“Have a great Christmas vacation, dude,” Ned said, holding his hand out in preparation for their secret handshake.
Peter swallowed a little thickly, overcome with regret at how far apart he and Ned had drifted. As his fist moved by muscle memory through the shake, he forced a smile onto his face. “Yeah, you too. Got any plans?”
“Oh, well, MJ’s parents are heading out of town to visit her grandma but she’s having chemo and MJ has got a bit of a cold so she can’t go. She’s going to be at home a lot by herself so we’ll actually get a chance to spend some time together. It’ll be awesome!”
“Yeah, yeah sounds like it.”
“What about you? Staying inside I bet to avoid more pickup trucks?” Ned grinned the way only a best friend could get away with as he referenced the cover story he’d been told to explain away Peter’s injuries from the previous month. They had said that Peter had left the winter dance because he’d not been feeling well and while waiting for his Uber, had stumbled onto the road and had been clipped by a pickup. It was enough to explain why he'd been off school, but conveniently left out the part about the coma since they’d not have been able to explain how fast he’d recovered. Because Mr Stark was so concerned about his favourite intern and hadn't wanted May to be left with excessive medical bills, he’d insisted that Peter be treated at the Tower’s medical ward, but of course, due to the high security there, visitors were restricted to family only.
Everyone had swallowed it hook, line, and sinker - except for Flash who had leant Peter his Dad’s car and had pieced together the events of the night when he’d seen on the news reports of the building that had mysteriously collapsed during the night.
Peter made himself laugh and he nodded. “Yeah, I think that if I do anything like that again, May will kill me.”
“No shit, dude - she would have been worried as fuck.”
Peter didn't need telling twice and he simply nodded.
“So, any plans though?” Ned pressed.
“Oh, not a lot. We’re just having Christmas lunch at home, nothing fancy, and I might spend the rest of the time working on some projects.”
“Cool. Well have a great break, see you when school’s back!” Ned smiled and clapped Peter on the back and then he was gone, leaving the other teen feeling slightly hollow. It wasn’t all that long ago that he and Ned would have spent most of their vacation together and while Peter knew that he was just as much to blame, that their lives had quite naturally diverged, it still stung a little that Ned hadn't even suggested that they spend a single day together.
But then again, neither had Peter.
He finished emptying his locker and zipped his backpack closed, and then came face to face with Flash. “Oh, hey,” he greeted him.
Flash couldn’t seem to meet his eyes, and he seemed almost nervous, and he just thrust an envelope into his hands.
“What’s this?” Peter asked.
With a slight look of mortification, Flash actually squirmed . “The holiday season is huge in our family, Parker, like you wouldn’t believe. Mom’s family travel up from Guatemala and the celebration is huge. Like, so huge that it’d put fucking Hogwarts to shame. Anyway, every year we have to sit down and write out Christmas cards for our friends. That’s yours.”
It was hard to swallow again but for different reasons. Surprising both of them, Peter pulled Flash in for a hug. “Thanks, man. Merry Christmas.”
Flash had seemed to freeze for a moment but then he hugged Peter back. “Merry Christmas.” They broke apart and stood awkwardly for a moment before Flash asked, “Doing anything exciting?”
“Oh, kinda. I mean, May has invited Tony and Bucky round for Christmas lunch and -”
“Back the fuck up, Parker!” Flash hissed, looking up and down the hallway to make sure no one would overhear them. “What do you mean, she’s invited them around for lunch? Are you saying that she knows ?”
“Oh, uh, yeah,” Peter replied, a little sheepishly. He rubbed at the back of his neck and shrugged. “Apparently that first night I was injured, well, things were tense and the guys were worried and they thought May was asleep and were talking and she kinds heard them.”
Flash’s eyes had gone wide. “How are they still alive?”
“From what I’ve heard, May realised how much they care about me and in the big picture, it didn’t seem all that important. I guess seeing me have a brush with death changed her priorities?”
“You are one lucky son of a bitch, you know that?”
Peter laughed. “Yeah, yeah I am. Trust me, I know.”
Flash turned and leaned with his back up against the lockers, shaking his head in amazement. “Wow. So, family meal, huh? Things are getting serious.”
Peter gave a wry smile. “She’s spent a little time with them already, actually. It’s been good.”
“Well, sounds like you have an exciting Christmas planned.”
“Yeah, especially since it’s our anniversary as well.”
Flash arched an eyebrow. “You’re living a fucking Hallmark movie, Parker.”
He laughed again. “Some days it seems like it.”
“Seriously, you guys all got together on Christmas Day? ”
“The three of us did, yeah.” He blushed a little, not planning on imparting any more information than that. Flash certaining didn't need to know about the ribbon that Bucky had tied around his throat before he'd presented Peter to Tony with the instructions to ‘unwrap your gift’.
“Oh, yeah, you were together with Bucky first, hey?”
“Um, yeah.” It was a little awkward, he had to admit, standing here talking to Flash about that when the other teen’s bullying had been the catalyst. If it hadn’t had been for that, then Bucky would never have kissed him to shut Flash up, and they would never have been set on this whole, crazy path.
Flash seemed to recognise the awkwardness as well and he let his head drop back rather hard against the locker before he turned his whole body so that he was looking at Peter properly. He was still leaning with one side against the lockers but it wasn’t an indifferent slouch, it was more like he was leaning against them for support. “Look, about that, Parker - I know that we’ve kind of moved passed all of that, but I don’t know if I ever apologised, you know, for treating you that way. I was an absolute dick to you, and I’m sorry.”
Peter’s eyes widened in shock. “It’s okay, really.”
“No, it’s not. I don’t even know why I did it most of the time, maybe just because you never said boo back and it made me feel big.” Flash squirmed at this admission and his cheeks were flushed. “Whatever it was, I really am sorry. You didn't deserve that, and you’re a better person than I’ll ever be. Hell, you could have fucking flattened me but you never did.”
“Yeah, well, couldn't give away my secret now, could I?” Peter joked, trying to ease the tension.
“I’m pretty sure that there were numerous times when you could have had your revenge without anyone else noticing a thing, but you didn’t.”
A memory flashed across his mind, of Winter holding Toomes around the throat, ready to crush his windpipe, only stopping because Peter had asked him to. “Revenge isn’t really my thing,” he murmured softly.
Flash regarded him solemnly for a long moment. “No, because you’re a good person, Parker.” He sighed. “Unlike me.”
“Hey,” Peter protested, “don’t say that. Yeah, you made mistakes but you’ve changed, Flash. If you weren’t a good person, you wouldn’t have.”
There was a little bit of hope in Flash’s eyes. “You think so?”
“I know so,” Peter told him confidently. “Look, you’re not that guy anymore. You don’t treat anyone that way anymore, so it’s not like you’ve changed just because you know my secret identity.”
Flash nodded but still looked morose. “I guess I just still feel bad for how I treated you back then.”
“Think of it this way - if you hadn’t been a dick to me that day, Bucky wouldn’t have kissed me to shut you up, and we wouldn’t have realised that we actually could be together, and then things with Tony would never have happened either. Hell, if you think about it, if none of that had happened, Winter probably would never have surfaced either.”
Flash’s furrowed his brows. “Winter?”
Peter grinned. “Oh, yeah, you haven’t heard about him yet.” He looked at his watch, seeing that he still had a couple of hours before Tony and Bucky would be home from a meeting with the Accords Council and knowing that they couldn’t stay in the emptying school hallways. “How bout we grab a coffee somewhere and I’ll fill you in?”
Flash’s face lit up and he nodded. “Yeah, sounds good.” He then gave a cheeky grin. “But you’re buying.”
Peter raised an eyebrow. “I thought youf family were rich?”
The other teen’s grin widened. “We are, but you have a mega rich sugar daddy so it’s only fair that you pay.”
Peter groaned and swung his backpack up onto his shoulder. “I’m happy to buy you a coffee Flash but if you ever refer to Tony as a sugar daddy again, you’ll be wearing your coffee all over you.”
Flash laughed and fell in beside Peter as they made their way towards the exit, and he suddenly realised that he wasn’t feeling quite so hollow anymore. In some bizarre twist of fate, Flash Thompson had become his friend, and Peter wasn’t even surprised to find that he was okay with this.
Peter ended up arriving at the Tower just after his partners had gotten home and he was swept up into strong arms the moment that he exited the elevator. “Hey, doll,” Bucky murmured against his throat as he hugged him tightly.
“Hey, Buck,” he greeted, wrapping his arms around the soldier’s neck and squeezing him tightly, not having to worry about accidentally hurting him. He then pressed a kiss to his ear and whispered. “Hey, Winter.”
Bucky gave him one more squeeze and then placed him down on the floor. “How was school?”
“Yeah, typical last day before vacation. None of the teachers really had any work for us to do so it was pretty cruisy.”
Tony appeared, still wearing the dark charcoal suit that he’d worn to his meeting, and he came over to press a kiss to the teen’s lips. “Hi, baby.”
“Hey, Tony. How was the meeting?”
Tony shrugged. “Long and boring. I’m looking forward to kicking back tonight and relaxing.”
“Movie night?” Bucky suggested.
“Sounds good,” Tony agreed.
Peter had pulled the card Flash had given him from his bag and went over to the mantle above the gas fireplace that had a row of stockings hung along it, to add it to the small collection of cards they’d received from friends. “What should we watch?” he called over his shoulder.
“How ‘bout something Christmassy?” Bucky suggested, already shaking out the large blanket they used to cuddle under on the couch.
Tony had followed Peter over and plucked the card from his fingers. “Sounds good, babe,” he agreed, and then started to read. Peter saw the surprise on his face which quickly turned into a pleased expression. “I’m suddenly feeling inspired,” the genius announced. “How about Miracle on 34th Street ?”
Peter laughed and nodded. “Yeah, okay then.”
Tony placed the card back on the mantle and then went to the bedroom to change from his suit as Peter and Bucky went to the kitchen to make some popcorn. Outside snow had started to fall lightly, signalling the start of the teen’s Christmas holiday.
Dear Peter, Mr Stark, and Mr Barnes,
Wishing you all a happy holiday. I hope that it’s full of love and laughter and is peaceful and quite. Thank you for doing your part in making it a safe one for the rest of us.