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How Galaxies are Made

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"Just breaking now - it appears Spider-Man has collapsed! After seemingly walking away from that crash with no injuries, Spider-Man is now unconscious on the ground! NYPD are assisting and we've no details yet but - wait, what's that in the distance... is that Iron-Man?"


"Make some noise for me Karen."

Peter dangled his feet off the edge of the roof as he looked down on the city.

"What noise would you like me to make?"

"Wait, you can do actual noises? I just meant tell me where some crime had to be fought, but this is definitely more important!" He thought about it. "Can you be a cat?"

"Meow."

"Woah, nice! What about a dog?"

"Grrrrr."

He laughed. "Robot dog! Okay, uh, let's make it a really hard one. A giraffe." After a pause, Karen started humming low. It was a strange sound he'd never heard before. "What're you doing?"

"Recent research suggest giraffes actually hum, but only during the night and not frequently."

"Oh, cool!" he grinned. "Hey, is it only animal noises or can you make any noise?"

"I can certainly try any noise, though whether my programming allows me to imitate it is another question."

"Okay okay, um..." he tried to think of a really difficult sound. The problem was solved for him when his stomach rumbled. "Can you imitate that?"

"It appears not. However, it is my understanding noises like that mean you should go eat. There is a Chinese restaurant nearby with many good reviews." The information for the restaurant popped up on his screen. The food did look pretty good in the pictures and his mouth watered. He retrieved his backpack and hunted, finding some change from his earlier supermarket shopping. He counted it aloud and, without any prompting, Karen said, "With the amount you have, I recommend you stop by a convenience store instead and pick up some snacks."

Peter sighed. "Yeah, that's what I thought. Man, Spider-Man buying stuff like a normal person is so lame..."

"I believe Spider-Man fainting from hunger is equally lame," she replied.

"... Karen, what have I told you about taking sass lessons from F.R.I.D.A.Y?"


"Peter!" May banged on his door. The teenager in question bolted upright, ripped straight out of sleep, and blinked blearily around him. "Peter, you're going to be late!"

The urgency in his aunt's tone woke him up better than anything else and he cursed when he realised the time.

"I'm up!" he shouted as he leapt out of bed, detangling himself from the duvet. He hastily got dressed, wound up wearing odd socks because he didn't have time to find the pairs and got half way out the door before realising his t-shirt was inside out. He fixed it as he went, bounding down the hallway to the front door where May was waiting with an apple and his rucksack.

"Did you stay out late last night?" she frowned as he took the apple. It was a fair question because he didn't normally oversleep, but it still annoyed him she even asked.

"I studied a little after patrolling," he said and rolled his eyes when she started fussing with his hair. "Finals are soon and I wasn't tired and I thought studying would be better than just wasting my time lying in bed trying to sleep, you know?"

"Hmm. Well, don't make a habit of it. Sleep's important," she stepped back. "Make sure you have a big lunch, okay? Now get going before you miss the bus!"

"Larb you," Peter said, swinging his rucksack over his shoulder and bounding out the door.

"Larb you too!"

He took a bite of the apple as he dashed down the stairs, then gagged. Way too sour. He chucked it in the bin on the street and started running to catch the bus, lamenting once more that he couldn't just swing to school. It would be so much quicker.


"Hey losers," MJ greeted as she joined them at lunch and then peered over the table. "Whatcha working on Parker?"

"Spanish essay," he said as he looked up a word in his dictionary.

"The one due next week?" Ned's head snapped up from his phone. "Dude, we've got the weekend."

"I don't," Peter sighed and, accepting for the moment he wouldn't be able to concentrate, put his pen down and rested his chin on his palm. "I'm with Mr Stark." To their credit, neither of them pointed out Mr Stark would let him do his homework at the compound if he needed. They knew his time with his mentor was already limited, so he couldn't afford to waste some of it on something he could easily fit in another time.

"What about the evenings?"

"Decathlon and patrol today, tomorrow at the compound, next Monday is patrol and hospital, and I want to get in a little extra studying because I won't at the weekend anyway - oh and Miss Potts keeps asking me to do things for her and May's taking a few extra shifts so she wants me to do some chores." He ticked off each of them on his fingers and, when finished, exhaled and slumped down on the seat.

MJ frowned. "Maybe you could ask Miss Potts to ease off, just till after finals?"

"Uh, no he can't," Ned cut in. "If he can't handle the wedding tasks, how's he meant to manage Iron-Man's twitter?" he looked at Peter. "Dude, you have to do everything she tells you. It's like a job interview! Right?"

"Probably," Peter agreed. MJ didn't look happy but she also didn't argue, which usually meant she agreed but didn't like the fact. He looked back at his homework with another sigh. "So yeah. I gotta get this done now, sorry guys."

"It's cool, I can read," MJ shrugged and pulled out her book. Ned went back to Instagram, and Peter went back to his essay, his lunch tray going almost untouched.


More often than not, he swung by the supermarket on his way home with a list of items to buy so he and May could cook dinner later. That day, he'd just got home with the shopping when his phone rang.

"Hello?" he shoved the phone in his neck as he juggled the bags and the keys.

"Hi Peter, how are you? I need you to do me a favor," Miss Potts said. Peter managed to get the door open and stumbled inside.

"Sure, anything!" he chirped even as he eyed the shopping with a look of dread. May had wanted him to cook dinner so that when she came home later, she could just have the leftovers.

"There's a problem with the florist for the wedding and I've been on the phone and emailing, but he's insisting someone go in person. Honestly, I'm this close to choosing someone less picky but..." she trailed off with a sigh. Peter knew exactly why she wouldn't. Somehow, she'd found out that this particular florist had been a favourite of Mr Stark's parents and she wanted to honor that - even though Mr Stark had insisted it didn't matter.

"Yeah, I can go but I dunno what you want me to do 'cause I know nothing about flowers."

"I'll send you the address. Just ring me when you get there and we'll handle it then. Thank you, Peter." She sounded so grateful Peter couldn't even feel a little mad as she hung up. The little tasks she was asking him to do probably barely even touched on the millions of things she had to do, so there really was no way he could complain.

"Sorry May," he said and quickly wrote a note letting her know Miss Potts had needed his help. He didn't know how long he'd be, maybe he'd be back before his aunt got home, but in case he wasn't at least she had the ingredients to make something for herself now.


"Hold that in place," Mr Stark ordered.

"Sir yes sir!"

"Without the sass, please. When your name is on a lab, you can be as sassy as you like."

Peter grinned as he pressed together the servos and the battery pack. "Sorry Mr Stark." He wasn't sorry in the slightest and, by the way he rolled his eyes, Mr Stark didn't believe him either. "It's just this is so cool! Learning about cars and engines was amazing and then to be making a robot with you? Can we make it shoot fire? Have lasers?"

"Until you can prove to me you can make simple robots we're not touching any of those," his mentor said. Peter didn't pout, but it was close. "I thought Happy said awhile back you were in the robotics club?"

"I was," Peter confirmed and shifted his fingers so Mr Stark could attach the breadboard. "But then I became Spider-Man."

Mr Stark frowned a little and actually paused what he was doing. "Is that what happened with band practice too?"

"Yeah, I dunno why decathlon was the only one I kept doing..."

Actually, he did. Liz was the sole reason he hadn't ditched, even though he kept missing so many practice sessions. Even he, awkward and inexperienced as he was, had known giving up a position like that would have ruined any chance with her. Interestingly enough, it was now for MJ that he stayed on the decathlon team (and to piss off Flash)... but there was no way he was telling Mr Stark any of that. Even if his mentor was interested, it would only be more ammunition to tease Peter with.

"Why don't you go back? Do robotics, at least. You clearly love it."

Peter forced his mind back to the present. "Um... I just don't think I have the time for it now."

"Do you want to?"

"I guess," he gave it some thought. It would be cool to spend that time with Ned again - with everything else going on, they barely had any 'fun' time together anymore, but... "There are more important things I have to do."

Mr Stark shrugged. "I'm not gonna force you kid, but just think about it, alright? Robotics would look good on your application to MIT."

"How did you know -?"

There was a knock on the lab door and they both turned to see who it was.

"Pepper? Is something wrong?" Mr Stark frowned.

"No," she smiled and his mentor visibly relaxed. "I was just hoping to borrow Peter for a minute. I want to follow up on the flowers and a few other things."

"Yeah, no, kid's busy right now. Come back later."

"It won't take long."

Peter glanced between the two. They were staring each other down, seemingly arguing without words, and he would feel in awe if it wasn't the fact they were arguing over him. That just made him feel really really awkward. He shifted on the seat and focused on the beginning stage of a robot in his hands. He really wanted to continue, but Miss Potts was fast becoming this big sister slash boss person he couldn't say no to. Plus, she wouldn't come and ask for him unless it was important.

Mr Stark must've come to the same realisation because he huffed and pointed a finger at her.

"No more than fifteen minutes. I've got plans and there's only two days so we have to make them count."

"Thank you," she said and then beckoned to Peter. "Come on, I need you to do something for me."

Peter waved awkwardly at Mr Stark as he left the room.


Ever since the news had broken Spider-Man visited sick kids in hospitals, it had been much harder to go. Everyone – patients and staff – was on the lookout and no matter how considerate people were, someone always passed on the information to the press or uploaded to social media and gave it away. There was significantly less interest than there had been now, primarily because it was months later and the news wasn’t exactly new anymore, but there was always some.

Peter peered over the ledge of the roof next door and sighed as he spotted several undercover journalists hanging around in the parking lot.

“Mr Stark would like me to reiterate that if you stop for a while, interest will fade, and you won’t have to keep doing this.”

He rolled his eyes. “Karen, can you ‘reiterate’ to him that there’s no way I’m gonna quit?” It was much harder now, he’d admit – he had to randomise the days he went, which hospital he went to, and stay only an hour or so – but he couldn’t give up just because it had got difficult. How was that fair to the children?

“I have done so. To avoid the journalists, you will likely need a distraction.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Peter got to his feet and glanced around. “Think a rock would work? Or a glass bottle?”

“In this situation, neither of those choices would be effective. Also, there is an incoming call from your guy in the chair. Do I answer it?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Ned’s face suddenly appeared on his screen. “Dude, where are you? We’ve been waiting like fifteen minutes!”

“Stuck outside,” Peter groaned. “I’m trying to avoid a bunch of reporters. We need a distraction but there’s nothing -”

“Say no more.” And his friend hung up.

Peter blinked. “Uh. Karen. What’s he doing?”

They found out a few minutes later. Ned appeared at the hospital entrance and made a beeline for the undercover journalists (over the months, Peter and his friends had all gotten much better at identifying them), who he then ‘accidentally’ walked into and knocked to the ground. “Thanks man,” he whispered even though Ned wouldn’t hear and took advantage of the distraction to swing across to the hospital roof and sneak in through the fire escape.

Time to make some kids feel better.


“Has the florist got back to you yet?”

“Uh…” Peter crouched on the edge of a building and watched the street, but his mind was miles away. “I spoke to this guy Jacobs who said they could provide the gypsophila at a discount ‘cause you’re ordering the other stuff, but that’s in the email…”

“One moment,” Miss Potts fell silent and he used the time to actually pay attention to his patrol. It was Friday evening so there were a lot more people out and about. “Yes, I have it. It all looks good, Peter. Well done.” He grinned. Miss Potts didn’t give out praise lightly or without reason and it made the stress of the past week worth it. His stomach rumbled suddenly, reminding him he’d accidentally skipped dinner again, and he sighed. There were still a few hours until his appointed ‘bedtime’ (as agreed by May and Mr Stark), but perhaps he could get a snack?

“Did we ever move forward about the napkins?”

“Oh!” Peter was immediately distracted. “Mr Stark banned me from that, didn’t he?”

“He can’t ban you from anything, but I take your point.”

He could hear the smile in her voice and it gave him the confidence to ask, “Is there anything else you need me to do?”

“I’ll be in touch if there is. By the way, how are things with MJ?”

Her tone was lighter, more teasing, and he was coming to recognise it as the switch between ‘boss’ and ‘friend’. Accordingly, he allowed himself to groan and flop down on the roof, huffing like a child. Miss Potts had somehow got it in her head that Peter had a crush on MJ and would not let it go.

“Fine,” he muttered. “We’re gonna meet up to do some studying tomorrow evening.”

“Your finals are next week?”

“The week after,” Peter exhaled slowly. “I really don’t think I’m ready -” he broke off when he heard a stifled scream from a nearby alley. “Sorry Miss Potts, duty calls.”

“I’ll wait,” she said. Peter shrugged. It was her time to waste if she wanted to listen to him.

He hopped over a few rooftops and peered into the alley where the scream came from. It was a familiar sight – one man holding a gun to a girl, who was shaking as she held her bag out and scrambled around desperately for some cash or her purse.

“You’d think they’d’ve learnt by now,” he sighed.

In one swift move he shot a web, taking the gun out the fight by sticking it to the ground. The next second he leapt off the building and swung down, colliding feet first into the mugger’s chest and sending him flying out the alley onto the street. “Oops,” he winced when he heard a few more screams. He turned to the girl and looked her up and down. “You doing okay Miss?” She looked unharmed, though her eyes were wide and she trembled a little. “Look, I gotta go get this guy. Stay safe, okay?”

He felt a bit bad for leaving her, but the bad guy needed dealing with first.

He darted out into the street to the mugger, who had just staggered to his feet. He moved gingerly and Peter suspected his ribs were bruised, if not cracked – Peter had hit hard.

“Time’s up buddy,” he called as he approached, ignoring the screams and shouts of the people around him as they realised who he was. His popularity had shot through the roof ever since the interview with WIRED and, as he webbed up the mugger and tied him to a lamppost, he wasn’t at all surprised to see most people had got their phones out and were filming him.

It made his skin crawl a little to be the centre of attention, but he remembered how confident Mr Stark always looked whenever he was hounded and did his best to imitate it.

“And this, kids, is why crime never pays,” he waggled his fingers at the camera. “Don’t be like him, okay? It’s just embarrassing.” He gestured to the mugger and shook his head, as if disappointed. “Enjoy your night! Remember to be safe!” he shouted to the crowd, darted to the nearest building and then climbed up it. On the roof, out of sight of the cameras, he slumped down and took a few minutes to get his nerves under control.

“Good work Peter,” Miss Potts said then, her voice quiet, and he remembered she’d stayed on the line.

“There’s so many more people watching me now,” he said as he drew his legs up to his chest. “What if they find out my identity?”

“There are procedures in place for when it happens,” Miss Potts reassured. “It will be fine."

"When it happens?"

"Everything comes out eventually," she said. Peter had to admit she had a point. "Though, if you could avoid it until after your eighteenth, it would make things much easier.”

He couldn't quite stop a smile. "So, a month. Got it. Thank you Miss Potts."

“You’re welcome. Take care on the rest of your patrol, and have an early night, okay? You sound exhausted.”

“I’ll try.”


“Hey man, have you finished the reading for English yet?” Ned asked as he stacked the last chair. Peter cast a speculative look at his rucksack as he straightened the tables. The past couple of weeks had become one long blur and he genuinely couldn’t remember if he had or not. “Peter?”

“Sorry!” he shook himself and looked back at his friend. “Which one?”

That made both Ned and MJ give him a weird look, and then the former said slowly, “Wuthering Heights?” Belatedly, Peter realised it was also the only reading they currently had.

“Right, yeah,” he tried to pretend he hadn’t just had a brain fart and rummaged through his bag. The book was indeed there, next to his new ring-binder, and he pulled both out. “You want my notes or…?” he glanced over his shoulder at his friends, only to realise they had snuck up behind him and were staring at his binder with wide eyes. “What?”

“You’ve been holding out,” MJ looked impressed.

“Holy crap dude!” Ned had already taken the binder and was flicking through.

“Hey!” Peter protested but it was half-hearted, especially when MJ took it out of Ned’s hands and then they studied it together.

“Calculus, Physics, Computer Science, blah blah…” MJ raised her eyebrows at him. “All your classes are here.”

“Why wouldn’t they be?”

Ned made a triumphant noise and flicked to the back, where the English Literature section was. Peter leant over and pointed out the flash cards he’d written, summarising the various points of the book (themes, analysis, etc), and his best friend’s jaw dropped before he looked back at Peter.

“Since when do you care about school work again?” he asked.

A little offended, Peter snapped, “I’ve always cared!”

“Okay but dude, this is like – the you of three years ago, the Peter Parker before -” he glanced around and lowered his voice. “Spider-Man, you know?”

“Look, I know I haven’t been great recently -”

“You averaged B+ last year,” MJ said flatly and crossed her arms over her chest. “I’ve held off mentioning it, but if it’s repeated this semester it’s going to become a problem. I can’t have someone on the team with anything less than an A.”

“Wait,” Peter stared. “You were going to kick me off the team?”

“Put you in reserves. You and Flash would’ve swapped,” she corrected and now Ned was staring at her in horror too. She huffed. “Marks are what count, you know that.”

“Are you still going to-?” he couldn’t even say it out loud.

MJ studied him and relaxed her stance. “Not if you keep this up,” she admitted and nodded at his folder. “You were averaging B+ when you didn’t put in any effort, so now you are…” she shrugged. “I guess we’ll see after finals though.”

Oh, well, what was a little more pressure anyway?

“When’d you start doing this anyway Peter?” Ned asked.

Peter gratefully accepted the change of subject. “You know how busy I've been lately? I was with Miss Potts last weekend and it came up how much work I had, with finals nearing, and she suggested... this."

“Ohhhh,” his best friend said and then, to Peter’s surprise, exchanged a smirk with MJ.

“Of course,” MJ sniffed. “If it’s not ‘Mr Stark this’, it’s ‘Miss Potts that’. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you have a crush.”

“MJ!” he exclaimed in horror. What was his life, that both MJ and Miss Potts went to the same idea? If May ended up joining them, he would have to throw himself off the nearest building without any webs or parachutes.

“Yeah, Miss Potts isn’t the one he has a crush on,” Ned said helpfully.

“NED!” Peter put his head in his hands and tried to remember how to breathe.

“Oh crap,” his friend muttered when MJ turned a speculative look onto him.

“It’s not like that. Miss Potts has been so amazing to me after everything and I can’t even count the number of ways I owe Mr Stark and I can’t – I don’t want to disappoint them,” Peter lifted his head and looked pleadingly at MJ. “I promised to be better…”

MJ rolled her eyes. “I’m teasing you Parker,” she nudged him in the side. “If it’s causing this, I’m encouraging it.”

“Yeah dude, we get it,” Ned added.

“Though there is one thing…” she narrowed her eyes and looked Peter up and down. “You’ve been looking skinnier recently. You need to eat more.”

“I eat!” Though he had to admit he couldn’t remember when the last time was.

“You’ve barely touched lunch at school the past week ‘cause you’ve been doing your homework,” Ned pointed out. “If you have it’s not been with us.”

“Oh.” That was bad - he would have sworn he had been eating if asked. "Okay, yeah. I'll try. And hey, maybe you should do something like this too," he indicated to the folder.

"If it was advice from Mr Stark, I wouldn't," MJ said. "But if this was from Miss Potts..." Ned nodded in agreement.

Well, Peter couldn't really blame them for that.


"So, what movie would you like to watch?" Peter asked as he threw himself onto the sofa.

May looked a little sheepish. "I hadn't thought that far ahead, but why don't I prepare the popcorn and you can choose?"

"Okay!" he smiled until she was out of sight, then glanced down at his clenched hands. He'd intended to say no to movie night until he'd seen the resignation on her face, heard the unusual hesitance when she'd asked the question - May shouldn't ever sound so nervous when asking him to do something with her, and the fact she was suggested Peter had screwed up significantly. If only he could work out where.

The microwave and popping sounds echoed out the kitchen and he shook himself, then loaded Netflix. May loved most movies, but she had a secret love for trashy rom-coms, so he scanned through the selection.

"What about Just Go With It?" he shouted, remembering how hard it had made her laugh before.

"Whatever you want sweetheart!"

Taking that as a yes, he let it buffer and swiped through Instagram until she came back with the bowl of popcorn.

"You really want to watch this?" she raised an eyebrow as she settled on the sofa next to him and curled her feet underneath her. Peter's chest tightened at the way she made sure to stay on her own side, out of his personal space, and he deliberately made a show of shoving his feet onto her lap.

"Much comfier," he teased while she pretended to take a whiff and then gag.

"Not happening," she said and tickled his feet. He pulled his feet back to safety with a laugh and they both gasped when he nearly knocked over the bowl of popcorn. "Okay okay, just for that..." she shifted and rest her feet on his lap this time. It wasn't like Peter wanted her feet in his lap, but she was already looking more comfortable than before so he let them stay there and then threw a blanket across them both.

"Perfect," he declared once they'd settled. May nodded in agreement and then they played the movie.

At first it was hard for Peter to concentrate. His mind kept racing for all the things he should be doing (what if someone got injured because he wasn't out patrolling? what if studying the hours this evening would mean the difference between an A- and an A+?) but, as time passed, the tension slowly drained out of him. By the time the movie was close to finishing, he'd shifted so he was snuggled up with May and her hand was stroking his head.

The repetitive motion was what did it, in the end.

He fell asleep, brain silent and body relaxed for the first time in weeks.


"Well Karen, what do you have for me today?"

It was early dusk as Peter swung through the city. Without a specific direction, he was enjoying the wind rushing through his hair, the dizzying but thrilling feeling that came from free-falling in-between each leap.

"It appears an Oscorp truck carrying classified research and materials has been hijacked. I have plotted the quickest route for you to take."

"That's a new one," he muttered as he started following Karen's route and it was only a few minutes later he was sailing above the truck in question (travelling by web was seriously quick). Police were already chasing, but the truck was driving too fast and recklessly for them to catch up - it was only luck no one had been seriously hurt yet. "Wish me luck Karen!"

"Good luck Peter."

Taking a deep breath to fortify himself, he calculated the angles and then swung down to cling to the side of the truck. He knocked on the passenger-side window.

"Hey! Mr Criminal!" he knocked again and, against all odds, the driver lowered the window and glanced at him. "Wow, didn't expect that. Are you having a bad day? 'Cause you look it - oh, churros!" he brightened as he saw the food wrapped up on the seat. "Can I have one?" He ducked a punch to the face. "Chill out man, it's just some churros! Didn't your mum ever teach you sharing is caring?" The guy pulled out a handgun and Peter narrowly dodged the bullet, swinging up onto the top of the truck and wondering what he could do.

The priority was to stop the truck, but how?

"Peter, Miss Potts is calling."

"Tell her I'm busy!"

"F.R.I.D.A.Y is insisting." Ugh, that probably meant Mr Stark was behind it - though why he was calling through Miss Potts and not his own suit was another matter. "Answering call." And then Miss Potts's face appeared on his screen.

"Heeeey Miss Potts, I'm kinda busy here -"

She didn't look happy. "You're live on TV."

"Oh shoot," Peter sat upright and spotted the helicopters following the chase. "That's new too."

"You need to handle this before it becomes any bigger," she said. "Tony's on his way but he's still fifteen minutes out."

Peter groaned. "He doesn't have to come all the way out here, I've got this!"

"Do you?" she pressed. He fell silent, a bit annoyed that she was hassling him right now in the middle of the fight, but then the truck swerved suddenly, and he had more immediate things to worry about. He managed to not fall off and then made a snap decision - the best way to stop the truck would be to take out the driver and drive the truck himself. He swung back down through the open window and landed in a crouch on the empty seat.

"Fancy meeting you here!" he greeted, before punching the guy in the face. While the guy was stunned, Peter pressed down on the nearest pedal in the hopes it was the brake, but it didn't do anything. He cursed and tried the next one. The truck skidded to a halt so suddenly that Peter went flying through the windscreen.

For all the injuries he'd had, he'd yet to be involved in a car crash - and, lying on the ground with most parts of his body throbbing, he didn't plan on repeating it either.

"Peter! Peter!" Miss Potts was frantically calling his name.

"I'm okay," he groaned and forced himself to sit up. He did quick check but - "Just bruised, I think." Mr Stark's suit was built to absorb a lot of damage, so that had probably saved him.

"Thank God," she muttered. "Listen, Tony's going to be there in less than ten minutes. Just stay down and let the police handle the rest."

He was about to argue, when he heard gunfire. Any haziness from the crash disappeared and he bolted upright, swaying once when the blood rushed to his head, before recovering and darting up onto the top of the truck. There had been two people inside, apparently, who were now shooting at the NYPD. He felt a bit guilty as he spotted the police cars which had crashed into each other, suspecting it was the sudden brake which had done it, and decided to help. He webbed the guns out their hands and, no longer being shot at, it was easy for the police to rush in and take them out.

Situation sorted.

"See? Told you Mr Stark didn't need to come," Peter said from his vantage point. He sat down on the edge and let his legs dangle over the back door as he watched.

"Oh he's not turning around," Miss Potts said. "In fact, I think he's -"

"Incoming call from Tony Stark," Karen informed him and didn't give him any option to accept or deny before Mr Stark appeared on screen. It was weird to be looking at them both at once.

"I thought we promised no more heart attacks Pete."

Peter sighed. "I'm fine Mr Sta-"

"Yeah, no, Spiderlings don't get a say right now. Karen, run a diagnostic."

For all that Karen was Peter's AI, she couldn't ignore an order from her creator. After a few long, painful seconds, she reported, "Severe bruising across the right side of the body, primarily on the right deltoid, and minor bruising scattered across the rest of the body. No internal bleeding or head injuries."

"See? All good. They'll heal in like, a day."

Mr Stark made a strange strangled sound, apparently speechless, so Miss Potts stepped in. "I'd like you to come by the compound anyway, just to make sure you're alright."

Even though her tone was light, Peter knew it wasn't a request.

"Okay, but -"

"Spider-Man!"

Peter blinked, distracted from his conference call, and Karen helpfully shrunk and put their faces to the side so he could see in front of him. He peered down at the ground where a few police-men were standing and looking up at him.

"Hey officers," he said, forcing his voice to sound cheerful but preparing to bolt if necessary. He could never tell whether the police were with him or against him. "You need anything?" They gestured for him to come down and, after a moment's hesitation, Peter did so. "So, full disclosure - I can break out of handcuffs."

"You're not being arrested yet," the officer on the right said, sounded like he'd swallowed a lemon.

"We just wondered if you were okay!" the significantly younger cop in the centre said, leaning forward. "You took a hard fall."

"Nah, I'm cool," he clasped his hands together behind his head (and held back a wince as his muscles protested). "Just an ordinary day really, you know?" The two officers shot him disbelieving looks.

"Well," the older one recovered first. "If that's the case, could you deal with those?"

Peter followed his eyesight and groaned at the crowd of people which had gathered and were now filming. Seeing they had his attention, they started screaming, shouting his name, giving declarations of love, and several officers had to step in and forcibly stop them from coming any closer.

"Be careful Peter," Miss Potts cautioned as he made his way over. "The entire world is watching."

"I'm four minutes out," Mr Stark added.

"No pressure," he muttered, glancing up at the helicopters still hovering around, before summoning all his courage. "Four minutes? Easy." He straightened, tried to imitate Mr Stark's casual posture whenever he dealt with press and then waved. "Hey guys! How's your evening been?"

"Spider-Man, I love you!" a girl at the front shouted, and then several others followed.

It was a little overwhelming, but he knew what Mr Stark would say, so... "I'm flattered, but my heart's already taken."

"Show us your face!" A guy near the back shouted.

"Then I would lose at least half my coolness. Do you want me to be less cool?"

A little girl stumbled forward then, managing to duck underneath the police officer’s arms, and she held up a small, crumpled paper flower. "Spider-Man, this is for you."

The crowd hushed, but Peter wasn't paying them anymore attention. He went on one knee in front of her. "That's a very pretty flower," he said. "Did you make it?" she nodded and he took it. "Thank you. I love it." He stuck the flower on the right side of his suit, just above his heart, and then looked back at her. "What's your name?"

"Gwen."

"Well Gwen, it's very nice to meet you. Is your mummy or daddy around?" The little girl turned and pointed. "Why don't you bring them over?"

"Two minutes," Mr Stark said. Peter got back to his feet so he could greet the parents –

The world swam. He swayed, then his legs gave way and his body crumpled to the ground. Pain exploded all over from the impact and he blinked once, twice, unable to comprehend what had happened, and then his vision went completely dark.

He lost consciousness a few seconds later.

Chapter Text

IRON-DAD IS I-AM-MAD!
In shocking footage, the relationship between Spider-Man and Iron-Man is pulled into question again. Although both have previously denied blood relations, the latest video contradicts that. Iron-Man outright declares Spider-Man ‘his kid’ as he threatens the general public. Is this the answer we’ve all been seeking? Watch the video below and see for yourself.


It had been years since Tony had gone through so many strong emotions within a ten-minute time span.

At first he felt relieved. Not at what happened, but at the fact it wasn't his company being screwed over. It had led to a debate between Pepper and himself about what could be in the truck - for fun, more than anything else. Then a red and blue bug had swung onto the news and anger had swept through him. A hijacked truck was a significant step up from muggings and helping old ladies. Didn't Peter realise how dangerous it was? How unprepared he was? Tony and Pepper hadn't even needed to speak after that. He'd engaged his suit and headed to New York while she'd phoned the kid.

He watched the live feed on the way, listened to her conversation and ignored his pounding heart - it was almost as loud as the wind around him. The tightness in his chest became too much when the kid went inside the cabin and he had to switch to auto-pilot. The cameras hadn't been able to capture what went on inside, but not even a minute later that didn't matter.

The next emotion had been fear.

Tony stopped breathing when Peter went flying through the windshield. He didn't care about the police cars crashing into each other because Peter was still fucking rolling on the ground. The kid skidded almost ten metres ahead from the momentum before he stopped and went as limp as a ragdoll.

He also didn't get up.

Pepper's frantic calls echoed in his ears, giving voice to what he wasn't brave enough to say aloud - then the kid twitched and Tony gasped, big and deep gulps that left him dizzy, while Pepper cut the terror out her tone. When he could speak without his voice wavering, he snapped, "I'm gonna kill him. Call Karen, F.R.I.D.A.Y. Don't give him a choice." The kid appeared on his screen, eyes squinted and a bruise on the side of his head, and Tony had to hold back the first and second thing he wanted to say. Then, finally, he said, "I thought we promised no more heart attacks Pete," and prayed the kid couldn't hear how wrecked he was.

"I'm fine Mr Sta -"

He refused to listen - Peter would say he was fine even if someone had impaled him through the stomach.

"Yeah, no, Spiderlings don't get a say right now. Karen, run a diagnostic."

Severe and minor bruising, external only. The kid had gotten lucky.

Peter's swift dismissal stunned him, though in retrospect it shouldn't have because Steve had been the same. Their enhanced healing ruined their perspective (he wondered what they would think if he told them Pepper still ached from her 'severe bruising' in the bombings almost two months ago). When the police distracted the kid, it gave him a chance to regain his composure and relax. The crisis was over; he was only flying in to help with the clean-up and answer any awkward questions.

Then the kid fucking fainted.

“Jesus," he muttered and repeated Karen's diagnostic in his head to reassure himself it couldn't be that serious.

"Oh my god he's worse than you," Pepper said in disbelief. "How did I end up with two of them?" 

The crowd of people around Peter had increased a lot by the time he arrived. Tony dodged around helicopters, ignored the cameras now tracking him and searched for the best place to land. He couldn't dive straight to the kid’s side like he wanted because it would put others at risk. The police were doing their best to keep the public away but there were too many people. He wasn't surprised when the line broke and people surrounded his kid.

He saw red when some asshole reached out to pull off Peter's mask.

“Get your hands off my kid!”

A split second later he was next to Peter and pointing his blaster at the asshole. 

“Woah man -” the man backed up immediately, eyes wide and hands up in surrender.

“All of you back the hell up!” he roared, twisting so he was now aiming at the whole group, and took immense satisfaction in the way they fell over themselves and dropped their phones to do as he asked. He hoped a few of them had shattered their screens.

“Mr Stark, please stand down,” one brave police officer asked, her voice trembling. Tony spun around and disengaged the helmet, so he could give her his best glare. She blanched.

“Don’t you dare tell me what to do when you can’t even do your job,” he snapped.

“Tony…” Pepper warned. He was about to launch into a tirade when there was movement out the corner of his eye. He spun back around, pointed his blaster at the idiot who’d dared to try when his back was turned and then did a double-take. A woman had thrown herself over Peter’s torso and was scowling up at him.

“I’m sorry, do you not see the imminent danger you’re in?” he took one step forward and put the blaster flat against her forehead.

“You won’t hurt me."

“You’ll find there’s very little I wouldn’t do for that kid,” he powered up. He intended to intimidate, there was no chance he would shoot her, but although she paled, she didn’t back away.

“I’m not leaving,” her voice trembled even as she shouted, “He’s my boyfriend and I love him!” and a hushed silence descended on the crowd.

...

Tony stared.

He kept staring.

"I'm done. So done. You hear me kid?" he glanced down at the unconscious teenager. "The situations you put me in, Jesus fucking Christ. My heart can't cope." He powered down the blaster, grabbed the back of the girl's shirt and hauled her off his kid. "You," he snapped his fingers at the nearest police officer. "This woman is crazy and needs to be kept far, far away from Spider-Man. Think of it as your chance to redeem yourself for your first screw up."

"You can't do this!" the woman shrieked in his grip and tried to escape but, of course, couldn't. "You can't keep us apart forever!"

"I can and will do exactly that, thanks," he shoved her into the police officer's arms. "Let her go and you're answering to me," he threatened and the officer gulped. As his partner helped restrain the struggling girl, Tony turned his back on them and returned to Peter. The crowd had learnt their lesson and stayed a respectable distance away. "Spidey?" He shook Peter's shoulder.

To his relief, the kid stirred and then slurred, "Mr Stark...? What...?" The eyes on the spider-suit blinked, Karen's representation of what happened behind, and Tony had never been gladder to have installed that feature.

"You fainted," he explained as he pushed the kid into a sitting position. "Quite dramatically, in fact. A proper swoon, worthy of Aunt Pittypat. Of course, most people wouldn't have got up the first time after being thrown through a windshield, so you have that going for you." Peter leant into Tony's chest and Tony deactivated his suit so only his right arm remained armoured. He wrapped his left around the kid's shoulders and held him close. The lack of response was worrying.

"Pepper?" he asked.

"Happy's nearly there," she answered.

"Did you call -" he didn't dare say May's name, not when the cameras were rolling, but Pepper understood anyway.

"Another car's bringing her to the compound."

God he loved that woman.

"F.R.I.D.A.Y, gimme his vitals," he ordered and on the screen a more detailed summary of Peter appeared. His AI confirmed the only injuries were bruising and the head hadn't taken any damage, which made the kid's lethargy even more worrying. He needed to get them to the compound. "Spidey? You up for moving?"

"... Yeah," Peter said, sounding exhausted, and Tony felt the kid tensing underneath in preparation.

"Alright bud," he said and shifted so his arm was now wrapped around the kid's chest. He pulled them both up, Peter making a token effort but managing to stay upright once they were on their feet. He swayed and Tony pulled him close again, letting the kid rest against him while scanning the crowd. He finally spotted Happy storming down the street looking very unhappy and said, "Cavalry's here, Spidey. Let's head to the car and -"

"No! Spider-Man, help me!"

Tony's head snapped up. The crazy woman from earlier was fighting hard against being put in the car and the two officers restraining her were having so much trouble two other officers ran forward to help.

"Yeah we've definitely overstayed our welcome," he muttered and pushed Peter towards Happy as the other man approached. Happy didn't say a word, immediately pulling Peter's arm over his shoulder, and Tony kept a hand to Peter's back while keeping an eye on the crazy lady.

"Spider-Man! Spider-Man!"

Peter lifted his head and started to turn towards her. Tony snapped, "Eyes front and centre kid. We don't engage with crazy."

"Car's round the corner," Happy muttered and shot a dark glare at the people who had started following them down the street. The kid stumbled, would have face-planted if Happy weren't holding him, and Tony tried to pretend his heart wasn't threatening to jump out his chest. Everything would be okay when they got to the compound.


When he woke up, a lot of what happened felt like a dream.

The memory of following Mr Stark and Happy down the street was hazy and he didn't remember the car ride back at all, but he did remember stumbling through the compound and crashing out on an infirmary bed. He felt a hand running through his hair and asked, "May?" before he'd even opened his eyes.

"Sorry to disappoint kid."

The hand retreated and he whined before he could really think about it. The other person huffed, either in amusement or disbelief, then their hand returned and Peter leant into it. His aunt and uncle had always comforted him by running a hand through his hair and with his body throbbing almost everywhere, he could really do with some of that comfort now. It was a pleasant distraction from the ache and he cracked open his eyes, recognising who it was even through the blurriness.

"Hey Mr Stark," he whispered.

"Hey Pete," his mentor whispered back, his hand stilling. "Your aunt's sleeping, but I can go wake her if you want?"

"S'okay," Peter blinked to try and improve his focus. "She should rest. Tired."

Mr Stark chuckled. "So are you, bud. Go back to sleep, your body needs to heal."

"Mmkay..." he could feel sleep calling to him again, but there was something he had to say first. "You're never a disappointment Mr Stark."

"You just haven't been around long enough. It'll happen eventually." The expression on his mentor's face told Peter he wouldn't be winning this fight in a hurry and he decided to let it go for now. He'd tuck it with Mr Stark being a hero and hope someday he could convince his mentor of both those ideas.

"We'll have to agree to disagree, sir," he yawned.

"Look kid, I allowed you to keep calling me Mr Stark. Sir is pushing it."

"Sorry... sir."

The last thing he saw was his mentor pretending to be offended.


There was still a hand in his hair when he woke and he murmured, "Mr Stark?" The answering silence told him no, it wasn't his mentor, and he opened his eyes to see May leaning over him with a small, sad smile.

"Hi sweetheart," she said and brushed his fringe out his eyes. "How do you feel?"

"Um..." he thought about it. His body still throbbed all over but it was no worse than the vulture incident. "I'm okay. Are you?"

She didn't answer. "Are you going to stay awake long enough for a chat?"

"Yeah, of course," Peter ignored the pain and pushed himself into a sitting position. "What's wrong?"

"Do you know why you fainted?" she reached out and squeezed his hands. He shook his head. "The doctors said it was because you haven't been eating enough. I thought that meant maybe you hadn't been getting enough, that with your metabolism you needed more and you were too hesitant to ask, but that wasn't the case," her grip tightened and she pressed her lips together so hard they turned white.

"May..."

"You were suffering the same amount of malnutrition as someone who is anorexic. It doesn't show on your body like a normal person would, but all the important things inside..." she swallowed. "Peter, why didn't you tell me? Is it because I've been working more? I haven't been around for you to talk to?" He didn't reply. The same amount as an anorexic person? He'd admit he'd been skipping a lot of meals, but he had been eating some, and it was only for the past few weeks - three at most. There was no way he could be the same as an anorexic person!

"That's impossible," he said.

"Don't lie to me Peter, not now -"

"I'm not lying May, I swear!"

She crossed her arms. "There are medical records which say otherwise."

"I don't know why they're saying that but May please, I'm not anorexic. I've been eating! Yeah okay it's been a lot less but I'm not -" his hand gripped the sheet as he pushed forward, trying to make his aunt understand. "You have to believe me."

"No, I don't. How can I?" she blinked back tears. "You lied about Spider-Man until I caught you red-handed. The only reason I found out this time is because you fainted -" she cut herself off and pressed a hand to her mouth, then regained her composure. "Pete, I'm trying so hard but you need to be honest with me."

To his horror, his eyes started to sting.

"May, I swear, it's not what it looks like. I'll talk to the doctor, I'll answer every question, you can even look at Karen's records. But I'm not - I wouldn't do that to you. May, you're all I have," his voice cracked.

"You have Tony and Pepper now. If you're not mentoring with one, you're hanging out with the other and it's -" she was interrupted by the doors opening. Doctor Cho walked in, looked up from her clipboard with a smile that faded when she took in the scene.

"I'll come back," she started to turn.

"No! No, it's fine," May moved from the bed to the nearby chair. "Peter was telling me something very interesting."

Peter wiped at his eyes and straightened. "Y-yeah, Doctor Cho, I don't know what tests you've done but I'm not anorexic. I've been eating."

"You have?" she frowned and pulled out a tablet. "When was the last time you ate?"

"Um..." Peter cast his mind back. "Thai? With May. Yesterday."

"Two days ago," his aunt corrected. "And you ate only half. You said you'd eat the rest after patrol, but..." Shit, she was right. He'd intended to, but when he'd got back he'd been so tired he'd crashed out and wound up skipping breakfast again.

"Then, lunch. At school," he clarified.

"What did you have?"

He frowned and stared at his hands. What did he have? Why couldn't he remember?

"You didn't have lunch," May realised.

"I grabbed a tray!" he defended because he was certain of that. "I planned to eat! I just had some homework I had to get done and lost track of time -"

"That's no excuse!"

"- and you've gotta admit those lunches are disgusting, like I'm probably healthier for not eating them, really, so we should look at it as a good thing -"

"Do you often skip lunch?" Doctor Cho interrupted.

"No," he huffed. "I haven't been skipping at all! I've been really busy and I forget, okay? Ned and MJ have already been on my case about it so it's fine. They won't let me get away with it anymore so it's not even a big deal." He saw the two women exchange a glance and frowned. "I swear it's just because I'm busy."

The doctor hummed. "What about breakfast?"

"He's been more tired recently so I've been letting him sleep in," May frowned at Peter. "I always sent him off with a piece of fruit and a snack, but I also remember telling you to eat a big lunch."

He scratched the back of his head and couldn't meet her eyes. That was definitely true.

"So that's breakfast and lunch skipped, and dinner, when eaten, is smaller than before," Doctor Cho put her hands on her hips. "It's no wonder you collapsed." Put like that it made sense, but...

"It's only been a few weeks! Just until finals are done. Then I'll have more time again and it'll go back to how it was before."

"Perhaps for other people, but with your enhanced metabolism things like this are going to hit you harder," she pointed out. "It may have only been a few weeks but it's been at least double that for your body."

"What?" his eyes widened.

"Well, that's my guess. I'd need to do more tests to give you a more accurate rate, but that's what your current blood work suggests."

He bit his lip. Had he really been screwing himself over that much? He'd been getting more and more tired as the weeks went by, but he'd thought that was due to stress and the increased workload. He glanced to his aunt.

"I didn't know," he whispered as her words echoed in his ears. "I didn't, I swear. I just thought..."

May studied him. He fidgeted, feeling like he was seven years old and had broken the vase all over again, and he was just starting to worry she wouldn't forgive him when she darted forward, wrapped her arms around his shoulders and held his head close to her chest.

"...May?" he croaked.

"I believe you," she said. "You scared me so damn much Peter. With the truck, then the fainting - that call from Pepper was one of the scariest things I've ever had! And then to think that it was self-inflicted…"

His eyes burned again and he buried his face into her sweater so neither of them would see.

"I'm sorry. I'm so, sorry..."


He'd expected the next visitor to be Mr Stark again, so when Miss Potts strode in he almost spat out his glass of water.

"Er - hi Miss Potts!" he banged the glass down on the beside cabinet and did a quick check in the mirror to make sure he was presentable.

"Hi Peter," she smiled as she settled in the chair May had earlier. She cast an eye over his bruises as she asked, "How do you feel?"

"Awesome! So awesome. I mean there's a bit of stiffness but - i-it's fine, Miss Potts, it looks worse than it is, you know? It'll be healed in a few days, so..." he trailed off, finally noticing her clasped hands in her lap and amused smile. He slumped back in the bed and would have crossed his arms if it didn't hurt too much.

"Bruises always look worse while they get better," she replied. "It just means they're coming out rather than swelling up underneath."

"Yeah I know," he sighed. He'd had a lot of bruises so far and suspected many more would come.

"If they're anything like the ones Tony gets then you have my sympathy," she patted his bicep. "I'm glad you're awake. Do you feel up for a chat?"

He snorted. "Miss Potts, you could ask me to go clean up dog litter in Central Park and I'd probably do it." When she raised an eyebrow, he realised how that had come across. "I-I just mean I'm really bored right now, not that I would do anything you ask, 'cause May ordered me to stay in bed and I really don't want to piss her off... again." He thought over what he'd just said again. "Not that I wouldn't not do anything you ask 'cause you're, you know, CEO and all around badass and I'm going to shut up now," he hung his head and felt his cheeks burn.

"Well, you haven't babbled like that around me for a while now, I thought I was losing my touch," she teased. He looked at her through his fringe, expecting to see mockery, but instead he saw tiredness and worry lines. He realised her hair was a little out of place too. He lifted his head again, about to ask if everything was ok, when she continued. "There's a few things I want to talk to you about, but first I wanted to apologise."

Peter gaped. "A-apologise?"

"I'm partially responsible for adding to your workload, which to my understanding has kept you so busy these past few weeks you haven't found time to eat," she leant forward. "In hindsight, both Tony and I are terrible role models for you."

"No no no no," Peter flapped his arms at her. "I liked it! Really! I'm totally happy to help you with anything Miss Potts, I swear. And I was doing totally awesome as well, managing my time just like you told me but then finals..." he trailed off with a sigh.

She nodded. "That brings me to the next thing. It's time for your next lesson."

"What's that?"

"How to prioritise," she said. "No matter how well you manage your time, there will always be more things to do than time to do them. You need to learn which ones you can afford to put down for a moment and which you can't."

He pulled a face. "I did think about that actually, but..."

"But?"

"They're all too important. I can't drop any of them."

"I can guarantee that's not the case, but welcome to the first stage - how to be brutal," she pulled out a tablet and stylus and then looked at him. "Let's make a list of everything you have to do."

He shifted position on the bed to get more comfortable even as he asked, "Uh... don't you have other important things to do?"

"I'm prioritising," she smiled. "Teaching you this now is an investment in the future and, I trust, will prevent things like this from repeating. Agreed?"

Peter grinned. "Agreed."


ned (16:52): dude your dads gone viral

peter (16:55): wat?

ned (16:56): it’s #1 trending on YT

ned (16:56): comments are crazy omg

ned (16:57): youre gonna have soooo many new fans after this

mj (17:00): and weird chicks

ned (17:01): yeah that was freaky

ned (17:01): you don’t have another secret life right dude?

peter (17:13): just showed miss p

peter (17:13): guys im freaking

peter (17:13): guys

peter (17:14): help

mj (17:17): you shouldn’t have fainted then lol

ned (17:18): that’s a good point

ned (17:18): btw you ok? looked bad

peter (17:32): no

peter (17:33): miss p says they gotta call a press conference

ned (17:35): why?

mj (17:36): he did threaten people

mj (17:36): and basically confess to having a kid

ned (17:37): to protect peter

mj (17:38): yeah but this is Iron-Man, one wrong move and everyone leaps on

mj (17:38): comments seem split 50/50

peter (17:45): how can I fix it?

ned (17:47): not sure you can dude

mj (17:50): I have an idea

peter (17:51): wat?

ned (17:51): ooo

peter (18:00): what idea?

peter (18:05): MJ?

peter (18:20): Michelle???????????????

ned (18:21): uh oh

Chapter Text

“If Mr Stark or Miss Potts ask, I protested vehemently,” Peter squinted at the computer screen over Ned’s shoulder, then added, “Maybe move the white squiggles a little higher.” Ned did so and then they played the video in silence, trying to work out if anything else should be added.

“Noted,” MJ said as she adjusted the audio settings on the recording. She was trying to reduce the echo.

After a few more minutes, Ned glanced up at Peter. “I think we’ve done the best we can dude.”

“You ready?” Peter looked at MJ as he sat back on the hospital bed with a wince.

“Sending it now,” she tapped her screen and their phones buzzed in confirmation. “Lucky I already had this video, huh Parker?”

“I wouldn’t call it luck,” he muttered as Ned started syncing up the video to the audio. “Do you really think people are going to like this?” he looked back at the screen and cringed when he saw some of the moves.

“What’s not to like?” she shrugged. “And we needed something fast, there weren’t a lot of options. Unless you’d rather we use a compilation of all your fails -”

“No! No, no, that’s okay…”

Ned snickered. “Yeah, people have already done that anyway.”

“Come on man!” Peter glared at his friend. Ned shrugged, completely unapologetic, so Peter pointed two fingers at his own eyes, then at Ned’s. The other boy paled and devoted all his attention to the laptop.

When he felt a finger poke his side, he flinched and then glared at MJ, who had resettled into the uncomfortable chair next to the bed.

“You’re still injured,” she stated with a tiny frown.

“Aren’t you meant to ask that?” he demanded. “And I’m not inj - ow!” she’d tried to poke him again and, in dodging her fingers, he’d aggravated some of his aches.

“Why haven’t you healed yet?”

He crossed his arms. “Why do you care?” She didn’t reply, just gave him a look which told him how stupid that question was, and he relented. He didn’t want to admit to the true reason, but… “A car accident takes longer to heal from, I guess.”

“It’s ‘cause he didn’t eat enough,” Ned said. “No nutrients or something.”

“Ned!” Peter’s mouth dropped. How did he even -? “You hacked into the files!”

“... Okay maybe I did but Peter -” the other boy looked guilty.

“No! You can’t just do that!”

“Would you have told us if he didn’t?” MJ raised her eyebrows.

“I -” he broke off. “I didn’t want you two to know! It’s private!”

“But now we can help!” Ned put the laptop to the side, got up from the bed he’d been using and then resettled at the end of Peter’s. “If your healing’s dependent on you eating we can make sure you do that!”

“No more skipping meals,” MJ nodded.

“But - you can’t just -” he looked between them, anger at the invasion of privacy fighting with the warmth of seeing how much they cared. “Promise me you won’t do it again.”

They glanced at each other, seemingly having a conversation without words, and Peter wondered when they’d got close enough to do so.

“Only if you promise to tell us what’s wrong,” Ned said. “We can’t help if we don’t know.”

Peter hesitated, then admitted, “I don’t want you to worry…”

“We worry more when we don’t know,” MJ’s cheeks went a little red but she didn’t look away.

“I…” The computer beeped, letting them know the video had finished rendering, and Peter said, “Later?” They didn’t look happy but agreed, so they all turned their attention back to the laptop. Ned brought it over to Peter’s bed and put it at the end, so he could rest without having to twist into an awkward position.

They played the video. It wasn’t great - the video had been shot weeks ago, in MJ’s bedroom, just for fun. Ned moved too much to hold the phone steady and the combination of all three of them singing that stupid song while Peter (dressed as Spider-Man) danced made him want to hide under the duvet.

“My reputation’s never gonna be the same,” he groaned.

“What reputation?” MJ snorted.

“I have a fierce, bad-ass reputation!”

“So you say.”

Peter turned to Ned, who always had his back when he needed it most. “My reputation is awesome, isn’t it?”

“Dude, don’t make me lie to you,” Ned looked pained.

Peter slumped his shoulders and muttered, “Let’s just finish this already.”

“Don’t sulk, you can create the Reddit account and post -” MJ broke off when the infirmary doors opened, while Ned scrambled to shut the laptop before whoever it was could see.

May paused a few steps into the room and eyed them. “Do I want to know?”

“Probably not,” Ned admitted.

“Right. Well, I hope you two don’t mind, but I’d like to speak to Peter alone for a few minutes,” she said.

His friends scrambled to get out the way and, when they were behind her back and she couldn’t see, they gestured to the computer and made an ‘OK’ hand sign. Peter assumed that meant they were going to continue while he was talking to his aunt, but it could also have been a reassurance for the conversation.

“We’ll go get some snacks,” MJ said when May glanced around, curious about the faces they’d been making to each other. Peter and May watched them walk out, then come back a few seconds later.

MJ’s arms were crossed, her cheeks a little pink, but Ned was the one to ask, “Where do we go?”

“F.R.I.D.A.Y?” Peter asked because he didn’t have a clue.

“I will guide you,” the AI said. “Go out into the corridor and turn left.”

“So cool…” Ned whispered as they followed the instructions.

When they had gone, May turned to Peter with a soft smile. “They’re good friends.”

“Yeah,” Peter agreed.

“F.R.I.D.A.Y, can you switch on the news?”

“Of course Mrs Parker,” the AI said as the TV turned on.

“Why do you want the news?” Peter frowned.

“It’s been playing all day,” his aunt said.

“What has?”

She didn’t reply, just pointed, and with a huff Peter turned to watch the TV. He winced when he realised she meant his fight and the subsequent events that had blown up.

Get away from my kid!

He shut his eyes when Mr Stark’s furious shout rang out. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard it, but it still made his chest grow warm.

“He sounds so angry,” his aunt said.

“He’s just scared, I think,” Peter replied. When May raised an eyebrow at him, he added, “Miss Potts says he hides his fear either by anger or snarky comments.”

“She would know…” May mused and continued to watch the footage. It wasn’t long before -

There isn’t much I wouldn’t do for that kid.

This was the part most controversial, that Miss Potts and Mr Stark were currently trying to play down. For all that it had been in defence of himself, even Peter knew why it was a problem.

Heroes like Iron-Man shouldn’t threaten to shoot a woman in the head (and especially not on live TV).

“Peter…”

He looked back at his aunt. “Yeah?”

“Are you really okay with this?”

“… Should I not be?” he rubbed the back of his neck.

“No, no, if you’re happy, then…” she trailed off and glanced to the side with a sad smile. He’d been seeing that a lot since he’d woken up.

“You’re not,” he realised.

“I’m worried,” she looked back at him. “You know I’ve never been a fan of Tony.”

“I thought you’d got over that,” Peter frowned.  

“How could I when the reasons never changed? I’ve put up with him because he’s important to you, but…” she shook her head. “It’s just been one thing after another with him, and now this…” she gestured to the TV. “Have you thought about what he said? Really thought about it? Because I have and Peter, baby, I’m terrified,” she reached out, took his hand and squeezed.

Peter’s heart sank. “May, I-I don’t – I don’t get it, what…”

“How many times has Pepper been in danger over the years? Or Happy? Even Colonel Rhodes, who’s now paralysed – they’ve all been in danger because of him,” she took a deep breath. “And now Spider-Man’s on the same list.”

“I – no, that’s – I’m not that important to him,” he looked down at his lap.

“Oh sweetie, you’ve no idea,” May huffed a small laugh. “It doesn’t matter whether you are or not now, though, because people are going to watch that and think, ‘if I go after Spider-Man, I can get to Tony Stark’.”

“But no one knows who I am,” he argued.

“Zeke found out,” she pointed out. He swallowed, suddenly unable to meet her eyes, and felt her hand on his chin bringing his gaze back to her. “I’m just saying it happened before and could happen again.”

“Mr Stark’s put in extra defences since -”

“There’s never going to be a guarantee though. It was hard enough when you were out there fighting people in alleyways, but if things like car chases become your norm…” she slumped her shoulders. He studied the small creases on her forehead, the dark circles under her eyes, and listened to her too-fast heartbeat.

Her worry for him was making her sick.

“I handled it,” he tried to reassure her. “No one was hurt, the stuff was saved and the guys were arrested -”

“Were they?” she interrupted. Peter blinked. “What happened to the driver?”

“Uh…”

“While you were recovering, he got away,” she narrowed her eyes. “You didn’t notice?” His cheeks warmed. She was right – he’d completely forgotten about the driver in favour of the gunmen. “Look, honey, that wasn’t my point. I just wish…” she trailed off and sighed.

He licked dry lips. “What?”

“Well it’s… I wish you would cool off for awhile,” she said, a little fast like if she didn’t, she wouldn’t get it out. “You know, keep the attention off yourself, just until this has blown over.”

“Cool off… you mean being Spider-Man?”

“Not forever,” she repeated. “Just – you have finals, and this work with Miss Potts, and it’s not like you don’t have other things to do. Maybe spend some time with Ned – I don’t think I can remember the last time he came over and you guys played with Lego…”

Peter swallowed. “You know I can’t, May.”

“No, I don’t!” she snapped, then took a loud breath in and out. “We’ve done this argument to death, I don’t want to repeat it. But you’re sitting in the infirmary because you worked yourself to the bone, and I don’t…” her voice trembled. “What if next time, you make a mistake that doesn’t end so well? What if, with all these new people after you because of Tony…?”

He wanted to deny it, but couldn’t, not when she looked so distressed. He remembered how hesitant she’d been in asking him to spend time with her, how she hadn’t expected him to do anything with her, or for her –

Well, it was only a few weeks.

“Okay,” he said.

“… Okay?” she sounded like she couldn’t believe it.

“Just for a little bit,” he added on. “Until after finals.”

Wide-eyed, she nodded. “Yes that’s – fine, it’s good. Thank you, I -” The fact she was so thrown only confirmed this was something he should do. “Thank you,” she repeated, more hushed. She leant across and hugged him.

“It’s just you and me,” he said into her ear, meaning so much more than just those words and she tightened her grip.

“Yeah,” her voice was choked. “Just you and me.”

That was when his phone beeped. He pulled back and opened his messages.

ACADORKS
ned (10:23): DUDES
ned (10:23): ‘Amazing and Spectacular’ Spider-Man shows off his moves
ned (10:24): and dudettes

“Oh no…” he breathed, remembering what they’d been doing before his aunt came.

“What?” May tried to see and Peter switched it off.

“Nothing!”

His phone beeped again and they both looked at it, but Peter didn’t move. There was another beep, and another, and May shook her head and sighed.

“Just answer it.”

Peter held his phone so she couldn’t see and read the new messages.

flash (10:26): tf is this
flash (10:27): no way it's legit
ned (10:27): its totally him
abe (10:28): nah i dont think so
flash (10:28): gotta be a copycat

Then he got a separate message, in the group chat with MJ and Ned.

ned (10:29): safe to come back?

He swallowed, glanced at May and knew there wouldn’t be any hiding this. He pressed the link and went to Reddit.

r/Spiderman | Posted by u/spidermanofficial | 10 minutes ago
‘Amazing and Spectacular’ Spider-Man shows off his moves
4 comments   Share     Save

It was a Youtube video.

“What’s this?” his aunt pressed against his side to see better.

“Uh…” he couldn’t answer her and let the video speak for itself.

Webslingin’ all around Manhattan - Tony Stark what’s happening? -  Gotta new suit it’s stylin’ - So gon’ and get to snappin’ -

“Peter…” May said with a note of warning in her voice.

“It was before you came!” he said. “They didn’t - you just said to stay low, okay, and there wasn’t any time to tell them and -” he swallowed and fell silent at how pissed off she looked, but chose the wrong time because the lyrics - you got me if you want me Tony, got me if you want me - echoed around them.

He was cursed. That was the only explanation. His phone buzzed and, at the top of the screen, the message could be read.

flash (10:34): I put it on twitter
flash (10:34): anything SM goes viral atm

“Viral?” May snapped, able to read as well. Peter refreshed the Reddit thread.

r/Spiderman | Posted by u/spidermanofficial | 14 minutes ago
‘Amazing and Spectacular’ Spider-Man shows off his moves
12 comments   Share     Save

He had to bite down on his tongue to keep the swear inside as he scrolled down through the comments.

FoilauTub | Falcon | 19 points | 10 minutes ago
I dunno the original song but this video is still amazing

--> Westeworldmeow | Bruce Banner | 6 points | 3 minutes ago      
     this is way better than the original

Amestyiestokdon | Widow  | 7 points | 8 minutes ago
This is awesome!

Trekkiefan42 | 4 points | 8 minutes ago
That suit looks authentic is this the real spider-man?

--> Noodles&bubbles | Spider-Man | 4 minutes ago
     Idk and idc its glorious

avengeusall | Captain America (Ultron) | 3 points | 7 minutes ago
This is surprisingly really REALLY well done considering it’s done on a phone in a room LOL

-Fortneyet- | 3 points | 5 minutes ago
WOW! More people need to see this, this is amazing

McShep | 6 points | 5 minutes ago
Is that the real spiderman?

Theoldestquestionwho | 1 point | 4 minutes ago
Ahhhhh my inner nerd is crying out in glory

Sasusakunaru | 3 points | 2 minutes ago
I mean

If I’m being honest, I’m pretty into this

--> IAmTheZeke | Superior Spider-Man | 1 point | 1 minute ago
   
    Im gonna listen to this all day I love it

luckyflakes | 2 points | 1 minute ago
I hate spiders but this one is cute

He had to stop there as his stomach was twisting into knots. There was no way to talk to MJ or Ned properly with his aunt there, so they watched in silence as the minutes passed and the numbers on the Reddit thread (and subsequently the viewings on the Youtube video) rose, with each refresh going from ten new views, to fifty, to a hundred plus.

When Reddit and Youtube got too much, he switched to Twitter, only to see:

Flash Thompson
@Flashattack
I lie for a living.....
Manhattan
Joined August 2015

Tweets: 147 | Following: 443 | Followers: 1,098 | Likes: 345

Flash Thompson @Flashattack 20m
Spider-Man is so fucking awesome: ‘Amazing and Spectacular’ Spider-Man shows off his moves

Liz Allan retweeted
Flash Thompson @Flashattack 18m
Spider-Man is so fucking awesome: ‘Amazing and Spectacular’ Spider-Man shows off his moves

Randy Robertson retweeted
Flash Thompson @Flashattack 15m
Spider-Man is so fucking awesome: ‘Amazing and Spectacular’ Spider-Man shows off his moves

Felicia Hardy retweeted
Flash Thompson @Flashattack 14m
Spider-Man is so fucking awesome: ‘Amazing and Spectacular’ Spider-Man shows off his moves

Debra Whitman retweeted
Flash Thompson @Flashattack 13m
Spider-Man is so fucking awesome: ‘Amazing and Spectacular’ Spider-Man shows off his moves

Spider Watch @SpiderWatch 10m
We thought we couldn't love Spider-Man more. We were wrong! ‘Amazing and Spectacular’ Spider-Man shows off his moves

Super Sightings New York retweeted
Spider Watch @SpiderWatch 8m
We thought we couldn't love Spider-Man more. We were wrong! ‘Amazing and Spectacular’ Spider-Man shows off his moves

Vigilante Watch retweeted
Spider Watch @SpiderWatch 5m
We thought we couldn't love Spider-Man more. We were wrong! ‘Amazing and Spectacular’ Spider-Man shows off his moves

Ellen Degeneres @FTheEllenShow 5m
RT @spidermanofficial Why don't you show off in person? ‘Amazing and Spectacular’ Spider-Man shows off his moves #openinvite

There was no doubt now he was going viral.

“So much for staying low, huh?” he glanced at his aunt.

“I guess so.”

In the group chat, Ned messaged again about coming back. May nodded and Peter passed it on, wishing he could warn them what they were walking into.

“I come bearing gifts!” Ned shouted as he came in, arms full of snacks while bags hung off his wrists, and MJ stuck her foot out. Ned stumbled but managed to recover, then said, "Stop! You almost made me drop my croissant!"

Despite the situation, Peter couldn’t help peering at the items. “Do you actually -?"

"Somewhere," Ned shrugged. "Mr Stark had a lot of snacks..."

May cleared her throat. “Why don’t you tell me about this video, Ned? MJ?” Peter mouthed ‘run’ to his friends but they were already frozen by her glare. “Well?”

“Uh…”


“Jesus Tony, when was the last time you slept?”

“Does it matter?” Tony clicked his fingers several times. “Pass me that spanner.”

“Of course it matters! You’re not twenty anymore!” Rhodey scowled, handing him the spanner.

“Rude,” he muttered as he finished tightening the screw and stood up. The other man gave him an ‘I told you so’ look when his back cracked several times. “Yeah yeah, I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” he rolled his eyes.

“You will be if you keep this up.”

“Hey, here’s a question. Why are you even here? Asshats in DC pissing you off?”

Rhodey sighed and leant against a nearby table. “I wanted to make sure you and Peter were okay.”

“Well, as you’ve seen, we’re just peachy,” he banged the spanner down on his lab station and yanked open the car door. “Kid collapsed and isn’t healing because he starved himself for weeks and I didn’t even notice. Why wouldn’t we be okay?” He revved the engine.

“Tony…”

“Boss, you should see this.”

Tony felt the blood drain out of his face. Shit, what was it this time? Could there have been another attack? He exchanged a panicked look with Rhodey before turning to the nearest screen, where F.R.I.D.A.Y had projected a… Youtube video?

“Is that Peter?” His friend asked.

It was indeed Peter, dressed as Spider-Man. Tony didn’t recognise where they were, but he could tell it had been filmed on a phone. The kid was bobbing to a beat, then the singing started and he saw what was possibly the strangest thing he’d seen from the kid yet.

You got me if you want me, Tony, got me if you want me

"Christ," he muttered and pressed a hand to his forehead as the words repeated. If he shut his eyes, could he pretend this whole thing didn't exist?

Call me so amazing so spectacular! Do all that a spider can do!

"He's a damn fine dancer," Rhodey praised.

"No," Tony snapped without looking up. "No no, no. No. Do not say a word."

That's how I live that Spidey life, that Spidey life

"But look! I couldn't do those moves even when I could use my legs," his friend ignored him. He sounded impressed.

"What even is this?" Tony lamented. "Why does this exist?"

The video finished, leaving a stunned silence behind, and then -

"Play it again Fri," Rhodey said.

She obliged and this time, Tony managed to make it the whole way through without looking away. It was just over a minute long. Rhodey was right - it actually wasn't bad. His friends were decent singers, Peter could dance like a pro and the animations could, by some people, be considered 'cute'. It was just so far away from anything the kid had done before that it had thrown him.

The person in the video wasn’t Peter Parker - it was Spider-Man.

“Where is he now, Fri?” Tony sighed, running a hand through his hair.

“Still in the infirmary boss.”

“Tell him to park his ass there ‘till I arrive.”

“Yes, boss.”

“I’m not missing this,” Rhodey said, falling into step beside him as they made their way to the compound’s infirmary.

To his surprise, when he turned down the corridor leading to the infirmary, there were two teenagers standing outside. They had their heads pressed to the door and didn’t notice his approach, so he cleared his throat and got a little amusement out of the way they jumped, spun around and paled.

“M-Mr Stark, sir! Colonel Rhodes!” Ned looked like he was going to be sick while Mary-Jane crossed her arms, shock changing to disinterest so swiftly it was obviously fake.

Putting aside the when and how they’d got here, he asked, “How’s the sleepover going?”

They glanced at each other, then back at the closed infirmary doors. Tony waited and, after a moment, realised he could hear muffled shouting. He’d been on the end of it enough to recognise –

“What pissed May off this time?” Now the teens looked guilty as hell. Tony looked over his shoulder at Rhodey, who raised his eyebrows and nodded to the phone in Tony’s hands. Ah, yes, that might do it. “Wouldn’t have anything to do with this amazing and spectacular video F.R.I.D.A.Y just showed me, would it?”

“Peter didn’t want to do it!” Ned squeaked before Mary-Jane elbowed him.

“Tony, why don’t I show them to some spare rooms while you check on May and Peter?”

Although Rhodey phrased it as a question, the way he was urging the teenagers down the hall without waiting for a reply told Tony it was an order. Still, in revenge, he shouted, “I’ll get right on it honey-bear!” and blew a kiss to the man’s back, then turned back to the infirmary door and squared his shoulders.

The shouting had stopped, but that probably wasn’t a good thing.

He strode into the room. Peter turned to him with panicked eyes, while May just took in the sight of him. He heard her take a deep breath in through her nose before she stormed up to him.

“Peter Parker is taking a leave of absence from your internship,” she told him through gritted teeth.

“No arguments here,” he held up his hands in surrender, then waggled the hand which held his phone. “Though I did wanna ask about this video…”

Her nostrils flared but she stepped back, allowing Tony to move forward and stand in front of Peter’s hospital bed. The kid looked like he’d already taken a beating and that, more than anything, doused the remaining irritation from the video. He was left just feeling exhausted, so he settled on the side of the bed instead.

“Why’d you do this?” he asked. “I gotta know. What was your thinking?”

Peter, proving he hadn’t changed in three years, glanced down at his hands and started, “Because…” he paused, sighed and then met Tony’s eyes again. “Because it was my fault, this whole situation. I was so busy that I didn’t eat - then you had to come help me -” he swallowed and looked down again. “I thought I could take some of the attention off you, give you a break.”

“Oh Pete…” Tony shook his head. “You’re meant to stay low to the ground, be a friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. You don’t need this kind of attention.”

“The thing is, Mr Stark… I don’t think I can do that anymore,” Peter crossed his legs on the bed with a small wince. “Whenever I’m out as Spider-Man, people pay attention. Miss Potts thinks it’s only a matter of time before they find out my identity.”

“So, what, you want to take charge, choose what to put out there rather than let them do what they want, right?”

Peter shrugged but didn’t deny it.

“I just… I could help you, so I did,” he eventually admitted. Tony wasn’t sure whether he wanted to hug the kid or strangle him, so it was probably for the best that May interrupted them.

“Are you kidding me?” her voice was low and dangerous.

Then again, maybe not.

“May…” Peter bit his lip.

“No, Peter, this is where you cut the crap,” she made a chopping motion over her neck. “Not five seconds ago you told me it was all your friends, but when he walks in, it’s suddenly to help him?” she ran her hands through her hair and tugged on the strands in frustration.

Tony raised an eyebrow at Peter, giving the kid his best unimpressed look, and Peter crumbled.

“I didn’t lie to you May,” he said. “I did want to do something, but it was MJ who -”

“Peter, it doesn’t matter whose idea it was! What matters is that you’re not telling me the whole truth again!” she sank into a chair and pressed her face into her hands. “Every time I think you’ve changed…”

He knew he shouldn’t get involved, but seeing the glimmer of tears in the kid’s eyes made him twist and say, “Kinda harsh, don’t you think?”

May tensed, then slowly lifted her head to glare at him.

Yeah, he should have kept his mouth shut.

“Don’t you dare tell me how to treat my kid when it’s your fault he’s like this,” she snapped.

“Don’t start that again May…” Peter groaned.

"What the hell does that mean?"

“Are you going to claim it's not?” she put her hands on her hips. “When he was fifteen you took him away and gave him a suit, and ever since then you’ve been encouraging him!”

“Now hold on a -”

“Weekends in the lab, teaching him engineering and computing and robotics, inventing new weapons for him to use, to say nothing of the time he was missing for weeks because you were unconscious!”

Tony didn’t protest to the last one because it was true, because he still had nightmares over it, but the rest –

“Before you blame me, have a look at yourself,” he stood up. “That kid was going out as Spider-Man for six months in his pyjamas before I stepped in – where were you? Why didn’t you question a fourteen-year-old sneaking out every night?” She broke eye contact, glaring at something slightly to his right, and he took a step sideways to force her to meet his again. “At least I gave him the tools to be safer. What did you do?”

“You don’t have the right to question me,” she snapped. “I raised that kid – I know him better than I know myself, but the person he is now? The person you and your fiancé have shaped him into? I don’t recognise him. This person who runs around at her beck and call, always distracted, always lying -”

“Pepper’s got nothing to do with this,” he clenched his fists. “Your problem’s always been with me, let’s not pretend.”

“You’re right, it is,” May said, turning to Peter. “Get your clothes together, we’re leaving.” Peter had gone white and almost looked ill as he glanced between them, before slowly getting out of bed.

“May…” Tony started.

“Not another word. We’re done here. Peter’s coming back to our apartment and he’s not going to have any contact with you. He’s going to go to school, take his finals and be a normal person."

It was the slight tremble in her fingers as she helped Peter get ready that stopped him from snapping back an angry retort - she was barely holding herself together. Instead, he tried to soften his tone. "You know that's never gonna happen."

"I don't see why not."

He shook his head. She was in that state of mind that would disagree with him, no matter what he said, so he looked to Peter. "Pete, tell her how crazy she is."

"She's not crazy!" Everyone jumped. Even Peter looked surprised at how loud he'd spoken, but he held his ground when their eyes met. "She's not crazy," he repeated quieter and then looked at his aunt. "We're gonna go back to the flat, okay? We can get a takeaway and watch a movie." May blinked back tears, reached out and took his hand as she nodded.

Tony narrowed his eyes and looked between them. He was missing something, clearly.

“You realise he turns eighteen soon.”

They all spun in surprise to the door, where Pepper stood. Her posture, her expression - they were all her business persona and she spared no attention to Tony, her eyes focused only on May.

“But he’s not yet,” May recovered quickly and crossed her arms. “Which means it’s still up to me what he does. And we’re going home.”

“I’m not stopping you,” Pepper’s tone was calm, non-confrontational - this was why she was better at managing the company than he was. “I just want to have a word with Peter before you go -” May looked like she was going to argue, but Pepper added, “He’s not going to do more work for me. We already agreed he would take a break for his finals. I just want to check where we are. Do you mind?”

After a long pause, May nodded and said, “Five minutes.”

Pepper nodded back and then beckoned the kid over. Peter didn’t look up at either Tony or May as he followed her out the room.

It was one of the longest, most awkward five minutes of his life.

When Peter returned, he looked… not happier, but more relaxed. He was more deferential to May, submitting to her fussing over his hair and clothes, allowing her to take his bag. Pepper remained by the door, her expression carefully neutral, even when Peter and May left. Tony wanted to say goodbye, wanted to be acknowledged somehow, but the kid didn’t look at him once. It hurt, more than he would have thought, and that hurt was what kept him from saying something right up until they were gone.

Then he turned to his fiance and said, “What the hell -

“It’s going to be okay,” she said, and proceeded to tell him what she’d talked about with his kid.

Chapter Text

Love after love will not feel the same, but that doesn't mean it isn't love.


What is a solution?

He stared at the pink flashcard, his mind drawing a blank. He groaned and face-planted onto his desk, hands gripping the curls in his hair.

“Peter!” May knocked on his bedroom door. “Breakfast is ready!”

“Coming!”

As she headed back to the kitchen, he looked up just enough to see the rest of the flashcards. He couldn’t do this. He was going to fail his finals and get kicked off the team and everyone would be so disappointed and how could he ever look Mr Stark in the face again

“Peter!”

“One sec May!”

The question was mocking him. It was simple as could be, AP Chemistry 101, and yet he couldn’t remember. He straightened and flipped the card over.

A homogeneous mixture made up of two or more substances that do not chemically combine

He pressed his palms to his eyes and wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to cry.

“Peter!” his aunt was back, knocking harder on his door. Frustration made him storm over, yank the door open and snap,

“I said I was coming!”

May looked taken-aback, then annoyed. “Okay, whatever this is?” she gestured at him. “You need to take it down a level. You know the deal.”

“Yeah yeah…” he rolled his eyes and ducked under her arm.

Once in the kitchen, he threw himself in the closest chair and tried not to gag at the full English breakfast on the table. The deal - until Dr Cho declared him ‘out of danger’, attendance at meals was mandatory and everything on his plate had to be eaten. May had interpreted that as 'eat a full English breakfast every single day'.

“Some deal,” he muttered as he stabbed a fork into the sausages. Deal implied there had been a negotiation, a compromise on both sides.

May had been scarce on those recently.

“I’m sorry, the opinion of someone who starved himself doesn’t get a say,” she said as she settled on the seat opposite. “So eat your food and – your fork!” Peter winced when he realised he’d been gripping the fork so hard he’d bent it.

“Sorry,” he said, bending it back in place and a small crease the only sign something had happened. His aunt’s gaze was heavy as he tried to use it gently, but she didn’t say a word and, eventually, he pulled out his phone and started scrolling through Twitter to avoid the awkwardness. His friends had been updating the official Spider-Man account (@NYCWallCrawler was an awesome name) every day with old footage pilfered from the ‘baby monitor’. The craziest part of it all wasn’t the thousands of followers, but that people were actually starting to tweet at him.

He clicked on his tag and read the newest.

@NYCWallCrawler Have I said I would kill for super-powers? Cause I totally would

One of my friends took a selfie with @NYCWallCrawler awhile back! I’m so jealous. I’ll never get to meet him while I’m working early shifts…

Help me Spider-Man I’m hungry! @NYCWallCrawler #SaveMeWithPizza

He grinned at the last one, even though his chest ached. He wanted to be out there helping them, swinging through the streets, free-running across the rooftops and then jumping off, his stomach flip-flopping from the exhilaration –

“Peter?”

“Huh?” he looked at his aunt. Her eyebrows were raised, but she just sighed and nodded at his plate.

“You need to finish.”

“Right…” he had to try very hard not to bend the fork again as he restarted eating and went back to the Twitter feed.

Are we sure that Spider-Man is even a Human and not an alien? @NYCWallCrawler

Whatever little appetite he’d had left fled him.

That would explain why he’s always wearing a mask.

He swallowed and decided to switch to Instagram. His feed – Peter Parker’s – was full of both people from school and people he liked, but it sucked that the top photos were all from Flash.

Flash’s healthy meal… a selfie at the gym… two photos of his pile of books and notes…

Rolling his eyes, he went to the official Spider-Man Instagram and took a few seconds to admire the aesthetic. Ned had taken screenshots from his recorded footage of the city and its skylines and was posting them. They looked gorgeous, more so than he remembered being in person, and he wondered if they were edited.

He clicked on the most recent – looking out towards the bridges and river, around sunset – and read the comments.

Hey Spidey i love u

Love

This is the nicest one yet!

“Peter…”

Peter hit the power button and shoved his phone in his pocket (he knew that tone). “Eating!” he smiled and made a show of putting everything in his mouth. She made a disgusted face, but the corner of her lips curled up a little, so he considered that a success.

When he’d finished, he dumped his plate in the sink and turned back to his aunt. She’d finished long ago and was just drinking a coffee.

“Did you speak to Miss Potts yet?”

She hesitated before replying, “Not yet. There’s still some fuss about those threats, so I’m sure she’s busy with that.”

“I guess…” Peter sighed.

“I’ll ring in a few days, unless… have you heard from them?”

“Nope.”

“Good,” she crossed her arms. “Your finals start tomorrow. You need to be focusing on those.”

“I know.” He thought of the draft text sitting on his phone and tried not to feel too guilty. “I’m gonna go study some more.”

“What time’s Ned coming?”

“Soon.”

“And are you staying or going out?”

“Dunno.”

She studied him for a few seconds, before sighing and looking down at her coffee. “Well, I’ve got a double shift today so I’ll be home late. There’s food in the fridge and money on the counter.”

“Thanks,” he said and started to head to his room. He paused in the doorway, then glanced over his shoulder at her. “They’re working you too hard.” May didn’t reply, but her lips thinned and Peter heard her answer anyway (we need the money).

As soon as he was back in his room and the door was shut, he slumped against it and shut his eyes. He’d barely done anything, but he was so exhausted. He sank to the floor and pulled his knees to his chest, then got out his phone and opened the draft text to Mr Stark.

Can I come over?

His fingers hovered over the send button, but the memory of May’s exhaustion made him sigh and delete the words. He looked at his desk with renewed determination.

If she could work double-shifts for him, he could put up without being Spider-Man for a little bit longer.


“Last one, you ready?”

“Hit me.”

Ned held up his phone so Peter couldn’t see the screen. “A high school football has an average mass of 410 grams. If MJ can throw one -” Peter snorted and covered his mouth, glancing over at the laptop where the girl in question was pulling a face. Ned ignored them both. “If she can throw one with speeds exceeding 60 miles per hour, what’s the total kinetic energy she produced?”

“150,” Peter grinned.

“What’s the equation?” MJ pressed. With a roll of his eyes, Peter scribbled the equation for kinetic energy on a scrap of paper and pressed it to the laptop’s screen. “Dummy, I can’t see that close!”

Ned snatched the paper, looked it over then gave MJ a thumbs up. “What next?” he asked, putting it next to the last flashcard.

“Take a break,” MJ ordered. “You losers have been at it for hours already.”

“But I can still study,” Peter argued.

“You look like a small breeze would knock you down.”

When Peter turned to Ned, hoping for some support, the other teenager just shrugged back. “She’s got a point dude.” Peter should have remembered Ned was a traitorous back-stabbing - “Haven’t you been sleeping?”

“Of course I have,” he crossed his arms and glanced at his shoes.

“I really don’t get how you’ve managed to hide being Spider-Man this long…” MJ shook her head in disbelief. “You can’t lie for shit Parker.”

“Dude, what’re you doing if you’re not sleeping? You’re not going out, right?” Ned looked upset, like the idea that Peter had been going out and not telling him was the worst thing in the world.

“You know I haven’t,” he said. “May said I can’t, so...”

“Yeah but May’s said a lot of things and you’ve always ignored those. Remember when she said we couldn’t eat the ice cream?” They both shuddered at the memories of them taking that as a challenge and, later, two whole tubs being projectile-puked all over the living room.

“This is different,” Peter pointed out. “You didn’t see how pissed she was…”

“But that was ages ago, it’s kind of weird she’s still mad,” Ned said.

“Yeah…”

“Why’s it weird?” They both jumped and looked at the computer screen where MJ was frowning at them. Sometimes it was easy to forget she hadn’t always been there, like Ned.

“‘Cause she’s usually only pissed for a few days,” Ned explained. “She’s always been super chill. It was Ben who -” he broke off, went pale and glanced at Peter.

Peter pretended it didn’t bother him as he took a deep breath and added, “My uncle was always very serious. He had high expectations and specific rules and if I broke them he’d get mad, and May… she’d always encourage me to push the boundaries a little, said it was good for him…” His chest ached, but it was also freeing to finally talk to MJ about Ben. He didn’t think he’d ever done so before. “That’s why they worked really well together,” he glanced down at his lap.

“... So she’s never been pissed this long before?” MJ asked and he shot her a grateful look for not pressing further.

“Yeah.”

“Maybe she just snapped,” she shrugged. “It happens.”

“Not to May,” Ned said.

“Everyone has a breaking point. But that doesn’t mean what she’s doing is right,” MJ’s gaze went from Ned to Peter. “She’s basically forbidding you from being who you are, right?”

Peter frowned. “She’s just scared for me and wants me to be safe.”

“We want that too man, but we wouldn’t ever ask you to stop being Spider-Man,” Ned said. “It’s like asking you to stop having brown hair.”

“That’s not true -”

“It is,” MJ’s tone didn’t allow for any arguments. “Maybe it wasn’t always the case, but you don’t just want to be Spider-Man anymore - you need to be. You’re not sleeping because you want to be out there, right? You’re worrying about all the people you’re not helping, missing the freedom?”

Peter gaped. “How’d you -”

“She knows you dude,” Ned said quietly. “And if you don’t trust her, then trust me. I meant it when I said you being Spider-Man was the coolest thing to ever happen to me, but I also think it’s the best thing that’s happened to you. Yeah it was hard at first - you kept ditching school, forgetting we’d agreed to hang out, and you wouldn’t tell me what was going on…”

“Ned -”

“But now you’re practically an Avenger and dude, you’ve been making a difference. We’re getting all these messages from people you’ve helped on, telling their story or just thanking you -”

“And we’ve watched the footage,” MJ continued. “You love being Spider-Man. You make these dumb whoops every time you jump off a building.”

“So it’s not fair what she’s asking,” Ned finished. “You don’t have to do it.”

Peter clenched his fists. “But I do.”

“You really don’t,” MJ said.

“I do!”

“But aren’t you mad?” Ned asked. “Don’t you wanna get pissed at her for stopping you?”

“Of course I do!” he snapped, glancing between them. “Miss Potts said the same thing but I can’t risk it! You weren’t there when -” he swallowed. He hadn’t told them this before, but… “In the hospital she looked exhausted and I thought it was just stress and we’d be okay at home but when she got mad, I heard…” he pressed his palms to his eyes. “I heard her heart skip, it made this really weird sound - like it was struggling to cope and what if…”

The idea was too painful to say aloud.

“Peter…” Ned and MJ looked horrified.

“If I do what she says, she’ll calm down eventually. She doesn’t stay mad for long,” he repeated, more for himself than for them. “Besides, we have finals right now. I wouldn’t be patrolling anyway, gotta stay on the team right?” he tried to smile at MJ.

Her expression said it failed miserably.

“Can we just… go back to studying?” he hunched his shoulders a little. “Please?”

“... Sure, man.”

“... Okay losers. Who introduced the theory of punctuated equilibrium? Was it a, Haldan and Wright, b, Kirschner and Gerhart…”


Just outside the hall where they were waiting to enter for their first exam, he got a text from Miss Potts.

Remember to breathe. You’re going to be fine.

He stared at it for a full minute, chest warm and unable to keep the smile off his face, and it helped get rid of all but the smallest amount of nerves. If someone as successful as her thought he could do it, how could he not?


At 2am, halfway through the week and so stressed he couldn’t remember what day it was, his phone buzzed again.

Go to bed kiddo was all it said.

Peter didn’t even question how Mr Stark knew, just sighed and obeyed.


“Here.”

Peter couldn’t be bothered to lift his chin off his arms, but he muttered his thanks as his aunt put yet another a full English breakfast in front of him.

“Last day! You ready?” she asked with forced cheer as she sat with her own plate opposite.

“Yeah,” he yawned.

She wrinkled her nose and ordered, “Drink your coffee."

“You’re actually giving me coffee?” he raised his head a little.

“You look like you need it.”

“But…”

“You want me to take it away?”

“No!” he said, grabbing the coffee and holding it close to his chest. “My precious.”

Her lips twitched up into a smile. “Then shut up and drink. And eat.”

They ate in silence for a few minutes.

"Have you and Ned decided what you're doing tonight?" she asked. He shrugged and kept eating. They'd talked about it, but given how he felt right now, it might be better to just sleep off the craziness that had been the past week. "Well, if you guys don't have plans, I thought maybe you and I could have a Star Wars marathon, get some pizza from that place you like - you know, to celebrate finals finishing?"

"Sounds great," he smiled. She smiled back, then they fell into silence again. He picked at his food, feeling nauseous, and eventually his aunt sighed.

“Do you think we could talk later?”

“About what?”

“I know I haven’t exactly been very… fair, these past few weeks,” she said, making his eyes widen. "Well, it’s months now, really… but I think there’s some things I need to tell you, to explain.”

“You don’t have to -”

“I do,” she said. “Please, let me?”

His stomach twisted in knots, but he replied, “Okay, yeah. Let’s talk.”

“Thank you,” she looked relieved.

If only he could feel the same.


Less than an hour after their last exam, Peter, Ned and MJ were huddled around a table in Starbucks, nursing drinks and looking more like victims of a disaster than students who had pushed themselves too much.

“I think I broke my brain,” Ned mumbled.

“I think I broke my hand,” Peter flexed his fingers which still ached from the frantic scribbling.

“I think you two are such dorks,” MJ said. She looked more composed than either of them, but she was also holding her sweeter-than-usual coffee close to her chest and slumping in the chair.

“Aren’t you a dork yet? You’ve hung around us long enough.”

“No label suits me,” she sniffed. Peter and Ned pulled faces at her and she held a straight face only for a few seconds before giggling, which made them all crack up. Maybe they were a little hysterical from sleep-deprivation, but a few minutes later they were all much more relaxed.

“We should celebrate,” Ned said.

Peter immediately held his cup out to the centre of the table. “I may not live to see our glory, but I will gladly join the fight.”

Ned’s eyes lit up and he almost spilt his drink in his haste to hit theirs together. “And when our children tell our story -”

“They’ll tell the story of tonight.”

MJ was unimpressed. “Seriously? You’re doing this?” When they kept their glasses pressed together, waiting for her, she rolled her eyes and pressed her own cup to theirs. “Let’s have another round tonight.”

“Wait wait wait -” Ned fumbled with his phone, then angled it so he could take a photo of all three of them and their pose. Peter threw his arm around MJ to pull her closer for the photo and was momentarily distracted by how sweet her shampoo was, how comforting her warmth was against his side – “Awesome.”

They crowded round and looked at the photo. Some of MJ’s hair was cut off and the lighting highlighted the bags under their eyes and laughing, Peter said, “Thank god you don’t have any plans to be a photographer.”

“I’d like to see you do better,” Ned challenged.

“Alright, you’re on.”

“Can I be excused?” MJ asked.

“No,” Peter and Ned chorused together.

Peter slung his arm around MJ again and this time, she leant into him a little. It was difficult to keep his focus on his phone, but he managed to take a photo of them all a hundred times better than anything Ned had done, mainly because when pressed MJ muttered, “Not bad,” and so he stuck his tongue out at his friend in triumph.

“Forget science - you should be a photographer,” Ned joked.

“Work for the Daily Bugle,” Peter grinned. “Then it’s still for Mr Stark.”

“Oh my god you could sell yourself!”

“Uh…”

“Okay not yourself yourself but – you know – Spider-Man,” his friend lowered his voice.

“You could make a lot of money doing that, actually,” MJ mused.

Peter’s amusement faded at the reminder and he glanced down at his lap. “If May ever lets me again.” He winced when he heard the bitterness in his voice and tried to make his tone lighter as he added, “She wants to talk tonight.”

His friends exchanged a look.

“Just talk?” Ned asked. Peter shrugged.

“Maybe it’s about your eighteenth,” MJ said. “Have you decided whether you’re having a party?”

“Oh definitely, let’s just look at the invite list,” he pulled out his phone and pretended to call out names. “There’s May, and you, and Ned, aaaaand wait, hang on, there seems to be some kind of program called ‘being a nerd’ which is blocking any new additions -”

She rolled her eyes. “What about Mr Bubble Butt?”

“Don’t you dare start that again,” he pointed a finger at her.

“Oh my god you could have a party at the compound!” Ned’s eyes shone. “Imagine being able to say you’d partied with Iron-Man and War Machine! Hey hey do you think the other Avengers will be there?” he gasped. “Do you think they’d let us drink?!”

Peter glanced around and hissed, “Talk a little louder why don’t you?”

“Sorry! Sorry,” Ned clapped his hands over his mouth.

“Since when do you want to drink anyway?”

“I mean, it’s Tony Stark… isn’t that what he does at parties?”

“Even if he did, Miss Potts wouldn’t,” MJ said. “You should ask them if you could though. Even if it’s just us. They won’t say no.”

“Maybe…” Peter scratched the back of his head. “It’d be kinda weird though, wouldn’t it? They’re always so crazy busy and I never really… I mean it’s always been stuff to do with the suit or the wedding or… I couldn’t just ask them for a party, could I? They wouldn’t want a bunch of teenagers just crashing at the compound… and I haven’t even spoken to them since before the fight...”

“You dunno ‘till you try,” Ned said wisely.

Peter scowled at him. “You ask then.”

“I can’t ring Iron-Man! That’s like asking a gazelle to get the attention of a lion!”

“Well I can’t either!”

They both turned to MJ.

“No,” she said without looking up from her phone, then her head snapped up as if something had just occurred to her. “Actually yeah, hand it over.” She held out her hand for his phone.

“… I suddenly don’t trust you,” Peter squinted and moved his phone out of arm's reach.

She shrugged and went back to tapping on her phone. He peered over the table and realised – “Hey, that’s -”

“Your twitter, yeah, I’m just replying to a tweet,” she said. “I’ve been trying to fit it in around exams…”

“Oh yeah!” Ned went on his phone and, a few seconds later, Peter saw the official Spider-Man Facebook page. Ned loaded the messages and started typing, while Peter looked between them, wide-eyed.

“You guys’ve been doing this the whole time?”

“Duh,” MJ said. “You have to be responsive all the time if you want it to keep people interested. Got it memorised? You’ll need that when you’re running Iron-Man’s.”

“But we’ve had finals!”

“It’s like taking a break,” Ned shrugged. “And it’s fun.”

“And it’s the only way we can help you right now,” MJ said, quieter, her eyes glued to her screen even though her face was turning a little red. “Even if you’re not active out there, we can make you look it.”

“May wanted the attention off you, but you going absent would cause more ‘cause everyone would be asking questions,” Ned agreed. “So if we upload stuff and reply, they assume they’ve just missed you or whatever.”

“It’s a little worrying how easily we can convince them though…” she muttered.

Peter stared at them. Why were his eyes stinging? He wasn’t going to –

“Thank you,” he had to clear his throat.

“We’ve got your back man,” Ned bumped their arms together. MJ nodded. “Whatever happens.”

There was no way he deserved them.


They were curled up on the sofa, legs tangled and clutching hot chocolates, while a movie played in the background. It was as if the past few weeks had never happened and, as he watched her stare into her cup and listened to her nervous heartbeat, Peter hoped whatever she had to say would keep it that way permanently.

“This isn’t easy for me,” May said, finally looking at him.

“Yeah,” he said, more in acknowledgement than anything else because he could tell by the way her hands trembled she wasn’t comfortable.

“I don’t really know where to start.”

He waited but she didn’t continue, so he gathered his courage and asked, “Why don’t you like Mr Stark?”

“If only there was a simple answer,” she said.

“You’ve never really liked him,” Peter said. “I remember you didn’t want us to go to the Stark Expo…”

“With good reason as it turned out,” she pointed out and then sighed. “For a long, long time, the only thing I knew of Mr Stark was what the press reported, and I’m sure you remember what that was. Here was a man who had all the money in the world and was wasting it on booze and sex, was making and profiting off weapons which were leaving people dead or crippled or homeless-”

“That’s not -”

“Don’t be blinded by your love for him,” she chastised. He crossed his arms but remained silent, knowing she had a point. “When he became Iron-Man and started trying to do the right thing… it helped, but it didn’t undo what came before. You haven’t really experienced this yet, but it’s very hard to change someone’s first impression of you.”

“I kinda do,” Peter said. “Everyone associates Spider-Man with helping old ladies and saving cats from trees and I do more, you know?”

“… Yes, I do,” she whispered, looking back down at her mug, and Peter wanted to smack himself for reminding her. She rallied herself, though, squaring her shoulders and meeting his eyes. “It also meant being around him was dangerous, even then. No one’s saying it, but we didn’t have aliens attack New York before superheroes became a thing.”

“Uh… that’s ‘cause it’s not their fault?”

“But isn’t it true that more cataclysmic events have been happening ever since they appeared?” her fingers tightened on her cup. “Wasn’t that why the Accords happened?”

“I guess -”

“And although Tony agreed to obey them he couldn’t get the others to so he dragged a fifteen-year-old untrained child to help him out.”

“I mean -”

“A fifteen-year-old who worshipped the ground he walked on and would have tried to go to the moon if asked, so Germany was practically next door.”

“Hey!”

“Tell me that’s not true and I’ll take it back,” she raised her eyebrows at him and he sank back into the cushions, pouting a little. She nodded and took a sip of her drink, reminding Peter his own was getting cold, so he gulped it down. May didn’t look like she was going to continue any time soon, so he decided another prompt was necessary.

“So… it’s just the danger and the history you don’t like?” Her answering silence said no. “What is it then?”

She put her drink on the table, folded her hands in her lap, then took a deep breath in and, on the exhale, said, “I love Ben.”

Peter froze.

“It’s been three years, but I still…” her fingers turned white where they gripped the bottom of her shirt. “The other day at work, someone walked past wearing his aftershave and for a moment I thought – it wasn’t, of course, but my chest was so tight I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t… I had to leave.”

“… Was that the day you got crazy pissed at Mr Stark?”

“Oh…” she looked surprised, then shook her head. “No, it was a few days ago.”

It should have been a relief, but instead a heavy weight settled in his stomach. If it had affected her that badly, shouldn’t he have been able to tell?

Why hadn’t he noticed?

“It’s okay,” she said, reaching out and squeezing his arm. “I didn’t want you to know. It’s… hard, to say, but I think I need you to…” she blinked back tears. “I don’t know how I’ll ever get over him. Some days I wake up still expecting him to be lying next to me drooling over the pillow and…”

He didn’t want to talk about this, didn’t want to hear it; there was a reason they didn’t talk about him, it hurt, but then he remembered how freeing it had been to mention him to MJ.

Maybe May was right - maybe she needed to say it, for herself.

“And then I look at you,” May took another deep breath in and out. “Seeing you, it makes me wonder how you did it.”

“… Did what?”

“Get over losing him,” Her voice was so quiet he suspected he wouldn’t have heard her if he didn’t have super-hearing.

It felt like a sentence, like he'd been damned, but he needed her to know - "I haven't - I haven't got over it," he rasped and cleared his throat. His chest ached, a deep pain different to any bruise, as he wondered, "How can you say that?"

"How can you say you haven't?" she replied. "You've replaced him with Tony."

The blood drained out of his face and he couldn't look at her any longer, so he focused on the wall behind. "That's not true."

"You can be honest sweetheart, I just want to know how, because I can't - I can't do it, I can't replace him and -"

"I haven't replaced him!"

“I see it every time you and Tony are together,” she whispered. “I can’t not see it. He’s been your hero for years, and now…”

“But it…” he swallowed. Maybe he had been looking up to Mr Stark in that way, but… “It feels totally different. I loved Ben, May, and he’ll always be my dad, and it’s just – now Mr Stark’s there, too. He’s not – it’s just – different…”

“How can it be different?” her nails dug into his arm. “They’re both like a father to you -”

“How can it be the same?” he asked. “Ben was… I was a kid, and I didn’t have my spider powers, and he taught me how to tie my shoes and give me piggy-back rides and – and how to be responsible, and now I’m like a superhero and trying to follow his lessons and there’s Mr Stark and it’s crazy, like, how does that even happen? But -” he bit his lip. “He’s helping me so much, May. I don’t know where I’d be without him.”

“I just… don’t understand how you can love both,” she said. “It hurts to see you two together.”

He suddenly got it.

“Is that why you don’t like Mr Stark?” he leant forward, trying to look in her eyes, but she kept avoiding his gaze. “You think… he’s taking Ben’s place?”

“Isn’t he?” she wondered. “The things he’s teaching you – it should be Ben -” she broke off and pressed a hand to her mouth, shutting her eyes.

“Oh, May…” his eyes started burning. “Mr Stark’s never gonna replace Ben, I swear. Everything I do, everything I believe, is from what Ben taught me. He’s why I’m out there night after night – but you know, I think…” he reached out and wrapped his arms around her shoulders. She tensed up. “It’s not a bad thing, what Mr Stark’s trying to do. Right?”

“I…”

“Mr Stark and I haven’t ever really talked about Ben ‘cause you know how freaked out he gets about feelings and stuff, but… I also never really wanted to. Even though I think of them both the same way… it’s still different. You can’t compare them.”

“Do you love him?”

Peter blinked back tears and pulled back so they could look at each other. Tears were in the corner of her eyes too.

“Yeah,” he admitted and felt her flinch. His heart sank. “May, c’mon -”

“I miss the you when Ben was here,” she admitted.

“… What?”

“I -” she froze, as if just realising what she’d said, her eyes going wide. He pulled back and leapt to his feet, shoving his hands in his pockets and trying to pretend his vision wasn’t blurred with tears. “Peter -”

“It’s okay,” he tried to reassure her, but his voice cracked. He coughed, and there was a painful lump in his throat.

“No, it’s not – I didn’t mean it -”

“You kinda did though,” he interrupted and had to turn around, so he couldn’t see her pained expression. “It’s really okay though, I know I’ve – changed, a lot, ever since the bite -”

“No, no – Peter, baby -”

“Ned said something like that the other day, that becoming Spider-Man changed me… a-and I dunno what a younger me would think, but -” He felt her scramble off the sofa, put her hands on his shoulders, but he couldn’t look at her. “Maybe I have changed too much, if even you’re saying the old me was better -”

“I didn’t say that!”

“No, you just told me you don’t like me!” he broke out of her grip and spun around.

“I didn’t say that either!” she snapped back and then she ground her teeth together, took a long breath in through her nose, and said, “Please don’t twist my words -”

“That’s what it felt like!” he took a few steps back. “How did you think it’d sound?”

“I didn’t mean to say it at all!”

“Why? Because it’s true?!”

“Yes!”

The words echoed around them. May looked like she wanted to say something else, but Peter couldn’t stay any longer. He turned and ran to his room, pulled out the suit and started changing.

“Peter, don’t you dare go out now!” May appeared at his bedroom door.

He ignored her and pressed the black spider, making the suit fit him comfortably. He pulled on the mask and Karen automatically started up, greeting him with a pleased,

“Welcome back Peter.”

“Hey Karen, long time no speak,” he replied as he opened his bedroom window and swung his leg out.

“Peter Parker!” May shouted. He turned to look at her, straddling the window frame, and there were tears streaming down her face as she shouted, “If you go out right now, you’re not coming back!”

He hesitated only a moment, but the anger and hurt fuelled him to say,

“I don’t need to. I’ve got Mr Stark now.”

He swung out the window and up onto the roof of the apartment building. Only a few seconds later he heard the sobbing echo up out the window, deep heart-wrenching cries that broke his own heart, and he couldn’t bear to listen any longer.

A few swings later and he was sailing through another block, grateful for the mask absorbing his tears.

How had it come to this?