Chapter 1: Cold Chocolate
Morgan and Peter
The hot chocolate was cold. Morgan frowned. She knew that box would make it hot again, but Mommy told her she wasn't allowed to use it by herself after she'd melted several odd forks and spoons without supervision. Except her mom was in the living room with all of the strangers Daddy used to tell her stories about when his eyes got all crinkly. He told her that they were gone, but now they were back. Mommy said that Daddy was gone now too and that he wouldn't come back. She said that Daddy loved her very much and that he wanted her to live in a world that was safe.
Morgan thought that was silly. Daddy left all the time, but he always came home to read and play. Morgan hummed to herself as she trailed over to the living room, carefully holding her mug so it wouldn't spill. She liked it. It was shaped like Daddy's hat. Except it was pink!
The hall light flicked on. Morgan looked up from her cup.
"Oh. Um, hi." The boy from the picture in the kitchen was standing in the doorway to the living room.
"Hi," Morgan smiled. "Can you use the box?"
The boy blinked, clearing his throat. "The box?"
Morgan giggled. "To make my cocoa hot." She held out her mug.
He took a deep breath. Morgan looked at him expectantly. "Sure. The microwave right? Or did To-" He coughed. "Mr. Stark. Did he rig up something fancy?" His eyes shone. That had been happening a lot lately.
Morgan grabbed his hand, carefully watching the full mug as she led him into the kitchen. "Dunno." When they entered the room, she proclaimed, "Box!" She grinned.
"Oh." The boy studied it for a moment. "It looks like-" He clicked a button and the door swung open. "There we go." He took the mug out of her hands, fingers shaking worse than her own. He stared down at it for a long time before he put it inside, pressing a few more buttons and then shutting the door. The boy knelt down beside her.
"Your-" His eyes were glossy. "Your dad was... a very good man. And he would be so proud of you, Morgan."
She smiled widely, latching his hand excitedly. "Dad loves you too! He keeps your picture by the window!"
The boy nodded, swallowing. "I'm. Me and my aunt are going to stick around here for a little bit, help out your mom. We're here for you." The box beeped, but Morgan didn't move. Neither did the boy.
"Morgan?" Mommy called. "Are you in the kitchen by yourself?"
"Nope!" Morgan raced over to her mom, who lifted her into her arms. Mommy gave the best hugs. Daddy always gave her loud kisses and lifted her up too high, but he's just silly.
"Who-? Oh, hi Peter."
"Miss. Potts," he smiled momentarily.
"Pepper, Peter. Always Pepper to you." Mommy bounced her, turning her attention to Morgan. "I thought I heard the microwave."
"Box," Morgan corrected, whining a little.
Mommy held her closer. "Box, yes. Daddy always... What were you cooking, Morg?" Suddenly shy, Morgan burrowed into her mom's shoulder.
"It's hot chocolate," the boy, Peter, piped up. "She asked me to help her."
"Thank you, dear."
Mommy brushed her hair. "That's your last glass tonight, okay, baby? It's getting late."
"But Daddy says I can!"
Mommy didn't say anything. Then Morgan was being transferred into someone else's arms. Morgan looked up to see that Mommy was crying a little. Peter had a hand on her shoulder. "I'll hang out with Morgan," Peter offered, voice tight. "Bed time at...?"
"When she finishes the cocoa." Mommy wiped her eyes. "Come get me, and I'll get her settled."
Her eyes met his. “Thank you, Peter."
Chapter 2: Skipping Rocks
Peter and Harley
Peter swung his legs over the edge of the lake. Five years. This was the first time he'd thought about it. When he'd first come back there wasn't time, what with the final battle against Thanos, then search and rescue, then the funeral.
But Mr. Stark's body had been buried yesterday, tree seeds in his front pocket, no casket. The way he would have wanted it. One last way to give himself to the world.
Now Peter was alone. That thought lodged into his throat, making it difficult to breathe. Five years was a long time. He would be in college now. His eyes burned. He had called Ned already. Ned had called Michelle. Both had crumbled. Both were fused back together, a little more lost than before.
Peter was a lot lost.
Peter whipped around, wiping his hands on his pants as he scrambled to his feet.
"Hi. I'm Peter. Peter-"
"Parker. I know. Tony always." The other boy shook his head. "I'm Harley. Not a superhero," he supplied.
"It's nice to meet you."
They shook hands.
Peter followed Harley’s gaze to the cool water before them. "I never thought I'd see the day that Tony Stark was willing to live this close to water." His voice was clear, but Peter saw him shove his hands into his pockets to keep them from shaking. "I saw you playing with Morgan last night. I've never seen her warm up to someone so fast."
"Survived?" Harley nodded. "Yeah. I flew in for her birth and everything. She's like a little sister to me. Another one." Harley got quiet again.
"Did she come back, or was she-?"
"She died. After the Decimation." His voice was tight. "Our mom was gone and we... She's gone now."
Peter looked away, back to the lake. He thought he could still see the flowers off in the distance, but he knew that Mr. Hogan had fished them out after, not wanting to pollute the place Mr. Stark worked so hard to create. Peter heard a jet fire up in the distance. The third one in so many hours. He knew that May was in this one, going to New York to grab their things so that they could stay with Ms. Potts and Morgan until school started up again. Mr. Hogan was going with her. Peter wasn't sure what was going on there. He wasn't sure he cared at the moment either.
Harley skipped a rock into the water, restless energy radiating off him. Peter realized the other teen was still wearing the suit that he had been in at the funeral the night before. "Did you bring a change of clothes?"
Harley skipped another rock.
"Are you staying here?"
Harley nodded. "I talked to my mom. She agreed that I should stay here. I'm supposed to start college in the fall. MIT. Tony would've..." He shook his head, wiping at his eyes.
Peter swallowed. "He would have," he promised.
“Are you going to go back to…” Harley made a web shooter motion with his hand.
Peter smiled briefly. It didn't reach his eyes. “I don't know. I… he would have wanted me to, I think. It's like…”
“You can still feel him?”
Chapter 3: Braided Hair
Harley and Morgan
He watched Morgan comb her fingers through her doll’s hair for a moment, before he reached over and helped her part the synthetic strands into three parts. Harley couldn't help but smile when the young girl beamed up at him.
He talked her through how to braid the pieces together.
It was a week since the funeral. Morgan still didn't seem to understand that Tony wasn't coming back, but she had learned that it was a touchy subject, and she refrained from asking about him.
“Harley?” she asked.
“Will you braid my hair too? Mommy isn't as good as you or Daddy.” But she still had her slip ups.
Harley swallowed hard, but plastered a smile on his face. “Of course, Morg.” He helped her tie off the doll's hair with a pink ribbon before picking up her wide toothed comb.
He had never felt comfortable using a brush or a thinner comb on his fragile-seeming sister and that concern had carried over to Morgan.
He smoothed out her hair, combing it slowly while she changed her dolls outfit from a pair of overalls to an all black jumpsuit.
He took his time braiding, even though her hair wasn't really long enough to hold more than a couple twists, enjoying his time with his surrogate sister.
When he finished, she ran her fingers over it, smiling at his reflection in the mirror.
There was a knock on the door.
“Uncle Clint!” Morgan squealed, running over to the archer, who grinned. Harley sent a wave his direction, but didn't approach. The pair’s visits to the house never lined up before Clint had stopped visiting only a year after the Decimation.
“Hey, squirt,” he smiled, but it was empty. He lifted her into his arms and spun her, causing her to giggle. Harley chuckled at the two.
“Look! Harley did my hair like Aunty Nat's!”
Harley’s heart stuttered.
“Will she come to play soon?”
Harley was never close to Natasha either, the hurt in Clint’s was a physical ache in Harley's chest. He stepped forward to take the girl from Clint's arms, but the archer only clutched her tighter.
“Not for a long time, sweet pea,” he whispered, words shaking. “She would have loved to know you were taking after her though.”
“Aunty Nat said she would put my hair in a princess braid when it got long enough.”
“You’ll look beautiful, Morgan.” Clint placed a kiss on the top of the young girl's head. “You will.”
Harley stuck his hands in his pockets. The uneasy combination of Morgan's bright eyes and Clint’s trembling face made him want to step back, but he didn't want to call attention to himself.
“I'm heading home, Morgan. I came to say goodbye until next time.”
Morgan nodded seriously. “Goodbye.”
“Love you lots, Morgan.”
“I'll see you, Harley.”
The teen nodded.
When the door shut, Morgan turned to Harley. “Will you play Avengers with me? I'll play Aunty Nat. You can play Daddy.”
“Alright, kid.” His voice was gravel, but she didn't care.
Chapter 4: Parking Lots
Morgan and Peter and Harley
"Who said you could drive again?"
"My five years on Fury Road, now shut up, Parker!" Harley hollered as he whizzed through a yellow light.
"Mommy said that's a bad word!" Morgan announced, her hair twisted around in a crown at the front of her head.
"Yeah, well what Mommy doesn't know won't kill her, got it, kid?"
Morgan wiggled a loose tooth. "Got it.” She was practically vibrating in her car seat, backpack hugged tightly in her arms. Morgan had turned five only a week prior. Thankfully, society had gotten a grip on itself in time for Morgan to enroll in kindergarten. She had spent preschool in the safety of her home, but Tony was no longer there to teach her, and Pepper was much too busy rebuilding the modern world. Plus, it was decided that Morgan needed to be around children her own age. Day care hadn't been an option in her early years, but school would hopefully course correct any social skills gone wrong. Peter had read a few parenting books to make sure it was the right decision. Harley had played GTA, the idea of his sister, even unrelated, being away still hitting far too close to home.
Harley had moved into the Stark household, deferring from MIT for a year to get a handle on things. He wasn't the only one.
Peter was going back to New York in a week to start his fall semester that Midtown, after spending most of the summer in Morgan and Harley's company. Spiderman was always packed away in a nearby suitcase. Peter had yet to put the suit on. Some nights, he would sit up, staring at the intricate design. Ned always seemed to call him when it got to be too much. It seemed Karen was still as sharp as ever and that Ned was still his ICE contact.
Morgan, although excited for her first day, had become more withdrawn with each day her father didn't return. She had started playing with her food more than eating it and it was starting to show. They were all concerned.
Harley pulled into the parking lot of the school, the drop off lane too packed for his liking. He parked and Peter hopped out to help Morgan get out of her seat, even though she insisted she was big enough to do it herself.
“Alright, Morg. You have your backpack?” She nodded. “Lunch?” Nod, this one more shy. More unsure. “Communicator?” A final shy nod. The school had been given security upgrades from the remains of SI. Still, no one was completely comfortable with Morgan alone yet, so Peter and Harley jury-rigged a panic button for her. She wore it around her neck, tucked under her sparkly shirt. “Let's go then.” Peter took one of Morgan's hands and Harley took the other. They swung her off her feet intermittently on the path to the front of the school, making the notebooks and markers knock around in her backpack.
Just before the crosswalk to the entrance of the school, Peter knelt down beside Morgan. “If you ever need anything, Morg, you ask for us, okay?”
“I love you.”
“Love you, Petey. Love you, Harley.”
“Love you too, kid.” Harley placed a kiss on the top of her head. “Knock ‘em dead.”
Chapter 5: Broken Tech
Peter and Harley
The pale light put out through his lamp caught the dust in the air at just the right angle, illuminating the particles as they danced through the air. Peter did his best to ignore it. He rubbed the back of his neck, trying in vain to get the hairs standing on end there to lay back down. He knew the sensation had nothing to do with his apparent premonition. That it was a combination of the chilled air and the fabric of his collared shirt whispering against his skin. That knowledge didn't help diminish his anxiety though. He stared down at the tiny circuit board before him, wires connecting it to the small device he had pried it off of hours earlier. He just needed to rewire this final section, he was sure, and the box would work again, but his fingers shook from exhaustion and the cold, even though he knew that the thermostat was set to 78 degrees. He set down his soldering iron, rolling his shoulders in attempt to loosen the knots forming. He knew he should go to sleep, but every time he tried, panic signals in his brain told him that if he didn’t finish the project now, it would break forever.
He picked back up the iron, but dropped it immediately, hearing it clatter onto the floor. He looked at his hand in the half-light and saw the skin was red.
“Oh my God,” Peter choked. “Oh my- Oh”
The teenager coughed harshly, staring at his palm. He felt all of the dust in the room sieze in his lungs when the lights flicked on. He dropped to the ground, only to yelp when he scrambled against the same, boiling object as before.
“Jesus, Peter,” the voice muttered. Peter pushed against his desk, breathing rapidly. His vision was blurry, spots dancing in his eyes when he tried to see who had entered the room. He thought he had locked the door. He was sure of it. He always locked the door, especially when May was out of town. No one else had a key but May. It has to be a burglar, Peter’s panicked mind supplied. I’m going to get robbed. Spiderman is going to get robbed. Everyone will know that I can’t-
Hands grabbed the sides of Peter’s head. “Peter, listen to me, you’ve gotta listen.”
Listen. Peter could do that. He was great at that. Ned joked that he had four ears instead of two, that that was how good at listening he was. But why did the burglar want him to listen?
“Who?” Peter croaked, blinking rapidly.
“Peter, it’s me. Harley. What do you need?”
Oh. Harley isn’t a burglar. But Harley doesn’t have a key. Harley is in Boston and-
“Hurt. Can’t-” He held out his hands.
Harley made a sympathetic noise. “That’s a pretty bad burn, man. We’ll get you fixed up real soon, don’t worry. But you’ve gotta breathe first, alright?”
Peter nodded. “Dust.”
“I’m sorry, Pete.”
Peter felt arms wrap around him. Harley. The older teen rocked him back and forth, grounding Peter until the smaller boy felt the tightness around his lungs give way. Peter blinked, eyes finally adjusting to the light.
“Sorry,” he mumbled.
Harley shook his head, “Don’t be sorry for that, man. We’ve all been there.” He helped Peter to his feet.
“Do you know what set it off?”
Peter nodded, gesturing to the project on the desk behind him. “I- I was trying to finish and then-” He looked at his hands. “-I think I grabbed the iron from the wrong end by mistake and-” He shrugged. “It got away from me pretty quick after that.” He appraised the desk, avoiding eye contact with Harley. He noted that the soldering iron had been unplugged and had been set back on the desk.
“What were you working on? Especially at three AM?”
Swallowing, Peter picked up the small box, wincing when a corner scratched at his burn. “It’s a holofield generator prototype. Me and Mr. Stark had been working on it.”
“Did you finish?”
Peter nodded. “But it stopped working last week. I didn’t think that was possible.” He attempted to smile. “I was trying to fix it.”
“I don’t know.” Peter shrugged. “I hope so. I think I was close, earlier, but I wasn’t really awake either.”
Harley took the device out of Peter’s hands after gaining a nod from Peter. “We could always take a look at it together, if you wanted. I am a mechanical engineering major after all. That has to be good for something.”
“I’d like that.”
Harley let the tension in his shoulders release. He was glad he’d come back for the weekend when he heard May would be out of town. He set the box back on the desk. “Come on, let’s get some Neosporin for those burns. Unless you want some sick scars. Although that’s probably not a super hot location…” Harley continued rambling all the way to the bathroom. Peter couldn’t help but smile.
Chapter 6: Edible Worms
Peter and Morgan
“Petey, look!” Morgan exclaimed, holding up a small worm proudly.
Peter smiled warmly, “He’s very cute, Morgan.” He stuck his shovel into the dirt to take the worm from her.
“No,” she drawled out, “He’s, um, integrate for the plants.”
“Integral? Yeah, I suppose he is.” Peter passed the creature back and watched as Morgan carefully placed him back in the dirt. She wiped her hands on her overalls and set back to determining the best lettuce to pick for their salad later that night. Pepper was in town, currently getting spaghetti noodles and ground beef to accompany the side.
Peter dug out a couple more carrots when he heard the low moan of an engine.
“Morgan.” The girl looked at him. “Can you go start cleaning off the lettuce?” He kept his voice light. There was no need to worry her yet. It could just be Pepper. Although her electric car made far less noise. “Don’t come back out until I come and get you.”
Morgan looked down at her basket. Deciding that there was enough lettuce, she didn’t protest. Peter followed her to the porch, shutting the front door tight behind him.
“Lock the doors and put all windows at 75% opacity.”
“Thanks.” He took a seat on the porch swing, waiting for the vehicle to come into sight. He wanted to hope it was Harley or Happy or even Rhodey. But Harley was with his mother for the weekend and Happy and Rhodey were in New York trying to reason with the US Senate. None of them were due back for some time. Normally, none of these things would warrant Peter’s return to the farm, especially not the weekend before finals at Midtown, but it was May 29th. Tony’s birthday. Nobody wanted Pepper to be alone with Morgan. Especially not with the six year old’s recent development of screaming at mentions of her father and penchant for never forgetting a date. So far, she hadn’t mentioned it, but the knowledge was clear in her red eyes and strained whines.
Today was not a good day for an intruder.
The car parked, killing the engine. It was quiet.
Peter leaned back in his seat, stretching his legs out.
He would have almost preferred any assailant to the hero that came out.
“Sam,” Peter acknowledged.
The new Captain smiled wearily, wearing clean slacks, sleeves on his button-up rolled to his elbows. Peter tried not to feel inadequate in his holey jeans, mud smeared over the front.
Peter stood up and came to the edge of the steps, blocking Sam from joining him on the porch. “Now isn’t a good time.”
Peter swallowed. “What are you doing here?”
“The guys at the Compound, we- They decided I should come and check up on Pepper and Morgan. Considering the day.”
Peter stared down at him, waiting for more.
“I didn't know you would be here. I guess it makes sense, though.”
“Because you're family to them.” Peter stayed silent, and a tense moment passed. “You planning on saying something, kid?”
“Don't call me that.”
“Alright.” Sam's confident posture was beginning to crumble.
Peter pushed his hands into his back pocket. “I’ll be right back.” He slipped into the house, finding Morgan’s face pressed against the window. He scooped her up. She looked nervous.
“Morgan, do you remember Sam Wilson?”
She blinked at him. “Um… wings?”
“Yeah.” Peter smiled. “He came over for a visit. Do you want to say ‘hi’?”
She burrowed her head into Peter’s shoulder. “Brownies?”
“He could, um, help us make brownies.”
“I don’t remember that being on our agenda.” Peter raised an eyebrow.
Morgan leaned back in his hold. “But he’s a guest!” she protested.
Peter couldn’t help but chuckle. “Alright. Brownies it is.”
“With gummy worms?”
Peter chuckled and shrugged. “Why not?” He reopened the front door to find Sam shuffling awkwardly. When he saw the pair, he straightened, waving at Morgan with a small smile on his face.
“We’re making brownies soon,” Peter announced, bouncing Morgan teasingly. “You’re invited, if you’d like.”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Chapter 7: Fishing Nooks
Morgan and Harley
Morgan tightened her ponytail in determination. Water rushed below her feet. Taking a deep breath, she turned back around.
"I can't do it." She restrained herself from whining, because her voice hurt, but barely. Harley knelt down beside her.
"Morgan, that sounds dangerously like that fixed mindset that keeps Peter up at night, teeth chattering and ears bleeding."
Morgan's trembling chin lasted a short moment before she succumbed to the laughter incited by Harley's dramatic tone. Harley smiled at her, then out at his environment. The sun trickled through the spaces in between the leaves, reflecting on the small pond their fishing lines had been cast into moments before. It was on the back of the property, with no clear path through the thick forest surrounding the clearing. Tony had built a small dock over the pond with Harley one summer, creating their own little corner of the world.
"Now what about fishing do you think you can't do?" Harley prompted.
Morgan shrugged, pursing her lips. "All of it."
"I see. Which part of 'all of it' in particular?"
Morgan kicked the dock with her pink rain boots. "Getting the fish."
"Well that, kid, is out of your control. I hate to break it to you, but we are now in a waiting game. We'll see who will give in first: us, or the fish." To drive in the silliness of his tone, Harley tickled Morgan until she was doubled over laughing, crying out "Stop it!" between her giggles.
Her words made him jerk back immediately, even has she continued to laugh. They only reminded Harley as to why they were out here in the first place. He had been in New York to spend the weekend with Peter, whose decathlon practice that lasted all day Saturday kept him from coming to the farm like usual. He had only been there a few hours when Pepper called him. She apologized, but begged him to come home. Morgan's meltdowns had reached a breaking point and with Happy out of town, Harley was the only one she could turn to.
He flew back right away, finding Morgan screaming at the top of her lungs when he arrived.
"Stop it! I want Daddy! Where's Daddy?"
"Morgan, baby, we've talk about this." Pepper was close to crying. Morgan already was. "Daddy isn't coming home. He can't-"
"No! Daddy! Want Daddy!"
"Morguna-" Harley murmured, kneeling beside her.
"Shut up! Stop it!" She was near a breaking point, her voice shrill. "Daddy's name, not yours! Stop it, stop it, stop it!"
"Morg, please, deep breaths. I know you're upset-"
The little girl just screamed, piercing through everything Harley or Pepper tried to say. She hit them away when either got near, hiccuping tearful breaths before continuing to yell. Her voice became raw. Harley drew Pepper away when Morgan dropped onto her back, unable to keep on her feet and still wail. In the kitchen, her screams still choked his heart, but at least he could also hear Pepper.
"Do you know what set it off?"
Morgan had been having meltdowns for the better part of the month. Most were in connection with her father, especially when Pepper brought him up. The girl refused to accept that he wasn't coming back. It was heartbreaking.
Pepper shrugged, "She asked if- if Tony was coming to lunch. I said no." She shook her head. "She's never been set off this long. She started almost-" Pepper looked at her watch. "-four hours ago."
Harley nodded, swallowing hard. But before he could answer, the house became silent.
The pair shared a look.
Harley edged back to the living room. Tears streamed down Morgan's face, panicked breaths puffing out. She stared at the ceiling, eyes unfocused.
"Oh, Morgan," Harley whispered. Her gaze turned toward him. "Come here, kid." He scooped her into a hug. Her arms feebly wrapped around his neck, his own clutched her middle tightly. "I wish I could take it all away. I love you so much."
"Love you," she choked out, voice congested and hoarse.
Once Morgan's sobs subsided for the most part, Harley pulled her away. She latched onto his shirt, face weary. He rubbed her back. "Let's get changed, alright? I've got something I want to show you."
Which was how they ended up back here, fishing rods in hand. He and Morgan reclined in the two wooden chairs settled on the dock.
Morgan watched her rod. "If I wait long enough, will he come home?"
Harley closed his eyes. "I'm sorry, Morgan." He shook his head.
Tears slid down her face once more.
"I miss him."
"I do, too."
"How do I make it feel better?"
"With time. Everything gets better with time."
"Like with the fishes?"
"Yeah, like with the fishes."
Harley wiped his tears.
They didn't get a bite until they came back two weeks later.
Chapter 8: Cooked Meat
Harley and Peter and Morgan
“Morgan, do you want a hotdog or a hamburger?”
The girl cocked her head. “Hotdog. Can I have mayonnaise on it?” she asked suddenly.
Harley held back a laugh, “Of course, kiddo.” He swooped her up in his arms, settling her onto his hip. He was ecstatic to be back for the summer, after his first semester at MIT.
“Harley!” she whined. “I’m too big to be picked up!”
“Of course. My bad, Morg.” He set her back down, continuing to lead her up towards the patio. The smell of meat cooking and explosives was not as disturbing as he thought it would be. Around them, other families of heros waved. The few children around were playing kick ball at the bottom of a hill nearby, their shouts of excitement filling the air. Harley saw Cassie pitching to Cooper and smiled. On the patio, Pepper was holding court with the remaining original Avengers. Even Thor, along with the other Guardians, had made it back for the party. When Morgan saw her mom, she climbed up onto her lap, happily listening to their conversation. Harley headed for the grill, meeting Peter there with his friend Ned, who Harley only recognized from his Instagram feed.
“Hey, Harley,” Peter greeted, swallowing a bite of hamburger. “This is Ned. My friend from school.”
“Hey,” Harley waved. He pulled two hotdogs from the table that Scott was sliding them out onto. He smeared mayo onto one and ketchup on the other.
“It’s great to meet you,” Ned exclaimed. “You’re- wow.”
Harley squinted his eyes. “I’m not one of the heros, pal. You’re probably thinking of someone else.” He shrugged, piling some chips and carrots onto Morgan’s plate and watermelon onto his own.
“No, but like-” Ned looked to Peter for help, but the hero was eating his burger dubiously. “You’re here. And cool. And-”
“Save yourself the trouble, man,” Harley laughed. “You’re here. And from what Peter tells me, you’re pretty cool too.”
Ned made a noise.
“Reel it in, Ned,” Peter suggested, tossing his plate into the recycling bin and brushing his hands on his jeans.
Harley smiled. “Morgan!” he called. “Food!” The little girl raced over, earning some chuckles from the retired Avengers. Ned’s jaw dropped. He knelt down when Morgan approached.
“Oh, powerful one,” he worshipped, head bowed. “Thank you for blessing me with your fair presence.”
“Dude!” Peter complained, knocking his shoulder to get him to stand up.
Morgan giggled. “I like him!” she exclaimed. “He talks like Thor!”
Peter smiled, obliging when Morgan motioned to be picked up.
“Whoa,” Harley protested, feigning offense. “What happened to being a big kid?”
Morgan shrugged. “Peter’s been gone forever. ”
“Peter was gone for a day to pick up Ned.”
“And a day is forever .”
Harley shook his head. “Sure, kid.”
Ned still seemed in awe of their interaction. Possibly something to do with the “Stark royalty” he muttered under his breath before Peter swatted at him.
“You eaten anything, Ned?” Harley asked.
Harley motioned to the wide array of food being churned out. “We may be feeding super metabolisms, but there’s always too much. Grab something. Then we can head over to the kick ball game and heckle Lila.”
“O-okay.” Ned grabbed a hotdog and some Pringles quickly, with Peter snagging a plate of brownies which Morgan had helped make. The girl demanded to be put down so that she could carry her own food down the hill. Harley stuck a couple water bottles into his pockets and they set off.
Down at the field, the teams were switching sides after Cooper had caught Miles’--Bruce’s recently adopted son--last kick. Lila ran over, since she was at the end of the kicking line. “Hey, Morgan! Hey, boys,” she greeted. She flashed a smile at Ned, who looked about ready to pass out.
She looked amused. “Hawkeye. I know.” Harley snorted. “And you are?”
“Ned. Ned Leeds. Peter’s friend.”
The young hero huffed out a laugh at Peter. “Haven’t seen you in a while, Spidey.”
Ned looked at Peter in anguish, mortified that someone knew his identity and would be so brash as to say it outloud.
“Been busy, Hawkeye.”
“Whatever.” She rolled her eyes. “Save a carrot for me, Morg!” she called over her shoulder as she ran back to the field. Morgan waved.
“Peter. What the heck?”
Harley rolled his eyes. “There are no secret identities on the Compound, Leeds. You want in here, you get a background check and your number loaded into everyone’s phones. We like to keep it simple.”
“You mean… Captain America has my phone number?”
Ned looked about ready to faint. Harley wasted no time at poking fun at the other teen. Eventually, Morgan went to play on a swing set with Nathaniel, leaving the older boys alone with the setting sun. The kick ball game came to a close, with Cassie’s team winning by only two runs. Pepper came down to collect Morgan, reminding the boys that the fireworks show would be starting in ten minutes.
“Oh. Should we head inside then?” Ned turned to Peter, who Harley and Ned both knew had a heightened startle response to loud noises.
Peter shook his head. “I think I’ll stick this one out.”
Ned looked surprised, but didn’t say anything as they trudged back up the hill. At the top, Morgan found them once again.
“Morgan, I was gone for a semester!” Harley protested.
“But Peter was gone for yesterday !”
Harley just rolled his eyes, picking her up despite her insistence against it, to watch the fireworks together. Peter held Morgan’s hand when the first battery went off. But they were all reminded of their safety when the fellow heroes ‘ooh’ed and ‘ahh’ed at the beautiful display.
Harley, Peter, and Morgan huddled close together.
Ned studied them.
Family had never been more clear to him.
Chapter 9: Head Lice
Peter and Morgan
Peter was startled from his deep concentration over which movie he and MJ should bring for the drive to the lake house by his phone buzzing in his pocket. He reached down to send the call to voicemail, not wanting to interrupt their time together, when MJ gave him a look. He showed her who it was from and she answered it, holding the phone to his ear held it himself.
"Hi, Pepper," he greeted.
"Hi, hun. Have you and your friend, MJ, left yet?"
Peter shook his head. "No, we're still finishing up packing here."
"Oh, good, listen, do you know what Nix is?" She didn't wait for him to respond, clearly distracted by the chattering girl in the background. "I need you to pick up a package of that at the store before you leave the city, if you could. You would be a real lifesaver. See you in a bit dear, thank you." She hung up
MJ took his phone out of his hand. "Did she say Nix?"
She pointed a Moana DVD case at him, cutting the other teen off. "Do you know what that is?"
"No, but I-"
"Peter, that's for lice. Does Morgan have lice?"
"I am not going to a secluded house infested with lice ."
"It's just lice!" Peter protested.
MJ rolled her eyes, setting the DVD back into the pile. "For you , it's 'just lice', for me, it is ten extra loads of laundry and using special shampoo for the next two weeks." Peter stared at her. He reached for his phone, preparing to call Pepper back, saying that she shouldn't set an extra place for dinner. MJ huffed. "Fine, but if I get lice, you're doing my laundry."
"Deal!" Peter agreed immediately, grabbing the entire stack of DVDs and somehow fitting them all into his backpack. "Let's go!"
MJ rolled her eyes, but nevertheless picked up her own overnight bag and followed Peter to the nearest corner store. Their drive upstate was peaceful, filled with sibling banter, one terrible rendition of "Under the Sea" from Peter, one surprisingly good cover of "How Far I'll Go" by MJ, and one notable call to Ned to determine who had the best trick basketball shot. Before they knew it, Happy was dropping them off in the circle drive in front of the house and telling them to get out before they made if any older. Their laughter carried them out of the car, but once Happy pulled away, MJ got quiet.
"What's wrong? It's not the lice again, because..." His words died on his tongue as he took in her tight posture.
The girl looked to the SUV that was disappearing into the trees. She shrugged, pushing her hands into her jacket pockets self consciously. "Maybe I should just go home. I don't know-" She pointed to the house with her pocket. "-them. I don't want to intrude or-"
"Michelle." She scowled at him. "You're always going to be welcome in my home. Just accept it already and get a hair net, okay?"
"Fine, Parker," she grumbled.
Any further conversation they could have had was immediately cut off by a bounding six ( "Almost seven!" ) year old though.
"Oof, hello there, Morg!" Peter grinned.
"Peter! Peter's friend! Mommy's making all my animals take a bath, but they smell worse now and she's going to put them all into plastic bags and they'll suffocate you have to help, please Peter! Please, Peter's friend!" the little girl begged. Morgan's hair clung to her face, as she had clearly just bathed. She also had a series of multi-colored rubber bands running down both her wrists, indicating that her hair was meant to be up, but Morgan had run off before she had gotten to it. Morgan had a knack for accidentally cutting off the circulation of her fingers because she got overzealous when it came to hairbands, so Pepper only let them out of her drawer when it was necessary.
"We'll see about your stuffed animals," Peter assured her. "But first, let's get your hair put up. Do you want one braid or two?" He settled her down on the porch steps before plopping down behind her. MJ leaned onto the railing across from them, collecting her hair into a tight bun goodnaturedly.
"Two!" Morgan requested. Peter held out a hand, causing the young girl to place two hair bands in it. He raised an eyebrow and she sheepishly relinquished the rest into his grasp. He stuffed them into his pocket before getting to work, efficiently dividing her dark hair into six sections. "Peter's friend!" Morgan called. "You do the other side!"
"What do we say, Mo?"
Peter glanced up from his work. "You up for it, MJ?"
The teen rolled her shoulders back, hiding her grin at the request. "Sure thing, squirt."
"I am not a squirt!"
"I was talking to Peter," MJ intoned.
Morgan, of course, thought that MJ was hilarious. Excited to finally meet the star of many of Peter's stories, as well as be in the company of another young girl, Morgan couldn't stop herself from asking a series of, probably overly invasive, questions. She would have only gotten braver with her inquiries if Pepper hadn't chosen to come looking for her daughter just as they had finished the braiding and Morgan had asked MJ who her favorite American Girl Doll was. It was a good thing MJ hadn't been able to answer either, because she had a look in her eyes that Peter associated with toppling the patriarchy.
"Morgan, we have to put your hair up," Pepper reminded, stepping onto the porch. "Or not, thank you both," she smiled. "Michelle, it is so nice to finally meet you."
The two women shook hands.
"Likewise, Ms. Potts."
"Oh please, it's Pepper.”
Peter took in the two, eyes bulging. He never expected the two most powerful women he knew to get along so well. Before they could start sharing notes on world domination, Peter excused Morgan and MJ to help Morgan place all of her stuffed animals--which was a lot --into plastic trash in attempt to kill the lice residing in their synthetic fur.
Peter scrubbed a hand over his face tiredly. Morgan was of the belief that her stuffed animals would suffocate if they went into the bag--her words. Peter wasn’t exactly sure who she had learned that word from, but he also wasn’t going to be the one to pull that thread. “Mo,” he attempted again. “They aren’t going to get hurt.”
“It’s going to help them, Morgan,” MJ interjected. “They have the same bugs in their fur that you have in your hair. Do you want the bugs to keep hurting them?” The little girl shook her head. “Then will you help them by putting them into the bags?” She nodded, understanding, although not completely happy with the situation.
That night, Morgan insisted that MJ read her the next chapter in her bedtime book, A Wrinkle in Time. The family had initially thought it would be triggering, considering the events leading up to her father’s death, but Morgan seemed eager to learn anything that had to do with her father’s life.
Peter had long perfected the art of both deflecting Morgan's questions that pointed toward her father and doing so in a manner that let her mind rest enough for her to fall asleep. But, of course, MJ was a natural, getting the girl to konk out in just under fifteen minutes.
Peter tried not to be jealous.
Chapter 10: Emerging Legacies
Harley and Peter
School was back into full swing, homework and lab work piled high, so both boys were excited when Labor Day weekend popped up, needing a break. They both decided to head into the country to the lake house to spend it in the company of their adoptive family upstate.
They spent Saturday morning in the company of Morgan and Pepper, watching movies, playing games. In the afternoon, Morgan went with Happy to visit her uncle Rhodey in town. Pepper had offered for him to come over, but the boys knew that he wasn’t completely welcome due to their recent disagreement about how to best honor Tony’s legacy. Both wanted to expand SI’s philanthropy, but since Pepper controlled both his personal wealth and his company’s, she decided where best to extend it. Some of those places, Rhodey deemed less deserving than others. He also took offense to how seemingly little she was donating, not taking into account Morgan’s or the boys’ livelihood like she was. Neither could agree on anything other than that his memory could not be forgotten. It was petty, they both knew that. But neither could give up the closeness to Tony they felt when they believed they were following his wishes.
So Happy picked Morgan up and took her into town. She loved her uncle, who was often away on missions, so even though the boys were home, the girl was not devastated to leave them behind.
With Morgan out of the house, Pepper decided on a more adventurous meal for dinner, since the young girl was a pickier eater than her father. Harley and Peter assisted in the preparation of the gyros, happy to be of service. The family relaxed in each other’s company, joking around and throwing ingredients. But Peter could tell there was something on Pepper’s mind. About halfway through their dinner, Pepper cleared her throat.
“I think it’s time that I make good on a promise, boys,” Pepper announced after much internal deliberation, voice gravely with worry. The teens blinked over at her.
“What?” Harley asked, choking on a bite of his gyro. Peter wiped his hands on his pants, her tone sticking in the base of his brain. He tapped anxiously on his knee for a moment before picking his dinner back up, trying to calm his nerves by giving his hands something to do.
Pepper gave a half smile. “It’s in his will that you two take over RnD, which you know.” They nodded, grief and confusion flooding their eyes. “But a subsection of that wish was that you two gain access to all SI research facilities and his personal workshops.”
Peter dropped his gyro back onto his plate. Not that he was completely shocked, neither of them were--Tony always had a flourish for larger-than-life gifts--but the trust that this indicated was unprecedented. It further added to the weight of Tony’s memory that they were to uphold. To carry and spread. A reminder that their work was not done. This task was not something they shied away from, but it was hard to embrace it when the origin of its assignment was the loss of their mentor. Their father.
Peter quickly cleared his throat. “It’s an honor, Pepper,” he assured her, wiping his eyes. “Why- why now?”
She nodded at the question’s validity, holding back tears. “You’re both growing up, creating your own technologies and identities. I can’t keep you from the tech or the heroism, but I can at least make it as safe as possible. After- after Morgan was born, everything was baby proofed here. When he saw how many modifications we had to make to the lab downstairs, he realized how unsafe the environment was.” She laughed to herself, memories swirling by before she continued. “As if I hadn’t been telling him that for years. He revamped all of the other research centers around the world in reaction.” The boys smiled at the thought. Nothing was more emblematic of Tony. “I want you two to take a look around. You already have access to all of his work files, so don’t be afraid to download anything. He wants you to finish what he started.”
And wasn’t that a kick in the pants.
Their hunger vanished quickly, so they quickly put away any leftovers and placed their plates in the dishwasher. Peter stared at the ‘box’, as Morgan still put it, thinking of all the time Tony had put into just one device. He wasn’t sure he had the patience. When dinner was cleaned up, Pepper led them to the garage. Pepper deactivated the door lock to the workshop with a facial recognition scan and with the voice command of ‘Show me the money’. It was so painfully Tony that Peter would have cried if he hadn’t been steeling himself since dinner.
They descended into the lab silently, bare reverence on their faces. Harley went first, because he was more confident in his place in the future Tony had gifted them. Pepper closed the door behind her boys. Peter heard her murmur to FRIDAY, “Keep an eye on them, okay?”
Peter ran an anxious hand through his hair.
Harley glanced over his shoulder. “This is what he wanted,” the older boy reminded.
“All we’re going to do is look.” Harley walked further into the expansive room. “We’ll start mining through all the files later.”
Peter nodded, fiddling with the light switches on the wall, lost in memories. He accidentally hit the third one, turning on the holofield in the lab. Four sensors scanned the room in blue light, checking for environmental changes. Before Peter could turn the system off again, a projection began to materialize in a swivel chair a couple of feet from where Harley was reading blueprints. Harley glanced at the radiating light and flinched away when he recognized Tony's worn smile.
Peter sucked in a sharp breath. Harley backed up toward his brother.
“If you're both here, it means I did it, but not without me kicking it. Or maybe I just forgot to disable this protocol. If that's the case and I'm alive, turn this off now. You're not getting any of my shit.” Peter choked out a laugh. The skin around Tony's eyes crinkled. “But seriously, I'm probably gone. And I'm sorry. I wasn't strong enough for you. I should still be there to take care of you boys, but I'm not. I can't be anymore. But I want you two to know that I am so proud of you. You are strong young men, stronger than me. You're going to craft your world, I know it.” Tony paused, looking somewhere off camera with a pained look. “I love you both so much,” Tony whispered. “I want to give you the world, every last corner. But I guess the future of it is the best I can do. Pete, keep up the fight. And Harley, keep up the…” Tony fumbled for a word. “Future? Advancement of mankind. Shit, I really killed that moment. FRIDAY, edit it that together for me later, okay?”
“Sure thing, boss,” the AI replied, sounding amused.
“Thanks, girl.” Peter smiled faintly, wiping his tears onto his sleeve. “Anyway, boys, continue my work, yeah? Peter, give the Iron Spider suit some good use. And Harley, scare the hell out of some interns for me. I stashed away some toys for you two. It'll be better than Christmas. Or Kwanza. God, why are videos PC too?” He rolled his eyes at himself good-naturedly. Then, he got quiet. “Keep an eye on Morgan for me, alright? She's going to need her brothers. And get ready to save the planet with the ideas I have stored. They're relying on you now. Be stronger than me. Be better. I know you can.” Tony shook his head. He was silent for a long minute.
“I don't know why I keep bothering with this videos,” he rambled. “They just make me sad and they're never going to-” He turned the recording off.
“Would you like to save this message?” FRIDAY asked.
Harley blinked. “Yes. Yeah, yes, Fri. That would be- Thank you.”
“Boss also requested that your gifts be given to you after the recording is watched. Would you like them now?”
Harley glanced at Peter's shell shocked face. The younger boy nodded despite his conflict. “Now's good, FRIDAY.” Harley's voice wobbled.
“Please refer to the illuminated cabinet.” The boys looked and sure enough, LED lights traced a cabinet on the far side of the room. They steeled themselves before walking over. Harley pressed against the smooth surface and the door popped open, granting access to his fingerprints. Inside sat a pair of glasses, a Stark Pad, and a flash drive. Each device was neatly labeled with their names. Peter’s for the first two and Harley’s for the last.
Gingerly taking the glasses, Peter put them up to his face. Immediately, surface options displayed in front of them. He drew them away, quickly overwhelmed by the information. Setting them aside, he picked up the Stark Pad. It was keyed to his thumbprint and immediately unlocked. The device connected to the glasses, but when he dug further, he found blueprints for the aforementioned Iron Spider suit. Peter continued to look.
Harley took the flash drive over to the nearest computer and plugged it in. The memory stick was password protected. The password prompt read, ‘We are…’ The password was nine letters long. Harley glanced back to Peter, who was occupied with his own gift. Though it was painful, Harley searched his memory for any reference to Tony’s phrase. His eyes watered when he finally typed in ‘connected’, It was accepted. Inside the files were hundreds and hundreds of plans and blueprints and voice memos from Tony.
Harley scanned through the different ideas, each one better than the last, when Peter spoke up.
“Uh, I think you should have these.” He held up the glasses. “They would be perfect for RnD.”
Harley shook his head. “You’re the hero, Pete. I’d feel better if you had them. Besides, they’re for you.”
Peter nodded thoughtfully. “Okay.” He looked around. “All of this though…” He gestured around himself. “It’s for you.”
“Thank you,” Harley whispered. Peter knew he wasn’t the one being addressed.
Chapter 11: Business Trips
Harley and Morgan
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Morgan, it turned out, hated planes. Car rides, she loved. But in a ten hour flights, Phineas and Ferb and Coco playing non-stop as well as dolls and coloring pages strewn about were not enough to keep her displeasure in check. Every spot of turbulence running through the private jet was enough to make her crawl into the nearest adults lap and stay cuddled up for the better part of the next thirty minutes.
“ Harley!” she whined after one such rough patch.
She squirmed in her mom’s lap. Pepper didn’t look up from the contract she was reading, only wrapping her free arm tighter around Morgan’s middle.
“Are we there yet?”
“Not quite. Sorry, M.”
Harley strolled over and picked her up from her mother, who gave her daughter one last kiss before letting her go. Harley smiled at that.
“How about we do a puzzle, huh? That would be fun.”
Morgan leaned back in his grip. “Can we do the Dora one?”
Harley beamed. “Of course we can do the Dora one! That’s the best one.”
“My- my Olaf one is good too,” she intoned.
“Right you are, kiddo.” Harley set her down onto the floor and settled down beside her. She opened the puzzle and dumped all of the pieces onto the floor. Harley began turning them all face up while she looked for matching edges among the fifty parts of the picture. It was by far her easiest puzzle, because Morgan was a Stark through and through, but he didn’t want to stress her out with anything too difficult when they were still in the air. When Morgan was about a third of the way through, Pepper called out, “Harley, did you finish with the folder I emailed you?”
Happy looked up from his Stark Pad curiously. Harley knew a test when he heard one, groaning internally when he realized he was going to fail. He was definitely not finished with the folder, which contained about fifty personnel he was supposed to memorize before they landed in Wakanda. It was Thanksgiving break, so he hadn’t been excited to get more homework on what was supposed to be his off-week. “Mostly,” Harley replied. Which was mostly true. There were only fifteen or so more names he needed to put to faces. Pretty good, if he did say so himself.
“So no? Is it on your phone?”
Happy laughed unhelpfully from his seat. Morgan looked up from her puzzle at that, but Harley pushed another corner piece to occupy her attention.
“So no.” Pepper sighed. “Alright. Did you at least get through all royalty and scientists?”
“Yes.” He was positive.
“Who is the head of their army?”
“You’ll be fine.”
Harley smiled to himself.
He stopped when they landed. He wished that he had taken Peter up on the offer for those glasses because he was pretty sure they could identify all of these strangers for him. He held Morgan’s hand, hoping to use her as a defense against all of the new people, but she was intent on meeting everyone at the reception after the formal greeting from King T’Challa himself. The king apologized for the absence of the rest of the royal family, but promised they would all be present for the dinner later that evening. Harley held back a groan as he introduced himself to yet another person who responded with ‘I know’ and he couldn’t. Morgan happily darted between people, more excited to be off the plane, he believed, than to be at the pseudo-party.
After the king, his advisors, and Pepper left for a meeting, this one Harley wasn’t required at (he was pretty sure it was more of a gossip session about other nations’ leaders), he took Morgan upstairs to the guest suite they were staying in before he could embarrass himself any more dignitaries.
An hour of getting settled before Happy told Harley that they were switching off babysitting duty so Harley could get to his first meeting, tossing a suit at him from his suitcase. Harley sighed. He always left dress up with Morgan to Peter, but no such luck this time.
The attendees consisted of the Minister of Scientific Advancement ( which, first off, sick , Harley thought), Pepper, and himself. Apparently, the princess was supposed to be there, why, Harley wasn’t sure, but she had been caught up in something else. Harley figured being of royal blood was pretty demanding, so he didn’t judge her.
The meeting was boring, and Harley was glad when it was over, since feeling inadequate wasn’t one of his strong suits. Pepper dropped him off in the guest room, saying a quick hello and goodbye to Morgan before being whisked off somewhere else in the building.
Pepper wasn’t gone for more than thirty minutes when someone interrupted their viewing of Finding Nemo . After sending Morgan to the guest bedroom, Harley opened the door to the main area. Outside stood a girl, her braided hair wrapped into a loose bun on top of her head, typing onto a hologram projected out by her kimoyo beads, lines of code in a language Harley didn’t know streaming past.
“I was told you were the next Tony Stark.”
Harley shut the door, sliding the deadbolt into place, breath shuddering.
She knocked on the door again.
“What do you want?” he called out. Pepper had said no more meetings today. He ran a hand through his hair. It was shaggier than he remembered. Offhandedly, he wondered when he would have time for a haircut. Then he considered leaving it grown it. It would distinguish him from Tony. That couldn’t be too bad.
He heard the girl sigh. “I want to meet Stark Industries’ next head of RnD so I can see if we’d have any reason to collaborate. Stark was a great man. A genius to most. If we had time, I would have sent him ideas. Asked for feedback.”
“Ideas about what? Who-?” He scanned his memory. The folder of important names finally became handy. “Shuri?”
“The one and only.” The door swung open. Harley didn’t have time to process that she had done that even though the lock was mechanical because the princess (Harley wondered how it had become normal in his life for a princess to know who he was) strolled in. The hologram was gone, the beads hidden under her long-sleeved t-shirt, which pictured two chromosomes saying ‘Stop copying me’. He never wanted to be not in a suit more. “So are you?”
“Taking over SI’s RnD.”
“Well, come on then.” She was already walking back out the door.
Harley blinked. “Wait. No. I can’t leave my- Morgan.”
Shuri turned, raising an eyebrow. “Then bring her.”
“Um… if your lab is anything like- like Tony’s, then it’s no place for a seven year old.”
Shuri pouted. “I’ll put away all the cool gadgets then.”
Harley rolled his eyes. “At least let me talk to her.”
“Why? Me and Mo are tight.”
Of course, Morgan chose that exact moment to stop listening to Harley and to leave the bedroom.
“Why do I even…”
“Hello, my iparele encinci ,” Shuri greeted, giving Morgan a tight hug. “It’s been so long.”
Harley gave them an annoyed look.
“We met after the funeral,” Shuri finally explained. “We played for an hour before I had to leave.”
That was why Harley hadn’t seen the girl most of that night, between her introduction to Peter and, apparently, Shuri.
“Can we go play now?” Morgan asked excitedly.
Shuri deferred to him.
“Fine,” he grumbled, shucking off his jacket.
The elevator ride to her lab was awkward, at least for him. Morgan and Shuri seemed to have no problem catching up. Finally, the doors slid open and Harley’s eyes widened comically.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Shuri laughed, tapping on the edge of a container filled with gray sand. “Here, Morgan, you can play with this.”
Morgan skipped over, trusting Shuri completely with the device. The sand was somehow linked to a tablet, and everything Morgan drew was reflected in the sand.
“I think you could figure it out,” Shuri mused. “A man like Tony Stark does not let go so easily.” Harley started to protest, but Shuri cut him off. “I say that out of respect. I trust that you understand.” The more she spoke, touring Harley around the lab space, the more Harley relaxed. He was standing in the future. “You will be creating this too,” Shuri asserted softly.
“What? No, I-”
“You hold the keys to SI, don’t you?”
“Well, yeah, but-”
“Don’t underestimate yourself.”
With that, Harley let all his defenses drop. Shuri seemed to notice, because she decided that was enough philosophy now and because speaking about her inventions. Harley settled into the conversation easily, more in his element. He didn’t realize how much time had past until Pepper called him.
“Where are you and Morgan?” she demanded. “Dinner started nearly thirty minutes ago.”
“Oh, um…” Harley suddenly understood why the princess was at none of the formalities earlier that day. “We’ll be there soon,” he promised. It took twenty more minutes just to leave the lab though. This time, Shuri joined them at the event.
'iparele encinci' is Xhosa for 'little pearl'
Also, are there any loose ends anyone wants to see tied up? I am outlining the final four chapters now and I want to make sure they are as fluffy as possible. Let me know in the comments!
Chapter 12: Conference Tables
Harley and Peter and Morgan
Definitely just a filler chapter because I just want to post the next 4 chapters, sorry
Pepper decided to take pity on her hoard of children and signed them all out of school on April 25th to join her in Stark Industries’ LA offices for ‘Take Your Child to Work’ Day. It was company policy to not allow children on floors containing sensitive information and cutting edge research--of which, Pepper’s office contained both--but the trio was trusted with more secretive files at the breakfast table. Besides, Pepper wasn’t exactly concerned about security breaches from the future of the company. Instead, they were all beyond grateful to lounge around in the waiting area outside of Pepper’s office. Morgan colored a picture of Moana and Pua in various shades of purple. Peter replayed Pokemon Red and Blue for the sixth time on his Gameboy. Harley periodically swiped through project proposals on a Stark Pad, feet kicked up. Peter frowned. “No work today, we agreed.”
Harley sighed, “I just have a couple folders left, I'll- Hey!’ he protested as Peter stole the device away, powering it off. “I'm running behind!”
“You sound like Mommy.”
Peter choked out a laugh. “Yeah, Harley, you sound like Pepper.”
“I resent that,” the shaggy haired boy muttered, leaning back in her chair to yawn. He looked around the room as if seeing it for the first time. Although none of Pepper’s offices looked the same, he wasn’t quite sure if he had. The walls of the LA office were a light gray color broken up by pieces of modern art. The pillows on the couch that Morgan and Peter sat on tied in the colors of the paintings, along with the lampshades. Maybe he was becoming like Pepper, he mused, to notice such a detail. Or maybe he just needed to stop watching Love It or List It reruns with his roommate's girlfriend.
Pepper's new secretary, a recent UCLA graduate named Talia Kruma, who recently replaced Bambi Arbogast, laughed at the trio. When Harley glanced over, she looked mortified that she'd been caught until the young man flashed her a smile. Before Harley could tease Peter back, Pepper, amused, listening to someone else on the phone, breezed out of her office with her assistant trailing her with a stack of papers she was organizing on the fly. The pair stopped at Talia’s desk, giving the assistant a moment to straighten the files and place them into a briefcase. Pepper finished applying her lipstick and hung up her call.
“I have a meeting across the street, so I won’t be eating lunch with you.” Morgan set down her coloring page, preparing to protest. Harley put a hand on her knee, settling her to allow her mother to finish. “But there are sandwiches downstairs from a department meeting earlier. Talia can show you down there.” She gave a soft smile to each of her children. “I’ll be back before you know it. Promise.”
Morgan demanded several hugs before she allowed Pepper to leave. Then she and her assistant breezed away.
Peter pushed his Gameboy into his back pocket, picking Morgan up and planting a loud kiss on her forehead. Harley jumped up and smiled at Talia as she motioned to the elevator.
“Here’s the conference room,” Talia informed them. “Mr. Parker, if you would turn yourself and Miss. Stark around…” Peter spun Morgan in his arms, confused look on his face. “Mr. Keener this-” Peter heard the beeping of buttons being pressed in. “-is the code to get in. The door locks automatically.”
“Why don’t I get to know the password?” Peter pouted, spinning him and Morgan back around.
“Because you aren’t the head of RnD. Mr. Keener is.” Talia failed to hide a grin.
“I have level eight access.”
“I have level ten, Pete. Hate to break it to you.” Harley ruffled his brother’s hair playfully. Morgan giggled, teasing Peter until she was confronted by the food Harley placed on her plate.
Peter bit his lip, noticing the change. “Hey, M?” Harley glanced over from the fridge where he was putting away the extra sandwiches.
She broke off her death stare at her turkey and cheese to look at Peter.
“We’re not going back to your mom’s office until you eat at least half of everything on your plate.”
It wasn’t the first time that Morgan had been told something like this. The first few months after her father’s death, phrases such as that had followed her to every dining room table and its substitutes. Hearing it from Peter though... it had been a while.
Morgan grabbed Peter’s hand. “Not hungry,” she mumbled.
“Your mom said that you didn’t eat breakfast,” Harley informed the pair.
Morgan frowned. “Mommy lied. I ate apples.”
“I don’t think so, M,” Peter sighed. “Pepper only lies when it’s important.”
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
“Not exactly what he meant, kid.”
Morgan glanced between the two boys. “Turn around,” she demanded. They complied.
“You better be eating back there,” Harley warned.
“Am,” Morgan whined, mouth full.
The boys’ posture relaxed. Sometimes, wins were few and far between, but they were always a gift.
When they went back upstairs, Pepper had returned and offered them brownies from the restaurant she was at. Morgan ate two.
Chapter 13: Square Deal
Harley and Peter
Between MIT, his grandfather's funeral in Rosehill, and the lake house, Harley hadn't been to New York to visit Peter for what felt like forever. Although the boys tried to coordinate, neither had been to visit Morgan at the same time for the better part of a month, which was why Harley was practically jittering with excitement stepping off of his subway car only a few blocks from Peter and May's apartment. He unlocked the apartment with the key May had given him only a couple of months after meeting Peter and hollered his greeting.
“Harley, it’s been too long,” May remised, standing in the kitchen washing dishes.
The teen grinned, kicking off his shoes and hoisting himself onto the counter next to her. “Seriously. I haven’t had enough burned food this month,” he griped, running a hand through his hair.
“Hey!” May swatted him sarcastically with her dish towel. “Only people who have eaten my food get to insult it.”
“So no one, then.”
“I knew there was a reason-”
Both May and Harley stopped their banter immediately, turning to see Peter standing on the outside of his bedroom door, the lights inside the room off. His eyes were red, sunken deep into his face. Apparently, his excuses for being unable to Facetime were fabricated. Peter wrapped his arms around his middle, oversized sweatshirt clinging to his frame. Harley would have thought he was sick, but he knew that with Peter's advanced biology illness was near impossible.
“Hey, Pete.” Harley crossed the room and pulled his younger brother into a tight hug. “I missed you so much, man.” Peter nodded into his chest. “Let’s get something to eat.” He didn't know what was wrong. He hadn't seen Peter this rundown for nearly a year, with the exception of anniversaries. But he knew that getting Peter into a new environment was a surefire way to get the teen settled back into his own skin. “We can even go out, get away from your aunt’s sorry excuse for burgers.”
“Okay.” Harley hated the flatness in Peter's voice.
He rubbed Peter’s arms before pulling away. He gave May a confused look and she shrugged, clearly not sure where Peter’s state was originating from either. Harley ushered Peter to get on his shoes and real pants, and then they were walking down the New York streets to the nearest McDonald’s, whose fries Harley knew were Peter’s guilty pleasure.
About a block away from the apartment, Harley nudged Peter. “So how's junior year treating you? Gotten your ACT results back yet? Or was it the SAT you took in-”
“Eight civilians died in a bank robbery last Wednesday.”
Harley felt like the air was knocked out of him. Okay. “Or we could talk about that.”
Peter picked at his sleeves. “Spiderman used to patrol Wednesday nights, five to midnight.”
“And was that healthy for Spiderman?” Peter flinched. Harley pulled them to the side of a building so that the foot traffic could flow around them, taking Peter's hands in his own. Urgency crawled up his throat. “That's not your responsibility.” Peter looked about to argue, but Harley knew that he needed to be heard first. “It's okay to still be processing. A lot happened.” He touched Peter’s chest, dropping his hands. “ You need to be okay before you can help anyone else.”
“It’s been almost two years.” Peter looked down at his now lonely hands. “At first I thought it was okay because crime had gone down after everyone had- had come back, but...” Peter shook his head, looking straight into Harley's eyes with a fierceness that had been lacking before. “But now this. I have to go back. Tony would want me to go back. New York needs a hero. A Spiderman.”
Harley nodded, taking a deep breath. New York didn't need Spiderman; New York needed Peter Parker. Peter was the one who needed Spiderman. “I support you, man. You know I do. But I don’t want to see you get hurt. And it’s selfish, I know, but…” He sighed. “I love you, Peter. You're my brother.” Peter looked down. Harley knew he had lost in that one movement. “Just start out slow,” he relented. “Get back into the swing of things before you start putting the world on your shoulders.”
Peter blinked. “Did you just make a Spidey pun?” he asked dryly, finally snapping completely out of his melancholy.
“So what if I did?”
Peter laughed before getting serious, but thankfully not sad, again. “I’ll go slow,” he promised. “No murderers, no terrorists, no supervillains. Not until I know that I won’t lose.”
Compromise McDonald's was the best kind, Harley decided.
Chapter 14: Locked Doors
Peter and Morgan
Warning: Descriptions of violence
Morgan squeezed Peter's hand so tight that he was considering having her tested for mutant-grade super strength. He adjusted his backpack straps one-handed to distract himself momentarily.
“We don't have to do this, M,” Peter reminded softly. With his other hand, he brushed her hair back. “We can always come back another time.”
“No,” she whined. “I want to.”
Peter smiled at the stubborn set of her shoulders. “Alright.” Her grip didn't loosen. “How about after they finish, you choose a couple of different pairs of earrings to wear after your ears heal.”
“Okay,” Morgan agreed reluctantly. “You'll help?”
“Of course, Morg.”
She loosened her shoulders slightly. The technician returned from the back room with her needle a moment later. She displayed a small selection of studs for Morgan to choose from, one of which she would be wearing for the next month or so. Morgan chose a pink pair, which Peter knew was not even close to out of character, but her quiet anxiety when picking certainly was. His skin prickled, Spidey senses yearning towards her, and then, suddenly, below him. He was about to pull her aside to ask her what was wrong and to figure out what was causing his senses to go haywire on the first floor of the mall, when several gunshots rang out in the store below them.
Peter didn't even think. He picked up Morgan and ran to the supply closet in the back of the Claire's, ignoring the screams echoing through the building. He locked the door behind him, mind buzzing with the need to help. He knew he promised Harley to take it slow, but he couldn't help it that danger clung to him. He was changing out of his Midtown sweat shirt and jeans and into the suit when his attention was pulled to the immediate.
He slipped the rest of the suit over his shoulders. “Huh?”
“What are you doing?” He could hear the tears in her voice, but when he glanced at her, he saw no trace of them on her face.
Peter sighed, tapping his chest piece so that the suit tightened around his skin. “Morgan, this is very important. There are people getting hurt every minute that I’m in here. I need you to listen, okay?”
“Okay.” Her breath was shaky.
Peter began rapidly shoving all of his clothes into his backpack. “Good. I need you to press your communicator. I’m going to leave and I need you to lock the door behind me. Don’t let anyone in except for me, Harley, Happy or your Mom, do you understand?” He slung the backpack onto her shoulders, clipping it in the front.
Morgan nodded quickly, already pulling the panic button from under her shirt. She pressed the button, turning the center light blue. It would turn red again once Peter left and would only turn off alert when a complementary device touched it. Peter gave Morgan his phone from the side pocket of his bag.
“If you need anything, call Happy, okay? Someone will be here soon.”
With that, Peter slipped his mask onto his head and stepped out of the room.
Morgan stared at the door, before locking it quickly. Only when she was alone did she finally let herself cry.
The phone buzzed.
Morgan looked down. Karen was calling. Morgan didn't know who that was, but she answered anyway, figuring if they knew Peter, they had to be safe.
“Ms. Stark, I am Karen, an AI who works Mr. Parker when he is acting as Spiderman. Mr. Parker asked me to keep in contact with you while he is away.”
Morgan clutched at the phone. “Okay.”
Karen asked Morgan easy questions about her favorite things and her day and her immediate surroundings. Normally, the girl would have protested the simplicity, but she had to admit that it was soothing. It kept her mind off of the screams and gunshots all around her.
After Morgan answered her favorite color, pink, Karen informed her that she had an incoming call from Happy Hogan.
“Thank you,” she whispered, wiping her nose with her shirt sleeve. The call transferred.
“Happy, I’m really, really scared. Petey’s in the mall with the bad guy and-”
“Morgan, I need you to tell me where you are?”
“I’m, um. In the ear piercing place. In the back.”
Morgan searched her mind. “Claire’s.”
“Okay. Me and your mom are in the parking lot of the mall. There's law enforcement here and Peter has been in contact with them. He’s working with us to get everyone safe. But once the bad guys are gone, I don’t want you to leave the room you’re in until me or your mom comes to get you, got it?”
Happy sighed, “Alright, Morg, just hang in there. We’ll be-” A burst of gunfire went off in the hallway outside of Claire’s. Morgan knew the scream following it. Then silence. Her heart threatened to break out of her chest.
“Morgan, I’m going to call you back.”
The call ended.
“Karen?” she whispered.
There was no response.
Morgan tried to keep from wailing. She didn’t want to draw any more attention to her hideout than was necessary. But she knew that scream. She heard it on every roller coaster ride and horror movie marathon. Petey.
The following hour was somehow both ten seconds and ten years. There were shouts all around her room, with medical terminology and orders from police officers and cries from survivors. No one knocked on her door. No one asked if anyone was in there. She tried to use Peter’s phone to at least talk to Karen, but when she tried to call the AI, no one answered. She called FRIDAY, but the same thing happened. She was alone. Morgan took out Peter’s sweatshirt from before and put it on, burying her nose into the front. Finally, there was a knock on the door.
Morgan held her breath.
“Morgan, are you in here?”
“Alright, M, you can unlock the door now. You’re safe. I promise.”
Morgan looked down at her communicator. It was blue. Her shoulders slumped. “Okay.” She pushed open the door and Happy immediately scooped her up. Her device turned off, beeping once.
“I’ve got you, kid. I’ve got you.”
She buried her head into his shoulders, tears renewed. Happy ran a hand through her hair. “Keep your eyes closed, okay? There’s some stuff that you don’t want to see.”
A thought came to her. “Where’s Petey?”
Happy held her tighter.
“Happy.” It was Mommy. “Peter needs you. Come here, Morgan.” Mommy took her from Happy’s strong grasp. “I love you, baby. Love you so much.” Happy was gone when Morgan looked back up. The remnants of the store were covered in blood and bullet holes. “Don’t look, honey. We’re going now, but I want you to close your eyes.”
“He’s going to get some help. We’ll see him soon, sweetie, okay?”
“It’s going to be okay.”
Mommy only lied when it was important. Morgan wished that she was telling the truth.
Chapter 15: Waiting Rooms
Harley and Morgan
Mommy said five more minutes, then Harley would be here and then they could go to the vending machine and get gummy worms for Petey. Until then she was to stay put in the stiff chair and keep a hand on the communicator that her brothers had given her. Morgan squirmed, anxious about being alone around so many strangers. She hugged Peter’s sweatshirt tighter. Mommy was down the hallway on her left on the phone, walking back and forth. On Morgan's right was the door that led to the maze of hallways with the room that Mommy said Peter was in. She wanted to go in there and play with Petey, but Mommy said that Peter wasn't feeling well and that he was getting help. A door swung open and closed to her left. She looked and saw that her mother had gone outside.
Setting her long abandoned Star Wars coloring book, a gift from Peter that she had left in her mom's purse weeks ago, onto the chair next to her, she approached the receptionist across from her.
The man tiredly looked up from his computer. “Yes, dear?”
“Can I go play with my brother now?”
The man frowned. “Where did your mother go, kid?”
“That's Harley's name,” Morgan pouted, tugging on the communicator.
He sighed. “Where’s your mom?”
“I don't know.” Morgan was frustrated. This man was not listening. She wanted to see Petey or Mommy, or-
The girl was being scooped up. She twisted in the grasp to see Harley behind her. She buried her head in his shoulder. “I wanna see Petey!”
“I know, kid,” he murmured, snuggling her close. “I want to see him too. But right now, Peter needs to feel better. Otherwise, we might make things worse.” Morgan shook her head, pushing at Harley. “Hey, come on, kiddo.” Harley brushed her tangled hair out of her face, wiping the few stray tears that had slipped out. “Show me your happy face. Petey wouldn't want you to be sad, you know that.”
Morgan shook her head again, but allowed Harley to sway her across the floor, comforting her. He placed a kiss on top of her head before setting her down in a chair and kneeling in front of her. “Peter's aunt is going to be here soon,” Harley began. “And she's going to be really sad and really worried. I know you're going to want to see Peter as soon as possible, but when people are allowed to go visit him, his aunt is going to go first. You’re going to have to be patient, okay?”
“Okay,” she sniffled. Harley got her set back up with her coloring book and wrapped the Midtown jacket around her shoulders. Morgan noticed that his eyes were wet when he handed her the markers. She gave him a big hug in return.
“I love you, kid.”
“Love you too.”
Her mom came in a few minutes later, finally off the phone, followed by Uncle Happy and Peter's aunt. Uncle Happy had an arm around May's shoulder, even though she wasn't crying. Morgan clung to Harley's hand as they all sat around her.
Mommy told Mrs. May that Petey was going to be out of surgery soon and then she could see him and then he would be transferred to the Avengers’ house. Morgan thought that Petey should be out of surgery now so that they could play, but she remembered what Harley said. She stayed quiet for the most part. Mommy asked her if she was okay and she nodded.
“Can we get Petey gummies now?”
“Of course, sweetie.” She pulled a handful of dollar bills out of her purse and handed them to Morgan. “Will you make sure that she gets snacks for everyone?” Mommy was looking over Morgan to Harley. She didn’t like it when her mom did that. Harley took her hand, despite her internal flash of frustration, and led her out the doors and down the hallway to the vending machine.
“Is Petey going to get better?”
“Of course!” Morgan peered up at Harley. He looked sad. “Why do you ask?” His previous enthusiasm was gone.
Morgan bit her lip. “Um. Petey was gone before. And then he came back. But, he could go away again, right?”
Harley looked away from the vending machine. He picked her up and settled her onto his hip. “Morgan.” She glanced up at him when he bounced her gently. “Peter's going to be okay. He's going through a rough patch right now, but that won't keep him down.” He righted the jacket, which was slipping off of her shoulders.
“But-” Despite the assurance in his tone, Morgan felt hot tears spill over. “But I don't want him to disappear like Daddy.”
“Oh, M.” Harley put his face in her hair and breathed deeply for a moment. “I know it's scary. I know, kid.” She hiccupped, trying to get enough air to sustain her sobs. “But we have to be brave for Peter because he’s scared too. He’ll get better faster if he knows we believe in him, okay?”
Morgan nodded into his shoulder.
“Now let's grab some snacks and head back, okay? We can keep coloring and I bet your mom will let us watch Frozen .”
“Really,” Harley promised. He set her down a moment to put Peter’s jacket over her head before picking her back up and snuggling.
Harley prompted Morgan to pick one snack for everyone. Gummy worms for Peter. Bugles for Happy. Sour skittles for Harley. Cheetos for herself. Popcorn for Pepper. Reese’s cups and pretzels for May. “Because she knows Peter the most so she's the most sad so she gets the most snacks.”
Harley said he was proud of her.
Arms stuffed full and still in Harley's grasp, Morgan shyly presented each of the snacks, barely loud enough to be heard over the chatter of the rest of the lobby’s occupants, to the group anxiously waiting for Peter. Peter’s sweatshirt sleeves extended far past her hands, but she refused to take it off. They each thanked her graciously, but she knew that they were all still sad. She buried her face in Harley's shoulder as they sat down. She was still sad too. Harley maneuvered her so that she was facing forward with her coloring book on her lap. She couldn't focus well, her mind was buzzing, but she tried her best to answer all of her big brother's questions about her pink Darth Maul. She kept her Cheetos unopened because Mommy said that she couldn't take them in to visit Peter. She wasn't hungry anyway.
Everyone's heads snapped up.
“Peter has been just returned from surgery. He's stable and will likely be cleared for visitors soon.”
Morgan snuggled back into Harley. He hugged her tighter, but it didn’t seem to be in response to her sadness, rather in reaction to the good news. He seemed happy. Morgan wasn’t sure why that felt wrong.
“When will he be cleared for transfer?” Mommy asked.
“Within the next few hours.”
Mommy nodded. The nurse left and everyone went back to eating, except for Mommy, who started texting. Morgan only scrunched further back.
Harley bounced her. She felt tears welling up again. But that didn't make sense. The nurse just said that Peter was okay. She shouldn't be crying.
Frustrated, the girl loudly closed her coloring book. No one heard over the bustling of the lobby. Harley stroked her hair for what felt like hours. Then the nurse came back, telling Mrs. May that she could go to Petey now. She squirmed, but Harley kept her from jumping out of her seat. He turned to the next page in the coloring book and talked to her about his mom and his friends at college and before they knew it, Mrs. May was back and said that Peter was asking for his sister. She took Harley's hand and they traveled back into the hospital.
Chapter 16: Movie Marathon
Morgan and Peter and Harley
Peter decided, when he woke up, that he was never eating pizza before patrol again. Getting sliced open in a fight and watching the undigested bread and cheese spill out was a pain worse than the injury itself. No New York delicacy should be defiled like that.
Coming out of surgery was awful, especially because his enhanced metabolism meant that he had already burned through all of his pain meds but seeing as he was in a civilian hospital, he couldn’t ask for more without raising any eyebrows.
So his tense body collapsed with relief when May entered the hospital room. She assured him that they were going to transfer him to the Compound as soon as she was provided papers to sign. Now it was just waiting through the pain.
May left, promising to be back soon with more company.
He tried to stay awake until she got back, but he woke up to Morgan asking unintentionally loudly if he was okay.
“‘M okay, Morg,” he slurred.
Harley set Morgan onto the floor, but Peter saw how he held her shoulders to keep her from approaching Peter too quickly. He sent the older boy a brief smile, trying to keep his pain out of his eyes.
“Um. Mommy said that you got hurt.”
Peter grimaced. “I did. But you're okay, so s’all okay.”
“Okay,” she murmured.
Harley helped Peter arrange himself so that Morgan could sit next to him on the hospital bed. Harley pulled up a chair and settled next to them. “Let's watch Frozen .”
Peter nodded to Harley. “Gonna pass out,” he warned.
“Don't sweat it, man. We've got you.”
Harley pulled a Stark Pad and pulled up the movie. Peter was out by “The First Time in Forever”, but he woke back up at the screams that followed Elsa revealing her powers for the first time.
“Wha- M? Are you-?” He scrambled about, jostling the medical equipment around him.
Harley gingerly grabbed his wrists. “Hey, Pete. It’s okay. We’re all okay. I promise.”
The girl patted his arm shyly. “Hi, Petey.”
He relaxed slightly at that, and continued to do so when Harley accounted for Peter’s family, blood and not. Peter’s eyes fluttered shut. He remained asleep for the rest of his family's visits and check-ins by doctors until Harley’s whispered exasperation filtered through his unconsciousness.
“... asleep, so I can’t let you in.”
“He can’t consent to you being here so you can’t be here.”
Peter felt Morgan sleeping beside him first, then opened his eyes. Standing in the doorway, Harley blocked out the now elderly Steve Rogers. Panic surged through Peter, washing over the pain that jolted through his body. He ripped out his IV and stumbled out of the bed to the door. “Harley, get M out-”
“Whoa, Peter, stop.” Harley grabbed his shoulders. At the commotion, Morgan stirred awake.
“Petey?” she asked. She looked at the stranger, squinting her eyes in confusion.
Harley guided Peter back to the bed, sending Steve a warning look to stay put. “Pete, no need to play hero right now,” he whispered. He settled Peter back down and buzzed for a nurse, sighing in frustration at the dangling IV.
“But-” Peter coughed. “But, he’s- Morg-”
The older teen ran a hand through Peter’s hair. “Nobody would have let him get this far if we didn’t trust him. You know that.”
“Tired,” Peter mumbled, blushing at his mistake.
“I know, kid.”
Harley laughed a little at that.
“Mr. Steve, why are you dusty?”
Harley turned quickly. “Morgan, that’s not a nice thing to say,” he admonished, picking the girl up.
“Come on. Sit with Petey for me, yeah?”
“Okay,” she conceded, curling up next to her older brother, who was still on high alert.
Steve, still in the hallway, cleared his throat. “We heard what you did, Peter.”
Peter narrowed his eyes. “How did you-”
“You’re in the Compound. They transferred you hours ago.”
Peter cocked his head in conceit. He hadn’t noticed it in his earlier panic, but the room was not the previous standard set up. Instead, it was filled with advanced medical technology and a ridiculous number of encouraging cat posters. The TV in front of him was playing Frozen at muted volume.
“So Peter,” Steve began again, leaning against the doorframe. “What do you say? Join the Avengers? They need someone with your heart.”
Peter bit his lip, thinking hard. Harley placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Like Daddy?” Morgan asked from where she leaned against Peter.
“Yeah,” Steve agreed, suddenly looking far older than Peter thought imaginable. “Like your Daddy.
Morgan looked at Peter in terror.
“What do you say, Spiderman?” Steve repeated.
Peter looked between his two siblings. Both gripped at him, not wanting to let him go, even metaphorically, but understanding that this was Peter’s decision. It always would be. He wrapped his arms around both of them.
“Not yet.” He jerked his head to Harley, eyes shining. “I promised this one I’d wait on the supervillains for a bit.”
Steve raised an eyebrow. “Not mass shootings?”
“That one snuck up on me, I'll admit.” Steve nodded knowingly, humor brightening his wrinkled skin. “Talk to me again after I graduate high school.”
“I’ll take you up on that.”
Peter squeezed Morgan and Harley. “I hope you do.”
Steve smiled, seeing so much of his old teammate in this boy. Finally, he crossed into the threshold of the room, sitting down in a chair stuck in the corner as a nurse finally arrived. She chided Peter for removing his IV, but stuck it back in just the same. Harley upped the modified morphine after the left, causing Peter to list to the side drowsily.
Recognizing that the ‘adults’ were done speaking, Morgan crawled off the bed and asked, “Why did you get old, Mr. Steve?”
Harley started to tell her to apologize, already removing himself from Peter’s loose hold, when Steve waved him off. “I was gone for a little while. On a bit of a vacation. I got old because I was gone for so long.”
“But your back.” Morgan stayed planted a few feet in front of the ex-captain.
“I sure am.”
“Did you see Daddy while you were gone?”
With Peter out of commission, Harley interrupted with a sharp “Morgan!”, stepping toward her.
But she was determined, moving back and pressing on. “Peter was gone when I was really little,” she explained quickly. “But now he’s back. And you’re back too.”
“Daddy’s not coming back,” Morgan said slowly, as if to confirm that Harley understood this too. She crossed her arms sourly. “I know. But Mr. Steve did you see him? Please?”
Harley sighed, seeing Steve’s eyes grow cloudy. “Only once. When he was born.”
Morgan giggled. “Then you’re really old!”
Steve leaned forward in his seat. “I am now. It’s been a long life,” he admitted.
Finally sensing his upset, Morgan extended her version of an olive branch. “Do you want to watch Frozen with us?” she asked quietly.
“Yes!” She looked at Steve attentively. Peter snoozed softly behind her.
“Maybe next time, munchkin. I've got to go now.” Steve stood, old eyes shining at the young girl’s spirit.
“Okay!” Her grin made him smile softly as he shut the door behind himself, startling Peter awake briefly. Harley picked her up, placing a kiss in her hair before setting her down next to Peter, who immediately wrapped her in his arms.
Upon Morgan’s insistence, the movie began again and with the happy music and threat absent, Peter began to drift off again. He was nearly asleep when Morgan spoke up, wiggling a little in his grip. “Peter?”
“Um. Today was really scary.”
“‘M sorry.” He squinted his eyes, trying to keep awake despite the drugs coursing through him.
Morgan gave him a small hug. “I just want you to be better.”
Peter felt tears burning in the back of his eyes. “I’m trying, Morg. I really am.”
Chapter 17: Road Trips
Harley and Peter
“Can we please roll up the windows? I think my skin is about to peel off my face!” Peter shouted over the wind. Harley laughed, but finally unlocked the window buttons from the driver’s seat. He stretched out a little, legs fuzzy from driving. Thank God for cruise control, he thought absently, tapping his fingers on the wheel.
Peter sighed with relief as the pounding lessened. "Thanks," he mumbled, leaning his head against the cool glass. Gazing out at the growing Baltimore skyline as they sped toward DC, he noticed a chipping road sign. "Harley!"
"What?" The older boy glanced over.
"We have to stop."
Harley couldn't help but agree to that. He flicked on his turn signal and veered to the next exit ramp. Five minutes later and they were parking in an empty parking lot, save for one car, who they assumed belonged to the one employee leaning against the admissions booth at the front of the building. A large sign in the shape of a mouth with an arrow pointed to the building, reading 'Museum of Dentistry: Washington's Choppers' informed the pair that they were in the right place. Peter grinned. "Two tickets please," he requested once they approached the blue haired employee.
The woman, whose name tag identified her as Caroline, looked the pair over. “Alright,” she drawled, passing them over in exchange for their thirty dollars. They declined her as a tour guide, deciding to poke around the museum themselves. The first floor was nothing special, just detailing the apparently storied history of dentistry in America. The second floor, though, was where the magic happened. George Washington's final tooth was the first display.
"I don't think I've ever been in the presence of such fame," Peter intoned. "And Tony Stark is paying for my college."
Harley held it together for maybe fifteen seconds before doubling over laughing. "Tony would kill you for saying that."
"It's true! Who is more universally known than Washington?"
"Dude. You've met him. It's Tony. It will always be Tony." Harley shook his head as they drifted over to the next display, a video screen displaying the evolution of drills used by dentists.
"I like to think that the world is more cultured than that."
"I like to think that Tony would disown you for saying that."
Peter rested his head against the glass, laughing. "You win."
They passed through the rest of the museum having a teeth pun competition, which Peter won, and taking ridiculous selfies, which Harley posted. His Instagram story had gained a considerable number of daily views after he moved in with the Starks.
In the gift shop, Peter wandered through the aisles, trying to decide between a logo'd hat and a t-shirt that read 'What do you call two dentists who live on opposite sides of the world?' on the front and 'Molar Opposites' on the back. He was leaning toward the shirt when the stumbled upon a cooler. He called his brother over.
"I know it defeats the purpose of all the clean teeth tactics we learned today, but… Ice cream?"
"Oh my God, yes," Harley agreed, pulling two tooth shaped ice cream bars out of the freezer. Caroline rolled her eyes as she checked them out.
Peter unwrapped his ice cream in the parking lot, shoving the wrapper into his pocket to recycle later.
After much cajoling, Harley handed over the keys and Peter hopped into the driver's seat. "You're going to be the death of me," Harley groaned.
His point seemed to be proven as soon as he merged back onto the highway. Peter drummed his fingers on the wheel, eating the ice cream he held in the other hand. "You drive like a maniac!" Harley shouted, eyes wide, as Peter passed another semi truck. He turned over his shoulder in time to see the driver shaking his head at the perceived reckless driving. "Let me take over."
Peter rolled his eyes. "You're just being overly concerned."
"About my life? No such thing."
"I'm a safe driver," Peter complained, biting into his cone. "Never had an accident."
"Stop eating and driving! You're going to get us killed!"
"Mother hen!" Peter sing-songed. He glanced over to see Harley's reaction, who was fuming. His driving quality was no different than Harley's, but with the control out of his older brother's hands, Harley was anxious to reel it back. Their teasing had peaked though, and they settled into silence after a few more quips. Peter pulled the crumpled up ice cream wrapper from his pocket and placed it in the cupholder. Harley picked it up, flattening it back out. He wrinkled his own, frowning, straightening it as well. Peter bit his lip, concerned. He placed his hand on the radio's power button. At his brother's nod, he pressed it. Immediately, the blaring of “... SO I DRINK TO YOUR HEALTH, WHILE YOU KILL YOURSELF…” was switched off before the refrain of “Go on and save yourself. And take it out on me” could blast out of the speakers.
The silence was heavier now.
“It’s been six years, you know.”
Peter kept his eyes straight ahead. He knew for a fact that Abby had died five years prior.
“Since I’ve seen her smile.”
“I’m sorry,” Peter whispered.
Harley sighed. “I know. Doesn’t help.”
Peter bit his lip, not wanting to bring Harley into any sort of conversation he wasn’t ready for. In the quiet, they passed a green sign reading, “Tennessee 204 miles”. Then 189. Then 176.
“She was… a firecracker, you know? Always had something to say." Harley stared out at the sloping hills. He shook his head, wiping his eyes. "Whenever- When Morgan talks sometimes, I just hear her voice. Her first word was 'peanuts', but the first time she had some, we found out she was allergic." Peter laughed as Harley went quiet again. Five miles from crossing into his home state, Harley grabbed his brother's hand. Peter squeezed back as they passed the "Welcome to Tennessee: The Volunteer State" sign. Two hours of quiet reassurances later, and Peter was parking in Harley's driveway.
Leaving their overnight bags in the trunk, the boys began up to the front porch. Before they could knock, the door swung open and a short woman stepped out. "Harley!" she exclaimed, pulling him into a tight hug. "You don't call, you don't write," she chided lovingly. "And you must be Peter!" She wrapped her son's friend into a warm hug. "It's so nice to meet you. Thank you so much for taking care of my boy."
Peter startled out of his awe. This woman carried the confidence of Pepper and the savviness of May. There was no one else to raise a man like Harley. "I, um- yes. I mean, no-no problem. He's like a brother," he reported.
She smiled, already fond. "Come inside. I'll make you a sandwich," she offered.
"Don't do it," Harley warned. "She'll be knitting you sweaters and holding your hand at the dentist next."
The mother, Amelia, cuffed him sarcastically, herding the boys to the kitchen.
Thirty minutes later, they were back on the road, mood gentle, but happy. Harley's quiet words directed Peter, in the driver's seat, to the cemetery. Peter glanced at the cup holders. Four peanut butter sandwiches and a packet of Forget Me Not seeds waited there. He smiled.
Chapter 18: Dying Flowers
Morgan and Peter
Morgan swung Peter and hers intertwined hands, singing Brother Bear songs softly. Her free fingers brushed the knee-high grass surrounding the path they walked down. Peter didn't recognize it, but Morgan seemed familiar with the twists and turns. "Petey, look!" She exclaimed, pointing at a pair of rabbits that Peter caught dashing away.
He laughed and joined in her excitement before asking, “Where are we going again?” watching his little sister happily as she danced through the brush.
“Secrets!” Morgan proclaimed, her skip a little higher at Peter’s laugh.
“Alright,” he acquiesced. Saying no to Morgan was like getting a tooth pulled by Thor Unpleasant, to say the least. Peter breathed in deeply, enjoying the shadows playing across his face. College didn’t leave him a lot of time to be outside, so every moment in nature with Morgan was a gift. “Are we there yet?” Peter mock-whined, squeezing the girl’s hand.
“No, Petey,” she admonished, grin plastered on his face, squeezing back. She tugged him toward the left, downhill.
The trees hugged tight along the path until the pair broke out into a clearing filled with small flowers.
“Here!” Morgan announced, letting go of Peter’s hand to explore the meadow microcosm. Peter was taken aback at the undisturbed natural beauty. “Daddy and me used to come here,” she explained happily. The small area was filled with different types of flowers and other greenery. The trees surrounding it made a near perfect circle with only one opening large enough for a person to walk through where they were standing.
“That’s- this is amazing, M,” he praised, taking a tentative step into the space.
“Now we can get Daddy’s flowers.” Immediately, the girl was hiking through the brush, zeroing in on a patch of daisies on the opposite side of the clearing. “These were Daddy’s favorite,” she announced, expecting Peter to follow her, which he, of course, did. “He said that they’re perfect even if they aren’t the right color.”
“That sounds just like your dad,” Peter agreed, kneeling down next to her as she picked a dozen or so flowers out. “What color did he think they should be?”
“Yeah. Definitely Mr. Stark.” Peter thought a moment. “You know, there is a way to make them red.”
Morgan looked at him wide eyed. “Really?”
Peter grinned, nodding. “If we put them in water that’s dyed red, then that red color will go into the flower’s petals.”
“Well…” Peter considered how to explain it. “You know how when you eat a blue popsicle, your mouth turns blue?”
“Well when the flower drinks red water, its petals turn red.”
“That’s so cool! Can we do it, Petey?” She jumped up to her feet, holding the flowers to her chest. “Can we?”
“Of course, Mo.”
After a quick walk back and twenty minutes of searching for the food coloring, the daisies were finally in the water, drinking in the red pigment.
“How long will it take?”
“I’m not sure. A couple days, maybe.”
Morgan considered. “So before Friday?”
“Yeah. Definitely before the anniversary, Mo.”
“Any time, Morgan.”
Chapter 19: Double Graduations
Harley and Morgan
“Where are they?” Morgan called from across the hall. Harley paused in parting his hair before ruffling it all back to its normal position. He was never going to pull off anything other than a shaggy mop.
“Where’s what, Mo?”
“My cowgirl boots!”
Harley frowned, crossing the hall to her bedroom. “Your what?” He pushed the door open to reveal his little sister in paint-spattered overalls and tangled pigtails. “Morgan, you know we’re going to a graduation right? Less fancy than a fundraiser, more fancy than a farm?” His eyes plead at her to change. He loved his sister, he did, but today wasn’t about her. Pepper and Harley really didn’t want to draw any attention to their family, other than Peter, who was already down town in a scratchy suit and a silk gown.
Morgan rolled her eyes. “These are my former jeans,” she protested.
“Morgan, that doesn’t even make sense.”
The elementary schooler sighed, already far too dramatic for an almost preteen. “Then what should I wear?” she groaned looking Harley’s sky blue button-up and khakis. “I don’t want to look old!”
“I don’t look old, kid.”
“Yes you do.”
“No-” Harley relaxed his shoulders. “Kid, we really don’t have time for this. We have to leave in-” He glanced at his watch. “-ten minutes. How about…” Harley thumbed through her closet. “This? A nice dress. Simple, sheek.” He was running out of enticing fashion words.
Morgan considered for a moment, before pushing past Harley and pulling out a sparkly pink dress. “I’ll wear this!” she exclaimed, pushing her brother out of the room so that she could get changed. Harley decided there wasn’t time to argue, and since it was better than the overalls, there was no point anyway. When Morgan slipped out with a lime green handbag and purple sandals adorned with little puff balls, he was positive she’d chose the clashing colors just to spite him.
But it was too late for that. He rushed the pair downstairs to meet an elegant Pepper in the front room, looking somehow causal in a sharp pant suit.
”Well don’t you two look dashing today,” the mother commented, beaming at her children.
Morgan lapped up the praise with ease while Harley blushed, ducking his head, and hands finding their way into his pockets.
Pepper clasped his cheek briefly before ushering the pair to the car in attempt to meet May and Happy at their apartment. Harley drove, mostly because he liked to, and partially because Pepper had to answer emails on her phone on the way into the city. There was stop start traffic for nearly twenty minutes into the city in which Morgan chose to blast the Sofia the First theme song on repeat, but thankfully they were on time to pick up the couple.
Happy took over driving duties from the teen, for which Harley was thankful. Open roads were much more his speed. During the exchange, Morgan and Pepper also got out to exchange hugs with May and Happy. For Happy, it had been nearly two weeks since he’d seen Morgan and their reunion was swift. The little girl ran into his arms and he lifted her up and spun her around until he held her in a final embrace. “Love you, kiddo,” he murmured into her hair. Harley grinned at his family.
They were a few moments late to the ceremony, as high school graduates were already entering the space below to the beat of the processional. Thankfully, p was later in the alphabet and May was able to film his entrance.
The speech by Principal Morita was boring, of course, with corny jokes and statistics, but Harley hung on every word, awaiting any recognition for test scores or service hours that Peter would receive.
But actually watching Peter cross that stage was something else. Even though he was only receiving a display for his diploma, the pride that swelled up in Harley was unmatchable. He squeezed Morgan’s hand. There were nights where Harley couldn’t sleep until the sun was rising. Those nights were all characterized by one thought: that Peter wouldn’t graduate high school. But he’d done it. Beat the super hero life sentence.
Harley cheered louder than the other parents as the class of 2026 exited the auditorium floor. And yes, he definitely brought a noise marker or two for him and Morgan.
Pepper rolled her eyes at the enthusiastic pair, especially as they continued their nonsense while following the other families out to wait for their own graduates. He chatted idly with the three adults while holding Morgan outside the hall, craning his neck for Peter when someone else caught his eye.
Steve Rogers stood in the back of the crowd, hands deep in his pockets, posture relaxed. His eyes searched the students now pouring out of the front doors. Suddenly, the captain caught sight of Harley. He cocked his head in question. From afar, Harley nodded. Peter was ready. He always had been, but now the hero knew it for himself.
Chapter 20: Christmas Parties
Harley and Morgan and Peter
Nothing made Morgan happier than seeing her family in one place, being able to tick off their safety with a single glance. Such instances were rare, and thus cherished.
She crushed each new arrival with the tightest hug she could manage. First, Happy and Miss. May, who brought a copy of Die Hard along with their Secret Santa gifts. Morgan greeted Harley and his mom next, with their own gifts along with piles of scratchy quilts. Finally, Peter set aside six large pizza boxes from Tony’s favorite dive to twirl his little sister around ten minutes later.
They settled around the fireplace, where a TV hung above. Amelia settled in arm arm chair across from the Christmas tree drooping from Morgan’s exuberant decoration. Harley positioned himself on the floor in between his mom and where Happy sat on the left side of the couch, with Morgan wrapped in a blanket to his right. Peter passed around plates before putting himself in between May and Pepper, also sticking to the floor while the alleged adults remained on furniture.
FRIDAY began the movie on Happy’s cue. Tony had never really bought into the Christmas dogma, likely due to a misunderstanding of the activities associated with it (the tale of one giant stuffed bunny stuck in the minds of the boys), so as a joke he had started watching Die Hard with Pepper in the years after they began dating to appease her appreciation of tradition. They would snuggle up on the couch and eat pizza and let the movie play. Exchanging gifts had been banned until Morgan’s first Christmas.
Now that Morgan was old enough to understand the movie, FRIDAY censored some of the less desired content, but otherwise, Tony’s memory was upheld in greasy napkins and startled gasps as May experienced the film for the first time.
When the credits rolled, Peter volunteered to clear the plates and put the leftover few slices in the fridge. The rest of their family stood up to stretch and Morgan began to pass out the gifts for their Secret Santa, having drawn names out of one of Morgan’s hats at the previous Thanksgiving. Harley moved to sit on the other side of his mom, leaning up against the end of the cooling fireplace while Peter settled across from him now on the right of Pepper. Morgan completed the circle beside the Christmas tree, grinning with excitement as she hugged her sizable gift.
“Who wants to go first?” Pepper asked, eyeing her buzzing daughter with a soft grin.
“Me!” Morgan called, raising her hand to drive the point home.
There was no argument from the rest of the family as Morgan passed her gift to Amelia. The mother smiled softly, thanking Morgan as she tugged away the extensive and warped wrapping paper to reveal a giant blue gummy bear, surprising a laugh out of her. Her eyes shone as she gave the little girl, no older than her own daughter would have been, a firm hug.
They decided to go in a circle, so Peter passed his small gift bag, as he was even more helpless at wrapping than Morgan, above his head to Pepper, before sliding next to the tree and settling Morgan onto his lap to give her a hug, eyeing Harley holding his mother’s hand to his right. Pepper pulled a pen with seven different sliders, one for each color of the rainbow and black.
“You can grade the colors,” Peter explained. “So then you can get the exact color you want. I had to play the chemistry, but it works. Thousands of different colors,” he beamed.
Pepper blew him a kiss with a please smile, before turning to her left and giving May a larger gift bag. She bunched up and tossed the blue tissue paper towards Peter and Morgan playfully. Inside the bag sat a backpack leash shaped like Spider-Man.
“Oh my God,” May snorted, holding the present to show the others. They all applauded the appropriateness of the gift, chastising their resident hero, who definitely needed to be kept track of. May went next, passing a cheerily wrapped shoe box to Harley.
“I wonder what’s inside,” Harley joked, shaking the box.
“Open it!” Morgan squealed, hating the suspense.
He obliged, ripping away at the red and green paper. He eyed the converse box curiously, before May assured him that she didn’t buy him size six purple high tops. Harley picked up the Phillip’s head screwdriver first, curiously clicking the button on the top, activating few tiny LED lights pointing towards the tip of the tool. He barked out a laugh before passing the gift to Peter who made grabby hands. The teen immediately shone the light in his eyes, causing the rest of the family to laugh.
“The History of Farts and Other Bathroom Humor,” Harley read the title of his second gift aloud, raising an eyebrow at May.
“I didn’t want you to run out of dad jokes,” she defended, chuckling.
Harley shook his head before thanking her for the gift.
Happy slid his gift towards Peter next, gesturing for Morgan to join him on the couch. Two Tootsie Roll shaped objects, one about a tenth of the size of the other, taped to the top, their ends twisted off in the same wrapping paper used by May.
Peter opened the larger gift first, blushing at receiving a gift from the patient man he spent the previous few years unintentionally antagonizing. The torn wrapping paper revealed the plush black fur of a spider Pillow Pet, which he quickly squeezed, rubbing his face in its softness.
“Thanks, Happy,” he grinned, peeking up from the toy.
The bodyguard shook his head. “Don’t thank me yet. Open the rest,” he encouraged. May nudged him with a barely concealed laugh. Peter’s forehead creased dubiously, but quickly unwrapped a Ziplock-baggied churro.
He rolled his eyes. "You're the worst," he intoned, taking a bite of the treat nonetheless, unsuccessfully keeping loose sugar from falling onto his new stuffed animal. He sheepishly brushed it onto the carpet as Amelia presented a pink envelope to Morgan.
The small girl curiously opened the package to find several packets of flower seeds. Amelia started crying silently, watching the child beam up at her in gratitude.
Harley tugged his mom into a hug, slightly surprised when he felt another pair of arms wrap around Amelia and himself.
“Thank you,” Morgan encouraged softly.
After a moment, Amelia thanked her back, eyes clear. They all settled back as Harley tugged the final gift from beside the fireplace and presented it to Happy.
The snowflake paper was tossed aside as Happy peered down at a box picturing an inflatable dummy dressed as a secret agent. He gave Harley a quizzical look.
“Inspired by your favorite Christmas movie,” the young man explained, referencing the man’s love of Home Alone. “To keep watch when you and May are busy.”
Peter covered his ears. “I never want to hear those words again!” he protested, crossing the room towards the kitchen.
“Where are you going Parker?” Harley called after his brother.
“I’m getting a trash can.”
“Boo!” Harley chastised sarcastically, throwing a ball of wrapping paper at him. Morgan quickly joined in until Peter gave up leaving in order to stop getting pelted by the very source of his cleaning goals.
FRIDAY began playing Elf upon Harley’s request once Peter sat back down in between his siblings with the couch at their backs.
The lights in the living room dimmed on the colorful garland and beads hanging around the room, leaving only the flickering glow of the TV on the family’s faced.
Tony would be proud, they would all later reflect. Tony would smile down on the family he brought together. The only light they would ever need.