He tells Ned and MJ first.
Now that he can believably afford to, he invites them out for a Queens reunion and pays for their flights (from Seattle for MJ and from San Jose for Ned). He knows it’s a rarity for high school friendships to strengthen over time like this, but the three of them have kept up their relationship over the past eight years and they continue to be as close as ever. It doesn't hurt that Stark holo tech is at all of their immediate access, largely thanks to Peter.
“Started from the bottom now we’re here, huh?” MJ says with a grin, throwing her arms around Peter. She’s at the café a couple of minutes early, but Peter had been so nervous that he arrived a full half hour before they were all supposed to meet for cold brew at their usual place in Flushing.
Peter hugs her back tightly and smiles into her shoulder. “So glad you’re here,” he mumbles.
“So glad you’re still a bottom,” MJ replies without missing a beat.
Ned runs up to them and launches himself into the ongoing hug, wrapping himself in them both. The three teeter on the edge of actually falling to the floor, but Peter's spidey-powered muscles hold them upright.
“Missed you so much!”
“Missed you too, Ned.”
“Aw, missed you guys…”
They disentangle themselves from each other and Ned smiles happily at Peter. “This was such an awesome idea, Peter. My mom and dad are gonna want to have you over for dinner sometime this week for sure; they are totally crediting you with the surprise-visit.”
Peter grabs his hand for their classic handshake, grinning. “I’ll be there.”
MJ sits down while they wrap up, opening a menu as though they don’t always get the same thing.
“So… what’s new with you guys?”
They catch each other up for the first hour, talking over each other and caffeinating and laughing, easing the knot of anxious anticipation in the pit of Peter’s stomach by a little bit but not enough to dispel it entirely. It's still good to see them in person; to note Ned's new haircut and how relaxed MJ's posture looks, to hear them talk about new friends and old exes and family members and plans for travel. Ned's programming job is thriving and he apparently has a cute new coworker who seems like she might like him back. The startup where MJ works was officially endorsed by the Princess of Wakanda recently as one of the best-designed aid-relief tech companies in the world. They both look happy despite how busy they are, and despite how hard they work.
Peter tells them about his research job at MIT that allows working from home, and about how home is now in Manhattan, and they definitely need to come see his new apartment. MJ nods and Ned lets him talk about it for a while until the topic they aren't addressing becomes too obvious.
"And what about dating, Peter?"
And there it is. The question, and the moment he's been anticipating. "Actually… I have some news in that, um. Department.”
Ned gives him a faint smile, nodding in encouragement. MJ, however, goes very still and quiet; like she can already tell this is going to be a game-changer.
“So I’ve been living in New York for six months now. Since Berlin, a-as you guys know, obviously.”
“…Obviously,” MJ echoes. She looks like she’s bracing herself.
“And I’ve been hanging out at Stark Tower a bunch, for all of my official Avengers initiation stuff. Just ‘cause—I mean the European doctoral grant delayed my start-date by four years, so I have a bunch of catching up to do. Finally got to meet Thor, guys, it's been amazing.”
“That is amazing,” says Ned, wide-eyed. "That might be the coolest sentence anyone has ever said."
“And that’s… well, it’s where Mr Stark lives, so logically I’ve been seeing him almost every day.”
He sees the realization dawn on MJ as it happens. Her forehead twitches and her eyebrows pull in. Her mouth tightens. She seems to stop breathing.
“Well, we’ve been working together a lot… and it turns out that even though we haven’t really seen each other for eight years, or—or maybe because we haven’t seen each other for so long, we, um. Things are different between us. There’s something there that… that wasn’t there before.”
“What I’m trying to say is that as of a few weeks ago, I’m… I’m kind of dating Tony Stark.”
Ned drops his jaw and his cup. On the floor.
In the ensuing chaos, and as the poor barista rushes over to help them clean up, Peter keeps stealing glances at his two best friends’ faces to try to gage their reactions, but it’s hard to tell what either of them are thinking. Ned looks stressed out by the mess he made, and MJ is inscrutable as ever.
Finally, when things have calmed down again and the three are sitting back on their respective chairs, MJ clears her throat.
“So. Let me make sure I’m hearing what you’re saying.” She pins him with one of her infamous stares. “You quoted Beauty and the Beast to tell us that after four years of undergrad at MIT, and four years of your super-special doctorate in Berlin, you came back to New York… and fell in love with Tony Stark again.”
Peter can feel himself blushing. “I. Um.” His voice still gets squeaky high when he’s nervous. “Y-yeah, pretty much.”
Ned swallows. “And now Tony Stark likes you back?”
Peter ducks his head, smiles down at his coffee. “Guess so.”
They are both silent for a while, clearly reflecting on the revelation.
After a few beats MJ points a finger gun at him, frowning slightly. “Is he making you happy?”
“Yes. It’s only been a few days, but… yes.”
She nods. “Okay.” It’s not overall approval, just an acknowledgement of his answer. She goes back to being deep in thought, still with that slight frown.
Ned smiled a little at the tone of Peter’s voice when he replied in the affirmative. His eyes are kind and, while not fully understanding yet, he seems to be reflecting in the positive. “No creepy vibes?”
Peter snorts with a touch of hysteria. “No creepy vibes.”
"When was the last time you saw him before moving back to the city?"
"Well, he lectured at MIT a couple of times while we were there..." he motions to MJ. "And, um, my only Avenger mission was the all-hands-on-deck infinity stone thing, but that was ages ago, too."
MJ nods again, and scratches her chin. After another pause, she leans her elbow on the table and puts a fist up.
“Let’s see here.” She starts listing things off her fingers, thumb first: “Twenty-six is old enough for you to be your own person, I suppose, so points for that.” Her index finger goes up: “You had all that time in Europe away from Stark Industries and from him... I guess eight years is long enough to try out alternatives.” Her middle finger: “And if he only sees you as a potential partner now, as opposed to when he met you, then that’s something, too…” She puts up the ring finger, with the engagement diamond Kamala gave her: “Plus you’re independently financially stable now, which is important.” She sighs. “And, as unhealthy as this thing is even with those stipulations...” Her little finger goes up with the final reason: “I know you, and your ass was probably never going to be completely happy if you didn’t end up with Tony Stark. You’re obsessed with him.”
She looks at her extended hand and her open palm. At long last, she seems to have reached some sort of inner peace regarding the issue; after taking a bracing sip of her cold brew, she nods in a definitive, decisive way. “Okay. I’ll learn to live with it.”
Peter’s shoulders sag with relief. He turns to Ned.
“You get why it’s still fucked up though, right?” Ned asks, tentative.
“I do, it just… it makes me so happy that I don’t care.”
MJ rolls her eyes. “All right, calm down.” But she looks fond, maybe even a little pleased for him. Peter’s hands are trembling with the release of tension; this moment was monumentally important and MJ just breezed past it in five succinct points. “Permission to air out all the clichés inherent to your relationship?”
“Rapid-fire or essay form?”
“Rapid-fire,” says Ned, rubbing his hands together.
Peter grins, more than willing to take the abuse. “Go for it.”
They do without delay, almost interrupting each other in their haste to get it out.
“He could be your father.”
“He’s way old.”
“He’s still super hot, but… he’s old, Peter.”
“Is it still May December if it’s gay?”
“Like, he looks amazing, but…”
“He met you when you were eighteen. That’s fucked up.”
“Isn’t he technically your boss for the superhero stuff?”
“You’re not even in it for the money.”
“He was twenty-seven when you were born.”
“Yeah, that’s no April and Andy cuteness.”
“Please re-evaluate your life choices periodically.”
“He’s rich and you’re not; they’ll say you’re a gold-digger.”
“And you’re not even a gold-digger, which is somehow worse—“
And on and on and on they go, and Peter just laughs, and snorts, and blushes and shakes it off, and almost cries but laughs some more, happy down to his toes.
He tells Pepper in private, first.
He goes to her office to do it, and looks out the window at the far-off Rockefeller building to get through what he needs to say.
It’s an awkward and apologetic declaration, and she is instantly disappointed in him in that old familiar way, he can tell. But. It’s that old familiar way—nothing new, nothing worse. It actually makes him smile, which she slaps his arm with a folder for (he still doesn't get where all those folders that seem to exist perpetually around her come from, or what their use is in this day and age of technology).
“Don’t you dare find this funny.” But her eyes are crinkling helplessly at the corners; not disgusted, just a bit squeamish. “God, Tony, you’re such a disaster. He’s a kid.”
“He’s twenty-six years old. Hardly a kid.”
Her eyes give him the ‘you know what I mean’ look without her having to say the words.
“I’m sorry. I tried to—“ he swallows. “He came back from Europe and it was all… different. I’m really sorry.”
“Don’t be. Not for me.” She sighs, exasperated, having to help him clean up after himself as usual. “We’ll spin it somehow. It’s a superhero romance, the tabloids are probably going to eat it up after his secret identity is revealed.” She shakes her head. “And he is awfully pretty, I’ll give him that.”
Tony wisely doesn’t agree out loud.
“I know it’s not my best moment." He pushes his glasses up his nose impatiently. "In my illustrious career of shit moments, I know this is bad. For what that self-awareness is worth.”
She leans forward on the desk and looks into his eyes with her warm blue ones, trying to understand. Her voice is lower as though to invite confidence. “Is this a midlife crisis thing?”
“Because that’s not fair to the kid, if it is—“
“It’s not. It’s not, Pepper.”
She searches his expression for the truth, and seems to find it. “…Okay. Well, the age difference looks bad, but not bad enough to be a serious problem. Especially if it doesn’t get out that you met him when he was eighteen.” She shudders, shaking her head as if to dispel herself of that reminder. “Anyway, you’ll hardly be the first celebrity couple in this range. And in the grand scheme of things... you've done worse things, Tony; you went from being the Merchant of Death to the Earth's greatest defender, after all.”
Tony nods, momentarily unable to speak at that reminder.
“So if this isn’t a midlife crisis thing…” she bites her lower lip. He used to find that adorable; now all he feels is a fond nostalgia for something he doesn’t want anymore. “What is it, Tony?”
She deserves the truthful answer. “I think…” Tony clears his throat, grimacing. He looks out at the Rockefeller again. “I think it’s a long haul thing, to be honest.”
Pepper looks at him for one more long moment. She still doesn’t understand—she might never understand, but she’s going to be okay with it eventually. “…Okay. Then I guess that’s what we’ll tell the tabloids. Have you told the other Avengers?”
“I wanted you to be the first to know.”
“Well, I’m touched.” She puts a teasing hand over her heart; her smile is sarcastic but not mean. “Though I suppose if I was going to be replaced with a younger model I’m glad it’s one as smart as Peter. And don’t think I won’t be having a very long, awkward conversation with him, either.”
The rest of the team takes it in... degrees.
Rhodey is disappointed in him the way Pepper was, which is the best thing Tony could have hoped for. It’s familiar, and long-suffering, and still underlain by a current of resigned love that has not been cut away by the revelation. He is also the only person who saw what Tony was like during the days when half of the Earth's population turned to ash, and knows Tony didn't give a shit about millions of deaths so long as one of the souls came back--it was a long time ago but Tony knows he's never forgotten, just as Tony himself never will either.
Bruce falls into a similar vein of thinking as Rhodey, though he sequesters Tony away in the lab to tell him that despite everything, the Hulk is pleased that the the powerful metal man loves the funny spiderling.
To Tony’s surprise, Natasha is one of the first people to get past the ‘Tony that is fucked up’ stages. She saw Peter as a grown up long before most of the others did, and in her own skewed view of morality she deems them to be compatible. She also gets Tony to indirectly confess to the depth of what he feels, and nods like a businesswoman whose investment hunch paid off when he admits it. Thor’s awareness of time and age in such short increments lands him in her camp for different reasons; he takes Peter’s maturity as a concept independent of how long it’s been since he was born, as that is his only measure of a human’s tiny lifespan. His version of acceptance involves threatening Tony with his axe. Wanda and Vision fall in with them as well, given their own personal convoluted story.
Sam says “Gross,” but in a tone that says he’s already embraced it as a fact he cannot change, or won’t. Then he adds: “You’re just going full-speed ahead into that cliché, aren’t you?” and that’s the extent of his protest. His insight into Tony's mindset as a result of his counseling background is equal parts unsettling and comforting, but Tony doesn't mind getting called out for unhealthy coping mechanisms or 'obvious absolution-seeking behavior'.
Steve takes his time in saying anything at all. He is not pleased, that’s for sure.
When he finally speaks, he says: “That hero-worship. It doesn’t just go away. He’s always looked up to you.”
It hurts Tony where it’s meant to hurt.
“I get that it’s been a long time since he met you, but--this is still wrong, Tony. I hope you understand why I’d like to hear from Peter himself about it.”
Tony feels like shit warmed over, which is a periodic feeling he cycles through even without Steve's helpful input. The good thing is that he knows exactly the cure that’s going to take that feeling away and replace it with something translucent and cool and soothing.
Everyone asked to talk to Peter themselves, not just Steve and Pepper.
So Tony texts him to come downstairs and do so.
The whole group is gathered in the living room for it. Some people are on couches, others on the floor. Thor is holding onto a long Swiffer broom in a good-naturedly threatening manner. Natasha told Nakia who asked to call in and her holo is pleasantly neutral-looking while her sharp eyes miss nothing. Clint took the time to show up as well when he heard what the impromptu meeting was about.
Peter emerges in sweats and an old Episode IX tee with Fin on it that John Boyega signed for him way back when he went to the premiere. He looks messy-haired and gorgeous, and a bad, 'absolution-seeking' part of Tony is saying: Don't you see? Can't you understand why someone would throw caution and everything else away to be near him?
Peter eyes the court-like arrangement of his new team on Tony's furniture; his friends, the people he admires and looks up to, all displaying a variation of worry or concern or silent expectation. Then his gaze flickers to Tony and the tension drains from his features, much as it did a long time ago when he met his first two Avengers while eating ice cream in Tony's bedroom, and used him as an anchor of sorts to enter this crazy little superhero world.
“Are you sure about this, Peter?” Steve asks him without preamble, flat-out.
Tony is not offended—Peter deserves the best of everything the world has to offer, and Tony is none of that. He wants Peter to repeatedly ask himself the question, too.
Peter looks at Steve and shrugs, like the issue is rhetorical or redundant. “Yes.”
“Are you happy?” Bucky asks him. While less overtly caring, Bucky has been very protective of Peter ever since he stopped applying pressure to Peter's wound on a rooftop.
“Yes.” The corner of Peter’s mouth tugs up in a little grin. “Yeah.”
“Are you crazy?” Sam asks. "There's younger rich dudes in Silicon Valley, Parker."
"Everyone in this room is a little crazy, according to the DSM-V." That makes a couple of people chuckle and Peter shrugs again, a little flushed but mostly defiant. "I really like this particular rich dude."
And they take it from there.
Aunt May is less shocked than Peter expected her to be, but she's also more worried than accepting when he tells her. Peter didn’t expect her to embrace it fully right off the bat; she’s too protective of him. But. A few years ago she and Tony had a reason to mourn Peter for days--Peter never heard the full story because Tony still can't talk about losing him to ashes, but he suspects May saw something during that time that she is using to keep from freaking out right now.
And just as she had two choices when Peter told her about being Spiderman, she has two choices about their relationship today: to support him or distance him.
She loves him too much to distance him.
"If this is making you look..." she gestures to his face, bracelets clinking. "Then I have to learn to live with it. I understand that. Just... promise me you'll talk to me about it, okay? You can always talk to me, Peter."
Her eyes are still full of unconditional affection; her soft smile when he tries to explain how happy he is feels completely genuine. He can tell that she’ll learn to understand; not completely but at least from a distance, the way she learned to understand about Spiderman. And maybe one day he'll ask her what happened when he was in the Soul realm, and what Tony did that makes her reluctantly nod and put a hand on Peter's forearm.
"Oh, and one more thing," she says at the end of dinner, popping her last bite of mochi into her mouth. "You got through this whole conversation without pointing out mine and Chen's ten-year age gap, so I want to commend you for that level of restraint. I am very impressed."
Peter grins, and knows they'll be okay. "That was the hardest thing I've ever done."
May's eyes crinkle happily behind her glasses. "And I love you for it."
He webs his way back to his apartment on the top floor of a high rise, relishing the altitude as he does every time he comes in through the roof instead of the lobby. Living in Manhattan still hasn’t taken the Queens out of him, but he can’t deny that he loves his place. It’s full of windows so that he can see outside and feel like he’s flying even when he isn’t; it’s small and quaint and its layout is reminiscent of his very first apartment in Cambridge, which helped him settle in faster than he was expecting to. It’s also got KAREN as part of the home AI, which makes it feel almost like being back in the Tower.
Tony is waiting for him when he arrives.
He’s sitting at the foot of Peter’s bed, wearing one of his usual casual band shirts--Peter can’t quite see the logo from this angle.
“How do you feel?” he asks as soon as Peter takes off the mask. He didn’t change into the full suit, but he usually slips the mask on for the final leg of his journey home in case a neighbor gets curious or looks out the window. His identity reveal is going to be the next big one; the last step before they leak the relationship to the public in a couple of years. But it hasn't happened yet.
“Relieved,” Peter says truthfully.
“That we pulled it off or that one big lie replaced all the little ones?”
Peter smiles. “Both?”
Tony sighs, wiping a hand over his face. Peter knows what he's thinking; how he's feeling. It doesn't happen too often but when it does they usually haven't seen each other in a while.
“Don’t,” he says gently. He knees onto the mattress and onto Tony's lap, his designer jeans allowing the stretch of his thighs. It's still his favorite place in the universe to be.
He gives Tony a fond nudge of forehead against forehead, hoping to press some sense into him.
“Don’t. I don’t care about the lies. Or lie, I guess, now. I don’t care.”
Tony sighs wearily. “Can’t help it, kid—“
“Sure you can.” He kisses him, slow. “Let me help you.”
Tony groans helplessly and kisses him back, fingers sinking into Peter’s hair, inhaling sharply through his nose like a man drowning. Peter tongues his lips open, rubbing his whole body against Tony and sighing with pleasure. Eight years and he’s nowhere near used to this; definitely doesn’t feel like an adult, definitely doesn’t feel like the fact that he’s with Tony is anything other than extraordinary.
He winds his arms around Tony’s neck and thinks back to every furtive trip and overnight visit that kept him going. Flights between Boston and New York every other weekend; or smuggling Tony into his Cambridge apartment with muffled laughter and large sunglasses to hide him from view. Days in Stark Tower that flew by, with hours creating in the lab, studying together, fucking over a desk and poring over textbooks and notes some more. Their getaway to the island Tony denies buying to this day (Peter’s pretty sure he rented it, at least) after Peter had a finals-induced anxiety attack because his body thought the stress meant he was under physical threat. The night after Tony gave the commencement speech at his graduation; the celebratory hours in the Tower's balcony hot tub, with only the arc reactor’s light spilling over them.
Later, after the European grant came up and Peter’s decided to go; the flights to Berlin and New York and all those hours on the plane in between. The five-star hotels and anonymous names; trips to Japan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Argentina, Nigeria. The yacht Tony purchased after bringing Peter back from fading away in his arms, and where he kept him below deck in sumptuous comfort for ten days of solid, pressurized touches; only letting him leave the bed to get tanned and sea-salt wet a couple of times a day.
Peter knows his friends and family will accept them over time because they think he needed (and had) a chance to see the world and grow up some more, among other things. But he’s seen the world next to Tony and he’s grown with him, and he knows what he wants. He’s always known. He’s always wanted.
“I can hear you thinking,” Tony murmurs, running his bare hands across Peter’s back under his shirt, making Peter twitch with anticipation. “Stop that.”
Peter grins into his mouth. “If you say so, Mr Stark.”
“I do. I do say so." He drags his callused palms up and down Peter's waist. "When are you moving into the Tower again?” he adds, undoing Peter's zipper. “I thought you being back in New York was gonna mean you’d be in my bed every night.”
Peter shivers on top of him, rocking into him as the sensations build. He can see the Tower from his bedroom window, and steals a longing glance at it now. “I can’t move in until... after we tell the press. Rules... are--oh, rules, remember?”
“Right. Rules.” One of Tony’s hands slips under Peter’s pants and he dips his fingers between Peter’s cheeks, making Peter whimper. “Don’t love rules.”
“Want you in my bed now. And preferably always.”
“I’m...” the finger pushes in, dry, only to the first knuckle, and Peter shudders, gasping. “I’m with you in... a bed--”
Tony gently bites at his neck. Peter feels himself teeter on the edge of the fall, holding back by sheer force of will. “Want you to move into my bed. Just my bed, forget the rest of the Tower. I’ll have things brought to you; build a lab around it... I’ll have food brought to you and drinks and tech and anything you want; any goddamn thing. Name it and it's yours.”
"Seems impractical," Peter mumbles, eyes drooping shut as he's distracted by what he feels. “W-what if I... ah, need a shower...?”
Tony shakes his head, bread scratching at Peter’s neck and shoulder as he does it. “No,” he says, low. “Can’t have that. I'll take care of you, and that's where I draw the line.”
Peter laughs shakily and leans in to clumsily kiss Tony again, rocking against him, so engrossed in their little bubble that at first he doesn’t even register the beeping noises as they start coming from his phone.
“Peter, the Avengers are assembling." KAREN’s voice cuts stridently into their scene and they both freeze. “An emergency has arisen—report to Stark Tower immediately. The Avengers are assembling. Earth is in danger. The Avengers are assembling. Earth is in danger. The Avengers are assembling...”
Peter slides off of Tony and stumbles to his feet, a different rush of adrenalin coming over him even though he aches to get back to what they were doing. He can hear sirens in the far distance now that he is listening for them, and maybe even something else; something big and heavy that could be a crash or, more ominously... a footstep.
"We should go." He starts to step out of his half undone jeans. "You can fly out first, and I'll--" but then it hits him. They don't have to hide from the team anymore. The unexpected relief in that little development makes him huff out a small laugh. "Right, never mind. Uh. Guess there's no point in splitting up anymore."
Tony gets up. “True. Or we could just let the Earth die.” His gaze tracks Peter's messy appearance with hunger. "You look good enough right now that I'm willing to risk it."
A swoop of heat and painful arousal hits Peter like a sucker-punch, and makes him sway weakly on his feet. He blinks rapidly, trying to power through; trying to recenter himself.
“And add that to your guilty conscience?” he replies shakily, blushing but feeling thankful that his nanotech suit is starting to slide to life over him, wrapping him in cool blue and red tendrils. “No way.”
The Iron Man suit also starts to envelop Tony and lock into place in a series of clattering mechanisms. “Pretty sure you got rid of my conscience altogether, Spidey.”
“Pretty sure I sleep with your conscience every night, Mr Stark.” He grins. “That’s right, I’ve been cheating on you with it this whole time.”
"And you tell me now, as we’re about to face who knows what type of monsters and eldritch beings?” Tony steps towards him and looks down, mock-gravely--he is always taller than Peter, and he positively towers over him in the suit. Despite the faceplate now hiding his expression, Peter can tell he is smiling by the sound of his voice. “I could die, you know.”
“No you couldn’t.”
KAREN has unlatched his enormous window. The dark sky calls to him; so do the bright lights of the city below. Whatever is waiting for them is wreaking havoc in the distance.
Peter starts to walk towards the edge, feeling Tony's eyes on his backlit silhouette.
"How do you figure that, Parker?"
He makes it to the opening, a cool breeze sweeping over him.
“Don’t you remember how we met?”
He turns around to look at Tony through his mask. He hopes Tony can hear his smile, too.
“I would save you,” he says simply.
And he lets himself drop backwards into the night air, Tony’s low laughter with him through the microphone, the wind rushing in his ears, feeling ready for whatever is coming. Knowing Tony is following right behind him.