Alright, Bucky,” he sighed, letting his hands hang by his sides. Bucky shot him a shocked look. Clearly he’d rehearsed that line to many people many times before. No doubt this was the first time someone had chosen the first option. “I’m sorry.”

Bucky’s eyes flashed, but Eren wasted no more time, placing his thumb on the Titan’s forehead. Bucky’s head snapped backwards, eyes rolling into the back of his head. Eren took a deep breath, thugged on the thread that connected them, and harnessed It

Memories flashed across his mind, memories that were not his own. 1920s Brooklyn. Sorcha Tybur Sarah Rogers smiling down at him, a little boy clinging to her knee with almost menacing blue eyes. Hot summer nights draped on the couch. Saving Steven Rogers from the alleyway bullies. Getting drafted into the Army. Captain America and the Howling Commandos. Falling. Snow. Instruments, needles, and pain. James’ sister, Rebecca, sobbing into his arms. Eren himself, stepping out of the shadows. A whole life, emotions, thoughts, and all, was laid bare before him in the space of a second.

Eren breathed, and used It like a broom, taking that life and bunching it up, almost like a ball. He almost brought that life into himself, as he’d promised Levi he would, but at the last moment, in a feat of defiance, did not. Instead, he placed them what could be compared to a locked box, tucked away deep in the recesses of James’ mind. 

But what would unlock it? He couldn’t have Levi discovering that he hadn’t actually wiped James’ mind clean, but he also wanted James to one day find this life again. 

Then, he knew.

A codeword, like the triggers Levi wished him to implant. And “Bucky” could be that word. Who else but someone who knew and cared for him would know and call him by that name?

And so Eren locked the figurative box, created the memories Levi wished him to, and left, releasing It back to whence it came.

Eren looked down at the Titan as he recovered, watching the blue eyes that now stared back at him emotionlessly.

“Soldier?” He asked, and no, his voice didn’t waver.

The Winter Soldier, on the other hand, did not hesitate.

“Ready to comply.”

 

Clint screamed .

Without warning, the Clint shot up straight in bed and began to shout without warning. Clint himself could hardly think, the dream that still lingered on the fringes of his consciousness and elicited such a sense of horror, shame, and fear that he couldn’t explain shrouding every thought. The dream, sad as it was, didn’t warrant a reaction like this, and yet here he was, tangling himself in his sheets and screaming and crying himself hoarse. His arms and legs shook almost violently, and he could hardly control his own body, which frightened him even more and fed his disconnection from reality, entering him into a vicious loop.

“Clint!”

A voice tore through the haze and terror that had permeated his mind. He… he knew that voice. His screams softened somewhat, and he began to pause more frequently for breaths. After some time (he wasn’t sure how long), Clint’s vision cleared, and his voice quieted completely.

Laura, bless her wonderful soul for he did not deserve a woman like her, didn’t ask, just embraced him as feeling slowly returned to his arms and legs, her steady hug calming him somewhat as he tried to recover from what seemed to be a mental attack.

Once he had full control of his body again, he threw up into the wastebasket by the bed. He retched for a time even after he had emptied his stomach, feeling dizzy, sick, and overall just horrible. 

“Clint, what happened?” Laura asked, wrapping an arm around his waist once he had finished. “A nightmare? I’ve never seen you react this bad.”

Clint’s mind flew back to the flashes he hand experienced over the last few years. The girl in the mirror, Sorcha and Cian, and now Eren, Levi, and Bucky. The idea that he may be going insane, or that something more serious was occurring. The constant, underlying fear that one day a flash would leave his dreams and occur during a mission or moment of danger.

He took a couple deep breaths, and when he felt steady enough, told her everything.

 


 

“You’re amazing! Look at how well you can read already.”

The young woman with sky-blue eyes, dark blond hair, and a straw hat smiled gently, making herself more comfortable as she adjusted the large-brimmed hat against her back, hanging from her neck by its strings.

“That’s ‘cause you taught me how, big sister!” I laughed, looking up from the book in my lap to the nineteen-year-old woman who was my idol in all but name. Something wet trickled down from my nose.

“Oh, don’t let your nose run like that, little brother,” my sister chuckled, reaching into her pocket to pull out a handkerchief. “I’m not going to raise you like a savage. Hopefully I’ll give you some manners!” She held the handkerchief to my nose. “Now blow.”

I immediately did as I was told, snorting loudly into the rag.

“Good job!” My sister congratulated. She put the handkerchief back in her pocket. “You’re getting more gentlemanly every day.”

The cotton-ball clouds floated above us silently as I returned back to my reading. It was a fantasy book, about a girl who was given powers by God and used them to help others. A lot of the words were long and hard to read, but I stumbled my way through them. My sister smiled softly, closing her eyes and leaning against the hay bale we were hiding behind as I read. Several moments passed in a gentle silence.

“Big sister?”

“Hm?” My sister hummed, eyes still closed.

“What does ‘gentlemanly’ mean?”

“Mm…” My sister opened her eyes. “Well…” She pointed to a picture of the beautiful girl from my book. “Being gentlemanly is being like the girl there. She’s kind and always thinking of others.”

“Okay.”

“You should grow up to be like her,” my sister continued. She stared at the book almost intensely, some emotion I couldn’t identify flickering in her eyes. “This world is so full of pain and suffering. You should help people in any way you can. Be dependable and kind; the rock in any relationship.”

Alright.” I filed the advice away for a later time, then as a thought struck me, turned back to look at my sister intensely, straight in the eye. “Then I should grow up to be just like you!”

“Huh?!” My sister was caught completely off guard, looking shocked.

“If being gentlemanly means being kind and thinking of others, then I want to grow up to be just like you!”

“It’s fine! Nevermind that!” My sister exclaimed, grabbing me and pulling me towards her chest almost roughly. “I’m so glad to have you in my life!”

I laughed against my sister’s grip, not resisting in the slightest. Her melodious laugh joined with mine for a moment, but then her gaze flickered to the sky, taking in the position of the sun. She frowned slightly, and a light sadness came upon her features. I stopped laughing, noticing the change.

“Brother,” she spoke, her tone causing me to pause as she took my face gently in her delicate hands. “I want you to forget about me,” she tapped her forehead lightly on mine. “Until the next time we meet, alright? I love you.”

“Huh?” I blinked in confusion, wondering just what she meant, when my eyes suddenly misted over, a fog coming over my mind for just a moment. A small click, almost like an electric spark, passed between us, then the woman stood up, pulled the hat over her head, and quickly walked away.

I blinked, watching as a woman with long blonde hair stepped easily over the farm’s fence and onto the nearby dirt road. I tilted my head, still confused, as my book dropped to the ground, pages flapping in the wind.

I spoke to myself.

“Who is… that woman?”

 

My eyes flickered open, the dreamscape from my subconscious flitting away like a butterfly flying off into the distance. I felt a flicker of loss, and tried to recall what I’d been dreaming about, but it was long forgotten.

Then everything that had happened in the last few hours came rushing back to me, and all thought of my mysterious dream vanished in a haze of panic as I tried to figure out what had just happened. I forced my eyes open, and tried to take in everything around me.

I was in a hospital room. Huh. I blinked, clearing my vision a bit, and noted, quite strangely, that it looked nothing like a normal hospital room. I was in a bed with what felt like silk sheets, and it was personalized with balloons tied to my bedpost. I shifted, sitting up, and assessed my condition as I did so. I was sore, but the fiery pain from my leg had receded to a dull throbbing that was nothing compared to what Winter used to deal me in our training sessions, so I brushed it off. My shoulders tingled with a pin-and-needles sensation when I sat myself up, and an IV drip was fastened to my left arm, but other than that, I felt pretty good. 

“Welcome to the world of the living, Parker.”

I blinked, looking up to see Rose sparing me a glance from her book. She was dressed in worn jeans and a T-shirt displaying some anime characters instead of her homecoming dress, so some time had to have passed since the Homecoming dance. I blinked at her, uncomprehending, before remembering that I was supposed to respond.

“Uh… hi,” I muttered, wondering just why of all people she was here. What happened? Obviously the ambulance had arrived, but why wasn’t I in a hospital room?

Oh. Shit.  

My healing factor! Spider-Man! Shit shit shit shit shit… Rose, MJ, and Liz now knew about Spider-Man’s real identity, and while I was relatively certain MJ wouldn’t tell, I was far less sure about Rose and Liz. I had, after all, nearly killed the latter’s father. And if they told someone, word would get out and I’d no longer be under the radar. Or in other words, I’d have broken Rule #2. Who knew how the men who’d killed my mother would react. I had a feeling that my father, wherever he was now, had little control over what happened to me.

“Ned and MJ had to go home,” Rose announced out of the blue, as if reading my mind. “Liz is with her Dad—he’s in Intensive Care with a bad head injury. Mr. Stark is out dealing with some press conference, and your Aunt went to eat lunch. I volunteered to watch you since Mrs. Parker didn’t want to leave you alone.”

“Where am I? How long have I been out?”

“Avengers Headquarters. It’s been a day and a half since we found you.”

I blinked, letting the information sink in. Avengers Headquarters . Well, at least my healing factor hadn’t been discovered by some run-of the-mill doctor. But that still raised the question of how in the world I had gotten here. Last I checked, Mr. Stark had wanted nothing to do with me.

Again, Rose seemed to read my mind.

“Mr. Stark had you airlifted here before you made it to the hospital, since he didn’t want your identity leaking out—don’t worry, MJ, Liz, and I won’t tell anyone. I think Liz hardly even noticed; she was with her dad the whole time. He’s quite attached to you, it seems.”

I resisted the urge to object to that last statement, adjusting myself further to try and make myself more comfortable. The discomfort in my shoulders stabilized into a steady throbbing as I did so, but it faded back to the pin-and-needles sensation once I stopped moving. Rose turned back to her book, not offering any help as I struggled, but when my stomach growled, she looked back up. Turning, she wordlessly passed me a half-eaten package of sushi that she’d obviously gone through before getting full and stopping. Still, it was something, and I heartily shoved it into my mouth after a tentative first bite. 

We fell into silence again. There was a television in the corner, but I could see no remote and I didn’t want to bother Rose more. There was a window off to my left, displaying a bright blue sky and some trees off in the distance—judging by the light and shadows, it was somewhere around midday or early afternoon. 

“It’s nice to have you awake, Mr. Parker. I would like to inform both you and Miss Evans, however, that Boss and Mrs. Parker are currently en route.”

I started at the disembodied voice, but Rose just nodded as if it were a normal occurrence (it probably was), and took the now empty sushi container and placing it back on the bedside table, positioning it as if she’d been the one to finish it. Realizing that I probably shouldn’t have eaten that kind of food while still in recovery, I reddened and wiped at my mouth.

“That’s FRIDAY,” Rose explained. “Stark’s A.I.”

Oh. So the voice was like Karen, then. Just for a building instead of my suit. No, Mr. Stark’s suit . I had no right to it anymore, and I was glad that I didn't; I deserved no one’s charity. I ignored how my stomach panged at the reminder of my failure, instead opting to show none of it on my face, fulling wrapping Peter around me once more as the door to my room opened.

May looked like she hadn’t slept for a week. Dark bags hung under her eyes, and she looked exhausted. Guilt swirled in my stomach again, but I put on a reassuring smile as to not make things any worse for her. My “aunt” rushed forwards and wrapped me in a gentle hug, and I could easily tell that she was holding herself back as to not hurt me. It was a touching gesture, and I couldn’t help but feel honored to be on the receiving end of it as I embraced her back.

“Oh, you gave me a heart attack!” May exclaimed, drawing back. Her hands caressed my face, and I leaned into the touch, trying to let her know that I was really alright. “When Ned called me—oh, I thought the worst had happened.” I thought the men had come for you , her eyes read. I subtly shook my head in response. 

“I’m fine, Aunt May,” I spoke aloud. “Really. Are you sure you are?”

Now May just looked insulted, giving me a look that read ‘ I know you’re trying to pull one on me ’ even though I really wasn’t. 

“You have no right to say that, young man,” she scolded. “I haven’t slept for over a day for you !” But you shouldn’t have to! “And I’m very glad I didn't! Last I checked, you were the one in the hospital bed!”

“You should listen to your aunt, kiddo. She has a point.”

I looked up. Sure enough, there was Tony Stark, looking just as suave as the day he’d recruited me to fight against Captain America. His lips twitched when my eyes met his, but I was quick to drop his gaze after a moment, ashamed that I’d gone and disobeyed his order not to be Spider-Man any longer. 

“Nice work, kid.”

The words from that day almost six years ago popped into my head, and a new wave of guilt washed over me. Was I still worthy of that praise? Even when Mr. Stark had known nothing about me—he had probably forgotten about the incident soon after it occurred—he’d still shaped my life in such a profound way.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Stark, I really am.” The apology that rushed out of me was as easy as breathing. “I tried calling Happy, but all I got were voicemails. And I guess that’s my fault since I called him so much, but I had to do something and Toomes wasn’t exactly going to wait, so—”

“Kid, I don’t need to hear that.” I abruptly shut my mouth. “Even I know when to admit that I’ve made a mistake, as shocking as it may seem.”

I blinked. Then tentatively looked up to meet Mr. Stark’s eyes. Now that I took the time to really look at them, the brown orbs were soft and kind (even if it was offset by his stiff posture and folded arms). It struck me, then, that he wasn’t angry with me.

“Uh, thanks,” I muttered, reddening once again and dropping my eyes back to May. “How long will I be here?”

“Dr. Cho—She works for the Avengers as our doctor, by the way—says just two or three more days, thanks to your healing abilities. You gave yourself quite the beating out there, you know. Your leg was impaled by a beam, your shoulder blades shattered, and a couple of ribs were cracked.”

Oh. Wow. May stiffened as she situated herself to sit next to me, most likely not happy to be reminded about my injuries.

“And Toomes?” I asked quietly. May and Mr. Stark both sent me surprised looks. “Rose told me a bit about what happened to him, but not much.”

“Peter, you don't have to worry about him,” May responded sharply, a hard edge to her tone. “If you’re identity as Spider-Man wasn’t at stake, I’d sue the man out of house and home.”

“As it is, he’ll be in prison for a very long time,” Mr. Stark added firmly. There was a fire in his eyes as well, and I couldn’t help but be a little off-put by it. Why would Mr. Stark be angry for my sake? Perhaps it was the fact that he’d missed the guy, or that he’d almost lost his goods in moving upstate? 

“Okay. And… thanks. A lot. To all of you,” I murmured. “You really didn’t have to.”

“Trust me when I say we did,” Mr. Stark shot back. “Anyways, would you ladies mind if I had a private word with Peter for a minute?”

My heart thudded in my chest. May hesitated, eyes lingering on my form for a moment longer than necessary, but then she laid a hand on my shoulder and stood up. Rose also stood, closing her book, and made her way out of the room with no protest. May followed soon after.

I watched them go, following the motion of the door until it closed completely and I had to look up at Mr. Stark. It was the first time we’d really been alone together since that first meeting eight months ago, and I didn’t know what to say. Mr. Stark, too, seemed to be collecting himself, so I waited patiently until he spoke.

“Look, kid,” Mr. Stark’s voice cut through the tension in the room like a hot knife through butter. “You did good. Even when the authority figures in you life told you that Toomes wasn’t a threat, you relied on your own judgement to go and take him out. I can get behind that.” His lips twitched upwards momentarily. “Don’t tell Pepper I said that. She’d skin me alive for encouraging someone to be more like me.”

I made a mental note of the request, and nodded. 

“Thanks,” I mumbled, then asked. “Will I be able to continue being Spider-Man?”

“That’s what I’m here to talk about. I’m planning on giving you the suit back, if that’s what you’re asking. But I have a question to ask you.”

“What?”

“What do you think about adding Spider-Man to the Avengers roster? I’ve talked to your aunt about it, and she’s fine with it if you are. Your identity will be protected and other legal issues sorted out. Whaddya say?”

I froze. Join… the Avengers?

The Avengers. Even back on the farm, I had idolized heroes like them. I had devoured any book on Captain America that I could find, and snuck snippets of footage about Iron Man from the TV when my grandparents went to bed. And not only that, but I knew I could be a great asset to Mr. Stark’s team. I could help save the world and finally be seen by the world as someone who was worth it, who was worth something. Maybe the men who’d killed my mother wouldn’t care about me anymore. Maybe I could be myself.

But this wasn’t about me. It never had been.

For one, Peter would never say yes after this whole ordeal. Peter Parker was the good person out of him and I (who was I?), and he cared too much for the little guy and his own privacy to want to join the Avengers. Not only that, but going up against the big guys had taught me how easy it was for people like Toomes to see through Peter and to me. And if I broke Rule #2, I’d be endangering Aunt May and my friends as well. Mr. Stark couldn’t protect all of them, after all, and Peter wouldn’t risk their lives just to be an Avenger.

The choice was obvious.

“Thank you, but no thank you.” Mr. Stark looked at me, surprise flickering in his eyes as he looked down at me. I flashed a smile at him, relaxing myself into the bed to give the appearance of certainty even as I internally withered. “I kind of like being there for the little guy, you know?”

“Yeah, I can get behind that,” Mr. Stark nodded, though his eyes shuttered. It was surprising how much the man spoke with his eyes. I wondered how I would have read Mr. Stark if I’d known this back during the Civil War. Either way, my gut twisted with guilt for turning him down (despite the fact that Mr. Stark had plenty of other friends and certainly hadn’t needed me for the last eight months), and before I knew it I was speaking again.

“But, um, I’m always open to helping out if you need me.”

Mr. Stark blinked, then shrugged as eyes shone. He patted me on the shoulder. 

“Always good to hear. Heaven knows we need the manpower now that Vision’s going off the radar every two months. Anyways, I’ll leave you to recover.”

And with that he was out of the room once again.

May came back inside just soon enough to keep me from having a panic attack

Chapter Text

I was cleared by Dr. Cho a couple days later. I returned to normal life, attending school and patrolling the streets as Spider-Man.

It was boring.

I kept on finding myself thinking about what would’ve happened if I’d actually gone through with Mr. Stark’s offer. Would I be helping other people, making a difference in the world and saving even more lives? Would May and Ned be in danger? Would the men who had killed my mother really have come after me if I’d joined the Avengers? 

I didn’t know, and that was killing me. I wanted more than anything to join the Avengers, more than even Peter did. I didn’t really know why. Some part of me, deep in my psyche, just yearned to be out there with the big shots, helping others and… something. I honestly didn’t know.

Clark/James was in stasis, whatever that was, in some far-away place, so writing a vent-letter to him was obviously out of the picture. May, no matter how much she wanted to help, didn’t deserve to worry herself more than she did with my role as Spider-Man. So there was no one for me to vent to, no one to help me figure out exactly who I was.

Who was I? 

I wasn’t Spider-Man. I wasn’t Peter Parker. But Peter Parker had been me for almost as long as I could remember. Acting as myself… it was such a foreign concept, I really shouldn’t have been surprised when I started struggling with my identity.

As it was, months passed. Winter came and went. My grades were kept up, I stopped a couple bank robberies, and generally stewed, feeling as if I was supposed to be doing something more.


 

It was a peaceful Tuesday morning. It was a cool overcast, with rain coming in the distance, and Clint let out a frustrated breath as he plopped down by the fence that signalled the edge of his yard.

“You dumb tractor,” he muttered, flinging a wrench at the dumb piece of machinery and listening to it clatter off and fall to the ground with a faint thrill of satisfaction. “You’ve had Tony Stark fix you. Why do you still keep on breaking down? Stu pid !”

To say that Clint Barton felt as if he should be doing more than sitting near the edge of his field, trying to fix a broken-down tractor as he prepped for the planting season was an understatement. Almost a year had passed since the signing of the Sokovia Accords and Clint’s subsequent house arrest, and he’d been stewing the days away at his farm ever since without a word from Steve and a single postcard from Natasha.

Don’t get him wrong, he loved having time with his kids and wife, but Clint was not one to be confined to a small space for long periods of time. Which presented a bit of a conundrum when one took into account that he was a sniper-archer, but hey. Life worked in mysterious ways.

A general restlessness wasn’t the only thing bothering him. Him and Laura had been trying to figure out just who was behind the odd flashes he was getting —especially now, with Bucky being a major character in the last one—but they’d come up with practically nothing. That was perhaps even more frustrating than being stuck on the farm. The girl in the mirror, Cian, Eren… he all felt connected to them. He didn’t feel as if he was seeing someone else’s memories when he had seen them, but rather that he was them in that moment. 

Which totally wasn’t weird at all. Hence the frustration.

Clint grumbled to himself, standing up again and kicking the tractor. 

“Fine,” he muttered in defeat. “What’s wrong with you this—”

He cut himself off. 

There was a glint of light in the reflection of the tractor’s rearview mirror, coming from the forest. Which was odd, because there weren’t any buildings with windows out there—

Clint threw himself to the ground, rolling up and underneath the truck just in time to hear a bullet smash into the side of the tractor where his head had just been. Another bullet hit the ground two inches shy of his leg as he rolled, coming out the other side and into cover.

What in the world ?!

Well, he it looked like he’d be getting some action on the farm after all. 

Clint let out a breath, letting himself fall into the mindset of Hawkeye, ex-SHIELD agent and ex-Avenger. That glint—which must have come from the scope of a gun—hadn’t come from too far away, maybe 200 or 300 meters. Sniper. Which meant that they could most likely hit the house and his family. He had a knife strapped to his thigh, under his jeans, and he pulled it out, silently wishing he’d kept his bow on him instead of leaving it in the house. 

Quickly, he snatched up his phone and dialled Laura. She picked up on the first ring.

“Sniper in the west forest, 200-300 meters out,” he fired before she even got in a hello. “Almost nicked me. Get the kids out.”

“I—” Laura cut herself off, knowing that time was critical. “Stay safe. I love you.”

“Love you too.” He hung up, letting out a breath. Natasha had made sure that Laura had the best training SHIELD had to offer. He trusted her to get the kids out. If worse came to worst, both Lila and Cooper knew how to shoot a gun.

But he couldn’t afford to think about them any longer.

Fingering his knife, Clint closed his eyes, slowly breathing out and listening . Everything, from the wisp of the grass moving in the breeze, he registered, looking for the slightest shift in the environment around him. He let out a breath, and the breeze moved with it, changing direction and blowing towards him. 

To his right, the fence creaked. 

Clint’s eyes shot open, and he darted away from the tractor, narrowly missing two shots that hit the ground next to him. He glanced up, catching sight of a man, perhaps in his mid-to-late 30s, crouching on the fence. He was dressed in a white shirt covered by a black vest and accompanied with a pair of black pants and knee-high boots. Faint stubble framed a large, unnerving smile, and he had long, dark brown hair covered by a wide-brimmed hat. Twin pistols with an odd extension on the bottom were held in each hand, and a knife was strapped to his hip.

He looked familiar.

But Clint didn’t dwell on that part. The man being here meant that there were at least two attackers, probably more if they wanted his family—God, what if they were after his family , he told Laura almost everything—or knew just how dangerous he could be. Time to work.

Clint rushed Hat-man, who grinned in response, firing off another shot, which Clint barely managed to duck before he reached the man, aiming to disarm. But Hat-man seemed to see that coming from a mile away. Much faster than any normal human, he wielded his gun like a club, and only years of training with Natasha and Steve allowed Clint to deflect it. Hat-man wasn't off-put, however, and continued the attack, and the two exchanged a series of blows and punches. None of Clint's knife attacks hit Hat-man, but conversely, his opponent only made contact with him twice, and never on the head, where he seemed to be generally aiming.

No words were exchanged, no monologues or exposition given. There was just the fight, and nothing else mattered. 

In a sudden blur of motion, so fast that Clint didn't even register it until the blow had hit, Clint's legs were swept out from under him. Quickly, he tried to recover by placing a hand on the grass, but a sudden blast of pain erupted in his neck, and he collapsed onto it in a ball of pain instead. Pain, worse than he had ever felt, blossomed out from his neck, and as his hands flew up to assess the injury, Clint found himself gasping for breath as something wet blossomed in his hands, no longer finding himself able to breathe.

The sniper.

“Did you have to hit ‘im in the neck? Ve don’t vant ‘im dead !” The voice seemed far away. Clint wondered who was speaking.

A moment later, everything went black.

 


 

I grunted as I wriggled through the small attic hole that lead to the roof, just barely wriggling around a rather bothersome beam of wood as I made my way onto my usual spot on the roof. Grabbing for the next handhold in a motion that had long ago become routine, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to take this route for much longer. It had been tricky enough getting up here as an eleven-year-old, but now that I was halfway through puberty and currently in the midst of a growth spurt, it wasn’t difficult to realize that the passageway would soon be too small and tight to fit through.

It was too bad. Using my webs to get up on the roof only worked when I was Spider-Man, as anyone who caught sight of me walking on a vertical surface no doubt would be able to connect me to the Queens vigilante. I'd have to find a new way up eventually.

But the trapdoor to the roof was within sight, and I pushed the thoughts away, grabbing the handle and pushing it outwards. The dull light of the setting sun filtered down onto my face as a fresh breeze floated across the rooftop. Finding the final foothold, I squeezed myself out of the passageway and stepped out onto the roof, taking in a deep breath as I let Peter fall away into the recesses of my mind. 

Ever since spring had started and finals appeared on the not-so-distant horizon, I’d had even less time to stay on the roof than usual. With Ned, Rose, MJ, and I studying half the time to try and get ahead in class, my duties as Spider-Man, and Mr. Stark beginning to invite me over to headquarters on the weekends to work together, it was a minor miracle in and of itself that I had the time to be myself.

The sun was just beginning to set over the apartment buildings in Queens, and I sat down by the old AC, where I used to train with Winter/Clark/Bucky so long ago. May would be out on her shift for a couple more hours, and I had already gone through my usual patrols.

Finally. I had time to myself. 

A pair of feet hits the cement roof behind me, eerily familiar, and I jolt upright and whipped around, my trusty old knife in one hand and the other ready to shoot some web fluid for a quick escape.

My eyes landed on the intruder, and I froze. 

The Winter Soldier Clark James Buchanan Barnes —looked back at me, dressed in a black sweatshirt and jeans. 

“Clark?” I breathed, eyes wide. Clark smiled back at me, half in nervousness and half in excitement. I noticed that his hair had grown out somewhat, and had been pulled into a bun up on his head. His metal arm was also gone, the sleeve hanging limply at his side, but he was still the Clark I had trained under and written to for all these years. 

“Please, Peter,” Clark replied, gesturing to me with his one arm. “Call me Bucky. Winter’s gone, and I’d like to think we know each other better than using a code name.”

Perhaps, deep down, some part of me withered at the thought of my mentor “dying.” But I quickly squashed that feeling. Who was I, what right did I have to be attached to Winter? Clark’s— Bucky’s —mask was a that of an assassin, of a killer, and I was glad he was gone. Even if I owed my survival in my fight against Vulture to him. Even if his visits were the only time in my childhood and early teenage years that I got to be myself. 

But more than that, I saw Bucky for who he really was. Someone who was there, someone who knew me and liked me for all my faults and for all the bad bad person that I was. Someone who, somehow, I found that I trusted even more than Mr. Stark or Ned, and competed with May for the most important person in my life. 

And suddenly, through the tumult of emotions, I saw a friend.

I hardly even noticed I had moved—or, perhaps, Bucky had moved to me—for in a moment I was wrapped up in a warm, one-armed embrace. I quickly enclosed my own arms around him, and for a solid couple of minutes we just stood there. I did my best to simply breath evenly, and slowly I relaxed, truly relaxed for the first time I could. Bucky or Clark, it didn’t matter in the end. This was someone I could talk to, who would listen, and wasn’t afraid to want to protect me, either. 

“You wanna sit down?” Bucky asked after a moment, arm shifting slightly to ruffle my hair. I pulled my arms back towards myself, quickly reddening. “I was told it’s spring, so that means finals season. You must be pretty tired.”

“Yeah,” I admitted, surprising even myself at how easily the truth came out. At this point, lying felt as easy as breathing to me. Together we walked towards the old AC, and I plopped myself down rather roughly as Bucky eased himself into a sitting position. “How’d the stasis thing go, anyways?”

Bucky shrugged. “Don’t remember much of it. The process was painless and I was asleep for the entire time, so for me I was only out of a moment or two. I’m told it’s been ten months, though. Not as long as I thought it’d be.”

I didn’t want to think about what it must be to be put into a sleep like that for years on end, much less voluntarily. I wondered how Bucky and Captain America had done it.

The name triggered a thought. “What’s he like? Captain America, I mean. If I can ask.”

“Steve?” Bucky blinked, leaning back slightly. “Much more idiotic than you think. Breaking rules at every turn and is too stubborn to ever back down from a fight. He’s on some trip to Ireland right now.” He winked. “Top secret, apparently. He’s gotten some tip that he wants to investigate, and refuses to say anything more.”

That was cool. Really cool. I wondered if he would be near the farm where I'd been born. I fell silent for a couple more moments, lost in the thought. 

“What’ve you been up to?” Bucky finally asked, giving me a look. “I’ve gotten some rather interesting reports about Spider-Man lately.”

I looked down, partially embarrassed, partially nervous, but subconsciously knowing that Bucky wouldn’t judge me. 

So I told him everything, from getting the “Stark Internship” to the ferry attack to my fight with Vulture and Tony informally taking me (or rather, Peter) on as a protégé of sorts. I stumbled through a couple parts, especially when I got to the part when I’d lost the suit, and I may have skipped over the majority of my injuries and getting trapped under the building during the fight against Vulture, but that was partially because I didn’t want Bucky to worry too much, and partially because I was still having nightmares and the occasional panic attack over it and I didn’t want to think about it more than was absolutely necessary. Every once in a while, Bucky would hum in agreement or place a hand on my shoulder when I did something he approved of, but mostly he remained quiet, listening to me talk.

And it felt great . When was the last time that I had really spoken honestly to someone? My letters with Bucky, probably, and even then I never went into much detail in fear of it being intercepted. I just talked, and talked, until finally I had nothing more to say, and a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders.

“And, well, I’ve just been swinging around New York for the last couple months. Stopping petty crimes and the like,” I finally finished, letting out a long breath. The sun had set by now, the last golden rays throwing a farewell to a city that was just beginning to awaken. 

Bucky chuckled to himself, running his hand through his hair. 

“You’re definitely another Steve,” he chuckled, mostly to himself. “Why do I always get the stupid, self-sacrificial ones?”

I immediately felt blood rushing into my cheeks as I stared at Bucky. What? Me, being compared to Captain America? That was like comparing fire to water.

“Excuse me?”

“You’re small, stubborn, and are willing to fight anything up to eight times you size, probably more if you could find something that big. Steve, basically, just less angry.” Bucky raised an eyebrow. “‘S not a bad thing; it just means I have to come and throw a couple punches when you get in over your head.”

“Oh my God,” I groaned, putting my face in my hands. Bucky patted my on the back, angling himself somewhat awkwardly in order to reach me. Anxious to change the subject, I tried a different question. “How did you get here, anyways? If I can ask. You are kind of a wanted man in most developed countries nowadays.”

Bucky blinked, surprised by the sudden shift, but went along with it anyways. “Well—and don’t you breathe a word of this to anyone—but King T’Challa of Wakanda has provided sanctuary to Steve and his team. They were the only ones with the technology to help me. When I woke up, I told one person who I trusted that there was someone I needed to meet in New York. She flew me over here. Don’t worry, she’s currently in the ship and has no idea who you are. No one else knows that we’ve left.”

Wakanda? I had heard of that place; their old king had been killed in a bombing right before the battle in the Berlin Airport, and a month or so later the new king had revealed that Wakanda was actually some ultra high-tech, first-world country. Ned was saving up money for a vacation there, and no matter how many times MJ told him that they didn’t accept civilian visitors, he had yet to be dissuaded from his goal. 

“Huh.” I shrugged, leaning back slightly and watching the last of the sun's light fade away. “That sounds really cool. Is Wakanda really as beautiful as they say it is?”

“Even more so,” Bucky said. “Though as much as I love it, it doesn’t really hold much to New Year’s in New York.”

“We Americans do know how to throw a good party.”

“If nothing else.”

I laughed. “Please. The Yankees’ baseball games will always hold a special place in my heart, crowded as it may be.”

Bucky looked scandalized, and he shoved me, forcing me to catch myself before I fell completely. 

“Ex cuse you. I will always support the Dodgers.”

“The LA Dodgers? Why them?”

“They were based in Brooklyn until they moved in 1957, or so I’m told, and I’ll be damned if I ever root for the Yankees.”

“And when exactly was the last time the Dodgers won a World Series?”

Bucky’s smile faded slightly. “I don’t know.”

Oh. Crap . Of course I had to be the one to ruin things with inconsideracy. Why did I ever  bring that up?

“It’s alright, you know. Even Steve makes mistakes from time to time,” Bucky said, drawing me out of my thoughts before they could swarm me.

“How long are you staying?” I blurted shortly after, not wanting to be a subject of pity. 

“A day or two, depending on how much time you have. That reminds me.” He tossed me a beaded bracelet. Catching it easily, I looked it over. Several medium-sized black beads, with picturesque symbols on them, were strung on a flexible cord. Raising an eyebrow, I slipped it on my wrist, where it fit perfectly. “That’s a communicator bracelet, handmade in Wakanda. My ride made it for you as a gift. See?” He shook his arm so that his sleeve fell back a bit, revealing an identical bracelet. “‘Course, mine is voice activated, considering I don’t have my other arm right now. But now we can talk instantly and without having to worry about being overheard.”

I gasped, taking a closer look at the bracelet. Though there did seem to be some panels on the beads, there was nothing to indicate that the bracelet was anything other than wood.

“Here.” Bucky reached over and pressed one of the panels on the bracelet three times in quick succession. A hologram suddenly erupted from the bead, and a moment later Bucky’s echoed the same motion. He tilted his bracelet, and then my friend’s face appeared in the hologram, like some sort of high-tech FaceTime. 

“That’s… amazing.” I laughed disbelievingly. I could call Bucky whenever I had to, talk to and vent to him? It seemed too good to be true. “I can’t believe it.”

“Trust me, I couldn’t either when I first heard about it, kiddo. Close call.” The video feed shut off. “Just remember that I’ll be eight hours ahead of you, so I’ll probably be asleep if you try to call me in the evening.”

“Yeah, I get it,” I murmured. Who cared about limitations? I could talk to Bucky daily! I’d learned long ago to take what I could get and hold it close. “Does anyone else know? About me?"

Bucky shifted. "Well, my ride, T'Challa, and Steve know I have a friend in New York, but that's as far as it goes. Unless you want me to reveal more, nothing else will be said."

I let out a long breath. "Good. I don't think I'm ready for that, yet. Especially if they find out you're friends with Spider-Man. I did fight against you at the airport."

A shrug. "Don't see anything wrong with that. Besides, you were the one who decided to go all out with the spider theme."

“No, it was May’s idea. I just thought it was a good one.”

“Now you’re just shifting the blame. You decided to go through with it.”

“What? I think I look good!” Hurriedly, I tried to envision myself in the Spider-Man suit, trying to see if something was wrong with the look.

Bucky elbowed me, drawing me out of my thoughts. “I’m kidding, kid,” he reassured me, though I didn’t need reassuring. “You look great, and you’re helping other people. Double win.”

I shrugged, not really sure how to disprove that and not be rude while doing so, and eventually settled on changing the subject again

“It’s nice to have you here, if only for a little bit,” I sighed, leaning back on the A.C. Bucky smiled, letting out a breath.

"Me too, kid."

Chapter Text

“FRIDAY, scan the perimeter. Rhodes, I want you out in the fields. We don’t know if some clues or bodies will be scattered around the area. Vis, you mind taking my six?”

“Got it, Tones,” Rhodey’s voice came over the intercom, thick with worry. “I’ll start at the fence line and work my way in. Want me to check the barn?”

“Yeah, let’s put that in the job description,” Tony replied, the usual quip half-thought out and hollow. A moment later, Rhodey turned away from him and Vision, arcing off to the barn.  FRIDAY’s voice came through shortly after.

“There are some are heat signatures in the barn, Boss,” she reported, switching his vision to infrared as she did so. Sure enough, there were some large blobs of mass in the farm, though they were far too small to be human. “I think they’re chickens. I can detect no other life forms.”

“I don’t think we will find much here, Tony,” Vision put in as they descended down to the Barton farmhouse. Tony closed his eyes briefly as he landed, the thrum of his thrusters turning off as he stepped on the gravel path. Vision’s own arrival was much quieter, with only a small crunch of pebbles beneath his feet. “The Barton family is gone, probably in hiding. Agent Barton is sure to have made several contingencies in the case of an attack.”

“If they were fine, he would’ve called me,” Tony replied a bit more forcefully than he intended. His heart thudded painfully in his chest with worry for the retired Avenger, no matter how frayed their relationship may be (and it was getting better).

“I am not so sure.” Vision’s reply was quiet, as if to be chiefly directed at himself, but Tony heard it anyways. He didn’t react, however, simply turning on one foot and stalking ( walking ) up to the front door, trying his best to dispel his memories of the last time he had been here, back during the Ultron fiasco. 

Approximately 5 hours ago, the FBI reported to the Avengers that Clint Barton’s tracker had been disabled. 2 hours ago, the UN panel designed to manage the Avengers had allowed them to investigate. 1 hour and 36 minutes ago, they had finally left the compound after being briefed on the situation and what to do if Barton really had packed up and ran. Ross had seemed a bit too enthralled with the latter idea for Tony’s comfort, and though he had finally managed to amend the accords so that a superhero could keep their identity and family a secret, the Raft was still a very viable option for Barton if he’d voluntarily left the farmhouse. 

The door to the house was closed. Tony tested the doorknob, finding it unlocked. Double-checking to make sure Vision was still behind him, he charged a repulsor, just in case, and used his other hand to open the front door as quietly as possible.

For the first time in almost three years, he was back in the Barton farmhouse. 

It had hardly changed. The stairs were still right ahead of him. Some legos were scattered over the carpet in the living room. Tony stepped inside, charging his second repulsor as they entered the living room. 

Again, and expectedly, they were met with nothing. Indeed, it seemed as if the Bartons had just vanished during their morning routine. The legos from earlier were a big signal to that, as well as the T.V. still being on, albeit muted, and a bowl of cereal sitting out on the counter, half-eaten. Behind him, he heard Vision turn and take a couple steps up the stairs, taking a peek at the second floor. 

“Well, whatever happened here, there was no struggle,” Vision mused, his voice floating from the other room and the comms near simultaneously. 

“I’m not seeing much, either—” Rhodey suddenly cut himself off. “Wait. I’m getting something.” Tony froze, listening intently. “There’s a tractor just sitting out here, and—shit, Tony, that’s most definitely a bullet hole.”

“Anything else?!” Tony demanded, rushing through the living room and into the kitchen, where the fridge had been left open and a cereal box matching it’s bowl in the other room. Nothing. 

There was a short pause before Rhodey spoke again, voice heavy. “There’s blood. In the grass. Some but not enough enough for someone to die from.”

That most definitely did not help Tony’s blood pressure. Honestly, if being an Avenger didn’t kill him, hypertension or heart disease would. 

“Take a sample, Rhodes,” he finally replied. “I can get FRIDAY to scan it. Try and find that bullet, too.”

“That won’t get you anywhere, you know.” A voice, most definitely not belonging to Vision or Rhodey, cut in. It had a slight accent, each word having a lilt to it in such a way that Tony recognized its owner instantly.

It was hard not to. Five years later and Tony still had the occasional nightmare about Loki and his attack on New York. 

Hardly even pausing for thought, Tony whipped around and blasted the God of Mischief straight through the chest, the blast so powerful that it blew apart half of the kitchen counter and made a considerable hole in the wall. A moment later Vision phased through the ceiling, positioned to fight and wearing an expression that was as worried as he ever seemed to be.

Loki glanced down at his chest, where the blast had gone right through as if it were made of air, and then returned his gaze to Tony, a hint of annoyance in his eyes. 

“Well, that’s just rude.”

“Yeah? Well, how about you tell me exactly where Barton is and what you want to do with him,” Tony shot back, prepping another blast so that it thrummed audibly in his palm. “And maybe I’ll consider not killing you on the spot.”

“He is not really here, Tony,” Vision replied softly, narrowed eyes never leaving Loki’s form. “This is an apparition. We will not be able to harm him, nor him us.”

“I’m detecting no noticeable radiation from Loki’s position, Boss,” FRIDAY added in. “I can’t find the source of this projection.”

“Yeah, well last time I thought Loki was harmless he ended up nearly killing Coulson and murdering several dozen men,” Tony fired back, still keeping his hand up. A moment later Rhodey very nearly crashed through the hole he’d made in the wall, guns up and ready to fire. “And that doesn’t even begin to cover why you’re here and alive .”

Loki waved a hand dismissively. “Oh, I was never dead. Thor and I’ve got this game going, you see? I hide in plain sight, he tries to find me. It’s really quite amusing.”

Tony felt a sick feeling rise in his chest. The grief Thor had expressed over Loki’s presumed passing after the Makelith thing was much too real to have been faked. And although Tony himself would never share the same sentiments for the Asgardian that his teammate did, he could understand the pain of losing a family member. 

And Loki had tricked him. Twice.

“Of course, Thor didn’t know at first.” Loki was still speaking, as nonchalant as ever. “But I digress. As I said earlier, investigating this place will give you no clues as to who took Barton.”

“You weren’t involved?” Rhodey questioned, lowering his guns. Tony had to hold himself back from reprimanding him for lowering his guard. He was the one being ridiculous. Loki wasn’t really here; FRIDAY would have sensed him much earlier if he was. Still, he kept his arms up, ready to fire at a moment’s notice.

“Of course not.” Loki shot them a look. “How exactly do you think I’m talking to you right now? I imprinted my magic on Barton back when I had him under my control; it’s been there ever since. I’ve known he’s had a family for just as long. I knew when he was kidnapped and came here because he left residue in his place of residence. I knew you would come here to investigate.” The barest flicker of a smile flashed across Loki’s face. 

“Wanda,” Vision breathed, realisation and shock flickering across his face as Tony glanced at him. “She always fought better when training with Barton. They are both under the influence of the Mind Stone.”

The paranoia rising in his throat earlier had transformed itself into an all-out fear. Loki had never relinquished his hold over Clint. Loki still had influence over him. Loki, if Tony’s luck ran anywhere remotely near his current streak, knew every Avengers secret there was to know. 

But Loki was also here now, revealing all of it. But Loki had let Barton leave his side and be instrumental in defeating him in New York. But Barton’s mind had at least seemed to have singularly been his own for the past five years. But but but.

Meanwhile, the Asgardian’s attention had flickered over to Vision. “I’m impressed you noticed that,” he said, raising an eyebrow. “I like you. Though I’m not surprised. That is the mind stone on your forehead, after all. It’s truly impressive, what that stone can do.”

“Why are you here?” Tony finally demanded. “Why now? Why tell us all of this? You know we’ll come after you. Bring you to justice.”

Loki’s eyes shuttered, and for the first time, Tony saw someone other than the cocky, suave God of Mischief. Someone much younger. More scarred. But it was gone before he could ascertain whether the flash had even been real. “You speak of matters you do not understand, mortal,” the Asgardian shot back. “What matters now is the survival of Barton.”

“Where is he?” Rhodey demanded. Loki snorted. 

“That, I do not know. His captors have their own brand of magic, much larger and more powerful than the scant traces I’ve left on him. All I know is that his safety, and the safety of Captain Rogers, is in extreme danger.”

Now Tony scowled, really scowled. His feelings regarding one Steven Grant Rogers were a tangled mess of disappointments, betrayals, sort-of-there trust, a knowledge that, deep down, Rogers had done what he thought was right— stop . He was not going down the rabbit hole that was his relationship with Rogers. Well, at the very least he knew he didn’t want the man dead. There. Keep Rogers alive, debate whether to throw him in the Raft or beat him half to death or scream at him or hug him and apologise later. 

“Why Captain Rogers?” Vision asked as Tony sorted through his mental issues. “Why do you care for his safety? You showed little concern for it in Germany or New York.”

There! If Tony didn’t know if he had seen it earlier, it certainly showed now. For a whole second, Loki paused, eyes flickering to the ground for a moment in a motion of grief Tony found entirely, well, alien on him. 

Something was wrong. Loki, insane and psychopathic as he was, always had some medium of control over his inner emotions, if the aftermath of his defeat and Thor’s stories were anything to go by. For his mask to flicker so visibly? Loki was shaken, very shaken, by this situation. 

He understood Clint. But why Rogers, of all people?

“Reasons you would not understand,” Loki finally replied curtly, folding his arms. “Suffice it to say that I am very invested in his well-being, as well as Barton’s. As you should be as well. Currently, our motives align, which is why I’m even remotely considering helping you out right now.”

“Do you know who took Barton?” Rhodey demanded, looking as if he’d finally lost some of his patience. 

Loki looked affronted. “Of course I do,” he scoffed. “I’m honestly surprised that they didn’t make their move years earlier. Would’ve helped my plans.” A shrug. “As it is, I’m currently immobile at the moment. So I need your help.”

Tony scoffed. “Yeah. Like we don’t know exactly what you’ll do if we help you.”

“If you want Barton to live through the next month and for Rogers’ mind to not get shattered beyond repair, I suggest you trust me on this small bit.”

“I would suggest that we at least listen to him,” Vision put in. Tony sighed, turning off his repulsors in a silent agreement. Loki wasted no time in speaking. 

“I cannot say much on the matter of Barton’s situation, chiefly because I don’t trust you with that information and my sources on the matter are currently a century or so old. What I can say is that he holds something, something immensely powerful and important to his captors. They need it, and Barton hosts this power. Captain Rogers, on the other hand, is a threat. A catalyst. Too important to be killed, too dangerous to be kept alive.”

“The serum,” Tony muttered, eyes briefly meeting Vision’s as Loki paused. His heart thudded in his chest. “Who are these kidnappers you’re talking about?”

Loki spread his hands. “That, I cannot tell you.”

“Then what the hell do you expect us to do?!”

“Find Rogers. Keep him safe. I’ll take care of the rest.”

And in a flash of golden light, Loki was gone, the charred hole in the wall the only signal that whatever they had seen had actually been real. 

 


 

“I just don’t understand,” Jane Foster muttered, typing furiously into her laptop. Steve let out a sigh, partially to himself, as he adjusted his hat and looked out over the city of Galway, Ireland. “Thor says he can sense something off with the planet, but I can't detect anything."

“It probably is just something magic related,” he sighed, tinkering slightly with his gear. Natasha had given him some upgrades to his gear a couple days ago, including some easily concealed knives and a grappling hook, and figuring out just where to place them on his body was taking up most of his attention. “Much as I loathe to admit it, we may not be able to detect something that advanced.”

Jane’s brows furrowed in the same way Steve had rapidly grown used to in the last several days that they had been travelling together. Finally having a week off from work, Jane had somehow figured that to contact him, she would have to find Sharon Carter, his only contact left in the American Government. She’d succeeded in that calling, managed to secure a phone call with him, and declared that she wanted him to work with her to figure out the strange loss in Earth that Thor had reported taking place between 2011 and 2012. 

So Steve, emboldened by the fact that Sharon would be there and that Jane was at least semi-trustworthy, packed up and left Sam and Natasha in Wakanda, arriving in Belfast three days ago. Ever since, he, Sharon, and Jane had been travelling across the country, trying to figure out just what had gone wrong.

But, of course, they had found nothing. Steve had expected that, even if Jane was determined to find some evidence of a disturbance. For him, this was a quasi-vacation of sorts, a chance to unwind if not relax after almost a year of hunting down rogue HYDRA, AIM, and other terrorist factions around the world. With Bucky out in New York to visit a “friend” (how had he done that? Steve was half tempted to interrogate him as to the identity of this so-called friend, but had refrained when Bucky had confessed that anonymity was essential to his friend’s safety), and T’Challa agreeing to house Natasha and Sam for a time, his conscience had been generally free from worry. 

Still, he mused, watching as Jane brought out another kind of sensor and Sharon sipped from a lemonade cup, it felt odd to be sitting out on the balcony of a hotel room, so open to attack. Currently Ross was tracking him down in Thailand, and they had solid fake I.D.'s, but something in him was feeling off. A shift in the air, a change in the mood. Steve wasn’t sure what it was, but, he reflected as he slipped the grappling hook on his wrist, it did have him on alert.

“Magic is simply technology that we haven’t discovered yet,” Jane responded to his earlier comment, standing up and pulling out some kind of sensor with two antenna. She held it high for a moment, waved it around a bit, and then brought it back down. “I’m comparing my current data with measurements taken back in 2009. There should be a least some minute discrepancy that can’t be explained. You’re Irish, aren’t you? You should at least be a bit worried.”

“Half Irish,” Steve absentmindedly corrected, slipping a knife beside his pistol holster. “My dad was English. And as much as I am worried, there isn’t much we can do about any change. And on top of that, it isn’t like this is harming anyone so far.”

Jane shot him a look. “That’s what everyone said in New Mexico when I was studying the Einstein-Rosen bridge. And when I investigated the Convergence in the UK. Both times I nearly died. I doubt that third time’s the charm. That’s why you’re here.”

Sharon finished off her lemonade with a shrug. “Well, at least I get a vacation out of it.” She raised a teasing eyebrow at Jane. “As smart as I may be, your research is entirely out of my league.”

Steve snorted. Sharon laughed.

“Yes, Steve,” she added caustically. “I’m sure if I’m confused, you’re completely lost.”

“I’m just saying,” he shrugged as Jane raised her eyes to the heavens. 

They fell silent for a moment, a small breeze playing its way through the balcony. Finally, Jane sighed, snapping close her laptop and putting away her instruments in her bag. 

“I’m not giving up,” she snapped, seeing the looks Sharon and Steve sent her way. “I’m taking a break. I’m not getting anything from the chemical composition of the atmosphere or on the electromagnetic spectrum. I just need to look at things from another angle. Lunch in the meantime?”

Steve shrugged while Sharon nodded. 

“I’m starving,” the latter agreed. “We can go out and buy some food. You mind watching our stuff, Steve?”

“Only thing I can—” 

Suddenly, a chime cut him off. Steve froze as Sharon and Jane looked at him half worriedly, half surprised. 

The chime sounded again. A ringtone, one that Steve certainly hadn’t expected to hear now. Slowly, Steve reached into his pocket, pulling out the small flip phone that he always kept tucked away on his body, a failsafe he hoped would never be used. He flipped open the phone, and sure enough, there was a call coming in from the only contact installed on it.

He clicked “answer,” heart leaping into his throat as he did so.

“Tony,” he said heavily by way of introduction, forcing himself to ignore the shocked and partially disbelieving looks the other two women were sending him. No one, save for Sam, Natasha, and Tony, knew that he had this phone.

“Hey, Rogers,” Came the voice that Steve had only heard on television for the last year. Tony sounded just as awkward as he felt, though there was an underlying current of worry in his tone that Steve was surprised wasn’t more pronounced, considering how bad the situation must be for him to be calling the guy who, last they’d seen each other, beat each other into bloody pulps in Siberia. There was a lot of distrust and guilt on Steve’s side of the whole thing, and he could only guess as to how Tony felt about him. “Where exactly are you right now? Please tell me you’re in the western hemisphere and not in Thailand like Ross thinks you are.”

“Is something wrong? What happened?”

“Not sure, considering my source, but Barton’s gone missing, along with his family. Source says you’re in big danger too. So hurry up and get your ass back to the states; we need to have a talk.”

Sharon was motioning to him, silently asking what exactly was going on. Steve shrugged helplessly. 

“This better not be a trap, Tony,” he warned. “I’m on my way.”

There was some muffled cursing on the other side, and someone spoke, too distant for Steve to make out their identity or words. 

Then his eyes were drawn to the ground. The shadow from the floor above them had extended, ever so slightly.

Steve sighed. If his quasi-vacation wasn’t ruined already, it certainly was now.

“GET DOWN!” He roared, dropping the phone and rolling to the side, narrowly missing the two bullets that crashed into the floor, just inches shy of his face. Jane screamed, but Steve trusted Sharon to take care of her, and instead turned his attention to the attacker above him. Which was odd, because there were no more balconies above them save for the roof—oh.

Steve’s eyes connected with that of a man who looked to be just a couple of years older than him, with long, dark brown hair tucked under a wide-brimmed hat and stubble surrounding a large, unnerving smile. He held two modified pistols, with an extra section added to the bottom side of the handle. One pistol was extended at him, the other pointed towards the wall, where some sort of grapple was embedded into the wall above him, extending out from the addition to the pistol. Alternating series of leather straps covered his upper body, and Steve could just catch a glimpse of something metallic on his back.

The man’s grin extended even further, if that was even possible. Then something tingled at the base of Steve’s neck, and on instinct he rolled again, jumping up to his feet as several more bullets arrived, each from multiple different directions. A group effort, then.

“Hey, Stíofán!” He cackled. Steve’s heart leapt into his throat as distant memories sprung into being. Stíofán. The Irish version of his name, the name his ma had stopped calling him by the time he left for school. “‘S time ta come home!”

Several more shots. Jane went down as she was rushed by Sharon back into the hotel room, a bullet catching her in the arm. Distantly, he heard screams erupt from several civilians nearby. 

They were after him. Steve thought of the phone lying on the ground as he rose to his feet, of Sharon helping Jane inside, of Tony still on the other side of the phone line, warning him of incoming danger. 

One way to go.

Steve leapt over the guardrail of the balcony, aiming one hand with the grapple he’d just equipped, and fired, catching the building on the next street over, arcing down in a swing. Two or three more bullets whizzed past his ears before he feet slammed into the building, denting it and sending pins and needles up his legs. Retracting the grapple, Steve dropped the last couple feet to the street and took off at a run, pulling out a pistol as he did so. 

Risking a glance behind him, he caught a glimpse of the man who had spoken to him rushing through the air, pistol-grapple raised in a practiced motion as he swung at an extremely high speed towards him. He could now see his attacker’s back fully, and realised that perched there was a sort of gas canister or primitive jetpack. As he glanced back, he caught another man swinging into view. In an easy motion, he aimed his pistol-grapple on a building and fired, then the jetpack on the back sprayed out a translucent gas that propelled him horizontally along the grapple’s swing instead of vertically. 

Shit . A new set of weapons and an airborne enemy. Steve knew how to operate and battle with jetpacks, just as he knew how to battle with grapples and guns. A combination of the three? That would be fun. Steve turned more fully as the thought passed through his mind, shooting the goon in the head. The man went down as three more took his place, and Steve had to duck into an alley to avoid their gunshots. Vaulting over a trash can and racing past a startled hobo, he skidded out the other side to find himself just barely ahead of his pursuers and, most importantly, just shy of a civilian mounting a motorcycle. 

“Sorry! Life or death!” Steve shouted as he shoved the man off of his bike as gently as he could, several more bullets hitting the asphalt as he took off, weaving in between traffic as he did so. A glance behind him revealed at least five attackers, and as he cut across a red light, two more swung in front of him, guns blazing. Steve yanked the bike around, skidding so close to the ground he could almost touch it, before righting himself, getting a shot off at one of the five behind him, and dodging a minivan and car to curve onto a side street.

There was a brief moment of silence, and Steve formulated some semblance of a plan. He was suddenly very grateful he’d been watching the streets and researching possible safe houses when they’d first driven through the city.

But there were questions whizzing in the back of his mind as well. Namely just who these men were, how they’d known Steve and his friends were here, and how the man knew his Irish name, something that had never left the confines of his and his mother’s apartment in the late ‘20s. 

What the hell is going on? He thought as he took a sharp turn to the left, moving against the flow of traffic as he caught sight of several attackers approaching him from where he’d come, along with two more from slightly behind. The man in the wide-brimmed hat was in the lead, and somehow Steve knew he was still wearing that Cheshire grin of his. He ducked past several more cars as sirens began to sound in the distance. Taking a hard right on the next street, Steve shot two of the men as he turned, receiving a graze on the forehead as he did so, then almost immediately turned down a back alley and banked another left. 

This street was slightly more deserted, people starting to get the hint that maybe they shouldn’t be out in the open. This was a relief for Steve as he jumped up so his feet were on the leather seat of the motorcycle, aimed a grapple at a nearby bar, and jumped off.

The bike almost immediately crashed into a light post without its rider, but Steve had no time to dwell on that, doing his best to position his feet at just the right angle—

And he crashed through the heavy wooden doors of the pub he’d been scouting earlier that day, sending the door crashing into the wall with a deafening thunk . Taking a heartbeat to take in the civilians (a bartender, a young waitress, three middle-aged men eating on the right and a young man and woman to the left), he sprinted towards the bar as soon as his feet hit the ground, vaulting over it and pausing once he hit the top, taking in several deep breaths as his feet tingled from the impact. With two fingers, he brought his hand to the bullet wound graze, the tips coming back red as he registered a thick liquid running down the right side of his face.

Well, at least the adrenaline was blocking out most of the pain.

“Ca-Captain Rogers!” The bartender (Brian McGuinness, 62, the owner) stammered, taken completely off guard.

“Stíofán!” The call came from outside, and Steve recognized the voice as the man in the hat’s He looked back up at the broken door. Shit, I hope Sharon and Jane got away. Most of the men do seem to be after me. I can’t believe I was so reckless! “Ain’t this a coincidence?! I smell a dirty rat coming from this bar…” He ducked behind the bar as footsteps walked up the street, right in front of the pub. “Come out, come out, wherever you are!”

There was a moment of silence. 

There you are! ” The man’s cackle exploded in volume as a pairs of feet thudded into the bar. “ The law has come to exterminate the vermin! BANG! BANG!”

Steve thought it wise not to respond at that moment. Someone’s plate clattered to the ground. McGuinness whimpered.

“What the hell?! I know you're here, Stíofán!”

“My name is Steve Rogers, you know,” Steve finally responded, forcing his voice to be calm and authoritative. “I suppose I can at least have the courtesy of knowing yours?”

“...Hn, I suppose so. I’m Kenny Ackerman, kid. The name ring a bell?”

Faintly. A memory tickled the back of his mind, too distant for him to focus on now. “I’m afraid not. What brings you to my neck of the woods?”

“You should know why, if you know anything about your own biology. We’re both Titans, Stíofán. You can’t run from the rest of us forever.”

Biology? Titans? Was Ackerman insinuating that there were more people like him? Steve’s heart thudded in his chest, but he remained calm, doing his best to get as much information as he could. Silently, he unclipped a small metallic sphere from his belt, reaching towards the safe tucked underneath the bar.

“To be honest, I’ve been looking forward to seeing you in action. And my, you do not disappoint! You’ve already murdered two of my subordinates. Never thought your Titan could be employed in such a way. Say, do you know what happens to a cornered rat?” Ackerman’s pistols clicked as he spoke. “No matter which way you try to run, you’ll get blasted from above.”

A clunking sound of wood on wood. Was he picking up a chair? “Hey, Stíofán…”

The chair crashed into the shelved wall behind the bar, causing the bottles perched there to shatter. Red wine mixed with the more transparent vodka as glass shards clattered to the ground just shy of Steve’s left hand.

“There’s gotta be a reason you’re still fighting as Captain America, and I think I know what it is…. We had no choice but to survive in those garbage dumps we grew up in. It took all we had to just keep livin’.” The liquid slowly began to seep into the wooden floor. Steve drew he right hand away from the safe. “And when we found out how big the world really was, you can bet it hurt like hell. But something saved us...”

Bucky. Peggy. A chance to serve my country and protect the innocent, Steve found himself answering mentally. He reached up to the lowest shelf, turning one of the intact bottles so that he could see Ackerman’s reflection in the glass. He had picked up another chair, and was aiming his free pistol at him.

“We’d found something we wanted to do. It’s that simple.” He tilted his head, aiming more firmly. “It’s simple, but the truth is, the only thing that made our lives fulfilling was finding hobbies.”

“Hobbies?” Steve finally replied. “So ‘ambushing’ me in the middle of the day, in a crowded city, is a hobby of yours?”

“Yup! To achieve my goals, I’ll be as obvious and kill as many people as I have to. You’re no different. You kill when it benefits you, too.”

“Perhaps…”

Aiming through the reflection in the bottle, Steve swung McGuinness’ shotgun upside down over the bar’s counter, shooting straight at Ackerman’s chest in a deafening blast. There was a loud shatter of wood as the assassin pulled the chair he was holding in front of him to shield himself from most of the blast. Either way, the force of the bullet threw him outside and onto the street. Steve leapt onto the counter, the shotgun in one hand.

“Thanks, McGuinness,” he muttered, throwing the gun in the old man’s grasp and dropping to the ground. Grabbing an empty chair, he rushed past the young couple, now curled protectively in a corner (one was on the phone, probably on Ireland’s equivalent of 911), and chucked the chair at the front window as hard as he could, shattering the glass. As he expected, at least half a dozen bullets ripped through the remnants of the chair a moment later.

There. Steve leapt out mere moments after he chucked the chair, using the directions of the bullets to, in less than five seconds, aim the grapple at one of the men and pull him back. The grapple hit the man in the neck, killing him almost instantly, but Steve grabbed him by the front leather strap of his jetpack/grapple-thing, using the corpse as a makeshift shield as he used his grapple to swing up to the rooftops. Three bullets were blocked this way, and Steve discarded the corpse once he was on the roof, catching two more attackers and stabbing them through the throats, running off once again. 

He leapt over the side street he’d taken, returning the knife to its holster and brandishing his pistol (four more bullets), and shot twice more, hitting two more of his attackers in the chests. A glance behind him revealed Ackerman getting to his feet and racing after him, pistols raised.

However, before he could formulate the next stage of his plan (Sharon. Jane. He had to find them), there was a sharp wrench in his right hand, which was holding his gun. Forced to drop the pistol, he glanced at the source of the affliction, finding that he’d been shot clean through the back of his hand. He let out a short hiss of pain, pausing for just a moment as he lunged for the pistol on the ground with his left, uninjured, hand.

It was all that was needed. Another shot hit him in the abdomen, and then in his right calf, and it was just enough to throw him off balance and he was falling—

He hit the sidewalk head-first and promptly passed out.