Silence is deafening .
Peter’s heard that expression used before. It never made sense to him at the times he came across it. Silence can’t be deafening; that completely, well, defeats the point of silence in the first place.
But the ride back to the Avengers Towers is so quiet, there might as well have been someone screaming in his ear.
He focuses his gaze out of the window for the most part. Happy wasn’t there - of course, just his luck - so there was no one to diffuse the rapidly growing tension. It was just him and Tony, Spider-man and Iron Man, speeding along the back streets of downtown New York City in total, complete silence.
And, god, is it loud . Peter half debates screaming just to shatter it. But he doesn’t, mostly because that would be weird , but also because if there isn’t silence, then that means there’s going to be a conversation, a repeat of the argument they had on the top of the building, and Peter’s 98% sure he can’t stomach so much as another disappointed look from Tony, much less another fight.
So he starts out the window as intensely as he can, trying to fix his gaze on the passing people and cars and buildings. Everything blurs together into one solid mass of color and noise and he rests his forehead against the cool glass and, shit, he’s exhausted all of a sudden. Like his body has only just registered everything it went through that afternoon. His arms and chest are aching like someone’s just tried to rip him in half which, granted, kinda did just happen. His head hurts and his ears are still ringing.
But mostly, he’s just tired.
Do you know, I was the only one who believed in you?
He’s not sure what’s worse, the fact that Tony had said ‘believed,’ as in the past tense, or the fact that the reason it’s in the past tense is because of Peter and his catastrophic screw up.
He had thought he could take them. He should’ve been able to take them. He’s Spider-man , for god’s sake. He has superstrength and can stick to walls and fires webs and all they have are their stupid fists and a weird purple gun.
And yet, here they are, driving back after Tony’s cleared up yet another mess Peter should’ve been able to handle by himself.
He doesn’t want to risk a glance at Tony. He’s certain that if he does, the fight will start back up again and, besides, half of him is still angry with the man. If he had just listened, just trusted him to take the Vulture by himself, or even helped him do so, then none of this would’ve ever happened. Things would be fine .
He knows, though, that that’s not true. Letting him - or at least being unable to stop him - take the Vulture by himself obviously did not go to plan. And he did technically help him. Just with the clean up, not the actual fight.
The clean up of the mess Peter caused.
Guilt drops into his stomach like a giant ice cube. He closes his eyes and leans back in his chair. God , what was he thinking? How could he have been so stupid to think that he could win? And now, thanks to said stupidity, he’s lost the Spider-man suit.
Which means, effectively, he can’t be Spider-man.
The guilt in his stomach swells until it feels like it’s pushing against his chest, wedging itself in between his lungs and ribs until he can’t breathe.
He’s not going to be Spider-man anymore .
How - how - is he supposed to do anything now if he doesn’t have the promise of Spider-man waiting. After every single Spanish class, after every single time Flash was a dick, after every single failed test or quiz or bad day or nightmare or moment when he just wasn’t good enough as Peter Parker, he always had Spider-man waiting. It’s the only reason he survives anything - hell, it’s the only reason he got through everything that happened with Uncle Ben. He has to be Spider-man, he has to be able to help people.
Otherwise, what’s the point?
The car jerks to a stop and Peter’s momentarily snapped out of his building panic. They’ve pulled up next to the tower.
Tony doesn’t move for a moment and Peter finally risks a sidelong glance at the man. He looks almost as tired as Peter feels. His jaw is clenching and unclenching like he’s holding back another yell and his fingers are drumming on the steering wheel.
“I’m a little worried,” says Tony suddenly, his loud voice shattering the silence like a bullet through glass. Peter flinches. “That you still don’t understand why I’m doing this.”
Peter fixes his gaze on the bottom of the car floor. Maybe if he stares hard enough he can melt through the carpet and disappear for the next 30 years.
“Taking the suit.” Tony prompts, still drumming his fingers on the wheel. He’s looking calmly ahead at the wall of the Avengers Tower like it’s the most interesting thing he’s ever seen.
Because I fucked up. Because I’m a shitty Spider-man. Because I don’t think before I do anything. Because I think I can save people when I really can’t.
Because I let you down.
“Because you’re mad?” Is all he manages to get out. Tony sucks in a sharp breath and Peter sees his hand stop drumming to clench the wheel like he wants to rip it out and throw it in Peter’s general direction. Probably not the best thing he could’ve said, then.
“There’s a little more to it then that, funnily enough,” Tony says frigidly. He exhales. “Because it really isn’t about how I feel, yeah? I wasn’t the one on that ferry, I wasn’t in danger of getting hurt - of dying, Peter. Do you understand that people would've died if help hadn’t come?”
Peter nods, the guilt now burning straight through him like acid. He doesn’t trust his voice.
“You can annoy me or terrify me till hell freezes over, and I’m sure you will. But this really isn’t about me, it’s about every single person on that ferry. Because here’s the thing - when you take the neighborhood out of friendly neighborhood Spider-man, the problems get a lot bigger. So do the consequences. And I’m really not getting the impression that you’re aware of that, or if you even care -”
“Of course I care!” Peter snaps suddenly. Telling him he fucked up, yeah, that’s one thing. But saying he fucked up because he doesn’t care? That’s beyond out of line.
“Really? Do you, now?” For the first time since they got in the car, Tony swings his gaze around to look at Peter and, fuck , the disappointment in it is like a kick to the stomach. “I get the impression that when people care they, you know, think for a single goddamn second about what they’re doing and - correct me if I’m wrong, please - that isn’t really what you did.”
“I made a mistake!” Peter slices a hand through the air. “I made one single mistake and -”
“One single mistake that I expressly forbade you from making, Peter, you really can’t call this a mistake if someone told you not to do it in the first place. That reads more like straight up arrogance and insolence to me.”
“I made a mistake,” Peter repeats, anger bleeding into his voice. He knows he has no right to be angry, really, but there’s something about Tony’s complete disregard for how hard he tried to do the right thing that makes his blood boil. Plus it’s a lot easier to deal with than guilt. “And you’re really going to take away my suit because of it?”
Tony’s hands shake as he balls them into fists again. “No, Peter,” he says, every syllable dripping with barely contained fury. “I am not taking away your suit because you made a mistake . You know what a mistake is? Missing the decathlon tournament. That’s - ” He slams a hand down on the dashboard and Peter can’t help but flinch. “- a mistake. You running off thinking you’re some kind of superhero who can take down a man twice your size with three times your brain, apparently, and getting a fucking ferry torn in half after I specifically told you not to is not a mistake , Peter. That’s just you being stupid.”
Peter seethes. He doesn’t need to be told he messed up again, he’s aware . What he needs is Tony to understand - to actually listen instead of thinking he’s automatically right because he’s old - that he can do better. That the ferry was a mistake because Peter’s never done anything like it and, yeah, maybe he was stupid, but he can do better, he is better and why can’t Tony just understand that?
“I wasn’t being stupid,” he growls. “I - I’ve never done anything like that before! And I never will again, I -”
“See, I just can’t believe that because the second you have free reign, what do you do? Go pick fights you’ll never win -”
“Why don’t you believe in me? Why don’t you think I can take him, I - I would’ve won! The arm - gun - thingy just started malfunctioning but I had them, Mr. Stark!”
Because that’s arguably what sucks the most about this - how little faith Tony’s revealing himself to have in Peter and in his ability to do good. It’s like this one incident has completely ripped the rug out from under their feet and now Tony thinks he can’t so much as win at tic-tac-toe.
“No, you would’ve been dropped from a mile high into the Hudson again, and then this would be a very different conversation.”
Peter bites back a literal growl. “You didn’t seem to think that when you were pulling me out of my apartment to go fight the Avengers with you.”
Tony flinches back like he’s been slapped. His entire body goes slack, hands dropping off the wheel. His shaky inhale is the loudest thing Peter might’ve heard all day.
“That was a miscalculation on my part.”
“Oh, like a mistake?” Peter fires back and he can almost hear Tony grinding his teeth into oblivion.
“Yes,” he says in a strained voice. “That was a mistake. And one I shouldn’t have even considered - god, what was I thinking? You could’ve been killed , I shouldn’t - shit - I should’ve put a lid on this months ago -”
Peter knows they’re approaching dangerous waters here; the Avengers fight is something they talk about rarely - if at all - and jumping on the topic when Tony still looks like he might boot him off the top of the Tower is probably a horrible idea, but jump he does.
“You were thinking that I was responsible, that you could trust me, that I was strong enough - and I was, I-”
“No!” Tony slams his hand down on the dashboard again and Peter shuts up. He really should not have gone there. “I was thinking that you were there and I needed men and I had to protect people and I needed someone and - fuck -”
Tony’s voice crumples up at the end like a piece of paper and he drops his head, pressing on his eyes with the heels of his hands. Suddenly the car is too small and the silence is pressing back up against Peter’s ear drums and Tony’s breathing is shaking like he’s about to cry and Peter has no idea what to do.
“I wasn’t thinking,” the man says in a low voice. “That’s just it - I wasn’t thinking. You’re a kid.”
“For Christ’s sake, Peter, you can’t even fucking drive! You’re not ready for this -”
And then the ball of tightly coiled stress and fear and exhaustion that’s been winding around in his chest for the past few months falls apart.
“How do you know what I’m ready for?” he explodes. Tony jerks up to look at him and Peter realizes this is probably the loudest he’s talked around him since, well, ever. “You know what - okay, fine, I’m not ready! I don’t - I - I was bit, okay, and no one, no stupid being asked me if I wanted that or if I was ready but I got bit and then I got powers and - Mr. Stark, I didn’t care . I could lift up a fridge and heal a broken wrist in a week and stop a bus with my hands and I didn’t care because I just thought it was a joke, I - I didn’t take it seriously.”
His mouth suddenly tastes ashy and the guilt in his chest is leaving no room for anything else. He digs his nails into the fabric of his suit and takes a shaky breath in. It’s not enough, he can’t breathe right, but for the first time since the whole fight started, Tony is looking at him without a single shred of anger in his gaze.
The concern there, on the other hand, makes him want to disappear forever. Stupid, stupid, stupid - this isn’t Tony’s job, he shouldn’t have to listen to this, he’s right - Peter’s immature and stupid and he shouldn’t be Spider-man.
And yet, he keeps talking.
“I didn’t take it seriously,” he repeats, staring furiously at the gear shift. “I just thought, like, ‘cool!’ - you know? ‘I have all these powers!’ And I could’ve done so much , Mr. Stark, I could’ve stopped - I -”
Breathe. Don’t you dare cry.
“H-he was stabbed , Mr. Stark,” Peter forces out, head swimming. There’s blood, there’s too much blood, it’s all over his hands and he can’t breathe and he’s screaming for help but no one is coming and - “He died and I didn’t do a-anything and I could’ve; it was just o-one guy and I just - I let him die , Mr. Stark, I - I could’ve s-saved him and I didn’t.”
“Pete…” Tony’s voice has done a complete one-eighty from the beginning of the conversation. It’s all gentleness and concern and Peter shakes his head violently because he doesn’t understand - Tony doesn’t understand that his uncle died on the concrete in front of him and it was Peter’s fault.
“And after that, I - I knew I had to do s-something because he died and I didn’t do anything then so I started - I made the suit and - and the web stuff and I just started patrolling because I didn’t know what else to do and everything hurt and - it was my fault and I just thought if I could help other people like I was supposed to help h-him then it would be okay and I’d feel better. But I d-don’t, I miss him so much and sometimes I hate being Spider-man because it’s so hard and I mess up and I’m scared and-” He swallows away something that feels suspiciously like a sob. “And I know I messed up, Mr. Stark, and I’m so sorry , I’m sorry - I thought I could do it, I thought I was good enough and I’m not and I’m sorry -”
There’s blood. There’s blood all over the concrete and he can hear screaming and he’s not sure who it’s coming from and crying that is coming from him and there’s so much blood and he’s crying and Ben is saying it’s okay, it’s okay, but it isn’t because there’s too much blood and he’s dying and he couldn’t save him, he couldn’t save him, he couldn’t -
“Kid,” Tony’s voice is calm and steady. Peter feels a hand on his arm, dragging him out of his head. He reaches up to rub his face and his hand comes back wet and, god, he’s crying in front of Tony Stark. “Kid .”
“I’m sorry,” he says again in a stupidly wobbly voice. “I’m sorry I let you down and I hurt people and I couldn’t save him, Mr. S-stark, I - I - I tried -”
It’s about then that he full on bursts into tears.
He can barely breathe as sob after sob wracks his body. His lungs feel like they’re being burnt and his head is swimming and fragmented clips of Uncle Ben’s death speed by in his mind and everything hurts and he can barely see as he just sits there, in the passenger seat of Tony Stark’s car, sobbing his lungs out. He’s barely aware of someone - Tony - moving, shifting away, but he feels the absence like a kick to the head and he’s gone , he’s gone just like Uncle Ben.
But then the door to his right opens and he’s half-aware of a hand on his shoulder, another one awkwardly under his elbow, semi-dragging him out of the car and onto a seat somewhere and the outside air is nice cold but the images won’t stop playing and Peter feels like his insides are being twisted and he just cries .
At some point somebody - Tony still, maybe - puts a hand around his shoulders and pulls him towards him and Peter just collapses against the man, head resting somewhere on Tony’s chest and a hand gently drags through his hair and he’s saying something, I’m sorry , maybe, and Tony’s muttering something too, something he can’t quite catch.
“It’s okay,” Peter finally hears. “It’s okay, Pete, you’re okay. It’s okay.”
Over and over again. It’s soothing. He half started to believe it and gradually, he gets his breathing under control and sucks in a few lungfuls of air. He stops crying.
“You with me?” Tony’s voice breaks the quiet that follows, but it’s still beyond gentle. His hand leaves Peter’s hair to rest on his cheek, thumb running along the line of his cheekbone, wiping away another stupid tear and Peter nods. He doesn’t move from his position curled up against the man’s chest. “I - okay. First of all, glad you got that out. How long have you been sitting on all that?”
Peter gives an awkward shrug. “Dunno.” His voice sounds thick and watery at the same time. “I didn’t - after he died, I didn’t cry. I haven’t - about him - since the f-funeral. I just - I couldn’t, you know?”
Tony moves his hand back up to Peter’s hair. “Yeah, Pete. I know.”
There’s another pause. Then Tony speaks, in the same gentle voice as before. “Can you sit up for me, kid?”
Not wanting to but realizing that he just had a full on meltdown in front of Tony Stark and feeling like it’s the least he can do for him, he does, rubbing at his face.
“Okay.” Tony looks exhausted. There’s a weird, heavy sadness in the back of his gaze that makes Peter’s stomach clench. “Okay. First of all, I want you to understand this, okay? If you listen to nothing else I’m about to say, please listen to this, okay?”
Peter nods. Tony reaches out and grabs onto his arm, thumb rubbing back and forth.
“It - your uncle’s death - was not your fault. In any way, okay? Spider-man or not, sometimes shit just happens and - and it sucks , I won’t even begin to get into how much I know this hurts, Pete, but it isn’t your fault. There was nothing you could’ve done. What happened was horrible and I am so sorry you had to be there for that, but I don’t want you to keep blaming yourself, okay?”
Peter opens his mouth to protest but is silenced by a Look.
“Second, it’s okay not to be ready. It’s okay to not want to be Spider-man all the time. It’s okay to want a break, you know that? You’ve been thrust into a life that’s - well, crazy - and you’ve handled it admirably. You’re right, that ferry thing was the first real mistake you’ve made, and that’s beyond impressive. I know adults now who couldn’t cope in the position you’re in. I - I’m really proud of you, Pete. I’m proud of how much you’ve helped Queens and New York and people in general, okay? I’m proud of you.”
Peter nods. He’s proud of me .
“And while we’re on the topic of the ferry - okay, not your best move. But I’m sorry for going a little helicopter pa - uh, mentor there. You were trying to do good. I understand that. But, look, here’s the thing - you don’t have to save the world, okay? You do more than enough just working on the ground, and stuff, and no one - least of all me and least least of all your uncle - would expect you to push yourself to take on bad guys who are just a little out of your reach right now. You don’t owe it to anyone to prove yourself. I already know that you’re more than capable. And that’s why I brought you to Germany, really, because you’re capable. But you gotta remember - and hell, so do I - that you are just a kid, Pete. You’re a kid who’s been through a shit load of stuff and it’s okay to just, you know, be that kid. To just be Peter Parker. Okay?”
Peter nods again.
“Because when I see you’ve quit band, or chess club, or engineering club, or you’ve missed the decathlon tournament, it makes me sad, one, because I know how much you love that stuff, and two, because I worry. I worry that Spider-man is taking up too much space and you’re forgetting that you don’t - and honestly, you can’t - have to look out for everyone all the time and save everyone. I just want you to have time to be a kid, Pete. And I really - really - don’t want anything to happen to you, okay? I care about you a lot, kid. A lot. I couldn’t - just think about how you feel about Ben dying. That’s how I’d feel if something happened to you, okay?”
Peter nods again - god, he must look like a bobble-head or something - and lets out a shaky breath. He’s okay. Tony doesn’t hate him. Tony is proud of him. Tony cares about him.
“Okay,” he says softly and Tony smooths his hair off his face and holds his hand there, just a little bit above his cheek. The gesture is so startlingly intimate and paternal that it throws Peter and almost makes him choke up again. He’s forgotten what it felt like to have someone like this - like a father - in his life.
It’s really, really nice.
“What are we going to do about the suit?” he ventures after a moment.
Tony sighs a little. “What do you want to do?”
Peter thinks He’ll always be Spider-man, suit or not. There’s no changing that. And he loves what he does, beyond the whole guilt driven level. He wants to help people because that’s what he loves doing.
But he also, deep down, wants a break.
“Can you - I mean - can you hold on to it? Just for a little?”
He feels Tony physically relax at that and smiles a little. “Yeah. I can do that, kid.”
He sighs and rubs at his face again. Now that he’s stopped crying, everything hurts substantially less, but his breath still feels a little short and his head is pounding. Tony gives him another look, long and hard and more than a little sad and, somewhere in the pit of his stomach where it’s retreated to, the guilt rears it’s head.
“I’m sorry,” he says again, dropping his gaze to Tony’s knee. “For everything. For the, uh, whole meltdown and for scaring you and messing -”
“Hey,” Tony reaches out his hand again, slipping it under Peter’s chin and raising his head so they make eye contact. His gaze is full of soft worry and concern and something that looks strikingly, almost like love.
He’s probably imagining it. Still, it’s nice. Really nice.
“Hey,” Tony says again. “No more apologies, okay? You have nothing to be sorry for. You did good, you always do. I’m proud of you.”
Peter nods, throat a little tight again. Tony drops his hand to his shoulder and keeps it there, squeezing gently.
“Wanna go put some real clothes on now?”
Peter nods and exhales. It feels like a ten ton weight has been removed from his chest.