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you grow up and you lose touch

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Peter tries not to think about how they’re a fragment in a multiverse, about how there are alternate realities where Gwen was still alive—where M.J. didn’t press white-knuckled fists to her clenched teeth and make him choose between the world or her—where Peter could save New York and have what he wanted.

Those were thoughts for early dawn on a school night, when he couldn’t sleep because he could feel hands around his neck too easily, feel the scorch of bullets, grenades, fists against his skin. Only then would he let himself think—huh, fuck, he sure drew the short end of the stick if there existed a universe where Peter Parker wasn’t just dirt-poor, but he also had the girl.

Or guy.

A good friend?

The Avengers acknowledgement at the very least?

At least Daredevil sometimes sought him out for team-ups; there were worse things in the world than teaming-up with Hell’s Kitchen most righteous vigilante, he’s sure.

Like fraternizing with the enemy.

Kissing them, to be specific. Not that Peter couldn’t lie his way out of that one if he had to but, again, one crisis at a time.

One crisis per night is his M.O. nowadays.

So on those nights, when his bruised ribs throbbed in tandem with his heart, when he glanced over the empty side of his bed and pretended he didn’t feel alone, when he purposely didn’t look at the face-down picture frame of him and M.J. on his bookcase—of Gwen with her golden blonde locks, bright grin, sparkling blue eyes—

He knows: there are universes like that, where he has everything.

This isn’t one of them.

(But maybe it can be.)


 

i.

Peter promises that he has better days than this—really, he actually has good days where everything goes right and he makes it home just in time to watch his favorite television show and he doesn’t even have to break out the hydrocodone because he has no injuries.

The way today starts off, Peter knows it’s not going to be a good day.  

No day can be good if it’s Daredevil doing a house call.

“Hello? Uh, hey, is there any chance that this can wait? I’ma—little busy right now!” Peter grunts, pulling a thread of his modified webs between his hands with all his strength. He’d been having some trouble with his webs recently and since his evening grad class was cancelled, he figured he could at least work on his new prototype instead of slouching around uselessly.

“Spider-Man,” Daredevil greets, curt as always. Peter pauses, surprised. “We need to talk. It’s urgent.”

“Y’not breaking up with me already, are you, DD? You were—the one that—suggested we take it slow,” Peter grits out distractedly, watching the threads of his webs begin to fray. He hitches the phone higher up his shoulder. Shit, this wouldn’t do at all. Peter knows he’s very strong, could hold his own against Captain America if he really tried, but he sure as hell has the scars to prove just how strong the Rhino could be when he set his mind to something. He needed to reinforce these stupid webs with something stronger, but nothing he’s done so far has worked.

God, what would Gwen do—ah, no, don’t go there Parker, that way lies hell, Peter reminds himself sharply.  

“Very funny, Spider-Man. Ten minutes. I’ll meet you on your turf,” and he hangs up just as Peter’s web tears and his bare foot slips on the cheap mat in his bedroom.

OW! Dang it,” Peter groans, rubbing his tailbone and holding a frayed end of his web in one hand. “Not strong enough,” he sighs, tossing it away. “Formula needs more tweaking…and I need more money to pay for those tweaks. So there’s gonna be no tweaks until I get paid next week. Awesome.”

But first things first, he needs to find a suit that didn’t smell like something died in it.

 

 

“Tony Stark is looking for you,” Daredevil says the instant Peter swings to a landing in front of him. Daredevil stands under the shadow of a billboard, the dark red of his suit gleaming ominously under the moonlight. His arms are crossed over his broad chest and Peter can’t help the slight way he grabs at his own arm at the sight of Daredevil’s sculpted biceps. He idly thinks that he should ask him what his training regimen is for…training reasons, of course, yeah, although Daredevil works the lean, tightly muscled, athlete look pretty well even though Peter is honestly more into the bigger, burly, types…

“That’s new, what’s he want?” Peter says, stopping that train of thought before he embarrasses himself. “Tips on how to be a decent human being? I can refer him to some people I know.”

Daredevil’s lip ticks up the slightest bit. “I wouldn’t know, but he did say that it was urgent. He wouldn’t contact me otherwise,” Daredevil continues. Peter will take what he can. “He told me he’d rather not take drastic measures to find you and, I don’t know about you, but I don’t like playing messenger when you and I both know Stark can find you in a heartbeat. If he’s going out of his way like this, it can’t be good,” he adds, meaningfully.  

“Great, right, sorry,” Peter mutters with a wince, looking off to the side. He can’t think of a single reason why Tony Stark would want to contact him in such a way unless shit hit the fan and he was running out of options. Good to know he’d always be a reserve superhero, Peter thinks a little bitterly. “I guess I can swing by the Tower later.”

“He wants you there now.

Now?”

Yes, why else would I call you outside of Hell’s Kitchen for?”

“I dunno’—to hang out? Beat up some bad guys together? Sing some off-key renditions of Lady Gaga’s new hit single while beating up said bad guys?”

“Lady Gaga hasn’t released…nevermind,” Daredevil clears his throat. Peter smirks, wishing he didn’t have his mask on so the older man could see it. But he’s sure the devil-masked vigilante can feel his smugness. Daredevil listens to Lady Gaga. Small pleasures. “Stark wants you there now. I’m not sure for what, but he sounded quite…distressed over the phone. I’d get there as soon as possible if I were you.”

“Well, he’s never gone out of his way to find me before, especially like this,” Peter mentions, already eying a building. “Better get going, then.”

“Good luck, Spider-Man,” Daredevil nods, blending back into the dark while Peter leaps off the building with a quick wave, shooting a web to a nearby wall and swinging himself through the streets of Brooklyn with a troubled frown. It wasn’t like he was lying when he said that Tony never sought him out; he really didn’t, not unless he needed to use him for something and he’d exhausted all other resources. Tony was a tool that way, but at least he was honest, which Peter appreciated.

His trip to the Tower is uneventful, but long—no thieves, no muggers, nothing but dead streets and the occasional passerby—and when he finally lands on the roof of Stark Tower, searching for that nook he always shimmied through because JARVIS’ scanners couldn’t reach there, a figure emerged from the shadows, the familiar outline of arrows setting off his spidey-sense.

“Hawkeye,” Peter greets, blinking. “This is new, and also really, really creepy. What’s with the welcoming party?”

“Oh, y’know,” Hawkeye shrugs nonchalantly, nodding his head to the roof door of the Tower. “Just here to let you in on a few things before you talk to Tony. He doesn’t want you freaking out and scaring the kid.”

“Kid? Freaking out? Rewind, I feel like I missed something.”

“Right. So, don’t freak out, but… how okay would you be with fostering the successor of Spider-Man from another universe?”

“How okay would I—wait—WHAT?!”

“So, that’s a maybe, right?” Hawkeye grins, heading down the stairs. “That definitely sounded like a maybe.”

Peter’s pretty grateful for his heightened abilities right now—he would have totally broken his nose or something if he hadn’t caught himself on the wall after Hawkeye dropped that bomb.

Ungraceful, thy name is Peter.

“What’re you—are you crazy?!” Peter shouts as he scrambles to follow the archer. “That’s a hell no, Hawkeye!”

“I told you to call me Clint, kid. Hawkeye is my work name,” Hawkeye says but Peter has bigger issues. Like the fact that Tony wants to dump a kid on him.

Hawkeye,” Peter stresses, just to be a shit. Hawkeye just scowls. “Being a hero doesn’t pay, y’know! I survived off ramen noodles for a whole week once because I stopped Doc Oct and couldn’t go to work! So I got fired,” Peter hisses, but doesn’t mention that Jameson was always firing him and then calling him up when he didn’t show the next morning because he didn’t actually fire him. “How the heck am I going to take care of a kid when I can barely take care of myself?”

“Don’t worry about it! Hey, has anyone ever told you that you’re really paranoid? Money isn’t a problem. Tony’s got you covered,” Hawkeye waves off. “Think of him as your over-paid, overseas, distant husband—who’s really bad with kids. Like, really bad.”

Peter slits his eyes. He didn’t care if Hawkeye couldn’t see it; he was totally giving him the evil eye. “That is not funny! There is no way I’m accepting charity from Tony Stark!”

 

 

He cannot believe he’s accepting charity from Tony ‘this-is-your-responsibility-as-Spider-Man-I’m-a-guilt-tripping-jerk’ Stark.

“Listen,” Tony insists, ignoring Peter’s fuming. “You take the kid in, show ‘em how to stop sticking to everything, maybe teach him a new trick or two, and I make sure you two eat for the next six months, how’s that sound? Wonderful? That’s what I thought, too,” Tony grins, ignoring Peter’s incredulous flailing at just how horrible this idea is and Peter hasn’t even gotten to the he’s never taken care of a kid before part of the argument.

“No, not wonderful! Bad! Super bad! I can’t just take him in like this, Mr. Stark, he’s...” Peter grips the file that Tony compiled in his hand tightly. “He’s just a child! He needs a family, he needs support!”

“He needs a mentor,” Tony corrects. “Someone who knows what it’s like to suddenly come into powers and teach him how to use them properly. Safely,” Tony adds, and Peter knows there’s a story there but he can’t even begin to ask about it when he’s suddenly come into a kid.

“And call me Tony. Mr. Stark was my father.”

Peter snaps his jaw shut, squares his shoulders. “Fine, Mr. Tony Stark.”

Hawkeye sniggers in the background. Miles, who’s curled up on a couch in a living room that’s blocked off by a glass, sound-proof, wall, just watches them all fearfully.

Tony scowls, but doesn’t interrupt again since Peter keeps talking:

“Let’s say he does need a mentor, someone to teach him how to use his powers. That takes time and patience with resources that I don't have. How am I going to patrol at night if he’s in my care? At his age, there’s no way I can take him with me without putting him in more danger than a kid his age should be in! In fact, he shouldn’t be out fighting crime at all!  And if no one can know his identity, who’s going to babysit him when I can’t?”

“Find some grandma type! I don’t know! It’s not like no one can know his identity, it’s just that no one who matters can know.”

Peter pinches the bridge of his nose. “Okay, but that doesn’t fix the first part of the argument! He is nine. He can’t be fighting crime! He’s just a kid, he’ll get hurt!

“Not to worry. Already got that covered,” Tony smirks, snapping his fingers. “JARVIS. Show him the suit.”

“Of course, sir,” JARVIS responds politely.

“Suit? You built a nine-year-old a super suit?!”

“Hell yes I did,” Tony preens. “Some of my best work this week, really.”

Suddenly, the whole right facing wall shifts down to reveal a—pretty awesome looking shrunk-down Spider-Man suit, black where Peter’s would be blue and red. The sigil at the center of the chest is titanium, gleaming red and meaningful under the florescent lights, and the rest of the suit gleams unusually—definitely not spandex, probably some type of more functional and resistant material than Peter’s suit, knowing Tony. It’s probably fire retardant, too. Small fortunes, Peter thinks warily. It’s fitted for Miles and seems to be constructed by the best tech available, Peter is sure, but he still feels his stomach cave at the significance of the suit.

“And—you see absolutely no problem with letting a nine-year-old fight crime?” Peter asks, flatly.

“Told you he was really bad with kids,” Hawkeye hollers from the kitchen, popping open a bag of chips.

“Shut up, Katniss. Now, before you tell me how bad of an idea this is, let me run down some specs!” Tony holds up a finger at Peter. “This suit is nearly indestructible. Nearly meaning it’d take one my own tech to destroy it which is never going to happen.”

“Right,” Peter crosses his arms, unimpressed.

“Right,” Tony repeats, ignoring Peter’s look of disbelief. “First, the armor is made of protein-scale nanotechnology, which will grant Miles enhanced strength on top of Miles’ already-impressive spider strength, with the added bonus of durability. This suit can take a beating from your Rhino and still be fine,” Tony mocks. Peter slits his eyes. The Rhino was a threat when he was angry, okay? “The suit also functions as a glider in case Miles ever, I don’t know, misses a building and falls. I added a type of pseudo-webbing—biodegradable, for those environmentalists out there—to the arms which would allow for controlled gliding in situations that call for it. They deploy automatically when the sensors detect dangerous altitude.”

“He can fly in it?!”

Tony lifts a finger, smirk growing. “I’m not even done yet. The suit also includes a self-cleaning electrostatic precipitation system which allows for full Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Filtration and has 10 minutes’ worth of compressed air capacity should the kid ever fall into water or something because I’m guessing he can’t swim,” Tony swivels to face Miles, who’s staring at them with wide eyes and furrowed brows. He snaps his fingers and then says, “Hey, kid, can you swim?”

Miles shakes his head.

Tony snaps his fingers again, blocking out sound.

At least Tony was thoughtful enough not to let Miles hear the adults argue over his fate, Peter thinks with a sigh.

“Thought so. The headpiece also contains enhanced lenses, similar to my suit, from which Miles can access police and fire scanners and some of the other fun goodies—when he’s old enough,” Tony assures. “I’ve added a child lock device which only you can access, it’s programmed to your voice and you can add a retina scan for extra protection once Miles is older. So you can restrict and grant access to any of the more dangerous settings in his suit as you deem necessary. And don’t even get me started on the 17 multifunctional layers that I built into the suit.”

“17?” Peter repeats, baffled. Let no one ever say that Tony didn’t put his heart into his machines. “What, Mr. Stark, that’s…this is all…” Peter tries to speak but Tony steamrolls over him. This is insane; Tony didn’t just build Miles a suit, he built him a fortress.

“And the suit is also heat resistant. So, don’t worry your fuzzy little arachnid head, the kid will be more than fine if you take him out on your daily runs in the city. He can even upload his own music for extra dramatic crime fighting,” he adds, and Peter wants to believe he’s kidding but, unfortunately, he knows better.  

Peter purses his lips. “Okay. So that is a pretty bad-ass suit.”

“Thank you, I made it myself.”

Peter ignores him. “Even so, Mr. Stark, you have to understand just how bad of an idea this is. He’s just nine-years-old and he’s gone through something horrendously traumatizing—and it hasn’t even been a full week. He needs time to process, to cope. I don’t think he needs a reminder of what it was that put him in that situation in the first place…” Peter trails off, glancing down at the file again. He flips through it again, his heart clenching painfully with every word he reads.

Miles Morales is young, much younger than he could have anticipated, and he can’t imagine the trauma that small child went through when he gained his spider abilities and he was subsequently exploited because of them by his uncle, his father. Peter was sixteen when he was bitten by a radioactive spider and he nearly gouged his eyes out in that train car when he was acclimating to his heightened senses. Hearing was always a bitch to get used to. But this kid—Miles, Peter thinks firmly, his name is Miles Morales and his family is…dead—Peter can tell he isn’t happy with his abilities at all. He seems so frightened, curled up into himself on one of Tony’s leather couches, staring at him with eyes so wide he can see the whites all around. His dark skin had gone chalky when Tony revealed the suit and Peter knows that his costume isn’t helping matters. Actually, hold up, didn’t the Spider-Man from that universe die—? Ah, nope, that way lies hell, too, Parker, Peter thinks as he looks back up.

“Mr. Stark…”

“Look. Give the kid a chance. He doesn’t have many other options right now, alright? Trust me, I’ve tried,” Tony says, heaving a sigh. “Besides, isn’t this what heroes do?”

This is what heroes do: they give those who’ve done wrong, those who others wouldn’t bat an eye at, a second chance so long as they still had even a pinprick of good in them.

At least, that’s Peter’s hero ethic.

“Alright, bring the wall up or—how do I get over—right, uh,” Peter fumbles when Tony merely arches a brow and the glass wall sinks back into the floor. “So. Miles?” Peter faces the little boy who huddles on the white leather couch, approaching him cautiously. “Uh, hey, buddy. I’m Spider-Man or, er, this universe’s Spider-Man, I guess.”

In the background, Hawkeye snorts.

Peter calls upon all the patience he has so he doesn’t web that bird-brains mouth shut.

“So, Mr. Stark tells me that you’re nine-years-old,” Peter softens his voice, kneeling in front of Miles. The mask, Peter notes, freaks him out a little but he can’t remove it while he’s in the Tower. Even though Peter’s 99.9% sure that Tony knows exactly who he is because Tony just can’t stand not knowing something, he isn’t about to willingly show his face to him or anyone else unless it was absolutely necessary. “Did you just turn nine?”

Miles hesitates before he shakes his head.

“Oh, so you’ve been nine a while now, huh? Neat,” Peter smiles. “I’ve been my age for a while, too.”

“….How long?” Miles whispers after a moment, still holding himself tightly.

“Ah! Now that’s for me to know and you to find out!” Peter waggles a finger. He leans in a little closer, careful never to make Miles anymore uncomfortable than he already is. Miles tenses but doesn’t pull away. “But between you and me, I am definitely waaaay younger than that misanthrope over there!”

“I resent that,” Tony remarks idly.

“What’s that?”

“People hater,” Peter clarifies. “Fits him, doesn’t it? He’s always been a little too chummy with his robots,” and Miles glances quickly over at Tony before looking back down at his knees. “But, hey, so, Mr. Stark says you’re gonna’ be staying with me for a little bit. I know it’s hard right now,” he says compassionately, and Miles shrinks. “But I’m going to give you a choice, okay? I know we don’t know each other very well, but I’d like it if you stayed with me while you adapt to this universe and learn about your new powers and how to use them. How’s that sound?”

Miles shifts uncomfortably, not saying a word.

“I have a Netflix account,” Peter coaxes.

Miles darts his eyes back to Peter and he uncurls a little at that. “…You have a computer?”

“I’ve got two,” Peter says, holding up two fingers. “And a PS4. And a bunch of video games I’ll probably never play but I still bought because I have no self-control that way.”

“Mom said…” Miles begins, stops, drops his eyes and his entire spirit with those two words. Peter’s chest tightens—no, no, don’t think about it, don’t think about how desperately alone Miles must be—so he takes a breath and waits for Miles to collects himself, to croak out, “It costs a lot, s’all. We never had it but my…my friend did, we used to watch movies sometimes…”

Peter knew he was poor, but even he could shell out eight bucks a month for an online service, so he can’t imagine what situation this kid was in before his entire world was destroyed—his friends, his family, his mother—

“Well, you can have it all to yourself and I’ll even let you pick out the snacks if you decide to keep me company for a few weeks?”

Peter doesn’t need anyone to tell him it’ll be more than a few weeks. Six months? Peter’s sure Tony was just talking out of his ass, there was no way Miles could be traded off to a normal family anymore. Not with his powers, and Peter thinks that Miles knows this, too, which makes things about a hundred times worse because a kid his age shouldn’t have to know things like that.

Miles’s entire universe collapsed, his world is gone, everything and everyone he knows is gone and different; this world is new and different. Miles dropped down from the sky and if it weren’t for his superhuman abilities and healing factor, he’d have much more than the slight bruises on his side and cheek that have already faded.

“So?” Peter smiles. “What do you say? Partners?” He holds up his fist.

Miles fidgets for a moment, nervously flicking his gaze to every person in the room before those two wide eyes land on Peter’s again. He tentatively lifts his arm, small hand curled in a fist—oh, god, how is he going to train someone so small?—and bumps Peter’s.

“Okay.”

“Awesome!” Hawkeye claps his hands, and the moment is shattered. “I’ll go get his stuff from his room. Hey, Miles, you wanna’ come with?” Hawkeye calls out, walking over with a friendly smile on his face. Miles tenses, but glances at Peter for permission, and Peter is so screwed; he can totally feel himself getting attached to the little kid already.

“Go get your stuff, I’ll wait for you here,” Peter assures. Miles quietly uncurls himself and follows Hawkeye down the hall. Before the automatic doors close, Miles glances over his shoulder to look at Peter.

“Crap,” Peter sighs, rubbing the back of his neck. “Fine. I’ll do it. You win. Gloat and I’ll web your mouth shut.”

Tony grins victoriously but mines zipping his mouth shut, absently swirling ice in his glass as they descend into a short silence.

“So, you’re totally sure about this, right?” Tony asks after a moment. “Not gonna’ freak out in a week and demand I take the kid back?”

“No, I’m in it for the long-run,” Peter promises and it’s really the greatest irony of his life that he’s always in it for the long-run but others never are. But it’s not like he can say no to the kid; that’s just cruel. Even Peter will sacrifice some take-out nights if it means giving a child some refuge. Although, if Tony doesn’t back out of his promise (which he won’t because he has more money than he can spend in four lifetimes), he’ll be having more take-out nights over the next few months. He’s so glad his patrols keep him in shape. “And besides, I’m pretty sure you know about the whole, uh, y’know—” Peter awkwardly gestures to his masked face. “I would appreciate it if you never told anyone. Ever. On pain of death.”

“Sure thing, kid. Not like I have you on file or anything.”

Right, and I was born yesterday.”

“Worth a shot, Parker,” Tony smirks and Peter slits his eyes at him.

“Not funny.”

“It’s a little funny. C’mon, are you really even trying here? Let’s be honest. How else would a photographer capture such epic wide-shots of Spider-Man unless he was taking them himself? Always knew there was something fishy about that. You always got his good angles—not even my personal photographer gets my good angles all the time.”

“Mr. Stark, seriously? Not cool, okay? I didn’t want anyone to know and it’s bad enough you know,” Peter ignores Tony’s whiny hey in favor of having a small freak out, “but if other people find out it could endanger my loved ones—or-or if SHIELD contacts me for any reason whatsoever, I’m gonna’ know it’s because of you and I will not be happy,” Peter hisses, posture rigid all of a sudden. “I do not want anything to do with SHIELD or the Avengers, since they operate alongside them. I’ve seen too many lives get screwed over because SHIELD felt it was imperative to throw them under the bus for their own agendas. I’m not kidding, Tony, don’t try me on this.”

Tony snorts, amused. “Oh, right, because someone who sells their selfies to the press is obviously a threat. Practically quaking in my titanium boots here, Parker.”

“No, but someone who knows about that glitch in JARVIS’ system files is a threat,” Peter snaps and the room grows six degrees colder.

“…Pardon?”

“You’re not the only one with computer experience, and I’ll be checking in to see if you’ve fixed that irregularity.”

Tony makes a contemplative noise in his throat. “And, ah, who the hell really let you in on that little secret, huh, Parker? Not that anyone but me and maybe two other people know about that. I’d be very interested in knowing what you said to either of them to make ‘em squeal.”

Peter ignores the threat in his tone. “No one. I didn’t threaten anyone. I didn’t need to and, even then, that’s not my style. I’m not the only one with enough skill to hack into your systems—!”

No one has enough skill to hack into my systems. Except, apparently, you,” Tony interrupts but Peter talks over him. “So pardon me for thinking you’re full of—!”

“—but I am one of the few who will never use those skills against you.”

“Yeah? So, let’s say I believed you. Say you did know how to hack into my servers, say you figured it out in your little nerd cave or whatever,” Tony sneers, but there’s a strain in his voice, a tension that makes Peter’s spider sense go off. “How, exactly, do I know you won’t decide I screwed the proverbial pooch one of these days and you go looking for something you shouldn’t?” His knuckles are white around his glass of scotch.

“You already have leverage,” Peter says simply, and Tony surveys him for a moment before taking a drink. They both have a vulnerability; they’re both on even ground.

Peter would like to say he’s got all his weaknesses covered but he’ll always have a gaping weak spot when it comes to those he cares about. Maybe that’s why most people think he has none: because his weakness is too obvious.

“You got guts, Spidey-kid, even if you’re still a little too sentimental for my tastes. There’s hope for you yet,” Tony ends on that truce and changes the subject. “So, just so we’re clear on this whole fostering deal, you can’t come crawling back to me or whatever arachnids do in a panic, and bring the kid back for any amount of time. Any amount of time. I refuse to sacrifice my downtime to look after some snot-nosed brat no matter what Pepper says,” Tony points out with absolute zero irony and now Peter remembers why most people don’t hang around Tony Stark for longer than necessary. “Didn’t do it for America’s greatest and oldest, won’t do it for him—even if he is a cute kid.”

The door opens a few seconds later so Tony adds smugly, “And punched Barton so hard, I’m pretty sure he lost some feathers when we found ‘em.”

“Very funny, Tony! That hurt, alright, kid’s got an arm on him,” Hawkeye complains as he enters the room again, rubbing the purpling bruise on his shoulder. Peter frowns when Miles ducks his head as he follows behind the hero, tiny fists clenching his Captain America backpack to his chest. They could at least be a little more sensitive. Miles has gone through a lot and every instinct in Peter is telling him to grab the kid and get out of there. He isn’t comfortable, Peter has never been comfortable in the Tower after all the awe died off the first time, and it’s about to be 5 in the morning so he’s really fucking tired and he’s sure the kid is, too.  

“Yeah, it’ll be fun,” Peter smiles crookedly under his mask. “Way better than hanging out around here, anyway. JARVIS has got to run out of jokes eventually.”

“I assure you, Spider-Man, I have quite an extensive repertoire.”

“Stealing jokes off Google doesn’t count, JARVIS,” Peter quips back, hand on his hip. “It’s all about improvising.”

That explains why you’re not funny,” Hawkeye smirks.

“I resent that,” Peter scowls.

By the door, Miles’s small shoulders relax a fraction and he cracks a smile.

Peter’s own smile widens.

He’ll take what he can get.

 

 

Okay, it’s time to be honest.

He has no idea what he’s doing.

Peter always thought that when he had kids, there would be someone by his side to tell him if he’s doing something wrong; if he should let the kid lock himself up in Peter’s bedroom and, like, not come out aside from dinners and those evenings Peter takes off to hang out with him. It’s been two weeks and Peter doesn’t really know what to do about this situation aside from coaxing Miles out with the promise of snacks like a small animal.

Miles refuses to touch his own Spider-Man suit, looking at it with something akin to pure terror, and Peter doesn’t have the heart in him to force him into it so their training has been put on hold until further notice. He doesn’t know if Tony is keeping tabs on him about that, but he hasn’t gotten a complaint yet, so Peter isn’t going to force the kid if he doesn’t want to.

Peter doesn’t think he’ll train Miles any time soon, if he’s being honest.

He’s only nine. He still has some childhood left yet, and Peter knows that once he dons the suit and goes out into New York, he’ll have no more childhood to live. Call him selfish, but Peter doesn’t want to take that away from him.

Miles has been forced into things far too much for someone his age as it were. Honestly, taking out any kid under the age of sixteen out to fight crime is a bad idea. Peter doesn’t always battle the big-bads, that’s true. It’s usually just petty crime when he patrols. But if he encountered an actual super powered villain and Miles was with him…

Sure, the suit could camouflage perfectly into backgrounds and Miles could activate a panic button in his suit which would immediately dispatch two of Tony’s Mark X suits from the Tower to come and rescue him, but it was still dangerous, and Peter wouldn’t be able to live with himself if something happened to the kid because of one dumb mistake.

Peter has a lot of experience in making dumb mistakes; it’s basically his life up until this point.

“Hey, Miles? Wanna watch a movie with me? I’ve got some popcorn and chips, BBQ-flavored, your favorite,” Peter wheedles, peeking into his bedroom. With the money that Tony had given him in advance, he bought Miles his own twin bed and some clothes and other basic necessities. Now, Peter watches as Miles uncurls himself from his bed right by his own, placing some of his actions figures down and looking over at him. He always has those wrenching sad-eyes...

Peter’s short-term goal is to reduce the sads, and so far junk food and comedies are chipping away at it.

Long-term? Maybe have the kid actually talk to him about his feelings. Or what he did that day.

Baby steps. That’s one thing he does know when it comes to dealing with people.

“I was wondering, if we could…watch a new movie?” Miles asks tentatively, then looks down. Peter stands up straight. A request?! Cha-ching, progress! “I mean, that new Transformer movie that came out…last week. I know it’s late and movies are expensive, but—!”

“Oh, you wanna’ go out for a movie? Sure! It’s no sweat, we can totally go—right now, actually, it isn’t too late!” Peter beams, and Miles perks up, his eyes lighting up a little. Miles was definitely more receptive to him when he didn’t have his mask on. Peter knows Miles locks himself up in their room whenever he dons his Spider-Man costume. He’s lucky the nice old lady next door could always watch Miles when he had to go out for patrol and didn’t ask any questions.

“Alright, perfect, there’s an 7:15 showing—if we leave now, we’ll get there right on time,” Peter says after checking the listings on his phone. “Man, I haven’t gone to the movies in ages!”

“It’s coz you’re old,” Miles blurts out, then looks horrified with himself.

Peter lets out a booming laugh. “Okay, you got me there, but I’m not that old! I’m still hip, I still got it!” Peter strikes a dorky pose and Miles stifles a giggle as he scrambles off the bed, his toys falling over. “Hey, pick up your toys before we go, Miles, and put on a jacket! And real shoes! I’ll get the snacks to sneak in—you want jellybeans or chocolate as your contraband?” Peter calls over his shoulder as he swipes his wallet off the counter, tugging his own jacket off the back of a chair while Miles runs around his room for his things.

“JELLY BEANS!”

“You got it!”

These noises, the footsteps and shuffling and the way Miles squawks as he sticks to things again because he can’t control his excitement—

Peter closes his eyes, clenches his house keys in his hand hard enough to dent the metal a little, and still doesn’t look at the face-down picture sitting on his bookcase as Miles comes running out, a toy stuck to the back of his head, his jacket all ruffled and the sleeves stuck awkwardly at places on his arms.

“Excited, huh? C’mon,” Peter smiles a little, grabbing the toy stuck to the back of Miles’s head and tugging. It comes off with another tug and Miles rubs down his hair with an embarrassed half-smile. “We really need to work on that before you accidentally stick on something you can’t unstick from—like my Aunt, or a cereal box.”

“Aunt? Who’s she?”

“My Aunt May. You haven’t met her yet, but she’s basically my mom since she raised me since I was about your age,” Peter tells him gently. “I’ll introduce you to her one day.”

Miles looks up, hopeful. “Really?”

“Yeah, of course. When Tony stops being a butt, that is.”

Miles smiles, then asks, “What’s so bad about sticking to cereal?”

“Cereal boxes. Dude, cardboard sucks. Trust me, you do not want to know,” and he ruffles Miles hair a little, ushering him out the door as Miles asks more questions about bad things to stick on.

He thinks about that face-down picture frame of he and M.J. when he’s in bed later that night, but it doesn’t hurt him as bad as it did before.

 

 

Okay.

So maybe he does know what he’s doing.

That doesn’t mean he has to suddenly be a super mature adult—he’ll always be a man-child at heart, and M.J. can suck it because life doesn’t have to be all taxes and morning news and their 401k.

“Remember, Miles,” Peter begins with exaggerated importance as he snaps on his own googles, his old lab-coat from his early college intern days fluttering behind him as he jogs over to where Miles is, kneeling beside him. “The difference between science and screwing around is writing it down,” he takes out a notepad and a pen and waggles it in front of the kid, whose eyes light up.

“Did you get that from MythBusters?” Miles asks excitedly.

“Yeah! Wait, you watch them, too, where you come from?!”

“Yeah! They’re awesome! They’re super funny and they do really cool stuff! Like what’s faster? An airplane or traveling by car!”

“Uhh, airplane, right?”

“It’s almost the same,” Miles tells him gravely.

“I feel like I’m missing some information there,” Peter points out, brow arched.

“I think it’s not for looooong trips. Traveling by airplane or car for long trips makes a difference. The airplane wins!,” Miles sighs, like explaining this to Peter is a huge inconvenience. “But, like, in short trips there isn't a lot of difference!”

“Haaaah, do tell, do tell,” Peter grins and vaults over the couch, going over to the set of batteries. “Maybe that episode exists in this world, too, and I can see the math! We can marathon Myth Busters later! Now, c’mon! Get over here, put all this on for safety!”

“What’re we doing?” Miles asks as he snaps on goggles too, watching as Peter tinkers around on the table. The goggles fall into his eyes a lot because he’s much too small for them, but it doesn’t seem to bother him much and Peter thinks it’s adorable.

“Science!”

“What kinda’ science?”

“The only kind there is—the explosive kind,” Peter grins. Miles oo’s.  “See, there’s this villain here—Electro. His superpower is electricity. It’s really cool, y’know, when he’s not shooting me in the butt with it! But my webs don’t work with him because they conduct electricity a little too well so I always get zapped when I try and use ‘em. I’m gonna’ try something and see if it works…” He flicks a switch and then backs away. “Okay, you have your googles on?”

“Check!”

“Oven mitts?”

“Check!”

“Apron?”

“Check!”

“Alright, we’re ready. Experiment number 1 is a go.” Peter squints at the thread of his webbing that’s held between two clamps on the wooden table in their living room, electricity thrumming quietly from the battery he has it hooked up to. “Let’s do this on three, ready?”

Miles nods fervently, eyes wide under the googles.

“One, two—!” Peter presses the trigger and his eyes bulge, spidey-sense tingling, and he grabs Miles out of instinct, clutching him to his chest as the battery literally explodes. But he’ll swear after they manage to put out the fire that caught on the curtains and Miles prods the limp webbing and deems the experiment a failure, that Peter totally screamed a manly scream.

No matter what Miles says.

“Okay. So. Uh. Fact check: this failed hardcore, and it was definitely a bad idea, and I should have known better but I was really curious about what would happen if I did it anyway,” Peter frowns at the acid that’s starting to eat away at the table. “I think I’m just going to go back to working on my suit and avoid using the webs with Electro…”

He’s still muttering to himself when Miles calls out:  

“Hey, Peter, look! Look! Look what I can do!”

Peter watches as Miles grabs the webbing in one hand, concentrating really hard, and he reaches over to grab the other end of the web—

“What are you—ARGHH!” Peter screams, body convulsing, his eyes rolling to the back of his head as an intense electrical charge surges through his body and fuck, it hurts, holy fuck that was

“…eter! Please, please, I’m sorry!”

Sound comes back first, then sensation, and Peter comes to Miles sobbing beside him, clutching his hands to his mouth as if to try and stifle his sobs. “How…did you do that? What was that?” Peter groans, sitting up slowly. His muscles twitch with every move, his fingertips feel numb and they tingle; it feels about six times worse than whenever Electro manages to hit him with his energy beams. But, then again, he did make his suit resistant to Electro’s attacks and he was plain old Peter Parker when Miles did whatever he did.

“I-I don’t know!” Miles cries, snot running down his chin. Another heart wrenching sob is torn from his mouth. “I just—I can just do it and I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t wa-wanna hurt you, I just thought, I just thought it’d be cool but I-I didn’t think—!”

“Hey, hey, no, it’s okay!” Peter shushes gently and reaches out for him, startled when Miles flinches away from him. That—hurt a lot more than Peter expected it to. Miles has only been with him for about two months but he’s finally smiling, he talks to him now, tells him about his day at school and Peter…he can’t stand the thought that Miles flinches away from him. “No, Miles, it’s not your fault. Okay? This wasn’t your fault, you didn’t know that would happen,” Peter forces himself on his side and reaches for Miles again, tugging him towards his chest and curling an arm around him. Miles clings to him, tight enough where if it were any other person it would bruise, but Peter just holds on to him.  

“M’sorry,” Miles croaks out.

“I know, buddy, but there’s nothing to be sorry about because that… was awesome,” Peter grins down at Miles when he stills, snaps his head up so fast Peter’s a little worried about whiplash. “Seriously, that was probably the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me! You can conduct electricity? That is so cool, what the heck, Miles, you’re way cooler than I’ll ever be! No fair!”

“R…really?”

“Yeah! So you gave me a little shock, big deal! As long as you use it for good, you don’t have to be sorry for it!”

Miles nods and his eyes are grave.

“We’ll work on helping you control it—we’ll call it, uh, your Venom Strike, how’s that sound?” Peter promises, raising his fist. “Sound good?”  

“It’s really not weird?” Miles asks again, bumping his fist with Peter’s.

“Really,” Peter rubs the back of Miles’s head gently when the boy nods, believing him. “And whoever tells you so is a jerk, don’t believe them. Your powers should never bring you shame, Miles, you should cultivate them and use them for good. But just because you’re not like the others doesn’t make you bad or weird. It makes you interesting and great because you’re still you at your core,” he tightens his arms around the small child, his smile widening a fraction. “And you are good,” Peter tells him, earnestly. “And you can help people with your powers. I really believe that.”

Miles bottom lip quivers and he cries harder after that. Peter doesn’t really understand why because whenever he asks, Miles just shakes his head and clutches him tighter, but he thinks it has to do with that other world, the world Miles originally came from, the world that died and left behind a little spider boy with too-big a heart and not enough things to fill it.

 

 

Four months finds them in a rhythm.

It’s comfortable, and Peter wouldn’t trade it for the world.

But, see, this always happens to him. This is not a new scenario although the kid-part is new. But same problem. The Peter Parker of this universe is always naïve enough, self-sacrificing enough, gullible enough, to attach himself to things he knows will blow up in his face one way or another.

Peter sometimes wonders if the other Parker’s in the multiverse inherit this trait or do away with it, mitigate it, kill it in some instances, because this trait is nothing if not all-consuming—an insurance liability waiting to happen, as his Uncle Ben would always say whenever he went out skateboarding.

He’s always in it for the long-run, but no one ever is in return. It’s the biggest irony in his life.

He hopes that Miles will stay, will pick Peter over any other superhero and not just because they both share the mantle of Spider-Man. But Peter is Peter and, well, he’s not liked very much as Spider-Man as it is but he’s liked even less as quiet, helpless, sassy, but awkward Peter Parker.

But there's no need to make things too complicated yet; Peter just needs to be there for Miles while he adjusts to a new world, to new powers. He just has to give Miles this chance to grow into himself.

And maybe Peter gives people too many chances, but he’s nothing if not compassionate.

You’re weak, Parker. Geez, how have I even made it this far without dying at least once?

Sometimes he has to wonder if Tony’s not just being an asshole and actually giving him pointers in self-improvement when he tells him to be a little selfish.  

“You ever develope photographs, Miles?” Peter shouts over his shoulder when he senses him walking by, a bowl of grapes in his hands. Peter’s sitting on the couch, a textbook open on his lap and a few notebooks spread around him and the coffee table.

No,” Miles snorts. “I just take pictures on my phone, why would I do that?”

“Pshhh, you kids and your phones,” Peter scoffs, raising his old school Canon camera in the air. “You haven’t lived until you’ve developed your own photos, okay, it’s a very special experience. Very deep, I love the smell of chemical fumes in the morning!”

“Of course you would,” Miles rolls his eyes, popping a grape into his mouth. “If you weren’t so old…” Miles leaves off on purpose, laughing loudly when Peter’s grin sharpens and he vaults over the couch in a flash, chasing Miles up the wall and onto the ceiling, running around wildly with Miles bright laughter filling up the apartment, grapes rolling across the carpet in a spray.

But maybe Peter is okay with being weak, if it brings him moments of joy like this.

 

 

Eight months finds Miles finally trusting him—with feelings, jokes, advice.

To say that Peter is pleased would be an understatement.

He hasn’t thought about Gwen with that vicious and gnawing pain in weeks, hasn’t thought about M.J. and loneliness in even longer. He hasn’t called her up to try and reconcile again, and he didn’t feel as hurt as he knew he would have pre-Miles when he spotted her acting cozy with some tall, dark, and handsome-looking guy during one of his early morning patrols. That's actual improvement compared to past attempts at getting over M.J.

Peter is just really content with how his life is going—thoughts about lousy luck and self-doubt, about multiverses, are just whispers that he can quiet now with Miles’ sunny laughter early in the morning.

“PETER!” Miles screeches when he comes home from school today, dropping his backpack and jacket and cap on the floor on his way to him. Since the nice old lady from next door absolutely adores Miles to bits, she doesn’t mind walking him to and from school every day. It also helps that she works at a flower shop right across from the school so it’s no real inconvenience to her.

Peter looks up from where he’s stitching up his suit, face lighting up when he sees Miles crowd around him, shoving an envelope in his hands with bright eyes.  

“Whoa, what’s up, Miles? Haven’t seen you this excited since I told you pizza rolls were an actual source of nutrition.”

“And you still say I can’t have any for dinner!”

“When you’re older, I’ll think about it,” Peter grins, flipping the envelope over in his hand. “So, what’s this about? This better not be a detention letter. I mean, if it is, that’s totally cool, I mean, wait, no, it’s not cool, buuut if someone is bullying you and you fought back, it’s fine, y’know what I mean? Wait, don’t beat up your peers, Miles, just tell me so I can set ‘em straight in a totally non-threatening manner,” Peter babbles, grinning sheepishly when Miles rolls his eyes and his entire body follows.

“Noo, it’s not a detention letter, Peter, trust me! Just open it! Open it! Mrs. Morgenstern gave me it to me to give to you! She said it was important!”

“I still can’t believe she hasn’t kicked the bucket yet, she was there when I went to that…school,” Peter trails off, quietly reading the letter. Okay, this is totally mushy and it’s a really dad-thing thing to do and Peter has been trying not to think about how much this seems like a son giving their dad their report card because it totally isn’t even though it’s been more than six months and Tony hasn’t said a word to him about removing Miles from his care (not that he’d let him unless Miles wanted to go himself because Miles means so much to him) but this is a total dad-thing thing to do so Peter reaches out and crushes Miles to his chest, grinning so hard his cheeks hurt.

“You’re skipping the fifth grade!? Holy crap—this is…this is fantastic, Miles, I can’t believe it!” Peter puts him in a mock headlock, rubbing his head in that way that makes Miles squirm and giggle and whine. “I’m so proud of you! Oh my God, we gotta’…okay, I am making the executive decision to go out to eat for once, what do you say? Chinese, Indian, American—?”

“MEXICAN!”

“Mexican? I, ah,” Peter stutters, a rush of something heady surging through him at the memory of him. He tries not to think about him when he can. He’d been doing so well lately—with Miles and superhero duties distracting him. He pushes it away to continue: “I know this pretty good Mexican restaurant a few blocks down we can go to. A, uh, a friend and I would always go there when he was around so...”

“Yes! I wanna’ burrito! And some tacos!”

“You ever had a chimichanga?” Peter asks distractedly, that heady sense of nostalgia settling in his chest. He lets it. It hurts, but in a good way. Unlike M.J., he has never actively sought to hurt him, never made him feel less than he actually was. He bolstered his self-esteem more often than naught; he had a way of being sincere enough for Peter to believe that he’s actually doing good in the world. Despite his absence, Peter has always felt like he never left, would always be there, would never truly leave unless told to. He was infectious like that. In fact, he always compared himself to the chronic flu—always there, comes back stronger every year—which always made Peter laugh in remembrance whenever he got sick. “Because as much as it contains enough grease to clog every single one of your arteries, they are really good. My friend didn’t like them all that much. He actually liked saying the word more than eating them, but I recommend them.”

“What friend?” Miles asks, curiously. “Is it Johnny? He likes spicy things, right?”

“No, not that flaming disaster,” Peter snorts. Johnny and Mexican. He’d just make fire jokes all through dinner; it would be terrible. “You haven’t met him yet. His name is Deadpool…well, actually Wade. Wade Wilson. He goes by Deadpool because he’s, uhhh,” Peter fumbles. Do you tell your nine-year-old that you’re best friends with a mercenary? Probably not. “He’s got a...special set of skills. He’s a really good fighter, so we team-up whenever he’s in town,” he says and Miles smiles a little wider. “You’ll meet him one day. He’s on a job right now. It’s taking him a while to finish, but he always visits when he's done. He can be a little eccentric and, uh, loud, but he’s a really good guy. I think you’d like him a lot. I sure do.”

“Okay,” Miles smiles, adding. “Can I have a chimichanga when we get there, just to try? I like the word, too!”

“You can have part of mine,” Peter compromises, which is enough for Miles, who gets so excited he ends up on the ceiling when he jumps high. Peter doesn’t even bat an eye; he’s long-since used to Miles clinging to any surface he can get his hands on when he gets too excited. “We are so celebrating the fact that you’re smarter than your entire class! Ha! Take that, Hawkeye! I can totally raise a kid by myself!” Peter grins and tilts his head back as Miles talks from his spot cross-legged on the ceiling for a bit, and when Miles flails his gangly limbs and runs to his room for some homework assignment he had trouble with but figured out in the end, Peter looks at the crumpled letter in his lap and feels his heart swell with pride and joy and love—

He tucks the letter back into the envelope, stands up and slips it into the biomechanics book he’s studying as a bookmark.

“Miles, get your jacket and put on your real—your real shoes, Miles, you can’t go out in your roller skates, I don’t care how much more agile you are because you’re half-spider—MILES, WATCH THE BOOKCASE!”

“Hehe! Oops,” Miles grins sheepishly, tilting the bookcase back with a single finger, and Peter’s heart swells.

 

 

Twenty minutes later finds them in Sammy’s Tacos, with Miles swinging his sneakered feet happily as he digs into his tacos and Peter sips his soda on the opposite side of the booth. His eyes scan the other patrons in the restaurant, but he doesn’t find a familiar bright red leather suit anywhere so he turns his attention back to the little boy talking a mile a minute. Speaking of bright red suits, Peter glances out the window and wonders if he should take the night off to hang out with Miles. Their neighbor already said she’d babysit Miles at nine but it’s already eight. And, although he really wants to take a night off to spend time with him, Peter also knows that crime doesn’t stop just because he’s having a good day. His Spider-Man suit itches under his jacket and he’s very aware of the mask he has hidden in his pocket, but he tries to ignore it as Miles tells him about what he and his friend at school were going to be up to tomorrow.

Crime doesn’t stop, that’s something Peter really has to drill into his thick skull as he goes to toss away their trash. It’s just a moment—a moment where he leaves Miles in the booth, sipping happily at his horchata—it’s just a second—and then his spider-sense goes off with an almost painful screech in his head and Peter snaps his head over to— “MILES, GET DOWN!” and then there’s just smoke and dust and debris and Peter doesn’t care who the hell is looking, he’s grabbing whole chunks of wall and plaster and tossing it out of his way like they weigh less than paper, shouting, “MILES? MILES! ANSWER ME, ARE YOU OKAY—?”

“Well, that’s an expression I haven’t seen on your face in a long time, Spider-Man!” comes a sneering voice from above.

“Goblin!” Peter growls, grabbing his mask from his pocket and pulling it on, tearing off his jacket and shirt and jeans by the seam and shooting a vicious barrage of webs at Goblin’s gliders, distracting him enough to go back to searching for Miles, who hasn’t responded yet, oh godohgodohgod

“P-Peter!” Miles coughs, his voice muffled under a slab of wall.

“Miles!” Peter shouts, relief and terror all in one, and he pushes off the wall to find him curled up under the table, not a scratch on him, but rattled and frightened. “Oh, thank God, you’re okay! Come on, we need to leave now! We have to—!” Peter grabs him in a flash and dodges a barrage of chemical bombs as the Goblin laughs an ugly, shrieking laugh and circles around them from above. Goddamnit, he put that fucker in prison a long time ago, to think that he escaped. Peter knows he’s screwed because Harry knows who Peter is a little too well. He can’t go easy on him like the other times, he needs to be put back in prison but, even more than that, if he ever finds out who Miles is, what he means to Peter—

“Thought you were rotting away in prison, Harry!” Peter taunts, swinging up to a building, clinging onto the wall with Miles securely wrapped in his arms. He scans the restaurant for any civilians but there is none. Aside from the staff, the restaurant had been pretty much dead, and Peter knows the impact hadn’t reached the counter or kitchens so he hopes everyone got out safe. “I gotta’ say, I still think your welcoming parties are the worst! They’re so unoriginal…and always cost way too much money!” He jumps to another building, avoiding more green fire, running across the ledge and hiding behind a brick wall. Peeking over the top, Peter turns back to the little boy: “Miles, listen to me, you need to run back to the apartment, okay? You have to—shit—!” Peter dodges and grips the boy tight to his chest, ignoring the Goblin’s taunting as Peter searches for an opening, something, anything. If he can just find a place where Miles has enough time to run, then he can kick that green bastard’s ass back to prison.

“Peter, down there!” Miles shouts.

Peter nods, dodging another volley of bombs.

“Whoa—geez, you sure are angry for someone who’s literally been in solitary for four years—wait a sec—ah, crap!” Peter grips the wall, vaults over to another building, shoots a web and flips in the sky as the Goblin goes into an angry rant about his problems, about how much of a hard time he had in prison, about how much time he had to think about Peter and Spider-Man and also about how much he hates Peter and Spider-Man and how he’d put Gwen into the ground again if he could—

YOU DON’T GET TO SAY HER NAME!” Peter roars suddenly, turning in the air sharply and shooting a risky web to Goblin’s glider. It catches. He shoots another web to his right, tosses Miles onto it, senses the way that Miles grabs onto the web like its second-nature and zip-lines down to safety as Peter pulls on his first web, propels himself closer to the Goblin, pulls his fist back and punches him so hard in the throat

Peter isn’t usually a violent guy. He does what needs to be done, he doesn’t believe in inflicting more damage than necessary, and he most definitely doesn’t believe in killing for no good reason, but something about Goblin—Harry, he was my best friend, I trusted him—sets him off, ignites a rabid flame in his heart that crawls up his throat, makes his sight blur red for a split second longer than Peter will ever admit to.

“You sonofa—!”

“You ruined my life!”

You killed the woman I loved!”

“Fuck you, Parker! It’s always been about you, hasn’t it? You’re always the victim—Puny, puny Peter Parker! Well, what about me? HUH?

“My blood wouldn’t have saved you and you know it— what you became is your own fault!

Harry’s face twists as the glider spins out of control in the sky and they exchange heavy blows.

“It wouldn’t have worked, Harry, all you gotta’ do is look in the mirror to know—!” Peter grits his teeth when he feels something sharp and hot slide into his side. He chokes back a shout, grabs Goblin’s helmet, and aims another punch at his face as the glider begins to destabilize, drops from the air, and he can hear Miles shout out his name in that awful, wheezy way he does whenever he’s terrified. Peter jump-kicks Goblin and flips backwards away from him, that hot, sharp knife that Harry had stabbed into his side really making itself known as he drops down the rest of the way and crashes into the ground, rolling to a stop.

“Peter! PETER! NO!” Miles shrieks and breaks into a run after him.

“Miles, stay away—!”

I’mmmm gonna swiiiing from a chandelierrrrr!” A red and black figure snatches Miles right from under the flash grenade that the Goblin threw last minute.

Peter shields his eyes from the blast and crawls onto his knees as the Goblin snarls out:

“COME OUT, PETER!”

“Deadpool,” Peter gasps as he attempts to stand, weak from the fall.  

“No need to worry, Spidey-babe! I got ‘em! We’ll just sit up here and play some cards—OH! LET’S PLAY THE YELLOW CAB GAME! I’LL START!” Deadpool shouts cheerfully from his perch on a rooftop, holding Miles under his arm securely. Peter never thought he’d actually be happy for the day that Deadpool intervened in one of his fights, but he sure as hell is happy Deadpool never listens to him.

“Right,” Peter breathes out shakily. He’s Spider-Man and Miles is safe. He can do this. “HARRY!”

“PARKER!”

“CHICKEN WINGS!” Deadpool cheers and Peter catches the glint of metal before three knives come straight for Goblin—he dodges two, but doesn’t expect the third, which embeds itself into a weak spot in his armor.

Peter bursts into a sprint when he catches sight of Harry desperately clutching at a wound on his green suit, recognizing his panic—and he hates how he can still read Harry’s face, like how it was before shit hit the fan and he gained his powers and Harry got sick—and webs his arms to his sides, webs his body stiff, his face, his legs, grabs him by the shoulder, knees his chest with just enough strength to immobilize, breaks his nose against his knee, breaks his dominant arm clean in two for good measure, and throws him against a wall until he’s unmoving but alive.

More damage than usual—he never inflicts this much damage, it’s a break in his usual M.O., but Peter can’t help it: he’s had too many people die because of what he does and Gwen will always, always be a hurt, tender spot in his heart.

Breathing in harsh breaths and storing today’s violent outburst for later analysis, Peter immediately swings up to the building where Deadpool is chattering animatedly to Miles, who looks confused and concerned but much less terrified than he did before. Forgot Deadpool’s good with kids, Peter thinks distractedly as he lands behind them on the rooftop, dropping to one of his knees in pain. Miles immediately detaches himself from Deadpool and runs into his chest.

“PETER!” He screeches.

“Miles,” Peter gasps. He grapples at his mask weakly—he’s having trouble breathing—but can’t get a good grip on it until Miles pulls it off his head himself, throws his arms over him, and hugs him tight. “You alright, bud? Are you hurt?”

“I’m okay! B-but you! You’re bleeding!”

“Ah,” Peter looks down at himself, coughs into his hand and ignores the glob of blood. Black edges his vision. “I’ve had worse.”

“He stabbed you!”

“Tis but a flesh wound.” Peter grins, teeth bloody. “I’m totally okay. I…yeah.”

“But you could—you can’t go, you can’t—you can’t leave me! No! You can’t,” Miles shakes his head fiercely, eyes watery. “You’re my family!

“I’m not going anywhere, Miles,” Peter says softly, pressing a hand to the top of his head. Family, he said they were family, maybe Peter really has a shot? “Ever, okay? Except maybe to the emergency cabinet in our room this one time because, uh, I’m starting to see black,” he groans, leaning into his kid as he grips his bleeding side.

“DEADPOOL!” Miles cries, voice muffled. Peter squeezes his eyes shut. “Please, you said you liked him! Help him!”

“Why, I do like him, Spidey-kid, probably ‘bout as much as you do, but I doubt it! I like him way more than you, trust me, my stalker book says so. Also, I’ve known him longer so check and mate. But you’re gonna’ have to let go of him so I can take a look at that frankly sorry excuse for a stab wound in his side. Goblin has no finesse, he could have at least made it symmetrical, right, Spidey-man?”

“Very funny, Deadpool,” Peter strains out, squinting an eye at the masked mercenary. He looks the same, except he’s seemingly carrying less weapons than usual. “Haven’t seen you around in a while—had a hope you’d finally seen the light and stayed there.”

“Oh, I saw a light, alright, that booty be bright enough to bring me back every single time,” Deadpool grins under his mask, but his touch is very gentle, very careful, as he picks Peter up in a bridal carry and ignores the way Peter tries to right himself. “Yo, bite-sized, you think you can climb up onto—what the fuck?! You can CLIMB THINGS WITH YOUR HANDS?!”

“Deadpool!” Peter growls. Miles clings onto Deadpool’s back with just the palms of his hands, blinking worriedly down at Peter while Deadpool gapes at Miles.

“Oh my god! You’re an actual spider-kid! OH MY GOD YOU’RE HIS SON!

Miles tenses, going red in his cheeks.

“Deadpool, shut up and take me to my apartment! I’m bleeding out!”

“I cannot believe that I leave for a year and you go and have a kid without telling me! A miniature human! A spider baby! MY SPAWN! Give it to me straight, Petey, he’s mine, isn’t he? That kinky, steamy night we had in that crack-den down in Hell’s Kitchen? I never knew you could do that with your webs, honey, but lemme’ tell you, I learned something new about myself that night—!”

“Shut up, you moron, he’s nine, he couldn’t possibly be yours!Peter chokes on a gurgle of blood suddenly, his head tossing back limply as he tries to hold in a loud grunt for the sake of Miles, who lets out a strangled noise. Goblin did more damage than he thought or maybe it was that fall, he doesn’t know, Peter hasn’t been so unaware of his wounds since, well, since Gwen fell off the bridge and Peter, he

He blacks out.

 

 

“Wakey, wakey, spider baby!”

Peter’s eyes shutter open and he finds himself staring into the familiar white holes of Deadpool’s mask, who waggles his fingers mockingly down at him before moving away from sight. He immediately realizes that he’s home, on his bed, and there’s sunlight streaming in from the curtained window to his right. When Peter tries to sit up, Deadpool gently nudges him back down and takes out a syringe that’s bigger than his goddamn arm.

“Wh-what is that? Wait a second—Deadpool!

“Now, now, Spidey, hold still, this won’t hurt a biiit—ow!” Deadpool whines when Miles punches the syringe out of his hands and hip-checks him out of the way, scrambling over to Peter as the mercenary clutches his hand melodramatically. “So not fair! You’re, like, five, you shouldn’t be able to hit as hard as a mangy, Canadian, cage fighter!”

“Heh,” Peter grins weakly, upright now thanks to Miles. “Would’ve liked to hear you say that to Wolverine’s face.”

Deadpool brightens. “We can, actually!”

“Deadpool,” Peter warns. “Don’t.”

“Aw, c’mon, I got him on speed dial and he doesn’t even know it!”

“No.”

“You’re even less fun than your spawn there!”

Peter sighs and when he goes to rub his face, his fingers touch skin, and he freezes. His stillness causes Deadpool to suddenly stop his chattering, his head cocked curiously while Peter stares down at his lap, wide-eyed and heart beating rapidly in his chest as he brings his hand back down from his bare face. Eight years and not a single superhero or villain had been able to see him without his mask and one little run-in with an old enemy has him unmasked to a person he hasn’t seen or heard about in over a year, a gun-for-hire.

There it was, the good old Parker luck kicking in.

He almost missed it.  

“My mask…”

“Oh. Yeah. About that. Uh. So when we were up on the rooftop and you did that awesome superhero landing, which really does wonders for your ass, okay, Spidey, it’s just so firm and unf—!”

“Wade,” Peter growls.

“Right. Where was I? Oh, yeah, superhero landing! You were having trouble breathing and this little mess of daddy issues and repressed memories ran right up to you and unmasked you for all to see! Okay, for me to see! And lemme’ tell you, Spidey, you are way younger than I thought you were which makes me feel some type of way—not a good way, mind you, how old are you? I mean like a weird way, like I haven’t gotten a boner that fast since my pre-Weapon X days, but you understand, right, twenty-four-hour torture does that to a man—but seriously, how old are you, please tell me you’re not auditioning for Sixteen and Pregnant—so then you blacked out and I figured it was in my civic duty to help out a fellow super-bro and carry you back to your apartment like the pretty damsel you are—!”

“I’m twenty-four, and I’m not a damsel,” Peter grumps out, because ouch he thought he outgrew his baby face when he was like twenty, okay, “and, dang it, Wade, there are children here!”

“He’s like, twelve, he can totally handle it!”

“Nine!”

“Sixty!” Deadpool shouts. Peter slits his eyes. “Oh. Y’mean we weren’t picking out a position to spice up our dead marriage?”

“Deadpool, get out! I’m way too injured to be dealing with you right now!” Peter snaps while Wade giggles from his perch on his bedroom desk but doesn’t leave. Peter goes to sit up straighter but flinches, grabbing his side, gritting his teeth against the rush of dizziness. He sucks in a sharp breath when he feels gloved hands gently but firmly sit him back against the headboard. Peter looks up and finds Wade chiding him for moving so fast, it doesn’t matter how much of a spider he is, he can’t bend that way, but his touch is so soft. It’s always been soft, Peter thinks. Wade has always handled him gently since the first day they met when he was nineteen. He handled him the same way that time in the warehouse, Peter remembers, when they both teamed-up with Daredevil and they infiltrated some criminal bed in the edge of Hell’s Kitchen three years ago.

That secure grip on his wrist as he pulled him out of the line of fire, laughing wildly and telling him to stop being such a hero, he’ll be fine, he’ll heal right up but Peter won’t so it’s his duty to protect him at all costs because he can’t die no matter how much he wants to sometimes.

Right, Wade, Peter remembers with a slow exhale. He’s also the guy Peter had a total moment with in that very same warehouse that night. He isn’t even going to deny it—it was undeniably a moment, their lips had totally touched for, like, four seconds, and Peter isn’t under any illusion that they wouldn’t have ended up making-out like a couple of teenagers if Peter’s spidey-sense hadn’t gone off and alerted him that Daredevil was near.

Those same hands that once held his jaw so reverently now prod around his injuries with a clinical sort of detachment. In fact, his usual flirty banter aside, Wade hasn’t touched him anymore than necessary which is unusual because Wade always touched him—small body brushes, hovering, playful taps, whatever—but he always did it.

Peter tries not to let it get to him.

Maybe Wade found himself a partner, who knows, he’s been away for so long…it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think so.

Maybe Cable came back into the picture—and Peter mentally smacks himself back into gear, tells himself to stop acting like a fucking teenager, it’s none of his business if Wade’s back to pining after that self-righteous, time-travelling, insensitive Barney Ross-looking motherhugger.

No. He’s cool, he’s fine.

He’s got no right to feel jealous.  

He never gave Wade a chance to think they had a chance to begin with. It’s no one’s fault but his own and—god, does he miss regret. He’d almost forgotten what it tastes like, bitter and heavy in his throat as he lets go of the sheets he's already ripped a little.

“…wondered if your suit had padded butt cheeks but, man, the fact that it doesn’t really puts things into perspective for me…”

“Wade,” Peter sighs. Not today, Red Satan, Peter thinks to himself and turns to find Miles standing by his bedside, quiet and downcast. “Hey, whoa there, no tears,” Peter softly coos, reaching out for Miles and wiping away the tear streaks with his palm. His heart weighs for a different reason now. “C’mon, buddy, I’m fine. I’m a hero, remember? I get a little beat up sometimes, but I always come back. C’mere.”

The boy crawls up and onto the bed with an agility borne from the radioactive spider that bit him, and he sticks himself to Peter’s side despite Deadpool’s whine that it was his turn to cuddle Peter. Miles just hides his face in Peter’s shoulder and sniffles.

Muffled in his shoulder, Miles asks, “You’re really better? You’re going to be okay?”

“Yeah. My healing factor might not work as well as other superheroes’…”

“RE: works about as great as slapping a band-aid over a gash on your stomach,” Deadpool interjects. “Meaning: your guts are still gonna’ spill out but, hey, at least you have a cool Hello Kitty sticker to go along with it!”

But I bounce back pretty quickly after a good night’s rest. These wounds will be gone in three days, max six. I haven’t even blacked out again, I’m doing great! This is way better than that time the Rhino rammed me into a building a dozen times, I couldn’t even form words for a whole six hours then,” Peter laughs. Miles furrows his brows, concerned. Deadpool makes incredulous ‘wtf’ hand gestures at Peter in the background. “Right now, I just feel like I spent a whole forty-eight hours awake, drinking energy drinks and eating chips. So like usual.”

Miles offers him a sleepy smile. “You look better but…s’still not fair you can stay up but I can’t. We both go to school!”

“Elementary school and grad school are two very different animals, Miles. You’ll see when you get older,” Peter rubs his afro good-naturedly but Miles is already halfway asleep, given how he mumbles but doesn’t open his eyes.

It’s quiet for a moment, then:

“So,”

Peter looks at Deadpool, who’s standing now, arms crossed over his chest almost defensively.

“Who’s the lucky broad? Is it that red head of yours? I didn’t think you’d settle down so early into the game, Pete's. But, then again, I can’t exactly judge. I would have totally locked you down if I had the chance,” and Peter doesn’t let himself read into the underlying bitterness in his voice when he said that. (RE: he does). “Speaking of, where is petite, white, and generic? Shouldn’t she be here to, y’know, make sure all your important bits survived?”

Peter chuckles. “There’s no one, Deadpool. M.J. and I, uh, we broke up less than a year ago and I haven’t—I mean, there hasn’t been any time for me to date and with the whole superhero gig, well, I don’t want to involve a civilian again so I just haven’t tried,” Peter clears his throat, cheeks pinking a little under Deadpool’s sudden scrutiny. The mask has always thrown Peter off; he can’t read Deadpool like he can other people because he’s never seen Deadpool without his mask. Peter wonders if it had been the same for him. “With Miles, he…it’s complicated, okay? Like really complicated and really messed up.” And he knows Tony told him not to tell anyone but Deadpool already knows his identity and, thing is, Peter knows Deadpool. If he didn’t tell him he’d go investigate himself and probably find out more than Peter is comfortable with; better to just rip the band-aid off all at once. “Long story short, Miles is from another universe that collapsed in on itself because of some huge super-hero showdown. He’s basically the Spider-Man from Earth-1610 since the Peter Parker—the other me—that existed there…uh, died before he could take him under his wing. Anyway, I’m basically fostering Miles for an indefinite amount of time in this universe. Probably a long time, if I’m being honest.”

In his arm, Miles stiffens and curls up tighter against him.

Peter’s lip twitches into a smile despite himself.

“Ooh! DILF? Sign me up, baby!” Deadpool squeals, seemingly ignoring everything. Peter’s not fooled; Deadpool is processing, making connections, actually thinking because for all his crazy and homicidal tendencies, one doesn’t become an internationally renowned mercenary by lacking critical thinking skills. He’s reckless, yes; a menace, yeah; an adrenaline junkie, definitely, but danger is different for a man who can’t die and can regrow limbs.

“Seriously? That’s what you take away from all that?” Peter plays along anyway.

“I’m just saying, you rock it, okay, you going all papa bear on Goblin for hurting your little spider spawn really got me going,” Deadpool muses, crossing his arms and looking down at Peter with that same critical look he always has around him. Peter steadfastly keeps his eyes on Wade’s mask and not his bulging biceps or broad shoulders, which beat out Daredevil’s any day, and definitely not his washboard abs, no, that way also lies hell and Peter wasn’t going to go down that way again.

Peter ignores the tiny voice in the back of his head that tells him that he always goes down that way whenever Wade is involved—ever since that stupid day in the warehouse, there’s all this tension, this want and curiosity on behalf of Peter. He’s somewhat relieved that Wade is as perceptive as he is and that Peter has enough guilt already so he never acted on the tension. Although, sometimes, when he’s had a bad day and he’s really fucking tired, he thinks about what would have happened if he’d acted on his desires while he had been with M.J.

Peter had reconciled with M.J. some weeks after the warehouse incident, and then spent the following months glaring down stiffies every time Deadpool found him around the city. Especially when M.J. and he took ‘breaks’ during that time. Really, that should have been a sign that things weren’t ever going to go right with M.J.—no decent boyfriend sprang a boner for motor-mouthed mercenaries every time they fought side-by-side or had dinner in ratty taco places. Then again, no decent girlfriend would force their boyfriend to choose between the safety of New York City and his Ph.D. aspirations or their relationship so…

Peter notices that Miles is breathing evenly, asleep. He must not have gotten sleep last night while Peter was out cold, he thinks, and tries to push down the guilt at worrying a loved one again. It’s bad enough he can’t tell his Aunt May about Miles until Tony gives him the okay, he doesn’t need to be worrying Miles, too.

“Thank you, for protecting Miles,” Peter tells Deadpool sincerely, dropping his eyes to Miles’s short afro. “I really don’t need my villain origin story to start with the death of a loved one. That’s so cliché and overdone,” Peter jokes, but the darkness in his tone isn’t overlooked by the mercenary.

Deadpool cocks his head. “I always thought you’d go dark when that pretty red-haired ex of yours got herself kidnapped for doing something exaggeratedly average, like taking a shit.”

Peter barks a harsh laugh. “You can say she left me because she didn’t want to get kidnapped. Again. And because maybe she wanted me to stop being a hero in my spare time…and drop my MA in bioengineering because it was ‘unhealthy’ and ‘abetting my heroism’.”

Dude.”

“I know. But that’s over and done with. She’s happy with some CEO-type now. It’s for the best,” Peter says, without any hard feelings. He really is glad that M.J. is happy now even if it took him some time to come to terms with their fractured relationship. She should at least have what he can’t because of his powers, because of the responsibility he feels towards NYC and the world.

Peter shifts and Miles grumbles, slapping a hand over Peter’s bare chest to keep him still. When Peter tugs it, he finds it’s stuck to his skin. “Well, I’m not going anywhere soon. He loses control of his abilities when he’s stressed,” Peter smiles. “Hey, do you think you can find the bag of jellybeans I have in the pantry and bring it over? I’m starving.”

“Dessert for breakfast, huh? Hardcore, but I’ll do you one better!” Deadpool grins, but does as he’s told for once.

Peter has a moment to take a breath and coach himself into not making this weird. He hasn’t seen Deadpool in over a year, that’s true: Wade always told him when he took a job (which always ended with them arguing about morality before he left) but that evening Wade said SHIELD had contacted him for a job. Something about it being a test? An extensive interview of some sort? He didn’t go into detail. Wade is good at deflecting attention from things that actually matter and Peter is still trying to find a foolproof way to uncover what Wade is really hiding behind his chatter.

He did know, however, that SHIELD jobs were long jobs. But Deadpool had said that he’d probably be back the next day. When Peter had said that wasn’t any time at all, Wade had said that any time away from him was too much time. Another reminder to Peter that Wade probably had way more game than him because that got his heart kicking up ugly butterflies and a helluva lot of guilt for said butterflies considering he was in a relationship with M.J. at the time.

Until he chose the world and she dumped him, that is. But by then, Wade had been long gone.

And Peter had been alone again.

“PANCAKES! The wounded can eat pancakes, right? Who am I kiddin’—hell yeah they can eat pancakes, pancakes are for everyone!

Peter startles when he finds Deadpool standing at the threshold of his bedroom door, holding up a plate stacked with pancakes. He’s got one of Miles’s aprons on, so it’s hysterically tiny on someone as huge as Deadpool, and Peter can’t help the snort of laughter at the sight, ducking his head and rubbing a hand over his face to hide his fond smile.

“You’re such a moron,” Peter chuckles. “Did you really make me breakfast?”

“I sure did, lovebug!” Wade cheerfully says, skipping over and placing the plate of pancakes on his lap. Peter notices they’re strawberry chocolate chip pancakes and has to bite back a grin. Huh, Wade remembered his favorite type of pancake. That was…unbearably sweet and Peter shuts that down before he makes things weird.

“Strawberry chocolate—wait, did Miles eat? Deadpool, did he have breakfast? How long was he awake?” Peter suddenly stops, looking up at Deadpool. “And did he brush his teeth? He hates that, but he has to or else it’ll become a habit—!”

“Relaaax, Spider-mom!” Deadpool snorts. “Your tiny offspring had some of my fabulous pancakes when he woke up from his nap!”

“Nap?” Peter slits his eyes.

“Uhhh…”

Nap?” Peter repeats, barring some teeth.

“Whoa, bad Deadpool! Down boy!” He suddenly chides, twisting his legs in and covering his crotch with a scandalized look. “But you! Bad Spidey! You can’t just look at me like that and not expect me to react, Peter, GOSH! You’re tearing this family apart with your sexy looks of fury!”

Peter rolls his eyes. “Nap, Wade?

“Are we on first-name basis now?” He asks, hopefully.

Peter just stares at him, waiting.

Deadpool deflates. “Fine. So, I tried to get the kid to go to bed but he was…he was really worried about you, Spidey,” he slows, going quiet. “So I felt like it would be better to have him awake and watching over you than awake and stressing out about not watching over you,” Deadpool shrugs, plucking at the apron straining around his abs. “He eventually fell asleep for a few hours, had some pancakes when he woke up, watched some toons, beat me up, ate some more pancakes, played some games, punched me in the dick for funsies, y’know, the usual.”

“I have trouble believing a nine-year-old could beat you up, Deadpool.”

“Heeey! I’ll have you know, I have very delicate sensibilities and that kid could sniff out all my insecurities like a goddamn bloodhound! He’s a menace, I tell ya’, A MENACE!”

“Keep it down, he’s sleeping!”

Menace,” Deadpool hisses. “I’m watching you,” he tells the back of Miles’ head.

“Alright, I believe you,” Peter sighs just as Deadpool starts muttering about emotional compensation and lawsuits. “What time is it?”

“Six fifty. Why, you need to go do some spider things? Things that spiders do? Arachnid things? Peter Parker things?”  

“Something like that,” Peter grins and glances down at Miles’ suddenly too-still body. Kid couldn’t feign sleep even if he tried; they had to fix that, too, just in case. “I know you’re awake. You’re still going to school, Miles.”

“Nnnngggghh.”

“You’re going.”

“Nggg….but Peter!

“I don’t care—you’re part spider, you don’t even need that much sleep and you know it. You stayed up until four once playing Dragon Age: Inquisition while I was literally knocked out in bed and you were fine all day, c’mon, up! Up!” Peter ignores his kid’s groaning and whining, cracking his back and swinging his legs over the mattress while Miles crawled on his knees and rubbed his eyes. His injuries didn’t feel so bad now that he’s been awake for a while. Peter takes a slow breath, cracks his neck, arches to crack his spine, realizes Wade hasn’t said a word for a while now, and looks up to find him blatantly staring at him.

“Wade?” Peter asks, worriedly. “You okay?”

“Wha—yes! More than okay, actually! Yes sir, there’s nothing wrong with me. I was definitely not thinking about smashing that plate of pancakes on your chest and licking it off you. Nope. That would be irrational. But I’m irrational. Wait a sec, you’re right, what is stopping me from abusing my title as mentally unstable and doing it?! Peter, prepare your anus!”

“CHILDREN!”

“He’s like, eight! He doesn’t know anatomy yet!”

“Do too!” Miles argues. “Anus means butt!”

“Miles, oh my god,” Peter whispers in horror. “Deadpool, shut up, I swear if you say anymore on this I’ll make you see the light myself!”

Promise?”  Deadpool bats his eyes.

Peter can’t help it: he barks out a loud laugh, gripping his side when pain flares up. “Oh, jeez…welcome back, Deadpool. I almost missed your stupidity in my life,” he teases, overlooking the way Deadpool stills at that, ducks his head a little.

“Yeah,” Deadpool says distractedly while Peter gets on his feet and prods Miles to his, too, grumbling about getting him dressed and did he even do his homework? He was going to skip a grade if he could help it! Maybe even two! 

“Good to be back, Webs.”