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Unexpected Finds

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Life has a funny way of working out, how random events can lead you down a path you never saw for yourself. Tony didn’t realize when he walked out of his Tower that night, sleep deprived, sock slipping in his shoe, that his life was about to change forever.

The air was cool and damp from the rain earlier in the day, the streets were still damp, and the air smelled like ozone and air pollution—it smelled like New York. He looked to see Happy, waiting by the car, holding the door open. He had no reason to pause and turn, but he did, like he could feel something behind him asking him to look.

What he saw was something that made him lower his glasses, peeking over the rims. There sat a boy, soaked from the rain, half under the ledge, looking like he was trying to sleep, his head resting on a backpack. He couldn’t have been more than twelve from the size of him, but he looked sickly, pale, and underweight. He could see a small bruise and split lip on his face.

His feet seemed to bring him forward on their own, maybe a bit too fast, as the kid jumped awake and stumbled to his feet. Tony was surprised he’d heard him approaching.

He put up his hands, taking off his glasses and putting them in his pocket. “Easy, kid,” he said. “I haven’t seen you around here before. What’s your name?”

The kid shifted his weight between his feet for a brief second before bolting down the street. The kid was fast. He’d give him that. He was gone, around the corner in a heartbeat.

“Dammit.” Tony ran a hand through his hair.

 “Sir?” Happy was beside him, looking confused.

Tony shook his head, grabbing his glasses and putting them back on. “Nothing. I don’t know. There was just some kid here.”

“You want me to notify security. Make sure he doesn’t come back?” Happy asked.

“No, it’s fine. He’s just a kid,” he said, walking back to the car and sliding in, Happy shutting the door behind him.

The car pulled away from the curb and Tony couldn’t help but wonder who the boy was. He couldn’t help but feel bad for the kid. He doubted he’d see him again. His thoughts wondered off to the list of projects waiting for him the next day.

He forgot about the incident amidst the chaos of his life over the next few days, the meetings, the projects, trying to keep the world from being attacked by the latest threat. It wasn’t until he had a moment to escape from the tower on his own that he ran into the boy again. Tony had gone to small coffee shop down the street, he needed to walk to clear his head, his mind too cluttered to get anything down. Sometimes he just needed space.

When he walked in the shop, he didn’t immediately recognize the boy. It took a moment of studying him to place his face. Once it clicked, he knew it had to be him. He was standing behind the counter, looking much too young to be out of school at that time of day. He was cleaned up a bit. His bruises were gone. Tony tried to think back when he saw him last. It didn’t seem that long ago. Maybe it had been longer than he thought.

Looking him over, he was able to confirm that the boy was far too thin. Tony imagined a strong breeze might be enough to knock him over. He wasn’t sure why, but he wanted to know more about this kid. Maybe it was just his nature, liking to take things apart to see how they work, but he wanted to know how the boy had found his way to his tower that night, beaten and bruised. What was he doing there so late? Didn’t he have a family?

Tony walked up to the counter. The boy seemed to shrink back, like the floor was suddenly incredibly interesting. Tony smiled, knowing he recognized him. He noticed the name tag—Peter. Hmm … So that was his name. He made a mental note to run him when he got back to the tower.

“W-what can I get you?” the boy finally said, his gaze not meeting Tony’s.

Tony studied him for a moment. “Nothing special, large coffee, black.”

Peter nodded. “I … It’ll be right up.”

Tony couldn’t believe how insecure this kid was. He crossed his arms and watched as Peter poured the coffee. Something caught his eye though, when he stretched out his arm, more bruises. Was someone hitting this kid? Seriously, both times he’d seen him now, he was bruised in different places. A bit of anger built in him at the thought of someone beating on this kid.

After a moment, Peter turned, passing the coffee to Tony, the bruises on his wrist on full display.

He seemed to notice Tony eyeing them as he pulled his arm back quickly like he’d been burned and tugged his sleeve down.

“How much do I owe you?” Tony asked, still studying the kid.

“Three dollars.”

Tony pulled a twenty from his pocket, passing it over. “Keep the change.”

The kid looked like he could use it.

“I c-can’t,” Peter stammered out. “It’s too much.”

“Trust me kid, that’s nothing. Keep it. Buy a burger or two after work. Looks like you could use a meal.”

Peter nodded, putting the money in the drawer and separating the change. “Thanks.”

“No problem, kid.” Tony turned to walk away but stopped, spinning back around. “You were out in front of my tower the other night, right?”

The boy looked away.

“It’s okay. I mean, if you don’t have any place to go—like if it’s raining and you need a place to crash, not saying you do, but if you did, it’s okay to come inside. God, I’m coming across creepy, aren’t I? Shit.” He rubbed a hand over against the back of his neck. “It just looks like you could use a safe place. There’s no safer place than my tower. I can let security know. I just … Think about it, okay?”

The kid looked up, his mouth moving like he wanted to say something, but after a moment, he just settled on a nod.

Tony smiled. “Sounds like a plan then. See you around, kid.”

Tony didn’t know if he’d take him up on the offer but he kinda hoped he did. He wanted to know who was hurting him.

When he got back to the tower, he had Friday search through the employment records of the shop for anyone named Peter. There was one—a fifteen-year old named Peter Parker. Damn. He looked so much younger. The kid needed a few good meals. There were no current forms filed for his employment though—he must be working under the table now.

Friday was able to find that his whole family was deceased. Tony hit a wall when he tried to find his last place of residence. Child Protective Services had placed him in various foster homes, but he had run away from them all. It seemed like they had given up on him. Damn.

Tony sipped his coffee as he looked over the records projected in front of him. It didn’t look like he was enrolled in school either, confirming his growing fears the kid was living on the streets. What did catch his eye were Peter’s previous grades. The kid had near perfect grade point average. He was top of his class in a great school before the last of his family, his Aunt May, passed away.

He sighed. Why did he care so much about one damn kid? It wasn’t like him. It wasn’t like he hated kids, but they weren’t really his thing. He didn’t have the patience to explain things or teach them. In all honesty, he knew he was shit role model and being around kids did them more harm than good. He needed a cabinet of pharmaceuticals to just sleep at night and two pots of coffee to get through until noon each day. He didn’t even know how to look after himself. He definitely wasn’t responsible enough to look after a kid.

This was Child Protectives issue. He should just call up the authorities and let them know where to find him and be done with it. It really was that simple, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Maybe he knew Peter would just run again.

How the hell had he talked himself into feeling responsible for this kid?

He sighed, scrubbing a hand over his face. He’d told Friday to watch for the boy—to notify him regardless of the time if the kid were to show up. He wondered if he would come.

He didn’t though.

Three days passed and there was no sign of Peter. Tony went to the coffee shop each day, hoping to see him, but nothing. He asked the shop manager, but she denied having a Peter working for her. Figures. He wasn’t a legal employee. He thought of threatening her, but he let it go—for now. He was worried though. He didn’t like the feeling he had in his gut.

Stressed, head hurting, Tony walked into the common room of the tower. Bruce was there with Natasha, making lunch. They looked up when he walked in.

“Wow, no offense, Tony, but you look like shit,” Natasha said. “You getting enough sleep these days?”

Tony waved her off and plonked down on the couch, kicking his feet up. He threw his arm over his eyes, sighing. He was exhausted, but his brain just wouldn’t shut up and let him sleep.

“You alright, Tony?” Bruce’s voice came from the kitchen area.

“Fine,” Tony mumbled. “Just need sleep.”

“Alright, well, lunch will be ready in a few if you want to join us,” Bruce said.

Tony didn’t answer. He was busy remembering the kid as he tried to cover his bruises. He should have asked questions. He was fucking Iron Man. He should have done more.

Tony heard the door open. He lifted his arm and looked over the edge of the couch. It was Clint, shuffling in, looking tired, still in pajamas.

“Morning,” Clint yawned.

Tony flopped his arm back over his eyes.

“What’s up with him?” Tony heard Clint ask.

“One of his moods,” Natasha said.

Tony pushed himself up to sit forward, looking over at them. “I’m not in a mood. Why do you always think I’m in a mood?”

“Because you are?” Clint answered, laughing. “You’re the moodiest bitch around here—other than Thor when he doesn’t get the remote.” Clint grabbed a bowl from the cupboard. “Hey, topic change, you guys see the news the other day? Our little friendly neighborhood Spider-Man stopped one hell of bank robbery.” He grabbed the cereal. “Alien tech involved.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Don’t start. He’s lucky is all he is.” He got up and walked over to the kitchen. “And speaking of, we need to track that tech.”

“Hey, dudes got some skills is all I’m saying,” Clint said. “You should have seen the hits he took and still kept fighting. I don’t care what kinda mutations he’s got. I bet he’s feeling that fight.”

“The guy is a vigilante. He’s gonna get people hurt,” Tony said, picking the croutons out of the salad Natasha was making and popping them in his mouth.

She swatted his hand away. “Tony, you really do look like you need sleep.”

“I’m fine.”

There was a chorus of scoffs. He scrubbed his hands over his face, rubbing his tired eyes. They burned from little sleep.

“What’s eating you so much? Haven’t seen you like this in a long time,” Natasha asked.

Friday’s voice interrupted. “Sir, Peter Parker has arrived at the tower. Where shall I direct him?”

“Tell him to wait there. I’ll be right down.”

“Who’s Peter?” Bruce said.

Everyone seemed to be looking to him for an explanation. He wasn’t about to explain though. He headed toward the elevator. He needed to see the kid to know he was alright.

The elevator didn’t seem to move fast enough. He sighed and rubbed at the back of his neck in frustration, tapping his foot. Patience wasn’t something he was blessed with. Another reason he was bad with kids.

When he stepped out of the elevator, he looked around. His eyes quickly fell on Peter. He looked like shit. He was beat to crap. He had molted bruises on his face. Tony’s stomach did a flip. He took purposeful strides to the boy. Without saying a word, his hands reached out and took his chin gently, turning his head side to side as he took in the damage. Tony’s blood was beginning to boil. He’d find who hurt him and he’d kill them.

“Christ,” Tony breathed.

Peter seemed overwhelmed and stepped back, snapping Tony out of it. He realized the kid looked about ready to run again. He debated on telling Friday to lock the building, but he didn’t.

“Sorry, kid,” Tony said. “Didn’t mean to scare you. I just … Jesus, kid.” He ran a hand through his hair, his eyes focused on the bruises. “You’re gonna be alright. We’ll figure this out. I won’t let this happen to you again.”

Peter’s eyes went wide. “No, umm … that’s not why I’m here. I just … I know you said I could come here and …” He looked around, everywhere but Tony. “I’m just tired and kinda hungry. I lost my job and haven’t eaten … I’m sorry. I should go. This was a bad idea. I—”

“Peter, wait. It’s fine. I offered, remember?” Tony said, reaching out to him. “How about some lunch? I know just where we can steal some.”

Peter looked like he was about to run, and Tony sucked a breath, holding it. Tony had made up his mind. He wasn’t letting the kid out of his sight again—not until he knew what was going on. He would grab him if he had to do it. Thankfully, after a moment, Peter body language seemed to change. Maybe it was exhaustion or hunger, but his shoulders dropped, and he nodded.

“Good,” Tony said, letting out the breath he’d been holding. “Come on. I’ve got some people for you to meet.”

Chapter Text

The elevator smoothly lifted beneath Peter’s feet, making him feel weightless for a moment. He wasn’t even sure what he was doing in the tower—what had made him walk through those doors in the first place that day. He had told himself he was going to stay away. He could take care of himself. He didn’t need help or adults trying to control him, but something inside him seemed to think otherwise—maybe self-preservation—because there he found himself, standing beside Tony Stark, heading up to an uncertain fate that afternoon.

As the elevator climbed, he knew it was too late to change his mind. He didn’t think Mr. Stark was going to let him go without at least a meal, and truth be told, he was hungry—starving in fact. His increased metabolism was doing him in—the way his body burned through his fat and muscle stores if he didn’t eat. Living on the streets has taken its toll on him. He hadn’t had a home cooked meal since Aunt May died, and without a place to live, it was nearly impossible to find enough to eat. He’d thinned as he kept pushing his body to be Spider-Man—to keep fighting, to keep saving people, his muscles being eaten away to sustain himself.

The recent battle at the bank was a testament to his weakening condition. The news had praised him for foiling the robbery, but they didn’t know how close it had come to going the other way. He took more hits than he should have—his reflexes slower and senses dulled from lack of nutrition.

When he’d made it out—villains webbed to the walls—he just barely climbed to a nearby rooftop where he collapsed. He spent days up there, curled on his side, aching belly, and sore body as he tried to recover—traitorous tears running down his cheeks, feeling completely alone as he thought back on his life.

It had taken days to recover enough that he was able to move without the world swaying beneath him; his injuries hadn’t healed like they should have. He was getting worse—weaker and he knew it. He needed to get back to work though so he pulled himself together and changed into his only change of clothes, but when he’s gotten there, he was greeted by his manager, firing him for not showing up.

With nowhere else to turn, he found him himself standing in front of the intimidating Avenger’s Tower. It made him feel so small in its shadow. He worried if he went in, Mr. Stark would call Child Protective Services after seeing the bruises on him at the coffee shop. It was almost enough to keep him from walking through doors. He couldn’t go back to another home—not after what had happened in the last one. He didn’t have any other place to turn though, and really, if he couldn’t trust Iron Man, who could he trust?

So, that’s how he found himself, watching out the glass of the elevator as it climbed higher, his weathered backpack slung over his shoulder, beside the most unlikely person, his nerves on edge.

Mr. Stark seemed to notice he was nervous. He looked over and tried to smile in a way that Peter thought was meant to be reassuring, but it just made him appear as nervous as he felt. He hoped he was making the right decision trusting him.

The elevator slowed and came to a stop. Peter’s heart began to pound in his chest. The idea of meeting people, trusting more than Mr. Stark, terrified him. The older man hadn’t said who they were meeting.

Peter fidgeted with his hands, tugging his sleeves down, his shoulders turned in. He was trying to shrink back into himself— a habit from the last home he was in.

He could face off against anyone as Spider-Man—Spider-Man could handle anything.

Peter couldn’t though.

He was a scrawny nobody. He couldn’t even defend himself from the man at the last home. His chest tightened at the thought of how weak he was, how he let himself be beat.

The door opened but his mind was elsewhere in that moment. What was he thinking trusting someone he barely knew? He needed to get out of there. He backed up until his back hit the wall. His breaths coming in hitches.

He barely noticed Mr. Stark walking around in front of him, ducking his head to look at him. He slipped a finger under Peter’s chin, lifting his head to meet his gaze.

“You’re okay, Peter,” he said. “No one will hurt you here.”

He sounded concerned. It had been so long since someone cared. It felt foreign. Mr. Stark dropped his hand and looked at Peter, eyes soft.

Peter’s rubbed his palms on the dirty denim of his jeans nervously. He licked his lips as he tried to figure out what he should do. He tried to calm himself.

One breath in.

One Breath out.

Just like Aunt May had taught him.

He glanced at Mr. Stark. He was running a hand through his hair. He looked frustrated.  

Footsteps approached, and Mr. Stark turned.

Peter looked around him and was shocked by who he saw. He recognized her. How couldn’t he? The Avengers were always in the news. It was Black Window. Most kids would be excited, but he was nervous. He knew how smart they were, the resources they had. It wouldn’t take much for them to snoop around and put things together. He was starting to think coming to the tower had been a terrible idea.

She looked between Mr. Stark and him for a moment, her gaze then settling on Peter, making him uncomfortable beneath the intensity of it.

“Tony?” she asked, still eyeing him warily. “Who’s your friend?”

Mr. Stark straightened and turned to her. “Just what you said—a friend. Thought I’d bring him to lunch.”

“A friend?” she asked. “He looks—"

“He looks fine. You’re fine, right, kid?” Mr. Stark asked, glancing back at him, eyebrows raised.

Peter nodded along, not sure what else to do.

“Does your friend have a name?” she asked, head tilted to the side as she studied him even closer.

“Of course, he has a name,” Mr. Stark snapped. “And stop looking at him like that. You’re making him uncomfortable.”

Her head straightened, and she seemed taken aback. “Sorry, it’s just not often we have company.”

“Well, no, but we are today,” Mr. Stark said. “Anyway, Peter”—He turned and motioned to him—"meet Natasha. Natasha meet Peter. He needs a little something to eat and place to kick his feet up for a bit. Big tower, lots of room, I offered. Any more questions?”

She shook her head, sighing. “Welcome, Peter. Sorry about the introduction. Tony just likes to surprise us sometimes.” She looked to Tony. “Today is just one of those days.”

Tony huffed.

Peter wondered if Mr. Stark was always this bossy.

“How about we get out of this elevator.” Mr. Stark said, looking to Peter. “That’s if you’re ready?”

Peter nodded and took a hesitant step forward. Mr. Stark let him pass, putting a hand on his shoulder, guiding him out. Peter cringed a bit at the touch. It wasn’t Mr. Stark’s fault. He just didn’t like touch.

The room he walked into was huge—no it wasn’t a room; it was a huge open space, partially divided into a living area and what looked like a kitchen and dining area. Everything screamed expensive—things Peter would never have in his life. It was surreal.

There were two other people there that he could see. He didn’t sense anyone else. They were staring at him like he had three heads.

He swallowed hard, feeling uncomfortable under their scrutinizing stares. There was a man with short, dark brown hair, hard jaw line looking at him from the living area. He was in his flannel pajama bottoms and a white t-shirt. Peter tried to place his face. Then it hit him. It was Hawkeye. He didn’t look like he did on TV. Maybe it the pajamas, he thought.

Sitting on a stool at the counter by the kitchen, eating, was another man with brown hair; it was a bit shaggier though—kinda messy. He wore glasses. He looked at Peter with the eyes of a scientist, like he was something to be studied. He pulled his glasses off and cleaned them on his shirt. Peter had no idea who this guy was. He didn’t recognize him from anywhere. The way he seemed to study him was unnerving.

Tony gently nudged Peter further into the room. He felt like an animal on exhibit. With nowhere to hide, Peter dropped his head, looking at his frayed shoe laces.

“Everyone, this is Peter,” Mr. Stark announced. “The bird brain in the PJ’s is Clint. The guy eating his fourth meal of the day is Bruce, and you met Natasha. Everyone, this is Peter.”

Peter raised his hand in a small wave as he bit his lip. He just wanted to be back on the street. He wasn’t prepared to meet this many people. He didn’t trust people. He’d learned that lesson.

There was an awkward silence in the room as everyone seemed to be waiting for someone to speak first. Finally, it seemed Mr. Stark had enough of the silence, or maybe he saw how Peter was beginning to shake, and he broke the tension. Either way, it was a relief.

“Look, no need to stare,” he said. “Give the looks a rest. He needs a meal and some rest. We help people, right? Well, consider this our civic duty. We’re helping people.”

“Tony—” Natasha went to speak, but Mr. Stark cut her off, putting up a hand.

“Look, if you have an issue, take it up with me later,” he said. “Peter, come with me.”

Mr. Stark tried to put a hand on his back, but Peter took a step forward, cringing a bit as he tried to avoid it. Thankfully, Mr. Stark seemed to notice he wasn’t into contact and dropped his hand casually like nothing happened, not making a big deal out of it.

Peter followed Mr. Stark to the kitchen area and watched as the older man filled a plate with food, more food than Peter had eaten in a week. Peter’s stomach grumbled loudly, aching painfully as he looked at the food. With a little bit of everything on his plate, including two burgers and fries, Mr. Stark handed the plate to him.

“Eat up. Sit wherever you want. We have every channel if you want to watch some TV, or you can—”

“I’ll just sit here,” Peter said, walking to the counter and pulling up a seat on one of the stools near Bruce. His Aunt May never let him eat anywhere other than the table. Even though she was gone, he felt like he should still respect her rules.

Mr. Stark nodded and leaned back against the sink, watching him with interest as he began to eat.

It tasted amazing. It was the first warm food in days. His stomach immediately began to feel better and he started to devour it like it could disappear at any moment. The dizziness he’d been feeling was starting to disappear the more he ate, and his senses seemed to sharpen a bit again. It felt good.

“You know, I’d prefer to not have to do the Heimlich on you so maybe slow down a bit,” Mr. Stark said with a chuckle.

Peter could feel a flush spread over his cheeks. “S-sorry, Mr. Stark.”

Mr. Stark shook his head. “It’s fine. Don’t apologize. Just don’t choke, and it’s just Tony, okay? Mr. Stark reminds me of my father. Long story, but I’m not him. Please, just call me Tony.”

Peter swallowed and nodded, going back to his food, trying to take slower bites even though his body begged him to inhale it.

“Where do you go to school?” Bruce asked from beside him.

Peter’s heart beat a bit faster. He hated questions. He looked between Tony and Bruce. “I ... I’m homeschooled,” he lied, deciding that was the best thing. He went to the library. It wasn’t a complete lie.

Tony and Bruce exchanged a look. Was it disapproval or were they doubting his story? Peter didn’t know which, but he was nervous now, more than before. They seemed to sense it and it didn’t push further.

“So, what do you like to do, Peter?” Bruce tried again.

Peter bit at his lip.

“I … I like reading,” he said finally, like it was some confession. Maybe it was. He didn’t like letting people in. The people who got close to him, either died or hurt him. He had every reason to be wary.

Bruce nodded, stabbing a forkful of salad and stuffing it in his mouth.

Peter looked back to his food, picking at his fries. He might have eaten a bit faster than his body could handle and now his stomach was hurting for the opposite reason.

“Feeling better?” Tony asked. “Looks like you slowed down. I thought you were gonna eat the plate for a minute.”

“It was really good. I’m sorry I can’t finish everything,” Peter said.

He looked longingly at the leftover food. He wished he could keep the scraps. It was almost another meal’s worth. He watched sadly as Tony reached over the island and took his plate, scrapping it into the trash.

“Tony,” Natasha said, walking over by the fridge. “Can I talk to you please—privately?”

Tony scrubbed his hands over his face and nodded, then pointing a finger at Peter he said, “You stay. I’ll be right back. Talk to Bruce. He’s fun—in the college lectures on the fundamentals of sociology are fun kinda way. No really, he’s a good guy, Peter. He’s got this great party trick—”

“Tony,” Bruce warned. “Why don’t you go to talk with Natasha. I’ll chat with Peter. Maybe compare favorite books, sound good, Peter?”

Peter didn’t want to talk. He was already feeling his strength returning and he just wanted out of there. The longer he stayed, the more questions there would be. He shifted uncomfortably but finally decided that he would play along for the moment. If he thought running from Child Protective Services was hard, he imagined trying to run from the avengers was going to be impossible.

He let a breath and nodded. He listened to Bruce chatter on about his favorite books at Peter’s age and he answered his questions as simply as he could, nodding along. The truth was, he wasn’t paying attention to Bruce, he was listening to Tony and Natasha. His senses were coming back enough he could hear them through the door of the room they went into together.

“Who is he, Tony, really?” Natasha whispered.

“He’s just a kid,” Tony said. “He needs some help, someone to look out for him. He’s on his own.”

“Tony, you can’t just steal someone’s kid because you don’t think they are doing a good job with him.”

He heard Tony scoff. “First, I didn’t just steal someone’s kid. I’m like ninety-nine percent sure he’s homeless. Second, obviously he’s in trouble. Did you miss his face?”

“Of course, I saw the bruises,” Natasha said. “I’m not blind. This isn’t our area, Tony. We aren’t the police. We need to call the authorities and get him some help.”

“He’ll just run. He’s run before.”

“So, you’ve looked in to him already?” She asked.

“Did you think I wouldn’t?” Tony asked. “I look in to everything! I hate surprises!”

Tony was sounded like he was getting pissed off and Natasha sounded like she wanted Peter gone. He didn’t want to cause trouble.

He heard Natasha sigh. “You’re not taking this as seriously as you should be, Tony. This isn’t our place. If he’s homeless, that’s more reason to get him into a home.”

“A home? Really, Natasha? That kid deserves more than some shit life bouncing around between homes. I just need to think. I’ll figure this out,” Tony said.

“Where’s he gonna go tonight?”

That question piqued Peter’s interest. He listened harder—not wanting to miss the answer. Bruce was still carrying on about his favorite books.

“I don’t know. He could stay here,” Tony said after a moment. “It’s not like we don’t have the room, and whoever is using him as a punching bag won’t be able to get to him.”

“I don’t like this, Tony,” she said.

“You don’t have, too. This one is on me.”

“And what if he doesn’t want to stay? You can’t make him.”

“Can’t I?” Tony said. “If it means keeping him safe, I can.”

That was enough for Peter. He didn’t like being controlled. He was used to being free. He jumped from the stool, grabbing his bag. Startled, Bruce nearly fell from his.

Peter wasn’t looking back but he could hear the footsteps behind him. He needed to get to the elevator.

“Peter, wait!” Bruce shouted from behind him.

Peter looked over his shoulder in time to see Clint jump up from the couch, leaping over the back and reaching for him. Peter spun low and dodged. Clint tried to make another grab for him, but he rolled right, hitting the button to the elevator, slipping beneath his reach again as he ducked into the elevator, slamming the door close button once inside.

His heart pounded in his chest and his hands fisted at his sides as he waited for the elevator to reach ground level.

Finally, the doors of the elevator opened, and he bolted for the tower doors, he slammed into them, expecting them to open, but they were locked.

He wasn’t going anywhere, and he knew it. A second later, the elevator doors opened, and Peter turned to look.

Tony stepped out.

“Damn, kid. You do move fast. Think Clint’s ego is gonna be bruised for weeks,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest.

Peter couldn’t help the little smile that tugged on the corners of his mouth despite his desire to look pissed.

“Look, I know you don’t want to stay, but I don’t want to hear about you being found dead in some alley either. I know more is going on with you than you say—not that you ever say much,” he said, looking at Peter seriously. “It’s okay though. I’m not asking for explanations. Well, I am, just not now. Right now, I just want to know you’re not getting beat up. So, just humor me and stay tonight. You’d be doing me a favor. I’d sleep better knowing you’re safe.”

Peter looked at him for a minute, thinking over what he said. He had a feeling though that staying wasn’t really optional, despite the wording. This was a ‘do it the easy way or the hard way’ type thing. He either stayed by choice or force. He was tired, and he hadn’t healed well. One night wouldn’t be the end of the world.

He sighed and relaxed his posture a bit.

“So, you’ll stay?” Tony asked, rocking back on his heels.

Peter nodded, hoping he wasn’t making a mistake. He wasn’t used to people caring and it seemed Tony really did.

“Good. Come one. Let’s go see how Clint’s ego is doing,” Tony said, walking to the elevator and opening the doors.

And then Peter did something he hadn’t in a long time, he laughed, the words slipping from his mouth before his realized it. “I thought he’d be faster for an Avenger.”

His comment seemed to catch Tony off guard. He looked surprised, but then busted out into laughter. Peter relaxed a little for the first time in long time and followed Tony back upstairs. Maybe it wasn’t going to be that terrible after all.

Chapter Text

Tony leaned against the wall of the elevator as it climbed, his hands in his pockets. He was trying to play it casual, but he was pretty sure he’d just lost years of his life almost losing the boy to the streets. If this was what parenting was like, it was a good thing he never signed up. He wouldn’t survive a week as one. Hearing Clint yell that the kid had slipped away had slammed him in a way that he wasn’t expecting—like he was pulling g’s in his suit, his stomach ending up somewhere near his feet.

He didn’t like the feelings that were being stirred up in him since meeting Peter. It’s not like he was a sociopath, emotionless, but he was better at compartmentalizing things than your average person. Everything had a box and place in his mind, emotions made things messy if left to run amuck. He liked his life organized—even though looking at his workstations you’d think otherwise.

Peter was like a wrench thrown in the works, bringing Tony’s smooth-running systems to a halt, leaving him panicking over things he never thought he would—like the safety of a kid that wasn’t his.

He didn’t have a box for Peter. He was an anomaly. There was no good reason he should be getting so attached to the kid, yet here he was, acting like a mother hen.

Without thought, he glanced over at Peter, checking he was still there beside him, his irrational worry coming to the surface again. It was ridiculous. It wasn’t even like Peter could go anywhere. They were in the damn elevator. Tony felt like he was losing his mind.

Something caught his eye as he looked at Peter though. He noticed he was fidgeting with his hands again, something he noticed he did a lot. He always looked anxious. It bothered Tony. He could see some more bruises peeking out around the cuffs of his sleeves, too. Tony had to clench his jaw to keep from asking about them—now wasn’t the time.

Peter seemed to notice him looking and dropped his hands, backing into the corner. Tony immediately regretted staring. There was so much he wanted to ask, but he knew he couldn’t push. He was going to have to go slow, to have patience. Right now, Peter seemed to be acting on pure instinct—like a caged animal, wanting help but too afraid to let someone close enough to open the door.

Tony hated that someone had done this to the kid, broken him down like this. He wondered what he was like before it all. Was he a happy kid once? He must have been at least at one time. Tony wished he could bring that back out in him.

He scrubbed a hand over his face. Damn, he really needed a drink.

The elevator doors opened, and to his surprise, Peter picked up his bag, slung it over his shoulder, and hesitantly stepped out the door. He couldn’t help but smile at the improvement. At least he wasn’t completely fighting him.

Peter seemed to pause when he saw Clint, half sitting on the back of the couch, arms crossed, face unreadable. Tony was about to say something, tell Clint to cut the shit, when he pushed himself off his perch and walked over, a grin spreading across his face.

“Nice moves, kid,” Clint said, giving him a pat on the shoulder. “I’m impressed, though my ego is bruised.”

Tony could swear he saw Peter flinch when Clint touched him. He noticed him doing it before—when he’d tried to guide him to the kitchen. He was either afraid of touch or had more bruises and injuries than he knew about—or maybe both. He cursed himself for not knowing which it was. He should have had Friday scan him earlier.

Clint seemed to notice Peter’s reaction, too, because Tony saw anger flicker over his friend’s face. It seemed he wasn’t the only one feeling protective. Clint was always good with kids and people who hurt kids had every reason to fear the man.

“It’s all good, Peter,” Clint said. “You did good. Very few can get the best of me. You must be the man at dodge ball.”

That seemed to do it. The kid’s head lifted, and a little smile played on his lips, tugging unsurely at the corners of his mouth, like it was an almost forgotten motion.

“I-I’m okay at it,” he said, letting out a breath.

Clint chuckled. “I’m sure you are,” he said, turning to Tony. “You should have seen him. He ducked and rolled, dodging away from me like I was in slow motion.”

Tony had seen for himself how fast the kid was the first time they met. He imagined that living on the streets he’d learned to run and escape. Of course, he had. It was survival. It was a lesson in life a fifteen-year-old shouldn’t have had to learn though, and clearly from the bruises, he wasn’t able to escape everyone, someone had caught the kid—more than once from the look of things.

“Maybe you were moving slow,” Tony joked. “You are getting old, practically a senior citizen really.”

“Fuck you, Tony,” Clint said. “Anyway, I got to head out to do some training. My skills are getting rusty.” He laughed and turned to Peter. “Whatever he says, do the opposite. Listening to Tony gets you in trouble, just kidding. He’s a good guy—like a big, grouchy teddy bear. And if you need anything, you can come to me. Seriously, short stack. I don’t know you well, but if Tony trusts you, I trust you.”

Peter nodded, giving a weak smile. “Thanks.”

Clint nodded to Tony and walked off to the elevator.

Tony looked back at Peter to see his gaze flitting around the room—like he was looking for the others.

“There not here,” Tony answered the unspoken question. “Bruce headed down to his lab right after. I think he felt bad. I think he thought he scared you off.” He sighed. Bruce was shaken. “Natasha is off to pick up Steve. You haven’t met him yet, but I think you have probably heard of him, goes by Captain America. Her and Spangles will be back in a few hours.”

Peter nodded and dropped his head. Again. Tony felt like putting the damn kid in a neck brace. Whenever he felt overwhelmed, he seemed to shut down and drop his head. It was a tell, and it was something that drove Tony insane. He knew there was a strong kid in there somewhere. If he could just reach in and pull him out.

Glancing down, he noticed that Peter really needed new shoes. His toes had worn holes in them. He doubted they even fit. He made a mental note to send Happy out to buy some. Maybe he’d have Happy take the kid out for a full wardrobe? That wasn’t over the top was it? He shrugged it off. Didn’t matter if it was. The kid would get what he needed.

When Tony looked back up, Peter was shifting his weight between his feet and tugging at the cuffs of his sweatshirt sleeves, his shoulders turned in and his still head down because where else would it be? Patience, Tony, he reminded himself. 

He sighed, running a hand through his hair. Maybe he was in over his head. Yeah, his own childhood hadn’t been great, but it was nothing compared to Peter’s. They both had lost their families, but he’d had a roof over his head; he wasn’t put in homes—he wasn’t beat.

The silence was deafening between them and the kid didn’t seem to be moving or talking on his own, so Tony spoke up.

“Come on. You look ready to fall over.” He gestured to the living area, making sure not to touch him. “You look like you need to kick up your feet, speaking of, no arguments, I’m buying you some new kicks.” He glanced over to see his expression as he plonked down casually on the couch. Peter was hard to read though; his face was just too damned etched by his constant anxiety to get a good read.

Sighing, Tony said, “Relax a little, alright? What happened to the jokester in the lobby, picking on Clint?”

Peter shrugged. “I just … I don’t know.” He looked away. “Mr. Star—I mean, Tony, can I ask you something?”

“Shoot, kid,” he said, putting his hands behind his head.

“Why do you care? I mean … I’m a nobody.”

Tony sat up, elbows on his knees and putting his face in his hands. He took a deep breath, before dropping his hands, clasping them in his lap, looking at Peter. “The truth?”

Peter glanced up to meet his gaze, nodding faintly.

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s just some twisted shit in my head to do with my own childhood—or maybe guilt. I don’t know. Emotions aren’t my thing, kid. I don’t know why I do the things I do. I probably need therapy more than most people. I just feel like I can do something good, or at least try with you.”

He watched Peter’s face carefully, hoping his rambling words hadn’t made thing worse. The boy seemed to be studying him just as much as he was him. 

Tony couldn’t help but wonder how he’d gotten there. He would have never imagined this happening in his life and he’d been through some crazy shit. When did he fall down the rabbit hole—his world turning upside down?

The tension seemed to hang in the air and it was starting to eat at Tony.

Peter’s response didn’t come in words. Instead, he took his backpack off and sat, stiffly at first, but then he wriggled back into the cushions, relaxing back.

“You’re not like most adults,” he said after a moment, surprising Tony. 

Tony laughed. “No, definitely not. Adulting isn’t my specialty. Which means, I’m a terrible person to be meddling in your life. The adult thing to do would be turn you in—”

Peter stiffened, his hands fisting, looking ready to run again.

“Easy, Peter. I said that’s the adult thing to do. What did I say? I’m not an adult, well I am, just a shitty one who doesn’t follow rules. You’re safe here. I’m not sending you anywhere. Just giving you a place to recover. Sorry, kid, but it’s pretty obvious the streets aren’t treating you well.”

The boy nodded, hands moving to clutch the bag in his lap. He never let the weathered bag out of his reach. He imagined everything the kid owned was in there.

Peter seemed to be talking a bit, so he thought he’d try to venture a few questions. He didn’t know how it would go, but his curiosity was killing him. He hated puzzles with missing pieces.

“Can I ask you something?” he said. “You can just nod yes or no. You don’t have to talk.”

Peter shrugged.

“The bruises, did someone you know give you those? Maybe someone you’re staying with on the streets.”

Peter sat quietly for moment before shaking his head.

“Where you attacked?”

He shrugged.

Tony sighed. “You can talk to me.”

Peter looked over at him. “I know you mean well, but I’m okay.”

Tony scoffed. “Really, because I bet if I have Friday run a scan on you, she’s gonna find a lot more than the ones I see.”

“It’s just some bruises. I’ve had worse.”

The kid’s words hit him like a sucker punch to the gut. He didn’t want to picture worse, but there went his brain, imagining things he wished it wouldn’t.

“I looked into you a little,” Tony confessed, hoping not to spook him. “I know you lost your family and got put in foster care.” He paused looking at Peter, who looked away. “I know you ran.”

Peter shrugged, pulling the bag tighter to himself.

“Did someone in the foster’s homes hit you, Peter? Is that why you ran?”

He was pretty sure he already had the answer, but he just needed to know for sure—puzzle pieces and all.

Peter’s grip on his bag tightened impossibly more, his knuckles turning white.

That’s when Tony heard it.

A sniffle.

Peter buried his face in the bag. His breathing began to hitch.

Shit. He hadn’t meant to make him cry. The tears were all the answer he needed. Some piece of shit had broken this kid, broken him until he was nothing but a shell.

Peter began to shake. He didn’t know what to do. He knew how he’d cringed back from touch before. He didn’t want to make this worse. Where was Clint when you needed him? Tony’s solution was to offer the kid a stiff drink, but he was pretty sure that was frowned upon. He raked a hand through his hair, feeling helpless.

He could hear Peter whispering something to himself, but couldn’t make out what.

Fuck.

Why did he have to push? He needed to do something. He couldn’t just let the kid sit there and cry.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Tony said, knowing it sounded lame. “I didn’t mean to … shit. I’m sorry, Peter. It wasn’t my business and I shouldn’t have asked. I’m sorry.”

Peter wiped his eyes on his sleeve and turned his head, his eyes red from crying. He looked so much younger than fifteen.

He took a deep breath. “Tell you what. We don’t have to talk about it again unless you want to,” Tony said. “I won’t ask again. Deal?”

Peter bit at his lip but then nodded. He looked like he wanted to say something else.

“What’s up, kiddo?”

“Can I … Can I have a drink?” he asked.

“That I can help you with. What do you want? Water, juice, soda, coffee? Wait, you’re too young for coffee, right? I mean, aren’t you supposed to be like eighteen or something? I don’t know. I drank the stuff since I twelve, but look how I turned out.”

“Water’s fine.”

Tony eyed him for a moment. He had a feeling the kid was gonna ask for the cheapest thing offered. “Soda it is. Besides, you look like you need the calories. Honestly, kid. We need to do something about that. You are what, ninety pounds soaking wet?”

Peter shrugged. “I never weighed myself.”

Tony got up and walked to the fridge, grabbing a can of Coke. Tony wasn’t a fan, but Thor seemed partial, so he kept it stocked.

He walked back over, handing the soda to him. He took a seat back on the couch, leaning forward, forearms resting on his knees. He watched as Peter opened it and took a drink.

“So, you like video games? Clint’s got plenty to choose from if you want to play.”

“Would it be alright if I took a nap?”

Tony glanced at his watch. It was still early. “Yeah, you good there or you want a room to yourself?”

“Here’s fine,” Peter said, setting his drink down on the coffee table. He drew his knees up, and with a little wriggling, he got himself curled in to the tiniest ball possible, bag clutched in his arms. He wasn’t much bigger than the cushion.

“Okay, I won’t be far if you need anything. I have some business calls to make. Holler if you need anything. Friday will call me.”

“Who’s Friday?” Peter asked, lifting his head.

“Friday’s the AI that keeps things around here ticking. Designed her myself.”

Peter yawned. “That’s kinda cool.”

“It’s very cool. Now, sleep.”

Peter adjusted himself a little more, curling around his backpack, closing his eyes.

With him off to sleep, Tony got up and walked over to the windows, looking out over the city. He pressed his hand against the cool glass. He should call Pepper and apologize for missing the two meeting that morning. She’d left three voicemails already. He’d do it later. He wasn’t ready for a speech from her.

He sighed. What was he going to do? Was Natasha right? Was he in over his head? It seemed too late to turn back now. He pinched the bridge of his nose. His head hurt. He could design an Iron Man suit in cave with scraps. He was Tony Stark, the genius, but he couldn’t figure out how to handle a scared kid.

He wasn’t sure how much time passed as he stood mulling over his thoughts, but the sound of the elevator drew his attention. He immediately jogged over to it. He didn’t need anyone charging in and startling Peter.

He got there as the doors were opening. He was greeted with Natasha and Steve.

“What’s going on?” Steve asked.

“Christ,” Tony whispered. “Are you always this loud? How did I never notice how loud you were before? Whisper. Peter’s sleeping.”

Steve drew a breath and exchanged a look with Natasha.

“What?” Tony asked. “Not you, too, Steve. Come on. I am just helping him, alright? Why is this so difficult for you guys to understand. He needs help and I am helping. This isn’t a discussion.”

Steve shook his head, rubbing his forehead. “Tony, Natasha explained everything on the ride back. We both agree. This isn’t a good idea.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “So, you’re ganging up on me?”

“More of an intervention,” Natasha said. “Just hear Steve out.”

Tony huffed. “I can’t believe how you guys are handling this.”

“Tony, what happens when you get bored with him?” Steve asked. “You’re doing him more harm than good. Don’t you see that? This isn’t going to work out.”

“What the fuck?” Tony snapped. “You guys really think I’m that shallow—that I’d just drop him?”

“Tony, it’s just how you are with things. When something newer and shinier comes along, you’re going to lose interest and that kid is gonna get hurt. You need to get rid of him before he starts trusting you and things get more complicated than they already are.”

Tony crossed his arms over his chest. “Get rid of him? You know what? Fuck you both.”

“Tony, don’t be like that,” Natasha said, reaching out to touch his arm. “Steve’s just trying to help. We don’t want to fight.”

Tony glared at them. “He’s staying, and if either of you make him the least bit unwelcome, so help me.”

Steve put up his hands. “I’ve said my piece. I’ll leave it at that for now. We good?”

Tony stared him down a moment before nodding. “He doesn’t like to be touched by the way, so keep your distance.”

They both nodded, and Tony stepped to the side, letting them out of the elevator. “He’s on the couch. Don’t wake him.”

Steve patted Tony on the shoulder as he passed. “Debrief?”

Tony nodded, turning and following behind them as they walked past the living area into the boardroom.

They all took a seat around the large, oval table. Tony leaned back in the chair, kicking his feet up on the table. “So, speak to me. Where are we at with the alien tech?”

Steve leaned forward in his chair. “Not far. Whoever is pulling off these heists, are organized. They can get in and out without leaving a trace. The salvagers don’t even know their hauls have been compromised until days later when inventory sheets are checked.”

“We’ve seen it. This is getting out to the streets,” Natasha said. “Clint said it was being used in a bank robbery. We can’t have these kinds of weapons out there.”

Tony sighed. “The FBI hasn’t made any headway either.”

“You know, as much as you hate him, if it weren’t for Spider-Man down on the streets, this could be a lot worse,” Natasha said. “Maybe we should touch base with him. See what he knows.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Don’t start. He’s nothing but trouble and I doubt he knows anything. The only reason he makes the news is because he destroys the city trying to save it.”

“And we don’t?” Steve asked.

Tony snapped his gaze to Steve. “Seriously, you’re siding with her?”

“Yeah, I am,” Steve said. “The guy might be reckless, but he’s getting results, and protecting the little guy, which I can respect. Isn’t that what you’re doing with Peter? Looking out for the little guy?”

Tony crossed his arms over his chest. “Are we done? I need to go check on Peter.”

With that, he got up and walked out of the room.

 

Chapter Text

It had been a long time since Peter had slept on something other than cold, hard rooftops of New York. As he lay there, eyes closed, he thought back to the first time he met Tony, tired and exhausted, just trying to get cover from the rain. He never thought that that little decision to curl up under the ledge would lead him here.

He wasn’t sure how long he’d been asleep when his senses awoke him. He heard hurried footsteps moving across the room behind him. He lay still, listening—his fight or flight instinct on edge.

“What’s going on?” a man said loudly, sounding concerned. Peter didn’t recognize the voice. He wondered what was happening. He didn’t sense danger though, so he relaxed a bit, continuing to listen.

“Christ,” Tony voice said in a whisper. “Are you always this loud?” he asked. “How did I never notice how loud you were before? Whisper. Peter’s sleeping.”

Peter heard the other man sigh. Peter wondered what was going on.

“What?” Tony asked sharply. “Not you, too, Steve. Come on. I am just helping him, alright? Why is this so difficult for you guys to understand. He needs help and I am helping. This isn’t a discussion.”

Peter thought back to earlier. Tony had said Captain America’s name was Steve. Natasha must be back then. He felt guilty for eavesdropping, but it wasn’t really his fault his senses woke him up. He was an incredibly light sleeper. It was like always having your nerves on edge, like having your senses constantly reaching out trying to connect with stimuli. It was a pain in the ass. His heightened senses had deprived him of sleep many nights.

He continued to listen, his heart beating a bit faster in his chest. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know where this conversation was going.

“Tony,” Steve said. “Natasha explained everything on the ride back. We both agree. This isn’t a good idea.”

So, they meant he wasn’t a good idea. It’s not like they had a reason to care—none of them did. He wasn’t anyone to them. Peter could understand where they were coming from.

“So, you’re ganging up on me?” Tony snapped.

“More of an intervention.” Natasha joined in the conversation. So, she was there, too. He thought he’d sensed more than two people. “Just hear Steve out,” she said.

Tony huffed. “I can’t believe how you guys are handling this.”

“Tony, what happens when you get bored with him?” Steve asked. “You’re doing him more harm than good. Don’t you see that? This isn’t going to work out.”

Peter cringed, his stomach tying itself in knots. He really didn’t know Tony. Would he get bored him and drop him? Peter clutched his bag tighter, wishing he could disappear.

“What the fuck?” Tony snapped. “You guys really think I’m that shallow—that I’d just drop him?”

Peter didn’t know what to think. He just wanted to get away. This was turning out to be a mess and he wanted to just get away before it got worse. He didn’t need people caring. He didn’t need to make Tony’s life more difficult. He was making him fight with his friends. He wished he could just block out his senses and stop hearing the conversation behind him.

“Tony, it’s just how you are with things. When something newer and shinier comes along, you’re going to lose interest and that kid is gonna get hurt. You need to get rid of him before he starts trusting you and things get more complicated than they already are.”

So, they wanted to get rid of him. It didn’t come as a surprise to Peter. He hadn’t had good luck with adults. Why did he think he could trust anyone? They were no different than the people in the homes, just wanting him out of the way. He swallowed back a painful lump in his throat. He just wanted to shrink back into the couch and disappear. He never meant to cause so much trouble by coming to the tower. He wished he could get away but there was no way to escape.

“Get rid of him?” Tony snapped. “You know what? Fuck you both.”

Peter cringed, hearing the anger in Tony’s voice.

“Tony, don’t be like that,” Natasha said “Steve’s just trying to help. We don’t want to fight.”

This was his fault. Him being there was making them fight. He thought back to the first foster he went to and the way his foster parents would fight over him. How they really didn’t want another kid there, but they needed they needed the cash. He had to run from there because, John, his foster dad, had started hitting his foster mom during the fights, leaving meant keeping her safe.

“He’s staying,” Tony said firmly. “And if either of you make him the least bit unwelcome, so help me.”

Why did the Tony care so much? No one should care about him—not like this. He wasn’t worth it. People that cared got hurt—they died. It was hard for him. He’d been alone so long, built so many walls around himself, that maybe he’d forgotten how to be around people.

“I’ve said my piece,” Steve said. “I’ll leave it at that for now. We good?”

“He doesn’t like to be touched by the way, so keep your distance,” Tony said. “He’s on the couch. Don’t wake him.”

Peter closed his eyes, slowing his breathing. He didn’t want to be caught awake.

“Debrief?” He heard Steve say, followed by footsteps moving along behind him.

He lay still as he listened to a door open and close. He breathed a sigh of relief. He pushed himself to sit. He didn’t know what to do, part of him said stay, wanting him to trust, but the other part wanted him to run. He was starting to like Tony, and he didn’t want something to happen to him. He was cursed. He needed to keep his distance from people.

He wasn’t paying much attention to what was being said in the other room, something about the alien tech on the streets. He’d run into before, but he was handling it, though it was good to hear they were watching the situation, too—the more the merrier. It seemed fine until he heard his name—Spider-Man. He lifted his head and listened harder, the door muffling their voices.

“You know, as much as you hate him,” he heard Natasha say. “If it weren’t for Spider-Man down on the streets, this could be a lot worse. Maybe we should touch base with him. See what he knows.”

He froze, trying to process what he heard. Who hated him? Not Tony. Why would he hate him? He did nothing but try to help. He helped people, no different than them.

“Don’t start.” He heard Tony reply. “He’s nothing but trouble and I doubt he knows anything. The only reason he makes the news is because he destroys the city trying to save it.”

Peter found himself standing and slinging his bag over his shoulder without thought. He felt betrayed—hurt. This had been a bad decision.

He needed to get out of there, and he wasn’t getting caught this time. He looked around quickly, spotting a sliding door that lead to the balcony. He ran for it, unzipping his bag and grabbing his web shooters. He fumbled with them, his heart racing and his instincts screaming to escape. He got them on and zipped the bag back up. He didn’t have time to put his suit on, or what he passed off as one—sweats and a mask.

He jumped off from the building, diving down. He shot out a web, catching a nearby building, and swung. He needed to get to cover as soon as possible. He couldn’t be out like this. He needed to move fast. He swooped down and skidded to a halt on a nearby rooftop.

He quickly changed into his suit, stuffing his clothes into his backpack then taking off again. He wanted to get as far from Manhattan as possible. The further he got, the less chance he would be found. He didn’t have a real destination in mind, but he found himself heading back to Queens—heading to the last home he knew. He found himself perched on the edge of the rooftop of the building across the street from his Aunt May’s old apartment—the last place he was happy.

Traitorous tears began to prick at his eyes. He pulled off his mask and wiped them away, clutching his mask in his hands.

He felt alone, more alone than he had in a long time. He’d been starting to trust Tony, to respect him. He knew he wasn’t on the same level as the Avengers, but he thought he had been doing good, helping people. Tony thought he was reckless, destroying the city. Spider-Man was the only thing he had been sure about in his life, and now he was questioning it.

Was he reckless? Did he do more harm than good? Tony seemed to think so, and for some reason, his opinion seemed to matter.

He looked over the city. The sun was setting, casting hues of pink and orange around the storm clouds that were moving in. He needed to get going. He didn’t know if Tony was looking, but if he was, Peter imagined he was going to need to keep moving to avoid him.

He stood up on the ledge of the building, and with one last glance at his old home, he shot out a web and swung into the air, reaching and swinging between buildings, heading anywhere, everywhere, just getting away.

The night air began to chill, and the clouds were moving in over the boroughs, thunder echoing in the distance. He’d made his way toward Brooklyn. He wasn’t sure why, maybe it was part of his senses, but he felt drawn to the bridge.

Lightning flashed in the sky, and the first few drops of rain began to fall as he reached the iconic bridge that spanned the East River. He scurried up one of the guide wires, reaching the first stone support. He easily jumped to the top, looking up as the thunder rattled the sky, the rain coming down in earnest now. He looked around, wondering what had drawn him there. His eyes fell on Manhattan, and for a moment, he felt a pang of guilt for leaving the tower.

His senses began to prick at the back of neck, something was coming. He glanced around. Then he saw it—a convoy of trucks coming out of Brooklyn. There was some kind of bird, no man, on top of one of the trucks. He had a set of mechanical wings. He knelt, using some sort of tech on the roof the trailer. It was glowing, making an opening in the trailer. He watched as the man jumped inside.

Peter dropped his backpack on the ground and webbed it securely in place. He stepped to the edge of the support and readied himself to jump. The convoy was almost under him. He watched, timing it, as the man climbed out of the trailer, holding a case of something in his arms.

Three …

Two …

One …

He jumped, reaching up with his arm to shoot a web to the support, swinging and landing on the top of the trailer with a thud.

The man was already back in his mechanical wings. He spun when he heard Peter land.

Peter cocked his head to the side. “Hey, so … I suppose if I ask nicely you’re not gonna drop that case?”

The man laughed. “If it isn’t the itsy bitsy spider come to save the day.”

Peter crossed his arms over his chest. “You know me? Cool. So, I’m thinking we can do this the easy way, or the hard way—your choice, but either way, you’re not leaving this truck.”

“I’d like to stick around and chat, but I got places to be,” the guy said.

His freaky bird wings spread, and he ran for the end of the trailer, jumping off the end into the air.

“Hard way it is!” Peter called out after him, shooting out webs from both wrists at him. He hung on tight as he ripped into the air. 

“What the—” He heard the guy yell as he climbed higher, looking back over his shoulder.

Peter began to second guess his decision to attach himself to this guy, the ground was getting further away every second.

Crap.

The guy banked hard left, sending Peter swinging. He couldn’t let go though. They were headed back toward the bridge.

“Having fun yet, Spider-Man?” the guy asked.

Peter yelled back. “A blast.”

He kept his grip tight, hanging on for all he had. The cold rain pelting his face, making it hard to see.

The bird guy started to dive toward the water. 

This may hurt, he thought to himself.

He held tight as they got closer to the water. They were moving fast, hitting the water at this speed was gonna hurt. His senses screamed to let go as the guy began to level out, causing Peter to skid across the water. Peter grip was tight on the web though. He wasn’t going to let go. He squinted, trying to see through the rain. The bridge was getting close, too close. Crap. Bird guy was going underneath it, turning and weaving around the support. Peter was gonna hit.

He should let go.

He really should let go.

His hands held on though.

As his web caught around the support, he slammed into the stone of the bridge, knocking the wind out of himself, pain radiating through his body. He let go, slipping into the icy water.

He heard laughing from above. He looked up, rain dripping in his eyes, and saw the jerk with the wings, glaring down at him. “Consider this a warning, interfere again, and I’ll kill you. Stick to the little shit. Don’t get in my way again.”

His wings stretched, and he took off into the night, leaving Peter struggling in the water.

The black water was cold. He needed to get out and back to land. He looked up at the bridge, and reaching out, he shot a web, catching the underside of the road. He grabbed it with both hands and tried pulling himself up, but he couldn’t do it. It was too painful. He slipped back into the water.

He started to shiver. He knew if he didn’t get out of the water soon, he was going to be in trouble. Reaching up, he tried again, this time pulling himself up enough that his feet could gain purchase on the stone. He got ahold of the support and began to climb, gritting his teeth at the pain shooting through him. He had broken at least a rib or two, his head and his right shoulder were both hurting, too.

He got up to the top of the stone support and collapsed, rain falling on him. He rolled onto his side and pulled his knees to his chest. He was so cold.

He could see the lights of Manhattan and he again thought of tower. He imagined Tony might be worried, but he figured it would pass. As for the others, they were probably happy he was gone. It made their lives easier. Peter knew he was just a complication—a wrench in the works. The Avengers had real battles to fight. The last thing they needed was a distraction.

A violent shiver racked his body. He had to find a safe place to go. He remembered some old abandoned buildings he’d taken out some drug dealers in before. It wasn’t his first choice, but with no money, it seemed like the best option.

Using the small stone ledge to steady himself, he pushed himself to his feet. Thankfully the rain was slowing. He grabbed his backpack and stepped up onto the ledge, shooting out a web, catching a guide wire. He leapt and swung, groaning as his shoulder pulled painfully under his weight. He worked his way across the bridge, heading back toward Manhattan.

He stayed high and away from the busy streets, not wanting to draw attention to himself. He slipped through the shadows, keeping his distance from the tower. Finally, he reached the old buildings he remembered. He climbed up to the roof and listened, reaching out with his senses. He didn’t sense any danger or people so slipped down the side of the building and in through a broken window.

His shivering was getting worse. He pulled his soaked suit off and tossed it into a pile on the concrete floor. His whole right side was turning black and blue, his shoulder was swollen. He hoped his body had enough strength to heal itself fast. He was hurting. This sucked.

His teeth were chattering. He rubbed his arms trying to find some warmth. He grabbed his bag and checked his clothes. They were damp but better than nothing. He pulled them out and put them on, grabbing his wet suit after stuffing into his bag.

Suddenly his senses went haywire, he tensed, dropping to crouch, eyes darting around the room.

He heard someone kicking in the door. He spun toward the sound, ready to run. He wasn’t in the condition to fight. He backed himself against the wall into the shadows.

There was another bang and the door frame splintered, letting the door swing open.

Adrenaline pumped through Peter’s beaten body.

A dark figure came through the doorway and moved into view, walking like he was searching for a target, making Peter’s heart hammer in his chest. His senses were screaming to run, but his curiosity kept him there, frozen, watching and waiting to see what unfolded.

The figure paused, seeming to sense him in the shadows.

“Easy, I got eyes on you. Don’t move,” he said. It looked like he had a weapon, but in the darkness, it was hard to make out. “Where’s the boy?”

Peter recognized the voice and it didn’t belong in that abandoned building. It was Hawkeye, and for some reason Peter couldn’t fathom, he was there, bow in hand, staring him down.

There was another crash, and the far door fell from its hinges, drawing Peter’s attention. Who he saw, hovering above the ground, was the last person on earth next to Hawkeye he expected to see.

It was Iron Man.

Peter swallowed. He should run but his body didn’t seem to want to cooperate. He was frozen in place.

Iron Man’s mask flipped open, and Peter could see Tony’s face illuminated by the light of the suit. He looked exhausted, like years had been stripped from his life.

“Short stack?” Clint asked, walking closer, lowering his bow.

Peter took a step from the shadows. “Hey. I … I didn’t mean to … what are you guys doing here?”

Tony’s suit opened, and he stepped out, walking across the room to open space to Peter. “You disappeared from the tower, literally disappeared. You ghosted on us, kid. What do you think we’re doing here? We found some webs on the buildings around the tower and put two and two together.”

Peter looked incredulous. “You thought Spider-Man kidnapped me?”

Tony raised his brows. “You got another explanation?”

“Well, no … I mean, yes … I just …” Peter didn’t know what to say, lying wasn’t his specialty. “Yeah, he … he came to the tower,” he said, not a lie. “He didn’t kidnap me though. I … I went with him.”

That sounded good, didn’t it? He thought to himself. He was in deep and he knew it. He was close to being uncovered.

“Why, Peter?” Tony asked, crossing his arms over his chest, one hand going to rub his face. “And how did you even get ahold of him? Did you just call him up and say ‘hey, come pick me up, Spidey, I need a lift?’ Is there some secret spider signal I don’t know about?”

Peter shrugged, dropping his head. “It’s complicated. I can’t say. I promised him.” God, he hoped they bought this crap. “I know you were worried, but I’m fine,” he said. “You can go if you want.”

Part of Peter didn’t want them to go though and that surprised him.

“Peter, seriously, we gotta talk about this,” Tony said. “I’ve been out of my goddamn mind worrying about you. You know the shit I pictured happening to you? I had no idea where you were or what might be happening to you.” He sighed. “I can’t handle this,” he said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “So, you and the spiderling are buddies? You didn’t think to mention this before?”

The floor was so damned interesting suddenly. He kicked at the ground. “Didn’t seem important.”

“Didn’t seem import—” Tony started but Clint thankfully interrupted him.

“I think what we really want to know is why you ran,” Clint said.

Peter kept his head down, but he could feel their stares. “I was awake.”

There was silence. Peter lifted his head, glancing up to see Tony’s face. He looked confused at first, but then his expression changed after a moment to understanding, softening.

“You heard us by the elevator,” he sighed.

That wasn’t the only conversation he’d heard, but it wasn’t like he could fess up to eavesdropping on the other.

Peter nodded. “I didn’t want to cause problems.”

Tony sighed. “You’re not. If you heard that conversation, then you know I give a damn about you. I’m not going anywhere, Peter. We all care about you, kid, whether you like it or not.”

“Tony’s right,” Clint said. “We do. You know where Natasha and Steve are? There out looking for you. They're checking around your old apartment in Queens. Bruce is driving around Brooklyn.”

Peter looked up. “They’re looking for me?”

“Yeah, they are,” Tony said.

Peter fidgeted with his hands. “Oh, I thought … I thought they’d be happy I was gone. I didn’t think …”

Tony shook his head, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Peter, they want you safe. We all do. You’ve got a gift for growing on people, kid. I think they realized that when you went missing.”

“Look, why don’t we head back to the tower, finish this there,” Clint said. “He’s shaking like a leaf, Tony. He’s gonna get sick if we don’t get him warmed up soon.”

He was cold, freezing in fact. Peter glanced between Tony and Clint before stepping forward and grabbing his bag, slinging it over his shoulder, the movement causing pain to shoot through his shoulder, making him cringe.

“You alright?” Tony asked, eyeing him carefully.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Peter lied.

Tony looked at him suspiciously for a moment before nodding. “Clint, you got him?”

“Not gonna run again, right?” Clint asked with a smile, but Peter could sense he was serious.

Peter shook his head. He wasn’t going to run again.

Clint motioned to Peter. “Good, come on, short stuff. Ride’s around back.”

Peter followed Clint. He couldn’t deny that it felt good to have people care. It had been so long, he’d almost forgotten the feeling. He felt safe in way in hadn’t in long time. Sure, maybe Tony wasn’t Spider-Man’s biggest fan, but he was determined to prove himself. He was going to get the Bird Guy and take down this alien tech. If he did, Tony would have to respect him.

 

Chapter Text

Tony mind reeled as he tried to make sense of what has happened—Peter had jumped from the tower with Spider-Man. He knew him. No, he didn’t just know him. He was on swinging around from buildings terms with him. Dammit. This brought up so many questions. How’d they even meet? How close were they? Like Christmas card close or just help you leap off towers close? Was there a difference between the two? Tony growled as his mind wouldn’t shut up. He knew one thing. The puzzle of Peter Parker just got a look more interesting.

Suit on, he took off from the building, flying up to search the streets for Clint and Peter.

“Friday, notify the others that Peter’s been found. He’s safe and they can return to the tower,” he said as he looked over the cars.

“Will do, sir. Is there anything else I can assist you with?”

Tony sighed. “No, that’s all. Not unless you know where I can find Spider-Man.”

“I do not, sir.”

It only took a moment to spot the sleek, black car. They were approaching the tower, only a few blocks out. He considered cutting ahead and getting back before them, but he held back, staying on Clint’s flank, just in case the little spider decided to make an appearance. He had some questions for the red-suited bug. 

Tony slowed as they reached the tower and watched as Clint and Peter made it safely inside before powering up to the top and landing on the balcony. He stepped out of his suit, walking in the door, his suit going back to storage on its own.

It was late, or early, depending on how you looked at it. The sun would be up in a few hours. He scrubbed his hands over his face, trying to shake the exhaustion. He wasn’t just physically tired—he was emotionally spent. Hearing Friday tell him that Peter had been last seen on the balcony had taken years off his life. He was sure his heart had stopped in that moment—his mind going to the first probable conclusion; Peter had jumped.

Just thinking back on the moment, his heart twisted painfully in his chest. He took a few deep breaths, settling his nerves. He knew they would be back any minute and he had no idea what to say to the kid. He hadn’t ever felt ready to kill someone and hug them at the same time before. When had he become such an adult?

Christ.

The elevator dinged, and Tony looked over, expecting to see Clint and Peter. He tensed when he just saw Clint, his genius mind working too fast to fill in the blanks with possible scenarios—like the kid running again. Maybe he didn’t want anything to do with him. Could he blame him? He wasn’t the warmest person on earth—not really kid friendly, but he’d come to like Peter and it hurt a bit the kid might not want anything to do with him.

“Where’s Peter?” he asked sharply, eyebrows raised, crossing his arms over his chest.

“I talked to him a bit on the way back,” Clint said, taking his bow off. “He seemed pretty tired, and I think he was worried that you were gonna chew him a new ass, so I took pity on him and brought him to your suite, showed him the spare room. Hope you don’t mind.”

Tony sighed. “Yeah, that’s fine. Otherwise he seemed okay though? I caught him wincing earlier—his shoulder maybe? Maybe I should have Friday run a scan.”

Clint walked over to the couch, setting his bow down and plonking down beside it. “He seemed okay. I think he’ll be alright.” He folded his arms behind his head. “So, was it just me or did you sprout a few gray hairs today, too?”

Tony sighed, walking around to sit on the couch, too. He rested his elbows on his knees and put his head in his hands. “I really thought he jumped.”

Clint looked over at him. “He didn’t though.”

“Is this what having kids is like?” Tony asked.

“You mean worrying about everything they do?” Clint raised his brows. “Yeah, pretty much, but in time you adjust. It doesn’t get easier either. It’s the hardest job out there.”

“How the hell do people do it? I can handle machines, give me a screwdriver and I can fix anything, women I get, kinda, scratch that, Pepper, but kids, they’re …”

“Pretty damned great, aren’t they?” Clint laughed.

Tony shook his head. In the short time he’d known Peter, he already thought he’d had at least one heart attack and his blood pressure was probably higher than it ever had been.

“You’ll be alright, Tony. There aren’t any instruction manuals. You’re gonna just have to go with it.”

“Am I doing the right thing? Should I let him go back to foster care?”

“Don’t send him back. You’re doing good with him.  He’s a good kid. He needs someone looking out for him. Who better than this motley crew?”

Tony laid back into the cushions, looking up at the ceiling. “Natasha was right though. I can’t hold him here. He’s not mine. It’s basically kidnapping. What if he wants to leave?”

Clint turned, propping himself up against the cushion to face Tony. “No, you can’t make him stay, but I’m not sure he wants to run, not really. Kid’s had it rough. I don’t think he knows how to be close to people anymore.”

“Maybe,” Tony said. “I need to figure out what to do though. Short term things are fine, but he should be in school. I can’t go enrolling him. CPS will find him and take him.”

Clint took a breath, his eyes tightening. “Then why don’t you petition the courts for him?”

“What?” Tony asked.

“You heard me. Make it legal.”

He was serious. Tony hadn’t thought that far ahead. Maybe somewhere along the line he’d entertained the thought, but not seriously. How could he? Tony Stark was not parenting material. The man who used his pet fish for experimentation was not a top choice for molding a young mind. He was an eccentric, hot tempered, insomniac, nothing about that said let me raise a child.

“I think I should ask the kid first, don’t you?”

“You don’t think he’d like the idea,” Clint said flatly. “Or is it you don’t think you’re ready to be responsible for someone else?”

Tony closed his eyes. “I don’t know.” He drew a breath. “Little of both I guess. Plus, I can’t figure him out. There is more to him then Friday can tell me. He’s broken, and I’m barely a functional adult. I don’t know if I am the best person to help him. We make a shitty parent child combo.”

“He trusts you,” Clint said seriously.

Tony rolled his eyes. “He jumped from the balcony with a mutant spider to get away.”

“He told you why. He was confused,” Clint said. “Speaking of, what did he overhear exactly?”

“Natasha and Steve, mostly Steve, giving a speech about how I’m as distractible as a puppy and would forget about the kid the moment something more shiny and interesting came along.”

“Shit, no wonder he bolted,” Clint said. “Look my advice, talk with your lawyers, get the paperwork started. Peter doesn’t need to know, but we need to get something figured out. The kid was a straight A student, wasn’t he?”

Tony looked over at Clint. “Yeah, more reason he should be in school.”

“Then let’s get the legal details figured out. He doesn’t need to know.”

Clint pushed himself up from the couch, grabbing his bow. “I will say this, shorty is full of surprises. I think it’s kinda good for this place.” He stopped and turned. “Plus, who knew he was buddies with Spider-man. Maybe I can get an autograph.” He chuckled, gaining a glare from Tony.

“Don’t start fanboying again,” Tony said. “Makes you look like some teenybopper fawning over a boy band.”

Clint huffed. “It’s my mission to get you to appreciate the red menace. Give me time.”

“Keyword there is menace.”

“You’ll see. I’ll bring you to the dark side,” Clint laughed. “Anyway, I’m off. Night.”

“Night,” Tony said, yawning.

He toed off his shoes off, kicking his feet up on the coffee table. What was he gonna do? Should he try to legally adopt Peter? He threw an arm over eyes, and before long, drifted off to a fitful sleep. He was plagued with fractured nightmares of Peter falling to his death from the balcony, diving down after him but unable to reach him in time.  

A few hours passed before he awoke with a start, damp with sweat, mind still racing with the images of Peter dying in his mind.

He looked around. The sun was beginning to come up over the city, casting a warm glow to the room. He drew a shaky breath and rubbed a hand over his face. Damn he needed to shave. His face was rough, well more than a five o’clock shadow had grown over the last few stressful days.

He got up, stretching his back, looking to the kitchen, surprised to see Peter there, eating a bowl of cereal.

“See you found the food, good. You need to eat.” Tony said. He blinked, looking at Peter’s face, something was different. “The bruises on your face are nearly gone.”

Peter looked down. He seemed suddenly nervous.

“Yeah, I’m a fast healer,” he said quietly.

Tony nodded, rubbing at the back of his neck. It didn’t seem possible. It had only been days. He shrugged it off though. Maybe he was a fast healer. He padded over to the kitchen, grabbing a bowl from the cupboard, picking up the box of cereal and looking at it first before sniffing it.

“What is this?” he asked, eyebrows raised. “This smells terrible. Where’s the real food? Like sugar coated goodness and bacon.”

“It’s called Raisin Bran,” Peter said as he chewed. He looked almost like a regular kid sitting there—like he belonged. The thought made Tony smile.

He put the box of cereal down and turned back to the cupboard, digging through the boxes for something else to eat. He refused to start his day with bran.

“Friday, who did the shopping last?”

“Dr. Banner, sir.”

Tony grumbled, going through box after box of whole grain organic foods. He just wanted some Fruit Loops or Cocoa Puffs.

“Grape Nuts, really?” he said, taking the box from the cupboard and throwing it in the trash.

“Dr. Banner has begun an initiative to improve the cardiovascular health of the Avengers team. There was a memo, sir.”

Tony paused thinking back. “Did I read it?”

“Not likely, sir,” Friday said.

He heard a laugh and looked over to see Peter smiling.

“It’s not funny,” Tony said, turning back to the cupboard. “I think Clint’s got some Captain Crunch in here somewhere, unless the asshole hid it in his room. You don’t need to force down that shit.”

“It’s okay,” Peter said. “I saw the Captain Crunch. It’s in the other cupboard, but I kinda like this better. It reminds me of my Uncle Ben …”

The words seemed to slip out like a confession, trailing off. Tony knew he hadn’t meant to say that much, to give that much detail about his life. Peter was very guarded. He wanted to ask him about his uncle and what happened to him. He’d read the report, but he wanted to hear from Peter, but last time he pushed, he practically broke the kid. He’d turned into a crying mess. It was going to take time—it was going to take patience. Adulting. Got it.

Peter stopped eating and began pushing his soggy cereal around his bowl. Tony decided a change of subject might be good. There were some things he knew he should clear up.

He grabbed a stool and sat at the counter, watching Peter, who was still looking down.

“I think you should know,” Tony said, deciding on grabbing an apple from the bowl for breakfast. “You’re not a prisoner here. I didn’t mean to make it seem like you were.” He polished the apple on his shirt and took a bite, talking as he chewed. “I probably didn’t handle things the best way. I have a habit of thinking about myself first—not my fault, screwy childhood. What I’m trying to say is, if you want to go out, you don’t have to catch a ride off the balcony, you can go out the front door. No need to scare the shit out of me.”

Peter glanced up from his cereal and looked at Tony. “I can leave?”

“Yeah, I mean sure. If you want to go, you can, but I—we, would like you to come back.”

Peter shook his head. “I don’t think everyone feels that way.”

Tony sighed. “Their problem isn’t with you. It’s with me.”

“Are you gonna do what they said?” Peter asked, looking up like someone just kicked his damn puppy. “Are you gonna drop me when you get bored?”

“Peter, I’ll be honest. If someone told me a month ago I would care about a kid like I do you, I’d ask them to pass the damned drugs, but the thing is, something changed. I’m not gonna get bored. I’m not going anywhere. You’re going to have to trust me.”

Peter’s brows pinched together. “What if the CPS finds out I’m here?”

“If they find out and want to take you, they’ll have a fight on their hands. I have the best lawyers in New York—the best in the country. This is Avengers Tower and I promise you, no one is going to take you from here unless you want to go.”

Peter sat quiet for a moment before nodding. “I … I’ll stay for a while, but I need to be able to go out. There’s things I need to take care of.”

Tony leaned an elbow on the counter. “Peter, you don’t need to work. I will take care of everything.”

“It’s not that,” Peter said. “I can’t explain. You want me to trust you—then trust me.”

The puzzle of Peter was beginning to drive him insane. What was he hiding, and how was it connected to Spider-Man? He knew it did. He just didn’t know how. He had to trust him though if he wanted to find out.

“Okay,” Tony said. “I’ll trust you, but I have to ask, is there any chance you’ll tell me what you're hiding?”

“I can’t.” Peter looked away. “I like you. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

Tony face went hard. “Peter, are you in trouble?”

“Who’s in trouble?” Bruce said, walking in the kitchen from the stairs, dressed in khakis and button-down shirt, loosely tucked. “Good to see you, son. Had us worried last night.”

Tony watched as Bruce walked to the fridge and grabbed the bacon, turning and snatching a pan from the rack.

“Oh, not going to eat the granola you filled the cupboard with?” Tony asked.

Bruce smiled. “I don’t count. I can eat whatever I want.”

Tony crossed his arms over his chest and rolled his eyes. “You’re off shopping duty.”

“Maybe that was my secret plan all along?” Bruce laughed. “So, Peter. You sleep well?”

Peter nodded. “Yeah, I slept okay.”

Tony tossed his apple core in the trash. “Consider that room yours from now on. You can come and go as you please. I want you comfortable here.”

The elevator dinged and they all glanced over. The doors opened, and Steve stepped out. Tony drew a breath, looking over at Peter. The boy’s head dropped, and his shoulders turned in—making himself look small and unsure.

“Morning, everyone,” Steve said, walking over to the kitchen, grabbing the box of Grape Nuts from the trash. “Who threw out my cereal?”

“I did,” Tony said. “I did this whole health food craze thing once before. Totally not worth it. Enhanced metabolism or not, Bruce, you better be saving me some bacon.”

Steve sighed. “You haven’t had coffee yet, have you?”

“No, why is it showing?” Tony asked.

Steve chuckled. “Little bit.”

Tony looked back over to Peter. He was looking more uncomfortable than before. He was picking at his hangnails to the point one was bleeding, his head still hanging low. He knew it was Steve making him nervous. Why wouldn’t he be after he heard what he had? He glanced over at Steve and motioned with his head to Peter, trying to signal him to strike up a conversation or better yet apologize.

Steve seemed to catch on as he nodded and looked to Peter. “So, Peter. I heard you’re a good student. What’s your favorite subject?”

Tony looked curiously at Peter. He had attended a top STEM school. He kinda hoped he was going to say science or engineering. It would mean they had something in common.

“Science I guess. I like trying to figure out how things work—make them better.”

Steve crossed his arms over his chest. “I was never much for science myself, but I bet Tony and Bruce here could be of interest to you.”

“Definitely,” Bruce said, frying his bacon. “Anytime you want to talk science you can come see me.”

“Same for me, kiddo,” Tony said. “When it comes time to get you back into school, Bruce and I should be able to get you caught up in no time.”

“I was always kinda ahead, so I guess it shouldn’t be too hard. I kinda miss school. I did my last report on you,” Peter said, chancing a look at Tony.

“On me? I’m flattered. Which of my many and amazing accomplishments did you do your report on? Was it the design of my repulsors? It was, wasn’t it?” He grinned. “Maybe on how I discovered a new element? That was cool. Come on, what was it?”

He was genuinely curious and excited that Peter had taken interest in him before all this.

Peter looked back down, shrugging. “Wasn’t that good of a report, really.”

“Come on. I won’t say anything. Just tell me. Was it about my awesome good looks?”

Steve laughed. “Obviously wasn’t about your way with the ladies.”

Peter picked at his nails for a minute in silence. Tony could tell he wanted this conversation over. He felt bad for putting him on the spot so, he was surprised when he finally spoke.

“It was just speculative—about your arc reactor design. I tried to figure out how it worked and maybe find a way to scale it up.”

Tony’s brows knit together. “And did you?”

He didn’t really think that he had. It wasn’t an easy concept to grasp as an adult, let alone as a child, but Tony was impressed that he’d been so ambitious.

Peter shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t even know if I got the theory right behind it. It was just a dumb report.”

Bruce turned around. “What was your theory?”

Peter fidgeted with his hands. “I kinda figured that you used the beta decay of the ions from the Vibranium as a source for the electron capture, which I think should produce an electric circuit between the two different radioactive isotopes.”

Tony mind seemed to come to halt and all he could do was blink.

Peter picked up his spoon, toying with it in his hands. “And I think that the ejection of the electrons from the core to the rim would produce a huge amount of voltage—scaled up, you could power a city. It could change everything.” Peter paused between Bruce and Tony. “Sorry, didn’t mean to ramble. I know I’m probably way off.”

Tony was pretty sure his mouth fell open. The kid was a fucking genius. He looked over at Bruce, who seemed to be looking at him for confirmation that what they just heard was real. Steve just looked lost. Tony couldn’t help it—he laughed.

“I should go,” Peter said, looking back down. “I … I shouldn’t have said anything. You’re Tony Stark. I—”

“Peter, stop. I’m just in shock,” Tony said. “You’re right. Well, with a little tweaking, you are. How old are you? Fifteen? I knew I liked you for a reason. Did you hear this kid, Bruce? He figured out the Arc Reactor at fifteen. Fuck. You’re a genius.”

Peter shook his head. “No big deal. I just like to read.”

“I assumed more like The Hobbit—not The Fundamentals of Physics. Damn, kid. You’re gonna love the labs here.”

“You have a lab?” Peter asked, and for the first time, Tony noticed he looked excited about something. It made him smile.

“Of course,” Tony said. “Quite a few of them. Give me a bit to caffeinate and I’ll show you around.”

Peter nodded. “That sounds pretty cool. Maybe when I get back. I have some stuff to do first.”

Tony eyed Peter for a moment before nodding. He had to trust him if he wanted his trust back.

“Okay, I’ll catch you later,” Tony said, getting looks from Bruce and Steve.

They all watched as Peter grabbed his bag by his feet and walked toward the elevator, stepping inside. He disappeared behind the closing doors and Tony could only hope he wasn’t making a mistake. If the kid got hurt, it was on him.

Chapter Text

The air was crisp, and the city was bustling around Peter as he jogged down the sidewalk and away from the tower. He weaved his way through the foot traffic, crossing streets, no real destination in mind. He just wanted to get far away enough that it would be safe to suit up and start his hunt for the jerk with the wings. He knew he was connected to the influx of alien tech—he just needed to prove it.

He found himself heading towards Queens. Whenever he was without direction, he always seemed to find himself pulled home. Finally, feeling like he put enough distance between himself and the tower, he slipped into the shadows of an alley. He ducked behind a rusty dumpster and took off his backpack, unzipping it and pulling out his gear. He quickly changed up, tucking his bag in behind the dumpster and webbing it in place.

He scurried up the side of the building and onto the rooftop, his shoulder and ribs tugging painfully as he did. He still wasn’t healing as fast as he normally would, but it was getting better since he had a few good meals. A little more rest and nutrition, he’d be back to normal.

He walked to the ledge and looking out over the city. The sun was shining bright, warming the cool air. He didn’t sense any trouble, so he sat on the rough bricks, swinging his feet, looking around for anything interesting.

A few minutes passed, and he was considering heading out, when he heard a woman scream. He jumped to his feet, head turning to the sound, his senses prickling, hairs standing on end. His gaze locked on a woman, pointing and yelling at a man that was running down the street away from her.

“Someone, help! That man”—she pointed, finger waggling—"he stole my purse!”

Peter shot out his arm, shooting a web from his wrist, catching a nearby light pole and swinging into the air. His shoulder protested as he pulled his weight. He pushed it aside though, focusing on the job he had to do. This wasn’t the high crime takedown he wanted to impress Tony with, but this was a start.

“It’s okay, ma’am,” Peter said, swooping by the woman. “I’ve got this.”

She looked up, putting her hands over her mouth in shock.

He was close behind the thug, flying high from the buildings, weaving around obstacles easily. It felt good to be out and doing his job again. With one more swing and pull of his web, he was almost perfectly positioned to take him down.

“Didn’t your mom teach you any manners?” Peter yelled down at the guy, a smile playing at his lips. This was fun. This was what he needed.

The thug looked up, clutching the purse and turning quickly into an alley. Peter didn’t sense what was about to happen as he caught the edge of the building and pushed off with his feet, dropping down into the alley behind him. He knew these streets and he knew the alleyways better than anyone. There was no getting by him. Peter had him cornered—or so he thought.

“Hey, buttface,” Peter said, cocking his head to the side. The thief remained frozen, facing the dead end of the alley, back to him. “Why don’t you hand over the pretty lady’s purse like a good little thuggy, and I won’t leave you webbed to the building with your pants down for the police to find?”

The guy began to turn, his hands slowly moving to up as he did. Peter was a little disappointed at how easy the guy gave up. He was looking forward to a little fighting.

He was just about to say something smart when he caught the glimpse of something metallic, weapon like, in the guy’s hand. Peter recognized the unusual look—alien tech.

Now his senses decided to flare. Perfect timing, he thought to himself.

Without hesitation, the guy took aim and shot at Peter. Thankfully, his senses seemed back on cue, and gave him just enough warning to dodge, his back arching and twisting to the side, avoiding the beam of blue light. Peter heard a crash and looked over his shoulder to see a car, rolling onto its side with a groaning and crackling of metal and fire.

The thought of retrieving the purse was forgotten and now he was focused on just surviving and protecting lives—minimizing casualties.

Peter’s skin pricked almost painfully—his senses were raging. He leaped onto the wall, climbing up while reaching back and shooting a web at the guy, but he missed him. It only seemed to piss him off more.

Peter made a note not to miss again.

There was a whining sound coming from the weapon, maybe like it was recharging. Peter took the chance to shoot another web at him, trying to disable it, but the guy was quick on the trigger, shooting again, shattering a section of building beneath Peter.

The wall began to fall apart, bricks slipping from their mortar and tumbling down. Peter tried to clamber up higher, but he couldn’t gain purchase. His web grabbed a piece of falling wall and he tried to swing, but the wall fell onto him, crushing him in a pile of bricks to the ground.

For a moment, it all went dark.

The first thing he felt was the grit in his eyes as he tried to blink, everything else was numb. For a second, he couldn’t remember where he was or how he got there. It was a blur. Did he hit his head? He wasn’t sure. Blood or sweat was dripping down his face. He tried to pry a hand free to wipe it away but couldn’t move it.

What was he doing?

Why were there sirens?

He must have hit his head. It was throbbing. He licked at his lips, tasting blood and dirt.

“Good riddance, kid,” said a gruff voice. He heard a whine that brought everything rushing back. His senses screamed. He pushed with his legs and clawed fruitlessly with his fingers, breaking his nails against the bricks. He knew what was coming. He couldn’t stop it. This was it.

He squeezed his eyes shut and waited for the end.

He hoped it wouldn’t hurt too much.

Suddenly there was a different noise, and then an explosion, footsteps were everywhere. What was happening? Peter’s mind raced, his heart pounding in his chest.

Someone yelled. “Bruce, he’s under here.”

No! Peter knew that voice. It was Captain America. They were there.

“Peter,” Tony’s voice said. “Can you hear me?”

They were all there.

Suddenly the weight of the bricks lifted but a new weight replaced it as the light hit his eyes. He blinked wearily as a line people stood over him, blood dripping from his chin. The light glinted off one of the figures, and Peter knew there was no more hiding.

The mask on Iron Man’s suit lifted and Peter saw the eyes of a broken man looking back at him.

“Oh, Peter,” Tony said. “Why did it have to be you?”

Chapter Text

Drawing a deep breath, Tony turned to face the worried looks of Bruce and Steve. Their expressions gave away how they felt. Tony knew they didn’t agree with letting the kid free out in the city alone, not after the bruises they’d seen. What they didn’t understand was, he had a plan. He’d put tiny tracking device on the kid, so small, yet secure, that it was guaranteed to go unnoticed. He fiddled with a few buttons on his watch and a display appeared in the air.

Tony walked over to the counter and took a seat on the stool where Peter had previously been sitting.

“We going to talk about the elephant in the room?” Steve asked, breaking the silence.

Tony glanced up from image in front of him, raising his brows as he did. “Crap, Spangles, calling Hulk an elephant before noon, trying to start some shit?”

Bruce let out a huff. “Tony …”

“Hey, it wasn’t me calling your other half an elephant; it was Steve.”

“Tony, cut the crap already,” Steve said. “What’s your game?” He motioned to the display and the moving dot.

“That, spangles, is the kid, and by my estimates, he’s moving faster than a gazelle, and by altitude estimates, about forty feet in the air, which I’d like an explanation for, wouldn’t you?” Tony quirked a brow, waving the display away. “Call the gang, Friday. I think it’s time we find who’s been busting up our kid.”

He knew it was Spider-Man and this was his chance to pin the little bug down, squashing him finally.

“Tony, do you think this is a good idea, I mean, all of us?”

“Really, Bruce? I don’t mean Hulk out, but I want you there. I want to figure this out. Peter is hiding something.”

Steve shook his head. “And you think Spider-Man has something to do with how Peter’s getting hurt?”

Tony shrugged, grabbing a piece of toast from Bruce’s plate. “We’ll find out, won’t we? We need to protect this kid. He doesn’t need some pajama wearing freak putting him in danger.” Tony chewed as he spoke, tossing the crust back on Bruce’s plate.

Bruce poked at it then picked up his plate, letting the remains fall into the trash.

“Okay, maybe I was too judgmental of your intentions at first, but I can see you care about the boy. Honestly, there’s something about him that reminds me of you a little. Maybe you weren’t completely off your rocker wanting to help him.”

“Thanks, Cap,” Tony said.

There was the sound of footsteps and they all looked over to see who was coming. Clint rounded the corner from the staircase first, followed by Natasha.

“What’s going on?” Clint asked, looking around the room, his gear on and bow in hand.

“What’s the mission?” Natasha asked, brow furrowed in concern.

Tony raised his hands. “Easy, we’re not going out to kill, more a bit of recon, maybe a rescue, at most a little take down, you know, stuff.”

There was a loud whooshing noise and they all looked to the balcony. Rising from his knee was Thor, looking battle worn, hammer in hand. He greeted them with a nod and walked through the doorway toward them.

“It looks as though I am have arrived in time,” Thor said. “It appears we are assembling for battle.” He spun his hammer and set it down on the floor, walking to the kitchen and opening the fridge. Tony watched as he peered in, brow tight. “Has someone been drinking my, as you call it, soda?”

“I believe that’s our little buddy Peter,” Clint said. “You haven’t met him yet.”

Thor drew a breath as to speak, but Tony cut him off. “No time for explanation. See this dot. That’s Peter. His vitals are changing rapidly. We need to go now.”

Thor looked confused. He didn’t really want to explain this again.

“Fine, Peter is … he’s sorta mine. Well, maybe, I’m working on it. Don’t tell Pepper just yet. Anyway, we need to go.”

“Like a pet?” Thor asked.

“So, you are gonna adopt him,” Clint said with a crooked grin.

Steve stepped around the counter to face Tony. “You’re really doing this? Since when?”

“I don’t know. It just happened,” Tony said, waving him off. “It’s just paperwork. I mean, it just means he’s safe. The kid deserves that.” The suit began to form around him. He glanced at Peter’s elevated heartrate. Something was wrong, and he was starting to panic, but he’d be damned if he let it show. “Whoever goes with Thor, give him the run down. I’ll have Friday send the coordinates to you.” He looked to Natasha. “We need to get there fast so take the Quinjet.”

Natasha raised her brow and whistled low. “Bringing out the big guns. Okay, let’s go boys.”

“Meet you there.” Tony mask closed, and he shot out the balcony door, taking to the sky, a million scenarios in his mind, none he liked.

It took less than a minute to reach the scene, and it was a scene. There was car laying on fire in the street and rumble and dust falling in the alley nearby. What the fuck was his kid doing in the middle of this shit storm? His heart hammered so hard that Friday asked him if he was okay.

Looking over, he could see the Quinjet landing in the street. Tony took off into the alley, scanning for the tracker, for the signs of life he needed. His mind didn’t want to accept that Peter was here in this mess. He couldn’t be. He was so distracted by his emotions he almost missed it, a man standing with some garbage looking alien tech pointed at the pile of rubble.

“Good riddance, kid,” the man said.

Tony was frozen, terror coursing through him.

“Tony!” a shout came through the comms. It was Natasha. “He’s gonna shoot!”

He snapped back to reality and quickly blasted the thug, sending him hurtling backwards. With him taken care of, Tony and the crew ran to the pile of rubble.

“Friday, give me vitals,” Tony said as they all dug lifting the chunks of the wall, but as he did, more of the building fell.

“Heart rate elevated and climbing.”

The others were there and digging, but Tony only had one care—finding Peter.

“Bruce, he’s under here,” Steve shouted, drawing Tony's attention immediately.

There, laying on the amongst the bricks, was the broken form of Spider-Man, but something about the image didn’t make sense. Tony blinked. The menace’s mask was pulled away from his face enough to show the undeniable features of Peter.

It was almost too much to process. It was like everything Tony knew meant nothing. For the first time in his life, it felt life his brain was moving too slow and he didn’t like it. Synapses were firing but nothing was connecting. This couldn’t be his kid.

He wanted to be angry, but looking down at the broken form, he could only feel his heart clench.

“Oh, Peter,” he sighed. “Why did it have to be you?”

Peter’s head dropped, and Tony caught the smear of blood along Peter’s neck.

“You’re hurt,” Tony said, feeling dumb for stating the obvious.

“I’m okay,” Peter strained. “I need to go.” The boy tried to get up, but Bruce and Thor were already there, hands on his shoulders, steadying him.

“I agree, kid, we need to get out of here, but you’re not walking anywhere,” Tony said firmly, mind still reeling. He couldn’t grasp this young boy was the one out there, swinging to danger, nearly dying. God, the times Tony had wished he’d miss and splat into a building. Fuck. What kind of person was he?

He needed to get Peter out of there. They needed to have a long chat, and Tony was pretty sure he wasn’t the only one with questions.

A cry of pain pulled Tony from his thoughts. He looked to see Bruce straightening Peter’s leg. It was like Tony could feel it himself. For the first time in his life, he thought he knew what a parent must feel seeing their child hurting and unable to take the pain away.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Stark,” came a weak voice from the fragile boy.

“What?” Tony snapped, maybe a bit too harshly. Peter recoiled from his words like they had physical force. Tony couldn’t watch any longer, he needed to get to his kid. He stepped out of his suit and walked to Peter’s side. The boy ducked his head.

“Tony,” Bruce interrupted. “We really need to get going.”

“He’s right,” Nat said. “There’s already a crowd forming.”

Tony ignored them. “Can he be moved?” He asked, looking to Bruce.

The doctor nodded. “Be careful of his leg, but yes.”

Tony nodded and crouched down beside Peter. “Listen, Peter,” he said softly. “I’m gonna pick you up, okay?”

Peter shook his head and tried to back up.

“Shhh …” Tony soothed. “I got you. I’m not mad, okay, but we can’t stay here. There are too many people and you need medical attention.” Tony watched the boy’s body language, simultaneously taking in the ragged and worn fabric that was the kids only protection from the enemies that hunted him. How could he have not thought to look more into Spider-Man before? How hadn’t he noticed he was just a kid?

“Tony, we need to go,” Natasha warned.

“Head to the Quinjet,” Tony said. “I’ll be right there.”

Tony clicked his watch and the suit in the alley took off back to the tower. It was just him and Peter.

“I know you don’t like being touched, but it’s just you and me. I’m gonna pick you up, nice and easy. You trust me, right?”

He watched, not liking the looks of the sticky blood soaking the mask. He didn’t want to scare Peter, but they did need to leave. Finally, Peter gave the tiniest nod.

Tony let out the breath he was holding. “Good, let me know if I’m hurting you.”

Gently as he could, Tony slipped his arms under the boy. He expected him to be heavy, but he wasn’t. He was so light it made Tony stomach clench even more with worry. He’d been making sure Peter was eating but apparently not enough. His mind was already trying to calculate the calories of a Spider-Boy. What made him that way though? He had so many questions. Was his metabolism enhanced? What about his healing? His mind swirled with questions, but they were all brought to a stop when the weight shifted in his arms. Much to Tony’s surprise, Peter curled into him, tucking his head into Tony’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” Peter whispered, so low Tony wasn’t sure he was meant to hear.

“Don’t be. If anyone should be sorry, it’s me,” Tony said.

Chapter Text

The hatch of the Quinjet closed behind Tony as he carried Peter to one of the jump seats. The young boy was relaxed in his arms, which was a first. Tony had become so accustomed to the boy being standoffish and afraid of touch that he was taken aback by the change. This was a complete turnaround from before. He couldn’t help but hope that it meant something, like maybe he was starting to trust him.

Carefully, not to hurt him more, Tony lowered Peter down into a seat. His heart tightened when he heard a small whimper come from the boy. He looked to Bruce, wanting confirmation he was doing okay. Bruce nodded, coming over with to kneel in front of Peter, checking his leg.

When had he become so unsure of himself? This kid had literally turned everything he knew on end. He’d loaded hurt teammates a hundred times. This was no different, right? Then why were there tears in his eyes now?

“So, this boy, he’s the Peter of which you spoke, he’s also the Man of Spiders?” Thor asked flatly, pulling him from his thoughts.

He looked over to see the God, sitting there, looking curiously over Bruce and the boy.

Tony scrubbed a hand over his face. Damn. He’d almost forgotten the reality of it again. Was this what a stroke felt like? It was like his brain just couldn’t handle all this shit at once. Nothing was making sense, and Tony considered himself above your average genius intellect. His Peter, the boy on the ledge in the rain, was the Spiderling he’d spent so much time hating. How could that weak, innocent kid be Spider-Man the red menace. Fuck, he needed to stop calling him that. How could he think of Peter the same again?

He glanced at Peter who didn’t seem to have heard Thor’s question. Bruce had Peter’s mask off and was dabbing blood from a large gash on the kid’s head. Peter’s gaze was fixed on the floor, his shoulders turned in, the usual nervous Peter pose. He imagined if he could, the kid would be curled into a ball in the corner hiding. He was thankful that the kid was letting Bruce clean him up at least.

“Tony?” Thor said, drawing him back to the fact he hadn’t his friends previous question.

Tony looked at him, running a hand through his sweaty hair. “Yeah, this is Peter.”

Thor nodded thoughtfully, thankfully holding anymore questions for another time. Tony could only imagine what was to come. Thankfully, Natasha intervened his roaming thoughts. “Landing now. Medical is waiting.”

With a gentle bounce, the Quinjet landed and the rear hatch opened. Without asking, Tony scooped Peter up in his arms and began to carry him out of the jet.

“Mr. Star—Tony,” Peter said, trying to suddenly worm out of the older man’s grip.

The kid was strong, and Tony wondered how strong he was. The scientist part of him was making lists of things he wanted to test. He’d never put much thought into Spider-Man’s abilities. What were they even? Why did he stick to shit? God, was he gonna lay eggs? Clearly, he was having a stroke after that last question his brain supplied.

“I don’t need to be carried,” the kid said petulantly, suddenly seeming to find his voice. “I can walk okay. Put me down.”

“Really? Because that broken leg says otherwise,” Tony said firmly, trying to hang onto the kid, but the boy was digging an elbow in his ribs, trying to wriggle from his grip now. “Fine, go ahead, gimpy,” Tony said. “Knock yourself out.” He let the kid down.

Peter stumbled to stay on his feet and it was clear he was in pain.

“Ready for help yet, sourpatch?” Tony asked, raising his brows, crossing his arms. He secretly missed the closeness they had shared back in the alley.

“I’m fine. Just let me get my mask so I can go.”

Tony felt his hair graying. “Actually, I’m gonna have to disagree with you there, Under-Roos.” Tony looked to Steve. “You’re gonna get on that stretcher over there or Cap is gonna carry you.”

“What?” Steve asked. “Why not you?”

He actually had a good reason. He wasn’t going to admit it openly, but even though Peter was small for his age, he was still heavy enough on Tony’s back. He and Pepper had been trying some new tricks in the bedroom and things may have gotten out of hand, leading Tony to learn that he wasn’t as flexible as he thought.

“Listen here, you overgrown Otter Pop,” Tony shouted at Steve. “I didn’t ask you for your—”

“Boys!” Natasha snapped. “The kid!”

He looked to see Peter curled up in the ball on the ground, shaking. A horrific keening noise coming beginning to erupt from him.

Shit. Fuck.

Their loud voices must have triggered something—probably an anxiety attack. Who knew what this kid had in his past to cause this reaction, but it made Tony feel incredibly angry knowing someone had hurt his kid to cause this. There it was again. He was calling him his kid, and truthfully, he kinda liked it. It felt good.

He needed to do something to soothe him. He looked so broken laying there in the glorified pajamas he called a suit. Jesus, when was the last time it was washed. Focus Stark. Adulting—parenting—needed to be done.

Slowly, not to startle, he knelt beside him, hands moving to touch Peter’s back. He pulled himself into a tighter ball. Tony drew a shaky breath. Shit, so they were back to the no touching again.

A soft hand touched Tony’s shoulder and he looked up to see Natasha’s soft expression. “Let me.”

He looked back at Peter and then nodded, pushing himself back to standing. Natasha knelt beside Peter and began to card his fingers through his hair. Peter tensed at first, and Tony was going to stop her, but before he could, he noticed Peter’s tense muscles beginning to relax. His sobs slowed and soon he looked more at peace.

Tony couldn’t pull his eyes off the way Natasha comforted him. He’d told Peter that they all cared, and they did, but what he was watching was more than just caring; it was mothering. She hummed something akin to a lullaby and soon her other hand was tracing patterns along Peter’s back. He hiccupped and wiped his face with his sleeve.

“Easy, little one,” Natasha soothed. “I think it’s time we go inside. The suns getting real low, and I think I hear your stomach rumbling. Everything’s gonna be okay, Peter.”

Natasha always had a way with calming people, Banner was a great example of that, but she was really doing amazing with Peter.

Peter nodded and pushed himself up. He winced as tried to get his legs beneath him.

“Can I?” Tony asked, extending a hand to Peter.

After what felt like an eternity, Peter nodded and reached for his hand. Carefully, Tony pulled him to his feet, slipping his other around him, steadying him. He helped him into the building, the others trailing close behind. No one spoke.

The silence hung heavy in the air. Usually after a mission, they would all be carrying on, bragging about who did best, but there was no rejoicing this time.

“Over here, Tony,” Bruce said, motioning to the couch. “I thought it might be better to treat him up here.”

Tony glanced at Peter, trying to read his expression but it was blank, pale skin and dried blood was all he could see. “Yeah, sounds good,” Tony said.

He guided him to the couch and helped him sit.

“I think we should give him a little privacy,” Bruce said to the room. “Tony you can stay, but maybe the rest of you can start dinner?”

“Good, idea,” Steve said, setting his shield down beside the couch. Tony saw him pause and look at the kid again before walking out of the room.

Tony cringed just imagining the talks to come. Taking in an orphan was complicated and risky enough, was it better or worse that he was vigilante superhero as well? Time would tell, he imagined.

Once the others were gone, Tony raked his hand through his hair and let out a sigh. It was just the three of them now, him, Bruce, and Peter.

“What can I do?” Tony asked, feeling a bit useless as he watched Bruce cutting dirty fabric of Peter’s spidey suit off his leg, exposing Peter’s leg. It was molted in deep red and purple bruises, almost like a painting, the outside edges of which were already turning yellow and green. Tony felt sick.

“Get Friday to run a full scan. There’s bruising everywhere. I need to know the extent of the damage. This may be worse than I thought.”

“It’s not,” came a small voice. “I’ve had a lot worse and survived.”

Bruce looked up at Tony, and Tony just closed his eyes and sighed.

“Peter,” Tony said. “How long? How long have you been doing this? What happened to you?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Peter, you know when I said Banner had a cool party trick?” Tony said. “He turns into the Hulk. I can do weird, kid. Try me.”

Peter suddenly seemed to find his hands incredibly interesting. He began to pick at his nails. He was shutting down. Again. Fuck. He was the world’s worst wanna parent. Obviously, the kid had issues about his past, and yet here he was, pushing his button’s again. At least he hadn’t made him cry again, not yet anyway.

Just as Tony was about to tell him never mind, the kid spoke up. “It was a spider bite. Well, actually, a radioactive spider, not a normal spider, that would have just hurt, not left me like this, though it did hurt, like a lot, and now I’m like this—whatever this is …” he gestured at himself.

“Wait, you were bitten by a radioactive spider? Where the fuck did you find a radioactive spider? Christ, kid. Don’t answer that yet, yet,” Tony spoke. “We’ll come back to it.”  Tony was pulling his hair and pacing. “I need a drink.”

Tony walked over the bar and poured a few fingers of scotch, downing the amber liquid in a few, burning gulps.

“Tony,” Bruce snapped, drawing his attention back to the kid, who was looking precariously close to tears again.

He put the glass back on the bar and walked quickly back to Peter and Bruce. “Friday, run a full scan on Peter, put up the results on display.”

“Yes, sir,” Friday replied.

Within a few seconds, a display of all Peter’s vitals appeared on the screen. His heart rate was elevated, as was his blood pressure, but that could be stress. His leg was clearly broken but didn’t look from his prospective to need setting. He’d leave that for Bruce. His rotator cuff was seriously torn, and there was ligament damage. That didn’t seem to be from today, and Tony was wondering just what kind of shit Peter, or should he say, Spider-Man had gotten into recently. There were rib fractures in different stages of healing. Again, what the fuck? Otherwise, short of some serious bruising, he was okay. That was something.

“Amazing,” Bruce said. “The bone is already knitting back together. There’s really no point in casting it at the rate of healing.” He pushed his glasses back up on his nose. “I’ll get him some crutches to stay off it for a day or two, but I think he should be fine. As for the rest, I think the same. Though I am concerned that some of this seems older and unhealed. Either his healing factor is variable or those were some serious injuries and we are just seeing the lesser of it now.”

“Little bit of both,” Peter supplied, still picking at his nails, mousy hair hanging over his eyes.

Tony crossed his arms over his chest. “Listening.”

“I need to eat to heal, when I don’t,” Peter said. “I heal like a normal human.”

“So, enhanced metabolism like Banner,” Tony said.

Peter shrugged.

“And the colorful bruising and wrecked shoulder?” Tony asked

Peter bit at his lower lip, chewing it for a minute. “I kinda hit the Brooklyn Bridge going about fifty, some jerk with wings was dragging me, so yeah … I guess I got a bit messed up?”

“Excuse me? Come again?” Tony said, expression going hard. “You didn’t just say you what I thought you did?”

“Tony …” Bruce warned.

“No, when did this happen?” Tony pressed. “Do you have no self-preservation whatsoever?” Tony ran a hand through his hair and walked back to the bar, this time skipping the glass and taking a drink from the bottle, letting the burn of the liquid ground him. “Answer me, Peter.”

“I think this is enough for the night, Tony,” Bruce said. “You heard him, he needs to eat. Same as me. We can deal with this later.”

Tony sighed. He knew Bruce was right, and he knew he didn’t have a right to be mad. He was just scared for Peter. He cared about the kid, and honestly, now he hated the idea of Spider-Man even more. The last thing he wanted was to lose Peter to Spider-Man, finding him bleeding out in an alley in pajamas. Something had to change. They needed to talk. They all needed to talk, and whoever this winged douche was, he had pain coming his way—a lot of it.

Chapter Text

Clint stood in the kitchen as they all began to dive into the boxes of pizza—everyone except Peter and Tony. Peter sat on the couch, leg propped up on a chair. He knew the boy was hungry, and from what Banner said, he needed to eat, but he wasn’t touching his food that he’d brought him. Tony had taken off to his workshop after his breakdown. Clint knew he just needed time, but from the look on Peter’s face, the boy had taken it personally.

He stared at the kid; he looked so small and anxious there, sitting with a pillow clutched to his chest. It was the opposite of the Spider-Man he saw in the streets and news, swinging confidently into battle. The father in Clint wanted to reach out to him, somehow make it better for him. He knew Tony felt the same way. He promised himself then that he would be there for them both and help them heal each other. Tony needed Peter just as much as Peter needed Tony.

“Earth to Barton!” Natalie teased, nudging him with her elbow, snapping his attention back to the present. “Well?”

He glanced back to the crew who were all looking at him expectantly. “Yeah, sure,” he said, running a hand through his hair.

Thor’s laughed boomed. “Then you agree! Fantastic!”

“Wait, what?”

Natalie and Bruce just laughed, shaking their heads.

“You don’t want to know,” Bruce said, taking a bite of his pizza. “You know,” he continued quieter this time, glancing toward the living room where Peter sat. “Someone should talk to him. He hasn’t moved in nearly an hour.”

Steve nodded. “Stark’s little tantrum could have been handled better. The poor kid has a lot on his plate.”

“I know,” Clint said, rubbing his jawline. “Maybe I should go talk to him.”

“That sounds like a good idea,” Natalie said. “Steve, why don’t you go check on Stark? Maybe knock some sense into him.” She turned to Clint. “The rest of us will clear out for a bit and give you some space.”

Steve pushed himself away from the counter he was leaning against. “I won’t be far if you need anything,” he said, looking at Clint.

“Thanks.” Clint patted Steve on the arm. He knew he meant about Peter. The boy was starting to grow on them all.

With a sad quirk of a smile at the crew, Clint turned and walked quietly over to the living area. The boy was still absently staring ahead.

“That food’s gonna do you a lot more good in your belly than sitting on your plate,” Clint said, noticing the pizza untouched on the plate beside Peter.

Peter tightened his grip on the pillow and wormed himself even more into the cushions.

“Easy, kiddo, or should I say Spider-Man?” Clint asked with a smile. “Not here to hurt you. I’m actually a fan.”

Peter looked down at the pillow he was clutching, staying silent.

Clint gestured to the couch. “Is it alright if I sit with you?”

Peter shrugged. “I guess so.”

He walked around Peter’s propped up leg, grabbing the plate of pizza and holding it out to Peter. He just looked at it, so Clint picked up the slice. “Look, not poisoned,” he said, taking a bite with a smile.

He watched him for a reaction but got none. Clint’s smile fell from his lips. He sighed and set the plate down on the coffee table.

He sat down beside Peter, careful not to jostle him. He didn’t know how healed he was, but he imagined that he was sore. Banner had given him a run down of the injuries and they all sounded plenty painful.

It brought him back to how he couldn’t believe this broken boy was the vigilante Spider-Man. Without his suit to hide behind, he was just a kid, a kid in need of a family. What had this boy been through to leave him so broken, so untrusting?

“Wanna talk about it?” he asked, drawing a leg up under himself and turning to face Peter better.

Peter sat silent for a minute, picking his nails. “He hates me.”

“Who hates you?” Clint said, concern lacing his tone.

“Mr. Stark.”

“Kid, first, stop picking your nails. They’re bleeding. Second, Tony doesn’t hate you. I promise.”

“He hates Spider-Man—same thing,” Peter said. “I thought he was okay, but he freaked.”

Clint shook his head and sighed. “He didn’t freak because he hates you—the complete opposite actually. He cares about you. You scared the shit out him, like every good kid does to a parent now and again.”

Peter was quiet for moment. “I made him drink …”

Something clicked in Clint’s mind and he didn’t like where it was taking him. “Did you think he would …” He paused unsure if this was a good topic to press.  “Did you think that he would hurt you because he drank? Has that happened to you before?”

Peter closed his eyes and nodded. Clint just wanted to scoop the damn kid up and protect while simultaneously killing the bastard who had hurt him.

“Was it when you were in foster care?”

Peter nodded. “Yeah, the first home wasn’t horrible, but the last …”

“Was it before you became Spider-Man?”

Peter shook his head, surprising Clint. “It was after,” he confessed. “If I let him hit me, he didn’t hurt anyone else. It was okay though. I healed fast. They couldn’t heal, the couldn’t take it—not like me, but I should have done more.”

Clint ran a hand through his hair. “Peter … Please listen to me. What he did … There is no excuse in the world for abuse. You did what you had to do to survive. You were a hero for doing what you did.”

He already had plans running through his mind on how he would kill the man slowly. Tony needed to know about this. “What happened to him?”

“I don’t know. One day, he just didn’t come home, and CPS came later that week, saying they were there for me and the others. I ran before they could get me into the car.”

“And you’ve been running since?”

Peter nodded.

The questions of why Peter couldn’t trust people were beginning to make sense, his fear of touch, his nervousness. He needed to talk to Tony. They needed to find this guy. At minimum, make sure he wasn’t hurting anyone else, but not before he experienced what it meant to be tortured by the best.

Peter looked to be getting lost in his thoughts and Clint remembered how important it was for him to eat something. It was time for a subject change.

“Is there something else you want to snack on? You really should eat something.”

“Pizza is fine.”

“Want a piece without my drool on it?” Clint laughed.

Peter shook his head. “It’s fine. I don’t like wasting food, plus I’ve eaten worse.”

It wasn’t until then that Clint really thought how hard it must have been to survive alone in the city. Hunger must have been the kid’s constant companion. It saddened him to think where the boy had to find his meals.

He picked up the plate and passed it to Peter, leaning back on the couch, watching him eat.

Suddenly, Peter tensed.

“What’s up?” Clint asked, but before he got an answer, he heard a set of footsteps stepping out of the elevator.

xXx

Tony sat, tipped back in his chair with the bottle of scotch, thinking over what an utter fuck up he’d just been. He wasn’t cut out for this. Peter needed more than he could offer—that was clear. He took another pull from the bottle, grimacing at the burn. Why couldn’t he get anything right with Peter?

He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, drifting off into thought, hoping for the relief of sleep. It didn’t come though. Friday’s voice interrupted him, snapping him back to reality. Steve was waiting outside the workshop.

“Let him in,” Tony said, setting the bottle down on the counter and rubbing his eyes.

“Tony,” Steve greeted flatly, looking at the bottle. “I see you’ve been drowning your sorrows.”

Tony shrugged. “Just needed to decompress.”

“That’s all and good, but there’s a boy upstairs that needs you.”

Tony sighed. “I think you and Nat were right. I’m not cut out for this.”

Steve walked over and picked up the bottle. “That’s this talking. The Tony I know can do this. Peter needs you and you need to pull yourself together and help him. We all need to help him.”

“I just can’t believe he hid this from us, from me.”

“He’s just a kid, Tony. He was probably scared of what you’d think and look how that went. It takes a certain type of character to go throw yourself in front of danger for others, especially at that age. He’s special. He trusts you Tony—talk to him.”

He knew Steve was right. Peter was something special. Tony needed to pull his shit together and get his head on straight. It wasn’t about how it all made him feel; it was about Peter.

“You’re right.” He scrubbed a hand over his rough face. Damn, he needed to shave. “I need to go talk to him.” He glanced at Steve. “You coming, Spangles?”

“I think you should talk to him alone,” Steve said. “I’ve got some training to do anyway.”

When Tony walked out of the elevator, he saw Clint and Peter sitting together on the couch. He licked at his lips and braced himself. He wasn’t sure if Clint was going to tear him a new one for how he’d acted. He’d noticed the way the archer had taken the kid under his wing.

Before he could make it to more than a few steps from the elevator, Clint was up and on the move, making a beeline towards him, waving him off to the side.

Tony raised a brow, hand gesturing to himself then to the Barton.

Clint nodded and pointed to the door to the conference room. “Come on. We need to talk.”

Chapter Text

Tony sat in the boardroom chair, elbows on the table and his head resting in his hands. He listened painfully as Clint told him what he had learned from Peter. His mind supplying images of Peter curled up on the floor as he was beaten by some drunken bastard. He could feel his blood pressure rising the more Clint spoke. It all confirmed what he suspected, what he dreaded. Peter had been through hell. When Clint got to the part of about the drinking, how he thought he would hurt him, he felt physically ill.

“I think we can both agree we need to find this bastard,” Clint said.

Tony drew a breath and leaned back in his chair, running a hand over his face. “Yeah, we can’t leave him out there. Peter deserves justice.”

Clint nodded, his eyes dark. “What are we going to do with him when we find him?”

“After a little talk, I think we will find him a new home in prison.”

“The Raft?”

Tony nodded. “It’s the one place I know he’ll suffer alone until he dies. I still got pull where it matters.”

“Fair enough, but I think Natasha might want some time with him first, too.” Clint crossed his arms over his chest. “I think we all do.”

“Agreed,” Tony said. “We also need to look into this winged jerk as Peter called him.”

“If he’s related to the influx of alien tech, we need to take him down. Peter doesn’t need this on his plate right now. Honestly, I think it might be good to get him out of the city for a bit, let him relax, maybe he’ll open up some more.”

“What were you thinking?”

“My farm,” Clint said. “My wife and kids would welcome the company. Maybe Steve and Thor could stay behind and deal with the winged douche, and the rest of us, if they want, could take the Quinjet out of the city. A little Avengers retreat.”

Tony mulled it over for a moment. It wasn’t a bad idea. “Sounds like it might be a good idea, but we need to run it by Peter first. I think he should get some say. He’s had enough people pushing him around in life.”

“Definitely,” Clint agreed.

“Why don’t you go sit with Peter for a few, I’ll make some calls. I need to get Pepper up to speed on everything before we leave the city.”

“I don’t envy you,” Clint chuckled. “Good luck, Tony.”

The archer walked out of the boardroom, the door clicking closed behind him. Tony pulled his phone from his pocket, his finger hovering over Pepper’s picture on the screen for a minute before he hit the button to dial.

“Tony, about time you returned my call. You know you were supposed to be in Malaysia yesterday. What is going on? Please don’t say the world’s ending. I can’t handle that right now with all these suits breathing down my neck.”

“Whoa, take a breath, Pep. World’s not ending, but you should probably sit down.”

“Tony, why should I sit? What’s happening? You’re using that voice on me right now and I know that’s never a good thing.”

Tony sighed. “Just promise you’ll listen and not interrupt until I finish.”

“Tony …”

“Promise, Pepper.”

“Fine, I promise, go ahead. I’m sitting. Wait, do I need a drink first?”

“Maybe.”

He heard her sigh.

“Let me pour some wine.”

“Ready,” Tony asked.

“Yeah, hit me with it.”

“So, few things. I’ll try to just hit the important points. I found a homeless boy and kinda took him in, turns out he’s actually Spider-Man and I am sorta in the process of gaining guardianship of him. He really needs our help, Pep. He’s been through a lot and we’re gonna make it right. He deserves it.”

There was dead silence on the other end.

“Pepper?”

“Just give me a second to wrap my brain around this. You, Mr. Irresponsible, wants to be responsible for another human being?”

Tony rolled his eyes. “I wouldn’t say it exactly like that. I think I’m pretty responsible.”

“Tony …”

“Pepper, he’s changed me. I can’t explain it. Look, I’m telling you because I want you to be part of this, and well, I also need your help. I’m heading out of the city with the kid and some of the crew. He needs a break. I need you to handle things for me. Thor and Steve are gonna stay back. We got a lead on the alien tech and they are gonna take point.”

“Jesus, Tony,” Pepper sighed.

“So, will you help?”

“Yes, of course I will. So, can I meet him?”

“Yeah, but I think it might be best to wait just a bit. He’s …” Tony paused. “He’s broken, Pepper. Someone hurt him, bad.”

“That’s awful.”

“It is, but I promise the guy will pay.”

“Tony, don’t go doing anything stupid,” Pepper said.

“I won’t, but he needs to be brought to justice. I can’t leave scum like him out there, hurting other kids.”

“You’re a good man, Tony,” Pepper said. “Don’t lose sight of that.”

There was a soft knock at the door and Tony looked over, Clint was peeking his head in.

“He wants you,” Clint whispered.

Tony nodded.

“I’ve gotta go, Pepper. He needs me and thank you.”

“No problem. Go take care of him and don’t forget to take care of yourself, too.”

Tony ended the call and slipped the phone back into his pocket. He walked toward Clint.

“I explained things to Pepper. She’s gonna keep my schedule clear so we can head out, but we still need to get the other’s briefed and on board. You think you can do that while I talk to Peter?”

“No problem,” Clint said, grabbing his phone and turning to walk out the door.

Tony took a breath and ran his hand through his hair. He’d faced a lot of things but facing Peter was far more nerve wracking. He didn’t want to screw it up again.

He walked out of the boardroom. Peter was still on the couch, head down, his gaze on his hands that were in his lap.

“Hey, kiddo,” Tony said, walking closer.

Peter looked up. “Hey,” he said quietly.

“How’s the leg?”

Peter shrugged. “Doesn’t hurt much anymore.”

“You sure? You want something for the pain?”

The boy shook his head. Silence hung in the air for a few seconds before Peter spoke. “I heard you in the other room, talking about me.”

Tony’s brows pinched together. “You heard us? From in here?”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to … Are you mad?”

“No, I’m not mad at all, Peter,” Tony said. “I just didn’t realize you had enhanced hearing, though I should have considered it an option.” He walked over and sat down beside Peter. “Wait, so you have probably heard our other conversations, too.”

Peter’s gaze stayed locked on his hands. “Yeah, I have. I know what you think of Spider-Man.”

“Peter …”

“It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not. I need you to listen to me,” Tony said firmly, ducking his head to look better at Peter’s face. “I was wrong about you. I didn’t know you. I was just being an arrogant ass then. I’m sorry.”

Peter looked over at him, teary eyed. “I tried so hard to do good. My uncle Ben … It was my fault.”

“I read your file. It wasn’t your fault.”

“Yes, it was. I had my powers. I had the chance to stop the man earlier that night, but I didn’t. You don’t understand. I could have done more.” Peter was hiccupping between words now, tears streaming down his cheeks. “I could have stopped it all from happening, but I was so stupid. I just thought it was game. I didn’t take my powers seriously—”

“Peter, stop,” he said. “You can’t blame yourself. We all make mistakes. You’re just a kid.”

“With great power, comes great responsibility.” Peter’s hands were fisted in his lap. “My uncle Ben told me that.”

Tony sighed, reaching out slowly and putting a hand on Peter’s shoulder. “Take a breath, kiddo. You’re Uncle Ben was right, but you haven’t let him down. Please believe me, Peter. I’m sorry I made you feel that way.”

Peter nodded. “Are you going to hurt Jack when you find him?”

“Is that his name?” Tony asked.

“Yeah.”

“I don’t know,” he gave Peter’s shoulder a gentle squeeze. “That depends on him. I know we all care about you, but if you don’t want us too, we won’t.”

“I … I don’t want to be like him,” Peter said. “I just want him locked up, so he can’t hurt anyone again.”

“Okay, we can do that,” Tony said, thumb rubbing back and forth against Peter’s shoulder. “What do you think of leaving the city for a bit, going to the country, living the farm life for a bit?”

Peter sat still for a minute, and Tony watched him. Finally, he looked up from his hands and met Tony’s gaze. “I haven’t been to a farm before.”

“Then you’re in for a good time kid. Though, there isn’t much to swing from there. Speaking of, I want to pick that brain of yours about your web shooters sometime. Those your design?”

“Yeah, they’re the best I could do with scavenged parts.”

“Maybe, if you want, I could help you with them sometime.”

“I’d like that,” Peter said. “I think I’d like that a lot.”

Chapter Text

“Everyone all set,” Clint asked, looking over his shoulder with a grin. “I have to say, I can’t wait to get home. Cooper and Lila are gonna be so excited.”

Peter wrapped his fingers around the belt that strapped him into the seat. He’d flown before in the Quinjet but that time he was injured and his mind was elsewhere. Truth be told, Peter didn’t care for planes—not since his parents died in a crash. Who would after something like that, but he felt surprisingly safe with Natasha and Clint at the helm.

He looked over to his right and Tony was watching him with worried eyes like he expected him to shatter at any moment—like he was made of glass. Bruce was behind him and Peter could feel his eyes on him as well, boring into the back of his skull. It was hard getting used to being the center of attention.

He felt tired, not in the way that you needed sleep, but in the way your soul ached for rest. He had been through so much. Part of him wanted to go to Clint’s house, but another wanted to be in the city, doing his job, finding the alien tech, proving his worth. He felt like he was letting himself down, letting down his Uncle’s memory. What if Steve and Thor couldn’t find the guy? What if someone got hurt? It would be on him, no one else. Protecting Queens was his job.

There was a weightless shift beneath him, making his stomach do a little flip, and then they were off. Peter closed his eyes and rested his head back. Tony had told him it wouldn’t be a long trip in the jet which he was thankful for as he quickly discovered flying wasn’t for him. It was overwhelming for his senses—the noise, the vibrations, the memories of his parents. It made his head hurt—his heart hurt.

“You alright, Peter,” Tony’s voice cut through his thoughts. “You’re looking a little a pale.”

Peter didn’t particularly want to open his eyes, let alone talk, so he decided on nod, knowing it wasn’t likely to satisfy the eccentric genius.

“I didn’t peg you for one to get motion sick,” Clint said from upfront.

Peter let out the breath he was holding. “It’s just a lot. My senses are enhanced,” he said, then whispered low. “And my parents, they died in a plane crash.”

A heavy silence hung in the air. It was like no one dared speak for fear of upsetting him more. He didn’t mean to make them feel like that. He felt bad for making things awkward. It wasn’t like he was made of glass.

“I’m sorry, sweetie,” Natasha said, breaking the silence.

Peter looked up to see her soft eyes looking at him. The sincerity in them was so clear. She truly cared.

“It’s okay,” Peter said, looking down, unable to hold her gaze. “It was a long time ago.”

“That doesn’t mean it makes it any easier,” Clint chimed in. “It’s okay for it to still hurt.”

“Clint’s right,” Tony said. “I lost my parents, too. I’ve never stopped missing them, but the hurt gets better.”

He lifted his head and looked to Tony. Something about knowing that they shared a similar past eased Peter’s mind. For the first time in a long time, he felt like maybe there was someone he could relate to and be open about his past.

Peter bite at his lip and gave Tony a small nod. “Thanks.”

“Just try to relax. We’ll be there before you know it,” Tony said.

The rest of the trip went quickly—as quickly as it could anyway while you felt like puking and crying at the same time. Bruce and Tony chattered away about a few projects they were working on while Natasha and Clint talked about how excited the kids were gonna be to see them.

Peter wondered where he would fit into all this. It had been a long time since he’d been around a family, especially a loving one like Clint’s sounded. It almost made him sad and he wasn’t even sure why it did. It scared him in a way. It was like he didn’t know how to act, how to be loved anymore. He wasn’t sure he deserved it. He could still remember all too well the things that Jack would say to him, the things that cut him deeply, breaking him apart. As cheesy at it sounded, it felt like he was Cinderella, and this was his ball—only a matter of time before it all came crashing down.

“Here we are, home sweet home,” Clint said cheerfully.

The Quinjet landed and Peter fumbled with his seatbelt. He was a bundle of nerves. Once he was free, he stood and looked to Bruce and Tony who were already standing beside him.

“You ready?” Bruce asked soft eyes studying him.

Peter swallowed. He wished he could be honest—shout how unready he was, but he couldn’t. The words weren’t there, so he just nodded and looked down. He thought he heard Tony sigh.

“Come on, kiddo,” Tony said. “I think Clint and Natasha want to introduce you to some people.”

The hatch opened, and they made their way out. It was beautiful in its simplicity there. Peter had never been anywhere quite like it. There were fields of high grass edged by a dense tree line and stone walls, the fields divided by wooden fences.

It wasn’t anything like the city. The lines of the landscape weren’t harsh and cold. It didn’t assault his senses. Instead, it was soothing and gentle. He drew a calming breath, tasting the sweet, clean air. He jumped when he heard a strange noise, gaining a laugh from Tony.

“That would be one of his sheep,” Tony said. “Bastard’s got a regular Old McDonald’s Farm thing going on here.”

Peter walked past Tony and up to the wooden fence, touching the grayed wood and looking out into the field at the three sheep that were roaming there. It was so peaceful.

“Daddy!” Came a small voice, causing Peter to spin and look. Running up from an old farmhouse with a large wrap around porch was a small girl, arms outstretched, eyes locked on Clint.

“Lila! Baby girl, come here!” Clint said, running up to her.

A young boy with short brown hair wasn’t far behind. He was the spitting image of his father.

Clint picked up the girl, swinging her in the air. When the boy reached them, Clint knelt and hugged them both tightly.

A woman appeared on the porch, a hand on the small of her back. It was then that Peter noticed she looked to be pregnant. Natasha smiled and ran up to her.

“Laura, how’s my little Natasha?” Natasha asked, putting her hand on the woman’s belly.

“It’s more of a little Nathaniel,” she laughed.

Natasha spun and scowled at Clint. “You had one job, Barton.”

Clint threw his head back and laughed. He let go of the kids and turned to Peter. Nodding his head, motioning for him to come closer.

Peter hesitated for a moment. He felt like he was intruding, like he didn’t belong. They all knew each other so well and he was there as an outsider, a broken mess of an outsider. He was starting to feel like maybe this had been a bad idea.

“It’s okay, Peter,” Tony said whispered. “I’ll be right beside you. Nothing to worry about. You’re safe here.”

Tony’s gentle hand rested on his back. He suppressed a flinch. It wasn’t Tony’s fault. The man had done nothing wrong. Jack had created that reaction and Peter still held onto the memories of it. He wished he could move on from it, but it he didn’t know how.

Together, they walked up to meet Clint’s family.

Clint was grinning ear to ear, an arm around his wife. “Peter, this is Laura. My wife.” He reached and ruffled the boy’s hair. “This trouble maker here is Cooper and this cutie is my girl Lila.”

“Hi,” Peter said, raising his hand in a small wave. “Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you, too, Peter,” Laura said with a warm smile. “I just made some lunch. How about we all head in and have something to eat? Then Cooper and Lila can show you where you’ll be staying.”

Natasha chatted with Laura on the walk back into the house, the kids clinging to Clint. Bruce gathered their bags from the jet while Peter followed behind Tony.

The house was warm and inviting. Everyone else seemed to be chit chatting away about various thing, but Peter was quiet. He felt uncomfortable even though he logically knew he shouldn’t. He didn’t deserve this kind of place, this kind of warmth.

Jack’s voice was echoing in his mind.

You’re a waste of skin. You don’t deserve a family. You’re nothing.

He felt his hands begin to shake and he clenched them into fists, squeezing his eyes shut, trying to block out his own torturous thoughts.  His nails dug into his palms, the little stabs of pain grounding him.

The room suddenly seemed to go quiet. Peter couldn’t tell if he was lost in his mind or if everyone had fallen silent.

Suddenly, a soft voice spoke to him. “It’s okay, Peter.” It was Natasha. “You’re okay. Tony is right here. I’m right here. We all are.”

Peter tried to focus on her voice, but knowing they were all watching him fall apart was too much. His hairs stood on end, and without thought, he bolted for the door.

“Peter, Wait!” Clint called after him.

Peter just needed to get away though. He just needed to feel the wind on his face. He wanted to be high up and above it all. He glanced around and saw a silo. He ran to the ladder and scaled it quickly. He didn’t look behind him to see if he was followed. His heart was hammering in his chest. Jack’s words were still playing on repeat in his mind. He didn’t deserve what they were offering. Clint’s family was perfect—he’d just tarnish that, bring them down. He was broken.

He reached the top of the silo and sat down, catching his breath, his hands shaking still.

He glanced back towards the house. Tony was walking slowly towards him. He looked hurt and it made Peter feel even worse. He wished he could stop having these breakdowns.

Peter drew his knees up and wrapped his arms around them, trying to calm himself. He knew it would only be moments before Tony climbed up the ladder to join him.

“Leave it to you to find something tall,” Tony said. “Have I mentioned I don’t like heights, well, that is without my suit.”

“Sorry,” Peter said, looking over his shoulder at Tony who was carefully scooting over to him.

“I fully expect you to catch me with your webs if I fall,” Tony said. “I have imagined plenty of ways to die but falling off a grain silo wasn’t one of them.” Tony finally wriggled over to him, thankfully without falling. “So, want to tell me what happened back there?”

Peter shrugged. “It’s hard to explain.”

“Try me.”

Peter rested his head on his arms, looking out over the fields. “I don’t deserve this.”

“What do you mean you don’t deserve this? Of course, you do. What would make you think that?”

Peter sat quietly for a moment, not sure how to respond. He drew a breath, exhaling slowly, trying to stop the ache in his chest from turning to a full meltdown. “He used to say things, when he was hitting me, telling me things. I guess maybe I still believe some of it.”

“Peter,” Tony sighed. “I need you to listen to me. I know it’s hard, but you need to believe me about this. Nothing that piece of shit said to you was true.”

“He would say I was nothing, not worth a family as he … as he hit me. It was hard not to believe him after a while.”

He heard Tony groan. “Peter, I know you don’t want us to hurt him, but I … It’s going to take everything I have not to kill him. What he did to you …”

“It’s okay, really. I’m fine.”

“This isn’t fine,” Tony said. “This is lightyears from fine. You’re shaking like a leaf. That’s why I wanted to bring you here, so you can relax and let us help you. We all care about you, kiddo.”

Peter looked over at Tony. “I don’t like feeling like this.”

“I know.” Tony’s calloused hand rested on his neck and rubbed it gently. “We’ll make this better. I promise, but can we get the hell down from here?” He laughed. “I think the others are probably worrying about where you went.”

“I’m sorry,” Peter said. “I didn’t mean to upset everyone.”

“Easy, kiddo,” Tony said. “Stop blaming yourself. This isn’t your fault. Now what do you say we head in and grab some of Laura’s lemon bars before Clint devours them all?”

The corners of Peter’s mouth tugged into a grin. “Race you there.”

He shot a web to the top of the silo and swung himself down, running toward the house. He could hear Tony calling from behind him.

“You little … Get back here!”