To say that Peter is nervous is a bit of an understatement.
He tries to squash down the feeling somewhere deep inside as he walks the slushed streets of Manhattan. He’s got one hand deep in the pocket of Ben’s old, worn, wool coat, and the other gripping a long box that he’s got squished underneath his armpit. It had taken him four tries and a Youtube tutorial to get the wrapping and the ribbon up to his standards, but now, he couldn’t care less if the bright, gold, sparkly ribbon gets squished to death.
Because he’s five minutes away from the Avenger’s Christmas Party and he’s made a huge mistake.
It’s just his luck that back at Thanksgiving, when they were drawing everyone’s names for Secret Santa, that Peter would get Mr. Stark. In a way it’s a good thing; he’s been working on his mentor's present for ages. It was originally a birthday present that quickly became a hopeful Christmas present when Peter realized he was a bit over his head. When he got his name, it meant he didn’t have to worry about anyone else at the party. That’s good. But now Mr. Stark has to open said present in front of everyone at the party.
The paper on the wrapping starts to wrinkle and Peter has to use every bit of his superhuman strength to keep himself together.
After Thanos and the snap, Mr. Stark repossessed the tower, but he doesn’t live there. He lives in Manhattan in what can be considered a quaint top floor apartment for someone of his wealth and status. Peter and the others who were... gone, don’t have all their memories or the best sense of just how much time actually passed, but he's been told it was close to eight months. Eight months was, apparently, enough time to change Mr. Stark’s taste for the simple things in life. Oh, and his hair: what used to be peppered black hair is now completely grey, a testament to the pain and stress he went through in such a short amount of time. It’s hard to forget about it when it’s constantly evidenced right there, on the top of his head.
Peter can hear the Christmas music mixing with the sound of Sam’s laughter from the other side of the door. When he knocks there’s a chorus of “Heyyyy!” followed by some muffled quip from Natasha before Mr. Stark opens the door.
He’s wearing a smile, the good smile, the one that wrinkles around his eyes just right, the one he gives Peter every time he sees him. It looks good with the grey hair and the ugly Christmas sweater he’s wearing: cheap white thing covered in fabric paint and glitter that says Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal in handwriting that makes Peter think DUM-E wrote it. He looks festive and bites back a comment about how he could pull off being a Mall Santa with that sweater and that hair.
Well, maybe not. The sweater is even uglier when Peter realizes he just….unevenly cut off the sleeve on the left side where his arm would be if he still had it.
There’s still a lot about what it took to get Peter and everyone else back that he doesn’t know about.
“Hey, kid,” he greets warmly, stepping aside to let Peter in. “About time you showed up.”
Peter nods and follows him into the apartment and just like that, some of the nervousness washes away. Mr. Stark’s apartment is warm in more ways than one. There’s a fire going in the fireplace and there’s colorful lights strewn up everywhere, so much that there isn’t a single, actual proper lamp lit up in the entire place. The Avengers are all spread out, and yet not due to the not-so-large size of the living room. Natasha, Clint, Sam, Bucky and Steve are all on the sectional sipping hot cocoa and eating cookies while they make fun of a Hallmark movie that’s on the television. He spots Pepper decorating cookies in the open kitchen with Rhodey, Bruce and Thor, and Wanda is by the long, windowed wall, looking out into the perfect New York skyline, a soft smile on her face.
“I’m the last one here?” he asks softly, and Mr. Stark nods, not looking the least bit upset. Peter shrugs off his backpack and coat, silently cursing the gold glitter that's rubbed off the ribbon to stick to his clothes, to reveal his own hideous outfit for the party: an overly bright red and green thing with the ugliest looking reindeer known to man that when you press the nose, it lights up. Mr. Stark does just that, laughing a little when Rudolph’s nose starts blinking. “Cute.”
“It's supposed to be ugly,” Peter reminds him, but Mr. Stark just keeps smiling that smile, using his arm, his only arm, to ruffle his hair and then try to take the gift from him.
“Sure, sure. Oooh, who’d you get,” Mr. Stark whispers just as Peter yanks it away, cradling the bulky thing to his chest. There’s no way he’s gonna let him give it a shake to try and guess what it is. “C’mon, c’mon. Tell me! If you spill, I’ll let you spike your hot chocolate.”
“I’m sure Clint’s already got that covered,” Peter says smugly, and right on cue, Clint lifts a mug above his head, waving it around and yelping when some of the melted marshmallow slosh gets on his hand.
“Peeeeeete,” Clint shouts. “I gotcha covered right here, baby. The ultimate Christmas concoction. You got your milk. You got your chocolate. You got your ungodly amount of Kahlua. And most importantly, you got your dairy pill on standby,” Clint mumbles the last thing, digging into his pocket and pulling out said pill and popping it in his mouth.
“Let me in on that,” Sam says, palm outstretched. Clint doesn’t hand it to him, he tosses it, right into Sam’s barely open mouth with the accuracy only an archer can pull off. “Dude,” he finally says, the word a little choked as he tries to wash it down with his cocoa. “A little warning!”
As a harmless argument erupts, Peter allows himself to smile. He deposits his present under the Christmas tree with the others before snatching the mug that Clint still holds above his head and heads over to the kitchen to say hello to Pepper. She presses a kiss to his forehead and starts playing with his hair while he admires Pepper’s baking spread out on the counter. There’s sugar cookies of all shapes and sizes, as well as the making of a gingerbread mansion that Bruce is working very hard on to make as realistic as possible. “How’s it going, sweetheart,” she says fondly. Even though her nails are long and perfectly french manicured, it still feels a lot like Aunt May’s fingers rubbing against his scalp, all warm and delicate and full of love.
“I’m good. Everything’s good,” he smiles and goes to take a sip of his drink, expecting the nauseating scent of alcohol to mess with his enhanced sense, but all he smells is chocolate, whip cream and….coconut milk, his favorite. He glances up at the couch to find Mr. Stark has rejoined the Great Hallmark Christmas Diss but Steve Rogers is leaning off the back of the couch and giving him a slow nod as he tips his mug Peter’s way, complete with a conspiring wink to let him know he switched the drinks long ago.
Thank you, Peter mouths and takes a sip, ignoring Rhodey’s muttered I can’t believe we’re letting the kid drink. He’s barely able to wipe the whip cream foam off his lips before Thor is shoving a gingerbread cookie of his own making and decoration into Peter’s mouth.
“How is it?” Thor asks excitedly, and Peter has too much Christmas spirit in him to tell him that it tastes like a burned piece of cardboard. But it’s still better than anything May’s ever baked, so the lie comes easily enough.
“It’s good,” he nods, taking a sip of his hot chocolate to soften it and make it a little more edible. Thor’s face lights up and he does a fist pump in victory, giving Peter enough time to use his super strength and speed to throw the cookie down the dark hall of the apartment, narrowly missing Rhodey's head in the process. “Probably better than the candy I made for you,” and he can feel Michelle and Ned glaring at him from across the city. They helped him bake the past two days while he sweated over the final touches on Mr. Stark’s gift.
“You made me candy?” Thor asks excitedly, already eating another cookie himself. Peter’s already seen him eat five. Pepper looks on in half horror, half admiration. “Is that my present? Are you my Santa of secrets?”
He dodges the question in the spirit of the game. “Well, actually, I made everyone candy,” Peter says, setting his drink down. “They’re in goody bags in my backpack,” and he throws a thumb behind him, towards the front door.
“What!?” Sam barks from the couch. “Kid, that’s cheating. We did the Secret Santa thing for a reason. One person, one gift. No pressure. You’re ruining everything.”
“Yeah,” Clint pouts. “I didn’t get you a gift,” he blabs just as Natasha slaps a hand over his mouth.
“Don’t spoil anything. Try and keep a little Christmas magic alive, will you?”
“Would you guys quit being Scrooges?” Rhodey complains. “I want candy.”
Peter feels Mr. Stark’s eyes on him as he starts unloading various bags of red, green, and silver color. “It’s not a real present,” Peter argues when he tosses the first one that’s addressed to Steve across the room. He catches it with ease, not a single drop of his drink out of place. “It’s just candy. Peppermint bark,” he throws Bucky his bag, “Fudge,” he throws one to Natasha, “Chocolate toffee,” he tosses another one to Rhodey, “and--”
“Peanut butter balls!” Clint screeches, peeking inside Natasha’s bag. Peter laughs and throws him his, which has an extra peanut butter ball, just for him. “Thanks, Pete!”
He continues to give out the rest, still trying to ignore how he feels Mr. Stark is staring at him. But eventually he has to look up at him to toss him his bag, which is actually nothing more than a plastic bag filled with red m&ms (because m&ms are the only candy he really likes anyway) and a coupon for a free cheeseburger from McDonalds. (because Peter knows he’d rather have the cheeseburger than anything chocolate related at all). Luckily, it makes Mr. Stark laugh, and Peter breaks out in a wide grin, feeling proud. “You didn’t have to do all this, Peter,” he says softly, that stupid smile still on his face.
“Aww, it’s okay,” he refutes, looking shyly at the ground. “It was really fun baking with Ned and MJ. We made so much. May packed some up to take to work and we listened to Christmas music while we made them all…” he trails off with a happy shrug. “All in good holiday fun.”
Mr. Stark opens his bag and fishes out a small handful, rolling them over in his hands. Peter’s face flushes when Mr. Stark begins to laugh again, leaning over on the sectional to show Natasha. “Look. The kid got ‘em made special. Little Iron Man masks.”
That had been a risk. Mr. Stark isn't Iron Man anymore since the snap and the loss of his arm and doesn't really like to talk about it, but Peter knows that he's still proud of his time as an Avenger. But he still felt nervous giving him a memento of sorts from his time as a superhero, especially in the wake of the holidays and everyone's perpetual PTSD.
He's glad he hasn't blown up in his face.
The whole room breaks out in coos, all hovering over Mr. Stark to admire Peter’s custom made m&ms and yes, he has to admit he had to call the stupid m&m store in New York about customization and it was as embarrassing as one could imagine, and the coos turn to laughter at his expense.
Wanda’s the only one that’s not really a part of the chaos in the living room, but she doesn’t look unhappy. She’s still wearing her soft smile as she leans up against the window all cuddled up in a blanket. Peter uses the distraction of Mr. Stark trying to throw m&m’s in everyone’s mouth to hand over her goody bag personally. She doesn’t oppose to him sitting next to her; in fact her smile brightens and she scoots closer to him.
“Hello, Peter,” she says. “It’s nice to see you.”
“Nice to see you, too.” He nods at the mug in her hand, perhaps the only mug sans whip cream and chocolate in the whole room. He can smell it's different. “Whatcha drinking?”
“Tea from Sokovia,” she says, offering the mug to him. “Want to try it?”
They make a trade; he takes the mug and she takes the goody bag. It smells delicious, and after he takes a sip he decides this is way better than the hot chocolate. “It’s good!”
“You finish it,” she says, nodding to the mug. “I can make more.”
“Thanks!” and he watches with mild apprehension as she carefully untwists the tie on her bag, inspecting the candy within. “I know you don’t like chocolate,-”
She blinks, snapping her head up. “....you do?”
“Yeah?” he scratches his head nervously before he sips some more of the tea. It’s one of those things he’s noticed. Michelle’s observation skills have really rubbed off on him as of late. “MJ and I thought you might like some yogurt covered pretzels so….yeah. I covered them with crushed up candy-canes. I hope that’s okay.”
Wanda takes one of the long pretzel sticks out and holds it up, the light from the city and the room casting a dark shadow on her face. At first, Peter doesn’t know what to think. But then she takes a bite, a loud crunch echoing in the room, and smiles.
“Thank you, Peter,” she says softly, once the pretzel is gone. She sets the bag down like there’s glass in it before she reaches behind her back and pulls out a small package wrapped in a brown paper bag and covered in sparkly Christmas themed stickers. It looks like something five year old Peter would have wrapped. Hell, he thinks it is. He swears the watch he and Aunt May picked out for Ben one Christmas looked just like this when she let him wrap it.
“I’m your...Secret Santa,” she says slowly. She’s still not used to the idea of Christmas, never having celebrated it, but she likes the warmth and family that it represents. She told him as much when they were drawing names a few weeks ago and she agreed to come to the party. “Merry Christmas.”
Peter’s face lights up with excitement as he sets the mug of tea aside, adjusting his position on the floor for Optimal Gift Opening. He’s careful to snap up the piece of scotch tape she used to keep the bag wrapped up before he unrolls it and reaches inside. He does, however, half to hide his frown when he nearly pricks his hand on something sharp, so he carefully shimmies the gift out of the bag and--
A bright, sparkly, red and blue, handmade spider falls into his hand.
“No way!” he shouts, grabbing the attention of everyone at the party. The spider is made out of various pieces of tech junk, painted and covered in store bought glitter and plastic gems, but definitely looking like something straight off of some popular Etsy shop, even if it is as un-Christmas like as a spider. “This is so cool!”
“It’s a tree topper,” Wanda says. “So….you like it?”
It’s definitely the coolest thing that will ever go up on his Christmas tree. It’s not that he doesn’t like the candy canes and the popcorn strings he and May do, it’s just this is so unique and cool and Spider-Man. “Are you kidding? I love it! Did you make this?”
Wanda shrinks a little and starts to mess with her hair. “Yes. I...will admit I didn’t know what to get you. But Tony told me you like homemade gifts, and I know you like spiders, so…”
Peter surges forward, minding the tree topper, and gives Wanda a hug. “Thank you,” he whispers in her ear. “It’s perfect.”
“Are you sure? I’ve never given anyone a Christmas present before…”
“Oh, it’s the best. And for sure better than anything Sam would have gotten me, so be very proud.”
“Hey!” Sam protests. “I heard that.”
“Are we already doing the Secret Santa?” Bucky asks.
“Apparently,” Mr. Stark says with a shrug. He goes to clap his hands, rub his palms together like he used to before he got to work in his lab, but he realizes his mistake maybe half a second too late. No one seems to notice his odd twitch, but Peter does, and it raises his heart rate considerably. “So!” he declares, snapping his fingers instead. “Who wants to go first?”
“I do!” Thor declares, and rushes to the tree to grab the gift he came here with. “Banner! I’m your Santa of Secrets! Please! Open your gift!”
Bruce takes the gift, hesitation in his expression. “I don’t think we’re playing this right. Don’t you hand out the gift to the person it says on the tag and then you guess who gave it to you?”
“Well...we’ve already screwed it up,” Steve shrugs, unbothered. “Just go ahead and open it.”
Wanda looks a little guilty, but Peter assures her she played just fine before he bounds over to the Christmas tree, the tree topper in one hand and his tea in the other. The room erupts in laughter as Bruce pulls out a handmade medal that says Earth’s Strongest Avenger. Bruce looks mildly touched until Thor points out that he himself is not of this world so it's still accurate and Bruce’s face falls flat, a smile betraying the annoyance in his eyes and drunk Clint almost spills hot chocolate on Natasha as he’s slapping his knee in laughter.
“Mr. Stark,” Peter whispers, tugging on his good sleeve as the other Avengers gawk over Thor’s gift to Bruce. “Can we put this on the top of the tree? Please?”
Mr. Stark looks up and points to the tree topper already on his immaculately, professionally done tree. He thinks it's probably Pepper's work, but then Peter notices the smaller details: the unique, industrial lights, the arc reactor topper, the homemade ornament that Peter made him last Christmas. Maybe not Pepper after all. “You want to take down my super cool arc reactor for Wanda’s DYI project?”
“Pleeeeeease,” he begs, batting his eyes. “Look, it’s so cool! Not that your arc reactor isn’t, but it’ll make Wanda feel really special and I’ll take it home after the party to put on my tree and--”
“Kid, relax,” Mr. Stark says, reaching out to ruffle his hair. “I’m just joking. I think it’s a great idea. Go ahead.”
Peter forgoes the step stool and uses his super strength to make the jump up to the top of the tree to make the swap. It takes a few tries to get the spider on the top just right but once he does, Peter can’t believe how cool it looks on the tree. “Way cooler than an arc reactor,” he teases, tossing said reactor up in the air with one hand, but Mr. Stark just smiles, wrapping an arm around Peter’s shoulder and pulling him into a side hug.
The rest of Secret Santa is almost as chaotic as the beginning. But there’s some quiet moments, Peter notes, as he finishes his mug of Wanda's tea. Pepper is Steve’s Secret Santa, and he’s touched by the nice paint set and set of new notebooks that she bought him. Rhodey is Bucky’s Secret Santa, and despite the gift being a simple, new baseball cap, he’s all smiles as he slaps it on his head. It goes on and on, but Peter definitely thinks the highlight is when Natasha and Clint find out they are each other’s Secret Santa and they both have gotten each other the exact same gift: Sexy Santa Costumes.
“Y’all are messed up,” Sam muses, as Clint pulls out the pair of thigh high velvet boots that come with the costume. Both costumes. “What kind of gift is this?”
“The best kind,” Natasha deadpans, holding up the tiny little outfit. Peter snickers when he realizes they’re both dresses. “Barton. Suit up.”
They do and eventually, they both return from the depths of Mr. Stark’s apartment wearing the matching outfits and everyone goes crazy. Of course, Natasha pulls it off, looking pretty much like the girl on the cover of the package because it’s her and Clint looks like….well, he looks like Clint.
But he can play along. “You look real sexy, Clint,” Peter winks. Clint blows him a kiss just as Mr. Stark reaches over and clasps his palm over Peter’s eyes.
“There is a child here, you barbarians,” but Mr. Stark’s voice holds no malice. It never does, these days. “I can’t believe I have to remind you to keep it PG-13.”
“You upgraded him from PG?” Rhodes asks, feigning shock. “Since when?”
“Ha-ha. Very funny,” Peter says, pushing Mr. Stark’s hand away. Though he kind of wishes he kept it there when he sees Clint trying and failing to roll up his boxer shorts so they don’t stick out from underneath the dress.
“Stop,” Natasha begs, slapping Clint’s hands away. “Please, just stop.”
“Too sexy?” Clint asks the room. He sticks a boot-clad foot up on the side table next to the couch and runs his hand all up along the velvet material, slapping his thigh when he's done.
“Sure,” Sam deadpans, “We’ll go with that. Now sit down, we beg you.”
He does, both he and Natasha, and a very uncomfortable looking Steve puts it upon himself to wrap the both of them up in a blanket. “Okay, so who’s left.”
Bucky gestures to Peter and Mr. Stark. “Them. Peter is Stark's Secret Santa.”
Immediately, Peter’s heart sinks. In all the fun of the party he hadn’t been keeping track, but as he stands there by the tree with Mr. Stark, he realizes Bucky is right. He's the last to go. He's the closing ceremony.
The pressure is real and everything is terrible.
“Wait. Before I open it, I have a gift for you.” Mr. Stark says and Peter has to bite his tongue to keep from cursing because what the fuck.
"What?" Peter ends up blurting. "You're not supposed to get me a gift." He points to Wanda. "She was my Secret Santa." He gasps dramatically. "You're cheating!"
Mr. Stark smirks. "Says the kid who just gave everyone here a bag of candy. " He looks around and sees that everyone is just fine with this broken rule, all sly smiles and giddy faces, just as Mr. Stark gently places the present in Peter's arms. Traitors and cheaters. He's surrounded by traitors and cheaters.
The gift he’s handed is definitely something Pepper wrapped. He can tell by the confetti-like, swirly ribbon on the top: her signature. Peter plays the part of the child and shakes the present, a guess on the tip of his tongue but when he looks up to meet Mr. Stark’s eyes, he falls silent.
Mr. Stark looks nervous.
“Just open it,” he says quietly, mouth twitched in a lopsided grin and Peter nods, hastening to shrug the ribbon off and tear the paper. As the shiny, candy-striped paper falls to the ground his hands come to hold a sturdy, leather-covered scrapbook.
It’s definitely not what Peter expected. He doesn't know exactly what he did expect, but it's not something as personal as this.
Times really do change.
Peter kind of falls to the ground in awe, setting the book up in his lap. He stares at the cover, the inscription in the leather that reads, Stark Industries Intern of the Century making him smile.
“The cover needed something ,” Mr. Stark mumbles, settling on the ground beside him. All the others are watching on silently. “I know you aren’t technically an intern. But you’d be the best, if you were.”
“Thanks,” Peter whispers, and he begins flipping through the pages only to find there aren’t any pictures. None. It’s pieces of ripped notebook paper with coffee stains, scribbled notes with ink that’s bled. It’s napkins with equations he doesn’t understand. It’s the back of a ripped envelope.
“When you were….gone,” Mr. Stark chokes on the word, coughs into his fist to cover it up. “I kind of spiraled. We....all did. I had to start writing down everything to help me remember. And it kind of morphed into writing down everything to help me remember you . And for you. You know, everything you’ve missed.”
Peter whips his head up, eyes wide in shock. Mr. Stark doesn’t talk about the time they’ve lost, and Peter’s never wanted to ask him about it. He knows how hard it was for him and everyone else that got left behind. But he never in a million years would have thought that Iron Man would have been keeping a log just for him.
"There’s only a few notes and letters. But I wrote down all the important stuff. Whenever I had an idea for your suit, I wrote down the notes for it so you could work on it when you got back. If someone told a joke or said something funny that I thought you would have liked, I wrote that down, too. I even wrote a few things for you to read that are….you know, just for the hell of it.” He lays a hand on Peter’s head, gently rocking him back and forth. “Because I knew I’d get you back.”
Peter’s eyes feel wet and his throat is tight. He flips through the page and sees one of the notes, a letter that starts with Dear Peter, and sniffles, unable to read it in front of all these people. He’s not sure what to say. “Mr. Stark….”
But he's got the words. “I’m real glad you’re here, Pete,” Mr. Stark whispers. “It wouldn’t be Christmas without you.”
Peter closes the scrapbook and turns his head to rest his forehead against Mr. Stark’s chest before engulfing him in a hug. “Thanks, Mr. Stark. Love you.”
“Love you too, kid.”
The room falls silent, a few sniffles here and there before Clint’s voice pipes up with a muffled, “That’s a real Hallmark moment right there. Now can you go ahead and open your gift Stark?”
Pepper chucks one of Thor’s rock-hard cookies at the back of Clint’s head and everything feels a little less sappy after that.
But as Peter sits there, wrapped up in a hug and getting snot on Mr. Stark’s sweater, he remembers that oh yeah, he has to give his present. To Mr. Stark.
Oh, dear God.
“Um,” he squeaks, pulling back. He reaches far to pull the long and lone box from underneath the tree and places it in Mr. Stark’s lap. “I’ve been working on this for awhile,” Peter prefaces. “It was supposed to be your birthday present, but I needed more time.”
Mr. Stark lifts a brow in surprise just as someone lets out a low, impressed whistle. “If you don’t like it, I understand!” Peter is quick to say. “I’m not trying to guilt you into liking it, I just...I don’t know,” he ends up saying, hanging is head low in defeat.
He looks up and sees Mr. Stark smiling at him, pinching his face in all the right spots.
Without another word, he opens the box. He’s careful with the ribbon, slow with the paper, and is agonizingly delicate peeling back the tissue paper inside.
What’s left to reveal is a prosthetic arm of Peter’s own making.
“You gave up being Iron Man, I know that,” Peter rambles, because he needs Mr. Stark to know what this is for. He still has no kind of real reaction. “You don’t wear an arm because you didn’t want the machinery or weaponry on you...because you don’t want to be Iron Man anymore. I get that. But….” Peter bites his lip as Mr. Stark takes the arm out, holding it out for everyone to see.
It took a lot of time to make the arm. He’s eternally thankful for MJ’s artistic eye and Shuri’s brain because there’s no way he would have been able to make it without them. In a way, it looks a lot like Bucky’s old Vibranium arm that he doesn’t wear anymore. It looks a little scaly, but Peter did his best to make it look like spider-webs, all donned in hot rod red and a splash of blue.
“Spider-arm,” Sam whispers, and Natasha pinches him to get him to shut up.
“You gave me a hand,” Peter says when Tony looks up at him, expression still indiscernible: shock, happiness, anger, he really can’t tell. “I was a reckless kid in a homemade onesie and wonky goggles and you gave me a suit to keep me safe. And then you saved the world…” He points to the scrapbook. “You helped me out, countless times, and all these years you gave me a hand, and,” Peter lets out a long breath. “I guess I wanted to return the favor, for lack of a better...pun.”
Mr. Stark stares.
“You don’t have to wear it,” Peter mumbles, picking at his shoelace and feeling rather dejected. “It’s still...a bionic arm I guess? Which isn’t really what you want. But I tried to make sure it didn’t look like Iron Man. Or like Bucky’s. It’s got no weapons. It's not hero-grade. It won’t make you stronger. It’s just….an arm,” he gestures to the decoration of webs on the arm. “Tony Stark’s new arm. Plus….you did say Spider-Man is your favorite superhero.”
“Hey,” Rhodey whines from somewhere.
“That’s all this is,” Peter promises. “Tony Stark’s working, but kind of boring, arm. If you want it. You don’t have to wear it but...keep it. It’s my turn to give you a hand.”
“Well shit,” Bucky mumbles. “Wish I got Parker as my Secret Santa.”
Steve laughs first. And not the polite, PSA kind that Peter’s seen a million times on those videos played at school. It’s the gut busting kind that has him grabbing at his chest and throwing his head back as he cackles, his foot hitting the ground repeatedly. Beside him, Bucky makes it worse by letting the loose sleeve of his sweater where a prosthetic would go sway back and forth and then Steve’s crying and then everyone else is howling and the room is suddenly so noisy it makes Peter’s head spin and-
Mr. Stark taps Peter on the shoulder.
He has to take a breath of courage. But when he looks back over, his smile is a full blown grin and his eyes are shining with wonderment; it makes him look younger, a feat Peter didn’t know was possible for him these days. It warms his heart and dulls his senses and makes the noise bearable. Mr. Stark makes everything bearable. “Pete,” he whispers. “This is wicked cool. You designed and made it yourself?”
“Pretty much,” he nods. “I had some help from Shuri, and MJ did the coloring. Shuri mailed me the supplies. All it cost me was an agreement to human experiments when I go to Wakanda next,” he shrugs. “I think she has a crush on my mutated DNA.”
Mr. Stark is still smiling. “You hate being a test dummy.”
He shrugs again. “Worth it for those supplies. Couldn’t charge it to the SI credit card without suspicion. Plus I didn’t want to lose the title of Intern of the Century.”
“You can never lose that title.”
Peter hums and mirrors his smile, if only halfway, before glancing back down at the arm. “....Do you like it?”
“It’s very flashy,” he admits, and Peter inwardly cringes. “Which means it’s very me. I love it, kid. Thank you.”
It’s like his heart is strapped to a bungee cord and just as quickly as his heart sunk, it soars right back up, and he feels dizzy with glee. “Really? Does….does that mean….”
Mr. Stark shrugs, trying to play the part of a cool guy. Which he always does. “I think we can give it a test run, don’t you think? We’ll meet up some time before the New Year at the lab and try to get it fitted perfect so-oof!”
He’s cut off when Peter rams into him for the second bear hug of the night. He wraps his arms tight around him and rests his face against Mr. Stark’s collarbone. “Oh, thank God. I was worried you’d hate it.”
“Why would you think that?”
“I’ve never...made anything for you before. It’s always been the other way around. I didn’t know if I could compete.”
“It’s not a competition.”
Peter rolls his eyes. “Not when you win, like, all the time.”
Mr. Stark laughs. “I guess you have a point,” he admits, leaning out of the hug and ruffling Peter’s hair up once more. It must look ridiculous at this point. “But I’m done competing. I’m out of the game, kiddo. So it warms my little Grinch heart to see people like you are going to do a good job taking my place making cool shit.”
“Not gonna lie, it’s mostly going to be Shuri.”
“My heart still grew three sizes today,” Mr. Stark says softly.
“Good,” Peter mumbles back, resting his cheek against Mr. Stark’s shoulder. “Can we put that movie on?”
Mr. Stark slings his arm back around Peter. “Which version?”
“The animated one, duh.”
“If you can wrestle the remote away from Steve and his Hallmark movies, be my guest.”
Peter looks up at the room filled with happy, smiling faces. Steve is still choking on his own laughter, Natasha pink in the cheeks with her own as she tries to fan Captain America down with a magazine. Clint tries to do the same, but with the end of his skirt, and it has Bucky and Sam both trying to pin him down and wrap him back up in the blanket to spare them all. Wanda has migrated to the foot of the couch and she’s still wrapped up in her blankets, but both her hands are covering her mouth as she tries to stifle her laughter. Pepper, Rhodey, and Thor have gotten into some sort of….cookie war and Peter looks over at just the right moment to catch Pepper trying to shove a candy cane up Rhodey’s nose. Bruce is looking forlornly at what is now a ruined gingerbread house, but when Thor smacks him with a cookie over the head his face breaks out in a grin and he chucks the whole display at Thor. It whacks him right in the face and he stumbles back, falling over the back of the couch and into Steve.
It’s chaos. It’s noisy. It’s messy. It's warm.
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Stark.”
He reaches over and presses the red ball on Peter's sweater, lighting up Rudolph's nose.
“Merry Christmas, kid.”