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Always Done What You Say

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Chapter 1

Tony wandered what is it about New York that seemed to attract an attack – an invasion, an experimentation gone wrong – that happened every couple of months. Perhaps Vision was right – their very strength invites a challenge.

It wasn’t any different this time – the siren had blared and the Avengers had assembled only for them to realise that there were giant alien species here.

Cap had called in Ant-Man and activated the Hulk and Tony… Well, Tony had called in Spider-Man.

“On my way, Mr. Stark,” the kid had answered. “I’m around the corner, just finished a movie with May…”

He made a mental note to apologise to May later for calling in her nephew when he had previously assured her that unless it was absolutely necessary, he would not call Spider-Man to deal with anything major. The consensus was that until he turned eighteen, Spider-Man belonged in the little leagues back in Queens.

But since this was all hands on deck kind of situation, the Avengers needed all the help they could get.

“FRIDAY, remind me to speak to May about this.”

So far, the destruction had been contained within a six block radius and there was only one remaining alien left for them to handle. All in all, Tony thought it wasn’t so bad until the thing opened its mouth and let out some kind of electromagnetic wave that frizzled out the system in Iron Man’s suit. He plunged down from the air, all the while knocking his helmet to try and get the system back online, but he was still falling. He flailed, trying to right himself and the ground seemed closer now. And he was sure he would crash before FRIDAY could activate the thruster until he felt a sharp tug around his midsection.

He let out a breath the moment Spider-Man came into his field of vision.

“I got you,” Spider-Man said and set him down on the roof. “Are you okay, Mr. Stark?”

“S-Sir,” FRIDAY’s voice filled the space in the suit.

“Ugly there isn’t allowed to open its mouth again, kid, can you make sure of that?” he muttered.

Once Iron Man was up, spiraling into the air again, Spider-Man had already webbed the thing’s mouth shut and was animatedly talking through their linked comm about a show that mostly none of the rest of them understood.

“Tony, we talked about this,” he heard Rhodey complained. “You gotta teach the kid to focus.”

“At least one of us is having fun,” Scott remarked as he was flung through the air.

“I’m serious, guys, it’s like a vampire but…. alien, obviously. Hey, maybe, they have their own kind of vampire alien up there!”

He tried to give it a minute because from experience, when Peter Parker started referencing a show or a movie, he tended to come up with some pretty amazing ideas. Then it clicked as Peter shot a web right to Ugly’s neck and started spinning around it.

“Spidey’s got a point. Go to my left, Rhodey,” Tony instructed. “Clear out, Parker. Hulk … Hulk, you’re getting this?”

He heard a roar and a flash of green as Hulk made the leap from where he was perched and landed on the back of Ugly, pulling its head back to give Tony and Rhodey clear shot to its throat. They pointed their lasers, slicing cleanly through the alien’s head.

It was pretty graphic and he sure as hell hoped no children out there would be watching the news this evening.

“Yes!” Peter whooped. “That’s amazing!”

“Great work, kid,” he said.

“Alright, let’s wrap it up. Back to the Quinjet for debrief,” Cap announced.

Natasha’s voice cut through their line, “Not yet, we’ve got casualties.”

They haven’t had any casualties since the last three attacks. Granted the last three had not seen the big bad like today but they had gotten good had pushing civilians back and evacuating them.

So much for keeping a clean sheet, Tony sighed.

He surveyed the ground, saw Cap running down the street towards where Nat said she was and Spider-Man scaling down the building he was on to get to the streets.

“Kid, if you’re not too winded, help Cap,” he directed, taking a jibe at their youngest team member and smirked when a petulant ‘of course I’m not’ came back at him. “Nat, they’ve got it. You need to go for Banner and bring him back.”

The Iron Man suit flew towards where the emergency medical team was waiting.

“Status,” Tony requested over the comm. He needed the information to relay to the responders and incase more medical team is required. “What’s the status? How many injured?”

“May?” Peter’s voice cackled over the line. “Oh my god, May? Please… Don’t – “

Tony came to an abrupt halt – his boots hitting the asphalt with a loud thud. The sheer panic on Peter’s voice was difficult to miss. It was the voice of someone facing their worst nightmare.

“Parker?” Tony called out. “What’s happening, kid? Talk to me.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

“Kid?”

He struggled to keep his voice calm, no sense escalating the situation, even when Peter had failed to answer him.

“Standby,” he informed the medical responders on scene, engaging his thrusters and hovering a few feet off the ground. “There are casualties.”

With that, he shot off, flying towards where Natasha had identified her location earlier before Tony sent her off after the Hulk. The kid was there, on his knees, clutching a hand so tightly. On his viewfinder, the image of a familiar bracelet was magnified – a bracelet that Pepper had helped the kid picked out for May’s birthday two months before Squidward & Co paid a visit, two months before Thanos. With everything that had happened – losing Peter and half of the universe, and bringing them back – that felt like a lifetime ago.

May had never taken the bracelet off, especially after she thought Peter was lost to her, and that bracelet on that hand Peter was holding tight right now told Tony all he needed to know.

May was trapped beneath that gigantic, fallen billboard that Steve, Scott and Clint were trying to lift without causing any further damage to those pinned under it.

On his comms, he could hear their grunts and Peter’s pleas.

Tony landed, palms out. He activated heat scanners, identifying four people beneath it.

“Rhodes, four identified,” he informed so the information could be relayed to the medical responders. “Injuries unknown yet…”

Steve glanced up at the sound of his voice and gave Tony a nod, giving him the all clear to cut through the billboard with his lasers.

“One here, here and there,” Tony gestured at his team members.

With that information in mind, Steve lifted and pushed his portion away, allowing Clint to immediately scoop a little boy, his arm stuck at an odd angle, out from under. Tony’s breath hitched, his fingers clenched. The boy was so young and while Tony wasn’t an expert on children, he was sure the kid couldn’t be more than ten.

“Oh God,” Scott heaved, pressing a fist to his mouth.

Tony remembered then. Scott has a young daughter and the image of that boy… It was a parent’s worst nightmare.

There was a woman, face covered with dirt, looking at them with panic in her eyes. She struggled to speak, her legs pinned beneath a scaffold from the billboard.

“My – My baby,” she managed.

“He’s alright,” the words slipped before Tony could stop himself and her eyes fluttered shut, her breathing coming out in short, sharp wheezes. In his ears, Rhodey informed that he had dispatched medical teams over to their location.

From his peripheral vision, Clint was performing CPR – pressing on the boy’s chest and muttering a series of ‘come on, boy’ to himself.

“Okay, kid, you pull her out once I lift this alright?”

Steve’s voice brought him back to the scene in front of him.

He saw Peter nod once and with a grunt, Steve lifted the remaining portion of the billboard. Peter moved into action, reaching his hand under and curling it over her midsection before pulling her out and the howl that escaped his throat was a sound that Tony didn’t think he could ever forget.

By then, the medical units had arrived and Tony was vaguely aware of them pronouncing the boy dead despite Clint’s effort to save the child. The boy’s mother was loaded on a stretcher and quickly whisked away towards a waiting ambulance.

“Get me out of this, F.R.I.D.A.Y.,” Tony commanded. “Now.”

Once freed from his suit, he dropped on his knees next to Peter, two fingers pressing the side of May’s neck trying to find a pulse.

Please, please, he thought feverishly.

He felt it, faint and weak, but still there.

“She’s alive, kid,” Tony reported with a hand on Peter’s shoulder to … comfort him, provide him some strength… He didn’t know. There was no protocol for this that he could fall back on. “She’ll be alright.”

“Tony,” Clint called for his attention, nodding to the team of paramedics rushing towards them before directly addressing Peter. “Kid, you gotta let them take your aunt now, okay? People will start to make connections between Peter Parker and Spiderman if you don’t let your aunt go. Spiderman wouldn’t be this visibly upset about – “

That was cold. Even if Clint had a point, that was still cold.

“I don’t care,” Peter shot back, trying to hide the sniffles but they could still hear him inhale a shaky breath through their comms. “She’s – May’s – Look at her – oh God.”

How did she end up here in the first place?

Tony looked up briefly, wondering for a second if the electromagnetic wave that had disrupted his suit which he also assume must have toppled the billboard could have travelled this far out of the perimeter they had set up. There were civilians here – May, the boy and his mother – just on the fringes. They didn’t do enough.

He didn’t do enough. He had called on Spiderman. The kid’s phone had alerted him to Peter’s location – three minutes away from where the attack was taking place – and he had activated the kid. Of course May wouldn’t have gone home. Of course she would have stayed around, nearby, especially since her nephew was in the fight.

He should have never –

“Sir,” one of the paramedics jostled him slightly to get to May.

“We’re taking her upstate,” Tony announced, forcing his attention back on his young protégé and his aunt. “F.R.I.D.A.Y, alert the medical team at the compound. Run scans once we’re in the jet and send it to them.”

The medical teams on standby at the Headquarters had treated some of the worst injuries the Avengers sustained and it would be far better to have May close by for Peter’s sake. Clint managed to haul Peter up, holding him firmly by the shoulders to keep him upright and steady, moving him towards where Nat had flown the jet down. Bruce was there and he took one look at the unconscious woman being wheeled in before his gaze snapped to Spiderman.

Clint sat the kid down and the moment the jet took off, Peter’s fingers grappled the seam of his mask and pulled it off, revealing a horror-stricken, paled face teenager. He inched forward to take May’s hand into his own, holding on to her like a life-line.

“Scan complete,” F.R.I.D.A.Y announced into his personal channel.

“Report,” Tony requested as he watched Bruce administer a shot on May’s arm causing her entire body to slacken a minute later.

“Survival odds – 34%,” F.R.I.D.A.Y reported. It took all of his effort to school his features, to not let the sudden jolt in his heart or the sinking feeling in his stomach play across his face. “Spinal fracture detected. Cerebral hematoma noted. Broken ribs identified. Lungs are punctured. Comminuted humerus fracture of the right arm. Multiple contusions and abrasions.”

Tony reached out, holding on to the hand rail above him to collect himself. His gaze flickered to Peter sitting with his head bowed as if in a silent prayer, May’s hands held between his own, all the while unaware of his aunt’s chances.

“Do you think she’s in pain?”

Peter’s voice was small and worried. Gone was the abundance of energy and enthusiasm that usually accompanied his words.

Tony clasped his shoulder, squeezing it gently. His mind ran a mile a minute trying to think of something comforting to say, anything at all that could ease Peter’s worries but the words were stuck in his throat.

“We’re two minutes out,” Natasha announced.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

The familiar soft hum of the Quinjet's engine as it made the descend down into the Compound usually filled Tony with relief – another mission in which he made it back alive to Pepper, another mission where the Avengers saw through together – but not today.

Today was filled with gnawing impatience for Nat to quickly land the jet so they could get May the medical assistance she desperately needed. Peter seemed to be oblivious to it all, his attention focused solely on his unconscious aunt.

Once the hatched was lowered, medical personnel flooded the jet, unintentionally pushing Peter out of the way. His face crumpled in anguish, looking helplessly towards May. Tony's hand fluttered to the nape of Peter's neck, squeezing it gently to let the kid know that he was there, that he wouldn't let Peter go through this alone.

They watched Bruce, a hand gripping the metal bar of the stretcher as he jogged next to it, giving updates and instructions.

"Come on," Tony said, guiding the kid towards the med bay with a hand between his shoulder blades. "One foot forward, that's it," he murmured softly when Peter stumble in his haste to follow.

Through gritted teeth, Peter said his first words since they arrived at the Compound, "it's not fair."

His fist was clenched at his side, his eyes watered but it was clear he was fighting to hold back the tears.

"It's not fair what happened to her," he repeated, dropping heavily on one of the arm chairs in the waiting room.

It wasn't, Tony agreed.

May Parker had survived Thanos' genocide. She, without any enhanced powers or armour had insisted on being at the Compound to assist them in any way she can against their fight with Thanos – to avenge Peter. She didn't possess genius-level intellect or superhuman strength but she had been a pillar of support even in her own grief.

She had been there when Natasha worked herself to exhaustion training and training and training; she had been there to support Clint into the Compound when he stumbled in, face streaked with black soot after losing his children and wife. She had once chewed Steve's ears off when he pushed Tony too hard and from then on, had won the respect of America's most hailed hero. She had mourned the loss of Peter with Tony, shared anecdotes of Peter's life to remind themselves of what they were fighting for. She had been firm with Tony when he faltered and on particularly bad days, she had allowed Pepper to give her strength to get up and face the day.

She had made her presence very difficult to miss and this tragedy was difficult to swallow for each of them as it was for Peter.

Peter and May was supposed to lead the rest of their lives together. She was supposed to see her kid graduate high school and into college. Then something banal like a falling billboard had happened… It was just so senseless.

It wasn't fair. It really wasn't, and Tony agreed wholeheartedly.

Just outside the med bay, at the waiting room, the rest of the team lingered, all unwilling to leave Peter alone. As much as Tony appreciated their presence, a part of him wished they would give Peter and him some privacy. He knew the boy was holding himself together by the seams, pushing the fear and the anxiety in, so he wouldn't break in front of the team.

Tony did the only thing that he could in case something of that nature were to happen. He remained closed by, keeping an eye on Peter and another on the door, half expecting either Bruce or one of their doctors to walk in with news.

The hours stretched until something orange and glowing caught his attention from the corner of his eyes. He turned sharply to see Stephen Strange stepping out of a portal.

"Watch him," he nodded to Peter as he hurried past Nat out of the waiting room and into the hallway.

"Dr. Strange," Tony called out.

"Tony," the man bowed his head slightly in greeting. "Where is Peter? How is your ward holding up?"

"He's in there," Tony thumbed over his shoulder. "He's tough but that's his aunt, you know? Who called?"

"Dr. Banner did. I would love to sit around and chat but – "

"Yeah," Tony moved back, showing Strange the way to where May was being treated. "Right through that door… And Stephen, do your best, please."

Tony heaved a breath, pinching the bridge of his nose. F.R.I.D.A.Y had reported head injury and spinal fracture, so it made sense that Bruce would have called a known neurosurgeon in. Strange's presence was just making him jittery because Tony was still in the dark about May's condition, wondering if there were any progress or if she was still unconscious and if the medical team had managed to fix anything at, and God knows Tony hated anything he couldn't compute.

You do know, a quiet voice in his head that strangely after all these years still sounded like J.A.R.V.I.S said, 34%.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 4

The hours stretched, long and arduous, broken intermittently by an Avenger getting up to refill coffee or pass Peter a can of soda.

"Here," Nat stood in front of them, holding out two plates of sandwiches. "You have to eat something – both of you."

Tony turned from where he had been standing in front of the glass window, staring in the direction of the medical bay. His stomach grumbled, reminding him painfully that the last meal he had was for breakfast this morning just a few hours before the attack occurred.

"Not hungry," Peter muttered as he paced the floor anxiously. "Thanks, Nat," he added because his aunt had raised him with impeccable manners.

Exchanging a look with Nat, Tony took the plates from her with a quiet thank you and set it down on the table to his left.

As Peter walked in front of him for the umpteenth time in the last hour, he grabbed the kid's elbow gently, stopping him from wearing the carpet thin.

"Hey, Pete, you gotta eat something, alright? Your body can't keep this up."

"I can't, Mr. Stark," he raised his gaze to meet his mentor's. "I'm too – You have them."

He wound his hands together, trying to find the right words.

Tony rubbed his forehead, swallowing the sigh threatening to escape his lips. He wasn't equipped to deal with this. His responsibility centered around making sure Peter remained safe and alive each time he put on the Spider-Man suit while occasionally helping the kid with his physics homework or telling him all about MIT in the hopes the that the kid would be interested and allowing him to work on his web shooters down in the workshop. May's job was to deal with the others … the rest that made Peter, well… Peter.

But May was comatose in another room and he was the only other adult to really ever know Peter so the burden fell on him.

"I know, kid," Tony maneuvered him back to the sofa he had vacated. "I don't think I can keep anything down but we got to try. I'm worried about her too, buddy. Can you just have a sandwich at least – you'll hurt Nat's feelings."

Peter turned his head, fixing Tony with a look. Then something inside him deflate, as if he had only just realised that May and Tony had gone through something harrowing together – shared the same loss and grief – when he was taken into the soul world and wiped out momentarily from this earth.

With a weariness that Tony hated seeing on the usually energetic kid, Peter took a sandwich from his plate, wrinkling his nose slightly when he realised it was tuna. Still, he was a good kid and made no complains, munching on the food slowly.

"What – uh – what movie did you and May caught earlier today?" Tony asked, thinking that if he could get the kid to talk it might distract him just enough to eat without the worry hanging over his head.

Peter blinked.

"Solo; A Star Wars Story," he answered after a beat. "You know the new Star Wars movie I was telling you about?"

"Of course, yes," Tony nodded. "Was it any good? You liked it?"

"It wasn't bad, I enjoyed it. Didn't think May did though," Peter laughed lightly.

"Still, it was cool of her to catch that movie with you when she's not that big of a Star – oh shit, was it something I said, kid?"

He watched in mild panic as Peter abruptly pulled his gaze away to stare at his shoes, his lips trembling. He knew he wasn't cut out for this. He was bound to say something wrong and he did, and couldn't even offer the kid the kind of emotional support he needed because God knows how well Tony Stark fared in matters concerning the heart.

"No, no, sorry, Mr. Stark," the teenager took in a shaky breath. "It's just – What if that's the last movie she'll ever watch with me? I – I can't stop thinking – What if she's never going to be able to just do things with me again?"

"Nothing to apologise for," Tony said with a calming, apologetic hand on Peter's back. "My fault. I shouldn't have said that. Put thoughts in your head."

Peter leaned back in his seat, his empty plate discarded next to him.

He pulled out his phone and with a glance towards Tony, he explained, "I should text Ned. Tell him what happened. He probably saw the news of the attack and I haven't check in yet. He – He always makes me check in," Peter explained. Tony didn't tell him that it was something that he had personally asked Peter's guy in the chair to do – to come up with a system where Peter would drop a text to say he was fine at the end of his patrol every night. "He – He'd want to know."

"Of course," Tony nodded.

The sunlight dwindled away and with the darkness forming a blanket around them, Steve moved away from the window to settle on one of the sofas, his arms crossed with his head resting on the back of it, his posture a stark contrast to Peter's hunch. The exhaustion was already creeping in and without being asked, F.R.I.D.A.Y dimmed the lights slightly in the waiting room.

The television was on but the volume kept low. Clint sat in front of it, watching the reported news of the attack. Nat next to him, brows furrowed.

"How – How long has it been?" Peter asked.

"F.R.I.D.A.Y…?" Tony prompted.

"Four hours and thirteen minutes, Mr. Parker," F.R.I.D.A.Y answered.

Tony would have suggested that Peter retired to his room and he would have promised the kid to get him as soon as there was any news but he knew that would be futile. Peter would sit there until the next morning if that was what it took and Tony would be right there along with him.

He clenched and unclenched his fingers, trying to ease the ache in his left wrist. He was tired and he was beginning to feel it.

He must have nodded off without meaning to because when his eyes fluttered open, it was to the sound of quiet sniffles coming from next to him. He let his gaze wandered to Peter to see him with his back hunched and head bowed.

Had he waited until most of them had drifting off before he broke down?

The kid was too tough for his own good.

Tony sighed, pushing himself up to a sitting position. He put an arm around the kid's shoulder without saying a word. He didn't think Peter would want him to say anything and it was evident from the way he roughly wiped the tears away as if he was angry that Tony caught him in this moment of weakness, not that Tony would ever think it was weak. Peter wouldn't know that in his desperate need to constantly prove himself.

"I'm okay, Mr. Stark," Peter hiccupped.

But Tony kept his arm firmly around him.

"It's alright, Peter," Tony said. "Look, kid, you don't – you don't have to be strong all the time. Let the rest of us do that for you today."

Peter leaned back in his seat, staring at his fingers as he picked on the loose thread of his shirt, an old shirt from Tony's wardrobe that he had given him earlier when it was clear that they were going to be there for a while and Peter needed to be in something other than his Spider-Man suit.

"I can't lose her, Mr. Stark," he whispered so quietly Tony had to strain his ears to catch it. "And I'm afraid I might. She didn't look too good."

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

Tony touched his left wrist, rotating it in circles as he was prone to do when he was faced with something he felt inept to deal with.

He could be charming and talk his way out of a situation. Easy. But this – dealing with feelings made him feel as if he was floundering. All his life, he had learnt to suppress it, to simply not address it because people either fell asleep on him or couldn't understand that a billionaire, despite all the money in his pocket, could still struggle emotionally.

But he didn't want that for Peter. He wanted Peter to grow into a wholesome individual. He wanted Peter to be able to go to May to talk about anything and everything without fear of judgment or to him, if there was something he couldn't discuss with May about.

That was only possible if Tony try, now.

He tried to think of something to say, something helpful, something that could ease Peter's worry but nothing came to mind.

What do you say to a boy who had lost his parents at a young? A boy who saw his Uncle Ben died in front of him? And now, his only living relative was fighting for her life.

Like he said earlier, it wasn't fair. Peter deserved none of this and yet, life kept throwing curveballs his way.

"Peter -" Tony started.

"I – I don't know what I'd do without her, Mr. Stark," he admitted, his fingers running in an agitated manner through the curls in his hair. "I don't know what'll happen to me."

This was easy. Tony could give Peter an answer to this half awake because when it came to keeping Peter safe, his conviction would never waver.

"I'll never let anything happen to you, kid," Tony patted his knee. "You gotta trust me on that."

"I – Thank you," Peter mumbled.

"Listen, Stephen and Bruce… They'll do whatever is required to save her, alright? She'll be - "

Tony stopped, swallowing the lump in his throat.

He would never lie to the kid. He wouldn't patronize him that way. Peter was too smart and he cared too much about the kid to treat him that way.

F.R.I.D.A.Y's report echoed in his mind – survival odds: 34%

"Kid," he adjusted himself, bending his knee at an angle on the sofa so he could face Peter. He had kept it long enough. "There's something in F.R.I.D.A.Y's analysis that – "

The door slid open, pulling their attention away from each other. Bruce walked in quietly, holding his glasses tightly between two fingers. He looked exhausted. Stephen brought up the rear with his cloak floating loyally behind him, looking a little out of place in the Compound.

Peter jumped to his feet, crossing the distance with two large strides to get to the doctor.

"Dr. Banner," Peter stopped in front of the man. "Dr. Strange, sir. Is she okay? Is May awake?

Bruce's gaze briefly flickered to Tony before looking at Peter again. He gave him a tight smile.

"There was – is – some swelling in her brain," Bruce touched Peter's arm gently, as if to comfort him. Tony had spent enough time with Bruce over the years to know when he was carefully choosing his words. He tended to shift his weight from one foot to another unconsciously. "She's… stable, Peter."

Peter didn't know the signs, though. Sure, he hung out with the Avengers post-Thanos every other weekend but he didn't spend enough time to read the signs. So when Peter let out a relieved breath, Tony was still standing behind him, tensed.

Stable meant that there was no improvement.

Survival odds: 34%

XxX

"Give it to me straight, Bruce," Tony said, keeping his voice low.

On the sofa, Peter had finally given in to the exhaustion, twitching in his sleep. Tony was inclined to let him catch a few hours of sleep.

Bruce accepted the coffee that Tony handed him a grateful nod, downing it in two gulps. He placed the empty cup in the sink before turning around to face the other man. Stephen Strange stood stiffly at the corner of the kitchen, arms crossed as he watched the two men.

"She's suffered two cardiac arrests. We managed to bring her back each time but it's not – it's not looking good. Her blood pressure fluctuates every now and then. I – I don't think her body can take it," Bruce admitted, looking away. "And we haven't even gone into the spinal fracture which might likely leave her paralysed when she wakes up from this – if she wakes up."

"Oh God," Tony ran a hand down his face, trying to take in the news. "F.R.I.D.A.Y reported survival odds at 34% back in the hovercraft, Bruce."

Bruce blinked, staring at him in surprise.

"We can only speculate the damage the subdural hematoma has done," Stephen piped in. "About 50% of patients suffer long term neurological problems. I am afraid that we would not be able to know for sure until – "

"Until she wakes up," Tony finished.

"Yes," nodded the sorcerer. "We have done surgical drainage to relieve the pressure on her brain. All we can do now is to monitor. This next 24 hours is critical."

"We are doing everything we can, Tony, to ensure that she is not in much pain."

Tony nodded wearily as he muttered a grateful thank you in their direction. He felt as if he had aged ten years during the past several hours.

"What will you tell him?"

He heard Bruce speaking but it sounded disenchanted.

"Tony?" Bruce called out.

"I – I don't know," he admitted because he hadn't thought that far. His head is filled with all the medical information Bruce and Stephen had just told him about May.

"If I may make a suggestion…? The truth while painful is still the only way, Tony," Stephen added and Tony is trying really hard to focus on what the man was saying. "To do otherwise will be detrimental. May Parker is his blood relative. He deserves to know – "

"I know," Tony answered, gritting his teeth.

He wished they would go away. He needed to think. His gaze strayed towards Peter at the adjoining room, still knocked out.

"- should he need to make the necessary decision."

"What?" Tony's head snapped up at that, glaring at Stephen. "Decision?"

They looked at each other before Stephen glanced briefly towards Bruce.

Tony was trying to think back to the conversations, if he had missed a vital piece of information.

"Tony," Bruce said carefully and patiently, removing his glasses. "May sustained terrible head trauma. She is on a ventilator. We are hoping for this to be temporary while she's comatose, to assist her in breathing as she heals, but if she doesn't wake up…. If she's not able to breathe on her own again…"

He stared at the small tremors now starting to be visible in his left hand. Tony covered it with his right hastily.

"But she could, right? Wake up and breathe… It's all a big 'if' right now."

"Yes," Bruce agreed. "We have to think of all the ways this could play out but I do agree with Stephen. Transparency is best. You should tell Peter the truth so he knows how dire the situation is and if it goes downhill, he will be prepared."

"Yeah, yeah, of course," Tony muttered.

"Another thing," Stephen added, "it might be best as well that you apply for temporary guardianship for young Peter. If Mrs. Parker recovers from this -"

"When she recovers," Tony interrupted.

"When she recovers," Stephen amended without so much as a snarky comment, "the road to recovery will be a long and arduous process. Peter Parker cannot and should not be left on his own."

"He's not alone. He's got us."

Tony gestured vaguely at the Avenger's in various positions at the waiting room with Peter.

But once again, Stephen had a point and the very thought that Peter might even need guardianship other than his aunt was making his throat constrict. He cared about the kid but he had never thought he would need to step up like this – not that he minded because he would do anything for him but he just wished the circumstances had been different.

"He trusts you more than anyone else," Bruce spoke.

He knew that.

But right now, his anxiety was off the charts – there was a heavy pressure on his chest, a paralyzing dread had begun to creep up from his stomach towards his throat and oh god, not again.

He grappled the edge of the kitchen counter, could hear Bruce talking to him and then slowly feel the warmth of his friend's hand on his back.

"Breathe, Tony, in and out – just follow my voice."

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

Tony popped his head in, surveying the room.

Peter’s allocated room in the Avenger’s compound was empty. The bed remained untouched since he had fallen asleep on the sofa in the waiting area, there was a bag pack on the floor from where Happy must have left it when Tony sent him to Peter’s apartment to get the kid new change of clothes but the water in the shower was running.

Tony stepped in and took a seat on the chair by the study table, scrolling through the messages on his phone that he had neglected as he waited for the kid. Peter stepped out of the shower about a minute later, his curls wet and matted to his forehead.

“Hey, Pete,” he smiled.

“Hi, Mr. Stark,” Peter said, his hands twisting and rolling the damp towel. “Any word from the medical wing yet? Is May allowed visitors already? Can we go?”

“In a while,” Tony said. “There’s something I gotta talk to you about, kid. Do it over breakfast?”

He stood up, gesturing towards the door. Peter remained, a contemplative look settled over his face.

“Maybe we should talk first,” he suggested. “I – uh – I don’t think I’ll be able to have breakfast if it’s gonna be anything – “

He waved his hand vaguely, unable to complete his sentence but Tony understood.

“Sure,” he clasped the kid’s shoulder in a reassuring manner before settling back on the chair he just vacated.

Peter sat at the edge of his bed, hands clasped anxiously together and the scene was so achingly familiar that Tony had to blink the memory of their first meeting in Queen’s away.

“I had a – I had a chat with Bruce and Stephen. Yesterday night. Got the full report,” Tony began. He rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably, the gears in his mind turning a mile a minute as he tried to work this out as best as he could, as gently as he could for Peter’s sake. “We know May’s stable at the moment but she’s sustained terrible injuries. No sugar coating it, Pete. Her injuries are serious.”

The kid was listening to him with rapt attention.

“Her spine’s fracture,” Tony traced his finger on the back of his own spine to show Peter the site of the injury. “Several other broken bones in her ribs and arm, she’s got severe head injury – swelling and bleeding in the brain,” Tony went on. “And she’s not… Not breathing on her own, which I know, sounds alarming but – but it happens when patients are in a coma. Bruce is saying that she might breathe on her own again when she wakes up.”

Peter took in a shuddering breath, his gaze flitting from his hands in his lap to Tony.

“She might also not breathe again,” Peter said. “I heard, Mr. Stark.”

“I’m sorry?”

Peter raised his head.

“I heard you talking to Dr. Banner and Dr. Strange,” he explained, tapping his right ear. “Enhanced. I was asleep, I really was but I – I heard voices. I thought I was dreaming but I wasn’t, and I heard you talking to them about May. I didn’t – I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, Mr. Stark, but it’s May. It’s about May and I had to know.”

The first thing Tony realised was that Peter, who was prone to apologise for the smallest and littlest of things, did not apologise for this. A part of him was proud. It was something that Peter needed to learn, something Tony had been trying to teach him, that there are things he didn’t have to apologise for.

“It’s fine, kid, it’s alright. We’ll let it pass this time. You heard everything?”

He shook his head. “Don’t think so. Only the tail end, I guess. Dr. Strange – he wants you to prepare me in case something bad happens.”

“Yeah, that’s what he thinks I should be doing. You deserve the truth, underoos, and I want to make sure you have them. We – “

Tony broke off, wondering now if Peter had heard the part where Stephen had suggested he took up interim guardianship…. Was it something they should talk about now or should he let it rest? Peter had too much on his plate as it is.

“She’s gonna be okay,” Peter jumped in with a note of finality. “You’ll see. She’s going to open her eyes, she’s going to breathe and she’s going to talk my ear off about missing school.”

Tony blinked.

School.

School was still in session. Sure it would be term break in two weeks’ time but he was still supposed to be at school and Tony sure as hell had not informed his school the reason for his absence. May would have known to do this, he sighed.

Peter stood up abruptly.

“We should get breakfast. Then we’ll see May,” he said.

Tony wanted to hold him back. There was still something he needed to talk about – like the fact that Peter shouldn’t use that obvious denial as a cloak to shield himself against the painful truth.

But he let the kid go, closing the door behind him as they both left Peter’s room. Tony was quite aware that he was not in control of the situation when he should be. He spent half his time worrying about how Peter would react to whatever news Tony brought to him.

XxX

Peter stood frozen by the doorway.

Tony hovered behind him, torn between wanting to give the boy space and giving him the strength he needed. In the end, Peter made the decision for him. He glanced behind his shoulder at Tony and that pair of brown eyes searching helplessly for him was his undoing.

“You’re alright,” Tony said quietly, placing a hand between the kid’s shoulder blades as he nudged him forward.

The teenager took a step forward and that was when Tony noticed the way his fingers bend inwards towards his wrist, tapping the place where his web shooters cartridge would be. Peter tended to do that unconsciously when he was anxious or nervous.

“Come on in, Peter,” Bruce beckoned, giving him a warm smile.

Tony followed, taking in the sight of May Parker buried beneath the multiple sterile white blankets. She looked small and helpless with the ventilator strapped on her face and multiple tubes and wires running in and out of her hospital gown. Her head was wrapped in a bandage, her right arm was already set in a cast and there were multiple cuts and scrapes all over her body.

Next to him, Peter made a choking noise. He rushed towards his aunt, touching her gingerly as if she might break. He ran his hand from her left fingers up to her arm, his gaze never leaving her face.

“Hi, May,” he managed, his voice thick with emotion. “I’m here with Tony and Dr. Banner. I’m – Can she hear me?”

“Yes, I believe she can. You should talk to her. It helps. Studies of brain scans of a comatose patient show that there are increased activities when hearing the voice of a loved one…” Bruce encouraged.

“So – So you’re saying that she’s aware that I’m here?”

Bruce gave Tony a cursory look before answering, “I don’t know for sure how her consciousness works while she’s in this state but -”

“Hey, Peter’s hot aunt,” Tony chimed in. He wasn’t trying to be rude on purpose but he knew Peter and he would have more questions and the question he didn’t want Peter to be asking is if May was in pain and if she was aware of it.

It worked as a distraction though. Peter sent him a glare, like he often did each time Tony referred to May that way.

“I will be telling Ms. Potts,” Peter muttered darkly.  

Bruce watched them in amusement before excusing himself from the room. Peter settled down on the armchair, his hand still gripping tight May’s own.

“Mr. Stark,” he spoke up. “She looks like she’s just sleeping.”

“Yeah, she does,” Tony agreed, watching May.

“Is it okay if – if I can be alone with her?” Peter asked. “Dr. Banner says I should talk to her and uh – I mean no offense, Mr. Stark but I – you know, maybe if I can talk – “

“Of course, kid,” he interjected the boy’s painful rambling. “Private time – I get it.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, so I’ll be down at my workshop. If you need anything – anything – at all, you get F.R.I.D.A.Y to alert me and I’ll come right away. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“I’ll get someone to send lunch over to you when it’s time.”

“Thanks, Mr. Stark,” Peter told him gratefully.

“Sure,” Tony smiled.

With a parting squeeze of Peter’s shoulder, Tony left the room, closing the door quietly behind him.

First things first, he would need to call Midtown High School and hoped his previous generous contributions to their school labs would overshadow the fact that Tony Stark was calling with regards to one Peter Parker.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

Peter shot up from his bed with both his hands clasped tightly on his ears. The wailing of the siren was loud but with his enhanced hearing, it became terribly unbearable.

"Make it stop, F.R.I.D.A.Y," he gritted his teeth.

"You do not have the authorization, Peter."

"What is this? Where is it coming from?"

"This is the alarm for a medical emergency. The source of the emergency has been identified to stem from the medical wing," F.R.I.D.A.Y informed.

Peter's head snapped up to the ceiling where, strangely, he had assumed the AI was located. Medical wing, Peter blinked as his brain processed the information, where May is right now.

He couldn't explain the sudden coldness he felt or the way his hand flew to the base of his neck as his mind screamed for him to breathe, just breathe. The sleep and exhaustion was gone as the bone chilling fear replaced itself like a poisonous tendril.

Barely realizing what he was even doing, Peter moved, yanking the door to this bedroom open and he sprinted down the hallway, barreling into Tony who had just stepped out of his own room.

He heard Tony called out his name but he didn't stop. He couldn't. There was no time to waste. He was vaguely aware of Nat stepping out of her room, looking down the hallway in confusion, but he darted passed her.

"Peter!"

He ran down hallways and corridors, climbed up stairs and shouted at F.R.I.D.A.Y in the elevator to bring him down to the medical wing without stopping on any other floors.

Faster, faster, faster, he willed and when the elevator doors opened he dashed out.

The tension and chaos was palpable. It was suffocating; the air was heavy and it was pressing down on him. Breathe, he reminded himself harshly.

He saw Bruce by May's bed, holding her down as she thrashed and convulsed. Dr. Strange was there as well, holding a needle, and Peter couldn't watch it. He couldn't see May suffer like that.

"May," he screamed. "Make it stop!"

Bruce turned, their eyes making brief contact before he focused his attention back on May, completely ignoring the teenager shaking in fear by the door. His feet moved by itself – all he wanted to do was to make it stop but he didn't even make it past the door before he felt someone's arms wrapped around him from the back.

His instinct kicked in and he struggled against the grip.

"Calm down, kid," Tony grunted. "Hey, hey, you're stronger than me, alright? I'm no match for you like this so stop struggling. You have to let Bruce do his work – no interference."

"Let me go," Peter snapped. His eye sight was bleary by the tears that had begun to spring to his eyes. "I gotta get to May."

But Tony was relentless and Peter was frustrated. He elbowed the older man in his ribs, strong enough to make Tony slacken his grip but not strong enough to cause any real harm. He tried once more to make it through the door until someone's hand grabbed his arms and tugged, and Peter, unprepared for the strength coming from that person, stumbled backwards.

Steve held him against his chest, his hand on the back of Peter's head as he let the kid let out his frustration and his fear, until eventually out of energy, he leaned his entire weight on Steve.

He felt himself being maneuvered to the waiting area, let down slowly to the sofa and then the hold around him loosened.

Tony replaced Steve, crouching in front of Peter and staring at him, concern and worry etched on the lines creasing his forehead.

"You're okay," he said, resting a palm against Peter's cheeks. The calloused feel of the engineer's hand and the warmth radiating from it seemed to ground Peter back. He took in a shuddering breath as his gaze locked with Tony's. "Are you calm?"

"Y – Yes. I'm sorry, Mr. Stark. I -"

."It's fine," Tony cut him off. "No hard feelings."

"What's happening to her?"

"From the looks of it, seizure," Tony answered. "Might have been from a stroke."

Steve made a guttural noise at the back where he hovered over the pair, as if had it been his way, he would have shielded Peter a little longer from that truth.

"What's that mean? Will she be okay? Is she getting worse?"

"We'll have to wait for what Bruce has got to say. I can't tell you anything about what just happened but – God, kid," he ran a hand down his face and that act, that resignation made Peter pay attention. "This is probably the worst time to tell you but there's something you should know."

"What is it?"

"Tony," Steve warned. "Consider his emotional state before you do anything."

"I got it from here, Steve, thank you."

Peter's eyes widened at that curt dismissal but Steve didn't seem to take offense.

"Call me if you need me," he said before leaving the pair alone.

The room was quiet and a little tense, and Peter waited for Tony to say something but his mentor seemed to be struggling with an inner turmoil.

"I can't believe I just cried on Captain America..." Peter remarked. "Is he going to be – "

"No, kid, he won't look at you at different for that," Tony cracked a smile. "Listen, no changing the topic, it's going to be hard and difficult but we need to have a talk, Peter."

"Okay."

"I know you're expecting a miracle."

"N- Not, really, Mr. Stark. I don't know to believe in it or not," Peter told him bitterly, crossing his arms. "I'm willing to be convinced, if that's what you're trying to do here."

"Not a miracle if you have to be convinced," Tony pointed out. "Sorry – that's beside…" he sighed. "That's not the point."

Peter looked at him. He couldn't explain why the sight of Tony Stark on his knees in front of him trying so hard to hold Peter together by the thread made him feel a lot worse. The emotion bubbled inside of him. The sadness, fear, grief and gratitude all roiled together and his lips trembled.

"I just want her to be better, Mr. Stark? I want her to open her eyes and talk to me. I want to be able to talk to her again."

"I know, kid," Tony nodded. "I want that for you too but her odds are stacked against her, Pete. I should have told you earlier."

Peter frowned, "What are you talking about?"

"Don't think you heard this part of the conversation I had with Bruce and Stephen then," Tony muttered. "Peter, on our way back to the compound, in the jet, F.R.I.D.A.Y made some calculations after scanning her vitals and injuries."

"About May's odds? If May's gonna make it or not?" Peter shot to his feet, rounding up on Tony.

"Yes," Tony answered.

A fire danced behind Peter's brown eyes, he took in the sight of the man he idolized. Tony's jaw was clenched tight, his left hand was closed in a fist and his right rested over his left wrist to keep it steady. His shoulder was tensed and taut, likely preparing himself for Peter's angry outburst the way he did when Peter had confronted him after the State Island Ferry incident, but he couldn't find the energy to be angry.

He was so tired. He just wanted to wake up from this nightmare; wake up to find himself back at his apartment in Queens to May flipping pancakes because it was her day off. They would be sitting across each other on their small but cosy kitchen, catching up on May's work and Peter's school, and his Spider-Man activities.

"You had no right," Peter collapsed on the chair. Too exhausted to argue, he asked, "What are her odds then?"

"It was 34%," Tony answered, taking a seat next to him.

"Can F.R.I.D.A.Y run it again? After that seizure can she run the scans on her again?"

There was a pause, a beat of silence.

"Are you sure?" Tony asked with an unreadable expression on his face.

"Yes," Peter ground out. "Dr. Strange wanted you to have me prepared. So prepare me," he lashed out.

Tony leveled his gaze with Peter, assessing him. Peter crossed his arms, staring at Tony until the older man gave the command to F.R.I.D.A.Y.

Her voice rang out a minute later, loud and swift like an executioner's blade.

"Odds of survival 25%, boss."

Peter choked, his hands clenched on his sides. The noises coming out from his mouth was that of despair and disbelief. He pitched forward and he would have fallen face first from the sofa to the floor if Tony had not moved and caught him. He pressed his face on Tony's stomach, his fingers clutching the back of Tony's shirt.

"She was – She was supposed to get better," he whimpered. "Please, Mr. Stark. You have to fix this. Please, please."

"Peter," Tony's fingers was stroking his hair. "I – This is not something – "

"F.R.I.D.A.Y's wrong," he shook his head, probably wiping snot on Tony's expensive shirt and Peter reeled back in horror at that thought. "Oh my god."

It was so stupid, so irrelevant but his mind latched on that problem – that he had ruined Tony's shirt – instead of May. He lurched forward, grappling to reach the box of tissues and then he pressed them on Tony's shirt.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry," he muttered, trying to dry the shirt frantically.

Tony caught his wrist.

"Stop. Stop it now," he commanded, harsher than he intended. "Look at me."

Peter did. He looked up, soaked tissues crumpled in his fist.

"She is in pain," a voice said.

They both turned towards the door. Peter peered at the new comer, wiping his hands across his eyes to focus clearly.

"Wanda, when did you arrive?" Tony asked.

Wanda, oh, Peter blinked. What does she mean?

"I came as soon as I saw the news of the attack. Natasha filled me up. I am so sorry, Peter," she came forward, sitting next to him and took his hand in hers.

"How – How do you know?" Peter asked, trying to steady his voice. "About May being in pain. How do you know?"

"I'm a telepath," Wanda answered. "Sometimes it is difficult to block out people's thoughts, especially when they are so loud, and hers is loud. She's not conscious enough to control it."

"You can hear her thoughts?"

"Yes," she cocked her head to the side. "Her memories and her thoughts are all about you."

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

Wanda’s sudden, unexpected presence was enough to pull Peter’s attention away from F.R.I.D.A.Y’s analysis. The shocked silence on Peter’s face was also marred by obvious confusion at her remark. Tony gestured for the girl to take seat, aware of Peter’s gaze watching her every move.

“She’s holding on for you.”

Peter’s frown mimicked Tony’s own.

“What’s that mean?” the kid asked.

“Peter, she’s… I know you know this already,” she wrung her hands together before folding them in her lap. “I heard Tony’s machine calculate her odds and it’s … It’s not wrong. I can feel her. Your aunt is dying, Peter. I’m – I’m so sorry.”

She slid from the armchair, kneeling in front of Peter as she enveloped him in a hug. Tony stood over them, watching Peter pressed his eyes on Wanda’s shoulder as his fingers gripped tight the back of her blouse.

After a while, he pulled him away. He stared at the floor; every muscle in his body was taut

“How – How long before she’s gone?”

“I do not know,” Wanda answered truthfully. “She’s fighting. It’s like…. It is as if she is trying to hold on for you.”

“Wanda…” Tony spoke for the first time.

“Her body is weak and it is weakening as the days stretched. You know this, Tony, you’ve run the scans. You’ve heard it too from Bruce and Stephen,” she said and Tony pulled his gaze away, torn between wanting to reprimand her for skimming the thoughts at the top of his head and not wanting to make a scene in front of Peter. “There is a heavy worry plaguing her.”

Before he could say anything, Nat walked in to the room. If she was surprised to see Wanda, she didn’t show. She smiled warmly at Peter before turning to Tony.

“Is your phone turned off?” she asked, slightly irked.

“Yeah, it is. Why?”

“Pepper has been trying to reach you,” Nat huffed, motioning for him to join her by the window and away from the two youngsters. “When she couldn’t, she got in contact with me.”

“Everything alright? What – What does Pep wants?” Tony asked, feeling a twinge of guilt because with everything that was going on, he had been neglecting Pepper. Apart from updating her on May’s condition last night, he hadn’t actually been in contact with her. It was difficult especially when they were both in different states. “Is it about Stark Industries?”

“Nothing about that – you know your girl has got that all under control.”

In another circumstance, Tony would have preened and made a comment to that effect but not today.

“Ross wants a briefing on the attack and the casualties. He wants a press conference.”

“He needs me there for this, I assume?”

“He would prefer it, yes,” Nat confirmed, “but I have informed him that you are otherwise engaged in a personal matter. Press conference is in an hour. Popping by to run this by you and let you know that I will take point.”

“Right, yeah, go ahead.”

Nat gave a curt nod.

“Nat,” Tony called out. “Thanks. Owe you one. Get Happy to drive you out, yeah?”

“Think I might bring Steve along.”

“We all know how much he’ll love that,” Tony chuckled as Nat left the room.

Behind him, he could hear hurried footsteps so he turned to come face to face with Peter, his brown eyes were wide and staring at him. Wanda trailed after him.

“Mr. Stark,” Peter stopped right in front of him, a little breathless from excitement. This sudden change in his demeanor was a little startling for Tony and he wanted to know what the root cause of it was. “Wanda said that I can talk to May.”

“Bruce said the same, kid, and you’ve been talking to her. You’ve been doing it every day and every night before I send you to bed.”

“No, no,” Peter shook his head. “Not like that. Wanda told me that she’ll help to sort of be… you know, like a bridge for May and I to converse. Cause right now, it’s pretty one sided, Mr. Stark, and May can’t tell me things but Wanda told me that – “

“Hold up. Just wait one second,” Tony interrupted. He turned to Wanda. “What does he mean by ‘a bridge’?”

“I can tap into her mind. That way I will be able to listen and convey the – “

 “No,” Tony shot it down. “No way, kiddo. There’s no way I’m letting you meddle with her mind or his.”

Wanda took a step back, reeling from Tony’s words as if he had just shot his blaster at her. “You do not trust me.”

Tony could only stare at her. He didn’t understand the hurt written all over her face.

“I’m not that person anymore,” Wanda told him. “I’ve come a long way.”

Oh.

She had tampered with all of their minds at one time, a lifetime ago. Clearly, she thought he was referring to that incident but it was the last thing on his mind.

“I know you have but it’s not about that, Wanda. The mind is a delicate thing.”

“I know that better than most.”

“Sure you do so tell me how do we know if this will work? Have you done this before? She’s already physically weak and right now,” Tony fixed her with a look, “maybe her mind’s all she’s got left. We can’t tamper with that.”

“I am not going to tamper. I am going to listen in and I – I really do not know how to explain to you how my powers work. If you like, I can try it on you and Peter when you are both in deep sleep. It will be like you are dreaming. I can show you.”

“Wanda…” Tony started although her suggestion to try it on him first had its merit and he was willing to give it a go. The only problem was that he was not willing to jeopardize Peter. “The science behind this is – “

“The first time you built a suit of armour was the first time you ever did. It saved your life,” Wanda shot back. “You did not know if it will work but you took the chance. I am trying to give Peter this chance. I am trying to bring him closure if it comes down to it and right now, I am the only one with the ability to do that.”

That stung.

All Tony had wanted to do was to protect Peter. He couldn’t fix this for the kid. He couldn’t fix May.

But he wouldn’t let his ego get the better of him. Not in this situation.

“I’m trying to help her,” Wanda said. “She is trapped and she can’t speak. You do not understand what it is like to walk in here and feel her helplessness. I can. Let me help, please. I can be her mouthpiece.”

Peter stepped forward, literally crowding his space, to plead.

“Mr. Stark, I need to talk to her. Please, Mr. Stark.”

How was he supposed to deny this kid this request? May’s odds had just dropped drastically, Wanda had all but said that May was holding on for Peter and what if there was something she needed to get across to him before she could let go? It would be cruel to leave her in this state of continuous pain and it had been three days, May was still in a coma. It wasn’t looking good and Stephan had warned him to prepare Peter. Doctors would not have made such comment lightly.

If Peter could have this chance to communicate with his aunt for what could possibly be the last time, then Tony really didn’t want to be that person to stand in his way. The kid would never forgive him.

How long had he himself stayed awake at night wishing he could talk to his mother for the last time? He would have told her he loved her. He would have told her that he was sorry for all the troubles he got into in his youth, he was sorry that she always had to be the one to come between him and Howard when they were in a loud shouting match.

He would have wanted one last chance to talk to Howard even; to ask the man if there was anything, anything, at all he did that Howard was proud of.

Peter is being given the chance.

“Okay,” Tony acquiesced. “But we have to run this by her doctors. I want Bruce’s and Stephen’s opinion on this. She just had a stroke, Pete, so we don’t want to cause more harm, okay?”

“Alright,” Peter nodded, relieved, “but it also means that there’s no time to waste, Mr. Stark. The next stroke could be fatal and -” he choked, unable to finish his sentence.

“Let me talk to them,” Tony squeezed his shoulder. “Wanda, there should be lunch in the kitchen. If there’s none, Clint should be able to whip something up. Go get him. He should be happy you’re here. Take Peter and get him something to eat, will you?”

“Mr. Stark – “

“I’ll come and get you, underoos,” Tony assured him. “Let me talk to them.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

A nurse smiled at him, sad and sympathetic. Peter tried to return the smile but it felt forced. He tried to muster some courage except his insides felt like ice and the courage required a fiery strength he couldn’t find right now.

It’s this room, he concluded.

The room was sterile, functional, cold. It was all cream walls, white blankets, stiff chairs and machines whirling with statistics devoid of sentiments, spewing numbers without caring if the person was living or dying. They were just reports and facts – functional and cold.

Peter shifted, bumping his shoulder against Mr. Stark. The man glanced at him, his face creased with worry and concern. Peter ignored him. He didn’t need the uneasiness, even if he was grateful for his mentor’s presence and for the warmth he felt radiating off the man.

Standing at the foot of May’s bed, his gaze flickered to one of the machines. He didn’t understand what the numbers meant but he had overheard a conversation from earlier – May’s heart rate had slowed down.

He shuffled closer, wanting to be able to see her face but as it had been for the past days, it was partially covered by the ventilator.

At Dr. Banner’s signal, Wanda crossed the room, moving to stand at the head of the bed, positioning herself behind May.

“Mr. Parker,” Dr. Strange approached, nudging Peter forward.

“Peter,” he muttered for the umpteenth time, wishing Dr. Strange would just call him by his name.

“Peter. Talk to your aunt. Inform her once more that it’s time. Let her know what you and Ms. Maximoff will be doing so it will not come as a shock should your aunt feel her … presence.”

“O – Okay. Yeah, yeah that’s a good idea,” Peter nodded nervously.

“Banner, Strange, stay close,” Mr. Stark directed. “This could go any which way…”

Settling down on the chair next to the bed, Peter held May’s hand. He ran a finger soothingly over the knuckles, tracing the veins running to her wrist.

“Hi, May,” he began. He managed to keep his voice steady. “It’s me again – Peter. It’s ten in the morning right now and the sun is out. You’d – You’d love it. I imagine you’d want to take a walk around the Compound, soak it all up.”

He glanced behind his shoulder at Mr. Stark who gave him an encouraging nod. Usually, when he talked to May, it was only just them in the room. Once or twice, Mr. Stark would be there, too. He never had a room filled with so many people. It was making him a little nervous.

“Anyway, remember the talk Mr. Stark and I had with you yesterday night? Well… Wanda is here, May.”

“You’re doing good, kid,” Mr. Stark laid a hand on his shoulder when Peter paused a little too long.

“Wanda… Her powers are super cool, Aunt May. So – so like I said, she’s offered to help,” Peter squeezed his aunt’s hand gently. “I know you’re in there listening to me. Well, at least I hope you are. If – If you’re aware and conscious, I know you’d want to speak to me too. I’m sure you’ve got things to tell me. You – You can now. It’s possible with Wanda’s help. That’s awesome, right?”

By force of habit, he paused waiting to hear a reply. A minute later, Peter started speaking again.

“It won’t hurt. I promise,” he assured, looking at Wanda for confirmation. She nodded with a smile. “We’ll get to talk. We’ll get to talk, May.”

He drew a breath.

It felt too much suddenly.

When he had jumped at this chance the moment Wanda presented it, he never thought it would feel as if he was at the end of the line but that was exactly how it felt right now – as if he was preparing himself to bid his aunt goodbye the moment he walked into this room.

He had all the facts before him - F.R.I.D.A.Y’s analysis, Dr. Banner’s and Dr. Strange’s diagnosis, he had seen the seizure and the stroke, he could feel Mr. Stark’s agitation as if he was standing at the edge of a cliff himself – so he knew May was dying.

He knew.

Except, subconsciously, he had been trying to bury it, hoping that if he didn’t acknowledge it then it would never happen but it was happening. May was growing weaker and worst of it all, she was in pain.

In one corner of the room, Dr. Strange stood tall and serious, cutting an imposing figure. His gaze was fixed on the machines. He was observing and charting May’s responses to Peter’s words and later on, her responses once Wanda made contact. Dr. Banner fidgeted, anxious and curious as he watched May for any signs of distress.

“Okay, Wanda, I’m ready,” Peter gave the clearance.

He was quite aware of Mr. Stark’s knee jerk response to Wanda raising both her hands; of him taking a sudden step forward to both May and Peter and of him laying a protective hand on Peter’s shoulder.

“Sorry,” Mr. Stark whispered, dropping his hand suddenly, but he remained close.

Peter didn’t know exactly what happened between Mr. Stark and Wanda but it was clear something happened. He had asked, of course, the night Mr. Stark had sat with him on his bed to let him know that they could give this a shot. All Mr. Stark had said was Wanda had once, a lifetime ago, played on his fears and showed him things. It wasn’t as illuminating as Peter had hoped it to be but he didn’t have the time to probe further where there were more pressing matters on hand.

“I won’t hurt her. I promise you that,” Wanda said, looking at Mr. Stark.

He took a breath before giving her a curt nod.

“I know you won’t,” Mr. Stark muttered. “Still, be gentle with her.”

Wanda’s fingers hovered on each side of May’s temples.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 10

The first indication that it worked was the sudden spike in May's heartbeat, from shock or excitement, he couldn't tell.

Peter scooted in his seat, sitting at the edge in anticipation.

"May," he probed, "are you alright?"

"She's alright," Dr. Strange chimed.

Peter took comfort in that statement, not thinking twice about it but if he had turned to look at Mr. Stark, he would have seen the older man staring at the magician, a curious frown on his face.

"Peter," Wanda called for his attention. She smiled, warm and bright, and a flash of hope bloomed in his chest. "I have her with me. She's… She says, hello, chiquitita."

If the circumstances had been different, Peter would have turned red in embarrassment at having that pet name uttered out loud but not today. It was his pet name, something that May would call him by when he was upset or unwell or needed comfort in general. Chiquitita, tell me what's wrong, she would croon and it would always crack a smile on his face. It was a joke between them, something that started after they had spent an afternoon when Peter was younger staying indoors during a storm watching that movie.

"Chi – what?" he heard Mr. Stark whispered, caught off guard. "That's ABBA, right?"

"Yeah," Peter nodded, swallowing the lump in his throat. "It's really her. She's – She's in there."

"She is," Wanda confirmed.

Peter made a choking noise and lurched forward, hugging May to him tightly.

"Easy," Dr. Strange spoke. "Careful there, Mr. Parker."

"Sorry, I – I miss you," he muttered. His voice was muffled, pressed against May's shoulder. "I miss you so much, May."

"Oh, Peter. She misses you too," Wanda's soft voice floated to him. "She tells me that she heard you each time you came to visit. She was listening each time you spoke to her at night, you and Tony, both."

"How – How are you, Aunt May?" Peter asked before he shook his head. "Stupid question, sorry. Sorry. I – I'm so … I'm so scared for you."

"Don't be," Wanda replied. "She says don't be. She doesn't want you to worry about her. She wants to know how you are doing…"

"I'm – I'm okay, I guess," he shrugged. He was far from fine. His chest ached. He was afraid most of the time. He was tired and exhausted from being awake at night thinking about May, wishing there was something he could do. He craved sleep but it eluded him on most nights, lulling him to oblivion for a few hours before he startled awake and then dozing off again for another hour or two. It was tiring. "I'm holding myself together. I – I've got Mr. Stark and the others looking out for me but… but they're not you," he said the last part quietly. "I want you back."

"She's …" Wanda trailed off. "She's sorry, she says. She knows you're brave and strong, and she says she knows this is difficult for you. She has never wanted you to be in this position, to have to watch her like this."

"Mr. Parker," Dr. Strange came forward. "Would it be alright if Bruce and I have a moment with her?"

"You don't have to leave," Dr. Banner added quickly. "It's just … We were not sure if she was aware and conscious but she is. She was simply not capable of responding to us physically until now… Until Wanda and as her doctors, we need to talk to her about her condition."

"Can I still talk to her after?"

"Sure thing, kid," Mr. Stark assured. "If she's up for it…"

With a sigh, Peter stood up, moving to the back of the room with Mr. Stark who puts his arm around Peter, a gesture meant to comfort and Peter leaned in unconsciously for the support.

"You're alright," Mr. Stark said.

He nodded. "What are they telling her?"

"Same thing they told me," his mentor answered. "Some of which you already overheard."

"They're telling her she's dying?"

Mr. Stark took a moment to answer, as if for once, weighing his words carefully.

"I think she knows that, Pete. She would have felt her own body going weaker, same way you'd know you're about to have flu or fall sick. All the signs would be there. And she's been aware all these while. She probably knows more than you and I combine from all the conversations she picked up from the nurses and doctors."

"I guess," he muttered. "I – I just… I feel…"

"I know," Mr. Stark said.

He grounded his teeth, tempering down the need to flare at that statement. He didn't think Mr. Stark knew or truly understood. May was the only one he had left and he was about to lose her. What would he know about that?

He stepped away from his mentor, ignoring the man's surprised glance. Leaning against the wall instead, Peter listened in to the conversation.

"Is there a way you can wake up, May?" Dr. Banner asked. "I'm sorry the question might sound insensitive but this is a medical field with very little information. There are studies on patients in a coma but none of them could get conclusive data and information on the way the consciousness and awareness works. How is it like…"

Wanda answered, "It feels like a labyrinth with no way out. She can hear and at times she can feel, she says, but it's … decay."

"Decay?" Dr. Strange asked. "How so?"

"She is surrounded by it… in her mind. It's like being in a house that is falling apart each day. Something is always broken. She is struggling to put it into words. I can't really…."

"Perhaps the physical deterioration has an impact on her mind…" Dr. Strange hypothesized. "Mrs. Parker, all that we know we have now told you. Your prognosis is not – "

"She knows, she says. She wants to speak to Peter."

If he was nervous before, it was worse now.

"Hey, May."

"I can feel how much she loves you," Wanda remarked, smiling in wonderment. "It is such an amazing feeling, Peter."

"Yeah," Peter nodded, clenching and unclenching his fist. He tapped his foot anxiously.

"She wants to you listen carefully to her," Wanda said with a frown. "She loves you. She's telling me that. She doesn't need Dr. Strange's or Dr. Banner's diagnosis or for them to list out her injuries for her to know that her body is failing. She is aware. She says she is hurting and she is in pain, and there's only so much the drugs can do. I am not even breathing on my own, is what she said. She can't command any part of her body to move at all. It – It used to be easy, something one does without ever thinking twice and yet now… She doesn't think…" Wanda trailed off.

"Please don't," he begged, gripping the sheets tightly.

"You – You are the best thing to happen to her and Benjie."

It was odd, Peter thought to himself, to hear the words and the names his aunt would use in her every day speech and to recognise her speech pattern only to hear it from someone else's voice. Wanda was beginning to lose some of her accent but it was still there in May's words and it was unsettling especially when she was lying there motionless, her lips unmoving.

"She's very, very proud of you, Peter. You're her pride and joy. She's raised you to the best of her abilities and she's so proud. She hoped that you have had a happy childhood, if not a good one."

"I do," Peter nodded even if she couldn't see it. "I do, Aunt May. You & Uncle Ben gave me so much."

He wiped away the tears hastily, not wanting May to know that he was upset. But she could probably tell. She always could, like a sixth sense.

"She knows that she's the only one you have but she says that you are not alone. You have… You have Ned," Wanda looked at him curiously.

"He's my best friend."

"You have Tony by your side too, she says. She knows you are scared, Peter. She knows you are afraid of losing her but she wants you to let her go. She's been holding on for this. She never thought she would ever get to speak to you again but we're here now. Please know that this is her decision. She is in too much pain – her chest, her back, her head are all hurting her. She is describing them to me but I – I do not think it is something you'd want to hear."

"No," he choked back a sob. "No, please. Please. There – There must be something."

"She is not waking up, Peter. She can't. She says that she's tried to find ways out of this. She will likely remain this way for the rest of her life and it is not a burden she wants to put on your shoulders."

"I – I don't understand… Where is she?"

"She's trapped in her mind," Wanda answered. "Where she is, Peter, it is dark and desolate. It is a terrible place."

"That makes no sense. I don't understand. She's -"

"She's dying," Dr. Strange said. "Her mind is decaying as her body is shutting down."

Shut up, shut up, shut up, Peter wanted to scream.

"Seriously Strange, exercise a little tact," Mr. Stark snapped.

"She needs you to let her go, Peter. She doesn't want you to hold on to this as she lay here broken. May says that she wants to know… She needs to know that you will be okay. Will you promise her?"

"I -" He felt so helpless. "I promise. I'll try. I love her. Please tell her I love her."

He was crying now, openly crying in front of everyone.

"I'm sorry, May. I'm so – so sorry. If I – I hadn't insisted we went to the movies that day if we – "

"That was my fault," Mr. Stark cut in, his voice firm and steady and determined, refusing to let Peter shoulder this blame. "I called on your nephew. I roped him into the fight. That was my fault. That's on me."

Wanda turned to him.

"She says you will have your turn."

Mr. Stark blinked and Peter could hear May's voice in his head giving Mr. Stark that reprimand. It reminded him of that time when she found out exactly who had given Peter the suit. Mr. Stark and May's relationship had progressed better since then with Ms. Potts joking about them co-parenting him but May was still a force to be reckoned with.

"Right, sorry," Mr. Stark said, "as you were, Peter."

"I – I just want to say I'm really sorry, May. I should have protected you better."

"It is not your job to protect me," Wanda said, quoting her directly, shocking Peter. Her eyes were closed but her lips were moving as she relayed verbatim. "I didn't blame you. I have never blamed you for what happened to me and while we are on that, I don't blame Tony either. I'm sorry I won't be able to watch you grow up, Petey, but I know you will do me and Ben proud. Promise me you will live your life. That's all I need."

"May, please," he sobbed. "I love you so much. What – What am I going to do?"

"You are so strong, baby. Please be brave for me now."

It was all wrong. It should have been May's voice. He wanted to her that said to him in May's own voice. Peter shut his eyes.

"I love you, my little Peter."

Peter sat there, head bowed in defeat.

"Tony," Wanda turned to Mr. Stark. "She wants to talk to you now."

Mr. Stark approached them, standing next to Peter before he took a seat at the edge of the bed. His rested his hand on May's knee.

"I'm right here, May."

"She is saying that there is no will and that she has never written one. She doesn't have much to give away. She only has Peter. That's the only precious thing she has and she says she should have thought about making guardianship official, something on paper while she still could, it's too late now. After Ben passed, she had given it some thought but had never acted on it. She never knew what or who before but lately it has always circled back to you."

The entire room was silent. Nobody needed Peter's enhance hearing to be able to hear a pin drop.

"What are you… What are you saying exactly?"

"She wants you to look after him like he is your own. Take care of her boy and love him like she would have."

Peter's head snapped up at that. He was sure he had just given himself whiplash. If he thought May's request was shocking, Mr. Stark's answer to that rendered him speechless.

"Always," Mr. Stark reached forward, brushing May's hair away from her face. "I'm always in his corner, you know that. I don't want you to worry about this. He's got me."

"She's a little relieved now. She just wants to know that Peter will be taken care of."

I'm here, he wanted to interject. I'm here. Stop talking about me like I'm not here.

"Let me go, chiquitita," Wanda's voice was shaky and when Peter looked at her, he realised she was crying too. "Give me a kiss and then let me go to sleep."

Peter wiped his face and obliged, leaning forward to kiss May's forehead. It wasn't even his decision to make. May had made it. She had just been holding on, waiting for him to come to terms with the truth through his daily visits to her hospital room. He couldn't let her suffer anymore. It would be cruel.

"I promise I will live my life to make you proud. I love you, Aunt May. Please say hello to Uncle Ben for me," he whispered quietly.

"I'll look after the kid. Rest now," Mr. Stark said softly, holding on to her hand.

Peter glanced behind him towards Dr. Banner and nodded. The ventilator was removed but May's heart was still beating.

Then the strangest thing happened. Dr. Strange jerked backwards, eyes closed. It startled him but the man seemed relatively unharmed.

Peter watched the rise and fall of May's chest until it eventually stopped. The machine showed a continuous single line with a loud, uninterrupted beep.

It felt so quick, so final.

"She's gone. I watched her soul leave," Dr. Strange said suddenly. Dr. Banner had a steadying hand on his back as the man righted himself up. "If it is any comfort to you, Mr. Parker, in the astral plane, her soul looks far better and healthier than her physical form."

Peter turned on his heels and all but ran from the room.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11

For five days after, Peter spent it in bed, sleeping.

He had no desire to leave and was only vaguely aware of Tony’s comings and goings, and Dr. Banner dropping by at Tony’s request to ensure that he was still alive, he supposed. He thought he must have given Tony a scare and would have felt guilty on any other day but his heart was filled with enough guilt over May.

May didn’t blame him. She didn’t blame Tony.

But he couldn’t stop the guilt in any case. He had been too eager to prove to the Avengers that he could be relied on when called to fight, and he had not stopped to make sure May was safe.

He was so stupid.

And May had paid for it.

Spiderman was supposed to keep Queens safe and the irony… Peter scoffed, turning on his sides to bury his face in the pillow.

“It’s time to get up, kid,” Tony announced, pulling back the covers as he did so. “It’s seven in the morning.”

Peter thought it was kind of Tony to wake him up personally instead of getting F.R.I.D.A.Y to do it, but he didn’t voice it out loud.

He hadn’t been talking for three days now. Tony had called a therapist in his blind panic and desperation. Peter had heard it through the walls but he had tuned out the rest of the conversation. He had nothing to talk about, not yet at least. He was just tired of grieving. All his life, that was all he had done.

Swinging his legs over, Peter sat at the edge of the bed.

“Ready?” Tony peered at him with a hand on his shoulder.

He nodded mutely.

Tony’s voice filled the room as he recited facts about Peter; the unshakeable absolute truth about his life.

“You are Peter Parker. You’re seventeen, raised in Queens. You’re currently studying at Midtown High. Your best friend is Ned Leeds. You are an Avenger.”

Peter raised his head, waiting. He had come to rely on this, something that Tony had done each morning for four days.

His mentor’s gaze softened. Peter sat up straighter.  

“You lost your aunt five days ago. Her funeral is today.”

Peter exhaled.

Those facts grounded him.

He had felt so overwhelmed by everything that had happened. When Steve finally found him after he ran out of May’s room, he was hanging upside down from the ceiling in an empty bedroom.

It had been Natasha’s idea to break down his life into manageable sections, something that he had known all his life and could hold on to; his name, the place he lived, his social circle, something he loves. The last part to their morning exercise had been Tony’s which would always compromise of something that he would have to accomplish for that particular day or something painful and heavy that he needed to learn to accept.

It was working so far.

He could deal with being Peter Parker. He knew how old he was, it was not something he could change. He knew where he grew up in and where he went to school. It reminded him that he still has a best friend who would never turn his back on him. Those were things he could deal with.

“Okay,” he croaked out, his voice sounding harsh and grating to his ears.

If Tony was surprised, he hid it well.

“Alright,” Tony said slowly. “Get dressed. Pepper’s picked out a suit for you. I’ll see you at breakfast.”

“Okay,” he tried again, trying to get used to the sound of his voice.

At the door, Tony hesitated. Peter noticed but he raised his head with a steely determination and walked straight for the bathroom. He didn’t need Tony Stark to hover. He was capable of looking after himself.

He heard his bedroom door close shut and Tony’s footsteps retreating away.

Alone once more, Peter choked back a sob.

He wanted to cry. He had been wanting to let it all out since he walked out of May’s room. But he couldn’t. He had cried when talking to May and now the tears wouldn’t come. He wondered if he had used it all up because he stopped crying the moment he ran off from May’s room after she flat lined, the tears had long dried on his face when Steve tried to get him to come down from the ceiling and by the time Tony came to him that night just to sit with him in his room, he had already felt numb inside.

He felt empty and lost.

 

Peter gripped the edges of the marble sink as he tried to get his breathing under control only to hear a crack a second later. Gasping, he took a step back. The sink didn’t collapse but he supposed he shouldn’t lean all of his weight on it, not with that kind of strength.

He dressed methodically. His mind was elsewhere trying to picture the funeral. He put on an undershirt and then the shirt. He had to do the buttons twice because he kept messing it up. He put on his pants and then the jacket only to fumble with the tie so he stashed in his pocket.

The hallway was quiet and Peter was glad that Tony had moved him into one of the bedrooms on his private floor. He didn’t think he could deal with sitting in a room for breakfast with the other Avengers. It was already difficult enough to keep it together in front of Tony. As much as he was grateful for what Wanda had done, he could do without having her look at him with pity.

Peter dragged his feet all the way to the dining area. Pepper and Tony were already there, talking in hushed, strained whispers.

“It’s a private funeral, Tony.”

“I get that Peps, but you’re sure that the media – Hey, kid,” Tony turned towards him.

“Morning,” he muttered.

Wordlessly, he went over to Pepper and held out the tie. She gave him a smile as she wound the tie around his collar. He opened his mouth to say more than just a word but it got stuck on his throat.

Peter frowned.

Had he forgotten how to cry as well as speak?

Pepper righted his collar and smoothed out the lapels.

He tried again.

“T - Thanks for coming back for the funeral, Miss Potts.”

There, that wasn’t so bad.

“Of course, Peter,” Pepper said. “May’s my friend and I want to be here for you.”

When it first happened, it had been odd. May had come home one night looking happier than she had in a while and Peter found out that Pepper had invited her for drinks when Tony invited Peter to the workshop. It struck him then that Aunt May had been so busy working and raising him that she had little to no social life outside of Uncle Ben and him.

Pepper tried to flatten the curls on his head but gave up with a sigh, ushering him instead to take a seat so they could get started on breakfast. She poured orange juice for him and heaped his plate with pancakes and banana slices.

Peter blinked, staring at it.

May always pour milk, for the bones.

Except May wasn’t here right now and this was a different household now.

He ate silently.

He was also painfully aware of Tony leaning against the counter with a cup of coffee, watching him and Pepper sitting next to him munching on a piece of toast.

For an outsider looking in, it would be just another domestic scene but in less than two hours, they would be burying Aunt May and his life would be going down a different direction.

The funeral was held at the same church as Uncle Ben’s. Peter wasn’t sure how Tony knew that but he was Tony Stark, he would find out these kinds of information.

All of the Avengers were there. Wanda had given him a hug when he stepped out of Tony’s car. Dr. Strange had patted his shoulder.

Some of May’s colleagues were there as well. Peter only knew one or two of them, and nodded politely when they came to offer their condolences before he strayed over to where Happy was standing, seeking his company.

He was anxious and strung out, and wanted this to end.

Halfway through the ceremony, it started to rain. If May was here, she would have rolled her eyes at that as if it was something out of a movie. It made him smile a little.

When the coffin was lowered into the ground, Peter stood frozen. He was squeezing his fist so hard he could feel his nails digging into the flesh of his palm.

This would be the last time, he figured. He had no more family left. This would be the last one he buried. At least there was that, he thought bitterly.

No more funerals unless it was for his own.

Behind him, Ned and MJ stood quietly, heads bowed. Ned was crying. He had loved May too. At least one of us had tears to shed, he sighed.

When it ended, Peter was glad. He didn’t think he could stand on his feet a minute longer. He was exhausted.

He nearly stumbled on his feet when Ned tugged him forward to embrace him in a bear hug.

“Thanks for coming, Ned,” he muttered.

“You’ll call me if you need to talk, right?”

He nodded, of course, as was expected of him before he turned to MJ. She looked at him, as if she was studying him under a microscope before she smiled and punched his arm lightly.

“You will be okay, Parker,” she said. “I know you will.”

“Still trying to process that you’re here,” Peter chuckled. “Sorry. I – I mean I appreciate you coming.”

“Of course I’d come after Ned told me. We’re friends.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. Friendship with MJ was actually a blur. He and Ned were just minding their own business one day and had sat on the table she was occupying to get as far away from Flash as possible and since she didn’t object, had continued to seat on the same table for lunch. Before they knew it, she just declared that they were her friends and that was that, no argument. “Guess I’ll see you around.”

“Take care of yourself, Parker.”

The car ride back was spent in relative silence.

Peter sat across from Tony and Pepper, abusing and shredding the paper on the bottle of water Pepper had given him. When he glanced over at them, he noticed that Pepper was holding on to Tony’s hand on her lap. It reminded him of Ben and May in train and bus rides.  

As much as he knew that his aunt and uncle were now together, it still hurt because he was alone.

He stared out of the window, losing himself to the sceneries outside. It was all a blur, very much the same way he felt now.

When they returned, Peter headed straight to his room. He slept for hours. In his sleep, May was still there, making sure he wasn’t alone.

He was woken up the next morning by F.R.I.D.A.Y but Tony came in a few seconds later.

“How are you holding up?”

“Alright, I guess.”

“You skipped dinner yesterday. I didn’t want to wake you up.”

Peter had nothing to say to that.

He heard Tony sigh and watched him pressed a few buttons on his watch. The blinds rolled up as sunlight streamed into the room.

“I’ll have the housekeeper clean your room today,” Tony remarked as his gaze roamed around the room, taking in the mess. “I’ve been telling her to stay away for the past couple of days.”

“You gotta do it,” he reminded his mentor.  “What you’ve always done.”

“Alright, alright,” Tony acquiesced. “You are Peter Parker.”

Peter began to feel his muscles relaxing. He let out a breath.

“You’re seventeen. You used to live in Queens.”

There was a pause as if Tony was waiting for him to internalise that. Peter blinked but otherwise didn’t correct him. It wasn’t wrong. He used to live in Queens. He didn’t now.  

“You’re currently studying at Midtown High. Your best friend is Ned Leeds. You are an Avenger.”

Maybe he didn’t want to be one anymore but he figured that would be a conversation for another day.

Peter inhaled and counted to five, preparing himself for what was in store today.

“You have to give your consent. For the guardianship.”

“Okay.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 12

His heart was beating out of turn, thudding painfully against his ribcage.

He was nervous.

Anxious.

And admittedly, he might also be freaking out a little.

Of course, there was no doubt about him stepping up to be Peter’s guardian even if May had not explicitly appointed him but he was still allowed to be nervous. It was just… He didn’t want to mess this up. The kid didn’t deserve that, not after everything he’d been through.

Tony continued pacing outside one of the smaller meeting rooms in the Compound, arms folded across his chest. Occasionally, he stole glances through the glass wall separating him from Peter and the two lawyers.

Since he was above fourteen years of age, his consent was needed before Tony’s legal team could file the petition for guardianship. Peter had been tensed from the moment Pepper had brought him over but he seemed to be holding up well in the room. He twiddled his thumbs nervously, answering questions that were being asked, and then Tony watched in surprise as he ducked his head and smiled shyly at something one of the lawyers – Nelson or something – said to him.

Jeri Hogarth had assured or rather point blank informed him in that businesslike, no nonsense tone that unless Peter had any other living relative that might contest the petition, it would likely proceed smoothly.

“Had this been ten years ago, Mr. Stark, your character and conduct would have been scrutinized under a lens,” was what she had told him.

“Well, I’d like to think I’ve made progress from the person I was before,” Tony had replied.

Still, there was something else bothering him.

“Tony, please,” Pepper snapped, pursing her lips into a line. With a sigh, she patted the seat next to her but he was too restless to just sit and wait. “Please, sit down.”

He stopped pacing, at least there was that, and came to stand in front of her.

“What’s taking so long? They’re supposed to just get his consent. You think he… consented? Maybe there’s a problem…”

He made to move towards the door, to investigate for himself when Pepper gripped his wrist.

“Tony, no,” she warned. “It won’t look good if you barge in there. He consented, of course, he did. Why wouldn’t he? He knows you. He knows you care for him and he knows you’re his best shot. Just let them talk.”

“Cause May told him to, right?” he turned to look at her. “He’s saying yes ‘cause May had all but said that I’m to be his legal guardian and you know the kid had always done as she told him to.”

Pepper looked confused and Tony huffed, overwhelmed by the sudden feeling that he was being irrationally idiotic. May had appointed him but a part of him wanted Peter to choose him.

“What’s the matter, really?”

He let out a breath, shaking his head.

“Nothing… It’s nothing. It’s just…” he gestured at his head, not really able to put his thoughts into words.

It must be the nerves.

“I want this to work out, Peps,” he admitted. “I want to be able to look after him the way May would have wanted.”

“And you will,” Pepper assured, standing up from her seat so they would be eye to eye. She touched his arm comfortingly before slowly letting it fall so she could intertwine their fingers. “You’re already doing it, Tony, since he was fourteen.”

“Tell me I’m not Howard,” he whispered, begged, because the man had been plaguing his dreams for days.

Her eyes widened imperceptibly.

“You’re not your father,” Pepper said.  

“Mr. Stark.”

Taking a moment to compose himself, Tony took a breath, squeezed both of Pepper’s arms as a silent thank you before turning towards the young man.

“Foggy, was it?” Tony asked to which the man nodded. “We ready?”

“Yes, sir, if you could come with me…”

Stepping into the room, Tony caught Peter’s gaze, lips turning upwards into what he hoped was an encouraging smile. The papers were laid out before him and he signed away at every page he was told to.

“That’s it,” Jeri straightened up, gesturing for her associate to keep the papers. “I will be in touch with you.”

“Expedite it, if you will,” Tony instructed as they shook hands. “Pepper will show you out.”

With them gone, Tony expected to find relief but the room still felt stifling. It shouldn’t be this way, not when it was only Peter and him in the room. It shouldn’t feel this way with Peter at all.

The weight of Peter’s expectations of him was pressing down on his shoulders and making its way to his chest. Would Peter expect him to be the way Richard and Benjamin Parker was with him? He had never met those men and had only heard a story or two about them that May and Peter shared. He could learn, he supposed, mold some parts of him after the two men Peter loved.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Stark.”

Peter’s quiet voice was a startling reminder that Tony wasn’t alone. He whipped around to face the kid.

“You’re sorry? What are you sorry for?”

Peter hung his head.

“You’re stuck with me now. May shouldn’t... She shouldn’t have made you – “

“I’m gonna stop you right there, Peter,” Tony snapped, sounding harsher than he intended. He took a step closer, clasped his shoulders until Peter met his gaze. “I would have done it even if she hadn’t asked.”

Peter blinked, once, twice, internalizing what he just said.

“After all we’ve been through, Pete, after all I’ve been through getting you back, you think I’d let you just be swept away into the foster system?”

“I – No,” Peter admitted after a beat. “Just … I didn’t want to be a burden, Mr. Stark, that’s all.”

“You’re not a burden, kiddo. I don’t want you thinking of yourself that way ever. I’ve never thought of that of you and you shouldn’t too. You’re a kid and I’m the adult – it’s my job to look after you.”

“Mr. Stark,” Peter’s voice was small and soft. His fingers picked on the flesh of his palm. “Can I tell you something?”

“Anything.”

“I’m scared.”

“Want to know something?” Tony asked. “One orphan kid to another… I was scared too when my parents died. By then, Jarvis was gone. The real Jarvis – the one who really took care of me. I was alone. Much like you. At least, I thought I was until… Obadiah,” his throat tightened at the thought of that man. The anger from the betrayal was still there, dull with time but it was still there as a reminder. He vowed right then as he stood in front of this kid, baring a part of himself that he had kept away from the Avengers, that he would be better than Howard, better than Obadiah.  “Now this,” he gestured at the space between them, “guardianship, being responsible for your well-being, it’s scaring me too just like it’s scary for you to find yourself being under my care.”

Peter raised his head. His features softened at Tony’s admission, relieved to be able to share this with someone.

“People seem to die around me, Mr. Stark,” Peter said. “It’s like a – a curse and now you’re in it.”

“Peter…”

“You think you can try not to die on me?”

Tony snorted back a laugh, taken aback by the words coming out of Peter’s mouth.

“I’ll try, kid,” he said in all seriousness. “Someone’s gotta be around to annoy Pepper and you.”

“I don’t think you’re annoying.”

“Isn’t that nice to know…” Tony looped his arm around Peter’s shoulder as they walked out of the meeting room. “Listen, Pete, we’re gonna be alright, yeah? We’ve got Pepper to keep us straight.”

Peter gave a nod.

“We have each other,” Tony went on. “Whatever new things come our way, we’ll figure it out along the way.”

XxX

Despite Pepper’s insistence, Tony had delayed taking Peter back to Queens. He didn’t think the kid was ready but even he realised that he couldn’t keep pushing it off. It was better to rip the band aid right off then wait for Peter to come to terms two three months down the road only to have it shove down his throat again.

So two weeks after the funeral, there they stood outside of the achingly familiar apartment in Queens.

It had been decided that Peter would have the autonomy to choose on what he would do with the furniture and appliances in the apartment most of which he had elected to donate to various shelters and charities. It was what May would have wanted he said. He packed up his things – clothes, books, old junks he had gotten from dumpster diving and boxes of Lego – to be sent back to Tony’s penthouse apartment where he would now reside with Tony and Pepper.

The Compound, as Tony had explained to Peter, was too far away from school. With only a year or so left, in addition to all the lifestyle changes going on for Peter now, switching school would be too much. Tony had wanted as much normalcy as he could afford to give Peter, for the kid’s sake.

The company of the Avengers staying at the Compound would be good to take Peter’s mind off his troubles but all in all, it wasn’t feasible. With him being Peter’s guardian now, it would mean taking care of parts of Peter that wasn’t just Spiderman and for that to happen, they would need to learn to cohabit and coexist together. It was better to do so in the privacy of the penthouse without the rest of the team interfering too much.

“That’s the last of it?” Tony asked, pointing at the box Peter carried out of his room.

“Yeah,” he nodded. He placed it with the rest of the boxes for the mover to send to the penthouse later and without another word, disappeared into May’s room.

Tony hung back, not offering his help like he had with Peter’s room. The kid would want privacy so he absentmindedly watched as Happy supervise the removal of the dining table from the house. He moved to the kitchen, turned on the tap and closed it off again, picked up a can opener lying on the counter which he tossed in the black trash back, peek inside the refrigerator and then he froze. There on one of the top shelf was a handwritten note from May stuck to a takeaway box – heat this up and you’re good to go - love, May.

The food must have gone bad by now so Tony threw that one in the trash as well but not before pocketing the note. It must have been one of the last things May did for Peter and he wasn’t sure if he should throw it away. Maybe Peter would want it…

For what? A reminder that he would never get this life back …? A life where he has an aunt who leaves notes on yellow post-it for him?

He gritted his teeth in frustration.

In May’s room, he could hear the quiet sniffles coming from within. Tony wanted to reach out for the boy, to tell him that he was here and that it was okay to be upset and cry without having to hide it away. He wanted to tell Peter that when his mother died, he thought his world had ended too so he understood.

He understood Peter’s pain.

And yet, he remained rooted where he was, frozen with the sudden crippling fear that he was inadequate to deal with a grieving teenager.

“You should get him, boss,” Happy advised half an hour later after he was done supervising. “We need to get going soon.”

“Yeah, okay,” Tony muttered, striding towards May room. He knocked on the door. “Hey, Pete.”

His back was facing Tony, hunched over something. At the sound of Tony’s voice, he wiped away at his cheeks and turned to look behind him, eyes red from crying.

“Nearly done, Mr. Stark,” he mumbled. Hastily, he folded May’s robe and placed it in one of the smallest box in the room marked ‘Penthouse’. “Can I … I can bring some of May’s stuffs with me right? It’s nothing much just some flannel shirts she stole from Uncle Ben and photos of them together.”

“Of course.”

It was when they stepped out of the room that Peter suddenly stopped dead in his tracks. He stared at the vacant living room like he didn’t recognise it and then heaved out a heavy sigh.

“Maybe one day I’ll get this place back,” he mused, staring with such forlorn at what would now be his old home.

“Maybe, Peter. You’ll never know. You’ll graduate college, get a job, rent this apartment… It can still happen but for - ”

Tony hesitated, wondering for a second if it would be too cruel to tell the kid that he shouldn’t put all of his hopes in that basket, that he would need to learn to move on.

He didn’t, of course. He just let the sentence hang.

He was terrible at this. He couldn’t comfort, he tended to say the wrong things and at some point, he thought Peter could do with a hug but didn’t know how to initiate one. May and Peter had been warm and loving, affectionate and tactile with one another but Tony didn’t know how to do that. Howard had never done that for him, only his mother, and it made Tony wondered if being affectionate was something that sons only do with their mother figures.

One day, Peter would wake up and realised that he was stuck with a shitty guardian and the kid would hate him. Gone would be the boy who looked up at him as a hero.

God, he wished Jarvis was here.

XxX

Peter became better.

Or at least, Tony thought he was.

He had stopped reciting facts every morning to kid and telling him what was in store for the day.

Peter managed to roll out of bed, joined them for breakfast, spoke when he was spoken to and slowly learnt to settle in. He wasn’t the Peter Tony knew before Thanos or before May’s death - he was a little quieter, a little more subdued - but he was there.

He was there, Tony assured himself, as he searched Peter’s face that morning. Tony had been awake in his workshop when F.R.I.D.A.Y had alerted him that Peter was in distressed. He had run out of his workshop into Peter’s room to find the boy having a nightmare.

When asked, Peter wasn’t in the mood to talk about it so Tony had let him. He kept the door slightly ajar, just in case, which was silly in itself because F.R.I.D.A.Y would have let him know if there was anything else.

There were dark circles under his eyes but that tended to happen when your sleep was disrupted so Tony said nothing.

“I’ll get Pepper to brew you some of her chamomile tea tonight before bed. She’s always telling me it helps her relax. Never works for me but maybe it’ll work for you.”

“Okay,” Peter shrugged, pushing back his chair as he cleared out his plate.

“Kid, you’ll… You’ll talk to me if there’s anything right? You can, you know…”

“Yeah, I know. Thanks, Mr. Stark.”

Tony kept an eye on him, staying awake for hours after Peter had gone to bed just in case there was another incident but there was no nightmare and no alarms from F.R.I.D.A.Y. On some mornings, Peter came to breakfast looking tired but he always assured them that he was fine, and really, Tony didn’t want to be one of those adults who kept pushing a teenager to the point of frustration so he took Peter’s word for it.

It came as complete surprise when one morning, Tony walked into his workshop to see Peter’s Spiderman suit on the workbench with a note scrawled in the boy’s sharp and messy penmanship.

I won’t need this anymore, Mr. Stark. I’m sorry. 

- P. P

Frowning, Tony grabbed the suit, running his hand over every inch, turning it inside out to find any defects that might prompt the kid to return the suit. Because that was it, wasn’t it? The suit was faulty so he gave it back for Tony to fix it, just like he had sat across the bench on several other occasion, head propped on his palms as he watched Tony fixed tears and replaced wires. The suit was fine – no tears, no glitches. It was running as it should be.

Tony moved towards the end of the workshop, checking to see if Peter had taken the Mark IV of the Iron Spider Armour Tony was working on. It wasn’t done. It wasn’t close to done and if the boy had taken the suit before Tony could run a full safety diagnostic test on it, he would ground the kid until he turned eighteen.

The armour was there where Tony had left it.

Peter had not gone for the latest suit. He had left the only suit he had in his possession here. The kid had no suit, except for that extremely old onesie Tony had seen him packed from his room and stashed at the bottom of one of the boxes. That box was still untouched as far as Tony knew.

Peter Parker without his suit was simply just a teenager, just Peter.

Was the kid retiring Spiderman?

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 13

A Star Wars poster hung over the wall by the study table with Obi Wan looking down on him. On the table was an old laptop, a Spiderman mug Natasha had bought for him as a joke, a TARDIS savings bank and a miniature Captain America shield that he and Ned had used as a Frisbee at Central Park once.

On the floor, Peter sat cross legged as he put on the final finishing touches to the Lego set they had spent the last one and a half hour on.

“We did it, dude!” Ned cheered, giving Peter a highly enthusiastic high five.

Peter grinned.

His life had been a whirlwind lately but this – building Lego with Ned – was familiar and normal and easy. He could even pretend that everything else was just a bad dream - being bitten by a radioactive spider at Oscorp, losing Ben, becoming a vigilante hero, the fight with Vulture, the unexpected trip to space, being trapped in a soul world and losing May – that he was just the Peter Parker from Before, the one without the enhancement.

His life Before had been calm and manageable, and he craved it more so than usual.

He supposed he was now a step closer to that.

He had returned the suit.

He was done. That part of his life was over, buried together with May.

“What do you want to do next?” Ned asked to which Peter shrugged. “You wanna watch something on Netflix?”

While waiting for Peter to grab his laptop from the desk, turn it on and load the website, Ned glanced around the room, taking in the spacious bedroom and the twin bed with its luxurious hotel grade mattress and expensive sheet. There was a walk in closet which was currently stashed with unopened boxes from Queens that Peter had yet to unpack.

“I still can’t wrap my head around it… Tony Stark being your guardian.”

“Not officially,” Peter replied. “Don’t think it’s been approved yet.”

“It’s only going to be a matter of time. I mean, the Court won’t reject it. This is Tony Stark we’re talking about, dude. He’s got the means to be responsible for you and like, you agreed to it so that’s gonna mean something, right?”

“Guess so,” Peter muttered.

“You don’t sound too happy…”

“Should I be?” he snapped, only to regret it a second later when he saw the horrified look on Ned’s face.

“Sorry I said that, I shouldn’t have. I – I didn’t think,” Ned apologised. “I know it sucks and I missed May too. I’m just saying that… it could be worse, you know? You could have been sent off to some strangers. I heard… If your foster family’s home isn’t nearby then you gotta change school and all that. Mr. Stark’s letting you go to Midtown. We’ll still complete high school together so that’s… a little win?”

“I know,” Peter nodded. “Sorry about just now. It’s just… I get that this is the best I can have right now given what’s happen but it shouldn’t have happened in the first place. I wasn’t careful.”

Tilting his head in contemplation, Ned studied him. Peter squirmed under his gaze, feeling uncomfortable under the scrutiny.

“You told me that May didn’t blame you for that.”

“Of course she didn’t, Ned, but it doesn’t mean…. It doesn’t mean that it’s all suddenly better. I don’t feel better. I feel like it’s my fault even if she said it wasn’t and I – I don’t know how not to feel that way.”

“I don’t know how to help you, Peter,” Ned said, clearly upset. “But I don’t think giving the suit back will help.”

“We’ll see,” Peter shrugged. He really didn’t want to get into that conversation with Ned right now, not when he was likely going to have the same with Tony sooner or later. “You coming all the way out here just to hang out with me helps.”

Ned smiled a little at that. “Maybe next time I can get MJ to come along…”

“Yeah, maybe,” Peter laughed at that thought. “What’s she gonna do? Read a book while we build Lego?”

“Look up causes to join a protest,” Ned chimed. “She asked me to come along for one of it. I think I might…”

“Really? That’s cool! What’s it -” 

There was a knock on the door and then it opened a crack.

“Busy, kids?” Tony asked, popping his head in.

“We’re just done, Mr. Stark,” Ned replied. The familiar black background with multiple title cards on the Netflix page remained forgotten. “I need to get going anyway. I told my mum I’ll be back for dinner.”

“Was gonna ask if you wanted to stay for dinner… We’ll probably order pizza but since you’re leaving, I’ll drive you back.”

“Oh no, that’s okay, Mr. Stark! I’ll take the subway, it’s not that far.”

“I insist,” Tony said. Peter watched in mild confusion, not understanding why Tony didn’t just get Happy to drive Ned home if he didn’t want Ned to take the train back. “Come on, Pete. We’ll get dinner on the way home.”

Sensing that he didn’t really have a choice in the matter, Peter got up as Ned gathered his stuffs. Tony grabbed one of the jackets hanging at the back of his door and tossed it in Peter’s direction.

“I’m not Happy,” Tony commented and Peter paused. He switched direction, sliding into the passenger side next to Tony while Ned took the seat at the back on his own. “Where do you live, Ned?”

“You do know his name,” Peter remarked, remembering the one or two occasions Tony had called him Ted when they met.

“Course I do. You’d think I’ll ever forget the kid who hacked into my system?” Tony glanced behind him. “The next time someone calls you something other than your name and you don’t like it, you tell them. Be firm about it and tell them who you are. It’s not you being rude, it’s about commanding respect.”

“Yes, sir,” Ned nodded. “Were you… Were you waiting for me to stand up to you?”

“Yep,” Tony said, driving out of the garage. 

During the drive, Tony asked what they had been up to since Ned arrived after lunch. His friend gave a rather descriptive account of their day with the few episodes of Clone Wars they watched, the Lego they built and the posters they hung on Peter’s room. Tony nodded where appropriate and gave his comments here and there. Peter would have appreciated his patience and the effort he put in to engage with Ned if he wasn’t so anxious.

“Thanks again for letting me come by, Mr. Stark. And thanks for driving me home. See you later, Peter.”

“Bye,” Peter waved.

He watched his friend leave with half a mind to call him back just so he didn’t have to be alone with Tony. He had never felt this way. He had always enjoyed their time together but that was different, he supposed. Tony wasn’t his guardian back then. It had just been Peter at Tony’s workshop, watching and learning from his mentor.

And there was that little problem hanging over their heads.

“So what’s it gonna be?” Tony broke the silence. “McDonald’s drive thru or pizza? Or do you have some other suggestions?”

“No preference,” he answered.

There were five cars ahead of them at the drive thru and Peter came very close to asking Tony to head back because he really didn’t want to be stuck in this car any longer than necessary.

“You’ve been quiet, kid,” Tony remarked. “Does this have anything to do with the note I got from you?”

“Not really,” Peter muttered.

“You want to tell me about the note?”

The car inched forward a little. It was still going too slow for Peter’s liking.

“It means exactly what it says, Mr. Stark. I don’t need the suit anymore.”

“Yeah, see, that’s what I’m gonna need you to clarify on.”

Peter let out a sigh, already tired from the conversation and they had not even gotten into the crux of the matter yet.

“It means I don’t want to do that anymore,” he retorted, the sliver of anger slipping through unintentionally. He wasn’t angry at Tony. He was just… frustrated and exhausted, and Tony just happened to be asking him a lot of questions he didn’t feel like answering. “I don’t want to be Spiderman.”

It sounded petulant to his ears and it threw him back to when he was six and didn’t want to go to school but, there, he said it.

“Okay, alright, I hear you,” Tony said in a placating manner which only made Peter feel ten times worse. “You don’t want to be Spiderman anymore.”

“Yeah,” he slumped back into his seat, suddenly relieved to have said it out loud. “Can I have a Big Mac with chocolate shake?”

“Sure,” Tony replied.

There were still four cars in front which meant plenty of time to have a conversation. Peter resigned himself to that.

“I respect your decision, Peter. If that’s what you want to do then so be it. You were never under any obligation to be a superhero but… this comes as a bit of shock to me, kid, so… can I ask why? What drove you to make this call?”

“You know why,” he muttered. “Being Spiderman… It’s brought me nothing but pain. I – I want to help people, Mr. Stark.”

“That’s what you told me the first time we met. So I’m just trying to understand here…”

“I want to help people but… I feel like it broke me and I don’t know how much longer I can pick myself up and patch myself together. It costs me the only family I’ve left,” he pulled on the sleeve of his jacket. “I was never claustrophobic before until the incident with Vulture and that’s okay, that’s the kind of scar I gotta deal with. I didn’t care much that I had to go to space and fight a genocidal purple giant to protect people or – or that I died and came back. I could still deal with that, you know? But May… I can’t do it anymore, Mr. Stark.”

“It’s alright, Pete,” Tony turned to look at him as if sensing his increasing distress. “I understand.”

Leaning his head against the window, Peter listened as Tony placed their order.

“Chocolate shake,” he reminded when Tony nearly drove off without ordering Peter’s shake.

Tony drove the car into an empty parking lot with the view of the New York skyline sprawled in front of them, tall skyscrapers glinting in the light. Peter used to enjoy swinging from one building to the next, feeling like Tarzan in his own concrete jungle. He would miss that more than anything.

“Did you ever feel that way? Like it’s too much and you want to just stop being Iron Man…?” Peter ventured to ask. He took the fries Tony offered, munching on it quietly. “Have you ever felt like no matter what you do, it’s never going to be enough? Don’t you ever get tired?”

“All the time,” Tony’s answered came quietly. “I even activated my Clean Slate Protocol but that didn’t last long. Pepper was mad when I started building suits again. But there’s always something I needed to be prepared for, one crisis after another, and it’s my responsibility. I can’t sit on the sidelines when I know what’s out there. My flaw. Just can’t seem to quit.”

Watching Tony next to him, his fingertips greasy from the burger and fries, while answering his questions as honestly as he could, Peter was thankful. Tony was here in his corner, listening to him and he was the only person he could talk to who could understand this superhero life.

“It hasn’t taken someone you care about,” Peter pointed out. “Maybe that’s why.”

It took a while for Tony to answer that Peter had even forgotten he had said anything worth replying to.

“It nearly cost me Pepper’s life,” Tony said and Peter felt like an idiot for forgetting. He had read about that in the papers. The details were muddy but he knew Pepper had been inflicted with something and involved in the altercation with the Mandarin. “It costs me you.”

He didn’t ask Tony about that. He didn’t want to know what part of his soul was compromised.

“The difference between you and me is that you get to save them… us. You cured Ms. Potts. You brought me back. I don’t,” he crushed the empty burger wrapper and stashed it into the empty paper bag to throw out later. “May’s dead and there’s nothing me or Spiderman can do about it so that’s over.”

He slurped on his chocolate shake and fiddled with the buttons, switching from one radio station to the next, never settling until Tony reached over to turn it off.

“Listen, kid,” he faced him. “If you want to be just Peter Parker, then that’s what you’ll be. I want the same for you too, some semblance of a normal life for a teenager, not one who has the weight of the world on his shoulders.”

“Really?”

Peter raised his head. He thought Tony would try to dissuade him. He had after all spent time and money designing the Spiderman suits. Tony had even anointed him as a member of an Avenger. Peter was his recruitment and he was going to let him go that easily?

“This may be difficult to believe but some of us really want the best for you,” Tony smiled. After a brief pause, he added, “You’re lucky that you still have Peter Parker’s life to fall back on. Spiderman is separate from that kid so you still get to be you after this. I envy that. I’ll let you in on a little secret…”

Peter leaned forward, curious.

“Sometimes, I wished I had never told the world who Iron Man was. There are times I crave that anonymity.”

“Yeah,” Peter nodded.

He understood that. He couldn’t imagine having his identity exposed. He couldn’t imagine just stepping out on the street as Peter to get ice cream or go to the movies with Ned only to have that added responsibility and scrutiny.

“So you don’t want to be Spiderman, that’s fine by me. But if you ever change your mind, the suits are always gonna be there.”

“Thanks, Mr. Stark.”

“Anytime, Pete. You ready to head back?”

He shook his head. He hadn’t been out since Tony took him back to Queens to clear out the apartment.

“What will you tell the Avengers?”

“Nothing,” Tony replied. “It’s not my place to tell.”

“Thanks, I’ll tell them.”

“Is there anything else you want to share with me? Anything you wanna talk about?”

“Not really.”

“How are you feeling? How you holding up?”

“Tops,” Peter answered.

Tony didn’t look like he believed him.

“Still having nightmares?”

“No,” he said. It wasn’t actually a lie. You don’t get nightmares if you don’t sleep. “I’m good.”

“Alright, underoos.”

Peter turned his attention back to the car’s audio system, scrolling through the touch screen panel until he found the function for Bluetooth. He paired his phone with it and smiled when Coldplay started playing in the car.

“Sorry, I’ve got no AC/DC,” Peter teased.

“I paid for your Spotify and you can’t even get me a playlist with them on it?”

“I’m just trying to broaden your genre,” he shrugged.

They remained in the car, listening to the music. Not once did Tony even check his phone for messages and Peter appreciated it.

“Mr. Stark, do you think…” he licked his lips nervously, suddenly unsure on how to phrase his question. It had sounded logical in his head. “Do you think Wanda or Dr. Strange will be able to help me forget?”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 14

"What?"

Tony nearly gave himself a whiplash by the speed in which he turned to look at the kid, confusion written plainly across his face.

"Something to just… make it easier," Peter muttered. "To make the memories hazy… A little less sharp so that…. It'll hurt less."

"Okay so there's clearly something that we should be talking about. This," Tony gestured, "is one of those things – to be shared and talked about with me. I need you to talk to me, kid, not bottle it all up until it becomes too much that it drove you to make this kind of … request."

"I'm not asking for my memories to be permanently deleted," Peter huffed. "Just something that can make me forget about it for a little bit. I don't want to forget May or Ben, but each time I close my eyes, I see May trapped under that billboard. I see her motionless in the hospital bed. I feel her trembling as I pulled her out from under the board. It's a nightmare. It – It becomes so much that I couldn't remember anything else about her, anything that's good or – or happy."

"I didn't realise -"

"Shouldn't there be a spell or something that can just… sort of repress those unpleasant memories?" Peter cut him off. "It's like taking a file and putting it in a different folder in a computer, Mr. Stark. It's not gone forever. It's still there but in a different place. I don't know…" he shrugged.

It was clear to him that Peter had given this some thought and Tony was annoyed with himself for not realizing and picking up on this sooner. Physically and on the outside, the kid appeared normal. He was still grieving but he was functioning. Still, if anyone should know the war that went on inside someone's head, it should be Tony and yet… He had failed this boy.

He took a breath and mentally counted to ten. He would have plenty of opportunity later on his own for him to be mad at himself but right now, he needed to be here for Peter.

"That's not how it works, kid," Tony said, trying extremely hard to maintain his composure. "Nobody knows how memories, consciousness and the human mind really work. There are experts still trying to figure these out. Pete, there is a possibility that repressing the bad memories also repress the memories that are good. It's a risk."

"How would you know?" Peter challenged. "You're not the Sorceror Supreme and you don't have telepathic abilities like Wanda. Maybe they can do what the scientists out there couldn't."

"I don't but even I know that the mind shouldn't be tampered with," Tony snapped with a biting edge in his voice.

"How's this any different than people drinking to forget? Alcohol makes the memories a blur, right?" Peter asked. "Tell me, Mr. Stark."

Tony reeled from his words, feeling as if he had been punched. That was exactly what he had done after his parent's death. He had drank a glass each day and that in turn became one bottle and then two, and then he found himself spiraling all because he needed to cope with the grief and the loss, and the sudden responsibility of being CEO of Stark Industries. But he was better now, he had cut down and he was watching himself around Pepper and Peter, so to have Peter bring this up casually in a conversation, even if the kid wasn't intentionally doing it to spite him, still hurts.

"Listen to me. This isn't how it's done. I'm not having Wanda mess with your mind. I'm not having Stephen cast a spell or some magical mumbo jumbo on you."

"But -"

"No, no buts," Tony stood firm. "There are other ways."

"Shouldn't I get a say in this? It's my mind."

"No you don't get a say in this, not in this instance," Tony retorted. "You're emotional and exhausted – yes, kid, I can see it even if you keep telling me otherwise – and you should never make snap decisions like that until you've sat down and internalize it all. Trust me. I've had to learn from this experience the hard way."

"I have thought about it and internalized it! I didn't just bring this up to you now because it was something that popped into my head an hour ago," Peter argued.

"Watch your tone," Tony warned. "Fine, for the purpose of this conversation, say I were to give you the go ahead…. You really think Stephen is going to agree to it? I don't think you know that wizard very well."

The kid huffed and crossed his arms.

"Maybe then I'll ask Wanda."

"I forbid you from doing so."

"You're my guardian, not my dad," Peter snapped, twisting the knife he had already earlier embedded in Tony's heart.

Tony clenched his jaws. His heart rate was spiking up dangerously as he grabbed the steering wheel with his left hand to stop the impending shakes.

"You're right I'm not but I'm the adult your aunt appointed to be responsible for you," Tony said calmly, belying the storm going on internally. "You want to make that memory a blur too, Pete?"

"Mr. Stark…."

He sounded stunned and apologetic but Tony didn't think he could sit here in the car with this kid arguing about this anymore. He might explode or yell, and react the same way Howard had with him when his patience was running thin. It wasn't a risk he wanted to take so Tony started the engine.

"We're going home," he declared. "We'll talk about this when we're both calmer."

When they arrived at the penthouse, Peter hovered. Tony knew the kid enough to know he wanted to say something.

"Go to your room, Peter," Tony directed tiredly. "Try to … Try and get some sleep, alright?"

"Yeah, okay. G'night," he said, making a beeline for his room.

He closed the door quietly. He didn't slam it shut the way most teenagers do when they didn't get their way.

Moving towards the kitchen, Tony grabbed a glass without a thought. He poured himself a drink and sat on the stool. It was only when he brought the glass to his lips that he paused. Drinking was his way to cope – this and throwing himself in his work. Peter didn't have a coping mechanism, not yet. Having lost his parents at a young age and then his uncle didn't necessarily make him an expert on how to cope with grief. The kid was still learning and he was clearly grappling.

Spiderman had been the way he dealt with losing his uncle but in Peter's current mind frame, it was also the reason he lost his aunt. He had nothing left to fall back on now that he had given up being Spiderman.

So Peter had come up with a way to handle things which while wasn't ideal, shouldn't be treated as if he was completely in the wrong.

Tony was the adult. That meant it was up to him to steer Peter in the right direction, provide him a healthy outlet to talk about his feelings and his pain, and to deal with his struggles.

"Is Peter awake, F.R.I.D.A.Y?"

"He is, sir."

It was past midnight but if the kid was awake… Or perhaps, he should let the kid cool off? God, he rubbed his face. He had no precedent on the best way to deal with a teenager. He didn't realise handling just one could be this exhausting.

Tony knocked and waited but when no answer was forthcoming, he opened the door. Peter was half propped on his bed with headphones on his ears. The second he saw Tony walked in, he sat, turned off the music and took the headphones off.

"I'm sorry," the words tumbled of out his mouth. "I didn't mean what I said earlier, Mr. Stark."

"Emotions were running high," Tony said, stepping in.

"Are you – Um… Are you here to tell me that – that you've withdrawn the petition…?"

"Come again?" Tony frowned. He pulled the roller chair from Peter's study table and sat in front of him on the bed.

"I – I was rude," Peter stared at his hands. "I'm sorry. I really am. Please, Mr. Stark, I'd rather you be my guardian than someone else."

Tony could only stare at the kid.

"Peter," he said, placing a finger under Peter's chin to nudge his head up until he was looking at him. "You're my responsibility which means I'll see it through. I'm not the kind of person to throw in the towel just 'cause you said something that's rude and out of line. That's part of the deal. You're going to have emotional outburst. You're going to be angry with me at some point over something and I'm going to find myself frustrated beyond belief but we're not gonna quit on each other, kid. Hate to break it to you but you're stuck with me."

"O – Okay. I won't quit on you, Mr. Stark. I won't."

"That's good to know, underoos. There's going to be consequences and punishments for when you step out of line but you don't ever have to worry about me walking out and leaving you to dry. Understand?"

"Yes," Peter nodded.

"Good. Okay, good," Tony released a breath. He rubbed the back of his head, trying to formulate his thoughts. "I've thought about what you want and I'm not here to tell you I've changed my mind. I haven't. But I feel that I owe it to you to explain the reason I'm against it. You're not a kid for me to say no to and expect you to fall in line. You deserve an explanation, and you're old enough, Peter, to be able to think about it and understand it."

"I – okay, I guess," Peter nodded.

Tony learnt a long time ago that people would either listen to logic or emotion, or a balance of both. He had appealed to the logical side of Peter earlier but the boy had been so upset that it left little impact and since Peter tended to be impulsive, reacting on how he feel, the emotional angle would be better suited.

"Alright," Tony offered a smile. "You were right, Pete. Some people do drink to forget and dull the pain, I'm one of them. Not proud of it. I still do it on some days when it gets too much but Pepper's there to keep me in check and lately, it's you too. Sometimes I'll be in my workshop for hours. Working means I won't be thinking about whatever it is that's upsetting me. Ask anyone out there and they'll tell you a thousand and one coping mechanism. Yours used to be being Spiderman, isn't it?"

Peter was shaking his head vehemently. "No, Mr. Stark, you're not going to talk me into becoming him again. I won't do it."

Tony chuckled. "I'm not. What I said earlier still stands. It's your decision and I respect it."

"So – So why can't you do the same when I asked if I can have Dr. Strange or Wanda to help me."

"Because forgetting is not the answer, Peter," Tony said. "Maybe you don't see it now but that pain and the loss will shape you. All these experiences will make you into the person you'll be. It's a part of you and it's not something you should run from. I get it, kid, right now, it feels like nothing you do will ever make you feel okay again. But … You'll learn to draw strength from your struggles. Draw courage to forge your life in their memory, if nothing else."

Tony steeled himself. He wasn't good at having conversation or doing any sort of consoling for that matter. May would have done this so he would have to step up and fill that void that she left behind.

"I don't think you understand, Mr. Stark. Maybe you've forgotten the pain that comes from loss. I don't want to feel that pain anymore. It's sharp and it – it's stabbing me right here," his hand fluttered to his chest. "Some nights, when it's quiet and I'm alone, I think about that day when the aliens attacked and I think about May, and it's so bad I feel like I can't breathe. It's a – it's a hole that I can't fill. Then I – I tried not to think about it. I tried to think of when she's happy, like when we have Thai for dinner during her birthdays but I can't! I kept seeing her pale and bruised and lifeless. I'm scared that's the only thing I'll remember about her."

Peter choked, his lips trembling and his hands were shaking. Tony did the very thing he should have done a long time ago. Maneuvering himself so he was now sitting at the edge of the bed next to Peter, he drew the kid into his embrace. Peter collapsed against him, his face pressed against Tony's shoulder as his fingers dug and pulled into the shirt on Tony's back.

The last time Tony had held him this way, May was still fighting and Peter had soaked through his shirt with tears.

"Let it all out," he said gently. He hadn't seen Peter cry since the night May died. This breakdown was passed due. "It's okay, Peter. It's just you and me, buddy."

"I want the pain to – to go away so I can be… " he trailed, his words muffled against Tony's shoulder.

"So you can be you again?" Tony asked, adjusting his grip on the boy. "Here's the thing, kid, you're the only thing Mary and Richard Parker left behind. You're the only living legacy of Ben and May Parker. You're the only one left alive. If you repress those memories, they'll be lost, Peter. We will all remember May, of course, but you're the only one left who truly knows her. You have intimate memories of your aunt that no one else in this world has. You know I'm right, Pete. Who are you without them, kid? Who are you without those people who raised you and loved you? You're not gonna be the same without them in your memories – good or bad – cause there won't be anything in here," Tony clasped the back of his head.

"I'm the only Parker left…" Peter breathed out.

"Damn right."

"How long will I feel this way?" he asked.

"Wish I have an answer to that, Pete. But I don't. It's going to sting when you think of them. Always. It's going to hurt when your birthday rolls around, when you graduate, when you do something big and they're not there to see it. There'll be bad days, but there'll be better days too. I promise. Hey listen, if one day you wake up and feel like shit 'cause it's May's birthday and she's not here for you to throw a party for, that's okay. You're allowed to feel that way. But you gotta know that I'm going to be here to catch you each time. You're not alone."

Tony felt him nodding against his chest. The tight grasp on the back of Tony's shirt loosened slightly, but Peter remained slumped against him and Tony held him. It didn't feel awkward or uncomfortable. It felt natural to comfort this kid who was upset. Tony looked down at him, smiling a little. Peter was going to be in his life permanently from now on and the thought didn't scare the living daylight out of him like it would have ten or twenty years ago.

Tony didn't even think about it when he dropped a kiss on top of Peter's head.

"You're okay, buddy," he patted his back. "You have to talk to someone. You can't suppress all this until it explodes. I'll arrange something for you."

Peter looked up with tear stained face.

"Like a - a therapist?"

"Yeah, a therapist. It'll be someone I trust, okay? I already know someone. You can tell her everything including your Spiderman activities if you want to. Whatever you tell her, she'll keep it between the both of you. I should have done this for you a long time ago. My mistake, Pete."

"Thanks, Mr. Stark. I – I guess I'll give it a shot."

Peter didn't sound convinced although to be fair, when Pepper had suggested a therapist to him years ago, Tony hadn't been convinced either.

"I see - so that's the Lego you built with Ned today," Tony pointed out.

"Yeah," Peter nodded and Tony finally got a smile out of him.

Tony didn't immediately leave the room and Peter didn't look like he was going to fall asleep any time soon so they spent it talking. Tony told him of a restaurant he wanted to take Peter and Pepper to for dinner one day, Peter talked about visiting the Compound to spend time with the Avengers, they talked about the new upcoming school term and getting Peter's particulars updated and he even asked if giving up Spiderman meant Peter wasn't keen on helping him around the workshop with Iron Man suit upgrades anymore.

"Of course not, Mr. Stark!" Peter said, appalled. "I'm not against superheroes. Don't know where you're getting this idea," he muttered to which Tony laughed. "I'll help. I want to."

When Tony finally stepped out of Peter's room, he came face to face with Pepper.

"What are you doing up?"

"You didn't come to bed at all, did you?" she asked, studying him. "I woke up and the bed was empty. F.R.I.D.A.Y told me where you are. I just wanted to make sure everything's okay. Is everything okay?"

"I don't know, Pepper," he admitted truthfully. "We're working on it."

"You look exhausted, Tony."

He could feel the exhaustion in his bones, too. Pepper opened her arms and he readily stepped into her embrace, much like it was with Peter earlier. He let his head fall onto her shoulder, more than content to just stand there outside Peter's room, safe in Pepper's warm hug. He inhaled the sweet scent of her shampoo and the familiarity of having her around grounded him.

"Come to bed and tell me what happened?"

"Yeah, okay," he agreed tiredly.

Chapter Text

Chapter 15

Peter sat on the blue stability exercise ball in the training room, bouncing up and down as he watched Wanda and Natasha facing off each other. He used to be part of this training, something he attended weekly after Steve suggested that he could use with some hand to hand combat training. Back then, it was also a good excuse for Tony to check up on him and his suit.

“You don’t look sick,” Natasha straightened from her stance to glance in his direction before swiftly blocking a hit from Wanda the next second.

It never ceased to amaze him the way Natasha move, dodge, block and attack.

“I’m not sick. I’m totally fine. What’s up?”

“So why aren’t you in your training gear? I thought you’re here to train?”

“Uh, no,” Peter shook his head. “I just dropped by to visit. Don’t you miss me?”

Natasha rolled her eyes.

“Careful, Stark’s starting to rub off on you.”

“So you’ve said about a million times,” Peter grinned.

That elicited a laugh from Wanda. She delivered an upper cut which Natasha side-stepped easily with a muttered, ‘sloppy. Focus.’ Wanda never used any of her psionic abilities during training, wanting instead to be able to fight without the use of her powers.

Peter couldn’t say he understood but to each their own.

“Stark left you here with us so we can play babysitters, right?” Natasha asked. “Where is he?”

”Firstly, I’m seventeen so I - I don’t need any babysitting. Secondly, I’m really here to hang. Mr. Stark’s out on a lunch date with Pepper so they can spend some time together before she flies off tonight,” Peter informed. “I think they deserve it, you know? I’m a handful.”

“Yes, you are,” Wanda agreed. “Stop bouncing. You are very distracting.”

“Let’s call it a day,” Natasha said, grabbing the bottle of water from the floor. “See you guys at lunch. Bruce is on lunch duty so you know it’s going to be good.”

“Yes!” Peter pumped the air.

When travelling to remote parts of the world, Bruce had clearly picked up on different cuisines to fend for himself and Peter always looked forward to when it was Bruce’s turn to prepare a meal.

“How are you, Peter?” Wanda asked as they walked out of the training room towards the Avenger’s living area.

“Surviving,” Peter answered, putting up a smile for her sake.

“Surviving is not living,” she answered. “You must live, Peter. Life goes – “

“Aw come on, that’s cliché.”

“But it is the truth. I feel your sadness.”

“Don’t do that, Wanda. Please stay out of my head.”

“I am not reading your mind, Peter. You know I will never do such a thing without your express consent. It’s just… It is coming from you in waves and as a telepath I am much more… sensitive to it.”

“Yeah, well…” he trailed off.

They waited for the elevator and when it opened, Steve stepped out. His eyes widened in surprised at the sight of Peter.

“Peter,” Steve smiled widely, genuinely glad to see him. “I heard from Tony that you were coming. I had no idea you are already here. Are you joining for lunch?”

“Yeah, yeah I am. Nat told me Dr. Banner is cooking, I wouldn’t miss it!” Peter said enthusiastically. If Wanda could feel his sadness, he wondered if Steve and the rest would be able to see it too. He was self-conscious now, putting in more effort to be the way he had always been with them – eager, enthusiastic and full of energy. “I’ll see you and the others in a bit!”

He pressed the button that would take them to the living quarters.

“Are you able to turn off your telepathy? Cause I’m thinking it’s something like my enhanced senses and it’s constantly dialed to eleven except when I’m too distracted with homework or school or – “

“Something like that,” Wanda smiled. “There is no off button if that is what you are wondering. I have been very good at controlling them so I won’t accidentally read someone’s mind.”

“Oh,” Peter said, leaning against the back wall of the elevator. “Okay so does your telepathic ability also allow you to sort of block people’s memories? You know, like an accident victim who wants to forget the trauma of being in that accident…”

Wanda tilted her head to the side curiously, considering his questions.

“I’ve not thought of it but I am sure it is possible with telepathic manipulation. I’ve never done it. Why do you ask?”

“Just curious,” he shrugged. “Sometimes I get curious about the things you can do. I mean – I mean, not just you, of course. Cap, too. Like, um, how strong is his superhuman strength? Or – or like Hulk’s regenerative healing or Black Panther’s speed or – “

“You are rambling,” Wanda laughed lightly. “Regardless, I don’t wish to manipulate anyone’s memories or thoughts that way any longer. It’s best left alone.”

“Best left alone,” he muttered bitterly.

Forgetting isn’t the answer, Tony’s voice came unbidden.

“Are you alright?”

Peter blinked. “Yep!”

It wasn’t a wasted conversation, per se. He knew Wanda could pull it off even if she wouldn’t. If it ever became worse, she was there as an option and if he explained it to her, he was sure she would help him.

But he had made a promise to himself that he would listen to Tony and he would give Tony’s therapist a chance. Maybe he would get better. Maybe the May in his nightmare would stop blaming him. Maybe he would be able to think about being back in the suit without wanting to rip it off himself. Maybe he would stop feeling such enormous guilt each time he thought of being Spiderman.

He wouldn’t know until he gave it a shot so he would try Tony’s way.

For now.

Being back at the Compound was like a breath of fresh air. He liked Tony but it was also nice to get away from the apartment to spend time with other people. Lunch was chicken tikka masala and mutton keema Bruce had learnt to make from his time in Calcutta. It left Peter sipping on water after a few bites and Steve to comment on Bruce’s taste buds.

He listened to their training anecdotes and the milestones little Nathaniel Barton had accomplished. He had never met the boy but after all the times of hearing stories of him, Peter felt as if he knew the kid.

“You’ve always wanted to meet him, yeah?” Clint asked. “How about asking Stark to let you come with me to the farm?”

Peter grinned. “Yeah, I’ll like that. I’ll ask him.”

In the afternoon, Peter spent it in the lab with Bruce. Unlike how it was during lunch, it was quiet and peaceful here.

“Go ahead if you want to work on producing your webbings,” Bruce nodded to the workbench Peter often occupied when he needed to work.

It made Peter pause.

“Oh, that’s fine, Dr. Banner. I – uh – I’m not running low on them.”

Bruce glanced up, smiling a little. “I thought so. I haven’t seen any news report of Spiderman related activities lately.”

“Um, I haven’t been out.”

“That’s alright. Give yourself time,” Bruce said gently. “There’s no set time frame on when you’re supposed to jump back into things.”

“It’s not – It’s not that. I just…” Peter fiddled with the beaker. “I returned the suit to Mr. Stark.”

That caught his attention. Bruce raised his head, taking off his glasses to look at Peter. He didn’t seem like he needed an explanation from the way he was nodding as if he understood.

“Can’t do it anymore?”

“Yeah,” Peter rubbed his hands together nervously. “Not now. Can’t bring myself to put on the suit and go out there, you know?”

Bruce gave him another nod.

“You must have surprised Tony,” he remarked.

“I think I did,” Peter smiled. “But he took it in stride. He – He was supportive.”

“He’s always been. Even with me,” Bruce replied and Peter would have asked more if the scientist had not promptly changed the subject. “Would you mind passing that beaker over? Be careful with the solution.”

That was that. Bruce didn’t ask any more questions about his decisions to drop Spiderman and Peter was beginning to think that the perhaps the adults – the Avengers - didn’t really need the friendly neighbourhood hero around.

“Sure. What’s this?” Peter asked. Bruce gestured for him to read the notes spread out on the work bench and on the holographic screens in front of them. “Woah, that’s cool! You’re collaborating with Dr. Strange to create something to heal nerve damage?”

“Yep.”

Peter’s eyes glinted as something clicked.

“Is he by any chance coming to the Compound?”

“Not today. He is visiting the sanctum in Hong Kong. He should be dropping by on Thursday.”

“Nice, maybe I’ll visit then!”

When the time came for him to leave and he saw that it was Tony himself instead of Happy who had come to pick him up, Peter’s face broke into a smile.

Peter hadn’t seen the man since morning and the relief at seeing Tony standing by the car waiting for him was something that caught Peter by surprised.

What was that?

It was a question that plagued him throughout the entire car ride back.

XxX

Monday was his first session with Dr. Lara. Tony came with him, of course, to handle the necessary administrative paperwork with the clinic as his guardian and to be there for him. After the introductions were made, Tony waited outside at the waiting room as Dr. Lara led him in. 

He took a seat at the leather sofa near the window. There was a lounge chair he could lie on but he figured it would be grossly inappropriate for the first session. To distract himself from any apprehensive thoughts, Peter tried to picture Tony Stark in the waiting room reading a magazine while ignoring the looks people were throwing his way.

It worked to an extent. Peter snorted at the mental image.

“Is there something you’d like to share, Peter?” Dr. Lara smiled encouragingly. “Are you thinking of something funny that happened recently?”

“Um… yeah, yeah, just thinking about something to – to stop myself from feeling nervous,” Peter admitted. “Just – uh – picturing Mr Stark out there on his own waiting for me… I bet he’s restless. He’s not good with waiting.”

“It’s interesting how he is the person you think about when you’re feeling nervous… about being here, I presumed?” Dr. Lara said, still maintaining that soft comforting voice. “Why don’t you tell me about him…?”

Peter blinked at that request. Wasn’t these sessions supposed to be about him?

Oh god, Peter panicked internally, is she one those? Is she a fan of Tony Stark?

“Can’t you read about him from the internet? I – I thought he’s one of your patients, too?”

“Oh, the internet… So much misleading information, don’t you think? I want to hear it from you. I thought maybe you could share with me your relationship with him,” Dr. Lara said, trying to ease him into sharing. “How about we start with something easy? When did you first meet him?”

“Um, well, that was when I was fourteen. It was in Queens and I came home from school to see - No…” Peter trailed off. “I met him a little earlier, at Stark Expo… In 2010... Have you ever been to one of those?”

“I never had the opportunity,” Dr. Lara shook her head.

“He didn’t know it was me. In fact, I don’t think he does at all until now,” Peter chuckled. “I was in a helmet… an Iron Man helmet.”

“Ah,” Dr. Lara crossed her leg, leaning her elbows on her knees. “So is it safe to say that you have always looked up to him? Or at least, wanted to be like him?”

“Yeah, guess so,” Peter gave a one shoulder shrug.

Dr. Lara prompted him a bit more and encouraged him to share about his experience at Stark Expo with her. He obliged if only to pass the time, telling her of how he had asked Uncle Ben and Aunt May to bring him, how Uncle Ben had to take time off from work and he even told her of the moment when Tony saved his life while making it seemed as if Peter himself had taken down the drone.

“How did that moment change you or… shape you into the person you are now?”

That question caught him off guard and he inhaled sharply. Hadn’t Mr. Stark said the same to him? That his pain and his loss and his experience would shape him?

“Uh… I mean I guess that was when I knew that I wanted to be just like Iron Man. He saved people and he helped them. He’s a hero.”

There was sharp twinge in his heart. He didn’t want to admit or even acknowledge the fact that he missed being out there, helping the people in Queens.

He couldn’t go back to donning the suit.

Remember Aunt May… No more Spiderman.

“I heard that you are too.”

“No, I’m not,” Peter dropped his gaze, shaking his head vehemently. “I’m not. I know Mr. Stark told you who I am but I’m not him anymore.”

“Perhaps not without the costume… the suit… But deep inside...”

Peter wrinkled his nose. Therapists, psychiatrists… They were all tricky. They would never say anything outright except to insinuate and let him form his own conclusions.

“So the second time I met Mr. Stark…” Peter said quickly before the conversation could derail into an area he wasn’t ready to delve into. “I came home from school and he was there at my apartment talking to my aunt. And – and I just remembered feeling … I don’t really know how I felt. It was too much at once. That was also the day that I – “

He licked his lips and sighed. He had inadvertently circled back to Spiderman.

“That was the first time I ever admitted the truth about being Spiderman to someone,” he finished.

“That was the first time you shared your secret,” Dr. Lara nodded. “How did that feel?”

He shrugged.

“Kinda like finally being able to sleep after an exhausting day… Relieved, I guess. And Mr. Stark… He’s Iron Man, right? So I – I wasn’t really worried that he would expose my identity. I sort of figured that he must have known a while before he actually came to my apartment anyway.”

“What about your aunt… She knew, didn’t she? How did you feel when she found out?”

Peter laughed at that memory.

“Can I swear?” he asked. “I was scared shitless. When she freaked out, I freaked out.”

“There must be a good story there,” Dr. Lara commented. “How about we talk about that at the next session?”

Talk about May and Spiderman?

Peter was already not looking forward to that.

Today wasn’t so bad. It was uncomfortable the way having an itch you were not supposed to scratch often made one fidgety but it wasn’t painful. Dr. Lara wasn’t really asking him anything difficult. He spent most of the hour recounting things that had already happened, telling her a condensed narrative of his life.

“If we must,” Peter mumbled.

“Thank you for sharing, Peter. If there’s anything, anything, you want to talk about we can do so. This is a safe space.”

“Okay,” he shrugged. “I know Mr. Stark hired you so you can talk to me about feelings and stuff like that.”

“Yes but from experience, nobody unloads the heavy things during the first session. I don’t want you walking out of here with the impression that these sessions are tedious and uncomfortable, especially so with teenagers whose parents or guardians signed them up for these. It is quite different than those who actually come to my clinic out of their own volition.”

“Right.”

“I want to get to know you a little better. I want to build a rapport so you will be more at ease, hopefully. So, if you have any questions about me, you can ask me too.”

Peter smiled a little at that offer.

“I just wanted to say that that’s a cool keychain,” he pointed out the small Captain Marvel chain hanging from a zip on her purse.

“Thank you,” she said, giving the keychain a forlorn glance. “It was my daughter’s. She looked up to her the way Iron Man is your hero.”

Was, that was the first thing to jump out and the past tense that followed.

Just like May.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Dr. Lara assured. “Now, will you return on Wednesday?”

Returning home from the clinic, he was glad to see that Pepper was back from her three days business trip to Washington. It had been a busy three days for Tony as well who spent it reviewing documents Pepper sent over and signing off on it, much to his chagrin. Tony spent day in and day out complaining, sighing loudly whenever Peter reminded him to get to it each time.

As much as Peter enjoyed having the tables turned, he was also glad that he was off that duty.

“A little gift for you, Peter,” Pepper smiled, handing over a shoebox. Peter opened it to see a brand new pair of Nikes. “For helping me keep an eye on Tony while I was away and being a spectacular intern. Without your assistance, I doubt Tony would actually get any of the documents reviewed.”

“It was no problem at all, Ms. Potts,” Peter said, quite aware of Tony rolling his eyes at Pepper. “You don’t have to get me anything just for helping around.”

“Oh, I want to. Besides, your sneakers are worn out.”

“Don’t I deserve a little gift as well?” Tony sneaked that in. “I got the job done.”

The sly smile Pepper gave Tony made Peter avert his gaze.

“Get a room,” he muttered, shoving lasagna into his mouth. “It’s very uncomfortable being the third wheel.”

“Remember that when you bring a girl home for dinner,” Tony said pointedly. “Cause we’ll be sitting right here and we don’t want to – “

“Oh my god, stop,” Peter blanched, affronted.

“Stop teasing him, Tony. How was your weekend, Peter?”

“It was alright. Pretty awesome getting to hang out with the others again at the Compound… Didn’t do much on Sunday and then today Mr. Stark and I went to the clinic. Dr. Lara’s nice.”

“She is, isn’t she?” Pepper took a sip of her wine. “How is everyone at the Compound?”

“You know how they are… Same shenanigans. Oh! Bruce made some really spicy mutton keema. I thought I saw smokes coming out of Steve’s ears! Bruce told us he learnt it from when he was living in India. He’s also working on some project with Dr. Strange – that’s cool. Other than that, I sort of just hung around and watched Wanda trained with Natasha but that wasn’t long. Nat left us ‘cause Wanda said I was distracting so we just used the time to catch up. Oh, oh! That reminds me. I got invited to the farm, Mr. Stark. The Barton’s farm…. Do you think I can go one day? Clint said I could.”

Tony was looking at him, brows furrowed as if Peter had said something unpleasant.

“You spoke to Wanda?”

“Uh… Yeah, I did. So about the farm -”

“Forget the farm,” Tony waved his hand as a dismissal which left Peter slightly confused. “What about Wanda? What did you talk about?”

His breath hitched and he clenched his jaws in annoyance. Out of all the things he said, that small little tidbit was Tony’s take away.

“Why are you asking me that? Am I supposed to tell you all the conversation I had with the Avengers?” Peter asked hotly.

He realised that he sounded far too defensive but he felt… betrayed. He felt as if Tony didn’t trust him to be on his own.

“I’m just asking, Pete. I thought after our conversation you’d -”

Next to him, Pepper had put her cutleries down. Her lips parted, wanting to get a word in.

“I know what we talked about, okay?” Peter glared. “So you’re still saying I’m forbidden from ever talking to Wanda?”

“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” Tony snapped.

“Hold on, just calm down the both of you,” Pepper laid a hand on Tony’s arm, a silent warning. “What is going on?”

“Nothing,” Peter said. “Why don’t you ask him?”

He stood up, gathered his plate, his cutleries and glass and left them in the sink. He hesitated. Aunt May always made him wash the dishes immediately but what the hell. He wasn’t living with May anymore. He was here with Tony and right now, he was quite annoyed with him.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Potts. I’m tired. I’m going to bed.”

Peter turned on his heels and left, walking straight towards his bedroom.

“He’s not going to bed.” Tony’s voice carried down the hallway. “He can’t just walk out when it suits him.”

“And you can’t just attack him that way, Tony.”

“Me? Hold on a damn second. How is this now about me?”

Hurrying into his room, Peter grabbed his headphones. It would be so easy for him to listen in to their conversation but he didn’t want to hear them discussing him so he turned on the music as loud as he could to drown their voices and lay in bed.

He tried to sleep but he was too annoyed and the conversation kept replaying itself in his head. Full of restless energy, Peter paced around the room, never settling in one position for too long. He tried to watch something on Netflix but found himself too distracted. He thought of texting Ned to rant but he didn’t even know where to begin and he was also afraid that his best friend might agree with Tony.

On any other day, he would have put on his suit and the freedom of swinging from one high rise building to the next would have calmed him down instantaneously. Looking out for any crimes on the street that he could jump in and prevent would have taken his mind off the problem.

He sprawled on the floor, arms folded across his stomach as he stared at the ceiling. His breathing evened out eventually.

The music was still playing from the headphones still clasped over his ears and his back was aching when he woke up some hours later, covered in sweat and shaking.  

His hand flew to his chest, feeling the erratic pounding his heart. Peter yanked the headphones off.

“Oh god,” he breathed. “I’m sorry.”

He had dreamt of May.

“I’m sorry, May,” Peter sobbed. He was paralysed on the ground, on all fours. The tears stung his eyes and he let it fall, big fat droplets that stained the rug.

“Your heart rate is elevated, Mr. Peter. Shall I send a distress signal to Mr. Stark?”

“No, please,” he managed to stop the AI. “I – I’ll be okay. Just give me a minute.”

Squeezing his eyes shut, the images from his nightmare floated to the forefront of his mind. May had stood with Ben and his parents, looking at him sadly. Then May had grabbed hold of him, whispering in his ear that it was his fault she was trapped under the billboard and then she had been mad that he was now trying to take the easy way out by not wanting to remember that it was his fault.

He had cried and pleaded and tried to explain.

He had been terrified of the look on his aunt’s face and the ferocity of her grip, and he was still shaking even though he knew it was just a nightmare.

It had felt so real.

Peter wandered the halls.

He opened the door leading to the balcony and stood at the edge, peering down. His teeth chattered in the cold so he wandered back in.

The apartment was so quiet except of the heart beats of the two other occupants and their breathing.

He paused outside their door. He just stood there, matching his breathing to Tony’s until he felt himself calm slightly.

He wondered how long Tony and Pepper have before they would be ripped away from him. It would happen inevitably. It happened to his parents. It happened to Ben and then to May.

Peter caught himself halfway through those morbid thoughts.

He wondered then if it would be better to just leave, to spare them the cruelty.

But he was selfish too. He didn’t think he could be alone. He needed them. He was safe here with Tony.

Finally, the dawn broke over the horizon. May’s ghost wouldn’t touch him in the light of day. His feet took him to the nearest place to crash.

It must have only been mere minutes later when he was jostled awake by Tony.

“Wasting daylight here, kiddo,” the familiar voice Peter floated his way.

Pushing himself up, Peter squinted at Tony. “What time is it?”

“It’s eleven. Why are you on the sofa?”

“Uh, came out to get water and just…” he gestured.

“Next time fill up a glass before bed and put it on your night stand,” Tony advised. “Left over breakfast by the counter – go ahead.”

“Mr. Stark…” Peter’s hand shot out to grab Tony’s wrist. He let go almost immediately, the memory of May doing the same to him in his dream was still so vivid. “I’m… I’m Peter Parker. I live in Manhattan.”

Tony peered down at him. He took in Peter’s disheveled state and the dark circles under his eyes.

“If I were to ask F.R.I.D.A.Y, what are the chances of her telling me that you didn’t sleep well?”

“Quite high,” Peter answered.

“What happened, Peter?”

“Please, do it first.”

“You are Peter Parker,” Tony recited without any further argument. “You’re seventeen. You live in Manhattan with me and Pepper. You go to Midtown High. What else…Your best friend is Ned Leeds.”

Peter swallowed.

“May… Before she died she said… She said she forgave us,” his voice trembled slightly.

Tony’s face clouded over.

“May Parker didn’t blame you for what happened to her.”

“She really said it right? Wanda said it. It’s – it’s not just in my head?”

“She did. I heard her.”

“O – Okay. Thanks, Mr. Stark.”

“Speaking of Wanda… I’m sorry,” Tony said, surprising Peter, “about yesterday.”

“I’m sorry, too,” Peter muttered.

For raising his voice.

For walking out on what was a good dinner with Tony and Pepper.

For treating Tony that way.

For talking to Wanda about the exact thing Tony didn’t want him to talk to her about.

For wanting to go back to the Compound on Thursday to see if Dr. Strange was willing to help him.

Because he couldn’t live fearing the night and the ghosts that lurked in its corners.

“You ever heard of B.A.R.F? My work. Costly therapeutic experiment…”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 16

Between all the moving – from Manhattan to upstate and then back to the apartment – the pair of glasses needed for B.A.R.F to work never made it to the list of items Happy had obsessively guarded throughout the various moves.

Truth be told, it wasn’t a priority for Tony which was the reason it never made it to the list.

That was then.

Now though, upgrading and improving the B.A.R.F technology consumed most of Tony’s time for the past week. He needed it to work for Peter’s sake.

The three monitors in front of him contained pages upon pages of his notes and research, and everything he could remember from the day of the invasion.

“Peter is approaching,” F.R.I.D.A.Y announced.

Tony raised his head just as Peter turned the corner into his workshop.

“I’m ready,” he said, rocking on the balls of his feet. “I’ve got the appointment… With Dr. Lara… You didn’t forget right? I – I can get Happy to send me if you’re busy.”

“Not necessary, buddy. I’ll drive,” Tony said as he waved his hand to turn off the screens.

He hadn’t forgotten, just lost track of time. He knew, for instance, that this was Peter’s third session.

Tony was proud of him for sticking it through. He had been worried that Peter might call bullshit on the whole therapy process or not have the patience to go through it but as Pepper had told him, he really needed to give Peter more credit.

Peter wasn’t him.

The kid was better than him.

At seventeen, He certainly was nothing like the teenager Tony was.

“Same drill – I’ll be waiting out here,” Tony offered a smile when Peter turned back to look at him.

With a nod, he disappeared into the room and Tony settled into the armchair closest to the door. It had been years since Afghanistan but he still needed to situate himself in a way that when needed, he would and could easily find his way out. Not that it was something he would do now should anything happen, not when Peter was in the other room. He would get the kid out first. 

Scrolling through his phone, Tony wasted no time. He went back to work, compiling notes from his own memories of the day of the attack. Bruce, Steve and Natasha had been helpful on that front as well – providing with him information on anything they could remember from that day.

From what little Tony managed to gather when the boy actually talked, Peter’s recurring nightmare was always of that afternoon. Finding his aunt trapped under the billboard after believing that they had scored a victory was as traumatic for Peter as him saying his last goodbye to his aunt.  It meant that in order for Tony to help Peter work through his trauma, he would need to recreate the infrastructure similar to those two memories in order to project the scenes.

The minutes passed in a blur and before he realised it, a shadow fell over him. Tony looked up to see Peter done with his session and waiting for him.

“How’d it go?” Tony stood up, keeping his phone in his pocket.

Peter answered with a shrug. “It was okay. Talked about more things.”

Tony didn’t miss the way the kid was gripping on to the straps of his backpack as if it was the only thing keeping him together.

“That’s good. So you’re opening up, right? Or at least you’re trying to… Do you – uh – did you tell her about the nightmares?”

“Yeah, I – I did. We’re working through it,” Peter said simply, staring resolutely ahead of him until they reached the car.

“Hungry?”

“Starving,” Peter answered.

Chuckling, Tony said, “We’ll get Pepper out of office and then what do you say we give that new Italian restaurant a go, huh?”

“Sure, yeah that sounds good,” Peter agreed and that was it.

The boy spent the remaining car ride looking out of the window. The monotony was only broken when he received a text message from Ned to which he read before turning to Tony asking, “so, um, school starts in two weeks and uh, will Happy be dropping me off every day or… cause I can make my way to school myself. I don’t want to trouble -”

“It’s no trouble, kid. Personally, I think, he’ll be offended if I don’t put him up to it.”

“Okay.”

“Are you ready for school?” Tony glanced his way.

“I guess. I’ll have homework and decathlon to focus on. Dr. Lara said that’ll be good for me,” Peter answered. “It’s just… I gotta face the kids at school, you know? They must have known by now that I’m living with you and …. I mean, I just – I’m not looking forward to all that attention.”

“I get it… All the whispering behind your back, it can be difficult to deal with. It used to bother me but there’s nothing I can do to make them stop. There’s nothing I can say to make them look the other way either. I learnt to ignore it. You should do the same.”

“That’s easier said than done,” Peter scoffed. “And your senses aren’t dialed to eleven so that’s a plus. It gets too much.”

The car came to a stop at the intersection and Tony used that opportunity to look at the kid next to him, slumped in his seat as if he had all the weight of the world resting on his shoulders.

“When it does, you tell me. Alright? You don’t keep these things to yourself.”

By the time they reached Stark Industries, the surliness was gone from Peter’s face as he took in all the sights before him.

“This way,” Tony steered him by the elbow towards Pepper’s office.

She was busy behind her desk but she paused when the two of them walked in, offering her boys a bright smile.

“What a surprise!” Pepper grinned, sidling up to Tony to give him a kiss on the cheek.

“This is a nice office, Ms. Potts,” Peter complimented, walking towards a painting of the New York skyline hanging on the wall before gravitating towards the windows. “Nice view, too.”

“How’s your day, honey? All good? Oh, you’re tense,” Tony remarked, running his hand across her shoulders. “Probably a good time to get outta here, what do you think? The kid’s hungry and I’ve got a place in mind. You coming?”

“You should probably give her a minute to answer, Mr. Stark,” Peter laughed to Tony’s delight. “You’re badgering her.”

“Hey, starting to sound like a lawyer. We should start thinking about things like that… Things you want to do, careers you’re looking towards, college…. How about MIT?”

“Tony, he’s still got a year left, leave Peter alone,” Pepper shook her head. “Dinner sounds lovely but could you boys give me ten minutes? There is an urgent email I have to send out and oh, Tony, since you’re here, would you mind signing off on that document? Right there on the corner of the table.”

Turning his back to her, Tony rolled his eyes. Peter grinned at his antics as he settled down on the sofa to wait for them.

XxX

“Boss, you should know that Peter is in a state of increasing distress.”

He turned off the smoldering iron and ripped the safety goggles away.

“What?” Tony snapped.

He checked the time – two in the morning – and bolted out of his workshop towards Peter’s bedroom.

Entering the room, Tony was engulfed in total darkness. Not even the night lamp had been turned on. Knowing that he would never be able to locate the kid that way, Tony turned on the lights.

The sudden strangled, painful noise coming from his right startled him.

“Kill it,” Peter moaned, curled on the floor in a ball. His hands wrapped tight over his head. “Please.”

“Kid, what’s wrong?”

“The lights… turn it off.”

Shit His senses, Tony realised belatedly.

“Okay, right, sorry,” he muttered, turning the lights off. The room plunged into darkness again and Tony made his way cautiously to where he last saw Peter. He dropped to his knees, hands outstretched before him. “What’s wrong? Talk to me, underoos.”

“It’s too much,” he whimpered. “It’s too bright and too noisy. I – I can hear everything outside – the cars, the birds, Pepper’s heartbeat. I can hear the hum of the generator. I – I need it to stop. It’s too warm in here and my – my shirt is too scratchy.”

“Alright, you’re overloading. Take off your shirt. It’ll get rid of that scratchy feeling,” Tony said, mindful to keep his voice low. “Where do you keep your headphones? By your study table, yeah? And goggles… Those goggles you had with your onesie, where are those?”

Unlike Peter, Tony could not easily navigate his way in the dark so with a whispered command to F.R.I.D.A.Y, the room was bathed in a soft dim glow. Tony snatched the headphones off the table, pulled open drawers on the study and the night stand until he found those pair of goggles and then hurried his way back over to Peter.

“Turn it off now, F.R.I. Here, kiddo,” he put on the black goggles over his eyes and the headphones over his ears. “There we go. You’re gonna be okay, buddy. You’ll be alright. I’m here.”

Slowly, Peter uncurled from his position and pushed himself up.

“Still too much noise,” he muttered.

“I’ll take care of that. You’ll focus on only one sound, okay?” Tony said, going through the kid’s phone until he located the Spotify application. Under the Home button, his gaze fell on a playlist titled Deep Sleep, a playlist he had gotten used to thanks to Pepper. Tony pressed play and the effect seemed almost immediate. Peter slumped against the wall. “Okay. Good. Just – just focus on your breathing. It’ll get better.”

He didn’t know if Peter could hear him with the music on but Tony sure as hell heard the lenses on the goggles adjusting itself; likely widening before closing into tiny slits.

Stimuli blocking goggles and headphones .

Tony made a mental note to himself. He would need to work on those alongside the glasses for B.A.R.F.

Sitting next to the kid in the darkness, Tony waited it out with him. As the minutes ticked, Peter’s breathing slowed down.

“I’m okay,” Peter breathed out finally.

But he made no move to remove the goggles and headphones, and knowing Peter, it was likely just something he said so Tony would stop worrying and would go back to bed. He remained steadfast by the kid’s side, nodding off once in a while from sheer exhaustion.

“Mr. Stark.”

He jerked awake and blinked blearily.

“Pete, you okay?”

“Yeah,” the boy nodded. He had turned on the bedside lamp with his goggles off and headphones dangling around his neck. “I’m really sorry, Mr. Stark.”

“Not your fault. Stop apologizing. What time is it now?”

“Five in the morning,” he answered. “I – uh – I had a nightmare. I stayed awake in bed, you know, waiting to fall back to sleep, and then … the next thing I know it all became too much.”

“This happen often? Your senses overloading until it paralyses you?”

“Only when I was first bitten,” the boy said, averting his gaze.

Tony tilted his head to the side, studying the kid, a question already forming on his lips but Peter beat him to it.

“It’s nothing.”

“What triggers it?”

“I think it’s May. Grief maybe, too much grief,” Peter said without looking at him.

“Could be, yeah,” Tony nodded. “There’s the added stress of going back to school to factor in too.”

It didn’t seem like something worth commenting on, he supposed, because he said nothing, merely putting his shirt back on and putting the pillow Tony had used to cushion Peter’s head earlier back on the bed.

“Thanks for staying up with me, Mr. Stark.”

Tony didn’t want to admit it but after that night, he almost cancelled the meeting Pepper had set up with the Board of Directors. The meeting wasn’t scheduled until Friday which was still two days away but it didn’t feel right to leave Peter alone.

“Tony, you need to stop this right now. You being a helicopter guardian to him will not help. Not in the slightest. Give him room to breathe, don’t smother him. In fact, I strongly suggest that he take time to leave this apartment, take a walk, maybe meet his friends. Why don’t you tell him that?”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because, Tony, he can’t be spending all his time around you and honestly, you need to learn to put on some distance.”

“The kid might need me,” he argued, raising his voice a little. “What if something – “

“Nothing will happen!” Pepper retorted before taking a deep calming breath. “He is always going to need you, Tony, but he’s a teenager who is still trying to move on and being in the house all the time with nothing much to do except to focus on his grief can’t be good.”

Tony narrowed his eyes before he eventually conceded.

“Fine, you have a point.”

Pepper’s face lighted up in a maddening grin. “Of course, I do. Now go and I expect you at the meeting.”

As predicted, the long and arduous Board of Directors’ meeting only made Tony’s impatience grew. He could be at his workshop working on his projects instead of being here listening to people in suit and ties ramble on.

He tapped his fingers against the table incessantly and distractedly, while ignoring Pepper’s pointed look. These meetings happen only once in a while, not often but still, twice this year was more than Tony could tolerate.

The sudden vibration of his phone was a welcome distraction and he wasted no time fishing it out of his pocket, under the table because he wasn’t stupid enough to incur Pepper’s wrath. The text message was from Peter.

Sorry to bother you, Mr. Stark… I just wanted to let you know that I’m going over to the Compound.

A new message followed almost immediately.

Ned’s going to the movies with his family tonight. I’m not up for it. So since Dr. Banner invited me and I don’t think I’ll get much time when school reopens next week, thought I’d go. I hope that’s okay. He told me he’s already asked you.

Tony barely finished reading the message when a third one came in.

Happy said he’ll drive me out.

Can I go? Don’t want to disappoint Dr. Banner.

He let out a breath of frustration, having completely forgotten about this. Bruce had asked him about having Peter over when they talked about recreating the day May Parker got injured but between working on the B.A.R.F glasses and Peter’s sensory overload, it slipped his mind.

You’re right. He told me about it. Sorry, kid, forgot to tell you. I assume you’re staying the night.

Yup, be back tomorrow morning.

It wasn’t Ned but still Peter was out socializing with the Avengers. That should still fit Pepper’s requirement of ‘hanging out with friends.’

Ok.

As an afterthought, he added a thumbs’ up emoji.

Thanks a lot, Mr. Stark!

Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.

He waited but there was no reply from Peter. By the time both he and Pepper made it back to the apartment, F.R.I.D.A.Y confirmed that Peter had already left.

“Oh, go on,” Pepper waved her hand, letting Tony set the system so should Peter be in distress at the Compound tonight, they would both be alerted here at the apartment. “I’m sure he will be fine. It’ll be good for him to get away from here even just for the night.”

“Yeah, you’re right.”

“It’s just you and me tonight,” Pepper smiled. “What do you have in mind?”

“Plenty,” he answered without missing a beat. “It starts with you coming into the shower with me.”

Pepper would never have allowed them to have dinner in bed with Peter around, but after that ridiculously long shower, they curled under the warm duvet, eating sushi they ordered. As much as he liked having the kid around, he also missed having moments like this with Pepper on a Friday night.

“Are you going to check in on him?”

“Nah,” Tony shook his head. “I should let him have his space. That’s something I should do right?”

“Absolutely,” Pepper laughed.

 If Tony taught letting Peter stay the night at the Compound would have lifted his spirit and put him in a more positive mood, he was dead wrong. Peter came home just before lunch that Saturday morning, quieter than ever and with an underlying air of anger.

“How’s everyone?”

“Good,” he replied tersely.

“Anything interesting? What did you and Bruce work on?”

He gave a nonchalant shrug just as Tony ground his teeth. He really was trying with Peter but sometimes it was akin to running head first into a brick wall.

“Did you manage to get a good sleep yesterday?”

“Yes.”

“No nightmares?” Tony pressed.

“Would you just drop it?” Peter snapped.

“What’s with this attitude?” Tony called out impatiently, crossing his arms as he stared at the kid.

Peter seemed stricken by that. “Sorry, Mr. Stark,” he ducked his head. “I – uh – I guess I’m just tired. Dr. Banner and I made progress so that’s something. We’ve improved my web formula for surgical use.”

“Tested?”

“Not yet,” Peter shook his head. “He said I can come by again on Wednesday if you allow it.”

Tony frowned.

“You have an appointment with Dr. Lara on that day.”

“Yeah, but I can go after…? Please?”

“Fine,” Tony acquiesced. “I’ll talk to Happy about driving you again.” 

“Awesome! Thanks! Can I be excused? I’m just gonna take a nap.”

Tony really couldn’t say no to that. If the kid’s sleep was frequently interrupted by nightmares then he was all for Peter having the occasional naps.

The Wednesday night when Peter returned home from the Compound in time for dinner, all sorts of alarm bells started ringing in Tony’s head. He kept glancing over at Pepper to see if she noticed and judging by the way she returned his panicked looks, she had picked it up too.

Peter had always been full of spirit and energy and while the recent loss had stripped a little of that away from him, this kid sitting in front of them talking a mile a minute was the same Peter making conversations in battle during their fight in Germany.

It wasn’t the Peter he had learnt to live and deal with since May’s passing.

No matter how well his project was going with Bruce, Tony doubted it would make Peter this lively and animated.

“Is he on drugs?” Tony whispered the moment Peter left the dining room to grab something from his bedroom.

“He really is not that sort of teenager, so I would go with a no,” Pepper said, propping a hand on her hip. “Maybe what we should do is accept it, not question it. Not too much. There are bad days and there are good days, perhaps today’s a good day for him.”

“No,” Tony shook his head. “I’ve seen him on good days and he’s not like this. On good days, he’ll text that Ned kid or he’ll ask if I want to watch a movie with him or he’ll tinker around in the workshop with me.”

 “What else could it be, Tony? It’s as if all the things that made him sad are gone and we should be glad for him. Those sessions are working and he’s learning to cope with the grief and– “

“Shit,” Tony cursed. “Shit, shit, shit. Goddamnit.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 17

Peter felt less burdened.

He felt lighter, easier to breath.

The last time he remembered ever feeling this way was before witnessing Ben’s death.

Ben…How had that happen exactly?

All he knew now was it had been unfortunately tragic.

No point dwelling on it, he supposed. Ducking into his room, Peter grabbed the notebook from his bag where he had scrawled the new formula. He had been working on it with Bruce and it was something he was immeasurably proud of. He couldn’t wait to show it to Tony.

Just then, his phone went off, signaling a text message.

I haven’t heard from you since yesterday. I’m worried.

I’m fine. You’ve done awesome. Really can’t thank you enough. Don’t worry about me

Are you sure? What about any side effects?

Sighing, Peter pocketed his phone.

He didn’t want to think of any potential side effects that might occur. He felt great so that should be all that mattered, surely?

It would only get better. He knew it. He could already feel the difference. Who knew the mind would have such an effect on his mood.

Peter returned back to the dining room in time to see Pepper shooting Tony a look of warning. The man wandered off the fridge, pouring himself some of that smoothie he loved so much. His hand shook but when he turned around again to look at Peter, he was sporting a smile.

Peter relaxed almost immediately.

“I’ve got it, Mr. Stark. Here you go,” he waved the notebook and handed it over to his mentor. “Like I said, I’ve been thinking about using my webs as sort of a – a gauze, you know? To – to stop bleedings. But then I thought to myself – why stop there? So um, if the webs have antifungal and antiseptic properties, then that means I can use them to cover wounds, especially during battles. It’ll make the wounds clean and free of infection,” he paused to read Tony’s and Pepper’s reaction. They both seem fascinated which Peter took as a good sign. “Dr. Banner suggested that maybe I can even have clotting properties on it. How cool is that?”

“This is very… This is great, kid. It’s smart. You’re really on to something here.”

“Yeah,” Peter nodded earnestly. “My webs have been just weapons for now but I – I think I can do a lot more with it.”

“Good thinking, kid,” Tony commended.

“If it works, maybe I can even sell the formulas to pharmaceutical companies or somethin’ like that. Contribute to my college fund.”

“I’m responsible for that college fund,” Tony punched his shoulder lightly. “Look who you’re talking to. You shouldn’t be worried about that.”

“Oh, yeah right. I – I didn’t think that you’d...” he trailed off. It was still an adjustment for him. Having financial worries was part of the deal growing up and with Tony as his guardian, he kept forgetting that money would never be an issue. Not that he would ever take advantage of that. “Well, I can always donate them to clinics all over New York. Lots of people out there I can help, even if I’m not Spiderman anymore,” he shrugged, throwing a grin for Tony’s sake.

“Exactly,” Tony agreed. “But I don’t want you rushing into it. You gotta make sure Bruce approves everything and I mean, everything.”

“Tony’s right,” Pepper chimed in, placing her plate in the dishwasher. “A single wrong step is a potential law suit.”

Peter hummed in agreement. If anyone knew business, it would be the two of them. He was just a kid with big ideas. He sat on the table long after dinner was over working on the crossword puzzle from Happy’s morning paper while Pepper retired to the living room in time for the news.

“Five letters across – lack of tact…” Peter bit his pen. “Any ideas? I feel like I’ve got it but nothing.”

“Stop that for a sec,” Tony said, pulling a chair next to him. He rested a hand on the back of Peter’s chair and for a wild moment, he felt trapped. “I’ve been meaning to ask… Everything alright with you? You seemed a little… off.”

Peter stared, stricken. The crossword puzzle lay forgotten on the table. He capped and uncapped the pen before he ducked his head, letting the growing curls fall over his eyes in a desperate effort to hide a part of himself from Tony.

His heart was suddenly hammering in his chest and he could hear the roar of blood in his ears. He couldn’t bring himself to look at Tony, afraid that if he did, all his secrets would be laid bare.

“I’m fine, Mr. Stark,” he squeaked. “Um, I should probably check with MJ about this crossword. She loves them. I bet she’s finished hers this morning.”

He grabbed the papers and all but bolted back to his room, shutting the door firmly behind him.

Technically, he hadn’t broken any rules. So really, he had nothing to fear. Tony had wanted him to remember that he was the last of the Parkers, and he had held that close to his heart.

Peter checked his phone to see that there was a new message from Stephen Strange.

Did you talk to Tony yet?

This is not something you can do on your own.

He is helping me with it,  Peter typed before hitting the send button.

Going to Stephen had been a mistake because now, the sorceror wouldn’t leave him alone.

Why then do you see the need to come to me with such a request? This is worrying, Peter.

Ignoring the message, Peter tossed his phone on the bed. He needed people to get off his back and to stop worrying every little thing about him. He could take care of himself. Hadn’t he proved that already?

Still, Dr. Strange was the least of his worries right now. Tony was a more pressing concern. He had escaped his mentor but if he knew the man and Peter liked to think that he did then Tony can be quite persistent. If he sensed that something was not right, he would pursue it until he had all the answers.

Perhaps, all he needed to do right now was to tone it down a notch.

That was easier said than done because he felt great. There was so much energy running in his veins and he couldn’t sit still. It was akin to a sugar high. There was so much he felt he could accomplish now that he was no longer moping around, tied by the weight of guilt and sadness.

He would burn off this energy one way or another.

When morning came, Peter remembered his plan from the night before.

He plopped down on the chair, mumbling a “morning” as he poured himself a glass of orange juice. He watched Tony and Pepper over the rim of his glass.  He had been quite muted, not so much acting like an excited puppy. That should throw them off the scent, he figured, and carefully avoided any unnecessary eye contact.

Halfway through breakfast, he grew exhausted. He didn’t think trying to act normal when he was filled to the bones with energy was hard work but it was. He was so excited to conquer the day – to leave the house, to walk down the streets, to meet his friends.

“How are you this morning, Peter?” Pepper asked. “Did you sleep well?”

“Uh, didn’t sleep much,” Peter answered before he hurriedly explained himself. “It wasn’t because of nightmares or anything like that. I was on, um, Netflix and sorta lost track of time. I completed both seasons of Friends,” he chuckled. “Kind of understand now why May loved that show.”

Tony looked at him, the cup of coffee halfway to his lips. “So you didn’t sleep?”

“I did – got a few decent hours in.”

“It’s fine now but let’s not make this a habit,” Pepper rebuked with a smile. “Not with school starting next week.”

Peter nodded, “Of course, Miss Potts.”

He really liked her. In some ways, she reminded him of May. There was that familiar maternal connection with Pepper.

“Mr. Stark, do you think… Can I maybe have some money?” he asked tentatively. “MJ convinced Ned to go on some Brooklyn Bridge bike tour for charity and uh, Ned wants me to come along. It’s like fifty bucks and half the money will be donated, and I – I don’t have that kind of money on me.”

“Sure, buddy, anything you need – just ask. How long will this tour be?”

Tony was already reaching into his jacket pocket, pulling out a wad of cash clipped together with a gold metallic band.

“Half a day or something,” Peter answered. He looked down on the cash Tony handed him. “This is too much. I don’t need two hundred dollars.”

Pepper took back a hundred dollar bill and returned it to Tony with a roll of her eyes.

“He doesn’t know when he is making someone uncomfortable,” Pepper patted Peter’s hand. “Use the change for lunch, for you and your friends, alright? Please be back before dinner.”

“Okay, Ms. Potts,” Peter smiled gratefully. “So … What’s your plan for today, Mr. Stark? More projects in the workshop?”

He took his time spending breakfast with them. He really didn’t want them to worry about him but it was useless because just as he stepped out of the apartment, he overheard Tony talking to Pepper.

“I need to talk to the kid when he’s home tonight. I know something’s up, Peps.”

Not wanting to hear himself being discussed, Peter hurried along. When he emerged from the apartment building, he inhaled deeply and allowed himself a smile. With a promise to himself that he would make good of today, he jogged across the street to where he was supposed to meet Ned and MJ

“Hey, weirdos,” MJ called out and the moment Ned and Peter turned to look over their shoulders, she snapped a picture of the three of them on their bicycles at the Brooklyn Bridge. “Let’s pretend we’re tourist. I’m Alesha, an art student from Maryland Institute College of Art or I will be at least. I’m here on a trip before college begins. I love mustard and pickles, and I’ve got a collection of jars at home… for art.”

“That’s oddly specific,” Peter pointed out.

“That’s how the game works, Parker. You can be anything. So… who you gonna be?”

“A baker from Queens,” Ned suggested.

“He’s from Queens,” MJ clicked her tongue disapprovingly. “The whole point is to pick a new name, a new place, a new… identity.”

By that afternoon, his calf and thigh muscles were aching from the sudden exertion. It was clear that he was paying the price for all the time he spent not going out as Spiderman and exerting himself physically.

“Dude, I’m beat,” Ned heaved. “I’m never letting MJ convince me about doing something like this ever again.”

“It’s alright, it’s for charity,” Peter clapped his friend’s shoulder. “But yeah, I’m exhausted too, man.”

Despite the fatigue, the bicycle tour took his mind off Tony and Pepper, and the pressing concern that sooner or later, Tony would undoubtedly ask him straight out about the things he had done. That was a conversation he was not looking forward to have.

It wasn’t fair. It concerned him and it should be his decision, not Tony’s.

As liberating as it was to get away from the apartment for a bit to spend time with Ned and MJ, there was only so much he could do to avoid home before he needed to return. Missing dinner would only raise more questions and suspicions.

Dinner, surprisingly, passed by without any incident. He listened to Tony complained about Norman Osborn and the deal he apparently was trying to get into with Stark Industries. The mention of Oscorp did raise his heart rate a little but it was nothing out of the ordinary. It was the same reaction he had each time he gleaned the word Oscorp from newspapers and articles online.

“Movie, Pete?”

“Um, can we take a rain check on it?”

Tony tilted his head to the side, an eyebrow raised dubiously. “You sure? Got something else in mind?”

“Just – uh – this game I told Ned I’d play with him. Some online multiplayer… you know?”

“Oh,” Tony crossed his arms, looking uncharacteristically interested that it had Peter worried. “Is it anything I’d be interested in? Come on, share it with your old man. Don’t leave me out of the loop. I got to know what you teenagers are up to.”

“Stop,” Peter wrinkled his nose and laughed out loud. “Stop trying to be cool.”

“I agree,” Pepper sided with him. “Act your age, Tony.”

“That’s hurtful, honey. Alright, kid, go ahead.”

Seeing as there wasn’t a multiplayer game he had to play with Ned, Peter sprawled on the bed, arms folded across his stomach. He stared at the ceiling and listened to the street below. It was still disconcerting to know he was way up here at the Penthouse and yet, it still felt as if he was standing right at the pavement on the street. Everything was so loud and clear.

The hours went by before he finally pushed himself off towards the study table. He turned on his laptop, randomly scrolling through Netflix until he decided to continue with Friends. The hours passed by until the door to his room opened.

“Pete,” Tony stood at the door, a frown on his face. “What are you doing?”

“Just watching some stuffs, Mr. Stark,” he turned his chair towards the direction of the door. “What’s up?”

“F.R.I.D.A.Y reported that you’ve been at it for hours. It’s six in the morning now. Do you know that?”

That startled him. He hadn’t realized time had passed so quickly.

“I – uh – I lost track of time. Again,” he laughed nervously. Peter rose to his feet. “I’ll just try to catch up on sleep now, if you don’t mind?”

“We’re supposed to be getting your things for school this morning, kid. Did you forget?”

Shit , Peter bit his tongue.

“It’s fine. We’ll push that to this afternoon,” Tony said. Peter thought that would be the end of it but Tony was still there with his arms folded and his gaze fixed firmly on Peter. “Are you alright, Pete?”

“All great, sir,” the immediate reply spilt from his lips.

“See, that’s the problem. I don’t believe you, not for a second. I want to, kid, I really want to believe that you’re doing okay but something isn’t right. Will you look at me?”

“But I’m fine,” Peter mumbled, looking down on his hands.

He was tensed and truthfully, starting to feel a little anxious the longer Tony remained in the room. A muscle in his jaws ticked, and now, he could suddenly feel the exhaustion creeping in.

“Look at me, Peter,” Tony demanded, his voice a little rough and strained.

And still, Peter looked away. He turned his back to Tony as he folded into himself, his hands rubbing up and down his arms.

He supposed whatever patience Tony had with him all these while snapped because the man was suddenly standing in front of him. Tony laid his hand against the side of Peter’s face, his fingers gripping lightly the back of Peter’s neck. Tony tilted his face upwards, forcing him to look at the older man.

“Tony? What’s going on?”

His guardian’s gaze flitted to the doorway behind Peter to where Pepper was. He could sense Pepper moving closer to him and then her hand was on his arm, her touch gentle and soothing.  

“I’m not hurting him,” Tony shook his head. “Something – Something’s not right, Peps.”

By now, Pepper was standing next to Tony and Peter felt like an insect being scrutinized.

“He was upset a few days back. He wouldn’t talk about it, he bit my head off when I prodded. Lately, he’s acting as if…” Tony trailed off.

“Peter, your eyes are unfocused,” Pepper pointed out.

Were they?

He was alarmed now, truly. He squirmed, trying to get away. He really could easily overpower Tony but that was not something he wanted to do. Still, his hand rose to close around Tony’s wrist.

“It’s ‘cause you’re both standing too close,” he muttered.

“You’ve done something, kid, and I think I know exactly what that is,” Tony grounded out, nostrils flaring in suppressed anger. “I hope to God I’m wrong but I’m not wrong am I, Pete?”

“I – I don’t know what exactly you think I’ve done, Mr. Stark. All I’ve done is go out and meet my friends ‘cause Ms. Potts says I should and then I’m home watching stuffs on Netflix. That’s what teenagers do.”

“Peter,” Pepper said his name softly. She tapped Tony’s hand for him to release his hold on him which he did, exhaling a shaky breath as he did so. “I don’t know you as well as Tony does but we’ve been living together for a while now and I do have to agree with Tony. There is something different about you.”

“You want to tell me, buddy?”

Tony sounded exactly as he did on that rooftop after that Staten Island Ferry incident – angry, upset and disappointed.

“I – No, it’s not what you’re thinking, Mr. Stark.”

It would have held more weight if his voice had not sounded small and unsure.

“Do not insult my intelligence by lying to me, kid. Just – Just tell me the truth. Please. Be straight with me.”

“I’m sorry,” Peter hung his head. “I’m really sorry.”

Sighing, Tony turned towards Pepper who was looking at them, clearly bewildered.

“A few weeks ago, he asked something of me. I said no, of course. What else was I supposed to say to such a request,” Tony lamented, running a hand down his face.

He looked tired and every bit his age, and Peter felt a sudden twinge of guilt before he squashed it. He had done this for himself. He had always put everyone else first but he was at the bottom of the pit with no way out, and he needed to make himself better. He had tried Tony’s way and it wasn’t working fast enough. He had done a selfish thing for himself and he didn’t need to be made to feel this way.

“Wanda was at the Compound both times you were there recently, wasn’t she?”

“It’s not her fault,” Peter voiced out.

“Oh, isn’t it?” Tony taunted. “Did you go to Stephen to ask him about it, too?”

“As a matter of fact, I did,” Peter raised his chin stubbornly. “He refused me just like you told me he would. He didn’t understand.”

“And I presume that was the day you came home mad.”

“Yes,” Peter clenched his fist. “When I asked Wanda that first time, she told me she wouldn’t do it. So I went to the sanctum and Dr. Strange turned me away.”

“And?” Tony prompted.

“When I went back to the Compound to work with Dr. Banner, I bumped into Wanda at the hallway and – and she could feel me. Whatever I was feeling inside,” he touched his chest briefly. “She asked so I told her everything – the nightmares that kept me awake, the images of Aunt May that’s burnt into my mind – everything.

He was actually still surprised that Wanda had agreed to help him. She had been extremely reluctant, unwilling to use her abilities on him and wary of incurring Tony’s ire. But he had always been nice to Wanda whenever he came over to the Compound and she had found a friend in him.

The grief, guilt, sadness, and exhaustion and his anger with her and Dr. Strange had rolled out of him in waves when he saw her again. He had told her about his sessions with Dr. Lara and of Tony trying to fix his trauma with his piece of technology. He had told Wanda of his senses overloading and of his worry that it might only get worse with school starting.

She agreed to help with the promise that he would tell her if he even felt something was not right. He didn’t ask her specifically what he should be looking out for. He just wanted to rest.

“So she fixed me,” Peter finished.

“Fix you?” Pepper frowned. “I don’t understand. How did she fix you?”

“Ask him what happened the day the aliens attacked New York,” Tony suggested.

Peter blinked and looked away.

“Ask him. Go on.”

“What happened that afternoon, Peter?” Pepper asked.

Peter shot Tony a disgruntled look.  “I went to watch Solo with May.”

“What happened after?” Tony questioned, propping a hand on his hip.

“It happened so long ago I don’t want to think about it. You shouldn’t be asking me about it. Dr. Lara said something about triggers -”

“It happened two months ago.  That’s not a very long time,” Pepper pointed out. “I’m sorry, Peter, but you’re avoiding the question.”

“I can’t do this. I don’t have to do this. I’m sorry,” Peter said. “I really want to sleep. I’ll see you guys in the afternoon, okay?”

“What happened to May that afternoon, Peter? I’m not letting this go and you know it, so it’s better that we just lay it all out on the table.”

Peter was sure his face reflected the annoyance he felt inside but Tony stood his ground and Pepper looked extremely concerned.

“She got injured and then she died.”

“How did she die?” Tony asked, relentless.

“I don’t know!” he blew off. “I don’t remember.”

He knew Tony must have expected this answer but still, his mentor took a step back, drawing a shaky breath.

“How do you mean you don’t remember?” Pepper stepped forward. “Peter, you were there.”

“He really did it,” Tony scoffed, shaking his head in disbelief. “I told you not to do it, Peter. I told you forgetting isn’t the answer.”

“I didn’t forget May,” Peter rebuked, like a petulant child. He hated how he sounded. “I still remember her. Technically, I’ve didn’t do anything you didn’t want me to.” Seriously, he shouldn’t sound this proud because it would only aggravate Tony but he was proud of this loophole. “You wanted me to remember my family. I’ve done as you’ve said, as always. I remember my mum and dad, I remember Ben and I remember May.”

“What does that mean, kid? How can you remember them and not remember things about them? What did Wanda do to you?”

Peter shrugged. “The moment she agreed, I didn’t ask too many questions. I’m fine now. I’ve never felt better and it’s thanks to her.”

That was uncalled for and he knew it too. Tony had done a lot for him and he was constantly trying to help but he was so angry and annoyed, and the moment it left his lips, he wanted to take it back. But he couldn’t so he stomped out of his own room.

Tony didn’t even stop him.

At the doorway, Peter stopped. “I’m sorry, Mr. Stark, I had to do it. You don’t have to worry about me anymore.”

“Worrying about you is part of the deal, underoos.”

That answer twisted something deep inside of him and it just made him feel rotten. Peter closed his eyes briefly, trying to compose himself but he couldn’t do it with Tony around so he left.

“Tony…” Pepper finally broke the silence. “Wanda wiped his memories?”

“I don’t think that was what she did. He wouldn’t have remembered them if she had wiped it. My theory is that she placed some sort of a mental block on him,” he sunk into a chair.  “I was so close to completing those glasses, Pep. The glasses for B.A.R.F. It could have helped him.”