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When Tony Stark arrives on May Parker’s doorstep, he’s all sunglasses and white smiles. The sunglasses alone, she thinks, are probably more than expensive than her month’s rent.

“May Parker.” he says, opening his arms in a wide gesture. “What do I owe the pleasure?”

She takes a moment to clench her jaw so tight it hurts, because how dare he. How dare Stark come into her house and try to play her the fool.

“I know.” she growls at him.

It’s almost comical, really, and immensely satisfying, to watch the way panic momentarily flares in his eyes. All too quickly, he’s schooled his face into a blank and impassive expression. She steps forward into his personal space, and to Stark’s credit, he doesn’t even flinch. He’s hardly taller than her. If she were wearing heels, she thinks bitterly, she could be the one looking down.

I know.” she reiterates, because she enjoys the veiled panic that sets loose in his eyes. “And you’re going to tell me everything.”

Stark lets out a quiet stream of words that are definitely not English. She recognizes them just as easily.

“That’s not the kind of language we use here, Mr. Stark.” she snaps.

(it is, admittedly, the exact kind of language she uses all the time.)

Stark gives her surprised but admirable look.

“It’s Tony.” he corrects. “You know Italian?”

May gives him a seething look of confirmation, and Tony actually laughs, throwing back his head. It’s such a genuine and surprising sound, that it's almost enough to set her off course. Almost.

Stark grins at her, moving past her into the apartment.

“May Parker, I knew I liked you for for a reason.”

After that, they sit on the shabby couch in her living room, and he tells her everything.

(Well, everything is relative. Stark is a damn good liar, has been lying to her for months, and she won’t forget that. She can tell when he’s glossing over events, and for now she lets it slide. They’ll be time to prod and scream later. For now, she’s desperate to know as much as she can.

 


 

Stark, surprisingly, keeps his word when he says he’ll tell her everything.

Aside from updates on Peter’s spiderly activities, he sends her a lot of things she hasn’t even thought of.

She receives boatloads of encrypted files he has to help her work through. Data on Peter’s new physiology, what his new genetics mean. She skims documents with words like enhanced strength, rapid healing, increased metabolism. There are charts and diagrams and spreadsheets.

They’re Tony’s personal files, she can tell, because of the rapid fire notes that are scribbled along the margins of even the digital files. Additions and addentems, questions and crossed out portions. This is Tony’s research, and she’s grateful for how much of it there is.

He’s constructed a training program for Peter at the Tower. Tony sends her photos, outlines of the procedure, exactly what Peter will be focusing on. His strengths, weaknesses, patterns. They agree to have Peter come over at least once a week.

When May surprises Peter with the news, he’s so thrilled that he does some sort of gymnastic move that makes May’s heart buzz.

He sends her other updates, too. Schematics for Peter’s suit, updates he wants to do, suggestions Peter has. All the functions, safety features, statistics. She’s grudgingly impressed by the versity. No matter how much she hates this, hates everything about it, she’s thankful for just how much Tony has put into protecting Peter.

 


 

Stark has been relatively quiet throughout her rant.

This isn’t the first time she’s called him in blind anger, furious at Peter, at the criminals attacking a child, at the world, at Tony. It usually happens after a particularly bad day, when Peter comes home and he’s still injured, or she sees footage of Spider-man on the news she knows she’s never going to forget as long as she lives.

When she’s mad at the world, she’s found that Tony is a willing target. He’ll let her vent and scream, rage blindly until she wears herself out.

It’s gotten better, recently. They’ve been on good terms, friendly conversations centered round Peter’s wellbeing. May checking up on his training, finding out what Peter won’t tell her about the superhero aspect of his life. Tony with cautious inquiries about Peter’s school work, his friends, his interests.

But then Peter had let a small comment drop about Germany, something about getting more stamps on his passport. He had froze a second later, trying unsuccessfully to backtrack, but May already had a horrible feeling that she knew what he was talking about.

This is why Stark was currently leaning on the counter in her kitchen, watching her with a smoothed expression as she paced the length of the tile. She turned furiously, pointing towards the direction of her rage.

“You kidnapped my child-” She snarls, intent to throw at him another barrage of accusations. Historically, that’s how these conversations go. This time is different.

“As someone who has actually been kidnapped,” Tony interrupts. His tone is clipped, and his usually blank exterior is strained. “for a number of months, actually. I would like to say that was not a kidnapping.”

He pauses, fiddling with the sunglasses in his hands as she stares at him, now still.

“A poor choice.” he amends, looking her straight in the eye. “I’ll admit. A choice I sometimes regret. But it’s done.”

All of May’s anger seems to drain from her at once. She closes her eyes and leans back against the sink, feeling the cool of the metal.

As someone who has actually been kidnapped, she replays, and she remembers the headlines and news stories and television specials from all those years ago. Genius innovator kidnapped, presumed dead. Held hostage. Little chance of survival . A genius who disappeared for a few months and came back with a method of renewable energy in his chest.

She’s forgotten about that.

But then again, she thinks. So has everybody else. No one talks about Tony Stark and Afghanistan, anymore. Everyone’s moved on, left it in the dust.

A moment passes, and she takes a deep breath, willing herself to let go of the tension in her body.

“Not a kidnapping.” she says.

When she opens her eyes, Stark is looking at her, surprised. At her words, the tension seems to ease out of him as well.

“Not a kidnapping.” he says quietly.

For a moment there is silence in the kitchen, filled only by the sound of their breathing.

 


 

Stark creeps into their lives slowly, then all at once.

At first, she knows, it’s just about Spider-man. Tony wants updates, wants suggestions for the suit, wants to make sure Peter has everything he could ever need.

And that’s fine.

And then, out of the blue, Stark’s priorities seem to shift. Tony starts taking a greater interest in Peter. He learns his schedule, extracurriculars. Makes an effort to remember what classes he’s in and who his teachers are, the kids at school he gets along with and the one’s he doesn’t.

At some point, she doesn't remember, he starts doing the same with her.

They talk, now. Stark is spending more time in the city.  

(He has an armful of excuses when Peter makes an offhand comment. May knows better.)

Their first conversations are scattered and sometimes awkward. May, sometimes still full of resentment. Tony, hesitant for once in his life about pushing. Peter is their middle ground.

The thing that matters, more than anything else, is that Tony is making an effort.

He tries to keep a presence. Dinner, when possible, at least once a week. He starts by trying to take them to high end places, with food so expensive May’s sure their combined order is going to be more than what she makes in a month. Tony waves away her anxieties and firmly makes sure she knows he’s paying.

Even later, when Tony has given up on trying to teach you plebeians a little class, and they take him to their favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurants, he never lets her get near the check. She’d be more off put if she knew he couldn’t afford it, and if she didn’t recognize he was doing it out of something like guilt.

She grows to look forward to their weekly dinners. Peter’s always brighter that day, energetic to a fault and tripping over his own feet in haste. He’s more like the Peter he was before Ben died, less heavy with the weight of something she can’t understand. They show Tony the lower side of New York the man hasn’t been to in god knows how long, order take out and watch bad movies in the Parker’s cramped living room.

May and Tony catch coffee sometimes, when Peter’s at school and May doesn’t go in until later. There’s enough coffee shops in city that they can go someplace new every week and it would still take years to run out of spots.

It’s a good way to catch the variety of the city. And though Tony never mentions it, it’s also a good way to avoid the paparazzi.

 


 

You have been added to a group message with: Peter Parker, Tony Stark

 

group name: parker-starks

 

may (9:06): What is this

 

peter (9:06): I got tired of texting you two the same thing individually. It’s smarter just to put it all here.

 

tony (9:07): Clicking the copy and paste button was too much for you, kid?

 

peter (9:10): when I had to have the same conversation twice?? yes

peter (9:10): I mean whatever you don’t have to use it if it offends you

peter (9:10): sheesh

 

tony (9:11): Aren't you in school?

 

peter (9:13): technically

 

may (9:14): Please pay attention in class, Peter

 

tony (9:15): Yeah

tony (9:15): That

tony (9:15): Education is Important

 

peter (9:16): @tonystark I thought you were supposed to be cool

 

tony (9:16): You thought wrong, kiddo

      may parker likes this

 

peter (9:16): great now there’s two of you

peter (9:16): shame on both of you for texting a CHILD in SCHOOL i can’t believe this is on me

 

may (9:20): Class, Peter

 


 

May’s going out tonight.

Not on a date, or anything like that. Nothing crazy. Just a girl’s night with a few of her friends, dinner followed by a night at the bar, likely followed by a drunk movie marathon at Katie’s place.

It’s not a big deal. It shouldn’t really be a big deal. And yet...

She’s nervous.

She hasn’t been as social as she used to be. It was hard to find time when they first took Peter in, but since Ben’s death, well. May’s been even more socially distant than usual. She has the excuses, really. Kid at home, crazy hours at her job, dead husband. But Peter can handle himself for a night now. Her job’s getting more stable. Ben’s been dead for almost a year.

Really, she thinks to herself, fiddling with her necklace. It’s about time she did this.

Tony had been the one to encourage her to go, when she had mentioned it. Had offered, even, to house Peter for her.

(“You should go.” he said to her, almost immediately. Even across the phone he must have sensed her eyebrow raise, because he moved quickly to cover himself. “I’m serious, May. It’ll be good for you. Give you a chance to unwind. It’s not healthy to be completely completely antisocial.”

“I’m not antisocial.” she had grumbled, grudgingly opening to the idea. “I talk to Peter. I talk to you, for some reason.”

Stark snorted, and she continued.

“Besides, you have like, three friends. One of them is your fiance.”

“One of your friends is your son.” he shot back, unperturbed. “Sorry, the only other friends I had vanished off the face of the earth. Anyway, four is still twice as many as two.”

May blinks. Pepper, Rhodey, Happy.

“Four?”

“Four.” he confirms. His voice had taken on a slight hesitation. “I’m counting you, aren’t I?”

“Yeah.” she said after a slight pause, reigning in her own grin. “Yeah, I guess you are.”)

She touches her necklace again. Agonizes over the clashing gold and silver jewelry, ultimately deciding to leave it.

There’s a slight creak from the hallway, and she turns to see Peter at her door. He steps into the room, and as he looks her up and down his eyes sparkle.

“You look great, May.” Peter says, in the completely genuine way that makes her think of Ben and makes her heart ache. She forces herself to smile, turning back towards the mirror to critically examine her outfit again.

“You really think it’s fine?” she presses. May knows Peter will say yes unless she’s wearing something akin to a clown costume, but still. The reassurance is nice. She wants, very much this evening, to not be the odd one out. For once, she just wants to relax with some friends without being the pity party or sob story.

Peter gives her another affirmation as the doorbell rings, and if anything his grin widens. He bounces a little on his toes, turning away from her.

“That’s probably Happy.” he says brightly as they make their way out of her room, walking through the narrow hallway to the living room. He bounds over the to door, tugging it open without a second thought.

“Mr. Stark!” Peter all but squeaks. He takes a step back, but his smile is blinding. “I thought we were meeting you at the tower?”

Tony shrugs. It’s an effort to look careless, but May can see in the curve of his mouth that he’s pleased Peter’s excited to see him.

“Slight change of plans.” he says easily, stepping into the apartment. “It’s been awhile since I got the chance to be behind the wheel. Anyway, I thought we could stop to grab a bite to eat on the way. Wherever you want, kid.”

May’s sure Peter is containing an actual hoot of excitement, but he buries it with a stammered thanks. Tony’s watching him with a mixture of veilly concealed fondness and amusement, letting Peter ramble a moment before catching her eye.

“Looking lovely this evening May Parker.” He says, and she gives him a look. He raises his hands in mock defense, but she knows that he’s caught the small grin she couldn’t stop.

“Alright kid, let’s hustle. Your Aunt’s got a big night ahead of her, it’s probably best if we get out of her hair.”

Peter is all too happy to comply. He rushes over to give her a quick hug and kiss on the cheek. If her hug is a little tighter than normal, he doesn’t mention it. He gives her another smile and a string of reassurances, you looks great, you’ll have fun, i’ll be fine,  and yes i’ll text you.

Then he’s out the door, a flash of a red backpack and out of her line of sight. She can hear his footsteps echoing off the solid floor of the hallway.

Tony moves to follow him, momentarily pausing in the doorframe. He’s fiddling with his sunglasses.

“You’ll, uh, have a good time tonight, alright?” He says, staring at a point somewhere above her head. It’s almost enough to make May roll her eyes, but she stops herself. She can feel the tension in her muscles loosening. This is something familiar. She can deal with this, she can deal with a little night out.

“Let’s make a deal.” May says, stepping forward. His eyes track the movement, catching her gaze. “You keep my kid safe, I’ll have a nice evening.”

This time he smiles.

“Deal.”

 


 

may (10:57); how’s my kid, stark?

 

tony (10:58): asleep. passed out after eating his way through my pantry.

tony (10:58): he eats as much as an adult rhino

 

may (10:59): teenage boy mixed w/ the spider shit

 

tony (11:01): hormones & increased metabolism?

 

may (11:01): don't science me stark.

 


 

She finally meets Pepper the first night she visits Stark Tower.

May’s heard a lot about her, of course. The media loves her, and so does Peter, who’s met her a few times before. Everytime Tony mentions her, he gets a sort of dazed look of happiness on his face. It’s a nice change from the tired lines and blank expressions he wears for the press.

They’re cooking the meal themselves tonight, per Tony’s offhand suggestion.

(“You can cook ?” Peter has said somewhat critically, looking at Tony in disbelief. Tony had given him an affronted look, which only grew when he turned and saw May wearing the same expression. He suddenly looked almost self-conscious.

“Yes? God. I can cook, okay? Who can’t.”)

Tony’s fridge is fully stocked along with the pantry.

Though she’s never met the woman, May is confident it’s Pepper’s doing. Both Peter and Happy (who she’d conversed with on a number of occasions now) had made enough offhand comments about Stark’s eating habits to have her know he probably wouldn’t even realize if the fridge was empty.

The kitchen is also ridiculously beautiful and high-tech. May watches, fascinated, as Tony sweeps hands along surfaces, swipes at holographic buttons and switches. They’re taking stock of what they have, arguing over what they want to make for dinner.

Tony and May are bantering over the finer points of making a lasagna when Peter makes a appearance, holding a large book in his hands triumphantly.

“Why don’t we just use this?” he says proudly, lifting the book so they can see. “Wow Mr. Stark, I can't believe you still have something that’s paper. I thought you'd digitized everything by now, how–”

Where did you get that ?” Tony’s voice cuts across Peter’s rambling, and the kid must sense something in Stark’s tone because he stops immediately.

Peter lowers the book, suddenly unsure.

“It was in one of the cabinets.” he says, somewhat helplessly. He shoots a glance at May, but she only shrugs. Tony takes a few steps forward, defly lifting the book out of Peter’s slackened grip.

Tony stares at the cookbook in his hands a beat longer, hands curling over the yellow pages before visibly pulling himself together. He slides on a smile and looks at Peter, who immediately relaxes, and May is grateful.

“You ever heard of this thing called the internet, kid?” he asks, and his voice is somewhat forced with ease. “You can access any recipe you’d ever want.”

Peter gives him a sullen look, discomfort over the book forgotten.

“Plus,” he adds with a smirk, and May can see him getting some of his rhythm back, moving to put the book back in the cupboard. “Unless you can read Italian, this book isn’t gonna tell you jack shit.”

“I know some Italian.” Peter grumbles, but he’s already turned away from them and toward the nearest wall. May watches interestedly, and he activates some sort of holographic computer. Peter’s movements are lazy and practiced, typing into the display.

May looks away from Peter to watch Tony, who’s still staring at the book. Suddenly, Peter gives a delighted sound, clearly coming across an acceptable recipe. This, it seems, is enough to break Tony out of his trance. He closes the cabinet door gently. When he turns around, he seems more like himself again.

“Alright kid.” He says, rolling up his sleeves as he steps forward, peering over Peter’s shoulder to see the recipe. “What’ll it be?”

 


 

Tony, it turns out, really can cook.

Pepper had made her appearance halfway through the preparation. Disheveled in a put-together way May could never hope to replicate, she looks tired but still warm. Dropping her coat onto the sofa in the adjacent room, she make her way over to the kitchen.

“You’re… cooking.” Pepper says, sounding surprised but entirely pleased as she drops a kiss on Tony’s cheek. Tony makes a sound of affirmation, a smile on his face hands deep in dough.

“Hi Miss Potts!” Peter chirps from the next counter, grinning up at her. His cheeks are dusted with flour from a small battle they’d engaged in earlier. Pepper returns his smile warmly.

“Please, Peter, i’ve told you Pepper is fine.” she says easily, moving forward to give him a quick hug. When she pulls away, she meets May’s eyes with a smile.

“And you must be May Parker.” she says, smiling brightly. Her smile is genuine, but her look is searching. May’s sure she’s being sized up, tested. Very quickly, she can see why Tony loves her. “Tony’s told me a lot about you.”

Tony makes a sound of disagreement, which quickly morphs into a curse as some woe befalls his ingredients.

May returns Pepper’s smile, hoping to do the best to pass her test.

“Tony’s told me a lot about you as well, Miss Potts.”

“It’s Pepper,” the redhead says almost automatically, “all good things?”

“Oh,” May says, and over Pepper’s shoulder she can see Tony fixing her with a murderous look. “definitely not, i’m afraid.”

Pepper lets out a short laugh, and when she smiles her teeth look sharp.

Good.”

Pepper joins the fray after that, changing into clothing that looks much more comfortable before rolling up her sleeves like her fiance. Even in cooking, she seems to be ruthlessly efficient. May likes the way she knows how to handle Stark, her kindness with peter, her sly jokes.

Yes, May thinks, watching Pepper and Tony bicker over a part of the meal. She definitely liked Pepper Potts.

 


 

group name: parker-starks

 

peter (2:06): hey

peter (2:06): so i wanna go to this convention with ned and mj next saturday

peter (2:06): ned said his mom can drive us there but we don’t have a ride back

peter (2:07): it’s about an hour away

peter (2:07): it ends at 9

 

may (2:12): I have a shift until 10 sorry kiddo

 

tony (2:13): I’ll be in town

tony (2:13): I can pick you up

 

peter (2:13): yes!! thank you!! :D

peter (2:14): can i drive on the way back

 

tony (2:15): You want to drive my 200 thousand dollar car

tony (2:15): Sure knock yourself out

 

peter (2:15): I GET TO DRIVE THE LAMB

 

tony (2:15): Did you just call my lamborghini a lamb

tony (2:16): Not anymore

 

may (2:16): Definitely not

 


 

tony (11:24): i let the kid drive the lamb

 

may (11:25): i knew you’d cave

 


 

“Peter has a concert next week.” she’s saying to the phone she’s propped up on her cabinet. May smooths down the dress she’s thrown on self-consciously, angling herself towards the mirror on the closet door. “Does this dress look okay?”

Tony’s image on the screen glances up from whatever project he’s been tinkering on to judge.

“Looks nice.” he says. “Is it that guy from accounting?”

“No,” May says, somewhat sourly. “He was a tool.”

Tony makes a noise always between triumphant and pitying, sorting through a wall of holograms.

“Told you.” he mutters. He expands a project with a small flick of the hand, pursing his lips together. “Want me to do something?”

“What?” May asks offhandedly. She’s digging around in her jewelry box. “Studs or hoops?”

“Those dangly ones.” Tony says without looking, frowning at digital files.

“You know.” he adds, suddenly backtracking to slightly unsure. “Leak his embarrassing secrets. Ruin his financials. Publically destroy his name.”

May raises her eyebrows, and Tony blinks at her.

“Is that not what friends do?”

He throws the words flippantly, but May can feel the uncertainty there.

“It’s probably not what normal friends do.” she says at last. “But we’re definitely not normal, so, maybe I should have expected it.”

“Ah.” Tony amends. He avoids her gaze, hands flying through holograms. “Gotta admit, I don’t have the best experiences to work off of for friends. They tend to try to kill me then disappear as wanted fugitives for months on end.”

This, she knows, is an exaggeration. Tony loves Rhodey, Pepper, and Happy more than anything, but they both that this is how Tony copes, using humor over and over again. She’ll let it slide tonight.

“Well.” she says, trying to be reasonable. “If it helps, I don’t think I would be able to kill you.”

“May Parker, you underestimate yourself.”

Tony says the words jokingly, but she can see the tension in his shoulders ease, and his smile looks wider than it did before.

 


 

group name: parker-starks

 

tony (1:10): what time should I be at the concert

 

peter (1:11): it starts at 5 then there’s a thing after

 

tony (1:11): a thing?

 

peter (1:12): ya. like you mingle and congratulate people idk

 

may (1:13): I try to get there about a half hour early because people take seats fast

may (1:13): It lasts about an hour then the mingling is another half hour

 

tony (1:14): lovely

 


 

 

group name: parker-starks

 

tony (4:14): where am i going

tony (4:14): why is this school so big

 

peter (4:15): the auditorium

peter (4:16): there’s literally signs everywhere

 

tony (4:18): don’t sass me kid i’m a genius i can read a sign

 

peter (4:20): sure mr. stark

peter (4:20): ha 420 blaze it

 

tony (4:20): what

tony (4:20): what does that even mean

 

may (4:21): @peterparker disappointed @tonystark i’ll explain it to you tonight

may (4:21): i’m running a little late i’m worried i’m gonna have to stand

 

tony (4:22): pepper and I found the auditorium

tony (4:22): we’ll save you a seat

 

peter (4:24) pepper’s here?!

 

tony (4:24): yes

tony (4:24): did you miss the part where billionaire superhero Tony Stark was here too

 

peter (4:25) eh

peter (4:25) miss potts is cooler

 

tony (4:25): that’s it i’m leaving

tony (4:48): @mayparker i see you

tony (4:48): we’re closer to the front

 


 

The anniversary of Ben’s death arrives with little fanfare. It’s in the middle of an otherwise unmentional week. May still has to go into work. Peter still has to go to school, has go to decathlon practice.

She gives Peter a longer hug then usual in the morning, takes a few deep breaths to stop herself from crying, and leaves for her shift at the hospital. It’s better, she’s found, to keep busy. She can’t stand the whole day alone in their apartment, drowning herself in memories. She can’t.

On the anniversary of Ben's death, May comes home to the smell of cooking.

Peter isn't back yet, out late for decathlon practice. Instead she finds Tony stark is standing in her kitchen. He’s wearing the dorky apron Peter got her last Christmas, glaring murderously at the counter.

He has a key, she reminds herself, staring at the situation surreally. Not that he’d really need one. She must make some sort of sound, because all the sudden he turns and sees her.

May!” he says, and when he smiles at her it’s all nervous energy. She gives him a little wave of her hand, moving forward and shutting the door.

When she comes closer, she recognizes with a jolt that he’s staring at a physical cookbook– the one Peter had found in his kitchen a few months back. Even in Italian, she can read the recipe clear as day. Tony doesn’t say anything, nervously playing with the edges of book, watching her somewhat apprehensively.

A beat passes.

“What are you doing?” she finally says. Her voice sounds faint. She’s feeling so drained she can hardly stay on her feet.

Tony looks at her through his lashes with pursed lips.  

"I didn't think you'd want to cook tonight." he says, and May is incredibly grateful.

 


 

The night ends up not being as bad as it could have been. There's still a sullen afterhang to the mood, but Tony is there, beaming bright and making such an effort to make Peter smile that May finds the corners of her mouth tuning up.

After they both shoo Peter to bed,  

(“It’s a school night, Peter.”

“It’s only a Friday. No one does anything on Friday’s.”

“Bed, kid.”)

and Peter gives Tony a quick not-hug that is sort of definitely a hug. With a hug and a thank you smashed into his shoulder, Tony had looked a little like a deer in headlights, but had put his arm around Peter nevertheless. Not a problem, kid he had said softly.

Peter gives her a tight hug, hands curling into her sweater. They don't say anything, the two of them, but they don’t have to. Out of the corner of her eye May can see Tony looking away.

After Peter’s off to his room, Tony pours May a glass of wine and drops himself down onto the couch. It’s good stuff, she knows. Tony had brought it. For a while there is only silence stretched between them. The day is catching up to her, and suddenly she misses Ben so much she wants to cry.

"It was my mother’s."

Tony's voice breaks her out of her trance, and she turns her head to look at him, blinking back tears. He's looking away from her, eyes open but glassy, staring at something she can’t see.

She almost asks him to clarify before it clicks.

"The cookbook?" she asks, because she so desperate to stop stop stop thinking of Ben, and if she’s not going to cry in front of Peter then she’s not going to cry in front of Tony Stark.

He nods, looking down into his wine glass.

"We used to cook together, when I was younger." he says. There’s a heavy weight to his words, and May’s sure this is something he hasn’t talked about in a long time. "After she died, I tried making her favorite pie. Got out all the ingredients, pulled out the ol’ cookbook, and basically broke down."

He lets out a lengthy breath, looking up to meet her eyes.

"God, I don't think I've cooked anything really since then. I thought I would never be able to open that damn book without her standing next to me."

May can feel something inside her stir, because she knows that feeling. Knows what it feels like to look for someone who isn’t there, to be chasing a ghost.

"Well," she says quietly. "you pulled out the book today."

Tony draws in a long breath, closing his eyes and leaning into the couch.

"Yeah” he says quietly. “Yeah I did.”

The silence takes them again, and May lets her thoughts get the best of her. She opens her mouth to speak, to share. She owes that much to Tony, at least. Owes a story about Ben in return. But she opens her mouth and her voice breaks on the word Ben, and all at once she’s sobbing.  

May cries silently, gasping for breath and unable to stop the sobs tearing at her throat. Tony moves towards her automatically. She practically falls into his hesitant arms, suddenly not caring at all what she looked like. She can only think of Ben and how much she misses him. God, she missed him so much.

“I know, I’m sorry, May, I’m so sorry –” Tony is saying to her. She curls in his embrace, crying more than she she has in months.

I know, Tony says as she cries in his arms, and she believes him

 


 

May has almost given up on Peter’s driving lessons when Tony offers to step in. Peter’s had his temps for a few months now, and truth be told he hasn’t improved a bit.

(She truly, genuinely, has no idea how Peter hadn't wrecked Tony’s lamborghini the moment he had set it in drive.)

She pushes Peter out the door. Peter’s sullen mood about his poor driving ability is fixed almost at once when Tony mentions they’re driving his car.

(“No, not the lamb. I’d like to keep that in one piece. I brought the Audi.”

“I get to drive the Audi!?” )

They burst back into the apartment later that night in an explosion of laughter. The ice cream in their hands is half melted from the dead heat of the day. Tony’s mint chocolate chip has long since dripped onto his hand, but from his expression it’s clear he could care less.

Peter catches sight of May with a grin as Tony shuts the door behind them, moving gratefully towards the rotating fan in the living room. Peter holds up a mostly melted cup of sherbert for her.

“It’s victory ice cream.” he tells her solemnly, dropping himself down next to Tony by the fan. May grabs a pile of napkins and throws them at the boys before dropping down to sit near them, wincing at the strain in her legs.

“You learned something new about driving?” She asks somewhat hopefully, tasting some of the melted sherbet. For all the melty qualities, it’s very, very good. Peter shrugs, looking unbothered.

“We’re not dead.” Tony says faux seriously. He catches her eye, and they share a hidden smile. She’s glad to know that Peter was just as a disaster driver with him. “That counts as a victory.”

 


 

may (10:04): okay, break it to me doc. what’s the verdict

 

tony (10:04): your son can’t drive for shit

tony (10:06): idk he’ll probably get better

tony (10:06): otherwise i can bribe the driving instructor

 

may (10:07): at this point it may come to that

 


 

May wakes up with a scream, and within two and a half seconds Iron man’s repulsor is in her face.

They’d opted for takeout that week. Tony had arrived on their doorstep with a smile, but May could see the lines of exhaustion in his frame, in the redness of his eyes. Pepper’s out of town, and though he hasn't complained about it once May knows it’s weighing on him. She’s sure Peter notices too, because he makes an effort to be less of a handful, more lowkey. Tony doesn’t mention it, but when he collapses on the couch and leans back, he looks grateful.

They order an absurd amount of pizza, and Tony let’s Peter throw on Star Wars.

It’s nice and warm, the familiarity of the situation comforting. May’s curled on the couch with Peter, Tony on the sofa next to them. He looks like he’s drifting off, and before she knows it she is as well.

Her dream quickly fades into a nightmare, where Peter is falling, hurting, dying, and her own screams wakes her up.

She blinks, and in the time it takes her to pull herself back to reality, to chide herself it wasn’t real it wasn't real it wasn’t real, she watches the Iron man gauntlet form out of Tony’s skin.

It looks as if he’d rolled off the couch into a crouch, arm outstretched, eyes wild but not all together present. A crease between his eyebrow deepens and he lowers his arm. Before either of them can say anything, Peter bursts into the living room.

He’s practically leaping, and even though he still looks half asleep his arms are half raised in a defensive movement. He lowers them when he catches sight of the two adults in the living room. May, still wrapped up on the couch, and Tony, who’s lowered himself to the floor.

“Everything.. everything alright?” he asks uncertainly. His eyes are darting back and forth between them. May makes an effort to control her breathing over the pounding in her chest.

“Yeah, sweetheart.” she says, trying for a small smile. “It was just a dream. Sorry to wake you. You can go back to sleep.”

Peter stays for another few seconds, eyes sweeping the room. Evidently satisfied, he mumbles off a goodnight before trudging back to collapse in his bed.

Once she hears his door shut, May turns her attention back to Stark, who’s breathing like he’s run a marathon. His arm is still encased in red and silver, and he’s staring at nothing in particular.

“You wanna explain what the hell that was?” She asks in a sharp whisper. It’s quiet, but enough to make him jump. His eye snap to hers, and she watches reams of silver work their way up to his neck, seemingly materializing out of his skin.

“What the fuck.” she mutters. Unbidden, she pulls herself out of her blankets and onto the floor in front of him. She reaches out automatically, and though he flinches back slightly he doesn't stop her. She runs her hand over the metal arm, pushing at the silver points on his shoulder. He’s watching her, suddenly apprehensive.

“It’s– it’s a new armor prototype i’ve been working on.” he’s matching her volume level in a fervent whisper, but he’s babbling. “It– it’s a way to mix human biology with other counterparts, like the armor–”

She stares at him as he rushes on, and she wonders who else knows about this. From Tony’s terrified expression, she’s not sure if he’s even told Pepper yet. It’s incredible, really, but horrifying.

“That has to hurt.” she finally says, because she can’t imagine having metal merge through your skin is in any way pleasant.

He only shrugs. He grits his teeth as the metal melts away, leaving only skin behind.

“It’s faster.”

 


 

May’s sitting on the floor of Jenna’s living room, leaning against the front of the couch. Her friends are sprawled around her, half watching Grey’s Anatomy and half talking over it.

“We’re going out on Tuesday,” Kate says, snapping to catch May’s attention away from the TV. “you in, or what?”

Tuesday, May thinks, mentally going over her calendar.

“I’m sorry, I can’t.” she says, and she only feels a twinge of regret. “I have– ah, dinner with Tony that night.”

Kate rolls her eyes, but she doesn’t look offended.

“Of course. Sorry, May, we can't all be best friends with a celebrity.”

May opens her mouth to retort reflexively, the words we aren’t even friends on the tip of her tongue before she closes her mouth. Because they are friends, now. They’re way past that point.

Oh my god , she thinks somewhat hysterically. Tony Stark is my best friend .

Before May can fully come to terms with this revelation, Jenna is adding her two cents.

“Who said anything about being friends?” The redhead calls out from beneath her pile of blankets. “Get it, girl. Tony Stark is fine as hell.

“He’s engaged!” May splutters desperately. The laughter that rockets around the room tells her they’re joking, but she continues. “Besides, he’s like, not even my type. Definitely not my type.”

“He’s everybody's type.” Kyla says, swiping on her phone. In only a few seconds she holds it up to display an image of a very bare Tony Stark, and the room erupts in wolf whistles and appreciative comments.

“Oh my god .” May shouts despairingly, slapping the phone out of Kyla’s hand. “That’s– I never wanted to see that. Ever. And that’s like, ten years old.”

She frowns, even as Kate successfully retrieves the phone and pases it around.

“There’s no way that picture is still on the internet.”

Kyla raises her eyebrows, but she’s smirking.

“The internet is forever, Mayday.” She says primly, as though she hadn’t just shoved a naked picture of Tony Stark in her friend’s face. “Anyway, I might have it saved to my phone.”

May lets out a groan, letting her head fall back against the couch. She’s trying to her hardest to block out her friend’s comments, swimming in her own thoughts. Tony Stark is my best friend.

 


 

may (12:54): my friends think you’re hot

 

tony (12:54): your friends have good taste

 

may (12:55): you all suck

 


 

Someone’s spilled water on Tony.

It had cast a wide arc, down his shirt and into his face.

(He’s invited her to a dinner party upstate. It’s a fancy affair, a grand ballroom filled with music and expensive drinks, expensive clothes.

She’s never really had the opportunity to go to anything like this before, elegant parties with the richest of New York. Hell, it’s only been the past few months that she’s even got her regular social life together again. She can’t even imagine going to events like these so consistently.)

Blinking water out of his eyes, dark spot soaking through his dress shirt, Tony plays it off goodnaturedly, cracking a joke and setting the mortified guest at ease. His charm must work on the rest of the surrounding party, but May can see the tightness of his eyes and the shaking hands he’s quickly shoved into pocket before excusing himself.

She regretfully makes a quick excuse to the blonde woman she’s been chatting up, and follows suit to tail him. It’s a more difficult task than one would expect. For someone who’s the center of attention, Tony weaves in and out of the crowd with practiced ease. She watches him disappear quickly behind a door, and follows without thinking.

She slips into the room behind him before anyone else even notices.

She registers, in the back of her mind, that they’re in a restroom. Tony’s bent over the sink, staring into the drain. She can see strain of his breathing from the door.

“You’re having a panic attack.”

“I’m not.” he says, and she’s sure Tony had intended the words to come out confidently, but they sound more like a growl. He blinks, struggling to focus on her in the mirror.

“This is a men’s restroom.” he points out halfheartedly. May gives him an exasperated look before turning away from him towards the door, smoothly clicking the lock in place. He’s still bent over sink, hands white on either side of the basin, staring at her in the mirror.

“Shouldn’t do that.” he manages to get out between his uneven breathing.

“What?”

“Lock the door.” Tony says. “They’ll get the wrong impression.”

May blinks at him.

“When people see you leave with me.” he elaborates. She can see the way his jaw is clenched from where she’s standing. The pieces click.

“You’re engaged.” she says, bewildered. “You really think anyone is going to think–”

“It’s me.” Tony says, and there’s an unwelcome bitter edge to his voice. “Of course they will.”

She knows, really, that he’s right. He’s the media's favorite treat. There’s always a story with Tony Stark, always a way they can spin it. She should leave, for that alone. But still.

Pepper’s not here– she’s overseeing a business deal on the other side of the world. Rhodes had opted out with a few cheerful curse words. Happy was… somewhere. Too far.

She moves forward slowly. Tony watches her progress tensely form the mirror, relaxing slightly as she simply sits against the wall. After a moment he does the same, resting beside her. His breathing is labored, eyes shut so tight she's sure it will leave creases.

For the next twenty minutes they sit side by side on the cool marble floor. May fills the silence, making up for the sound of Tony’s quiet panic.

She tells him about work, anecdotes about coworkers and about the other nurse who’s hot but keeps stealing her pens. She tells him about the book she’s reading, the weather next week. She tells him how she’s sure that Peter has a crush on this girl at school, although she’s not sure who it is it’s probably MJ. She tells him about how she’s dreading the school fundraiser, because it’s the first one she’s going to alone.

She talks until her voice is hoarse. Tony never says a word, but his breathing slows until it’s almost normal. He just leans back against the wall, letting May’s rambling wash over him, and breathes.

 


 

may (2:38): you up still?

 

tony (2:38): always

 

may (2:44): you okay?

 

     Tony Stark is typing...

 

tony (2:51): yeah

tony (2:51): i think i am now

 

 


 

“–and well, you know, when Peter’s at MIT–” Tony is saying next to her, gesturing dangerously with his flute of champagne.

The group of couples they’re engaged with is displaying a wide number of emotions. They’ve passed over the initial starstruck attitude that comes with meeting Tony Stark, but now May can see the confusion washing into their eyes. No one has been bold enough to ask Tony why exactly he’s here tonight.

May, admittedly, isn’t sure how they’d answer if someone did ask. It’s a parent-teacher fundraiser for the school, and she’d mentioned to Tony he should go with her on whim.

(She thinks, sometimes, how bizarre the situation must look like to outsiders. May had already been the “stand-in” parent with Ben, and then the pitied widow. Now she’s at a parent’s event with Tony Stark, publicly engaged to his CEO, who is definitely not May, who is now raving about Peter like he’s his own son.

It could be, she decides, much, much worse.)

MIT. She blinks, bringing her attention back from the crowd to Tony.

“MIT?” she asks aloud. She can feel her eyebrows raising. “I didn’t know Peter decided he wanted to go to MIT.”

“Well, of course he’s going to MIT.” says Tony, sounding affronted. “That’s where I went. It’s the best school for him.”

Her mouth twitches. Does he know that?, she wants to say,  but before she can respond another parent cuts in.

“Oh, I agree completely!” the woman wheedles, and May forces herself not to roll her eyes. She’s never been fond of Becky. Tony either doesn’t notice May’s attitude or is putting on a polite show. They engage in a short but informative discussion about the pros and cons of MIT, with input from other members of their little group as well.

Becky’s wife Tamara, who May does like, gives her a slightly apologetic smile. May does the same, and they step closer to have their own conversation as Tony and Becky’s encounter switches to a friendly debate.

“He’s not what I thought he'd be.” Tamara admits, after they’ve been watching their respective partners for a minute. May makes a hum of agreement.

“No he’s not.” she says. “He’s better.”

 


 

Peter’s sixteenth birthday occurs in the dead of summer.

May’s anxiously arranging and rearranging the candles on Peter’s birthday cake. She checks her watch for the fourth time in two minutes, and behind her she can hear Kate’s snort of exasperation.

Tony had taken Peter to take his drivers test. Peter had been desperately adamant that he needed to get it as soon as he was humanly (or, well, superhumanly) able. Tony and May had private reservations, but had relented. Tony taking Peter meant that she had time to set up the party.

The majority of guests had arrived, by now. Peter and Tony are due back soon. The test should be over. They should know, by now.

There still hasn’t been word from Tony, though. Another minute passes, and as May considers calling Tony to make sure everything's okay, she hears footsteps coming down the hall.

The activity around her slows to a stop, and the inhabitants of the room pause their conversations to watch the door open. The pair step into the room to a chorus of Happy Birthday’s directly at Peter, but they garner little acknowledgment.

Both Peter and Tony’s faces are carefully blank. May stands in front of them, arms crossed and eyebrows raised.

“Well?”

She lets the word hang in the air. Peter look up to meet her eyes, and after a moment his facade cracks into a wide grin.

“Success!” he says giddily, fishing his shiny new license out. The room erupts into another chorus of cheers. Peter looks slightly red, but downright pleased. Tony walks up behind him, clasping him proudly on the shoulder.

“Kid did great,” he says, and his eyes are warm. “didn’t even have to bribe the instructor.”

Peter makes an affronted sound that is soon forgotten when MJ plucks his new license easily out of his hands. Ignoring Peter’s spluttering and Ned’s laughter, the trio wander away from Tony and May, settling themselves in the living room.

For a moment the pair simple watch, taking in the bustle of the household. It’s nice, May things, to have a full house again. It makes it feel more like a home.

May gives Tony a sideways glance.

“You really didn’t have to bribe anyone, did you?”

Tony snorts beside her, turning his attention to reach out for the cake. He makes a wounded sound as May swipes his hand away.

“Nope.” he says, popping the p. “It was a close thing, but the kid got that license honorably.”

May shakes her head in slight disbelief, and Tony grins at her.

“Watch out Manhattan.” he says. “Peter Parker has hit the streets.”

 


 

“So, kid.” Tony says, plate almost empty. He’s opted for a half chocolate and half vanilla slice of cake. “What’d you end up using your birthday wish for?”

Peter laughs shly with a half hearted shrug, playing with the plastic edge of the fork.

“Nothing.” he says honestly, and Tony looks affronted. Beside him, Pepper gives her fiance a playful slap to shut up, but it’s not particularly effective.

“Why the hell not, kid?”

Peter shrugs again, but this time a smile is forming on his face.

“There’s, uh, nothing else I could wish for, you know? I think I pretty much have it all.”

Peter looks at her, then, smiling brighter than the rising sun. May returns Peter’s smile feeling warmer than she has in a long time. She looks at Peter, at all the people milling around her apartment. The room is filled with comfortable chatter, light spilling in from the windows.

She catches Tony’s eye, and he gives her a tiny shrug, wearing a proud smile and a somewhat exasperated expression of Well, he’s right you know.

There’s nothing else I could wish for, she replays again.


Yeah, May thinks, looking back at them. Me too.