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little ballerina

Chapter Text

Natasha Romanov sat quietly on the couch as her friends chattered around her. It was the first time in years that they had all sat together without the threat of the world ending or without one of them punching another. It was… nice. Really nice. If you really pressed Natasha, she would admit that the Avengers were the closest thing to a family she had and the past few years had been torture for her. Hell, even the spider kid had grown on her in the time since the Snap was undone.

But despite the fact that her family was back together, there was an extremely heavy thought that weighed in her mind. It was distracting her to the point that she wasn’t even aware of the others calling her name until Bruce nudged her knee with his.

“Nat? You okay?”

She looked up, her eyes refocusing on the people in front of her. “Yeah. Yeah, of course.” She took a long sip of her vodka, barely feeling the sting of the alcohol as it slid down her throat.

The others went back to conversing, talking about how Peter was doing at MIT, what time Clint’s wife and kids were getting to the compound, how Bucky was adjusting to living in the twenty-first century, etc., etc. However, Natasha could feel the concerned glances being thrown her way by Clint and Bruce. Their gazes burned into her head like fire.

“I want to infiltrate the Red Room.”

All conversation stopped as the nine others paused, turning to look at the assassin. It was the most she had said all night and to say something with such gravity was a shock.

"Damn," Sam muttered as he took a swig of his beer, "I thought we just gone done saving the world."

“What’s the Red Room?” Peter asked, his eyes wide. Despite the fact that he was now twenty-two years old, he still had the same puppy eyes as when he was fifteen and swinging around New York City in a onesie.

Natasha stood up, her arms wrapping around her waist. Despite the confidence she projected, the Red Room was one of the few sensitive topics she hated discussing. “The Red Room is where I was trained. They take girls as young as five and turn them into killing machines.” She looked down at the ground as she felt her hands start to quiver. “That is, if they survive.”

Bruce’s hand reached up to take hers, a rare moment of PDA between the two. “Nat… Are you sure?” His brown eyes were searching her face worriedly, his thumb rubbing her hand soothingly. “I’ve never been more sure of anything in my entire life,” she breathed, her eyes meeting the other’s as she looked around the room. Despite how much she loved each and every one of them—yes, loved—being vulnerable was still terrifying. The Red Room had torn her down and built her back up into a weapon of mass destruction. There was no telling how many girls had graduated from the program since the 1930s. There was also no telling of how many had died trying.

Steve stood up, setting down his mug of Asgardian mead on the table. “If you want to take down the Red Room, then we’re going to take down the Red Room.” He gave a nod to Natasha, who smiled weakly in response. Once Steve was on board, it was only a matter of time before the others joined.

She turned to Tony, who let out a long sigh. “You know I’m always ready to save a bunch of mini-Russian assassins.” Pepper smacked his arm lightly, shooting him a look. He rubbed his arm, muttering under his breath. “I’m kidding! You know I’m in, Pep.”  The others quickly gave murmurs of agreement and Natasha felt a weight come off her shoulders as she took her seat in between Clint and Bruce once again. Tony stood up as he went to grab another beer, pointing at Natasha. “We start tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

Natasha took a deep breath as she paced the Quinjet. “Just another mission,” she said quietly, repeating the phrase over and over. It was easier to think of it as ‘just another mission’ instead of what it truly was. She hadn’t gone back to where she was raised since her graduation ceremony and the thought of what she would find there scared her.

It had taken Tony less than 48 hours to pinpoint the location of the Red Room. It was in the middle of literally nowhere. There wasn’t any civilization for at least fifty miles in every direction and it wasn’t on any map. It wasn’t like anyone would report it to the government if they could find it, but it was like a little extra insurance just to make sure that no one found out about what the Russian government was doing. After all, while a Russian native wouldn’t report a place where little girls went in and assassins came out, a tourist might notice and spread the word once they got back to their home country. The UN would be on their asses faster than you could say, “oops.”

Nat jumped as she felt a hand rest on her arm and she whipped around to see Clint standing there, his hands raised up in surrender. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“It’s fine,” she insisted, shaking her head a bit. Most times, she was completely clear-headed and could hear someone sneaking up on her from a mile away. Now, however, it seemed like she could barely hear an elephant. She ran her fingers through her red hair. “Is everything okay?”

Clint smirked a little as he crossed his arms over his chest. “That’s actually what I was coming to ask you,” he said. He put his hands on her shoulders, looking her straight in the eyes. “If this is too much, you can always wait on the jet and the rest of us will go. I don’t want you getting in there and freaking out.”

Nat couldn’t help but laugh a bit as she shook her head. “Come on, Clint. When have I ever freaked out about anything?” When he gave her a pointed look, she continued, “I’m okay to go in. Really. And if I don’t feel okay and need to leave, F.R.I.D.A.Y. is always listening.”

As if on cue, the A.I.’s voice rang out in Natasha’s earpiece. “Is there anything I can do for you, Natasha?”

She raised her eyebrows at Clint as she tapped her earpiece pointedly. “See? I’m all good.”

He nodded, glancing at her once more before going to sit with the others. Tony, Wanda, Steve, Bucky, and Natasha had been chosen to be on the ground for this mission. Clint and Bruce were waiting on the quinjet as backup, if needed.

“Two minutes!” Tony called out as everyone began to ready themselves.

The quinjet had landed without so much as a bump and the backdoor dropped to create a ramp onto the ground below. Snow covered the ground as a blizzard raged around them. The chill reminded Natasha of all the Siberian winters she had lived through during the Red Room. She could remember being forced out into the snow in nothing more than a ballet leotard. It was a way to numb them to the cold so that if a mission called for them to sit in the snow for extended periods of time, they could do it without thinking.

One of the girls Natasha had been close with had died during one of those times.

She shook her head to dismiss the memory as the five Avengers began to walk down the ramp. “Remember to communicate what’s going on, please!” Bruce called out to them and she shot him a smirk before the five of them disappeared into the blizzard.


 

“Y/N.”

You looked up from where you were untying your pointe shoes, seeing Madame B standing there. The other girls had just left, waiting to change once they got back to their rooms. You had just pulled off your tutu and were working on pulling on your sweatpants, but you completely abandoned the task and stood up straight in front of the older woman. “Yes, Madame B?”

She smiled fondly as she walked forward, taking your chin in her hands and looking at your face from different angles. “My darling girl, I believe you are ready.”

Your heart skipped a beat as you kept your face steady. You had been training so long for this day. Were you really ready to graduate? After all, most girls didn’t graduate until they were in their early to mid-twenties and here you were, having just turned nineteen years old a few months ago.

She motioned down the hall. “Come with me, my dear.” You grabbed your dance bag, shoving your pointe shoes and tutu inside before shouldering it and following after the woman who had become your mentor. “I’m sure it’s not a surprise to you that you’ve become my favorite student here. You’re top of your class and you continue to set standards higher than we’ve ever had before.”

“Madame, you flatter me,” you said, modestly looking down at the floor. A sign of subservience. It had been beaten into the first year of your training, and then afterwards it just became second nature.

Madame B patted your shoulder as she continued to lead you down the hall towards the stairs. No one was allowed downstairs unless they were ready to graduate. “I have submitted your name to the KGB.”

“Oh?”

“Have you heard of the Black Widow?”

Now your curiosity was piqued. “Only in passing. It’s a bit of a myth among the girls here,” your admitted, taking a chance to glance at your mentor.

A grimace worked it’s way onto Madame B’s lips as she folded her hands in front of her. “Unfortunately, the last Black Widow… didn’t work out. The KGB has been looking for her replacement and no one has been up to the standards.” She stops in front of the stairs. “That is, until you.” You try to hide your surprise as she begins to lead you down the grand staircase. “I submitted your name and they’ve agreed to take you on as soon as your graduation ceremony is complete.”

“Madame B, I…” You are so filled with… with… Well, you aren’t exactly sure, but it feels good. “I can’t thank you enough for everything you’ve done for me.”

She smiles as you descend further into the basement. “Of course, darling. It’s the least I could do.”

You looked down at your attire, barefoot and in just your leotard and tights. “But, if I’m about to have my graduation ceremony, shouldn’t I change? I hardly think this is appropriate for such an occasion.”

She waved you off as you reached the bottom of the stairs, leading you down another hallway lined with doors. “Don’t worry about that. We’ll have something for you to change into.” You were filled with excitement as you reached one of the last doors. Madame B knocked before pushing it open and you grew confused as you looked at the room in front of you. “Madame… What’s going on?” There was a hospital bed in the middle of the room, as well as all the machines to make it into a proper operating room. There were five armed men and a man in a doctor’s scrubs. You felt fear begin to creep over you as Madame B refused to answer you. “Madame?”

“This is the graduation ceremony, darling.”

“What… What exactly is it?” You felt frozen in place as you looked around the room. No windows. The only door was behind you. You watched as the man who you assumed to be a doctor picked up a syringe filled with a clear liquid.

Madame B sighed as she folded her hands in front of her, her voice quiet. It was as though she was trying to comfort you. “Sterilization. You will never have to worry about a family or children ever again.”

Your heart stopped as the dictionary definition jumped into your brain. Sterilization. Noun. Surgery to make a person or animal unable to produce offspring. You had never even thought of having a family, but now that someone was going to take away that choice, it seemed like the most important thing in the world. You shook your head, beginning to back towards the door as your heart filled with fear. “No. Nonono.”

You made a run for the door, only for one of the armed guards to grab you. You swung yourself around, twisting his arm around and easily flipping you. The others had started to come to his assistance and you braced yourself for a fight. You jumped and wrapped your thighs around one man’s head twisting until you heard the snap. But before you could fight off the others, one of the men left grabbed you and slammed your head into the ground. Your vision swirled as you laid there, two of the men holding you down while the one left kept his gun pointed at you.

Madame B’s heels clicked on the floor as she stepped into your line of vision. But all you could see was those damn heels. “I would advise you not to move, Y/N.” She bent down so that she could meet your eyes, her cold fingers tilting your chin up. “Do not fight me. You have one last step and then you can become what you’ve been training for all these years.” She smoothed back the hair that had fallen out of your tight ballerina bun. “Once this is over, you’ll thank me. You’ll understand why this is necessary.”

You felt a sharp pain in your neck and started to squirm as you felt what had to be a tranquilizer. Your eyes were still locked with Madame B’s as you felt the drug start to take over, everything starting to go black.

“Don’t let me down.”


 

Natasha held her breath as she entered the academy, the four others behind her. Her gun was held at ready as she stepped into the foyer. “Where is everybody?” She murmured, her eyes scanning the front entrance and the hall in front of her. It looked completely abandoned. “Do a search,” she ordered the others. They began to move around her, heading down different hallways to search for people. The plan was to take out Madame B and whatever other superiors were here. Then, they’d help the girls in whatever ways they could.

“Natasha, what’s going on?” Bruce asked over the radio, worry evident in his voice.

She began to head down the hallway, hearing the faint tinkling of Bach as she went deeper into the Academy. The closer she got to the dance studios, the louder the music got. She peeked around the doorway, expecting to see ten to fifteen teenage girls inside. But there was no one. After the Bach suite came to an end, it began to play a Brahms concerto. Nat slowly walked over to the radio in the corner, hitting the stop button. “It’s empty.”

“They must’ve left recently. There were films being played upstairs,” Bucky said over the radio and the others began to chime in different signs of life. The ovens in the kitchens were still on, though the food inside hadn’t even burnt yet. A shower in the community bathrooms was still running. Clothes were thrown haphazardly in the dorm, as though the girls had been changing before suddenly running.

Natasha felt cold fury rush over her as she realized what had happened. “They saw us coming.” Her fist made contact with the stone wall and she barely registered the pain. “Fuck!”

Steve’s voice came over the radio and she vaguely registered him ordering a sweep of the place anyway. It was mostly to look for signs of where they might’ve gone at this point. Despite Steve’s orders, Natasha didn’t move. Not even when Tony made a wisecrack about the lack of good movies. Instead, she stood there in the dance studio as flashbacks of her time in the Academy came rushing back. She had spent hours here, perfecting every little thing. Every fouetté, every plié, every jeté had to be absolutely perfect. Otherwise it wasn’t enough.

“Nat, you might wanna come see this,” Tony said.

Natasha snapped out of it, leaving the dance studio and finding herself back in the foyer. “Where are you?”

“Basement.”

Natasha registered Wanda, Steve, and Bucky falling in behind her as she ran down the stairs. She did her best to block out those specific memories. She looked back and forth down the long hallway in front of her, heading towards where she could see Tony standing in the doorway of the last room on the right.

The five Avengers stood in the doorway, frozen by the sight in front of them.

“Natasha? What is this?” Wanda whispered, her voice cracking slightly.

The assassin swallowed the lump in her throat as she looked at you lying on the hospital bed in the middle of the room, your thighs and the bottom half of your hospital gown covered in blood. Your wrists and ankles were handcuffed to the bed and you had blood caked on the side of your head. “The graduation ceremony.” She took a step forward, her hands shaking.

Wanda shook her head. “I can’t tell if she’s alive or not.”

Steve walked over to your unconscious body, stepping over the dead man that was lying a few feet in front of them. He leaned his head down to listen for a heart beat. “She’s alive,” he said as he then quickly set to work on breaking open the handcuffs, the others following suit.

“We’re gonna need medics,” Natasha said, hoping that Bruce and Clint caught it as Steve picked you up and they began to head back towards the entrance.

“Copy.”

Wanda stopped as they almost reached the front door. “Hold on.” The others paused as she ducked into the dorms, grabbing blankets from several of the beds. When she came back out and draped them over you, she looked at the others and shrugged a bit. “There is a blizzard outside.”

Luckily, Clint and Bruce had thought to bring the quinjet closer once they had found out that it was empty. Carrying a half-dead girl through a blizzard wasn’t exactly a good idea, but they had no other option. The least they could do was limit the amount of time you spent in the cold.

Once inside the quinjet, Bruce set to work stabilizing you. Despite the fact that he wasn’t that kind of doctor, he had picked up a few skills that came in handy with the occupation. “Once we get back to the compound, we can really find out what’s going on.”

“Is she going to make it?” Natasha asked, gripping the edge of the gurney that she had been placed on.

Bruce sighed as he looked down at you, trying to find the right words to say. But there were none. “I have no idea.”

Chapter Text

All you could hear was the beeping.  The incessant, never ending beeping of all things.  You whimpered softly as you tried to move, finding a searing pain in your abdomen and your head.  I'm just... gonna lay here a little longer, you thought.  You were surprised that Madame B hadn't forced you awake by now.  After all, there was no time for sleeping in.  Especially not after...

Despite your pain, you shot up as your eyes popped open, taking in the area around you.  The heart monitor you were attached to started beeping a lot faster as you looked for exits.  It went completely silent as you ripped the IVs from your arms.  You got down from the bed, ignoring the pain in your legs as you began to run.  Anything to get out of here.  But when you reached the doorway, it hit you.

This isn't the Red Room.

You heard several different sets of footsteps running towards you and felt a panic rise in your throat as you saw a dark-haired man and a woman with striking red hair running towards you.  Others were following after but they were first in line.  You bolted in the other direction, looking for some sort of staircase.  Both walls were lined with windows as you ran down the hallway, passing different doorways.  You knew that the stairs would be somewhere towards the end...  There!

"She's heading for the stairs," you heard one of the people behind you shout as you pushed open the door.

You were flying down the stairs when you suddenly found yourself in front of a young man.  You didn't have time to analyze him, get his fighting style.  You launched into action, instincts taking over as your fists went flying.

"Woah, woah, woah!  Hey!  I'm not trying to hurt you!"

You ignored him as you flipped him over, subduing him enough to keep running down the stairs.  You could see the end in sight.  There was only one door at the bottom of the stairs and you prepared yourself for whatever was waiting for you.  You threw the door open with a bang, side stepping the giant man with a hammer.  You glanced backward in surprise as you kept running.  You don't think you'd ever seen that large of a man in your entire life.

"No.  Focus.  Find an exit," you whispered as you looked around you.  People were running at you from all directions but you couldn't take the time to fight all of them off.  You were good, but this was their territory.  They knew every nook and cranny of this building and that gave them a major advantage.  Your eyes landed on a bunch of glass windows and figured it was your best shot.  Your bare feet slapped against the cold tile of the floor as you bolted for them.  With a simple jump and hook kick the glass was shattering in front of you.  You ignored the glass shards that lodged themselves in your feet, continuing to run.  You were just a few feet away from the green grass and just a few yards away from the forest when you felt yourself being slammed to the ground, cold metal wrapping around your throat.

A man with long brown hair was holding you down with what looked to be a metal arm, straddling you to keep you from moving.  "Stand down."  When you ignored him and kept squirming, he pressed you further into the dirt.  The tendrils of grass pricked your neck.  "Vstan'."

Your eyes narrowed and you spit at him.  "Idi k chertu."

But he continued to hold you down as the people you had seen before caught up with you.  The red-headed woman seemed vaguely familiar as she crouched down next to you.  You fixed her with an icy glare as you laid there being observed like a damn animal.

Your gaze shifted to the man with curly brown hair as he walked forward, holding a syringe with clear liquid.  Shaking, you began to thrash about, screaming out for anyone that would hear you.  "No!  No!  No!  Let me go!"  You shouted, your voice hoarse and cracking.  Tears began to fill your eyes as the man pushed the needle into your arm, the clear liquid making its way through your veins.  You felt the metal arm let go as your vision faded and someone picked up your limp body, carrying you back to the room you had just come from.


There was the beeping again.  A frown worked its way onto your face as you slowly opened your eyes.  You were hooked up to all the machines again, but now there were cuffs to hold you in place.  Cursing under your breath, you took the time to take in the room around you.  You hadn't exactly gotten a chance to last time.  It was a proper hospital room you were in, but from your brief escape, you knew that this place wasn't a hospital.  For one, no one was wearing white coats or scrubs.

"You're awake."

You turned to look at the red-headed woman from before sitting in a chair next to your bed.  She was easily one of the most beautiful women that you'd ever seen in your entire life.  Her green eyes were watching you just as closely, like she was looking for a sign of something.

"Are you really not going to talk to me?"  She stood up, standing at the head of the bed and looking down at you.  "I know you speak English."  Her arms crossed over her chest.  "But if you don't want English we can do Russian, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, Hindi, Turkish...  Whatever you want."  The woman leaned over a bit, brushing a piece of hair from your face.  It was almost a... a motherly action.  "The Red Room can't get to you here.  You're safe."

Your e/c eyes narrowed slowly as you looked at her.  "I was safe in the Red Room."

"Then why did they leave you there to die?"  She whispered harshly, standing up straight once again.  It was clear that her mind was running over a few things, trying to work out something.

Confusion began to overwhelm you.  "They...  They didn't leave me there to die."  You began to squirm, trying to work your hands out of the cold metal cuffs.  They weren't like the normal cuffs, which you had spent your entire childhood learning how to get out of.  These were some type of metal that wrapped around you and locked to the side of the bed like a magnet.  You tried to fight the panic rising in your chest.  You needed to get out.  Madame B would be furious once she found out you were gone, and you didn't need that.  "They didn't leave me there to die!"

"Natasha, what did you do?" A brunette man with short brown hair demanded as him and the curly haired man ran in.

Natasha.  That was her name.

You settled for glaring at the two newcomers as the curly haired one started to check your vitals and the IV drip that was attached to you.  "Where the hell am I?"

"You're in the Avengers compound, sweetheart," the first man said as he held out his hand to you, despite the fact that you couldn't shake it.  "Tony Stark.  You've probably heard of me."  When you met him with a blank, unknowing stare, he seemed more than surprised.  "Really?  Iron Man?  Nothing?"  You didn't respond and he pointed at the curly haired one.  "That's Bruce."

Bruce raised his hand dismissively, too busy tapping numbers into a tablet.  "Her vitals are good.  Her blood level is back up.  Other than painkillers and making sure that concussion is taken care of, she's all good."

Natasha turned to him, her eyes softening slightly.  "And the Ceremony?  Was it..."

"Was it complete?"

Natasha nodded.

He sighed as he looked at you, and then back at his tablet.  "Yes.  There was nothing we could do.  It was already complete."

The Ceremony.  The Graduation Ceremony.  You felt bile rise in your throat and you began to thrash around, trying to get out.  You refused to vomit all over yourself.  You still had a little bit of dignity, after all.

Natasha immediately grabbed a trashcan and held it to where you could turn your head to throw up into it, the bile burning your throat.  She smoothed your hair back, a sympathetic smile curving her lips slightly.  "I did the exact same after my Ceremony."

Your eyes met hers as you finished vomiting, your chest heaving.  She had gone through the Ceremony?

"What's your name?" She asked, continuing to smooth your hair back in a soothing manner.  You couldn't help but lean into her touch.  It had been so, so long since you had had someone care for you like this.  Even if it was just smoothing back your hair.  The last person to do it had been one of the older girls when you first arrived at the Red Room.

"Y/N."  Your voice came out a little hoarse still and you closed your eyes.  You would get out of here soon, but for now, you just wanted to relax.  Your entire body was still sore and you were vaguely aware of a dull pain in your heart from the loss.  You now would never be able to have a future family.

The woman continued to smooth your hair back as you laid there with your eyes closed.  There were a few whispered remarks, something about about going through files to find yours.  A soft lullaby fell from Natasha's lips as she sat there with you.  You didn't realize that she had begun to cry, falling away into a light slumber.

Even after you fell asleep, Natasha continued to sing the old Russian lullaby.  The girl in front of her reminded her so much of herself, but worse.  For some reason, this girl believed in the Red Room.  She believed she belonged there.

"Do you think it's some kind of Stockholm Syndrome?"  Tony was standing in the back of the room, watching the sleeping girl.  He had never seen Nat like this.  Hell, no one had.

She nodded, her eyes still focused on you.  "She's in deep."

Bruce finally finished hooking up a morphine drip, and took a seat next to Natasha.  "It's probably triggered by something traumatic that happened before she went to the Red Room."

Tony began to head for the exit.  "We'll know more once we have her file."  He began to call out commands to F.R.I.D.A.Y., his voice fading as he got further and further away.

The man next to Natasha, reached over and grabbed her free hand, squeezing softly.  "Nat...  Are you okay?"  He knew how hard this would be for her.  It was hard enough going into the Academy, let alone coming back with a girl that was everything she used to be.

Natasha shook her head no.  "I will be, once she's okay."  She stopped running her fingers through your hair, though she grasped one of your hands from where it sat connected to the side of the bed.  "She's what I was, when I first got out of the Academy.  Dedicated.  Delusional."

"You're not her anymore."

She smiled sadly at Bruce, leaning her head against his shoulder.  "I know.  But it doesn't change the fact that she's still stuck."


"I got it!"

Natasha looked up as Tony came in, a bundle of excitement.  She always thought that he got happy over the weirdest things, but as a trained assassin, she probably wasn't the best judge of character.  "Got it?"

He waved his tablet in the air, a smirk on his lips.  "Her file."  Natasha watched with wide eyes as he pulled it up.  She knew that he was attempting to hack into the Red Room's files, but she had thought he wasn't going to be successful.  If anything, she thought that they would've had everything on paper.

Y/F/N Y/M/N Y/L/N

Age: 19

Birthday: July 11th

Status: Ready for Graduation Ceremony

Natasha felt herself zoning out as she read the file, though she could hear Tony reading it aloud.  "Found at eleven in Moscow at a ballet competition.  Originally from America.  Single mother.  Extracted from hotel room after mother was... taken care of."  She looked up at him as he paused, his eyes wide.  "They killed her mother just so they could kidnap her?"

She couldn't help but laugh a little.  "They started getting girls from other countries after Russians started to stop letting their little girls join ballet.  That's where they scout for possible candidates."  Nat stood up, pacing a little.  "They make it look like an accident.  Fires are most common, since it's harder to find the bodies an identify them.  They choose girls with limited extended family, so when they go missing or are thought to be dead...  No one cares."

"But, if she was at a ballet competition in Moscow, that means they had to have at least a little bit of money, right?"

Nat shook her head.  "They usually find them in America first, and then invite them to the competition in Moscow.  It seems like a dream come true.  A ballet competition in one of the dance capitals in the world, with all expenses paid?"  She crossed her arms over her chest.  "Then they take the girl who wins, or even the top few."

"Well, apparently she was top of her class...  In everything."  Tony went quiet as the two of them just sat looking at where you lay sleeping.  "What do you want to do with her?  We could try to find her dad or some extended family."

"Tony...  If she was chosen, I guarantee that there's no record of her father or any extended family."

"So...  What do you want us to do with her?"

Natasha took a deep breath.  "I want to keep her."

 

 

Chapter Text

The next time you woke up, the pain in your body had subsided to a dull ache.  Your eyes fluttered open slowly to the soft light of the hospital room.  You moved your hands slightly, surprised to find that they weren't attached to the sides of the bed.  Instead, two metal bracelet-type things were around your wrists.  You felt in your gut that they had trackers on them and would prevent you from leaving... where ever you were.

Well.  Looks like you were going to have to play along with whatever game the people here were playing.

You slowly swung your legs over the edge of the bed, holding onto the IV as you stood.  The tile almost froze your feet as you completely stood up.  The ache intensified as you took a few steps and you ignored the thought of why you were feeling that ache.  Pushing past it, you walked towards the door, taking extremely slow steps.

"There's sleeping beauty," Tony said as he came into your line of vision, his arms crossed over his chest.  He had a warm smile on his lips as he stopped a few feet from you.  "You've been asleep for eighteen hours, you know."

Your eyes widened as you stood there.  "I...  What?"  You don't think you'd ever slept for so long.  Sometimes you only got two or three hours while you were training at the Red Room.

He waved you on, motioning for you to walk with him.  "Seemed like you needed it.  But I doubt that the hospital bed could've been that comfortable."  Shoving his hands in his pockets, he pointed towards a set of doors.  "We've got a room set up for you to move into tonight.  That is..."  Tony took a lot look at you.  "That is, if you're not going to run again."  He seemed to want you to say something.  To promise that you weren't going to make a break for it.

As much as you hated if, if you were going to beat them at their own game, you'd have to do just that.  "I'm not going to run."  After a pause, you added, "I promise."

The older man seemed satisfied as he led you to the doors he had motioned to before.  You jumped a little in surprise as the doors opened automatically.  "Welcome, Tony Stark," an automated woman's voice said and you looked around for the source of it.  You knew about A.I.'s, of course, but nothing as advanced as this, apparently.

"That's just F.R.I.D.A.Y.," he said, waiting for you to follow him through the doors.  "This is where the Avengers live when we're at the compound."  Tony was pointing out the different areas: the kitchen, the living area, the private gym.  You were barely paying attention, focusing on possible hiding areas and escape routes.  "Everyone is most likely either in training or in their rooms.  We can head on up and I can show you yours."

You vaguely nodded, still pulling along the IV.  "Is there any chance there's a change of clothes upstairs?"

"Shit, I completely forgot.  You only had the hospital gown you were in at the Red Room when you came here."  Tony brings you into the elevator, hitting the up button.  It moved seamlessly and you almost asked if the elevator even worked before the door opened up to the second floor.  It was shaped like a circle, so that the elevator was in the center and the rooms surrounded it.

Tony walked over to a door back behind the elevator, opening it.  "This is yours for however long you're here."  He watched as you walked inside, taking it all in.  "I'm going to go find you a change of clothes while you look around."

It was massive.  You hummed as you fell onto the ginormous bed, practically sinking to the floor.  It felt like a giant marshmallow.  You don't think you'd ever had something so soft.  The beds back in the Red Room were like rocks.  They were meant for getting the minimum amount of sleep you needed to survive, not enjoyment.  There was no such thing as comfort or sleeping in, for that matter.

You stood up, dragging the IV along with you as you opened up a door that led into a massive walk-in closet.  "Why the hell do they need such big closets?" You asked yourself quietly.

"It comes in handy to have an array of clothes for missions.  You never know when you'll need to be black-tie ready."

You turned to see Tony standing there, holding a folded up pile of clothes.  "Really?"

He nodded, looking at the empty closet you were standing in.  "We'll get you some stuff to fill this thing up in no time."  The man then handed you the pile of clothes.  "There's leggings in there from Natasha and I managed to steal a sweatshirt from the laundry room.  There's undergarments from the go-bags that we keep for agents that need things for an extended stay."  He moved his hands in a weird, kind of awkward circle, like he wasn't sure how to exit the conversation.  "I'll let you get changed.  Feel free to shower and all that.  Just come out whenever you're ready.  The others should be getting back soon and we can all eat together."  Right before Tony leaves, he turns and points at you.  "Do you have preference for any kind of take out?  Chinese?  Mexican?  Thai?"

You simply shook your head and he nodded, mumbling to himself before shutting the door behind him.  You tugged the IV needle out of your arm with a slight wince.  Not like you really needed it anymore.  You then padded over to the private bathroom that was attached to your room.  Opening up the cabinet, you found it fully stocked with every toiletry you could ever need.  "Okay, but how do I turn this thing on?" You asked yourself as you stood in front of the shower, having decided against taking a bath in the giant tub to your left.

"May I be of assistance?" The A.I. person thing asked.

"Uh...  Yeah.  How do I turn this thing on?"  You looked up at the ceiling, once again looking for the source of the voice.  You couldn't even see speakers.

"All you have to do is say you want it on and what temperature you want to start off with.  You can change said temperature simply by saying 'hotter' or 'colder.'"

You frowned as the water came on, pouring like a waterfall from the ceiling.  It was much different from the rickety old dorm showers at the Red Room.  This, much like the bed, was built for enjoyment.  "Thank you, uh..."

"F.R.I.D.A.Y."

"Thank you, F.R.I.D.A.Y."

You took a quick shower, making it out it under five minutes.  It was the time limit at the Red Room.  Once out, you wrapped yourself in the fluffiest towel you've ever seen and pulled on the clothing that you had left on your bed.

By the time you left your room and went back down the elevator, the communal living area was teeming with these so-called Avengers.  You froze in your tracks.  You were suddenly extremely aware of how many eyes were on you.  Despite the fact that you were used to standing out at the Red Room, this was different.  After all, they apparently knew you, but you had no idea who any of them were.

"Y/N, we ordered Chinese," Natasha said as she slowly walked over to you from where she had been sitting at the bar with Bruce.  "I ordered you stir-fry vegetables, if that's okay?"  You nodded slightly, your teeth worrying your lower lip.  "Good.  It should be here within thirty minutes.  I hope you're hungry."  She then began to introduce you to the different people around you.  "This is Wanda, Thor, Vision, and Clint.  Over there..."  She pointed to the couch.  "That's Steve, Sam, Bucky, Peter, Rhodey, and Pepper.  And you already know Tony and Bruce."

You didn't even realize your hands were shaking until she reached down and grabbed one, squeezing softly.  Your eyes raised to meet hers and she smiled faintly at you.  "Why are you being nice to me?"

Her smile faltered, like she was surprised that you'd be so forward.  "Because..."  She paused.  She looked as though she was steeling herself for the conversation at hand.  "Because I was you."

"You were me?"

You pulled your hand out of her grasp and ignored the way she frowned as she continued, "I was trained in the Red Room.  Then after I graduated, I became the Black Widow.  Which, according to your file, you were about to become."

"Wait, how can there be another Black Widow?" Sam asked, taking a sip of his beer.  "I thought that was your name, Natasha."

The redhead scowled, her eyes rolling as she turned to him.  "The Black Widow is a female assassin chosen by the KGB.  Being chosen means that you're the best of the best."  She crossed her arms over her chest, her voice going monotone.  She had desensitized herself to it, you realized.  "There were two Black Widows before me.  The role has been empty since I left.  That is..."

"Until they chose me."  Your voice came out cold as you glared at her.  "You took me from Red Room without even bothering to ask what I want."

"Y/N...," Natasha whispered.

You shook your head, feeling your blood start to boil.  "You're just pissed that I'm better than you were.  I graduated at nineteen!  Not only did I survive, but I'm the youngest to ever make it through the program and become the Black Widow."

"We rescued you," Tony snapped.

You turned on him, practically shouting, "I didn't ask to be rescued!  I was where I wanted to be!"

"Really?" Wanda's voice drawled.  "You wanted to be alone and dying in an Academy that almost no one knows exist?"  She stood up from where she was sitting at the bar, Vision's hand dropping from where it had been holding hers.  "They saw us coming and they escaped, but they didn't bother to bring you along.  I can't blame them.  You were just out of surgery and bringing along someone like that is a liability.  They sterilized you like a bitch and then left you there to die."  You could feel something pricking your mind and for some reason, you knew it was coming from Wanda.  Her fists clenched by her side as you fought to keep her out of your mind.  "Is that what you wanted to be?  A dog to be left behind at the slightest inconvenience?"

For that...  For that, you had no answer.  You simply turned around, getting back in the elevator.  Once you were back in your room, you slammed the door behind you so hard that you were sure the people in the floor below you could hear it.  You wanted them to know exactly how much you didn't want to be here.  Fuck playing their game.

Tears pricked your eyes as you paced the room, eventually crawling into the bed and dragging the covers over you.  You didn't want to admit that Wanda was right.  It didn't matter how good you were, that you were at the top of all your classes.  After all, there's at least fifteen girls below the age of fifteen that could eventually grow to be just as good, if not better.

You were replaceable.

About thirty minutes or so later, you heard a soft knock on your door.  "Y/N?  It's Peter.  I, uh...  I, I have your food."

You wanted to ignore him, but the growling of your stomach stopped you.  You got up from the marshmallow they called a bed and unlocked the door.  You opened it just a crack, looking up to see the young man you had beat in the staircase standing there.  In his hands, he held several different Chinese take out boxes.

"Is it okay that I brought mine to eat with you?"

You didn't respond, only opening the door wide enough for him to come in.  You sat on the ground in front of the bed, pulling your knees up to your chest as he sat behind you on the bed.  He quietly passed you two take out boxes and a pair of chopsticks.  You two ate in relative silence, and for once, you were happy for the company.  The others...  They liked to talk.  Peter seemed to be able to sense that you needed quiet right now.

"Have they decided what they're going to do with me yet?"

Peter looked up in surprise, though you weren't looking at him.  "What?"

You sighed, leaning your head back against the bed as you set down the take out box.  "Are they going to throw me in a prison or just be done with it and execute me?"

"Why would they do that?"  He seemed genuinely confused as he waited for you to explain.

"Look..."  You ran your fingers through your h/c hair, your foot tapping rapidly from anxiety.  "I'm not going to join their team and I'm not going to tell them about the Red Room.  I'm useless to them.  To you.  You're one of them, after all."

Peter got down from the bed, sitting across from you and leaning against the wall.  "Is that what you think we rescued you for?"  You shot him a withering look, which he made a point to ignore.  "For one, Natasha went through the Red Room.  She already has all the information we need.  Two, we don't rescue people based on how useful they'd be to us."

You rolled your eyes, shaking your head at Peter.  "It's sweet, how naive you are.  But if Natasha had all the information you needed, then the Red Room would be destroyed and there'd be a lot more girls like me wandering these halls."  You grabbed the Chinese take out box, pushing the rice around inside.  "And I can assure you that those guys only keep people that are useful around."

"That's... very pessimistic."

You snorted, smiling down into your Chinese.  "It's realistic."

"Hey."  You looked up at Peter, who was digging back into his food.  "You smiled."

You felt a twinge of annoyance.  "I'm human, you know."

He nudged your foot with his.  "By the way, you look good in my sweatshirt."  Your mouth dropped open slightly as he stood up, smiling softly at you.  "You're welcome to join us downstairs.  If you feel up to it."  Peter stopped by the door.  "I promise that we're not going to throw you in prison.  Or execute you."

He seems sincere, you thought to yourself as you set the Chinese box to the side once again.  You were unsure.  You didn't know these people, for one.  Peter could be lying.  Though, something told you he didn't have the ability to lie that well.

You sat in your room for almost two hours before finally deciding that you were going to go back downstairs.  You were surprised to find everyone still downstairs when you got there, all curled up on the couch and watching a movie on the flat screen that seemed to have come out from the ceiling.  They turned to look at you as the elevator dinged, letting you out.  You were about to run back upstairs, unnerved by the way everyone stared at you, before Natasha patted the space in between her and Peter.  "Come on, Y/N.  You can sit by me."

You were a little shocked that she was willing to let you sit next to her, after what you had said before dinner.  But you walked over anyway, curling into a little ball in between the two spider people.  Glancing over at her, you tried to find something to say.  "I'm..."  You broke off, not sure if you could get it out.  "I'm..."

"I know," Nat insisted as her hand reached over and squeezed yours.

Chapter Text

The next morning found you in the lab, sitting up on a counter as Bruce ran a multitude of tests.  Tony and Natasha were standing off to the side watching you.  Every few seconds, they would whisper to each other, like school kids that were afraid of the teacher catching them.  You were starting to get fed up with it.  "You know I can see you talking about me, right?"  Your right arm was currently in Bruce's hand as he drew blood to test.  You tugged down the sleeve of Peter's sweatshirt after he put a pink band-aid on you, crossing your arms.  "What are you two whispering about?"

Nat and Tony hesitated as they glanced at each other and back at you.  "Y/N...  We think it'd be a good idea to bring in Wanda," the redhead said as she walked closer to you, gauging your reaction.

"Why?"

"She can kind of read minds," Tony said, fiddling with a few things on his cluttered work space.  "We don't know the exact science of it, but it can be useful when going through someone's memories."

And that is exactly what Peter said they wouldn't do.  You immediately pushed yourself off the counter, your metaphorical hackles raising.  "I knew you would do this.  I told Peter that I wasn't going to tell you anything about the Red Room and he promised that this wasn't going to happen."  You took a few steps back, hyper aware of the three superheros around you.  "He lied to me."

Natasha shook her head, reaching out towards you to try to calm you down.  "No, no.  I promise we won't go through memories of the Red Room."  Tony and Bruce seemed ready to object before she continued, "We'll only go through memories of before you were in the Red Room.  We're just trying to find out where you came from."

Your e/c eyes searched her face for any signs of lying, but when you couldn't find any, you conceded with a short nod.  "Fine.  But if I feel her trying to go through memories of the Red Room, it's over."

The other three seemed to relax as you backed down.  They knew what you were capable of.  You were a mini-Natasha, in their minds, and even she was wary of you.  When you had tried to run your first day, the only person who had been able to stop you was that Bucky person, and that was entirely just because he had a metal arm.

Tony called out to F.R.I.D.A.Y., telling the A.I. to call Wanda to the lab.  It was less than two minutes before she was walking in the door.  You watched her with wary eyes and she held a rather cold air about her as she stood in front of you.  You weren't quick to forget that she had literally called you a female dog the night before.  She had gotten to you, and that made you extremely uncomfortable.  You had been trained to never let someone get into your head, and that just happened to be her super power.  "Don't fuck with my head," you snarled at her, sitting on the counter once again.  "You go through the memories that you're supposed to, and that's it."

"Whatever you say, păianjen mic."

You raised your eyebrows at her Romanian, realizing that it was most likely her native language.  You had figured from the accent that she was from somewhere around Eastern Europe.  "Nu sunt micul tău păianjen, târfă."

"Hey, language," Natasha snapped at you.  Both you and Wanda rolled your eyes as she launched into mother mode.  The other Avengers (besides maybe Clint and Bruce) had never seen this side of her.  When it came to you, it was like she was trying to make you into the daughter she could never have.  Clint had spent hours talking to her about it the night before, but she couldn't be deterred.  It didn't matter to her that you might be troublesome at first.  In her eyes, you needed a mother and she was going to be that for you.

If you let her, that is.

Wanda turned to look at you, raising her hands as red strands of magic formed between them.  You took a deep breath as the tendrils started to make their way towards your head.  You could feel your heart rate increasing, which you knew Bruce was highly aware of.  As soon as one of the red strands touched your head, you were thrown back into your memories.  True to Natasha's word, she didn't touch the Red Room memories and went to memories of your childhood instead.

You found yourself in a dance studio and when you turned to the mirror that you knew was going to be there, you realized that you couldn't be older than six years old.  Your h/c hair was tied up in a bun that was starting to fall out.  You watched as a few other girls began to leave, heading towards where their parents would be waiting.  A few stopped to talk to your dance teacher, a tall thin woman with bird-like features.  She seemed beautiful in an ethereal way.  Like you were too human to understand her beauty.

"Y/N!"

Turning, you felt a bolt of joy run through you as you saw your mother.  "Mama!"  You ran to her, jumping into her arms as she swung you around.  "Did you see me, mama?  I did a spin!"

"A pirouette, honey," your dance teacher said as she walked over to you and your mother.  Her name jumped to the fore front of your mind almost immediately.  Miss Claudia.  You had forgotten her name over the years you had spent in the Red Room.  You held tightly onto your mother as she began to talk to Miss Claudia.  "I believe Y/N is ready to be moved up to the next level dance class."

"Really?"  Your mother seemed surprised as she set you on the ground, her hand resting on your head to keep you close.

The tall woman nodded, smiling warmly.  "She has real talent, you know.  I really think you should keep her in dance."

She moves her hands a lot, you thought to yourself, clutching onto your mother's leg.

"When are the upper level classes again?"

"Everyday from three to six."

You could almost feel your mother deflating.  "Oh.  I work during those times.  I wouldn't be able to get her here.  My mother watches her after school and she can't drive."

Miss Claudia waved her hand, dismissing your mother's worries.  "I will pick her up then."

"I can't ask you to do that."

Your dance teacher forged on, refusing to back down.  "Miss L/N, I want to take Y/N on as my personal student.  It would be a shame for her to be held back simply because the classes aren't at a good time."  She began to head for the door, your mother following after.  She grabbed your hand, pulling you along with her.  "I know that her father isn't in the picture, so I will pick up Y/N from school."

"I...  I..."  Miss Claudia turned to look at your mother as you tightly squeezed her hand, looking between the two women.  Your mother finally sighed, giving in.  "Thank you, Miss Claudia.  It means a lot."

"It's nothing, I assure you."  The nymph-like woman continued on towards her office, leaving your mother and you behind.  "She'll start on Monday."

You jerked as you felt yourself torn from that memory as Wanda began to go through more of your childhood.  It was like watching a slideshow.  True to her word, Miss Claudia began to pick you up after school.  Soon enough, you were being homeschooled and spent no less than six hours a day in the dance studio.  And Miss Claudia was honest about wanting you to be her personal student.  She cut the cost of the dance lessons, making it affordable for your single mother.  She also began to buy your dance wear.  Everything from your leotards to tights to your very first pair of pointe shoes.  Wanda briefly brushed against the memory of your grandmother dying, but didn't stop to linger.  Memories were coming faster and faster.  Lesson after lesson, competition after competition.  You were placing first in almost every single one, and soon people were talking.  The dance industry from all over the world was talking about a little girl from (your hometown.)  Your mother and Miss Claudia were there for all of it.

And then came the invitation to dance in Moscow.  Your mother had been so unsure and had almost turned it down, until Miss Claudia had convinced her to take it.  After all, the only thing you had to pay for was getting your passport.  Everything else was covered by sponsors, apparently.

You could feel Wanda flicking through your mind like it was a filing system, eventually finding what she seemed to be looking for.

You were in Moscow.  You had landed three days before and had spent that time getting in last minute rehearsals from the competition.  Miss Claudia was convinced that you'd make the top three, if not first.  You had spent months on this one routine, hitting it again and again until it was perfect.  Your mother sat behind you on the bed the morning of, brushing your hair back until it was in a tight, perfect bun.  "You're going to be perfect, sweetheart."

And she was right.  You had done every little thing perfectly.  When they announced that you won first place, everything seemed to move in slow motion.  You were given a massive bouquet of blood red roses that you could barely carry.  A gold medal was placed around your neck.  Your mother and Miss Claudia were hugging and jumping and cheering louder than they ever had before.

That night, you all went out for the fanciest dinner you had ever had.  You even got to have ice cream, which you only got on special occasions.  The three of you seemed to be walking on air as you got back to the hotel.

But then the fire had started.  Someone had pulled you out of the hotel window and out onto the fire escape just seconds before the fire got to you.  Your mother and Miss Claudia were no where to be seen.  They had gone down to the hotel bar after you had fallen asleep.

A woman dressed in street clothes held you close to her chest as she walked down the street, despite the fire fighters looking for survivors.  You realized as Wanda sorted through that memory that you were the only one to make it out, and it was because of the woman carrying you.

"I want my mama," you whined to the woman, squirming in her arms.

She tried to hush you, pushing your head further into the crook of her shoulder.  "Shhh, it's okay.  It'll all be okay soon."  She pulled you into a van and your vision faded to black as you felt a needle prick your neck.

When you woke up, you were on a hard bed, handcuffed to the metal frame.  "Hello?!  Mama?!"  You shouted, tears falling down your cheeks.  "Mama!"  You began to thrash about, ignoring how raw your wrists were becoming from struggling against the handcuff.  "Where am I?!  MAMA!"

"Shhh, little one."  You looked up to see an older woman standing with the one who had pulled you out of the burning hotel.  "It's alright."

"Where's my mama?" You whimpered, sitting up and tugging on the handcuff still.

The older woman, Madame B, pushed your hair back from your face.  "We're your family now, my dear.  Welcome to the Red Room."

A panic rose in your chest as you felt Wanda try to push further.  It took great strength, but you pushed her out of your mind.  As soon as you were back from the present, your hand reached out and struck the older girl.  The slap resounded through out the lab as the others stared at you in shock.  "I told you to stay out of those memories, you conniving cu—"

"Y/N!"

You turned to see Natasha glaring at you, her arms crossed over her chest.  Wanda was holding her cheek as she muttered insults in Romanian under her breath.  "I told her not to go there, and she did.  It's my mind.  I had the right."

The others couldn't exactly argue and you stormed out of the lab.  Waves of utter fury were rolling off of you as you made your way to the training room.  It was a top-tier gym with an entire wing just for combat.  You found yourself in front of one of the punching bags, tying your hair up into a bun.  You had tossed Peter's sweatshirt into a locker so that you were in just your sports bra and leggings.  You didn't even bother with shoes.  You zoned out all of the people around you as you began to hit the bag, going through your routine that you had at the Red Room.

"Getting out some steam?"

You turned, scoffing as you saw Bucky standing there.  "Do you often watch people when they're working out?"  Sure, you were a little snappy, but almost all of these so-called Avengers were pissing you off more and more as time went on.

He came around the other side of the bag, holding it steady for you.  "I heard you slapped Wanda."

"And?"

"And nothing.  Just thought it was a little funny."

You blew a strand of hair out of your face, kicking the bag particularly hard.  "She might be able to get into my mind, but she needs to remember that I can kick her ass anytime.  I don't care how much she's trained with you guys."

Bucky seemed a little amused as he watched you.  "You've got a lot more fight in you than I thought you would."

"So you underestimated me, is what you're saying."  Sweat was beginning to drop from your forehead.

The super soldier's hair was pulling into a low bun, his bright eyes alight with mirth.  "I suppose so."

You paused, shaking out your hands.  In your fury, you hadn't bothered to wrap your knuckles.  They were now starting to bleed and you knew that it meant more cleanup on your part.  Bucky walked over, having grabbed his own wrap and taking your hand in his.  You watched him cautiously as he wrapped your knuckles for you.  "I told her not to get into my memories about the Red Room."

"And she did?"  You nodded, watching as he took his time wrapping them.  He went quiet, until he reached for the other hand.  "They did the same thing to me when I first got here.  Wanda helped me sort through my memories of being the Winter Soldier."  He ignored the way you looked at him in surprise.  You had heard of the Winter Soldier, but it was kind of like the Black Widow.  It was a myth until it wasn't.  "But I understand if you don't want to go through them right now."

"I don't even want to be here."  Your tone was biting, cold and harsh.

He finished wrapping your hands and squeezed them comfortingly.  "Neither did I, at first.  But they mean well."

"The Red Room is all I've ever known."

Bucky frowned a little.  He knew exactly what that felt like, and it wasn't a good feeling.  Having all you've ever known ripped from you could make you go a little crazy.  It made sense to him that you were so hostile.  He had once been the wild animal backed into a corner.  So had Natasha, but it had been a lot longer since she had been rescued, so to say.  So if anyone really knew what you were feeling, it was him.  "The Red Room didn't want what was best for you.  You have to know that."  You let out a huff of air, going back to punching the bag as hard as possible.  Bucky took his stance behind the bag once again.  "They've molded you into what they wanted you to be.  The perfect, obedient assassin.  But how many of your friends died because of you?"

Ouch.

Now that stung.

You hesitated, your breathing coming out shakily.  "Fourteen."

"And you know each one of their names, don't you?"

"Clara, Josephine, Alana, Elizabeth, Pearl, Carol Ann, Juniper, Lena, Diana, Brianna, Miriam, Trina, Naomi."  You swallowed down the bile that was rising in your throat.  "And Evelyn."  Evelyn had been the older girl to comfort you when you had first arrived at the Red Room.  She was sixteen when you first arrived.  On your fifteenth birthday, Madame B had forced you to practice combat with her, but didn't let you stop until one of you was finished.  And when she said finished, she meant dead.  You had kept going until you had pinned the blonde down, your hand wrapped tightly around her throat.

"It's okay," she had said, her green eyes staring at you with pride and love.  "You can do it."

Tears stained your cheeks as you crushed her windpipe, watching as the light faded from those beautiful emerald eyes.  She had been the closest thing you had had to a sister, and she was gone.  You were devastated and you had collapsed into a pile of tears.

But the Red Room had won.  After that day, you became cold and calculating.  You became what they dreamed you would be.  From that point on, all that mattered was being the best.  You had to make sure that Evelyn didn't die in vain, while also making sure that you never cared enough about another person that the Red Room thought to use them to break you.

"The pain doesn't go away."

You were brought back to the present, realizing that you were crying.  Your eyes met Bucky's and you realized that he had truly been through what you had.  He had killed people and, like you, had never forgotten their names.

"The pain doesn't go away, but you learn to forgive yourself and move on.  You learn to live with it."  He stopped to readjust his grip on the bag, before nodding at you.  "Come on.  Again."

You pushed the thought of the girls to the back of your mind, throwing yourself into hitting the punching bag.  You were so focused on the task at hand, at getting the aggression and frustration out, that you didn't even notice the rest of the Avengers watching you from the observation deck up above.

Chapter Text

The first of the nightmares came after Wanda's little intrusion.  You had spent hours in the training room with Bucky, both working with the punching bag and doing hand-to-hand combat.  Even with his metal arm, you found that he was having trouble subduing you.

You found it amusing.  Bucky ended up getting so frustrated and flustered that by the end, you were winning almost every match.

Training with Bucky had been nice.  For one, he didn't judge you.  With the others (excluding Natasha), you had felt like they were watching you like some sort of experiment.  Like you were a volcano about to erupt.  Granted, they weren't exactly wrong, and you knew that after what happened with Wanda earlier that day, they'd be watching even closer.  But Bucky wasn't like that.  He understood exactly where you were coming from and he treated you like you were more than just a prisoner.

The others might say they had rescued you, but the locked doors and cuffs that they had only taken off that morning in the lab said otherwise.  You hadn't even been outside since you had tried to run.

You had eaten dinner with the group that night, though Wanda kept a wide berth.  It wasn't hard to since you stuck to a little corner in the kitchen while the others mostly chose to eat on the couches on the other side of the communal area.  You had picked at your Caesar salad, not having much of an appetite.

You had headed to your room immediately after, leaning against the door and sinking down to the ground.  You felt so overwhelmed and all you wanted to do was curl up under the covers of that stupid bed and never come out.  Pushing your hair back away from your face, you tried to ignore the burning behind your eyes that threatened tears.  "Don't cry.  You don't fucking cry," you muttered to yourself.  "You don't cry.  You're better than that."

You jumped as you heard—and felt—a knock on the door.

"Y/N?"

Fighting back a groan, you pressed the palm of your hands into your eyes, still fighting back tears.  "Yeah?"

"You okay?"

Fucking Peter.  Fucking Peter and his naive, happy-go-lucky, "everything's gonna be great" attitude.  As much as you appreciated him checking up on you and bringing you your Chinese the night before, you didn't need a babysitter.  In the back of your head, you knew that it wasn't fair for you to be hating on Peter (if only in your mind), but you needed an enemy at this very moment that you could be angry at.  If you were angry, you could keep yourself from crying.

You let your head fall into your palms.  "Yes, Peter, I'm fine."

There was a pause, but you knew he was still standing on the other side of the door.  "... Are you sure?"

"I'm fucking fine," you bit out.

You felt a soft vibration as he let his hand fall against the door.  "Okay...  I'm, uh...  I, I'm here if you need to talk."  You bit your lip, waiting for him to walk away.  "My room is the one with the MIT sticker on it."

You don't know how long you sat there before he finally walked away.  Once he was gone, you found yourself crawling under the covers.  You tossed and turned for what felt like forever before eventually falling asleep.

You were in the dance studio with Miss Claudia.  "Again," she ordered, and you launched into an allégro.

But nothing felt right.

It felt like needles were shooting into your feet with every jump.

"Wrong!"  Miss Claudia was walking in a circle around you, the concerto that was playing changing into a minor key.  It took on a dark, foreboding turn as she continued to yell at you.  "Wrong!"

You kept your eyes on the mirror, your arms held in a first.  Miss Claudia walked behind you and you jumped as she came back around as Madame B.  Her voice became much harsher as she scolded you.

"Wrong!"  You yelped as she yanked on your arms, pushing it into a position that hurt like hell.  You were already trying to ignore the pain in your feet.

The older woman suddenly grabbed you and threw you to the ground.  As you lay there, she grabbed one of your feet, pulling a hammer and nails out of nowhere.  Tears were streaming down your face as she placed a nail against the platform of your pointe shoe.  She ignored your pleas as she raised the hammer, slamming it down so that the nail drove through the box and into your toes.

It took you almost thirty seconds to realize that the bloodcurdling scream that was ringing through the air was coming from you.

You clawed at the floor, desperately trying to get away as she grabbed the other foot.  Tears were falling uncontrollably now and you let out another scream as she pounded a nail into your other foot.  Once she let go, you crawled desperately towards the door, getting up on your hands and knees.

You could hear her coming towards you, her heels clicking menacingly on the floor.  She dragged you backwards by your ankle.  "Get up."  When you shook your head and didn't move, Madame B yanked on your hair and pulled you to your feet.  "Again."

The music started again from the radio in the corner as you tried to do the allégro.  Your cheeks were stained with tears as searing pain shot up from your feet to your legs.  In the mirror, you could see the blood soaking the formerly pristine, pink pointe shoes.  You felt it squishing between your toes.

"Wrong!"

Her voice continued to ring in your ears as she circled around you.  You danced for what felt like hours before she stopped in front of you.  She raised a lighter in front of you, flicking it open so that the flame was right in front of your nose.  "Again."  Your heart was racing as you went through the allégro again and again and again.

But it didn't stop her from taking the lighter and setting your leotard alight.  The flames engulfed you as you sobbed, but you couldn't stop dancing.  Smoke was filling your lungs, and you still couldn't stop.

You jolted awake, a scream still on your lips as you felt someone shaking you.  You thrashed violently against their grip until the person let you go.  Trying to catch your breath, you backed up against the headboard as your vision adjusted to the darkness of your room.

Peter was sitting at the end of the bed.  He was trying to catch his breath, just like you, his puppy dog eyes wide.  "Y/N...  Are you okay?"

"What are you doing in here?"  You swallowed the lump in your throat, grimacing as you felt just how sweaty you were.  You had been wearing Peter's sweatshirt for the last two days and all the sweat made it even more disgusting.  Looks like you were actually going to have to wash it.

He settled down onto the bed, realizing you were okay enough to question him.  "I could hear you screaming from my room."

You pushed your hair back from your face, closing your eyes.  "How did you hear me and no one else did?"

Peter shrugged a little as he sat there.  "Most people here are on some form of sleep meds.  The only time we're supposed to wake each other is if there's an emergency—like, a, a world's gonna end type of emergency—or if someone's having a nightmare."

"So why aren't you on medication like the rest of them?"  Pulling your knees up to your chest, you watched him closely.  He didn't seem tired in the least bit.

"I usually am.  I was just working on some new tech."

"I thought Stark was the tech genius here."

He smirked a little at you, scooting to be a little closer.  You were giving him an inch and he was going to take a mile, if he could.  "I, I was his intern for three years before going to college.  I made all the webbing for Spider-Man myself."

Your head cocked to the side.  "Spider-Man?  Is that your superhero thing?"

Peter seemed shocked when he realized that you had no idea who he was, and probably didn't know much about the others either.  "You, you don't know who I am?"

You felt yourself get a little defensive as you sat up, a scowl on your lips.  "I've been at the Academy for eight years.  There's not much communication or news coming from the outside."

He reached out to you, as though trying to get you to not shut him out again.  "No, no!  I'm sorry.  I forgot."  He rubbed the back of his neck in embarrassment as you relaxed once again.  "I didn't become Spider-Man until about seven years ago and I wasn't an official member of the Avengers until, like, a year later."

"Oh.  What do you do?"

Surprised, Peter pointed at himself.  "What...  What do I do?"

Nodding slowly, you waved your hand towards him.  "Yeah.  You're a superhero.  What do you do?  Captain America has the whole super soldier thing.  Iron Man has the suit.  The Hulk is, well, you know.  What do you do?"

You could see him debating with himself as he stood up off the bed, rubbing his hands on his sweatpants.  "Uh...  I..."  He looked around your room, glancing at the different walls.  You were about to ask him what exactly he was looking for when he suddenly walked over to your wall and just... started climbing it?  You watched with wide eyes, pulling your knees up against your chest again.  He crawled across the ceiling and to the other wall, before standing back on his feet.  "I don't have my, my, my web shooters on me, but I can, uh, I can swing myself from building to building."

"You don't strike me as the superhero type."

It wasn't meant to be mean or condescending in any way, but you realized how it must've sounded as soon as Peter's cheeks flushed a dark red.  "Why, uh...  Why not?"

You scooted more towards the end of the bed, briefly noting that your sheets were soaked with your sweat.  "I didn't mean it that way.  I just thought...  You seem like the type to be in the lab, not throwing yourself into danger all the time like the others."

He looked down at his feet, his arms crossing over his chest.  "What can I, What can I say?  I'm the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man."

"But you started all this when you were fifteen?"

Peter nodded, letting out a long huff of air.  "Yeah, yeah, I did."

You just looked at him for a long moment.  Just looked.  Your eyes took all of him in as you processed all this new information.  "Why?"

"Why what?"

Rolling your eyes, you sat cross-legged on the edge of the bed.  "Why did you become a superhero at fifteen?  That's a lot of responsibility and danger for a teenager."

He didn't even really have to think.  He shrugged nonchalantly, his eyes meeting yours.  "I was bitten by a radioactive spider in a lab.  I don't know why it was me, of everyone that was there in the lab that day, but it was.  The universe chose me."  He sat on the bed next to you, looking down at the ground.  "I'm from New York City.  It's a rough place, to say the least, and, and one day I...  I, I, I had a way to do something about it.  So I've never looked back."

"So you just decided that you were going to spend the rest of your life saving other people?"

All he did was nod.

You hadn't expected that from him.  Hell, earlier you had just been bashing him in your head for being happy-go-lucky, and you had no idea that he was carrying such a huge weight on his shoulders.

He was your age and was saving people without a second thought for his own life or safety while you had spent eight years training to be an assassin.  You had killed fourteen of your friends.  On purpose.  Your heart-to-heart with Bucky came back to mind as the gravity of it all suddenly hit you.

You felt that stinging behind your eyes as your hands fiddled in your lap.  Clearing your throat, you glanced over at him and then back at your hands.  "You're a good person, Peter."

The weight of the conversation hung in the air.  It was a long moment before Peter stood, motioning to the bed.  "Do, Do you wanna take a shower?  I can, uh, I can change your sheets for you while you're in there."

Nodding, you stood up and padded over to the bathroom after grabbing an extra change of clothes, taking a last glance at him before heading inside and shutting the door.  "F.R.I.D.A.Y., can you turn the shower on?"  Your voice was no louder than a whisper, but the A.I. heard you, and turned on the shower.

"What temperature would you like, Y/N?"

"As hot as it can go," you murmured, tugging off the sweaty clothing and pulling your hair out of the loose bun it had been thrown into.  Steam was already rising from the shower as you opened the glass door.  Wincing as the scalding water hit your skin, you turned your face up to the water and just let it soak over you.  You sat there for a few minutes before asking, "Is there anyway it can go hotter?"

"Are you sure, Y/N?" F.R.I.D.A.Y. asked, and you knew that if an A.I. could hesitate, she would be.

She?  Since when is F.R.I.D.A.Y. her own person?  You thought, before replying, "Yeah.  I'm sure."

Your body felt like it was on fire as the temperature of the water raised another few degrees.  Grabbing the soap, you tried to scrub yourself of the anxiety that your nightmare had given you.

You took so long in the shower that by the time you got out, Peter had changed the sheets and fallen asleep on the bed while waiting for you to come out.  There was a glass of water on the bed and a small bottle of melatonin.

Not wanting to wake him up after all he had done for you, you popped two of the melatonin before crawling into the bed and falling asleep to the sound of Peter's soft snores.

Chapter Text

It continued like that for the next week and a half or so.  You had started to have nightmares every night, and instead of waiting for them to happen, Peter would work on his laptop next to you while you slept.  At the first sign of a nightmare, he'd shake you awake and get you a glass of water.  Eventually he just started sleeping in your room.  On top of the covers, but still.  He slept next to you and it helped somehow.  The Avengers noticed when Peter started going into your room and night and not coming out until the next morning, obviously, but none of them dared to say a word.  Especially since you had become a lot less hostile since you started getting a proper amount of sleep.

It continued until Peter had to go back to MIT for his last semester.  You had heard him talking in loud whispers to Tony about putting off going back until the fall semester, but he wouldn't have it.  You couldn't help but wonder if his reason for not wanting to go back was you.  The thought made you feel warm, like you had just drank a hot cup of tea.  He had become a comfort to you since that first night that he stayed in your room.

You didn't talk to many people other than Peter and Bucky.  It was bothering Natasha, that much was obvious, but you weren't sure what to do.  She...  She meant well, of course...  But she just reminded you too much of what you had gone through.  Nat was a reminder of what you were going to become if they hadn't rescued you.

Realizing that the Red Room had destroyed you, not built you, was the hardest thing you had ever done.  But you had spent more time with Wanda in the lab, albeit reluctantly, and she had broken the connections between the neurons that had connected to cause your Stockholm Syndrome.  There were a lot more technical terms than that but you had been more worried about the fact that Wanda was going to be in your head again.

It was a tedious project, taking hours upon hours to do it safely.  One wrong move, and you could lose your memories or your ability to speak or something worse.  Natasha insisted on being in the lab with you the entire time.  She sat next to you, asking questions ever so often to check how things were going.  It kind of felt like you were underwater the entire time it was happening.  It was a relief to know that Natasha had your back, even though you weren't sure if you could get close to her.

The only downside was that the sessions in the lab left you absolutely exhausted.  You would wake up, go to the lab, and then go straight back to your room to nap for hours.  Before Peter had gone back to MIT, he would sit in the lab and work on his own projects while also keeping an eye on you.  The other people that were in there (usually Tony, Bruce, Wanda, and sometimes Vision and Bucky) would sometimes make comments about how Peter could do his work on his laptop somewhere else in the compound, but he pretended as though he needed to work in the lab.  His cheeks would go that soft shade of red as he insisted he was fine.  The second you were done, he'd shut his laptop and follow you up to your room so he could be there in case you had a nightmare during your nap.

Needless to say, you had been spending almost every second of every day with the spider kid for that week and a half.

You had just finished with another session with Wanda the day that Peter left and were about to leave when Tony called out to you from the other side of the lab.  Frowning, you glanced back at Natasha as you walked over, finding him tinkering with upgrades for Rhodey's suit.

Without looking up, he said, "There's an iPhone and a laptop to your right."  Sure enough, there it was.  Both still in the box.  "Those are yours."

"What?"  Crossing your arms over your chest, you watched him skeptically as he finally looked up from where he was messing with the suit.  "Why?"

"Why what?"

Rolling your eyes, you motioned to the two boxes.  "Why would you get me a phone or a laptop?"

Tony seemed to be even more concerned than you were.  "Why wouldn't I get you them?"  He rubbed his greasy hands on his jeans as he stood.  "You know, most teenagers would be shitting their pants with excitement if I gave them what I just gave you."

"I know," you huffed.  Frustration laced your voice.  "But it's not like I'm going to be here long.  Once you guys decide what to do with me, I'm sure I'll be out of here."

Tony's gaze softened as he crossed his arms over his chest, mirroring your stance.  "Decide what we do with you?"

"I..."  Looking down at the ground, you felt yourself grow almost two times smaller than you were.  "Yeah, I mean...  You can't keep me forever, right?  If I'm not an asset to the Avengers, then I'm a liability, costing you more money than I'm worth."

"Y/N, you do realize that I'm literally one of the richest people on the planet, right?  And that's without the funding from the UN."  He seemed both amused and sad as he watched you try to find your words.

"All I'm saying is that one of these days, I'll either be thrown in prison or executed.  I'm just... waiting for you all to decide."

Tony rubbed his temples and you saw the exhaustion he hid so well creep over him.  Peter's voice rang in your head, "Most people here are on some form of sleep meds."  That included the man that seemed to have it all, you realized with a start.  "Y/N...  We're not going to throw you in prison or execute you.  You're a kid."  You were about to protest, remind him how many kids have been thrown in jail for things like protesting or marijuana and that you had killed people, when he continued, "You didn't choose this life.  We're not going to punish you for surviving."

You shook your head, taking a step forward.  "But—"

"Y/N, when we first met Natasha, she had already been the Black Widow for four years."  You went quiet, choosing to listen to him for once.  When he realized you weren't going to interrupt again, he nodded and turned back to working on the suit.  "She was actually the enemy during a mission that Clint took on.  She almost killed him, but he knocked her out and brought her to S.H.I.E.L.D., before it shut down.  Nat went through the exact same process you're going through.  Do you think she deserves to be thrown in prison or executed?"

"No, but—"

Tony didn't pay attention to your protests, which you half expected.  "Bucky was the Winter Soldier for seventy years before Steve found him and broke his training.  He killed thousands of people, easily.  Do you think he deserves to be thrown in prison or executed?"  He finally looked up from the suit again, his eyes looking at you the way a parent looks at a child that believes it's going to be punished.  You shook your head no, your bottom lip caught between your teeth.  "Then why would we do it to you?"

You sat there looking at him for a long time, tears rimming your eyes.  You didn't know what to say.  He was making complete sense, as much as you hated it.  You briefly wondered how long it would've taken you to have this conversation, for you to see it like this, if Wanda hadn't agreed to go into your brain and, for lack of better term, fix it.

The man in front of you smiled sadly, looking at the ground and then back at the suit.  "Peter wanted a way to call you, and I've enrolled you in online high school courses.  Depending on how much you learned in the Red Room, you can probably graduate in no time."

Peter wanted to call you.

Oh.

Your cheeks went pink as you grabbed the two boxes and left the lab as quickly as possible.  You could hear Natasha behind you, asking, "What was that about?"

Shutting your bedroom door behind you, you dove onto your bed and set to tearing the boxes open.  First things first, the phone.  You turned it on, watching as the screen lit up with the Apple logo.  You didn't even realize how fast your foot was tapping as you found that Tony had already set it all up for you.

Scrolling, through the contacts, you smiled as you realized that you literally had every Avenger's number.  Hitting Peter's name, you hit the call button and raised it to your ear.  It continued to ring as you laid back on your bed and stared at the ceiling.

No answer.

A scowl on your pretty lips, you hit the call button again.  It rang.  And rang.  And rang.

And once again, no answer.

You looked down at the phone for a long minute before tossing it onto the bed beside you.  If Peter didn't want to answer your phone call, that's just fine.  You had plenty of better things to do anyway.

Leaving your phone and your laptop on your bed, you headed back outside and into the elevator.  When you got to the communal area, the only person there was Nat.  She was sitting on the couch, reading some kind of book that you couldn't see the cover of.  You felt a pang of guilt as you remembered that you hadn't exactly spent much time with her since getting here.  Actually, no time at all, if you were being honest.  The times in the lab or eating with the team didn't really count.  You only spoke in sentences of five words or less to people that weren't Peter or Bucky.

"Hey, uh, Nat?"

You couldn't help but smile a little as she jumped, whirling around to look at you.  "Y/N.  Hi.  What's up?"

Pointing towards the general direction of the training area, you asked, "Would you...  Would you train with me?"

She seemed shocked that you were asking her.  "Are you sure?  I can see where Bucky is, if you'd rather train with you."

You stepped towards her as you waved your hands.  "No, no.  It's okay.  I want to train with you.  That is...  If you want."

"Yeah, yeah, of course!  Just let me change real quick and I'll be right back down."  Nat seemed to have a bit of giddiness in her step as you watched her get on the elevator and head up.  It made you happy to know that something as small as asking her to train with you could make her so excited.  It seemed to only take thirty seconds for the redhead to come back down, holding a duffel.  "If you're up for it, I thought maybe we could do something different."

Shrugging, you nodded as you followed her out of the living area and to the training area.  "Sure, yeah."  You expected her to lead you to the Olympic-sized swimming pool that you had yet to try.  Instead, she led you even further back in the compound, pulling open a set of double doors.  "What is this?"  You went quiet as you sat the mirror that took up the back wall, the barre that ran along the length of it.  The sunlight streaming in from the windows lining the top of the room caught the particles of dust in the air.  It clearly hadn't been used in a long time.  Looking back at Nat, your heart caught in your throat as she pulled out two pairs of pointe shoes from her duffel.  "I...  I can't."  For the last eight years, you had been dancing for the Red Room.  It was so regimented and cold.  There was no room for expression.  There was no emotion in anything you did.

"Why not?"

Trying to ignore how her face fell, you crossed your arms.  "I can't dance anymore."

"Because of the Red Room?"  Natasha slowly stepped towards you, as though she was scared to make any sudden movements.  "Y/N, when's the last time you danced because you wanted to?  Not because someone else did, but you?"

That didn't take much thought.  "I was thirteen."  She looked at you like she was waiting for you to continue.  Your eyes became unfocused, like you were there but not really.  "I was rebellious.  I rarely listened to what I was ordered to do and it almost got me killed a few times.  Madame B..."  Your fingers fiddled together anxiously as you stood there, the silence in the dance studio almost deafening.  "After a really bad day, she took me to the dance studio alone and made me put on my pointe shoes.  Then she put on Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty, and made me dance it."  Natasha watched you silently, though you could see her heart breaking.  "But every time I messed up, I had to start over."  Your vision refocused as you shook your head, running your fingers through your hair.  "I danced for seventeen hours straight."

"Y/N..."

"No, no.  It's fine.  It's over now."  You smiled at her.  It was a pathetic kind of smile to try to hide how much it had hurt you.  You hadn't enjoyed dancing since.  Every time you did dance, all you could think about was how you had left that day with splinters in your toes and cracked, bleeding toenails.  You hadn't even been allowed to go to sleep to recover after.  You just had to carry on with your day as though you hadn't just been dancing for over half a day.

Natasha put the pointe shoes down.  "Then how about we start slow?"

"What?"

She pulled off her tennis shoes so she was completely barefoot.  "I'm going to turn off the lights.  It won't be completely dark with the windows, but it'll be dim.  Then I'll put on some music and you can just... improv."

That... sounded ridiculous.  "Improv?"

The Russian couldn't help but laugh at your expression.  "Yes, improv.  I want you to get back into feeling the music and moving on instinct, okay?"  Nat turned off the light switch, motioning to you.  "Come on."  Once your shoes were off, she headed to the center left area of the studio.  "I did this every day for two hours after Clint got me out of the KGB."

"And..."  Your head tilted to the side as you watched her.  "It works?"

"Yeah," she said, tying her hair up in a bun.  "But, you have to close your eyes.  No watching me.  Just feel."  You tentatively took off your shoes, heading to center right.  Once you were there, she said, "F.R.I.D.A.Y., play my Improv playlist."

Closing your eyes, you listened as the soft strings of a guitar came in.  'Youth' by Daughter was playing over the speakers.  It surprised you a little bit.  You didn't expect Natasha to be into music like that, but you pushed it to the back of your head a the song filled the entire dance studio.  You could already hear Natasha's movement, but you were hesitant.

You felt jerky and unrefined.  There was a reason that ballet was as beautiful as it did, and it was because there was technique and regiment to it.  The discipline made it pristine and beautiful.  This...  This was ugly.  Nobody would want to watch this.  You made small movements, though you found yourself repeating a lot of the same phrases.  Gasping as you tripped, you cursed as you hit the floor, your palms stinging as you opened your eyes.  "Fuck!"

Nat was at your side in an instant.  "You're overthinking it, Y/N.  You're not supposed to think, you're supposed to feel."

"This is stupid," you snapped, sitting back on your heels.  "It's not like any of this looks good.  Nobody would ever watch this."

"Y/N, you're not doing this for anyone else."  You looked up at her as she pushed your hair back from your face.  "You're doing this for you.  You're doing this so that you can get out everything you're feeling, so you can tell your story."  She was squatting beside you, her hands holding your face ever so gently.  "It's not meant to be pretty.  Emotions aren't pretty.  Emotions are ugly and raw and volatile."  She pressed her forehead to yours, like she was trying to get it through your head physically rather than verbally.  "Explode.  Let everything come out, no matter how dirty or unrefined or ugly it is.  Okay?"

You nodded, swallowing around the lump in your throat as you stood up.

The song changed to 'Bird' by Billie Marten.  The piano is much better, you thought to yourself as you shifted your feet slightly.  You took a few seconds to clear your head, before you began to move.  With your mind blank and only focused on the music, you found it much easier to move.  Each note moved your body like it the song was running through your veins.  Your frustration worked its way through your fingertips until all that was left was sweat.

Even as the songs changed, you continued to move.  You were losing track of time, working out the kinks in your muscles that came from years of the the same routine.  The soreness was already setting in.  But you didn't care.  Because for the first time in six years, you were dancing with something more than just technique.

When you finally opened your eyes, sweat dripping down your brow, the sun had sunk below the horizon, and the room was almost completely black.  Nat had stopped just a few feet away from you.  She was also dripping in sweat as she asked F.R.I.D.A.Y. to turn off the music.  "Ready to go upstairs?"

You realized you hadn't had your post-lab session nap until you got into the elevator, closing your eyes as you leaned back against the wall.  "I'm sorry that I ignored you."

"It's fine," Natasha whispered.

You kept your eyes closed, knowing you wouldn't be able to get it all out if you could see her looking at you.  "You reminded me too much of what I was supposed to become."  Nat was holding her breath.  You couldn't hear her steady inhale and exhale, and you frowned.  "But you're not."  You opened your eyes, biting your lip as you realized the older woman was about to cry.  "You're much more than that.  And maybe that scared me, because I don't know if I'll ever become more than their pawn."

Natasha reached over, squeezing your hand in hers.  "You will.  It will come in time."  She nodded at you once again before letting go of your hand and walking towards her room.  "And, Y/N?"  You turned to look at her, fighting back a yawn.  "I'm always here for you."

And then she was gone.

You didn't even bother showering or changing into different clothes, choosing instead to just collapse on your bed.  As soon as your head hit the pillow, you were out, not noticing the four missed calls on your new cell phone.

Chapter Text

You awoke in a sweat, your heart pounding against your ribs.  This nightmare had been the worst one yet.  As time had gone on and you had gotten to know the Avengers, your nightmares sometimes featured them.  More often than not, they were dying.  The most common one, other than the nightmare of Madame B nailing your pointe shoes to your feet, was Natasha and Peter dying.  You had to sit by and watch as they were tortured and killed, and there was nothing you could do about it.  Other times, like tonight, you dreamed that you were the one that had to kill them.

You felt so helpless.

Your throat felt tight as you looked around your room.  You needed something.  You needed...  You needed Peter.  Scrambling to find your phone, you felt a sigh of relief as you found the new iPhone still resting on the end of your bed where you had thrown it earlier.

What you were surprised to find, was the eight missed calls from one Peter B. Parker.

Without thinking, you immediately called him back.  Your eyes caught sight of the clock beside your bed and you almost immediately hung up.  It was two in the morning.  Peter would hopefully be sleeping, and you didn't want to wake him up.

But before you could hit the end call button, Peter's groggy voice came over the phone.

"Hello?"

Your heart lurched in your chest as you tried to hold back a sob.  "Peter?"

There was a shuffling in the background, which you assumed was the boy sitting up in his bed.  "Y/N?  What, uh...  What, What's wrong?  Are you okay?"

"I...  I..."  You didn't know how to answer that.  You wanted to tell him that you were okay, that you had just seen his missed calls when you had woken up to get water and called him without thinking about what time it was.  You didn't want him to worry about you.  But on the other hand, you needed him.  You had gotten so used to his presence that on the first night he was gone, you panicked.

Peter was quiet for a long time as he waited for you to answer.  Finally, he said, "Y/N?"

"Yeah?"

"I need you to talk to me, okay?"

Rubbing your eyes, you realized with a start that you were crying.  "I-I can't."

"Why not, angel?"

You pulled your knees up to your chest as you held the phone tightly in your hand.  You absentmindedly picked at the rosy pink polish on your toes that you had painted just two days before.  "Because I don't w-want you to worry about me."

You could hear the smile in his voice as he coaxed you, "Y/N, I'm going to worry whether you tell me or not.  So wouldn't it be better to tell me what's going on so I can help you through it?"

"Stop using logic on me," you muttered, rolling your eyes as you tried to stop crying.

"Was it a nightmare?"

You didn't respond, biting your lip harshly.

He must've taken it as a 'yes,' because he continued, "Which one was it this time?"

You hesitated to tell him, but knew that he wasn't going to give in until you told him exactly what was going on.  "I was in the Red Room.  You and Natasha were there."  He had gone still on the other end of the call.  You couldn't hear any movement what-so-ever, only the sound of his soft breathing.  He was completely focused on you.  "She...  She made me kill you."  You broke down into sobs as you admitted it.

There was a long sigh on Peter's end.  "Angel..."

"Peter, what if it happens one day?" You interrupted, a panic rising in your chest.  You stood up and began to pace around your room.  You could tell he was about to interrupt you, so you continued before he could, "Wh-What if the Red Room comes for me a-and they get me and they make me kill you?"

"That won't happen."

"How do you know?" You snapped, the hand that wasn't on the phone balling into a fist.  "I've killed my friends before, Peter."  You almost spat out his name.  You were so angry, but not at him.  You were angry at yourself for being such a monster.

Only a monster would kill their friends.

Tony's speech about them not punishing you for doing what you had to survive flew out of your head, completely forgotten.  That was then, this was now.  You didn't want to believe that you could kill Peter or Natasha or any of the Avengers.  You didn't even want to believe that you could kill Wanda, as much as she pissed you off.  But you had also never thought you could kill those girls in the Red Room, and you had.  You had murdered the girl that took care of you, that treated you like your own sister.

"You're lashing out."

Fuck.

You heard the creak of Peter's bed through the phone, soft as it was, as he stood up.  "You're lashing out because you're scared.  I know.  But, But you need to take a step back and realize that what you're feeling is a product of anxiety and the, the trauma you were put through."  Your hands shook as he paused to take a breath.  "Angel, are you there?"

"Yeah."

He sighed in relief, taking his time to answer.  "I'm going to count to eight.  I want you to breathe in for that amount of time, and then I'm going to count to four.  You're going to hold it.  Then, I'm going to count to four again, and you're going to exhale.  Then we'll repeat it until you're calmer."  A pause.  "Can, can you do that for me, angel?"

You nodded, before realizing that he couldn't exactly see you.  "Yes.  Fine.  I can do that."

"Good.  Ready?"  After confirming that you were, he began to count just as he said he would.  You followed his instructions and you were surprised to find that you began to not feel quite so panicked.  You could feel your heart rate slowing down as it became more steady.  Peter repeated it four more times, his voice still raspy from sleep.  His voice sounded like smooth honey.  No wonder the exercise thing was working.  "Better?"

Taking a seat on the edge of the bed, you said, "Yeah.  I'm better.  Thank you."

"Of course."  You laid back on the soft comforter, staring at the empty ceiling.  "Now, I've told you this before and I'm sure I'll tell you it many times before you believe me, but what, what happened in the Red Room isn't, uh, isn't your fault.  You either had to kill the other girls or be killed yourself.  You did what you had to in order to survive.  That doesn't make you a killer, it makes, it makes you a victim."

"Peter, can we put stars on my ceiling?"

He seemed taken aback by your sudden change of subject.  "What?"

Your e/c eyes were still focused on the empty ceiling above you.  "I had stars on my ceiling when I was a kid.  I just...  I really want them."  You felt almost ashamed to admit it.  You shouldn't have been asking for favors, for one.  The Avengers had rescued you.  You already owed them a huge debt that you wouldn't ever be able to repay.  "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked.  I—"

"Y/N, of course we can."  His voice had gone soft, no louder than a whisper.  "I, I was just surprised that you asked.  But I'll bring stars to put on your ceiling next time I visit, okay, angel?"

"Okay," you murmured, running your fingers over the comforter.  The bed was still one of the softest things you had ever felt.  "I'm sorry for waking you up."

There was mirth in Peter's voice as a small laugh fell from his lips.  "Part of, Part of the reason I got Tony to get you a phone was so you could call me when you needed me.  Even if it's in the middle of the night."

"Still," you groaned as you sat up, leaning back on your elbows.  "You hardly get enough sleep as it is.  I shouldn't be disrupting that."

"Y/N, I'm going to be there for you no matter what time it is, okay?"

Oh.

Peter seemed to realize just what he said as he let out an awkward laugh.  "So, Sorry, I, uh...  Yeah."

"Don't apologize, Peter.  It means a lot."  You slid off the bed and walked over to the window that formed the back wall of your room, gazing up at the moon.  "There's a full moon tonight."

"I know."

"What?"  You smiled, a little confused at his answer.

"I'm sitting out on my fire escape," he explained.  "Ned crashed on the couch in my room during the movie we were watching and I didn't wanna wake him up."

You sat there for a long time, looking up at the moon and the stars.  It made you feel closer to him somehow, knowing that he was looking at the same sky.  "I miss you."  Your voice cracked softly as you leaned your forehead against the cool glass.  Your cheeks were a soft red, a warmth in your chest that you couldn't explain.  You had grown so fond of Peter.  Whenever something good or bad happened, he was the first person you wanted to tell.  You could listen to him talk for hours about whatever science thing he was working on.  It was fascinating, watching him be so passionate.

"Y/N, it's been less than a day."

"Would you rather me not miss you at all?"

"You only miss me bringing you food," he snorted, causing you to roll your eyes.

"I do not!"

"But you can't deny that it's a factor."

He had you there.  "If this is what I get for trying to be nice to you, then I'm never doing it again," you retorted, getting a little embarrassed.  You had put yourself out there, in a way, and him laughing just felt like he was rejecting you.

"I, I miss you, too, angel."

Ah, there it was.  A soft smile graced your lips as you wrapped your arms around yourself.  "When are you coming home?"  The compound didn't feel the same without him, and it was really fucking with you, even if it had technically been less than a day.  You could hear him crawling back inside his window as he grunted a little.  Smirking, you fought back a smartass comment about him having trouble crawling in a window, despite swinging from webs all the time like it was nothing.

You heard a door quietly shutting, which you assumed meant that he had left his bedroom to go to another part of his apartment.  "Well, I'm trying to come back every weekend.  Sometimes it'll be every other weekend, because I have to visit Aunt May in New York, but this weekend, I'll be at the compound."

"Really?"  You felt giddiness run through you at the thought of him coming home so soon.  "I thought you wouldn't be coming home for a month or something like that!"

Peter laughed at the amount of excitement you were exuding.  "Nah.  I, I couldn't leave you alone that long, now could I?"

You pouted a little as you crawled back into your bed.  "You left me here to deal with Wanda alone.  What if she kills me before you come back?"

"Angel, I promise you that Wanda isn't as bad as you think.  You, You two, uh...  You two just got off on a bad foot," he said, causing you to frown.  "And don't you have Natasha, Tony, and Bruce in there with you at all times, too?"

Shoving your face into one of the many pillows, you snapped, "Stop it.  I'm trying to guilt you into coming home early."

Peter's laughter filled your ears, and you felt like your heart could burst.  You could listen to him laugh all day and never need anything more.  "Y/N, I'm coming home Friday."

"What time?"

You could hear the smirk in his voice, as he was clearly amused by your impatience to see him.  "Happy is picking me up after my last class at one.  I'll be home by five, at the latest."

"You promise?" You asked quietly, wanting to make sure that he would actually be coming home.  You didn't want him making empty promises, only for him to cancel last minute.  You didn't want to be left disappointed and lonely after expecting him all week.

"I promise."

A yawn stopped you from responding, and he said, "I think, I think it's time for you to get back to bed."

"But, Peter—"

"'But, Peter' nothing.  You need to sleep, angel."  There was a soft click of a door in the background, letting you know that he had gone back to his room.  "Because I'm only going to bed when you do."

Now that just wasn't fair.  "Fine," you muttered, burrowing further under the covers.  "But I'm not doing it because you told me to.  I'm doing it because I want you to get to sleep.  And I'm tired."

"That's my girl," he teased, the bed creaking as he crawled into his own bed, almost four hours away.  "Do you want me to stay on the phone with you until you fall asleep?"

You hummed in response, closing your eyes as you felt the exhaustion beginning to creep in.  Your body was sore from all the dancing you had done with Natasha that day, and you made a mental note to tell Peter about in the morning.  You were too tired to do it right now.  "Hey, Peter?"

"Yes, Y/N?"

You smiled a little as you felt sleep beginning to take over.  "I like when you call me 'angel.'"

"Good, Goodnight, Y/N."

"Goodnight, Peter."

Chapter Text

Your nightly phone calls with Peter continued, until it turned into FaceTime.  It got to the point where as soon as the clock struck eleven, the other Avengers knew that you'd be going to your room and wouldn't come out until the next morning.  It gave you more structure.  Your sleep schedule was getting better and better with each passing night.  Mostly because Peter would remind you to take two melatonin at midnight on the dot, but that's beside the point.

The point was that you were getting better.

You had your daily sessions in the lab, and then after you would go to the studio with Natasha and dance until F.R.I.D.A.Y. called the two of you for dinner.  Usually it was Thai or Chinese.  You, however, were craving some authentic Mexican food.  Specifically, tamales.  You hadn't had any since before you were taken by the Red Room, and it was a craving that you hadn't had since you were fourteen.  You had gotten too used to the meal replacement shakes and smoothies.  They had just enough in them to keep you nourished and healthy.  The only solid food you had was at dinner, and it was always baked chicken and vegetables on a small bed of rice.  No seasoning, no sauce, nothing.  It was horrible.

You wiped the sweat from your face as you and Natasha entered the living area, the other Avengers already grabbing food from where it sat in the kitchen area.  Seemed like tonight was Indian food.  Bucky was piling chicken karahi onto his plate.  Bumping your hip against his, you smiled as you grabbed a plate.  "Leave some from the rest of us."

The brunette smirked as he bumped you back, sending you stumbling to the right.  "You need a shower.  You smell."

"Hey!"  You frowned as you grabbed a spoon to put some of the vegetable chettinad on your plate.  "I didn't sweat that much."  You couldn't help but check as he walked away laughing, relieved to find that you didn't smell that bad.  It was just Bucky being an asshole.

You joining the Avengers during mealtimes was a recent development.  You had sometimes eaten lunch with them, even though most of them had the bad habit of forgetting to stop whatever they were doing to get food.  That just meant that you had taken it upon yourself to bring food to whoever was in the compound if they didn't come by the kitchen to get it themselves.  It was almost always leftovers from the night before, but no one really minded.  There were worse things to eat.

Climbing onto the couch beside Natasha, you tried to catch up with the conversation happening around you.

"—can't do that.  We need you, Bucky, Rhodey, and Nat to go in.  She can't run tech if she's on the ground," Tony said, in a somewhat heated discussion with Steve.

The blonde raised his eyebrows, having forgotten the food that he had set on the coffee table in front of him.  "What about you or Peter?  Or even Bruce?"

"Peter doesn't get back from MIT until tomorrow, and I'm running with Bruce, Thor, Vision, Sam, and Wanda to the UN.  If we're not there in the morning for the meeting, they're going to freak out and we'll have another Accords situation again.  They're already irritated that I'm not bringing everyone."

That seemed to bring everyone's moods down a few pegs as it grew deathly quiet.

"I can do it."

Everyone turned to look at you, and you shrunk back a little.  They all seemed shocked that you would want to help.

"I thought you didn't like us," Sam said, breaking the silence.  Amusement lit up his eyes as he looked at you and the way that Natasha seemed ready to pounce on anyone who made a negative comment.

Shrugging, you pushed your chettinad around on a plate that was too nice for the rambunctious group.  At least one piece of dishware was broken each day, whether by clumsiness or one of the super soldiers forgetting how strong they were as they tossed it into the sink to be washed later.  "I don't not like you."

"Well, I'll be damned," Tony chuckled as he shook his head.  Pepper was seated to his left, swiping on her tablet.  You knew she was listening, but being CEO of Stark Industries was a tough job that gave few breaks.  "Are you actually offering to help us?"

"Listen, if you don't want my help, you can just say it," you retorted, feeling yourself grow a little defensive.

"I think she should help."  Everyone's eyes then turned to Wanda, who was tucked into Vision's side.  Their dynamic was weird, but good.  You watched her warily, not exactly sure where she was going with this.  "We're almost done with breaking the Stockholm Syndrome bonds in her brain.  The Red Room doesn't have a hold on her brain anymore, and she's good with tech."  Wanda hesitated, trying to find the right words.  "She's clever and thinks well on her feet.  If she wants to offer her help, we would be stupid not to take it."

You stared at Wanda for a long time, only half-listening as Tony agreed and began to make plans.  You weren't sure what her angle was.  After all, the two of you did not get along, to say the least.  Every interaction you two had was polite words through clenched teeth and narrowed eyes.  For her to say such nice things about you...  Well.  She had to have some kind of angle.

"—sure to set your alarm early."  You turned your focus back on Tony, who had a smirk as he said, "That means no FaceTiming with Peter until three in the morning, you hear?"

Your cheeks went ablaze as you looked down at your food.  The other Avengers were chuckling into their own food, trying to hide their amusement.  "We don't...  We don't FaceTime until three in the morning," you muttered, clearly embarrassed.  But you weren't sure why.  It was just Peter, after all.

"Right," Bucky said, pretending as though he was going to come to your defense.  "They FaceTime until eight, when Peter has to wake up for class."  He sent you a wink from across the circle, causing you to roll your eyes.

You were trying to find the right words to respond, that wouldn't make the situation worse, when Vision said, "I think it's sweet that they stay on FaceTime even when they fall asleep.  It reminds me of Wanda and I during the Infinity War."  Wanda seemed to get just as embarrassed as you as she turned to look up at Vis, whispering into his ear.  Sometimes it was hard to remember that Vision was technically an A.I., even though he could morph himself to look completely human, just like now.  He was as human as human could be, in your mind.  He thought for himself and had feelings just like everyone else in the room.  The way he looked at Wanda was proof enough of that.

The only issue is that Vision's words hadn't helped your situation any.  They was more muffled laughter and teasing from Tony and Bucky, with Nat giggling beside you.  You don't think you'd ever heard her giggle, but it was nice.  She had become a huge maternal figure to you in the past week.  "Stop it," you ordered, pointing your fork at Tony and Bucky.  You had tried to have a stern look but you could tell it wasn't really working.  "Peter and I are just friends."

"Yeah, because all friends sleep in the same bed every night and Facetime when they can't be together," Bruce chimed in from the other side of Natasha.  He was usually pretty quiet during meal times, only throwing in a few jokes here and there.

"And Peter definitely calls all of his friends 'angel,'" Tony said, sending a round of laughter through the group.

You were sure that you were red as a tomato as you rubbed your hands on your leggings.  Even though you had cooled down from your workout with Nat, you found that you were starting to sweat again and your hands were getting clammy.  "How do you know about that?"

"So it's true?!" Sam exclaimed, grinning from ear-to-ear.

You didn't respond, choosing instead to stuff your mouth with a fork full of rice and vegetables.

Tony smirked as he wrapped an arm around Pepper.  "You're not the only one who FaceTimes with Peter, Y/N.  He may or may not have referred to you as angel.  It actually took a few times before I realized it was you he was talking about and not some girl he had met at MIT."

You felt yourself bristling at just the thought of him meeting some other girl, which just sent another wave of confusion through you.  Why did it bother you so much?  It was just Peter.  He deserved to be happy.  If he found a girl (or boy, you didn't judge) that made him happy, then you would be happy for him.  Maybe.

Wanting to get the attention off of you, you waved your hand nonchalantly towards Natasha and Bruce, who were sitting very close together.  "So you're making something out of nothing with Peter and I, but we're not going to talk about whatever's going on with those two?"

There were hoots and hollers as a blush crept up Bruce's neck, Natasha just looking at you in surprise.  "Thanks, Y/N, way to throw me under the bus," she muttered so only you could hear.

You shrugged, mouthing a 'sorry' before sitting back as everyone began to rail into the two.  You knew that if Clint were here, he'd be making smart ass comments, too, but he had gone home to his farm for the last two weeks.  He wasn't supposed to come back for another two weeks and he was bringing his wife and kids with him when he did.

A few minutes later, you stood and brought your plate to the sink.  You didn't even notice that Wanda had followed you until she slid in her plate next to yours.  Looking up at her, you crossed your arms over your chest.  "Uh...  Thank you.  For what you said earlier," you said quietly, glancing from the ground up to her face and back again.

"It was nothing," she insisted, rinsing off both her plate and yours.  "What I said was true.  You're smart."  There was quiet for a few moments as the older girl put the two plates into the dishwasher.  "I'm sorry that we got off on the wrong foot.  I'm very... protective of the others, and you weren't exactly friendly when you first arrived."  She looked up at you, her eyes softer than you had seen them before.  "Nat is one of my best friends.  We were the only two girls, besides Pepper, when you showed up.  It kind of forces you together."

You couldn't help but grin as you looked back towards the others.  True to her word, Natasha and Pepper were the only two women sitting among the men.  "You've gotta stick together to survive the sea of testosterone."  The girl beside you snorted, looking out towards the group, too.  You glanced up towards her, leaning back against the counter.  "I'm sorry for slapping you, by the way.  And... you know, being the way I was."

"That wasn't your fault," she said.  "I was the same way when the Avengers first found my brother and I.  HYDRA made my brother and I into weapons of mass destruction.  We actually hated Tony Stark with a passion before realizing that him and the rest of the Avengers were only trying to do their best.  They didn't mean to hurt people, they just meant to save as many people as possible."

You were a little surprised to find that her backstory was pretty similar to yours.  "Your brother?  What happened to him?"

Wanda swallowed, biting her lip.  You could see the pain overcoming her face.  "He died in Sokovia protecting Clint, who was protecting a kid."

"You miss him?"  You knew it was a dumb question to ask, but as someone who had also lost their family, you knew that it was an experience that linked the two of you together.

She nodded, a sad smile on her face.  "Every day."

"I miss my mama," you murmured, eyes watching Natasha as she laughed with the others.  "I have Nat now, of course, but it's not the same."

Wanda turned to you, her eyes filled with compassion.  "This new family doesn't mean you forget the old one.  But your mother would want you to be happy."

With that, she walked away and you felt a little bittersweet as you watched her tuck herself back into Vision's side.  You hadn't realized how much she had been through, but it made sense.  The Avengers had a talent for finding broken people and taking them in.  Your new family, as Wanda called it, was a collection of hurt people.

You were all broken people learning how to be whole again together.  You could see it in the way that Steve constantly checked that Bucky was beside him, that finding him again wasn't a dream, or in the way that Tony would squeeze Pepper's hand in his.  Each of you had made this little group into their family.  You couldn't imagine how bad it had been when the Civil War happened, let alone the Infinity War.  Peter had explained in detail what had gone on.  You had had little information since The Red Room barely gave you any.  All you knew was that one day, a bunch of the girls in the Red Room had disappeared in to no where, and then one day they just reappeared, talking about some place called Soul World.

It had been terrifying, to say the least.

As you joined the group once again, you realized you were unsure about telling Peter about you going on a mission in the morning.  You were only going to be in the quinjet running tech, of course, but it was still a mission.  There was still a chance you'd get hurt if some one found you.

You were periodically checking your phone as the group sat around, laughing and joking with each other.  They had transitioned from dinner to drinking.  When you had tried to grab something, though, Nat had swatted your hand away.  "You still have another year and a half," she ordered, causing you to purse your lips and cross your arms over your chest.  They were getting more and more relaxed and goofy as they drank more and more.  Even Steve and Bucky were finishing off the Asgardian Mead that Thor had brought with him.  He was bringing more in the morning when he arrived, so they weren't exactly worried about running out.

As soon as the clock hit eleven, you slid off the couch and tried to get to the elevator without the others noticing.  It was to no avail, though, since Sam caught sight of you and let out a long whistle, causing the others to turn and look.  You ignored their obnoxious cat calls and whistling as you stepped into the elevator, flipping the bird at them as the door closed.

You took a quick shower, your heart racing as the phone rang just as you were stepping out.  11:15 PM, on the dot.  A picture you had screenshotted of Peter before he left was on the screen, drool dripping down his face as he slept.  You had woken up before him one morning to find him still asleep on FaceTime.  You just couldn't resist and had quickly made it his contact picture.

Diving onto the bed, you answered the call and felt yourself relax as his familiar smile filled up the screen.

"Hey, Y/N, how was your day?" He asked, turning to swat away a pillow that his roommate, Ned, was throwing at him.  You had spoken to Ned in passing over FaceTime, though it was usually only for a minute or two before Peter kicked him out of his room.  Even though they both had their own rooms in the small apartment that Tony rented for them, they spent most of their time together when they weren't in class.

"Hi, Peter," you giggled, watching as Ned began to try to grab the phone, shouting your name.  "Hi, Ned, how are you?"

There was more shouting and you laughed as Ned finally got a hold of the phone and locked himself in the bathroom, Peter banging on the door in the background.  "I'm good, just wondering when I'm going to get to meet you."

"Oh, really?"

There was more shouting as Ned nonchalantly shrugged.  "Yeah, I keep trying to get Peter to bring me to the compound, but he said Mr. Stark won't like it, even though I'm his Guy in the Chair."

"His Guy in the Chair?"  Your head cocked to the side in confusion as you tried to understand.  There was a lot of pop culture references you still didn't get, but you were getting better at it with each day.  This seemed to be another one of those things.

Ned's eyes went wide as he realized what kind of a treasure he had stumbled upon.  Someone with little knowledge of pop culture that he could teach himself.  It was amazing.  "The Guy in the Chair is the guy in all the superhero movies that does the tech.  He sits behind the computer and helps the hero.  It's what I do when Peter goes on solo missions that aren't given to him by the UN or Mr. Stark."

"Wait."  Your eyes narrowed as you realized what he was implying.  "Are you telling me that Peter goes on missions alone?!"

Ned must've realized how upset you were, because he quickly shouted, "Peter, she wants to talk to you!"  He opened up the door, shoving the phone into said boy's hand before shutting himself into his room.

"What was that about?" Peter asked, a little out of breath and confused.

"Peter Benjamin Parker, are you going on missions alone?" You demanded, and watched as his eyes went wide.  "Because that better not actually be what I'm hearing."

He rubbed the back of his neck as he went to his room and shut the door with a soft click.  You could see how much of a mess was behind him, but you ignored that for now as you focused on the most pressing issue.  "Uh...  Maybe?"

"PETER!"

Chapter Text

The next morning, your alarm went off at six and you had to fight back a groan as you rolled over and hit the off button.  Your phone was resting next to you, still on FaceTime.  You hoped that it hadn't woken Peter but were disappointed when his sleepy morning voice asked, "Why's your alarm set so early?"

"Sorry," you whispered, the early morning hours making you feel like you had to whisper.  "I told Bucky that I'd go on an early morning run with him and Steve.  They wanna show me some trail outside the compound."  Technically, it wasn't a lie.  You had promised Bucky that you'd do that run with them, but it wasn't that morning.  Sitting up, you ran your fingers through your bed head as you looked around.  It was still completely dark outside.

You picked up your phone and smiled as you saw the red lines that were on the side of Peter's face as he lifted his head to look at you.  "Why, Why so early?"

You shook your head fondly at him as you moved to the bathroom to brush your teeth and run your fingers through your hair so it looked a little less wild.  "He said something about watching the sunrise."  Leaving the phone on the edge of the bed, you grabbed the spandex catsuit that Tony had given you from the closet.  It was plain black, and matched the one that Natasha had.  He had made comments about being a mini-Natasha as he had given it to you.  When you first arrived, you would have hated comments about that, but now you kind of enjoyed it.  It felt flattering.  It was nice to be compared to someone as great as her.

Peter grunted in reply, still half-asleep.

"You should go back to bed.  I'll see you tonight, okay?" You said as you got dressed out of view.

He clearly was too tired to argue, murmuring, "Okay.  Goodnight, angel."

You made a comment about it being morning under your breath as you hung up, tossing it onto your bed again as you pulled on your boots and clipped the belt around you.  You turned around a few times in the full length mirror.  You really did look like a mini-Natasha.  Your phone dinged again, letting you know that you needed to get down to the communal area. 

Bucky was leaving his room at the same time as you, and he smirked as you got in the elevator.  "So, how's Peter?" He asked, causing you to punch him in the arm.

Rhodey, Natasha, and Steve were waiting for the two of you in the kitchen, and Nat tossed you an apple.  "We don't really have time for a big breakfast."  Without another word, the five of you headed out to the hangar.

Once on board the quinjet, Nat turned to you.  "Come on, I'll show you where you're gonna be."  She led you from where the others sat waiting to a large room just behind the cockpit.  It was lined with computers and tech.  She hit a button, and you watched as they all turned on, glowing blue.  The Avengers logo flashed across all of them, before they each turned to a different camera feed.  "You're just going to be here in the jet, like we said," she explained, gently putting a headset on you and adjusting the mouthpiece.  "The current mission is already loaded onto the system.  All you need to do is watch for HYDRA agents, okay?"  Nat pointed at each of the screens that had computer feeds on them, showing you which one went where compared to the blueprint of the building on the center screen.  "We know the basic route to get to the control room, but if HYDRA agents are coming towards us, you're going to let us know so we can go another route.  Does that make sense?"  When you nodded, she smiled at you reassuringly.  "You've got this, okay?  It'll be a quick in and quick out kinda mission."

You followed her back to where the others were waiting, pulling your headset down so it was wrapped around your neck.  "Are we going to be back before Peter gets home?" You asked suddenly, realizing that if you didn't get home before him, he'd find out immediately that you were on a mission.

"You really miss that kid, huh?" Rhodey laughed as he shook his head.

Before you could reply, Steve cut in with, "Y/N, did you not tell him that you were going on a mission?"

You slowly shook your head no, looking down at your hands.  "I didn't really wanna worry him.  You know how he gets."

Bucky guffawed, bending in half as he looked at you.  "Holy shit.  He's gonna be pissed when we get back."

Rolling your eyes, you turned back to Steve.  "Are we going to get back before he gets home or not?"

He shrugged, looking at his tablet.  "It really depends how long this takes.  It's a five hour flight there and back.  So even if we get in and out within an hour, it's a hard maybe."

"But what's the likelihood of it being a quick in and out?"

When Steve didn't reply, you felt a tinge of worry.  Peter was going to be absolutely pissed.

Nat, however, nudged your arm.  "You should get a little more sleep before we get there.  There's bunks in one of the other rooms."  She led you to the room, which had about twelve bunks, four lining each wall.  "Take your pick.  I'll wake you up when we're close."

You crawled into the first one you saw as Nat turned out the light and shut the door behind her.  You placed the headset down beside you and it took less than two minutes for sleep to overcome you.

When Nat finally woke you up, you were much more rested than you had been getting onto the plane.  You hadn't exactly followed Tony's advice to not stay up late on FaceTime.  You had rationalized it by telling yourself that if you told Peter you wanted to go to bed early that he'd get suspicious.  Putting the headset back on, you followed her to where the others were starting to suit up.

"We're about five minutes out," Bucky said in passing as he tied his hair back and went to grab his vest.

You were about to go to the computer room when you stopped Nat.  She looked down at you in confusion as you bit your lip, trying to find what you wanted to say.  "Be, uh...  Be careful, yeah?"

You surprised her even more as you hugged her tightly, your head in the crook of her neck.  "I'll be careful," she murmured, hugging you back just as tight.

You pulled away and nodded once more to her before going back to the computer room.  Taking a seat, you pulled your headset back on and adjusted it as the other four checked in.  As you watched the various computer feeds, you realized with a laugh that you were the Guy in the Chair now, just like Ned.  Though, maybe it'd be better to say Gal in the Chair.

You made a mental note to get Ned's number so you could tell him about this later.

You sat up, focusing on the cameras more closely as Steve came over the comm.  "Alright, guys, we're a go in 3...  2... 1."  On one of the top screens, you could see each of the camera feeds from Nat, Steve, Bucky, and Rhodey's suits.  You could pretty much see what they were seeing.

Over the next two hours, you led the team through the five story building.  It wouldn't have taken so long if Steve didn't want to sneak in so HYDRA didn't know they were there.  Apparently this was just so that they could put bugs into the HYDRA control room computers so that all the info they got in the future would go straight to the Avengers.  It was kind of genius, really.

Even if it did mean the mission took four times as long.

You were mostly guiding Natasha to the control room, and the other three were acting as lookout and guards in case something got out of hand.  You wanted to comment on the mild sexism of it, but chose instead to keep your mouth shut for now.

By the time they got back to quinjet, it was two in the afternoon.

There was no way you were getting back before Peter.

You were so anxious the entire flight home that you couldn't even sleep.  The others had crashed in the bunk room, but you had chosen to curl up on one of the couches in the communal area of the jet.  You were watching movies from Peter's "Much Watch" list.  So far, you had made it through both Blade Runner movies and Interstellar.

You picked your phone up from where you had left it on the other side of the couch, panic rising in you as you realized you had a slew of texts and five missed calls.

Peter: Hey, I just pulled in.  Where are you?

Peter: Y/N?

1 Missed Call

Peter: You're not in your room, are you with Nat in the studio?

Peter: You're not there either, where are you?

3 Missed Calls

Peter: Y/N, are you okay?

5 Missed Calls

Peter: I'm calling Tony.

You grimaced as you knew that within five minutes, he'd be chewing your ass out.  Setting your phone to the side, you did your best to ignore it vibrating as you turned on Baby Driver.

You didn't pick up your phone again until you were five minutes from the compound.  It was already in sight as you read through the text messages that Peter had sent you.

Peter: Why did I find out from Tony that you're on a mission today?

6 Missed Calls

Peter: Seriously, Y/N, answer your fucking phone.

Peter: This isn't cute.

7 Missed Calls

Peter: I'm calling Steve.

Peter: Why the hell isn't Steve answering?  Are you okay?

Peter: Y/N, please talk to me.

Peter: I just want to know that you're okay.

10 Missed Calls

Peter: I'm at the hangar.

Fuck me in the ass, you thought to yourself a little bitterly as you shoved the phone into your belt.  The others were sleepily filing out of the bunk room.  You all went to the back of the quinjet, waiting for the back door to open.  As soon as you landed and the back slowly lowered, your eyes landed on Peter storming towards you.  Tony was following after him, seemingly trying to get him to calm down

You weren't even able to say anything before he was shouting, "What the fuck were you thinking?"

"Gee, hi to you, too, Peter.  Yeah, the mission went well.  I missed you, too.  It's good to have you home," you said sarcastically, getting defensive at how angry he was with you.

He shook his head, staring you down.  "This isn't the time for cute."

"I'm not being cute."

Peter ran his fingers through his chocolate brown hair, closing his eyes as he took a deep breath before he looked at you again.  "Y/N, why the hell didn't you tell me?"  His voice was a lot quieter and you realized how hurt he was.

It fucking stung.

You realized that you had betrayed his trust.  You also realized that he had trusted you in the first place.

"I'm sorry," you whispered as you walked over to him.  "I just didn't want you to worry.  And I..."

Peter watched you skeptically as you hesitated, though his anger was quickly dissipating.  "And what?"

You felt tears sting your eyes as you stood in front of him.  The last thing you had ever wanted to do was hurt him.  He was your best friend, after all.  "I wanted to prove that I could do it."

"Do what?"

"That I could be a good guy."

You watched as Peter's anger completely faded and he pulled you into his arms.  He hugged you tightly, his head resting on top of yours.  "You've always been a good guy, Y/N.  You, You, You don't need to prove that, okay?"  One of his hands rested on the back of your head, his fingers running through your hair.  "You scared the hell out of me, you know."

"I know.  I'm sorry," you repeated as you held onto him, tears wetting his shirt where your head was.  You knew he would be worried, you just didn't know how much he cared about you.  You hadn't realized it was that big of a deal.

"You don't need to apologize, angel," he murmured, kissing your forehead.  The other Avengers had moved off to the other side of the hangar, though it was clear that they were still watching in case they needed to break the two of you up.  Peter leaned back, pushing your hair back from your face so he was holding your head in both of his hands.  "Just...  Tell me next time you go on a mission, okay?  So I don't come home expecting to find you waiting with open arms."  You laughed weakly as he pulled you into his chest again.  "I thought I'd be coming home to you.  Not the other way around."  You nodded, and he kissed your forehead one last time before letting you go.  "Come on, it's dinner time," he said, not letting go of your hand as he led you to where the others were.

You were distinctly aware of the others watching you, especially the look that Bucky gave you.  But you ignored it, choosing instead to clutch onto Peter's hand and follow him inside to where Thai food was waiting for you.

Chapter Text

Dinner was the same as it always was, with everyone eating together on the giant couch.  The only change was that Peter was home, and he refused to leave your side.  Ever so often, he would reach over and squeeze your hand, out of view from the other Avengers.  Every time it happened, though, you would look up at him and smile before squeezing his hand back.

The two of you were so oblivious, it was painful to the others.

None of them quite understood why neither of you could see that what the two of you had wasn't just friendship.  There was a different kind of care between the two of you.

It was interesting to them because one, you were so guarded that it was hard to imagine you opening up to someone the way you opened up to him and two, they had never seen Peter like this in the seven years that they had known him.  He had had little crushes before, of course, but it was nothing compared to how much he cared about you.  They hadn't ever seen him get so protective or angry, for that matter.  He was always the happy-go-lucky, everyone's-best-friend kind of guy, but the moment he thought you were in danger, it was like a switch had been flipped.

You set your empty plate on the coffee table before sitting back and leaning your head on Peter's shoulder.  His arm was wrapped around you, your knees pulled up to your chest as you tucked yourself into him.  The two of you fit like puzzle pieces.

Everyone noticed how quiet you were during dinner, choosing instead to close your eyes and focus on the boy that had you in his arms.  Peter, too, was quieter than usual.  He still threw in comments here and there, but he spent most of the time pressing kisses to your forehead and whispering into your ear so that the rest of the team couldn't hear.  Sometimes you'd let out a snort, your hand raising to cover your mouth as you tried to keep from laughing.

The two of you were sickeningly cute, to say the least.

"Wanna head upstairs?" Peter asked, his lips tickling the outer shell of your ear.  It was only about nine but you were exhausted.  When you nodded, he stood up and held out his hand for you to take, leading you to the elevator.  You held onto him like he was a lifeline as the others called out their goodnights.  You didn't reply, fighting back a yawn as you stepped onto the elevator.  He said something about letting you shower while he grabbed pajamas, and disappeared into his room.

Twenty minutes later, you stepped out of your room in one of Peter's t-shirts, drying your hair.  Peter was sitting on his bed and scrolling through his phone.  "What's that?" You asked, pointing to the plastic bag that was resting beside him.

Smirking, he reached into the bag and pulled out of a package.  Across the top read "GLOW IN THE DARK STARS."  "I told you we'd put up stars when I came home."

You felt a burst of energy run through your veins as you ran towards him, jumping onto the bed.  You reached for the package as you sat back on your heels.  Your e/c eyes were wide with excitement.  "I can't believe you actually got me these!"

"Why?" Peter laughed as he reached in and pulled out two more packages.  "I never break my promises, you know."  You sat on the bed and watched as he opened up the first package, dumping out the stars on your bed.  He grabbed his phone and searched for something, glancing between your ceiling and his phone every few seconds.

"Do you want me to help?" You questioned, watching as he crawled up the wall with a few stars in between his teeth.

"Can you, Can you hold my phone up for me to look at when I ask?  And hand me more stars?"

You nodded, grabbing his phone and glancing at it.  Your heart skipped a beat as you looked at what he had searched for.  A map of the different constellations.  Holding up the phone for him, you watched as Peter stuck them on your ceiling.  It was a long process, but eventually the constellations started to take shape.

"Do you think Tony's going to kill us?"  You cocked your head to the side as you thought about it.  Sure, the billionaire let the two of you get away with almost anything you wanted, but this felt similar to drawing on the walls with Sharpies.  Like, you thought it was a good idea but the moment your parents came around the corner yelling, you realized that maybe you were wrong.

Peter laughed, shaking his head as he stuck the final star to Cassiopeia to the ceiling.  "I really hope not.  I've already spent an hour up here and we still have a long ways to go."  He had already finished Draco, Ursa Minor, Ursa Major, Cepheus, and Andromeda.  You weren't sure where he had gotten this map from, but when you looked at his phone again, you felt like you could melt.  He had gotten a map of the sky from the night you were born.

"You don't have to do this," you said as you handed him yet another few stars.  He was starting on Perseus, biting his tongue in concentration.  "I'm sure that we could get Steve, Bucky, and Thor to help in the morning.  Or Vision."

He turned to look at you, smiling teasingly.  "What?  You, You don't trust me to make it look good?"

"That's not what I said at all!" You groaned, falling back onto your pillows.  "I'm just saying that you've already been up there for over an hour.  I'd understand if you're getting tired."

Peter just ignored you, continuing to work on forming the constellations.  Rolling your eyes, you sat back up so that you could show him the phone.  He'd occasionally glance down at it, muttering under his breath as he tried to find the perfect place to put it.

The process took another two hours, but when he was done and the two of you were lying on the bed and staring up at it, you had to admit that it was worth it.  "It's beautiful," you murmured, your eyes sparkling.  You scooted over to curl up against him, your eyes still on the glowing pieces of plastic.  "Thank you."

"Anything for you, angel," he said, his voice barely audible.  He pressed a kiss to your hair as he held you, his fingers running through your hair absentmindedly.  Peter had become so tactile around you when he was home that it was insane.  There was almost never a moment where he wasn't touching you.  And if he wasn't touching you, he had you within his sight.  You knew that part of it had to do with him thinking you had almost died that day, but you didn't mind.  You liked his protective side and how affectionate he became.  He was one of the few people that you didn't mind touching you.

"Hey, Peter?"

"Yes, Y/N?"

"Do you think we still would've met if you guys hadn't rescued me?"

He paused, taking his time to think about the question.  You were essentially asking him if he believed in fate, but in much smaller words.  You were worried that if you asked him if he believed in fate, you might come off too strong.  "I do," he finally answered.

"Really?"  You turned to look up at him, one of your legs thrown over his.

Peter nodded, his eyes flicking back and forth between the stars, as though they would help him.  "I think we would've found each other eventually."  He then turned on his side so that he was facing you.  His breath was hot against your face, but it wasn't a bad kind of hot.  Your noses were less than an inch from each other.

"Why?"

A grin lit up his face as his nose scrunched up.  "You, You just basically asked if I thought fate would've still led us to meet if you hadn't been rescued and when I say yes you ask why?  Really?  Do you not think we would've?"

You shrugged as one of his hands grabbed yours, watching as your fingers locked together.  "It's a big world."

"I bet it's actually a lot smaller than you think."

Pursing your lips as you thought, you didn't even realize that Peter was pulling you even closer to him.  You were pressed against his chest, your head fitting into the crook of his neck perfectly.  "You believe that?  Even with all of space out there?"

He snorted, shaking his head as his arm wrapped around you.  "Well, I wasn't counting space.  I didn't, I, I didn't think that one of us being in space was a scenario in this discussion."

"Why not?  You were for a while."

He sputtered, trying to come up with some kind of come back.  You giggled, picturing exactly the look you knew he currently had on his face.  His eyes would be halfway narrowed, his mouth hanging open and his cheeks a soft pink.  "Okay, smart ass," he replied after a long pause, clearly failing to come up with some kind of a response.

It was quiet for a few minutes as the two of you laid there, his fingers tracing up and down your back.

"But do you believe in fate?  Really?" You asked, not really wanting to look at him.  Even though he had pretty much answered yes earlier, you were still unsure.  You felt incredibly naive just for asking.

Peter's chest rumbled with laughter.  "Yes."

"Huh."

You were so lost in thought that it startled you a little when he kissed your forehead, his lips lingering.  "I believe that the universe grants us a miracle once in our life, and I believe that you're mine."

Oh.

Well, that...

Uh...

You weren't really expecting that.  "I'm no miracle," you insisted, shaking your head.

But Peter only pulled you closer, squeezing you extra tightly for a moment as though he was trying to make sure that you were really, really there.  "Yes, you are.  You're exactly the miracle I've been looking for."

Deciding to not argue with him about whether or not you were a miracle, you moved on to another topic.  "Peter?  Are you really mad at me for going on the mission?"

The brunette let out a long huff of air.  "No," he said.  "I, I, I was upset because when you didn't answer your phone, I thought that something had happened to you.  I thought that the Red Room had gotten you, or HYDRA."  He shuddered at the thought, pressing another kiss to your forehead.  You weren't sure how many times he kissed your forehead since being home, but you didn't mind.  You kind of loved it.  "That's my nightmare, you know."

You pulled back a little, looking at him in confusion.

Peter didn't meet your eyes as he tugged on a lock of your hair.  "I dream that I lose you, or my, my Aunt May and Ned are in trouble and there's nothing I can do to help them.  I dream about the other Avengers, too."  His smile was self-deprecating a he finally did look up at you.  "You're not the only one with nightmares."

God, you felt so stupid.  You felt so... so selfish.  Of course Peter would have nightmares.  He had spent a long time in the Soul World, thinking that he had lost half of the people he loved.  He had fought just like the other Avengers had, just like you had.  They were different battles, but battles just the same.

"I'm sorry," you murmured, your voice cracking a little.  "I had no idea."

He didn't seem to blame you though.  "I kept it hidden.  I don't like the others to know that I have them.  It just makes them worry more, since I'm the baby in the family."  Smirking, he pressed his nose against yours.  "Well, technically you are now."

"Well, they already know about mine, so that ship has sailed."  Your brief smile fell as the conversation got serious again.  "Peter...  Promise me that you'll call me if you have one.  Just like how I call you."

He nodded, swallowing down a lump in his throat.

You scooted closer to him, nuzzling into the warmth of his chest.  "Let me be there for you, Peter."

And with that, the two of you drifted off into a (mostly) dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

Almost three months flew by right before your eyes.  You were going on missions with the Avengers pretty consistently, though you were never on the ground.  You always worked tech in the quinjet.

And as promised, you told Peter every time you went on a mission and called him as soon as you got back.  That is, if he wasn't on it with you.  If there was a mission during the weekend and you were going, he was sure to make sure he was on the team.

You and Wanda...  Well, it took a while, but you two had grown a lot closer since your little heart-to-heart in the kitchen that one night.  You two and Natasha were like three peas in a pod, with Pepper sometimes joining in on your antics.  Most of the time, it was just wine nights where Natasha would give you a glass with a wink.  The four of you would kick out the boys so you could be alone.

You looked up at the apartment building in front of you with wide eyes, swallowing the lump in your throat.  The sounds of the city rushed around you.  Happy had parked the car and walked to the trunk, pulling out your luggage.

"It's okay.  I, I, I got it," Peter said as he grabbed the suitcases, waving the man off.  He turned to say something to you but stopped when he realized you were still in the car.  "Y/N?"  He walked over to your open window, leaning against the hood so he was looking into your eyes.  "What's wrong, angel?"

Biting your lip between your teeth, you looked down so you wouldn't meet his eyes.  "I don't want to go in."

"Why not?"

"What if she doesn't like me?"

Peter's worried expression fell as he laughed a little.  "She's going to love you.  I, I promise."  He opened up the door, holding his hand out for you to take.  "You've been looking forward to this trip for the last month.  Don't, Don't let nerves stop you now."

You slowly placed your hand in his, your eyes meeting his as he smiled at you encouragingly.  Once you had stepped out of the car, he pulled you into a tight hug.  His breath tickled your ear as he murmured, "I've got you, okay?"

It wasn't just meeting Aunt May.  This was the first time that you had been to New York City since being taken.  This moment was also you being reintroduced to the world.  It had been a slow process, starting with that run with Bucky.  He had made you promise to go on it before your first mission, but it didn't actually happen until about a month after.

You had come downstairs one day to find Nat, Steve, Tony, and Bucky talked in heated whispers.  Bruce was standing off to the side, clearly listening but not wanting to be a part of the discussion.

"I think she's ready," Bucky said firmly, his eyes narrowed.  His metal fingers were flexing at his side.

Tony shook his head, his arms crossed over his chest.  "What if she runs?  What if all of this has been an act?"

Nat bristled, taking a step towards the brunette.  "She's not going to run.  Wanda undid the Stockholm Syndrome bonds."

Tony looked ready to say something else, but Steve cut in, "Bucky and I will be there with her the entire time.  It's just a run."

"Hey, Y/N," Bruce suddenly said, bringing everyone's attention to where you stood at the elevator.

You had already put on your pajamas and had just come down for a late night snack before your nightly FaceTime.  "Hi."  Moving towards them, you wrapped your arms around yourself a little nervously.  "Talking about me?"

Tony cleared his throat as Bucky shot him a look.  "Uh, we—"

"I'm not going to run.  If that's what you're worried about."  Everyone's voices went quiet as they watched you.  Your e/c eyes flickered to each of them in turn, trying not to whither under their scrutiny.  "This is my home now.  Why would I leave?"

Natasha had smirked triumphantly at Tony, clapping her hands together.  "Sounds good enough to me."  As Tony walked away grumbling, she winked at you, mouthing, "I'm proud of you."

The next morning, you met Bucky and Steve for the run at five in the morning.  Well, Bucky had to drag you out of your bed, but still.  Five in the morning.  You had changed into your running clothes and thrown up your hair into a ponytail as you got into the elevator.

When you stepped outside of the compound, you took in a deep breath, relishing the feeling of fresh air filling your lungs.  It was the first time you had been outside the compound since arriving.  You had forgotten how good the chill could feel against your skin, your breath forming clouds in front of you.  It was a little cold for your taste, but you quickly forgot about it as the three of you started your run.  You knew that they were slowing themselves down for you, but they didn't complain.

You were about two miles into the run when you finally got to the trail.  From there, it was another three miles to the spot that they were wanting to show you.  The sun still hadn't come up when you finally emerged from the trees, finding yourself on the edge of a cliff overlooking a river.  You could see the outline of the rolling hills as the sun finally began to rise behind the horizon.

"I remember the first time I went outside after the Avengers took me in," Bucky said as he sat on the edge, his legs hanging off.  You sat beside him, gingerly taking care to not fall.  Steve was on the other side of you, quietly listening.  "It was the middle of summer, and hot as hell.  I almost wanted to run into the forest and live there for the rest of my life, just so I wouldn't have to spend four months without fresh air ever again."

The sun was peeking over the hills, shining light on the bare trees.  "I feel human again," you said breathlessly.

The two of them smiled, and turned to watch as the sun got even higher in the sky.  It was the same feeling they had experienced years ago and still felt from time to time.

But that was just a in the forest.  This was going into the city and being around people that weren't a part of your little family.

It was also meeting the people that are most important to Peter.

He grabbed your suitcases along with his, despite your protests, and led you up the steps.  His Aunt May's apartment was on the fourth floor and there was no elevator.  Part of you expected him to be exhausted by the second floor, but then you remembered that he was Spider-Man.  He had super strength and all that just like Bucky and Steve.  He could handle a few flights of stairs.

Peter turned to you right before he opened the door, squeezing your hand in his.  "She's going to love you."  You simply nodded, and he opened up the door to lead you inside.  "Aunt May?!  I'm home!"

You watched as a woman who looked to be in her early-to-mid thirties came out of a room down the hall and came barreling towards the two of you.  You covered your mouth to hide your laughter, watching as she hugged Peter tightly.

It took only a few seconds for her to turn to you.  "You must be Y/N!  I'm Aunt May!  I've heard so much about you!"  You were shocked when she pulled you into a hug and watched Peter panic a little before realizing that you were hugging back.  The woman pulled back, holding your face in her hands as she got a good look at you.  "You're even prettier than Peter said you are!"

You laughed awkwardly as you looked down at the floor, your face hot.  "Thank you, Ms. Parker."

"Please, call me Aunt May."

Peter seemed stoked to have the two of you together as May took you on a tour, showing you all the rooms of the small apartment.  "And this is Peter's," she said as she opened up the last door in the hallway.

You grinned, looking at the boy behind you.  "Nice Star Wars sheets," you teased, nudging him playfully.  He grumbled as he nudged his hip back against yours.

"So, Y/N, tell me about yourself," Aunt May said as she was making dinner.  You and Peter were sitting at the kitchen table as you were talking with her.  "What do your parents do?"

Peter stiffened beside you, muttering, "May...  I told you..."

Her eyes widened as she must've remembered what details he had told her about you.  "Oh.  Oh, I am so sorry."

Clearing your throat, you sat up a little straighter as you looked down at your hands.  "No, it's okay.  Really."  Over the past few months, you had gotten to a point where you could talk about your mother without crying.  It was partially in thanks to your new therapist, Brenda.  She came twice a week.  Tony had set you up with her, since she was a therapist for most of the Avengers, too.  "My mama worked a lot of different jobs, though she was a bartender most of the time.  My dad wasn't exactly in the picture.  Left before I was born."

May nodded as she looked at you with sympathy, having turned around to pay complete attention to you.  "I get it.  My husband, Ben, died a few years ago."  She paused as her eyes went wide.  "It's been...  It's been almost eight years now."  Shaking her head, she turned back to the food.  You weren't sure what she was making, and it didn't exactly smell very good.  "Time flies, huh?"

Your heart hurt as you looked between her and Peter.  "You never told me your uncle died," you said softly.

He shrugged as he glanced away from you.  "I don't really like to talk about it."

You had known about his parents, but he had never told you about his uncle.  You had just thought that his Aunt May had never been married or something along those lines.  You stared at him for a long moment, reaching under the table and squeezing his hand.

May winced as she looked at the pots and pans in front of her.  "So, I don't really think this is going to work."

"What were you trying to make?" You asked, peering over towards the stove.  Almost everything was so burnt that you couldn't tell what it was.

She smiled sheepishly at you, rubbing her hands on her pants.  "I was trying to make Mexican food.  Peter mentioned that you and your mom used to make it from scratch, and I just wanted to bring a little bit of home to you."  May looked back at the food on the stove, groaning as she opened the oven and smoke came pouring out.  "I was trying to make beef empanadas and red chile cheese enchiladas since Peter mentioned that you've been wanting to stop eating meat other than fish.  I don't think it exactly worked."

You couldn't help but laugh, covering your mouth with your hand.  "It really means a lot.  Thank you."  Standing and walking over to the food, you examined it with a grimace.  "Tomorrow I can teach you?  We can start slow, with quesadillas and rice."

She breathed out a sigh of relief as she turned off the stove.  "I'd really like that."  Turning to Peter, she asked, "How's pizza sound?"

That night, the two of you crawled into Peter's twin-sized bed.  It was a tough squeeze, and you were both giggling as you tried to get comfortable in various positions.  Eventually Peter just pulled you on top of him, letting you rest your head on his chest.  His fingers ran through your hair soothingly, his other resting on your lower back.

"Why didn't you tell me about your uncle?"

Peter's fingers paused as he took in a deep breath.  "It was my fault that my Uncle Ben died."

"Peter, I'm sure it wasn't—"

He shook his head, and you went quiet.  "It was a few nights after I was bitten by that spider, and I, I, uh...  I got into a fight with Ben.  I missed curfew and so I stormed out of the apartment.  He followed after me and when he was looking for me..."

You grabbed his hand in yours, lacing your fingers together.  "You don't have to tell me if you're not ready."

He looked at you with such gratitude and adoration that you could burst on the spot.  But he continued, "He was shot trying to save someone from a mugging."

"Peter, I'm so sorry."

He pulled your hand up to his mouth, kissing your fingertips as he closed his eyes.  "He's the one that inspired me to become Spider-Man.  He always said that if you had the power to do some good in the world, then it was your responsibility to do it."  Peter smirked as he wrapped his arms around you, your head resting on his chest again as you took it as the cue that the conversation was over.  "He would've really loved you," he murmured as you fell asleep.

The next morning, you slowly slid out of Peter's grasp, trying your best not to wake him.  He had a little bit of drool running down his cheek and you grabbed your phone, snapping a quick picture before heading to the kitchen.

The smell of coffee warned you that Aunt May was awake before you actually saw her.  "Good morning."  Yawning, you murmured your thanks as she passed you a cup off coffee.

"Nice shirt."

You looked down, biting your lip as you realized you were in one of Peter's high school t-shirts and a pair of sleep shorts.  "Sorry, I just always sleep in his shirts."

"Even at the compound?"

Slowly nodding, you realized that maybe that wasn't the best move since you were trying to get her approval.

But May seemed to notice as she passed you the creamer.  "Don't worry.  I'm not upset."  She turned back to where she was making omelettes, one of the few dishes she could make without almost burning the house down.  "I haven't seen Peter this happy in a long time.  You two make a cute couple."

You choked on your coffee, coughing as you shook your head.  "We're not—We're just friends.  Not a couple."

The older woman looked at you in surprise as she flipped the omelette onto a plate.  She grabbed her own coffee, sipping at it as she leaned against the counter.  "Really?  I thought you..."  She shook her head, her eyebrows furrowing.  "With the way Peter talks about you, I just thought...  Nevermind."

She busied herself with making more omelettes, and you realized she was avoiding talking more about that.  Your mind was running a mile a minute, your heart pounding in your chest.  She thought you two were a couple?  You didn't know why it sent your heart racing.  Peter was just Peter.  The Peter who stayed with you so you wouldn't have nightmares.  The Peter who kissed your forehead and called you his angel.  The Peter that you would do anything for, the one that you would die for.

You liked Peter.

No.

You were in love with him.

You were sure that Aunt May could hear how loudly your heart was beating from where she stood across the kitchen.  How could she not?  It was possibly the loudest thing you had ever heard.

You jumped as you felt two arms wrap around you, Peter's head moving to rest on your shoulder.  "Good morning, angel," he whispered, his voice coated with sleep like honey.  He kissed your cheek and you looked up to see May raising an eyebrow at you.

"I—I need to go to the bathroom," you stuttered, pushing yourself out of your chair.  You practically ran to the bathroom and shut the door behind you.  Locking it, you looked at yourself in the mirror as you felt a wave of panic come over you.

You weren't good enough for Peter.  You might've gotten better over the past few months, but it was like domesticating a monster.  You were bound to break free and hurt someone eventually, and you'd be damned if that was going to be your best friend.  It didn't matter how much you loved him.  You would...  You would stay away from him.  The moment you got back to the compound after this little getaway.

You had to protect him from yourself.

Splashing your face with cold water a few times, you did your best to calm yourself, using the breathing technique that Peter had taught you.  Once you felt a little better, you plastered a smile on your face and went back to the kitchen.

"Hey, you, you okay?" Peter asked softly, his face filled with concern as he reached out for your hand to pull you to his chest.

You let him, knowing that you were going to have to distance yourself and all of the affectionate words and gestures would have to stop.  "Yeah.  Just felt a little sick.  But I'm good."

He hummed, kissing your forehead.  "Let me know if you feel sick again, okay?"

You didn't reply, instead just picking at the omelette that May had pushed in front of you with a knowing look.

Peter picked up his phone, frowning as he read a text message.  "Ned said that he can't make it.  He has to help his mom with something."  He looked back at you, clearly upset.  "I'm sorry.  I know how badly you wanted to meet him."

"It's okay," you insisted as you took a bite of the omelette finally.  You had just been pushing it around the plate.  "There's always next time."  You felt a little relieved.  If you didn't meet Ned in person, there would be one less person to keep at a distance after this weekend.

May turned to you, wiping her hands on a towel.  "So, after you're done eating, why don't you shower and then you can run to the store and get things for the enchiladas and rice?"

You smiled, mumbling a, "Sounds great," as you put your plate in the sink.  You ignored Peter and May's whispers as you locked yourself in the bathroom and started the shower.

You hated what you were about to do, but you knew it was the only way to keep Peter safe.

Chapter Text

After that weekend, Peter had rode with you and Happy to the compound to drop you off first before being taken back to MIT.  He pulled you in close, kissing your forehead and whispering that he'd be home soon and that he'd FaceTime you that night.

The other Avengers though the tears in your eyes were just from having to say goodbye to him once again.

You ignored Nat and Wanda as they tried to ask how the weekend went, getting into the elevator and locking yourself in your room. You didn't come down for Sunday dinner, and when Peter called you that night, you let it go to voicemail. He tried calling three more times, eventually giving up and shooting you a few text messages.

Peter: Hey, you didn't answer my FaceTime.  Are you okay?

Peter: Angel?

Peter: I'm gonna guess that you fell asleep or that you're hanging out with Wanda or Nat or Bucky.

Peter: I'll probably be up for a while, so feel free to call when you get this.

You hated this.  You hated how much it hurt just to ignore his calls and text messages.  You hated how he made you feel safe and warm.  He made you soft.  Before him, you weren't so weak.  He made your knees buckle and your hands sweat.  Your mouth got all dry.

You hated that he made you fall in love with him.

It was going to have to end.  You couldn't do your job and protect yourself and the others if you were so distracted by curly brown hair and big chocolate eyes.  If you were in the middle of a mission, you couldn't be worrying about whether or not he specifically would be okay.  It made the rest of the team more vulnerable if you were focused on Peter.

It made you the weak link, and weak links got destroyed.

That night, you had curled up under the sheets and taken two melatonin just like every other night, but sleep never came.  You laid wide awake in your bed, your phone going off with two text messages at almost four in the morning.

Peter: Hey, angel, I'm going to bed.

Peter: I'll talk to you in the morning, okay?  Love you.

You knew that he didn't mean it like that, but that simple little 'love you' made your heart soar.  Tossing your phone to the end of the bed, you burrowed down further under the blankets as you did your best to keep yourself from crying.  You had done okay so far, but those two words got to you.

When the tears started, they didn't stop until the sun rose over the horizon and filled your room with light.  Sniffling, you shut off your alarm.  There was no way you were getting out of bed.  You had locked the door the night before and had no intention of letting anyone in.

Granted, F.R.I.D.A.Y. could easily unlock your door for whoever, considering that the lock was electronic, but that was besides the point.  You didn't think that anyone would force their way in.

At about eight, you got another round of text messages.  Your phone was going off from the end of the bed and you let out a loud groan as you reached blindly for it.  You squinted against the brightness as you brought it to your face, pushing your hair back.

Peter: Good morning, angel :)

Peter: I have class at ten, if you wanna FaceTime before

Peter: Or it can wait until tonight

Peter: Whatever you want

Part of you wondered how long it would be before Peter would stop trying.  You guessed it could be as little as a week or as long as two months.  After all, the two of you had built up a routine and little habits that would be hard to break.  You had to be the strong one and made sure it happened though.

You didn't show up to your daily gym date with Bucky and you kind of expected the knock on your door that came at almost half past ten.

"Y/N?  You okay?" Bucky called out from behind the door, his voice muffled.

"Yeah, I'm good," you said, clutching the covers closer around you.  "Just not feeling very good."

"Do you want me to get a doctor?"

Fuck.  Within five minutes, Bucky could have one of the resident doctors in your room to see if you were actually sick.  "No!" You called back quickly, wincing as you realized how suspicious it sounded.  "I... I just need to sleep it off."

There was a long pause and you heard him sigh.  "Fine.  I'll be back to check on you later."

"F.R.I.D.A.Y., please close the windows," you said, watching the room grow dark around you as the automated window covers came down.  The stars that Peter had put up on your ceiling those few months ago were glowing brightly in the newfound darkness.  You felt another round of tears coming and you pressed the heels of your palms into your eyes to try to hold them back.  "Stupid," you muttered angrily, sniffling pathetically.  "Stupid, stupid, stupid."

You had no idea how long you had stared at those stars before Bucky came back to check on you, this time with Natasha in tow.

"Y/N?" Nat called, knocking softly as she leaned against the door.  "Bucky said you weren't feeling well.  Can I come in?"

"No."

She frowned up at Bucky on the other side, confused as to why you were being this way.  For one, you hadn't shown any signs of being sick before, and F.R.I.D.A.Y. hadn't reported anything to the medical bay when the A.I. had scanned you to take your vitals that morning.  It was a protocol that Tony had programmed in just a year before so that it was easier for each member of the team to keep themselves in good health.  The scan let them know ahead of time if their immune systems were down and the best way to prevent sickness.  If it was too late and they were already sick, the scan that got sent to the medical bay would be marked to be looked over by a human doctor.

Bucky leaned his head against the door frame.  "Y/N, what's going on?"

"I told you, I'm not feeling well."

"Really?  Because F.R.I.D.A.Y. didn't find anything in her scan this morning," he retorted, frowning at Natasha.  The two of them felt like parents dealing with a rebellious child and, in a way, they were.  They were the ones who looked after you the most, besides Peter.

Fuck.  You had forgotten about F.R.I.D.A.Y.  when you had decided to play sick.  The A.I. made that virtually impossible.  "Can I please just be alone?" You finally asked, looking up at the ceiling.  "I just...  I just need a day or two."

"Okay," Natasha conceded as she rested her hand against your door.  "But we're here for you okay?  No matter what's going on."

You didn't reply, rolling over onto your side to stare at the wall.  What you didn't know was that Natasha and Bucky were already heading for Tony, ordering him to get Peter on the phone.

He picked up within the first ring, his hello being interrupted as Nat asked, "Peter, have you heard from Y/N?"

Peter, all the way at MIT, stopped in his tracks as he was walking towards his apartment complex.  "Actually, no.  She never answered my FaceTime last night or my, my texts today.  Is she okay?  Do I need to come back?"

Sensing how anxious he was starting to get, Natasha replied quickly, "No!  No, she's in her room here.  She's okay, just a little under the weather.  I think it might be good if we have Brenda come tomorrow, though."

He sighed a little as he looked around him, watching the other students mill about.  His building was popular among students, since it was in a close proximity to campus and not outrageously priced.  "Will you tell me when she gets better?  Or if she gets worse?  I'm...  I'm worried."

"Of course," Nat said.  Before hanging up, she asked, "Did anything happen in New York this weekend?  Did she get freaked out or something?"

"Other than being nervous about meeting Aunt May, no."  He paused, trying to think of all that had happened that weekend.  "It did get a little weird Saturday morning.  She started getting all fidgety and nervous.  She...  She seemed like her mind was somewhere else."

The Russian made a mental note of it as the two of them said their goodbyes and hung up.  What could've happened Saturday morning that would've freaked her out?

You made it two more days before the others literally broke down your door.  You had stayed in your room the entire time, refusing to come out for Brenda or anything else.  You hadn't eaten, hadn't showered, nothing.  You also hadn't answered Peter's texts and calls, despite the fact that they were coming even more frequently now that he had realized that something was wrong.

You had turned off your phone and tossed it to the ground around four in the afternoon on the second day.

Sitting up in shock as the door opened, you watched as Bucky, Steve, Natasha, Wanda, and Tony had all stormed in.  They surrounded the bed and made it impossible for you to get out.  "What the hell?" You demanded, your voice hoarse from lack of use.

"Y/N, what the fuck is going on?" Wanda asked, her arms crossed over her chest as she glared down at you.  You knew that beyond her hard expression, she was extremely upset.  The past few months, you had become like a little sister to her, and she'd be damned if you fucked that up now.

You narrowed your e/c eyes at the people in front of you, pulling yourself into a sitting position.  "Nothing is wrong!"

"Then why haven't you showered in three days?  Or eaten?" Steve asked, motioning to how greasy your hair was.  At just the mention of food, your stomach started grumbling.  "You haven't come out of your room or even talked to Peter, for heaven's sake."

Natasha seemed to be on the verge of tears as she watched you.  "Y/N, please talk to us.  We're your family."

Tony was watching you quietly, though it was clear that he was fuming on the inside.  You don't think you had ever seen him look at you with that expression.

Bucky was watching you quietly from where he stood slightly behind Steve.  "Wanda.  Do it."

Before you could even protest, you felt Wanda's magic probing your brain and you were taken back to that Saturday morning in Queens.  You gasped, the memory feeling like a wave washing over you.

"Good morning," you yawned as you took the coffee that Aunt May was passing you.

Her eyes flicked down to the shirt you were wearing, a smirk on her lips.  "Nice shirt."

Your face felt hot as you glanced down at the Midtown Science shirt you had thrown on the night before.  "Sorry, I just always sleep in his shirts."

Aunt May seemed amused by this as she glanced at you.  "Even at the compound?"  When you nodded, she continued on as if it were the most normal thing, handing you the coffee creamer as she did.  "Don't worry.  I'm not upset."  She flipped an omelette, and you nodded the little bit of egg that slipped down the side of the skillet.  "I haven't seen Peter this happy in a long time.  You two make a good couple."

The coffee you choked on was just as hot in your memory as it had been in real life.  "We're not—We're just friends.  Not a couple."

The older woman looked at you in confusion as she turned her attention from the omelette she had just slipped onto a plate to you, picking up her coffee.   "Really?  I thought you..."  She frowned as she sipped at her coffee, the wedding ring she still wore still glinting in the light.  "With the way Peter talks about you, I just thought...  Nevermind."

You felt yourself going through all the emotions you had gone through that morning, ending with the realization that you were in love with Peter.  It filled you with both unbridled giddiness and gut wrenching dread.

Peter came up behind you in the memory and wrapped his arms around you, murmuring a good morning and kissing your cheek.

"I—I need to go to the bathroom," you sputtered, running down the hallway and locking yourself in.

It wasn't until you had come to the conclusion in the memory that you needed to protect Peter from yourself that you were able to force Wanda from your mind.  As you snapped back to reality, you jumped out of bed and grabbed the closest thing to you—a snow globe of New York City that Peter had gotten you—and threw it at her.  "GET OUT OF MY HEAD!" You screamed, tears screaming down your cheeks as the others looked at you in shock.

Wanda had ducked in time and she didn't even bother to look at the broken glass and puddle of glittery water that was by her feet.  Her gaze didn't waver from where you stood.  She had so much pity in her eyes that it made you want to scream and throw something else at her.  "Oh, Y/N...  Is that what this is about?"

You shook your head in disbelief, not even acknowledging that you were full on sobbing at this point.  Your hands were shaking and you felt hot.  "Get the fuck out of my room!"  You shouted, balling your hands into fists at your side.  You were about to throw the alarm clock when they started to file out.  You hated the way they looked at you as they left.

Like you were the monster you had known you were the whole time.

As soon as they were gone and the door had shut behind them, you rushed to the broken snow globe.  The glass shards pierced your skin as you picked them up, trying to fit them back together.  Your blood was dripping into the glitter water on the floor, turning it a soft pink shade.  When you realized that you weren't going to be able to fix the globe, you grabbed the base, which still had the mini New York skyline intact, and held it to your chest as you cried.

It was about an hour later that you heard your bedroom door open and close with a soft click, and you still hadn't left your spot on the floor.  Your tears had dried on your cheeks, leaving sticky trails and red, puffy eyes.

Natasha kneeled in front of you, pushing your hair back gently.  "We should get you in the shower, malen'kiy pauk."  Her nose wrinkled as she felt how greasy your hair was.

You knew that she was trying to joke a little with you in order to get you to lighten up, but you just weren't in the mood.  You looked down at your hands, covered in cuts that had started to scab over and dried blood.

At least it was yours and not someone else's.

"How about a bath?"  She tilted your chip up, getting you to meet her eyes.  "I'll even wash your hair for you, as long as you get in the bath."

You nodded, and she immediately called out to F.R.I.D.A.Y. to start running a bath before helping you stand.

As you sunk into the hot water, you couldn't help the hum of satisfaction that rumbled in your throat.  It felt so damn good.  Nat had a cup in her hand and set to work.  She poured water over your head, wetting your hair before she lathered up a decent amount of shampoo on your head.  You kept your eyes shut tightly as she began to rinse it.

"It's okay to be in love with someone."

Your eyes popped open and you gasped as soap got in it, whimpering as you covered your eye.  Natasha took your hand down, ordering you to open your eye so that she could trickle clean water in so that the soap would wash away.  Even though it hurt like a bitch, it worked when you eventually listened to her.

"As I was saying," she murmured, finishing rinsing your hair of shampoo.  "I know that loving someone can be a scary thing, especially if you're someone like us."

Fucking Wanda had to go and run her giant ass mouth.  You were going to kill her when you got out.  This was exactly why you didn't want everyone to know.  Because then all the Avengers would be up in your business, spewing some kind of Hallmark card, Lifetime movie bullshit about how everyone deserved a happy ending.

You closed your eyes as Nat ran the conditioner through your hair, taking care to get it all the way to the ends.  "People like us...  We don't usually get happy endings.  So when you find someone that you can have that with, you should hold on and never let go."

"Peter deserves better," you whispered, your voice cracking a little as you looked down at the soapy water.  Your knees had been pulled up to your chest.

You could almost feel Natasha rolling her eyes as she passed you the face wash, making sure that you took the time do actually do it.  "You're worth more than you think, Y/N.  You might be a little bit bent, but you're not broken."  She began to wash out the conditioner as you splashed water on your face to get the face wash off.  "You have a big heart and you... you love that boy."  Her hands stilled as she sat there looking at you.  "Peter deserves someone who loves him and will give him the world and that's you.  You're what he deserves and you deserve him.  Stop fighting it because you're scared."

"What if I hurt him?"

She bit her lip, her eyes concentrated on your hair as she went back to rinsing.  "Hurt happens in relationships occasionally.  It's normal."  She shrugged as she finished rinsing and sat back just so she could sit there and talk to you.  "In our line of work, sometimes it's more inevitable.  But what really matters is how you handle it.  If you bottle it all up until you explode, you'll never be happy.  But if you communicate and let others help you, it becomes a lot easier."  She patted your shoulder, standing up and heading for the door.  "Dinner's ready when you get out of the bath."

You leaned back against the back of the huge tub, sinking down until the only part of you above water was your nose and your eyes.  You wanted to believe that you could love Peter without hurting him, but you knew it was impossible.  Not only could you be incredibly volatile, but you could never give him children, a family.  And he deserved that.

You ended up going downstairs for dinner after getting out of the bath, your hair still wet as you stepped out of the elevator.  The smell of hot Mexican food hit your nose and you turned to look at the others.  Bucky and Nat seemed to have triumphant smirks on their faces as you grabbed a plate and loaded it up.

As you were standing in the kitchen, you heard someone clear their throat and you turned around to see Tony standing there.  "I'm upset with you," he said, getting straight to the point.  You swallowed, avoiding his eyes as he continued to speak.  "I care about Peter.  A lot.  And what you're doing is hurting him."  The billionaire had his arms over his chest as he kept his eyes narrowed on you like a hawk watching it's prey.  "Did you know that he's called me no less than seventeen times in the past three days just to ask how you're doing and if you've come out of your room?  That's not counting the text messages or however many other texts and calls everyone else has gotten."  He pinched the bridge of his nose, as though trying to ward off a migraine.  "I had to convince him not to drop everything to come back here.  Just to make sure that you were okay."

"I—"

Tony raised his hand, effectively silencing you.  "I get it, this whole 'I'm a monster who can't love anyone' bullshit.  I've been there.  But let me tell you, it's the stupidest fucking thing I've ever heard of."  You kept your eyes down, not really sure you'd be able to keep yourself from crying if you looked up.  "That self doubt shit kept too many of those people," he said as he pointed out towards the living room, "apart for too long.  Bruce and Natasha didn't get together until after the Infinity War because they both believed themselves to be too monstrous.  I didn't believe I was good enough for Pepper and I still don't.  But I'm going to spend the rest of my life trying to be."

Your hands gripped the counter as you stood there, letting Tony say whatever he needed to say.

"You and Peter would be great together and you know this.  You take care of each other and push each other to be the best that you can be."  You moved to say something, but once again, he interrupted you, "I'm not going to tell him how you feel, but I think you should.  I think it's really fucking stupid of you to push him away like this just because you're scared."

You sat there in the kitchen as he walked away, his words ringing in your ears as you shut your eyes tight.  You wanted to believe him, just like you wanted to believe Natasha.  But the realistic part of you said that you needed to stay away, and that's just what you were going to do.

 

Chapter Text

The nightmares were getting worse.

It had been almost two months since you had started pushing Peter out of your life  You were barely sleeping and it was starting to show.  Despite the fact that you had gone back to your normal routine (minus your nightly phone calls with Peter or spending weekends with him), you were starting to fall behind.  Bucky was beginning to win during your sparring sessions.  Natasha, Wanda, and Pepper were hinting that you shouldn't drink so much wine during your girl nights.  F.R.I.D.A.Y.'s daily health reports were starting to report that your seratonin levels were low.  Brenda had even pulled Natasha and Tony aside when she saw them after your therapy sessions, whispering that you were backsliding and it was making her nervous.

But you refused to budge.

When Peter came home on the weekends, you would either lock yourself in your room or you would volunteer for whatever missions would keep you away from home until he went back to MIT.

Tony was avoiding you at all costs, and anytime he had to be in a room with you for longer than thirty seconds, he would end up sending you dirty looks and muttering under his breath.  The others had tried to get him to lay off, but it was no use.  It wasn't like you blamed him anyway.  You knew that what you were doing was hurting Peter.  You just hoped that it would get easier on him as time went on before he eventually forgot about you, just like you figured it would for you.

But it never did.

The pain never went away like you hoped.  Instead, it only seemed to get worse.  Your nightmares morphed until all of them revolved around the brunette boy.  You killing him.  Him killing you.  It was all the same, just different versions.  They all ended with you waking up screaming in the middle of the night.

About three weeks into your self-imposed exile, you were awoken by Natasha shaking you.  "Y/N?!  Y/N, wake up!"

You bolted up in bed, your chest heaving as you looked around wildly for Peter.  Your heart sunk as you realized he wasn't in your room.  You gripped your hair in your hands as Natasha rubbed your back soothingly.  The clock read 4:21 AM.

"It's okay.  I'm here," she said.

You sniffled as you shook your head.  "Th-They had him.  They had him and they k-killed him and there was no-nothing I could do."

Natasha's heart was breaking as she watched you break down into violent sobs.  This was the kind of pain that couldn't be fixed unless you could get over your self-loathing and doubt.  All she could do was try her best to help you work through it, so that's what she did.  Pulling you into her chest, her fingers ran through your hair.  "I've got you.  I've got you."  You were crying so hard that it shook your entire body, your hands clutching onto her t-shirt.  The fabric where your head was resting was soaked with your tears.  She fought back her own tears as she rocked you back and forth, humming an old Russian lullaby.

Even after you fell asleep, she continued to hold you while thinking of possible solutions.  She knew that she couldn't take away the pain or fix the problem with Peter, but she could at least try to help you get the sleep you so desperately needed.

The night after, you let Wanda use her magic to help you fall asleep.  It wasn't a deep sleep, but it got the job done.  You still suffered from nightmares, but at least your body was getting what it needed to heal and regenerate.

But a month after Wanda began to help you, you were sent on a mission.

You were sent on a mission with Peter.

You weren't even supposed to be on the mission in the first place, but two days before, the team got a kink in their plans.  You were sitting on the couch and working on your online high school homework, when Tony, Natasha, Steve, and Sam walked in.  They moved to the kitchen, Tony grabbing food from the fridge as they continued their conversation, not even noticing your presence.

"—can't send Natasha."

Steve looked confused as he sat down at the island.  He had clearly just gotten back from the gym, if the sheen of sweat on his brow was anything to go by.  "Why not?"

Nat looked pissed off as she crossed her arms over her chest.  "Because he knows me.  I led a raid on his estate four years ago.  We didn't find anything, he got off scot-free, and he knows my face."  She huffed as she sat up on the counter.  "Plus, he prefers h/c."

"Why can't we just go in guns blazing like we usually do?" Sam asked, watching as Tony threw in a bunch of vegetables into a blender.  "It's always worked for us before."

"Because," Tony said, grabbing the soy milk from the fridge and pouring in a sizable amount into the blender, "it didn't work last time and he's going to be on the look out for that now.  He's going to pack up and hide everything at the first sign that we're going to raid him."

Sam waved his hand towards Nat.  "And you can't seduce him because he knows you?"

"Exactly."

Steve frowned as he sat there, the others going quiet.  "So what are we going to do?  We can't send in Nat or Wanda."

You cleared your throat, four heads turning to look at where you sat on the couch.  They looked surprised to see you there, as though they hadn't expected you to be out of your room.  "What if you sent me?"

Natasha shook her head as she began to walk over.  "No, we can't send you in there.  You're not a field agent."

Bucky walked out of the elevator at that moment, looking at the redhead in confusion.  "What do you mean, she isn't a field agent?"  He was ruffling his hair with a towel, smelling of pine and musk, whatever that was.

"She's never been trained to be a field agent," Tony replied, abandoning the blender as he walked to join Natasha.  Steve and Sam, not wanting to be left out of the conversation, quickly followed after.

The long-haired man looked at him incredulously.  "Did you just say..."  He bit his lip, taking a moment before motioning to you.  "She received the same training Natasha did, even if it wasn't Avengers-style.  Hell, Nat never got that training and she's a field agent.  Why isn't Y/N qualified?"

Steve, Natasha, and Sam all seemed to agree with Bucky, keeping quiet as they watched Tony.  There was a little bit of tension as the men faced each other.  Even though all had been forgiven after the Infinity War, the two weren't as close as the others.  It was to be expected, of course, but it still led to a little bit of worry in moments like this.

"She works tech on the plane.  That's it."  Tony's brown eyes were narrowed, his jaw clenched.

Bucky shook his head as you stood up.  "Y/N only works tech because we didn't want to force her into any danger she didn't want to be in.  But she's offering to be a field agent.  She's ready."  He scrutinized the other man, seeming to be much calmer than the billionaire.  "Don't let your current personal grudge against her hold the team back.  She'd be a great asset.  You know this."

That seemed to hit Tony hard as he looked up towards the ceiling.  As he pinched the bridge between his nose, he let out a long sigh.  "We don't even know if she can seduce him."

Natasha chose this moment to speak up, chiming in, "The Red Room trains you in seduction, in case you've forgotten.  She's got this."  She looked to you, raising her eyebrows questioningly.  "Do you?"  You knew that she was just double checking, not wanting to throw you into something you weren't ready for.

You nodded, your hands a little shaky.  "I do.  I can handle it."  You turned to look at Tony as your teeth worried your bottom lip.  "I promise you, I won't fuck this up."  There was a double meaning there and he knew it.  You might've fucked things up with Peter, but you weren't going to let your team down no matter what.

He nodded at you once before walking back to the blender and turning it on.  The sound drowned out any chance of further conversation and the others kind of nodded at each other before separating.

You went back to your homework, putting in your headphones with a bit of a smile.  If there was one thing you were really good at, it was missions.  You got the job done perfectly and efficiently, just like the Red Room had trained you to do.  Part of you wondered what Madame B would think if she knew that you were using your training to help the good guys now.  She'd probably have a heart attack.

You looked down as your phone dinged, a text lighting up the screen.

Natasha: We're leaving Saturday at noon.  I'll come by around eight to help you get ready.

You ignored the texts from Peter, locking your phone once again.  He still sent a text every few days.  It was usually an update on his classes or a funny story about Ned.  You usually waited until you were in bed to read them.  That way, you could cry without anyone knowing.

Friday, you watched as Happy's car pulled in right at five, and Peter stepped out of the car.  You did this every week so you would know when to lock yourself in for the weekend.  It was kinda pitiful, but it was the best you could do at the moment.  It hurt your heart to see how sad he looked, though.  His shoulders were drooped, his head hanging low as he grabbed his suitcase.  His headphones were tucked in.  He didn't even say goodbye to Happy as he began to walk towards the front entrance.

Your heart skipped a beat as he looked up towards the compound and his eyes met yours.  You quickly jumped onto your bed, away from where he could see you.  You were sure that your ribs were going to break with how hard your heart was beating as you said, "F.R.I.D.A.Y., close the windows."

"Are you sure?  Your seratonin levels are low and the sunlight will help," her animated voice asked.

Rolling your eyes, you snapped, "Yes, I'm sure."  You relaxed a little, falling back on your bed as darkness overtook your room.

Except for those damn stars.  No matter how many times you had tried, you couldn't bring yourself to take them off the ceiling.  It was the one thing of Peter that you allowed yourself to keep.  You had given back all his clothes months ago, leaving them in his room when he was at school and couldn't catch you.  You had deleted the photos of him from your phone.  You had almost blocked his number, but knew that if you were in trouble and couldn't reach the rest of the Avengers, it could come in handy.

At least, that's what you told yourself.

Wanda came in to do her magic at about ten that night, holding two plates of food.  She usually ate with you in your room when Peter was home.  Otherwise, you wouldn't eat.  Sometimes it would be Natasha or Bucky, but someone always came.  She sat on your bed and watched as you pushed the food around your plate.  "You should talk to him," the older girl finally said.  She took a bite of her khao soi before pointing her fork at you.  "This whole isolation thing is ridiculous, and you know it."

Rolling your eyes, you stared down at your pad thai.  "Wanda, we've gone over this."

"And every time, I've told you that it's bullshit.  Just like everyone else on the team does."

You tried to find something to say, your e/c eyes meeting hers.  "I can't be the reason Peter gets hurt."

"That's how I felt with Vis for the longest time.  You just have to trust yourself."

There it was.  The whole trust thing.  "I don't know if I can."  Your voice cracked and you squeezed your eyes shut to stop yourself fro crying.  You seemed to do that a lot.

Wanda didn't know how to respond, so she just reached over and squeezed your hand tightly.  It was an unspoken agreement that no matter what happened, you two would be there for each other.

Even after you had thrown a snow globe at her head.

Saturday morning went quick.  Natasha knocked at exactly eight, passing you the protein shake in her hand.  "This'll keep you full until after the mission.  It's what I drink when we don't know how long it'll take and there's no promise of food."

You took a sip, your nose crinkling in disgust.  "Why is it so gross?"

"Because it's got all the nutrients you could ever need and then some and sometimes being healthy sucks."

She had then shoved you into the shower, ordering a Full Shower.  That meant washing your hair, exfoliating, shaving, the whole nine yards.  You had to be at your peak tonight.  When you got out, Nat had unpacked the makeup case she had, everything laid out on the bed.  She didn't talk much as she blow dried your hair, letting you just sit at the vanity in your robe.

But once she got started on actually doing your hair and makeup, she didn't stop talking.  "Your target's name is Dr. Harry Garner.  He's thirty-seven and from Manchester, England."  Natasha tapped the curling iron, sectioning your hair off when she realized it was hot enough.  "He went to Oxford, because that's where all the pretentious men who turn into evil villains go."

You couldn't help but laugh a little at that, biting your lip.  "What exactly is he doing that we're trying to bust him for?"

"He's building weapons of mass destruction," she said nonchalantly as she began to curl your hair.  "He's using a combination of nuclear and chitauri power."  Seeing your shocked expression, she nodded.  "If he continues to make these weapons and then uses them...  It won't be pretty."

"So this mission is very important?"  Your voice was quiet, your gaze locked on hers in the mirror.

Natasha nodded.  Her expression alone told you how serious the situation was.  "We knew that there was someone building those weapons and the location.  We just didn't know who it was until two days ago.  That's when we realized that for one, we couldn't rush the place like we usually do and two, that I couldn't be seen.  If I'm seen anywhere near his new estate, it'll be over."

You swallowed thickly as she went quiet, spending another hour curling your hair.  By the time she was done, you had large, fifties style curls.  Natasha started talking again as she started on your makeup.  You kept your eyes closed, listening to the little comments she would make.  It was relaxing, and you almost felt like a normal girl.  Like you were just getting ready to go to prom.

But this was far from prom.

If this mission went wrong, you could put the entire world in danger and it wasn't even an exaggeration.

"And you... are done," Natasha said as she spritzed some setting spray on your face.  "You can get dressed on the plane, when we get closer to the estate.  I would just throw on something comfy for now.  We have a long flight."

You opened your eyes, and you were surprised at how good it made you look.  It was simple, but sexy.  She had coated your brows with a gel to keep the natural look, while keeping them in place.  The winged liner and false lashes made your e/c eyes look huge and doe-like.  The red lips topped off the look and gave it a very classy feel.  "Were you trying to make me look like a 1950s starlet?" You murmured as you gently touched your cheek.  Your skin looked flawless.  "Because I think you succeeded."

Nat smiled as she picked up the makeup case she had just repacked.  "Harry likes old Hollywood movies, like Gone With the Wind and Rebel Without a Cause.  I tried to channel that a little.  Maybe try to bring it up?"

You nodded and she left with a final look at you.  You had watched both of those movies in the time since getting out of the Red Room, since Bucky and Steve also had to catch up with the times.  They just happened to have a little more to catch up on.

When you got to the hangar to meet the others at 11:50, you were shocked to see Peter standing there with the rest of the Avengers.  Even though you were going to be the only one on the ground, it was an important mission.  If something went wrong, they were all going to be ready to swoop in.  So it made sense that he was there.  You just didn't like it.

You were acutely aware of how his gaze bore into the back of your head as you boarded the quinjet.  Putting in your headphones, you went straight to the bunk room and climbed into the first one that you saw.  You shut the divider to make sure that no one would disturb you before pulling out your laptop.  There was no way you were going to be able to survive the seven hour flight if you had to deal with Peter staring at you the entire time.

So you spent the next six hours working on school work.  By the time you were done, you were over two weeks ahead of the class schedule, and you had successfully avoided talking to Peter.

But the knock on the divider pulled you out of your concentration.  You pulled it open a little, and saw Nat smiling down at you.  "Ready to get dressed?"  She handed you a black bag and you headed back to the bathroom to get dressed.

When you unzipped it, you stared at the dress for a full two minutes in shock.  The dress was beautiful, of course, but it was completely skin tight.  Nothing would be left to the imagination.  Shaking yourself out of your stupor, you stripped down until you just had on the thong that Natasha had advised you to wear, now knowing why.  You pulled the black fabric over your thighs, and as you slipped your arms into the off-the-shoulder straps, you realized that you were going to need someone to zip you up.

You shoved the clothing you had worn on the plane into the black bag, grabbing the heels from the bottom compartment before leaving the bathroom.  "Hey, can someone zip me?"  You asked as you entered the communal area of the jet, looking down at yourself.  You looked up as Wanda moved around you, pulling up the zipper for you.  Your eyes met Peter's, who was staring at you with an intensity that you couldn't describe, and you quickly turned away.

You sat down on the couch to pull on your shoes, Tony walking over to you with a case in his hand.  He opened it up, first pulling out an ear piece.  You tilted your head to the side to let him put it in, listening as he explained.  "We can talk to you through this, but the necklace is what you'll be talking to us through."  He carefully lifted a diamond necklace out of the case, moving your hair to put it on you.  The huge diamonds glittered as it rested against your collarbones.  "The microphone is hidden in the setting of this diamond," he said as he tapped the center of the necklace.  "If you're in trouble, say...  I don't know..."  Tony looked to the others, motioning widely with his arms as he thought.  "What's a phrase in Russian?"

"Malen'kaya balerina."

You looked over at Natasha, who was smiling warmly at you.  You nodded as you turned back to Tony.  "Malen'kaya balerina."

He raised his eyebrows, looking at the others.  "Alright.  Mall-in-kayak whatever it is.  If Y/N says that phrase, we go in.  No questions asked."  He then tapped another diamond in the necklace.  "There's a camera hidden in this one here.  We'll be able to see what you see and guide you through the house."  he stepped back, clapping his hands together.  "She's ready."

You pointedly ignored Peter's eyes as Steve stood up.  "We've five minutes out.  Everyone get ready."

God, just being in the same room as Peter was torture.  Even if you couldn't talk to him, you just wanted to look.  You wanted to watch the way his eyes lit up and his lips pulled into a crooked smile.  You wanted watch him run his fingers through his brown curls and the way his leg would bounce in nervous energy.

No.  You couldn't think about that now.  You couldn't let yourself be distracted from the mission.

Walking to the back with Natasha and Bucky, you fought the anxiety that was threatening to overcome you.  It was a weird kind of anxiety, though.  You weren't nervous about Dr. Harry Garner.  You could seduce any man you wanted to in your sleep.  You were nervous about letting down the team.  "Is it normal to be nervous?" You asked as you looked up at your two parent figures.

"I think I'd be more worried if you weren't," Bucky said with a faint smile.

Nat stood on your other side, flicking a piece of hair back into place.  "Just remember, we've got your back."

You took in a deep breath as you nodded, before getting into the car that was meant to drive you the remaining thirty minutes to the Garner estate.  Vision was your driver, having morphed himself into a random person.  If anyone saw him, they wouldn't recognize him as one of the Avengers.

When the back of the quinjet finally opened, Vision put the car into drive and you were off.  "I'm sure you'll be fantastic," he said as he noticed the way your hands were fidgeting in your lap.  Other than those few words, the two of you didn't speak the entire way back.  "I'll be the one who picks you up at the end of the night," Vis added as you got out.  He nodded at you once before driving off, presumably to wait a safe distance away.

The estate was fucking huge.  You began to go through the breathing technique Peter had taught you, calming yourself down as you walked up the steps to the front door.  It was clearly inspired by Greek architecture, with the huge pillars on either side of the front doors.  You didn't even know if you could call it a front door.  They were huge and had butlers to open the double doors on both sides.

"And we are a go," you heard Tony say in your ear as you walked into the mansion, giving a curt nod to the butlers.

You felt a multitude of eyes on you as you entered the crowded room.  It was filled to the brim with rich snobs.  "Anyone wanna tell me why I didn't get a fur shawl like every other woman here?" You whispered so only the microphone in the necklace caught it.  The slit in your dress went up to a little above your mid-thigh, teasing everyone looking at you with just a glimpse of leg.

"Thought it would cover too much skin," Nat said honestly.

Bucky was the next one to chime in, "Plus it seems a little tacky."

You had to agree with that.  Though some of the fur shawls looked classy and sophisticated, most of them looked like they were trying to hard.  After all, you were in Costa Rica.  Not Siberia.  Then, it might've looked better.

As Natasha directed you through the house, you were grateful that only Nat, Tony, Steve, Bucky, and Sam were on the comm.  You knew that they could all hear you, since the comm was hooked up to speakers in the communal area of the quinjet during missions, but having everyone be able to talk to you would've been too much.

Listening to Natasha's directions, you headed towards the back of the house, where you found double doors that led out to the gardens where most of the guests had congregated.  Two more butlers opened up the doors for you, and you were met with the sound of ocean waves.  You hadn't realized how close the estate was to the coast, but there was only a short wall the divided the gardens from the water.  As you walked through the garden, you snagged a glass of champagne from a waiter and took a long sip.

"Y/N, go to the edge of the gardens right ahead.  The man a few feet to your left is Dr. Garner," Steve said.

Stepping forward, you tucked a bit of hair behind your left ear as you watched Dr. Garner from your peripheral vision.  He was deep in conversation with two men, but paused as he glanced your way.  You felt a little burst of triumph as he turned back to them before taking a double take.  "Excuse me," he said to the couple, before moving the couple steps towards you.  "What's a gorgeous creature like you doing out here all alone?"

"Bingo," Sam muttered in your ear.

You smiled coyly at him, turning a little to look at him.  "I'm not alone.  I have you, don't I?"

You knew you had his interest as he waved a waiter over, grabbing a glass of champagne for himself.  "You most certainly do."

Turning to face him completely, you could see why he was getting away with as much as he did.  He was actually very handsome, with stormy blue eyes and a full head of dark hair.  Plus, the accent.  The British accent was an absolute killer.  "I'm Y/N.  Y/N Moore," you purred as he took your hand, pressing a kiss to your knuckles.

If he wasn't creating weapons of mass destruction and threatening the safety of literally the entire world, you might actually be interested.  Even if he was twice your age.

"So why haven't I met you before?" The man in front of you asked, swirling the champagne in his glass.  "Because I definitely would've remembered you."

Tony had created an entire fake identity for you to use.  He let you keep your first name, but the last name was something he had pulled out of his ass.  You had studied it for the past two days, until you had it completely memorized.  Like it was actually your life.  "Well, I'm the personal assistant for Alan Warren, with Warren Tech.  He sent me in his place, since he had an emergency come up.  He sends his regards and asked me to apologize for him, Dr. Garner," you said.  Tony had also set up a website for a fake company, complete with numbers that Dr. Garner could call and an employee directory with your name on it in case he wanted to see if you were who you said you were.

"Please, call me Harry."

You smiled warmly, leaning in a little as though you were entranced by him.  "Harry.  I love that name.  Reminds me of Harry Bailey from It's a Wonderful Life.  Or Harry Powell from The Night of the Hunter."

Garner looked at you in shock, delight lighting up his eyes.  "You know The Night of the Hunter?"

Nodding, you finished off your champagne.  "With Robert Mitchim and Shelley Winters?  Of course."

"Nice," Bucky chuckled.

"I have to admit," Harry said as he took your empty glass of champagne and handed it to a waiter before grabbing you a new one, "I didn't expect you to know old Hollywood movies.  Especially old Hollywood thrillers."

"Well, what kind of girl do you take me for?" You asked, holding the new glass of champagne up to your lips flirtatiously.  You were watching him through your eyelashes, giving a sense of innocence.  You could tell that he was the kind of man who would be into that.  "Besides," you hummed as you took a step closer to him.  "There's something sexy about the old Hollywood movies."

His eyes were practically undressing you as he watched you step closer.  "Even the thrillers?"

"Especially the thrillers."  You were close enough to him that you knew he would be hyper aware of it, and he'd want to close the gap completely.  But you needed to put the nail on the coffin.  "I think what makes them so sexy is the danger of it all.  I mean...  What girl can resist a bad boy?"

Harry's eyes were locked on yours.  "How would you like a tour of the house?"

"Sounds wonderful."

His hand found your lower back as he led you back into the house, and up the grand staircase that you had seen in the front foyer.

"So, tell me what you do," you said, glancing around innocently.  You knew he was leading you straight for the master suite, but you wanted to keep up that facade of innocence.  He was old school.  He would like to think that you were flirting with him because he was special, or something like that.

There were two butlers at every door in the hallway, and you realized that they doubled as security once you spotted the earpieces and they way that they watched you.

The ones at the last room at the end of the hall opened up a set of ornate double doors, and you had to keep your eyes from getting as wide as saucers as you took in the huge room.  It was fit for a king.  Truly.  You glanced back as the doors shut behind you, and you were alone with Dr. Harry Garner.  He took your champagne and set it, along with his, off to the side.  "I'm an arms dealer."

"So you really are a bad boy," you giggled as you walked around the room slowly, taking it all you.  You found yourself at the entrance to the balcony, the doors already opened.

His breath was hot on your neck as he whispered, "I'll be whatever you wanna be, princess."  Wrapping his arms around you, he began to press hot, open mouthed kisses to your bare shoulder.  "Alan Warren might want to watch out.  I might just steal you away from him."

"Is that so?"  You turned around in his embrace so you were facing him.  His eyes were locked on the way you bit your lip, your hands resting on his chest.  "I don't know if my boss would be very happy about you taking me from him."

You had to fight back from slapping him as his hands moved to your ass, squeezing tightly before one hand moved to the slit in your dress.  His calloused fingers ran over your thigh as he pulled your leg up so had to lean into him.  "If you were my personal assistant...  Well, let's just say I wouldn't be getting much work done."

"What a fucking pig," you heard Natasha mutter into the comm.

Unfortunately, so did Garner.

His eyes narrowed down at you, his grip tightening to the point that it hurt.  "So...  Who sent you?"

"What do you mean?" You asked, shaking your head.  But you knew it would be no use.  He wasn't an idiot and no matter how attractive he thought you were, he wasn't going to risk going to jail.

He'd kill you before that.

His nails were digging into your thigh as the hand that was on your ass moved to grip your face harshly.  His nails dug into your cheek, and you whimpered as you felt him break the skin, blood trickling down your cheek.  "Did I stutter?"  You yelped as his hand moved to grab your hair, tilting your head to the side so he could find the ear piece.  He grabbed it from where it sat right behind the tragus.  Looking you dead in the eye, he crushed it in between his fingers.  Like it was a fly.  Harry then eyed your necklace suspiciously, ripping it off your neck like it was nothing.

You watched helplessly as he walked over to the balcony and tossed it over into the ocean below.

You were alone with no way to contact the team.

Your heart was racing as the man shut the doors to the balcony before turning back to you, suddenly aware of the fact that he was Very Tall and Very Buff.  Even with your training, it would be a struggle to win a fight against him, and the butlers outside.

He was stalking towards you with a predatory look in his eyes.  He knew he had the upper hand.  "Tell me, Y/N...  Why did you have to do this?  We could've been so good together..."  He seemed to be amused by the panic in your eyes as you backed away from him.

Back at the quinjet, a panic was running through the team as the signal from your comm suddenly went out.  "She's gone," Steve shouted, clicking at buttons frantically.

"Y/N?!  Y/N, can you hear me?!"  Natasha asked desperately, her hands gripping the edge of the table that held the computer system.  The video feed had gone black, and the audio had gone to static.  The ping they had on your location was also gone.

Peter ran into the computer room from the communal area, clearly panicking.  "What happened?!  Where is she?!"

Tony shook his head as he tried frantically to get a signal.  "Her comm disconnected.  We have no way to reach her and she can't reach us."

"We, We need to go in there!  We need to save her!"

The billionaire shook his head at the younger man, who was already hitting the button on his suit that grew his mask around his head.  "We need a plan.  We can't just rush in there without knowing what were getting into."

"There's no time!" Peter screamed back angrily.  He ran out the back, not bothering to wait for the others who were quick to follow.

Knowing you had to at least try, you bolted for the bedroom doors.  You yanked on them harshly and began to shout as you realized that they were locked.  You even went as far as to try banging on them as hard as possible.  But it didn't work.

"Those doors are enforced with steel.  The only way for you to get out is for me to let you."  The way that Harry was stalking towards you just made you panic even more.  His movements were so languid and relaxed.  He knew he had you trapped, and he could do whatever he wanted.

You pressed yourself back against the wall as he came closer.  If you were going to make it out of there, making him think that you weren't going to fight was the best way to catch him off guard.  When he began to reach for you, you hit him with a roundhouse kick.  What you weren't expecting, however, was for him to grab your ankle and flip you so that you fell onto the ground with a resounding thud.  Your head hit the corner of the wall and your kicks grew slower and disoriented as he dragged you towards him.

"Come on, darling, I don't want to mess up your pretty face, but I will if I have to," he snarled.  He let go of his grip on you, and you tried to stand, but he grabbed you by your hair before you could.  "There.  Now there won't be so much kicking."

Tears were beginning to stream down your face as he dragged you a few feet further by your curls.  You began to scream again as he lifted you, tossing you onto the bed like you were a rag doll.  You scrambled backwards, kicking out at him, but he just dragged you back.  He seemed to be more animal than man as he grabbed at your dress, ripping it in multiple places.  His hands were all over you, ripping the slit even further before dragging your underwear down.  His nails dug into your skin as he held your wrists above your head, the other moving to undo his pants.  You squeezed your eyes shut as you shook your head.  You began to pray to whatever God there was, hoping for some kind of rescue.

The sound of broken glass was the response.

Harry turned to see what had happened when a familiar superhero dragged him off of you.  Spider-Man—Peter—was pummeling the man to a pulp.  The beautiful doors that led out to the balcony were busted, glass covering the floor.

You let out a cry of relief as Tony landed on the balcony in the Iron Man suit.  "I've got him," you heard him say to Peter, taking Harry and slamming him up against the wall.

But you were too focused on Peter.  Peter, who was suddenly running to you, picking you up and holding you against his chest as you cried.  Peter, who was whispering in your ear, "I'm here.  I'm here.  You're safe.  I've got you," as he hurried to the balcony doors.  "It's okay.  I've got you."  Peter, who was scaling the side of the mansion while holding you flush against him.

You buried your face into the crook of his neck, sobs still wracking your body as he carried you onto the quinjet.  He tried setting you on the gurney in the medical bay of the jet, but you clutched onto him, refusing to let go.  The dress was barely hanging off of you, your shoes having fallen off when Peter was carrying you to the vet.  There were cuts and scrapes all over, not to mention the dark purple bruises that were forming where his filthy hands had been.

So Peter held you to his chest, glaring at anyone who dared try to come close.  He rocked you softly as he kissed your hair, murmuring, "It's okay, angel.  I've got you."

The others were sitting close, but far enough away that you weren't aware of their presence.  When you eventually fell asleep, Bruce cautiously walked over to the two of you.  "Peter, we need to get her into the medical bay."

Before he could protect, Tony added, "You can stay with her there."

All Peter gave him was a curt nod, carrying you to the medical bay.  He was careful not to wake you as he set you on the hospital bed, clutching onto your hand tightly in his as the plane made it's way home.

Chapter Text

You groaned as your eyes slowly opened, wincing at the light.  Your entire body hurt.  At first, you thought you were having deja vu.  It felt exactly like the first day you were arrived.

As you woke up a little more, you became aware of the beeping of the heart monitor, and of the weight in your right hand.  Turning your head, you felt yourself grow warm with love as you saw Peter sleeping in the chair beside the bed.  His hand was gently clutching yours.

You hadn't gotten to look at Peter in a long time.  Just... look.  His hair was longer, a little shaggier, than the last time you had seen him up close.  There was a bit of a five o'clock shadow dusting his jaw, making him look a little older than his twenty-two years.  He had a new scar right above his eyebrow, the pale pink contrasting against his skin.

Your cheeks went red as his eyes suddenly blinked open, looking away from him.  But you let him hold onto your hand as he turned to look at you.  "You're awake."

Nodding, you bit your lip as you looked down at your lap.  The dark purple bruises that littered your arms gave you chills.  You could only imagine how the rest of you looked.  If the soreness was anything to go by...  Well, you knew it couldn't be pretty.

Peter's hand squeezed yours, causing you to turn to him.  The look in his eyes...  It wasn't pity, like you expected.  You couldn't quite pin down what exactly the emotion was.  "I'm so sorry, angel.  If, If I had been there sooner, I might've been able to—"

You shook your head as you rolled over onto your side with a wince.  "It wasn't your fault.  You got there right on time, actually."

Peter had already heard from the doctor that Dr. Harry Garner hadn't been successful in his attack, but it didn't change the fact that you were hurt.  Scooting his chair closer to you, he pushed your hair back from your face before rubbing his thumb gently against the cuts that the doctor's fingernails had left on your cheek.  "I shouldn't have let you go in alone."

You didn't reply, just closing your eyes as you relished the feeling of his hand on your cheek.  You had never realized just how much you had missed his touch, or how starved you were for it.  And now that you had it back, you didn't know if you were ever going to be able to let him go.  You had pushed him away once.  You didn't think you would have the strength to do it again.

You also didn't think you could do that to Peter again.

So maybe, instead of pushing him completely out, you'd just keep him at arm's length.  He'd still be in your life but he'd be kept at arm's length so that you didn't end up hurting him.

That could work.

You were brought out of your head by Peter, who ran his fingers through your hair.  "What are you thinking so hard about, angel?  I, I can practically see steam coming from your ears."  He laughed as you rolled your eyes, biting his lip as he looked at you.  The two of you sat there, just looking at each other for a long moment.  "I've missed you," he whispered.

You bit your lower lip, your hand reaching up to cover his.  "I've missed you, too..."

Peter suddenly looked behind you, and you turned your head to see a woman standing there in a white coat and a stethoscope around her neck.  Natasha and Bucky were standing behind her, worried looks on their faces.

"Hello, Y/N.  I'm Doctor Marie Cooke," the woman said as she walked over to you slowly.

She was observing your reaction to having her in the room, you realized.

Once she got a few feet away, she clasped her hands in front of her.  "Your team had me come in from New York City just for you.  They care about you a lot, you know."

You were a little confused.  "What about the doctors in the medical bay?"

Tony frowned as he rubbed the back of his neck.  He glanced at Natasha and Peter, his eyes going down to where his hand was holding yours.  He was rubbing the back of your hand with his thumb, providing a sense of comfort and safety.  "Well, you see...  Dr. Cooke is...  She's..."

When it became clear that he wasn't going to say it, Natasha filled in, "She specializes in care for victims of sexual assault."

"I'm here because I'm trained on how to give you the best possible care, while also making sure that you feel safe," Dr. Cooke said as she grabbed a chart from the end of your bed.  She looked over a few things, before pausing and motioning to Peter, Natasha, and Tony.  "Are you alright with them being in the room during this?  These types of discussions can be extremely personal and I want you to be as comfortable as possible."

You looked at the three people, and you slowly nodded, biting your lip.  Peter squeezed your hand again, smiling encouragingly at you.  "You've got this."

Once you had said you were okay with them staying, Natasha and Tony sat on the other side of you.  They were mostly quiet, their presence meant to give you emotional support.

"I completed a sexual assault forensic exam while you were sleeping, but I just need to check your vitals and change your bandages, okay?  Is it okay if I ask you a few questions while I do this?"

"Yes."

You watched as she moved to the side that Natasha and Tony were sitting on, pulling on her stethoscope.  She seemed incredibly kind, and you appreciated how calmly she spoke.  It relaxed you and made you trust her a little more than you would've otherwise.  "Can you tell me what happened after Dr. Garner destroyed your comms?"  She carefully pressed the stethoscope to your chest, moving it in various places.

It made you a little anxious as you realized that you were naked under the hospital gown, but you didn't say anything.  She had you lean forward, and as she continued to listen to your lungs, you began to tell her what happened.  "I...  I ran for the door.  When he followed after me, I tried to do a roundhouse kick, but he caught my ankle and... h-he flipped me onto the ground."

"Take as long as you need, sweetheart."  Dr. Cooke gently helped you lay back down, grabbing something from the desk.  "I'm going to wrap this around your arm to take your blood pressure."

You watched quietly as she wrapped a cuff around your upper arm, inflating it.  When she placed the stethoscope under the edge of it to listen, you continued, "He...  He dragged me a few feet before grabbing my hair and dragging me the rest of the way to the bed like that..."  Peter was tensing beside you, his grip on your hand tightening a little, but you ignored it.  "Th-That's when he lifted me on the bed.  I...  I tried to get off but he—"  You had to pause, taking in a deep breath as you tried to keep yourself from crying.  The thought of what he had done to you made you feel so... so dirty.

She gently picked up your free hand, pressing two fingers against your inner wrist.  "I'm checking your respiratory rate, okay?  Go ahead and take a moment, and just breathe for me."

You were grateful for the break.  It gave you a moment to compose yourself, even though you know that everyone in the room would've understood completely if you had broken down then and there.  By the time she was done, you were ready to continue.  "That's when he pinned me down.  He was...  He was tearing off my clothes and was about to..."  You bit your lip as you looked away.  "Th-That's when Peter came in."

Glancing over at him, you were greeted with Peter's crooked smile as he pressed a kiss to your knuckles.  "You're, You're doing fantastic, angel."

Dr. Cooke walked to the desk, where she opened a cabinet and pulled out a thing of gauze and medical tape.  "I'm going to change your bandage now, okay?"  She carefully peeled off the bandage that you hadn't even realized was on your forehead, tossing it into the trash.  "Can you tell me how you got this?"

Frowning, you tried to remember just when you had hit your head.  "I...  It was when I tried to do the roundhouse kick and he flipped me.  I hit the e-edge of the wall."

"Well, you have a bit of a concussion, but it should clear up nicely in the next few days."  She looked over your chart, writing down a few things.  "Other than that, you're free to return to your room.  But I'd like to schedule your first therapy session.  Is tomorrow at eleven okay?"

"Therapy?  What about Brenda?"

"We thought," Nat said as she cleared her throat, standing up, "this might be a better option for you."

"I'm also a licensed therapist," the woman said with a dazzling smile.  She had a very maternal aura that kept you from giving a flat out 'no.'

Plus, you could see just how badly Natasha, Peter, and Tony wanted this to work.  So you nodded, because you knew how guilty they felt, and you wanted to do anything to make that go away.  It wasn't like it was their fault.  You had been the one to volunteer.

That night, you found yourself tossing and turning while trying to fall asleep.  But anytime you closed your eyes, you just saw his face.  It got to the point where you kept thinking you were seeing him the corner of your eye, haunting you like a ghost.  But anytime you turned to see if he was there, it was just another shadow.  Another trick of the light.

The clock struck one in the morning, and you were still no where close to falling asleep.

You could ask Wanda for help, but you knew how that would turn out.  You couldn't deal with restless sleep that left you more tired in the morning that you had been the night before.  That's what you had had every night for the last few months, and it never got better.  Being put to sleep by Wanda was like putting your body on pause for a few hours.

But the one person who could truly help you was actually home.

So you slipped out of your bed, wincing as your feet touched the cold floor.  You tiptoed across the hall, biting your lip.  Your hand was raised to knock on Peter's door, but you were hesitating.  What if he was already asleep?  What if he told you to go away?  What if, after all this time, he had finally let you go?  It wasn't like you'd be able to blame him for it.  You had been trying to get him do just that for months.  The logical side of you knew that none of that was going to happen.  He had stayed with you while you slept in the hospital, holding your hand the entire time.  He had risked his life while saving you from Dr. Harry Garner.

Taking a deep breath, you lightly knocked twice on his door.

"Come in."

Your heart caught in your throat as your hand moved to the doorknob, hesitating to open it.  You had one last chance to run.

But you couldn't keep running.  Even if it seemed like a good idea, all it did was hurt you and your little family in the end.

As you pushed open the door, Peter looked up from where he was working on his laptop.  "Hi," he said, clearly a little surprised.  "Are you okay?"

Your fingers fiddled together as you stood in the doorway.  Your feet shuffled a little as you kept your eyes away from his.  "I...  I can't sleep.  Can I stay with you tonight?"  When he silently nodded, you walked over to the bed, watching as he pulled back the covers for you to slide in.

"Do you mind if I work on my laptop for just a few more minutes?"

You shook your head no, relaxing as you burrowed under the sheets that smelled so much like Peter.  It was like being wrapped in a giant hug.  You could feel him glancing over at you ever so often as you closed your eyes, lying on your side facing him.

True to his word, Peter only typed away at his laptop for about five more minutes before shutting it, placing it to the side.  He crawled under the blankets but kept himself on the other side of the bed.  "Is this okay?" He asked anxiously.  "I don't want to get too close if you're not comfortable with it."

"This is good," you murmured, already half asleep.  But you reached across the bed, finding his and and intertwining your fingers.  "Goodnight, Peter."

"Goodnight, angel."

You woke up the next morning to his hand still in yours, and you sighed in relief.  You had actually slept through the night for the first time in months.  Peter looked so at ease beside you, it made your chest hurt.  You couldn't stop yourself from wondering what it would be like to wake up next to him every morning, to curl up next to him, to kiss him good morning.

No.  You couldn't start with that.  You were only friends.  That's it.

Doing your best to not wake him, you crawled out of the bed and left his room, shutting the door behind you with a soft click.  Feeling a little more refreshed, you found yourself wandering to the kitchen.  You needed coffee, badly.  And the pain medication that the doctor had prescribed for you.

You were standing up on your tiptoes, trying to reach the pill bottle that someone had placed on the top shelf, when someone came up behind you and grabbed it for you.  "Good morning," Peter's raspy morning voice said, his breath tickling your ear.  "You were gone when I woke up."

"Coffee."  You cleared your throat awkwardly as you squirreled away from him, taking the pill with you.  As the coffee began to brew, you popped two of the naproxen, washing it down with a glass of water.

"Do you want French toast or eggs?"  Peter asked as he searched the cabinets.  "Or pancakes?  We can put blueberries in them, like you like."

You shook your head, turning to look at him.  "Peter, stop."  He frowned as he stood up straight, looking at you.  "We...  We can't..."  Your eyes turned to the floor.  "We can't go back to the way things were."

You could feel the hurt coming off him as he took a few steps towards you.  "What do you mean?"

"I...  I can't have you close to me," you stammered, your hands balled into fists at your side.

Peter scowled as he looked at you in disbelief.  "Why not?  Why the hell did you even push me away in the first place?"

You tried to turn away, grabbing the pot of coffee and pouring yourself a cup.  "It's not important," you insisted as you moved past him to grab the coffee creamer.

"Like hell it isn't," he retorted, watching as you walked back and forth.  "Why won't you talk to me, Y/N?  I thought we were best friends.  Then one day, you don't give a shit about me."

"That's the problem!" You said, whirling on him.  "I give too many shits about you!"

"What the hell are you on about?"

You were growing more and more frustrated, becoming increasingly aware of the tears as it felt like barbed wire was closing around your throat.  "I can't be the reason you get hurt, okay?!  I won't do that to you!"

He rolled his eyes, his jaw tense.  "Is that what this is about?  Because you think the Red Room is going to make you kill me?"  He leaned against the counter, his hands gripping it until his knuckles were white.  "How many times do I have to tell you, they're not going to get to you?"

Shaking your head, you did your best to block him out.  "You don't get it.  I'm going to end up hurting you, and then you're going to hate me."

"Why?!"  You looked at Peter in shock as he finally got sick of your excuses, slamming the pan he was going to use to make pancakes onto the stove.  "Those aren't good enough reasons for pushing me away."  His hands were moving in large, fluid motions.  "Everyone here is at risk of being hurt by each other.  It comes with the line of work.  So you can't use that as an excuse for pushing me away when everyone else has pushed past their self-doubt."  You were shocked as he continued to yell, both of you starting to cry.  "Why the fuck did you push me away?!  And none of that fucking bullshit about hurting me because I don't care about that, okay?  I don't care if I end up dead in a ditch because of you, as long as you're in my life.  So why the fuck would you do this?!"

"Because I love you!"  You hadn't intended on shouting as loudly as you did, or confessing to him at all.  But he was yelling and you could see how hurt he was and fuck.  You had done that to him.  And maybe you were tired of hiding and pushing him away.  You were tired of punishing yourself for the atrocities that had been done to you.  You were open and vulnerable because you had almost died the night before.  Your chest was heaving as you stared at Peter, who was frozen in shock.  "I pushed you away because I fucking love you, okay?!  You are the best thing that's ever happened to me, but people who are close to me usually end up dead, and that can't happen to you!  I won't let it happen to you!"  Your voice dropped in volume as you wiped at your eyes.  "So if that means that I have to push you away to keep you safe, then that's what I'll do.  No matter how much it hurts."

Wiping your eyes, you began to walk towards the elevator, almost running.  Hell, you wanted to sprint away from him.  You couldn't imagine what he had been thinking as you laid your heart out bare for him.

You let out a gasp as a pair of hands turned you around.  Peter looked down at you for a second before he pulled you into a kiss, his hands on either side of your face.  Your heart was racing as you wrapped your arms around his neck after a moment's hesitation.  Peter was here.  Peter was here and he was kissing you after you had admitted to being in love with him and fuck, it was everything you had ever imagined and more and you never ever ever wanted to stop kissing him and—

Peter pulled back, resting his forehead against yours.  "I am so fucking in love with you, Y/N."  His voice was deep and gravely with desire as he held onto you, his lips brushing against yours every time he spoke.  "I'm going to love you no matter how much you try to push me away, so please don't."  Tears were still falling down his cheeks as he kept his eyes closed.  "Please let me love you like you deserve to be loved."

You didn't know what to do.  Hearing those words made it impossible for you to push him away.  Knowing that he loved you made you want to hold him forever and never let him go, despite your reservations.  You had to choose between your head and your heart.  Your head told you to push him away again, to say no.  But your heart was screaming for you to say yes, to let yourself love and be loved.  Natasha's words flashed to the front of your mind.

"People like us...  We don't usually get happy endings.  So when you find someone that you can have that with, you should hold on and never let go."

So you nodded.

You nodded, and Peter looked at you in disbelief before he scooped you up in his arms, holding you tightly against his chest.  You were both crying, eyes puffy and red, but you were laughing.  You were laughing because you loved him and he loved you and even if it might not last forever, you were going to hold on while you could.  He loved you, and while it wasn't going to fix what had been done to you in the past, he believed in you and pushed you to heal, no matter how difficult it was.

Just then, the doors that led to the rest of the compound opened, and the rest of the Avengers walked in.  They had all been talking amongst themselves, but when they spotted you, they froze.  Peter was still holding onto you, one hand resting on your cheek while the other wrapped around your waist.

"Is this finally happening?" Bucky asked nonchalantly as he walked to the fridge, taking out a bottle of water and chugging it.  The others were following slowly behind him.  "Because if so, I'm going to need to give the Dad Talk to Peter."

A laugh fell from your lips as you glanced up at Peter, who nodded.  You then nodded back at the others, who all began to whoop and holler as they congratulated the two of you.  But even with all the noise and people around, the two of you only had eyes for each other.

"I love you, angel," Peter murmured, pressing a kiss to your forehead.

"I love you, too."

"Okay, love birds," Tony laughed as he dragged out plates and the pancake mix.  "Enough with the mushy stuff.  Come help make breakfast."

And as you looked around at the rest of the Avengers around you, you felt another wave of tears threaten to overcome you.  You had a family.  You had people who loved you with your faults, and pushed you to become and better every day.

For the first time in a long time, you knew you were going to make it.  Even if it took a long time, you were going to be okay as long as you had the people around you by your side.

Chapter Text

Biting your lip, you pulled off your leotard and hung it up on the clothing rack behind you, the vanity lights giving the room a soft glow.  There was a soft sheen of sweat on your brow as you rolled down your tights.  You had already placed your pointe shoes into their special cubby, and you were ready to eat.  You were always ravenous after a performance, but never this much.

Though, to be fair, you did just have your first performance as the prima ballerina of the New York City Ballet.

After the mission three years ago, the Avengers had decided to give you a month or two to recover before getting back into the field.  However, as time went on, it became more and more clear that it wasn't what you wanted.  You eventually decided to not be an agent.  It was a hard decision, but it was one that your team supported, and that's what mattered.

When it became clear that you weren't going to have to run off on a mission every other day, you began to look for a place to dance in New York City, since the compound was so close.  At first, you were just taking classes at a random studio you had found, renting it out so that you could dance by yourself occasionally.  That's where you met Penny.  She was in a few of your classes, and she invited you to a class at the School of American Ballet.  Before you even knew what was happening, you were being asked to audition for the New York City Ballet, and then you were dancing with them.  It took about a year and a half before you became one of the principals, and another year before you became the prima ballerina.

You still lived at the compound most of the time, except for on performance dates.  Then, you stayed at the huge apartment that the Avengers kept in the city.

Having finally changed into a pair of leggings and a sweatshirt with the company's logo on it, you took a long look at the dressing room.  There were roses covering almost every surface.  Some of them had a tag on it with the name one of your team, with a short sweet note.  But Peter...  Your sweet boyfriend of three years had bought no less than twenty dozen blood red roses.  It had made you cry when you first walked in earlier that day, and you called him immediately to tell him so.  He had only laughed and told you he loved you, before promising to see you that night.

Reminded of the fact that your makeshift family was waiting for you, you reached to grab your duffel bag, when your eye caught on a white piece of paper stuck in one of the bouquets.  Confused, you set the bag back down and walked over, pulling it out.  It seemed like some kind of letter.  As you unfolded it, your heart warmed as you saw the familiar handwriting.

My dearest angel, Y/N,

I've hidden this in the flowers, because I don't want you to find it until after your performance.  I wouldn't want you to be distracted by how much you love me.

But I wanted to write this to tell you how proud I am of you.  I'm not very good at words, and I know I'd just jumble everything up, so I thought that maybe writing it down would help.  You deserve to hear all that I have trapped inside my head, because it's nothing but love for you.

Except when you eat all my popcorn.  Then I try to get annoyed, but you're so cute that I can't.

But honestly, you did spectacular.  I know I haven't technically seen it yet, but I already know you were amazing.  Anytime I see you dance, I feel like I'm going to explode with pride.  You've come so far from when we've first met.  I've watched you go from being so closed off and hostile to being so loving and compassionate, and I know how hard it was for you.  But you pushed yourself to heal, instead of wallowing in your past, and that's remarkable.  You are easily the strongest person I have ever met, and we're superheros.  And that includes you.  You might not be an agent anymore, but you with always be my hero.

You're my miracle.  I never thought I could love someone so deeply until I met you.  You challenge me and push me to be the best Peter I can be.  You make me work because I want to be the kind of man you deserve.  I want to list off all the things I love about you, but if I did that, it would take years, and I know how impatient you can get.

All my love,

Peter

P.S. Please come out so I can kiss you.

P.P.S. I love you.

You smiled as you held onto the letter, grabbing your bag and quickly leaving the dressing room.  He was too much.  You made your way out to the stage door, where all the families waited.  You were wiping your eyes as you pushed open the door and made your way out into the cool fall night.

It was easy to spot your team (plus Aunt May), since they started running towards you excitedly as soon as they could see you.  You were laughing as Bucky picked you up and spun you around.  They were all hugging you and and talking over each other as they told you how proud they were.  Almost all of them were crying.

When they finally gave you an inch of space, Peter pushed through all of them.  "Boyfriend coming through!" He shouted, his eyes locked on yours.  You missed the knowing smirks on the team's faces as he pulled you into a kiss, murmuring against your lips, "You were breathtaking up there."

You just smiled, wrapping your arms around him.  "You say that every time you come see me dance."

"And I'm going to keep saying it until the day I die," he retorted teasingly, pressing kisses all over your face.  Your stomach grumbled, and he laughed as he pulled away a little.  "Hungry?"

"Ravenous."

You were about to ask where you were going to go eat when he reached into his coat pocket.  "Before we go, I need to do something really quick."  You were confused until he pulled out a box, sinking onto one knee.  He opened the lid, revealing a sparkling diamond ring.  People around them were beginning to notice as your eyes grew wide.  "Y/N, these, these past three years have been the best of my life.  Being with you is easily one of the best decisions I have ever made.  You...  You are my joy and my light.  My sun, my moon, and all of my stars.  I want to come home to you every night, and wake up next to you every morning.  You're my angel."  You watched as he paused, catching his breath as his eyes welled up with tears.  Knowing that if he cried, you would cry, you reached out and wiped at his eyes tenderly.  "You, You are one of the bravest people I have ever met, and you make me want to be brave.  So that's what I'm doing.  I'm being brave, because, angel...  You are the love of my life and I want to spend the rest of my life with you by my side."  He laughed a little as he sniffled.  "I, I love you so much that I am willingly speaking in front of a giant group of people in public."  That made you giggle a little.  The way he looked at you made your knees weak, and you realized that you were already crying.  "Y/N...  Will you marry me?"

You didn't even hesitate, nodding rapidly as you said, "Yes.  Yes, I will marry you."

The ring slid on your finger and Peter wrapped you in his arms.  He smiled against your lips, your fingers tangling into his hair.  People around you were cheering, but you didn't even notice.  All you could see and feel was Peter.  The way he was kissing you, how warm his hands felt against your cheeks.  The smell of his cologne filled your nose, and you wanted to stay there forever.  You felt a burst of joy as you realized that you could.  You could stay with him forever because he was your forever.

Peter's forehead pressed against yours after he pulled away, whispering sweet nothings to you so that no one else could hear him.  The two of you ignored the group around you until you couldn't.  Your family, who had clearly known, was surrounding you once again.  Aunt May was hugging you while sobbing even more than you were, saying things about officially being part of the family.  You all slowly made your way towards the street and whatever place you'd be eating.

Peter's hand caught yours and when you smiled up at him, you knew.  You had found your forever and you were never going to let it go.