Chapter Fourteen: Night Falls
The ferry was busy, but Georges assumed it was slower than it would have been, given it was Christmas day. Nonetheless, the mercenary was sure to keep his scarf pulled high around his chin and his beanie covering his shaved head. The people on the ferry with him were preoccupied, though. Eyes glued to their phones or the small TVs broadcasting coverage of his attack.
"Disgraced arms manufacturer, Justin Hammer," Georges' attention was pulled his eyes from the greenish-gray water of the Hudson. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, sending a jolt of pain through his battered body. "Has been implicated in last night's terrorist attack, allegedly confessing to Tony Stark before committing suicide," Batroc sighed at the news. He nodded his head as if the reporter had been speaking to him.
"Sorry, Justin," Batroc sighed. He'd known that Justin Hammer didn't have the stomach for it. The man's thirst for blood had been limited to Stark, which had evaporated by the time the strike came.
"Police and government officials have named Georges Batroc the mastermind of this heinous act and are asking for public assistance locating this fugitive," The news report turned to his mugshot, and he shifted uncomfortably in his seat, sending a jolt of pain through his battered body. He scanned the crowd, searching for anyone who may have spotted him—nothing, not even a second glance from the passengers.
Batroc returned to watching the water as the ship neared the shore on the other side of the river. The mercenary wasn't exactly sure where he was going; there was only a direction. "North."
Peter refused to go back inside until his heart stopped beating a million miles an hour. The spiderling shivered and wrapped his arms around himself. He wasn't sure who had known Natasha was his Mom, but they all knew now. "I called her Mom," Peter rubbed his bare arms. "I know she's my Mom, but do I want to call her that? Does SHE want me to call her that?" The anxious teen's thoughts were a jumbled mess.
The front door opened and closed, bringing Peter away from the jumbled mess of thoughts. Laura Barton rounded the corner, wrapped in a robe and carrying a blanket. "You okay, Peter?" Laura asked; her gaze was curious and sympathetic.
Peter began nodding, trying to hide his shivering. "Yeah," He exhaled a long breath into the frigid air. "Just embarrassed, I guess," Peter admitted.
Laura tilted her head slightly. "About?" She asked.
He thought back on how he'd awoken in Natasha's lap. "I mean, not only did I fall asleep in her lap, but everyone saw me sleeping in her lap like a kid," Laura let out a soft giggle. "What's so funny?" Peter frowned.
Her gaze was soft and kind. "Honey," Peter realized he'd have to get used to the nicknames. "I don't know how to tell you this, but you are a kid," Laura said with another giggle as she held out the blanket to him. "If I let you freeze to death, your Mother will kill me," Peter gratefully accepted it, and the woman sat next to him on the porch swing. The swing creaked slightly as Laura used her foot to rock it back and forth. They sat in silence for a long time, and Peter did his best to pretend he wasn't uncomfortable. "I don't know how Natasha will feel about me telling you this, but..." Laura began suddenly, breaking the silence. Peter's eyes practically begged her to continue, and Laura couldn't resist. "You're Mom, and I used to lay like that too," Laura finally said. A smile was on her face, and her gaze was fixed on the snow-covered landscape before them.
"Y-you did?" Peter tried to picture it but had trouble imagining the Black Widow leaning on another person. "Mhm," She nodded, still smiling, but Peter recognized the tinge of sadness when he saw it. "Nat had a hard time with-" Nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks... The list of struggles went on and on, but she wouldn't tell Peter all that. "Well, sleep." She swallowed. "Poor thing would go days without sleeping when she was home." Before Peter could urge her on, Tony appeared in the grey morning sky, landing just before the house.
"Morning, Mr. Stark," Peter greeted when his mentor stepped out of his armor, taking the duffle bag from the hand of the suit. Tony looked exhausted, with dark circles around his bloodshot eyes. "How's Happy?"
"He'll be okay, but..." There was an obvious anxiousness in his voice. "We need to talk," Peter's heart dropped into his stomach. "Where's your Mother?"
Inside the kitchen, everyone noticed the Iron Man's arrival. "Might be a good idea for you to lay low, Buck," Steve said, turning back to the spot where Bucky had been sitting. The chair was empty, and his friend was nowhere in sight. Steve made a small Hmm in the back of his throat, suddenly more than a little interested in Bucky's recent behavior.
Bucky slipped quietly out the back door, glad for the welcome distraction; he had something far more pressing on his mind.
Natasha skipped the shower for a long soak in the bath, trying to soothe her aching body. She lay in the tub, eyes closed and barely awake. But the pain wasn't what the spy's exhausted mind was focused on. "MOM!" A smile played across her lips, followed by a grimace, and it wasn't just from the pain. "He called me MOM," It was a word she wasn't sure Peter would ever call her again. The name made her heart skip.
Natasha slid down and allowed herself to slip below the warm water. "Will he want to call me that again? Or was it to stop me from losing my temper?" She replayed the moment in her head, watching bubbles float to the surface. Her eyes drifted closed, and a flash of Bucky's slack-jawed stare made her sit up out of the water, drawing a deep, frustrated breath.
A quiet knock came on the bathroom door. "Natasha?" Lila called through the door. "Mr. Stark is here, and he said he needs to talk to you," Lila said.
"Fuck." Was the first thing that ran through her mind. "Thank you, sweetheart." She kept the sigh out of her voice when she called back. "I'll be down in a minute," Natasha eased herself out of the tub. She looked at herself in the foggy bathroom mirror, her mind still firmly on the Winter Soldier. "I'll cross that bridge when I get to it," Natasha told herself for what felt like the thousandth time over the last few months. But, Natasha couldn't help but feel that bridge may come sooner rather than later.
Natasha came into the kitchen, finding a ragged-looking Tony standing at the counter with Steve, Clint, Laura, and Peter. The room was tense, and Natasha could see the anxiety in Tony's tired eyes. "What's going on?" Natasha asked.
Tony didn't reply, not at first, just sliding his phone into the middle of the counter. A video projection of a news report began. Shaky cell phone footage of Peter's one-sided fight with Batroc, a headline reading: Mysterious teen saves Natasha Romanoff from terrorist Georges Batroc. Natasha held back a gasp when the video showed Peter jumping 20 feet into the air and throwing a punch meant for Batroc's head into the ground. It would have killed the man had it landed. Her eyes went to Peter, gauging his reaction, but she saw nothing. If Peter had any qualms about taking Batroc's life, he was doing a hell of a job hiding it. She wasn't sure how she felt about that but didn't have time to dwell on it.
"It's only a matter of time before someone recognizes Peter and gives his identity to the press..." Tony said, raking a hand through his hair.
The room was silent for a long time; the sound of their beating hearts was all Natasha could hear. "Is there anything we can do? Can you, I don't know-" Natasha paused, her and Peter's eyes met briefly. "Can Friday scrub the video from the web?" It was a long shot at best, but Natasha still asked.
Tony shook his head. "No," He turned and paced across the kitchen, stopping at the sink. "Maybe if I'd caught it when it first came out, but by the time I knew about it, it'd been shared thousands of times." Tony shook his head. "I'm sorry, Peter, this is my fault," Tony said, not turning around to face the teen. "I shouldn't have let you be there," Tony wanted to blame Natasha for inviting him, but he couldn't.
"C'mon, Tony," Steve sighed. "None of us could have known it would turn out like THIS." They'd all known Batroc was a threat and likely to attack the event, but not how he had.
"No," Tony agreed, shaking his head. "No, but we should have." They'd underestimated their foe. HE underestimated their foe.
"So, what's our play?" Natasha wasn't interested in assigning blame; after all, she was the one who had invited Peter to the event. If it was anyone's fault, it was hers. Or at least that's how she felt.
Tony let out a hard, shuddering breath. "I was gonna ask you that," None of them could recall the last time they'd seen Tony so dejected.
Steve watched the teen in question, standing silently as adults discussed what to do about his life. "Maybe we should ask Peter what he thinks," Steve chimed in with his opinion for the first time, locking eyes with Peter even though he could feel everyone in the room staring at him. "Peter?"
Peter blinked at the soldier. "Huh...?" He hadn't expected actually to be involved in the discussion.
Steve leaned over the counter, keeping the boy's gaze before speaking. "This is your life, son; you deserve to decide how we move forward." Peter still stood in stunned silence. "Whatever you decide, I'll support it," Steve glanced between Natasha and Tony, who wore the same annoyed look. He couldn't help the little smile that pulled at the corners of his mouth. "You two have more in common than you probably think," He thought.
Both Natasha and Tony opened their mouths to protest, but Laura cut them off before they could. "He's right," Laura smiled apologetically to her friend but knew it had to come from someone besides Steve. "Pete? What do you think?" She urged the boy on with a warm smile.
Peter turned to Natasha, and she knew he was looking for her approval without needing to say it. "All you, baby," Natasha gave her boy a small smile and nod.
He could see despite the smile she'd given him, she was uneasy. "I think..." He paused, looking to Tony, who, like Natasha, gave him a slight nod. And again, he could see the uneasiness in his eyes. "I think..." Again he paused, but this time his mind wasn't on the decision itself but on all the people who loved him and how it would affect them. Natasha, Tony, May. "I think I want to talk to Aunt May,"
May sat in her bed watching the news broadcasts of the attack. The shaky footage of her nephew beating the mastermind of the heinous act to a pulp played repeatedly. The headline: 'Mysterious Boy Rescues Natasha Romanoff. Who is he?' punctuated the footage. May nervously tapped her fingers on the screen of her cell phone. She'd called Peter's phone dozens of times, to no avail. The video of him boarding the Quinjet with, as the news had put it, the war criminal James Barnes hadn't done anything to alleviate her stress. Peter being alive and Peter being OKAY were very different.
The phone beneath her hand buzzed, and her eyes snapped to look at it. Tony Stark. "Peter!?" Her voice hitched slightly as she answered the video call.
"Hey, Aunt May," The boy greeted.
"Pete, I've been worried sick!" May finally let her shoulders relax, if only slightly. "Are you alright?" She asked, even though she was sure he wasn't okay, not after what he'd been part of the night before.
"Oh, yeah," He shook his head as if he could shake the memories out of his mind. He didn't want to talk about that. "Yeah, I'm fine. I'm calling because..." The teen's voice trailed off, May watching him with that soft gaze he'd grown up with. The teen took the sight of his aunt for a moment; her hair had thinned since he'd seen her last, she'd lost weight, and she looked exhausted. "Because it's Christmas," A lump suddenly formed in his throat. "Because I wish you could be here with me," A few tears pricked at the corners of his eyes, and the teen quickly exited the kitchen, away from everyone else. He didn't much care to have everyone see him cry. "I'm sorry, Aunt May," The words came out suddenly, and his voice cracked.
"For what, sweetheart?" She frowned.
"For leaving you to fight this on your own," May had been there for him at every step of the way. Always there to hold him through every tragedy and heartbreak, he hadn't managed to do the same after all the times she'd been there for him. "I should be there with you," The overwhelming feeling of guilt washed over him again. The responsibility he felt for the attack and his failure to be there for May, crushed down on him simultaneously. "I know that I failed you, but-"
"Peter Parker, you have done no such thing!" May cut him off immediately.
"But, you've needed me," He took a shuddering breath. "And I haven't been there..." Natasha quietly entered the room behind Peter and leaned against the door frame.
"You're here for me right now, aren't you?" Peter laughed a little, nodding his head and wiping his face. "And that's all I need!" Her voice was reassuring, and it helped put his mind at ease, at least enough to get back to what he'd called to talk to her about.
"May, the world's going to know who I am soon," The spiderling realized there was no sense in fighting what he couldn't change, but that didn't mean he knew what that'd mean for his life, though. He wasn't sure how exactly things would change was a mystery to him; he only knew that things WOULD change for better or worse. Peter thought of that Jameson guy who ran a podcast devoted to hating him and wondered how it would change his show, if at all. He thought of Natasha; would the world know she was his Mom? Would she want them to know? And he thought of May and how the world would treat her knowing that she'd raised the Spider-Man
"I know, Pete," May interrupted his thoughts. She had known as soon as she saw the video on the news Peter's identity wouldn't remain a secret for much longer. "We'll get through whatever comes next together, won't we, Natasha?" She addressed the spy in the doorway behind him. Peter turned to her, their eyes meeting. Somehow she looked even worse than she had the night before, but still, he smiled.
"Yes," She smiled at her boy, despite her feelings about his identity being revealed. "We will,"
"Pepper will get a press conference set up for later this week," Tony said as they stepped out onto the porch, just as the sun began to dip behind the trees. "Are you sure this is what you want to do? Once it's out there..." His voice trailed off, thinking of all the possible ways this could go wrong.
"It's going to come out regardless," Peter said with a sigh. "Probably for the best that it comes from me," Peter hid his anxiety behind a convincing smile.
Tony agreed with Peter to some extent but hated the idea of the world knowing who he was. It made it just that much harder for him to protect the boy. "Merry Christmas, kid," Tony pulled the kid into a hug, which was gratefully returned.
"Merry Christmas, Mr. Stark,"
The rest of the night passed by much quicker than Peter had anticipated, and before he knew it, everyone was settling down for the night. The kids disappeared up the stairs, and Steve and Sam returned to the barn. Peter settled on the couch, waiting for Natasha while Clint poured them a drink. "You want one, Pete?" The archer offered jokingly, holding up the bottle of scotch. Natasha didn't find it very funny, and the glare she leveled at him said as much.
"I'm not old enough to drink," Peter answered without thinking.
"Good boy," Natasha said, glaring at her friend one last time before heading to her couch. She eased herself down and laid back, sipping her drink and allowing her eyes to close.
"Hey, Natasha? Can I-uh-" He wasn't exactly sure how to word his question. "Can I ask you something?" Peter finally
"Please, call me Mom..." She wanted to say but wouldn't. "Of course," Natasha took another sip of the drink before forcing her tired eyes back open so she could look at him.
"You and Nathaniel," The feeling he had watching them that morning wasn't jealously... It was just... "Were we like that? When I was little?" Peter asked.
Natasha sighed and took a long drink from her glass, nearly finishing it. "We didn't always get to be together," Her eyes stayed on the glass. That raised even more questions for Peter. "But," She smiled and turned to look at him again. "Yeah, you were a total Mama's boy when we were together," Peter couldn't help but smile at the thought as he closed his eyes.
The pair of spiders fell into a fitful rhythm of sleeping in two-hour chunks. Sleeping and waking in unison, as if they could sense the other one stirring.
"Mom?" Peter called without thinking, only half-awake. "Why didn't we always get to be together?" Natasha had expected that question, but it came sooner than she expected.
"They used you as leverage over me," It had been more than a decade since then, but the anger and the pain still felt fresh. "If I failed, if I made too much noise, they kept you from me," She finished, leaving out how they'd threatened his life before each mission. Maybe one day she'd tell him more, but that would have to do for now.
Another two hours passed, and then came another question. "Laura told me you used to lay with her the way we did," It wasn't so much a question as a statement. "Is that true?" Peter knew it was; he just wanted to hear about it.
"She made me feel safe," It felt strange but cathartic to say that out loud, and Natasha smiled at the memories. Laura's kindness and warmth had made Natasha feel secure in all the ways that Clint couldn't.
They fell into another two hours of sleep, and the first nightmare came to Peter. He dreamed of Natasha and her fight with Batroc, but he couldn't reach her this time. He was forced to watch as the mercenary ended her life, with him powerless to stop it.
When Peter woke from his nightmare, he felt the anger again, only dimmed by his tiredness. "Do you enjoy killing?" He asked, knowing Natasha was awake without having to look at her.
"It isn't personal like that," Dealing death had always been work. Only rarely had she really wanted to kill someone, namely Dreykov. "But, no, I don't enjoy it," Peter's fists clenched as he continued to think of Batroc, how he'd allowed him to escape twice.
"I think I'll enjoy killing Batroc," He said.
Natasha knew there was no sense in arguing against it. She understood Peter's rage and knew he had to work through it. "I think you're wrong..." She thought as they both drifted back to sleep. Another two hours passed, and this time only Natasha woke. She watched as Peter tossed and turned in his restless sleep. "Nightmares..." It made her heart ache, even if she'd known they'd come. Briefly, she considered waking him, but something Laura had once said came into her mind.
"Some sleep is better than no sleep," She supposed it was true.
Natasha laid a gentle hand on her boy's cheek, and he settled slightly; his skin was warm beneath her cold hand. She pressed a soft kiss to the top of his head, careful not to wake him. "We'll get through it," She repeated the words before limping toward the kitchen. Distracted by the aches and pains and groggy from sleep, she almost missed the sound of footsteps as they followed her into the kitchen. The assassin didn't bother turning around. She knew who it was, and she changed direction. "Jesus Christ, not this... Not NOW..." Natasha thought, stepping out into the cold predawn air.
The Widow leaned over the porch's railing, exhaled a long breath, and focused on the steam disappear. "Does he know?" Bucky's all too familiar voice finally spoke, and Natasha chose to ignore it. She exhaled another breath, her eyes closing this time. "Natasha..." Bucky took a step toward her. "Does he know?" He asked again, his voice almost pleading.
Another long breath came before she finally answered. "Does he know what, James?" She didn't turn to look at the man standing behind her.
"Does he know that I'm his Father?"
Author's Note: Here's chapter fourteen! I know it's a bit short and slow but who-hoo! I finally wrote what everyone had already deduced! I know, I laid it on a bit thick but it's an idea I liked, okay? One last thing, thank you all for your continued support and patience with this story I started nearly 5 years ago. I think of all the support I've gotten and all that's happened in that time and it blows my mind, so thank you all, really!
As always, a few things for me to talk about. I wanted to explore Peter's feelings around Aunt May being sick a bit more than I have as I neglected that part of the plot more than I should have. As for his reaction. In the almost 5 years since I started this story, I lost my own Aunt to cancer and I didn't talk to her as often as I should have or even wanted to. I felt overcome with my own grief and always felt that she'd end up comforting me when she was the one who was dying. And while I know she didn't hold that against me, I can't help but feel that I failed her somewhat. So those feelings are real.
And I wanted to continue to flesh out Natasha's relationship with Clint and Laura, as well as show more of Natasha's willingness to be vulnerable with them. I also began working on another story but that shouldn't interfere with my updating on this one. I want to get into a rhythm of alternating and updating them both.
One last thing, thank you all for your continued support and patience with this story I started nearly 5 years ago. I think of all the support I've gotten and all that's happened in that time and it blows my mind, so thank you all, really!