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Peter

According to megabus.com, a ticket to Boston from New York purchased two months in advance costs six dollars if one is willing to depart at 5 a.m. Peter isn’t sure how to tell MJ that he can’t afford the twenty-dollar noon bus and also eat that day, but he is pretty sure that she’s going to figure it out anyway when she gives the issue an ounce of her passing attention.

“Peter. Please let me get them for you,” says Ned. Ned’s mom is a hospital tech and his dad works at a restaurant. “I’ll let you pay me back, I swear!”

“There’s no need Ned, s’fine.” Peter ads the 5 a.m. ticket to his basket and hides the browser window a second before Mr Katz walks by their desks. “And anyway, the reception thing is tonight; I’ll just steal an ashtray and get ri-i-ich.” He grins; hopes it’s convincing.

Ned still looks worried, but eventually Peter succeeds in steering the subject towards the event he and MJ are attending in just a few hours. After all, Tony Stark is hosting a reception for all incoming MIT students at Stark Tower in Manhattan.

The invitation, an encrypted interactive file delivered two weeks ago to students all over the world, had promised them a fun night and zero alcohol, and had featured a brief clip of Tony Stark himself in orange-colored glasses. In it, Mr Stark had generously announced that he was paying for all overseas travel and housing expenses for those students living abroad, as well as any US-based scholarship recipients who applied for reimbursement. ‘Just... send my PR department an email and we’ll sort it out. Don’t need you paying for an Amtrak ticket just to see little old me; no Avengers cameos have been planned, I assure you’. Living in the same city as Stark Tower, Peter definitely falls under neither of those categories.

“Do you think he’ll actually show up?” MJ asks over lunch. “I’m thinking ‘nah’.”

Peter looks up from devouring his lentils. He hadn’t even considered that.

Ned frowns. “But he’s the host. He’s gotta show up, right?”

Even as Ned says it, Peter tries to frame the scenario realistically for the first time: Tony Stark, Iron Man, genius billionaire hero philanthropist, taking time out of his insanely busy schedule for a meet-and-greet with a bunch of college-aged nerds. Of course he won’t. It was stupid to hope that he might actually meet the superhero he’s trying to emulate.

“He’ll probably just call in,” Peter hears himself say, already picturing it: a pre-recorded video not unlike the one in the invitation, or a quick conference call type thing from some exotic location.

“Oh man, that sucks so much.” Ned looks distraught at the possibility despite the fact that he got into his number one computer science program at Stanford, and is not going to the MIT shindig. “Peter’s ultimate man-crush, crushing his heart at the last minute.”

“I think it’s just an ‘ultimate crush’ in this case,” MJ says with a raised eyebrow. “‘Man-crush’ gives me hetero vibes, and Peter is totally in love, no hetero.”

Peter sighs. He used to get all blushy and giggly and laugh along with his friends when they had this conversation before, but he just doesn’t have the energy for it these days. Even MJ's 'im so gay' memes seem less funny lately, with Liz gone and no one real to pine after, guy or girl. “I am not in love with Iron Man, no nothing.”

“Right.” MJ nods. There's a pause. “You're in love with Tony Stark, inventor of Iron Man—“

Peter drops his head in his arms and groans.

*

It’s spiralled out of control in the last few months.

Peter’s life, that is.

The day the package arrived from MIT he had been out patrolling, and Aunt May found it before he could hide it. He had decided to decline—to forgo college altogether, go straight into tech, find a job that would overpay him for an altered formula of the web fluid, maybe. But Aunt May had said: “Ben is so proud of you, somewhere. Oh, Peter... I just know that right now, he’s pretending not to cry,” and Peter had been hit in the solar plexus with that scrunched-up face Uncle Ben used to make when he was trying to hide his tears during the first five minutes of Up.

So he lied about getting a scholarship, because the astronomical tuition costs were nowhere near something Aunt May could afford and he didn’t want to burden her with loans, and he’d gotten a job with Mr Delmar three days a week and taken up tutoring for a bunch of sophomores the remaining evenings. Nights were for patrolling, and still are, and sleep is... sleep is for some other time.

The problem is that it’s not the 1960’s anymore, and he can’t pay off a college education by working two part-time jobs as a high-school student; he’s barely made a dent in those tuition costs, and now he has to start thinking about housing, bills, food—

It’s too much. He can’t do it. He won’t be able to.

But what other choice does he have?

*

Peter has walked past Stark Tower a couple of times during Manhattan field trips and he has flown past it as Spiderman chasing (or running away from) criminals, but he’s never been inside the building proper.

Aunt May drops him and MJ off with a proud sort of nervous energy that infects Peter, too—though his nerves manifest as a pit of dread in his stomach; dread that he is failing, is screwing everything up before it’s even started. Maybe this is the first and last MIT event he will ever attend.

MJ looks amazing in a sunflower-yellow dress, and she’s wearing two silver earrings shaped like Saturns, and Peter is grateful that she’s with him because otherwise he’s not sure that he wouldn’t have just chickened out before taking the elevator from the ostentatious lobby. He already feels underdressed in Uncle Ben’s old suit that strains a little on his shoulders, and this is not how he’d imagined entering Stark Tower someday; when he finally revealed his identity to the Avengers and they accepted him as one of their own—

“Hey.”

He looks at MJ as the floors whiz past them—no hint of a pressure change within the perfectly-tuned environmental controls in the Tower. She’s staring straight ahead, but grabs his hand and squeezes it tight for a moment. Warmth flows up Peter’s arm from the point of contact, and he wishes in that moment more than ever that he could tell her and Ned the truth about himself, and about how bad things have gotten.

Then she lets it go, and the doors open.

There are dozens, probably a couple hundred students in the Stark Tower penthouse by the time they walk in. It’s not a rowdy affair by any means, and there is plenty of adult supervision, but it still feels more like a party than a formal college event. Background pop-music is playing loud enough to dance to if one wants to, and the decorations are MIT- and science-themed while still being festive. Giant neon-framed glasses are handed out as party favors; three large whiteboards invite the attendees to graffiti, theorize, or ‘come up with a good math pun’. Servers dressed in black are passing around creative finger-foods (toothpick-molecule tapas, petri-dish jelly). Even the name tags Peter and MJ are given when they sign in have mini interactive-screens that let them build a personalized emoji next to their name if they want to.

“Wow,” MJ says, and gives a reluctant nod. “Okay.”

Peter just stares.

It’s so colorful, so beautiful, backdropped by the inky black sky beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows. He can’t help wondering how much money has been poured into this single event; probably enough pay for several months of his college education. Things glitter in his periphery, all around them conversations are overlapping; enough stimuli that his heightened senses are overrun, something like static building in his ears. The seams at his shoulders tug, uncomfortable.

He almost makes a run for it even then.

Except, MJ steers him towards getting something to drink. A bar serving non-alcoholic choices has been set up in a semi-circle. In keeping with the theme, some of the glasses are beakers, while some of the punch flavors appear to be steaming with dry-ice effects. A large stack of big plastic syringes for ‘soda shots’ are piled to the far left, next to the plastic cups.

They people-watch while they wait in line. The crowd is as diverse as any Peter has been a part of, which he notices MJ notice out of the corner of his eye as she smiles a tiny, relieved smile.

Then two girls behind them start whispering and pointing, and Peter follows their gazes across the room: a Wakandan student is holding court near the window, the soft glow of the kimoyo beads on his wrist visible all the way from where they are standing. A flare of curiosity lights up Peter’s chest. That’s got to be the first ever Wakandan citizen to attend an international school publicly since the country opened their borders at the UN summit last year.

“Oh my God, look...”

“I wonder what his major is,” MJ mutters, decidedly not craning her neck to look. “He could probably teach the professors instead of the other way around.”

Peter nudges her arm. “You could go ask him?”

She scoffs. “Right.”

And that’s when the dimmed ceiling lights suddenly amp up to their full intensity, and the music stops and everyone sort of freezes.

And Tony Stark walks into the room.

 

Tony

He enjoys nights like these. A sort of wholesome thrill goes through him when he gets to throw a party for a good cause; undoubtedly an echo of his self-destructive mechanisms being fulfilled in a productive way--at least according to Sam. Granted, Tony does none of the actual party planning (they’ve used beakers for drinks, cute) but footing the bill makes him feel like he contributed. And, of course, showing up to meet the kids.

A sea of hopeful, shocked, and some adorably terrified faces stares at him from all over his penthouse. If they knew that the Incredible Hulk had beaten up Loki of Asgard on the very floor they are standing—

“Hi,” he waves briskly. “I’m gonna go ahead and assume you know my name because you are all very smart and that’s the reason you’re here. So. Not here to interrupt the party, you all deserve it. All I want to say is that I am very happy for you and your families must be very happy too, and I have a little announcement to make.”

He and Pepper had agreed that having the press upstairs was a terrible idea, but the announcement will reach the media some other way; half these kids have their phones out already.

“Okay here goes: starting this academic year, Stark Industries is going to sponsor ten internship positions for MIT students who demonstrate outstanding scholarly prowess.” He smiles, because the best part is: “Oh and they’ll be paid internships, by the way.”

D’Ajora is the first student to start clapping, Tony recognizes him from the picture T’Challa sent. The others join as soon as they recover; cheering with excitement and anticipation, some resolve, some nerves, some glee. The smile on his face widens in spite of himself, and Tony resolves to mingle a little while; the hero-worship really isn’t the worst part of his job, he can do this for another half hour.

“Thanks, thank you, but this is your night, so... just pretend I’m not here.” They all laugh. Predictable, but still nice. “If anyone has any questions, you know what to do.”

He signals the staff and the lights dim again, the music starts back up, and there is instantly a circle of soon-to-be college kids around him lobbing excited questions like fastballs.

*

Two hours later, he still hasn’t talked to every prospective student here (he’s using the tall girl in the yellow dress and her boyfriend as a barometer) and the emails and messages on his phone are piling up. FRIDAY has sent him two automated reminders about the fact that he was supposed to meet Rhodey for drinks and Rhodey himself called fifteen minutes ago and threatened to show up in full War Machine gear, undoubtedly unleashing a panic of fanboying and fangirling that would total the Tower.

In Tony’s defense, it’s hard to turn those expectant faces away, and there are so many. He’s becoming so soft.

“...happy to ask T’Challa about it, but that kind of exchange program will probably go through the Wakandan outreach centers’ education division. Right, Happy?”

“Right.” Happy, who has been at his shoulder the entire night and is growing progressively murderous, fakes his seventh smile of the evening. Tony’d be lying if he said he didn’t get a kick out of those. “Give us your email and we’ll send you some info.” He hands a pad to the interested student and she happily types into it.

“Thank you, Mr Stark!”

“No problem, kid.”

He needs to call it. He’ll be here for another hour if he’s not careful and he really does want to talk to Rhodey; to catch up but also because out of all the Avengers Rhodey knows him best and knows how to make him deal with the whole 'Winter Soldier acceptance' thing he's got going on. Steve's team being back at the Avengers compound is a huge comfort, but that team includes Bucky Barnes now.

“Hey, Happy, what say you we wrap—“

CRASH.

Tony’s heart lurches and he slams into defensive mode, and a second later he realizes that no, it’s not just dropped kitchenware, there is a real threat—

Something enormous and metallic and winged has crashed into the plexiglass window, and the kids are screaming, and—

“FRIDAY, activate security protocols! Happy, get these kids out of here!” He tears at his tie and scrambles for the emergency suit in Wall-safe-E, blood coursing with adrenalin, looking over his shoulder just once to ensure the thing cracking his glass hasn’t gotten through yet. “Everybody stay calm! FRIDAY, tell Rhodey—“

War Machine on his way,” FRIDAY announces in his ear. “ETA six minutes, seventeen seconds—“

“Other Avenger locations?”

Captain America on his way, ETA thiry-six minutes, ten seconds, Falcon on his way, ETA thiry-six minutes, ten seconds, Scarlet Witch on her way, ETA forty-two minutes, fifty-six seconds, Vision on his way, ETA forty-three minutes, one second.” He knew Steve and Sam were hanging out in Philadelphia, but Wanda and Vision he’d thought were in the city. Apparently not. “Black Widow and Hawkeye out of range,” FRIDAY continues. “Winter Soldier out of range. Black Panther out of range. Hulk out of range. Thor out of—“

“Fuck,” Tony growls, and then has the breath knocked out of him by his own breastplate clamping around him, heavy metal joints clattering into place at a speed he was proud of updating not three weeks ago, now feeling agonizingly slow.

He whirls around and sees through his visor that the kids are rushing for the elevators, the servers keeping their cool and helping Happy direct them to safety, and he flies quickly to interpose himself between the fleeing crowd and the thing attacking his window.

“FRIDAY, recon scan, prioritize weaponry, offensive tech.”

Scanning.”

The thing is shaped vaguely like a man; it’s wearing a metallic suit of its own but it could well be a remote-controlled droid. The wings are what throw Tony at first; with propulsors in its boots it doesn’t need them—except he realizes a moment later that the wings are how it’s breaking through; they are tipped with a metal he suspects T’Challa would recognize.

“FRIDAY?”

Vibranium coating in highlighted areas,” she displays an image with the information he suspected.

Behind him, Happy is yelling at someone. Tony filters out the shouting, the scared whimpering, the ‘Where’s Amanda? Did she get on the first elevator?’, the ‘Oh God, oh my God’s from the kids. Suddenly there’s another crunching, earsplitting CRASH and the plexiglass rips open, shatters inward, richocheting off the floor.

He’ll give it points for focus; it flies straight at him, beating its massive wings and carving screeching grooves into the floor.

“So you weren’t invited... this strike you as a proportional response, Fredbird?”

He charges back and fires a blast from his hand-gun just to see how it will react; unfortunately there are some absorptive properties to its coating because it seems to take the blast without a flinch. It charges at him again and he jumps out of its way, taking to the air so abruptly he almost brains himself on his own ceiling, fuck.

“FRIDAY where are we in terms of occupancy?” he hisses, switching to explosive charges instead of electricity-based shots.

Room vacated by seventy-seven-percent, still at twenty-three-percent occupancy,” FRIDAY reports.

Tony doesn’t look to corroborate her estimates; she’ll be accurate. Shit.

He fires the explosives, and this time the shots do slow it down, which means he has a smaller arsenal but can still hit it with something. He flies up in the opposite direction of the elevators and the thinning crowd, and the person or bot intent on killing him follows, thank God. He chucks a remote charge behind him and it detonates in a flurry of sparks, landing a crippling-looking blow to its side, exposing more wiring and no blood. A bot, then.

The bot chases him, and it’s fast and more maneuverable than it looks, giving the Iron Man suit’s propulsors a run for their money as Tony banks and ducks and throws charges over his shoulder. He tries to get to the windows to lead it on a far-away chase into the sky but it blocks him every time, landing its own potent blasts and quickly weakening his shields down to an alarming fourteen-percent. But as long as he’s keeping it busy, he’s happy. He just needs to make time. Just has to get those kids out.

He chances another glance at the elevators: almost empty, thank fuck. But the bot takes advantage of his split-second distraction this time and goes full fucking turbo on him, almost splattering him against the high wall right before Tony is able to disengage from its grip and avoid the fucking vibranium-tipped wings from ripping his suit in half. He throws another charge over his shoulder, but this time the bot uses its wing to block it, and in tossing it sends it towards the floor.

It lands on the hardwood and clinks, innocently.

Tony lunges and barely has time to throw himself between it and anyone that might be left.

He feels the explosion all the way to his bone marrow.

Suit in systems failure,” FRIDAY announces. Tony’s head is ringing, high-pitched, and he’s flat on his back on the floor. Something in his periphery is on fire. “Perforating abdominal wound detected, vital signs critical, risk of hypovolemic shock critical, emergency services paged—“

Tony blinks furiously and yeah, he can feel the fucking abdominal wound all right, thanks. “FRIDAY,” he spits, chokes. “Occupancy.”

Let it be zero, let it be zero—

Room at point-four percent occupancy.”

Point-four percent. There were two-hundred and fifty people here including staff before; that’s one person. Him? No, he made two-hundred and fifty-one, and anyway she’d know to exclude him from the equation, he programmed her that way—shit, he feels faint, fuck.

He needs to get up. He needs to get the fuck up; it could be one of the servers, or Happy, or—

Tony manages to lift up on one elbow, enough to see... it’s a fucking student.

It’s a fucking kid, in a suit that’s a little tight on him, walking on the crunching glass on the floor, walking towards the winged monstrosity amid the blast-fire flames.

God, oh God, no

“Hey!” he wheezes, and it comes out barely audible over the rattling mechanical folding of the wings behind the bot’s back. “H-hey!”

The kid doesn’t look back at him, just strides up to the intruder and takes a running leap at it, jumping impossibly high, straight into the air and shooting something—two ropes out of his hands, or his wrists, that wrap around the bot’s head and stick to its wings, tangling it all up without getting sliced by the vibranium tips. Tony gapes as the kid lands on the bot’s other side and shoots the ropes again, further tangling and trapping the mech, then somehow disabling its boot propulsors by shooting the same material at its soles.

Hypovolemic shock imminent, emergency transfusion required—“

“Kid,” Tony tries to choke. “H-hey—“

He can hear sirens in the distance. Perfect timing; Rhodey is probably about to crash through the hole in the wall.

“H-hey...” He isn’t entirely sure any noise is coming out of his mouth anymore.

The bot flails and crashes to the floor, still whirring and clanking loudly but immobilized, almost encapsulated in the ropes that look like webbing, actually, now that Tony thinks about it.

The kid rushes to him, bending over him with wide, warm brown eyes. Tony must have seen him in the crowd before; he looks familiar.

“It’s okay, everything’s okay,” the kid says, voice raspy with stress and belying his words somewhat. He looks unhurt, but Tony isn’t really in a condition to check. “Y-you’ll be okay, Mr Stark.”

The rumble of Rhodey’s War Machine approaching suddenly becomes audible in the distance--it’s different than a helicopter, though Tony is sure those are coming too.

The kid looks over his shoulder, having heard it, too.

“Your friends are here,” he murmurs, nodding to himself. Then he turns back to give Tony one last earnest look; the flickers from the flames casting rippling, beautiful shadows over his face. “Everything’s gonna be fine.”

And then he turns and runs to the hole in the window, not slowing down in the slightest before he jumps out into the night air.

Tony’s scream tears out of his chest with rending force.

Chapter Text

Peter

It was far from an easy choice, but Peter tells himself it was the right one. There are helicopters, television crews, ambulances, and three Avengers on the scene right now. He wouldn’t have gotten away if he'd stayed, and he was completely unmasked: in a defining instant, the world would have known YouTube-sensation Spiderman’s secret identity. Instead, he was able to rejoin the crowd below and miraculously blend in with the other students in the chaos, finding a shockingly emotional MJ who was convinced he hadn’t gotten onto an elevator (and was right, but Peter isn’t going to tell her that, ever). 

Now, safe in the back of Aunt May’s car, he and MJ are huddled together watching everything on the live feed from CNN playing on Peter's phone--speeding away from Stark Tower, and Manhattan.

"The damage is minimal and confined to the penthouse area of the Tower," the reporter says in a voiceover. "Stark Industries' CEO Pepper Potts released a brief statement thirty minutes ago assuring the public that the Tower will remain operational, and repairs are already underway at the hands of Stark robotics crews."

He didn’t condemn Mr Stark to die through his inaction, Peter tells himself again, watching footage of the first responders. That wasn’t what happened, because Mr Stark isn’t going to die. And because Peter did act, this time.

“God, if it wasn’t for Iron Man... thank fuck he was there, Christ,” Aunt May is whispering, her voice thready. Probably doesn't think her super-powered nephew can hear her. She’s pretty much driving with one hand (always ten-and-two, Peter, remember), reaching back to pat Peter’s knee or touch MJ’s shin every few seconds, as though she needs constant reassurance that they are in the backseat. “You can tell Donna we’re five minutes away, Michelle,” she ads at a normal volume, wiping her cheeks and sniffing. “Safe and sound. Five minutes.”

MJ’s mother doesn’t have a car but she made Aunt May swear she would bring her baby girl home within the hour or Donna herself was going to run to them all the way from Queens.

Peter reaches out an absent-minded hand to rub Aunt May’s shoulder with the back of his knuckles even as he keeps watching the bright screen; both the Falcon and War Machine are about to take to the skies, probably to search for the intruder, the reporter is speculating.

They haven’t updated on Iron Man’s status in a while.

There was blood—Peter is sure of it; that wasn’t oil leaking from the Iron Man suit, that was blood, and he didn't even check to see what Mr Stark’s face looked like under the mask—

And they are off,” says the reporter in his tinny voice. “War Machine and the Falcon have launched from the top of Stark Tower. Captain America appears to be remaining on scene, and still no updates are available in regards to Tony Stark’s status—as we mentioned before, he has been injured to some extent, but we don't have any details yet.”

Is his life in danger?” the anchorwoman asks from the news desk; squinting at the camera as though that will get her a clearer answer.

Unknown at this time, Janine,” the reporter says gravely. “But possible.”

Something high-pitched gets trapped in Peter’s throat, and suddenly MJ is looking at him, really looking at him in that piercing way of hers.

“Peter,” she whispers, intent. The streetlights they are driving past create a flashing yellow pattern on her right cheek and temple. Her skin looks like molten gold. “Hey... did something happen?”

Peter stares back at her, lost. He can’t tell her; he’s kept the secret for three long, awful years for a reason; he can’t tell anyone—except for how he may have just told Tony Stark.

Peter,” MJ whispers again.

The flashing pattern stops.

“Michelle honey, we’re here.”

MJ’s mom is waiting for them at the curb in her camisole; she runs to them and clutches her daughter tightly to her chest the instant MJ’s first limb exits the car, and then they are saying shaky goodbyes and Aunt May is driving him away, Peter riding shotgun this time.

May keeps a hand on his forearm the whole time.

*

School is chaos the next day.

Aunt May gives Peter an out when his alarm rings in case he doesn’t want to go, but he spent most of the night refreshing CNN’s updates page as Tony Stark’s status went from ‘emergency surgery’ to finally, at 4:32 a.m., being ‘stable’. By the time the morning comes he’s wired, jittery, and incapable of rest anyway, so he grabs a banana for breakfast and takes the J-line to school. And thus: to chaos.

He and MJ are accosted by every student they know and many who have never spoken to either of them, all of them demanding to know what happened, what was it like to see Iron Man in action, did they see Iron Man take the hit, what did the creature that attacked them look like—a surprisingly similar roster of questions to what the cops asked them the night before. Peter can’t help flashing back to that shocking battle he witnessed as a bystander; how loud the metal-impacting-metal sounded, the flashing explosions temporarily blinding him, the crashes and the shrieking of those wings; Mr Stark’s Iron Man like a red-and-gold blur flinging itself between harm’s way and the students at every turn...

“Guys, oh my god,” Ned gasps, clutching both of them in a three-way hug when they reunite. MJ’s body language says she is allowing it and nothing more, but Peter surprises himself by sinking into it in a grateful daze. Even in the most literal sense, it feels so good to be held up by something other than himself.

“All right, okay,” MJ mutters eventually, drawing away.

Peter stumbles back too, trying to muster up a smile for Ned. “We’re fine, Ned, really,” he tells him.

Ned takes a moment to respond, but then nods. “I'm so glad.” Suddenly businesslike, he slings his backpack around and produces a foil package from it. “Here, Peter, do me a favor and eat my sandwich? My dad put almond butter in it again instead of peanut, and it still tastes like sand—“

Peter takes the sandwich (it’s not the first one he’s been given; Ned’s dad has gone on an almond butter kick lately and Ned hates it with a passion) and immediately tears into it, too tired and abruptly too hungry to wait another period.

“Let’s go to lab, yeah?” MJ suggests, and leads the way there.

She doesn’t bring up her line of inquiry from last night until Ned takes a bathroom break during lunch, and even then all she does is say: “I haven’t forgotten, but I’mma give you the weekend off. You’ll tell me Monday.”

Peter’s chewing slows to a sluggish (and probably unflattering) pace, and somehow all he can come up with by the time Ned makes his way back to the table is a weak, thin: “Thanks.”

MJ looks pitying.

*

By the time the school day is over, Peter is exhausted, frustrated with stupid CNN for not having more information on Tony Stark other than declaring him ‘stable’ (they don’t even say which hospital he is stable in), and ready to drop dead asleep.

Except; it's Friday and he has a shift at Mr Delmar’s in the evening.

He walks over to the restored deli and drops his backpack with a thunk behind the counter, catching the apron Rodrigo tosses at him with a split-second’s too-fast reaction time. “Nice reflexes, Pretty Parker,” Rodrigo says. Peter winces (not at the nickname, he actually likes that); when he’s tired it’s harder to keep his spidey-abilities in check, but he can’t afford to let his guard down. No consequences have arrived from last night yet, but that doesn’t mean—

He looks up from the counter at his first customer.

“Hi there. Can I have a BLT?”

Cold dread locks his muscles in place.

Consequences.

He knows the man’s face. This man was standing right behind Tony Stark all evening yesterday, chatting with Mr Stark but also taking notes and emails and who knew what else on a pad. This man helped coordinate the elevator evacuation, staying behind until the very last; stubbornly checking and re-checking the room to make sure no stragglers had been left behind, forcing Peter to climb up a wall and hide near the ceiling in the shadows until he left.

“I-I...” he has no idea what he’s supposed to say.

The familiar stranger—an older dude, older-looking than Mr Stark, at least—smiles. It probably isn’t meant to look threatening.

“Hey. Relax, kid, I’m just messin’ with ya a bit. My name’s Happy Hogan, you can call me Happy. I’m here on behalf of Stark Industries.”

Oh God. Oh God.

“I-I don’t...” Peter grasps for some words, something. “I’m not gonna sue,” he blurts eventually.

The man—Happy blinks at him in surprise. Then he chuckles. “Funny. You’re funny.” He wags a meaty finger at Peter; he’s big and built within his frame, a boxer type, maybe. “Remind me of someone I work for—Now, I have a favor to ask of you, Mr Parker, and I’m afraid refusing would put us in a rather awkward—“

Hey,” comes a hard voice from over Peter’s shoulder. “The fuck kinda favor are you asking this kid for, my man?”

Mr Delmar is standing up to his fullest height, glaring at Happy with all the fury he can muster. He looks disgusted, and Peter catches on to what he’s thinking a little later than he probably should have, given that this scenario has actually happened before.

Oh no.

“N-no, no Mr Delmar, this is Mr Happy, I mean Mr Hogan, he’s... he works for Tony Stark. He works for Iron Man.”

But Rodrigo has wandered over to them, too. He's Peter's age but he's twice his size, and his well-muscled arms cross over his chest in an overtly threatening manner. “Pretty Parker ain’t on the menu, pervert,” he says.

There’s a tense, somewhat incredulous silence after those words.

“O-kay,” Happy says. “I went about this the wrong way, I see that now. Gentlemen, my name is Happy Hogan, I work for Tony Stark as Mr Parker suggested, and I’m here to talk to Mr Parker about some details pertaining to his future at MIT.” He pulls out his Stark Industries ID as he’s saying this. “Feel free to check my credentials, or hell, call the police. Mr Parker and I have never been formally introduced, but we’ve met, and he knows who I am. I’m sure he’s told you he was one of the attendees at the MIT gathering at Stark Tower last night that went... a little sideways?”

Peter drops his head into his hands as both Mr Delmar and Rodrigo exclaim indignantly and round on him, barraging him with questions about this information he had chosen not to share, actually, having not wanted them to worry or act overprotective.

It is eventually thanks to this revelation, however, that Happy gets him out of his shift just minutes after it started. He convinces Peter to get in his car and Mr Delmar that it is safe for Peter to do so, promising to answer any questions Aunt May has after Mr Delmar calls her to let her know about this development.

Peter quietly mourns his fifty dollars and free dinner, and then the car door shuts on him alone in the luxurious backseat, and he breathes in a scent he can only describe as rich.

“So... um, Mr Hogan, w-where are we going, exactly?”

Happy looks over his shoulder through the open window and smiles that non-threatening smile. “Nowhere scary, kid. Mr Stark just wants to talk to you.”

 

Tony

Pepper is mad at him.

Pepper’s concern tends to manifest as anger in general, but this time she is acting as though he did something particularly egregious by saving a bunch of high school kids. Heroic was the word Tony was going for, but. Beggars and choosers, he supposes.

At least he still has a spleen, mostly.

“Happy is bringing the kid in two minutes,” she says, putting her phone back in her pocket. “How high are you right now?”

Tony squints at her, then at the two IV bags gently dripping liquid into his veins. He’s pretty sure one of them is just normal saline; not so sure about the second one. “I am one-day post-op, Pepper. I am as high as Dr Bremjit wished me to be, in consultation with Dr Helen Cho. You think I had a say, while unconscious on the table?”

She glares at him, then at the monitor displaying his vital signs. “I hate that you still sound exactly like yourself.”

“Ouch.”

The glare softens a little. “Not... not like that. I just meant—God, Tony.” She drops onto the mattress next to him—it’s certainly large enough to allow for her small frame. Their thighs don't even touch. “Will you let me go on more than two consecutive dates without getting blown up?”

He fakes a disinterested scoff even though he can and will blow out someone’s kneecaps if they ever hurt her. “Boring Fred, is it?”

“Don’t call him that.” But she’s amused; he can tell. “And it’s not, actually. Boring Fred got a bit too boring. I’m dating one of our senior data analysts, and his name is Darryl. He likes hiking, skiing... he’s outdoorsy.”

Tony takes that in. It doesn’t hurt anymore, that she’s seeing other people—he hasn’t found anyone to invest in emotionally but he’s certainly been on his fair share of (highly publicized) dates.

“Outdoorsy Darryl. Has less of a ring to it, I’ll be honest, but we can make it work. I hope he’s the forgiving sort. And Pep...” He takes one of her hands and looks up at her; meets her gaze with an intent one of his own, wanting to be the sort of mentally well-balanced individual who expresses his feelings. “I’m really sorry I scared you.”

She nods. “Yeah, well. What’s done is done, now.”

"Did Cap tell you how it was just a really expensive bot? Rhodey and Sam didn't find any others, and the three of them are gonna crash here for a bit while I convalesce--doesn't that make you feel better?" he smiles at her. "I'm gonna work on dissecting it in the lab; we'll figure out who sent it in no time, get that vibranium back to Wakanda--"

"Stop, stop talking," she interrupts, shaking her head. Her fingers squeeze his hand with surprising force; she was always surprisingly strong. "You're making it worse again. You got out of surgery twelve hours ago. Don't tell me you're already planning--" she sighs. "Just focus on getting better, okay?"

"...Okay."

She takes her hand back and rests it briefly on his bare shoulder (one of his many body parts that didn’t require surgery, for the record) and then she’s standing up again, smiling. Her hair looks beautiful as the beginnings of sunset filter through the recovery-room's windows... it makes it orange-y. Orangi-er. “I’ll call you later.”

“Please do.”

She leaves and Tony overhears FRIDAY giving her a rather wistful farewell, and then she walks out of earshot because he can’t distinguish the click-clack of her heels anymore.

What he does hear, almost seconds later, is something new.

“—but I thought we were going to the hospital?” A raspy, boyish voice is saying.

“If Tony Stark went to a hospital Victor Von Doom would for sure bomb it five minutes after it leaked to the press. Keep up, kid.” And that’s Happy, and then Tony’s recovery-room door opens and the kid who saved his life walks in.

Tony sits up a little straighter.

At first glance, Peter Parker looks like an ordinary boy in his late teens. He’s wearing ratty jeans, a threadbare hoodie and dark bags under his warm brown eyes. Nothing about his appearance gives him away as anything other than a regular high school student, from his frame to the way he holds himself, the nervous energy he exudes, the way he scuffs his shoe on the floor. He appears to be unharmed, which makes something unclench a little bit within Tony's chest, but FRIDAY will be performing a full-body scan in a couple of minutes to check for sure. 

Peter Parker may not look like a secret superhero, but he definitely is one, because this is the kid who saved Tony's life last night, no doubt.

"...What’s up, Spiderboy?”

Parker freezes, full-on deer-in-the-headlights.

Behind him, Happy rolls his eyes and leaves the room.

Tony waves goodbye at him, and the kid looks over his shoulder in time to watch the door click shut behind Happy with mute horror. Then he turns to look back at Tony with the worst pokerface in history.

“I... I don’t...”

“Don’t bother.” Tony grabs his cellphone and pulls up the videos in his queue; YouTube clips of a horrendously dressed masked vigilante in some sort of red-and-blue unitard flying around New York. Then he looks vaguely up at the ceiling. “FRIDAY, if you’d be so kind as to display the security camera footage supercut from last night?"

On the previously innocuous white wall facing Tony’s bed suddenly appears a massive projection of the scene, complete with more than one close-up of Peter Parker climbing walls in his ill-fitting black suit, shooting some sort of hyper-tensile fluid out of two contraptions on his wrists and finally, completely incapacitating the villain while Tony uselessly bled on the floor, all from different dramatic angles.

The kid’s shoulders sag with a weariness no one that young should bear, and suddenly he doesn't look like he's a regular teenager anymore.

“Oh no,” he breathes, to himself more than to Tony. “Oh no oh no oh—“

“Hey, Parker. Kid. This is a good thing.” Tony tries to sit up further and gets a lance of searing pain in his abdomen for his troubles. “Ow, Christ.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” Tony shoots him a smile. He should have put on a shirt; this whole naked-chest-with-stomach-bandages look isn't doing him any favors in the 'victim' department. “How are you?"

"Me? I'm fine." He seems confused by the question.

"Will you let my AI scan you really quick? It's not radiation-based technology, no thyroid cancer for you; just let her check you out for any broken bones, soft tissue damage..."

Parker looks around, as though he expects a panel in the wall to slide open and reveal a scanning contraption. "That's okay, I'm fine--"

"Just a quick look," Tony insists, because he'd bet one of his twelve billions that this kid hasn't been seen by a doctor in a while. "FRIDAY, go ahead."

"But--"

"Scan complete. No signs of acute physical trauma--respiratory rate elevated to 24 rpm, heart rate tachycardic to the 130s, vital signs otherwise within normal limits."

"Whoa."

Tony frowns when he hears the obvious abnormalities. "Hey, Parker. Something on your mind?"

There's a pause. The kid visibly steels himself.

Then: “Who did you tell? W-who knows... about me?”

He looks like he’s about to keel over from the stress. Tony pats the spot on the bed Pepper just sat on without really thinking the motion through; only reconsidering after the boy has dropped down onto the mattress like a sack of potatoes, closer than is perhaps appropriate between an adult and a teenager they aren't related to.

Peter Parker looks less like a teenager from here, though. He’s surprisingly built for a slender guy his age, as evidenced by the way the fabric folds near his narrow waist yet hugs his biceps, shoulders, and chest... and he also looks worse up close; pale not just from sleep-deprivation but maybe anemia, too. His lips are chapped and leeched of color.

"Kid. Breathe."

Parker blinks, then meets Tony's gaze and does as he's told, steady in-and-out.

He has pretty brown eyes.

He—no, he has warm brown eyes is what Tony meant to think, obviously. ‘Warm brown eyes’ is a more appropriate—anyway. There is a chance the high is kicking in, and Tony is a little out of it. Regardless; Parker's eyes are grave and carry depth beyond his years, and they come with matching soft-looking brown hair.

“Hey.” Tony makes his voice low, reassuring. He can be a reassuring adult, surely, even while lying in a sickbed with a surgical drain coming out of his abdomen. “Three people and one highly-encrypted AI are the only ones that know your secret, Spiderboy. I promise. I know because I saw you; Happy knows because I needed him to come get you, and my—“ Ex-girlfriend? Ex-assistant? CEO? “—my close friend Pepper Potts knows because I asked her to lie about the footage to the authorities and the press. To keep it under wraps, for you.”

There’s a long pause as Parker processes this information. Finally, his gaze drops to his lap.

“It’s Spiderman,” he mumbles. The corner of his mouth pinches in something that isn’t quite a smile. “Not that it... but it’s Spiderman, not Spiderboy.”

Tony nods. “Sorry. Spiderman.” He tries leaning forward a little again, slower this time. “Hey, how many people know on your end?”

“No one,” Peter says, a silent ‘duh’ echoing after.

Something in Tony’s stomach drops. It's not one of the parts that got cut into during the night.

“I'm sorry, what?”

“...What?” Peter shifts, frowning like he’s trying to figure out what he said wrong. His gaze roves over Tony’s face, afraid. When he shifted, his knee touched the side of Tony's leg, and now it stays there; a point of pressure. “W-what's...?”

“Don’t. Don’t tell me you’ve been going at it alone, kid. Please don't tell me you've... for years? No one to talk to? No one to help you, watch out for you?”

The defensive tug of Peter’s mouth gives Tony the answer he hoped he wouldn’t get.

“Jesus, Parker, that’s... terrible. That’s...” It needs to be fixed!, something in him crows. There is a problem and it needs fixing!

“I’ve been doing fine, Mr Stark. I got into MIT. I... we’re okay. My Aunt... I’ve been doing fine, I promise. I can look after myself. Plus I heal really fast, so...”

The strain in his voice is the cherry on top of the cake of denial, Tony thinks, but this probably isn’t the time for some grand confrontation. He asked the kid here for two reasons, and they already covered the fact that he is YouTube's favorite superhero vigilante Spiderman--they can work on coping mechanisms some other time.

“Okay, well... will you let me be the first to thank you for your service to the world? Because you’ve been kicking some ass, Parker, I will say that.”

For a long moment, the kid just stares at him.

Then there’s a split second where Tony is convinced Parker is about to burst into gut-wrenching sobs, but that doesn’t happen either.

Finally, he just nods. Shiny-eyed, but solemn. The gesture actually reminds Tony of Steve.

“Thanks, Mr Stark. I...” he blinks rapidly, but the tears don’t fall. Tony is glad; Peter clearly doesn’t want them to. “I appreciate that.”

Tony’s hand is halfway to patting his shoulder before the IV line tugs at its insertion point, and he swears instead. Probably not a great idea, anyway.

“Listen, Peter, I’d also like to thank you in some... tangible way.”

A confused frown appears at that follow-up. Kind of an adorable one, if Tony were to let the high do the talking—which he isn’t, so it isn’t. “Huh?”

“Well, you’re what, eighteen? Nineteen?”

“Eighteen.”

“And working at a deli and tutoring on the side, while graduating AP-everything? That can’t be easy.” Tony flicks his phone up again, deciding to just blow past the shock on the kid’s face at the reveal of Tony’s early morning research results. “All that and this?” The horrible outfit on YouTube flashes by again. Tony shakes his head. “Bad combo. Can’t imagine you have much of a life. Stress is bad for you, d’you know that? Mindfulness and stuff.”

“What are you...? Um, sorry Mr Stark, but what are you saying, exactly...?”

“Stop working. Enjoy your last couple of months of freedom before college starts and you study full-time. Let me fund your... leisure time, if you will.”

Parker looks almost insultingly shocked at the proposition.

What?”

“What? You saved my life. You’ve been saving lives for years, by yourself. Doctors get paid to do it—you wanna guess how much I paid the doctors who came to the Tower's Operating Room to do emergency surgery on me yesterday?”

But Peter stands up abruptly, eyes wide as saucers, still in utter disbelief. His knee is no longer touching Tony's leg.

“I don’t...” Tony starts to half-chuckle, a little thrown by the overreaction. Peter doesn't seem to be offended per se, just completely floored that Tony would suggest such a thing. “I don’t really see what the problem is, here...?”

“I... you want to give me money?”

It sounds... ugly in an irreparable way, out of that mouth and in that tone. Tony winces.

“I want to help you be a superhero and get some sleep within the same lifetime.”

Parker is already shaking his head.

“It’s really not a big deal. Doesn’t mean you’d have to become an Avenger or anything, I’d actually recommend you don’t do that until after you graduate college. But you could use my lab for your research and be, you know, funded the way you deserve. That sticky stuff is really something, you could--"

“Thank you, Mr Stark, but no.” He clenches his right hand into a fist by his side. “I... I’ve been doing fine, and... I’m really glad you’re alive, and that you’re going to be okay, but... I’m doing fine, so... thank you.” He nods, eyebrows drawn decisively. “But no thank you, I mean.”

And with that, he nods once more for emphasis and leaves.

Tony blinks at the empty room.

“...I’m sorry, what just happened?”

Chapter Text

Peter

Listen, Peter, I’d also like to thank you in some... tangible way.

He just rejected Tony Stark.

Let me fund your... leisure time, if you will.

He was just offered money and resources and a solution to every immediate problem in his life... and he walked out. On Tony Stark.

You could use my lab for your research and be, you know, funded the way you deserve.

Tony Stark looked into his eyes and thanked him for what he does and let him sit on the edge of his bed, and then he offered Peter money—he didn’t specify the amount but Peter is sure it would have been enough.

And Peter said no.

Well, of course he can’t accept it. Mr Stark kept using the word ‘funded’ (not ‘compensated’ or ‘paid’) but Peter can’t accept something he hasn’t earned, no matter what Mr Stark said about saving lives. Nobody becomes a superhero to make money off of it. It’s a responsibility, not a job.

“Peter? Honey, are you going to tell me... please, Peter. How was it? Mr Delmar made me a bit nervous.”

May sat him down on the couch as soon as he got home and now she is fidgeting with her hands, fingers twisting.

“It was...”

It hits him right then, in a delayed, unreal sort of way.

He just met Tony Stark.

“...It was amazing, May.”

Her shoulders sag with relief and she smiles. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. Oh my gosh, yeah.” He just met Tony freaking Stark and Mr Stark thought his web fluid was ‘quite something’. “He’s incredible; so smart, and funny, and his place is awesome.”

“Stark Tower?”

“Yeah, yes, I mean... it wasn’t like the party, it was just a regular Stark Tower day today, you know? And I think I was in the building at the same time as Captain America, War Machine and the Falcon. I didn’t see them, but Happy—Mr Hogan, that’s Mr Stark’s assistant who got me from Mr Delmar's, he implied they were on a different floor.” He can’t help himself; suddenly he needs her to know everything. “And you should have seen Mr Stark Aunt May; he’d had surgery just hours ago but he was already working. He’s investigating the thing that attacked him and consulting with King T’Challa about it, Happy said. Can you imagine? They’re friends. And I saw his arc reactor, it’s so cool, and—“

Aunt May looks confused. “Wait, hold up. How did you see his arc reactor?”

“No, he... because of the surgery, his stomach was covered in bandages but his chest was... not.” Mr Stark’s bare chest is going to preoccupy him for a few days, but now isn’t the time to let his thoughts linger on it. “It was glowing, May. So cool.”

She nods, a bemused smile returning to her face. “Well, I’m glad you had fun. I do have one question, though.”

Peter nods.

“Why the hell—I mean no offense, kiddo, but why would Tony Stark want to talk to you?”

Peter thinks fast. “M-my scholarship, it’s through Stark Industries. I thought I told you?” He forces a grin, though lying to her still hurts after all this time. “It was a meet and greet with them, they wanted to give me some info packets before I pick my classes and stuff. Oh, you should have seen the view from up there though; all of New York, and the sunset, and...”

She lets Peter ramble on a while longer, until the adrenalin rush from the second half of his day starts wearing off, and he realizes it’s late and he didn’t sleep at all yesterday.

“H-how was work at the diner, May?”

“It was fine, Stewart liked my take on that sweet potato cake. Says he might add it to the menu.” She puts a hand on his knee. “You should go to bed, Peter.”

Peter nods, a little dizzy all of a sudden. “Okay.”

“Sleep in tomorrow, okay? It’s a Saturday.”

“Okay.” He has the long afternoon shift at Mr Delmar’s so he needs to wake up early to patrol, but she doesn’t need to know that.

“Good night.” She kisses his cheek. “Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

*

In bed, his stomach rumbles. He lied to May about having had dinner so that he can have the leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

He lets himself think about Mr Stark’s bare chest, instead.

Listen, Peter, I’d also like to thank you in some... tangible way.

For a wild, completely pathetic millisecond Peter had misunderstood what Mr Stark meant.

He slides his hand into his boxers. It feels doubly intense to do this after having met him, different from when it was just indeterminate hero-worship (his 'ultimate crush', as Ned would say) and all he had to go on were YouTube clips and pictures.

I’d also like to thank you in some... tangible way.

He imagines Mr Stark’s muscled arms around him the way he saw them today; he’s more buff than Peter had fantasized. He imagines them kissing, kissing deep, and the press of Mr Stark’s arc reactor against his chest. Being thanked in this context would mean being held, being had, not having to worry about keeping himself up because Mr Stark would grab under his thighs and lift him, hold him up against a wall, maybe, take control so that Peter didn’t have to.

Warmth gathers in his gut as he pictures it, the scene growing sharper; Mr Stark, broad shouldered and dark-eyed, looking at him with admiration, with want—then later, biting Peter’s neck, pushing at him and pushing into him. He digs his ankles into the bed and imagines digging them into Mr Stark’s lower back--Mr Stark would say ‘thank you,’ and ‘you’re so good’ or ‘you feel so good’ or ‘well done, Peter’—

He comes in silent hitching gasps, chest heaving, pillowcase ripped further open because his grip on it was too tight again.

He falls asleep immediately after, just like that, sinking deep into the darkness without even cleaning up the mess in his shorts.

*

Saturday is a productive day and Peter is even able to make up his missed patrol time from the couple of days prior by sneaking out at 6 a.m. Nothing major happens, but he finds an open shelter for a homeless woman, and scares the shit out of an abusive father who was about to slap his own son. His shift at Mr Delmar’s goes well, too (after Rodrigo grills him about Hogan a while) and he doesn’t see anything about himself on the news, or any hints of Spiderman’s involvement in the attack on Stark Tower on the internet. Money-wise he still feels like he’s on a treadmill that’s going too fast for his feet to catch up, but at least he can add sixty dollars to his account at the end of the day.

Sunday is a different story. 

There's a surprise in store for him when he wakes up: an email in his inbox from a Ms Caroline Lao, address clao@mitfinancialservices.edu.

It’s a congratulatory email. In it, Ms Lao is very pleased to announce that Peter is the recipient of a full scholarship for the undergraduate degree he will be pursuing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology School of Engineering this coming year. She also strongly encourages him to contact her to discuss the details of this new scholarship as soon as possible, and has left her office number at the bottom of the email with assurances that her department is open today, Sunday, from 8 a.m to 5 p.m.

Peter almost trips over himself on his way to his cell.

Someone picks up on the second ring.

“Hi. Hello, is this Ms Lao?”

No but this is her administrative assistant, how can I help you?

“I... my name is Peter Parker, I just got an email from her that says I... got a scholarship?”

The young woman on the other line sounds genuinely pleased for him. “That’s wonderful! Congratulations, Mr Parker. If you’ll just verify your date of birth for me, I can pull it up.” He does. “Great, perfect, let me search here...” he hears some background typing. “Yes, I have it right here. You’ve been awarded the ‘Tony Stark scholarship for outstanding bravery and... recklessness’.” There’s an awkward, hesitant silence. “Um. I'm not familiar with... let me double-check something really quick.” More typing.

Peter’s ears are ringing. He can’t believe it. He can’t believe Mr Stark would do this.

Okay, yes, Mr Parker it appears all is in order. I just found some instructions my boss left me—I’m going to transfer you to her. Please hold.”

Ms Lao is delighted to hear from him. She talks to him extensively about the details of his upcoming financial plan, and asks some delicate questions about his savings, and then talks to him some more about how to set up his information so that the scholarship’s benefits start working for him immediately in order to prevent undue bills from arriving at his new Boston address. Does he have a Boston address? “Do you know if you’ll be moving to Cambridge? A place on campus? Or would you prefer to be in Boston city proper, the Beacon Hill area or such?”

“I-I don’t know yet.”

Well, it never hurts to plan these things sooner rather than later. I'd recommend you visit the city within the next month, get set up.”

By the time the call ends, Peter is utterly mortified.

He scrolls down the ‘recent’s list on his phone to Happy Hogan’s number.

He hits ‘call’.

*

Entering Stark Tower for the third time in almost as many days is not how Peter had thought his Sunday was going to go. He had intended to patrol again, and maybe catch up on his massive pile of homework.

“You know, Tony won’t always let you visit his house whenever you feel like it,” Happy tells him on the elevator.

“He invited me here the last two times,” Peter points out.

“Hm.” Happy considers this. “Guess that’s fair.”

Mr Stark’s room had looked like a hospital room last time; walls white and bare, the floor polished but barren; no cabinets, not even a chair piled high with semi-clean shirts, that age-old staple. The effect had been aided by the monitors and poles of IV fluids, of course.

Now, Peter is taken to a different room altogether, walking through the mostly-repaired penthouse he recognizes, though it looks really different in the daytime without the event decorations. They walk up the steps, all the way up and into what turns out to be Mr Stark’s real bedroom in the Tower.

The midday sunlight shines gently into a space that actually feels lived-in; a sort of organized chaos of clothes, tech, Iron Man parts, armor, and of course, computers, are all overlaying a magazine-worthy interior design. It’s enormous; presided by a king-size bed the Hulk would probably be comfortable in. The windows are floor-to-ceiling on the East-facing side, and they reveal a terrace with an indented hot tub in one corner; undoubtedly the hot tub with the best view in Manhattan, since the terrace railing is made of glass to allow it.

Mr Stark is lying on the bed, not hooked up to any machines anymore and looking significantly better than the last time Peter saw him. He’s wearing a Metallica T-shirt and grey sweatpants, and he has a laptop on the mattress by his legs.

“Back already, huh?”

As he did last time, Happy leaves the room immediately after delivering Peter to Mr Stark.

Peter takes a step toward the bed—and stops. With last night’s indulgence fresh in his mind and no medical accoutrements, the fact that he is approaching Tony Stark in his bed feels reframed within the context.

“How are you feeling, Mr Stark?”

Mr Stark lifts an eyebrow. He’s wearing glasses today; simple wire-frames with neutral lenses.

Peter can tell by the look in his eyes that Mr Stark knows exactly why he's is here.

“Feeling good. Still technically on bedrest, but it’s only day three, so.” He sounds amused. The glasses look distractingly good on him. “What brings you here, Parker?”

Peter takes a deep breath. "The Tony Stark scholarship for outstanding bravery and recklessness, sir?” Really?, he tries to convey.

Mr Stark huffs and hangs his head in mock-defeat. “Well. I suppose you caught me.”

“Mr Stark,” Peter starts. He rehearsed this part, but hopes it doesn’t sound like he did. “I am so grateful that you did this for me, and set it up so quickly. I didn’t even know MIT Financial Aid was open on the weekends, but—“

The small twitch of Mr Stark’s face makes Peter pause. And then it dawns on him.

“They aren’t open on weekends.”

Mr Stark shoots a finger-gun in the air. When he smiles, flattering crows-feet appear around his eyes, and that's just unfair.

“Oh my God, that’s so much worse.”

Peter can’t fathom it. Mr Stark opened a department for him over a weekend? Paid people’s overtime, probably? Got them to expedite a fake scholarship submission and then he himself pledged to pay the full cost of Peter’s tuition for four years—

“Hey, hey, don’t hyperventilate about it,” Mr Stark calls, sitting up in his bed. “It’s no big deal, okay? If you won’t let me fund your vigilante-ism this was the least I could do."

“I can’t accept this,” he protests. “Mr Stark, please, it’s so much, I can’t—“

“Parker, hey, calm down.”

Something in his voice helps Peter do just that, and when he looks at Mr Stark’s face all he finds is kindness, maybe even fondness; no malice.

“I will revoke the scholarship if you really want me to, I promise. But hear me out first, okay?”

“...Okay.”

“I just... I’m not sure I understand why you’re fighting me on this,” Mr Stark says. “You know you’d have won a scholarship just like this one if you’d submitted that web fluid for consideration. I get that you wanted to keep your secret identity, that makes sense, but... that’s why all I’m doing is righting a wrong. You couldn’t before, and now you don’t have to.”

“I...”

The thing is; he's right in both respects.

“But I didn’t actually win a scholarship,” he ends up mumbling, lamely.

Mr Stark tilts his head to the side. “Peter.” His voice is rough. “The thing about bravery and recklessness in the title? It’s all true. You won this fair and square. This isn’t charity. You saved my life, and probably hundreds of others over the course of Spiderman’s tenure. You wanna get hung up on the technicality that you didn't apply for it via traditional methods?" He pushes the glasses up his nose. "Listen to me, okay? You earned this. You deserve this.”

Peter lets himself imagine it.

He imagines what it would be like if his college was really paid for, like he’s been telling Aunt May it is. If he didn’t have to do all that tutoring and stay late at school, or rush to Mr Delmar’s Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. He could patrol longer, and tell one less lie about himself to the people he loves. He could... slow down. Use his meagre savings for a deposit on a bedroom with roommates. Actually move to Boston. Have MIT and have a connection to the Avengers. A version of his dream he’d never dared to hope for.

“Don’t let stubborn pride get in your way, Peter, please. Take it from a guy who knows.”

Peter feels something in him fold, just a little.

 

Tony

“...I’ll think about it.”

Tony’s heart leaps. Suddenly his chest is full to the brim with warmth and happiness and a bunch of other overwhelming bullshit, elated by the fact that this kid from Queens may be willing to take his money.

He gets up off the bed, careful, and slowly walks over to Peter, who looks lost, gaze somewhere Tony can’t see. He’s wearing the same jeans he had on two days ago. Same shoes, too. Different shirt, though; today's is a black number with the intro scroll of Star Wars: A New Hope in yellow letters spanning his chest.

“You’ll think about it?” Tony echoes, gently.

“Yeah. I’ll let you know as soon as I decide. It’s... thank you so much, Mr Stark, I really—“ Parker blinks, and suddenly his eyes widen. “You... hey! Bedrest! You said—“

“It’s okay, I’m supposed to take a couple of laps around the room a day.” Tony waves away his worry. “How are you doing?” You could use some bedrest, too, he thinks, eyeing him closely. Parker’s face is starting to seem a little gaunt, now that Tony thinks about it. Is this kid getting enough to eat? Having well-defined biceps does not a barometer for proper nutrition make, in Tony's experience.

“I’m fine.”

Right.

“Okay, well, will you join me for lunch since you’re here?”

“Um. I have homework to do.”

“You still need to eat lunch, come on now.” Tony motions for him to walk over to the bed, has a split-second’s hesitation, and then tells himself that Dr Cho said he wasn’t allowed to leave his room so technically seeking out a table in the Tower would be breaking the rules. They can sit at the foot of the mattress; it’ll be perfectly innocent. “FRIDAY, will you tell Chef to double whatever was happening for lunch and bring it up as soon as they can? Thank you.”

Peter sits and smiles tiredly up at him. “Thank you, Mr Stark. I really don’t know how to—“

“Let’s just put a cap on that,” Tony interrupts. “No thanks necessary, okay? For anything, and regardless of what you decide. Now or ever. Just... zip it.”

“I mean I’ll try, I guess.”

They sit in silence for a moment, and Peter’s gaze starts to rove around the room again. He seems fascinated by what he sees.

“This place is amazing.”

The giddy warmth in Tony’s chest comes back. Apparently impressing young Parker makes it appear, too. “See anything you like?”

Peter grins. “It’s just... everything. That’s a partially reconstructed PX302 over there, right?” he points. “And those are iGeller parts? Those are impossible to af—find.” His gaze lands on a pile of Tony’s laundry. “I even like the vintage band T-shirts.”

Tony snorts. “Vintage. Nice dig. Subtle.”

The kid cuts a glance up at him, eyes still full of humor. “Sorry.” But he doesn’t sound it, and that pleases Tony most of all.

Chef comes in soon after that with a rolling tray full of goodness: a massive platter of ribs is at the top, then there's a platter of steamed broccoli and carrots, a dish of cauliflower-mash, gravy galore, and two bowls of home-made raspberry ice cream for dessert.

Peter starts chewing on his lower lip the moment the food is revealed, and he can’t quite disguise his eagerness as a full plate is served for him and placed on his lap. His gaze keeps darting to Tony to make sure he doesn’t start eating before Tony does, so Tony starts immediately.

“Oh mh,” Peter breathes around his first mouthful. He immediately takes another massive bite, having barely swallowed the first one, and chews with his eyes closed. “Mr Stark, this is so good. Thank—this is awesome.”

He shovels the contents of his plate into his mouth within minutes, sucking the ribs dry, and Tony serves him seconds without asking. A shard of very real worry has lodged in Tony's sternum by this point, because his worst suspicions are being confirmed and this isn’t just a reaction to tasty food, this is a reaction to food in the amounts Peter needs. Tony has no doubt in his mind that, as Spiderman, his baseline calorie intake must already be significantly higher than other eighteen-year-olds', which is saying something.

The large meal has a major, obvious side effect on Peter. By the time Tony has managed to make him eat everything that wasn’t originally on Tony’s own plate, the kid is blinking with difficulty and having more and more trouble feigning alertness. The food coma appears to have decimated some of his defenses and is threatening to take him under, making him drowsy in satiation.

“So listen, Peter.”

Peter blinks up at him, gaze unfocused for a moment before landing on Tony’s face. He smiles. “Yes, Mr Stark?”

Tony shoves his own ice cream in Peter’s lap, a little desperately. “Here, eat up."

"...Okay."

"I... I was going to say, you should have my number. For emergencies. The kind Happy couldn’t help you with.”

Peter hands him his phone with one hand while he slowly starts in on Tony's ice cream with the other. Tony inputs his private, encrypted cell line number into it. Peter is the eleventh person in the world who has it.

“I want you to use this if you need to, okay? Or,” he breathes out. “Or if you want to have some ribs again, too. Just... call me if you need anything. At all.”

“Okay. Will do, Mr Stark.” Peter’s tongue darts out to lick some pink from the side of his mouth. A swoop of nerves alights in Tony's belly; this kid's aunt must be wondering where he's gone.

“Great. Well then, you should probably go soon as you’re done with—“

There’s a knock on the door.

Hey Tony, you decent?”

Tony stills. That’s Sam’s voice, and if—

It’s Sam. I'm with some old guy; keeps following me around... I think he's got dementia.”

He glances at Peter, meekly eating his ice cream with droopy eyelids at the foot of Tony’s bed and inadvertently looking like the most R-rated version of himself, turning this into the worst possible version of a scene.

Can we come in or no, Tony?”

Well, here goes nothing.

“Yeah, come on in, guys.”

They do. Both are dressed in civilian clothes—in fact, Sam is in his running gear and Steve is in a sport shirt and jeans. Even so, Tony figures they make an impressive sight in the eyes of someone who doesn’t know them, or only knows them as Captain America and the Falcon. Hell, they make an impressive sight in Tony’s eyes, still.

“So this is Peter Parker, one of the incoming MIT students this year,” he says without preamble. “Peter, this is Sam Wilson and that’s Steve Rogers.”

Peter’s eyes are wide as saucers, drowsiness temporarily dispelled by the new arrivals. On their part, Steve and Sam sort of froze near the door and appear wildly confused by the current tableau.

Tony briskly sets to the task of uncomplicating things. “Steve, Sam, Peter is my academic mentee, and one of the recipients of the Stark Industries scholarship. He’s... working on a project with me. Engineering stuff. Academics. You wouldn’t understand.”

“Nice to meet you, Peter.” Sam recovers first. His smile is completely warm and genuine. “Congrats on the scholarship, man, that’s great.”

“Th-thank you.” The bowl of ice cream clangs when deposited back on the platter. Peter wipes a hand on his jeans.

“Hi, Peter.” Steve smiles at him, too. “Sorry we interrupted your project.”

“That’s okay, Mr Rogers--Mr Captain. Um, Captain Rogers, sir.”

Steve laughs a little. “Steve is fine.”

“We were actually on a lunch break, so you didn’t interrupt anything. And Peter was going to leave right after; he has to do homework, unfortunately.”

“Y-yeah. Yeah, I was just about to leave. I’ll leave now.” Peter stumbles upright and quickly grabs his backpack where he’d dropped it, slinging it over his shoulders. “It’s... so amazing to meet you,” he says to Sam and Steve. Then he turns to Tony. He seems to regain some composure when their gazes meet, an easier smile on his face. “Thanks again, Mr Stark. I’ll see you soon.”

“Let me know what you decide. Stay safe, kid.”

He leaves, and Steve immediately crosses his arms over his chest, looking very self-righteous but not speaking yet. They all wait until Peter’s footsteps are out of earshot behind the door, and then wait a little longer.

Then: “How old is he?”

“Eighteen.”

Steve sighs. There’s a touch of relief in it. “And is that... are you...?”

Sam interrupts before Tony has to answer, only catching on now because, unlike Steve, he doesn’t assume the worst of Tony at all times. “Aw, come on. No way, man.” He sounds amused. “Kid was real pretty, but that’s not Tony’s style, is it?”

“Pretty young things. Not Tony’s style.” Steve is still looking at Tony when he says it.

“He’s his student, Steve--or academic mentee, whatever,” Sam replies. Then he frowns. “Wait, he is, right? That wasn’t a cover?”

Tony finds his voice. “Not a cover, thanks Sam. And yeah, he's kind of my MIT protégé." He looks at Steve. "Glad you think so highly of me, Rogers.”

"Sorry, Tony, the scene just seemed a bit... intimate.”

“I’m not allowed to leave this room, how else was I supposed to meet with him?” Skype? A voice in his head suggests, unhelpfully. “Also, I’ve gotta say, I like how we’re factoring Peter’s wants into this hypothetical...”

“Eh, that part I could see happening,” Sam says with a head tilt. Tony glares at him, betrayed. “C'mon, another nerd kid has a monster-crush on Iron Man; what’s new?”

Steve raises his palms in surrender. “Yeah, but that part’s not Tony's fault." He appears suitably chastised. "Tony, I’m sorry I implied anything. I take it back, truly.”

Tony shrugs. “It’s all right. In your defense, I am kind of a piece of shit.” He shoots Steve a shaky smile, and adds a wink for good measure. “Though I suppose you went completely the other way, shacking up with that seventy-year-old.”

Steve smiles back; even a peripheral acknowledgement of Bucky on Tony’s part is enough to make those sky-blue eyes light up. “It’s not weird if I’m in my seventies, too.”

“Hm, guess you got me there.”

There’s a pause as they keep smiling at each other, and Tony’s heart becomes a little lighter in those few seconds. Whenever he and Steve spend time together and it ends well, like today, he feels a teensy bit more whole.

And then Sam says: “You done? You guys done with your moment? Can we get down to business now?”

 

Peter

Peter ends up sleeping through Sunday afternoon, all the way into Monday morning.

He wakes up thirteen hours later, disoriented and with a splitting migraine, not to mention the suspicion that he now has Tony Stark’s number on his phone.

It’s a suspicion that is proven correct: TS is what the contact is called.

“Oh my god,” he says aloud, staring at it. Then he remembers meeting Captain America and the Falcon yesterday. “Oh my god.”

He feels energized in a way he hasn’t felt for ages as he rushes out of the apartment towards the subway, yelling a half-assed goodbye to Aunt May.

*

Peter’s elated mood lasts about ten minutes into the school day, until he meets up with Ned and Ned mentions something about the next crop of academic decathlon kids who will take over after they graduate. Peter’s been off the team for ages, but MJ is still the captain.

MJ. He forgot she wanted to confront him today.

It happens during PE, which is an activity Peter enjoys but can’t admit he likes, and which MJ is good at but hates with the passion of a thousand suns. She partners up with him for crunches and has him do two sets instead of alternating. Peter doesn’t mind the extra exercise, but he is nervous about the conversation, mostly because he values their friendship so much and he doesn’t want to have to lie even more to get out of whatever is coming.

He was expecting a lot of things, with how insightful and smart she is, but she actually manages to shock him by blowing past all of his expectations.

She has one of the Spiderman YouTube videos queued up on her phone, just like Mr Stark did.

“That’s you, isn’t it,” she says flatly.

Peter’s back hits the gym mat, hard.

“Keep at it, Parker,” Coach Wilson says in passing.

Peter starts up again, staring at MJ the whole time. “MJ...” Panic tightens his throat and makes his voice all squeaky, like he's fourteen, fifteen again. “What makes you think—“

“D.C. Our first decathlon. That’s when I figured it out. And then there was the stuff with Liz, and Liz’s dad. And then the next two years happened.” She has the best poker-face out of anyone he knows, when she wants to. “Can we please skip the whole denial thing and just go straight to you telling me... last week at Stark Tower: what did you do?”

“I...”

Don’t tell me you’ve been going at it alone, kid.

"I..."

No one to talk to? No one to help you, watch out for you?

“I saved Iron Man from that thing.”

Her jaw drops.

“You’re fucking with me.”

A massive, oppressive weight he’d gotten much too used to dealing with lifts off of Peter’s back.

“I’m not,” he breathes. His face hurts—oh, he’s grinning. Maybe a little manically. He might never stop grinning, though. MJ looks so shocked, but also emotional, too, like maybe she expected him to yell a denial at her or lie some more. “I’m not fucking with you, MJ, that’s what happened. I even went to Stark Tower again on Friday to meet with him. He wanted to thank me. And I went back on Sunday, too, because... wait, I have to tell you about something else, first...”

And suddenly it’s not just the secret, it’s everything that comes with it, and he’s telling her all of it, swinging his torso up and down and chattering non-stop and smiling and smiling and smiling.

*

MJ wants him to accept the fake scholarship.

It’s a real scholarship, Peter, she says, once she’s recovered a little from the barrage of information and revelations Peter flings at her.

Peter is still hesitant, but he agrees to take her points into consideration, namely: it’s free money, man, you need to take it. Stark's not going to miss it, okay? You can’t keep going on like you have been. Did you think me and Ned weren’t stressed the fuck out about you this whole time?

He feels utterly drained by the end of the day, but he gets through the tutoring even with his gelatinous bones. He goes home exhausted but with a sense of giddy accomplishment, and decides that Ned is the next person he’s going to tell, because otherwise it won’t be fair, and technically Ned is his oldest friend anyway. Confessing felt like a drug, and he’s already rearing for his next hit. He'll do it tomorrow.

Maybe Mr Stark had a point about not going at it alone.

Aunt May works nights on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays so she won’t be back from the diner until late, but she left him twenty dollars for Thai dinner under a post-it with a smiley face on it.

Peter ends up on the couch, debating with himself on whether he should actually order the food this time instead of pocketing the money and eating a slice of bread from the fridge like he’s done in the past. He needs to patrol after dinner.

If he doesn't cancel Mr Stark’s scholarship, he won’t need to go crazy with saving money, anymore.

The idea of Thai is making his mouth water.

He’s still internally debating when a chirp from his phone alerts him of a text. He glances at it and yelps, because it’s from TS. He scrambles to open it.

It’s one word.

window

Peter looks up at the living room window in time to see a perfectly silent drone hovering outside of it.

“What the...”

He leaps across the room in a single bound (something he can’t do if May is around) and unlocks the latch.

The drone doesn’t enter the apartment, but there’s a package in a brown paper bag hanging from its main limb.

Chef’s leftovers, is written on the bag in black marker. It’s signed –TS.

Peter grabs it out of instinct, and it’s warm in his hand. He can already smell what’s in it.

The drone continues to hang in the air, and it’s plated an unsubtle red-and-gold, with a glowing core output that makes it look like it has a single, large eye. A very faint whirring sound is coming from within it, but Peter suspects the noise would be undetectable to human ears, it's that quiet. 

He squints, trying to figure out what tech is keeping it aloft.

“Where’s your propulsor?” he asks the drone.

It flies away.

Peter paces the apartment for five full minutes afterward, climbing the walls (literally) as he debates what to do. He needs to talk to Mr Stark, obviously, and he kind of wants to talk to MJ some more, maybe hear her say that it’s okay for him to tear into the food in the brown paper bag right now.

He’s perched on the ceiling when he hits the ‘call’ button.

Arachnoguy. Long time.”

“Hey, Mr Stark.” He grimaces as soon as it’s out. ‘Hey’?

What’s up? Is this when you tell me you've decided to make life extra hard on yourself for no good reason?

“N-no, I...” It wasn’t until this moment that he realizes what he’s decided. “I’m calling because, if I’m going to accept the scholarship, there are some... uh, conditions I’d like to talk to you about, I guess.”

There’s a brief pause on the other end of the line. He might have heard an intake of breath, or he might not.

You’re going to accept?”

Peter nods to himself, and knows it’s the right choice as something else in him unwinds, a knot of tension in his back that’s no longer there, suddenly. “I think so, yeah. But. With a couple of stipulations? Like I said.”

Stipu—okay. What?”

“You don’t... there’s no need to send me food.”

I see.” Mr Stark doesn’t sound offended. “Not even if it was going to the trash, otherwise?”

“Not even then,” Peter says firmly. Mr Stark chuckles. Peter wonders if he’s wearing those glasses again, then dispels the thought. “No need to send me anything, actually. The scholarship is already so generous, I don’t... need anything else.”

“...Okay. I’ll take that into account, if that’s what you want.”

“It is. And if I decide to apply for the Stark internship next year... no special treatment just because I’m Spiderman.”

No special treatment for my superhero mentee, got it.”

“No special treatment while I’m at MIT either. I’m earning all my grades, everything.”

Done. I'm only an honorary faculty member, Parker, I don't do much there beyond send checks and the occasional guest lecture.

“Okay, good. And, for now, can we... I mean, can you not tell the other Avengers about me? Can we just say you’re my mentor, like we told Captain America and the Falcon?”

That’s fine by me. Pepper and Happy will keep your secret. Down the line, though, we are probably going to have to tell them before they find out for themselves. That's regardless of whether you want to join the team or not.”

“Yeah, yeah, that’s fine. Just... for now.”

For now,” Mr Stark echoes. “...Is that it? Are those all your demands?

Peter grins: “For now.”

Another low chuckle. “Okay. Good. Here’s my condition,” Mr Stark says. “Just the one, from me.”

“What is it?”

That you come to the lab sometime this week, and we streamline your workflow a little bit.”

Peter pauses. “What does that mean?”

It means we'll discuss you checking in during your patrolling once in a while, maybe talk about your Spidey outfit... stuff like that.”

Stuff like that. Last week, Peter would have donated a kidney for the opportunity to visit the Stark Tower lab. Now... he’d still do it, he simply doesn’t need to, because Mr Stark is handing it to him for free.

He’s smiling again. “Okay. Yeah. I’ll text you.”

Sounds good. Have a good night, Peter.” Mr Stark hangs up.

Peter drops to the floor, landing in a crouch. The smell of the drone’s delivery wafts towards him again, and he ambles over to it, intent on finishing every last bite.

He just said ‘I’ll text you’ to Tony Stark.

Chapter Text

Tony

The conference call with T’Challa is a resounding success. They have it in the Tower’s actual conference room since Tony is seven days post-op and finally free to roam his own house, if not to leave it to fight bad guys.

Tony, Steve and Sam update the king on their progress with the investigation and he agrees with their theory that Dr Doom is the likely culprit; Ulysses Claw could have sold him some of his stolen vibranium way back when and Doom must have figured out the best ways of incorporating it into his mechs recently. For all they know, the winged bot that attached the Tower was just a prototype, some sort of trial run where Tony’s murder would have been nothing more than a bonus.

Would I be correct in assuming vibranium is the only means by which a villain would realistically be able to get past the Stark Tower’s defenses?” T’Challa’s holo asks.

Tony nods. “This place is locked down otherwise; not even a kite gets near the windows without a clearance code.”

The king sighs. “Very well. Then you may keep the vibranium used to build this bot of Doom’s, for your investigation.”

Sam exchanges a shocked look with Tony. Steve leans forward on the table to meet the holo’s eyes. “That is incredibly generous, T’Challa. Are you sure?”

I am sure. I will also be sending one of my agents to New York to aid in said investigation, if that is all right with you.”

Ah. Makes sense, and Tony has to admire the guy. He’s keeping a close eye on his resources and doing them a huge favor at the same time.

“We’ll be happy to host them at the Tower.”

Thank you. She will be flying in from Oakland. Her name is Nakia, she is Wakanda’s ambassador of foreign relations, and was my best wardog before she was appointed to her current post.” The name sounds familiar, and Steve’s face does something on hearing it that makes Tony very curious, indeed. “We will remain in touch. Good luck to you, Tony. Sam. Steve.”

“Thanks, T’Challa.”

“Thank you.”

The call ends.

The three of them exchange glances, and then Steve tells them what he learned from Bucky; namely that the epic love story between King T’Challa and his best wardog had been one for the ages. Tony is delighted with the information, even able to compliment its source on obtaining it during his rehab stay after the argument between him and Steve got past its worst point.

*

Even with Wanda and Vision holding down the fort at the Avengers compound, Tony has moments of nostalgia for the months after the first New York attack—when so many of them were still living in the Tower, including Bruce, Nat and Clint, with frequent visits from Thor.

It’s just Sam, Steve and Rhodey now (no visits from Bucky yet, he’s at the compound) but still. Nostalgia.

“So my student is coming in soon to do some work in the lab, fyi.”

There’s a beat of silence around the kitchen island. Then Sam resumes eating his salad.

Rhodey looks from Sam to Steve, then to Tony. “...Okay?”

He’s the only one who hasn’t met Peter yet, of course.

“Just letting you know,” Tony says with a shrug. He has nothing to be defensive about, so.

“Since when do you bring students home?” Rhodey asks.

“Since I’m confined to the Tower.” He pops a blueberry into his mouth, unapologetic, and walks over to the fridge. He’s going to have a grilled cheese for his late lunch, he decides—Chef is off until Wednesday.

“O-kay...” Rhodey surveys the room again. “Am I missing something here?”

Tony glances at Cap, and Steve sighs. “There were some... pretty noticeable hero worship vibes from the kid,” he explains. “I made an assumption. An incorrect one.”

To Tony’s shuddering relief, Rhodey chuckles.

“No way. A pretty twenty-something is giving off hero worship vibes for Tony? That has never happened before, let’s call the FBI right now—“

“Younger than twenty,” Sam clarifies, but Rhodey is still smiling. “But he is a college kid, right Tony? MIT?”

He’s obviously trying to be helpful.

“He’s... about to go to college, yes,” Tony says.

The problem is that he’s keeping a giant secret from them, of course. If only he could explain the real situation; that Peter is Spiderman, that that’s the reason things seem a little strange about their mentoring relationship—

“And he has a very pretty girlfriend, for the record.”

“Well, then I for one am excited to meet him,” Rhodey says, waving his fork in the air. “Be interesting to observe this strange, unusual creature I have never seen before. I mean, a young adult who is into my world-saving, uber-rich, recently-single friend; what a concept—“

“Shut up, Rhodey.”

*

Peter loves the lab, Tony can instantly tell. The look of stunned wonder on his face appeared as soon as the double doors slid open and has yet to vanish, or even diminish. Tony can’t deny that he feels... very pleased with it. It’s a natural feeling; his lab is his pride and joy and he really likes showing it off to people.

“Is that the first suit prototype?”

"Can you 3D print in here?"

"What are your biggest challenges on the nanotech front?"

“Is FRIDAY the latest version of your AI, or just a different one? Are your AIs program-specific? Avenger-specific? Suit-specific?”

“Whoa, is that one of the Iron Legion bots? Did you rescue any of Ultron’s parts after he died?”

He flits from contraption to workstation, always looking back at Tony with that inquisitive, intent expression and expecting an answer before he moves on.

Peter is obviously going to thrive in college; Tony would be able to tell which IQ league he’s in by the questions he asks alone, even if he didn’t already know what Peter has managed to accomplish as Spiderman. He has a much stronger chemistry background than Tony did at his age, too, which is clearly a huge asset to him.

They eventually make their way to the disabled, powered off Doom bot he's been dissecting in the lab's corner room. Peter has a lot questions about it, too, and about the use of vibranium in its design, and Tony does his best to answer those with the information he has so far. Or he tries, that is, until Peter wanders over to peer at the bot's head gear and it hits Tony all over again; the mech is suspended in the air by wires, looking like a massive metallic beast from horror-futurism, making Peter look very small when scaled against it.

It makes Tony flash back to the night they met, and shudder at the memory of that first moment when he didn't know what Peter could do; when all he saw was a young man approaching a monster.

He directs Peter back to the main lab soon after.

“So first things first; your patrols,” Tony says eventually, wanting to cover this topic. Peter turns to look at him from where he'd been checking out Dum-E, and Tony notices for the first time that his white shirt has a TIE-fighter on it—was there a Star Wars sale at the mall recently?

“Checking in?” Peter clarifies.

“Yeah. It would make me feel a lot better if you’d send a quick report—we all do them; you can pre-record an update and send it to FRIDAY, and she’s gotten very good at machine learning, she’ll scan it for alarm bells and forward it to the team if it needs to be evaluated.”

“But... the team doesn’t know who I—“

“Right; I can program a little temporary diverting algorythm to bypass them, have your recordings forwarded only to me, how does that sound.”

Peter thinks about it for a bit, walking over to a bare stretch of counter and then hopping on it, seemingly thoughtlessly. The warmth in Tony’s chest doesn’t mind how immediately comfortable Peter feels in here—likes that, if anything.

“I guess that sounds okay,” Peter says finally. “I’ll do it weekly though, not daily.”

“Weekly is fine.”

He swings his legs a little, feet dangling. Tony waits him out, sensing something coming.

Sure enough: “I told my two best friends, by the way. About being Spiderman.”

“Yeah?” Tony grins. “Well then I’m proud of ya, Parker, that had to be the right move.”

Peter is smiling, too. “It does feel that way.” But then the smile dims a little. “I worry about them, though. Like... am I putting them in danger just by telling them the truth? It makes me feel closer to them again, but at the same time... I’m stressed about it, you know?”

“I do, actually.”

“And... they are both so great Mr Stark, but they don’t get why I have to patrol every day. They don’t get the... the weight of it, you know? Of what it means, being the way I am. Having the powers I have.”

Tony feels a pang for how much he knows exactly what Peter is saying.

“That’s the stuff that’s so hard to explain. Stuff I don’t think they will ever understand, much as they want to.” He sighs, the set of his shoulders again belying his age. “Even the whole... caring about high school stuff. Like, that hasn’t been me in a while.”

“You feel a little isolated, huh.”

Peter nods. “Yeah. That’s exactly—I mean it’s better with them knowing, but. It’s still not...”

“Is one of the two you told the girlfriend?”

It sort of... comes out.

He gets a confused frown for his troubles. “Huh?”

“The tall girl—she got into MIT too, yes? I saw her with you at the party, right?”

Peter looks shocked, maybe at how good Tony’s memory is.

“That... no, that was MJ. I mean yes, she got into MIT, but she’s not my girlfriend.” He waves a hand in the air. “There was this moment, ages ago, where I thought maybe? But then she started dating this girl in our class and I had, you know, other stuff to deal with. And even after they broke up, we never. We’re both bi,” he clarifies like an afterthought. “But at this point she’s more like a sister, I think.”

Well.

That was a lot of information in a short span of time.

“Um. Not that you asked for my life story,” Peter adds, a little sheepish, a bit regretful when Tony takes too long to reply.

“That’s fine. I just assumed—“

“Some people do.” He smirks. “They assume about me and my other friend Ned, too, when they find out I’m bi. But Ned’s more like a brother, too.”

Tony nods, taking it all in. His own coming out had involved a weeklong trip to Malta where he’d let himself get caught with both men and women by the paparazzi (Howard had strongly disapproved, not of the fact so much as the careless way Tony had gone about it). To this day, people love to assume about him and literally anyone he stands next to, anywhere, at all times. He gets it.

“So um, anyway—you wanted to talk about my suit?” Peter prompts after a second, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees.

“Yes, that too. Although calling that little onesie you made a ‘suit’ really hurts my feelings.”

Peter’s mouth twists. “It is a suit.”

“It’s pajamas.”

“What’s wrong with—I don’t want a metallic exoskeleton, okay? It wouldn’t work for my abilities, I need manouvrability; I need to be flexible.”

Tony raises his hands in surrender. “Hey, that’s not what I’m saying. But we can do better than what you’ve got going right now, all right? Here, let me show you—“

He worked on the fabric and its general outline a little last night. He pulls up the designs on one of his touch screens and blows it up, tossing the projection onto a large glass monitor facing Peter.

“This is a draft of what I had in mind. If you’ll just let me put you in a 3D scanner for the best version of your measurements I can get this to you in a couple of days; the durability of its fibers will help both with impact absorption and friction in the long run.” He rotates the model. “Obviously it's as flexible as you are, which I’m assuming is a lot. I thought hypobaric adherence first, like a vacuum seal to your skin, but again, if you’ll get properly 3D scanned for me we can design partial plates for bulletproof sections and really mold it to your body. It’ll be less adjustable but more personalized.”

Peter is staring at the screen, and doesn’t answer.

It dawns on Tony that he was expecting (anticipating) some more of that shock and awe, some more bright-eyed wonder.

“What do you...” he clears his throat. “Any thoughts?”

Peter shoots him an unnerving sort of look. The confidence he has started to gain around Tony feels... destabilizing, for some reason.

Finally he says: “I think I’ve come up with another stipulation, Mr Stark.”

“Oh?”

Peter hops off the counter. He steps towards Tony and crosses his arms over his chest; the fabric of his shirt pulls at his toned upper body the same way his suit jacket did the night he saved Tony’s life. This kid needs to introduce tailoring into his life—except that he’s never looked less like a kid, Tony thinks.

“I told you I was gonna accept the scholarship,” Peter starts. “That was... crazy generous of you, and amazing. I am so grateful. But... that’s the last time you’ll do something for me without asking first, okay?”

Tony can’t think of a comeback.

He’s not... no one’s reacted like this to his attempts to help them before.

“It’s just a model,” he ends up saying.

“It sounds expensive,” Peter says flatly.

Tony almost rolls his eyes. “That’s not an issue for me, Parker—“

“It is for me.” He’s frowning. “Please... please try to understand that, Mr Stark.”

Tony sighs, hating himself a little. Ah, that old, familiar feeling... “I’m sorry. This whole thing... it’s for my own conscience as much as your protection, you know. I hate to think of you flinging yourself around buildings out there while wearing anything sub-par, holding you back from your full potential.” He tries to sound placating. “What can I do to convince you?”

 

Peter

What can you do to convince me? I have so many ideas, a treacherous voice in the back of Peter’s brain whispers.

Peter coughs. “Um, it’s not that I don’t get it. It sounds awesome, and... not getting shot would be nice. Also the friction thing is like, a real issue, so that sounds great, too.”

Mr Stark is nodding. “Okay yeah, great. Then...”

“I just... I would have liked to work for it.”

There’s a pause during which the treacherous voice in Peter’s brain cackles. He needs to chill out; he’s definitely the only one reading all these crazy double-meanings to a perfectly normal conversation.

“And for the past three years you’ve been, what, vacationing in Ibiza?”

Peter can’t quite argue that. Ned’s words from their first official Spiderman-reveal conversation come back to him: ‘You’ve been overworking yourself like crazy, Peter. Like, it’s so freaking cool that it turns out you’re a superhero, but do you have any idea how many times we almost staged an intervention?

“Peter. I’m happy to consult with you before trying to help again, but... I’m asking now, okay? Will you let me do this?”

Peter glances at the digital model on the screen.

It looks incredible. It will help him be a better Spiderman, which will in turn let him help more people. He'd be an idiot to say 'no' to such an upgrade, he gets that.

“Yeah. No, yeah, it’s... it’s amazing, Mr Stark. Thank you.”

“You are most welcome.” Mr Stark winks at him and gestures at the screen. “Wanna give me your input?”

Yeah.”

Time passes in a technobabble blur, and Peter is dizzy with the high of creation by the end of it. Every time he makes Mr Stark chuckle with surprise or admiration at an idea he hadn’t thought of himself, something low in Peter's gut flares with satisfaction.

He would have hung out at the lab all night (particularly now that he’s amicably quit Mr Delmar’s and has the time), but after a few hours of bouncing ideas off of each other, Mr Stark gently lets him know that he has work to catch up on now that he’s mobile. It is pretty late, and Peter had promised Aunt May a night out to dinner together.

Mr Stark walks him out, and that’s when Peter meets his fourth superhero ever.

War Machine is lounging in the Tower’s living room, sitting on a couch.

“Oh my—“

“Hey, Rhodey. Come say hi to Peter Parker.”

Peter wipes his palms on his jeans, one of his nervous ticks, and then offers one to Commander Rhodes. The Commander stood up as soon as Mr Stark spoke, and now he surveys Peter with an affable energy.

He shakes Peter’s hand. “Hello, Peter Parker.”

“Hello, sir.”

Mr Rhodes shoots Mr Stark a look. “Aw.”

Peter feels himself blush.

“Be nice to the prodigy, Rhodey,” Mr Stark warns, but he seems pleased. “Peter here is going to surpass every single one of us in just a few years, you’ll see.”

“I don’t doubt it.” The Commander smiles. "Steve and Sam just took off, by the way, they'll be back Monday.”

Steve and Sam, Peter thinks a bit hysterically.

“Yeah I know," Mr Stark says. "Wanda texted me."

Commander Rhodes turns back to Peter. “So. This guy being a good mentor? Is he pretending there’s any wisdom left to impart in that big head of his? Because there’s not, okay? Don’t let the magazine covers fool you.”

Peter laughs. “I don’t know, sir, he’s been on a lot of magazine covers, and you can see his face in most of them.”

It's purely a reflex, a sentence he didn't think through, but Mr Rhodes laughs, too. “Hey, he’s funny! You didn’t tell me he was funny!”

Mr Stark puts a hand over his chest and glares at Peter in mock-betrayal. “Brutus.”

Peter laughs some more, looking from one Avenger to the other while thinking: What even is my life these days?

*

In the car with Happy driving him home, Peter can’t resist opening the groupchat between Ned, MJ and himself. Ned renamed it ‘spiderguy and the baes’ the other day, with assurances that if anyone found out they would just assume it was an inside joke.

st visit totally amazing, lab is EPIC, he types. gonna have new suit

Ned replies soon after.

!!!!!!!!!!awesome

pics or it didnt happen tho

but no covert Stark butt shots pls

lab pics only on this wholesome thread

Peter snorts and blushes simultaneously. Like he would ever risk embarrassement on that level.

covert Stark butt shots too hot for public consumption tbh

u are wise to avoid them

MJ chimes in soon after.

hi hello this bi girl wants ALL the butt pics thanks

stark butt is quality butt

sexiest man alive 2011 2014 2017 quality

Peter grins and is about to text a reply when—

The hairs on his arm stand on end and he hears a rumble in the distance, increasing in volume to a sudden roar within seconds.

He whips his head to the side just as a winged bot smashes onto the side of the car.

There’s an earsplitting crash and a horrible screech of tires, and Happy shouts in pain, and the world becomes a spray of sparks and glass raining everywhere. His seatbelt prevents Peter from catapulting forward, but he has to reach his hands up flat against the buckling roof to stabilize himself, try to orient their position.

The car is still upright but they are being shoved sideways across their lane; the bot crashed into the empty passenger side and is now flapping its dark, clanking wings and propelling them towards the shoulder of the road where–shit, wait, they are on the bridge

“Hold on!” Peter yells at Happy, and fumbles his door open and leaps on top of the car while shoving his mask on, trying not to see how fast the edge of the bridge is approaching, trying not to hear the furious breaking and beeping happening behind them, around them, all of it a confusion of flashing lights and chaos.

He uncovers his web shooters and throws a rope at the windshield from his right wrist, catching it to jerk it back with all the strength he has and ripping out the glass pane from its frame. He shoots another rope directly at Happy’s torso from his left arm and crosses his arms to toss the windshield at the bot. He doesn’t wait to see if it slowed it down; he shoots his next web up and tugs.

Him and Happy get propelled up in a slingshot move, Happy yelling all the way.

“Sorry!” Peter gasps. “Hope you’re not afraid of heights!” And he webs him securely to one of the bridge’s top pillars before whirling around to find the bot again.

It was almost on them already.

Peter flings himself toward the suspension cables, panting as he hears the bot screech its way after him. All he has is gravity and his own muscles to propell himself forward as fast as he can, but that thing has engines in its boots and it’s going to catch up, he’s going to have to turn and fight... he needs to turn and fight... he has to do it—

Now.

He whirls and shoots a web right at its chest plate, catching the rope to try to use the bot’s own momentum against it, leveraging himself to crash it into the bridge’s suspension cables—but its vibranium wings tear right through the cables as soon as it gets close, and then it flies at him again before he can build enough centrifugal force.

“No no no no no—“

Peter jumps and lets himself fall, a dead weight until he is almost on the road below—then he shoots out a web and ricochets sideways in a wide arc, actually flying on the outside of the bridge over the vast drop down to the water below—

Which is when the bot severs his web.

“Ah!”

He plummets towards the river, flailing desperately and shooting webs to try to latch onto something, anything—

His right arm suddenly wrenches upward and he yelps in pain and relief. He did it; one of his webs caught on a bottom strut. Peter swings himself back up, shooting another web at the side of the bridge--

That the bot slices through again.

He starts to fall again and it jets after him, blocking out the sky, and there’s only one thing Peter can shoot at—

He catches its breastplate with the web again, but it fans a wing around and cuts the rope. He sticks his next shot to the side of the wing, then another to its helmeted head, but it cuts through those with its other wing, too fast for him, it’s just too damn fast, and suddenly his back slams into a freezing flat surface—the river.

Spiders die faster from the cold than from drowning, is his last thought before the world goes black.

Chapter Text

Tony

Tony gets the call while he’s still in the lab, working on some upgrades for Nat’s shooters and, specifically, having just had the thought that he can’t wait to introduce Spiderman to Black Widow and wait for the dumb jokes to happen.

Incoming emergency call from Commander Rhodes,” FRIDAY announces, and cuts to Rhodey’s strained voice immediately. “Tony, another Doom bot turned up on the Brooklyn Bridge ten minutes ago.

Tony drops his tools and starts rushing upstairs. FRIDAY is projecting the call onto every loudspeaker in his section of the Tower so Rhodey’s voice follows him into the main floor.

I’m almost at the scene,” Rhodey continues. “But Tony listen, I’m gonna say something and I’mma need you not to do anything crazy, okay? I’m gonna need you to stay fucking put.”

“Say it,” Tony snaps, looking around for his wristbands, and somehow a part of him already knows, he couldn’t say how but he’s sure—

It went after Happy’s car. Happy is accounted for but the kid is MIA right now—“

“Fuck.” He fucking knew it. Fuck fuck fuck fuck. A pressure starts constricting his ribs despite the fact that he’s not even in his suit yet. He tears a drawer out of its chest and the contents go flying, scattering loudly. “God fucking dammit.”

The next drawer is luckier because he finds what he was looking for in it.

“Tony I swear to God, the doctors said—

He’s already clipped the wristbands closed. “FRIDAY, hang up.”

Tony--!”

He programs a window panel to open in record time and kicks it wide as soon as it unlatches, jumping out without waiting for FRIDAY’s all clear.

*

Tony doesn’t breathe until he gets to the scene, or that’s what his frantic flight feels like. He takes in a chaos illuminated by blue-and-red police lights spanning three lanes, sirens blaring and traffic slowed to a standstill. There’s a wrecked car on the side edge, its telling tire tracks revealing just how far it was pushed along out of its path.

And then he looks up, and sees them.

Rhodey is holding a dripping body in his arms, bridal style, the War Machine suit hovering fifty feet in the air.

“Rhodey,” Tony rasps. He turbos toward them. “Rhodey tell me—“

He’s alive. He’s fine, Tony, calm down. Look.”

Peter is conscious; Tony can tell as soon as he levels with them. He’s shivering in Rhodey’s arms, pale in his wet clothes but breathing shallowly, pretty brown eyes open.

Tony would have crumpled to the floor if he’d been standing up on his own; if he wasn’t held together by his suit. As is, his propulsors have to do some adjusting when his legs go weak and almost cause him to pinwheel forward, which would have crashed him into Rhodey and made everything a mess.

I took him up before anyone saw him, but we have to get him out of here if he’s gonna keep his secret identity. The press is on its way.”

“Happy?”

Unhurt. With the first responders on the bridge.”

“The Doom bot?”

I took care of it.”

Peter is squinting at him against the glare from the Iron Man’s high-beam headlight mode. Tony dims the setting. “M-Mr Stark?” he calls. He looks like a blue-lipped ghost. “You didn’t have to come all the way out here!”

“FRIDAY, prelim scan for injuries,” Tony instructs.

“I already—“ Rhodey starts, but Tony ignores him and waits for FRIDAY to confirm that the scan found no signs of major internal bleeding, or indeed any signs of acute injury other than a low body temperature. They’ll have to scan him again back at the Tower, of course, but for now it’s the best he can do.

Tony flies as close to Rhodey as he safely can, Peter sandwiched between them and looking up from one masked helmet to the other. His shivering seems to be getting worse. The altitude probably isn’t helping.

“Let’s get you to the Tower, come on.”

And without asking Rhodey he reaches out and takes Peter in his arms, adjusting his suit to the added weight, and flying back with Rhodey flanking them.

*

Doctor Cho only protests about his emergent demand that she get to the Tower before she sees his face on the screen. Then she goes quiet, and simply asks what time his jet is picking her up.

In the interim, she sends in one of her NYU contacts to take care of Peter.

“I mean, how long does a status update even take?” Tony asks Rhodey, pacing outside of the room.

“Tony, Dr Bryant is really angry he’s been called in, he thinks it’s that minor.”

“Hypothermia isn’t minor,” Tony snaps.

“Apparently in this case, it is. Peter’s gonna be fine, the doc already told us that. Twice.” Rhodey takes a step closer to him. “Is healing one of his... abilities?”

Tony nods reluctantly.

“There you go. And the doc doesn’t even know about that.”

He’s right. Of course he’s right, Rhodey always is. They didn’t tell Dr Bryant that Peter has superpowers, and Tony isn’t going to tell Helen until she arrives. So far Peter’s secret has only been revealed to one more person, and Rhodey is going to keep it, of course. Sam and Steve are at the Avengers compound for the weekend, so that conversation can be decided on later.

“Tony...” Rhodey claps a hand on his shoulder, interrupting his pacing. “You wanna take a deep breath, man?”

Tony shakes his head. “Nah.”

To his eternal credit, Rhodey just nods gently. “Okay. That’s okay.” He squeezes Tony’s shoulder. “I know you feel responsible, but that’s a grown-ass superhero in that room, okay? There’s a reason Dr Cho didn’t call in a pediatrician. Peter is an adult, and he chose this life. Sometimes shit happens in this life, as you well know.”

Tony nods, breathing through his nose.

The door opens, and Rhodey drops his hand.

Dr Bryant looks... displeased, to say the least.

“All right, I’m going to say this for the third and last time: Mr Parker is perfectly stable, and will be fine to go to school on Monday—hell, he’d be fine to go to school tomorrow if tomorrow wasn’t Sunday. There were no signs of hypothermia, past or present.” He glares at Tony. “I was on shift, and I have actual sick patients to look after. Can’t believe I was pulled away to emergently examine a perfectly healthy adult male. I’m leaving.”

Tony doesn’t watch him do it; he opens the door to the recovery room and walks in.

Peter looks... better. His lips got some color back and he’s dry, in clean clothes and buried under several of Tony’s expensive top-of-the-line thermal blankets.

“Mr Stark?” He’s perfectly alert, gaze inquisitive and intent as usual. “Is Happy okay?”

“Happy’s fine, the ER just sent him home with the all clear,” Tony croaks. He feels like crumpled paper, all of a sudden; changed and ruined by what almost happened tonight. “H-how are you?”

“Oh I’m good—I was still pretty cold up until like, fifteen minutes ago, but now I’m good. Love these blankets.” He smiles, patting said blankets with his palm. Then his gaze moves to something behind Tony. “Thanks so much for fishing me out of there, Commander Rhodes.”

“My pleasure, Spiderman.”

He stills. “Right. Guess the secret’s out, huh?”

“Didn’t take a genius,” Rhodey says, but Tony can hear the smile in his voice. “You leave that sticky web stuff behind.”

“Well... thank you both for saving my life. And for bringing me back here.” He gestures with a hand at the door. “That doctor was not happy about examining me three times, though, I hope he doesn’t charge me triple.”

Tony almost screams at him that there is no way Peter is getting anywhere near that medical bill, but he manages to restrain himself.

“Do you want to call your aunt?” he asks instead, brisk. “Tell her you’re staying here tonight?”

“I... no thanks. I mean, I need to call her but I don’t need to stay here. I’ve been texting her—I told her that dinner plans came up with my friends, and now I’m on a fake subway train that’s been stopped for an hour. If I get to Queens in like, the next half hour that’ll be fine.”

Rhodey speaks before Tony can find words other than: ‘That’s not fucking happening, actually; you’re staying safe here forever’.

“You can’t go back to Queens tonight Peter, it’s not safe out there. It’s barely safe in here, but at least we’ve made some security adjustments since the attack and there are two Avengers on scene at all times.” He steps forward. “It’s the smarter choice; please make it.”

Tony could have kissed him.

Peter looks from Rhodey to Tony. “Mr Stark?”

“What he said,” Tony says quickly. “I’m happy to help you come up with a good excuse, or to help come up with ways to... y’know. Reveal the selfless vigilante superhero thing you’ve had going these past few years.”

“No, no, I can’t... she can’t know. Not yet.” He sighs. “Okay, I guess we need to tell her about the attack, but I’ll have to make it sound like the thing is after me because of some other reason.”

There’s a pause.

“...Me,” Tony says. “Just tell her it’s because of me. Some evil villain has seen you on Stark premises twice, assumed they could get to me by hurting you, and targeted you.” Which is exactly what happened, he gets that now. Sure, Doom probably wanted to test his second prototype on the guy that actually defeated his initial one, but the connection to Tony still applies. If Peter hadn’t saved his life in the first place he never would have shown up on Doom’s radar.

“You think she’ll believe that?”

“Yes.” Because it’s the truth.

“Okay. Uh... Mr Stark, can I ask for one more favor?”

Tony nods. “Hit me.”

“Would you be willing to talk to her directly?”

He remembers in that moment that he needs to pay and arrange for Helen’s flight to be rerouted back to Seoul, since it really does seem as though Peter is all right. “...Yes, Peter. I’d be willing to do that.”

“Thanks.” He fumbles among his many bedsheets for his phone and offers it to Tony. “She’s at the top of my ‘recent’s.”

“I’m gonna head to bed, guys,” Rhodey chimes in, patting Tony on the shoulder. He leans in and mutters. “So we can alternate shifts, yeah? I’ll wake up at eight, you can crash then.”

“Thank you, Rhodey.” He infuses the thanks with everything he has.

Rhodey salutes him and shuts the door behind himself, and Tony walks a few steps closer to the bed—until his legs press against the side of the mattress. He takes the proffered phone from Peter’s hand and their fingers brush; Peter's skin is at a normal temperature, and Tony has trusted technology his whole life but for some reason only believes the thermometer at that moment.

“She’s gonna want to come here. Tonight,” Peter warns, apologetically. “She’s gonna want to see me for herself.”

“Once, Thor showed up unannounced with four of his closest friends, who happened to be Asgardian demi-Gods and brought a pet the size of a modest studio apartment,” Tony tells him. “I wouldn’t sweat it.”

 

Peter

He wakes up in a disorientingly large bed.

Right. He’s in the Stark Tower’s recovery room. Aunt May didn’t just agree he should stay—she insisted it be for as long as it takes, telling Mr Stark very firmly that until the Avengers had more information on the “evil fucker who is after my nephew because of you” then Peter needed to be in the safest place in New York.

He takes a deep breath and runs a hand through his hair, blinking away his dry eyes. He has a bunch of texts from Ned and MJ asking how he’s feeling (despite the many assurances he sent last night) and the thread ends with Ned saying: wanna meet at yours later so you can pack for st?

He types back: no need may brought me clothes toothbrush soap etc

clothes sure but no way stark didnt have that other stuff for u already, MJ replies.

am not a charity case

u are a dumb ho tho

He rolls his eyes and sets the phone aside for now. He’ll call May later—she made him promise. After a long private conversation Mr Stark eventually managed to mollify her, and she admitted to Peter before she left that: “He’s pretty freaking charming, I’ll give him that.” She had sounded a touch starstruck.

The recovery’s adjacent bathroom is enormous, and Peter splashes his face in a sink he could probably bathe in if he really wanted to. MJ is right; the bathroom alone has enough ‘guest’ complements to furnish a small hotel, including expensive brand-name shampoo, conditioner and gel, a set of five fluffy towels, a hairdryer, and Peter stops exploring after he finds the new electric toothbrush.

He considers a shower but then decides he’ll do that after breakfast; he is starving.

Emerging into the main living room area on the penthouse level he is familiar with is a comfort, but it still makes his heart beat faster to think that he might run into a new Avenger he hasn’t met.

It’s just Mr Stark, though. Not that there’s anything ‘just’ about seeing him.

Not that it slows down Peter’s heart rate.

“Morning,” Mr Stark says, looking at Peter from his perch on a kitchen stool. His gaze kind of stops on the cut-off point where Peter’s shorts end mid-thigh, and it ocurrs to Peter in a rush of chagrin that he should have gotten dressed before just wandering out in his pajamas (his Rihanna tank top is a size too large but the shorts have the opposite problem). Mr Stark at least has an AC/DC T-shirt and jeans on. “How are we feeling?”

“Great,” Peter says truthfully. “That bed is awesome, Mr Stark.”

Mr Stark smiles. He’s wearing glasses again today, and his beard looks neater than it did last night—maybe he trimmed it? If only he weren’t so attractive in person, Peter thinks dismally. I might’ve stood a chance?

“You must be hungry. Here, I ordered us a couple of choices.”

‘A couple of choices’ is not how Peter would have referred to the sumptuous array of dishes laid out on the table. It looks like a breakfast buffet, except each selection is from a different upscale New York restaurant Peter has only heard of on the Food Network. Electric plates are keeping everything warm, including lightly steaming oatmeal, scrambled eggs, oreo waffles and blueberry french toast.

His mouth waters. Is this how Mr Stark starts his day every morning?

Unless...

Peter hesitates for a moment. Mr Stark could have done this just for him. He glances over his shoulder.

Mr Stark is typing into his pad. He seems completely at ease in his own space, and Peter feels himself let it go; if Mr Stark has a chef at the Tower a few days a week then this extravagance is believably in character, and—oh man, are those lemon ricotta pancakes?

He loads up a plate and grabs a stool near the corner of the island where Mr Stark is sitting.

“Is Commander Rhodes around?” Peter asks.

Mr Stark doesn’t look up from his typing. “He was, but he’s mad at me so he’s taking care of some consulting work for the day. Seventh floor of the Tower, far away from us.” He shrugs. “Well, me.”

“Why is he mad at you?”

“My sleep schedule gives him anxiety.”

It occurs to Peter immediately that that means Mr Stark hasn’t gone to bed at all, and that’s why the Commander got angry.

“Did you not sleep?”

“Don’t worry about me, Peter.”

Too late. “But... it’s 10 a.m.”

“I’ve had longer days.”

“Is this because of me?”

“No.” But he pushes his pad away and gives Peter his full attention. “I’m not going to deny that you scared the hell out of me last night, but that’s not the whole story.” He sighs, pushing the glasses up his nose. “I used to drink to fall asleep. Particularly after a stressful day. I don’t do that anymore, but sometimes that means I don’t get to sleep at all.”

“Oh.” Why does that make him want to kiss Mr Stark even more? “I’m sorry.”

“You have nothing to be sorry about; calling me out on my bullshit is an acquired skill and you simply over-performed, as usual.” He smiles and leans towards him and Peter goes very still, pulse suddenly thundering in his ears, hoping—oh god, is this it

Mr Stark grabs his empty mug and goes over to the espresso-maker.

“How do you take it?”

Peter tries to hide his disappointment that all he got was a hint of Mr Stark’s aftershave. “Um, anything with cream is fine.”

“All right.”

He sets about puttering with the machine (Peter is pretty sure it’s a professional-grade European import) while Peter dives into his plate.

“Glad you like them.”

Oops. He was making happy food noises again.

“Thanks, Mr Stark. It’s all so good.”

“Good.” He returns with Peter’s mug. “Does your aunt cook, at home? I know she works at a Sunny-Side Diner five and a half days a week—“

“She tries, but she’s usually too tired. Her boss at the diner sucks; I’m pretty sure he underpays her.” Just thinking about Stewart makes him frown. “They are understaffed, so she has to work nights for three of the five and a half days. I actually thought about...” he pauses, wondering if it’s smart to confess this to his hero. Then again, he has a feeling Mr Stark will understand. “I considered giving her boss a scare. Y’know, as Spiderman.”

Mr Stark lifts an eyebrow.

“But it’s a franchise thing... it’s probably not totally up to him. It wouldn’t have helped.”

“Probably not. You made a smart choice, which is definitely something eighteen-year-old me couldn’t have done.”

Peter’s brain-to-mouth filter malfunctions right before he speaks next.

“Is forty-five-year-old you great at smart choices?”

Mr Stark chokes and coughs into his coffee, and never gets around to answering.

*

In the end, Sunday goes by in a comfortable bubble. Peter showers and puts on some clothing with appropriate coverage, and then he sets up in the living room to work; sitting on the sumptuous carpet with his legs crossed, notes on the coffee table. Mr Stark lies down on the couch across from him and types into his holopad, awake through lunchtime, programming one of his suits to recover the Doom bot at the bottom of the river.

They agree not to make lunch a formal event so Mr Stark orders Mexican food and carefully watches Peter eat four quesadillas and a salad on the ground at his feet. It’s the best Mexican Peter has ever tasted, but he can’t get Mr Stark to tell him which local restaurant it’s from.

Later, a Wakandan visitor arrives while Peter succumbs to a nap on the carpet, and Mr Stark disappears a few floors down to work with her, promising to introduce them the next day.

And then it’s somehow dinnertime and Commander Rhodes returns to forgive Mr Stark for staying up for forty-eight hours.

*

On Monday, things at school are gearing up for senior graduation, which frankly is pretty far from Peter’s mind. He’s still trying to decide how he’s going to tell Captain America and the Falcon that he’s Spiderman tonight over dinner.

“Peter. Are you paying attention?”

He snaps his head up from staring at his lunch tray. “W-what?”

“Ned wants to tell us something.” MJ motions for Ned to go on. “What is it?”

“All right, hear me out.” He looks serious. “Did you guys know that there’s this kink some rich dudes have where they get off on the idea of giving women money to buy shoes?”

Peter snorts.

MJ face-palms. “That’s what you wanted to talk about? We know what a sugar daddy is, Ned.”

“No, no, that’s not it, hold on. This is like, a specific kink these guys have, and they don’t even need to see the women trying on the shoes or buying them or anything. They just like giving them money for a hypothetical shoe purchase that they won’t even witness, it’s super weird.” He turns to Peter, and suddenly Peter realizes where this is going. “Anyway I’ve figured it out: this Mr Stark thing is exactly like that, except you’re like the woman telling the rich dude ‘No I can’t take this money, I don’t need any new shoes’. And my point is,” He takes a gulping breath. “Take the kinky shoe money, Peter!”

MJ bursts into laughter. “Oh my God I take it back, this is genius.”

“This is nothing like what’s going on with Mr Stark,” Peter says indignantly, face in flames. His brain just went to a peculiar place for a second involving women’s shoes and himself trying them on for Mr Stark. “He’s not getting off on it, first of all—“

That’s your first of all?” MJ giggles, wiping the corner of her eye.

“And second of all; this is about Mr Stark thinking he needs to go out of his way to thank me for saving his life by, like, sponsoring my own.”

“No, Peter, this is about you refusing to let someone mega-rich pay your bills and give you free shit.”

“Of course I’m refusing to let someone pay my bills and give me free shit!”

“What do you mean ‘of course’? I actually love almond butter in my sandwiches, Peter! And Tony Stark has more than enough money, and he’s not asking for anything in return! Or even implying it!” Suddenly Ned looks concerned, stalling in his momentum. “Wait, he isn’t, right? He doesn’t give me creepy vibes, but I haven’t actually met him either...”

“Of course he’s not implying anything, he doesn’t even look at me like that; he’s a freaking saint.”

He didn’t mean to sound frustrated, but he immediately knows that it was a mistake to say anything at all.

MJ caught that.

“I’m sorry, are you saying you’ve tried to turn him into a sinner?” The question is joking, but her eyes are sharp.

“And you didn’t tell us?” Ned adds.

“No!” He cries. “Guys, no—I just meant that... you know, you can always tell when there’s weird energy coming from some older guy that makes you uncomfortable. And that never happens with Mr Stark. Ever.”

“Maybe it doesn’t feel weird if you want it,” MJ says.

Peter sighs. “No way. Obviously I wish, but he doesn’t think of my like that, so can this conversation be over?”

MJ and Ned exchange a look.

“Peter... are you, like, into him for real?” Ned asks quietly. “Not just in a ‘he’s Iron Man’ kind of way but like, for real for real?”

“I.” Peter feels his blotchy, unattractive blush worsen. “N-no.”

“Oh that’s dumb,” MJ says, leaning back against her chair. “That’s really, really dumb, Peter.”

The worst part is that he knows that. He knows.

“I-I’m moving to Boston soon. It doesn’t matter.”

“You’re still going to see him after you move though, especially if you become an Avenger—“

“It doesn’t matter. Can we please change the topic?”

Another telling silence. Finally Ned nods and mutters a sympathetic: “’Course. Sorry we brought it up.”

Peter leans sideways into him and drops his head against Ned’s shoulder in immediate forgiveness. He looks up at his oldest friend. “You gave me your sandwich every day even though you like almond butter?”

Ned smiles.

“So,” MJ says, businesslike. “Do you guys think I should ask my mom’s boyfriend to graduation?”

And they are off, and Peter loves the both of them so much he thinks his heart might burst from it.

*

Aunt May calls him while Happy is driving them into the Tower’s massive garage.

Peter! How are you?”

“I’m great, pulling safely into the Tower right now.” She sighs with relief. “School was good, too; two weeks to graduation!” He tries to inject some enthusiasm into it. “How are you?”

Oh Peter, I actually have some really good news.” Her voice gets shaky and Peter sits up straight. “There have been some incredible changes at work—upper management made Stewart hire two new waitresses! I’m going to have better hours and do less overtime, and there were even hints about a salary renegotiation meeting next week!

“Oh my gosh, May!” His eyes sting with emotion. “May that’s so awesome. That’s... this is amazing. Oh my gosh!”

Isn’t it great? They finally got their shit together! Out of the blue!

Wait.

Suddenly he’s hit with a powerful suspicion.

Things are gonna be so much easier now, Peter, you’ll see. I’ll be able to visit you in Boston, hang out, help you with rent and utilities... it’s gonna be perfect. Just... perfect timing.”

“So perfect. I’m so happy. I... you deserve it so much.”

They chatter excitedly all the way into the Tower and Peter waves goodbye to Happy at the thiry-eth floor, once he’s been deposited in offical Avenger territory. He hangs up after they make plans for a celebratory dinner, assuring May that he’s being a clean, polite houseguest to Mr Stark.

“FRIDAY?”

Yes, Peter?”

“Where can I find him?”

Is the ‘him’ you are referring to: Tony Stark?”

“Yes.”

His location is available. He is at the laboratory level, thirty-seventh floor, Suite L608.”

“Thanks.”

Peter makes his way to the lab at an increasingly urgent pace; he’s half-running by the end of it, leaping across corridors by abusing his supernatural strength, then jumping up the stairs because he’s too pumped up to take the elevator.

The lab doors open for him right after FRIDAY runs voice recognition.

“How did you do it?” he calls, no preamble.

Mr Stark was soldering something before Peter's interruption; he lifts the visor on his protective headgear as Peter walks towards him.

“Peter, what’s—“

“It’s a franchise diner, Mr Stark, how did you do it?”

He’s breathing hard, sensing the answer in the distance and not wanting to see it.

Mr Stark’s forehead clears in comprehesion. He turns off the soldering gun and stands up, and it’s Peter’s goddamn luck that Mr Stark is in an oily tank top and cargo pants, looking like some sort of X-rated fantasy version of himself while they do this.

“Peter—“

“You know what I’m talking about. Tell me.”

“Look. The Sunny-Side Diner franchise is doing really well—probably in part because they were underpaying their workers, but it has potential. All it took was a small injection of capital, a new CFO... it was a great investment, actually. Vegetarian and vegan restaurants are booming right now; the idea of a vegan diner makes good business sense and Stark Industries has delved into the restaurant industry before.” He scratches the back of his head where the strap from the safety mask must be in his hair,. “Listen...” He coughs, but doesn’t sound even slightly apologetic. “I know I was supposed to ask you before doing something like this, but technically this is a company decision that just so happens to impact your attractive family member, so unless you wanna claim insider trading—“

“Mr Stark.” His voice breaks on the word, and his backpack falls off his shoulder with a thump. “How can I thank you?”

 

Tony

That’s when it happens.

It could have been sooner; it could have happened when Peter sat at the foot of his bed, or when he hopped onto that counter during his first visit of the lab, or when he walked out of his room with those bare thighs after almost dying on him.

But no. Tony held out until this moment; until the two spots of high color on Peter’s cheeks, until his features are completely disarmed, his eyes bright and pleading. He held out until Peter’s chest is heaving as he pants to catch his breath; the collar of his shirt askew where his backpack fell off, exposing a clavicle. Until Peter asks: How can I thank you?

Oh kid, Tony thinks, sinking into a terrifying, awful realization, let me count the ways.

Chapter Text

Peter

Everything in him wants to fling himself into Mr Stark’s arms. The gratitude, the happiness he feels for Aunt May, the disbelief at Mr Stark’s crazy, roundabout way of helping him by buying a freaking franchise company... channeling all of it into a physical display of affection would feel right, it would feel like a natural progression of this situation.

But Peter stays put.

He knows the limits of his body intimately; knows how far he can jump and how fast he can run, and he also knows that if he got as close to Mr Stark as he wanted to be, his body would betray him.

The window of opportunity closes when Mr Stark sits back down in his chair after a moment, falling heavily like he’s tired. He looks at the soldering gun in his hand.

“Was she happy?” he asks.

“Yes,” Peter replies immediately, breath still rattling in his chest. “Yes, she was.”

“And are.” Mr Stark swallows. “Are you happy?”

Yes.”

Mr Stark nods, mostly to himself. “Good. I’m glad.” He half-smiles, close-mouthed, and doesn’t meet Peter’s eyes. Eventually he squares his shoulders, turns the soldering gun back on and lowers his visor again.

Peter is mildly taken aback. “M-Mr Stark...?”

But Mr Stark just motions to his work materials; the two pieces of metal he was fusing together are still bright orange, but they haven’t become one yet. “I have to finish up a couple of things down here, okay? And then I need to shower.”

Do you have to? Peter’s lizard brain pipes up. “Um, okay. I should probably do that, too, I think I got paint on my elbow from working on the graduation posters--”

“Great, so I’ll see you up there for dinner with the others. I won’t miss your big Spiderman reveal, promise.”

“Right. Yes, sorry I interrupted you. I’ll...” He picks up his fallen backpack and starts walking away. “See you in a bit.”

Mr Stark does something that produces a hazardous amount of spitting sparks and doesn’t reply.

Peter can’t shake the sense that he did something wrong. He wishes he knew what it was.

*

Two new faces are hanging around the kitchen when Peter emerges from his repurposed recovery room. In addition to Captain Rogers, Rhodey (who said Peter wasn’t allowed to call him Commander anymore) and Sam Wilson, two gorgeous women have joined their little group.

Peter knows who they are, of course. He recognizes Black Widow from her testimony during the dissolution of SHIELD and Nakia from King T’Challa’s revelatory speech about Wakanda at the UN, even though he didn’t know her name before yesterday.

He’s probably staring.

“Peter. You're... here," Captain Rogers says, blinking in surprise.

Mr Wilson claps the Captain on the shoulder and lifts his chin in Peter's direction. "Is Tony coming?” he asks.

“Yeah. I think he was gonna take a shower? He must be on his way.”

There's a tense pause. Both Nakia and Black Widow are looking at him with similar expressions of guarded curiosity.

“Who is this?” Nakia asks into the silence that followed Peter’s update. She smiles at him when they make eye contact, which makes him feel as though the question was directed at him despite her phrasing.

“M-my name is Peter. I’m...” Spiderman. But Mr Stark said he would be here for his reveal. “I work with Mr Stark, for school.”

“Interesting.” She doesn’t question what on earth he’s doing in Stark Tower interrupting a group of superheroes and super-spies. Not aloud, anyway.

She walks over to him and shakes his hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Peter. I’m Nakia.”

“H-hi,” Peter breathes, breath catching for a second because she is even more stunning up close. Maybe the most stunning woman he’s ever seen.

“Come.” She leads him to the kitchen island where she was sitting. “We were getting to know each other a bit. I had only met Steve and Sam, until recently. As I am sure you are aware, we at Wakanda have been a little...” she makes a funny face. “Out of touch with the world, in very specific ways.”

“I-I watched King T’Challa’s speech with my Aunt.” Peter sits next to her. Black Widow wordlessly pours him a glass of water and gives it to him. “Thanks.” He turns back to Nakia. “We stayed up all night reading all the cool information as you guys posted it. It was amazing. Even the way the websites went up, the social media launch was incredibly well coordinated—“

“Ha, I’m glad you noticed that. That area is the purview of a very wise technology expert I happen to be familiar with.”

Captain Rogers gives a little chuckle at that, and Nakia winks at him, but before Peter can ask he hears footsteps. A set he knows.

Sure enough, Mr Wilson looks up. “Tony, good. We’re all here; what’s the announcement?”

Peter grabs his glass of water and sips it, hoping to take his cue from Mr Stark.

“What’s the rush?” Mr Stark appears in his peripheral vision and strolls over to greet Nakia, smiling warmly at her—very warmly. Of course. “I thought this was a dinner. Did you guys order anything yet? How do we feel about shawarma?”

This last comment makes Black Widow and the Captain snort and chuckle, respectively.

“Natasha, always a pleasure to have you at the Tower,” Mr Stark goes on, saluting her. “Wasn’t expecting you today, though... kind of a crazy coincidence, huh? For you to show up on a day when Wakanda’s best retired wardog is here? If I didn’t know any better I’d accuse you of being a fan, or looking for tips.”

She arches an eyebrow. “Maybe I just missed seeing you at the compound these past few weeks.”

“Of course, that must be it—“

“Tony,” Captain Rogers cuts in, a little exasperated. His eyes flicker to Peter. “Come on. What’s the news?”

Well. Mr Stark still hasn’t looked at him since he walked in, so it’s probably now or never. Peter clears his throat and immediately has every pair of eyes on him, except Mr Stark’s. Even Rhodey, who already knows, is looking at him with encouragement.

“I’m the news,” he says. He feels that he can trust two world-class spies to keep his secret as well, even though he hadn’t known he’d be telling them, too. “I have something... I should tell you guys.”

The setup feels weirdly like a coming out, only it’s to a group of supermodels instead of a family member.

“I’m. Um. I have powers. I was... bitten by a spider, three years ago. And it gave me some abilities I built on to create a secret sort of... crime-fighting identity, I guess. They call me Spiderman.”

There are no audible gasps, but it’s definitely a surprise to all those who don’t know—maybe excepting Nakia, unless her pokerface is just that good.

“I see,” Captain Rogers says. He looks very pleased. “That’s really something. That’s... great, thank you for confiding in us, Peter. It all makes sense now,” he adds to Mr Stark, shooting him a big grin.

Mr Stark smiles back, but something about it is a little strained.

“Clint sent me one of your videos,” Black Widow volunteers. Peter belatedly realizes she’s referencing Hawkeye. “He thought he was being funny.” She looks at Peter seriously. “You’re very good, I was impressed. What’s the biggest weight you’ve managed to lift?”

“There’s actually a part two to Peter’s announcement,” Mr Stark says before Peter can answer (it was a bus). “These Doom bot upgrades, they’ve caught on to him. It’s why he’s staying at the Tower. It’s also why we need to get our act together and nip this in the bud ASAP; the children are our future, and all that.”

“I’m not a child,” Peter says automatically.

Mr Stark clears his throat, but only glances at him for a second. “No. ‘Course not. But you are our future, and we need to protect that future.” He’s already talking to the rest of the group by the end of the sentence. “Doom’s supply of vibranium is limited, we know this for a fact. I’d say he’s got one more of those monstrosities in his arsenal at the most, so we’ve gotta be ready. Doom’s upgrades were good enough to defeat Peter’s Spiderman this time around; only War Machine was able to take unit two point oh down. Number three is gonna be even worse, but... with Nakia’s help, and if Nat is willing to hang around, I think we’ve got a good shot.”

“...Your speeches are getting better,” Rhodey comments after a pause. Everyone chuckles. “No, really, that wasn’t half bad.”

“All right, fuck you very much, Rhodes...”

“Are we actually having dinner, or are we done?” Black Widow asks.

“Let’s order something. I have an app for that,” Captain Rogers tells her. “It’s on my phone.”

“So Peter...” The Falcon cocks his head, squinting at him. “Do you turn into a spider or what?”

The dinner is a success, in Peter’s cautious opinion. His formal introduction to the group leads to everyone insisting he refer to them by their first names, and they treat him alternately as a soon-to-be Avenger trainee or a cutesy team mascot—neither of which Peter minds, so long as he is eventually given the opportunity to prove himself. Out of everyone, Nakia and Natasha are the ones who seem to truly understand; both trained and started working at a much younger age than Peter is now and they treat him with the respect of a potential new coworker.

The notable exception to this tentative group dynamic and newfound camaraderie is Mr Stark. He’s his usual charming, magnetic self with everyone but Peter, and Peter hasn’t figured out what he did wrong yet.

At the end of the evening all he gets from Mr Stark is a distracted pat on the shoulder as a ‘good night’.

*

Going back to school is increasingly surreal in contrast with Peter’s new home life and another time, he might have enjoyed gossiping with Ned and MJ about the number of Avengers sleeping just a few floors down from him. Not today, though. He's been feeling a strange sort of malaise from the moment he left his room to find a full breakfast bar in an empty penthouse, with Mr Stark nowhere in sight.

They don't push him about being quiet or dispirited, and he is grateful, but unfortunately he ends up browsing craigslist during Spanish, and it's not good news. Cambridge is expensive, and a lot of places want ‘first, last and security’, which he quickly figures out means he’d have to pay three month’s rent up front. He isn’t actually going to accept Aunt May’s offer for help, of course--so even with the incredible weight of all his tuition costs lifted, things are going to be pretty tight. Spiderman can share an apartment, but not a bedroom to lower the cost of living.

By the time Happy pulls into the Tower's garage, Peter is back to obsessively mulling over every little thing he did yesterday, and in a forlorn, self-pitying type of mood.

“Hey, kid. You okay?”

Happy parks the car and turns around to survey him from the driver’s seat.

Peter blinks up at him. “Huh?”

“You know, you can talk to me, Peter. You... saved my life. Least I can do is listen.”

A sad smile tugs at Peter’s mouth. “Does everybody at Stark Industries think saving lives demands something in return?”

Happy rolls his eyes. “All right fine, I get it, you’re annoyingly pure of heart and could probably touch a unicorn. Let’s go upstairs.”

Peter spends the ride up the elevator trying to discern whether Happy’s Harry Potter reference was inadvertent or not, and then they are at the penthouse and he forgot to build up a proper nervous response to seeing Mr Stark again.

“Hey, Tony. Here’s your protégé.”

“Hey Mr Stark,” Peter says.

Mr Stark is working in the kitchen. He looked up when they walked in, but all he does is nod without responding and turn back to his pad. Peter’s heart plummets.

“All right, my work is done here. See you later, Pretty Parker,” Happy mocks, turning to leave.

A thunk as the pad is put down on the counter.

"I'm sorry," Mr Stark says. "What was that?”

Happy snorts. “It was Peter’s nickname at work, apparently,” he tells him, and gets in the elevator. He waves goodbye and laughs when Peter gives him the finger in return, reciprocating right before the doors close.

Peter turns back to find that Mr Stark is still looking at him. A kernel of hope ignites in his chest when Mr Stark doesn’t immediately look away. Please, Peter thinks desperately. Please let them be back on eye-contact terms. He's felt so weird and untethered all day; he couldn't deal with this being a permanent shift in their dynamic.

For now, Mr Stark’s gaze remains intent on him.

“Pretty Parker, huh?”

Peter blushes, warming all over. “It’s stupid.”

“Stupid... not exactly the word I would use.” Mr Stark leans forward a little. “Who came up with that?”

“The guys at the deli. When customers used to hit on me.”

“I see.” His voice gets soft, and low. It makes a frisson of heat zip down Peter’s spine. “And did you get hit on a lot, Pretty Parker?”

 

Tony

Tony needs to stop fucking talking, is what he needs to do. But goddamn.

“Sometimes.” Peter drops his gaze, lashes fanning over his cheeks. Pretty. God, why did he have to be so fucking—“But never by the ones I actually wanted to hit on me,” he adds.

Tony hasn’t had a drink in two years, but he would kill to be able to get blackout drunk right now.

“I see.”

He should have kept up his avoidance act and just looked away from Peter forever. He can’t believe it lasted all of half a day; he’d really convinced himself that his self-control had gotten much better these past few years. He thought he was better.

“Well, if I need to straighten out anyone that’s bothering you, you let me know.”

Peter smiles, and Tony doesn’t miss the relief in it. He seems pleased that Tony has lifted his short-lived ban on their interactions. “I can lift a car with my bare hands, remember?”

“Right. How could I forget.”

He should get on with the reason he was waiting for Peter to get back from school. He debated with himself all day, but ultimately Peter’s safety comes first, and Tony’s just going to have to grit his teeth and get through what needs to happen like a fucking grown up.

“Listen Peter, I know you wanted to get back to patrolling tonight, but can I have you sit in the 3D scanner for me before that happens? Last thing I need to finish the suit.”

He himself is itching to fly out as well; it feels like it’s been years even though the real timeframe of his injury barely spans more than a couple of weeks. A part of him thinks maybe if he could fly out on patrol he’d get his adrenalin rush some other way, and not need—want something he can’t have.

"Okay.” Peter seems surprised at his request, but not unpleasantly so. “Now?”

“Now works. Unless you had other plans.”

Peter slowly shakes his head.

“Then let’s go.”

They start walking to the lab together, falling in step. There’s an expectancy in Peter’s silence that Tony can’t fill with an explanation for his behavior, or anything resembling the truth.

“So how was school?” How was high school, which you still attend, Peter? Remind me how old you are again... what’s that? You’re younger than I was when you were born?

“It’s... kind of a waste of time at this stage, honestly,” Peter says, looking up at him. “We’re done with finals and it’s mostly me and my friends waiting for lunch period to happen so we can catch up. I finished my last major homework projects on Sunday and handed them in yesterday.”

“Huh. What about apartment hunting for Cambridge? MIT on-boarding?”

Peter makes an adorable face at that. It makes his mouth look poutier than it is, and Tony wrenches his gaze away.

“On-boarding is fine, most of my stuff is done. Apartment hunting... it’s not great, but I’ll find something. I have a couple of leads.”

“Aren’t you moving in a month and a half?”

“Yeah, but I’m sure I’ll find something that’s not the dorms by then.”

One of Pepper’s best friends is a lawyer who lives in Boston. Tony could ask her for recommendations—except he can see the indignant, martyred expression on Peter’s face already, if he bought him an apartment without telling him. It wouldn’t be like the Aunt May situation, because the direct beneficiary would be Peter himself, so Tony is sure he wouldn’t let himself have it no matter how much he wanted it. He's starting to get how to approach giving Peter things in ways that Peter will see as 'fair' or 'earned'.

“What did you base your design on?” Peter asks once they are standing in front of the scanner.

It essentially looks like a glass cube, but the intricacies of the mechanism used to power it are housed in the rig above it.

“It took a while because I didn’t want to use MRI or CT scan tech for reconstruction; too much radiation. Ended up being laser tech, obviously, but I had to adapt its capabilities to full-body scan a human being while simultaneously using biofeedback in order to cancel out the movement noise, so I didn’t lose precision when the human breathed or, y’know, blinked. Its energy source is arc reactor-adjacent, so that I can get away with all that.”

Peter nods absent-mindedly, face tilted up to the contraption atop the scanner’s panels. His elegant neck is a long line down to the collar of his A New Hope scroll shirt again.

“So I should take my clothes off.”

Tony winces internally, even though he’d known this was coming.

“...Yeah.” He has to rip off the band-aid. “I need to attach a couple of sensors to you, too.”

Peter hesitates for a split second. “Okay. That’s fine.”

His hesitation makes Tony second-guess himself. “Unless you don’t. We don’t have to finish the suit today—“

“No, it’s... it’s fine.” He sounds sincere. “Really.”

“All right. It’s your call, Spidey.”

Peter responds by toeing his shoes off and starting to strip, leaving his clothes on a pile on the floor.

Tony looks away.

He knows, objectively, that none of what he’s feeling is technically illegal. He told himself this last night when he couldn’t sleep, stomach churning with heat and shame, revisiting every interaction he had with the kid and seeing it in a new light. He also knows from a lifetime of terrible choices’ worth of experience that when a concept hinges on not being ‘technically illegal’ that does not bode well for its moral integrity once it’s poked with a stick.

Wanting this is still wrong. Without even getting into the ridiculous, cliched abyss that is their age-difference, Tony’s libido needs to cut it the fuck out for a goddamn list-icle of other reasons: the fact that Peter is now financially dependent on his scholarship, the fact that Peter looks up to him both academically and professionally since before they met, the fact that he’s now in charge of Peter’s physical wellbeing by housing and protecting him, the fact that he wants to help with Peter’s mental wellbeing, too—

“Underwear on okay?”

“It’s fine.”

He can’t look away all evening, though; they need to get the work done.

Seen uncovered, Peter’s slender body is a masterpiece.

It’s cut and compact, with well-defined muscles Tony hopes will be less starkly attached to the bone when Peter gains weight. It’s an adult body, which doesn’t make any of Tony’s thoughts okay but doesn’t help dispel them either. It’s the body that saved Tony’s life, and helped heal Peter quickly enough that the doctor found nothing wrong with him even after he fell in the river. His thighs are muscular and strong. A six-pack arrows down to the convergence of his hipbones, and disappears into his grey underwear.

“So I just...?”

“You can hop up here, if you want.” He pats a clear stretch of lab counter and Peter does so, wincing a little at the contact of his naked skin with the cold metal. “Won’t take long,” Tony tells him, trying to sound casual.

There are eight flat black strips of material Tony has to place on his skin, and no point in delaying.

“Ready?”

“Uh, yes.”

He pinches the first one from the case between his thumb and index fingers and pushes his glasses up his nose before leaning in.

Peter’s chest is at his eye-level from this height, and his nipples are pink and taut from the cold. Tony places the sensor in a horizontal line, running a perfunctory finger over it to activate its sticker function and backing away the instant it’s done.

He puts the second one on Peter’s left shoulder, seeing Peter’s Adam’s apple bob up and down out of the corner of his vision, and moves quickly away again. He walks over to Peter’s right shoulder for the third, and hears a low metallic creak when he pushes down. Peter shifting on the counter, probably.

The fourth sensor goes vertically on Peter’s stomach, above his bellybutton. Tony leans in and sticks it there with his fingertips ghosting over the skin, doing his best to avoid unnecessary touching. The muscles between Peter’s ribs are fluttering when he inhales. His dangling feet seem restless.

“Okay?” Tony asks him, gathering the fifth sensor.

He hopes the contact isn't overwhelming Peter's ultra-enhanced senses.

At a glance, Peter looks flushed and he’s been worrying his lower lip pink. He doesn’t meet Tony’s gaze, but he gives a jerky nod in reply.

The fifth sensor is supposed to go on Peter’s lower back. Tony tells him so and waits for Peter to mouth: “Yup,” before he reaches around. His arms hover awkwardly to avoid brushing up against him, but he secures it and then instantly withdraws.

The sixth and seventh strips are going on Peter’s knees, and Tony blindly grabs both and steps back to place them—and stills.

If the boxer-briefs had been black instead of grey, it might have been less noticeable. He could have pretended not to see anything.

Peter squeezes his eyes shut when Tony looks up at him, and Tony hears the metallic grinding sound again and looks back down incredulously to see Peter has been holding the edge of the counter so hard that his hands are carving grooves into it when he tightens his grip.

“S-sorry,” Peter huffs. He presses his knees together but it doesn’t really do much to hide his current state. “It’s—m'sorry.”

“I don’t take it personally,” Tony replies, hollow. Peter makes a pained noise. “But we can do this another time,” he adds, stepping back—his elbow bumps into something hard and he drops the sensors to the floor with a grunt of pain. “If you... we don’t have to—“

“N-no, I... I want to patrol.” Peter opened his eyes when he heard the commotion. “Mr Stark, I. I’m really sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Tony says, ears ringing.

Peter folds his hands over his lap. The counter space at either side of him looks like recently-molded clay.

“I’m so sorry,” he says yet again.

“It’s okay,” Tony repeats, walking back to him. Some distant part of his brain is impressed that he is managing to place one foot after the other.

“Sorry.”

“Don’t, seriously it’s...” he picks up the fallen sensors. “It’s okay.”

He attaches the strips at the same time, bracing his fingers against the backs of Peter’s knees to press his thumbs against them. Peter’s toes curl at the touch, and his abs contract noticeably, making his stomach concave. So responsive.

“It’s okay, Peter.”

Peter makes another weak little noise.

“One to go. You’re doing great.”

At the word 'great', his dick twitches. Tony can’t miss it because the drop of dark moisture near the head gives it away same as the tent in Peter’s underwear.

Tony draws in a wheezing breath and knocks over the case by roughly pawing at the final sensor, but he lets it rattle loudly to the floor because he dug out the eighth strip in time.

“Last one goes on the back of your neck, okay? Almost over.”

He reaches up, fingers clumsy in a way Tony fucking Stark’s fingers never are, but his head is full of white noise and he can’t feel his face.

“You're doing amazing, kid.”

Peter ducks his head and shudders. The muscles in his shoulders are bunched with tension, and he’s trembling.

“So good. Almost done.”

Another shudder, and one hand snaps back to his side to grab at the counter, eliciting a revealing shriek from the metal.

Tony places the strip at the nape of Peter’s neck and gently presses it into the skin, fingertips caressing his spine. Peter makes a wounded noise.

“That’s it,” Tony mutters. “You’re perfect.”

Peter pitches forward and bumps his head into Tony’s chest, right above the arc reactor.

“S-sorry,” he pants, rolling his forehead weakly, slumped as though his spine can’t hold him up anymore. His nose nudges the reactor's case; his breath must be fogging it up. “W-wait. Please.”

“It’s fine, Peter...”

“G-God...”

But from familiar depths within Tony's psyche rises an urge he suddenly can’t control; something that doesn't care about the glorious devastation his actions are going to wreak.

It comes out raw and honest, and he says again: “You’re perfect."

The hand not destroying his counter flies up to grasp his shirt by the collar; Peter’s fingers clutching and tugging at the fabric for purchase, his back arching. “Oh n-no oh oh oh G-God—“

A loud groan of metal and a buckling sound partially drown out the hitching, gasping sounds Peter makes as he comes, shuddering, breathing hotly into Tony’s shirt. Tony mourns those missed noises along with the last of his sanity, staring down the line of Peter’s spine and trying desperately not to lower his head the final inch he would need to bury his nose in Peter’s hair.

“S-sorry, I’m s-so sorry Mr Stark,” Peter chokes, shivering. His words are muffled against Tony’s upper chest. “Please. I’m... I’m so sorry.” He lets go of the collar of Tony’s shirt, hand dropping to his lap to cover himself. “I didn’t... that wasn’t...”

Tony shakes his head even though Peter won’t see him do it. “It’s okay. You’re okay.”

“Oh God...” His shoulders are heaving.

“Peter. Hey.” Tony nudges under his chin to lift up his face, stepping back. Peter’s eyelashes are clumped with wetness, and he’s looking down. “Peter. Look at me.”

Peter takes a gulping breath and does so.

“It’s okay,” Tony says firmly. “It’s all okay. If I told you the stuff that got me off when I was your age you’d fall off this desk laughing.”

Peter doesn’t look like he’s going to feel like laughing any time soon. There’s a tic in his jaw and tears falling down his cheeks, stoic and tragic as he presses his lips together in a tight line.

“And I didn’t even have enhanced spidey-senses thrown into the mix, okay? It’s fine. It happens.”

“I’m so sorry,” he whispers again, like he didn’t hear any of that.

“Nothing to be sorry about.”

A scoff. “Let’s just... agree to disagree, okay Mr Stark?” He wipes at his cheek.

He’s so goddamn pretty.

Tony should be the one begging for forgiveness; for his thoughts and for his part in what just happened.

“Hey.” He tries to sound businesslike. “There’s a bathroom down here, you saw it last time, right? Go clean up, come back, and let’s keep working on making you a better superhero. Nothing’s changed, plan’s still the same.”

Peter breathes deep and blows out the air in a rush. Then he squares his shoulders and nods. “Okay. Yeah, okay.”

He slides off the counter on shaky legs and looks back at it.

“I’m gonna fix that, Mr Stark.”

“Forget about it. It adds some artistic eccentricity to the space, and I need the cred.” Tony makes himself smirk, like he’s his old self, or the shell his old self used to wear. “Can’t be an eccentric billionaire without the quirks; if anything you did me a favor.”

Peter rewards that with a watery, slightly hysterical laugh as he stumbles away to the bathroom.

As soon as he’s out of sight, Tony slumps in the nearest chair he can find and covers his face in his trembling hands.

He is probably a monster for this, but under the dread and the panic and the regret lurks a buzz of stunned reverence. Peter is definitely going to be the death of him--but when death comes, it's going to take Tony in a worshipful rush of adrenalin.

Chapter Text

Peter

On Tuesday, Peter doesn’t sleep.

He tosses and turns and cries into his pillow for a while and seriously considers FaceTiming Ned or MJ awake to try to explain it to someone: because it wasn’t like that was normal for him, his enhanced senses were just overstimulated, Tony freaking Stark was in his personal space, and Tony freaking Stark told him “You’re perfect,” so how could he prevent it all from rapidly building into an explosive cocktail...?

He also considers just gathering all the belongings he’s been spreading out in the recovery room and fleeing in the middle of the night. But. With his luck, the third Doom bot would strike as he was making his way to Queens, and it wouldn’t even kill him quickly.

*

On Wednesday, his new suit is waiting for him in a paper bag on the kitchen table. The bag says ‘For Peter – TS’.

It’s beyond anything Peter could have imagined. The fabric stretches but includes the reinforced panels he obtained at such a steep cost to his dignity, and he loves it at first sight.

He takes off with it that very night after school, desperately webbing his way across Manhattan without even actively patrolling at all the first hour; just exhausting himself by flying through the air and trying not to think about the day before.

After a six-hour stint around Brooklyn he makes his way back, feeling a bit better, if still unable to envision interacting normally with Mr Stark ever again. He texts ‘TS’ in advance to be cleared to climb the Tower without tripping any security alarms, and is let in through a specific window panel at the penthouse level.

“How was it?”

Peter is still breathing hard from making his way up. “Amazing,” he pants, taking off the mask. “I love it, thank you Mr Stark, it’s great.”

Mr Stark seems pleased, nodding and roving his eyes over the fit of the suit on Peter’s frame. “I’m glad.”

He flicks his eyes back up to Peter’s face and suddenly it’s all right there, between them; Peter’s mortifying episode, every pathetic noise he made while trying to get ahold of himself, all ones he made after he couldn’t.

Peter claims to have schoolwork and flees to his room.

*

On Thursday, Rhodey and Sam ask for Peter’s input regarding the second Doom bot’s upgrades, and specifically have him expand on his assessment that its speed and reaction times had improved enough that it kept cutting his webs as he launched them. Nakia joins them after a little while, informing the group that Natasha is out patrolling with Steve.

Mr Stark joins them even later, emerging from his lab with a soldering gun burn on his thumb. He sucks on it absent-mindedly throughout the discussion, and Peter’s dick twitches in his pants at the memory of what those rough fingertips had felt like on his skin, but also at the aching thought of that gentle suction.

Mr Stark looks up at him at one point and stills with his mouth slightly open, thumb in his teeth, and catches him at it. And it’s back; unnoticed by the others but impossible to ignore on Peter’s part: the fact that Mr Stark knows how pathetically attracted to him he is, his hair-trigger response to a few clinical touches which was evidenced by the counter Peter mindlessly obliterated.

Peter claims to be exhausted and leaves.

He’s going to get good at that, if he keeps this up.

*

And then on Friday, Mr Stark texts Peter while he’s at school.

stark industries event @ the tower tonight sorry I didnt tell you earlier

2 executives were MIT grads + 1 senior data scientist

you are invited and please tell mj she is welcome

just dont tell anyone you are sleeping here for obvious reasons

Peter shows Ned the messages during AP Bio. He hasn’t told him or MJ about his life-ending moment in the lab because he can’t think about it yet without wanting to spontaneously combust, but he figures it’s not vitally necessary context.

“MJ won’t be able to make it today,” Ned whispers, wide-eyed re-reading the texts. “It’s the Dad-iversary, she didn’t even come to school.”

“I know.”

The anniversary of MJ’s father’s death is a sacred day at the Jones household, and is observed religiously every year. MJ claims to this day that she used to call it the Dead-iversary, but Peter and Ned point blank refused to adopt that term.

“I have to admit...” Ned lifts his hands to mime air quotes. “’Don’t tell anyone you’re sleeping here’ does sound weird, without context.”

“Yeah. Without context, I guess.”

It’s the part that comes after that he’s stuck on, though. Mr Stark was probably referencing the potential superhero connection, but for obvious reasons could also mean something Peter wishes were true more than anything.

*

Happy picks him up a couple of blocks away from the school, as usual, and Peter shuts the door behind himself with relief. His sleep schedule has taken a sudden deep dive back to pre-Stark MIT scholarship days and the car’s sound dampening properties cut off the ambient street noises that were giving him a headache.

“You look... not good.”

“Thanks,” Peter mutters, looking out of the window.

“Everything okay?”

“Just tired.” Just had the best orgasm of my life in front of Mr Stark. Just humiliated myself forever. Just regretting all my life choices.

He can tell Happy is trying to look at him in the rearview mirror.

“All right, listen, I’m only going to say this once: Gaga or Britney?”

“Wait, really?”

He has been thoroughly mocked for his music preferences in the past, even though he tried explaining to Happy that hypermasculinity is lame.

“Really. You look that bad.”

Peter smiles for real when Edge of Glory starts blasting through the speakers.

His mood has improved by the time Happy drops him off at Aunt May’s so he can pick up his suit for the event, and continues to feel lighter when he runs back out to the idling car just ten minutes later with one of May’s date loaves and the memory of a solid, loving hug from an uncomplicated parental figure.

By the time they make it to Stark Tower in Friday evening traffic, Peter is well into the ‘fashionably late’ timeframe for the Stark Industries event.

He wades through the busy lobby and takes the elevator up with a group of glamorous people he doesn’t know, all dressed in subtly and not-so-subtly fashionable outfits. When they get to the penthouse Peter quickly notices that it has been dolled up in a much more understated way than it had been the last time he was here for a party—but with that being said, it’s obvious that Stark Industries spared no expense in its company appreciation event.

The servers are walking around with intricately arranged sushi, platters of tapas-style finger food and gold-crusted samplers of famous dishes from all over the world. A chocolate fountain with a selection of gleaming strawberries is the centerpiece at a table where the desserts have been displayed, next to a station where partygoers can ask for a chef to make them custom-flavored ice cream.

He takes a moment to adjust to the cacophony of sounds; the clang of dishes and clink of glasses, the laughter, the conversations and the footsteps on heels. The smells are intense, too; food and perfume, alcohol. But he gets it under control.

After an awkward minute standing alone in the crowd, Peter spots Nakia and rushes over to her.

It knocks him a little sideways again, how gorgeous she is; she’s wearing a patterned green dress and her hair in cornrows. She gleams like a princess, or a queen.

“H-hey. Hi, Nakia.”

“Peter, it’s so good to see you.” She motions him up and down. “You look so handsome!”

He laughs because it’s almost funny, coming from her. “Thanks. You look, um, incredible. How is it going?”

“It’s going well—I am learning a bit more about Stark Industries, not all of which I love, but...” she makes a so-so gesture with her hand. “I can respect the changes that have been made of late. And I can certainly respect Tony.”

“Well, that’s a relief.”

They both turn to see Mr Stark standing nearby, the nucleus of a group of people who have since expanded to include Peter and Nakia.

Mr Stark is wearing rose-colored glasses, a black suit and a black tie with his hair artfully tousled.

“Hey Mr Stark,” Peter says.

“He is so formal with you,” Nakia chuckles before Mr Stark can reply. “’Mr Stark’,” she echoes, affecting an American accent that makes Mr Stark snort with amusement. “Why don’t you ask him to call you ‘Tony’?”

“Guess I got used to it,” he says, glancing at Peter. He scans him quickly and Peter hopes he isn’t noticing that the suit Peter is wearing is the only one he owns. “So Nakia, I have to ask; is vibranium also a beauty product? Because I have yet to see a Wakandan citizen who isn’t stunning, and it’s kinda bumming me out. Have you guys looked into that?” A beat. “That’s my way of saying you look truly, absurdly beautiful tonight, by the way.”

Nakia laughs, and as soon as she does Mr Stark’s court does, too. “I think that’s the Africa, not the vibranium.” She motions to an admittedly beautiful black man among the group. “See? My American brothers share the gift.”

Mr Stark lifts his hands in surrender, smiling at her with frank admiration, and suddenly Peter doesn’t want to be here anymore—neither the party nor this specific part of it, but he’ll remedy one at a time.

He deploys his newfound expertise for fleeing Mr Stark’s vicinity and makes up a lame excuse about the bathroom, leaving them to talk and impress everybody and probably fall in gorgeous love together.

“Come back and talk to me later, Peter,” Nakia calls after him.

“Will do!”

His eyes are stinging, he realizes incredulously when he's halfway across the room. How pathetic has he become? Isn’t there supposed to be a rock bottom? Hasn’t he hit the rock part yet?

“Peter Parker?”

Peter sniffs quickly and looks up at the new voice. It’s a man he’s never met before—a blond guy in his late thirties with a fashionable 5-o’clock shadow and a receding hairline. He’s wearing clunky black frames that look really good on him.

“Um. Yes?”

“Hi. I’m Mitch Houston. I work with Tony.” For, Peter corrects him mentally, feeling a bit smug about it despite everything. “I’m the director of data science at SI. He told me to look out for an upcoming MIT prospect, and I assumed...?”

Peter looks around them. He’s probably the youngest person here, though not by much.

“Did I get lucky?” Mitch asks, smiling. “And please disregard the double-entendre.”

“Ha, no, it’s... yeah, I’m Peter Parker. It’s nice to meet you.” He smiles up at him and shakes his hand when it’s offered.

“Well, I’m happy to answer any questions you have, but first...” he looks around for a server. “I need a drink. Can I get you something? Champagne or something?”

It seems like a bad idea, so Peter says: “Yes.”

A young woman comes up to them soon after with a platter of champagne flutes of different hues.

“Hello, sirs. What do we feel like tonight? I have some blanc de blancs here, some roses... the Spanish Freixenet has been popular...”

They both take a glass of Freixenet each, and Peter takes a generous first sip. He couldn’t say why it tastes better since he can’t really distinguish it from the few other times he’s tried champagne, but it does. Sometimes things that are expensive are better, he thinks, and makes a mental note to send the meme to MJ tomorrow.

“So tell me Peter, have you had a chance to look at the classes you want to take?”

Peter does his best to keep up his end of the conversation. Mitch turns out to be really fun to talk to, and he provides good trivia not just about the college itself but about life on campus, including the absolute need for a U-lock; he makes Peter repeat “no bike chain bullshit” three times until he’s giggling. He makes Peter laugh with a couple of his academia stories, too.

At one point, while Mitch is reminiscing about some professor, Peter spots Nakia talking to a group of enraptured Stark Industries employees and feels a flare of hope—but he soon sees Mr Stark again, and he’s talking to a red-headed woman Peter recognizes as the Stark Industries CEO, and also his beautiful ex. The couple are surrounded by expectant admirers and fawning employees, and it dawns on Peter that he somehow managed to forget that Mr Stark is a highly sought-after, incredibly powerful man whose main goal in life is not to mentor his enamored Avenger-in-training... or indeed, to think about Peter at all.

He finishes his champagne.

“Do you want another one?” Mitch asks.

“Yeah, thanks.”

Mitch flags down another server with easy confidence, putting an absent-minded hand on Peter’s elbow.

“Hey, Peter. How’s it going, buddy?”

Mitch’s posture changes completely; becoming at once deferential and somewhat preening, since being approached by Tony Stark at this gathering must be a sign of status unrivalled within the company.

Peter’s pulse skyrockets. “M-Mr Stark, hey.” He can’t figure out how he even got to them so fast, he literally just saw Mr Stark out in the crowd but Ms Potts is nowhere nearby, at a glance.

“Hey.” He gives Peter a tight smile and then looks slyly at Mitch. “Mitch, glad you found my protégé in this crowd, thanks for chatting with him.”

“It’s my pleasure, Tony, we’re having a great conversation. He’s very bright; he’s gonna do well.”

Mr Stark gives him the same tight smile he just gave Peter. “That’s what I like to hear. What I wouldn’t like to hear would be that you offered and then provided my eighteen-year-old protégé with any alcohol.” He sounds joking, but the hairs on the back of Peter’s hair stand on end. He only sounds it. “You wouldn’t do that, right Mitch?”

Mitch laughs, but it’s strained. “N-no sir. Sparkling water from now on for Tony Stark’s young friend.”

“Good, good.” Mr Stark smirks, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “On that note, if you’ll excuse us a moment, I actually need to have a word with my young friend, here.”

He puts an arm around Peter’s shoulders and leads him away without giving Mitch an opportunity to reply.

Peter has no freaking clue what’s going on but his skin just erupted in goosebumps all over at the sudden contact. This is almost the most they’ve touched ever; he’s being pressed into Mr Stark’s side and tucked under his arm all at once. He can smell him from this distance; the rich, distinctly woodsy scent of his aftershave.

“How are you liking the event?”

Mr Stark is looking out at the party while he talks, with the air of someone surveying the scene.

“It’s good. It’s...” Peter has no idea what to say. A lot of people are staring at them, probably imagining a sweet mentoring relationship as opposed to something much more complicated. “A nice event.”

“Good. Good.” Mr Stark squeezes his shoulder. “Will you take a walk with me? I want to talk to you about something.”

Completely clueless but brimming with anxiety at that ominous pronouncement, Peter has no choice but to walk with Mr Stark, and indeed follow him out of the penthouse area, away from everyone. They pass expectant guests who wave at Mr Stark as he walks by, and he waves or salutes or nods at them back but doesn’t stop.

They eventually turn enough corners that they lose even the most determined stragglers.

“In here,” Mr Stark instructs.

‘Here’ is one of the Tower’s sumptuous bathrooms.

The door shuts behind them and Peter thinks, crazily, that he’s been in this dream before.

“So... what was that?” Mr Stark says, crossing his arms over his chest. His eyes look flinty and dark, and for the first time Peter gets it; he’s angry. This is Tony Stark angry, even though it’s not directed at Peter.

“What do you...?” He doesn’t get why he’s mad, though. “What was what?”

Mr Stark makes an impatient moue with his mouth. “You’re a smart kid, Peter, think. Do you think I can have my employees seeing, knowing that I let my eighteen-year-old mentee get roasted under my own roof?” He huffs. “I thought you were smarter than this.”

“...I’ve gotten drunk before.”

“And you can get drunk tomorrow if you want, but Mitch won’t be there.”

“I had one glass of champagne, I’m not even buzzed.” Peter feels lost. “What’s the... is it really a big deal?”

“Not if you’re with your friends. Here, there are adults who look at you and—“ he looks away, movements restless. “You have to know, right? I mean, you know how ugly the world is; you’re Spiderman. They called you ‘Pretty Parker’ at work, for fuck’s sake... you know how some people see you.”

Oh.

“You were worried about me?”

“I was...” The anger is fading. “Well, yes.”

“Mitch was just being nice.”

“Some people aren’t nice, Peter.”

Peter flashes back to Han Solo and Princess Leia in Empire Strikes Back, for some reason. I like nice men. And Han’s: I’m a nice man.

“I can tell the difference.”

Something bitter passes over Mr Stark’s features. It says: ‘No, I don’t think you can,’ even though he doesn’t speak the words out loud.

“I can,” Peter insists. “And I appreciate you looking out for me Mr Stark, I do, but it wasn’t really... necessary.”

“Really.”

“Yeah. Really.”

 

Tony

He tells himself that it’s not a good idea to tell Peter that a man who isn’t very nice at all is standing right in front of him, just to win the argument.

Peter had smiled so easily for the Stark Industries senior data scientist. Which was fine, except--because Mitch is a tall guy, Peter had to keep looking up at him from under his lashes, and then he was doing all that giggling, and laughing, and Tony doesn’t even know Mitch all that well so who the fuck knows what Mitch was thinking about the pretty young thing who thought he was so funny. Peter even let Mitch put a hand on his elbow.

Tony has to look out for him if Peter isn’t going to look out for himself. He doesn’t think it’s irrational to want to keep an eye out for the kid given what he knows about men his age, himself included.

“Well, then. I’m... sorry I intervened.”

“That’s okay.” Peter gives him a close-mouthed smile. “It was your turn to apologize for something, I guess.”

“Right.” Something hot funnels into his lower belly at the reminder of the last little thing Peter spent way too much energy apologizing for. He makes himself say the words he should have said earlier this week. “About that…” Peter’s apprehensive face is not encouraging, but Tony powers through. “If you want to talk about it, that’s fine by me. I may not have made it clear at the time, but—you can always talk to me, Peter. About anything. And especially about that, if you… if there’s anything…”

“Uh. I think if you make me talk about it I’ll just start apologizing again,” he mumbles.

Tony chuckles under his breath. “Touché.”

“Though…” Peter seems pensive, and he almost sounds surprised at hearing his own voice addressing the topic voluntarily. “I guess I would say… or I would ask… did you mean it? About things not changing just ‘cause I’m…?” he makes a funny hand-motion between them, as though to indicate something floating from him towards Tony.

C'mon, another nerd kid has a monster-crush on Iron Man; what’s new?

He’s been trying not to think about the fact that Peter likely wants him back.

There were some... pretty noticeable hero worship vibes from the kid.

He’s been trying really, really hard to ignore that open door.

I mean, a young adult who is into my world-saving, uber-rich, recently-single friend; what a concept—

It shouldn’t even be relevant; not before when Tony only suspected it nor now that Peter is acknowledging it as known fact after what happened in the lab.

Is forty-five-year-old you great at smart choices?

“I’m sorry, what was that—“ He recreates the motion for a second. “—supposed to mean? Is it a millennial thing I’m not getting?” Actually Peter is probably technically Gen Z, but the point is Tony is giving him an out.

“The. Um.” Peter’s cheeks pink, and the warmth in Tony’s chest is a blaze. He’s not going to take the out because he’s the bravest person Tony knows. “You know. The. The way I feel about you.” He looks like he wants to die just saying it.

Tony feels like he just got punched in the throat.

“Well…” he wants to be honest, but he also wants to tell Peter that things are going to be sunshine and daisies and caviar and wearing a satin robe while lounging on a fifteen-thousand-dollar sofa, because those are all the things Tony wants him to have. But. Some things might need to change a little bit, for the sake of Tony’s sanity. “I can promise you this, Parker; I will do my absolute best to treat you the same and I will gladly agree to be called out if I’m not doing so.”

Peter nods.

“And I’m… Obviously you’re going to find someone amazing who isn’t a trauma survivor with orphan issues and a bunch of PTSD several decades your senior.”

“Two decades, not several. And I’d rather find someone I can relate to,” Peter shoots back, and it dawns on him just how thoughtless the use of those descriptors was.

“I see you’re rounding down your decades.”

Peter doesn’t crack a smile. “You don’t have to, like, let me down easy Mr Stark. I get it. I wasn’t gonna.” He doesn’t finish the sentence. Tony reminds himself that’s a good thing. “And, I mean I saw the way you… with Nakia.”

Ah. That’s… one way to misinterpret things.

“There’s nothing to see between me and Nakia,” Tony tells him. “Granted, she is the most beautiful foreign intelligence officer on Earth, probably woman, and she and I get along—at least I hope so, but that’s all there is to it.”

Peter seems dubious.

“She also happens to be engaged to the King of Wakanda, so even if there were any interest on my part, it wouldn’t lead to anything. But there’s none. Not like that.”

He finishes talking before realizing it might have been a decent idea to keep Peter in the dark about Nakia, let him think Tony really likes her like that—and has a shot in Hell. But an uneasy feeling was gnawing at his stomach at the thought of Peter believing that to be true.

“Oh.” Peter seems… a little pleased about it, perhaps.

Yeah, he probably shouldn’t have said anything.

“Well, anyway Mr Stark. I promise I still wasn’t gonna try anything, in spite of what… um. What happened on Tuesday.”

Tony nods. “That would’ve been masterfully nefarious, if you’d done that on purpose.”

Peter looks confused.

And then.

Then, Tony realizes what he just implied.

No.

No no no no no no.

Peter has gone very still, and Tony tries to hide it, but his heartbeat is a panicked scream and his fingertips are numb and what the fuck was he thinking?

Of course the brilliant, precocious, extremely intelligent, soon-to-be MIT student asks the question that’s going to break everything:

“…Why?”

When Peter blushes his cheeks look like he misapplied rouge, and it’s so fucking attractive it makes Tony desperate to see where else his blood gathers. None of those thoughts are going to get him out of this, he thinks hysterically, but they help justify how he fell into it.

“Why what?”

There’s a gleam in Peter’s eyes that hints at something incredulous, almost expectant. “Why would it be masterful, or nefarious? Why would it count as ‘trying something’?”

“You were there, Peter. Take a guess.”

“Could someone like it, is that what you meant?” Peter asks, voice a whisp. Shit, Tony didn’t actually mean for him to take a—“Could it work on someone?”

Disbelief makes Tony say, heavily: “Peter, you must know—you have to know—“

“Did you like it?”

There are very few answers that won’t get him in serious trouble, and Tony can’t come up with a single one in the few seconds he is given. He gets called a genius all the time, but the Iron Man suit is clearly not that great if he can’t muster a solid denial under pressure, he considers dimly.

“Mr Stark—“

“Doesn’t matter. None of this matters.” Mayday, mayday, retreat. “Hey, let’s go back to the party, huh? Bet you a grand they haven’t noticed I was missing—“

Peter rises up on his tiptoes and kisses him.

His lips are soft and taste like a hint of champagne.

Tony inhales sharply through his nose and shoves him up against the sink, hearing something clatter to the floor in another world where he isn’t licking into Peter’s lips with reckless desperation, hands fisted in the front of Peter’s awful suit, thrusting his tongue inside his mouth as Peter whimpers and takes it, takes—

Tony rips away from him.

He keeps one arm extended to ward Peter off as he tries to get his brain on straight for one fucking minute.

The soap platter is on the ground.

“This can’t,” he rasps. “I can’t. I shouldn’t’ve have done that, I’m sorry.”

Peter’s jaw is slack with shock, his hair ruined. Tony vaguely recalls grabbing the back of it two seconds ago.

“M-Mr Stark—“

“No. No talking. I need...” He needs Peter’s mouth again, fuck. “Need a moment.”

Peter is not so generous. He steps into Tony’s space and kisses him again, winding his arms around his neck, arching his back into it.

Tony grabs him by the waist and shoves him around against the wall, pressing him into it as he kisses back. His glasses get in the way so he pulls back for a gasping second to toss the twelve-hundred-dollar item to the floor. Peter makes a plaintive noise in the back of his throat, a full-body shudder running through him as Tony goes back to fucking his mouth with his tongue. His hands are in Tony’s hair, clutching it for purchase, and it feels so good Tony grunts, wanting—except he’s not allowed to want anything from Peter, this isn’t right, he can’t do this—

“Wait, wait, Peter,” he pants, withdrawing again. Peter is much stronger than him and he doesn’t relinquish his hold, so Tony doesn’t get far; he ends up huffing desperate breaths that mingle with Peter’s own while their noses still brush, nudge at each other. “This isn’t—we can’t. Can’t happen.”

When he’d taken Peter from Mitch at the party he’d told himself he was just pulling Peter away from a bad situation, he hadn’t meant to pull Peter into something worse.

“You don’t want to?”

The absurdity of the question when every cell in Tony’s body is screaming for him makes him groan.

“Doesn’t matter how much I want you.”

“It does to me,” Peter whispers, shoulders hunched like he’s bracing for a blow, either physical or emotional. He’s so compact in Tony’s arms; fits so well. “Do you?” he asks, voice small, tentative. “Want me?”

Tony closes his eyes, trying to think past the fog of arousal and panic all around him. What did he just let happen. What did he just—but also: how did he get himself in a situation where every possible course of action will cause this kid further hurt.

Peter shifts and rubs his crotch against him—Tony can feel his stiff length nudging at him through their pants and he himself is rock-hard, aching—and that’s an answer in and of itself, isn’t it. He can’t deny that; Peter can feel him.

“Peter...”

“Please,” Peter whispers, so quiet, and next thing Tony knows they are kissing again, kissing deep, and he’s grinding his hips forward like he’s trying to flatten Peter to the wall, or pin him there like a butterfly.

Once, he tells himself. Once.

Peter whimpers into his mouth when Tony’s grip shifts from his waist to his hips, fingers almost digging into his ass. He’s twitching his pelvis into Tony’s movements with a small shudder every time, and his reactions to every little thing are going to drive Tony insane. He slides his lips to Peter’s neck, mouthing at it, taking deep breaths to fill his lungs with the sweet scent of him, frantic to see what that does.

“N-hn—“ Peter half-collapses, weight falling heavily on Tony as his legs weaken. Tony thrusts against him, both to prop him up and to shove into him. “P-please...” He uses the hands he’s wound in Tony’s hair to keep him there, pushing his face into his neck, trembling like a leaf under him. “Please don’t… d-don’t stop,” he whispers, ecstatic.

Tony does as directed, tongue lapping and fluttering at Peter’s pulse, then moving up to his ear, pressing his teeth into the skin—Peter tastes like heroin feels, and Tony would know.

“I’m,” Peter murmurs, face pinched. His voice is getting breathier instead of louder the more he loses control; becoming almost inaudible it’s so weak. “I’m gonna.”

Tony grabs his ass in two handfuls, encouraging his choppy thrusts as Peter loses his strength, coordination, and balance. Tony holds him up, licking, gnawing at him as Peter whimpers.

“M-Mr Stark... I’m gonna.” He tightens his grip in Tony’s hair to a painful, perfect degree. “I... s-sorry… o-oh God...”

“That’s it,” Tony mumbles into his skin. “That’s it, Peter. So good. You’re so good, come on…”

“Oh my God,” Peter gasps, melting in a full-body shudder against him. “Oh G-God oh—“

He shakes apart in soft little noises, thrusting into Tony and falling into him, slumped, shivering, coming for what feels like an endless time.

“That’s it,” Tony grunts, aching for him. “That’s it...”

He rubs Peter’s upper back and holds him, silent, until Peter’s breath starts to even out and he nudges his face onto Tony’s shoulder. Tony feels volcanic inside, like he should be exhaling steam.

“F-fuck,” Peter says eventually, high and slurred.

Tony’s spine is tense as a bowstring, his body quivering, a loaded weapon hungry for violence--but at the same time he has never been more content to stay where he is. The weight of Peter against him makes his bones feel like they fit. He can bury his nose in Peter’s hair like he’s been wanting to do since he doesn’t even know when.

“You okay?” Tony asks gently.

“I… yeah.” Neither of them has moved. “Really tired, suddenly,” Peter adds. His voice is low and Tony can picture it; the droopy eyelids, the hazy focus of his gaze, the slight opening of his slack mouth.

Tony slowly, carefully pulls away from him. He guessed it right, but the picture is still painfully better than he imagined.

Peter smiles tentatively at him, and that’s when it hits Tony that he just made this ten thousand times worse. By giving in the one time, he exacerbated the issue to a new and terrible degree.

He should be getting punched in the throat for this. He should get punched in the balls, shot in the kneecap, and run through with something jagged near his midsection, for what he has to say now, right after what just happened.

“I. Peter, you… you understand why this can’t happen again.”

Peter blinks.

He catches on quick, though, Tony’s prodigy. The post-orgasmic daze starts to fade from his no-longer-quite-as relaxed features, eyebrows drawing in. “What?” he asks, dreading rather than confused.

Tony hates, hates, hates himself for what he has to say, hates down to the toxic sludge pumping through his body aided by the device that calls itself his heart.

“We can’t… start something. Anything.”

“We can do whatever we want,” Peter says blankly, humorless and soft. “Start a band, start a fire. Start a war.”

“Peter.”

He blinks, swallowing. And then he doesn’t protest again; not a single additional objection or reprimand. Tony would have preferred a tantrum of some sort, or a couple of the insults he deserves.

“Y-yeah, no I. I didn’t mean.” He swallows again. “Sorry. Of course I do. I get why you don’t want to—“

“Can’t.”

“Can’t, okay. I get why you can’t.” His eyes are filmy. There’s a tic in his jaw Tony recognizes. “Um. I’m gonna. I’ll meet you out there—“

And he runs out of the bathroom, even in his hurry remembering to shut the door behind him so no one sees Tony standing there.

 

Peter

He runs to his room, first.

He has no idea what state his clothes are in after all that pulling and tugging Mr Stark did, and his hair is probably a mess too—but of course, his face has got to be the disaster contest winner.

There are a limited number of things he can do in the five-minute break-time he assigns himself before his absence at the party becomes too long. He doesn’t care if every single Stark Industries employee starts to wonder about what they were doing off alone together, but Nakia is there and Peter cares about that. So. He washes his face, still tasting Mr Stark’s tongue but not hyperventilating, for which he awards himself ten points to Hufflepuff. He also changes his underwear and fixes his hair, but gives up on the suit jacket.

He tries not to think, but he gives up on that, too.

We can’t… start something.

Peter, you must know—you have to know—

He rushes back to the penthouse, telling himself he’s not going to get blackout drunk out of spite; he’s going to behave like the mature adult Mr Stark clearly has a hard time seeing him as, and act like nothing happened. He’s going to be responsible, and for all anyone in there knows: his spirit is obviously intact, his heart is completely whole, he is clearly going to move on from this night.

“Peter! I thought I’d lost you.”

Mitch is suddenly in front of him.

Peter still doesn’t think Mr Stark was right in suspecting anything unsavory about the guy, and it’s actually a huge comfort to be able to chat with a familiar face while at the event.

“Hey! Sorry, I got turned around after the bathroom…”

“No need to apologize.” Mitch smiles. “How do you feel about some food? I think we’ll be safe from Tony’s wrath that way, and there’s some really great-looking stuff around.”

“Food sounds perfect,” Peter says sincerely.

In looking around for a server, Mitch spots a guest whom he waves over.

“Ah, perfect—Lin, this is Peter, the one Tony emailed us about. Peter, Lin was one of my mentors during my doctorate and he went to MIT a couple of years before I did.”

“We missed overlapping by a semester, actually,” Lin says, chuckling. He has a deep voice and black bangs. He’s probably around Mr Stark’s age but unlike Mitch, who is attractive despite the signs of aging, Lin looks indisputably well-preserved.

They both ask him questions about his interests, and Lin turns out to be a pretty funny guy, too.

“...and I’m trying to tell the guy I’m not a tourist, but he’s not freaking hearing my American accent!”

Peter is both amused by the story and horrified by the racism, which seems to please them both, as if he’s passed another small test by responding appropriately. He can’t deny that there’s a strange sort of energy to the conversation, since he is obviously being appraised for something, but at the same time the two are clearly curious about his role in Mr Stark’s life. He feels courted and judged all at once.

“Oh—here he comes now,” Mitch says, elbowing his coworker. “Told you the kid was a good move,” he adds in an undertone Peter wouldn’t have heard without enhanced hearing.

“How’s it going, fellas?”

Mr Stark has arrived.

“Tony! So good to see you.”

“Quite a shindig you’ve thrown, Tony. This place looks amazing.”

They both stare at him, waiting for him to respond, clearly ready and willing to compliment or laugh at whatever he says.

He looks at Peter, instead. “These guys giving you any trouble?”

Peter stares blankly back at him for a second. If that’s Mr Stark’s idea of a joke, it’s a really low blow.

“They are being very helpful Mr Stark, thanks.” He musters up a smile, thinking; I can still feel your beard on my chin. Mr Stark looks unchanged from before their little tryst, or whatever that was since only one of them got off. He’s even back to wearing his rose-colored glasses. “They gave me some really good tips on how to plan for college.”

Mr Stark nods. “Good, good. Lin, have you seen Debbie around?”

Peter figures he implicitly agreed to put on a brave face for Mr Stark the rest of the night, but he can’t be expected to hang around for this. “Uh, excuse me. I promised Miss Nakia I’d say hi. Thanks again for your help, guys.”

And he’s off, looking around for Nakia’s cornrows in the crowd.

He doesn’t have to look long; she is standing by the dessert buffet, chatting with—

“Peter! Let me introduce you to Pepper Potts.”

Great.

“Oh, that Peter,” Pepper smiles broadly, giving him a hand to shake. Her hair is so shiny. “I’ve heard so much about you.” She knows so much about him, Peter remembers with a jolt. “All really impressive stuff, especially for someone your age.”

Her warm blue eyes are conveying what her words only hint at; gratitude and a touch of concern, clearly in reference to Spiderman’s work. She has a very kind face, and her voice is soft and melodious. She proceeds to immediately hand him a slice of matcha mousse cake, and then she wisely steers away from initiating a covert superhero conversation with him and Nakia, chatting instead about upcoming Stark Industries ventures.

She has no idea that she and Peter have something intimate in common.

But she had him for longer, Peter can’t help but think, listening to her talk. She has to live without it, too, but she had it for so much longer.

“…so setting up the internships has been great, and I hope you, Peter, will be applying—but the PR mess that happened after Tony’s injury still hasn’t totally blown over. The latest theories about the thing at the Brooklyn Bridge link it to the one that hurt him, so—“

“Hi, Pepper. Just checking in here, how are we doing?”

Why.

Why won’t he leave Peter alone.

Mr Stark smiles at Pepper and Nakia, and maintains a mostly intact version of the gesture for Peter.

He was the one who said they couldn’t ‘start’ something. Peter thought that implied they were going to avoid each other when it had been less than half an hour since they fucked around in a bathroom—or at least, that they wouldn’t actively seek each other out in the crowd. He doesn’t understand what is happening, not unless Mr Stark really is that unfeeling, and Peter doesn’t think him capable of that level of cruelty.

“Well, I should go back to Mitch and Lin—“

Mr Stark’s eyes darken for a fraction of a second. “That’s all right,” he says, voice light. “We’ll have them come to us—Mitch? Lin?” he looks around, but they don’t materialize. “Someone get them for us, please.”

Three different people rush to comply and Peter openly frowns at him, but Mr Stark’s responding expression is impossible to read.

A crowd starts to gather around them, inevitably. Of course it does; the CEO of the company and Mr Stark are there. Mitch and Lin are brought in, and then the third MIT alum who turns out to be an older white woman who is an executive.

Peter is trapped.

“And between these guys, and me, and all of you… he’s going to have more advice than he knows what to do with!” Mr Stark is saying, to a chorus of laughter. “Guess I should stop advertising when I have a mentee; this one has been drawing in my employees like bees to honey, tonight.” The group laughs again.

It takes Peter a moment to realize he’s the ‘honey’ in that metaphor.

He remains the focus of much of the conversation, which makes it hard to flee to his bedroom and never leave it ever. But of course, eventually the minutes crawling by turn into hours, and the party does end.

It’s one in the morning by the time Peter has a window of opportunity to excuse himself, and some guests are still milling about, including Mr Stark, who didn’t give him any space the entire time.

The door to Peter’s room slams shut and he regrets it when the sound thunders in his eardrums.

He’s so confused that he’s starting to get angry.

Mr Stark admitted he liked—wanted him, or maybe just wanted his body, whatever. He kissed Peter back, and Peter’s stupid spidey-senses embarrassed him again, but that doesn’t negate the fact that Mr Stark kissed him back a lot. And then Mr Stark said ‘no’, that it couldn’t happen again—basically rejected Peter. Okay.

So where in that logic does an endless night of hovering near Peter’s vicinity fit in? Mr Stark managed to be the star of the event and a painful figure in Peter’s line of sight at all times, and he took over the conversation whenever Peter so much as smiled at one of Mitch's jokes, and Peter is angry, actually. He’s actually furious.

If Mr Stark expects Peter to get over him so quickly, then he needs to give Peter space. It was not fair, what he did tonight. Peter deserves an explanation at the very least.

He checks his watch and sees 2:30 a.m.

He gets up off the bed.

*

FRIDAY told him that Mr Stark was in his room.

Peter opens the door to it having built up a heavy breathing pattern he can’t attribute to the brief walk up the stairs, not with his metabolism.

“Why did you do it?”

Mr Stark was sitting up in bed, on his pad. He’s switched from the colored glasses to wearing his regular ones again and, in a satisfying turn of events, he actually seems to be caught off guard. The room is completely dark but for the pad’s screen and the stars, and from what little physiology Peter knows he imagines Mr Stark can barely see more than his silhouette right now.

“Peter. What are you—“

“I’m not here to try anything. Not again.” He really wants it to come out accusatory, and as angry as he felt right before walking in, but he’s starting to sound more sad and confused. “I just want to know… why did you act like that? After?”

Mr Stark turns the screen of his pad off. Peter can still see fine; it’s a bright night.

“Act like…?”

“Interrupting me and Mitch, coming to talk to Nakia and Pepper when I was talking to them… I thought you’d understand that I need some space? If I’m gonna—“ He shouldn’t have said ‘if’ no matter how true it was. “—to get over you.”

Mr Stark presses his lips together in a line. He slowly gets up off the bed and stands at a cautious distance from Peter, like he’s afraid Peter is going to jump him. If so, he’s naively underestimating Peter’s Spiderman agility in doing so; Peter could totally take him from this distance—not that he would.

“Mr Stark—“

“Maybe at this point you should call me Tony. When it’s.” He sounds like he took up chain-smoking five minutes ago. “When it’s just us, at least.”

“So… never again after tonight?” Peter says, and it’s infused with every broken fragment of his heart but he doesn’t even care.

“Peter…”

“I just want to understand. I know you said you were going to try to act normal about me but that was before everything… else. So I just need to know, because I’m going to need a bunch of space, okay? Like, don’t say ‘hi’ to me if you see me across Massachusetts Avenue levels of space.” He’s only partly joking. “I need to know that you get that?”

Mr Stark takes a step toward him. The enormous wall of windows and thus the moon are behind Peter, so he himself is backlit while he sees Mr Stark with perfect, silver clarity.

“Whatever you want is what I'll do,” Mr Stark ends up saying.

This is second on my list, but you already said 'no' to the thing I want most, Peter doesn’t reply. It’s heavily present in the air around them, regardless.

Mr Stark took another step closer after he spoke. Their relative positions remind Peter of where they are, but he didn’t come here to throw himself at Mr Stark after the after-party like some sort of debutante or model with career goals in mind. He’s in his Rihanna shirt and shorts again for pajamas, for crying out loud.

And yet. Peter moves forward at the same time as Mr Stark takes another step, and they are still a couple of feet away from each other, but a couple of feet is not much.

“Peter I’m sorry,” Mr Stark says all in one breath. His eyes gleam with an inward emotion Peter has seen there before—self-hate. “For everything. For every fucking thing I did tonight.”

“Don’t. I…” Peter advances closer again. “I liked some of it.”

“You’re not funny,” Mr Stark says distantly.

“You’re a good kisser.”

They are close enough that Mr Stark’s exhales sound like a gale to Peter. He smells so good from this distance, too.

“Peter, if you want me never to talk to you again after tonight I’ll do it—“

“After tonight, though,” Peter huffs, and they both lean in this time, it’s not just him, it’s not just him they both crash together with seismic relief.

Peter whimpers with satisfaction at the contact, mouth tipping open to invite Mr Stark’s tongue in again, having missed this every single second it wasn’t happening since he last had it.

Mr Stark complies, forceful and a bit rough and perfect, and then he picks Peter up. He moves with practiced strength, bending slightly so that his hands can grab under Peter’s thighs and lift him, and Peter wraps his legs around his waist, and they are touching at so many different points—there’s the callused rub of Mr Stark’s fingers against the sensitive backs of Peter’s bare thighs, and they didn’t actually stop kissing to effectuate the maneuver so Peter’s lips are being licked slick while he feels the scratch of Mr Stark’s beard on his cheeks. His arms came up to lock around Mr Stark’s neck again and the brush of soft hair tickles his forearms and the inside of his elbows. And then there’s the fact that, for all his imagining, he’d never had a body between his legs when he envisioned this and so failed to factor in the glorious pressure of Mr Stark’s lower abs against his dick, which has filled to sore hardness and feels warm with precome already.

He can’t contain a low moan at the barrage of it all, feeling gravity shift around him but not having to worry about it because someone is taking care of that for him. Mr Stark carries him to the bed and sits down on the edge, not relinquishing his grip on Peter’s thighs except to move his hands up, almost to Peter’s ass, squeezing and making Peter whimper into his mouth—spine arching in response to try to get some more.

He arches his spine again when he realizes the first move rubbed his aching dick against the hard rod of Mr Stark’s own, providing a stroke of satisfying pressure, and he starts up a tentative rhythm with his hips, moving in jerky, unattractive thrusts that there’s no way Mr Stark is into—but it feels so good his pleasure centers don’t care.

Mr Stark pulls away from his mouth with a grunt, eyes unfocused, chest heaving.

“Peter,” he groans.

“Just… jus’ tonight,” Peter mumbles, diving in for his mouth again. He’s been kissed before but he has never been kissed like this, and he doesn’t care about all the others that got to have this—it’s his now, and he’s going to savor this.

He keeps up his grinding rhythm and the friction builds up a delicious heat, to the point where he’s breathing so hard he can’t keep up with all the kissing. “Oh, mh, oh—“ he tries to clamp his jaw shut when he realizes that’s him making those pathetic strung out noises, but even his facial muscles want to slacken with pleasure at how good it feels.

Mr Stark is staring up at him with a blazing hunger Peter can’t mistake. His eyes are ravenous and he doesn’t even say anything, just squeezes his grip on Peter’s ass again and encourages Peter’s movements.

“I…” Peter tries to say. “I can’t…”

“It’s okay,” Mr Stark says, sending sharp relief straight to Peter’s core. “You’re so fucking gorgeous, I just.”

Peter feels a lurch of dangerous arousal tug at his dick, warmth flowing to his pelvis in a rush. Not again, he panics—he wants to savor this, he doesn’t want to squander—

Mr Stark puts a hand on his belly.

Peter goes rigid and stops moving other than to pant like a racehorse, every ounce of his willpower concentrating on not going off in his pajamas.

“Hey,” Mr Stark says. “This okay?”

“Too okay,” Peter gasps, closing his eyes to try to focus, not see Mr Stark’s face so attentive and so close. “Just… need a minute.”

Mr Stark leans up and kisses him again, gentle and close-lipped. Then he murmurs: “I don’t have that kind of time.”

His hand stays put but his fingertips trail lightly under the waistband of Peter’s shorts, and that lurch of arousal is now an avalanche, and all the hiccoughing breaths in the world aren’t going to save Peter from his fate.

“M-Mr Stark…” he gasps, hips twitching against his will. “I’m going to… if you…”

“I can’t fucking wait,” Mr Stark grunts.

Peter whimpers and drops his head onto Mr Stark’s shoulder, dropping his full weight back down on Mr Stark’s lap as a small blurt of precome wets his pants. He’s going to come into another dimension.

“Mr Stark…”

“What did I ask you to call me?”

“Tony.” He was chewing on the fabric of Mr Stark’s Led Zeppelin shirt and his words likely came out muffled. “Tony,” he says again, fingers tightening in Mr Stark’s hair. “I. Touch me. Please. Please touch me.”

The hand slides inside his pants and Peter muffles a sob of shattering relief into Mr Stark’s shoulder as he comes, shooting his load as soon as Mr Stark’s rough palm wraps around where he’d needed that pressure the most and pumps his fist.

He twitches helplessly into the grip, hips fucking Mr Stark’s hand at a rutting pace, completely undignified. His nerve endings are on fire and he doesn’t care, there’s no space in his head for anything other than ringing pleasure, flooding his brain with endorphins and oxytocin and other words for love. Mr Stark is saying “You’re so goddamn perfect,” over and over again, in different iterations. “So perfect, Peter…” he says, brushing a strand of Peter’s hair back from his forehead with his free palm while Peter’s head lolls. “So fucking perfect.”

Peter shakes apart and then slowly gets put back together, coming back to find himself boneless on top of Tony Stark. Horizontal, on top of Mr Stark. Mr Stark must have fallen backwards onto the mattress and taken him with him.

He can’t even contemplate moving yet. Except: “Y-you…?” he mumbles. “Can I…?”

“No.” Mr Stark grabs both hands by the wrist to prevent them from moving. They’d fallen from his hair to dangle limply at Peter’s sides.

“But—“

“Shh, no. You were perfect, Peter. Now rest.”

“But I.” He’s so exhausted—he might never have been this tired, all the tension from earlier and even from the past few days gone in a rush and leaving him drained. But he wants Mr Stark to feel this way, too—sated and content. Realigned. “I want… you to…”

He moves his right hand (he’s still stronger than Mr Stark) to Tony’s crotch, angling his head to lap at his neck with his tongue, teeth nipping his clavicle.

Mr Stark shudders, and Peter can feel his dick digging into his hip.

“Peter…”

“Shh. Let me, please.” He kisses up his neck, fingers clumsy with exhaustion but finally getting in under the grey sweatpants—

Mr Stark hisses and arches into it for a moment--but then he says: “No,” and Peter stops immediately.

“You’re tired, Peter. I… we can revisit this.” He cradles Peter’s face in his hands to hold his head up so he can look into his eyes. “Later, okay? You’re about to pass out, and I don’t feel comfortable with that.”

“O-okay.” Peter blinks, and Mr Stark lifts his head and kisses him, seemingly helplessly. Peter kisses back, tongue graceless with exhaustion but never willing not to. “Can… can I still stay?” he mumbles into Mr Stark’s lips.

Mr Stark stops kissing him, tilting back down again.

Before he can send Peter away in a fit of martyrdom, Peter hears himself say: “Your mattress is better than the one in the recovery room and. My back is a bit sore.”

Suddenly, Mr Stark looks incredibly concerned. “I didn’t think of that. I can’t believe I didn’t—" It occurs to Peter that he just said this to the culprit, even though Peter loved it. "You’re going to pick out whichever mattress you like best, tomorrow. I promise.”

“Hmm… okay,” Peter can’t hold his head up anymore so he drops it down on Mr Stark’s shoulder again. “So…” he makes himself open his eyes again; they’d slid shut. “Would it be okay for me to stay here?”

He waits. Please. I’ll be so good for you, Mr Stark, he thinks. Please.

“Of course you can stay, Peter.”

Peter melts back into him, ready to sink into sleep at last. He has no idea how things are going to be between them tomorrow, but.

This felt like a start.

Chapter Text

Tony

He wakes up with the sleep-warm weight of Peter tucked against him, shocked that he managed to fall asleep. Apparently he’s such a piece of shit that he didn’t even writhe about in regret all night berating himself for what he’s done—he got some shut-eye out of it, too. What a selfish asshole.

Peter is awake.

He’s looking up at Tony with a trace of apprehension that almost could be called fear. He doesn’t let Tony speak.

“Can we not say it?” he asks, voice still scratchy from sleep. “We were both there… we both agreed—can we just not say the words?”

Tony, who has definitely proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can’t say ‘no’ to that face, says: “Okay.”

And so he doesn’t say: It can’t happen.

He doesn’t say: I’ll give you as much space as you need.

He doesn’t say: Will you say my name again? Just… just one more time.

He doesn’t take one last pull of the scent of Peter’s hair, but if he just so happens to inhale right before gently disentangling himself… well then, human beings need to breathe; the best and the worst among them.

Tony sets his feet down on the floor and exhales slowly. One step at a time. Right now: breakfast.

He looks over his shoulder and takes in the sight he’s leaving behind; Peter, literally resplendent amidst the bed sheets, looking like an illegal painting from the Victorian era that old married men would pay exorbitant amounts of money to furtively look at in the back-room of some gentlemen’s club.

The bright morning sun bathes the tumble of his limbs, making his skin glow, making him the picture of heavenly, illicit luxury. The light dips into his collarbone and exposes the creamy pale insides of his thighs, barely covered in those hauntingly short shorts, in a way that makes you want to bury your face between them.

“Breakfast should be set for us downstairs by now,” Tony tells him, hoarse. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Peter nods, propping himself up on his elbows and doing nothing to dispel the image he’s projecting at this moment. His hair gleams copper; his pretty eyes hold an artless expression that say he’s unaware of what he looks like.

“I’ll have your coffee ready.”

Tony walks downstairs barefoot, steps assured and comfortable in direct opposition to his state of mind.

There are four Avengers and a Wakandan war dog milling about the kitchen.

“Tony!” Sam exclaims, plate loaded up with waffles. “Finally—I was starting to think you got lucky last night and didn’t sleep in your room.”

“You have no idea how rare it is for Tony to sleep past 7 a.m,” says Rhodey, not even looking up from where he’s bent over a hot bacon plate. “This is a miracle and we should treat it as such.”

Tony takes in the scene; the clatter and clink of plates being shuffled around, his friends and coworkers milling comfortably as though it’s their own home. Nakia is also barefoot, and Steve and Sam clearly just got back from a jog.

“Hey, Steve. Steve.” Natasha nudges her chin in the direction of the egg white frittatas. “Grab me one.”

“I’m sorry,” Tony says to the room in general, gesturing expectantly. “Who invited you?”

“One of the cleaning ladies, Ellen—she told me about this new habit of yours,” Natasha replies.

“So you just decided to show up unannounced.”

“Yeah, pretty much.” She nods, pleased he figured it out.

Tony rolls his eyes. “That’s nice, but for all you know I had an early a.m. food orgy planned and you guys just ruined it, so—“

“Uh… h-hi.”

Oh, Christ. Of course.

Peter stops at the entrance and Tony spares a thought for the architect who designed his penthouse in a way that doesn’t connect the bedroom directly with the kitchen, meaning the kitchen’s current occupants have no way of knowing where Peter just came from—or what room he slept in.

“Morning,” Steve calls.

“Peter!” Nakia walks over to him, smiling broadly. “Good morning. I like your shirt.”

Peter huffs out a breath, gaze flickering to Tony and then back to Nakia. “Thanks, it’s… I love her.”

“Me too.”

She walks him over to the buffet, chatting amicably and playfully elbowing Rhodey out of the way so Peter can get some bacon, if he wants.

“Tony. Are you going to eat something?” Steve asks, frowning slightly.

Tony finally starts moving again, shuffling over to his coffee maker in a resigned sort of panic. “On it.”

“So Tony,” Sam calls, voice muffled by his chewing. “Since when does the Tower host a freakin’ ‘Best of NYC’s most expensive’ buffet every morning, seriously?”

Peter pauses his movements with the serving prongs mid-reach.

Tony takes a burning gulp of coffee before answering but Sam just waits him out, munching on an almond croissant dusted with sugar.

“I like nice things, Sam, I don’t think I’ve kept that a secret.”

“You sure as shit kept this a goddamn secret.” He chuckles, raising his croissant in the air like he’s toasting Tony with it. “And to think I could have just taken an elevator up a few floors to this every morning. Damn. The pancakes that went uneaten… how they must have suffered.”

Peter has resumed his casual wandering around the dishes, and is smiling faintly at something Nakia said.

“All of this just for you? Do you throw out the leftovers?” Natasha asks, disapproving. “That’s really wasteful, Tony.”

“It’s all local businesses, and I don’t throw these out, actually.” He leans against the counter and misses having his glasses, for something to fiddle with. He drinks more coffee. “There’s a reason Laura, Ellen and Fatima know about it. They are free to come up whenever they want and grab anything, take it home if they prefer.” Whenever Peter is gone, that is.

Natasha seems to accept that as a good enough explanation—or she’s hungry and wants to eat her high-protein meal; either way she drops it and sits down. Nakia and Peter sit next to her at the table and dig in as well, while Sam makes himself a smoothie.

Steve walks over to Tony to get coffee and starts fiddling with the machine.

“Peter was looking a bit skinny to you too, huh,” he says under his breath, almost inaudible except Tony hears him and knows Peter heard, too.

Steve looks approving, giving Tony a proud, affectionate smile.

“It was really good of you to set this up for him, Tony.”

Tony nods curtly, unable to help his gaze from gravitating over to check on Peter yet again. He knows what he’s going to see: anger, or that inexplicable offense at being given something—

Peter is looking back at him from over his plate. He doesn’t look angry.

The corner of his mouth is pulled up in a little smile and he seems… almost pleased. A bit triumphant, even. His mussed fringe is falling into his forehead and his ridiculous Rihanna shirt has a wide collar that gapes, so maybe… maybe Tony is only human, and no one could have been offered a lapful of that last night and refuse.

Peter mouths: “Caught you,” at him, and has no fucking idea how true that statement is.

Tony rubs a hand over his mouth to stop himself from doing a truly idiotic thing and telling Peter he’s already changed his mind, right now in this very crowded room.

“Peter. Hey, Peter, pass the syrup.”

Rhodey waves a hand and Peter slides the syrup bottle across the table to him, to general approval.

Tony turns back to the espresso maker, starting up another batch to stop his hands from trembling.

“All right, I’m taking coffee orders. Nat, is it still a cortado?”

*

He’s cleared to fly as of today. There’s a suspicion that’s been growing in the back of his mind about Doom and his vibranium-enforced bots and he’s hoping that the third bot will attack him and prove him right. After tweaking the suit in the lab for some testing his plan was to take up a patrol and launch himself into the sky to act as shiny bait—and he was quite fond of that plan, actually.

His favorite saboteur is waiting for him there, though; legs crossed Indian-style, sitting on a counter.

Tony pauses mid-stride when he sees him, arms dropping to his sides. “Well now that’s just mean.”

Peter snorts, blushing.

Tony returns to a serious tone. “Peter… I need to leave for patrol in ten. Fifteen tops.”

“I figured, that’s why I’m… Can I come with you?”

He hesitates. He doesn’t question Spiderman’s abilities, especially now that Peter is sleeping and eating a little better since he came to stay at the Tower and therefore less prone to make dangerous calls. What Tony does question is his own ability to concentrate, and how it will fare if he’s splitting his attention to cover for—actually, to cover for someone who’s had to step in to save his ass. Did he forget about that?

“That stuff I said, about needing space.” Peter swallows. “I think I’m good, for now. I want to patrol.”

Tony can’t read his expression, but he’s already decided. They have an overabundance of backup nearby, anyway. “All right, you’re in. Let’s meet on the roof.”

Peter’s forehead clears in surprise.

“Really? Awesome. I’ll go grab my suit.” There’s a brief pause that’s all about the setting, but Peter powers through, brave to the last. “And, uh, thanks for breakfast Mr Stark. I appreciate you doing that for me.”

It’s definitely a pointed addendum.

“…Thank you for letting me,” Tony replies, a bit surprised that this is all Peter has to say about Tony’s spending on his culinary comforts.

Peter nods and walks past him, towards the exit.

Tony doesn’t reach out and grab his shirt to stop him from leaving.

So. That’s something.

*

“Did Rhodey tell you, or did you figure it out when you took them apart?” Peter calls, soaring past Tony in a vertiginous leap.

“About what?”

He banks to pass the Chrysler Building’s spear and turbos down to catch up with Peter below.

“That the second Doom bot—uh, that it was the same as the first one! That it looked the same.”

He’s so fucking smart. Tony smiles inside the mask, because no one is going to see. “Meaning..?” he prompts.

“Meaning the bot’s upgrades were in the software,” Peter pants, swinging low and stepping on a traffic light to jump into his next web. The day turned overcast about an hour ago but people still look up and scream when they see him; someone’s uploading that move on YouTube in five minutes for sure. “It was faster and better because it had learned how to fight me. Machine learning.”

The surge of admiration in Tony’s throat makes it hard to speak, almost. “That’s right. The upgrades are software improvements, not hardware. I have a theory about Victor Von Doom, you wanna hear it?”

“Is it that he’s trying to make his own AI?” Peter asks. “His own JARVIS, or FRIDAY or whatever? That’s why he sent them one after the other, right? So the AI can train by fighting us? Learning about us? And then his bots will be more effective…?”

Tony turns to look at him mid-flight.

“…You got mind-reading powers when you got bitten by that spider, didn’t you.”

Peter laughs.

The third Doom bot does not come after them during patrol.

It’s a usual day around the city; they stop a mugging, they help an NYU freshman move a couch into her fourth-floor walk-up studio apartment, Peter follows an unsupervised ten-year-old girl for seven blocks to make sure she gets where she needs to go safely, Tony checks in on the construction on 36th and ends up speeding up their timeline by a few weeks, at least.

It feels really fucking good.

Peter more than keeps up with the Iron Man suit, and frankly gets recognized an insultingly similar number of times. He even consents to take a masked selfie with a couple who came out to see him speed past from their window.

When he realizes that it’s way past their lunchtime, Tony races him back to the Tower. It’s hard not to throw away pretense and simply stop and stare at how sheer slingshot force propels Peter forward at speeds that should be impossible… but in the spirit of keeping the competition honest, Tony gives his rear jets full throttle.

“Are we racing to the top?” Peter asks, frantically flinging webs.

He’s fast; just not fast enough. “Sure. I’ll wait for you on my balcony.”

“We’ll see!”

Tony wins. Not by much, and having to push himself and the suit, which makes it all the better.

“Okay, well…” Peter heaves, climbing over the glass railing and letting himself roll and drop, falling dangerously close to the edge of the pool. “You have… jets, so…” He stays panting on the floor, but takes his mask off. Tony makes a mental note to revisit the composition of the fabric around his mouth, which was supposed to allow for regular breathing.

He retracts his own faceplate, then hits the ‘deconstruct’ function to walk out of the metal casing of the suit. “I’m only human, Parker.”

Peter snorts from where he’s stretched out. “You’re not like any of the humans I know.”

He looks up at Tony and suddenly, unexpectedly, it's over. The light mood that held them through action-packed hours of work flickers, sputters… and dies.

Thunder rolls overhead.

Peter winces—maybe he felt the change in the air as forcefully as Tony did. Maybe his hearing is just that sensitive.

“You should eat lunch,” Tony tries, but it’s no use. As sure as lightning is on its way, he’s caught in this again. Caught in him again.

“You used the word ‘revisit’, last night,” Peter says, low.

Christ.

“I did a lot of things I’m not especially proud of last night, Peter.”

“Gee, thanks.” He sits up, resting an elbow on his knee.

“I didn’t mean—“

“I know what you meant. Sorry.” He’s chewing on his lower lip. “M’sorry, I don’t mean to be that… that pushy fan you can’t get rid of. I’ll stop—“

“Don’t—“ He doesn’t know what he’s asking. “It’s… you’re anything but that.”

Peter stands up.

“I feel like it sometimes, though.” He’s not looking at Tony when he says it. It’s getting windy on their little outcrop, and it’s messing with his hair. “The more I know you the more I think… like, the more I believe all the good things they say about you. I know it doesn’t make sense—I know the articles make you sound like some idol, but you’re so amazing and you still don’t see it, and being near you… working with you, flying with you—“

Tony exhales harshly and points at his own temple. “If you knew how messed up things are up here you’d do a quick one-eighty on that line of thinking, kid.”

“I wouldn’t. I’m the same way, I—“

“Don’t. You’re the best thing mankind has going for it.”

Peter’s eyes snap up to meet his. The wind is picking up.

“It’s true.” He sounds bitterly sincere, but. “You and I are not the same, Peter; you are…” Good. Bright. Nothing I deserve to touch. “…so hard-working, and so smart and resourceful and stupidly brave—and I do mean stupidly, by the way. And you have more integrity in your left toe than most people I know, and so, if anyone deserves idolizing here.” He points at him. “Trust me.”

Peter gulps. “You think that?” he whispers.

“I know that. I know all those things.”

They got close again, Tony realizes. Not kissing Peter seems to be a conscious choice he has to keep making, or his instincts just take over.

The wind buffets his clothes and swirls uncaringly around them. It’s going to rain any second.

“You shouldn’t have told me what you think,” Peter murmurs.

“Sorry.”

“It’s my fault.”

“No, I’m… I’m handling this all wrong.”

Peter shrugs, lowering his eyes. Pretty. “Not sure there’s a right way.”

“I just… can’t,” Tony whispers. “We can’t. You understand.”

“I do. I told you.”

“We…”

“I know—“

Peter tips his head up but it’s Tony who wraps an arm around his waist and pulls him in, desperate to feel him flush against him, so cold and hollow without that feeling. It’s a relief; when he can taste Peter’s mouth again, when Peter winds his hands in Tony’s hair again, to grip Peter’s hips and rub his back and hold him tighter than he would anyone who didn’t have super-strength.

He kisses Peter with the want that has been gathering in his chest all day, funneling everything he has and is into it, hungry and out of his mind. Peter whimpers and clings to him and makes more soft, distressed little noises that lodge like spears into Tony’s spine, shocking and painful. He is so effortlessly hot, but—

“Peter,” he grunts, pressing their foreheads together but separating their mouths because otherwise he can’t fucking think. “Hold on. Hold on.”

“I know, I just… when you said those things about me, I…”

Tony makes a breathless sound that may have been impersonating a laugh. “You started it.”

Peter catches on to his phrasing. Of course he does.

“Yeah?” he asks, panting quietly. “What did I start?”

We can’t… start something. Anything. He can taste Peter’s breath, and it’s a problem. Maybe it’s why he doesn’t say ‘nothing’ and walk away forever. “I don’t know.” He sighs, and pulls away to look in Peter’s eyes.

He says the only thing he does know:

“This can’t be your ever after, Peter.”

Peter steps back and hugs himself, shoulders hunched, and Tony isn’t touching him anywhere anymore. He regrets saying it, even though it’s the hard truth.

“I understand that. I know that. But what about…” Peter swallows. “What about for now?”

“For now,” he echoes.

Oh God yes, please yes. His stomach cramps with how much he wants to agree, instantly and completely. Peter is asking him for it, and Peter doesn’t ask for things, not for himself ever, except now—except for this which he’s carefully and delicately asking, and which Tony wants so badly to give.

“Yes. Until I leave for Boston.”

One month. The possibility implodes in Tony’s mind in a blur of tempting imagery. He wouldn’t have to give anything up just yet, he could put off how fucking awful it’s going to be to never hear Peter’s cute little whimpers again, he would have four weeks of time, thirty nights with him. To only give in a little. Just a little, and then later they would be good.

“I won’t bother you after. I won’t be clingy, I promise. Just… don’t you want…?”

You. This. All of it. “For now,” Tony rasps again, a broken record.

“Why not?”

So many reasons. But what he says is:

“If… there would need to be… stipulations. We should talk it through. If.”

Peter glances up at him as the first drops of rain start to fall. He looks shocked, but doesn’t acknowledge it. “…Okay. Yes, that's--”

“Tomorrow, though. I have work to do today.”

“Yes, okay. Tomorrow.”

“Okay. Good.”

He starts to turn away but turns back at the last second and grabs Peter’s face one last time to kiss him, muffling something in it he doesn't want even his own ears to acknowledge. The droplets of water feel like sharp pinpricks at this height.

“T-tomorrow,” Peter gasps when Tony lets him go.

“Get inside,” Tony instructs him, and instead of following him in Peter nods and hops on top of the glass railing, balancing on its narrow edge with sure feet despite the rain and the howling winds.

He’s still holding the Spiderman headpiece in his hand. His hair is getting wet and plastering to his scalp.

Tony watches him turn, square his well-defined shoulders, and let himself drop backwards off the edge.

 

Peter

He goes to bed early after his very late lunch alone, and finds a brand new mattress on his ‘recovery room’ bed. The tag isn’t on it anymore (he checks) but Peter can only imagine what it cost.

He ponders on the consequence of his comment to stay with Tony last night leading to an exorbitant purchase for several moments. Surprisingly, he finds himself deciding it was worth it. Waking up at the crack of dawn and getting to take in the feel of Mr Stark’s skin against his own for a long, peaceful hour of quiet breathing was worth it, and he can’t muster up any outrage or even any discomfort.

He plops himself down on the bed in a shirt and boxers and opens up ‘spidey and the baes’. The blank text box blinks at him, waiting for his input.

He can’t tell them. He’s not an idiot, he knows ‘why not’. He knows.

updates on poly couples to grad prom? He ends up sending.

t minus 1week principal better come thru

After a minute, Ned responds: YES he told me we can go together y

totally thinks were not platonic btw

u guys should be so lucky tbh, MJ sends.

I mean… yea, Peter replies.

Ned sends the “It’s true but he shouldn’t say it” Simpsons screen-cap.

also apparently sarah/val/bon also asked to go together? so cool I didn’t kno they were a thing??

Peter smiles into his phone, and settles against the pillows. NICE me neither

bon told me last week & its def not platonic on their part, MJ sends. And then; is nakia still at st btw?

Peter grins.

lol obvi much

u are such a lucky little twink peter

He actually snorts out loud at that. u still love me tho right?

ugh yes

yea peter we miss movie nights w you, Ned adds.

MJ is typing…

hope that doom monster attacks u soon

so u defeat it & can leave the tower after dark obv

Peter laughs, rolling over to lie on his stomach and type from there.

They text back and forth for a while until he finally succumbs to sleep, and the gentle molding of the new mattress against his back feels good, but if given the choice Peter would have slept curled up on the floor of Tony’s balcony, near the door just to be closer.

*

Peter is eating breakfast with the Avengers (still a sentence that he has to take in a couple of times a day) and licking an accidental dab of syrup off his little finger when he notices something.

“Tony. Earth to Tony, hello,” Sam calls, waving at Mr Stark across the kitchen table.

Peter looks up in time to notice Mr Stark had been looking at him. His gaze flicks to Sam subtly and instantly, but Peter saw it and he’s pretty sure no one else noticed.

“I’ve only had half of this, Sam,” Mr Stark says, lifting his coffee cup and glancing at Sam from over his glasses. “You expect peak reaction times from me before I finish it? That seems wrong. Doesn’t that seem wrong to everyone?”

Sam rolls his eyes and asks him something about Doom’s business infrastructure. Peter keeps looking at Tony.

He remembers—he’ll never forget how hard Mr Stark gripped him when he kissed him back. That first time and every other time, actually—there’s a rough sort of desperate energy to being touched by Tony that must mean Tony wants to touch him a lot. And. Well, that must mean Mr Stark is attracted to him. Obviously. Peter just hasn’t let himself bask in the fact since it first became apparent. 

Now, he feels a curl of warmth in his belly where the knowledge sits. Mr Stark is attracted to him and wants him and was staring at him over breakfast, maybe imagining other places for Peter to lick, maybe imagining other uses for syrup—

“Peter. Peter.”

“W-what?” He jumps, whirling to look at Natasha.

“Pass the salt, please.” She smiles a little. “You daydreaming or something?”

Peter feels his stupid flush give him away. “N-no.”

“Someone at school?” Rhodey asks, also grinning. Sam and Mr Stark are still talking in the background, and Steve left around midday yesterday to go to the compound and see his ‘old friend’.

“No, come on guys—“

“Come now, you must tell us.” Nakia prods his shoulder with her finger.

“Tell you what?”

And of course, that’s Tony who’s re-entered the conversation. Peter’s blush gets worse.

“If he has someone in his life he's mooning over!” Nakia says. “We must know.”

“Hm.” Mr Stark pushes his glasses up his nose. “Yes do tell us, Peter; I’d be interested to know that as well. You are my little MIT pet project, after all.”

Peter’s gut clenches with tight heat. He swallows and tries to keep his expression completely guileless to match the veneer of unperturbed amusement Mr Stark put on, but the moment is charged with their secret complicity, and he feels giddy inside.

He is tortured by the others for another ten minutes and ends up resorting to shoveling food into his mouth to avoid answering Natasha's entrapping questions, which makes Nakia laugh and Sam say; “Whoever they are, they better be able to provide for you cause damn, kid, you can eat!”

Mr Stark chuckles darkly and goes to make himself another espresso while Peter's heart thunders in his chest.

*

TS texts him some hours later just as Peter has begun to wonder a) what their conversation is going to involve and b) if his sputtering, geriatric laptop is going to perish in the next few minutes, leaving him with an afternoon of nothing to do but wait for some sort of summons from Mr Stark.

dinner? Says the text.

Peter’s mouth goes dry. time? he sends back immediately.

1900?

He hesitates, then types: are we gonna have a whole convo in ‘?’?

After a couple of seconds, Mr Stark replies: maybe? and Peter chuckles.

is chef back?

steak or ribs?

can I decide later?

is nanotech going to supplant most of our weapons industry?

They keep going back and forth for a while, uncomplicated verbal sparring, making Peter feel lighter but also heavier with want and hope about what Tony will actually decide on. He pictures a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ type kink negotiation (but better, healthier ones where safe-words are respected) which is definitely not going to happen. Probably Mr Stark is going to want to set boundaries, or just try to talk them both out of interacting ever again.

why not go to boston to look at apts in person before moving?

im rly good at craigslist, so what would be the point?

He can’t help reveling in his newfound realization even while they text; Mr Stark wants him; Mr Stark sees his body as something he wants. It’s heady knowledge, and he’s half-hard against the mattress just reminding himself of it, even though discussing rental opportunities isn’t exactly the sexiest topic.

After a surprisingly awesome streak of texts, Tony doesn't say anything for a couple of minutes and then sends him: Sorry peter gtg but ill see you later

Before Peter can respond with a ‘:(‘ that they stopped texting in questions, Mr Stark adds: meet me in the parking lot

His eyes widen. wait are we going out?

mr s??

hello?

But he doesn’t get a reply.

As it happens, Peter’s laptop dies a tragic yet unremarkable death about a half hour before “1900”, and he ends up calling Aunt May to pass the time. She catches him up on the neighborhood gossip (apparently Mr Delmar's daughter's beauty channel on YouTube got big enough that she's getting paid for it now) and 'ooh's and 'aah's at Peter's sanitized recaps of his hangouts with the other Avengers at the Tower. After a while, though, there's a moment where she gets a bit quiet and says: "This is kind of like a Boston trial run for us, huh?"

"Yeah, I guess." Peter smiles to himself. "Miss me?"

"Yes," she replies simply. "But I like that we're being good about this, and proving it can be done. You're gonna keep up this phone call frequency after college starts, right?"

"Right. I promise."

"Good." She sighs at the other end of the line. "I love you so much, Peter. I'm so glad you're being kept safe. Are you... happy over there? Other than living with your celebrity crush, I mean--"

"May!" Peter feels a hysterical laugh try to get past his mouth. She can't ever know, obviously. "I am. I... I am. And I love you too." 

"Good. All right, call me again tomorrow--around this time works perfectly because I'll be done with work, but if Thor shows up at any point earlier you text me 9-1-1 and I duck into the staff room or something."

Peter laughs and promises to do so.

*

Mr Stark drives him to a restaurant Peter’s never heard of.

He decided at the last minute that he was actually ravenous for steak, and Mr Stark simply nodded and said that, in that case, steak was what would be provided for him. Peter is regretting that confession now, as they walk into an exclusive-looking place with an understated sign outside the door. Mr Stark is instantly recognized by the staff, of course—two coat-check assistants and a waiter actually stop what they are doing when they see him, one of them by dropping an enormous mink fur apparatus on the ground in his shock.

No one even glances at Peter’s worn down sneakers.

“M-Mr Stark!” the hostess says. “It is such a pleasant surprise to have you as our guest this evening—“

“Can we get the room? It’s a bit loud in here tonight and my young protégée here won’t be able to hear himself think,” Mr Stark comments, distractedly looking around them. “We have important academic futures to discuss; I wouldn’t want to mishear.”

The hostess’s expression goes through an interesting face-journey. “Um. We currently—“ she is clearly overwhelmed. “The room is occupied currently, but if… actually.” She tucks a strand of pretty black hair behind her ear, shoulders squaring with resolve. “Actually, if you’ll follow me for a moment, I will—we will fix that.”

Mr Stark holds up a hand. “Who’s in there?”

There’s no way she’s allowed to give out other patrons’ names, Peter thinks. The hostess says: “A Mr Donnel, and guest.”

Mr Stark takes that in, mouth pursing. “Mr Donnel of Shell corporation? I've met him; charming guy, loves profit margins. Not seagulls so much. Hm.” He smiles at the hostess warmly. “Yeah, let’s go fix that.”

Mr Donnel is not pleased to be kicked out of his exclusive, private dining room and moved to a table outside, but he also doesn’t fight it; not after seeing Tony. His guest is quiet, simply staring at Mr Stark in a way that says she not only recognizes him, but is obviously very aware of the fact that he is a step up from her current companion.

Peter tries to keep an open mind in general, but judging by body-language alone, this young woman is not a long-term partner of Mr Donnel’s, nor is she looking to become one. She has the look, even the poise of a model, he thinks. Her stilettos are masterfully handled when she walks, and she’s very beautiful—and then there’s also the fact that she can only be one, maybe two years older than Peter, but the man she’s with is easily twenty years older than Mr Stark, with a balding head of grey-white hair.

“Thanks for lending us the table,” Mr Stark says to Mr Donnel, smirking.

The girl is looking at Peter with a hint of curiosity and a deluge of jealousy, and Peter, to his own marvel, feels a surge of completely unexpected smugness. Mine is more powerful than yours, crows the irrational, vicious pride he’s feeling. And he looks good while he does it, too.

He drops down onto his chair abruptly, completely unprepared to learn this about himself.

“The place is very pretentious, I agree, but they have the best steak in New York, unfortunately,” Mr Stark is saying to him, mouth tugging into a distant smile. He doesn’t seem to have noticed the little seismic event Peter is experiencing, nor be aware of the fact that what just happened was the cause. They are alone. “And their dessert menu is good, too.”

“Hm.”

“I also… this is semi-public, which.” Mr Stark drops his gaze down to his napkin, disassembling it from its floral shape. “I thought might be necessary for conversation to actually happen.”

What he’s saying finally registers with Peter.

Oh. Oh. He flushes all the way down to his insides with pleasure at the implication. Mr Stark felt the need for a public deterrent.

“Um. Yeah, this is…” he looks around the room. It’s small and their square table is stylish but simple, nothing crazy, nothing huge. The ceiling has low-charge string light bulbs not unlike many of the cafes in Queens and Brooklyn, and the familiar décor actually makes Peter feel at home. He can hear the low hubbub of conversation outside, but it doesn't intrude on them and there's a comfort to knowing they won't be bothered except by the waitstaff who are just doing their jobs. He likes that it’s just him and Mr Stark in here. He likes this. “This is perfect, actually.”

“Good. Now tell me; in addition to the steak… what would you like? You can pick whatever you want.”

Peter looks down at the menu (that does not list prices) and finds himself, once again, unable to summon the feeling of visceral worry he used to experience just days ago at the thought of Mr Stark spending money for him.

It just feels different—it feels like it did when he found out about the breakfast buffets yesterday, and could only muster… pleasant flattery.

“…Okay.”

Their waiter comes in to take their orders and seems genuinely impressed about Peter going to MIT, as well as delighted that Mr Stark would take a prize pupil to dinner as an example—but his eyes are trusting and he clearly assumes that this is the sort of thing Mr Stark does all the time for his interns and students. Peter tries to do nothing to contradict the notion.

He checks his phone while someone else comes in with a wine list for Mr Stark (which he refuses) and frowns when he realizes the parts he had messaged someone on craigslist about are no longer on sale.

“Everything okay?” Mr Stark asks as the wine expert leaves.

“Hm? Oh, just—my laptop died, and I was… it doesn’t matter. I’ll find another one.”

“Find?” Mr Stark echoes, and Peter winces at his stupid slip. “As in, using your craigslist sleuthing? Or do you actually dumpster dive.”

“…Sometimes? You can repurpose a lot from good parts.”

He doesn't expect open derision at the confession but he also doesn't expect the way Tony smiles gently, maybe fondly at him. “That’s true. Though not always.”

He takes a sip of water and puts down his glass with a casual finality; Peter can't miss it.

“So. Peter.”

Peter clasps his hands together in his lap to prevent undue fidgeting.

“What are your conditions?” he asks, as calmly and mature-sounding as he can manage.

Mr Stark eyes him carefully. “…Yours first,” he says finally, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning back in the chair.

Peter blinks. “Me? I don’t have any.”

The words have an unexpected effect on Mr Stark: his gaze darkens in rapid thunderstorm fashion and he clenches his jaw, but not in anger. “You can’t say that, Peter.”

“Why not?”

“Can’t say that either.” He huffs. “Jesus, you’re so—you can’t just give me carte blanche, here.”

“I thought I could do whatever I wanted. It’s not up to you what I want.”

That seems to throw him off, as he pauses in defeated silence.

Peter feels himself smiling apologetically. “I want whatever you want me to do. Or want to do to me.”

“Jesus Christ—“

“What are your conditions?” He keeps going, reckless and beginning to feel overheated with the certainty that right now, at this moment, he is wanted very much.

“I meant—“

But Peter never finds out what Mr Stark meant, because their food arrives.

It’s the best steak Peter has ever had. Bar none. Bar nothing. It’s so good and he’s suddenly so hungry that he practically ignores Mr Stark while he’s eating it, alternately closing his eyes to savor it and curling his toes inside his sneakers with how good it is. At one point he accidentally bumps his foot against Mr Stark’s ankle, and leaves it there.

When his plate is completely clean, he resurfaces in one of his recently-discovered food-coma states; sated and full and happily drowsy.

“Peter.”

Peter flexes his foot forward and nudges his toe up towards Tony’s ankle, uninhibited with the combined high of his power-trip and his insulin rush.

Tony exhales sharply, dropping a hand flat on the table. “Perfect example of one of my stipulations. We shouldn’t be stupid, even within… within how stupid this is.”

“That makes sense. I agree. What’s the second one?” Peter asks, toeing off his left sneaker.

Mr Stark takes a sip of water the way some might kick back a glass of whiskey. “I want you to drop this and walk away the second you think you might want…” Peter’s socked foot ascends the back of Mr Stark’s calf. “You might want something, or, s-someone else.”

“Okay.” Peter feels drunk. He understands, now, why some super-villains crave more and more uncontrollable power until they explode in a gory fashion. "Anything else?"

"Y-yes; anything I do, or say, makes you uncomfortable... you either tell me or you bail, and I won't ask for explanations."

“Fine." He nods slowly. "Is there a fourth one?”

“Yes. I want you to feel like you can talk to whoever you want, and that part’s up to you, but… keeping this private for—fuck.” Peter hooked his sneakered leg around Tony’s and easily drew his chair closer just with the strength of his right quad. His other foot has climbed high enough to nudge the inside of Tony’s knee, and a little further up.

“You mean… keep it under the—“

“Don’t you dare make that pun.” Mr Stark glares at him, but there’s an incredulous, almost hysterical amusement lurking in his expression. “And this is s-such a bad—“ He rests his other elbow against the table in an abrupt movement, body twitching. “Fuck.”

Peter got to the inside of his thigh. He’s desperate to see what he can do, desperate to pay attention this time, despite his own body’s reactions. Mr Stark looks like this, is feeling all this, because of him. Because of how much he wants Peter, and what Peter is doing with that knowledge. It's enough to drive one to joyful madness, knowing that.

“Tell me to stop,” he suggests, hushed. His cheeks burn with it.

“Fuck.” Mr Stark’s breathing is definitely labored. He drops his head forward a little, but he’s stone-still below the waist, holding himself in check. He’s also getting rock-hard, and Peter deliriously permits himself the play on words as he massages and kneads and rubs and—

And hears a click of heels, and drops his foot into his sneaker.

The door slides open.

“Hello Mr Stark, can I get you anything else?” a waitress asks, peeking her head into the room. “Are you or your young friend going to have dessert?”

“No thanks,” Mr Stark replies, bringing a hand up to his neck. “We’ll be leaving soon. The wire transfer should already be in the account.”

She nods and doesn’t follow up, doesn’t ask any questions. The screen door shuts behind her.

“Okay,” Mr Stark says briskly, almost curtly. “We need to go now. Right now, come on.”

What’s in his eyes leaves very little room for interpretation.

*

The drive back is torture. This kind of torture, it turns out, hurts very good.

Peter holds off on acting on it until they’ve walked out of the Tower’s parking lot, and Mr Stark didn’t actually say a word to him the whole time in the car, but as soon as the smooth slide of the Tower’s elevator doors encloses them in the small space, they are at each other.

Peter feels like clay—looser; he feels disjointed and fluid, molding himself to Mr Stark as he kisses him, rubbing himself against his front and hoping to catch another word of praise; a ‘good’ or even a repeat ‘perfect’. Mr Stark seems to be at a nonverbal stage, however, where he’s definitely half-hard in his pants and grabbing at Peter wherever he can, panting into his mouth, grunting and making nonsense noises deep in his chest.

But suddenly, and even through the haze of arousal and endorphins, Peter’s ears pick up something else.

He pushes Mr Stark away just in time for the elevator doors to open to a penthouse full of Avengers.

Tony’s eyes flicker with panic for a millisecond before he composes himself, straightening his suit and walking out with all the confidence he usually displays.

“And to what do I owe this…?”

He trails off.

Steve is back, and someone new is with him.

Tony’s steps slow to a stop, but the projected confidence he’d created so quickly holds up, despite the fact that Bucky Barnes is sitting on a stool around the kitchen island. His kitchen island, Peter corrects himself.

“Hey, Tony,” Barnes says. “Thanks for the invite.”

Tony nods and that’s how Peter figures out this isn’t actually happening out of the blue for him.

“You’re welcome. It was about time you showed your face around here; moping isn’t really a good look on Cap here, as I’m sure you know.”

Steve is clearly too invested in the scene to project even mock-offense, but Barnes chuckles lightly. “Yeah, I do actually.”

He sees Peter standing behind Mr Stark a moment later.

“Oh, hello. You must be Spiderman.”

“H-hi.” Peter walks a few steps closer to him, but doesn’t shake his hand. He doesn’t know the full story but he does know that this guy is basically the reason the Avengers almost broke up. “It’s Peter, really.”

“Hi Peter. Steve showed me one of your videos on the internet. Impressive stuff.”

Barnes has a sweet but melancholy sort of smile. Steve, on the other hand, is looking at him with an intense focus that almost feels too personal to witness.

“Well,” Mr Stark says, pointing at Peter. “Even though I think we all tend to forget at times, our Peter still has school nights, and he should be getting to bed, but if you don’t ask him to call you ‘Bucky’ now, he’ll refer to you as ‘Mr Barnes’ for the rest of his life, so… I'd suggest you get on that, Sargeant.”

“Oh, I—yes, by all means. Bucky… is my name.”

Peter smiles. “Okay. Well, it was nice meeting you, Bucky. Bye everyone.”

“Good night, Peter,” says Nakia.

“One of your last school nights!” Sam cheers, pumping his fist in the air. “Enjoy it!”

Natasha nods at him and Rhodey salutes.

Peter doesn’t give the back of Tony’s head one last look; he just takes off for his room.

*

He can’t sleep.

Of course he can’t sleep; he’s nervous and excited and turned on and he misses kissing Tony already, because he has one month left to do it and it’s a waste not to do it now. Right now.

Peter sits up in his bed. He glances at the web shooters on his side table and makes a decision.

The distance he has to travel outside of the Tower isn’t very long, but it is peaceful. He’s gotten a lot better about insane heights since Spiderman began, and even enjoys it sometimes. Before he gets to the panels outside of Mr Stark’s room, Peter firmly secures his grip on the grooves of the building and looks out at the city in the night.

The brightly lit, beautiful sprawl of it shines brightly back under a night sky that’s slightly too polluted for many stars, but where a waning moon is easy to spot. He’s going to miss Manhattan almost as much as he’s going to miss Queens and the people in it, he thinks.

He sighs, taking a deep breath, and jumps into Mr Stark’s balcony, skidding a bit but not falling into the pool, thankfully.

No alarms ring.

“FRIDAY?” he asks tentatively. “Hello?”

Peter,” FRIDAY replies. “Hello. You are an authorized friendly. You are allowed to enter.” And the glass door unlatches and opens for him, letting him into Tony’s bedroom.

Peter’s heart does an unhealthy leap at that. It can only mean one thing if he didn’t trigger the system: Mr Stark programmed him into it to allow him into his room from the outside.

So does that imply… was he waiting for him? Was he hoping Peter would come?

“Peter.”

Mr Stark is sitting in bed with a few parts scattered nearby and a lot more parts projected in 3D in the air around him, glowing and serving as the light sources in the room along with the glow from the arc reactor under his shirt. Tony pushes one of the holos to the side so he can see Peter walk in.

“Hi.”

“Hi.” He gives Peter a crooked smile. “You caught me.”

Peter does indeed catch on as soon as he takes a second glance at the parts and schematics Mr Stark was working on. “…For me?” he asks, unable to keep the wonder from his voice.

It’s going to be a computer. It’s going to be an insanely super-powered, beautiful piece of personalized machinery.

“For you,” Mr Stark replies simply, offhand and probably not understanding what a huge deal it is.

Peter walks over to him, body passing through a couple of his glowing plans and momentarily distorting them, and climbs on the bed to kiss him.

Mr Stark wraps his arms around his waist and draws him in, inhaling sharply. Peter’s weight settles on top of him, bare thighs sliding open to rest at either side of his waist bringing Peter’s pelvis flush against his crotch. He can't help a low noise of satisfaction at the pressure.

The pace is satisfyingly fast, every touch from Mr Stark a current, the texture of his beard a rough relief. Peter shivers when Mr Stark’s hand slides under his shirt, fingers trailing up and down the small of his back.

“Okay?” Mr Stark mumbles against his lips, his other hand at Peter’s waist.

“Yes, yes,” Peter whispers impatiently, rocking against him. Tony kisses down his cheek to return to his neck, which saps all the strength from Peter’s muscles in a way that makes him glad none of his nemeses know Spiderman has such a glaring weak spot.

“So,” Tony rumbles into Peter’s clavicle. “Graduation is next Friday, hm?”

“You wanna… talk about graduation…?” Peter mutters, head lolling.

“I wanted to ask you something about graduation, yes,” Mr Stark replies. He sounds like he’s smiling.

“Ask… me what?”

“Wanted to ask if I could give you a graduation gift, per your earlier stipulation that I request permission for those.” Mr Stark is definitely grinning, Peter is sure of it.

He pulls away to look at him, and is proven correct.

“It depends on the gift,” Peter says.

“Fair enough.” Tony resumes the light, gentle trail his fingers were mapping out against Peter’s spine, making him tremble. Cheater. “I want you to be able to check out the apartments in person.”

He gets what Tony is saying right away. “…You want to take me to Boston?”

“Just for a day-trip. I’d have you home for dinner, promise.”

They exchange a look and Peter is almost completely sure they are both thinking of Mr Stark having him for dinner. Breathing is a really complicated process to figure out, when one’s body forgets how its done.

“And to be clear; I want to fly you to Boston.”

“In the suit?”

A chuckle. “No, Peter. Not in the suit.”

Oh.

Peter twitches lightly as Mr Stark’s hand slides upward to the wings of his scapulae, dragging his shirt up with it. Mr Stark is looking up at him with an intensity that’s heady, a want that makes Peter high just like it did before. He feels so good he doesn’t know what to do with himself, and that gift—

That gift means he would get a whole day with Tony alone.

“Um. Okay. I think… I would like that.”

“…Really.”

He’s surprised.

Peter hesitates. “I mean… if—you don’t have to, obviously, I would never expect—“

“I know you wouldn’t expect it, Peter, that’s why I wanted to give it to you.” He shakes his head. “I have to say, this was easier than I expected.” Than before, he’s not saying.

“Um.”

How to explain it to Mr Stark when he can barely explain it to himself?

 

Tony

It’s probably unhealthy, to feel this meteoric happiness at Peter’s acquiescence, but then none of what Tony has done in the past couple of days has been even remotely within the realm of sane.

He also hasn’t felt this alive in a very long time.

“I’m not sure…” Peter bites his lower lip. “I don’t know why I don’t mind it, now.”

Do you feel it too? Tony thinks. Do you understand, on some level, that it’s this old man’s fucked up way of taking care of you? Of caring for you? About you?

“Well, if I’d known this was what it would take…” He probably would have been horrified. He still kind of is, but it’s distant right now, with an armful of Peter.

“Would you have let me sit here sooner?” Peter indicates his lap.

Tony thinks: I’d have let you sit anywhere on my body anytime, preferably somewhere you'd be cutting off my air supply. He says: “This was soon enough, don’t you think?”

Peter gaze shutters, and he doesn't answer at first; he winds his arms around Tony’s neck and buries his face in his shoulder. Then, after taking a slow breath from his new position, he says: “No it wasn’t."

Tony tightens his arms around him and breathes in deep, too; that sweet smell he can’t tie to a food or spice or flower.

“Peter…”

But Peter starts kissing his neck, clumsy and full of teeth in a way that feels purposeful, not inexperienced. Tony almost tells him marks are a bad idea, and should be one of their stipulations… and then he doesn’t. He tucks both hands into Peter’s shorts and Peter’s hips twitch into him, delicious friction on his dick. Tony feels like he’s been hard for hours, and it’s almost true at this point.

Peter rides him slowly, gnawing at his skin with increasingly clear intent, fingers playing with the hairs at the nape of Tony’s neck.

When Tony’s palms slide further down to cup his ass, however, Peter gasps and convulses, and his thighs spread wider like he’s trying to get rid of the fabric between them with pressure alone.

“M-Mr Stark—“

“Like you like this,” Tony rumbles, too honest. But he wants Peter to know, because Peter deserves it. “You’re fucking amazing like this.”

Peter whimpers, hips driving into Tony more insistently, needy. His knee skids on the sheets.

“Mr Stark, please—“

Tony squeezes his handful, certain the top of his head is about to fly off. “Yeah, this is what I like. How is it you turned out to be what I like the most, hm?”

Peter moans into his shoulder, spine arching, actually kicking a foot down.

“That’s it. Give me what I want, Peter; you’re so good at it—“

The tip of Tony’s right index finger sinks half an inch between his cheeks and Peter cries out, lurching forward so powerfully he actually flattens Tony backwards to the mattress in a burst of uncontrollable strength.

“Oh my God—“

“Okay? Peter, this okay?”

Yes,” Peter sobs. “Y-yes yes yes please yes—“

He touches the tight ring of muscle of his hole and Peter comes like a button was pressed, before so much as the pad of Tony’s finger pushes inside. He comes so hard he gets the crotch of Tony’s pants humid, too, and to Tony’s own delirium he can feel the hot pulses as they happen, driving him closer and closer to his own undoing.

“Y-yes, oh my God,” Peter slurs, twitching on top of Tony and shivering. “Oh God, oh…”

“You’re incredible.”

Peter whines, rolling his forehead against Tony’s shoulder. He kisses Tony’s pec over his shirt, near the edge of the reactor.

“I…” He rests his cheek against the left side of Tony’s chest, panting. “Will you let me this time? Please,” he whispers, one hand sliding down Tony’s abs to the tent in his pants.

“Peter—“

“Please. Please.”

He maps out the shape of him through the taut fabric, thumbing the head, and the muted touches flare up Tony’s nerve endings and coil everything tight.

“Y-you shouldn’t—you don’t have to—“

“Tony. Please.”

Tony pulls his hands back to bunch them into fists at his sides, a lurch of powerful arousal making a trickle of precome drip out. His boxer-briefs are a warm, humid mess, and the light pressure of Peter’s hand is making it worse.

“Please. I want to so much, please let me,” Peter mumbles, kissing the hard edge of the metal ring of the reactor’s casing through Tony’s shirt. He kisses all around it and back up to Tony’s neck, under his jaw, his cheek, his beard. “Please, please, Tony—“

Tony’s hand grabs Peter’s wrist and Peter makes a disappointed sound, but then Tony draws his hand towards him, sliding it inside his pants alongside his own.

Peter sighs with relief. “Thank you…” His hand wraps around Tony’s dick without hesitation, grip strong and sure, and he tugs him out into the open, pumping his fist.

Tony hisses, hips twitching into it.

“I’ve imagined this,” Peter whispers. “For so long, I.”

Tony is already moments away. He’s heard the ‘I’ve been dreaming of this moment’ stuff in bed so many times—from the actresses, the star athletes, the models, the racecar drivers… none of it got to the place Peter has carved out for himself, right at the center of him.

“Tell me,” he grunts, hating to ask.

“I already wanted you before I met you.” Peter kisses his cheek, rhythm getting faster. He’s better at it than he has any right to be. “And then, after… I wanted you more.”

Tony pants, feeling like some overcharged nova, something with the power to destroy.

“Wanted…” Peter’s breathing is also uneven. “Wanted you to grab me. Carry me. Kiss me.”

He leans in to say the rest in a rush, right in Tony’s ear:

“Wanted you to fuck me, and I still want it now.”

Tony comes with a muffled cry into Peter’s shoulder, hips fucking up into Peter’s grip, dick shooting between them. When he can’t take it anymore he surges upward and flips Peter over, and Peter lets him, lets Tony cage him into the bed and grind into him to ride it out, mashing their mouths together, fucking his tongue inside, all of him aching to get inside. Peter whimpers and takes it all, making pleased little noises and moaning and kissing Tony back.

It takes long, lazy minutes for Tony’s pulse to get back to normal, during which he probably falls deeper into a pit he can’t see a way out of, and doesn’t want to escape.

They end up falling asleep in a warm tangle of limbs, almost simultaneously giving in to the tempting drag of unconsciousness.

*

Tony wakes up an unknown amount of time later.

The sky is still pitch-black and it must have only been a couple of hours of sleep, but Peter is tentatively untangling their legs to slide out from under him. Tony’s first instinct is to prevent this from happening, because Peter is leaving, but of course—

“I should go,” Peter whispers. “In case, in the morning…”

“Right.”

He loosens his grip on Peter's shirt and watches Peter stand to tug his shorts up and walk out to the balcony, watches him until he hops over the railing and disappears.

In the instant after he can’t see him anymore, Tony feels an unexpected punch of overwhelming sadness, like grief.

*

They are in another conference call with T’Challa when Peter gets back from school on Monday, and at Rhodey’s insistence, Tony texts him to join them.

“He’s half of the people in this Tower who’ve been targeted by that thing, Tony. He deserves to be here and we need his input.”

Tony gives Peter the order and he appears through the door moments later; definitely too fast for someone to get all the way through the penthouse level and then down to the conference room floor, making Tony picture him leaping across the wide spaces with those strong, lithe thighs of his.

“Peter, T’Challa. T’Challa, Peter. He’s not an Avenger yet but he does have some pretty impressive abilities, and he may join the team in a few years.”

Hello, Peter,” T’Challa greets him.

“H-hi.”

Peter sits down in an awed thump, landing on an empty seat by happy coincidence, probably. Tony makes an inner concession for the twinge of professional jealousy this elicits, since the king of Wakanda is the one superhero Tony completely relates to fanboying about. He's pretty sure he's still Peter's favorite Avenger.

They finish up discussing strategy and Nakia’s lead on one of the programmers Doom is using to build his AI.

“I will be leading the ambush, of course,” she tells T’Challa. “Tony and Natasha have agreed to be backup. If we get him, we have a very good chance of being able to remotely hack into Doom’s system and plant a virus before he figures out a way to mass-produce some sort of second Ultron.”

Tony raises his hand. “First. I was first.”

“Yes, well, let’s move on,” says Steve. “T’Challa, do we have your approval of this course of action?”

You do,” says T’Challa.

“Thank you. We will see you—“

Suddenly someone’s torso pokes into T’Challa’s holo projection, appearing bigger and closer meaning she stepped in front of him.

Bucky!” the young woman says, ducking to be in the frame and happily waving. “How are you, my White Wolf?”

Bucky smiles, nodding respectfully. “Very well, Princess.”

Shuri, the time for social calls is later, and on your personal line,” comes T’Challa’s voice, and with a mild wince to the camera he hangs up.

“He always seems so regal and put together,” Tony comments in the silence that follows.

“Well, he is none of those things,” Nakia replies, and everyone laughs.

They mill about afterward; Natasha and Steve want to go to the Tower's gym together and they even invite Peter along, which he happily accepts, casually adding: "Mr Stark? Are you joining us?"

"My best boxing buddy isn't here today; Happy went home."

"I'll box with you."

They are walking out of the room, and no one is really paying attention to their conversation. Steve and Natasha are ahead of them, but they still can't--Tony should still--

"You're way stronger than me. Don't think it would be a fair fight."

Peter looks up and the ceiling of the corridor they start walking down. "I can tone it down. I'll be good to you."

Tony feels a lurch of sick arousal and thrilling fear intermingled together. "Parker--"

Peter trains an innocent gaze on him. "I'll be so good, I promise. I'll even let you get a few hard strikes in."

Tony does not join them at the gym.

*

He gets Peter a suit for graduation on Tuesday. After asking, of course.

It’s then that Peter tells him that he retracts that particular stipulation of his when it applies to things that don’t involve schedule changes for him (i.e trips) or items he wouldn’t be able to hide (i.e a car, which Tony is a little miffed made the cut since he could also have paid for a garage for Peter to store it in). So that’s… progress.

And an opening Tony intends to take advantage of.

He arranges for the suit to happen and then finishes up Peter’s computer, getting it looking sleek and pretty with some reinforced casing for all the backpack flinging Spiderman does. Next, he makes plans for Boston—his private jet, obviously, which he himself can fly so there’s no need to inconvenience anybody, and the apartments he wants Peter to look at which will keep him safe and in comfort while not appearing excessive or out of character for him.

Then he gets Peter Star Wars: Episode IX premiere tickets so he can take his two best friends in a few months, and has one of his better assistants set up a fake lottery Peter can tell other people he won. Then he buys an entire apartment complex in Cambridge just in case he needs to set up a fake ‘low rent’ offer for Peter because as much as he respects Peter’s right to choose how to live his life, he doesn’t respect it enough to let Peter overwork and sleep-deprive and starve himself again. Then he buys Peter some truly ludicrously expensive chocolates just because he wants to hear the noise Peter makes when he tries them.

Then he takes a breath, having gotten some of it out of his system. He has a bit of time—less than a month already, but still some time to get all of it out, all of Peter, somehow—

*

The rest of the week goes by in a blur, and Peter is gone most of the day for school, obviously. Tony helps Nakia find the damn programmer and Natasha gets what they need from him so that means a lot of late nights caffeinating to attempt to circumvent Doom’s cybersecurity; he’s busy enough even without the Stark Industries bare minimums Pepper calls him about during business hours.

So the days quickly pass and then it's time: Peter graduates from high school on Friday.

Tony doesn’t go. Obviously; that would be ridiculous. Anyway he has all that work to do. 

He gets what he’s pretty sure is a drunk text at 2 a.m. that just says:

miss u soooo bad

gonna

In that order.

Chapter Text

 

Peter

The flight into Boston is short, but Peter has plenty of time to explore the insanity that is Tony’s private jet. Cream leather recliners, elegant tables, burgundy carpeting, and of course here and there a 3D holo-screen with perfectly functional high-speed internet access, including video-chat capability. He wanders about and climbs the walls to peek at compartments above without worrying about hiding his abilities, since it’s just them alone in the partially automated aircraft, though Tony mostly stays in the cockpit.

It’s the coolest travel experience he’s ever had, and if they had more than one month of this thing between them he might have gotten the chance to fly in the jet for longer trips, international travel—but Peter breaks away from pointless thoughts like those. Mr Stark never commented on his drunk text from graduation prom; the next day he just texted Peter about something else, and the thread continued on. It’s been almost forty-eight hours now, so Peter isn’t going to bring it up.

They land in the private area of Luton airport, and Peter, still reeling from the experience of flying in a private freaking plane, is driven into the city he’s going to be living in for the next four years.

It’s overwhelming in the best possible way.

Tony walks him around the MIT campus while they wait for their first apartment showing, coffee cups in hand and drawing covert glances as people double-take when they see Iron Man, or a man who looks just like him. Tony also teaches him how to navigate the many buildings, and then takes him inside Building 10, the main entrance on campus. They walk past poster presentations for articles published by staff and students, but also past posters for the Quidditch club, many acapella singing groups, and movie night events at the theatre.

Mr Stark is a good tour guide—he also points out the best libraries, and has Peter write down the names of professors who work in the biochemistry and bioengineering departments Peter is interested in. He shows Peter the rote touristy stuff too, “Because it’s fun,” and takes pictures of him in various famous spots as requested. Peter retaliates by making him take a selfie together in front of the plaque thanking Tony Stark for his generous contribution to the MIT scholarship fund (according to Tony they wanted to put up a painting of him and he refused, vehemently).

It’s a perfect morning.

The apartment hunting starts around noon. Peter arranged to see most of the places and only let Tony pick out three himself, and the contrast quickly becomes apparent. Peter didn’t even consider a one-bedroom for himself, opting to look at studios and attics to share, always to share. Tony clearly took great pains not to go overboard, but his choices appear ostentatious in comparison.

“What would it take, for you to consider letting me buy you something,” Tony says as they walk down the narrow steps from an attic four miles from campus (according to the ad it gets good sunlight in the afternoon, but it turned out to have only one window). The man showing them the apartment didn’t even make the climb to tour the place; he’s waiting below. “Something small. A small loft. A tiny little loft—what would it take?”

Peter smiles to himself, feeling fondly exasperated. “What will it take for you to let this go?”

“Simple: you, giving in.”

“Funny.”

They drive from there into the Cambridge campus area for the last of Tony’s picks. It’s on the penthouse of a very tall building that’s being touched up by construction. It’s owned by a rental company called ‘RedBrick Ltd.’ and priced at a suspiciously affordable rate.

Peter walks in and tries to conceal his instant, wide-eyed love at first sight for the cosy, clean space. The woman showing them the apartment ducks out to take a call and give them some privacy, promising to return in ten minutes.

It’s as good a time as any for Peter to follow up on his hunch.

“Hey Tony?” he murmurs, typing on his phone.

“Hm?”

“If I can figure it out by Googling the rental company, you haven’t put enough effort into hiding your involvement.” He extends his arm and points his phone screen in Tony’s general direction while he continues to walk around.

RedBrick Ltd. was recently acquired by Stark Industries, according to Forbes News.

“I wasn’t actively trying. And you can always just… not choose this particular place.”

“Why do you want to be my landlord so bad?” Peter throws him a look over his shoulder.

“I’d be pretty far removed from being your landlord if you picked this place, Peter.”

“Pretty far up, is what you mean.”

“I suppose.”

They keep looking at each other. Tony’s gaze is steadily unapologetic through his blue-colored glasses.

“Why are you so obsessed with buying me an apartment?” he asks again.

“I’m not obsessed with buying you an apartment.”

Peter's mouth keeps wanting to smile even though he's trying to seem annoyed. “...It’s a really great place.”

“That’s why I bought it.”

He doesn’t want to refuse; he wants to take this unthinkingly expensive gift on top of all the other unthinkingly expensive gifts Tony has given him. But. “Okay, I’ll think about it,” he says, gaze catching on the reading nook area near the window. "Happy?"

"That's all I was hoping for, Spidey."

They eat lunch at the top of the Prudential building, overlooking the city. Tony introduces him as a soon-to-be MIT student to the waitress and she gushes immediately; apparently her sister is a third-year Economics major.

When she leaves, Tony says; "Your feet are staying in your shoes this time, hm?"

Peter grins. "Bold of you to assume I'd behave just 'cause this is public."

Tony rolls his eyes. "It was public last time, too, champ."

"If you say so, Mr Stark." He puts just a millimeter of mock-emphasis on the formal address.

The food is incredible, topped off by the amazing dessert--a lemon tart Peter savors to the last. Tony expands a bit more on his nanotech progress at Peter's behest, weaving the concepts into terminology Peter can understand while teaching him at the same time. There's a particular moment while Tony is speaking when Peter becomes aware of feeling centered, and happy in a way that isn't complicated, and he can still taste the sweet lemon in his mouth. 

He looks outside, wishing he were on the other side of the glass at this height, feeling the adrenaline and the wind on his face, leaning over and hanging onto the building by his fingertips while Tony flew around him, ready to catch him if he felt like taking the leap.

“Everything okay?”

He looks back at Tony. He looks at Tony’s face in the sunlight. His perfect hair, his beard, the build of his shoulders, his muscled arms encased in a perfectly cut black blazer, under which he has a Black Sabbath shirt on. His expressive eyes in this perfect moment.

“…Yeah. I’m fine.”

He’s pathetically in love with him, is what he is, of course.

*

The flight back is quiet, and Peter spends most of it on the passenger section of the plane again, lying on one of the enormous, armchair-like seats. Thinking.

Tony made a comment about putting deposits down on all the apartments for him so that he has more time to make up his mind, and Peter knows he’ll do it the second Peter gives him permission. But. He also knows that he shouldn’t take the place in Cambridge, or indeed any of the three understated, secure, well-situated places Tony picked out for him.

In four weeks, Peter is going to be crying himself sick from missing him, and if he’s living in a building Tony owns while he does it that will just make things worse.

He’s going to have to say no.

*

wait so we get grant options for pubs in undergrad????

yup according to mr stark

dude im so glad you got flown to boston like some academic sugar baby so I could get all the inside scoop

Peter re-reads the word ‘academic’ and sighs.

He told Ned and MJ the truth about the trip (Tony flew Peter to Boston to check out apartments in his private jet) and then tacked on two lies. One lie was blatant (Tony had a conference there anyway for Stark Industries) and one lie was by omission (for all they know Tony never offered to buy Peter a place, let alone actually bought a building for him just in case).

Peter knows his friends can tell he’s sinking deeper and deeper into this thing, but so far they both believe it to be one-sided, so he gets a lot of pity and none of the judgment—and if he’s honest with himself, the pity feels appropriate. His incoming heartbreak is at the forefront of his mind now more than ever, after such a perfect Boston day.

did stark butt make an appearance today btw? still waiting for my close up

Peter snorts. u nasty

i honest babe

Tony vanished into the lab five minutes after landing the plane, so Peter ate dinner with Nakia and Rhodey because Natasha, Bucky, Steve and Sam all went out together. Now, he lies in bed avoiding the decision he has to make.

ugh peter moms calling me for dinner

we’re having bonding w the boyfriend meals now

love u facetime tmw

Peter drops his phone next to him.

He wants nothing more than to climb up to Tony’s bedroom and curl up with him. Not even necessarily for sex (but preferably the curling up would happen after), just to spend more time with him.

But.

The hurt that’s coming is going to mess him up in a terrible, permanent way, and he’s afraid. And so, just for tonight, he decides to stay put.

*

He wakes up after a night of fitful, shallow sleep already regretting his cowardice. He wasted time tossing and turning when he could have been whispering stupid stuff in Tony’s ear, feeling the scratch of Tony’s beard on his skin, figuring out more ways to make Tony’s eyes darken with not-anger.

He’s an idiot.

Peter stumbles out of his room in a haze of self-reproach, and starts making his way to the kitchen for breakfast. When he turns into the corridor that leads to the open-plan area he picks up the distant sounds of the Avengers milling about, and braces himself for seeing Mr Stark again in a context where he can’t go up to him and kiss him, hop up onto his body and wrap his legs around his waist—

“Morning.”

He whirls around, pulse jumping into overdrive.

It’s Tony. He’s right behind him, and Peter was so distracted that he didn’t notice until now.

“Mr Stark,” he chokes. “H-hey. Morning, hi.”

Tony smiles wryly. “Fancy meeting you here.”

Peter swallows. He feels like he owes him an explanation, but nothing about Tony indicates that one is at all required.

“Are you okay?”

Peter licks his lips. I could be, he thinks, gaze dropping to Mr Stark’s mouth.

“Are you hungry? I had them bring in those donuts from Philly you mentioned one time—“

Peter surges up at kisses him.

Tony grunts, and seconds later has pressed Peter up against the wall, ravenously kissing back. They paw at each other, clumsy, frantic, muffling noises and making hushed gasps, breathing intensely. Peter feels something clench with satisfaction at the base of his spine, and his leg starts sliding up the outside of Tony’s, dick hardening.

“Okay, okay, w-wait,” Tony whispers, pulling a move he’s done before, pressing their foreheads together to separate their mouths. “This is one of those stupid—“

Peter ducks in to sneak another kiss, hating himself for missing out on this even more.

“Peter--”

He can still hear the others outside, but the quality of the conversation hasn’t changed.

“Please,” he pants, because that’s worked before. He lets all of his honest need into his voice, not meeting Tony’s eyes but hoping, hoping. “Please, Tony, just--”

Tony groans deep in his chest and dives in, flattening Peter against the wall again, holding his face in his hands and thumbing his jaw to coax him open. Peter shudders and makes a high sound he regrets immediately, but which gets him a knee between his legs.

“Missed you,” Tony rasps. The unspoken ‘last night’ hurts Peter somewhere soft.

He hops up onto Tony’s waist like he’d dreamed about, where he feels the most powerful and the most powerless all at once. His head is spinning. He knows they shouldn’t do this here—but it’s a dark hallway without windows, and the bathroom is further ahead around the corner where they’d be seen by the others. Tony’s room is way too far away, and more frequented… and if someone found them in Peter’s bedroom that would be harder to explain away than—

Did you hear something?

Distantly, Bucky stands up.

Peter breaks their kiss and drops to the floor, stumbling back. He hears Bucky’s steps coming towards them and springs into a backflip that lands him ten feet away from Tony.

“Oh, hey. It’s just Stark,” Bucky calls, peeking his head around the corner. Then he sees Peter. “And Spiderman’s up, too. Guess we’re all having breakfast together.”

“Guess we are,” Tony replies, and his voice sounds perfectly normal. Peter wishes he were half as good at that as he follows them, several steps behind.

Unfortunately, that sets the tone for the rest of the month.

 

Tony

They are smart about it, but they aren’t wise.

Peter swings into Tony’s balcony every night, a little breathless and usually only in his pajamas and his web shooters. He doesn’t sleep in Tony’s bed again, not after the very first night, but they find other ways to spend time together, and make the most of those few hours after sunset.

The problem is just that, as with any addiction, the positive feedback loop means more leads to more, not less. A few hours a night aren’t enough for either of them, not if that’s all the time they are going to get.

They make out in more dark corridors; they kiss in any empty room they can find, they sneak into bathrooms for frantic hand-jobs as the others start to gravitate towards hanging out at the penthouse on the regular. If left alone, they are on each other within moments. On one memorable occasion they are furiously making out on the couch, Peter grinding onto Tony’s lap, but have to hastily separate when Peter hears the elevator about to deposit Happy into the living room.

Peter’s still a teenager but Tony has no fucking excuse other than—how can he not?

One morning Peter visits Tony in the lab and ends up lying on another metal counter; this time fully naked. Tony isn’t even completely sure how it happens, but he makes sure security to access the lab is shut air-tight, and the cameras are off, even FRIDAY is locked out of access—and then he grips Peter by the ankles and slides him smoothly to the edge of the counter.

He eats him out for an hour.

It starts out with the soft brush of Peter’s inner thighs caressing his ears, and Peter is shy at the beginning--keeping his legs thoughtfully open, his arms by his sides, careful not to thrust his hips onto Tony’s face. At the beginning.

Tony is almost offended by such a display of restraint, and sets out to remedy the situation. Licking into him and letting his teeth scrape his hole gets Peter arching and sliding the soles of his feet along Tony’s back. Curling his tongue inside and thrusting in gets Peter muffling hoarse little cries into his fist, or arm, and sounding like he’s crying. Within minutes, Tony’s ears are ringing with contentment at the whisper-thin noises Peter is making; choked, quiet sobs and breathy moans and everything Tony is never going to forget.

By the time Peter comes his legs are clamped tight around Tony’s ears, one foot digging into Tony’s spine and the other pushing the heel against the back of Tony’s head to shove him closer.

Tony wouldn’t be able to see even if his eyes weren’t closed, blinded by how fucking turned on he is. He makes Peter come a second time, nudging a finger in him along with his tongue, then turning that into two fingers that make Peter slam his palms against the edge of the counter and crush it to a pulp.

His jaw is aching and sore by the end of it, but he would have kept going if Peter hadn’t put a shaky, trembling hand in his hair and pulled him away, gasping: “Can’t... I... I just can’t...”

It takes Tony two covert strokes of his dick to come from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head, panting. The look of puzzled disappointment on Peter’s face when he realizes Tony already came makes him laugh into Peter’s thigh—a genuine, full-body laugh he muffles into what might be his favorite part of Peter’s precious anatomy.

*

Because Steve makes the patrol schedule while he’s staying at Stark Tower, Tony is able to claim no responsibility for being paired with Peter—namely, thanks to the fact that they make up a flight-capable/non-flight-capable pair, since Steve added Peter to the roster after seeing what he can do.

There are two, sometimes three whole moments during those patrols when Tony forgets that this thing that’s making him happy is doomed and finite altogether.

Tony isn’t getting any sleep overnight these days—he has to use that time to program his cybersecurity attacks on Doom’s seemingly airtight system, and unfortunately is unable to resuscitate either of the wrecked bots to launch any sort of remote access through Doom’s own channel. Even with the programmer’s information, Peter and Rhodey wrecked them too badly.

He doesn’t mind the sleep deprivation, however; he is used to it and it is so, so worth it. Plus, he naps during the day for survival, and that’s the one time he gets to fall asleep with Peter in his arms.

With his schedule free of school hours now, Peter spends every other day in Queens with his friends and family—which means Tony gets him every other day, and makes the most of it.

He feeds Peter the best cuisine he can find; filet mignon, home-made pasta from the local Italian eatery on 19th, more of the imported chocolates Peter liked, the Spanish champagne they had at the Stark Industries company appreciation event that started everything. He buys Peter practical, quietly expensive clothes of real quality and durability for his move, but makes sure they are Star Wars themed. Then he buys Peter fucked up, impractical stuff he’s going to have to throw out soon, like a silk bathrobe.

He doesn’t push Peter about choosing an apartment—but gets Peter to let him put down all those deposits after all.

Still, his favorite thing out of all those luxuries is Peter sneaking up to his room after lunch for languid, sleepy touches that sometimes don’t even lead to anything. Peter usually naps with him, burrowing against Tony’s chest to press his cheek against the arc reactor or pressing back into him to be his little spoon. Sometimes Peter kisses him awake. Sometimes Tony wakes up to Peter’s hand inside his pants.

Two weeks before Peter’s noon megabus takes him to Boston, Tony wakes up from a nap to Peter grinding against him, leg hooked over his waist, mouth slack with sleep still as he chases something while unconscious.

The rush of heat that hits him is so powerful Tony definitely could have come just from the friction, untouched, like a damn teenager himself. But. He gently nudges Peter awake, hungrily watching the flutter of his eyelashes.

“Mmh… Tony?”

Peter blinks owlishly up at him. He’s flushed bright pink, the mid-afternoon sun highlighting it all for Tony’s benefit.

“Hey Parker.”

“H-hey.” Peter rocks against him again, chewing on his lower lip. “I. Uh… can I…”

Tony nods, throat tight as Peter’s eyes droop shut again and he keeps going for it, essentially riding Tony’s hip, fingers curled against the front of Tony’s shirt. His sleepy-soft noises are incendiary.

“Perfect,” Tony mutters.

Peter’s eyebrows draw in, face pinched with arousal. “Mh.”

“You have to know you are. You’re too damn smart—“ Peter whimpers. “And you have to know.”

“Please…” One of Peter’s hands fumbles for one of Tony’s and brings it down to his crotch. “Please.”

At first, Tony’s sure he understands what the plea is for. He grips Peter at the base and pumps his fist, knowing it won’t take much to get Peter there are very, very okay with it.

But then Peter says, so very quiet: “Please… tell me.”

Tony’s gaze snaps back up to his face. Peter’s eyes are still squeezed shut, and he’s blotchy with embarrassment, but Tony didn’t mishear.

“That you’re perfect?”

Peter gives a single, mortified little nod.

Tony can’t take it anymore, he lunges for his mouth and kisses him, muttering the word against his lips, slurring it until it barely makes sense, growling and whispering it, ruining it forever.

*

Peter and Steve working on combat training at the gym becomes a regular occurrence during the break. Bucky does not enjoy combat training in any form and prefers to lift or get his cardio in another way; Peter, on the other hand, needs to learn more formal techniques according to the Cap’s assessment of his fighting style.

Tony has taken to scheduling his boxing time with Happy around those hours. He’d love to chalk up the decision to pure viewing rights (both Steve and Peter are a sight to behold when sweaty and locked in a wrestling embrace) but he suspects the faint taste in the back of his throat is to blame.

“Tony, Jesus—“ Happy huffs, knocking him down the fourth time. “This was even worse than the last round. Are you distracted by how good I look in this helmet? Is that it?”

Tony glances over at Peter and Steve to find Peter looking at him with naked worry, on his tiptoes to make sure Tony is all right. Steve is re-tying his shoelace and doesn’t seem to have noticed.

He gives Happy a bright smirk. “It’s actually your sweaty chest in that shirt, my friend. Just… sapping all my concentration.”

Happy snorts. “Fuck you.”

“Don’t toy with my emotions, Hogan.”

He gets back up and throws Peter a wink that his own headpiece will hide from Happy, making Peter’s mouth tug up in a small smile.

Then Steve gets up, and they have to look away from each other.

*

They both linger casually at the gym showers, and when Steve and Happy are gone Peter corners Tony under the spray of the water, limbs slick and muscles straining from the exercise. He tastes salty and wet and perfect.

Luckily Peter gets all quiet when he's turned on, and Tony has other means to muffle his sounds on this particular occasion.

*

Peter’s vertiginous learning curve definitely applies to sex. They don’t do everything--in the traditional, outdated sense Peter is still a virgin, and it's because Tony wants Peter to have that with someone healthier for him, someone better. Ideally, it'll be someone Peter meets in college when his worldview suddenly expands and he realizes his temporary infatuation with an older man he used to admire was just a phase.

Tony is going to have no such luck or temporality, he can already feel it. He knows their relationship exists at a fucked up angle because of, among other things, who holds significantly more power over the other—he’s just never felt less sure of which of them that is.

*

Ten days before Peter leaves for Boston, he asks Tony how often he uses the pool on his balcony.

They end up watching the sunset from there—or, Peter gets into the pool in his underwear and rests his head on his folded arms to watch the sunset, and Tony has become a cliché in every single way because he doesn’t see shit past the glass railing. He sits at the opposite edge of the tub with his jeans rolled up, only dipping his feet in, and watching the wet curl of Peter’s hair at the nape of his neck.

Ten days sounds like the start of a very final sort of countdown. Tony has a lot of grandiose ideas for Peter's future; eventually Peter will be the head of a charitable multi-billion industry that improves lives all over the world, and he will be unstoppable. He will be happy in the way people who allow that for themselves are; content. Tony wants all those things and more for him. But. In ten days, this crazy perfect thing won't be in Tony's life anymore. Not ever again.

Ten. Nine. Eight...

“Here’s a thought,” he hears himself say.

“Hm?”

Peter keeps staring out at the skyline.

“I—we. When this.” He coughs. His hands are trembling, so he clasps them together. “After you move, if we haven’t found the third bot yet, or if it hasn’t found us—well, I was thinking I should check in on you. Once in a while.”

Peter turns to look at him over his shoulder. The defined muscles of his back bunch and shift with the movement, slick with the water. “Check in on me?”

“Yes. Make sure you haven’t been chopped up into chimichurri by the vibranium wings, that kind of thing.”

Peter’s eyes widen with comprehension, and then light up with something bright.

“Oh.” One of his hands goes up to his shoulder, rivulets rolling down between his fingers. “Y-yeah, no, that makes… perfect sense. I’m—I’d appreciate that. You could visit me…” he sits with his back to the sunset, looking at Tony full-on. “Once a…”

“Month?”

“…week?”

They say it at the same time. Peter winces, but Tony just nods firmly, instantly course-correcting. “No, you’re right, once a week is probably safer.”

“You think?”

“Yes, definitely.” He sounds businesslike. “Just a check in. Update you on the investigation, hear report from you on your individual patrols... standard stuff.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’d want to know how it’s going.”

Peter seems to have forgotten that the sun has almost finished sinking past the horizon, and if he doesn’t turn around soon he’s going to miss it setting.

“Maybe…” he wades forward, water sloshing around him as he moves closer to Tony. “Maybe if I’m—if you’re gonna be visiting, I should probably have a place where I can bring a visitor?”

Tony blinks, trying to maintain his composure while something roars with approval in his veins.

“You’d take the apartment?”

Peter is almost on him, now. The water is only up to his bellybutton when he stands up. “Maybe I should.”

“I think you should,” Tony says quickly. “I have a bad back, Peter. I’m an old man.” Peter quirks an eyebrow but allows the comment. “You wouldn’t have me stay over at a humid fourth-floor walk-up ten miles from campus, would you?”

“It was a third-floor and it was four miles away.”

Tony snorts and Peter puts a hand on his knee, wading close to stand between Tony’s legs, then kneeling to lean his forearms against Tony’s thighs. His chin digs into Tony’s lower stomach, dangerously close to where his zipper begins.

“So. It’s a maybe?”

Peter grins up at him. “No.”

“It’s not a maybe.”

“Not a maybe.”

Tony nods. A distant voice in his head is screaming that he's a spoiled, privileged piece of crap who doesn't know how to let go of things he cares about even when he should, but he doesn't give a shit about it right now. Peter is in front of him right now. Maybe Tony would ruin anything to keep that sentence being true.

Peter bends his head and kisses the bulge of Tony’s dick through the fabric, nudging it with his nose. “Can I?” he asks.

“If…” Parts of him are already responding. “Only if you want to.”

“I want to.” Peter starts to peel his zipper down, face flushed, wet from head to toe, eyelashes clumped together. His breathing is getting a bit choppy. “Teach me?”

Tony exhales, hips twitching. “You are too smart for your own good, Parker.”

Peter looks very pleased by that comment, and then he leans in and licks the head of Tony’s dick, too carefully, and Tony gives a low groan and gives in.

They aren’t paying attention to the sky anymore, even as it starts to darken and dim the light around them.

*

The following evening, Tony is running on thirty hours without sleep because Peter is running late in getting back from his day in Queens and no one’s noticed that Tony hasn’t stopped working.

He would later swear to himself that he felt the chill pass over him before FRIDAY’s voice blasts from all emergency speakers.

Attention. Attention—third Doom bot detected on news feeds scan .9 seconds ago.

Tony pulls up a holo projection above his watch immediately and drops the soldering utensils he was holding without looking to make sure they were off. He watches the footage hovering above his wrist while running upstairs; the bot is inside a Target, there’s dust and brick flying everywhere, shopping aisles crashing to the floor and scattering product as its wings thrash about.

“FRIDAY I need a location. Need it now,” he says warningly. He hopes the others have already gotten the message. “Also, why did a camera crew find out before we did?”

Attack is ongoing, CCTV has been shut off for a five-block radius, store camera malfunction, Stark Industries drones not regularly patrolling area.”

Tony makes a mental note to expand the radius of regular drone patrol beyond Manhattan—then has a heart-stopping thought.

“Location, FRIDAY,” he snaps again, clipping his bracelets on in an empty penthouse because of course no one’s going to be hanging out there on the one evening when he actually needs them to be.

1204 Rotham Street, Queens, New York—“

But by this point he’s spotted him on the footage.

A red-and-blue blur is shooting webs at the bot’s helmeted head and wings in an attempt to cripple it.

Tony staggers towards his suit bracelets even as he keeps watching the shaky footage some suicidal camera operator is filming live.

“…panic as shoppers attempt to flee the attack,” the newscaster is saying. “The apparent victim of the strike and sole defender of the civilians in the store appears to be YouTube sensation Sp—“

Avengers en route to location as follows,” FRIDAY interrupts, lowering the volume of the news feed to talk over it. “Falcon, ETA eleven minutes, forty-two seconds, Captain America, ETA twelve minutes, two seconds, War Machine, ETA thirteen minutes, seven seconds, Black Widow, ETA nineteen minutes, fifty-four seconds.”

“Get me Wanda and Vision too,” Tony calls, rocketing out of the Tower. The footage of Peter fighting the bot keeps playing on a corner of his visor screen while helicopter footage from outside the store is broadcast on MSNBC. “Get me everybody you can find, okay? Everybody.”

FRIDAY isn’t technically programmed to sound apologetic, but Tony imagines she does as she keeps rattling names within the helmet.

Paging Scarlet Witch, paging Vision, paging Ant Man, paging Wasp, paging Hawkeye, paging Nick Fury, paging Maria Hill, paging Luke Cage—“ And on and on until she loops back to: “Black Panther out of range. Hulk out of range. Thor out of range. Valkyrie out of range…”

 

Peter

Peter lands on a painfully angular lamp display that shatters under him. He rolls on the broken glass and debris just before a vibranium-tipped wing can slice him in half, and then lurches forward, stumbling, nearly tripping on a stuffed animal in his haste to get away.

He’s bleeding down his leg, and it makes the sole of his suit slippery.

People are still screaming and running out of the store, more distantly now, but a few are hovering to watch the fight. MJ and Ned are smart, they will have run outside, he tells himself with distant panic, unable to slow down long enough to look around and make sure that’s true. He thinks he sees a man with a large news camera, and a couple of others, but everything else is a blur. Peter launches a web to the ceiling of the store, tugging to try to get upwards so the bot will follow him out, away from the public—but it thunders ahead of him and cuts it, and he crashes to the floor, painfully landing on his right shoulder.

Peter winces and whirls around, rising into a crouch. He jumps on top of a shelf and then immediately jumps again as it’s shot out from under him. He starts leaping and bounding in an exhausted rush, left foot skidding on any surface it lands on, slick with blood, thunderous crashing sounds seemingly seconds away from catching up to him all the time.

“Oh come on!” he cries; they’ve gotten to the produce section and the bot is shooting at him now; machine-gun fire that blasts watermelons open, explodes an apple display, and sends lemons and limes flying. “That’s just wasteful!”

He drops and rolls on the floor, then stumbles back up to keep running with the smell of singed fructose sharp in his nostrils.

He gets a few steps in before one of the shots hits his back and flattens him to the ground again.

There’s no instant blinding pain, just pressure and probably a really awful bruise if he lives through this—the reinforced panels Tony installed protected him. Peter wheezes and gets back up, looking up at the distant warehouse ceiling where a giant hole evidences the place the bot tore through to crash inside and get to him. He needs to get out now or someone’s going to die, and it will be his fault.

He shoots a web up to the lip of the hole with his right hand and, as the bot launches to sever it, shoots another one to the side with his left that catches on a sign for the ‘Clothing’ aisle.

He goes flying to the left, using the distraction to shoot another two webs up, propelling himself towards the ramparts and lighting rig of the ceiling.

“Come on come on come on!” he groans, shooting web after web to zig-zag through the air and avoid the gunfire as the bot chases him. “Come on!”

He makes it to the ceiling.

He hastily climbs outside on the roof, trying to avoid the spitting sparks from raw wiring and not thinking about how his left leg is starting to go numb—but even with it dragging behind him he is able to pull himself away. The night sky is a black mantle above; no visible moon that Peter can see other than the blinding white beams shining down from the news helicopter overhead.

The bot explodes upwards through another hole, several feet ahead of Peter.

He scrambles backward and trips over himself to get to his feet, forcing his cramping limbs to obey him, staggering... but it’s no use; his foot slips and his leg suddenly gives out under him, making him fall down again. A chorus of screams rings out below, and it occurs to him that he is being filmed, and the hundreds of people below are watching the footage on their phones, rooting for him.

Ned and MJ are somewhere down there.

And suddenly the bot is occupying Peter’s entire field of vision; its enormous wingspan blotting out the horizon.

It whirrs and clanks above him, pinning him where he is with one unlit propulsion boot on his stomach. Peter tries to twist away but he’s too weak from the blood loss and the thing is implacable—he’s going to die. Now. Right now; in front of all those people, on live television. He’s going to be killed before hugging May one last time, before another movie-night with Ned and MJ, before telling Tony that he loves him and will stupidly continue to love him forever.

He squeezes his eyes shut, feeling the hot sting of tears gather at the corners, hearing his own adrenalin-bounding pulse thundering in his ears...

In the second before the knife-like pinions slice him apart, the bot gets blasted out of the air; sudden absence of heavy weight and pressure on top of him.

Peter looks up and sees Iron Man hovering above him, silhouette enhanced by every canon the suit has to offer.

“Peter,” the masked face says. “Are you—“

The bot crashes into him, and Peter screams.

He tries to get up but his vision winks out when he does, and he regains consciousness flat on his back, having dropped down in a brief faint.

There are two helicopters flying above by this point, but they’ve had to pull back to get further up, their floodlights oblique as they attempt to illuminate the battle, which has become airborne.

Tony is fighting the bot with every weapon in his arsenal, and he has help now.

Thank God, Peter thinks, watching Rhodey’s War Machine and Sam’s Falcon shoot at the dark metal monster as well, covering Tony and ducking and weaving around each other as the three flight-capable Avengers finally give the mech a run for its money. They cast hellish shadows on the roof of the building, lit up as they are by the spotlights while flashing machine-gun fire lights up the sky and the roof itself, turning everything into an epileptic nightmare.

“Peter!”

Steve is running towards him and Bucky is right behind him, both of them doing a poor job of hiding their concern. They crowd around Peter and Steve immediately puts his hand over the wound on Peter’s thigh, clamping down on it and applying pressure.

“He’s lost a lot of blood,” he tells Bucky. “He needs a hospital. Now.”

“Peter, we have to move you, okay?”

Above them, the others are trying to bring the bot down to the roof, and Peter tries to at least sit up, too anxious to lie back. “Can’t—“ he mutters, gaze fixed on Tony’s Iron Man. “Can’t move me, he—they need my help—“

“You can’t help anyone right now, Peter, you need to go to the hospital,” Steve says, and puts an arm around Peter’s shoulders while sliding another under Peter’s knees.

“No,” Peter wheezes. “No, no, they—“

As he speaks, the trio flying overhead launches a whirlwind attack that crashes the bot onto the roof. The whole structure trembles, and Peter feels the shockwaves under his own body.

“Hold it down!”

“I’ve got it, I’ve got it!”

“Come on, hold on—“

“Steve?” Rhodey yells. “A little help!”

Steve hands Peter over to Bucky like he's a doll and rushes to the moving mech they are trying to immobilize. Peter blinks furiously against a heave of nausea and keeps watching.

“Tony this thing is really fucking strong!” Sam yells, boots skidding on the floor as he tries to hang onto one of the madly flapping metal wings, the Falcon suit looking small and flimsy in comparison. Steve has the other wing pinned, and Rhodey is attached to its head to keep it from thrashing about. “Hurry up, okay?”

Tony produced a keyboard with cables from the Iron Man suit, and he has attached it to the bot’s helmet. His fingers are flying across the keys, running the program that Peter knows is going to funnel the virus Tony built straight into Doom’s mainframe through the open connection between it and the bot, ruining any chance he had of building an AI, wiping everything Doom has clean.

If they can keep the thing still long enough, that is.

“Bucky, go,” Peter gasps, shoving at him. “Go help them!”

Bucky is clearly torn.

“I’m okay!” He puts his own hand on the wound over Bucky’s metal fingers, pushing down to demonstrate, breathing harshly but holding on to consciousness with everything he has. “I’ve got it, go!”

Steve cries out when one of the vibranium tips cuts his shoulder, and that makes Bucky nod and carefully put Peter back down, rushing to them.

Peter’s vision swims in and out of focus, and he suspects his pressure on the wound is not going to be enough as his strength seems to be rapidly fading. Still, it doesn’t matter. He doesn't matter. He struggles to stay awake, heart leaping at every blow that lands on or near Tony, every time where it seems the bot is going to break free.

"Is he okay? Did you leave him alone?" Tony’s modulated voice comes from his suit, and he's looking up at Bucky.

“Tony, we have to de-power it now! Finish this!” Sam calls.

“Peter?" he turns to look at him. He's stopped typing. "Peter? Is he--what's that?"

"Tony, I need you to focus!" Steve hisses. The bot is learning each of their strengths and weaknesses as every second passes, and they are all holding on by their fingertips. "Focus!"

"Is that blood?" The keyboard is slack in his grip. He's still not typing. "Peter! Is that blood?"

He makes as if to stand up and Bucky's metal arm wrenches him back down.

"We need to end this now, Stark," he says, strained with the effort of helping Sam hold down his side of the bot.

"Was he bleeding?" He sounds furious, terrifying.

"Tony come on!"

“Now, Tony!” Rhodey shouts.

It's impossible to tell what he's thinking behind that smooth mask, but the moment stretches out to the point where Peter's sluggish senses interpret it in slow motion; every detail so precise and overcharged that he knows, feels, and then sees Iron Man flex his knees, about to stand up, the intricate mechanism of the metal joints clicking into place--with his fists coiled, ready to fight whoever gets in his way.

In the seconds before it happens, Peter envisions the awful outcome as a certainty; the shaky rebuilt relationship between Steve and Tony shattered when Tony tears Bucky apart to get to Peter, the Doom bot freed in a single move and springing to action, killing Sam who is closest to its deadliest weapons, maybe even killing Rhodey since it learned how to fight him better last time. Doom arising victorious, the new corporate magnate to rule over New York, his AI-powered bots sold to the highest bidder so that he can finally bump ahead of Stark Industries in the stock market like he's obsessed with doing. The Avengers ruptured for ever. Everything good they all have now, broken.

And then, a flash of red light abruptly freezes the scene before anything else can happen.

It’s no longer just the helicopter beams that are lighting them up—a scarlet crackle of energy surrounds the bot’s metallic structure, holding it still. Peter looks up and sees a woman floating mid-air, hair haloing around her, arms outstretched in an ethereal pose. And just like that, the mechanical nightmare that was Doom’s latest creation has been completely immobilized.

"Tony!"

It's Natasha. She's deposited on the roof by the caped thing that must be Vision, and she runs over to the group. They are all watching Tony.

"You have to finish this. He's the first person it's going to go after if you don't," she says firmly.

The masked helmet is still for one more beat, and then Tony nods. He retracts his faceplate and picks up the keyboard, fingers flying over it as he types. And types. And types.

And finally--

“Got him,” he grunts, dropping the keyboard with a clatter and rushing to his feet, jettisoning towards Peter.

In the background, Peter sees Scarlet Witch wrench the bot’s head from its body in a single, twisting move of her power.

Peter's heartbeat is now a low flutter in his chest. His vision is fading definitively, but this time he lets it happen. They got him. They won. Tony is safe and victorious and once again the larger-than-life hero Peter has always known him to be. He can let go.

Tony crashes to his side, cradling his limp body. His eyes are brimming with pure blind panic, and they are the last thing Peter sees.

He thinks he hears his own name uttered in a quiet, hoarse cry right before everything fades away.

*

He wakes up in the recovery room.

The first thing he notices is that it has reverted back to its original purpose; he had slowly been taking it over as a bedroom, but now the medical equipment is back, including the beeping monitor.

The second thing he notices is Tony.

He’s standing against the far wall opposite Peter’s bed, twisting his hands in front of him, holding his left wrist like it hurts, or feels numb. He’s looking at Peter intensely, with his jaw-clenched tight.

The third thing Peter notices is May. She’s sitting on a chair next to him, hands on the bed, and as Peter turns his head to look at her she sniffs loudly; the tears streaming from her eyes magnified by her big glasses.

“Peter?” she whispers, reaching out to clasp his forearm with shaky fingers. “Oh god. Oh god, how do you feel? How are you?”

The fourth thing he notices is that everyone else is in there, too. ‘Everyone’ meaning all the Avengers he’s met and a couple he only saw in action, but also Happy, and even a beautiful doctor he doesn’t know.

“I’m okay, I think,” Peter says. His head feels stuffy and he has a really shitty headache, but that’s about it. Maybe a little dizziness.

“I’d like to do a quick exam, and you’re going to need to rest the next couple of days,” the doctor says. “So I’m going to need the room right now.”

Her voice is very kind, but she looks over her shoulder at Peter’s spectators with obvious command made implicit.

They all file out after touching the foot of Peter’s bed, waving at him or, in Happy’s case, fondly giving him the finger. Tony is the last one to go; he’s put his hands in his pockets, and he lingers near the doorway until the last second. He looks pale, Peter thinks, and wants to ask the doctor to let him stay. But he can't.

Finally, Tony gives Peter a curt nod and walks out, closing the door behind him. Aunt May and the doctor alone remain.

“You scared a lot of people, Mr Parker,” the doctor says.

“Sorry.”

Aunt May quickly wipes her cheek. “Hey Dr Cho, will you tell him that superheroics are bad for his health?”

Peter’s gaze snaps to her face.

She tilts her head to the side, smiling sadly. “Oh, what, you’re surprised I finally figured it out?" Her voice is shaky. "Took me a while, Spiderman, but I got there.”

*

Aunt May wants him to rest before the explanations start. She moves into his room for the forty-eight-hour recovery period and refuses to address anything until after Peter gets another few of hours of rest, at least. Dr Cho declares him to be in shockingly good health, even though his body apparently didn’t react well to blood transfusions and they had to replace a lot of his fluids with regular saline.

He thought the anxiety of May finding out his secret identity wouldn't let him sleep, but it turns out his physical exhaustion wins out, and he passes out shortly after May has assured him she told Ned and MJ that he was stable as soon as she herself found out.

The next time Peter wakes up it’s to a hot meal that Chef made for him to eat in bed, and a long conversation ahead.

“Wanna start at the beginning, hon?” Aunt May asks gently.

"...Okay."

So he does. They talk all day, in fits and starts, in bouts of tears on both of their parts, in long story-like confessions and short, sweet declarations.

“It’s what Uncle Ben would have wanted.”

“He would have wanted you safe.”

“I need to do this. I can’t not do this, May—it’s my responsibility.”

They talk and they talk until they’ve exhausted all they can say, and May isn’t happy about it, but by the end of it she asks Peter to show her his YouTube clips and they both watch him pull a bunch of crazy stunts and wince together, and laugh together, and possibly cry together some more.

He three-way Skypes with Ned and MJ later as well, and jokes about screenshot-ing MJ’s teary face but secretly feels that his heart is very full. Ned leaves for Stanford the day after she and Peter take the bus to Boston, and Peter makes them all promise that the final movie-night is going to be epic, and possibly unbearably long if they do the Lord of the Rings extended versions again.

Wouldn’t miss it,” Ned says.

I would,” MJ replies, deadpan. “But this trio doesn’t pass the Bedchel test as it is, so without me it would just be sad.

“Love you nerds,” Peter tells them, and sniffs.

*

May sleeps on a twin bed Tony installed for her that doubles as a comfortable armchair (after a complex series of automated folding mechanisms that are controlled by a remote). Peter is grateful for her presence down to his core, but by the time day two rolls around his rapid healing has started to re-energize him, and he childishly finds himself thinking ‘I want Tony now’.

But he only gets Tony when the others are with him; the team visits him to tell him about Doom’s sound defeat, and how they found his secret sanctum thanks to Tony’s hack and Nakia’s operation. They file in and out of his room all day for reports on what the immediate-aftermath investigation is turning up, including Doom’s plans for his AI, just as Tony and Peter had guessed—but always in groups, and Tony can’t very well come in alone at any other time with May there. Peter tries to sneak covert glances at him during the conversations, but Tony’s expressions are hard to read.

The only indication Peter has that he didn’t imagine those incredible weeks of secret touches is that, every time, Tony makes sure he is the last one out of the room and brushes his fingertips against Peter’s ankle or foot.

*

“At least we get our last week back,” May says during lunch on the third day, after Peter comments that he’s feeling back to his usual self. "Out of all your powers, I am definitely a number one fan of the healing."

“Our last…” and then it dawns on him. “Oh. You mean… you mean I’m coming back to the apartment.”

She hesitates, obviously not missing his reaction. “I thought, now that the bad guy has been defeated, and there's no reason for you to stay here…” she smiles down at her plate. “But only if you want to, of course. Might be a bit of a hassle, to get your stuff back there only to pack it up in a few days. And this is a lot nicer... not to mention all the hot people...”

If Peter hadn’t seen the flash of hurt on her loving features he might have admitted that he wants to stay at the Tower until the absolute last minute, but he did.

“No. May, no, of course I want to. It’ll be perfect. I can’t wait.” He makes himself smile, and promises to pack his things in under an hour.

*

moving back to queens last few days

packing now, leaving w may soon as im done

He sends the texts to ‘TS’ before he can overthink it, while he’s folding his shirts into a haphazard pile to fit inside their original duffel bag.

Tony’s reply comes in two minutes later.

understandable, happy for you

don’t leave without saying goodbye to the team

*

“It’s not a goodbye, Peter. It’s just a ‘see you later’,” Steve says, hugging him. “I look forward to you joining the team.”

Everyone has gathered at the penthouse to see him go, and Peter is sure he knows who’s to blame.

Nakia hugs him, too, and so do Rhodey and Sam. Natasha shakes his hand. Happy musses up his hair with a gruff sort of affection that makes Peter smile. Wanda puts her hands on his shoulders and says: “It was very nice to meet you,” in her accented English. Bucky smiles at him and salutes. Vision gives him a polite, careful sort of nod.

And then, in front of everybody, it becomes time to say goodbye to Tony.

Peter feels horribly unprepared. He’s still reeling from everything that’s happened and he doesn’t get how they got here so fast—here being the end. He hadn't known, that that last night at the pool had been the last time he'd be alone with Tony and free to kiss him. If he'd known he might have said all those stupid things he's been thinking. He would have asked Tony to fuck him in the warm water; to do it for real and do it hard so Peter could feel it for days after. He has nothing but his memories of time that still feels squandered right now, even with all the crazy shit they got up to these past few weeks.

He can’t be expected to do this properly, with an audience, with May holding the elevator doors open just a few steps behind, with every single person in the room looking at them. It's rushed and not enough.

“Well. This was quite an adventure,” Tony says lightly.

Peter nods jerkily.

“Ended in a victory, even—we defeated Doom, thanks to you. You did a good job, Parker. Good job staying alive while you were at it, as well. I don’t foresee any more murderous bird-like monsters trying to come at you when you’re in Boston, thankfully.”

Peter doesn’t want to hear it; he wants to pretend he doesn't understand what Tony is really saying. But. He was expecting this. And it’s impossible to ignore the double-meaning in Tony’s eyes, the double-meaning in his words and how they directly undo the brief tendril of hope Peter had dared to contemplate when Tony suggested it on the balcony: if we haven’t found the third bot yet, or if it hasn’t found us—well, I was thinking I should check in on you. Once in a while.

Their flimsy pretext is gone.

“Guess I won’t see you for a while, kid. No life-threatening reason to, and you'll be busy with school, so.”

The sudden urge to burst into dramatic sobs tightens Peter’s throat and he bites the inside of his cheek. “Right,” he says.

“And I think it's smart of you not to join the Avengers until after college. Live a life, get your degree, amaze everybody… we’ll be here four years from now. We’ll wait for you.”

“I know.” Peter swallows, incredibly aware of everyone in the room. “Um, well, if you ever come lecture at the institute before then—“

“Yeah, maybe I’ll see you around. Tell whoever you want to over there that you know me, by the way. Might be a good conversation starter--or just call me if they ask for proof, and I'll pick up. Turn it into a party trick.” Tony’s gaze flicks away from his, looking around them. “All right, take care of yourself, Parker.”

He pats Peter on the shoulder, two claps of his open palm, and that’s it. He walks away.

That’s it.

Peter joins May in the elevator, and barely hears her talking about their Lyft driver’s ETA, or the make and model of the car that’s picking them up.

That’s… it.

The doors slide smoothly shut between them, and Peter leans to the side to look at him until the last second before they close, but it’s only a second, and it’s only the back of Tony’s head because Tony doesn’t look back at him.

It’s over.

Chapter Text

Tony

It’s for the best. It’s for Peter’s best.

He tells himself this while he’s working at the lab, while he eats in the lab, while he passes out in the lab only to wake up with a jolt and dangerously lit-up equipment nearby—all of it to avoid his bedroom and its view of the balcony pool.

 

Peter

When combined with his imminent separation from Ned, Peter’s heartache during his last week at Queens reaches somewhat melodramatic proportions.

He walks around like he got sucker-punched, which he still feels like he did after that abrupt goodbye he hadn’t known to prepare for. And now he’s going to move to a new city across the country from his best and oldest friend, without access to a private jet to easily commute so he can visit Ned over the weekends.

He doesn’t wish they hadn’t gotten rid of Doom, he just… he just wishes…

“Peter. Hey, Peter.”

He looks up from checking his empty inbox on his phone. MJ is rattling the ice cubes in her cold brew to get his attention from across the table.

“Are you gonna tell us what’s going on, or do you want us to guess?”

Peter slumps in his chair. “It’s… I just…” he can’t, he can’t, he can’t. But he’s telling the truth when he sighs: “Everything’s changing.”

Ned puts a hand on his arm. “Peter. I want you to know that I’m gonna miss you guys a lot, too, but… there’s literally no way your moping is only because of me.” He frowns in mock-solemnity. “Like, I love you? But this is gross romantic pining about he-who-shall-not-be-your-mentor-slash-sugar-daddy-anymore and you should probably just admit it.”

Peter pouts at him, thrusting out his lower lip to cover an internal jab of pain. “Can’t I be sad about more than one thing?”

“Sure you can.” MJ’s gaze is unforgiving. “Just be honest with us about it.”

Peter privately thinks it’s a miracle she hasn’t figured out that, for a little while, Tony wanted him back—but then again she’s never seen them interact, or even be in a room together. She hasn’t even seen the selfie they took at MIT because Peter encrypted it and plans to keep it a secret forever.

“You’re going to have to get over him at some point, Peter,” she says. “It’s… kind of horribly unhealthy, to take a totally understandable crush on a hot superhero this far. Like, fun to watch from a psychosocial standpoint? But still unhealthy.”

“We get it, about the extreme circumstances,” Ned puts in, giving her a not-covert-enough look that tells Peter they’ve discussed this beforehand. “I mean you lived with him, and he paid for all that stuff for you, including your freaking college education—“ And my amazing new apartment, Peter thinks hysterically. I didn’t even tell you about that part. “—but you’re gonna find someone who is realistically awesome. I promise. He, she or they are out there.”

Peter nods, eyes stinging hotly. “I know. Thanks guys.” He takes a sip of his own cup. It’s not as good as Mr Stark’s espresso-maker. “Sorry I’m being such a butt.”

“It’s okay, Peter.”

“Yeah.” MJ, too, puts a hand on his other arm. “If you weren’t being vaguely tragic about something that’s taking your mind away from the moment we wouldn’t even recognize you.”

 

Tony

Nakia goes back to Oakland on Monday, and Tony’s other temporary guests all move back to the Avengers compound. Tony could have joined them, but he doesn’t.

 

Peter

The week flies by.

He and May go out to dinner on Tuesday, a classic Thai night with free dessert as usual. She’s warming up to the Spiderman of it all bit by bit, in a resigned sort of way where she's accepting that she can’t control Peter’s choices now that he’s an adult, and her two choices are to support him or distance him.

On Wednesday, he stops by Mr Delmar’s to say bye to him and Rodrigo, and gets hugged by both men and called Pretty Parker enough times that his ego gets a little boost. Rita Delmar happens to be there, too, and they catch each other up on their plans for a while, which is great until Rita mentions that her boyfriend is a physical trainer, and is Peter dating anybody? Can she set him up with a friend she has in Boston? He's not dating anybody, is he? And Peter can't even play the 'recently got out of a relationship' card.

Him and Ned go over to MJ’s for movie night on Thursday, and they make popcorn and throw peanut m&m’s in it so that they melt and become a goo-y chocolate sweet-and-salty mess. Ned makes them promise about the three-way Skype sessions on a weekly basis, and Peter and MJ each swears on Aragorn and Arwen’s hot couple combo, and at the end of it they all cry and claim it's the dry-eye from staying up until morning. Peter is exhausted at keeping up a good face by the end but so, so glad he made the effort, because he'd do anything for his best friends and it's a great sendoff.

He finally starts packing on Friday. Luckily May doesn’t seem to realize he has more clothes than before and that most of them are of better quality; Peter stuffs those at the bottom of his suitcase first. They spend the day at the apartment, hanging out while they can, going through old pictures and once in a while mentioning Uncle Ben in that delicate, oblique way they both do sometimes.

Saturday evening finds Peter abruptly alone. He eats lunch on the couch and afterwards starts working on a version of the web fluid he’s trying to add corrosive properties to for offensive moves, formulating in the abstract for now and typing out his models into the incredible laptop Tony gave him. It has holo 3D capability so that he can mess around with different trial scenarios, and—

Guess I won’t see you for a while, kid.

And if he ever has to deal with vibranium again, he can at least try to work in further elasticity to minimize the risk of tension-breaks for--

You’re perfect.

So if he wants it to be acidic he’s going to need—

You’re so fucking gorgeous, I just.

“Ugh,” he groans, dropping his head into his hands. “Stop being so pathetic.”

He gets up, leaving his laptop behind. A shower. A cold, painful shower that isn’t equipped with fancy jets or surrounded by neatly arranged fluffy towels will help.

…Or not.

Turns out it doesn’t really change anything. Peter steps out of the stall and looks at himself in the mirror; he’s gained a bit of muscle over the past couple of months, and his lips are pinker, less prone to greying out. Still, he looks grave and sad, like he feels. Nothing has seemed to help him these days; even being near his friends is barely a patch over the feeling of stupefied disbelief that he had that much goodness ripped away from him so quickly. He sighs, drying off his hair half-heartedly and throwing on a shirt and boxers.

 

Tony

He gets as far as adding the bottle of scotch to his cart for immediate delivery via drone. That’s when it hits him.

He deletes the order and decides to do another terrible thing instead.

 

Peter

He ends up lying on his bed listening to Florence and the Machine on his headphones and snapchatting Ned, sending him every bit of shared memorabilia they’ve accumulated and which Peter has to leave behind, just in case Ned wants to come over after Peter leaves tomorrow to take any of it to Palo Alto.

Ned replies with a picture of his smiling face captioned ‘no way dude we’ll see each other too often’ and quickly follows it up with a picture of his own suitcase, full to the brim, captioned ‘also’.

Peter is about to reply when his phone buzzes in his hand with a text notification from ‘TS’.

Oh God.

He leaps up onto his feet, heartbeat thundering, headphones ripped out of his ears as he is racked with a sudden, choking excitement—but crushing disappointment follows immediately after, as he quickly realizes it’s not what he was hoping for.

All it says is: window.

Peter sighs, deflating at the thought of another drone with dinner. He goes to his window and opens the curtains—and freezes.

Iron Man is hovering outside his bedroom window, propulsion jets silently keeping him afloat, backlit by the orange and magenta glow of the sunset.

“Oh my god,” Peter says faintly.

The strength returns to his limbs a heartbeat later and he rushes to unlock the latch, lifting up the panel so quickly that the glass creaks ominously when it hits the frame.

“W-what are you doing here?” he blurts. “Is everything okay?”

Tony retracts his faceplate and swoops inside. He lands in a heavy thump on the floor of Peter’s bedroom, gleaming chrome and looking painfully out of place, despite being in the place Peter has imagined him in hundreds of times.

“Thought I’d stop by,” he says. The suit releases a hiss of pressure and starts retracting in a series of loud mechanisms. “Your Aunt’s not here, is she?”

“Working. She only has one night shift now, I…” Peter doesn’t understand. “I don’t understand. Last week, I-I thought you meant…”

“I did.”

Tony doesn’t look like he fully understands himself, or maybe his face is just that inscrutable.

Peter feels his heart rend further open. “I leave tomorrow.”

“I know.” The suit has finished retracting and clamps into a shockingly small pair of wristbands on the floor behind Tony, making Peter peripherally suspect he’s been experimenting with putting his nanotech ideas into practicality.

“So why. What’s wrong?”

He’s imagining bot number four attacking the Tower, or someone being injured.

Tony doesn’t answer. He made a face at the word ‘wrong’ and clenches his jaw. His beard is the most unkempt Peter’s ever seen it, with a faint shadow underlying his otherwise characteristic facial hair. It figures that would only make Tony look more attractive, of course.

“Is everybody okay? The others—“

“Moved out. They’re fine.”

“Oh.” Of course.

He hopes Tony hasn’t been holed up in the lab for too long, with no one to interrupt him and remind him to sleep.

“I wanted to make sure you’d still move in to the place on Mass Ave you liked,” Tony says out of the blue. His voice sounds casual; his posture is only trying to look it. “‘Cause I’d already arranged everything, and told the other places no. So if you didn’t take it, you’d be homeless, and I can’t have that on my conscience.”

Peter blinks. “Oh. Um, no, I…” He’d gotten the emails with the attached lease directly from the rental company. “I signed.”

“Oh.” Tony seems slightly taken aback. “Well. Good.”

Peter bites his lower lip in anxiety. “I… should have said that I’m—I should have said thank you again, Mr Stark, I—“

“No. Don’t need that. You never need to say that to me.”

“But I want to—“

“Peter.” Tony looks him in the eye. “No.”

Peter is silent.

“Anyway, guess this was a pointless—I should have called. I’ll—“

“I’m glad you came,” Peter blurts.

Tony lets out a shaky breath. “I shouldn’t have.” Before Peter can say anything in response, he shakes his head, putting up a hand. “This is goodbye. Really, this time. I’m sorry, Peter.” His shoulders slump. “I’ll let you know if I’m lecturing at the institute, that way you can… not show up.”

“But—“

“I need to go.”

“No, wait—“

This will make it worse! a part of him shouts, but Peter doesn’t care, he can’t—Tony is here, standing in front of him.

He steps forward and takes Tony’s face in his hands to mesh their mouths together.

Tony’s reaction is immediate; he kisses back, like he always does at first, like it’s a long-buried instinct, or something he’s always on the verge of doing. Peter’s stomach clenches with relief, opening his mouth to tongue inside of Tony’s, standing on his tiptoes to press himself against him. Tony grasps the loose fabric of the shirt around Peter’s waist, inhaling through his nose, tugging Peter closer as though they aren’t pressed as tightly together as they can be.

Then he breaks the kiss, panting. “Kid—“

“Shut up,” Peter whispers, hooking an arm around Tony’s neck to keep him where he wants him always.

Tony grunts and offers no further resistance, the strain in his spine unwinding as he gives in. He bends to grab under Peter’s thighs, hoisting Peter up onto his waist, fingers digging into his flesh as they stumble over to Peter’s bed, bumping into things that shuffle over, or crash and break in the cluttered room, but it doesn’t matter, nothing else matters.

Peter lands on his back with a light bounce and Tony’s weight falls on him, and he digs his heels into the small of Tony’s back in the way he loves, arching under him, wanting him everywhere at once. He’d imagined this in this very bed months ago, never considering he’d get to have the real thing even once.

Tony grabs his left wrist and pins it above his head and Peter shudders, and when Tony starts kissing his neck he goes lax and loose, bones melting inside. He sighs and presses into him, feeling the warm drops of precome moisten a spot in his boxers, squeezing his thighs against Tony’s hips.

Tony mouths at his clavicle and Peter whimpers as his dick twitches. He’s never gotten used to this—he couldn’t if he had decades, but he would so badly want to try

“T-Tony…” he gasps, hands in Tony’s thick hair. He hopes he’s not pushing Tony’s face into his neck with too much force. “Please…”

They barely fit on his twin bed, but even with Tony’s foot skidding on the floor Peter feels trapped under him in the best possible way. He slides his feet against the back of Tony’s thighs and back up, and scratches his toes against the fabric of his pants.

Finally he can't take it anymore and uses his grip on Tony's hair to tug him away, feeling a twinge of soreness on his skin that makes Peter hope there will be a bruise there tomorrow.

He looks up at Tony, panting.

“Will you fuck me?”

 

Tony

Tony closes his eyes.

“Peter.” His throat feels tight and his body is rearing for it, but. “I wanted you to have that with someone who’s better for you. Someone you can have long term.”

Peter looks to the side, chest still heaving, cheeks flushed. “Well, that’s not what I want.”

“I don’t want you to look back and regret—“

“Why don’t you let me decide?” Peter mumbles, hunching ever so slightly in on himself. It takes Tony a moment to place where his hurt is coming from—but of course, it’s rejection.

Tony leans in and kisses his cheek, and Peter quickly turns his head to meet the kiss with his lips with a small, pained sound.

“Don’t you want to?” he slurs against Tony’s mouth, panting hotly. “Is it… don’t you…?”

There’s nothing Tony can think of to say that will express the crushing enormity of that want. “You’re telling me you don’t know? Huh?” He rests his forehead against Peter’s, breathing his breath. “All these weeks and you don’t get it?”

“Then don’t… if you’re holding back, don’t—“

He groans. “You can’t say that.”

“You can’t tell me what to do.”

Tony kisses him again, feeling Peter’s hold on his hips, feeling Peter’s dick dig into his thigh, and he slides his own hands under Peter’s shirt, mapping him out under the fabric. Peter makes a high noise and Tony knows the skin-to-skin contact is the good kind of sensory overload for him, but he keeps scratching lightly at his ribs, his stomach, callused palms against all that softness.

Peter's eyelashes flutter at the touches. “N-no, I…” he gasps, even as he arches into it. “I want you to… I…”

“It’s okay,” Tony murmurs, making sure to let his beard rasp against the skin of Peter’s throat as he moves down, pulling Peter’s shirt over his head. “Here, it’s okay.”

“But I—“ Peter’s eyes are squeezed shut, his voice a whisp. Tony knows those signs now. “I.”

Tony flicks his tongue against one of Peter’s nipples and Peter convulses under him, a weak spasm that shakes him from head to toe.

“Oh G-God.”

Tony slides a hand into his boxers to feel the hot twitch of his dick in his palm.

“N-nh.” Peter’s features go slack with pleasure and he seems to momentarily forget that he was trying to resist his impending orgasm. Molten drops of precome coat Tony’s fingers—but then he tenses back up and his eyes fly open. “Wait, w-wait—“

“Shh, s’just a start.” Tony licks his other nipple and Peter whimpers. He pumps his fist and Peter squeezes his thighs against his waist again, gaze losing focus, head lolling on the pillow. “It’s okay, come on—“

“Promise?” Peter whispers distractedly. “You’ll fuck me? Promise?”

“Jesus,” Tony grunts. “Yes, fuck.”

“Okay…” His eyes droop shut again. “Okay, then m’gonna—I’m—mh—“

It only takes another two jerks of Tony’s fist before the tension eases out of him and he comes, hips twitching into it, largely hiccoughing silently and shooting hot ropes into Tony’s hand. The sun is fading from the sky and the otherwise dim room is only illuminated by the warm light of soon-be-dusk, but Tony can still make out how Peter’s hair falls into his forehead in messy clumps, still not entirely dry from what Tony assumes is a recent shower. He smells so good, and he looks so good, and when he chews on his lower lip he drives Tony crazy.

He drives him crazy enough that, while Peter is still catching his breath, Tony slides down his body and takes Peter’s underwear with him, all the way down and off.

A deep pink flush that looks purple in the semi-dark lights up Peter’s body, all the places Tony wants to kiss. Even though he’s still fully clothed and Peter is completely naked, Tony feels like the one exposed by what they are doing.

He starts by kissing the sole of Peter’s foot, and Peter’s leg twitches.

“Not gonna kick me, are you?”

“N-no, sorry.” His face is beet red to the tip of his nose, and it’s so adorable that Tony kisses his ankle. Peter is so flexible that there’s no resistance at all to lifting his leg high up to kiss the back of his knee, or to spread it open to kiss the inside of his thigh where the faint scar tissue is all the evidence that remains of one of the worst nights of Tony’s life. And Tony’s had a lot of bad nights.

“Tony…”

He looks relaxed and turned on and half-asleep and moments away from coming again all at once. He angles his hips up in an unsubtle move, and Tony is more than happy to take the hint, wrapping Peter’s legs around his shoulders and licking him open.

Time passes in sweat and heat, Peter rocking into him, the sheets a tangle half-off the tiny bed, and higher and higher the urgency builds, and Tony is dying for it, now that he’s let himself think about doing it—Promise?—he can’t really think of anything else. He gets up to two fingers inside of Peter and feels him loosen enough to take more stretch, and at that point Peter is all tensed up and strained again, holding off on coming again, quietly pleading for the thing he asked for so politely before.

Tony draws away from him and it’s almost too dark to look into Peter’s eyes, so he takes off his shirt and the arc reactor’s blue glow provides the only source of light in the room.

Peter’s skin looks electrically pale, but his eyes are shining.

“Are you sure?”

Peter just nods, face pinched with want, abs tight with tension, and it’s his expression as much as the assurance of his explicit request that makes Tony start to unbutton his pants.

They might have taken it slow in another universe—there is probably a world where it’s sweet and gentle and they have time to revel in what they are doing. Not here. The sense of urgency is too much, and the want is too much, and after fumbling for the lube and a condom and too much waiting there’s an infectious desperation that takes over them both. Peter’s mouth drops half-open from the moment Tony starts to push into him, and soon he’s urging Tony on with small sounds and without words; fingers digging into Tony’s shoulders, only half of the word ‘more’ gushing past his lips.

If this is goodbye then the strength with which they both feel it is poured into every rough touch, every thrust, every spasm and shiver.

Peter comes first, coating his own stomach and up to his chest, gasping. He goes limp under Tony after, but still folded up in his ridiculously pliable position, maneuverable like he’s gelatinous.

Tony finally lets go when he can’t take it anymore, shoving into the tight heat of him and feeling his strength shoot out of him when he comes, all the energy and frantic stress drain away until he’s empty and warm and abruptly exhausted, wanting nothing more than to fall asleep without even pulling out. He collapses onto Peter with a grunt, the faint light in the room abruptly winking out when the reactor is pressed into Peter’s chest

Peter cards his fingers through Tony’s hair. Tony is breathing into his neck, big, powerful gusts as he comes back to himself. “Stay,” Peter murmurs, before Tony can even consider moving away. “Stay. S’okay… alarm is set.” He slides a leg up and down Tony’s thigh, still not letting him move. “Like it,” he mumbles with a small yawn. “Like you inside. Stay.”

So Tony does.

*

He wakes up on his side with Peter sinking into him; he must have grabbed his bedside lube and slicked Tony up again. Not much time has passed, because the alarm didn’t go off yet.

Peter is on his side, too, but with his back to Tony this time, and he moves clumsily, drowsy in the dark—but when Tony starts kissing the back of his neck he sighs and melts, weight falling against him, one hand coming up to tug at his ear and keep him there.

The last time is sleepy and urgent and undignified, but Peter comes again and so does Tony, and then, in the quiet, breathy aftermath, the realization that he needs to leave sinks in.

So Tony does.

He kisses Peter one last time and neither of them says anything while Tony gets himself together; throwing out the condom, putting his shirt back on, shuffling around in the dark then clipping the bands around his wrists. Finally, he walks towards Peter’s window, footsteps heavy. Peter doesn’t speak, and Tony can’t.

He looks back right before jumping out, but Peter is curled in on himself in the bed and doesn’t watch him do it.

 

One month later

Peter

He’d been right, about the crying himself to sleep in a building Tony owns. He loves the apartment so much, but he’d been right.

 

Two months later

Tony

He cancels the order before it can be shipped, but he got as far as checking out this time. The only thing that stopped him was the thought of disappointing a brave genius kid two-hundred miles away who would never even know.

 

Three months later

Peter

Peter makes sure he hears the solid click as the U-lock slides shut before leaving his bike. It’s a dreary, overcast sort of day but it hasn’t started raining yet, so he leaves his hoodie down as he hops over to the Barker library, walking past students and tourists along Building 10. He’s not thinking about being here with anyone in particular at any particular time in the past.

His phone buzzes with a text that he ignores for now, arms full with his laptop, the many chargers and vintage cable connectors that he still uses to store encrypted information in separate units. He’s still waking up, anyway—he tossed and turned in bed for ages last night and now his body feels sluggish, and slow. He should have another coffee—maybe he’ll take a midmorning break and go to the Flour bakery for his third cup, hope the buzz finally hits.

He climbs the steps up to the peaceful quiet study space under the dome, taking note of how full it is already despite it only being thirty minutes past opening time. He waves at a couple of his classmates who he knows by face but not by name (even though he turned down the pretty blonde girl a couple of weeks ago). Thankfully there’s still a spot open for him, because MJ is the best.

She smiles up at him when she sees him, kind and gentle and too soft, which for her means forced because she’s starting to become worried as the weeks pass and he still isn’t getting better.

“Morning, Parker,” she whispers. “How’s it going?”

“Good morning, Peter,” D’Ajora whispers next to her, with a little wave.

Peter smiles at them both. “Morning.” He opens up his laptop and starts settling his tech around.

"That computer is a marvel," D'Ajora adds admiringly.

Peter hides a flinch and gives him a thumbs up in thanks. He puts his headphones in and scrolls decidedly past Florence and the Machine to pick some Britney, only remembering about the overdue text alert after he’s a few minutes into typing up notes on Professor Finkel’s lab from yesterday. He decides to power through and finish his next assignment first, distantly thinking of it as some sort of reward for his work down the line--maybe May has an update, or Ned sent a meme through 'spidey and the baes', or MJ was just asking him if he was running late as he was walking in.

He sends his Biochem study group his summarized notes and finally takes his cellphone out of his pocket.

He almost chokes on his own spit when he sees who it’s from.

offered to guest lecture at engineering dept next week

can refuse

Peter feels suddenly wide awake, system flooded with roaring adrenalin, and his fingers tremble as he rushes to type out the reply, going over a bunch of different iterations before deleting the word ‘please’, and simply sending:

dont

He feels like he ran a marathon after it goes through, and instantly regrets being so brief, convinced that he must sound angry, or bitter, or regretful, when all he is is desperate. MJ definitely notices that he stops breathing for a minute and starts hyperventilating during the next few, but all she does after a moment’s hesitation is put a palm over Peter’s forearm under the table. She doesn’t even glance at him, just types something else on her keyboard with her free hand.

Peter looks at her and loves her, trying to school his pulse into submission.

It turns out those three messages are the extent of the entire text exchange, because Tony never replies. Peter checks his phone obsessively all day, and the next, but the response never comes, and finally he sees a flyer announcing the amazing honor the MIT has been awarded in hosting Mr Tony Stark himself in grand Hall C for a very special guest lecture.

*

He goes to the lecture.

Of course he does.

MJ gives him a sad little smile when he initially declares his decision not to attend, and then she buys him a ticket so that when he calls her at 1 a.m. with a tight voice and panic over the sold-out seating she can patiently let him know that she has him covered.

She and D’Ajora have been dating for a month now but D’Ajora isn’t particularly interested in Tony Stark, meaning it’s just her and Peter sitting together.

I cannot BELIEVE im missing peters mancrush reunion this is bs

Well, and Ned via text.

The Hall is completely packed. Large signs with ‘seating room only’ have been put up everywhere but people are still trying to cram themselves into the corners, standing all along the sides and the back of the room. Not just students, either—TAs, household staff, administrative assistants and several professors line the rows. Excited murmurs keep growing in volume–no one has forgotten Tony Stark’s generous project-funding lecture when he came to give a talk three years ago.

Peter’s emotions see-saw between choking anticipation and pure terror, and he almost bolts when the Chairman of Engineering walks on stage to introduce Mr Stark to the crowd.

“Stop it,” MJ mutters out of the corner of her mouth.

Peter stills, but not because she told him to.

Tony Stark is striding onto the dais after him.

He interrupts the lavish flattery that was being said about his accomplishments with a dismissive wave of his hand, looking amazing in a charcoal grey suit.

“Thanks. Yeah, no, that’s fine.” He leans into the microphone, looking out at the crowd with a slight smirk. “Hyperbole will go to your head, kids. And then one day you might do a bunch of drugs to fill that hole inside your soul, so try to avoid—“

He pauses.

Peter stops breathing.

Even with the lighting in the auditorium, and the bright focus that must be shining directly onto his face, and the amount of people that are sitting here looking up at him… Peter is certain that Tony is looking right at him.

Time slows to a crawl as Peter looks back, feeling pinned to his seat by the shock in Tony’s eyes. He can hear his own heartbeat, each individual ‘thwump’ that make up the two sounds of his blood cascading into each chamber. He can hear his own breath, loud and revealing, a thunderous rush of air flowing in and out of his mouth. He can feel the hairs on his body stand on end, electrified by the shiver that wracks through him; his nervous system sparking like a raw wire.

Tony clears his throat, and the mic lets out a brief high-pitched feedback noise, and things start up again.

“Just. Try to avoid believing what is said about you, whether it’s good or bad. Anyway, I’m here to talk about nanotech and get you to think about ways to integrate it into your specialty training…”

He keeps talking, but Peter is realizing something and he doesn’t have time to listen. Because right now, in this moment, he feels more alive than he has for the past three months—he feels as if he’s been wandering around with a protective layer around him that dulled everything, and seeing Tony has reached directly into him, touched him sharply and painfully where he lives.

He never fought Tony on why they shouldn’t be together. He agreed with him—it’s stupid and risky and many people won’t understand, not to mention Peter’s secret identity would be revealed with it.

But.

If they can keep it a secret for a little while, then surely—surely the effort is worth it. Peter has lied about his life for years to the people closest to him; he would hide this from them to get to experience it. He would keep another secret if he gets to share it. Just for a while.

Tony will say ‘no’, but he has to give it a shot. He has to say his peace.

The lecture flies by as Peter tries to come up with a plan, but he doesn’t get very far past asking Tony to stick around and talk to him, and he isn’t even sure Tony is going to agree to that. He’s afraid to send a text; can’t think of a way to word it that doesn’t sound suggestive or simply humiliating.

In the end, he claps when everyone else claps, and stands up when everyone else stands up, and tells MJ he’s going to try to say ‘hi’ in a tone of voice he hopes sounds normal. MJ nods skeptically and doesn’t stick around when he asks her to not wait for him, but she does tell him to “Be smart, Peter.”

There is a massive crowd hovering around the backstage area waiting for Tony to exit.

Peter’s resolve while he was sitting down starts to abandon him as he approaches the group. He feels like another fan, a meaningless part of the faceless blob waiting to talk to Tony after lecture. Insecurity eats at him with every step he takes, as it occurs to him that for all he knows Tony already has someone new on his arm at this point—or at the very least has gotten over their whole thing, making this a pathetic overture that Tony will find sad, or childish—

“Peter Parker?”

Peter looks down, surprised to be addressed by someone he’s never met before. It’s a young woman with a clipboard and a headset, and she’s squinting up at him—she’s even more petite than he is.

“Yeah?”

“Follow me, please.”

Peter is confused. “I’m sorry, who are y—“

“Mr Stark told me to get you. I’m getting you. Follow me.” She says it impatiently, dismissively almost—but the words make Peter’s heart start back up again.

*

He’s led to the backstage area, walking through areas in the bowels of the building that he’s never been in before, even though he’s attended a couple of lectures here previously.

Tony—Mr Stark is surrounded by people even back here; faculty and techs alike, everyone edging to get a word in with him, offering to fetch him things, do things for him. Peter goes pretty much unnoticed up until the woman walks him all the way up to Mr Stark, having to elbow a couple of people out of her way to do so.

And then he’s there.

“Mr Parker. Hello.”

“Mr Stark.” Peter sounds hoarse. “Hi.”

It’s maddening to look into his eyes, even though To—Mr Stark maintains a casual blinking attentiveness that gives away nothing.

They are surrounded by people.

“I thought that was you,” Mr Stark says, nodding. Then: “I wanted to chat about your research project, if you’ll walk with me a moment.”

He puts a casual arm over Peter’s shoulders and steers him away, smiling tightly at the people around them, ignoring requests for his return, directing Peter through dank corridors until they get to a dead-end area with a small elevator. And they are alone.

The hand drops from Peter’s shoulders immediately, and there’s nothing casual about that.

They are both quiet for a moment.

“I wanted to talk to—“

“I wanted to offer you—“

Peter snorts with nerves. “Um, sorry. You go first.”

Mr Stark hesitates for a beat, but then snaps his fingers. “I was going to offer to fly you back so you could visit your family over the weekend. I leave for New York in a couple of hours, so if you’re done with classes for the day you are welcome to hitch a ride in the jet.”

Peter can feel his jaw wanting to drop, but he clamps his mouth closed instead, digesting this.

“Do you. Does that sound like.” Mr Stark clears his throat. “It was just a thought. You don’t have to, but I thought it would be a nice surprise for your Aunt.”

When he feels ready to speak again, Peter says: “I can just take a bus.”

Mr Stark’s eyebrows go up. “We’re back to that?”

“Um, yeah. You don’t think you gave me enough stuff?”

Mr Stark doesn’t say it in so many words, but a bitter look ghosts over his features even as the corner of his mouth lifts up in a resigned smile. No. “You understand I’m making the trip anyway, right?”

Peter knows he’s being stubborn, but it’s instinctive again. He got rid of this feeling when they were—he lost it for a while, but now it’s back.

“And no offense but you don’t weigh enough to add even an ounce of extra fuel to my flight expense report.”

He did want to talk to him.

“And MJ is welcome to join, if she wants to see her family.”

“MJ has a date-night tomorrow. Anyway her mom visited us last week.”

“I see.” Mr Stark takes a step forward to finally call the elevator down. “Well. If you end up taking a bus know that I will definitely take it personally.” He flashes Peter a wink and Peter feels a surge of helpless emotion. It makes sense to agree to this—it’s the platform to talk to Tony that he wants in a silver platter.

“…I’ll think about it.”

Mr Stark huffs, nodding without looking at him. “Meet me at the bakery I showed you in an hour if you decide to make it. We would drive to the airport together.”

The elevator arrives with an old-fashioned chime, because machinery seems to behave a certain convenient way around Mr Stark.

“Okay.”

“Okay.” Mr Stark steps in and turns to look at him. “You look good, by the way.”

The doors slide shut.

*

He goes to the Flour bakery.

Of course he does.

 

Tony

Peter stays in the cabin during the flight, and Tony keeps to the cockpit like a coward.

He only suits up as they approach the Tower and emerges at the very last minute to tell Peter how the landing is going to go, since it is a new trick he’s arranged since they last—saw each other.

“Why are you wearing the Iron Man…?” Peter starts to ask.

“The jet has learned how to land on its own, so we’re jumping off here.” Tony motions around them with his metal-encased hands. “I developed an AI that’s really good at navigation. Might move her to suit management if things work out—she’s called KAREN. Say hi, KAREN.”

Hello, Peter.”

Peter looks up, smiling a little. “KAREN. Cool.”

She’s yours, Tony thinks immediately. But to be fair that’s his reaction every time he notices Peter like something, be that an AI, an item of clothing, or a tropical island.

“You ready? This is our stop.”

Peter nods, trusting as always, and steps towards him, adjusting the strap of his backpack. “How…?”

“Here.”

Tony doesn’t let himself hesitate; Peter is inadvertently standing on the mechanical trapdoor so all Tony has to do is join him and not let him go. It’s grossly easy.

He holds Peter in the suit’s arms and thus, distantly, in his own, covering him in a sort of embrace. Then he says:

“KAREN, countdown.”

Approaching drop-zone in eleven, ten, nine…”

He can’t feel Peter’s shirt through the suit, but he can feel the indirect pressure of his body, and when he says: “Head down,” right as KAREN reaches number three he imagines he feels the light weight of Peter’s forehead against the top of his chest, above the arc reactor.

Then they drop.

The suit’s propulsors kick in as soon as they clear the plane in terms of altitude, and Peter lets out a little squeak as Tony switches his grip on him for better maneuverability, carrying him with an arm around his shoulders and one under his knees, so that he’s folded against him.

If the Tower wasn’t already in view and moments away, Tony might have been tempted to take a long way home.

Air rushes past them and the thrill of flying rings in Tony’s ears, in a way it hasn’t for three long, horrible months. Peter looks down below with wide eyes, taking in the glory that is New York at night twinkling brightly below. He seems unbothered by the altitude; exhilarated by it, if anything.

They land on the roof instead of his balcony, because Tony wants no ugly implications to color this favor he is doing for the kid.

“Whoa.” Peter stumbles forward on shaky legs, but doesn’t fall. “That was awesome.”

He grins at Tony, and for a split-second no time has passed at all.

But if that were true, Tony would kiss him right now. And he can’t.

His faceplate peels back in a layer of nanotech, and he walks Peter to the elevator while the rest of the suit does the same.

“I’ll give Happy a call; he’ll be very excited to take you to Queens. He’d never admit it, but—“

“Um, before that happens.”

They are at the penthouse level by then, and the doors whoosh open and spill them out into the open-plan area. It's empty, of course; Tony's been on his own for months, having fondly rejected Rhodey's unsubtle hints that he would be happy to move back in. It's also completely dark but for the moonlight and the rest of New York streaming through the floor-to-ceiling windows. The lights are programmed to come on automatically, but Tony forgot to replace the bulbs after he shorted them out by accident last month, after a record sixty-hour insomnia-fueled work session. He hasn’t hosted any events here since.

He feels mildly embarrassed now, wishing he was showing Peter the most appealing version of the Tower. Some place warm and inviting; a place Peter might want to come back to.

“Huh.”

He looks at Peter and tries to get a sense of what he is feeling or thinking. If Peter is remembering the night they met, right here, when he saved Tony’s life.

“It looks—it’s the same.” Peter shrugs, looking back at him. Seeing his face in the dim light Tony is forcibly reminded of their last night together, too. “I know I was only here for a month, but I just realized that I missed it.” He smiles a little.

Tony coughs. “And you… before Happy picks you up, you wanted to say something?”

“Y-yeah.”

Peter drops his backpack on the floor in a thump, this time taking Tony back to the day in the lab when he realized the extent to which he wanted him.

Peter walks towards the middle of the penthouse, comfortable in the dark, unassumingly owning the space because he knows it well. He looks around, brushing a hand over the back of the couch, glancing at the kitchen island, turning to look at the corridor that leads to the other part of the house, including the recovery room on this level but also the stairs that go up to Tony’s bedroom.

Then Peter turns to look back at Tony.

“You know I’m in love with you, right?” he says. “You know that.”

Tony’s blood turns to ice.

 

Peter

All or nothing. He’s tried nothing, and it's been awful.

He's here to settle this now.

 

Tony

For several endless seconds he can only flash back to the interaction he had with Peter’s Aunt May before Peter had woken up. It had been just the two of them in the room; Helen had stepped out for a coffee because they knew Peter was stable and out of danger.

“I was very touched, that you said… I believed you, when you said you’d jump in front of a moving car for him.” May had blinked at him from behind her glasses, expression impossible to read. It was no longer starry-eyed the way she had looked the last time Tony had seen her.

“That’s—it’s still true.”

She had nodded, pausing for a moment. Then: “He has a crush on you, you know.”

Tony’s blood had turned to ice then, too.

“What?”

“Yeah. A pretty obvious one, in my opinion... he’s good at keeping secrets, certainly kept a big one right under my nose, but that’s one I managed to figure out pretty early on.”

Tony had nodded slowly. “O-kay. Well. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do about—“

“Nothing.” She’d shrugged. “You’re in your mid forties, right? Almost ten years younger than me… almost thirty years older than him…” Nothing about her expression had been suggestive or accusatory. “So you should do nothing.”

She had left it at that, subtle but not subtle enough that he didn’t feel like she’d slapped him.

Now, he looks into Peter’s eyes and he can’t.

He can’t do nothing.

“Peter—“

“Before you say no,” Peter interrupts, voice starting to tighten up. “If you’re going to say that it’s the age thing, because that means we have such different life experiences—that’s bullshit.” His eyes are shining. His jaw works as he tries not to cry, but he’s losing the battle this time. “As opposed to me dating a regular civilian my age… as if my life wasn't completely different from everyone else’s. As if having superpowers wasn't an important part of my life, being an Avenger wasn't a totally unique experience that someone my age will never be able to relate to.” A tear falls down his face. “You think the kind of people we are—the kid of things we’ve lived through, do you really think that’s less important than how long we’ve been alive?”

“Peter—“

“No. You don’t get to decide what I want my ‘ever after’ to look like, or who I want it to be with. You don’t get a say in that.” He wipes at his cheek impatiently. Brave to the last. “Only if you don’t… and that’s fine, i-if you don’t f-feel the same way that’s okay, that’s… that’s fine, but you—“

“Peter,” Tony snaps.

Peter goes quiet. He’s so far away.

Tony starts walking towards him, slowly. “You have to know,” he says.

Peter looks up at him, blinking his wet-lashed eyes. He looks confused.

“You’re so smart.”

His pace gets faster.

“You’re so goddamn smart, Parker.”

He’s almost on him.

“You have to know.”

He reaches him and doesn’t stop, not until he’s got Peter’s face in his hands and he can lean down to press their foreheads together. Peter goes rigid with tension.

Tony cradles his head in his palms and buries his fingers in his hair. “Of course I love you.”

Peter melts.

He ducks in to kiss him and molds himself against Tony in a fluid move, arms grasping the fabric of Tony’s suit collar to tug him in. He whimpers into Tony’s mouth and coils their tongues together without Tony even having to coax his jaw open with his conveniently positioned thumbs—it feels like a homecoming. It feels so good that Tony is the one who is disconcerted when they break apart, this time.

Peter keeps his two-handed grip on Tony’s collar, but he uses it to hold him at bay for the moment.

“I don’t care that we have to keep it a secret,” he tells him. “I kept a bigger secret than this for years. This is nothing.”

This is everything, Tony thinks, unable to help himself.

 

Peter

This is everything, Peter thinks.

 

Tony

“There will be people who won’t like it no matter how long we wait.”

Peter shrugs. “Not if they really know me. Not if they really understand me. And Ned, MJ… Aunt May; they’ve barely started getting to know the real me. It'll just take time.”

“We’ll have to lie. See each other in locations that don’t—“

“Abroad?”

Tony feels a smile tug at his mouth. “That would be safer.”

Peter snorts. “Good thing my boyfriend's a billionaire, then.” He goes back to looking pensive after a moment. “But we can still come here, right? Sometimes?”

“Yes. Of course.”

“Good.” He doesn’t look away from Tony when he adds: “I love it here.”

The weight of what he’s bestowing on him isn’t lost on Tony; nor was it lost before. But. Him being a selfish asshole through and through is making Peter look like this, and he can’t regret it.

“When you’re around,” he mutters. “That’s when I see the appeal.”

He kisses him again, and Peter hops on top of him, and maybe later, or tomorrow, they’ll talk through the finer details of how the hell this is going to work, and discuss logistics for a lasting cover, and each of them can try to come up with their respective set of stipulations.

Chapter Text

Peter

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.

Hey—“

“Guys!”

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.”

He swallows.

“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.

 

Tony

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?”

“No.”

“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 know.”

“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.

“I understand.”

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.

 

Peter

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.”

“Ah...”

“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.

Then:

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 assemblingEarth 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.