It’s reassuring living in a city full of multiple superheroes. It means that, on days like today, when super-villains are attacking the city and Peter is without his suit, other heroes are there, ready to step in.
Peter would feel bad about not joining the fighting, but the Avengers have arrived to take care of situation. The Avengers. They can certainly handle this without Peter interfering.
Instead, Peter works on helping panicked civilians. He helps an elderly woman who had fallen and was struggling to get up, and helps a crying toddler find his parents, who were hysterical after having lost sight of him in the pandemonium.
Peter catches sight of a man in the alleyway running off the main street, crouched, head in his hands, and immediately rushes over. He could be hurt. The man looks shaken up, hands visibly trembling against his temples.
“Hey!” Peter calls. The man goes stiff on the ground, shoulders tensing. Peter comes closer and smiles, kind and a little awkward, to show he means no harm.
“Need a hand up, pal?” Peter asks warmly, and extends a hand to help the man to his feet.
Even with super fast reflexes, Peter doesn’t have time to retract his offered hand before the man lunges up, grabbing Peter and flipping him onto his back. The momentum knocks all the air out of him, his spidey-sense loud in his head.
Cold fingers press against Peter’s throat, cutting off his air, and a thick-soled boot stamps on his chest, pinning him to the ground.
Peter tries to push the hand away—a metal hand, he realises; had Peter accidentally stumbled upon a murderous cyborg?—but the man’s grip only tightens, and Peter splutters around choked gasps.
The man stares down at him, long hair framing his expressionless face. “How did they find me?” he demands. Peter gurgles up at him. The man loosens his grasp enough for Peter to inhale hugely, gasping like a drowning man coming up for air.
“How did they find me?” Cyborg Guy presses.
When Peter fails to answer for a second time, Cyborg Guy grabs a fistful of Peter’s hair and pulls. His boot remains pressed on his ribs, so Peter’s forced into a painful, stretched out position, his neck arched and exposed, head tilted to one side. The metal fingers are cold against his scalp.
The man repeats, “How did they find me?”
“Who?” Peter gasps.
“You know who.”
“I really don’t.” The grip on his hair tightens, and Peter whines. His hands scramble against the unrelenting metal, trying desperately to pry the fingers loose. “Ow! Ow!”
“Dude, I don’t know what you’re on about!” The man flips open a knife. His spidey-sense is screeching at the back of his head. Peter squirms and pleads around panicked panting, “No, no, really! I don’t know, I don’t know!”
The man presses the blade against Peter’s cheek. Blood wells and bubbles over, dripping down his face and onto his t-shirt. Peter’s been hurt as Spider-Man before. To a lesser extent, he’s been hurt as Peter Parker. He knows how to take a punch, a bullet; he can walk away from an ungraceful trip off of an apartment building with bruised ribs and embarrassed laughter.
But Peter’s never been tortured before.
“Please,” Peter tries, looking up into the man’s flat eyes, “I don’t know who you are, or who you think I am. I’m just a kid from Queens.”
Cyborg Guy holds the position for a long moment, one boot against Peter’s frantic heart, a fist buried in his hair, a knife pressed to his cheek. He searches Peter’s eyes, expression unreadable. Whatever he’s looking for, he doesn’t find it, and eventually moves away.
Peter slumps against the pavement, like a possum playing dead. He dares to peer up at the man, and bites down a gasp. Cyborg Guy is shaggy, definitely homeless, but there’s something about him, in his eyes, in the way he moves, that makes Peter think he’s never been so close to dying as he is now.
The man crouches down and presses the blade against Peter’s throat.
“If you try and follow me,” he says, “I will kill you. The only reason I’m leaving you alive is so you can deliver a message to them.” Peter has stopped breathing. He thinks if he breathed now, he might accidentally slit his own throat on the impossibly sharp knife. “Tell them, tell them—I won’t be their puppet any more.”
With that, the man retracts the knife, stands, and leaves. Peter turns onto his stomach and gasps against the pavement, trying to stave off a panic attack. The man and his metal hand has gone, but Peter still feels like he’s being choked.
By the time Peter stumbles out of the alley on shaky legs—bruised, still spluttering, matching lines of red on his cheek and throat—the man has melted into the terrified crowd, and disappeared.
Peter intercepts a drug cartel several weeks later. He’d heard from Daredevil that the group had dangerous links—Fisk, Dardevil suspects, or maybe HYDRA—but Peter didn’t have any trouble taking the group down.
Easy peasy—Peter webs the criminals up, anonymously calls the cops, and changes back into his street clothes in a back room before slipping out the back entrance, whistling to himself. He doesn't then realise how badly he’s underestimated the situation.
Peter walks through the alleyway, and freezes. There’s a man floundering on the concrete ground, gasping wildly. The man’s hands are shaking, and he’s soaked with blood.
Peter jogs over. “Woah, dude, are you—”
The man looks up, and Peter recognises him immediately. Those eyes—he’ll never be able to forget those blue, haunted eyes.
Peter feels his stomach drop. Of the people to run into, it had to be Murderous Cyborg Guy. Great.
But Peter can’t just leave him here, he supposes. The man will bleed out.
His spidey-sense hums, not screeching yet, but alert, warning. Peter ignores it, like he too often does. He laughs, soft and a little nervous, falling back on default humour. He offers the man a hand up, purposefully mirroring their first encounter. “Need a hand up, pal?”
Also like their first encounter, the man moves too quickly despite his obvious wounds, flipping Peter. The Cyborg’s metal hand finds his throat, the boot his chest, and his spidey-sense starts screaming.
In hindsight, Peter really should’ve seen this coming.
“We really need to stop meeting like this,” Peter manages weakly. The metal fingers tighten around this throat. “Okay, okay, dude! I swear, I’m not purposely seeking you out. I don’t even know who you are!”
“You’re not normal,” the man says. “The way you move—you’re not normal.”
“No,” Peter admits, because lying here would be a death sentence.
“Who are you?”
Peter smiles weakly. “I’m one of the good guys.”
Gunfire echoes through the building. From the lack of sirens, Peter assumes it’s not police. The drug pedlars’ reinforcements. Maybe this is mafia related?
He remembers Daredevil’s speculation. Maybe this is HYDRA. But why would HYDRA care about such a small operation, in backstreet New York of all places?
Murderous Cyborg Guy looks up at the sounds of thundering footsteps, growing closer to their position.
“Stay away from me,” Cyborg Guy tells Peter quickly. “If you try and follow me—”
“I won’t,” Peter says.
The man drops Peter out of his chokehold, long enough to raise his metal fist into the air. The artificial fingers glint in the dull glow of the streetlight. A promise. A threat. Without infliction, Cyborg says, “If you follow me, I will rip your lungs out.”
Peter swallows and nods, just once, long enough to show he understands the message. He believes Cyborg Guy’s threat.
The man steps off of him, steps away, and flicks up his hood up. For the second time, Cyborg Guy disappears into the night, leaving Peter in his wake—floundering, confused, but alive.
Peter sees him only days later, on his way home from class. He has a clear schedule for once, skateboard strapped to his bag, wallet in hand.
He stops by a cafe with glass-less windows and large, open doors to pick up lunch. Peter’s just left the shop, chicken sandwich in hand, mouth hovering over the crust, when he looks up and locks eyes with Murderous Cyborg Guy.
He’s sitting cross-legged several metres away. He blends in, the picture of a nondescript homeless man, paper cup for coins by his boot, a duffle by his side. A paper is under his boot, and Peter can barely make out a photo of Spider-Man stretched out on the front cover.
Cyborg Guy looks up at Peter under his hood, eyes dark and dangerous.
“I’M JUST BUYING A SANDWICH,” Peter shouts on impulse. Pedestrians on the street glance his way, alarmed, and the people closest edge away from him. Peter doesn’t care. Peter is too focussed on not dying horribly because Murderous Cyborg Guy mistook him for a secret government agent. Or something. “JUST INNOCENTLY BUYING A SANDWICH. I STILL DON’T KNOW WHO YOU ARE.”
One the staff behind the cafe counter laughs awkwardly, and calls out, “Sir? Sir, please stop shouting—”
“I’M SORRY!” He’s too loud, and Murderous Cyborg Guy seems annoyed at Peter for having made a scene. It’s not Peter’s fault. He panics sometimes. “HAVE A NICE DAY.” Peter scampers away in the opposite direction of the man, shouting over his shoulder, “GOODBYE!”
The man doesn’t follow him. Peter jogs the rest of the way home, glancing suspiciously around and furiously eating his chicken sandwich before someone with metal fingers can swoop in, choke him out, and ruin his lunch.
There has been a strange increase in HYDRA activity around New York. Dardevil had been keeping him posted (they had upgraded to texting buddies; Peter is embarrassingly excited to have another New York vigilante that doubled as a maybe, sort of friend; he didn’t have many friends these days.)
Peter knows embarrassingly little about HDYRA. He knows they’re evil; they hate Captain America; they have dumb uniforms. That’s all.
So, Peter’s more surprised then he should be when he’s kidnapped by HYDRA.
“Surely this is a simple case of mistaken identity,” Peter babbles. The man working him over wipes at the wet scalpel and scribbles down some notes. “You’re probably looking for another hero in red and blue spandex and a fantastic sense of humour. It’s okay, I understand. Happens all the time.”
One of the HYDRA agents looks at Peter like’s he’s crazy. Maybe he is. People break under torture, right? He feels a little like he’s breaking apart.
Peter doesn’t try and wrestle out of his bonds again. The cuffs are slippery now from all the blood that’s dribble down to his wrists and ankles, but he’s too weak, and drugged up to his eyeballs.
At least now, Peter thinks hysterically, he knows what it’s like to be tortured. Yay.
The HYDRA agent picks up a voice recorder, and speaks into it; “Subject has above average pain threshold. Its body is able to withstand external injuries and large quantities of blood loss. There is no significantly damaged limbs, so metal replacements can not easily be implanted, unlike the scenario in which Original Subject’s received his metal one. Further tests must be conducted on whether Subject is qualifiable for Programming.”
Peter closes his eyes. He’d thought that this was simple torture, maybe to try and gather information from Peter, or maybe dissuade him from the superhero life altogether, but no. No, it could never be that simple. There are needles laid out upon a small metal tray nearby—Peter should’ve guessed they were for experimentation.
“Subject is strong,” continues the HYDRA agent. “Will have to be held down and contained during Programming, similar to Original Subject. Recommend pain orientated conditioning similar to that of Original Subject’s.”
“I have had it with evil corporations,” Peter says. “First Oscorp, now you HYDRA whack-jobs. What, is Walmart going to want my blood next?”
HYDRA agent clicks the recorder again. “Subject is prone to bouts of irrelevant babbling. Appears to use humour as a defence mechanism in frightening or painful environments. Such characteristics will have to be trained out of the Subject should Programming continue.”
“Rude,” Peter says.
The primary HYDRA agent sets down the recorder, and picks up a largely scalpel, more like a saw than a medical implement—and moves toward Peter’s side, hovering around his open, gaping wound. He prods at it, watching with fascination as more blood bubbles forth, and Peter bites back a scream.
“Can we break for lunch?” Peter asks frantically. The knife has teeth, jagged little edges that want to bite and break tender skin. “Bathroom break? A brief recess? C’mon, don’t—no, no, no please—!”
Peter feels the slightest kiss of cold blade against side, before he hears a soft, reverberating sound above him, and his torturer slumps to the ground, dead.
The three other HYDRA agents, gathered to watch the proceedings and make sure Peter didn’t break free, are immediately alert, drawing weapons and searching the high up roof of the altered warehouse. Three identical pops of quiet sound, and the three fall, as though their strings were cut.
“Is that you, god?” Peter calls out, deliriously.
A man in all black, rifle slung over one arm, jumps from the rafters, and heads over to Peter. His spidey-sense rings. It’s been annoyingly ringing since Peter was captured. (He’s being tortured, he knows he’s in danger, thanks a lot spidey-sense.)
The man comes closer, and Peter sees deadened eyes, a metal arm, long hair—Murderous Cyborg Guy, his mind supplies. Peter had thought this day couldn’t get any worse. Apparently, he’d been wrong.
Cyborg Guy hooks cold fingers under the hem of Peter’s suit, and pulls of Peter’s mask off smoothly. Peter is too weak to fight it.
The man stares at Peter’s unmasked face for a long time. His eyes flicker to the spider symbol stretched over Peter’s torn chest, taking in the iconic red and blue of Peter’s wrecked suit, being returning to Peter’s face.
“Please don’t choke me this time,” Peter says weakly.
Cyborg Guy’s expression remains flat, but there’s something there, something in his eyes, some incandescent change, before he turns, showing Peter his back. He heaves up his rifle to point at the room around them.
Peter doesn’t notice anyone else in the warehouse, but Cyborg Guy fires, and a HYDRA agent tumbles from the rafters, a sniper rifle falling with him, a tiny circle through his forehead. Bucky fires a second shot near the warehouse’s balcony and a second figure falls limp, one hand dangling over the edge. Dead.
The man shoulders his rifle and turns back to Peter.
Peter stares up at those eyes, flat and hallow and expectant, and manages a choked, confused, “Hi?”
Cyborg Guy nods in greeting. He moves closer, and Peter squeaks and wriggles against his bindings. He can see the headlines now; Spider-Man Murdered by Terminator-Style Homeless Man. Jameson would probably throw a party.
The man’s hand hovers outstretched toward Peter. He looks into Peter’s face and asks, voice hoarse, “Need a hand up, pal?”
Peter bursts out laughing. It’s too loud, a little hysterical and wet with blood, but it feels good, and Peter finds himself smiling up at Murderous Cyborg Guy. He doesn’t even flinch when the man reaches forward and grabs hold of Peter’s restraints.
The man grasps the metal bindings and wretches them away until they break and fall to the ground, useless, freeing Peter.
The man nods again, and steps away. He doesn’t move. Peter doesn’t move either.
“Well?” Cyborg Guy asks.
“Um,” Peter says, frozen. “You’re not going to try and kill me, right?”
Cyborg Guy looks away, quietly closing off. Peter feels like he’s failed a test, somehow.
“Not going to kill me,” Peter decides quickly. He climbs to his feet, trying to ignore the twinge of cuts all over. When he takes a step, putting pressure on his bleeding left side, he folds under the pain.
And then, Peter is being lifted. Not just supported—bodily lifted, fireman carry over Cyborg Guy’s shoulder.
“I can walk,” Peter argues. His face is hot. He prefers not to be manhandled. When Peter first established himself as a vigilante, he didn’t think saving the city would involve this much manhandling.
(Peter supposes he hadn’t thought to factor in Deadpool when considering how much manhandling might be involved in spandex crime fighting, but really, no one thinks to factor in Wade Wilson.)
“This is easier,” the man tells him.
“Can I ask where we’re going?” Cyborg Guy doesn’t answer, busy bodily escorting Peter out of the warehouse. Peter never knows what to say around stoic people. He’s a terrible conversationist, far too awkward and horrible at reading social queues. He tends to babble and embarrass himself around quiet people, giving in to the temptation to fill up silences with innate chatter. “No, no answer? Should I guess? Are we heading to… a super secret base? Or a lair, if you’re a villain, but there’s something about you that makes me think you’re not, so maybe something more ordinary. Do have, like, a super secret condo somewhere—”
“Stop talking,” the man instructs, shifting his grip on Peter, jostling him about. Peter suspects the rough treatment is purposeful. He has that effect on people.
“Aw, come on, man—”
“Quiet. You’re going to give away our position.”
Peter drops his voice to a whisper, “What if I talked really, really quietly?”
“What if I just knocked you out?” proposes the man.
Peter dutifully falls silent.
Cyborg Guy takes Peter from the dingy warehouse to an apartment not unlike somewhere his Aunt might live. It’s strange, to say the least.
The place is the opposite of Peter’s own apartment. It’s filled with nick-nacks and lace doilies, all muted pinks and off-whites. A tea-pot in the middle of the table, next to a jar of toffee sweets, is covered in a knitted cosy.
The man deposits Peter on a mustard yellow couch, and Peter winces. His bleeding side rests on a patchwork quilt, and he feels a guilty about staining something clearly homemade.
Peter looks up at his saviour. The man meets his gaze, all haunted eyes and harsh, unforgiving lines. If Peter thought he looked strange in this ordinary environment, in his red and blue suit and collection of bloody injuries, it is nothing to how out of place Murderous Cyborg Guy looks.
Peter nods at the room. “Nice place you got here.”
The man ignores him. He does that a lot, Peter’s noticed.
He digs out what Peter assumes is a makeshift First Aid kit. It’s an old tupperware container, plastic warped in areas, and stained with something suspiciously like old blood. It’s stocked with the barest of medial supplies.
Cyborg Guy pulls out a needle and medical thread, hikes up Peter’s suit, and tries to immediately go to town on Peter’s bleeding torso.
Peter starts backward. “Woah! Dude! What about anaesthetic? Disinfectant?”
The other man stares back. “What about it?”
“What? It’s important!”
“You’re not normal,” Cyborg Guy says simply. “You won’t die from an infection.”
“Okay,” Peter says—yes, he probably won’t die if he does get an infection in a wound before it successfully closes, but he knows from experience how painful and uncomfortable infections are—with some reluctance, “but what about anaesthetic? Anything to numb the pain?"
“It is not needed,” Cyborg Guy says, tone flat, unfeeling.
Peter shakes his head. “You need anaesthetic on wounds, man.”
“It is not needed,” he repeats.
Cyborg Guy is sitting on the coffee table, next to Peter. He’s not perturbed by Peter’s dumbfounded stare. He has always been flat, unexpressive—or maybe, Peter thinks, repressive—and Peter doesn’t understand. He doesn’t understand. He thinks he’s missing something crucial here.
“Anaesthetic,” Peter begins slowly, “is always necessary.” Cyborg Guy does not respond to that, but Peter can see the denial in the hard line of his mouth. “Maybe it’s not technically needed, but everyone deserves anaesthetic, y’know?”
The man remains blank. “No.”
“Operations and injuries and stuff are painful. Everyone needs anaesthetic for that. It’s—it’s a human right, man.”
The man allows something to slip— a slight wrinkling of his brow, the corners of his lips pulling down. Confusion. “You’re not normal,” Cyborg Guy says again.
“Yeah, okay, but I’m still human.”
He frowns outright. “Oh. I thought you were like me.”
Peter falters at that. Huh? “Are you… not human? Because I know aliens are, like, a thing now, and I won’t judge you if you were. I mean, the Avengers have that Thor guy, so—”
“I’m not an alien,” the other man says.
“But you’re not human?”
He considers it. “I don’t… no. No, I’m something else.”
“Are you a Vulcan?” Peter asks. “An Orc? Any other species?”
Peter sincerely doubts the man knows what a Vulcan is. Still, he shakes his head, and answers, “No.”
Peter eyes the blooming purple bruises along the other’s jaw, the open cuts on his chin shining a very human red. He looks into Cyborg Guy’s eyes, and though they’re dull, they’re still blue and human. “You were right,” Peter tells him. “You are like me. Advanced, yes, but still human.”
Cyborg Guy frowns. “No—”
“Yes. You are human. No matter what happened to make you think otherwise.” Peter is bleeding out on a stranger’s sofa. He really doesn't want to argue his point at the moment. He fumbles with the tupperware First Aid kit, reaching until he finds a thick bandage, and seals it against his side. “Okay, help me up,” Peter instructs. “We’re going. I have anaesthetic at my apartment.
Cyborg Guy retrieves a worn duffle from the kitchen and slings it over one shoulder while Peter struggles to climb to his feet on shaky legs, exhausted and weak from blood loss. Cyborg Guy crosses the room quickly, and lifts Peter into his arms again.
“I would rather you didn’t,” Peter protests. “This is kind of emasculating.”
“Easier,” the man dismisses, already heading for the open window. Oh, great. They’re going to jump out of a window.
“I want to walk,” Peter says. “C’mon, I need to show you were I live—”
“I know where you live.”
Peter’s mind goes a little blank at that, because of course, of course the strange man he dubbed ‘Murderous Cyborg Guy’ would know where he lives, because Peter’s life is ridiculous and scary and he should stop being surprised at the things that happen to him at this point.
(But if Peter wakes up and finds Cyborg Guy in his apartment’s kitchen at 4am after having broken in, in nothing but a ‘kiss the chef’ apron, surrounded by inhumanly large piles of pancakes, swinging his hips lewdly to 2000s pop songs—the way Peter had found Deadpool several months ago—he’s going to be SO MAD.)
Peter’s First Aid kit is awesome.
When he lived with his Aunt, it had been limited. It would too suspicious if their medical kit suddenly tripled in size. Now that he’s moved further in the city though, into an apartment of his own, he’s been able to upgrade his First Aid kit without worrying about her stumbling upon it. A few pro-tips from Daredevil (the owner of the best First Aid kit in history; Peter knows from first hand experience), and Peter’s First Aid kit is ready to take on the world.
… except for the lack of medical thread, apparently.
“Why medical thread,” Peter says, staring down at the box. Of all the things to run out of.
“I have some,” Cyborg Guy says. He had brought his faded duffel, tupperware First Aid kit included, with him. The bag is only half empty, but there’s something about it that makes Peter assume this is all the man’s worldly possessions. (He seems like the kind of guy that’s used to taking everything with him, in case he has to skip town in a hurry.)
Cyborg Guy unzips the duffel. Peter can’t help but peer inside, curious. The man’s hand movements are a little uncoordinated, shaky—he moves the metal arm more awkwardly every time Peter sees him, like it hurts him more and more each day—and he fumbles with the bag, spilling half the contents over Peter’s carpet.
Peter can see a t-shirt and pants, old and nondescript, inside the duffel. A small pocket knife. A bottle of water. Protein bars. Strangely, there’s also stacks of yellowing paper filled with faded, cramped writing, held together by sting. A square piece of card is tucked into the string, and reads, To Bucky.
(If Peter had turned that small piece of card over, he would find two more words; from Steve.)
“‘Bucky?’ Is that your name?” Peter says, cocking his head to the side. Two black nozzles jut out of the top of the duffle bag. Peter is focussed on those, feeling something twist in his stomach at the sight of the assault weapons, and so he misses the way the other man stills.
The man doesn’t respond. Peter’s spidey-sense is beginning to ring, the soft chimes of a warning bell, but he ignores them and smiles, encouraging.
“Bucky,” Peter says again, slowly, tasting the word in his mouth like one would a fancy wine. “I like it.”
“It…” The man looks so lost. “It is. Or, was…?”
Peter nods, not because he understood any of that, but because he wants the man to know he’s been heard. That Peter’s listening.
The man cocks his head a little. “Is it my name…?”
“Well,” Peter begins, “I don’t know. Do you… want it to be your name?”
“I haven’t wanted anything in—” the man swallows and looks at the sofa, “—in a long time.”
“Do you want your name to be Bucky?” Peter says again. He feels like this is important, somehow. He feels like this needs to be said.
“I don’t know if I am Bucky,” Cyborg Guy says, “or if I was, I’m not anymore. I’m not, but, but I want to be—I want to be… I want—wa—”
The man is struggling with his words, fumbling with the syllables. Peter doesn’t comment on it. He knows how hard it is to form words when your thoughts are a raging storm you cannot grasp.
Aunt May has sat with him in the past, after he’d suffered panic attacks—in the wake of witnessing Uncle Ben’s death, then later, after Peter blamed himself for the deaths of all the innocent people he couldn’t save. He’d had a lot of panic attacks, then. (He still does.) She had sat with him as he came down from the attacks, rubbing his back or scratching at his hair, and helping him work through his words, helped turn jumbled sounds into coherent sentences. It helped. Peter felt less helpless, and was able to communicate his grief, his fear.
Peter doesn’t think this man will appreciate the kind of touch his Aunt May had offed. His eyes are haunted, scared, so Peter sits back. He lets his hands fall by his side, palms open, non-threatening, and focusses on not making any sudden movements. Safe.
“It doesn’t matter who you were or who you weren’t,” Peter says. “Well, it does, but it’s not as important as who you are now.”
“Now?” Cyborg Guy looks more confused, more frustrated. “I don’t—I don’t know who I am now.”
“You can decide. You determine who you are, who you choose to be.”
The man looks doubtful. “Can I?”
Peter nods, serious. “I did.”
A long moment passes between them. Peter still hurts all over, shaken from sessions strapped under metal bindings and sharp scalpels. Cyborg Guy appears lost, face scrunched up a little, eyes haunted. The both of them are injured, hurt, but getting there, on the way to getting help.
“Bucky,” Cyborg Guy finally decides. “I want to be— I am. I am Bucky."
“You’re Bucky,” Peter echoes. “Hello, Bucky, I’m Peter.”
Bucky looks at him, a little confused, a lot uncertain, but getting there, slowly, eyes a little more alive. “Hello, Peter,” Bucky says.
Peter stumbles into his apartment, sore and exhausted, and tugs off his mask. He’d been out most of the night fighting a group of subpar villains who had teamed up, combining their mediocre skills in the hopes of taking Spider-Man down. Not particular difficult, but tedious and exhausting.
It’s several hours before daybreak. The night is dark outside, the apartment black, and Peter traipses his way to the kitchen using only rote memory.
He flicks on the kitchen light, and heads toward the fridge. He pulls out a cartoon of orange juice, closes the door, and leans against the cabinets to gulp straight out of the bottle.
Except—except there’s a man with dark eyes dressed in black body armour sitting at his tiny kitchen table, staring at him.
“Holy—!” Peter drops the cartoon of juice. It spills over his kitchen floor, one giant orange puddle.
“Peter,” says the man.
Bucky glances at the growing orange puddle on the tiles, then back up at Peter. He cocks his head a little, and says, “Hi.”
Peter stares back. “Um. Hi?”
There’s a long, awkward silence. Peter is confused. Bucky is unreadable. The little red clock on Peter’s oven reads 4:02am.
“…Can I ask what you’re doing in my apartment?” Peter finally asks. He’s grateful Bucky isn’t wearing a novelty apron, and that there are no heaping piles of pancakes to be found, but still. What.
“Snow,” Bucky begins. His eyes are fixed on the surface of Peter’s table. “I keep getting flashes of white snow, and splatters, and—and there’s. There’s a lot of red.”
“Oh,” Peter says. He takes a seat opposite Bucky at the small, round table. He’ll worry about the spilled orange juice later.
“I couldn't see the apartment anymore, just—just the snow and bullet shells, and it was quiet and still. It felt—it was—unsafe.”
“Okay,” Peter says, “you can come here whenever you want, I guess.” Peter’s brain shouts at him, tells him to stop befriending murderous individuals and then opening up his home to them. Peter ignores it. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Bucky doesn’t acknowledge him, just continues talking, “The ground, the sky, the mountains between them—it’s all white. Everything, white, except for this—this red…” Peter remains patient as Bucky talks. The older man’s words stumble occasionally, with long silences between sentences. His speak is awkward, incoherent. Peter doesn’t interrupt him.
He understands very little about the stories Bucky tells him, only that they actually happened, and that Peter should be deeply unnerved by all of it. He’s not, somehow.
Bucky talks for a long time. Peter gets up halfway through a mostly incoherent story that he thinks takes place somewhere underground (Bucky’s voice doesn’t wave; concrete, bare, hands slippery, a man screaming—a test, don’t stop, blood, a test, I had to keep going even when he screamed) to rifle through his fridge. He microwaves leftover mac and cheese in two bowls.
When sunlight begins to spill into the small kitchen, Bucky and Peter are sitting opposite one another, eating in a comfortable, exhausted silence. Bucky looks less menacing like this, face wretched and shoulders slumped, eating Peter’s dinosaur shaped mac and cheese.
Peter falls asleep in his chair a few hours after sunrise, his arms pillowed under him. When he wakes several hours later, it’s noon. The dishes have been washed and dried and put away, and the puddle of orange juice has been cleaned off his floor.
Bucky has gone.
Peter doesn’t see Bucky for weeks. Almost a month.
He keeps expecting to find him lurking in his kitchen in the late hours of the night. There is no flash of a metal arm. No flat, haunted eyes.
Peter’s life doesn’t slow down in Bucky’s absence. This is New York. Everything is chaotic and busy and ridiculous all of the time.
Peter ducks beneath a pair of snapping jaws, rolling to avoid the raptor’s sharp talons and scaly belly. He delivers a solid kick to the thing’s torso and punches another velociraptor in the face.
The dinosaurs flinch backwards, disorientated. Peter pants in the middle of the street. His hands are shaking.
A roar echoes down the streets. It’s a t-rex, complete with huge jaws and powerful legs, chasing after screaming civilians.
There’s a t-rex. Sandwiched between skyscrapers.
Peter throws his hands into the air, and shouts, “HOW IS THIS MY LIFE?!”
Still, he doesn’t hesitate as bolts towards the dinosaur and fleeing New Yorkers. Peter dodges the snapping raptors, and leaps into the air.
Peter learns that, apparently, a t-rex is surprisingly easy to take down if you have web-fluid and superhuman reflexes. Take that, Jurassic Park.
The massive t-rex is bound in webs, resting immobile on the road. Peter rests a foot on its snout, like a hunter triumphant over his kill.
The t-rex shifts and makes a threatening noise in the back of its throat. Peter skitters away from it. “Sorry, bud,” Peter tells it quietly, “but we can’t have you eating up innocent New Yorkers."
He’s too busy staring at the huge t-rex—Peter had been a huge dino fan as a kid, it’s amazing to see something straight from his picture books—that he doesn’t notice another dinosaurs approach until it’s upon him, knocking Peter to the pavement. Teeth snap and tear at his suit. Peter’s blood splatters along the ground.
A metal fist wraps around the dinosaur’s broad throat, and yanks it off of Peter, bodily throwing it across the road.
Bucky stares down at him, clad in black body armour, gaze calm, as though he didn’t just throw a dinosaur across the street.
“You’re so cool,” Peter whispers in awe. Bucky frowns at him. “Hey, don’t give me that look! You’re a badass, man. Not my fault you’re completely unaware of how cool you are.”
Bucky doesn’t answer that, just looks further down the street where they can both hear the distant sound of dinosaur roars. Peter sees the back of Bucky’s head and blinks.
Bucky’s long hair is tied back in a ponytail with a pastel blue ribbon. Huh.
Peter points at the ribbon, smiling. “Hey, new hairdo!”
Bucky snaps his gaze back to Peter, eyes narrowing. Touchy.
Peter raises his hands in front of him defensively. “I think it’s nice! It suits you.”
Bucky touches the soft ribbon with his flesh hand, as though to test if it’s still there.
“Thank you,” he says quietly. “A little girl was giving them away, and she asked if she could tie this in my hair…"
Then, Bucky smiles.
It’s hesitant and small, a barely there quirk of his lips. His eyes are still blue and haunted and impossibly old, but there’s something there now, something soft and blooming. Happiness, maybe. Life.
It’s the first time Peter’s seen Bucky smile.
Like the pastel blue ribbon, Peter thinks, it suits him.
Peter heads to the apartment Bucky had first shown him—the one with lace dollies and pink walls—the next weekend. He can’t help it; he’s curious. It’s been months. Peter doesn’t really think Bucky will still be there, but he has to try.
An older woman in knitwear and small, round spectacles opens the door. She peers at him, suspicious. “Can I help you?”
“Oh,” Peter says. “Um. I thought my friend lived here.”
“Wrong apartment,” she says flatly. “I live her alone.” She doesn’t say goodbye, just slams the door in Peter’s face.
“Well,” Peter tells the closed door, “I guess it was a long shot.”
He heads back outside, and starts when he sees Bucky leant against the outer apartment wall. His hood is down, throwing his face in shadows. “Peter,” Bucky greets.
“Bucky,” Peter says. The other man looks scraggily, unshaven and un-showered. “You doing okay?”
Bucky shrugs, noncommittal.
“Do you have somewhere to stay?” Peter asks. Bucky nods, but doesn't elaborate.
“Have you eaten?” Peter ventures. It’s almost lunchtime.
Bucky blinks at him. “Eaten?”
“Yeah, eaten. Have you had proper food today?” Bucky says nothing. “How about yesterday? Did you eat then?”
Bucky continues to stare at him, flat and unhelpful.
“Bucky,” Peter says softly. He’s sounds embarrassingly like his Aunt. Except, Peter’s Aunt is a badass, and he should be honoured at such a similarity. “Do you remember the last time you ate?”
Bucky looks at his boots—fraying laces, and worn, strained leather, appearing older than Peter himself—and mumbles, “No.” He sighs a little, and admits, “I usually… people usually tell me when to…”
Peter is already slipping his satchel off, and opening it up. He never goes anywhere without his Bag of Essentials. Mostly because, with the classic Parker Luck, Peter always ends up being caught up in end of the world shenanigans, suddenly needing his suit, and food, and medical supplies.
“You need to eat,” Peter tells him, pulling out a wrapped ham and cheese sandwich and pushing it into Bucky’s hands.
Bucky stares at it, suspicious.
Peter sighs and leans down, taking a bite of the sandwich and chewing with raised eyebrows. “Not poisonous,” he says around his mouthful.
Bucky takes a careful bite, then his eyes go wide, and he devours the whole thing in several quick bites.
Peter watches with a little smile, and pulls out a second sandwich.
(A month later.)
It’s close to Christmas, and Peter has been inevitably drawn to Times Square for a photography assignment.
The crowded square is resplendent in the led up to Christmas, lit up and decorated excessively. There are so many tourists and families wondering about, there’s barely any space. Peter can see people growing frustrated with the lack of personal space, but he loves this.
One of the few things Peter dislikes about being Spider-Man is his inability to walk the streets without drawing immediate attention. The red and blue spandex is very obvious. It makes it hard to go about unnoticed.
But dressed like this—rugged up in his beaten brown jacket over a thick sweater, slouch beanie, and jeans—nobody spares him a second glance. Like this, Peter can observe the people he fights everyday to protect.
He watches the people—a women jostling a fussy toddler in her arms; a pair of women giggling and falling drunkly into one another; a man with haunted eyes and long hair and glinting, metal fingers.
Bucky. Peter stops breathing.
Peter, distracted, bumps into a man in a black suit. Peter is wondering about casually, camera in hand, but the other man’s stride is purposeful and strong, and the collision almost knocks Peter off his feet. “Sorry,” Peter says quickly, struggling to remain standing on the icy ground.
Suit guy scowls at Peter, and doesn’t offer an apology. He brushes at his slacks and suit jacket, wiping away dirt that Peter supposedly put on the pristine man. Peter is almost insulted, until Suit raises his hands, brushing at his lapels, and Peter sees the hint of a gun tucked into the man’s waistband.
Suit storms away with fast steps, leaving Peter staring after him, confused, unnerved. Peter can just make out the outline of the gun.
His spidey-sense screams at him, and Peter’s moving without consent, rushing after Suit before his thoughts can catch up with him.
“Sir!” Peter calls. He pulls out a five dollar note from his pocket and waves it above his head. “Sir, you dropped this!”
Suit turns to him, furrowing his brow. He regards Peter with a cold, arrogant air. “I did not.”
“You did,” Peter says, deliberately too loud. Several people glance their way. Good. “It’s yours, sir.”
“Keep it,” says Suit dismissively.
Suit tries to step away, but Peter follows, grabbing hold of the man’s arm to stop him. “Sir, please.”
“Let go of me!” Suit demands.
Peter moves closer, his long legs tangling in Suit’s. Peter’s hands come up as if to steady himself, but instead he grasps the other man by the lapels; when Peter tumbles onto the pavement, Suit is sent sprawling too.
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” Peter says. His words grow louder the longer he talks, earning more attention from the people around them. He’s practically yelling. “I’m such a klutz, honestly! I apologise, sir, there’s just so much ice—”
“You idiot,” Suit snaps. Peter reaches over to assist him, but Suit brushes him off roughly.
“Do not touch me,” Suit orders, before jumping to his feet and taking several steps back, distancing himself from Peter.
“Merry Christmas, sir,” Peter says cheerfully. “Sorry for all the trouble.” In the glowing Christmas lights, Suit’s face is glistening with sweat, flushed an unattractive angry purple.
Suit doesn’t offer any parting words, simply strides away, his fists angry balls by his side.
Peter glances around the Square discreetly, and feels crushing relief; Bucky had taken advantage of Peter’s distraction, and disappeared.
Peter is late. So, so late.
He’s running out the door, apartment keys jiggling in hand, camera thrown around his neck, thumping against his chest. His sneakers are untied and he’s holding onto his quickly thrown together breakfast—the quickest peanut butter sandwich ever—by his teeth.
He skids out of his apartment, and immediately trips and lands on his ass.
He braces himself on his elbows, rubbing at his back. “What the heck?” he asks around his sandwich. He looks up, sees a patchy growing beard, sees dried blood flaking on pale skin, meets a haunted, deadened gaze.
Peter scrambles to his feet. He pulls the sandwich out of his mouth, long enough to say, “Bucky?”
Bucky’s face is ashen. Lost. He’s crouched beside Peter apartment door, limbs sprawled out by his sides. It’s not unlike the first time Peter had met him, all those months ago.
“The… the nightmares,” Bucky begins. “I didn’t…”
Bucky looks away, focussing on empty space behind Peter’s left shoulder. His eyes are blurry and distant. His mouth continues to open and close, forming noiseless, incoherent sounds.
“Okay,” Peter says. He glances at his watch, and exhales shakily. “Okay.”
Peter shoves the entire sandwich into his mouth and dumps his bag onto floor, before running back into the apartment. He fetches his comforter from his bed, a water bottle from the fridge, and switches his TV onto an unproblematic reality show.
When he jogs back out, Bucky hasn’t moved an inch. He doesn’t acknowledge Peter, just stares at some faraway point, mouth working silently. Beads of sweat are beginning to appear around his temples.
“C’mon, bud,” Peter murmurs, though he doubts Bucky can hear him in his state. “Let’s get you inside, yeah?”
He’s grateful for his super strength as he bends down and slings a metal arm around his shoulders, hauling Bucky into the apartment and onto the couch.
“It’s safe here, I think. The door locks. You can lock it if you want, and you're welcome to eat anything in the fridge.”
Peter wants to stay and try and coax Bucky into some realm of coherence, but he’s desperately late. He casts one last glance at Bucky, curled under his worn comforter, and leaves, closing the door behind him.
When Peter comes home, the comforter is folded on his bed, and his leftover pizza is gone.
It feels good, being useful. Peter lives to help the people who need it. At the same time though, Peter is exhausted. He feels as though he’s aboard a speeding train with cut brakes, barrelling toward the end, and walls of concrete up ahead, awaiting their arrival.
It’s something so simple, in the end.
He’s in a library, rifling through the non-fiction section for helpful textbooks. A girl, her own stack of books tucked under her arms, searches beside him. They reach for the same hardcover book, absorbed in their own study, and start when they skin brushes.
“Sorry!” Peter says quickly, leaping back. The girl jumps and her books spill out of her hands, sprawling open over the library floor.
Peter immediately bends down to help pick them up.
“My fault,” the girl says quickly. Her glasses have slipped halfway down her nose.
“These a lot of books,” Peter says.
“I’m writing a report,” the girl explains, “about the development of superheroes as a whole, and the consequences of their existence in contemporary society.”
Peter blinks. He looks down at several books he’s gathered—Spider-Man’s masked face stares up at him. “That’s a crazy coincidence,” Peter remarks quietly.
“Oh,” Peter says, picking up another book, “just. That’s a cool topic, y’know? Very, er. Relevant. What’s your… viewpoint?”
He’s almost afraid to ask. He’s sure he’s only going to receive a rant that would prove Jameson proud, but the girl just tucks red hair behind her ear, and says, “We need superheroes. We need them, we rely on them. Even if… even if they’ve done bad things, which most superheroes have—I mean, look at Iron Man, former inventor of nuclear grade weapons.”
“People can redeem themselves,” Peter murmurs.
The girl nods. “Yeah. Superheroes are important, they’re relevant, they’re… they’re necessary.” She makes a face. “Even if some of their costumes are tacky. I mean, red and blue? What was Spidey thinking?”
“Maybe the store run out of the other colours,” Peter says with a smirk. He bends over to pick up another book, opening it as he laughs to himself.
It’s a hardback history textbook, published sometime in 2005. Captain America smiles up at him on the front cover. Nostalgia compels him to flip it open—Peter had studied something like this himself, back in Junior High.
The book is heavy on photos and political cartoons, trying to encourage teenagers to pay attention and actually learn in class. On one page is a sketchy rendition of a scrawny, sickly young man in too-large jeans, fists raised toward the viewer. On the other, there are more pictures of a young looking Steve Rogers, all scruffy hair and fiery eyes.
Toward the bottom of the page, a large portrait style photograph depicts a handsome man, cheeks broad, jaw strong. His eyes are deep—and though they are innocent, not haunted quite yet, with the black and white photo masking any blueness—they are familiar. Familiar.
Beneath, it reads; James “Bucky” Barnes, age 20.
“Bucky,” Peter breathes.
“Oh, yeah,” says the girl, “I’ve written so much about Captain America. I know technically they aren’t the spandex wearing super-humans people expect superheroes to be today, but I really want to include the Howling Commandos.” The girl smiles fondly down at the open textbook, missing Peter’s gaping expression. “Bucky Barnes. He was my childhood hero. Still kind of is, truth be told.”
“Yeah,” Peter whispers, because he remembers learning about Bucky Barnes when he was at school. He remembers how excited everyone had been, to have a unit on Captain America. How cool and daring the Howling Commandos were. God.
“Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes,” the girl says, looking at the book with a fond smile, “were such an amazing duo. It’s so sad that Steve Rogers has to live in the 21st century without him.” The girl shakes her head and sighs. “They were so good for each other.”
The girl takes the books from Peter, and parts ways with a thankful smile and another apology. Peter watches her go from his position on the ground.
He stays on that library carpet for a long while, surrounded by bookshelves and history textbooks and swirling thoughts.
Peter is nineteen years old. He knows how to reheat leftovers and cook a range of unhealthy breakfast foods; he can sew amazingly, after years of practise with his suit; he can lift cars, and jump from sky-scrappers, and survive bullet wounds.
But he can’t give Bucky the help he deserves.
The man is combatting a wicking mix of PTSD and decades of programming. Peter—-Peter can’t help that.
Peter drizzles maple syrup over his pancakes, leaving Bucky’s stack plain (he had admitted he preferred them that way; too much sugar was painful on his body and taste buds, after so long on only supplements and raw protein).
He carries both plates to the small table, shifting the plain pancakes in front of Bucky, sitting down with his own. He pokes at them. Peter’s ravenously hungry, but he feels ill, too put off by the stillness in the man before him.
Bucky’s eyes—shadowed despite the afternoon sunlight, sunken above huge, purpling bags— are unfocussed, gazing at an empty space on the table. He ignores the pancakes, makes no move to pick up his fork. He doesn’t so much as twitch.
“Bucky?” Peter prompts, hesitantly. The other man doesn’t look up. “Bucky, please eat something.”
Bucky finally angles his head to look at Peter. His long hair falls into his face; he has long since lost his pastel blue ribbon, woven into his hair all those months ago by a kind little girl.
“Eat your breakfast,” Peter tells him.
Bucky looks down at his pancakes. His face remains blank. He doesn’t thank Peter for cooking them, or comment on their semi burnt state, but robotically picks up his fork and starts shovelling bites into his mouth.
“Is it…” Peter bites at his lip. The detached way Bucky is mechanically eating his breakfast is worse than the previous stillness. “Is it good?”
Bucky stares at him, unsure.
Peter gestures towards Bucky’s plate with his fork. “Is it good?” he repeats.
“It is adequate,” Bucky tells him. There is no inflection in his tone.
Bucky goes back to eating. He finishes all of it, then puts his fork back down, then shuts back down, going still, staring at nothing.
Peter’s plate is still full. He doesn’t think he can eat around the sudden lump in his throat.
Peter can be there for a Bucky, in a way he thinks no else has been in a long time, but that’s all. Peter suspects he hasn’t even brushed the surface of the trauma Bucky has faced—he certainly can’t do it with only warm food and kind words. Bucky needs… He needs something else. More than just Peter.
Peter may have the empathy, but he doesn’t have the means. He’s done all he can.
For a historical icon, Steve Rogers isn’t all that difficult to track down. (Peter feels like a stalker when scouring the internet for the Captain’s location, god.)
Via twitter, Peter is able to work out that, since moving to New York for permeant Avenger work, Steve regularly enjoys an independently run coffee shop in Manhattan. As he’s scrolling, Peter finds an candid photo of Steve and an out of focus woman with red hair in said shop. Posted 7 seconds ago.
Peter runs the whole way there.
The bells above the door jingle when Peter walks in, only a little bit out of breath. Immediately, the red haired woman—the Black Widow, holyfrickinghell—looks up from her swirling cappuccino and frowns at him.
Peter weaves through the small tables. By the time he reaches the pair, Natasha has already alerted Steve, and they both look at him, faces tight. “I come in peace?” Peter tries.
“Who are you?” Steve asks, terse.
“I’m…” Peter glances between them and smiles, a little shaky, a little unsure. “I’m Peter, and I want to help. Or, well. I want you to help me. Or him. Um.”
Natasha is smirking at him over her cup of coffee, one eyebrow raised, clearly amused. Steve’s tight suspicion does not wane.
“Chill out, Rogers,” Natasha says, kicking Steve under the table with her foot. Steve frowns at her.
“He could be—”
“He’s not,” Natasha says.
“How do you know?”
Natasha looks up at Peter, the slightest crease between her brows. “I just do,” she says.
Peter takes that as permission. He steals a nearby chair and joins them at the small table, cramped, clearly meant for only two. He takes a deep breathe, steadying himself.
“I have this friend,” Peter begins. “I think you might know him.”
(Eight months later.)
The courtroom—previously awash with speculative murmurs and hushed whispers—falls silent when the heavy wooden doors burst open. No entry allowed, they had been told, not once the court was in session.
Through the open doors drifts in the sound of outside’s pandemonium—shouting, screaming, the cohesive screeches of a wound up crowd. (If one was to focus, they could just make out Jameson’s voice, louder than the rest, calling, “Hey, that’s my photographer! Parker! Parker, what on earth—?!”)
A young man with messy hair and huge glasses stands in door's threshold, flunked on either side by Sam Wilson and Natasha Romanov. He doesn’t look at anyone, but with a determined stare strides down the centre of the courtroom and takes a seat beside Steve Rogers.
Natasha proceeds to the lawyer for the defence, and whispers in his ear. Matt Murdock’s swallows, before pulling away and nodding once. Natasha whispers the same thing to Murdock’s partner, Foggy Nelson. He draws back with wide eyes, murmuring something under his breath.
Murdock talks quickly with the judge. There’s a smattering of murmurs around the courtroom, before the judge loudly announces, “Defence calls witness Peter Parker to the stand.”
The youth stands, steadily avoiding the dozens of eyes that gravitate toward him. He pledges to tell the truth with a steely expression.
It is Nelson that steps forward to question Peter. “Mr. Parker,” he begins, “are the allegations that you were abducted by HYDRA correct?”
Peter swallows. “Yes.”
“Can you outline the events of your kidnapping for the court?”
Peter fiddles with the sleeves of his hoodie; he had only been convinced to testify before court less than an hour ago, and was dressed in casual jeans, sneakers, and a hoodie with worn sleeves. Compared to the rest of the court, dressed professionally in tailored outfits, Peter looks like a mess.
“I was captured several months ago by HYDRA,” Parker begins. “They—they tied me down, and er. Cut me open. They used scalpels, and they a bunch of needles laid out; they wanted to take my blood, I think.”
“Why did HYDRA capture you of all people, Mr. Parker?” asks Nelson. His words are probing, but his eyes are kind.
“I’m…“ Peter hesitates, before saying, “I was genetically altered five years ago.”
“Well.. you know how Captain America took part in a Super Soldier Serum? Or—or how Bruce Banner became—altered? It’s like that.” Peter chews on his bottom lip. He hates this exposure, but he understands how necessary this is. “A few years ago, I was in Oscorp trying to find information on my deceased parents—former Oscorp scientists—and I found some of their research about cross-genetics. And, I. Er. There was an accident, and I took on some of these… enhancements.”
“And HYDRA captured and tortured you because of said enhancements?” Peter nods. “How did they treat you during this time?”
Peter’s eyes are focussed on the wood banister in front of him, his hands shaking minutely in his lap. “The HYDRA agents referred to me as ‘Subject.’ They were speculating about whether I’d be suited for, er, Programming? It was all very clinical, and—and.”
Nelson watches as Peter swallows around a lump in his throat, and asks, tone kind, “And frightening?”
Again, Peter nods. He understands Nelson is likely just trying to build sympathy in the jury, but there’s something about the man that makes him think he legitimately cares about Peter. He thinks he might like Nelson, be something like friends, if the circumstances were different.
“Did they reveal any other sensitive information, Mr. Parker?” Nelson continues.
“They mentioned an Original Subject,” Peter says, “who had a metal arm. In his verbal notes, the agent recommended I be put through conditioning using pain, similar to that the Original Subject underwent.”
“Objection!” The prosecution jumps to his feet, glowering at Peter and Nelson both. “Are we expected to trust the judgement of a random teenager? There is no evidence, no official report filed with the police.”
The judge looks at Nelson. “He raises a validate concern, Mr. Nelson.”
Nelson nods, and turns back to Peter. “There is a reason you didn’t file a report with the police, isn’t there, Mr. Parker?”
Peter nods. “I couldn’t file with the police, because I’d have to give my name and contact and—and I couldn’t do that, because…” Nelson’s eyes are soft, kind. He already knows why Peter couldn’t file a police report; Natasha must have told him. “Because.” Peter pauses. He’s visibly nervous, shoulders hunched, glancing around the courtroom as he rubs at his hands and twists his fingers. Peter wets his lips, and continues, “Because, I’m Spider-Man.”
There is a brief second of stillness in the room as everyone stares at the young man—pale, a little frightened—and take in his words. Then, the room erupts. People jumps to their feet, eyes wild, or sit back, mouth hanging open, staring at Peter. Shock. Even the jury is gaping.
There’s shouting; the prosecution has stormed forward and is arguing furiously. Nelson and Murdock have jumped up too and are arguing back, rapid fire. Nelson is using pointed hand gestures. Murdock stands tall, oozing intimidating calmness and steely resolution.
Peter dares a glance away from the wooden podium, toward the cluster of superheroes’ in the audience. Steve nods at him, just once. The Captain has been withdrawn throughout the trial, fists tight in his lap, armed with a look of determination so fierce one could barely see the bone-deep terror and sadness masked beneath. Sam smiles at him. Natasha offers her own smile, far gentler than Peter might expect. The trio look proud. Thankful.
Bucky, hunched over throughout the trial, long hair greasy and falling into his eyes, is staring at Peter. He looks like he’s been through hell. Peter has seen snippets of videos detailing Bucky’s torture on the news; he knows hell is exactly where Bucky’s being pulled out of.
Bucky holds Peter’s gaze for a long moment. Around the courtroom, chaos continues to hail. ‘Thank you,’ Bucky mouths.
Peter mouths back, ‘No problem.’
Thank you for all of your help. I wouldn’t have been able to save him, if you hadn't come to me, and we might not have won the trial if you hadn’t testified. I know how difficult that was, and how invasive courts and the media can be. Thank you, Peter.
No offence, Cap, but I didn’t do it for you. I did it for him. Look after him, yeah?
When Peter sees Bucky—really sees him, outside of photos on the front page of newspapers, or on TV—it’s in a Starbucks, of all things.
His hairs washed and trimmed, no longer greasy and falling into dead eyes, but tied back in a fashionable ponytail. He’s wearing dark jeans and a jean jacket that clashes horribly with his pants, over a faded, comfortable plaid shirt. The plaid looks too big for him—if it was on anyone else, Peter might call it a boyfriend’s shirt. His boots still appear dangerous, thick-soled and capable, but newer. Comfortable.
His eyes are blue and bright, still deep, but shining and alive. Bucky leans against the cafe counter. “Hey, kid,” Bucky says easily when he spots Peter.
Peter fumbles with his change, almost dropping his wallet and its contents all over the floor. “Bucky?”
Bucky chuckles a little, grinning cheekily.
“Bucky.” Peter gravitates toward him. His hands hover toward Bucky’s face, shaven and clean, but he remembers himself and jumps back, blushing a little. “I’m… I’m just. Surprised. What are you doing here?”
Bucky shrugs a little. This is so bizarre; Peter hasn't seen Bucky in a long while. He’s never seen this version of Bucky. The man appears so normal, well washed, cared for. Peter’s spidey-sense is even completely silent.
“Same as you,” Bucky says. “Getting coffee.”
The woman gives him a tray of drinks, blushing at Bucky’s answering, handsome smile as he takes the coffees. He sips at one, but ignores the other three. Peter can vaguely make out the scribbled names on the paper cups—Nat, Sam, Steve.
A smirking, dark skinned man in an attractive leather jacket, and a taller pillar of muscle wearing a baseball cap and a hoodie in some unfounded attempt at a disguise—not working; Peter is able to recognise them instantly as Captain America and Falcon—hover toward the back of the store. Bucky, drinks in hand, heads toward them.
Peter wets his lips, and asks, nervous, “Will I see you again?”
Peter misses Bucky—he does, honestly. They’d come to be something like friends over time. Messy, dysfunctional friends with growing issues, but friends, nonetheless. Peter hopes that, when Bucky is ready, they’d be able to be something like friends again one day.
When Bucky looks back, his smile is white and blinding. “Of course,” Bucky says. It sounds honest. It sounds like a promise.
The DoomBots are overwhelming.
The Avengers are fighting today; Peter can see Iron Man and Falcon, striking figures in the sky, and thunder crackles despite the sunny day, as Thor fights somewhere deeper in the city. Peter had seen Natasha, clutching at a DoomBot, zoom past earlier, busy tearing the robot apart.
Still, DoomBots number in hundreds, possibly the thousands, and they’re all struggling to fight back. Including Peter. Especially Peter.
Peter is knocked off of his perch on the side of a building by the striking fist of a DoomBot. He tries to kick out, destroy the ‘bot or grab purchase on the building’s side, but ‘bot had connected with his head, and Peter is dizzy, thrown off kilter, and he plummets toward the ground.
Peter’s halfway toward unrelenting cement, when he remembers he’s already run out of web-fluid.
Peter squeezes his eyes shut, waiting for the ground to rush up and meet him. He expects broken bones, maybe a broken skull or neck if he’s unlucky. He expects bleeding and torn skin. He expects pain.
He doesn’t expect to be caught in welcomingly arms. “Gotcha,” someone murmurs. They sounds out of breath, like they’d run all the way here. Run to catch Peter.
One of the hands is cold where it holds him around the back. Peter can feel layers of protective body armour, and the tops of sheathed knives and the nozzles of guns, concealing around the person, digging into him as he’s held against a broad chest.
Peter, like the graceful, put-together human being that he is not, panics and flails in the man’s hold. He drops to the ground in a tangle of limbs, and whines in pain.
The person above him chuckles, the sound warm and not unkind. Peter cracks an eye open, and meets the gaze of a man in black body armour, with a low ponytail. His eyes are dancing—a vibrant, alive blue.
“Bucky?” Peter asks. There’s the sound of gunfire, a whine of repulsers; the Avengers are still fighting down the road. Peter can see Captain America, circular shield held aloft, directing panicked pedestrians towards the safety of underground subway tunnels. Steve’s gaze continues to flit toward Peter. And Bucky. “You’re—right. An Avenger. It was on the news.”
Bucky cocks his head, studying Peter curiously. His smile lights up his face, making him appear healthy and happy and whole.
“Congrats,” Peter says, “on the whole being an Avenger thing."
“You could be one too,” Bucky says.
Peter looses himself for a moment there. He has a head injury, doesn’t he? A head injury is the only explanation for this. “What?” Bucky simply grins wider. “What?” Peter repeats, a little strangled.
“You could be an Avenger, too,” Bucky says. “Consider this your official invitation.”
“Oh.” Peter blinks up at him. He’s still sprawled out on the ground, Bucky standing expectantly above him. “I think. I think… yes?”
“Yes?” Bucky asks.
“Yes,” Peter says, firmer this time.
“Well, then,” Bucky says. Bucky’s eyes are warm, welcoming. He holds out a hand to help Peter to his feet. “Need a hand up, pal?”
Peter laughs, warm, from his belly, and takes the offered hand—after all these months, the cold hardness of metal fingers is familiar, reassuring—and let’s Bucky help him to his feet.
Peter knows that, if he were to fall a second time, there would be hands, one metal, one flesh, waiting to catch him.