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Velvet Elvis

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

Peter’s crouched on the ceiling, working on the wiring of one of the surround-sound speakers he’s installing throughout the apartment. It’s all part of integrating Karen throughout the apartment in a way similar to how Friday runs things at the Avengers compound.

But his hands slip, and he shreds a few vital wires when the room is filled with a vicious clanging. Nebula. Why must it always end in violence?

He flips down from the ceiling and races to the end of the hall, to a little utility closet where Nebula is attempting to negotiate with his water heater. It had totally crapped out this morning in the middle of Peter’s shower. 

Shivering and cursing, he had spent a couple hours attempted to fix the damn thing himself, but practical mechanics has never been his forte. Technology he’s cool with. Biology he can do in his sleep. But apparently all his skills – and a very expensive degree – fall short when it comes to a task like this. Peter maintains it’s because the equipment is so very outdated. It makes him feel slightly better about himself. 

In a panic, he’d called Nebula to help. Mechanics is very much in her wheelhouse, but she still seems to be having a significant disagreement with his plumbing.

“Zarg Nuts!” she yells as she just wails on the metal hull of the water heater with one arm. For the moment, she’s replaced her everyday metal hand with an attachment that looks a little like a spanner wrench.

Peter comes to a sliding stop, bracing himself on the door frame. 

“Everything going ok here, Neb?”

“I am going to dismantle it for parts,” she growls.

“Hey, hey, we don’t need to do that,” he says. “Let’s be gentle with the very expensive equipment, yeah? Gentle.”

“Gentle?” she says, blue face grimacing.

She has an image inducer that she uses when she’s out in public – makes her look a little like the tall chick from Doctor Who – but she’s taken to turning it off when she and Peter hang out together. He’s glad she feels comfortable enough around him to show her real face. Plus, the first time she had taken off one of her arms to tinker with it while in her human disguise, it had really messed with his head. Blue robot face is significantly less disturbing.

Nebula’s been back on Earth for a couple of years. She’d spent a while with adventuring with Quill and Thor and the rest, but Peter isn’t surprised that they eventually wore on her nerves. 

She’d decided to come back to Earth, Peter suspects, because she and Tony formed a weird super friendship when they were stuck in space together. He had brought her up to Boston a couple of times to visit Peter, and the two of them had clicked.

Peter likes to think he has a way of wearing down people with spiky personalities. It’s a combination of persistence, the ability to speak fluent sarcasm, and a very, very thick skin. But they’re a lot alike, deep down. Scavengers with a strong streak of MacGyver. And she’s weirdly protective of him. Has been from the beginning.

It had only been a few weeks after they’d met that he’d left her alone with his roommate for a few minutes to make some popcorn in the dorm’s communal kitchen and come back to her threatening to disembowel Dinesh if he didn’t stop leaving his dirty socks on Peter’s side of the room. He’d only complained to her about that a couple times.

“Yes,” Peter reiterates. “Gentle.”

She stares at him for a long moment, her face stoic. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what Nebula is thinking. She’s not big on emoting, unless you’re talking rage.

“Peter, you have a call coming in from Mr. Stark, should I connect it?” 

Well, at least some of Karen’s speakers appear to be working. Something is going right.

“Yeah, Karen, put him through,” he says. 

“Pete? Hello?” 

“Hey Mr. Stark,” he says, walking a little ways away from Nebula and the surly, gurgling water heater on instinct, even though, with the way the speakers are arranged, it won’t make much of a difference in the sound. “What’s up?”

“Hey, is Smurfette with you? She’s not picking up her phone.”

“Tell Stark I am not his minion to be summoned,” When Peter looks back, she’s aggressively twisting at one of the pipes attached to the heater with her wrench attachment. “And also I. Am. Occupied.”

“Um,” Peter says. “It’s sort of on speaker phone, Neb.”

Simultaneously, Tony sighs in relief.

“There you are, Blue Man Group. Listen, are you coming back to the compound tonight?” 

“Have you been asked to monitor my whereabouts?”

And, well, it doesn’t really seem like Peter is needed for this conversation, so he wanders back to the kitchen to scrounge up something for lunch, half-listening as the other two talk.

“Ouch. Hurtful. No, it’s just Morgan has math homework, and she needs help, but apparently I don’t explain it right. They’re doing percentages. I guess there’s this whole metaphor you worked out with ravager hordes and dividing the spoils of combat. Seriously, when did my child get so bloodthirsty?” 

“She must be prepared for the realities of battle, or she will never conquer worlds.” 

“Nobody’s conquering anything. We’re doing second-grade math.” 

“You deny. Her. Potential,” Nebula’s words are punctuated by little grunts as she’s obviously still working on removing the piping. Then she issues a wordless bellow of fury. 

Peter drops the leftover pad Thai he’d pulled out the fridge onto the kitchen floor and races back down the hallway. 

“Holy shit,” he exclaims, when he sees the water spewing forcefully out of the utility closet. Nebula is standing back with half of the pipe she had been working on in her hand. The other half is, presumably, the source of all the water.

“Kid, is something wrong? What’s happening?”

Tony’s voice is raspy with concern, but Peter doesn’t have the time to respond. He’s got a small lake forming in his hallway. With aspirations of greatness. He hesitates for a too-long moment, mind blank on what to do. Nebula looks like she has taken the leak as a personal insult, and might decide to beat the water heater up a little more.

“No,” he tells her, holding a hand out. “You did it. It’s dead.”

“What is dead?” Tony is shouting over the line. “Somebody better answer me. Friday, location on Peter Parker? I’m suiting up now.” 

“Everything’s fine, Mr. Stark!” Peter calls out, wading through the expanding puddle.

He pinpoints where the water is gushing out of the sheared-off pipe and uses his web shooters to cover the twisted open end with webbing. Finally, he lays down a thick enough layer that the water flow stops completely.

“Just some light flooding,” he pants.

“Flooding?”

“Busted water heater.” 

“Ah. You need me to come over, give it a look?”

“No, I’m pretty sure it’s breathed its last,” Peter says. “But thanks for the offer, sir.”

“If you’re sure … So, Neb, I’ll see you back at the compound tonight?”

“I will be there,” Nebula confirms.

And he seems in an awful hurry to get off the phone now. Something niggles at the back of Peter’s brain.

“Wait … Did you just ask Friday to track me?” He asks, when the whole of Tony’s words click into place. “How can Friday track me? I’m not even wearing the suit!”

“Um … Oh, what’s that sweetpea? Yes, Daddy will be right there!”

“Mr. Stark?” 

“I really gotta go, Pete, talk to you soon!”

“Don’t you dare …” 

“Mr. Stark has ended the call,” Karen intones. “Would you like to me to redial him for you, Peter?”

“No, Karen, it’s fine,” he sighs. He figures the chances of him getting a straight answer out of Tony are pretty low right now anyway.

Nebula is kicking at the floor sheepishly when he emerges from the utility closet, still holding the partial pipe in one hand.

“I’m sorry that I broke your machine,” she says. “It was very maddening.”

“It was very maddening,” Peter agrees. “Probably good to invest in a new one anyway. You up for helping me move this big guy out to the dumpster.”

“I believe I would enjoy throwing it in the trash,” she says, the corners of her mouth stretching upward in an awkward attempt at a smile. She still hasn’t really gotten the hang of those yet.

By the time they’ve made it downstairs, balancing the awkward metal cylinder between them, there’s a plumber’s truck outside of the building. 

“You Peter Parker?” the guy in the truck asks, rolling down his window.

“Yeah, that’s me,” Peter says.

“I got a water heater for you,” he says. “You want me to bring it on up?”

Tony. Of course it’s Tony. 

“Sure,” he says, with a low sigh. “You want any help carrying it in?”

“No offense, man,” he says, glancing down at his clipboard, and then between Nebula and Peter, “But I got pretty strict instructions not to let either of youse touch it.” 

Peter starts to protest, before thinking back over the afternoon.

“Yeah,” he says. “That’s fair.”

“Remind me again why we agreed to this?” Sam asks.

His voice is a little muffled by the bulk of the sofa that is wedged sideways, halfway in and halfway out of Peter’s apartment door. 

Everything was going pretty well until they got to the doorway. Maybe Peter should have measured? Yeah, he should have measured.

“I was promised free pizza,” Bucky replies, tugging with his entire body weight in an attempt to pull the thing into the apartment. “You have to push while I pull, pal.”

“I am pushing,” Sam says. “Hold up.” 

He stops and pokes his head over the blue velvet sofa.

“You know we aren’t in the Depression anymore, right? You can just go out and buy yourself a damn pizza.  No pepperoni rations or anything.”

“Yeah, but it doesn’t taste as good as free pizza,” Bucky says with a smile and wink at Sam. “Nothing tastes as good as free pizza.” 

Sam huffs, seemingly resigned. 

“We better be getting De Luca’s and not that crap from Geno’s. I had to pick this thing up from Jersey City.”

“Definitely De Luca’s,” Peter says. “Literally all you can eat. I’m so sorry guys.”

He had only asked for help from them because Sam has a truck. It’s very nice to have a friend with a truck. But now he feels really bad. He definitely should have measured first.

“It’s fine, Spider Boy,” Sam says. “But why is this thing so heavy, anyway? Does it not seem unusually heavy?”

“It’s a pull out,” Peter says. “I didn’t think that would make it this heavy.” 

“Dude,” he says. “You have two bedrooms. Why do you need a pull-out couch?” 

“I, um, I thought it would be nice for Morgan, in case she and Mr. Stark ever want to stay over? Like, I’ve been telling her I’d take her to the Natural History museum for forever. And, you know, something like that really takes all day …”

Peter doesn’t miss the look that Sam and Bucky share over the sofa. He blushes a little and decides it’s best if he change the subject.

“Maybe we should try pulling it up through the fire escape window?”

“I am not taking this thing down the stairs again,” Sam protests. 

“We should just use the service elevator,” Peter says. “If we can un-wedge it.”

 “Service elevator?” Sam asks with a frustrated growl.

“Whoops.” 

They do eventually manage to get the sofa inside the apartment, with Peter pushing from the hallway and Sam and Bucky pulling on the other side. They break off a piece of the molding along the doorframe, but Peter’s figures some wood glue and a little paint will fix that up easy enough. 

He orders them each a pizza from De Luca’s, and they crash on the sofa. The place is actually starting to take shape. He’s gone for a sort of eclectic mid-century modern look, with a couple leather upholstered lounge chairs that he found in a very lucky dumpster diving trip. Sure, he’d had to re-stuff them and sew up a couple rips, but Peter’s got some mad sewing skills from repairing his suit, so it was nothing too challenging.

There’s a low console, a housewarming gift from May, for his record player and gaming system, over which he’s got a pull down LED screen for a cleaner look. He and Tony spent a couple weekends designing the flexible screen, and Tony was generous enough to put the patent in Peter’s name as long as Stark Industries gets the production rights. They’re going to be a big thing soon, Peter thinks.

It’s beginning to feel like home, he thinks as he surveys his friends collapsed in his living room. They’ve all been drained by a combination of physical exertion and full stomachs. Sam is snoring gently, his head tipped back on a sofa cushion.

Bucky is watching Peter through the slits of his eyes, seemingly on his way to following Sam into sleep.

“You know what you’re doing, right pal?” he asks.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Peter says over a yawn.

“Not as comforting as you think it is.” 

“I know what I’m doing,” Peter says, meeting Bucky’s suddenly fully-alert eyes. 

“Good,” Bucky nods. “Because we all care about you, you know. Nobody wants to see you get hurt.” 

Peter bites at his lip and lowers his eyes.

“You draw the short straw to have the talk with me?” he asks.

“Just trying to be a good friend.”

Peter picks at the peppers on a leftover slice of pizza.

“I know it doesn’t always seem like it, what with my general lack of broodiness, which you have down pat, by the way.”

“Thank you,” Bucky says, eyes creasing in a smile. 

“But I am actually a realist,” Peter continues. “I know what I’m doing, and I’m not going to get hurt.”

“That’s all I ask,” Bucky says. “Now shut up and let me nap in peace. This thing is actually pretty comfortable.” 

Peter snorts as Bucky punches the cushion behind his head and pulls a throw from the back of the sofa, snuggling down. So Captain America and the Winter Solider nap while Peter looks at paint swatches and draws up a little plan for a bookshelf he’s thinking about building on a napkin that’s only slightly stained by pepperoni grease.

*

The storefront windows, filled with taxidermy animals and hanging wax imprints of death masks, make Peter smile immediately. He can feel Morgan jumping up and down in excitement as she clings to his hand. He knew she would love this place. 

Holding onto her other hand, Tony looks across at Peter from over his daughter’s head and raises a single eyebrow at him. He’s wearing camouflage pants, a wide-brimmed fedora, thick-black framed smart glasses, and a mustard yellow grandpa sweater over an olive t-shirt. Where does he even come up with this stuff?

“This?” he asks. “This is your idea of a good day in the big city for my eight-year-old?”

“Daddy!” Morgan exclaims, tugging harder on both of their hands. “I think that’s a rabid squirrel!”

Peter flashes a smile at Tony.

“See?” he says. “She loves it. I am a genius.” 

“You are a terrible influence,” Tony says, but he follows them inside the Morbid Anatomy Museum, and only argues with Peter briefly as he pays for their admission.

Morgan leads the way, scampering from exhibit to exhibit and leaning so close to the glass cabinets that house some of the older taxidermy examples that she leaves a few smudgy nose prints behind.

Peter and Tony walk at a slower pace behind her.

“So I’ve been meaning to ask,” Peter says, pitching his voice low so as not to disturb the few other museum patrons any more than Morgan’s occasional high-pitched squeals are already doing. “This tracker …” 

Tony immediately averts his gaze from Peter’s. 

“Right, um …” 

“It’s just, I’ve got this patch on my neck that’s sort of itchy,” he says, scratching at the back of his neck self-consciously. “And it could be a bug bite, or it could … You know what, just gonna ask. You didn’t actually chip me like a wayward puppy, did you?”

“No!” Tony says, raising his hands defensively. “No, kid, I swear I did not do that. I mean, now that you mention it, I wish I had thought of it. But that’s beside the point.”

“So where’d you put it then?”

Tony pauses, grits his teeth, takes off his glasses, puts them back on. 

“You know when you had me take a look at your web shooters when the mechanism was acting kind of sticky?”

“That was six months ago,” Peter says. He’s not shouting, his voice is still pitched low, but his tone is definitely sharper. “You’ve been tracking me for six months?”

“Well, you kept losing the backpacks,” Tony says. “Seriously, kid, you go through so many backpacks, and I got money, but those chips are not cheap. I figured you barely ever take off the web shooters, so they were a safer bet.”

“You’re seriously not even going to apologize for invading my privacy without my consent?” 

Tony splutters at that. 

“It was for emergencies!” he says, too loud for the space, his voice echoing off the walls. He winces and then tries to speak softer. “It’s so I can be there if you ever really need me, ok? Don’t act like this is some mad scientist bullshit.” 

 “Ugh!” Peter exclaims, throwing his hands up in the air in frustration.

He stomps away from Tony, trying not to feel like a toddler throwing a fit. He ends up in front of a case filled with jaw bones. He thinks most of them are animal.

“Daddy, is Uncle Peter ok?” Morgan says, her inside voice still carrying across the room.

“He’s fine sweetpea, just a little angry at Daddy right now.” 

“I don’t understand what the big deal is,” she says, in the voice she uses when she’s trying to sound more grown up than she is. “Mommy says that when you try to keep people safe and wrap them up in bubble wrap, it’s only because you love them, so we have to be understanding.” 

“Your mother was also not so fond of the bubble wrapping, but she is a smart cookie,” Tony says.

“I think the bubble wrap would be fun,” Morgan says.

“I’ll keep that in mind for your birthday.”

“But if you love Uncle Peter, and you want him to be safe, you should just marry him like Mommy is with Greg. That way you’ll always know where he is, and Uncle Peter won’t be lonely anymore.”

Peter’s stomach twists into a heavy knot. This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening. Why does she think he’s lonely? 

“Morgan H. Stark,” Peter hears Tony whisper to her tersely. People always forget about his enhanced hearing. “What did we talk about after you told half your first grade class about the special toys in Daddy’s room. You remember, hm?”

“Don’t talk about private subjects in public,” she recites, glumly.

“That’s right.”

“But Daddy, I don’t know how I’m supposed to know what’s private if you don’t tell me.” 

“Goddammit,” Tony whispers. “That’s actually a good point.”

“Mommy says you're not supposed to say words like that.”

“And Mommy is very, very right. Morgan, honey, I think I saw a bunch of raccoons dressed in funny hats in the next room. Don’t you wanna go see them?” 

“Yes!” Morgan says. “Oh my goodness, Daddy, they’re so fluffy!”

Peter can hear her footsteps retreating quickly into the other room.

A heavy silence descends as soon as the sound of her scampering dies away. Peter can feel his pulse thrumming in his ears. He curls his hands into fists and stares determinedly at the display case. He’s certain that if he turns around, everything will be written on his face like he’s a damn book. MJ is right. He is such a terrible liar. 

“Kids,” he says at last, because the silence is just too heavy, too much. “They say the darndest things, right?” 

Tony doesn’t respond, and Peter figures that if he keeps his back turned for too long, it will be more revealing than just facing the man. So he plasters the biggest smile on his face that he can manage and turns to look at Tony.

Tony’s face is deathly pale. He looks stricken. Jesus, you’d think he could take an awkward misunderstanding from his own daughter a little better than that.

“I’m sorry,” Tony finally says, his voice rough. His eyes roam the room, never quite meeting Peter’s.

“It’s ok, Mr. Stark,” Peter says. “Really, who even understands how kids’ brains work?”

“Right,” Tony says. “Right.” 

“She worries about you is all, I think.”

“Right,” Tony says again. Has his vocabulary really shrunk to just the one word?

While Peter waits for something more, Tony wraps his knuckles nervously against the ribs of one of the skeletons, and then grabs it when it swings wildly, bones clattering. 

“Because Pepper’s moving on with this Greg guy, so Morgan think that’s a thing I should be doing, and she’s trying to do the matchmaking thing, but because she is also my daughter, she is very bad at it and …” 

“I get it,” Peter interrupts his rambling, because if he has to stand here and listen to Tony express how terrible a match they are, he really might lose it. “It’s cool, Mr. Stark.”

“I’m sorry about the other thing, too,” he says. 

“Tracking me without my consent?”

Tony shrugs his shoulders. 

“I’m an asshole,” he says, lightly.

“You’re not an asshole,” Peter says, shaking his head. “You just gotta tell me these things before you do them, ok?”

“That’s it? You aren’t gonna yell at me some more?” 

“You think I’ve never wanted to put a tracker on you?”

“But you didn’t do it,” Tony says. “There’s a key difference there.”

Peter shrugs.

“You apologized. That’s all I wanted.”

Tony, because he is a giant nerd, shoots finger guns at him. 

“You are a cool kid,” he says.

Peter fights back the smile that wants to overtake his face. 

“We should probably check on Morgan,” he says. “Make sure she doesn’t try to take one of the dead raccoons home with her.”

“You understand her thinking maybe too well.”

They find Morgan, dragging her away from a golden raccoon in a bowler hat that she’s examining with far too much scrutiny, and walk through a few more rooms of creepy exhibits before she gets antsy and bored.

“Daddy, I want fro-yo!” she says when they’re out on the sidewalk. 

“How can you even think about food right now? After that?” Tony says, motioning back to the museum.

“Uncle Peter wants fro-yo too,” she says, very seriously. 

Peter bends down to wrap Morgan in a hug from behind, looking up at Tony over her shoulder.

“There’s never a bad time for fro-yo,” he says, making his eyes as big as possible, knowing Morgan will be doing the same.

“Please, Daddy?” she says.

“Yeah, please, Mr. Stark?”

Tony shakes his head. 

“You two are a dangerous combination,” he says.

They go get fro-yo. Morgan mixes chocolate and blueberry, then decides it was a bad idea, and ends up eating half of Peter’s birthday cake with chocolate sprinkles, and a good helping of Tony’s matcha with gummy worms and graham cracker bits. She’s passed out in a sugar coma by the time Peter’s walking Tony back to his car at the park-and-ride lot.

“This was fun, kid,” Tony says, bumping Peter’s side with the shoulder that Morgan isn’t currently sprawled out on. “Thanks for planning a day for her.”

“Well, thanks for coming down,” Peter says. “It was nice.” 

“I better get this one out of here. She wakes up before I get her home, she is going to be one grumpy little gremlin.”

“Drive safe,” he says while Tony loads Morgan into the back seat, gently so as not to wake her. 

“See ya soon, Pete,” Tony says. Then he kind of leans toward Peter and pulls him into a hug, slapping him twice on the back, and then squeezing.

At first, Peter’s entire body stiffens at the contact. This isn’t something they do. It’s something they very explicitly haven’t done since that final battle, since Thanos, and the gauntlet, and everything else. God, he’s missed it.

Guiltily, Peter leans into the warm line of Tony’s body and sniffs. Motor oil, expensive rosemary-tinged aftershave, and a touch of warm metal, probably from the nano reactor he always wears. It’s like Peter’s a junkie taking that first hit after a long clean spell. He wants to ride this high forever. 

But far too soon, Tony’s pulling away, getting into his car, and driving off. Peter stands there, watching the car, for longer than he’d like to admit before slowly making his way to the nearest subway stop.

*

MJ, Ned and Peter are sitting at the kitchen counter, arguing the various merits of ordering Thai or Indian, when the doorbell rings.

“Hold that discussion,” Peter says, heading to the door. “I’m sure Kate will have an opinion.”

“Kate?” MJ asks, and is it just him, or does her voice come out a little higher than normal?

Kate Bishop is leaning on the doorframe when he opens the door to her. Then she sticks her head inside and whistles low.

“Nice digs, Spidey.”

“Thanks,” Peter says. “You can come all the way in, you know. How’s Clint doing?”

“Ugh,” Kate says. “He’s still out in Iowa or wherever being disgustingly domestic. It’s like he doesn’t even care about shooting bad guys in the futzing face anymore.”

Peter laughs.

“Sounds like that’s pretty hard on you.”

“He and Laura are having another baby. He wants me to, like, come up and visit and change diapers or some shit.”

“No way, another one?”

“A girl this time. Natasha.” 

Peter’s heart twinges a little. He never knew the Widow well, but he remembers her as a force to be reckoned with, and this seems like a fitting tribute.

“I think you might have to go to Iowa Kate,” he says.

“Yeah,” Kate sighs. “I know.” 

She follows him into the kitchen and introduces her. 

“Guys, this is Kate Bishop, a friend from work. Kate, these are my friends Ned and MJ.”

“Hey,” Ned waves at her absently, still studying the menus laid out on the counter intently. 

“Hi, hello, hi!” MJ says, standing straighter than she usually does, and talking oddly fast. 

“Hi?” Kate says curiously. “So, you gonna show me around, Spidey?”

Peter does, leading her through the living room, where she pauses at his painting with a gasp, grasping onto Peter’s forearm.

“Oh my God, Spidey. It’s the most glorious thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Finally, someone who appreciates a masterpiece,” Peter says, raising his hands in victory, and shooting a look at Ned and MJ. 

They glimpse inside the bedrooms, and then Peter shows off his latest development – a lab workbench with a built-in holo-screen and welding equipment – that hangs from the ceiling and can be lowered down into the kitchen area so he can use the space for multiple purposes without having to pack up all his lab work any time he wants to eat. 

“I should get you into my place,” Kate says. “Maybe you can help me set up a better shooting range.”

“I can definitely do that,” Peter says.

“But you want something first,” she says, appraisingly.

“I need your help with my next project.”

“I do love a good project. What’s up, Spidey?”

“Ok, so I want to make some improvements to the closet in the master bedroom. You like fashion. So I’m hoping you can talk me through what your dream closet would look like?” 

Kate snorts.

“What, it’s not that weird of question, right?” Peter asks. “What, is that one of the questions you’re not supposed to ask women?” 

“No, no, it’s not. It’s a question that I actually have a very specific answer to.”

“Well?”

“Okay, so you know that movie Clueless?”

“Never seen it,” Peter says.

“Oh my God, Peter,” MJ says. “You’re a clueless virgin who can’t drive.”

Kate giggles at the joke. Peter assumes it’s a joke? And MJ shoots her a shy smile.

“This is a travesty,” Kate says. “I am remedying that tonight. You two,” she says, pointing to Ned and MJ. “You down for movie night?”

“Sure,” Ned says. 

“Um, yeah, that could be, I mean, that would be cool,” MJ says. “Cool, cool, cool.”

And Peter could swear she’s blushing.

 “Yeah,” he says, helpfully. “Cool.”

“Alright, then. If we’re doing this, we’re gonna need booze. I’m going down to the bodega for margarita supplies. You got a blender in your kitchen lab, Spidey?” 

“Of course.”

“That’s why you’re my favorite super hero,” she says. “You got the right priorities when it comes to secret lairs.”

“I’ll come with you,” MJ pipes in. “I need, uh, tampons?”

Then she really is blushing a deep burgundy.

“Sure thing,” Kate says. “You ready?” 

“Yup, yep, yes.”

“Um, MJ can I talk to you for a second before you go?” Peter says. 

“Why?” MJ asks cautiously.

“I wanted you to take a look at this thing?”

“What thing?”

“Just a thing,” he says, making big eyes at her and gesturing with his head to the hallway.

“Jeeze, Peter, what?” she asks when he drags her into the bedroom.

“Why didn’t you tell me you had a crush on Kate Bishop?” he asks, excitedly. “I thought your ‘I heart Hawkeye’ shirt was ironic.” 

“I don’t,” MJ splutters at him. “I do not have a crush on Hawkeye. Don’t be ridiculous. I mean, bow and arrows? How lame is that? It’s like caveman, much?”

“You are so far gone,” Peter says with a chuckle.

“Shut up, Peter!” she says. “I can’t help if she has really pretty hair, and very good arms from all the arrow shooting, and she smells like ginger and sunshine. I should hate that! Why don’t I hate that?”

“It’s gonna be ok, MJ,” Peter says. “You’ve just caught some feelings. I promise they aren’t fatal.” 

“I’m not sure that’s true,” she groans. 

“Well, she’s not gonna wait forever if you don’t get back out there.”

“Shit!” MJ cries. “I gotta go. Not a word about this to anyone, Parker.” 

Peter mimes zipping his lips. 

While MJ and Kate go to the store, Ned and Peter order Thai for everyone.

“So I’ve been doing some research.” Ned says as they decide between satay and spring rolls. 

“Ok,” Peter says, slowly. “On anything specific, Ned?”

“Yeah,” Ned nods. “I just want you to know that what you’re doing isn’t really that weird, biologically speaking.”

Peter pauses where he’s entering their order into Postmates. 

“Well Ned, I didn’t think I was being weird, but now I’m reconsidering. What are we talking about exactly?”

“The whole,” Ned gestures around the room. “Nesting thing. Like I said, apparently it’s a thing a lot of species do to attract a mate. A lot of birds, some crustaceans. Some spiders attract their mates with gifts. Mostly webbed-up bugs, but you know, semantics, right?”

“Right?”

“So, like, really it might be tied to the whole spider bite thing. But even if it is, it’s not that weird. I just wanted you to know. MJ says it’s weird, but I got your back, buddy.” 

Ned is actually legitimately awful at being comforting, Peter realizes. But he supposes the important thing is, he’s trying. 

“Thanks, Ned,” he says. “I appreciate you researching on my behalf.” 

“Anytime, dude.”

By the time the girls come back, the food has arrived. They mix up some margaritas, and Peter positions Ned to one of the chairs, and takes the other, leaving the couch for MJ and Kate.

“Alright, Spidey,” Kate says, digging into her Khao mu daeng while queueing up the movie. “Be prepared to have your mind blown with the best 90s kitsch I have to offer.” 

Kate mouths along to most of the lines in the movie, and pauses when they get to the closet scene. 

“See?” she says, pointing excitedly. “Isn’t it perfect?”

And, yeah, it kind of is, especially for a confined space. He can definitely manage the mechanism to move the hanger bar, and writing an algorithm to keep track of inventory shouldn’t be that complicated. He can work with this. 

Kate’s invention of a game where they drink every time anyone says “Whatever,” is a very dangerous idea, it turns out. It doesn’t take the other three long to get sloppy drunk. By then end of the movie, Peter and Ned are on the floor, disassembling one of their Lego models so they can compete for who can make the most badass spaceship, and MJ is playing with Kate’s hair, working on some complicated braid design.

“Drink!” Kate calls out, raising her glass. 

When she goes to take a drink, though, her glass is empty.

“Aw, tequila, no …” she whines.

Everyone is mostly passed out by the time the credits roll, so Peter, who’s tolerance is higher than a normal human, carries Ned to the guest room, and gets Kate and MJ up off the sofa for long enough to pull it out into a bed, and add some sheets.

Then he tucks them both in, and heads to bed himself. It’s nice to fall asleep to the sounds of other people breathing soft, sleeping breaths in his home. It makes him feel a little less lonely.

*

Peter gets dragged out to a happy hour Thursday night with some of the guys from work. He hasn’t spent a lot of time getting to know the rest of his team, but they aren’t bad sorts, and he ends up having a pretty good time. 

So it’s late by the time he gets back. It takes him a while to rattle through his pockets and find his keys. When he opens the door, the first thing he notices is the wind whistling through the main room. What the fuck?

Then he’s greeted by a call of “Peeetey Pie!” And things begin to make more sense. Wade Wilson is standing in his living room in his full Deadpool getup, including mask, and apparently he decided to come in through Peter’s locked window.

“Seriously, Wade?” he asks. “Did you have to break the window? I know you can pick a lock.”

“Why haven’t you invited me over to see your swanky new digs, Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater? That’s just plain rude. But I said to myself, I said ‘Wade, you know who we haven’t seen in forever times infinity? Our baby boy.’ So I decided to come for a visit. But you weren’t here, and I was very sad. But now you are here, and you brung that cute little butt with you, and …” 

Wade keeps talking, but Peter tunes him out. You have to learn to do that every now and then when you’re friends with the Merc with the Mouth. His eyes scan over Wade instead. He seems to have all his limbs intact, but there’s a noticeable trail of blood dripping down over his suit leading from the side of his head.

Damn it.  

“Wade, if you bleed all over my new rug, I am going to make you pay,” he says, interrupting Wade’s ode to his ass. “I had to go to three different Goodwills to find that.”

It’s a soft red Persian-style rug with a complex blue and gold border that Peter doesn’t think will respond well to blood stains. 

If Wade’s been shot in the head, he’s probably seeing rainbows and unicorns right now, so Peter can’t really hold anything he’s saying or doing against him. And he needs to get the bullet out before Wade’s healing ability closes up the tissue around it.

“C’mon buddy,” he says, taking Wade by the shoulders and guiding him into the bathroom. “We need to take care of that thing.”

“’Tis but a flesh wound!” Wade declares. 

“With you, it’s always a flesh wound,” Peter says, sitting Wade down on the toilet, and rifling around in the medicine cabinet for supplies.

Years of being friends with Wade have taught him that it’s good to have a pair of needle-nosed medical tweezers on hand as well as plenty of gauze to soak up the blood.

But before he starts rooting around in Wade’s head, he hands him a couple of pills. Tony and Bruce designed a sort of super-powered pain killer for Peter that works even with his super-powered metabolism, and he’s happy to share with Wade. The guy may always heal, but that doesn’t mean the process of getting there doesn’t hurt. Peter knows that from experience.

Wade dry swallows the pills after he rips off his mask, then gives Peter a wide, white smile and a wink.

“You’re so good to me, Petey Pie.” 

“Yeah, yeah,” Peter says. “Now, let’s get this bullet out of you. There’s just one, right?”

“Huh?” Wade says, his eyes following something only he can see on the wall behind Peter’s head. 

“Wade,” Peter says, shaking him gently. “One bullet?” 

He holds up one finger, and Wade nods.

“Uno!” he calls out, shooting his hands up in celebration. “Did I win?”

“Yeah,” Peter says, pulling his arms down and patting him on the knee. “Yeah, buddy. You won.” 

“Yay!” Wade says, twirling his fingers. “Jazz hands!”

Peter lets out an exasperated huff, and then turns Wade’s head so he can get a good look at the hole there.

It’s messy and unpleasant work, but in about half an hour, Peter is able to pull the bullet out with his tweezers and wrap Wade’s head in gauze so he won’t bleed on anything while he heals. 

“C’mon, buddy, let’s get you to bed,” he says.

Wade leans on his shoulder as they make their way to the guest room, and he’s snoring loudly about 10 seconds after Peter lays him down on the bed. Peter removes the merc’s boots and utility belt before he leaves with a whispered “Night, Wade.”

The next morning, when Peter wakes up, Wade is already in the shower, which must mean he’s feeling better. Peter can hear the water running, so he asks Karen to start the coffee brewing – and if that isn’t reason enough to have an AI wired up to his apartment, he doesn’t know what is – then shuffles sleepily to the kitchen a few minutes later to pour himself a cup and start work on some waffles.

As he’s pouring batter into the waffle maker, Karen interrupts. 

“You have a call coming from Mr. Stark, Peter, shall I answer it?” 

“Yeah, Karen, answer,” he says. “Hey, Mr. Stark!”

“Morning, kid. I catch you at an ok time?”

“Yeah, I don’t have to leave for work for an hour or so. What’s up?” 

“I’m sending you some plans right now, some upgrades I’ve been working on for your suit to make it full nano, like mine.”

Without him having to ask, Karen’s pulling up the plans from Peter’s email so he can look them over on the kitchen holo screen. 

“You’d have to let me work on your web shooters again, but I might be able to set them up for you this weekend, if the plans look good to you.” 

“Thank you, sir, that’d be great,” he says. “They look intriguing, but give me some time to look them over?”

“Sure thing, kid. Make sure they’ll still give you all the functionality you need, and we can …” 

“Baby boy!” Wade emerges from the bathroom with one towel wrapped around his waist and another, needlessly, around his head. “Do I smell waffles? You are just too good to me, sugar cheeks.”

“Sugar cheeks?” Tony’s voice comes out in a growl.

“Who said that?” Wade shrieks. “That’s not one of my voices.”

“Who am I? Who are you?” Tony asks.

“It’s speaker phone, Wade,” Peter says, pinching the bridge of his nose. Then he addresses Tony “It’s just my friend Wade, Mr. Stark.” 

“He’s there awfully early in the morning, isn’t he?” 

“For your information, disembodied voice, I spent the night, and now Petey Pie is making me waffles, ‘cause he’s the sweetest.” Wade says, booping Peter on the nose.

“Petey Pie?” Mr. Stark asks, incredulously.

“Don’t mind him. It’s just … Wade,” Peter says, unable to come up with any better explanation. 

“Right, well, I’ll let you get back to your very busy morning, kid.” 

“I’ll take a look at those plans tonight, sir.” 

“Yeah, whenever,” Tony says, sharply. “Don’t wanna interrupt anything important.”

Then, before he can even say goodbye, Karen is saying “Mr. Stark has ended the call.”

“What the fuck?” Peter whispers.

“Well, somebody woke up on the wrong side of the bed,” Wade says, flipping the first waffle out of the waffle maker and tossing in from hand to hand because it’s too hot. “He sounds like an asshole.”

“That was Tony Stark, Wade!”

Wade drops the waffle on the counter and claps both hands to the sides of his face, like Macaulay Culkin in that really old Christmas movie.

“I just talked to Iron Man!” he squeals.

Peter doesn’t say anything. He’s just really confused. Why was Tony so angry? Peter feels like there’s literally always someone spending the night at his place. Maybe he just doesn’t like Deadpool? Peter knows a lot of heroes don’t.

But honestly, fuck that, because Wade’s been working really hard to be a better person. To be a hero. He’s been meaning to talk to Tony about including Deadpool in more missions and patrols, to really give the guy a chance. This seems like a good opportunity to start that conversation.

“You want another waffle, Wade?” he asks, dismissing the plans Tony sent with a wave of his hand.

“Always room for at least one more, Baby Boy.”

Chapter Text

“What’s this?” Tony asks distractedly as Peter lays the small blue and gold envelope beside his elbow on the work bench. “Also, what are you wearing?”

“It’s an invitation,” Peter says, then indicates the toga made from one of Morgan’s pink and purple polka dot bed sheets that he’s sporting. “And it’s for Morgan’s science fair project.” 

Tony finally looks away from the holo screen he’s been focusing on, and turns to Peter. His eyes very deliberately roam from the toes of Peter’s sandal-clad feet up his bare legs, and over the half of his chest that the toga fails to cover. Peter feels his face heat. Morgan has a twin bed, and so the sheet doesn’t cover quite as much of his legs as he’d like.

Tony is, for once, not the most flamboyantly dressed person in the room. He’s looking practically subdued in jeans and an AC-DC t-shirt, which Peter can’t help but notice stretching deliciously across his biceps. His arms have always made Peter kind of weak in the knees. All that welding, and hammering, and lifting … 

But he’s not the only one staring. Tony’s eyes linger on Peter as he tilts his head to one side in question.

“How does this,” he asks, waving a hand to encompass the whole of Peter’s body. “Relate to the science fair?”

“Um,” Peter says, scratching nervously at his neck. He really wishes Tony would look away. “We’re doing videos to demonstrate the five main chemical reactions. For combustion we did a volcano.”

“Ah,” Tony says. “Pompeii. You know, I said I’d help her build her own robot for the science fair, Pete. You know what she told me?” 

“No?”

“Robots are lame. One of her favorite people is an android, yet when I suggest it, robots are lame, because suddenly everything I do is lame.”

He puts lame in air quotes. Such a dad. Peter smiles.

“I mean, where did she even learn that word? I would never use an insult so prosaic.”

“Pretty sure you’ve got the other 8-year-olds to thank for that one, sir. They haven’t been exposed to the wide range of possible insults yet. You should probably cut them some slack.” 

“Be honest with me, kid. Am I a lame dad now?”

“You are not lame,” Peter assures him. “You are still very cool. Your daughter is just going through an independent phase.”

“But I don’t want her to go through an independent phase,” Tony says. “I want the opposite of that. I want to carry her around in a little pocket attached to my body like I’m the momma kangaroo.”

“Might be a few situations where that would be impractical,” Peter suggests. “But I appreciate the sentiment.” 

“Why does she run from me when all I want to do is give her love?”

“She’s exploring the idea of personal autonomy for the first time?” 

“Well, I just don’t approve of that at all.” 

“Color me unsurprised,” Peter says with a roll of his eyes.

The grin Tony gives him in response is like a gift, perfect and meant just for Peter. 

“Pete?” he asks, lowly.

“Yeah?”

“Why are you still wearing the toga?”

Peter feels the heat of embarrassment moving up his chest and neck, into his face. 

“Shut up,” he mutters. “It’s comfortable. Very breathable.”

And Tony just sort of spears Peter with a look that isn’t quite translating into any of the things Peter expects to see from him. The man bites his bottom lip and flicks his eyes down to Peter’s legs.

“Well, you certainly got the gams for it, kid,” he says. 

Peter’s stomach tumbles end over end. Stop it, he tells himself. Don’t get carried away. It’s a tease. It’s a joke. And you, Peter Parker, are ridiculous for thinking otherwise.  

Peter clears his throat, gives Tony a small smile, and wanders over to the bench in the lab that has all his stuff collected on it. He grabs hold of an old web shooter prototype, and starts methodically disassembling it, mostly for something to do with his hands.

“Maybe I’ll start a trend,” he says, shooting for lightness. “Bring the toga back.”

Tony seems to take this as a sign, and turns back to the holo screen he was working on. Peter lays every single piece of the disassembled web shooter out in front of him on the bench, and then starts to put it back together again. It’s soothing, like an act of meditation, because there’s no questions. He knows the parts of this particular machine too well.

“This is a housewarming invitation.”

Peter looks up at Tony from his web shooter. He’s got the envelope ripped open, and he’s examining the invitation as though it might bite, looking at it warily over the thick rims of his glasses. 

“Hm? Yeah. Having a housewarming party next Saturday. If you can make it. I’m inviting the whole team. It should be fun.”

“Well, isn’t that friendly.”

“I … Guess?”

“So will I get to meet this boyfriend of yours at the party? Because honestly, Pete, I did not care for his phone manner.”

“Boyfriend?” Peter asks quietly. “What?”

“I mean, I assume. If he’s spending the night, and you’re making him breakfast. That feels like boyfriend territory, no? What was his name? Whit? Walter?”

“Wade?!?”

“That’s it,” Tony says, with a snap. “I do ever so want to introduce myself. Maybe have a heart-to-heart.”

Peter’s eyes go wide as the situation clicks into place. Tony wants to give Deadpool the shovel talk. Because Tony thinks Deadpool is his boyfriend. The laughter, when it comes, has a hysterical tinge to it. Tears spring up in the corners of his eyes.

“I’m sorry, why is that amusing?”

“Wade,” Peter manages to get out through fits of giggles. “Wade Wilson is not my boyfriend.”

“Wilson?” Tony’s voice is harsh. “The undead mercenary? That Wade Wilson? Jesus fuck, kid.” 

“Hey, he’s not a bad guy,” Peter insists.

“Not a bad guy? He’s a mercenary. He kills people for money.” 

“Only the really bad ones,” Peter says. “And he’s mostly off the un-aliving.”

“Mostly?”

“He’s trying really hard.”

“Oh, well that’s ok then,” Tony snipes back. “I can’t believe fucking Deadpool gets a personal invite into your home, but I have to wait to be ushered in with the masses.”

“He didn’t exactly wait for an invitation,” Peter replies. “He showed up at my place with a bullet in his head. I was supposed to turn him away?”

“That’s not really the point, though, is it?”

“I really don’t know what the point is, sir.”

And he is, honestly, confused because Tony being mad about Deadpool he gets. They have different philosophies, and personalities that are sure to rub each other the wrong way, were they ever to actually meet. But this is something different.

“The point is, why am I the last person to be invited to your place? Barnes and Wilson said they went by a few weeks ago. I know your little friends from school are there all the time. What gives, kid?” 

“I told you, it’s not ready yet.”

“Why does it have to be ready for me, and not other people, though?"

“Because,” Peter says, searching for an excuse that won’t sound like him begging Tony to like him. “Because you’re particular.”

“Particular?” 

“Yeah. You’re a billionaire. You’ve got high standards. I just … Really want you to like it. Is all.” He finishes lamely.

He peeks at Tony’s face through lowered lashes, trying to gauge whether or not he bought it. And the man’s face is softening a little bit, left side of his mouth quirking up in a half smile.

“I mean, Pete, you’re gonna be there, right? It’s your place.”

“Yeah,” Peter replies with a shrug. 

“Then I’ll love it,” Tony says. “No matter what.” 

Part of Peter wants to groan at that statement. It’s objectively ridiculous. But it still warms him a little to hear Tony say it. It’s reassuring.

“So, then, I’ll see you on Saturday?” he asks, tentatively.

“I’ll be there with bells on,” Tony confirms, softly. “What should I bring? Booze? Hookers? Catering for 100?”

“Aunt May is doing the catering, actually.”

Tony winces at that.

“Now that’s just mean.”

*

His friends being who they are, half of his guests for the housewarming party arrive several hours early.

May has been there since noon, flitting around the kitchen, wearing a blue gingham apron over her high-waisted pants and flowy top. She must have bought the apron special, because Peter has never seen it before in his life. The smells coming from the kitchen are interesting, if not enticing. Peter definitely sees her pulling a date loaf out of the oven. But he’s got plenty of veggies, fruit and chips, so at least there will be something safe to nibble. 

Nebula is helping Ned hang twinkle lights all over the living room ceiling. Ned had started pulling strand upon strand out of his backpack as soon as he’d arrived, twitching his eyebrows up at Peter and saying something about creating ambiance. Whatever. They are actually starting to give the whole place a magical, Christmas-Eve style glow. Peter supposes he can’t complain. He could use a little magic.

A couple of hours before the party, Bucky and Sam arrive, rolling two big barrels of something in front of them.

“This time, we used the service elevator,” Sam announces triumphantly as they burst through the door, and set the barrels up near the refrigerator. 

“What the fuck, guys, I’m not throwing a kegger for the Sig Eps,” Peter says.

“Listen, pal, you got a whole hoard of enhanced people coming to your house looking for a good time,” Bucky says. “Half of them can’t even get drunk off the normal stuff. Trust me when I say you’ll be glad of a little social lubrication once everybody starts showing up.”

“What he means,” Sam says. “Is that this is a gift from Valkyrie. Says she’s sorry she couldn’t make it. Apparently, the Asgardians have just set up a kick-ass brewery, and she wants us to review the stuff. Give feedback. So it’s a gift and an obligation.”

“That is just so much mead,” Peter says, shaking his head.

Bucky is already rifling through Peter’s cabinets to find the red disposable cups he bought for the occasion, and uncorking one of the barrels.

“Banner’s coming, right?”

Peter nods. The Hulk could probably finish one of those all by himself.

“Yeah, I guess it won’t be a problem after all.”

Aunt May quickly conscripts Bucky and Sam into setting up folding tables along one wall for all the food, an improvised buffet, and Peter makes himself a nuisance in the kitchen for a while, going behind Aunt May to add salt or a little spice when needed. Then MJ unlocks his door with his spare key. She’s carrying a pink caboodle, mostly covered over in band stickers, and some of her own doodles, and makes a beeline for Peter as soon as she spots him.

“Does no one knock anymore?” he asks. It’s rhetorical, because obviously the answer is no, at least among all of his acquaintances.

MJ ignores the question, and looks Peter over with a critical eye.

“Please tell me you are not already dressed for the party,” she says, in her typical monotone.

Peter looks down at the jeans and flannel he’s wearing. 

“No,” he says. “I got something nicer. I’m just not … Sure about it.”

“Ugh,” MJ says. “Your internal conflict is exhausting. Show me.”

She drags him away from the hub of party activity, back to his bedroom. 

MJ puts the caboodle down on Peter’s bed, crosses her arms and taps her foot impatiently.

“Well?” she asks. “Show me what we’re working with, Parker.”

Peter feels inexplicably nervous with her glaring at him like that. But it at least encourages him to get a move on. He opens the closet door and punches a few buttons on the tiny screen on the inside to call up his outfit for the night. His very limited wardrobe whirls by, before the hangar bar stops to put a powder blue suit just within reach. He pulls it out, and holds the hangar reluctantly out toward MJ.

“Well?” he asks with a little proactive wince.

“Hm,” she says. “Yeah, I can work with that.” 

She hassles Peter into the bathroom so he can change, and then looks at him appraisingly when he emerges. Peter has to admit that he feels good in the suit. It’s slim fit, single-breasted, and he thinks it accents his build well.

MJ purses her lips in consideration.

“Alright, your ass bangs in that,” she says, at last. “Good job, Parker.”

“Thanks?” 

She unbuttons the top couple buttons on Peter’s white shirt.

“Better,” she says, the tugs at a lock of his hair. “Now, we’ve got to do something about this.”

“Look, MJ, believe me, I’ve tried. It will not be tamed.”

“Well, it hasn’t tangled with me yet,” she says, opening the caboodle to reveal what he assumes must be implements of torture. “Now, stay still and try not to scream.”

Peter does scream when she takes a brush covered with wicked metal bristles to the tangles in his shaggy hair. He squints his eyes dramatically when she aims the hair dryer at him. He protests vocally when she comes at him with a palm full of some weird mousse stuff. He is, in short, a terrible client.

“You are the worst,” MJ confirms about 15 minutes into the process. “Stop being a baby. You’re Spider-Man.”

Peter bares his teeth at her when she approaches him with the metal brush thing again, but she just flicks him on the forehead and continues with her business. It’s nearly 20 minutes later that she finally steps back from his head, and holds a mirror up to his face.

And Peter’s eyes go wide when he sees himself. His hair has been teased and styled into a high pompadour. It makes him look sort of classy, and older, which is not a way that Peter often feels. 

“You look really pretty, Peter,” MJ says, in the wake of his dumbfounded staring.

“Thank you,” he says. “You look pretty too.”

And she does. She’s wearing a yellow sundress that looks like sunshine, and accents her dark skin perfectly.

“I know,” MJ replies.

“I think Kate’s really going to like your dress,” Peter confirms.

“Oh, is Kate coming?” MJ says, unconvincingly. “I wasn’t sure.”

Peter grins at her and shakes his head.

“Hey,” he says, catching one of her hands. “Why are you being so nice to me right now?” 

“I’m not nice.” 

“Except when you are.”

MJ lets out an exasperated sigh.

“Look, Peter, you’re an idiot, and a loser. But you’re my idiot loser. If you’re going to go forward with whatever ill-advised plot you’re in the middle of …”

“I’m not plotting …”

“Whatever you have to tell yourself. I just want you to have the proper armor for the occasion. Whatever it may be. But that doesn’t make me nice, ok?” 

Peter stands and kisses her on the cheek.

“Thanks for the armor,” he says, pulling her out of the bedroom behind him.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot left for Peter to do before the party really gets started. He queues up a few records on the stereo for background music, lights some candles for ambience, and is rearranging his bookshelf for probably the hundredth time – Shouldn’t he go with the Dewey decimal system instead of just alphabetical? – when Nebula comes up behind him.

She punches him in the shoulder in a way that he thinks is supposed to be friendly, but almost knocks him off his feet and makes him let out a little “oof.”

“You are well?” she asks. 

“Yeah, Neb, I’m fine.”

Peter fixates on the books. Maybe Dewey was a mistake. It’s probably a bad idea to try organizing them by color, right?

He reaches out for his copy of Humboldt’s Cosmos to move it, but Nebula grabs hold of his wrist before he can do so. 

“He will like it,” she says.

Peter looks at her hopefully.

“You really think so?”

“I am certain,” she says, nodding concisely. “You do not need to worry.”

“Can’t exactly help it,” Peter says.

“Try,” Nebula strongly encourages. “You are unpleasant when you’re this anxious.” 

“Gee, thanks Neb.”

“You’re welcome,” she says, with a nod and her disturbing, disturbing smile. 

Peter resists the urge to reach for the book again under her gaze until the doorbell rings and interrupts their strange standoff. 

Carol and her wife, Maria, are the first to arrive, and they’re both appropriately complimentary about the place.

“You’ll have to talk to Monica about how you found this place,” Carol says. “She’s decided to do her astrophysics doctorate at Columbia, so she’ll be moving to the city in the fall.” 

“Oh man, I bet you guys are gonna miss her,” Peter says.

“Well, there are worse things than an empty nest,” Maria says, leaning in to give Carol a kiss. 

Peter offers to go get them both a drink, mostly as an excuse to give them some time alone. 

The apartment fills up slowly. Peter talks tech with Gemma and Fitz for a bit, greets Fury and Hill with firm handshakes, and attempts to web Coulson’s wallet out of his back pocket without him noticing, and fails. 

Kamala and Doreen arrive together, bearing homemade hazelnut cookies, and Kate shows up soon after with a bottle of tequila. 

“For the next time I visit,” she tells Peter. “We’ll watch Heathers.”

Soon the room is humming with people. Bruce and Hope Pym are talking about something very intently over by the record player, and Wade has cornered Kate by the window and is talking energetically with his hands while she looks close to tossing her drink at him. 

Peter stays in the kitchen, surveying them all. For a second, he closes his eyes and lets the sound of most of his people in one place just wash over him. Then a hand snakes around his waist, accompanied by the scent of freesia and burnt date loaf.

“Having fun, sweetie?” Aunt May asks.

Peter turns to her and smiles.

“Yeah,” he says. “This is great, right? We should get everybody together more often.”

“It’s very nice,” she says. “I can’t believe so many people showed up. We’re probably a fire hazard right now.” 

“Well, at least there are plenty of heroes to save us,” Peter says with a snort.

While he’s taking a sip from his cup – he’s taking it slow on the mead because knows how potent it is – his door swings open one more time and Tony steps in, Rhodey by his side. Tony looks … Edible. That’s the word. Edible. The suit he wears is a double breasted, electric blue pinstripe with an honest-to-god cravat and blue-tinted aviators.

“And that’s why you never order a cheeseburger in Thailand,” Tony says, obviously wrapping up a story that Peter is not privy to. 

Rhodey gives him a disgusted look. 

“That’s messed up, man,” he says.

Tony just shrugs.

“Eh, it was the 90s. It was a weird time for everyone.”

The two of them look out over the room, taking in the whole scene. Then something weird happens, because Rhodey’s eyes go wide, and he elbows Tony in the stomach, motioning with his chin to the far side of the room at … Fuck, at Peter’s painting. That’s definitely too much attention for his kitschy little Elvis painting. 

No, no, no, no Peter thinks as the two of them are seemingly drawn by forces outside of their control toward the painting, until they’re standing just a few feet away.

“Did you have that thing commissioned, Tones?” Rhodey asks. “Because I did not think even your ego was that big.”

Tony ignores him, cocking his head to one side and furrowing his eyebrows in concentration.

“You think I could pull that look off?” he asks. 

“Obviously you can,” Rhodey says, gesturing at the picture. “You don’t have a weird Picture of Dorian Gray thing going on, do you?” 

“Not to my knowledge, but I have been meaning to get on the whole functional immortality thing. I’m sure I can find a workable solution.” 

And, okay, this is too much scrutiny. Peter quickly fills two new cups with mead and walks over to distract them.

“You know, art is supposed to be subjective, but I think poor Elvis is getting self-conscious with all the scrutiny he’s taking tonight,” he says by way of greeting.

He holds the cups out to them with a wide smile. 

“Welcome to my new digs, gentlemen. Glad you could make it.”

Peter feels Tony’s eyes catch on him and linger for some reason. His spidey senses are going a little crazy in this instant, what with his own internal panic and Tony’s gaze slowly trailing over him.

“Peter. Parker.” He finally speaks. “You look stunning. Where on Earth did this come from?”

Beside Tony, Rhodey clears his throat meaningfully, and the two men appear to have an argument made up entirely of the raising and lowering of eyebrows. It’s unclear who is the winner, but they both turn back to Peter after a minute or so. 

Peter just snorts at them both.

“Yeah, yeah. You don’t get to mock my fashion sense,” he tells Tony.

“Me? Mock?” Tony says. “It’s like you don’t know me at all, Pete.”

Tony’s still watching Peter while he raises his cup to his lips. He drinks, and then he makes a strangled sound.

“Damn,” he says. “That’s got a kick.” 

“Courtesy of our friends in New Asgard,” Peter says. 

Tony coughs gently, and puts the cup down on a side table.

“That certainly makes sense,” he says. “But how about we try something more mellow?”

He presents Peter with a green bottle of champagne with a gold bow stuck to the side.

“I was going to get you a house plant as a housewarming gift, but I figured that might be cruel to the plant.”

Peter takes the bottle from Tony’s hands, their fingers brushing lightly. The yellow label reads Veuve Clicquot. Peter doesn’t know anything about wine, but this seems expensive. 

“C’mon, kid,” Tony says, placing a warm hand low on Peter’s back to guide him towards the kitchen, leaving Rhodey behind. “Let’s toast to your new place.”

“Sure, Mr. Stark,” Peter says.

In the kitchen, Tony tells Peter that he absolutely is not drinking thousand-dollar champagne out of plastic cups. Peter balks at the price, and panics a little as he searches through his cabinets for something acceptable. Organizing the kitchen has been pretty low on his priority list of things to do around the apartment. And he definitely doesn’t have champagne flutes. 

“Karen, glasses?” he asks. 

“Try the third cabinet on the right, Peter,” she replies.

“You have Karen wired up in here?” Tony asks, his tone impressed.

“Yep,” Peter says, locating the right cabinet. “She runs just about everything, and remembers where I put the glasses!" 

His momentary triumph fades, however, when he sees which glasses she’s found. They’re his commemorative Avengers drinking glasses. He collected them all with cereal box tops when he was eight. Oh, the shame. 

Reluctantly, he pulls out the Iron Man and Captain America glasses.

“Ooh,” he says, thinking a distraction might be in order. “Check out what else she can do. Karen, party mode.”

“Let’s boogie,” Karen says, just like he taught her. 

Karen switches the music to a thumping EDM track, puts the lights into strobing, multi-colored mode, and lowers a disco ball from the ceiling. The disco ball was MJ’s very sarcastic suggestion.

Tony laughs at him.

“Impressive,” he says. “You’ve got some tricks up your sleeve.”

“Karen, stop the party,” Peter says, and the lights and music return to normal, accompanied by a disappointed “Awww,” from Wade.

Peter hands Tony the glasses, which he smirks at.

“What?” Peter says. “Not all of us invest in barware, you know. I don’t have champagne glasses.”

“I can fix that,” Tony says. 

“Maybe,” Peter allows. “But not tonight. Tonight you drink from a glass with Steve’s face on it.”

“I don’t even get my own face?”

“The Iron Man glass is mine,” Peter says. “It’s my favorite.” 

“You’re lucky I like you, kid.” 

Tony opens the champagne with a celebratory pop, and fills up the glasses about half-way, then agreeably hands the Iron Man glass to Peter.

“So what are we drinking to?” Peter asks. 

Tony raises his glass to Peter’s so that they’re just an inch away from touching. 

“To finding a place to call home,” he says. “And to having the right people to fill it with.”

He clinks their glasses together with a soft ching, and then they both sip slowly. That has to be a sign, right? Peter thinks as the bubbles from the champagne tickle the roof of his mouth. A good sign. The sensation of that feels sadly foreign.

“So, kid,” Tony says over the rim of his glass. “What other surprises have you got hidden around here? I want the full tour, now that I’m actually allowed in the door.” 

Peter grins at him, and proceeds to show off all of his hard work – the kitchen lab, the holo screens, the way Karen is integrated into everything. Then he leads Tony out of the main room to show off the bathroom with a new raindrop shower head, the guest room, and finally opens the door to his own room.

“That’s an awfully big bed for a little spider,” is the first thing out of Tony’s mouth when he steps into the room. 

Peter’s heart jumps a little at that. He very much does not want Tony to guess at the kind of fantasies that prompted him to go for a king bed despite the relatively small size of the room. 

“I move around a lot in bed,” Peter says, then nearly chokes on his own tongue when the innuendo hits him just a second too late. “I-I mean, in my sleep. I move around a lot in my sleep. I have dreams.” 

“Right,” Tony says, smirking, but managing not to laugh outright. “Whatever you say, kid.” 

Then he proceeds to poke through the whole room, looking over the Star Wars figurines on Peter’s dresser, running his hand over the desk, and opening the closet to take a look.

He lets out an interested “Hmm” as he plays around with the screen on the inside of the door, and watches Peter’s clothes whirr past.

“Closet’s kind of empty here, isn’t it, Pete? Please tell me you’ve managed to get all of your shit out of May’s by now.”

“I guess I just don’t have that many clothes,” Peter says.

“We really do need to expand your wardrobe,” Tony says. 

“Well, about that …” 

Peter takes a deep breath, and tries to ignore the nervous flutter in his chest. Be cool. He thinks to himself. Just put it out there. It’s only a friendly offer. 

“I’ve been thinking, you know, about how you don’t really have a place in the city anymore,” he starts, and after that much is out, the words just flow, possibly too much and too fast. “And you’re here all the time, sir. And, I mean, hotels have to get old after a while, right? So I just want you to know that you’re always welcome to stay here. Just, like, when you don’t feel like driving back to the compound. You know, it’s like a 30 minute commute from here to Stark Tower. Probably five in the suit. I’ve got the guest room, and I thought I’d save you some closet space, in case you want to leave anything here. And there’s the sofa’s a pullout, in case you ever want to bring Morgan … I just, I wouldn’t have this place without your help. So I wanted you to know you’re welcome, Mr. Stark. Whenever you want.”

When Peter finally manages to shut his damn mouth, his face is flushed hot, and his heart is beating so fast it’s physically uncomfortable. He feels like he might vomit. That was way too much. He shouldn’t have said all of that. He had planned to be so much more collected. 

The room is uncomfortably quiet, now Peter is no longer talking endlessly into it. He watches the taut line of Mr. Stark’s back for some kind of reaction. At first there’s nothing. He just stands there, staring into the closet.

This is the bad kind of tension, Peter thinks, vaguely. Yep. Definitely the bad kind. 

Tony spins on one heel to face Peter after far too long. He has a soft smile plastered on his face, and his eyes look … Sad, but somehow still kind. Oh. Oh, that’s pity, Peter realizes. Then it all sort of rolls over him. Tony knows everything now. How could he miss it, after that speech? He knows exactly how Peter feels about him, and all the things he wants from him, generally if not the specifics. And his reaction to all that is pity. 

“You, um, you know I’m not gonna just move into your apartment, right Peter?” 

Peter. Tony never calls him Peter. It’s always kid, or Pete, or Underoos, or some other ridiculous nickname. 

“Of course,” Peter says. “I didn’t mean …” 

“I mean, you’re a young guy in the city. You need your own space. Don’t want an old fogey like me sticking his head in all the time.”

“I mean, you wouldn’t be …”

“And besides, it would be … Inappropriate, don’t you think?” 

“Inappropriate?” Peter echoes. 

“Exactly,” Tony says, ignoring the implied question. “Say, we should probably get back to the party, huh? Don’t want your guests to think you’re ignoring them.”

Tony walks past Peter toward the door, pausing for a second so they’re side by side. Peter watches as he reaches a hand out, as though to pat him consoling on the back, but then visibly thinks better of it and retracts his arm. It stings like a slap to the face.

“Sure thing, sir.” Peter says, his voice coming out frustratingly weak. “You go on ahead. I’m just gonna check on something.”

Tony stands at the door, his face turned in profile to Peter, his eyes averted. The muscles in his jaw twitch as he gives one firm nod, and then swiftly leaves, closing the door behind him.

Peter allows himself to just stand there for five whole minutes, focusing on breathing in, and then breathing out. Then he opens his bedroom door and rejoins his party. He makes small talk. He refills drinks. He crawls up the wall, and removes Wade from where he is hanging from the disco ball on the ceiling crooning “My precious …”

He remains at least half a room away from Tony Stark at all times. Tony and Rhodey take their leave about 45 minutes later, and Peter waves at him from the kitchen, but makes a show of being busy emptying the trash can so that he won’t be called upon to say goodbye.

When he’s sure they’re gone, he swipes what’s left of the bottle of champagne from the kitchen counter, and sneaks away from the crowd. He pulls down the little hatch in the ceiling that gives him roof access, climbs the ladder up, and opens the heavy fire door into a balmy summer night.

Sitting cross-legged on the ledge overlooking the street, Peter takes long swigs from the bottle and looks out over his city. He can see the lights of the Queensboro bridge from up here, the break lights from the cars forming a long red line along its length. Next spring he wants to make a container garden up here. Grow fresh tomatoes and basil for sauce. Of course he’d thought of inviting Tony over for dinner and showing off his culinary skills.

Why did he have to get greedy? Would it have been so bad, after all, to accept what Tony was willing to give him? Weekends with him and Morgan? Friendship, and mentorship, and at least some form of closeness? Because the thing he knows now, without a doubt, is that the old distance will be reinstated. It will be all business. Maybe a phone call every couple of weeks to check in on the suit, and patrolling. Consultation when Tony needs help with the chemistry in one of his projects. 

Peter’s chest aches with all of the things he’s lost. The playful, caressing way Tony calls him “kid.” Walks down the street with Morgan’s little hand clutching his own. Full body hugs that make something in Peter’s bones feel more settled. A hot tear runs down his cheek, and his nose is getting drippy, and Peter hates, hates, hates it. Why is he always too much?

He’s got his head buried in his knees when the fire door bangs open behind him. He hurriedly scrubs at his face, and then turns around and finds Nebula there, illuminated by the city’s ambient glow. 

“Peter?” she says. “What is amiss?”

“Everything’s fine,” he says in a small voice, releasing the words with a shaky breath that gives immediate lie to the sentiment.

“What happened?” Nebula says, stalking towards him. Her eyes flit watchfully around the rooftop, searching out any threat that might explain his demeanor. 

Peter snuffles a little, embarrassed by his emotion, and struggling to get himself in control.

“He didn’t like it,” he finally manages, hoping she’ll understand.

“That is not possible,” Nebula insists.

“Believe me, it is. I was there.”

“Tell me what happened precisely,” she demands.

And Peter really doesn’t want to rehash the whole thing. It’s still really fresh. But she’s got that dog with a bone look on her face that lets him know she won’t let this go, so he tells her everything. 

When he’s done, Nebula is scowling deeply.

“I do not understand,” she says. “Do heart mates not nest together on Terra? It is a very common custom. I assumed …”

“They do,” Peter says. “But Mr. Stark and I aren’t … We aren’t heart mates, Neb. We aren’t anything.” 

“Don’t be preposterous,” she says. 

“Neb, I’m serious,” Peter says. “I just got carried away, I guess.”

“Stark is a moron,” Nebula mutters under her breath.

“It’s not his fault,” Peter insists. 

Nebula crouches down so she can look Peter in the eye. Her expression is still stony, but she pats his head stiffly with one hand. Maybe she thinks it will comfort him? It does, a bit, Peter admits to himself.

“Do not worry, Peter. I will take care of this.” 

Well, that sets off alarm bells in Peter’s head. He cannot imagine anything more mortifying than Nebula scolding Tony because he doesn’t want to be Peter’s heart mate.

“Please don’t say anything to Mr. Stark, Neb. Please? Promise me?”

“Everything will be fine,” she says, which isn’t anything close to the promise Peter is asking for.

She gives him one more pat on the head, and then stands and walks to the door.

“Do not stay out here by yourself for too long,” she says. “You have friends downstairs.”

Then she slips inside before he can protest further. 

Peter manages to pull his shit together in time to at least say goodbye to most of his party guests. He tells people he had to go and handle some spidey business, and most of them seem to buy that.

Aunt May is the last to leave, and she wraps Peter in a hug before she goes.

“Don’t be a stranger, ok?” she says. “I can still do your laundry. And I expect you home for dinner every Sunday.” 

“Ok, May,” he says, agreeably. “Let me know when you get home safe, yeah?”

“Sure thing, sweetie.”

MJ and Ned are on the couch, MJ tossing tortilla chips at Ned’s head when he isn’t looking. But her eyes are appraising as Peter approaches them, taking in his stooped posture and the look on his face.

“You wanna talk about it, or you wanna drink?” she asks.

God, Peter cannot express how much he doesn’t want to talk about it.

“Drink,” he says. 

“Ned, go get the vodka,” MJ says, snapping her fingers at him to get his attention.

“Alright, alright,” Ned says, getting up to get the bottle. “Hey Peter, what’s wro …”

He doesn’t finish that thought because MJ is leveling him with a murderous look.

“Going.” 

When Ned comes back, Peter nestles himself in between his two friends on the sofa as they pass the bottle between them taking long, painful swigs. The liquor warms Peter’s chest, and having Ned and MJ pressed in close on either side of him is comforting. 

When they’re down to the dregs of the bottle, Peter is feeling pleasantly buzzy. He flops his head over in MJ’s direction.

“You were right,” he says, focusing on enunciating his words clearly. “I was plotting.”

“I know, loser. You are incredibly transparent.”

“I should not plot at things,” Peter continues. “I’m very bad at the plotty plotting.” 

“Yeah,” MJ nods in agreement. “You really are. But look at it this way, Pete. He’s an old, old man. Probably his equipment doesn’t work anymore anyway.”

Then MJ takes his face in both of her hands and pushes them together, squishing his face.

“And Peter,” she says, in her very dirtiest tone. “I know how much you like applied mechanics.” 

Then she bites her lower lip over a wide smile, incredibly pleased with herself.

“Are we talking about Tony Stark?” Ned asks. “Is something wrong with the Iron Man suit?”

Peter and MJ meet each other’s eyes, both sets widening into saucers before they both burst into giggles.

Peter flops over to his other side to give Ned a hug, leaning his face into Ned’s chest.

“Ned, you are my favoritest favorite,” he mumbles into the fabric of Ned’s t-shirt.

“Wait …” Ned says, and Peter can hear the realization settle over him. “Are we talking about Iron Man’s junk?”

Peter laughs so hard his stomach hurts. When he physically can’t laugh anymore, MJ hands him the bottle to finish, and they all sort of slump together. He may have no luck in love, Peter thinks, but at least he’s got great taste in friends.

Chapter Text

Peter feels like a scurry of rabid squirrels have run roughshod through his head when he wakes the next morning. He’s still on the couch, still in his suit – wrinkled and stained now. He really is a menace with clothes. MJ and Ned are gone, and he has something sticky on his head.

Grumbling, Peter reaches up to rub away the stickiness, and finds that it’s a post-it note attached to his forehead.

“Loser,” it reads in MJ’s loopy handwriting. “Drink some water. Take some Aspirin. Go to Bed. You better recover, because tonight we go dancing.” 

Peter lets his head flop back on the cushion. Drunk Peter is an asshole, both for drinking most of a bottle of vodka and for agreeing to go dancing. Sober Peter does not want to go dancing or to have a headache threatening to rip his head in two, or to remember … Oh, God, that whole conversation with Tony last night actually happened. He’s such an idiot.

Peter curls up into a ball on the sofa and cradles his own head between his hands, concentrating on the pulse in his temples. He isn’t ready to think about that yet. He needs a distraction.

“Karen,” he calls, voice hoarse from the acidity of the alcohol. “Put on the coffee. Make it double strength.” 

“Ok, Peter,” Karen says. “May I suggest a shower as well? You may find it therapeutic.”

Peter looks down at himself in his wrinkled suit. There are mystery stains on the lapel, and his hair feels greasy from too much product. Yeah, a shower is probably a good idea. 

Peter downs two large glasses of water, then heads to the shower, where he turns the water on as hot as it will go. A part of him feels like it might help wash away some of the shame from last night. But probably it would take something far more powerful than water to get that stink off. Like acid.

He emerges from the shower wearing just a low-slung pair of sweats, scrubbing at his hair with a towel to try and dry it. It’s so thick it takes a while. He pours himself a giant cup of coffee, adds a heavy chug of cream, and then sits at the kitchen counter and looks through his backlog of projects for something that will properly absorb his mind, rifling through them on the holo screen with a flick of the hand.

He’s already decided he isn’t going out with Ned and MJ tonight. He’s not in the frame of mind to pick anyone up, and watching couples grinding on each other on the dance floor sounds like a personalized invitation to hell. No, once he feels more human he’ll go patrolling. Swinging always puts him in a better mood. And if he can’t be happy just yet, at least he can be useful to the citizens of Queens.

His heart twinges a little when he comes across Mr. Stark’s plans for his nano web shooters among his files, but he flicks it away quick, and it’s not too bad. He’s got this. He should probably try to start thinking of him only as Mr. Stark too, right? Maybe that will help. He just needs to reset his brain. 

He’s on his second cup of coffee, and is considering working on an improved air filtration system for his spidey mask – look, Peter doesn’t know for sure that sex pollen is a thing, but if it is he does not want to star in that particular fic – when there’s a knock at the door.

Probably Nebula coming to check up on him, Peter thinks as he shuffles to the door.

“I don’t wanna … talk about it,” he finishes slowly, as he swings the door open. 

It isn’t Nebula.

Tony Stark is standing in front of his door, and he looks like shit. His complexion is sallow, like it’s shooting for paleness despite his tan, and his goatee is un-manicured, all the usually pristine clear spaces filled in with stubble. He’s wearing these black-framed, dark blue-tinted smart glasses, but even through them Peter can see the puffy dark circles under his eyes. 

“I don’t particularly want to talk about it either, kid, but I think we should power through it.”

Oh no. Peter thinks. Oh no. This is worse than he thought. He expected everything to remain unspoken, for them to fall back on their old patterns of polite distance. But if Tony wants to hash things out, then this is a bigger deal to him than Peter thought. Could he be cut off completely? Would Mr. Stark do that to him? Over this?

“Ok,” Tony sighs, once it becomes clear that Peter is rooted to the spot in front of the door, and will not be inviting him in. “I’m coming in, so you have to move.”

He reaches out and grabs hold of Peter’s shoulders. His hands are firm and warm against Peter’s bare skin as he moves him back and to the side, then closes the door behind them. And Peter kind of hates the way his mind zeroes in on the feel of those calloused palms on his naked skin, despises how he’s recording every sensation to play back later.

“You still with me, kid?” Tony asks, squinting to examine Peter’s face.

“Fine,” Peter says, quietly. “I’m fine.”

“Good,” Tony nods, drums his fingers on the kitchen counter, picks up Peter’s coffee mug to take a sip, then winces when he does because Tony drinks his coffee black, thinks it’s an abomination to dilute it with anything.

Peter keeps a good yard of distance between them, his back pressed up against the refrigerator. 

“W-what are you doing here, Mr. Stark?” he stammers.

He’s confused more than anything. Granted, the hangover and lack of sleep aren’t helping, but everything he knows about how Tony operates suggests that this is the last place he would show up.

Tony doesn’t answer. He just looks at Peter, takes another sip of the milky coffee, makes another face. 

“Jesus, just stop. I’ll get you a fresh cup,” Peter says, holding up a hand to halt him from wasting his coffee.

He takes a mug from where a line of them hang by the coffee machine, fills it, and then slides it across the kitchen counter to Tony.

“Oh, that’s the stuff,” the man sighs when he takes a sip from the fresh cup.

Peter just stares at the floor, scrubbing his big toe against a scuff mark from someone’s dress shoes last night, wallowing in the bad tension that he’s getting awfully used to now. It’s just the wrong side of too much, to have him here, in Peter’s space, the way he’s wanted, and yet as far as can possibly be from that.

“So I got a little visit from the blue meanie last night,” Tony finally says. “Really gave me a talking to.”

Shit. Peter should have known that’s what Nebula was up too. She’s not actually very subtle when it comes right down to it.

“I’m sorry,” Peter says, just above a whisper. “I asked her not to say anything. She doesn’t always listen to me.” 

“Had some interesting things to say,” Tony continues, un-swayed. “Apparently, she’s been under the impression that we’re, what is it, like, betrothed?”

“Heart mates,” Peter supplies, because gotta be that A-plus student, even in the midst of a breakdown, right? 

“Heart mates!” Tony says with a little bang of his fist against the counter. “That’s the one. And, apparently, Pete, I’ve been treating you appallingly by ignoring your efforts to create for us a beautiful nest and prove your suitability as a mate.”

“Shit,” Peter says in a harsh whisper. “Fucking shit.”

He leans against the counter top and rubs harshly at his face.

“Look, Mr. Stark, I …”

Peter stops, gathers up the things in his mind that he really needs to say, and takes a deep breath in and out.

“I’m so sorry,” he says. “If I made you feel uncomfortable in any way. It was not my intention, but I see now how it would put you in a very awkward position. And I did beg Nebula not to say anything, but I think that most of the damage was already done by that point. It’s all my fault. I honestly … I don’t know what I was thinking, sir. Mostly I wasn’t. And everybody warned me. I just …”

And Peter is so, so shamed because his throat hurts with the tears he’s holding back, which are pooling even still in his eyes. He opens them wide to maybe prevent the tears from falling, and looks up at Mr. Stark for the first time since he started this speech. He’s looking at Peter with this impossibly gentle expression, and it makes Peter suck in a wet breath. 

“I just missed you so much,” he says, feeling like the words are being ripped right out of his guts. 

“I am right here, Pete,” Tony says, voice low and harsh. 

“For how long, though?” Peter says.

His hands are trembling a little, and he presses them hard against the cool granite counter to get them to stop. He lowers his eyes because he doesn’t have a right, not a single right, to ask a question like that.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “That’s not ... That’s not a thing I should have said. You’ve been very generous with your time. It’s not your fault I always want more than you can give.”

The silence between them hangs heavy around Peter’s shoulders. He flexes his hands against the counter and waits. He waits for Mr. Stark to take his leave. He couldn’t blame him, really, if the man just walked out. 

“Fuck it,” Tony spits out. The words pierce the air like a knife in the quiet. “Just, fuck ‘em all.”

And Peter thinks those are going to be his, slightly inexplicable, parting words. But then Tony is there in Peter’s space, his body a warm line right beside Peter, his hands pulling at him, until he’s standing up straight, facing the other man.

Peter’s eyes skitter away from Tony’s face, but then careful fingers are at his chin, lifting and turning his face so that Peter can’t help looking at the man beside him. Even through a screen of blue, those dark eyes draw him in. 

“It’s a good nest,” Tony says, with a little quirk to his lips, a barely-there smile. “But you know I can’t just move in here, Pete.”

“I know,” Peter says, trying to turn his face away again, but Tony’s fingers turn vice-like to keep him in place. “I know. It was stupid.”

“Will you let me finish?”

Peter dips his head incrementally in a nod.

“I can’t move in because there’s a natural order of things, a progression …” 

Oh, God, is Tony calling Peter unnatural for the way he feels? If he’s that disgusted by him …

“You gotta at least let me try to seduce you first, kid.”

All the thoughts in Peter’s mind are wiped clean by those words, said in a rumble so low that he can feel them in his bones.

Mind blissfully quiet, Peter looks up into Tony’s face with eyes blown wide and just breathes.

Tony’s gaze flicks quickly from Peter’s eyes to his lips. 

“If this isn’t what you were angling for, kid, better tell me now, because we are about to cross the Rubicon.”

Peter very pointedly says nothing. He doesn’t quite believe. Not until Tony is pressing in close, lining their bodies up, and dragging the hand at Peter’s chin up his cheek, and then into his still-damp hair. He tugs Peter forward until their breaths are mingling in the inch or so of space between them for one taut millisecond, and then he crosses that barrier and their lips meet.

It’s soft and lazy, a simple press of lips followed by another, and then another. One of Tony’s hands is in Peter’s hair, hand flexing through the strands, the other is at his neck, his thumb rubbing barely-there circles in the soft skin at the juncture of his jaw. 

Peter moans at the motion, and Tony presses his advantage, slipping his tongue inside Peter’s mouth and stroking their tongues together. It sends a jolt down Peter’s spine, his nerve endings lighting up in a domino effect.

He presses in closer, twining his arms around Tony’s neck. He’s completely surrounded by the man, in a little bubble of Tony Stark. The scent of him is all Peter can smell, and they’re so close that he can feel every breath Tony takes.

He slits his eyes open so he can look his fill through fluttering lashes, even while they kiss. And the look on his face is so sincere – eyes closed, muscles relaxed, mouth tilted up in just the barest hint of a smile before dipping back down to take Peter’s bottom lip between his teeth. 

Peter grumbles in protest when Tony pulls back just a few inches, and stills.

“Saturday,” he says, keeping his voice low, as though speaking above a whisper will somehow break this fragile thing between them. He still has his eyes closed.

“I’m, like, 70 percent sure it’s Sunday,” Peter replies, a little dazed. “Maybe 75.”

When Tony laughs, Peter can feel the rumble of it in his chest. It’s delicious.

“This coming Saturday,” he clarifies. “Are you free?”

“Why?” Peter asks. 

“Because I want to take you out on a proper date,” Tony says. “Fancy dinner, maybe a movie. Whaddaya say, Pete?” 

“I could be free on Saturday,” Peter says. 

Tony smiles down at him, just just a few inches taller than Peter, but it seems like more with Peter collapsed into him the way he is. 

“Good,” he says, leaning down for another quick kiss. “Then I’ll see you Saturday.”

The chill Peter feels when he pulls away, just a handful of inches, is probably all in his mind.

“You’re going?” Peter says, a little embarrassed at the neediness of his tone.

“If I don’t, there is absolutely no way I’m going to be able to take things slow,” Tony says. 

“I mean, are we married to that concept? Because I can think of several strong arguments …”

Tony chuckles, then grabs hold of Peter’s hand, he pulls it up, and places a kiss directly in the center of his palm

“Listen, kid,” he says, over the cup of Peter’s fingers. “I know it’s gonna sound silly, but this is way too important for me to fuck it up.”

“You’re not going to fuck it up,” Peter says.

“I really might, if I don’t take my time. Do you think … Is it ok? If we just go slow?” 

Peter finds he can’t quite muster words. There are just too many emotions warring for precedence in his chest. He nods, feeling a ridiculous grin stretch across his face. 

“Ok,” Tony says, softly. “Ok. Good.”

He keeps hold of Peter’s hand as he meanders toward the door, but when they reach it, he tugs him forward, and they’re kissing again, Peter’s back against the door, and Tony’s lips rough and demanding on his. Peter’s hands wander up Tony’s sides, under his shirt to touch warm skin.

“Hngh,” Tony makes a noise in the back of his throat when Peter touches him, and he backs up.

“That’s not playing fair,” he says.

“I’m not really great with rules,” Peter says with a smirk. 

“I knew you’d be trouble.” 

“Damn straight,” Peter says, leaning in to steal another kiss.

Tony acquiesces, but then he’s pulling away again, hands on Peter’s hips to hold him back.

“Going,” he says, huskily. “I’m going now.”

He pulls the door open, eyes still on Peter, and backs out of it. 

“I’ll see you soon, kid,” he says, grin spreading over his face.

Then the door closes, and Peter spins around, presses his back against the door and slides down onto the floor. He lets his head flops back onto wood. He has a date. He has a date with Tony Stark.

*

Peter’s dicing tomatoes for sauce later that night, and trying to ignore the look that Nebula is giving him from across the kitchen counter. Somehow her smiles are getting worse? This one is just as disturbing as all the others – too many teeth, not enough everything else – but it has a very self-satisfied edge to it. He can just tell. 

“Alright,” he says, finally. “Alright. I guess I have to thank you. I’m not sure what you said to him, but it was very effective.”

“All I did was remind him of the truth,” she says.

“Right, ok,” Peter says, setting down his knife and leaning against the counter to face her. “But remind him of what, exactly? Because it’s kind of a big turnaround. Making me a little nervous now I’ve had time to think about it.” 

Nebula eyes him, her gaze shifting over his face in an almost mechanical way. There’s a hesitance there that he doesn’t usually see in her. 

“I reminded him,” she says, cautiously. “Of Titan.”

And Peter should be over this by now. It’s been years. But the mention of Titan still ratchets his pulse up, and makes his body shift from warm to ice cold in an instant.

“What about Titan?” he asks, voice a harsh whisper.

“That was when I first realized how he felt about you.”

Peter’s eyebrows go up high. That doesn’t sound right at all. Because he was 16 the first time he was on Titan, the time with Mr. Stark. He was 21 when he was pulled back there. And he knows for sure that the man he’d been with on Titan would never have kissed him with sincerity or passion like Tony had earlier in the day. He would have recoiled at the thought.

“I think you may have misread that one, Neb,” he says.

Nebula snorts, a derisive sound.

“You Terrans are so focused on lust,” she says. “The lust was not there, yet. It is almost irrelevant. But the care was. I have never seen a man so … Devastated.”

Peter grits his teeth and closes his eyes. He wants so badly to be able to take that hurt away, feels personally responsible for it even though he knows logically he couldn’t have done anything. 

“The lust I noticed after I returned to Terra. When he asked me to watch over you.”

“Tony asked you to watch over me?” Peter says, incredulous.

“He said he couldn’t do himself,” she says with a little shrug to her shoulders.

Peter has to turn away. He returns to his tomatoes, gets them simmering, adds some basil and onion. It’s so much to think about, so much to consider, but he can’t deny that it gives him a warm feeling in his chest when he lets his mind skim over it.

So he works, and hums, and doesn’t fight the smile that creeps over his face. 

Ned and MJ come in a little while later. He convinced them to settle for dinner and video games at his house instead of going out. 

“You’re happy,” MJ says, suspiciously, as she lays his spare key on the counter. “Why are you happy?” 

“What, can you smell it?” Peter asks. 

“You aren’t the only one with weird spidey senses, Peter” MJ says.

“Well, no, we established that with the whole multiverse thing,” Peter says. “But as far as I know you haven’t been bitten by a radioactive spider.”

“I’ve got Peter Parker senses,” MJ counters. “What is going on with you? You were a little squishy ball of sad 24 hours ago.”

“Dude,” Ned says, coming in behind MJ. “Did you get some?” 

Peter feels his face split in a wide grin, he covers it with his hand, but he can’t quite hold in the laughter. 

“You’re supposed to tell me when that happens. You’ve always told me before.” 

“I didn’t get anything,” Peter protests.

“That is a lie,” MJ says. “He’s lying.” 

“Fine,” Peter says. “Fine. I got a date. That’s it. Nothing else. Just a date.”

“With who?” MJ says, raising her voice. “When did you even have time to pick someone up?” 

“Umm …” Peter turns back to the oven. 

He stirs his sauce, adds a little more garlic.

“Holy shit,” MJ says. And how does she just know? How?

“Stark asked you out? Tony Stark?” 

Peter turns to face her and just shrugs.

“Seems like.”

“Your plotting actually worked,” MJ says.

“Seems like,” Peter says again. He knows he has a shit-eating grin on his face. He can’t help it.

“I feel like I have to re-evaluate my entire approach to life right now,” she replies, dully.

“Let’s not have a whole existential crisis,” Peter suggests. “I’m not actually sure my plotting helped much.” 

“Is dinner ready?” MJ says. “I think I need to eat my feelings.”

Peter dishes out bowls of pasta, and passes around a plate of garlic bread, and manages to turn the conversation to things other than his love life. He feels like he’s taken up enough of their collective time with that already. 

But at the end of the evening, Ned pulls him into a bear hug, lifting Peter off the ground.

“I’m really happy for you, man,” he says. 

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, here,” Peter says.

“C’mon dude,” Ned says, nudging him in the shoulder. “Genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist. You gotta lock that down.”

Peter rolls his eyes.

“And when you do, you better tell me.” 

“You’ll be the very first to know,” Peter promises.

*

As cool as he’s trying to play it, Peter’s actually really nervous by the time Saturday night rolls around. He changes his outfit three different times, and if Karen weren’t an artificial intelligence, she would have stopped responding to him about the twelfth time that he asked if he looked ok.

He settles on dark wash skinny jeans, his pair of chucks without the holes, and his nicest flannel. It’s probably not fancy enough for whatever restaurant Tony is planning on, but he doesn’t want to look like he’s trying too hard, either. He’s working on seeming a little less desperate than he has up to this point.

He’s pacing, and nervously chewing on his thumbnail when the buzzer to his apartment rings, and he sprints down the stairs. When he slams outside of the door, he runs right into Tony.

“Whoa, there, Underoos,” he says, grabbing Peter by the waist, and spinning them around.

“Trying to get somewhere in a hurry?” he asks.

“Hi,” Peter says, breathlessly.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

And just like that, the nerves are gone. Just that hand on his waist settles something in Peter’s mind. Tony looks great. He’s wearing a form-fitting dinosaur t-shirt through which Peter can see the faint glow of the reactor and a blue polka-dot suit jacket.

“You look nice,” he says, maybe too aware of Tony’s hand on his hip, his thumb moving in almost-imperceptible circles. 

“Back ‘atcha, kid,” he says, giving Peter a wink through thick-framed glasses.

For a moment they just stare at one another, then Tony’s phone goes off, a blaring alert. 

“Goddammit, Rhodey,” he curses, pulling his phone out of his pocket and viciously hitting decline on the call. 

“Everything ok?” Peter asks.

“Fine,” Tony says. “It’s fine. It’s just Rhodes acting like a dick.”

“Why is he being a dick?”

Tony lets out a long sigh. 

“Honestly, Pete? He’s not too thrilled that I’m here tonight.”

“Oh,” Peter says, and it feels a little like a punch in the gut. “I always thought Rhodey liked me.” 

“He does like you,” Tony says. “Of course he likes you. What’s not to like? It’s me he doesn’t like. Thinks I’m taking terrible advantage of you. He sort of swore me to hands-off policy where you’re concerned after Pep and I broke up.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Peter says.

His stomach does a flip.

“Shit,” Tony says. “I guess I shouldn’t have said that.”

“You needed a hands-off policy?”

“Oh, kid, you have no idea.”

Peter can feel the words in his bones. He wants to test that policy immediately, but he also wants to prove that he can be cool about this. He can. He’s not hopelessly needy. He’s not.

“So, where are we going?” he asks, instead of jumping Tony right there on the street. 

“Well,” Tony says, opening the door of a bright orange sports car to usher Peter in. “I was gonna do the whole fancy dinner thing, but then I thought to myself, Le Bernardin is the last place Peter Parker wants to spend an evening.”

“Where now?” Peter asks, scooting into the passenger seat.

“I rest my case. So I went in a little bit of a different direction.”

Tony slides into the driver’s seat and shifts the car into gear. When his hand wanders from the gear shift to Peter’s knee, Peter says nothing, but suppresses a smile. 

They end up going bowling. They drink a pitcher a lukewarm beer out of plastic cups, eat cheap bowling alley pizza, and get ridiculously competitive over a couple of games of bowling. Tony tries to use the electronic bumpers, he says to compensate for Peter’s “Freaky, freaky spider powers.”

“It’s natural talent,” Peter says, turning his back to the lane after bowling a strike.

“Technically uranium is a part of nature, so yes, I suppose,” Tony says. 

“I feel like you’re besmirching my reputation as an ace bowler,” Peter says.

“If you want besmirching, kid, that can be arranged.”

Peter wins both games, and then he bums a couple quarters off Tony and tries his hands at the claw machine.

“I’m telling you, Pete, these things are rigged,” Tony says.

“Shh,” Peter says. “I’m concentrating.” 

“Well,” Tony says, coming up behind him and whispering into his ear. “I wouldn’t want to interrupt your concentration.”

The heat from Tony’s body at Peter’s back, and his hand on his hip is, in fact, very distracting. Peter bites his lip, and Tony’s laugh is a huff of breath on his ear.

Peter very nearly loses control of the claw when that happens, but he keeps it together, and feels a thrill of victory when the little Spider-Man plushie drops into the prize tray.

When he turns around, Tony is still in his space, leaning close. Peter holds up the plushie, presenting it to him.

“Oh that’s for me?” he asks.

Peter nods. 

“Well gee, Pete, you do know how to make a girl feel special.”

The words are mocking, but Peter sees Tony tucking the little Spider-Man into his jacket pocket with a grin.

It’s late by the time they get back to Peter’s apartment and, to Peter’s surprise, Tony gets out of the car to walk Peter to his door.

“This was fun,” he says as they walk up the stairs to the front door of his building, shoulder to shoulder. 

“I’m really glad you said yes.” 

“So, um, would you like to come up for some coffee?” he asks, turning to face Tony and stepping in close so that they’re chest to chest.

“Well, that depends,” Tony says, bringing a hand up to rest teasingly at the juncture between Peter’s neck and shoulder. “Is this coffee metaphorical or literal?”

“You’re gonna give the coffee a complex,” Peter replies. “Can’t it be both?”

“Hmm,” Tony hums, leaning forward. “That’s awfully ambitious coffee.”

“Nothing wrong with ambition,” Peter says.

This time he’s the one to cross those critical final millimeters to bring their lips together. It hasn’t even been that long, but Peter missed this. He groans, and the kiss turns instantly filthy, their tongues tangling together as Peter gasps at the sensation. Tony backs Peter up, tugging at his shirt to untuck it so he can run his hands up Peter’s torso.

They’re both so consumed with what they’re doing that neither notice that Peter’s pressed right up against the door buzzers until the voice of Mrs. Rodriguez from 3B is calling “Que? Que?” over the intercom

“Shit,” Peter says, moving them back from the buzzers and turning around.

“I’m sorry Mrs. Rodriguez! It’s just Peter from 5A. I, um, ran into the buzzers. Sorry. Sorry.”

He continues his apologies while Tony laughs silently into his shoulder.

Mrs. Rodriguez pacified, Peter turns and wraps his arms around Tony’s shoulders.

“So,” he says, punctuating his words with a soft kiss. “Coffee?” 

But Tony’s oddly still in Peter’s arms. 

“Or … not?”

“It’s just, I come up now, and I cannot guarantee my good behavior.”

“I can be good, Mr. Stark,” Peter whispers, pressing their bodies closer together.

“Ugh,” Tony says. “You demonstrably cannot.”

But he gives Peter another gentle kiss. 

“I will call you,” he says when he pulls away. “Soon. Very soon.”

“You better,” Peter calls, watching Tony walk down the stairs.

From the sidewalk, leaning against the hood of his car, Tony looks up at Peter and just sort of sinks into the look. Like there’s nothing he’d rather be doing. Then his shoulders move up and down with a deep sigh, and he straightens, pulling his keys out of his pocket.

“Goodnight, kid,” he says. “Sweet dreams.”

Chapter Text

Tony doesn’t come up after their second date. They go for bao in Chinatown, and afterwards Tony teaches Peter how to bet on mahjong in one of those weird underground casino places that Peter’s only seen in detective shows on TV. 

“Wait … Aren’t these illegal?” Peter says in a whisper as Tony guides him through the red and gold-decorated room with a hand clasped on his shoulder. “I shouldn’t be here. You definitely shouldn’t be here. Do you let them get away with this just because you like the décor?” 

“Yeah, Rhodey’s the lawful good one, Pete. I’m afraid I’m more of a chaotic good-type guy. And you are a vigilante operating completely outside of the purview of the law, so …”

“So leave the nice people alone?”

“At least until they start breaking fingers,” Tony confirms. 

Peter wins $50 at the beginners’ table, though he still doesn’t understand how the game is played, and they end the night making out like teenagers in the front seat of Tony’s car. It’s a red Maserati that provides really very little room for front-seat shenanigans, but luckily Peter is bendy.

He’s got his legs on either side of Tony’s, squeezed in tight to avoid knocking the gear shift out of place. The rest of his body is plastered to the other man’s while he sucks a hickey onto the underside of Tony’s jaw and tries, not so subtly, to rock their bodies together.  

Peter is vaguely hoping to get somewhere this time, but mostly he’s enjoying the salty taste of Tony’s skin, how delicate it is right at this spot, and how it makes Tony jerk forward whenever Peter applies teeth. 

“Holy fuck,” Tony exhales deeply.

“Well, I don’t know about holy …”

When Peter jerks his hips forward again, Tony’s grip on them turns vice-like.

Peter removes his mouth from Tony’s neck with a final kitten lick, then pulls back so he can look into his face. His expression is pained.

“Did I do something wrong?” Peter asks, still breathless and panting.

“No,” Tony says. “No, definitely nothing wrong. I just don’t want to violate public decency laws tonight. These windows aren’t tinted.”

“We could go upstairs and be indecent there?” Peter says, with just a thin thread of hope.

Tony gives a grimace, and a faint shake to his head. 

“You have no idea how tempting that offer is,” he says.

“But not tempting enough.”

“I am trying really hard to be the good guy here.” 

“I don’t know if you’ve heard, old man, but it’s the 21st Century now. Sex is no longer considered a moral failing,” And, ok, Peter’s mostly joking. He keeps his tone teasing. But he’s still a little frustrated.

“Old man?” Tony splutters, indignant.

“You’ve got a little grey right here,” Peter says, stroking along his temples.

“Don’t let my colorist hear you say that. The poor man would never recover.” 

“I knew it!” Peter crows. “I knew it wasn’t natural.” 

Tony smirks at him.

“It takes a lot of effort to look this good, Pete.” 

They both laugh, Peter burying his face in Tony’s shirt and appreciating the soft vibrations of the other man’s chuckles. 

But once he’s caught his breath, he pulls back, slides himself off of Tony’s lap, and flops back down into the passenger’s seat.

“I guess I’ll say goodnight then,” he says, even though it’s the last thing he wants. “Let me know you got back to the compound ok?”

“Of course,” Tony nods. 

“Good. Ok then,” Peter says, reaching for the door handle. 

“Hey,” Tony says, grabbing hold of Peter’s hand. 

Peter turns back, and he’s pulled across the center console for a searing kiss.

“You busy Thursday?” Tony asks, once they break apart once more. “I got the gremlin this weekend, but I could do Thursday.”

Peter grins.

“Yeah, yeah that sounds nice,” he says. 

“Fantastic.”

“So … I guess I better go?” Peter says, eyes flicking down to where Tony’s still got hold of his hand. 

“Right,” Tony says, releasing his grip one finger at a time. “Right.”

He doesn’t come up after their third date either.

It’s just dinner at an old-school Italian place they found during their cannoli tour, but the owner likes Tony, and serves them a risotto that he swears has been in his family for seven generations and a chianti that pairs with it perfectly.

They share a couple bottles, inhale their food, and spend the evening just talking nerdy to each other. They mostly manage to stay away from work, but a discussion of colony collapse disorder leads to one about genetic modification leads to one about what it would take to make Blade Runner-style replicants a reality.

“I swear to God, kid, if you call it a really old movie, I’m making you pay for dinner,” Tony says.

“It just came out a few years ago,” Peter says, nonplussed.

Which leads to Tony choking on his mouthful of wine and promising to rectify the gaping holes in Peter’s cinematic education.

The restaurant is, coincidentally, close enough to Peter’s apartment to walk. It’s a nice night, balmy with a gigantic full moon shining down overhead. They sort of weave down the sidewalk, Tony because he had just a touch too much wine, Peter because he’s hopelessly love-drunk on this man. 

When they bump shoulders for the tenth time or so, Peter twines their arms together and takes hold of Tony’s hand. And then they just walk down the sidewalk, somehow, holding hands. Like that’s a thing Peter’s allowed now. Like it isn’t a goddamn miracle in and of itself. 

When they reach his block, Peter gives into his instincts, and releases Tony’s hand, instead pulling him in by the lapels of his jacket for a kiss. He’s feeling wonderful and ridiculous, and he pops his foot up like a heroine in a corny 90s rom-com.

“God, you are adorable when you’re tipsy,” Tony murmurs into his hair when they break apart.

“Please,” Peter says. “I am not drunk. It takes way more than that with my metabolism.”

“Hmm,” Tony says. “That’s true. Then why are you so punchy, little spider?”

“Well, there’s this guy,” Peter says on a soft sigh. “I think I like him a lot.”

Tony’s grin in response is wide and irrepressible.

“That so?”

Peter nods, looking up at Tony through his lashes.

Tony leans in toward him, tripping over his own feet when he does, and only failing to fall on his ass because Peter catches him. 

“You, on the other hand, are totally drunk,” Peter says. “You really can’t drive home like this. C’mon. Let’s get some water in you. You can even introduce me to Blade Runner while you sober up.”

Tony shakes his head.

“Not driving,” he says. “Texted Happy. He’ll take me home.”

“You texted Happy?” Peter asks. “When?”

He can’t help the disappointment that hangs heavy in his gut.

“Partway through dinner,” Tony says, absently. “Ooh. There he is. Happy!”

He steps back from Peter, waving his arms, and stumbling off balance when he does. Peter grabs hold of him again, and spots Happy a short way down the block, leaning on the hood of his black sedan and scowling.

Tony takes a step away from Peter, and clears his throat. They exchange a glance, and then walk toward the car together, but with a good foot of space between them. 

“Hey, Happy!” Peter calls, with a wave, as they approach.

“Kid,” Happy greets him with a stoic nod.

“Hap,” Tony says, scuffing his toe on the sidewalk. “Punctual as always.”

“Boss,” Happy responds.

Tony goes to shake his hand, and Happy grabs the back of his neck, brings Tony’s face in close to his own.

“Hey,” he says. “Whaddaya doin’, huh?” 

“What are you doing?” Tony responds, sharply. And suddenly he doesn’t seem the slightest bit tipsy. 

Peter gets the same cold shower experience, all the floaty happiness in his gut promptly curdling.

“Seriously, I been sitting here a while. What are you doing with the kid?”

“If you’ve been here that long, then you don’t need to ask, do you?”

“Jesus H. Christ, Boss. I already told Rhodes he was full of shit. You making me a liar?”

“Hey,” Peter interjects. “Happy, c’mon, man. There’s no reason to get upset.” 

“Oh, there’s a reason, kiddo.”

“Not actually a child,” Peter says, pointing to himself. “Grown up person.

“Yeah, that’s what you think. I used to pick you up from high school.”

He redirects his attention to Tony, his voice rising.

“I had to sign him out. You know why? Because he was minor.”

“Ok,” Tony says. “We aren’t gonna do this on the street.”

He points at Happy, jabbing his finger forward forcefully. 

“You,” Tony says. “Are going to get in the car. No. In the car. Now.”

Happy continues to scowl and grumble, but climbs back behind the steering wheel.

“And you,” he says, turning back to Peter, hands stuffed in his pockets, eyes on the sidewalk.

Peter raises his hands, indicating his innocence. Maybe he raised his voice a little, but he had cause. 

“You’re perfect,” Tony continues, raising his head, meeting Peter’s eyes and giving him a warm look. “I’m sorry, Pete. I know this is shitty.” 

“You didn’t have to call him, you know,” Peter grumbles, because really, this evening could have ended with Harrison Ford and making out on his couch, but instead he gets this.

“Mistakes were made,” Tony concedes. “I’ll talk some sense into him. Just … You know nobody’s mad at you, right kid? There’s just a general consensus that you can do better than me.”

And he says it like a joke. Tony says most things like a joke, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he isn’t also being honest. 

So maybe Peter’s still not happy about the way Tony handled the evening, but that doesn’t stop him from going up to him and giving him a lingering kiss at the edge of his mouth and inhaling his scent. One more for the road, he thinks.

“People are stupid,” he says. “You’re a genius. You should know better than to listen to them. You’re Tony Stark. You put all the other models to shame.” 

When he meets Tony’s gaze, there’s heat there, burning ember-hot in the dark coals of his eyes.

“You always make it so hard to leave, kid,” Tony says, reaching blindly for the car door.

“That’s the idea.”

*

The group text that Peter sends out the next morning says nothing but “Assemble.”

Luckily, his friends are quick on the uptake, and it’s far from Peter’s first crisis. Ned is the first to show up, as soon as they both get off work – Ned actually does work for Stark Industries as a programmer, a fact that Tony likes to rub in every chance he gets.

Peter is just pulling off his tie, which he hates with a disproportionate passion, when Ned comes in, throws all his stuff onto the counter, and collapses into one of the armchairs with a heavy sigh.

“Is that a new Lego model?” Peter asks, coming in from the bedroom pulling a t-shirt over his head.

“R2-D2 man,” Ned says. “I thought he might make a good addition to your living room. Plus, you sounded like you could use some Lego therapy.” 

“You’re the best, Ned.” 

They waste no time spreading out all the pieces into the middle of the living room rug, each taking a different section to work on. He and Ned are like a well-oiled Lego machine.

When Wade arrives, of course it’s through Peter’s window. He’s stopped locking them because Wade’ll just break them, and who knew replacing windows was so damn expensive? 

Wade announces his presence with a high-pitched screech. Then he grabs his foot in one hand and proceeds to hop over to the sofa with a muffle “Ow,” at every bounce.

“Are you trying to Home Alone, me, Petey-Pie?” he howls. “I was invited!”

“Sorry, Wade,” Peter says, reaching for the little blue brick that is the source of the trouble. Peter knows well the pain of stepping on a Lego brick. “Wait … Why aren’t you wearing shoes?”

“Eh, long story,” Wade says, cuddling down into the cushions of the sofa and pulling off his mask. “A Ninja cut my feet off! So not that long of a story. One long sweep of the katana. He had really good form. So I’m still growing my feet back. None of my shoes fit. Look!”

He waves his feet in Peter’s face, kicking like he’s swimming freestyle through the living room. Peter grimaces because, no matter the size, Wade’s feet are pretty rank.

“They’re all tiny like Cinderella’s!”

“You are basically a Disney princess, Wade,” Peter says, absently. 

“Ooh!” Wade exclaims. “With the merger, I think that’s technically true! I mean, I was married to the Queen of the Underworld for a bit. She left me for Dracula, but I think it still counts. They’ll totally have to let me into the Disney castle now!” 

“Merger?” Ned asks.

“Don’t,” Peter warns. “He will tell you, but it won’t make any sense. Apparently we’re all starring in a movie about our own lives.”

“Oh, Petey, there are so many more than one. It is glorious.”

“He says they’re bigger than Star Wars,” Peter tells Ned.

“Nothing is bigger than Star Wars,” Ned tells Wade, very seriously. “Nothing.” 

“Easy there, young nerdling,” Wade says. “I’m just calling it like I see it.” 

The doorbell rings, and Peter leaves the two of them to argue about Star Wars versus Avatar.

“All I’m saying is Gamora is hotter when she’s blue,” Wade argues. “It’s an objectively sexier color.” 

“Dude, how can you not care about narrative at all?” Ned counters, incredulously.

Nebula’s at the door when Peter opens it, scowling, still wearing her image inducer. Her synthesized red hair swinging around her shoulders like she’s in a shampoo commercial.

“What has he done now?” she asks as she stalks into the room and flips off the inducer. The image flickers and then fades away to reveal her true features.

“Nobody’s done anything,” Peter says. “Everything’s fine. I asked you to come over for movie night.”

“I assumed it was a distress code.”

“No,” Peter says. “Neb, you’ve been to movie night before.”

“Yes,” she confirms. “It usually means you are in distress.”

And, well, Peter can’t actually argue with that.

“Well, no distress this time,” he says. 

It’s a lie, but he isn’t going to unload on his friends tonight. He just wants to be surrounded by people. He may be sort of melancholy and lonely, but that doesn’t mean he wants to analyze his love life to death. 

She gives him a skeptical look, but her attention strays from Peter when she sees Wade in the living room. 

“What is the mutant doing here?” she growls. 

“Neb, be nice,” Peter says. 

“Ack!” Wade calls out. “More angry HAL 9000! Help!”

Nebula feints a lunge at him, and Wade scampers behind the couch. 

“Keep her away from me, Petey! I’m still recovering and delicate!”

Nebula, clearly enjoying his fear, just smiles slow, biting down on her bottom lip while she does. It’s just … Unsettling.

“Wade, she’s not going to hurt you. I promise. You can come on out.”

When he answers the next knock at the door, it’s MJ and Kate, arriving together. And aren’t they standing close? MJ’s sort of leaning against the wall with her arm above Kate’s head while they wait.

“’Sup?” MJ says, frowning at him. Maybe he made it to the door too quickly. Which he wouldn’t have done if she had texted him a warning. If he’s honest, Peter always hoped they’d hit it off.

“I’m surprised you didn’t just let yourself in,” he says to her. 

“Ned took the key.”

“Right,” Peter says. “Well, come in ladies.”

“You better still have my tequila, Spidey,” Kate says, proceeding to rummage through Peter’s cabinets as though she owns the place.

“Your tequila?” Peter asks. “I thought it was my tequila. It was a present.”

“No,” Kate says. “I just left it with you for safe keeping. Obviously it’s still mine. Tequila will never forsake you, Peter. Ah-ha!”

She pulls the bottle triumphantly from underneath the counter and waves it around.

“Who wants shots before we watch some teenage murder and mayhem?” she calls.

“Ooh, ooh!” Wade pops up from behind the couch. “Pick me!”

“Deadpool,” Kate greets him with a nod. 

“Ladyhawk,” Wade reciprocates.

Kate rolls her eyes violently.

“It’s just Hawkeye, and I know you know it’s Hawkeye because I have told you roughly one thousand times.”

“Kate,” Wade says, walking over to her and placing his gloved hands on her shoulders. “You can be a Hawkguy or a Hawkgirl. I completely support your decision to be whoever you want to be.”

“It’s a gender neutral moniker, asshole.”

“Uh, guy is literally in the name,” Wade says. “Don’t try to trick me. I’m crafty like a fox.”

“Um, maybe we should start the movie?” Peter suggests. He can see the muscle in Kate’s right eyebrow twitching, and that’s never a good sign. 

They make popcorn and pour drinks, and settle in to watch Heathers, Wade faux-whispering a near constant stream of commentary.

“Not nearly as fun as one might think,” he says after Heather Chandler delivers her iconic “Fuck me gently with a chainsaw” line.

Peter snorts mid-sip, which ends with alcohol burning through his nasal passages and ow, ow, ow …

They’re all three rounds in when MJ, cuddled up close to Kate under a throw on the sofa, says “God, I would totally be all up on Wynona Ryder in this.”

Peter turns to her, and sees that she has her hand over her mouth now, as though immediately regretting the words that just slipped out. Beside her, Kate nudges her with a foot.

“Oh, totally,” she says, giving MJ a conspiratorial grin. “Something about that screw the world attitude. Guess I’ve got a type.”

Peter can practically feel the tension rolling off both of them, and he’s not sure if it’s because of his heightened senses, or if it really is just that intense.

In the end, it’s Wade who unconsciously breaks the moment.

“I like you so much better like this than when you’re Kirsten Dunst, Red,” he says, cheerfully.

He’s got MJ’s feet in his lap, massaging one.

“I’m sorry what?”

“Movies,” Peter informs her with a sigh. “He thinks there’s movies about us.”

“Because there are!” Wade insists. “But the comics are way more fun. In the comics, you and I get to team up, Baby Boy.”

He makes a kissy face at Peter, and Peter returns the gesture with a laugh.

“So in the movie of my life I’m played by Kirsten Dunst?” MJ asks, incredulous.

Wade nods solemnly.

“The darkest timeline. You’re all nice and noble, and you two,” he waggles his finger between MJ and Peter. “Are an item.” 

Peter and MJ lock eyes and make twin expressions of disgust, faces scrunched and tongues stuck out. 

“Your brain is a disturbing place, ‘Pool,” MJ says.

While Heather Duke is establishing her high school dominance on the screen, MJ is slipping off the couch and stretching out beside Peter where he’s propped up against the coffee table. Ned and Nebula have taken the chairs, Ned half paying attention, half playing a game on his phone, and Nebula with eyes fixed on the screen as though she’ll be quizzed later, sightlessly inhaling popcorn from a large bowl.

MJ pokes him in the temple. 

“What’s going on with you?” she asks. Her words aren’t quite slurred, but they are a little fuzzy around the edges.

“Nothing,” Peter says, pushing her finger away from his face. “I’m fine.”

“You are thinking way too hard for movie night,” MJ says.

“C’mon, MJ,” Peter says, knocking their shoulders together. “Let’s just watch the movie.”

“Pshaw,” MJ says. “Tell me. Tell me or I’ll guess, and you know that will be worse.”

Peter stares her down for a minute, then gestures with his eyes toward the kitchen, where they head. He doesn’t want to interrupt the movie for anyone else.

“Okay,” MJ says, rummaging around in the fridge for a beer, handing one to Peter and taking the another for herself. “Spill.”

“I don’t think Tony wants to sleep with me,” Peter blurts out. He doesn’t look at MJ, picking at the label of his beer instead.

“You haven’t boned yet?” MJ asks incredulously. “I thought you two were doing the whole dating thing?” 

“We are, it’s just …” And the whole saga just spills out of Peter. “Taking it slow,” the dates, the times he can tell Tony’s holding back, Rhodey’s intense disapproval, and the run-in with Happy last night.

“I’m just … I’m worried it’s a bad sign,” Peter says, winding down. “Maybe it means he’s having second thoughts? And all of his friends seem to hate me. I don’t know. Do you think I’m crazy?”

“I mean, yes, absolutely. I think you need years and years of therapy.” 

“Gee, thanks Michelle.”

“Hey, man, I can’t even count the number of times you’ve almost died. I think it makes sense for you to be a little crazy. But that’s separate from you sitting here and overanalyzing your relationship. That’s not so crazy. Everyone does that.”

“So you think I’m overanalyzing?”

“Of course you are. But look, Peter, if you’re really worried about this, you know what you have to do, right?”

“Obsess about it silently until my head explodes?”

“Have an actual adult conversation with your actual boyfriend.”

Peter looks at her skeptically.

“I mean, he’s not my … We haven’t even said we’re exclusive. Oh God.”

It suddenly occurs to him that just because Tony isn’t sleeping with him, that doesn’t mean he isn’t sleeping with anyone. 

“And this is where a conversation about where the relationship is headed would be useful,” MJ points out.

“I concur.”

Peter’s so startled by the addition of a new voice to the conversation, right behind his shoulder, that he jumps and winds up clinging to the door of the refrigerator. Damn his spidey senses for not warning him about people once he’s ruled them out as a threat.

Nebula gives him a concerned look from her spot right beside where Peter had been standing. She’s still carrying her bowl of popcorn, now down to just the kernels.

“You are very high strung,” she says. “And in distress. I do not approve of you lying to me, Peter.”

“It’s stupid, though,” Peter says. “I didn’t want to bug you.”

“Yes,” Nebula says. “It certainly seems like you are both being very stupid. Perhaps if you talk, it will allow you to combine your brain cells.” 

“Mean,” Peter says, pointing between Nebula and MJ. “You are both being very mean.”

“Is there more of the popped corn?” Nebula says, holding out her bowl to him.

Peter slowly unsticks himself from the fridge, and starts another bag of popcorn popping while Nebula talks about the movie.

“I do not understand why JD is considered an unfit mate,” she says. “He is clearly the most superior warrior at Westerburg High School.”

“He tried to blow up the school, Neb,” Peter says, keeping one eye on the microwave and the other on a suspiciously quiet MJ at the kitchen counter. “That’s generally frowned upon.” 

“I once helped blow up the Avengers Compound,” she points out. 

“Well, yeah,” Peter concedes. “But that was past time traveler you. And besides, you said you were sorry … Didn’t you?” 

“Hold up,” MJ says, interrupting whatever reply Nebula was about to make. “You said it was Happy that cock blocked you last night?”

“Yeah?”

“Peter, isn’t he, like, dating May now?”

“Yeah, for like a couple months …” 

And then cold realization settles over Peter. He’s been so fixated on his other problems that this particular wrinkle never occurred to him. 

“Right?” MJ says, her eyes wide.

“Shit,” Peter says. “Fucking shit.”

*

Peter calls May first thing the next morning, and has to have Karen turn the volume down on the call because she’s screaming so loudly.

“What the fuck, Peter?”

Her voice sounds like she’s on the verge of bursting into tears, but still like she might kick his ass. It’s a very versatile tone.

“Aunt May, it’s really not that big of a deal.”

“Tony Stark, Peter? Seriously? He is old enough to be your father!”

“Ew, May, stop. Our relationship has never been like that …”

He has seriously not had enough coffee for her to start throwing daddy issues at him. Peter has enough actual issues. He doesn’t need to add to the list.

“Is he pressuring you?” May asks. “Threatening to kick you off the team, or out of your place? I know he’s helping you with that apartment, but you don’t have to stay there. You can always move back in with me. This is your home, Peter.” 

Peter bangs his head slowly against the kitchen counter. This is a nightmare.

“May, he isn’t pressuring me,” he says, making an effort to keep his voice calm and collected. “We haven’t even … We’ve only gone on a couple of dates. It’s been so PG it’s ridiculous.”

“That man is bad news, Peter. I’ve known it from the beginning. He let you fight crime as a minor. He took you into fucking space …”

“That was totally not his fault.”

Peter rocks back on his stool, indignant. He was the one that hopped on that spaceship. Tony had told him to go back. Had tried to make him leave. 

“He’s been grooming you, that sonofabitch. I am going to remove his balls from his body. Slowly.”

“He hasn’t been … May, you’ve got to stop. This was my decision. You wanna be mad at someone, be mad at me.”

She’s silent for a long moment, then she makes a little choked sound, and Peter thinks she might be crying. God, it breaks his heart when she cries.

“Look,” he says, making his tone as soft as he can manage. “It’s new. It might not even be anything. I’m not asking you to be his best friend or invite him to Thanksgiving …”

“He is not invited to Thanksgiving.”

“Not yet, anyway,” Peter says, ignoring her outburst. “But I need you to respect my choices here, May. You don’t have to like it, but you can’t say horrible things about him. I won’t listen to that.”

“Peter …” 

“Look, I just wanted to make sure you were ok. You are, right?”

“Fine,” she says, her tone defeated. “I’m fine.”

“Good,” Peter says. “I’ll talk to you soon, May. I gotta go.”

He has Karen end the call, and then he pulls on his sneakers and heads out the door.

At the station, he catches the express bus upstate. After what feel like a few melodramatic days, he’s decided he’s going to focus on Spider-Man business for a little while. There has been a string of shockingly vicious and similar assaults in the neighborhood in recent months, and Peter’s found a drug that all of the perpetrators seem to have been using at the time. He wants to use the mass spectrometer at the compound lab to analyze what he’s found for clues as to purpose or origin.

When he gets to the lab, he spreads out, asks Dum-E to put on the coffee, and starts setting up his samples to run through the mass spectrometer. He pretty much has the place to himself. Dr. Banner is away at a conference in Leipzig, and on Tony’s weekends with Morgan he usually tries to steer clear of lab work. 

Peter likes having his home lab for everyday use, but he really can’t rival the toys available for him to play with at the Avengers Compound. He’s using the 3D printer to do a rendering of the mask filtration system he’s been fooling around with while he waits for his samples to process.

Then he hears the door to the lab scrape against the floor, accompanied by some off-key humming. Pink Floyd. “We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl year after year.” 

Yep. Definitely Tony. And Peter should be pleased to see him, right? It’s his maybe, sort of, almost boyfriend. But he’s still a little shaken up from his phone call with Aunt May, and he’s not sure he’s in a good place to face the man.

Still, a part of him must have wanted it, to show up here in Tony’s territory, even if the chances of him being here were slim. Peter turns, crosses his arms, and waits. He watches as Tony strolls into the main lab area, still humming, goes over to his work station, rifles through a pile of paperwork, looks over at Peter a couple of benches away with crinkled eyes and a softly upturned mouth, looks back down at his desk to find the right folder, and then does a shocked double-take as his mind catches up with his eyes. 

“Pete?” 

Peter gives him a little wave.

“Tony,” he greets him.

Peter relaxes. He always forgets the peaceful feeling that settles into his bones whenever he’s in the same space with Tony like this. The other stuff that’s going on just gets tamped down that little bit. 

“Was I expecting you?” Tony asks. “Because I feel like I would remember that.” 

“Nope, I’m a surprise,” Peter confirms. “Didn’t expect to run into you either. I just came in to use the mass spectrometer. Thought you’d be out with Morgan.”

“We’re playing hide and seek,” Tony says. 

“This?” Peter says, gesturing around the lab. “This is a terrible hiding spot. She’s definitely going to find you here.” 

Tony sets down the manila folder in his hand and walks slowly in Peter’s direction.

“I was thinking I’d get a little work done while she amuses herself seeking. But lo and behold, I get here, and there’s another distraction.”

He stops when he’s just a few scant inches away from Peter, places a warm hand on his hip, and then leans in to give him a kiss at the corner of his mouth.

“Morning, gorgeous,” he whispers, low and husky. 

“It’s afternoon,” Peter says.

“Well, the offspring and I had a late night, so we also had a late morning.” 

“Do anything fun?”

“Oh! One of the little snot-nosed boys in her class told Morgan that killer robots are cool, so now we are building baby’s first robot together.”

“See? I told you it was a phase.”

“I’m a little concerned that the next phase might be ‘crazy for little snot-nosed boys.’” 

“I can confirm that’s a very difficult phase,” Peter says with a solemn nod. “But I think you’ll make it through.” 

They’re grinning at each other, chests rising and falling in harmony, when Dum-E rolls into Peter’s leg with a soft whistle, and offers up a coffee cup. Whatever substance is in it is not coffee, and also not entirely liquid. It’s brown, but weirdly viscous, and as Peter watches a large bubble forms on its surface and then pop in slow motion.

Tony winces.

“I should warn you not to drink anything Dum-E offers you right now. His coffee’s been a little wonky lately. I think there’s a kink in his coding I need to work out.

Peter takes the mug from Dum-E with a soft “Thank you,” then takes it over to the biohazard bin and tosses it in.

When he turns back around, Tony is giving him a soft look that he can’t quite account for.

“What?” he asks. 

Tony shrugs.

“You’re nice to my robots,” he says.

“I was raised with good manners,” Peter says in his own defense. “They’re instinctual.”

“It’s not a bad thing, kid,” Tony says.

He pulls Peter back in to him, his hands grasping both of Peter’s.

“So, listen, I should probably ask …”

“What’s up?”

“Morgan’s probably gonna find us soon. And I haven’t exactly mentioned the you and me of it all to her yet.”

“Oh?" 

Peter’s heart sinks at the words. He hasn’t told Morgan? Morgan who a few weeks ago was insisting they should get married? That doesn’t exactly imply confidence in the relationship. If that’s even what this is. 

“Yeah, I just … It’s a big change, and I’m not sure how she’s really going to take Daddy dating again. So I thought, hold off for a while. You think we could keep this on the DL around her?” 

And what is Peter supposed to say to that? Nothing is what. Instead he nods, maybe too forcefully to seem casual, but an acknowledgement nonetheless.

Tony’s mouth tilts downward.

“Pete? You alright? I mean, I know it’s not exactly …”

He’s interrupted by the sound of the lab door swinging open, followed by scampering footsteps.

“Daddy, you’re not even hiding,” Morgan accuses, as she catches sight of him. 

“What?” Tony says. “No, I totally was. You are just really good at this game sweet pea.” 

She stands with hands on her hips, looking at him with unamused disbelief. But then she spots Peter.

“Uncle Peter!” She exclaims, and throws herself into Peter’s arms.

“Hey, Gremlin,” Peter says with a laugh. “How are you? Oh, how was the science fair?”

“Mr. Wilkins said my project was scientifically accurate but unnecessarily dramatic.”

“I think that might actually be on the Stark family crest,” Peter says. “You’re ahead of the curve, kiddo.”

“Hey, what exactly is unnecessary about drama?” Tony asks.

“I rest my case,” Peter says, meeting his eyes over the crown of Morgan’s head, then turns back to the girl. “Now, tell me about this robot you’re making.”

They spend a couple hours playing with Morgan’s very rudimentary robot. 

“His name is Jeff,” she confides in Peter, demonstrating how the little one-armed robot can shake hands. 

“Well, it is very nice to meet you, Jeff.”

“Nice to robots,” Tony pipes in from his workstation. “Helps old ladies cross the street. Tell me, Pete, you ever rescue a kitten from a tree?”

“Shut up,” Peter says. Then. “Maybe a couple.”

Tony chortles.

“You can’t just leave them up there!” he protests

“Adorable.”

It’s mostly charming. It is charming. Except for the fact that they’re flirting right over Morgan’s head, and Tony’s just told him, in no uncertain terms, that he doesn’t want his daughter to know about Peter, not who he really is.

He needs to get out of here. He needs to go.

“Very cool,” Peter tells Morgan, ruffling her hair despite her huff of protest. Then he stands and starts gathering his things, downloading the results on his samples to a flash drive without even looking at them.

“Aren’t you staying for dinner, Uncle Peter?” Morgan asks, her lower lip jutting out in the beginning of a pout.

“Sorry, kiddo, I gotta bounce,” he says. “Besides, you and your dad need some quality time alone. Maybe you can teach Jeff some new tricks. Impress me next time.” 

Tony looks at him with a furrow between his brows. 

“You’re welcome to stay for dinner, kid,” he says softly.

“Nah, I’ll get out of your hair,” Peter says, slinging his backpack over one shoulder.

“Oh, just a warning,” he says. “Happy mentioned picking you up on Thursday night to May. So you might want to screen your calls. She’s … Processing.”

He’s careful to avoid saying anything incriminating in front of Morgan, but Tony does deserve some heads up if May is out for his blood.

“Well … Shit,” Tony says. 

“Shit!” Morgan echoes from across the room.

“Hey!” Tony says with a snap in her direction. “We talked about this, right? That’s a grownup word.”

Morgan rolls her eyes at him.

“Sorry,” Peter tells him. “You really can just ignore her. I’ll handle it.” 

Then he claps his hand on Tony’s shoulder in an absent farewell, heading for the door.

 “See you around, Tony.”

“Yeah,” Tony calls after him. “Yeah, see ya soon.” 

*

They have to cancel their fourth date because Tony gets called overseas for some kind of security summit that’s a million miles above Peter’s pay grade, and before they can reschedule, disaster strikes. 

This time, disaster comes in the form of MODOK and a flock of shiny metal pterodactyls. They are so objectively cool that it pains Peter every time he has to rip the the motor out of one of them. But they’re harrying the citizens of lower Manhattan and causing considerable property damage, so it can’t be helped.

He, Tony and Sam are the main line of defense, the two other men whizzing high in the air while Peter swings from building to building with quick thwips of his web slingers to take care of the lower flyers.

Below, Bucky and Nebula are clearing the area of civilians while Kate hunches on a rooftop, sending arrows flying into the hearts of as many pterodactyls as she can manage. 

“Damn it, I’m out of arrows!” he hears Kate yell over the comms. 

“We’re working on a special delivery, Hawkeye,” Hill tells her, calm and collected as ever. 

“Get off me, lizard bird,” Tony shouts, struggling to shake one the pterodactyls off his leg while hitting it with a blast from his thrusters.

“That’s right,” he crows triumphantly when the machine smashes into the ground in a ball of flame. “I’m what killed the dinosaurs.” 

“Man, who even comes up with this stuff?” Sam asks as he whizzes past Tony. “I mean, robot dinosaurs? Somebody has way too much time on his hands.”

Ok, yes, maybe they are pointless, but that doesn’t make them any less beautiful. Peter is maybe too fascinated. He wants to get one into his lab and take it apart to see what makes it tick. 

He’s so caught up in mentally dissecting the thing that he doesn’t initially notice the hairs standing up on his arms, or the churning feeling in his gut that indicates danger. So he doesn’t react in the split second before one of the pterodactyls slices through the line of webbing he’s just shot out to tether himself to a tall glass office building. When he does realize he’s falling instead of swinging into the low point of his arc, he tries to thwip out another web, but his web shooter jams, and by the time he’s able to use the other one, it’s too late to get a good aim at anything.

He’s falling and flailing. The wind rushing noisily past his ears is usually a comforting sound, drowning out the unpleasantness of the world below during a swing, but now it’s pure terror. What goes up, must come down Peter thinks to himself in a burst of panic-induced silliness. He’s falling really fast. The last thing he hears, before he hits the sidewalk with a crunch, and everything goes black, is a soul-rending scream from someone over the comms. 

It’s probably only a minute or so later that the blackness recedes, and he blinks his eyes open to see Bucky and Nebula standing over him, and Iron Man hovering a few feet above. He groans. His head and his back hurt like hell. Slowly, slowly Peter sits up, and then whimpers pitifully. 

“Lie still!” Nebula orders him. “Medics will be here soon.” 

Peter lies back down and nods. That really feels very much not good.

“Kid, are you ok?” Tony’s voice, mechanized and wiped of any emotion through the suit, has always freaked Peter out a little.

He doesn’t really have the energy to answer, so he holds up an arm, and gives Tony a thumbs up.

“Good. That’s good. Blue, watch him. I’m going to go rain hellfire on these sonsofbitches.”

And with that, he’s blasting away. Peter rubs a hand over his face. There’s rubble in his hair, and he thinks that means he’s broken the sidewalk in his tumble. He hopes they don’t try and make him pay for that. Really, it was all the dinosaur’s fault.

He’s feeling marginally better by the time the SHIELD medical team arrives. They give him a nice shot of morphine and wrap his torso in a sturdy gauze bandage before trying to take him to a SHIELD facility for more examination. But that’s definitely not going to happen.

With the painkillers and wrap, Peter can stand, with some assistance, and walk all on his very own. He waves the medical team away. While he likes many of the individuals within SHIELD, he doesn’t trust the organization as a whole. It really wasn’t that long ago that most of them turned out to be Nazis, and it’s hard to rehabilitate from that. 

Peter knows how valuable, and ultimately weaponizable, his biology could be, so he’s not going anywhere where they can do bloodwork or strap him down to an exam table.

“Thanks guys, but I’m a bad patient,” he says.

“Peter, you need treatment,” Nebula calls after him.

“You take care of the dinos, Neb,” he calls over his shoulder. “I’m fine. I need a pizza, and nap, and some asprin maybe. I’ll see you soon.”

He feels a little guilty, leaving the rest of the team to wrap things up, but he figures he’s pretty useless right now, so removing himself from the situation is actually the most responsible thing to be done.

A taxi is definitely not going to pick him up looking like this, though, so he walks a few blocks to the nearest open subway station, and rides the train back to Queens. The morphine, predictably, gives out three stops in, and he whimpers to himself with every jostle of the train car after that.

He takes the service elevator to his floor, and starts stripping out of the spidey suit as soon as he walks inside his apartment, which also means unrolling the gauze wrapped around his middle. His body feels like one giant bruise that he’s trying not to prod at.

After a few false starts, Peter manages to make it to his bedroom, where he wrestles himself into a pair of sweats while attempting not to move his torso at all. When he gets brave enough to feel for damage, he finds he has three broken ribs, which is probably incredibly lucky. A non-powered human would be dead from that fall, Peter’s almost sure.

He loses track of time just sitting on his bed, mind wandering but never really sticking to anything. Oh right, he hit his head too, so probably he has a concussion. He’s already healing, can feel it in his bones, but that doesn’t make this part any less painful. What they never tell you is how much healing hurts.

Eventually, Peter’s mind attaches to the idea of an ice bath to ease his sore, bruised muscles. Luckily, he keeps a couple of jumbo bags of ice in his freezer for just such an occasion. This is very much not his first rodeo. 

So he shuffles into the kitchen, still trying not to move his torso. He’s staring at the refrigerator in concentration, trying to work out the logistics of the least painful way to get the ice to the bathroom, when there’s a harried knocking on the door. It doesn’t stop – incessant and forceful – even when Peter shouts “Coming. Hold the fuck on.”

Is it pizza? He definitely thought about ordering pizza, but he’s not sure if he actually did it or not. Things are a blur.

When he flings open the door a little huffily, it is not pizza. It’s Tony. He’s still in the black performance gear he wears under the Iron Man armor, reactor glowing blue in the center of his chest, a scrape across the bridge of his nose still bleeding sluggishly. 

He’s got one hand braced against the doorframe, leaning in, and the other poised to continue knocking. Peter drinks him in. 

His face is an alarming shade of grey, almost like he’s stepped out of a black and white movie, and when his gaze falls on Peter, his dark eyes are filled with this swirl of emotions that Peter can’t quite unravel. Wonder, and fear, and panic and something, something else. There are unshed tears in those eyes.

“I thought you were dead,” Tony whispers hoarsely. “Jesus, kid, I thought you were dead.”

And Peter is going to snark back at him, just a soon as he can think of a line to cut through the heaviness in the air between them. But before he can do that, Tony is stepping forward, cupping the back of Peter’s neck, and kissing him. 

It’s not violent, exactly, but it is forceful. Tony licks into Peter’s mouth, demanding entrance, and Peter sags into it, lets him take and take, his heart singing with it. Licking over Peter’s Adam’s apple, he pushes him back against the door. Then, in a move that takes Peter’s mind completely offline, he drops to his knees.

With more grace and speed than Peter thinks he could ever manage in such a situation, he has Peter’s sweats down around his ankles. Tony’s finger’s grip and flex at his hips, and he trails his tongue along the crease of Peter’s thigh, nuzzling at his base.

Peter sucks in a shocked, stuttering breath when he’s engulfed in wet warmth, but the mind-melting pleasure is overcome with a searing pain as his muscles contract, and the injury to his ribs – previously a low-grade, consistent ache – demands its presence be acknowledged.

It’s the sharp stab of pain that makes him moan and pitch forward, but Tony can probably be forgiven for thinking they’re borne out of pleasure. Peter scrabbles at Tony’s shoulders, trying to push him away without exerting too much effort.

“Stop,” he manages to gasp out. “Tony, please stop.”

Tony pulls back immediately, his grip on Peter loosening, and sitting back on his heels to look up at him. The hurt and concern on his face breaks Peter’s heart. There’s a little wrinkle between his brows that Peter wants to smooth out with a finger, to ease that tension. 

“Hey, no,” he says, reaching down to run his fingers through Tony’s hair. “Don’t think … There is literally nothing I’d rather do than have you continue with that. I’ve been trying to maneuver us into this position literally for months. I just, um, I think I broke a few ribs back there. So breathing kind of hurts.”

“Shit,” Tony says, leaning into Peter’s hand, placing a feather-light kiss on his fingertips. “I can’t believe I fucked this up. I was very determined not to do that.” 

“You didn’t fuck anything up,” Peter insists. “But I do fully expect a rain check.”

And some of the lightness returns to Tony’s expression when he says that.

“You should be in the hospital,” he tells Peter. “Nebula said you walked home. Really, Pete?”

“I took the subway,” Peter says, though it doesn’t feel like much a defense. “And no, no hospitals. I’ll be healed up in a few hours, and that’s a quick way to announce my powers to the world at large.”

“Fine,” Tony concedes. “Is there anything I can do?”

Peter bites his lower lip. A part of him hates asking for help, but otherwise he’s really not sure how to handle things. 

“I was actually going to take an ice bath, but I didn’t really have a plan for how to get the ice to the tub.”

“Say no more,” Tony grins at him, gently pulling Peter’s pants back up to rest on his hips, and standing with a crack of his knees.

When Tony calls out that the bath is ready, Peter limps slowly to the bathroom. Now that he’s had a chance to stop moving, he feels like all his muscles are tensing up painfully on him. He stumbles a little on the bathmat when he doesn’t lift his feet up far enough, and Tony catches him by the elbows. 

“Easy there, Underoos,” he says, helping Peter to stand up again.

“Sorry,” Peter says.

Tony runs a soothing hand down Peter’s spine. 

“Hey, you’re fine,” he says, then he swallows thickly. “So, um, may I?”

He flicks his eyes down to Peter’s sweats, and even though the thought is embarrassing, Peter can’t deny that the help will make this easier. He gives a sharp nod, and Tony bends down and gently pulls off Peter’s pants, pulling off one leg and then the other, allowing Peter to use his back as a support to brace himself. 

This isn’t exactly what Peter imagined when he thought about Tony seeing him naked for the first time. He can feel his face and chest heat, and he hopes they aren’t pink enough to give him away. It’s so much different than earlier, in a frenzy of heat and lust. This is quiet, and deliberate. It makes Peter’s throat hurt and his hands tremor just a little bit.

Tony helps to lower him down into the tub, and then Peter expects him to go, tell him to call if he needs help, but instead he rustles around in the medicine cabinet and comes back bearing two of those supercharged painkillers and a glass of water. 

Peter gratefully swallows the pills with a mouthful of water, and hands the glass back to Tony to set on the sink. Then he closes his eyes and sinks down into the chilled water. His skin practically steams as it makes contact with the ice. His healing factor means he runs hot most of the time, but gets especially heated when he’s trying to heal from a major injury. It’s similar to how anyone else runs a fever when they’re fighting an infection, but times eleven because that’s they way is body is with most things.

Eyes still closed, Peter hears the medicine cabinet open and close again, and the scraping of something large against the tiled floor. Then he feels rough fingers spreading something cool and soothing on his chest.

He blinks his eyes open to see Tony using his laundry basket as a stool and rubbing ointment over the dark purple bruises that mottle his Peter’s body. He’d run into a lot of pterodactyls today. 

“You look like hell, kid,” Tony says.

Peter can tell he’s trying to be casual, but he can hear the strain in the man’s voice. Is all that for Peter? All because he’s in a little pain? It sets something fluttering inside him to think of it. 

“Gee, thanks,” Peter says. “That’s what I always hoped you’d say the first time you saw me naked. Really. It’s like a fantasy.”

Tony snorts. 

“You already know you’re beautiful,” he says. “You don’t need to fish for compliments from me.”

Peter feels it like an electric jolt. Tony thinks he’s beautiful? He looks up at the man, cheeks burning, and sees Tony’s eyes trace a path across his chest and down lower, where his skin is slightly distorted by the icy water. When they move back up to Peter’s face, his pupils are blown wide. He stares for a long moment, and then he shakes himself and goes back to applying ointment to some of the scrapes along Peter’s arms.

Peter settles back down into the water, laying his head against the lip of the tub and allowing his mind to drift, skimming across the feel of Tony’s fingers against his bruised skin, the sound of the ice knocking against the porcelain of the tub, the smell of lavender from the Epsom salt that Tony must have added to his bath.

It all combines to make him feel drowsy, and cared for, and content. He floats while Tony softly hums a tune he can’t place. Eventually, he puts the ointment down, and encourages Peter with a hand on his neck to tilt his head back into the water to wet his hair. It must be dusty from the rubble this afternoon, so Peter complies.

Tony delicately massages shampoo into his hair, and then rinses it off with a cupped palm, smoothing a hand over Peter’s head, fingers threading into his hair as the suds are cleared away. Then he lets his hand rest there, rubbing soft, soothing circles into Peter’s scalp.

The whole process is perhaps the most intimate thing that anyone has ever done for him. And for some reason, it fills Peter with an aching melancholy.

They’re so close right now. So close. But the last time it had been like this, the two of them building a little bubble of a world together, he had been tossed out and abandoned. He thinks it could happen again. Easily. He doesn’t even know what he did wrong the first time.

And it’s that mixed-up feeling of simultaneously having and losing that makes tears prick at Peter’s eyes, slide through clenched lashes, and roll hot down his cheeks. He tries to school his face, to stop the tears in their tracks, and hopes that, with the water from having his hair washed, maybe Tony won’t notice.

But then the other man lets out a harsh exhalation, like he’s in pain. 

“Pete? What’s wrong?” he asks, barely above a whisper. “Am I hurting you?”

Peter shakes his head, sending water droplets flying.

“What’s going on, kid?” 

Peter swallows, throat tight, and wonders how to vocalize it. 

“W-when you sent me away,” he stammers. “When you sent me away before. Why did you do that? Did I … Did I do something?”

The sound Tony makes is the quiet “oomph,” of a man punched in the gut. 

But Peter can’t really focus on whatever turmoil the other man is in, because his brain is already supply answers that he doesn’t want to the question. 

Logically, he knows Tony probably won’t say ‘Well, Peter, you were actually a really annoying little shit when you were younger, and I didn’t want you hanging around my house all the time.’ But there are a lot of times when Peter’s brain isn’t nice to him, and it’s on a particularly vicious tear right now. So the fear sticks, insistent as chewing gum on the bottom of a shoe.

“Pete,” Tony’s strained voice breaks through all the noise in his head. “Will you look at me?”

Peter’s eyes flutter open, and he turns his head in Tony’s direction. He watches as Tony rolls his lips, then chews on the bottom one.

He opens his mouth a couple of times to no avail before he’s finally able to make a proper start.

“Back then,” he says, speaking slowly. “After Thanos and the battle, I was a mess. I know you didn’t see it, kid, because you never do, but my entire life was wrecked. I died on the field. I felt myself dying. And even though Wanda and Thor brought me back, I could feel the wrongness of it. Of being alive.” 

He stops there, breathes, clenches his hand onto the rim of the tub with a white-knuckled grip. Peter slides a hand up the side of the tub until his fingers rest lightly over Tony’s grasping one, and he squeezes.

“It took me a long time to get over that feeling. And even then I was useless. Recovering and weaker than I had ever been in my life. I was just trying to get by, kid. I was trying to make it through and somehow not disappoint my wife and my daughter, who had been through all of that too. And then into this miasma walks Peter Parker like a goddamn ray of sunshine.”

He lets out a harsh bark of laughter and focuses his gaze down at Peter, pulling back from the middle distance.

“You pulled me back into the workshop, you made Morgan laugh. This one time you sort of stuck her to your back and took her swinging through the trees like Tarzan or something, and I still have the look on both of your faces just burned into my brain.” 

While he speaks, he removes his hand from Peter’s hair, runs it down his cheek, along his jaw, then pulls it away. Peter whines, very quietly, at the loss of that touch. 

“The thing is Pete, you died too. I saw it. You were in my arms. But somehow that experience, it only seemed to make you want things more, instead of shutting them out like I did. And I realized that when I looked at you I … Wanted. So many things that I shouldn’t. So much more than I should. And Pepper being Pepper saw me looking, and understood exactly what was going on. She gave me a warning. It was fair.”

Peter swallows hard against the painful knot in his throat and nods. He doesn’t say that Pepper must have seen him looking, too. That maybe she wouldn’t have said a thing if not for that.

“I swear, kid. I swear to you that I wouldn’t have sent you away, or put up that wall, if I hadn’t thought it was the best thing for you. I was a mess, and I figured being around me then could only have hurt you. I didn’t want to mess you up, too. And I thought that once you were at college, living your own life, you wouldn’t even notice I wasn’t around.”

“I noticed,” Peter says. 

“Yeah, starting to get that.”

Maybe that’s the thing that should hurt the most, hearing him talk about sending Peter away. But it’s strangely comforting to hear him acknowledge it. To have it be something other than an idea in Peter’s brain that drives him crazy. 

“What changed?” he asks, because now that they’re airing this out, he wants to know. “After I graduated. You just barged into my apartment one day like nothing had happened. Not that I’m complaining. But …” 

Tony shrugs, a small, defeated gesture.

“I just couldn’t help myself anymore. I thought, ‘Pete’s an adult now. If he wants me to back off, he’ll tell me.’ Plus, I figured Rhodey would keep me honest. I may have overestimated myself there.” 

Peter studies his face. Sees the guilt that skitters across it when he mentions Rhodey, but also the desire when he says ‘I just couldn’t help myself.’

He floats and studies the lines around Tony’s eyes, the downward curve of his lips, the cut on his nose that’s also sending faint black shadows under both eyes now as it heals. 

He feels like they’re in some liminal space right now, is afraid that if he breaks out of it, all this will fade away. But he wants to keep every word, every look, locked away tight and protected. He knows what a gift this kind of openness and vulnerability is from a man like Tony. They’re alike in that way. They almost always reach for the joke rather than the truth.

When he shifts in the tub a little too much, the curve of Tony’s mouth tilts upward.

“Getting a little pruny there, Ariel. You ready to get out?”

“Yeah,” Peter says, nodding. “Yeah, I am ready.”

He allows the moment to break, hopes he can keep all these confidences safe out beyond this small haven.

Wrapped in a fluffy towel, Peter hobbles down the hallway to his bedroom, with the help of Tony’s shoulder under his arm to give him extra support.

He’s helped first into his fluffy Deadpool-patterned pajama pants – a gift from Wade a few Christmases ago – and then into bed, where he lets out an exhausted sigh.

“You need anything else?” Tony asks, brushing Peter’s hair away from his eyes with a finger. 

Peter doesn’t want him to leave, but he doesn’t want to actually beg. He makes his eyes as wide as he can and looks up at Tony, whose mouth goes flat, perturbed by Peter’s expression.

“Those oughta be classified as a deadly weapon,” he grumbles.

But he’s slipping his shoes off and crawling onto the bed with Peter, so the victory has been won. 

They lay on their sides, facing each other, a foot or so of space between them until Peter attempts to shuffle forward with a hiss of pain, and Tony gives a little huff of annoyance, clenches his jaw, and pulls him forward into a warm embrace.

“Get some sleep, kid,” he says, stroking Peter’s hair softly.

Their breathing syncs and deepens, and between one breath and the next, Peter is out. 

He wakes what has to be several hours later to find that his ribs are, in fact, mostly healed up already. He can twist and stretch again with only a little vague soreness. Sometimes those freaky spider genes are very nice. 

Peter yawns and wonders what woke him, before noticing Tony by the side of the bed, in a shaft of moonlight, feeling around for his shoes. Turning to look at the bedside clock, Peter sees it’s 1 a.m. His stomach drops.

“Tony?” he asks, and the man turns to him, still crouched by the bedside.

“Sorry, Pete,” Tony whispers. “Really didn’t mean to wake you.”

“What are you doing?”

“Just, um, figured you’d want a little space to recover,” Tony says. “I was gonna take the suit home. Call you in the morning to check in.”

“Don’t,” Peter says, still a little sleep addled, his filters not fully in place. “Stay.” 

Tony grins, rolls forward onto his knees and reaches out to run a thumb across Peter’s jaw.

“C’mon, you don’t want me here hogging all the covers.”

Peter closes his eyes and leans into the press of Tony’s fingers. He wants. Wants with a hungry ache. 

“I want you here for a lot of reasons,” he says, voice coming out low, beckoning.

Tony’s hand stills, and Peter tilts his head down to just nip at the pad of his thumb. The man lets out a little squeak of surprise that makes Peter smile wide. He stretches out over the mattress, reaching out a hand to pull Tony’s body halfway onto the bed and brings their mouths together, making the kiss slow and messy, a clear invitation.

It very quickly has Tony scrabbling back onto the mattress, and Peter spreads his legs to make a place for him to kneel and continue the kiss. He wraps his legs around Tony’s waist to pull him closer, bringing the rest of their bodies together in a warm, hard line.

“You’re injured,” Tony protests, pulling back just a few inches. “You’re …” 

“Healed up already,” Peter insists, breathlessly. “Spider-Man, remember?” 

To demonstrate, he bends upward to capture Tony’s mouth again, pulling him down toward the mattress with him. 

As hesitant as he’s been in these physical aspects of their relationship, Peter takes comfort in this: Tony never kisses him half way. His mind doesn’t wander away, and it’s prone to wandering in almost every other scenario. When they’re like this, Peter knows he has Tony’s full attention. The expression on his face always has a bit of that same heartrending sincerity that Peter saw the first time they kissed.

It gives him the confidence he needs to tug at the hem of the other man’s shirt, insistent and impatient. Peter can feel Tony smile against his lips before he breaks away to strip his shirt off. For a moment, Peter just leans back on his elbows and admires him. The reactor glows pale blue in the center of a strong chest, dark hair trailing from a thick thatch down to a toned stomach.

Peter reaches out, slowly, meeting Tony’s eyes to gain tacit permission, before resting a hand on the reactor, skin-warm to the touch and pulsing dully. Then he trails his fingers downward, skimming across the taut muscles of Tony’s stomach, feeling the staccato rhythm of his breathing. He wets his lips, and looks up into Tony’s eyes, finding heat burning there. 

Tony swoops down to capture Peter’s mouth, pressing their chests together, and Peter lets out a groan and fumbles blindly in the drawer of his bedside table, finally grasping at the tube he wants and pressing it into Tony’s hand. 

“Will you?” he asks, voice already wrecked.

“Jesus fuck, Pete,” Tony groans. “You’re sure?”

“Please?” Peter says, far past his determination not to beg at this point.

He’s never felt this desperate for someone before. It makes him feel a little crazy. But he might be alright with a little crazy if it means he feels this good.

Peter wants to stay right here with Tony surrounding him, inside of him, balancing on the very edge of pleasure. He holds onto the feeling, riding that wave until Tony clutches at his hips with a bruising grip and whispers “Come for me, Pete,” into the crook of his neck.

Then he falls off the edge with a strangled cry, Tony following him over. 

After they catch their breath, Tony rolls them over so that he’s wrapped around Peter’s back, left hand resting warmly over Peter’s heart. Peter tangles his fingers with Tony’s, and the other man lays a soft kiss on his shoulder.  

“You are phenomenal,” he says, nipping at the meat of Peter’s shoulder. “Really, full marks.” 

“Stay,” Peter whispers into the darkness, a lazy smile spreading across his face, his eyes weighing heavy. 

Tony huffs a warm breath of laughter against Peter’s neck, pulls him another millimeter closer.

“As long as you want, kid.”

“Forever, then,” Peter says.

Against his back, he can feel Tony’s breathing evening out, sleep clearly overtaking his body.

“Forever,” Tony responds.

And Peter can’t tell if it’s a question or a promise, reality or a hope echoing in his own head. But he holds onto it until he drifts off.

*

When Peter wakes up, the sun is high in the sky, and the other side of his bed is cold and empty.

He reaches out, feeling vainly at the mattress, but no, there’s nothing there but a piece of paper laying on top of the pillow by his head. It’s one of the graph paper sheets from the notebook Tony carries around with him in case ideas strike, and he doesn’t have access to a modeling computer. Peter lifts it up and squints at it. 

Kid,” It reads. “Had to run. Work stuff. Breakfast in the fridge. Talk soon. X – TS.” 

Peter reads it through a couple times, hoping for something more to reveal itself, but it doesn’t. It’s so terse, aside from that little “X” at the end. It makes him feel hollowed out. He’s supposed to be wallowing in morning after glow right now – having lazy morning sex and eating breakfast in bed – instead of waking up alone.

“Karen, start the coffee, will you?” he asks, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.

“Sure thing, Peter,” she responds.

He rolls out of bed and shuffles to the kitchen. True to his word, Tony’s left eggs Benedict and bacon from some fancy delivery service in his fridge. Peter sticks it in the microwave, and waits for the coffee to finish perking. 

He slumps over the counter. He probably shouldn’t be quite as dispirited as he is. It’s not a rejection, not exactly. Tony left him a note. They aren’t breaking up. They can’t, really, because they aren’t technically in a relationship.

But Peter’s not an idiot. He knows Tony doesn’t actually have work stuff. He’s running away. He could have at least woken Peter up to say goodbye, but it’s clear he just had to get away as fast as possible.

The only question is, why? Is it all too much, too fast? Was last night too intense for him? Is he bored now they’ve actually slept together? Have Happy and Rhodey finally convinced him that he and Peter shouldn’t be together? Is it guilt? Disinterest? Does Peter snore? 

Peter lets out a long sigh. His ass hurts, and his heart hurts, and he’s in love with a man whose mind he isn’t sure of. 

Goddammit. MJ was right. He hates it when she’s right. They need to have an actual conversation. One where Peter isn’t woozy from pain and medication, and Tony isn’t on edge from watching Peter have a near-death experience.

And suddenly he can’t just sit there and let himself obsess over this for the rest of the day. It’s just going to cycle through his brain, so he might as well go sort it out. Peter checks the time. If he leaves now, he can catch the noon bus upstate.

He doesn’t text. Doesn’t want to give Tony the chance to make himself scarce. Love doesn’t always make you blind, and Peter’s more than aware of Tony’s faults. Chronic avoidance of difficult conversations is high up on the list. 

He dresses swiftly, tugs on his Chucks, and is out the door in under 15. A sort of frenzied purposes churns with unease in his gut. He texts MJ while he walks to the station. 

Peter: You suck.  

It doesn’t take long before his phone is pinging in reply.

MJ: You’re welcome. Go get him, Tiger. 

Chapter Text

The lab is a terrible hiding place. Peter did warn Tony about that. Serves him right for not listening.

When Peter gets there, Tony’s got the music turned up loud, something with a thumping baseline and wailing guitars that Peter can’t quite place. He’s in a tight black tank top, wearing dark red-lensed smart glasses instead of actual safety goggles while he welds something on the Iron Man armor, sending glowing sparks flying everywhere.

Peter just stands and watches him for a few minutes. He fixates on the little details – the way those strong, callused hands grip the welding torch, the bead of sweat that travels down his long neck, the way he has absolutely no reaction when a spark from the torch lands on his forearm even though it has to burn like hell.

He’s always loved this Tony in particular, the one who gets so absorbed in his work that it’s almost like meditation, like a holy communion. He’s beautiful like this, so deep down in his own mind.

He remembers Pepper used to get angry at Tony about that, related his absorption to selfishness. It’s an easy mistake to make, he thinks.

Now, Peter hates to interrupt him. He briefly considers just going upstairs, having a drink to calm his nerves, and hanging out in the team common area until Tony emerges, dazed, exhausted, and starving from his fugue state.

But that could, likely would, take hours. And while he’s worked himself up to this now, he’s not entirely sure how long the determination will last. If he waits for Tony to emerge from the lab, smelling of sweat and motor oil, the most likely outcome is Peter throwing himself at the man. As lovely as that scenario is, it’s unlikely to lead to an honest conversation about their relationship. Ugh.

He straightens his spine, and steps into the lab, making a gesture that he hopes Friday will interpret as “Turn the music down.”

She gets the idea, clever girl, and the song cuts off mid-guitar riff. At the sudden silence that fills the room, Tony lifts his head like a curious meerkat and scans the lab. When his gaze finally lands on Peter, he removes a hand from one pocket and gives Tony a little wave.

The smile he gets in return is big, broad, and achingly fake. Peter stills, feeling his body tremor almost imperceptibly as he takes in the insincerity of that expression. It was just last night that they … It’s just a quick turnaround is all. He was expecting a warmer welcome, at least initially. 

“Hey, kid,” Tony’s saying in his booming, king-of-the-world tone. “What brings you to my neck of the woods?”

The thing is, Peter had been planning to ease into things. He wanted to be gentle. He always wants to be gentle with Tony. But the fake front he’s putting up for Peter of all people, especially after the intimacy of last night, makes him see red. They are so far past their little bubble now.

“You had to work?” Peter asks, the anger in his voice unmissable. He can feel it rolling off him in waves.

A wariness creeps slowly into Tony’s eyes, but he plunges ahead, keeping that cheery tone that leaves a bitter aftertaste in Peter’s mouth.

“I know, I know. Technically the nanites can fix the suit for me, but it never feels the same as when I do it myself, you know? And this is no place for shoddy workmanship.”

Well, he does at least seem committed to the bit. Usually, Peter thinks commitment to a bit is a good thing. Now, it’s sending doubt creeping through his veins. Is he crazy? Is this not actually a big deal? No, no. He’s not going through that again. Peter knows how he feels, and Tony is trying to throw him off for some reason.

He takes a deep breath to steady his nerves and steps forward, further into the lab. Not too close, because he honestly doesn’t trust himself. He keeps on the opposite side of a workbench, facing Tony.

He braces his hands on the cool metal of the table and looks up to meet Tony in the eye.

“You could have at least woken me up to say goodbye,” he says, voice frustratingly small in the big room. “I was expecting you to be there, and you weren’t.”

“I left a note,” Tony replies with a shrug. “I thought you probably needed your rest. I left breakfast!”

“I didn’t want a note or breakfast. I wanted you.”

There’s a sullen expression forming on Tony’s face, just the barest pout to his lips.

“Pete, I thought you got this. It’s never bothered you before. I have commitments.”

“Jesus, can we stop pretending you actually had work to do, and that you weren’t just running away?” 

The words explode out of him, loud and abrasive. Peter hides his face in his hands before he can take in Tony’s reaction. He scrubs at his eyes with his palms and tries to gather himself.

“Look,” he sighs. “That’s not what I … I’m gonna stop and start over.”

Tony doesn’t say anything. The only sounds in the lab are the soft whirring of the Dum-E and U off in the corner, and Peter’s shaky breathing. If he thought he would be past embarrassment at this point, he was wrong.

“You know I’m in love with you, right?” he says, into the quiet. “I feel like I’m not being very subtle.”

“You’re never actually very subtle, Pete,” Tony replies. “It’s one of the things I like about you.”

The downgrade in terms between the two of them, from love to like, makes Peter wince. But, hey, those are the types of insights he’s here for, right? He manages to raise his head, to look at Tony’s face, which is guarded, but sad. Shit. He barrels forward. 

“Good, then,” Peter says. “That much is settled. I’m in love with you. And I think what you should know is I’m all in on this. This thing we’re doing, whatever it is? I’m all in. I know what I want, and it’s you. Has been for a long time.”

He’s trying and failing to pick up cues from Tony on how he’s taking this confession, but the man is giving him nothing. He stands there, very still, leaning against his work bench with his arms crossed and his eyes glued on Peter. But it’s like there’s a scrim in front of his face. It occludes all secrets.

“But,” Peter continues. “But it’s ok. If you don’t feel the same way. It makes sense. I, um, I know I told you when we first met that it’s like my senses are dialed up to 11? Sometimes I can be that way with my emotions too. I’m just … I’m trying to say I can dial it back. I can meet you where you are right now. I just need to know where that is.”

And Peter isn’t going to cry. No, he is not going to blubber like a baby while he confesses his love to Tony Stark. He is going to keep his shit together. 

“Do you think you could just give me some idea of what you’re feeling? Of where you are with this? Because, Tony, I have no idea, and it feels like a special form of torture not to know.”

Tony tilts his head to one side and points at his own chest. “Me?” he mouths silently, and Peter lets out a laugh that is way too wet and strangled. Fuck.

“You wanna know how I feel?” Tony asks.

“I really do.”

Tony pulls in a deep breath, scrunches his face together in a grimace. Then the scrim falls away, and Peter feels like his heart is being pierced by the look he’s receiving. 

“Honestly, kid, you fucking terrify me.”

Tony’s voice is rough. It’s like those words needed to be pulled from the depths of him.

“What?”

Whatever Peter was expecting, it wasn’t this. It’s like Tony isn’t even speaking in English for a long moment. He can’t connect the words to any tangible meaning.

The man across from him raises a hand to rub self-consciously at his beard. His face is stricken and drawn.

“I love you so much it physically hurts,” Tony says, tapping his chest right above where the reactor glows serenely. “Right here.”

All the breath leaves Peter’s body in a woosh. It’s exactly what he’s been longing to hear him say, and honestly never expected. He feels his face soften, sinking down into the feeling of it. He just wonders why Tony still looks so sad. He takes a step forward, but Tony holds out a hand to keep him back while he continues to speak. 

“I look at you sometimes, and I have to remind myself that, no, I’m not having a heart attack. It’s just the Parker Effect at work.”

“Why do you make love sound so awful?” Peter asks with a breathless laugh.

“Because it is,” Tony says, solemnly. “It’s horrible. And I’m not sure I can do it, Pete.”

“What?” Peter asks again, feeling like a broken record. “What do you mean?” 

“All I can think about is what it’s going to be like the next time I lose you. It almost ruined me the first time. If I … If I let myself have this … The deeper we go with this thing, the worse it’s going to be. I know what you look like when you’re falling apart, now. I’m never going to not know that. It will be burned into my head until the end of time. But there’s so much more you could give to me, Pete. And so much more you could take away. I don’t think I would survive it.”

“What makes you think you’re going to lose me?” Peter asks, panic starting to slowly build in his chest. “I’m in this, too. I’m right here with you.”

Tony just gives him a pained look and shakes his head.

“I’m 20 years older than you,” he says. “Rhodey and Happy aren’t wrong about how much that matters. And I’m me, on top of that. How long do you think I could possibly hope to keep you happy? To keep you at all?”

“Forever,” Peter says, weakly. It’s the truth, but he can’t think of how to possibly convince Tony of that.

Tony grunts an ugly laugh at him.

“You’re not stupid, kid,” he says. “Let’s not play games.”

Peter has to avert his gaze to gather his thoughts properly. 

“This is what you’ve been thinking about this whole time?” he asks the floor. 

“I thought I’d mustered the courage for it,” Tony whispers. “But after last night …”

“Ok,” Peter say. “Ok, I get it. I can’t promise you this is going to last forever. For either of us. But … but I am in love with you. And I think I make you happy, when you aren’t stuck in your own head. I think we make each other happy, Tony. I think we fit. Isn’t that worth the risk? Isn’t it worth everything?” 

He raises his head to look the other man directly in the eye. It’s a clash and a caress.

Tony opens his mouth as though to answer, but no words emerge. Then his shoulders sag forward. He looks so very broken. 

Peter crosses the distance between them in three long strides. He reaches out a tentative hand to cup the side of Tony’s face, bring it gently up so that they’re looking at each other again.

“Don’t answer that yet,” he says, fighting to keep his tone firm. “Just … Think about it.”

He places a chaste kiss on the corner of Tony’s mouth, letting out a juddering breath when he encounters clenched, unresponsive lips.

“You’ll call me,” he says, pulling away and letting his hand fall. “Once you’ve had a little time.”

Tony doesn’t say anything as Peter backs away from him, just watches with hungry, wary eyes until he spins on his heel and makes a break for the door.

He holds out until he reaches the wide, green front lawn of the compound, and then he ducks behind a tree on the border and sinks down to the ground, clutching at his knees and burying his face in them. A jerky sob wracks his body, but he swallows the noise down so that it comes out as a muffled snort. Hot tears slip down his cheeks.

He isn’t fooling himself. Silence is an answer in itself, and he didn’t want to hear Tony say it anyway. Doesn’t make the ending less real, though.

It’s not like he can even be angry, really. The worst part is, the logical side of his brain understands. If Peter weren’t the type of person to leap off buildings on the thinnest of strings, maybe he wouldn’t take the risk either.

But that is the type of person he is. The kind who makes that leap, who believes in people when there’s no reason to do so, who loves without consideration of the consequences. And Tony’s right. It fucking hurts.

Peter feels empty, like a jack-o-lantern three days past Halloween – scraped clean of its innards and molding on the inside. He curls up into as small a ball as he can manage and just lets the tears come. He’s making uncomfortable damp patches on the knees of his jeans and trying to stay quiet because this is the Avengers compound, and maybe behind a tree isn’t the very best hiding place.

His concern proves justified when he hears a footstep snap a twig, and he stills and chokes himself holding in a sob. Demoralizing is what this is. 

“Peter?” comes a soft voice.

Slowly, reluctantly, Peter raises his head to see Bucky staring down at him. He’s in basketball shorts and an old, sweaty t-shirt. Peter suspects he’s coming the back way from the ball courts where Sam’s been teaching him to play. 

Peter swallows back the rest of his tears and attempts to be as surreptitious as possible in wiping his very leaky face off on his knees before speaking.

“Hey, Bucky,” he says, voice coming out scratchy and weak. “Sorry, I know this is … Weird.”

“Pal, the other day I walked in on Sam having a full-fledged conversation with his little flying robot. This is not weird. Concerning, maybe. I need to put the fear-a God into somebody?” 

Peter snorts, and takes the metal hand that Bucky offers to pull him to his feet. 

“No,” he says. “No, that won’t be necessary. No more fear required.”

Bucky looks him up and down, clearly noticing the damp spots on his jeans and the red splotches on his face.

“I’m guessing you don’t want to talk about it?” he asks.

Peter shakes his head. Now that he’s been pulled out of his crying jag he just feels exhausted. He contemplates the walk he’ll have to make back to the bus station and his brain automatically rejects it. 

“Buck, do you think you could, um, drive me home?” he asks. “I know I should take the bus, but …”

He gestures along the length of his body as explanation. Peter Parker, ladies and gentlemen. Actual human dumpster fire.

“Of course, pal,” Bucky says. “Just let me grab my keys. You wanna meet me in the garage?”

Bless Bucky for realizing Peter doesn’t want to go traipsing around the compound. He nods, and before he goes Bucky grips his shoulder and gives him a soft look.

“We’ll figure it out, Peter,” he says. 

Peter doesn’t have the energy to argue with him. He just nods and watches the other man walk away before making his own way to the detached garage where a lot of the Avengers’ personal vehicles are housed.

Bucky’s car is the most quintessential old man car in existence, a beige 1990s-era Lincoln town car that’s clunky, enormous on the inside, and rides like a battle tank. Peter crawls into the passenger’s seat and leans back, closing his eyes. Now that he’s cried himself out, his brain is numb and blank. It makes a nice change of pace, actually.

A few minutes later, Bucky opens the driver’s side door and slips in. He’s changed into jeans and a clean t-shirt, and he gives Peter a concerned look before he revs the engine and pulls slowly out of the garage.

Neither of them say much as they wend their way down curvy country roads before reaching the highway. There’s a baseball game playing softly on the radio. How is it always baseball season, Peter wonders? Surely those guys need an off season.

Bucky drives like an old man too, hunched over with complete concentration, hands at 10 and 2. Peter’s seen the guy fly jets with less concern. It’s got to be some weird psychosomatic quirk that comes from growing up in a time with very few cars on the road, Peter thinks.

Regardless, Bucky relaxes a little once their cruising in a straight line down the highway in the direction of the city. It’s only then that he lets out a little frustrated sigh.

“I thought you said you knew what you were doing, Peter,” he says.

It’s not quite an “I told you so,” but it’s pretty damn close.

Peter doesn’t turn to him. He leans back further in his seat and darts his eyes over at his friend, who has a worried scowl on his face. The laugh that emerges from him is harsh and bitter. 

“Buck, I really thought I did,” Peter says. “I was so fucking wrong.”

For a long moment the quiet that congeals in the car is awkward and thick. Peter bites his lip and taps his foot nervously while the pitcher on the mound throws a third walk. 

Finally, Bucky clears his throat, and Peter freezes.

“I thought I knew what I was doing too,” he says, words coming out soft, just barely above the volume of the radio. “With Stevie.” 

And it’s the first time he has actually heard Bucky acknowledge the feelings for Steve that Peter always kind of suspected he was harboring. He feels bad that it’s just coming now. 

“Oh,” Peter says. “Oh. Were you two, um …”

“No,” Bucky says with a little shake of his head. “No, we never … At least, not really. I was always in love with him. Ever since we were kids. But it was a secret because, you know, it felt like it had to be a secret back then. After I got clear of Hydra I thought maybe … But I never had the courage to act on anything.”

Peter recoils into the leather of his seat just a little bit more. Talk of courage make his heart beat erratically, and his breath come fast, but he doesn’t want to panic right now. This isn’t about him.

“Anyway, I told myself I had it all under control. That it would be fine. Steve and I could be friends, and brothers in arms, and I wouldn’t get hurt when he finally met some doll and settled down. But it still wrecked me when he left to be with Peggy. Not like I could begrudge him his happy ending, but it hurt like hell, and I wasn’t remotely prepared for it, no matter how many times I told myself I was.” 

Peter’s voice, when he musters it, feels creaky and strained. 

“I’m so sorry, Buck,” he says, reaching out to give the other man’s bicep a comforting squeeze. “I wish I’d known.”

“Jesus, I didn’t want anybody to know,” Bucky says. “I didn’t really want to acknowledge it to myself.”

And aren’t they a cheery duo, Peter thinks, tootling down the highway both looking like the world just ended.

“That’s background,” Bucky says, eventually. “What I wanted to tell you is that I know how you’re feeling now. You give your heart away to someone who doesn’t want it, and you feel like you’re never gonna be whole again. Like that piece doesn’t belong to you anymore, and you’ll never get it back. I mean, I had problems feeling like I belong to myself anyway, and this was … Bad. It was bad.”

“Yep, it’s pretty bad,” Peter agrees. 

“But listen, pal, your heart is only ever your own,” Bucky says, and the vehemence in his voice surprises Peter. “No matter how much it feels like it’s walking away with someone else, you own it. It’s yours. It’ll hurt like hell for a while, but it’ll heal. Even when you’re hurting, you’re never less than whole.” 

He says it sincerely, but then he snorts at his own words. 

“I don’t know, maybe it’s some psychological bullshit, like Sam’s always spouting. Sounds like it, saying it out loud. But it helped me, so I don’t know. Maybe it’ll help you too." 

Peter turns, for the first time in the whole conversation, to really look at Bucky. His hands, both flesh and metal, are twitching on the steering wheel. He looks nervous. He just wants really badly for a friend to be ok, Peter realizes. 

“Thanks, Buck,” he says. “I think it will help. Once I get through this next bit.” 

What really helps, Peter thinks, is knowing he has friends who want to protect him. Who care this much. And maybe that’ll be enough to carry him through.

Bucky nods in understanding, and turns up the radio.

“Damn, the Dodgers can’t hit for shit this year,” he mutters.

Peter spends the next few days holed up at home. He feels bad about it, but he calls out sick from work, tells Jenny in HR that he’s got the flu. He’s got the sick days. His spidey powers mean common colds and stomach bugs are never really a problem. He just needs a little time to wallow and feel sorry for himself. 

The worst thing is, a part of him still expects Tony to call. He knows it isn’t going to happen. Knows it. And yet.

He shouldn’t have left that door open, he realizes now. It had been desperation. He was worried what it would do to him, to hear that final goodbye, but now he thinks this might be worse. Useless hope is a sharp pain in his soft underbelly.

He jumps every time his phone makes any noise, and he spends far too long staring at the screen with Tony’s number pulled up. He isn’t going to call. He isn’t. But a not insignificant part of him just wants to hear Tony’s voice. He’s always found comfort in it. It’s an old fashioned voice, Peter thinks – smoky whiskey, smooth honey and just a splash of bitters.

He feels a lot of things, but mostly he just feels numb. By the third day, he can’t take it anymore. He needs something besides wallowing, so he goes out on patrol. There’s no denying that kicking muggers in the face and webbing up would-be burglars is satisfying. He stays out until the sun rises, and then he collapses into bed, too tired to even change out of his suit.

But when he wakes up to a room lit by late afternoon golden hour light, it’s still there, the interminable mix of hollowness and hope. Dammit.

There is something he’s been meaning to do that he thinks might help provide a modicum of closure, but it’s likely to be unpleasant on a number of levels. Still, his options at this moment seem to be existing in a constant state of patrol-induced exhaustion, or doing the awkward, unpleasant thing. 

There’s a bar not far from the Avenger’s compound that Colonel Rhodes likes to frequent after training sessions with the new recruits to unwind and get away from all the SHIELD personnel. Peter only knows about it because Tony told him. 

He shows up there the next evening when it’s just gone nine, hoping that this once he’ll get lucky.

The weather’s taken a nasty turn, and Peter has to shake the drizzle from his jacket and hair as he enters the bar. At least it’s still warm out. The fall chill hasn’t crept into the air quite yet. The bar is dimly lit with a few pool tables at the back, a row of high-backed booths for people to hide in, and a long dark oak bar at the center. Some jackass has decided to play Tom Jones on the jukebox, so the whole place is filled with the obnoxiously cheery tune of “What’s New, Pussycat?” when Peter enters. 

He surveys the room, and finally see Colonel Rhodes’ hunched shoulders at the far end of the bar where he’s nursing a beer and staring at his phone. He slips quietly onto the stool beside the man.

“Can I buy you a drink, Colonel?” he asks, tipping his head to Rhodes in greeting while the other man first startles at his presence and then settles to glare at him.

“Jesus, Parker, give a guy a little warning before you show up at his elbow. I could’ve hurt you.”

Peter raises a skeptical eyebrow of that, but doesn’t respond directly to the comment.

“Good to see you too,” he says, carrying on with the niceties of conversation on his own, even if Rhodes won’t. “I’m doing well, thank you. Awful weather we’re having, isn’t it? I think it’s going to pour soon.”

While he speaks, he motions the bartender over to them and orders Rhodes another Budweiser, and himself a Hudson Valley-brewed gose. When he orders, Rhodes snorts at him.

“You kids and your frilly craft beer,” he mutters.

Peter shrugs and smiles. 

“Well, it’s nice to support the little guy, isn’t it? Plus, I like to try new things.”

Rhodes scowls.

“You even old enough to drink, kiddo?”

Peter ignores the barb until after their drinks have been set in front of them, and he takes a deep gulp.

“You keep using that word, Colonel, but I haven’t been a kid in a very long time,” he says.

“Oh, but Tony calls you kid all the time,” Rhodes says with a sharp, shark-like smile. “Must be a force of habit.”

Peter’s stomach feels like it drops several thousand feet at the name, but he manages to keep his face serene, he thinks. He clears his throat. 

“Tony says it like he’s Rick and I’m Ilsa,” he says, his chest warming at the thought of that auditory caress. “You say it like you want to call my aunt and send me to the principal’s office. They’re two very different words.” 

“Yeah, well,” Rhodes shrugs. “Hasn’t been that long since I could do both those things. I think one of us has a slightly clearer perspective on the matter.”

“Hm,” Peter hums in acknowledgement, deciding it’s time to turn the conversation. “I ever tell you about my first near-death experience, Colonel Rhodes?”

Rhodes rolls his eyes at the segue. 

“Yeah, yeah, Parker,” he says, with a slightly biter edge. “I know. Thanos was big, and scary, and bad. You are not the only one to get dusted. It’s not some badge of honor you can pull out. Living with the world afterward wasn’t a picnic either.”

Peter startles at the mention of Thanos. Somehow, he wasn’t expecting that. He schools his breathing so his heart will calm its sudden frenetic beating. He won’t, he absolutely will not think about the battle now. Won’t see Tony’s face streaked with blood. Won’t picture the light fading from those dark eyes. Won’t …

He slowly peels back his fingers from where they’re wrapped in an alarmingly tight clench around his drink. It wouldn’t do to break it. Shattering glass won’t send the message he’s trying to communicate at all. With a force of will, he pulls himself out of the danger zone.

“Oh no,” Peter says, valiantly shooting for calm and collected. “That was very much not my first time. It’s actually not a bad way to go … Comparatively. Sort of peaceful.” 

Neither of them are looking at the other. They sit side by side at the bar and look straight out. But at this, Rhodes shoots him a curious sideways glance, so Peter figures he at least has leave to continue with the story.

“My first time, though, wasn’t peaceful. I was maybe 15? That seems about right. Less than a year after I first got my powers, anyway. There was this guy who called himself the Vulture.”

Rhodes snorts, and Peter rolls his eyes. Honestly, he can’t even keep a straight face around some of his villains.

“Let me guess,” Rhodes says. “Genetically modified half bird, half person?”

“Wouldn’t be the weirdest thing I’ve seen, but no,” Peter replies. “Just your normal guy with mechanical wings selling alien weapons to the criminal underbelly of New York.” 

“Right,” Rhodes says. “Naturally.” 

“Not a bad guy, actually,” Peter says. “I think he started out with good intentions. Father of my Homecoming date, which believe me, led to some awkward conversations. So anyway, I find him out, decide to go do the whole noble hero confronting the villain thing, because I’m 15 and an idiot. We have a casual chat, then this guy takes out all the structural supports in an old warehouse, drops a building on top of me." 

At this point, Rhodes finally turns and blinks slowly at him.

“I’m sorry what?”

“I got trapped under this big slab of concrete. I think if it weren’t for the whole, you know, spider thing it would have broken my back, but I got lucky.”

“Lucky …” Rhodes echoes in a dazed sort of way. 

“Right,” Peter says. “But I was still trapped there. Couldn’t move. Didn’t have the suit to call for help. Just me and my homemade web shooters laying there waiting for something to shift in the rubble and crush me. I really thought I was dead, you know? I just didn’t see a way out.”

“So how’d you get help?” Rhodes asks.

“There was no help,” Peter replies, remembering anew the almost unbearable pressure, the claustrophobia, the panic. “I just … I remembered Tony telling me ‘If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it.’ And he was right. There were people depending on me. It’s not like I did anything to earn my powers, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t work to be worthy of them, you know?”

Rhodes narrows his eyes at Peter.

“Alright,” he says. “I’ll bite. What did you do?”

Peter shrugs.

“I just lifted it.”

“You lifted. A building.” 

“I mean, it was mostly rubble by that point. It was only part of a building. Situations like that can show you just how strong you are. Anyway, that used to be what my nightmares were about. Trapped under a ton of rubble, thinking I’m about to breathe my last. Maybe not the healthiest way to grow up, but it does the trick. Not a lot of innocence left afterward.”

Peter takes a long sip of his beer, lets the silence sit between them while Colonel Rhodes eyes him warily.

“Tony never told me that story,” he says, quietly.

“Oh that’s because Tony doesn’t know that story,” Peter replies. “Actually, I would consider it doing me a serious solid if you wouldn’t mention it to him? He’d have me kitted out in one of those flying tanks of his if he finds out.”

He takes in the narrowing of Rhodes’ eyes.

“Not that there’s anything wrong with those,” he assures the other man. “Just, you know, not my style.” 

“Well, it does take a special type of person to pull off the look,” Rhodes says.

Peter nods.

“Exactly.”

They lapse into quiet, make progress on their drinks before Rhodes clears his throat loudly.

“What are they about now?” he finally asks. 

“What?”

“Your nightmares,” the Colonel clarifies. “You said getting dusted was peaceful.”

Peter swallows thickly, feels the tense ache in his throat.

“You know what,” he says, harshly. He doesn’t understand how Rhodes can even ask. He must have the same dreams. Burn damage creeping across cold, clammy skin, breaths growing slower, more labored.

“Sometimes Wanda and Thor get there too late, sometimes not at all. It always ends the same.”

Usually with tears, and screaming, and no sleep for the rest of the night. 

“So what,” Rhodes asks after a long pause. “You come here to get my blessing or something?”

And that’s just confusing, because surely he, of all people, must know. 

“No,” Peter says, shaking his head. “No. There’s nothing left to bless. That’s … It’s over.”

The Colonel frowns at him.

“Well, that at least explains why Tones has been locked in the lab with Nebula all week,” he mutters. “Shit. He’s gonna be a pain in my ass … So what’s the point here, kid? Why ya giving me the whole song and dance?”

Peter grins, and it’s a cold, bitter thing. Time to say his peace.

“Look, Tony, he’s not the type to be alone for long,” he says, and the words burn through him with a sharp pain. “He’s going to find someone he wants. And when he does, it’s probably going to be someone a little … Unconventional. He isn’t a conventional guy. I’m just hoping that when that happens, you give them both the benefit of the doubt. Go easy on him, is all I’m saying. He deserves to be happy.” 

Rhodes turns all the way around on his stool to look at Peter, eyebrows raised skeptically.

“That’s it?” he asks. “That’s why you’re here?” 

Peter shakes his head, slowly. 

“Take care of him, will you?” he asks, focusing on the sticky bar in front of him, running a finger through the puddle of condensation from his glass. “He doesn’t want me around, but someone needs to be there.”

He pauses, gets nothing back from Rhodes.

“I know you’ll keep an eye out,” he says. “You always have.”

Then he downs the dregs of his beer and stands. 

“Have a good evening, Colonel,” he says. “I’ll see you at training.” 

He’s putting on his jacket when the Colonel reaches out and grabs his wrist to stop him.

“You’re a good kid, Parker,” he says. “I’m sorry you got mixed up in all this.”

Peter gives him a sharp nod of acceptance, then pulls free of his grip. 

He walks out of the bar feeling a little lighter, a little more at ease. It’ll be a long time before he doesn’t feel that carved-out ache in his chest. But this was a good step, he thinks, toward making his peace. He finds, walking back toward the bus stop with his head uncovered, that he doesn’t even mind the rain.

*

“I can beat him up, you know,” MJ says.

She elbows Peter in the ribs and offers him a joint, which he waves away. The three of them – Peter, MJ and Ned – are all lying on an old blanket on his rooftop, heads together in a rough circle, attempting to stargaze.

Of course, you can’t really see the stars in the middle of Queens, but it’s peaceful up here, with the city traffic at a slight remove and the inky blackness encroaching from above.

He hadn’t invited them, but after a week of mostly radio silence, his two oldest friends had taken it upon themselves to come by and check on him.

MJ had thrust a wilted-looking tomato plant into his hands as she’d forced her way into the apartment.

“You’re being weird again, Peter,” she had said. “You better spill.”

“What’s this?” Peter had asked, gesturing with the pot in his hand.

“You kept going on about having a rooftop garden,” she said. “That’s a start. Also, it means you have to make me food now. Whenever I want. I contributed.”

“Right,” Peter had said. “Sure. That makes total sense.” 

The tomato plant had been dutifully watered and set up on a ledge on the rooftop where it can get plenty of sun, and Peter had given into the raised eyebrow of doom that MJ had leveled at him and spilled his guts. 

“MJ, you cannot beat up Iron Man,” he says. “That’s not a practical solution at all.” 

MJ hums thoughtfully.

“Ok, maybe not, but I can beat up Tony Stark. He’s a weak old man. And Ned will hack the suit for me, so I won’t have to deal with all that, won’t you Ned?”

“Um …” Ned says. 

“Ned,” and MJ reaches over to punch him in the shoulder. “Whatever happened to solidarity with your friends? There are rules.”

“Fine,” Ned says. “Ok, fine. But for the record, I think this is a bad idea.”

“You are not hacking the Iron Man suit, Ned,” Peter says with a little exasperated sigh. 

“Oh, thank God,” Ned says. “Because Peter, I love you man, but I cannot afford to lose my job. Student loans are terrifying.”

“Party pooper …” MJ mutters.

“I appreciate the thought, you guys,” Peter says. “It’s sweet.”

“Just as long as you know the option is there,” MJ says.

“Noted.”

It makes something soft and warm flare in Peter’s chest.

“Alternately, you can come to the shelter with me on Monday and cuddle the puppies.”

“Puppies?” Peter says, hopefully. 

“Yes,” MJ says. “But you have to promise to cuddle the mangy dogs too. They all need love, not just the pretty ones.”

“Fine. Yes. Puppy therapy is definitely in order. But enough about my romantic failures,” he says, clearing his throat. “Michelle, how are things going with Kate?” 

Ned chortles at the segue.

“Oh my God,” he says. “You haven’t heard this story.” 

MJ punches him again.

“It’s not funny, asshole,” she says. Then, to Peter “Things are fine. They’re good. They’re fine. Mostly fine. We went out, and it was nice. And then we stayed in, and it was nicer. But, Peter, did you know that she’s a legitimate heiress or something? Like, what am I supposed to do with that? She skipped out on trivia night at the pub because she had some kind of fundraiser gala thing to go to.”

Peter can’t help but laugh.

“I thought you knew that,” he says. “Her dad’s Derek Bishop. Oh man, you guys are going to get married, and then you’ll officially be a part of the bourgeoisie.” 

“No,” MJ says, forcefully. “Uh-uh. I am a proud solider in the proletariat army. Stop laughing, you two. This is a serious conundrum!”

But neither Peter or Ned seem to be able to keep from giggling or rolling away while she attempts to pinch first one and then the other.

“This is totally going to ruin my street cred!” she yells.

Peter rolls onto his stomach to look at the two of them, wiping laughter-induced tears from his eyes. He hasn’t really laughed in what feels like a long time, and it feels nice, just to be here with his friends, to know they have his back even when he’s being a sad sack.

Then Ned is up and running away as MJ tries to tackle him.

“Save me, Spider-Man!” he shrieks as they tussle.

Peter rolls up onto his feet, and goes to break up the altercation. 

“C’mon, MJ,” he says. “It’s not Ned’s fault that you’re a gold digger.” 

He has to duck as MJ’s shoe is whipped directly at his head. 

*

Sure, he feels better when Ned and MJ are around. But on Saturday morning, when Peter is by himself in his very large, very empty apartment, the loneliness settles over him again like a heavy quilt. He makes himself get out of bed, get dressed, and get coffee, but then he curls into a ball on the sofa and lets the coffee go cold while he stares at Elvis in his tiki frame.

“You’re a fucking bastard,” he says, experimentally. “Fuck you, and your ridiculous clothes, and your chiseled jawline, and your excessive chest hair. I didn’t like them that much, anyway.” 

Lies.

It doesn’t make him feel better, though. It just makes him feel like he might be losing his grip on reality a little bit.

Pull yourself together, Parker, he thinks.

He’s not entirely sure how much time has passed – enough for a second cup of coffee to go tepid, at least – when there’s a knock on his door. 

He braces himself before going to open it, because he’s about 90 percent sure it’ll be Nebula finally coming over to rehash his whole breakup, and he’s not in a mood to hear how stupid he’s being. Peter can generally own up to it when he’s being an idiot. This is not one of those times.

He sets his face in a surely expression, and opens the door only to be attacked by a small, brunette blur. 

“Uncle Peter!” Morgan yells as she throws herself into Peter’s arms, and he catches her, swinging her with the force of her own momentum.

“Oof,” he says. “H-hey, Gremlin. What are you doing here?” 

He tosses her upward once for good measure, eliciting a giggle, and then settles her down on her own two feet.

“Daddy says we’re going to the Natural History Museum to see the dinosaurs!” she exclaims. She’s wearing a frilly blue dress with stegosaurus print leggings underneath. “Daddy says I can’t ride them, but I don’t see why not. They’re all dead, so they won’t mind.” 

All the hairs on Peter’s body stand up, and he straightens his back and turns slowly on one heel to find Tony standing in his doorway. He hasn’t set foot inside the apartment, yet. Just stands there at the threshold like he’s a vampire who needs an invitation. 

He’s wearing a blushing lilac-colored suit that compliments his dark complexion with a paisley-print shirt and his thick black-framed smart glasses. The shirt’s unbuttoned to show a hint of chest hair and just the smallest sliver of the reactor’s metal frame. He looks perhaps too put together for Peter’s liking, his beard shaved to the precise points that he usually doesn’t bother with if he’s distracted or upset.

He gives Peter a wan smile.

“Hey there, kid,” he says, his voice a gentle caress. 

Peter can’t quite manage to do anything but stare and let his brain attempt to process what’s happening. It’s useless. 404 error every time. His heart is lodged in his throat. He couldn’t possibly begin to speak.

Tony seems to notice his crisis, and steps inside, bringing two large canvas weekender bags along with him. Which, what? What?

“So, listen, Pete, you can totally kick us out, but I told Morgan we could go to the museum together, and maybe spend the weekend here, and we’d eat at that great little shawarma place down the block.”

Morgan tugs enthusiastically at Peter’s shirt, and he looks down at her.

“Daddy says you’re dating, but that I shouldn’t ask about you getting married anymore because it’s rude to presume,” she says, as though she’s repeating a recent conversation word for word. 

Peter looks from Morgan to Tony and back again. 

“What?” he says.

Tony gives him a tight smile, then takes the bags and heads down the hallway, as though Peter hasn’t said anything at all. As though Peter has any clue what’s going on. 

Peter pauses for a long moment, brain still whirring and refusing to process, then he pats Morgan on the head, tells her to stay put, and follows after Tony.

He finds him in the master bedroom, pulling clothes out of one of the bags and hanging them in Peter’s closet. 

Peter feels like he floats into the room and collapses onto the bed, watching as Tony systematically hangs a couple shirts, a suit jacket, a few pairs of slacks. 

“What are you doing?” he asks, voice so frail it’s barely audible.

Tony holds up one of the jackets to him.

“Don’t mean to be rude,” he says. “It’s just, this is linen, and if I don’t hang it now, I’ll never be able to get the wrinkles out. You don’t mind me leaving a few things here, do you, kid? I just thought it seemed practical. You know, in case I have meetings in the city or anything like that.”

In the other room, Peter can hear Morgan having a soft, babbling conversation with Karen, not unlike the ones that Peter used to have with her when he was younger. In the bedroom, Tony is humming out of tune, and looking for a place in Peter’s wardrobe to put his socks and underwear. 

“Second drawer down on the right,” he says, dazedly. 

He saved that drawer for Tony, back when he still thought he might want to stay here sometimes. 

“Thanks,” Tony nods, and opens the empty drawer to stuff his things inside.

“Tony,” Peter says, an audible tremble in his voice. “I need you to tell me exactly what you think is happening right now.” 

Tony turns to him, a little wrinkle forming in the middle of his forehead. He presses his lips together in a serious line before he speaks.

“I’m making the big gesture,” he says, hands sweeping about to indicate the room. “I’m here. I brought stuff. I told Morgan about us, which I know pissed you off, Pete, don’t even pretend.”

Peter throws up his hands in surrender because obviously, obviously that pissed him off.

“I’m making the gesture here, kid,” he says, voice lower, meeting Peter’s eyes. “I don’t want to lose you. Not if there’s still a chance … I don’t know why I thought if I acted like it was normal you would just go with it.”

His shoulders slump, and he lower his head.

“I guess I just didn’t know how to apologize for fucking up the way I did. I freaked out. Had a bit of a panic attack in your kitchen right before I left, actually. I saw every worst case scenario when I closed my eyes. Felt like a couldn’t breathe for it. But that’s no excuse. If I could rip my own damn heart out and present it to you, I would.” 

“I thought I was terrifying?” Peter says, hands gripped in the blankets. He can hear his heart drumming in his ears.

“You are!” Tony says, with a frustrated growl. He starts to fidget, and then he starts to pace, eyes never really leaving Peter, who feels them like a brand on his skin. “The only thing more terrifying than the very fact of you is seeing you walk out of my life. Which is awful, by the way. Zero out of 10. Would not recommend.”

“And when did you come to that realization?” Peter feels a bit dizzy, what with all the blood rushing to his head.

“About five seconds after you walked out of my lab,” Tony says, feet finally stilling as he comes within a couple feet of Peter. He’s close, but keeping his distance.

Peter snorts in disbelief and shakes his head.

“That’s bullshit, Tony.”

“Well, it took me a lot longer to work up the nerve to actually do anything about it,” he says. “First I drank my feelings, and then I felt hungover about my feelings. And then it was two days later, and Nebula was shouting at me, and I figured I’d lost my window for you to ever forgive me.” 

“So what changed?” Peter asks. He holds his hands out, palms up on his knees, looking at them instead of at Tony. He’s not sure he can do that right now.

“Rhodey said you came to see him,” Tony says. “Gave him what for. It made me think that just maybe I hadn’t lost my shot. That you still, I don’t know, cared a little bit.” 

Slowly, uncertain, Peter raises his head to meet Tony’s gaze. He looks stricken, his skin a shade paler than it should be. It makes Peter feel like there’s an awful, painful weight on his ribcage.

“How do I know you won’t panic again?” he whispers.

Tony’s mouth tilts up in a small, sad smile.

“I will definitely panic again, kid,” he says. “But I won’t leave. I swear that I will spend every day showing you that I’m not going anywhere if you only give me the chance. I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve you. But I’m a selfish bastard, and I’m asking anyway.” 

Peter grips his hands so tightly into fists that he can feel his fingernails leaving crescent-shaped marks on his palms. His eyes study the man in front of him intently. He sees the puffy, dark circles under his eyes, and the stress-induced lines at the corners of his mouth. He sees the way Tony bites at his lower lip until the skin around his teeth goes pale from lack of blood flow.

Then he stands and takes a few tentative steps toward Tony, uses trembling hands to smooth the lapels down on his jacket, then lifts himself on his toes to bring their lips together.

At first, Tony’s lips are still under the pressure of Peter’s, but then he lets out a sigh that’s part relief and part desire, and he returns the kiss, mouth opening to Peter’s tongue, teeth nipping at his bottom lip. He reaches out and tugs Peter forward into the warm circle of his arms and holds him there with the perfect amount of pressure, one hand reaching out to tangle fingers in the hair at the nape of Peter’s neck.

To Peter, it feels a bit like flying and a bit like falling all at once. But that’s ok. He’s always been the type to throw himself off of great heights on the thinnest of threads. Why should this be any different?

When the kiss breaks, they spend a few delicious moments with their foreheads pressed together, breathing heavily into the same scant few inches of space.

“The gremlin is being suspiciously quiet,” Tony finally says, breaking the quiet, but pressing a smiling kiss to Peter’s mouth in apology as he does.

“Karen probably won’t let her get into too much mischief,” Peter says.

Tony scoffs at this.

“She never managed to stop you,” he argues.

Peter shrugs an acceptance of this. It’s true, after all.

Tony reaches out to tangle his fingers with Peter’s and steers them both toward the bedroom door. 

“By the way,” he says. “If she asks you about being a flower girl, I’ve already told her she’s going to do that at Pepper’s wedding, and it’s a thing you can only do once. Like pulling a tooth. I think I’ve mostly convinced her. She’ll tell you she has the perfect dress, and yes, it is adorable, but if you don’t stop her in her tracks, she’ll have a whole wedding planned before you know it. It’s one of her obsessions right now. Her mother’s daughter, I swear.”

“You could’ve just told her we aren’t getting married?” Peter suggests.

Tony turns back to him, halfway down the hallway, and raises a quizzical eyebrow at him.

“Is it weird that that idea never occurred to me?” he asks, a big, goofy grin overtaking his face.

Peter returns the smile, but he can’t seem to formulate a response. His heart is in his throat again, but he’s getting used to that feeling.

“C’mon,” he says at last, jostling Tony’s hand. “Mischief afoot.”

When they come back into the kitchen, Morgan is wiping sticky, floured hands onto her dress.

“Morgan. H. Stark,” Tony grits out between clenched teeth.

“Karen was teaching me how to make cookies,” she says, guiltily shoving her hands behind her back, though the handprint evidence is still there. 

Peter’s flour jar is tipped over onto the counter, and a couple sticks of butter are unwrapped and ready to be added to a bowl.

“I have several baking tutorials at my disposal, but I may have miscalculated hand-eye coordination for a human of this size,” Karen adds. 

“Karen, from now on adult supervision required for all culinary efforts,” Peter says. 

He steers Morgan toward the bathroom with a hand on her back.

“Let’s go clean you up, Gremlin,” he says.

When they return from the bathroom with Morgan’s face scrubbed clean, and the handprints replaced with a few damp spots on her dress, Tony has cleaned off the counter and is staring with deep concentration into the living room.

Following his gaze, Peter sees he’s studying the Elvis painting.

“Everything alright?” Peter asks, interrupting his daze.

Tony turns and blinks at both of them slowly. 

“You know, I’ve never really known what to make of that guy,” he says. “He’s a bit risqué, no? I mean, should I be flattered? Should I be insulted?”

“Just don’t be jealous,” Peter says with a grin. “Sure, he’s sexy. But he was only ever saving your spot.”

The smile breaks slowly over Tony’s face, and Peter revels in it.

Then Morgan tugs at his sleeve.

“Uncle Peter,” she says, very seriously. “We are going to miss all the good dinosaurs.” 

“Well,” Peter replies. “Then we’d better get going.”

When they leave the apartment, Morgan places one hand in Peter’s hand, and the other in her father’s and they swing her down the first few steps. Tony catches Peter’s eye over the top of her swaying pigtails, and feels warmth suffuse his chest. This, he thinks to himself. This feels like home.

Chapter Text

Five Months Later

“Get a move on, Underoos!” Tony shouts, pounding a couple of times on the bathroom door. “We’re gonna be late, and I don’t want to be on the wrong end of one of Fury’s hissy fits.” 

Peter just gurgles back at him in response. He’s got his head stuck under the tap of the bathroom sink, trying desperately to remove the sharp, chemical taste of un-aged web fluid from his mouth. His stomach is still churning. 

He’d been going innocently about his morning, preparing a cup of coffee, grabbing a bottle of what he thought was milk from the fridge and adding it to the cup before taking a large sip. And that’s when his mouth had been flooded with a rancid taste, and he had to run, not walk, to the bathroom. 

Ok, so maybe he should have noticed the viscosity was all wrong for milk, but they’d gotten up early so they could get to a mission briefing at the Avengers compound on time, and his brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders yet. Besides, who put unfinished web fluid in the refrigerator? In a milk bottle?

Only now that he’s thinking about it, this isn’t the 1950s, and he’s never actually bought milk in a bottle. So it’s plausible that it was, in fact, a beaker. Look, it was early, and he hadn’t had coffee yet. He really can’t be responsible for his choices under those conditions.

Tony’s been playing around with his web fluid formula recently in an attempt to create one that doesn’t require reloading his web shooters as often. They’d run into a situation a couple weeks back where Peter had completely run out of web fluid while fighting Dr. Doom. He’d run out of cartridges and had had to go on webless. The whole experience seems to have freaked Tony out.

Still, that’s no excuse for improper storage of experiments. 

“Pete!” Tony calls again. “Shake a tail feather!”

“If we’re late it’s your fault!” Peter calls back to him. “You can’t leave experiments in the refrigerator. You’re not Sherlock Holmes. This isn’t charming.”

“I am always charming!” comes the reply, ruffled and indignant.

Peter rolls his eyes so hard that it’s painful, and tears open the medicine cabinet in search of some mouthwash. But his medicine cabinet has been overtaken by things that Peter swears he has never seen before. 

There’s an ebony-handled straight razor and some sort of fancy marble bowl and brush set, five different varieties of shaving gels and creams, and an entire shelf of aftershaves and colognes. Seriously? Why any sane person would need even half this stuff is beyond Peter, and that doesn’t even touch on where Tony has secreted his mouthwash, and painkillers, and biofreeze, and Band-Aids. People actually need Band-Aids! 

He’s staring at the frivolously stocked shelves and fuming. Tony’s stuff. It’s all Tony’s stuff. Peter would never … And then it hits him. It’s all Tony’s stuff. Peter’s brain stutters to an abrupt halt. He’s not sure when this happened, or why he’s just now noticing. The gears start to turn slowly. 

Forgetting his original purpose, Peter throws open the bathroom door and wanders down the hallway in half a daze.

He pokes his head into the guest room first. The bed is covered with a quilt in a starburst pattern that Morgan picked out, toys scattered across the floor in a chaotic jumble. She’s taped Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl posters to the wall right next to the headboard.

Moving on to the master bedroom, Peter stands at the edge of the rug and surveys the whole in a way that he hasn’t taken the time to do previously. On the left side of the bed, Tony has a pile of engineering books, topped by his graph paper notebook and a pair of reading glasses. He’s got a series of design sketches tacked up on the wall behind the reading lamp so they won’t get lost in his generally chaotic movements.

When he peers into the closet, he finds a neat line of Tony’s designer sneakers and hangers filled with his clothes from casual loungewear to the most over-the-top suits imaginable. None of this is new, exactly. Peter opens this closet every morning. Bur for some reason the significance is just now hitting him.

Peter feels a grin stretching across his face. His fingers flutter to cover his mouth, still vaguely unbelieving. He drifts back down the hallway and into the kitchen, where Tony is leaning against the fridge with his arms crossed and scowl on his face. 

“Seriously, kid, what is the hold up?” he asks. “Fury is going to have my ass.”

Peter ignores his general grumpiness, and sinks down into a crouch to rifle through the junk drawer beside the oven. There, jumbled in with the packing tape, extra scissors and expired coupons, he finds what he’s looking for – a set of keys attached to a little Iron Man Lego figure keychain. 

When he rises to his feet, Tony’s got one eyebrow raised at him in curiosity. Peter walks over and gives him a lazy smile. Placing a soft kiss on quirked lips, he opens up one of Tony’s hands, places the keys in his palm, and then folds his fingers back over to enclose them. Then he meanders into the living room in search of his shoes.

He finds them sitting on top of the radiator, where he’d put them to dry after walking home in a rainstorm the other day. He’s crouched down tying them when he senses Tony hovering nearby. 

“Are you fucking kidding me right now?”

“Hm?” Peter hums his inquiry, slowly raising his head, craning his neck up to look Tony in the face.

His expression is one of fond exasperation, so that’s ok then.

“You know,” Tony continues. “If you were gonna ask me to move in with you, you could have saved it to smooth over a bigger argument. Like the next time I catch you sniffing around Black Cat. Don’t waste it on something like making us late for a meeting.”

“First of all, you are already moved in,” Peter says, gesturing around the room as evidence to support his statement.

Peter’s Elvis painting has been joined by a pop art Iron Man painting on one side and a vintage Stark Expo poster on the other. There’s a Starkpad charging port set up next to the armchair that Tony favors in the evening for his convenience. The coffee table has been taken over by a complicated deep space battle schematic that Peter and Morgan have been dreaming up on a big piece of butcher paper. Tony Stark lives here.

“Second, I do not sniff around Felicia. I pursue her unto justice,” Peter finishes. 

“Is that what you kids are calling it these days?” Tony asks.

Peter just rolls his eyes and sticks his tongue out at Tony. 

“I wanna knock down the walls between this apartment and the one across the hall,” Tony says, speaking confrontationally, as though he’s expecting a fight. “I’m gonna put in a proper lab, and build a play room for Morgan and a guest suite. Maybe add a sauna.”

“If you have a proper lab, does that mean you’re gonna stop leaving experiments in the refrigerator?” Peter wheedles.

“Yes,” Tony says. “Probably. Maybe.”

“Yes to the lab and play room, no to the sauna,” Peter says. “You don’t want to look like a douchebag.”

“Ok, fine,” Tony agrees with a sharp nod. “But your timing on this is still horrible. We were already running behind. Now we’re going to be just atrociously and inconsiderately late.”

“We’re not,” Peter protests. He tugs the knot in his right shoe tight and stands. “I’m ready. We’ve still got time to make it. Especially with your lead foot.”

The smirk that Tony gives Peter is dark, and it tugs at Peter’s gut like he’s being reeled in on a fishing line.

“Yeah, really don’t think you’re getting my point here, kid,” he says, stalking toward Peter until their chests touch, their noses almost bump. His voice is a soft rumble. “We are going to be so late.”

Then he pulls Peter suddenly flush against him and plunders his mouth. Peter barely has time to respond, just moans into the kiss and then hops up to wrap his legs around Tony’s waist and loop his arms around his neck.

“So that’s a yes?” he pants against Tony’s shoulder when they finally break the kiss. “To moving in?” 

“I’m already moved in,” Tony says with a smirk.

Peter kisses him again. It’s a sharp, possessive thing.

“Fuck, kid, we are going to christen every single surface of this place,” Tony growls. “But maybe just the bedroom first. Then we really gotta go.”

He moves toward the bedroom with Peter still clinging to him, pausing every dozen or so feet to press him up against a wall.

“Incidentally,” Tony asks during a pit stop to lick maddening figure eights onto Peter’s collar bone. “How long have you had that set of keys ready?” 

“I don’t know,” Peter says, gasping slightly when tongue is replaced by teeth. “How long have I had the apartment?”

Tony chuckles into the skin of his neck, and then works his way back up to Peter’s lips.

When they finally reach the bedroom he tosses Peter onto the bed with a bounce and kicks the bedroom door closed to peals of Peter’s open, effervescent laughter.

They are very late. It’s more than an hour after the scheduled start time of the mission briefing that Peter and Tony finally slink into the meeting room, hoping to attract as little attention as possible. 

Kate greets them with a dramatic slow clap, Nebula with a pleased but ominous smirk. Wade, who has been included in increasingly more missions of late, gives Peter a crisp high five and an exclamation of “Yeah, Spidey! Get that booty.”

Well, they did end up taking the Iron Man armor up to the compound instead of the car to save time, so Peter’s hair might still be a little disheveled.

Fury levels his good eye first at Peter, then at Tony and tells them “Sit your asses down already.”

They both get assigned to clean-up duty for the next mission. Fury shouts some more, and Peter leans back in his chair and squeezes Tony’s knee lightly. They share a furtive glance and a secret smile between them, and Peter realizes – as Fury calls him a punk-ass Daredevil wannabe – that he’s never been happier.