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Does it matter?

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Does it hurt?

*

He once found Tony shirtless and utterly wasted in the lab, drowning in a sea of one too many shattered decanters, knuckles gone white from wringing that outdated burner phone for who knows how long. Crimson dribbled from calloused palms across scarred flesh, to ripped jeans over to  shimmering glass shards littered upon sullied floors. 

When Peter reached forward and called his name, Tony honest-to-god flinched away from him. 

His fingers twitched. “Captain Rogers did this, didn’t he?”

Hard brown eyes snapped shut. “Does it matter?”

“Yes,” Peter said, kneeling softly beside the hero’s battered form. “It does.”

*

When Peter came home, he expected many things. He expected his dingy little apartment with the wafting smells of May’s burnt bread, imagined snuggling on the couch with her, and watching cheesy soap operas all through the night. He expected those weekly sessions with just him and Mr. Stark in the lab, planning, tinkering and innovating without a care in the world, positively shining whenever Mr. Stark whistled and said, “You got brains, kid.”

He should have known, expectations rarely matched up with reality.

Said notion found him in front of his lunch one day, mumbling, “Nothing makes sense anymore.”

“Oh?” A tilted look of concern.

“I just- I never expected this, y’know?” Peter twirled a fork aimlessly between his fingers, eyes trained so hard on his meal he thought it might just start sizzling soon. Or evaporate into dust. Whichever seemed possible at this rate. “It’s not bad, I mean, you have a great family and an actual kid now- which is totally cool, by the way! And May - May has Happy now, so the apartment's not that empty anymore, a-and she smiles a whole lot more these days. Which is good, I guess. The Accords isn’t even a legit thing anymore, the Avengers come together to sing Kumbaya every other weekend,” His fingers tightened round the fork. “Everything’s all good, yeah?”

There probably would have been a reply, if it wasn't for the tell-tale thump of approaching footsteps Peter never dreamed of growing familiar with. 

“Afternoon, Captain Doritos,” Mr. Stark’s drawl felt appeasing at best, challenging at worst.

Captain Rogers threw a half-glance his way, nodding curtly. He went for the fridge in two large strides, swiping out a carton of milk and downing its contents in one vigorous go.

“Ugh, you’re gross, Cap, I’m getting the hell out of here,” Mr. Stark rose from his seat, lightly tousling Peter’s hair as he went. “Finish your grub and hang in the lab with me later, yeah?” His eyes seemed to soften. “It‘ll be just like old times.”

 Old times. Right.

“Also-” Mr. Stark slapped the good Captain’s shoulder, smirking wildly at the vexed ‘Oi!’ that elicited. “If we’re watching anything remotely Disney tonight, I’m going back to Pep’s for the weekend.” 

“For that alone, we’re watching Moana, Frozen and Mulan!” Captain Rogers hollered after the retreating metal middle finger shot high in the air, shaking his head once it fully disappeared down the hallway. A bemused look. “What’s wrong with Disney?” 

Peter scoffed, grin plastered expertly on his face.

Another thing that didn’t make sense, this song and dance. This parade of concealed emotions, this system of tactical meet-and-retreat, this exhibition of faux jaunt put up for one another. The shake in Captain’s tone, the tremor in Mr. Stark’s arm - almost indiscernible and yet there it was. Always there, each time Peter looked.

Captain’s carton of milk slid into the bin by his feet. “So how was your week, son?”

Peter chewed on his noodles thoughtfully. “Tiring, I guess. Lots of homework. Also-” He made a face. “Son? Seriously? How nineteen-thirties can you get, Cap?”

Captain rolled his eyes, mock indignance in his stance. “Great. I have to deal with two Tony Starks in the team now, don’t I?”

“Exactly,” Peter smirked, drawing out the last syllable slightly.

*

He remembered piecing uncharacteristically silent calls with his own incessant chatter for hours, so the harsh breaths pulsating on the other end could finally, finally taper out. He remembered resting a hand over Tony’s arrhythmically flouncing heart, coaxing him for a meal, a drink or to just breathe. He remembered whispering to him in a voice so soft yet so firm, “Mr. Stark? Mr. St-Tony? Tony, it’s me. It’s Peter. No one else is here, okay? You’re safe now. You’re safe.

He remembered the world of hurt his hero went through.

*

It wasn’t like Peter never asked. 

He tried asking during the quiet moments, when he and Mr. Stark were the only ones up at ass ‘o clock, when Mr. Stark strolled into the kitchen for customary morning tea (Pepper said weekends were coffee-free days). He tried asking during the loud ones too, when Mr. Stark was drunk on whatever alcohol he was having, when all the Avengers were in the room, because surely Mr. Stark wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to brag about a good story in front of everyone, right? Wrong. That particular fiasco ended with more than a couple uncomfortable looks, a pale-faced Mr. Stark storming out of said room and a flustered Peter trailing after him with his dozen apologies.

It got to the point where Mr. Stark had to sit Peter down, look him in the eye and say, “That’s it.” His finger, the metal one, dug deep into Peter’s collared shirt. “Stop it, kid. Me and Rogers, whatever happened between the two of us, it’s got nothing to do with you. And we’re fine now. We’re fixed. We watch Star Wars and Harry Potter every other Sunday, for god’s sake. There’s no better that we can get.” The other hand pressed on his arm shakily, a sort of pleading in the motion. “You don’t have to do anything for us anymore. Alright?”

Peter stopped asking after that.

Instead, he made observations. His eyes tracked each subtle gesture of wistful longing between the two, sometimes bordering on spontaneous animosity. Day and night, he made summaries, graphs, charts and fifty-one five-page essays for ten days in a row, writing and writing like he was running out of time. 

He conducted interviews too.

Colonel Rhodes shook his head so adamantly when Peter pulled him aside for one of his trademark inquiry sessions, refusing to divulge anything more than a clipped but not unkind, "There’s definitely problems this team hasn't come to terms with yet, but it shouldn't fall on your shoulders to solve them, Peter." Dr. Banner had been much more forthcoming, nodding along to Peter’s mini monologue of observations. He even pitched in some of his own discoveries as to how the two skirted around each other when there was or wasn’t an audience, albeit with a mild warning about how some things aren’t meant to be pushed too hard.

Even Bucky once appeared in front of Peter’s room, bouquet of purple hydrangeas and mug of hot chocolate in tow after one particularly brutal sparring session which had ended with one man’s ruptured blood vessel and another’s broken nose. He spent an hour trying to convey that, that was just their way of resolving conflict, their way of getting things out of their system. There wasn’t much that could be done about it. There wasn’t much they could do about it.

Or so they said.

But how many sleepless dawns after patrol had Peter spent - huddled under blankets in front of a glaring screen, scouring his way through Friday’s systems, keying in every code, every digit he thought would lead him to the right answer. Something, anything that he could work with.

Two months, twenty days and twelve hours later, he found it. The answer. Or at least, a part of it.

It wasn’t pretty.

He knew. He knew, he knew, he knew that The Winter Soldier wasn’t Bucky, that the man in the video was just Hydra’s brainwashed lackey, that the Bucky he was familiar with would never consent to do anything remotely similar to what he had seen him do. He knew this, and yet some nights still found him jolting awake in a sea of his own sweat; May’s gasps echoing Maria Stark’s dying wheeze, Howard and Tony Stark’s pleas morphing into one, cold unflinching gaze haunting all the moments he fell quiescent. 

In the moments that he was restless, however, Peter resumed his search. He ploughed through the frights and horrors and sleepless dawns even more frenetically than he first did, because if he didn’t get to the bottom of this, no one else would. Because he knew there was more than just ‘The Winter Soldier murdered Mr. Stark’s parents’; there was always more.

Because what use was a team, if all its splintered souls did nothing to embrace its blemishes?

*

“Hey, Pete.”

“Hm?”

“Wanna’ skip out on the theater gig tonight?” Alloyed fingers drummed idly on the lab table. “We could stay in here for a bit, work on those web-shooter combinations. Could order some tacos. Or pizza. Your choice.”

Peter raised an eyebrow. “Thought it was supposed to be tradition.”

“Yeah, I’m getting kinda’ sick of Rogers' princess movie obsession,” His eyes drifted upwards, thumbs twiddling. “You could go, though. If you want.”

Peter pulled back without missing a beat, eyes widening in comical fashion. “No, are you crazy? Lab night with pizza? When do I ever turn that down, Mr. Stark?”

An honest grin slid across Mr. Stark’s features. “Never.”

“That’s right.” Peter closed his eyes, leaning into the touch rifling through his unkempt locks. “Never.”

*

It didn’t make sense.

Did you know?

I didn’t know it was him.

Don’t bullshit me, Rogers!

Yes.

Peter watched, and still, nothing made sense.

He’s my friend.

So was I.

It. didn’t. make. sense.

*

Blinding white tore across the starless city sky in sharp erratic bursts, heated claws threatening to eliminate all in its path with each stroke of rampant rage. Ice-cold rivulets knocked mercilessly against bare skin, freezing the seconds ticking by as raddled sneakers thrummed upon asphalt, each reverberating cadence in perfect harmony with the furious anthem of unvoiced justice pumping through his veins.

Said anthem soared ever the more when the Captain’s door flung open, pounding hard at the seemingly bewildered face meeting his view.

"Peter? What's wrong?" The golden boy scanned him up and down, concern thick in his tone. "Why aren't you in your suit? Did something happ-"

Peter threw the answer in his face, his phone speaking for him as he panted over bent knees. 

"Stevie, what's- oh." Him. No, Bucky. "Peter. You're- why don't we all come inside, yeah? Rain's pouring out here." The voice, so tender, not like. Not like him. Not. Him."I'll put the kettle on."

Which was how Peter ended up in one of Bucky's oversized shirts, settled opposite two war veterans, hands cupped round a mug of hot chocolate and eyes cast in a blatant show of quiet outrage.

"Explain," The anthem burned strong in him.

"Son-"

"Don't call me son."

"-this was all on me, alright?" Dejected tone, blonde head bowed over clasped hands.

Good.

“I- we disagreed on the Accords because-”

“I don’t care about that, Captain,” Peter set the mug down, flexing his fingers mechanically. “The Accords was rigged to begin with. Whatever that came after, shouldn’t be put on anyone but Ross, that I get.” He pressed a finger to the cracked screen of his phone. “No Captain, I’m talking about this.”

Captain Rogers stared at him with eyes so blue, but like the sick man in the video pointed out, there was a hint of green in that blue. A flaw.

“I’m sorry, Peter,” The captain leaned back into his seat, where Bucky’s prosthetic arm (that Tony Stark built for him) stretched rigidly upon. “I thought that by not telling him, I was sparing him from sorrow. But really, I was just sparing myself. I- I never meant for him to get hurt. And I’m sure, neither did he.”

Oddly, that last sentence was what pushed Peter over the edge.

“Neither did he?” His jaw clenched. “Neither did- are you seriously saying that? Of course he didn’t mean to hurt you! If he had any control over the situation, any control of the information that you withheld from him, he would not have done that.”

“I know, Peter.”

“Do you?” He hissed. “Do you really? Do you know the pain of losing your parents, of not knowing what the hell happened to them except that ‘They died in an accident’? Do you know the want, the pure want, to kill the piece of shit that took their lives, that walked free as you mourned their deaths? That ripped them from you, before you even got to know them?” His fists shook in tandem with the throbbing crescendo of his anthem. “Do you know, how Mr. Stark fought for you behind the scenes? How he wrote and rewrote proposals to alter The Accords, only to be rejected by Ross time and time again? How he hired lawyers and sometimes personally went to vouch for the others in the Raft? How he lost sleep at night, how he drank himself into oblivion, whimpering your name, begging me each time not to tell Mrs. Pepper or Rhodes, because apparently, it didn’t matter!”

Captain Rogers stiffened in his seat.

“Do you know?”

“No, son.”

“I’m not your son.”

Bucky remained a stock still statue by the Captain’s side.

Peter sighed, shoulders sagging. Deep breath, calm down. “Sorry.” The lingering pulse of anguish pushed to the back of his mind. “That was uncalled for. Sorry. ”

“Don’t be.” Bucky replied with haste.

Peter made another haphazard gesture. “Did you ever try  talking to him about this?”

“I wrote him a letter.”

“Yeah, and sent him a burner phone, I know.” Peter snapped, tone sharp. “Scintillating ultimatum you gave him, by the way. Broke it in his fists after two whole months of drinking and staring.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t say that to me, Cap,” His fingers tapped the mug handle almost frantically. “Say that to Tony. He needs to hear it.”

“It’s only two years for you, Peter, but it’s been seven for us. He might’ve- he might not want to hear about this anymore. We’re fine like this.”

“Bullshit. Don’t think I haven’t notice the way you both act with each other. You guys really need to solve this shit,” Peter mulled over his words, before adding, “By solve, I mean talk about it. Not punch the living daylights out of each other.”

Captain Rogers shrugged hopelessly. “We don’t talk about things like this. It’ll just escalate, and then we’d be throwing fists all over again. Might as well get that done without scarring our hearts more than it already has been.”

“Are you serious?” Muted wrath threatened to positively devour the mug in his hands. “Dude, we could have lost Tony in that war. He could have snapped his fingers, and that would have been the last we saw of him. Would you have lived with this then? Not talking about this, because neither of you can stop feeding your very physical ego for one goddamn second? Because neither of you were brave enough to listen?”

The stark silence  that ensued spoke for itself.

“You need to talk about this.”

“Look, son-”

“Damn it, Cap!” Peter roared, fists banging against the table. “Call me son one more time!” The mad beast reared its horrendous head, yanking his vocal chords to unrivaled heights, fueled by heated flames that grew larger and fiercer with each thunderous beat. It fed off the tension, the visceral need to rip, maw and absolutely pulverise anything and everything that it could find.

Reddened eyes, full of tears unshed, reflected one another transparently.

He couldn’t take this anymore.

“Honestly,” He stood, mug left untouched, voice barely over a whisper. “With all due respect, Captain Rogers. You’re a fucking dick.”

Peter left, door slam behind him, along with Captain’s echoed ‘Wait!’ and Bucky’s muted ‘Kid’s got a point, Steve.’

*

Peter thought that if he found the answer, everything would make sense. Or, at the very least, he would feel better about things not making sense.

Clearly, he had been wrong.

The first night he stopped searching, his phone rang like the house was on fire.

Mr. Stark had been the first to call. Followed by Colonel Rhodes, then Bucky, then Captain Rogers, then Dr. Banner, and then subsequently the rest of what his team was supposed to consist of.

He refused to answer. He didn’t care if his phone burst from being called 24/7. He didn’t care.

Instead, he spent the rest of his time doing what he did best - he looked out for the little guy. He threw himself in front of cars inches away from crashing into one another, saved kittens from trees for chatty old grandmas, taught children how to look both ways before crossing the street, spent time with that tired man sitting alone on the park bench every week.

And when he wasn’t doing this, he was with May. May and Happy, sometimes, but mostly May.

He did his homework, with May. He had breakfast, lunch and essentially all his meals, with May. He watched those cheesy soap operas he missed, with May. He did all the things he longed to do, mourning the years that he lost, with May.

“Are you okay, baby?”

Maybe it was her firm arms cradling his head, maybe it was her tentative whisper, but there was something about hearing May calling him baby that made a lump form in his throat.

“I don’t know.”

May hummed. “Do you want to talk to Tony about it?”

“No,” Peter sniffed. “Not for now.”

“Okay, baby,” May rubbed the back of his neck in a way that only she knew how. “That’s okay.”

He stopped going for movies and lab nights on the weekends.

*

bucko (4:03 a.m.) : Hey punk, stevie and tony talked it out for a while. wasn’t pretty but, it was necessary, I think. you’re a legend, kid

coolestdoctorr(4:23 a.m.): I heard what you did. We all needed that to happen eventually. Thank you for being the bravest of us, for acknowledging our flaws and for bringing our team together as best as you can. Take as much rest as you need, and if you need someone to talk to, I’m happy to listen. Stay safe, and we love you.

warmachineROX (4:29 a.m.): you did great, Peter. I’m sorry i said you couldn’t do this; those boys really needed a nudge. Thanks for doing what you did. Take care, kid.

so-you-got-detention (4:28 p.m.): Peter, I don’t think there’s anything I can say except I’m sorry. You’re right, I should have talked with him about this 7 years ago. I spent a couple long hours with Tony earlier this weekend. That hardly made up for anything, but we’ll work it out. Things aren’t perfect, but we’ll get it better. We have you to thank for that. I know you’re angry with me, which you have every right to be, but know that if you ever need help, just call me. I’ll be there.

he’s stark, tony stark (5:01 p.m.): b at ur place in 5 mins[sunglasses emoji]

 

*

“Hey, Mr. Stark.”

“Hey, kid.”

“Steve mad at me?”

“Definitely not. Been moping around like a kicked puppy all month.”

“...You mad at me?”

A pause. “Not really, no,” Mr. Stark rubbed the side of his chin, tilting his head towards Peter. “Does it matter?”

“Yes,” Peter felt his lips shiver against his teeth, sheen of moist clouding his vision, head bowed low and voice crackling, “It does.

Arms, one alloyed and the other so very real, quietly rolled themselves round his trembling frame, guiding his head towards the steady rise and fall of his hero’s chest, flesh thumb rubbing slow circles over his back, whispers of soft nothings soothing his hair and eventually, a light peck on the forehead.

They stayed like that for a while, beside Peter’s unmade bed, melancholic warmth emanating like cool salve on an open wound. It was comforting, that lack of sound, that silence that spoke the thousand words they couldn’t.

And then, the patented smirk. “You did good, kid,” His tone, so fond. “Friday probably thinks otherwise, though. She’s a little pissed. Kudos for that hacking stunt, by the way. Real sneaky.”

Purely on a whim, Peter snorted, “Love you too, Tony.”

For a moment, it looked as though Tony might just melt into an emotional puddle of goo. Thankfully, he didn’t; Peter wouldn’t know what to do if he did. Instead, he sucked in a deep breath, squeezed Peter closer to his heart, and in a voice smaller than Peter had ever heard, muttered,“Lab night this Sunday?”

Peter, in all his glorious mess of tears and snot, broke into a wobbly laugh.

*

Always.