Actions

Work Header

I Will Carry You (Always)

Chapter Text

The door clicked shut, and Peter sighed deeply. Finally. He was alone.

He relaxed his slightly hostile body language and flopped down on the couch, hearing the springs groan with his weight. He placed a hand over his eyes, slightly amazed at how tired he was.

It was Friday, November 23rd, which also happened to be the day after Thanksgiving. He was on break from school, crime was low, and there was little to do besides watching TV and occasionally tinkering with the stuff he had in his room.

Yet exhaustion pulled at him, making him want to do nothing more than take a nap.

Maybe it was the fight with his aunt that drove so much out of him.

I just wish sometimes she would back off. She’s suffocating me. Peter thought, shutting his eyes.

Indignation swelled within him. I should be able to go out as Spider-Man as much as I want, when I want. I have a power. I should be able to use it.

Protests filled his head as he lay down, his eyes still closed. May wouldn’t be back with dinner for a while, so maybe he’d just take a little nap…

--

His corny ringtone woke him.

He vocalized his annoyance and tried to block out the noise, wanting nothing more than to just fall back asleep. The ringtone eventually faded into silence.

It was quiet for about five seconds before his phone went off again.

Peter groaned loudly. Whoever was calling was persistent, and he grumbled as he sat up. He rubbed his eyes and picked up his phone, not even bothering to look at the Caller ID.

“Hello,” Peter mumbled, stifling a yawn.

“Am I speaking to Peter Parker?” The voice was sharp, but not unkind. More urgent than anything.

Peter blinked, suddenly more awake. “Uh, yes.”

“Peter, this is Doctor Lane. You need to come to the Hospital Center in Queens right now.”

Peter felt like he had been doused in ice water. “What? Why?”

“Your aunt has been in a car accident. I’m sorry, but we cannot provide any more details over the phone.”

Peter was wide awake now. His hands shook as he spoke, “I-I’ll be right there.”

The call ended, and Peter stood, his legs shaking.

An accident?

He swallowed hard, suddenly feeling absolutely nauseous. He had to take deep breaths to keep himself from being sick. He rushed to his bedroom and searched for his old web shooters, knowing full well that he couldn’t show up to the hospital in his full Spider-Man suit.

Shit. Where did he put his shooters?

He pretty much tore up his room before he found them, beneath his bed, under all kinds of stuff he had previously deemed useless.

He hooked them on his wrists quickly, pushed open the window, and threw himself out of it.

--

The hospital halls were sterile, bright, and smelled strongly of rubbing alcohol.

Peter’s overly-sensitive nose burned every time he inhaled, and his legs shook with every step. The lady at the counter told him that his Aunt was in room 324, and he had sprinted down the hallway in the direction of the stairs. He took the steps two at a time up until the third floor, when the apprehension slowed him down.

He counted the door numbers as he walked, his hands balled into fists at his sides, his nails digging into his palms.

320, 321, 322, 323…

There was a doctor standing outside of room 324.

She looked up as he approached.

“You must be Peter,” She said, a note of sadness in her voice.

“Where is my Aunt?” Peter spoke, surprised that the voice he heard was his own.

The doctor’s gaze turned pitiful. “I’m sorry.”

Peter felt the world collapse around him. He barely heard the words that followed the doctor’s admission. “Her car collided with a semi-truck on 164th street. Her injuries sustained from the crash were too severe. She had lost too much blood. We couldn’t save her.”

There was a sudden sharp ringing in Peter’s ears. Everything seemed too loud. The lights were too bright. All he could smell was isopropyl.

“Peter?” He blinked up at her, his vision blurry with tears.

“Where is she?” Peter whispered. “C-can… can I see her?”

The doctor nodded solemnly and opened the door. Peter forced his shaky legs to move.

The room was dark, with only one light on, and Peter almost cried with the relief from the brightness. The alcohol smell was stronger, almost sickening, but he suddenly didn’t care.

His aunt was laying on the cot in the middle of the room.

He walked over to her, feeling floaty.

She was pale. Lifeless. Cold.

The tears slid down his cheeks.

“May…” Peter whispered, his hand reaching out and touching her face. There was a cut on her cheek. It made Peter cry harder.

He fell into the chair that was placed next to her bed. His throat felt tight and his chest hurt as sobs ripped from his throat. His eyes burned with tears, and his breathing grew labored. He found his Aunt’s hand and gripped it, hating how cold it was. He hated everything then. He hated how his heart beat in his chest while hers didn’t, how his lungs inhaled and hers never would again.

The door creaked open behind him.

A plump woman came in, flicking on the lights with her. Peter’s eyes burned at the brightness.

The lady was middle aged, her hair dyed a shade between blonde and brown, gray flecks at her temples. She wore a cream dress with flowers. Her cardigan was pink. She carried a clipboard.

Her heels clicked against the linoleum as she made her way over to him. “Are you Mr. Peter Parker?”

Peter squinted up at her. He swallowed, trying to find his voice. He ended up nodding.

“I’m Susan Johnson. You can call me Mrs. Johnson. I am the social worker for this hospital.”

Social worker?

It took Peter a second. I’m an orphan.

“May I ask you what your plans are?”

Peter stared at her, then looked at the floor. “I can live on my own.” He whispered hollowly, chest aching. “I’ll file for emancipation.”

“Do you have a stable income?” She pressed, almost ruthlessly. Peter didn’t say anything. “I’m sorry, Peter, but if you don’t have a way to support yourself, emancipation isn’t an option. Now,” Her perfectly manicured hand held out her clipboard for him. “I need you to sign this. It’s a form for you to be put in foster care for the time being.”

The ringing in Peter’s ears was back. “No.” He said, his voice weak. “No. I’m not going into the system.”

“Peter,” Mrs. Johnson’s voice finally took on a note of pity that Peter could tell was feigned. “I’m sorry, but there’s no other way. Foster care is really good; the family that you will stay with is really—“

Peter was suddenly on his feet. His blood boiled beneath his skin. “I will not live with strangers. You need to leave.”

“Please be reasonable,” Mrs. Johnson’s voice had taken on an irritated tone. “You are a minor with no living family.” Peter felt a pang in his chest. “I assure you that it is not as bad as you think.”

Bile rose in Peter’s throat. “Leave,” He threatened.

She opened her mouth to speak again, and Peter growled low in his throat.

LEAVE,’ He yelled, his voice echoing in the anti-septic room. A strange violence rose in him, and he had to resist the urge to attack the woman.

She abruptly stood. “Well, I never!” She tutted as she left the room. The door closed with a click, and Peter breathed through the anger that sat like a rock in his chest.

The lights were still on and Peter shakily walked over to turn them off. He barely made it back into his chair before his legs gave out.

The social worker had left him a lot to think about. What was he going to do? She was right; he didn’t have any family left.

He took out his phone and unlocked it without thinking. Maybe he’d stay at Ned’s house tonight. Or maybe he’d just go home.

The thought of being alone in the apartment made him nauseous.

His fingers found the calling app on his phone. His thumb hovered over Ned’s number.

I can’t.

He had to act like he was okay in front of Ned, and the mere thought of having to put on a smile was enough to make him scroll past the number. He felt tears enter his eyes again.

Through blurry vision, he saw Happy’s number. Maybe he’ll give me a ride somewhere. I have enough saved up for a hotel room. He tapped the screen and held the phone up to his ear.

One ring. Two. Three. Four.

Voicemail.

This is Happy’s phone. Leave a message.”

Peter shut his phone off, his heart sinking. Just when he was about to pocket it, it rang.

It was Happy.

Peter accepted the call.

“H-hello?” Peter whispered.

“Hey kid. What’s up?”

A sob escaped Peter’s lips. He pressed a hand over his mouth, trying to smother it. “I, uh… I’m in a bit of… a s-situation?”

There was a beat of silence. “Are you alright?”

Peter had no strength left to lie. “N-no. I… I need you to pick me up.”

“Hold on,” Happy said, concern rising in his tone. “What’s going on? Where are you?”

Peter tilted his head up, wanting the tears to recede back into his eyes. “Queen’s Hospital Center.”

“You’re at the hospital? What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”

Peter didn’t want to say it, but he couldn’t avoid it any longer. “Aunt May is dead.”

Silence. Tears rolled down Peter’s face again. His hands shook.

“Oh my god. I’m so sorry Peter.” Happy sounded sad. It didn’t make Peter feel any better.

“C-can you pick me up? P-please…” Peter trailed off, a sob punctured his sentence.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can. Hang tight kid.”

The line went dead.

And Peter sobbed.

Chapter Text

The silence was deafening.

He didn’t know how long it had been since he got off the phone with Happy. He didn’t have the energy to even look at what time it was.

He felt like he was dying, and a part of him wished he was. But he pressed his fingers to the pulse point in his neck, and found that his heart still beat.

His head rested on the bed where Aunt May lay. He stared at the floor, silently pleading with whatever was out there that this whole thing had just been a dream, and he’d wake up to Aunt May making pancakes, wearing her favorite apron.

There was yelling outside his door.

He heard the social worker raising her shrill voice at someone. There were other unidentified noises and voices, but Peter found that he was too exhausted to move his head and see what all the fuss was about.

The door opened and light bled into the dark room.

“Sir, you cannot go in there!”

“Oh yeah?” A man challenged. Peter recognized the voice; how could he not? But he knew that there was no way that he could be here. Sometimes desperation or deprivation makes people hallucinate, Peter remembered reading in a textbook somewhere. He didn’t bother to turn and confirm his thoughts, however, for he was too tired to lift his head. “Well, I’m already in. Too bad for you.”

The clicking of heels.

“If you put your hands on me and I will have you sued so fast that you’ll be out of your job within the hour.” The man threatened. “Not to mention I could have a suit called to me in less than five seconds and forcibly remove you from my presence. Leave us alone. Now.”

A “humph” and the door shut.

Peter raised his head, the action making him dizzy. He turned.

If he wasn’t so bone-tired, his jaw would have dropped.

Tony Stark stood in between the door and Peter.

He was dressed in a sharp looking suit that probably cost more money than Peter’s entire wardrobe. His hair was slightly ruffled, no doubt from the verbal fight he just had. His face was slightly tense, his eyes showing something Peter could only identify as some sort of guarded concern.

Peter stared at him, blinking several times, waiting for the illusion to shatter and for him to be alone once more.

It didn’t. He was still standing there.

“Mr. Stark?” Peter croaked, hardly daring to believe he was actually there.

An expression Peter didn’t recognize crossed Tony’s face. “Hey, kid.” His voice was soft, yet somehow strained and uncomfortable.

Peter tried to stop the tears from forming (because he just couldn’t cry in front of Tony Stark), but then he realized that he wasn’t alone anymore, and he couldn’t help the strangled sob that escaped his lips. Finally, Peter thought numbly. Someone I know. Someone who doesn’t want to ship me off to an orphanage, or put me in foster care.

He was crying in front of Tony Stark, something that should have embarrassed him, but he just felt resigned instead. His Aunt was getting colder on the table as the minutes passed and each second felt like a knife to the heart (for it had been many hours since he had last heard her voice and he suddenly realized he wouldn’t hear it ever again).

He covered his mouth with his hand, trying to quiet his sobs.

Tony crossed the room. His eyes strayed to Aunt May’s body, and he shut his eyes briefly. Shit, kid, He thought, slightly shocked at the burning he felt behind his eyes. It had been months since he had felt the familiar sensation of tears about to form. God, this is bad. This is really bad.

Peter looked up at Tony from where he sat, tears still streaming down his face, his eyes burning.

Tony looked down at the child, because with a jolt, that’s what he realized Peter was. A child. One that just had everything that ever mattered ripped away from him. A lump formed in his throat.

“C’mere, kid,” Tony said quietly, pulling Peter off of the chair and into his arms. Peter put his face in Tony’s chest and let the sadness pour out of him.

Tony’s arms closed around Peter’s shaking figure, holding him close. Peter’s sobs were painful and the intensity of them hurt his throat, but he couldn’t stop. Someone was here. He wasn’t alone with his Aunt’s body anymore. Peter wrapped his arms around Tony’s middle, trying to push him closer. Tony’s arms tightened around him, and Peter let out a sob of relief.

“Alone,” Peter choked out. “Alone.”

“No. I’m here. Not alone,” He whispered, making Peter cry harder.

Tony smelled like oil and aftershave, mostly the latter, and for the first time since he’d entered the hospital, he didn’t smell the strong, stinging smell of rubbing alcohol.

Tony ran his hand through Peter’s hair, hoping it would provide some sort of comfort. God, I’m terrible at this. I’m petting the kid like a fucking animal, he thought bitterly. He dropped his hand, but then Peter made a strange noise, and he hesitantly put it back.

Peter then realized that he was ruining Tony Stark’s expensive Neiman Marcus suit, and the embarrassment that filled him almost sent him into hysterics. He removed his face, his tears slowing slightly. “Y-y-your s-suit,” Peter’s voice was shaky. “’Spensive. Don’ wanna ruin it.”

Tony shook his head and gently pushed Peter’s face back into his chest. “Don’t worry about it. You’re more important than a suit.”

The waterworks started once more.

Peter didn’t know how long they stood there, but eventually, when Peter's tears had dried up and a still silence had fallen on the pair, Tony gently pulled Peter off of him. The billionaire held him out at arms length and examined his face.

There was no color in Peter's face, with the only exception being the skin around his eyes, which were a bright red. His lips were swollen from his teeth biting on them, and his pupils were blown wide, the whites of his eyes bloodshot. 

Tony had never seen Peter look like that, and he felt it sear into his brain. Well, that was something new to keep him up at night.

After a minute, Tony spoke hesitantly. “Are you ready to leave?”

Exhaustion pulled at Peter. He nodded, the movement made his head hurt. Peter took a step towards the door, but his legs gave out and he crumpled like a rag doll.

“Whoa,” Tony said, reaching out and catching Peter before he could hit the ground. “Alright. I’ve got you.” Tony wrapped and arm around Peter, supporting him, and guided the two of them towards the door.

The fact that Peter couldn’t stand on his own terrified Tony. This is bad. This is really, really bad, He thought to himself, opening the door that led back out into the hallway.

The bright lights of the hallways felt like someone stabbed Peter’s head with a knife, and he couldn’t stop the retch that escaped him. Tony’s gaze snapped to his face. “Peter? Are you going to be sick?”

The world spun as Peter closed his eyes and took a deep breath, forcing the bile back down. I am not throwing up in front of Tony Stark. He shook his head.

There was a pause. “Okay. Just… Just tell me if you are, okay?”

Peter nodded, keeping his eyes closed. “Too bright,” He mumbled.

Tony sighed, wishing that there was something he could do to help. “I know. I’m sorry.” He led Peter down the hallway towards the elevator.

“And just where do you think you’re going?” A woman’s voice asked snobbishly. Peter groaned, pressing his face into Tony. Tony’s heart just about broke at the action, but he shut down the feelings he was experiencing and gave the lady a cold stare.

“I’m taking him. Get out of my way,” Tony said shortly, weaving his fingers into Peter’s hair and glaring down at the tiny social worker who stood in between him and the elevator.

“Sir, you cannot take him. It’s protocol that he will be taken into a center and then be put in foster care.” Peter made a strangled noise at that. “He has no living family members left. I cannot let you leave with him!” Her voice was shrill and it hurt Peter’s ears.

“Get out of my way,” Tony repeated, malice in his voice. How dare she talk about that in front of Peter? His aunt literally died hours ago, and she was talking about shipping him off to live with strangers? “I don’t think you understand who you’re dealing with, lady. This kid is my responsibility now.”

“You are not his legal guardian!” She shouted. “You are breaking the law!”

“If you have a fucking problem, talk to my lawyers! I’m done talking to you. Get out of my way!” Tony yelled back, his voice overpowering.

“Don’t shout,” Peter whispered. “Please, Mr. Stark. It hurts my head.”

Tony’s grip on Peter tightened as he tried to let go of some of his anger. “Okay,” he whispered. “Okay, no more yelling.”

He gave a severe look to the lady and pushed past her, despite her protests. He led him and Peter into the elevator, pressing the down button and shutting the door on the crazed social worker.

It was silent in the elevator. “Your head hurts?” Tony asked quietly, concern etched into his voice.

Peter nodded. “And my chest and my throat and everything…” He whimpered against Tony. “Everything hurts.”

Tony’s grip was so tight that it was nearly painful.

The elevator dinged and Tony led Peter out. Peter had no idea what was happening or where he was going, but he trusted Mr. Stark, so he just let him lead.

Suddenly, they were outside. The darkness was a blessing. Peter wanted to sob in relief.

He removed his face from Tony and the two of them slowly walked down the steps of the hospital. There was a black car out front, and Tony slid him and Peter into the backseat.

Peter would have been so happy about being in Mr. Stark’s car any other day, but today he was so physically and emotionally exhausted that he could barely lift his head to look around.

The Audi was clean and smelled like new car. Happy sat in the driver’s seat, and he glanced at Peter and gave him a smile. Peter tried to smile but the effort was exhausting. Tony closed the door to the car as Happy started the engine.

“Peter? Are you cold?” Tony asked from next to him, and Peter noticed that he was shaking.

Peter shook his head. At the moment, the only thing he felt was suffocating claustrophobia. The car was small and Peter suddenly couldn’t breathe.

“Kid?” Tony asked uncertainly and Peter tried to take a breath, but it felt like someone had removed his lungs. He couldn’t breathe.

“Peter,” Tony said, but Peter couldn’t hear him. He was hyperventilating. There was a crushing weight on his chest and his throat closed up.

Tony knew at once what was wrong.

Shit. Shit shit shit. The swear word was a mantra in Tony’s head as he watched Peter’s eyes get more panicked with each passing second. The poor kid was having a panic attack, and Tony was freaking out.

It was an inconvenient time to be bitterly reminiscing, but suddenly Tony was thinking about when he was 15 and alone at MIT. His 18 year old roommate had gone out with friends an hour ago and Tony was in the fetal position on his bed, shaking and hyperventilating, crying for his mother.

No one came. His roommate didn’t return until Tony had long since passed out, only being able to breathe freely in unconsciousness.

And it only got worse from there, for now Tony averaged about one panic attack a month, sometimes more if the situation arose.

As his throat tightened to the point of pain, he vowed that no matter how uncomfortable and out-of-his element this made him feel, he would never let that happen to Peter.

Ever.

Peter,” Tony said loudly, grabbing Peter’s shoulders. “Breathe. Breathe. It’s okay. Just breathe, kid.”

Peter sucked in a breath and it burned. His wild eyes met Tony’s with fear, but there was nothing but strong resolve in the billionaire’s brown irises. “Calm down, Peter. Breathe with me, okay?” Tony breathed in and Peter tried his hardest to mimic him. He couldn’t.

He grabbed at his throat, his eyes crazed with panic. Can’t breathe. Can’t breathe. Can’t breathe.

Tony reached out and grabbed Peter, yanking him towards him. He pressed the kid up against his chest. “Peter. Come on, kid. You have to breathe. Feel this?” Tony breathed in deeply, and then exhaled loudly. There was slight panic in his voice. “I want you to do it with me, okay? Together.”

Tony breathed and Peter did the same. Peter felt the man’s chest rise and fall, and he concentrated on that rather than the panic that rose within him. He inhaled slowly, feeling Tony’s heart beat in his ears.

“That’s right, Peter,” He whispered encouragingly as Peter’s fist clenched on Tony’s white button down. “Breathe with me, kid.”

 They breathed together and Tony met Happy’s eyes in the rearview mirror. Tony nodded, and Happy started the car.

Peter’s breathing evened out, but he continued to shake. Despite knowing that the shivers were more from shock than coldness, it didn’t stop Tony from rubbing his hands down Peter’s exposed arms.

Why the kid was wearing short sleeves in late November, Tony would never understand. But right now, there were more important things to worry about. Like the shivering, recently orphaned child in his arms.

Tony gently peeled the kid from him, examining his face and expression.

Peter was absolutely beat as he sat back in his seat, bowing his head. He had only been this tired once before, and that was after he defeated Vulture nearly two months ago. But he had a building fall on him and caused a plane to crash then. Now his aunt was dead and he was an orphan and he couldn’t even cry anymore. His head felt heavy and his eyes were on the brink of closing. His head throbbed.

“Peter? What’s up?” Tony sounded worried again. Peter didn’t want him to worry, but at the same time, it felt nice to have someone care.

“Sleepy,” Peter mumbled.

Not surprising, Tony thought, watching as the kid struggled to keep his eyes open. Your aunt just died.

Tony inwardly winced at the kid’s position. He was en route for neck soreness in the morning if he fell asleep like that.

“Lay against me, kid,” Tony said, trying to sound braver than he felt. He was so out of his league it wasn’t even funny. “You’ll hurt your neck if you sleep like that.”

Peter didn’t have to be asked twice. He slowly slid horizontally down the backseat until his head was against Tony’s shoulder. Tony sighed deeply and adjusted the kid so that the kid was snuggled comfortably against him.

Not a single word more was uttered, for Peter was already asleep.

Chapter Text

Tony Stark was in a state of silent distress.

It was silent distress because he didn’t want to wake the kid, but it was distress none the less.

He hated not knowing what to do. He despised how powerless it made him feel, and Tony Stark was not powerless.

But, when he looked down at the resting human being tucked under his arm, he realized he was. At that moment, there was no suit that could save him. No quick fix to the problem, no cheat code to enter, nothing to invent.

And it terrified him.

Because Peter Parker was an orphan, and even thinking the word felt like a crime against everything he stood for. Because he was an orphan once. Hell, he still is an orphan. He hasn’t had a family since he was seventeen.

God, what the fuck am I going to do, Tony pondered, staring out the window. The city had long fled from view, and the only lights were the moon and the stars. I can’t send him into the system. I’ve had my fair share of dealing with social workers, and there is no way I am letting Peter even see one ever again.

But what else was there to do? The kid had no family left. What, was he supposed to ship Peter back to the city when he woke up? Was he supposed to tell him to go back to his Aunt’s apartment and continue living life, pretending that everything was fine and that the ache in his chest would eventually go away?

Tell him to ignore the fact that everything still smelled like the perfume that she wore? To ignore the fact that she would never make it to his wedding, only for him to vow to never get married because of it?

Tony shut that train of thought down before it drove him into a panic attack. He took a deep breath.

I can’t do that to him. The kid is fifteen. I can’t do that to him.

“Boss? We’re here,” Happy said softly. Tony blinked.

They had somehow gotten into the garage of the Compound.

“Oh,” Tony said, surprised. “That was quick.”

Happy didn’t say anything, just opened the car door and got out.

Tony sighed deeply, looking at his watch. Damn, 2:15 in the morning. Looks like it was another sleepless night for him.

Happy opened the car door and held it aloft, waiting for Tony to make a move.

Tony thought briefly about how he was going to transport Peter. He didn’t want to wake him, so his only option was carrying him.

Tony slowly put one hand under Peter’s legs and transferred the other one to the small of his back. Ever so gently, he picked the sleeping kid up, holding him bridal style in his arms. Peter made a little noise and moved in the billionaire’s arms, nestling his face in Tony’s shoulder and his hand clutching the white button-up Tony was wearing under his suit jacket.

Tony smiled fondly as he made his way into the elevator and quietly told FRIDAY to lift them to the fourth floor, where the bedrooms were.

The elevator ride was quick and quiet, the only noise being Peter’s rhythmic breathing from his place in Tony’s arms.

The elevator didn’t ding when it reached the fourth floor, which Tony was thankful for.

However, when the doors opened, Rhodey was there, dressed in pajamas, his eyebrows raising in surprise when he got a look at Tony.

A smile crept up on Rhodey’s face and Tony rolled his eyes, but in that moment, he didn’t care that Rhodey would tease him about going soft. Because he was carrying a child in his arms and he just wanted to get him to bed.

And then maybe Tony would have a drink or twelve.

No, Tony thought, pushing past Rhodey. No alcohol. I can’t do that to the kid. I have to be coherent in the morning because he’s going to need me.

Not to mention he hadn’t touched the stuff in months. It wasn’t good for his mental health, and when Steve finally came back and joined the Avengers again, he had been a complete mom about his alcohol problems.

Tony came to stop outside the room he made for Peter two months ago. He managed to get the door open without dropping the kid, which was a feat even he was amazed at.

The room was pretty standard. The walls were a nice gray, the floor a cushy carpet. There were dozens of nerdy and movie posters on the walls that Tony’s interior designer managed to find, which made the room look more personal. There was a queen bed in the middle, with a Spider-Man comforter and white pillows. Tony smirked; he couldn’t wait to see Peter’s reaction when he saw them.

Tony walked over to the bed and attempted to pry Peter from him. It was more work than he thought, but he eventually was able to lay Peter on the bed. He put the blankets on Peter, making sure he was comfortable.

He took one last look at the kid. He didn’t even look peaceful in sleep. His eyebrows were furrowed, his lips set in a frown. Tony sighed again and brushed the kid’s hair back with his hand.

And with that, he turned off the light and left the room.

--

Rhodey found him a couple of minutes later, on a barstool at the island. His face was in his hands and he was nursing a glass of apple juice, because there was no alcohol in the Compound and he was trying to be good.

Tony didn’t even move when Rhodey clapped him on the shoulder. He heard the stool slide out next to him and felt his best friend staring at him.

“Go ahead,” Tony spoke, not removing his face from his hands. “Go ahead and ask. I know you have questions.”

"Just a few,” Rhodey said softly. “The first one being: who the hell was that kid?”

“Peter Parker,” Tony said, his hands falling from his face and landing on the counter. He took a sip from his disappointing drink. “Spider-Man.”

“That kid from Germany?” Rhodey questioned, arching an eyebrow.

“That’d be the one,” Tony said, his voice heavy.

“Alright. Second question: why is he here?”

Tony didn’t answer right away. He drained his glass, a part of him wishing it was scotch instead of fucking apple juice.

“Tony?” Rhodey pressed. “The kid. Why is he here?”

“Because I got a call from Happy at eleven,” Tony began, staring at Rhodey, the words pouring out of his mouth before he could stop them. “And I thought, ‘oh, Happy’s calling. Must be something simple, like him calling in sick for the next day. Or him asking for vacation time.’” Tony grabbed the jug of apple juice and poured himself another glass, needing something to do with his hands. “What I didn’t expect was to have him nearly in fucking tears about a call he just got from fucking Peter Parker.”

Tony took a shaky breath. His hands were trembling around his glass and his insides felt like lead.

Rhodey was silent, waiting for Tony to continue. He wasn’t sure he could.

“Happy told me that he got a call from Peter. The kid was crying on the phone, saying he needed a ride from Queen’s Hospital Center. And…” Tony ran a hand down his face. “And he said that Peter’s aunt had died.”

Tony’s hands were shaking so badly around his glass that liquid was spilling onto the counter. He let go of it and instead grabbed his hair, wondering where his self-control went.

“Okay,” Rhodey said, oblivious as to why Tony was so upset. “I don’t think I understand… why is he here, then? Why isn’t he with his family?”

Tony stared down at the counter. “Why do you think?”

Rhodey was silent for a second. “Oh. Oh.

“So I dropped everything and had Happy take me to the hospital, where I found a social worker who, for some reason, wanted to do everything in her power to keep me out of the room Peter was in. So I told her to shove it and I walked in.

“And do you know what I saw? I saw this kid, this smart, energetic child sitting in complete silence in front of his aunt’s corpse.”

“Tony…”

“And you know what else?” Tony’s voice was reaching almost hysterical. “The kid fucking sees me and just breaks. He sobs into my shirt and then we go down to the car and he has a fucking panic attack and—“

“Tony!” Rhodey says loudly. “Stop. Right now.”

Tony stares at him, realizing that his whole body is shaking and his breaths are coming out in sharp gasps.

“Deep breaths, man. Alright?” Rhodey says, his eyes not leaving Tony’s face.

Tony inhaled sharply, his lungs feeling like they’ve disappeared. He breathed out, and then repeated the action several times.

“Okay,” Tony said. “Okay. I’m better.”

“Good,” Rhodey said calmly. “So basically, the kid is an orphan.”

“Don’t say that word,” Tony said through clenched teeth.

“Sorry. What are you going to do, man? Are you… are you going to put him up for adoption?”

The thought nearly made Tony vomit.

“No,” Tony said shakily, feeling green in the face. “No, I can’t do that.”

“Okay,” Rhodey sounded supportive. “Are you going to adopt him?”

Tony laughed without humor. “Very funny, Rhodes.”

“It’s not a joke.”

Tony sent him a piercing look. “The kid’s fucked up enough as it is. He shouldn’t have to deal with a basket case as a fath—guardian,” Tony backtracked. “As his guardian.”

“You’re not a basket case,” Rhodey said firmly. “You would be great at taking care of a kid.”

“Look at me, Rhodey,” Tony said desperately. “I’m a goddamn mess and you know it.”

Rhodey shook his head but didn’t argue, knowing he couldn’t win this fight. “So what are you going to do? Send him on the streets? There aren’t a ton of options, Tony.”

Tony sighed, bone tired. “I know. I’ll think of something. For… for the time being, he’ll stay here. My lawyers are already drafting a temporary guardianship document. I’ll look after him. God knows I owe it to the kid.”

Rhodey stared at Tony for a minute. “Are you going to be okay?”

No, probably not, Tony thought before answering. “Yeah. Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

Rhodey considered him, then got up, clapping Tony on the shoulder before walking back to his room.

Tony stood up as well, walking back over to the elevator.

“Lab, FRIDAY,” Tony spoke.

There was no way he was sleeping. So he might as well work.

--

Tony Stark ended up not getting any sleep that night, but that wasn’t anything new.

Instead, he ruthlessly pushed all of his emotions aside and he worked. He finished several important emails and made some upgrades to his suit, trying his hardest to ignore the exhaustion that pulled at him.

He didn’t stop working until the sun had come up, and that was when he decided to venture into the kitchen to get a strong cup of coffee.

When he entered the living space, however, he was greeted with a table full of Avengers.

Clint, Natasha, Steve, Sam, Bruce, and Wanda. The only ones missing were Rhodey and Vision.

They all stared at him, and Tony suddenly felt like he was onstage, about to give a speech.

Clint was the first one to speak up, because of course he was. “You look terrible.”

Tony rolled his eyes, walking past them to the coffee maker. “Thanks Barton, right back at you.”

“I mean it. You look exhausted,” Clint said.

“Cool. Thanks for noticing. Next topic please,” Tony said shortly, waiting in agony as his coffee brewed.

“Where were you last night?” Natasha asked. “You disappeared halfway through our movie.”

Tony said nothing, just stared at the Keurig as the coffee slowly poured into the mug.

“Tony?” Steve had gotten up, and was now hovering like a goddamn mother hen. “What’s up?”

“Nothing,” He said immediately. Come on coffee. “Everything’s fine.”

“Tony,” Steve said quietly. “Is everything okay?"

“Jesus Christ,” Tony snapped at him, frustration and lack of sleep taking hold of him. “Can you all stop pestering me about what's wrong? I had a really shitty night and you all aren't making it better!"

He realized he admitted to not being fine as soon as his coffee was done brewing, so he grabbed his mug and walked as fast as he could out of the living space.

Tony sighed as the elevator went down to the lab again. Peace at last.

His phone buzzed in his pocket. He fished it out and answered. “Tony Stark.”

“Hello, Mr. Stark. My name is Amy, I work for Queen’s Hospital Center. You are the temporary guardian of Mister Peter Parker, correct?”

Damn. His lawyers worked fast. “Correct.”

“Excellent. So, as you are aware, May Parker died last night, and her body has been transported to a morgue.”

Jesus Christ.

“So, if you would like to have a service for Mrs. Parker, preparations need to begin.”

Tony swallowed. “Right. Okay. Yes, we would like a service.”

“Excellent,” Amy sounded happy. “First things first. Would you like her body cremated or buried?”

Tony almost spit out his mouthful of coffee. “Oh. Uh…”

“I understand that this seems sudden, but studies have shown that a quick funeral helps jumpstart the grief process.”

“I get it,” Tony tried to control his annoyance. “I’m going to talk to Peter and I’ll call you back.”

“That’s perfectly—“

Tony hit the end button.

Chapter Text

When Peter Parker woke up, the sun was glinting through the blinds in the room he was staying in.

He also noticed that his chest was sore. And that his head hurt. And his eyes burned.

He didn’t get up. He just rolled over, his back to the door, and stared at the walls, trying to ignore the empty feeling in his chest.

He knew he was at the Avenger’s Compound, but it didn’t excite him. He would rather be at home, with Aunt May, than be at the Compound any day.

God. It hurt to even think her name.

He swallowed around the lump in his throat.

The door opened.                                                                                                                                                          

Peter didn’t move.

“Underoos? Are you awake?” Mr. Stark’s voice broke the silence. Peter said nothing, not moving from his spot on the bed.

“FRIDAY?” Tony asked the room. “Is Peter awake?”

“Yes, boss. Peter Parker woke up ten minutes ago.”

Peter silently cursed the AI.

“Peter?” Tony asked him. “Come on, up and at ‘em, bud.”

Peter didn’t move. “Go away,” He muttered hoarsely.

Tony raised his eyebrows. Well, that wasn’t what he was expecting. “Come on kid, you can’t lay in bed all day.”

“Watch me,” Peter retorted.

Tony sighed tiredly, walking over and sitting on the bed. “Peter. I need…” The words died on Tony’s tongue. He thought back to the phone call he had received a few minutes ago. God, how was he going to ask this grieving child whether or not he wants to burn his aunt, or bury her?

“Peter. I know this is soon, but the hospital called,” Peter finally turned to face him, propping himself up on his elbow. There was something that looked a lot like hope in his eyes. “There are preparations to be made. For… for her funeral.”

The remaining color left in Peter’s face drained from it, as well as the hope in his eyes. He sat up, his back resting against the headboard of the bed. “Right. Okay.” He couldn’t meet Tony’s eyes.

Tony felt so out of his comfort zone that it took all he had to keep from running out of the room, tail between his legs. “Do you want to help me plan it?”

Peter’s eyes filled with tears. “I… I would… but…”

“Okay,” Tony gave the kid a gentle smile. Or at least what he hoped was a gentle smile. “I’ll take care of it bud.”

Peter nodded fiercely. “Th-Thank you, Mr. Stark.”

The tears in Peter’s eyes just about broke Tony’s heart. He put his hand on Peter’s shoulder, trying to provide a semblance of comfort. The kid looked so damn small.

God, and I thought this kid could fight against Steve? Against Wanda? Irresponsible, Stark.

 “Are you okay?” Tony asked quietly. “Do you need anything?”

 Peter shook his head. “I’m… I’m just going to get some more sleep.”

Tony nodded, squeezing Peter's shoulder and standing up silently. “If you need anything, and I mean anything, tell FRIDAY and she’ll notify me.”

Peter nodded again. Tony mussed his hair up, and left the room.

Peter lay back down, letting the tears slip.

He cried himself to sleep.

--

Peter didn’t come out of his room the rest of the day, or the next.

Tony was worried. He would check on the kid every hour or so, but he’d either be asleep or pretending to be. He understood that he wanted his space, but the amount of space was slightly worrying.

Peter also wasn’t eating much, which stressed Tony out more than anything.

He knew the kid liked, and needed, to eat a lot. When they were in Germany, he took Peter out to dinner. His meal was twice the size of Tony’s, and the kid still had room for dessert.

He knew it was due to the advanced, super quick metabolism that the spider bite gave him. The serum made Steve was the same way, although he tried to act like he wasn’t always hungry.

But Peter barely touched any food that Tony brought him. The first day, he brought in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He sat with Peter as he nibbled on the sandwich, then watched as he laid back down. A few hours later, he brought in some scrambled eggs. Peter had a couple bites, before pushing the plate away.

The second day, he brought in another plate of food. Peter ate a little more than the day before, but not enough to be sustainable, even for a normal person.

It was the third day, and Peter hadn’t come out of his room. May’s funeral was the next day, and Tony wasn’t sleeping well. He was up late into the night worrying about the kid, wondering what he could do to make him feel better.

The day of the funeral came, and Tony got Peter up early. He basically had to drag him into the shower, and helped him put on a suit that Tony had bought him a day previously.

The day was cold and gray, and the funeral itself was a small affair. A few people came and paid their respects, but it was mostly Tony and Peter, who sobbed quietly into Tony’s suit throughout the whole thing. Tony just held him, whispering small reassurances and pretending that the wetness on his own face was due to the rain that had started to pour.

The ride back to the Compound was in silence. Peter was tucked up against Tony, who rubbed his arm, wishing that he knew of a better way to help.

Peter fell asleep in the car again, and Tony carried him back to bed, uninterrupted this time.

--

It was on the sixth day that Tony had decided that he had enough.

He walked into Peter’s room at 9 in the morning and opened his curtains.

“Rise and shine, kiddo.”

Peter blinked against the intrusion of light. “Wha—?”

“Come on. It’s time to get up,” Tony said, crossing his arms and staring down at the disheveled kid.

A shadow crossed Peter’s face. He lay back down, facing away from Tony. “I’m fine here.”

“Are you?” Tony questioned. “You’ve barely gotten out of this bed for six days. Not only is it gross, but it’s not healthy. And on top of that, you’ve barely eaten anything kid.”

Peter opened his mouth to say that he wasn’t hungry, but the words died on his tongue. He was hungry.

“I ordered French toast,” Tony offered, noticing the look on Peter’s face. “But I’m afraid you can’t have any unless you come downstairs.”

Peter pulled a face, but there was a slight glow of humor in his eyes. It made Tony’s heart soar. “Also, just to let you know, there’s a whole group of Avengers downstairs who are probably dying to meet you.”

Peter’s heart skipped a beat. “E-Even Captain America?”

Tony grinned. “Yep.”

That had the kid flying out of bed and into the bathroom, shutting the door behind him.

Tony chuckled, smiling to himself. Improvements.

--

Peter showered quickly, trying not to let intrusive thoughts distract him from the task at hand. Once he was out of the shower, Mr. Stark knocked on the door and told him that there were some clothes waiting for him outside.

He wrapped the towel around his waist and opened the door. There were a pair of jeans and a graphic t-shirt waiting for him, along with a black jacket.

He quickly put them on, brushed his teeth and hair, and left his room.

Mr. Stark was waiting for him in the hallway, phone in hand.

“Ready, kid?” Mr. Stark asked him, clapping him on the shoulder.

“Yes, Mr. Stark,” Peter said, a ghost of a smile on his lips.

“Mr. Stark was my dad. Call me Tony.”

“I’ve always called you Mr. Stark,” Peter pointed out.

“Yeah, well, times have changed,” Tony muttered as they walked into the elevator. “To the great room, FRIDAY.”

Peter raised an eyebrow. “What’s a great room?”

“Another word for living room.”

“Then why don’t you just call it a living room?”

“Because it’s my Compound and I’ll call it whatever I want.”

“Whatever you say, Mr. Stark.”

“Exactly. And for the second time, it’s Tony.”

The doors opened, and they stepped out.

The room was large and open, with big windows and hardwood floors.  Left of the nook where the elevator sat was the kitchen, which was equipped with fancy stainless steel appliances. There was a flat screen TV positioned above the stove, which was off at the current moment. There was a fancy bar, made completely of marble, with cushy gray bar stools. There was a large white table adjacent to the kitchen, which had chairs that matched the barstools.

To the right was the living area, which consisted of three large, white, and expensive looking couches. There was a glass coffee table in the space in the middle, and a large TV sat on the wall. This one was turned on, however, and MSNBC news was playing.

Overall, the room looked well decorated, and probably cost more than Peter thought was necessary.

The second thing Peter noticed was the smell of French toast wafting around the space. He inhaled deeply, his stomach growling.

The last thing Peter noticed was that there were eleven pairs of eyes on him.

The Avengers were all dispersed around the room, most of them at the table eating, and they had all looked up when Tony and he entered.

Peter felt a blush rising to his cheeks, but Tony spoke before he could think too much about it.

“Everyone, this is Peter Parker.”

They all continued staring at him, until a man with dark skin got up and walked over to them. “Hi, Peter. I’m Colonel James Rhodes, but you can call me Rhodey,” He smiled warmly, and Peter shook his hand, star struck.

War Machine, in the flesh. Wow.

The second person to get up was Captain America, and Peter had to rein in his excitement to keep it from showing on his face.

“Nice to meet you, kid. I’m Steve.” He held on his hand, and Peter took it.

“H-Hi. I’m Peter. I mean, uh, you knew that. I’m a really big fan.” Peter rambled as Tony rolled his eyes. It was then that Peter realized he was still shaking the man’s hand. “Oh, uh, I should probably stop shaking your hand now.”

He dropped it abruptly, now red in the face. Steve looked at him, a strange expression warping his features.

“Have we met before?” Steve asked, bewildered.

Peter opened his mouth to answer, but Tony interrupted. “Nope. You must be thinking of someone else.”

Peter closed his mouth slowly, confused. Odd.

He was slowly introduced to the rest of the Avengers, and Peter could hardly contain his excitement.

“Breakfast, Peter?” Tony asked him, pointing over to the pile of French toast that lay on a plate atop the counter. Peter’s mouth watered. He had forgotten how hungry he was.

Tony led him over and handed him a plate. Peter piled the food high, barely making it to the table before he started to eat with gusto.

Tony sat down next to him with a substantially lesser potion of French toast and a large cup of coffee.

“Slow down, kid. You’ll make yourself sick,” Tony chastised him. He cut into his breakfast and Peter paused, swallowing a large mouthful.

“Sorry, Mr. Stark,” He said sheepishly. “I didn’t realize I was so hungry. Actually, I should have realized. Did you know I eat more ever since—“

Tony shot him a warning look and Peter abruptly stopped talking, instead shoving an entire piece of French toast into his mouth whole.

After breakfast, Tony took him on a tour around the Compound. Peter was amazed at the sheer size of it, and at the fact that he got to stay here, at least until Mr. Stark kicked him out.

After that, they had lunch, which was a large plate of sandwiches. Peter was halfway through his meal when the Avengers told Tony that they all had a meeting to go to.

“And why wasn’t I notified?” Tony asked, an edge to his voice. “There’s a reason why I carry a phone with me all the time.”

“Sorry, but it was scheduled last minute,” Steve said. “We just found out a few minutes ago.”

Tony muttered something that sounded like “pain in my ass”, but got up from his place next to Peter nonetheless. “I’ll be back in a half an hour or less. Find something to do, okay? We have a ton of gaming systems and the TV has all the channel packages.”

Peter nodded, ignoring the empty feeling in his stomach. “Uh, okay. I’ll… I’ll do something.”

Tony gave him a small smile, before it faded and he turned back to his teammates.

“Fine. Let’s go.”

Chapter Text

The conference room was smaller than most rooms in the Compound, but still large enough to comfortably fit nine Avengers.

The first thing Tony realized was that it was empty, and the screen that was used for video chats was off.

The second thing he realized was that he had been set up by his friends, and that there was no meeting. However, before he could turn and leave, Steve and Clint were standing in front of the closed door.

Tony glared at them. “Let me out.”

“Just sit down, Tony,” Natasha sighed. “We all need to talk.”

“Really?” Tony asked, annoyed. “You guys forced me in here to have a talk? Jesus Christ, I feel like I’m at group therapy.”

Steve glared at him, so Tony strode over to the chair at the head of the table and sat down, defeated. “Alright. Fine. Let’s have a nice talk, because there definitely isn’t any work I have to do or anything.” He crossed his arms, voice dripping with sarcasm.

It was quiet for a minute, during which Tony angrily tapped his bicep, before Wanda broke the silence. “Who’s the kid?”

Oh god. It was that kind of talk. He would have much rather it had been about his unhealthy coping habits. His tapping stopped. “I already told you. His name is Peter Parker.”

“Yeah, but why is he here? You’ve never brought a kid here, ever,” Natasha pressed.

Tony swiveled back and forth in his chair. “Well, there’s a first time for everything, right?”

“Tony,” Steve inquired. “Come on. You left in the middle of our movie the other night and we’ve barely seen you since. And now you just show up with a kid? We deserve to know, Tony.”

Rhodey looked at him, and Tony met his gaze. He shut his eyes. “Fuck,” He muttered, rubbing his eyes. “Fine. Fine, I’ll talk.”

Tony sighed. “The kid is here because he doesn’t have anywhere else to go. His aunt, his last remaining family member, died a week ago, on November 23rd. I couldn’t let him go into the system, so I brought him here. I’m now his temporary guardian.”

It was quiet for a few seconds. “That’s incredibly noble and all, Tony, but… why? There are thousands of orphans all over New York… why did you choose him?” Steve asked, bewildered.

“Also, you’ve said you hated children,” Natasha pointed out. “Why did you suddenly decide to bring one in?”

Tony avoided eye-contact. “I have my reasons.”

“Don’t be coy, Stark,” Clint ground out. “There is a stranger living in our Compound. We have every right to know why he’s here.”

“Oh, shove it up your ass, Barton,” Tony retorted, his blood pressure rising. “I don’t owe you shit.”

“Alright, everyone relax,” Steve spoke up again, ever the peacekeeper. “Language, Tony.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Don’t tell me what to do.”

“Come on, Tony,” Rhodey finally spoke up. “Just tell them. It’s not so bad.”

Tony pinched the bridge of his nose. “Fine. Peter is Spider-Man. Happy now, everyone?”

Complete silence.

“Oh, my god,” Wanda spoke first. She sounded horrified. “The… the one you brought to Germany?”

Tony couldn’t say anything. He just nodded.

“Jesus Christ,” Natasha breathed. “Tony… How old is he?”

“Fifteen. Fourteen in Germany,” Tony’s voice wasn’t as steady as he wanted it to be.

“Oh my god,” Steve whispered, looking perturbed. “I fought a fourteen year old. I could have killed him.”

“I threw cars at him…” Wanda fretted, twisting her hands in her lap. “I pitched him across the airport.”

Tony opened his mouth to tell them to stop being so dramatic, but then he thought back to the night at the hospital and the words died in his mouth. Peter had looked so small…

Tony suddenly felt very sick. He had brought a child to a battlefield. Peter could have gotten injured, or worse. Oh god, what was he thinking? He was suddenly found himself remembering the kid getting thrown around, getting hit by cars…

He sucked in a sharp breath. He will never be in that much danger ever again. I won’t permit it.

“Tony, that’s—“ Steve started.

“Child endangerment. Irresponsible. Reckless,” Tony found it difficult to move his lips. “Horrifying. Sickening—”

“Stop,” Bruce cut in, the first time he said anything. “Now I know I wasn’t here for that, and we can all agree that you made a mistake. But I think you taking care of the kid makes up for it.”

It didn’t make Tony feel any better. Horrifying images flew through his mind. Peter bleeding, Peter on the ground, Peter dying…

“Tony,” Rhodey’s voice broke through the ringing in his ears. “You’re pale. Are you okay?”

Tony swallowed the bile that rose in his throat, trying to breathe. “I’m fine. Are we done here?”

He didn’t wait for their response. He stood up, and without a glance backwards, strode out of the room.

--

After Tony left for the meeting, Peter couldn’t help but feel alone.

Mr. Stark had barely left his side this past week, and he had gotten used to his presence. Even when Peter stared at the walls and didn’t talk, Mr. Stark was there, sitting in silence, just keeping him company. He must have realized that even though Peter told him that he wished to be alone, it was actually the last thing he wanted.

But now, Peter thought as he started on his last sandwich, he was truly alone for the first time since… since…

He set his sandwich down, the hunger leaving him. He stood up from his place at the table, a hollow feeling in his gut. Alone.

His hands were shaking as he sat on the couch, picking up the remote and turning on the TV.

The channel that was on was MSNBC, and Peter quickly turned it, knowing that more depressing news was the last thing he needed. He instead settled on something nice and mindless: the first Back to the Future movie.

It was one of his favorites, but for some reason, it didn’t distract him. Dark thoughts were creeping back into his mind, and his attempts to push them away were futile.

It was his fault that his aunt died. He knew it was. They had fought a half an hour before she left, and just five minutes before she stepped out the door she asked if he wanted to come with her to go get the food, and he had declined.

He had declined. He sealed her fate.

He could have stopped the accident. He could have used his enhanced senses to tell when the semi-truck was coming. He could have stopped the accident.

But instead, he was in the apartment, relieved that she had left.

It was his fault. Maybe if they hadn’t fought, she would have been paying more attention to what she was doing.

His fault.

“Peter?”

Peter pulled himself out of his thoughts and looked up. Tony was staring down at him, concern etched into his features.

That was when Peter realized that there were hot tears streaming down his face. He swiped at them, but more kept coming. Stupid, stupid.

“H-Hi,” Peter spoke, his voice shaking.

Tony sat down softly. “Are you okay?”

Peter nodded, wishing the tears would stop.

“Are you sure?” Tony pressed quietly.

Peter nodded again and climbed into Tony’s arms, the sickening loneliness leaving and the exhaustive depression setting in.

--

Peter ended up falling asleep on Tony and woke up an hour later, incredibly embarrassed.

“Good morning sunshine,” Tony said teasingly. “Have a nice nap?”

“Could have been better,” Peter muttered, wiping sleep from his eyes.

“Do you want to put on another movie?” Tony offered, handing Peter the remote. “I don’t have anything planned for the rest of the day. It’s just you and me, okay?”

Peter nodded, taking the remote and putting on another movie.

After the movie, it was time for dinner. Tony had ordered pizza, which was Peter’s favorite food. He wasn’t sure if the man knew that or not, but he must have realized it after Peter ate four slices.

It was a nice meal. Everyone else ate as well, and the table was filled with loud and happy voices. Peter was fully distracted for the first time since Aunt May died.

After dinner, Clint and Sam started a Mario Kart tournament. Two people versed each other for one race, and the victor went on. The pairings were Clint versus Sam, Steve versus Wanda, Rhodey versus Natasha, and Tony versus Peter.

Rhodey (who played as Luigi) and Natasha (who played as Bowser) were first to go, and Natasha won, to absolutely no one's surprise.

Clint (Wario) and Sam (Waluigi) were next, and they were absolutely ruthless. Peter couldn’t tell who was swearing more, for every time anything would happen, they both would spout colorful vocabulary that had Tony glaring at them.

“There’s a minor here,” He reprimanded. “Watch your mouths.”

“You’re worse than us, Stark, so shut your mouth,” Clint said, before yanking the remote to avoid a banana. “Holy shit! Did you fucking see that?! That was pure talent.”

In the end, Clint won, but just by a hair.

Then it was Steve (Toad) and Wanda (Rosalina). It was common knowledge that Steve was terrible at Mario Kart, so Wanda took the race no problem.

Then it was Tony and Peter. Tony beat Peter to the punch and chose Mario before he could, and Peter sulked for a minute before choosing Baby Mario, which was his second best character.

“Spider-Man is baby Mario,” Tony snorted. “How fitting.”

“How is it fitting?” Peter demanded. “I was going to choose Mario but then you took it!”

“Of course I took it. I’m the full sized Mario, you’re just the baby.”

Peter rolled his eyes. “Are you done with your power trip yet?”

“Nope. Not before I kick your butt at this,” Tony smirked.

Peter gripped the controller tightly. He had to win.

The race started off fine. Peter quickly gained the lead, having thrown a perfectly placed banana him, making Tony stall.

It was probably the tensest Peter had been while playing a video game. Because Tony was really good. Way better than Ned or anyone else he had ever played.

The second lap got more intense. Tony gained the lead momentarily after throwing a red shell at Peter. But then Peter got him with another banana, and he regained the lead.

The third lap was cut throat. It was back and forth, Tony gaining the lead and then losing it, and vice versa.

The finish line was in view, and Tony was in front of Peter. Peter ran through a mystery package and got a banana.

He threw it forward, and it landed right in front of Tony. He spun out and Peter passed him, getting the victory.

Peter cried out in excitement as the room erupted into cheers. Tony stared at the screen in shock and sat back against the sofa cushions, blinking.

“Damn, Tony! He kicked your ass!” Sam cried out, cheering loudly. Soon, everyone was high fiving Peter and Peter’s face hurt from smiling so much.

Tony finally spoke. “I have never been so humiliated in my whole life. I just got beaten at Mario Kart by a fifteen year old.”

“That’s what you get for being cocky,” Peter stuck out his tongue.

“Watch it, kid,” Tony warned, but there was humor in his eyes. “I was just off my game. I could drag your ass any day.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Peter grinned. “I beat you when it counted.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”

The next match was Wanda versus Clint, and Clint won by a landslide. Peter beat Natasha by a hair, and then it was the final race.

Peter chose Mario and Clint chose Wario. It was close throughout the whole race. Clint was better than Tony, but now Peter had his main character back.

When Peter won, everyone stared at the screen in shock.

And then the room erupted.

Everyone was cheering. Sam had leapt up off the couch and threw his hands in the air. Clint was watching the screen in shock.

More high fives were exchanged, pats on the back were given, and when it was Tony’s turn, he reached over gave him a one-armed hug.

“I’m proud of you, kiddo,” He said proudly. For some reason, the simple praise made Peter’s eyes burn with happiness.

He ruffled Peter’s hair affectionately, and Peter smiled again.

Clint finally shook himself out of his stupor and put on a fake smile. He shook Peter’s hand.

“You got lucky, kid,” Clint said.

“That wasn’t luck,” Sam scoffed. “He’s got talent.”

“Damn right,” Tony put his hand on his back. “He whooped you, Barton.”

Peter grinned. “Yeah, I kind of did.”

“Oh, now the kid’s getting cocky? Wait until Tony tells him to go to bed,” Clint smirked.

“Ah, good point. Thanks, Barton. Peter, it’s time for bed,” Tony said, a grin playing on his lips.

Peter’s gaze snapped to him. “What? I have a bed time?”

“Uh, yeah,” Tony rolled his eyes like it was obvious. “You’re fifteen. You have a bed time.”

Peter groaned, embarrassed. He never used to have a bed time. “Fine,” He picked himself up off the couch. “Good night everyone.”

Everyone wished Peter goodnight as they turned off the game console, changing the TV over to a movie.

Peter went upstairs, feeling like a child. He walked to his room and changed into his pajamas. He lay down on his bed, absolutely beat.

He shut his eyes, and he was asleep.

Chapter Text

Tony knew his peaceful sleep wasn’t going to last, but he had hoped.

He woke up four hours later, when the clock read 2:18am. When he awoke, however, he knew he was up for the day. There was a strange unease in his bones, one that he knew he couldn’t just sleep away. So he got up and went over to his “late night office”, which sat adjacent to his bedroom.

He did work for a while, but then his eyes started to burn, and he decided to go down to the kitchen and prepare himself his favorite late night snack: mozzarella cheese sticks.

He got up from his chair and stretched, feeling his muscles pop, before leaving his room and walking quietly into the hallway, his mind focused on the cheese sticks he was excited to eat.

“No… Please…”

Tony stopped dead in the middle of the hallway. The noise was coming from Peter’s room.

Without even stopping and thinking, he walked into the room.

--

Everything was pitch black.

“Peter!” His aunt called out to him.

He couldn’t find her. It was too dark. He ran, trying to follow her voice.

He found her, laying down, blood seeping from a wound in her chest.

“Why did you fight with me, Peter?” Aunt May whispered. “I wouldn’t have been distracted if you didn’t fight with me. I would have lived, Peter.”

No.

“No!” Peter yelled, kicking violently in his sleep.

Lacerations appeared all over her body. Blood started pouring from May’s mouth. She tried to say something, but all that came out was a strangled gurgle.

“Aunt May!” Peter screamed.

“Kid! Kid, it’s alright!”

Blood. So much blood.

No. No. No.

“No…” Peter whimpered.

“Peter, wake up!”

His eyes shot open.

The room was dark, the only light being the nightlight that was plugged into the wall in the corner of the room.

Mr. Stark was staring down at him, concern etched into his features.

And that was when Peter’s breathing quickened.

He sat upright in bed, his hand creeping up and resting on his chest. It burned as he tried to inhale, the breath getting caught in his throat. His breaths were gasps as he twisted his shirt in his fist, starting to freak out.

“I—I can’t—I can’t breathe,” Peter gasped, grasping the sheets with his other hand.

“You have to,” Tony’s voice was strong and calm. “In and out, bud. Come on.”

Peter tried to breathe again but it suddenly felt like he had no lungs. He was suffocating.

Oh my god, he was suffocating.

“I’m having—a heart attack,” Peter managed to say. The panic coursing through his veins was like nothing he had ever felt before. “I can’t. Tony. Please.”

It was the first time Peter had ever called him Tony, and for some reason it broke his heart.

“Peter, look at me,” Peter’s eyes, wild with terror, found Tony’s. Tony made his face show none of the sadness and terror that coursed through his heart. “You are not having a heart attack. You are fine. I would never let anything happen to you. Breathe.”

Peter sucked in a breath, but it was shaky and uneven. He tried again, though, and it evened out a little.

“That’s right,” Tony encouraged quietly. “Just breathe.”

Peter inhaled again, his breathing almost completely normal. But, seemingly out of nowhere, Peter began shaking violently. Tony reached out and ran his hands up and down the kid’s bare arms, trying to provide some warmth.

“I’m s-sorry for waking you,” Peter apologized quietly. “I d-didn’t mean to.”

“Don’t apologize,” Tony said immediately. “I was awake anyways.”

Peter stared down at his pajama clad legs and bit his lip.

Fuck, Tony thought, his heart breaking. The kid looks so damn small. How the fuck do I fix this?

“How about you tell me about what you were dreaming about?” Tony pressed gently.

Peter picked at a thread on his pants. “What just happened to me?”

Ah yes, avoidance. Taking a leaf out of my book, kid? “That was a panic attack.”

Peter met Tony’s eyes, confused. “A panic attack? What… what does that mean?”

Tony chewed on his lip. “It’s basically when something makes you feel this crazy, intense sensation of fear, and your body reacts. Usually, your heart rate increases and it becomes difficult to breathe. Sometimes you feel like you’re going crazy. Other times you feel nothing but your own heart beating in your ears.”

Tony suddenly felt like he had overshared, and cleared his throat.

“Tony?” Peter’s voice was so small. “Do… Do you have panic attacks?”

Tony felt his throat tighten. “Yeah, I do. I usually get them once a month, sometimes more.” His voice sounded incredibly off.

“How… How do you deal with them?” Peter whispered.

I don't. Tony cleared his throat again, pushing the thought away and wondering why there was moisture in his eyes. “I don’t let them affect me too much. It sucks in the moment, yes, but then I try to move on. I don’t let it define me. And you shouldn’t either, Peter.”

Tony could see the tears welling in the child’s eyes, and he sighed. “Come here, kid.”

Peter didn’t hesitate. He climbed into his mentor’s arms, and cried.

--

Peter’s nightmares didn’t go away.

FRIDAY would alert Tony whenever one was occurring, and Tony would go to Peter’s room and find the kid in varying degrees of distress. Thankfully, none of the nightmares triggered any more panic attacks, but the frequency of the nightmares were a little anxiety inducing for Tony.

Not only that, but the kid refused to talk about them.

Every night, after he would wake up screaming, Peter would cry silently against Tony, and whenever Tony would press him for details about his dreams, Peter wouldn’t say anything.

Tony told himself he didn’t mind getting up and helping Peter through his nightmares, but it had been several days, and Tony was tired.

He told himself he needed less sleep than the average human, but he needed some, and thanks to the nightmares that Peter was having, he was only getting about three hours a night.

And the scary thing was that Peter was getting even less.

It would take ages for him to fall asleep, according to FRIDAY, and when he finally did fall asleep, it was only for a few hours before he awoke to his own screaming.

And after Tony had calmed him down enough for him to stop shaking and crying, he was too wound up to sleep. So he waited until the sun rose and then got up to start the day.

It was during the evening on the third day of this torturous cycle that Tony decided to stage an intervention.

Most of the team was either gone or busy, so it was only Tony and Peter for dinner.

“FRIDAY, tell Peter it’s time to eat,” Tony said distractedly, opening the boxes of pizza and getting out plates for him and Peter. A few minutes later, Peter came out of the elevator, looking excited.

“Dig in, kid,” Tony said, handing Peter a plate. Peter excitedly piled his plate full of pizza, babbling happily about something or other, and sat down next to Tony at the island.

They began eating. It was quiet for a few moments, and then Tony finally worked up the courage to talk.

“You look tired,” He said quietly.

Peter looked up from his food and met Tony’s eyes. “M’fine.”

The dark circles under the kid’s eyes told otherwise. Tony snorted. “And I’m a big purple elephant.”

Peter cracked a smile at that. “That’s easy to imagine.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Anyways,” He grinned, before becoming serious again. “We need to talk.”

The humor left Peter’s eyes. “About what?”

“The fact that you haven’t slept in days,” Tony said blatantly. “And don’t lie to me. I know you’re not sleeping.”

Peter frowned down at his pizza. “I’m fine.” He said again.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ve already heard it,” Tony bit into his pizza a little aggressively. “We need to talk about this, Peter.

Something flashed in Peter’s eyes. “Can we not do this right now?”

“Nope,” Tony said briskly. “Because, if you look around, we’re the only ones here right now. So I think it’s a perfect time to talk.”

Peter’s bottom lip shook, and so he bit down on his hard and looked away. “Please, Mr. Stark. I…”

Tony’s heart broke. So we’re back to Mr. Stark now? “We have to talk about this, kiddo. It’s not healthy to keep everything in. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to deal with this.”

Peter’s hands shook and he removed them from the counter. He stared at his lap. “I can’t. Please.”

His voice was so fucking small and sad that it made Tony want to never talk about it ever again. But he knew he couldn’t do that. Talking about this would be good for both of them, not matter how uncomfortable it made him.

“You have to,” Tony said, feeling the hurt in his heart. “They’ll never stop if you don’t.”

Peter looked up, meeting Tony’s eyes. Tony suddenly felt self-conscious but met the kid’s stare. You’re the adult. Act tougher than the kid.

Peter looked sick suddenly. He took a deep breath. “I… It’s…”

“Hey guys, what’s up?” The elevator door had opened and Clint strolled out, sweaty and red in the face. He must have been in the gym, working out. “Dude, is that pizza? Hell yeah!”

Anger filled Tony, but just as he was going to tell Clint to fuck off, Peter spoke up. “Yeah! Mr. Stark ordered a bunch. You can have some.”

Tony glared at the kid, who was purposefully avoiding his eyes.

“Son of a bitch,” Tony muttered, wondering why the fuck his eyes were burning with tears. Why did I ever think I was capable of doing this? I can barely take care of myself, why did I think it was a good idea to bring a kid into the fucked up reality that is my life?

I’m failing him, the sad, desperate thought broke through his mind. Maybe it was better for him to go into foster care. Maybe then he wouldn’t have to deal with a basket case as a guardian.

“Fuck,” Tony swore harshly. He grabbed his plate, angrily slammed it down next to the sink, shattering it. Without a look back, he went upstairs, where he stayed for the rest of the night.

Chapter Text

The loneliness had crept back as soon as Tony went upstairs, and Peter stared down at the counter, trying to control his breathing. Alone.

The evening had passed slowly, and Peter turned in early, the loneliness unbearable. His heart was racing as he bade everyone a short goodnight.

As soon as the elevator door closed, Peter shut his eyes, which were quickly filling with moisture.

The doors opened again and Peter dragged himself to his room. He closed the door quietly, before he sank to his knees.

His back found the wall as ripping sobs escaped him, and within seconds, he couldn’t breathe.

The only thing he could hear was his heartbeat in his ears. His hand unconsciously came up and grabbed at his chest, pulling at his shirt, which suddenly felt too goddamn tight and oh my god he couldn’t breathe. He kept trying to inhale but the air got stuck, and the more time that passed, the more panicked he became.

Can’t. Breathe.

Peter’s other hand dug his nails into his palm, trying to ground himself. His throat was closed. His lungs had disappeared. He was dying, surely.

An intense nausea filled him and Peter doubled over, feeling sick. His hand snaked up and grabbed at his neck, pulling at the constricting force that wasn’t even there.

“Peter,” Tony was there, but Peter had no idea when he had arrived. “Peter, you need to breathe.”

Peter’s mind spun, dots rapidly appearing and spreading across his vision. His head suddenly felt heavy.

“Peter Parker, you are not going to pass out on me,” Tony snapped, his voice filled with barely controlled panic. “For the love of god, breathe.

Peter’s wild eyes found Tony’s and the kid exhaled shakily. Tony wrapped Peter in his arms and breathed loud, over-dramatic breaths that the kid could easily copy. It worked, and soon, the dots on Peter’s vision cleared and the room stayed stationary.

Peter sat and breathed for several minutes, the panic receding. Not alone.

“Oh Peter,” Tony sighed. “You’re gonna make me gray, kid.”

“You’re already gray,” Peter tried to joke, his voice a gasp.

Tony’s mouth twisted but he didn’t smile. Instead, he gently helped Peter up off the ground and walked with him to the bed, and he sat down. Peter stared at the sheets, avoiding Tony’s eyes.

Now or never. “We have to talk, kid,” Tony said quietly. “You know we do. It’s only going to get worse.”

“Why can’t you understand,” Peter whispered. “That I can’t. It hurts too much. Tony, please.”

Tony, please. God, the whimper hurt more than anything. The kid was hurting, and Tony knew the feeling all too well. He still experienced it sometimes, late at night, when the world seemed loud and the thoughts in his brain even louder.

“Why are you so scared?” Tony asked, his voice just barely above a whisper. “Talking about it is going to help. Why is the thought of telling me what is happening in your mind so scary?”

Peter’s chest moved up and down, his carefully controlled breaths becoming harsh again. Tony quickly pulled the kid into his arms before he could spiral into another anxiety attack. “No more panic attacks. You need to let yourself breathe, Pete. Okay? Calm down.

Peter gripped Tony’s hand like it was the only thing keeping him alive. “I’m scared because… because it’s my fault that she’s dead.”

Tony’s eyes didn’t leave Peter’s face. “Why do you say that?”

Agony ripped across Peter’s features. “Because I fought with her, just a half an hour before she left. She told me that I couldn’t go out and be Spider-Man whenever I wanted, and I complained. I… I told her that…”

The kid started crying then. His face scrunched up as the tears fell. “I told her that… that s-she wasn’t my mother and to stop acting like she was.”

Peter dissolved into heartbroken sobs and Tony gently rocked him back and forth. Fuck my comfort zone, Tony thought then, absolutely refusing to feel uncomfortable. His hand twisted into Peter’s curly hair and tried to pull Peter, if possible, even closer.

“And then she asked me if I wanted to go get the food with her, and I said n-no, and if I would have gone then… then she would h-have been alive.”

“You don’t know that,” Tony’s arms tightened around the kid. “You could have gotten hurt as well.”

“I could have stopped it!” Peter’s voice was high, fast approaching hysterical. “I'm a superhero! I'm supposed to prevent things like this from happening! If I was there, she would still be alive.”

“That’s enough,” Tony said, not unkindly. He pulled Peter from him, grabbed him hard by the arms, and looked the kid in the face. “We are going to talk, and you are going to listen.”

Peter was so shocked that he stopped crying. Tony took a breath.

“It does nothing to dwell in the past,” Tony’s voice was shaking, but he pressed on. “You can’t just sit around and contemplate the ‘what ifs’. Sometimes you must grit your teeth, tell yourself you’re okay, and move on.”

Peter’s eyes were wide. Tony’s chest was heaving. “Secondly, her death was not your fault. Was it not cool for you to say that to her? No, it wasn’t. But you’re a kid. Hell, at your age, I told my dad I hated him daily.” Tony refused to let himself get caught up in the past. He surged on. “Lastly, and I want you to understand this: It’s a good thing that you weren’t in that car. Because then the world would have lost its Spider-Man and I would have lost my Peter Parker.”

Tony’s eyes were suspiciously wet. Peter was staring at him, his brown eyes as big as saucers

“I want you to say it, kid,” Tony said then. “Repeat after me: ‘her death was not my fault.’”

Peter opened his mouth, closed it, and then opened it again. “Her death was not my fault,” He said, his voice small.

“Again,” Tony urged.

“H-Her death was not my fault,” Peter said again, his voice stronger.

“Once more.”

“Her death was not my fault,” Peter’s voice was serious, his eyes focused. “It wasn’t.”

Tony stared at the kid for a second longer, before pulling him into a tight hug. “I’m proud of you kid.”

Peter inhaled deeply, and then let the breath go. He hugged Tony back, feeling safe.

“Sit tight, I’ll be right back,” Tony let Peter go and stood up. “I’m going to go get us some ice cream, and then we can watch shitty movies. Okay?”

Peter let himself smile slightly. “Okay.”

--

Peter surprised himself by sleeping through the night without being awoken by awful nightmares. However, when he woke the next morning, it barely felt like he had slept at all.

He awoke with an aching head and puffy eyes. He was still exhausted, but the sun leaking into the room signaled that it was morning, and that he needed to get out of bed. He sleepily reached for his phone, wanting to check the time to see if he could just sleep in a few more minutes.

Just as he turned it on, he got a text from Ned.

Peter sighed, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. Thanksgiving Break had ended over a week ago, and Peter hadn’t been to school. His mouth twisted; Ned probably thought he either miraculously dropped off the face of the earth, or was lying dead in a ditch somewhere.

Peter took a deep breath and opened his messages, bracing himself.

Ned had texted him twenty times in the past week.

It started off with a simple text, the day that May died. “Hey Peter, do you want to come over tomorrow and build a Lego?? I have an old one I found under my bed that I haven’t built.”

“Are you ready for school on Monday? I’m not.”

Then, Ned’s concern set in. “Peter? Why aren’t you answering?”

And on Monday: “Dude, seriously. You missed school today. What’s up?”

“Why aren’t you here? You never miss school.”

“Peter, it’s been four days.”

“You missed a whole week.”

“What’s going on? Are you hurt?”

And finally, this morning. “Are you okay?”

Peter swallowed hard. He didn’t mean to make Ned worry, but he hadn’t been on his phone at all the past week. He hadn’t done much of anything, besides sleep and cry.

“I’m alive, if that’s what you mean by okay.” Peter responded, sending it hesitantly.

“Peter! Oh my god I thought you were dead. What’s going on? Why aren’t you at school? You never miss school!” Ned’s reply was fast.

Peter bit his lip. “Aunt May is dead.”

There was a pause. The bubble that popped up showing that Ned was typing appeared, disappeared, and reappeared.

“Oh my god I’m so sorry.”

Peter’s eyes stung. I’m okay. “It’s fine. It’s just been a hard week.”

“Where are you? Are you at your apartment?”

“No. I’m upstate.”

“What? Why?”

“I’m staying with Tony.”

Pause. “Tony who???”

Peter rolled his eyes. “Tony Stark, Ned. I’m staying at the Avengers Compound.”

A few seconds passed with no response. Then his phone buzzed. “Holy shit, Peter.”

Peter couldn’t help the grin that spread across his face. “It’s pretty awesome, ngl.”

“Can you talk after school?” Ned texted. “Like on the phone?”

Peter hesitated. “Yeah, I suppose. I’ll let you know. Gtg, I’ll text later.”

“Bye Peter!”

Peter turned his phone off, sitting upright in bed. He sighed, before getting up and starting the day.

Chapter Text

His shower did little to help his headache, which he knew would spiral into a migraine if he wasn’t careful. The rhythmic pounding only made his mood turn sour, as he crankily got dressed and brushed his teeth.

When he went downstairs, he found Tony sitting at the table, phone in hand. He looked up when Peter entered, and the first thing Peter noticed was the dark circles under his eyes.

“Morning, kid,” Tony said with a smile.

Peter didn’t return the gesture. “Morning.”

Tony stood up, groaning slightly. He walked over to the fridge and opened it. “Breakfast? You can help me make it.”

Peter shook his head. “I’m not hungry.”

Tony looked at him with disbelief. “You’re not hungry?”

Peter shook his head. “No.” He sat down heavily at the table, unable to help the crankiness that threatened to consume him.

Tony considered him for a moment, before turning back to the kitchen. “Too bad, you’re eating. What will it be, kid? Pancakes? Eggs?”

“I’m not hungry,” Peter repeated, an edge to his voice this time.

“Got that the first time,” Tony said, wondering what had gotten into Peter. The kid had never challenged him like this. “I’m not going to ask again: do you want pancakes or eggs?”

“I’m. Not. Hungry,” Peter’s voice was steely.

“I. Don’t. Care,” Tony turned and faced Peter, anger filling him. “You are going to eat.”

“How many times do I have to say it?” Peter rose, his hands coming down on the table hard. “I am not hungry, and I am not going to eat! You can’t force me to!”

“Yes I can,” Tony’s voice inched towards a yell. “I am in charge of you and I can make you do whatever the hell I want, dammit!”

“I hate you,” Peter snapped, face pale, eyes flashing.

“Yeah, well,” Tony shrugged, unable to keep from feeling the sting of the words. “Right now, I’m not too big a fan of you either.”

Peter’s face turned red and he turned sharply. He kicked his chair, which flew across the room before hitting the wall. Peter stormed away, walking up the stairs.

“Oh, real mature,” Tony shouted, his heart racing. “You’re acting like a child!”

“Leave me alone!” Peter screamed, turning into his room and slamming the door.

The sound echoed across the empty space. Tony gritted his teeth, closing the refrigerator with such force that he wouldn’t be surprised if he broke it.

He barely heard the sound of quiet footsteps behind him, and for a second, he thought it was Peter. But he turned, and to his disappointment, it was Steve.

Steve was clad in a plain white shirt and pajama pants, his blonde hair slightly disheveled from sleep. The pity in his damn blue eyes only spurred Tony’s anger further.

“Leave me alone,” Tony said, his voice heated, hands shaking.

“Tony…” Steve started, his voice quiet.

“Fuck you, Rogers, I said leave me alone!” Tony was yelling again. His heart was pounding.

Steve stayed, keeping his distance but still looking at Tony. “What happened?” His voice was still quiet, calm and controlled, but had the undertones of understanding.

Tony wanted to tell him to fuck right off, but suddenly words were spilling from his mouth like a waterfall. “I don’t even know,” Tony couldn’t keep the desperate note out of his voice. He ran a weary hand down his face. “God, one second I was asking the kid what he wanted for breakfast and the next he was yelling and I was yelling and now he apparently hates me,” Tony winced. “Shit.”

“He told you that he hates you?” Steve’s voice was soft and Tony didn’t know if he wanted to slap him or hug him.

His eyes burned and he turned away from Steve. “Yeah, he told me that he hated me,” Tony ran a shaky hand through his hair. “I don’t know why I thought I could do this. Me, taking care of a teenager?” Tony laughed without humor. “Yeah, right.”

He heard Steve come up behind him and suddenly there was a hand on his shoulder. Somewhere, deep in Tony’s mind, he realized that it was the first time that he and Steve had been truly alone since Siberia, and he pretended that the sadness he felt in the pit of his stomach was just hunger pains.

“You’re doing all you can, Tony,” Steve’s voice was gentle.

Tony gripped the kitchen counter. “Then why does it feel like I’m failing?”

The hand on his shoulder tightened. “You’re not failing. You’re giving him support and comfort, but he’s going through so many emotions right now that you can’t expect him to not lash out.”

Tony sighed, trying to let the words comfort him. “Should I go and talk to him?”

“No. Not yet. Wait for him to cool down and then go up and see him.”

Tony ran his hand down his face again. “Right. Right, okay.”

Steve was quiet behind him. His hand was still on Tony’s shoulder. "Have you been sleeping enough?”

Tony briefly shut his eyes, before opening them again. “Do I ever?”

The hand on his shoulder stopped its movement. “Can you face me, please?”

“Depends,” Tony couldn’t help the bitter words from escaping. “Are you going to hit me again?”

Silence.

The hand was gone then and Tony mourned the loss. His eyes closed again. You and your big goddamn mouth.

Tony felt Steve start to walk away, and Tony felt like somebody had a hand around his heart and was squeezing it. “Fuck, Steve, I—“

“You what?” Steve’s voice held none of the menace Tony was expecting. It was pure resignation, and somehow, it hurt worse.

“That was shitty of me. I’m sorry,” Tony’s eyes were burning again, but he wasn’t sure if it was exhaustion or tears.

Steve sighed. He walked back over to Tony, standing behind him again. “I know you are,” Steve sighed again. “When was the last time you slept?”

“Last night,” Tony answered.

“And for how long?”

Tony thought for a minute. “An hour. Or two, maybe. I don’t know.”

“Tony…”

“Yeah, yeah, it’s unhealthy, whatever,” Tony cut him off and walked towards the coffee pot, grabbing a mug from the shelf on his way. “I’ll be fine, I just need coffee.”

“Nuh uh,” Steve gently tugged the empty mug out of Tony’s hands. “No coffee. Bed. Now.”

Tony met Steve’s eyes with a frown. “No bed, coffee.” He tried to get the mug back, but Steve held it over his head, so Tony couldn’t reach. He smirked, and Tony bristled. “Asshole! Give it to me!”

“You can have some after you’ve slept,” Steve grinned, a teasing glint in his eye. “Do you need me to tuck you in?”

“Shut it, Rogers,” Tony actually smiled. “Fine, fine, I’ll go.”

He made his way towards the staircase.

“Hey, Tony?” Steve said softly.

He turned, and Steve was looking at him with his blue eyes. “Yeah?”

“Sleep well.”

Tony felt a smile creep up on his face, and he looked down to hide it. “Yeah. Thanks.”

--

Peter flopped down on his bed heavily, his heart still racing and head throbbing.

God, he’s so freaking controlling, Peter thought bitterly. I’m not hungry, I feel awful, I don’t want to eat. Why does he feel the need to force me to do whatever he wants me to do?

Self-righteous anger filled Peter again, and he got up and paced around his room. He spent several minutes cursing Tony in his mind, before he stopped abruptly.

Oh my god, I told him I hated him.

Peter felt guilt pool in his stomach. Tony didn’t deserve that: he took Peter in when he had nobody, when he was a sobbing mess after May died. He had been nothing but kind and patience with Peter since this whole ordeal started.

Peter sat down on his bed heavily, feeling like a terrible person. His headache had amplified, and he clutched his head, wishing the horrible pain would just go away.

He lay down, his head meeting his pillow. Maybe it would leave if he just closed his eyes…

--

Peter woke up six hours later, confused, disoriented, and not feeling even remotely better.

At first, Peter didn’t know where he was. But once he grounded himself and wracked his brains, he remembered that he was in his room, at the compound.

Then he remembered the fight that he and Tony had.

Remorse and dread filled him like lead, and he sat up slowly. His headache was worse, and he ran his hands though his hair, feeling terrible and guilty.

A spike of pain drove through his head and he grasped at it, kneading his forehead with his hand, trying to lessen the pain. The light from the windows seemed too bright and he quietly told FRIDAY to shut the curtains. The semi-darkness was a blessing.

It had been a long time since he had gotten a migraine this bad. He had headaches on occasion, sure, but the last time he had gotten a migraine was a week after Ben had died, which was almost a year and a half ago.

He hoped that they had stopped when he got the spider bite, but apparently, they hadn’t.

Peter’s eyes stung. He missed Aunt May. Whenever he would get a migraine, she would always tuck him into bed, turn off all the lights, and give him some ibuprofen and a cold washcloth to lay on his head. Then she would leave the room, but she would always check on him every fifteen minutes or so, just to make sure he was okay.

The lump in Peter’s throat was painful as he pushed back tears. He missed her so much that sometimes it seemed like he couldn’t go on without her.

The door creaked open.

Peter looked up, and saw Tony standing in the doorway, looking significantly less tired. His face was guarded, and Peter knew that he was way out of his comfort zone.

They just stared at each other for a second, unsure of what to do or say.

But then a tear rolled down Peter’s cheek and he uttered two, small words. “I’m sorry.”

Tony sighed deeply then and crossed the space with long strides. He knelt in front of Peter, his expression serious.

“I know you are,” He sighed again. “But that doesn’t make what happened okay. What I say goes, Peter. You must understand that. Whenever I tell you something, you have to listen to me.”

The tears were flowing freely now, and Peter’s head throbbed painfully. He felt the beginnings of nausea, but he pushed the queasiness down. “I… I’m sorry Mr. St—Tony. I’m sorry, Tony.”

Tony stood up and wrapped the poor kid in his arms. Peter buried his face against his chest, feeling horrible and pathetic.

“It’s okay, kiddo,” Tony murmured, one hand on Peter’s back and the other buried in his hair. “I understand.”

Peter sniffed. “I’m sorry.” He repeated.

“Hey, hey,” Tony consoled. “It’s okay, Pete.”

“I don’t hate you,” Peter whispered. “I’m sorry.”

“No more apologizing,” Tony said sternly. “I better not hear you say ‘sorry’ one more time.”

Peter hiccuped and removed his face from Tony’s chest. Tony noticed how pale the kid looked, and concern took over every other emotion. “Are you okay?”

Peter rubbed his forehead. “Head hurts.”

Tony frowned, now understanding why the room was so dark when he walked in. “How bad?”

Peter shut his eyes for longer than a blink. “Pretty bad.”

Well, shit. “Okay,” Tony stood up then. “Hold on, I’ll be right back.”

He left the room, closing the door quietly behind him.

Peter wiped his face off with his sleeve and kneaded his forehead, trying to make the pain go away. When that didn’t work, he stood and walked to the bathroom.

He opened the medicine cabinet and observed the contents. There was a razor, Band-Aids, shaving cream, eye drops, hydrogen peroxide, dental floss, and an extra tube of toothpaste, deodorant, hand cream, and an assortment of different medicines.

He sorted through them, taking in the names of each of them. There were vitamin supplements, cough medicine, nasal decongestants including Sudafed and Sinarest, a bottle of NyQuil and DayQuil, and finally: Asprin, Tylenol, Excedrin, and the one he was looking for, Ibuprofen.

He picked up the bottle and unscrewed the lid. He filled up a Dixie cup of water before piling ten pills into his hand.

He was just about to raise them up to his mouth when there was a sudden shout next to him. Peter looked just in time for the pills to be aggressively knocked out of his hands by Tony, who was white-faced and wide-eyed.

Peter barely had time to blink before two strong arms were around him, yanking him out of the bathroom and onto the bedroom floor.

“Tony, what—“

“What the fuck, Peter,” Tony sounded out of breath and panicked. “What the fuck were you thinking?!”

The arms around him were shaking, and Peter was so confused that he momentarily forgotten how much his head hurt.

“Uh… My head hurts… I needed painkillers?”

Eight of them?!” Tony shrieked. The arms were shaking more violently now. “Do you know what happens when you take too much?”

His voice was getting faster. Tony knew he better calm down, but fuck, the image of Peter with a handful of pills was burnt into his retinas and he couldn’t get a grip on his emotions.

Tony stood then, pacing and gripping his hair. “You were going to take ten pills. That’s a whole 400 milligrams of naproxen and ketoprofen, not to mention that you would have inhibited your body’s ability to produce prostaglandins tenfold.”

Peter watched silently as Tony paced, his voice rising in pitch. He was breathing heavily. “Your body may have gone into shock, but that would have been the best case scenario. You would proceed to bleed, from your eyes and your mouth and your ears until you bleed out, or until your kidney’s fail or your brain hemorrhages.”

“Tony,” Peter found himself speaking, trying to relieve the man of his stress. “Tony, I—“

“You what?” Tony snapped at him. “You’re sorry? Sorry that I would have found you dead on the bathroom floor? Sorry that you’d rather kill yourself than to have to deal with me—“ Tony couldn’t breathe. He stopped talking abruptly and put a hand on his chest, trying to calm his racing heart.

“Whoa, Tony, calm down,” Peter stood quickly, unsure of what to do with his hands. He settled for keeping them by his side. “I wasn’t trying to kill myself. I’ve got powers, remember? Senses dialed to eleven?”

Tony stared at Peter, his eyes uncomprehending. He still had a hand over his heart.

“Taking ten ibuprofen gives me the same effect as you do when you take two,” Peter rambled. “My body burns off the medicine too quickly so I have to take more in order for my ailment to go away. I wasn’t trying to kill myself, I swear. I wouldn’t ever do that, I promise.”

Tony’s eyes met Peter’s and he exhaled. “You weren’t trying to kill yourself?” His voice was shaky, and it was frankly alarming.

“No,” Peter breathed, his body slowly starting to recognize the blinding pain in his head again. He needed medication quickly or it would get too bad to combat. “I wouldn’t do that.” To you. The words were unspoken.

Tony breathed again, seemingly remembering how to again. His cheeks were faintly red. “Let’s never talk about this again, okay?” His voice was low. He was embarrassed.

“Er, okay,” Peter rubbed the back of his neck.

A spike of pain drove itself into Peter’s head and Peter gasped, his hand clutching his forehead. Nausea rolled through him and Peter sucked in a deep breath, trying his hardest to avoid throwing up all over the carpet.

“Pete? You okay?” Tony’s voice flitted into his ears, but Peter was so overstimulated that his voice was way too loud.

“Ibuprofen,” Peter whispered. “Please.”

Peter wasn’t looking at Tony, but he knew he was making a face. “Okay… but you’re only taking two.”

He would have argued, but if he talked he knew he would throw up, and he would die from embarrassment.

Tony walked to the bathroom and returned a few seconds later with two red pills and a cup of water.

Peter threw back the pills and gulped down the water. He rubbed his eyes, wishing the pain away.

Tony picked him up bridal style and gently placed him in the bed, careful not to jostle him or cause any more pain. Peter made a small noise, but his face was pale and his hands were clutching his head. Tony covered him with the blankets, pulling the comforter all the way up to the kid’s neck.

He laid on the bed next to Peter, sitting up against the headboard and his sweatpants clad legs resting on top of the covers.

“Have you always gotten migraines?” Tony asked softly, unsure of what to do or say in this situation.

Peter made a noise of confirmation. “Ever since I was little,” His voice was muffled by the pillow his head was on, but Tony could hear the strain in it. “Thought it had stopped.”

Tony nodded before realizing the kid couldn’t see him. “Because of the spider bite?”

Peter made another noise. “Really hurts,” His lips barely moved to form the words. He wanted to sleep so desperately, but the throbbing in his temples wouldn’t let him. He needed more medicine.

“Tony,” Peter whispered. “Can I have more medicine please?”

Tony sighed, but obliged. A minute later, Peter was upright, downing the pills and drinking the small cup of water Tony offered.

Peter lay back down, feeling worse that he had in a long while. He shut his eyes, knowing that he wouldn’t sleep but hoping that the darkness of his eyelids would alleviate the pain.

Tony looked down at Peter and sighed deeply, his hand coming down and lacing itself into Peter’s curls.  He kept it there, just absently tousling his hair and, hopefully, providing comfort.

Tony’s hand in Peter’s hair was soothing and grounding, and Peter kept his eyes closed, the pain less in darkness.

Chapter Text

After about twenty minutes, Tony gently untangled his hand from the kid’s hair and quietly got off of the bed, making sure not to move too quickly. He wasn’t sure if the kid was asleep or not, but Peter didn’t move, so he figured he was in the clear.

He left the room almost silently and shut the door behind him with a quiet click.

He went to his room and showered, trying his hardest to relax. But the image of Peter with eight fucking pills in his hand was burned into his brain.

Thankfully, the warmth of the shower helped loosen some of the tension in his muscles, and while he wasn’t relaxed in any sense of the word, he didn’t feel like he was going to have a panic attack, and he counted it as a win.

He changed into a Led Zeppelin t-shirt and a new pair of sweatpants, before making his way downstairs to the Great Room.

He was greeted with happy chatter and the smell of bacon. He got off the elevator and took in the scene before him.

Steve was at the stove, flipping burgers onto a plate. Clint was standing behind him, giving him orders on how to get the best flip. Natasha was on her IPad at the table, along with Sam and Rhodey, who were both eating. Wanda and Vision were over on the couch, sitting way too close to each other to be just friendly.

Natasha looked up when he entered. “Well, look what the cat dragged in.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Evening, Nat. Seems like you’re your normal, chipper, happy self today.”

She ignored him, looking down at her IPad once again. “Where’s the kid? Stuck to a wall or something?”

Tony walked further into the room, grabbing a chip from an open bag on the counter. “He’s sleeping.”

He saw Steve give him a sideways glance, but he didn’t say anything. Tony was incredibly grateful.

“Sleeping?” Sam questioned in between bites of his food. “It’s five o’clock.”

Tony didn’t respond, instead eating another handful of chips. They were barbecue; not his favorite, but still good.

“So, how’s being a dad?” Clint asked, keeping one eye on Cap’s burgers.

Tony glared at him. “I’m not a dad.”

“Sure,” Clint said easily, taking the plate he was holding and putting it on the counter. “Because that scene on the couch a few days ago is definitely not something a dad would do.”

Of course, he would bring up when Peter fell asleep on him. Tony avoided his eyes. “He just fell asleep. People do that when they’re tired, you know.”

“Oh, just face it, Tones,” Rhodey said. “You’re his dad.”

“I am not his dad,” Tony said, walking over to the coffee maker. He pressed the brew button, watching the hot liquid pour into his favorite mug.

“Come on, Tony,” Wanda said, from her place next to Vision on the couch. “He idolizes you, and everyone here knows that you would be a great dad.”

Tony didn’t respond, staring at the steady stream of coffee pouring into his mug.

All of this dad talk made him incredibly uncomfortable. He wasn’t the kid’s dad; he was a temporary guardian. He was there to pick up the pieces, to make sure the kid didn’t drown in his tears. He was not there to go to parent-teacher conferences, not there to play ball with. He was a caregiver, a keeper, an impermanent solution.

Impermanent. For some reason, the word made his mouth twist in revulsion. Maybe I don’t want to be impermanent, Tony thought. Maybe I want consistency. Maybe I want a stable force, a steady responsibility. Maybe I want to be Peter’s dad.

Dad.

Suddenly, Tony wasn’t in the compound anymore. He was hundreds of miles away, standing in the house of his youth, in the plaster white kitchen. He was thirteen, officially a teenager but still a child, and he had gotten a B on an English test. His dad was there, screaming at him, telling him that he was useless, a shame of his own flesh, a waste of his money. The room seemed to get smaller and Howard got angrier and angrier and that was when Tony saw him raise his hand—

“Tony?” Steve’s voice broke his thoughts. “Your coffee is done.

Steve frowned then. “You’re white as a sheet. What’s up?”

Tony molded his face into a stoic expression and grabbed his coffee. “Nothing. I’m fine.”

Steve opened his mouth to question him, but Tony made a beeline for the elevator.

A few seconds later, he was gone.

--

“Mr. Parker is up, sir,” FRIDAY announced to Tony, breaking the silence he was working in.

Tony sighed and sat up, stretching out his aching back. He was bent over new thrusters for his suit; ones that were energy efficient and fast.

He had been down in his workshop for almost two hours, barely taking a break. His hands were starting to hurt, but Tony reveled in the pain, for the aches meant he was working, and working was good.

He thought while he worked, and after a couple hours, he came to a sturdy conclusion.

There was no way he could be a dad. Ever.

He just wasn’t made for it. He shied away from emotions and became incredibly uncomfortable around tears. He was brash, rude, and egotistical; all of which were characteristics that didn’t belong in a dad.

Not only that, but he had too much baggage. He was, as he so often called himself, a basket case. A neurotic, broken, emotionally constipated basket case.

He heard the elevator ding behind him, and he immediately knew who it was.

“Tony?” Came the small, timid voice.

Tony didn’t want to face the kid. He had a strong resolve built, but he felt it lessen when he heard Peter’s voice.

“Hey, kid,” Tony said, not looking behind him.

It was quiet for a second. “What… what’re you up to?” Peter sounded unsure.

Tony’s hand shook around his project. Toughen up, Stark. “Just tinkering.”

Peter bit his lip, staring at the billionaire’s back. When he had opened his eyes, he had wasted no time in asking FRIDAY where Tony was and had swiftly gotten to his location before the aloneness could swallow him whole.

And now, here he was, in Tony’s workshop. And Tony wouldn’t even look at him.

He hasn’t forgiven you from your fight, a sly voice told him in the back of his mind. You’ll be kicked out. You’ll have to live in your old apartment, or on the streets. You’ll be alone.

Terror washed over Peter.

“C-Can I help?” Peter’s voice shook.

“No, I’ve got it.” Tony replied in the same cool, disinterested tone.

Peter’s eyes burned with tears. He knew he should have left, but the thought of being alone kept his feet still.

“A-Are you sure?” Peter pressed, wanting Tony to look his way desperately.

“Yep.”

Silence fell.

“Do you want me to leave?” Peter’s voice cracked.

Tony’s hands stilled for a second. He shut his eyes. Fuck, this hurt. “Yes.”

Peter bit his quivering lip and turned to leave.

Tony heard the doors to the elevator close and released the breath he didn’t know he was holding.

He felt like an asshole. He had heard the crack in the kid’s voice, the quiver in the undertone. But Tony knew what he was doing was right, no matter how much it hurt. The more distance between them the better; maybe then Tony wouldn’t corrupt the kid.

He went back to his work, trying to ignore the guilt in his gut.

--

The rest of the day was bad, and the next torturous.

Peter went to bed at nine, just a couple of hours after he had left Tony’s workshop.

He awoke the next morning at 9am, to an empty room and a gray sky. He could feel the heavy weight of depression pressing on his chest as he lethargically got into the shower, before getting dressed and going downstairs.

There wasn’t anyone in the great room when he arrived, which didn’t help the loneliness. His heart sank as he looked around the empty room, before slowly walking over to kitchen to make himself a bowl of cereal. He sat at the table and ate, before making his way over to the couch and plopping down on it, a hollow feeling in his stomach.

He flicked the TV on and spread himself out, lounging over the cushions. He grabbed one of the couch throws and wrapped himself in it, before putting his head on one of the accent pillows.

He then proceeded to curl into a ball and attempt to watch whatever was on the screen, but he was too numb to focus on anything, except for how cold the room was and how alone he felt.

A couple people came and went, but for the most part, Peter was completely by himself and he pretended it wasn’t ripping him apart.

He lay there for several hours, not moving.

He only got up twice, to eat at noon and to go to the bathroom at 5. He managed to “watch” (he mostly just stared at the screen, hardly reacting) the first three Star Wars movies before he fell asleep as the fourth one started, waking up just at the end of the movie.

The fifth Star Wars movie played, but Peter was too numb and sad to even focus.

His phone rang.

It startled him a little, but he finally moved and grabbed it from the coffee table.

“Hello?” Peter asked, his voice low.

“Peter?” Ned’s voice came through, and Peter wanted to cry.

“Hey, Ned,” Peter kept his voice even.

“Peter! I was afraid you weren’t going to answer.”

“Yeah. Well, I have nothing else to do.”

It was quiet for a second, before Ned said a meek “How are you?”

Tears entered Peter’s eyes. He rolled over and stared at the high ceiling. “I’ve… been better.”

It was quiet again. “We miss you,” Ned said, a sad note in his voice. “MJ and I. School sucks without you.”

Peter sighed. Oh right. He hadn’t been to school in a week. “Sorry.”

“What are you going to do?” Ned pressed. “Are you going to commute to the city every day? Or are you moving back to the apartment?”

Shit. The apartment. He had almost forgotten about it.

Most of his stuff was there. Hell, all of his stuff was there, minus his suit and the clothes he went to the hospital in. Not only that, but May’s stuff was there too.

May…

Peter shoved his fingers into his eyes, trying to stop the tears from falling. “I… I don’t know. I... I’ll ask…”

Another pause. “So… how’s living with Tony Stark?”

Peter could hear the burning curiosity underneath his words, so Peter sat up and indulged him a little. “It’s actually really great. He’s… he’s helped me a lot. I was… I was a mess the first couple days, and he sat with me and made sure I was okay.”

“Have you met the other Avengers?” Ned sounded so excited that Peter couldn’t help but smile.

“Yeah, I have. They’re really cool. I beat Clint at Mario Kart.”

“You beat Hawkeye at Mario Kart?!” Ned’s voice was high and shrill.

“Yeah, I did,” Peter rubbed the back of his neck. “He was good but I ended up winning.”

“Dude, what even is your life!” Ned exclaimed.

Peter grinned. “It’s crazy.”

A quiet fell again. Peter started to pick a few loose threads on the throw that covered his legs.

“How long do you think you’ll be there?” Ned’s voice was low.

Peter opened his mouth, then slowly closed it, remembering the stiff silence that Tony had given him the day previous.

“I don’t know,” Peter whispered.

“Is… Is Iron Man taking care of you permanently?”

Peter swallowed. “I don’t think so,” His voice was quiet and small. “I… I think he’s just helping me get back on my feet. I don’t know what’s going to happen after that.”

“Could you file for Emancipation?” Ned’s voice was still low, but it was fervent; his curiosity was obvious.

“No,” Peter said, his hand curling into a fist so that his nails dug into his palms. “I can’t. I don’t have a job.”

“So… what would you do?”

Peter knew the answer, but saying the words would make them real and he desperately didn’t want them to be. “I… I guess I would go into f-foster care.”

The line was silent for a minute. “But that’s not gonna happen, right?” Ned said, trying to keep the anxiety out of his voice. “Iron Man wouldn’t let that happen.”

Peter remembered their fight yesterday, and the coldness Tony directed towards him when he went down into the workshop.

“I…” Peter started, a lump in his throat. “I don’t know. He’s mad at me right now and I think… I don’t know what he’s going to do. He’s not legally in charge of me, he’s just doing me a-a favor, letting me stay here.”

“But he’s not just going to kick you out,” Ned reasoned, sounding like he was trying to convince himself just as much as he was Peter. “Right?”

Peter felt sick. “I, uh… I have to go, Ned. I’ll text you tomorrow about school.”

“Okay,” Ned sounded sad. “Bye, Peter.”

The line went silent, and Peter stared down at the floor, his heart pounding. What am I going to do when Tony kicks me out? I don’t have anywhere to go.

Peter stood then and anxiously paced back and forth, his finger nails digging into his palms. Do I go back to my apartment and stay there as long as I can? I can go to school and act like nothing’s wrong, but what about when the rent’s due? I don’t have money, but I can get a job. I can work someplace within walking distance.

Peter stopped dead then. But… what about Spider-Man? How am I supposed to go to school, work, and then patrol?

He wracked his brains. Maybe… maybe I should give up Spider-Man.

When the thought made him ill, he ruthlessly squashed it. Spider-Man was who he was; not being him was like chopping off one of his arms.

I’d have to not patrol as much, Peter thought. Maybe just on weekends. I can go to school and work during the week and then patrol on the weekends. It’ll be hard, but at least it’s not foster care.

Peter glanced towards the elevator. Should I ask Tony when he wants me out?

He bit his lip anxiously. But… he doesn’t want to talk to me. He told me as much yesterday. Maybe I should just leave now.

The thought was scary, but then he thought of Tony, cold and distant, and he made up his mind.

He grabbed his phone from the couch and walked to the elevator, his heart pounding.

“Fourth floor, FRIDAY,” Peter said, his voice shaking.

 The elevator surged upwards, dinging when it got to the right floor. Peter walked quickly to his room, shoving the only pair of clothes he brought with him and his Spider-Man suit into his backpack. He quickly got changed into one of the outfits Mr. Stark had someone buy for him, only feeling slightly guilty for stealing it.

He slammed his feet into his shoes and slung his backpack over his shoulder, glancing around the room once more before turning off the light and leaving.

Walking down the hall towards the elevator, he couldn’t help but feel wayward. This feels like running away.

You are running away, a part of him reminded. Tony’s going to flip when he finds out.

Peter paused for a second, right outside the elevator. A slight panic filled him. Oh god, Tony’s going to lose his shit.

He almost bailed, for a second. But then he remembered the fight they had the day before.

Right now, I’m too big a fan of you either, Tony had said, his eyes guarded and angry.

Peter tightened his jaw as his eyes stung, and stepped into the elevator.

Right, he thought, trying to calm his racing heart. Now what?

“FRIDAY?” Peter asked, his voice sounding odd. “How much is it to take an Uber from here to the city?”

FRIDAY was silent for a second, before her robotic voice spoke. “It would be approximately one hundred and eighty dollars.”

Peter swore loudly. Fuck. What am I going to do? I don’t have that kind of money.

An awful idea filled his mind before he could stop it.

Steal a car.

Peter stared at the walls of the elevator.

What other choice do I have?

“G-Garage, FRIDAY,” Peter’s voice shook.

FRIDAY paused for a second, before the elevator started descending. “Your heart rate is accelerated, Peter,” FRIDAY said. “Would you like me to get Mr. Stark for you?”

“No!” Peter yelped, his heart skipping a beat. “FRIDAY, you can’t tell him what I’m doing, okay?”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Peter. Doing anything dangerous is a part of the Baby Monitor Protocol.”

“But it’s not dangerous,” Peter pressed. “I’m fifteen, I have my learners permit. I’m actually a really good driver; M—my aunt used to say so.”

FRIDAY was silent for a second. “Okay. I won’t tell him.”

“Thanks, FRI,” Peter breathed, relieved. The doors opened, and Peter was greeted with the garage.

There were several cars, most of them incredibly conspicuous Audis. Peter’s heart sunk when he looked at the flashy cars, knowing full well that he couldn’t drive one of them without it being obvious that he stole it.

Then, he glanced towards the back of the rows of cars, and he found a simple, black car. His heart raced as he ran over to it, hoping and praying that the key was still in the ignition.

He could have cried when he saw that it was, and he quickly started the engine.

He backed out of the garage, and he was off.

Chapter Text

The car ride was silent, since Peter was too focused on driving to turn on the radio. At first, the road was dark, and he was incredibly afraid that he was going to hit something or get lost. But then he got on the highway, which was lit with streetlamps, and he relaxed a little.

It was midnight, so there were barely any cars out. As he was driving, Peter remembered going on road trips with Aunt May and Uncle Ben and traveling late into the night, when the constant flashing of lights as they flew past lulled him to sleep. He remembered being roused from his slumber, however, when Ben pulled off the highway and stopped for gas. But the radio was turned down low and the engine rumbled soothingly, and he eventually would fall back asleep, feeling warm and safe in the backseat.

Peter longed for those times. But now he was in Tony Stark’s stolen car on the way to Queens to live in his dead Aunt’s apartment, and sometimes he just felt like he was going crazy.

The cars on the road became more plentiful as he got closer to the city, and before he knew it, it was one thirty in the morning and he was in the middle of New York City, heading towards Queens.

He parked the car outside of the apartment and took a minute to breathe.

Oh god, what was I thinking? Peter looked out the window, up at his old apartment. He raised a shaking hand to forehead. I can’t go back in there. I can’t.

Because that apartment was May’s, and he couldn’t live there without her.

“I just drove an hour and a half to a place I can’t even stay at,” Peter said aloud, realizing how stupid he was. “And I can’t go back to the compound because Tony will actually murder me.”

He wracked his brains, then remembered that he had brought his suit with him.

I can patrol for now, He decided, a sigh escaping him. It’ll be fine, I’ll think of something.

Grabbing his backpack from the passenger seat, he got of the car and went into the back alley next to the apartment building.

A few minutes later, he was swinging from building to building, catching the wind and feeling alive for the first time since May died.

--

It was two in the morning when Tony finally cracked and asked FRIDAY about Peter.

He had left his workshop the night before, sometime between two and three in the morning. He had stumbled blearily into his room and fallen asleep on top of his covers, before waking the next morning to a heavy, remorseful heart and steadily weakening resolve.

He barely left his office all day, only once to get food around six thirty. Peter was asleep on the couch, and Tony was both tempted to sit there with him and run as fast as he could in the opposite direction. But instead, he made himself a bowl of ramen noodles and made his escape as quickly as humanly possible.

He tried to tell himself that he wasn’t avoiding Peter, but it was blatantly obvious that he was. But distance was good; maybe then Tony would stop thinking about Peter as his son.

He was still working on Stark Industries business at 2:02 in the morning when the curiosity got the better of him.

“FRIDAY,” Tony said to his empty office. He was nursing a glass of apple juice, which he had taken a liking to, since he had been forced to give up alcohol. “What’s Peter doing right now?”

FRIDAY was silent for a moment.

“Peter Parker is not in the compound.”

Tony stared at the wall, blinking several times. “What?”

“Peter Parker is not in the compound,” FRIDAY repeated.

Tony’s heartrate picked up speed and he felt his stomach turn sour. “What do you mean, he’s not in the compound?” Tony barked, standing.

“Mr. Parker left the compound.”

His chest tightened. “Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. What happened? Where did he go?” Tony suddenly pictured a scared, broken, dying Peter Parker and Tony had to take a steadying breath, before the image his brain conjured could send him into cardiac arrest.

“Mr. Parker did not share that information with me,” FRIDAY replied.

“Wait, how the fuck did he leave? He doesn’t have a car.” Tony demanded.

FRIDAY was silent. Tony ground his teeth together. He didn’t fucking have time for this. “Override all past requests as per the Pants on Fire protocol. How did Peter leave?”

“Mr. Parker took one of your cars at midnight. He did not specify where he was going.” FRIDAY sounded incredibly guilty.

Rage filled Tony as he walked over to his desk and grabbed his phone. He tapped Peter’s name in his contacts and held his Starkphone up to his ear, a scowl on his face.

“Your call has been forwarded to an automated voice messaging system: 718-815-3109. At the tone, please record your voice message. When you are finished recording, you may hang up, or press pound for more options.”

Tony swore loudly and called again, receiving the same thing.

When I find him, Tony decided, pressing a shaky hand to his heart. I’m going to hug him, then I’m going to fucking ground him until he’s eighty.

--

Peter had a successful night. He saved a cat from getting run over by a car, stopped an attempting mugging, and even alerted the fire department about a small apartment fire.

Being back as Spider-Man was truly liberating. It was a nice distraction and doing good helped lessen the discontent that swirled in his stomach. It was nice to have a clear objective for once.

But around three thirty in the morning, there was a lull in activity. So, he sat, webbed to the roof of a skyscraper, and thought.

I guess I’m going to have to go back to the apartment, Peter thought, staring up at the dark sky. The bright artificial lights of the city made it impossible to see the stars, but Peter didn’t need to see them to know they were there. Unless I blow the only money I have on me to get a motel room, but I need that for food.

I guess I could sleep in the car I borrowed, Peter mused. But I’ll need to have it running since it’s cold out, and it’ll waste the battery.

God, he really didn’t want to go back into that apartment. But, at the moment, it seemed like the only option. Not only that, but he was getting cold and hungry, and he knew exhaustion wasn’t too far behind.

With a sigh, he unstuck himself from the building and made his way back to where he parked.

He knew the area and the streets were lit, so it was easy to find his way back. There were few people out, for the hour was late and the weather cold.

Peter swung back to his street, and nearly fell from where he was in shock.

There, behind his stolen black car, was a sleek, silver, Audi R8.

There was only one person that car could belong to, and Peter wanted to swing the other way as fast as he could.

Holy shit, he thought, his heart pounding in his chest. I’m so dead.

He landed a feet yards from the car and painstakingly walked to where it was parked, feeling ill.

The door of the R8 opened and out strolled Tony Stark, his face molded into a cold expression but his eyes alight with worry.

Peter removed his mask and stared down at the sidewalk, guilt pulsing through his veins.

Tony walked over and stood right in front of Peter, so that Peter was staring down at his expensive shoes.

Then he was being wrapped into the tightest hug he had ever experienced. Tony’s strong arms pulled him close and Peter relaxed a little, inhaling deeply.

A second later, and Tony had let him go and was strolling around to the driver’s side.

“Get in the car,” He was pissed, and Peter felt his heart sink. I’m fucked.

--

When Tony had tracked Peter’s suit to Queens, he was so mad that he couldn’t see straight.

He got in the car, his mind reviewing all the terrible things that could happen to Peter while he was out patrolling, and then reminding him that if the kid needed immediate medical attention, he was too far away to help.

He literally sped down the highway, his speedometer reaching ninety, not giving a single fuck if he got pulled over. He made it to the city in record time and parked in front of Peter’s old apartment, right behind his stolen car goddammit the kid is going to kill him.

Then he proceeded to sit and stew for about a half an hour before he saw a red and blue blur swinging down the street.

The relief he felt to see him alive and well was palpable, so much so that he felt some of the anger drain. Peter came to a shaky stop outside the car, and Tony didn’t hesitate to pull the kid tightly into his arms. He felt the tightness in his chest loosen a little and he hugged the kid tighter, grounding himself.

As soon as he let Peter go, however, the burning anger in his stomach was back.

“Get in the car,” He growled, getting in himself and slamming the door.

A second later, Peter was scrambling into the passenger side, looking too much like a kicked puppy for Tony’s liking.

Tony started the car in silence, and Peter glanced at the stolen car in front of him. He felt like explaining himself or asking Tony what he was going to do with it. But Tony was pale, and his lips were pressed into a firm, angry line and Peter decided to keep his mouth shut.

Tony pulled out of his parking space and drove through Queens in silence. Peter could see his hands shaking on the steering wheel.

They were in Manhattan when Tony finally spoke.

“Why.”

Peter started, his eyes shooting over to Tony. Tony was still pale, but now he was glaring at the road, white-knuckling the steering wheel.

A strange rebellion filled Peter as he looked away from Tony and back out the window.

“Answer me,” Tony’s voice was controlled, but the anger in the undertone was enough to kill.

Peter remained silent, his jaw set, staring out the window. He thought of how he had felt over the last day, and he was suddenly so enraged that he wished that he wouldn’t have gotten in the car with the man.

“I don’t think you understand what you did,” Tony’s voice was shaking with anger. “You took your stuff, told FRIDAY not to tell me what you were doing, you stole my car, you drove it without a license, and then proceeded to jump around Queens in the suit I made for you. Not only that, but you ignored my phone calls and made me drive all the way to New York City to pick you up. You broke two laws, one of which would be considered a felony and you need to give me a good reason not to ground you for the rest of your life.”

Peter ground his teeth together, scowling angrily out the window.

“Don’t you dare ignore me,” Tony threatened. “I want an explanation. Now.”

 “Oh, so now you want me to talk to you?” Peter exploded, his head swiveling to glare at Tony. “I have to fucking steal your car for you to want me around?”

That was it. Tony violently jerked the car to the shoulder, so that it was parked in a no parking zone.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Tony slammed his hand on the top of the steering wheel and then turned to face Peter. “This was a fucking cry for attention?”

Peter didn’t say anything, just kept his eyes firmly looking out the window.

“You could have died,” Tony’s voice shook with anger. “You could have gotten into an accident, someone could have shot you while patrolling, you could have gotten arrested. I was worried sick. And what, all for atten—”

“You were avoiding me!” Peter shouted, his eyes stinging. “Don’t you get it? This wasn’t a cry for attention, I thought you wanted me gone! Because that’s what happens, right? Everyone I fucking care about either leaves or dies and I just—I can’t—” The car was suddenly too small and Peter tugged on the top of his suit, which felt like a vice around his neck. The air was thick, and his breath caught in his throat, choking him. The stress and sadness and anxiety that had plagued him the last few days came to a head, and he frantically pulled on the locked door handle, trying to get out of the suffocating space.

“Peter,” Tony was starting to say, but Peter was so full of stress and anxiety that his ears were overly sensitive and suddenly the hum of the car’s engine was too loud, and he could hear his blood pulsing through his veins…

“Peter,” Tony’s firm, strong voice broke through the noise. “Breathe.”

He suddenly became aware that he was shrunk back in his seat, his right hand fumbling with his suit and his left hand curled into a tight fist. He was gasping for air and Tony’s left hand had a death grip on his knee.

He gripped the part of his suit that covered his chest and painfully breathed in, still feeling too much like he was suffocating. He looked to Tony with wild eyes.

“Come on, Pete,” Tony’s voice was soft. “Breathe for me.”

Peter let Tony’s hand ground him as he spent the next couple of minutes breathing, feeling the panic recede, getting quickly replaced by embarrassment and guilt.

When his breathing was normal again, Peter felt an embarrassment so intense that he couldn’t meet Tony’s eyes, so he stared down at his feet instead.

“Are you alright?” Tony was the first one to break the silence.

Peter nodded, shame bubbling inside of him. Someone ignored you, so you stole a car and ran away, his mind supplied. Pretty bad, Parker.

The hand on his knee was gone and the car started to move again.

“Do you understand what you did was wrong?” Tony was tired, resigned, and it hurt Peter more than his anger.

Peter nodded, not trusting himself not to burst into tears. He isn’t going to forgive you for this.

Tony looked over at the kid, once again noticing how childlike and small he looked. He wasn’t angry anymore, although he knew he should be. He was just glad to see the kid alive.

Oh yeah, I was supposed to be keeping my distance, he remembered. But Peter looked so sad that his resolve crumbled into dust.

The car was silent once more, and Tony focused on Peter’s breathing, trying to convince himself that the kid was alright.

“Mr. Stark?” Peter said timidly, and Tony’s heart just about broke.

“Yeah?” He sighed.

The kid looked like he was holding back tears. “W-When do you want me out by?”

Tony balked, nearly crashing into the car in front of him. “What the hell are you talking about?” He said, harsher than intended, and the kid flinched.

“I can stay in my old apartment,” Peter explained quickly. “I can get a job and go to school and patrol on the weekends. You don’t have to deal with me anymore.”

“Christ, kid,” Tony pinched the bridge of his nose. He was positive that his blood pressure was off the charts. Bruce would be pissed. “I’m not going to kick you out.”

Peter peered over at him. “Y-You’re not?”

Tony sighed. “No.” Never. “So that’s why you ran away? You thought I was going to kick you out, so you left before I could?”

 Peter grimaced. “Well, it sounds dumb when you say it like that.”

“Kid, it was dumb,” Tony glanced over at Peter with an eye roll. “You are grounded for, like, ever, by the way.”

Peter sighed and slowly relaxed his hand, which was curled into a fist. He examined his palm, which stung, and found four crescent shaped cuts where his finger nails had dug into his skin. Damn. “Yeah, I suspected as much.”

The corner of Tony’s mouth quirked upwards in a smile and a quiet fell on the car once again. They were on the highway now, heading out of the city. Peter rested his head on the window, watching the city lights disappear in the side mirror.

Tony occasionally looked over at the kid, still trying to convince himself that he was safe.

“Peter,” Tony surprised himself by speaking. They only had ten minutes left in the drive, and the lights of the Compound were in view. “You know that I’d never get rid of you, right?”

Peter didn’t move, and for a second, Tony was relieved: the kid must have fallen asleep.

“I thought you didn’t want me anymore,” Peter whispered in a small, watery voice.

Silence followed the admission, and Tony felt like the biggest asshole to ever walk the earth.

You ignored him, something in his mind whispered. He came to you, wanting to just sit with you, and you pushed him away. No wonder he thought you didn’t want him; you pretty much told him that.

“Jesus,” Tony whispered, feeling so sickened with himself that he wanted to lock himself away, so he couldn’t hurt anyone anymore. “I… fuck. I’m so sorry, kid. I didn’t mean to make you feel that way.”

Peter shrugged. “S’fine. I understand.”

“No, you don’t,” Tony said desperately. “It’s my fault. I pushed you away, all because I couldn’t let go of something that happened over twenty years ago.”

Peter looked at him. “What do you mean?”

Tony tried to calm the panic rising in him. He didn’t want to think about it, let alone talk about it. “Just… just something that happened with my dad. It’s a long story.”

Peter nodded. “You don’t have to tell me, Tony. But why did I remind you of your dad?”

Because you’re like a son to me and it’s killing me a little bit every day. “Something Wanda said,” He said noncommittally.

 A beat of silence. “So, you’re not going to kick me out?” Peter asked in a small voice.

“Kid, you do know I’m your temporary legal guardian, right?” Tony rolled his eyes. “You belong to me for now.”

Peter was silent, which was incredibly uncharacteristic. Tony took one look at his face and realized that no, Peter did not know that Tony was his temporary legal guardian.

“I signed the papers the second day, kid,” Tony said gently, pulling up the drive to the compound. “You’re my ward. And, uh, considering how undoubtedly high my blood pressure is right now, I don’t think I’d survive if I kicked you out.”

Peter was still silent, and Tony panicked for a second. Maybe he doesn’t want to stay with you.

But Tony pulled into the garage, finally looked over, and saw that there were silent tears running down his face.

I’m wanted, Peter thought, wondering why it was making him cry. I’m not going into the system. I’m not going back to the apartment. I’m staying here, with Tony.

Speaking of which, the man had a slight “deer-in-the-headlights” look when he took in Peter’s tears, but his eyes were soft and genuine.

He silently got out of the car, and Peter sat there a second, trying to calm himself down but not being able to. So, when Tony opened up the passenger door, Peter didn’t hesitate to throw himself into his guardian’s arms.

Tony knew he shouldn’t be so attached, for attachments didn’t serve well in the lifestyle he lived, and, in the end, they were just something to rot your state of mind in the middle of the night.

But, as Peter hugged him tightly, he began to realize that maybe this attachment was worth getting hurt for.

Chapter Text

Tony expected to be up for awhile with Peter, but the kid shocked him again by falling asleep almost immediately.

The culmination of all the stress and anxiety over the past few days must have been exhausting, because the kid was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. Tony even had to cover him up, which was so parental that it was frightening.

Tony, however, didn’t sleep for another hour. He was laying in his bed, staring up at the ceiling, up until 5:30 in the morning, when his body told him to sleep.

He awoke mid-afternoon, groggy, disoriented, and feeling slightly hungover; which was surprising, since he hadn’t had alcohol in months.

He showered lethargically, the hot water soothing the knots that had formed in his back from the stress of the night before. He toweled off his hair and changed into a t-shirt and sweatpants, slipping on a pair of slippers before asking FRIDAY if Peter was awake.

“He woke up five minutes ago and is in the shower,” FRIDAY informed him. “Would you like me to tell him that you’re looking for him?”

“No,” Tony said, pulling on a light hoodie. “Just tell him that I’m going to be in the great room, if he needs me.”

“Will do.”

Tony nodded to himself before walking out of his room, heading towards the elevator.

When he arrived in the great room, he was met with his entire team, sitting on the white couches in front of the flat screen TV. Clint and Natasha were next to each other; Nat’s legs thrown over Clint’s thighs, her back pressed into the side of the couch. Clint’s position looked uncomfortable, and his face showed that it was, but he knew not to say anything. Wanda was practically on Vision’s lap next to them; the pair were so close. Steve was on the chair adjacent to the couch, curled up as best he could, being the gigantic man he was. Every few seconds, he would glance Wanda and Vision’s way, his expression soft and sad, his eyes glazed over. (Tony bookmarked that expression for later; he needed answers on why Steve looked like a kicked puppy.)

Sam and Rhodey sat on the other couch. Rhodey looked up when he entered.

“Well damn, would you look who it is,” Rhodey remarked, staring at Tony. “I thought you’d dropped off the face of the earth.”

Everyone looked up at him then, and Tony avoided their eyes. He, once again, made his way over to the coffee maker.

“Nope, I’m still here,” Tony replied, fishing out a mug from the cabinet. “Is there a pot made or do I have to make my own?”

“You’re having coffee at 3:30 in the afternoon?” Sam asked. “Doesn’t that, like, keep you up all night?”

“That’s the point,” Tony supplied flatly, putting in a coffee pod and putting his mug under the spout. “Do we have any food?”

“Uh, yeah,” Clint said, getting up and stretching. “We have leftovers from breakfast and lunch, but you wouldn’t know that, since you, y'know, slept through both.”

Tony rolled his eyes opened the fridge, spotting a plate of grilled cheese with plastic wrap over it. His mouth watering, he took it out. There were six grilled cheese; he was so hungry that he could have eaten all of them, but he knew Peter would be hungry when he woke up, so he took one and left the rest.

He microwaved the grilled cheese before walking over to the table and scarfing it down.

“Okay,” Clint began angrily, taking out an empty jug of apple juice and slamming it on the counter. “Who the fuck keeps drinking my apple juice? This is the third jug I’ve bought this week. It’s my apple juice, I’m spending my money to buy it, so whoever the fuck keeps drinking it, knock it off.”

“Dude, you probably just drank it yourself,” Rhodey said, rolling his eyes.

I did not drink it myself someone keeps taking my apple juice—”

A small laugh interrupted Clint’s tirade, and everyone turned to look for the source.

Peter was standing in front of the elevator, dressed in sweatpants and a shirt that looked too big for him. His hair was wet and sticking up, his brown eyes shining with barely concealed mirth at Clint’s misfortune.

The kid looked snuggly, Tony realized. A second later, he was disgusted with his mind for using the word “snuggly” to describe anything.

Peter noticed that all eyes were on him, and he turned red. His hands unconsciously formed fists. “Uh… good morning?” He said awkwardly to the room.

“It’s afternoon, kid,” Tony said from the table. “I know, I made the same mistake.”

Peter looked to him with gratitude, silently thanking him for the save.

Tony stood and gestured to a plate that sat on the counter. “Are you hungry? There’s grilled cheese.”

Peter’s mouth watered as he sped over to the counter, ready to shove them all in his mouth. He hadn’t eaten much the past two days; mostly because he was too sad to do anything but just lay on the couch and stare at the TV screen.

But now the room was full of people, and the crushing loneliness was gone. Not only that, but Tony was here, talking to him, looking at him, taking care of him… it seemed too good to be true.

Peter was about to shove half a grilled cheese into his mouth whole when Tony yanked the plate away. Peter’s face fell, and he opened his mouth to protest, but Tony just put the plate in the microwave. “Cold grilled cheese should be illegal,” He remarked, punching a minute into the machine.

When the food was done, he placed the plate in front of Peter, who started shoveling food into his mouth.

“Hey Tony,” Natasha said, and Tony took his eyes off Peter and glanced her way. “We’re all going down to the gym. I’m going to spar with Steve and everyone wants to watch. Do you want to bring Spider-Infant and join?”

Peter made a noise of protest at the name and Tony shook his head. “Nah, I’ve got some things I need to do. Beat his ass, though, and make sure you film it. God knows I need some entertainment.”

Natasha nodded, a wicked smile on her lips, and the crowd of people filed out, leaving Tony and Peter alone.

Peter watched them leave, before turning back to his food. Tony was half-amused at the way Peter ate the grilled cheese and half-worried he was going to choke, so he just sat there anxiously as the kid cleaned his plate in an astonishingly quick amount of time.

“So, what are we doing today?” Peter asked excitedly, once he was done eating. “Can we do something fun? Like… I don’t know, what is there to do around here? Hiking?”

Tony fixed him with an amused expression, his eyes hard. “That’s cute. You think you’re leaving this compound.”

At once, Peter deflated, his eyes falling to his empty plate. “Oh. Right. I, uh… forgot.”

“That must be nice,” Tony said, his voice tight. “I didn’t.”

Peter’s hands curled into fists, a wave of sadness rolling through him and making him nauseous. He suddenly wished he hadn’t eaten all of that grilled cheese.

“Don’t look like that,” Tony said, taking in Peter’s absolutely distraught expression. “You look like I’m about to kick a puppy or something.”

Peter didn’t even crack a smile, despair curling over his heart like a fist. He’s going to send you to your room and you’re going to be alone again.

The thought of experiencing that terrifying numbness like he did yesterday was absolutely nauseating.

“Hey, look at me,” Tony said softly. Peter slowly looked up, hopelessness swirling in his gut. “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s not true.”

Peter nodded, still feeling like someone had placed a ton of bricks on his chest. He could breathe, but the air seemed to be getting thicker, which meant that not breathing wasn’t far off.

Meanwhile, Tony was fixing Peter with a strange expression. “God, kid. You’re making it nearly impossible for me to punish you.”

Peter dropped his eyes and stood slowly, unconsciously pressing his nails deeper into his palms and shoving his fists into his pockets. “I’ll go to my room. How long do you want me there?”

“Jesus Christ, Peter, sit down,” Tony ordered, startling Peter. “Stop assuming shit, okay? I’m not going to send you to your room.”

Peter dropped back into his chair, shuffling his feet. “You said you’re going to punish me.”

“Yeah, I am, but I’m not going to isolate you,” Tony rolled his eyes. “That’s what got us into this mess in the first place, kid. I’m not about to go through the trauma of finding out that you’re an hour and a half away, swinging from skyscrapers at two-thirty in the morning, again.”

Peter met Tony’s eyes. “You’re not going to…?”

“Nope,” Tony answered his unasked question, shaking his head. “But you have to understand that what you did was bad, Pete. Like, really bad, not to mention incredibly dangerous. I can’t let it go unpunished.”

Peter nodded, his heart hammering.

“So, it’s clear to me that you can’t be alone right now,” Tony explained, his gaze unwavering from Peter’s. “That’s why you ran away.”

“I didn’t run away—" Peter started.

“Nuh-uh, the adult is talking,” Tony said, silencing Peter with a finger. “You did run away, because you felt alone. I was too wrapped up in myself to realize, and I’m sorry.”

Peter was staring at him. “It’s… it’s okay. I understand, you don’t have to—”

“That’s another thing, kid,” Tony said, piercing him with a look. “I know I don’t have to,” Peter nodded again, his eyes downcast. “But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to, okay? No one can force me to do anything, not Steve, not you, not even the government. I do things because I want to. And taking care of you,” Tony’s throat felt tight, and the words threatened to die on his tongue, but he forced them out. “I do it because I want to.”

Peter’s eyes shone with unbridled happiness, and it did something to Tony, for his mind was suddenly filled with the urge to hug the kid and the corners of his mouth wanted to jump into a smile.

“As I was saying, before I was rudely interrupted,” He said, glaring playfully at Peter, who still looked like he just had the world handed to him. “You can’t be alone right now, so I’m not going to leave you alone. For your punishment, you have to help me in the workshop or in the lab, doing whatever job I assign you. You are not allowed to leave the compound unless I am with you or tell you to, no exceptions. The garage—” Tony sucked in a breath, trying to release some of his anger. “—is completely off limits, unless I am with you. No exceptions.”

Peter’s expression changed to one of incredible chagrin, guilt falling over him. “Yes, sir—”

“Another rule: don’t ever call me sir, unless I tell you to. I’m… I’m not my father,” Tony muttered the last part, willing it to be true. He cleared his throat. “FRIDAY has already been notified about these measures, so you won’t be able to enlist her help.” He once again had to reel in his anger. “I do not take well to people turning my AI’s against me.”

Peter nodded regretfully. “Yes, s—Tony. Yes, Tony.”

Tony looked at Peter for a minute longer, before sighing deeply. “Punishing you is like punishing a puppy. It’s nearly impossible, kid.”

Peter cracked a smile, but it faded quickly. The kid was falling apart, and Tony regarded him warily. “I… I’m sorry, Tony. I… I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

And fuck, if that didn’t break Tony’s heart. “I know, bud. It’s okay.”

Peter looked like he was about to cry, and Tony held out his arms in an open invitation, not thinking. He was about to lower them, but then Peter was on his lap, his face pressed into his shoulder, his body shaking.

Tony’s arms were still out awkwardly, but then he relaxed them, one hand unconsciously coming up and intertwining itself into Peter’s curls, the other on his quivering back.

The position was awkward, and Tony was both physically and mentally uncomfortable, but Peter was distraught, and Tony cared about the kid so much that he didn’t shrug away from the contact.

Tony picked himself and the kid up and walked to the empty couch, sitting them both down.

“I’m sorry,” Peter whispered tearfully. “I’m sorry I’m so messed up.”

Now there were tears in Tony’s eyes. He didn’t trust his voice, but he reassured the kid anyway. “We’re all messed up, Pete, and I’m probably the most messed up out of all of them. Don’t worry about it.”

“Everyone’s dead, Tony,” Peter’s voice was so quiet that Tony had to strain to hear it. “Why is everyone dead?”

Well. Tony sure as fuck didn’t have an answer to that. He asked himself the same question daily. “I don’t know.”

Peter dissolved into sobs, and Tony could feel his shoulder starting to dampen with saltwater. He held the kid tighter, listening to the kid’s breathing, making sure he didn’t spiral into another panic attack.

There was a quiet noise to the left of where Tony was, and he slowly turned his head to find the source.

There, standing by the elevator, was Natasha, Sam, Steve, Clint, Vision, Wanda, and Rhodey, all looking directly at Tony and Peter.

Tony instantly felt exposed, and every part of him was telling him to run away, either to his room, the lab, or the workshop, to get away from their prying eyes.

But Peter was sobbing into his shoulder, making horrible, hiccuping noises. His entire form was trembling with an onslaught of grief, his hands pulling at Tony’s hoodie in agony.

The kid needed him, and Tony decided that making Peter feel better was more important than maintaining his emotionless façade.

Tony locked eyes with Rhodey, trying to tell him to get them the fuck out of here.

It was then when Peter spoke. “I m-miss h-her.” His speech was punctured by a shuddering sob. “It fucking hurts.”

Fuck. “I know, buddy,” Tony spoke softly, his full attention back onto Peter. “I know. She was a fantastic woman.”

Peter only cried harder, and Tony looked to the group of people around the elevator again.

Except, most of them were now in the elevator. Rhodey was silently ushering them in, with the help of Steve. Steve made eye-contact with Tony, and there was an annoying softness in his eyes. Tony looked away.

Soon, it was only the two of them again. Tony tried not to think about how he was going to get a bunch of shit for being a dad later from his friends, and instead focused on running his hand down Peter’s spine, trying to quiet the kid.

It seemed to work, because Peter’s sobs turned into just small hitches of breath. His form still trembled, however, and Tony made no move to unlatch the kid from him.

Eventually, Peter’s breathing managed to normalize, and even the shivers stopped. He still leaned on Tony, however, before Tony became concerned with how still the kid was.

“Are you okay?” Tony asked after several minutes of silence.

Peter nodded against Tony. “Sorry.” He whispered, embarrassed.

“You don’t need to apologize, Peter,” Tony assured, ruffling the kid’s hair.

“I ruined your hoodie” He said mournfully. “I’m sorry.”

“Peter,” Tony said seriously, removing the kid from where he had latched on to him. Peter’s face was tear-tracked, and his lips were swollen. He looked absolutely miserable and, in that moment, a lot younger than fifteen. “Stop apologizing. It’s just a hoodie, I have a dozen like it.”

Peter wouldn’t meet Tony’s eyes. Shame was written all over his face. He was still in Tony’s lap.

“Do you want to see what I’m working on?” Tony asked, before the thought had even fully formed in his head.

Peter’s eyes darted to Tony’s face, before dropping. The kid nodded.

“Great. Let’s go,” Tony said briskly, trying to diffuse the strange awkwardness that was thickening the air between them. He glanced down. “Uh. You’re going to have to get off me.”

Peter looked mortified and scrambled off of him so quickly that he almost ended up on the floor. It was so pathetic that Tony couldn’t even laugh.

With a sigh, he led the kid toward the elevator, wishing there was something else he could do to make the kid feel better.

Chapter Text

“How’s the kid?” was the text Tony received from Steve about an hour later.

He looked across the space at Peter, who was tinkering with a new project Tony had set for him. His face was pinched into a look of complete focus, a pair of pliers in his hand.

When they had gotten down to the workshop, it was shocking how easy it was to distract the kid. He took one look at the Iron Man suit and immediately shot off at the mouth, asking excited questions about how things worked and just gushing about it in general.

Tony indulged him, for a while, before telling him to go work on something to add to his own suit. They had been working ever since.

Tony wiped his oil-covered hands off on a rag, before picking up his phone. “He’s alright,” Tony texted, surprised at Steve’s concern. A bitter thought threatened to surface, but he pushed it down before it could. “We had a rough night last night.”

What happened?” The text was almost immediate.

Tony sighed. “It’s a long story and it’s not mine to tell.”

“Of course. Just remember that we’re here.”

Yeah, sure, Tony thought bitterly, setting down his phone a little roughly. Now you are. But you weren’t last year. Last year, you were on the run, after almost murdering me in Siberia.

Sure, they were civil, and sometimes even kind towards each other. The Accords were modified to just the slightest regulation, Ross was dead (Tony wasn’t sure who did it, and he decided he didn’t care. He always hated that bastard.), Barnes was back on ice, and everyone had come back.

It wasn’t a gooey, happy reunion. They had met up again in a meeting with several United Nations representatives. Tony had to excuse himself halfway through, when everything was too much for him to handle. He blamed an important call from Pepper about SI business, but instead went to the bathroom and threw up everything he had eaten that day.

After the meeting was adjourned, and the representatives had left, it was a room full of people determinedly not looking at each other. Tony remembered wanting to make a sarcastic comment, but the bite had died in his throat and he remained silent.

And then Steve had said three, simple words: “He’s in cryo.”

It had made Tony want to punch him in the mouth. It was the first sentence they had said to each other in a year, and it was about the wellbeing of the person they had fought about.

Because no matter what happened, Steve would only care about one thing: Bucky Barnes.

Eventually, they started talking. Not about the situation, never about the situation. About things happening in the news, things they missed. And it was fine.

Tony was fine. He didn’t hold a grudge at all.

Maybe it was the fact that they hadn’t discussed anything. They had fallen back into a routine; they typically ate meals together, they laughed together, and on Friday night, they would sit down all together and watch a movie.

Tony longed for it to feel normal. He was amazing at avoidance, but not talking about what happened in Germany and Siberia was just creating an even deeper chasm between the two sides.

They needed to talk. All of them. But Tony wasn’t about to—

“Tony?” Peter’s voice broke his thoughts.

Tony realized his hands were shaking. He clenched them for a second before spinning around on his stool and looking up Peter. “Yeah, Pete?”

“Uh… I have a question,” The kid was stood behind Tony, looked incredibly nervous. His hands were balled into fists at his sides.

“Shoot,” Tony said, massaging his wrists, which had started to ache.

Peter chewed his lip. “What am I going to do about school?”

Tony stared and him, blinking. He hadn’t even thought about that.

Peter seemed to misread his reaction, because his eyes grew panicked. “I can go to school up here!” He insisted. “I would just need to go back and get my stuff and maybe say goodbye to my friends—”

“Peter,” Tony said, giving the kid a stern look. “What do you want to do about school?”

Peter looked at Tony a second longer, before his gaze fell to the floor. “It’s not up to me.”

“Uh, yeah, it is. I’m not the one going to school, kid.”

Peter’s tightened his fists. “I wanna go back to Midtown,” He said quietly, scuffing his feet across the linoleum floor. “I miss my friends.”

Tony nodded. “Midtown it is, then. How much school have you missed?”

Peter met Tony’s gaze. “More than a week.”

“And are you ready to go back?”

Peter blinked. “Tony. How are you going to get me to Queens every morning? It’s an hour and a half away. Not only that, but you’d have to pick me up every day and drive back up here. That’s a three hour round trip, not counting if you want to come back once you’ve dropped me off—”

“Let me worry about that, kid,” Tony said briskly. “And you didn’t answer my question. Are you ready to go back right now?”

Peter bit his lip. He missed his friends terribly; it was like a constant ache. But the thought of going back, doing his work and talking to people and having to be okay was remarkably unappealing. Not only that, but the wound of his Aunt’s death was too fresh. Walking on territory he used to frequent while she was alive would hurt too much.

“No,” Peter admitted. “I’m not. It’s… it’s too soon.”

Sympathy ripped through Tony. “Okay. You don’t have to go back until you’re ready.”

“But I’m going to be so behind,” Peter stressed, his nails pressing into his palms. “I have honors and AP classes, there’s no way I’m going to be ready for the tests in the spring if I don’t go—”

“Relax, kid,” Tony assured. “You’re practically a genius. You’ll be fine.”

At Peter’s stricken expression, Tony changed tactics. “Or we could go get your work from the school,” He said hastily. “Maybe you could, I don’t know… email your teachers and have them get some work together for you to work on?”

Peter pondered the suggestion. “I guess I could do that.”

Tony clapped his hands together. “Excellent. We’ll give that a few days and then we’ll go get it. I need to conference with your principal anyways.”

Peter blanched. “W-What? Why?”

Tony wasn’t expecting that reaction. “Because you can’t just miss a bunch of school without consequence. Believe me, I’ve tried. People start looking for you and shit.” He said slowly.

“Oh. Okay, yeah, you’re right.” Peter said, rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment.

Tony raised an eyebrow but ignored the gesture. “Get back to work. This is supposed to be your punishment, remember?”

Peter mocked him with an eyebrow raise of his own. “This isn’t much of a punishment?”

“Ah, it isn’t?” Tony asked gleefully. He grabbed his oil can and purposefully poured oil on the ground. “Oh no. Look, a mess. Peter, go get that mop and clean it up,” He gestured to the mop that sat idle in the corner.

Peter’s jaw dropped. “Are you kidding me?”

Tony crossed his arms, trying his hardest not to laugh. “You stole my car. You get to clean up the mess.”

Peter scowled at Tony but got up anyways. “Are you going to hang that over my head forever?” He asked as he grabbed the mop and bucket.

“Yep,” Tony said, turning back to his work. “Get used to it, kid.”

--

Tony made two phone calls that evening.

The first was to Midtown High School. He had found the number online and excused himself to his daytime office, feeding Peter a lie about a short meeting. The kid didn’t need to stress about the meeting until it actually happened.

It took a while, but it was settled: He and Peter would have a meeting with Principal Morita the following Wednesday, on December 12th.

The second call was to his retail agent, Ed. He answered on the second ring.

“Mr. Stark? What can I do for you?”

“Hey, Ed. I’m going to need you to do me a favor.”

“Anything, sir.”

“Remember when I sold Stark Tower? Yeah, I’m going to need it back.”

It was silent on the line. “You… you want the Tower back?”

“Yeah, pretty sure I just said that.”

“… Mr. Stark, we were going to sell it tomorrow. We have a buyer; he’s willing to pay 800 million for it.”

“I don’t care,” Tony said, settling into his office chair. “It’s my tower. Cancel the transaction, tell the guy to fuck off, all of that jazz. I want it back.”

There was a long silence. “O-Okay. Uh… we’ll get right on it, Mr. Stark… sir. Er… when do you want the tower back by?”

Tony pursed his lips. “I’ll let you know on Monday. Thanks, Ed.”

He hung up before Ed could answer.

Tony sighed, cradling his glass of apple juice in his hands. His idea was for him and Peter to move back to the city, and to live in his old tower.

Truth be told, the last thing he wanted was to live in that Tower again. That was why he put it on the market in the first place. After Siberia, he couldn’t stand to even be in it. Staring at places that used to be occupied by the warmth of friendship and company consistently wrecked his state of mind, and he would turn to the only thing that took all of his worries away: alcohol.

He knew it was unhealthy, but after Siberia, he spiraled. He barely ate, he didn’t leave his workshop, and every time he would close his eyes, he pictured Steve, sat on top of him, about to impale him with his shield.

Rhodey, who couldn’t even walk, was worried about him. He suggested therapy, and even recommended someone to him. But accepting help wasn’t in his nature, especially since no one seemed to care about his problems. So, he did what Starks did best; endured in a stoic, drunken silence.

But it got better. Ross died and Steve (and crew) got pardoned, but Tony still couldn’t go back to the tower. The Compound was much safer, for both his mind and his body.

But now, he was moving away from everyone again. But this time, he has someone to take care of. Maybe it’ll be better.

Tony sighed, downed his apple juice, and left his office.

Chapter Text

Peter was getting better.

It made Tony painfully happy to see. The heavy weight that had settled in the kid’s eyes had lifted a little, he smiled more, and he didn’t shed a single tear the whole rest of that week. He only had one nightmare, but it wasn’t bad, and he fell asleep right after.

He joked around with Tony and the rest of the Avengers, sparred with Natasha (which just about gave Tony an ulcer to watch; he didn’t like to see his kid getting kicked around under any circumstance), and just seemed happier in general.

Until Monday night.

The day was normal. They had spent a lot of time in the lab with Bruce, something Peter seemed to enjoy immensely. He asked a ton of questions, most of which Bruce had an answer to, and bounced around looking at all of the projects the man had been working on.

Then Tony had to do a conference call, but that only took an hour, and during the time, Peter watched Sam and Clint play Xbox.

Dinner was a nice affair. Clint cooked, which was a skill Tony didn’t know he possessed (Then again, maybe he learned in the time he was running from the law. But Tony wasn’t bitter at all.). He made a stir-fry, which was a meal that Tony didn’t frequently eat but enjoyed nonetheless.

After dinner, they decided to watch a movie. They picked Forrest Gump, a movie that Steve, Wanda, and Peter hadn’t seen.

Tony remembered when the movie was released, and he tried not to feel old as the opening scenes started.

They were only fifteen minutes into the movie when all of their phones went off simultaneously.

Peter immediately looked around at the noise, the hairs on his arms standing up. Something was wrong.

“FRIDAY, turn on the lights, cut the movie,” Tony ordered. He looked around at his teammates. “You all got the message?”

“An attack in DC?” Steve questioned, standing. Everyone was staring at their phones, reading the alert.

“Terrestrial or extra-terrestrial?” Clint questioned, standing. Peter’s eyes jumped from person to person, nausea curling in his stomach. Something’s wrong.

“Terrestrial,” Natasha said, intently staring at her phone. “They said they’ll brief us on the Quinjet. We need to go.”

“Bruce or no Bruce?” Rhodey asked, him and Sam standing.

“Let’s bring him just in case,” Natasha said. “We should get going.”

Wanda and Vision straightened as well, Vision phasing back into his Android form.

Tony tapped his watch, sending in the request for a suit. “This better be good. I love Forrest Gump.”

Finally, Peter stood, the grating feeling of all his senses rebelling making him a little shaky. “I’ll go get my suit.”

Everyone stared at him.

Peter froze, suddenly feeling like he was onstage. He searched for Tony, his mouth about to open in a question.

Tony was staring at him as well, a strange expression on his face, something even stranger in his eyes. The question died on his tongue.

“Funny joke, kid,” Tony said a second later, no humor in his voice. “You’re not going.”

Not going?

Peter stared at him. “What are you talking about? Of course I’m going!”

“No, you’re not.” His voice was quiet. “You’re staying here.”

Peter’s stomach suddenly felt like it was full of lead. “No,” His voice was wavering. “I’m going.”

“Don’t argue with me,” Tony threatened, and now there was something else in Tony’s eyes. Anger. “You’re not going. Period.”

Irritation flared within Peter. “I can help,” Peter said, his jaw clenched. “You guys can use me!”

“Dammit, Peter,” Tony was quickly losing his temper. He couldn’t let Peter go with them. There was too much risk, and suddenly all Tony could see was his kid, lying on the ground, broken and bleeding… “I said no.”

“We’ll be on the helipad,” Natasha muttered to Tony, glancing back at Peter before gesturing for the rest of the group to follow her.

“I don’t care,” Peter countered Tony angrily. “I’m going. You can’t stop me.”

“Oh yeah?” Tony accepted the challenge. “FRIDAY, Peter is not allowed to leave this Compound under any circumstances. Code 13494.”

There was a ringing in Peter’s ears. His heart was pounding, both with anger and fear. “So you’re just going to keep me here? I’m not a child!”

“Yes, you are!” Tony bit out. “You are fifteen years old, dammit. You are not an Avenger, and this is not your fight.”

“You offered me a spot on the team!” Peter’s voice was inching towards a yell. “What if I want to accept the offer?”

I said no!” Tony yelled, his chest heaving. “Stop arguing with me! I have to go.”

There were tears in Peter’s eyes. He could already feel the loneliness start to invade. Tony turned to leave, and Peter’s hand jutted out and grasped the older man’s wrist, stopping him.

“Don’t go,” Peter whispered, his heartbeat in his ears. “Please. Don’t leave me here alone. Please.”

His pleas were making him sound younger than he was, which he knew he would resent later. But there was pure, unadulterated fear pulsing through his veins at the thought of being alone.

Tony gazed down at Peter, whose face was white, his pupils dilated in fear.

“I have to go,” He repeated, his voice no longer a yell. He shook off Peter’s hold. “You are staying.”

He was walking away again. Peter made a small noise of desperation and trailed behind him. “Please. Tony. I can’t. I can’t be a-alone. Please.”

Tony didn’t look back. He kept walking towards the elevator, each step feeling like a betrayal.

“Don’t go,” Shamefully, tears trailed down Peter’s cheeks. “Please. Don’t leave me here.”

Tony got in the elevator, his heart breaking. “I’ll be back, Peter.”

Peter reached out, trying to stop Tony, but the elevator was already shooting upwards, taking Tony away from Peter.

--

The Quinjet fell silent when Tony got on, hands forcibly shoved in his pockets, blood pressure high.

They took off a few seconds later, Tony covering his face with his hands. The kid was going to kill him.

“Everything okay?” Steve asked, and Tony looked through his fingers at him.

“Oh, it’s peachy,” Tony bit out, his temper flaring once again. “Everything is just grand right now, Cap—”

“Okay, okay,” Natasha interjected, before another argument could start. “What just happened?”

“None of your business,” Tony said angrily.

“Mature. Is Peter okay?” Natasha questioned.

“He’s great. Just fantastic. Not only is he mad at me, but he’s also fucking terrified and he probably hates me.” Tony spit out, his jaw clenched. “So, it’s just a normal fucking night for us.”

“Stop being so melodramatic,” Bruce interjected. “That kid idolizes you.”

“Probably doesn’t anymore,” Tony muttered, his arms crossed, one finger angrily tapping his bicep.

“Relax, Tony,” Clint said. “Kids get over things quickly. You’ll come back, and he’ll be over it.”

Tony’s mind was suddenly filled with the image of Peter, gripping his wrist, pale and terrified. It reminded him of when he picked him up from the hospital after May died. The thought made him feel ill.

Tony cleared his throat and changed the subject. “So, what are we facing?”

--

Peter would say that it was the worst night of his life, but he had a lot of “worst nights ever” in his life.

It was high up on the list, though. After Tony left, he tried all of the possible escapes he knew of, all of which were locked. He was trapped.

The loneliness was suffocating. He paced the great room, blinking back tears every few minutes. He knew the fight was probably on TV, but the thought of watching as Tony got… it made him sick to his stomach. He was alight with anxiety and nerves, his nails pressing on his palms so hard that it drew blood and he could feel the sparks of pain.

Eventually, his body shut down. He went up to his room and sat there, staring at the wall, feeling numb and empty. For he was alone, truly. There wasn’t anyone in the entire compound.

There was a horrible sinking feeling in his gut when he thought of Tony not coming back from the mission. He imagined the Quinjet, falling through the air, crashing hard into the ground. He imagined Tony, on the battlefield, getting impaled.

He imagined the funeral, just like May’s. He imagined the loneliness swallowing him whole.

The images spurred on the panic attack, and he sat there, shaking like a leaf, his breath catching in his throat. His hands, throbbing from the crescent shaped cuts in his palms, grabbed at his shirt, which was suddenly too tight.

When the attack passed, he was exhausted. The panic sensation was gone, and he quickly fell into a cold, silent despair. His body curled in on itself and he shut his eyes, too tired and sad to get up and turn off the light.

Shivering and on the verge of tears, he fell into a slumber, despair a fist around his heart.

--

It was much later when he awoke.

He was greeted with complete darkness, the only light coming from the moon, which cast silver shadows onto his bed.

He lazily turned over and closed his eyes again, his mind fuddled with sleep. He had drifted with the covers off, but now they were snugly tucked underneath his chin.

A second later, his eyes were flying open as memories trickled back. He looked around wildly, his movements lethargic with the residue of being unconscious, before his eyes landed on a dark figure sat on the edge of his bed.

Emotions so powerful ran through him that in an instant, his eyes were burning with tears.

“Tony?” He asked, his voice cracking halfway through the word.

“Hey, kid,” Tony’s voice was weary but warm, and the tears spilled onto Peter’s cheeks.

He immediately reached out and latched himself onto Tony, his face pressing into his collar bone, his hands clutching the soft fabric of his shirt.

He felt the man sigh as he wrapped an arm around him, his other hand coming up and entangling itself in Peter’s curls.

Peter let out a sob, his body shaking.

“Shh,” Tony murmured, gently rocking the two of them. “You’re okay.”

“I didn’t think you were going to come back,” Peter sobbed, relief so potent flowing through him that he couldn’t help but fall apart. “I th-thought I was going to be alone again.”

Tony shushed him again, running a tired hand down the shaking kid’s back. “I’m here now. I’m not going to leave again.”

Peter shivered, and Tony hugged him tighter, trying to put as much comfort as possible into the action. Peter clung to him like he was afraid Tony would vanish into thin air if he let him go.

Ultimately, Peter stopped crying, and just shivered his guardian’s hold.

“Are you cold?” He finally asked, when Peter’s shivering began to make him anxious.

“I’m always cold these days,” Peter whispered, successfully scaring the shit out of Tony. His hold on the kid tightened even more, just short of crushing.

It was silent for a few seconds, before Tony spoke. “I’m sorry for yelling at you.”

“It’s okay,” Peter said quietly. "I'm sorry for arguing."

Tony chewed the inside of his cheek, debating on how to say his next sentence, which he ended up saying very slowly. “We don’t communicate very well, and I think that’s my fault. But—” He made circles on Peter’s back with his thumb. “You need to tell me when you’re sad, upset, anxious… because this isn’t working, Peter.”

This isn’t working. The words felt like a blow to chest.

“I’m a lot to deal with,” Peter whispered. “I’m sorry. You didn’t sign up for this.”

“I did sign up for this, and stop apologizing,” Tony said, Peter feeling the man’s chest vibrate with each word. “We just need to be able to talk, which I am terrible at, may I add,” Tony mentally fist pumped when he heard Peter laugh quietly. “But I need to know when you’re not okay, Pete. You need to talk to me, and me with you, when either of us have a problem.”

Peter was quiet for a few minutes, scaring Tony a little.

“Okay,” Peter said eventually, his voice small. “We can try that.”

Tony released the breath he didn’t know he was holding. “Good.”

Peter sighed into Tony’s shirt, exhaustion suddenly hitting him. “I’m sleepy.”

“Don’t fall asleep on me, kid,” Tony said gruffly, peeling Peter from him, who protested. “Come on, lay down.”

Peter grumbled, but he did lay down, worn out. His eyes were drifting closed as Tony gently pulled the covers up to his chin.

“Goodnight, T’ny,” Peter murmured, half-asleep.

A quiet laugh, and then, “Goodnight, Peter.”

And he was asleep.

Chapter Text

The next day, Tony announced that he was taking Peter out to lunch.

It startled Peter, who hadn’t left the Compound since his escapade to the city. But he got ready nonetheless, changing into a pair of jeans and a nice shirt that he found in his closet.

Tony collected him from his room and they rode down to the garage together. Peter immediately noticed that the car he stole was back in its parking spot, and he looked down guiltily as he got into the passenger seat in one of Tony’s less flashy cars.

The restaurant Tony took him to wasn’t far. They got out of the car and had to run into the building, since it had started to pour an icy cold rain.

 The restaurant was really nice. He felt under dressed, but when he voiced his concern to Tony, Tony assured him that he was fine.

The hostess seemed flustered when she took in the frankly intimidating form of Tony Stark, and at his request, sat the two of them in a private corner of the restaurant.

Peter looked at the menu and immediately blanched at the prices. Thirty dollars for a bowl of spaghetti? He was used to boxed pasta and store-bought, warm-in-the-microwave marinara sauce, the total of which would only add to about five dollars.

“Tony,” Peter said quietly. “The spaghetti is thirty dollars.”

Tony fixed him with a weird look. “Uh, yeah. That’s what it says. Why?”

“That’s so expensive!” Peter sputtered. “We can’t afford—” The words died in his mouth. He suddenly remembered who he was talking to.

Tony Stark, philanthropist, genius, and most importantly, a billionaire.

“Kid,” Tony said, amused. “I think we’ll be okay.”

Peter turned red. “Right,” He said quietly, hiding his face in his menu.

He ended up ordering the thirty-dollar spaghetti, still feeling guilty at the cost. He and May weren’t necessarily poor, but he knew May sometimes had to take extra shifts at the hospital to make ends meet.

It still hurt to think her name, so he shut down the thought process before he started crying in the middle of a fancy restaurant.

Tony ordered a filet mignon, and the waiter left, leaving Tony and Peter alone.

Peter took a sip from his water, unsure of what to do.

“So, talking,” Tony said, leaning back, then thinking better of it and leaning forward, clasping his hands together on the table.

 “R-Right. Uh…” Peter couldn’t help but feel awkward. His hands unconsciously formed into fists. “Do we have to?”

“Afraid so, kid,” There was a hint of apology in Tony’s voice. “I might need to go away again.”

The breath caught in Peter’s throat and he made a strangled noise. “Y-You’re leaving?”

“No, no,” Tony quickly clarified, alarmed at Peter’s distress. “Not right now, hopefully not soon. But we can’t have a repeat of what happened every time I need to leave.”

Peter forced himself to breathe and nodded. “O-Okay.”

“Yeah, uh…” Tony felt so out of his depth. “So, you’re scared of being alone.”

Peter winced, and Tony felt bad for being so blunt. “N-No, I’m n—” Tony fixed him with a look, and Peter immediately conceded. “Yeah, I suppose I am.”

“Why? You know that I’m going to come back,” Tony asked, the awkwardness starting to melt a little.

“No, I don’t know if you’re coming back,” Peter said, his chest feeling tight. “You… You could say you’re coming back, but then something could happen, and I’ll be all a-alone—”

“Hey,” Tony said softly. “Nothing’s going to happen, Peter. The chances of anything happening are—”

“What were the chances of my parents getting in a plane crash?” Peter interjected hotly, his heart hammering. “What were the chances of Ben getting shot? What were the chances of May getting in a c-car accident?”

Tony stared at him, silently cursing himself. You’re making it worse. “I-I’m sorry,” Tony said quietly. “I should have chosen my words more carefully.”

“Disaster follows me, Tony,” Peter said helplessly, a weight settling on his chest. “It follows me, and it takes away everything I love. And soon, it’s going to take you away too.”

The desperation and sadness in Peter’s speech knocked the breath out of Tony. Oh, Peter, his heart ached for the kid.

“Nothing is going to happen to me, Peter,” Tony said quietly. “I’m not going anywhere, nothing’s going to take me away.” I care about you too much.

“You don’t know that,” Peter said desperately. “Something’s going to happen, and I’m going to be alone forever with the fucking numbness—“

“Numbness? What numbness?” Tony asked sharply, so alarmed that he didn’t tell Peter off for language.

Peter suddenly looked like he had said too much. He looked down at the table. “It’s nothing. I just… I feel… I feel weird when I’m alone. It’s like I’m feeling too much but nothing at all at the same time. It… it’s horrible and h-haunting and I…” Peter swallowed down the lump in his throat. “I can’t deal with feeling like that, Tony.”

Jesus Christ. Tony was staring at Peter, his face pale, his heart lurching painfully for the poor, broken child in front of him.

“Your filet mignon, sir,” The waiter was there, suddenly, placing a warm, medium rare steak in front of Tony. He didn’t spare the waiter or his food even a glance, he was too busy staring at Peter in horror.

A hot plate of spaghetti was placed in front of Peter. He was staring down at his lap, his cheeks red. He mumbled a thanks to the waiter, twisting his napkin under the table.

“Kid…” Tony said quietly. “Why didn’t you tell me this before?”

Peter didn’t look up. “I… It hurts to talk about.”

Fuck, this kid is actually going to give me a heart attack. Tony breathed in heavily through his nose, feeling incredibly nauseous. “Peter…” Tony said sadly. “This is why we need to talk. I need to know these things, kiddo, so I know what upsets you. We need to figure out something that works, for the both of us.”

“I don’t want to be alone,” Peter said quietly. “I’m tired of being alone.”

“I know buddy,” Tony said softly. “You’re not alone. I’m not going anywhere, ever. I’m going to always be here, even if I have to go away for a little bit.”

Peter picked up his fork, then thought better of it, and dropped it. He took a deep breath. “But what if something happens?” His voice was childlike, and his eyes were large, round, and scared.

“Kid, I’m Iron Man,” Tony said, like it was obvious. He cut into his steak, not because he was hungry but because he needed to do something with his hands. “I’ve survived against all odds, kid. I’ve been tortured, almost drowned, poisoned, thrown into space… I don’t think you have to worry.”

Peter picked up his fork again and moved the spaghetti around on his plate. “Am I being stupid?”

Curveball. “What do you mean?”

“Is it… is it stupid, o-or childish, that I want you around at all times?” Peter was suddenly embarrassed. No one wants a clingy kid.

“No,” Tony sounded sad. “You just have separation anxiety, with maybe a little bit of PTSD thrown in.”

Peter was startled with how ready Tony was with that answer. “H-How do you…”

“I was worried about you,” Tony said, taking a small bite of his steak. “So, last night, I did some research. Separation anxiety disorder seemed to match up pretty well, and I’m the posterchild of PTSD so I think you might have a bit of that as well.”

The corner of Peter’s mouth quirked up. “Did you become a therapist overnight?”

Tony grinned. “WebMd is a gift, kid. You don’t need a degree for that.”

Peter snorted and twirled the spaghetti around his fork before taking a bite.

His eyes popped as his taste buds danced. Huh, thirty-dollar spaghetti.

They ate in relative silence, Tony trying his hardest to enjoy his expensive steak but finding it difficult. Peter is suffering, and I had no idea.

God. If his heart condition doesn’t kill him, the guilt probably will.

He paid once they were done eating, Peter finishing his entire plate of spaghetti and the slice of cheesecake Tony ordered him for dessert.

They had to dart to the car, since the cold rain from either had turned into a freezing rain, small pellets of ice sticking to their hair as they ran.

Once inside the car, Tony started the engine and cranked the heat to the highest setting. Fuck winter, he thought bitterly, running a hand through his damp hair. I miss summer.

“I wonder if Midtown has the day off today because of the weather,” Peter mused, shivering slightly as the car slowly warmed up.

“Who knows,” Tony put the car in reverse and backed out of his parking space. “Speaking of Midtown, our conference is tomorrow.”

He saw Peter go still out of the corner of his eye. “O-oh. Right.”

“What’s up? You nervous?” Tony asked, peeling out of the parking lot.

“A little, yeah,” Peter said quietly, staring out the windshield.

“Don’t be,” Tony spared Peter a quick look. “I’ll be there.”

“I’m not nervous about the meeting,” Peter blurted, looking scared.

Tony looked in his side mirror before pulling the car over, turning his body so he’s looking at Peter. “Talk to me, kid. What’s bothering you?”

Peter’s hands were balled into fists, something that Tony was starting to notice he did when he was nervous. “I’ve been meaning to ask you, but I’ve been too, uh…”

“Scared?” Tony guessed, hating himself. Am I that unapproachable?

Peter bit his lip and nodded. “Because I don’t… I don’t even know if I want to do it. But I think I need to.”

Tony reached out and put his hand on Peter’s shoulder, squeezing it. “Come on, bud. Out with it.”

“Can we go to my old apartment afterwards and… and get some stuff?” Peter looked terrified at the thought.

Suddenly, Tony wasn’t pulled over on the side of the road in upstate New York. He was 17, at his parent’s house in Santa Barbara, a pink sweater in his hand. The air smelled like perfume and was thick with his sobs, his lungs constricted so he couldn’t breathe…

Fuck, Tony shut his eyes briefly. I’m tired of all these goddamn parallels.

“Yeah,” Tony said softly, feeling a burning pain in his chest. “Yeah, we can.”

Peter didn’t relax, but he nodded. “Thank you.”

Tony sighed deeply and pulled back into the road, already mentally preparing himself for the next day.

--

When Peter was startled from his sleep by Tony the next morning, the last thing he wanted to do was get up.

Not only was his bed so warm and comfy, but he had been dreading this day since Tony mentioned it about a week ago.

It wasn’t the meeting with the principal he was worried about, however. It was going back to his old apartment.

He didn’t want to do it. Actually, it was the last thing he wanted to do. The apartment held too many ghosts, too many good memories turned sour by the passing of his aunt.

But he knew he couldn’t let the memories, even sour, get repossessed.

That didn’t mean he wanted to get out of bed, however…

“Kid, you’ve gotta get up,” Tony said, shaking Peter once more. “Come on, Pete.”

“Still sleeping, sorry,” He muttered, his eyes still closed.

“Seriously? I even got Clint to make you waffles,” Tony sounded incredibly offended, and it made Peter crack a smile. “I guess I’ll just let Steve eat them all…”

Peter’s eyes shot open. Steve ate just as much as he did, so he knew that there wouldn’t be any left if the man got to them first.

Tony was stood over his bed, already showered, dressed in a sharp suit. He was already donning sunglasses, giving him the signature Tony Stark look.

“Up and at em, kid,” Tony said, ruffling Peter’s messy hair. “Our meeting’s at 9, so we’ve got to leave in forty-five minutes.”

It was the thought of being late that propelled Peter out of bed, rushing to the bathroom to shower and get ready.

They managed to get out of the compound by seven-thirty, a feat Peter couldn’t believe they managed (The waffles Clint made were delicious, even when they were scarfed down in about seven minutes). Peter was donning a white button up shirt underneath a gray sweater and one of his nicer pairs of jeans, his curly hair still damp but looking decent.

Tony pulled out of the garage, and they started their long drive to the city.

Condensation made the window foggy and Peter used his sleeve to wipe it off, so he could watch as the trees few past. The car was pleasantly warm, and Peter wanted to curl up and go back to sleep.

Tony fiddled with the radio, settling on a classic rock station. He drummed his thumbs on the steering wheel to the beat, occasionally mumbling the lyrics to the songs under his breath. Peter laid his head against the cool window, his eyes drifting shut.

He was about to fall asleep, the heat of the car like a blanket around him, when suddenly the radio blared loudly.

Peter jumped violently, his senses making the sound even louder. His hand shot out to turn it down, but Tony beat him to it, cackling.

“Why?” Peter asked weakly, shaken up.

“No dozing off in my car,” Tony said, still chortling. “If I’m awake, so are you, kid.”

“You’re always awake, Tony,” Peter mumbled, laying his head back on the window. “That was cruel and unusual punishment.”

“Oh, poor baby Petey,” Tony teased. “Can’t handle a little loud music?”

Peter’s mouth quirked up into a smile. “Not when it’s Pat Benatar. Pick better music next time.”

“You don’t like Hit Me With Your Best Shot?” Tony looked scandalized. “It’s a goddamn classic, kid. You’re lucky I don’t kick you to the curb for that.”

“None of her songs are good, Tony—”

“Alright, get out of the car. You’re officially done.”

Peter laughed. “I never pegged you as a Pat Benatar fan.”

“Oh yeah?” Tony challenged. “Why’s that?”

“I thought you liked better music…”

Tony blistered, and Peter laughed harder.

“Okay, confession,” Tony said a few minutes later. Peter quirked an eyebrow as Tony spoke in a low voice. “I hate Pat Benatar.”

This time, they both laughed.

Chapter Text

However, an hour later, as they were driving through Manhattan, nobody was laughing.

Anxiety had gripped Peter, hard. His fingernails were embedded in his hands, his knees pulled into his chest.

He wasn’t sure why he was so anxious. It was just his stupid school, and he wasn’t even attending classes.

But what if someone saw him? With Tony Stark? The questions would never stop.

Not only that, but the last time he had been at the school, May had been alive. The thought brought a lump to his throat.

“You okay?” Tony asked as they crossed the bridge into Queens.

“I’m fine,” Peter said automatically. Tony gave him a look, and he conceded. “I’m… I’m anxious. Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize, Pete. Why are you anxious?” Tony asked, keeping his eyes on the road.

Peter didn’t answer. He looked out the window, his heart jumping at the familiar sights.

“Kid.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” He mumbled.

“Nope, try again,” Tony countered.

“I said I don’t want to talk about it,” Peter snapped.

“Watch your tone, kid,” Tony’s voice was hard, and he gave Peter a stern look before softening his tone. “I know you’re anxious, but I can’t help you unless you talk to me.”

Peter crossed his arms. “You don’t understand.”

“Au contraire, mon frère,” Tony quipped. “You know what they say about assumptions.”

Peter’s mouth twisted, but he remained silent.

They pulled up to Midtown High, then. The sight of the school twisted a knot in his stomach.

“Peter,” Tony said quietly, laying a hand on his arm. Peter turned and looked at Tony with panicked eyes. “Calm down. It’ll be fine.”

Peter sucked in a breath, although it felt like his lungs had disappeared, and nodded. Tony nodded as well and got out of the car.

Peter stepped out into the December air, the cold biting at his hands. He shoved them in his pockets.

Tony walked around the car, put a hand on Peter’s shoulder, and led them both inside.

They made it to the main office without coming into contact with any student, but then they had to deal with the flabbergasted secretary, who seemed unable to grasp the concept that Tony Stark was standing in her office. Luckily, only a minute after Tony and Peter had walked in, the principal came out of his office. He shook hands with Tony, and Peter noticed that Tony had slipped into his business persona as he led Peter into the principal’s office.

The chairs were uncomfortable, and the office was hot, but if Tony noticed either of those things, he didn’t say anything. He sat up straight, one of his legs crossed over the other, as Principal Morita offered him coffee.

“Sure,” Tony replied. “Black, please. Thank you.”

As Morita busied himself with the Keurig that sat by his desk, Tony looked over to Peter.

“You okay?” He asked lowly, his business exterior dropping briefly. Peter nodded, his fists clenched on his lap. Tony patted his knee affectionately.

Morita gave Tony his coffee, who took it with a nod of thanks.

Principal Morita sat at his desk and listened attentively as Tony explained the situation. Peter couldn’t help but envy how charismatic the man was. Tony was calm, collected, and businesslike; everything about him dripped wealth and sophistication. If Morita was intimidated, he didn’t show it.

Peter was insanely thankful that Tony took charge of the meeting, because Peter knew that if he said anything, it would most likely come out wrong and he would end up sounding like an idiot.

The meeting lasted a half an hour, during which Peter sat silently, sweat gathering on his forehead.

But it was settled: Peter would return to school after the holidays, and his missing work would be sent to him via email.

Both Tony and Morita stood and shook hands, and Peter followed suit. He took Morita’s hand when it was offered and shook it too quickly.

Then they walked out of the main office and towards the front of the school.

They were almost to the doors when Peter heard a “Hey, loser!”

Peter’s blood ran cold. Please don’t be Flash, please don’t be Flash…

He turned stiffly and was relieved to see MJ, walking calmly down the hall towards where he and Tony stood.

“Oh. H-Hey, MJ,” Peter stuttered, caught completely off guard.

“Why haven’t you been coming to practice?” She demanded, holding a book called March: Book One. “Flash has had to stand in for you, and he is really trying my patience.”

“I’m sorry!” Peter put his hands out. “Just… stuff’s been happening. I’ll be back after break.”

“You better,” MJ threatened. “Semi-Finals are in February, and I don’t want to have to deal with Flash for that. Not only that, but Ned is getting on my nerves. He doesn’t shut up. Like, ever.”

“I’ll be back, I promise,” Peter insisted, forgetting that Tony was standing right next to him until he cleared his throat.

MJ tilted her head up to look at him, eyes squinted. “Huh,” She said, her tone bored. “I thought you’d be taller.”

Tony sputtered, and MJ turned her attention back to Peter. “Take care of yourself, loser. You look like shit.”

And with that, she turned her heel, and walked down the hall.

Peter watched her go, before turning to Tony. “Let’s get out of here.”

They stepped back out into the cold and hurried to Tony’s car.

Peter got in, shut the door, and shivered. Tony started the engine.

“Who was that?” He asked, turning to Peter.

“MJ,” Peter shrugged. “She’s a friend and captain of the Decathalon team.”

“Huh,” Tony said. “She’s intimidating.”

Peter laughed. “That’s putting it lightly.”

Tony chuckled, putting the car in reverse and backing out of his parking space.

“Where to, kid?” Tony asked, pulling out of the school.

The smile on Peter’s face immediately fled. The apartment. “Oh. Uh…”

Tony looked at Peter. “It’s up to you.”

The thought of even being back in the apartment made his stomach hurt, but he knew he had to.

He couldn’t let May’s stuff get repossessed. It was all he had left of her.

 “T-The apartment,” Peter said quietly, apprehension settling like a weight in his stomach. Tony nodded, pulling out of the parking lot.

--

Tony parked the car in front of Peter’s old apartment building, sat back, and looked over at his kid, trying to read his expression.

It wasn’t very difficult. Peter was white as a sheet, his fists trembling.

“Peter,” Tony said, worried. “You don’t have to do this. I can get someone to pick up your stuff.”

“It’s not my stuff that I’m worried about, it’s… it’s hers,” Peter’s eyes were wide, but they had a resolve in them that made Tony’s heart lurch with pride. “It just… I just feel like it should be me, you know? To get her stuff.”

Tony sighed and gripped Peter’s shoulder, squeezing tightly. God, I’m so proud of you. “Alright kid,” He said. “Just you and me. Let’s go.”

--

The elevator was broken, which didn’t surprise Peter in the slightest.

If Tony was put off by the idea of taking the stairs, he didn’t let it show. They reached the third floor, and Peter’s anxiety kicked into overdrive, making him stop at the top of the stairs.

“Pete? You alright?” Tony asked, looking behind him at Peter.

Peter wanted to assure him that he was, but the words died on his tongue.

He realized he was shivering, then. Maybe they turned off the heat in the building. Maybe there was a window open.

“Cold,” Peter mumbled.

Tony’s eyebrows furrowed. “It’s not cold in here, Peter.”

The hairs on Peter’s arms were standing up as his stomach curled with nausea. Something’s wrong.

“Tony,” Peter said, swaying where he stood, feeling lightheaded. The world was tilting, and his knees were buckling. Something’s wrong.

“Woah, woah,” Tony immediately reached out to hold Peter, who looked like he was about to faint. “Okay. You’re okay.”

“Tony,” Peter said again, his mouth feeling like it was full of cotton, an overwhelming sense of dread filling him. Something’s wrong. “Tony. Something’s wrong.”

“Hey, it’s okay, kid. We don’t have to do this,” Tony said, trying to keep the panic out of his voice. “I’ll get someone to come by and get some stuff—”

Tony,” Peter said loudly, trying to convey what he was experiencing, but feeling too locked down with terror to explain it. “I can’t— Something’s wrong.”

“Peter,” The alarm was creeping into Tony’s voice. “What do you mean?”

“I can feel it,” Peter gasped, bile creeping up his throat. “I think it’s my s-spider sense… it’s…”

Tony’s face drained of color. “Are we going to be attacked?” He asked in a flat voice.

Peter felt like throwing up. “I… I don’t know. I…”

Tony made a noise deep in his throat and started messing with his watch. A second later, his hand was covered in the red metal of his Iron-Man armor.

“Is it in the apartment?” Tony asked, his voice low.

“I don’t know,” Peter swallowed down the saliva that had gathered in his mouth.

Slowly, Tony crept towards the apartment, his thruster charged, ready to fire at his command.

He kicked the door open, steadying himself into a fighting stance.

There wasn’t anything there, besides the same apartment Tony remembered faintly from when he recruited Peter, right before Germany.

Wary, Tony walked in, taking in his surroundings.

A thick layer of dust had settled on the furnishings, and the air had a strange, stale smell to it.

Everything looked untouched. There was a blanket thrown on the ground next to the couch, and there was an empty drinking glass on the coffee table. Both were covered in dust.

Tony instantly knew that no one had been in the apartment since Peter left. The panic that had been squeezing his heart lessened, but the uneasiness was still there. What had Peter sensed?

Speaking of Peter…

Tony quickly left the apartment and went back to the kid, who was still standing there, pale as a ghost.

“There’s nothing in the apartment, Pete,” Tony explained, his eyes glued to Peter’s face.

Peter took a deep, gasping breath. “A-Are you sure?” He whispered. The sense of fear was starting to fade, though. The hairs on his arm had laid back down again and his skin had stopped crawling.

The nausea was still there, but Peter was sure it would linger.

“Are you alright?” Tony asked, as color started to return to Peter’s face.

“I-I think so,” The kid looked incredibly shaken up, and Tony felt the same way.

“Care to explain what just happened?” Tony asked, his thruster phasing off of his wrist.

“I don’t know. I just… I felt like something was going to a-attack me, or something…” Peter tried to explain. “I’ve felt like that b-before… when I was f-fighting the V-Vulture…”

“But you’re okay, right?” Concern was burning within Tony. “You’re not going to pass out or anything, right? Maybe we should just go—”

“No!” Peter said vehemently, cutting Tony off. “I’m going to do this. I… I need to do this.”

Tony gave Peter a stern look. “Kid, you literally almost passed out, like, two minutes ago.”

“I’m fine now,” Peter insisted, fixing Tony with a pleading look. “Please, Tony. If we leave, I won’t be able to convince myself to do this again.”

The goddamn puppy dog eyes, Tony thought, his heart melting at Peter’s expression. They’re going to be the death of me. “Okay. Okay, fine.”

Peter sighed in relief. “Thank you.” He set his face. “L-Let’s do this.”

--

It was a lot harder than Peter thought it was going to be.

The second he entered the apartment, it was like someone had driven a sledgehammer to his stomach. The blanket was like he had left it when he had received the call from the hospital. His door was open, from when he nearly wrenched it off its hinges, trying to retrieve his web-shooters as quickly as possible.

The room smelled musty, and it overwhelmed his senses immediately. He wanted to leave, but he willed himself to stay.

“Where do you want to start, kid?” Tony asked softly.

“My room,” He said, walking towards it, trying to seem confident.

It was like he had left it: a mess. There were gadgets thrown everywhere, his bed was unmade, there were clothes scattered across the floor.

Peter stared at the mess, his mind trying to figure out how he was going to transport all of it.

A few seconds later, Tony appeared with a trash bag. “I found this in the pantry. Just stuff it in here, we’ll go through it at home.”

Peter nodded wordlessly, taking the trash bag and starting to shove stuff into it.

He went through the room pretty quickly, his body on autopilot, his mind far away. Each item had a memory attached to it, and he found himself getting caught up in a tide of thoughts.

He forgot Tony was there until the man shook his shoulder. “Pete. I’ve been calling your name for five minutes.”

Peter scrubbed a hand across his face, surprised at the fact that it was dry. “Sorry. I was, er, thinking.”

Tony nodded, his mouth pressed into a line.

“I think I’m done,” Peter said, a knot forming in his stomach as a lump sat in his throat. “I… I guess we should do… h-her room.”

“Peter,” Peter was unaware that Tony’s voice could get so soft. “Don’t torture yourself. Please.”

Peter swallowed, his stomach turning. He felt queasy, but he pushed past Tony nonetheless.

The door to May’s bedroom was foreboding, and he stopped in his tracks right in front of it.

He could feel Tony behind him, and he wanted to prove that he could do it. So, he stiffened his resolve, took a deep breath, and pushed the door open.

He was instantly greeted with the flowery smell of May’s perfume, and another smell that reminded Peter of home, and safety.

The room was clean; spotless, actually. The curtains were drawn, her vanity clear of clutter.

At the end of her bed, was an outfit. Just simple black pants, a blouse, and a sweater.

Peter forgot that May used to plan her outfits the day before she went to work. She said that she liked to be prepared, so she wasn’t rushing around in the morning looking for something to wear.

She would never wear that outfit. She would never go to work again.

It was a mistake to come back here. It was a mistake to think Peter could walk into her room and not be reminded of what was, of what would never be again.

The grief choked him, and his stomach rebelled. The next minute found him kneeling in front of the toilet as he emptied his stomach, sobs mixing with heaves, tears dripping off his face.

Tony was in the kitchen, searching the sour-smelling fridge for a bottle of water.

He knew it was a mistake the second Peter walked in. He was behind him, so he couldn’t see his face, but god, the room was saturated with the woman’s perfume. Even he could smell it, and he didn’t have Peter’s senses.

He wasn’t the least bit surprised when he heard Peter heave in front of him, nor when he sprinted to the bathroom and threw up.

And now here he was, pushing past rotten produce and nearly-month old leftovers to find his vomiting kid a bottle of water.

He found one, unopened. He couldn’t believe his luck but didn’t waste time in hurrying back to where Peter was.

The kid was sobbing, hard, occasionally pausing to gag.

Tony sat on the floor, right behind the kid. He rubbed his back, a feeling he’d never felt overtaking his body and making him short of breath. He silently thanked his drunken past for his strong stomach, the first time he had ever applauded his alcoholism for anything.

Peter was shaking violently; from being sick or from emotional upheaval, Tony didn’t know.

Peter’s retching turned into dry heaves, and eventually stopped altogether. Tony reached over and flushed the toilet, pushing the water into Peter’s hand.

“Drink,” He said, knowing that the kid would be dehydrated.

Peter took a sip, tears still running down his face. “I’ve gotta—”

“No,” Tony’s voice was hard. There was no room for argument. “We’re done here.”

No,” Peter groaned. “No, Tony, I’ve gotta—”

“Jesus Christ, Peter,” Tony said, anger overtaking him for a moment. “Do you even see yourself right now? You are on the ground, sobbing.

“I don’t care!” Peter bit out, salty tears getting in his mouth. “I have to do this—”

“You don’t!” Tony was shouting, his frustration boiling over. “You don’t have to do this! You are fifteen years old, dammit, stop fucking torturing yourself! I don’t know what you think you’re doing, whether you think your suffering is retribution or something, but it’s got to stop!”

Peter looked over at Tony with an expression of misery, and Tony just about lost his mind.

“We’re leaving,” He stood, before helping Peter to his feet. “Come on.”

Peter was still shaking, but he was surprisingly steady on his feet. Tony kept one arm around him and used the other arm to carry the trash bag full of stuff from Peter’s room.

He closed the door to the apartment behind him, and they made their way down the stairs and back out into the cold.

Peter got in the passenger’s side while Tony put the bag of stuff in the trunk. He also grabbed the cotton blanket that he kept in the back of his car, before closing the trunk and getting in the driver’s side.

He covered Peter with the blanket and started the car, pulling out of his parking space.

Peter was quiet. His head was laid against the window, his knees pulled up to his chest. Tony’s heart ached for him as they crossed the Queensboro Bridge back over to Manhattan.

They were soon on the highway, and Tony didn’t even bother to turn on the radio. He just drove in silence, occasionally glancing over at the kid, who hadn’t moved since they got into the car.

It was a half an hour into the drive that Tony realized the kid hadn’t eaten lunch and had thrown up his breakfast. “Are you hungry?”

A small nod.

“What would you like?”

He was expecting silence, but instead he received a quiet, “McDonalds.”

Tony snorted. He hadn’t been to a McDonalds since college. “Classy,” He remarked, but got off the highway at the next exit nonetheless.

“What would you like?” He asked, pulling up to the drive thru.

“Big mac and large fry,” Peter mumbled, and Tony smirked.

The car reeked of fast food, and Peter accidentally spilled ketchup on his seat, but fuck, it was suddenly the best goddamn thing in the world to Tony.

Chapter Text

Tony found out why Peter’s senses had gone haywire in the hall of the apartment building the next morning.

He was scrolling through his private Twitter, looking at news headlines, when he found it.

“Peter,” He said instantly, a strange feeling in the pit of his gut.

The kid looked up from his cereal, looking tired but alert.

It had been a rough night, for the both of them. Tony got about an hour of sleep, and Peter didn’t get much more. The kid had trouble falling asleep, and then woke up violently from a nightmare.

He eventually fell back asleep, but then Tony was up the rest of the night, worrying about his kid.

“What?” Peter asked, his mouth full.

Tony showed him the headline, his mouth pressed into a line.

“Local Woman Stabbed To Death In Queens Apartment,” was the simple headline.

“This woman was stabbed to death in the apartment below where we were standing,” Tony said, torn between feeling sick and a strangely proud. “You sensed it.”

Peter had gone pale. He blinked several times. “I… She was… holy shit.”

“Language—” Tony started, but Peter silenced him with wild eyes.

“A woman was m-murdered right below our feet and I didn’t do anything about it?” Peter looked absolutely distraught.

“We had no way of knowing, kid,” Tony said, trying to soothe him.

“I shouldn’t have just ignored how I was feeling,” Peter groaned. “That woman would be alive if I wasn’t—”

“Alright, that’s enough,” Tony cut him off. “First lesson of being a hero, kid: You can’t save everyone.”

“I already know that lesson, Tony,” Peter said bitterly. “I had to learn it the hard way.”

Tony reeled back, because Jesus fucking Christ, that didn’t sound like Peter. That sounded like a man twice his age, who was familiar with the art of war, familiar with the red stains of blood on his hands.

“Who?” Tony couldn’t help but ask. “You have an 100% success rate, kid. No one has died on your watch.”

Peter’s mouth twisted, his eyes carry strange weight. “My uncle.”

Tony kicked himself. For a genius, he was such a goddamn idiot sometimes.

He had even read about Peter’s uncle, right before he went to fetch him to fight in Germany.

He was stabbed outside of a gas station by a man who was attempting to rob it, a year or so previous. Peter had been in the car and had watched his uncle get stabbed. He died on the way to the hospital.

Sometimes he forgot how much death Peter had seen in his life, only to be brutally reminded in moments like this. He was so young, only fifteen, and had dealt with so much. The death of his parents, the death of his uncle, the death of his aunt. Fuck, when Tony was Peter’s age, he was going to parties at MIT and getting blackout drunk.

Tony couldn’t even imagine dealing with grief at that age. He couldn’t even deal with it when he was seventeen. Hell, he still couldn’t deal with it, and he was pushing fifty.

He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Fuck, kid,” He said, guilt churning in his stomach. “I’m sorry, I didn’t even think—”

“It’s fine, you couldn’t have known,” Peter muttered, pushing his cereal away, his fists clenched on his lap. He wasn’t hungry anymore.

“Even so,” Tony conceded, locking eyes with the kid, lowering his voice. “I know you think that woman’s death was your fault, but it honestly wasn’t, kid. It was on whoever murdered her, and whoever murdered her alone.”

Peter’s eyes were still heavy with grief. “But I was there,” His voice broke, but there weren’t any tears in his eyes.

Tony sighed deeply. “I was there when Rhodey lost his legs,” He said without thinking, and then his chest constricted. “Does that make it my fault?” His throat closed up as his brain screamed, Yes, it absolutely fucking does! You should have stopped it, you should have been faster, Rhodey’s done so fucking much for you and you couldn’t save his legs--

“No,” Peter said quietly, looking chagrined. The kid was staring at the table, and Tony thanked his lucky stars that he couldn’t see his face.

Tony’s lungs tried to pull in air, but suddenly there was no air. He cleared his throat, trying his hardest not to fall apart into a full-on panic attack in front of his kid.

His guilt over Rhodey’s paralysis was… unresolved, to say the least. Rhodey had, of course, reassured him a million times, but it still kept the billionaire up at night, contemplating the what-ifs.

“Tony?” The kid’s quiet voice interrupted his thoughts. “Are you okay? You’re pale.”

Tony focused on the kid’s voice and pulled out of his panicked state. “Yeah, I’m okay. Thanks, kid.”

Peter gave him a weary smile, and slowly began eating his cereal again.

--

It was almost the holidays, and Tony was stressed.

Not only was the festive season his least favorite time of year, but it meant two things:

The anniversary of his parent’s death, and the annual Avengers Holiday Party.

Howard and Maria Stark were killed on December 16th, 1991. So, naturally, the entire month of December was ruined for him ever since.

It was the first December 16th since Siberia, and when he woke up that day, he knew it was going to be rough.

He woke up with a headache, which was just par for the course, he supposed. He laid in bed for about a half an hour, staring up at the ceiling, his heartbeats synchronized with the pounding in his temples.

“Sir, you’ve been laying there for thirty minutes. Are you ill?” FRIDAY eventually asked.

Tony sighed. “Nope. Just fucking depressed. I’ll get up in a minute.”

“Would you like me to get someone?”

Tony snorted. “Sure, how about you get Steve? You know, the one who fucking lied to me for years.”

“Detected sarcasm. I will not get Steve Rogers.”

Tony huffed a laugh. “Good girl, Fri.” He groaned as he sat up, the action not helping his headache in the slightest.

He showered, but then changed back into comfy clothes. He didn’t want to leave his room, but he desperately needed coffee. Note to self, he thought, as he opened the door. Get a Keurig for my room so I don’t have to interact with any of the fucking backstabbers that are staying in my living room.

The elevator ride was too quick for his liking, and he stepped into the Great Room.

Of course, his entire team was up. Of course, Steve would be the first one to notice him.

“Morning, Tony,” He said, and Tony wanted to turn around and go to the workshop without his coffee.

He didn’t, though. He ignored Steve and brushed past all of his teammates and betrayers, hell-bent on making the fastest cup of coffee possible.

“Someone’s cranky this morning,” Clint said under his breath, and Tony wanted to punch him in the mouth. How dare you, his mind supplied, malice directed at Clint. How dare you betray me. How dare you chose the side of a murderer and a liar.

His hands were shaking, and his left arm ached, but the coffee wasn’t done.

He kept his eyes on the coffee, because if he looked Steve in the face, he would either say something he would regret at midnight a few nights later or act violently, something he would regret in an instant when Steve would inevitably fight back.

The coffee was done just as Steve went to put his hand on Tony’s shoulder.

“Don’t fucking touch me,” Tony hissed, grabbing his mug, and Steve’s hand shot back like it had been burned.

His heart was in his throat, and he hurried to the elevator as fast as he could without running.

“Dude, Tony, chill out,” It was Clint again, and the rage boiled over.

“Don’t fucking tell me what to do,” Tony spat, his hands shaking again.

His head was pounding, and he scurried into the elevator and closed the doors before anything more was said.

--

God, his head hurt.

He had swallowed twice the acceptable dosage of Advil, but the rhythmic throbbing in his temples continued.

He was in the workshop. He had been for several hours. He worked on various things, none of which he could recall now, but then the pain became too much so now he sat, at his workbench, his face buried in his arms.

He hadn’t felt this shitty in a long time. He thought he was getting better; he stopped drinking, he didn’t mope as much, sometimes he felt almost happy.

But now, all he wanted was to drink himself into oblivion, just to get the goddamn footage from replaying on a constant loop in his head.

He couldn’t stop thinking about it. He tried thinking about something else, anything else, but it would always lead back to the footage that was melting his brain.

It had been almost a year, but god, the footage was still fresh as it was eleven months ago.

The expression on Howard’s face as Barnes bashed his face in. The horrified screams of his mother when she watched her husband get murdered.

The silent terror in her eyes as his hand closed around her throat, his metal arm collapsing her trachea, killing her…

The pain in his head intensified, as did the blind rage that filled him. It took all of his willpower not to suit up, go upstairs, and blast Rogers to oblivion. Fuck treaties, fuck the Accords, fuck the implied apologies; he had trusted Rogers with his life, had fought alongside him. Hell, he had even confided in the man.

Then he chose the side of a murderer and left him for dead in the middle of Siberian winter. He had betrayed everything: all the confidences, all of the trust, all of the brotherhood.

And fuck, it hurt. It took a lot for Tony to build trust in someone, and Steve had torn it down, and Tony with it.

“Tony?” Came the small voice.

He lifted his head, and the light burned. “Agh. Fuck.” He rubbed his eyes, a spike of pain driving into his skull.

“Are you okay?” Peter’s voice was high, a telltale sign that he was anxious.

“Just peachy, kid,” Tony muttered without heat. He stopped rubbing his eyes and opened them. “What’s up?”

“I got,” Peter bit his lip. “Lonely. You’ve been down here awhile.”

Tony sighed. “Yeah, I suppose I have.”

“Do you want to take a break? Mr. Captain Rogers made enchiladas—” Peter trailed off at the look of pure anger on his guardian’s face.

“I don’t want to see him,” Tony said, spinning on his stool and going back to work. His mind drifted to the tapes again: Barnes’ metal hand closed around her throat, and her eyes were pleading as—

“O-okay,” Peter said, taken aback. “Did you guys get in an argument or something?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Tony muttered, picking up his screwdriver and making a minor adjustment to his project.

“Come on, Tony. It’ll make you feel better—"

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Tony said, louder.

“I’m sure he’s sorry, he doesn’t seem like the type to hold grudges—”

“Dammit, Peter,” Tony’s temper fumed out of control. “I said I don’t want to talk about it!”

Peter’s jaw audibly slammed shut, and hurt coursed through his veins. He opened his mouth again, but no sound came out.

Tony sighed, deeply, guilt washing over him. God, his head hurt— “Shit, kid. I…”

“It’s okay,” Peter said, rushed. “I… I didn’t mean to…”

“You didn’t do anything,” Tony said, forcefully ripping open the casing on a wire panel.

Peter was quiet for a second. “You seem to be having a bad day.”

Because his hands were shaking so violently, his finger slipped, and he accidentally shocked himself on a wire. “Ow, fuck,” He exclaimed, rubbing the burn.

“Are you—”

“I’m fine,” Tony said, an edge to his voice. He didn’t want to be mean to the kid; Hell, it was the last thing he wanted. But his emotions were out of control and his nerves were frayed, so his lashing out was out of his control.

Peter didn’t know what to do, so he just stood there, watching Tony’s back. “Can I do anything?”

“No,” Tony said shortly, feeling guilty a second later.

Another pang of hurt flooded through Peter. Why was he acting like this?

“Why are you acting so weird?” The words were out before Peter could stop them.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Tony snapped.

“Why are you snapping at me?” Peter refused to feel hurt.

Tony slammed down his tool angrily, and then forced himself to take a deep breath. “Kid. Peter. I’m not in a good mood and I don’t want to yell at you. You should go.”

“But…”

Peter.”

Peter was too confused to be hurt. “Er… okay. Uh, bye, Tony. I hope you feel better?”

And with that, he was gone, and Tony hated himself a little bit more than he did before Peter came down.

--

Everything hurt.

His head was on his workbench again, and his breaths were coming out in sharp gasps. His chest felt like it was on fire, his arms were sore, and his headache had progressed into a full-fledged migraine. He went from sweating profusely to teeth-chattering shivers. Is this what dying felt like?

It was probably a panic attack he was experiencing, but it felt different. Panic attacks didn’t usually hurt this bad.

Tears came to his eyes, and he wasn’t sure if they were from pain or sadness. They slowly fell down his cheeks, his frame shaking.

He hated it. He hated that he was like this, he hated how weak he was. It had been years, decades, since his parents died. He shouldn’t be falling apart like this.

“Tony?”

Oh god no, Tony panicked silently.

“Tony? Are you feeling any better?” It was Peter again.

He sucked in a breath, but it lodged itself in his throat. “H-Hey, Pete,” He tried to say normally, but his voice cracked twice and the whole sentenced just sounded strangled.

Peter froze. “Are you… Are you alright?”

Tony shuddered. You’re crying in front of Peter, how pathetic can you get— “I’m f-fine. Uh…” He scrubbed his face, trying to get rid of the tears, but more kept falling. Stop it. Stop it. “Wh… What are you up to?”

He heard silent footsteps behind him, and Tony bit his quivering lip. Stop crying. You’re supposed to be strong. Stop crying.

“Tony,” Peter’s voice behind him was so soft, it hurt Tony’s heart. “What’s going on?”

Tony swallowed, swiping at his tears. “I… It’s just been a shitty day.”

“Can you look at me?” Peter asked quietly.

 “Nope, sorry. Can’t do that.”

Peter wasn’t put off. Instead, he just hugged Tony from behind, his skinny arms wrapping around Tony’s middle.

Tony grit his teeth as a sob ripped through him, before turning around and capturing Peter in his arms, holding the kid tightly.

God, how did I survive before him, Tony mused, burying his wet face in Peter’s curls. His tears came to a halt, but he continued to hug his kid, grounding himself.

“Did something happen, Tony?” Peter asked, after a while.

Tony sighed, a shiver wracking through him. “Today’s the anniversary of my parent’s death,” Tony confessed. “It’s… It still sucks, even after all these years.”

“I’m sorry,” Peter whispered. “I… I think I know how you feel.”

Tony’s hold tightened. “Yeah, I’m sure you do, kiddo,” Tony paused, before saying, “Thank you.”

“I didn’t do anything,” Peter said, confused.

“Yeah, you did,” Tony said, smiling for the first time that day. He let Peter go and was met with a smile on the kid’s face. Tony’s heart melted just a little bit. “You know what I want? Ice-cream.”

Peter’s eyes lit up. “Ooh! Me too! Do we have any?”

Tony chucked, ruffling the kid’s hair. “Yeah, I think we do.”

Chapter Text

The next few days were filled with preparations for the annual Avengers Holiday Party, which Tony honestly wasn’t excited about.

He usually looked forward to their holiday parties; it was a staple, they had them every year since the group was formed all those years ago.

But this year, it just felt like a front, like they were trying to prove to all the affluential people who usually attended them that the team had kissed and made up, and everything was fine.

But the compound had been scrubbed spotless and elegantly decorated for the holiday season, something Tony had footed the bill for, (He never used to care, but suddenly, he was indignant that he was the one to pay for everything) and he honestly couldn’t deny that the place looked absolutely amazing.

The day of the party was stressful. People were running around, getting things ready, adding to Tony’s already mounting anxiety about the whole thing.

Peter didn’t know how to feel about the party. The biggest party he ever went to was the one at Flash’s house, and he was only there for a few minutes, during which he got relentlessly teased. He had been to smaller, more intimate parties though: sometimes, one of Aunt May’s coworkers would have a get together and he would tag along. They would play games, like Monopoly or Apples to Apples, and Peter would always have a blast.

He didn’t realize how formal of an event it was going to be until Tony dragged him upstairs at six in the evening and made him put on a tuxedo, a garment he had never worn before.

He didn’t even want to know how much money he was wearing as he looked at himself in the mirror. The tux was black and sleek, the fabric feeling incredibly silky. He was almost scared to touch it.

The bow-tie sat on his bed, untied. He had given up on trying to tie it himself, after he became frustrated when the knot wouldn’t stay. He would just ask Tony to tie it.

As if on cue, there was a knock on the door. At Peter’s “come in!” Tony strode inside.

He was dressed in an elegant tux, one that hurt Peter’s wallet just to look at. It was no doubt the most expensive tux that money could buy, and Peter decided at once that his life had turned crazy.

“Lookin’ sharp, kid,” Tony complimented, while Peter gaped at the man’s tux.

“W-what kind of suit is that?” Peter asked as Tony grabbed the bow-tie from Peter’s bed.

“It’s made by a company called Kiton,” Tony explained, tying Peter’s bow-tie around his neck. “It’s based in Naples. They make suits.”

“H-How much money was it?” Peter squeaked, afraid to come in contact with it.

“About sixty-thousand—Why is your hair wet?” Tony gave Peter’s hair a quizzical look.

“Oh, uh… I tried to gel my hair, but it looked bad, so I, uh, washed it out.” Peter explained shyly. He decided not to mention that he had gotten gel all over the shirt he was wearing previously, or the fact that he washed it out by sticking his head under the faucet.

Tony snorted, resuming his tying job. “You never cease to amaze me, kid,” He did the last look, and tightened the bow so it wouldn’t fall down. “There you go.”

Peter repressed the urge to fiddle with it. “When is the party starting?”

“Seven,” Tony said, fiddling with his own tux in front of Peter’s mirror. Peter shifted uncomfortably, and Tony met his eyes through the mirror. “You okay?”

Peter shrugged noncommittally, and Tony’s eyebrows furrowed in worry. He stood straight, turned, and crossed his arms. “Out with it, kid.”

Peter shrugged again. “There’s not much to tell, I’ve just never been to a fancy party before.”

Tony uncrossed his arms and pulled Peter into a one-armed hug. “They’re not bad. You’ll have a good time.”

Peter smiled, trying to make the gesture genuine, but falling slightly short. Tony let Peter go, and they both headed down to the great room.

It was at 6:50 when Peter began to feel anxious.

Stop, he chided himself. It’ll be fine, Tony said so. It’s just for a couple hours, and tomorrow’s Christmas Eve!

He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself down. He looked around, and saw the rest of the Avengers, all dressed up to the occasion. The men were wearing tuxedos, just like Tony, and the women were in cocktail dresses of different colors. Peter shifted uncomfortably and tugged on his bow-tie.

Guests started showing up a few minutes later, and at once, Peter knew there wasn’t going to be any Monopoly at this party.

The great room was soon packed with warm bodies, chatter, and soft music. Peter stood to the side and watched as a woman with white gloves up to her elbows whispered something to a man in a maroon tux, and they both laughed.

Peter knew it was impolite, but he focused his hearing on their conversation.

“I heard he has a drinking problem,” The woman whispered, the tone of her voice naturally low.

“I heard that too,” The man muttered. “It’s distasteful, in a man of that caliber and wealth.”

“I agree,” The woman replied, still in a whisper. “Tony Stark, an alcoholic. I mean, with a father like he had, how could he not?”

“Mm,” The man made a noise of affirmation, before the couple got interrupted, and returned to their normal speaking voices.

Peter noticed he had become quite still, and his breathing was a little heavy. His hands curled into fists. Tony has a drinking problem?

He wished he hadn’t eavesdropped, because now there was a nauseous feeling in his stomach.

It’s probably just a dirty rumor, Peter tried to reassure himself. I would have noticed if Tony had a drinking problem.

Right?

Peter bit his lip and tightened his fists, wanting to go back up to his room and not come back down until this stupid party was over with.

Soon, his corner started to get crowded with people, and so he made his way over to the bar, wanting something to take his mind off of what he just heard.

He sat on one of the barstools, his fists clenched on the counter. “I’ll have a cherry coke,” He said to the bartender, his voice strangely off.

He was given the drink a few minutes later, and he fiddled with the straw, his anxiety off the charts.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a blonde woman with a ponytail sit next to him. “A Manhattan, please.”

Peter looked over and the woman, and almost fell off his stool in shock.

Next to him, was Pepper Potts.

“Y-You’re Pepper Potts,” He found himself saying, dumbfounded.

She started, but then she smiled. “Yeah, that’s me. What’s your name?”

Peter felt a flush creep up his neck. “Uh… My name’s Peter Parker, ma’am.”

“And how old are you, Peter?”

“I’m fifteen,” Peter said, rubbing the back of his neck. He was then gripped by the sudden urge to compliment her, so he zeroed in on her wrist. “I, uh… I like your watch.”

He wanted to pitch himself off a cliff a second later. I like your watch? Stupid.

Pepper glanced down at it. “Thanks, Tony gave it to me. I’ve never seen a kid at one of his parties.”

“Oh,” Peter said, his cheeks red. “I’m, uh… I’m his intern?” That was a safe bet, right?

Wrong. Pepper looked incredibly confused. “Tony has high school interns? Since when?”

Shit. “Y-yeah, he does. I help him out with some tech stuff.” Peter lied through his teeth. Actually, Pepper, I’m just an orphan kid with abandonment issues that Tony has to deal with, Peter thought bitterly.

Pepper looked suspicious but nodded along to his words. “You’re really young to be Tony’s intern. You must be really good.”

Peter blushed at the praise. “I’m alright,” He muttered, taking a sip of his drink.

Pepper smiled at him again, and Peter couldn’t help but wonder what happened between her and Tony. Pepper was so nice, and Tony was amazing… what happened?

Maybe it was because he had a drinking problem, Peter thought bitterly. That I didn’t know about, apparently.

Feeling a little depressed, Peter finished his drink. “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Potts,” Peter said quietly, getting off the barstool and entering the crowd of people.

It seemed like more people had arrived, because the space felt more congested. Peter tried to avoid contact with people, but things kept coming in contact with him, and he suddenly felt extremely claustrophobic.

A stray hand accidentally hit him, and he cringed, the feeling suddenly amplified. His arms curled into his chest, hands balled, trying to avoid contact.

A dress brushed against his suit, and the sound it made was loud enough for it to hurt Peter’s ears. The music was too loud, the voices were too loud… when did it get so loud?

It was like he could hear every voice in the room all at once. Someone laughed from next to him and he flung himself away from the noise, which sent chills down his entire being. He could feel the tuxedo’s fabric moving against his skin, and it was like ants were slowly crawling all over his body.

“Excuse me,” Someone said to him, and he cringed away, the voice sounding like a scream. Something else brushed against him, and his stomach wanted to heave at the feeling.

He had never felt so wired in his life, and he didn’t know how the situation could get worse.

That was when his eyes reacted.

Everything was bright. The light bounced off the jewels around a woman’s neck, and it nearly blinded him. He made a noise of discomfort and looked away, but there was no escaping the brightness.

Every blink was a sweet relief. The light was so bright it was painful, and he closed his eyes for longer than a blink…

Crash. He opened his eyes.

He had walked straight into a server, who was carrying glasses of champagne.

Then the feelings came.

He nearly passed out from the onslaught of sensation. The liquid missed him, as well as the glass, but the feeling of his body hitting another was so much that he could handle it.

“I’m so sorry, sir,” The server apologized, but it sounded like he yelled, and Peter flinched away. Too much. Too much. “Are you alright?”

I need to get out of here, Peter thought to himself, a panic pressing on his chest. It’s too much. I can’t.

Peter made a noise like a whine and stumbled blindly past the server toward the elevator.

He got in just as his knees gave out. He crawled to the corner of the elevator and curled into a ball, his back pressing against the metal wall.

He buried his face in his knees, trying to block out the light. He could still hear the noise of the party, and the feeling of his tuxedo on his skin was driving him insane. He tugged on his bow-tie viciously, close to hyperventilating.

He heard the elevator doors open again, and he could see the light, even though his eyes were closed.

“Peter?” The voice of Steve Rogers was way too loud. He whined again, his ears aching.

He heard the rustle of Steve’s tuxedo, and then there was a hand on his shoulder.

He shrieked, throwing Steve off immediately. It was like the contact had burned his skin, and he could feel tears pricking in the corners of his eyes.

“Are you okay?” Steve asked, his voice quiet and confused. “Are you hurt?”

“Tony,” Peter half-whispered, half-groaned. “I need Tony.”

“Okay, I’ll go get him,” Steve said quickly, and the elevator doors opened again.

“Where would you like to go, Mr. Parker?” FRIDAY asked, her voice incredibly quiet.

“Somewhere quiet,” It hurt to talk, and even his own voice was too loud.

The elevator moved.

--

Tony Stark was in his element.

He was a natural born host; entertaining guests was in his blood, thanks to his mom. He knew how to make someone laugh, how to turn a sour conversation sweet again.

There was a lull in the action, however, during which he stood to the side and watched as his guests socialized with each other.

He heard the soft clicking of heels and turned to find the source of the noise.

Pepper Potts was approaching him, and he couldn’t help the slight swoop in his stomach.

Even though they had been broken up for over a year, she was still an important aspect of his life. She pretty much ran his company, as the chief vice president of Stark Industries. Not only did she know how to deal with all of his bullshit, but she knew how to maneuver it as well.

No matter how much time passed, Tony was still in love with her. She was strong, intelligent, not to mention absolutely beautiful, both in spirit and in appearance. Tonight held no exception; she wore a dark blue cocktail dress, equipped with a soft gold necklace and tall heels.

“Hi,” Tony said, his eyes glued to her breathtaking face as she approached.

She smiled. “Hey. How’s it going?”

Tony put his hands in his pockets. “Really good, actually. Better than expected.”

“I’m glad,” She said sincerely. “What with all that happened, I’m surprised you even had the party at all.”

Tony shrugged. “We’re over it,” He lied.

Pepper nodded, and they fell into a comfortable silence for a few minutes.

“I met your intern,” Pepper said then, breaking the quiet.

Confused, Tony gave her a look. “I didn’t invite any of my interns to this party.”

Surprise flickered across Peppers face. “He said he was your intern.”

There was a dull feeling of dread in the pit of Tony’s stomach. “What was his name?”

“Peter Parker, if memory serves,” Pepper informed him, and Tony wanted to bury his face in his hands.

Tony sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Of course, it was him.”

Pepper gave Tony a look. “If he’s not your intern, who is he?”

I’d say we’ve moved past intern status, Tony thought, and he almost snorted. God, I’ve seen the kid shake and cry and fall apart, and he’s seen me do the same. No, we’re definitely past intern status.

“He’s Peter Parker,” Tony said slowly, a part of him still feeling like he shouldn’t be sharing the information, even with Pepper. “And I’m his temporary guardian.”

The word “temporary” left a bad taste in his mouth, but that was immediately knocked from his head when he saw Pepper’s reaction a second later.

She blinked, several times, before narrowing her eyes. “Tony. Tell me you’re joking.”

Uh oh. “Er… no?”

She took a deep breath. “Tony. You can barely take care of yourself, and you think you can take care of a fifteen-year-old kid?”

Indignance rose in him at that. I think I’m doing a pretty good job. “Hey, I—”

“I’m not done,” She interrupted him, and Tony knew better than to cross her. “Kids need a lot of time and attention, Tony. They need constant love and assurance, and that’s not even half of it. Have you even thought this through?”

Tony looked at her, and for the first time, there wasn’t any doubt in his heart. “I know, Pep. I know they need love and affection and assurance, I’ve seen it firsthand.” He thought back to the first night, when he picked Peter up from the hospital. He thought of the funeral, of the nightmares, of the panic attacks, of the times Peter’s cried in his arms.

He thought of the trip to the apartment, of the feeling that washed over him as he sat rubbing Peter’s back as the kid vomited. He thought of Peter’s laugh and of his smile, of his happy babbling whenever he got excited.

“I know you think I can’t take care of another person,” Tony said slowly. “And I don’t blame you. I haven’t exactly shown you that I can. But he doesn’t have anyone else, and I think I’m doing a pretty damn good job, considering the circumstances.”

Pepper watched him, her head tilted. “That’s… wow, Tony.”

The corner of his mouth quirked into a smile. “He’s the best, Pep. Really, he—”

“Tony,” It was Steve, and Tony turned, his mouth already formulating a witty mark.

It died on his tongue when he saw Steve’s expression.

“What is it?” Tony asked urgently. Are we under attack?

“It’s Peter,” He said, and Tony’s worst fears were confirmed. “I don’t know what’s wrong with him—He was curled in a ball, asking for you—”

“Where is he?” Tony asked, his heartrate starting to pick up speed.

“The elevator,” Steve said, and he began to say something else, but Tony was already gone.

He couldn’t run, since it would draw attention, but he walked as fast as he could to the elevator. When he got in, there was no Peter in sight, and Tony began to panic.

“FRIDAY, where—”

“Taking you to Peter Parker,” FRIDAY said, the elevator already moving.

The doors opened on the top floor.

The top floor was locked to pretty much everyone in the building except for Tony, but for some reason, FRIDAY had overridden his protocols and brought Peter here.

This part of the top floor was his own personal living space, which he had designed right before Steve and company moved back in. He knew he would need space to de-stress from interacting with them, so he transformed it into somewhere he could just try to relax and unwind.

The lights were all off in the space, but the large windows provided some natural moonlighting. He found Peter almost immediately, sitting on the plush couch with his knees pulled up to his chest.

The sight was unnerving. The kid was so still that it was stressing Tony out, so he immediately rushed to Peter’s side.

“Peter,” Tony said quietly, approaching him. Peter looked up at him, his face ghostly pale. Tony took a step back in shock.

“What’s going on?” Peter flinched, and Tony lowered his voice. “Are you feeling okay?”

Peter swallowed. The sensory overload had died down for the most part, but his hearing was still amplified. “Something happened with me. Everything became too loud.”

Tony considered him. “Was it a panic attack?”

Peter shook his head. “No, it was different. It was like… It was like every noise was hooked up to a speaker, and the speaker was blasting into my ear. It hurt.”

Tony pushed down the anxiety rising within him. “So, sensory overload?”

Peter nodded miserably. He leaned against his guardian, his head on Tony’s shoulder. His skin was still crawling, but the panic that overtook him before had changed into tired resignation. “I don’t feel good.”

Tony sighed, wrapping an arm around Peter’s shoulders, guilt pulsing inside him. “I’m sorry, bud. I should’ve known that your senses are too heightened for crowds like that.”

Peter shrugged, feeling wrung out and a little nauseous. “You didn’t know. It’s okay.”

Tony didn’t agree, but he knew arguing wouldn’t do anything, so he kept quiet.

Peter kept quiet as well. So quiet, in fact, that it began to worry Tony. “Something else on your mind, kid?”

Peter stiffened, and Tony immediately knew something was up. “Spill.”

Peter didn’t want to say it, didn’t want to accuse Tony of something he had overheard. But the question was slowly rotting Peter’s mind, and if he didn’t ask it now, he knew he wouldn’t get sleep that night. “Do… Do you have a drinking problem?”

Silence.

Peter panicked, his head lifting off of Tony’s shoulder. “Uh, it’s okay if you do. It’s fine, really, I just was wondering because I overheard someone talking about it…”

It was still silent, and dread was a rock in Peter’s stomach.

Then Tony gently pushed Peter’s head back on his shoulder, his hand in the kid’s curls. He sighed. “I used to,” He murmured ashamedly. “After Germany, a-and Siberia. Everything hurt, so I drank.”

Peter remained silent, holding his breath.

“I stopped, though. Cold turkey, when Steve and everyone came back,” He explained, his voice quiet. And I stopped for you, was the unspoken thought. “I haven’t had a drop of alcohol since late September.”

Peter released the breath he was holding. “Okay,” He whispered. “I… I didn’t mean… I mean I wouldn’t care if you did or not,” Peter lied.

Tony chuckled. “Sure, kid.”

Peter huffed, but they fell back into a comfortable silence.

“I need to go back down,” Tony said after a few minutes, glancing at his watch. “You can stay up here, if you want—”

“I’ll come back down,” Peter said immediately. Tony stared at him a second, and a faint blush appeared on Peter’s cheeks. “It’s… It’s l-lonely up here.”

Tony grimaced, before throwing an arm over the kid’s shoulders. “Alright, kid. Let’s go.”

--

They stepped back into the crowd of people, Tony’s hand firmly on Peter’s shoulder. He glanced at Peter’s face for any sign of discomfort, but if he felt any, he didn’t show it.

Tony led the pair of them over to the edge of the crowd, where he knew Peter wouldn’t get too overwhelmed.

 “You okay?” Tony asked Peter quietly, and the kid nodded.

“When, uh, when will the party be over?” Peter asked, trying to hide the anxiety pulsing inside him. Okay, it’s decided, Peter thought to himself. I don’t like parties.

“In an hour or so,” Tony said under his breath, before smiling and shaking hands with someone.

Peter felt out of place. People would approach Tony and he shake their hands, make a witty joke or remark, and start up a conversation. Peter just stood there, a little off to the side, and watched the billionaire enchant his guests.

He looked around, bored but anxious, and saw Wanda, standing by herself.

Peter glanced at Tony, who was in the middle of a conversation, before walking over to her.

She didn’t see him approach, and when Peter said, “Hi, Miss Wanda,” She jumped.

“Oh,” She said, glancing up him, before looking back up at the crowd, a strange expression on her face. “Hi, Peter.”

Wanda was dressed in a pale gold cocktail dress, her hair pinned up in a half-up, half-down style. She wore soft eye makeup, which was unusual, since she typically wore darker, heavier pigments.

“Why are you over here by yourself?” Peter asked, noticing how far she was from everyone.

She bit her lip, and Peter noticed that there was a soft tremor in her hands. “It’s not by choice,” She said softly.

That was when Peter noticed. People occasionally glanced over at Wanda, but if she made eye contact with them, they immediately looked away. Everyone gave her a wide berth, and it was almost like—

“They’re scared of me,” She whispered, wrapping her arms around herself. “Everyone’s always scared of me.”

It made Peter’s heart physically ache. “But you’re not going to attack them,” Peter said softly. “You’re an Avenger, you’re on the good side,”

“Some people don’t consider me good,” She said spitefully. “Some people would rather I’d be locked away, where I can’t hurt anyone.”

“I don’t think that,” Peter said quietly. “I think people just don’t know you well enough.”

Wanda sighed. “Yeah, maybe. Thanks, Peter.”

Peter smiled at her. “No problem, Miss Wanda.”

A small smile formed on her face at that. “Do you address everyone like that?”

“Everyone except Tony,” He said. “He makes me call him Tony.”

Wanda snorted. “I never thought he would adopt a kid. Even though I’ve only known him for a few years, he doesn’t seem to be the dad type.”

A strange feeling erupted in Peter’s chest. “He’s… He’s not my dad.”

Wanda glanced up at him. “Sure,” She allowed. “It’s been eight years since my parents died, but my father, he acted like Tony does with you.”

Peter pushed down the tirade of feelings. “You’re mistaken,” He muttered. “I’m temporary. I’m just his ward.”

He knew he should be thankful that Tony had even taken him in, and he was, but there was something in the pit of his stomach that wanted more.

Wanda made a noise but didn’t say anything.

Peter stayed by her until the party started to wind down and people began leaving. He returned to Tony’s side and watched as he bade his guests goodbye.

Pepper Potts was the last to leave. Peter saw her approaching, and his gaze dropped to the floor, his face burning.

She came to a stop in front of him. “Intern, huh?”

Peter swallowed. “S-Sorry, Miss Potts. I, uh…”

“Antagonizing the kid, Pep?” Tony asked good naturedly, ruffling Peter’s hair. “Good, he needs it.”

“Tony,” Peter whined, fixing his hair, momentarily forgetting Pepper was there. “Stop it.”

“Stop what?” Tony asked innocently, and Peter glared at him.

Pepper lightly cleared her throat, and Peter’s face flamed as his gaze sought the ground again.

“The party was lovely, Tony,” Pepper said, giving the man a hug. Tony didn’t want to let go, but he eventually did, right before the hug got uncomfortably long. “Thank you for the invite.”

“Of course,” Tony said immediately, wanting desperately to say something to keep her from leaving. “You’ll always get an invite, Pepper.”

She smiled, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw Peter making kissy faces at him.

That little shit, he thought, as he kissed Pepper on the cheek. Tony thought for a second that she blushed, but then he blinked, and the illusion was shattered.

She left, then, biding Tony and Peter goodnight.

The second she disappeared from view, Tony flicked Peter’s ear. “Watch it, kid.”

Peter had the audacity to look innocent. “Whatever did I do, Tony?”

“Oh, you know what you did,” Tony said, glaring at him.

Peter looked smug. “You loooove her.”

Tony sighed, his hands tucking into his pockets. “Of course, I do. Never stopped.”

Peter considered him, his head tilting. “Then, why don’t you do something about it?”

Tony didn’t want to have this conversation, especially not with Peter. “Something she said.”

“Out with it,” Peter said, mocking the sentence that Tony often used with him.

“Thin ice, kid,” Tony threatened without heat. “That’s what you’re on.”

“Seriously, though. I want to know.”

Tony sighed again. “Not tonight, kid. I’m tired and I’m sure you are too.”

Peter whined but didn’t press it any further. He was tired; the combination of his sensory overload earlier and dealing with the stress of the party completely sapped his energy.

He yawned loudly, and Tony gave him a triumphant look. “Time for bed, kid. Come on.”

Peter grumbled a little, but let Tony lead him up to the fourth floor.

“Goodnight, kid,” Tony said as they approached Peter’s room.

“Goodnight, Tony.”

Chapter Text

Christmas Eve was fun.

It snowed outside as Peter, Tony, and quite a few other members of the Avengers made Christmas cookies and watched movies, like A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Grinch.

That night, before Peter went to bed, everyone settled on the couch with hot chocolate and watched Elf.

It was the best Christmas Eve he had ever had, Tony thought, sipping his hot cocoa. He had never been so happy on Christmas Eve; it was usually a day, spent alone, during which he’d drink himself nearly comatose. But this year, it was so full of light and joy that he couldn’t even let himself be sad.

The movie ended soon, and Tony got up and stretched. “Alright, kid, bed.”

“Come on, Tony,” Peter complained. “It’s nearly Christmas, can’t I just stay up a little later?”

“No way, kid. Santa Claus doesn’t—”

“Tony, I’m fifteen, not five, Santa doesn’t exist—”

Tony gasped. “Peter, how could you? Clint believes in Santa Claus, you just ruined his Christmas.”

Clint glared at Tony from across the space, before looking away and going back to his formerly moody silence.

Tony had informed Peter earlier that Clint hadn’t been able to go visit his family for Christmas; his wife was still mad at him about Germany and forbade him from coming home.

Peter hadn’t interacted with Clint that much, but he knew that his family meant a lot to him and him not being allowed home for Christmas must sting.

Although the hour was early, Peter did end up going to bed, since he was starting to feel the exhaustion pull at him and he wanted Christmas to come faster.

He closed his eyes that night, happy and excited for the day to come.

--

The next morning, the last thing he felt was happy.

It was Christmas morning— and he didn’t want to get out of bed.

He stared at the wall, and the numb apathy that he would normally feel when Tony left began to take over.

I guess Tony leaving isn’t the only trigger, Peter found himself thinking.

Christmas was May’s favorite holiday. She would wake Peter up early, and then they would open presents, spend the day watching A Christmas Story, and order Chinese food for dinner.

It was times like these that her death hit him the hardest. He wouldn’t ever experience another Christmas with her, and the grief was so potent that it was slowly eating at his insides.

His door creaked open, but Peter was too numb to lift his head.

“Merry Chris— what’s wrong,” It was Tony, and by the tone of his voice, he had taken one look at Peter and become instantly concerned.

Peter exhaled. “Nothing,” He said quietly.

Tony stared at his kid, wildly concerned. Peter was lying in bed, on his side, staring at the wall, a blank expression on his face.

“O-kay,” He said slowly. “There’s breakfast downstairs, kid—”

“Not hungry,” Peter barely moved his lips, wanting to feel something but being unable to.

“You’re always hungry,” Tony said, his eyes not leaving the bed.

“Not hungry,” He repeated.

Tony licked his lips, anxiety coursing through him. He tentatively sat on the edge of the bed, keeping his eyes on Peter.

“Want to tell me what’s going on?” Tony asked quietly.

“It’s Christmas,” Peter said slowly. “And she’s dead.”

Fuck. Tony stared at the kid, processing. “And you’re upset.” It wasn’t a question.

“I can’t feel anything,” Peter whispered, fear leaking into his voice.

Tony’s thoughts flashed back to the day at the restaurant, when Peter explained to him how he was sometimes overtaken with a numbness.

It’s like I’m feeling too much but nothing at all at the same time, he had said, and Tony took a shallow breath.

“Alright,” Tony said slowly, wracking his brains for something to make this better. “You say you don’t feel anything?”

I don’t feel real, Peter almost said, but shook his head no instead.

“Sit up, Pete,” Tony said softly. “Can you do that for me?”

Peter sighed and slowly got up into a sitting position. His body felt heavy and lethargic and he looked at Tony through tired eyes.

He grabbed Peter’s hand and started pinching his fingers. “Can you feel that?”

Peter could, so he nodded. Tony slowly made his way up his hand until he reached his wrists, and he squeezed them. “Feel that?”

Peter nodded, clinging to the sensation of touch. Ashamedly, tears sprung to his eyes.

Tony had literally no idea what he was doing, but he gripped Peter’s forearms, and a tear slid down Peter’s cheek.

The numbness had faded, and was replaced with a forceful sense of wretchedness, tinged with the relief of being able to feel again.

“Are you okay, bud?” Tony asked softly, and Peter collapsed into the man’s chest, shaking.

“She loved Christmas,” He whispered. “It was her favorite holiday. How am I supposed to celebrate it without her?”

Tony pulled the kid closer, his heart bursting with affection. “Just because she’s gone doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your life,” Tony said gently. “She would want you to have a good Christmas, kid.”

Peter sniffed, but his eyes were dry. “It seems selfish,” He said quietly. “To be happy without her.”

“It’s not,” Tony said immediately. “It’s not selfish. You deserve to be happy, Pete.”

He removed himself from Tony’s chest. He fiddled with the blankets on the bed. “What’s for breakfast?” He asked in a small voice.

Tony’s mouth quirked into a smile. “Waffles, eggs, and bacon. All for you, kid. You want some?”

Peter perked up a little, but there was still sadness in his eyes. “Yeah,” He said softly, his hands curling into fists as he stood.

He does that when he’s anxious, Tony thought to himself, his eyes on the movement. I wonder why.

Tony stood, wrapped an arm around the kid’s shoulders, and marched the two of them to the elevator.

“Great room, FRI,” He ordered.

The elevator surged downwards and let out in the great room.

Everyone was awake. Even Wanda, who liked to sleep late.

Half of the team was in the kitchen standing around the island, including Bruce, which surprised Tony. The man usually spent most of his time down in the lab. The other half was strewn on the couches, in front of the fire.

“Morning, Tony,” Natasha said, standing in the kitchen. “Morning, Spider-Infant.”

Peter didn’t rise to the bait, and brief concern flashed across Natasha’s face, quickly replaced with her usual stoic expression.

Wanda and Vision— who was in his human mode— were curled up on the couch together, but Wanda turned and smiled at Peter when he walked in. “Merry Christmas, мали паук,” Wanda said fondly.

Peter glanced at her, but then returned his gaze to the ground. “Merry Christmas,” He said quietly, and Tony suddenly felt like coming downstairs was a bad idea.

He sat the kid down at the table before fixing him a plate of food. He kept an eye on Peter, who was staring at the table, while he worked.

He picked up the plate and was about to bring it to the kid, when Natasha grabbed him by the arm. “What’s wrong with him?” She asked under her breath, and Tony shook his head. He mouthed tell you later and she nodded, letting him go.

He placed the food in front of Peter, who picked up his fork and took a tentative bite. Tony watched the kid eat, wanting to cheer him up but being unsure of how to do so.

Steve sat down next to Tony, who stiffened. If Steve noticed, he didn’t say anything, just kept drinking his coffee and reading the paper.

Tony was tenser around Steve these days. As the one-year anniversary of Siberia grew closer, he kept his distance from the man. If it was out of fear or out of anger, Tony didn’t know.

But he did know that Steve wouldn’t have hesitated to kill Tony. It was in his eyes, when he raised the shield.

Because, Tony thought bitterly, watching as Peter picked at his food, Steve only cares about one thing in this world: Bucky Barnes.

Peter pushed away his plate a food after just a few bites. Tony immediately pushed aside his brooding and looked at his kid with concern.

“Not hungry,” Peter said quietly, and Tony grimly pursed his lips.

“Please eat, Peter,” He said, just as quiet. Steve glanced up from his newspaper, but immediately looked back down and pretended like he wasn’t paying attention to the interaction.

Peter shook his head, his arms curling protectively around himself. Tony’s heart broke at the action.

“Not eating isn’t good, Pete,” Tony said, sliding the plate back towards the kid. “Come on. You have to eat.”

“Stop acting like my parent,” Peter hissed, and Tony stopped dead.

It was like Peter had hit him. Tony froze, his hand hovering over the plate of food. Hurt flashed across his face, and he tried to wrangle his expression into one of impassiveness, to no avail.

Because fuck, that hurt. It was the lowest of low blows, and Tony floundered, panicked.

He could feel Steve’s eyes on him. He could feel the eyes of the entire damn kitchen on him. He wanted to create a witty remark, or tell them to mind their own damn business, but he couldn’t move.

Peter paled, his eyes widened, and he left the great room before Tony could even form a coherent thought.

Tony knew he should’ve stopped the kid from leaving, but his mouth wouldn’t work.

He stared at the space Peter was just seconds ago, before blinking several times and snapping himself out of his stupor.

“Stop acting like my parent.” Shit, Tony ran a hand down his face, his other pressed to his heart. This kid is actually going to kill me. He’s going to say some more shit like that and my fucking heart is going to give out.

“Tony,” It was Steve, and Tony was too resigned to be angry. “Are… Are you okay?”

He sighed, rubbing his chest. “Just great,” There was no bite to the words. “Just great.”

Steve was looking at him with his sorry blue eyes, and it made Tony feel worse. He pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to calm himself down.

But it hurt. He couldn’t move past how much the words wounded him. He was trying his best… why couldn’t Peter see that?

Steve laid a hand on Tony’s forearm, and Tony moved his arm so fast it was like he had been burned. He couldn’t deal with Steve’s careful condolences right now.

Steve moved his hand back, trying not to look hurt. “You have to remember,” Steve said quietly. “That kids act out of their emotions, not out of their heart. He’s just upset, and he wanted you to leave him alone, so he said what would hurt you the most.”

“And you know so much about kids?” Tony retorted, and now there was a bite to his tone. “Are you and Barnes hiding a secret lovechild that none of us know about?”

The mention of Bucky had the color rushing to Steve’s cheeks, and anger flitted across his face. Tony relished in it. Finally.

“Stop,” It was Natasha, with Rhodey right next to her. “No fighting on Christmas.”

Tony grit his teeth, but Rhodey gave him a look, one that clearly said, Bite your tongue, Tones.

He listened to the look and repressed his anger. Natasha sent Steve a look as well, and he instantly relaxed.

“Good,” Natasha said, and Tony wanted to fight her. “Now, we’re all going to watch A Christmas Story and be happy, dammit. I’m tired of fighting.”

“As am I,” Rhodey said severely, and Tony felt the fight drain out of him. “I agree with Nat. We all need some Christmas cheer.”

Tony grumbled, but let Rhodey guide him to the couch and push him onto it. Once everyone was settled, FRIDAY turned down the lights, and the movie started.

Tony glanced at his teammates and sighed.

As much as he hated to admit it, Steve was right. Peter was wired this morning; Tony knew it from the get-go. It was only a matter of time, he supposed, until the kid snapped at him. Because that’s what Peter did when he was scared or upset, he either cries or reacts angrily. And this time, it was the latter.

The hurt was gone, replaced by understanding.

They were almost done with the movie when Tony heard the sound of sock-clad feet approaching.

He knew it was Peter, so he kept his eyes on the movie. The kid slowly sat down next to him on the couch, and Tony glanced over at him.

He was still dressed in pajamas, but now he had a fuzzy blanket draped over him. His hair was mussed, and his cheeks were tinted with color. He looked a lot younger than fifteen.

The kid’s lip was quivering. Tony sighed and brought him close.

Peter immediately latched onto him, his hands grasping Tony’s shirt and face pressing into the man’s shoulder. Tony’s hand crept up into Peter’s curls and he ran it through his soft hair.

“I’m s-sorry,” Peter was crying quietly, and Tony’s grip on him tightened. “I d-didn’t mean it. Don’t h-hate me.”

“I could never hate you, Pete,” He promised softly. “I forgive you.”

Peter shuddered, and Tony ran a hand down his back. He let Peter soak his shoulder with saltwater as the movie ended.

He could feel everyone’s eyes on him again, but he truly didn’t care. He sent Rhodey a look that plainly said, next movie, and Rhodey nodded.

They put on Home Alone, Tony’s favorite Christmas movie. Peter made a small noise against his shoulder and Tony shushed him, still running his hand down the kid’s spine.

Peter separated himself from Tony about twenty minutes into the movie but kept his head on his shoulder. Tony kept his arm around Peter, running his hand up and down the kid’s arm.

“I actually like it,” Peter said quietly.

“Mm?” Tony asked, glancing down at the kid.

“I like it when you parent me,” Peter whispered. “It’s nice to have someone who cares.”

Tony’s arm tightened around him, a strange, swooping feeling inside of him.

Peter fell asleep after that but woke up when the movie ended. Tony ruffled his hair, and he smiled sleepily, rubbing the remnant of his nap out of his eyes.

After that, it was time for presents.

There weren’t many presents underneath the tree, which was unusual. Before Germany, Tony would go all out; there would be stacks and stacks of presents for all of his friends, but this year, he only got each of them one gift.

He had been working on them since February, but he would never admit it. There was something unbelievably pathetic about making gifts for people who he refused to even talk to.

He made them all small weapon upgrades. He made Clint new arrows, which he opened with a gruff “Thanks,” which was more than Tony was expecting from him. Natasha got a new knife, which she admired with a satisfied expression on her face. Sam got new wrist gauntlets, which he showed off to Steve before thanking Tony.

He gave Wanda a ruby necklace, one he saw while overseas. She didn’t use weapons to fight, and Tony knew how much she hated violence, so he decided to go with something more domestic. Her eyes grew as she took in the gemstones, before she thanked Tony.

He made Vision new gloves, which he accepted with a word of thanks and a smile. He got Bruce a bunch of books that he thought the man would find interesting, and Tony seemed to be right, because Bruce lit up when he took in their titles.

Steve got a new utility belt, made out of expensive materials. He smiled broadly and thanked Tony quietly, and Tony only felt a little bit of disdain towards him.

Rhodey’s gift was too big to wrap, so Tony gave him a card instead.

He wrote it several nights ago, at a quarter past two in the morning. He passed it to Rhodey silently, and the man smiled at him as he took it and opened it.

Rhodey,

I’m bad at words, so I’m going to try and keep this short.

I know you tell me that your legs aren’t my fault, but we both know that it definitely is my fault because if I had been faster you would still be able to walk is a bunch of bullshit. The fight started because of me, and you were trying to be a good friend by helping me out which I don’t deserve.

I’m so fucking sorry Rhodey. I’m sorry that this happened and even though I can’t fix it, I can at least try to make it better.

 I made you some new prosthetics. They’re down in my lab if you want to try them on sometime.

Merry Christmas, I don’t deserve you

Tony.

Tony fiddled with the hem of his shirt as Rhodey read, but accidentally looked up and met the man’s eyes when he was done.

Rhodey’s eyes were sorrowful as they fell on Tony, and Tony’s eyes drifted down towards his friend’s legs, before flicking away.

“Tony—” Rhodey said quietly, and Tony avoided his eyes.

“You’re welcome,” He said, his tone clipped. “Or sorry. Whatever.”

Peter tugged on his sleeve in concern, but Tony ignored him and stared at his clasped hands that sat in his lap.

He cleared his throat and looked up. “Is that everyone then?”

“Well, we got you something, Tony,” Steve said, grabbing a small box from under the tree.

Tony hid his surprise as he accepted the gift, tearing open the wrapping paper with curiosity.

He opened the cardboard box and was met with a red mug, with gold writing on it that said, “World’s Best Billionaire.”

Tony snorted at the stupidity of it, but he was touched. “Thanks, guys.”

Peter watched as Tony set down his mug, twisting his hands anxiously.

He had a gift for Tony too, but he was nervous. What if he thought it was stupid?

“There’s another gift under the tree,” Sam said, picking it up. “To Tony, From Peter. Aww.”

Peter blushed all the way up to his hairline. “O-Oh yeah.”

“You got me a gift?” Tony asked quietly, and Peter nodded, his hands clenching into fists.

Sam put the gift on the couch next to Tony, who picked up the rectangular parcel, and Peter waited with bated breath as he opened it.

Tony tore through the poor wrapping job to find a simple picture frame, with a photo in the middle.

It was a simple photo of Tony and Peter in the workshop; Tony was sitting at his workbench, grinning but not looking at the camera, a pair of plyers in his hand. Peter was in the foreground, beaming from ear to ear.

He knew it was taken before May died just by looking at it. There was light and happiness in Peter’s eyes, no anxiety or uncertainness that had been plaguing them as of late.

If he needed any more indication that it was taken before May’s death, it was written at the bottom. It was dated 10/9, and there was a simple caption, “Before All This Happened.”

There was a note taped to the back, and Tony unstuck and unfolded it.

Tony,

Merry Christmas! I know you said that this is your least favorite holiday and you don’t like receiving gifts, but I couldn’t just not get you anything. Especially after all you’ve done for me.

I just want to say thank you for everything. You’ve done so much for me that I don’t even know what to say. I’m a lot to deal with, and I know you don’t like it when I say that, but it’s true. I snap at you, I cry a lot, I have trouble being alone… but you seem to just take it in stride and deal with it. I don’t know what I can do to repay you.

I wrote “Before all this happened” at the front of this, because that was taken before my life kinda turned upside down. But you were even there before it happened. You were always there for me.

So, thank you for taking care of me and helping me breathe through probably the worst month of my life. If you keep me around, maybe we can see if January is better.

Thank you again,

Peter.

Tony’s eyes were burning with tears by the time he got to the end of the letter, and the room had gone silent, minus the soft crackling of the fire.

“Thank you for taking care of me and helping me breathe through probably the worst month of my life.”

Peter was staring at the shag rug, his anxiety out of control. Oh god, he hates it, I knew he would—

A second later, he was being enveloped into the tightest hug he’d ever experienced. He was pressed against Tony’s chest tightly, and Peter hugged him back just as tightly. Tony buried his face in the kid’s curls.

“Thank you,” He whispered. Peter didn’t know what to say, so he just hugged Tony as hard as he could.

They separated, and Tony smiled. “I got you a present too, kid. He stood, ducked behind the tree, and walked back carrying a small wrapped box.

He handed it to Peter, who immediately ripped open the paper.

It was a sleek black watch. Peter’s eyes grew as he took it in, his finger brushing across the face.

“This watch tells me your vitals, such as your pulse, breathing, and blood pressure. I only have access to them if they get high or low enough to be of worry.

“There’s no tracker, since I didn’t want to be stalkerish, but it does have a button to send me your location. It also has a panic button, that I only want you using if there’s an emergency,” Tony explained. He fidgeted nervously, a gesture Peter thought looked bizarre on a man of such caliber. “I know it seems like I’m being overprotective and weird, but… I worry about you, kid.”

Tony’s voice was so soft that Peter immediately nodded. “Okay. I’ll wear it.”

Tony smiled slightly, reached out, and ruffled Peter’s hair. “Good. Merry Christmas, Peter.”

“Merry Christmas, Tony.”

--

That night, after everyone had gone to bed, Tony decided that he wanted a mug of hot chocolate.

He didn’t frequently drink hot chocolate: it was incredibly sweet and reminded him too much of his mother, but he was so merry and full of Christmas cheer that he figured he’d indulge a little.

He made his way down to the great room, surprisingly excited for the sugary substance he was about to drink.

He stepped into the room and was about to make his way over to the fridge but stopped dead when he saw that he wasn’t the only one up.

Natasha and Steve were standing in the middle of the kitchen. Steve was hunched over, his face pressed into Natasha’s shoulder. Natasha was running her hand up and down Steve’s back and… wait, was he shaking?

Tony stared, shocked, as Steve’s breath hitched in a sob, his hands tightening their hold on Natasha’s nightshirt.

“I miss him,” He whispered. “I c-can’t…”

“Steve…” Natasha said quietly.

“We used to celebrate C-Christmas together b-before the war, even t-though he was Jewish,” Steve whispered, and Tony knew immediately who he was talking about. “After my m-mom died, I didn’t want to celebrate it, b-but he did, and he got me a sketchbook and—”

“Shh, Steve, come on,” Natasha murmured, as Steve dissolved into heartbroken sobs.

“I need him, Nat,” Steve sobbed. “It’s almost been a year since I’ve seen him, a-and I don’t know how much longer I can…”

“He’s dangerous, Steve,” Natasha soothed. “He said so himself.”

“I don’t care,” Steve whispered heartbrokenly. “I don’t care if he’s dangerous, I don’t care that he thinks he can’t be trusted. I c-can’t deal with not seeing him.”

Tony suddenly felt like he was intruding on something exceedingly private and secretive, so he turned on his heel and went back into the elevator.

Christ, Tony thought, as he was lifted back up to the fourth floor. Everyone in this goddamn compound has issues.

Chapter Text

It was two days later, at breakfast, that Tony brought up that he was moving back to the Tower.

He was stood in the kitchen, leaning against the counter, enjoying a bagel while the rest of his team sat at the table, eating as well.

“By the way, Peter and I are moving back to the Tower in a few days,” He said casually.

The room fell silent, which wasn’t the reaction Tony was expecting.

“You’re leaving?” It was Nat who spoke up first. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Tony blinked. “Uh… okay? I wasn’t asking for permission.”

Natasha narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips. “Why are you leaving?’

“Peter needs to go back to school,” He explained, wondering when it became any of Nat’s goddamn business. “More specifically, the school he went to before all this happened. So, I’m moving him and I back to the Tower.”

“I don’t like it,” Wanda spoke up.

“Neither do I,” It was Steve, and Tony’s blood boiled. “It’s not good to split up the team, Tony.”

“Excuse me?” Tony snapped. “Suddenly you’re not okay with breaking up the team? Wow, Rogers, that’s fucking rich.”

Anger flashed across Steve’s face. “Really, Tony? This again?”

“Yeah, because we’ve definitely talked too much about this,” Tony said, bitingly sarcastic. “I just want to know when you decided that you care about what happens to the team—"

“Says the one who let half of us be locked away,” Clint said angrily, and Tony’s heart started to beat fast, readying himself for a fight.

“It wasn’t my fault that you landed yourselves in prison,” Tony’s voice was full of contempt. “Maybe if you all fucking listened things would have worked out differently.”

“Maybe you should have listened, Tony,” It was Steve again. “I was willing to listen.”

“No, you weren’t,” Tony countered. “You were too far up Barnes’ ass to listen. You built a team, and you started the fight.”

“Yeah, but at least we didn’t recruit a fourteen-year-old,” Clint said maliciously.

The entire kitchen was silent following the remark, and Clint looked triumphant. Tony was white with anger as he started towards Clint.

“What the fuck did you just say?” Tony snarled, his hand on his wrist, ready to call a suit to him. “What the fuck did you just say, Barton?”

“At least we didn’t recruit a fucking child,” Clint’s posture was hostile, and he spat each word. “Sure, we got a team together, but we didn’t kidnap a child and tell them to fight.”

Before Tony could lay a hand on Clint, or even call for a suit, Rhodey was there, holding him back. He had a hand firmly on his wrist, more specifically over his watch, to prevent him from calling a suit. He stood in front of Tony, blocking him from making a move towards Clint. It was a bold move, but he must have known that Tony wouldn’t dare lay a hand on Rhodey, even if he wanted to rip Clint to shreds.

In the back of his mind, Tony knew why Clint was acting the way he was. He hadn't seen his family in a long time, and his wife had barred him from coming home for Christmas. He was hurting; it was hidden behind a mask of anger and betrayal, but it was still there, in the hard panes of his face.

Tony struggled to get past Rhodey. The man's grip was hard, but Tony was apoplectic, and he knew he could remove his wrist from—

“What’s going on?”

Tony froze, the color left in his face fleeing and his stomach dropping to his feet. Peter stood in front of the elevator, dressed in an oversized sweatshirt and plaid pajama pants, looking tired and confused.

“I heard shouting…” He took in the sight before him. Tony, being restrained by Rhodey. “What’s… What’s wrong?”

“Yeah, Tony,” Clint’s eyes were dark with anger, and some other emotion that Tony could only define as bitter sadness. “Why don’t you tell him what’s going on?”

Tony grit his teeth. “Everything’s fine, kid, don’t worry about it. It doesn’t concern you.”

“Oh, it does concern him,” Clint started, and Steve shook his head, a silent plead to stop, but Clint was too riled up to back down. “It concerned him as soon as you brought him to Germany. It concerned him as soon as you decided that you would let him die for your cause. It concerned him as soon as you decided to turn him into another one of your weapons.”

Weapons. A mirage of sick, twisted images flashed through his head, and he wrenched his arm from Rhodey’s grip and pushed past him, charging headlong at Clint.

There was no way he would win. Clint was a master at hand to hand combat, and Tony mostly relied on his suit for fighting. But he was so incensed with rage that he didn’t care, all he wanted to do was cause Clint as much harm as possible.

He landed the first punch, a strong right hook to Clint’s jaw. But Clint recovered quickly and landed one on Tony as well, in the form of a swift uppercut to his jaw. He saw stars, which distracted him from dodging the next punch thrown his way, that hit his right cheek. The pain preoccupied him, and he got a swift kick to his ribs, which sent him crumbling to the floor.

Everything went into chaos, after that. Clint was about to hit Tony again, but Steve immediately grabbed him and lifted him off the floor. Tony propped himself on one hand and gasped, the breath knocked out of him from the kick.

He tried to stand, but all of a sudden, crippling terror gripped him, because Peter had just witnessed all of that.

He sank back to the floor with a gasp, his ribs protesting and his heart drumming wildly in his chest.

He tried to sit up again, but black spots appeared on his vision and he laid back down. His eyes sought out the kid, but the word spun, and he shut his eyes, groaning.

Fuck, Barton packs a hard punch, He thought, blinking his eyes back open. He took a breath and forced himself into a sitting position, his ribs screaming in pain. He took another deep gasping breath, and suddenly Rhodey was there, on his knees next to him, holding him up.

There was a ringing in his ears, but he saw Natasha say something angrily to Clint, and then Steve carried the man out, Sam following.

“—ony. Tony. Are you alright?” His hearing was back, and Rhodey’s voice was concerned.

“Fine,” He grunted, blinking several times. His eyes raked the space, but Peter wasn’t there. “Wh-Where’s Peter?”

It took Rhodey a second to answer. “He, uh… he ran upstairs when you and Clint started going at it. Wanda just went up to see if he’s okay.”

I just upset my kid. He tried to take a breath, but it choked him. “Ah, shit,” Tony whispered. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

“Take it easy, Tones,” Rhodey said quietly.

“I upset him,” Tony gasped, unable to breathe. “Oh god, he hates me.”

“No, Tony,” Rhodey sounded alarmed, and Tony was spiraling towards a full-blown anxiety attack. “Take a breath. Come on.”

“Why did I think I could do this,” Tony’s mind was reeling, his shaking hands gripping his hair. “I can’t do this.”

“Tony—"

Tony wheezed, and then wrapped an arm around his middle, ribs hurting. Rhodey adjusted his grip. “Clint was right,” He whispered, feeling the tears enter his eyes shamefully. “I turned him into a weapon by taking him to Germany. I used him for my own selfish purposes. I’m the worst, what’s wrong with me—”

“Tony, stop,” Rhodey sounded slightly scared. “Come on, man. Calm down.”

Tony sucked in a breath. His lungs burned. “What if he died, Rhodey? In Germany?”

“None of us were out for blood,” Rhodey soothed. “No one would have let him die. Stop this, get up, go see your kid. He’s probably upset.”

“Yeah, thanks to me,” Tony muttered, but moved to get up. His ribs ached, he could feel a bruise blooming on his jaw, and his eye was swollen, but he didn’t sway, so he counted it as a win. “How bad do I look?”

Rhodey pursed his lips. “It’s not good, but I’ve seen worse.”

Tony sighed impatiently. “Am I going to scare the kid?”

Rhodey thought for a second. “Probably.”

He groaned, wiping blood off his lip. “Fuck.”

“Let’s go see Bruce, Tones. He’ll fix you up.”

Tony sighed again but conceded. “Alright, fine.”

--

Bruce did a double-take when Tony walked into the lab, all banged up.

“What happened?” He asked, squinting up at Tony.

“He tried to fight Clint,” Rhodey said, standing off to the side, his arms crossed.

“Christ, Tony,” Bruce said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Go sit down, I’ll get the antiseptic.”

Tony sat down on the table as Bruce left, his ribs hurting. He hoped they weren’t broken.

Bruce returned, sporting white gloves and carrying a plastic bottle of rubbing alcohol, several cotton swabs, and some bandages.

He opened the bottle, and Tony was immediately reminded of doctor’s offices and sterile hospital rooms. He wrinkled his nose, the smell strong.

Bruce soaked a cotton swap with the liquid and began disinfecting the cut on Tony’s face, which he got from the ring on Clint’s finger as his fist came in contact with his cheek.

“Jesus, Tony, he wasn’t holding back,” Bruce said, as he wiped off the blood. “What the hell were you guys fighting about?”

Rhodey answered before Tony could. “They were arguing about Germany and then Clint brought up Peter.”

Bruce sighed, discarding the used cotton swab and getting a new one, dousing it in alcohol as well. “Are you guys ever going to talk about what happened in Germany?”

“I think we just did,” Tony muttered, slightly defeated. Rhodey gave him a stern look as Bruce pressed a bandage over the cut under his eye.

“That wasn’t talking,” Rhodey said, his finger tapping his bicep. “That was you, Steve, and Clint, slinging insults at each other until one of you snapped. No, I think we all need to sit down and just discuss what happened.”

“Oh god, talking,” Tony shuddered for effect, the action hurting his ribs. He grimaced and pressed a hand against them. Bruce, concerned, zeroed in on his chest.

“Tell me if this hurts,” Bruce said, lifting up Tony’s shirt. He gently pressed his gloved hand over his ribcage, and Tony winced, a pained whine escaping his lips before he could stifle it.

It was all the confirmation Bruce needed. “Probably a cracked rib,” He muttered. “How did that happen?”

“Kick in the chest,” Tony gasped in pain as Bruce located the spot that hurt the most. “Fuck.”

“Sorry,” Bruce apologized, removing his hand. Tony slid down his shirt. “I’ll get you some ice and some pain meds.”

“The good kind?” Tony called after him but shut up when Bruce gave him a look.

Bruce returned with several ice packs and a couple tablets of Tylenol. Tony gave him a reproachful look.

“Really? Tylenol for a cracked rib? I was expecting Ibuprofen at least,” Tony complained, dry swallowing the pills.

“You should take those with water,” Bruce reprimanded, shaking his head before handing Tony an ice pack. “This is for your rib. That’s pretty much all I can do, though. Cracked ribs hurt like hell, but ice and acetaminophen are pretty much all you can do to treat them.”

Tony winced as he touched the cold pack to his bare skin. “Thanks, doc,” He muttered, sliding off the table. “I guess it’s time to go see Peter.”

Rhodey followed him out of the lab, sticking close to him. “Just relax, man. It’ll be fine.”

“Let’s hope,” Tony said, getting in the elevator.

Rhodey got off at the great room, and Tony took the lift all the way up to the bedrooms.

He approached Peter’s door with apprehension, walking slowly up to it. His arm was across his middle, holding the ice pack to his ribs.

He glanced into a mirror that resided on the hallway wall and did a double take.

The skin around his eye was red, but quickly turning a blueish purple. There was a bruise blooming along his jaw, and his lip was split from his teeth catching it as Clint’s fist contacted his jaw.

He’d had worse, though. Much worse. He hoped Peter wouldn’t freak out.

Heart racing, stomach at his feet, he walked up to Peter’s door and slowly pushed it open.

Wanda was there, sitting on the bed. Her hand was in Peter’s hair, slowly massaging his curls, and the kid was tucked into her, looking miserable.

They both looked up when Tony entered, and the man took in Peter’s red rimmed eyes and puffy lips.

He’s been crying, his mind supplied, and Tony hated himself.

“Tony?” Peter’s voice was meek and feeble.

“Hey, bud,” He said softly, wanting to capture in the kid in his arms and never let him go, but his feet stayed planted and the arm strewn across his stomach stationary.

Peter removed himself from Wanda and stood. Tony took a step back, giving the kid space.

But Peter didn’t want space, apparently. A second later, he was running headlong into Tony, crashing into him so hard that Tony yelped in pain from the pressure on his ribs.

Peter immediately backed away, eyes wet and nervous. But Tony pulled him back in, hugging him so tight that it physically hurt.

Peter melted into the embrace, tears trailing down his cheeks. Tony pressed a kiss to the top of the kid’s head, relief flooding through him.

Wanda snuck out during the embrace, and Tony made a mental note to thank her later.

Tony eventually peeled the kid from him and wiped the tears off his cheeks.

“This is my fault,” Peter said, throwing Tony for a loop and a half.

“What?” Tony blinked, wondering if Clint’s punch threw off his hearing. “Why would it be your fault?”

“You guys were arguing about me,” Peter whispered tearfully, scrubbing his face. “And now you have a black eye and—”

“I’m going to stop you right there,” Tony said, slight anger rolling through him. “Kid. This is anything but your fault. If anything, it’s mine. I made the first move.”

“But Mr. Clint was talking about me,” Peter protested, and Tony tried not to roll his eyes at the fact that Peter still called him “Mr. Clint.”

“No, he was talking about Germany, and how stupid it was of me to bring you,” Tony said bitterly. “And he was right.”

“It was still about me,” Peter said, frowning.

Tony said a silent prayer, because this kid was going to kill him. “Jesus Christ on a bike, kid, not everything is your fault.”

“I could say the same to you,” Peter retorted, arms crossing, face tear-stained. “I signed up willingly for Germany, Tony. You just let me know it was happening.”

“I shouldn’t have even tracked you down,” Tony countered. “You’re a child, Pete. Children shouldn’t fight battles.”

“I also have super-strength, enhanced senses, and fast healing abilities,” Peter argued while Tony stood by incredulously. This wasn’t how he expected this conversation to go.

But who was Tony to back down from an argument? “That doesn’t mean anything to me,” How could it? He’d seen Peter break down, sob, panic, come undone in his arms… Tony didn’t see him as anything else except a kid anymore. “You were fourteen when I recruited you for that stupid fight, Peter. You know what fourteen-year-olds do? Not fight super-humans or assassins. You shouldn’t have been there, end of discussion.”

Peter set his face, and Tony sighed. God, this kid was so stubborn. “Are you calling me weak?”

“I’m calling you a kid, because that’s what you are,” Tony said gently. “The last thing I think you are is weak.”

It was true. Peter was a lot of things, but weak wasn’t one of them. Scared, sad, anxious, incredibly self-deprecating, yes. Weak, absolutely not.

Peter relaxed a little, but then his face fell. “Are you and Mr. Clint mad at each other now?”

Tony blinked several times. “Uh, I don’t know?”

“I don’t want you guys to be mad at each other over me,” Peter said, and Tony wanted to groan aloud. Why does he think everything’s his fault? It’s killing me.

“If it upsets you, I won’t be mad at him,” Tony said instantly, although there was a small grudge forming in his chest. Clint shouldn’t have brought his kid into the fight. “But seriously, kid, you need to stop thinking everything is your fault.”

Tony said the last bit sternly, trying to get his message across.

Peter bit his lip but nodded, and Tony ruffled his hair. “Let’s go get you some breakfast, Pete. Come on.”

--

Tony spent the rest of the morning with Peter, trying to cope with his guilt.

Tony knew he should have tried to calm himself down and not thrown a punch at Clint, but as soon as Clint called Peter his weapon, it was like he couldn’t stop himself.

His ribs ached horribly, and he tried to ignore the pain as he and Peter worked together in his workshop. Occasionally, he would twist a certain way and it would feel like someone had punched him in the chest, and he would have to bite his tongue to keep from making noise.

By one thirty in the afternoon, the skin around Tony’s eye had become a dark red, and he kept catching Peter staring at it.

“Is your eye okay?” The kid asked as the two of them made their way up to the great room for lunch.

“It’s fine,” Tony grumbled.

“It looks painful.”

“I’ve had worse.”

“Doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.”

Tony glared, and Peter gave him an innocent smile.

They stepped into the great room, which was empty, to both of their surprise. It was a bit unnerving, but Tony brushed it off and started searching the fridge for something to eat.

“Tony,” someone said from next to him, and Tony jumped a foot in the air.

It was Natasha, her arms crossed. Tony pressed a shaky hand to his heart.

“Jesus fucking Christ, you can’t just—”

“Team meeting,” She said, tone clipped. Tony blinked.

“Right now? I’m getting Peter something for lun—”

“Yes, right now,” There was anger in Natasha’s eyes, and Tony was instantly on his guard. “I’m not going to ask again.”

Tony glanced to Peter, who was sat at the island, watching the interaction with wide eyes, before flicking his eyes back to the angry assassin in front of him. “Chill, Natasha. I’ll go, no need to give me death eyes.”

She didn’t crack a smile, and Tony resisted the urge to gulp. “Okay, okay. Uh, there’s some stuff to make a sandwich if you want to,” He said to Peter, glancing his way. “I shouldn’t be long.”

Tony didn’t get to hear Peter’s answer, for Natasha was already dragging him down the hall to a meeting room.

They walked inside, and Tony was met with his entire team, sitting at the table, staring at him.

Tony took one look at all of them, turned, and tried to walk out of the room.

Natasha blocked him, though, and shoved him towards an empty chair. Her hand touched his cracked rib, and he winced, sitting down in the chair.

Every part of him screamed to leave. Everyone looked either upset or angry, and Tony’s hands began to shake. Fuck. Get me out of here.

His eyes found Clint, who was determinedly not looking at him, instead staring down at the conference table. There was a bruise on his jaw, but it was small, and Tony felt horribly inadequate.

“What’s the meeting about?” Tony asked, almost afraid of the answer.

Natasha took her seat, crossing her arms. “We are all going to talk, and no one is leaving until all of our shit is sorted out.”

“Count me out,” Tony said immediately, anxiety settling in the pits of his stomach. “You all don’t need me here, have fun talking about your shit—”

“No one’s leaving,” Rhodey said seriously. “That includes you, Tones.”

Tony opened his mouth to argue, but then heard a scoff from Clint, and he zeroed in on him. “Something to share with the class?” He bit, anger pooling in his stomach.

“It’s all about you, isn’t it?” Clint said tersely. “You don’t care about what other people are feeling, as long as you’re comfortable.”

Tony’s blood boiled. “You want a round two, Barton?” His voice was raised, his posture hostile.

“Yeah, I do, actually,” Clint said, venom in his eyes.

“Enough!” It was Natasha who stopped them, standing up, towering over the table. Tony turned to her, hands shaking in anger. “Tony, you’re not leaving, and I don’t want to hear you even ask to leave again. Clint, stop antagonizing. We’re a team, start acting like it.”

Tony sat back in his chair, heart racing.

“I thought we all had forgiven each other for our behavior in Germany,” Natasha said, the commanding force of the table. “But clearly not.”

Tony scoffed. Forgiven is the last thing all of you are.

“We need to talk about this and apologize to each other,” It was Sam who spoke, and Tony’s eyes landed on Steve, who was sat back in his chair, his eyes on the table. “Because we can’t keep snapping at each other and getting into fights. It’s not safe, it’s not healthy.”

Fuck, this was like goddamn group therapy. The hair stood up on Tony’s arms as he squirmed uncomfortably. He hated emotional talks like this.

“I agree with Sam,” Steve spoke up. “We can’t keep avoiding this. We need to talk.”

An awkward silence fell.

“Tony, you seem the most bothered by all of this,” Natasha said, and Tony cringed. “Can you tell us why?”

Gee, I don’t know, Nat. Maybe it’s because you all broke all the trust in our team that I had carefully built up in the span of a fucking day.

He glared at all of them, squashing the thought before he could do something stupid, like cry.

“I’m not bothered,” Tony said, crossing his arms, deflecting. “Why would I ever be bothered?”

Steve sighed. “Tony. Please.”

“Don’t,” Tony’s voice was shaking. “Don’t.”

“Don’t what?” Steve asked, not heat in his tone. He sounded tired, resigned.

There was a lump in his throat. “This shit wasn’t my fault.”

Steve twisted his hands. “I never said it was. But you’re not innocent, Tony.”

“You let them put me in a straight-jacket,” Wanda whispered from across the room. “You let them cage me like an animal.”

Tony felt violently ill all of the sudden, and he took a deep breath in through his nose. He looked across the table at Wanda, who looked hurt and sad.

For a second, he saw Peter in her, and his heart broke in his chest. She wasn’t much older than he was, and she had lost just as much as Peter, maybe more.

Tony’s mouth had gone dry, but he whispered, “I’m sorry. That shouldn’t have happened.”

“Tony’s right,” Rhodey spoke up. “You all aren’t criminals, you shouldn’t have been locked up. That was completely on us.”

“The fight shouldn’t have escalated to the point it did,” Natasha said, crossing her arms. “We can all agree to that.”

There were nods all around the table.

“I had to protect him,” Steve said solemnly to Tony. “No one was listening, and there were more important things than the Accords going on.”

“You weren’t listening either,” Tony snapped.

Steve looked down at the table. “I know.”

“If you would have listened,” Tony hissed, jabbing his finger onto the glass table. “If you would have stopped and goddamn listened, Rogers, this shit never would have happened.”

Steve looked down at the table. “I…”

“But you didn’t listen,” Tony said, crossing his arms, hurt coursing through him. “And I paid the price.”

“We all paid the price,” Clint spoke up, looking angry. “You’re so goddamn selfish; while we were locked up or on the run, you were up in your fucking penthouse—”

“Yeah, trying to drink myself to death because you all broke apart the only family I ever had, all because I was trying to fix what I did in Sokovia,” Tony snapped. “I destroyed an entire city with my inventions, it was my fault, do you know how fucking hard it is to live with that?”

He regretted saying it a second later when the entire table stared at him.

His skin crawled and the air left his lung in a whoosh. His heart was pounding in his ears.

I have to get out of here, Tony thought, panicked. He couldn’t get enough air, and his chest burned. Calm down. You can’t do this in front of them.

“Tony…” It was Steve, and his voice was so pitying it nearly drove Tony insane.

“Fuck you,” Tony hissed, a burning behind his eyes. Stop it. “Don’t fucking pity me.”

The room fell awkwardly silent, and Tony couldn’t take it anymore. He had to leave.

He was about to stand, but then the silence was broken as Steve spoke. “I don’t regret why I did what I did,” Steve said slowly, his eyes only for Tony. “But I regret what happened in Siberia, and I regret keeping December 16th, 1991 from you. I’m sorry.”

Tony’s throat felt tight. The Soldier wraps his metal fingers around her throat, face devoid of emotion. He collapses her trachea and kills her, the light leaving her eyes…

“You can’t,” Tony swallowed, a shudder wracking his frame. “You can’t just a-apologize and think that fixes what you did.”

They could tell he was falling apart. His entire body was shaking with an onslaught of emotions, and his vision was blurring with tears. He needed to pull himself together, he needed to maintain his façade, he needed, he needed…

Don’t you dare cry, his mind whispered, sounding awfully like the voice of his father. Crying makes you weak.

Tony swallowed hard and looked up, trying to stop the tears from falling.

“I know I can’t just apologize and think you’ll forgive me,” Steve’s voice was a whisper. He reached over and laid a hand on Tony’s arm. “But I want you to know that I regret it every single day.”

The contact was too much. The hot tears slipped from his eyes and fell down his cheeks, and he swiped at them, trying to be angry but instead just feeling tired.

They could see him crying. They could see him being weak. Tony hated himself so viciously in that moment that the tears worsened.

Suddenly, he was being enveloped by two very large arms, and he couldn’t help but let out a small sob as he buried his face in Steve’s chest.

Then there was someone hugging him from behind, and he immediately knew it was Natasha. Soon, he was being hugged by his entire team, and he knew he should stop crying but everything hurt and he was just so goddamn tired that he let the tears fall.

“We’re moving back to the Tower with you,” Natasha murmured, after an undiscernible amount of time, still embracing him. “All of us. You’re not going to be alone.”

Tony knew he couldn’t fight them on this, and he realized he didn’t want to. He shuddered violently and nodded against Steve’s chest.

--

Peter was getting bored. The meeting was lasting a long time, almost an hour now, and he had been scrolling on Instagram for what felt like forever.

Finally, he heard the sound of footsteps, and he immediately stood up from his place on the couch.

The Avengers walked into the great room, and the first thing Peter noticed was that they all looked solemn.

Peter didn’t have time to wonder why they all looked so sad, though, because then his eyes fell on Tony.

The skin under Tony’s unbruised eye was puffy, and both eyes were bloodshot. He had an arm strewn across his stomach, almost protectively. He looked miserable, and Peter wondered what the hell had gone down in that room.

“Tony?” Peter asked quietly.

Tony cracked a small smile. “Hey, kid,” He said hoarsely.

“Are you… okay?” Peter asked, unsure.

“Yeah, I’m alright,” Tony said, pulling Peter into a one-armed hug. “I’m tired.”

Peter didn’t say anything, just focused on hugging Tony as tightly as he could with one arm.

Tony pulled away after a minute. “I’m gonna go take a nap,” He said with a sigh. “Nice talk, everyone. Let’s never do that again.”

The team looked guilty as Tony left.

Once he was in the elevator, a shocked silence fell.

“That was bad,” Sam was the first to speak, and Peter cautiously listened in. “I’ve never… I’ve never seen him like that.”

“God, I’m an asshole,” Steve leaned on the counter, running a hand over his face. “Jesus.”

“Not your fault, Steve,” Sam consoled. “You did what you thought was right.”

“I didn’t know how bad it hurt him,” Steve sighed.

“It wasn’t good, for a while,” Rhodey supplied, grabbing a water bottle out of the fridge. “The week after Siberia was… bad. He didn’t know what to do with himself. But he got better.”

“I’ve never seen him cry,” Bruce said, voice quiet.

“You probably won’t ever again,” Rhodey said heavily, opening the water bottle. “Touchy-feely stuff makes Tony uncomfortable, so when something bothers him, he doesn’t say anything. We caught him with his guard down. He’s going to hate himself for it.”

Wanda looked on the brink of tears herself. “I didn’t know a-about the drinking,” She whispered, and Peter felt like he was drenched in ice-water. “I didn’t…”

“Hey, it’s alright,” Natasha comforted her. “None of us did. He doesn’t tell us anything.”

“What happened?” Peter asked meekly.

Everyone started and looking at Peter.

“What about the drinking?” Peter asked, the air seeming to thick to breathe. “What happened?”

No one seemed to want to answer him, but finally Natasha spoke up. “Just… Tony was really upset after Germany, and he developed a drinking problem. He’s okay now.”

“Why was he crying?” Peter pressed. “Did you guys make him cry?”

There was a protective note in Peter’s tone, and Rhodey picked up on it. A strange feeling of pride swelled in the man’s chest.

“We didn’t make him cry,” He said. “We just talked about some things that he was still upset over. Don’t worry about it.”

Peter bit his lip and looked towards the elevator. “Is he okay?”

There was silence, for no one had an answer.

Chapter Text

Tony was in his workshop alone the next morning when Clint visited him.

He was bent over a project— for Peter, of course— when he heard the sound of quiet footsteps.

He glanced behind him, and saw Clint walking towards him, his posture hesitant.

The bruise over Tony’s eye had turned a dark purple, and he had woken up several times the night before in pain from his broken ribs (After waking for the third time, he gave up on sleeping altogether, and spent the rest of the night in the lab).

He looked away from Clint and back down at his project, surprised at the fact that he felt no anger.

“Barton,” He said slowly, testing the waters. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Clint was silent for a second. “I came down here to talk to you about what happened yesterday.”

Tony winced, and then grabbed his ribs. Fuck.

Ah, yes. Yesterday. When he lost his cool in front of his entire team, after fighting one of his teammates.

Add that to the list of “not my proudest moments,” Tony thought sardonically.

“Can we maybe not do that?” Tony requested lightly, not facing Clint.

“I owe you an apology,” Clint said. “I shouldn’t have brought Peter into all of this. It was a low blow, and your actions were justified.”

Tony snorted. “Hitting you was justified?”

“I would have done the same thing if you talked about Cooper,” There was pain in his voice when he said his son’s name. “Or Lila.”

Sympathy rolled through Tony. He didn’t know when Clint had last seen his kids, but it was obvious that it hadn’t been recently.

He imagined not being able to see Peter for a year, and a feeling of dread settled over him. Even leaving Peter for a few hours was enough to send him into a state of panic, he couldn’t imagine not seeing him for twelve months.

Tony slowly turned to face Clint, understanding the man more than ever. “I’m sorry about your family,” Tony said, trying to make the sincerity show in his tone. “I can’t imagine being away from Peter for more than a day… I don’t know how you do it.”

Clint shrugged, his hands in his pockets. “I skype the kids from time to time, but Laura… she doesn’t want to see me. I promised her I wasn’t going to go back, that I was going to stay home and take care of the kids, but here I am. Guess I couldn’t stay away.”

Tony blew out a breath. “Fuck, Clint. I’m sorry.”

Clint shrugged again. “It’s not your fault. I realize that now.”

An awkward silence fell, during which both Tony and Clint avoided each other’s gazes.  After a minute, Clint cleared his throat.

“Anyways. Sorry,” He muttered, before turning on his heel and leaving the workshop.

--

Things got better after that.

Tony was beyond embarrassed at himself for breaking down in front of his teammates, but none of them mentioned it, which was an immense relief.

They also stayed true to their word when they said they were moving back to the Tower, and the next few days flew by in a mix of packing and stress.

However, by move-out day, everyone was set and ready to leave.

Tony felt bad for leaving the Compound, but he knew that Peter needed to go back to school, so he tried not to think about it too much.

Peter was quiet the day of the move. He put his stuff in the moving truck without saying a word, and the excitement Tony was expecting wasn’t there.

The ride to the city was long and quiet, even though the radio was on. Tony kept giving Peter worried looks from the driver’s seat, and Peter just stared out the window.

They pulled up to the Tower, and Tony couldn’t help the dread he felt.

The last time he was at the Tower, it was a couple of months after Siberia. He had a bad day that day, and that night, he had drunk himself nearly unconscious with grief and sorrow. He was found by a very pissed off Rhodey, who told him to move upstate if he wanted to live to see his forty-sixth birthday. Tony had cried, shit-faced and hurting, before tearfully agreeing to move.

It was an embarrassing memory, one he wished he would forget. But it was the only thing he could think of when he stepped out of the car and looked up at the building.

At least I’m not alone this time, Tony thought to himself, his eyes drifting over to Peter. The kid’s hands were in his worn jean pockets and he had white earbuds in. He was wearing a thick winter coat, one that he had grabbed from his old apartment when they were there a couple of weeks ago. It was slightly too large for him, and the left sleeve was ripped, but Peter was dead set on wearing it, even when Tony tried to get him to wear the new coat that he had bought him.

There was a slight shiver to the kid’s frame, and Tony could see his breath, so he bit the bullet and dragged both of them inside.

The lobby was as spotless as ever, with the polished white marble floors and the sleek, platinum Stark Industries logo, which sat behind the main desk.

“Don’t we have to bring our stuff up?” Peter asked quietly, taking in the sight of the lobby.

“The movers already did that,” Tony said, as though it was obvious. “Your stuff is in your room, which you’ll get to see at the end of the tour.”

Peter nodded but didn’t crack a smile or do anything, except remove the earbuds from his ears and shrink in on himself a little bit more.

Tony noticed that the kid’s hands were balled into fists as his side, and was concerned for a second, but then dismissed the gesture as an attempt to get warm.

He led Peter into the glass elevator. “Formal living space, FRIDAY,” He told his AI, and the kid watched as they shot upwards, the ground getting farther away and the city rising before their eyes.

“Most of the bottom floors are for research, or offices for Stark Industries. You need special clearance to access the living areas, which are at the top of the building,” Tony explained. “You have platinum level clearance, so that means you get to go anywhere in the Tower.”

Peter nodded, watching as they climbed farther into the sky, before the elevator stopped and the doors opened.

They stepped out into the living space, and Peter couldn’t stop the shock that crossed his face.

The living space was smaller than the great room at the Compound but looked way more expensive. The floors were a dark, polished marble, and several light fixtures hung from the high ceilings.

To the left of the elevator was a sitting area, with soft white couches and chairs. There was a flat screen TV perched on a dividing wall.

To the right was the kitchen area, with silvery stainless-steel appliances and marble counter tops. There was another dividing wall, and behind it was a sleek dining table, with several chairs tucked into it.

The north side of the room was lofted, with stairs leading up to it. There was another sitting area, except instead of a TV, this one had a bar. Peculiarly, though, all of the shelves that should contain alcohol were barren.

The north wall was completely covered in large, ceiling to floor windows, which brought a lot of natural lighting to the whole space.

It was overwhelming. It was nothing like the Compound, which had expensive features, but at least looked lived in. This was like an art exhibit, something to be admired but not touched.

Peter had never even been in a place this expensive, and the thought of living here was absolutely mind-boggling.

His anxiety was high as Tony led him further into the room, and Peter became incredibly aware that his shoes weren’t clean. He walked carefully, making sure not to scuff the floor. His balled fists were closely tucked at his side, to make sure he didn’t break anything.

“This is the formal living space, kind of standard,” Tony said with a shrug, and Peter felt incredibly out of his depth. Standard? “Kitchen to the right, family room to the left, bar and hang out area to the front. There’s a bathroom down the hall, and some other rooms like an entertainment room and a conference room.”

Tony brought him around the floor, but then back into the elevator for the rest of the tour.

Tony showed him the gym, the lab, the workshop, some of the Avengers living quarters, before taking him up to the 80th floor, which was the penthouse.

The living space had nothing on the penthouse.

The flooring was a polished hardwood and the furniture was a soft macchiato color. The walls were entirely made of windows, with large curtains pulled to the side. There was a giant sparkling chandelier hanging from the ceiling, and off to the side, sat a shiny grand piano. There was a small kitchen off to the side, right next to a hallway.

“This is the penthouse,” Tony explained. “Only two people besides myself are allowed access to this room: Pepper, and now you.”

Peter nodded, carefully walking over to where the piano was. “Do you play?” He asked quietly, reaching down to touch it, but then rethinking and pulling his hand away, curling it into a fist again.

Tony looked pained as he walked over to where Peter was. “I used to. But, uh… not in years.” He cleared his throat. “Anyways. You ready to see your room?”

Peter nodded again, and they walked back to the elevator.

The elevator stopped at the fiftieth floor, and the two of them stepped out.

It was a short hallway, with two doors, one on the right and one on the left.

“To the left is your room, to the right is mine,” Tony explained, and Peter’s eyes shot to Tony’s face.

“You don’t get your own floor?” Peter asked, surprised.

“I used to,” Tony said. “This floor used to be mine, but I had it be divided so you could have a room.”

It felt like a punch in the gut. Peter looked down to the floor, color rising in his cheeks. He spent money to divide the room in half. He had to give up his space for you to have a room.

“Pete? What’s up?” Tony asked, concerned, and Peter’s fists tightened with the horrible sense of being a burden…

“I, uh…” Peter said huskily, before clearing his throat. “You didn’t have to do that. I could have slept somewhere else. I didn’t mean to take up your space.”

Tony blinked, confused. “You’re not taking up my space? I wanted to divide my room anyways, it was too big.”

Peter wasn’t convinced, but he nodded anyway. Tony gave him a worried look that he didn’t see before showing Peter his room.

The room was larger than the one he had at the Compound. It had dark hardwood floors with gray walls, with an accent wall of wood paneling behind the bed. The bed itself was large and sat in the middle of the room with a black comforter, gray pillows, and a light gray rug surrounding it on the floor. On the right wall were closed closet doors.

There were framed vinyl records on the wall above his bed, and in the far corner was a desk, with a laptop and the tech equipment that he collected from his room back at the Queens apartment.

The opposite wall was entirely window, with large gray curtains tucked to the side. There was a small glass door in the middle of all the windows, and it led outside onto a balcony.

In the middle of the room sat his suitcase and the other things he packed from the Compound. His bright red bag looked incredibly out of place.

Peter was frozen in the doorway, and Tony pushed past him and opened a door that sat to the left.

“This is your bathroom,” Tony said, and from where Peter was standing, he could see dark walls and white floor tiles.

It was too much. Peter’s eyes darted all over the room, and everything they landed on costed more money than the monthly rate of the apartment in Queens.

He didn’t like when people spent money on him. Ned used to sometimes spend his money to buy Peter’s lunch for him if he was out, and it made Peter feel like a freeloader. Tony took it to a whole other level though, and Peter stared at the laptop in the corner, his heart drumming his chest.

Tony smiled at him as he walked over to it. “Do you like it? I thought you would need a laptop for school. It’s a Stark brand laptop, top of the line. Well specked: 8 gigs of ram, a terabyte of storage. Pretty nice.”

Peter took a hesitant step into the room, suddenly feeling incredibly nauseous. “This is… crazy.”

Tony pulled him into a one-armed hug, one that Peter was too stunned to returned. “Glad you like it, kiddo. Come on, there’s more to see.”

Peter realized his lip was quivering, and he bit down on it hard. “O-Okay.”

--

After the tour was over, Peter felt incredibly drained. It was seven, almost time for dinner, but he was ready for bed.

The tour ended back in the living space, with its expensive chandeliers and marble floors. The team was there, sitting casually on the white couches, watching the news.

“Hey, Peter,” Wanda waved at him from the couch, and he gave a half-hearted wave back. “Come sit with us, мали паук.”

Peter didn’t want to sit on the couches, they looked incredibly expensive and he knew he would find a way to mess it up.

But he couldn’t say no to Wanda, so he slowly walked over and sat on the edge of the couch, trying not to touch it much.

“Dinner, everyone,” Tony announced, and Peter was saved from having to sit in that uncomfortable position for long.

Dinner was Chinese takeout, but Peter was startlingly unhungry. They sat at the giant dining table, and Peter picked at his eggroll and General Tso’s Chicken, his guilt making him not want to eat.

I bet Tony paid for this too, he thought, as he stared down at his food. I’m such a freeloader.

“Kid? Why aren’t you eating?” Tony asked him quietly. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” He said, hopefully earnestly.

It’ll go to waste if you don’t eat it, he reminded himself. Then Tony would have spent money for nothing.

The thought made Peter immediately start eating, despite his lack of appetite. He finished his plate, feeling gross but less ungrateful.

The team settled into a movie after dinner, sit it was Friday. They watched the first Lord of the Rings movie, which half the team had never seen.

Peter sat on the expensive couches for about half the movie, before his eyes grew heavy and he decided to go to bed.

He stood, and Tony paused the movie. “What’s up?”

“I’m going to bed,” Peter said, his body feeling strangely heavy with exhaustion.

“It’s eight-thirty,” Sam questioned, eyebrow raised.

“You really are a Spider-Infant,” Natasha teased, and Peter wanted to crack a smile, but he was too tired.

“Are you feeling okay?” Tony asked, eyes narrowed.

“Jesus, I’m fine!” Peter insisted with a little heat. “I’m just tired, today was a lot. Can’t I just go to bed in peace?”

Tony looked taken aback. “Watch the attitude, kid. I’m just worried about you.”

“You don’t need to worry,” Peter said, hands balling into fists with anxiety. “I’m fine. Goodnight.”

And with that, he went into the elevator.

--

Getting ready for bed was an adventure in and of itself.

Peter’s closet was huge, filled with new clothes and shoes and other things. It made him incredibly uncomfortable and guilty, and his eyes filled with tears as he searched for his old pajamas, finding them in the back of the closet, tucked behind a silky shirt with matching pants.

He put them on and trudged to his new bathroom.

The bathroom was smaller, with dark stone-tiled walls and white tiled floors. The shower was big enough to fit two people, which Peter found bizarre.

The toilet and the sink were pretty standard, though, and he almost felt comfortable as he brushed his teeth.

He turned the light off in the bathroom and made his way back to his new bed.

He was hesitant to sleep on it. The comforter looked expensive, and he was sure the sheets were the best money could buy, but he was absolutely exhausted.

He tentatively got in, careful not to rustle anything too much. He put his head on the pillow and laid there.

God was the bed comfortable. It was like he was being wrapped up in a soft, memory foam cocoon. His eyes were drifting shut, and soon he was floating.

--

He woke up several hours later, trapped in his own sweaty sheets, choking down a scream.

He flailed wildly, trying to free himself from his entrapment, knocking all the blankets off the bed in panic.

His eyes darted around the room, trying to remember where he was.

Stark Tower, in my fancy, expensive room.

Placing where he was didn’t do much to help his mounting anxiety. He had gotten his gross nightmare sweat all over the high thread count sheets, he had drooled on the expensive pillow, and now the undoubtedly pricey blanket set was all over the floor.

He sat so his legs dangled over the right side of the bed, hands gripping the sheets, and sat there breathing erratically. He was destroying everything that Tony had so nicely bought him with his stupid problems. Tony had given up his space and his money for Peter to have a nice room, and now he was ruining it.

He hoped FRIDAY hadn’t alerted Tony about his decaying mental state. Tony deserved to sleep, not have to deal with Peter’s bullshit every night.

He’s not going to want to keep you around, he thought, his hands tightening into fists. No one wants a burden.

“Peter?”

Peter froze. Shit.

“Why aren’t you asleep? It’s two am.” Tony asked, voice deep with sleep.

Peter bit his lip, eyes burning. You woke him up.

“Peter.” Tony was getting impatient.

“You should go back to sleep,” Peter said, his back to him. “I’m sorry for waking you.”

Tony paused, considering Peter’s tense posture and tightened fists. “It’s no problem.”

“Yes, it is,” Peter’s voice cracked, much to his annoyance. “You don’t have to give up your sleep for me.”

“I’m not giving up anything,” Tony said, wondering where the hell all of this was coming from. “I don’t care about how much sleep I get.”

Peter breathed through his nose, trying to calm himself down. He heard Tony approach the bed.

“What’s going on, Pete? You haven’t been yourself since we got here,” Tony asked, standing on the other side of the bed behind Peter.

“Nothing’s going on,” Peter insisted stubbornly.

Tony took in the rumpled sheets and blankets on the floor. “Did you have a nightmare?”

“…No.”

“Peter.”

“I didn’t have a nightmare.”

“You’re a terrible liar.”

“Am not.”

“Mm… are too.”

Peter didn’t crack a smile. He sat there, in silence, as tears filled his eyes.

“Wanna tell me what it was about?” Tony asked quietly.

Peter shook his head. “I don’t remember it,” It was the truth: he barely remembered what the nightmare was about, now he was too focused on how much of Tony’s stuff he was ruining.

“Then why are you upset, bud?”

A small noise escaped Peter’s lips, and it was enough to have Tony circle around the bed and sit down next to him.

Tony lifted his hand, and was about to put it on Peter’s back, but the kid shifted away from him, causing him to awkwardly lower his hand.

“Talk to me,” Tony said, a little hurt. “I can’t help you unless you let me inside your head, kid.”

“No one wants to be inside my head,” Peter said under his breath.

Yikes. “Try me,” Tony offered, pretending like what Peter just said didn’t scare him.

All of the sudden, Peter’s face crumpled into a look of misery. “You keep w-wasting your money on me.”

Tony blinked. Well, that wasn’t what I was expecting. “I’m not—”

“You bought back the Tower for me—” Peter gasped, cutting him off. “—When you could have just told me to suck it up and move schools o-or live back in the Queens apartment. You s-split your room in half, giving up your space and money, even though I could have just easily crashed on a couch. You spent so much money on my room, and now I got sweat on your sheets and the blankets are on the ground and…. A-and…”

Peter’s chest was heaving with emotion, hands grasping at the sheets. Tony sighed and gently pulled the kid in, so that his head was tucked into Tony’s collarbone. He threaded his hand through the kid’s curls, trying to soothe him.

“I bought back this Tower because I want you to be comfortable,” Tony explained in a low voice, and Peter could feel the vibrations of his speech against his head. “Sure, I could have forced you to move schools, but you would be sad, and I don’t want that.”

“But you spent so much money on—” Peter whispered, and Tony shushed him.

“I spend money on you because I want to, Peter,” Tony said firmly. “I want you to be comfortable, I want you to be happy. I’d spend all my money to do that.”

Peter twisted his hands in his lap. “Tony… I’m not worth it.”

“Wrong,” Tony said, tugging a little on Peter’s hair. “You’re worth all of it and more, kid, I just don’t know what I have to do to prove it.”

 “You don’t have to do anything,” Peter said, shutting his eyes in relaxation at the feeling of Tony’s hand in his hair. “I just feel bad. I keep you up at night with my stupid nightmares, I cry all over you—”

“We’ve talked about this. If I didn’t want to do it, I wouldn’t do it. Simple as that,” Tony explained, shrugging. “I care about you a lot. I’m shitty at showing it, but it’s true.”

“You’re not shitty at showing it,” Peter whispered, snuggling into him. Tony pulled him closer, and Peter sighed. “I don’t deserve it.”

“Stop,” Tony tugged on his hair again, and Peter let out a small whine of pain. “I don’t want to hear you say that again. Come on, kid, you’re killing me.”

“Sorry,” Peter mumbled, sleepy.

“Can you try and not think the worst of yourself, please?” Tony murmured, still combing his fingers through Peter’s hair. “Can you do that for me?”

There was a lump in Peter’s throat and his eyes burned. “Y-Yeah,” He whispered, suddenly feeling raw and emotional.

“I’m not asking you to be happy,” Tony murmured. “I’m not even asking you to be okay. I’m just asking you to try.”

Peter wanted to cry, but he was too tired, and Tony was too warm. “’kay.”

His eyes were starting to slip closed, his mind starting to drift.

He fell asleep, warm and comforted, Tony’s hand in his hair.

Chapter Text

Tony had a small get-together for New Years, and at this party, they did play Monopoly.

It was only the Avengers, Pepper, and a couple other people close to Tony or the team. He got to meet Maria Hill, an incredibly intimidating woman that made Peter more than a little nervous.

Tony wanted to use real money in the game, but everyone told him it was a stupid idea, so they stuck with the stupid, colorful paper.

It was an intense game, but Natasha ended up winning, something no one was surprised about. Peter came in third, behind Tony, which earned him an affectionate hair ruffle from the man.

They watched the ball drop on TV, and Peter felt incredibly sad that May wasn’t there to welcome 2017 with him.

Tony must have sensed it, because he stayed close to Peter the entire time they counted down to ring in the New Year.

When the ball did drop, everyone cheered and toasted. Tony grabbed Pepper and gave her a kiss on the cheek, which left her blushing. Tony hugged Peter, and Peter didn’t feel sad, because he had Tony.

New Years Day was a slow day, during which Peter moped around the Tower, dreading the day to come.

The next day was the first day back to school after break, and the first day of school since May died for Peter. Dreading it was an understatement.

He accidentally snapped at Tony in his anxiety, which didn’t sit well with the man. It earned Peter an angry glare and a “Watch what you say, kid.”

Tony made him turn in early that night, since he had to get up early the next day. Peter was too anxious to even complain, so he went to his room without a word.

He got changed into pajamas and did his nightly routine, got into bed, and stared at the ceiling for an hour and a half. His brain was buzzing with anxiety and nerves, but eventually his eyes grew heavy, and he fell asleep.

He was woken the next morning at 6:30am by his alarm clock, and the second he heard the noise, he was wide awake and filled with dread.

He laid in bed for five more minutes before forcing himself to get up and take a shower. He changed into a pair of jeans, a black X-Files “I Want to Believe” t-shirt, and his gray heavy winter jacket.

He got in the elevator and rode up to the living space, where he found Tony, dressed in a sharp suit and drinking a cup of coffee.

“Morning, kid,” He said, smiling at Peter as he entered. “Pancakes? I made them how you like it—”

“M’not hungry,” Peter mumbled, walking over to the counter, plopping down on a stool, and burying his face in his arms. “I’m tired.”

“You’ve gotta eat, Pete. Sorry, just how it is,” Tony placed a large stack of pancakes on a plate, doused it in syrup, and set it down in front of the kid.

Peter couldn’t eat. His stomach was bubbling with nerves and he was afraid that if he ate, he would be sick. “I can’t eat, Tony. My stomach hurts.”

“Try, please. I don’t want you going to school without eating anything,” Tony said, vaguely wondering when he started sounding like his mother.

Peter gave him a dirty look but took a bite. He managed to eat four pancakes, before he pushed the plate away. Tony ruffled his hair proudly before putting the plate next to the sink, for the maid to wash.

Peter got up and went back to his room to brush his teeth, put on his shoes, and fasten the watch Tony gave him to his wrist. He grabbed his backpack, made sure he had everything, before going back up to the living space.

Tony was still there, looking at his phone, when Peter walked in. “Ready?” He asked, and Peter nodded, feeling sick.

The two of them went down to the garage and got into one of Tony’s black Audi’s, and they were off.

The drive was mostly silent. Peter had an earphone in, listening to his music, trying to calm himself down. It worked, a little bit.

But then Midtown came into view and the little bit of calm Peter had developed was thrown out the window.

Tony pulled up to the school and put the car in park.

Peter’s knee bounced up and down anxiously, his nails imbedded in his palms, face pale and eyes wide.

Peter’s voice was shaking with terror when he spoke. “I can’t do this.”

Tony laid a hand on his knee. “Yes, you can.”

“No, I can’t,” Peter’s voice was high, and his breathing was shallow. “I can’t do this.” The kid was nearly hyperventilating, and Tony squeezed his knee.

“Hey, look at me,” Tony urged. Peter looked at him with wild eyes. “You can do this, Peter. It’s just school, it’ll be over in six hours.”

Peter bit his lip and breathed heavily out of his nose. “I can’t—”

“Remember what we talked about?” Tony said softly. “I want you to try, Peter. I’m not asking you to be happy, I’m not asking you to be okay, I’m asking you to try. So, try. Please.”

Peter took a deep breath, before nodding. “Okay. I—I’ll try.”

Tony nodded. “You okay?”

“No,” Peter gave a humorless laugh. “But… I’m trying.”

Affection filled Tony and he reached over to hug his kid. “I’m proud of you, Peter,” He whispered.

Tony pulled away after a minute, but Peter’s hand was still attached to his suit jacket. Tony pried it off, before giving it a light squeeze. “Text me if you need anything. And I mean anything, kid.”

Peter nodded, still pale. He put his hand on the car door handle, paused for a second, and pushed the door open.

“Have a good day, kid,” Tony called, and Peter nodded jerkily before shutting the door.

He took a few steps towards the school, looked back, and Tony was already gone.

His heart was in his throat as he walked up the steps of the school. He pushed open the doors and entered.

Everything looked the same. Same cinderblock walls, same tiled floors. He sighed a little as he made his way to his locker, anxiety lessening. It’s just school, it’ll be over in six hours.

“Peter!” He jumped, and saw Ned came barreling down the hallway towards him, an expression of utter glee on his face.

Peter felt his own face melt into a smile, and Ned came to a halt next to him. “You’re back! Oh, thank god—”

“Nice to see you too, Ned,” Peter said, opening his locker.

“I’m so glad you’re back,” He said, relieved. “I can’t handle another one of Cobbwell’s classes without you, I’ve had to partner with Gabe Cardin and he doesn’t do any of the work.”

“Well, I’m back now, so you don’t have to worry about that anymore,” Peter said, putting his Chemistry book into his backpack.

Ned got quiet for a second, before asking hesitantly, “How are you doing?”

Peter paused in the action of closing his locker. He suddenly felt like someone had removed all the air in the room, and he cleared his throat as he closed his locker. “I’ve been better.”

“I’m sorry about what happened,” Ned said quietly. “Is there anything I can do?”

Peter shook his head, the healing wound that was May’s death suddenly feeling ripped open. “No. Thank you though. It’s… It’s been hard. But Tony’s helping a lot.”

“I can’t believe you’re living with the Tony Stark,” Ned said, trailing behind Peter as he walked to his first block class. “Have you seen the Iron-Man suit?”

Peter smiled and decided to indulge Ned a little bit. “Yeah, and I’ve seen his workshop. It’s so cool.”

Ned gasped. “Dude. What is your life?”

It’s kind of shitty, actually. “It’s crazy, man.”

The warning bell rang, and Peter hurried to his AP Physics class.

First period didn’t help Peter’s anxiety in the slightest. He was so far behind, half of the things Mrs. Warren said didn’t make any sense. By the end of the block, Peter felt anxious and stupid.

Second period, which was Honors English, was a little better. The class was halfway through reading Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but Peter had already read the book, so he wasn’t worried about catching up.

The bell rang for lunch, and Peter trudged to the cafeteria, tired and wanting to go home.

He bought his lunch and sat down at his normal table. A few seconds later, Ned and MJ sat down next to him.

“Hey, Peter,” Ned said, just as MJ said, “Hey, loser.”

“Hi guys,” Peter said quietly.

“Mr. Wainwright gave us so much homework,” Ned complained, opening his milk carton. “I wanted to watch the new Clone Wars episode tonight, but apparently I have to do his stupid assignments instead.”

“Clone Wars is a dumb show,” MJ declared, taking a bite out of her apple. “The animation isn’t even that good.”

Ned squawked. “Are you kidding me? It’s an amazing show! The plotlines are so interesting—”

“Not really, they’re kind of basic.”

Ned swelled with indignation, and opened his mouth to retort, but MJ turned to Peter instead.

“What’s up? You’re not usually this quiet.”

Peter met her eyes, and then looked away. “It’s… nothing.”

MJ narrowed her eyes. “Doesn’t seem like nothing.”

Peter glared at her, and she met it evenly. Peter dropped his eyes again.

“Seriously, though, what’s wrong,” MJ asked, a little bit of concern in her voice.

Peter stabbed a chicken nugget with his fork. “It’s… It’s weird being back here, after all that’s happened.”

“With your aunt?” She asked quietly, and Peter nodded, not trusting his voice.

“I’m sorry,” She said, after a long pause. “Are you doing okay?”

Peter shrugged honestly, because lying was too much effort. “Better than I was,” His voice was a little husky, so he cleared his throat. “I’m trying.” I’m just asking you to try.

Suddenly, he missed Tony so much it hurt. It had only been a few hours since he last saw the man, but he had gotten so used to having him around that it felt strange being away from him.

“We’re here for you, you know that,” She said. “Just don’t be stupid and not ask for help if you need it.”

Peter nodded, a part of him wondering when she started to care about how he felt. “But Ned’s right, MJ, Star Wars the Clone Wars is a great show.”

--

Gym sucked, but it always did. He forgot how much it sucked to hold back his strength and act weak, but he knew it was necessary, so he did it. Both he and Ned were last to get picked for a game of basketball, and then he had to spend the rest of the period acting like he had never done anything physical in his life.

Fourth period, Spanish, was the worst. He was bad at it, and now that he was behind, it was even worse. They were supposed to be memorizing preterite and imperfect verbs, but Peter kept getting the two mixed up. His teacher, Senora Fernandez, wasn’t happy and scolded him in front of the whole class.

Embarrassed and upset, he was unbearably happy when the dismissal bell rang at 2:45.

He met up with Ned by his locker and they made their way out of the school together.

“I got two new Star Wars Legos for Christmas,” Ned said excitedly, pushing open the school doors. They started to make their way down the steps. “You should come over some time, so we can put them together!”

Peter couldn’t help but get excited about that. “Dude, definitely, we should—” He stopped speaking abruptly, when his spider-sense tingled.

He didn’t even have time to process the feeling before he was tumbling down the steps, his hands flying out to catch him as he hit the concrete at the bottom.

The wind had been knocked out of him, so he sat there, gasping as laughter filled his ears.

Flash stood halfway down the steps, foot outstretched, a triumphant look on his face. “Watch where you’re going, Penis.”

Peter looked at his hands, which were throbbing with pain. They were scraped so badly that blood was running down his wrist, and there were a couple of small pieces of concrete stuck in his skin. The wounds burned horribly, and Peter felt a hot wash of shame run through him as he heard Flash’s friends laughing.

“Peter! Are you okay?” Ned came running towards him to help, but Peter was already on his feet.

His head ached from where it hit the steps and his hands hurt like a bitch, but nothing felt worse than the humiliation.

“M’fine,” Peter mumbled, brushing Ned off. “I’m going home. See you tomorrow.”

And with that, he turned and walked away.

--

The ten-minute subway ride home was a non-event, which Peter spent with headphones in his ears, the cuts in his hands bleeding.

When he got off, it was only a five-minute walk back to the Tower. As soon as he saw the tall, gleaming building, his heart swelled so much that it brought tears to his eyes. Home.

He walked into the lobby, and then entered the elevator.

“Good Afternoon, Peter,” FRIDAY said. “How was school?”

Peter leaned his head against the wall of the elevator, feeling sad and bone-tired. “Not… not great. Where’s Tony?”

“Mr. Stark is in the living space. Would you like to see him?”

Peter’s eyes burned as his hands throbbed. “Yes, please.”

The elevator surged upwards, and Peter tried to swallow around the lump in his throat.

Tony was getting the jug of apple juice out of the fridge when he heard the ding of the elevator and soft footfalls.

He couldn’t help but smile. Finally, Peter was home.

It was strange not to have him around, since they had spent an entire month practically glued to each other. He did some work and messed around in the workshop a bit, but his mind was occupied with thoughts of Peter, wondering what and how he was doing.

“Hey, kid, how was school?” He asked, his back to Peter, grabbing the jug of apple juice and shutting the fridge.

He turned to smile at Peter, but as soon as he saw the kid’s face, his smile immediately fled.

The kid looked… fragile. His eyes were wide and watery, his shoulders hunched. It was almost like he was curled in on himself. “It… It was o-okay.”

Tony stared, heart sinking. Shit. Why can’t something just go right for the kid?

“I just…” Peter was crumbling, and Tony could see it. He set down the jug of juice. “C-Can… Can I have a h-hug?”

Tony nodded, crossed the space, and pulled the kid into a hug.

Jesus, Tony thought, as Peter collapsed into the embrace. The kid was trembling in his arms, making small, hiccupping noises. Tony twisted his hand into Peter’s hair, and the kid made a small, heartbroken noise, which made Tony sigh.

After a minute, Tony realized that Peter’s hands weren’t on his back, or clutching at his shirt like they usually did. No, the kid’s hands were by his side, and Tony was about to dismiss it, but then he saw a flash of red.

Tony instantly let go of Peter and grabbed his arms, examining his hands.

They were torn up and raw. There was a large scrape on his right hand, which sat bleeding, where the skin had been ripped off. They looked incredibly painful.

“Jesus Christ,” Tony muttered, before looking back up at Peter. The kid was still crying, his breath stuttering, face scrunched up.

He pulled Peter over to the dining table and sat him down, before rummaging through the kitchen for the First-Aid Kit. He found it and knelt down in front of Peter, opening the red container. He pulled out the small bottle of rubbing alcohol and a cotton ball. He doused it and began to clean Peter’s cuts.

Peter made a noise of pain, and more tears fell. “Y-You don’t need to do that,” Peter hiccupped, wanting to wipe his face but being unable to. “T-They’ll heal.”

Tony didn’t respond, anger overtaking him. “How did this happen.”

“I tripped and f-fell down the front stairs.” Peter said tearfully.

“Bullshit,” Tony said through his teeth. “Spider-Man doesn’t trip and fall. I’ve seen you balance on the edges of skyscrapers, I’ve seen you walk on a tightrope of webbing. Someone did this to you, and I want to know who.”

“Peter Parker trips,” Peter said, trying to glare at Tony through his tears. “I wasn’t watching where I was g-going, and I fell.”

“Don’t lie to me,” Tony accidentally raised his voice. “Tell me.”

“It’s the truth!” Peter lied angrily. “I was talking to Ned about Legos, I wasn’t looking where I was going, and I missed a step! Stop y-yelling at me!”

Tony stopped and watched as Peter let out a smothered sob, biting his lip.

“Okay, okay,” Tony said softly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to yell.”

Peter nodded spastically, and Tony sighed. He reached into the first aid kid and pulled out several band-aids, before turning back to his hands.

He unwrapped the band-aids and smoothed them over the kid’s injuries. Peter sniffed, and Tony stood, pushing the kid’s head against him as he gently ran his hands through his hair.

“What happened at school today, bud?” Tony asked quietly.

“I f-forgot how much it sucked,” Peter shuddered. “It’s hard, to pretend like I’m this helpless nerdy kid, when I can do so much more.”

Tony couldn’t think of anything to say, so he just comforted the kid silently.

“I’m sorry,” Peter whispered. “I’m sorry that I’m like this.”

“Stop,” Tony said helplessly, sad and frustrated. He wants the kid to get better, but he just seems to be getting worse.

“I’m going to go take a nap,” Peter said, standing abruptly and walking towards the elevator. He was gone before Tony had a chance to say anything.

Chapter Text

Peter couldn’t nap.

He tried—he really did—but he was too wound up to sleep. So, he laid in bed, on his phone.

 It was 4:15 when he got a text from Ned.

 “Hey, are you ok?”

He was about to respond, but then another text popped up.

“Why wouldn’t he be ok?” It was MJ, and Peter blinked in confusion for a second.

“Shit, that wasn’t supposed to be in the group chat,” Ned responded.

“What happened?” MJ again.

“Flash pushed him down the stairs. His hands were cut up.”

Peter flexed his hands and was surprised they still stung. Damn.

“I’m fine. Tony patched me up,” Peter texted.

“Tony, as in Tony Stark? You’re staying with him?” MJ sent.

Peter bit his lip. “Yeah.”

There weren’t any messages for a second, but then his phone buzzed. “Cool. Ask him if he believes in climate change, because the way he runs his factories make it seem like he doesn’t.”

Peter huffed as he wrote out a text. “I’m not going to do that.”

“It’s a valid question.”

“You can’t just ask Iron-Man that kind of thing!” Ned joined the conversation again.

“Believe me if I ever meet him for more than three seconds that’s definitely what I’m going to be asking.” MJ replied quickly.

Peter found a laugh escaping his throat, and he smiled as he typed. “I’m sure he believes in climate change MJ. He’s a scientific genius.”

“Your hero worship is sickening.” MJ sent.

“It’s not hero worship!”

“It kinda is. You and Ned are annoying with your love of him.”

Peter thought back on all Tony had done for him, and his heart swelled. “He’s done a lot for me. He’s earned the hero worship.”

There was a pause. “Fair enough, loser. Now stop texting me, I have to do homework.”

Peter laughed a little, but then closed out his messages app. He tapped on Twitter and started scrolling through his timeline.

The word “Spider-Man” caught his eyes, and he quit scrolling.

It was a CNN article, the headline bearing, Serial Killer on the Loose in the Suspicious Absence of Spider-Man.”

His stomach dropped as he clicked on the article, a part of him screaming at him not to read it, but it was too late.

It’s late, and the streets of Queens are deserted. Carla Norton, age 27, is standing on the corner where Kent Street meets 80th Drive, waiting for her Uber to pick her up and take her home to her apartment on 177th Street, which she shared with her long-time boyfriend.

Her Uber driver arrives 20 minutes later, but Carla is nowhere to be seen. The driver tries to contact her, but the texts won’t go through and the calls all go directly to voicemail.

Carla’s body was found the next morning, strung up by her wrists and ankles, off a second-floor balcony a couple blocks away. Her injuries? A slit throat and identical cuts running vertically from her wrists to her Antecubital Space, or the inside of her elbows.

Carla isn’t the first victim the NYPD has seen with a slit throat and wrists, nor the first one strung up. She’s the third in a series of apparently connected murders, and police suspect they’re all being done by the same person.

Peter’s mouth went dry as he read further, his stomach turning.

Something unusual about these killings is the strange absence of the hero Spider-Man.

Spider-Man, who seems to be based in Queens, is a masked vigilante that stops crime, and overall helps the community. His last sighting was November of lastyear, and in his absence, crime rates have risen, even without these seemingly linked murders.

Peter couldn’t read any more. He hit the power button on his phone and lay there, breathing heavily.

Oh my god, he thought, his heart racing. There’s a person killing people in the place I’m supposed to be protecting. What kind of a hero am I?

He sat up in bed, hands shaking. I need to go patrolling. I haven’t been since I snuck out of the compound. People need me.

He swung his legs off the bed and his feet landed on the soft rug. He stood and went over to his closet, rummaging through it for his Spider-Man suit.

He found it, got it off the hanger, and immediately stripped down to his boxers.

He suited up, and was about to put his mask on, when there was a knock at his bedroom door.

Peter froze, accidentally dropping his mask in shock. There was another knock, and the door slowly crept open.

Tony stood in the doorway, the worried look on his face changing into one of surprise, then one of anger. “What are you doing?”

Peter set his face. “I’m going patrolling.”

Tony ignored the stab of fear he felt, and instead channeled it into anger. “Oh, really? And when were you going to ask for permission to do that?”

Peter sent him a glare. “I don’t need permission.”

Tony made a buzzer noise. “Nope, wrong answer. Take the suit off, you’re not patrolling today.”

“Yes, I am!” Peter said, indignant.

“No, you’re not,” Tony said, angrily gesturing with his finger. “Suit off. Now.”

The injustice of it all made Peter grit his teeth. “You can’t tell me what to do.”

“I actually can,” Tony said, spreading his hands out. “I’m your guardian, kid, so you have to do what I say, whether you like it or not.”

Peter stared at him, scowling. “Stop being so controlling—"

“Would you rather I just not care, Peter?” Tony inquired, walking up to him with narrowed eyes. “Would you rather I just let you do whatever, and let you face the consequences?”

Peter wanted to say yes, but it was such a lie that he couldn’t force it out. So, he just stood there and glared.

He expected Tony to look happy that he won the argument, but instead he just looked bitter. “That’s what I thought. Take the suit off.”

Peter’s lip quivered in anger, his jaw clenched.

Tony looked at him a second more. “I don’t want to see you try this shit again,” He turned and started to walk out. “FRIDAY, make sure Peter doesn’t leave.”

The door slammed shut, and Peter screamed through his teeth in frustration.

--

“I’m sorry.”

It was about an hour and a half later, and Peter was stood in Tony’s workshop, twisting his hands nervously. Tony was looking up at him from his workbench, arms crossed.

Peter anxiously scuffed his feet. “I’m sorry. I should’ve told you I was going patrolling and I shouldn’t have gotten mad. I…”

Tony was waiting for something, and Peter sighed. “I’m sorry. I just…”

“Why did you want to suddenly go patrolling, after not expressing any wish to for a month?” Tony asked, tapping his finger on his bicep.

Peter bit his lip. “There’s a person running around Queens killing people, and I haven’t been there to stop it.”

Tony considered him. “That’s not your fault.”

Peter cracked a humorless smile. “Isn’t it? They rely on me, Tony. I’ve let them down.”

Tony shook his head, eyes soft. “You’ve dealt with so much shit this past month, kid. You can’t take on any more. It’s not your fault.”

Peter stared at his feet. “Why does it feel like it is?”

Tony sighed and stood. “Because you think everything’s your fault and it’s making me gray.”

Peter shook his head. “Four people have been murdered, strung up by their wrists and ankles, throats and wrists slit. Those people would be alive if I hadn’t been feeling so sorry for myself—”

“Stop it, Peter, and I’m serious,” Tony scolded. “Look at me.”

Peter met Tony’s gaze, sad and frustrated. “It’s not your fault, alright? You can’t save everyone, and you know that. Plus, whoever’s doing this seems dangerous. I don’t want you to go looking for him, okay? Leave it to the police.”

Peter stared at Tony in outrage. He opened his mouth to say a retort, but Tony held his hand out. “No more arguments, please. We can talk about this later.”

Peter huffed but let the subject drop.

Tony turned on his stool and went back to work on one of his gauntlets. “Are you still upset about school?”

Peter shrugged. “A little, but not really. It was just a hard day.”

Tony gave him a look. “A hard day? You came home in tears, Pete.”

Peter blushed. “Fine, it sucked, but I’m over it. At least I’m home now.”

Home. Tony couldn’t help the smile that spread over his face. “Yeah. At least you’re home.”

--

The rest of the week wasn’t as bad.

Peter didn’t come home crying, but he was always subdued. It took about an hour for him to revert back to his happy self upon coming home, and Tony couldn’t help but be a little worried.

Friday morning, after Tony got back to the Tower from dropping Peter off at school, he got a phone call.

The Caller ID was unknown, and the number was 925-263-2824. Tony declined it. Damn sales calls.

He settled into doing a spreadsheet for a new project he was working on, but then his phone rang again.

It was the same number. Tony declined it again.

Not even a minute passed before the number called again, and Tony finally picked up.

“Stark.”

“Tony Stark,” The voice on the other line had a deep, African accent. “It’s been awhile.”

Tony immediately straightened. “King T’Challa?” He asked, surprise coloring his tone.

“Correct,” Tony could hear the smile in his voice.

“They have cell phones in Wakanda?” Tony teased, knowing full well that Wakanda had the most advanced technology in the world. “Color me surprised.”

“Very funny,” T’Challa was unamused, and Tony could help but chuckle. “I’m checking to see if you remember that you’re visiting Wakanda tomorrow.”

Tony could’ve kicked himself. He had totally forgotten about his scheduled visit to the not-so-third-world country.

He had scheduled the visit in early November, but then Peter came crashing into his life, and it was knocked from his mind.

“Right, yes,” Tony said, fiddling with a pencil on his desk. “I didn’t forget.”

“Mhmm,” T’Challa said, unbelieving. “Then why do you act so surprised to hear from me?”

Tony sighed. “Fine, I did forget. But now I remember, and I’ll be…” He trailed off, remembering the last time he left Peter alone.

He’s going to lose his mind if I leave, Tony thought. I don’t want him to be upset.

“Are you still there?” T’Challa asked after a minute, and Tony sighed.

“I’m in a bit of a… situation. And I don’t know how to get out of it without collateral damage,” Tony explained, tapping his fingers.

“You make no sense.”

“I’m a genius. I always make sense,” Tony said absently, trying to think.

An idea popped into his head. “King T’Challa, can I bring a guest?”

--

Peter was in Spanish when his phone buzzed in his pocket.

Glancing up to make sure Senora Fernandez wasn’t looking, he secretly pulled out his phone.

It was a text from Tony.  “Don’t take the subway. I’m picking you up today.”

Peter stared at it in surprise, before glancing back up to make sure no one was looking. He quickly typed an “ok” before tucking his phone away.

Forty-five minutes later, the bell rang, and Peter walked as fast as he could to his locker, excited that it was finally the weekend.

He was shoving books into his backpack as Ned came up next to him.

“Hey, Peter! What are you doing this weekend?” Ned asked as Peter zipped up his backpack.

“I don’t know,” Peter said, slamming his locker. “Tony’s picking me up today.”

Ned gasped. “Tony Stark is outside our school?”

Peter rolled his eyes. “It’s nothing new. He drops me off every morning.”

Ned’s jaw dropped, and Peter laughed a little. They made their way to the front of the school and pushed open the doors.

The first thing Peter saw was Tony’s flashy red Audi R8, parked in the same spot he drops Peter off every morning. The second thing he noticed was people staring at it as they walked past, talking and wondering who was in it.

Peter nearly went into cardiac arrest when he saw Tony start to get out of the car. Peter sprinted over to it, nearly falling down the stairs in his haste.

“Get in the car,” Peter hissed when he got near enough, casting a worried look around. Tony immediately got back in, and Peter got in the passenger’s side, heaving a sigh of relief.

“Embarrassed by me?” Tony accused, starting the car.

Peter gave him a look. “No, but if people saw me getting into a car with you, they’d ask questions and I don’t like being asked questions.”

Tony nodded and started to drive, pulling out of Midtown.

Peter checked out, for a while. He stared out the window, deep in thought.

It took him about five minutes to realize they weren’t heading towards the Tower.

“Tony, where are we going?” Peter asked, snapping out of his trance-like state. “This isn’t the way to the Tower.”

Tony’s mouth quirked into a smile. “Have you ever heard of the country Wakanda?”

Peter arched an eyebrow. “It rings a bell. Why?”

“It’s a small, third world country in the middle of Africa, known for their agriculture.” Tony explained, stopping at a red light. “The population is just under one hundred thousand and it’s considered to be one of the poorest countries in the world.”

Peter nodded, absorbing the knowledge. “I think we learned a bit about it in AP World History. It’s in Eastern Africa, right? It’s king… it starts with a T… T’Chaka?”

Tony furrowed his brow. “Do you not watch the news at all, kid?”

Peter glared at him. “The news just makes me depressed. I don’t really want to watch things about starving children or terrorists. It makes me sad.”

Tony’s heart swelled. “Good point. It’s depressing, but if you would have watched it, you would know that King T’Chaka died at the signing of the Accords in Vienna. A bomb went off, and he was killed instantly.”

Peter stared. “Wait. I didn’t know about that. Who set the bomb?”

Tony sighed. “Jesus, kid, do you really not pay attention? It was a HYDRA agent, named Zemo. Anyways, that doesn’t matter. His son took over as king. You’ve met him.”

Peter started. “I’ve met him? When?”

“Germany,” Tony said, gripping the steering wheel tight. “Cat suit.”

Peter gasped. “That was a king? Wait, wait… he was only going after the dude with long hair. Why? I’m so confused.”

Tony’s mouth twisted. He didn’t like talking about it, but it was important for the kid to know, especially since they were heading there. “Okay. Basically, creepy HYDRA dude Zemo made it look like the dude with long hair killed King T’Chaka, but it was Zemo all along. But his son, T’Challa, thought it was the dude with long hair. So, he fought him in Germany. He was the only person out for blood in that fight. The rest of us were just venting our frustrations.”

“Venting frustrations,” Peter rolled his eyes. “That wasn’t venting. You all need therapy if you think that’s venting.”

Tony bit back his retort. “Anyways, T’Challa found out that long hair dude didn’t murder his dad,” Bitter anger overtook Tony for a second, and his knuckles turned white on the steering wheel. “But turns out he killed someone else’s dad, so T’Challa wasn’t too off the fucking mark.”

Peter was silent for a moment. “Tony? Are you okay?” His voice was soft, concerned.

Tony took a breath. “I’m fine. I’m telling you this because we’re going to Wakanda. Today.”

Peter blinked. “We’re… wait. We’re going to Wakanda? Why didn’t you tell me? I didn’t pack anything, I don’t know any African… wait, what language do they even speak?”

Tony couldn’t help but smile. “Relax, Pete. You’re packed, I had someone do it. Their native language is Xhosa, but most citizens speak English as well, don’t worry.”

“Why are we going?” Peter asked, twisting his hands. “I’ve never been to Africa before.”

“I have to talk to King T’Challa about some trade stuff, amongst other things,” Tony waved his hand. “It’s a short trip. We’ll be back Sunday.”

“Why am I going?” Peter asked quietly, knowing full well that he wasn’t important enough to meet a king.

Tony gave him a soft look. “Would you rather stay back by yourself?”

A prickle of fear ran up and down his arms, and his hands curled into fists. Alone.

He shook his head, and Tony nodded. “That’s what I thought. I forgot that I was supposed to meet him tomorrow, but he called me this morning to remind me. He said that I could bring a guest, so we’re all good.”

“I’m sorry,” Peter whispered, feeling like a problem. “I don’t mean to—”

“Don’t apologize,” Tony said, taking a left turn. “I’d cancel my trip for you, kid.”

Peter didn’t know how to feel about that, so he changed the subject. “Where are we driving to?”

“My private jet hangar. It’s a little bit out of the city.”

Peter nodded, and the two of them lapsed into silence.

--

The drive turned out to be shorter than Peter expected. It took only a half an hour to reach the hangar.

Tony parked the car and the two of them boarded the plane, Peter feeling incredibly out of his depth. What even is my life? Peter mused, as he followed Tony up the stairs and onto the jet.

He had never been in Tony’s private jet before. When Tony sent Peter to Germany, he bought him an all expenses paid first-class plane ticket. It was the first time he had ever been on a plane, and it was surprisingly nice, minus the jet lag.

Being on a private jet was completely different, though. The only people on board were the pilot, co-pilot, and two flight attendants, who both greeted Tony with a smile and a “Nice to see you again, Mr. Stark.”

They also smiled at Peter, who blushed and gave a small smile back.

Tony sat down in one of the soft leather seats, and Peter immediately sat down next to him, fists clenched in anxiety. He didn’t feel important enough to be on this jet, to be sat on the expensive leather seats.

“Would you like something to drink, Mr. Stark?” One of the flight attendants asked. She looked young and was short with dark brown hair.

“Just water. Kid, you want anything?” He asked, turning to Peter, who started.

“N-No, thank you,” Peter stuttered. The flight attendant gave him another smile and left the area.

“Relax, kid,” Tony said, squeezing his knee. “We’ve got a long flight. Don’t be afraid to ask for things.”

“How long is the flight?” Peter asked, trying to relax a little.

“Just short of thirteen hours. So, get comfy,” Tony winked at him, and Peter couldn’t help the grin that spread across his face.

--

After six hours, Peter was insanely bored.

Tony was hunched over his computer and had been for three hours. There was a look of utmost concentration on his face as he typed and wrote things on a separate piece of paper.

Peter had done all of his homework, watched a movie, and eaten dinner. It wasn’t too bad, but he was getting restless. They still had six hours to go, and Peter didn’t know what to do.

Peter listened to music for a half an hour, before getting bored of that and staring out the window, into the dark world below. There were no lights, so he assumed they were over the ocean.

Peter found his thoughts drifting, to the events of the months previous.

His life was crazy, and it had been ever since he had gotten bitten by the spider, but these past few months were especially insane.

It started with Germany. It started with Tony coming to his apartment and offering him a chance to fight with the man side-by-side, against Captain America, of all people.

Then, it was the illegal weapon smuggling acts of the Vulture, which pretty much changed his perspective forever. He had almost drowned, almost been crushed to death (the feeling of being suffocated by a building that had been dropped on him was something he didn’t think he’d ever forget, especially since he sometimes relived it in nightmares), and almost died at the hands of his crush’s dad, all in the span of a couple weeks.

He thought back to the day of the car accident that changed his life forever. He thought of the phone call, the sterile stench of the hospital, and for a moment, it was almost as if he could still smell the hydrogen peroxide burning his nostrils.

It was the worst day of his life, hands down. He thought he was familiar with the choking sensation of grief before May’s death, but he had been blissfully ignorant to what it really felt like to lose everything.

“Peter?” Tony asked, his voice breaking Peter’s tirade of thoughts.

He became violently aware that he was gripping the seat rests so hard that they were in danger of breaking and that his breathing wasn’t as smooth as it should be.

He looked over at Tony and saw that the man had put away his laptop and was looking over at Peter with concern.

“You alright, buddy?” He asked quietly, and Peter nodded, taking a deep breath.

“I started thinking, which is never a good thing,” Peter tried to laugh it off, but Tony wasn’t buying it. There was a soft look in his eyes, mixed with worry and something that looked an awful lot like affection.

Peter sighed. “I was thinking about November 23rd. I just got caught up in the past.”

Tony considered him. “You alright?”

Peter nodded, not sure if he was lying or not. “Yeah,” He yawned, puncturing his sentence. “M’tired.”

Tony’s eyes were soft. “So am I. The seats recline, and—hold on,” He opened a plastic casing on the arm of his chair and pressed a button.

Within seconds, one of the flight attendants were there. “What would you like, Mr. Stark?”

“Can I get two pillows and two blankets? Thanks,” He said, and the girl nodded and hurried away.

She returned within seconds, with two fluffy white pillows and two fuzzy gray blankets. Tony passed one of each to Peter, who took them both with a word of thanks.

He reclined his chair and got comfy, exhaustion hitting him hard.

Tony reclined his chair as well, and the plane lights were dimmed to almost complete darkness.

“G’night, Tony,” Peter muttered, as his eyes slipped shut.

“Goodnight Peter,” Tony whispered, and Peter was out like a light.

--

Sometime, in the night, Peter whimpered a little in his sleep. Tony didn’t say anything, just reached over and soothing ran his thumb across the kid’s cheek until he stopped.

Chapter Text

“—eter, time to get up. We’re almost there,” was the first thing Peter heard when he woke.

He opened his eyes and was greeted with sunlight dancing across his vision. He took in a breath, groggy and slightly disoriented.

“Where am I?” Peter asked thickly, rubbing sleep out of his eyes.

There was a low chuckle. “We’re flying over Uganda right now. We’re about a half an hour away from Wakanda.”

Oh, right. Tony had to meet with the king of Wakanda, and he brought Peter with him.

Peter opened his eyes again and saw Tony sitting next to him, dressed in an expensive looking suit, hair looking immaculate, tinted glasses already on.

“What time is it?” Peter asked, stretching.

“Well, in Wakanda, it’s 9:15 am. At home… it’s about 4:15 am.”

Peter groaned, wanting nothing more than to go back to sleep. “Time zones are stupid.”

Tony laughed again. “You’re not wrong. Go get dressed, kid. You’re meeting a king today, you shouldn’t be in pajamas.”

--

There was a shower on the plane, which was the most bizarre thing Peter had ever seen.

He took probably the fastest shower in his life, not trusting showering several hundred feet in the air, before getting changed into the dress shirt and pants someone had set aside for him.

He combed his wet hair, which was already starting to curl, and made sure he looked decent before heading back to where Tony was.

Tony was on his tablet but looked up when he heard Peter approaching. He smiled up at him. “Lookin’ sharp, kid. You excited?”

Peter sat down next to him. “I’m nervous,” He admitted.

“Don’t be, kid. It’ll be good,” He squeezed Peter’s shoulder.

The plane began to dip downwards, and both Tony and Peter buckled their seatbelts.

Peter looked out the window at the mountainous landscape, watching as the green blobs that vaguely resembled trees became closer and more defined, and for a heart-wrenching second, Peter thought the plane was going to crash into the soft brown dirt.

But suddenly, they weren’t heading for the ground anymore. They were flying through the air, above a river, and in front of them was a gleaming city.

Peter blinked several times, trying to shatter the illusion. The metropolis stayed in place, however, and Peter gasped.

“Holy sh—”

“Hey, watch the language, kid,” Tony cut across, giving Peter a stern look, who was too busy gaping to care about being reprimanded.

“This is…”

“Not a third-world country,” Tony said, grinning. “I may have lied to you. A couple months ago, King T’Challa spoke in front of the United Nations, explaining that their country was the most technologically advanced in the world. The reason? They grow a metal called Vibranium, which has the capabilities to do incredible things.”

“Whoa,” Peter muttered, in awe of the sight below. “Tony, this is so cool!”

Tony grinned, and the plane began to dip down once more.

The plane was about to touch down on a landing pad, and Peter couldn’t help but feel nervous. His hands clenched into fists and Tony lightly squeezed his knee.

“Don’t be nervous, kid,” He said. “They’re nice people, and T’Challa is a good friend of mine.”

Peter nodded, and the plane landed. Tony unbuckled his seatbelt and stood, and Peter did the same.

Stomach churning with nerves, Peter followed Tony off the plane.

There were three dark skinned people standing on the platform. One was a bald woman, holding a spear, dressed in armor of red and gold. She had a mask of intimidation, and she carried herself with power and dominance. Peter immediately knew that she was a force to be reckoned with.

The next was a man dressed in black and purple robes. He was smiling, his dark eyes shining with happiness. He radiated importance and authority, and Peter knew at once that he was the King T’Challa Tony was talking about.

Lastly, there was a girl, who looked no older than a teenager. She was wearing a black top with a white jacket over it, and dark pants. Her hair was eloquently pinned in a half-up, half-down style, and her posture was one that displayed confidence.

Peter almost missed a step in his careful analyzation, but quickly regained his footing and made it down the steps, stopping just behind Tony.

“Your majesty,” Tony said, a smile on his face. Peter was unsure of what to do, so he just stood there anxiously.

“Tony Stark,” T’Challa gave him a nod of the head. “It’s very nice to be seeing you again.”

“Likewise,” Tony’s smile was charming, and he gestured to Peter. “This is Peter Parker. I’m his temporary guardian.”

Temporary. Peter pretended like the word wasn’t a stab in the chest.

King T’Challa inclined his head at him, and Peter felt the strange urge to bow. “Very nice to meet you.”

Peter nodded, blushing. “V-Very nice to meet you too,” Peter stammered, and T’Challa immediately looked down at him, a calculating look in his eye.

Peter felt like he was being x-rayed, and he resisted the urge to fidget. His fingernails were imbedded into his palms, and he felt hopelessly small and weak under the king’s gaze.

King T’Challa looked away from Peter, who quietly let out the breath he didn’t realize he was holding. “We have much to talk about, Tony. Come with me,” King T’Challa gestured with his hand, and he and Tony started to walk towards the building behind the landing platform.

Peter started to follow, but someone behind him called, “Hey, white boy!”

Peter stopped, turned, and saw the girl with the jacket running towards him. “Uh, hi,” Peter said awkwardly.

“How old are you?” She asked, coming to a stop right in front of him. She was shorter than him, but something about her made it feel like she towered over him.

“I’m fifteen,” Peter said, fists at his sides.

“I’m sixteen, and my name is Shuri. Do you want to see my lab?” She asked, eyes lighting with glee.

Lab? Peter couldn’t help but have his interest piqued. “Yeah!”

--

“Is he your son?”

Tony started at the question, eyes widening. He looked at T’Challa. “Excuse me?” He gasped.

“Peter,” T’Challa said, as though it was obvious. “He was in Germany, in the red suit. Is he your son?”

Tony’s heart jumped to his throat. “N-No,” He said, tucking his hands in his pockets. “Not biologically.”

“But adopted, yes?” T’Challa pressed, leading Tony down a long hallway.

“Not exactly,” Tony said uneasily. “He’s… I’m his temporary guardian.”

The word “temporary” felt like acid in his mouth.

 “So you’ve said,” T’Challa allowed. “And yet, you bring him with you on this trip.”

“He’s afraid of being alone,” Tony muttered. “I couldn’t leave him.”

“Which proves your affection for him,” T’Challa commented, gesturing Tony into a small conference room. “Why have you taken him in?”

“He doesn’t have anyone,” Tony said, sitting down in one of the chairs. No one else was in the room; he and the king must be early. “His aunt, which was his last living relative, died in November. I’ve been taking care of him ever since.”

“That is kind of you,” T’Challa sat down as well. “You must care about him a lot.”

Tony’s heart swelled. “Yeah,” He said, a smile playing on his lips. “Yeah, I do.”

T’Challa sat back, looking triumphant, and the other members of the council poured in.

Tony pushed all other thoughts from his mind, focusing on the business at hand.

--

“Holy shit!” Peter exclaimed, watching as Shuri showed Peter her specially designed gauntlets. “Those are so cool!”

“I know, right?” Shuri said, showing him the different settings. “It even has a setting for disintegration, wanna see?”

“Yes!” Peter said excitedly and watched as Shuri fired at an old piece of hardware, which turned into dust immediately. “That’s seriously dope. And you designed them yourself?!”

Shuri took off her gauntlets and set them on a nearby table. “Yep. Everything in this lab is mine. I even designed by brother’s suit.”

“Whoa,” Peter said, unable to even comprehend how smart this girl was. “Can you show me how?”

Shuri pulled a face. “How do I know you’re not a filthy American spy, trying to mooch off of our technology?”

Peter stopped dead, arching an eyebrow. “Because… I’m not?”

Shuri smiled then. “Good enough for me! Let’s go, white boy!”

--

After a series of meetings, which took about six hours, Tony was expecting T’Challa to take him on a tour of the palace, or for them to have lunch.

He wasn’t expecting T’Challa to look at him with a guarded expression and calmly say, “Follow me.”

Taken aback, Tony followed him, a little nervous. T’Challa normally looked serious, but this was a whole other level.

He was led into a different building, which had higher security. Tony felt like he was being led into something sinister as T’Challa led him to a staircase which led them underground.

The staircase led them to a hallway, with only one door.

T’Challa stopped right outside it. “What is behind this door may upset you, and I understand that. But please, try and be rational and think before you act,” the King said severely, and Tony immediately nodded, wondering why there was a sinking feeling in his stomach.

T’Challa opened the door, and Tony walked inside.

He stopped dead.

In a cryostasis chamber, face void of expression, eyes closed, sat Bucky Barnes.

Tony’s heart stopped, then beat ferociously in his chest. His mind wasn’t working, and yet was going at a million miles a minute.

The Soldier wraps his hand around his mother’s throat, and Tony can’t help but wonder if she thought of him in her last moments…

Tony’s legs gave out and he went crashing to his knees, a hand snaking up to his chest. It was like someone had removed all the air in the room, and he tried to take a breath.

He’s in cryo, Steve had said. He never said where.

He could feel T’Challa’s eyes on him, so Tony tried his hardest to compose himself. “You’re housing a murderer.”

“A murderer, or a victim?” T’Challa questioned, and Tony wanted to fight him.

He stayed on the ground, trying to breathe. “A murderer. Why wasn’t I notified of this?”

“I don’t need to notify you of what happens in my kingdom, Tony Stark,” T’Challa said, but there wasn’t any heat to it. “Take a breath.”

“I’m fucking trying,” Tony gasped, somewhat hysterically. The light left her eyes… “Oh god.”

“Calm yourself,” There was a note of concern in his voice. “He cannot hear us.”

“He better fucking not,” Tony managed a great, heaving breath.

“Stand up,” T’Challa ordered, and Tony managed to get to his feet, his vision swimming only a little.

Tony stared at the face of his parent’s murderer, heart racing, stomach churning.

“We have almost completely gotten rid of HYDRA’s programming,” T’Challa explained. “He has only one more session left with the mind-healer before it is gone.”

Tony could hear his pulse in his ears. “And why are you telling me this?”

T’Challa fixed him with a look. “He would be a normal man again. He deserves a second chance.”

Tony bit his tongue as a retort surfaced and looked back at Bucky. “He killed my parents.”

“James Buchanan Barnes did not murder your parents,” T’Challa explained. “HYDRA murdered your parents. It is unfair to blame someone who was not under control of their own actions.”

Tony knew he was right, but his heart hurt. “Does he remember?” Tony asked, a bite to his tone. “Does he remember killing my mom?”

“I am unsure,” T’Challa explained. “His last session with the mind-healer is set for later this week, after that, he will be safe enough to be around other people again. I ask of you to let him return to New York.”

Tony’s eyes shot from Barnes to T’Challa, disbelief etched on his face. “You’re asking me to let a murderer live with me?”

“He was not working of his own accord.”

“I don’t care,” Tony spat, hands shaking. “He killed my mom.”

T’Challa was silent for a second. “He doesn’t have a life here,” T’Challa explained. “He would have a life, in New York, with Captain Rogers. I am just asking you to allow him a second chance.”

Tony suddenly thought back to Christmas night, when he stumbled across Natasha and Steve in the kitchen.

I need him, Steve had said, crying into Natasha’s shoulder. It’s almost been a year since I’ve seen him, and I don’t know how much longer I can…

Goddammit, Tony thought, blowing out a breath and shutting his eyes. Why do I feel bad for Steve? I shouldn’t be concerned about his mental health.

Imagine if you were in the same position, something in him whispered. Imagine if Bucky was Pepper, or Peter. You wouldn’t care if they were dangerous, if they had blood on their hands.

Tony opened his eyes and found T’Challa looking at him intensely. “He has permission to stay in the Tower,” Tony said, not happy about it at all. “Notify me when he’s decommissioned.”

T’Challa extended his head. “You are a forgiving man, Tony Stark.”

“I’m really not,” Tony said bitterly. “But… he does deserve a second chance.”

They left the room soon after that, and Tony could’ve sworn he saw T’Challa smile at him.

--

The rest of the visit went by quickly. Both Tony and Peter were treated to a wonderful feast, during which T’Challa talked to him more about trade deals and Peter talked to him about what he did today. He had never seen the kid so excited, he was practically vibrating with glee. It brought a smile to his face and pushed the thought of Bucky Barnes from his mind.

They left a while after dinner, Tony feeling mentally and emotionally drained and Peter starting to yawn. He thanked T’Challa for his time and hospitality, and Peter said goodbye to his new friend Shuri.

They boarded the plane, Tony a little worse for wear than when he came, Peter happier than he had been for quite a while.

Once on the plane, they both changed into more comfortable clothes, and Peter watched a movie while Tony did some work.

The lights on the plane dimmed soon after he finished his movie, and he put his phone away and stared out the window.

The stars shone against the dark African sky, and Peter couldn’t help but be filled with wonder as he looked up at them.

He could never see the stars from Queens; the artificial lights of the city blocked them from view. He didn’t get to see the stars often, but they always filled him with wonder when he did.

He looked over at Tony, who was typing on his laptop. “You can see the stars,” Peter said quietly, and Tony looked up. He met Peter’s eyes, and silently closed his laptop. He moved the armrest and slid over into Peter’s seat, so that their shoulders were touching.

“They’re beautiful,” Tony said quietly, his low voice mixing with the sound of the plane. Peter laid his head against his guardian’s shoulder, and Tony wrapped an arm around him.

“You can’t see the stars from New York,” Peter said softly. “There’s too much light. But out here… they’re beautiful.”

Tony made a noise of agreement, and Peter’s eyes began to slip shut.

He fell asleep, curled into Tony.

Chapter Text

The next week is a stressful one for Tony.

He was behind on work, so he spent most of his days on conference calls or in meetings, overworked and bored out of his mind.

Pepper wanted him to go to Dubai, for Stark Industries business, but he knew Peter wouldn’t like it if he left, so he kept putting it off.

That wasn’t the only reason he didn’t want to leave, however. T’Challa informed him on Wednesday that Barnes had been completely deprogrammed and was completely safe to be around people again. He was flying out to New York on Sunday, something that made Tony’s blood pressure rise and stomach sink.

He didn’t tell Steve. He knew he should, but maybe if he avoided acknowledging that Barnes was coming, it wouldn’t happen.

Peter’s week wasn’t much better.

He failed a Spanish quiz, but he knew he would. He was terrible at learning languages and being absent for about a month didn’t help. Senora Fernandez looked at him in disappointment as she handed him his quiz back, a 59.1% marked with red pen in the corner.

He hid it from Tony, worried about the man’s reaction. He was behind in Physics, but quickly catching up. Chemistry was as easy as ever, and AP World History was boring but simple.

He walked into school on Friday and was concerned when he saw everyone conversing in low voices, slightly scared looks on their faces.

He found Ned by his locker. “What’s going on?” Peter questioned, a hand on his backpack strap. “Why does everyone look so… scared?”

Ned looked nervous as well. “Last night… there was another person found hung up by their wrists and ankles. It was a kid who graduated last year… Frank Edwards.”

Peter felt like he had been punched in the stomach. “Oh my god,” He muttered, falling against a locker. “I could’ve stopped it.”

“I don’t think you could have,” Ned said uncertainly. “The police don’t have any leads; literally no one knows who he is. The media… they’ve dubbed him The Marionette, since he, you know… strings up his victims.”

“But I’m—” Peter glanced around, before whispering, “Spider-Man. I can do what the police can’t.”

“It seems dangerous, Peter,” Ned said in a low voice.

“I can’t let him keep killing people,” Peter said helplessly. “I’m supposed to protect Queens. I’m doing a lousy job.” He stared at the floor but perked up with an idea. “I’m going to ask Tony if I can patrol tonight.”

“Do you think he’ll let you?” Ned asked as he closed his locker.

“He’s got to,” Peter said as the bell rang. They hurried to class.

--

Turns out, Tony didn’t want Peter to go patrolling.

When Peter asked, a strange look came over Tony’s face and he said, “Not tonight, bud.”

“What? Why?” Peter asked, taken aback.

Tony glanced up at him from his laptop, dark circles under his eyes. “It’s not safe, with this lunatic out there. I don’t want you out there until he gets brought in.”

“But I can bring him in!” Peter insisted. “I’m Spider-Man!”

“You’re Peter Parker,” Tony said, his voice slightly hoarse from strain. “And I’m in charge of you. So, no.”

Peter groaned, flopping down in the soft black chair that Tony kept in his office. His head lolled over the back of the armrest. “I haven’t gone out in so long, I feel like I’m going crazy.”

“You and me both,” Tony muttered, typing something. Peter looked up at him, his head tilted in concern.

“When was the last time you slept?” Peter asked, taking in Tony’s slumped posture and multiple coffee mugs.

He expected to be met with a glare, or a sarcastic remark. Instead, Tony heaved a big sigh. “I honestly don’t remember.”

Yikes. “That’s, uh, not good. You should get on that,” Peter said, watching as Tony rubbed his eyes.

“I can’t,” He sighed again. “I’m really behind on work, I have to get on a call in five minutes.”

“Skip it,” Peter suggested. “You’re the boss.”

“I can’t just skip it,” Tony said tiredly, taking a small sip from his coffee. His face twisted in disgust and he put it back down immediately. “That tastes like shit. Ugh.”

Peter laughed. “Come on, Tony, just take a nap. You’ve been working your butt off all week.”

Tony buried his face in his arms. “God. I’m so tired,” He let out a laugh.

Peter stood and walked over to his guardian, tugging on his arm. “Come on, Tony. Go to bed.”

Tony let himself be dragged to the couch, which Peter pushed him on to. Peter covered him with a blanket, before asking FRIDAY to turn off the lights.

“Do you need anything?” Peter hovered anxiously, and Tony snorted.

“Do your homework, kid. Stop worrying about me.”

“Fine. But you better be asleep by the time I’m done,” Peter warned, and Tony laughed.

He heard Peter’s footsteps lead away from the couch.

I should get back to work, Tony thought, but a second later, he was unconscious.

--

Saturday was a slow day, filled with anxiety for Tony and relaxation for Peter. The former spent the majority of his day pacing around his office or the living room, wondering what he was going to do when the murderer of his parents showed up at his front door the next day.

T’Challa says he’s safe, his mind supplied. He didn’t kill Howard and Maria. The Winter Solider did.

It was Sunday before Tony even knew what was happening, and he hadn’t been so anxious in a long time.

People were starting to notice, too.  He walked into the living space, accidentally said “good morning” in Spanish, tried to correct himself, and ended up saying it in Italian instead. His hands were shaking so much at breakfast that he couldn’t pour himself a cup of coffee without getting the hot liquid everywhere. Rhodey asked him if he was okay, and Tony only gave him a spastic nod in response.

He was a nerve ending, and he literally couldn’t eat that morning. Peter was concerned; he kept glancing over at Tony when he didn’t think the man was looking.

It was around noon when he cracked and told Natasha.

“Okay, don’t hate me please,” Tony said, mouth running a mile a minute. “But Barnes is coming today from Wakanda because T’Challa removed his programming and I didn’t tell Steve because I didn’t know what to say and I—”

“Barnes is coming today?” Natasha hissed, and Tony shut up. He nodded jerkily.

“Shit,” She muttered. “Oh my god, Steve is going to go crazy. Everyone’s going to go crazy.”

“I’m sorry,” Tony apologized. “But I didn’t know what to do.”

Natasha sighed. “When is he arriving?”

“Three,” Tony said, wishing he had something to do with his hands. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Is he living here?” Natasha asked, and Tony nodded.

“I promised T’Challa,” He said with a sigh. “I’m not happy about it, but his highness starting preaching to me about second chances, and I felt like I didn’t have a choice.”

Natasha considered him. “You know, it wasn’t him that killed your parents. It was HYDRA.”

“So everyone keeps telling me,” Tony muttered.

Natasha gave him her equivalent of a pitying expression. “Should I tell Steve?”

Tony shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t know what state Barnes is in, T’Challa just said he wasn’t programmed anymore. I don’t know how much he remembers.”

“Steve should know,” Natasha said. “So at least he knows not to get his hopes up if Barnes doesn’t remember him.”

--

When Tony saw Steve next, the man was pacing around the living room. His face was set in a look of worry, and he kept wringing his hands, a gesture looking silly on such a large man.

Two o’clock turned into two-thirty and Tony regretted his decision. He felt like one big ball of anxiety, and judging by Steve’s face, he felt the same.

Peter was confused. Steve looked nervous, and Tony was pale. He was sat next to Tony on the couch as Tony differentiated between looking on his phone and putting it away.

“Tony,” Peter asked quietly, around 2:55. “What’s going on?”

Tony glanced down at the kid. “We’re expecting a visitor.” His tone was clipped.

“Who?” Peter questioned, and he was going to press further, but then FRIDAY interrupted.

“King T’Challa and Mr. Barnes are here. His highness is asking for permission to access the living space.”

Tony’s heart pounded, and Steve looked torn between happiness and nervousness.

“S-Send them up,” Tony said, his voice shaking. He stood, his legs wobbly, and the doors to the elevator opened.

First stepped out T’Challa, dressed in elegant robes. He looked around good naturedly, and everyone who was congregating in the living space stood.

Behind him stood the Ex-Winter Solider. His hair was long and hung in front of his face, and his beard was neatly trimmed. He was wearing a long sleeve shirt and a pair of jeans, carrying a backpack on one shoulder. His metal arm shone in the light coming in from the windows.

His expression was one of awe mixed with confusion. His mouth was in a line, but his eyes actually had life in them, which was a new development.

Tony immediately shoved Peter behind him, trying to protect him in case Barnes went crazy. Peter gasped behind him. “It’s metal arm dude!”

Barnes either didn’t hear Peter or chose to ignore him. He glanced around the space, blinking and scanning.

His eyes landed on Steve, and the entire room held their breath.

“Stevie?” He asked in a low voice, and Steve’s face lit up like a goddamn Christmas tree.

“Hey, Buck,” He murmured, blue eyes warm. Tony rolled his eyes. Lovesick puppy.

Steve walked forward and encased Bucky in a hug. He was shaking; Tony could see it from where he was standing.  Barnes clung to him, pressing his face into his shoulder. The sheer intimacy of it made Tony look away.

They broke apart, but Bucky had his flesh hand clenched around Steve’s shirt, refusing to let go.

His eyes roamed around the room again, and he met Sam’s gaze. He scowled, but nodded, and Sam glared back. Tony blinked several times at the interaction. Weren’t they on the same side?

He glanced at Natasha, who smiled in her creepy way. “Soldat,” She said, in fluent Russian. “Ili vy ne pomnite?”[1]

Bucky scowled, eyes sending death threats her way. “Ne nazyvay menya tak,”[2] he spoke angrily, and Tony’s hand hovered over his watch. Jesus Christ.

But Natasha’s smile widened. “On skuchal po tebe.”[3]

Bucky didn’t respond to that and kept searching the room. His eyes landed on Rhodey’s prosthetic legs, and Tony felt like he was going to throw up for a second.

But Barnes just nodded and continued scanning the space, almost like he was looking for possible escapes.

Finally, his eyes landed on Tony, and Tony was ready to call a suit to him, ready to fight if need be…

But Barnes didn’t do anything. He just stood there, one hand still tight around Steve’s shirt. Tony hardly dared to breathe, and his heart was racing in his ears.

But then Peter popped out from behind him, and said, “Dude, is that a new arm?”

Bucky tensed, then blinked as Peter walked over to him, “That’s so freaking cool!”

Tony choked on air, and every part of him was screaming to grab Peter and get him away.

Bucky looked down at this arm. “A girl named Shuri made it.”

“I know Shuri!” Peter said excitedly. “She showed me her lab!”

T’Challa walked quietly over to Tony, who stood frozen, face pale. “Tony Stark,” T’Challa said gravely. “That is not the man who killed your parents.”

Tony swallowed, and watched as Peter babbled excitedly. “N-No,” He admitted, taking in Steve’s expression of pure affection, directed at Barnes. “No, it’s not.”

--

Steve and Bucky were inseparable. They spent the entire afternoon on the couch, Steve’s face buried in Bucky’s collarbone, large arms wrapped tightly around the man. Bucky sat there, his flesh hand stroking Steve’s hair, occasionally whispering something in his ear.

Everyone left them alone. They deserved their reunion, and no one wanted to intrude on their happiness.

T’Challa left not long after Bucky got settled, bidding everyone a good day. He gave Tony a grateful nod, which Tony returned.

It was strange to have another person living with them in the Tower. That night, when Tony couldn’t sleep, he went to kitchen to make some mozzarella cheese sticks, and found Steve and Barnes sitting at the counter. Steve’s hand was on the back of Bucky’s neck, gently massaging it. Bucky was staring straight forward, his face lacking emotion.

“How much do you remember?” Steve asked in a low voice.

Agony shot across Barnes’ face. “Enough,” He whispered.

That had Tony turning on his heel and walking back into the elevator. I’m too sober for this.

--

It soon became obvious that Tony was going to have to go to Dubai, whether he liked it or not.

Pepper was consistently on his ass about it. It was the first thing she said on Monday morning over the phone. “You need to go to Dubai.”

Tony sighed. “Pepper. I can’t. Whatever you want me to do there, I can just do from my computer.”

“You can’t, Tony,” She said, frustration apparent in her tone. “This requires field work. You can’t just do it from the Tower. I booked you a flight for Thursday.”

Tony nearly spit out his coffee. “What part of ‘I can’t go’ do you not understand?”

“You’re going to have to clear your schedule, then,” Pepper snapped over the phone. “You are leaving for Dubai on Thursday at 10am. You can’t get out of it.”

Tony groaned, wanting to slam his head against the wall. “Fuck.”

“Watch your language,” Pepper reprimanded. “I’ll see you on Thursday, on the plane. Don’t be late, or I will castrate you.”

And with that, she hung up.

Tony buried his face in his hands.

Peter’s not going to like this.

--

He broke the news to the kid that night.

Peter was in bathroom, brushing his teeth, and Tony was loitering in his doorway.

He watched as Peter washed his mouth out with water from a Dixie cup and spit toothpaste into the sink.

“We need to talk,” Tony said finally, and Peter froze in the act of wiping his mouth on a towel.

“Okay,” He said hesitantly. “What about?”

Tony resisted the urge to shift from foot to foot. “I have to go to Dubai on Thursday for work.”

Peter stared at him, his stomach dropping to the floor. “O-oh.”

Tony looked apologetic. “I’ll be gone until Monday.”

Silence filled the room, and Peter pretended like he wasn’t on the verge of a panic attack.

“C-Can I go with you?” He asked in a small voice, then wincing at how childish it sounded.

Tony’s eyes were sad. “I’m afraid not.”

Peter couldn’t say anything, so he just stared at Tony. “I…”

His legs were shaking, and the bathroom was tilted at an odd angle. He took a step towards Tony and crumbled to the floor.

“Whoa, okay,” Tony reached out and caught Peter before he could hit the ground, alarmed. “Okay. You’re okay.”

Peter took a breath, stars dancing across his vision. Tony sat him down on the closed toilet seat, worry etched into his face.

He took one look at Peter’s terrified eyes and made up his mind. “That’s it, I’m cancelling.”

“No, don’t,” Peter gasped, grabbing Tony’s forearm. “I can’t keep you from doing things. You need to go to Dubai. Don’t cancel, please.”

Tony looked down at Peter anxiously. “Peter, you just almost passed out at the thought—”

“I’ll be fine,” He said instantly. “As… as long as there are other people here, I’ll be fine.”

Tony stared at him. “Are you sure?” He asked worriedly.

Peter nodded enthusiastically, trying to quell the fear in his heart.

“I’ll be fine,” He said again, pretending like he wasn’t trying to convince himself as well as Tony.

--

Thursday morning came, and Peter was anything but fine.

He woke up feeling strange and stumbled to the shower, half asleep. He got ready for school and then headed up to the living room, where Tony was.

The man’s flight left at 10, but he promised to take Peter to school before he left.

Peter was dreading Tony leaving, and he couldn’t tell if Tony knew it or not. He tried to put up a “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine” façade, but he was scared to death of being alone and he couldn’t help but selfishly want Tony to stay.

The ride to school went too fast, and before he knew it, they were there.

Tony parked a block away from Midtown, so they could have a proper goodbye without any prying eyes, and Peter instantly regretted saying he was fine with Tony leaving.

Peter looked over and saw Tony staring at him, almost as if he was waiting for a bomb to go off.

Peter didn’t say anything as he looked away, staring down at his knees.

“Are you okay?” Tony asked softly.

No. Don’t go. “Yeah,” Peter said timidly. “I… I guess I’ve got to go.”

Tony sighed. “I can cancel, if you want.”

Please. “No, you can’t,” Peter said, even though it hurt. “You can’t cancel. You’ve got to go.”

Tony sighed again. “You’re right. Pepper said she’ll castrate me.”

Peter couldn’t help but laugh at that. “Then you definitely can’t cancel.”

Tony chuckled and ruffled Peter’s hair. “No, I guess I can’t.”

A silence fell, then, and Peter opened the car door. “I’ll… I’ll see you on Monday?”

Tony blinked. “What, are you trying to get rid of me? Don’t I at least get a hug?”

Peter smiled and walked over to the driver’s side just as Tony got out of the car.

Peter sighed as Tony pulled him close, hugging him tightly. There were tears in his eyes as he felt the steady strum of Tony’s heart against his ear. Don’t go. Please.

“Take care of yourself, please,” Tony whispered in his ear. “I’ll be back Monday. Text me or call me whenever, okay?”

Peter nodded, not wanting to let go. Tony sighed and pressed a kiss to the top of the kid’s head, before prying his hands off the front of his suit.

Tony got back in the car, and Peter could already feel the numb apathy start to take over.

A tear rolled down his cheek as Tony drove away, and he began the trek to school.

--

[1] “Soldier,” She said, in fluent Russian. “Or do you not remember?”

[2] “Do not call me that.”

[3] “He missed you.”

Chapter Text

School sucked that day.

Even though he was surrounded by people, he couldn’t help but feel lonely. Usually, the thought of going home to hang out with Tony was what helped him get through the day, but now that he was without that, it was like he had no point of even going to class. Not only that, but his throat felt weirdly sore, and it was irritating.

When the bell rang at the end of the day, Peter sighed with relief. He took the subway home to the Tower and was met with an empty living room, which was incredibly depressing.

Feeling apathetic, he took out his homework and started to conjugate Spanish verbs. It was hard to concentrate; his throat felt raw and overall, he felt slightly… off.

He finished his homework by dinner time, and the team ordered pizza. Everyone was up in the living room, even Steve and Bucky, and for the first time since Tony left, he didn’t feel the suffocating loneliness.

He wasn’t especially hungry, and he didn’t know why. Usually, by the time dinner came around, he was ravenous. But tonight… he didn’t really feel hungry. It was strange.

He still ate two pieces of pizza, though. It made him feel oddly full and slightly sick, which was bizarre. Usually, he could eat a whole pizza, no problem.

The team and Peter watched a movie after dinner, but Peter couldn’t focus on it. His throat was really bothering him and his head felt kind of heavy.

He kind of wanted to go to bed, but he knew if he went to bed, the numbness would creep up on him. So, he drank a ton of water and sat through the first Harry Potter movie, which he usually enjoyed but just… couldn’t, that night.

Once the movie was over, he bade everyone a somber goodnight and made his way down to his room, feeling the numbness start to take over.

He changed into pajamas and brushed his teeth, before getting into bed.

The darkness wasn’t helping the detachment he was feeling. He lay there, staring up at the ceiling, wanting Tony so desperately as the lack of feeling took over.

His phone buzzed from next to him and he reached over and grabbed it, feeling kind of like he was in a dream.

“Hello,” Peter mumbled, wishing he could feel something.

“Peter?” Tony’s voice was at the other end.

Peter felt tears creep into his eyes. “Tony?”

“Hey bud,” He said warmly, and Peter could hear the smile in his voice. “How are you doing?”

Peter bit his lip, tears sliding down his face and dripping onto the sheets. “I’m doing good,” He made sure his voice was steady. “School was boring, but that’s okay.”

“Sorry about that, kiddo,” He apologized. “Also, sorry for calling so late. I just got in a few hours ago and service is kind of crap here.”

Peter swallowed down a sob. “It’s okay,” He whispered. “I’m still up.”

His voice shook a little, and Tony paused. “Are you okay?”

Peter took a breath. “I’m fine, why?”

“Peter…” Tony said quietly, because he could have sworn it sounded like the kid was crying. “You’re not… numb, right?” Tony sounded a little scared, and Peter nearly lost it.

“No,” He lied. “I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.”

“All I do is worry about you, kid,” Tony said anxiously. “Give me a reason not to worry and I’ll stop.”

“I’m safe in the Tower,” Peter whispered. “I’m only going to school tomorrow, and then it’s the weekend and I’m not going anywhere. I’m fine, everything’s fine. Don’t worry about me, Tony.”

It was quiet on the other end. “Okay, you’re right. I’m sorry for worrying… I guess I don’t like being away from you,” Tony admitted after a second, before his voice took on a teasing tone. “Which is strange, considering how annoying you are.”

Peter smiled genuinely, feeling starting to creep back into him. “Only three more days and you’ll be back here, dealing with me,” Peter whispered. “Four more sleeps.”

“Four more sleeps,” Tony promised. “Well, three for me. It’s six in the morning and I’m jetlagged to all hell.”

Peter laughed, but then yawned.

“Get some sleep, kid,” Tony said softly. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Peter swallowed, the action hurting his throat. Ouch. “Okay. Goodnight, Tony.”

“Goodnight, Peter,” Tony said, and the call ended.

Peter put his phone down and stared back up at the ceiling.

Three more days, four more sleeps.

The numbness was still there, but it was more manageable.

He felt weird, though. It was a sensation he couldn’t explain, and paired with his throat hurting, it was almost like he was getting sick.

He snorted to himself a second later. I’m Spider-Man. I’m pretty sure I can’t get sick.

--

The next morning, when he woke up feeling like actual garbage, he realized that yes, Spider-Man could get sick.

He rolled over in bed and had to suppress a groan. Everything hurt: his head was pounding, his body ached horribly, his throat felt raw, and in the pit of his gut, there was a vague feeling of nausea.

He wanted nothing more than to stay in his warm bed, under his blankets, but he begrudgingly pushed himself up and into the bathroom. Wiping the sleep out of his eyes, he looked in the mirror above the sink, and did a double-take.

His hair was ruffled from sleep, and there were bags under his eyes. His face was sickly pale, his cheeks and ears flaming red. He took a breath, and it caught in his throat, making him cough violently.

His chest burned and his eyes watered. He cursed under his breath.

He rummaged through his medicine cabinet and grabbed the bottle of ibuprofen. He loaded a bunch of pills into his hand, filled a Dixie cup, and downed them all.

He then got ready for school, even though he felt awful. He wore a science t-shirt, his heavy winter coat, and a pair of jeans, as well as his converse.

He took the elevator up to the living room and was relieved to find that nobody was awake yet. He made himself several pieces of toast, slathered them with peanut butter, grabbed his backpack, and headed off to school.

--

By lunchtime, Peter was pretty sure he was dying.

It had been so long since he had gotten sick that he had forgotten how much it sucked. He had no appetite, he felt hot and cold at the same time, and his head hurt so bad that it felt like it was going to explode.

He sat down heavily at the lunch table, feeling worse than he had in a long time. He buried his face in his arms, hoping for relief in darkness.

“Peter?” Ned sat down across from him, just as MJ sat next to him. “Are you okay?”

Peter raised his head, and the world spun so much that he felt like he was going to pass out.

“Fine,” He muttered, his voice hoarse.

“You sound terrible,” MJ observed from next to him, and Peter opened his mouth to say something, but the only thing that came out was a cough.

It was a deep, wet chest cough, and it hurt. Peter gasped, unable to breathe. His hand curled into his chest, wishing for the coughing to stop.

He grabbed his water bottle out of his backpack and took a drink, trying to sooth the hot flares of pain that seared throat.

His coughing fit subsided, and left Peter feeling even more drained then before. He reached inside his backpack, pulled out his bottle of ibuprofen, and downed a few pills.

“You need to go home,” MJ said, placing a hand on Peter’s arm. “You’re sick, Peter.”

“No,” Peter croaked, clearing his throat. “I’m f-fine.”

“Call Tony and tell him to pick you up,” MJ ordered.

Peter shook his head. “He’s in Dubai this weekend.”

“Tell him to come home?” Ned suggested.

Peter shook his head again, his gaze dropping to the table. “I want to prove to him that I can be away from him,” He croaked. “I can’t just tell him to drop everything and come home.”

Both Ned and MJ looked to be at a loss, and Peter sighed. The bell rang a few minutes later, and Peter stumbled to his third period class.

The rest of the school day passed in agony. Peter’s esophagus began to burn from all of the coughing and his ibuprofen was starting to wear off, meaning his fever was going back up.

He knew the reason he was burning through pills so quickly was because of his fast metabolism, but it didn’t stop him from being irritated when he felt his fever start to return.

School let out for the day, and Peter was too tired to even celebrate the fact that it was the weekend. He made his way out of the school and onto the subway, and then walked the five minutes back to the Tower.

Once inside the elevator, he nearly collapsed. He coughed violently, doubling over as he hacked up mucus.

“You have a fever, Peter,” FRIDAY said when the elevator doors closed. “Would you like me to call Mr. Stark?”

“No!” Peter gasped, trying to stop coughing. “Don’t tell anyone, FRIDAY, please.”

 “If your fever reaches one-hundred-and-three degrees, I’m afraid I have a protocol to alert Mr. Stark about it.” FRIDAY informed him, sounding a little regretful. “I suggest you eat, hydrate, and then get some rest.”

Peter nodded weakly. “Thanks, FRI. Living room, please.”

The elevator surged upwards and let out in the living room. Peter walked blearily over to the fridge and opened it, looking for something to eat.

His eyes landed on the leftover pizza from the night before, and he got it out. He stuck it in the microwave for a minute, then took it out and began to eat.

He was surprisingly hungry, probably since he hadn’t eaten lunch. Even when sick, he supposed he still needed to eat more than the normal person.

After the pizza had been reduced to a few crumbs, he took a few more pills of ibuprofen, went down to his room, and started on his homework.

It was Chemistry homework, so it should have been relatively easy, but his focus kept slipping due to the pounding in his forehead.  He knew his fever was climbing again, and he cursed his fast metabolism as he tried to write down the chemical compound formula for argon, before stopping to cough.

His throat burned, and chest hurt with each cough, and by the time he was done with his fit, he was gasping for air. There was sweat pooling at his temples, but he was shivering at the same time. His head felt incredibly heavy, plus the room was spinning, and he had to take several deep breaths to keep himself from passing out at his desk.

Okay, this probably isn’t good, Peter thought to himself as he closed his chemistry book. Maybe I should lay down.

He dizzily changed out of his clothes and put on sweatpants and a loose t-shirt. Shivering, he put on a pair of socks and climbed into bed, quietly asking FRIDAY to turn off the lights.

He shivered feverishly under his blankets, his eyes screwed shut to stop the dizziness. His head pounded horribly, and his entire body hurt.

He was too sick to even feel numb anymore, which he was thankful for. Even though he was shivering with fever and hacking up mucus, it was better than the numbness.

Body hurting, fever high, he fell asleep.

--

He woke several times during the night; once when his clock read six pm, once when it read nine pm, once when it read eleven pm, and once when it read one am.

Each time, he felt like he was either being burned alive of frozen to death, so he responded with his blankets accordingly, either kicking them off or dragging them back onto himself. He was drenched in his own sweat and his head was pounding violently, and it was usually his need to cough that startled him from unconsciousness.

When he woke at one am, he was sure he was going to throw up. He was incredibly nauseated, and his horrible headache didn’t do anything to help, but he managed to keep down his dinner.

He fell asleep once again.

--

Tony Stark was in a ten o’clock meeting when his phone beeped in the pocket of his three-piece suit.

Based on the tone it made, he knew it was from FRIDAY, but he assumed it was her daily check in, and didn’t bother to take a look. The meeting was almost over, anyways.

His phone beeped again, and he finally took it out.

“Peter Parker has a fever of 103. Code: SPIDERBABY.” Was the message, and Tony nearly dropped his phone in shock.

What?

He reread the message, his brain not comprehending what he was reading.

A fever of 103.5?

“Excuse me,” He said shakily to the room, and hastily made his exit.

He had tried to call the kid earlier that morning, when it was ten o’clock New York time, but he didn’t answer. He questioned FRIDAY, but she just responded with “Peter Parker is currently asleep.”

He thought the kid was just tired, but now he was being told that his kid had a fever of one hundred and three point five?

Hands shaking, he quickly dialed Steve’s number.

After three rings, the man picked up. “Tony, what do you want?” The man’s voice was groggy and deep. “It’s three in the morning.”

“Go check on Peter,” He said immediately.

“What?” Steve rubbed sleep out of his eyes. His brain was foggy. “Why?”

“I just got an alert from FRIDAY saying that Peter has a fever of one hundred and three,” Tony said, his voice rushed and anxious.

That woke Steve up. “Seriously?” He exclaimed, concerned. “A fever of a hundred and three?”

He must have said that louder than he intended to, because Bucky shot up in bed next to him, his hands searching for a weapon that he didn’t possess. “Steve?” He asked in a low voice, his hazel eyes darting around in the darkness. “What’s wrong?”

Steve’s heart ached for the man next to him, and he laid a hand on his arm.

“Nothing, Buck,” Steve said soothingly. “Go back to sleep.”

There was a pause on the phone. “Is that Barnes?” Tony’s voice had a weird tone to it.

“Yes,” Steve responded.

“You two share a bed?” Tony asked, almost unbelievingly.

Steve’s cheeks turned pink. “Maybe.”

There was a beat of silence, before Tony said, “Okay, I don’t have time to be thinking about that right now. Just go check on my kid, please?”

“I am, hold on,” Steve stood and grabbed a pair of sweatpants, throwing them on.

Bucky was getting up too. “What’s going on?” He asked, sounding completely lucid.

“Peter might be sick, I’m going to check on him,” He told Bucky, who immediately got up.

“I’ll come,” He muttered, throwing on sweatpants as well, and the two of them headed up to the fiftieth floor.

When they entered Peter’s room, it was completely dark.

“FRIDAY, lights at fifteen percent,” Steve muttered, and the room lit with just enough light to be able to see.

Steve immediately saw Peter in the bed, a head of curls popping out of a mountain of blankets.

Steve smiled at the precious sight.

His smile immediately faded, though, when he heard a wet cough come from the bed.

Stomach sinking, Steve treaded closer to where the kid was, Bucky following.

Peter lay there, eyes opened just a little bit, cheeks flaming red, face white as a sheet. There was a thin sheen of sweat on his forehead, and he was shivering.

“Shit,” Bucky swore from next to him.

“Steve?” Tony asked worriedly, pacing in the hallway outside the conference room. His stomach was flipping with nerves. “Steve, is he okay?”

“Peter,” Steve said, walking up to the bed, still holding the phone to his ear. “Peter, can you hear me?”

Peter coughed violently but nodded. “H-hurts,” He croaked, his eyes burning at the light. “Don’t f-feel,” A violent shiver wracked his body. “Don’t feel good.”

“Steve, answer me, dammit,” Tony just about yelled into the phone, panicked. “Is he okay?”

“No,” Steve said finally. “He’s… he’s not good.”

Tony’s stomach dropped to the floor. “What’s going on? What’s wrong with him?”

“Peter,” Steve knelt by the bed, feeling the kid’s forehead with the back of his hand. It was sweaty and hot. “Can you tell me what hurts?”

“Everything,” Peter whispered, his eyes starting to well up with tears. “Everything h-hurts. I want T-Tony.”

“He’s asking for you,” Steve said quietly into the phone.

“Put him on,” Tony said immediately.

Steve held the phone up to Peter’s flaming red ear.

“Peter?” Tony asked softly, and the tears slipped out of Peter’s eyes. “What’s going on, bud?”

“T-Tony,” Peter sobbed, hot tears running in rivulets down his cheeks. “I don’t f-feel good.”

“Shh, Peter,” Tony pushed down the fear he was feeling and focused on trying to sooth his kid. “Talk to me. What hurts?”

“M-My head and my chest, everything is s-spinning and I’m hot but I’m c-cold,” His entire body was quaking, his teeth chattering. He let out a sob, feeling so horribly overwhelmed and overly sensitive and awful that he couldn’t help but cry.

His resolve to prove he could be away from Tony had crumbled into non-existence as soon as he heard the man’s voice. “C-Come back,” Peter whispered pitifully, wanting Tony so desperately that he couldn’t think of anything else. “I m-miss you and I f—”

He cut off, coughing violently. His chest ached from the strain of consistently coughing and his esophagus was raw and burning. He grasped the sweaty bedsheets, eyes streaming.

There was a metal hand on his back then, rubbing smoothing circles.

“It’s okay,” Bucky mumbled, and when Peter looked up at him, there was a strange protectiveness in his eyes. “Breathe through it.”

Steve gently moved the phone away when it became obvious Peter wasn’t going to be able to answer.

“Peter,” Tony was saying, his voice growing panicked. “Peter.”

“He’s okay,” Steve said, wondering if it was a lie or not. “Bucky’s got him.”

Tony made a strange sound into the phone, almost like a strangled gasp. “How did this happen? He sounded fine yesterday!”

“I don’t know,” Steve admitted, watching as Bucky helped stop Peter’s hacking coughs. “He didn’t come to dinner, but FRIDAY said he was asleep, so we didn’t question it.”

There was a beat of silence. “You should come home,” Steve said, regret in his voice. “He’s in bad shape, Tony.”

Tony was one step ahead. His phone was propped against his cheek by his shoulder and he was already calling a suit to him. “I’ll be home in five hours. Keep an eye on him, call me if anything changes.”

“Will do.”

There was a pause. “Take care of him, Rogers,” Tony whispered. “He’s my entire life, I can’t lose him.”

Steve’s heart broke. Tony. “He’s just a little sick,” Steve assured in a soft voice. “He’ll be fine.”

Peter heard Tony say something else over the phone, but his eyes were slipping shut. Bucky’s hand felt nice on his back, and he was whispering soothing Russian in his ears.

Sick and tired, Peter fell back asleep.

--

Tony pushed his suit to its maximum power as he jetted across the Atlantic Ocean, his mind a manta of “Get to Peter, get to Peter.”

Chapter Text

When Peter woke up next, there was something cool being pressed to his forehead.

It felt incredibly soothing against his hot face, and he made a small noise of contentment.

A bead of water slipped down the side of his face and he shivered violently, blindly reaching for the blankets. He didn’t want to open his eyes.

The covers were suddenly tucked under his chin, and his eyes flew open in alarm.

 It was dark, and the room was spinning horribly. He groaned softly.

His eyes adjusted slowly, and he noticed was that his alarm clock read 8:30am before his eyes zeroed in on a dark figure perched next to his bed.

Tony sat there, a worried look on his face, eyes soft and anxious.

Peter blinked owlishly, his brain working slow. “T’ny?” He croaked, the words burning his throat on their way out. His mind was working incredibly slow and a part of him didn’t believe Tony was even here. “Wha…”

“Hey, Pete,” Tony said quietly, and he brushed his thumb across Peter’s burning cheek. “How’re you feeling?”

Peter shivered under the blankets, his teeth chattering. “N-not good,” He whispered. “I t-think ‘m sick.”

Tony let out a strained chuckle. “I’d say, buddy. Can you tell me what hurts?”

“E-Everything,” Peter coughed weakly, chest constricting. “Hurts to cough.”

“It’s probably from the strain of doing it so much,” Tony murmured, gently wiping Peter’s face with a damp washcloth. “Your throat hurt too?”

Peter nodded, closing his eyes for longer than a blink, trying to sooth the pounding in his forehead. He blew out a breath. “Burns. Head’s killin’ me.”

Tony brushed his sweaty hair back. “I’ll give you some of the good stuff in a minute. Do you think you can eat something for me first? Is your stomach okay?”

Peter nodded weakly. His stomach was surprisingly calm, which was strange, since he vaguely remembered waking up in the middle of the night nauseous.

Tony slowly helped Peter sit up in bed, which left Peter a little dizzy. He gathered his bearings as Tony placed a plate of scrambled eggs in front of him, with a piece of toast.

“You don’t have to eat it all,” Tony assured him in a soft voice. “But you need food, especially with your metabolism, and these pills make you nauseous if you take them on an empty stomach.”

Peter nodded and stabbed a piece of egg with his fork. He lifted it up to his mouth, chewing slowly.

He managed the whole plate of eggs and a couple bites of toast, before he gave it back to Tony. He saw the man put it on the nightstand.

Tony pushed a cold glass of ice water and several pills into Peter’s hand, who accepted it with a hoarse “thanks.” He threw back the pills and took a drink, the cool liquid soothing his esophagus, which was raw from the coughing.

Feeling weak and tired, Peter laid back down. Tony gently covered him with the blankets and ran a hand through his sweaty hair.

Peter closed his eyes and drifted.

--

When Peter woke next, the hand in his hair was gone and so was the cool washcloth.

He felt worse than he did when he woke before, which was strange, since he had taken medicine. His stomach was churning uneasily, and he grunted, uncomfortable and suddenly burning hot.

He kicked his blankets off, the action making the ache in his gut worse. He laid still for several seconds, trying to push the nausea down. He took deep breaths in through his nose and out through his mouth, his hands gripping the sheets.

He could feel the bile creeping up his throat, and he swallowed convulsively several times, trying to keep the sick at bay.

He flew into a sitting position when he gagged, a hand clamping firmly over his mouth.

Tony had been resting his eyes in his chair next to Peter’s bed, but he heard the movement and his eyes flew open.

He took in Peter’s alarmed eyes and hand over his mouth.

“Shit, okay,” He swore, standing up and helping Peter out of bed. The kid stumbled a little as his feet hit the ground, but Tony made sure he was steady as he quickly led him to the bathroom.

Peter fell to his knees in front of the toilet, his stomach churning dangerously as he spat a mouthful of spit into the bowl. He tried to take a breath, to keep the inevitable from happening, but it was futile.

He retched and vomited into the toilet, the eggs he had eaten just a little bit ago making a reappearance. It was gross and it hurt, and tears of shame and pain slid down Peter’s feverish cheeks.

He breathed for a second, but gagged and threw up again, coughing and sputtering as some liquid came out of his nose.

Tony sat behind his kid on his knees, rubbing a hand up and down his back as Peter was violently sick. He was expecting to feel disgust, or discomfort, but all he felt was pity and worry.

The waves of vomit had turned into painful dry heaves, and Peter wasn’t sure if he had ever felt worse. The heaves hurt his chest, his throat felt raw from the stomach acid, and his nose burned. The force with which he threw up made his head hurt worse, and it was a steading pounding in his temples.

He collapsed weakly into Tony, exhausted and feeling terrible. The man’s arms immediately wrapped around him. “You okay?”

Peter shook his head. “Don’ feel good,” He whispered, the awful taste of vomit in his mouth. Tony gently wiped the leftover tears off of Peter’s face and handed him a Dixie cup of water, which Peter used to swish his mouth out.

Tony let Peter go for a second, standing and leaving the bathroom.

He was gone just long enough for Peter to feel lonely and returned with a new glass of water and a sleeve of saltine crackers.

He handed Peter the glass of water, who sipped it carefully. Tony sat down next to Peter on the bathroom floor, who put his head on the man’s shoulder, whining low in his throat.

“Do you feel any better?” Tony asked softly, and Peter shook his head.

“Worse,” He whispered, and Tony’s heart sank. “Hate throwing up.”

“Yeah, it’s not fun,” Tony said sorrowfully.

Peter coughed violently, placing a hand on his chest. He felt like his ribs were going to crack from the strain of his coughs.

When the hacking fit subsided, Peter was left tired and sore.

“How’s your stomach?” Tony questioned, his quiet voice filling the bathroom.

“Dunno,” Peter croaked.

“I think the eggs were a little risky. Try and eat these,” Tony said, giving Peter two saltine crackers from the sleeve. “Hopefully they don’t upset your stomach.”

Peter nibbled on them, not hungry but trying to eat for Tony. He managed a whole cracker and a few nibbles of the second one, before giving it back to Tony. He shivered violently, pressing his face into his guardian’s shoulder.

“Bed?” Tony asked softly, and Peter nodded.

Tony helped Peter stand on shaky feet, and he led him out of the bathroom and back into the dark bedroom.

Peter got into bed, body shaking. Tony covered him up and then disappeared from Peter’s view for a second.

The bed dipped down suddenly, and there was a hand in his hair once again. Peter made a noise and instantly melted into the touch.

He fell asleep once again.

--

When Peter woke again, the first thing he registered was how cold he was.

The second thing he registered was that Tony was gone from his position next to him.

The third thing he registered was that he was going to throw up.

He gagged and sat up, hand cupping his mouth again. His brain was fuddled with sickness and leftover sleep, and the room was spinning horribly.

My fever must have gone up, he thought vaguely.

He tried to move, but he was so unsteady, and his head hurt so bad that every motion felt fake, almost like he was in a dream. He gagged again, and panic filled him.

Don’t throw up, don’t throw up, Peter pleaded with himself. Don’t make a mess.

Just as he thought of how uncomfortable Tony would be if he threw up all over himself, he heaved and vomited in his hand, tears in his eyes.

Tony walked out of the elevator and down the hall to Peter’s room, carrying a thermometer and a frozen washcloth.

It was almost 1 o’clock in the afternoon, and Tony was jetlagged to all hell. His body was on Dubai time, and it was nine o’clock at night there. Even before Peter had gotten sick, he wasn’t sleeping well; he was too worried about being away from his kid to be able to rest comfortably.

But now that Peter was sick, sleep was the last thing on his mind, even though he was exhausted. He was completely focused on taking care of his kid.

It was strange. Tony had never really cared for anyone before… if Pepper got sick, she took care of herself and stayed away from him.

But Peter… Peter was a kid, one who didn’t know how to care for himself if he got sick. And Tony didn’t mind stepping up to the role of caretaker. Anything to make his kid feel better.

Tony opened up Peter’s door, expecting to find the kid where he left him; fitful in sleep, but in sleep nonetheless.

He wasn’t expecting Peter to be sat up in bed, face tinted with green, cheeks red, a hand clamped over his mouth, a trail of sick running down his arm.

Peter took a breath, trying to stop himself from vomiting again, but all he could smell were the sour contents of his stomach.

Tony swore loudly and immediately dropped the thermometer and washcloth, watching as Peter threw up again, and it ran from his hand onto the bed sheets and the front of his shirt.

Tony grabbed the bin from the side of the bed and placed it in front of Peter, who let out a strangled noise and coughed, removing his hand from over his mouth.

Tony winced at the sight. Poor kid, he thought as Peter coughed up bile.

Tears were streaming down his face by the time his heaves had stopped, his entire body aching and his face burning with fever and embarrassment.

Tony handed him water and he rinsed his mouth out, feeling disgusting and mortified.

A second later, there was a cool towel wiping the sick off of his face, before a thermometer was pushed under his tongue.

104.3. Cold dread filled Tony. Shit, he thought, re-reading the number. That’s not good.

“I’m sorry,” Peter whimpered, tears dripping onto the dirty sheets.

“Let’s go get you cleaned up, buddy,” Tony murmured, helping Peter out of bed. The kid was incredibly unsteady, trying to navigate with a spinning head and teary eyes.

He was hellbent on trying to go to walk to the bathroom without Tony’s help, since he had already made such a fool of himself. But the room was spinning, and he felt weak and nauseous. He nearly fell over, but Tony reached out and caught him.

“Slow your roll, kid,” Tony muttered, taking charge and leading Peter to the bathroom.

Tony walked over to the shower and started it. “I’m going to leave so you can shower,” Tony explained, watching as Peter’s bleary eyes focused on him. “I’ll be right outside that door, so don’t hesitate to call for me.”

Peter nodded, tears still slipping down his cheeks.

Tony didn’t think he had ever seen a more pitiful sight. Peter’s face was pale, but his cheeks and neck were flushed. His hand, arm, and shirt were covered in sick, and his entire form was trembling.

He gently wiped the kid’s tears away with his thumbs and ruffled his hair affectionately before leaving the bathroom, unable to keep from worrying.

Peter got undressed and into the shower, shutting his eyes as the warm spray hit him.

He showered quickly and dizzily, washing the sick off him, before getting out and drying himself off.

There was a soft pajama shirt and fuzzy pants waiting for him, and he put them on.

Peter opened the door to the bathroom and found Tony standing outside, forehead creased in worry.

Peter pitched forward and buried his face in Tony’s chest, sick, tired, and full of a childish want to be held.

Tony sighed and wrapped his arms around Peter.

“Sorry,” Peter said huskily. “Didn’t mean to.”

“Don’t do that,” Tony reprimanded softly. “It’s not your fault. I’ve thrown up on Rhodey before, back in college. A little puke on the bedsheets is nothing compared to that.”

Peter gave a small laugh, but then coughed weakly, jostling his stomach a little bit. He groaned softly.

“You okay?” Tony asked warily. “You still feel nauseous?”

Peter shrugged, and Tony nodded. “Let’s sit in the bathroom for a little bit.”

Peter nodded and let Tony lead him back to the bathroom. The two of them sat on the cold, tiled floor, Peter in front of Tony, so he could have quick access to the toilet.

Tony handed Peter a glass of water with a straw. “Drink slowly,” He ordered, and Peter obeyed. Tony got up and left about fifteen minutes later and returned with a slice of plain white bread and some more pills.

Peter groaned as Tony gave him the plate. “I’m really not hungry.”

Tony sighed. “I know, bud, but you have to eat with these pills. They’ll upset your stomach more if you don’t. Plus, your metabolism is crazy, and I don’t want to know what happens when you don’t have any food in you.”

Peter made another noise of unhappiness but ate the bread lethargically nonetheless. He managed the entire thing, before taking the pills Tony placed in his hand. They slid down his raw throat, chased by water, which done nothing to ease the burn. He groaned quietly and laid his head on Tony’s shoulder.

“Tired?” Tony asked softly.

“Mm,” Peter mumbled.

“Go to sleep bud.”

He slept again.

--

He was only asleep for a half an hour before he was awake and throwing up again, his insides burning. Tony rubbed his back and gave him water when he was done.

He drank the water, laid his head back on Tony for only ten minutes, before he was throwing up pure water and bile, his stomach constricting painfully.

Tony was beyond concerned. The kid sank back against him with a pitiful moan, his eyes already fluttering shut.

Tony gently tried to give Peter a glass of water, but the kid shook his head. He was sweating profusely from the exertion of throwing up, and his face was pasty white.

“Come on, buddy,” Tony whispered, trying to get the kid to drink. “You’re dehydrated. You have to drink.”

Peter shook his head again, and Tony tried to keep his mounting panic at bay. “Peter. Please. You have to.”

Peter let Tony force the straw between his lips, and slowly sipped the water, his eyes still shut. The cool liquid did nothing to ease the pain in his throat, and his eyes pricked with tears as he continued to slowly drink.

His eyes were shut for ten blissful minutes before his stomach was constricting again, and he found himself dry-heaving over the toilet. It lasted for five minutes, and then Tony had to gather the kid in his arms when Peter began crying.

“It hurts,” He whimpered. “Please.”

“Shh, it’s okay,” Tony whispered, stroking Peter’s hair, panicked. “We should go see Bruce.”

“No!” Peter groaned against Tony, fisting his shirt and tugging on it. “No doctors. Please.”

Tony sighed. “Peter, you can’t keep water down—”

“No doctors,” He let out a pitiful sob, and Tony’s resolve crumbled.

“Alright, no doctors,” Tony conceded in a murmur.

Peter passed out about a minute later, and Tony fished his phone out of his pocket.

He dialed Bruce’s number, and the man picked up on the second ring.

“Tony? What’s up?”

“Peter’s sick, and he can’t keep down fluids,” The words tumbled from his mouth in a rush. “His fever is at 104 and he keeps burning through medicine faster than I can give it to him. I don’t know what to do.”

“Whoa, slow down,” Bruce said calmly, instantly snapping into doctor mode. “What are his symptoms?”

“Vomiting, fever, chills, dizziness, sore throat, cough, he’s sleeping a lot,” Tony listed off, his voice anxious but quiet. He didn’t want to wake Peter. “He told me his head hurts too, and he can’t keep anything down and he was crying and—”

“Tony,” Bruce spoke over him loudly. Tony’s mouth slammed shut. “Relax. From what you’ve told me, it sounds like he has the flu. For normal people, the symptoms go away in three or four days. How long has he had it?”

“Since yesterday,” Tony whispered, carding his hand through the kid’s hair. Peter made a sleepy noise.

“Knowing his metabolism and healing factor, he’ll probably be better by tomorrow. For now, make sure he rests and keeps taking fever reducers. To hydrate, give him some ice chips, or a little Gatorade. If he doesn’t improve, bring him down to the lab and I’ll give him an IV drip.”

Tony sighed, relieved. “Thanks, Bruce. I owe you one.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

The line disconnected.

--

The ice chips were a godsend.

Peter ate half a cup full, and then promptly fell back asleep.

An hour passed, and the kid didn’t stir.

Tony nearly cried in relief.

--

When Peter woke next, he was in possibly the most comfortable bed he had ever laid in.

His eyes opened slowly, the room still spinning but not as violently as before.

His vision skirted the place he was in, noticing the size of the room and the expensive furniture. There was a large flat screen TV in front of him, turned off, on a wooden wall. Underneath the TV was a fireplace, which sat indented in the wall. To the left was a gray sofa and a chair, placed in a “L” formation, with a glass coffee table in the middle.

Peter’s eyes looked to the right side of the room and was met with nothing but window. The sky was a blanket of gray clouds, looking like they were ready to dump snow at any time.

He looked to the side, at the nightstand, and saw that the clock read 5:57pm.

The darting of his eyes back and forth hurt his head, so he shut his eyes and groaned softly.

“Kid? You okay?”

Peter’s eyes flew open, and there stood Tony, dark circles under his concerned eyes. He was carrying a bowl of something, and another glass of ice chips.

Tony sat on the edge of the bed next to him, and Peter pushed himself into a sitting position.

When his stomach stayed where it was supposed to, he silently thanked god and immediately pressed his face into Tony’s shoulder. “Where am I?”

“My room,” Tony turned so that Peter was more comfortable. “Your sheets are still in the wash and I didn’t want you to have to sleep on the bathroom floor. Are you feeling better?”

“Mm…” Peter took inventory. “Think so.”

Tony breathed a sigh of relief. “Good. You had me worried, kid.”

“S’rry,” Peter mumbled.

“Don’t apologize,” Tony whispered. “At least you’re better now. I brought some broth; can you eat some for me?”

Peter nodded, and Tony placed the warm bowl of broth in his lap. Peter took the spoon and slowly consumed the salty liquid, finishing most of the bowl before giving it back to Tony.

He had some more ice chips, before laying back down.

Tony made to get up, but Peter grabbed his sleeve. “Stay,” He whispered, feeling childish but desperate. “Please.”

Tony looked down at his kid and conceded, crawling next to him in bed.

He was expecting to just lay there beside Peter while he slept, but the kid instantly latched onto him, snuggling into him like a child.

Tony blinked and held the kid, who was shivering against him. Peter’s face was pressed into his chest and Tony ran his fingers through his curls.

“Missed you,” Peter whispered, defenseless.

Tony shut his eyes. “I missed you too.”

“Mm,” Peter mumbled. “Sorry to make you come back.”

Tony ran his hand up and down Peter’s back. “No worries, kid.”

“Wanted to prove I could be without you,” Peter whispered. “That you don’t have to stay for me.”

Tony’s hold tightened. “You don’t need to prove anything to me,” Tony said quietly. “You don’t need to change how you feel to put me at ease.”

“M’kay,” Peter conceded, snuggling even closer to Tony. He laid his head on his chest, feeling the metal of the arc reactor under his cheek. Home, his mind whispered.

“Missed you,” Peter mumbled again. “Don’t leave.”

Tony’s heart melted. God, this kid… “I won’t,” He vowed. “I’m staying right here.” Until work has me leave again, but he neglected to say that.

Peter made a noise, but he was starting to feel the pull of unconsciousness.

He succumbed, warm in Tony’s embrace.

--

Tony easily could have slept like that, but his mind didn’t shut up.

Peter had fallen asleep twenty minutes ago, and he was breathing heavily into Tony’s chest.

There was a sadness in his heart, a sinking feeling in his stomach.

How long is this going to last?

He looked down at Peter, unable to stop from feeling despondent.

Because his guardianship over Peter wasn’t permanent. It was temporary.

Temporary.

He despised that word. It was like acid in his brain every time he thought it, poison in his mouth every time he uttered it.

Temporary meant that it would come to an end. All of the hugs, the laughter, the familiarity, would conclude.

Eventually, Peter would leave.

And where would he go? To another caregiver, who doesn’t know that their new ward had experienced more emotional trauma than anyone should in their whole lives? Who doesn’t know that Peter lived in Queens, with his Aunt and Uncle, before they were stolen from him? Who doesn’t know that the kid had nightmares, panic attacks, separation anxiety, PTSD, nor how to deal with them?

Who doesn’t know that Peter Parker had the biggest heart in the entirety of New York, possibly the whole world?

Because Tony knew all of those things.

Because Peter… Peter was his kid.

Tony gripped the sleeping kid in his arms hard, tears burning in his eyes.

I’m done with being temporary, Tony thought, burying his face in Peter’s curls. I’m done with being impermanent. I can’t live without this kid. And he can’t live without me.

He knew he would regret it later, when he was more awake and the sleeping child in his arms was gone, but in that moment, he made a promise to himself.

I’m going to adopt Peter.

Chapter Text

Tony did end up sleeping, giving into his jet lag at about 7:30.

It was strange, to sleep with a child tucked under his chin. He woke up several times in the night, his eyes snapping open and immediately checking to see if Peter was still there.

The kid moved in his arms at 12:15am, coughing and then gasping for breath. “My chest,” he whimpered.

“You’re okay,” Tony whispered, clutching Peter with one hand and running the other one through the kid’ hair, his voice low and gravely with sleep. “Just breathe.”

Peter’s fever broke during the night, and he shook with chills, and then sweated profusely as his body temperature tried to right itself.

The next morning—Sunday morning—Peter was more coherent and managed to hold down a plate of pancakes.

Around midday, he even got out of bed and went up to the living room.

He was greeted by Steve. “Hey kid, you feeling better?” The man asked from his place in the kitchen. He was putting mayonnaise on a sandwich, and Bucky was hovering at his elbow. His long hair hung in front of his face, and his eyes jumped from the sandwich to Peter’s face as soon as he heard him enter.

There was a strange look in his eyes, almost one of protectiveness. Peter blinked, and Bucky looked back down at the sandwich.

“I’m feeling better, yeah,” he said, his voice still hoarse. “Thank you for checking up on me.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Steve said good naturedly, and Bucky tugged on his sleeve. “What do you need, Buck?”

“Less mayonnaise,” he muttered. Steve complied, and Tony rolled his eyes. He guided Peter over to the couch, even though the kid protested.

“I’m fine!” he said hoarsely, giving Tony a look of annoyance. “I don’t have a fever and my headache’s gone!”

“Yeah, well, you spent half of yesterday in bed shaking with said fever and the other half with your face in the toilet, so I think that constitutes me wanting you to rest more.”

Peter rolled his eyes but kicked his feet up and leaned back against the cushions. “You never take it easy,” Peter grumbled.

“Yeah, well, don’t be like me,” Tony said, anxiously shifting his weight. “I have a phone call I need to make, you think you can be alone for a bit?”

Peter glared at him, and Tony chuckled before leaving the living room.

Once in the elevator down to his office, he let himself give in to the mounting panic.

Oh my god, oh my god, Tony’s wide eyes stared at the wall of the elevator. I’m going to adopt a kid.

The elevator dinged, and Tony stepped into his office, his hands shaking. He began to pace around the space, panic bubbling in his stomach, his breathing heavy.

He fumbled for his phone and called Pepper’s number before he could even think.

“Tony?” she answered, and the man let out a strangled noise.

“Pepper,” he gasped, one of his hands coming up and gripping his hair. “Help.”

“What’s going on?” she asked immediately, worry lacing her tone. “Are you hurt? Are you in trouble?”

“I…” Tony swallowed hard, feeling vaguely sick. “I don’t…”

“Tony, talk to me,” she begged, and Tony was too anxious to even be touched at her worry.

“IthinkI’mgoingtoadoptPeter,” he said in a rush.

“What?” Pepper asked, and Tony imagined her squinting her eyes. “I can’t understand you.”

Tony took a deep, shaky breath. “I think I’m going to a-adopt Peter,” he said, chest tight.

Saying it aloud made it real, which only made the panic worse.

There was a beat of silence on the other end. “You’re going to adopt Peter?” Pepper asked, her voice soft.

Tony tried to take a breath, but it sounded like a wheeze. “Y-Yes.”

“Tony, that’s amazing!” she said happily.

“Is it?” Tony asked, gripping his desk hard. “I can’t take care of anything, Pepper. You’ve said it yourself. What if I fuck it all up?”

“You’re not going to f—”

“I fuck everything up!” he nearly shouted, breathing heavily. “I can’t be anyone’s f-father,” He stumbled over the word. “I don’t know how to be a father. I don’t know how—”

“Tony, calm down,” Pepper cut across him. “Take a breath.”

Tony inhaled, not calm in the slightest. “I can’t t-take care of a kid, Pepper.”

“Isn’t that what you’ve been doing for almost two months now?” Pepper questioned. “Why does adopting Peter change anything?”

“It changes everything,” Tony choked out through his tight throat. “It would make me his d-dad.”

“Tony, that’s not a bad thing,” Pepper said gently. “Maybe he needs a dad.”

The repeated use of the word dad didn’t help. Tony swallowed, shutting his eyes. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Let me be the judge,” Pepper said softly, almost as if talking to a scared animal. “I’ll come over for dinner some night this week. We can talk in person.”

Tony exhaled. “Please.”

“How does Thursday at six sound?” Pepper asked, and Tony could hear the sound of keyboard clicks over the phone.

“Perfect,” Tony breathed, his panic fading. Talking to Pepper always helped.

“Good. It’s on my calendar,” she paused. “I still feel like I haven’t truly met Peter. It’ll be nice to get to know him.”

Tony’s mouth twitched into a smile. “Yeah. It will.”

--

The first half of the week wasn’t too bad.

School was long and boring, but he aced a Spanish quiz (a feat he didn’t know that he was capable of) and even got praised by his Calculus teacher.

Wednesday was a hard day; it was the two-month anniversary of May’s death, and even though he was sad all day, being around his friends and Tony helped.

 Thursday rolled around, and Peter was told by Tony days before that Pepper would be coming to the tower for dinner.

He was anxious, but also kind of looking forward to it. Even though he had only interacted with her a little bit, he liked Pepper a lot. She seemed like a powerful woman, but still nice and kind, like May. He could see why Tony liked her.

School dragged. Peter glanced at the clock every five minutes, but time seemed to tick by at abnormally slow speeds. First period turned into second, and second into lunch. He sat with MJ and Ned, as per usual, and they all chatted animatedly about school and other things.

Third period, PE, flew by, since there wasn’t a clock in the gym for Peter to stare at.

But fourth period, Spanish, moved agonizingly slow. He almost fell asleep, but a sharp, “Peter! ¡No hay sueño en mi clase!” kept him awake.

The bell rang, finally, and Peter walked to his locker to grab his backpack.

He put in his combination, opened the locker, and grabbed his bag. He was about to put his books away when suddenly the locker was slammed shut.

Peter started, taking a surprised step backwards.

Flash stood there, a hand on his now closed locker, a shit-eating grin on his face. “Is it true, Penis?”

Peter stared up at Flash, chin jutted out. “What are you talking about?”

“Are you really an orphan, Parker?” Flash looked overcome with glee, and Peter felt like a bucket of ice had just been dumped on him.

Peter paled, and Flash took it as confirmation. His face lit up. “Holy shit! You are!”

Peter took a breath, but it felt like his lungs had disappeared. “N-No. I’m not.”

“Damn, Penis. Where are you living now, on the streets? Begging for money? Prostitution?”

“Piss off, Flash.” Peter tried to push past, but Flash moved in front of him, blocking his exit.

“Or are you in foster care? Do you belong to the state, since no one else wants you?” Peter’s blood ran cold in his veins as Flash got in his face. “No one wants you, Penis.”

Peter opened his mouth to retort, but nothing came out. No one wants you.

“Leave him alone, Eugene,” Someone said behind him, and suddenly MJ was next to him. She looked bored. “Don’t you have better things to do, like, I don’t know, kicking babies?”

Flash’s eyes flashed, and he stared down MJ. “Watch it, freak.”

“Maybe you should watch it, since you are talking to the captain of the Academic Decathalon team,” she towered over Flash. “I can kick your ass off and not think twice about it.”

Flash glared at her, but walked away, muttering.

Peter slung his bag over his shoulder, a feeling of dread and sadness in his gut.

“You okay?” MJ asked, and she reached out to lay a hand on Peter’s shoulder, but he jerked out of the way before the contact was made.

“I’m going home,” he muttered. “See you tomorrow.”

He felt MJ’s eyes on him as he walked out the metal school doors.

--

Peter was subdued when he came home from school, but Tony was too busy getting ready for dinner with Pepper to press him about it.

At quarter to six, Tony told Peter to go and change into something nice, and Peter rode down to the fiftieth floor, anxious and sad.

Usually, Flash’s taunts rolled right off him, but today was different. His insults hit right on the mark, right where Peter was sensitive.

No one wants you.

Peter swallowed around the lump in his throat as he put on his gray button up and black pants, and tears blurred his vision as he tied his black dress shoes.

Because what Flash said was true. No one wanted him… it was a fact.

Tony was temporary. He said so himself. Whenever he introduced Peter to someone, he always said, “I’m his temporary guardian.”

Peter trudged into the elevator, heart heavy.

FRIDAY took him up to the penthouse, where they would be having the dinner. It was just Tony, Peter, and Pepper, so Tony suggested they go somewhere more private.

Tony was dressed in a sharp suit, and his hair was neatly styled. He grinned when he took in Peter’s appearance.

“Looking sharp, kiddo,” he said affectionately, and Peter managed to give him a half-hearted smile.

“Ms. Potts is on her way up,” FRIDAY announced. “She will be arriving in approximately thirty seconds.”

Peter inhaled sharply, anxiety settling in. Tony put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s fine, kid. It’s just Pepper.”

Peter nodded just as the elevator doors opened.

Pepper Potts stepped out into the penthouse, and the first thing Tony noticed was how beautiful she was.

Her strawberry blonde hair was pinned in a half up, half down style, revealing a pair of dangling silver earrings. She wore a simple, sleeveless black dress that cut off just above the knee, which she paired with a silver necklace and black flats.

Tony’s heart throbbed. Every time he saw her, he was reminded of how much he was missing.

He walked forward and kissed her on the cheek in greeting. “Hi, Pep,” He saw, his voice low.

She smiled at him, and Tony was a goner. “Hey. How are you?”

“Better now that you’re here,” he couldn’t stop himself from saying, and she swatted his arm affectionately.

Tony glanced back at Peter and Pepper followed his gaze. Peter shifted his weight anxiously, his hands balled into fists.

“You’ve met Peter, of course,” Tony said, walking back over to the kid. Peter looked up at Pepper, a weak smile on his lips.

Pepper walked forward and grasped his hand. “Nice to see you again, Peter,” she said with a smile.

“You too, Miss Potts,” he said timidly. Tony put a hand on Peter’s shoulder, grounding him, and he relaxed a little bit.

They made their way over to the elegant dining table, and Peter sat down next to Tony and across from Pepper. She smiled at him again as Tony got up and opened a bottle of expensive-looking wine, pouring both him and Pepper a glass.

“What do you want to drink, Pete?” Tony asked, returning the cork to the bottle of wine.

“Just water,” he said quietly, his fists in his lap.

Tony poured Peter a glass of ice water, before sitting back down at his place at the head of the table. He instantly drew Pepper into a conversation, and Peter sat there in silence, not bothering to follow what they were talking about.

The food was brought out soon, courtesy of a woman by the name of Carla. She placed a steaming plate of pasta in front of Peter, who said a quiet thanks.

“So, Peter,” Pepper said, as both her and Tony dug into their meals. Peter grabbed his fork, but he didn’t feel like eating. “I hear you go to Midtown School of Science and Technology.”

Peter nodded “Yes, I do.”

“Do you like it there?” she asked, and Peter’s mind was immediately brought back to the events of the afternoon previous.

“No one wants you, Penis” Flash had said. He was right.

“Kid?” Tony asked concernedly, breaking Peter from his thoughts. “You okay?”

Peter blinked, and then blushed. He had taken too long to answer. “Oh. Y-Yeah, I’m fine. I like the school, they have a good science program.”

“What kind of science are you interested in?” Pepper questioned.

“I like Chemistry a lot,” Peter said, smiling slightly. “I think it’s really interesting and I’m pretty good at it.”

Pepper nodded, smiling at him.

She continued to ask him questions, about school and what he was interested in. He didn’t touch his food and twisted his hands underneath the table anxiously. Pepper was really nice and exceptionally friendly, but Flash’s hateful words rattled around in his head, making him sad and upset.

Tony kept glancing over at him, but Peter avoided his gaze. His hands were fists, his nails pressing so hard against his palms that it stung.

Pepper excused herself to the bathroom, and Tony immediately turned to Peter.

“Why aren’t you eating?” Tony questioned, his eyes glancing down at Peter’s untouched food and then back up at his face.

“Not hungry,” he muttered, not looking at Tony.

Tony looked at the kid sadly. He had picked up on the fact that Peter didn’t eat when he was anxious or upset, and tonight, the kid hadn’t even glanced at his chicken piccata. “What’s up, Pete? You’ve been quiet all night,” his voice was gentle, concerned. “Did something happen at school?”

Peter shook his head, still not looking at Tony. “Everything’s fine.”

“Can you look at me?” Tony pressed softly, but Peter was spared from the action, because Pepper walked back in.

The meal changed from dinner to dessert, which was a panna cotta with fresh berries. It looked amazing, and Peter felt bad about not eating his dinner, so he begrudgingly took a bite.

Tony and Pepper had started to talk about Stark Industries business, and Peter listened as they began to talk about trade.

“Peter and I visited Wakanda,” Tony told Pepper, eating a spoonful of his dessert. “King T’Challa and I discussed trade. It was very productive.”

“Excellent,” Pepper said happily. “I’m glad to hear that. Wakanda is important to have as a trade partner.”

Peter took another bite of his dessert.

“Dubai was a success as well,” Tony informed. “They liked me.”

“Okay, that’s good then,” Pepper ate a berry. “Oh! By the way, you have to leave for Europe next week.”

Peter froze.

“—And you can’t back out of it either,” Pepper was saying, but Peter could barely hear her through the ringing in his ears. “It’s really important…what’s wrong?”

Tony had frozen as well, his gaze snapping to Peter as soon as soon as Pepper said the word “leave.”

The kid had gone completely pale and his huge, fearful eyes were staring at Tony. His heart was beating so fast he could hear it in his ears as crippling terror filled him. His spoon fell from his hand and onto the table, making a loud noise.

Alone.

Tony mentally said all the swear words he knew in all the languages he was familiar with, watching as Peter took a shaky breath.

“You’re leaving?” He whispered, fear and panic closing his airways, cutting of his oxygen supply.

“No,” Tony said without a second of hesitation. “No. I’m not going anywhere.”

But Peter didn’t seem to hear him. He struggled to breathe, and he swore he could feel the horribly numbness already setting in…

“Peter,” Tony reached out and grabbed Peter’s hand, holding it tightly. “Peter, I’m not leaving.”

Peter was trembling, his scared eyes glued to Tony’s face.

He began to hyperventilate, his breaths coming out in sharp gasps. He’s going to leave and I’m going to be alone, I’m always going to be alone.

In the back of his mind, he knew he would regret freaking out in front of Pepper later, but he was so panicked he couldn’t think.

Tony immediately stood, rushing to Peter’s side. “Peter, look at me.” he ordered, putting his hands on either side of his face

Peter’s frightened eyes found his, and Tony’s heart broke. “I’m not leaving. I’m staying right here, with you. Breathe.”

Peter shook his head, one of his hands coming up and tugging on his shirt, which felt incredibly confining all of the sudden. You’re going to be alone and numb and then you’re going to have to lie and say you’re fine…

“I-I…” he stuttered, gasping. “T-Tony. C-can’t…”

“Yes, you can,” Tony urged softly. “Come on, bud. Breathe for me.”

Peter tried to breathe, but the panic was compressing his lungs, leaving him even more frightened. His eyes were wild as he shook his head. His veins felt like they were on fire, his body feeling like it was being held down. I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t breathe—

The room was starting to get fuzzy around the edges, and Peter’s chest ached from the hyperventilation.

Tony’s saw the kid’s face get even whiter, as not enough oxygen was reaching his brain, and in an act of desperation, Tony pushed Peter’s head against him.

“Breathe with me,” he inhaled deeply, and Peter took a gasping breath, the smell of aftershave, oil, and soap filling his nostrils. Tony.

“That’s it,” Tony murmured, one of his arms draping around the shaking kid’s shoulders and one of his hands entangling itself in Peter’s curls. “Just breathe, Pete.”

Peter inhaled and exhaled, his chest loosening. The panic was fading.

His eyes were filling with tears, though, before he could stop it. He let out a strangled noise against Tony, his trembling hands grasping the man’s shirt.

“You’re okay,” Tony whispered. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m right here.”

But for how long? “S-sorry,” he whimpered. “I…”

“Don’t,” Tony’s voice was sad and low. “Don’t do that.”

Peter’s eyes screwed up, tears leaking from his eyes and down his cheeks.

Tony let Peter’s tears soak his shirt as he looked up at met Pepper’s eyes.

She gave Tony the softest look he had ever seen. I’m sorry, she mouthed, and Tony shook his head.

You didn’t know, he mouthed back, running his hands through the kid’s curls, his nails scratching his scalp. Peter’s breath stuttered, a soft noise escaping his lips, and Tony repeated the action.

Give us a minute, Tony mouthed, and Pepper nodded, turning and disappearing from the room.

Tony peeled the kid off him, using his thumbs to wipe off the tears that had gathered. Peter bit his lip, trying to stop crying.

“I’m s-sorry,” Peter whispered. “Y-You can go to Europe, you don’t have to stay f-for me…”

“Stop,” Tony said helplessly, stroking a thumb over Peter’s cheek. “You don’t have to do that. I’m not going anywhere. You’re stuck with me, kid.”

BUT FOR HOW LONG—“Y-Yeah,” he took a breath. “I didn’t mean to freak out.”

Tony nodded, still running his thumb over Peter’s cheek. “Are you okay?”

Peter took another breath. “Yeah. I’m… I think I’m going to go to bed.”

Tony dropped his hands, and Peter wanted to cry all over again. He wanted to curl up with his guardian, he wanted to feel safe, he wanted…

He took another breath. He stood, turning away from Tony and walking into the elevator, his heart hurting.

--

Time for damage control, Tony thought as the elevator doors closed, and Pepper came back into the room.

He opened his mouth, wanting to explain what just happened, that Peter was terrified of being away from him, but the words died on his tongue.

Pepper just looked at him, taking in the wet spot on his shirt where Peter had cried into it and the worry lines on his forehead, and said two words. “Adopt him.”

Tony balked, blinking several times. “W-What?”

“Adopt him.”

Tony opened and closed his mouth, unsure of what to say.

“No one is going to take care of him as well as you can,” she said gently. “Listen… I know you think that you can’t be a father, but what you just did… that’s exactly what a father does.”

Tony stared at her.

“He looks at you like you’re the best thing in the world, Tony,” She whispered, and Tony’s heart skipped a beat. “And you look at him the same way.”

“I can’t be a father,” Tony whispered.

“Tony, you already are his father,” Pepper said, looking up at him. “This just puts a label on it. Makes it permanent.”

Permanent.

Tony breathed.

--

Pepper left shortly after that, and the first thing Tony did was get himself a glass of apple juice.

He stood in front of one of his large penthouse windows, staring out at the lights of the city below.

Adopt him.

Tony swirled his juice around in the glass, before taking a sip.

He fished the phone out of his pocket, tapped the calling app, and hesitated, his thumb hovering over the device.

He swallowed hard, before his thumb pressed down, and he lifted the phone up to his ear.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Larry,” Tony said into the phone.

“Good evening, Mr. Stark,” His lawyer, Larry, said smoothly. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“You know how I asked you to draft me a temporary guardianship document two months ago?”

“Yes, sir. Of one Peter Parker?”

“Yep, that’s it. Yeah, I want to adopt him.”

--

When Peter got back to his room, he got changed into pajamas and then immediately curled up in bed.

He felt miserable. There wasn’t another word for it. He wanted to sleep, but he didn’t at the same time.

No one wants you.

Peter rolled onto his back, staring up at the dark ceiling.

No one wants you.

He could already feel the embarrassment start to set in. He just had a panic attack in front of the Pepper Potts. She probably thought he was a lunatic.

No one wants you.

Why did Tony always have to say, “temporary guardian?” Why couldn’t he just say, “guardian?” Why did he have to be temporary?

No one wants you.

Peter reached for his phone, and it lit up brightly in the dark room. He immediately opened up Google, paused, and then typed, “Temporary guardian.”

Several results came up, but he clicked on the first one.

“Temporary guardianship is a type of guardianship that exists for a specific purpose, for a limited period of time.”

How long?

Peter’s heart was in his throat as he scrolled down, not wanting to know the answer but unable to stop himself.

“In most cases, temporary guardianship lasts up to 60 days.”

Peter’s heart broke, and his eyes welled up with tears.

60 days.

It had already been sixty days.

Time was up.

Peter let out a sob, tears running quickly down his rosy cheeks. He bit his lip, wanting to scream.

I’m going into the system, Peter realized, sobbing loudly as his hands gripped the sheets, tugging at them in agony. I’m going to be alone.

He wanted to throw up. He wanted to scream.

He buried his face in his pillow, his salty tears soaking the fabric.

I can only be loved temporarily, he thought, sobbing harder. I can never be loved permanently.

He cried himself to sleep.

Chapter Text

The next week for Peter was agony.

He spent it on auto-pilot, going to school, attending classes, and then coming home. Like clockwork.

He didn’t go a day without skipping a meal and didn’t go a night without crying.

It wasn’t like he was intentionally not eating, but the sheer anxiety and depression he was feeling suppressed his usually large appetite.

He would show up to school with puffy eyelids and bloodshot eyes, an arm hugging his stomach, hands in fists. He didn’t talk much, just quietly doing his work and staring off into space when it was done.

His friends were worried. MJ was consistently trying to get Peter to eat lunch, even though he refused. Most days, though, she was able to bully him into eating a chicken sandwich, or a couple fries. Ned shot him worried looks every time he saw him, and would babble on about anything and everything, trying his hardest to distract Peter from whatever was making him so upset.

They kept asking what was wrong, but Peter didn’t have the energy to explain (that, and saying it aloud would make it more real).

He braced himself for the numb loneliness that was sure to come with him leaving, but he knew trying to prepare himself wasn’t going to do anything. He would still feel numb, and the mere thought of feeling that was enough to shut him down in terror.

He was also avoiding Tony, for he couldn’t bear to see him. Every glance, ever touch reminded him that everything was temporary, that someday soon he was going to have to say goodbye to the man.

He would have to say goodbye to all the affection, the comfort, the care…

So, he walked on eggshells, asking FRIDAY where Tony was constantly and giving him a wide berth.

He didn’t want to not see Tony, though. It physically hurt to be away from him, and some nights… he even felt the apathy start to creep up on him.

--

The next week was a waiting game for Tony.

His lawyer told him that it would take about a week for him to collect the correct adoption paperwork and fax it to him, so Tony decided to wait and breech the subject to Peter once he read through all the documents.

He spent the week doing work during the day and reading about permanent guardianship at night, either in his office or curled up in bed.

After just one night of research, he knew it was going to be a long process. The fastest it could get done was thirty days, and he had read that in some cases, it took almost a year.

But Tony would wait. Without a doubt.

After about four days had passed since he called Larry, Tony began drafting what he was going to say to Peter when it came down to it.

It was… frustrating and anxiety inducing, to say the least. He would write something, scoff at himself for how stupid it sounded, and then start over, again and again.

He wanted it to be sincere, to be from the heart, but everything just sounded hokey and gross.

He got so frustrated on Tuesday, January 29th that he called Pepper.

“Tony?”

“Why am I shit at writing?”

There was a beat of silence. “You’re not bad at writing. Why are you calling me?”

“I’m trying to write what I’m going to say to Peter about the whole a-adoption thing,” he mentally punched himself as he stuttered over the word “adoption.” Grow a pair.

There was a soft “aww” before Pepper said, “You have to write from the heart.”

“How?” Tony asked desperately. “I’m not good with touchy-feely, Pepper. Everything I write sounds superficial.”

“How does Peter make you feel, Tony?” Pepper asked gently. “Write down your answer.”

Tony thought about it for a second, suddenly feeling warm on the inside, and wrote down his thoughts.

“Why do you want to adopt him?” Pepper questioned. “Write down what you’re thinking.”

Tony’s throat felt tight as he wrote, his pen fluid over the pad of paper.

Pepper continued to question him, until he had a page full of thoughts and ideas.

“Now, just string the ideas together and make it sound good,” Pepper instructed. “And tell me how it goes.”

Tony promised her, and then ended the call.

The paperwork came that Thursday, on the last day of January. Tony stared at it as it came out of the fax machine, his heart pounding.

His hands shook as he picked it up, examining the pages.

Tony exhaled shakily.

Today is the day I tell Peter I want to adopt him.

--

It was a regular Thursday for Peter.

He had gotten up, skipped breakfast, and had taken the subway to school. Fifth period was fine, if not a little dull, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.

Sixth period came around, and Peter was diligently working on a Chemistry worksheet when his phone buzzed.

It was from Tony. Hey kid, we need to talk when you get home, okay?

Peter stared at the text, his breaths quickening, his eyes filling with tears.

We need to talk.

No. No. God, no.

The bell for lunch rang, and Peter numbly walked to the cafeteria, his legs feeling shaky.

He didn’t eat lunch. He couldn’t.

Seventh period came and went, as did eighth period.

Peter walked out of the school at the end of the day, on the verge of both tears and a panic attack.

He spent the entire ten-minute subway ride deep in thought.

How can I say goodbye?

Peter pressed a shaking fist up to his mouth, shutting his eyes. How can I say goodbye to the one good thing that has happened to me since May died?

His knees were shaking. He gripped the bar he was holding harder. He’s helped me through so much. He’s held me as I’ve cried, weathered multiple panic attacks, dealt with my anger, bought his tower back for me… How can I possibly repay him?

His breathing was uneven, and he bit his lip. What if the people in foster care are mean? How am I supposed to go out as Spider-Man? How… How am I supposed to live without Tony?

His stop came around, and he trekked to the tower, his legs feeling like jelly.

He walked into the gleaming building and slowly made his way into the elevator.

“Good afternoon, Peter,” FRIDAY said pleasantly. “Mr. Stark is waiting for you in the living space.”

Peter took a breath, suddenly feeling strangely dizzy and unsteady. Sweat broke out on his forehead, even though it was rather cold in the elevator. “O-Okay.”

The elevator surged upwards.

--

Peter stepped dizzily out into the living room.

His heart was racing, his palms sweaty, his knees shaking.

Tony was stood by the table, his body radiating nervous energy. His hands were tucked into the pockets of his casual pants, and he shifted from foot to foot.

Peter’s eyes drifted to the table, which had a stack of paper on top of it. His eyes went back to Tony though, pure terror running through him.

“Hey buddy,” Tony said, a nervous smile on his face. “I, uh… I’ve got something I need to talk to you about.”

Peter stared at him in panic, his throat feeling constricted.

The gravity of the situation hit Peter like a ton of bricks, and he swayed where he stood. This is a goodbye.

He took a step, and his vision whited out.

--

When Peter stepped out of the elevator, Tony couldn’t help but notice how awful he looked.

The kid was as pale as a ghost, his hands in fists so tight that his knuckles were white, his eyes wide and scared looking.

Tony did a slight double-take but recovered quickly. The kid is probably just nervous.

“Hey buddy,” he said, sending Peter what was hopefully a genuine smile. “I, uh… I’ve got something I need to talk to you about.”

Peter’s face went, if possible, even whiter. His eyes widened, his pupils blown.

Tony saw him sway, and he hurried towards the kid in alarm.

Peter took a step forward, and his eyes rolled back in his head.

Tony swore loudly as Peter crumpled like a ragdoll, and his hands shot out to grab the kid before he could faceplant.

Tony shoved his panic down and wrapped his arms around Peter’s unconscious figure, supporting him.

He dragged him over to one of the dining chairs and gently sat him down.

Peter came to a few seconds later, his eyes flying open and darting around the space.

Tony looked down at him in worry, unconsciously holding his left arm. “Peter? Are you with me?”

Peter took a gasping breath, his eyes meeting Tony’s.

He nearly passed out again as he remembered what was happening, his vision blurring around the edges.

Tony saw Peter start to pass out again, and he panicked, grabbing the kid’s face. “Hey! No, don’t pass out. Look at me.”

Peter took another labored breath, his arms and head feeling heavy. “T’ny,” he muttered thickly, the room spinning.

“Deep breaths,” Tony ordered, and Peter obliged, clutching the man’s shirt as he breathed.

When his vision had stopped swimming, there was a beat of silence, and Tony removed his hands from Peter’s face. “When was the last time you ate?” He asked, taking in Peter’s sallow cheeks and thin arms.

“Breakfast,” he said, his voice a little wobbly still.

“Today?” Tony accused, his eyes narrowing.

Peter swallowed, looking away. “Yesterday,” He whispered.

Tony’s jaw clenched, and he walked into the kitchen. He opened the fridge and pulled out a Styrofoam box, before popping it into the microwave for a minute. How have I not noticed that he hasn’t been eating?

Peter stared at the floor, his eyes prickling. I don’t want to say goodbye.

Tony walked back over and placed the food in front of Peter. “Leftover Pad Thai from last night,” Tony explained, giving Peter a stern look. “I want all this food gone, you hear me?”

Peter nodded pathetically, picked up his fork, and began to eat.

He didn’t realize how hungry he was until he was actually eating. He shoveled the food into his mouth, his stomach no longer having the dreadfully hollow feeling it had before.

The food was soon gone, and Peter put his fork down.

“You feel better?” Tony asked, picking up the trash and throwing it away.

Peter nodded, his shaking hands clenched into fists on his lap. His eyes drifted to the papers across the table, before they flicked back up to Tony’s face.

The man pulled up a chair, so that he was sitting adjacent to Peter. “Okay,” Tony swallowed, butterflies in his stomach. “I have something I need to talk to you about.”

Peter swallowed down the bile that had risen in his throat at that. “O-okay.”

Tony took out a folded piece of paper from his pocket, before he took a deep breath in through his nose. “Okay. Fuck, okay,” he ran a hand through his hair, and Peter didn’t know if he had ever seen the man so nervous. “When I met you a year ago,” he started reading, his voice a little shaky. “I saw an excited, nerdy kid who was almost too eager to help me out in Germany. You were happy and loud, everything a child should be. I… I felt myself getting attached to you, even though I had barely met you. You were so full of light and happiness, and it reminded me that there was some good in the world.”

Peter’s eyes burned with tears as Tony read on. “When I got to the hospital on November 23rd, I had no idea my life was about to change forever. I walked into that room, saw you hunched over her, and I knew immediately that I needed to—” Tony stopped, blinking several times. He cleared his throat, making sure his voice was steady, before reading on. “I needed to take care of you. I knew, from that point on, that you were my responsibility, and that I needed to keep you safe and sane.”

There were tears flowing down Peter’s cheeks now, and a shaking hand was pressed up against his mouth. Is this goodbye? What is going on?

Tony read on. “At first… At first, I thought that I was just there to watch you, to make sure you didn’t drown in your tears, or did something that you would regret. But soon, I understood that neither of us were happy with my hands-off approach, and it only took you stealing my car for me to realize it.”

Tony’s voice turned soft and gentle. “I had never… parented another human being before you, Peter. I never held someone while they cried, I never talked someone down from a panic attack. I didn’t think I was capable of it, but you showed me that I was.”

Tony eyes stung as he read the next part. “No one knows you like I do, and I’m starting to believe that no one can take care of you as well as I can. I know your history, your fears… and I know how to deal with them, and how to help you deal with them.

“You’ve been under my guardianship for two months. Two months of tears, laughter, sadness, and happiness. Two months of you being afraid of being alone, and me afraid being afraid of leaving you. Two months of both of us slowly realizing that we can’t live without each other.”

Tony’s voice shook and broke, and he looked up from his paper. Peter was sobbing, his chest heaving, tears pouring down his rosy cheeks.

“I’m done with being temporary,” Tony whispered, setting down his sheet of paper. “I’m done with thinking that someday, I’m not going to want to take care of you anymore. Because that’s not going to happen. Ever.”

Tony reached out and grabbed Peter’s shaking hand, holding it firmly in his own. “Peter Benjamin Parker…” he whispered, his voice shaking with emotion. “Will you let me adopt you?”

Peter let out a sob and nodded, and Tony didn’t think he had ever felt such pure, unadulterated joy in his life.

“Come here,” Tony’s voice broke, and Peter immediately slammed into him, hands grasping tightly onto his shirt. Tony immediately pressed his face into the kid’s hair, his heart so full and happy that he was sure it would burst.

Peter was crying incredibly hard, and Tony couldn’t help but be a little worried. “Calm down a little, bud,” he whispered, but Peter continued to cry, fisting Tony’s shirt and tugging.

It was when the kid’s breaths started to get quick and panicked that Tony pulled him off of him. Peter was edging towards a panic attack, which Tony could tell by just looking at his face.

“Hey, no,” Tony was incredibly concerned, then. “Deep breaths, Pete. Calm down.”

Peter calmed himself, and he collapsed back into Tony’s chest.

Tony didn’t want to say it, but he felt like he had to. “If you don’t want this, then I completely understand—"

No!” Peter just about shouted, and Tony jumped a little. “No.”

Tony felt high with relief. “Thank god,” he muttered, his hand that was intertwined in Peter’s hair pulling his head down, so Tony could rest his chin atop it.

“I thought…” Peter whimpered, pathetically, and Tony was concerned again. “I thought this was… I thought…”

Tony blinked. “You thought what?”

“I thought this was goodbye,” Peter whispered, and Tony could feel the tears start to seep into his already wet hoodie. “I thought y-you were going to tell me t-that time was up, and you were going to… I was going to have to…”

“You thought I was going to send you into the system?” Tony murmured sadly, rubbing Peter’s back.

Peter nodded, shuddering horribly. “Temporary guardianship only lasts sixty days,” he whispered, and Tony unconsciously wrinkled his nose at the word “temporary.”

“I should ban you from the internet,” Tony said lightly, making designs on the back of Peter’s sweatshirt with his finger. “It’s not good for you.”

“I don’t want to say goodbye,” Peter said quietly, tearfully. “I want to stay here with you.”

“You are, Pete,” Tony whispered. “You’re not going anywhere, I’m not going anywhere.”

Peter shuddered again. “Thank you,” he whispered, so soft that it was barely audible. “Thank you.”

God. Tony tightened his hold and pressed a kiss to the kid’s hair. How could I have ever considered letting this go?

--

Dinner time rolled around, and Tony made it his personal mission to make Peter eat as much food as possible.

The kid had felt thin and small in his arms, which worried him to no end, so he ordered a ton of pizza for dinner.

Another thing that worried him was that Peter had barely let go of him since Tony had asked him about the adoption. Whenever Tony would sit down for more than five seconds, Peter would grab his shirt and hold tight.

The team joined them for dinner, even Bruce and Vision. Everyone chatted with each other, but Peter stayed quiet at Tony’s side, his hand holding Tony’s shirt so tightly that his knuckles were white.

He also wasn’t eating much, which was the opposite of what Tony was trying to achieve when he ordered the pizza.

“Eat, Peter,” Tony commanded in a low voice as Peter picked at his pizza.

Peter took a small bite, chewing and swallowing. He looked at his pizza for a second, but then his eyes darted back to Tony, almost like he was expecting the man to have disappeared.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he whispered. “I’m right here.”

Peter took a deep breath and nodded, going back to eating. His hold on Tony didn’t loosen.

Peter managed to eat half a pizza by himself, and Tony was satisfied.

The everyone settled in for a movie afterwards, and once again, Peter remained quiet. He didn’t let go of Tony, and he didn’t say anything.

His face was pale, as well, and Tony was so worried that he couldn’t concentrate on anything else.

“What’s going on?” he asked Peter quietly, as the movie played. “You don’t seem yourself.”

Peter bit his lip and looked away. “It… I… I don’t…”

“Don’t hurt yourself,” Tony tried to joke, but he was burning with concern. “Are you okay?”

Peter thought about that for a second.

He was positively exultant that Tony wanted to adopt him. He didn’t think he’d ever been so happy and relieved about something in his life.

But it didn’t seem real. The past week of his life had been so shitty that this just felt like a really, really good dream… and he’d wake up the next morning in misery once more.

It was too good to be true. The universe had a way of taking things Peter loved away from him, and he had a feeling that this was going to be another one of these things.

“I’m… I’m okay,” Peter whispered, holding onto Tony tighter, afraid he was going to disappear. “Everything’s fine.”

“Everything’s obviously not fine,” Tony said, glancing down at Peter’s hold on him. “You haven’t let go of me all night.”

Peter’s lip quivered, and he bit down on it hard. “I…”

Tony wrapped an arm around Peter, and the kid immediately buried his face in Tony’s collar.

“I’m so thankful,” Tony whispered in Peter’s ear. “that you’re going to be my son.”

And that was when Peter began to cry again, his shoulders shaking as silent sobs ripped through him.

Because he didn’t know what he did to deserve Tony’s love, his affection, his care… and he still felt unworthy of it.

Tony pulled Peter into his lap, a hand woven in the kid’s hair. He’s going to be my son, Tony thought, and his eyes stung. He’s going to be mine.

He wanted to yell in happiness, wanted to run around and scream and plaster the news everywhere, that this kid is going to be his son, that Peter Parker is soon going to be Peter Stark, and Tony had never been happier about anything in his entire life.

--

Tony separated Peter from him when it was time for bed, and Peter had to choke down the panic that rose at the thought of being out of Tony’s eyesight.

He didn’t understand why he was so afraid, or why the thought of being away from Tony for five minutes set his teeth on edge, but when Tony left him for the night, he had to take several breaths to keep from freaking out.

He got ready for bed and got under the covers, asking FRIDAY quietly if she could turn up the heat.

He didn’t cry himself to sleep that night, but he did wake up at 2:05am, gasping and shaking from a nightmare.

He had dreamt that he was in foster care, away from Tony. He dreamt that he was so numb that he couldn’t do anything but lay in bed and stare at walls, not feeling real or alive.

He shakily got out of bed and stumbled across the hall to Tony’s room, quietly opening the door and shuffling to the foot of his bed.

The lights were at about fifteen percent, which was just enough for Peter to see.

Tony was asleep on his side, his face far more peaceful in sleep than in the waking world. Peter let out a soft sigh of relief.

He was torn between wanting to wake the man up and just going back to bed to suffer in silence. He stood there, opening and closing his mouth several times.

As he stood there, he let himself get caught up in his thoughts.

Yesterday, he was so sure that Tony was going to tell him that time was up, and to pack his things. But instead, he got a speech that clearly came deep from the man’s heart and an adoption offer.

Peter was so sure he would have to live with the numbness that would take over from being away from Tony, but now, he didn’t have to worry about it.

Until Tony leaves for one reason or another, that is.

“Peter?” Came the sleepy voice, and Peter started. Tony was sitting upright in bed, looking half asleep. His eyes were squinted, adjusting to the faint light that filled the room. “What’s going on?”

“I…” Peter gathered his bearings and took a breath. “I had a nightmare.”

Tony made a noise and rubbed his eyes. “Are you okay?”

Peter nodded, biting his lip. “Can I…Uh…”

Tony patted the bed. “Get in, bud.”

Peter climbed into the bed, reveling the warmth and comfort it provided. He made a small, happy noise as Tony covered him up with the blankets.

Peter turned on his side and faced Tony, who was looking at him, obviously waiting for something.

Peter sighed. “Go ahead and ask.”

“What was it about?” Tony questioned softly.

Peter stared at Tony’s chest instead of his eyes as he talked. “I dreamt I was in foster care.”

Tony made a noise. “And?”

Peter swallowed. “I… I couldn’t feel anything.”

Fear pierced Tony, and it showed on his face, but he replaced it with a look of muted concern. “Oh.”

Peter nodded, dragging the sleeves of his sweatshirt over his hands and meeting Tony’s eyes. “It scares me,” he admitted. “I don’t want to feel that way ever again.”

“You won’t,” Tony promised, cupping Peter’s face and running a thumb along his cheek. “You’re stuck with me now, kid.”

Peter’s eyes darted away, and he bit his lip.

Tony’s heart sank horribly, and he stopped his ministrations.

He sighed quietly. “You have to be honest with me, Pete.”

Peter’s eyes flicked up for a second, before flicking back down.

“Do you want me to adopt you?” Tony asked softly. “It’s fine if you don’t, I understand. There are other options.”

“No,” Peter said quietly, but firmly. “No. I want this. More than I’ve ever wanted something before.” He let out a quiet, humorless laugh.

“Then why don’t you seem happy?” Tony whispered, albeit a little heartbrokenly.

Peter’s breathing stuttered a little bit, and he briefly shut his eyes. He didn’t want to say it, because saying it would make it more real, but Tony needed to understand. “Because I’m not your son yet,” He whispered, the word “son” feeling odd on his tongue. “I’m still an orphan. I don’t belong to anyone.”

And fuck, that broke Tony’s heart. “You belong to me.”

“No, I don’t,” Peter shook his head slowly. “Temporary guardianship lasts sixty days. The sixty days are up. I belong to no one right now.”

Tony stared at the kid, lost for words.

He had never heard Peter sound so jaded. It was almost as if he had made peace with the situation, but his tense posture and clenched fists told Tony how much he was really hurting.

“Peter,” Tony tried to keep his voice even and soothing. “You are mine. I don’t need paperwork, and I don’t care what a court says. You’re my kid.”

Peter shook his head, blinking quickly several times. “Don’t get my hopes up like that,” he whispered, the sound barely audible. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep.”

“I’m not,” Tony’s voice was hushed. “It’s the truth. You’re my son. No one can tell me that you’re not.”

Peter shook his head, but now there were tears falling onto the sheets. “It’s not going to last,” he whimpered. “Nothing good ever lasts for me.”

“This will,” Tony whispered. “Just you and me, buddy.”

Peter’s face crumbled into a sob, and Tony pulled him against his chest.

“You’re mine,” Tony whispered. “This is your reality, Peter.”

Peter swallowed and nodded against Tony, finally starting to believe him.

Chapter Text

Someone gently shook Peter from his slumber the next morning.

“Time to get up, buddy,” Someone was quietly saying.

Peter opened his eyes a little and saw Tony leaned over him, a gentle smile on his face.

“Morning, Pete,” Tony said softly. “How are you feeling today?”

Peter peered up at him, still half asleep. “Mmm… Good,” he gave Tony a sleepy smile.

Tony’s smile widened. “Good. I’m glad,” he stood straight. “There’s breakfast waiting upstairs in the kitchen for when you’re done getting ready.”

Peter nodded and sat up, rubbing sleep from his eyes as Tony left the room.

He lay there for a minute, thinking about the events of yesterday with a smile on his face.

I’m going to be adopted. I’m going to be Tony’s son.

He let out a sigh of contentment, his brain full of happy thoughts, before getting out of Tony’s bed.

He made his way across the hall to his own room and got ready for school, before going up to the living space, donning a Midtown sweatshirt, jeans, and his converse.

There were waffles waiting for him, with bacon, eggs, and hash browns.

There was also a note tucked under the plate, which he took out before settling down and eating.

Kid,

I had to leave for a meeting, it was called last minute. But I had the chefs prepare you this breakfast, since I know how much you love waffles.

Have a good day at school. I’ll text you.

Tony.

Peter smiled fondly, before tucking the note in his pocket, sitting down, and eating breakfast.

He then trekked to school, the biting cold freezing his still damp hair, which then thawed when he got on the subway.

It refroze when he got off, however, and he shivered violently as he walked the New York streets, his chapped hands tucked into the pockets of his jeans. He passed by a bank, and the electronic sign showed what temperature it was. Twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit.

Winters were hard for Peter ever since the spider-bite. Spiders couldn’t thermoregulate, and while it didn’t drive him into hibernation like it would an actual spider, it made him lethargic and sleepy, as well as wracked his body with horrible shivers.

Twenty-five degrees wasn’t bad, however. He was tired, sure, but not to the levels that he would be if it was ten degrees colder.

He zipped his coat up to his chin, hurrying his pace to keep himself warm.

He walked into Midtown with five minutes to spare before the bell rang, and he hurried to his locker, shoving his backpack in and grabbing the things he needed for his fifth period class.

The bell rang, and Peter hurried off to class.

He sat down in calculus, and quickly sent a text to Tony. “Thanks for breakfast. The waffles were really good.”

He tucked his phone away as Mr. Hapgood walked in.

They had a test on derivatives, which Peter thought he did well on. Even though calculus wasn’t his favorite subject, he was still good at it.

As he was walking to second period, chemistry, his phone buzzed.

He withdrew it from his pocket. “I aim to please. How’s school?”

Peter smiled. “Not terrible. I just took a calc test and I think I did well. Abt to go to chem.”

He walked into his chemistry classroom just as another text came in. “Proud of you, kid.”

Peter beamed, a warmth blossoming in his chest. He typed a response. “Thanks Tony.”

Chemistry started, and the teacher had them do a lab. Ned was his lab partner, and Peter could feel his eyes on him as they put their goggles and gloves on.

“You seem happier today,” Ned observed, turning on the hot plate.

Peter snapped his latex gloves over his hands. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Ned said, tilting his head. “Did something happen?”

Peter smiled as he put an Erlenmeyer flask on the hot plate but didn’t say anything.

 The lunch bell rang, and Peter and Ned made their way to the cafeteria.

Peter ordered a large lunch and sat down across from MJ and next to Ned, digging in.

“You’re eating again,” MJ observed, taking a bite out of her red apple.

Peter shoveled a bite of mac and cheese into his mouth. “Mm.”

“So, is depressed and moody Peter gone?” she asked, her eyes squinted.

Peter swallowed. “I wasn’t depressed—”

MJ fixed him with a look, and Peter sighed. “Yeah, okay. I was depressed. But everything’s fine now. Actually…” he smiled down at his food. “Everything’s better than fine.”

“Are you going to elaborate?” she said in annoyance.

“Why were you so upset last week?” Ned questioned, concerned. “You’re not usually like that.”

Peter dug his fingernails into his palms, trying to calm himself. “I… I thought Tony was going to put me in foster care,” he mumbled.

Ned gasped. “He would never!”

Peter shrugged. “He’s my temporary guardian. Temporary guardianship only lasts sixty days, and the sixty days are up. I thought I had a one-way ticket into the system.”

“So, you thought you were going to be alone,” MJ said slowly, and Peter winced at the word “alone. “

“Yes,” he whispered. “I thought I was going to be alone and n—” he stopped himself. “I thought I was going to be alone,” he finished lamely.

He cleared his throat. “But… yesterday, he asked me if I wanted him to adopt me.”

Ned gasped so loud that a couple people looked over, and MJ blinked in shock. “Oh my god, Peter, that’s awesome!” Ned whispered excitedly. “Iron-Man’s going to be your dad!”

Peter’s breath caught in his throat at the word “dad”, and a smile slowly spread across his face.

“Yeah,” he grinned stupidly. “He’s going to be… yeah.”

Ned immediately launched into a monologue of excitement, but MJ stayed quiet. She fixed Peter was a piercing, calculated gaze.

Peter raised an eyebrow at her. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

MJ pursed her lips. “Don’t take this the wrong way… but are you sure this is a good idea?”

Peter blinked. “What do you mean?” There was an edge to his tone, one that he was sure MJ picked up on.

“Tony Stark isn’t exactly a role model,” she said hesitantly. “He has a reputation as a party animal, has a history of alcoholism and chauvinism, used to sell horrible weapons … and he’s a little self-centered, Peter.”

Peter stared at her, blood rushing to his face and his heart racing. “How can you say that?” he asked in an angry whisper. “You don’t even know him!”

“I know what I see on the news,” she said, still hesitant but not backing down. “I don’t think he’s good, Peter.”

“You don’t know him,” Peter hissed, angry tears entering his eyes. “You don’t know how much he’s done… How much he’s helped me. The news is wrong!”

Ned glanced anxiously between the two of them, his eyes wide with worry. MJ squinted at Peter again. “I don’t think Tony Stark is a good influence.”

 “Yeah? Well, I don’t care,” Peter grasped his tray, glaring at her.

MJ looked at Peter, and Peter was a slight glimmer of pity in her brown eyes. “I’m just worried about you,” she said finally.

 “Don’t be. I don’t need your worry,” he stood, taking his tray with him. “I’m going to the library.”

He dumped his lunch into the trash, put away his tray, and walked out of the cafeteria.

--

“How’s your day going, Pete?”

Peter stared at Tony’s text, trying to ignore the misery in his gut. He sighed, which earned him an angry glare from the librarian.

“It’s ok,” Peter sent back, which was a total lie.

His phone buzzed. “That doesn’t sound convincing.”

Peter ignored the text, but his phone buzzed a second later with a new one. “What’s going on, bud?”

Peter swallowed, and hastily typed another text. “I’ve got to go to class. I’ll talk to you later.”

It wasn’t a complete lie. The bell rang about a minute later, and Peter walked to AP World History.

His teacher, Mr. Reid, droned on about the Industrial Revolution, and Peter fought to pay attention.

How can she say that? Peter thought, watching with his head propped up on his hand as Mr. Reid flicked through Powerpoint slides, his languid voice nearly putting Peter to sleep. She doesn’t even know him and she’s judging him!

He started to get worked up, and angry tears ashamedly sprung to his eyes. Tony’s not self-centered; that’s the last thing he is! He gives up sleep to comfort me and to make sure I’m okay and he cancels trips because I don’t like being alone and he talks me down from panic attacks and… and…

A tear slipped out of his eye, and he swiped at it. Great, now he was crying in class.

He silently thanked God that the room was dark as he stuck his fingers in his eyes to prevent more tears from falling.

His heart ached for Tony, for his dad, and he took a quiet breath.

The bell rang soon, and Peter trudged to Study Hall, which he shared with both Ned and MJ.

MJ was already there when he entered the room, and he made it a point to not sit next to her. He knew it was childish, and he knew it would probably regret it later, but the things she said about Tony were fresh in his mind.

Ned sat down next to him, looking distraught. “Are you okay?” he asked quietly.

“I’m getting real sick of people asking me that,” Peter muttered, and Ned looked even more upset. Guilt churned in Peter’s gut.

“MJ’s sorry,” he said quietly. “She didn’t mean to upset you.”

“How could she say that?” Peter asked quietly. “She’s never met him. Why would she just assume all those horrible things?”

Ned looked sad. “She reads the news a lot… and they’re not exactly nice towards him, Peter.”

“But it’s not true,” Peter’s voice filled with emotion. “He’s not like they say. He’s…”

“I know,” Ned said, cutting across Peter. “I know he’s not what they say he is, but MJ doesn’t have anything to go off of except what she reads.”

Peter flared his nostrils. “You shouldn’t judge someone by their reputation,” Peter said heatedly, taking out one of his binders and putting it on the desk, opening it up to his homework. “It’s not fair.”

“Peter—” Ned started.

“Leave me alone,” Peter snapped.

Ned sighed, but stood and walked away.

Peter started his homework, feeling worse than before.

--

When he got home, he was horrendously irritable.

He walked into the living room with a scowl on his face. Tony was in the kitchen, about to greet his kid with a smile, when he took in Peter’s hostile body language.

Uh oh, Tony thought as Peter threw down his backpack.

“Hey, Pete,” Tony said carefully, pouring both Peter and him a glass of orange juice. “How was school?”

“Fine,” Peter said shortly, his face still pulled into a scowl.

“O-kay,” Tony said slowly, treading carefully. “Want to tell me about it?”

“No,” Peter said, avoiding Tony’s eyes. “Can I go patrolling?”

Tony blinked. “Can you what?”

“Can I go patrolling?” Peter asked snappishly, and Tony reeled back.

“First of all, cut the attitude,” he said sternly. “And I mean it, kid. Don’t talk to me like that. Second of all, why?”

Peter took a breath, trying to calm his anger. “It’s been two months,” he said, with a little heat. “I’m done just sitting around and letting shit happen.”

“Hey, watch your language,” Tony reprimanded, and Peter threw him a look. “Christ, kid, what is up with you?”

“Nothing,” Peter took another breath. “Can I please go patrolling?”

Tony pursed his lips, considering. “You can… after you tell me why you’re so angry.”

Peter looked jubilant for a second, but then his expression darkened. “It was just a hard day. That’s all.”

“Nuh-uh,” Tony shook his head. “You were fine when I texted you in the morning, kid. Something happened.”

Peter avoided Tony’s eyes. “I had a fight with one of my friends. That’s all.”

“That’s not all, obviously,” Tony observed. “What did you fight about?”

Peter still didn’t look at Tony, as MJ’s words rattled in his brain. “Just something stupid. We’ll get over it.”

Tony opened his mouth to press further, but Peter cut him off. “Well, this was a nice chat. See ya!”

He dashed towards the elevator, and Tony was left alone in the kitchen with his orange juice.

--

It felt amazing to be in the suit again.

Peter admired himself in his bathroom mirror, smiling slightly. His anger had abated, and he was thrilled to go out and start helping people again.

There was a knock at his door, and he ran over and opened it.

Tony stood there, hands tucked in his pockets, rocking back and forth on his toes.

“Lookin’ sharp, kid,” he observed, pushing down his panic. “Listen, I want to just lay down some rules—”

Peter groaned loudly. “Ugh! Really?”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Yes, really. This is dangerous, Pete.”

“I’ve patrolled a million times, Tony,” Peter insisted. “This isn’t any different.”

Oh, but it is, Tony wanted to say. If something happens…

“Rule number one,” Tony took a breath, trying to calm his anxiety. “I want you to text me every hour. It doesn’t matter what it says, but I want to know that you’re okay.”

Peter opened his mouth in objection, but Tony gave him a look, and he shut his mouth.

“Rule number two: You must have your phone on you at all times. No exceptions. Rule number three: I want you back at the tower by eleven o’clock.”

“What!” Peter exclaimed, outraged. “Eleven o’clock? Are you kidding—”

“Fine, ten o’clock,” Tony crossed his arms, and Peter blanched.

“Nonono, eleven’s fine!” Peter squeaked, gesturing with his hands.

 “Mhmm, that’s what I thought,” Tony said, smirking in satisfaction. “Anyways. Rule number four: you must have your watch on. I know you haven’t been wearing it to school,” Peter looked down guiltily. “—but that I don’t really mind. I know you’re relatively safe at school. This is different. I want that watch on your wrist at all times.”

“Sorry,” Peter muttered. Tony laid a hand on his shoulder.

“Rule number five,” Tony said quietly. “If you feel overwhelmed, or if you’re in danger, call me. If you can’t call, send your location.”

Peter raised his eyes and was met with pure fear in Tony’s eyes. It made him stagger slightly.

“Tony,” Peter said, his voice a mere whisper. “I’ll be fine.”

Tony pulled Peter into a hug, not wanting to let him go. “Rule number six,” Tony murmured. “Promise that you’ll be safe?”

Peter hugged Tony tight, trying to comfort the man. “I’ll be safe.”

Tony hugged him a second longer, burying his face in his hair, before letting him go. “Alright. Go get em, kid.”

Peter beamed. “Thanks, Tony.” He pulled his mask over his head and ran out of the bathroom.

Tony stepped out as well, and saw Peter run out onto the balcony. Tony blinked, confused.

Then, he realized what his kid was about to do and let out a strangled cry as Peter leapt off the railing, plummeting into the city below.

He dashed out onto the balcony himself, his heart in his throat, panic seizing him violently and leaving him unable to move.

“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” Tony muttered, watching as the red and blue blur that was his child fell through the air.

Peter shot out a web, which latched itself onto a building and he swung, shooting another web at another building, propelling himself forward.

He let out a cry of exhilaration as he continued the action, hearing the cold air whistle in his ears. 

I’m back, Peter thought, unadulterated happiness flowing through him. Finally.

--

Tony was anxious.

He paced the living room, phone in hand, worrying about Peter.

He checked his messages and Peter’s vitals every couple of minutes, and then checked the news in between.

He’s going to be fine, Tony tried to reassure himself. He’s Spider-Man, he can handle himself.

It didn’t stop Tony from being alight with worry. Disastrous scenarios played through his head, and several times he had to calm himself down from the edge of a panic attack.

The hours dragged, and Tony just wanted his kid home safe.

--

Peter forgot how much he genuinely enjoyed being Spider-Man.

Even though it wasn’t a very action-packed patrol, it still felt good to get out and not be Peter Parker for a few hours. He helped a couple elder ladies across the street, stopped a guy from harassing a couple of high school girls, and even reunited a lost dog with his owners.

He sent Tony a text every hour, with two simple words: “I’m okay.”

It was about six thirty when he decided to head back to the tower for a quick dinner, so he swung back, propelling his body through the open air, narrowly avoiding trees and buildings in his wake.

He leapt onto the side of the tower and sprinted up the side, grinning to himself.

He climbed onto one of the living room windows, peering inside.

Steve and Bucky were in the kitchen. Steve was sitting on one of the barstools, and Bucky was bent over a cookbook by the stove, his face scrunched up in a look of concentration.

Tony was pacing around the entire space, his phone in hand, worried etched on his face.

Peter knocked on the window, and everyone looked to the source of the noise. Tony let out a yelp and ran towards the window, yelling at FRIDAY to open it.

Peter climbed inside, pulling off his mask with a laugh.

Suddenly, he was being hugged tightly by a slightly-shaking Tony, who was running his hands across Peter, obviously checking for injuries.

“Are you okay? Are you hurt?” Tony held him out at arms-length and continued to pat him down.

“Tony, I’m fine!” Peter insisted, watching as Tony ran his hands down his arms, eyes slightly wild.

“Are you sure?” Tony asked, taking Peter’s face in his hands. He peered into his eyes, checking for a concussion.

“Yes, I’m sure!” Peter batted his hands away. “Seriously!”

Tony heaved a breath, before hugging Peter again briefly.

Peter resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “The most I did was stop a dude from harassing some high schoolers, relax.”

Tony ignored him. “Are you hungry? I can make you something.”

“Since when do you cook?” Peter asked, looking at Tony weirdly.

“I cook!” Tony insisted. “I can make a mean mac and cheese.”

“Yeah, from a box,” Peter teased. “I’ll just make myself a sandwich.”

“Actually, Buck’s making something,” Steve said mildly, smiling slightly. “It’ll be ready in a few minutes.”

“Oh, cool!” Peter exclaimed. He turned to Bucky. “I didn’t know you could cook.”

“Haven’t in a while,” Bucky mumbled, checking on one of his pots. “It’s good.”

“Good,” Steve echoed, smiling in an aloof way. Tony mimed vomiting behind him.

Peter watched as Bucky scooped some rice onto a plate, followed by some beef and vegetables.

He thanked Bucky for the food with a smile, before sitting at the table.

It was a delicious dinner, but Peter probably would have enjoyed it even more if Tony wasn’t watching him the whole time. His gaze skirted over Peter, protectiveness in his eyes.

Peter ate quickly, before standing. “Thanks for dinner! Gotta go!”

Tony paled. “You’re going back out?” he asked, barely concealed worry in his tone.

“Well, yeah,” Peter said, glancing down at Tony. “I have until eleven, right?”

Tony looked incredibly unsure. “Can’t you just stay in the rest of the night?”

Peter stared at him a second, before slowly shaking his head. “People might need me.”

But I need you too, Tony almost said, but stopped himself last moment.

“I’ll be fine, Tony,” Peter insisted. “I’ll see you in a few hours.”

He turned away. “FRIDAY, open one of the living room windows.”

“No—” Tony started to say, but the window opened, and Peter was already leaping out of it.

The window closed, and Tony buried his face in his hands.

It’s going to be a long few hours.

Chapter Text

It was a pretty dull night.

Nobody seemed to be out, which Peter found sort of peculiar. Even at night, the streets of Queens had a smattering of people mulling about, but now, it was almost as if they were deserted.

Sure, there was the occasional homeless person that would hobble across the empty lanes, but they didn’t stay around.

It was ten-thirty, and Peter was perched on top of a building, looking down on the abandoned streets below.

He heard a scream about a minute later, and he felt guilty about the pulse of excitement that ran through him. Finally, something to do.

He swung through the streets as another scream pierced the air, and he increased his speed.

He dropped down and then sprinted into an alleyway.

He turned the corner as another scream tore through the quiet night, and he stopped dead.

There was a woman, crouched in the corner of the dark and dirty alleyway. She was screaming loudly, clutching her forearm, and a figure was standing over her, dressed in dark clothes and a hood.

Based on the build, height, and stance of the person, Peter deduced it was a man. There was a blood-coated knife in his hand, and Peter immediately shot a web, trying to wrap the blade of the knife to keep it from hurting anyone else, but he missed, and the web glued the knife to the person’s hand.

The figure turned, his face hidden by shadow, and Peter’s spider-sense went haywire.

It was almost like someone had driven a blade of dread into his stomach. Every fiber of Peter’s being was screaming that he was in danger, that he needed to get away and run.

It was a terrible feeling. Every cell in his body felt like it was on fire, rejecting whatever creature was in front of him.

“Jason, is that you?” Peter snarked, but the Friday the 13th joke was ruined, because his voice cracked halfway through.

The person didn’t say anything, just started towards Peter.

He was inhumanly fast, and Peter had to quickly dart out of the way to avoid getting stabbed.

“Didn’t someone teach you not to run with knives?” Peter asked, jumping up onto the side of a building.

The woman screamed again and ran away, leaving Peter to deal with the hooded figure.

“Listen, I don’t want to hurt you,” Peter said, backflipping back onto the pavement. The hooded figure stood a few feet away, his shoulders moving. “Maybe if you put down the knife we can talk—”

“Shut up,” the figure growled, voice gravelly, worn, and menacing.

It sent a chill of revulsion up Peter’s spine, his spider sense still screaming at him, trying to warn him.

“Jesus, you need to lay off the cigs, man,” Peter said, trying to ignore how his gut churned with unease. “Smoking kills. Didn’t you take DARE in school?”

The figure growled again, tore off Peter’s webbing like it was made of string, and charged forward.

Peter blanched, and had to dodge several knife swipes, before he successfully knocked the blade out of the figure’s hand.

He noticed cracked, pale skin, and bruises on the knuckles of the figure’s exposed hand. Peter stole a look at the person’s face.

He wore a black mask, which covered most of his face. The person’s eyes were exposed, however, and they were heavy lidded, with bruise-like circles underneath. His irises were as black as the pupil, and whites of his eyes were laced with red veins. The person had no eyelashes, and the eyes were wide, almost eerily so.

Peter’s senses screamed, and he dodged a swipe of a new knife, which had suddenly appeared out of nowhere.

It threw Peter’s balance off, and he was distracted for a split second, but it was enough for the hooded man.

He bolted, and Peter expected him to head for the streets, but he watched in awe as the figure scaled the building on the left and disappeared onto the roof.

His agility was impressive, and Peter gawked for a split second before scaling the building as well, following after the figure.

The person was jumping from rooftop to rooftop, moving incredibly fast. Peter was fast as well, though, so he kept up pretty well.

“Who are you?” Peter called, using his webs to propel him forward. “Why do you have so many knives?”

The figure glanced behind.

It slowed him down, just a fraction, and Peter finally caught up to him. They immediately started fighting again, swinging and slashing with the knife. It zinged through the cold air, and Peter ducked and dodged, listening to his spider-sense as it told him when to move.

It was intense. The mysterious person was incredibly skilled, wielding the knife like it was a part of him, but Peter was fast and good at dodging.

A car honked on the street below, and it distracted Peter for a fraction of a second, but it was enough. He slashed right underneath Peter’s right collarbone to his shoulder, slicing through the spandex of the suit and leaving a long, deep cut on his skin.

Peter gasped, and quickly dodged as the person jutted the knife outwards, in a stabbing motion.

But then, the figure was off running again, and Peter let him go, the cut on his collarbone bleeding profusely.

Wow, He thought. That hurts.

It wasn’t the worst pain he had experienced, though. Not by a fraction, but it was enough to cripple him a little bit. Every time he moved his arm, the cut smarted and oozed blood, and he sighed.

He took out his phone and glanced at the time. 10:55.

Shit. He only had five minutes to get back to the tower.

Not wasting any more time, he shot a web and swung off the building, before repeating the motion.

He cried out as he felt the cut burn with the motion, and he nearly flattened himself against a building in his momentary agony.

He shot a web just in time however, slinging away from the building.

It was a painful trip back to the tower; every movement of Peter’s arm opened the cut a little more. By the time he was climbing up the tower, the entire right shoulder and right pectoral of his suit were drenched in blood, staining the already red fabric even darker.

It was starting to bleed and hurt less, however, as his healing factor started to kick in.

He attached himself to one of the living space’s windows and peered inside.

Tony was sat at the kitchen counter, staring at his phone, a hand shaking around a glass of apple juice.

Rhodey was next to him, talking to him, but Peter couldn’t hear through the glass and he didn’t possess the ability to read lips.

Time to bite the bullet, Peter thought, and knocked on the window.

Rhodey and Tony both instantly looked up, and Tony knocked the barstool over in his haste to get up.

“FRIDAY, open the window!” he barked, and the AI obliged, one of the large windows ascending.

Peter clambered inside, shivering slightly.

Tony breathed a sigh of relief and went to hug Peter, but then he saw the kid grasp slightly at his shoulder, and Tony zeroed in on the action, his eyes landing on the gash.

Peter saw the color drain from Tony’s face, and immediately launched into reassurances. “Don’t freak out, it’s not that bad, it just bled a lot—”

“Don’t freak out?” Tony thundered, obviously freaking out, his eyes widening as he took in Peter’s slashed and blood-soaked suit. “What the hell happened?”

“Uhh… some guy brought a knife to a fist fight?” Peter said sheepishly. Tony let out a strained breath, before leading Peter over to a kitchen chair and sitting him down in it.

Rhodey came over as Tony checked Peter’s eyes for a concussion.

“Oof, that’s deep, kid,” he said, examining Peter’s gash. “We’ve gotta clean that so it doesn’t get infected.”

Tony pressed onto Peter’s stomach and ran his hands over his ribs, checking for any breaks.

“Tony, I’m f—”

“Don’t,” he said, his eyes flashing. “Don’t say you’re fine.”

“But I am,” he insisted softly. “It’s just a little cut—”

“Your suit is soaked in blood,” Tony said through his teeth, his face still pale. “It’s not just ‘a little cut’”

Peter sighed, throwing his head back with a groan. Rhodey rummaged under the sink for the first AID kit and brought it over.

Tony snatched it out of Rhodey’s hands and wrenched it open, ripping open an alcohol-free cleansing wipe with his teeth.

He bent down over Peter and started to clean the cut.

Peter hissed in pain when the cleansing wipe touched the wound, his face scrunching up. Tony stopped, his eyes flashing to Peter’s.

They stared at each other for a second, before Tony’s expression broke slightly. He made a strangled noise deep in his throat before tucking Peter’s head under his chin, taking deep breaths.

Peter instantly felt bad. He didn’t realize how scared Tony was, for he could feel the man’s pounding heart and hear his shallow breaths.

“I’m alright,” Peter promised shakily, trying to reassure him. “It’s honestly not bad, it doesn’t hurt, I swear.”

“Fuck,” Tony whispered, his breath hitching. Peter’s concern morphed into full on anxious worry as Tony took another deep breath.

“Dad,” Peter murmured, not thinking. “It’s okay. Breathe.”

Dad. Tony froze, caught between terror and ecstasy. Peter froze as well, realizing what he said.

“I don’t, uh…” his voice was high with mortification. “I didn’t…”

Tony let Peter go and gently said, “I’m going to clean the cut, okay?”

Peter stared at him, his mouth opening and closing like a fish, before nodding.

Tony was gentle as he cleaned out the wound, and Peter bit his lip to keep from crying out. The gash was already healing, but the cleansing process still hurt.

Once he deemed it clean enough to avoid infection, Tony began to dress the wound, using the gauze from the first aid kit. Peter sat still, his face flushed with the embarrassment from calling Tony dad.

Once Tony was done, he stood back, looking Peter up and down. Peter felt like he was being x-rayed.

Then, Tony sighed. “You’re going to kill me, kid.”

“I’m fine,” Peter said again, feeling like a broken record.

“That’s not helping,” he said, taking a seat in one of the kitchen chairs. “Jesus.”

“Relax, I’m not dying,” Peter said with an eyeroll. “It’s just a cut.”

There was silence for a minute, during which Tony stared unabashedly at Peter, his eyes flicking between his face and his gauze-wrapped shoulder.

“What happened?” Tony said, trying to let himself calm down. He’s fine. Stop freaking out.

Peter sighed. “I was perched on top of a building when I heard a woman scream. I rushed to where it was and saw a dude standing over her with a knife. I then began to fight said dude.”

“And?” Tony asked, somewhat hysterically.

“Well… he slashed the knife at me, and I dodged it a bunch, and I even managed to knock it out of his hand. But then he pulled out another one. He… he was really agile. It was weird… he scaled a building and then ran on the rooftops, trying to get away from me. He didn’t seem to be worried about falling.”

Tony considered this, his lips pursed. “But how did you get cut?”

“Oh, right. Yeah, I got distracted for like point-zero-zero-one second and he managed to cut me. I was preoccupied by it and he got away.”

Tony looked stricken. “Did you see his face?”

Peter nodded, the hairs on his arms standing up as he recounted it. He shuddered involuntarily, and Tony’s concern grew.

“Uh, yeah. He was pale, I think… I only saw his eyes.”

“What did they look like?”

Peter bit his lip. “They were dark and bloodshot. He had dark circles underneath and…” Peter shuddered again. “He didn’t have any eyelashes. And his eyes were like, wide. Like, freakishly wide.”

Tony tried to school his expression into one that wouldn’t convey how worried that description made him.

A bitter expression crossed Peter’s face. “I shouldn’t have let him go.”

“No. You did exactly the right thing,” Tony countered. “I’m proud of you.”

“You shouldn’t be,” Peter whispered. “He’s going to go out and hurt someone else, like that poor woman. She was scared out of her mind.”

“You said he was holding a knife over her, right?” Tony asked, trying to get all the details.

Peter nodded. “Yeah. He was holding a bloody knife and she was in the corner of the alleyway, clutching her a—” Peter cut off, his eyes going wide, the blood draining from his face.

Tony rushed over and knelt next to him, not at all liking the look on the kid’s face. “What? What’s wrong? Are you in pain?”

Peter shook his head and took a shallow breath. “I… I think… I think I just fought the Marionette.”

The breath caught in Tony’s throat. “The serial killer? Are you sure?”

Peter nodded minutely. “The woman… she was clutching her forearm, and all of his victims had cuts on both their forearms, leading up to the crease of the elbow.”

Tony arched an eyebrow. “How much have you read about this?”

Peter looked slightly guilty. “Uh…”

Tony groaned. “Kid. You shouldn’t be reading that stuff. It’s not good for you.”

“I should have gone after him,” Peter said miserably, twisting his mask in his hands.

He looked close to tears, and Tony sighed. “Alright, time for bed, buddy.”

Peter blinked. “What? No! It’s only eleven!”

Tony stood, his joints popping. “Yeah, and someone cut your shoulder open with a knife. Bed.”

Peter groaned, but obliged, and the two of them took the elevator down to their floor.

They said their goodnights and went into their rooms, and Tony was so shaken from the night that he stayed up for another two hours, either watching TV or doing some work on his laptop.

He turned off the lights around one but didn’t fall into an uneasy sleep until around two.

--

“Tony.”

He looked up and saw Peter, walking towards him. Tony’s face broke out into a smile, and he stood, about to meet his kid halfway.

“Tony.”

Peter’s side was suddenly covered in blood, his face bloodless. He staggered and fell, and the wound in his side gushed a fountain of blood, staining the floor.

Tony rushed to him, crashing to his knees beside his child, his hands coming down on the lesion.

Peter coughed, and a trail of blood ran down the side of his face from his mouth. Tony was lost for words.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, more blood escaping his lips.

Tony remained speechless, his eyes glued to his son’s face.

“I’m sorry, dad,” Peter said, his eyes drifting shut.                                                                                                                                             

He stilled.

--

Tony’s eyes jetted open and he bolted upright in bed, a strangled cry escaping his lips.

The blankets were too heavy and entrapping, so Tony kicked them off violently, his breathing already starting to get quick and unsteady.

He settled a hand over his chest, trying to breathe. His entire body quivered as he sat there, trying his best to take even breaths.

It didn’t work. His mind kept bringing up images of Peter’s body on the ground, bleeding horribly, his small voice saying, “I’m sorry, dad.”

Stop, his brain tried to rationalize. Peter’s fine. He’s in the room next door.

But the dream had just felt so real…

He had felt Peter die in the dream. He had seen his body go still, saw the life leave his eyes.

Tony took a breath, trying his hardest to calm down.

Once he could breathe a little better, and his heart wasn’t threatening to give out, he got to his feet. He ran-walked out of his room and into the hallway, before stopping right in front of Peter’s room.

He gently pushed open the door, thankful that the it didn’t squeak.

“Lights five percent, FRIDAY,” he ordered.

There was a head of curly brown hair poking out of a mountain of blankets, which rose and fell steadily. The room was filled with heavy breathing, both Peter’s and his own.

The relief was intoxicating, and Tony let out a sigh, slumping a little.

He stood there for a minute, breathing, watching Peter sleep soundly.

The panic was still there, but it was less so, and he took a deep breath.

He shut his eyes briefly and scrubbed a hand down his face, attempting to chase away the leftover muddled confusion and panic left due to his nightmare.

“He’s fine,” Tony whispered to himself, taking another breath. “He’s fine.”

There was a small noise, and the mountain of blankets moved.

A very sleepy Peter emerged, hair stuck up in several directions, eyes barely open.

“Wha—?” he whispered, rubbing his eyes. He looked around, his eyes undoubtedly adjusting to the darkness. “Wha’s goin’ on?”

Tony looked at his kid, his heart swelling. Peter looked incredibly warm and snuggly.

“Who’s there?” Peter asked, his sleepy voice slightly fearful, and Tony quietly approached the bed.

“It’s just me,” he whispered.

“T’ny?” Peter asked, his eyes finally focusing.

“The one and only. Go back to sleep, bud.”

“Why are you up?” Peter asked, sounding more awake.

Tony sighed. “I had a bad dream. Go back to sleep.”

“You had a nightmare? What was it about?” Peter asked, sounding concerned.

“Nothing,” Tony snapped. “Go to sleep Peter.”

Peter grumbled, laying back down. “Well, you’re the one who came in here.”

Tony sighed again, sitting on the end of Peter’s bed. “You got me there. I didn’t mean to snap at you.”

“S’fine,” Peter said, his voice muffled somewhat by his pillow. “’re you sure you don’t want to talk about it? You always make me talk about my nightmares.”

Yeah, but how do I tell you that I dreamt about you dying? That’s enough to send even a grown man into hysterics, Tony thought desperately, watching as Peter turned over, fixing him with his large brown eyes.

Tony let out a sigh, gently running his hand through Peter’s curls. “I’m sure, buddy. Thank you.”

“M’kay,” Peter said, his eyes drifting shut. Tony could see sleep starting to creep up on the kid again. He continued running his hand through Peter’s hair, love in the gesture. “Goodnight dad.”

Dad. “Goodnight, Pete.”

Chapter Text

It was finally February, which meant it was Academic Decathlon season once again.

Peter walked into school on Monday and was assaulted by MJ, who came charging up to him like an angry bull.

“Decathlon practice after school,” she said, glaring at him. “Be there.”

Peter still hadn’t forgiven her for the comments she had made, so he glared at her before walking away, not giving a response.

He spent half the day listening to Ned trying to persuade him to talk to MJ again, but he wouldn’t budge.

When the bell for lunch rang, Ned was hovering anxiously next to Peter as they made their way to the cafeteria.

Peter bought a large lunch (which he could afford, now that Tony was taking care of him, but he tried not to think of that too much) and sat down in the spot he usually ate.

Ned sat next to him, and then MJ was there, looking bored and uncaring as usual.

“Sup, losers,” she said, setting down her paper-bag lunch and swinging her legs over the bench.

Peter stayed silent, putting ketchup on one of the three cheeseburgers he bought. He took a bite, noticing that meat was dry and overcooked but being too hungry to care.

“You’re going to eat three cheeseburgers?” MJ asked, raising an eyebrow at him.

Peter stayed silent, setting his face and chewing slowly.

“Are you still pissed at me?” she asked in a disbelieving tone.

“Depends,” Peter shot, glaring. “Are you going to take back what you said about Tony?”

MJ narrowed her eyes, considering him.

“No,” she said finally. “I meant what I said. Based on his past history, I don’t think he should be in charge of a minor.”

“You don’t know him,” Peter said through gritted teeth.

“I know enough,” MJ said firmly. “I don’t need to meet him. His public actions tell me enough about him as a person. He’s not meant to be a father.”

Peter scowled at her. “Then yes, I’m still pissed at you.”

MJ gave him a look, and he scowled down at his food.

They didn’t talk for the rest of lunch.

--

Peter loved Academic Decathlon. Truly, he did.

But he didn’t love Flash’s consistent comments thrown his way.

Throughout the entire practice, Flash was either making comments or sending him dirty looks, which was distracting, to say the least.

It happened at the next practice as well, the following day. MJ would throw out a question, Peter would answer while pointedly not looking at her, and Flash would say something rude at Peter’s expense.

It didn’t bother him, really. It was usually just comments about Peter being a loser, or something similar. Plus, after practice, Tony would pick him up, and they would either go back to tower for dinner or Tony would take him out somewhere. Peter would talk about school, and Tony would talk about anything and everything, cracking jokes and making Peter laugh so hard that his sides hurt.

Flash’s insults were annoying, but dinner with Tony afterwards made them bearable.

But then Thursday rolled around, and it got much, much worse.

It hadn’t been a good day for Peter. Tony wasn’t there when he had woken up, which made Peter feel sickeningly lonely for some reason. He had gotten a B+ on a Chemistry quiz, which he wasn’t happy with, since he knew he could do better.

Not only that, but he still wasn’t talking to MJ. It was draining to be mad at someone, but Peter wasn’t going to stop until MJ took back what she said about Tony.

Decathlon practice rolled around, and Peter was half-tempted to skip it that day. He was tired, achingly so, and sitting through an hour and a half practice just sounded incredibly draining.

But skipping gave him anxiety, so he went begrudgingly.

When he got to the practice room, he glanced at the schedule to see when he was going, and he blanched at what he saw.

He was the last one to go, and who was he against?

Flash.

He stared at it, silently pleading with the universe for it not to be true.

No such luck.

Setting his face, he marched up to MJ, who was writing something on a clipboard.

“Why am I against Flash?” he hissed.

MJ didn’t look at him, just kept writing. “Because he needs to practice, and you were the only one that I hadn’t paired anyone up with yet.”

“Can you change it? Please?” Peter asked, an edge to his voice.

MJ finally looked at him, and her eyes were cold.  “Why should I?” she asked, her voice icy.

Peter stared at her, before turning on his heel and sitting down in a chair, crossing his arms.

Practice went by fast, and before Peter knew it, it was his turn.

He got onto the stage and sat at the right table, his hands clenched into fists.

Flash sat on the left table, and his glaring eyes were sending daggers Peter’s way.

MJ started to fire off questions, and Peter quickly pulled ahead of Flash, being quick and accurate with his answers.

He could see Flash’s glare out of the corner of his eye, but he was so focused on getting the questions right that he didn’t pay it much attention.

His ten minutes were up quickly, and he had won by a landslide.

He stood from his place and started to walk off stage, when a loud voice rang out.

“Where’re you going, Penis?” Flash asked loudly. Peter rolled his eyes and kept walking, his hands curling into tight fists.

“You going home? Oh, wait,” Flash snickered. “You don’t have one.”

Peter froze, his hand on the railing of the stage stairs.

“That’s right, everyone!” Flash called, and Peter knew everyone was listening. “Penis here is an orphan! He has no family!”

The room was deadly silent, and Peter felt a flush creep up onto his face. He stared at the ground, but he could feel everyone’s eyes on him. His fists tightened.

Cold dread filled him. Oh god, everyone knows.

“How does it feel, Penis?” Flash said venomously, and Peter swallowed, his heart racing, stomach churning in embarrassment. “How does it feel knowing that no one wants you?”

Peter swallowed, his eyes stinging.

“How does it feel,” Flash continued. “knowing that you’re alone?”

Alone.

Hearing the word was enough for Peter’s breath to catch in his chest, for his mind to shut down in terror.

Alone.

He needed to get out. He needed to leave, because he could feel the panic attack beginning to start, and he didn’t want his teammates to watch his meltdown.

The next breath he let out was a wheeze, and he bolted, running out of the practice room in a dead sprint, nearly tripping over his feet in his haste.

He sprinted to the bathroom and collapsed against the wall, sliding down and pulling his knees up to his chest.

Everyone knows now, he thought, shutting his eyes, shaking horribly. Everyone knows no one wants me. Everyone knows I’m alone.

He was making involuntary hiccuping noises, but no tears escaped his wide eyes. Trembles wracked his body as his heart raced, and a part of him wondered if he was dying and shamefully being grateful about it.

I’m a freak with no parents, Peter thought, shutting his eyes tightly and burying them in his knees, trying his hardest to breathe. Everyone either leaves or dies and I’m always going to be alone.

He gasped a breath, his chest and ribs hurting.

The bathroom door swung open, and in came MJ, her face guarded, eyes concerned.

Peter choked on a breath, letting out an involuntary whimper.

“Peter?” MJ asked, getting on the same level as him. Peter’s ears were ringing, so it was hard to hear her. “Peter, can you hear me?”

Peter wheezed, trying to breathe, and worry flashed across MJ’s face.

“You’re having a panic attack,” she said, more to herself that to him. “Okay. Um…”

He buried his face in his knees and let a couple tears slip, biting his lip to keep from sobbing.

Peter’s phone buzzed in his backpack, and MJ immediately searched his bag for it.

She fished it out and accepted the call.

Tony smiled as he heard the phone on the other end accept the call. “Hey bud, I’m outside,” he said, leaning back leisurely in the driver’s seat, contemplating where he wanted to take Peter for dinner.

“Uh…” The smile immediately fled Tony’s face. He sat up straight, dread filling his stomach. That’s not Peter. “Is this… is this Tony Stark?”

“Who are you and why do you have Peter’s phone?” he asked coldly, a hand already on the car door handle, the other hand on his wrist, ready to call a suit to him.

“I’m his friend, MJ,” the person on the other end explained, their voice shaking slightly. “Peter’s right here… I think he’s having some sort of a… a panic attack?”

Fuck.

Tony pushed the car door open and starting fast walking up to the front doors of the school. “Where is he?” he demanded, taking the steps two at a time.

“He’s in the boy’s bathroom by the auditorium,” the girl, MJ, said. A second later the call was ended.

“He’s coming, Peter,” MJ said softly, and Peter let out another whimper.

Tony opened the metal school doors and glanced at the sign that pointed him to the auditorium, before running down the hall, glad that the school was mostly empty.

He found the boy’s bathroom and pushed open the door.

Peter was on the ground, face buried in the knees pulled into his chest, shaking. There was a girl with frizzy brown hair and dark skin sat across from him, on her knees.  Tony recognized her, from that cold, December day, when he and Peter had the meeting with the principal.

Tony immediately walked forward and got onto his knees next to Peter, who had removed his tear-streaked face from his knees. The relief Peter felt at seeing his dad made his eyes fill.

“Hey, Pete,” Tony said softly, gently.

Peter’s lip quivered, his wide brown eyes miserable. He let out a horrible gasping sound, almost like he was being strangled.

“Breathe for me, buddy,” Tony murmured, and Peter choked on nothing, wheezing. "Peter. I need you to breathe."

Peter took in a breath, and another, repeating the action several times before shutting his eyes and leaning his head back against the wall, physically and emotionally exhausted.

“Keep breathing,” Tony coached quietly, and he turned to the girl who was sitting adjacent to him.

MJ looked over at him, and the first thing Tony noticed was how intimidating her stare was. She seemed to peer into his soul, with her calculating brown eyes, and Tony blinked.

“Do you believe in climate change?” she asked, eyes narrowed, and Tony was completely thrown for a loop.

It took him a second to gain his composure. “Yes, of course,” he responded, bewildered.

MJ didn’t so much as blink. “Good,” she said, before looking over at Peter, who had one eye cracked open, watching the interaction.

“I’m sorry,” she said, sounding sincere. “I shouldn’t have paired you up with Flash. That was a dick m—” she cut off abruptly when she saw Peter’s frantically panicked eyes.

“Flash?” Tony asked, looking between the two of them sharply. “Who’s Flash?”

Peter wasn’t up for this. He didn’t want Tony’s questions, or MJ’s apologies. He wanted to go home, cry, and fall asleep all at the same time.

“No one,” Peter mumbled, his tired eyes landing on Tony. “C-Can we go home, Dad? Please?”

Tony’s eyes turned soft in an instant. Dad. “Sure, buddy. Can you stand?”

Peter nodded, sighing. He stood, his legs shaking slightly but not too much, and Tony stood as well, his back protesting.

Peter looked at Tony, and Tony wrapped him in a hug. Peter made a noise into his chest.

“You’re okay,” Tony murmured, pressing a kiss to Peter’s hair. “We’re going home. You’re okay.”

Tony had momentarily forgot that there was someone else in the room, and he looked up sharply, trying to find MJ.

But the girl had left, leaving the bathroom unoccupied.

“She’s gone,” Tony whispered, and Peter let out a deep sigh of relief.

Tony kept one arm around Peter and reached down with the other one to grab the kid’s bag and sling it over his shoulder.

They left the bathroom and made their way to the front of the school, and Peter was just glad they didn’t run into anyone.

They got to the car, and Peter got in the passenger side as Tony threw his backpack in the backseat.

Tony started the car, and Peter curled up, his head against the cold window.

They pulled out of the school, and Peter shut his eyes, feeling strangely hollow.

--

They got home, and Peter wanted nothing more than to cry and sleep.

Tony had other ideas, though. He brought the two of them to the living room, sat Peter on the couch, and brought him a tub of ice cream.

Peter wasn’t hungry, but he took the metal utensil and the cold dessert anyways, digging out a small bite and stuffing the spoon in his mouth.

He hummed happily when he realized it was Brownie Batter, his favorite ice-cream flavor from his favorite ice-cream brand, Ben & Jerry’s.

Tony sat down next to him, with his own Ben & Jerry’s flavor, New York Super Fudge Chunk.

They ate silently for a few minutes, Peter thoroughly enjoying his ice-cream.

But of course, they couldn’t just enjoy the silence. “What happened, bud?”

Peter paused, the spoon halfway to his mouth. He slowly lowered it and dropped his eyes.

“Just a bad day,” he waved his hand dismissively. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Oh, I’m going to worry about it,” Tony said, giving Peter a look. “That was not just a bad day.

“It was,” Peter said, a challenge to his tone. “I’m fine. Everything’s fine.”

“Your hands are shaking,” Tony observed, narrowing his eyes. “and you are avoiding my eyesight. Something happened, and you don’t want to tell me for some reason.”

Peter shot him a venomous look, one which Tony frowned at. “And now you’re acting angry because I’m pressing you on it,” Tony said, holding his gaze. “Who’s Flash?”

“Some kid on my Decathlon team,” Peter said, dropping his stare and looking at his ice-cream, no longer hungry.

“Why did MJ apologize for pairing you up with him?” Tony pressed, wishing that Peter would give him something to work with.

“Because he’s… really good,” Peter lied, not even sure why he was lying.

“You’re a terrible liar,” Tony observed, no heat to his tone. There was a pause, before Tony asked in a soft voice, “Does this kid bully you?”

Yes. “No,” Peter lied, again, but his voice shook. His hands curled into fists.

“Peter,” Tony said, his voice still soft. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

There wasn’t anger, there wasn’t betrayal. There was pure sadness in Tony’s voice, and it hurt even worse.

“How am I supposed to tell the person I look up to that I get called Penis Parker every day at school?” Peter hissed, his fists tightening, drawing blood from his palms. His eyes prickled. “That I get called a loser, or a freak, or an orph—” Peter couldn’t finish the word.

“Or a what?” Tony asked, voice so soft and gentle.

“An orphan,” Peter whispered, hating the word and the fact that it was true.

 “Peter,” Tony said, still gentle and soft. “You are not a freak, and you are not a loser. You’re compassionate, incredibly smart, brave to a fault…” Tony gently grabbed Peter’s chin so that the kid was looking at him. “And most importantly, you’re my son.”

“I’m not your son y—”

“I don’t care,” Tony cut across him. “I’ve told you, Pete. I don’t need papers or a court to tell me that you’re my kid.”

Peter sighed, closing his eyes, letting Tony’s words wash over him. “It just gets annoying,” Peter said quietly. “I get tired of constantly being at the butt of his jokes.”

“I’ll say something,” Tony promised. “I’ll tell the school. Do you want me to have him expelled?”

Peter shook his head, staring down at his ice-cream again. He sighed. “No. It’s fine.”

“Peter,” Tony said, a little agitated. “It’s not fine. I don’t want someone treating you like this—”

“Yeah, but it’s no something to ruin someone’s life over,” Peter insisted. “It’s fine. I deal with it.”

“You shouldn’t have to—”

“Yeah, well, I shouldn’t have to deal with a lot of things, but I do,” Peter snapped, his eyes flashing up to meet Tony’s. “It’s better Flash picks on me rather than some defenseless kid. I can take it.”

“I’m not okay with this,” Tony said firmly. “Something is going to be done about it.”

Peter gritted his teeth, wishing they could just drop the subject. He regretted even telling him what was going on.

“Eat your ice-cream, Pete,” Tony said then, taking a bite of his own.

Peter looked down at his ice-cream, before shaking his head. “Not hungry.”

“Don’t care,” Tony said smoothly. “Eat.”

Peter clenched his jaw again but shoved a mouthful of brownie batter ice-cream into his mouth, hating how much he enjoyed the flavor.

“Why did you have a panic attack?” Tony asked quietly.

Peter sighed. “Just something Flash said. It was stupid, I don’t know why I freaked out.”

Tony ate a spoonful of ice-cream. “What did he say?”

Peter didn’t say anything. He clenched his fists tightly, his fingernails opening the already healing cuts that he had made a few minutes previously.

How does it feel, knowing you’re alone?

“Peter?” Tony asked quietly, concernedly, and Peter’s eyes met Tony’s. “You’ve gone pale. What did he say?”

Peter’s hands shook, and he placed them on the sides of his pint of ice-cream to steady them. “H-He said… ‘how does it feel, knowing you’re a-alone?’”

Tony stared at his kid, heart hurting. Jesus, that kid hit right where Pete is sensitive, didn’t he? “You’re not alone, buddy. You know that, right?”

Peter shrugged, digging his spoon into his ice-cream and playing with the substance, just to have something to do.

“Peter,” Tony said lowly. “I’m right here. You’re not alone.”

“I know that,” Peter mumbled. “I’m just scared of you leaving.”

“I’m not leaving,” Tony said automatically, which may or may not have been a lie. Just that morning, Pepper had sent him and email regarding a four-day trip to Europe. She wanted him to go within the next few weeks.

Tony didn’t want to go, but he knew he couldn’t get out of it. He would have to leave, eventually.

Peter sighed deeply, biting his lip. “But you’ll have to leave eventually.”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Tony said, brushing Peter’s hair back. The kid leaned into the touch. “Right now, though, we’re going to sit, eat ice-cream, and watch Disney Movies.”

Peter shifted. “Can we watch The Incredibles?”

Tony groaned. “Again? Seriously?”

“I like superheroes!” Peter insisted. “You know it’s a good movie, don’t even pretend.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Ugh, fine. But only because you’ll be annoying if we don’t watch it.”

Peter smiled, and Tony couldn’t stop the corners of his mouth from quirking up, as well.

--

The next day at school, MJ approached Peter with a guilty look on her face.

Peter was at his locker, putting a binder away, when she came over to him, clutching a thick book.

“Peter?” MJ asked quietly, causing Peter to turn around and face her.

“Oh,” Peter blushed in embarrassment, remembering that she saw his complete meltdown yesterday. “H-Hi, MJ.”

“I just… wanted to apologize,” she said nervously, which made Peter blink in shock. MJ was a lot of things, and nervous wasn’t one of them. “I shouldn’t have judged Tony Stark before I met him. I’m sorry.”

Peter blinked, shocked. That wasn’t what he expected.

He shut his locker and let out a breath. “It’s okay. You were just worried about me. But… you get it now, right? He’s… He’s a big part of my life, and he’s helped me a lot. The news, the media, Twitter…” Peter shook his head. “They just don’t know him.”

“I didn’t know,” MJ said sadly, fixing Peter with her piercing brown eyes. Peter’s stomach swooped, and his face burned hot. “I’m sorry,” she said again.

Peter smiled. “I forgive you.”

Chapter Text

Peter went patrolling again that night, but there was no sign of the Marionette anywhere.

Tony had warned him specifically not to go looking for the serial killer, but curiosity had gotten the better of him, and he went back to the scene of the stabbing.

He spent about a half an hour in the area around it, but the most notable thing that happened was a car alarm going off.

He went back to the Tower at his curfew, windblown and slightly disgruntled.

Tony was waiting up for him, looking slightly less anxious than he did the other night but still worried.

The weekend passed quickly, much to Peter chagrin, and soon it was Sunday night.

He crawled into bed at ten thirty, scrolled through Instagram, Twitter, and watched a couple YouTube videos for about an hour and a half, before shutting off his phone and staring at the ceiling.

He wanted to sleep, but his mind thought it would be a great idea to replay all the depressing shit that happened in his life (like how May said goodbye as she left the apartment on November 23rd, which was the last thing he heard her say, before she drove to her death, just to get them dinner. He wondered if she was scared. If, in her last moments, she experienced the rush of death approaching and felt fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of being alone).

Needless to say, when his alarm went off after only an hour of sleep, tears filled his eyes as he buried his head in his pillow.

But Tony came in about a minute later, his sock-clad feet barely making any noise on the hardwood. “We’ve got a blizzard warning, bud,” Tony whispered, sitting on the edge of Peter’s bed, gently carding his fingers through his hair. “School’s cancelled.”

The pure, intoxicating relief that followed Tony’s words was enough to make Peter cry, exhausted and still raw from the night before.

“FRIDAY told me you had a rough night,” Tony murmured, his nails softly scratching Peter’s scalp. “Are you okay?”

Peter let out a soft sob, and Tony shushed him, his hand coming down and wiping away the tears that made their way down Peter’s cheeks.

“I’m here,” Tony murmured, and Peter sucked in a shaking breath, shuddering. “Go back to sleep, Pete. You’re exhausted.”

Peter’s tears slowed, and he fell back into an uneasy slumber.

--

He woke up around noon, feeling slightly like he had been run over by a train but also decently well rested.

He put on the large MIT sweatshirt that he stole from Tony and a pair of his comfiest sweatpants and took the elevator up to the living room, where FRIDAY said that Tony is.

He stepped out and took in the scene before him.

The large windows were foggy, but Peter could see the thick, fluffy snowflakes falling from the light gray sky.

The living room was warm and cozy. There was a fire in the fireplace, casting warm light over the surrounding area.

Steve and Bucky were on the couch. Bucky’s head was in Steve’s lap, his sweatpants-clad legs stretched out the length of the couch. He was watching whatever was playing on the TV intently, a look of concentration on his face.

Steve was smoothing back Bucky’s hair, a look of soft affection on his face. He wasn’t looking at the TV. His eyes were only for the man in his lap.

Rhodey was at the island, his prosthetic legs dangling beneath the stool he was sat on, a Starkpad in his hand. Tony was stood in the kitchen, leaning against the marble countertop. He was staring at Steve and Bucky, his expression one of muted sadness.

He looked over to Peter when he heard the elevator door close, and the sadness was replaced by a look of soft happiness and barely concealed concern.

“Hey, Pete,” Tony said, smiling at him. “How are you feeling?”

Peter tugged the sleeves of the MIT sweatshirt over his hands and considered that.

“I’ve felt worse,” he shrugged, his voice slightly hoarse. He cleared it.

Tony nodded, a sad look coming over his face, before being replaced by a slightly happier expression. “But hey, at least there’s no school today, right?”

Peter nodded, walking over to the window and looking out.

It was hard to see. The heavy, white precipitation made the entire city look white, and the surrounding buildings were just vague, blurry gray shapes.

“How much snow are we going to get?” Peter asked quietly as Tony joined him in looking at the snowy city.

“I just watched the news, and they said about a foot and a half,” Tony said, his eyes drifting down to Peter. “The entire city’s shut down. We’re stuck in here today.”

Peter shrugged. “That’s fine. I didn’t really want to go out anyway.”

Tony resisted the urge to sigh. He shouldn’t have been surprised.

Whenever something was bothering Peter, he would take on this strange apathetic personality. It was completely unlike how he was normally, so full of light and happiness and purpose.

This was one of those days, Tony supposed, looking down at Peter, whose face was clear of emotion.

Tony knew the kid had a hard night last night. FRIDAY told him when he woke up that Peter didn’t fall asleep until five in the morning, and his heartbeat and breathing were irregular all night.

Tony wished the AI would have woken him during the night, but he supposed he couldn’t be with Peter every time something was bothering him. They were already codependent enough.

But that didn’t mean Tony wasn’t going to find out what kept him up so late. He just needed to go about it the right way.

“Since there’s nothing to do, because the city’s shut down,” Tony said slowly, an idea blossoming in his mind. “What do you say we make some cookies?”

Peter started, the first sign of life Tony has seen him exhibit that morning. “You can bake?” he asked incredulously, and Tony hit him lightly on the arm.

“Watch it, spider-baby,” he admonished, but a smile was playing on his lips. “I’ll have you know that I’m an excellent baker. I’m the best baker in the world—”

“I’ve seen you burn water, Tony,” Rhodey said absently from his place at the island. “You can’t bake for shit.”

Tony turned to Rhodey, a mischievous glee written all over his face. “Honeybear, you know I’m a master-baker. I’m so good at master-baking—”

“You’re disgusting,” Rhodey’s face pulled in revulsion. “Ugh.”

Tony chuckled, and Peter looked between the two men. “You’ve lost me,” Peter said, hopelessly confused.

“Good!” Tony said jovially, throwing an arm around Peter. “Cookies?”

Peter shrugged. “Sure.”

Tony led the two of them over to the kitchen and pulled out a cookbook, flipping through it and finding the first cookie recipe he found.

Chocolate-chip cookies. Perfect.

What’s a better remedy to a bad night than chocolate-chip cookies?

“Okay, Pete,” Tony said, clapping his hands together. “So, we’re going to need ingredients. Flour, baking powder, salt, butter, eggs, vanilla, white sugar, brown sugar, and a bag of chocolate chips. The one who gets the most items first wins.”

Peter took in Tony’s words and nodded, pushing back the sleeves of his sweatshirt. “You’re going down,” Peter taunted.

“Sure,” Tony rolled his eyes. “Just don’t cry too much when I beat you, Spider-baby.”

“I am not a baby!”

“Mhm, whatever you say, Spider-baby.”

Peter growled, and Tony chuckled. “Ready?”

“To kick your ass, yes.”

“I’m scandalized! A toddler, using such language? What would Steve say?”

“Hmm?” Steve asked from his place on the couch, sounding a little out of it.

“Not talking to you, Romeo,” Tony shot at him, causing Steve’s eyebrows to furrow. “Go back to cuddling your boyfriend.”

Steve sputtered for a second as Tony turned to Rhodey.

“Count us down, Rhodey,” Tony said, cracking his knuckles. Peter rolled his eyes.

“There’s no way you’re going to win,” Peter said, but readied himself anyways.

“Alright, three… two… one—!”

Both Tony and Peter dashed to the pantry, tripping over each other in their haste.

Tony was determined to win, his competitive streak coming out in full force. He quickly grabbed the flour and baking soda, before dashing over and grabbing the bag of chocolate chips.

His arms were full, so he dashed back out, depositing the ingredients on the island before turning on his heel to grab some more.

But, suddenly, two sticks of butter, two eggs, a bag of granulated sugar, a bag of brown sugar, and a small bottle of vanilla extract were placed onto the island.

Tony spun around, gaping at the ingredients, and being even more confused when he looked around and couldn’t find Peter anywhere.

A small giggle raised his eyes upward, and there Peter was, hanging from a web on the ceiling.

There was pure triumphant joy on his face, and even though Tony was a little peeved at the fact that he lost, he couldn’t be mad.

Because Peter hadn’t looked that happy since before May died, when their relationship was just mentor and mentee, Iron-Man and Spider-Man.

“Cheater,” Tony reprimanded. “Using your freaky spider powers to win. That’s cheap.”

Peter sprung down off the ceiling and landed gracefully on the balls of his feet. “You didn’t say I couldn’t use my abilities.”

“The kid has a point,” Rhodey commented, as he stood and started to make his way out of the kitchen.

“You’re no help!” Tony called after him, which Rhodey ignored.

 “Just admit that you lost, and we can get down to actually making the cookies.” Peter crossed his arms.

Tony rolled his eyes. “You’re so annoying.”

“You're just mad that you lost," Peter taunted. "Seriously, though. I’m starving and I want cookies.”

“So demanding,” Tony muttered, leaning over the recipe book.

They got to work, Tony listing out steps to Peter, who would follow them.

It was going great, until it was time to bring out the hand mixer.

Neither Tony nor Peter had ever used the instrument before, so after spending ten minutes trying to stick the whisks in the appropriate spots, they finally got it right and decided to cream the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and butter together.

The mixer was loud and a little difficult to use, but Peter got the hang of it and switched the mixer to high speed.

“It says to add the dry ingredients gradually,” Tony announced, and Peter grabbed the bowl of dry ingredients.

He was going to add them gradually, but his wrist had a spasm and he accidentally poured all of it in.

Immediately, flour, baking soda, and salt came flying out of the bowl, coating Peter’s face, hair, and the counter and floor in powder.

It would have been funny, hilarious even. But it got in his eyes and his nose, so he couldn’t breathe, and for a second, he was back under the building that the Vulture dropped on him.

The response was instantaneously and purely instinctual. Peter dropped the mixer, which fell onto the counter, whirring violently and jerking erratically. He couldn’t see, his eyes blurry and stinging and his nose burning.

He coughed violently, trying to get the powder out of his lungs.

“Hey,” Someone’s hands were on him, and Peter coughed again, his sinuses on fire.

There was a click as the mixer was turned off, before he heard the sound of a paper towel being ripped from the roll, and the running of tap water. Then, there was something cool and damp wiping the powder off his face.

“Open your eyes, Pete,” Tony asked gently, and Peter obliged, the whites of his eyes bloodshot and irritated.

“Can you see?” Tony questioned, and Peter nodded. Everything was a little blurry and his eyes stung but he could see, and he counted it a win.

“Jesus, kid,” Tony was still wiping his face, his eyes surprisingly tender. “Only you would cause an accidental flour bomb.”

Peter wanted to respond with something witty, but he gagged on a breath, doubling over and coughing, trying to hack the powder out.

Tony led him over to the sink and Peter coughed up a mouthful of flour mixed with spit, before rising out his mouth and taking large drinks from the tap.

“I’m never letting you bake again,” Tony vowed, as Peter continued to flush out his mouth.

Once Peter could see and breathe relatively well, Tony took over, mixing the ingredients together with the hand mixer on a much slower speed.

They then scooped small amounts of the cookie dough up and dropped it onto the baking sheets, Peter still sniffing from inhaling the flour, Tony still chuckling slightly.

Tony placed the cookie sheet into the oven and set the timer for nine minutes.

“Well, that was an adventure,” Tony said, and just as Peter opened his mouth to respond, his nose started bleeding.

“Jesus,” Tony said, and Peter blinked, wondering exactly what was happening. “Well, maybe making cookies was a mistake.”

“It’s from the flour,” Peter said, unsure of what to do.

“Pinch your nose and tilt your head forwards a bit,” Tony instructed, grabbing a paper towel and handing it to Peter. “It should stop in a minute.”

“How do you know what to do?” Peter sassed, his voice nasally.

“I used to get them all the time,” Tony rolled his eyes. “They were a pain. I used to wake up and feel the blood running down the back of my throat,” Tony shuddered. “Not fun. I got over them, though.”

“Huh,” Peter said, interested. “I didn’t know that.”

Tony shrugged. “Just one of those things. Keep it pinched, kid. I don’t want you to ruin your sweatshirt.”

“I am keeping it pinched!” Peter insisted. “Why did you use to get nosebleeds so much?”

“Bad allergies,” Tony informed him, wiping the blood that had run onto Peter’s chin and upper lip. “I still take medication for them.”

Peter was fascinated. He didn’t realize that there was so much more to Tony that he didn’t even know.

An idea popped into Peter’s head. “Do you want to play twenty questions?” he burst out, much to Tony’s surprise.

“What, like the game that gross thirteen-year-olds play when they want to get in girl’s pants?” Tony pulled a face.

Peter rolled his eyes. “No. Just… I’ll ask you a question, and then you’ll ask me a question. Simple as that.”

Tony considered that. While he didn’t really like talking about himself, (at least, not about anything important) he knew it would be a good idea to hear about what was going on with Peter, since his other tactic of corner and press for answers wasn’t really working out.

“Sure, kid,” Tony shrugged. “But on one condition: no weaseling out of answers, and no lying. If either of us asks a question, we have to answer it.”

Peter looked uneasy at that but nodded anyways. “Okay. I’ll go first.”

Tony looked at him expectantly, and Peter wracked his brain. “What’s your favorite food?”

The billionaire chuckled. “Cheeseburgers. My turn.”

“Wait! Why cheeseburgers?” Peter asked, bemused. “I was expecting, like, something stupidly fancy and French.”

“Well, you know what they say about assuming,” Tony commented, before a slightly darker look came over his face, and the smile faded. “A cheeseburger was the first thing I had when I came back from Afghanistan—” They remind me of freedom and starting over. “— and they’ve been my favorite ever since.”

Peter felt guilty for asking, then. “O-oh. I-I… I didn’t realize—”

“It’s fine, kid,” Tony said firmly. “My turn. How often do you have bad nights and just not tell me about them?”

Peter looked like a deer caught in the headlights. “I, uh…”

“Peter.”

Peter looked down, thankful that his nose had stopped bleeding. “A lot. My mind doesn’t like shutting up.”

“How often is a lot?” Tony pressed, his stomach twisting.

Peter shifted his weight from foot to foot. “Four or five times a week,” he muttered. “Sometimes less, rarely more.”

“Jesus,” Tony breathed, feeling like the worst goddamn parent in the world. “What do you do?”

“Lay there,” Peter shrugged. “Cry, sometimes.”

“Peter,” Tony whispered. “why didn’t you tell me?”

“What are you supposed to do about it?” Peter asked, slightly snappishly. “I can’t just wake you up every time I have a bad night. You need to sleep too.”

“I don’t give a shit about my sleep!” Tony said heatedly. “If you’re upset, or having a hard time, you need to tell me!”

“I already ask too much of you,” Peter expressed, his hands curling into fists. “You can’t go anywhere without me freaking out, I have panic attacks, I cry all the time, I can’t take your sleep away too.”

“I’m literally giving you permission,” Tony said, gesturing with his hands. “Jesus, Peter, you don’t have to do things alone.”

Peter winced at the word, fists tightening. He and Tony glared at each other, before Peter dropped his eyes to the floor. “My turn.”

“Fire away,” Tony snapped accidentally.

“Why did you and Pepper break up?”

Tony blinked, heart stuttering a little. “I’m not answering that.”

“I answered your stupid question,” Peter snapped, his knuckles white. “You promised.”

Tony glared at him. “She told me that I was obsessed with being Iron-Man, and that I didn’t care about anybody but myself.”

Peter gaped, suddenly wishing he hadn’t asked the question. “What? But… but you care about everybody but yourself—”

“Yeah? Well, tell Pepper that,” Tony said bitterly. He took a breath. “It’s whatever. I’m over it.”

“But not over her,” Peter commented. “You’re in love with her.”

“Of course, I am,” Tony said angrily, blood pressure undoubtedly high. “She’s… perfect, she’s Pepper. I couldn’t not be in love with her if I tried.”

That made Peter unexpectedly, unbearably sad. “Then why don't you tell her that?”

“Because I ruin her life,” Tony said, spitefully. “She deserves better than me.”

“Who’s better than you?” Peter asked, reaching into the bowl of cookie dough and eating a fingerful.

“She deserves someone normal,” Tony tried to explain, not sure why he was even bothering. “I’m a lot to deal with, kid. She doesn’t deserve that.”

“And you don’t deserve to be lonely,” Peter said, crossing his arms. “Why don’t you just talk to her? Thursday’s Valentine’s Day… why don’t you ask her out to dinner?”

Yeah, and give her another chance to reject me? I’m good, thanks.

Tony shook his head. “Anyways. It’s my turn to ask you a question.”

Peter sighed. “Hit me.”

“On a scale from one to ten,” Tony started, watching Peter for his reaction. “One being how your felt right after May died, ten being the best you’ve felt in the world, how do you feel?”

Peter blinked and considered the question. “Right now? Like, right this second?”

Tony shook his head. “In general.”

Peter bit his lip. “About a five.”

Tony held his breath. “And what were you at before May died?”

Peter swallowed. “A nine.”

Tony let out the breath he was holding. A five he could deal with. “Okay. That’s not too bad. I’m proud of you, Pete.”

Peter flushed with happiness. A second later, the oven beeped, and Tony took the cookies out of the oven.

They set them aside to cool and placed another sheet of unbaked cookie dough in the oven.

“My turn!” Peter said excitedly as Tony set the timer on the next batch.

“Jesus, I’m regretting agreeing to play this game,” Tony complained, taking off his oven mitt.

Peter rolled his eyes, before turning serious. “What are you most afraid of?”

Tony stared at him, stomach dropping. Sick images flashed through his head, most consisting of Peter dying in a gruesome manner, and the smell of the cookies baking suddenly made him nauseous.

He took in a sharp breath through his nose, fixing Peter with a hard look. “You dying. My turn.”

Peter looked taken aback at that. “I’m not going to—"

“I’m not talking about this,” Tony snapped, accidentally, and Peter blinked.

“Okay, okay,” he said, holding up his hands in surrender. “You can ask your question, jeez.”

Tony took another breath. “What are your triggers?”

Peter stared at him. “My what?”

“Your triggers,” Tony repeated, gauging Peter’s reaction. “What sets you off, or makes you have a panic attack? Because I know mine, and I think it’s important for me to learn yours as well.”

Peter opened his mouth, to tell Tony that he didn’t have any triggers, but then the word “alone” flashed across his mind and he winced.

“I…” Peter shifted his weight and looked away. “You’re going to laugh.”

Tony balked. “Peter, nothing about this is funny. I would never laugh at you over something this serious.”

Peter bit his lip. “I don’t like the word alone,” he whispered, shamefully. “It makes me think of being n-numb and…” and being without you.

Tony nodded seriously. “Okay. I won’t say it, then, at least in regard to you. Anything else?”

Peter was going to say no, that he didn’t have anymore, but suddenly he remembered the building that was dropped on him.

He remembered choking on the dust, remembered the weight of the structure pinning him down, remembered the thoughts of oh my god, I’m going to die here.

He sucked in a sharp breath. “Uh, n-no,” he stuttered. “No, I don’t have anymore.”

Tony gave him a transparent look. “You’re pale.”

Peter shook his head. “M’fine.”

“Peter.”

“Seriously!”

“Don’t bullshit. Come on, out with it.”

Peter blistered, before the words came pouring out. “Fine! I don’t like tight spaces. Are you happy now?”

Tony stared at him, before nodding. “Claustrophobia? That’s reasonable, a lot of people don’t like tight spaces. Is there a reason, or is it just a fear?”

Peter swallowed, suddenly feeling the concrete pressing into his ribs, just like it did a few months ago. God, he hated talking about this. ”N-nope. Just a n-normal phobia.”

“You’re stuttering,” Tony observed. “You do that when you’re nervous. Why are you afraid of small spaces?”

Peter felt like he was spiraling. “Y-You can’t ask two questions on your turn.”

Tony ground his teeth. “Fine. Are there any more triggers I should know about?”

Peter let out the breath he was holding. “No. Just the whole… the whole being by myself thing. I can’t… I can’t be a-a—”

“I understand,” Tony cut across, saving Peter from having to say the word. He sighed. “Your turn to ask.”

“What are your triggers?” Peter blurted immediately, then blushed, afraid he overstepped.

“Me?” Tony asked, almost as if he was surprised. “I have a lot. Are you sure you want to hear them?”

Peter nodded. “Then I can know what to avoid.”

Tony’s face softened, and his eyes were warm. Fuck, I love this kid. “The worst is water. I can’t go in pools, and I definitely can’t go underwater.

“The second worst is the dark. I can’t stand it. I sleep with the lights dimmed, and always have a light on in the car if it’s night and I’m in a dark area.

 “Sand is another one, but not nearly as bad. I can’t go to beaches, but that’s not a big loss. I never liked the beach anyway,” he shrugged. “But that’s pretty much it.”

Peter nodded, and before he could stop himself, he had his arms around Tony, squeezing him tightly.

Tony reciprocated, wrapping his arms around Peter. “I’m okay, buddy,” he said quietly, touched by Peter’s concern. “Thank you.”

Peter released him after a few seconds, before walking back over to the bowl filled with cookie dough and scooping up another fingerful.

Tony rolled his eyes at the gesture. “Alright, my turn.”

Peter licked his finger and quirked an eyebrow at him, and Tony took a second to admire how goddamn precious his kid was.

He cleared his throat. “You curl your hands into fists when you get nervous. Why?”

Peter started a little. “Oh. Uh…” he looked guilty. “It grounds me, I guess.”

Tony quirked his head. “How does it ground you?”

Peter looked away. Oh, he’s not going to like this. “It… I feel a little pain, and it grounds me.”

Tony stared at him, stomach dropping to his feet. Peter looked sheepish.

“Peter,” Tony said, even though it felt like his lungs had disappeared. “that’s… that’s not good.”

Peter shrugged. “It helps.”

“It shouldn’t.”

“But it does.”

Pain shouldn’t help anything. That’s dangerous, Peter.”

“Why, though? It doesn’t hurt bad. It’s just a pinch.”

Tony ignored the rising anxiety in his chest. Sure, it starts with a pinch, and then…

“Show me your palms.”

Peter started violently. “What?”

“Palms,” Tony said, his voice low, slightly threatening. “Show them to me. Now.”

Peter stared at Tony for a second, his mouth ajar slightly, before turning his palms up.

Tony grabbed them, trying to be gentle, and examined them.

There were crescent shaped marks on them, but they weren’t deep enough to draw blood. Tony ran his finger over them.

He took a breath. “I don’t want you to do this anymore.”

Peter sighed. “I think you’re overreacting.”

“I assure you,” Tony said, squeezing Peter’s hands, trying to calm himself down. “I’m not.”

Peter saw the raw fear in Tony’s eyes, and swallowed. “Okay,” he whispered, trying to be reassuring. “I won’t do it anymore.”

Tony nodded, and let his palms go. The over timer beeped again, and Tony took out the second batch of cookies, setting them aside to cool.

Peter scooped up the last of the cookie dough and put it on another sheet, which Tony put into the oven.

Peter washed his hands and dried them, before saying, “Alright, my turn to ask a question.”

Tony nodded, setting the timer on the oven. “Shoot.”

“What’s something that you’ve been keeping from me?” Peter asked, leaning against the kitchen counter.

He wasn’t expecting Tony to pale, or for the humor and warmth to leave his eyes.

Cold dread settled in the pit of Peter’s stomach. “What is it?” he breathed, eyes growing wide.

Tony swore under his breath. He hadn’t planned on telling Peter this way, but the kid was going to have to know eventually.

Pepper, apologizing on every breath, told him she booked him a hotel in London for next Thursday through Sunday. As his chief vice president, she would be joining him on the trip as they discussed tax on Stark Industries imported goods with the HM Revenue and Customs department, amongst other things.

Peter would have to stay behind, and Tony knew it was going to be hard on him.

Tony looked over at his kid, and his mind flashed to the last time he told Peter he was leaving.

“Maybe you should sit down,” he said quietly, and fear flashed across Peter’s face.

“Why?” he asked anxiously. “Why do I need to sit down?”

Tony chewed the inside of his cheek. “Next week,” he said slowly, afraid of Peter’s reaction. “I’m going to London for a few days.”

Peter stared at Tony, his heart skipping a beat before breaking out into a sprint. His hands shook as he gripped the counter behind him. The room suddenly felt hot.

“I’ll come with you,” Peter said immediately, his voice cracking and shaking.

“Buddy…” Tony said quietly, seeing the fear in Peter’s eyes and hating the fact that he put it there. “You… You can’t. I’m sorry.”

The remaining color left Peter’s face, and his knees shook horribly. He had to hold himself up by gripping the counter tightly.

“Shit,” he gasped, feeling lightheaded as panic raced through him. He tried to take a breath but was met with the familiar sensation of not being able to, his heart beating so fast and loud that he could hear it in his ears.

Tony was there, then, holding him up by pulling him close, and Peter buried his face in Tony’s shoulder, gasping.

“I’m sorry,” Tony whispered, hating himself. “I’m so sorry, buddy.”

“I’m going to be a-a—” Peter gasped, legs still trembling.

“No,” Tony said firmly. “I’m not going away for long, and I’m going to call you every night. You can text me whenever you want, and you’ll be around the team. You’re not going to be by yourself.”

Peter took a shuddering breath. “I’m s-sorry.”

“Don’t you dare apologize,” Tony murmured, running his hand up Peter’s spine. “This is one of your triggers, Pete.”

“I’m such a baby,” Peter whispered, eyes filling with tears. “I c-can’t even be away from you for a few days without freaking out.”

“It’s one of your triggers,” Tony repeated. “I understand, okay?”

“I just—” Peter sniffed, and Tony tightened his hold. “—I just wish I wasn’t so w-weak…”

“Peter Parker, you are not weak,” Tony said fiercely, pulling Peter off of him so he could look him in the eye. “You have dealt with so much—”

“I’m afraid of the world a-alone,” Peter whispered, and shuddered. “I’m weak.”

“Peter, sometimes I can’t even shower because I’m so afraid of water,” Tony said, giving Peter a hard look. “Does that make me weak?”

“N-no,” Peter whispered, his eyes wide.

“Exactly,” he said softly. “You’re not weak, bud. It’s okay to be scared and anxious.”

Peter looked away, his eyes still wet.

“Hey, look at me,” Tony commanded gently, and Peter’s eyes snapped back to his. Tony ran his thumb across Peter’s cheek. “We’ll get you through this. Just you and me, buddy, okay?”

Chapter Text

Dinner that night was a strange affair.

It was, what Steve liked to call, a “team dinner”; which meant that everyone had to attend. So, Natasha dragged Bruce out of the lab and Wanda got Vision, and they all sat down to eat the Indian food that Tony had delivered.

Peter and Bucky joined, even though they weren’t on the team. Peter sat next to Tony and Bucky next to Steve.

The conversation was light-hearted, and everyone seemed relatively cheerful. Peter, despite his mild anxiety attack earlier, was in a good mood. He cheerfully talked about getting a churro from an elder lady that he helped on patrol the other day, and Tony couldn’t help but smile at how adorably dorky his kid was.

Tony’s eyes drifted to Steve and watched as Barnes whispered something in his ear. Steve blushed bright red, and Tony blinked. Huh, he’d never seen Steve blush before. It looked funny on a man of his size.

Tony looked away and went back to eating his Alu Gobi, listening to the other conversations happening around the table. Bruce and Vision were talking about science, which Peter was also listening to. Rhodey and Clint were talking about politics, and Natasha and Wanda were talking about something that sounded suspiciously like girl talk.

He would deny it if asked, but he actually did enjoy team dinners. It was almost like… like he had a family.

He glanced at Peter, who was excitedly babbling to Bruce about what he was learning in Chemistry.

Tony’s heart swelled, and he reached over and tousled Peter’s hair, affection in the gesture.

“Dad,” Peter whined, fixing his hair. Tony froze, glancing around to see if anyone heard.

No one was paying attention, except Bruce, who smiled warmly. Tony’s mouth twitched.

Suddenly, the table moved, and the conversation lulled, everyone looking to the source of the movement.

Steve’s face was bright red, and he cleared his throat. “Sorry. My leg slipped.”

There was a beat of quiet, before everyone returned back to their conversations.

Tony quirked an eyebrow and watched Steve’s hands shake as he took a drink from his water.

Bucky was grinning wildly next to him, his metal hand gripping a fork and stabbing a piece of tandoori chicken, his flesh hand out of sight.

Tony shook his head, having a faint idea of what was going on, but not wanting to entertain it and lose his appetite.

The rest of the meal passed without issue, and afterwards, they watched a movie.

Steve and Bucky left after the meal. Steve got up from the table, his face still red and a hand tucked into his pocket, Bucky still grinning smugly.

Everyone exchanged knowing looks when the pair left, and Tony let out a barking laugh, the image of Steve’s bright red face still in his mind.

Peter looked at him curiously. “Why are you laughing?”

Tony shook his head, still chortling. “Nothing, buddy. You’ll find out some day.”

Peter rolled his eyes, but the movie started, and all conversation ceased.

--

Tony lay awake that night, listening to the faint noise of the snowplows, thinking about what Peter had suggested earlier.

Thursday’s Valentine’s Day… why don’t you ask her out to dinner?

He sighed, staring up at the ceiling.

He missed Pepper more than ever these days, and he wasn’t sure why. It had been months since they’d together, so rationally, he should be over her.

But every time he heard her voice over the phone, or saw her in person, it was like all that time away had meant nothing. He was as infatuated with her as ever.

He groaned and rolled over, annoyed at Peter for putting the idea of being back with her in his head.

She told me it’s not going to work, Tony thought bitterly. She’s not going to get back with me. I need to stop kidding myself.

But maybe a simple dinner wouldn’t be too bad. And maybe he would pretend that he didn’t know it was Valentine’s Day. It was characteristic of him to forget the date.

He reached over and grabbed his phone from the nightstand. The screen illuminated his face, and he tapped his messages app, hesitantly typing out a text to Pepper.

Do you have plans for Thursday night? He typed, before sighing and backspacing.

Maybe he should be assertive. Dinner. You and me, Thursday night.

No, no. That was rude. He can’t just assume she doesn’t have something more important to do.

He took a breath and tried again. Hey, if you’re free Thursday night, do you want to catch dinner?

He sent it before he could overthink.

He laid there in the semi-darkness, silently dreading her answer, when his phone buzzed.

Where at?

Tony let out a breath. Eleven Madison Park. I’ll pick you up at seven and we can eat at seven thirty.

His phone buzzed a few seconds later.

Is this a date?

Tony swallowed. If you want it to be.

Do you want it to be?

Tony chewed the inside of his cheek. Yes. Very much so.

His phone buzzed. Then it’s a date. I’ll see you at six thirty on Thursday.

Tony let out the breath he was holding. See you then, Pep.

He turned off his phone and beamed at the ceiling.

Thursday couldn’t come fast enough.

--

Thursday rolled around, and Peter woke up to FRIDAY’s voice.

“Good morning, Peter,” FRIDAY announced. “Today is Thursday, February 14th. Mr. Stark is waiting for you in the living space.”

Peter sighed. Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day used to be special for Peter. When Ben was still alive, they would have a three-way date night, and go to a fancy restaurant that they definitely couldn’t afford. Then, Ben would surprise May with a bouquet of roses and give Peter a small box of chocolates, since he said he loved May and Peter equally, just in different ways.

It was a good memory, and Peter had loved Valentine’s Day.

And then Ben got murdered, in front of Peter’s eyes, and their tradition ceased. May would try to do something for Peter on Valentine’s Day, whether it was taking him out to eat cheap Chinese food or getting him a piece of chocolate, but they both knew that the holiday was ruined somewhat.

And now May was gone too, and Peter realized that he wished the holiday just didn’t exist.

With another heaving sigh, he got up and dressed, putting on a white button up with a gray sweater overtop, along with a pair of jeans.

He combed his curls and shoved his feet into his New Balance sneakers, before he somberly made his way up to the living room.

He was met with Tony, who was wearing a pink apron and flipping red velvet pancakes onto a plate.

“Jesus Christ,” was the first thing Peter said when he took in Tony’s outfit, the shock driving the depressing thoughts of May and Ben off his mind.

“Morning, Pete,” he said happily, as Peter sat at the counter. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

“You look ridiculous,” Peter observed, smiling slightly.

“I look great, actually. My ass looks amazing in this apron,” Tony said, posing.

Peter scrunched his face up in disgust. “Eww. You’re weird.”

“Sue me,” Tony said with a shrug, passing Peter a stack of red velvet pancakes. “Today is going to be a good day.”

Peter raised an eyebrow. “Any particular reason, or can you just feel it?”

Tony grinned at him. “Oh, I can feel it.” He paused. “And I have a date with Pepper tonight.”

A smile slowly spread across Peter’s face. “Really? An actual date?”

Tony nodded, smiling. “Yep, and I’ve got you to thank for it, Pete.”

Peter started, a bite of pancake halfway to his mouth. “Me? Why?”

“When we were playing that god-awful game of twenty questions the other day, you suggested I ask her out for dinner. So, I followed your unusually good advice, and now I have a date,” Tony explained, a smug smile playing on his lips. “We’re going to dinner tonight, at a place in Manhattan.”

“That’s awesome, Dad!” Peter said happily, before wincing and pressing a hand to his forehead. “Shit. I need to stop doing that.”

But Tony was beaming at Peter, eyes light and happy. “No, you should do it more.”

Peter looked up at him, feeling self-conscious. “It doesn’t weird you out?”

Tony shook his head. “Quite the opposite. I’m glad you think of me that way.”

Peter shrugged. “You take care of me,” he muttered, cutting his pancakes up. “That’s what a dad does.”

Tony’s heart swelled. God, I love this kid. “You’re adorable,” Tony remarked, smirking.

Peter huffed. “I am not.”

“Are too,” he responded, turning back around to check on his pancakes.

The red velvet pancakes that had been on the skillet were now black, and an acrid burnt smell had started to waft around the kitchen.

“Shit!” Tony exclaimed, immediately turning the stove off.

“You burnt them?” Peter asked, craning his neck to try and see Tony’s mistake.

“Nope,” Tony lied, blocking them from Peter’s view. “Nothing to see here, buddy boy.”

“What’s burning?” Rhodey said, then, coming into the living space in his pajamas, nose wrinkled in disgust. “It smells like shit in here.”

Tony groaned. “Honeybear, you have the worst timing.”

“Nice apron,” Rhodey remarked, sniggering. “It makes your ass look good.”

Tony gasped, and turn to Peter. “I told you!”

Peter shook his head and ate his pancakes, wondering when his life got so weird.

--

Peter’s day went downhill from there, but he wasn’t really surprised.

Nothing bad happened necessarily. Flash was being an annoying dick to him, but that was pretty much the usual for Peter.

Maybe it was the fact that it was Valentine’s Day, and everyone at school was celebrating the holiday with gusto. He walked by three people making out on his way to his second period class, and he had to side-step around them, face pulling in disgust.

Everywhere Peter looked, he saw pink or red hearts, strewn up on the walls or stuck to blackboards, a constant reminder of what day it was.

By the time school had let out for the day, Peter decided that he really, really hated Valentine’s Day.

He took the subway home but didn’t go immediately to the Tower. He stopped by a nearby sandwich stop (one whose sandwiches didn’t even remotely compare to Delmar’s) and bought a footlong and a pack of gummy worms. He paid with the ridiculously flashy gold debit card that Tony had given him and tried to ignore how terrible he felt spending Tony’s money.

It was one of those days, he supposed, munching on his sandwich on his way back to the Tower, his exposed hand frigid in the bitter cold. One of those days that he just couldn’t be happy, even though he should be. Nothing bad happened, he had food to eat, a warm home, no financial troubles… but for some reason, everything just sucked.

Peter tossed the white paper that the sandwich was wrapped with in a nearby trashcan, sticking the gummy worms and his hands back in his pockets.

He walked into the Tower lobby and into the elevator, grateful for the warmth.

“Good afternoon, Peter,” FRIDAY said. “Where would you like to go?”

Peter sighed. He didn’t really feel like socializing with anyone. “My room.”

The elevator surged upwards.

--

Peter silently cursed his Spanish teacher as he started on the third worksheet, signing his name at the top angrily.

He didn’t understand why his teacher felt the need to assign them three worksheets a day. It was excessive, really, and bordering ridiculous.

He silently thanked himself for doing his physics homework the day before. After he was done with this stupid worksheet, he could relax and watch some TV with Tony.

There was a knock on his door. “Come in!” Peter called, looking up from his worksheet.

Tony strode into the room, dressed in a very fancy black suit, with a white dress shirt and a pink tie.

His hair was immaculate, perfectly styled, and his beard was neatly trimmed. He wore rose tinted sunglasses, and his hands were tucked into his pockets.

Peter turned back around and continued to work on his homework. Oh, right. Tony had a date. Because it was Valentine’s Day.

“Hey, Pete,” Tony said, walking over to Peter and standing right behind him. “How was your day?”

It sucked. “It was fine,” he shrugged noncommittally, turning back to his homework.

Tony wove his hand into Peter’s curls and glanced down to see what Peter was working on. “Spanish, huh?” Tony asked sympathetically, gently scratching Peter’s head. “That’s rough.”

Peter wrote down an answer and pretended that he didn’t love it when Tony played with his hair. “Yeah, it’s my worst subject. Are you ready for your date?”

Tony grimaced, stopping his ministrations.

Truth be told, he was nervous. And he hadn’t slept the past two nights before because of it.

He was afraid he was going to say the wrong thing, piss her off, and ruin the whole night. It was more likely than not; he had a big mouth and sometimes he just said things without thinking…

“Of course, I am,” Tony lied, trying to act confident. “It’s going to be great.”

Peter made a noise of agreement and accidentally let out a soft mewl when Tony started scratching again. He leaned into the touch, needing the attention after having such a bad day.

“I’m going to head out in about ten minutes,” Tony said softly, gently pressing Peter’s head against him. Peter clutched the front of his suit, burying his face in it. He smelled like aftershave, soap, oil, and something that made Peter feel safe and secure. “will you be alright?”

Anxiety pierced through him, and it left him momentarily breathless. His grip on Tony tightened momentarily. Alone. “Y-yeah, I’ll be fine.”

“Peter,” Tony said in a low voice. “you don’t have to be okay with it.”

“I know,” Peter lied, removing his face from Tony’s stomach and looking up at him. “I’m okay with this, though. Really.”

Tony stared at him, before pushing Peter’s face back into him. “I’m proud of you, Peter.”

Peter’s throat felt tight. “Thanks, Dad.”

Tony’s hold tightened, before he let go. “I’ll be back soon. Text me if you want, okay?”

Peter nodded, and Tony was gone.

Chapter Text

The car ride to Pepper’s apartment was stressful.

Happy chauffeured, so Tony was left in the backseat, anxious and getting really sick of having to sit through New York City’s Valentine’s Day traffic.

There was a bouquet of exactly fifty roses next to him, which emitted an aroma so strong it was giving Tony a headache.

God, he was nervous. He tried to tell himself that it was just Pepper, and that she had seen him at his worst (and his best), but it wasn’t working. He felt like a nervous high-schooler going on his first date.

It felt like a first date, which was an issue. Tony hadn’t been on a date in years, not since before he and Pepper broke up. Maybe it was because this all felt new.

Maybe it was because he was so scared he was going to fuck it up.

Because that’s what he does, especially with Pepper. He fucks up and he fucks up and he fucks up…

There was knot in his stomach as they—finally—pulled up to her building, in the expensive part of Manhattan.

Hands shaking for some unknown reason, he sent her a text saying that he was outside.

He got out of the car and was met with cold February air, which nipped at his hands before he tucked them into his pockets.

Pepper came out of her building a few minutes later, and Tony’s heart raced as soon as he saw her.

She was dressed in an elegant, backless, dark red dress. It was strapless and form fitting, slightly cinched at the waist and cutting off a few inches above her knee. Her hair was down, which was unusual, since she usually wore it up.

She wore gold heels with her dress, and as she came closer, Tony could see her red lipstick.

The breath was knocked from his lungs as she approached him.

“Tony,” she said with a smile as she came up to him, her heels clicking on the pavement.

He gaped at her, trying to find his voice. “Pepper,” he said hoarsely, before clearing his throat. “You look…” amazing, stunning, gorgeous, sexy “beautiful.”

She smiled warmly, and they stared at each other for a second, before Tony fumbled with the car door. “After you.”

Pepper got into the car, and Tony followed in her wake, shutting the car door.

Tony grabbed the overtly large bouquet of flowers and handed them to her. “For you, m’lady.”

Pepper’s eyes sparkled, and Tony’s heart skipped a beat. She took the roses with a smile. “They’re beautiful, Tony. Thank you.”

“Anything for you,” he finds himself saying, like a lovesick puppy, but he doesn’t care. Her beautiful blue eyes are on him and he could see all the freckles on her face, the laugh lines around her mouth.

Fuck, she was so beautiful.

He started up a light conversation, asking her how she was, if she had a good day, how work was. It was pleasant, and before Tony knew it, they were at the restaurant.

Eleven Madison Park was located on Madison Avenue, which was right in the heart of New York. It was a busy night, so there were people everywhere.

As they were getting out of the car, Tony was grateful for the crowds, because it was easier for them to blend in.

Tony held the door to the restaurant open for Pepper, and they were immediately greeted with a hostess, who led them to their table in the corner of the restaurant, like Tony had asked for when he made the reservation.

They sat down at the table, and Tony ordered the eleven-course tasting menu, which costed almost three hundred dollars.

He imagined what Peter would say if spent three hundred dollars on a meal, and he let out a small chuckle.

Pepper gave him a look. “Why are you laughing?”

Tony shook his head. “Nothing. Just thinking about Peter.”

Pepper’s face softened, and Tony’s heart skipped another beat. “You never told me… how did the adoption thing go?”

Tony’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. “It was good! Well, besides the fact that the stupid kid thought I was getting rid of him instead of adopting him, but other than that—”

“He thought you were getting rid of him?” Pepper asked, taking a sip of wine. A look came over her face, and she peered inside the wine glass. “Huh. This is really good wine.”

“Yeah, he thought I was sending him into the system,” Tony rolled his eyes. “he stressed himself out so much that he fainted, so it didn’t go exactly as planned—”

“He fainted?”

“Yeah. He wasn’t eating enough. I can’t believe I didn’t notice, I usually get on his ass about not eating as much as he should. Bad parenting, on my part. But the actual asking went well.”

“Was he happy?” Pepper asked, smiling at Tony, eyes soft.

He was about to answer when a waiter came and delivered their first course, which were warm cheese gougères.

The waiter left, and Tony placed a gougère on his plate. “He cried,” he answered. “Almost had a panic attack too, but I stopped that before it got bad. He wouldn’t let go of me the rest of the night either.”

Pepper tilted her head, concerned. “He scared that you’re going to leave him.”

“You’re telling me,” Tony muttered, taking a drink of his water.

They continued to talk about Peter amongst other things as more courses came, and soon they were both openly flirting with each other, Tony’s lips pulled up in a smirk and Pepper’s blue eyes dancing with glee.

“So, what are your plans for the rest of the night, Miss Potts?” Tony asked smoothly, leaning forward, smirking.

Her blue eyes were dark, and she learned forward as well. “I think my schedule is free, Mr. Stark. Do you have something in mind?” her voice was suggestive as she looked up at him through her lashes.

Fuck. The muscles in Tony’s stomach clenched and he resisted the urge to shift as his perfectly tailored pants suddenly became uncomfortably tight. “Oh, I have several things in mind, Miss Potts,” he murmured, his voice low.

“Would you care to enlighten me, Mr. Stark?” she asked, her tone quiet, low, sensual.

Jesus Christ almighty. If she kept talking like that, they weren’t going to be able to finish their remaining four courses.

Tony honest to god couldn’t remember the last time he had sex. It was definitely before he and Pepper had broken up, and that was awhile ago. He was still in love with her, and his sleeping around—using pleasure to replace the pain—days were a thing of the past.

But now… now Pepper was literally undressing him with her eyes and his mind was conjuring lewd images, some of which were memories and some of which were fantasies, and every part of him was thrumming with want.

“There are several things I would like to do to you, Miss Potts,” Tony murmured huskily. “God, if we were alone, I’d—”

Alert. Alert.

The watch on Tony’s left wrist flared to life, making warning noises, beeping anxiously.

He wore two watches, one on each wrist. The one on his right wrist functioned as a gauntlet, equipped with all the functionalities as a gauntlet on one of his Iron-Man suits. It could also call a suit to him if need be, amongst other features.

The watch on his left wrist, however… that was directly connected to the watch that Tony gave Peter for Christmas, which alerted him whenever Peter’s vitals were abnormal, or something was seriously wrong.

Something was seriously wrong.

--

A few hours earlier.

Peter was bored and anxious.

Tony had left for his date about thirty minutes ago, and he had finished his Spanish homework. He sat at his desk, spinning around in his chair, his mind active and annoying.

The anxiety that he used felt when Tony wasn’t around him was there, and it and the overwhelming boredom were enough to make any person go crazy.

He made his way up to the living room and made himself a snack, which was him just eating peanut butter straight out of the jar. If Tony was there, he would call him a heathen and snatch the jar away.

The thought made him sad, and suddenly the peanut butter in his mouth didn’t taste as good as it did before.

He set down the jar and sighed, his appetite gone. He looked around, trying to find something to do.

The thought came to him, and excitement filled his gut.

I can go patrolling. That’s a good way to pass the time.

He took the elevator back to his room and donned his suit, before sliding his mask over his face and running onto the balcony.

The sky was already dark, but the various streetlamps and the light pollution of the city kept it bright enough for Peter to feel comfortable leaping off the fiftieth story.

The wind whistled in his ears and the fast decent made his stomach leap, and god, he felt so alive.

He shot a web and swung through the February air, yelling in exultation.

He loved being Spider-Man. He didn’t know how he survived the two months without it. Not being Peter Parker was a heady experience, one he couldn’t get enough of. Who knew his own skin could be so suffocating?

He made quickly toward Queens, occasionally stopping to help someone out. By the time he reached Queens, he had already stopping a mugging, which left him feeling pretty good about himself.

He swung past Queens College, keeping an eye out for anything suspicious. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary, though, so he swung on.

Soon, he was in a more desolate part of Queens, which lacked the bustling Valentine’s Day commotion. The housing was low-income, and the streets were pretty bare, despite the relatively early hour. It wasn’t even ten, and it seemed like the whole neighborhood had decided to go to bed.

Peter was swinging between buildings, in an alleyway, when it happened.

His spider-sense flared violently, startling him, and suddenly something leapt at him, a flash of silver ripping through his webbing.

Suddenly, Peter was falling through the crisp air, a yelp escaping his lips.

And crack. He landed hard on his left leg, which immediately crumpled underneath him.

Pain shot through his leg, and he let out a strangled cry.

Through the haze of pain, he saw a dark figure standing at the end of the alleyway, a blade hanging from their gloved hand. The déjà vu hit him, and dread filled his stomach like acid.

Oh shit, you again, Peter thought, struggling to stand as the figure charged towards him.

Every cell in Peter’s body screamed against standing, but he got to his feet, and agony like Peter had never felt ripped through his leg, burning hot by icy at the same time, and his spider-sense howled as the figure got closer.

He lurched to the side when the figure thrust the knife at him, and just the small action was enough for bile to creep up Peter’s throat.

“You’re who they’re calling the Marionette, right?” Peter asked, trying to keep his voice strong. “The one killing and stringing up all those people?”

The figure stopped and turned, so that he was facing Peter. A moonbeam crossed his masked face, illuminating his wide, lash-less eyes.

“You’re Spider-Man,” the figure enunciated, in his gravely, worn voice. “and I’m going to make you bleed.”

Peter’s spider-sense shrieked, and he tried to move fast, but his leg was burning in agony. He just barely managed to dodge the slashing motion that the Marionette made with his blade. He shot a web, trying to aim for his feet, to slow him down, but he missed and caught the pavement instead.

He dodged another swipe of the knife, but the Marionette grabbed him by the neck, tightening his grip until Peter couldn’t breathe.

Peter easily pried the hand off with his strength, but then the Marionette violently kicked his broken leg, and Peter crumpled like a rag doll, screaming out in anguish.

Nausea gripped him, and he panted, the pain making it hard to breathe.

The Marionette climbed on top of him and pulled the mask off of his face.

Panic filled Peter and he tried to grasp the mask, but the figure dug his knee into Peter’s leg, and he gasped, his vision whiting out for a split second.

A long-nailed hand crept up and grabbed his hair, the grip iron tight.

Crack. Peter’s skull smacked against the pavement, once, twice, and all went black.

--

When he came to, his arm was on fire.

His eyes were too heavy to open, but he felt the flames lick his forearm, charring the skin.

His head throbbed, his leg felt dead, and his arm was on fire.

It was with great effort that he opened his eyes, and when he did, the world spun. Black spots appeared on his vision, threatening to pull him into unconsciousness once more, but he blinked and managed to stay conscious.

There was a sharp ringing in his ears, as he tried to sit up, but there was something heavy pressing on him.

He glanced down, and saw the dark figure, crouched over top of him, a bloody knife in his hand.

“Oh look,” The Marionette said, voice grating and gravely. His bare eyes peered down at him, wide, gaunt, and bloodshot. “Spider-Man is awake.”

Fear gripped Peter like a vice, and he struggled to find his voice.

“I’m done with your right,” The Marionette said, devoid of emotion. “Time for your left.”

The figure leant down, and Peter cried out as the blade was pressed into his wrist, and then his cry turned into a blood-curdling scream as the knife was dragged upwards in a vertical line, and suddenly his left arm was on fire too.

Peter watched as blood squirted from the wound, and he glanced at his right arm and saw that it was the same, a deep cut running from his wrist to his inner elbow, blood gushing.

A whimper escaped his lips before he could stop it, and his eyes burned with tears.

The Marionette crept up him so that his masked face and horrid eyes were blocking everything else from view.

He positioned the knife so it was in front of Peter’s throat. “And now for the throat.”

Realization filled Peter, and he shut his eyes.

I’m going to die here.

I’m so sorry, Tony.

Chapter Text

Tony’s stomach flew to his throat when FRIDAY began to speak.

Peter Parker is suffering a minor to moderate head injury, rapid blood loss due to multiple lacerations, a broken tibia and fibula. His blood pressure is 110/90 and his heart rate is 70 beats per minute. He is currently unconscious.

Tony’s vision whited out for a second, before snapping out of his trace like state, and realizing that he was repeating the words “oh my god,” over and over again.

“Tony,” Pepper was speaking to him, and his gaze snapped to her. “Tony, what’s going on?”

He couldn’t answer her. He was as white as a sheet, his pupils dilated in gut-wrenching fear. He got to his feet, pressed the “call suit” button on his right wrist and made a mad dash for the doors to the restaurant, accidentally slamming into a server and sending water filled glasses flying in his rush.

“Tony, wait!” Pepper called, and Tony knew she was chasing after him.

He pushed open the doors to the restaurant and was met with a blast of cold, and he doubled over, the panic catching up to him as he waited for his suit to arrive.

He couldn’t breathe. His child was bleeding out, unconscious and alone.

Fuck. Fuck. He made a strangled noise, trying to pull in air.

“Tony,” Pepper voice was soft and concerned, and she laid a hand on his shoulder. “Tony, what’s happening?”

He gasped, pushing the panic down as he heard the sound of the Iron-Man thrusters. “Peter’s in trouble,” he informed Pepper, feeling so horribly sick and scared. “I’ve got to go.”

The suit landed, and Tony got inside, letting the titanium alloy encase him.

“FRIDAY, full power to the thrusters, and send a message to Doctor Helen Cho. Tell her to go to the Tower medbay as fast as possible,” he ordered, and he shot off the ground, taking to the dark New York skies.

“Track Peter Parker.”

“Right on it, sir,” FRIDAY responded, and a white dot immediately appeared on his vision, where Peter was.

He may not have put a tracker in the watch, but he would be damned if he didn’t put a tracker in Peter’s suit.

“FRIDAY, update me on Peter’s vitals.”

“Peter Parker’s blood pressure is 122/90 and his heart rate is 120 beats per minute. He is no longer unconscious.”

Small victories, he supposed, shooting towards the white dot, his heart in his mouth.

--

When Peter heard the thrusters, he thought he had officially gone crazy.

He was getting lightheaded from the blood-loss anyways, so he thought it was his mind trying to put him at ease before he died.

But suddenly, there was a clunk, and Iron-Man was there, grabbing the hooded figure off of him and slamming him into the pavement until he was still.

Peter tried to sit up, but everything screamed against it, so he laid there, the wounds on his arms pouring blood onto the pavement.

“Oh my god, Peter,” came the startled gasp from Tony, the man sounded terrified.

His dad’s face suddenly came into view as he crouched next to Peter, and if Peter wasn’t so dizzy from blood loss, he may have cried.

He felt airy for some reason, but there was one thing grounding him from floating off into nothingness.

He had to let Tony know. He had to.

“Dad,” he managed to get out, his words sounding weird.

“Don’t speak,” Tony’s voice was shaking violently, terror in every syllable. “Don’t speak, buddy. I’m going to get you out of here.”

“Can’t… walk.”

“I will carry you,” Tony whispered, a hand caressing Peter’s face. “Just you and me, buddy. Come on.”

“Dad,” Peter tried again, feeling himself start to fall away. “Dad, I’m sorry.”

“God, don’t apologize,” Tony’s voice was desperate, and the hand on Peter’s face was gone. He heard the heavy footfalls of the Iron-Man suit approach, and strong, metal arms wrapping around him.

And then he was flying, the thrusters of his dad’s suit the only sound he could hear.

His eyes were slipping closed. No. I have to… I have to say it.

“Dad,” he tried one last time. Tony’s faceplate came off and he looked down, and Peter met his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, black curling around the edges of his vision. “I love you.”

And Peter dropped off the ledge he was holding onto in his mind.

--

When Tony landed in the dank alleyway, and saw a dark figure on top of his kid, he saw red.

He grabbed the person by the back of their hoodie and slammed them onto the pavement until they were still, before breathlessly telling FRIDAY to call the police.

He stumbled out of his suit and over to his kid, and oh my god…

Peter was lying in a puddle of his own blood. There was a small flesh wound on his neck, but his arms were completely cut open and oozing scarlet blood, staining his kid’s skin and the pavement.

His left leg was bent at an unnatural angle, and his face was the color of chalk, sweat sliding from his hairline down his cheeks. His lips were tinged with blue.

Tony could see his chest rise and fall rapidly, and his pupils were blown, his lazy eyes trying to focus.

He fell to his knees, brain momentarily shutting off, panic and agony overtaking every other feeling. Peter. Peter.

“Oh my god, Peter,” Tony found himself saying, hands shaking as they hovered over him.

“Dad,” Peter whispered, his eyes trying to find Tony.

“Don’t speak,” he said, scared out of his mind and not wanting Peter to cause himself any more strain. “Don’t speak, buddy. I’m going to get you out of here.”

“Can’t… walk.” he watched as Peter’s lips, which were rapidly turning blue, tried to form words.

“I will carry you,” Tony whispered, his hand gently caressing Peter’s cheek, hating how cold and clammy his skin felt. “Just you and me, buddy. Come on.”

He started to get up, but Peter wasn’t done. “Dad. Dad, I’m sorry.”

“God, don’t apologize,” Tony whispered, every cell in his body pleading with whatever greater power that he didn’t believe existed that Peter would be okay. He stood and got back into his Iron-Man suit, letting the metal encase him.

He gathered his child in his arms and took off, being careful not to jostle his head or broken leg.

He pushed his thrusters to the max, shooting through the sky and to the Tower, his heart beating so fast he thought it was going to give out.

The tower was in view, they were almost there…

“Dad,” Peter whispered, and Tony flipped his faceplate up, drinking in Peter’s face, watching his pale lips form the words, “I’m sorry.”

Tony was going to tell him not to apologize again, but the kid wasn’t done.

His large brown eyes met Tony’s, acceptance in their depths. “I love you.”

Peter’s eyes fluttered shut, and Tony’s world turned gray.

No no no no no no…

“No!’ Tony screamed, but it was lost in the wind.

He crashed into the Tower, flying backwards through a window in the medbay, not caring about the damage.

Bruce was there, as was Helen Cho, and a team of nurses and other doctors. There was a beat in which everyone looked startled at his entrance, and then even more startled at the bleeding child in his arms.

“Fix him,” Tony pleaded, his eyes meeting Bruce’s. “Fix him. Please.”

Everyone sprang into action, yelling things at each other and suddenly Peter was taken from his arms and placed on a hospital bed. He shakily stepped out of his suit, his legs threatening to collapse under him.

They were yelling things about blood transfusions and hypovolemic shock and IV’s when Bruce came up to him and started to push him out of the medbay.

“No,” Tony tried to keep Bruce from forcing him out. “I’m not—"

“Tony, you need to leave,” Bruce said, not unkindly. “You’re not helping him by being in here. You need to go.”

“Bruce, I can’t,” Tony whispered, clutching at Bruce’s arm, eyes wild. “I can’t leave him…”

“I’m sorry, Tony,” Bruce apologized, forcing Tony through the medbay doors. “I’ll notify you when he’s stable.”

And then Bruce was gone, leaving Tony alone in the shitty waiting room that he had someone install as an afterthought when he had the building built.

Tony’s legs were shaking, so he hobbled his way over to one of the chairs and sat, his entire body trembling.

He stared at the doors to the medbay, knowing that behind those doors, his child could be dying.

Peter could be dying.

It was that thought that triggered the panic attack, but it had been building for so long that he was surprised it hadn’t happened sooner.

His airways closed, and he slid off his chair, landing on all fours. His chest ached, and his left arm was so numb he couldn’t feel it. Chills danced across his skin and sweat beaded on his forehead, and fuck, he couldn’t breathe…

He was making involuntary gasping noises as his body was shaking so violently that his teeth chattered, and he was starting to grow lightheaded from not breathing.

It was then that he realized that he might be facing a life without Peter. A life without his loving, selfless, overall good kid.

Tony couldn’t do it.

He would rather kill himself than live without Peter.

He vaguely heard a door open, and suddenly there was a warm hand on his back, a soft voice in his ear.

“You need to breathe, baby,” it was Pepper, and Tony let out a shaky breath, his eyes burning with tears.

“P-P-Pep—” Tony managed through his chattering teeth, the tears slipping and streaming down his face.

I would rather kill myself than live without Peter.

“I’m here,” Pepper whispered. “I’m here.”

--

After he had broken through the worst panic attack he had ever had, he was weak, shaky, and nauseous.

He was sat next to Pepper on one of the waiting room chairs, curled into her side. His panic attack had given him a head-splitting migraine, so he took refuge in darkness by burying his face in the crook of Pepper’s neck, inhaling her vanilla scented perfume and trying to keep himself together. She held his hand tightly, rubbing smoothing circles on his skin with her thumb.

He didn’t know how much time had gone by since he was forced from the medbay, but it felt like an entire lifetime had passed. Dread sat like a stone in his stomach, and this waiting game was killing him.

“How are you feeling?” Pepper asked after what felt like an eternity of silence.

“Terrible,” Tony croaked, wondering if he ever felt worse. He felt insanely nauseous, and he just couldn’t stop shaking. “Might throw up.”

“Okay,” she said, her voice sure and steady. “Just let me know, okay?”

Tony nodded into her neck, blowing out a breath against her skin and swallowing the saliva that was collecting under his tongue.

“He told me he loved me,” he whispered, squeezing her hand tightly. “He said he was sorry and that he loved me.”

“Tony…” Pepper whispered.

“He kept calling me dad,” Tony sounded absolutely wrecked. “like he was making up for lost time. Like he was saying it for the last…”

He immediately removed his face from Pepper’s neck and looked wildly around for somewhere to throw up in, because he was going to throw up.

Pepper realized what was happening, got up, and grabbed a black wastebasket from the corner of the room. She held it under Tony’s chin, and he gagged, tears of pain welling in his eyes.

It was pathetic, really. Tony Stark, one of the most important and affluential people alive, sitting in a shittily-decorated waiting room, strings of spit hanging from his mouth as he heaved into a wastebasket.  

His extremely expensive dinner made a reappearance, the exertion from which he expelled it hurting his head worse. He felt miserable and sick and embarrassed and god, he just wanted Peter to be okay…

Scratch that. He just wanted Peter to live.

He felt Pepper leave, and he let out a pitiful moan as he dry heaved, his entire stomach trying to turn itself inside out.

Pepper came back with a bottle of water, which he used to rinse his mouth out, spitting into the waste bin.

Pepper took the bin out into the hallway and sat back down, and Tony turned his face back into her neck, wanting this nightmare to be over.

Chapter Text

Tony felt like he had aged fifty years before the doors to the medbay opened.

Bruce came into the waiting room, and Tony immediately sat up, alert and attentive.

Bruce took one look at Tony and did a double take. “Jesus Christ, you look terrible.”

“Fuck you,” Tony snapped, getting shakily to his feet. “Is he okay?”

Bruce took a breath, and Tony’s legs threatened to give way underneath him.

“It was touch and go for a while… he lost nearly four and half pints of blood, which is a Class 4 hemorrhage, and extremely dangerous. He went into hypovolemic shock, but we combatted that and gave him transfusions of blood. He might not have made it if his blood type wasn’t AB, but thankfully, it was, and we were able to give him the blood we have here. He’s doing okay and is expected to make a full recovery.”

He nearly passed out with relief, and Pepper forced him into a chair before he could collapse.

“We stitched his wounds up, but they’re definitely going to scar. His tibia and fibula are broken, and the typical recovery time is about three to six months. However, with his healing ability, it’s likely that that time will be cut in half. His concussion is a grade 2, which means his head’s going to hurt a lot in the next few days, but it’s not dangerous in the slightest.”

Tony buried his face in his hands, high with relief.

God, he had been so scared…

“Can I see him?” Tony asked, his hands sliding off his face.

Bruce nodded. “He’s asleep right now, but you can sit with him.”

Tony rose and followed Bruce into the medbay.

The sight of Peter was enough to make him want to cry again.

He was lying still on a hospital bed, an oxygen mask on his face, hooked up to an IV and a heart monitor, which sent out beeps that filled the room.

His arms were heavily bandaged, and Tony silently thanked whoever bandaged them. He was pretty sure if he saw the stitches, he would lose his mind.

His leg was in a cast, which was propped up on a pillow.

Tony staggered over to a chair and sat down heavily, his eyes only for his kid, who’s face was pale and body so unnaturally still…

“Breathe, Tony,” Bruce said from next to him, and Tony realized that he was holding his breath. He exhaled shakily, reaching out and taking Peter’s hand in his.

“When will he wake up?” Tony asked Bruce, hating how shaky his voice sounded.

Bruce gave him a look that was way too pitying for Tony’s taste. “Within the next few hours, I’d say. We pumped him full of general anesthesia, so he’s going to be out for the count for a while.”

Tony nodded, unable to keep his eyes off of Peter.

“He’s going to be fine, Tony,” Bruce said gently. “Maybe you should get some sleep. It’s late.”

Tony glanced at his watch.

Two in the morning. Damn.

“I’m not sleeping,” he said stubbornly, setting his jaw and glaring. “I’m not leaving his side until he’s better.”

Bruce stared at him. “Tony…”

“Don’t ‘Tony’ me, Bruce,” Tony snapped, eyes blazing. “I’m not moving from this spot. Fuck off.”

With a sigh, Bruce left.

Tony was alone.

He stared at Peter’s face until his eyes blurred with tears, which he tried to blink back, to no avail.

His lips pulled back in a sob as he whispered, “I’m sorry, buddy.”

--

Three hours later, Pepper came in, dressed in pajamas, and tried to coax him out of the room.

She came over and stood by his side, massaging the nape of his neck with her hand.

“You need to sleep,” she said, giving him her softest look. “Come to bed with me.”

“I’m fine,” he said stubbornly, not sparing her a glance. His head hurt so badly that everything was flickering strangely in front of his eyes, but the only thing he could think about was Peter. “and I’m not leaving.”

“What are you going to do?” she challenged. “Sit here and wallow until he wakes up?”

“Yep,” he said, no humor in his words.

Pepper sighed “Can you at least eat something?”

“Not hungry.”

“That’s a lie. You threw up your dinner.”

He finally looked at her, narrowing his tired eyes. “I’m not leaving.”

Pepper rolled her eyes. “I gathered that. I’ll bring you something down.”

She left, and Tony let out a breath, watching Peter’s chest rise and fall evenly.

--

The first time Peter awoke, he felt fuzzy.

His entire body felt like one big blurry blob, and he felt strangely light and floaty. He tried to move, or to make sound, but his body didn’t want to comply.

There was a staccato beeping noise right next to his ear, which he wanted to shrink away from. The pitch hurt his ears, which were overly sensitive at the moment, for some reason unbeknownst to him.

He made a noise. “Mmf.”

Tony, who was sitting silently beside Peter’s bed, looked so quickly at Peter that his neck cricked.

It had been almost six hours since Tony had taken a seat by Peter’s bed, and he had barely moved from the spot. He had stood up to stretch his legs and his back, but his eyes hadn’t moved from Peter’s sleeping form.

The food that Pepper had brought him down, a plate of eggs and some lightly buttered toast, lay forgotten on Peter’s bedside table. He couldn’t bring himself to eat.

Tony had to find his voice. “Peter?”

Peter heard Tony say his name, and he fought against the darkness even harder, wanting to get to him.

He finally managed to open his eyes, and was met with blinding, fluorescent lights.

They seared his over-sensitive eyes, and he shut them again with a groan.

“Lights fifty percent, FRIDAY,” Tony ordered, when he saw Peter struggle.

The lights dimmed, and Peter opened his eyes again.

His vision skirted the room, and he realized he was in the medbay. He blinked, momentarily confused about why he was there.

Then he looked down at himself, and saw the matching bandages on his wrists, as well as an IV in his hand. He sat up a little and saw the cast around his leg, but the movement sent a spike of dizzying pain through his head.

He gasped and let his head fall back against his pillow, blinking through the pain.

“Peter?” Tony saw the pain flash across Peter’s face, and his hand hovered over the “call nurse” button. “Are you okay? Are you in pain?”

Peter’s eyes darted over to Tony, and love and relief filled him so fast that it made him lightheaded.

He was sat at his bedside, looking tired, tense, and pale.

He was still in the suit he wore on his date with Pepper that night, but he had shed his jacket and the fine material of his cuffed dress shirt was considerably ruffled. His tie was loosened, and his hair was a mess, like he had driven his fingers through it so many times that it just decided to stay sticking up.

He looked thoroughly exhausted, with deep, puffy circles under his eyes and slumped posture. His forehead was creased in stress, his eyes alert but tired.

All in all, Tony looked like a wreck.

“M’okay,” he mumbled, his voice hoarse from his throat being so dry. “Water?”

Tony stumbled over himself in his haste to get the cup of water that sat on Peter’s bedside table. He grabbed it and held the straw up to Peter’s lips, and Peter noticed that his hands were shaking.

Peter drank, kind of bummed that the water wasn’t cold but enjoying it anyways, his throat no longer dry.

Tony put the water down once Peter was done, before sitting back in his seat, gripping his left wrist as it tinged painfully.

Peter watched the action, and asked, “You okay?”

Tony stared at him incredulously. “You’re asking if I’m okay after you just…” he trailed off, and Peter saw him swallow.

Peter winced, remembering the events of the night before. He looked down at his arms again, the image of them gushing blood coming to the forefront of his mind. He remembered the feeling of the knife piercing and dragging on his skin, the feeling of his leg breaking underneath him.

Yeah, that wasn’t good, Peter thought, taking a breath. But I’m okay. I’m alive.

“I’m okay, though,” Peter said quietly, trying to reassure Tony.

“You are not okay,” Tony said vehemently, his eyes fiery. “Do not say you’re okay.”

“I’m alive,” Peter said softly, looking over at Tony with his big, brown bambi eyes that Tony thought he would never see again. “I’m just a little beaten up.”

Tony grit his teeth, wanting to yell and argue with Peter, to tell him to stop undermining what he went through, tell him to stop brushing it off like it was nothing…

But the sheer relief of seeing the life in Peter’s eyes and watching him talk and show life made him want to just hug the kid and never let him go. He couldn’t be mad, because just a few hours ago, he thought Peter was dead.

He took a breath. “You’re more than a little beaten up,” he said in a forced calm tone. “You lost almost five pints of blood, which caused you to go into hypovolemic shock. You broke both your tibia and fibula and you have a concussion. Please don’t downplay this, because I might lose my goddamn mind if you do.” His sentence ended up sounding very clipped.

Peter sighed. “Sorry. But I am fine, Tony. I heal fast.”

Tony shook his head, his nostrils flared. God, this kid was going to kill him.

Peter went to sit up, but another spike of pain drove through his head. He groaned and went to rub his head, but the simple movement of trying to bend his elbow made him yelp in pain as the newly stitched cut smarted.

Tony was on his feet in an instant, hovering anxiously, his eyes wide and concerned.

“What’s going on? What hurts? I’ll call the nurse,” he went to press the button, but a panicked noise from Peter made him stop.

“I’m fine,” Peter insisted. “I just shouldn’t have moved my arm. I’m fine.”

Tony didn’t believe him, but there was fear in Peter’s eyes, so he didn’t press the button.

He reached out and gently cupped the kid’s cheek, and Peter leaned into the touch, seeking comfort in the form of Tony’s shaking, calloused hand.

“Your head hurt, bud?” Tony asked softly, watching as Peter closed his eyes.

He nodded, before wincing. “Concussions suck.”

Tony nodded somberly, moving his thumb across Peter’s cheek.

Shamefully, his eyes blurred with tears. He tried to blink them away, but he was so tired and raw that his control on his emotions was slipping.

“I was so scared,” Tony whispered. “There was so much blood, Peter. And you… you were so pale and clammy…”

Peter opened his eyes back up just in time to see a tear slip down Tony’s cheek. “You kept calling me dad,” he laughed without humor, his quivering hand gently running his thumb across Peter’s cheek in a continuous motion. “and then you told me that… and I thought that was going to be the last thing you said to me.”

Peter watched, thunderstruck, as a sob tore across Tony’s face, and god, he wanted to lift his arms, to comfort Tony, to do something. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

Truth be told, Peter didn’t think he was going to make it either. In those last few moments, he thought he felt the clutches of death, and the only thing he could think about was letting Tony know how much he meant to him.

But he was alive, and he didn’t realize how much damage his actions caused.

“I’m fine now,” Peter said in a low voice, trying to comfort. “I’m on the mend. I didn’t… I didn’t mean to scare you…”

Tony shook his head, continuing his ministrations. “You have to promise me that you’re never going to do that to me again.”

Peter wanted to nod, but he knew it would hurt his head. “I promise,” he whispered, putting as much conviction as possible into the words.

Tony took a breath and wiped away his tears. “God, I’m so tired.”

“How long was I out?” Peter asked quietly, watching Tony with sadness in his eyes.

“Nine hours,” Tony choked. “It felt like a lifetime.”

“Pretty solid,” Peter remarked, trying to lighten up the mood. “Not the longest I’ve slept, though. Once, I pushed almost twenty-four hours. M-May was pissed.”

Tony let out a small, watery laugh, and his hand moved up into Peter’s hair, ruffling it fondly. “You’re going to kill me, Peter.”

“That’s my job, isn’t it?” Peter teased, grinning. “I’m your kid. I’m supposed to give you a minimum of three heart attacks a week.”

Tony’s heart swelled, and he smiled. “Let’s try to take that down to one, please. I do have a heart condition.”

Peter snorted, but his eyes were closing. Tony’s hand in his hair felt incredibly good and he was starting to feel the pull of unconsciousness once more.

“Hey, dad?” he mumbled, almost asleep.

“Yeah, buddy?”

“I meant what I said. I love you.”

Tony’s mind reeled, his heart beating wildly. Say it back, his mind whispered, and he opened his mouth, the words on his tongue.

But Tony was a fucking coward. He leaned forward and pressed a kiss to Peter’s forehead instead.

Peter smiled as he fell asleep.

--

Tony desperately needed to sleep, but it wouldn’t come.

He refused to leave the medbay for more than a few minutes, but he let himself be coerced into a rollaway bed that Bruce rolled in by Pepper.

He even let her force him into putting on pajamas, but he couldn’t deny that it felt amazing to be out of the constricting suit.

The mattress on the rollaway was incredibly uncomfortable, and he knew his back would be hurting tomorrow, but he was in the same room as his kid, so he wouldn’t complain.

But he couldn’t sleep

He tried everything. He counted in his head, he tossed and turned relentlessly, and he even tried to trick his body into sleeping by keeping his breaths long and even, his limbs still, his eyes closed.

It didn’t work. Nothing did.

He kept looking at the clock, watching as the morning hours ticked by, getting more exhausted and angrier by the minute.

Bruce came in at about ten-thirty to check on Peter. He wasn’t expecting to find Tony still awake, curled up in the bed, an expression of exhausted-misery on his face.

“You’re still up?” Bruce asked, approaching Tony with a raised eyebrow.

“I’d be asleep if it were up to me,” Tony said, his voice gravelly with exhaustion. “I’ve tried everything, Bruce. I just can’t seem to go to sleep.”

Bruce sighed. “How long have you been up, Tony?”

“Seventy-three hours,” Tony sighed, rubbing his eyes. “and counting.”

Bruce pulled up a rolling chair next to Tony’s rollaway bed and sat on it backwards, straddling the back. “You have two options,” Bruce informed him. “You can try and sleep some more, or I can knock you out with some drugs. I know you don’t like being doped up, but you look terrible, and you need sleep.”

Tony gave him a dirty look. “This isn’t even the longest I’ve ever been up. My record is one-hundred twenty hours.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” Bruce asked, his voice flat. “I’m serious, Tony. If you don’t sleep within the next few hours, I’m going to knock you out. This staying up and worrying, it’s not good, especially with your heart condition.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “You’re being dramatic. I’m not going to keel over from a few hours of no sleep. And if you drug me, I’ll kill you.”

“Then you better sleep, or I’ll sic Pepper on you,” Bruce threatened. He stood and began to walk out of the room.

Just before he left, however, he stopped and turned. “At the speed Peter’s healing, he should be free to leave within the next day or so. He’s fine, and when he wakes up again, he’s going to want his dad. You need to be coherent for him. So, sleep.”

Bruce walked out of the room, and Tony buried his face in his hands.

Chapter Text

Peter woke up feeling better rested than before, but still tired.

He blinked his eyes open, and found himself to be still in the medbay, except without Tony at his bedside.

He full on panicked for a second, his anxiety kicking in so violently that the beeps on the heart monitor increased in speed, keeping up with his racing pulse. Alone.

The doors to the medbay opened, and in strolled Pepper Potts, looking as well-put-together as ever.

She was dressed in casual clothes, just a simple sweater and jeans with some flats, and yet she looked incredibly sophisticated.

She came over to Peter and took a seat next to his bed, giving him a soft smile. “Hey, Peter. How are you feeling?”

Peter knew he should say, “better, thank you”, but instead he blurted, “Where’s my dad?”

Her eyes were soft. “He’s right there.” She pointed to a rollaway bed that was sat only a few feet away from Peter, which he had dismissed as empty upon first glance.

But… now that he really looked, he saw the white blankets rise and fall, and slight snoring filled his ears.

Relief flooded him, and he laid his head back, taking a deep breath.

“He refused to leave,” Pepper continued, in a gentle voice. “So, he slept here. Do you want me to wake him up?”

Peter glanced over at him, and even though every cell in his body yearned for him, he shook his head. “He doesn’t sleep enough as it is.”

Pepper nodded. She gently reached out and grabbed his hand, and Peter let her. “You gave him quite the scare.”

Peter sighed. “I didn’t… I didn’t mean to. I just… wanted to let him know, in case… you know…”

Pepper squeezed his hand. “I know, honey. It’s okay. Just… when Tony gets scared of losing someone, he feels the need to protect them, so he hovers. Be prepared for that.”

Peter let out a small laugh. “You sound like you’re speaking from experience.”

Pepper smiled. “Oh, I definitely am. Believe me, if he could wrap you in bubble wrap and make you wear a helmet, he would. But, since he can’t do that, he hovers. He used to do that with me too.”

There was the faintest note of sadness in her voice, and Peter’s eyes jumped up to her face.

“He’s still in love with you, you know,” Peter said quietly, knowing he shouldn’t be saying it. “He told me so.”

Pepper gave him a sad smile. “I don’t deserve him. I… said some things that I shouldn’t have. I don’t think we can move on from that.”

Peter raised an eyebrow. “Funnily enough, he doesn’t think he deserves you either. He thinks you’re too good for him and that you deserve someone better.”

Pepper stared at him a second, before letting out a laugh. “He told you all this?”

Peter nodded. “We played twenty questions. It was fun.” Until Tony said he has to leave… why does he have to leave?

Pepper saw the fall in Peter’s expression. “What’s wrong?”

Peter shook his head. “I just… I have this weird thing… I don’t like being a-a… by myself,” he didn’t include that fact that it was sometimes hard for him to go to school because the thought of Tony not being there when he came home was paralyzing. “and Tony… he has to l-leave in a week.”

Pepper sighed deeply. She knew this would happen as soon as she booked Tony’s flight to Europe. The dinner Pepper had with Peter and Tony a few weeks ago basically spelled it out for her: Peter was terrified of being without Tony.

She thought back to the Christmas Party, where Tony said that Peter “doesn’t have anyone else.” Something must have happened to his parents, then. Was he an orphan? He must be, Pepper thought, if Tony took him in.

“He’ll only be gone for a little bit,” Pepper soothed, running her thumb along Peter’s hand. “It’s only for a few days. You won’t be alone for long.”

Her saying the word alone caused Peter to give a full-body flinch, and there was a spike in the heart monitor. He took a breath, almost like he was trying to ground himself. “Y-Yeah. I don’t want to be by myself at all though.”

That made Pepper incredibly sad, and she was going to ask him more about it, but then the sheets on the rollaway bed started to move.

Peter’s eyes snapped to it, his eyes growing wide and bright.

There was a muffled groan and a sharp curse, followed by the creaking of springs as Tony sat up in bed, a hand running down his pale face.

His hair was stuck up and his eyes were closed. He still looked tired, and a hand came to rest on his back.

“Good evening, Tony,” Pepper said, laughing slightly.

His eyes opened, zeroing in on her. He didn’t seem to notice the fact that Peter was awake. “Make a note for me to buy a better mattress for this thing,” he said grouchily, his voice low from sleep. “My back feels broken.”

Peter let out a smothered laugh, and Tony’s eyes immediately snapped to him.

An expression of barely concealed adoration flitted across his face, and he immediately got up from his bed, stumbling slightly over to Peter.

“Hey bud,” he said gently, grasping Peter’s hand. “How are you feeling?”

“Better than before,” he said with a smile. “My head feels better, and I can lift my arms.”

He demonstrated by holding his arms out, and Tony smiled.

“That’s awesome, kid! You’ll be out of here in no time,” Tony said enthusiastically, ruffling Peter’s hair happily. “Hey Pep, can you go get Helen Cho? I want her to look at the stitches—”

“No!” Peter exclaimed, and now there was fear in the kid’s eyes as he peered up at Tony. “I’m fine. I don’t need to be looked at. Everything’s good.”

Tony frowned slightly, tucking a piece of hair behind Peter’s ear. “She’s just going to check your stitches, Pete. Nothing scary.”

Peter pressed his lips together, his eyes still wide and scared. “They’re fine. They don’t need checking.”

Tony sighed. “Peter. I know you don’t like doctors, but this is important—”

“It’s not important,” Peter counteracted, narrowing his eyes. “I guarantee that the cuts are already healed. It probably didn’t even scar—”

Peter cut off, his eyes flying towards the door, face paling.

Doctor Helen Cho stepped into the medbay, her face a mask of authority. Peter instantly shrank back into his blankets, and Tony immediately put a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“Good evening, Peter,” Doctor Cho said kindly, bowing her head at him. “I’m Doctor Helen Cho. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Peter was staring up at her with eyes as large as saucers, terror in his eyes. Tony squeezed Peter’s shoulder.

She seemed to notice his terror, and she smiled gently. “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m just going to take your bandages off and take a look at your stitches, okay?”

Peter shook his head, and Tony let out a sigh. “Peter, she’s just going to take the bandages off. She’s a world-renowned doctor and one of my friends. She’s not going to hurt you.”

Peter bit his lip, but gave her access to his arms, laying them on the bed.

She gently took off the bandages, her fingers quick and nimble. The ace bandages were removed, revealing nearly identical stitched wounds, running from his wrist down to his inner elbow. Peter grimaced and looked away, burying his face in the nearest part of Tony he could reach, which happened to be his side. A hand wove itself into his hair.

“Your healing factor is amazing,” Doctor Cho said, slightly in awe. “These stitches are already ready to be taken out. It usually takes at least a week for the wound to heal enough.”

Tony grinned. “He’s pretty special, isn’t he?”

Doctor Cho smiled, before rolling the chair she was sat on to a nearby table and grabbing a tray of medical instruments and bringing it over to the bed.

Peter stuck a peak at what she was doing and caught sight of the silver utensils.

Panic filled him. “What are you doing?”

Doctor Cho looked up at him. “I’m going to take your stitches out. It won’t hurt, trust me.”

Peter bit his lip. “I don’t… are you sure it won’t hurt because it looks like it will hurt, and I don’t really like pain and those tools look scary—”

“Slow down, motormouth,” Tony said, with an affectionate eye roll. “It’s not going to hurt. You might just feel a little bit of pressure.”

Peter shot him a look but gave a small nod at Doctor Cho and buried his face back into Tony, the man continuing playing with his hair.

Tony was right, of course. Removing the stitches didn’t hurt, but he didn’t remove his face from his father. Tony massaged his head and occasionally planted a kiss on the top of his hair.

When the doctor was done, Peter looked down at his arms.

The stitches were gone, and in their place were long, raised white scars, nearly identical on each arm.

Peter blinked at them. Doctor Cho caught his confusion, and quickly explained, “The cut was extremely deep, so the wound scarred.”

Peter looked up at her sharply, anxiety overtaking him once again. “But the scars will fade, right?”

Doctor Cho shook her head. “I’m afraid not. Like I said, because the cuts were so deep—”

Peter paled and looked up at Tony in panic.

Tony started at the intensity in Peter’s eyes. “Scars are cool, kid. Don’t worry about it.”

Peter shook his head, his lips pressing into a thin line. “I’m going to be called a freak,” he whispered.

“No. No, you’re not. It’s not that bad, Pete, come on.”

“Do you know what this looks like?” Peter hissed, his eyes wide. “It looks like I tried to off myself, Tony!”

Tony balked at that, staring at Peter, who shut his eyes and leaned back against the pillows, misery written all over his face. “I’m going to have to wear long sleeves for the rest of my life.”

“No, you won’t,” Tony said immediately. “You don’t have to hide them, Peter. You shouldn’t care what other people think.”

“I already get made fun of enough,” Peter said miserably, peering up at Tony through his lashes. “I don’t want to add onto it.”

Tony frowned. “You shouldn’t be getting made fun of in the first place. I can make them stop.”

Peter shook his head. “It’s better me than someone who can’t take it. Sure, it stings, but I deal with it and move on.”

Tony sighed deeply, pushing Peter’s head into him. “But you shouldn’t have to deal with it.”

Peter shrugged, before looked over at Doctor Cho, who had been watching Tony and Peter with soft fascination.

“So when can I get out of this bed?” Peter asked.

Doctor Cho considered him. “Doctor Banner and I still want to monitor the healing of your leg, so probably not until the day after tomorrow.”

Peter looked bewildered. “My leg is probably already healed by now,” he said, brushing her off. “My healing—”

“Even with your healing factor,” Doctor Cho cut across him. “It will still take quite a bit of time for you leg to heal. You broke both of the major bones in your leg. It usually takes three to six months for the average person to be able to walk without assistance—” Peter let out a choking sound. “—but with your advanced healing, it should only take a fraction of that time. My guess is probably a month.”

“A month?” Peter squeaked in horror. “I won’t be able to walk for a month?”

“Without assistance, yes.”

Peter paled considerably, and Tony put a hand on his shoulder. “It’ll be okay, Pete. We’ll get through it.”

“I can’t patrol for a month?”

If it was up to me, you’d never be patrolling again. “I’m sorry, buddy,” Tony apologized, even though he was incredibly grateful that Peter couldn’t patrol.

Peter threw his head back. “Ugh. I just want out of this bed.”

“In two days. You can do that, kid. I know you can.”

Chapter Text

It was an agonizing two days, for both Tony and Peter.

Peter was miserable. He was an incredibly active kid, and being cooped up in a hospital bed, unable to move made him short and irritable. He snapped at Doctor Cho, and Tony had to apologize to her on his behalf.

Tony didn’t move from his side, even though he knew he should have. They didn’t talk; Tony just sat in a chair on his Starkpad, trying to do work in between slightly panicked glances at Peter. The kid sat in stony silence, on his phone or staring bitterly at walls.

Something was bothering him. Tony knew it.

But every time he tried to reach out, to ask the kid what was going on, he got a vague, annoyed answer. So, he stopped trying and settled for sneaking worried looks at his kid, every part of him burning with concern.

It probably didn’t help that he wasn’t sleeping well. He refused to be away from Peter, so he slept on the rollaway bed. He woke up every hour, stifling a groan as his back felt like someone had repeatedly kicked it, before glancing over at Peter through blurry vision, checking to see if the kid was alright.

It was a horrible, painful cycle. But Tony wasn’t going to leave. He could forfeit a few nights of no sleep and back pain for Peter.

Sunday came around, which was the day Peter would be discharged from the medbay.

He expected the kid to be in high spirits, but Peter was as sullen as ever, greeting Tony with a “good morning” grumble.

Doctor Cho came in not long after, giving Tony two orange prescription bottles.

“Pain meds for Peter,” she explained, handing them over. “He’s not in a lot of pain right now because of all the morphine we’ve been giving him, but once it moves out of his system he should feel some discomfort. These should help with that.”

Tony nodded. “Thanks, doc. Is he free to go?”

She nodded. “He’s going to need to use the crutches, even though he thinks he won’t. Make sure he doesn’t overwork himself. He needs to still take it easy.”

“Got it. Thank you so much, Doctor Cho.”

She smiled at him. “He’s a good kid, Mr. Stark.”

Tony smiled. “Yeah, he is.”

She left, and Tony was alone with Peter.

“Alright buddy, we’re free to go,” he announced, smiling down at his kid. “Let’s get you dressed.”

Peter was quiet as he slid on a sweatshirt and Tony helped him put on sweatpants, being incredibly careful not touch the boot cast that encased Peter’s left leg too much.

After he was fully dressed, Peter started to move, pulling himself up into a sitting position and gingerly swinging his legs over the bed so that his feet were on the floor.

Tony grabbed the crutches and held them out for Peter to take, but the kid sent him a venomously look. “I don’t need those.”

Tony sighed. “Yes, you do, Peter. Your leg is broken. You can’t put weight on it.”

“It’s fine,” Peter said stubbornly. “I can walk, Tony. Jeez.”

Tony pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes. “Peter, you can’t—”

Peter didn’t listen, however. He stood in one movement, putting most of his weight on his right, unbroken leg. He grinned triumphantly and took a step with his left leg.

Pain, burning and rippling, raced up his leg, and Peter let out a shriek of pain and crumpled to the floor, unable to keep pressure on his leg.

“Peter!” Tony cried out, immediately reached out to catch him, and he lowered them both to the floor, making sure not to hurt Peter’s leg. “Jesus, are you—”

“Get off me!” Peter cried, pushing Tony off him, and Tony dropped his hands, alarmed, concerned, and a little hurt.

Peter struggled to get up, gritting his teeth as he tried to put his legs underneath him. He put pressure on his leg again and let out a groan of pain, falling back onto his butt with a gasp.

Tony watched as tears filled his eyes, before he reached out and dragged Peter into his lap, encasing him in his arms.

Peter fought his hold, thrashing around in his arms. “Let me go,” he hissed, and there was something in his eyes that had Tony hold him harder.

“You need to let me help you,” Tony said, his voice hard. “Your leg is broken and I’m not going to let you try and walk on it. But that doesn’t matter right now, because right now? We’re going to talk. Because this shit isn’t like you and I want to know why you’re acting the way you’re acting.”

He expected Peter to act angrily, to push him away and say something that would make Tony’s heart hurt.

But the kid didn’t do any of that. He met Tony’s concerned, loving eyes and burst into tears, sagging in the man’s hold.

“Okay, we can start with that,” Tony muttered, his hand crawling up and entwining in Peter’s hair, pulling the kid’s head down so it rested in the crook of Tony’s neck.

“I’m s-sorry,” he sobbed. “I d-don’t… I don’t know what’s wrong with m-me…”

“Hey, it’s okay,” Tony comforted softly. “I’m just worried about you, buddy.”

 “I can’t do a-anything,” he said wretchedly, heaving a sob into Tony’s shoulder. “I c-can’t be S-Spider-Man, I can’t get d-dressed, I can’t even walk. I’m l-like dead weight!”

That made Tony nervous. His hold on Peter tightened. “I don’t want to ever hear you call yourself that again, do you hear me?” he asked sternly, no room for argument. “You are my son, Peter. You are not dead weight.”

“I feel so handicapped,” Peter cried, his hands grasping Tony’s shirt. He shuddered, and Tony ran his hands through his hair, vaguely wondering when he became comfortable with all of this.

Peter stopped weeping after a minute, and just laid there, his head against Tony.

“You have three options,” Tony murmured in his ear a little bit later. “One, I can get you a wheelchair and you can wheel yourself up to the living room. Two, you use the crutches to get there. Or three, I can carry you and we can try the crutches again later.”

Peter sniffed, not liking any of his options.

Crutches were demanding, and a wheelchair was demeaning. Having Tony carry him would make him look like a child, but he was exhausted and comfortable in his dad’s arms and the thought of moving was unappealing.

“Can you… can you carry me?”

Tony didn’t answer, just adjusted his grip and rose to his feet, making a small noise of exertion.

He carried Peter to the elevator and told FRIDAY to take them up to the living space.

Peter sincerely hoped there was no one in the living space to see him look like an actual six-year-old, but of course, the universe was against him.

Everyone was there. And they all looked up when he and Tony entered, Peter stationary in his arms.

Peter flushed deeply, heat encasing his face and rushing down his neck.

Tony didn’t care, though. He ignored the audience that was standing in the kitchen and took Peter over to the couch, setting him down.

“That was embarrassing,” Peter whispered, sinking back into the sofa cushions, his face still beet red.

“Not really,” Tony shrugged, grabbing a pillow from the couch and placing it on the coffee table. “I’m going to touch your leg. Tell me if I’m hurting you, okay?”

Peter nodded and braced himself, his fingers clutching the soft cushions.

But there was no need to brace. Tony gently reached out and held up Peter’s cast, helping him extend his knee, and placed the boot on the pillow.

“You good?” Tony asked Peter, who nodded, once again hating how handicapped he felt.

Tony grabbed the TV remote and sat down next to Peter, wrapping an arm around him and clicking the TV on.

Peter put his head on Tony’s shoulder and watched as Tony flicked through TV stations, before settling on Food Network, which was showing a re-run of the show Chopped.

They watched two whole episodes before a thought distracted Peter. “Do you have work?”

Tony blinked, but didn’t move. “It’s Sunday and I’m the CEO. If I want to watch Chopped with my kid, I can.”

Peter chuckled, but fell silent, burrowing into Tony a little more.

It was after another episode and a half of Chopped that Peter’s breathing became slightly labored and his body went rigid against Tony’s, but the kid stayed quiet.

Tony glanced down and saw how pale Peter’s face was, a sheen of sweat on his forehead.

“Peter?” Tony asked, and the kid’s eyes slid up to meet his, something hidden in their depths. “You okay?”

Peter took a breath. “Fine,” he muttered, trying to ignore the pulsing pain running up his leg. It was starting to give him a headache, or was that just the concussion? Peter didn’t know.

Tony didn’t buy it. With a sigh and a groan, he stood, his joints popping. “Alright, time for pain meds.”

Surprisingly, Peter didn’t argue. Tony plucked the two orange bottles off the counter and grabbed a water bottle from the fridge, before making his way back over to where Peter was.

He shook the pills into Peter’s hand and handed him the water. Peter threw the pills back and took a sip of the water to wash it down.

They resumed their position, and it was not long before Peter was asleep, his head resting on Tony.

--

They decided to try the crutches again the next day.

Peter, who was already upset about having to miss school, looked at the crutches with anger, dark circles like bruises under his eyes.

It had been a hard night. Peter couldn’t sleep due to his aching leg, and Tony had to weather several hours of bitterness and angry tears before Peter drifted off, at just past five in the morning.

Tony had drifted off some time after that, in Peter’s bed, before the sound of Peter shifting woke him.

It was seven thirty when they decided to get up for the day, and after a breakfast made by Bucky, Tony decided that Peter should try the crutches again.

He had brought them up from the medbay, and Peter glared at them, seated on the couch, his arms crossed.

Tony sighed. “Alright, bud,” he said, leaning the crutches against the couch. “Let’s try this again.”

Peter, still looking pissed, grabbed the crutches and tucked them under his arms. He used his good leg to help himself into a standing position.

Hesitantly, he took a step, using the crutches to propel him forward. They made a clicking noise as they hit the floor and Peter took several more steps, getting the hang of it.

“Look at you!” Tony said happily, walking over to Peter and ruffling his hair. “You’re a natural!”

Peter, however, didn’t look very happy. “I hate this,” he said, looking down at his crutches.

Tony frowned. “I know. It’s only for a little bit, Pete. You’ll be able to use your leg soon.”

Peter met his gaze, and there was sadness in his eyes. “I’m going to get made fun of.”

Tony was unable to stop himself from raising a hand and stroking his thumb across Peter’s cheek. “If something happens,” Tony said, his voice low with seriousness. “Tell me. I’ll make it stop, Peter. This Flash douchebag, or whatever the hell his name is… if he tries something with you, you need to let me know.”

Peter bit his lip and nodded, and Tony pressed a kiss to his forehead.

Chapter Text

Peter went back to school on Tuesday, which was the day before Tony was originally going to leave for his Europe trip, but Pepper pushed it back a few weeks.

The relief that filled him when Tony told him was palpable, and it improved his mood considerably.

He walked into school that Wednesday, on his crutches, trying to not let anyone know that he was incredibly self-conscious.

He made his way over to his locker and opened it, trying not to be incredibly irritated about the fact that it was difficult to do literally everything, and put his backpack away, grabbing some books from his locker in the process.

That was when Ned made his way over with a gasp, unleashing a stream of questions and “are you okay’s?”

“I’m fine, Ned,” Peter mumbled, readjusting his grip on the books in his arms. “I just fell down the stairs.”

Ned stared at him. “Peter. You’re—” he looked around before dropping his voice. “—You’re Spider-Man. You can’t just fall down stairs—”

“Yeah? Well, that’s what happened,” Peter said grouchily, slamming his locker. His forearms suddenly burned, as if reminding him of what really happened. “I was walking down the stairs and I got distracted. I fell. That’s it.”

But Ned was looking at him with concern, his brown eyes wide and soft. “Right. Stairs. Are you okay, Peter?” His tone was gentle and worried, and Peter was reminded why Ned was his best friend.

Peter took a breath. “I’m fine. I heal fast.”

Ned nodded. “Do you need me to carry your stuff to class? I don’t mind.”

Peter grit his teeth at that. A part of him knew that it was dumb to try and carry all of his stuff and use crutches, but another part of him was bitter at the fact that he couldn’t carry it by himself.

“I’ve got it,” Peter said, not unkindly. “Thanks anyways, Ned.”

He positioned his books in one arm and used his free one to tuck one of his crutches under his arm pit, and then picked up the other one.

He got about a step before his books went tumbling to the floor, his Physics textbook making a booming thud as it hit the linoleum.

Everyone in their immediate vicinity looked over, and Peter flushed red, avoiding the prying stares of his peers.

But Ned, being the good friend he was, bent down and picked up Peter’s books for him, sending looks at everyone who was glancing their way.

“I’ll carry them for you,” Ned said, smiling at Peter. “Don’t worry about it.”

Peter’s heart swelled. “Thanks, Ned.”

--

It wasn’t a good day at school.

He had gotten asked a total of five times what happened to his leg before lunch, and six more after lunch. Each time, he had to explain that he had fallen down the stairs, which was usually met with mixed reactions.

Several people called him a klutz, and one strange, greasy haired girl in his Spanish class asked if he was being abused.

Peter’s broken leg also gave Flash more ammunition for his taunts, calling Peter a “cripple” or otherwise going out of his way to make fun of him.

Peter wasn’t surprised. He expected this.

What he didn’t expect happened right after school.

There was no Decathlon practice that day, since it was Tuesday, which Peter was thankful for. If one more person asked about his leg, he would start screaming.

Tony would be picking him up, even though Peter insisted that he could just take the subway like he always did. Tony shut him down immediately, claiming that he shouldn’t be going long distances on his crutches.

Peter was secretly grateful, though. By the time school ended, his under arms had began to ache from the pressure of the crutches, and he just wanted to sit and not have to use them.

He walked out of the school and began to make a slow descent down the stairs, making sure to not trip and fall.

His spider-sense flared viciously when he was a little more than halfway down, and he turned quickly, ready to fight off whatever was going to attack him.

Flash stood behind him, flanked by several of his friends.

He couldn’t do anything before Flash’s hands were on him, pushing him backwards, tumbling down the stairs.

He was met with strong déjà vu, of a month or so before when Flash did this for the first time. But this time, it was worse; he had a broken leg and he couldn’t land on it.

He twisted in midair, so that he was forward again. He kept his boot from hitting the ground and instead let his hands and stomach take the full impact, rocks imbedding into his skin and the breath knocking from his lungs.

He laid there, gasping, his hands burning and bleeding. He had just started to get up when he heard the yell,

“HEY!”

--

Tony was in his car, listening to Fade to Black by Metallica when he saw Peter exit the school.

He was illegally parked as close to the school as possible, in one of his less flashy Audi’s, his finger tapping a beat on the steering wheel.

He watched closely as Peter carefully made his way down the stairs, slowly to make sure he didn’t trip.

He narrowed his eyes at the kids who were going down the stairs behind Peter. The person at the front of the group had darker skin and greasy, slicked back hair. He was wearing a shit eating grin, one that made Tony place a hand on the handle of his car door.

He watched Peter whip around just as the kid behind him put his hands on him, and suddenly, Peter was falling backwards towards the concrete, his limbs flailing.

Tony was out of the car before Peter hit the ground, his heart racing and blood boiling.

He watched as Peter braced his fall with his hands, landing hard on them and his stomach, keeping his leg elevated. He watched as Peter gasped for breath.

“Aww, look at little Penis Parker,” Flash taunted. “A cripple with no family. Pathetic.”

Something snapped within Tony, and he saw red.

“HEY!” He bellowed.

Peter’s head snapped up, misery being replaced with shock, which then turned to panic.

Tony bared his teeth and walked up the front steps, clenching and unclenching his fists.

The greasy little bastard blanched and took a step back, his eyes growing wide and his jaw dropping.

“Y-you’re Tony Stark,” Flash said in shock.

“Who the fuck are you?” Tony snarled, breathing heavily, getting in the kid’s face.

The kid sputtered, obviously lost for words.

“I said, who the fuck are you?” Tony yelled, and the kid shrunk back.

“F-Flash Thompson, s-sir,” Flash whimpered.

“So you’re the greasy piece of shit that’s been giving Peter trouble?” Tony sneered.

Flash blanched again. “You know Penis Parker?”

Tony gritted his teeth. Do not hit a child. “His name is Peter and he’s my kid. Now,” he got close to Flash’s face, inches from his nose. His voice was low, deadly calm. “If I ever see you talk, look at, or even breathe near my kid again, it will be the last thing you will ever do. I can ruin your life. I can find where you live. I am the most powerful man in the world and if you so much as glance at Peter again, I will destroy you.”

Flash’s face was white as he frantically nodded his head. “Y-yes, sir. I’m sorry, sir. It won’t happen again.”

“It better fucking not,” Tony growled, and stalked down the stairs.

Peter was staring at him, his brown eyes wide. Tony calmly picked up Peter’s fallen crutches, before walking over to Peter and gently helping him up, noticing how his hands were cut open and bleeding.

He held the crutches in one hand and wrapped an arm around Peter with his other, supporting him.

He could hear Peter breathing irregularly, but he couldn’t focus on that right now. He had to get Peter to the car.

Peter could feel everyone’s eyes on him as Tony helped him hop to the car on one leg, his father’s arm firmly around his waist.

Tony held the door to the car open and Peter climbed in, his face burning red and his breaths coming out in short, panicked gasps.

Tony got in the driver’s side, shut his door, and hit the gas. The car peeled out of the school lot, away from all the prying eyes.

Peter’s injured hands were shaking as Tony drove too fast down the streets of Queens. The man’s face was pale, his lips pressed into a hard line.

“How are your hands?” He asked shortly, taking a right turn.

Peter took a breath, swallowing hard. “They’re fine.”

“I would really appreciate it,” Tony said through clenched teeth. “If you wouldn’t lie to me right now.”

Peter stole a look at Tony’s face and saw steel in his eyes, his knuckles white as they gripped the wheel.

“They sting,” Peter admitted quietly, his voice still seeming too loud in the quiet car, “but they’ll be healed within the hour.”

That didn’t seem to put Tony at ease. He still looked livid, and he blew a red light at the next intersection.

“That was red,” Peter supplied, not sure what he was trying to accomplish.

Tony didn’t respond.

Peter let out a sigh and sunk back against the seat. “You’re mad.”

“Damn fucking right I’m mad,” Tony growled.

As Peter looked over at him, he was suddenly hit with another feeling of déjà vu: Last December, when he had stolen Tony’s car. Tony looked just as mad then as he does now.

“Flash is a dick,” Peter said, looking out the windshield. “It’s not a big deal.”

“He pushed you down the stairs while you were injured,” Tony snarled. “You could have re-broken your leg. You could have busted your head open. You could have gotten another concussion.”

“But I didn’t,” Peter mumbled, “and now the entire school knows that I’m your kid.”

And just like that, the anger was sucked from Tony, hesitance replacing it. “Is that a bad thing?”

Peter shrugged. “They’re going to treat me differently. They’re going to want things.”

Tony’s mouth twisted. “If they do that, let me know, I’ll—”

“Jesus Christ!” Peter snapped, glaring at Tony. “You can’t fight all my battles for me! I’m fifteen, Tony!”

“You shouldn’t be bullied at school!” Tony snapped back. “You deal with so fucking much, Peter! You shouldn’t have to deal with this too.”

“Well, I do,” Peter retorted. “You can’t change it. I can’t change it. I just deal with it.”

Tony grit his teeth. “You will tell me if they bother you again.”

“After what you just did?” Peter scoffed. “Yeah, right.”

“God dammit, Peter!” Tony swore, his temper fanning out of control. He just wanted to protect his kid, and now he was getting attitude for it? “Why are you being so fucking difficult?”

“Don’t swear at me!” Peter said, some part of him deep inside curling up and shying away from the hurtful words. His hands curled into fists, his nails puncturing his palms. “I’m tired of you fighting my battles for me! I’m my own person!”

“Yeah, okay, sure,” Tony went in for the kill. “You tell yourself that now, but what about when I leave? Are you your own person then?”

Peter stared at him, his mouth falling open.

A shudder wracked through his body, and he curled in on himself, his throat growing thick and his eyes burning.

“Fuck, shit,” Tony swore, jerking the car over to the shoulder, putting his hazards on. “Shit, Peter.”

“Do you think I ask for this?” Peter asked, his eyes full of tears. “Do you think I don’t hate myself when I ask you to stay?”

Tony’s heart broke, and he reached out. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it. I’m—”

“How can you say that?” Peter whispered, choking on his words. “I don’t want to keep you from going anywhere, I just… I can’t…”

“I know,” Tony whispered, reaching out and wiping away a tear that streaked down Peter’s cheek, hating that he put it there. “I’m so sorry, Pete. I didn’t mean it. I don’t care that—”

“Yes, you do,” Peter said miserably, turning his face away from Tony. “You do care. I’m a mess and you know it. You can’t even leave me alone for more than a day before—”

“But it’s you,” Tony interrupted, cupping Peter’s cheek with his palm. “I don’t mind it, Peter. I really don’t. I didn’t mean it, I promise.”

Peter sniffed. “Can we just… can we just go home?”

Tony let out a small sigh. “Yeah, buddy. We can.”

Chapter Text

When they got home, Tony immediately got out two pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream and sat next to Peter on the couch, so close that their arms almost touched.

He handed Peter the brownie batter flavor and a spoon, while he himself opened a coffee-flavored pint.

He watched Peter take a bite of the ice-cream, his eyelids fluttering in delight, and Tony smiled slightly.

They ate in silence for a few minutes, Peter eating the chunks of brownie out of his and Tony watching him fondly, absently scraping his spoon on the top of his ice-cream and eating little bits of it.

“So, we’re going to play twenty questions again,” Tony said hesitantly, watching Peter’s reaction. “Because I think that worked really well last time.”

Peter gave him a look. “It ended in tears, Tony.”

“There’s my first question,” Tony said, not missing a beat. “Why is it ‘Tony’ sometimes, and ‘Dad’ others?”

Peter gaped at him, his mouth opening and closing, before he collected himself. “I… I don’t…”

“Be honest, please,” Tony said, running his spoon along the edges of the container of ice-cream.

Peter let out a breath. “I don’t know. It just happens. I’m just used to calling you Tony, I guess.”

“Okay. That’s all I wanted. Your turn, kiddo.”

Peter pursed his lips, thinking. “How did your date with Pepper go, that night?”

Tony froze for a moment, before relaxing again. “It went well. Really well.”

“Ew,” Peter objected, wrinkling his nose. “You’re nasty.”

Tony blinked. “What garnered that response? I didn’t even say anything!”

“The way you said ‘really’ was gross.”

Tony thought back to the restaurant, and a grin crossed his face. “What can I say, it was going really well—"

Peter made another disgusted noise. “Okay, nope. We’re not talking about that. Next question, please. Anything is better than this.”

Tony chuckled, and Peter wrinkled his nose again.

But then Tony turned serious. “On a scale from one to ten, one being how you felt just after May died, and ten being the best you’ve ever felt, how do you feel? Last time you said five. I want to know if that’s changed at all.”

Peter avoided his eyesight. “A four.”

Tony’s heart sank. You’re supposed to be getting better. “Why the change?”

“Well I haven’t exactly had the best week,” he snapped, before drawing in on himself, looking guilty. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright. Let me know if it changes again, okay?”

Peter nodded. “Okay. My turn.”

“Hit me.”

“What happened when I was unconscious last week? Like, after I passed out on the way back to the Tower.”

Tony’s face darkened. “I’m not answering—”

“No avoiding answers,” Peter interrupted, brandishing his spoon at Tony pointedly.

Tony avoided Peter’s eyes when he answered. “I broke through one of the medbay windows, before getting kicked out of the medbay. I then had one of the worst panic attacks of my life, before throwing up quite spectacularly in front of my ex. Happy?”

Peter stared at him. “You had a p—”

“Yes, I did. It was horrible. I don’t want to talk about it. My turn.”

Peter looked sad, then. “I’m sorry.”

Tony sighed. “It’s not your fault. I was just really scared, okay? I thought…”

“You thought you were going to lose me.”

Tony resisted the urge to shudder. “Yes.”

Peter stared at Tony a second longer before shifting closer and dropping his head on Tony’s shoulder.

“I thought I was going to die,” Peter whispered, an admission that Tony wished he hadn’t heard.

I thought you were too. “You didn’t,” Tony said. “You’re alive. You’re okay.”

“Where is he now?” Peter asked, not really wanting to hear the answer.

“In captivity,” Tony answered. “They’re trying to find out his motives.”

Peter shivered, and Tony reached over and grabbed the ice-cream out of Peter’s hands, setting it on the coffee table.

“He’ll never touch you again,” Tony said as Peter snuggled closer. “Ever. I swear.”

“I have a weird feeling,” Peter admitted softly. “I’ve had it ever since I met him. Something about him just makes my senses scream.”

“In a way you haven’t felt before?” Tony asked, concerned.

Peter shrugged. “When I fought the Vulture, my senses reacted, but not like this.”

Tony paused, before asking cautiously, “What does it feel like?”

“When my senses go haywire?” Peter questioned, and Tony gave a nod of confirmation. “It feels like something’s trying to jump out of my skin.”

That set Tony’s teeth on edge. “I’m sure Bruce and I could find a way to put a stop to that—”

“No, it’s more helpful than harmful. It lets me know when I’m in danger.”

“But you’re not in any pain?”

“No. It only kind of hurt when I was around the Marionette. And I don’t plan on being around him anymore.”

Tony put his arm around Peter, a wave of protectiveness washing through him. “You’re never going to see him again, if I have anything to do with it.”

Peter rolled his eyes. “You’re so protective.”

You almost died. That’s not going to happen again. “I’m your dad. That’s my job.” Tony paused. “Do you care?”

“Is that your next question?” Peter asked, deflecting a little bit.

“No, but I would like it if you answered honestly.”

Peter sighed. “I don’t mind most of the time. It’s just different. M-May was very… lax, with her parenting. Mostly because she was so busy. You’re not very lax and it’s an adjustment.”

Tony ran his hand up and down Peter’s arm. “You know it’s just because I care about you, right?”

Peter nodded. “I know. It’s just… I’m used to fighting my own battles. It’s hard to let you take charge, sometimes.”

“Like with Flash.”

“Yeah. Like with Flash. He’s been horrible to me since middle school, it’s not a big deal. I’m used to it, I can deal with it.”

“But you—”

“Dad. I know, ‘I shouldn’t have to deal with it.’ I do anyways. It’s fine.”

Tony sighed, disagreeing but letting the subject drop. He knew he couldn’t win that battle.

Besides, something else was eating at him. “I’m… I’m sorry about what I said in the car.”

Peter stiffened. “It’s… fine.”

Tony’s stomach bottomed out. He’s mad at me. “It’s really not. I didn’t mean it.”

Peter picked at his jeans. “It’s just… hard, you know? I don’t… I don’t want to be so clingy. I don’t want you to be unable to go anywhere without me freaking out. I just…”

“You don’t have to explain it to me, Peter,” Tony said quietly. “It’s alright.”

“It’s not, though,” Peter sounded wrecked, and Tony hated himself violently. “I’m fifteen. I shouldn’t… I shouldn’t need my dad around me at all times. It’s… I…”

“Peter, you’ve been through a lot in your life,” Tony said softly, his hand weaving into Peter’s hair. “You’re not exactly like most fifteen-year-olds, bud. It’s okay to want me around, bud. I promise I don’t mind.”

Peter turned his face into Tony’s side, and Tony set his ice-cream down before embracing Peter, his hand cradling the back of his head.

“It’s getting worse,” Peter admitted, his voice muffled. “You’re going to Europe in a few weeks and I’m already dreading it.”

Tony sighed softly. “I know. I don’t want to leave either.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t want to leave you alo—all by yourself.”

Peter burrowed closer to Tony, but removed his face to take a deep, calming breath. “Can we… Can we talk about something else?”

Tony nodded, even though Peter couldn’t see him. “Of course, bud.”

There was a pause. “I don’t want to go to school tomorrow.”

Tony let out another sigh. “You have to, buddy. You know that.”

“People are going to be weird to me. They’re going to want things.”

“Tell them to fuck off.” Peter laughed, but Tony was serious. “I’m not kidding. Use those exact words. Don’t let people use you, Pete.”

Peter winced. “Easier said than done. I don’t want to be mean.”

“There’s a difference between being mean and sticking up for yourself and not being a doormat, okay? Strangers coming up to you, trying to befriend you to get something from you… it doesn’t feel good. You’ve got to stick up for yourself, Pete. You can do that, right?”

Peter nodded, confidence swirling in his gut. “Yeah. I’ve got this.”

--

The following school day was horrible.

The next morning, after another hard night (his leg kept twinging, and it was just enough pain that it made it difficult to sleep) had left him tired and a little cranky, he snapped at Tony for bringing up Flash again, (“I can make it stop, Peter.” “Jesus, we’ve been over this a million times! Let it go, for the love of god!”) which Tony didn’t take too poorly, but the frown that marred his features was enough to make him feel bad.

He got driven to school again, since he wasn’t allowed to take the subway with a broken leg, and before he even got into the building, he knew it was going to be bad.

Everyone was staring, and they weren’t even being subtle about it. Whispers followed him as he hobbled his way up the front steps, feeling like he was onstage, about to perform.

He got to his locker fine, and he was in the process of unlocking it when a tall, skinny girl with black hair approached him.

He had seen her before, in the hall and in the lunchroom, but she had never talked to him, or even looked at him, really.

“Hi, Peter,” she said, a wide, white-toothed smile on her face. “I like your shirt.”

Peter glanced down instinctively at his Star Wars shirt, before looking back up at her. “Uh, thanks?”

She leaned closer to him. “Do you need help taking your books to class?”

Anxiety pierced Peter, and he struggled to answer. “Uh, I don’t…”

“No, he doesn’t need help,” MJ said, her voice strong and confident. She came up from behind Peter and stood at his side, an unmovable force. She stared down the girl, whose façade cracked a little bit, the smile wavering.

“Leave him alone,” MJ warned, crossing her arms. “He doesn’t need help.”

She gave MJ a dirty look, but left anyways, her long hair swishing.

Peter could feel himself getting worked up, and he itched to call Tony, to get out before that happened again.

A shoulder bumped his. “You good, loser?” MJ asked, her face bored, her brown eyes concerned.

Peter took a breath. “I’m good.”

--

It got worse.

Ned was in his AP Physics class, and was able to keep anyone from bothering him, but neither of his friends were in his English class.

Two kids approached him, both boys, both more popular than Peter was.

They offered to do his work for him, and Peter stammered out a no, but they were both persistent.

“You don’t have to worry about it, Petey, we can do it,” one of them said, and the nickname made Peter’s blood boil.

“I’ve got it. Can you please leave me alone?” He said, tripping over his words a little bit in his haste to get them out.

They left, but ten minutes later he was tapped on the shoulder by the red-haired girl that sat behind him.

She wore too much eyeliner, and it made her eyes look heavy. “Hey, Peter. What did you get for number ten? I’m kind of stuck on it.”

“Oh,” he hastily grabbed his sheet. “I got Ad Hominem.”

“Oh, that makes sense,” she wrote down the answer. “You’re really smart.”

Peter felt himself blush. “Thanks.”

“No, really. You’re really smart, and you’re funny too. I see you with Ted and Michelle, and you’re always making jokes. Girls like funny guys.”

Peter’s stomach turned to ice. “Oh…”

“Also, it’s so cool that you know Tony Stark. Do you, like, live with him?”

He was getting worked up again. His body was hot, and he felt trapped, with the girl’s wide blue eyes on him. “Uh, y-yeah—”

“Really? That’s so dope,” she paused for a second. “By the way, do you want to hang out sometime? I think you’re really cool.”

Peter’s face turned bright red, and it felt like his entire body was on fire. Did I just get asked out?

Absolutely overwhelmed, he stuttered out a “Uh, sorry—” as he stood abruptly, grabbing his crutches, and without asking for permission, left the class.

He got the bathroom as fast as he could, before closing himself in one of the stalls and fishing his phone out from his pocket. His heart was thumping wildly in his chest as he called Tony, his hands shaking around the device.

He picked up after only one ring. “Peter? What’s going on? Shouldn’t you be in class?”

“I don’t know what to do,” he admitted in a rush, and words began to pour out of him. “People are talking to me and being nice and I’m trying to tell them to leave me alone but it’s so hard and this girl from my English class just asked me out and I don’t even know her name and I’ve never been asked out before and I don’t even know if I like girls or not because the only one who’s ever showed any interest was Liz and her dad turned out to be crazy and I didn’t even like her that much anyways I don’t—”

“Whoa, slow down,” Tony cut him off. “Take a breath and explain.”

Peter took a shaky breath, sliding down the tiled wall of the bathroom and onto the gross floor. “People are being weird and nice to me. This girl came up to me at my locker and said she liked my shirt. These guys in my English class wanted to do my work for me. A-and I just got asked out by this girl who sits behind me and it’s so freaking weird, Tony, I don’t know what to do.”

“You knew this was going to happen, Pete,” Tony said softly. “It’s just par for the course, buddy. Remember what I told you?”

“You told me to tell them to fuck off,” Peter mumbled, staring at the walls.

“Exactly. And if you don’t want to swear, tell them to go away. And if they don’t, you’ve gotta walk away yourself.”

Peter nodded, a lump in his throat. He missed Tony viciously, then, and he wanted nothing more than to go home.

“You okay, bud?” Tony asked, and Peter swallowed hard.

“I want to go home,” he whispered, sliding his hand down and grasping the fabric of his jeans, trying to keep from crying.

Tony sighed into the phone. “I want you to stay and finish out the day, but if you really don’t think you can, I’ll come get you.”

Peter took a deep breath. “I… I think I’m going to stay. I have to try.”

“Atta boy,” Tony said fondly. “You’ve got this, kid.”

Peter stood. “I hope so. Thanks.”

“Get back to class, kid. I’ll see you when you get home.” There was a beat of silence. “And Peter?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m so proud of you.”

Peter’s heart swelled, and his stomach was filled with warmth. “Thanks, dad.”

The line cut out, and Peter walked back to class, instilled with confidence.

He took his seat, and the girl tapped him on the shoulder again.

Peter turned, and before she could say anything, he calmly said, “Fuck off.”

--

Chapter Text

Lunch was bad.

He walked (well, crutched) into the lunchroom alone and was immediately stared at by almost everyone in it. It made his heart race, and he walked into the lunch line with his head bent, avoiding all of the gazes set on him.

 He got his lunch and went over to his usual lunch table, and to his disappointment, Ned and MJ weren’t there yet.

He set down his tray and took a seat, his eyes trained to the door, waiting for his friends to walk through the doors.

The back of his neck prickled, and suddenly there was a group of people sitting down next to him.

Peter immediately recognized the girl from his locker this morning, and the two guys from his English class. There were others, one Peter recognized as Tom Jansen, an asshole from his Chemistry class with a reputation of using girls.

There were two girls on either side of him, and Peter daresay that the rumors were correct.

“Heya, Pete,” Tom said, smiling crookedly. “What’s up?”

Peter could feel the flush working its way up his body. “Uh, nothing. W-Why are you sitting with me?”

“Well, we saw you sitting alone, and thought you could use some company,” the girl from his locker said with the same pearly smile. “Whatcha eatin?”

Peter glanced down at his tray. “Uh… chicken nuggets? I’m sorry, but my friends usually sit with me,” he said, trying to sound confident, but his voice cracked halfway through.

“There’s room for them,” another one of the guys said smoothly. “Nate and Meghan—”

“It’s Ned and Michelle,” Peter interrupted, firmly. “Can you all just—”

“You’re in my spot, fuckers,” MJ bit from behind Peter, and he turned, gratitude washing through him.

MJ and Ned stood there. MJ looked pissed, and Ned concerned, his eyes flicking between MJ and Peter.

“Get out of my spot and leave him alone,” MJ said, jerking her chin up, all sass and confidence.

Slowly, the people started to leave, the last one being Tom Jansen. “We can hang some other time, right, Pete?”

“Yeah, if you can ever get your head out from between a girl’s legs,” MJ jabbed, sitting down next to Peter, glaring at him. “Leave us alone.”

Ned guffawed, and Peter gaped at her. Tom Jansen turned red and walked away.

“That was so cool, MJ!” Ned said excitedly.

Peter bit his lip and looked down at his food, suddenly not hungry. “Thanks, MJ,” he mumbled.

“They need to leave you alone,” she said vehemently. “Who gives a shit that Tony Stark’s your dad? It doesn’t change anything.”

“Tony’s rich and a superhero,” Peter shrugged, picking at his milk carton. “They want to get to him through me. It makes sense.”

“It’s gross and I don’t like it,” MJ said, angrily taking out her sandwich from a brown paper bag.

Peter sighed. “I don’t like it either. I got asked out during English.”

MJ stilled in taking out an apple, and Ned gasped. “By who?” he demanded.

“I don’t know her name,” Peter said, somewhat miserably. “It was so weird. I, er… I kinda freaked out and called Tony.”

“What did he say?” Ned asked, taking a bite from his chicken.

“He told me to tell everyone to fuck off,” Peter shrugged. “He’s right, but it’s hard. I don’t want to be mean.”

“It’s not being mean if you’re sticking up for yourself,” MJ sniffed, taking an aggressive bite out of her apple. “Or if it’s Tom Jansen.”

Peter coughed a laugh. “True.”

“By the way, we have decathlon practice tomorrow. Semi-Finals are next weekend.”

“I’ll be there,” Peter said. “Sorry that I missed the last one… I was kind of dying.”

The corner of MJ’s mouth quirked. “Just don’t let it happen again.”

--

Gym, for once, was a relief. Everyone was too out of breath to bother him, even though he was the first to be picked for a game of volleyball.

Spanish was just as bad as English, maybe even worse since he despised the class. His underarms had started to hurt from using the crutches so much, and his teacher yelled at him for talking, even though it was the girl next to him that initiated the conversation.

A kid named Bryce kept asking him for help on the worksheet they were supposed to complete, and when he was finished with it, asked Peter if he wanted to help tutor him.

Peter got out a shaky no, before the two of them got reprimanded for not speaking in Spanish.

When the bell rang, relief like he had never felt coursed through him. Home.

He crutched to his locker and grabbed his bag, cramming books and binders in it the best he could, before crutching towards the metal doors leading outside.

Stepping out into the sunlight felt like heaven, even though the cold February wind made his cheeks flush.

As he hobbled down the stairs, he scanned the parking lot for Tony’s Audi. When he couldn’t find the black car, he frowned, reaching the bottom of the stairs.

On cue, his phone buzzed. Sitting in traffic, will be there soon.

Peter sighed, standing off to the side as he waited, scrolling through his phone.

The back of his neck prickled in warning, and he immediately jolted backwards as a hand came out and tried to knock the phone from his hand. He looked up, searching for his assaulter.

Flash leered down at him, flanked by his two closest friends. Peter met his gaze evenly, not willing to put up with any shit after the day he had.

“What the fuck, Penis,” Flash hissed. “How the fuck do you know Tony Stark? I thought you were lying about the internship bullshit.”

Peter stared him down, not saying anything.

“He called you his kid,” Flash spat. “I thought you didn’t have a family, Penis. So, what are you to him, huh? Servant? Slave?”

Peter felt anger boiling in his pit of his stomach, but he just jerked his chin up defiantly and didn’t say anything.

“Oh, I know,” Flash got in his face, his white teeth glittering in the sunlight. “You’re his boy toy.”

The anger boiled over, and Peter felt something in him snap. He felt his face turn red, and he spit right in Flash’s face.

He reeled back, wiping the saliva off his face. He bared his teeth, looking down at Peter, his face menacing. “You fucker—”

The back of Peter’s neck prickled again, just as a car door slammed. He looked to the side and saw that Tony had pulled up to the school and was standing outside his black Audi. He was in a dark pinstripe suit and dark red tie, sunglasses perched across the bridge of his nose.

Flash’s eyes darted over to where Tony was standing, and he paled, immediately backing off.

Tony gave him a look that could kill, and Peter crutched over to his car, relieved.

He threw his backpack and crutches into the backseat and got in the passenger side, shutting the door behind him.

Tony got in and started the car, before driving off. There was silence between them.

“What did he say to you?” Tony asked after a while, noticing Peter’s tense posture.

“Nothing,” Peter muttered, anger flashing across his face.

There was a pause, during which Tony thought how to phrase his next sentence. “I saw you spit in his face.”

Peter stiffened, his eyes darting to Tony’s face, trying to detect any anger.

There wasn’t any, and he let out the breath he didn’t know he was holding.

There was a beat of silence again. “I don’t want to keep arguing about this, but I really think something should be done—”

“He called me your boy toy,” Peter blurted, and then blushed furiously red, his hands clenching and unclenching in his lap. “God, I wanted to fucking—”

“Language,” Tony cut him off, giving him a sharp look, before saying mildly, “Also, I think that’s a first for me. Never had someone accuse me of having a boy toy. I was always the boy toy.”

Peter buried his face in his hands. “Spare me. Please.

Tony snickered, before he sobered. “Why do you only get mad at him when he picks on someone other than you? Why can’t you spit in his face when he calls you those god-awful names—”

“First, I don’t want to get in trouble. I don’t retaliate because it looks just as bad on me as it does him when I react with violence. Second, if I lost my temper, I could seriously hurt him. I have super strength, Tony; if I punch him, I could kill him. Third, I wouldn’t have reacted anyways, but…” He looked out the window. “I was already having a pretty horrible day, so…”

Tony sighed. “I’m proud you made it through though.” There was a pregnant pause, during which Tony bit his cheek. He turned into a McDonalds parking lot, pulling into an empty spot and putting the car in park.

Peter stared at him. “Uh. Why are we parked in a McDonalds parking lot?”

Tony sighed. “It’s serious talk time. Food now or after?”

“I thought we ate ice-cream when it was serious talk time?” Peter said, deliberately stalling.

“We had ice-cream yesterday,” Tony said, with a wave of the hand. “We can’t have it two days in a row. Food?”

Peter clenched his fists, anxiety making his stomach flip. “Food now, I guess. I’m hungry.”

Tony nodded, put the car in drive, and pulled into the drive thru. “What do you want?”

“Large vanilla milkshake and two large fries,” Peter said, compressing himself further into the seat, his fists tightening. He’s leaving. He’s leaving or he’s giving me away. Or he’s dying. Or he’s mad at me. Or—

A bag was put in his lap, and he snapped out of his thoughts. His vanilla milkshake was put in the cup holder, and the food smelled heavenly, but Peter’s stomach was in knots, making him feel sick.

Tony pulled back into the parking spot and turned to Peter, his face serious.

Peter stared at him, terror running through him. He reached inside the McDonalds bag and handed Tony his cheeseburger and fries, his hand shaking.

Tony noticed, because of course he did. “Don’t be nervous, bud. It’s not bad.”

Peter nodded, taking out a fry and nibbling on it.

Tony took a breath. God, this was the part of parenting he didn’t want. “Okay. So… when we were on the phone earlier, when you were freaking out, you said… you said you didn’t think you liked girls.”

Peter dropped the fry he was holding, his eyes bugging in shock. He felt a blush run from the tips of his toes up to his head, the heat almost painful.

“O-oh,” Peter stammered, trying to think when he said that. He didn’t remember saying it, and he was surprised that he did say it, since it wasn’t something he actively thought about. “O-oh. Oh. U-um…”

“Breathe, Peter,” Tony reminded softly, and Peter sucked in a breath that hurt.

“Listen. I’ve done everything, okay?” Tony watched as Peter squirmed, his face insanely red. “I’ve been with guys and girls, sometimes at the same time. It’s not a big deal at all. I just want to know, okay?”

Peter swallowed. He didn’t know about Tony being with guys, but it made it easier to breathe, somehow. “I don’t... know what I like? I m-mean… I liked this girl Liz a few months ago, but I thought I liked her a lot more than I actually did. I think I liked the idea of her? I dunno… I’m not sure. I guess I c-could see myself with both?” He avoided Tony’s gaze as he talked, before stuffing a handful of fries into his mouth to give him a reason to stop talking.

Tony lifted Peter’s chin so that he was looking at him. “You’re still my kid no matter what. You know that, right?”

Peter swallowed and nodded. “I know. I… it’s not something I think about a lot. A relationship is the last thing I want right now, no matter who with.”

“Understandable,” Tony unwrapped his cheeseburger, relaxing a little. The horrible part was over. “You can always talk to me, kid. Or, if you want experts, talk to Steve or Bucky. They’re disgustingly happy and both gay, which I did not see coming, and my gaydar is pretty much perfect, mind you—”

“I don’t think anyone saw it coming,” Peter shrugged, taking a drink from his milkshake. “But it makes sense, I guess. It’s weird; I used to sleep on Captain America bedsheets, and now I know the guy. It’s bizarre.”

Tony snorted loudly. “You should tell him that. He’d get all embarrassed.”

Peter smiled, dipping a couple of his fries in his milkshake and eating them, humming at the delicious contrast between sweet and salty. “I didn’t know you’ve been with guys.”

Tony arched an eyebrow. “I’ve been with everyone, kid. I had sex with a drag queen, and it was the best sex of my life.”

Peter shrieked and covered his ears. “Why do you feel the need to gross me out? I really, really don’t want to hear about your sex life!”

Tony chuckled, before taking a bite from his burger. “It gives me enormous amounts of joy to watch you bluster. It’s like my favorite thing in the world.”

Peter scowled at him, reaching into the bag and chucking a fry at him. “You’re the worst.”

Tony grinned, snatching up the fry and eating it. “You’d be lost without me, kid. Admit it.”

Peter couldn’t deny it, so he just threw another fry at him.

--

When they got home, Steve and Bucky were curled up on the couch. Steve was asleep, his head tucked into Bucky’s stomach, his large shoulders moving up and down steadily. Bucky was staring down at Steve, his dark eyes soft as he made circles with his metal thumb on the side of Steve’s neck.

Peter remembered what Tony said, about them being disgustingly happy, and he thought that about summed it up.

Chapter Text

The next day at school was just as bad as the previous one, except he was better rested and a little more confident.

It became easier to tell people to leave him alone, since he stopped worrying about being mean. They didn’t care about his feelings, so why should he care about theirs?

There was Decathlon practice after school, which he was actually looking forward to. He loved the short two-week period leading up to a competition; it was stressful and intense, but the thought of winning kept him going, and when they did do well, all the preparation was well worth it.

The bell rang at the end of the day and he walked with Ned to the practice room, both of them chatting excitedly about semi-finals next weekend.

They walked into the room and took their seats, waiting for the practice to start.

MJ strolled in a few minutes later, and began the practice with an, “Okay, dorks, semi-finals are next weekend. I don’t want us to lose and look like idiots, so we have practice every day next week.” There were murmurs amongst the team, and MJ rolled her eyes. “Yeah, say goodbye to your free time. Two hours, every day after school next week. You’re lucky you get this weekend off.”

There were a few groans, mostly from Flash, but Peter didn’t mind. He quit band and robotics club in the beginning of October, after the whole homecoming incident, so this was his only extracurricular.

“Alright, we’re going to begin by breaking up into pairs, and then I’m going to quiz the group as a whole and keep score. Whoever wins gets a pat on the back or whatever, I didn’t actually buy anything.”

Peter and Ned immediately paired up, and MJ paired up with Kimiko, a new member of the team who took Liz’s place when she left.

Ned quizzed Peter first, starting with easy questions and then moving on to the harder ones. Peter missed a few, which Ned highlighted for him to study later.

Peter then quizzed Ned, who answered more questions correctly than Peter, but Peter didn’t take offense. He knew Ned was smarter than him.

When they got together as a whole team, however, they worked as a well-oiled machine. MJ quizzed them on a quarter of the book, and they only got ten questions wrong. Satisfied, and with only ten minutes left, MJ said, “Alright, everyone. That’s pretty much all the time we’ve got. Before you go, Mr. Harrington has some announcements about semi-finals.”

She gestured to Mr. Harrington, before walking over to Peter and sitting in the chair next to him. The chemistry teacher stood, clutching a stack of papers in his hand. “I have the permission slips for the trip. It’s in Boston, so it’s about a four-hour bus ride and we’re going to be staying for two nights in—”

Peter stared at him, watching him mouth move but not really comprehending the words. His ears were ringing, his stomach dropping.

Two nights. In Boston.

Away from Tony.

The panic was compressing his chest, and he struggled to breathe through it.

“—The fee for the trip is fifty dollars, which covers the hotel and meal fees. We leave Friday, at three, and should be in Boston by seven. We’ll be staying both nights in a Courtyard hotel, and the convention will be held in Hynes Convention Center. Saturday is a practice day and there’s a banquet in the evening, so I want everyone to look nice. Sunday is the actual competition, and we leave at four o’clock, which should get us back at the school by eight.”

Peter was having trouble breathing. Ned nudged him, looking concerned. “You okay?” He asked. “You look a little pale.”

Peter swallowed, clasping his shaking hands in his lap. “Fine. I’m fine,” he said roughly, before clearing his throat.

Ned didn’t look like he believed him, but he let the subject drop. Peter was immensely grateful.

“Permission slips are due next meeting, which is on Monday. Make sure to have your parent sign them,” Mr. Harrington began to pass out the slips. “You won’t be allowed to go if they aren’t signed.”

Peter grasped his permission slip in his shaking hands, biting his lip. People began filing out of the room, but Peter stayed sitting, chewing his lip until it started to bleed.

Mr. Harrington was closing his briefcase as Peter stood and crutched over to him, still clutching the paper in his hands. “Um, Mr. Harrington? Can I talk to you for a second?”

The chemistry teacher glanced at Peter and straightened. “Sure, Peter.”

“Er, so… do you think it’s, um, possible if my dad drives me up to Boston early Sunday morning instead of me taking the bus with everyone else?”

Mr. Harrington’s brows furrowed in confusion. “Uh, no, I’m afraid not. There is a mandatory practice on Saturday, as well as the banquet that I mentioned. It’s also too difficult to keep track of everyone if their driving separately. Sorry, Peter, but if you’re going to participate, you have to take the bus.”

Peter bit his already bleeding lip, letting the pain distract him from the fear coursing through his veins. “O-okay. Thanks, Mr. Harrington.”

He nodded, and Peter turned to leave. “By the way, Peter,” he interrupted, and Peter turned. “I thought you lived with your aunt. I didn’t know you had a father.”

Peter took the words like a full body blow. I had an aunt, but she died, just like my parents and my uncle and everyone else. “She, uh…” he cleared his throat. “She passed in November. I’m, uh, under the guardianship of someone else now.”

Mr. Harrington’s face showed surprise, then immense guilt and regret. “Oh. I didn’t mean to—”

“It’s okay,” Peter said jerkily, grabbing his backpack with his shaking hands, the movement difficult with his crutches. “Have a good evening, Mr. Harrington.”

He was out of the practice room before the man could say anything else.

He sped-crutched through the school hallways, swallowing around the lump in his throat.

He felt like crying. Because what if something happened while he was gone? What if Tony got in an accident, what if something attacked New York, what if there was a car accident and Tony was involved, and he wouldn’t even be there

What if Tony died, while he was away? What if he died and Peter was left alone forever—

His breaths were starting to quicken as he got out of the school, getting down the stairs as fast as possible.

He stumbled a little towards the bottom in his haste, and he crutched as fast as he could towards Tony’s black Audi, opening the back door and shoving his stuff in before getting in the passenger side.

“Hey, bud,” Tony said, a smile on his face, which quickly faded when he saw Peter’s pale face and heaving chest. He frowned. “Hey. Hey, Peter, look at me.”

Peter met Tony’s concerned gaze, and he let out a shaky breath. “I…”

“Take a second, calm down, and catch your breath,” Tony ordered, his body facing Peter, giving him his full attention.

Peter breathed in and out for a minute before he spoke again. “Decathlon semi-finals are next weekend,” he explained, his voice wavering, “and they’re in Boston.”

Tony stared at him. “Oh-kay? Are you nervous or something?”

Peter shook his head. “They’re in Boston. The bus leaves… the bus leaves Friday and d-doesn’t come back until Sunday night and I’m going to be all a-alone up there and…”

“Hey,” Tony said softly, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Take a breath, Pete. It’s not that bad.”

“Yes, it is!” Peter said, his voice a little high. “I don’t… I’m going to be…” Peter swallowed, looking down at his lap. “I’m not going to be with you,” he admitted quietly.

“But you’re going to be with your friends,” Tony said, squeezing Peter’s shoulder. “You’re not going to be by yourself, buddy. You’re going to be having so much fun, you won’t even think about me.”

Peter shook his head, his fists tightening where they were clenched in his lap. “I’m not going to have fun. I’m going to be sad and miserable, I can just feel it—”

“Peter, you love Decathlon. You talk about it a lot, about how you really want to win it all this year, since you’ve never done that before. You’re going to have fun.”

Peter bit his lip. “I do want us to win,” he said quietly.

“And they can’t win without you. It’s two sleeps, okay? Only two sleeps,” Tony soothed, his thumb running circles against Peter’s collar bone, a soothing gesture.

Peter took a breath. “Two sleeps. Right.”

Tony squeezed his shoulder again, before putting the car in drive and pulling out of the parking lot.

Peter curled up in his seat, his head against the window. He shivered, thinking about talking about May to Mr. Harrington.

God. It had only been two months. Almost three, now.

Less than a summer break. She had only been dead for less than a summer break.

And he hasn’t been thinking about her.

Peter flinched in his seat as the realization hit him.

He had thought about her on Valentine’s day, but that was it. God, he was the worst. She did so much for him, and now he’s just forgetting her?

“Peter?”

Peter looked over at Tony, and realized that his face was hot and wet, and he sniffed, wiping away the tears.

“What’s going on?” Tony asked quietly, and Peter realized they were already back at the Tower, in the garage.

He sniffed loudly. “N-nothing. I just…”

“It’s not nothing,” Tony said quietly. “You’re crying.”

Peter choked back a sob. “I haven’t… I haven’t thought about M-May in a while. It feels like I’m forgetting her, and I don’t want to forget her.”

Tony looked heartbroken. “Peter. You’re not forgetting her. You’re moving on.”

“She’s only been dead two months,” Peter said, self-hatred in every syllable. “Two months. That’s it. Less than a summer break, and I haven’t thought about her in a week, at least—”

“Peter. Listen to me,” Tony sounded so serious that Peter stopped crying momentarily, swallowing down a sob. “You aren’t forgetting her. You can’t spend your life thinking about her every minute, Pete. You’ll drive yourself insane.”

“But it feels like I’m forgetting her,” Peter said, soft and tearful. “I don’t know. I’m being s-stupid.”

Tony shook his head. “What brought this on?” he asked gently, reaching out and cupping Peter’s face with one hand, a thumb stroking across his cheek.

Peter leaned into it, hiccupping a small sob. “The decathlon admin Mr. H-Harrington… I asked if you could take me up on Sunday to Boston instead of me taking the bus. He said no and I guess me calling you dad confused him since he knows I lived with M-May so he asked what happened to her, and it just g-got me thinking about her—”

Tony’s eyes were hard. “I’ll have him fired.”

Peter’s eyes grew wide. “No! He didn’t know, Tony. You don’t have to f-fire anyone.”

Tony frowned, but the anger left his eyes. “I don’t want you to be sad, Pete. It breaks my heart.”

Peter shrugged. “I’m sad all the time.”

Tony stared at him. “All the time?”

Peter bit his lip. “A lot of the time.”

Tony stared a second longer, but then nodded. “Scale of one to ten, how do you feel?”

Peter let out a small laugh. “This again? Did you find this on the internet or something?”

“The internet’s a gift, kid. It solves all of our problems,” Tony shot him a grin, before asking again. “Scale of one to ten, come on.”

Peter considered. “Five. Maybe a five and a half.”

Tony felt his face break out into a smile. “It’s gone up. Can I ask why?”

Peter blushed a little. “It’s because I know you’ll always have my back. Even… even if I’m questioning something about myself, or if I’m upset about M-May… I know you’ll always be there for me.”

Tony’s smile was radiant. “Aww. You’re so damn cute, Pete, did you know that?”

Peter rolled his eyes. “Shut up. I am not.”

“You are,” Tony sing-songed. “You’re adorable.”

“And you’re embarrassing,” Peter quipped, opening the car door. “You’re like a soccer dad. It’s crazy. I have Tony Stark as my soccer dad.”

“I don’t drive a mini-van,” Tony pointed out, grabbing Peter’s crutches from the backseat and bringing them over to him, “and you don’t play soccer.”

“God, could you imagine if you drove a mini-van?” Peter asked, pulling a face. “You would instantly be uncool.”

“I feel like my stocks would crash,” Tony mused, grabbing Peter’s backpack and handing it to him, who then slung it over his shoulder. “It would be a PR nightmare.”

Peter laughed, but then a thoughtful look came over his face as they walked towards the elevator. “I’m surprised none of the news sources have caught wind of me being your kid yet. I mean, everyone at my school knows.”

“Thank god,” Tony said fervently, as they stepped through the metal doors into the elevator. “God, I don’t even want to think about that.”

Peter’s face fell a little and he shrunk into himself, avoiding Tony’s eyesight. “Are you embarrassed by me?”

Tony started, jolting where he stood. He looked down at Peter, disbelief written all over his face. “What? No! How could you say that?”

Peter shrugged. “Would you care if the media found out about me?” He questioned.

“Yes,” Tony said firmly. “But not because I’m embarrassed by you. If they found out about you, they’d lie and say some horrible things about you to get to me. They’d say I abused you, or that May abused you, or that you’re my accidental son that I got from not being careful in my twenties, or—”

“Point taken,” Peter said, cutting him off. “I don’t like attention, either. That was a stupid question, I’m sorry.”

“Yes, it was,” Tony agreed. “Don’t ever think that I’m embarrassed by you, kid, because it’s quite the opposite.”

Peter smiled to himself. “Thanks. By the way, what’s for dinner? I’m starving.”

Chapter Text

The next day of school was a non-event. More people came up to him, asking about Tony, but it was less than the other days. He aced a chemistry test and when he got home that night, the entire team watched a movie after eating a pizza dinner.

The weekend flew by in a blur of studying for semi-finals and hanging out with Tony, as well as a little physical therapy, courtesy of Dr. Cho and Bruce.

His leg was starting to feel better, but it still hurt a little bit when he put his full weight on it, which he was incredibly bummed about.

However, his healing factor was so fast that Dr. Cho and Bruce said that within a week or two, he wouldn’t have to use the crutches anymore. The cast would stay on, however, which Peter was irritated about. It was a pain in the ass to shower with, and it itched like a motherfucker, but being able to stand up on his own was going to be amazing.

He went to school on Monday filled with excitement for Decathlon practice, and it didn’t disappoint. The entire team took the practice seriously, and they got through another quarter of the practice book, only missing a few questions.

Tuesday passed the same, and on Wednesday, Doctor Cho and Bruce cleared him to walk without the crutches. It was liberating to walk without having to rely on the crutches, even if it did hurt his leg a little bit.

Thursday rolled around, and Peter woke up with a rock of dread in his stomach.

He was leaving tomorrow for Boston. Without Tony.

He got dressed for school, showering with difficulty (as he did every morning) and ate a quick breakfast. Happy drove him to school that morning, since Tony had a meeting he had to go to.

Classes went by too fast, which he normally would have been happy about, but he didn’t want the next day to come.

Decathlon practice passed quickly as well, and Tony was waiting for him outside.

He got into the warm car, uttering a quiet hello to Tony, and then falling silent.

God. Just the thought of leaving the next day was enough to send him into a panic attack. He didn’t want to be away from Tony and he didn’t want the crushing, numbing loneliness to take over like it did whenever he was away from the man.

“You okay, bud?” Tony asked softly.

Peter nodded, putting his elbow on the small ledge just under the car door-handle and using his hand to prop his chin up, hating the fact that his eyes were burning with unshed tears.

It was starting to flurry when they pulled into the tower, but the sun was setting later, a sign that spring was almost upon them.

Thank god. It had been the longest winter of Peter’s life.

They made their way up to the living space in silence, Peter trying to keep himself together and Tony sending him concerned looks, almost like he was waiting for the breakdown.

Peter got himself a snack and sat at the table, eating it quietly, his mind running a mile a minute, coming up with different scenarios of what could happen while he was away.

Once he was done eating, Tony took a seat next to him. “I bought you a duffel for you to pack your stuff in,” he informed. “It’s in your room for whenever you want to get started.”

Peter nodded, swallowing down the anxiety. “Thanks,” he whispered. “I… I guess I’ll go start now.”

He got down to his room, curled up into a ball in the corner, and had a short panic attack, his entire body shaking with it.

Tony didn’t come down, so FRIDAY must not have notified him. Thank god.

After he caught his breath, he began putting clothes into his suitcase, folding his Decathlon jacket and making sure it was in there, next to his best pair of jeans. He packed something a little fancier for the banquet, which was a simple button up shirt and a pair of dress pants.

He tried to push the fear from his mind as he packed, instead focusing on the good parts of the trip. He would get to hang out with MJ and Ned, meet some new people at the banquet, and then compete for first at the actual competition.

He tried not to think of three-and-a-half-hour bus ride, or of the nights he would be spending, alone, in a hotel room, without Tony in the next room.

He tried not to think about how much he relied on Tony, on how much he needed him. About how he freaked out if he was gone for more than a few hours, or how he went completely numb if he wasn’t around when Peter went to sleep, or when he got home from school.

It was unhealthy how much he needed him. And Peter decided he didn’t care.

He finished packing his clothes, and moved on to his toiletries, tossing his toothbrush and toothpaste into his suitcase. He caught sight of himself in the mirror and found that he was pale.

“Peter, Mr. Stark wanted me to inform you that it is time for dinner. He would like you to join him in the living space.” FRIDAY said.

Peter let out a small sigh. “Okay. Tell him I’ll be right there.”

He took a breath, before leaving his room and getting in the elevator.

He stepped out into the living space, and found Tony, Steve, Natasha and Rhodey all sitting at the table, all kinds of Mexican food strewn out between them.

“Hey kid,” Tony greeted. “Come get some food.”

Peter shuffled over to where they were, grabbing a plate off the counter and taking a seat at the table next to Tony.

Tony put four tacos on his plate, and Peter unwrapped one of them and took a small bite, not hungry in the slightest.

They were good tacos, too. He wished he wanted to eat them.

Tony was talking to Rhodey and Steve to Natasha, and Peter let the conversation wash over him as he nibbled on his taco, trying his hardest not to think about the following days to come.

Steve finished his food first, and then Natasha. They left the living space for the gym, to go spar.

Tony and Rhodey were still conversing, but Peter wasn’t listening anymore. He wasn’t really doing anything anymore.

“Peter?”

Peter started, his eyes snapping up from where they had been trained to the table, his mind snapping back from the clouds.

Both Rhodey and Tony were looking at him with concern, and he realized he had been completely spaced out.

“Sorry,” Peter said, blushing a little. “What were you guys talking about?”

Rhodey glanced at Tony with an arched eyebrow, and Peter felt a hot wash of shame.

God, why was he so fucked up?

“I’m going to go finish packing,” Peter said, too loudly, tripping over himself in his haste to get out of there. He knocked his chair over, and it fell to the ground with a loud thud.

His eyes were stinging as he walked as fast as he could with his cast on to the elevator, after telling FRIDAY his destination in a wavery voice.

He could hear Tony calling his name, could see him start to get up out of his chair, but the doors were closing and then Peter was falling, safely in the elevator, down to the fiftieth floor.

His chest was heaving like he had just run a marathon and he was shaking, his knees wobbly.

He went to his room, laid on his bed, stared at the ceiling, and tried to ignore how he felt like he was spiraling.

--

About an hour later, around eight o’clock, there was a knock on his door.

Peter had begun packing again after not moving for almost forty minutes, and now he was numbly throwing things into the suitcase, his eyes filling with tears every so often, but he blinked them back every time.

There was another knock, and then the door was pushed open.

Tony stood in the doorway, concern etched on his face and in his eyes.

“Hey, bud,” he said quietly. “How’s it going?”

Peter turned away from him. “Fine,” he said from his position on the floor.

There was a beat of silence. “Looks like you’re almost done,” Tony said, watching Peter’s every move, waiting for the slightest break in his kid’s feeble armor.

“Yep,” Peter said, his voice devoid of emotion.

Tony chewed his cheek. “Do you have everyth—”

“Can you just leave me alone?”

Tony cut off, watching as Peter hunched forward, his arms trembling where they rested on his thighs.

He was hurting. Tony could see it clear as day. “Peter. It’s alright to—”

“Leave me alone!” he practically yelled, his chest heaving.

Tony let out a small sigh. “I’ll be in my workshop if you need me.”

The door shut, and Peter drove his fist into the floor.

--

Tony tried to tinker in the workshop, but he was too keyed up. After an hour or so of getting nothing done, he said fuck it and decided to go to bed.

Stepping onto the fiftieth floor, his eyes shot to Peter’s closed door, uneasy.

He listened for any noise coming from the room, but all he heard was quiet.

He sighed. He should leave him alone, he knew he should. The kid probably needed space; god knows they spent as much time as possible around each other.

But he knew Peter was aching over having to leave tomorrow, and even though he knew he said he needed space, it was the last thing he wanted.

Because codependency.

He knocked on Peter’s door. “Hey, Pete. I’m going to bed, but if you need me, just come in and wake me up.” He paused. “Are you okay?”

“Go away,” came the small voice, through the door, and Tony let out a small sigh.

“Goodnight, Peter,” he said, waiting for Peter to say it back.

Silence.

Tony went into his room, feeling in over his head.

--

Tony woke up at five thirty the next morning, wide awake and concerned.

He was honestly expecting Peter to come in during the night, but Tony woke up to an empty bed, so he must have just stayed in his room all night.

With a sigh, Tony got in the shower, dressed, and got ready for the day, donning one of his more casual suits.

By the time he was finished with his routine, it was six-thirty, and time to get Peter up for school.

He left his room and knocked on Peter’s bedroom door. “Time to get up, Pete.”

He got in the elevator and went up to the living space, trying to decide what he wanted for breakfast.

After rummaging through the fridge, he made a noise of frustration. “I want crepes. FRIDAY, how long would it take to have, like, a bunch of crepes delivered to the tower?”

“About twenty minutes, sir.”

“Excellent. Get, like, one of every kind. I’m not sure what Pete’s in the mood for this morning.”

“Right away, sir.”

“Thanks, FRI,” he started the coffee maker, excited for his daily dose of caffeine.

Within a half an hour, all the crepes were here, and the boxes took up the entire table. It took Tony an additional five minutes to find a type he was interested in (egg, ham, and spinach) and just as he found it, the elevator dinged, and Peter walked into the living space.

The kid looked horrible. He was paler than usual, and he had dark circles under his slightly bloodshot eyes. His eyelids were puffy, no doubt from crying, and his posture was defeated and absolutely exhausted.

“Oh, Peter,” Tony murmured as Peter walked over to the table.

Peter didn’t say anything, just pressed his face into Tony’s chest.

Tony set the crepe box he was holding down on the table and gently carded his fingers through Peter’s curls, his other hand running down his back.

“M’sorry ‘bout last night,” Peter mumbled, and Tony shook his head.

“Don’t worry about it,” he felt Peter let out a breath against him. “Bad night?”

Peter nodded. “Didn’t sleep.”

Tony’s hand slowed for a second as he processed that, before resuming. “At all?”

Another shake of the head.

Tony sighed. “Okay.” He gently peeled Peter off of him, who looked up at him with heavy eyes.

He pressed a kiss to the kid’s hair. “Let’s get some food in you, okay?”

Peter looked at the boxes of food on the table like he was just registering they were there. His mouth twitched. “Did you buy an entire—” he opened one of the boxes, “—crepe place?”

“Nope, just bought their menu,” he gave Peter a wink. “Take your pick. There’s savory, sweet—” he glanced at one of the boxes, “—and taco, apparently.”

That got a laugh out of Peter, and Tony mentally fist pumped.

Peter rummaged through the boxes and settled on a Nutella crepe with strawberries. They ate in relative silence, and when they were done, Peter stared at the table, looking faintly sick.

“Are you packed?” Tony asked finally, and Peter reeled back like Tony had just slapped him.

He swallowed and nodded. “Y-Yeah.”

Tony nodded slowly. “Okay. Go get it, I’ll meet you in the car.”

Peter nodded again and stood. His knees wavered, and he had to brace himself on the table to keep from falling.

He knew Tony saw the movement, but he was too tired to care. He walked to the elevator on unsteady legs, Tony’s eyes burning a hole in his back.

When the door closed, he sank to the floor, breathing shakily.

He couldn’t do this. God, he couldn’t do this. He couldn’t leave, he couldn’t be without Tony, what if something happened, what if Tony needed him, what if Tony got hurt, whatifwhatifwhatif…

“It’s your floor, Peter,” FRIDAY said gently, and Peter stood, the hallway in front of him tipping and blurry around the edges.

He grabbed his duffel and slung his backpack over his shoulder, bone-achingly exhausted.

He stayed standing on the way down to the garage, but his legs still felt like jelly.

Tony was waiting by his usual, black Audi, and Peter resisted the urge to cling to him and never let go.

He tossed his duffel bag into the trunk before climbing in the passenger’s side, feeling nauseous and dizzy.

Tony pulled out of the garage after a worried glance at Peter, who was curled up against the window, his knees pulled into his chest.

His hands curled into fists as he thought of the nights he would be spending away from Tony, in a city he had never been to, in a lonely hotel room.

He had Ned and MJ, but they weren’t Tony. They weren’t there with him when he had nightmares, or calmed him down when he had panic attacks…

Too soon, they were pulling up to Midtown, and Tony was parking the car.

Peter fought to keep his breathing even, despite the fact that his entire body was shaking. He hated this. He hated that he couldn’t leave Tony for two days without being reduced to a shaking, panicked mess.

“Peter, look at me,” Tony said tenderly, and Peter turned his misty eyes to his father. “You can do this, buddy. I know you can.”

Peter shook his head. “I don’t want to. I don’t want to go, I want to stay here, with you.”

As if Tony’s heart wasn’t broken enough. “You’ll be okay, Peter. Two sleeps, okay? Just two sleeps, and you’ll be back.”

Peter shook his head violently, feeling himself come apart. “I can’t. I can’t. Please, don’t make me.”

Tony sighed. “Peter. You have to.”

Peter’s eyes welled up with tears, and Tony looked at him sadly. “Don’t cry, Pete. It’s okay.”

Peter shook his head again. “I want to stay with you. Please. They don’t need me, I can just stay here—”

“You can’t,” Tony said softly, hating himself. “You have to go, buddy. I know, it’s hard and it sucks, but it’s only for two days. You’ll be back on Sunday.”

Peter’s body was shaking, and his pupils were blown wide. He was terrified, and Tony felt like the biggest asshole in the world.

A part of him wanted to tell Peter that he didn’t have to go, and just take him home. It would be so easy to do that, to give in.

But it was important that Peter do this. Not only because it was a commitment, but because he couldn’t stay with Tony forever. Tony knew he was going to have to go to Europe soon, and maybe if Peter did this, him leaving to go overseas wouldn’t be so bad.

But god, his kid looked so scared. He was so tempted to take him home.

But he had to do this. “You’ve got to go, Pete. I’m sorry.”

Peter let out a whimper, and the tears fell and streaked down his cheeks.

“Come here, buddy,” Tony said quietly, and Peter climbed over the center console and into Tony’s lap, clinging onto him like a koala bear.

With one hand, Tony pressed the button and made his seat inch backwards, so Peter’s back wasn’t in danger of hitting the horn.

Peter buried his tear-streaked face into Tony’s neck, sobbing quietly. Tony ran a hand up and down his back, shushing him quietly at the same time.

“You’re going to be okay, Pete. It’s just for a little bit, and you can call me whenever,” Tony murmured as Peter shook against him.

After a few minutes, Peter stopped crying, and removed his face from Tony’s neck.

“Okay,” he said shakily, wiping his eyes. “I c-can do this.”

“You can,” Tony affirmed, running his thumb over Peter’s cheek and wiping away the tears that sat there. “I know you can. You’re stronger than you think, bud,” he paused, and his face twisted. “You’ve made me go all Hallmark card on you, Pete. See what you do to me?”

Peter gave a watery chuckle, and Tony gave him a smile. He glanced at the time, and saw that Peter only had ten minutes to get to class.

Tony gently cupped Peter’s cheek. “Time to go, Pete.”

Peter closed his eyes and took a breath, before climbing across the center console again, back into his seat. He grabbed his backpack and got out of the car, slinging it over his shoulder. He went to the back and grabbed his duffel, trying not to give into the panic that was rising in his throat again.

He shut the trunk and went back to the front, looking at Tony from outside the car, not wanting to leave.

Tony rolled down the window. “You okay?”

Peter shrugged, giving Tony a humorless half-smile. “Not really.”

Tony’s eyes were pitying. “Call me whenever, okay? It doesn’t matter if it’s three in the morning, or one in the afternoon, if you need me, call.”

“I will,” Peter mumbled.

Tony gave him a smile. “I’m proud of you, Peter. I really am.”

Peter felt the praise roll through him, relaxing him. “Thanks, dad,” he said, cracking a small grin. “I love you.”

Tony felt his heart soar. “You too, Pete. See you Sunday.”

Peter nodded, steeling himself, and walked towards the school.

A glance behind him told that Tony had driven away, and Peter had to stop and take a calming breath.

I can do this.

Chapter Text

The day went surprisingly fast, and before Peter knew it, the bell was ringing at 2:45.

He walked to the practice room and found his entire team there, all of them buzzing with excitement.

He was no longer on the edge of an anxiety attack, but he still didn’t want to go, and would rather had be at home with Tony.

He took a seat in one of the plastic chairs, trying not to feel sorry for himself.

Ned and MJ came over after a few minutes.

“Hey, loser,” MJ said as preamble, smacking him in the shoulder. “You ready to kick ass in Boston?”

Peter gave her a smile, hoping it was convincing. “Yeah. I’m… I’m really excited.”

Ned was staring at him, his head quirked in concern. “You good? You look pale.”

Peter nodded, trying for earnest but missing the mark. “I’m good. Just tired.”

“Alright, everyone!” Mr. Harrington announced. “It’s time to board the bus. Make sure you have everything.”

With a sigh, Peter stood, grabbing his duffel and backpack and following his teammates out of the school.

There was a yellow school bus waiting outside, and one by one, they all got on the bus. Peter sat towards the middle, and Ned sat next to him. MJ was towards the front, getting ready to quiz the team on some questions.

The bus started moving, and soon, they were bustling through the city, seemingly getting stopped at every light.

They went through Midtown, Manhattan and drove past the Tower.

Peter stared up at it as they went past, wondering if Tony was in his workshop, or in the living space. If he was missing Peter as much as Peter missed him.

God, he longed to be with him. Every fiber of his being ached for his father, for the comfort he provided and the overall feeling of safety.

He wanted to cry. He wanted to jump out of the bus and climb the building and into his dad’s arms.

Instead, he put his head against the window, a headache blooming in his right temple.

MJ started quizzing the group, but Peter didn’t pay attention. He continued to stare out the window, even when the buildings of the city were replaced with the jersey barriers of I-90, and when the blue sky started to darken with the falling of evening.

About an hour and a half into the drive, the bus pulled into the parking lot of a Sheetz, and Mr. Harrington stood from his place at the front of the bus.

“This is our dinner stop,” he announced. “We still have another two and a half hours to go, so use the bathroom, get something to eat, and stretch your legs.”

Everybody stood and shuffled off the bus and into the gas station, excited chatter following in their wake.

Peter stood at the edge of the group, his hands tucked into his pockets, his shoulders hunched.

He felt lost, being away from Tony and his home city. It was a weird, horrible feeling of not belonging, of being in a new place and being with people who he didn’t really know that well.

Ned stood next to him, shoulder to shoulder, the only thing keeping Peter grounded.

“Are you going to buy food?” Ned asked Peter.

Peter shrugged. “I’m not really hungry.”

Ned rolled his eyes. “Well, you’re going to eat anyways. Come on, I want Funyuns and I know you want Doritos.”

Peter cracked a small grin. He did love Doritos.

He let himself be dragged to the snack aisle, and he grabbed a big bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, some gummy worms, and a Coke. Ned got a bag of Funyuns, a package of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and a water bottle.

They walked up to the cash register, and before Ned could even attempt to take out his money, Peter slapped his golden debit card on the counter.

Ned opened his mouth to protest, and Peter gave him a look. “Tony Stark’s my dad, Ned,” Peter said to him in a quiet voice. “I’ve got a ton of money. Besides, I owe you.”

Ned smiled shyly at Peter, and they collected their things and got back on the bus.

The next two hours were better. He spent it talking and laughing with Ned, and then MJ, who joined the pair of them at the back of the bus.

He almost forgot about how much he missed Tony.

But then they pulled up to the hotel, and he realized that he had to spend the night without his dad across the hall, and he nearly threw up.

He grabbed his backpack and his duffel and got out of the bus, his stomach twisting with nerves.

The group of them went into the hotel lobby, which was surprisingly nice. It had polished marble floors and fancy décor, and it reminded Peter of the Tower, which made him horribly sad.

Mr. Harrington went up to the front desk to check them in, while everyone talked and laughed loudly.

Peter, who was feeling more than a little nauseous, stood to the side, his hands balled into fists. Exhaustion weighed on him, dragging him down and making him feel slow and gross.

“Alright, everyone,” Mr. Harrington announced, and everyone quieted. “Here are your room arrangements. Sally, MJ, Kimiko, and Cindy, you’re all in room 411. Abe, Ned, Peter, and Flash, you’re all in room 320.”

Peter stared at Mr. Harrington, hoping he didn’t hear him right.

“I have to share a room with Penis?!” Flash complained loudly, and Peter felt like he was going to cry, throw up, have a panic attack, or all three.

He was so tired. Tired of being picked on, tired of being unable to be away from Tony, tired of being so fucked up…

He hunched his shoulders and ducked his head.

But then Ned’s shoulder brushed his, and the small gesture spoke volumes. MJ was a solid, steady presence next to him, and he took a breath, pushing down the anxiety and sadness.

Mr. Harrington led the group into the elevator, and the four boys got out on the third floor.

Peter was so exhausted that the bright lights of the hallway hurt his eyes, and each step was a grueling task. His duffel bag suddenly weighed a hundred pounds.

When they got to the room, after Abe had unlocked it with the keycard, Peter took a look at the bed and wanted nothing more than to face plant onto it.

Instead, he was pushed into the wall as Flash shoved past him with a “move it, dumbass.”

Abe gave him a sympathetic look, and Ned grabbed Peter’s bag and set it next to his own on the bed.

Flash turned on the TV as Peter grabbed his duffel and went into the bathroom, locking the door and searching for the pajamas he packed.

He found his pants, but then he dug a little bit deeper into the bag and found a black shirt that he was sure he hadn’t packed.

With surprise, he took it out.

It was one of Tony’s old rock t-shirts. The material was soft and worn, the letters that spelled the word Metallica faded.

On it, there was a note. Hope this helps -dad.

It made Peter’s chest hurt, and his eyes burned. He pressed his face into it and inhaled, smelling fabric softener, home, and most importantly, Tony.

His chest heaved a sob, and his shoulders shook with the force of it.

Still crying, he unbuttoned his jeans, slid them off, and put on his pajama pants. He took off his shirt with one movement and put on Tony’s shirt instead.

He threw his clothes into his duffel and left the bathroom, keeping his head down so that no one could see the tears still cascading down his face.

He threw down his duffel, grabbed his phone and a room key, and left the room.

Once out into the hallway, he let out a loud sob, his shaking hands and blurry eyes making it hard to use his phone.

He tapped on the phone app with quivering fingers and called Tony, pressing the phone up to his ear.

Tony answered on the second ring. “Hey, Pete.”

Peter sobbed, stumbling down the hallway towards the elevator. “Dad.”

“Oh, Peter,” Tony said, sounding sad through the phone, and Peter ached for him.

“I f-found your s-shirt,” Peter sobbed into the phone, his diaphragm shaking. “Why would you do that to me?”

“Oh,” Tony muttered. “So it didn’t help?”

“N-no. It s-smells like h-home and I m-miss you and I c-can’t—” he dissolved into hysterical sobs.

“Peter,” Tony’s voice was quiet, soothing. “Calm down. Take a breath. I’m right here, buddy.”

“No, you’re not,” Peter cried, stumbling into the empty elevator. “You’re not here. You’re in New York and I’m alone in Boston—”

“Peter, stop,” Tony said, his voice slightly commanding. “You need to relax. You’re all worked up. Take a breath, bud. In and out.”

Peter sobbed instead, grabbing a fistful of his hair with one hand and clutching the phone with the other, barely able to breathe.

“Peter,” Tony tried again, and Peter could hear voices in the background. “Peter, calm down.”

“I can’t!” he nearly screamed, and then the elevator dinged, indicating that they had reached the ground floor.

He walked quickly out of the lobby and into the parking lot, tears and snot making their way down his face.

His stomach hurt, and he gagged on the next sob that tore from his throat, the chips and soda and candy he bought threatening to make a reappearance.

“No, don’t throw up,” Tony said, his voice alarmed and commanding. “Peter, calm down.”’

Peter sucked in a breath, trying to calm himself. “I wanna go home,” he whispered. “I can’t do this. Please, Tony.”

“You have to,” Tony said softly. “I’m sorry, buddy. It’s only two days.”

Peter shook his head. “I can’t. Dad, please. Come get me.”

“No, Peter,” Tony’s voice was firm. “You have to stay, kiddo.”

Peter’s lips pulled back in a sob, and he looked up, tears streaming down his cheeks. “Why do you hate me?”

“Jesus Christ,” Tony nearly snapped. “Peter, that’s ridiculous.”

“Why won’t you come get me,” Peter said, breaking down once again. “Please, please, please…”

“Stop,” Tony nearly begged. “Don’t do this, Peter. Come on.”

“I wouldn’t have to do it if you would just come get me,” Peter said angrily.

“Your teammates need you to win. It’s two days.”

It was then that Peter realized that Tony wasn’t going to come get him, no matter how much he begged and pleaded.

He moved the phone from his ear and screamed through his teeth, every part of him roaring in pain. He took a breath, falling to his knees onto the asphalt as he felt like he was going to be sick. He coughed violently, but his stomach stayed where it was supposed to be.

A minute passed, and Peter slowly calmed down, the nausea leaving him. Shakily, he put the phone back up to his ear.

There was silence on the other line, and for a heart wrenching, agonizing moment, Peter thought Tony had hung up.

But then, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Peter said quietly, then rethought. “Not really.”

Tony sighed audibly. “You need to go to bed,” he said quietly, but leaving no room for argument. “You’ve been awake for far too long.”

“I can’t sleep without you here,” Peter admitted in a whisper. “I feel so a-alone.”

“Try. Please, Peter. You have to try,” Tony’s voice was a touch pleading, and Peter let his head thunk back against the wall of the building, defeated.

“Okay,” Peter said in a small voice. “I’ll try.”

“Good,” Tony said gently. “Where are you? Are you outside?”

“Yeah. I… I had to get out,” Peter said in a small voice.

There was a beat of silence. “I’m proud of you, Peter,” Tony said softly.

Peter let out a derisive snort. “Why? I just cried so hard I almost threw up. There’s nothing to be proud of.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Tony said. “You’re there. I’m proud of you.”

God, Peter missed him so much. “Thanks, dad.”

“I’ll see you Sunday, bud. Get some sleep, text or call if you need anything,” Tony said, and Peter breathed out deeply.

“Okay. Bye, dad,” Peter whispered, and the call ended.

He took a deep breath and went back inside, into the elevator. The doors closed, and Peter buried his face into his hands, trying not to freak out again.

He stumbled back to his room, opening the door with his keycard.

Flash and Abe were on one bed, both watching whatever was on the TV. Ned was on the other bed, dressed in pajamas, scrolling through something on his phone.

They all looked up when Peter entered, and Peter ducked his head, knowing that his face was probably red and blotchy from crying.

Flash opened his mouth to say something insulting, but Peter retreated to the bathroom before he could get a word in.

He looked at himself in the mirror, and what he saw was alarming. His face was pale and blotchy, his eyes bloodshot from exhaustion. Tony’s shirt hung off of him, too big for his skinny frame.

He splashed his face with water, hoping that it would help some of the blotchiness.

He emerged from the bathroom about a minute later and made a beeline for the bed, craving sleep.

He got under the blankets and turned to the side, facing the wall. Ned shifted next to him, still sitting up in bed.

“Are you okay, Peter?” Ned asked quietly.

A lump formed in Peter’s throat, but he was too tired to cry. “Yeah, I’m okay. Just tired.”

There was a hand on his arm, then. “You sure?”

Peter sighed. “Yeah. I just…”

“Just what?”

Peter sighed. “Nothing. Never mind.”

“Okay.” Ned accepted it immediately, unflinchingly, and Peter felt a rush of gratitude.

“I’m just gonna go to sleep,” Peter said, shutting his eyes and curling up. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Peter.”

There was a click, and the lights flicked off. There were protests from Flash, but both Ned and Abe stuck up for him, making Peter feel warm inside.

He pulled the shirt up to his nose and inhaled deeply.

Tony.

He was asleep within minutes.

Chapter Text

Peter woke up during the night, sweating and shaking from a nightmare, and he very nearly called Tony again, but a quick glance at the clock that showed just a little after one in the morning changed his mind.

He didn’t get back to sleep until five in the morning, and then woke up every half an hour after that, but it was better than no sleep at all. When the other boys began to rouse around seven due to the scheduled wake up call, Peter couldn’t have been more relieved.

One sleep down. Only one more to go.

Peter showered and dressed, wanting to wear Tony’s shirt all day, but knowing that he couldn’t, due to how ratty and big it was.

Instead, he dressed in a nice pair of jeans and a long sleeve shirt, before brushing his hair and teeth.

Ned was next to get ready, and once he was, the pair of them went down to the lobby for the free hotel breakfast.

As Peter piled his plate high with powdery eggs, microwave sausage, and reheated muffins, the girls arrived, all looking much more awake than Peter felt.

MJ punched his arm fondly as she got in line for the breakfast, and Peter gave her a small smile.

“Morning, loser,” she said, grabbing one of the blueberry muffins from the platter. “You look slightly less terrible today.”

“I got some sleep,” Peter said, and it was only partially a lie.

“Cool, I don’t care,” she said, even though Peter could see right through her.

Peter found Ned at one of the open tables and sat down, stabbing one of the sausages and taking a bite.

It was one of the worst sausages he had ever had, with its dry and papery mouthfeel, but he swallowed it anyways.

He then thought of a funny joke to tell Tony about the sausage, and he turned to tell the man, but then he remembered that he wasn’t there.

He remembered that he was alone in Boston, and he suddenly wasn’t hungry anymore.

He sat back in his chair, his shaking hands on his thighs, as MJ sat down with them, her curly hair bouncing with her movements.

Ned was scarfing down a muffin, MJ was eating her oatmeal, and Peter felt cold, for some reason. He covered his hands with his sleeves.

“Hey,” Ned said, poking Peter’s shoulder. “Eat.”

Peter looked at him for a second, before shaking his head and giving him a small smile. “I’m not really hungry.”

“Yeah, sure,” MJ said, with a roll of her eyes. “You’re anxious.”

Peter started. “N-no I’m not.”

“You don’t eat when you get anxious, and you’re anxious now for some reason,” MJ observed, gesturing at him with her spoon.

Peter avoided her eyesight. “M’not anxious. I’m fine.”

“Then why aren’t you eating?” Ned asked, his boyish face concerned.

Peter resisted the urge to groan and took a bite of powder eggs. “I’m eating! See?”

His friends dropped the subject as Peter began eating, and before he realized it, he had cleaned his plate entirely.

Mr. Harrington then brought the group together and announced that they would be doing a little sightseeing in the city before heading to the competition venue for their practice session.

The day was cold, and the sky over the capital of Massachusetts was blanketed with a thick layer of clouds. Peter wondered if it was ever sunny in Boston, or if the weather just decided to be depressing that day. “Boston is so gloomy. How did you go to school here?” he texted Tony as he climbed back in the bus, taking a seat next to Ned. They were moving a few minutes later, and were headed downtown, which was bustling with cars and busses alike.

“I wasn’t really focused on the weather when I was at MIT, kid,” Tony responded a few minutes later.

“I’m going to school where it’s sunny all the time,” Peter sent.

“I’m going to disown you if you go to Cali,” Tony’s text was threatening, and Peter let out a chuckle.

They were let off the bus at the Boston Commons, right in the downtown area. From there, they went to the Massachusetts State House, and walked the Freedom Trail to Faneuil Hall.

It was interesting to see all the history, but there was a niggling in the back of his mind, a want to know what Tony was doing, if he was missing Peter as much as Peter was missing him. “The Freedom Trail is so cool! I might have been a little too quick to judge Boston,” Peter texted Tony. He didn’t get a response, and it made his stomach hurt.

After they all froze walking the Freedom Trail, they got lunch at Quincy Market, which was the most exciting part of the entire trip for Peter so far.

There were so many different food choices, and everything smelled so good that Peter wanted to get one of everything.

Instead, he settled on clam chowder and a sandwich, which were both incredibly tasty. Surrounded by the sights and bustling sounds of Quincy Market, he forgot about how much he missed Tony.

--

It became more difficult that night.

The banquet started at six, and it was currently five thirty. Peter was stood in front of the bathroom mirror, feeling like he was about to be sick.

He was in a very nice dress shirt and formal slacks. His curls were delicately put in place on his head, and he had even washed his face with the ivory bathroom soap.

But his insides were twisting violently, and his skin was crawling with anxiety. He didn’t want to go to this banquet.

Peter wasn’t a necessarily shy kid, but parties and big social gatherings made him feel suffocated and anxious.

He was tempted to just not go. Tempted to tell Mr. Harrington that he wasn’t feeling well, that he just needed to rest up for the competition the next day.

But he had to do this. Not only did he think his excuse wouldn’t work, but he knew he should be there.

There was a sudden pounding on the bathroom door, and Peter jumped a little.

“Hurry up, Parker!” It was Flash, and Peter hastened to pull himself together. Taking a deep breath, he pushed open the door and was face to face with a very irritated Flash.

Keeping his head down and brushing past him, Peter made his way over to his bed, where Ned was sitting on his phone. He was dressed in a nice shirt and slightly too big dress pants, which he had to keep up with a belt.

Peter sat next to Ned on the bed, his nails cutting into his palms. He wanted Tony desperately.

“Are you okay?” Ned asked, his brown eyes concerned.

Peter shrugged. “Nervous.”

“We’ve only gotta be there for an hour or so,” Ned said, knocking his shoulder against Peter’s. “Then we can come back up here and order pizza or something. And you can talk to Tony and everything’ll be good.”

Peter nodded. Just an hour. He could do that.

He was also genuinely surprised to hear the comment Ned made about Tony. Ned wasn’t the most intuitive person, so it came as a shock to hear that he had actually picked up on Peter’s intense attachment to the man.

Peter tried to relax, but his heart was racing. His nails dug deeper into his palms, cutting them open, and he wondered what Tony would say if he saw him now, his nails embedded in his skin.

He would be furious. He would tell him that it wasn’t good, it wasn’t healthy.

Peter dug them in deeper.

There was a knock at the hotel door, and it startled Peter out of his spiraling thoughts.

“Time to go, boys!” Mr. Harrington said, and Peter stood shakily. Ned gave him a brief one-armed squeeze.

The four boys shuffled out, all clad in nice, dressy clothes. They took the elevator down to the lobby, where the girls were waiting.

Peter’s eyes immediately jumped to MJ, whose blue dress complimented her skin tone. Her normally frizzy and wayward hair was styled so that it was out of her face.

She was also wearing makeup, which was a shock to his system. MJ never wore makeup, but sure enough, her cheeks were blushed red and her eyelashes were volumized with mascara. Her usually plain lips were accentuated with red lipstick, and maybe it was seeing one of his best friends dressed up, or maybe it was because of the nerves, but Peter’s breath drew up short.

“Whoa,” Ned said from next to him, clearly catching sight of MJ as well, and Peter thought that pretty much summed it up.

MJ caught them staring and gave them a glare. “Would you like a fucking picture? It would last longer.”

Both Peter and Ned dropped their eyes immediately. “Sorry,” they muttered.

MJ rolled her eyes. “Lets just get this shit over with. These shoes are already killing my feet.”

Mr. Harrington did a headcount, and they all walked out of the hotel towards the venue, which was only a block away from where they were staying.

As they were walking, Peter said in a quiet voice, “You look nice, MJ.”

MJ’s sharp eyes fell on him. “Thanks. I thought I’d actually try and look nice for once.”

“You look nice all the time,” Peter said, truly meaning it.

MJ gave him a weird look. “Thanks, I think,” she gave him a once over. “You look tired.”

Peter shrugged. “M’fine. I just want this banquet to be over with.”

“That makes two of us,” MJ sighed.

“Three of us, actually,” Ned said, falling in step with the pair of them. “I just want pizza. Hey MJ, if this banquet thing is as boring as I think it’s gonna be, do you want to go back with Peter and I to order a pizza and watch a move?

MJ nodded. “That’s like the best idea you’ve ever had.”

Ned grinned bashfully as they entered the huge venue.

The banquet was being held in the same place as the actual competition, Hynes Convention Center. It was an old building, but it was grand and well-maintained, and Peter found himself appreciated the architecture and overall aesthetic.

As they entered the room that the banquet was being held in, Peter realized that it was much more formal than he had previously thought. There were people in suits, and Peter looked down at his own shirt and slacks, feeling completely underdressed.

It was a mixture of kids and adults, Peter noticed as they walked further in. He assumed that the adults were either judges, or coaches, or other important people that ran or managed the Academic Decathlon.

“What are we supposed to do?” Ned asked Peter in a low voice. “Mingle?”

Peter nodded. “I guess so. Uh… how do we do that?”

MJ gave Peter a look. “You live with Tony Stark. How do you not know how to mingle?”

“He doesn’t drag me to parties or anything!” Peter protested. “I’m his kid, not his business partner.”

“You just go up to people and start talking,” MJ said, like it was obvious. “Introduce yourself, smile, shake hands, talk about what you like. Mention that you’re Tony Stark’s kid, that’ll definitely get you some attention.”

“No one knows about that, MJ!” Peter protested shrilly. “I can’t just go up to some random stranger and be like, ‘hi, nice to meet you, I’m Peter, Tony Stark’s adopted son—'”

“Okay, okay, leave out the ‘Tony Stark’s my daddy’ part. We don’t want to start a mob anyways. All these nerds would be all over you.”

The other members of the Decathlon team had already started to converse with the other contestants and judges. Peter spotted Flash talking to a tall, pretty girl off to the side, and Mr. Harrington had already captured one of the judges in a seemingly intense conversation.

“I’m not great at talking to people,” Peter said quietly, eyeing all the people with apprehension.

“You’re fine at talking to people,” MJ said immediately. “It doesn’t matter if it’s awkward, everyone here’s awkward. We’re all in Academic Decathlon. No one here has social skills.”

Ned put his hand on Peter’s shoulder. “I’ll stick with you. We can do this together.”

Peter gave Ned a small smile. “Thanks.”

The two of them made their way into the crowd of people, engaging in handshakes and painful small talk, judges asking where they wanted to go to college, fellow competitors asking what school they were from.

Ned broke from him about a half an hour in, saying something about getting some food, but at that point, Peter had stopped being anxious, and was more comfortable with the socialization.

He joined a group of people who were talking about the competition the next day and noticed that one of the kids was wearing an Iron-Man tie.

“I like your tie,” Peter said, gesturing with his chin.

The kid looked down instinctively, his glasses sliding down his nose a little, before looking back up to meet Peter’s eyes. “Thanks. Iron-Man’s the best.”

“Yeah,” Peter said, smiling widely, a warm feeling in his chest as he thought of Tony. “Yeah, he’s awesome. I’ve, uh, I’ve actually met him.” I spend half of my time in his arms, and the other half wishing I was in them.

“Really?” The kid’s eyes grew wide. “Wait, how?”

“Uh,” Peter quickly wracked his brain for something, but then remembered the first time he had met Tony. “I was at Stark Expo when I was eight, and you know, it got attacked by Hammer Drones. I almost got blasted by one, but Tony—er, Iron-Man stopped it and told me, ‘good job, kid.’ It was the best night of my life.”

“Whoa…” the kid said, before blinking. “I’m James, by the way.” He held out his hand.

“Peter,” Peter took the hand and shook it. “I’m from Midtown School of Science and Technology. It’s in Queens. What about you?”

“I go to Ithaca Senior High School. That’s seriously so cool that you got to meet Iron-Man, by the way. I’m so jealous.”

Peter smiled. “It was pretty dope.”

“Peter! They’ve got mini pigs in a blanket!” Ned said excitedly, jogging up from behind Peter. “Come on!”

Peter gave James another smile. “Nice to meet you! Good luck tomorrow!”

He let Ned drag him to the food table.

--

Peter, Ned, and MJ left the banquet about an hour and a half after it started. Peter was anxious and exhausted, Ned wanted pizza, and MJ was complaining about her feet hurting.

So, after letting Mr. Harrington know, they left the venue and headed back to the hotel, walking quickly since it was so cold out.

The warm air of the hotel lobby was an absolute blessing, and the three of them went into the elevator and took it up to the third floor, where the boys were staying.

“We’re going to get in some serious shit if Mr. Harrington catches me in your room,” MJ warned as Peter used his keycard to unlock it.

“He won’t catch us,” Ned said, striding in and taking off his shoes. “The banquet isn’t over until nine, and it’s only seven thirty right now. Just make sure you’re out of here by the time they get back.”

MJ’s mouth twisted, but she didn’t protest further. Peter let out a sigh and sat on the bed, burying his face in his hands for a moment.

Ned and MJ exchanged a look.

“You good, Parker?” MJ asked.

Peter swallowed. “Fine,” he said, letting his hands fall off his face. “M’good.”

“Don’t lie,” Ned said quietly. “We can tell when you’re not yourself.”

Peter took in Ned’s saddened expression and looked at his lap. “I’m really anxious right now for some reason,” he admitted, with a little humorless laugh. “I don’t know why. I think… I think it’s because I’m away from Tony.”

“You get upset when you’re away from him,” MJ said, and it wasn’t a question. She took a seat next to him on the bed. “You’ve been through a lot. It makes sense.”

“What does?” Peter asked miserably. “The fact that I can’t even go away for two goddamn days without freaking out? That sometimes I don’t want to go to school if it means being away from him?”

“You’re attached to him,” Ned said, taking a seat as well. “You’ve lost a lot of people, Peter. Of course you would want him around where you can keep an eye on him.”

Peter twisted his hands. “But I’m fifteen. I shouldn’t want my dad around all the time. I should… I should want to be away from him! I should be going on trips and hanging out with friends and…”

“Who cares what you should be doing?” MJ said. “Do what you want to do. No one expects anything out of you. If you want to hang out with your dad all day, who cares?”

“Definitely not us,” Ned said quietly. “We’ll be your friends either way, Peter. We just want you happy.”

Peter’s eyes stung. God, what did he ever do to deserve such good friends? “Thanks, guys,” Peter said thickly. “I… I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Crash and burn,” MJ said, flicking his ear and standing, reaching for the remote. “This TV better have Netflix on it. We’re in some serious need of comedic relief. Ned, order a pizza.”

Chapter Text

A half an hour later, all three of them were sat on one of the beds, Peter sandwich between Ned and MJ, eating pizza, dressed in pajamas (Peter was wearing Tony’s shirt again), and watching Emperor’s New Groove.

Peter wanted to feel content. He really did. But he needed to call Tony.

He wasn’t sure why, but he needed to hear his voice. It had been a whole day since he had heard it, and he just needed to make sure that he was okay, that there wasn’t anything wrong.

MJ must have realized his silent dilemma, because she said, “Go ahead and call him. We’re not going to judge you or anything.”

Peter resisted the urge to wince. “I don’t—”

“You keep glancing at your phone,” Ned said. “Call him. We’ll pause the movie.”

Peter sighed and gave in, grabbing his phone and climbing off the bed. He tapped the phone app and called Tony, holding his phone up to his ear as it rang once, twice, three times, four times…

“This is Tony Stark’s phone. Leave a message, maybe I’ll get back to you. Don’t count on it.”

Oh, god.

Peter’s breathing picked up and he stared at the phone, all color draining from his face.

“Peter?” MJ got slowly up from the bed. “What’s up?”

“He didn’t answer,” Peter said in a rush, feeling lightheaded. “Oh god. He didn’t answer. Something’s wrong. Something’s wrong. Oh god, what if… I don’t—”

“Calm down and take a seat,” MJ commanded, her voice leaving no room for nonsense. Peter sat on the end of the bed, on the edge of hyperventilating.

“He’s fine, Peter. He’s probably just doing something, he’ll call you back,” Ned said soothingly.

“He always answers,” Peter said, his voice unnaturally high, feeling like he was either going to pass out or throw up. “He always…” he sucked in a breath. “H-He always…”

His phone rang then, the Imperial March filling the room. Peter nearly dropped his phone in his haste to answer it, standing up and holding the device up to his ear.

“H-Hello?”

“Hey, Pete, what’s up?”

Relief, sweet, sweet relief flooded Peter, and he leant against the wall, shutting his eyes as Tony’s voice filled his ears. “Jesus Christ,” he breathed.

“Are you okay?” Tony asked, concerned. “What’s going on?”

Peter took a shaky breath, but his voice was still breathless when he said, “You didn’t answer.”

“Oh. Yeah, sorry, I had to wash my hands before I could answer the phone. They had chemicals on them.”

Peter breathed in and out. “Please never do that to me again.”

Tony made a concerned noise. “Did I scare you?”

“Half to death,” Peter said, reveling in his dad’s voice. “Why did you have chemicals on your hands?”

“Just working on some new upgrades for my suit. Thought I’d take a leaf out of your book and try to go for something biological. It didn’t go so well, I nearly blew up my lab.”

That didn’t make Peter feel better. “Be careful. Please, please be careful.”

“I was kidding,” Tony’s voice was soft. “Don’t stress, Peter. I’m fine, I’m whole, I’m right here. You’ll be seeing me tomorrow, bud.”

Peter’s eyes filled. “Yeah. One more sleep.”

“Just one more. You can do that,” Tony said gently. “How was your day? It sounded eventful, based on the texts you sent.”

Peter brightened a little. “It was really good, actually. Would have been better with you, but… um, we went on a tour of the city and walked the Freedom Trail and did Quincy Market and stuff. It was fun.”

“I love Quincy Market,” Tony said wistfully. “This summer, kid. You and me, we’re going to Boston together. I’ll give you a tour of MIT, and we can eat clam chowder until we’re both sick of it.”

Peter smiled. “That sounds awesome.”

“It’ll be great. By the way, how was the banquet?”

Peter rolled his eyes. “Boring as hell. All we did was stand around to talk to people. Some kid had an Iron-Man tie, though, so that was pretty cool.”

“Did you tell him that Iron-Man’s your dad?” Tony asked, a teasing lilt to his voice.

Peter rolled his eyes. “No. I wanted to, though. Like, ‘hey kid, nice Iron-Man tie, I spent half of yesterday clinging to him and the other half missing him.’”

Peter intended for it to be funny, but it just kind of came out sounding sad.

Tony sighed. “I’m sorry, Pete. I know this is hard.”

Peter stared down at the carpet. “It’s fine. I guess it’s important I do this.”

“It is,” Tony said gently. “And you’re doing well, Pete.”

Peter gave a derisive snort. “Yeah, right. Because last night was great.”

“Just a bump in the road,” Tony said smoothly.

Peter rolled his eyes. “It was more than a bump. It was like a mountain.”

“You’re so dramatic.”

“Where do you think I get it from?”

“Definitely not me, kid.”

Peter laughed, but then a sadness fell over him. “I miss you.”

“I miss you too, Pete,” Tony said softly. “One more sleep.”

The thought of sleeping again without Tony a room over was daunting. “I don’t think I can do it,” he admitted quietly. “It’s hard sleeping when you’re not here.”

“This is it, though, bud. At this time tomorrow, you’ll be home and we can do whatever you want.”

“Can we watch Chopped?” Peter asked softly, because nothing sounded better in that moment than being curled up on the couch with Tony, watching a shitty Food Network show.

“If that’s what you want, sure. And we can order food. It’ll be our own little party.”

Peter closed his eyes against the burn of tears. His stomach hurt with how much he missed Tony. “Okay,” his voice shook a little. “Okay.”

“I’m so proud of you, Pete,” Tony said softly.

A tear slipped down Peter’s cheek, and he became hyper aware of the fact that his friends were in the room. “I don’t know why, but thanks.”

“Because you’re doing this, even though it scares you,” Tony explained, his voice still soft. “And you’re trying. I couldn’t be prouder.”

Peter hiccuped on a sob. “God, I m-miss you.”

“I know,” Tony sounded sad. “It’s okay to miss me.”

Peter exhaled shakily. “Tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow,” Tony agreed. “Get a good night sleep, okay?”

“M’kay,” Peter swallowed. “Love you, dad. See you tomorrow.”

“You too, Pete,” Tony said softly, warmly. “Bye, bud.”

The call ended, and Peter took a breath, wiping his tears away with his fingers. He crawled back onto the bed and once again sandwiched himself between his two friends. Ned briefly wrapped and arm around him, and MJ tightly squeezed his hand.

Peter felt unbelievably loved.

--

He didn’t sleep that night.

Abe and Flash got back a little after nine, but MJ had left around eight forty-five, not wanting to get caught.

It was lights out at ten, since they had semi-finals the next day, and Ned, Flash, and Abe were all asleep by the time the clock read ten thirty.

Peter was awake, though. All night.

He switched between being on his phone and laying in the darkness, and the hours dragged.

He wanted to text Tony, but it was one thirty in the morning, so he decided against it. So he just stared at the dark ceiling, or at the dark wall, wishing time to go faster.

Because the faster time went, the sooner he got to see Tony.

Slowly, ever so slowly, one o’clock turned to two, to three, to four, to five, to six, and at seven thirty, the knock that signified the wake-up call came, and Peter nearly cried.

He showered, turning the water to cold to wake him up, and dressed in his Decathlon uniform. He glanced at himself in the mirror, took in his eye bags and ghostly pallor, and sighed deeply.

He washed his face, left the bathroom, and packed his stuff. Once Ned was done getting ready, the two of them went down to breakfast.

In the elevator, Ned gave Peter a worried look. “You look really tired.”

Peter shrugged. “I’m fine.”

Ned looked sad. “Did you sleep at all?”

No. “Yeah, I did. Just took a while.”

Ned didn’t look convinced, but true to character, he let the subject drop.

They stepped out into the lobby and started helping themselves to the free breakfast yet again (today they had bacon instead of sausage, but it was so burnt that when Peter tried to pick it up with the tongs, it crumpled into bits) and MJ came down a few minutes after they had taken their seats.

“Morning, losers,” she said in greeting, taking a seat and setting down her breakfast, which was a bagel with cream cheese and a pile of powder eggs.

“Morning, MJ,” Ned said. “You ready for the competition?”

“Definitely,” she said confidently, and her eyes drifted to Peter. “Christ, you look like shit.”

Peter rolled his eyes. “Thanks.”

MJ gave him a scathing look. “Don’t fuck this up for us, Parker.”

“I’m not going to fuck anything up,” Peter said, scowling. “I’m here, I’m fine, I’m ready to compete. Stop worrying about me.”

MJ glared at him, but didn’t say anything else, just took an aggressive bite out of her bagel. Ned was watching them, his eyes wide and concerned.

They finished their breakfast in relative silence, and once they were done, the entire team moved to one of the private conference rooms the hotel had and began to practice.

It was an intense practice. Everyone was silent as MJ read off questions, only talking to answer them. The nervousness in the air was palpable, and MJ snapped at Flash when he attempted to goof off.

Peter was tired, but the thought of doing well at the competition kept him awake and his mind sharp.

At about ten, after a long practice, they took their stuff out to the bus before walking to the venue, no one really socializing due to nerves.

The venue was packed. There were Decathlon blazers of every color of the rainbow, and everyone was either excitedly chatting or leafing through index cards, studying intensely.

The competition was set to begin around eleven, and it worked like this: each member of every team will take a test of one hundred questions, with a time limit of an hour and a half. Whichever two teams have the highest total score moves onto a verbal trivia round, during which they will be asked fifty-four questions. Whoever gets the highest number of questions right wins the semi-finals and will be representing the state of New York at Nationals in May.

It was high stakes and it was intense. And Peter loved it.

So, when it was time for everyone to sit down and take their tests, Peter was ready.

The test was held in a room that resembled something like a lecture hall, and ever table had privacy barriers around it so that no one could cheat.

The tests were passed out, and on the judge’s command, everyone flipped them over and began working.

Peter flipped his test over and read his first questions.

Question 1: What are the outermost electrons of an atom called?

Peter scoffed quietly to himself. Too easy.

He filled in the dot next to C, which was Valence Electrons.

Peter smiled to himself. I’ve got this.

--

After the test, there was a break while the judges graded the tests and the competitors got fed lunch.

It was catered by Moes, so Peter helped himself to a subpar burrito and some chips with queso. MJ and Ned were sat at a table across the way, so he made his way over to them.

“How d’you think you did?” Ned asked him immediately.

“Pretty well, I think,” Peter said, feeling confident. “What about you?”

“I know I got at least two wrong, but other than that I feel good,” Ned said, taking a bite out of a crunchy tortilla chip.

“MJ? What about you?” Peter asked, rolling his burrito.

“I think I got them all right,” MJ said, taking a drink. “It doesn’t matter how well I did, though, if the rest of you messed up.”

“I have faith in us,” Peter said, truly believing it. “I think we’ve got a good chance.”

“If Flash didn’t fuck it up,” MJ said darkly. “He doesn’t answer a lot of the practice questions. He better be smarter than I think he is.”

“He is,” Peter said, and he was being truthful. Flash was a dick, but he was incredibly intelligent. “We’ll move on, I swear. A lot of people here just do Decathlon as practice for the SATs or to put on their college apps. No one is as serious as we are.”

MJ nodded, looking a little less stressed.

At two, everyone together as one of the judges came in, carrying a piece of paper and an excited smile.

“Alright, everyone! I have the two teams that will compete to represent New York at Nationals in May!” She held up the paper. “Congratulations to: Ithaca Senior High School from Ithaca and Midtown School of Science and Technology from Queens!”

Peter shut his eyes in relief as all of his team members freaked out, and Ned squealed, hugging Peter excitedly. Peter opened his eyes and beamed, his eyes seeking MJ.

Her lips were twitching. She was as excited as he was.

--

The two teams were given a half an hour to practice for the verbal competition, and Peter was so nervous that his stomach was in knots.

He didn’t do very well in front of crowds, and there was a lot at stake. MJ was barking questions at them, and her hands were shaking as she held the practice booklet.

With about five minutes left before the final competition, Peter texted Tony, “Made it to the final round. Lowkey freaking out. Wish me luck.”

He didn’t receive a response until a minute before they were set to walk onstage. “You’re gonna kill it kiddo. Proud of u. See u in a few hours.”

See you in a few hours. It was the best thing Peter had ever read.

--

The room in which the final competition was held was huge.

It reminded Peter of the auditorium at Midtown, but ten times bigger. There was loud applause from a large crowd as Peter and his teammates took their seats at one of the tables.

The other team was sat adjacent to them, and Peter recognized the kid from the banquet the night previous. James, if his memory served.

Peter was really nervous. He felt like every eye was on him as one of the judges stepped up to the podium, briefly explaining the rules to them.

They were simple: every member of each team had a buzzer in front of them, and whoever presses theirs first would answer the question. The question must be read in full before anyone buzzes in. Any answers that were shouted out without having pressed the buzzer would automatically result in a disqualification.

Then the questions started.

The first one was “In what year was President Franklin D. Roosevelt elected?”

It was easy. Peter’s hand lunged for the buzzer, but a pretty black girl with neatly braided hair from the other table buzzed in before Peter could, answering with a swift, “1932.”

The second question was “What is toxicology?”

MJ buzzed in on that one. “The study of drugs and poisons.”

Ithaca got the next one, and then the one after that. But then Midtown got five in the row, quickly pulling them into the lead.

It was exhilarating. Ithaca Senior High was good, so even when Midtown tried to pull ahead, they were right behind them.

The scores were tied twenty-seven to twenty-seven at the end of the fifty-four questions, and Peter’s stomach was in knots.

“The final tie-breaking question is… What is the hardest, most durable metal in the world?”

Peter’s heart leapt to his throat. He knew this question.

It was sewn into the dirt of Wakanda, the place that he and Tony visited together. It was the thing T’Challa’s suit was made out of, when he fought him at the airport in Germany, completely indestructible.

It was the metal in Tony’s arc-reactor before he had it taken out. It was what had kept his dad alive.

His hand flew out and he pressed down the buzzer. “Vibranium.”

The judge looked at him. “That is correct.”

There was a brief beat of silence, before he was being engulfed on every side, his teammates throwing themselves at him.

Ned was screaming in his ear a constant litany of “We won! We won!” and everyone was hugging him, yelling and cheering.

It was MJ’s voice that broke through them all, though. “Nice one, Parker,” she said, but then her voice turned gentle and softened.

“Tony’s going to be so proud of you.”

Chapter Text

After being congratulated by what felt like everyone in the entire convention center, it was time to go home.

Peter was riding some sort of euphoric high from winning the competition, and he couldn’t stop smiling. It had been a long time since he had felt so happy, so positive. He boarded the bus beaming, excited to go home and see Tony.

But he knew he was due to crash, and about an hour into the bus ride back to New York, crash he did.

The excitement fled and left him the most exhausted he had ever been, no doubt due to the fact that he had only gotten about five hours of sleep in the past three days, and he felt the beginnings of a migraine starting on the right side of his forehead, and he rested his head against the cool window of the bus, trying to alleviate the pulsing pain.

He didn’t think he had ever felt so tired. Even when May first passed, and he was plagued with nightmares, he wasn’t this tired.

There was still two and a half hours until they would be back at Midtown, and Peter ached for time to go faster. He just wanted to see Tony and fall asleep, and he couldn’t do either of those things while on the bumpy bus.

At about two hours into the trip, his migraine had gotten bad enough that smells had started to make him feel woozy. He could smell the gasoline the bus was burning, the salt and vinegar chips Abe was eating towards the front, and even MJ’s light perfume from the seat in front of him.

Peter groaned and curled into a ball, burning his face in his knees, trying to keep the smells away.

“Peter? What’s up?” Ned asked, sliding over into Peter’s seat. “Are you okay?”

“Migraine,” was all Peter said, and Ned must have understood, because Peter heard the sound of pills rattling around in a bottle.

“Here,” Ned said, putting two pills in Peter’s hand. “Take these.”

Peter uncurled slightly and grabbed the water bottle out of his backpack, before tossing the pills back, chasing them with water.

“Thanks,” Peter mumbled, and Ned retreated back into his seat, no doubt to give Peter space.

The pills helped a little, not enough for the pain to go away, but just enough make it a little more manageable.

It was quiet on the bus, everyone exhausted after such a stressful day. The sun had gone down, and the sky was a deep blue, almost black. The lights of the highway occasionally illuminated the inside of the bus, and Peter could see that MJ’s eyes were closed, her head resting on the window. Ned was on his phone, and he could see the shadow of Abe’s large headphones.

Peter let out a soft sigh. It was peaceful on the bus, but Peter knew he wasn’t going to be able to sleep. He needed Tony, for some reason, and it made him feel like a child.

I need my dad near me to be able to sleep, Peter thought, letting his head thunk against the window. That’s literally so pathetic.

He shut his eyes and wished for sleep.

--

Time passed slowly, but soon enough, they were only twenty minutes away from Midtown.

Noise had filled the bus again, and they were stuck in traffic in the middle of Manhattan, heading towards Queens.

It was aggravating. He was half tempted to get off the bus and either run or web to Midtown, since he could probably make it there before the bus at this rate.

Slowly, they inched towards Queens, and traffic cleared a little. Before long, Midtown was in sight, and Peter’s heart was racing. He was almost there. He was almost to Tony.

The bus pulled up to the curb and stopped, but Peter was already stood, grabbing his backpack and duffel and clutching them both, making towards the doors.

He tripped over himself in his haste, stumbling down the stairs, his head darting left and right, searching for Tony’s car or—

There.

There was an Audi parked off to the side, and Tony was stood by it, and Peter was running, as fast as he could, towards him.

Tony saw him, his face breaking into a smile, and Peter’s eyes burned. Tony. Tony. Tony.

As soon as Peter reached him, he threw his bags down and wrapped his arms around Tony, burying his face in his chest and whimpering.

“Hey, Pete,” Tony said, and Peter could feel the vibrations of the words. He let out another whimper as Tony rubbed a hand up and down his back and entwined the other in Peter’s hair, just how he liked it.

“Dad,” Peter nearly sobbed, and Tony pulled him impossibly closer.

“I’m here, Pete,” Tony murmured. “Right here.”

Peter let out a shaky breath. “M-missed you.”

Tony pressed his lips to Peter’s hair, his heart melting. “I missed you too, bud. Are you ready to go home?”

Peter nodded, wanting nothing more.

“Can you get his bags, Hap?” Tony asked quietly, and Peter started a little in surprise. It had been a while since Happy had driven him anywhere. Tony usually drove him wherever he needed to go, and it left Peter wondering why Tony had decided to have him drive them back to the Tower.

Almost like he could hear Peter’s thoughts, Tony whispered, “I had Happy take us so you wouldn’t have to let go of me so I could drive.”

Peter nodded, grateful.

He heard Happy’s heavy footfalls. “Is he okay?” Happy questioned, keeping his voice quiet and low.

“Yeah,” Tony said softly, and Peter heard the sound of a car door opening. “He’s okay.”

Peter felt Tony try to separate himself, and Peter made a startled whining noise, tightening his grip.

“We have to get in the car, Pete,” Tony said softly, patiently. “You’ve got to let go for a split second, alright?”

Peter shook his head, and Tony gently pet his hair. “It’s just for a second, okay? Then you can go all koala again.”

Peter sighed, but let Tony go reluctantly. The man got into the car, and Peter got in after him, immediately seeking Tony.

He crawled into the man’s lap, pressing his face into his collarbone, trying to get as close to the man as possible. Tony arranged him into a more comfortable position, and Peter heard the driver’s side door open and close.

Tony met Happy’s eye in the mirror, and Happy gave him a small smile and mouthed, “aww.”

Tony rolled his eyes and Happy started the car, pulling out of Midtown and onto the New York streets.

Peter’s breath was hitching, and Tony immediately looked down at him, concerned. “Peter?”

Peter shook his head against Tony, tears beginning to fall. “I missed you s-so much.”

Jesus, Tony thought, heart melting, this kid. He met Happy’s eyes in the rearview mirror again, and Tony made a circular motion with his finger, silently telling happy to put up the privacy screen. Happy obliged.

“Hey,” Tony said softly, once the screen was up. “I’m here now. I’m not going anywhere.”

Peter swallowed down a sob, his head pulsing in time with his racing heart. Tony gently removed Peter’s face from his neck and wiped his tears with his thumbs. “Why are you crying, Pete?”

Peter shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said, his voice weepy and miserable. “I’m s-sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” Tony said, keeping his voice gentle despite his concern. “I’m just worried about you.”

Light was cast over Peter’s face from a streetlamp, and Tony noticed the dark circles under his eyes, the flush across his cheeks.

Christ, did the kid sleep at all?

“You look tired, Pete,” Tony said, running his thumb across Peter’s warm cheek.

Peter shut his eyes, a tear slipping out between his eyelashes. “I’m exhausted,” he admitted, sniffing. “I didn’t s-sleep.”

Tony felt like a wave of cold had fallen over him. “At all?”

Peter bit his quivering lip. “A few hours F-Friday night. None last night.”

“And none Thursday night,” Tony finished, frowning. “Peter. That’s not good.”

“I know,” Peter’s face broke, and a few more tears leaked out. “I’m s-sorry. I t-tried, but I c-couldn’t. I’m s-sorry—”

“Shh, Peter, come on,” Tony let Peter collapse against him once more, stroking a hand up and down his shaking back. “I’m not mad, bud. Calm down.”

Peter took a breath, the ache in his head making him see stars for a second, and he made a pathetic whimpering noise against Tony, his head feeling like it was splitting open.

“Is that all?” Tony asked quietly. “Are you just tired, or is something else wrong? Did you guys not win?”

Peter shook his head. “N-no, we won. I actually… I got the winning question right.”

Tony’s face broke out into a proud smile. “Did you really? Peter, that’s awesome!”

“Y-yeah,” Peter said, sniffing. “It was about Vibranium.”

“Oh yeah, of course you’d know that one,” Tony said, ruffling Peter’s hair. “I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks,” Peter said, and blew out a breath, shutting his eyes against the pain in his head. “I’ve got a migraine.”

Tony made an upset noise. “A bad one?”

Peter nodded. “Really bad.”

“Okay,” Tony said, taking it in stride like he always did when it came to Peter. He glanced out the window and saw that they were about to pull into the Tower. “Painkillers and then bed, okay?”

Peter nodded as Happy parked the car, got out, and opened the door for Tony.

“You’re going to have to let go of me again, okay?” Tony murmured, and Peter obliged, tumbling off of Tony and onto the plush leather seat. Tony got out of the car and Peter followed, latching onto Tony’s side as soon as they were out.

Happy handed Tony Peter’s duffel bag and backpack, which he threw over one shoulder. He held the duffel bag in arm that wasn’t around Peter and led them towards the elevator.

“Welcome back, Peter,” FRIDAY said, her Irish voice kind.

“Thanks, FRI,” Peter mumbled, his eyes slipping shut. “Good to be back.”

The elevator let them off on the fiftieth floor, and Tony led Peter towards his room.

He flicked on the light and dropped Peter’s stuff. “Time to let go, kiddo,” Tony said, patting Peter on the back. “Bedtime.”

Peter didn’t move.

Tony looked down at him, surprised. “Peter?”

The kid was shaking, he realized with a jolt. He was stood still but shaking, his grip on Tony’s shirt deathly tight.

“Peter. What—”

Oh. He doesn’t want to let go.

He was scared of letting go.

No. Scratch that. He was terrified of letting go.

“Do you want to stay with me tonight?” Tony asked slowly, and Peter looked up at Tony, his exhausted face lighting up.

“C-Can I?” Peter asked, and his shaking began to subside.

This is dangerous, Tony realized. This codependency. It’s dangerous.

But the scariest thing was that Tony couldn’t bring himself to care.

“Yeah, Pete. Grab some pjs, okay? I’ll meet you over there,” Tony said gently, and Peter nodded against him, dropping his hold.

He unsteadily walked over to his dresser as Tony left, and pulled out the first pair of pajamas he saw, which happened to be a soft pair of sweatpants and a shirt with a science pun on it. He put them on as fast as possible, his migraine making it difficult for him to focus.

He stumbled over to Tony’s room and found the room to be empty, but the bathroom light was on.

Peter crawled into the big bed, beyond exhausted. He shut his eyes but didn’t sleep, not yet. He wasn’t going to sleep without Tony here.

He didn’t need to wait long. The bathroom door creaked open, and light temporarily flooded the room, before being shut off abruptly.

Peter closed his eyes as he heard Tony approach, and a hand was brushed across his forehead.

“Sit up for me, buddy,” Tony said quietly, and Peter got slowly into a sitting position, his eyes opening a little.

Tony put four pills in his hand. “I’ll give you more if these don’t work,” he said quietly, his voice a soft rumble in the dark room. He handed Peter a water bottle. “But hopefully they will.”

Peter nodded and swallowed the pills, drinking down half of the water bottle before laying back down, seeking one of the soft pillows that Tony kept on his bed.

There was a soft thud as Tony set the water bottle down on the nightstand, and then another clatter as he set down the pill bottle.

The bed dipped down, and Tony tugged the covers up over both him and Peter, who immediately rolled over and latched onto him, pressing his face into Tony’s chest.

Tony gently scratched Peter’s scalp, and the kid made a soft, sleepy noise.

“Love you,” Peter murmured, half asleep already.

“You too, Peter. I’m glad you’re home,” Tony whispered. “We’ll sit on the couch and watch Chopped tomorrow, okay? Just you and me.”

Peter’s eyes burned and he nodded.

Tony started to hum softly, and Peter drifted off to sleep, safe and secure in his father’s arms.

--

When he woke next, it was to someone gently wiping off his face with a cloth.

His eyes cracked open, and a small noise of confusion slipped past his dry lips.

Tony shushed him. “You’ve got a slight fever, buddy. Go back to sleep.”

He blinked languidly in shock, before his eyes were slipping closed again.

He fell asleep.

--

The clock by Tony’s bed read six-thirty when he woke next, but the room was still dark as night.

He didn’t feel great. He still had a migraine, and he was freezing cold.

He pulled the blankets up further and curled them around himself, shutting his eyes and shivering.

There was a hand on his cheek, then, and Peter jumped. It moved to his forehead, and then brushed his sweaty bangs back.

“Dad?” Peter asked quietly, his voice low and husky.

“Right here, bud,” Tony said quietly, and the bed dipped down. “You’re still running a fever. How’s your head?”

“Still hurts,” Peter said on a small sigh, still exhausted and wanting to go back to sleep.

“Alright,” Tony said, and then there were steady, capable hands helping him into a sitting position. Peter opened his eyes slightly, and saw Tony unscrewing a bottle of pills.

Still shivering, Peter removed one of his arms from the blanket and held out his hand as Tony shook four more pills into it.

Peter swallowed them one by one with the cold water bottle Tony gave him, and Tony capped the bottle and put it back on the nightstand.

He stood, and Peter whined low in his throat, wanting him to stay. Tony sighed and pressed a kiss to his hair.

“I’ve got a teleconference in ten minutes, buddy,” Tony said gently. “It shouldn’t take too long, and then I’m yours the rest of the day.”

Peter looked up at him, and shamefully, pitifully, his eyes filled with tears.

“O-okay,” Peter said, willing his voice into steadiness.

“Go back to sleep, okay?” Tony said softly. “You’re not feeling well.”

Peter nodded and blinked away the tears. He laid back down and curled up into the blankets again, sniffing a little.

Tony stroked his thumb across Peter’s cheek, and Peter shut his eyes in response, soaking in the affection. Tony continued the ministrations until Peter fell the tug of unconsciousness.

Sleep claimed him once again.

Chapter Text

The next time he woke up, he knew he was awake for good.

His headache was gone, but he still felt strangely off. He blew out a breath and rolled over, his eyes opening.

Tony was sat in bed next to him, dressed in comfy clothes, his Starkpad propped up on his knees.

Peter immediately rolled so that his face was buried in Tony’s side, snuggling close to him.

Tony chuckled softly and wound his fingers in Peter’s hair. “Morning, Pete.”

“Dad,” Peter said softly, his voice muffled by Tony’s shirt.

“Do you feel better?” Tony asked softly, tucking a curl behind Peter’s ear.

“Mm,” Peter said in affirmation. “What time is it?”

“Almost noon,” Tony said with a quick glance at his watch. “You’ve been asleep for sixteen hours.”

Peter blinked. “That’s… a lot.”

“I’d say you were pretty sleep deprived, buddy,” Tony said, and then his hand moved from Peter’s hair to his cheek, checking his temperature.

“You’re still a little warm,” Tony murmured. “How’s your head?”

“Fine, the migraine’s gone,” Peter said, starting to sit up. “Breakfast?”

“Breakfast and meds,” Tony said with a hair ruffle, starting to get out of bed.

Peter slowly got out of bed, feeling lethargic and shivery from the fever, and grabbed one of Tony’s soft, fuzzy blankets and wrapping himself in it.

Tony took in Peter’s messy curls and the fuzzy blanket curled around him, and his heart ached with fondness. The kid looked soft and snuggly, and Tony had missed him while he was away.

The two of them walked towards the elevator, Peter walking so close to Tony that they were practically touching.

The living space wasn’t crowded, but there were a few people milling about, either preparing or eating lunch.

Peter sat in one of the chairs at the table, still wrapped in his blanket.

“What’ll it be, kid?” Tony asked, rifling through the cupboards. “Is your stomach okay?”

“Yeah, it’s fine,” Peter said, a shiver rippling through him. He tugged his blanket closer to him even as a bead of sweat beaded on his forehead. “Can I have waffles?”

“Coming up,” Tony said with a wink, before sobering a little. “Tell me if you feel worse, okay? You’re only at a one-hundred-degree fever right now, so it’s not too bad, but we don’t want it to go up.”

Peter nodded. “Why do I have a fever?”

“Well, I’m not a doctor,” Tony said, getting the stuff out to make the waffle batter, like flour and eggs and baking powder. “But I think it’s because you were sleep deprived and stressed, which makes you more susceptible to getting sick.”

He fixed Peter with a stern look. “You need to take better care of yourself when you’re away from me.”

An icy shiver went up Peter’s spine that he knew had nothing to do with the fever. “Well, I won’t be away from you, so it won’t be a problem,” Peter muttered, staring at the table.

Tony still has to go to Europe, he realized with a jolt, like a cattle prod had been shoved into his stomach. Tony is going to leave.

Peter’s stomach flipped, and he curled into himself, hopelessly sad.

It’s an endless cycle, Peter realized as Tony was scooping batter into the waffle iron. I’m miserable without him, and I’m miserable when he’s here because I’m terrified of him leaving.

Tony placed a waffle in front of him, fully dressed up with butter and syrup. Peter gave him a weak smile of thanks, and Tony ruffled his hair.

He picked up his fork and knife, his hands shaking around them. He took a bite of the soft, buttery waffle, and found that it was difficult to swallow around the tightness in his throat.

The thought of having to go through what he went through the past three days again was enough to make him want to vomit. He couldn’t do it.

Tony sat down with a waffle of his own, spreading the butter on thick and drizzling on maple syrup, before cutting it up and taking a bite.

Peter watched him, his every move. He wanted to cling to him desperately and not let go.

Under the table, his hands curled into fists, his nails pressing into his palms deeply, and Peter felt the sharp sting of pain.

He wasn’t hungry. He took an unsatisfying bite of waffle before pushing the plate away, wanting to curl up and cry.

Tony looked at him in concern. “You okay, Pete?”

Peter shrugged. “M’not really hungry.”

“Is it your stomach?” Tony asked, concerned. Peter shrugged again.

Tony sensed what was going on. “You’ve got to eat, bud. You look like you’ve lost weight since I’ve seen you last.”

Peter shook his head. “I don’t want to eat. I just…just…”

“Just what, Pete?” Tony asked quietly, his eyes concerned.

“I don’t know,” Peter admitted, somewhat miserably. “I don’t feel well.”

Tony’s look was soft. “I know, bud. Do you want to go over to the couch?”

Peter nodded and got to his feet, shuffling over to the couch and taking a seat, curling up and tugging the blanket more over himself.

He heard the running of tap water, and then the clatter of dishes as they were piled into the dishwasher. Peter stared at the turned off TV, wondering why he felt numb and apathetic when Tony was in the same room as him.

Usually, feeling this way would have terrified him. But he was too tired to be terrified.

There were soft footsteps, and then Tony was sitting down on the couch next to him, looking softly concerned. “Want to tell me what’s going on?” Tony said softly.

Peter didn’t say anything.

“You were fine when you woke up, but now something’s off. What’s going on, Pete?” Tony was still looking at him, and Peter’s eyes were stinging for the second time that day.

“Can we watch Chopped?” Peter asked softly, his voice shaking a little.

“Of course,” Tony said softly. “But I want you tell me what’s going on first.”

Peter bit his quivering lip. “It’s just my stupid mind. It won’t shut up and let me be happy for one goddamn day.”

“What are you thinking about that’s making you upset?” Tony asked, but somehow, he felt like he already knew.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Peter mumbled, and he leaned over and put his head on Tony’s shoulder. “I just want to watch a bad Food Network show.”

“Your wish is my command,” Tony said, trying to make his voice light. He turned on the TV and found a re-run of the show, putting it on.

Tony and Peter arranged themselves, so they were in a more comfortable position, and as Peter curled up with his dad, he felt content.

--

Peter’s mood brightened after an episode, but at the end of a second, he started to feel sick again.

He kept quiet but kicked the blanket off his legs as he grew hot and resisted the urge to shiver at the same time.

“You scared me half to death with that first phone call, Pete,” Tony said suddenly, his voice quiet.

Peter turned to look at him. “Sorry.”

“You were hysterical, kid,” Tony said somberly. “I’ve never seen you like that.”

Peter bit his lip and looked away. “I was feeling sad all day and seeing your shirt pushed me over the edge. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize. Just… don’t do that to me again,” Tony said. “I hung up with you and nearly had a panic attack myself, kid.”

Peter felt immensely guilty. “I don’t like being away from you,” he mumbled, turning away from watching the host of Chopped talk to the contestants to bury his face in Tony’s chest.

“I know, buddy. We just need to figure something out that works for the both of us,” Tony said, like it was the easiest thing in the world.

Peter bit his tongue. There’s nothing to work out, he wanted to say. I’m just not going to leave. And hopefully you won’t either.

“How are you feeling, by the way?” Tony asked, moving so that he could feel Peter’s cheeks and forehead.

He frowned, his brows furrowing. “I think your temperature’s gone up. Why didn’t you say something?”

Peter shrugged, exhausted. “I don’t know. I’m so tired, dad.”

“I know,” Tony whispered. “This weekend was rough for you, buddy.”

“You have no idea,” Peter mumbled, remembering the sleepless nights and the dreadful days. “I’m so glad to be home.”

I’m glad you’re home,” Tony said, ruffling Peter’s hair. “It was so quiet without you.”

Peter didn’t say anything, just curled up closer to Tony, basking in his presence.

“But I’m glad you did it, kid,” Tony said, running a hand up and down Peter’s back. “It wasn’t so bad, right? Being away from me?”

“It was terrible,” Peter said hollowly into Tony’s chest. “I’m never doing that again.”

There was a beat of silence. “It couldn’t have been that bad,” Tony said, but he sounded unsure.

“It was,” Peter mumbled, before repeating, “I’m never doing that again.”

“You’re going to have to, Peter,” Tony murmured sadly. “You’re going to Nationals in May and I’m probably going to have to go away for work.”

Peter gripped onto Tony harder as terror ripped through him. “Don’t go, please.”

“I’m not going anywhere yet,” Tony promised. “Don’t worry about it until it happens, Pete. You’ll drive yourself crazy otherwise.”

“Okay,” Peter breathed a sigh, pushing aside his worry. Something else popped into his mind. “Ned and MJ are probably going to wonder why I’m not in school.”

“I called you in sick,” Tony explained. “I would have kept you home today either way, though. You deserve a day off.”

Peter didn’t respond to that. He felt gross and sweaty, the fever worsening. He made a small noise against Tony, dangerously close to a whimper.

Tony removed Peter’s face from his chest, feeling his face again. Peter shut his eyes as Tony’s hands moved from his cheeks to his forehead, melting into the gesture. “FRIDAY, give me Peter’s temperature please.”

“Peter Parker has a temperature of one hundred and one point six,” FRIDAY read out. “It has risen one point one degrees in the last hour.”

“Alright, buddy,” Tony said, staring to sit up. “We’ve got to get that back down.”

Peter let Tony go, his head falling back down against the soft couch cushions, feeling sick and miserable.

He heard Tony turn on the sink, and then he heard the refrigerator door open. The water cut off and a few seconds later, the fridge door slammed closed.

“Are you hungry, Pete?” Tony asked from in the kitchen. “Do you want me to make you something?”

Peter, whose stomach was the tiniest bit uneasy, shook his head. “No, I’m fine,” he said, his voice quiet and a little miserable.

“You sure?” Tony asked, the concern in his voice carrying. “You haven’t eaten all day. I’ll make you some soup, maybe it’ll help you feel better.”

“Do you even know how to make soup?” Peter asked, staring at the TV screen.

“Duh. Can opener, microwave, and boom. Easy as shit.”

“You’re missing an important step in that process,” Peter replied, the corner of his mouth quirking. “Can opener, bowl, microwave. I like the Tower, I don’t want it to burn down.”

“Alright, smartass,” Tony groused, and Peter heard the familiar sound of a can opener sliding along the rim of a can. “You must be feeling better if you have the energy to sass me.”

“It’s the best medicine,” Peter said with a smirk. “What soup are you making?”

“Chicken Noodle,” Tony said, popping the bowl in the microwave. “I know you don’t like tomato soup so—”

“Tomatoes are gross,” Peter said darkly. “Ketchup is the only exception.”

“You’re weird,” Tony told him. “There’s nothing wrong with tomatoes. They’re delicious.”

“They are not,” Peter tried to say with conviction, but all the talking was giving him a headache. He shut his eyes, curling up a little bit. He wished he felt better.

“I should make you eat tomatoes. That’s what parents do, right? Make their kids eat vegetables. I should do that.”

“I’m fifteen, not five,” Peter mumbled, “and I eat my vegetables, thank you very much.”

Tony hadn’t heard him, and about a half a minute later, he came over to Peter, holding soup, a frozen washcloth, and a glass of water.

He set them down on the coffee table and sat down next to Peter on the couch, gently helping him into a sitting position.

Peter didn’t want to open his eyes, but he did anyways, and Tony gently put the bowl of soup in Peter’s hands.

“M’not hungry,” Peter said laying his head on Tony’s shoulder, his eyes closing.

“After all I went through to make the soup?” Tony teased quietly but took it away, placing it back on the coffee table. “You need to eat, buddy. You haven’t all day.”

Peter shrugged. “I just want to sleep,” he mumbled. “I’m tired.”

“You’re probably tired because you haven’t had anything to eat,” Tony said, his tone gently reprimanding. “Can you just try and eat a little soup for me?”

Peter sighed but sat up straight and held his hands out for the soup. Tony ruffled his hair and handed him the bowl, being careful not to spill any.

Peter ate slowly, afraid that rapid consumption would upset his stomach. But the soup warmed him from head to toe, and before he knew it, he had finished the whole bowl.

 Tony put the bowl down and Peter curled up against him, shivering slightly.

The cold washcloth was gently pressed to his forehead then, and Peter let out a sigh at the feeling of something cold touching his burning forehead.

“This happened the last time I was gone too,” Tony murmured, almost like he was talking to himself. “You got sick when I went to Dubai.”

“I don’t think it has any correlation,” Peter mumbled.

“Maybe, maybe not,” Tony said, his nails gently scratching Peter’s scalp. “But I don’t want you getting sick every time I have to leave.”

“Mm,” Peter mumbled noncommittally, feeling the pull of unconsciousness. “Maybe just don’t leave, then.”

“I’m going to have to leave eventually,” Tony murmured. “And you’ve got to go to college in a few years, kid.”

Peter’s eyes snapped open.

College.

He hadn’t thought about college since before May died. He had been too distracted, first by her death, and then with school. College had been so far out of his mind that he had almost completely forgotten about it.

But now it was back, the thoughts of moving away and living in a new place overshadowing everything else in his mind.

A look of horror stole his features. College meant a new place. College meant leaving.

College meant being without Tony.

And it was only two years away. He would take the SAT’s in the fall, and then the following fall he would start applying, and then the following fall…

He would have to leave eventually. And he would be alone.

Peter made a small, whimpering noise. Alone.

“What’s wrong?” Tony asked, the noise that escaped Peter’s lips puzzling and concerning him. He looked down and saw that Peter had gone as white as a sheet. “Peter? What’s going on?”

“I can’t go to college,” Peter choked out, his body starting to tremble. He was dangerously close to a panic attack. “I… Tony.”

“Hey, okay,” Tony said placatingly. “We don’t have to talk about college now. That’s not happening for a couple years, you have plenty of time to decide what school—”

“No,” Peter bit out, bile in his throat. “I’m not deciding what school. I’m not going to college, I’m—” he covered his mouth with his hand, feeling horribly sick. “I’m going to throw up.”

“No, you’re not,” Tony said, his voice calm and commanding. He looked Peter in the eye. “Take a breath and calm down. You’re not going to throw up.”

Peter took several deep breaths, and slowly, the nausea passed. He swallowed several times before speaking again. “I’m not going to college. I can’t.”

“I’m not going to talk about this if you’re going to get worked up again,” Tony said, his voice not necessarily unkind but not leaving room for debate.

“You don’t understand,” Peter said, his voice slightly desperate. “I can’t… the thought of being… away…

“Peter, it’s not for another two and a half years,” Tony said consolingly, brushing Peter’s sweaty bangs off his forehead. “You’re not going anywhere right now, and neither am I. You can’t keep worrying about this.”

“It’s all I think about,” Peter whispered. “Even when you’re here, I worry about when you have to leave.”

“You can’t live life like that, Pete,” Tony murmured sadly.

Peter looked down at his pajama-clad legs. “I know.”

“Let’s table this discussion,” Tony said softly. “You’re not feeling well, and I don’t want to get you all worked up again.”

“Okay,” Peter breathed out, leaning against Tony again and closing his eyes. “Okay.”

“Take a nap,” Tony murmured. “Chopped will be here when you wake up.”

Peter’s mouth quirked into a smile, and he fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Peter felt much better when he awoke a few hours later. He was in a different position than he was when he fell asleep, but he was still in Tony’s arms.

Peter made a soft noise as he woke, stirring against Tony.

“Good evening,” Tony said, hugging Peter tight. “Your fever broke an hour ago.”

“I feel better,” Peter said, his voice thick. “What’s for dinner?”

“Anything you want,” Tony said. “We can order in.”

“Pizza,” Peter said, shutting his eyes against briefly. “I want New York pizza.”

“Good choice, kid.”

--

Peter didn’t want to go to school the next day.

He was feeling much better, but he got up out of bed with hesitation, the thought of going to school for six hours daunting.

He showered lethargically, moving in slow motion. He was running late by the time he got out and had to hurriedly decide what to wear.

It was March, and the weather was slowly getting warmer. Peter decided on a short-sleeved Midtown shirt with a hoodie to wear over it, and a pair of jeans. He combed his hair and brushed his teeth, making quick work of it since he was running late.

He rushed up to the living space, jamming the foot that was in the case into his sneaker as the elevator door opened. Tony was stood at the counter, dressed in a sharp suit, a glass of apple juice resting in between his elbows, which were propped up so he could look at his phone.

He looked up when Peter came in. “Morning, bud,” he held up a plate, which had two pieces of toast on it, both slathered in peanut butter. “Toast?”

Peter grinned and made his way over, snatching up one of the pieces and taking a bite. “Thanks.”

“Ready for school?” Tony asked, taking a drink of his apple juice.

Peter shrugged. “Would rather stay home, but it’s something I have to do.”

Tony grinned and ruffled Peter’s hair. “Good kid. That’s exactly what I want to hear.”

Peter ducked away from Tony’s hand, giving it a glare. “I just brushed my hair, Tony.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “I’m your dad, I have every right to touch your hair as much as possible,” he ruffled it again, just to prove he could. “Besides, who are you trying to impress?”

“I just like looking nice,” Peter said, trying to dodge the hand again. “I’m not trying to impress anyone.”

Tony raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything, instead changing the subject. “By the way, you should be out of that boot by the end of the week,” he gestured with his chin towards Peter’s cast. “You’ve just got to take it easy on it.”

“I walked around Boston with it on,” Peter said, taking another peanut butter filled bite of toast. “My leg doesn’t even hurt anymore. It’s just annoying.”

“Dr. Cho just wants to make sure it’s completely healed,” Tony said. “You don’t want any lasting damage, do you?”

Slightly chagrined, Peter shook his head. “No, you’re right. It’s just annoying.”

“Only a few more days, Pete. Then you’re home free.”

“Yeah,” Peter said, and then a smile lit up his face. “Then I can be Spider-Man again!”

Tony froze, his glass halfway to his lips.

Right. Of course. Spider-Man.

He shouldn’t have been surprised. Of course, Peter would want to don the mask and go out as soon as his leg was better. Of course.

But god, if it were up to Tony, Peter would never go out as Spider-Man again.

He resisted the urge to shudder. The possibility of Peter ever getting hurt like that again scared Tony shitless.

God. If he ever had to feel Peter limp and lifeless in his arms ever again…

Tony took a breath and stopped that train of thought before it could freak him out any more and make him spiral into a panic attack.

“Mhm,” Tony said noncommittally, taking a large swallow of apple juice. “Eat your toast. You’ve only got a few minutes before you’ve got to leave.”

Peter took a big bite, chewing quickly and swallowing. He devoured the pieces and wiped his mouth with a napkin, before he launched himself at Tony, hugging him tightly.

“Oof,” Tony made a noise as he got an armful of Peter. It was a morning ritual; if Tony couldn’t drive Peter to school because of work, he would say goodbye before he left, with a bone-crushing hug.

Tony kissed the top of Peter’s head and savored the feeling of his kid in his arms, safe and sound.

But it was time for Peter to go to school. “Alright kid, time to go.”

Peter made a sad noise. “Don’t want to.”

“No one wants to go to school, Pete. It’s just something you’ve gotta do.”

“Are you gonna pick me up after school?” Peter asked, still in Tony’s arms.

“Sure. You want to go out to dinner?”

Peter nodded. “I want burgers or pasta. Or tacos. Not Chinese.”

“Got it. Burgers, pasta, or Chinese.”

Not Chinese.”

“Just messing with you, kiddo.”

“You’re mean.”

“And you’re crushing my ribs.”

“You love me.”

“For some reason, yes.”

He could feel Peter smiling against his shirt. “You’re a sap.”

“And you have to go to school, Pete. Come on, hug time over.”

Peter let out a loud, exaggerated sigh and dropped his arms, taking a step back. “I’ll see you after school?”

“Definitely,” Tony nodded. “I’ll be there, kid.”

Peter smiled and grabbed his backpack. He walked towards the elevator, and with a final glace backwards at Tony, he stepped it.

The doors closed, and Peter was gone.

--

Pepper called that afternoon, after Tony’s meeting but before he had to pick Peter up.

Tony answered on the second ring, propping his phone between his shoulder and his neck so that he could use both hands to peel the tangerine he was planning on eating. He leaned back in his desk chair, kicking his feet up.

“Hey, Pep, what’s up?”

“Good afternoon, Tony. How was your meeting this morning?”

Tony’s face broke out into a smile at her voice. “Boring, but I got through it. Why are you calling?”

“I just wanted to check in. It’s been awhile since I’ve talked to you.”

Tony considered that. It had been almost three weeks since they had spoken. “Good point. It’s been almost three weeks.”

“Sorry I didn’t call sooner,” Pepper said, a little shyly, which was something Tony was not used to hearing in her voice. “You seemed to have a lot on your plate.”

“Yeah,” Tony said softly, dropping the half-peeled tangerine. “Yeah, it’s been pretty hectic around here.”

“How’s Peter?” Pepper’s voice was careful, and Tony briefly wondered why.

“He’s good. Much better than he was. His leg is almost completely healed, he should be out of the cast by Friday,” Tony explained.

“Good. That’s… that’s good,” Pepper’s voice was nervous now, and Tony immediately sat up, grabbing his phone with his fruity-smelling fingers.

“What’s going on?” Tony asked, a little urgently. “Why are you talking like that? Am I going to have to leave again, because I really can’t right now, Peter just got back from a Decathlon thing in Boston and it was really, really hard on him and—”

“No, you don’t have to leave right now,” Pepper said, “but you will, I hope you realize that. You have to go to Europe before March is over.”

“Pepper, I don’t think you understand me,” Tony said, his voice urgent. “I can’t. It’s too hard on the kid.”

“Tony. It’s out of my hands. Can’t someone at the Tower watch him so he’s not lonely?”

Tony snorted. “You don’t understand.”

“Then help me understand,” Pepper’s voice was soft. “He told me that he doesn’t like being alone, that’s it. Anything else I know is just speculation.”

“Remember the dinner?” Tony said. “Remember how you just mentioned me leaving and he had a full-blown panic attack? That was just at the mention of me leaving.”

Pepper was silent for a minute, and when she spoke again, her voice was hesitant and soft. “What’s he like when you actually leave?”

“He was away this weekend, in Boston for an Academic Decathlon event,” Tony said, shutting his eyes. “He called me Friday night from his hotel hysterically sobbing. He was practically screaming into the phone, Pepper. He cried so hard he nearly threw up. Nearly gave me a coronary.”

“Oh my,” Pepper said quietly, her voice sad. “But why? Why is he so afraid of being without you?”

“His parents died in a plane crash when he was four. He was under the guardianship of his aunt and his uncle, who were his last remaining family members,” Tony pinched the bridge of his nose, his heart aching for his kid, who had seen so much death in his life. “His uncle got shot in front of him about two years ago. Bled out on the ground before an ambulance could come. His aunt died in November; killed in a car accident after having a fight with him. I think he’s afraid that if either of us leaves, I’m going to die too.”

There was a pregnant pause. “That poor child,” she whispered, breaking the silence. “I can’t even imagine…”

“And he’s a good kid, too. You’d think he’d be all hard and jaded and fucked up, but he’s not. He still wants to help people and he’s still kind and sweet—” A lump formed in Tony’s throat, choking him and cutting off his speech. “He’s the best, Pepper. He really is. He’s just sad a lot and has abandonment issues.”

“You don’t need to prove anything to me, Tony,” Pepper said softly. “I know he’s a good kid. And I wish you didn’t have to go to Europe, but you do. I’ve tried to get you out of it, but I can’t. I’m sorry.”

Tony blew out a breath, sliding a hand down his face tiredly. “Fuck. Okay. How long do I have to be away?”

“A week would be best—”

“Hell no,” Tony gritted his teeth, resisting the urge to start shouting. “Absolutely not. No way. Pepper, he didn’t sleep while he was away—”

“—But I cut them down to five days,” Pepper finished.

“Still too long. Cut them down to three.”

“I might be able to do four, but three is a pipe dream, Tony.”

“I don’t care. I can’t be away that long.”

“We can argue about this later,” Pepper said, her voice patient. “I did not call you to tell you that you had to leave.”

Tony sat back from his tense position, forcing himself to relax. “Then why did you call?”

There was a beat of quiet. “When Peter was hurt… he told me something.”

Her voice was nervous again, and Tony’s stomach twisted. “What? What did he tell you?”

“… He told me that you were still in love with me.”

Tony’s jaw dropped. That was the last thing he was expecting Pepper to say.

He opened his mouth, ready to deny it, or make a joke, or laugh it off.

But it was true. He couldn’t deny it. “He was right,” Tony said, lowering his voice.

Silence followed the admission, and for a second, Tony thought she had hung up.

“But why?” Pepper breathed.

“Don’t make me answer that,” Tony said quietly.

“Tony,” Pepper whined. “I don’t get it. Why. You deserve so much better—”

“There’s no one better.”

“There is. Someone who hasn’t broken up with you half a million times, someone who doesn’t have a problem with you being Iron-Man—”

“Pepper.”

“What?!”

“I’m never not going to be in love with you,” Tony enunciated, each word ringing nothing but truth. “I’m sorry. It’s the truth. There isn’t anyone else for me other than you.”

“Tony,” Pepper whispered, sounding emotional. “I’m not that great.”

“That is wildly untrue. I’ve never heard a more untrue thing in my life. No one compares to you, Pep.”

Pepper took a deep breath. “Can we… can we try again?”

“Yeah,” Tony whispered, a part of him thinking that the whole situation was too good to be true. He resisted the urge to pinch himself. “Yeah, we can.”

“Okay,” Pepper breathed. “Okay.”

“Let me take you out,” Tony said, his voice still soft. “We can get dinner or something. Maybe not Eleven Madison Park, since that place gives me PTSD now, but somewhere… nice,” he thought about it, and an idea popped into his head. “There’s a restaurant at Columbus Circle called Asiate. It’s an Asian restaurant… you wanna try it?”

“I’d like that,” Pepper said, and there was a smile in her voice now. “Is Friday good for you?”

“Friday’s perfect, I’ll pick you up at seven,” Tony said, a grin pulling on his lips. He slid his tongue over his teeth. “See you then, Miss Potts.”

“See you then, Mr. Stark,” Pepper said, and there was something in her voice that made Tony shut his eyes and tilt his head back, sighing.

Christ.

Chapter Text

Peter had a good morning.

He got a quiz back in AP Physics with a large 100 scribbled on it, and he was so pleased with himself that he couldn’t stop smiling. In his English class, they were reading To Kill A Mockingbird, which was keeping his interest, unlike most books.

Lunch rolled around, and Peter was ravenous. His appetite was always larger when he was in a good mood, so he got in the lunch line in the cafeteria, ready to pile his tray up as much as possible.

It was unusually hot in the cafeteria, so when he sat down at the table that he always ate at with Ned and MJ, who were already sitting there, he took off his jacket.

MJ had shed her jean jacket as well, donning the tank top underneath and exposing her shoulders, something that Peter knew she would get reprimanded for, but also knew she wouldn’t care about it.

“I’m starving,” Peter said as a way of greeting, already digging into his mac and cheese. “Also, why is it so hot in here?”

“Maintenance broke the heat controls,” Ned said, “or at least that’s what Abe told me.”

“Mm,” Peter said, his mouth full. “Makes sense. By the way, did they say anything on the announcements about us winning last—”

A startled, quickly choked back gasp cut him off, and his spider-sense prickled. He looked up from his mac and cheese quickly, and saw MJ staring at the raised white scars on his arms, her eyes wide with horror.

Sheer and utter panic raced through Peter, and he quickly moved so that his forearms weren’t exposed anymore. MJ’s brown eyes flicked up, meeting Peter’s.

“It’s not—” Peter cut off, taking a deep breath, realizing that if he didn’t calm himself down, he was going to work himself up into a panic attack. He took another breath. “It’s not what you think it is.”

MJ’s lips were pressed into a hard line. It was obvious that she didn’t believe him, and it made Peter incredible nervous. “I swear, it’s not. It’s not.”

“People don’t just get scars like that,” MJ hissed. “You could’ve told me.”

“There’s nothing to tell!” Peter insisted. “You’ve got the wrong idea, MJ!”

Ned was watching them with wide, nervous eyes. Peter knew he hated when his friends fought, so Peter quickly tried to diffuse the situation.

“I promise you, I did not do this to myself,” Peter said in a low voice, reaching down and pulling his jacket back on, covering the vertical scars.

“Then who did? Tony?” MJ asked coolly, and Peter had to bite his tongue to keep from retorting angrily.

“No. He would never. I got them in a fight.”

“As Spider-Man?” MJ asked, and Peter was completely derailed.

“Wha… How… What?” Peter asked, stuttering. “How did you…”

“I’m not stupid, Parker,” MJ said frostily. “Besides, it makes sense. Queens hero, disappeared for a few months late last year. You weren’t at school for a few months late last year, and you’re from Queens. You’re living with Tony Stark, Peter. No offense, but I don’t think Tony Stark would just randomly adopt a kid from Queens without a reason.”

Peter was staring at her, his mouth hanging open. “I…”

“You never answered me, though,” MJ said sternly, “How did you get those scars?”

“I fought the Marionette and he cut me,” Peter said, still reeling from finding out that MJ knew he was Spider-Man. “He also broke my leg, that’s why I’m in a cast.”

“You could have just told us,” MJ said, crossing her arms. “Where is this dude now?”

“Prison,” Peter muttered. “It was pretty bad. I could’ve died.”

“Where was Tony while all this was happening?” MJ demanded.

“I didn’t tell him I was going out,” Peter mumbled. “He was on a date.”

“Hm,” MJ said, sounding displeased. “Whatever. Just be careful, loser.”

Peter nodded and went back to eating, scooping generous portions of his mac and cheese into his mouth.

Someone moved out of the corner of his eye, and he saw a pale, skinny girl with frizzy brown hair sit down at the end of their table.

Something about her made Peter quirk his head. “Who’s that?” he asked MJ in a low voice, not wanting the girl to overhear them talking about her.

“Lilly Hollaland,” MJ said, her eyes sliding over to the girl and then back to Peter. “She’s new. This is her second day.” Peter raised an eyebrow, and MJ continued. “She’s in my AP Lang class, that’s how I know her.”

Peter watched as the girl took out her lunch and began eating, scrolling on her phone as she did so.

There was something about her that made Peter watch her. His spider-sense wasn’t going off, per say, but it was uncomfortable.

She was wearing a large black sweatshirt, and the sleeves were pulled over her hands. She took a bite of her sandwich before opening a bottle of water.

“Do you know anything else about her?” Peter asked quietly, chewing his cheek.

MJ stared at him a second, and there was something in her eyes that looked almost like hurt. “No, not really. Why don’t you go ask her?”

Peter cocked his head. “Okay. I will.”

So, he stood with his tray and walked over, taking a seat down across from her. She looked up in alarm, nearly dropping her sandwich.

“Hi,” Peter said with a smile. “I’m Peter Parker.”

“Er,” Lily looked away shyly. “I’m Lily. Lilly Hollaland.”

“My friend told you’re new here,” Peter said, eyes sliding over to MJ, who looked like she had tasted something unpleasant. “Where are you from?”

“Oh, uh, I’m from a tiny town in Indiana. My step-dad moved my family here for a job.”

The way she said it make Peter think that there was some bad blood between her and her dad, so he changed tactics. “Wow, Indiana is far away. Do you like New York?”

She smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. “It’s alright. I used to live here when I was younger, but it’s been awhile. Still as loud and as smelly as I remember.”

Peter smiled. “Yeah. That’s New York for you. Especially Queens, even though I do miss living here.”

She arched an eyebrow. “Wait, you don’t live in Queens? I thought everyone at this school lives in Queens.”

“Oh,” Peter said, with a casual flap of his hand, trying to ignore the fact that he was cursing his big mouth. “I live in Midtown, Manhattan. It’s still close enough for me to come here.”

“Hey,” she said, her eyeliner-clad eyes widening. “Midtown! That’s where Avengers Tower is, right?”

Peter ignored the panic. “Yeah, it’s right downtown. I, uh, I pass it on my way to school.”

“That’s seriously so cool,” she gushed. “That’s one of the reasons I was... well, I wouldn't say okay with moving here. More like, begrudgingly accepting. New York is so busy and there's always something to do. Indiana was boring.”

“Yeah. I’ve lived here my whole life and it’s never dull.” Especially with Tony Stark as my dad.

“Yeah. I miss Indiana, though. I didn’t—” she was cut off as the bell rang, startling both of them.

“It was nice talking to you,” Peter said with a smile, standing up to throw his trash away and put his tray up. “See you around?”

Lily gave him a small grin. “Yeah, sure.”

--

The rest of the day passed quickly, to Peter’s happiness, and it was the end of the day before he knew it.

He pushed open the metal front doors of the school and saw Tony’s car waiting in its usual spot, the sun reflecting off the shiny black exterior.

Peter walked quickly to it, wanting to break out into a run but not wanting to draw attention to himself. He threw his backpack in the backseat before getting in the passenger side, beaming.

“Hi, dad,” Peter said enthusiastically, buckling his seatbelt.

“Hey, Pete,” Tony said, donning his signature sunglasses. “How was school?”

“It was good,” he said, almost bouncing up and down in his seat. It had been a good day, and now he got to hang out with Tony. Life was good. “I made a new friend; her name is Lily Hollaland. She’s new and she’s from Indiana.”

“That’s good,” Tony said, pulling out of his parking spot and onto the main road. “She cute?”

Peter shrugged. “I guess? I dunno, I didn’t really notice. She’s nice, though I think she’s got beef with her step-dad.”

“Why do you say that?” Tony asked distractedly, cutting off a car in the fast lane.

“Just the way she said it,” Peter shrugged. “My senses were… weird, around her. I felt the need to watch her.”

That had Tony’s attention. “Has that happened before?”

“No, not that I can remember,” Peter said, thinking. “Maybe it’s still developing. Who knows?”

“Just let me know if anything changes, okay?” Tony said, keeping his eyes on the road. “I don’t like not knowing the full extent of your powers.”

Peter shrugged. “I’ll let you know. How was your day?”

He was expecting a non-committal answer, but instead, Tony’s mouth curled into a smirk. “I have a bone to pick with you.”

Peter blinked. “Me? What did I do?”

“Oh, you don’t remember?” Tony’s smirk grew. “You told my ex that I was still in love with her.”

Peter’s jaw dropped. “Oh… shit.”

“Mhmm,” Tony said. “Let that slip, didn’t you?”

Peter winced. “Sorry…”

“I’m never telling you anything ever again,” Tony announced. “Your lips are too loose for your own good, kid.”

“I was on so many painkillers,” Peter said abashedly. “I didn’t know what I was saying!”

“Likely story,” Tony said teasingly, and Peter pouted. “It’s fine, I did damage control.”

“Good,” Peter said, relieved. “Did you tell her it was a joke? Or that I was loopy?”

“Nah, I told her that I’m still in love with her,” Tony said smoothly, and Peter raised his eyebrows. “Told her that she was the light of my life, or something along those lines.”

“Why did you do that?” Peter asked, bewildered.

“I don’t know,” Tony said slowly and contemplatively, “but it worked. I’ve got a date on Friday.”

“Oh,” Peter said, surprised. “Well, that worked out, then.”

“It did,” Tony smiled. “I’ve got you to thank, Pete. Except,” he pursed his lips, “maybe next time, when we play twenty questions, don’t go telling my secrets.”

Peter shifted uncomfortably, a part of him shrinking at the words. He didn’t mean to make Tony mad… “I’m sorry,” Peter muttered. “I didn’t think.”

“Don’t worry, buddy, I’m not mad,” Tony said softly. “It all worked out.”

Peter nodded, still feeling guilty.

“Before we get dinner, we’re gonna have to stop at the grocery store,” Tony said, and that startled Peter from his brooding. “We need a few things.”

You’re shopping at a grocery store?” Peter asked in disbelief, blinking. “You’re Tony Stark. Don’t you have, like, minions to do that?”

“Ha-ha,” Tony deadpanned, rolling his eyes. “Usually, I do, but since we’re out, we might as well go, right?”

Peter brightened. “Yeah, sure!”

--

Going grocery shopping with Peter was a terrible idea.

“Peter, please… pick a cereal,” Tony begged, resisting the urge to bang his head against the metal shopping cart. They had been in the cereal aisle for over five minutes, all because Peter couldn’t decide what cereal he wanted.

“I don’t know which one to get,” Peter whined, scuffing his sneakers against the floor. “I like Lucky Charms, but I also like Apple Jacks and Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Froot Loops—’

“Get all of them, I don’t care,” Tony said grouchily, taking his phone out of his pocket and checking his twitter feed for the fourth time that minute.

“That’s too much cereal!” Peter said anxiously, his brown eyes flitting over the boxes.

“Get Cinnamon Toast Crunch,” Tony said, rolling his eyes.

“It’s too sugary,” Peter said, reaching out towards the box of Lucky Charms, before taking his hand back. “I don’t know which one to choose,” he whined.

“Peter, I will literally buy you General Mills if it gets us out of this aisle,” Tony said, trying hard not to lose his temper. “Pick a cereal.”

“Okay, jeez,” Peter said, holding his hands up in a placating gesture, but his lips were twitching.

He was carefully picking out a box of Apple Jacks when Tony saw it.

The flash of a camera.

His blood went cold, his breath hissed out from his teeth. His eyes searched for the source, but the only other person in the aisle was an elderly lady, and she was paying them no mind. He narrowed his eyes, pushing his sunglasses further up his nose and pulling his hat further down over his eyes.

 “Fuck,” he swore, low and sharp, and Peter started.

“I picked the cereal,” he said, slight hurt in his eyes, but Tony was too concerned with the flash he just saw.

“I think someone just took a picture of us,” Tony muttered, and Peter looked around, but there was no one there but the elderly lady, who was intently reading the nutrition facts of Raisin Bran.

“Who?” Peter asked in a low voice. “There’s no one around.”

“I saw a flash,” Tony muttered. “We should go.”

“But we’re not done shopping,” Peter said with a frown. “You don’t even look like you right now, you’re wearing casual clothes and you have on a disguise.”

Tony twitched. “It’s a risk. We shouldn’t have even come here.”

“I like grocery shopping,” Peter said, before his eyes turned downcast. “I miss it. M-May and I used to…”

Tony’s resolve shattered. “Okay,” he said immediately, anything to wipe the look of grief off of Peter’s face. “We can keep shopping. Let’s be quick, though.”

Peter nodded, his eyes still a little sad. Tony reached out and ruffled his hair, giving him a smile. Peter returned it, and they left the cereal aisle.

“What else do we need?” Peter asked, looking over Tony’s shoulder at his hastily written list.

“Bread—both whole wheat and white, because Nat will only eat whole wheat for some stupid reason—eggs, bacon, ‘something for dessert’ as per both Clint’s and Bruce’s request, Pop-Tarts, apples, apple juice, and mozzarella cheese sticks,” Tony read aloud.

“That’s a very strange list,” Peter observed, taking left turn into the refrigerated section.

“Well, we live with strange people,” Tony muttered, steering the cart after his kid.

Peter picked up two cartons of eggs. “White or brown eggs?”

“Does it matter?” Tony asked, bewildered.

“I think so,” Peter said, his eyebrows furrowing in concentration as he examined the two different cartons.

It was adorable, Tony thought, the corners of his mouth kicking up into a smile.

Just as Peter was putting down the brown eggs, a group of teenagers entered the aisle, talking and joking loudly.

Tony tensed, immediately putting his head down. Even with his cheesy hat and sunglasses, he was recognizable, thanks to his trademark facial hair.

“Let’s go, Pete,” Tony said lowly, keeping an eye on the gaggle of teens.

“Should we get a dozen or two dozen eggs?” Peter asked, looking at the prices. “Two dozen is more expensive—”

“Two dozen works,” Tony said through gritted teeth. “Come on, next aisle.”

“Got it,” Peter said, picking up the cardboard carton and putting it in the cart. “You said you wanted mozzarella sticks, that’s down here—”

“Forget it, we don’t need it,” Tony said immediately, already steering the cart away. “Let’s go, Peter.”

“Stop being so paranoid,” Peter said in a low voice. “No one’s going to recognize you. Chill.”

“You chill,” Tony said childishly, and Peter rolled his eyes.

“I’m getting the sticks,” Peter said, strolling down the aisle and opening one of the freezers, withdrawing a box of mozzarella sticks, before walking over to the cart.

They made their way through the store slowly, since it took Peter ages to pick anything out. Tony tried not to belittle him for it, since he knew it was no doubt a product of Peter’s humble, not necessarily poor but close, upbringing.

It took the kid several minutes to decide what kind of bread was the best, however, and it made Tony want to strangle something.

They reached the self-checkout, and Tony relaxed a little. They were almost done.

He was putting his card in the chip reader when he saw it again.

A flash.

He whipped his head around, panic running through him again.

There were several people using the self-checkouts, but none of them seemed too concerned with him.

But where did that flash come from?

“Dad? You gonna pay?” Peter asked from his side, and he shoved his card into the reader, making quick work of entering his pin.

Peter loaded the plastic bags into the cart, and they were quickly out of there, much to Tony’s relief.

They got in the car, and Tony took off his sunglasses and hat, breathing a sigh of relief.

“That was stressful,” he commented, running a hand through his hair.

“Only for you,” Peter said, bucking his seat belt. “You’re so paranoid.”

“I just don’t want people to find out about you, Pete,” Tony said, starting the car. “I want people to know you’re my son on our own terms. No speculation about you being my biological son, no rumors about you, or what you are to me.”

Peter looked at his dad, his heart swelling with affection. “I understand. I just… I like going out and doing stuff with you.”

“We can still do that,” Tony said, pulling out of his parking spot. “We just have to be careful, okay?”

“Okay,” Peter sighed, before smiling. “Dinner?”

“Sure,” Tony said, flashing Peter a grin. “Chinese, right?”

Peter rolled his eyes. “That joke got old hours ago.”

“You’re just mad that I’m funnier than you,” Tony pointed out.

“First off, no, second, you’re not.”

“Tell yourself that, kid. Burgers or pasta?”

“Pasta. Can we go to Olive Garden? Their breadsticks are amazing.”

Tony smirked. “Sure, bud. Anything.”

Chapter Text

Tony saw the pictures the next morning.

Peter was getting ready for school, and Tony was sitting at the kitchen table, nursing a cup of coffee and half a bagel.

They appeared in his twitter feed, with the caption, “Tony Stark Goes Grocery Shopping with Unknown Boy: Make a Wish or More?”

It set Tony’s teeth on edge, but it wasn’t as bad as it could be. Peter’s back was to the camera both times, so thankfully they didn’t see his face or his blue Midtown shirt.

We have to be more careful, Tony thought, sipping his hot beverage. Or we’re going to have to say something.

--

The week went by fast, and before Peter knew it, it was Friday.

He had gotten his cast taken off that morning by Doctor Banner, who made sure he wasn’t feeling any discomfort. It was a liberating feeling to be free of the heavy boot, and the first thing he did after it was off was take a shower, reveling in the feeling of being able to wash his left leg.

As Tony drove him to school, Peter noticed how nervous the man was. He was chewing the inside of his cheek and tapping the steering wheel with his thumbs anxiously. Peter watched with his brows furrowed, wondering what his dad was so worried about.

“What’s going on?” Peter asked, his own anxieties leaking into his voice, because oh god, what if it’s something bad? “Why are you so nervous?”

Tony’s brown eyes flashed to his, before turning back to the road, and Peter’s stomach did a somersault, his hands immediately curling into fists.

“I have my date with Pepper tonight,” Tony said hesitantly.

Oh. Of course. Peter let out the breath he was unconsciously holding, his hands relaxing. “Oh. You’re nervous about that?”

“Me? Nervous?” Tony scoffed, but his thumbs were tapping the wheel anxiously again. “I’m Tony Stark. I don’t get nervous.”

“Mhmm,” Peter said, smirking. “Never, you say?”

“Never,” Tony agreed, sending Peter a look.

“You seem pretty nervous to me,” Peter said, his smirk intensifying. “It’s just a date. You’ve been on tons of those.”

“First of all, I am not nervous,” Tony said pointedly, turning into Midtown’s parking lot. “Second off, it’s Pepper. She’s different.”

“Aww,” Peter made love eyes at him. “You sap.”

“Oh, be quiet,” Tony said, smacking Peter playfully on the arm as the teen undid his seatbelt.

“See you later?” Peter asked, grabbing his backpack and looking at Tony expectantly.

“I won’t be able to pick you up after school, bud,” Tony said regrettably. “I’ve got to pick some stuff up for my date tonight.”

“Okay,” Peter said, refusing to feel saddened by this. “I’ll definitely see you tonight, though, right?”

“Yep. I’ll see you then, Pete,” Tony said warmly, and Peter shut the car door, taking a step back.

Tony drove off, and Peter watched his car disappear from view before he made his way into the school, hating the fact that he was there but thankful for the fact that it was Friday.

He met Ned at his locker, and together they walked to class, chatting about a new episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which aired the night previous.

Peter was about to launch into an in-depth analysis of one of the characters when a shoulder bumped against his, and Lily fell into step with the two of them, her frizzy brown hair pulled back into something that vaguely resembled a ponytail.

“Hey guys,” she said, the side of her mouth curled into a smile. Peter’s spider-sense tingled, like it always did when he saw her, and he smiled as amiably at her as he could. The hairs on his arms were standing up, but it wasn’t in a threatening way. She just made him… uneasy.

“Hi, Lily!” Ned said over-enthusiastically, and Peter resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Ever since Lily had joined their little group on Wednesday, Ned had been a little weird. If it was because he liked her, or just the fact that there was another female in their party, Peter didn’t know, but it was amusing.

“Hey, Ned. What class are you guys going to?”

“I’m going to AP physics,” Peter informed her, “and Ned is going to AP World.”

“Dope. I’m off to English. See you at lunch?” She asked, her eyes jumping between the two of them.

“Yeah, see you then!” Ned said, and Peter waved goodbye as she turned the corner.

The hairs on his arms immediately flattened, and he breathed a sigh. He ran a hand wearily through his hair, mussing his curls up further.

Ned noticed the tension leave him, and he raised an eyebrow. “You good?”

Peter shrugged. “Fine. Just a little stressed; I’m swamped with homework.”

“Do you want to study after school? It’s been awhile since you’ve come over. My mom misses you.”

Peter tensed. That means less time with Tony. “I… can’t. Uh…”

“That’s fine,” Ned said quickly, sensing Peter’s distress. “Some other time, right?”

“Yeah,” Peter breathed, suddenly feeling ashamed.

“See you at lunch, Peter!” Ned said, turning into his classroom, leaving Peter to walk by himself to physics.

Why does it feel like this codependency thing is getting worse, Peter wondered, gripping the straps of his backpack. The thought of going to Ned’s house instead of being with Tony makes me super anxious for no reason.

He sighed, turning the corner and walking down the science hallway.

And why does Lily trigger my spider-sense? As far as I know, she’s not an evil villain who’s trying to take over the world.

So why does she put me on edge?

Shaking his head, he walked into his physics class.

I need answers.

--

“Are you a criminal?”

“Am I a what?” Lily sounded confused, arching a perfectly drawn eyebrow at Peter.

“A criminal,” Peter repeated, then winced, taking a big drink of water to shut his mouth.

“No…” Lily said slowly, befuddled. “I’m not a criminal. Why? Do I look like one?”

“No,” Peter was quick to reassure, nearly choking on his water. “I… uh, I don’t know why I asked that question.”

Both MJ and Ned were giving him weird looks, and Peter shoved his chicken sandwich into his mouth, tearing off an outrageously big bite.

“Alright,” Lily said, turning to the other two. “Do you guys think I’m a criminal?”

“No,” Ned said quickly, and MJ rolled her eyes. “I think you’re cool!”

Lily gave Ned a small smile and turned to MJ expectantly.

“Well, we know little about you,” MJ said, shrugging. Peter wished she wasn’t so blunt. “You could be.”

“Forget I asked, I was being dumb,” Peter said as Lily’s eyebrows furrowed together in concern. “Sorry. I kind of attacked you.”

“It’s alright,” Lily said uncertainly, before falling quiet and pulling her sleeves down over her hands, staring at the table.

Peter felt like a terrible person, and an even worse friend. The table had fallen silent.

Suddenly, MJ turned to Peter. “Didn’t you say Tony had a date tonight?”

Peter tensed, and Lily’s eyes shot to him. “Oh. Yeah, uh, he does.”

“Who’s Tony?” Lily asked, curious.

“My dad,” Peter said, shooting MJ a glare. “He’s going out with someone tonight.”

“Ah,” Lily said, and a dark expression came over her face. “Must be nice having the house to yourself, right?”

Peter’s spider-sense tingled, but he ignored it. “No, not really. It’s, uh, kind of lonely without him.”

“Hm,” Lily muttered, picking at her sandwich. “Must be nice, being close to your dad.”

It’s debilitating. I can’t be without him. “Yeah, I guess. He’s pretty great.”

“He’s Tony Stark! Of course, he’s great!” Ned said excitedly, and Peter frantically shook his head at him, but the damage was done.

“Wait, hold on,” Lily said, her eyes jumping from Peter to Ned, disbelief and shock fighting for dominance on her face. “Wait. What?”

“Nothing!” Peter said hastily. “Nothing. Just an inside joke. Tony’s my dad’s name and he kind of looks like Tony Stark, so Ned always jokes that Tony Stark’s my dad. Just a joke. Tony Stark’s not my dad. Definitely not.”

“Oh!” Lily said, before giggling. “That’s funny. Do you have a picture?”

Peter was going to respond, but then the bell rang, and he fled the cafeteria before any more questions could be asked.

--

“Ned almost let it slip to Lily that you’re my dad,” Peter said, sitting on the sink countertop in Tony’s bathroom, watching the man tie his tie with ease. He kicked his feet, and his heels hit the wood, making a thumping noise.

“Is that a bad thing?” Tony asked, tightening and adjusting his tie.

“She’s a fan,” Peter said matter-of-factly. “I don’t want her treating me differently.”

Tony frowned slightly. “You’ve got to get used to it, bud. We can’t keep this a secret forever, especially when the adoption gets finalized.”

Peter stared at his knees. “Yeah, I know. I just… I want people to like me for me.”

“Ooh, does Lily like you, Pete?” Tony asked teasingly, sending a smirk at Peter.

Peter huffed a laugh. “God, I hope not. Dating is a no, and Ned’s head over heels for her, anyway.”

Tony snorted, running his hands through is hair. The pair of them fell silent, before Tony spoke in a serious tone. “You can tell her, Pete. If she’s your friend, she won’t treat you any differently.”

Peter sighed. “Yeah, okay. I’ll tell her on Monday.”

“Good,” Tony shrugged on his suit jacket, and began to exit the bathroom. Peter hopped down from his perch and followed him to the elevator.

“You going to be okay?” Tony asked, ruffling Peter’s hair as the metal doors closed.

“Yeah,” Peter said, trying to convince himself as well as Tony. “When will you be back?”

“Probably around ten-thirty,” Tony said, and the elevator dinged, opening to the garage.

“Okay,” Peter said, his heart clenching. Four hours. “Okay.”

Tony put his hands-on Peter’s shoulders, peering down at him. “I’ll be back before you know it, buddy.”

Peter took a breath and blinked. “Okay. Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” Tony said, and he engulfed Peter into a hug. “See you later, Pete.”

Peter exhaled. “Bye, dad.”

Too soon by Peter’s standards, Tony broke the hug and made for one of his flashier Audis, getting gracefully into the driver’s side and starting the engine.

Peter watched him drive away, ignoring the empty sensation he felt.

--

Being in the Tower without Tony was insufferably boring.

It was eight o’clock, and Peter had completed his homework, scrolled through all of his social media timelines, and eaten half a tub of cheeseballs.

He laid on his bed, staring up at the ceiling, wishing the minutes to go faster. He checked his phone every minute, expecting time to have passed and being disappointed when it didn’t.

With a sigh, he checked his phone again, and it read the same time as it did seconds before, 8:12.

Peter huffed angrily through his nose, before rolling onto his side, bunching his pillow underneath his head.

If I sleep, time will go faster, Peter thought, shutting his eyes determinedly. I’ll just nap for two hours, and then Tony will be home…

--

He was running.

His chest was heaving, and his legs were aching as he sprinted, his heart racing.

There was something behind him. He had to run. He had to go.

He had to find Tony.

The thing chasing him was gaining on him, and he picked up the pace, his legs going so fast he thought he was going to trip.

Where was Tony? He had to find him. Tony could help.

The thing had caught up to him and was right behind him. He tried to run, tried to get away, but it caught him, grasping him by the forearm and yanking him back.

He turned, his breaths coming out in wheezes. The thing towered over him, frizzy brown hair hanging over rolling eyes, body jerking abnormally.

It was Lily.

--

Peter awoke on a gasp, flying upright in bed.

His eyes scanned the dark room as he panted, sweat sliding down his back and his face. He could hear his pulse in his ears.

In a panic, he threw off the covers and got up on shaky legs, making his way out of his room and across the hall to Tony’s.

He didn’t check the time, and he didn’t remember that Tony had been on date. The only thing on his brain was the horrible, horrible nightmare, and the desperate need to be comforted.

He stumbled into Tony’s room, his breaths coming out in stuttered gasps, his entire body shaking.

Tony was asleep in his bed, curled on his side. Peter let out a sigh and crossed the room, ready to curl up in bed next—

Oh.

Tony was not alone in his bed.

Pepper Potts was in bed next to him, sleeping on her side as well, her face relaxed and peaceful.

Peter’s heart skipped several beats and he held his breath, his face immediately turning bright red.

Oh god, oh fuck, Peter thought repeatedly, immediately backtracking, keeping his eyes on the sleeping pair. Shit, shit, shit.

They were both fully clothed, but something about watching them sleep in the same bed made Peter feel like he was intruding on something incredibly private and intimate, and he knew he had to get out of there as fast as possible, and without alerting the sleeping pair.

Just as he had that thought, however, he backed up straight into one of the shelves Tony kept in his room, hitting it hard enough to shake the entire piece of furniture.

In what felt like slow motion, one of Tony’s fancy, expensive, glass trophies fell from the shelf an onto the wooden floor, shattering into a million pieces.

Immediately, Pepper let out a shriek, sitting upright in bed, which then caused Tony to tumble off the mattress and onto the ground with a loud curse, hitting his elbow on the bedside table.

“Ow, fuck,” Tony swore loudly, and Peter didn’t breathe, he couldn’t. “Jesus Christ, what’s wrong?”

Peter felt lightheaded as Pepper’s squinted eyes fell on him. “Peter?” she asked, residual sleep turning her voice low.

Tony’s head immediately popped up from the side of the bed just as Peter realized he was shaking and that his heart was pounding in his chest.

“Pete?” Tony rose, walking over to where Peter stood, shaking and trying to breathe. “What’s going on?”

Peter stumbled forward, and Tony immediately caught him, wrapping his arms around the shaking teen tightly. “Hey. It’s alright, deep breaths. Calm down, buddy.”

“S-sorry,” Peter’s voice shook around the word. “Didn’t m-mean—”

“Shh. Don’t worry about it, it was an accident. Why are you up? It’s almost two in the morning, kid.”

“Nightmare,” Peter said against Tony, clutching at him desperately. “M-sorry, I didn’t t-think…”

“No more apologies,” Tony said, carding his fingers through Peter’s hair. “It’s fine. Let’s get you back to bed, okay?”

“Okay,” Peter said shakily, his quivering fingers clutching Tony’s soft shirt. Dad. Safe.

Peter let himself be directed back to his room, where Tony sat with him until he fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

--

Tony stumbled back into the bedroom after fifteen minutes, and Pepper was still up.

Exhausted, he practically fell into bed, burying his face in his pillow. He took a deep breath, shutting his eyes.

“He should see a therapist,” Pepper said, breaking the silence.

Tony tensed, indignation rising within him. “Are you saying he’s messed up?”

“No,” Pepper said, and there was no heat to her tone, no argument. “He’s not messed up, nor is he crazy. But you have to see that he needs help, Tony. You have to.”

Tony gritted his teeth, wanting to launch into all the reasons why she was wrong, but being unable to.

Because he knew Peter needed help. He’d known it for a while, and his reaction to being away from Tony in Boston solidified it. There was only so much he could do, and he felt insanely out of his depth sometimes.

“I know,” Tony murmured, staring at the dark wall. “I know. I should take him, shouldn’t I?”

“Don’t force it on him,” Pepper said softly. “Just bring it up and ask him how he feels about it.”

Tony blew out a breath. “Alright. I’ll talk to him.”

“Good,” Pepper placed a hand on his back. “You’re doing good, Tony. You are. There are just some things you can’t help him with. He needs an outlet.”

Tony shut his eyes. “I hope you’re right.”

The room fell silent, but the hand on his back didn’t leave.

Tony didn’t sleep any more that night.

Chapter Text

The next day, when Peter entered the kitchen, Pepper was sitting at the table, drinking coffee and reading something on a tablet.

Peter stopped in his tracks when he saw her, debating on whether or not to make a break for the elevator, but then she spotted him.

Her smile was pleasant, but Peter felt his face heat.

“Hi,” he squeaked, trying to force his legs to move. He stumbled over to the fridge, trying to make sure his breaths were even so she wouldn’t realize he was panicking.

With shaky hands, he grabbed the carton of orange juice and poured himself a glass, before sitting at the table, diagonal from Pepper. He drank slowly, using the juice as an excuse not to talk to her.

“Sorry if I spooked you last night,” she said, breaking the silence between the two of them, and Peter swallowed an abnormally large amount of juice in his haste to answer her.

“Oh,” he said, and his voice was high with embarrassment. “It’s fine. I just, uh…”

His face burned red as he took another drink, unsure of what to say.

But what could he say? Sorry that I have issues, didn’t mean to wake you up and terrify you.

“Sorry that I, uh…” Peter trailed off, wanting to disappear on the spot. He looked down at the table. “Yeah,” he finished lamely.

“It’s alright,” Pepper said softly. “I understand.”

Peter nodded, fidgeting nervously, feeling guilty. He didn’t mean to break Tony’s expensive trophy, nor did he mean to wake both of them up, and the whole thing was just making him feel horrible.

Thankfully, he was saved from spiraling into self-deprecation when the elevator dinged, the doors opened, and Tony strolled through.

He was dressed in casual clothes, which consisted of jeans and a Duran Duran t-shirt. He was clutching a Starbucks coffee cup in his hand, and Peter wondered vaguely when he had gone to Starbucks.

“Good morning,” he said cheerfully, striding over to the table. He planted a kiss on Pepper’s cheek and ruffled Peter’s hair, before striding over to the fridge to search for breakfast.

“Waffles, pancakes, or french toast, kid?” Tony asked. “Or I can get crepes again?”

Peter bit his cheek. “Pancakes?” he said timidly, phrasing it as a question more than an answer.

“Excellent choice,” Tony said, shutting the fridge and striding over to the pantry, coming back out with a box of Aunt Jemima pancake mix. “You want to help me?”

Peter nodded, standing and walking over just as Tony pulled out a bowl and a whisk.

“No hand mixer, because I don’t want a repeat of the cookie fiasco,” Tony said with a roll of the eyes, and Peter snorted, remembering the event fondly.

“Probably for the best, yeah,” Peter said, his mood lightening as Tony joked with him.

“Two cups of mix and one and a half cups of water,” Tony reminded him, before turning and bending down, opening one of the cabinets and pulling out a griddle.

Peter got to work, opening the box of pancake mix and measuring out the correct amount of the powder, before filling up the liquid measuring cup with one and a half cups of water.

As Peter was whisking the batter behind him, Tony met Pepper’s eyes from his position at the stove.

She was smiling at him, her blue eyes sparkling. Tony pretended that his heart didn’t skip a beat, but he couldn’t stop the corner of his mouth from kicking up into a grin.

Last night had been wonderful, and for the first time in months, Tony felt whole. A part of him had been missing with Pepper gone, but now that she was back, he felt lighter than air.

He had the two people he loved most in the world with him. He couldn’t be happier.

Still smiling slightly, he walked over to the fridge and pulled out a stick of butter, before cutting off a pat and putting it on the griddle, sliding it around with a spatula.

Peter brought the batter to Tony once it was made, and Tony began to ladle pancake sized puddles of it onto the griddle.

Trying to be sneaky, Peter quickly scooped up a fingerful of the batter and ate it.

“Are you seriously eating raw pancake batter?” Tony asked him, an eyebrow raised. “That’s nasty, Pete.”

“It’s good!” Peter said defensively. Tony rolled his eyes and tried to yank the bowl away from Peter when he tried to get another fingerful.

The kid was too quick, however, and he smirked when he ate the batter off his finger.

“Damn spider reflexes,” Tony muttered, and Peter froze next to him, his eyes sliding over to Pepper nervously.

“She knows, kid,” Tony said softly, and Peter relaxed a little bit.

“Right,” he said under his breath, staring down at the counter.

Tony could practically feel Peter’s uneasiness, and he silently wondered why that was. Was it because the kid saw him and Pepper in bed last night together?

They had been fully clothed, though! It wasn’t like they were naked or doing anything incriminating. They had simply been sleeping.

Or maybe it was just Pepper in general that was making Peter uneasy, but Tony really hoped that wasn’t it. He wanted the two most important people in his life to get along.

Chewing the inside of his cheek, he flipped the pancakes onto a plate, a part of him admiring their golden color. He was getting better at cooking.

“I’m getting better at this,” Tony announced, proud of himself.

Peter snickered. “It’s pancakes, Tony. You can’t really mess up pancakes.”

“You can burn them,” Tony pointed out, “or you can make the batter too thick or too thin.”

Peter rolled his eyes, before perking up. “I want to flip some.”

“If you think you’re touching this spatula with your gross batter fingers, you’ve got another thing coming,” Tony scoffed, ladling more batter onto the griddle. “Wash your hands and then you can flip.”

Peter grumbled but went over to the sink and washed his hands, before walking back over to the stove and grabbing the spatula out of Tony’s hand.

“It’s harder than it looks,” Tony warned, leaning against the counter with his arms crossed.

Peter scoffed. “Sure it is,” and to prove him wrong, Peter flips a pancake into the air, maybe a tad bit over-enthusiastically.

The half-cooked pancake land on the floor with a splat, and both Peter and Tony stare at it, before looking up at meeting each other’s gaze.

The first to laugh was Pepper, surprisingly, who dissolved into giggles at the table. The sound made Tony start to laugh, and then Peter, who laughed so hard that tears of mirth beaded at the corners of his eyes.

Once they all had themselves under control, Tony briskly grabbed the spatula from Peter’s hand. “Your flipping duties are revoked indefinitely,” he informed his kid, turning to the rest of the pancakes, which were burnt from not being attended to.

“I didn’t mean to!” Peter said shrilly, his mouth twitching as he tried to suppress a smile. Tony flipped the burnt pancakes onto the plate, frowning at them.

“You made me burn the pancakes,” Tony complained. “You’re officially banned from the kitchen.”

“Fine,” Peter said, grabbing the plate of pancakes. “I’ll just be taking these.”

“Hey! Bring those back!”

“Nope,” Peter said, setting the plate on the table. He grabbed a pancake and tore off a fluffy piece with his fingers, stuffing it into his mouth. “They’re my pancakes now.”

Tony bristled, and Pepper laughed, grabbing a pancake and putting it on her plate, slathering it with butter and syrup.

Tony finished making the pancakes and took a seat at the table, stacking his plate up high as Peter took another pancake, pouring a good half-cup of syrup on it.

“How can you even taste the pancake?” Tony asked Peter incredulously, who took a sugary bite and hummed, pleased at the taste.

“Don’t judge me,” Peter said pointedly, stabbing his fork in Tony’s direction. Tony held his hands up in a surrender, and Peter lowered his fork. “So, what are we doing today?”

Tony glanced at Pepper, who subtly nodded at him, her eyes serious. Peter, who was busy cutting up his pancakes, missed the exchange entirely.

“We’re going to go to the grocery store,” Tony said, and Peter raised both eyebrows, “and we’re going to get some stuff to cook dinner tonight.”

“Tony, the last time we went to the grocery store, you were paranoid the entire time,” Peter stated, confused.

“Yeah, well, you enjoy it,” Tony said with a shrug. “I’ll just wear my disguise.”

Peter looked at him a second longer, before shrugging slightly to himself. He turned to Pepper. “Are you coming too, Ms. Potts?” Peter asked politely.

“Call me Pepper, Peter,” Pepper said with a gentle smile, and Tony loved the woman even more. “And no, I have some work to do