Tony avoids the lab. It’s littered with Peter’s things that he won’t touch; refuses to move. Because, what? Throw them out? Erase the kid beyond how the Snap even had?
His beard is filling in now, connecting. Bits of his hair are long enough to curl behind his ears and Tony knows he looks an unstable mess.
But Peter would like this.
“Got a new look, Mr. Stark?”
And then Tony, feigning disinterest: “Get dressed, kid.”
Sleep comes with much champagne. When Tony wakes at one a.m., he lies with thoughts of ashes on his hands.
Breakfast is at daybreak but he skips it.
There’s dust in the kitchen now, and Tony doesn’t care enough to hate it as a drone zips by his window.
He eats a pickle for lunch, stands with it in hand while it drips down his arm, scenting his shirt.
He doesn’t sleep tonight. Something about how Peter called him sir in his final moments keeps him up, makes him wonder if the kid is really even fucking dead. If any of them are dead. And why was he too good to have survived?
Another week passes. It’s still silent outside, the population a fraction of what it’d been. Tony finds a crushed soda can beneath his bed and wants to scold the boy he knows had left it there. Because even that’s something—a something better than this. The glinting metal makes him rub his scar.
It’s tomorrow. The sky is opaque and grey. Tony comes across Peter’s old video logs on the tablet Peter left here in his backpack.
“Do you track me?” pixelated Peter asks. “You know, watch me? When I wear the suit?”
“And invade your privacy? Of course.”
“But Mr. Stark, you can trust me.”
He shoves the tech back into the bag.
“Everyone else said I was crazy to recruit a 14-year-old kid.”
“And if you died...I feel like that’s on me.”
“I’m gonna need the suit back.”
“For how long?”
Tony steps outside the following morning when the sky is pink and blue and draining the night. He inhales. Few are on the streets, though it’s been months.
Many don’t come through but he ignores all of his calls. He only keeps his phone charged for Peter, to begin with, the chance that Peter will need him and dial him somehow. But he knows that’s impossible. He knows that the Iron Spider is gone.
It’s August 9th when Tony goes to the market. He buys a cake—for the kid—who’d be 17 tomorrow if….
It’s a one-layered square, buttercream, the spider smack in the center. It’s something Peter would like. Simple; classic—like that first suit he had stored up in his ceiling.
That night, under a sudden spray of rain, Tony’s eyes steam with guilt.
Someone’s in the house.
Tony’s watch alerts him to activity in a guest room and he snatches from his bed, striding to it.
Since he’s alone in the space.
Since tech requires updates and has glitches all throughout because he rushed and bought this place away from Stark real estate before the War.
He turns his back and sour disappointment rides his throat. There’s nothing here. There’s no one.
In the morning, Tony avoids the cake. He returns to the guest room, distracting himself with a search beneath the bed, then in the—
He sits up on his knees. Had someone been in the closet last night? Was he so off his game he actually left the room half-assed checked?
Now he stands. He faces the door, fists clenching; opening. His heart does a dance inside his mouth.
“Alright. Okay. No expectations. Just….”
He grips the knob.
There’s a fortress of webs in the corner. He measures it by sight, judging whether it’s big enough for a boy.
Or is it old?
A thing the kid had made some time ago without Tony ever knowing?
Because it can’t be old.
Because he can’t face if it stores nothing.
And what if Peter’s inside, what if he had been alive but later suffocated in the dark of night?
Tony tugs his hair. He plants a hand on his hip, gesturing with the other to the shell of Peter’s recognizable web.
It’s been hours. He stands in the closet doorway with a slice of cake on a saucer before setting it on the floor, beneath the web.
The edge of the bed is sinking underneath him.
Tony falls asleep on the floor with his back against the widest wall of the closet. He jerks awake to the blaring interruption of his snoring, scrambles to get on his feet, to see what’s changed.
The saucer is powdered with crumbs.
“Peter,” Tony says. His voice is private. “I know you’re scared. I brought you some more cake, how about you come out, eat at the table. Or on the bed, you know, wherever. Just not in there, kid.”
He waits. The capsule doesn’t budge. He can’t even hear the boy breathe.
Tony later sighs, setting the saucer on the closet floor.
Peter’s eaten half his birthday cake in two days. Tony can’t catch him in the act. He knows when Tony’s sleeping or off pissing elsewhere, and it’s then that Peter does whatever he does.
Tony sets up a camera.
He leaves the slice with the spider drawn on.
Soon, Peter should want to have a meal more filling with some food that once lived and pumped blood. It frightens him to think of leaving Peter to retrieve it. Perhaps he’ll order some things, make this simple.
Outside the room, Tony sits again with his back to the wall. He never hears Peter; the web being opened; the saucer. When he checks the footage that night, he swears at the camera.
Peter isn’t stupid, though a genius often lacks common sense. He knows when there’s a presence, he can feel it even with the hairs on his legs. So Tony removes the camera and he leaves the kid alone with the cake and spider drawing and dark of the closet.
Tony grits his teeth, punching the side of his leg when he finds the saucer empty the following morning. The sun hasn’t come up yet. It’s black throughout the rooms and Tony wants this to invite Peter out.
“Kid,” he says to the shell. “You gotta trust me out here. It’s just me. We can do this, we can get you outta there, get you cleaned up. You can even sleep in my bed, you know, the one you’re always plotting to steal?”
He listens. He wants to hear the fibers bend, a sigh, hell, even a bratty, “Leave me alone.” By dawn, when there isn’t so much as a minuscule flinch, “That’s it,” Tony declares, and heads for his tools.
All he does is heave a bucket of metal to the room, hoping the sounds will startle Peter, make him move.
Tony’s asleep when he hears it.
The guest room door is ajar just how he left it and he shoves it open on his way in.
He grabs the foot sticking out from the shape scrambling under the bed. The metal is warm at the ankle, smooth against his hand, and he drags the body out with a grunt.
“Hey, hey—stop. Stop….”
He pins the thrashing kid underneath him. Without his suit, however, Tony isn’t a proper match. He flies across the room from the force of a kick.
The spider flees.
“I deserved that.”
And Tony follows, clutching his belly where the armored feet had launched against him.
There’s web through the house. Last he saw of Peter, he was crawling over the ceiling, scrambling fast and far from Tony’s reach.
“FRIDAY,” Tony says. “Shut off the suit.”
A small yelp sounds and Peter freezes mid-reach. Eggs crash to the floor from his hands.
“What were you gonna do? Eat them raw?”
“Sir. Please. It’s too bright.”
“And I’m sorry. But you can’t stay in there.”
The Iron Spider tears away from Peter’s sculpted body, leaving the lesser costume exposed.
“I know. I know.”
His arm binds Peter’s waist. Peter kneels where he landed when Tony caught him at the middle. Tony sighs behind him, drawing him near.
“Quick question of the rhetorical variety. That’s you, right?”
“I’m gonna take the mask off now.”