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Practical Results

Chapter Text


 

 

“Physics is like sex: sure,
it may give some practical results,
but that's not why we do it.” 
― Richard P. Feynman

 

Tony knows hangovers. He’s pretty sure he’s had every kind of hangover imaginable - the kind that leave your eyes dry and aching, feeling like they’re about to swell out of your head, the ones that stick in your throat like a dry-swallowed pill.

He’s spent hours sprawled out on the couch (or bed, or floor) where he’s woken up, summoning up every last inch of willpower to close his eyes against the daylight only to realize that his eyes are, in fact, already shut tight.

This is not anything like those hangovers.

It feels like the white-hot pain of a migraine, except somehow the nexus feels like it’s in his neck rather than his head. He groans. Presses his face harder into the sheets underneath him.

Things are looking up. He appears to be in a bed, at least.

There’s a shifting of weight on the mattress from somewhere in front of him, and a soft exhalation of breath. Which begs the question - whose bed?

Given that the other occupant is apparently still present, he resigns himself to an awkward morning-after.  Been awhile since he’s had one of those, actually.

He cracks one eye open cautiously.

“Oh thank god you’re awake, Mr. Stark!”

Tony swallows. Closes his eyes again. Opens them, wincing against the glare of the brightly lit room.

Nope, nothing has changed.

Peter is sitting there, leaning his bare back against the headboard, knees bent and legs pulled up to his chest, arms wrapped around his calves. He looks pale, which. Of course he does.

The thing is, Tony is pretty well versed in facing his monumental fuck ups head-on.  His vices have always had the upper hand against the better angels in his head. Or, if not necessarily the upper hand, then at least a sneaky way of turning the tables on him when he least expected it.

That this whole new level of fucked up is unexpected is literally the very least you could say right now.

Peter is fidgeting with the edges of the sheet pulled up over his legs. He frowns.  “You are awake, aren’t you? Please say you’re awake. I’m kinda freaking out over here.”

“Kid,” Tony starts. Stops. He levers himself upright, moving slowly. Carefully. Doesn’t want to startle the kid, doesn’t want to get too close. Give Peter his space. Little late for that, his traitorous brain taunts.

He scrubs his hands over his face as if he can wipe the (most-likely) drug-induced grogginess away. It’s not until then that he looks around. Wait.

This isn’t his bedroom - not the one at the compound, or the suite in Milan. Definitely not the penthouse in New York. In all honesty, it looks like the inside of the fucking Spaceship Earth ride at Epcot.

“Kid,” he tries again, more urgently now, “where the hell are we?”

“Uhh, the guy said we’re someplace called Sakaar.”

“The guy? What guy?”

“The weird guy,” Peter explains. He unwraps one arm and gestures towards a blank screen embedded in the opposite wall.

“He say anything else?”

Peter shakes his head. “He said he’d wait until you woke up.”

Which means… Yep, now that his higher brain functions are coming back online, he can pick out cameras scattered around the room. A lot of them.

He really doesn’t want to ask the next question, but he can’t see any way around it. “What’s the last thing you remember?”

“Well, um. There was a portal thing that opened up in the sky, with these weird energy readings coming through. We were trying to figure out what was going on when everything kind of exploded. And then I woke up here.”

It says something probably not-great about Tony’s life that that’s actually kind of a relief, but right now he’ll take good news wherever he can get it. He hasn’t done anything unforgivable with the kid. That counts for something.

Actually, it counts for everything.

 

*

 

Tony stands to pace the room, only to discover he’s naked. Shit.

By the way Peter is still nervously clutching the sheet around his legs, he would bet the kid is too. Okay, that’s… not great, but he gets it. They’d both been suited up for training when the portal had opened, whoever had taken them must have taken their suits and clothes while they’d been knocked out. It’s as much about security and control as it is about psychological manipulation; a power play.

And it’s working. The idea of someone else messing around with his and Peter’s suits rankles fiercely.

But Tony’s not a self-conscious seventeen year old kid - he’s not exactly going to let a little nudity keep him confined to the bed. He searches the room systematically - tapping on the walls, searching for weak points. He finds none. The room is square, the walls some kind of reinforced metal panelling. He thinks Peter could probably bust through with enough effort, but not without the cameras noticing.

There’s a shower, a toilet, and a sink in one corner of the room, a table and two chairs in another. The bed is the only thing occupying the opposite wall. One large panel near the table sounds like it’s hollow behind.

And that’s it, other than the cameras, and the lights, for which Tony notes there are no switches. Right.

“I already looked, when you were asleep. I couldn’t find a way out,” Peter says quietly.

Peter is studiously looking anywhere but at Tony. He looks like he’s freaking out.

“Listen Pete, we’ll figure this out. We’re fine. I’ve been in plenty worse situations than this.”

Peter finally looks up at him, trusting and grateful and very obviously not picking up on Tony’s lie.

It’s then that another voice chimes in.  

“Ah, you’re awake!” The figure on the screen claps his hands together, grinning wide. “That’s great, that’s really good. I’m so glad. So, now that you’re both awake, I figured we should probably talk.”

“Great idea,” Tony says. “How about we start with who the hell are you?”

“Me?” He looks oddly pleased at the question. Peter wasn’t wrong to describe him as the weird guy. Something about his mannerisms seem… off. “You’ll have to excuse me, I’m not used to having to introduce myself.

“I’m the Grandmaster, but you can call me - well, you can call me the Grandmaster. And you two - ” the man practically shivers with glee, “you’re my newest stars.”

There’s a long pause. The Grandmaster stares out at them from the screen expectantly while Tony’s mind pitches and discards possible explanations as quickly as they come.

“Your stars, what does that mean?”

He has to ask, but the truth is there’s already a creeping suspicion in Tony’s mind, a lead ball of dread in his gut because he thinks he knows why their clothes are gone. Why the room is so conspicuously well lit. Why there are so many cameras - far too many than would be needed for simple surveillance.

The Grandmaster grins all the wider, he must’ve seen the realization dawning on Tony’s face. Dammit.

Tony schools his expression back to careful blankness. He’s spent his life in front of cameras, this is nothing. This is fine.

The thing is, Peter hasn’t.

The kid must’ve cottoned onto the same suspicion that Tony has - when he looks back, Peter’s eyes are flitting around the room, noting the locations of each of the cameras.

“You’re gonna love this, seriously, this is so much better than the arena stuff.” The man on the screen shudders.

“It was riveting to watch, of course, fantastic entertainment value - but it was all so violent, and messy, and you wouldn’t believe how many Dougs we went through. Anyway, we had a bit of a… you know, ‘uprising’ is such a contentious word, I don’t like to call it that. I like to call it an enthusiastic discussion about power structures, rights of the common people, and societal change.”

Peter shoots Tony a look, What the hell?

“You want to get to the point, Padme?” Tony interrupts.

“The point is, sex sells. And I have a very large, demanding constituency to keep happy. Now, you two - you’re all new and shiny and exciting, which is just great. You also happen to be my prisoners, so...”

He makes a hand gesture that’s probably meant to imply the rest is a foregone conclusion.

Tony’s eyes narrow. “You can’t make us have sex,” he fires back.

“Really?” The Grandmaster turns to someone off camera. “I can, can’t I?  I’m pretty sure I can do that.”

Whatever answer he gets must be in the affirmative. “Yes, I can.”

Tony isn’t sure he should be pushing the issue, but if nothing else he wants to know what the game plan is if they don’t play along.

“So what, you’re going to torture us if we don’t?”

“Ehh, I don’t really like that word either. That’s not a good word. I prefer to think of it as persuasion.”

“Your species needs to eat, at least I’m pretty sure. You don’t have - ” he waves a hand vaguely around his head. Tony has no idea what that’s meant to imply. “Play along, and life can be pretty good. Don’t play along, and I guess we’ll find out for sure about the food thing.”

With that, the screen goes blank.

 

*

 

Tony breathes in, breathes out. He can’t force himself to turn around yet.

“Mr. Stark?”

Damn. The kid must be putting some serious effort into not sounding scared. It doesn’t entirely work.

They both need to eat; that much is obvious. Peter moreso than Tony, since his super-strength comes hand in hand with a super-metabolism. Tony is pretty sure they could hold out for a little while, but that would only leave them both weaker in the long run.

Tony frowns at his own reflection in the now blank screen. Compliance it is, then. But only to a certain point. He turns around to face Peter with feigned confidence.

“Liberace wants a show, I’ll give him a show,” he says.

Peter blanches.

“Hey, the operative word there is ‘I’. You - ” he points at Peter, “will in no way be involved.”

“You’re really gonna...”

“This isn’t exactly new ground for me, Pete.”

Peter’s expression does something complicated, too quickly for Tony to parse. It eventually settles on something halfway between disbelief and concern.

“Aliens have kidnapped you and made you have sex for entertainment before?”

Tony rolls his eyes.  

“I wasn’t talking about this exact situation. C’mon, you had access to the internet back on Earth, you didn’t live under a rock. I meant this won’t be the first time a planet full of people have watched me get off. At least this time I get to perform knowing it’s for an audience.”

Peter swallows and his face reddens in a way that basically confirms he’s seen the tapes.

Tony’s not exactly surprised - the lawyers and the PR team had initially done their best to contain the story. But the internet never forgets, after all. Eventually Tony had told them to stop wasting their time - it wasn’t like a sex tape or three was bad for his image, anyway. Hell, his stock had actually jumped a couple points after the second one.

Still though, there’s a difference between knowing the kid had watched the videos and openly putting on a show with the kid right here in the room.

“Why don’t you - ah, move over there, so I can - ” Tony gestures at the bed.

Peter nods a little too quickly, starts to move then stops, his lips pressing into a thin line.

“Take the sheet with you,” Tony says, gently. “Not like I need it.”

Peter ducks his head, wrapping the sheet around his waist as he crosses over to the small table and settles down in one of the chairs, turning to face the wall, probably trying to give Tony the illusion of privacy, for all the good it’ll do.

Tony stretches out on the bed, takes his time getting comfortable.

The thing is, he keeps tripping back over the Grandmaster’s words - all new and shiny and exciting.

He’s spent enough of his life putting on a(n admittedly very different kind of) show for the press. He knows how to play to an audience, how to grab back their attention when it wanders. How their attention does, inevitably, wander. How that isn’t always a bad thing, because it makes the splash all the bigger when you reel them back in with a new trick.

And what the means here is, that right now he has the advantage of being a novelty, but that novelty will wear off. And if he wants to keep them both fed long enough to come up with an escape plan, then he’s going to need to ration out just how exciting he makes each little show. Which means he’s going to start with the basics.

He starts off slow.

Licks a wet stripe over his palm and fingers, feeling it cool slightly as he trails his hand down his chest to his dick. He’s dimly aware of the little black half-globe cameras crawling their way along the walls and ceiling to get better angles. Huh, he hadn’t realized they could move.

It takes a little longer to get things going - it’s not like he’s in the mood. Plus, he’s not a twenty-something anymore, he’s way past the point where he feels the need to rush through to the finish line.

He spreads his legs wide, bending his knees just enough that his heels dig into the mattress, his head tipped back against the pillow. He knows how it must look.

Tony keeps his eyes fixed on the ceiling, mostly because he knows if he looks anywhere else, Peter will be in his line of sight. He can’t look at the kid while he’s - no. Not thinking about that.

Tony bites back a groan, precum slicking his hand as he palms the head of his cock, then closes his fist back around the base for another long pull. He hears Peter shift in his chair, the soft sound of the sheet being rearranged.

He can bite down all he wants, there’s no way Peter can’t hear the hitches in his breathing or the now-wet sound of Tony’s hand on his dick, super-hearing or no.

There’s nothing he can do about that, though, not now.

Tony drags it out as long as he can, but eventually the friction and lack of lube threatens to leave his skin rubbed raw. He shuts his eyes and comes, his breathing ragged and his body slick with sweat.

For a few moments he lets himself float on the endorphin high, eyes still closed, one hand lazily tracing through the spurts of come coating his stomach.

After a feat beats, he puts on his best papparazzi-mask of an expression. He opens his eyes, stares up at the camera directly above him and raises an eyebrow.

“Did you enjoy that?”

There’s no visible response.

He levers himself upright in bed, makes his way over to the bathroom to clean himself up. He doesn’t look at Peter, but from his peripheral vision he can tell the kid hasn’t moved from his seat.

He scrubs the drying come off his belly with a wet washcloth, then wrings the washcloth out and leaves it to dry over the edge of the sink.

“You can have the bed back,” Tony says over his shoulder.

Peter makes a kind of half-strangled noise before clearing his throat. “N-no thanks. I’m good here.”

Tony turns around, slightly alarmed by the strain evident in the kid’s voice.

Oh.

That’s… not entirely unexpected. Peter still has the sheet wrapped around his lower body, but he’s pulled his heels up to rest on rest on the outer edges of the seat. His head is ducked down, but not far enough to hide the way his cheeks are flushed red and his eyes are screwed shut, clearly trying to will away his erection without moving a muscle.

Tony figures discretion is the better part of valor here, and turns his focus back to the cameras.

He makes another circuit of the room. Slower this time, and with a different goal. The first time he’d been looking for security weaknesses, this time he was mentally cataloguing resources.

There are some obvious plumbing fixtures that could be disassembled. The corner containing the shower has two rows of nozzles on either side, which Tony figures are for air drying after a shower, which would explain the lack of body towels.

The bed frame itself is simple but sturdy, and Tony makes a point not to think about why it’s clearly been over-engineered. There are a few screws he could remove, cross braces that he could do something with. He’s not sure what yet.

He gives the table and chair a wide berth, or at least a wide a berth as is possible in the small room. Peter seems to have relaxed a bit by now, although he hasn’t moved from his seat. He keeps glancing over at Tony, watching him as he examines their surroundings.

Tony catches his glance, raises his eyebrows in question.

Peter looks away. “Sorry,” he mumbles.

“Sorry for what?”

Peter’s eyes shoot back up to meet his, a pained expression on his face. He opens his mouth. Closes it. Tries again.

“Please don’t make me say it out loud,” he says in a rush.

“No kid, that’s not what I - ” Tony wipes a hand over his face. Christ. “I didn’t mean it like that. You don’t have anything to apologize for. Okay?”

Peter doesn’t look convinced, but at least he doesn’t try to apologize again.

However that conversation was going to, and to be honest, Tony wasn’t particularly looking forward to it, it doesn’t happen. Peter frowns like he hears something, then whips around to face the wall behind him just as a panel slides open.

There’s a compartment inside, just wide enough that he’s pretty sure Peter could fit through - if there were anywhere to go. They both peer inside. There are two trays laid out, which Tony ignores for the moment. Instead he reaches out, knocks on each side in turn. The left, right, bottom, and top sound solid, but the back panel sounds hollow.

The only way out must be through.

He examines the seams of the back panel, the thickness of the front panel on their side of the compartment, filing as much information away as he can. The bed frame looks to be the same material, if he can get enough leverage they can probably - hold on.

Peter had moved the two trays out of the way while Tony had been busy poking around, so it takes him a minute to process what’s on them. Or isn’t on them, as the case may be.

One has a cup of what he hopes is water and a plate of what he assumes is food. The other just has a cup. He looks over at Peter, who is looking down at the empty tray, anxiously chewing on his thumbnail.

The screen beside them flashes on.

“Bomb apetite, boys!”

Bon appetit?” Tony asks without thinking.

“No, I don’t think that’s right. It’s like a big explosion of flavor, a bomb of an appetite. Right? That’s right,” he agrees with himself.

“Except I think you forgot one of the appetites. What the hell is this?” Tony points at the empty tray. “We did what you wanted.”

The Grandmaster holds up one hand, waggles it back and forth. “Weeeeell, one of you did, yes.”

Peter isn’t looking at the screen, he’s staring down at the empty tray in front of him, the implication clearly sinking in. Well, fuck that, Tony thinks.

“Fine, we’ll share it then.”

“I wouldn’t recommend that, personally,” The Grandmaster says.

“I wasn’t asking you.”

“Okay, then go ahead.”

Something about the way he says it sets Tony’s teeth on edge. Like he’s almost eager. Peter looks up at Tony, clearly catching onto it as well.

The shitty thing is, they don’t know enough about their captor yet to know where to push and when to retreat. And there’s no way to figure that out until they test those boundaries.

Tony takes the second cup of water and shoves the empty tray back into the compartment. He pushes the plate to the middle of the table. There isn’t any silverware, so Peter follows Tony’s lead and picks up a cube of what looks like meat (if meat were naturally purple) and brings it to his mouth.

One second, Peter is sitting across from Tony, the purple thing just centimeters from his mouth. The next he’s on the floor, body contorted and writhing.

Tony drops to the floor next to him, running his hands over Peter’s face and chest, trying to figure out what’s wrong. The boy’s eyes are rolled back in his head, face screwed up in pain as he shakes and twitches. Eventually the fit passes, leaving Peter curled up on his side, breathing raggedly.

On the screen above them, the Grandmaster is holding up a small device and shrugging, as if to say, I warned you, didn’t I? Tony seethes.

“What’s that, your DVR remote?”

“Do you really want me to demonstrate again? I can, all I have to do is push this bu - ”

“No!” Tony shouts back. “I get it, we get it.”

“Do you? My advisors told me your species was of at least middling intellect, but what I’m getting from you so far hasn’t been promising. So just to make sure we’re all working together on this little endeavor here - I didn’t lock the two of you up together so I could watch solo performances. So tomorrow, I expect some teamwork. Yes?”

Peter is still occasionally twitching with the after-effects, his forehead pressed against Tony’s knee, clearly in no condition to answer. Tony swallows.

 

*

 

“You should eat. The food’s just gonna go to waste otherwise.”

Tony shakes his head, pointedly ignoring the tray of food still sitting on the table.

Peter is sitting up in bed, now that the lingering tremors have finally passed. He looks a little pale, but otherwise okay. Once the screen had gone blank, Tony had hauled Peter over to the bed and covered him with the sheet, then dragged one of the chairs over so he sit watch while Peter struggled his way back to consciousness.

Eventually his eyes had fluttered open and he’d groaned. Tony had propped him up against the headboard with one of the pillows and held the cup of water for him to sip until Peter’s hands had steadied enough to hold it on his own.

“Please just eat it, Mr. Stark.”

“Nah, I don’t need it.”

“That’s playing into what he wants.”

“So is eating.”

Peter’s stomach growls audibly and he clenches his jaw in frustration. “Then there’s no way to win anyway, there’s just one option that sucks less than the other, right?” He pauses. “I get that you don’t want to because I can’t. But please just eat the freaking food so I don’t have to keep looking at it.”

The kid has a point.

Without a word Tony heads back to the table and takes a seat.

The food itself isn’t bad, just weird. He chews and swallows mechanically, not really tasting much at all. He manages to polish off most of the plate without even realizing it. There’s a small bowl of slices of something that look like nectarine slices but taste like a kind of spicy mango peanut thing.

Tony lets one slice sit on his tongue for a moment, then feigns chewing and swallowing. He takes another, tucks it under his tongue, pretends to chew and swallow again.

He waits for a while, long enough that he hopes no one will have caught on, then heads back over to Peter, who is rubbing at his neck like he’s got a pulled muscle. Tony reaches up and Peter drops his hand, tilting his head away to grant Tony access.
The muscle underneath his fingers feels taut, probably an aftereffect of the tremors - but there’s something else there that must be what Peter was rubbing at, a small bump about midway between his jawline and his collarbone.

Tony reaches his other hand up to his own neck, finding the same thing.

They’ve been fucking chipped, like dogs.

Tony grimaces.

It’s good information to have, but it’s not why Tony had come over here, and it’s not like he can explain anything to Peter without tipping off the cameras. He brings the hand on Peter’s neck up to cup the side of his face and leans in close.

“Mr. Stark are we - I thought we didn’t have to until tomorrow. Oh god, wait was there like something in the food?”

They’re close enough now that Tony is certain none of the cameras has a good angle on his face, at least not front-on. Without turning his head, Tony looks pointedly over at the empty tray, and then back at Peter, dropping his eyes down to Peter’s mouth.

He hopes it’s enough of a hint - Peter’s reaction in the next few seconds could make or break this little trick.

Tony leans in to press his lips against Peter’s, whose mouth opens in surprise almost instantly, which Tony takes full advantage of. He pushes the little slices of fruit into Peter’s mouth, one hand still clamped down holding Peter’s head in place, hoping to god that the kid doesn’t start to sputter and spit out the food, or worse, choke on it in surprise.

Peter freezes in place. Tony nudges his chin until he closes his mouth and then pulls away like it’s any other kiss, then pulls Peter’s head down against his shoulder so the kid can chew and swallow out of the line of sight of the cameras.

They stay like that for a full minute afterward, Peter leaning forward against him, Tony’s hand carding through Peter’s hair, idly playing with the curls. Waiting to see if retribution is coming.

It doesn’t.

Peter looks up, gratitude evident in his eyes. He licks his lips, probably savoring whatever taste of the fruit still remains there. Their faces are inches apart, it’s too close.

“Than - ” Peter starts to say, but Tony shakes his head.

He drops his hand from Peter’s hair. Dammit.

They can’t - he can’t do this if he wants to get them out of here with his sanity intact. Tony retreats to the other side of the room. He shoves the now-empty tray back into the compartment, swallows down the rest of the water. He’s glad it worked, a little food is better than nothing, and neither of them have any idea what tomorrow will bring. But.

He shouldn’t know what the kid tastes like. And he absolutely shouldn’t be thinking about tasting him again.

 

*

 

Peter isn’t the only looming threat to Tony’s sanity.

There’s nothing to do. No books, no computer, nothing to tinker with. He pokes at the screen embedded in the wall for a bit, but none of the wiring or other components are exposed.

“I could punch it?” Peter offers.

Tony shakes his head.

That would probably only result in Peter getting zapped again, which is something he wants to avoid at all costs. There’s also another issue - he’s not sure if their captors have any sense of Peter’s abilities, but on the off-chance that they don’t know, he’s not eager to help them figure it out, even if Peter still looks like he’s running on half-empty.

They spend a while talking over what they remember from before they got beamed up into the weird portal thing. Peter mentions some of FRIDAY’s readings from outside the singularity, which leads to a discussion about Einstein–Rosen bridges, which leads to Tony trying to explain Kruskal–Szekeres coordinates without a pen or paper or any way to write out equations and graphs.

Peter has a solid grounding in physics, but he’s missing a lot of the advanced theory - even with that as a handicap, the kid picks up on new concepts pretty quickly. It’s fun to watch as the lights go on, some of the anxiety and exhaustion dropping from his face as he gets lost in new concepts.

It helps pass the time.

Regardless of how engaging Peter is, in the back of his mind Tony keeps turning their situation over and over.

He can probably find a way to jimmy their way out of the compartment, but then the question becomes what next? He’s pretty sure they’ll both get zapped for trying, and even if they don’t - Tony doesn’t have his suit. He’s confident in his ability to jerry-rig weapons and tools as needed on the fly, but at the end of the day he’s only human. Anything requiring brute strength or wall-climbing is going to have to fall to Peter.

And Peter… Tony doesn’t know how long they were knocked out for, but getting zapped plus the lack of food today has left the kid visibly pale.

The kid isn’t weak, not by any means, but he’s definitely not up to his usual superhuman strength, and depending on what’s outside these four walls, they may very well need every ounce of strength and healing ability Peter can bring to bear.

Which means he needs to eat, and a heck of a lot more than just a few smuggled not-nectarine slices.

The lights in the room begin to dim as they talk, Peter yawning drowsily but fighting to stay awake. Tony figures it must be getting close to dark outside, but it’s impossible to know for sure without any windows.

He settles down on the bed next to Peter, both of them blinking up at the ceiling in the half-dark, unable to sleep.

“I can hear your mind turning, kid.”

Peter snorts. “No you can’t. But I can hear yours.”

“I didn’t mean literally, and I really hope you don’t either,” Tony says, turning to look over at him.

“It’s your heartbeat. I can tell you’re not asleep.”

“I hate to break it to you, but that’s not as impressive as you seem to think it is.” He’s lying, of course, because the idea that Peter knows his heartbeat well enough to tell if he’s sleeping or not is frankly terrifying but also very, very cool. “You want to know another really good superhero secret to figuring out whether someone is awake or not?”

Tony wouldn’t even need to see his face to know that Peter’s eyes widen. “Um, yeah.

“When their eyes are open and they’re talking to you,” he says flatly.

Peter shoots him an annoyed look.

“Go to sleep, Peter.”

Tony rolls onto his other side, tries to settle in. He can feel right down to his bones that it’s not going to work. Any other night like this and he’d be down in the workshop, music blaring, coffee in hand. Lights and screens and half-deconstructed projects all around him to keep up with his racing mind.

“Mr. Stark?”

Tony sighs. “Yeah, kid.”

“What are we gonna do tomorrow?”

Tony swears under his breath. He’s been trying his best to avoid this exact conversation, but then again maybe Peter is on to something. Maybe it’s easier to talk about it in the dark, when they can both pretend to have some figurative space from one another, if not any actual, literal space.

“What -” he clears his throat, “what do you want to do?”

“I want to eat. And I want to not get zapped again by that remote thingy. But I’ve never really - I mean, I’ve messed around some? But not like, done it, done it.”

Tony winces at the phrasing. As if he needs a reminder that Peter is so plainly, painfully young.

“We don’t have to do that,” he says, knowing it might be a lie. He doesn’t know how long it’ll take him to figure out a plan, and he doesn’t know how far the Grandmaster is going to keep pushing things. But it’s a lie that will probably hold true for tomorrow at least, and right now that’s enough for Tony.

He props himself up on one arm, craning his neck over his shoulder to look at Peter. There’s just enough light to make out his expression. What he’d like to do is promise Peter he won’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to, but they would both know it was a lie.

“He said you have to participate, he didn’t say we had to do anything specific. Just… pretend you’re in your bed at home. Pretend he’s not here, pretend I’m not even here. Okay?”

Peter looks doubtful, but maybe just slightly less strained around the edges.

“Okay.”

 


 

Chapter Text

Tony doesn’t sleep. He’s too keyed up, his mind racing.

He catches himself sniffing the air, trying to determine from smell alone if they’re underground,  as if he would even know what ‘underground’ smells like on an alien planet.

Peter had heard the outer hatch on the compartment open yesterday. Maybe he can hear sounds from outside the cell. Tony is itching to ask him, but Peter is conked out - blessedly sound asleep, his mouth hanging open and his hair fanned out against the pillow.

He spends longer than he probably should watching the kid sleep.

The lights come on slowly. Must be morning.

The sliding compartment door opens again, two more large cups of water and two mugs of something hot that smells strongly of chestnuts and… bourbon? Tony drinks it anyway.

It’s not coffee but - woah, okay. It might be a little like coffee. Tony feels like he just chugged a red eye. He may not have slept, but he’s definitely wide awake now.

He takes a shower, figuring he might as well. The water pressure is surprisingly good, and it’s warm enough to ease some of the knots in his back and shoulders. He jerks off; as much because he wants to as because he figures he can get it out of the way while Peter’s still asleep.

Peter’s words from last night are still clanging around in his head.

I’ve never really - I mean, I’ve messed around some.

Tony doesn’t think about what the kid meant by that. Or who he might have messed around some with.

But not like, done it, done it.

The kid is young enough to still think some kinds of sex, what - qualify more than others? But the thing is, at his age it does.

Tony has never been all that discriminating in bed, as long as everyone was A. beautiful and B. enjoying themselves. There are any number of things he wouldn’t think twice about doing with his usual partners that he blanches at the thought of doing here and now, with Peter.

The sense-memory of the day before comes to mind, unbidden.

Peter’s mouth opening so sweetly for him, even though it wasn’t meant to be a kiss. Peter, leaning against him afterwards, face tucked against Tony’s shoulder, trusting Tony to hide him from the cameras.

And before that - Peter curled up in the chair, listening to Tony get off while desperately willing his own erection away.

Tony absently watches his come splatter against the metal plated wall, disappearing under the spray of water from the shower. He shuts the water off, then turns slowly as the air vents crank up to dry him off.

Peter is still asleep, but he’s not as far under as he was before. He’s shifting a little under the sheet, his forehead creased and mouth closed. Tony briefly wonders if it’s a nightmare. He knows the kid gets them sometimes.

He moves closer, eyes on Peter’s face, trying to determine if it’s a run of the mill at-school-with-no-clothes-on type deal or something more serious. He stops midway to the bed, because nope, the tent going on around Peter’s midsection means something else entirely.

Just then Peter lets out a long breath and shifts again, one hand reaching down, idly cupping himself under the sheet. He groans softly, eyelids fluttering.

The hand stills.

Peter’s eyes fly open like someone has flipped a switch. He glances over to the other side of the bed, seems almost relieved to find it empty. Peter moves his hand away from his crotch, shifting his hips in obvious discomfort.

“Pete?” Tony says, figuring there isn’t any point in pretending he isn’t in the room.

Peter closes his eyes, and when he speaks his voice sounds about an octave higher than normal. “Yeah?”

“Now might be a good time, if you want to get it over with.”

There isn’t a bone in Tony’s body that doesn’t feel like a dirty old man saying that. But that doesn’t make it any less true - better that Peter gets it done now when he’s already halfway there, instead of spending the whole day feeling tense about it.

“I uh, yeah. Okay.”

“Okay?”

Peter nods.

Tony settles on the bed next to Peter, who still has his eyes closed and looks more like he’s facing execution than about to get his rocks off.

“You remember what you were dreaming about?”

Peter flushes, clearly mortified.

“Keep your eyes closed if that helps. I want you to focus on the dream if you can.” Tony waits a few seconds, then pulls the sheet down past Peter’s hips.

Peter is starting to breathe harder, it’s almost impossible to miss the way his chest is rising and falling. Tony settles a hand against his stomach, not sure if it’ll help to calm him or make things that much worse.

“Peter, I want you to put your hand on top of mine, alright? You’re in control, you move me however you want.”  Tony pauses, massaging the flat planes of Peter’s stomach in what he hopes is a comforting way. “And if you need me to shut up, just say so.”

“Don’t - ”

Tony freezes. He starts to pull away, but Peter’s hand locks in place on top of his own.

“Don’t stop talking. Please?”

Tony doesn’t think that’ll make things any easier, but he assures Peter that he isn’t going anywhere, which seems a little redundant given both their present situation and that Peter already has a deathgrip on his arm.

Peter drags Tony’s hand up towards his chest first, and Tony can feel each breath and the pounding of Peter’s heartbeat underneath his palm.  He rubs the pad of his thumb over Peter’s nipple and Peter lets out a whimper, his hips making an abortive thrust upwards. Tony does it again, drinking in the sight of Peter’s body’s response and desperately thankful the kid still has his eyes closed.

Apparently Peter’s had enough of that though, because in the next moment he’s pushing Tony’s hand down towards his crotch. He hesitates, his hand pulling away from Tony’s, uncertain.

“It’s okay, I’ve got you,” Tony tips his head down close to Peter’s ear, murmuring encouragement. He’ll say anything, do anything, if it means he can get Peter through this without thinking of the cameras or who’s watching, or about what might happen if they don’t put on a good show.

Peter lets his legs fall open against the bed and nudges Tony’s hand down those last few inches. Tony doesn’t need all that much encouragement to wrap his fist around Peter’s cock. He’s already fully hard, his cock a deep reddish color that stands out against his otherwise pale skin and the white sheets. Tony swipes his thumb over the slit, spreading precum all over the head.

He lets Peter set the pace, which is a little sloppy at first but eventually settles into a rhythm. It’s barely a minute before Peter is coming all over his stomach and both of their hands, his face turned to one side, tucked against Tony’s shoulder and his other hand twisted up in the bedsheets.

Tony leans down and kisses his temple, his fist still working Peter through the aftershocks. He only stops when Peter starts to whine and twist his hips to the side, overstimulated.

Tony pulls away, is about to wipe his hand on the sheet when he thinks twice. For one, he doesn’t want the sheets sticky, since it’s not like they’ve got a clean set tucked away anywhere. For another, well. There’s something pretty simple he can do that may earn them both a few brownie points with their captor.

He brings his hand up to his face and licks a streak of cooling spunk off his hand. It’s not something Tony is particularly into himself, but it seems like the kind of thing people like to watch. At least, he hopes it is.

Maybe aliens are different, who the fuck knows. It’s worth a shot.

He licks his hand clean, or as clean as it’s gonna get, before he notices that Peter is watching him. Whoops. He’d thought the kid was still blissed out with his eyes closed, but no, Peter is curled on his side with his face half-tucked in against Tony’s shoulder, but his eyes are wide open and focused on Tony. Specifically, focused on Tony’s hand.

Tony shrugs. He doesn’t particularly feel like explaining.

“You okay?” he asks.

Peter nods against his shoulder. “Should I - I mean, did you?”

“Not necessary. Don’t worry about me.”

Peter actually glances down, because yeah, it’s not like either of them is in a position to bluff here. But Tony has the advantage of both age and having just come in the shower a few minutes ago; he’s only partially aroused. Nothing he can’t ignore.

Peter though - Peter is somehow half-hard again.

Tony can’t quite keep the surprise off his face, which of course, Peter notices.

“Sorry,” Peter groans, face now buried completely between Tony’s shoulder and the mattress.

“Don’t be sorry. But uh - ” Tony is all too well aware of Peter’s age, but even for seventeen it seems like an impressively short refractory period. He really, really doesn’t want to ask, but if there’s any chance that Peter’s been dosed with something - well, he’d rather know than not. “Is that normal, for you?”

Peter stiffens next to him. “Is that not normal?”

It belatedly occurs to Tony that Peter got bitten at what - fourteen? He probably has no idea where normal teenage hormones end and spidey side-effects begin. Tony figures he should tread lightly here - he doesn’t want the kid to feel self-conscious about it, and he also doesn’t want to tip off anyone watching that Peter is anything other than perfectly human.

“Ah, to be young again,” is what he settles on, carefully neutral.

He lays one hand between Peter’s shoulders, rubbing his back in reassurance. Peter’s hips twitch forward at the touch. So, probably not all that reassuring, under the circumstances.

“C’mere.”

Tony reaches down to Peter’s side, dragging him over until he’s pressed up against Tony’s hip. Peter makes a soft noise at the contact, but seems to get the idea quickly enough. The first roll of his hips is entirely too tentative to be anything more than a tease. Any other partner and Tony would - well, there’s really no end to the things he can think of to do with a flexible, eager, and easily aroused young body.

But he’s not going to.

Instead, he stays resolutely in place, sinking his fingers into Peter’s side, gripping him hard. Peter gets the message; takes it as permission to rock himself more forcefully against Tony’s body. Tony can feel the warmth radiating off of him, his body just slightly slick with sweat, his stomach still tacky with remnants of drying come from earlier.

It takes a little longer than the first time, but it’s still over far too soon. Tony feels the spurt of come against his skin, the way Peter’s hips shudder and skip in their rhythm. Peter’s body goes still.

“I can’t believe I just did that,” he says, after a minute.

Tony can’t quite decipher the tone of his voice - it’s something close to either wonder or regret. He should probably move, grab a washcloth and get them both cleaned up, say something to head off Peter’s inevitable apologies for daring to act like the horny teenager he rightfully is.

Instead Tony stays right there, one hand trailing over Peter’s side, heart pounding.

*

Peter's nose wrinkles at the smell of the not-coffee.

"It's not bad, but it definitely has a bit of a kick to it."

"A kick?"

"Caffeine kick, not liquor."

Unfortunately. What Tony wouldn’t give right now for two fingers of a decent single malt.

Peter sets the lukewarm mug back on the table and pushes it back towards Tony, who figures he can save it for later.

They're both sitting at the table, Peter just out of the shower, damp hair curling against his forehead - he hadn't been a huge fan of the air dryer vents. Peter picks up the remaining cup of water, chugging it down. He pauses, turning the cup around in his hand before setting it back down.

"You think it's laced with something?"

"It's a possibility." He pauses. "How do you feel?"

Peter shrugs. "Normal. I don't really know what being drugged feels like though."

Tony hmms, noncommittal. If the food and water are drugged, he can’t tell either. It seems kind of contrary to the Grandmaster's M.O., anyway. Tony is well aware that part of the entertainment value here must be watching the two of them actively participate in this little charade. Drugging them into either desperate arousal or placid compliance would take away from that. Probably.

In any case, there's not much they can do about it for now. They need to eat and drink to survive.

Across the table, Peter leans back in his seat, rubbing his hands over his arms. Tony raises an eyebrow.

"Cold?"

He nods.

"So get back under the sheet."

But Peter's jaw clenches at that, defiant. He's apparently cottoned on to Tony's strategy of simply refusing to be embarrassed by the nudity. Good for him.

Tony, meanwhile, is preoccupied with something else entirely. He's leaning forward, one arm propped on the table, casual. The other hand is hidden below the table, very slowly loosening one of the screws tacking the chair seat to the frame. He realizes belatedly that Peter can probably hear exactly what he's doing. Which reminds him -

"Can you hear anything going on outside?"

Peter's eyes flick to the cameras, cautious. Good. He shakes his head, and looks away. Then leans back in his chair and idly taps two fingers on the table. To anyone else, it would look like unconscious fidgeting. To Tony, it looks like Peter is staring directly at the compartment door and giving him a headcount on the guards.

Nice.

They still have to find a way to hijack the camera feed, deactivate the chips in their necks, not to mention find a way off this fucking planet. But at the very least, two guards outside the compartment door is an easily surmountable challenge.

The screw finally comes loose in his hand. Tony palms it, then wanders back over to the bed to sit down. Lets his hand fall so it hangs just under the frame and, clearing his throat, scratches a tick mark into the metal there. He runs the pad of his forefinger over the mark, making sure it's distinct enough to make out by touch alone. Peter is studiously not looking at him.

Tony makes another scratch, just beside the first one.

Day two.

*

They get two trays of food that day. Along with a container of what Tony assumes must be lube, which they both ignore by unspoken agreement.

He doesn't realize how hungry Peter must have been until the kid digs into the food with single-minded purpose. It's slightly different than yesterday, a little on the bland side and definitely strange looking, but filling nonetheless. Peter actually stops to lick his fingers once he's cleaned off his plate.

Tony is only halfway through his own portion, so he slides the plate a couple inches towards Peter in offering. Peter glances at the plate, then back at him and gives a tiny shake of his head.

Tony turns his head, leaning back in his chair far enough to knock his knuckles against the nearest camera. "Hey, Big Brother. We both finished our chores. You have any objection to us sharing?"

For a long moment there's no response.

"Mr. Stark, you don't have to - " Peter starts.

PERMISSION GRANTED appears on the screen.

Well, okay then.

Peter still looks hesitant, probably remembering the gleeful prodding from yesterday just before he’d been zapped. But the smell of the food eventually overrides his caution, and he takes a piece off of Tony's plate. Tony breathes a sigh of relief when the kid is able to chew and swallow without anything violent happening. Peter only ends up taking a few bites before pushing the plate back over to Tony.

“You sure?  This is a one time offer, kid, and only because you’re working at a deficit.”

It’s a lie, and one that anyone else he knows would roll their eyes at. But Peter hasn’t quite gotten over the unfortunate habit of taking Tony at his word. Peter swallows down his last bite, nodding back solemnly.

“Peter, I’m joking. That was a - ”

“Oh.”

“- nevermind.”

Tony ends up drinking the second cup of not-coffee, just for something to do.

It’s a mistake. He ends up pacing the room, going over and over the specs he’s already started to know by heart. He can't remember the last time he spent this much time any one place that wasn't his lab.

He can tell that his own nerves are rubbing off on Peter, who ends up standing on the bed, prodding at the ceiling tiles with his fingertips. Peter almost steps right off the edge of bed, clearly intending to just wall-crawl his way across to the far corner, but Tony grabs his legs just in time to stop him.

Instead, they grab one of the chairs and drag it around the room, Tony bracing the chair while Peter stands on the seat to tap at the tiles above.

It turns up nothing, the ceiling tiles sound just as solid behind as the wall panels do. But at the very least it wastes some time.

They move the chair back over to its place by the table, then remake the bed. Peter sits slumped on the end of bed afterward, fidgeting.

"When you were in Afghanistan..." he says.

Ah, so that would be the cause of the nervous fidgeting. They’ve never talked about it before, Peter probably doesn’t know if it’s okay to ask.

"Yeah?" Tony prompts.

"What did you do? I mean, other than the Iron Man stuff. Not that the mark one suit wasn’t awesome! But like, you were gone for a while."

"Bit of a different situation. For one thing, I had a whole workshop full of junk to play with."

"And Doctor Yinsen to help you," Peter adds in a murmur.

"Yeah, and Yinsen."

Tony forgets sometimes, how much of that experience had made the papers, both during and after the fact. He'd been so wrapped up in his own personal paradigm shift at the time, letting Obadiah handle the flow of information to the press for him because it was easier.

He wonders how the hell Pepper is dealing with the media circus right now.  

Probably like a consummate professional, if he's honest. She's had enough practice at it, first Afghanistan and then again with all the Mandarin bullshit. If there's anyone who can steady the helm at SI in a time of crisis, it would be her. Tony is both grateful and ashamed in equal measure at his reliance on her, even now that they’re not - that it didn’t work out.

Peter brings him back to the present with a question. "What was he like? You knew him right, from before?"

Tony falters.

"Yinsen? Yeah, I guess. When the papers say that we knew each other, that we were colleagues… Listen, before Afghanistan I knew him about as well as I knew any one of the hundreds of people I shook hands with once at any given tech conference. Writers like to throw that kind of shit in there to gild the lily. Christ, kid. Why're you asking me about this now?"

Peter gives him a half-shrug. "He was an engineer though, right? And a doctor."

“He was. Spoke a bunch of languages too. Except Hungarian,” he adds wryly. Remembering.

Tony rolls his shoulder, stretches out a cramp in his wrist. Mostly just for something to do that doesn't require him to look Peter in the eyes and admit that yes, all logic aside, he'd much rather have Peter here with him rather than anyone else.

There’s something ugly about it, which he’s not going to examine closely right now - not until they get out of this fucking cell and Tony is somewhere very much alone, with a well-stocked bar. He’s not eager to throw himself into that particular downward spiral just yet, thinking about the parallels between the two.

Yinsen had been iron-willed and resourceful. Yinsen had risked his life to save Tony’s, twice over.

Yinsen had died.

*

At seventeen, Tony had spent a lot of time tripping between the brownstones along frat row, generally revelling in the freedom that came with being a nameless college student rather than the golden boy and heir apparent to the Stark industrial empire.

Sure, he was younger than most of the other students, and it wasn’t uncommon for people to do a double-take when they heard his last name, but he took to leaving off or simply making up a last name, which helped with the latter, and large quantities of cheap beer generally helped him and everyone else ignore the former.

He doesn’t actually remember many of his ‘firsts’.

Some of that is just down to the passage of time, softening the details and blurring them together with other, similar memories. He tells Peter a few of the stories, filling in the gaps with details that might be true and might not.

For Peter though, everything is still sharp and fresh and aching. Recent enough that the memory brings a blush to his face, when Tony asks about his first kiss.

“It happened at school, which is totally sad, I know. We were waiting for the rest of the Decathlon team to show up, and she just looked at me funny, leaned in and kissed me. Like, randomly!”

Tony grins, can’t quite resist the urge to tease the kid. “Aww, Parker. You never said you had a girlfriend.”

“I don’t!” Peter waves his hands around a bit in emphasis. “She kissed me with tongue, and then just stepped back and said “Hmm.” And then went on like nothing happened!”

Tony can’t help but laugh a little at that, can see in almost perfect detail how Peter must have looked in that moment.

It’s unsettlingly similar to the way Peter had looked at him earlier that morning.

That’s one memory that hasn’t had a chance to blur yet - Peter’s forehead pressed against his shoulder, the taste of his come and Tony’s own sweat mingled together on his palm. Peter, looking up at him with wide eyes and wet lips, his face flushed and open and guileless.

Tony wipes his hand over his face, letting the stubble of his beard scrape away the sense-memory of Peter, hard and warm in his palm. It doesn’t entirely work.

*

That night, once Peter’s asleep, Tony crawls out of the bed and spends a few minutes tracing his fingertips over the edge of the nearest camera.

The domed shape means there’s nowhere for him to get a decent grip except by his fingertips at the very edge. There’s probably some kind of clamping mechanism underneath, both securing it to the wall and simultaneously allowing it to move around the room as directed.

He feels his way over to the table and crouches down to unscrew the remaining bolts on the seat of his chair from earlier.

The seat itself is metal, similar to the wall panels but thinner and slightly curved down at the front. Tony flips it over in his hands, examining the bottom. He learns two things:

1. The piece feels sturdy and looks like it’s shaped at enough of an angle to work as a (slightly unwieldy) crowbar, which is exactly what he was hoping for.

And 2. He either isn’t being watched that closely, or hasn’t done anything yet to warrant getting shocked.

Good.

There’s just barely enough of a gap between the nearest camera and the metal plating on the wall for him to set the curved edge of the seat inside.

He slips on the first attempt, an ungodly sound of metal screeching on glass echoing through the room. Tony looks back towards the bed, not quite able to make Peter’s face out at this distance but fully aware that he must be awake now.

“Mr. Stark, I can - ”

“Nuh uh. Stay over there, please.”

He knows Peter could probably pry the camera loose even without the use of a wedge, but that would defeat the purpose of Tony keeping him out of it. He can’t be certain, but he’s willing to bet that intentional property damage is going to garner some kind of reaction from the Grand Poobah, in a way that disassembling a chair probably wouldn’t be. The chair can easily be reassembled. The camera? Probably not so much after this.

If someone is going to get their neurons scrambled for this little stunt, he’d prefer it not to be the kid.

Tony adjusts his grip and sets his shoulder against the shank end of the seat, putting his full body weight behind it. There’s that same screeching noise again, and then a pop, and then the whole camera crashes to the ground, sending glass and bits of electronics scattering everywhere.

He squints down at the floor around him, careful not to move his feet.

“I’m gonna be honest, I didn’t really think this part through,” he admits. “I was pretty sure I was gonna get zapped way before I got to this point.”

“What are you doing?”

Tony glances up and gives Peter a sour look, trusting that Peter’s eyesight is good enough to make it out even in the near-total dark. As if Tony’s going to explain anything when they’re most likely still being watched. Although given that no one has intervened yet - maybe not?

In any case, Peter seems to take the hint. “Oh, right.”

“Kid, can you throw me one of the washcloths?  Careful, there might be glass over there too.”

Peter steps gingerly over to the sink, but instead of tossing over the washcloth he makes his way back over to Tony, bent double to sweep the glass towards the far corner in front of him as he goes.

Tony reaches down, tries to grab the washcloth away from the kid, but Peter swats at his hand.

“It’s not as big a deal if I get cut,” Peter says.

Tony rolls his eyes in the dark, biting down the urge to snap back at him. He knows that Peter is talking about his healing ability, which is all well and good. Under different circumstances, Tony might agree.

What the kid is forgetting is that his abilities are their one and only ace in the hole here. Tony would rather not waste that card avoiding a few minor cuts and scrapes for himself.

But Tony has no way of explaining any of that to Peter without tipping his hand to their presumed audience, and so he keeps his mouth shut as Peter carefully sweeps all the glass fragments into a pile. He picks out the electronics as he goes, handing them up to Tony to examine piece by piece. There’s a bunch of wiring, and some kind of crystal thing that he’ll need to examine in better lighting to figure out.

“Okay, I think I got all of it,” Peter says.

They crawl back into bed, spreading the pieces out on the sheet between them. Tony picks up each piece in turn, running his fingers over the edges, fitting it all back together in his mind.

He finally falls asleep, mind churning.

*

When he opens his eyes, Peter is already awake. Tony groans.

It’s distressingly similar to their very first morning - the kid is leaning up against the headboard, sitting cross-legged this time, a pillow propped between his knees to give him a makeshift work surface.

By the looks of it, Peter’s managed to reassemble most of the camera. Nice.

It’s not that either of them wants to build a camera specifically, but figuring out how each alien piece works is tantamount to figuring out what else they might be able to build with the pieces.

Tony washes his face, gulps down one of the mugs of now cold not-coffee.

When afternoon comes, they only get one tray of food.

“What? Oh come on! It’s only been like an hour, we’ve still got plenty of time to put on your damn show,” Tony says.

The screen clicks on and in the next second the Grandmaster is staring back at them, looking almost sympathetic.

“Tony, Tony, Tony. Cameras cost units. So does food. You see how this works? I didn’t, to be honest with you, not at first. The whole idea of having to pay for things that I want,” he shudders, then glances off camera. “But I’ve come around to the idea! It’s great, it’s so - egalitarian.”

He pronounces the word like he’s just learned it off a Page-A-Day calendar. Tony is still trying to work out how to reply, but Peter beats him to the punch.

“You mean you have to pay for this whole setup? Dude, just get a youPorn account next time. It’s so much easier than kidnapping people.”

Dammit, kid.

Tony holds up a hand. “Listen, I’m sorry. I was bored, okay? I don’t know about you, but our species isn’t capable of having sex twenty-four hours a day. We’d really appreciate something else to do.”

The Grandmaster frowns back at him. “Twenty-four hours a day? And then what happens in the other six hours?”

Well, that answers one of Tony’s questions. Not one of the more pressing ones, but still.

“The number of hours wasn’t really my point,” Tony says, trying to steer the conversation back around.

“So, you’re proposing that I give you some form of entertainment, and in return you will…?”

Tony isn’t particularly thrilled with the implication, but at least it’s not an outright ‘no.’ If they can find a way to bargain for supplies, it could be worth it.

“Name your terms.”

“Well, I personally would like to see Peter get a little more involved in things.”

Tony spares Peter a glance at that. But the Grandmaster isn’t finished -

“Specifically, Peter’s mouth,” he adds.

The kid is stone-faced, staring back at the man on the screen. When he speaks, his voice comes out a whole lot steadier than Tony would expect.

“In return for what, exactly?”

The man steeples his hands in front of his face, his forefingers just touching his bottom lip.

“Access to the other channels,” he suggests finally.

“No deal,” Peter responds, his expression twisting in disgust. “Why would we want to watch your creepy porn-o-vision?”

“Hey now, it’s not all porn! I mean, most of it is, yes. See my previously recorded statements re: sex and the fantastically lucrative selling thereof, but aside from that I think we’ve put together a really solid lineup - ”

It needs to be something small. Innocuous. As loathe as Tony is to admit it, this little bargain is nothing more than a proof of concept; a test for both sides.

“Pen and paper,” Tony interjects.

“Mmm, that sounds boring to watch. All that writing, and reading, and writing...”

“Yeah well, gotta get started on my memoirs at some point.”

“Alright, fine. If Peter does his part, I’ll do mine. Probably. To be honest it really depends on the strength of the performance, the ratings, critical response, et cetera et cetera. I could go on, but I don’t want to bore me with the details. Do we have a deal?”

Peter answers before Tony can open his mouth.

“Deal.”

The Grandmaster actually waves goodbye at them before the screen cuts. The moment it does, Peter drops down into their remaining chair.  “Oh god.”

“You should eat, before it gets cold,” Tony tries.

“Is this a bad time to admit that I’ve never - ”

So much for that. “Woah, okay. I’m gonna stop you right there. Eat first, you’ll feel better.”

Peter looks dubious at that, and to be honest Tony has no idea whether it’s true or not, but hey, it works. Peter plucks at the food, chewing and swallowing woodenly.

“He means, like, oral, right?” he says.

“That’s generally, like, what someone’s mouth being involved means, yes.”  He knows he shouldn’t be mocking the kid. None of this is his fault - well, a little of it is. If Peter had kept his mouth shut maybe Tony could have worked out a different deal. Although to that point - why the fuck did Tony ask for pen and paper, of all things?

Instead, here they are.

“Why the hell did you agree to this? It’s not like he’s giving us one of the suits back, it’s fucking pen and paper, we - ” It occurs to Tony he’s not sure what he’s more angry about. That Peter agreed in the first place, or that he himself hadn’t thought quicker, bargained for more. He lets out a long breath, swallowing down the rest of his tirade. “I don’t want to do this to you.”

“Uh, strictly speaking Mr. Stark, won’t I be the one doing things to you?”

“Yes, let’s split hairs about word choice. Because that’s what’s important here. Not the impending sexual assault.”

Peter sort of curls in on himself at that. There’s a reason neither of them have said the words outright. It’s an ugly way to describe their situation, regardless of how true it is.

“It’s not like that,” Peter mumbles.

“It’s exactly like that. How else would you describe a man blackmailing a fifteen year old into - ”

“I’m seventeen!”

“Oh, well in that case, absolutely! Those extra two years put the two of us on completely even footing.” Tony tries to reign in his frustration and doesn’t entirely succeed. “C’mon, Peter, you gotta know how this all seems from my side of things.”

Tony stops, horrified at what he just implied. Jesus, he’s an asshole.

He’s supposed to be the adult here. He’s supposed to be shielding Peter, shouldering the greater part of the burden so Peter doesn’t have to, so that one of them can come out of this (maybe, mostly) intact.

Instead, here he is dumping his issues on the kid, making him responsible for the weight of Tony’s own self-loathing.

Even Pepper had eventually tapped out of that particular unenviable job.

“Peter - ”

“I’m sorry - ”

“Don’t. For the love of god, don’t apologize to me. Okay?”

Peter purses his lips, dipping his head in assent.

“I’m gonna take a shower.”

It’s the only thing he can think of to give them both some space.

Some time for his temper to settle, time to figure out a way to justify this to himself.  He stands under the spray, tries to imagine he’s back at the compound. If he had FRIDAY with him, she could analyze the components of the camera pieces, hell, she could run a scan on the chips in their necks and give him an estimate on the voltage required to short out the little fuckers.

There’s a niggling of an idea there, half formed.  Tony doesn’t follow the thread of it too far - he already knows they lack a few essential parts to make it work. Which brings him back to the subject of bartering, which brings him back to the present.

This deal sucks. The next one is bound to be worse. But maybe, just maybe, it’ll get them what they need.

He shuts off the shower with some regret, then stretches a bit as the air vents do their thing.

Peter has moved back over to the bed. He’s bent over the camera pieces again, turning one of them over and over in his fingers. Even from here, Tony can tell he’s not really focused on it.

Tony stretches out next to him, nudges Peter’s knee to get him to look up.

“Your girlfriend, the surprise kisser - ”

“MJ,” Peter supplies. “And she’s not my girlfriend.”

“Whatever. She ever suck you off?”

“What? No! We’re not - I told you it wasn’t like that.”

“Okay. So, anyone else? You said you’d messed around a bit, I’m just trying to get an idea of what that means.”

“Um, no, I just meant like hands and stuff.”

Christ. “What does ‘and stuff’ mean in this context?”

“You know, like what we did yesterday. The uh - the second time.” Peter is now beet red, which Tony figures was bound to happen at some point during this discussion regardless.

“Are you sure you want to do this? We don’t have to.”

“No, I want to. I mean, you’re not the only one going stir crazy in here with nothing to do. And I know it doesn’t sound like a lot but, it might help us plan… stuff.”

At some point, Tony is going to have to give the kid some training on how to talk in code. But not right now.

“Okay, if you’re sure. Would it make you less nervous if I went first?” Tony gestures at Peter’s lap.

Peter’s eyes widen to an almost comic degree.  

“Wait, really?”

“Only if you want. I can show you how it’s done, plus it’ll help you be a little more relaxed.”

There’s a vital flaw in his logic. Even if he plans to (somewhat literally) blow the kid’s mind, it doesn’t make what he’s offering right. Arousal isn’t the same as consent, and taking this first experience away from Peter when it isn’t strictly necessary for the deal isn’t justifiable. But if he can make Peter feel good - that makes it better, maybe. Probably not.

Tony’s never claimed to possess anything like Steve’s absolute moral clarity. He doesn’t try to figure out what Steve would do in this situation. It wouldn’t be this.

“That would be - yes, yeah that sounds. Yes. Please.”

Peter is still holding a piece of the disassembled camera. Tony plucks it from his hand and sets it on the table along with the rest of the camera pieces, then nudges the kid backward when he doesn’t seem to take the hint to lie down.

Tony lets one hand settle on Peter’s thigh, stroking. The muscles underneath his palm are taut, as if Peter is forcibly holding himself in place.

“Pete? You gotta relax.”

“Uh huh.” Peter nods eagerly. He doesn’t relax in the least. Whatever. That’ll probably sort itself out anyway, he figures.

Tony starts with his hand, just to get the kid going. He doesn’t think about how thanks to yesterday morning, he knows the particular rhythm that Peter likes. Does his best not to even look down at what he’s doing, as if not watching Peter spread out below him makes it somehow less damning.

But he can’t look away for long.

“Two things to remember,” he starts. “One, unless you really, really know what you’re doing, teeth should never be involved in this equation. And two, sloppy isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”

Peter nods back at him, mutely. He could swear the kid is actually taking mental notes.

Tony leans down, his hands braced on Peter’s hips - it won’t necessarily stop the kid if he decides to buck his hips, but Tony hopes it might at least serve as a reminder not to. He sucks the head of Peter’s cock into his mouth, laving the underside with the flat of his tongue. Peter’s skin is smooth and warm, both in his hand and against his lips. Peter is fully hard in what seems like a matter of seconds, unbelievably responsive to the touch.

Tony moves one hand back to the base of Peter’s cock, tightening his fist just enough to stall him from coming too soon while he swallows him the rest of the way down.

He moans.

One of his hands snakes down to brush tentatively over the back of Tony’s head, then moves away again. Tony reaches out blindly and grabs Peter’s wrist, pulling his hand back where it was, vaguely hoping the kid doesn’t yank his hair out.  

If he does though, well, it’ll probably be worth it.

Tony doesn’t think about how the kid tastes, or how he can feel Peter straining to hold himself still underneath him. He doesn’t think about - oh jesus christ - how the kid is still calling him Mr. Stark right now, breathlessly, desperately.

Tony stays locked in place when Peter comes. He knows pulling off would probably play better for the cameras, but fuck that, they don’t get to see. Tony can keep this one thing, this one part of Peter secret from prying eyes.

When Tony does finally pull away, he ducks his head, wiping his mouth and chin off on his forearm.

Peter is staring at him like he invented sex. His face and chest are flushed, his breathing still a little irregular.

“That was awesome.”

There’s no pretense there at all. No cool and collected facade, just unabashed enthusiasm. It’s kind of refreshing.

Tony plants a quick kiss on his thigh, grinning. “Yeah?”

It’s not that he needs confirmation, not like his ego needs that added bit of stroking. And yet.

Peter is nodding back at him like a bobble-head. “Yeah.”

“Good. ‘Cause now it’s your turn.”

Tony’s not sure what he expected in response to that - the kid to stop nodding, the enthusiasm to dim. It doesn’t.

Peter sits up, nudging Tony over so their positions are reversed. Then stops, frowning slightly. Tony wonders if he’d managed to forget the cameras, if the hesitance was Peter suddenly remembering. All eyes on you, kid.

Instead, what Peter says is -

“Does it um, taste weird?”

Tony can’t quite control whatever dubious expression must come over his face just then. Thankfully Peter doesn’t seem to notice.

“What, you’ve never tasted yourself?” he asks.

Peter shakes his head.

“Come here.”

Tony reaches up, cradling a hand around the back of Peter’s neck and pulling him down into a kiss. There’s not much more than a trace of Peter left on Tony’s tongue, but he figures it’ll be enough to give the kid a taste.

Peter, all awkward evidence to the contrary, turns out to be surprisingly adept at kissing. The kid has always been a quick learner, he figures. By the time Peter pulls away they’re both breathing a little heavier, and Tony can’t be held responsible for the way his body reacts to Peter stretched out over him, skin to skin.

“You don’t have to do this. It’s pen and paper, not like we’re getting something awesome out of it.”

Peter grins back at him. “Yeah, but I really want you to show me how those Kruzkal-Szekeres things look graphed out.”

Tony catches himself just shy of gaping at the kid. He’s only fifty-percent sure that Peter is kidding.

Peter shifts above him, backing up a bit so he’s kneeling between Tony’s legs, hands ghosting over Tony’s sides like he’s not quite sure what to do.

“Just remember rule number one and you’ll do great,” Tony prompts.

“Right, no teeth,” Peter replies with surprising seriousness.

Peter tentatively wraps one fist around Tony, stroking along the underside of the shaft with his thumb. Tony tries to tell himself he’s not going to rush the kid, he’s going to let Peter set the pace here, but the lightness of the touch is driving him a little bit insane. Tony reaches down and wraps his own hand over Peter’s, tightening his grip and pumping slowly.

Peter gets the message. When Tony lets go, Peter’s grip stays firm around him, perfect. He strokes Tony once more before stooping down to press his lips against the head of Tony’s cock, just under the slit. Peter’s lips are only slightly moist from their kiss earlier, but his tongue is deliciously warm and wet when it darts out to lick right over slit.

Tony glances down and wishes to god he hadn’t. It’s burned into his memory now - Peter, one arm braced against the bed, his brow furrowed in concentration, the barest hint of pale pink lips visible as he sinks down, mouth stretched around the head of Tony’s cock.

Tony lets his head fall back against the mattress, closes his eyes.

Peter hasn’t found a rhythm yet, still too wrapped up in exploration. And exploration is the best way Tony can describe the way Peter’s tongue is mapping out every vein and sensitive spot, the way hollows his cheeks, changes the angle of his head, tries again.

Tony probably should have expected this, that Peter’s approach to sex would be approximately the same way he tested out a new web formula - testing theories, alternate circumstances, swapping out variables until he achieves the desired result.

Peter pulls off with a slick pop, continues stroking Tony with his hand while he repositions himself on the bed, a little lower this time. He drags his tongue along the underside of Tony’s cock from root to tip, then swallows him again.

Tony swears under his breath. “You’re killing me, kid.”

Which is apparently the exact wrong thing to say. Peter pulls off him immediately, looking anxious.

“That bad?”

“No!  No. Not bad at all. I meant the good kind of killing.”

Peter makes a face at that. He hasn’t stopped stroking Tony’s dick, slick now with a combination of Peter’s spit and his own precum.

“I don’t think I can, um,” Peter pauses to swallow, “get all of it in there?”

It’s possibly the least sexy thing Tony’s ever had anyone say to him in bed, and he’s heard some pretty strange shit over the years. It’s not so much the meaning as the horrendously awkward phrasing. He replies the only way he can.

“So don’t.”

Maybe being glib wasn’t the best approach, since Peter doesn’t look particularly reassured.

“Pete, listen. Just do what you’re comfortable with, that’s rule number one.”

“I thought rule number one was the teeth thing?”

Brat.

“Okay fine, let’s make that rule number two. Rule number one is deep-throating is not compulsory on your first-ever blow job. I know you enjoy overachieving and all, but c’mon, leave a little something for the rest of us mere mortals to take pride in.”

Peter snorts at that. Yeah, Tony may have gone a little heavy on the ridiculousness there, but at least it worked. Peter settles back down, a little easier now.

He sucks Tony’s head back down, this time managing what is almost a coordinated rhythm between his hand and his bobbing head.  This time, Tony doesn’t close his eyes, or look away. Peter’s eyes are closed, his mouth stretched wide and warm and tight around Tony’s cock.

Peter groans against him.

It’s not until then that Tony realizes Peter’s other hand isn’t braced against the bed anymore. He looks down along his own body, shifting his leg to get a better view. Peter’s got one hand fisted around the base of Tony’s cock, his mouth working the head. His other hand is fisted around his own cock, pumping away furiously.

Tony’s mind goes momentarily blank.

He grabs a fistful of Peter’s hair - he manages not to yank at it, but he tugs insistently until the kid finally pulls off, a slight look of concern on his face. Tony doesn’t bother explaining; in the next moment he’s coming all over Peter’s chest and neck. Peter lets out a small noise of surprise, his hand still working his own cock, and comes as well just a moment later.

Nothing happens for a stretch of time, the room filled only with the sound of their breathing.

Peter trails his fingers through the streaks of come on his chest. Holds his hand out in front of his face and gives it a tentative lick. He winces at the taste.

Tony can’t help it; he laughs.

Peter shoots him a betrayed look and wipes his hand on Tony’s thigh in revenge. “I only wanted to try it because you seemed to like it so much!”

It takes a moment for Tony to calm down enough to reply. “Sorry kid, that was gold. What, because of yesterday?”

“Duh. And today too!”

Tony shrugs. “I thought it would play well for the cameras.”

“Oh.”

Across the room, the compartment door slides open. Inside there’s a tray of food, a stack of paper, and a pen.

 

Chapter Text

The kid tends to wake up slowly, restlessly, letting out these small noises Tony would very much prefer not to hear. That’s usually his signal to get out of bed, drink the not-coffee, take a shower. Wait for Peter’s higher brain functions to come back online before they do anything.

As if that makes a difference.

Tony jerks off while he’s in the shower; it’s become a bit of a routine. One hand braced on the wall beside him, head bent against the warm spray of the water on his back, facing away from the bed.

He can remember countless other warm, sleeping bodies he’s left behind the morning after without a second thought. Except there’s no lab to escape to here, and besides, he wouldn’t want Peter waking up alone anyway. Although Peter would probably feel differently, given the choice. Peter hasn’t quite gotten over the embarrassment of waking up hard each morning with no opportunity for the privacy to take care of things on his own.

Tony doesn’t always know right away when it happens - when restless sleep gives over to uncomfortable wakefulness. He’ll wander back over to the bed, looking but not touching, not until the kid is awake.

“Peter?”

Peter doesn’t open his eyes right away, but he does nod in response. “Hmm?”

“You want a hand?”

Peter’s eyes flutter open. He stretches a bit, rolling his shoulders, the sheet slipping down from his chest to just below his belly button. “Oh.”

“Yeah, ‘oh.’”

Peter scrubs a hand over his face. “...had a dream we were back at the compound.”

“You like the compound that much, huh?”

Peter flushes, frowns a little. “No.”

“Alright, give it up. Who was it, Natasha? Or is Thor more your type? ...it’s not Vision, is it?”

“Oh my god.”

“I know you get excited about my tech, but I didn’t think - ”

“Please stop talking.”

Peter’s got his hands over his face. Tony would feel bad for tormenting the kid, but there’s some pretty clear evidence that the teasing hasn’t dimmed his arousal in the least. He nudges Peter’s hip until the kid shifts over on the bed, just enough that Tony can sit down next to him, facing one another.

He lays a hand on Peter’s stomach, just over the edge of the sheet. Can feel the way Peter’s stomach clenches at the touch.

“Pete?”

“Mm hmm.” Peter’s hands have dropped back down to his sides and his eyes are still closed, but he’s nodding.

Tony can see the cameras moving out of the corner of his eye, angling for a better shot. They’re practically silent to Tony’s ears, but from the way Peter frowns and tips his head towards the nearest one, he guesses their movements aren’t nearly so innocuous for Peter.

He pulls the sheet down further, letting it fall midway down Peter’s thighs.

Peter’s cock is hard and velvet-smooth in Tony’s hand. Peter tends to be impatient; rocking his hips forward in an attempt to speed the rhythm, but Tony just loosens his grip every time it happens, until he gets the message. Slow down.

The kid’s got a hair trigger and a lightning fast recovery time, which is a bit of a novelty for Tony. He’s never particularly been into the artless ingenue thing, not even back when he was one himself - too many years ago now to remember. But there’s the ugly, practical part of Tony’s mind that won’t shut up, reminding him that even if he can’t directly see or hear them, they have an audience to please. And that audience will eventually expect something more from them, probably sooner than later. More finesse. More creativity.

A better show.

Peter easily has the flexibility and physical stamina for it, but at the end of the day he lacks the experience and restraint to really draw things out in the way Tony knows they might need to.

And so he takes it slow, grudgingly thankful for the jar of lube that’s been provided. Drawing things out a little more each morning, until Peter’s thighs are trembling and he’s flushed from his cheeks all the way down his chest.

“Mr. Stark, please, I can’t - ”

“Shh, yes you can. You’re doing great.”

Tony ducks his head, the words echoing in his mind, filthy. He can’t help but be glad that Peter’s eyes are still closed, that Tony doesn’t have look Peter in the eye with those words still hanging in the air between them.

Peter is so easy to please, so eager to please.

And Tony knows that the smallest bit of praise from him tends to light the kid up like a beacon. And here he is, taking advantage. There’s a word for what he’s doing when he encourages Peter like that; starts with a ‘g’. Tony avoids thinking it.

Peter comes sooner than Tony was hoping, but longer than he’s lasted any other time so far.

He doesn’t know if it’s better or worse to leave the kid alone, afterward. To back off, give him some space to come back down to earth. Gather himself, get cleaned up. Or to stay beside him like he is now, one hand cupped over Peter’s hip, his thumb stroking along the join between Peter’s groin and upper thigh.

Tony pulls away, wipes his hand on one of the washcloths, watching Peter out of the corner of his eye. The kid stays still for a while, blinking up at nothing.

It takes a moment for Tony to realize Peter is staring up at one of the cameras, jaw clenched, each breath achingly deliberate.

 

*

 

They’ve got the camera components spread out on the table, and a stack of sketches and diagrams laid out next to it.

There’s a problem with what Tony assumes must be the power source - it’s some sort of crystal thing that’s cracked straight through. Other than that, they’ve got the lense, a bunch of coated wire that looks like it could be copper, a transmitter, and an assortment of casing pieces and tiny screws.

It’s not enough.

Peter’s got his own stack of paper too. Tony flicks through it, just for something to do while Peter’s in the shower. There’s a couple new web shooter designs drawn out, a new formula to test. Peter has also scribbled down everything he can remember from before they’d been sucked into the gravitational singularity. Tony can’t parse some of the shorthand, but he’s impressed with the level of detail on the parts he can decipher.

He sketches out answers next to a few of Peter’s question marks, makes a few suggestions on the web shooter designs.

Not that it will matter, if they can’t get out of this goddamn room and off this planet.

Peter finishes up in the shower, putting up with the air vents just long enough to not be dripping wet, then wanders by the table to chug down the second cup of water. He peers over Tony’s shoulder for minute, reaching down to pull one of the pages closer.

“You like?” Tony taps the pen near one of the web shooter mods.

“Woah, yeah. That’s way better!”

“Next time we’re in the lab, I’ll have FRIDAY print them up for you and we can test ‘em out.”

There’s a long pause.

“Uh huh, next time.”

Tony turns around, craning his neck back to meet Peter’s eyes. “You heard me.”

It’s a promise. One he’s not entirely sure he can keep, but he’s going to do his damn best.

Peter grabs the detached chair seat from where it’s leaning up against the wall, setting it back on the chair frame so he can join Tony at the table. They spend the better part of the day trading pages back and forth, stealing the pen out of one another’s hand as the need arises.

Tony draws out a Kruskal diagram for Peter, labelling the r and t values, the angles of the event horizons. Peter pours over the associated formulas, brow creased and lips pressed into a thin line as Tony looks on.

He likes walking Peter through advanced concepts, and loves tackling the theoretical engineering side of the design process, but eventually all of that has to become real - something he can touch and test with his own two hands. None of that is possible here.

At some point, Tony’s jangling nerves hit their breaking point.

He stands to stretch, then grabs a pillow off the bed and swats Peter in the shoulder with it.

“You ever tried boxing?”

“Uhh, no,“ Peter trails off dubiously.

“No time like the present, then. Up and at ‘em.”

“Is this safe?”

Tony rolls his eyes. Given Peter’s abilities, the question is clearly borne out of concern for Tony’s wellbeing, not his own.

“It’s practice, Parker. I promise to pull my punches if you promise to pull yours.” With a strong emphasis on the latter, please, he doesn’t add. “C’mon.”

He grabs another pillow off the bed, holds them up like boxing pads. Peter doesn’t take it seriously at first, but Tony repeatedly bops him on the head with the pillows until he gets his damn hands up and fixes his stance.

“Mr. Stark, you realize I’m literally never going to be in a situation where I need to box, right?”

“Wrong, young padawan.”

Peter cocks his head. “Does that make you Yoda, in this scenario?”

“Shut up and listen. You’re young, you’re used to being able to win a fight based on pure strength. But one day, you’ll come up against someone just as strong as you, or stronger, and you’re gonna need to rely on this instead,” he says, tapping a pillow against his own head.

“So it’s not about boxing, it’s about strategy?”

“Yep.” Tony swats at the kid’s side. “Keep your hands up.”

Peter does well. Better than Tony is ready to admit, actually, although he shouldn’t be surprised given the kid’s natural aptitude for anything physical. They switch places after a bit, Peter holding the pillows while Tony jabs and punches.

It’s a decent enough release. Tony doesn’t stop until he’s dripping sweat, gasping for breath, shoulders and arms burning with the strain of each hit. Peter, for his part, is barely breathing hard.

“Alright, enough,” Tony says.

Tony grabs the pillows out of Peter’s hands and throws them back on the bed. He turns and heads to the shower without looking back, stepping in without waiting for the water to heat, relishing the cool spray against his skin.

When he steps out, he notices Peter still standing in the same spot. Watching him.

Tony gestures behind himself. “Shower’s free if you want it.”

Even as he says it, he knows that isn’t why Peter is looking. Tony walks back over to the table, sits down with his elbows resting on his knees, hands folded. The kid’s eyes follow him, tracking downwards and god help him, Tony sees the kid actually lick his lips.

“Pete?”

“Can I um... you know, like what we did the other day?”

Tony could shut this down right now. Refuse to push the boundaries any further than he absolutely has to. Except he’s already done that, hasn’t he? If he’d been the sort of man to only take what was necessary, he wouldn’t already know what Peter tasted like when he came.

What he should say is no. Firm, decisive, no wiggle room for an argument. What comes out instead is - “You don’t have to. We’re not doing it for a trade this time, kid.”

“I know.”

And that’s somehow worse.

It’s not like he’s in a position to deny the appeal of this particular offer. Peter is standing there stark naked with shiny wet pink lips, and Tony’s own body is more than ready to accept with no input from his upstairs brain.

“Only if you’re sure you want to.” That’s right Tony, put it all back on the kid. Make him the culpable one here, you coward, he thinks.

Peter steps towards him, pauses, then comes the rest of the way over, standing between Tony’s spread thighs.

“I want to,” he says. “I want to do stuff that isn’t just because he says we have to.”

Tony just barely catches himself from snapping that the kid isn’t allowed to do anything at all until he can talk about it like a goddamn adult. Except Tony doesn’t need to hear Peter saying that; can live well enough without hearing how Peter would phrase it, the way his voice would probably waver just slightly.

And besides, he thinks he can understand what Peter’s trying to do. Recast this somehow as an active choice he’s making, rather than a concession to someone else’s demand.

Tony doesn’t actually say yes, but he does lean back in the chair, spreading his legs in invitation. It makes a difference, maybe, that he’s not asking the kid to do anything. Not out loud.

Peter sinks to his knees and Tony closes his eyes before he has to watch any further. He can already tell it’s an image that’ll come back to haunt him later, if haunting is really the right word for it.

He does his best to pretend it’s someone else.

It’s a pathetically weak defense. Every sound Peter makes breaks the illusion, even the hitching cadence of the kid’s breathing is easily recognizable, after a week spent together in such close quarters. Tony can feel the brush of Peter’s hair against his thighs, each one of Peter’s slim fingers clasped loosely around his calf.

He gives up on the illusion.

He wasn’t wrong earlier, judging Peter to be quick learner. It’s still a little awkward, a little fumbling, but damn if the kid doesn’t suck cock like he really enjoys it. Tony drops one hand down to cup Peter’s jaw, can feel Peter’s throat working under his fingertips, and it’s enough to tip him over the edge.

Peter doesn’t quite manage to pull off fast enough. He ends up swallowing some of it, the rest painting streaks over his lips and chin, dribbling down his neck.

Well. There’s another image that will come to him unbidden, in the quiet hours of the night. Tony wonders what it might take to erase it from his mind - even if only temporarily. If there’s any amount of time or number of drinks or one night stands that would be sufficient.

He doubts it.

 

*

 

There’s a mirror over the sink, which Tony could do without in this particular situation.

He’s well aware of his own vanity, and at any other time he would appreciate the chance to check his appearance. Fix his hair, search his beard for the hints of gray he knows are lurking there - something he outright refuses to do at present. Not in front of Peter.

But his own reflection isn’t something he necessarily wants to examine while he’s washing Peter’s come off his hands each morning, the kid sprawled out and sated on the bed behind him.

Plus, it’s been nearly a week since he last shaved.

His normally well-trimmed goatee is more of a messy overall scruff these days, leaving Peter’s thighs momentarily pink with stubble burn on the mornings Tony opts to use his mouth rather than his hands.

He scrubs a hand over his face, frowning at the mirror. It’s worth a shot. He leans over to one side of the sink, tapping on the nearest camera.

“Hey, room service, how about sending through a complimentary razor? You know, for appearance’s sake. Unless you’re into the whole naked hobo-chic thing I’ve got going on here.”

It’s a weak play, but if there’s any chance Tony can get the razor without having to strike a bargain for it, it’ll be worth it.

To his surprise, it works.

When the compartment opens that afternoon there’s two trays of food, along with what Tony assumes must be the alien-equivalent of a safety razor. It looks just a little bit like a potato peeler, but close enough.

Peter looks at the thing, then up at Tony, nonplussed. “...Really?”

“What? It was bothering me.”

Tony scratches at the stubble under his jaw, does his best to look innocuous. He lets his hand trail down his neck, over to one side. Taps one finger against his neck. Peter’s eyes widen in understanding.

“Oh.”

“Yeah, oh. Figured you were getting sick of the stubble burn.”

Peter catches himself, then manages to school his expression and nod.

“Right, yeah. Good.”

 

*

 

Peter is sitting on the side of the bed, carving another tick mark into the frame.

Day eight.

The screen clicks on.

“What do you want, Ruby Rhod?” Tony asks before the guy can speak.

He can see Peter’s brow furrow, probably trying to place the reference. It’s not lost on Tony that the movie came out years before the kid was born.

“I don’t understand why you’re still so hostile. I mean, I think we’ve all been getting along pretty well,” the Grandmaster says.

“Oh yeah, it’s been awesome. Best kidnapping ever,” Peter fires back.

Tony would very much like to reprimand him for antagonizing their captor, but he can’t quite manage to care. Plus - hypocritical, much? In any case, the Grandmaster apparently misses the sarcasm, because he beams in response.

“You see?” he says, gesturing at Peter. “It’s so amazing what we can accomplish when we all work together, with one goal. Which actually, is exactly what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Meaning what? We’ve met our quota for the day,” Tony says.

They had - trading lazy handjobs in the shower earlier that morning, their bodies overheated and slick in the warm spray, Peter’s lips just inches from Tony’s shoulder.

“You did, technically.”

“And?”

“And like I said, I have a constituency to appease. They tend to get bored. Need to change things up, keep it interesting. You know how it is.”

He’d expected this. There was only so long they were going to be able to skate along on handjobs and the occasional BJ before they started to lose their audience. He’d still wanted to stretch that time out as long as he could though, for Peter’s sake, if not his own sanity.

“What do you want?”

“It’s not about what I want, personally. If it were up to me, I’d be on my favorite new ship right now, spending some quality time with a certain sentient cephalopod by the name of Maurice. Instead I’m here, worrying about some nonsense to do with approval ratings. Frankly, this whole situation inconveniences me just as much as it inconveniences you.”

“Pretty sure you’re wrong there,” Peter says.

“Anywho,” he continues on, “I’ve been informed that recent polling suggests my citizens would appreciate more input. Something about their opinions being heard, I don’t know, to be honest I stopped listening after a while. But I want to make it clear that I care, very much, about whatever they were talking about. So I thought hey, I have these two humans, and I’m sure they’d just love to hear from their fans.”

“We have fans,” Peter mutters, his expression carefully blank.

This time, the Grandmaster stops to acknowledge the comment, grinning wide. “Oh absolutely!  But you don’t have to take my word for it - here’s what I’m going to do, I’m going to enable your screen so you can see everyone’s comments, maybe answer some questions, take a few suggestions. See what gets a good response, what doesn’t...”

He trails off, like he’s expecting an outpouring of gratitude or something.

“Are you done?” Tony says.

“Just as long as we’re all clear on the situation.”

“Crystal.”

“Perfect! Now if you don’t mind, I’m late for a - I don’t know how if your language has a word for it. What would you two call a ménage à fourteen?”

Neither Tony nor Peter bother to reply, and after a moment the Grandmaster shrugs it off and disconnects. Except the screen doesn’t go blank the way it has in the past.

“Pete, do me favor - don’t read this stuff.”

Peter shifts on the bed. “I think we kind of have to, don’t we?”

“‘We’ collectively do. You - individually - do not.”

There’s a pause. “We tried that before.”

“Kid, I’ve had forty some-odd years of dealing with this shit. Public opinion is a double-edged sword. I assume you’ve seen some of the op-eds and tell-alls about me?”

“Um.”

He shoots Peter a sardonic look. “I’ll take that as a yes. My point is, that kind of stuff can mess with your head. Fortunately for us, I’m pretty much immune to it by now. Okay?”

Peter still looks unconvinced, but he nods.

It’s not until then that Tony gives the screen his full attention. It’s barely a few moments before Peter interrupts.

“What kind of stuff are they saying?”

“What did we literally just talk about?”

“I know, I know. But you can give me like, a summary, without going into specifics right?”

“Gimme a minute.”

If Tony’s honest, a good number of the comments are indecipherable, littered with alien slang he’s almost glad he can’t understand. There’s plenty about himself that he reads and just as easily forgets. There’s a lot of enthusiasm for Peter, for specific parts of Peter’s body. Tony skims those comments too, files them away somewhere dark.

“Mr. Stark?”

Tony is careful to school his face before he turns around.

“Pretty much what you’d expect. I don’t know what ‘slarging’ is, and to be frank I don’t want to know. Other than that, blowjobs are a big hit, news at ten.”

“Oh. That’s okay then, I mean, we can do more of that, right? It wasn’t, um...”

“It’s okay to admit that you liked something, Peter. You might as well. It’s also okay to admit if you didn’t.” Tony is one-hundred percent not prepared to have this conversation. He clears his throat. “And just for the record, your body liking something doesn’t necessarily mean that, you know - ”

“I know,” Peter interrupts, sounding just as eager to avoid the conversation as Tony is.

“Right. Good. Glad we covered that.”

Tony wipes his hands on his thighs. Shuffles the paper around for something to do.

 

*

 

A lot of what comes through on the screen are questions. With nothing better to do and a fairly decent incentive to not antagonize the Grandmaster unless absolutely necessary, Tony picks out a few to answer.

Not necessarily honestly. What? He’s bored.

“What does Peter taste like? Hmm, pretty much like kumquat juice. You guys have kumquats on your planet, right?”

Peter snorts. He’s got his fist pressed against his mouth, stifling a laugh.

“Okay, FFF4ever wants to know what I taste like?” Tony says.

“Umm, okay hold on lemme think.” Peter traces a finger over his bottom lip. “Glenmorangie?”

Tony shoots the kid a look. “I’ll have you know, I’ve been involuntarily sober for at least nine days now.”

“Wow, congratulations.” Peter looks almost painfully sincere.

Tony’s still pretty sure the kid is making fun of him, which is confirmed mere seconds later -

“Is that like a record for you?”

Little shit.

When the food comes, Tony props a tray against the screen so they can eat sans commentary.

As far as he can tell, Peter’s managed to avoid looking at the screen. Not that Tony could really stop him, if curiosity won out. But he’s pretty sure the kid’s got enough to deal with without knowing what a planet full of strangers thinks of his ass.

Peter picks through his food, setting the little orange bean-sprout sort of things off to one side. Tony steals them off his plate, offers up some of the purple-looking meat things in return, which Peter accepts. They’ve eaten enough of the alien food by now that they each have their preferences.

“So, explain this thing with MJ to me.”

Peter looks up. “Uh, why?”

“Because I’m suddenly overcome with a deep desire to know how teenage romance works these days. Is eating tide pods still all the rage?”

“It never was. You’re really that bored, huh?”

“Bingo.”

Peter takes a bite of his food, chewing thoughtfully for a minute before he swallows.  

“We’re friends. We messed around a little bit, last summer. But um, she wasn’t really interested in the whole relationship thing, and I uh - ” Peter hesitates, “I was already kind of interested in someone else anyway.”

“And?” Tony prompts.

“And nothing. That’s pretty much it. We’re still good friends.”

“So what happened with the someone else?”

Peter chokes on his food. He grabs his water to wash it down before he’s able to speak. “Nothing - nothing much.”

Tony’s not sure what he expected. It’s not like he thought Peter was the Casanova-type, but still. He wonders if it would make it any easier, to know that when they made it out of here Peter would be going home to a nice, healthy, wholly age-appropriate relationship.

“You really think it would mess me up, if I read that stuff?” Peter asks.

“It might. It might not, I have no idea.”

Peter is silent for a little while, mulling it over.

“How did you deal with it? I mean, you were on the cover of Forbes when you were like twenty, so -”

“Twenty-one.”

“- whatever, close enough. You have people talking about you all the time,” Peter swallows, “watching everything you do.”

Tony stops to think. How had he dealt with it?

Before his parents had died, it’d mostly been puff pieces - future of the company bullshit, Tony posed next to some rebuilt engine or his latest robotics endeavor. But after, his press had fallen into two distinct camps: carefully constructed marketing-department approved articles, and tabloid covers that tended to be the direct impetus for the former.

“There’s a video out there somewhere,” Tony says, “and the photos ended up all over the papers. It must’ve been Oktoberfest. I was nineteen. Had a great time, you know that trip was when Happy got his nickname? Anyway, there’s this video where I slap one of the paparazzi with a pork knuckle and then throw up on the Münchner Kindl.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. Point is, I’m maybe not your best role model there. My seeming comfort in dealing with the media isn’t bourne out of some innate talent, it comes from making a lifetime’s worth of very public whoopsies.”

Peter is quiet for a while after that, fidgeting on the bed, tapping his foot. His eyes are darting around the room, looking everywhere except at the screen, and by extension, at Tony.

It’s got to be torture, Tony realizes. Nothing to do except think about the thing Tony had made him promise not to look at. Tony stands up and walks over, grabbing a pillow off the bed and swatting Peter in the side with it.

“Let’s go. Our adoring public wouldn’t want us getting flabby.”

Peter huffs, but he rolls up to his feet and tosses Tony the other pillow so they can box.

 

*

 

Tony wakes up late the next morning. He can’t be sure if it’s the newly instituted limitations on his caffeine intake, the longer days, or the strict day/night schedule of the lights in here, but he’s started sleeping more regularly.

He’ll have to make sure to send a thank you note to the Grandmaster for that little side-benefit. It’ll be delivered via Jericho missile. He spends a few  blissful moments imagining what he could do if he had his tech available to him, but eventually he has to face the day.

Peter is already awake beside him, lying on his back with his knees bent, head propped up against the headboard with a pillow. Looking directly at the screen.

Damn.

The text is small enough from here that Tony wouldn’t have a chance at reading it. “Just how good is your eyesight, kid?”

Peter has the grace to look abashed at being caught out.

“Pretty good, I guess,” he says.

Tony reminds himself that he has to be the adult here. He can’t really be angry at Peter; the curiosity must have been killing him. But at the same time, he’d wanted to shield the kid from some of the more colorful commentary.

“Anything in there you want to talk about?”

“Um, no not really.”

“Liar.”

“Takes one to know one,” Peter says.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Peter pushes himself up on his elbows, turning to look at Tony.

“It means they weren’t just talking about blowjobs. They were talking about us doing other stuff too - like, a lot of other stuff.”

“Yeah, and?”

“And - ” Peter stops. Glances away and then back again. “I get that you think I’m too young for all of this stuff, but that doesn’t really matter, does it? We’re basically on our own out here. So just - talk about things, don’t talk about things, whatever. But please don’t lie.”

It figures, that Tony’s attempt to be the adult would turn into getting schooled by his seventeen year old protégé.

“Deal?” Peter asks.

“Deal.”

Peter lets out a long breath, sinking back down on the bed. “Okay, good.”

Tony pushes himself upright, standing to stretch before making his way over to the compartment for his morning not-coffee.

Peter joins him after a few minutes, pausing over the second cup of coffee. Instead of pushing it over to Tony like he usually does, he picks it up, tipping his head down to give it a sniff. Tony watches as the kid takes a sip then immediately puts it down again, pulling a face.

“Still not your thing?”

Peter shakes his head. He looks like he’s scraping his tongue against his teeth inside his mouth.

“Thought I might as well try it, but no. Gross.”

“Well, good. More for me.”

Peter pushes the second mug over to Tony.

They don’t bother covering up the screen any more, although Tony is starting to think maybe that’s a mistake. Peter’s eyes keep flicking over in that direction, every time the screen scrolls down with new comments.

Still. If Peter’s paying attention to that stuff, Tony probably should too.

It’s more of the same. A few people are complaining because they’ve spent the morning talking instead of getting off like usual. Tony winces at that, not liking the idea that he’s apparently been so predictable.

“Should we - um,” Peter starts.

“Probably, otherwise the food’ll come late.” It’s kind of depressingly mundane, if Tony’s honest with himself.

On the other hand, he’s currently on an alien planet being extorted into sex with a barely-legal super-human, so. Probably not all that mundane, from a slightly more well-adjusted perspective.

Tony reaches out and pulls Peter into his lap, trying his best to ignore how easy this has become. How quick Peter is to lean into him, chest to chest, groin to groin. It isn’t supposed to be easy, a traitorous voice reminds him.

He drags his hands up and down Peter’s back, enjoying the flex and roll of the muscles there as Peter rocks forward, pressing their bodies together in a jerky rhythm.

It’s good, but not quite enough for either of them.

Tony reaches over to grab the lube off of the table, fumbling a little as he unscrews the lid and dips his fingers inside. He settles his other hand on Peter’s waist, nudging him back until there’s just enough space between them for Tony’s other hand to wrap around both of them.

He can’t see Peter’s face from this angle, with his spine curved in towards Tony’s body, forehead pressed into the join between Tony’s neck and his shoulder. But Tony can hear him plenty well enough, every stuttering breath and choked off moan.  

Peter comes after just a few strokes. Tony turns his head, buries his nose in Peter’s hair, presses his lips against the shell of his ear. He doesn’t bother to ease up, knows well enough by now that Peter’s got at least one more in him, knowledge which only serves to spur Tony onward.

A small whimper escapes Peter’s throat, hips twitching backward but not actually pulling away - probably overstimulated. His hands are wrapped around Tony’s shoulders, each finger dug in and bound to leave a mark. Tony wonders briefly how that will play for the cameras.

Peter comes a second time just as Tony himself is about to tip over the edge. He closes his eyes, feels every shudder of Peter’s body above him, punch-drunk on the smell of fresh sweat and arousal coming off the kid.

It’s not supposed to be this easy, he thinks.

But it is.

 

*

 

That night, Peter reaches out to him under the covers, pulls his arm out so it lays flat against the mattress, palm up. He meets Tony’s eyes in the near-darkness, slowly tracing out each letter across the inside of Tony’s forearm.

P L A N ?

He must have some idea what Tony is thinking, between the coils of copper wire stashed under the mattress and the safety razor sitting innocently over by the sink.

The problem, Tony knows, is that they need a battery. Something with an electric charge.

Tony hasn’t been able to voice any of this out loud, for obvious reasons. But the crystal thing that had powered the disassembled camera was clearly dead. And it wasn’t like they were going to find a Duracell battery laying around anywhere.

They’d have to bargain for it.

Tony wraps his hand around Peter’s arm, turning it over so his palm is facing upwards. He traces the letters slowly, carefully, against Peter’s skin.

E. M. P.

 

Chapter Text

 

“You ever tried this before?”

“Um, no?”

Tony rolls his eyes; that’s a yes. “Thought we had a whole conversation about not lying to each other.”

“Fine, yeah I’ve tried. It just - it didn’t really work for me. It felt weird.”

“It’s bound to feel a little weird until you get used to it. It’s also hard to get the right angle when you’re doing it to yourself.”

“I know, but I did everything the article said, and - ”

“I’m sorry, what?”  

He doesn’t actually need it repeated, which thankfully Peter seems to realize. Trust the kid to actually do the reading before trying to finger himself for the first time.

“Anyway, so should I - is there a position that’s better for this, or?”

“Whatever’s comfortable.”

Peter hesitates for a moment, then turns over onto his stomach. He doesn’t seem particularly nervous, which is something, at least. Tony grabs the lube off the table and settles next to Peter on the bed.

Generally speaking, Tony’s been able to avoid letting his eyes linger on Peter’s body. Asleep, Peter was covered by the sheet. Awake, Tony only had to glance at the kid’s too-trusting face to remind himself why looking too long would be a bad idea.

Right now though, Peter is facedown, spread out in front of him like an offering - all that smooth pale skin and impossibly lean muscle laid out on display.

If there’s a god of karma out there somewhere, he must be laughing his ass off right about now, Tony thinks.

Tony runs a hand down the kid’s back. Opens his mouth to say that Peter doesn’t have to do this, that they can figure out something else, but a couple things stop him mid-breath. For one, it would be a lie.

It had been subtle enough at first, but by now they’ve both noticed the daily portions of food getting smaller each day.

Peter had frowned down at his plate yesterday afternoon.

“You study econ at Midtown?” Tony had asked.

“One semester, yeah.”

He’d gestured between their plates. “Law of diminishing marginal returns in practice.”

The message was read loud and clear even without being explicitly stated: Give us more, or you get less.

Tony had combed through the ever-growing list of suggestions provided (that, plus several extremely unhelpful explanations of exactly what slarging was) for the least objectionable way to up the ante.

Peter had ultimately greenlit this one, and so now here they are.

He lets his fingers trail down between Peter’s legs, the pad of his thumb pressing against the delicate warmth he finds there. The muscles of Peter’s ass twitch at the touch, belying the nervousness he must be trying to cover.

“It’s just fingers, Pete. It’s not gonna hurt.”

“I know.” Peter’s voice is muffled, his head resting on his arms, face pressed into a pillow underneath him.

Tony strokes his thumb over the tight furl of muscle, waiting for Peter to get used to the sensation, relax into it. Once he does, Tony presses the tip of his thumb inside.

“Mr. Stark?”

Tony lets his thumb slip out. “Yeah, kid?”

“You know you don’t have to be so careful, right? Like, it’s okay. I’d kind of rather just get this over with, if I’m being honest.”

The kid is killing him. Not on purpose - he’s pretty sure Peter’s only saying any of that because he thinks that this won’t do anything for him, will just be a few minutes of awkwardness and then done.

Tony is pretty confident he can show him otherwise. Actually, thanks to Peter’s suggestion certain parts of Tony’s body are perking up, very much invested in proving Peter wrong.

“Alright,” Tony says. “You need me to slow down though, say something.”

“Uh huh.”

Tony reaches over, swipes a finger through the half-empty container of lube. He spreads it over his fingers, letting it warm for a few seconds before turning back to Peter’s body. He pushes a finger inside.

Peter doesn’t really react, other than to exhale slowly.

He’s deliciously tight. Tony spends a few moments just working the first finger back and forth, trying to let Peter get used to the sensation. He pulls out and shifts position on the bed so he can get a better angle, adding another finger. Peter wriggles a little bit in response.

“Okay?” Tony asks.

“Yep, yeah. Just ah - ” Peter turns his head to the side so he’s not talking into the pillow, and Tony can see that he’s got his eyes shut tight. “Your fingers are, you know, thicker than mine are. I guess.”

“Too much?”

“No. Just, feels different.”

Tony presses his fingers all the way in, right up to the knuckle, then works them back and forth in small movements. Peter shifts around a bit on the bed, rolling his shoulders back and pushing up on his elbows so he’s hugging the pillow in front of him, his head propped up, facing the headboard.

Once Peter’s relaxed enough to allow Tony a little more freedom of movement, he starts to test the waters. He changes the angle of each successive thrust, crooking his fingers until he finds what he’s looking for - knows he’s found it when Peter lets out a small gasp.

Bingo. Tony grins.

After that, it’s pretty much open season.

Tony doesn’t hit the spot on every thrust. He wants to draw things out just a little, some part of his mind gleeful at every stifled gasp and twitch of Peter’s hips in response.

He pulls his fingers about halfway out, working Peter with smaller thrusts, teasing, until he gets what he’s waiting for - Peter lets out an impatient whimper and pushes back into him.

The movement brings his hips up off the bed, and Tony glances down to see Peter’s cock is making a mess of the bed underneath.

Peter is talking, because of course he is. Tony can make out his own name, but most of it is unintelligible. He takes pity on the kid, reaches down to wrap his other hand around Peter’s cock at the same time he pushes his fingers all the way back in.

Peter comes all over his stomach and the mattress, his body sagging back down into the mess afterward. Tony manages to extract one hand from underneath his hips, pulling the fingers of his other hand out of Peter’s body with a squelching sound that is entirely too loud in the otherwise quiet room.

“Oh man,” Peter breathes.

“Just felt weird, huh?”

“Don’t be a dick.”

“Uh huh. You’re welcome, by the way.”



*

 

Peter wets one of the washcloths and wipes up the sheets as best he can. His nose wrinkles, examining the rumpled, now slightly-damp sheets.

“Should we like, wash them out and try to air dry them?” he says.

The idea has some merit. The sheets are remarkably clean, considering. But careful as they’ve both been, they’ve still been sleeping and sweating and sometimes coming on them for eleven straight days.

Tony hasn’t really given a shit about it up until now, and he generally wouldn’t expect a teenager (...of all people, seriously, kid?) to care either - except something occurs to him that he probably should have realized long before now.

“Your - ah, sense of smell,” he trails off, not sure how to ask the question without tipping off their audience.

Thankfully, Peter doesn’t seem to need anything else to answer. He looks away, shoulders hunched. “Eleven,” he replies.

Well damn.

They wash the sheets and pillow cases in the shower stall, drying everything as best they can in front of the vents and draping them over the table and chairs to air dry the rest of the way.

Tony spends some time working out after that.

Nothing too involved; tricep dips on the side of the bare mattress, calf raises on the lip of the shower pan, sit-ups, push-ups, anything else he can think of.

Peter sits on the floor on the other side of the room, knees bent, back against the wall, the fingers of one hand tapping slowly at the metal panelling behind him. It takes a while for Tony to realize what he’s doing - sticking his fingers to the wall just enough to pull at the skin, but not enough to be obvious.

Kid’s probably going out of mind with cabin fever.

Peter is a good enough kid that he usually manages to funnel his adrenaline junkie tendencies into helping people, but without that ready excuse for death-defying acrobatics, all that’s left is the desperate need for an adrenaline rush that won’t come - not while they’re stuck in here, at least. Tony knows the feeling all too well.

When the compartment opens later that day, they both register the larger portion of food with a kind of grim satisfaction. It’s good to be back to regular portions, of course, but it also confirms their hypothesis about diminishing returns, which… isn’t great.

Peter eats slowly, for a change, seeming to want to draw it out as long as possible.

“What happens,” he says, “when we run out of new stuff to do?”

“Kid, we’re nowhere near that point yet.”

“But - ”

Tony cuts him off with a look.

He pushes a bunch of the more carb and protein-like things over to Peter’s plate, accepts a few of the vegetables in return. If Peter notices the disparity in the trade, he hasn’t commented on it yet.

It’s not a purely altruistic act. They both need Peter to be fighting-fit if they’re going to make it out of here. More than just that though; after two weeks in this place there’s been no sign of any possible exit other than the sliding compartment.

Peter probably assumes the boxing and exercise is just a way to burn off excess energy, a way to keep fit, keep them both from going nuts in here - and that’s definitely a factor.

But the upshot is that Tony needs to make sure his shoulders are going to fit through that opening, when the time comes. And that means shedding some (hard-earned) muscle mass.

“Turducken,” Peter says as he chews, interrupting Tony’s thoughts.

“What?”

“Turducken,” he swallows and gestures at one of the cubes of probably-meat. “What it tastes like. If you like, genetically engineered them all to be the same animal instead of shoving them inside each other.”

Tony makes a face. “I’ll take your word for it.”

“My uncle made one once for Thanksgiving. It wasn’t bad. May wouldn’t eat it, she thought the whole idea was disgusting.”

“Your aunt has good judgement.”

“Yeah,” Peter trails off, probably lost in the memory.

Tony pauses. “She’s going to be super pissed at me when we get back, isn’t she?”

“She’s going to be super pissed at both of us,” Peter fires back.

“On the upside, Happy’s probably getting an earful from her right about now.”

Peter grimaces at that, which is the opposite of what Tony intended.

“Should we - um, be coming up with a cover story or something?”

“That depends. How likely is your aunt to be satisfied with an ‘it’s classified’ as an explanation?”

“Zero percent likely.”

“Yeah, I thought so.” Tony pauses to think. “We can give her the bare bones - cosmic singularity, zapped to an alien planet, took time to find a way back, et cetera.”

He stops. It had taken a moment to realize what he’s suggesting there. He pushes his plate away, suddenly queasy.

“No, ignore that.” He has to force himself to look up, look Peter in the eye. “Tell her whatever you want, whatever you need to.”

Peter’s brow furrows, then smoothes as understanding dawns.

“Mr. Stark, I don’t need to - ”

“Stop.”

“But - ”

“Pete, listen. There’s no reason you have to decide that kind of thing right now. For now, we have to do what we have to do. But you might feel differently about things later, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Okay?”

Peter is silent for a long moment, then nods. “Fine.”

He does his best not to think about it; what happens when they get back. When. If. Whichever. He and Peter are fine right now because they have to be, neither one of them has the space or capability to fly off the handle or retreat into themselves too much, not without screwing over both of them.

Tony doesn’t want to think about what happens when those constraints are removed, when Tony can rattle around an empty penthouse accompanied only by as much liquor as his liver can handle. When Peter goes back to school, if his teachers and friends will be able to tell that something has happened. If a concerned teacher will pull him aside after class one day, send him to the school counselor.

Tony knows that whatever happens, it won’t be a problem he can throw money at or engineer his way out of, and that terrifies him.

 

*

 

“Got any eights?”

“Go fish.”

Peter frowns as he takes a card from the pile.

The cards are a little wonky, hand drawn and ripped from full sheets of paper as they are, but they function well enough.

“Got any eights?” Tony asks.

“Hey! You said - ”

“It’s called having a poker face, kid.”

“We’re not playing poker. We’re playing Go Fish, and that’s cheating.”

“Depends on how you look at it. You say tom-ay-to, I say... ‘gimme all your eights.’”

Peter starts to pull a card of out his hand, then stops. Raises an eyebrow at Tony, jaw clenched to hide a smirk.

“Go fish,” he says.

“You learn well, grasshopper.”

Peter keeps glancing at the screen. To be fair, Tony can’t help looking that way either.

They’d foregone their usual morning activities today. Instead, Tony had knocked on one of the cameras and asked to talk to the Grandmaster about a ‘mutually beneficial’ arrangement.

They hadn’t received a response yet, so the card game had started as a way to kill time until then.

“I don’t think how to be a better liar is what I’m supposed to be learning from this internship,” Peter says.

Tony swallows down his first response, which is that Peter probably isn’t supposed to be learning to suck cock as a part of the internship either. “...you do realize the internship is fake, right?”

“Duh. But I learn stuff when I’m in the lab with you, on weekends. So it’s kind of real, isn’t it?”

“Sure, why not.”

“Good. ‘Cause I’ve been listing it on college applications and stuff.”

The internship was real, to a certain point at least. Tony had wanted to make sure if any journalist went digging, they’d find all the appropriate information and nothing at all implying that Peter might be a certain spandex-clad, web-slinging vigilante. It was one of the many things that kept Tony up at night.

“That’s fine. I doubt any college admissions departments are going to call to check, but if they do you’re covered. I had FRIDAY sort everything out so it looks legit.”

“Not Ms. Potts? I thought she handled a lot of the business stuff.”

“Pepper wasn’t exactly taking my calls at that specific moment in time. I wouldn’t worry about it, FRIDAY is pretty thorough.”

“Oh. Um, sorry. I didn’t realize.”

“Most people haven’t. It’s a media strategy thing. Get people used to seeing us apart, no big sudden changes that’ll rattle the stock prices. Make it look amicable.”

“Was it?”

“Was it what?”

“Amicable.”

“Of course.”

At that moment, the screen changes.

The Grandmaster grins at them expectantly. Tony can see Peter steeling himself, the makeshift cards crumpling in his hand. He stretches out one leg under the table, nudges Peter’s knee with one of his own. It’s not much, but it seems to steady him a bit.

“The 1970s called, they want their outfits back,” Tony starts.

“Weak,” Peter mutters from across the table.

“I have no idea what that means, and I also don’t care. My staff tells me you have a proposition?”

“More of a suggestion, really.”

“Go on.”

“You want us to keep entertaining your subjects, right? Change things up, keep it interesting - but there’s only so much we can do, given the situation.”

The Grandmaster lights up. “Oh, you want friends!”

“No!” Tony and Peter both object.

“Friends aren’t uh… won’t be necessary,” Tony continues. “I’m asking if it might be possible to get additional supplies.”

The Grandmaster stares at them for a few beats without responding. Tony wonders just how explicitly he’s going to have to spell this out.

“C’mon, sex toys? Handcuffs, silk ties, vibrators, that sort of thing?” he tries, hoping to hell his expression doesn’t give anything away.

There’s still no immediate response, but a grin slowly breaks out over the Grandmaster’s face.

“Yes! You see, this is what happens when great minds put themselves together and do great things! This is going to be fantastic, I can feel it. Can you feel it? I can.” He stops to rub his hands together.  “Let me talk it over with my underlings - sorry, my staff, I’ve been trying to make a point about using that word - and we’ll get back to you.”

The screen cuts back to the message board, showing a flurry of new activity. Tony ignores it.

“Your turn,” he says.

Peter has to swallow a few times before he speaks. “You got any fives?”

“Go fish.”

“Liar.”

 

*

 

The problem, of course, with asking for a bunch of sex toys is that they have to actually make use of them, if they want to avoid suspicion.

Peter runs his fingers over the clasp of the handcuffs gingerly, subtly testing their strength. He shifts on his feet, sets them back on the tray like he’s afraid they’re going to come to life and bite him.  Which, Tony has to admit given that it’s alien tech, is not completely outside the realm of possibility.

He looks at the cuffs, then over at the headboard and nods. “How about I wear the pretty bracelets,” he suggests.

“Are you sure? I can - ”

“Not exactly my first rodeo with these.” Handcuffs had featured somewhat prominently in that first sex tape, after all, along with a blindfold that was very similar to the one currently curled up like a snake on the tray in front of him.

Peter nods, looking relieved.

It’s not the kind of thing Tony plays with often; at least, not since the tape had been released. He doesn’t particularly like the idea, but he likes the idea of cuffing Peter even less, for all kinds of different reasons. Not the least of which are Peter’s abilities. So far Peter’s shown an impressive amount of control in keeping a lid on his spidey-strength, but Tony isn’t willing to take the chance that the kid wouldn’t rip the headboard right off the bed frame if sufficiently - ah, provoked.

Tony settles on the bed, snapping the cuff closed on one wrist before reaching both arms up over his head.

“Uh, now?” Peter asks.

Tony shrugs, the movement a little awkward with his arms lifted up the way they are. He tips his head over to the compartment. They haven’t sung for their supper yet today, so the only thing on the trays this morning had been water, not-coffee, the cuffs, and the blindfold.

“Might as well.”

Peter climbs on the bed and throws one leg over Tony, so he’s kneeling just above Tony’s ribcage, careful not to rest his full weight on him.

The second cuff clicking shut sends a shiver through his body, the sound of it overly loud in the otherwise silent room. He shifts, tries to relax. A moment later Peter is reaching down to lift his head up and tie the blindfold into place. That part Tony is even less thrilled with.

Peter’s hands are warm where they settle on his chest, not putting any pressure on him, just resting there. The moment stretches out. Tony flexes his wrists above him, then stretches out his legs, waiting.

“Uh, Pete?”

“Sorry, sorry. I just, um. I don’t really know what to do?”

Tony allows himself to roll his eyes, only because he knows Peter can’t see it.

“Anything you want to, kid. That’s kind of the point.”

Peter’s weight shifts above him, like he’s leaning back, farther away than he was before.

“That’s not the point,” he says flatly. “I don’t want to do anything wr - I don’t want to… Your heart’s beating kinda fast.”

“I’m tied to a bed on an alien planet. It happens.”

Tony can feel Peter’s hands shift subtly against his chest.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” Peter insists. Christ, as if that’s what Tony’s worried about.

“I know you won’t. But I don’t think they gave us this stuff so we could have a heart to heart about my trust issues, so if you could you know, get a move on I’d really appreciate it.”

Peter is still for another long moment above him, then shifts and oh - starts kissing and sucking the skin just above the hollow of Tony’s throat. Peter’s hair is tickling the underside of his jaw, his hands sliding down to frame Tony’s ribs on either side.

Tony can feel Peter growing hard against his stomach. He rolls his hips up against Peter and is surprised at the way Peter’s thighs tighten about him in response.

“Don’t - ” Peter breathes, lips brushing Tony’s chest. “It has to be a show, right? Otherwise, we won’t get - you know. And I don’t think I can hold out for very long if you do keep doing that.”

Tony stills.

It’s agonizing, to just wait like this. Nowhere for his mind to focus except the weight of Peter’s body above him, the tentative exploration of Peter’s hands and lips over his chest.

It occurs to Tony that for all the lines they’ve crossed already, they haven’t really done this. Every moment of contact up until now had purposeful. Goal-oriented. Peter’s probably never had the chance to explore another person’s body like this, take his time to search out every sensitive spot, one by one.

Tony counts himself lucky to be the test case. The kid is observant, and hyper-focused, and very, very attentive.

He’s already cottoned on to the limited sensitivity of the scar tissue on Tony’s chest - letting his tongue trail over and across the scars, so what Tony can feel switches from vague pressure to teasing wet heat and back again at random, leaving him dizzy.

Most of his partners shy away from the scars, as if getting blown up and then abducted by terrorists might be catching.

Pepper hadn’t. She’d been a little freaked out by it - without the reactor in place, it had been a gaping hole in his chest, who wouldn’t be? But she’d never avoided it, or looked away.

And now Peter doesn’t either.

He eventually moves on though, across his chest to tease at Tony’s nipples, pausing only when Tony gasps.

“Bad?” Peter asks.

“Hell no. Teeth can be very, very good, in certain situations.”

Peter leans back down to lick the abused skin, and Tony can actually hear the grin in the kid’s voice when he says, “Yeah? What kind of situations are those?”

“Like right now, for example.”

“Mmmm,” is all he gets in reply. Peter’s mouth is already busy again, trailing down Tony’s side and then over his stomach, which is just ticklish enough to be torturous. Tony clenches his stomach in response, feeling Peter’s tongue map out every curve of muscle there.

Then he feels Peter back off.

He’s still kneeling over Tony, shifted back a bit so his hands are resting on Tony’s upper thighs, his weight settled just above Tony’s knees.

“Pete? You okay?”

“Yeah,” he replies, his voice just a little hoarse. “Just, needed a minute.”

“Oh.”

Tony shifts slightly, his shoulders starting to ache from being held in the same position. Between the cuffs on his wrists and Peter on his legs, he can’t actually move all that much.

“Um, are you okay?” Peter asks, shifting up so his weight is gone from Tony’s legs.

“I’m fine, kid. Don’t worry about it.” He doesn’t particularly relish the thought of having to explain to Peter why discomfort or even pain can make things feel even better, in some ways.

But despite his reassurances, Peter is still hesitating.

“Is it okay if I suck you off?”

Tony squeezes his eyes shut behind the blindfold. Maybe karma isn’t laughing at him after all. Maybe he was a goddamn saint in a previous life, and this is some kind of (twisted) reward.

But regardless, Peter still hasn’t seemed to grasp the point of using handcuffs. Tony has to remind himself that the kid is still busy wrapping his brain around what regular sex is like, nevermind bringing restraints and power dynamics into the mix.

“Very okay,” Tony says. “In fact, consider this blanket permission.”

A split second after the words leave his mouth, Peter is on him again. He’s had enough practice by now that it’s all almost too easy - he still can’t quite manage to swallow Tony all the way down, but it throws Tony for a loop, realizing that Peter does all the rest so easily.

With the blindfold on, he’s almost indistinguishable from any one of the hundreds that have come before.

Tony comes easily, and maybe a little too quickly.

It leaves him empty; disappointed, although he’s not sure in what exactly.

 

*

 

Tony takes a shower afterward, not so much because he needs it as because the hot water eases the ache in his shoulders and arms. When he gets out, he finds Peter curled up on one of the chairs, hands wrapped around a mug of cold not-coffee, looking at the screen.

“Seems like people liked the handcuffs.”

“Great,” Tony replies flatly. He can’t quite bring himself to pretend to be enthused.

It is good news though - if the reaction is positive enough, that gives them leverage to ask for other things. Things they actually want. But it’s not like either of them can say that, not out loud.

Instead, Tony nods towards the mug in Peter’s hands. “I thought you didn’t like that stuff?”

Peter shrugs. “I don’t. But all the food is kind of same-y, you know?”

Tony does know. Both of them are used to being spoiled for choice, back home. Every kind of food you could imagine, cooked by people from all over the world; all those different taste profiles one next to the other in hole-in-the-wall joints and food carts and Michelin-starred restaurants.

Tony would be lying if he said he hadn’t dreamed once or twice about the last time he’d had ordered the chef’s tasting menu at Per Se, or a gyro from that one cart in Midtown.

Peter must be reminiscing too. “SriPraPhai,” he says, a little wistfully.

“Sushi at Masa. You ever been?”

“Doesn’t that cost like a thousand dollars a person?”

Oh, duh.  “No. Well, maybe. It’s been a while since I’ve been there, to be honest.”  

Pepper had liked the place.

“What does a thousand dollar sushi even taste like?”

“You can try for yourself. I’ll take you, when we make it out of here.”

“Uh huh,” Peter says. He drains the rest of his mug, swallowing it down with a pinched expression.

They box for a while after that, just to burn off some energy. Peter can’t seem to sit still long enough to want to play cards, or even look over Tony’s notes on statistical mechanics.

The not-coffee was a bad plan.

If Tony felt the familiar rush of a caffeine buzz on the stuff, it must be hitting Peter twice as hard. And even if all Tony has to do is stand there holding the pillows, he can’t quite keep up with Peter’s seemingly endless jitter of energy. Not to mention, if they keep going Tony is pretty sure Peter is going to burst the pillows entirely, to say nothing of Tony’s hands and wrists.

“Okay, I’m calling it. Time for a break.”

“What? Why?” Peter’s eyes flick around the room, from the cameras to the screen.

“Because I think you’re a little jittery right now, and I’d prefer it if my hands remained unbroken.”

Peter stills. “Oh. Sorry.”

Tony tosses the pillows back on the bed, shaking out cramps in his arms and wrists. Peter for his part, hasn’t moved. He’s standing there, eyes a bit unfocused, flexing and relaxing his fists.

Tony tries to think of something they can do - anything that would burn off some energy without exposing Peter’s powers, and preferably without giving Tony a hernia as well.

“Can we have sex again?” Peter asks.

There’s always that.

Peter isn’t usually quite so blunt about it, but if it means the kid isn’t stuttering around the words any longer then Tony isn’t going to complain. Especially not when Peter’s got just the faintest sheen of sweat on his skin making him shine, his dick hardening in obvious interest.

Except.

Peter’s eyes are still doing that skittish flickering around thing, like he can’t manage to focus too long on any one thing.

“Hey Pete, come here for a sec.”

“Is that a yes?” Peter’s eyes settle on Tony for a moment, questioning. Excited. Before flicking away again.

“That’s a ‘maybe later.’ Just - c’mere first, I need to check something out.”

Peter steps close and Tony has to grab him by the chin to get him to hold still, tipping his head back so Tony can see his eyes.

His pupils are blown wide.

“Is it - is something wrong?” Peter asks.

“Close your eyes for me for a minute.” To his surprise, Peter obeys without question. Tony waits a few seconds, then asks Peter to open them again. There’s no noticeable change, although Peter winces a bit as he tries to adjust to the bright light of the room.

“Kid - ” Tony stops himself and heads over to the mirror instead. His pupils look maybe a little wide, but they’re nowhere near like what Peter’s are. “Shit. Shit!”

He should’ve known. He’d suspected it, at least. Thought about it.

But he hadn’t felt particularly weird, and Peter hadn’t seemed to be acting strangely, at least not until now.  Of course not until now - Tony had expected that if anything was laced, it would be the water, since they both had to drink it.

But then again, plain water probably wouldn’t cover the taste of whatever this was. Not the way the not-coffee would.

He turns to the screen. “What? Coerced compliance wasn’t enough, you needed to fucking drug us too?”

“Mr. Stark - ”

“It’s okay, Peter. We’ll just - we’ll wait it out. Okay?”

“Does that mean we can’t have sex?”

Christ.  “Yes, that’s exactly what that means.”

“Oh.” Peter sounds crushed, god help them both. “Is it okay if I just, you know, do it on my own then?”

“Kid, I’m not - ” What the hell is he supposed to say to that? Tell the kid to go ahead, because it might take the edge off? Tell him no, just on principle? Tony swallows. “You don’t need my permission to touch yourself.”

It’s a cheap way out, regardless of how true it is. Peter is too gone to call him out on it though, already flopping down on the bed, one hand wrapped around his dick and his other arm crooked over his eyes.

Tony doesn’t watch. He’d prefer not to listen either, but he doesn’t have a choice there. Peter’s breath hitches as he touches himself, whining softly as he comes, a few agonizing minutes later.

And then keeps going.

Tony digs his fingers into his temples, tries to calm down; to think things through rationally. But barely a few minutes later, and Peter is coming again - a little less quietly this time, his breathing even more unsteady.

This time there’s a momentary pause before Peter’s hand starts moving again. It takes Peter longer to get there this time, but at least by the sound of it, get there he does.

When he comes this time, Tony could swear he hears Peter mumbling his name.

Tony can’t help it. He looks.

Peter’s hand is still pumping away; slower now, but no less determined. He’s laying sidelong across the bed, knees bent and spread wide, feet just brushing the floor. His cock is flushed red - not only from arousal, but the actual skin itself is irritated, starting to chafe, badly. That gets Tony moving.

He’s up and out of the chair, settling a hand over Peter’s to still it before he has time to think.

“Hey, hey. You gotta stop Pete, you’re gonna rub yourself raw.”

“Feels so good,” Peter mumbles. His eyes are barely open, eyelids fluttering like they’re struggling not to close completely.

“I’m sure it does kid, but trust me, you keep going and you’re gonna regret it.”

“Mmm… Mr. Stark?”

“Right here.”

“Oh.” A smile flickers over Peter’s face. “I’m glad you’re here. I mean, not like I’m glad you’re here here, because that means we’re both stuck here. But you know what I mean.”

Tony isn’t sure if he does, but he agrees nonetheless. “Yeah, kid. I do.”

“Good. That’s good. ‘Cause I don’t think, if I had to deal with all of this alone I - ” Peter stops short. When he starts talking again, it’s in a whisper. He sounds impossibly young. And scared.  “Is everybody still watching?”

Tony does a quick risk assessment. The kid is out of it, can’t even seem to open his eyes. It’s probably safe enough to lie, for the moment. Give Peter a few minutes of peace, let him think he’s out from under the microscope.

“It’s just us.”

Tony can feel Peter’s hand under his own, not pumping any longer but slowly tightening and loosening around his cock. Not enough stimulation for him to come, but enough that Peter is still half-hard.

He tries to pull Peter’s hand away, but finds that he can’t - Peter may be drugged, but he’s still inhumanly strong.

“Peter, can you let go for me? You gotta stop.”

“Doesn’ ff...” Peter mumbles a reply, most of it too low to make out.

“Sorry, I didn’t catch that.”

“Doesn’ feel as good as when you do it.”

Tony wishes he hadn’t asked. But Peter eventually drags his hand away from his groin, letting his palm settle on his stomach. The kid looks like he’s on the edge of passing out, even his cock is starting to soften against his stomach.

It’s probably the best case scenario, Tony thinks, if Peter can just sleep this off.

In the meantime, Tony has a bone to pick. He heads over to the nearest camera.

“Hey asshole. C’mon, I know you’re watching.”

He tries to keep his voice down, but is only partially successful, based on the way Peter shifts on the bed behind him in response. Tony glances over to the screen. No reply.

“Hey!  I’m talking to you. We had a fucking deal. We’re playing along with your little game. What, that wasn’t enough? You had to go and drug the kid??”

Tony’s head is pounding.

He should’ve known.

He would’ve known, if he hadn’t been so distracted by -

By Peter. Among other things. Peter hadn’t been drinking the not-coffee, after all. He’d avoided it completely, up until today. Tony had been the only one drinking it; and double dosing himself, no less.

Whatever it was, it certainly hadn’t had nearly the same effect on Tony.

He glances back over at the screen.

Another mistake.

There’s still no response from the Grandmaster, but there’s a flood of new messages from their audience.

He’d told Peter no one was watching. It was a lie. Peter is there spread out on the bed behind him, naked and defenceless; cameras arranged to catch every angle of his vulnerable body.

His fist connects with the screen before he realizes what he’s doing, bare knuckles cracking against the glass. He grabs the detached chair seat next, cracking across the nearest camera, and then the next.

And the next.

“Mis-ser Stark?” Peter’s voice is slurred, half-asleep.

But Tony doesn’t stop. He’s not done yet.

“Wha - What’s going on?” Peter is saying from the bed. Then, much louder, “Mr. Stark! Stop!”

Tony looks around wildly.

At some point the HVAC system must have kicked on. The tiny slits between the metal plating had opened, and there's a sickly purple-ish gas seeping into the room from all sides.

There’s too many vents for them to plug. Even if they tore up the sheet and shoved it into the cracks, by the time they got all the way around, the room would already be full of gas.

There’s not enough time to think, not enough time -

He fucked up. Oh god, he’s really fucked it up.

“Kid, get to the shower, now.”

It takes Peter a split second before understanding dawns. The kid stumbles off the bed, falling to his knees and clutching at the bottom of the mattress to stay upright. He makes it over to the shower though, slapping on the air dryer vents as he goes. Tony is right behind him - grabbing the sheet off the bed and the razor from the sink as he goes.

He already feels dizzy.

The vents keep the worst of the gas at bay, for the moment. Tony wets the sheet under the showerhead so they can hold it over their noses and mouths. Tony shakes his head to clear it, blinking down at Peter, who looks panicky, and still a little high.

The room feels like it’s spinning, Peter falling away from him - his face growing farther and farther away.

Peter grabs his hand, shoves something into it.

The copper wire from the camera.

Tony tries to nod his thanks, impressed at the kid for remembering, but his chin drops to his chest and won’t go back up again no matter how hard he tries. His whole body is growing impossibly heavy. He starts to sink down, pressed against the metal paneled wall of the shower.

The last thing he sees is Peter’s back as the kid steps in front of him, shoulders set like he’s bracing for a fight.

 

Chapter Text

Tony wakes up aching, and cold.

His head is fuzzy in a way that strongly implies something more than liquor was involved. A suspicion further confirmed when he realizes he’s curled up on the floor of the shower, naked. Alone.

Oh god.

Something is wrong with his balance, he realizes, as he has to lean against the wall to push himself upright, head spinning. The gas, he can remember the gas. Telling Peter to get to the shower. Grabbing the sheet and then -

And then Peter shoving Tony behind him, hands curled into fists.

And now Peter is gone.

Tony swallows down bile, noting in a distant way that all the shattered glass has been cleared from the floor, that the cameras have all been replaced.

“Where is he?” It’s meant as a demand, but even to his own ears it comes out sounding like plea. “Where the hell is he!? What - what did you do to him?”

The screen flickers to life. Somewhere in the haze, Tony registers that the screen must have been replaced as well, the spiderweb of cracks from Tony’s fist no longer visible.

“Tony, Tony, Tony. Take a deep breath. My staff just finished cleaning that floor, and I think I have to pay them more if you throw up and they have to come back to do it all over again.”

Tony can’t quite manage to focus on the screen. He squeezes his eyes shut and then opens them, waiting for the stars to clear from his vision before he tries again.

“That’s it. See? You’re fine. Peter’s fine too, by the way. I just needed to have a little chat with him. Like I need to have a little chat with you, now.”

Tony knows that if he opens his mouth, he risks making the situation worse - although he’s at a loss as to how things could be worse. He finds himself praying for Peter’s sake that ‘a little chat’ means just that, and nothing more.

“Let me think how this conversation is supposed to go…” The Grandmaster says. “I think it starts with something like ‘you’ve been a very bad boy.’”

The Grandmaster then holds out a hand, like a stage manager prompting him for a line. Tony keeps his mouth shut.

“Okay, so the next part should go something like, ‘I’m so very sorry, what can I ever do to make it up to you?’”

The Grandmaster gestures at him again. Waits.

“What can I do to make it up to you?” Tony parrots back, his voice hoarse.

“There we go! Now, the next part is something like making sure you’re really sorry, and promising me that you’ll never do it again...”

“I won’t do it again. I swear. Just, please bring the kid back here. I’ll do anything.” Tony closes his eyes. He doesn’t have any cards left to play.

When Tony opens his eyes, he finds the Grandmaster staring at him, his expression contemplative.

“You’re lucky that my conversation with Peter was more productive. He made a very strong case for me to reunite the two of you. It was sweet. I’m a fan of salty, myself, but well... Peter is a very persuasive young man.”

There’s an edge to those last few words that makes Tony’s blood run cold.

“So I’m going to send Peter back in, and you’re going to do exactly what I say, prove to me you two can work together without being bad influences on each other. And if you don’t,” the Grandmaster pauses, “then I have a whole lineup of other partners ready to go for both of you.”

Tony’s stomach drops at those words. Something must show on his face, because the Grandmaster grins. He waves a hand, prompting Tony for a response.

“I understand,” is all he can manage.

A moment later, the entire wall opposite shifts back about a foot, then slides open. Beyond the wall, Tony can see what looks like a hallway, the walls paneled in bright red.

He can also see Peter, fidgeting anxiously on the other side of the opening. He’s wearing a short white bathrobe, looking just a bit like a nervous flyweight boxer. He doesn’t look hurt, although considering his healing abilities that doesn’t mean much.  

Peter glances to either side one last time, as if waiting for permission from somewhere, before he steps forward into the room. There’s a hiss of air releasing from the door mechanism, and then the wall slides closed behind him.

“Kid...” Tony isn’t sure how he makes it across the room, but in the next second he’s clutching at Peter, arms wrapped tight around his back.

Peter relaxes into the embrace, pressing his face into Tony’s chest.

Tony is only distantly aware that the Grandmaster is still on the screen, watching. Waiting. That the newly replaced cameras are still capturing every angle, that as much as it may feel for the moment like they’re the only two people in the world… they’re not.

The Grandmaster claps his hands together and Peter jumps back, eyes focused off somewhere to the side as he slips out of the robe and balls it up in his hands nervously.

Tony can’t help but glance over Peter’s body - checking for bruises, for any indication of what happened while Tony was knocked out - but Peter’s skin is just as smooth and unbroken as ever.

Which means absolutely nothing. The Grandmaster may or may not already know about Peter’s accelerated healing now, not to mention the super-strength, if Peter put up a fight before he was taken away.

Tony wants nothing more than to ask the kid, but he can’t; not right now, not until he can figure out a way to ask, without actually asking.

Peter walks over to the compartment, which is already open and waiting, and sets the bundled up robe inside. The compartment door slides shut.

“Aww, it’s nice seeing the two of you together again! Now, Peter already knows what’s going to happen here, and I’ve apparently been accused of - “ the Grandmaster pauses to make finger quotes “ - ‘hoarding the spotlight’, so why don’t I let him explain?”

Peter swallows. “Um. We both misbehaved, Mr. Stark, so there have to be consequences.”

On screen, the Grandmaster smiles encouragingly at Peter, nodding at him to continue. Tony’s jaw starts to ache with how hard he’s clenching his teeth to keep his damn mouth shut.

“You have to, um…”

Tony can’t make out the next part, which Peter says mostly to the floor, mumbling.

“A little louder, Peter,” the Grandmaster says.

Tony steps close, settling a hand on Peter’s arm, tipping his head down so his ear is next to Peter’s mouth.

“Ignore him, kid. Just tell me,” he says.

“You have to, you know, spank me.”

Tony doesn’t move for a beat, other than his hand involuntarily tightening around Peter’s bicep. Peter shifts on his feet, and Tony can’t tell if it’s just unease or if he’s trying to move away from the touch. He drops his hand, just in case.

“Think you’ve got that the wrong way around, pal,” Tony says, turning back to the screen. “I’m the one that broke all your shiny toys.”

“Yes, you did. But here’s the part I think you’re having trouble with: you both belong to me. Not five minutes ago you told me you would do anything to get him back. Well, here he is. And this is the ‘anything’. Well - it’s the first thing I’m asking for, I’m sure I’ll think of other ‘anythings’ later, but let’s start with this one for now.”

Tony breathes deep, reminds himself that Peter can be taken away again at any time, just as easily as he was last time. That if that happens again, he won’t be coming back - he’ll be headed to another room somewhere, to another bed - another partner, as the Grandmaster had so delicately put it.

“It’s fine, Mr. Stark. Let’s just get it over with,” Peter says, his voice pitched low.

“How many?” Tony manages.

The Grandmaster leans back in his seat, looking pleased. “As many as it takes. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you when you can stop.”

Peter is giving him a pointed look, trying desperately to communicate something. Tony thinks perhaps it’s meant to be reassuring; whatever happens, Peter will heal -  it’s not like Tony is strong enough to do anything that could leave so much as a mark on him come tomorrow morning.

It’s cold comfort though - rapid healing isn’t the same as not feeling the pain in the first place.

But either Tony does this, or Peter gets moved to another room, with another partner who may or may not care about trying to soften the blows.

Tony’s head is still killing him, and it feels like wading through water when he moves to sit at the end of the bed, complacently. Complicit. He has to look away when Peter comes over to bend over his lap.

He can’t avoid looking forever though, noticing the dip of Peter’s spine, the swell of his ass. Tony settles his hand over one cheek, massaging the muscle he finds there, apologizing in the only way he can right now.

The speed of the first slap is carefully calibrated - just fast enough to be loud when his open palm connects with bare flesh. Peter flinches, probably more out of surprise than actual pain, at least that’s what Tony hopes. The second and third blows follow in the same fashion, a pause between each.

If he can draw this out, take it slow and not too hard -

But the Grandmaster is already onto the ploy. “Tony...” he says, wheedling. “Peter and I both know you can do better than that.”

Tony can’t see Peter’s face given their current positions, but he feels it when the kid’s hand wraps around his ankle, squeezing in reassurance.

As long as Peter is okay, they’re okay, Tony thinks.

The next slap lands harder.

Peter’s whole body flinches with each successive blow, but the loose grip he has on Tony’s ankle never slackens or clenches. Peter’s skin starts to flush pink after each hit, clearing away just in time for the next blow to land.

Tony counts each one - not out loud, but a mental tally of blows that will need to be repaid someday. Somehow.

Peter’s breathing grows unsteady; Tony can feel each shaky exhale of breath against his leg. Tony’s other hand is splayed out across Peter’s lower back, stroking softly every time he has to pause for a break.

Tony glances up at the screen during those brief seconds of respite, but the Grandmaster’s expression remains impassive.

He continues.

He continues until his arm and shoulder are aching with it; until he can’t imagine what Peter’s backside must feel like. Until the pink flush of his skin doesn’t fade between blows, only grows brighter, the stain of it stretching from Peter’s upper thighs all the way to the top of his ass.

Tony pauses - arm raised, hand shaking.

He doesn’t look up at the screen when he speaks, can’t risk the Grandmaster catching any hint of defiance in his face.

“If I keep going, we’re not going to be able to put on much of a show for you tomorrow.”

“Maybe not, but that’s my decision, not yours. Keep going.”

So he does.

Tony tries to separate himself from the situation, the same way he’d tried and failed to back in that cave; hands holding him down under the water while his lungs screamed for air.

Does it make any difference, if it’s Tony hurting the kid instead of some nameless, faceless stranger? If there’s nothing Tony can do to soften the hurt anyway? Or does it make things worse - to be hurt like this by someone he used to trust, used to idolize, for chrissake.

Would it have made a difference to him back then if it had been Obie’s hands holding him under the water, instead of a bunch of mercenaries?

Probably. Or maybe not.

Tony opens his mouth to try again - ready to beg, to plead for any way not to have to keep going when the Grandmaster finally speaks.

“Alright, that’s enough for now.”

Peter’s ass and upper thighs are bright red, radiating heat and painful looking.

“I trust you’ve both learned your lesson?”

“Yes,” Tony answers, the word pulled out of him like knives.

Peter echoes his answer, his voice barely more than a rasp, thick with pain.

“Good!” The Grandmaster claps his hands together. “Well, why don’t the two of you take the day off to recover, and then we’ll all wake up to a nice fresh start tomorrow!”

The screen goes blank.

Tony sags forward with relief. He swallows past the lump in his throat to speak. “Kid? Talk to me.”

“I’m okay.”

He’s lying, but Tony’s not sure what else he expected Peter to say.

“C’mon, let’s get you on the bed.”

Peter is shaky on his legs when he tries to stand, and he won’t meet Tony’s eyes. It’s a punch to the gut, but if Tony is brutally honest with himself, he doesn’t think he could bear to look Peter in the eyes either right now.

Especially not after he notices the tear tracks running down the kid’s face. Tony did this to him. He snapped like a goddamn idiot, ruined any chance they had of escape, and now Peter was paying the price.

They manage to get Peter laid out on his stomach on the bed.  Tony wets one of the washcloths with cold water and wrings it out, laying it over Peter’s backside. Peter lets out a hiss of relief at the feeling. It’s not like they have access to much else in the way of first aid.

Once that’s done, Tony stands at the side of the bed, uncertain. “Pete? There anything I can do?

Peter shakes his head without looking up.

Tony decides to give Peter some space, moving to sit down at the table instead of hovering by the bed.  The chair is a different style than what they had before, he notices - made all of one piece, so it can’t be disassembled in the same way as before.

Tony swears under his breath, starting to notice other changes in the room. The bed frame, table, and chairs are all bolted to the floor now. There’s an additional panel of glass in front of the screen, probably reinforced. The top sheet and pillows are gone.

If the room had seemed empty before, it’s practically barren now.

 

*

 

Tony stays seated at the table most of the night, only moving to check on Peter every so often, who seems to be sleeping fitfully. Once the lights dim for the evening, he can’t really tell if the inflammation is going down, but he assumes it must be.

Intellectually, he knows that Peter has weathered far greater pains than anything could Tony could inflict with his bare hands. But even so - the kid is in pain, and he was the direct cause.

It’s hard to ignore; impossible to forgive.

When he catches himself nodding off at the table for the third time, he gives up and climbs onto  the bed. He lies stock still, only seems to close his eyes for a few scant minutes before the lights of the room are coming on again.

Peter is already awake by the time Tony opens his eyes. He’s standing over by the table, head tipped back as he downs a glass of water.

“Morning,” Tony says, wiping one hand over his face. His right palm is still sore, which takes him by surprise. He hadn’t even noticed, last night. “How - ah, how are you feeling?”

Peter winces in reply, and so does Tony. It’s a stupid question. The kid probably isn’t sitting down for a reason.

But of course, what Peter says is, “I’m fine.”

“We’ve gotta work on your poker face at some point, kid.” Not that Tony’s own is all that great to begin with, but still. It’s the principle of the thing.

“I prefer to think of it as my Go Fish face,” Peter says. “Besides, I don’t know how to play poker.”

“I’ll teach you, someday.”

Neither of them choose to mention that their pen and paper are gone, along with their makeshift deck. They won’t be playing card games any time soon, poker or otherwise.

“I guess boxing lessons are out now too, huh?” Peter says.

“Looks like it, yeah. Listen, Peter, for what it’s worth - ”

“Mr. Stark, you really don’t have to - ”

“ - I’m sorry.”

“- apologize.”

There’s a long silence.

“Yes, I really do,” Tony says. “And I don’t really do this sort of thing often so don’t interrupt me while I’m trying to apologize. I’m supposed to be watching out for you, and I fucked up. I let myself get angry, and I snapped like an idiot without thinking of the consequences. So, I’m sorry.”

Peter sets his glass down on the table and heads back toward the bed, laying down next to Tony on his stomach, pushed up on his elbows so he can look Tony in the eye. Tony can’t help the way his eyes wander to Peter’s ass, which he’s surprised to find is milky pale and unmarked.  Peter catches him looking, but pointedly doesn’t react.

The kid is faking hurt, Tony realizes. Of course he is.

He may not be able to fake what it looks like - his rapid healing must’ve taken care of the inflammation hours ago, but he can pretend to still be sore, at least if it has any chance of misleading the Grandmaster.

One hope leads to another - that if Peter is pretending to still be in pain, it means he must think the Grandmaster is still in the dark about his healing abilities. Possibly about the super strength as well.

But as quickly as that hope had risen, it sinks just as fast. The floor of the shower was empty. They’ve lost the wire and the razor, along with whatever goodwill or benefit of the doubt they might have earned over the past two weeks.

Getting that stuff back is going to be hard, if it’s even still possible at all.

“I messed up too, you know,” Peter says. “I um, kinda freaked out when you went down. The gas got really thick, it was hard to see for a while, but I decked one of the guards before the second one hit me with that remote shocker thing. It was stupid, barely even slowed the guy down. So, it wasn’t just you that acted like an idiot.”

“That was different, you were drugged.”

“So were you.”

“Not the same thing.”

They’re treading on thin ice here. Tony has a strong suspicion that the not-coffee had affected Peter differently because of his unique physiology, which isn’t something they can really discuss without revealing anything they shouldn’t.

Peter lets the subject drop, thankfully.

The drugs and what effect they had aren’t the salient point, anyway. What’s important is what Peter was trying to tell him without actually saying it.  

I decked one of the guards... barely even slowed the guy down.

Peter hadn’t hit the guard with his full strength. Tony breathes a sigh of relief. Another secret kept safe. Hopefully.

 

*

 

Neither of them drink the not-coffee that morning. Peter looks at the mugs of steaming liquid a little queasily, and Tony can’t blame him.

He pours both mugs down the sink, setting them back in the compartment empty. The food could still be drugged, they’re not in any position to do anything about that. But this, at least, they can control.

The screen flickers to life a few minutes later.

“How are we all feeling today?” The Grandmaster says.

“Peachy,” Tony replies.

“Good, good. And Peter, how about you?”

“Fine.”

“Hmm, see I don’t like that. That sounded like a lie. The thing is, I’m really going for a cinema verite approach here, and lying kind of - ” he waggles his fingers around, “interferes with that creative process.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Tony can see Peter’s jaw working.

“I’m sore. Is that what you want to hear?” Peter says.

“Yes, actually! See how easy that was? Anyway, my staff tells me that Tony tried to apologize earlier, but that doesn’t really seem like enough. Actions speak louder than words, or so people say. I don’t know who says that, but it sounds true, so I’m saying it. Actions speak louder than words, my friends.”

“What do you want?” Tony asks, not really in the mood to play guessing games.

“It’s really not about what I want.” The Grandmaster stops to interlace his fingers, holding his hands up to the camera. “It’s about rebuilding trust, and intimacy. Okay, mostly it’s about intimacy. You spanked his cute little butt raw yesterday Tony, if you really want to show how sorry you are, I think you need to kiss it better.”

Peter looks nonplussed by the suggestion, which Tony assumes means he hasn’t really caught onto the implication. Tony breathes in, reminds himself that he’s not going to fuck up again like he did yesterday.

“Fine,” he says.

The Grandmaster grins back at him, waggling his fingers in a little wave before the screen clicks off.

“What, that’s it?” Peter says.

“He wasn’t talking about a peck on the cheek, kid.”

“Then what -” Understanding dawns on Peter’s face. “…oh. Oh.”

“Yeah.”

Peter swallows. “That’s kind of, um...”

“Intimate?”

Peter nods, his shoulders curling inwards. It’s not lost on Tony that this is the first time the kid has looked truly freaked out since that very first day - when they first came to understand what was expected of them here.

“Hey, I know it’s a lot to take in, but I’m going to make it feel good for you, I promise.” As if that makes it better.

On the growing list of sins Tony will need to atone for, it probably says something that this barely even registers.

“Should I um - I’m gonna,” Peter’s eyes dart over to the shower.

Tony nods in response, not that it matters, since Peter is already heading in that direction, his movements a little stiff. Tony lets him go without comment, figures it’s as much about feeling clean as it is about stealing a few minutes to process.

The shower drags on for more than just a few minutes though, until Tony realizes there’s a third explanation: Peter is stalling. There’s nothing for it though, not with the threat of being separated again hanging over their heads.

Tony walks over to the shower, settling his hands on Peter’s shoulders. Peter startles at the touch, and then relaxes; lets his forehead tip forward to rest against Tony’s chest.

“Talk to me, kid.”

“Have you like, done that before?” Before Tony can answer, Peter jerks his head up, eyes wide. “Sorry! That’s kind of personal. Nevermind.”

“I’m about to stick my tongue in your ass, I’m not really sure normal boundaries apply any more.” That came out a little more exasperated than he’d meant it to. He reminds himself he’s supposed to be reassuring the kid. “You’re allowed to ask questions, Pete, and to answer that one - yes, I have.”

“Oh.”

“Any other questions?”

“Well, just like... Why?”

Tony pauses to think. Not so much about the answer, but about how to put it into terms Peter might be able to relate to. He knows the kid has at least watched some porn, not to mention he seems to have at least a passing familiarity with the contents of Tony’s own sex tapes. But given his reaction to this, Tony can guess his viewing habits haven’t strayed very far outside the mainstream.

“You ever eaten out a girl before?” Tony already knows the answer, but it’s a place to start.

Peter shakes his head, blushing, although that might be down to the heat of the shower.

“You’ve thought about it though, right?”

“Yeah...”

“So, different part of the body, same basic idea.” Tony lets one hand drop to Peter’s ass, rubs the pad of one finger over his hole. Peter shudders, mouth falling open slightly. “It’s an extremely sensitive part of the body, and the act itself is pretty intimate. Opening yourself up to someone in that way, letting them see you like that...”

Tony presses his finger inside, working it in and out. This, at least, is old territory for them. Peter knows what to expect, knows how good it can feel.

Peter leans forward against him, relaxing into the touch, and Tony wraps his other arm around Peter’s back. He adds another finger, letting the warm water from the shower ease his way inside as he continues to work his fingers in and out.

He tips his head down, letting his lips brush against Peter’s ear.

“Okay?”

Peter nods against his chest. “Okay.”

They end up back at the table, Peter bent over it with his elbows resting on the surface, Tony settled into the seat behind him. It puts Tony in the perfect position to see goosebumps prickling along Peter’s back and thighs as the water from the shower evaporates from his skin, taking body heat along with it.

Tony rubs a hand over Peter’s flank, then reaches forward to pull his hips back a few inches, positioning him for better access.

Up close like this, Tony is forced to admit something he’s been trying his hardest to avoid thinking about - how fucking pretty Peter is, from this angle. From most angles, really. He lets his thumbs trace over the curves where Peter’s ass meets his thighs, his hands still resting on Peter’s hips.

Peter shifts nervously on the table in front of him.

“Mr. Stark?” he asks.

“It’s alright, Pete. Just admiring the view.”

Tony can’t help but notice Peter’s cock actually twitches in response - he may not particularly enjoy being spread out and exposed like this, but he clearly appreciates the praise. Something to keep in mind for later.

Tony rubs his hands over the curve of Peter’s ass, leaning forward to plant a kiss at the base of Peter’s spine and then working his way down, using his thumbs to spread Peter’s cleft wide as he goes.

He pushes Peter’s legs farther apart, flattening his tongue and licking a wet hot stripe from Peter’s perenium to his hole. Peter jerks in response, some small noise escaping him, half-muffled against his arm. Tony squeezes both cheeks, backing off slightly so he can press an apologetic kiss to each side before leaning back in to blow air softly over the spit-wet skin.

He can feel the way Peter’s whole body shivers in front of him as he licks and sucks at the tight furl of muscle, sometimes drifting down farther to tease at Peter’s balls, which causes his thighs to clench and strain.

Peter is a shaking mess by the time Tony tenses his tongue and presses inside.

“A- ah!”

The exclamation is cut off entirely too soon - Peter shifting above him to shove his fist against his mouth, muffling the noise. Tony yanks Peter’s hips back a little farther, so his arms and head are resting on the very edge of the table, ass in the air, nearly bent double.

God bless the kid’s flexibility.

Tony pushes his thumb in alongside his tongue, just far enough in to find what he’s looking for - the spot that turns Peter’s legs to jelly, Tony’s other arm already poised to take the added weight as Peter struggles to stay on his feet.

Peter sobs as he comes, his release painting his stomach and both of their thighs.

Tony’s thumb makes a quiet but filthy squelching pop of sound as he pulls it from Peter’s body. His hole is slightly puffy and shiny with spit, the skin around it tinged pink with stubble burn.

He plants one last kiss between Peter’s legs before manhandling Peter down into his lap.

Peter lets himself be moved, pliant and panting, his cheeks still stained red with arousal and his eyes half-lidded. Tony’s own cock, stubbornly ignored up until now, is pressed right along the cleft of Peter’s ass. Tony groans at the feel of Peter’s spit-slick hole against the base of his dick, rolling his hips up against it.

Tony buries his nose in Peter’s hair, rutting up against him like a fucking teenager; tells himself he’s not thinking about how sweet that hole would feel around his cock.

His own orgasm leaves him spent, defeated, stroking a hand over Peter’s stomach and thighs, his other arm still wrapped tight around the kid’s waist to keep him from sinking bonelessly to the floor.

He tells himself the touches are meant to be reassuring. But Peter is already half-asleep in Tony’s lap, his eyes closed and forehead resting against Tony’s neck, unselfconscious and seeming completely at ease there.

He tells himself he isn’t just a little bit addicted to the feel of Peter’s body relaxed against his own, his to explore, to touch, to taste.

There are any number of things that Tony knows he is good at. Sex is one, sure. Engineering, programming, numbers and formulas and problem solving - yes, obviously.

But he’s always been a terrible liar.

 

*

 

When the compartment opens later that day, they both regard the trays of food with ambivalence. It’s a decent-sized portion of food, at least, which hadn’t been a guarantee given the events of the past twenty-four (or possibly thirty) hours.

“Should we like, switch off?” Peter suggests.

Tony shrugs. “I don’t know how much difference it would make. Either the food is drugged or it isn’t.”

They both eat slowly; Tony without really tasting any of it. He doesn’t notice any change afterwards, examining his pupils in the mirror.

Peter has been a little skittish ever since he woke up from his impromptu nap earlier - easing himself up off of Tony’s lap with a mumbled apology and immediately heading for the shower. But he’s complacent enough when Tony beckons him over, tipping his head back so Tony can examine his eyes, which look normal.

It doesn’t mean much. The food could easily be drugged tomorrow, or the day after that, or possibly never. There’s no way of knowing until it happens.

Tony lets his hand slip from the underside of Peter’s jaw to the back of his neck.

“You okay?” he asks.

Peter nods. “You?”

“Fine and dandy, kid.”

There’s any number of things they should probably talk about, but Tony doesn’t know where to begin with any of it, not to mention figuring out how they can discuss anything at all with the cameras running.

“Can you tell me what happened, after they zapped you?” Tony asks.

“We talked, just like he said.” There’s a warning in Peter’s expression, telling him not to press the question any further. “I got to see some of the planet though, it’s a pretty crazy place.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Like, there are all these portals in the sky, just dumping piles of stuff everywhere, sort of like the end of Toy Story 3 you know? Except without the incinerator, I mean.”

“Well there’s a silver lining if I ever heard one.”

Tony can guess that one of those portals must be how they ended up here in the first place, although for the life of him he still can’t remember any of it.

He wonders absently, and not for the first time, if Thor knows about this place. As far as he can remember, it isn’t one of the nine realms Thor had talked about. Then again, everything Tony knew or suspected about astrophysics had always rejected the idea that there were only nine realms to begin with.

He can think of about a thousand questions he wants to ask Peter about the world outside, but can’t; not with the cameras rolling, not without sounding overtly like he’s trying to plot an escape. It may also be an exercise in futility, given that they’re stuck in this cell, but without anything else to do Tony can’t help but chase down the logical chains of thought Peter’s words have inspired.

By the time the lights dim that evening, Peter is already curled up in a tight ball on the bed, clearly not appreciating the lack of a sheet or a pillow.

Tony reaches out to lay a hand on Peter’s side, tugging gently.  “Hey, c’mere.”

There’s a bare second of hesitation before Peter rolls over into Tony’s arms. Peter lets out a deep sigh as he settles against Tony’s chest.

“Better?” Tony asks.

“Mmm,” is all Peter offers in reply before drifting off to sleep.

 

*

 

Through the haze of sleep, Tony recognizes the Grandmaster’s voice.

“I’m not sure I understand. Isn’t that sort of thing a little redundant? You both appear to have the required - what would you call it, equipment, I suppose?”

“Uh, yeah equipment works.” And that’s Peter talking now. “And yeah, obviously we both have um, that, but there’s stuff you can do with a manufactured one that you can’t with you know, a real one. Like, physical limitations.”

Tony cracks one eye open. Peter is sitting on one of the chairs, knees pulled up to his chest, arms wrapped around his legs. Whatever the hell the two of them are talking about, Peter is trying very hard to sound casual, and failing.

The Grandmaster has his fingers steepled in front of his face on screen, seems to be thinking deeply. “Physical limitations... such as?” he says.

“Well, um. It’s dangerous to stay hard for more than four hours - ”

Tony misses a chunk whatever Peter says next, because his brain screeches to a halt at the realization that the kid is using the warnings spiel from a goddamn Viagra commercial to try to convince the Grandmaster to give them a vibrator. Fucking christ.

“ - plus you know, different vibration intensities and speeds. Human ah, equipment, can’t do that sort of thing.”

The Grandmaster must catch sight of Tony sitting up on the bed, in the background.

“Ah, so glad you could join us! Peter here has just been sharing some fascinating tidbits of information about your world.”

“So I heard.”

“Peter seems to think your adoring public might enjoy it if you had access to a few toys.”

Tony glances over at Peter, who has turned around in his chair and looks ever so slightly sheepish. Tony raises an eyebrow in his direction.

He gets it - Peter knows they need something battery-powered if they’re going to try to use an EMP to knock out the chips and the cameras simultaneously, but surely Peter has realized by now that the razor and the wiring are long gone.

Maybe Peter thinks they can get their hands on usable alternatives, though - the vibrator is likely to have some amount of wiring inside, depending on how it’s been engineered. Having the blade from the safety razor would have been ideal, but in a tough spot Tony figures they can make do with a sharp piece of glass - either from the mirror or from the casing on one of the cameras.

“Now, as far as shape goes, I’m assuming these kinds of accoutrements are generally modeled after...” the Grandmaster motions at Tony’s groin.

“Generally, yes,” Tony concedes, resisting the minor urge to close his legs.

“Mmm, sounds boring.”

“It’s versatile,” Tony says, thinking fast. “But other shapes work too, of course, variety being the spice of life and all that.”

“Oh, I like that! I’m going to start using that, and tell people I made it up myself.”

Tony clamps his mouth shut so he won’t reply with, whatever floats your boat.

“I’m going to get with my people and see what they can come up with. In the meantime, you two crazy kids have a quota to meet, so don’t let me stop you.”

The screen clicks off. Peter turns back towards the bed, chewing on his bottom lip.

“Should I not have done that?”

Tony shrugs. “Might as well. Gotta keep the audience happy, after all. Speaking of which - ”

“How about in the shower, this time?”

He’s a little taken aback by Peter’s boldness, but figures it’s probably well past time the kid felt comfortable enough to make suggestions of his own. “Sure, why not.”

Peter’s skittishness from yesterday is gone, replaced with a kind of barely controlled enthusiasm as he tugs Tony down for a kiss under the spray of the water. Tony pulls back after a minute to check Peter’s eyes, surprised and relieved to find them dilated normally.

With the sound of shower for cover, Tony leans down to whisper in Peter’s ear, choosing his words carefully just in case. “You know we’re going to need more supplies than just the vibrator, right?”

“I know, but it’s a start. Hey, can you suck me off?”

“Can I? Absolutely.”

“And like, use your fingers too?”

Tony can’t help but grin in reply. As if there was a chance he was going to refuse a request like that, especially not when Peter’s got drops of water in his eyelashes and looks about as excited as he was the first time Tony gave him a tour of the lab at the compound upstate.

The tile floor is hell on Tony’s knees, but it’s worth it the second he feels Peter bury his hands in his hair. It doesn’t take long before Peter is coming down his throat, two of Tony’s fingers buried deep in his ass.

Peter stumbles a little before sinking down to join Tony on the floor. He grabs at Tony’s hand clumsily, pulling it down to the floor and then sliding it over the tiles to rest near his hip, holding it there.

There’s still that glint of excitement in his eyes, and it occurs to Tony that Peter’s enthusiasm earlier somehow wasn’t about the sex - or at least, it wasn’t entirely about the sex.

Their hands are resting beside the shower drain, which Peter touches with his pinkie, shifting it just slightly. It’s loose.

He pulls Peter closer, using the shift in position to bend closer to the drain. There’s a barely noticeable strand of copper wrapped through the holes of the drain, attached to something hanging underneath.

Tony’s heart is pounding as he pulls back to look Peter in the face.

“Go fish,” Peter mouths silently, grinning.

 

Chapter Text

“I spy… something gray,” Peter says.

“Are you serious with this?”

The bed shifts slightly as Peter shrugs. “Sorry, was I interrupting something important?”

Point taken. Tony sighs. “Fine. Is it a plumbing fixture?”

“Nope.”

“Is it the walls?”

“Nope.”

“The ceiling, the floor?”

“Also no. And I think those are more of an off-white, anyway.”

“Eggshell,” Tony mutters, memories of endless hours of his life spent wasted in marketing pitch meetings flashing through his head. He squeezes his eyes shut. Everything in the fucking room is either gray or white.

“Is it bigger than a breadbox?” Tony asks.

“No.”

“This game sucks.”

“I don’t think the game sucks, Mr. Stark, I think you just suck at it. Besides, I can only spend so many hours playing Prime / Not Prime before I start to go insane.”

Tony absently wonders if it’s some kind of tiny alien gnat floating in the air, too small for his regular-human eyes to detect.

“Is it alive?” he asks.

“Um, technically no?”

Tony rolls his head to the side to look at Peter, incredulous. “How are you not sure about that?”

“AP Bio was like three years ago, I can’t remember. I think technically it used to be alive, but it’s not anymore.”

“Is it something I can see?”

Peter looks almost offended by the question. “Of course. Oh wait, um. Okay, so you can see it, but not right at this moment.”

“So you’re saying I can’t see it from the bed, or that I can’t see it at this time of day?”

“You can’t see it from the bed.”

It’s a stupid way to pass the time, but it does scratch a part of Tony’s brain that’s been depressingly underutilized lately. He looks around the room without moving, considering all the sightlines that wouldn’t be possible from his position on the bed when it hits him.

Suspicion dawning, he pushes himself up from the bed and makes his way over to the sink, examining his reflection in the mirror.

“You’re a little shit, you know that?” He says, frowning at the (scant) hints of gray stubble on his jaw.

Peter is laughing.

“Yeah, laugh it up, chuckles. At least I can grow a beard.”

Peter doesn’t seem cowed by the jab in the least. Tony figures it must have been inevitable, the complete deterioration of the hero worship there - no real way it could last, stuck here with each other day after day, nothing to do except sleep, eat, shower, and fuck.

And play I Spy, apparently.

The paper and pen are gone, along with the makeshift deck of cards. The screen is back to displaying the message board again, but neither of them have been in any particular mood to answer questions or take suggestions from the peanut gallery.

They can’t even carve tick marks into the bedframe anymore, since the screw is gone. Peter had suggested pulling out one of the bolts from the floor, but Tony had given it a test and shaken his head - it’s not the kind of thing a normal person would be able to loosen on their own, not without a wrench and some better leverage than their bare hands.

Not to mention he’s not eager to go testing the limits of the Grandmaster’s lenience, at least not just yet.

He heads back over to the bed, stretching out and settling a hand on Peter’s stomach.

It’s been three days.

Three days with no word from the Grandmaster. Three days of the same food and water, and not-coffee that gets poured down the sink each morning, like a ritual. Tony is half-convinced the Grandmaster is onto them.

And there isn’t a damn thing either of them can do about it.

“Not to be greedy or anything,” Tony says, as much to distract himself as anything else, “but you kinda owe me for yesterday.”

Peter snorts, the muscles of his stomach jerking under Tony’s palm. “Yeah, whatever.”

“In all seriousness, we should probably get on with it.”

It kills him a little, watching the easy grin disappear from Peter’s face.

“Or we could wait. It doesn’t matter,” Tony tries, but it’s already too late. The morning’s earlier levity has vanished.

“No, you’re right. We should um - what do you want to do? You know, to even the score?”

“I was kidding, Pete. And for the record, anyone who keeps track of stuff like that, like it’s a score card? Is a yutz.”

“You’re a yutz, got it.”

Tony slides his hand across Peter’s stomach to wrap around his wrist, pulling his hand up towards Tony’s mouth. He nudges two of Peter’s fingers separate from the others and sucks them into his mouth. Peter licks his own lips and swallows, eyes locked on his own fingers disappearing past Tony’s lips.

“Like the other day?” Peter says, a bit breathlessly.

Tony’s mouth is otherwise occupied, so he just nods. As soon as he’s judged Peter’s fingers sufficiently spit-slicked, he pulls off with a pop, then rolls to his other side, facing the wall.

Peter is a little hesitant, but far less so than he’d been the first time - pressing his fingers inside, slow and mostly steady. Tony can feel Peter’s breath on the back of his neck.

The kid was right - his fingers are slimmer than Tony’s own, although they’re just as long. The thought is almost enough to make Tony groan, but it’s bare moments later when Peter twists his fingers and manages to find the spot he’s been searching for, and Tony is groaning for real.

Peter continues to work him open with one hand, snaking his other arm underneath Tony to fist his cock.

“Fu-uck, kid,” Tony breathes into the mattress, head turned and face pressed into the bed.

“Good?”

“Yeah.”

It’s a little insane that Peter would still need reassurance, given that he’s literally holding hard (ha) proof of Tony’s enjoyment in the palm of his hand.

It takes longer for Tony to come than it would Peter, if their positions were reversed, but in the part of Tony’s mind that refuses to stop working, even now, he knows that’s a good thing. Not just for the show of it, but for what it means for what might be asked of them next.

Asking this of Peter wasn’t entirely a selfish act - if the Grandmaster ever followed through on their request for a vibrator, Tony needs to make sure Peter’s ass isn’t the only one on offer.

That Tony enjoys it is just a side bonus, and one he’s not particularly proud to be taking advantage of.

When Tony does come, it’s in thick spurts that paint the mattress and his own stomach.

Tony rolls onto his back, reaching up clumsily to pull Peter down on top of him. Peter’s cock is hard against his belly, Tony’s come smearing between their bodies as he presses sloppy kisses along Peter’s hairline.

“What d’you want, sweetheart?” he whispers, ducking close to Peter’s ear.

“Mmm, anything.”

Anyone else - any other situation, and Tony would chuckle, make a joke of it. Instead, he nudges Peter to sit up and guides his hands to the headboard, licking his lips.

Peter seems to take the hint, swinging a leg over Tony so he’s kneeling, then shifting towards the headboard until Tony can crane his head up enough to suck Peter into his mouth.

Peter’s hips jerk forward momentarily, but then he seems to get control of himself, Tony can feel his thigh muscles tensing on either side, pressing Tony’s head back down into the mattress. Tony digs his fingers into Peter’s hips and the meat of his ass, urging him on. He moans his approval when Peter finally starts to move, making minute thrusts forward.

He works the flat of his tongue against the underside of Peter’s cock, sucking harder to encourage him, and Peter’s movements lose some of their carefulness, thrusting deeping into Tony’s mouth.

Tony relishes it; the taste of Peter’s precum mixed with his own release from earlier, the salt-sweet taste of Peter’s sweat. The burn in his lungs from not quite enough air, and the adrenaline rush of his fight or flight response shutting down all but the most persistent of his higher brain functions.

Peter comes with a cry, body shuddering, his come spilling hot down Tony’s throat.

Tony might have been a little higher on the asphyxiation than he thought, because he thinks he hears… clapping? The sound gets clearer, sharper, as Peter pulls off and Tony is finally able to inhale a deep lungful of much-needed oxygen.

Yep, that’s definitely someone clapping.

Tony closes his eyes, licks his lips clean. He pushes himself upright, letting Peter slide down his chest until he’s straddling Tony’s lap.

The Grandmaster is on the screen, watching them. “Oh, bravo!”

“You know, I could’ve sworn Bob Mackie died like five years ago,” Tony says, taking in the gold lamé and teal number the guy is wearing today. “Never thought he’d end up on the abducted-by-aliens list right along with Elvis and Sammy Hagar.”

“Who’s Bob Mackie?”

“Kid - ” Tony sighs.

“Listen, I should say that I hate to interrupt whatever you two are talking about, but in reality I’m fine with it, so that all works out. Anyway, I have an exciting surprise for you!”

Peter’s hands clench where they’re braced on Tony’s shoulders, but otherwise he doesn’t react. They can both guess what the surprise is.

“Is this your way of telling us to expect a discreetly wrapped package in our mailbox sometime soon?” Tony asks.

“Why would I need to package it discreetly? Nevermind. It’s a vibranator!”

“You mean a vibrator?” Peter says.

“Mmm, no, I don’t like that one as much.”

“Okay seriously, how is it that you know ‘cinema verite’ but not vibrator?” Tony has to ask.

“I know all kinds of things. What I choose to care about is a different story. Besides, vibranator sounds better, doesn’t it?”

“Makes it sound like a Terminator,” Peter mutters, frowning.

Which apparently the Grandmaster hears, because he perks up. “Oooo, that one sounds exciting, what kind of stuff does that one do?”

Tony opens his mouth to reply but before he can think of a response the Grandmaster is waving it off.

“But I’m getting sidetracked. The point is, you two will be getting a little present tomorrow morning, right after we select the winner.”

“...Winner?”

“Yes! Haven’t you been reading the message boards? We’re trying out this new thing. My people tell me it’s an easy way to increase audience engagement - a lottery system where a winner is selected completely at random, and that person gets a very special prize.”

This time it’s Tony’s hands clenching, fingers digging into Peter’s back. He doesn’t like the sound of any of that.

“And what’s the prize?” he asks, struggling to keep his voice steady.

The Grandmaster grins, holding up a small remote. It’s slightly larger than the remote that can zap them, with a couple more buttons and dials.

“Oh, just this.”

“And I assume that controls the - ” Tony rolls his eyes, “the vibranator?”

The Grandmaster leans forward, like he’s letting them in on a secret. “It does!” he says in a stage whisper.

“Sounds like a blast.”

The screen winks back to normal.

Peter is still a little glassy-eyed from coming, but there’s a sharpness to his expression that Tony likes a little too much. He presses his forehead against Peter’s, allows himself a half-grin that matches Peter’s own.

They both know what this means. Their chances at freedom have just gone from ‘possibly never’ to ‘maybe tomorrow night.’

Maybe.

 

*

 

Peter doesn’t actually know how to build an EMP, and it’s not like Tony can explain it to him without risking everything - but what he can do is talk a whole lot about tangentially related things.

He talks about magnetic fields and pulse waveforms, electrostatic interactions and chemical bonding; Peter hanging on every word. He talks about electrical grids, about the arc reactor that powers Stark Tower (because yes, he still sometimes thinks of it as his tower, regardless of the logo on the side of the building).

He does sit ups while Peter talks through an idea he has for a modification to the taser webs, calf raises while they talk about green energy alternatives and the problem with ethical consumerism - which apparently Peter’s not-girlfriend has a lot of thoughts about.

The thing is, knowing that the walls themselves can function as doors doesn’t actually help them much. All the opening mechanisms are, appropriately, on the other side. The wall hadn’t been open long, but Tony had seen enough to know the whole thing was overengineered - Tony’s pretty sure even Peter would have trouble busting through that.

Which leaves them with the compartment as their main exit route.

There’s no real way to measure, but he’s pretty sure he can fit his hand a bit farther around his bicep than he could when they first got here. With his shoulders hunched in, he should fit through just fine.

Of course, that’s no reason to stop exercising. Just because Peter can handle the real heavy lifting doesn’t mean Tony can slack off. At the very least, he’ll need to be able to keep up, once they’re out.

The possibility of impending freedom is so close Tony imagines he can almost smell it.

“There were ships flying around,” Peter whispers to him in bed that night, apropos of nothing. “When I got to look outside.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. That part was kind of awesome, actually.”

“Sorry I missed it.”

Peter lets out a short laugh that sounds suspiciously wet.

Tony can only imagine how Peter must have felt for those hours they’d been separated - zapped unconscious, pulled out of the room, naked; alone. He doubts Peter would really describe any of it as awesome, not if they weren’t being watched.

They fall asleep curled together on the bed, Tony’s palm spread out over Peter’s chest, letting the steady thud of his heartbeat lull him to sleep.

 

*

 

Peter is still asleep when Tony wakes the next morning, carefully disentangling his legs from Peter’s before he rolls out of bed to take a piss and wash up.

It isn’t until he’s crossing back over towards the bed that he notices the inner compartment door is open.

He picks up a glass of water and drinks it slowly, considering. The two mugs of not-coffee are on the tray as well, but this time Tony leaves them be.

There’s a fresh container of lube, for which Tony is grateful.

Also a bright purple silicone sex toy, laid out on the tray like it’s a piece of cutlery.

Tony can hear Peter shifting on the bed behind him, starting to wake up.

“Oh.”

Tony glances back to see Peter pushed up on his elbows, eyes focused on the vibrator.

“Good morning!” The screen flickers to life, showing the Grandmaster rubbing his hands together excitedly. “How are we all feeling? I hope you’re feeling good, because I am feeling fantastic, just fantastic.”

“Good for you,” Peter says.

“It is, isn’t it? And it’s about to get better, because guess who won the conte-est!” Music blares through the speakers as fireworks explode behind him on the screen, disco lights flashing all around.

Tony has to blink away memories of more than a few bad acid trips before he realizes it’s not his eyes - the lights in their room have gone disco as well.

Peter’s got one arm thrown up over his eyes, probably not quite awake enough to deal with the sensory overload.

The music screeches to a stop. The colored lights stop flashing.

The Grandmaster is looking at them expectantly.

“Well? Are you going to guess?”

“You?” Peter grits out from the bed.

“Me!  Can you believe it? What are the odds.”

Tony wonders briefly if anyone else’s name was even in the pot to begin with.

“So here’s the deal. That goes inside someone, I don’t care who - that’s a lie, I do care a little bit, Peter - but really either of you is fine by me. Then it’s six hours on the clock.” He presses a button on the remote and the vibrator rumbles on the table, then goes still. “And we all have a good time! But mostly me, I’ll have a good time.”

The Grandmaster sits back in his chair, waiting.

Tony grabs the lube and the toy out of the compartment and heads over to the bed. Peter eyes the toy nervously. It’s larger than Tony’s fingers - both in width and in length. Not huge, but not exactly small either.

“I’ll do it, alright? You don’t have to,” Tony says to Peter, opting to pretend like the Grandmaster isn’t still right there on the screen behind him, watching avidly.

“He said my name.”

“He also said he didn’t care.”

Peter’s expression shifts from doubtful to perplexed, eyes flicking back to the screen.

“Or we... could switch?” Peter says.

Tony wheels around to catch the Grandmaster mouthing words at Peter, like a stage director feeding him a line, then nodding with a grin and giving him a thumbs up.

“Really?” Tony says.

The Grandmaster shrugs, gives Tony a who me? look that convinces exactly no one.

“Whatever. I’ll take it first.” Tony hands the lube to Peter and climbs onto the bed.

Peter works him open with steady fingers and an overabundance of lube that drips down Tony’s thighs and balls. It’s fine though - Tony would far prefer too much than too little, given the situation.

“Um,” Peter says, pausing.

“Spit it out, kid.”

“How do I know when you’re, like, ready?”

“I’m ready.”

“Are you sure?”

“Weren’t you just asking me how to tell? This is how. You asked, I said yes. We’re good.”

“Jeez, okay then. You’re kinda pushy, you know that?”

Tony has to choke down a half-hysterical laugh. He’s almost certain Peter wasn’t intentionally making a pushy bottom joke. Not Peter, who not so long ago had needed to ask if ‘mouth stuff’ meant oral sex, and had received his first rim job a grand total of three days ago.

Peter slicks up the toy with more lube, then lines up and presses it inside.

It’s… not bad. It’s been a while for Tony, but the thing isn’t particularly large, so it’s easy enough to adjust.

Until the thing pulses inside him.

“Holy f- ” Tony’s toes curl, digging into the mattress underneath him.

There’s a beat of nothing, then another pulse. “Okay, that’s. Okay. Yeah,” Tony mutters.

“Mr. Stark?”

“It’s fine, Pete. S’good.”

“Is there something I should do?”

“Nope.” Tony forces himself to roll over onto his back. He’s not gonna spend the next six hours humping the mattress, at least not if he can help it.

Another pulse.

It’s a tease. Good, but not good enough to get him anywhere, at least not for a long time. Tony already knows it’s an endurance game - six hours of this, Jesus fuck. Even switching off, they’re both going to be wrecked by the end. He knows it. He also knows that there’s nothing for it.

Tony closes his eyes; lets himself get lost in the sensation.

He just hopes the battery will have enough charge by the end to do what they need it to.

 

*

 

Tony loses track of time.

Not that it surprises him. His stomach and thighs are tacky with come, some of it already drying and flaking off every time he shifts position. It takes a little while to focus when he opens his eyes, realizing that Peter is perched on the bed next to him, arms wrapped around his legs and knees pulled up to his chest.

“Kid,” Tony says.

“There’s water.” Peter unfolds a bit and leans over to grab a glass of water from the floor beside the bed, offering it up.

Tony waves him off. The vibrator is blessedly quiet, for the moment.

He levers himself up off the bed and makes his way over to the bathroom to take a piss, which takes a while to manage.

The toy cranks back on as he’s washing his hands, higher than before. Tony pitches forward in surprise, hands braced against the sink, forehead resting against the mirror.

It’s not a pulse this time, just constant stimulation. It’s too much, too soon.

His cock tries valiantly, but doesn’t get more than partially stiff. He breathes through it, clutching the porcelain of the sink, wondering vaguely if it might break. If he were Peter, it very well might.

Tony shudders, legs threatening to give out underneath him. It’s not the same as coming, more like an almost painful echo of the feeling.

It’s all he can manage.

Arms wrap around him from behind. It’s Peter, holding him up.

Together, they make it back to the bed. Tony landing in a graceless sprawl, Peter settling cross-legged beside him.

“I’m gonna take it out, okay?”

“Nn,” Tony says.

“I’m taking that as a yes, just so you know.”

Tony swallows a few times, but fails at coming up with a cogent reply. He groans as Peter pulls it out of him. As much as Tony doesn’t want Peter to have to do this, he can’t help but feel relieved.

He tries to offer his help, but Peter waves him off.

“I got this. Don’t worry about it, Mr. Stark.”

Tony is almost glad to have been wrung dry, because he’s treated to a front row seat to Peter fingering himself open, wincing slightly as he pushes the vibrator in, probably still warm from Tony’s own body heat.

He wants to laugh. It would be incredibly inappropriate - obviously, but there it is. Two weeks ago he’d thought watching the kid drop to his knees to suck his dick was going to be the sight that damned him.

That was nothing, nothing compared to now.

He’s so fucked.

Tony can hear the toy buzzing faintly, and Peter’s breathing has gone shallow and fast. Tony reaches out, rubs a hand down Peter’s back. Peter opens his eyes, looking directly at Tony.

He has no idea how many times Peter comes, or how long it takes; he does know that neither of them break eye contact. Not until an edge of pain starts to pinch Peter’s expression.

Tony scratches his fingers through Peter’s hair, before tracing down his back to the base of the vibrator, pulling it out.

Peter closes his eyes with a sigh as it slips free of his body.

Tony’s been avoiding looking at the screen up until now, but he chances a look now, half expecting to see a bright gold timer there, ticking down the seconds. All he gets is a wave from the Grandmaster though, who appears to be eating the alien equivalent of popcorn.

Bastard.

Tony has to clench his jaw to stay quiet as he pushes the toy back inside himself, hands trembling.

He loses track of how many times they swap back and forth; only knows that they’re both long past the point of getting any pleasure out of it. They’re both clumsy and sweat-slick, tears tracking down Peter’s face that Tony can actually taste when he presses a sloppy open-mouthed kiss to the kid’s lips.

“Almost there,” he promises, with no idea if it’s actually true.

Peter nods, believing him even though they both know it might be a lie.

Time is relative, anyway.

 

*

 

Tony wakes up more disgusting than he’s felt in a long time - rank with sweat and come, aching all over.

Peter is sprawled out on his stomach next to him, mouth open and drooling on the fitted sheet, his hair a mess. The toy is still inside of him; Tony can see the bright purple base of it peeking out between Peter’s legs.

What he’d like to do is pull the thing out and chuck it across the room.

Instead, he takes it slow, wishing he could shut his ears to the tiny hurt noises Peter makes as he pulls the thing out of his body, inch by inch.

He wants nothing more than to start disassembling the thing right away, figure out how hard it’ll be to remove the casing, see what it is they’re working with. But they have to be careful. God, so much more careful than he was before, when he almost fucked everything up for both of them.

Instead he takes a shower, the hot water cranked up as high as it’ll go, easing the ache in his muscles. He has to scrub the dried come from his belly and thighs, the still-slick remnants of lube from between his legs.

He’s had worse mornings-after, all things considered.

When he’s done, he wets a washcloth in the warm water and brings it back over to the bed, wiping down Peter’s backside as unobtrusively as he can. He wrings out the washcloth in the sink and wets it again so he can get Peter’s thighs.

“Missr S-ark?” Peter slurs, half-awake.

“Yep, just me kid.”

“Oh. Okay.” Peter is quiet for a moment, Tony thinks he may have gone back to sleep, but then he speaks again. “Hey, where’sa thing?”

“It’s out. We’re done.”

“Mmm.” Peter relaxes further into the mattress.

Tony nudges Peter’s legs apart so he can clean up the insides of his thighs, tells himself there’s no part of him that enjoys how pliable the kid is like this, how trusting.

When he’s done, he taps Peter’s hip.

“Roll over, lemme get your front.”

Peter is a little more awake by now, frowning a bit as he peels himself away from the fitted sheet and rolls onto his back. Tony wrings out and re-wets the washcloth in the sink before heading back over to sit on the bed. He rubs the washcloth over Peter’s stomach in broad strokes, clearing up as much of the dried come and lingering sweat as he can.

“You don’t have to do that,” Peter says.

Tony’s hand stills. “You want me to stop?”

“No. But just, you don’t have to.”

I want to. Tony doesn’t say it. It’s irrelevant anyway - Peter already said he didn’t want Tony to stop, and so he doesn’t.

He has to wring out and re-wet the washcloth a few more times, until Peter is at least passably clean from his neck to his toes. Peter’s hair is still stuck to his forehead, curling and sleep tousled, but it’s about as good as he’s going to get until he gets up for an actual shower.

Tony grabs the vibrator off the bed and wipes it down as well, using the time to get a good look at the casing. It looks like the silicone skin can be peeled off with a little bit of effort.

He sets it back on the bed. It’s killing him to not start tinkering with it immediately, but he’s going to have to wait until tonight to do anything further. He’s not actually sure how much privacy the darkness provides, but it’s better than doing it in broad daylight, probably.

Not that this is real daylight, but whatever.

Peter drifts in and out of sleep the rest of the morning. Tony is fairly certain that it is at least partially a ruse - Peter may be exhausted, but he’s probably faking it at least a little.

Besides, it’s not like they have anything else to do.

When the compartment opens at midday, it’s not their usual fare inside.

Tony’s at a loss how to describe it, other than to say it’s more.

There’s the usual plate of meat-ish and vegetable-ish things, in a creamy red sauce, this time, but also a plate of what Tony can only assume are petit fours, plus a bowl of weird looking fruits. Their usual water glasses are accompanied by a tall thin bottle of green liquid, and two tiny snifter glasses. Folded neatly under the trays is a clean fitted sheet, which is a welcome surprise.

Tony eyes the bottle. He picks it up and cracks open the top to sniff the contents. It smells, oddly enough, like watermelon.

It looks, undoubtedly, like absinthe.

Tony screws the cap back on, sets the bottle down. He won’t deny that it’s tempting, but. Peter shifts in his sleep, the fitted sheet rustling against his skin, mattress creaking quietly as he moves.

Tony walks over to the bed, rubs a hand over the kid’s thigh.

“Hey, wake up. It’s lunch time.”

Peter scrubs the back of one hand over his eyes, disgruntled at being woken up. He stills when he notices the trays of food.

“Woah.”

“Yeah. Guess we did okay yesterday.”

Peter swallows at that, but hoists himself up out of bed. They both settle down at the table and dig in. Neither of them had eaten yesterday - in fact, Tony couldn’t even say for sure if the compartment had opened or not, given that they had both been… otherwise occupied. He polishes off his plate and is reaching for his second petit four before he stops.

Peter notices, brown eyes glancing from Tony’s hand - still paused over the plate - up to his face, concerned.

“Drugged?” Peter asks.

Tony shakes his head. “I was just thinking, maybe we should save those for later,” he says, deliberately.

It takes a moment, but Peter catches his drift. They’ve already eaten their way through half the fruit and a third of the little cakes, but they set the rest aside before putting the empty trays back into the compartment.

Peter strips the bed and they remake it together, which feels weirdly domestic. Although with only the one sheet to deal with, it’s also not like it takes them very long.

After that, Peter showers. He stays in there a while, long enough that Tony drifts off to sleep while he’s waiting. He’s not sure how long he’s been asleep, but when he opens his eyes, the lights of the room have already started to dim for the night.

Peter settles into bed next to him.

“You feeling okay?” Tony asks.

Peter looks over, confused. “Yeah. Why?”

“Just checking.” He glances down at the toy, still sitting on the end of the bed, down by their feet. “Get some sleep.”

Peter looks at him for a long moment before nodding. He turns over on his side, one arm folded under his head, and closes his eyes.

Tony does the same, but he doesn’t sleep.

He waits for the lights to dim.

The Grandmaster must have some kind of low light or night vision capabilities, Tony is sure of it, if for no other reason than to feed his audience with more footage. Even if that footage only consists of two prisoners sleeping in the buff.

So there very well might be someone watching, even now. But no one had stopped him, the night he’d broken the camera. Sure, he’d almost been sent to bed with no supper for it the next day, but he hadn’t been immediately zapped for it - and that was key.

Tony sits up slowly, careful not to wake Peter as he grabs the toy from the foot of the bed.

Peeling the silicone-ish casing away takes some effort, but it’s simple enough. Underneath that, there’s some kind of hard composite casing, with a seam running from the base to the tip on either side, like it had been formed in two halves of a mold.

Tony pries his fingernails into the seam, fingers aching as he tries to (carefully) crack the casing open.

The casing gives way with a soft crack, and suddenly Tony is holding two halves of the split open toy in his hands. He breathes through a few seconds of mild panic, waiting for retribution, but none comes.

Actually, come to think of it - no one had stopped them from tinkering around with the camera pieces either, even in the middle of the day.

Maybe the Grandmaster didn’t care.

Maybe the Grandmaster didn’t care because he already knew their plan isn’t going to work.

Tony pushes the thought aside. It’s a possibility, he knows, but not a particularly productive one to focus on. If this plan doesn’t work then they’re hosed. But what’s the alternative - staying here for eternity?

No. They have to try.

Besides, Tony has never been particularly good at doing what he’s told.

Most of the interior is taken up by a battery, which Tony prays isn’t dead. There’s something that must be a receiver, some wiring, plus a small motor which is attached to an off-balanced weight.

Tony bypasses the receiver, working by touch alone in the near darkness, suddenly grateful for all those lonely hours he spent as a kid, taking apart RC cars and putting them back together again, but better.

He could do this in his sleep.

The motor rumbles to life. Tony lets out an exhale like he’s been punched in the chest.

The battery isn’t dead.

He separates the wires to shut the motor off, looking over at Peter, whose eyes had popped open at the sound of the motor whirring. Tony grins, pretty sure that Peter can see his expression.

Peter turns his head, looking over at the shower. Tony nods.

Before Peter can stand up, Tony reaches out, lays a hand on the first part of Peter he can reach - his forearm. He squeezes the kid’s arm, letting the pressure build slowly, then relaxing just as gradually.

A warning, one that he hopes Peter understands: steady, kid.

“You sure you’re feeling okay?” Tony asks.

Peter shifts, giving Tony’s hand an answering squeeze before he gets up, stumbling over to the toilet and pretending to retch.

Tony hears the toilet flush. A moment later the shower kicks on.

Tony works quickly, fingers skimming over the battery and wiring, trying to estimate the max range of the pulse they might get - which is fruitless, without having a better idea of how much juice the battery’s got.

He leaves the battery on the bed and makes his way over to the shower, barely able to make out Peter’s form, slumped on the tiled floor. Near the drain.

Tony crouches next to him. “Let’s get you back to bed, alright?”

Peter nods, allowing Tony to pull him up and stand him in front of the dryer vents. He’s got one hand clutched against his abdomen. Tony has to repress the urge to plant a sloppy kiss right on kid’s face.

Now’s not the time. (It should never be the time, he thinks.)

They stumble back to bed together. Peter curls up on his side, and unclenches his hand, letting the razor and copper wire fall to the bed between them.

Tony unravels the wire from the safety razor, then mimes breaking the blade free of its casing before handing it back to Peter. There’s a snick of plastic cracking, then another. Tony doesn’t stop to examine Peter’s work, he’s already moved on to creating a quick and dirty ignition coil with the wiring, thoughts racing as he hooks it up to the battery.

He stops.

This is it.

Everything is ready to go.

Tony bites back another wave of panic, this time with the taste of desert air choking in his lungs. That first suit, ready to go.

Almost ready to go. Not quite.

Yinsen, leaving to buy him more time.

Yinsen, using his last breath to tell Tony not to waste his life.

Tony has spent the hours and months and years since that moment wondering if the right man had walked out of that cave. Yinsen had been the better man, surely - he had already known things that Tony, back then, was only just beginning to understand.

It doesn’t come as a revelation, more like something Tony has known since the first second he’d opened his eyes and seen the kid sitting in bed with him, and only now has found the will to promise himself:

Peter has to make it out of this place.

Nothing else matters.

Tony takes a deep breath. He reaches down, sets a hand on Peter’s hip and presses his forefinger into his skin. He taps the battery with his other hand, waiting for Peter to nod his understanding before moving on.

One, trigger the EMP.

He presses a second finger into Peter’s hip, then reaches down to tap Peter’s neck.

Two, remove the chips.

A third finger, then he trails his hand up to Peter’s bicep, gives it a squeeze, tipping his chin towards the compartment door.

Three, bust the fuck out of here.

Peter nods a final time. Tony taps three fingers against Peter’s hip, then two -

Peter reaches out and grabs his hand, shaking his head furiously.

Tony grits his teeth to stay silent. The adrenaline is already pumping, he has no idea how long they’ve got before someone notices that something is up. But he trusts Peter - so he leans down, trying to get close enough to better make out the features of the kid’s face.

“Kid?”

Peter shakes his head again, less panicky this time. He pulls Tony’s hand down from his hip, laying his arm out between them on the bed to trace letters on his skin, one by one.

S H I F T  C H A N G E

When? Tony mouths, trusting that Peter can see well enough to read his lips in the dark.

L I G H T

Of course. If they can catch the guards near the end of their shift, when they’re tired, ready to head home...

Tony forces himself to lie down, the adrenaline rush still bitter on his tongue, heart pounding. He reaches out to run a hand through Peter’s hair, the best way he has right now to say thanks.

Neither of them can sleep, but they don’t move from the bed either.

It feels like the longest night of Tony’s life.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Neither of them dares to breathe as Tony trips the EMP.  A few feet away, the screen blinks and goes dead.

“That means it worked, right?” Peter asks.

“We’re about to find out.”

Tony grabs the razor blade off the bed, suddenly missing the dim light the screen would have provided. It’s pre-dawn in the room; barely enough light to see. Peter turns his head to the side, head craned away to provide Tony with as much room to work as possible.

Everything in him abhors the idea of cutting into Peter’s skin like this, but he doesn’t have a choice. But out of everything that’s happened in the past three weeks, at least this wound will be the easiest one to heal.

It only takes seconds before his fingers are slick with blood, digging into the kid’s neck for the chip.

He’s right about the wound healing quickly - too quickly. The blood clots around his fingers, the wound already trying to knit itself closed.

“It’s okay, Mr. Stark.” Peter doesn’t sound like he’s in too much pain, but he does sound scared. That, more than anything else, spurs Tony onwards.

He widens the cut and pushes his fingers in again, this time just barely catching the hard metal casing of what must be the chip between his fingernails. He rips it out of Peter’s neck, dropping it to the floor between them.

“Okay, now you,” Peter says, swallowing.

Tony can feel Peter’s hand shaking as he runs his fingertip over the small lump of the chip, checking the location before he starts to cut. It hurts like a sonuvabitch when Peter digs his fingers inside the open wound, and Tony suddenly finds himself filled with a whole new respect for how easily Peter had borne it just a minute ago.

“Shoulda bargained for some pliers too, huh?”

“Almost got it,” Peter says.

“Disinfectant, maybe some surgical gloves...” He’s rambling. He can’t entirely help it, needing the distraction - Peter’s fingers may be lithe and nimble but they still fucking hurt, stretching the wound wide open and digging around in the meat of his neck like that.

A moment later and Tony is dizzily looking down at a second blood-dark smudge on the ground, his chip laying there next to Peter’s. He looks up to find Peter breathing rapidly, his eyes saucer-wide.

“Oh my god, that actually worked,” Peter says.

“We’re not done yet, kid.” Tony tips his head towards the compartment.

Peter nods.

They both have work to do.

 

*

 

Tony knows that Peter is strong. He’s seen the kid stretched to the breaking point, 1,500-plus tons of weight in each hand; the bile rising in Tony’s throat as he’d pushed the Mark 47 to get to the damned ferry in time.

But it’s different, seeing it up close. Peter isn’t wearing his suit; there’s no mask this time, no clear visual reminder that the kid counts himself among the ranks of Cap and Banner and Thor. Super-human, in the most literal sense: able to do the impossible.

Quarter-inch thick metal bends like plastic in Peter’s hands as he pries the inner compartment door from the wall.

The panel hits the floor with a clang loud enough to make Tony wince from across the room. But there’s no point trying to be subtle now anyway.  Tony grabs the washcloths off the hooks by the sink, wrapping one one around each palm before he doubles over the copper wire from the EMP and wraps the ends around each hand, testing his grip.

He can only watch as Peter plants his hands on the panel just over the compartment, crouching against the wall. Peter kicks both legs out and swings feet first through the opening, the impact as he hits the outer door reverberating through the room.

“Kid?” Tony asks.

“Almost there.”

Peter pulls himself out of the compartment and swings again.

This time, the outer door bursts open. There’s a few scant heart-stopping seconds where Peter disappears from view, before Tony can dive through the opening after him.

The room he finds himself in is actually smaller than their cell - just a bank of monitors and a small control panel along one wall, a dumbwaiter on the other, and a couple of chairs - both of which are occupied.

One guard is mashing his thumb on a remote control zapper, now useless. Peter is already on the other one, kicking his chair across the room before the guard can get a hand on what is presumably some kind of alarm. Tony brings both fists up together, using them to knock the remote out of Mr-Trigger-Happy’s hands, and then spins his chair around. He slips the garrote over the man’s head, one knee braced against the back of the chair, and pulls it tight.

It takes a few long, exhausted moments before Trigger Happy goes limp.

A few more for Tony to be sure he’s dead.

The other guard is already on the floor, knocked out but still breathing. The monitors show nothing but static. Nice. He hadn’t been sure whether the EMP would be strong enough to knock out the cameras as well, but apparently it had. Even better - they haven’t come back online yet.

He looks up to find Peter whitefaced, staring at the dead guard’s neck.

“You - ” Peter stops. He looks up at Tony, then away just as fast.

“You want either of them waking up and reporting back to their boss, telling him what you can do?”

“N-no, but - ”

“Peter, look. I get it - and I’m sorry. But now’s not the time.” Tony nods down at the guard in front of him. “Get dressed.”

Peter is shaky, balling his hands into fists to brace himself before he can touch the dead guard. Tony has to force himself to look away, to silence the part of himself that is undoubtedly filing the sight away for self-recrimination at some later date. Not the time, he reminds himself.

He crosses over to the second guard and takes care of him the same way he did the first.

Tony unwinds the wire from around his hands, both of them sore and bruised despite the washcloths. He lets the wire drop to the floor and presses one of the washcloths to his neck. The wound doesn’t seem to be bleeding too badly. Peter’s has already scabbed over, from the looks of it.

“How much of a look did you get when you were outside?” Tony asks, busy wrestling the second guard out of his clothes.

“Um, not a lot. We’re in a tower, and there’s a city below. Beyond that it’s just like, piles of random stuff everywhere.”

“Alright then, down we go."

Tony shoves his feet into the guard’s boots. Peter looks towards the door, shaking his head.

“I hear footsteps. I can’t tell how many, but it sounds like a lot.”

They both look at the dumbwaiter.

“I’ll go first,” Peter says.

Tony would like to argue, but it makes sense, tactically.

The shaft of the dumbwaiter is narrow, heading nearly straight down. Peter drops down in a controlled slide, stopping just long enough to make sure Tony is keeping up.

It’s not the most comfortable thing in the world, but Tony keeps his back and feet braced against one side of the shaft and his hands against the other, and manages to follow without crashing into the kid.

“Mr. Stark, we’ve gotta go faster,” Peter whispers.

He’s right. Tony can hear the voices echoing down from above too, even if he can’t quite make out the words, he knows what it means - someone has made it into the control room. It’s only a matter of time before some genius thinks to check the dumbwaiter. And when they do -

“Put your weight on me and we’ll slide down. I’ll catch us before the bottom, I promise,” Peter says.

“You go ahead. If I don’t make it down, I’ll try to buy you some time.”

“Time for what? I don’t know how to fly a spaceship! Or or - ” Peter’s hand locks around Tony’s ankle from below. “I’ll drag you down with me, if I have to,” he says.

“You sure you can do this?”

There’s a pause where Tony suspects the kid might be nodding, but it’s too dark to make out.  

“I’m sure.”

Tony lowers himself down far enough to lock his legs around Peter’s torso. He can feel Peter take a deep breath, then let go.

 

*

 

They fly downwards in the dark.

Tony has no benchmark for how far they go, except to count the vague traces of light he can see around the edges of the doors each time they pass by an opening. Ten, twenty, thirty - faster and faster until he loses count, terrified and exhilarated at the same time.

The muscles of Peter’s shoulders shift under Tony’s hands, bunching up tight as he braces himself to slow their descent.

They skid to a stop.

Peter is breathing hard below him. Tony is breathing hard too, come to think of it.

“It sounds empty, I think,” Peter whispers.

“Okay.”

Tony reaches out and slides the panel upwards. The room beyond is only dimly lit. It looks like a supply closet.

He unhooks his legs from around Peter and climbs out, crouching down out of the way so Peter can get out after him.

Most of the shelves are filled with innocuous shit - paper towels, soap refills, clean sheets and washcloths. One entire row is full of all-too-familiar looking jars, among other… accoutrements.

“Uh, are those?” Peter asks.

“Yep.”

“So he was totally just messing with me, pretending he didn’t know what a vibrator was.”

“Pretty much.”

“I don’t even know what some of this stuff is.”

“You want to know something really impressive, kid? Neither do I.”

“...Oh.”

“You see anything here we might need?” Tony says, squinting over the rows of shelves.

Peter sputters.

“Not the sex toys, for chrissake. I meant water, food, weapons - anything like that?”

“Oh um - no, sorry.”

Tony nods towards the door. “You hear anyone outside?”

Peter creeps over, tipping his head to listen for a moment and shakes his head.

The hallways down here are mostly quiet; empty. Tony guesses the search is centered on the upper floors, for now.

That won’t last.

They run through hallway after hallway, peering around corners, Peter grabbing Tony’s shirt to pull him up short when he hears someone coming. Every door they come across is locked.

Eventually they find a window. Tony looks out. Just three stories to the ground.

“We could jump it.”

He gives Peter a flat look.

“Okay, I could jump it. You could, uh - ”

“I’m not riding you piggyback again. Besides, you think no one’s gonna notice us crashing out of a third floor window?”

“Right. So... we find some stairs?”

“We find some stairs.”

They keep searching.

Tony is pretty sure they cover the whole floor twice, although it’s hard to tell with the way all the hallways look the same.

Something isn’t right about this place. The hallways all look like straight paths and ninety-degree angles, but they seem to loop around back on each other in logic-defying ways.

“I could pry one of the doors open,” Peter offers.

Tony shakes his head. “It would take too long. Not without knowing which one might be a stairwell.”

“Okay, um. We could go back inside the walls? The floor above this one smelled like a kitchen. It sounded like there were people in there, though.”

“It’s looking like our only option.”

Peter hesitates.

“What?”

“The people...”

Oh, christ. “Kid, I’m not - ” Tony has to pause, drag his thoughts back into line, force himself to acknowledge just how far he must’ve fallen in Peter’s eyes. “I don’t go around killing people for fun, okay? I’m not a sociopath. Those two guards saw you bust through a double-plated metal wall with your bare hands. I don’t want that neat little trick of yours becoming public knowledge, not if we can help it.”

“So the people in the kitchen, we can just knock them out?”

“Absolutely.” Tony’s not sure how this became a concession - if that’s what it sounds like to Peter. It sure as hell sounds that way to Tony. “Just, don’t let them see your spidey-powers, okay?”

Peter nods. “Okay.”

They're gonna know that someone busted through the wall, of course. But with the cameras offline and the two guards dead, there's still the question of who, out of the two of them. It's a small advantage, sure, but one that Tony isn't keen on giving up unless they have to.

It takes a while to find their way back to the storage closet, which is recognizable only because it’s the one door that will open for them. Apparently the lube and sex toys are the only thing not kept under lock and key around here. Which, figures.

They climb back into the dumbwaiter, Tony first this time.

He's barely made it a few feet past the opening when there’s a flash of light and pain erupts in his shoulder. Tony slides down a few inches, but manages to catch himself with his other arm.

“Mr. Stark!”

Tony scrambles upwards, Peter bracing him from underneath where he can, pushing him on. Another shot rings out from above, the angle of it just a hair off this time, sending brilliant white light ricocheting around the shaft.

Tony slams open the compartment door and vaults through just as the second shot grazes past his legs, a third one searing across Peter’s flank. A split second later Peter is falling out of the dumbwaiter after him, one arm clutching his side.

A tall thin alien stands at what looks like a stove, frozen in place, blinking down at them with all five of its eyes.

“Sorry to barge in on you, we got hungry,” Tony says. He grabs the nearest thing to hand - some kind of large stone bowl, and brains the dude with it.

There’s another one farther down, barely taller than the counter, a bunch of antennae-like things extruding from its head. It’s making some sort of weird angry-screeching noise, antennae flailing.

Peter is still standing by the entrance, staring at the first guy, slack-jawed.

“That’s an alien,” he says, awed.

“You can geek out about it later, Pete. We gotta go, now.”

They start running. Peter knocks out the short one with a quick backhand, apologizing to both of them as he goes.

The kitchen is enormous, but broken up into separate areas by counters and racks of all kinds of tools and utensils. It works for and against them - on the upside, everyone else is blocked by too many obstacles to get to them quickly. On the downside, that also means that everyone sees them as they go, but they’re too far away to be taken out easily.

Tony opts for speed over stealth, skidding into Peter at times, redirecting at random, both of them desperately searching for an exit.

There’s a set of huge double doors at one end, but they’re blocked by an even huge-r looking dude with two heads and an empty tray in his (or possibly her) hands.

Tony turns on his heel and heads the other way. Something grabs his arm, yanking him backwards. Before he can react, Peter is grabbing a ladle off the counter and whacking the appendage away, then hauling him forwards.

“Trash chute,” Peter gasps out, nodding towards the wall, two counters ahead and one across.

Peter shoves Tony ahead of him, both of them sliding over the counter and landing in a crouch.

“Please don’t be an incinerator, please don’t be an incinerator,” Peter is muttering to himself.

Tony doesn’t have the breath to respond. They jump into the trash chute at nearly the same time.

The tunnel is pitch black, twisting and turning, descending sharply. Tony has a grip on Peter’s shirt with one hand, and Peter has one arm braced against Tony’s chest as they slide. They land in a pile of limbs, on top of something that’s slimy in some places and squishy in others. It's a lucky, but disgusting break.

“They’re gonna know we’re down here,” Peter groans.

“You think?”

They climb over piles of god-knows-what, stumbling and slipping, hands sinking into the muck, slick with sweat. Peter is still muttering something about an incinerator.

“Toy Story 3 really did a number on you, huh?”

“It really, really did.”

Tony’s own thoughts aren’t focused on Toy Story. Instead, they wander back to the Manhattan penthouse, which has a brand-new Dornbracht steam shower, installed a while back as an attempted apology to Pepper for one thing or another. He hasn’t even had a chance to use it yet.

He’s going to live in there, when he gets back.

If he gets back.

It’s not lost on Tony that they have no plan to make it back to Earth. Right now, Tony would settle for making it out of this goddamn tower.

The garbage pile is constantly shifting under their feet, and the space is large enough that it takes a while for Tony to get his bearings; realize that the entire pile is actually being pushed forwards by some unseen mechanism, slowly but surely.

Far in the distance, he can make out a dim light.

“Peter, can you see - ?”

“It’s not an incinerator. I think… I think it’s an exit.”

They work their way diagonally across the pile, until they’re skirting the wall. 

“There’s a drop, but I can’t see how far down it goes,” Peter says.

“We’re gonna have to get closer,” Tony says.

Peter creeps ahead along the wall, craning to see down.

“There’s a pit underneath. Or wait, I think it’s a river,” Peter calls back. “If you hang onto me, I can climb down.”

Tony shakes his head, but Peter isn’t looking at him. “Too slow. We’re gonna have to jump it, hope the current can carry us away from the tower fast enough that they don’t catch us.”

It’s not a good plan.

It’s not even a plan, really. But it’s either stay here and definitely get caught, try to climb down the side of the tower and almost definitely caught, or jump feet first into the river of garbage and hope to god it provides enough cover that the Grandmaster’s lackeys can’t make them out from above.

Peter must come to the same conclusion, because he wall-crawls his way back towards Tony and steps back onto the pile.

After three weeks locked in a cell, the view of the entire city opening up before Tony's eyes is almost enough to make him dizzy. It's too much input - too much light, too much movement, too much space. Panic rises in him like a wave, and he has to shut his eyes tight for a moment, until Peter's voice brings him back to the present.

"Mr. Stark, we're almost there!"

Tony barely gets a glimpse of what’s below before they go over the edge.

The free-fall sensation shouldn’t still catch him in the throat the way it does, even now. There’s no suit to rely on this time, and no promise of one on the way either. Peter is falling too - somewhere beside him, without his web shooters, just as unmoored as Tony is.

Tony doesn’t remember hitting the water.

 

*

 

He comes to staring at an old rainboot.

It’s red, floating sole-side up about a foot away from his face. Something hard knocks him across the jaw, snapping his head to one side.

Tony shakes his head to clear it, which only partially works. His lungs are screaming for air, and he thrashes in the water, desperate to get his bearings, panicking when he realizes there’s too much crap in the water for him to tell which way is up.

Bubbles, he thinks, and lets out the last ounce of air from his lungs, fighting to follow them as they rise to the surface.

The first breath of air hits like a shockwave. He doesn’t even register the strange taste of it until he’s on his third or forth lungful, coughing and choking on it until he can finally catch his breath.

Peter.

The name echoes like a drumbeat, in time with his pulse. He shoves aside the debris around him, searching.

His right arm is back in action, although it feels tingly and still partially numb. His jaw aches as he bites down the urge to yell Peter’s name; can’t risk drawing attention to himself. Or to Peter, wherever he is.

He can’t see more than a few feet in any direction, thanks to all the stuff floating around him. On one hand, he knows it’s excellent camouflage - anyone looking from above probably won’t be able to make out them out.

On the other, it means it takes Tony what feels like eternity before he lays eyes on a lithe form in black slumped over a piece of panelling.

Peter,” he calls out, voice pitched low.

No response.

He makes his way over to Peter, grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him lightly. A wrinkle forms between Peter’s eyebrows.

“Pete, c’mon. You gotta wake up, kid. Please.”

Peter groans, rolling his head to one side and cracking an eye open. Tony exhales, relieved, although he doesn’t like smear of dark blood that’s matting the kid’s hair.

“Hid my head,” Peter mumbles.

“Yeah, you must’ve gotten clocked pretty good, huh?”

“Not good. Bad.”

“Right, head trauma bad. That was a test, you passed. Hooray.”

Peter just closes his eyes.

“Alright, okay. Just stay down, I’ve got you.”

Tony looks back. The current has already pulled them a good distance away from the tower. A square-looking ship rounds the tower from the far side, hovering over the trash dump site. Tony watches in silence as a thin strip of green light maybe about four or five feet wide appears from the ship, roving over the garbage as it comes down.

It’s damned good luck he and Peter got out of there as quickly as they did.

Tony pulls himself half-up onto the panel and loops one arm around Peter, and starts kicking.

 

*

 

The river winds through the city, or maybe the city winds through the river; it’s hard to tell. Towering structures rise straight up out of the debris, blurring the line between structure and chaos.

Every so often he can hear the whirr of a ship passing by. Most of them seem to be coming and going from the very top of the tower, going about whatever counts for business as usual on this planet. But every time he hears one pass by he braces himself, waiting for that green light to appear overhead.

Thankfully, it hasn’t yet.

The ships aren't the only threat. There are... fishermen, for lack of a better word, along the shore. Reeling in anything that might be valuable with nets or hooks on long metal poles.

The first one babbles excitedly when she catches sight of them, reaching out to hook Tony around the neck. Tony slips the hold, grabbing onto something that looks like a 1970s avocado-green refrigerator and using it to propel them away from the shore. He does his best to keep them in the middle of the river after that, head ducked down low and covering Peter whenever he hears voices nearby.

The buildings around them grow smaller, shabbier, eventually nothing more than scrapyard shacks. The voices become fewer and farther in between.

Tony counts to a thousand. Then two thousand. He pushes himself up on the panel to look around. They’re alone.

After three weeks they’re finally, completely, alone.

He squeezes the back of Peter’s neck. “Hey kid, how’re you feeling?”

“Better.” Peter winces as he opens his eyes.

“You up to me giving you a boost, so you can take a look around?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

Tony steadies the platform so Peter can climb on top, grabbing the kid’s ankle when it looks like he’s about to stand up.

“Not too high. We don’t know who’s out there looking for us.”

“Right.”

Peter pushes up into a half-crouch, scanning the horizon, then slides back down.

“We’re pretty far away from the tower. Is it - does one of those faces on the tower look like the Hulk to you?”

Tony had thought he was seeing things. “Could be a coincidence. It’s a big universe.”

“Yeah, I guess. I didn’t see anyone nearby, but there’s a bunch of ships flying around back that way. Most of them are closer to the city, but there’s a few farther out too.”

“So we still need to be careful. C’mon, let’s get out of the river of gross.”

Peter is on board with that idea. They make it to shore with a few minutes of sustained effort, clambering out of the water onto blessedly solid ground.

Sitting just few yards away, like an oddly mundane hallucination, is a couch.

They sit.

Tony stretches out his aching hands, rolling his wrist and shoulder to work the rest of the feeling back into his arm. It’s not so bad anymore, just a bit numb and clumsy.

“I can’t believe that worked,” Peter says.

Tony looks over at Peter. He’s slumped down against the back of the couch, his hair a mess of drying curls.

“Me either.”

Tony tips his head back against the couch, staring up at the sky. It’s the first moment he’s had to really look at the portals above them. Most of them are clumped near the city, or more likely, Tony figures, the city probably grew up underneath the portals.

Objects fall out of the portals at random; some tiny, some enormous. An entire ship falls out of one, then something that looks suspiciously like a person. Tony winces.

Maybe that was how they’d come through.

The singularity that’d opened over the compound had looked sort of similar, at least as far as Tony could remember.

“We should find somewhere that’s not out in the open. See if we can scrounge up a change of clothes, something to blend in a little better.”

Peter reaches up over his head, tugs down a dark blue piece of fabric that, on closer inspection, appears to be a tunic of some kind.

“Showoff.” Tony pushes himself to his feet and starts looking around.

He finds a small wrench, which he pockets. It’s not all garbage, a lot of it is just… stuff. Tons and tons of stuff, piled everywhere.

“Hey, Mr. Stark,” Peter yells from somewhere else in the pile. Tony looks up and Peter tosses him something.

It looks almost like a can of soda. Peter is holding an identical one.

“Think it’s safe?” Peter asks.

All the writing on the can looks alien. Tony doubts they’re going to find a bottle of Poland Spring just lying around somewhere.

“Only one way to find out,” Tony replies. “Let’s just… be careful about it. This could be the alien equivalent of Everclear. Or battery acid.”

Peter regards the can. “You know, I’ve never actually been drunk before.”

“And how about you don’t start now. When we make it back to Earth, I’ll let you loose on my liquor cabinet, if you want.”

“Really?”

Tony thinks back over what he just put on offer, and to who. “No. Absolutely not.”

Peter cracks open his can and sniffs it, then takes a sip. He winces at the taste.

“Bad?”

“Tastes like carbonated celery,” Peter says, climbing over to Tony to offer up the open can.

Peter’s description turns out to be disappointingly accurate. Still, it’s hydrating. They won’t make it far without water, or at least something that’s water…ish.

They drink the can slowly, passing it back and forth as they search through debris. Tony picks up a small round magnet, traces his thumb around the edges as they search, flipping it over and over in the palm of his hand.

Thinking.

Tony finds a dark gray cowl, and Peter finds a pair of pants that fit him a little better than the guard’s.

He keeps an eye out while Peter changes hurriedly, seeming relieved to be out of a dead man’s clothing. He’s still got the man’s boots on, which look like they fit a little loosely, but better than nothing.

After a bit more searching, Tony is also able to change his shirt and pants into ones that don't smell like garbage water. He also keeps the guard’s boots, figuring they’ll look innocuous enough.

They’re going to have to make their way back into the city at some point, that much is obvious. Tony doesn’t have much more than a vague idea of what happens after that, not yet.

They find what looks like a monorail car, mostly intact. The windows are dark with grime and dust. Tony presses a hand to Peter’s chest to stop him before he cracks open the door.

“You hear anything inside?”

Peter shakes his head. Tony lowers his hand.

There’s a wide crack running along one side and a chunk missing in the floor, but it’s got two exits and it’s decent enough cover for the night.

Whenever night comes, that is.

Tony’s been trying to keep track of the suns’ positions as the day marches on, but without knowing the regular path or anything about the planetary system they're in it’s impossible to tell how many hours of daylight they might have.

 

Peter keeps shooting glances at him.

Tony does his best to ignore it; not sure if it’s about the dead guards or the plan to get back or one of any number of other messy things they haven’t talked about yet.

“You should probably get some sleep,” Peter says, finally breaking the silence.

“I don’t need sleep, I need a plan.”

“You didn’t sleep last night, and barely at all the day before that. I can stay up and keep watch, if that's what you're worried about.”

Tony opens his mouth to argue, but the kid is probably right. If Tony were on his own, he’d risk it. Peter might be hiding it well, but he must be scared shitless, and he’s relying on Tony to get him home.

They have to be smart about this. Smart, and careful.

“Fine,” Tony says.

He stretches out on the floor of the monorail car, back to the wall, using the folded-up cowl for a pillow. It feels almost weird to fall asleep wearing clothes. The fabric shifts against his skin with every breath, the boots feel oddly heavy on his feet.

Peter is sitting against the far wall, barely two yards away, staring down at the floor between his bent knees. Tony can tell he’s alert though; listening.

“Wake me if anything happens,” Tony says.

Peter doesn’t look up.

“I will.”

 

*

 

Tony’s head is pounding when he wakes up. He blinks a few times, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

Peter is gone.

His heart leaps into his throat at the realization, scanning the empty car.

“Kid!” he calls out, voice rough, pitched just above a whisper.

There’s a clattering nearby, the now-familiar sound of a minor avalanche of crap falling from one of the piles.

Tony pushes himself up into a crouch and peers out through the crack in the wall. It’s still daylight out - or perhaps it’s daylight again. He’s so groggy he can’t honestly tell if he’s been asleep for two hours or twenty at this point.

Footsteps approach the car, then stop.

“It’s okay, Mr. Stark. It’s just me,” Peter says, quietly.

Tony exhales, slumping forward against the wall like a puppet with the strings cut. As groggy and sleep-clumsy as he still feels, he has to resist the urge to throttle Peter when he steps through the door.

“I thought you were going to keep watch.”

“I was! But I had to pee, and you were out a long time. I stayed within listening range,” Peter says, setting down three more cans of the soda stuff on the floor between them.“Also, I found these. Apparently it comes in different flavors.”

Tony perks up.

“Don’t get too excited though. I had one of those earlier and it tasted like soap,” Peter says, gesturing to a can with a blue design. “Not sure what the other flavors are yet.”

Tony opts for a can with a green design, cracking it open and chugging down the contents gratefully, even if it does taste like ...beets?

He’s gonna go with beets.

He offers Peter a sip, but Peter turns it down after taking a sniff. “No thanks. That one’s all yours.”

Tony polishes off the bottle, starting to feel vaguely more human now. Or at least more awake.

“How long was I out?”

“All night. Sun came up a little while ago. Uh, the first one, I mean.”

“Find anything else?” Tony asks.

“Not really. I mean, there’s a ton of stuff everywhere, but without really knowing what we need...” Peter shrugs.

What they need is a ship. And a roadmap back to Earth. They’re not likely to find either one, hidden among the rubble of the planet. This far from the city, Tony figures anything good probably would’ve been salvaged by now, dragged or flown away to be bought and sold and traded among the good citizens of Sakaar. Like vultures.

“Do we need to talk about yesterday?”

Peter glances up at Tony then back down again, shaking his head.

“For what it’s worth, and I know it may not be much, I’m sorry you had to see that. I didn’t, ah - ” He’s not sure why it’s so fucking hard to get the words out, now that they can actually talk without a whole audience watching.

“It’s not the first time I’ve watched someone die, Mr. Stark.”

Oh, christ. The kid’s uncle.

“It’s not the first time I didn’t do anything to stop it, either,” Peter says.

And I should have, goes unsaid, but it hangs heavy in the air nonetheless.

Tony clears his throat.

“You know, growing up, I used to idolize Cap. I mean, I kind of hated him too, ‘cause dad wouldn’t shut up about the guy. But I looked up to my dad, the way kids do, and he looked up to Steve Rogers - so,” Tony waves a hand around vaguely, not entirely sure where he’s going with this yet.

“And then SHIELD dug him out of the ice, and for a while there he was - obnoxiously enough - everything my dad said he was.”

Peter is actually looking at him now. Not out of the corner of his eyes; not a glance that’s there and gone again. Tony forces himself to meet the kid’s gaze.

Ah, there it is.

“You ever hear the phrase, ‘never meet your heroes’?”

“Mr. Stark - ”

“It’s a cliché for a reason. Don’t get me wrong, Rogers is still a paragon of virtue and justice and, I don’t know, saving Mother Earth or whatever else it is these days. But even Cap is human, at the end of the day.”

“You mean he makes mistakes,” Peter says slowly.

Killing the guards hadn’t been a mistake. Tony had known it was necessary the second he’d realized the compartment was their only way out, that Peter would have to be the one to bust through.

“More like… every once in a blue moon, he fails to live up to the pedestal my dad put him on.”

It’s hard to talk about Siberia, even now. Even obliquely.

And especially with Peter, who'd been there in the aftermath like a breath of fresh air.

The kid had been stoked about Berlin. Stoked about the plane ride back, stoked to be dropped off at home with a supersuit and no further explanation as to what the hell Tony had just dragged him into. Tony is a little surprised the hero worship lasted as long as it had, if he's honest with himself.

God, what a mess.

They spend the day mostly in silence, foraging for parts. Peter finds an old radio, but it’ll take some tinkering to get it to work. Assuming they even use radios on this planet and it’s not some lost artifact from another world. The whole planet is like an engineer’s playground - a mishmash of parts and supplies, pieces of all different kinds tech scattered around like legos, just waiting to be put together in new ways.

Somewhere behind him, Peter hisses in pain. “Ah-!”

Tony turns around to find Peter backing away from a wrecked ship he’d been examining, holding one arm close to his body.

“I’m okay, I’m fine,” Peter is saying.

“What happened?”

“Something dripped on me. I thought it was just water at first, but then it started to burn.”

Tony climbs down to take a look. There’s blotchy red mark on Peter’s arm, the skin blistering up. Peter seems mostly irritated by the burn, and not in any serious amount of pain, thankfully. It already looks like it’s starting to heal over.

It takes a moment to pick out where the drip came from. There’s not enough of the ship left to really figure out what parts he’s looking at, but there’s a rusted patch of metal on a small tank about two feet above them.

They both watch another drip fall, this time landing on a melted-looking shard of glass below. The drop bubbles up and sizzles on contact with the glass, eating its way through the material.

Tony still has the little round magnet from yesterday, tucked away in his pocket. He runs his thumb around the edge.

Well.

There’s an idea.

 

 

Chapter Text

“Steady, kid,” Tony says under his breath.

Peter nods without turning his head as they continue walking. It’s hard to read his expression through the coating of gray clay he’s smeared across the upper half of his face as a quick and dirty disguise, but Tony can see the nervousness in every line of his posture - and no wonder.

The streets are teaming with people.

Not just people, aliens. It’s more chaos and sensory input than either of them have been around in nearly a month now, ever since they woke up on on this fucking planet.

A lot of the aliens look vaguely humanoid, but a good number of them really, really don’t. Tony does his best to remain unruffled by the strangeness of it all, if nothing else than for Peter’s sake. Peter needs him to be unflappable, so he is.

The thing is, aside from all the extra appendages and colorful splashes of alien tech, the atmosphere of the street itself is strangely familiar - almost like the night markets in Thailand or any given day on 5th Ave; bustling with activity, carts and tables full of every kind of merchandise you could (or couldn’t) imagine, vendors hawking their wares to any and every passer-by.

The cell had been so isolated, so self-contained.

Sure, they’d always been aware of the cameras, they’d always known the Grandmaster was watching, judging the performance. But even the comments on the screen, explicit as they were, had felt distant.

Sanitized, almost. Not real.

It was easy to forget that every comment came from a living, breathing (...breathing?) alien on the other side of the screen. Tony can only take so much of it in; the cowl he’s sporting blocks a lot of his peripheral vision, which isn’t ideal, but at least it hides his face.

His very recognizable face, apparently.

He’s used to seeing himself on the covers of tabloids, on posters and newspapers, caricatures of himself gracing everything from political cartoons to internet memes, a hundred times a day.

Key detail: he’s used to that sort of thing on Earth.

He’s not used to seeing any of that sort of thing on a freakin’ alien planet, and Peter definitely isn’t used to it, regardless of where they are in the universe.

Street artists are selling prints of the two of them - everything from photorealistic paintings to stylized cartoons. There are little poseable figurines for sale with their faces, their bodies - sometimes clothed but mostly not, all for sale.

The Grandmaster had been right all those weeks ago: sex sells.

Of course it does.

Tony’s hand tightens around Peter’s shoulder, but when Peter turns to look back at him, Tony shakes his head. They keep moving.

They slip through the crowd as innocuously as they can. Making their way back towards the tower.

He finds himself resisting the urge to cover Peter’s body with his own - even though the kid is fully clothed now, even though it’s far too late to protect him from that glaring exposure; every line of Peter’s body already up for grabs, an image to be bought and sold and traded freely across an entire planet of strangers.

Tony keeps his mouth shut, jaw clenched tight; allows the ache of it to refocus his mind on their objective.

Peter isn’t a huge fan of the idea, but he understands why.

They need a ship if they’re going to make it off this godforsaken planet, and while there are some ships that stray farther out from the center of the city, they are for the most part little more than junk. The more space-worthy looking ships all came from the same place: the hangar bay at the very top of the Grandmaster’s tower.

Tony goes to turn down a side alley but Peter subtly tugs the back of his shirt to redirect him. They both end up standing against an old brick and mortar wall, faces ducked down, hidden in shadow.

A moment later, three guards walk by.

Peter looks up, meeting Tony’s eyes. Tony nods his thanks and they head off again.

Closer to the base of the tower, the guards become more and more prevalent. The kid’s lips are pursed into a thin line, and he’s shifting from foot to foot anxiously as they stop to hide yet again.

He keeps glancing upwards.

Tony leans in close. “We’ve gotta get closer.”

The kid must be itching for his web shooters. Hell, Tony is almost itching for them as well.

There’s a reason he hadn’t objected when Peter spent a couple hours putting together a grappling hook, of all things - which is currently stashed away in their bag, among a few other possibly useful toys. It’s not quite the same as having web shooters, though. With those, they could’ve made it through the city and up to the top of the tower within minutes, trading stealth for speed. As it is though -

“I know,” is all Peter says in reply.

It takes a little while to find a decent starting point - a tiny alcove at the base of the tower, tucked away out of sight.

The building’s design (or seeming lack thereof) works for them in that respect - it has none of the clean lines and fashionable silhouettes of a modern city skyscraper on Earth, it’s all ad hoc; thrown together like a child mashing together multiple lego sets into a single, looming monstrosity.

They find a pocket of the exterior that’s cast into shadow, continuing up for at least the first twenty stories. After that, various sculptures and other protrusions should provide enough visual chaos to make them virtually unnoticeable as they make their ascent. Peter leans against the building, head ducked low, keeping watch at the front of the little alcove while Tony gets to work.

Peter may have abilities that let him crawl up a wall just as easily as he walks on the ground, but Tony doesn’t.

What he has instead is a planet full of alien tech to play with, and a lifetime’s worth of experience inventing useful shit.

What he has... is a backpack full of goodies he and Peter had cobbled together, including a set of electromagnet climbing boots and handgrips.

He straps his feet into the magnetic crampons and tosses the backpack over to Peter before strapping into the handgrips as well. Peter ties himself onto their safety line, the other end of which is already attached to Tony’s makeshift harness.

One last stress test on the handgrips assures Tony that he’s good to go.

He tugs on the safety line to signal Peter, then he starts to climb.

It’s not easy, no matter how Peter might make it look - but it’s not quite as hard as he’d been imagining, thankfully. They’ve got a long way to go.

Peter stays a few feet below him, matching his pace. After days of foraging and tinkering and planning, the mindless repetition of the climb almost comes as a relief, the stretch and contraction of each muscle reassuring, every inch upward another inch closer to their goal.

Slow and steady.

 

*

 

Once they get high enough, the slapdash shape of the tower itself provides nooks and crannies that slow their progress but also offers opportunities for them to stop and rest.

This close to the building, it’s a little hard to gauge how much farther they have to go, but Tony thinks they must be a little over halfway. The curve of a giant helmet structure below them and the way the floor a story above them is cantilevered out provides a near-perfect shaded, sheltered spot to rest.

Peter settles down easily, back resting against the flat core of the building, legs stretched out on the rounded structure underneath them. He slings the backpack off his shoulders to sit between his legs, digging around until he finds their last can of soda-water.

The can hisses as he pops it open, and Peter winces at the taste as he takes a sip before passing it over to Tony. Mmm. Green peas and a hint of charcoal.

Doesn’t matter though, he’s thirsty as hell.

“How tall d’you think this thing is?” Peter asks.

“You know, I’m trying really hard not to think about it at the moment.”

“Wait, you’re not scared of heights or something, are you?”

“No. Or, no more than any other potentially life-threatening situation, really. But I’m trying not to think about how much farther we have to go.”

“I can always - ”

No.”

They’ve had this discussion at least five times in the last three days. Three days spent scavenging for food and water, for supplies; constructing the crampons, sleeping in shifts, in hiding, so they wouldn’t get picked up by Scrappers.

Tony knows Peter could probably carry him; it’s beside the point.

They have no idea what they’ll face once they get inside, which means they both need Peter to be fresh and ready to fight - or at least, as fresh as anyone can be after scaling god knows how many stories up the sheer face of a skyscraper.

And that’s not even considering what might happen if one of the many circling ships were to spot them as they make their way up. Tony can’t take the risk that if push came to shove, Peter would opt for the recklessly heroic option over saving his own ass.

That Peter would choose the former isn’t even a question.

But with the magnetic grips, Tony is perfectly capable of making the climb on his own. The safety line connecting them had been his one concession to Peter’s misgivings.

What he doesn’t tell Peter is the reason he has a small blade strapped to his ankle. Safety lines can be cut, if need be.

Tony won’t let himself be the reason Peter doesn’t make it out of here.

It takes a couple minutes for Tony to notice Peter has curled in on himself, drawing his legs up close to his body, arms wrapped around his knees, tiny goosebumps visible on his arms.

“C’mere.” Tony reaches out, wrapping an arm around Peter’s shoulder and pulling him flush against his side. He rubs his hand up and down the kid’s arm, trying to force warmth into him.

Peter’s shoulders ease down a bit, leaning into the contact.

“It’s just ‘cause we s-stopped moving,” Peter says, frowning with irritation at the stutter.

“Yeah, I know. We shouldn’t stay here too long anyway,” Tony says. “You up for round two?”

Peter nods jerkily.

“Good. First things first though, I gotta take care of a little business.”

Peter turns to look at him, brow creased. “What - ?”

Tony gives Peter’s shoulder a quick squeeze, and stands up. He can only get so close to the edge, given that they’re both still tied together by the rope, but that’s alright. Given the downward curve of the helmet sculpture they’re standing on, this is plenty close enough for his needs.

Behind him, he can hear Peter gasp and then quickly stifle a laugh, the sound of it nearly drowned out by the almost melodic sound of a stream of piss hitting the metal below.

Sell this, assholes, he thinks.

“If you’ve gotta go, now would be the time,” Tony calls over his shoulder. “Once we get going, I don’t want to have to stop again for another bathroom break.”

Peter waits until Tony has finished and stepped back closer to the building before choosing a spot of his own to relieve himself.

He’s blushing just slightly as he turns around, tucking himself back in and adjusting the waistband of his pants.

“Feel better?”

“Oh yeah. Great,” Peter says, returning Tony’s grin.

“Good.”

 

*

 

It's nearly twilight by the time they make it to the outside of the hangar bay - one sun just beginning to touch the horizon, the second looking not too far behind.

Peter slings the backpack off one shoulder so he can reach inside, pulling out a small, thick-bottomed container. He crawls sideways across the glass, picking a spot just adjacent to the metal paneling where Tony is waiting.

They could break the glass, if necessary, but breaking glass is loud and they have no idea what kind of security the Grandmaster might have in place up here. This way is quieter.

“Careful,” Tony warns.

Peter pulls the backpack back on and flips himself upside down. He unscrews the lid of the container and ever so carefully pours out a stream of the dissolvent onto the glass below. It bubbles and hisses on contact, eating away the surface of the glass, layer by layer.

They both hold their breath as the solution breaches the last layer, little holes the size of dimes opening to the outside, quickly widening.

No alarm sounds.

Peter pours out a little more over the same section of glass, his hand shaking - probably at least somewhat from the cold, but could just as easily be a combination of adrenaline and nerves.

When the gap widens enough to fit through, Tony pulls off his cowl and passes it over to Peter, who doubles it over in his hand and wipes around the edges. Then he tosses the cowl inside the hangar - one last check for motion sensors.

They both wait in silence.

Still no alarm.

Peter reaches out a hand to help Tony slip through the opening, and Peter climbs through a moment later. Tony sprawls out on the floor, his arms and legs feeling like lead from the climb, his back strained, heart pounding.

He slips out of the harness, unties the bindings on the magnetic grips on his feet and hands. Peter quietly slides the backpack off his shoulders, leaving it with Tony as he crawls up one of the interior support beams, presumably to get a better look at their surroundings.

Tony pushes himself upright and nudges the grips into a corner, out of sight. He grabs the makeshift taser and then slings the bag over his own shoulders. By the time he’s done, Peter has made it back down and is landing silently on the ground just a few feet away.

Guards? Tony mouths.

Peter shakes his head, shrugging.

The hangar reminds Tony, strangely enough, of his own garage back at the compound, each ship parked in its own bay, meant as much for display as for routine maintenance and storage. The ship nearest to them is a big white hulking thing - not designed for stealth or speed, both of which they need, if they’re going to make it out of here.

He lets Peter take the lead, ducking under the wingspan of the white ship and slipping around another one that’s slightly more aerodynamic but still not quite what they’re looking for.

In any case, Peter seems to have a specific goal in mind - which Tony understands the second it comes into sight.

The ship is near the center of the hangar, and looks as sleek as molten silver, accented with bright teal. It’s not particularly stealthy, but, Tony reasons, it’s not like any of the other options look all that stealthy either.

Not to mention the thought of stealing what is clearly a prized possession gives Tony a gleefully petty thrill, which is reason enough for him.

Peter glances back to meet his eyes, raising an eyebrow in question.

Tony grins and nods back. Good choice, kid, he thinks.

It takes a little while to work their way through the room, crouched low and moving quietly. There don’t appear to be any guards, sure, but that’s no reason to get sloppy.

They come up under the left wing of the ship, and Tony can’t help reaching up to run the pads of fingers over the exterior.

Oh, this is going to be fun.

Peter slips to the back of the ship, detaching something that Tony figures must be a fuel line. He examines the undercarriage until he finds what looks like a hatch release. He pulls it, grinning as a ramp starts to descend from underneath, the action smooth and nearly-silent.

He doesn’t quite process the shapes he’s seeing inside as three pairs of heavy boots until he hears the distinct (and distressingly familiar) crack of hands clapping together, followed by a voice that turns his blood to ice, even if the words themselves make no sense to his ears -

“Loug, diz loug brifoutiuy zi eozipiileo!”

All three of the guards are on him before he can react, knocking the taser out of his hand and wrenching his arms around behind his back.

Tony feels a set of thick metal bands snap shut around his forearms, locking them together in front of his body, elbow to elbow and wrist to wrist. The edges of the restraints dig into his skin as he tries to test their soundness; but there’s no give in them.

An enormous screen over the hangar bay entrance doors flares to life with a projection of Grandmaster grinning down from above.

The grin doesn’t meet his eyes.

Tony can’t see where Peter went, but he can hear several more hatches opening - more guards pouring out of the other ships. Had there been a silent alarm when they’d breached the glass? Or had they been spotted during the climb? Not that it matters, now. He tries to fight, not expecting to get loose, but hoping that if he can make enough of a distraction then maybe it’ll give Peter the opportunity to slip away.

“How did you know?” Tony grits out, all other avenues of defiance closed to him.

Peter can climb back down, maybe, if he stays out of sight. Peter is strong, and resourceful, ...and almost stupidly loyal, in any number of ways that Tony doesn’t deserve.

“Brifoutiuy' wri asncm wri brifou eo voib wri dklwritiuythg asncmbrifou kif voib,” the Grandmaster says. “Pojbrifou' jva eo, Tony?”

“What, suddenly now you don’t speak English any more?” Tony fires back.

It’s more out of frustration and the need to keep talking than anything else. Somewhere across the hangar bay, he can hear the distinct sounds of a struggle - a few muffled thumps, a yelp of pain, the clatter of something falling to the floor.

No. Oh no.

No no no no -

On the screen, the Grandmaster is rolling his eyes. He makes a gesture at the guards, something Tony can only interpret as ‘get on with it already.’

Tony has a split second to feel something hard pressed against his neck, and then pain lances through him. He slumps down between the guards holding him up, panting.

The chip.

They’ve fucking chipped him again.

“Nha, rifesct tiviung!” The Grandmaster says.

Heavy footsteps approach from somewhere off to Tony’s right. He strains to turn his head up to see Peter - a freshly blooming bruise on his jaw, being dragged across the hangar bay between two large but humanoid-looking guards.

Peter struggles to his feet, glaring up at the Grandmaster.

“Peter, Peter, Peter,” the Grandmaster says, shaking his head. “I thought we had a deal, and then you go and do this. I’m not disappointed, I’m just mad.”

Tony shakes his head to clear it. Did he just - ?

Peter shoots a glance over at Tony, brow creased. He can’t understand what the Grandmaster is saying, Tony realizes. The Grandmaster seems to notice at the same moment.

“Oh for the love of - really, can you just get on with it? Why would you just stand there while I talk to him, knowing he can’t understand me?”

Before Tony can call out a warning, a guard is pressing an injection gun to Peter’s neck and hitting the plunger.

“Ah!” Peter cries out in pain, jerking his upper body away before slumping down between the two guards.

“Now, isn’t that better? We can all have a nice long discussion, now that we all understand one another. As I was saying, you know who isn’t mad? Cieglir. He’ll be so excited to know that you’re back, Peter.”

Something in Tony’s chest clenches. “Who the fuck is Cieglir?”

“Oh, Peter met Cieglir back when we had our little teat-a-teat,” the Grandmaster says.

Tony swallows down bile, processing a couple of things at once - not the least of which is a creeping kind of unease, imagining what or who Cieglir might be and how that relates to Peter’s uncharacteristic complacency last week when he’d stepped back into the cell. But also - the chips must have translators in them, although either the Grandmaster or the chips had clearly been stumped by the concept of a tête-à-tête. Most importantly though -

There are only two guards on Peter. And Peter’s arms haven’t been shackled.

They don’t know, he realizes with a jolt.

Peter must have let himself be caught, some misplaced fucking loyalty making him try to get back to Tony when he could have slipped off and escaped on his own.

Maybe he couldn’t have made it off the planet, but he could have made it out of the goddamn tower, at least. Fucking kid.

Which means the guards must still think Tony is the one who busted out of the compartment. It makes sense - even slimmed down as he is now, he’s still got more muscle mass than the kid does. He has to clench his jaw tight to bite down a grin.

What they don’t know is definitely going to hurt them.

Because Peter may be chipped now too, but he’s only a few steps away from the taser, and taking out two guards - even two alien guards - is practically child’s play for Peter.

“We just needed some fresh air,” Tony says, trying to keep the attention on himself. He ducks his head, catching Peter’s eye and then glances back towards the taser. Peter stares at him for a moment, then lets himself slumps down further in the guards’ hold.

“Tony, you remember what I said was going to happen if you defied me again, don’t you? I know Peter remembers,” the Grandmaster says.

“Oh, come on, you’re not gonna split us up. We’re too popular,” Tony scoffs. He can count on one hand the number of times letting his mouth run free was actually a good idea strategically, but this is one of them.

“True, but see that’s the thing - people get bored with the status quo. They might like you, but if there’s something else that’s newer and better and shinier, they’ll take that instead. You know what they say, the grass is always grassier on the other side.”

“Greener,” Tony mutters darkly.

“Whatever. That’s basically the same thing, isn’t it? We don’t really have ‘grass’,” he uses finger-quotes, “around here, but it’s basically like outdoor carpeting, isn’t it? I’m not really a fan of the idea. Anyway...” he continues on talking.

Peter’s head is lolling between his shoulders, arms limp in the guards’ hold. From the looks of it, the only thing holding him up is the grip of the guards’ hands on each of his wrists. From his position on the floor, it’ll take him a split second to reach the taser.

Tony can only hope that’s fast enough.

“- plus, I can always put together a little reunion special with the two of you if I want a nice little ratings bump, so that all works out.”

“Assuming you still have the two of us, that is.”

The Grandmaster looks at him. “Which I do. At least I’m pretty sure I do. One of you isn’t a hologram or an astral projection or something like that, right?”

Peter chooses that moment to make his move.

He yanks his arms across one another, hard, slamming the guards’ heads together. Tony loses sight of him as he shoves himself backwards across the floor, diving for the taser.

Tony uses the distraction to create a little chaos of his own. He stomps hard on one guards boot, throwing himself backward to knock his head against the guy’s nose, blinking away stars as another guard wrenches his shackled arms off to the side.

Somewhere behind him, he hears the taser go off.

Tony turns to find Peter only a few feet away, twitching as he rolls over onto stomach, already pushing himself up on his hands and knees.

Tony has never been so thankful for Peter’s insistence on non-lethal weapons - or at least, what Tony had vaguely estimated would be non-lethal against a wide variety of unknown alien species.

To Peter, the voltage was probably barely more than a nasty static shock.

Tony doesn’t even see Peter take out the other guard holding his shackled arms, just feels the sharp tug as the guy’s hand is forcibly removed from Tony’s upper arm. In the next second Tony is on the floor; every muscle in his body constricting at once, his jaw clacking shut so hard it almost feels like his teeth rattle with it.

It takes a few seconds for his brain to unscramble long enough to realize it wasn’t the taser. Peter’s chip may be deactivated, but Tony’s is clearly functioning just fine.

He chokes on air, unable to suck in a full breath.

Somewhere nearby, Tony is vaguely aware of the other guards’ bodies hitting the floor. Tony lays there, unable to do anything but listen with grim satisfaction as they fall.

Peter appears in his field of vision, frantic.

“Mr. Stark! Is it okay to - I don’t know if it’s safe after - ”

Tony has to blink a few times before he realizes that Peter is holding the taser. Tony tries to shake his head, but it comes out as more of an full-body tremor than anything definitive.

“Dn’t,” he manages.

He fixes his eyes on the still-open hatch to the ship, willing Peter to understand.

Thankfully, he does.

Peter hauls Tony upright, the world tipping dizzily around him. Another jolt runs through Tony’s body, and he can feel Peter stumble as the relayed shock runs through him as well, but the kid stays on his feet.

He keeps moving.

Tony doesn’t register that they make it onto the ship, or how Peter manages to shut the hatch door behind them before the guards can recover enough to give chase. The next time he’s aware enough of his surroundings they’re in the cockpit of the ship, and Peter is pulling the backpack off his shoulders so he can set him down in one of the pilot seats.

“Oh my god, please don’t die Mr. Stark.” Peter’s hands are splayed out on either side of Tony’s head, shaking him. “Please please please. I don’t know what to do, please - ”

Tony blinks. The kid is crying.

“N’t dead yet,” Tony says, the words coming out slurred and indistinct. “No tas’r. Need the chip.”

The shaking hasn’t stopped, but he has a little more control of his muscles now. He pushes himself forward with Peter’s help, holding out his shackled arms to Peter. Peter digs his fingers into the edges of the restraints with bruising force, hands clenched and knuckles white as he cracks them open with a grunt.

Unrestrained now, the shaking in his arms and hands is actually worse for a few beats. He slaps wildly at the closest thing he sees to a power switch. The ship may be alien-made, but Tony’s split-second decision not to deactivate his chip bears fruit:

He can read everything on the HUD.

Tony can’t quite manage the controls on his own, but Peter catches on fast, flipping the switches that Tony misses on the first try. The ship hums to life around them just as the interior doors of the hangar start to open.

“Ever fly a spaceship before, kid?”

“What - no!”

“Cool, neither have I.” Tony gives an approximation of a nod towards the secondary pilot’s seat. “Tag, you’re it.”

Guards are pouring into the hangar bay, some of them firing at the ship, which seems to annoy the Grandmaster, who’s busy gesticulating pretty wildly on the screen, although they can’t hear what he’s saying from inside the ship. Other guards are jumping into the cockpits of what look like smaller, single-seater jets to Tony’s eyes.

Peter reaches down and buckles Tony into his seat, then slips into the other chair.

“Easy, easy,” Tony says as Peter jerks the control yoke, the ship jolting backwards.

Peter is muttering to himself, a seemingly unconscious repetition of ‘okay okay okay’ and ‘you got this’. The ship eases forward, one wingtip screeching in protest as it tears through the metal plating of another ship.

Tony squeezes his hand into a fist, trying to quell the tremors by force of will alone. It seems to help, if only momentarily.

For all that Peter has steady(ish) hands and lightning-fast reflexes, his chip is deactivated and he can’t read the HUD. Tony reaches forward and painstakingly selects a command to open the exterior hangar bay doors.

He lets out a breath like a punch of air when the doors start to move.

But the bay doors come to a halt, barely halfway open.

“We gotta go faster, Pete,” Tony says.

“I know, I got it.”

Peter throws the throttle all the way open and Tony is slammed back in his seat as the ship pitches forward, wavering up and down for a second before Peter can regain a level horizon.

The doors start to close, but they’re too slow - far too slow to stop the ship that’s already rocketing towards them. They slip through the doors with seconds to spare, Peter letting out an excited whoop as he tips the nose of the plane skyward, towards freedom.

The elation doesn’t last long - it doesn’t take a translator chip to read the radar-like display in the center of the HUD.

Three, four, five jets speed out of the hangar bay right after them.

“Mr. Stark, please tell me you have an idea where we’re going,” Peter says, dipping and weaving to avoid the blasts from the jets tailing them.

Tony is already working on it. The tremors are a little better by now - his hands can’t quite keep up with his brain, but to some extent that’s always been the case; he’s used to that.

They’ve only got the barest bit of intel to work with here, but what they do have is gold. Tony and Peter had spent plenty enough time in that cell going over and over the data readings they remembered from right before they’d been beamed away. Or wormholed away, whatever.

“There!” he points to a set of numbers on the display.

“I have no idea what that says,” Peter says, strained.

“Shit, sorry. Go right. Like, three o’clock.”

Peter adjusts course, glancing around nervously as blasts fire past them, close enough to rock the ship slightly off course. “Uhh, can you tell if this thing has shields?” he says.

“On it.”

Tony keeps one eye on the readings while he searches the HUD for defensive measures. The ship rattles with a direct hit and Tony redoubles his efforts. He glances back at the readings. They’re getting closer, but -

“Left about two degrees, Pete.”

Peter nods, and Tony returns to his frantic search. There it is. He flips a switch on the console and a translucent green light envelopes the ship, noticeably dulling the impact of the next barrage of fire.

Peter’s face lights up momentarily.

“Awesome,” he says, still grinning. “How much farther?”

Tony scans the display, painstakingly tapping out commands until one of the portals is highlighted on the HUD, on the far side of the city.

“There,” he says, jabbing a finger at the display.

Peter looks over and swallows, nodding.

The bottom half of the display goes red, and it takes a split second to figure out why - three more jets just appeared within sensor range, straight ahead.

Between their ship and the portal home.

Tony swears under his breath, hears something startlingly similar come out of Peter’s mouth at the same moment.

“Please tell me we have weapons,” Peter says. That more than anything else tells Tony how freaked out the kid must be. Much as he hates this place, he’s all too well aware that they’re essentially dogfighting over a city full of civilians. Peter must catch his hesitation, because in the next second he clarifies, “Can we fire like, a warning shot or something?”

“Sorry, kid. I don’t think it’s that kind of ship.”

“Oh god, okay okay um.” Peter veers the ship off-course, away from the oncoming jets. “W-what do we do?”

“Working on it, hang on kid.”

By some miracle the three new bogeys appear to be holding their fire now. The ones pursuing have stopped firing as well - Tony figures it’s either because the Grandmaster wants the two of them back in one piece, or he wants his prized ship back in one piece.

Either way it works in their favor, buying them time, if nothing else.

The jets may not be firing any more, but they’re still flying offensively - they won’t let Peter get anywhere near his goal. They won’t be able to keep this up forever.

“Hey - how strong was the cable on that grappling hook you put together?” Tony asks.

“Uhh, pretty strong. I couldn’t break it. Why?”

Their bag had slid over against the wall at some point during the flight. Tony manages to hook his toe through the strap and pull it over towards himself. He reaches inside and grabs the heavy metal hook.

“You ever see that really old movie Batman? Not the new ones - the 80s version, with Michael Keaton?” Tony asks.

For the first time since powering up the ship, Peter pulls his focus away from the control column to stare at Tony. Tony tries to look confident, but his last-ditch plan has already run into a problem - the hook doesn’t have a quick release mechanism, and the cable itself is way too strong to be cut with anything they have on-hand.

Peter seems to come to the same conclusion the moment Tony does.

“How steady are your hands?” Peter asks.

The question is unnecessary - they can both see the slight tremor as Tony holds the hook to examine it. They’re leagues better than they were a few minutes ago, but it’s not exactly ideal.

And it doesn’t matter because Tony can almost see what Peter is thinking, and it’s not an option.

“Pete, no - ”

But Peter has already leaned over and grabbed the hook and length of cable out of Tony’s hands.

“I have to. It’s the only way we’re gonna get past them all,” Peter says. He nods down at the controls in front of Tony before he unbuckles his seatbelt and heads back.

Tony grabs the steering column with both hands, locking his arms from his shoulders all the way down to his fingertips to try to keep the tremors at bay.

Somewhere behind him, Tony can hear the mechanical hum of the hatch opening, following almost instantly by the roar of the wind and engines. The ship jutters under his control - as much from the sudden change in aerodynamics as from Tony’s less-than-steady piloting.

He chances a look behind him to see Peter crouching down in the open hatch, one arm braced around a thick metal support column, disappearing from view.

“Hang on, kid!”

Tony turns the ship in a wide loop around the pursuing ships, picking out a building that's taller than the others around it, just a few klicks to the right of the portal. Close enough to look like failed attempt on the portal, but far enough away that the ships won’t be able to scramble to intercept in time, once they realize what's happening. He hopes.

“Tallest building, eleven o’clock!” Tony yells over the roar of the engines.

“Got it!” Peter yells back.

Tony opens the throttle, sacrificing maneuverability for speed, heading just a hair’s breadth to the left of the building, running rough centripetal force calculations over and over in his head, counting down the seconds until they’re close enough.

“NOW!” he yells, and cuts the engine a split second later.

There’s a moment of almost surreal silence; nothing but the wind as inertia carries them forward at breakneck speed.

Then Tony is thrown back in his seat hard enough that he his vision whites out, the ship careening into a near-impossible ninety degree turn at speed, tilting wildly. Metal screeches on metal, blending with a sound that Tony belatedly realizes must be Peter, screaming.

“Let go, kid!” he yells back.

The horizon tips lazily in front of him, the ship swaying back the other direction as it’s released from the pendulum swing of the grappling cable. Tony jams the engine back on the second he can get his quaking hands to cooperate, blinking at the display.

The ships pursuing them have all overshot in their haste to intercept, scrambling wildly now to re-group.

And suddenly there’s nothing left between them and their goal.

“Peter! You okay?” Tony yells.

There’s no immediate response. Tony jams the button to close the hatch, barely breathes until he sees that Peter is still there, still in one piece, although he’s sprawled out, collapsed on the ramp.

“M’okay,” Peter says, voice hoarse and barely audible.

With the throttle cranked all the way open and the added velocity from their slingshot around the building, it’s barely a scant few seconds before the brilliant white-blue light of the portal envelopes the HUD. Entering the portal should feel like a relief; the sudden silence and the bone-deep strain lifting from his shoulders after a month of waiting. Instead, his heart is thundering in his ears, panic rising.

Peter had said he was okay, but Tony’s never heard the kid scream like that before.

The ship seems to be riding along the slipstream of the wormhole, which is something Tony very much intends to study in-depth. Later. Wherever this thing is taking them, it looks like it’s going to take a while. For now, he pauses just long enough to make sure that the ship can coast along without him at the helm before stumbling back to the hatch, crouching down at Peter’s side.

The kid’s eyes are closed, and his arms are splayed out on either side of him, and they look… not right. Not broken, he doesn’t think, but bulging in ways they don’t normally; oddly swollen in some places and dark smudges of bruising forming in others.

Tony cups a hand around the side of Peter’s head, thumb tracing along his cheekbone.

“Pete? Hey c’mon, open your eyes for me.”

Peter winces in pain, eyes flickering open. “Did it work?”

“Yeah, it worked. You saved the day again, kid. Good job.”

Peter closes his eyes, leaning into Tony’s hand.

“You think you can get up off the floor?”

“Nah, m’fine here. Just need a minute.”

“Okay, okay. You stay here, I’m gonna poke around and see if I can find some...” he trails off. Some... what exactly? A convenient bottle of aspirin? A couple of splints and a fully stocked ER?

Peter has closed his eyes again, seeming not to have noticed Tony’s pause. He leaves the kid on the floor, not a little reluctantly, and heads farther back.

Tony isn’t sure what he had expected to find, but he can’t exactly say he’s surprised when he gets there. There’s an enormous round bed fitted with gold sheets, and open-concept shower large enough to host a small rave - if that was the sort of thing Tony was still into, and a fully stocked wet bar cleverly tucked into the opposite wall complete with sparkling water for mixers.

It reminds him, not a little alarmingly, of a few of the flashier private Stark jets he’d designed, back before Afghanistan. The lack of weapons makes sense now. The ship wasn’t built for offense; it was a pleasure craft, in every sense of the word.

By the time he gets back to mid-ship, Peter is sitting up. Tony crouches down and holds out a tumbler of water.

“So the good news is we won’t go thirsty,” he says.

Peter licks his lips, but doesn’t reach out to take the glass. Tony feels like an idiot when he realizes it’s because he can’t.

“Here,” he says, holding the glass up to Peter’s lips and letting the kid drink his fill.

When Peter tips his chin up slightly, leaning back, Tony pulls the glass away and sets it down on the floor.

“How bad is it?”

“It’s fine, I'll heal.”

“Mind if I take a look?”

Peter shakes his head without looking up. But he flinches when Tony tries to lift the shirt up over his head, and Tony ends up having to cut through the fabric to get it off of him.

What he finds underneath is ugly - Peter’s shoulders, upper back, arms, and chest are mottled purple and black, and tender to the touch, if the stutter in Peter’s breathing as Tony examines him is anything to go by. One of Peter’s hands has a deep cut across the palm. The wound on his other palm is larger, but more superficial - an abrasion where the cord of the grappling hook had torn across the skin.

“Holy crap, kid. Let’s uh - let’s get you up off the floor and over to the bed.”

“...there’s a bed?”

Tony wraps an arm around Peter’s waist and helps haul him upright, opting to show him rather than try to explain.

“Oh,” is all Peter says when he sees the rearward compartment.

"Don't worry, the sheets are clean," Tony says, only mostly sure it isn't a lie. They look clean, at least.

Peter's nose wrinkles, as if he hadn't actually thought about that. Oops.

It takes a bit of maneuvering to get Peter onto the bed without jostling his arms and shoulders too much, but they manage. Tony pulls off Peter’s boots and sets them aside, trying to get the kid as comfortable as he can.

He turns to the bar next, bypassing the temptations of the liquor cabinet in favor of the ice dispenser and a couple of bar towels. He fills each towel with a few handfuls of ice and ties the corners together, gently setting one on each of Peter’s shoulders when he’s done.

Peter hisses at the cold, but doesn’t object.

“Just rest, okay? I’ll be up front.”

“Mmhmm,” is all he gets in reply.

Tony slumps down in the pilot’s chair, scrubbing a hand over his face. It doesn’t do anything to scrub away the images of Peter’s black and blue arms, or the way the kid had clenched up with pain when Tony had lowered him down onto the bed.

What he needs is a distraction.

Luckily, for the first time in nearly a month, he has unlimited access to a whole treasure trove of data to play with.

It’s about damn time.

 

*

 

Tony doesn’t hear the rustle of sheets when Peter wakes up, but he does hear it when Peter cranks on the water in the shower a short while later, and has to resist the urge to go and check on the kid.

Back in the cell, he wouldn’t have hesitated.

Instead he waits, ears attuned to every footstep and soft rustle of fabric. He hears Peter poking through the cabinets and drawers, relieved because it must mean his arms are at least somewhat functional, even if he does sound a little clumsy at it.

It doesn’t take long before Peter wanders up into the cockpit, wrapped up in a loosely tied satin robe and awkwardly cupping a piece of fruit from the bar in one hand - something that looks like a hybrid of a strawberry and a starfruit, which was probably meant to be sliced and served as a garnish, Tony would guess.

Peter sinks down into the copilot’s chair, scanning the HUD briefly before turning his attention down to the piece of fruit.

“How’s the shower?” Tony asks.

“Pretty awesome. How’s the ship?”

“Far as I can tell, we’re heading in the right direction. Looks like they use alphanumeric codes rather than names for planets, and that one,” he reaches up to tap a dot on the HUD, “is a little blue planet designated C-53. I’m about eighty-five percent sure that’s Earth. It’s gonna take a day or two to get there though.”

Peter regards the display in silence, taking a bit of the fruit and chewing slowly.

He takes another bite then holds out the fruit to Tony, who takes it, his own stomach growling. It’s been three days since either of them have had a full meal that wasn't scrounged or stolen.

He can see a flash of the kid’s arm before he pulls his hand back, wrist smudged with pale yellow and darker brown bruises. His palm looks pink and tender; nearly healed, but not there yet.

Tony takes a bite of the fruit and hands it back to Peter, figuring the kid probably needs the calories to heal. Peter polishes it off, licking his fingers one by one when he’s done. Tony keeps his eyes trained on the HUD, looking over information he’s been through three times already. He waits until Peter is done before chancing a peek to the side.

“Can I take a look?” he asks.

Peter starts to shrug and then freezes with a grimace that he tries to hide, poorly. “Um, yeah,” he says.

Tony moves to crouch down in front of him, reaching up slowly like Peter is a wild animal he’s trying not to startle.

It’s easy enough to push the robe down off of the kid’s shoulders, and Tony sucks in air through his teeth when he sees the skin underneath. Just like his wrist, it’s mottled yellow and brown, some spots almost black with bruising. Some of the swelling has gone down though, and clearly Peter is able to use his arms more than he was just a few hours ago.

“How,” Tony clears his throat, ”how does it feel?”

“Better.”

“Better?”

“Well, before it felt like I lost a fight with a lawn mower. Now it just feels like - what are those things chefs use to smash pieces of chicken really thin?”

Tony winces. “A meat tenderizer?”

“Yeah, one of those.”

Tony trails his fingers up the kid’s arm and over his shoulder. He stops when he notices the way Peter’s nipples have pebbled up in the climate-controlled air of the ship, tell-tale goosebumps rising on his skin in the wake of Tony’s hand.

His hand slips down, thumb tracing over one of Peter’s nipples almost of its own volition. Peter sucks in a breath at the touch, chest expanding, pressing into Tony’s palm, and he feels a rush of shame that he can’t tell whether Peter was gasping from pleasure or from pain. He’s guilty, either way.

Tony knows he doesn’t have the right to touch Peter like this anymore.

Correction - he never had the right to touch Peter like this.

He yanks his hand back and pulls the robe back up over Peter’s shoulders, perhaps a little too quickly, if Peter’s barely disguised wince is anything to go by. Peter fumbles with the robe, tugging it closed and trying to tighten up the knot around his waist. He may have recovered enough to move, but his fine motor control is still clearly lacking.

Tony reaches down to help, nudging Peter’s hands out of the way before adjusting the edges of the robe across Peter’s chest and quickly retying the knot.

“Thanks,” Peter says quietly.

“Don’t mention it.”

He means it. Every bruise on the kid’s skin is a mark on Tony’s ledger, painful enough that he imagines he can almost feel them on his own body; every last one of them aching and accusatory. He should’ve come up with something other than letting the kid literally throw himself between a rocketing spaceship and a goddamn building, strained to the breaking point like a wishbone before the inevitable snap.

Tony backs up a step, slumping down to lean against the armrest of the chair opposite.

“You okay up here for a bit? I should probably go - ” escape, he thinks, gesturing towards the back.

“Yeah,” Peter says. “Yeah, shower’s awesome. There’s a bunch of robes in the closet-thing next to it, too. If you, you know, want.”

Tony hadn’t been planning to shower, but it’s not a bad idea. If nothing else, it’s an excuse to the leave the cockpit, get himself back under control, come up with a plan.

Peter is right; the shower is awesome. The water pressure is amazing, especially considering - hey, spaceship, and after some messing around with the knobs and buttons the temperature is perfect, the body jets hitting all the worst knots in his back and arms and legs.

He scrubs down, feeling fully clean for the first time in days.

When he’s done, he pokes at his discarded clothing for a moment before deciding that they’re too gross to put back on again, and reluctantly wraps himself up in one of the satin robes.

He grabs the glass off the floor from earlier and fills it up, sucking down two glassfuls before filling it up once more to bring it up front to Peter. Peter thanks him, taking the glass a little clumsily, holding it between both palms to drink this time.

“More?” Tony asks when he’s finished, taking the glass back.

“No, I’m good. Thanks.”

He sets it aside, slumping down in the other seat. The water had filled his belly, at least temporarily, and the shower had warmed and relaxed him enough that keeping his eyes open is a struggle. It’s not long before Peter notices.

“You should go back, get some rest.”

Tony shakes his head. “No can do. I’m guessing your chip is still fried, you can’t read any of this stuff, can you?” Tony says, gesturing towards the HUD.

Peter’s mouth twists in a frown.

“Thought so.”

“You could sleep up here. I can wake you up if anything changes.”

The idea has some merit. Tony’s gone longer stints without sleeping, sure, but most of those caffeine- and work-fueled binges probably hadn’t been a super great idea, with the benefit of hindsight.

Besides, he doesn’t necessarily need to sleep. He can just close his eyes and drift for a bit.

He looks over at Peter for moment, who still looks a bit strained from his injuries but is otherwise bright-eyed and alert. He trusts the kid more than he trusts himself right now, if he’s honest.

Tony leans back in his seat and stretches out his legs, head tipped back against the headrest.

He closes his eyes.

“Alright, kid. Take a left at the Andromeda galaxy and wake me when we get to Pluto, 'kay?”

Peter snorts and says something in reply, but Tony is already half-asleep.

 

 

Chapter Text

Hyperspace travel is overrated.

That’s a lie. Hyperspace is fucking incredible, Tony just wishes that someday he might have the chance to experience it in a more recreational manner, possibly while not fleeing an intergalactic  kidnapping or fending off an alien invasion. But more to the point:

Hyperspace is incredible, sure, but not instantaneous.

As tired as Tony is, he hadn’t been able to sleep for more than a few restless hours. He gives up; opens his eyes to find Peter watching him, his expression oddly blank.

“Hey,” Tony says, voice still scratchy with sleep.

“Hey. You can sleep some more, if you want. Nothing’s changed, at least from what I can tell.” Peter gestures up at the HUD.

The kid is right. A glance up at the display shows the only relevant difference is ticker showing their distance relative to the Milky Way.

Tony scrubs a hand over his face. God, he needs to shave.

He wonders briefly what he must look like to the kid: hair and beard unkempt, body thinner than he’s been in twenty years, dressed in a bathrobe like he’s a fucking Hugh Hefner wannabe. He glances over at Peter - young and hungry and willing to do pretty much anything to prove himself - a kid that he’s been sleeping with for weeks now.

Yikes. Tony comes to the uncomfortable realization that he might have more in common with Hef than just an incidental bathrobe.

But back to hyperspace.

By Tony’s reckoning, it’ll take them about another day and a half to get within the vicinity of Earth.

He explains as much to Peter, who peppers him with questions. They talk about wormholes and dark matter, time dilation and string theory. Some of it is ground they’ve covered before, but it’s nice to be able to talk without the feeling of being constantly watched.

Peter is annoyed at not being able to read the HUD, running his fingers self-consciously over his neck where his deactivated chip is still implanted.

They’ll have to remove it at some point, Tony knows, but he’s avoiding that for now. Hopefully he can avoid it long enough to get Peter to an actual doctor, so he doesn’t have to be the one to cut into the kid’s skin again.

At least the kid’s arms and shoulders are mostly healed.

Tony had taken another look shortly after waking up, relieved to see that most of the bruising has cleared away, the odd pockets of swelling have gone down. Most of what remains are fading smudges of yellow and brown, and the kid seems to be able to move without pain or hesitation.

Peter had shrugged back into his robe and re-tied the knot himself this time, already asking Tony to explain different parts of the HUD and what they meant.

Keeping the conversation to science stuff helps steer them away from any number of other distinctly less-safe topics.

For the most part.

Because several hours later they’re splitting a fruit from their dwindling supply of cocktail garnishes between them, both of their hands sticky sweet from peeling off the tough outer skin, passing it back and forth as they eat. The kid is perched sideways across his seat, his back against one armrest and his knees hooked over the other side.

Tony is leaning against the chair opposite, licking the juice off his lips and wondering if the rind might be edible after all, when he notices the kid is hard.

He doesn’t mean to look; feels like his eyes are pulled downwards against his will. It’s kind of impossible not to notice, once he’s aware of it. The cockpit isn’t particularly large to begin with, and the delicate satin-like material of the robe practically highlights the small but steadily growing bulge between Peter’s thighs.

Peter licks his lips. Swallows. “Sorry,” he says, shifting his legs closer together and pulling his knees up a bit.

It has nothing to do with Tony, and there’s no reason that it necessarily should. The kid is young, and healthy. This is normal. And normal teenagers in normal situations would have some semblance of privacy to deal with it. But for the past month, Peter has had none.

“Nothing to be sorry about,” Tony says, making a conscious effort to keep his voice level. “If you want some privacy...” he trails off, tipping his head towards the back.

But Peter shakes his head without looking up.

Tony wants to press the point, tell the kid he might as well, but what’s he going to do - order the kid to go masturbate? Christ. No.

“O-okay.” Tony opts for distraction instead. “Hey, so I found out something else about the ship. She has a name. Wanna guess what it is?”

Peter shifts in his seat. “I dunno. ...Prometheus? Serenity? The Batplane?”

“Mmm, no. Not even close. I’ll give you a hint, apparently the predecessor was called The Commodore.”

Peter’s fingers are toying with the hems of his sleeves, lost in thought. “The Norrington?” he offers.

“You think the Grandmaster named his pleasure yacht The Norrington?”

“He’s the only Commodore I could think of,” Peter says, shrugging. “This isn’t going to be one of your weird 80s references is it?”

“There’s nothing wrong with my references, you’re just too young to appreciate them - Batman movies aside. And no, it’s not a pop culture hint anyway.”

“Or you could just tell me so I don’t have to keep guessing like an idiot.”

“Oh sorry, was I interrupting something important?”

Peter finally looks up, then. He looks annoyed, sure, but he meets Tony’s eyes without hesitation. Progress. Tony doesn’t let himself look down to check for any other indications of ‘progress.’

“Fine,” he says. “But let the record show that you’re no fun. Her name is the Rear Admiral.”

“The - wait, seriously?”

“Yup.”

Peter stifles a laugh.

“I can see how it would be a tough guess, innuendo isn’t really his style and all,” Tony says.

“Oh, yeah. Totally.”

Peter shifts in his chair again, seeming to loosen up a little. The movement allows his robe to slip open by a tiny fraction, exposing just a little bit more of his thighs. Tony doesn’t look. Keeps his eyes locked on the kid’s face.

“The thing is, it’s not his ship anymore is it? Finders keepers, and all that,” Tony says. “So, what d’you think, should we rename her?”

“I dunno, I kinda like it. It sounds, y’know, appropriate.”

“The Rear Admiral it is, then.”

“Aye aye, Cap’n,” Peter quips back.

“For the love of god, kid, don’t ever call me that again.”

“Sorry.”

From the look on his face, he isn’t sorry at all.

 

*

 

The thing is, at some point the ship is going to land.

At some point Peter is going to step back into the world he’d been snatched away from, and Tony needs to know what happens then. It comes up over and over again in his thoughts; aching like a bruise he can’t stop touching, or a cut on the inside of his mouth that he can’t seem to stop searching out with his tongue, no matter how hard he tries.

“Listen, when we make it back - ”

“I’m not going to tell anyone,” Peter interjects. “It’s not anyone else’s business, anyway. We can just - can we just go back to how everything was before?”

And god help him, but the kid looks desperate.

“Pete, that’s not.” He stops. Tries again. “I don’t want you making a promise like that, okay?”

“But I won’t! I can keep a secret, Mr. Stark.”

“I know you can. But I need you to understand that I’m not asking you to. Alright?”

“Fine.”

It feels like twisting a knife. Tony lets himself lean into the pain of it, refusing to shy away. Because as tempting as Peter’s suggestion is - and it is tempting -  the ache that comes with imagining Peter white-knuckling it through, pretending everything is normal, would be so much worse.

“If you can’t talk to May, or your friend Ted - ”

“Ned.”

“- yeah, Ned. If you can’t talk to him, we can - ”

“Can you stop?”

“Huh?”

Peter is standing behind his chair, or the chair Tony has started to think of as his. He ducks his head for a moment, then looks up.

“Can you stop acting like you did something to me? I was there too. We,” Peter hesitates, seeming to be searching for the words, “we were both there. We both chose to do what we had to do.”

“That’s not the point. You’re a kid.”

Peter tips his chin upwards. “I’m really not.”

“You are. And I was supposed to be watching out for you, and instead I - ”

“You what? Forced me? Because that’s not what happened.”

“Oh, it isn’t?”

Peter steps closer and Tony reaches up reflexively to stop him, but Peter grabs his wrist before he can make contact. For a beat, neither of them move.

Peter’s grip isn’t tight, but it is firm. Tony tries to pull back, lower his arm - and finds that he can’t.

Peter isn’t letting him.

The kid is glaring up at Tony with the same bloody-minded determination Tony’s seen on his face only a handful of times before. There’s a reason Peter isn’t letting his arm go.

He’s proving a point.

But he’s not the only one with a point to make.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the kid can bench-press a truck, partially because for all his strength, his build is still so compact, but also because Peter has never been the type to throw his weight around.

He’s never used his strength against Tony, not outside of training. Not unless Tony was fully suited up and ordering him to. The kid is too polite, too eager to please.

And that’s exactly the problem.

“Let go of me, kid,” Tony says with every ounce of annoyed condescension he can bring to bear.

Peter reacts instantly and predictably; dropping Tony’s arm like it’s a live wire. Tony takes his time, lowering his hand slowly, rolling out his wrist.

He raises an eyebrow at Peter.

“More than one kind of power, Pete. And some kinds matter more than others.”

Peter’s eyes flash with realization, and something else that Tony assumes is frustration at having played into the demonstration so readily. But it’s only a flash - a split second before Peter looks up at him again, meeting Tony’s eyes.

“You mean like the kind of power the Grandmaster had over both of us?”

“That’s a whole separate issue, and you know it.”

“Is it?”

 

*

 

Tony is hiding.

He isn’t particularly proud of it, but on the list of things he’s not proud of, this barely ranks in the top 20.

Peter is still up front. Tony is in the back, pretending that he isn’t pacing. Given Peter’s enhanced hearing, pretending is probably pointless, but whatever.

The kid is too fucking smart for his own good.

Unfortunately for both of them, so is Tony. There’s a reason he throws himself into his work, something he hasn’t really been able to do for a month now, and something he can’t do, even now. It’s not like he can start disassembling the ship to see what makes it tick, not while they’re still flying in it. And his other standby coping mechanism is...

Readily available, not three feet away from where he’s currently pacing.

There are any number of reasons why he shouldn’t. They’re not home yet; not safe yet. Peter is still relying on Tony to get them there.

But as Peter had just demonstrated oh so conveniently - the kid is hardly helpless. And Tony has never been so thirsty.

One of the bottles on the shelf is squat and round, filled with a green liquid that, when Tony removes the stopper and takes a whiff, smells ever so subtly like watermelon.

He pours himself a glass, fully aware that Peter is listening to his every move.

But since Peter is so insistent that he’s not a kid, then surely he can deal with the concept that sometimes adults like to have a little drink. Just something to take the edge off.

The first mouthful sits on his tongue, sweet and tangy and undoubtedly strong. He swallows it down, the feeling strangely similar to taking a deep breath of fresh air. Tony closes his eyes and finishes the rest of the glass without pausing.

For the first time in weeks, something in him unwinds.

He sinks down onto the bed, empty glass clasped loosely between his hands.

It feels just a little bit like the good old days; the blur of liquor dulling the hurt after he’d lost his parents. Because back then when he was drunk he didn’t have to be sad, or in mourning, ...or anywhere near ready to step into his father’s larger-than-life shoes. If he could spend enough time living like the world was nothing more than a playground, then maybe it would actually be true.

And as much as he tells himself he’s changed since those days, it’s still what he turns to when reality gets a little too real to handle.

The reality is Peter is seventeen and brilliant, and beautiful, and Tony can remember every minute detail of the face he makes when he comes. The reality is that the liquor isn’t helping to dull that part anywhere near as much as he’d hoped.

We can just - can we just go back to how everything was before?

Tony would gladly give the kid anything he asked for - anything within his power. And considering who Tony is, there’s a whole fucking lot that’s within his power.

But that - isn’t.

He tries to think back, before Sakaar. Peter usually spent most weekends up at the compound, sometimes training, sometimes working in the lab with Tony, sometimes just doing his homework on the couch while Tony worked on something else nearby. And if Tony had looked forward to those weekends a little more than maybe he should, then that was his own business.

It had never been inappropriate.

Had it?

He doesn’t think so, but he’s also aware that his own life hasn’t exactly been rife with examples of healthy relationships.

But Peter always seemed to enjoy his time at the compound. He soaked up Tony’s techno-rants like a sponge, practically bouncing on his heels with eagerness every time they had a new suit feature to test out, sometimes prattling on about school or his friends or the Decathlon team or whatever the hell else. The kid always looked a little bit bummed when Happy brought the car around to take him home on Sunday afternoon.

Would Peter still be that happy, that relaxed, about visiting the compound now?

Based on what the kid was saying, he sounded pretty determined to try.  Tony stands up slowly, stepping over to the bar and pouring himself another drink.

For all that the green stuff has made his thoughts a little meandering, it only seems to have sharpened his senses.

The sheets on the bed are rumpled, shining like molten gold. He runs his hand over them, suddenly aware that his hands have lost some of their usual callouses. Makes sense. Not like he’s been able to work with his hands all that much for weeks now.

Or more accurately, he’s worked plenty with his hands over the past few weeks. Just generally not the kind of work that tends to leave calluses; Peter’s skin is too soft for that.

Tony pulls his hand away from the bedsheets, clenching it tightly, trying to erase the sense-memory of Peter’s cock slipping through his fist.

Can you stop acting like you did something to me?

Not fucking likely. Tony shuts his eyes, lets his head fall forward between his shoulders.

“Mr. Stark?”

Tony doesn’t answer, but he does look up, head tipping back like it’s been pulled that way by a string.

Peter is standing just outside the doorway, but he’s not looking at Tony - not directly at Tony, anyway. He’s looking down at the empty glass in Tony’s hand.

“I’m sorry if I, you know, if I said something that I - ”

“You didn’t,” Tony says.

“Okay.”

I can keep a secret, Mr. Stark.

Except it’s never been Peter’s discretion that he’s worried about. It’s his own lack of self control.

Peter’s robe only comes down to mid-thigh, which is something Tony wishes he could say he doesn’t notice.

He has to wonder if the kid is cold like that. Spiders are susceptible to cold, aren’t they? Peter had hated the air dryer vents in the cell, although maybe that had more to do with the way they had a tendency to turn his hair into a rat’s nest of frizzy curls. Tony had never particularly minded.

He blinks, realizing belatedly that he must have zoned out for a minute there and Peter is talking again.

“...didn’t want you thinking that, that you had done something.”

“I did a whole lot of somethings. Sorry. We did a whole lot of somethings,” Tony corrects himself. The kid had been pretty particular about that distinction earlier.

“And it wasn’t bad. I mean, the situation was pretty bad, but not the actual... stuff.”

“Which stuff in particular?” Damn, there goes his tongue misbehaving again, poking at all the sore spots. “When I was sucking your dick, or when I had my fingers up your ass? Or my tongue?”

“Uh, yes? All of the above?”

That wasn’t the response he’d been aiming for. The kid was supposed to be embarrassed and stutter and make up an excuse to beat a quick retreat.

Tony sets the empty glass down on the floor beside the bed, leaning forward to press the heels of his hands against his eyes.

“Of course you liked it, kid. You’re seventeen, you’d probably get off on a good stiff breeze.”

“Yeah, maybe. Or maybe it has something to do with me watching your third sex tape often enough that I practically have it memorized.”

Oh.

Or that.

Tony sneaks a glance up at Peter. The kid’s face is bright red, but he’s got himself planted right in the doorway with his arms crossed, like he’s determined not to let Tony escape the conversation.

“You liked that one, huh?”

Peter clears his throat. “Yeah. But that’s not - I didn’t really mean to say that part. I came back here because I wanted to say that I don’t regret what we did. And I know you see it… differently. And I’m sorry if that makes things awkward, but I needed to say it now, before we got back.”

Peter’s voice is wavering by the end, just barely above a whisper.

Tony reaches out. Whatever else is going on, Tony needs the kid not to sound like that. Peter steps forward without hesitation, letting Tony wrap his arms around his waist, Tony presses his forehead into Peter’s stomach and inhales deeply. Pressed up close like this, he can feel the stutter in Peter’s breathing; something that had become so achingly familiar over the last month, but they haven’t spent time this close, this still, not since before the escape.

Tony can smell the lingering scent of soap on Peter’s skin, feel every breath the kid breathes in, the slight tremble in his hands as he settles his palms on Tony’s shoulders. Something about the alcohol is making him hyper-focused on each immediate sensation, one after the other. He wonders if this is what Peter’s senses are like all the time. He wonders how the kid copes with it.

Tony swallows. Presses an open-mouthed kiss to the thin fabric covering Peter’s stomach before he can think too much about what he’s doing. Peter’s breath hitches again.

“What do you want from me, kid?” he asks, not lifting his face away from where’s it’s pressed against Peter’s body.

It’s not meant as a challenge. It’s an honest question, laced through with all the trappings of defeat. The kid can have whatever he wants, Tony’s in no position to deny him anything.

“Whatever you want,” Peter says.

Christ. Don’t say that. You don’t even know what that means.”

“So show me.”

Peter leans back just far enough to give Tony room to undo the knot on his robe, letting it fall open. Before he knows it Peter is in his lap, straddling his thighs, his face tucked down against Tony’s shoulder. Tony’s hands have slipped underneath the robe, stroking up and down Peter’s bare back.

“We don’t have to do this,” Tony mutters into Peter’s hair. It’s a half measure, at best.

“Yeah, but I want to. It’s - you want to?”

Tony shifts his hands lower, pulling Peter down to grind their bodies together. They both gasp.

“So that’s like, a yes, right?” Peter asks.

Peter is just as pretty and pliant as Tony remembers, all smooth pale skin and lithe muscle. Tony nudges Peter’s head up, craning his own neck back to meet his lips in a long, sloppy kiss. Peter’s not as practiced at kissing as he is at other things, which puts a painful clench in Tony’s chest, because there’s a reason for that.

Kissing hadn’t put food on the table, before.

It doesn’t now, either; they’re both hungry, holding out the last two pieces of fruit from their meager supplies as a kind of safety net in case it takes longer to get home than either of them expects. But Peter tastes just a little bit like the sweet-tart fruit they’d split earlier, and he tastes so, so good.

Tony hasn’t had anywhere near his fill before Peter is pulling back, shifting up on his knees slightly.

“Mr. Stark, I can’t - I’m gonna - ”

“You can. Hey, hey,” Tony says, pulling his hands out from under Peter’s robe and settling them on either side of the kid’s face. “No cameras, okay? Do whatever you want.”

Peter’s lips are red and shiny-wet with spit, eyes a little bit glazed and unfocused. Not like he’s high or anything, just - lost in the moment.

Tony intends to keep him there.

He wraps an arm around Peter’s waist, the other still cupping the back of his head, and pulls Peter back down into his lap.

Peter gasps, his eyes slipping closed.

“That’s it. Come on, come for me, sweetheart,” Tony murmurs a steady litany of praise into Peter’s ear, feels the stutter-stop of the kid’s hips against his own, the hot spurts of wetness against his stomach as Peter comes.

Tony ducks his head, mouthing along the side of Peter’s neck, feeling Peter’s racing pulse against his lips.

It doesn’t take long for Peter’s breathing to return to normal. Tony shifts back on the bed, turning and settling Peter down against the mattress underneath him. Peter’s eyes are half-lidded, and he’s smiling up at Tony dopily.

Tony settles on top of Peter, arms braced on either side of Peter’s head, and leans down to kiss the grin off of his face. Peter responds lazily, letting out a soft moan that Tony tries his best to swallow down.

He strips off his own robe clumsily, tossing it off the bed somewhere behind him.

“Sorry,” Peter says.

Tony pauses. “For what?”

“Wanted to last longer,” Peter admits.

“Why, because you won’t be ready to go again in five minutes? Benefits of youth, kid, might as well enjoy it.”

“But you didn’t - ”

“Plenty of time for that.”

Tony mouths over Peter’s adam’s apple, down his neck and sternum to his belly. Most of the mess from earlier had ended up on Tony’s robe, but there’s a few spots of come on Peter’s stomach, which Tony licks away one at a time.

One of Peter’s hands settles on the back of Tony’s head, fingers sinking into his hair, scratching lightly at the scalp.

He finds himself mesmerized by the way Peter’s stomach contracts and relaxes underneath him, the ripple in the muscles of his abdomen, the tang of fresh sweat on his skin. Tony wants to bury himself inside Peter’s skin, feel every inch of him from the inside out.

The thing is, he can. If he wants.

He sucks two fingers into his mouth, slicking them with spit before he reaches down to tease at Peter’s hole, pressing inside. Peter’s hand tightens in Tony’s hair, tugging.

Tony pulls out, blinking dumbly up at the kid’s face. Peter is pushed up on one elbow, breathing deep and slow, and stops to lick his lips before he speaks.

“’s lube. Over in the,” Peter gestures vaguely at the wall with one hand.

...of course there is.

Tony pushes himself up off the bed, stumbling over to the wall to open the cabinets. There is in fact, an entire shelf of what Tony can only assume is every variety of lube the Grandmaster could invent or imagine.

“One on the far left smells good,” Peter suggests from the bed.

The one on the far left it is, then. Peter is right; it does smell nice. A little like rosewood, but slightly less sweet.

He dips his fingers inside, scooping out what is almost definitely far more than he needs as he kneels back down on the bed between Peter’s bent legs. He presses his fingers back inside of Peter, the excess lube making a mess of the sheets beneath them.

Peter groans at the intrusion, biting down on his bottom lip and shifting his hips slightly.

“This okay?” Tony stops to ask, somewhat belatedly.

“Yeah,” Peter nods, “yeah. It’s good.”

Peter reaches out, hand closing loosely around Tony’s other wrist and tugging. It takes a moment for Tony to realize what the kid wants - he’s still got the container of lube in the other hand, tipped sideways, some of it spilling out onto the bed.

He pushes the container into Peter’s hand, who sets it back down on the mattress and starts slicking up his own fingers.

Tony loses track of what happens next, too lost in how easily his fingers are slipping in and out of Peter’s body, the way Peter clenches down each time Tony moves to pull back; trying to keep him inside.

What Tony doesn’t have any trouble noticing is the way Peter’s fist wraps around the very base of Tony’s cock, tight and perfect, stroking all the way up to the head.

Tony has to stop, leaning forward, breathing heavily. Peter strokes him again, his forearm brushing against Tony’s cheek with every stroke. Tony turns his head just enough to plant a kiss on Peter’s arm.

“C’mon, it’s okay, it’s good,” Peter is saying, “Mr. Stark please.”

Tony looks up. “What? Tell me what you - ”

“More. Please, just. I want - ”

“Okay, okay. Hey, it’s okay. Here,” Tony says.

He pulls back, making Peter whine, but only so he can reposition Peter’s hips, pulling him closer and hooking the kid’s knees up over his shoulders. Peter lets both of his hands flop down against the bed on either side of him. His fingers dig into the mattress, the sound of the sheets ripping registering only distantly as Tony pushes inside.

It’s every bit as overwhelming as Tony would have imagined; the alcohol dulling just enough of the background noise in his head that there’s no room to focus on anything other than Peter.

He takes it slow - more out of necessity than any conscious effort, pressing forward until he’s fully seated inside Peter.

“Woah, that’s - okay, yeah,” Peter is saying. He doesn’t stop talking, although only some of it is intelligible. Tony lets the sounds of the words flow over him, even if he can’t catch all of it.

The kid clearly isn’t objecting; and that’s more than enough.

They’re both uncoordinated. Sloppy. Peter is too eager to find a workable rhythm, and Tony is too far gone to set the pace himself. There’s so much lube that it squelches between their bodies on every thrust, Tony’s hands slipping against the sheets when he tries to brace himself against the mattress.

Peter doesn’t seem to mind, or even notice. Although at some point he must get frustrated by the pace, because he lets his legs slip down off of Tony’s shoulders and pushes himself upwards.

Tony isn’t quite sure how it happens, and there’s an iffy few seconds somewhere in the middle where he almost overbalances and falls off the side of the bed - but he ends up with Peter sitting upright, spread out over his lap with his heels hooked together behind Tony’s back.  Tony’s upper arms are pinned to his sides by Peter’s thighs, his hands splayed against Peter’s ass.

Peter’s hands are braced against Tony’s shoulders, and he lowers himself back down onto Tony’s dick, seated even deeper than he was before.

Tony groans at how it feels, being buried that deep inside.

Peter’s throat is right at eye-level, adam’s apple bobbing as he swallows. Tony licks at it, enjoying the odd hiccup he gets in response. He does it again, letting his teeth scrape along the tender skin.

Peter is shuddering above him, picking up the pace. Tony is powerless to do anything other than let him take it; his thighs are burning with the strain of keeping them both upright, his balance shot to shit by the heady combination of liquor and arousal.

Peter comes first with a cry that takes Tony by surprise. He’s never been that loud before.

Then again, they’ve never had privacy before either.

Tony can feel the hot stripes of Peter’s come painting his stomach once again, smearing between their bodies as Peter continues to ride out his orgasm. Tony lets him, lost in the sweat-slick heat of it.

Peter lets out a sob above him; slumping down against Tony, his arms looped loosely around Tony’s back.

His legs finally loosen around Tony’s arms and torso, and Tony manages to gets his arms up around Peter’s body before the kid falls over. He sets Peter back down on the bed, rolling him onto his stomach. He hooks one hand under Peter’s knee and pushes it upwards, spreading him out to press inside once more.

Tony is practically laying on top of Peter, hips moving in staccato rhythm he’s not really trying to control anymore. He’s so fucking close.

He comes not long after; a sick sort of pride washing over him at the feeling of spilling himself deep inside of Peter. Tony is only dimly aware of pulling out, of rolling over onto his back, one hand trailing lazily down Peter’s back.

Seconds later, he’s unconscious.

 

*

 

He wakes up to a raging headache and an empty bed.

The bed is completely wrecked.

The sheets are stained with lube and come, the fabric ripped in two places that Tony can’t quite manage to match up with a specific memory.

Tony isn’t in much better shape. His leg muscles are screaming at him, his thighs and stomach itchy with dried come. It takes an effort to push himself upright, even more to stumble over to the bar to grab hold of the seltzer water, which he chugs straight out of the bottle. Thirst sated and headache starting to recede a tiny bit, he wipes his arm across his mouth.

Tony looks around the room, feeling oddly off-kilter. The door to the front of the ship is closed.

He’s alone.

It takes a moment for the weirdness of that to set in. He’s alone. He hasn’t been alone since… since he woke up on that fucking planet. He’s been with Peter practically every waking hour for the last month.

Peter.

Flashes of sense-memory start coming back to him, making up a chaotic but still all-to-clear picture of how the bed got the way it was.

Oh god.

It’s some unholy combination of his raging hangover combined with chugging down too much seltzer water too quickly that sends him stumbling to the shower to vomit. What comes up is mostly just water and bile, setting his head pounding once more. Tony reaches up blindly and cranks the shower on above him, flinching at the cold water on his back until he adjusts to the temperature. After a while it even starts to feel good. Refreshing.

Tony doesn’t so much shower as he does stand in the spray and hope that the deluge of water can handle the lion’s share of the work.

He pretends he isn’t just buying time until he has to face Peter. He can’t pretend forever though. If nothing else, the shower water on the ship isn’t exactly endless, although Tony suspects it must have some kind of recycling system, which he ponders for a bit before acknowledging the avoidance tactic for what it is.

He turns off the water with some regret, toweling himself off and pulling on the clothes he’d worn on the escape from Sakaar.

Peter’s clothes are still in the pile, he notices. He doesn’t see the robe the kid was wearing earlier around anywhere though.

Tony pauses at the door, steeling his nerves. In truth, he has no idea what to expect - but from everything he can remember, Peter had been perfectly enthusiastic about things. That didn’t mean the kid wasn’t feeling some buyer’s remorse now though.

The door slides open with a soft hiss, and Tony heads for the front.

He finds Peter standing in the cockpit, staring out the windshield. Peter glances back at Tony when he steps inside, grinning widely. For possibly the first time in his life, Tony finds himself completely struck dumb.

They’ve dropped out of hyperspace.

They’re home.

Okay, not exactly home home; not yet.

But Earth is a glittering blue and green sphere below them, close enough that Tony imagines he could almost reach out and touch it. The moon is even closer than Earth is, and Tony can pick out the crags and shadows left by countless millennia of asteroid and meteor strikes.

“Holy fuck,” Tony says under his breath.

“Right?”

It’s then that Peter seems to notice that Tony is wearing the clothes from Sakaar.

“Oh,” he says, looking down at his robe. “Um, good idea. How long do you think it’ll take to get there from here?”

Tony clears his throat. “Couple hours, give or take.”

They’ll have to go to the compound; it’s a secure area with enough room to land a stolen spaceship. First they’ll have to find a way to give someone back home a heads up - the last thing Tony wants is to get blown out of the sky because someone at air traffic control gets antsy about a UFO coming in for a landing in upstate New York.

Peter has turned back to watching the display.

“I should probably go get changed,” he says, not taking his eyes off the display. “In a minute though.”

Tony reaches out - can’t entirely help himself, and drags his knuckles down between the kid’s shoulder blades. Peter leans back into the touch.

“Pretty cool, huh?” Tony says.

“You know there’s only like, twenty-something people that have seen Earth from the surface of the moon?” Peter pauses. “Well, probably more than that really, since I bet some aliens have seen it too.”

Tony hmms in response.

“It was a Decathlon question last year,” Peter says, by way of explanation.

He can’t quite believe it could be this easy. That Peter doesn’t shy away from him is a gift. One he doesn’t intend to abuse. He gives the kid’s shoulder a squeeze and then lets go.

“Why don’t you get changed, and I’ll let you pilot us in?”

“Are you serious?”

“Do I look serious?”

“Uhh,” Peter stalls. “You look a little sick, actually. Are you okay?”

“Just a bad case of intergalactic jetlag, kid, don’t worry about it.”

They both know he’s lying.

Thankfully Peter lets it slide.

 

*

 

“Okay, what do I do?”

“You see that pretty blue and green shiny looking thing? Head for that.”

Peter rolls his eyes. “Real funny, Mr. Stark.”

“Hey, you asked.”

Tony is on his back on the floor, wedged half under the dashboard with all kinds of wiring hanging down in front of his face.

It’s a fairly simple task. He has to rewire the ship’s communication system so it’s compatible with the old SHIELD frequencies, which he has FRIDAY monitor by default.

Thanks to his tinkering around with cameras and vibrators back on Sakaar, he has at least a passing familiarity with how the alien tech works - although to be honest, it’s a hodge podge at best. Just like everything else on Sakaar, their tech was an amalgamation.

Tony does what he’s good at though - he figures shit out.

The message is short and encoded, repeating on a loop since he’s not entirely sure what the range will be. When he’s done there he gets up and figures out a way to punch in latitude and longitude coordinates on the HUD.

A tiny dot illuminates on the display, giving Peter a spot to aim for that was more specific than just ‘somewhere east-ish of the Finger Lakes.’

Earth grows larger and larger in the viewscreen in front of them, so bright and familiar it almost hurts to look at.

Peter guides the ship in smoothly, almost expertly. Tony figures that this must be easy, compared to his first flying lesson - a dogfight over an alien planet.

“Um, so how do we know if the beacon-thing worked?” Peter asks.

“We don’t, it’s a one-way signal. FRIDAY’ll hear us.”

“ ‘kay. No pressure then. Great.”

“You want me to take over?”

Tony can see the way Peter’s jaw clenches. The kid blinks rapidly, then shakes his head. “No, I got this.”

“Damn right you do, kid.”

Tony’s breath catches in his throat when the compound comes into view.

The landing goes without a hitch. Tony can hardly believe it, even as he reaches forward to start shutting down the engines.

Vision is standing on the grass outside, head cocked to the side. Observing. Either FRIDAY tipped him off or he was monitoring the same radio frequencies that she was.

They made it.

They’re home.

 

Chapter Text

“So, what - is everybody hiding inside with the streamers and the Welcome Home banners?” Tony asks, stepping off the ramp of the ship.

Vision is frowning at them.

Vision doesn’t normally frown, so it’s something of an odd sight.

“That ship doesn’t appear to be of Earth design,” he says.

They’re parked in one of the old hangar bays, where Tony had directed Peter to move the ship minutes after first touching down. He’d belatedly figured not leaving it out on the front lawn for any old satellite to pick up would probably be a good idea, all things considered.

Vision followed them in, looking over the ship with a critical eye, apparently unfazed by the two of them showing up - alive and whole, after all this time. Not to mention the whole spaceship thing.

“Wow, okay. Good to see you too, glad you’re okay. No really, it’s too much, all this concern for my well-being. Not like the kid and I just miraculously returned after disappearing for a month or anything.”

“I saw both of you earlier this morning,” Vision says, looking between Tony and Peter. “You were headed down to the garage.”

“You - I’m sorry, what?”

“No way,” Peter chimes in from a few steps back.

“Vis, what day is today?”

“Today is Saturday, October 13th.”

Realization hits Tony like a punch to the gut. They haven’t been gone a month. They haven’t even been gone a week.

It’s been no more than a few hours at most.

“Oh thank god,” Peter says. “May would’ve killed me if I’d missed that much school.”

Right, school.

Somewhere in the compound is Peter’s backpack, filled with textbooks and english lit reading that Peter should be doing. Somewhere on this planet is the kid’s Aunt, who has no idea where her nephew has been or what’s happened.

Tony hits the control to close down the hatch, suddenly very much aware of what the rear compartment must look like.

The closed hatch won’t stop Vision if he gets curious, but Tony is fairly certain no one else was around at the compound the day they’d left - which meant no one else should be at the compound now, probably. Since it’s still the same day.

Tony pinches the bridge of his nose. The timeline is bound to fuck him up for a while.

“Are you both alright?” Vision asks.

“Peachy. Just the usual kidnapped by aliens, yadda yadda black hole time dilation, yadda yadda had to steal a spaceship to fly home. Typical Saturday.”

Vision nods at them. He’s not buying it. But fortunately for Tony, his social cues are (just) advanced enough that he recognizes a deflection when he hears it.

He’ll leave well enough alone. For now.

Peter and Tony head inside, leaving Vision to do - whatever it was he’d been doing before they’d landed. Meditating on chaos theory and the nature of evil, possibly. Evolving. Whatever. Vision’s philosophical questions had a tendency to leave Tony with a headache and a strong desire invent a time machine for the sole purpose of punching Nietzsche in the face. He does his best to resist the impulse.

But regardless, it’s not something Tony has any desire to get into today, and so he’s grateful for the reprieve. Besides, he has other more immediate concerns.

“Hey FRI, you miss me? I know I missed you.”

“Welcome back, boss.”

“Hey FRIDAY,” Peter says with a grin, glancing up at the ceiling.

“Welcome back, Peter.”

“Let Happy know we need him to take the kid back to the city, will you? And tell him to pick up burgers or something, have them waiting in the car. The kid needs to eat.”

“Will do.”

“Oh my god, food,” Peter groans. “Thanks, Mr. Stark.”

Tony nudges Peter’s shoulder. “Don’t mention it. Listen, I know you’re probably dying to get home, but stop by the lab for a minute after you grab your stuff, okay?”

Peter nods. “Yeah.”

The kid heads off to the guest quarters and Tony heads to the lab, quizzing FRIDAY as he walks. She apparently has no memory files of the singularity that had opened up over the compound - her whole system had gone offline right at the moment Tony assumes they’d disappeared.

Tony frowns. That’s a problem in more ways than one.

The portal itself is a problem; a glaring, neon one.

But there’s also a logical leap that FRIDAY is missing - if she’d seen them get scooped up by the singularity, she undoubtedly would’ve set off all kinds of alarms. Instead, she came back online to find Peter and Tony gone, but no evidence of a battle or any kind of foul play.

No alerts had gone out, no alarm bells sounded.

The thought sends a chill down Tony’s spine. How long would it have taken for someone to notice, if they hadn’t escaped? If Tony had been elsewhere and Peter had been snatched up alone?

It’s that same fear that carries him to the lab.

The kid’s old suit was probably sitting in a pile of garbage somewhere back on Sakaar, but that doesn’t mean Tony is about to send him home with nothing, defenceless.

Tony had the prototype nanotech suit that he’d been tinkering around with before they’d been snatched away. He’d been keeping it a secret, meant to save it for a graduation gift - or a quick upgrade should any sudden world-ending threats appear on the horizon, whichever came first.

Tony kicks himself a little bit for not having it closer to finished, but it’ll do. The nanites are a little sluggish to activate, something he’s been working on - but it’s still significantly faster than the kid having to strip down and put the suit on like a pair of pajamas, the way he had with his old one.

He has FRIDAY pull up the project files as he runs a quick test on the activation, earmarks a couple of the programming notes he’d made for himself to work on later. It’s not anything that should make the suit unusable - a few web shooter options he has to disable because they’re not fully functional yet, a couple of AI updates that’ll have to wait.

By the time he’s done, Peter is stepping into the lab dressed in his regular clothes, backpack on his shoulder. The sight is at once so painfully familiar and so distant that Tony has to look away, focusing back on the screen.

“Take a seat,” he says, gesturing at one of the lab stools.

Peter must notice the scalpel and gloves already laid out on the lab bench. His hand goes up to his neck, fingers searching out the telltale bump of his deactivated chip.

“You okay with me doing this, or you want me to call up a doctor?”

“Nah, it’s fine. Do it, then I can do yours.”

Tony pauses. “I’ll leave mine where it is for now. I want to study this thing, see if I can keep the translator and ditch the shock collar.”

“But what if - ”

“Don’t worry about it, kid.”

Peter swallows, licking his lips. Tony can tell he wants to say more. Instead he tips his head to the side, giving Tony room to work.

The skin of his neck is perfectly smooth, unscarred by Tony’s previous impromptu surgery, for which Tony is thankful. He can remember those panicked moments plenty well enough without a scar on the kid’s skin to remind him. He puts on the gloves and wipes Peter’s neck down with an alcohol swab, forcefully pushing away the memories of last time.

Tony doesn’t make the same mistake again. The cut is wide enough; he’s prepared for the rapid clotting and has tweezers at the ready. It’s almost laughably easy, plucking the chip out this time.

It plinks down onto the metal tray with an odd kind of finality - the last physical vestige of Sakaar gone from Peter’s body.

Tony presses gauze to the wound, and Peter reaches up automatically to hold it in place. It should only take a minute or two for the wound to clot over.

The scalpel and tweezers get dropped in a separate tray to be sanitized later, and Tony strips off the gloves and tosses them in the trash. By the time he’s done, Peter is peeling the gauze away from his neck, the wound already reduced to an angry-looking red line.

“You’re an excellent patient, Mr. Parker,” Tony says.

Peter looks faintly amused.

“Unfortunately for you, I’m all out of lollipops, but I’ve got something even better. Try these on for size,” he says, grabbing two wristbands off the table and handing them over to Peter.

“Uh, bracelets?”

Tony raises an eyebrow and waits. As if Peter doesn’t know him better than that by now. The kid snaps on the first wristband, turning his hand this way and that to see how it forms to his arm. He snaps on the second one and looks up at Tony, hands held out in front of him.

“Okay, now what?”

“They’re keyed to your touch, just like the suit. Tap twice on the clasp of each one.”

The kid still looks a bit dubious, but there’s a hint of anticipation there too, which makes Tony think the kid must have at least some inkling of what’s coming. Peter double taps the underside of his left wrist first, then the right, at which point the nanites snake out over his skin - up his arms and down his fingers, covering him head to toe in the new suit.

“Woah, Mr. Stark this is crazy! What is this stuff?”

“Just a little something I’ve been working on. It’s nanotech - you like?”

Yes. Oh my god, wait until I tell Ned about this.”

Tony is equal parts cringing and gleeful at the kid’s obvious excitement - flattering as it is, he’s not entirely thrilled at the thought of Peter blabbing about his proprietary tech breakthroughs to the same punk that’d managed to hack Peter’s suit two years ago. There’s a reason Tony takes a special kind of pleasure in pretending not to remember that kid’s name, not that he would ever admit it.

Still though, he’s handing off a literal one-of-a-kind multi-million dollar piece of tech to a seventeen year old. Of course the kid is going to want to brag to his friend about it.

He trusts Peter. That’s kind of the whole point.

“Keep in mind this is a prototype suit - okay? You notice anything weird or glitchy, I mean anything, you tell me immediately.”

Tony can’t actually tell through the mask, but he could swear Peter is rolling his eyes.

“Duh. I’m not an idiot, Mr. Stark.” Peter holds up his hands in front of his face, turning them this way and that. “Hey, uh, how do I - ?”

“Same way your old one worked.” Tony reaches out, taps the center of the kid’s chest and watches as the suit retracts around him, until nothing remains but the slim wristbands.

Peter examines them for a few moments before tugging his sleeves down over them, testing out how discreetly he can wear them under his street clothes.

“Thank you, Mr. Stark. Seriously. This is awesome.”

Before Tony can react, Peter is stepping forward and planting a quick kiss to the corner of his mouth. He stands frozen in place as Peter steps back, seemingly oblivious to Tony’s sudden panic.

“Right,” Tony says, talking just to fill the air. “Any - anytime, kid. Remember though, prototype. Be careful, no going - ”

Thankfully, FRIDAY interrupts.

“Happy is waiting out front, boss.”

“I’ll be careful, I swear,” Peter says, all jittery excitement as he turns to head for the door. “Thanks again, Mr. Stark, see you next weekend!” Peter calls over his shoulder.

Tony doesn’t move for a long time after Peter leaves. The kid had just kissed him, as if - well, as if kissing was completely normal for them. Which of course, it was. In a way.

In another galaxy.

See you next weekend!

The thought settles hard and cold, like a lump in his stomach -  what did Peter think was going to happen next weekend? He didn’t think, he couldn’t think that they were going to -

He might.

Tony’s memories of the night they spent together on the ship are a jumbled mess to begin with. He can remember feeling the heat of Peter’s skin against his lips, separated only by the thin material of the robe.

He remembers asking Peter what he wanted.

He remembers Peter’s all-too accommodating reply, and desperately wishes he didn’t.

 

*

 

Tony has FRIDAY lock down the hangar bay without thinking too much about what’s inside.

He tosses the clothes from Sakaar, relieved to put on his own clothing for the first time in a month. (Or the first time in about twelve hours, depending on how you count things.) He heads down to the lab without any solid plans about what to do once he gets there.

There’s a drone hovering just outside the door with a takeout bag full of food. Tony grins despite himself. FRIDAY may have her blind spots, but when she’s good she’s very, very good.

He digs in, one hand holding a burger and the other tapping out commands.

First things first, he starts the auto-assembly deck to print up another set of wrist gauntlets, identical to the ones he’d just handed off to Peter. It’s been a month since he’s really dug into the coding on them.

If there are any glitches, he wants to find them before Peter does.

While that’s running, he pulls up all the data FRIDAY had recorded immediately before and after the singularity opened, setting up protocols to track anything similar that pops up in the atmosphere, running out simulation after simulation on how to force it closed. All his guesswork and theories will stay just that though; it’s not like he has a way to test anything practically, not unless it happens again.

Secretary Ross calls. Twice. Tony opts to ignore him both times.

The third time, FRIDAY is a little more insistent about it.

“He’s threatening to fly up here in person, with the 121st Squadron as an escort,” she says, somewhat pointedly.

Shit. “Fine, put him through.”

The call cuts in on Ross mid-rant. “- don’t get to decide on your own what’s a national emergency and what’s not. We have elected officials wh- ”

“Sorry, who’s this?” Tony cuts in.

“You know damn well who this is and what this is about. NASA picked up a UAC - ”

“A what now?”

“Oh for the love of - an unrecognized alien craft.”

Tony blinks. “You do know there’s already an acronym for that, right?”

“I’m not calling these damn things UFOs like those nutjobs camped out at Roswell. And that’s beside the point. Something landed in your backyard not three hours ago, and per the terms of the Accords - ”

“Per the terms of the Accords, I don’t have to tell you shit about what I do on my own private property unless it crosses international borders.”

“ - unless it poses a threat to the civilian population. You think an unknown spaceship landing on Earth doesn’t qualify?”

“Not if I know for a fact that it doesn’t possess offensive weapons.”

“And how do you know it doesn’t?”

“Because I was the one flying it. Are we done here? Great. Always good talking to you, Ross. Bye now.”

Tony flicks his hand, cutting the connection.

“You think he bought it?” he asks FRIDAY.

“Difficult to say, boss.”

“Keep an eye out for the 121st for me, will you? Just in case.”

“Will do.”

 

*

 

The next five days pass in a blur.

Tony’s not sure when he sleeps, if he sleeps. He blinks and finds himself drooling on the lab bench, a test patch of nanite suit material stuck to his cheek, bleary eyed and aching in more ways than one.

He follows through on the promise he’d made to himself over and over again during the time in captivity on Sakaar, and drinks his way through his liquor cabinet - starting with the best stuff and working his way down until his taste buds and his mental faculties no longer care how a bottle of Svedka even got there.

Peter texts him a few times throughout the week, a few minor comments about how patrols are going, but mostly full of effusive praise for the new suit and enough colorful emojis to make Tony’s head hurt just looking at the screen.

Apparently Peter’s aunt had noticed how long his hair had gotten.

I told her maybe it was a spider thing
?
Pretty sure she bought it

He texts the kid back a thumbs up and then passes out, face down in his bed. Which is weird, because he doesn’t remember coming upstairs.

It’s not until Thursday that Peter brings up coming up to the compound again.

So is
*so is Happy picking me up?
tmrw, I mean

Tony texts back,

Of course.

It’s not like Tony could tell the kid not to come. For one thing, he’s got some AI patches he needs to install on Peter’s suit - nevermind that it could be done remotely.

For another thing, the thought of turning Peter away cuts like a knife.

That doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to let him come, though. Tony has been stumbling somewhere between work-crazed and heavily soused for the better part of a week now. He’s in no condition to re-establish anything nearing appropriate boundaries, not like this.

The kid gets out of school at 2:45. It usually takes a couple hours for Happy to drive him upstate. Which means Tony’s got less than 24 hours to get himself under control.

He can’t fuck things up again.

Step one is not to be drunk.

He has FRIDAY put the liquor cabinet on lockdown. Tony could theoretically still hack her servers to break in, but he promises himself he isn’t going to.

Step two is to not be too visibly hungover.

He takes a long overdue shower with water turned up as hot as it will go, hoping he can sweat out some of the alcohol still pumping through his system. He shaves, feeling slightly more human, although when he catches sight of the small scar on his neck he has to spend a few minutes heaving over the sink, hands braced against the counter.

He finishes shaving.

He gets dressed.

Step three is to plan for ample distractions.

Vision is around, which is convenient and reassuring in more ways than one. Plus, they have software patches to make on the suit, testing to do on a new web fluid formula they’d come up with on Sakaar, not to mention tinkering around with the language chip, which Tony has only been able to scratch the surface of so far.

Being sober the past week probably would’ve helped in that regard.

Tony wakes up Friday morning only to realize that Vision has pulled one of his semi-frequent disappearing acts. Which means the compound is empty except for Tony.

He should cancel.

It’d never been an issue before, having the compound all to themselves. It’d been great, actually, running around and testing out suit features, both of them losing track of time in the lab, Tony sending Peter stumbling off to bed at 3am when FRIDAY’s baby monitor protocols eventually (and inevitably) kicked in and objected to the long hours.But texting the kid to cancel would have to involve explaining why. Tony can and has been brave in plenty of situations - but for this one, he finds himself a coward.

The day slips by in a sort of haze, working feverishly on the chip to distract himself.

He’s pretty sure he can deactivate the shock collar mechanism, possibly even build his own without that capability, which is the ultimate goal. If he can just -

“The car has entered the compound, Boss. They should be pulling into the garage in just a few minutes.”

He can’t do this.

“FRI, let Peter know to drop his stuff off and come down to the lab. I’ll - ” what, exactly? “I’ll be down in a little bit.”

Tony opts for a shower, imagining he can still smell the alcohol, still smell Peter on his skin. Feels like it’s seeping out of his pores, radiating out from the scar on his neck, like it’s a brand.

He jerks off in the shower, focusing hard on some particularly memorable times he and Pepper had shared right in this very spot.

It works, to a point.

At least until he remembers that he’s jerking off with Peter just two floors below him, waiting for him. That he’ll clap the kid on the shoulder with the same hand that’s currently wrapped around his dick.

He gets dressed. Jeans and a t-shirt, and a flannel shirt too because the collar partially covers the scar.

“The kid in the lab already?” he asks FRIDAY, resigned.

“Yes, Boss.”

Peter looks good. Healthy. Normal. He’s sitting on one of the lab stools, head bent down over something he’s tinkering with on the counter. His aunt must’ve taken him for a haircut - his hair is still long, but neatened up around the ears and neck. It falls down over his forehead, curling softly.

When he notices Tony step into the lab he looks up, face breaking out into a grin.

“Hey!”

“Hey kid.”

And that’s it. That’s all he’s got. None of the steps in his three-step plan had covered what the fuck he was going to say to the kid once he got here.

“So, how was school?” Pathetic.

“Boring, but like, in a good way? I don’t know. It’s weird, but I kinda missed being there.”

“Nothing weird about that, considering.”

“Yeah. I guess.”

Peter sets down what he’s working on. Looking up at Tony, like he’s waiting for something.

Tony claps his hands together, loud enough that they both jump. Act normal, for fuck’s sake, he has to remind himself.

“Well, hope you came ready to work. I’ve got a ton of stuff lined up for us.”

Peter seems to deflate a little when he realizes that all the stuff is lab- and suit-testing related. He perks up when they get to talking about the nanotech though, going over the specs on the new suit and possible future upgrades.

They work out a way for Peter to only activate one glove at a time, which is a decent temporary fix for the sluggish activation problem - if Peter needs a web shooter fast, he can activate just the one rather than having to wait for the full suit to come online.

They eat dinner in the lab, trading boxes of takeout over the coffee table. Peter sits on the couch. Tony stays on the his lab stool.

He sends the kid off to bed promptly at 9. Or rather, he tries to.

“This is a joke, right?”

“Nope.”

“I’m seventeen, not seven,” Peter objects.

“I’m not saying you have to go to sleep, I’m saying you can’t be in the lab. Don’t you have homework to do or something?”

“I did it already. C’mon, like two more hours and you know we’ll have the algorithm cracked for the nanotech activation thing. I know you’re just gonna keep working on it without me if I leave, and I want to be here when we finally get it.”

Tony looks up at the holo-display where FRIDAY is running the latest simulation, fluctuating performance metrics and graphs flashing by almost too quickly to catch. He sighs.

“Alright, how about this - I won’t work on the nanotech without you. We’ll both hold off until tomorrow.”

“So if I go upstairs, you’ll come too?”

There’s a hint of suggestion in Peter’s tone that Tony would like to pretend he doesn’t hear. He clenches one hand, feels the answering twinge in his wrist.

Peter doesn’t seem to notice.

“No. I’ve got other stuff I need to do down here. You go on up. I won’t work on the nanotech without you. Scout’s honor.”

“I don’t think that works if neither of us was ever a boy scout.”

“And yet here we are.” Tony gestures and the lab door slides open behind him.

Peter glances at the door and then back at Tony, seeming to be waiting for something.

Tony closes down the current simulation display - FRIDAY can keep running the numbers in the background, and turns away to pull up another project file.

The Sakaaran chip is tempting, but some part of him doesn’t want to open that up in front of Peter.

His own suit upgrade relies on the same nanotech programming as Peter’s, so that’s out too. He opts instead to take another pass at Rhodey’s prosthetics - not that Rhodey has asked him to, but Tony’s pretty sure he can make them lighter, more responsive, if he puts some hours into it. And almost more importantly, it’s not like Peter is going to object to him prioritizing this over the nanotech.

The kid hesitates for a few seconds.

Tony doesn’t turn away from his screen, feeling the kid’s eyes on him almost like a physical weight.

Eventually he hears the kid’s sneakers scuffing against the polished concrete floor, walking around behind him and out of the lab. Tony listens as the footsteps grow faint; Peter making his way down the hall towards the staircase that leads up to the private living quarters.

FRIDAY slides the door closed behind him.

Tony sinks forwards, elbows braced on the table in front of him, head in his hands.

 

*

 

He doesn’t sleep.

Five hours after he sends Peter away, he fires off the plans for updated prosthetics to Rhodey for his input and approval. Two hours after that he has a sketchy outline of an idea for something more discreet than the wristbands for Peter.

He takes a few breaks, or sort of does anyway. He works out while FRIDAY is busy printing out the prototype for Rhodey, sucks down a protein smoothie at some undetermined point after that.

“Hey FRI, is the kid in his room?”

“As far as my sensors can detect, yes.”

Right. He’s not the Grandmaster. He doesn’t have cameras in the fucking bedrooms.

“Good. Great. Thanks.”

Rhodey’s braces need a little tweaking, now that he has a physical object to examine and play around with. He makes a few notes, sends off an updated design schematic, wondering vaguely what timezone Rhodes is even in right now.

The glowing projection of the language chip rotates slowly in the air in front of him. Tony reaches up, plucks it between his thumb and forefinger to bring it closer. He brings his other hand up, spreading the fingers of both hands apart to blow up the projection.

Thin spindles extend out from several points, he assumes to secure the device to the tissues of the neck once implanted. Closer examination shows that the spindles are jointed and telescoping - they can move, extend and retract as needed.

Tony has to assume the spindles don’t just serve a mechanical purpose though - FRIDAY’s internal scans reveal too much electrical infrastructure to just be that. If Tony had to guess, he would say they function almost like antennae.

The easiest way to test it would be to go to the ship, have FRIDAY run scans on his brain activity and electrical signals while he reads the alien language.

He doesn’t.

At some point around 5 in the morning he heads upstairs to take a shower, change his clothes. Pretend that he slept.

Peter stumbles into the kitchen a few hours later, yawning, still dressed in his pajamas.

Tony sets down his second (third?) cup of coffee and clears his throat.

“You sleep okay?”

Peter pauses for a beat, one hand still help up in front of his face, looking Tony over. “Not really, no. Did you?”

It’s a challenge.

“I got caught up in some work I needed to finish. But uh,” Tony stops, recognizing the opportunity for what it is. “I’m pretty beat though, so I’m going to try to catch a couple hours now. You can - you’ve got the place to yourself, why don’t you take some time to mess around with the new suit features in the training center?”

Peter just looks at him, his hand finally dropping down to his side. They’re still a few feet apart, with the bulk of the kitchen island between them, but Tony can see each rise and fall of the kid’s chest, his t-shirt well-worn and rumpled and soft-looking.

He looks disappointed.

“Yeah. Yeah I’ll just, do that I guess.”

“You need breakfast? We’ve got… actually I don’t know what we’ve got. I had a smoothie, so there’s that. But there’s probably cereal around here somewhere,” Tony sets his mug in the sink, turning away from the island to poke around in the fridge and freezer. “We’ve got orange juice, and we’ve got frozen waffles. They’re gluten free, if you care about that kind of thing.”

“I’m sure I can find something, Mr. Stark.”

“Okay, well. You know, eat up. Let FRIDAY know if you need anything.”

“I will,” Peter says quietly.

Tony nods to himself, resisting the urge to start pulling things out of freezer at random, like if he can offer the kid enough breakfast foods it might wipe away the undertone of defeat in his voice.

He closes the freezer, glancing over at Peter one last time before he forces himself to flee the kitchen.

 

*

 

Food is a problem. Or, not so much the food itself as the associations he now has with it.

How many times has he seen Peter waking up, sleep-warm and aroused and hungry? How many times have they shared food, Tony watching Peter’s nose wrinkle up in distaste as he’d tried out some new weird-looking vegetable or piece of meat?

“Whoever can eat more of the red things gets first shower tomorrow,” Tony can remember challenging the kid one afternoon.

Peter had rolled his eyes - as if first shower mattered to either of them. But they’re both competitive by nature, polishing off their plates in record time and stealing food from each other’s plates to tip the scales one way or the other.

They’d spent the rest of the day arguing over who’d won.

They’d also spent the next morning together in the shower, Tony’s hands buried in Peter’s hair, Peter’s hands jacking Tony off, sweet and slow.

Tony swallows.

The memories aren’t going to just go away on their own; he knows that. But he needs some time for them to blur, just a little. Just enough that he can look at Peter’s sleep-tousled hair and not immediately remember running his fingers through it as he was fucking the kid.

FRIDAY tints the windows so the room is perfectly dark. Sleep is a long time coming.

 

*

 

Tony doesn’t wake up until well into late afternoon. He stumbles out of bed and splashes water on his face.

“Hey FRI, what’s the kid up to? Is he still in the training center?”

“No, boss. He’s in his usual spot.”

Well, at least there’s one thing that hasn’t changed.

“Was he... how is he?”

“I’m not sure. He’s been up there for a while. Would you like me to access - ”

“No,” he cuts her off before she can make the offer. “I’ll go up there myself. Let him know I’m on my way, will you?”

He opts for taking the stairs rather that suiting up.

It’s a nice day outside, a little windy up on the roof of the main residential building, but otherwise sunny and warm enough to be comfortable. Peter is fully suited up, sitting on top of one of the HVAC vent caps with his legs hanging down over the side.

“Hey kid.”

Peter glances back over his shoulder. “Hey.”

Tony steps up beside him. Half of him wants to ask Peter to take the mask off, the other half of him desperately needs it to stay on.

“So tell me if I’m way off base here, but this isn’t working, right?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Tony can see Peter’s shoulders slump inwards a bit, but he’s nodding.

“If you didn’t want me here you could’ve just said so,” Peter says. His voice sounds suspiciously thick.

Tony is glad he didn’t ask him to remove the mask after all. He doesn’t think he could face Peter, continue having this conversation if he had to look the kid straight in the eyes.

“Hey, it’s not like that, I want you here, okay? I’m just not sure it’s a good idea.”

“I thought - ”

“I know.”

“But I kissed you! We - ”

“I know, Pete. That’s why it’s not a good idea. At least not for a while.”

“For how long?”

Tony’s own words from another conversation  - seeming like a lifetime ago now, come back to haunt him. It won’t be forever. But it’ll probably feel that way, to Peter. Everything feels like forever, when you’re seventeen - whether it’s a first love or first heartbreak or a well-deserved grounding.

It occurs to Tony that this very well might feel like all three at once, for Peter.

He answers Peter’s question the only way he can.

“However long it takes, until we can be in the same room together and not - ”

And not what? Remember? Until Tony can look at the kid and not want to bury his face in his hair, run his hands over every inch of skin he can reach?

“I should - ” Peter takes a shaky breath in, “I should go. Can you call Happy and tell him I need to go?”

“Peter, it’s not - ”

“No, it’s okay. Really. I get it. I just want to go home. Please?”

As if Tony is going to say no. As if he even could.

“‘Course. Yeah. FRIDAY?”

“On it, boss.”

“Thanks,” Peter says. “I’m gonna go... Go get my stuff together.”

Peter slips down off of the HVAC unit, walking over to the edge of the roof and turning around to scale down. It’s a shortcut he’s used any number of times to get up and down from this spot; his bedroom window down a floor and just around the corner of the building.

Tony watches him go in silence.

 

*

 

Tony has never been one much for restraint - he’d never had any particular need for it.

But he does wait until he sees Happy’s car round the corner, passing through the front gate of the compound to take Peter home before he lets himself bust through FRIDAY’s security protocols to get into the liquor cabinet.

It’s something.

It’s also the longest twenty minutes of his life.

The better stuff is mostly gone - FRIDAY had only partially restocked him before he’d put everything on lockdown for Peter’s visit. But Peter wasn’t visiting any more, and wouldn’t be for the foreseeable future.

Tony has just decided to forego the rocks and take his next glass of whiskey neat when Happy calls to let him know the kid has been safely deposited back at his aunt’s apartment.

“What the hell happened with the kid?” Happy asks. “He looked like he was about to cry in my car. I don’t like it when people cry in my car.”

“Isn’t it technically my car?”

“No, you gave it to me as compensation for all the time I’ve had to spend ferrying the kid around between Queens and upstate every other weekend. Poor compensation, I might add.”

“In which case you’ll be glad to know he won’t be coming back up here for a while.”

“What? Why not?”

Because I can’t be trusted with him. The real answer sits like a lead weight on his tongue. Toxic.

“He needs some time to be a regular kid,” is what he actually says.

“Yeah but he’s not a regular kid,” Happy says, stopping momentarily to swear at another driver in traffic. “Last time we told him to go be a regular kid he ended up taking down a Quinjet over Coney Island in a onesie. Remembering that crash site still gives me agita, I’d prefer not to have a round two.”

“Me either. Keep an eye on him for me, would you?”

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I don’t have a super-suit like all the rest of your friends. Why aren’t you doing it?”

Tony wavers for a minute before ending the call. Happy calls back, but he ignores it.

Over the next several weeks, he ignores a lot of things.

 

*

 

It’s just his kind of shitty luck that this time Happy’s usual catastrophizing turns out to be right.

Tony isn’t asleep, but he’s not fully awake either, slumped on the couch in his private quarters with one hand loosely clasped around a mostly empty glass, which is resting on his knee. Lights are flashing somewhere, bright enough to hurt.

He winces, bringing his arm up to cover his eyes.

“FRI, wha’s…” he stops to clear his throat. “Whassat? Wha’s goin’ on?”

“Something you need to see, boss.”

“Righ’ now?”

“According to the baby monitor protocol, yes.”

It takes a few long seconds to connect ‘baby monitor’ with ‘Peter.’ The glass in his hand crashes to the floor.

Peter.

He pitches forward, digging the heels of his hands into his eyes. His head is pounding. He has no idea how long he’s been on the couch. No idea how long FRIDAY has been trying to get his attention.

The blue flashing lights haven’t stopped. He squints out from behind his palms, trying to focus on the screen, but it’s all flashing lights and chaos.

“FRIDAY, what am I looking at?”

“Live news coverage of a disturbance in Long Island City. Looks like some kind of attack on the city’s power grid.”

Which would explain all the flashing blue lightning currently playing on a loop on-screen, like a jackhammer to the skull.

“Peter?” he rasps.

“He made it out. Agents are already securing the site, and DODC response units have been dispatched for cleanup. Whatever this was, it fried a large portion of the city’s power relays. The damage is extensive.”

“Casualties?”

“No verified numbers yet, boss.”

There must have been some. Bolts of electricity had been careening over rooftops, down crowded city streets. Current aerial footage on one network shows half the borough has gone dark, along with a not-insignificant chunk of the East Village.

Two of the news broadcasts have blurry still captures of Peter, mid-air, one side of his mask thrown into sharp relief by a streak of blue lightning.

“Peter’s okay?” he has to ask again.

“Would you like me to access his suit logs?”

It’s probably a violation of the kid’s privacy. Tony doesn’t care.

“Yes, please.”

FRIDAY throws up two more holo-screens, one with suit data and another one with energy signatures and a profile of the suspect.

He goes for the suit data first. Peter’s heart rate is elevated, but steady. He’s making his way north. Back home.

Tony watches the footage of the attack from start to finish. Peter had been caught outmatched and unprepared, scrambling frantically from the start just to hold his ground. As far as Tony can tell, the nanites had acted as a kind of faraday cage, insulating Peter from the worst shocks of the lightning. Giving him a fighting chance.

“FRI, how come you’re just showing me this now?”

FRIDAY is uncharacteristically silent. It’s not like she’s programmed to actually be capable of resentment, but it feels like that nonetheless.

“I’ve been trying to wake you,” she says quietly.

Oh.

Tony pushes himself to his feet, sneakers crunching on the broken glass scattered across the floor. He flicks through the data on Max Dillon, tries to ignore the the way the room seems to shrink around him, constricting in until there’s not enough air left to breathe.

FRIDAY tries to get his attention, but her voice grows farther and farther away. He stumbles back from the screen, grabbing the arm of the couch as he goes down.

He doesn’t remember hitting the floor, but he wakes up to stinging pain in his cheek, his shoulder, his upper thigh. He sits upright, leaning back against the couch.

It’s light outside.

He feels mostly sober. Almost disappointingly so.

Plucking the glass out of his face and side takes an agonizingly long time, each piece falling into the sink with a delicate clink and accompanying splatter of blood.

He cleans himself up. Eats something - he’s not even sure what, only aware of the ache in his jaw as he chews, counterpoint to the raging headache he’s been fighting ever since he woke up on the floor.

He sweeps up the glass on the floor, doesn’t think about Peter bent over doing the same thing with a washcloth, back on another planet.

He pours every bottle of liquor he can find down the sink.

It’s an empty gesture at best. He can always buy more.

Probably will, at some point.

Tony has learned to - maybe not necessarily forgive, but at least accept a lot of things about himself. He can accept the things he did on the planet with Peter. They were both coerced. That had been the point Peter was trying to make, in his own way, back on the ship.

It’s the after that he can’t forgive. The Grandmaster hadn’t been pulling the strings when he’d stood there, unmoving, and let the kid kiss him. There was no Grandmaster to blame on the ship, when he’d fucked the kid.

There was, however, something the Grandmaster had left behind.

For the first time since arriving back on Earth, Tony enters the hangar bay where the ship is parked. He cracks open the hatch, stepping onto the ship he’s spent weeks now pretending to forget.

The bed looks every bit as damning as he’d imagined it would - the sheets still rumpled and torn, faintly stained in some spots. An open jar of lube tipped over on the floor, smelling of rosewood but less sweet.

He doesn’t stop to examine any of it. That’s not his goal.

The ship’s database can wait. He needs answers first - the kind that he’s only going to find in the bottom of a bottle.

A very specific bottle.

It’s a question he’s avoided until now; exactly how much culpability he bears for what happened on the ship.  Surely it doesn’t matter. Whatever the ultimate cause, the end result was the same.

Still.

He drops a minute sample into the mass spec and lets FRIDAY run with it. Five minutes later she’s presenting him with a full breakdown of the chemical structure.

“It’s an alcohol, boss, similar to a Swiss kirschwasser.”

She’s right. It’s a fairly high-proof liquor, sure.

It’s only a high-proof liquor. Not an aphrodisiac. Not ecstasy or LSD or any number of club drugs he’s had a passing familiarity with over the years.

He may have been drunk when he’d had sex with Peter, but he hadn’t been high.

The problem wasn’t a drink, or an unexpected kiss, or even the Grandmaster looming large in the back of his mind.

It was him.

Because even standing here now, stone-cold sober and completely alone, he can admit that he still wants Peter.

He wants to not have stood frozen in place when Peter had stretched up to kiss him, not three feet from where he’s standing right now. He wants to have remembered more clearly that first time - that only time - on the ship together.

He wants Peter not to have to doubt for a second that he’s welcome here, that he’s wanted here. More than anything, he wants Peter back.

 

Chapter Text

Ross keeps calling.

Sometimes Tony takes the call, sometimes he doesn’t. Depends on the day.

He’s got better things to do.

There’s a whole ship’s database worth of information to play with, something he hasn’t spent nearly enough time on yet, considering the global - hell, universal implications. He manages to mock-up a fairly decent translator of his own, after two solid days spent studying Peter’s deactivated chip and his own still-live one. That done, he cuts out his own chip with a scalpel and a carefully angled mirror.

If Vision notices the newly-applied bandage on his neck or the still-healing scratches on his face, he doesn’t comment on it.

Tony doesn’t comment on Vision’s random appearances and disappearances, so he figures they’re about even. Sort of.

Ross isn’t the only one who keeps calling though. May Parker has been calling as well. Not quite as often as Ross, but just as persistent.

Tony doesn’t take those calls.

He should have figured that ignoring her wouldn’t be a workable long-term strategy, because three days into his newly-sober life FRIDAY announces that May’s old junker of a car is idling at the compound’s front gate.

FRIDAY pulls up a live video feed of the gate. The passenger seat of the car is empty. Apparently she came alone. Of course she came alone; it’s a weekday. Peter is in school. With his peers, where he should be.

Right about now would be a great time for a drink. Instead, Tony takes a deep breath, scrubbing a hand through his hair.

“Let her in,” he tells FRIDAY.

He wipes his hands on a rag and heads down to meet her in the main living area. Based on the smattering of voicemails he’s forced himself to listen to, he’s fairly certain she doesn’t know about Sakaar. She’d sounded annoyed, and frustrated too, but not enraged.

“Well, I can see why Peter likes coming up here,” May says, before Tony can open his mouth to greet her.

She glances around, seeming reluctantly impressed. It’s a nice enough place Tony has to concede. The sheer amount of space and creature comforts packed in probably seem like overkill for just one person - or one person and sometimes an android, but then again, the compound had been designed with a lot more occupants in mind.

May’s focus settles back on Tony.

“May, it’s great to see you,” Tony says, mostly on autopilot. “Can I get you something to drink? I hope the drive up wasn’t too - ”

“The drive up sucked, but you didn’t give me much of a choice, did you? You tell Peter his internship is over out of the blue, and then you ignore my calls for two weeks?”

“You know, I haven’t really - ” Tony starts. Wait, over?

“Cut the crap, okay. I don’t care how busy you’ve been, I’m busy too. You think I wanted to call off work today so I could drive up here to try to get some answers? No. But I’ve got a kid who’s freaking me out, and he comes first. Always. That’s what being a responsible adult is,” she adds, with no small measure of judgment.

“His internship isn’t over. He’s just - I thought he needed a break.” From me. “From all the superhero stuff.”

“You’re right, he does need a break,” she says. “You know what he’s been doing instead? Swinging down Jackson Avenue, getting electrocuted trying to stop some psycho who wants to blow up the city. While you’re up here doing... what, exactly?”

It’s not often that Tony is caught at a loss for words. It’s not just that Tony doesn’t have a good answer for her - he doesn’t have any answers for her.

“I should’ve been there,” he says, swallowing hard.

“Yeah, you should’ve,” she agrees. May seems to deflate at his admission. When she speaks again, there’s a desperate edge to her voice. “You know, I never dreamed of being a parent. I always figured people who do probably have some kind of… plan, or something. They know what they’re doing, or at least they think they do, going in.

“You know Peter was four when we - when he lost his parents. And Ben and I had no idea what we were doing, but we figured it out. And then we lost Ben, and Peter and I figured that out too. But this stuff,” she gestures around at the compound, “they don’t write parenting books about how to deal with this. There’s no advice column, no parents-of-teenage-superhero support group I can go to, to ask how the hell I can tell my kid he has to stick to his curfew when him breaking it every night could literally mean saving someone’s life.”

“What did you tell him?” Tony asks.

“That he’s not personally responsible for every single thing that happens in this city. That people like cops and EMTs and firefighters exist for a reason.”

“Did it work?”

She gives him a flat look. “He was out at 11pm on a school night when that nutcase tried to attack the city’s power grid. How well do you think it worked?”

Right.

“It’s not that I don’t want him out there, doing what he does - that’s a lie. I don’t care if he’s got superpowers, I want him home, safe, doing his homework and building computers out of stuff he finds in the garbage because he thinks that’s fun, like he used to. But that’s not what he wants anymore. And one of these days I know I’m going to find out from the news that my kid is hurt, or - ”

She stops.

“I won’t let that happen,” Tony promises, hoping she won’t be able to make out the full depth of his desperation as he says it.

“You won’t be able to stop it.”

And she’s right - lying isn’t going to get either of them anywhere.

“Listen, I can’t promise you that he’ll never get hurt, okay? But I can promise you that I’ll do everything in my not-insignificant power to keep him safe. He’s a strong kid, and he’s smart. Nothing is ever going to be a hundred-percent safe, but he’s got a whole lot going for him there. A lot more than I did, when I started out.”

May eyes him for a long moment. “That last part isn’t as reassuring as you seem to think it is.”

“Yeah, well. I’m still here, aren’t I?”

On second thought, it probably doesn’t say much for Tony’s qualifications as a mentor that top of the list is ‘still alive, somehow.’ Based on the look he’s getting from May, she’s probably thinking something along the same lines.

The thing is, there isn’t anyone else who can do this, and they both know it.

Cap might’ve worked out well, or maybe Sam, if they both weren’t currently on the run from the law. Natasha and Wanda are also on the run, Clint is on house arrest, Banner is MIA. Rhodey’s split between the Pentagon and Vienna, trying to salvage and fix what’s left of the Accords; he’s rarely ever in New York.

There’s no one else left.

Any number of candidates on that list might have been better, healthier mentor-figures for Peter... but they aren’t around to do it.

Tony’s jaw clenches at the thought. Sure, Peter wouldn’t get the kind of lab time he gets with Tony if he was working with Rogers instead, but he’d probably get a lot more of the other stuff - the harder stuff.  How to make the tough choices, how to cope with a mission gone wrong. How to deal with being a person, when the mask comes off at the end of the day.

But the other thing is, Rogers wouldn’t have brought Peter back from Sakaar. He wouldn’t have made the kinds of choices Tony had to keep the kid safe, to play the long game until they could escape.

He’s willing to bet most of the others wouldn’t have done it either.

“So I can tell him his internship isn’t over?” May asks.

Tony swallows, drags his attention back to the conversation at hand. “It’s his for as long as he wants it. If he wants it. Door’s always open.”

“You know, I honestly don’t know if I should feel relieved or be pissed at you for that.”

“When you figure it out, let me know.”

May sees herself out.

Tony stays standing in the living area as if stuck in place for a long time after she’s gone. It’s not entirely cowardice that’s kept him from calling Peter.

Surely the kid deserves some space. Time to let the aftershocks of Sakaar settle, let the scabs heal over; time to let both of them remember what it’s like to exist outside one another’s orbit, the way they hadn’t been able to for so long.

Tony has spent what felt like weeks (was, was weeks) no more than ten steps away from the kid at all times, hyperaware of his every move, every word, and what had felt, sometimes, like his every thought.

He knows it’s not healthy, just like it’s probably not healthy that he’s got the trackers on the kid’s wristbands activated, knows where he is every minute of the day.

It might be an invasion of privacy, but it’s one he can live with; one he’s not entirely sure he can live without.

 

*

 

In what must be a karmic twist of fate when he does call, Peter sends him to voicemail.

Just wanted to check in, see how the new suit was holding up. Good job with that thing in Long Island City, by the way. I saw it on the news.

A pause.

Sorry I wasn’t there.

You didn’t need me there anyway, you handled it like a pro. Of course you did, you’re Spider-Man. Anyway, good job.

Another pause.

Your aunt stopped by. She’s worried about you.

Tony stares down at the phone. Considers telling FRIDAY to delete the message, but decides against it.

There’s nothing in there that the kid doesn’t have every right to hear.

 

*

 

Tony spends his nights digging through the ship’s harddrive - sitting in the pilot’s chair, Peter’s chair, in the cockpit.

Planetary coordinates, environmental and gravitational data, an entire library worth of information on black holes and hyperspace that Tony absorbs with a kind of numb acceptance - pieces of trivia and factoids slipping into place among the morass of what-used-to-be theory like they’d always belonged there.

The thing is, there’s too much data on the ship’s hard drive. Text and numbers and vector graphics only take up so much memory, and that’s the bulk of what he’s found so far. It doesn’t account for the sheer size of the thing as a whole.

Tony frowns at the display.

“FRIDAY, give me a data map. I wanna see the file structure of this thing.”

FRIDAY pulls up a display, and yep - there’s a huge cache that has nothing to do with the flight mapping or navigation system or any one of the other hundreds of data points he’d been flitting between in his search for understanding.

“It’s an audiovisual display, boss.”

“Can you show me?”

“The ship is equipped with projection hardware in the rear compartment.”

There’s no reason he has to go back there to watch; he could just have FRIDAY analyze the data, give him a breakdown that’s little more than facts and figures. He’s not sure which specific self-destructive instinct drives him towards the back instead, sliding the door open and stepping into the room that still, he imagines, smells faintly of sex and liquor.

The display flickers to life one small piece at a time, a full-color hologram that expands to encompass the entire room - showing him another room, on another planet.

What he should do is tell FRIDAY to kill the feed, the moment he realizes what it is.

But he doesn’t.

Because it’s their room.

With them in it.

Peter is showering over in one corner, and Tony - Tony almost doesn’t recognize himself, seated at the little table, facing away from the shower, futzing around with what must be pieces of the smashed-up camera.

The layout of the rear compartment doesn’t quite line up; the head of their bed had been against one wall, the bed on the ship is right in the middle; the shower in the cell had been tucked into a corner, rather than inset into the middle of the wall.

He can’t remember this specific morning, not out of all the others, but he’s willing to bet the camera pieces he can see himself messing around with are just a convenient distraction; something to play with so he can pretend to give Peter some privacy.

Tony finds himself, now, with that same urge.

Except, nothing he does now is going to have any impact on how Peter felt then, in that moment.

Peter, in that moment, despite knowing that the cameras were everywhere, at least had the security of knowing that Tony wasn’t watching him.

But something about that very thought renders Tony completely unable to look away. It’s the observer effect in action. For all the time they’ve spent living in one another’s space, Tony has never seen how Peter acts when he thinks Tony isn’t watching.

And Peter seems to be very much aware of what Tony is and isn’t watching; the kid keeps glancing over at where he’s sitting.

He can see the way Peter’s jaw clenches when he reaches down, lifting his half-hard cock out of the way with one hand so he can quickly wash his balls with the other. Tony can see the way Peter’s cock twitches in his hand, the way he closes his eyes for a few seconds after that, visibly trying to claw back some control.

Tony leans against the wall of the compartment, hands stuffed in his pockets to stop himself from reaching out.

“You’re making things way harder on yourself than they need to be, kid. I wouldn’t have judged you for jacking off in the shower,” he says out loud, as if Peter might hear him.

But obviously he can’t.

Peter finishes up in the shower, stands shivering between the air blowers until he’s half-dry before shutting them off and heading over to sit on the end of the bed, facing the table. He leans back on his hands, one ankle hooked under the opposite knee. A carefully orchestrated display of ease.

“So it’s the battery, right?” Peter asks.

“Must be, yeah,” Tony watches himself reply.

The projection of Tony holds up the cracked crystal thing, turning it over in his hands. He’s pretty sure by that point that he’d already known they needed a working battery, Tony remembers. What he hadn’t known yet was how to get one - a functioning one, that was.

He’d considered breaking another camera, but if they did that then there was still no guarantee the crystal thing produced electrical energy in a way that was usable for an EMP. It hadn’t been worth the risk, especially with no way of knowing what the Grandmaster would demand in recompense.

Tony had spent days trying to work it out, although it was somewhat like boxing with both arms tied behind his back; the only test subject he had was broken, and even if it was functioning he didn’t have the resources necessary to run any kind of tests on it, figure out what made it tick.

“What if I - ” Peter starts.

“No.”

“But I could probably do it without breaking anything!”

“Doesn’t matter.”

Tony sets the crystal back on the table, leaning back in his seat with pursed lips. Peter is still watching him, his expression shifting between nervous and hopeful and worried in a way that aches to witness.

He watches himself pick up a half-empty mug from the table, swirling the dark liquid around for a second before downing the rest of it, wincing at the taste. The not-coffee had always been awful when it was cold.

“FRIDAY, cut the feed,” Tony says, far too late.

The image of Peter flickers and dissolves in front of him.

 

*

 

Peter calls him the next day. Tony is working in the lab; doesn’t get to the phone in time. Possibly on purpose.

They play phone tag the rest of the week.

There’s a certain safety in it - in making the call, knowing that the other person will do you the same courtesy you did them by not picking up.

The kid talks about Dillon, some stuff Tony’s already figured out from the news reports and his own sources, other things that Peter had noted during the fight, from up close. He thanks Tony for the remote updates to his AI - a few minor software patches, just buffing out the rough edges of the tech from a safe distance.

Tony calls back the next day. He talks about nanite tech, and wormholes, and the improvements to Rhodey’s prosthetics.

And says nothing at all about the ship, or Sakaar, or the recordings he’s found.

 

*

 

May said I could come back. To the internship. If I - if I wanted to, Peter says in one message.

I’m sorry she went all the way up there. I didn’t know she was gonna do that or I would’ve told her not to.

Yeah, as if she would’ve listened, Tony thinks. As if you could’ve stopped her with anything short of heavy physical restraints.

But I just wanted to say that it’s okay if, you know, if you don’t want me to. I get it. I can tell May - I don’t know. I’ll tell her something.

You don’t have to worry about it, Mr. Stark.

He does worry about it, though.

He worries that Peter is lying to his aunt - to protect Tony, to pretend everything is still normal. He worries that May is going to show up at his door again, not exhausted and frustrated this time, but blazing with righteous fury.

Mostly though, he worries that Peter has been unceremoniously dropped back into his old life, catching bike thieves and stopping would-be muggers and possibly panicking at the thought that at any moment he could be stolen away to another planet with no easy way to get himself home.

Or those are the kinds of thoughts that keep Tony up at night, at least. Heart racing, the tracker on Peter’s wristbands constantly activated, reassuring him that the kid is right where he should be. It’s not the same as having the kid right there in front of him, but it’s a close second. A safe second.

It doesn’t feel like enough.

I wasn’t lying when I told May the door was always open Come by whenever you want to

Only if you want to though

Within minutes, he can see that Peter’s typing. Then it stops. Clears. Starts again.

The kid doesn’t answer him that night. Or the next.

It’s another three days before Peter replies. Tony pauses, one arm held up in front of him, tracking the (still too damn slow) formation of a nanite glove around his hand as he reads.

I want to

But I think you were right it’s probably not a good idea

Tony doesn’t stop to think before he’s calling the kid. This time, Peter breaks protocol. The line has barely started to ring before Peter picks up.

“Mr. Stark?”

“Listen, when I said it wasn’t a good idea, I didn’t mean that we couldn’t figure out a way to - ”

“I know.”

Silence.

This is it right here, the reason why they’d both been opting for voicemail.

“You’ve been spending a lot of time out patrolling, lately,” Tony says. “Not that I doubt the residents of Queens don’t appreciate the extra security, but is May okay with that?”

“Um, yeah she’s fine with it. Wait - you’ve been tracking me?”

Tony swallows. Whoops.

“Just in case. I kinda made a promise to your Aunt that I wouldn’t leave you hanging again, fighting a supervillian on your own.”

“You said I handled that Dillon guy like a professional!”

“Yes, and you did. But that one made the news, kid. May had to watch you getting thrown into buildings and electrocuted on live television. That sort of thing’s not good for her blood pressure.” Or mine, for that matter.

There’s a heavy sigh on the other end of the line. “Yeah.”

“So, think you can cut back on the hours in the suit, just a little bit?”

“I - yeah, I can. It’s just - ” Peter stops.

“Just what?”

“It’s kind of hard to sleep since we came back, you know?”

“Nightmares?” Tony has to force himself to ask. He’d be lying if he said he hasn’t had a few of his own lately - new ones, as opposed to the old standbys. Peter, stranded alone on Sakaar.  Or worse, Peter not alone on Sakaar, but not with Tony either.

“No, not exactly,” Peter says. “It’s stupid.”

“You’re talking to someone who has literal decades-worth of stupid under his belt. Being stupid is pretty much the only way you can learn to get smarter. Hit me with it, kid.”

“No really, it’s fine.”

“You can either tell me, or you can tell May. Not talking isn’t an option here.”

There’s a long pause on the other end of the line.

“It’s just - how it sounds. At night. I know I just have to get used to it, but it’s like every time I get close to falling asleep I forget where I am, and then I’m wide awake again.”

Tony is caught off-guard by the admission.  If anything, he would’ve guessed the sounds of home would have the opposite effect, helping to keep Peter grounded, comforted by familiar surroundings.

“Earplugs? Music? Audiobook of the Old Man and the Sea?” Tony throws out, rapid fire.

“Earplugs just made it worse, music didn’t really help, and I haven’t tried that last one but it seems kind of weirdly specific?”

“Okay so, process of elimination. What else was different on the planet? You seemed to sleep okay there.”

The moment he says it he wishes he hadn’t, because the answer is obvious.

“You were there.”

Fuck.

“I was pretty freaked out, sometimes, back on the planet,” Peter says in a rush to explain, as if it’s some kind of confession. As if being afraid were some kind of personal shortcoming. “But you were always right there, and I knew you had a plan to get us out, and as long as we stuck together we’d be okay. So I’d, um. I’d fall asleep listening to you. To your heartbeat.

“Sorry, that’s creepy right? I wasn’t trying to be creepy about it,” Peter barrels onward. “It’s just - I guess I got used to, you know, and we were always together. And I was scared that something would happen, that we wouldn’t make it back - ”

Fuck fuck fuck.

“- but we did, so I know I shouldn’t still be thinking about it all the time, but I can’t stop. I tried to focus on May instead, but sometimes she has late shifts and anyway it doesn’t work the same,” he finishes, sounding perfectly miserable.

Tony feels like he may have stopped breathing at some point, unintentionally. He makes a concentrated effort to breathe normally, ignoring the edges of the panic attack threatening to take hold. Knowing that Peter can probably hear it all over the phone doesn’t make it any easier.

“Kid.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry. It’s okay. It’s - ” What, exactly? Flattering? Terrifying? Invasive? “ - totally normal, to feel like that. To have trouble. Don’t apologize.”

“Okay. Sorry.”

Tony chooses to ignore that last one in favor of forging on. “Can you hear it? I mean right now, over the phone?”

“...Yeah. Not super well though..”

Tony lowers his phone down to his chest, so the mic is resting just above the housing unit for his suit.  “How about now?”

“That’s - yeah. That’s better.” Peter’s voice is slightly muffled, but clear enough.

“Good. Then go to sleep.”

“Wait, really? Are you gonna -”

“Weird, that sounds a whole lot like talking and not like sleeping.”

“Sorry, yeah. Okay,” Peter says. There’s a faint rustle of sheets on the other end. Then, so quietly he almost misses it, “Thanks, Mr. Stark.”

“G’night, kid.”

 

*

 

Tony wakes up the next morning drooling on his pillow, with a dead phone tucked half-under his ribcage. He sets the phone aside to re-charge and goes to take a shower. When he gets back, there’s a text from Peter waiting.

Thank you

Tony shoots back a quick, Any time. Then a few seconds later, I mean that.

He’s not sure what he expected, but Peter doesn’t call him that night. Or the next.

On the third night, he calls Peter instead. Peter picks up after a few rings, sounding undeniably groggy. Shit.

“If I woke you up, this is all going to feel very Gift of the Magi. Please tell me you weren’t asleep just now.”

“I wasn’t asleep, I was doing homework,” Peter says, yawning. “Hey - am I the wife with the hair or the guy with the watch in this scenario?”

“Preferably neither,” Tony replies, already regretting the reference.

“Oh, okay.”

“Just so we’re clear, when I said any time, I meant any time. Have you slept at all since Thursday?”

“Have you?”

“Touché.”

“Seriously, Mr. Stark. I don’t want to bother you every night with that. Besides, I probably need to get used to sleeping on my own anyway, right?”

No you don’t.

It sits on the tip of Tony’s tongue. He manages not to say it out loud only because it very much isn’t true; Tony can’t just move the kid upstate so they can share a bed for the remainder of their lives.

Well, he probably could. He has the pull to make it happen, regardless of May’s objections, if he wanted.

But he shouldn’t, is the point. Something about healthy relationships and boundaries.

He’s pretty sure he’s had this conversation with Pepper multiple times. Hell, he’s pretty sure he’s had this conversation with Rhodey at least three times in recent memory. He’s never quite managed to have it with Peter, though - Tony usually has to rely on other people to initiate that sort of thing, and Peter is too young to realize he’s supposed to.

Well, until now at least - if that’s what this is. Tony clears his throat. Tries to think of a reasonable alternative.

“Would a recording help? Just so it’s there if you need it?”

“Maybe?”

There’s not a whole lot of confidence in Peter’s voice. Tony makes his way over to the other side of the lab, rucking his shirt up so he can affix a small sensor to his chest.

“How about we give that a try some other night. For tonight - FRIDAY?”

Tony can hear the exact moment the mic starts transmitting thanks to Peter’s sharp inhale.

Woah, that’s - ”

“Better sound quality than the phone mic, right?”

“Definitely.”

“Good.”

If they keep doing this, they’ll have to come up with a hardware solution for Peter’s end too - the quality of the mic on Tony’s end can only help to a point, if the speakers weren’t on par. Tony opts not to mention that; Peter is already feeling antsy about this not being a permanent solution, he doesn’t want to make the kid think he’s already planning for the long haul with this little trick.

Tony lets his shirt fall back down over his chest and stomach.

“Get some sleep, kid.”

Peter yawns again, as if on cue. “O-okay. Thanks again, Mr. Stark.”

“Don’t thank me, just go to bed.”

There’s the soft thud of a textbook being shut, then the rustle of sheets as Peter climbs into bed. Tony doesn’t let himself picture it.

Boundaries, he thinks. Healthy boundaries.

With that in mind, he mutes the call. FRIDAY will keep broadcasting the signal from the mic, but at least this way Tony won’t be listening to the kid sleep - as nice as that had been, three nights ago.

He continues working for a while, but every time he starts to get wrapped up in a project he finds himself stopping, stalling, wondering if the adrenaline jolt he gets from the minor successes and failures is causing a coinciding spike in his heart rate. Any other night and he might burn off some energy with exercise, or jerking off, both of which would raise his heart rate and so neither of which are options unless he wants to risk waking Peter up or freaking the kid out.

Tony sighs, hands resting in his lap. The workshop is a mess, bits and pieces of tech scattered around, half-finished projects covering what seems like every horizontal surface. His eyes are dry and itching, back aching from too many hours spent sitting on a lab stool.

Maybe he should go to sleep too.

 

*

 

“My favorite thing to do with Peter?” Tony watches the projection of himself say.

“Let’s see, probably working in the lab with him. It’s been a while since I’ve had someone I could bounce ideas off of like that. Plus, Peter’s got a knack for the biochem stuff that’s never really been my thing. It’s all a little too squishy for me.”

At the time, his answer had felt a lot like defiance.

Tony had known damn well it wasn’t the sort of answer their adoring fans were looking for - praising Peter’s intelligence instead of his body. Now though, watching the ship’s projected footage, he can see a flicker of something on Peter’s face.

It’s gone in an instant. A flash of disappointment, quickly covered.

Peter is sitting on his lap, one of Tony’s arms looped low across his hips, covering Peter’s groin from the view of the cameras. That too, had felt like defiance. Tiny, and ultimately meaningless given everything else the cameras had dutifully recorded both before and after that moment, but defiance nonetheless.

Looking at it now, though, it’s… intimate. Peter is leaning back against him, one of his arms resting on top of Tony’s. Peter shifts slightly, rolling one shoulder as if to stretch. Tony watches his own arm tighten reflexively around Peter, pulling him closer, his hand splayed out over Peter’s hip.

“Alright, you’re up kid. Next one’s yours.”

“The next one is just what my favorite thing to do with you is. Um, same thing. The lab.” But Peter is blushing from the tips of his ears down to his neck, something which Tony hadn’t been in a position to notice or appreciate at the time. He wonders what the kid would’ve said just then, if he’d actually been telling the the truth.

This isn’t why Tony had come down here, back to the ship, although he struggles now to remember why exactly that’d been.

“Your turn,” Peter says.

Tony doesn’t remember the questions that had scrolled by on the screen in that moment, but he can remember the way Peter’s breathing had hitched on reading a few of them. He can see it now in the way his own eyes narrow in the direction of the screen.

“Yeah, I’m calling ex-nay on any more questions for now. Hey, you know how to play poker?”

Peter shakes his head, frowning. “I know Gin Rummy and Go Fish. We don’t have cards though.”

“We have paper.”

“Oh, duh.”

 

*

 

Peter calls more regularly after that. Not every night, but most nights.

It becomes almost routine.

“Hey kid, how’s Queens?”

“Pretty quiet tonight,” Peter will say. Or maybe, “Oh my god, you would not believe what happened, I was over by - ” and then rattle on for another ten minutes.

Listening to the kid go all hyperverbal probably shouldn’t have such a calming effect on Tony’s mood, but it does.

Peter is out there, doing exactly the kinds of things he should be doing. Friendly neighborhood spider-kid stuff. It eases the knot in Tony’s gut, the one that tightens every time he hits another wall with speeding up the nano tech activation, or every time he wakes up just a little too slowly, reaching out half-conscious and wondering where Peter is; why the bed next to him is empty.

Tony doesn’t bring up the possibility of using a recording again, and Peter doesn’t ask.

Eventually Peter will yawn, or get to a point where he can’t think of more to say, or Tony will cut in with, “You going to bed?”

“Yeah.”

“‘Kay. G’night,” Tony will say, and give FRIDAY the signal to mute the speakers and activate the mic.

Except tonight the kid throws him for a loop.

“So I was thinking - ”

“Uh oh.”

“Shut up. Sorry, that was rude, I didn’t mean that. But I was wondering if I could come up to the compound this weekend?”

“Of course.”

“Will you be there?” There’s an odd sort of lilt to the question, as if Peter suspects that Tony’s quick acceptance is evidence of some kind of trick.

“I basically live here, so yes, I’ll be here.” But that’s not what Peter is asking, Tony realizes. “We can take another look at the nanite thing together, if you want?”

“Yes,” Peter says, a little too eagerly.

“Great. I’ll send Happy to pick you up.”

“Awesome! I mean, thanks.”

“Don’t mention it. You want me to - ?” he trails off.

“Yeah. If that’s - if it’s okay?”

“I wouldn’t offer if it wasn’t okay,” Tony says, switching over to the contact mic.

The phone is already muted, so if Peter replies Tony doesn’t hear it.

If there’s an advantage to broadcasting his heartbeat to the kid every night, it’s that Tony can’t (or won’t) do much else. He’ll work for a while longer, sometimes, but eventually he’ll throw in the towel and go to bed himself. So the upshot of their weird little insomnia fix for Peter is that Tony finds himself sticking to a more regular-ish sleep schedule too, by default.

The other unintended consequence is that, by necessity, Tony only gets himself off during daylight hours.

There’s a line that he draws mentally, separating day from night. Nighttime is for the Peter that’s here and now; the one that can’t sleep without a steady reminder that Tony is nearby, that they made it off the planet, that he isn’t alone.

But during the day, Tony gives himself permission to visit the Peter that still exists on the ship.

He tells himself it’s not always about sex.

He watches Peter waking up in the room for the first time; Tony still unconscious beside him. Sees the way the kid’s hands clench in the sheets, looking around the room in a disoriented panic.

Peter shakes his shoulder, hard, but Tony is out cold. He watches the kid’s hand slide down from his shoulder to the center of his chest, calming almost imperceptibly at what Tony assumes is the feel of a steady heartbeat against his palm.

He watches Peter move to get out of the bed, then stop. He glances back at Tony’s unconscious form, then around the room, only sliding out of the bed when he seems assured no one is watching.

Oh, kid.

Peter examines the room methodically, constantly glancing back at Tony for any sign of movement. He bangs on the compartment door, shouting for help, for answers.

He gets none.

He runs his fingers around the edges of the door, seems to consider prying it open with his bare hands. But he looks down at his naked body, then over at Tony, and must decide against it.

Eventually he makes his way back over to the bed, slipping under the sheet and pulling his knees up to his chest.

Tony watches that first conversation with the Grandmaster, the one he hadn’t been awake for.

It’s short, and just as uninformative as Tony would have guessed.

“Listen dude, I don’t know who you are and I don’t care, but you picked the wrong people to mess with,” Peter says, chin tipped up in defiance.

“Oh! Well, maybe,” the Grandmaster replies, grinning. “But I didn’t so much pick you as you fell into my lap, and I mean that figuratively. If we’re talking literally, here, you fell into a pile of old Xandarian carburetors.”

Peter’s eyes narrow. “Whatever that means.”

“Anyway, we’ll save the introductions for when your friend wakes up, since you know I hate having to repeat myself. No, I guess you wouldn’t know that yet… but now you do. I hate having to repeat myself.”

Tony skips ahead.

He watches Peter, bed sheet wrapped around his middle and eyes shut tight, trying not to react as he listens to Tony jerk off. He watches Peter laying dead-still that first night, pretending to sleep for hours before he’s able to actually drop off.

Tony watches Peter wake up the next morning with bleary-eyes and sleep tousled-hair, freezing in place when he hears the distinctive slap of wet skin against wet skin; Tony, just a few steps away, getting himself off in the shower.

Peter closes his eyes. Shifts on the bed uncomfortably, spreading his legs under the sheet, presumably to ease the ache as his cock begins to harden. It would have been barely noticeable to anyone who wasn’t looking for it.

But Tony was looking for it, this time.

Peter had been awake, the little shit. Awake and listening. Of course he’d been awake; his finely turned senses snapping him to attention probably the very moment Tony had slipped out of the bed.

Of course, Tony doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on to accuse the kid of voyeurism, not when he’s kneeling on the circular bed of the ship, one hand lazily cupping himself through his pants as he watches Peter pretend to sleep. On the other side of the room, Tony hears himself let out a stuttered breath, watches his shoulders tighten and then slump in relief, his come splattering against the shower wall.

Peter must forget himself a moment later, one hand trailing down to cup his own cock through the sheet, letting out a barely audible moan. There’s a split second of delay before he remembers himself; hand freezing in place, eyes shooting open.

Tony abandons all pretense, fumbling open his fly and shoving his pants and boxers down just far enough that he can close his fist around himself. “Now might be a good time, if you want to get it over with,” he hears himself saying. Then, “You remember what you were dreaming about?”

Peter’s eyes are shut, and he’s blushing fiercely. Of course he is. He hadn’t been dreaming at all, he’d been listening.

Tony watches himself pull the sheet down, matches his strokes to the pace Peter sets for both of them. Peter doesn’t last nearly long enough for Tony’s purposes, but that’s fine, because barely a few minutes later he’s rutting against Tony’s hip.

Tony may only have a foggy memory of what that had felt like to go on, but from his position now he has the advantage of seeing what their ever-present audience would’ve seen; the sinuous lines of Peter’s naked back, the half-elegant, half-desperate roll of Peter’s hips, the way his ass clenches and relaxes with each successive thrust.

It’s a good view. A very good view.

Tony comes just moments before Peter does.

His legs are aching from kneeling for so long, come streaking his pants and boxers, and coating his hand. He watches, almost numb, frozen in place as his own hands gentle Peter through the aftershocks. They trace along his side, dip down to rub small circles against his hip, then back up to scratch lightly through his hair.

Peter shivers against him, his face tucked down against Tony’s ribs.

Lucky bastard, Tony thinks.

 

Chapter Text

The problem with his daytime sojourns over to the ship is that Tony can’t entirely control his reaction when he finally sees the kid in the flesh the very next afternoon.

He’s a fucking idiot like that, sometimes.

Peter looks no different than he would any other weekend, which is to say - exactly how he should look: t-shirt and jeans both a little rumpled from being in class all day, backpack slung across his shoulders, overnight bag clasped loosely in one hand. His expression is caught somewhere between anxious and hopeful and Tony has to quash the instinct to reach out, run his hand down the kid’s back to ease his nerves.

Happy is busy bitching about something - the traffic, or Peter’s (totally wrong. I’m telling you Tony, I have serious questions about the kid’s judgement) opinions on pro sports. Tony isn’t really paying much attention.

Peter is standing there flat-footed, like a deer caught in headlights, at least until he scowls at something Happy says and dives right back into whatever argument must have arose on the car ride up.

“- totally irrelevant, besides nineteen of those titles were before they even - ”

“Sorry kid, but the numbers don’t lie. If your team needs to be graded on a curve, then maybe they aren’t so great, is all I’m saying,” Happy fires back.

“As entertaining as this is,” Tony interrupts, “it’s also giving me a migraine. Peter, I’m sorry the Mets haven’t won more Championships. Happy, stop picking fights with the kid for chrissake. Win or lose, it’s not gonna be a great look for you.”

The two glare at each other, but at least they’ve stopped bickering.

For the moment.

Tony never actually thought there’d be a day when he’d be the adult in the room. He’s vaguely irritated by the idea.

“Pete, why don’t you go drop your stuff off and then meet me down in the lab?”

Peter heads off towards the private quarters area of the compound with a huff. Happy waits until he’s out of sight before he looks at Tony, irritated but fond in a way Tony is all too familiar with.

He points after Peter. “He’s a little punk.”

“I heard that!”

“Yeah, thanks for proving my point,” Happy yells back.

Happy waits another minute to be sure the kid is actually out of hearing range before he speaks again.

“Everything’s okay with him, right?”

“He’s fine,” Tony is quick to reply.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Happy knows him too well to buy it.

“I’m just saying, if you’re gonna send the kid home all verklempt again, you can drive him back yourself. I don’t know how to deal with kids. You don’t know how to deal with kids either, by the way. This whole mentorship thing is a terrible idea.”

The thing is, Happy’s not wrong.

Tony can’t exactly promise him that everything won’t go to shit this weekend. Or - hell, it might go to shit in the next fifteen minutes, if Tony can’t manage to get the image of his own hand wrapped around Peter’s cock out of his head long enough to even pretend to be focused on the nanotech programming they’re supposed to work on.

“I won’t make you drive him home, scout’s honor,” is what Tony says.

Happy shifts on his feet, like he wants to leave but isn’t sure if he should.

“Should I be worried about this? You two aren’t acting all weird because you’re about to invent some kind of nightmare techo-thing that’s gonna kill everybody, are you?”

“Not on purpose,” Tony replies, honestly.

“That’s very reassuring, thank you for that. I’m sure my cardiologist will want to thank you for that too.”

“Seriously, Happy, you worry too much. All we’re gonna do is work in the lab a little bit. At some point I’ll feed him a happy meal, and he’ll be home on Sunday in time for dinner. It’ll be fine.”

Tony isn’t entirely sure who he’s trying to convince more by the end, Happy or himself.

“You know you have to feed him more than just once in two days, right?”

“Goodbye, Happy.”

“I’m just saying, the time before last he acted like he hadn’t eaten in days,” Happy says, even as Tony not-so-subtly ushers him towards the door. “You gotta feed him while he’s here. I don’t want him getting his greasy french fry fingerprints all over my leather seats again.”

Tony doesn’t much appreciate the implication that he’s a completely incompetent caregiver, but he does appreciate that it’s probably as close as Happy is going to get to showing open concern for the kid.

In a perfect world, Tony would take his time heading downstairs. Maybe mix up a drink first.

As it is, the last thing he wants to do is make the kid feel he’s avoiding him again, or be anywhere in the vicinity of the kid with his inhibitions lowered. He heads downstairs.

He finds Peter already in the lab, perched on a lab stool, bobbing his head a little in time with music playing over the speakers.

“Hey kid. How’s Queens?”

Peter shrugs, gives a noncommittal answer about school being boring, no real updates since they’d talked last night. The routine of it helps. Makes it a little easier to pretend everything is normal.

He’s still wearing the nanotech wristbands, although they’re mostly obscured by the sleeves of his flannel shirt.

“New suit still working out okay?”

“Yeah. It’s awesome, by the way. I know you think the activation still needs work, but seriously, it’s already so much faster than putting on my old one.”

“Good. Not good enough, yet. But good for now.”

It almost feels normal.

And it should - before Sakaar, they’d spent what probably amounted to hundreds of hours working in the lab together, all told; there’s an easy flow to the ideas and alterations and quick three-dimensional sketches they toss back and forth at each other like it’s a volleyball match.

It’s been entirely too long since they’ve done this, really sat down and spent hours lost in it, the thrill of discovery, the sometimes even bigger thrill of realizing they both have something completely wrong.

Which is something Tony tries hard to remember when the most recent nanite simulation fails in spectacular fashion. Peter watches the display with both hands cupped over his mouth, eyes wide in a sort of fascinated horror.

“So, that was worse,” Tony says.

“Oh my god. So much worse.”

“I think this calls for a carb break. How does pizza sound?”

There. Tony hasn’t been entirely derelict in his duties.

“Pizza’s good.”

Peter has a hard time tearing his eyes away from the screen as they head out of the lab, still reeling from the recent failure. It’s actually a good thing, Tony reasons. A couple hundred more of these experiences and he’ll be inured to it the same way Tony is by now.

Besides, the failures make the successes all the sweeter. Eventually.

For now though, the kid is understandably crushed.

The pizza helps, although there’s a hint of strain that sets in around Peter’s eyes and the edges of his mouth as they eat. Tony tries to ignore it. Micromanaging Peter’s mood is probably crossing some indefinable boundary line that should stay firmly in place, if they’re ever going to make this smokescreen of normalcy work.

Tony, for his part, spends most of the meal mourning the way pizza without beer just doesn’t taste the same. It’s not so much that he’s worried a single beer might catapult him off the so-called wagon as it is that there isn’t any beer around to drink. It’s not like it was something he’d thought about stocking (or more accurately, thought to ask FRIDAY to stock) when he’d realized Peter would be coming up for the weekend.

If Peter notices the lack of a drink in Tony’s hand, he doesn’t mention it.

Tony is grateful for small mercies, at least until the kid finally does decide to speak up.

“Are we ever gonna talk about it?”

He could say, about what? He could be that much of an asshole, he’s pretty sure; he’s plenty capable. He could say, no, and carry on like they have been, with Peter needing an audible security blanket to get to sleep every night and Tony guiltily jacking off to recordings of him each day.

Instead, what he says is, “Do you want to talk about it?”

“No. Well, kind of - yeah.”

Tony clears his throat. “You know, I don’t think I ever actually apologized to you, which, I probably should’ve done before now. Better late than never, right?”

Peter looks up sharply; there’s something in his expression that Tony can’t quite parse. But he doesn’t interrupt, so Tony forges on.

“Anyway, I’m sorry. I’m sorry you were put in that position, I’m sorry I didn’t think of a better way to get us out of there. I’m sorry I... took things from you that I can’t give back.”

“You know, I’d really rather you apologized for not listening to me, instead of any of that other stuff.”

And there, Tony draws a blank. “I’m listening now, if that makes a difference.”

“The situation sucked, okay? I’m not arguing that. And if you’re trying to say that I didn’t have a choice, then you didn’t either. Have sex or starve to death isn’t a choice. We already talked about all that anyway. I didn’t bring it up  because I wanted an apology, I just - ” Peter swallows. “I don’t know how to act, now. I thought I did, when we first came back, but.”

Peter ducks his head. Tony holds his tongue until he’s almost certain Peter isn’t going to continue.

“You’re talking about when you kissed me?”

Peter nods, everything from the defeated slump of his shoulders to the way his hands are twisted together broadcasting humiliation.  

“I get that things aren’t like that. That they can’t be, anymore,” Peter says. “You made that pretty clear last time I was here. But then you go and do stuff like give me a brand new suit, and program all these remote upgrades, and call me every night just so I can sleep...” he trails off, his breathing growing jagged.

Tony shifts forward in his seat, reaching out a hand that stops short of making contact.

They haven’t done this yet; haven’t re-established where the boundaries should be.  

That’s probably part of the problem.

Tony tries to settle for a hand on his shoulder but before knows it he has Peter pulled in tight against his chest, head tucked under Tony’s chin. The position feels both horribly familiar and strangely novel; they’ve done this plenty of times before, back on Sakaar. Just, neither of them had been wearing clothes, then.

It should ache, how easily Peter sinks against him without a second thought, but all Tony can feel is an ugly sort of triumph.

If he were a better man, he wouldn’t feel good about this.

Fuck it, he thinks. A better man would have starved to death on Sakaar.

He ducks his head down, lips brushing the shell of Peter’s ear. “I don’t know if this is going to help or not, but you’re not the only one who doesn’t know how to act anymore.”

Peter actually sort of laughs at that. It’s a wet-sounding laugh, but still - progress. He shifts against Tony’s chest, pulling away slightly, then reaching up to run his fingers over Tony’s shirt, right over his reconstructed breastbone.

“Is that - ?”

Right, the sensor; he’d forgotten to take it off that morning. Tony pulls the neck of his henley down just far enough for Peter to see.

“Oh.” Peter traces a finger over the small disc. For a few moments, curiosity wins out over turmoil as Peter studies the device. “I thought it would be like a remote thing.”

“What, like a directional mic aimed at my chest?”

Peter nods.

“Thought about it. But it would’ve had to be able to follow me room to room, there would’ve been a drop off at the outer ranges, when I was moving between mics. Plus, this way you weren’t picking up artifacts from other stuff in the environment - the TV, FRIDAY, that sort of thing.”

Peter seems to consider this for a few moments, then he steps away, scrubbing at his eyes with his sleeve. When he lowers his arm he has that same expression on his face again, the vaguely indefinable one from earlier.

“Um, that’s the kind of thing I was talking about, before. You tell me it’s not a good idea for me to come back here, and then you don’t even talk to me for weeks, but then you’re just like, yeah maybe I’ll rewire the comms system for the whole compound just so Peter can sleep better.”

“Yeah, you know what’s most alarming about that? You, referring to yourself in the third person.”

Okay, now there’s a facial expression Tony can read.

He’s been the cause of enough indignant disbelief in his time to be intimately familiar with what it looks like. He can actually see Peter winding up to start talking again and rushes to cut in before he can really get going.

“In my defense, I ended up going with the contact mic instead. One time I had to hire a whole team of guys to demolish and then rebuild a wall at my Malibu place because Pepper’s Christmas present wouldn’t fit through the door. And that was for something she didn’t even want. So this is progress, for me. Comparatively speaking.”

Peter is still gaping at him, and Tony has to run back over what he just said before he realizes the roundabout comparison between Pepper and Peter was probably not the best thing to bring up right about now.

Tony scrubs a hand over his eyes. “I need you really listen here for a minute, okay? When I said you coming here wasn’t a good idea, it wasn’t about anything you did or didn’t do.”

Peter opens his mouth to interrupt but Tony cuts him off.

“Nuh uh, still my turn. I was trying to give you space, which I think we both know is something I’m not historically all that great at, but I really was trying.”

“I didn’t want space. I wanted you,” Peter says.

That’s. Okay, that’s. Something Tony could have lived without hearing. Something that the darker corners of his brain will undoubtedly bring up on some lonely night, sometime in the not-so-distant future.

Like tonight, probably.

“Christ, kid. You’re seventeen, you have no idea what you want. And for the record? That’s fine, that’s normal. You’re not supposed to know yet. You’re supposed to fumble around under the bleachers, or in the back of someone’s car, or save up all your allowance money to get some idiot’s name tattooed on your ass which you’ll definitely regret in a year.”

“I don’t think I’m supposed to do that last one, Mr. Stark. I don’t even know if a tattoo would work on me, actually...”

“Not the point, kid.”

“Sorry, there was a point?”

Brat.

“Of course there was a point. The point is that you’re young, you’ve got all the time in the world to figure it out. For the record though, please don’t do the tattoo thing. At least not until you’re like, twenty-five and might actually sort of understand the lifelong implications of having someone else’s name imprinted on your ass.”

“You say that like I was planning on running out and getting one tomorrow.”

“Were you?”

“Well, no. I wasn’t, but now I’m kind of wondering about whether it would work or not. Would my spider thing just make it heal over super fast, or would my body expel the ink?”

It’s a diversion, and not a particularly subtle one at that.

“Hard to say.” Tony would be lying if he said he wasn’t a little bit intrigued by the question. He’s leaning towards the former though - it’s not much to go on, but Peter’s body hadn’t expelled the chip either. Not that that’s anything he wants to bring up right now.

Although speaking of repressing unpleasant memories -

“You think you’re gonna be able to sleep tonight?”

“Yeah,” Peter says, nodding. “Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

“You’re sure?”

Tony can see Peter’s eyes drop down to where the sensor is, hidden under his shirt once more.

“I’ve gotta get used to it sometime, right?”

No, you don’t.

“Goodnight, kid.”

“‘Night, Mr. Stark.”

 

*

 

For all his concern about Peter getting a good night’s sleep, it’s Tony himself that can’t seem to settle down that night. His bed looks distinctly unappealing. He kills some time puttering around the compound, sketching out vague ideas for a remodel that may or may not ever happen.

He ends up back at the ship, idly trailing a hand over the polished exterior as he circles it, as if it wasn’t his destination all along.

At some point he’s going to have to stop coming down here, that much is obvious.  He can’t keep trying to have Peter both ways; it isn’t fair to either of them. And no wonder the kid’s getting mixed signals.

Tony is certain he can figure out a way to sufficiently wipe the memory drives, if need be.

He’d prefer not to lose all the navigational data, but if Ross keeps raising hell, he may not have a choice - he may have to turn over the ship, or at least let a couple defense department lackeys spend some time poking around on it.

He could always outright refuse, but at the end of the day he’d prefer to save his hard-earned political capital for things that matter more; like keeping Peter’s extracurricular activities off of any international or intranational radars, for one.

Tony isn’t sure how long he spends in the hangar staring at the ship, mind churning.

He considers going inside. Just for a few minutes, just to revisit a moment or two. Like the flicker of naked hunger he’d caught on Peter’s face when he’d been straddled on top of Tony, that time with the cuffs and the blindfold. Or Peter writhing on the mattress, the first time Tony had fingered him open.

In the end, he manages to stay off the ship. He doesn’t need any of those images fresh in his mind when he looks at Peter across a lab bench tomorrow morning. The memories are plenty vivid enough already.

When he finally heads upstairs, he almost doesn’t notice Peter sitting cross legged on the couch in the darkened living area, staring outside.

“Couldn’t sleep?”

Peter shrugs. “Didn’t really feel like it.”

“Yeah, me either. I’ve gotta wonder what ‘Sakaaran Mean Time’ is. Could be three o’clock in the afternoon right now for all we know.”

“I think we’ve been back a little bit too long to blame the insomnia on jetlag, Mr. Stark.”

“Maybe. It was worth a shot though. You want to watch a movie?”

“Not really.”

Tony reaches out to pull over a chair. “I never taught you how to play poker, did I?”

“No.”

“Wanna learn?”

Peter’s eyebrow quirks up. “Sure.”

“Should be a deck of cards in the coffee table over there. Grab ‘em and pull up a chair.”

It isn’t until he’s shuffling that he realizes he may have made a critical mistake.

“You’re not planning on using the whole,” Tony gestures towards his chest, “to cheat, are you?”

“No.” Peter’s eyes are wide when he looks up.

Too wide.

“You’ve got the worst poker face of all time, kid. That’s fine. I can still wipe the floor with you, even with a handicap.”

“Tough words from a guy who lost at Go Fish three games in a row.”

“Well now that I know you were cheating- ”

Tony shuffles and deals.

The kid is, predictably enough, godawful at poker.

He can’t quite control his facial expressions and nervous energy enough to hide it when he has a good hand, or the way his voice goes a little bit dull and uninterested when he has a bad one.

They play game after game, taking turns shuffling and dealing, letting FRIDAY keep score of the betting, not that either of them is playing with real money. Peter actually gets worse at it as the night wears on, shifting around so that he’s draped sideways across his chair, head lolling on his shoulders and yawning as he tries to call his bets.

“Pete?” Tony says quietly.

“Mm.”

“C’mon, time for bed.”

Peter doesn’t respond. His cards are about two seconds away from hitting the floor. Tony plucks them from his hand, setting them down on the table along with his own.

It never fails to surprise Tony, how much heavier the kid is than he looks. He has to assume it’s a muscle density thing, some quirk of his spider biology that’s gone relatively unexplored. In any case, it takes a little bit of effort to lift him out of the chair, in a way that Tony knows his back will probably complain about tomorrow.

It’s worth it though, for the way Peter immediately curls against him, one hand coming up to rest against the center of his chest, right over the sensor that Tony still hasn’t removed.

He carries the kid back to his bedroom, settles him down among the mess of rumpled sheets and blankets, and stops. Peter’s other hand is loosely wrapped around his upper arm; he’s not letting go.

Tony should probably think twice about it, but he doesn’t. He kicks off his shoes and crawls into bed next to the kid, pulling him close.

He’s out before he remembers to pull up the sheet.

 

*

 

When he wakes up, Peter is hard against his thigh.

This is one of those things Tony probably should have anticipated before crawling into bed with the kid the night before, but he’d been tired, and Peter had been sleep-warm and looked so comfortable lying there.

Tony drags his thumb down Peter’s side. “You awake?”

Peter nods against his chest.

Last night, this had been easy. He’d done (almost) everything right, he’s pretty sure. He’d made sure Peter ate, tried to send him to bed at a reasonable time. Hell, he’d even stayed off of the ship.

Playing cards had been a perfectly reasonable way to pass the time while they both avoided their beds.

He’d done so well. Right up until now. Because he doesn’t want to leave. He could. He could slide out of bed, tell Peter he’ll meet him down in the lab later, leave the kid to take care of this on his own.

“Sorry,” Peter says, his voice muffled by the fabric of Tony’s shirt.

“Don’t be sorry. You’ve got nothing to be sorry about.” Tony closes his eyes. “Do you want me to leave?”

“Do you want to leave?”

“Not unless you want me to.”

Peter shifts his hips away. “I don’t want you to. But, I don’t want. Um.”

“No cameras, kid. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want.”

“No, it’s not that. But I’m gonna, uh, go to the bathroom. For a minute.”

Tony unwraps his arm from Peter’s side, watches as the kid shuffles off the end of the bed and makes his way to the bathroom. A few minutes later he can hear the sink turn on, and then Peter is stepping out of the bathroom, his bottom lip caught between his teeth. Hesitant.

Tony raises a hand up from the mattress, palm open in invitation.

Peter climbs back onto the bed, laying down on his stomach this time, upper body propped up on his elbows. Tony lets his fingers brush up and down Peter’s arm.

“Gonna go back to sleep?” he asks.

“Maybe.”

Tony reaches up, runs a hand through Peter’s hair. “You were up pretty late. You should go back to sleep.”

Peter closes his eyes at the touch, but he’s still propped up on his elbows. That same hint of tension from yesterday is back around the edges of his eyes, pulling down the corners of his mouth just slightly.

Tony pulls his hand away.

“You’re allowed to tell me to stop. I want you to tell me to stop, if this is - if it’s too much.”

But Peter is shaking his head. “Don’t stop. Please?”

So he doesn’t.

Peter sinks down onto the bed, head pillowed on his arms as Tony continues to scratch his fingers through Peter’s hair. He’s not sure how long it takes for the kid to fall asleep again, but it doesn’t really matter.

He’s got nowhere better to be.

 

*

 

By the time Tony wakes up again, he’s starving. Peter is already awake, looking up at him.

“Your stomach’s been growling,” Peter says, looking amused.

“Yeah, and what about yours?”

“I could eat.”

“You can always eat, you’re like a human garbage disposal.”

“Wow, rude.”

Tony pushes himself upright. “Why don’t you go raid the kitchen, I’m sure FRIDAY had someone put some groceries in there.”

Peter heads off in search of food, and Tony heads to the bathroom to take a piss and splash some water on his face to wake himself up. There’s a crumpled tissue in the wastebasket he tells himself he doesn’t notice.

When he’s done, he finds Peter in the kitchen digging into a plate of waffles topped with enough whipped cream and chocolate chips to give even his supercharged-metabolism diabetes.

“Where did you even get whipped cream from?”

“I dunno, but FRIDAY made the grocery order. I think she likes me more than you,” Peter says glibly, pouring maple syrup over the monstrosity in front of him.

“She definitely likes you more than me, kid.”

Tony grabs a somewhat random assortment of ingredients and shoves them into a blender for himself. He takes a sip, pulls a face, and reaches out to steal the second-to-last piece of waffle off of Peter’s plate.

“You know there’s more in the freezer if you want, it only takes like two minutes in the toaster,” Peter comments.

“Waffles shouldn’t be made in a toaster.”

“Yeah well, smoothies shouldn’t be that color, either, but here we are.”

Tony finishes the rest of his smoothie with exaggerated relish, while Peter sticks two more waffles in the toaster. He ponders the distinct possibility that weeks of eating whatever they were given, and only what they were given, might have left both of them incapable of making sensible dietary choices on their own.

It’s a question for another day. Besides, the rest of today’s menu is already set. For now, they split the second round of waffles.

Tony brews himself a double-shot of espresso and they head down to the lab together. They set up a couple more simulations to run, while Peter hops on one of the lab tables and pours over the data from the failed test the night before.

The problem is with the formation of efficient communication pathways. In smaller numbers, it’s not a problem, and in larger numbers, the nanites are already programmed to arrange themselves into highly efficient pathways. It’s the middle ground that’s the issue, the transition between a small number working in concert and a large number all handling different functions at differing levels of priority.

Until they can figure out a way to smooth that transition, neither of their suits will activate any faster than they already do.

They’re making some decent progress on fixing it though, or Tony thinks they might be. It’s sort of hard to say for sure until they can get a simulation that runs all the way through without completely imploding. Either way, things are going pretty well.

Which is when Ross calls.

“I’m sorry, Tony Stark can’t come to the phone right now. He’s busy saving the universe, but please leave a message after the - ” Tony ends the call.

Peter stares at him. “Did you just hang up on the Secretary of State?”

“Did I? That doesn’t sound like me.”

“It kinda sounds exactly like you, actually. Are you allowed to do that?”

“I don’t know, I’ve been trying to find out.”

“But what if he was calling about something important?”

“He wasn’t. Let this be a lesson to you, young buck, bureaucrats never call about anything important until after it’s already happened.”

“...Young buck?”

“Hey, remember back when you were so starstruck by my very presence you had trouble speaking at all? What happened to that, I miss it.”

Peter grins. “Sorry Mr. Stark, but that only lasted like five minutes, tops.”

“Those were the days.”

“Uh huh.”

Tony reaches over to slap at the kid’s thigh, except instead of pulling away his hand just sort of… stays there. Pulling away now would be weird.

It’s already weird.

He squeezes Peter’s leg once, quickly, then lets go.

“So what’ve you found?”

Peter blows out a sigh, leaning back on his hands behind him. “Pretty much nothing. I mean, I can see what the problem is, but I don’t know how to fix it. Maybe we could work on something else for a while?”

“Hmm, like what?”

“Well, I kinda had this idea for a non-conductive webbing I wanted to try out.”

Dillon. Of course. Tony should’ve already been working on that, dammit.

“I think the structure is going to be a lot more brittle than the current formula,” Peter continues, “but I don’t know by how much, or if that’s something maybe we can tweak.”

“Trying and tweaking is what I live for. Lay it out for me, what’ve you got?”

Peter, as expected, lights up at the opportunity to switch gears.

Tony lets him take the lead, enjoying the almost-zen feeling of riding along on the slipstream of Peter’s flow state as he works. An undefined number of hours later they have a half-empty tray of sandwiches and a promising new formulation to test, so they head over to an empty hangar bay so Peter can swing around.

Tony forgets sometimes, just how graceful Peter is in the air. With both feet on the ground he’s all nervous energy flying in different directions, walking around like he hasn’t yet figured out how much space it’s okay to take up in a room. Suited up and swinging around though - he owns the very air. Tony could watch him for hours.

That doesn’t stop Tony from wincing every time the new webbing fails to live up to the tensile strength of the original formula and Peter clips a wall, or a support beam, or faceplants straight into the concrete floor.

He’d ask the kid to consider going easy, but stops himself. The whole point is to put the new formulation through the paces. Better that Peter faceplants here, in relative safety, than wait for it to happen in the middle of a fight with the next Dillon, or Toomes, or whoever.

He needs to be familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of this new version before he’s relying on it when lives are on the line.

Besides, the kid bounces back up every time.

(It’s also sometimes easy to forget just how resilient the kid is.)

Tony doesn’t like to dwell on that. Knowing that the kid is resilient is comforting; remembering how he knows first-hand that Peter is so resilient is agonizing.

 

*

 

What he doesn’t forget or try to ignore, is how fast Peter’s metabolism works.

“Might want to switch back to street clothes before we head back over,” he says, when Peter is finally done swinging around.

“Uh, okay. Why?”

“I know you like the new suit, kid, and trust me I’m flattered. But you weren’t planning on wearing it to eat, right?”

“No.”

“Good. Because we kinda have some company. FRIDAY?”

“All set, Boss.”

“Wait, who is it? Is it the rogue Avengers?” The sheer excitement in Peter’s voice sets Tony’s teeth on edge.

“Yes, because I invite highly-recognizable wanted criminals over to the compound for dinner on a semi-regular basis.”

There’s a hitch in Peter’s step. “But they’re not like, really criminals though, right?”

“Depends on who you ask,” he answers, as evenly as he can manage.

Thankfully, Peter’s focus takes a hairpin turn the second they step into the living quarters.

“Ah, perfect timing,” Tony says. “Pete, this is chef Lee, Lee this is my intern, Peter.”

“Nice to meet you,” Peter says, glancing back and forth between Lee and Tony.

The chef pauses in his prep work to shake each of their hands in turn. “Good to meet you,” he says to Peter first, then, “Tony, been a while huh?”

“Too long.”

Tony waves at the other person in the kitchen - he’s either a sous chef or an assistant of some kind who looks vaguely familiar. Jake? George? Shit. Pepper would have remembered.

Lee steps back over to the sink to wash his hands and continue prepping.  Peter still looks puzzled.

“Lee is one of the head chefs at Masa, apprenticed under the man himself. Took a little bit of convincing, but I managed to tear him away from the city for the night to do a little omakase-style dinner for us.” Something occurs to Tony that possibly he should have taken into consideration before now. “You do like sushi, right? I know we talked about it, but it was sort of a hypothetical at the time - ”

Out of the corner of his eye, Tony catches Lee raising an eyebrow at him. If he had to take a guess at what that look means, it’s probably something along the lines of, ‘You’re paying me an exorbitant amount of money to come out here and you don’t even know if the kid likes sushi?’  Either that, or Lee is taking Peter’s momentary hesitation as a personal challenge.

“I - yeah, I like sushi,” Peter says.

Tony blows out a relieved breath. “Good. Great, ‘cause otherwise this was probably going to be super awkward.”

It’s already awkward.

They both take seats at the kitchen island, two place settings already laid out.

Lee starts them out with a cucumber uni salad, chatting with Tony about the new restaurant they have opening in the East Village.

Peter cleans his plate, which he also does for every following course.

They eat their way through toro tartare, soft shelled crab, sashimi and bonito flakes, roasted sea urchin with truffles; Tony loses track of the number of plates before they even get to the nigiri.

Peter eats all of it without hesitation, which Tony figures shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. They spent a month eating mystery meat on an alien planet, after that it’s not like the kid is going to object to Earth-based food prepared by a world-class chef.

Lee prods the kid for feedback on each dish, but most of Peter’s commentary boils down to, “oh my god, so good” and an assortment of happy noises as he eats. Peter’s not exactly much of a gourmand.

Even so, he seems to hang on every word Lee says about the food - how they source it, how it’s prepared, what to pay attention to in the flavor - and only occasionally stopping to ask questions.

For a while, Tony matches the kid plate for plate, but as he starts to feel full he crosses his arms on the table and makes a ‘keep ‘em coming’ gesture, nodding towards the kid. Lee seems to get the message, plying Peter with snapper, mackerel, salmon roe, calamari, and Tony loses track of what else.

They end with slices of delicate green tea crepe cake, Peter forging through with one hand splayed over his stomach and half-lidded eyes.

“That was amazing,” he says. “Thank you Mr. Lee, uh - chef Lee. That was awesome.”

“You can thank me by making this guy stop by the restaurant next time, instead of wheedling at me until I agreed to come all the way up here,” Lee says, but he’s smiling. Peter has a way of doing that to people.

Lee and his assistant clean up and pack up with surprising efficiency, but then Tony realizes it’s already nearly ten and they both have a long drive back to the city ahead of them. Tony thanks them one last time as he shows them out.

“I was serious about coming by the restaurant. You know you’re welcome with or without Pepper, right?”

Damn. Had he been that obvious?

“Haven’t really been in a going-out kind of mood lately. I appreciate it though.”

Lee nods in understanding.

They don’t necessarily know each other all that well, but they have known each other for a long time.  

If Lee is wondering why Tony just spent several thousand dollars on a private dinner for a high school student, he’s not going to ask out loud. He’ll probably just chalk it up to Tony’s general extravagance and leave it at that. It’s one of the many advantages to having ‘eccentric billionaire’ as a general reputation.

When Tony makes it back to the kitchen Peter is still sitting at the counter, one elbow propped on the table, head resting on his hand.

“M’never moving again,” Peter groans.

“Never?”

“Nope.”

“Well I’m not carrying you. My back still hasn’t forgiven me for yesterday.”

“Think that’s why you’re supposed to lift with your knees.”

Brat. “My knees haven’t forgiven me either. C’mon, I don’t want to have to summon a suit to get you to bed.”

Peter cracks one eye open at that, eyebrow raised.

“...That was supposed to be a threat, kid, not an enticement.”

“Wow did you miscalculate there.”

There’s some part of Tony’s brain that’s all flashing red lights that read something like: Danger, danger. The knowledge that Peter has a more-than-passing interest in being carried off to bed by a suit of Tony’s armor should not be something that gives him pause. Or worse, ideas.

“I’m not summoning a suit,” Tony says out loud, as much for his own benefit as for Peter’s. Tony steps up close, settles a hand on Peter’s back. Reputation for eccentricity aside, he still finds himself needing to ask - “Was the dinner thing too much?”

“No. I mean, yeah, it was insane. I probably just ate my way through more than May and I spend on food in a year. From anyone else it would be super weird, but since it’s you I guess it’s like, normal. You just do stuff like that for people.”

Peter is giving him too much credit there.

“Not people. You.”

“I’m not people?”

“Missing the point, Poindexter.”

“Shut up, I’m tired.”

“All the more reason we should get you to bed.”

Peter purses his lips, glancing up at Tony and then back down at the counter. “Alone?”

“Up to you.”

“It’s not though. You keep saying that, but it’s not just me that we’re talking about. You don’t - ” Peter pauses. “You don’t have to stay out of like, pity or guilt or whatever. And no offense, but if that’s why you’re offering, then I’d rather sleep alone.” Even if that means I don’t get to sleep, goes unsaid.

“Yeah, see I’m not generally motivated by pity. Guilt, yes, absolutely. That’s probably at minimum thirty-seven percent of the reason I do anything, ever. The remaining sixty-three is either hedonism or ego, or both. Usually both.”

“So what were those percentages like when you were doing me?”

Ouch.

But Peter isn’t done. “What about when we came back, then? Was that guilt? Or was it pity, because you knew I was… that I thought - ”

“No. No hey, c’mon, you know that’s not - ”

“I don’t, actually. Back on the planet, you kept saying I might feel different about everything later, and I didn’t really get why, not until we came back and you just - you were gone. Like you couldn’t even stand to be around me anymore. I didn’t realize you were telling me I should find someone else to talk to because you weren’t gonna be around.”

“That’s not why. Pete, come on, you have to know that.”

But Peter is shaking his head. “And then when you are around you keep apologizing, like what we did was so terrible, except it wasn’t terrible. I can’t stop thinking about it. And before you start talking about how I’m seventeen and I could get turned on by a socket wrench or whatever, I’m not talking just about the sex stuff. I’m talking about everything else, too.”

“You deserve better,” Tony tries. “What about your girlfriend, DJ?”

“MJ. And for like the fiftieth time, she’s not my girlfriend.”

“Fine, not her then. You said there was someone else you were interested in, what about them?”

Peter’s mouth falls open. He closes it after a moment, with what seems like an extreme amount of effort.

“I was talking about you,” he says.

Oh.

Oh.

Oops.

“Mr. Stark, I appreciate that you want what’s best for me, I really do. But you’re not the only one who gets to decide what that is.

“The other kids on the Decathlon team don’t get why sometimes I have to miss practice, or why it’s so important to me to come up here on the weekends, so that the next time someone like Dillon pops up, I can take him down faster, make sure not as many people get hurt in the process.”

“I thought your aunt talked to you about that,” Tony interjects.

“She did. Like, a lot. But that wasn’t the point I was trying to make. You get that stuff, because you’ve been there. You get why I have trouble going to sleep. Or like, why I have to keep protein bars and snacks around all the time now, because whenever I get hungry I get, uh, you know. I can’t really explain that stuff to anyone else.”

Tony hadn’t known about the food thing, but it made sense. It was like a weird reverse Pavlovian response; if you were hungry, then clearly it was time to metaphorically go ring your own bell. He’d be lying if he said he hadn’t caught himself in the same situation once or twice since they’d come back.

It’s probably something they’ll need to address at some point, but for now, it can wait.

“I wasn’t trying to avoid you, kid. Or at least not for the reasons you’re thinking, okay?” Tony pinches the bridge of his nose, tries to figure out just how much honesty is too much here.  “Pete, if it were up to me I’d never let you leave the compound again. Do you get that?”

Peter blinks up at him, his brow furrowing.

“Your new suit has a tracker in it. It’s active all the time, by the way, not just when you’re suited up. And FRIDAY has backdoor access so I can read your vitals, if I need to. Or if I want to. See, I never really learned how to do things halfway, and I need you to be safe. I need to know that you’re safe, all the time.

“I am way, way more invested in this than I should be, but none of that has to be your problem, if you don’t want it to be. You can walk away. You probably should walk away.”

“What if I don’t want to?”

“Sorry, did you miss the part where I admitted to tracking your every movement without your knowledge or consent?”

“No, I didn’t, and yeah, we’re definitely reprogramming that.”

Tony reaches out, lifting one of Peter’s arms up off the table, his thumb tracing over the wristband. He swallows. “You sure about the reprogramming thing? You spend like eighty percent of your time at home or in school anyway.”

“I’m sure. And you realize that argument works better for me than it does for you, right?”

“If something happens - ”

“If something happens we’ll have fail-safes programmed in.”

Tony leans forward, presses a close-mouthed kiss to the inside of Peter’s wrist, just over the band.

“Oh-okay?” Peter asks, a little breathlessly.

“Okay,” Tony answers without pulling away.

There’s gonna be a lot of fail-safes. He’s already working on a list.

The next kiss is open-mouthed, pressed to the heel of Peter’s hand, right at the spot where Tony can remember the abrasion from the grappling hook cord being the worst. Peter watches in silence, with that same almost hungry expression Tony can remember so clearly from the recordings.

The skin is smooth and unbroken now; of course it is. Tony moves up to the palm of Peter’s hand, to the base of his fingers. Peter doesn’t have calluses - Tony wonders briefly if he can even get them at all, given how quickly he heals. Probably not.

He brings Peter’s hand down, pressing the palm flat to his chest, right over the contact mic. Peter’s gaze drops down to his chest, watching his hand rise and fall with each breath.

“You actually - you want,” Peter starts.

“Yes. I shouldn’t, but I do. I never stopped wanting you.”

“Oh.”

“That’s it? Just, ‘oh’? You gotta give me something more than that to work with here, kid.”

“I mean, yeah. That’s - um, it’s good.”

Peter pushes up in his seat, and in the next moment they’re kissing. Peter tastes just slightly sweet from the cake, but the sweetness fades soon enough and all Tony’s left with is Peter.

God, he missed this.

He wraps both arms around Peter’s back, pulling him forward off his seat until he’s standing, stretched up on his toes to reach Tony’s mouth. Tony pulls away just enough to press a line kisses along Peter’s cheekbone, working his way up towards Peter’s temple.

He spends a while there; lips pressed against Peter’s skin, nose buried in his hair.

“Thought we were supposed to be going to bed,” Peter says, voice slightly muffled.

“Thought you were too tired to move ever again.”

“Well if you’re not gonna do the suit thing...”

“I’m not doing the suit thing,” Tony says, with some small measure of regret. He's mostly sure Peter is joking, anyway. “Come on, Spider-Man, I think you can handle it.”

Peter snickers a little at that, leaning back against his seat, but he follows along easily enough when Tony tugs him forward.

Tony is distracted enough by Peter that he’s caught by surprise by how quickly they make it to the bedroom. Peter stops just inside the door, blinking at the nearly-empty room.

“What? Not what you expected?” Tony asks.

“I don’t actually know what I expected. Is that a bar?”

“It was.”

Peter seems to take the veiled confession in stride, already kicking off his shoes.

He’s every bit as awkward as Tony would expect him to be, stripping out of his shirts and shuffling forwards as he hitches down his jeans, leaving a trail of clothes behind on his way to the bed.

It’s not until he gets there that he stops, uncertain.

Tony can see his bare toes curling against the tiled floor, goosebumps rising across his shoulders and arms.

“Problem?”

“No.”

Ah, there it is, finally. Doubt.

“You don’t have to stay if you don’t want to. I’m not gonna judge you if you want to dip out and sleep in your own room.”

Peter shakes his head. “No, that’s not it. I just - can we just sleep, like last night?”

...and before you start talking about how I’m seventeen and I could get turned on by a socket wrench or whatever,

“Of course.” Tony’s voice comes out as barely more than a rasp.

I’m not talking just about the sex stuff.

There’s plenty of time for that later, when Peter wants. Only when he wants.

For now, Tony strips out of his shirt and shoes, leaves his jeans in a crumpled pile on the floor next to Peter’s. Settling down on the bed, he peels off the contact mic and drops it over the side to land somewhere on the floor.

He pulls Peter down along with him, legs tangling together, Peter’s head pillowed on Tony’s chest.

I’m talking about everything else, too.

“Good?”

Peter sighs contentedly. “Yeah.”