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Two Times Natasha Sees Behind Peter's Masks

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1.

If Peter is a diamond, he isn't the rarest or shiniest. He's not the most expensive or the main attraction at an auction.

 

He's chipped at the surface, jagged on the edges and seemingly in pieces. He's only found after digging under heavy rocks and useless pieces of debris and tunneling deeper and deeper as the hope for any light seems grim. But it's the journey that it takes Natasha to find him that she values more than anything. Through trial and error, death and despair, endless diggling and exhaustion, and feeling pieces of gravel and dirt wedge its way between her toes and under her nails, it's the glimmer of hope for the reward of a diamond in the rough and to know that the best is yet to come.

 

When Natasha finds Peter, she gets the jackpot even though she's not be richer from the price tag.

 

But he's a diamond in the rough, brilliantly blinding and worth all the world's battles and failures just to see him shine.

---------------

It’s been a little non-stop since Natasha found out that Peter is Spider-Man.

 

To be fair, that’s part of the Avenger’s gig but she hasn’t had the time she’s wanted recently to just relax at the Compound. Clint’s still by her side for missions outside of the call to assemble but she craves something he can’t give her… a domestic sort of comfort.

 

She fakes it most days but she knows that it’s her home. She misses Sam’s five-star breakfasts and Rogers’ old fashioned bickering over movies. She misses Stark’s late-night animated excitement over a new weapon or suit modifications (though she’ll never admit it out loud), meditating with Wanda, and even target practice with Barnes.

 

More than anything, she misses her little spider.

 

It’s become apparent that she’ll never go back to the way things used to be. Clint and her talked in all seriousness about having kids before Peter came along but she’d thought it was something she’d have. It isn’t truly suited towards the lifestyle. They could buy a log cabin in the middle of the woods and set up enough dart boards on mountain trails that Clint would never get bored. It wouldn’t be the same, though. Maybe she thought at one point they could but movie nights remind her of just how lucky she’s been to escape the Red Room and start a real family.

 

“It doesn’t even make sense!” Steve will complain at Back To The Future as Banner shushes him for the umteenth time as he shovels his disgusting spicy curry flavored popcorn. Peter will giggle as Wanda levitates the piece of popcorn out of Bruce’s fingertips and aims dead center at Stark’s forehead. Vision will be observing and hovering nearby as he reads one of Wilson’s psych journals. Clint will mess with Sam on their phones as they shove at each other like children and play some god awful app while Nat will sink her weight back into the sofa and curl a little closer to Peter when she thinks no one else is watching.

 

Peter will gaze at her with something she hasn’t ever seen directed towards her. It’s the look after a mission as a lost child is reunited with their mother. There’s tears and shrieking as the dust begins to settle as the prospect of life and death dissipates and the feeling of some security is brought back similar to a gust of wind. It’s a strong sort look in their eyes of love that contains everything they’ve ever wanted to say to each other as the mother grabs her baby for dear life.

 

He only reserves that look for two other people. Peter looks at May like she is the sun and Stark is the moon. She’s lucky that she’s a comet barreling past or his favorite star. If they’re part of this galaxy, then Peter is an astronaut exploring and making his own journey.

 

She’s grateful to be apart of it nonetheless.

 

Yeah, unspoken or not, this kid is the center of her universe.

 

--------------

 

She’s restless. They’ve come back to the Compound in Albany a few hours ago and it’s nearly 3 A.M on a Saturday. Their human trafficking mission in Colombia was successful and the world is a little safer. She doesn’t have the heart to wake up her ястреб this early as she quietly toes off her covers and begins to stand.

 

“Nat?’ Clint’s mumble is garbled and she can she his eyes squint. He doesn’t have his hearing aids in so she just strokes his hair gently and kisses his cheek. Less than a minute later, she can hear his snores fill the room as she smiles and leaves their bedroom.

 

Craving comfort isn't exactly easy. It’s not like she’s seeking something to eat or rushing to clamp down on a negative emotion that’s beginning to spiral. It’s just an impulse. Wilson would laugh and call her it her maternal hormones kicking in but she thinks it’s bigger than that. Sympathy and reassurance were withheld from her for so long as a spy and assassin. Even in this new life after S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers, she doesn’t have the trauma of needing someone. It’s like her mind is telling her to be there for someone so they don’t ever have to feel the way she did.

 

She’s walking from her quarter’s to the elevator and then down to the communal area before she can think about it. She just wants to ease her rushing thoughts and breathe.

 

She’s about to ask F.R.I.D.A.Y. for a debrief on the past week that’s she’s been gone as she rounds a corner to the communal kitchen and finds a certain vigilante still in his suit, sitting on the counter and staring out of an open window.

 

She would normally be thrilled to see him and even scold him for still being awake but something is off. Peter’s shoulders are tense and his mask is on, a whitish sort of light casting a sort of somber glow on his red and blue spandex. His legs are loosely hanging off the edge of the marble surface and his body language isn’t poised for fight-or-flight so he’s not upset. His fists are clenched as she can see his head barely tilt towards her in recognition that he’s not alone.

 

God, she never wants him to feel alone.

 

“Bad night?” She says bluntly, keeping her distance around the marble island as she sifts through a cabinet near her hip for two glasses.

 

He doesn’t reply and it makes her stomach drop. This isn’t the Peter she’s used to coming home to. She’s used to him rambling wildly about Decathlon practice or his newest project at school, spluttering over details of aperture schematics or random Mark Twain trivia. He’ll overdramatically fall to the floor about May’s cooking last Thursday or how a guy in Times Square was dressed up as the Hulk while riding a unicycle. He can’t help his hands flailing from excitement and all the small moments he’s bundled up, waiting for her eye rolls and snorts.

 

Whatever this is, it's not her Peter.

 

“Me too.” She replies nonchalantly, trying to strategize. His chest is moving up and down but his breaths seem shorter and cutoff, almost unsure of themselves. She’s eying him up and down for any obvious signs of injury. He still hasn’t turned to face her; it’s unnerving because she’s so used to his shining brown eyes with the the light of a supernova. Instead, all she sees is the corner of his white eye on his mask frozen.

 

“I’ve been wondering what the hell happens to this kitchen when I’m not around because, honestly, I come back to what looks like hurricane hit everything except the coffee machine.” She’s trying to gauge his focus because he seems out of it. Even when Peter’s angry or depressed, he doesn’t shut down like this.

 

She’s running through everything terrible that could’ve happened within the past few hours if it’s not an injury; a run in with that Flash kid at school again? Was it a fight with Stark? Maybe he saw something on patrol that was too heavy even for his maturity. Or a severe injury with May? But she ran into Wanda after getting off the QuinJet and she knows none of her team would keep a secret about Peter from her. Things have changed since Ultron and Germany.

 

They’re all helicopter parents around the kid. It still bothers him, Natasha knows, that the team underestimates him. They don’t let him near certain missions, be it alien forces or just outside of U.S. soil. She fights with Peter after calls to assemble that he still has to train for recon assignments or facing HYDRA. They don’t want to see him get hurt, Stark will argue with a finality to his tone, before Peter will snap back, frustratedly, “You didn’t seem to care when you took my suit.”

 

She can feel the chill of the spring night’s breeze as she gets closer to window and his feet. The lights aren’t on or anything but she still doesn’t want to startle him. She slowly moves closer towards him when it hits her mid sentence. She doesn’t let it falter her footsteps as she keeps approaching him.

 

It’s the anniversary of his parent’s death. Just because it's been over ten years doesn't stop the pain; 'Tasha knows this all too well.

 

Of course, Tony probably knows, too, but Peter’s stubborn and smart enough to hide information from the team that will make him seem like a helpless, little child. The team doesn’t ask about it because family is a sore spot for everyone. The only person he can’t hide from is Wanda and she doesn’t look into his head without his permission. It’s likely that no one in the Compound knows. Maybe Barnes because he’s almost as good as her with surveillance.

 

The team will wake up soon, Steve and Sam for their morning run and Vision for a perimeter check. Peter’s told her about his parents in complete trust; the plane crash that left too many unanswered questions, the rush for Ben and May to adopt him and their unpreparedness for a son that was never theirs, the loneliness that would shatter into him when kids got picked up by their parents at school and the ache when the holidays came around when their stockings were missing at the fireplace. Peter had told her all this on the roof of the Compound one night in the most vulnerable state she’s seen him and she’s not about to betray that.

 

She was an orphan but she had family even if it wasn’t exactly conventional. She had a roof over her head in the KGB and she learned to stop her emotions.

 

But Peter should never have to do that to himself.

 

“Spidey.” She says, less than a foot away from him. Without warning, Peter jerks his head like a motor tic towards her but he makes no attempt to move. He’s not in control of himself. He’s watching himself experience this, not actually living it with her in real time.

 

He’s disassociating, she knows. She may not have Sam or Banner’s mental health training but she’s no stranger to mental illness.

 

She hovers her hand near the bottom of his mask and his head reels to face her like it’s been burned. She’s quick though, diving under his mask and to his necklace buried underneath his sternum. She rests her hand there watching his breathing become more erratic

 

“Peter,” She says calmly but she’s anything but. She wants to cry at how much pain he’s in. Whether it’s the urge to comfort or maternal instincts, she doesn’t care.

 

“Can you feel my hand? It’s okay, just nod.” There’s a pause as his head bobs quickly. He can hear her at least but she needs to ease him back to reality.

 

Grounding him is going to take more than just his senses. She’s seen it with Clint after Loki’s brainwashing. It was one of those nights that she had to be there until he came back from drinking and a night she knew she would forever be in with love him.

 

“Come with me, Spider-Man.” Her voice is sharp, her tone demanding with a mission in mind. She takes her hand off his chest and walks forward with renewed purpose. Peter is on his feet and following her with steps like he’s on a tightrope, paced and too even for his usual clumsiness.

 

She walks back to the elevator and slams the button to someone's floor; she doesn't look and she doesn't care. They can take it up with her while sparring if they have an issue with it.

 

She places her hand on Peter's shoulders as he shudders. He's pushing himself too far and too fast. He needs to calm down but that's not possible like this.

 

They end up on Steve's and Bucky's floor. Nat walks gracefully to the nearest bathroom, a few yards away and as she glances back at Peter. He's rigid with tension and she hates it.

 

She'll hand it to Stark, he certainly knows how to give lavish a whole new meaning. That being said, he is the one who wears a bright red and gold flying suit. The team's bathrooms are the same size as a normal sized two-bedroom apartment but Bucky and Steve's seem different.

 

It's smaller than she's used to for the Compound but she'll manage. The walls are a dark navy and the tiles are black. It's well lit as she enters, courtesy to F.R.I.D.A.Y., and the shower is the first thing she sees to her right. There's a standalone, antique bathtub and a turntable on a seperate countertop. There are a few cabinets with shaving cream and razors and the sink with a toothbrush as she scans for her play. She directs Peter to sit on the edge of a hamper by the sink.

 

"F.R.I.D.A.Y., fill the bathtub three-quarters with warm water. Can you play some music, as well?" She's already rummaging through the drawers as she hears the taps turn on and some instrumental forties music begin to play.

 

Wordlessly, a cabinet near the mirror in front of her opens to reveal a collection of different colored and shaped dry looking spheres in a clear bowl; bath bombs, she realizes.

 

"Really, Rogers?" She grins to herself with a clean towel, water basin and bright pink fizzer in hand.

 

She lays everything one the counter before turning around. She squats down slight in front of Peter and her hands ghost at the bottom of his mask.

 

"I need to take this off, alright, honey?" She doesn't know where the endearment comes from but she needs to keep him calm. Before Peter can hesitate, the mask slips off.

 

His eyes are glassy, lost and dazed, and red rimmed. There are dried tear stains on his ghostly pale face. His hair is greasy and there's a bit of dirt and grime from the streets of New York collecting on his nose.

 

The boy in front of her breaks her heart. She presses the palms of her hands to his cheeks and moves them towards his ears softly, pulling his dark hair away from his face.

 

"Take off the suit, Peter." She's back to being stern and no-nonsense. She could take it off but he seems to be responding well to orders and she doesn't want to invade his personal space.

 

She turns her back to put in the bath bomb as she hears the taps cut off. A loud splash sound is made as the soap hits the water; it begins to bubble and the solid soap starts to dissolve a little into different shades of pink. It will take a while for the contrast of the pink against white to fully come through.

 

Natasha would usually consider this childish but she hope this is enough to bring her spider back. She turns around to find the suit discarded and Peter in a pair of boxers. She does a quick once over. He's physically uninjured but that doesn't mean he's okay.

 

She would joke at him like the days Peter runs late for school and is in his whites running past the communal kitchen to grab his forgotten sweatshirt or stray textbook. The team would holler and laugh as he eventually would come down, face flushed red for breakfast. She can't bring herself to right now

 

He's shaking slightly, probably from the cold and the whole thermoregulation thing, and his teeth are chattering a little. He's still off kilter and not completely here in the present.

 

"You can get in now, Peter." He's still stoic as he climbs toward the tub and methodically gets into the water.

 

As soon as half of his body submerges into the bright pink water, Peter jolts haphazardly before his shoulder relax. His eyes are still hazy and he fights to keep then open for a minute before he sharply inhales and closes his eyes.

 

Nat sets the hamper at one end of the tub, behind Peter's head. She places a hand on his neck as he sinks further down. She begins to slowly work some warm water from the basin through his curls and gently over his face.

 

The water begin to swirl from baby pink to a deep magenta with speckles of silver sparkles. The whole tub is colored brightly and Peter looks peaceful with his eyes closed. The bubbles float around him as he shifts his fingers and toes intermittently.

 

Natasha smiles and lets go of the breath she didn't know she was holding.

 

No child should ever have to grow up so soon. She wonders if it's become a morbid sort of normal, picturing a younger spiderling being seven years old and leaving flowers at a grave, square-shouldered and emotionless. She sees him at a church, ten years old and listening to the bell chime, a pastor sermonizing that everything happens for a reason. His grimace at thirteen watching kids with brand new sneakers talk about winter break with both parents and extended families at the lodge as he ducks his head into a thrift store jacket with holes, too thin for January's blues, and walks back to a less than mediocre apartment in Queens, hating the fucking world for fucking him over like this

 

But he not like that. He's not angry and bitter at the world for robbing him of a normal childhood.

 

He shouldn't have to carry the world on his shoulders like him and, yet, Peter does it voluntarily. He's selfless and it reminds Natasha of why she switched sides from the KGB.

 

She knew could never be half as inherently good as people like Peter and nothing will ever erase the red in her ledger completely.

 

But she knew then as much as she knows now that it's bigger than good and evil. It's about becoming something more than a 'remarkable' person; it's about being there to fight the battles that the world never could.

 

She gets up after about ten minutes and is almost out the door out of his line of sight when a shaky voice interrupts her.

 

"Natasha?" He sounds strained but his eyes are searching in front of him wildly. She's quickly in front of him again, shushing him.

 

"Hey, honey." He's somewhat back to normal but she's not going to rush him in this state. "I'm just grabbing you some clothes."

 

Peter settles his gaze on her face, eyebrow furrowed before he lets out a small, "Kay."

 

She's one footstep into the hallway, remembering where Steve keeps his spare clothes for post-training, when she feels a hand grab at her throat and shove her against the wall.

 

She's about to flip her assailant their own feet over when she sees who in front of her and they quickly push off of her.

 

"Barnes, what the fuck?" She bites out, rolling her shoulder and baring her teeth.

 

The Подонок isn't even apologetic, his hair is tied up in a bun and he's sporting a white tank top and sweatpants.

 

"I thought there was an intruder, Natka" He says in a controlled voice, quiet but firm. She knows he's eyeing her up and down despite his piercing eyes never leaving hers. His eyes shift to slightly confused. "Why are you in my quarters?"

 

Natasha hesitates for a split second. She could keep it a secret but chances are that Barnes would kill her later if he finds out secondhand. She's also aware that Peter trusts Barnes almost as much as her.

 

"It's Peter." Bucky's menacing expression drops as his eyes narrow in concern. "He's dissociating. I thought a bath would help."

 

Barnes blinks and considers her words. She knows that if everyone in the compound, James is bound to know how fucking hard it can be to be stuck in his own mind. With the horrors of HYDRA or just the war, he's not the only one with emotional baggage weighing him down.

 

He straightens his back moments later and glances at the door behind her. "I'll get him something to eat." He's turned around and already down the hallway before she can blink.

 

"Wait." She sees him pause. "You collect bath bombs?"

 

"Not a word about this, Romanoff." As Natasha chuckles, she see a metal hand flip her off before disappearing.

 

--------------

Later that night (or early that morning, depending on who she asks), Peter is in a Captain America sized sweater hanging loosely off his wrists with sweatpants. His hair is stuck up in odd twists from the water.

 

Bucky and Steve are in their kitchen making something for Peter to eat as Natasha sits with his head in her lap, stroking his hair.

 

Barnes has made a makeshift blanket fort with sleeping bags, pillows and a projection of a documentary about oil painting near their sofa.

 

(If anyone asks Natasha, Barnes is not a helicopter parent so much as a mama grizzly bear.)

 

"Tasha?" Peter asks after about an hour of silence. Bucky had helped lead Peter from the bathroom to the fort as Natasha called May and let her know what was happening.

 

Steve had bumbled into the kitchen at 5 A.M., took one look at Peter and began to worry.

 

"What happened?" He whisper-screamed.

 

"Be quiet, you big idiot." Bucky glared as he tossed a wet towel at Steve. "Do something useful and go get me some milk." Steve merely squawked as he began to bustle around the kitchen.

 

There are blankets over their heads, sleeping bags bundling them like caterpillars, and pillows strewn across the floor allowing Peter to have some privacy. There's still two steaming cups of hot cocoa that both of them have had at.

"Tasha?"He sounds mostly back to himself just tired from not sleeping as she raises her eyebrow at his upside down face.

Her attention dives to his face illuminated by the screen in a blue light. He's gazing up at her with something unsure. She presses her fingertip to his nose in reply as he scrunches his face and bats her hand away.

"Yes, Peter?"

"Thanks for- I mean you can go now, I'm okay, sorry if I kept you up, I-" Natasha's eyebrow is still raised as her face goes unimpressed.

 

After a beat, Peter sighs. "It's just hard… to constantly be okay. I've had to be strong, I guess, for years and Ben or May and just deal with it." His voice goes quiet. "I think I just wasn't prepared for how much it still hurts."

 

She pulls her face close to her spider's and presses her forehead against his.

 

"паук," She says, surprisingly softly and not scolding. "No kid should ever have to be prepared for the shit you've been through. You've lost family; that never really stops hurting." Peter's face falls but Natasha isn't finished.

 

"But you have to remember, you may have lost some family but you gained more."

 

As Natasha leans back to watch the screen, she doesn't miss the happy tear that makes its way down Peter's face and his lovable smile. Bucky and Steve finally come into the fort with plates of food as Steve smiled apologetically at some burnt bacon as Bucky smacks the back of his head with an eye roll.

 

In the morning of a Saturday at the Avengers' Compound, Peter Parker is drinking hot chocolate and eating several servings of omelettes and bacon with three Avengers. He's smiling and belly laughing at Steve's blush from Bucky's story about the two of them at Coney Island in the thirties.

 

By the time several other Avengers stop at the super soldiers' floor and settle into their fort, Natasha concedes that this will do just fine.

 

He's a diamond, alright; found near rock bottom and truly one of a kind because of the journey.

 

Beyond that, Peter is absolutely priceless.

 

Chapter Text

Morganite was first discovered in Madagascar in 1910. It is a clear, peach-pink gemstone, similar to a pink diamond but not quite as rare; it is said to help overcome fear, resentment and anger, and in recognizing unfulfilled emotional needs and feelings which have gone unexpressed. It also reveals defense mechanisms that are fear-based.

It increases the ability to accept loving words and actions from others, as well as releases the attachment to old relationships that have ended badly or needed resolution, encouraging one to move forward with renewed purpose and an open heart.

It is said to be a stone for renewing a different kind of strength and acceptance. It is for the wounded and burned, those who have suffered and lost, and overall been fucked by fate.

With the constant baggage of grief and pain from losing everyone he’s truly cared for, Obadiah Stane, his mother and Steve Rogers, being shoved into a superhero role without warning and the deepest fear struck in his core, his fucking soul, that he couldn't keep it together, Tony Stark didn’t think he would recover from the fucked up life he hadn't asked for but received.

But it was his kid’s soul, the boy the brown ringlets and a radiant smile despite the tear stains, the kid with some new invention blossoming in his head and nonstop rambling about his ideas while shovelling burnt eggs into his mouth on a Tuesday morning, and the latex-clad vigilante soaring through the streets of Queens with a fierce determination and temperament that’s got him through all these past few years.

Tony Stark, through his long list of flaws, has learned to trust Peter's optimistic and hopeful soul to be his Morganite, with jerky and brief hugs and unspoken I-love-yous.

Maybe, now, it’s time for him to be able to say that to his face.

----------

It's a normal Avengers mission for as normal as it can be until something terrible happens.

The glare of the sun is burning and the heat stands as the telltale that summer is without mercy this year. There's the yellow tint to the streets and the sun rays above cars and the roads are wavy and fuzzy.

They're fighting blindly against Life Model Decoys that attempt to detonate when near large groups of civilians or military personnel. Their bodies turn into silver robots and their pupils morph into crimson laser eyes seconds before their individual electromagnetic bombs explode and are currently terrorizing the Bronx. It’s some HYDRA experiment gone right, according to Stark, with the ability to fly and superhuman strength. The city is in chaos, with fires starting everywhere, vehicles and buildings in ruins and civilians screaming with untrust in their gaze as they glimpse at their coworkers and even their children as smoke plumes making the Black Widow gasp for air at every high end store on 5th Avenue.

The Avengers wouldn’t normally be called to assemble at something that seems so minor (well, at least for them) but the army of droids is never ending and impossible to distinguish. The military is failing to contain the area; what started near Yankee Stadium during a game has transferred to downtown Manhattan near Rockefeller.

It’s the whole team on deck but it feels like they're barely defeating these HYDRA fuckers and she’s already exhausted an hour in. Vision, Iron Man and Falcon are keeping the skies clear near the Empire State Building as the Winter Soldier, herself and Captain America are all engaging hostiles on the ground by 5th and 53rd but it’s not getting any easier. Wanda and War Machine are evacuating noncombatants out if the area with emergency QuinJets and ferries. Hawkeye is shooting arrows from the roof of the Chrysler building at a distance. They could really use a Hulk right about now but Bruce is coordinating weak points and attempting to find an easy solution to the destruction without casualties.

It's brutal and their strategy isn't working. She's bleeding in places she forgot existed and struggling to keep up. Between the raging sun, drowning in her own sweat and the strength of this goddamn army, she might just crash onto the cracked concrete like a piece of rubble.

Her body is suddenly thrown fifteen feet away from her safepoint as she's tucked behind a pickup truck and attempting to reload her Beretta 92.

And Jesus, fucking shit, her rib cracks with a sharp snap as she lands and hisses through her teeth. The wind is knocked out of her, she can’t hear anything and, instantly, she’s underneath one of the robots, burning asphalt digging into her scalp and the only thing between their faces is her bloody baton. The bot is growling, thrashing and trying to snap her neck as she tries to kick it away to no avail. She can see it rear to let out its lazer from its glowing eyes and fuck, fuck, god, she can’t call for help to Stark or Wanda and she's scr-

There’s a blur of something white coming in from her left just as the droid’s eyes turn crimson and blinding. And then, the weight on top of her is gone and the force of air comes back into her lungs.

“Yoink!” Spider-Man calls out overhead while the robot is webbed to the ground and Natasha lets out a shaky sigh of relief. She’s on her feet just as her lungs settle and the pain hits.

“You’re a little late on the entry, Little Miss Muffet.”

Peter's laugh is a little breathless as he crushes the robot with one of his web grenades, still hanging in the air via web. The red and blue outfit is as obnoxious as ever but she can't help but be grateful. He still moves with an awkward clumsiness at times and she's reminded of the first time she saw the superhero in Times Square taking down an Italian mobster in some back alley. He’s grown so much and, yet, he’s still just a boy in a war full of soldiers.

As Natasha readies her Widow's Bites and scans her immediate area, Spider-Man backflips and lands in front of her.

"Are you injured?" There's something truly vulnerable behind the oversized whites of his mask and evident in the clearing of his voice in an attempt to cover up his worry. With 'Tasha giving a curt shake of her head, Spider-Man bends his knees slightly and stares to his left where Vision and Falcon are engaging.

"You shouldn’t be here, Spider-Man.” Her tone is reproachful as they both begin to descend towards the rest of the madness on foot. He should be in fucking school studying algebra or variables in antibiotics, not fighting killer androids in the streets. He's a friendly neighborhood superhero for a goddamn reason.

“I’ll be fine! Just an average day i- Woah!” The vigilante launches himself towards Black Widow as the entire block in front of them explodes.

Natasha can see that Iron Man gets the brute of the blast and is flung into the air as Wanda and War Machine plummet to the ground. The two spider-themed superheroes are hurled backwards into the side of a nearby building.

Peter’s plunges his suit clad hands at her while they're still in the air, grip secure and unyielding. He hurls a web to buffer the impact when they hit the ground and thank fuck for his reflexes.

As Natasha inhales staggering to her knees and tries to regain her balance from sitting in the ash and soot for too long, a web is shot out from Peter's right wrist upwards. Nat's wrist snatches out and snares around his leg before he propels toward Iron Man.

"No." She growls harshly and Peter practically trips over his own legs. "Work on perimeter and evacuation, or so god help me, I'm benching you."

She doesn't mean to be overbearing but this isn't within his regular patrol activities and there's a large probability that he could get badly fucked up. These bots and bombs are failing to go down with the Avengers involved and the images of every possibility flashes into her mind, be it a gash oozing out the side of Peter's temple or being in a vibranium chokehold from one of these fuckers.

Or the thought that keeps her awake a night; Peter dying in the clutches of a lifeless machine.

And that's not a risk she's willing to take.

Before she can haul his ass out of the way, Spider-Man kicks out lightly enough not to hurt her but have her stagger backwards on her knees as he launches into the air and swings to Stark's side.

Readying herself and shifting her grip on the pistol, she bristles at the kid, “You little shi-”.

“You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar, Widow.” Though he’s in the middle of this goddamn warzone, she can still hear his stifled giggle.

“What exactly are you lacing your webs with?” Natasha mutters and Peter snorts with a laugh, one that doesn’t hold back and is true to his personality.

“Cut the chatter on comms!” Steve barks out as she sprints back into the heat of the fight.

"Is anyone working on destroying where these assholes are coming from?" Sam yells as he dodges several aerial attacks and explosions, soaring and then diving before they hit him.

"Negative!" Steve replies, throwing his shield into the onslaught hoard surrounding him. "We set that building on fire and the machine in there levels this part of Manhattan and that stadium in the Bronx."

"Unless you've got a good alternative, Spangles, I'd shove that hypocrisy up your a-" Stark's brilliant reply is abruptly cut off.

"Uh, guys?" Peter cuts in, dodging a hoard of bots. He pitches straight for the ground and almost hits the pavement before shooting a web out from his wrist and summiting upwards.

The bots crash a few and burst into a flame inches from where Spider-Man was a millisecond before. "What the hell is that?"

'Tasha's trying to scope out any suspicious acting civilians and see what he's referring to simultaneously at an awkward angle in the air on her grappling hook when she glances nearing the red and b-

An explosion with electric currents and wires zapping erupts and she nearly falls from fifty feet in the air. The smoke and debris are viciously blasted into her face and arms as the detonation is enormous.

She's far enough away that her senses are relatively spared but she can see Wanda and Vision practically drop to the ground from the blast.

"Those shocks are going to kill all of the boroughs at this rate." Stark chokes out solemnly. "We have to make a decision and soon."

"Abort, I repeat, abort mission, Avengers!" Steve all but screams. "Tony, we have to call Bruce in, we can't do this-"

"Everyone get out of the area." Rhodey commands. "We need a new strategy."

Everyone acknowledges except Peter and it's edging Nat off a fucking cliff. "Spider-Man, acknowledge."

"I'm almost done, I swe- Holy shit!" The comms crackle with static and she can hear it break off into nothingness.

"The Spider-Man suit is at critical levels of heat." F.R.I.D.A.Y. states.

"Peter?" She can see Iron Man fire up his suit, prepared to launch as Bucky shoots his metal arm out to stop him. The faceplate flips up in anger and Tony's eyes are fierce with unrestrained rage but Barnes' grip doesn't lessen.

This is not what they need right now, goddamnit, they do not need an overly reactive firework turning into a goddamn nuclear explosion like Germany again.

Natasha is biting her lip, attempting to strategize when a droid comes from her blindside on her left and bodyslams her to the ground.

Fuck this goddamn job, fuck New York, why did she ever trust Fury, she'll never forgive the bastard, like go-

Without warning, all the droids eyes blackout from bloody red to the lifeless, dull grey of vibranium. She's heaving deep breaths as she pushes the metal off her body and staggers to her feet.

Wait. What?

"What the fuck?" Barton inquires ever so eloquently.

"Status!" She demands as she's coming up next to Rogers surveying with her gun pointed, clocked and loaded.

Spider-Man swings out of the nearby cathedral near Rockefeller and lands with the ease and grace of a hurricane, a mainframe router in hand.

"Is this what Sokovia was like?" Spidey wonders aloud, cocking his head to the side to greet Tony as the Iron Man suit lands. "Kind of seems like you guys need to up your game, old timers."

"What happened?" Wanda is covered in dirt, clutched in Vision's arms as they both arrive at the rendezvous point.

Peter shrugs and shakes the machine trivially near his temple, as if it wasn't the source of almost killing all of them. "Really, it wasn't difficult. I started tracing the signal before getting here. I just had to bypass most of the security and preprogr-"

"But the electromagnetic waves-" Bruce argues bewilderedly, on comms.

"Were a minefield, I know." Peter responds, one step ahead. "Any trigger in the system to defuse the bots could have set the entire city off but I reworked the foundation so the signals worked out."

There's a beat, then-

Everyone is smiling and laughing, shaking their heads in relief.

Tony flips up his faceplate and beams. "Is this the point where I say 'I told you so' to bringing the kid in? Wasn't I right?"

"About recruiting a child to battle killer robots while he should be finishing his physics homework?" Natasha deadpans, unimpressed with Stark's glorified boasting and debates asking Peter to program the droids to personally target Tony the next time he gets cocky.

She sees Peter turn to face her, the mask slightly burnt and the whites of his oversized eyes losing bits of stitching. She sees him shake and hears his laughter fill her ears

It's all good. Everything is okay.

Until it's not.

-----------

It's an hour later after every New York tabloid and broadcasting station has broken the story, clean up has begun and the team is already heading back for debriefing, when Natasha realizes that Peter isn't around.

God, she really does baby him even though he's proven time and time again that he can handle himself and is long worth the title of an Avenger.

She just wants to see him behind the mask, to certify with her own eyes that he's okay and still Peter underneath.

It sounds stupid but it's so easy to get lost in the superhero world. She doesn't mean the fame or press releases because, Romanoff? Liking attention?

It's the constant belief that everything and everyone is up to one person to fix or save. It's so easy to never take a break and be consumed by fear and chaos. She's lost years to it and it hurts that Peter may think that every life lost or villain getting away is his fault. He's so naive and innocent and good, better than all of them combined.

That, and the fact that 'Tasha can't stand the kid being a little shit.

She calls him via the suit, expecting him to be back or on route to Queens or Midtown.

The call is automatically rejected.

She knows better to try again, pulling up his location without hesitating.

Her hologram shows that he's in the Bronx, by Yankee Stadium where today's disaster all started.

"F.R.I.D.A.Y., push through my call to Spider-Man. Now." Her voice is sharp and pointed, without room for argument.

"KAREN, don't- I said not to!" Spider-Man's image pops up in front of her as she swerves her bike across Manhattan's empty streets. "Oh, hey, Widow. What's up?" His voice is too casual and she already knows he's in trouble.

“Петр,” Romanoff's tone is cold enough to freeze hell over. “Where are you?”

She can’t see his face on the projection, just the mask with big, white bug eyes.

"Finishing up civilian evacuation. What's up?"

His voice is laid back but his twitchiness betrays him. He's not looking at her on his display and a flash of fear in his tone, barely there for half a second, but it gives him away. Natasha is her own human lie detector and she’ll be damned if it’s only against her marks that her skills will save someone's life.

He thinks he’s getting better at lying to her. It’d be cute if she wasn’t worried out of her mind at his current whereabouts.

"Peter." She hisses through her teeth, revving her bike and breaching the speed limit by a couple hundred miles per hour. "What the fuck are you doing in the Bronx?"

There's a pause and she's going to rip those goddamn mask go shreds when she gets her hands on him.

"It's okay. Everything is going to be okay, 'Tasha." To anyone else, Peter would sound neutral and like he was just doing his job.

Not everyone is the Black Widow.

The words alone are enough to stop her heart for a full second. She can hear the most somber tone she's heard from him while also managing to sound like a frightened child hiding beneath the covers.

She doesn't need to see his goddamn face to know what goodbye sounds like.

Before she can recover or fully comprehend what's happening, Peter sternly calls out, “K.A.R.E.N., cut the call.”

 

“If you fucking dare, сопляк-” She spits out.

There's silence while the screen goes dark and Natasha slams as hard as she can on her booster pedal.

---------

It takes half an hour on a normal day to get there but she's there in fifteen minutes flat.

The baseball field is littered with several droid parts with countdown clocks blinking rapidly and, at the pitcher's mound, is Spider-Man strapped to a bomb. A madman with a trench coat and pocket watch is repeating "Tick tock, little spider" as he laughs like a hyena on the outfield. There are two semi-functioning bots surrounding the vigilante with lasers at the ready and numbers blaring in crimson red.

Oh, for fuck's sake.

She's running at top speed and slamming into the fucker without blinking. She's got one arm holding him in a chokehold and the other holding a knife curved around his throat as the bots turn to blast her.

"Stop the countdown!" She yells, blade digging into his flesh and he proceeds to recite "tick tock" over and over again.

"Widow, get out of here!" Peter is bloodied, suit ripped all over and at least two teeth are missing but his fear is undeniable.

There's not enough time for her to take down these fuckers and she has to do something.

That's when the field caves in like a sinkhole, bleachers and lights flying, as the explosives go off.

A droid grabs her too fast, high into the air and above the rippling explosion, and dislodges her from Tick Tock as the other blares up its repulses to lift and creator away at top speed.

"Natasha!"

And there is Peter's voice, breaking her cold, dead heart into a million pieces.

Stark was right; she either saves the vigilante or kills Tick Tock. Stark was right; she has to make a choice.

Below her feet, she can see the rubble and smog tower up with no sign of Spider-Man.

Yeah, right, like it was ever even a question.

Natasha swings upwards and kicks with all her strength up and behind the bot's head in its shock. She manages to kick herself out and shove her last Widow's Bite into its chest

She falls from 400 feet in the air straight down. Her grappling hook surges on a spare electric pole that's seconds away from topping over.

It works out as she lands atop the mountain of concrete, metal, and debris.

"Peter!" There's a chaos in her voice that's rare to missions and she's halfway to hyperventilating. "Answer me, you shit!"

Fuck, she's not Banner or Thor with inhuman strength and the team is too far out. He's going to suffocate or be paralyzed and it'll be all her goddamn faul-

"Help me," A groaning, shaky voice crackles out of a tiny opening.

Romanoff scrambles to her knees, clawing at some of the fragments, shoving all her energy in getting her kid out. She can't see anything other than darkness but she's not about to give up now, dammit.

Stay calm, she reminds herself, assess, strategize, and find the best way out of this. Be angry and bury Peter's worries later.

"Peter, I need you to breathe through your nose. I know you're injured but you have to listen to me."

"Tasha?" The cry is terrified and gasping, voice hitching and graveley. "Get me outta here, please."

"I'm trying!" She yells loudly. "Is there any opening big enough that I can get to you?"

"No. I can't move." The kid whines, quieter, and she can hear some pieces of building crumble to the bottom.

"F.R.I.D.A.Y., give me a scan. Now." She barks out. "Tell me how to get him out. Where do I start?"

"Your current strength is not enough to remove Mr. Parker, Agent Romanoff. " The A.I.'s voice is fuzzy with static and barely comprehensive.

Shit, shit, oh shit, what the fuck?

"Natasha?" Peter utters out.

"Yes, honey? I'm right here." She's on the verge of breaking down, desperately clawing at rubble she can't move.

"I'm so scared. I don't want to die." And that rips her soul in half, then and there.

Steeling herself, she pinches her nose.

"I know. But all superheroes get scared, right Spider-Man?"

There's a small noise of acknowledgment and it's enough. With a renewed adrenaline shooting through her veins, Natasha knows that it's now or never.

"Spider-Man. You need to move the building off you."

"I can't! Widow I- It won't move!" His voice cracks and he coughs viscously.

"Breathe through your nose, Spidey."

"You don't understand! It's impossible! Please I just-" He's straining herself and she can't afford anymore detours if she doesn't want him to die.

"Do you remember when S.H.I.E.L.D. went down a few years ago?" She cuts him off swiftly, removing what slabs and blocks she can without disturbing the main pile.

She can hear Peter's shallow breaths and his apprehensiveness in his exhaustion settling in. "It was when we had to face Bucky on the Triskelion; Steve, Sam, and I. I was so scared that I was going to be shot for the last time, that he was back to kill me for good and ruin everything I had trained for in S.H.I.E.L.D. He and HYDRA already had, right?"

Peter is still silent but she can see his heat signature on her hologram. He's listening and that's all that matters. It's not long before his energy level completely plateaus and he dies from either shock or asphyxiation.

"But I had already been through it. Twice, even. I couldn't stand the idea of fighting him again but I couldn't watch the world be destroyed because I was afraid."

"Spider-Man," She says sternly. "You can't live in fear for long. It'll find you and smoke you out. You're stronger than this, I know you are. You're better than every other Avenger when it comes to strength."

She means it in every sense of the word. He's the bravest kid she's ever seen, no parents or uncle, lonely in the world, an outcast with alarming abilities and a world of crime and justice too dark for 'only sixteen'.

"Even if you think you can't, I know you can. I know it better than I know myself. I believe in you and your stupid spider abilities and I know you weren't given them because you were going to give up at the edge of death. Please, Peter. I know who you are behind that mask."

There's a second, just the sounds of the stadium collapsing in small bits and her heartbeat drumming loudly in her ears.

She's so scared and she cant breathe from this air and the thought of losing him, Jesus, she's no hero at fucking al-

The building beneath her begins to tremble as she fires her grappling hook back up to a stray pilar in the process of crumbling. At first, the pieces barely shift. There's shaking underneath them and the noises of pained panting. Then, the building starts to move dramatically, larger slabs falling and scaling each other, as Natasha holds her breath.

"Come on, Spider-Man." She lets out, loud enough that it's calm and orderly amidst this warzone.

"Come on, Spider-Man," She hears, repeated over and over as he groans and a giant opening below slips off the mountainous amount of ruins.

It's torturous to be caught in the shock of it all and just watch but Natasha didn't say that sappy shit because she didn't believe in it.

And God, oh God, why did she ever get close to this little brat if he was just going to die on her in th-

Just as there's an opening big enough that she was she the dull coloring of blue and red, she almost bursts into hysterical tears. She drops down quickly, grabbing him by his wrist For such a scrawny kid, he's heavier than she expects for the little shit.

The rubble is loud now, like lightning or an earthquake, and they've only got a sliver of a window to get out alive.

But Natasha's aim and timing is perfect, as usual, swinging with all her up and out.

With one final move, Spider-Man and the Black Widow launch into the air and land, cushioned by Spidey's webs for the second time that day, far past the back bleachers on the electricity wires outside of the field as every last piece of the stadium crumbles into the sinkhole.

When they land on the ground, Peter yanks off what remains of his mask.

She barely trusted him when she got to the Bronx and is horrified knowing she was planning on benching him from the team.

It's his determination and empathy, his sheer will to live, fight and be better than this fucked up world that's willing to throw a kid under a building or to save everybody, that Natasha always thought would be his downfall.

But she knows, by the end of the battle, that it's the reason why he's not just Spider-Man, but Peter Parker, truly.

He staggers a bit and avoids her piercing gaze as she analyzes him intensely. "I'll call a QuinJet."

"Can I trust you to do that much?" The question is layered with unspoken betrayal and despair at the almost permanent goodbye.

Peter finally meets her eyes. They're slightly ashamed, bloodshot and exhausted, but still incredibly stubborn.

Nat can tell; he doesn't regret his actions.

How optimistically Spider-Man-ish of him.

Peter tilts his chin up as much as he can. "That's up to you. If you believe in what I do and the choices I make, then trust me with that much."

"Then, trust me in my judgement to come here and that I'll always have an eye on you. Not just Spidey but Peter Parker." Nat never breaks eye contact.

There's a smile blossoming over her favoring Avenger's face as the sun begins to darken and the night gets colder.

As Peter calls for a QuinJet, exhausted and thankful to be alive, Natasha rests her head against his shoulder as his eyes shine with loyalty.

She's so proud.

--------
They're both still covered in dried grime, blood, and sweat when they arrive at the Compound.

"What the actual fuck were you thinking?!" Tony stalks forward at the hangar; he's angrier than Natasha has seen in a long time. His nostrils are flared out and his olive complexion is tinted pink with the lines around his eyes and forehead more pronounced.

There's something ominous in his posture as his fists are clenched so tightly they turn white. He's in front of Peter in an instant, demanding every ounce of his attention, invading his personal space, and staring at him with a glare colder than Siberia.

"Mr. Stark, I-" Peter's voice is wobbly from the events of the past hour and unsure before being cut off.

"No! I'm talking, you're listening! You're benched Parker; no missions, no patrolling, nothing, zilch, nada! Capisce?" He's seething, clenching his teeth and wildly gesturing.

It's then that Tony makes eye contact with Natasha and clenches his jaw tightly. He stares at her kevlar jumpsuit covered in the aftermath of today's disaster, his face dripping with wrath and resentment. She simply raises an eyebrow in stubbornness.

And she knows. She knows Peter was his kid before hers but goddamnit, Stark's fucking emotions and ego are forgetting that he's sixteen and not a child, even though Peter almost died.

It's then that Tony says in a dark voice. "I'll be taking the suit too. You're grounded."

And that's just a blow too far for Parker.

"Mr. Stark!" Peter cries out, desperate and furious, hand reaching out, to scream or hit or something, but Stark is long gone, stomping off loudly before his fingers can clutch around him.

Before Natasha can even breathe, Peter is whisked away by medical, and all that's left is an empty hall and the missing echoes "I love you, kid".
----------
She has to bypass F.R.I.D.A.Y. to get into the Compound lab when she goes to corner Tony. Stark is sitting in his chair, blankly staring at his work while fiddling with coding to make it appear that he's busy. His face is flushed red and his brow is furrowed in annoyance.

Natasha stalks forward with a mission in mind and stands in front of him, arms crossed in front of him, shadowing over his hologram of the Iron Spider suit's programming. She waits until he finally reaches her gaze, glare and half sneer already prepared.

Then, quite simply, she slaps him.

Shock and anger follow quickly as Tony stands up and grabs at 'Tasha's arm, a gauntlet already formed around his hand, before she can strike again.

"What the fuck, Nat?" He unhelpfully splitters out.

Natasha stares at him with her standard death glare until he reluctantly pushes off his grip on her arm; she's not in pain but she really does not want to fight like Germany again. "You need to grow up."

The gauntlet disappears as he sits back down. "And you need to mind your own damn business, Romanoff." He spits out. "Get out of my space, Wi-"

"What do you think is going to happen here, Tony?" She cuts him off briskly. "Did you even think before you said that shit? You took his suit before and how did that turn out?"

She waits but Tony is wide eyed and silent, a deer caught in the headlights.

"He almost died back then because he refused to stop doing the superhero gig. Did you think that was going to change?" She snaps irritatedly.

"Then I'll keep him here at the Compound and F.R.I.D.A.Y. monitoring him at school, May will understa-" He argues, voice rising in volume.

But Natasha came with a mission in mind and she's known Tony Stark for too long.

"What, like with Wanda?" And that's just a blow too far. Tony flinches like he's been slapped again. "Because that worked so well last time."

"Look, what do you want from me, Nat?" Tony shrugs as the turns back to his coding, exhausted and attempting nonchalance.

"I want to know that I didn't fail the team."

Stark pauses and looks up sharply.

"I," She struggles internally for honesty and settles. "I need you to tell me that I made the wrong choice to chase after him. That I endangered too much and that my decision didn't change anything; that Spider-Man would have been fine to lie in the grave that he dug."

In the dim light, Tony's face crumples before he snarls back, "That's Rogers' business, so unless you expect me to-"

"Tony," She says, in a tone softer than she thinks she's ever been anyone except Peter, and that includes Clint. "When has Peter ever not been your business?"

Tony stands up again and leans against his workbenches while he takes a long sip of coffee.

She's not letting up, though. "He was willing to risk his life, long before we were apart of it. You and I know that he's not getting out of that martyr complex anytime soon. But he needs guidance, and whether you think you're a good mentor or not, he needs you as a father and you're not Howard."

She breathes out and Tony's breath hitches and she can see his eyes start to water, finally hitting home. "I'm going to go deal with your son before he turns the communal area into a spider death lair while you get your head out of your ass."

Romanoff pivots to leave and, in a moment that he deserves too much credit for (thought she'll deny it to her grave and then some), Tony rests his hand on her shoulder and squeezes before whispering faintly, "Alright, 'Tasha."
Only half satisfed with her mission in mind, she stalks out the room without another word. ----------
She finds Peter hours later after his discharge from the emergency wing.

After three hours under Cho's supervision, an oxygen mask a blood transfusion, a couple bandages, and a healing factor to thank, Peter is physically fine, Romanoff has learned.

She sees his silhouette in his room at the Compound and she knows it before she swings the door open. He's furious; hunched shoulders stiffly moving on his bed, fingers moving jerkily and hastily on an old school hard drive, and inhales of short breaths on the verge of screaming at any moment.

But he still has the mask on.

Natasha knows repressed fear better than anyone on the team. She's not about to watch this family fall to pieces again for something she can push to the breaking point.

Then a spark suddenly flies upward towards his face as Peter groans aggressively and crushes the wires in one hand before pitching it against the wall violently and throwing his head in his hands.

There's silence except his deep breaths as she waits.

"I don't need coddling." Peter's voice is grittied through teeth and tight. It hurts 'Tasha to hear his pain. The tangled and heavy weight in her chest has yet to loosen its chokehold.

And yet, Natasha is not here to indulge in this tantrum. "No, but you need to forgive Tony."

There's a tense silence for a beat before Peter pulls off the mask and looks up at her, haphazardly sputtering confusedly and annoyed, in his true teenage melodrama fashion.

"I'm not- You don't even know w-"

"I know he wasn't there during your fight with the Vulture. I know he took your suit." Natasha lists calmly but she can see the emotion boiling over in her little spider. There are tears welling up in his eyes in the dim light.

"I guess people don't always learn from their mistakes, huh?" He chuckles humorlessly. It sounds like it burns his throat to say.

"If you think he made a mistake this time, you've got another thing coming, Spinderella"

"He didn't need to bench me!"

Natasha comes to sit on the very end of the bed, still a good two feet from the vigilante, and sinks into the plush covers.

"Are you just going to sit here and mope? Because that's really not going to change anything, паук."

"Stop." Peter bites out and he's about to break down. She can see she's pushing too much and this isn't the type of parent figure she wants to be with him.

"Fine." Natasha declares, standing up and smoothing out her sweats. "Come on, we don't have all day."

"Wait, what?" Peter is shell shocked as he tumbles out of bed and rubbing his eyes blearily.

"We," Natasha articulates as she turns around, thirty feet ahead of Parker and already in the elevator. "are going to beat that fear of yours."
----------
"This is not what I expected by 'beating fear', Nat."

Peter is in the only other apron, an Iron Man as Nat stands in a plain black one on the communal floor at 1:32 A.M., mixing ingredients together for a batch of cinnamon rolls.

"You're free to leave if you'd rather let your emotions sit and rot away." She says simply, eyes continuously flickering to the timer on her phone.

Peter punches aggressively at his dough in his misplaced rage.

"Don't do that or your dough won't rise." She clicks her tongue and attempts to swat his hands away from poking the air bubbles forming.

"It's fine! God!" He's frustrated and at a boiling point. Good, Natasha thinks. That makes things easier.

"I asked you to face your fear, Peter, not scare your breakfast away." She drones, waiting for the yelling match to start and gesturing to his pathetic

"I'm not afraid of Tony, 'Tasha." Peter says this like Nat is the stupidest person alive. She remains unimpressed at his tone but just as stubborn.

"So what is, then?!" Natasha finally raises her voice, fed up from this tiptoeing and unspoken nonsense.

"I just don't feel like losing another parent, I don't know, I- just," He sighs frustratedly, pulling at stands of his hair and getting flour on the ends, as his ears begin to turn pink.

"I see so much of him in your, Piotr, and I see that he doesn't want you to make the same mistakes he did. He wants his son to be better."

There's something broken, bitter and resentful in Peter's voice when he says. "He's not my dad. He doesn't need some fucked up kid."

'Tasha hums wistfully. "No. You're never going to be his." Peter lets out a choked cough before she continues kneading the cinnamon in intently. "But maybe he wants you to be."

"I'm just- not stoked about the prospect that something might go wrong or I might mess it up, Nat." And that's what she needs. His fear that's he's refused to face all this time, throughout Germany, the Vulture and everything in between.

"Like I said, Spidey, fear will do nothing but screw you over and smoke you out. Better to face it now than hope that is never faces you."

"I… hate how right you are right now, 'Tasha."

Romanoff laughs heartily and flings her spoon as lemon icing bounds into Peter's hair. The latter ducks and squeaks, frantically covering his head, and face with his arms and trying to brush out the sugary substance to no avail.
------------
When Natasha comes down from a few hours of sleep that same morning, there is a tray of cinnamon rolls in the common area where the remains frankly look like they've been mauled by carnivores and then set on fire, charred and not the shape a cinnamon roll should even legally be considered.

Suspiciously, her tray of rolls is nowhere to be found anywhere in the Compound.

On the table next to a burnt breakfast lays the Spider-Man suit and a photo portrait of Ben, May, Mary, Richard and a younger, more innocent Peter.

Peter is tucked in Tony's arms with the mask only curled high enough that he can see his smile; both are asleep on a couch and a blanket draped over the both of them. There are dried tear stains on both their faces and bruises from the earlier battle, and yet, it's the most well tested Natasha has seen either of them look in a long time.

If she snaps a shot on her phone of Tony drooling off the side of the arm rest and Peter's hands passive aggressively holding Stark's wrists like a vice, well, it's nobody's business but Romanoff's and F.R.I.D.AY.'s.
------------
The one thing about Peter's soul being Tony's Morganite is that the billionaire doesn't initially consider that the kid may not see what he does.

Tony sees a childish youth despite the forced maturity of loss, the non-stop momentum of a mind too ahead of the present's technology and the salvation for the world to stay kind and light.

Natasha knows their souls are both cut from the same stone, like father like son, and that they deserve each other for their selflessness, wonder and hope for the world.

It's that in itself that is enough, to face what the world has in store.

Even Tony knows that, with or without the stone; and that's the damn truth.