Chapter 1 - Weight of It All
Peter Parker’s tired eyes are trying to focus on screwing in a tiny screw on the back of a circuit board, when there’s a loud knock on his door, and he fumbles it completely, the end, landing in a pile of metal scraps, and scattering them all over his desk.
“Peter!” May’s voice calls. “You better not be soldering in there again! It smells like something’s burning!”
He isn’t currently soldering, but it’s not out of the realm of possibilities for later. What’s more likely, is that May is burning their dinner but hasn’t yet realized it. He lunges toward his backpack and grabs his history book, laying it on top of everything else before May can open the door. “No!” he says in mock outrage. “I’m studying for finals. Like I said I was.”
The door clicks open, and May stands there with her hand on her hip. “Dinner will be ready in ten minutes. And put all that other stuff away. I swear, it looks more like a junkyard in here than a bedroom.”
“Okay,” he agrees, but when she closes the door again, Peter slumps over his book, his face pressing painfully into the pages. Grief isn’t something new to either of them, but May doesn’t really get it exactly. Sure, she knows what it’s like to grieve, but she didn’t know Mr Stark as well as he did. She doesn’t get what Mr Stark meant to him. Also, she hasn’t had three father figures die in almost sixteen years. She can’t possibly know what that’s like.
Most days, Peter just goes through the motions. His grades suffered a little at first, but now he’s got that back under control. Most nights, if he’s not taking things apart and putting them back together as new things, he’s swinging around Queens pretending like he’s okay or sobbing into his pillow, barely admitting to himself that he’s definitely not okay. Everyone says that he’ll move on eventually, but he can’t even imagine it. Mr Stark was just so important to him. No one gets it. No one.
He feels so isolated. Sure, occasionally he will hear from Happy, or Rhodey, but it’s not the same. He hasn’t heard from Pepper at all since he came home, but he figures that’s to be expected. If anyone understood at all what Peter was going through, it was Pepper and Morgan. Then again, he’s not sure how much Morgan really understood. He had been a little older than Morgan is when his parents died, and it was traumatic, but nothing at all like it was losing Ben or Mr Stark. Not even close. Maybe she won’t even remember him.
The thought makes him want to cry. But dinner is in a few minutes, so he bites his lip and sniffs back the tears. He doesn’t have time to think about how much he misses Mr Stark right now.
He’s just about to start cleaning up his desk when his phone buzzes, and he looks down at it. He’s not exactly surprised to see that Happy is calling. He’s just not in the mood to talk right now. If he picks up the call, he’s probably going to start crying. And he doesn’t want anyone to know how awful it’s been for him.
The phone stops vibrating and the screen goes black. A second or so later, it lights up again. Happy is calling back.
Peter sighs and picks up the phone. “Hey, Happy.”
“Are you okay? I haven’t heard from you in what--a week?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Peter says, but even to his own ears, he sounds depressed.
“You don’t sound fine. Look, kid. There’s this thing coming up in a week. I’ll pick you up from school on Wednesday. May says it’s your last day. She gave permission too, in case you’re wondering.”
Peter sniffs. “What kind of thing? A mission? Because I’m kind of on a break from official Avengers stuff... ”
“No, no,” Happy says, but sounds a little far off. “It’s more like… a retreat. Rhodey’s orders. He wants you there.”
“I don’t know,” Peter says quietly. “Where is it?”
“Undisclosed location,” is all Happy says.
Peter says nothing, just staring down at the words in his book until they blur.
“Come on, kid. Morgan misses you.”
Peter’s bottom lip trembles. He wants to yell about how much he misses Mr Stark, but he can’t do a fucking thing about it. And he feels selfish, because Mr Stark is Morgan’s real dad. “I gotta go,” he says, his voice nearly cracking. “I’ll think about it and text you later.”
“Okay,” Happy says, sounding defeated. “Talk to May about it.”
“Bye, Happy.” Peter disconnects the call without waiting for a response. He stands up from his desk and stares down at his phone for a long time before leaving it there and moving towards the kitchen where May is waiting for him. The table is set, and she’s just placing the plate of meatloaf in the center. Beside it is a bowlful of steamed broccoli, a pad of butter melting on top. The meatloaf is only a little burned, and it actually looks edible, but Peter isn’t hungry.
May, contrary to his mood, seems fairly chipper. “Did you talk to Happy? He said he was going to call you.”
He looks up at her, trying not glare. “Is everyone ganging up on me? He wouldn’t even tell me where it was. Something about an undisclosed location. What does that even mean?”
May turns to him from the counter. “He said I could tell you. It’s the lake house. Just don’t tell anyone else. Something about secret Avengers stuff, I don’t know.”
Peter doesn’t know how to reply at first. He can’t even believe that May would want him to go there so soon after Mr Stark’s death. He is barely functioning as it is. How in the hell is he going to be able to go there and keep any semblance of being okay? “I cannot go there,” he says between his teeth, biting back at his tears.
She’s taken aback and looks up at him from the glass of iced tea she just set beside his plate. “Peter. They’re your family, too. You need to see them. Spend time with them. I know you’re used to doing this all on your own. I am, too, but this is exactly what family is for. You need to lean on each other and help each other through it. Isn’t that what we did when Ben died?”
He sits down and stares at the meatloaf. The side facing him looks the least burnt, and he thinks that May put it that way on purpose. To trick him.
“You should go,” she says when he says nothing. “Happy says that Morgan asks about you constantly. She wants to know when she can see you again.”
He bites his lip and blinks back the tears. “I’m not really hungry. Can I go back to my room?”
“No.” She cuts off a thick slice of the meatloaf for him and then spoons a bunch of broccoli on his plate. “You need to eat. And Happy is picking you up after school next Wednesday. We can pack your bag together.”
“I don’t want to go,” Peter says, not looking up from his food.
May serves herself and then sits down to eat. “It’s going to be good for you. I promise. Now eat. It’s getting cold.”
He reluctantly picks up his fork and cuts off a piece of meatloaf. His current appetite is bordering on non-existent. He knows May is worried about it, but it’s just so hard to eat when you feel like a part of you has died. When he puts the bite of meatloaf into his mouth and chews, it tastes okay, and he swallows it, but in his stomach it feels like a rock. He knows he has to eat, so he forces himself. But all he wants to do is crawl into bed and cry.
“Are you okay?” Ned asks on the last day of school. They just finished up their last class, and most everyone is loud and obnoxious in the hallway, talking about what they’re going to do on summer vacation and how much fun it’s going to be.
Peter feels gutted. “I’m fine,” he says, grabbing the last few scraps of paper out from the bottom of his locker and shoving them into his backpack.
“Do you want to come over later?” Ned asks, standing there while Peter zips up his backpack. “My mom said she’d order pizza. We can watch movies. You can spend the night if you want.”
Peter stands up. “I can’t. Sorry.”
“Why? What are you doing?” Ned motions like he’s shooting a web.
“No, not that.” Peter turns and begins to lead the way through all of the other students and towards the front of the school where he’s one hundred percent sure Happy is waiting for him. “I sort of got a thing.”
“What kind of a thing?” Ned is hurrying beside him. “Do you have a date? Dude!”
“No! Not that!” Peter says in a hushed voice. “Shh. It’s… I guess it’s Avengers stuff. I told May I didn’t want to go, but she’s making me.”
For a second, Ned looks like he’s going to go on a rant about how totally awesome that is, but then he deflates and just looks at Peter as they approach the door. “It’s still going to be fun, you know,” he says, putting a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Those guys are all amazing.”
“Yeah,” Peter says, wishing this conversation would end. He hadn’t even wanted to bring it up in the first place. “I guess. May wouldn’t tell me how long I would be gone. So I guess I’ll text you when I find out.”
Ned pushes the door open. “Where will you be?”
Peter pretends he didn’t hear him. “I’ll text you. I gotta go. Happy’s waiting for me.” He gets away from Ned with a quick half hug and then dashes down the stairs to where a black Audi is parked by the curb. He doesn’t know why he’s rushing. He doesn’t want to get in the car, yet he doesn’t want to stay and talk to Ned about it either. Everything about this completely sucks.
He opens the back door of the car and tosses his backpack in, crawling in behind it and slamming the door shut. That’s when he notices his bag that he and May packed the night before is already sitting on the seat.
“Hey, don’t you want to sit up front?” Happy says when Peter meets his eyes in the rearview mirror. “I thought we were getting along.”
Peter doesn’t know why, but Happy has been weird since he got back. Maybe he’s used to Morgan, he doesn’t know, but it’s unsettling. “Happy. I always sit in the back. And then when I start talking, you close the divider. Don’t you remember?”
“I remember, but… I thought maybe we could talk. About stuff.”
Peter blinks at him. Talk about stuff? Definitely strange. “Tell me where you met me after I crashed the plane at Coney Island last year. I need to make sure it’s really you.”
“The boys bathroom at your school. It was disgusting. And that wasn’t last year. That was six years ago. Now are you going to get up front or not?”
Peter sighs and glances at his backpack before deciding to leave it there and then pushes open the door, moving to the front seat. The last thing he wants is to have a heart to heart with anyone these days, but Happy is being particularly nice to him, so he doesn’t want to act like a jerk. He settles in and puts on his seatbelt. “We don’t have to talk,” he mumbles when Happy pulls away from the curb. “I don’t mind sitting in silence.”
“Since when?” Happy asks.
Since my life was ripped out from underneath me, Peter thinks, but can’t imagine saying it. If he did, he would probably start to cry, and that’s his goal, he decides. Whatever happens, he will not cry in front of anyone at Mr Stark’s lake house.
“Okay, I get it,” Happy says in response to Peter’s silence. “You don’t have to talk. But I have some things I want to say. Then if you want to, you can reply to them. If not, that’s your decision, kid.”
“Why is my bag already in the car?” Peter asks, purposely changing the subject. “I assumed we’d pick it up on the way.”
“Oh,” Happy says, and it looks like there are little beads of sweat on his temple. “I thought I’d save time and pick it up for you. Your aunt says to make sure you eat enough and all that stuff that you’re probably sick of hearing.”
“Yeah, pretty sick of hearing that in particular…” Peter mutters, looking out the window and wishing he could escape this conversation.
“Well, you’re going to hear it a lot more,” Happy says, ignoring his wish. “I know several people at the lake house who are probably going to want to force feed you. One in particular. You’re looking really skinny, kid.”
Peter bites his tongue so he doesn’t make a snide comment back. But seriously, why does Happy think he’s not hungry anymore? He doesn’t know how Happy is so cheerful anyway. Didn’t Mr Stark mean anything to him? May says that everyone grieves differently, and he knows she’s right, but this is Mr Stark. He wants everyone to be just as miserable as he is, otherwise maybe they didn’t love him enough. Of course, it’s incredibly unreasonable, but he doesn’t even care at the moment.
“Anyway…” Happy says into the silence. “I was thinking maybe after this whole… retreat… is over with, you and I could hang out a little more. Like… I could still pick you up from school.”
This time, Peter looks over at him, appalled. “And where exactly would you take me?”
“Um, home?” Happy glances at him, and it’s clear that he’s a little shocked by the expression on his face.
“I can walk,” Peter says, turning back to the window. He knows he’s being stubborn, and it’s not Happy’s fault that Mr Stark is gone, but he would just like everyone to leave him alone. “There’s no point in picking me up anymore. Unless it’s for Avengers stuff, and I told you before. I’m on a break from that. Except apparently not for this because May is forcing me to go.”
“She just wants what’s best for you, Pete.”
This time, when he looks at Happy, he can barely see through his anger. “Don’t call me that. And how would you know what May wants anyway?”
Happy is glancing at him with his mouth half open, but Peter isn’t interested in hearing what he has to say.
“You know what? I decided I don’t want to talk.” He pulls his earbuds out of the front pocket of his backpack and plugs them into his phone, starting his music so he can try his best to pretend he’s not sitting in a car with Happy on his way to Mr Stark’s lake house, which is probably the last place he wants to be.
The drive is several hours, and Happy stops once to use the restroom and get some drinks. Peter has fallen asleep, so Happy nudges him awake and tells him to use the restroom before they get back on the road. When Peter gets back, Happy hands him a soda and a gas station cheeseburger. Probably as some sort of peace offering. Peter takes it mostly because he’s really thirsty and just a little bit hungry, but also because he’s starting to feel bad for how he acted earlier.
“Look.” Happy has his keys in his hand, but he’s not making a move to start the car. Instead, he waits until Peter looks up at him. “I know this is all really hard for you. But it’s going to be okay. I promise. Once we get there, you’re going to be glad you came. Alright?”
Peter twists the cap back on his soda and tries to think about other things so he won’t cry. He wants to tell Happy to stop telling him how he’s going to feel, but instead, he places the bottle in a cup holder and turns back to the window. “Yeah, sure,” he says dismissively, because saying anything else will definitely trigger a breakdown.
Happy pats his shoulder roughly a few times and then lets go to start the car. “Just hang in there, kid.”
It’s dark when the car stops again. Peter doesn’t really understand it, but he’s slept better in the car than he has in weeks. Maybe it has something to do with the constant movement? Maybe it distracts him from his thoughts, he doesn’t know. He yawns and stretches. He doesn’t really feel like putting on a smile and pretending everything’s okay. He hopes he can get into bed and try to sleep some more before tomorrow morning, but when he looks out the window, it becomes clear that that isn’t what’s going to happen. The house and the yard are lit up, and Peter can make out Pepper and Rhodey sitting on the porch.
Then all of a sudden there’s two small hands slapping against his window, and he jumps, not expecting it. His senses are off because he hasn’t been eating or sleeping properly he knows, but when he sees Morgan’s sweet little face rising up between the hands, he knows he’s not in any physical danger. Emotional, maybe, but clearly no one here is going to protect him from that.
“Petey!” Morgan’s voice is muffled through the window.
Happy opens his door while Peter remains frozen in his seat. “Isn’t it after your bedtime, squirt?” Happy says to Morgan after he grabs Peter’s bags from the back seat.
When he comes around the car, she momentarily attaches herself to his legs in a hug before letting go and moving back to where Peter is sitting. “You can come out!” she yells through the glass.
By the time Peter carefully opens the door so he won’t hit her, Happy is already up to the house, giving Pepper a hug, or rather, letting Pepper hug him. Peter feels his insides twist. Why, why why did May make him do this? But then Morgan is lifting her arms up to him like she wants to be picked up.
“Daddy told me you’re my big brother,” she says once he lifts her up easily into his arms. “He said that you’re so strong, you can carry me wherever you go. Is that true?”
“I guess it’s true,” he says, still a little in shock.
“Daddy can’t carry me anymore,” she says like it’s nothing. “ And Mommy is very, very busy all the time. So now it’s your job. Okay?”
“Okay,” Peter agrees, feeling numb while he makes his way to the house.
Pepper rushes down the steps to pull the two of them into her arms. “I’m sorry, Peter,” she’s saying, her hand on the back of his head, and he thinks maybe she’s crying a little, which is not okay at all. He doesn’t want to cry, and if everyone else is crying, he’s not going to make it. Besides, what could she possibly be sorry for?
“Mommy, don’t be sad!” Morgan says, patting her on the back. “Petey is here now, so you should be happy.”
“I am happy, Morgan.” Pepper lets go of him a little to tuck a lock of dark hair behind Morgan’s ear.
“I’m going to show him all my toys,” Morgan says, looking proud as can be. “I’m going to show him my treehouse, and we can play in my tent. I’ll even show him where Daddy hid all the good toys.”
“Yes, yes, you can show him everything. But tomorrow. I let you stay up until Peter got here, but now it’s time to go to bed. Uncle Happy is waiting for you.”
If Happy has been tucking Morgan into bed lately, Peter kind of gets how he was acting in the car earlier. He makes a point to apologize later for how he treated him. It’s just that this was all so hard. Morgan reminds him so much of Mr Stark, and while he loves her, it’s also painful.
Then there’s a crash inside the house, and Happy starts yelling. What’s coming out of his mouth isn’t exactly child friendly, so Pepper places one hand over Morgan’s ear and the other hand over Peter’s, as if Peter hasn’t heard those words before.
Rhodey opens the door and looks inside. “Are you okay in there? Oh… shit,” he says and rushes inside.
Pepper takes Morgan out of Peter’s arms and moves around the corner to see what’s going on. Her eyebrows go up in surprise for just a moment when she looks inside before her eyes narrow. “Oh, Lord. I swear, it’s always chaos around here. Peter, why don’t you sit down for a second. We wanted to talk to you first, but I have a feeling that’s not going to happen.”
But Peter doesn’t want to sit. To him, it sounded like Happy either fell down the stairs or tripped over something, Rhodey went to help him, but Rhodey’s legs aren’t the best, and if his braces break, then… well, that would be very bad. So Peter makes his way over to where Pepper is standing in front of the door, and peers around her shoulder inside.
What he sees is almost enough for his legs to give out.