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When the Wheels Come Off

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When the Wheels Come Off

No doubt about it, Peter thought as he trudged home. This had to be the worst day of his life. Worse than third grade, when he’d become the first kid at Marie M. Daly elementary to receive a wedgie and a swirly every day for a week. At least, Flash had told him he was the first—right before plunging Peter’s head into the bowl that Friday.

Maybe Flash had been wrong; it wasn’t exactly the kind of thing that would make it into the school record book, let alone Guinness. Did elementary schools even have record books? Peter wondered.

He scuffled his feet as he walked, barely registering the people who brushed past him. It wasn’t fair. It just wasn’t fair. He’d been trying to prove to Mr. Stark that he had what it took to be an Avenger. He’d been trying to get his approval. Heck. He would have been happy if Mr. Stark had just returned one of his phone messages. Or if Happy Hogan would have. Even a simple text: Nice job, Spidey. —Tony. Wait. Did he sign his texts ‘Tony’? Or ‘Stark’? T? S? He probably wouldn’t use ‘IM’. At least, not for business. But if it was Avengers’ business?

What did he care, what did it matter? He was never gonna be an Avenger now. From the way Mr. Stark—Tony—had been talking, he shouldn’t even be Spidey. Creep. What right did he have to take that away from him?

Plenty. It was his suit. And who asked you to go disabling the Training Wheels protocol on it without checking with him anyway?

But Tony had made the suit for him. Had it made. Whatever. He had no right to take it away. None whatsoever. So there. Problem was, deep down, Peter didn’t believe it for a second. Tony’s angry words still reverberated in his mind:

What if somebody had died? That's on you. What if you had died? That's on me. I don't need that guilt on my conscience.

Suddenly, Peter wished he was more like that girl he’d seen on TV with the X-Men; the one who could go intangible and sink into the floor. He knew all about guilty consciences. That was why Spider-Man fought crime now instead of doing cage fights for money. With great power had to come great responsibility. Instead, Peter had been about as irresponsible as he could get. His eyes were burning and he swiped at them angrily, but his anger wasn’t directed at Tony Stark anymore. A few months ago, he’d had an opportunity to use his powers to stop a criminal. Instead, he’d callously stood aside and let the man escape. Because of that selfish act, he had his uncle’s death on his conscience. That was on him. So, ever since then, he’d been trying to do right, trying to make up for his mistake, trying to use his powers to do some good in the world. And an entire ferry boat’s worth of passengers had almost died today because…

…Because he’d arrogantly assumed that he could handle something he wasn’t ready for. Because he’d irresponsibly deactivated the Training Wheels protocol and gone charging in without really knowing what he was doing, but certain that Tony would be impressed enough to invite him to be a real Avenger.

Ever stop and think that the protocol was there for a reason?

No. He’d been too annoyed to discover it was there in the first place. He’d been an idiot. Almost a dead one. And he’d almost taken over six hundred people down with him. He was lucky Mr. Stark hadn’t slugged him one. While wearing the Iron Man suit. Just the gauntlet alone would’ve probably broken his jaw, without any bells or whistles or… or pulverize-bone-to-powder ray. Was that even a thing? Nah. Besides, Tony hadn’t needed any weapons to pulverize him. He’d had words.

Peter’s eyes were still burning, but his head was clear. None of this was Tony’s fault. Peter had nobody to blame but himself. And maybe… he should give up being Spidey. Before anyone else got hurt. Or worse.

Maybe he’d been too hard on the kid. No. No, he hadn’t been. The kid—he had a name; it was Peter—screw it! The kid had messed up big-time, both here and in Washington. He’d disengaged the suit’s training wheels protocols without telling Tony what he was doing. He’d just barely saved the day in DC, and almost gotten himself killed this afternoon. Almost gotten himself killed using the toys Tony had given him. Damn it!

Did you tell him you weren’t giving him full access to the suit’s capabilities until he proved he could handle them?

No, of course not. If the kid was anything like him, he would’ve worked day and night to disable that program.

What day and night? You already accessed the log. Kid lucked out and discovered the AI and it coached him through on the rest. Computers. Great tools, but so easy to get around if you know what you’re doing.

It had taken the kid… what? A couple of hours, tops? Smart kid. Smart kids were trouble. He ought to know. He’d been one.

You thought hacking into the Pentagon was a thrill. Want to guess what getting superpowers at fifteen did for the kid?

Tony shook his head. It wasn’t the same. Hacking into the Pentagon could have gotten him arrested, but it wasn’t like dad couldn’t have hired the best lawyers in the state to get him off. Peter almost died today.

What if you’d taught him what the suit could do instead of letting him stumble upon the AI by accident?

Right. Like he had time for that. He had a company to run, women to flirt with, occasionally a world to save. There was so much he could be doing to make the world a better place. He just didn’t have time to mentor one struggling teen!

Tony caught his breath as the realization sank in. “Oh, hell,” he muttered aloud. “I’m my dad.”

He had to call the kid—Peter. He had to call Peter and… and… what? Apologize to him for leaving him to figure things out on his own and then collapse the ground beneath his feet when he did? No. The kid had to learn actions had consequences. Not just the kind where someone you loved paid the price. The kind where you did, too. Life was hard and it sure as hell didn’t pat you on the back, tell you ‘A for effort’ and give you something you didn’t deserve. Well, okay, sometimes it did, but it wasn’t supposed to.

Tony sighed. Just because he’d been furious when he’d chewed Peter out and taken the suit back didn’t mean he’d been wrong. The kid had messed up. Maybe it wasn’t totally his fault. Maybe Tony had to take some of the blame for catapulting him into the big leagues before the kid was ready, and then not having the head or the heart to explain to him that it was temporary—that he needed more time in the minors before he was seasoned enough for the main team. Cripes, how many messages had poor Happy taken from that kid over the last few months? Couldn’t Peter take a hint?

Tony hoped so. Because it wasn’t enough to recognize responsibility for one’s past. Unless someone was ready to take it on for all time, that someone had no business grandstanding in a souped-up suit. That Tony had designed.

And maybe that was the problem. And it wasn’t only Peter’s. When Tony had created the Iron Man armor, he’d known that it was a superb feat of engineering, design, and weaponry. With it, Tony could do so much that he’d never be able to do without it. But he’d always known that it was a tool. Highly-sophisticated, yes. With the AI mode and the cybernetic relays, it could even get things done without him in the drivers’ seat. But Tony preferred to avoid that unless it was a last resort. Computerized brains were powerful, but they were vulnerable if you knew how to talk them ‘round. Just look at how Peter had gotten the suit to remove its own training wheels.

No. Taking the suit away might have been drastic, but it hadn’t been a mistake.

He winced, remembering Peter’s anguished, “I'm nothing without the suit!”

And his own reply: “If you're nothing without the suit, then you shouldn't have it.” Harsh. Cruel, even. But accurate. If Peter truly thought he needed fancy clothes and gadgets to be a hero, then he wasn’t one and never would be. But Tony suspected otherwise. He saw a lot of himself in the kid—in Pete. Well. He saw some of himself in Pete. He’d probably see more if the kid weren’t so damned jumpy. But unless he was just imagining the similarities, Tony had a feeling that Spider-Man’s story was only just getting started.

And it was going to be freaking amazing.