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Even When it's Raining, All You Ever Do is Shine

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I love you more than words. And I am a big fan of words. –Joe Dunthorne

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| Even When it’s Raining, All You Ever Do is Shine |

 

 

5. Pepper Potts

 

“If you’re any more obvious, Tony, the press will have front page features by tomorrow morning,” Pepper murmurs covertly from behind the rim of her champagne glass.

The elderly gentleman currently vying for their attention doesn’t even pause in describing his part in planning the gala, his hands gesticulating so wildly, he almost hits the occasional passerby with his flailing limbs. Pepper represses a sigh and nods like she’s paying attention. She knows she’s supposed to remember who this man is, he’s part and parcel of the Costume Institute’s annual show and fundraiser they just spent some one-hundred and fifty thousand dollars backing, but she’s more concerned he might pass out from lack of oxygen than being caught out for her negligence. That and—

“Hm?” Tony glances at her, except his focus is clearly, obviously drawn elsewhere. He’s been like this all night, and they’ve been there for over an hour already. God. She cares about Tony, she always will, no matter what happens between them, but sometimes she wants to strangle him and then herself. “No idea what you’re talking about, Pep. How long do you think we have to stay before it’s polite to leave? The collar on this thing is chaffing like a bitch.”

She stifles another sigh, more forcefully this time because Tony, careful to hold her posture straight backed and confident and not at all exasperated like she actually feels. It wouldn’t do to have the gentleman catch on to anything amiss. Elderly or not, types like him would give them up in a hot second for a little extra cash and a few minutes of fame. The sharks have been circling from the moment they stepped foot in the Met, what with The Tony Stark™ gracing them with his presence for the first time in years (and only under duress and much wheedling courtesy of herself), and there’s no reason to give them more to work with than they have to.

They have to be careful.

Tony has to be more careful.

“Tony, focus—”

“I know, I know,” Tony says, fingers drumming against the glass of his own drink, the only one she’s seen him with all night, even before the gala; it’s surprising, but in a good way. But clearly he doesn’t know, because not even a minute later, his eyes have been drawn back across the venue, just behind their talkative third party.

She doesn’t roll her eyes, not because she doesn’t want to, but because she is much classier than that, thank you very much. And because she’s so classy—the classiest, damn it—she just pointedly brushes her shoulder against his to draw his attention back and smiles placidly at the event organizer as he (thankfully) pauses to take a breath.

“That’s very nice, Mr.—” Smith? Simmons? Stevens? Oh wait, “—Stuart. The gala has been lovely—”

“I’m so glad you think so. You see, I was the one that suggested—” and he’s off again, this time about decorating choices and project arrangement disagreements between the organizers and the honorary chairmen and other things that not even Pepper, who normally has a nominal interest in this kind of thing but is too polite to not at least keep half an ear on the conversation, bothers to keep listening. She’s perfected the art of looking attentive when she’s actually not thanks to Tony’s dutiful tutelage as her boss. She wouldn’t have made it as CEO of a multi-billion dollar company without that skill.

Instead, she looks at what’s got Tony so distracted.

Namely, one Peter Benjamin Parker: (official, finally) college intern at Stark Industries and resident Friendly Neighborhood Spiderman.

They’ve been lucky so far. Tony and Mr. Parker have only been official for a few months (and she’d made sure to lock down that timeline real fast, because what they definitely don’t need is a scandal on their hands. Thank god, everything checked out on all sides), both a blink and a lifetime in the scope of Tony Stark’s many lovers. Nobody outside of their band of merry superheroes and not-so-insane sidekicks who constantly worry about them know about the relationship.

It’s only a matter of time.

Tony likes to think he’s subtle, that he’s Mr. Suave, so smooth and oh so hard to read, like he’s the protagonist in some kind of gothic romance, the Rochester of the modern world. Pft. As she’s learned over the many, many years of existing in Tony’s sphere of influence, this is very much a falsity. He’s about as subtle as a brick to the face on a good day. He can keep secrets with the best of them, sure, can deflect and misdirect you in circles until you’re so angry or so happy you forget the real reason why you came to him in the first place. When it comes to the things that matter the most? He has his tells, if you know where to look for them. Even if the reasoning is unintelligible, he always gives himself away to those who know how to look below that obnoxious front he puts up (and Pepper is a master at looking beneath that particular mask).

Even more, Tony’s never been very good about hiding his interest in someone, much less someone he’s actually dating. He forgets himself, lets them in, can’t help being demonstrative in a way he normally keeps himself from being, that laser focus of his harder to control.

(She remembers when he couldn’t stop looking at her, couldn’t stop touching her, whether it was a hand at her waist, or to tuck a stray hair behind her ear, simple, innocent gestures that meant everything. Even she’ll admit it was a powerful feeling, having the attention of a man of Tony’s intellect and intensity tied to her, that even in a room full of crowded people, he had a hard time concentrating on anything else.

It’s how she knows he’s serious about this, even if he doesn’t know for himself just yet.)

Peter cleans up nice, she supposes with an objective eye to the cut of the suit she managed to get him stuffed into, despite his many protests. His suit is a little more conservative than her own feathered gown and Tony’s perfectly gaudy, red three-piece with gold thread embroidery. It’s still more fitting to the religious theme of the gala, a little flair in the velvet blue of the shirt, silver buckles, and silk cape clasped at his throat, than that black tux, designer dress bullshit most of the guests strutted in wearing. She knows it’s not the suit that’s got Tony hooked though, that’s had Tony sufficiently hooked for these past few months.

Not just the suit, anyways.

He fidgets with his cuffs and laughs at something said by Michelle Jones, Peter’s friend and Tony’s concession to forcing Peter to “endure the hellscape that is overinflated egos and tasteless wall hangings. Don’t whine at me, you have to get used to these kinds of things sometime. Might as well start taking those baby steps, honey” with them. She had been much easier to coax into theme typical fashion, only extracting a promise that they would meet to discuss the reputability of particular vendors they buy some of their materials from (a relevant concern, one SI is already working on addressing very hush hush like since stock owners don’t like hearing the words “more” and “money” in the same sentence if it doesn’t directly correlate with an immediate increase in profit. Michelle doesn’t know that. Not yet). But from what little Pepper knows of Michelle, mostly from hearsay and Tony’s half-impressed, half resting bitch face when she’s mentioned, she’s a regular Joan of Arc on a normal day.

They’re not doing too bad of a job staying afloat in these shark infested waters. Two college kids versus a venue full of some several hundred drama-thirsty socialites. Though, Pepper has half a mind to force Peter through PR training again. His tells are worse than Tony’s, especially for a kid with such big secrets to hide. It’s like he hasn’t retained any of that initial training she had him put through after she’d found out about and accepted the new development between him and Tony. His face is too open, too honest.

He’s going to get eaten alive.

At least he’s not so obviously preoccupied.

No, instead, he’s a bit of an endearingly flustered mess.

She watches in muted horror as he blushes and fumbles his drink, saved only by his own unnaturally quick reflexes, when King T’Challa sidles up next to them in all of his priestly white and gold accent glory, a smirking, silk draped Princess Shuri right behind him. Trust the Wakandans to put most of the other guests’ outfits to shame. Partners in superhero-dom or not, if Peter stains the King’s very white suit with his very red wine, then they may have a national emergency on their hands. Oh no, no, no, Pepper will have to weather another PR disaster the likes of which only Tony could create (and isn’t that ironic)—

(And she wonders how long this one will last.

She’d been orbiting Tony for years before they even thought to try anything, and they spent another decade together, on and off. Surprisingly, she finds herself feeling hopeful. Tony deserves nice things that know how to call him on his bullshit and believe in him regardless, and that’s exactly what Peter is turning out to be.

She just wants Tony to be happy. That’s all she’s ever really wanted.

That and him being safe.

But, as she’s learned to tolerate, tight-lipped and digging her designer heels in the whole way, if she can’t have them both, she can at least have the former.)

A stifled snort drags her attention back to their little group. Mr. Stuart is still rambling, rather desperately now, he’s finally realized he’s lost their attention then (poor man), but it’s the look on Tony’s face that pulls her up short.

His eyes are all warm and amused and there’s an almost disbelieving smile lurking in the minute quirk of his mouth. It’s a look she remembers from so long ago, back when ultimatums weren’t seriously given and emotional and mental health weren’t really prioritized the way they probably should have been by either of them. It’s a look she only ever really saw when she did or said something he thought was particularly “adorable and completely absurd.” And here is this kid—college or no, he’s twenty some years younger than her; he’s still naïve like a kid in so many ways, for all that he’s more educated on the horrors of the world than your average twenty-two year old in so many other ways—but here is this kid, and surely he doesn’t even know, surely he doesn’t even see, surely he can’t

Peter glances their way, his face blotchy and a little strained, but it quickly relaxes into something a little brighter, a little calmer (if a bit nervous still), and she feels more than sees the unwinding tension in the arm Tony has pressed to hers.

She doesn’t even bother sighing, doesn’t waste the effort for an eye roll or anything so superficial. No, Pepper just drains the last of her drink in one swallow (Tony would be proud) and artfully exchanges the empty flute with a full one from one of the conveniently circulating servers. She ignores Mr. Stuart’s spluttering and Tony’s raised eyebrow and starts mentally preparing for Stark Industries’ PR response for the fallout this story will cause when it finally, inevitably breaks.

It’s a good thing she’s so good at her job.

(It’s a good thing they make each other so happy.)

Chapter Text

4. May Parker

 

This isn’t exactly where May pictured herself on her day off.

She’d had plans, you know. Big plans. They’d involved nail painting and listening to Rihanna and finally catching up on one of the books she’d started ages ago. But then she’d gotten a call from a concerned Commander Rhodes—

“Peter, calm down. The doctors said he’s going to be fine—”

“But what if I leave and his condition gets worse? What if I come back and they’ve taken him back into surgery? May, there’s no way I can concentrate on something as trivial as molecular constants and potential energy curves when Tony is—when he’s down like this.” Peter heaves a stuttering breath as he looks back at Tony Stark, unconscious and pale in a sea of white sheets and wires and tubing. “What if he wakes up and he doesn’t know where he is? What if he wakes up alone and, and has a panic attack or accidently yanks his IV out and bleeds to death before someone can get to him or—

Alright, that’s enough. Let’s not go down that road (there lies Ben and that terrible night nine years ago and so much blood—no, not going there). May plants herself right in front of him, blocking his view of Tony, and grabs his flailing hand in one of her own, forces him to look at her with the other on his chin. “Peter—Peter! Listen to me. Tony has the best medical care in the world right here, just in case something goes wrong. Which it won’t, considering he’s already been cleared to start coming off most of those machines by the end of the day. He’ll be just fine, Peter.”

“But—”

“Peter!”

His mouth flattens. After a moment, he ducks his head into her shoulder. “I’m sorry,” he says, voice wobbling precariously.

“Oh, honey.”

She wraps her arms around him (and geez, when did he get so tall? He’s grown up so fast, had to between Ben, that whole Thanos/aliens/stones-that-control-the-very-fabric-of-the-universe clusterfuck that she still doesn’t entirely understand, and just general fucking super-heroing, Christ, but it’s nice to know he still needs her despite all that) and pats his back like she used to do when he’d come to her after a nightmare.

“You don’t need to be sorry. I know you’re just stressed and worried.” She pulls back, cups his face in her hands and gives his head a little shake when he finally catches her eye. “And it’s okay to be worried. But you really need to go to class. I know you’re too smart for molecular, er, whatever you’re studying, but you said so yourself. This exam can make or break your grade, and there’s no way you can afford to skip it with how often you’ve already missed this course because of your extracurricular activities. You’ve already had to take an extra year, let’s not make it two.”

He snorts a little at her pointed look but looks appropriately chastised. “But May—”

Well, so much for her day off. But children wait for no parent, even if they are twenty-three years old and a superhero who has saved the universe. This is her kid, damn it. No matter how old or independent he gets. She’d do this for him. Always for him. “Hey, how about I stay instead?”

“You don’t have to do that! I know it’s your day off, you don’t have to waste it here—”

“I wasn’t planning on really doing anything today, anyways,” she says. He gives her a doubtful look that clearly calls on her bullshit. “No, seriously. Just lend me that fancy-schmancy Stark Pad your beau gave you, and I’ll be set.”

“Aunt May,” he whines, but he doesn’t argue with her. He knows better than to try to out-stubborn her when she’s already made a decision (he knows she’ll just do it anyway just to spite him if she has too. That’s something they share in common, something she likes to think he got from her). She makes herself comfortable in the chair she’d found him contorted and asleep in when she first came in and stares expectantly at Peter until he finally gives in that last little bit with a sigh and starts gathering his scattered stuff from around the room into his backpack.

(It’s a lot of stuff. They should have called her in sooner. He probably hasn’t left the medical building all that much, knowing him.)

He passes the tablet to her.

“It’s already keyed to recognize your finger print, so you shouldn’t have any problems accessing most of the apps on here. You’ll call me if there’s any change? Good or bad? I can be back here in thirty minutes if I have to,” with the Spider-suit, he doesn’t say, but it’s heavily implied.

“Of course.”

He sighs again in that universal way children do when their parents are forcing them to do something they don’t want to, hooks his back pack over his shoulder, and with an awkward glance her way, he stoops down to give Tony’s hand a squeeze.

“I’ll be right back. Don’t you worry about anything, May’s got you covered,” he says, directs a bleak not-smile her way and then hesitantly leaves the room.

May listens to him amble down the hall, hears the ding of the elevator just under the steady sound of Tony’s heart monitor, and then relaxes back with a small groan when the coast is clear.

“You’re a very lucky man, Mr. Stark,” she says idly, propping her chin up on her hand. She fiddles with the Stark Pad, opening and closing random apps. She only gets blocked from accessing a few of them, but with names like “For Peter’s Eyes Only—That Means You Tony Stank” and “Tony’s Super-Secret Special Thing—No Peeking Peter Pumpkin Eater,” she’s not entirely sure she wants to know what those applications are for. “My nephew is one of a kind. Don’t ever take him for granted.”

It’s something she’s said to him before, almost a year ago now when Peter first came to her to tell her he was dating his much older, much more financially stable superhero benefactor and mentor. She can’t say she was surprised exactly. Peter is a Parker through and through. Once a Parker knows what they want, they reach out and cleave to it with both hands without looking back, no matter what might get in the way. It’s only luck that Tony turned out to feel the same. It’s even luckier that she and Tony had had the unfortunate shared experience of mourning Peter’s loss together.

God, but she’ll never forget the day Tony came to her.

It still haunts her some nights, where only calls answered by a groggy Peter will help her calm down enough to go back to sleep.

She’d been out of her mind with worry. She hadn’t heard from Peter in days, his phone wasn’t even picking up calls. Ned and MJ didn’t answer when she’d tried theirs. The silence left in the wake of the grieving wails and cries for answers had been oppressive and heavy. She hadn’t left their apartment since she’d tried going by the school and found only chaos and mourning, so much mourning.

So much ash in the air, it’d made it hard to breathe sometimes.

It had coated everything.

But then, that’s what happens when 3.5 billion people instantly deteriorate in to dust.

Tony had been dirty and in pain and his side was bleeding sluggishly around whatever foam-y science thingamajig he’d attempted to seal it up with, but he’d made a point to catch her eyes with his even though she could tell he just wanted to crawl into a hole and never leave it. It was obvious he’d just come back from a battlefield, wherever that battlefield was, and she’d known immediately what he’d come to tell her. Part of her had been so angry and scared and hurt, so hurt—god, it was Peter, Peter was gone, no, no, no, not Peter, not him too, he was all she had left—but Tony’d looked so pale and broken and lost (and she’s sure she hadn’t looked much better) in her doorway that all of that drained away like grains of sand.

Her rib cage had been hollow and emptied out, and she’d felt a kindred spirit in the dullness of Tony’s face. Instead of yelling, instead of screaming or slapping him, she’d brought him inside, fixed up his wound as best she could with only her meager maternal nursing abilities and then drew him, stiff backed and obviously expecting much worse, into a hug and cried.

Tony had been someone Peter had cared about, he had been one of his important people, and Parkers take care of their own.

“It’s okay,” she’d told him, voice hoarse. “We’ll get him back. You’ll get him back. I know you will.”

And after a moment, he’d collapsed in her arms, embracing her back tightly, so tight her back creaked, so hard she’d been worried he might have split his wound back open, but he’d nodded and she’d believed him.

And he did it.

He actually did it.

He brought her baby back to her.

If May and Tony hadn’t gone through that together, there’s a good chance she would have been much more reserved about him and Peter trying this whole dating thing. It’s not the age difference. She’d been known to dabble in older men when she was Peter’s age, before Ben came along and swept her off her feet. No, she would have been much more worried about the kind of man Tony was. Tony’s reputation precedes him after all.

Even now, especially now.

No matter how amazing Miss Potts is at her job, the media love to twist things how they please and Tony Stark showing more than a passing interest in someone, particularly someone young and attractive and smart in their own right, is too good of fodder to pass up for the likes of them.

It’s a good thing Parkers are strong-willed and stubborn as hell.

Thanks to that encounter though, and the encounters like it that followed, years of watching Tony take care of her boy as mentor, as friend, of watching Peter grow up and into the amazing man he is today, she’s certainly learned since then that his reputation doesn’t even begin to cover just how kind and generous he is. How easily he would sacrifice everything just to get their loved ones back, to save the world, to save the universe.

The press will always paint you as your worst self when you’re someone like Tony Stark.

But she knows better, and it’s only thanks to Peter that she was given the chance to.

She smiles to herself and settles in.

“Lucky bastards.”

Chapter Text

3. Happy Hogan

 

“Careful now!” Happy says from his safe, comfortable seat on the only couch in Tony’s workshop not completely dominated by metal scraps and partially completed projects.

“Yeah, yeah, Happy,” Peter replies, not even looking up from his dangerous little chemistry experiment he’s got going on at one table. Happy misses the old days when the kid still listened at least somewhat to what he had to say. Now, all he gets are smartass comments and cheeky grins. Guess that’s what a college education does to you. Or, more likely, that’s what dealing with Tony Stark for years does to you.

Not that he can say from experience or anything. He’s only been by Tony’s side for a couple decades?

But what are a few decades between friends?

Tony mutters something under his breath from his seat at a table perpendicular to the kid (hence the need for safety: Happy’s good at what he does for a reason, you know, but does anyone listen? Of course not), waving off Dum-E and his magnifying glass. The blowtorch cuts off with a hiss, and Tony rubs his nose on his grease-stained forearm with a frustrated sigh. There’s a giant smear on his nose now. Agh. Happy loves and respects his boss, but sometimes he’s such a child. He resigns himself to not finishing his movie—don’t worry Elizabeth, Darcy isn’t as much of a dick as you think he is—and makes to get up to help because he’s just that great at his job, he takes shit like this very seriously, thank you very much, when he notices Peter look up with an amused smile and try to press a stray, moderately clean towel into Tony’s hand.

And Peter should know better by now. Happy has gone over this with the kid time and time again. Surely, he hasn’t forgotten about Rule Number Two of ‘Dealing with Tony’ in the couple months Tony has been shuttling Happy back and forth between the rebuilt Malibu house (now in an undisclosed location Tony has been sworn never, ever ever to reveal, especially not to terrorists… again) and the Avengers compound upstate. He may not have been around all the time, but he was around often enough, and that should have been a more than sufficient reminder for Peter.

Rule Number Two: dating or not, you don’t hand Tony things. Tony does not like to be handed things by anyone who isn’t a part of Tony’s super special, limited group of loved ones: aka Happy, Pepper, and Commander Rhodes.

You don’t break Rule Number Two.

You just don’t.

It’s nothing personal. It just is what it is.

“Hey, kid, I thought I told you—”

“Thanks,” Tony says distractedly, grabbing the towel and dabbing at his face, completely missing the oil, of course, his attention not even wavering from the complicated, melty block of mechanical engineering genius he’s been torching for the past hour.

Happy chokes.

Did he just—? Don’t tell him Tony didn’t even notice. Except that’s exactly how it looks because Tony doesn’t even acknowledge what just happened. But it did just happen, right?

Right?!

Christ.

He must have made some noise, probably something wounded and hurt sounding like a kicked dog or a squished rubber duck under an obliviously malevolent boot or something equally awful, because Tony looks up properly, one eye brow raised behind the creepy, reflective lenses of his welding goggles in that vaguely interested, vaguely concerned way Tony has where he’s deliberately trying not to think of the worst case scenario. “You doing okay there, buddy?”

And Peter, Peter just looks adorably confused and slightly worried in that earnest way of his. Like he doesn’t even understand what just happened, like he doesn’t understand the significance in Tony just casually accepting something from him, and with nary a bitch or complaint too. Good god. Peter handed him the towel, and he did so without any doubt that Tony would take it. What the hell?

Actually, scratch that.

What the absolute fuck?

“Yeah, yeah. Just peachy.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. Yeah, no, everything is fine.” Except everything is not fine. Sure, the two of them have been dating for a little while, like, what, a couple months? But that can’t have been enough time for Tony to become this comfortable with Peter… Except, wait, no, has it really been a year? One, two, three, four—

Where has the time gone?

He can admit, he hadn’t thought they’d make it this far, not because he didn’t think they weren’t good together (because in a lot of ways, even with what little Happy has been around for, he can still see how much lighter Tony is now that he has a Peter properly in his life and not drifting on the outskirts. And the kid… Well, the kid’s always been over the moon when it comes to Tony, one way or another. Being in love, or whatever, is a good look on them, that’s all he’s saying). He’d just thought Tony’s future had more closely involved Pepper, the woman he spent ten odd years dating on and off and some years before that pining for. That’s probably sentiment coloring his judgement, but he did hold onto that ring, keeping it nice and safe in his pocket every day (dedication, thy name is Happy), for an entire decade because of sentiment, so.

Yeah, anyway.

“I’m going to head up,” Peter says some time later, stretching out his back until his spine pops in a way that has Happy wincing (young people—if he tried that, he might throw out his back, sheesh). With a startled glance at his phone, Happy realizes that Darcy is already confessing his love to Elizabeth in the rain, all very romantic like—be still his aching heart—when what feels like only minutes ago, Elizabeth had just overheard him insulting her. That’s a lot of time to be stuck in a shocked stupor, but extenuating circumstances maybe? It’s certainly not his fault. You don’t just drop a bomb like that on a guy like this.

Peter’s already cleaned up his little chemistry station. His chemistry station. Not, like, a table Peter can use on occasion. Not one that other people could probably use—if Tony ever deigned to let anyone else down here for more than five minutes, which… huh. No, now that Happy is actually looking at it, he can tell that it’s a proper chemistry desk, with one of those burner things and the beakers and utensils and stuff, one that even has his name on it and everything, courtesy of a sign Happy can tell Tony soldered himself (he’d recognize the flair in Tony’s style anywhere—the man’s a diva, what can he say). He’s carved a little niche for himself out in Tony’s space, Peter has, and Tony doesn’t seem to mind it, if he’s even noticed how deeply Peter’s dug himself in.

How has Happy missed this?

Dum-E and U trill unhappily. Easy as anything, Peter hushes the robots and gently pats them on their protruding arms. “It’s okay. I’ll see you guys tomorrow, yeah?”

Good god, he’s even made friends with the robots. And friends they must be because the bots latch onto Peter’s shirt and tug to the tune of their pleased beeps. He’s never seen the robots grab at someone like that except for Tony. They know better than to try that with Happy or Rhodey, and they tend to treat Pepper with a deferential kind of awe.

Peter just laughs.

And Tony pauses, actually pauses, Jesus Christ, it must be serious (as if being together for a year without any obvious or explosive hiccups or breaks, as if weathering the unmitigated mess that was the press finding out about them in strategically slow, tightly controlled leaks and coming out the other side none the worse for wear—well, none besides a new hatred for the media and additional respect for Pepper—isn’t a fucking indication, come on Happy, they’re all adults here, even Peter, even if he is twenty-two-er-three?). He puts down the blowtorch, pushing his goggles up onto his forehead. There’s little rings of ash around his eyes like bruises. “Hey, hey, hey, paws off the merchandise boys.”

Tony spins his chair around so Peter can sidle in close between his legs, his arms automatically coming up to bring him even closer. Peter doesn’t even seem to mind that his shirt is most definitely getting stained, in addition to the stretching the robots so thoughtfully provided. He’s probably used to it, in fact. It’s been a year. It’s been a year. He thumbs some of the grease off Tony’s nose, his eyes crinkling into little delighted half-moons. Tony’s face is fond and soft and he’s smiling, they’re both smiling, even as they lean in for a lingering kiss.

And now Happy feels that feeling, like second hand embarrassment almost, except it’s more like he’s intruding on something private, something he isn’t allowed to see. Neither of them seem to notice him watching, or if they do, they don’t seem to mind. Nothing to be ashamed about, nothing to hide. He feels more than a little awkward for witnessing it, except he can’t look away. It’s like watching a train wreck, except it isn’t a disaster, just something stupidly precious. It’s a feeling he’s always felt when Tony shows such blatant affection with anyone, even when it was directed at Pepper.

“See you upstairs, Tony.”

“Yes, dear.”

Another kiss, short and sweet, and then Peter disappears.

There’s a pause.

Alright, alright.

That’s it.

Happy can’t take another second of this.

“Really?” He asks, because he can remember when the kid was just a kid, floundering and fumbling and eager to please, and he’s still like that in so many ways for all that he’s gotten more confident in himself. Because he knows Tony, and if things have escalated this far, then it’s a pretty big deal, a ‘this changes everything’ kind of deal. Because even though the both of them don’t seem to realize the significance of this, of Peter breaking Rule Number Fucking Two so casually where many others have failed, that Peter apparently lives here, that he stays the night, that they share a room, at least Happy does realize it.

Man, they better be grateful for everything he has to put up with for them.

Tony stares at him. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Are you sure you’re okay, Hap?”

He sighs.

Hopefully, those two chuckleheads will figure it out soon enough for themselves too. He doesn’t think he could take another decade of waiting on the sidelines. He might have to do something drastic, like say something.

He’d hate to do that.

He’s a romantic at heart, after all.

Chapter Text

2. Ned Leeds

 

They’re all home for summer break—er, well, a permutation of a break, an unfortunate shade of a break, that happens to occur over the summer, but not the whole summer, just, like, a part of it, the hottest part of it, agh, but during which they still have to work on their different thesis topics (by which he means, they procrastinate the fuck out of it to start with, and then frantically hammer out a couple sections towards the end like good students of their generation do), and that’s not even including the work he and MJ have to do as rising TAs (why did they sign up for that again? Oh, yeah. Money)—after spending a successful year making graduate school their bitch. Just a few more (varying) years to go, then on to their PhDs. The Three Musketeers, who knew they’d make it this far after everything that’s happened in the last decade?

(A decade? But 2015 was only five years ago, right? Ah, no…)

God, what is Ned’s life?

“Now, don’t go skimping on the bacon, Itsy Bitsy. I’ve got my eye on you,” Ned says and laughs when Peter rolls his eyes.

“Why don’t you come make your own lunch then, dude?”

“Because I’m a guest and you—you are the host of this magnificent, superhero establishment.” He flops across the back of the couch and runs his hands over the soft, smooth material, sighing happily. And what a fine superhero establishment it is. All the latest and greatest tech, the modern décor, the superheroes: yes, very fine indeed. It’s strange for him to think that he’s here, that he, Ned Leeds, normal human bro to the superhero Spiderman, is actually here, in the Avengers’ Compound. He is spending his summer break at the Avengers’ Compound. He can hardly believe it, and he’s the one living it.

He’s so happy Peter invited them up here for their summer not-break.

What a good friend.

“Yeah, yeah,” Peter huffs. He pauses in making delicious sustenance to turn on the coffeemaker (even though it’s like three in the afternoon? Uh, dude? He doesn’t know why he’s so surprised. Even before the superpowers, Peter was a strange guy—a great one, the very best, but still weird, the perfect kind of weird to fit Ned’s kind of weird—ah, friendship), before grabbing a fistful of bacon and stuffing it with exaggerated finesse into one of the sandwiches he’s making for them. He waggles his fingers all sarcastic like. “Ta da.”

Dickhead.

“Oh,” MJ drawls from beside Ned. She keeps glancing at her phone, but even she can’t pass up the chance to mock him. “Someone’s sassy. Did your sugar daddy withhold this month’s allowance?”

“Hey, now.” Peter points the mayonnaise covered butter knife at her, all menacingly. Well, as menacingly as Peter Parker can be. Which, isn’t actually a whole lot. A nerd’s still a nerd even if he has granite hard abs (so jealous, Ned would love to have granite hard abs, and super strength, and the ability to crawl on ceilings, and and and, except that’d mean giving up his job moonlighting as Peter’s “guy in the chair,” and no amount of muscular or molecular enhancement could make him want to give that up). Peter’s used to the teasing by now, should be with, like, two years of it under his belt. MJ isn’t one to pull her punches, after all. Mrs. Parker doesn’t either, but that’s her parental right (according to her—not that they’d deny her it, of course).

Neither do any of the other Avengers (oh my god) for that matter.

Actually, now that he’s thinking about it, Ned’s pretty sure that almost everyone they know (and like) likes to tease him about it.

(And Ned knows Peter would take their teasing a thousand times over what the press like to imply. Or what some of the so called “supervillains” like to say. Fucking vultures, all of them.)

Peter doesn’t seem to mind it, at least, even plays into it on purpose, sometimes. It’s nice knowing though, as Peter’s best friend, that those same people would go to the mat for his friend in a half-second if they need to, that they would stop the teasing if Peter was actually bothered by it.

Peter’s so lucky to have all these people looking out for him.

Ned’s so happy for him.

The swish of the elevator heralds Iron Man’s (“Call me Tony”) arrival to the living room. Ned’s rarely seen the superhero so under-dressed, nothing less than a full suit or the occasional jogging getup that functions as his under-armor for his Iron Man suit (!!!). He can count on one hand the amount of times he’s seen him in anything else (and one of those times he’d been unconscious, which, yeah that had sucked. Peter had been such a mess, Ned hadn’t known what to do except bring him his homework and hang out, keep him company, when he could). Yet here he is, making a ratty tank and sweatpants so thin, they’re probably older than Ned, look good. Well, a permutation of good. Tony Stark is a hot commodity, even Ned, the token Straight Friend of their group of Three Musketeers, can appreciate a man of such looks and intellect (especially intellect, hng). He hopes he’s still that good looking when he’s fifty-five, so unfair.

But exhaustion and stress don’t really look good on anyone—everyone’s heard about the previously-thought-to-be-abandoned Hydra facility that has suddenly started emitting strange radiation signatures. The Avengers are under a lot of political pressure to go in and check it out as quickly as possible, a decision they’ve been putting off, much to that political pressures’ displeasure. The Avengers know better than most though how just barging in without prior investigation and research isn’t such a good idea—and that’s a look Mr. Star-er Tony has now.

He and MJ share a look.

Poor guy.

Ned watches Iron Man, he’ll never get used to this, that is his childhood hero, the man who saved New York, who saved the world, the universe, beeline for the coffeemaker, bleary-eyed and clearly still more than half-asleep. Well, that explains the coffee. Peter must have heard him get up (his friend is so cool). Tony drains the first cup in three swallows with a sound like he’s dying, refills the mug, and stumbles over to Peter, slumping across his back with a groan. Peter doesn’t even waver under the added weight, just pats the hand that’s found its way to clench at his hip and starts dividing up the bags of chips among the four plates he’s been working on.

He’d like to think he knows better than to come between a man, his coffee, and his boyfriend, so he gives them what little privacy he can in an open floor plan space such as this, and turns back to watch Luke Skywalker learn the way of the Jedi from an old, green Kermit the Frog meme. He can hear them talking in hushed tones, but he doesn’t bother trying to parse out the words. If Peter needs them to know something, he’ll let them know.

“Tony, I swear to god,” Peter says abruptly, then snickers. Ned looks back at them and sort of wishes he hadn’t. Tony’s got his head hooked over Peter’s shoulder now, looking much more alert and mischievous under the pout—Iron Man is pouting, what is the world coming to—as he tries to steal another chip from the plate that’s been piled with more food than the rest. “That’s mine, steal from your own damn plate.”

“But I’m hungry and my plate is too far away.” A pause. “Also, language.”

Peter snorts, slapping a stray hand away. Tony buries his face into Peter’s neck and whines. “Are you sure you’re the smart person in this relationship?”

“Nope, that’d be you, buttercup,” Tony says, muffled and flippant. “My super-smart, super-hot boyfriend. I’m so lucky.”

Peter blushes but he looks so pleased, and Ned’s so, so happy for him. Aw, his poor heart can’t take this.

Then Tony nuzzles into Peter’s neck, Peter’s Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallows and—

Um—okay, now Ned’s ears are all hot. Oh god. He loves Peter, but oh god.

“Get a room,” MJ calls, poking her head up beside his. His savior.

Peter face is beet red and getting redder, Ned’s almost afraid he might pass out from the sudden rush of blood to his face, but Tony just smirks and says, “I own this entire compound. I can do whatever I want to,” and he punctuates this by exaggeratingly licking Peter on the neck.

“Agh, oh my god, Tony!” Peter tries to get away, except he’s obviously not trying that hard, and they’re both giggling like teenage girls.

What the hell.

(It’s so weird, god, so so weird, seeing Tony Stark™ all warm and cuddly and giggling.

What do you do when you see one of your childhood idols stripped down like this, where you don’t even really recognize the man you looked up to. What do you do when you realize what you looked up to, in a lot of ways, was just a mask, a public persona. Celebrity culture is hella weird like that, makes you think you know someone even though you actually don’t. Even now, with two-ish years—plus a couple months if you count those times he got to talk to the man over the official (official!!) Avengers’ comms during a few of his stints as Peter’s “guy in the chair”—worth of time getting to know the man in the flesh, having been so graciously, and more officially, introduced to him at one of the college symposiums Peter was presenting at (which, dude, did it really have to take that long before introducing him to his boyfriend? Come on!), it can still be difficult reconciling the charismatic, genius, playboy, philanthropist that posed for glossy magazine covers with the exhausted, oil-stained, grinning man hanging off his best friend.

It’s nice though too. He gets what a big deal it is that Tony lets them see him like this, that he trusts Peter’s judgement enough to let them.

It’s an honor.)

(It’s Iron Man!)

MJ mimes gagging, as if she isn’t constantly checking her phone to see if her own super-smart, super-hot Wakandan girlfriend has texted her back yet, yeah okay, her and Shrui can be just as bad. And Ned just shakes his head and laughs, because he’s happy, for his friends, but especially for himself.

God, what is his life?

Chapter Text

1. James Rhodes

 

He hates it when any of them get hurt.

It’s an unfortunate risk of the job, of doing the right thing, of fighting the good fight, just like it was when Rhodey was more actively in the military as a fighter pilot.

Of course he’s aware of the danger, he always has been, but he’s always thought the good they do outweighs the potential for injuries worse than the occasional occupational bruise or scrape. It helps that he’s not on his own, that he knows he’s got people watching his six and that he’s got theirs. It’s a lot harder for the bad guys to get any one of them when there’s a shield or explosive arrows or bullets or repulsor bursts coming at them from all directions.

This means that they’ve been pretty lucky so far. Usually, the worst they have to worry about are the typical minor (for them) bumps and burns and scratches, the occasional concussion, a broken bone every once in a while. Major injuries have been rare.

But when they do happen…

Well, let’s just say they’re lucky they were up against robots this time and not living, breathing, breakable people. They dodged a court martial there.

Nothing wrong with beating the ever-loving shit out of robots.

He sighs, watching the digital numbers count down until the elevator slows to a stop.

Alright, here goes nothing.

With some trepidation, Rhodey pokes his head out of the elevator. It’s always a good idea to get a read on how Tony is before implementing any sort of aid. With his luck, it’s almost always swiftly deflected and brushed off, and that’s typically where the tough love comes in.

He’d expected a lot worse though, honestly.

The living room is dark, the shades already drawn against the late evening sun. The only light comes from the muted news broadcast, a Stark Pad, and the glow of Tony’s nanotech container. The man himself sits stiff backed on the couch, tablet in hand and a sleeping Peter Parker’s head cushioned in his lap, face pressed into his stomach. There’s a squat glass of clear liquid abandoned at Tony’s elbow, and for a moment, Rhodey’s heart drops into his stomach—Tony hasn’t had a drop of alcohol in years, as far as he knows, but then again, it hasn’t been since Rhodey and his legs that anyone’s gotten seriously injured, let alone someone who means something the way Peter does—then shakes his head at himself.

He knows Tony better than that.

It’s near silent save for the faint noise Rhodey’s leg braces make as he slowly walks over to the kitchen attachment for a glass of water—ah plausible deniability, a handy tool to have in spades when Tony gets like this, lest he get defensive—and the rasping of Peter’s breath.

Even from across the room, Rhodey can easily make out the extensive bruising illuminated by Tony’s chest piece, the skin swollen and dark like crushed blueberries.

Rhodey face twinges in sympathy.

Having an entire ten story building suddenly dropped right on your head sucks, and Peter’s not even lucky to have several layers of durable titanium alloy to partially shield it. Rhodey would worry about the kid not being in medical (because Peter’s almost as bad as Tony and Clint put together when it comes to staying put to recover: he’ll literally start crawling the walls when he gets antsy, ventilation shafts have been bolted shut against super strength in the past).

A concussion, broken nose, fractured jaw, some broken ribs, a pierced lung, and ruptured spleen, not to mention the host of scrapes and scratches and contusions besides, are nothing to sneeze at, even for a super-being with enhanced healing. God knows Tony wouldn’t have let him out of medical if he were in any real danger at this point though (the joys of superpowers. Sometimes, Rhodey can’t help but be envious, and yeah, maybe a little bitter too, but it’s a good thing he’s got Tony. He would have made it through his own godawful injury by himself, sure, but having his best friend right there beside him, helping him any way he could, even building him the braces that make it possible for him to go about daily life and crime-fighting, that’s just how Tony rolls and Rhodey’s so thankful for him). There’s no doubt in his mind that FRIDAY’s keeping an, er, eye on Peter’s vitals the entire time for any slight change in condition (she’s certainly fond of him, too, as far as Rhodey can tell).

Nothing is obviously broken or on fire, no shattered glass or mushed fruit or holes in the walls or windows. Tony isn’t making stupid, irresponsible decisions with his suit, an improvement from the genius’s fortieth birthday party right there, but then again, that’s not really something that would probably happen these days.

(Every day, Rhodey is thankful for Peter’s positive influence in Tony’s life. Hallelujah.)

Even so, it’s Tony’s face that stops him from just turning around and going back to his room.

The flashing lights from the TV make it easy to see the pinched look on his face. His brows are furrowed, his mouth pressed pencil thin, the heavy bags under his squinted eyes almost as bruised looking as Peter’s cheek. There’s a rigidity to him that speaks of something barely contained, held back through sheer force of will, fragile and just waiting to explode. Rhodey wonders, if he were to touch his shoulder, would that restraint break? Is that how he wants this to go?

Tony just looks so brittle and washed out.

He may not admit he needs help, and Rhodey might not be able to do much (besides put on the suit and offer a more physical outlet than the one Tony is obviously starting to consider: the self-destructive, self-sacrificing, self-blaming, judgement-impairing outlet that led him to shoulder the world alone and make awful decisions out of paranoia and desperation, see: Ultron), but he can at least be there for his friend.

It’s the least he could do.

Water in hand, he cautiously eases into the chair beside the couch and catches a look at what Tony’s fiddling with on the tablet: the Spiderman suit schematics. Shit. That’s a bad sign. It’s worse than he initially thought, damn it.

“How’s he doing?” Rhodey asks tentatively. Concerned teammate is a better opening than concerned friend.

“About as well as can be expected,” Tony says flatly. Then, as if he realizes he was too open or too honest, he smirks, all confidence and bravado, except it’s one of the worst attempts at a mask Rhodey has seen in a while, almost as bad as the one Tony had pasted on when he was seventeen and so shitfaced he could hardly stand, grief and alcohol a potent mix.

The news program turns to the Avengers’ recent exploit a couple days ago. Tony glances up at the absolute wrong time (“—the hero known as Spiderman appeared to suffer major injuries. We still haven’t heard any official comment concerning the young hero’s condition—”) and his jaw clenches tight as Clint’s bowstring, the smirk falling right off his face into something dark and angry, and nope. We’re gonna stop that right there. “FRIDAY, load up Men in Black II.”

“Will do, Rhodey.”

“Peter’ll kill you when he finds out we’re watching this without him,” Tony says, tone forcefully light and dismissive and lined in broken glass, as if he couldn’t care less about anything and everything. As if he cares more about Peter’s mission to show all of the Avengers over the age of thirty the “best movies you guys missed because you were too busy doing all those, uh, not-fun things” than the kid in question being laid out and healing in his lap. As if Tony isn’t running circles in his head, analyzing all the different scenarios of all the things he could have done differently, all the ways he could have stopped this from happening to Peter. Except, if he’d actually done anything different, if he’d abandoned hacking the robots’ code to deactivate them in favor of rescuing his boyfriend, Peter wouldn’t have been the only Avenger down for the count. Rhodey knows this for a fact.

But don’t try to tell Tony that.

Tony looks at the impossible and says “just give me a second to think.” And most times he succeeds. Most times, everything works out. And in a way, it did, even this time. By all accounts, Peter probably should have died, or at least been in a coma with injuries worse than what he has. But Tony is nothing if not a precocious, meticulous, paranoid bastard and he tries to plan for every eventuality he can. He might not know exactly what will happen, but fuck if he won’t put in some kind of failsafe, some kind of safety measure to help you make it through.

Peter’s suit saved him, lack of alloy layers and all.

Yet, to Tony, every scratch, every bruise, it all marks every way Tony has somehow failed. That’s how it’s always been with him. Pepper with Extremis and Happy with the bomb during that whole Mandarin shitfest; Rhodey and his legs and the entirety of the Civil War. Never mind that they’re all alive and well and healed up, in some ways better than before, because of him. They may be alive, but Rhodey knows Tony resolutely assumes responsibility for it all no matter what they say.

For all that they all like to rag on Peter and tease him and call him “the kid,” Peter is very much an independent, responsible, accountable adult, one who knows exactly what he’s getting himself into every time he puts on the suit and puts himself in the way of danger to save people.

He didn’t get into this life blindly. He was maybe a bit—more than a bit—naïve, but not blind.

He doesn’t stay in it blindly.

His eyes are as open and determined as the rest of them.

“Tony.” His eyes stay glued on the schematics. Rhodey represses another sigh. “Come on, man. Don’t do this.”

“Don’t do what?”

“Don’t play dumb, Tones.” Rhodey ignores the alien tentacle monster splitting a man in half on the screen, instead fixing his gaze right on his friend. “If this is anyone’s fault—”

“I’ve got to say, now’s really not a good time, sour patch, so if you'd kindly fuck off—”

“Tony—”

“Rhodey—” Tony says back, sharp and defensive. He already knows where this is going, it’s an argument they’ve hashed out so many times in as many different permutations over the years. Rhodey already knows how this will play out and he’s going to try anyways, no better way to break through to someone than to repeatedly bludgeon them over the head with it, but Peter suddenly whines and they both freeze. They listen to the pained wheezes, watch as he curls further into himself, further into Tony’s body. There’s the sound of tearing fabric. “Just my shirt,” Tony assures absently, hyper focused and tense, and then Peter settles with a little sigh.

“FRIDAY?”

“He’s still sufficiently medicated, boss. He shouldn’t wake up for another hour or so, even with his high metabolic rate.”

“Fuck.” Tony’s shoulders slump, the fingers of one hand curling over his wrist, the left one, ah fuck, his knuckles white as bone. The tablet tilts precariously in his grasp before Tony pointedly rights it with a glare in Rhodey’s direction.

A beat, then, “I should have been there.”

“Tony—”

“No, you don’t understand, Rhodey.” He’s verging on manic, that frenetic energy darting just barely contained under his skin, in the twitching muscle in his jaw, the flinch of his fingers around his wrist.

And this, yeah Rhodey remembers this too, the way Tony became so defensive and protective over Pepper when she was recovering from Extremis. How he threw himself into finding a cure for her, how he got her the best doctors to safely drain that shit out of her system, flew them in from all over the world just to keep an eye on her while she was on bed-rest, even after she was deemed cured. How Tony was with him when he was recovering from his fall, the way Tony was borderline obsessed with figuring out the perfect prosthesis, the perfect braces, with being there through the months of painful PT (he went to almost every appointment—provided his comments and annoyed the shit out of the physical therapist because he’s the biggest, most overprotective mother hen ever, but it got Rhodey through it—and the few he missed were usually because of SI or Avengers’ business). He’d go days without sleep and if Pepper hadn’t been there, worried and anxious and a firm hand of reason, he probably wouldn’t have eaten all that much either. Dum-E’s concerned smoothie offerings notwithstanding.

It’s just how Tony is.

He fights the problem the only way he knows how.

With science, the full force of his vast intellect, and his own two hands.

But with Peter, there’s not really much Tony can do at this point. The doctors have already done what they can do, have left it up to Peter’s very capable super healing abilities to hammer out those finer details. Now, it’s a waiting game, and that’s exactly the kind of game Tony hates, that he’s just terrible at. He is a man of action, a man of energy and answers, and to be told there’s nothing he can do? It’s torture.

Rhodey would know.

He’s the same.

And Rhodey does know that it’s different, that Peter has been Tony’s responsibility, one way or another, for a long time, that Peter is one of the few people who genuinely and wholeheartedly believes, without reservation or expectation, in Tony. Not Iron Man or Tony Stark™, just Tony. Of course Rhodey understands, but that doesn’t mean Tony should wallow in the chaos his brain comes up with. He knows he goes to therapy now and then, so does he, so does everyone else at this point, but even he knows this is the kind of mindset you don’t just get rid of after a couple years of appointments.

It’s something you fight against your entire life.

He changes tactics.

“Hey,” and here he finally crosses the gulf between chair and couch with a hand squeezing Tony’s shoulder, choosing his next words carefully. “Everything’ll work out. Your boy’s pretty good at bouncing back. I’m sure he’ll be up and around in a day or two, talking our ears off about whatever new robotic improvement he’s thought of while he was resting up.”

Tony stares at him for a moment, heavy and loaded and assessing, always assessing. For a moment, Rhodey can see this going from bad to worse, of Tony, bullheaded and without a conducive outlet for his anger and worry, escaping down to his workshop, not to be seen or heard from until Peter’s finally well enough to drag him back into the light.

(That boy, man, Rhodey knows he’d try to do it the second he was awake and coherent enough to process just what’s going on. He’s got a lot of respect for Peter, for all that he can also be pretty dumb at times. He’s in good company though, as far as dumb decisions are concerned.

Being a superhero isn’t exactly the smartest career decision, after all.)

Instead, against the odds, Tony nods. He’s still looking a little wan and frustrated, but also a little less heavy, less weighed down. Rhodey allows a moment to be proud as he nods back, of himself, but especially of Tony. He’s come so far from that embittered, condescending merchant of death he was twenty years ago, from that dying man who suffered behind a veneer of irresponsibility because he didn’t want to burden anyone of twelve years ago.

They return their attentions back to their respective screens.

Rhodey stares. He has no idea what is happening in this movie. He’s missed too much, but he isn’t about to say anything, so he resigns himself to being lost for the next hour.

The things he does for his friends, honestly.

It isn’t long before the others start trailing in though, they were probably waiting in the wings for the coast to be clear, for Rhodey to make that first move and break the ice. Natasha and Carol stroll in from upstairs with that practiced air of “this was my plan all along, and no, I was most definitely not listening in to your conversation.” Clint, having decided to weather out his divorce at the Compound (“for the unlimited, premium coffee, obviously,” he’d said as he drank directly from the pot), drops down from a vent—a fucking vent—and adjusts his hearing aids from reconnaissance mode back to regular auditory input, good god, Tony’s not the only one who needs a lesson in subtly (Rhodey’s gonna find a way to revoke his super-secret spy membership, Clint needs to be retested or something). Bruce just suddenly materializes to sit on the floor in front of the couch, a giant bowl of popcorn in his lap that he most certainly did not get from the kitchen.

“What the fuck is that?”

“Well, that’s just unrealistic—”

“I love Will Smith, wasn’t he on that one TV show from the 90s?”

“Hey, pass me some of that, Brucie—”

“Fuck off, Clint, get your own—”

The others are side-eyeing Tony so hard Rhodey isn’t surprised when Tony snorts and rubs at his eyes.

“Alright, alright. I can take a hint,” Tony says. “FRIDAY?”

“Yeah, boss?”

“Start the movie over from the beginning.” Tony sets the tablet aside on the arm of the couch. FRIDAY murmurs the affirmative, and she sounds approving. At least, Rhodey’s pretty sure it’s approval. The others get comfortable in front of the TV, mock-bickering over the movie choice and lack of movie foods but pointedly leaving the couch to Tony and Peter. Rhodey huffs, rolling his eyes just this side of embellishment because he knows it’ll make Tony sigh, long-suffering but charmed despite himself (because friendship), which he does, of course. Tony props his head up on one hand, the other—the left, trembling minutely but already better than before—settling gently over the curve of Peter’s ribs, rising and falling with Peter’s every breath.

The kid doesn’t even twitch.

Yeah, everything’s gonna be just fine.

Chapter Text

1+ Tony Stark

 

It comes to him in the middle of the night as he sits up in bed.

He’s propped up against the pillowed headboard Peter insisted on getting when they had been looking into beds at IKEA (where Tony hadn’t thought he’d ever be caught dead shopping at, but love makes you do strange, stupid things; all things considered? Not the worst purchase of his life. His poor back thanks Peter’s foresight). The room is dark, save the glow emitting from the various holograms of various projects Tony’s been working on that spin about the room like little, dismantled stars in varying stages of completion. Peter’s dead to the world and running hot as a furnace beside him, on his stomach with his face smushed into the pillow he’s got his arms wrapped around, biceps nicely flexed for Tony’s shameless perusal, ah yes.

Tony’s worried in the past about suffocation. Waking up to a dead boyfriend would not a good morning make, but Peter assures him he can “breathe just fine, Tony. If anything, it helps me sleep better—it’s all nice and muffling and dark and stuff, you know?”

Tony takes his word for it.

(And if he sometimes has to press a hand to the solid line of Peter’s back, feel the way every breath expands in his lungs, the way his heart beats steady and slightly faster than the average human resting rate, a rate Tony has memorized better than the stunted pitter-patter of his own, then that’s only between him, FRIDAY, and the walls of their bedroom.)

He’s sorting through the projects, flicking the ones he wants Peter’s opinion on to one side of the room, trashing a couple that have lost any sort of relevance with a jaunty throw into the trash-hoop, the usual. And he realizes: this is the happiest, most uncomplicated his life has ever been.

Which, of course, immediately sets off a minor panic attack.

But fuck, Tony’s spent so long being just vaguely content with the occasional burst of happiness and a hell of a lot of strife.

He didn’t exactly have that great of a childhood, and the only good things to come out of the alcohol and sex-induced blur that was MIT were Rhodey and his trusty bots. It’s hard to be happy when you’re just trying to forget anything and everything the only ways you know how—hello shitty coping mechanisms—because your parents are dead as doornails, fuck. It’s even harder in a dark cave, your life attached to a car battery, or when you’re fighting for your life and the lives of countless others over and over, fighting against yourself, against who you thought were your friends, against the next threat to the world’s—to the universe’s—livelihood.

He is only one man, but he’ll be damned if he stands aside when he can do something, whether it be with his mind or his tech or even his own painfully human, painfully mortal body.

Should he ever decide to actually think about why he and Peter work so well where he and Pepper—Pepper, who was, is, will always be perfection, one of the strongest people he knows, whip smart, and some of the best parts of him, even now—fell apart, it’s this.

Pepper saw danger and begged him to stay away.

Peter saw danger and said “but I—but we—can do something.”

Which, actually, has been a hellish karmic kick in the ass for him.

He understands better than ever where Pepper came from when she would get furious with him and his need to put himself in the line of fire. It was stressful enough when Peter was just a smart-as-hell teen with poor impulse control and impressively solid convictions, his protégé and maybe even his friend, for all that meant then, but now. Now, ever since that day six years ago when Peter marched up to him in his workshop, nervous but with a mulishly determined look on his face, and outlined in completely flawed and entirely biased logic all the ways Tony and him would be compatible as romantic partners, never mind that the kid was fucking bleeding all over his tile from an injury he’d gotten from some bad guy he’d just fought, fuck, way to give him a heart attack, agh (and of course he gave in. What he wouldn’t give to Peter, even then).

But, anyway, as he was trying to say, there are just times when he wishes he and Peter were different people, that they weren’t so dedicated to the cause.

(He wouldn’t be able to put Peter before the world. He wouldn’t say he’s a hero, he’s not even close, no matter what people like to say, but the world will always come first if there’s danger, no matter how much it would hurt otherwise.

He would put his life on the line for him if he had to though, in a second, without hesitation.)

(It’s something that goes unsaid, but for which is true of both of them.)

He’ll never regret being who he is, and he’ll never fault Peter for being himself (he loves him because of who he is, after all), but still. Peter gets seriously hurt, and Iron Man is emotionally compromised. An emotionally compromised Iron Man—a compromised Tony Stark—can be a very destructive, very volatile force to be reckoned with. That’s not good. In fact, that’s fucking awful. Terrible idea. Why even entertain it?

Oh, right.

(For all that Peter is, god, twenty-eight now and stronger than even Captain America when pressed, Tony will always want to protect him.)

Even worse, it’s a reciprocated kind of compromise, because anything happens to Tony and Peter’s a mess, one who handles the stress better than even Tony at times, sure, but still a mess all the same. That’s definitely not good either.

But it’s worth it.

And that, that’s what’s at the heart of it. That’s what’s got him freaking the fuck out.

Not that he’s happy, as rare an occurrence as that had been for a lot of his life. But that he’s happy, he’s okay with being happy, and that a lot of that happiness is inexplicably tied to the man in his bed.

It’s Pepper all over again.

It’s placing so much—arguably too much—importance on a single person.

It’s commitment to the highest degree where he’s concerned.

If only his self of even just twenty years ago could see him now.

(He’s been in two amazing, monogamous relationships. One lasted over a decade. For the second one, he doesn’t see an end in sight, no warning signs to speak of, not the way he sometimes did (and then promptly ignored) with Pepper.

Good god, he’s become a serial monogamous.)

His past self would think he’s gone insane—well, more insane than usual—to even entertain the notion of such a thing, let alone participate in two of them with varying degrees of success.

Definitely a moron though. His, er, present self that is.

For all that his past self probably would have taken one look at the Peter he has in his bed, at his beautiful brown eyes and incredible ass, his intellect and his charming smile, and tried to seduce him into a long, amazing night of sex just to see how much he could mess up that composure Peter tries to hold himself with, he knows his past self wouldn’t have given Peter more than a passing fling before taking off to the next thing.

Well, unless he knew about Peter’s abilities.

Because then, his past self would have gladly run the gambit of all the possibilities that entails (he can admit it’s something of a perk, having a super powered boyfriend who could easily tear his clothes off, pin him to the wall, and fuck him. What? He’s nothing if not opportunistic, always has been), and then taken off.

And that’s nowhere near what Peter would have deserved.

Knowing what he does now, about the kind of person Peter is and how good he is, how good they are together (oh fuck), his past self would have been the bigger moron between them.

So yeah.

Fuck you, past self.

Agh.

It’s just… Tony’s had a few exceptions in his life, right? People he trusts for the most part, people he cares for and who he knows care for him (his mother, Jarvis, Happy, Rhodey, Pepper, Bruce, the Avengers in general, to some degree), but Tony is quickly (now that he’s caught on, Christ, and people call him a genius) catching on that Peter has become the exception, the one exception to rule them all as it were (see Peter, even Tony can make pop culture references from this century, damn it).

God, this is almost as bad as that time when Tony realized Peter could hand him things, had been handing him shit for weeks, had bypassed that particular quirk of Tony’s anal-retentive personality without a word or acknowledgement, and Tony hadn’t even noticed.

(It was just a stupid screwdriver, and Peter hadn’t even stopped in his little rambling tale about some science article he’d found that he thought Tony might find interesting (and he did, goddamn it, he actually did. But was it because of the content or because Peter’s energy and excitement were endearing? The wave of warmth that welled up in his chest said it’s probably the latter, double fuck). He just handed him that screwdriver without any thought, and Tony had accepted it, and then he’d paused, his brain stuttering, chest constricting—)

What else had he been missing?

Turns out, it had been a lot.

Turns out, he hadn’t even noticed it all, even now.

The evidence is staggering.

(His left arm’s gone a little tingly. He squeezes his wrist, wiggles his fingers. It doesn’t help, but it’s something other than his racing thoughts to focus on.)

What the fuck is wrong with him?

He already knew that he didn’t mind as much when Peter makes him wait, because it’s usually completely by accident. It’s not like Tony doesn’t return the favor just as often, if not more so. Not intentionally, but yeah, it happens. Fair’s fair, or however that saying goes. Except he’s not really like that with anyone else, is he?

He knew Peter could touch things, even use things, in his lab. He even gave him a table and everything. Peter is smart as hell, and Tony trusts him not to mess with anything he shouldn’t.

Even the robots love him. They constantly, pathetically beg for his attention when he’s nearby, and Peter just treats them like particularly loveable dogs or something, obliging them pets and rambling stories they soak up like plants to sunlight (even though he really shouldn’t—they won’t learn otherwise, Peter, they’re not actually pets, you endearing, silly spider-ling). FRIDAY loves him too, in whatever permutation she can love that is. He didn’t even have to adjust her directives, which will always put Tony first, of course, but which have come to include Peter as well, easy-peasy. Tony can’t say he’s complaining.

(And don’t even get him started on KAREN. Tony may have built her up, may have written her code and set up her subroutines, but she’s all Peter’s, and he didn’t even need to do anything except be his frankly adorable self.)

He already knew Peter had effectively invaded his personal bubble, that it’s part and parcel with having intimate relations for more than a one night stand or a fun filled weekend. Peter gets away with coming up to Tony and touching him, on the arm, along his jaw, where the arc reactor once was, even a cheeky ass squeeze when Peter’s feeling playful and horny. That he can do those things without reserve, without having ulterior motives, without having Tony question his every move.

His paranoia getting a backseat: that’s the kicker, that’s how Tony knows he’s fucked.

He had even known that Peter had taken up literal space in his room, in his home, his workshop, even his profession too (at Stark Industries, though in different departments, and with the caped community both)—kind of hard to miss that—but not that he’d done it so thoroughly. Thinking about it now, goddamn but Tony has been a fucking idiot.

How has he not noticed all this?

To be fair, they do a lot of traveling about. For work, for Avengers’ stuff, for pleasure (especially for pleasure, mmm yes. Tony finds that his favorite places to visit are the ones that leave Peter tan and sleepy-pliant from the sun or energetic and rambling over the tourist attractions), etc.

But, wait a minute… Is that—

Peter even officially moved in without saying anything, Tony realizes with dawning horror (and not even a little bit of primal satisfaction), eyes catching on what he’d originally thought to be just a mix of convenient or useful or eccentric additions to the room (the clothes scattered across the floor, the framed Star Wars poster on the wall next to the Van Gogh, the pictures—there’s even a lovely shot of May and Peter on the bedside fucking table—Tony uses his body wash all the fucking time because he likes the way it smells, likes the way he can carry Peter along on his skin when the marks he leaves—the bruises in the shapes of his fingers, his teeth, the scratches down his back—just aren’t enough on days that particularly suck, fuck).

Tony sees them all for what they are.

Even now, on the cusp of hyperventilating, Tony wouldn’t have it any other way.

Shit.

(Hell, Tony even wants him around when he doesn’t want anyone around. Peter’s the one he wants around the most. That’s not to say Tony doesn’t sometimes want, sometimes desperately need, alone time. He’s no stranger to needing time by himself, where he’s only Tony and not part of some greater whole. And Peter gets that, proves time and time again that he gets that in the same way he seems to get a lot of Tony’s quirks and idiosyncrasies.

Peter knows when Tony doesn’t mean the defensive posturing, when he says he wants to be alone, but that that’s when he least wants to be. He knows when Tony just needs the quiet, familiarity of someone nearby but not actually interacting with him, where they ignore each other and do their own thing, but Peter’s still a grounding presence to the world, an appreciated anchor out at the storm-wracked sea of Tony’s over-reactive brain. He even knows when Tony can’t deal with anyone, doesn’t take it personally the way some of Tony’s past “relationships” had. He knows that for all that Tony has been forced to put himself out there, sometimes he really just needs some time alone to regroup, to recharge, to temporarily exist without expectation…

Anyways.)

Tony doesn’t like to look too closely at himself, afraid of what he might find lurking in the shadows there (a disappointment, a failure, everything he thought Howard saw in him—a man that stood ignorantly by while people slaughtered each other with his weapons—someone capable of creating a monster like Ultron—), but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t do a little self-reflection every once in a while—therapy taught him that much, thank you—but he thought he’d known himself well enough.

Which is why, now that his eyes have finally been opened, Christ, Tony knows he hasn’t just let Peter get under his skin.

Oh no, Peter’s much deeper than that. It’s so much more complicated, for all that it’s so simple. He let him in, without even noticing. Tony let him carve out a place of his own in that delicate, precious space hidden in the marrow of his bones, in the very cells of his body, in the strings of DNA that make him who he is.

And it’s terrifying, how much he feels for Peter, how much he trusts him, unbarred and without reserve.

Peter is it for him, as things are now.

(Tony would do anything for him.)

And he’d known that, on some level he knew that, even if he’s only now really facing up to it—

(He may be an idiot, but even he’s not that completely oblivious, no matter what Rhodey and Pepper say.

He doesn’t try to keep relatively normal—well, normal for him at least—sleeping hours for just anyone, you know.)

Peter has so much power over him.

Peter could so easily break him.

Just the right word, by doing just the right thing—

(Fucking fuck, he’s too old for this shit.)

Fuck.

It feels like he’s been clubbed over the head. His breath hitches in his chest. He has to actually remember that he can breathe just fine now. The arc reactor is gone. His sternum and ribcage were reconstructed by the best doctors the world had to offer, the scarring is minimal at best and shouldn’t be impeding his respiratory functions—he should not be having this much trouble breathing.

Everything is fine, everything is fine

Peter suddenly shifts besides him, lifts his head in Tony’s general direction. He’s all soft and sleep-rumpled in one of Tony’s old band t-shirts, the one with the gaping hole in the side that Tony likes to take full advantage of to access Peter’s warm skin whenever he pleases. Peter hasn’t even opened his eyes. There are crease marks all over his face, and he’s got one of the most hilarious cases of behead Tony’s ever seen. So fluffy. So adorable. He’d laugh if he didn’t feel like he was choking.

Agh.

“Hey—s’everything okay?” Peter asks, words slurred and gravely rough.

Tony swallows down the panic, but it’s okay, really, he can already feel it fading in his gut, little by little, because he remembers.

This is Peter.

Earnest, compassionate, genuine Peter Parker. Peter, who wouldn’t knowingly hurt anyone if he could help it, who would willingly throw himself in the way of danger to save someone, even the bad guy if it came down to it—has done it. Peter, the guy who takes inspiration from movies for his fighting strategies, who insists on doing their laundry himself despite the fact that they have people for that, who lets Tony buy him all sorts of insane shit as long as their collective prices fall within the limit of the established, monthly budget aptly titled: “Money Tony Can Spend on Peter” (the amount of which Tony wheedles higher or works around whenever Peter will let him get away with it. Any day can be a “special occasion” if you word it the right way). Peter Parker, who eats cereal right out of the box like a heathen and who would subsist on nothing except pop tarts and red bull and the occasional take-out if left to his own devices. Peter Parker, who sits up with Tony on the nights when the nightmares catch up to him, quiet and easy and without expectations. Peter Parker, one of the smartest, kindest, most promising people Tony has had the honor to know, to teach and learn beside, to love.

Peter, who has only ever seen the best and brightest in him, despite his failings, despite his mistakes, all the ways he makes things more difficult than they probably have to be—he is a handful, after all—but who’ll call him on his bullshit because he knows Tony can be better.

That he is better.

And Tony?

Tony wants to be that better self.

He wants to be that Tony that Peter loves and admires so much, that he sees in Tony already.

(Tony doesn’t see it, not exactly, but as his therapist says, he really needs to stop being so hard on himself.

(It’s not that easy, but he’s trying.)

(Peter helps.)

And with all this in mind, Tony is able to get a grip, finally, thank fuck. He takes a deep breath, clears his throat, and strokes his hand along Peter’s sleep-warm cheek. His arm isn’t feeling so numb and tingly now. “Fine, I’m fine.”

“y’Sure? Your heartbeat’s kind of wild.”

“No, yeah, that’s just you, dear. So pretty. What you do to me,” Tony says.

Peter snorts, but there’s a lovely little flush building in his cheeks that Tony can feel against his fingers. “Go to bed, Tony. S’early. Don’t have work for hours…”

Well, he’s not wrong.

“Yeah, yeah, okay,” Tony says, dismissing the holograms with a flick of his wrist before curling up under the blankets and into Peter’s side. It takes a moment to settle down, but it’s easy, it’s them. It’s something they’ve been doing for years now, making space for each other, always. Tony throws a leg over Peter’s, that too fast heartbeat pounding a predictable rhythm under the palm he presses to his back through the hole in his shirt. Between one breath and the next, Peter accommodates him, wraps a strong arm across Tony’s side—the perfect anchor—and presses his face back into his pillow with a sweet little sigh.

“‘ove you.”

It’s muffled, but Tony hears it. He stares into the dark, warm and safe and his heart held in those beautiful, capable hands. He releases a breath, closes his eyes.

“Love you too, sweetheart.”

Chapter Text

Bonus. Peter Parker

 

Peter’s had his powers for almost eighteen years. He can’t believe he still has to put up with this shit.

“I’m okay, I’m okay,” Peter says through chattering teeth. Sweat breaks out, little needlepoint pricks, on his forehead, his back. Shivers race up and down his spine. The hairs on his arms stick straight up, goosebumps everywhere. His clothes are too tight, the silk of his button down (blue, one of his favorites, one Tony bought him a few years ago) rubbing against his skin like sandpaper, his lab coat a heavy weight he stiffly shrugs off before hunching over, wrapping his arms tight around himself as if that’ll help contain his pounding heart, contain the way it feels like he’s about to explode out of his skin. His Spidey sense is going absolutely batshit insane——everything is too bright, too loud, too hot, too cold, too everything.

Overstimulation sucks.

“Can I touch you?” Tony asks a moment later, voice just barely a whisper and it still rings like a bell in Peter’s ears.

“I—I don’t know, just, just gimme a second?”

Tony nods, hovering close, but not too close, and Peter appreciates it, god, so much. He takes a deep breath, clenches his eyes shut and digs his palms into them until he can see stars, holds. A beat, then he offers a trembling hand, eyes squinting against the fluorescent lights of the lab. “Okay.”

Tony’s careful, so so careful. This isn’t the first time he’s had to help Peter weather through this bullshit side effect to having his senses permanently dialed up. Though it’s been over six months since the last time this has happened, since the last time Peter has dealt with this crap, it’s a routine they’d never forget, a pattern developed over fifteen years. It’s one they’ve had since that first time Tony quietly sat out the tremors and gasps beside him on the workshop floor, when Peter was seventeen and so scared of becoming lost forever in the overwhelming force of his senses, the only point of contact between them a grounding hand on his ankle, not too tight, not too loose and exactly what he’d needed.

(If Peter had to pick the moment his childish hero-worship shifted to something a little more, something a little different, skewed sideways and missing that rose-tinted film that colored so many of their initial interactions, it had to be then.

Because here was Mr. Stark—billionaire celebrity, genius and innovator, Iron Man, a Leader of the Avengers, the World’s Greatest Defender, a Savior of the Universe—patiently waiting out the worst of the attack with him, quiet in a way Peter didn’t normally associate with the man, that usual frenetic energy calm and contained, that calloused hand tethering him to the real world like a balm to his frayed nerves, a beacon for Peter to focus on in the storm.

It had been a beginning, in some ways.

He’d always known he could rely on Tony, even at that point. After everything they’d been through, from the superhero fight at the airport in Berlin to Thanos to the host of bad guys that have come out of the woodwork over the years, he would have been blind, as well as an idiot, not to have noticed. But it was this, and moments like this later on, moments that really showcased just how kind and thoughtful and endearing and just beautiful, god so beautiful, Tony really was—like when he’d be elbows deep in one of the Iron Man suits and shouting along to ACDC; or when he’d play off like he didn’t care about something but would covertly donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to the causes and charities, sometimes as himself, most times through anonymous donation; or when he’d humor the kids, always the kids, taking pictures with them, signing autographs for them, telling them they could make a difference too; Peter could go on forever, honestly.

Through the last of his high school career, through most of his college education, in that time before Peter finally amassed the courage to confront the man and confess—a confession years in the making by that point, and even bleeding and with a few broken ribs, Peter wasn’t about to let his opportunity pass him by once he realized it was there, once he realized he had a chance. He’s a Parker, after all—it was moments like those that so easily shifted his affections into something romantic and mature and just more.

But that’s Peter for you.

He’s always been pretty easy where Tony’s concerned.)

(To be fair, in Peter’s defense and despite what Tony seems to think—about being a handful, about being too difficult to deal with, about not being worth the trouble—he’s very easy to love.

Peter never even stood a chance.)

They start by holding hands, his shaking one in Tony’s. Every burn mark, every scar healed over, the callouses, the pores, the blood rushing under the thin, thin skin, the heartbeat trailing closely after it—he feels everything. It takes a moment, but the awareness, the intense heat of the contact, the way the microscopic hairs on his hand cling and quiver, quickly fizzles out. He tentatively tangles their fingers together, pauses through that sensory overload, then tugs Tony in a little closer, closer, closer, slowly, slowly, until he can just barely rest his forehead against Tony’s chest, right above the glaring glow of the nanobot containment unit. The light burns his eyes, so he scrunches them closed until all he can see is the red behind his eyelids, bright but not overly so. The mixed smell of his sweat and cologne, one of Peter’s favorites normally, is nauseating and sour.

He clenches his eyes shut tighter and just tries to breathe.

“Okay?”

“Mhm.”

A pause, another deep breath, and he finally collapses into Tony’s arms like he’s wanted to right from the beginning. It’s a bit like ripping off a band-aide: his senses go haywire for a moment, white-hot and furiously crushing, he has to grit his teeth through the worst of it—he can hear the way his jaw grinds in its hinge, high pitched and painful—and then it all crashes down like a wave, cool with relief. Even when he’s like this, even though it takes a few minutes, his body, his Spidey-sense recognizes Tony, that Tony is safe.

Tony is sanctuary.

(As far as he can tell, his brain processes and filters out the excess and the repetitive, same as any normal human brain, and usually everything is fine and dandy. His senses work to his advantage, and his Spidey-sense only bothers him when there’s danger afoot.

Good thing too.

Has come in handy, that.

But then, there are times—times when there’s some minute change, something small and practically unnoticeable to a normal person, not even something dangerous. A change in temperature, a change in texture, an unexpected noise, and suddenly he’s hyperaware of it, of everything, everywhere, as far as senses can stretch (which is pretty fucking far), whether he wants to be or not. And all those things just can’t be ignored, or maybe his brain just gets tired of blocking out all those peripheral observations and can’t keep up with the onslaught, or maybe the stress gets to him (and there’s no one more stressed than a superhero, most days), and that’s when this happens.

It’s worse with people, some of the time. People change all the time. Every second they change: skin cells dying, heart rate changing in response to emotions, joints creaking and popping with a particular movement, etc. He spent a while, after that first attack, scared and fourteen and starring at the ceiling as Ned snored obliviously away next to him on the floor. Because what if this became debilitating? What if this kept him from being Spiderman, from interacting with people, from his friends, from his family? What is this kept him from ever going outside?

Thankfully, it’s never gotten that bad.

At best, it’s like a headache. At worst, it’s like a migraine and a panic attack mixed together, both things Peter dealt with before he even had powers, so.

There’s no apparent rhyme or reason to when he gets an attack—though Tony, Bruce, and Stephen Strange all have their theories and ideas about the ‘how’s and ‘why’s, but no sure ‘how to fix it’s beyond medication, which he can’t take because he metabolizes it too quickly for it to be effective, or magic, which he doesn’t really trust, honestly. It’s fine, really, as long as it doesn’t happen that often, as long as it doesn’t show signs of affecting Peter negatively beyond the attack itself, which thankfully it hasn’t in the eighteen years he’s been getting them, then Peter’s fine with letting his nervous system take its course and work out what it needs to when it needs to, even if he hates it. Who knows what trying to suppress something like that would do to his system, to his brain, to his powers. He’s not willing to risk it—and it really doesn’t even happen all that often: an attack here, an attack there, maybe three or four total within the course of a year. Just often enough for it to be annoying. Just often enough for it to remind Peter it’s there, that it’s a thing he has to deal with sometimes.

But the thing with Tony is—

When Peter does get overstimulated, Tony has turned out to be a safe harbor, a point through which Peter can more quickly, more easily come down from the too much of everything else. He’s something to focus on, he’s this perfectly familiar anchor. He doesn’t have to go through it alone. He just has to give his body a little time to readjust, to remember Tony.

And every time, like a switch flipping, his senses start the slow process of dialing back down.)

(Tony’s one of the few who can sneak up on him too, he hasn’t ever triggered his Spidey-sense, a fact which Tony takes advantage of whenever it pleases him, insufferable and smug and almost insecure in the knowledge of it, like he’s checking to make sure he can still do it, that he’s still special, when he’s not doing it just for the chance to tease Peter. But Peter wonders about that, whether there’s a connection there.

Something about Tony being safety and home and a part of him, more familiar in some ways than even himself, probably.

The only other person who gets away with that kind of stuff, who seems invisible to his senses and helps him come down from an attack, effectively and consistently, is May. Others have tried, with mixed and varied results. He doesn’t know how or why.

But that means something to him.

It means a lot.)

(He can think of few others he would trust with such power over him.)

With a sigh, he burrows his face into the dark hollow of Tony’s throat—a space that Peter sometimes swears was made just for him, for all that he fits it so perfectly—pathetically grateful when Tony firmly cups those wonderful, steady hands of his over Peter’s ears, blocking out another sense as much as he can. Peter knows he’s probably squeezing the man a bit too tightly, it’s hard to judge his strength when he’s like this, but Tony doesn’t try to pry him off or give any other indication that he’s uncomfortable. Instead, Tony’s throat vibrates against his cheek as he begins to talk. It’s muffled and unintelligible, and probably just some rambling specifics about an engineering project Tony’s been working on, but it’s another focal point for Peter to use to get through this as he forces himself to breath evenly despite the lingering nausea, to breathe in sync with the rushing beat of Tony’s heart he can hear pulsing through his hands.

God, but this is stupid, so stupid. A superhero brought down by their own powers, what a loser—and they’d been having such a good time before this.

Tony had been flirting with him—which, not too different from an ordinary day. Tony loves to see how much and how often he can get Peter to blush (often and very easily, to Peter’s eternal mortification and Tony’s maniacal delight). It’s one of his favorite pastimes, so he’s said, vocally and regardless of who is around to hear, shameless and oddly possessive because as he’s tried explaining, only he can get Peter to react like that and it’s something he’s quite proud of. It’s another advantage he ruthlessly exploits (it’s a good thing Peter has an advantage or ten over Tony himself). So, he’d been sprawled out in a chair beside him at Peter’s desk, all undone tie and open thighs and those red-tinted glasses that he actually needs for function as well as aesthetic these days, admiring Peter’s biceps with explicit comments and heated eyes. Fuck, how would Peter survive this? Tony was trying to seduce him into mutual handjobs in his “fancy lab. Come on, darling, as the new Head Chemist of Stark Industries, you have to accept your privileges where you can—”

Peter had carefully avoided looking at him, no matter how much he’d wanted to, he was stronger than that damn it, he’d had ten years to learn how to say “no” to a horny Tony Stark—no matter how utterly attractive he was, no matter how much Peter wanted to just give in—he will not desecrate his lab for the sake of Tony’s libido. He didn’t want to deal with ill-timed erections in another place he had to spend tons of time in, let alone a place where he had to be professional and potentially around other people, mostly his underlings, gah. He pointedly finished typing in a section of his work report. “Are you saying it’s a privilege to have sex in my own lab? I’ve been working in this lab for years, and it’s only now that you’re suddenly interested in lab sex? Why not just wait until we get home? The workshop works too, you know it does, and it’s not really that far away. Just give me, like, fifteen minutes.”

Tony had groaned, a noise that had gone straight to Peter’s groin—he was not that strong, he was not that strong, mayday, mayday—and gave Peter’s ass a little grope, saying, “But Peter, you weren’t head of the department yet. Competence is sexy, you’ve said so yourself—”

Peter’s patience had snapped, just like the smirking bastard knew it would.

Okay, yeah, okay, handjobs would be fine, right? At least it’s not something more risqué. It’s not like they’d have the supplies for anything more anyway, but they’d been known to improvise—to great satisfaction on both sides, thanks to their combined intellects—occasionally when things weren’t readily at hand, so. They’d just have to be careful and erase the camera footage (if FRIDAY hadn’t already been tampering with it) and clean up any mess they make.

Yeah, alright.

Peter’d set his report down, fingers dragging on the minutely porous countertop—has it always been so rough?—he can totally handle this—

Except very suddenly he couldn’t, and now, now, this is the complete antithesis of fun.

Shit.

But there’s Tony and a little bit of added pressure over his ears, like he knows what Peter’s thinking, a light reprimand.

“I’m sorry,” Peter chokes out anyways, because he is accountable for this. He will take responsibility, even if it’s not something he can necessarily control. They’re lucky this hasn’t happened while he was working directly with delicate, volatile chemicals or carrying people away from danger or that he’s had people to cover for him the time or two it’s happened during one of the villainous attacks they’ve dealt with over the years. He takes the low, uninterrupted vibration against his cheek and the occasional press of Tony’s mouth in his hair for the reassurance it is though. It’s nice, just being held like this, even if it’s because of Peter’s overactive nervous system. It’s nice, knowing Tony will hold him like this later on too, that he’ll hold him however long he wants, even if he has prior obligations he needs to attend too.

(Not that Peter would ask him to do that, even though Tony might want him to sometimes. SI Board meetings are boring as hell, and though Peter, having attended more than a few himself as the then rising resident chemistry expert and now Head of the Chemistry department, can agree that those meetings often feel pretty pointless and boring as hell and like they’re pandering to old, white men who don’t actually have the company’s best interests at heart, just their own greed—he knows Pepper would have a suitably awful and completely deserving punishment for the both of them if he asked Tony to ditch it as often as he wanted him to, as often as Tony wanted to. She’s understanding and willing to cover for them for the times they really can’t make it, for superhero business or otherwise, but he respects her and her position too much to be so carefree and flippant like Tony can be when it comes to the Board meetings. It’s the least he can do, helping her keep Tony on track with that kind of stuff, considering everything she’s done for him, for Tony, for them.

Tony may not be the CEO anymore, but he’s still got a lot of power and influence to throw around in the company, after all.)

He relaxes as much as he can and rides out the last of the shivers.

The sensitivity eases away, slow and syrup thick, and his chest isn’t as constricted. He’s stopped sweating. His skin feels only a little clammy now, not raw and over sensitized, and he’s warm, but it’s a comfortable temperature, not feverish and devastating like before. His clothes are kind of damp, but they fit properly again. The smell of Tony’s skin is back to being lovely, and at some point, he notices—there’s a pattern to the way Tony’s throat is vibrating now. It’s something he vaguely recognizes. What is it? He can’t quite put his finger on it; he can feel it, there on the edges of his consciousness. It’s more than talking, it’s humming, and it’s—

Wait a second…

Peter pulls back, throat a little less tight, his skin settling a bit better over his bones, not stretched out at all, and asks incredulously, “Is that Metallica?”

Tony’s hands slide down Peter’s arms, resting lightly on the points of his elbows. He raises an eyebrow, his eyes—god, Peter could get lost in those doe eyes forever, plans to in fact, as long as he has a say—flitting over Peter, up and down and up again like he’s checking for injuries. “Um, yeah? Is that a problem?”

“No?”

The concern drains from Tony’s face, replaced by a smirk. “What’s wrong with Metallica? I know it’s not that weird dub-step shit you young people listen to these days, but Metallica is a classic piece of musical art—”

And Peter laughs, can’t help it, it just bubbles up and out of him and already he’s feeling lighter, like the overstimulation attack is hours away, for all that his fingers are still trembling lightly.

“Hey now,” Tony says, vaguely annoyed in that mocking way of his, but he ruins it by grinning, a little lopsided and a whole lot mischievous, “Why are you laughing, Peter? I am Iron Man, people don’t laugh at Iron Man—”

All Peter can do is dig his thumbs into Tony’s dimples, press a kiss to his mouth, over and over and over again, even while he’s still trying to talk about the younger generations and their terrible aesthetic tastes, before pulling away with another laugh.

“Tony—Tony, I’m thirty-two years old. Pretty sure I’m not part of the young people anymore—and besides, I don’t even think they still listen to dub-step.”

“Excuse you, Mr. Parker, but if you’re not a part of the young people, then I’m definitely not, and that’s unacceptable,” Tony says, straight-faced. “I’m a young person, obviously.”

“At heart maybe,” Peter says back and smirks, fingers skimming at Tony’s temples, back along the nape of his neck. He tugs at some of the hair there, soft between his fingers. “Those grey hairs say otherwise.”

“Premature.” Then, Tony sighs. “God, thanks for reminding me. Maybe I should re-dye it.”

Peter hums, runs his fingers through the silver strands near his neck again. There’s still a little of that lovely brown color to his hair. It’s still probably considered a ‘salt and pepper’ look, though it’s definitely edging more toward the salt side these days. Peter loves it. “You can, if you want to, but you know,” and here he lets his expression turn flirtatious, like the one Tony had on his face when he was propositioning him not even twenty minutes ago, “grey can be pretty sexy, silver fox and all that. You definitely have that going for you.”

And Tony buries his face into Peter’s shoulder, half laughing, half groaning, and says, “You’re going to be the death of me, kid.”

“Not a kid.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Peter can practically feel him rolling his eyes, but it’s a normal kind of feeling and not a “being able to feel everything including colors and scents” kind of feeling. It’s a knowing Tony really well kind of feeling, and it’s one he gets all the time. He loves that feeling. God, he loves him. Tony pulls back, presses a kiss to his cheek, the stubble on his jaw catching on Peter’s own, prickly and ticklish, not harsh at all. And Tony smiles, crooked and small, but genuine and beautiful and everything Peter has ever wanted. “Okay?”

He breathes, once, twice, easy as anything, easy as loving Tony has been—Tony, who he’s known for over fifteen years now, who he’s loved for more than ten. Tony, who is everything. Who is worth everything and more.

And that’s something he’s always known.

“Yeah.”

 

 

END

 

 

After Credits Scene:

“You ever gonna make an honest woman out of me, Mr. Parker?” Tony asks, all smooth and glib like he doesn’t care. But Peter knows he does, can feel it in the tension of Tony’s fingers tangled with his own as they make their way out of the SI building. Another privilege of being Head Chemist is deciding when he gets to leave early, apparently.

Peter just thinks Tony wants to get him home to relax. There’s probably take-out and comfy sweatpants and cuddling in their future.

Overstimulation attacks are exhausting.

Thank fuck they don’t happen that often.

“I don’t know about making you an honest woman,” Peter says, oddly breathless. There’s something buzzing in his stomach, bees or happiness or maybe he’s just really hungry like he always is after an attack (it’s times like this that he’s reminded why having a high metabolism sucks. He’s lucky he’s got a rich man as a boyfriend, one who loves spending shit tons of money on him, or the food alone would put a sizable dent in his wallet). Probably all of the above.

It reminds him of the feeling he gets when he’s high off a breakthrough for a project he’s been spending weeks working on and all he can think about is telling Tony about it just so he can see that proud look on Tony’s face before they celebrate with mind-blowing sex, or that feeling when Tony stops mid word, mid rant about this, that, or another thing, usually about politics or “idiot superheroes who should know better, who should take better care of themselves, that means you, honey,” to demand kisses because Peter means that much to him, because Tony wants to be close to him always too, that even frustrated or angry, Tony just can’t control himself around him. He represses the grin threatening to split his face in half and rubs at the crinkled line of a burn scar on Tony’s thumb. “But if you’re asking me if I’ll marry you, Tony, then yes.”

Tony sputters, his grip suddenly vice-like. “Peter—”

From behind them, startling them and the poor receptionist they’re passing by, Happy suddenly cries, “Thank God! Where’d I put that damn ring? Oh man, just wait until Pepper hears about this—”

 

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I know you aren’t perfect. But it’s a person’s imperfections that make them perfect for someone else. –Stephanie Perkins

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