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Velvet Elvis

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All I ever wanted was something classic.
The kind love song that goes on 'til the end of time.
All I ever wanted was a little magic,
With a good laugh, jet-black sparkle in his eyes.

You're my velvet Elvis, I ain't never gonna take you down.
Making everybody jealous when they step into my house.
Soft to the touch, feels like love, knew it as soon as I felt it.
You're my velvet Elvis, baby.

Peter finds it digging though a box of paintings at the back of a booth at the Forest Park Farmers’ Market. It’s nestled in between a portrait of somebody’s grandma that looks like it dates back to the 1800s and a print of the same Ophelia drowning painting that had graced the dorm room walls of every theater major at MIT. 

Oil paint on rich black velvet in a wooden tiki-style frame. It’s gaudy, and glorious, and it is exactly what he’s been searching for.

He feels the excitement pulsing through his veins as he takes it up to the guy manning the booth. The man, dressed all in black despite the warmth of the summer morning, gives Peter a dubious look as he takes his money.

“You sure you want this one, buddy? It’s a little …” he makes an indecisive wavy gesture with his fingers.

“I’m sure,” Peter says. “I’ve been looking for something like it for a while now. Can you wrap it up for me?”

“Sure thing,” the man says, pulling out a tube of brown butchers paper. “I guess taste really is subjective, huh?”

“Guess so,” Peter replies absently.

“You done in there yet, kid?” 

Tony Stark pops his head into the booth. He’s nothing if not eye-catching himself in a bright orange track suit, the jacket of which is tied jauntily around his shoulders, yellow designer tennis shoes with too many straps that probably cost a fortune, and a pair of over-large yellow-tinted aviator sunglasses.

He’s sipping thoughtfully on the thick straw of a violently purple taro bubble tea, eyes darting around the booth Peter is in, taking in the boxes of old records, miscellaneous kitchen tools from half a century ago, and displays of novelty political pins including one that declares “I Like Dick (Nixon 1969).”

The market is a mix of vegetable stands, food vendors and little booths like this one, selling handmade crafts or sometimes just scavenged junk to the people of Queens every summer Saturday.

“You went to the bubble tea truck without me?” Peter asks, hearing the plaintive wail of his own voice. The ‘how could you’ is heavily implied.

“Relax, you plebian, I brought you a mango,” Tony says, and pulls another plastic cup from behind his back, this one a sunny orange with the signature black tapioca balls hovering at the bottom.

“Yours is potato flavored,” Peter says, pulling a face, but making grabby hands at the drink. “That doesn’t make you morally superior. It just makes you the guy drinking potato water.”

“Hey,” the salesman says as Tony steps into the booth, right up next to Peter, and forks over his drink. “You ain’t who I think you are, are you?”

Tony has his mouth opened to answer when Peter does it for him.

“He’s an impersonator,” he says. “Good, right? Supposed to perform at a car show later this afternoon.”

Peter knows Tony likes the attention sometimes, but he really doesn’t feel like dealing with the mob scene that would ensue if word gets around that Iron Man is at the farmers’ market. Peter likes his anonymity, and he just wants a lazy, peaceful Saturday with him and Mr. Stark, wandering around the market, eating weird, bespoke food, and sniping at each other in that way that could be flirting if Peter squints really hard.

“That is uncanny,” the man says, moving his head to look at one side of Tony’s face, and then the other. “Hey, you make good money doin’ that? ‘Cause I been told I could pass for Tony Soprano.”

“Pays the bills,” Tony says, giving Peter a vicious look. “And, yeah, I can see it.”

“Fugeddaboutit!” The guy exclaims in an exaggerated accent, and then laughs at his own joke.

Finally, he hands Peter his brown paper-wrapped parcel, and Peter tucks it under one arm. It’s big enough to be little unwieldy, but nothing he can’t manage. 

“Thanks,” he tells the man.

“No refunds,” is the only reply he gets as they wander out of the shade of the booth and into the bright sunlight.

“Finally,” Tony says. “You know, I’m only here because you promised me hipster mocking. When do we get to do the hipster mocking?”

“For someone with designer facial hair and a thing for obscure bands from the 1970s, I’d think you’d be a little nicer to the hipsters,” Peter says.

“Hey now, I liked those bands before they were retro-cool,” he says with a smirk.

They meander along in a slow current of people, past stalls selling organic rooftop honey, and chakra-aligning crystals, and heirloom tomatoes, occasionally bumping shoulders. 

“So whatcha got there?” Tony asks, indicating the package. 

“Just some art,” Peter shrugs.

“Oh, art, is it?” Tony says with a grin. “You an art collector now?” 

“As a matter of fact I am,” Peter says. “I need some stuff for my new place. It’s looking kind of bare.”

He only moved back to the city a couple of months ago, right after graduation. No matter how much he might have liked Boston, New York will always be home. He’d started out crashing with Aunt May again, but that couldn’t last long. It had been like reverting to when he was 17. She was always hovering, and worrying, and hovering worriedly. Peter hadn’t been able to take it more than a couple weeks.

It’s been a big adjustment on all fronts, coming back to New York. He’s living alone for the first time ever, and has discovered that he finds the silence … unnerving. Plus, balancing a full-time job and Spider-Man patrol duties is even more tricky than when he’d had to work around classes that professors often didn’t expect you to show up for anyway.

But by far the most unexpected thing that Peter has had to adjust to is the sudden re-emergence of Tony Stark into his life. That’s not even it, exactly. Peter’s never doubted that Tony would be there for him when he was needed, but the newfound casualness to their relationship is new. They’ve never really just hung out before now.

When he considers it – in those moments he’s feeling particularly sorry for himself and prone to prod at his bruises just to feel the ache – it upsets him that all the one-on-one bonding time is a relatively recent occurrence.

It hurts more because he’d really thought it would be different. Before that ill-fated trip to Titan, that wall that Tony had put up between them at first had started to crumble. There was no more using Happy as an intermediary, no more empty suits keeping watch over him. Instead there had been late nights in the lab, the occasional superhero team up, and even family dinners with he and Aunt May. It had been good. Really good. 

Then Peter had been mostly dead for five years. When he had been pulled out of wherever they had been, and followed Dr. Strange through a glowing portal, Tony had seemed to know exactly what Peter needed. He had hugged him so close that Peter could hear the man’s juddering heartbeat over the din of battle and through the insulation of the Iron Man suit. Peter had felt like the embrace was slowly knitting him back together.

“This is nice,” he had said, oh so eloquently. But what he had really meant was “Don’t let go ever again, please.”

But there had been a fight to get on with, and so of course it couldn’t last. And then Tony had used the Infinity Gauntlet, and saved them all, and Peter had had to watch the light slowly leave his eyes, to allow himself to be pulled away and replaced by Pepper, because she had a right, after all.

They’d all thought he was dead. Maybe he really had been dead.

That was until Wanda had descended gracefully in a trail of red light and done something with the magic at her fingertips that healed all that hideous burn damage to the right side of Tony’s body, and Thor had placed the blunt end of Stormbreaker to his chest and sent a jolt of lightning through his heart.

He had gasped awake like a fish on land, still worryingly weak and pale, but alive.

Peter had wanted to be the one to carry him off the battlefield, or to at least hover by his side at the hospital, but Aunt May had just stroked his hair, looked at him with the watery expression she had never been able to banish in those early days, and told him that they shouldn’t intrude when he suggested a visit. 

That summer, the one before he went off to MIT, he had intruded anyway. He’d shown up nearly every weekend to Tony’s cabin in the Catskills – two hours on the greyhound both ways, somehow always seated next to the guy who didn’t believe in antiperspirant – where Tony was slowly recovering. He noticed the weird looks Pepper gave him whenever he showed up on their front porch, but the other two seemed to want him around, at least.

Tony had still been so weak, the cost of wielding the gauntlet so high. Peter had had to support his weak side when they walked out to the shed or down to the lake with Morgan. It had terrified Peter how vulnerable he’d seemed then. He could swear, when they walked together with Peter’s left shoulder under his right to keep him steady, that his skin was thinner, his bones lighter. Yet the hand he placed low on Peter’s back had always been warm and steady. 

It had been hard to reconcile the two images in his mind, the before and after. Tony Stark had always been larger than life, the kind of person who only deigned to touch down on Earth occasionally, and only for the very lucky. This was someone different. Still prickly, and sarcastic, and egotistical. He would always be those things. But also surprisingly warm, and generous, and … Sad. Peter could tell he was sad, and he hated it. 

So he’d hammed it up. He pretended not to notice Tony’s new physical limitations, while also trying to make up for them. He’d been the one to take Morgan swimming, to build the campfire for stories and s’mores. Once, to her mother’s intense approbation, he’d taken her swinging through the trees, webbed securely to his back while she flung her arms wide and shouted with glee. Her father’s smile of pure joy when they touched back down to Earth was a perfect match to hers. 

Then one evening after dinner, in the shed working on an upgrade to the Iron Spider OS, Tony had looked up from the mask in his hand, made a weird pinched expression with his face, and said “Don’t you wanna spend some time with your friends, kid? I mean, you’ll be too busy once classes start up next month.”

And ok, Peter can be naive and oblivious, but he isn’t dumb. He’d heard the dismissal in that sentence. He respected it, even though it made him feel like he was rattling apart at the seams. Aunt May had taught him about consent and boundaries. Sometimes the people you want the most don’t want you, and you have to respect that and walk away. Sure, he’d thought he was helping, but maybe he had only ever been a nuisance.

So he hadn’t gone back to the cabin after that, or called Tony except on Spider-Man related business, and Tony hadn’t sought him out except on appropriate school-related occasions. He’d offered help moving up to Boston, he’d shown up for all of Peter’s science exhibitions and Dean’s List banquets, and he’d been in the front row when Peter had presented his first published paper on chemically-generated protein fibers and potential medical applications at a conference in Chicago.

They weren’t nothing to each other. They just weren’t as close as Peter wanted them to be. But in all fairness, as close as Peter wanted to be was back in the circle of Tony’s arms, being held tight, regardless of whatever battle raged around them. 

It had been no more than a week after graduation when Tony had popped back up in Peter’s life. It was a Saturday. May had an early shift at the hospital. Peter had been out patrolling nearly until sunrise, and thus had been deeply asleep when the doorbell buzzed. And kept buzzing, and buzzing, and buzzing.

Finally, Peter had stumbled to the door, still half-cocooned in his comforter. He had flung the door open forcefully and then blinked through sleep-crusted eyes to focus on Tony Stark standing in his hallway in a pristine white suit, purple polka-dot shirt and jarring paisley tie.

“Kid, I’ve been ringing the bell for ten fucking minutes. What’s going on? Why aren’t you ready for brunch?”

“Whu?” Peter asked.

He stepped back when Tony moved forward into the apartment.

“Brunch, kid. You know, eggs, waffles, some fried chicken if you’re feeling adventurous? Friday confirmed this with you, yes?”

“Um ….” Peter had said. “I don’t …”

“Oh …” Tony had said, and then paused with a finger to his thick-rimmed smart glasses, eyes focused off into the middle distance. “So, Fri tells me I never actually asked her to book brunch with you. You ever do that thing where you think about doing something, and it’s almost like you actually did it?”

“I didn’t know you were coming?”

“Jesus, I forgot how useless you are until I’ve poured at least three cups of coffee down your throat.”

Then Tony had gently unwrapped Peter from his blanket cocoon, placed his large, rough hands on Peter’s bare shoulders, turned him in the direction of the bathroom, and sent him off in that direction with a firm pat on his back.

“Why don’t you go take a shower and get ready, kid. I’ll start the first pot brewing.” 

The hot spray of the shower had helped rouse Peter to semi-coherence. He had enjoyed the pelt of the water on the sore muscles of his back, and was just starting to lather up when a hand had inserted itself into his shower. Peter jumped, and had to cling to the shower wall with the sticky pads of his fingers in order to keep from falling on his ass.

“Special delivery,” Tony’s voice had echoed against the tile of the bathroom.

The hand held a softly steaming coffee mug.

“Mr. Stark?” Peter had tried very hard to keep his voice from cracking in panic because he had been naked, and Tony was right there. They had been separated by only a thin shower curtain. His heart was beating in his throat.

“Relax, Pete," he had said. “Just me. Not gonna peek. Just figured that caffeine was a pretty high priority at the moment.”

He had gently tapped Peter’s arm with the mug until he had taken it. 

“Now get a move on, Underoos,” Tony had called back as he left the room.

Peter had leaned his head against the shower of the tile and let the water beat at his back a little longer while he sipped at the mug of milky coffee. Hmm. There are worse ways to start the day, Peter had thought.

When he had finally emerged back into the living room in jeans and a hoodie, scrubbing at his hair with a towel, Tony had popped up off the couch like he was on springs.

“So,” he had said. “Waffles?”

They hadn’t talked about Spider-Man or Avengers business while they ate, but about a paper that Peter had read recently on black hole expansion. Peter had thought it was maybe a ‘Welcome back to the city’ breakfast. But Tony had just kept showing up.

They’ve been spending nearly every weekend together, lately. They go to the farmers’ market. They go out to dinner. They go on tours of little Italy in search of New York’s best cannoli and then argue for hours about the winner. (“Kid, how many times do I gotta tell ya, if it doesn’t have ricotta it doesn’t even count as a cannoli. That’s just deep fried anarchy.”)

On the weekends that Mr. Stark has Morgan, Peter meets them up at the rebuilt Avengers compound, and he helps Morgan with her homework and Mr. Stark in the lab. 

It’s wonderful, but a part of Peter is very cautiously waiting for the other shoe to drop. Miraculously, it hasn’t yet.

Tony had even helped when Peter was looking for a place of his own. Sure, Peter’s 24 now, but that doesn’t mean he’s comfortable with real estate. He’d spent all four years of college in on campus housing because it was part of his scholarship. He’s not made of money.

But it’s an area that Tony has plenty of experience in. When they started the search, they alternated picks of apartments to visit. Tony had not been impressed by Peter’s choices of a basement apartment in a Flushing brownstone (I know some spiders are subterranean, kid, but would a little natural light actual kill you?) and a six-floor walk-up in Bed-Stuy (The toilet is IN the kitchen, Pete. Not next to. IN. Are you trying to raise my blood pressure here?)

Like Tony’s choices had been any better. Seriously, why would Peter ever need four bedrooms and a Finnish sauna?

But then they had found the loft in Astoria. Well, Tony had found it. A hop across the East River from midtown, on the top floor of the building with exclusive rooftop access, two bedrooms, an open concept, wood floors and exposed brickwork. It was beautiful, and Peter wanted it immediately.

“Mr. Stark, even with my entire Oscorp signing bonus, I could never even afford the safety deposit on this place,” Peter had said, his steps echoing through the empty apartment.

Tony had winced. They had had a proper screaming match when he found out Peter had taken the Oscorp job, their first really since that time after the ferry incident. He couldn’t understand that Peter didn’t want his entire life to be beholden him. That if they’re ever going to get to some type of equality he can’t be Tony’s employee. He wants them to be on equal footing. He wants them to be friends.

“You know, if you worked for me, this wouldn’t be an issue,” Tony had said.

Peter had just rolled his eyes.

He should have been immediately suspicious when Tony had called him up to let him know that the rent on the place they had both liked in Astoria had ben dramatically reduced. But it had been a long week, and May had been particularly weepy at breakfast when she saw the black eye Peter had gotten on patrol the night before. Honestly, some good news had just felt nice at the time. 

It had taken him a couple days – and actually signing the lease –  to question it. But Karen had confirmed the second he asked that Tony had actually bought his apartment building. His first instinct had been to confront the man about it. But then Peter had thought again.

Maybe all of the time they were spending together now should have satisfied him, but it didn’t. He always wanted Tony to stay a little longer. He always wanted a little bit more. And that kind of raw desire did something to his brain, sent it down a twisting, turning path.

The thing was, Tony didn’t have a place in the city anymore. Pepper had gotten the New York penthouse in their divorce a couple years ago because it was closer to work for her. He stayed at hotels whenever he came into the city for business or to visit Peter.

If Tony owned his building, then really Peter’s place was their place. If he made sure it was a somewhere he felt comfortable, Peter figured, Tony might stay the night sometimes, or for the weekend … Or for forever, an insidious piece of Peter’s brain whispered. It had sown a truly dangerous seed. One that sent out little tendrils of fantasies – Mr. Stark tossing and turning during a night spent on Peter’s couch, Peter finally telling him ‘The bed’s big enough for both of us, sir …”

Well, that part was just a fantasy. Peter wasn’t actually dumb enough to think Tony would ever see him like that. But the rest could be a reality. Peter knew it could. So he moved into his gorgeous new apartment, and he started drawing up plans.

“Explain to me your generation’s obsession with backwards-facing technology,” Tony’s voice pulls Peter back into the present.

“Huh?”

They’re crouched down, digging through boxes of old records at one of the booths. This one has an excess of fairy lights strung around the sides, and patchouli-scented incense burning in the back. Tony is holding an ABBA record out to him with disgust on his face.

“I mean, do have any idea how happy I would have been as a kid if you’d told me I could take my tunes with me wherever I went? Digital is a beautiful thing, Pete.”

“These have character,” Peter defends, fingers flipping through the albums until he happens upon a copy of the Ramones’ debut. It’s got a few scratches, but nothing that’ll make it unplayable. “Hey, I need this one.”

Tony raises an eyebrow at him.

“I always knew you were a little punk at heart,” he says, then continues on his rant as though Peter never interrupted him. “Plus, digital is almost indestructible. You know, when I was twelve Pops decided music was a distraction from my school work and melted all of my Judas Priest albums over a Bunsen burner.” 

Peter’s eyes go wide. He’s been getting more of these little tidbits lately about Tony’s childhood. Most of them tend to focus on his mother, nice stories about them playing piano together, or learning to bake his grandmother’s signature hazelnut cookies. But the things he learns about Howard Stark make his heart ache for the young Tony. Also, he’s disappointed he missed out on the whole time travel adventure thing, because he would very much like to punch Howard in the jaw.

“What did you do?” Peter asks, trying to keep his voice casual, and focusing on the records rather than look up into Tony’s face. 

“I stole his wallet, skipped school, and went on a spending spree at Academy Records.” 

Peter snorts.

“And you call me a punk.”

“Takes one to know one. Here, gimme.”

He holds out a hand and waggles his fingers in the direction of the record Peter is holding. 

“You don’t have to, Mr. Stark.”

“Hand it over kid,” Tony insists. “Plus, I’m getting you the ABBA, just so I can mock you about it.”

“That doesn’t even make sense …”

Tony pays for the records, and then they slowly make their way back to the car.  Peter’s painting barely fits in the back seat of the tiny silver Audi.

“You need any help taking that up, kid?” he asks when he pulls up outside of Peter’s apartment.

“I got it, thanks, Mr. Stark.”

“Not even gonna invite me up for coffee?”

There’s something in the way he says it that sends a shiver down Peter’s spine. But he really doesn’t want Tony to see the place until he’s finished with all his upgrades.

“It’s just kind of a mess right now,” he lies. “Been busy with work. You know how it is.”

“Not doing anything illegal up there, are you?” he asks, narrowing his eyes, and pushing down his sunglasses so he can stare over them at Peter as he tugs the painting where he had wedged it into the back. 

“Ummm … Nothing that will endanger myself or others?” 

“Not as comforting as you seem to think, kid.”

“So, next weekend at the compound?” Peter asks, standing on the sidewalk with his new possessions clutched under both arms. 

“Absolutely. The little gargoyle can’t wait to see you.” 

Then Tony’s pushing the sunglasses back up his nose and peeling out onto the street with a backwards wave to Peter. 

*

“You’re out of pop-tarts.”

MJ and Ned are sprawled out on his floor in a little nest of pillows, drinking his beer and passing the tiny end of a joint between them. He doesn’t exactly have a lot of furniture yet.

“Jeeze, Michelle, will you at least open up a window if you’re gonna do that in here?” 

Peter drops his packages on the kitchen island and goes to do just that, fanning some of the smoke out as he does.

“Also, I’m not out of pop-tarts,” he says, leaning against the windowsill.

“You’re out of all the good pop-tarts, then,” MJ says. “I mean, for God’s sake, Peter, get me wild berry, or some strawberry at least. Anything but brown sugar cinnamon.”

“I like those,” Peter defends. “Also, I buy them because they don’t get eaten when my freeloading friends break into my apartment.”

“Dude, we didn’t break in,” Ned says. “We used the key you leave taped behind the hallway sconce.”

“Semantics,” Peter says.

Truthfully, he doesn’t mind that much. He likes the idea of his place being the one where all his friends hang out. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t bring their own beer. He slips his new album out of its cover, and places it on his turntable in the living room. The opening chords of Blitzkrieg Bop flow through the room.

Then he carefully unwraps his painting. He already knows exactly where he’s going to put it. It’ll fit perfectly on the main living room wall, right between two large windows. He hangs it, and then steps back to make sure it’s level.

MJ tries unsuccessfully to stifle a snort when he steps back far enough for she and Ned to see. He can’t exactly blame her for laughing. It’s very kitsch, but Peter hopes in a good way. Just gaudy enough. He hadn’t even known what he was looking for until he saw it this morning. He certainly didn’t start out hunting for a velvet Elvis.

But there’s something oddly compelling about it. Maybe the way the black velvet absorbs light, or the contrast between the dark background and the vivid foreground. It’s a painting of the singer in his prime. He’s dressed in white jumpsuit, collar popped. The deep v of the outfit leaves acres of chest hair on display. His hair is in slight disarray, and he wears yellow-tinted aviator sunglasses, looking off to one side as though he’s just about to call out to someone across a crowded room. 

“I mean, I guess technically it is a little subtler than the posters hung directly above your childhood bed, but I’m finding it difficult to count this as progress,” MJ says, breaking Peter’s contemplation.

Ned laughs first, but then he turns to her and says “Wait … What?”

“Oh my God, Ned,” MJ says, rolling her eyes. “Look at the picture, then add a goatee and an arc reactor.”

Ned turns his head to look between MJ and the painting a couple of times before his eyes go wide in recognition. 

“Holy shit,” he exclaims.

And, ok, Peter can sort of see the resemblance, but surely it’s not that obvious, is it? It’s more of a passing similarity. No one without the idea already in mind would connect the two. Right? Right? 

“I don’t know what you’re both talking about,” Peter says, making himself sound more confident than he actually feels. “It’s just a conversation starter. I think it’s fun.” 

Ned and MJ exchange a look, and MJ hands Ned the end of the joint, then stands and comes over to sling an arm over Peter’s shoulder.

“Peter,” she says, tilting her chin up in a greeting. “You know I’m not a nice person, right?”

That’s not really true, of course. MJ isn’t really nice to individual people, but she is on a larger scale. She’ll mock almost anyone to their face, but she also pickets for workers’ rights, and volunteers at the local animal shelter, and once she literally chained herself to a bulldozer to try and protest them tearing down one of the Public Housing Authority buildings. She’s nice on a macro level.

Peter doesn’t comment though. There’s no point in arguing with her. He just purses his lips and waits for her to maker her point.

“What I’m saying is I really, really want to watch this slow motion car crash play out, because it would be hilarious.”

She lets out a long sigh and pinches the bridge of her nose, as though willing herself to do the right thing.

“But, you’re my friend,” she finally continues. “You’re my friend, and I don’t exactly have a ton of those, so I am going to tell you this exactly once, and then I am washing my hands of it, and I’m just going to enjoy the show. You got it?”

“Yeah, MJ, I got it.”

“Good. Listen close. You have to let this go. You need to take up a hobby, or devote yourself to your career, or get laid by someone who isn’t an old, old man.”

“He’s not …”

“Shhh,” MJ says, placing a finger over his lips. “You need to hear this, Peter. You need to do one or all of those things because – and this is of critical importance – Tony Stark is never going to fuck with you. Never. So I need you to let go of whatever little thing you’re plotting.”

“I’m not plotting.”

MJ just smiles at him.

“Seriously, how did you ever manage to keep your secret identity from me? You are just so, so bad at lying.”

“I’m not plotting for that,” Peter amends. And it’s mostly true. 

MJ steps back, and rubs her hands together, as though washing them of the whole thing.

“Whatever,” she says. “I’ve done my good deed for the day. Now, I’ve got to get to the shelter. My shift starts in 20, and those kittens aren’t going to fucking cuddle themselves.”

She grabs her backpack from the counter and leaves with a wave and a “Later losers!” Slamming the door behind her. 

Peter sighs. It’s not like MJ is telling him anything he doesn’t already know. She’s right. Of course she is. Still, he doesn’t like to think that he’s quite as transparent as she’s making out. He studies the painting for a few more minutes, until Ned comes up, hands him a beer, and slaps him companionably on the shoulder.

“Well, I think it’s a cool picture,” he says.

Peter takes a long swig of his drink.

“Thanks, Ned,” he says.