"Hey, there," I said quietly, smiling as the brown and white cat nuzzled up against my hand, purring happily. "What are you doing out here, huh?"
It was way too cold for a cat to be out, so I could only assume it was a stray. It was November in New York City, and the winter was not kind to those without a roof and heating. Unfortunately, I was one of them.
Fifteen and homeless. Yeah, that was going to be great on a college resume.
I sighed, scooping up the cat and nestling her in my lap, where she lounged happily. It felt nice, having something warm draped over my legs. My tattered blanket stuffed in my backpack provided little to no heat.
"Peter!" Someone called. I turned to see my friend Jason coming towards me, holding two cups, grinning.
I smiled, reaching to take the cup he handed me. "Thanks. What kind is it?" I asked, peering into the cup of steaming soup, the thick red sloshing against the sides.
"Tomato," he said, sliding down next to me. He grinned at the cat stretched out on my lap, one of my hands buried in her fur. "Looks like someone made a friend."
I smiled, scratching the cat's ears and chuckling lightly as it rolled over in pleasure. I was sitting on the edge of one of the homeless camps I stayed at, on the edge of Queens. This one was my favorite, but I moved every few days. I was leaving today, in fact, for another one a few miles away in Manhattan.
"I kind of want to keep her," I said quietly. "She doesn't have a collar."
"It's your choice, but don't forget that it's one more mouth to feed," Jason said, clapping me on the shoulder. I sipped at warm tomato soup, wishing the Styrofoam cup would get warmer so I could warm my fingers, too.
"She's little," I defended, dipping my finger in the soup and holding it in front of her. She licked it up happily. "She won't need much."
Jason smiled. "She's making you smile, which is rare. So, keep her, if she makes you that happy."
I blushed. Jason laughed and dropped a hand on my shoulder before wandering back to the heart of the camp, talking to some of the older, more permanent residents.
Jason was an enigma. He was homeless, but he was sharp. He could probably get any job he wanted. He was twenty-one, good-looking, and well-built, so physical labor wouldn't be a problem either. He refused to get a job, though; why, he never said. He was really good with the rest of the people at the camp; basically, the unofficial leader. He invited me in the first time I stopped by. When I said I wasn't staying, he seemed disappointed, but told me to stop by every once in a while, so he'd know I was okay.
I'd come by once every few weeks, randomly and without warning, so no one would be able to trace me. Other than that, I traveled from shelter to shelter, never staying more than a week.
If I did, I'd probably be caught.
I hadn't even done anything wrong, either. Apparently, my parents were super-duper top-secret scientists who'd uncovered earth-shattering information and a new formula for the super serum used on Captain America. It was extremely dangerous information if given to the wrong people.
My parents were scientists for HYDRA. They thought they were trying to replicate the serum to isolate the components of the healing factor, to accelerate modern medicine, but then they found out that HYDRA wanted to use it, in typical supervillain fashion, to take over the world.
Naturally, they were unhappy.
They destroyed their lab and stole all of their research, dropping me off at Aunt May's and Uncle Ben's before vanishing from my life forever, in an attempt to destroy their research and alert someone of HYDRA's intentions. From what I gathered, they managed to destroy the research, but were killed before they could tell anyone in authority about the project. The media called it a plane crash.
Sighing, I shifted my foot, feeling the paper against my skin. For safe-keeping, I kept the thick papers in my sock. Was it the cleanest, most comfortable, most dignified hiding spot? No. But sleeping on the streets was an open invitation for someone to turn out your pockets and take everything on you, and I couldn't let anyone have it, so I kept it in my sock.
Before my parents left me with my aunt and uncle to destroy their research, they'd given Uncle Ben an envelope to leave to me for when I turned eighteen if they didn't come back. They warned him to keep it well hidden, and not to look at it, because the information was dangerous and could get them all killed.
Eight months ago, when I was still fourteen, HYDRA agents came looking for the papers.
They stormed the house in the dead of night, dragging the three of us from our beds and cornering us in the living room. I was out of my mind in fear, so I wasn't much help; I stood there, sheltered by my aunt and uncle, shaking from head to toe.
In accented English, one of the four men demanded the letter left by Richard and Mary Parker all those years ago. I was clueless, but Uncle Ben and Aunt May seemed to know exactly what they were talking about, and told them in no uncertain terms to go screw themselves. He knew what it would mean, giving that information to HYDRA. He knew it would be the end. HYDRA would be too strong with the serum. I mean, come on; thousands of Steve Rogers, but all bad? It would be the freaking apocalypse.
They didn't ask again, simply shot Aunt May in the stomach twice.
I think I screamed. I think Ben screamed too, but then I was kneeling by her, my hands clasped over the wound, scorching blood pumping through my fingers, running down her sides, staining the hardwood floors, her clothes, my hands, my memory. Ben was still shielding the both of us, but tears were streaming down his face, and he shouted angrily something I don't remember. All I knew was that May coughed, blood coating her lips, reached up and brushed the hair from my eyes with a shaking hand, and smiled slightly. I removed one of my hands from her stomach and held her hand against my face, smearing blood on the side of my head, in my hair. I didn't notice.
"Be strong, Peter," she whispered, blood trailing from her mouth. "Be strong for me, my sweet boy; I'm so proud of you. No matter what anyone says, no matter what you do, I'm so proud…oh God, my sweet Ben…"
And then her eyes seemed to dull. I literally saw the life bleed from them, saw them cloud over with something I couldn't comprehend, saw the essence of life ebb away in place of something dark and cold and unforgiving. Her hand went limp in mine, and fell beside her to the floor.
The silence was too loud to think.
I shouted her name, then, shaking her. Her eyes were still staring at me. No, no—through me.
Uncle Ben turned his back on the men when I started screaming, kneeling beside his wife, sobbing. "May, May, no please May!"
He held her close and sobbed her name. The men behind him grew impatient, though, and prodded him in the back with his gun. "Give me the letter now. You and your nephew will die if you do not."
Ben glanced at me, and I looked back, wide-eyed and absolutely terrified. Gently, he lay May down. That's when I heard the sirens, and mountain-moving hope filled my terrified thoughts.
"Uncle Ben?" I said shakily, my face wet with tears, my body wet with blood.
Uncle Ben looked at me, and I'll never forget the look on his face. He was trying to convey years of love and pride, and at the same time, he was trying to say goodbye. He reached out and ruffled my hair, then leaned forward, over May's body, and kissed my forehead. "I love you, son," he said with a smile.
I think I knew then. I knew I was going to lose him, too. But I didn't know for sure until I saw it happen.
I heard the screech of tires outside. The three men who had been tearing the house apart, looking for whatever they'd come for, took positions to shoot whoever came through the front door. The one who'd spoken to Ben stalked forward, obviously sick of waiting, and shoved Ben out of the way, reaching across May for me.
I jerked back, wide-eyed, but his hand closed around the collar of my shirt, and he hauled me up and jerked me closer to him. I kicked and scratched and did everything I could to get away, but he just yanked me forward, and I unwillingly stumbled over May's body. And then, Uncle Ben went postal.
He tore me away from the man and shoved me behind him, my back hitting the wall hard, knocking the breath out of me. By then, the police had knocked the door down, and bullets were flying everywhere. I crawled behind the armoire and covered my head with my hands, pulling my knees up to my chest, trying to keep my panicked screams bottled up inside my throat.
This went on for a few agonizing minutes, and then, it was quiet.
Slowly, I inched my head up, peering around the armoire, only to see everyone lying on the floor, pools of blood spreading around their bodies. That included Uncle Ben.
I darted from behind the armoire and knelt beside him hastily, feeling the blood soak through my pants. I grabbed his hand. "Uncle Ben? Uncle Ben!"
His eyes flickered open, though he was in pain. He smiled. "Hey, Pete."
"Uncle Ben, I-I think the p-police are here," I stammered, looking anywhere but the blood. There—there was so much… "They'll help you, th-they'll…"
Uncle Ben moved slightly, hissing in pain, but pulled a key from his back pocket and handed it to me. Confused, I took it, never releasing his hand.
"I'm so sorry, Peter," he breathed, even as police stormed the house, sweeping it for any more enemies. "M-my desk, top drawer…false bottom. The envelope will explain. K-keep it safe, Peter…whatever you d-do, d-don't let th-them catch you. St-stay safe." He smiled. "With great power…comes g-great resp…responsibility…"
Police had radioed for medical personnel, having cleared the building, and they barged in, pulling me gently but firmly away from Uncle Ben, working to keep him alive.
"Wait, Uncle Ben, what—what does that mean, don't—let me go! Uncle Ben!" I yelled as they wheeled him away.
A police officer knelt in front of me, his hands on my shoulders. "Son, I need you to listen to me, okay?" His voice was kind, but firm. "The doctors are going to help your uncle. I need you to calm down, okay? Breathe with me."
The officer took exaggerated breaths, but it didn't help; all I could do was hyperventilate. All I could see around me was the blood—everything in the house seemed to be tainted crimson, and the metallic smell was so thick I tasted it. I was drenched in it. My arms were completely coated to my elbows. It was so deep in the crevices of my hands, I doubted it would ever wash out. My clothes hung heavy with its added weight, my heart even heavier. My vision started graying around the edges, and I clutched the key tight, putting it in my pants pocket, afraid I'd drop it if I collapsed.
A few seconds later, I fell forward. The officer caught me, yelling for more medics, saying something about shock. I didn't know anymore until I woke up in the hospital.
I jolted a little, realizing how deep I'd gone into the memory. My eyes stung with tears, quickly wiped away with the back of my hand.
After that, my work had been cut out for me. Uncle Ben died from his injuries. I stayed in the hospital for a few days. They let me go back to my house to get some things before they packed all the stuff away. I would go into foster care, they said, maybe find a family.
Obviously, that didn't happen.
Doing my best to ignore the blood stains covering every inch of the floor and the blood splatter on the walls, I stuffed a duffel bag full of everything I could—clothes, toiletries, canned, non-perishable food, every dollar in the house I found, and some pictures—and then grabbed the letter from Uncle Ben's study, raced out the back door, hopped the fence, and faded from everyone's lives like a ghost, ceasing to exist anywhere but memory.
I scratched the cat's ears fondly as she purred. I'd read the letter multiple times, but I got the same thing every time—protect the research. That was it. That was my job. Don't get caught, protect the research. Stay safe, stay hidden.
My family—both my families—had died for this information. If I had to, so would I.
"Peter?" Jason asked.
I jumped. I hadn't heard him come up. "Yeah?" I asked, finishing off my chilled soup in a long gulp.
He smiled. "I hate to see you go, but if you're leaving, you should do it soon. It takes a couple hours on foot to get where you're going, and I don't like the thought of you wandering around at night."
Glancing up at the sky, I saw he was right; it was early afternoon. I should head out.
"Thought of a name?" I asked, standing and hoisting my backpack over my shoulder. The cat stood on its hind legs and pawed pitifully at my knees until I reached down and picked her up, curling her in my arms. "I don't want to keep calling her 'cat.'"
He smiled, stroking the fur on her head. "I don't know. She's yours; you should name her."
The cat purred then, turning in my arms to expose her underbelly, where a patch of brown fur rested in the middle of white, shaped like a small star. I looked up, grinning. "Stella."
Jason laughed. "It's perfect, man." He clapped me on the shoulder, pulling me in for a hug. "Come by when you can, alright? Stay out of trouble."
I nodded, switching Stella to one arm and clapping him on the back. "Thanks for everything, Jason. You have no idea how much I appreciate it."
He waved it off, wishing me luck, and walked back to the shelter. I turned, hitching up my bag on one shoulder, cradling Stella in my arms, and set off for Manhattan.
I never made it.
A/N: Hey guys! I'm back! Sorry, school's been stressful. Okay, so this is a new story I'm working on. It's an AU, and it's really not like anything I've read, so I'm not sure what reaction it'll get, but I wanted to try it, you know? The Avengers come in next chapter. Please review honestly! Let me know if you think I should continue it or scrap it (I'll probably continue it anyways, but the feedback is helpful) and if you have ANY ideas, I'd love to hear them! I've got seven chapters including this one written, so hopefully I'll post once a week, probably on Saturdays. Also, if Queens and Manhattan are really far away from each other, I'm sorry, I have no knowledge of New York's layout...Sorry! Please review! Tell your friends! Message me! I don't care, just let me know what you think :) Also, for you Back in Black fans, I'm working on Tony's POV, and thanks to an awesome review from LehcarAllyson, I'm going to write a one-shot about Tony and Peter fixing up Peter's first car! Hope you enjoyed Chapter 1 of Whispers in the Dark (PS I don't own Avengers OR the Skillet song).