Tony used to like parties. He’s positive of that. He remembers it as a very distinct fact about himself.
Currently, staring at the crowd filling his compound, full of people he barely knows but who apparently work for him, he has a hard time conjuring up that feeling. Someone has stupidly dug up a flask of Asgardian mead from where it was supposed to be safely locked away until Thor’s next visit, and the room is getting loud in the way rooms get when everyone is just the wrong side of tipsy. He used to enjoy the company of attractive strangers, loved charming them with his jokes, watching their eyes go wide because he deigned to grace them with his conversation. Now, the idea of talking to any of these people makes him tired.
Problem is, he got used to something different somewhere along the line. Turns out parties are more fun when there’s something worth celebrating, and people you actually like celebrating with you. Who knew? But most of his team is long gone, and it’s been a year since his final attempt with Pepper fell apart. Strangers are apparently all he’s got. That’s exactly the kind of thing he likes to be reminded of right before Christmas. Happy holidays, Tony, hope you like spending them alone.
Who convinced him to come to this party, again?
Oh right, Peter. The one person who can still convince him to do things when he knows better. Peter, who is currently staggering in his direction, clearly also drunk off the mead. Peter, who flops into an open seat on the couch Tony has claimed for himself, sitting closer than is strictly appropriate, close enough that Tony can pick out the smell of his cheap cologne.
“You don’t look like you’re having very much fun,” he accuses, poking Tony in the chest with a familiarity that makes his heart beat faster. He ignores the feeling; he always does.
“What gave it away? Was it my complete lack of interest in talking to anyone?” In Tony’s defense, he had a long conversation with Rhodey an hour ago, so he hasn’t been moping alone the whole night. Only since his best friend abandoned him to chase a blonde. “No one here is worth talking to.”
“Thanks, Mr. Stark. I appreciate the vote of confidence.”
“Present company excluded,” Tony amends, throwing an arm around Peter. “Come on, you know that, kid. I’m just sulking, it’s not personal.”
“Mmm,” Peter hums, apparently mollified, preening the way he always does when Tony touches him. With a shy smile, he adds, “Have you ever considered that you need to get back out there, Mr. Stark? Have some fun again?”
Wow. Not a conversation he’s interested in having. Particularly not with Peter, of all people. “Yeah, I don’t think so, kid.”
“Oh, come on.” Peter elbows his ribs. “What’s the problem? You’re still hot.”
Tony laughs quietly. “You don’t need to indulge an old man, Parker.” But when he glances sideways, he realizes the expression on Peter’s face is not indulgence. “Oh, no you don’t.” He jerks his arm back, heart rate suddenly skyrocketing to hummingbird speed. “Don’t you have a little girlfriend, anyway? What’s it—JJ?”
“MJ,” Peter corrects. “And no, we broke up a few months ago. Different schools, long distance, you know.”
Ah, yes. Tony does know. Tony knows exactly what this is. First big breakup, go for a fling with a completely inappropriate person. It’s basically a cliché. He kind of thought Peter was better than that, but apparently being brilliant and one of the bravest people on the face of the planet doesn’t mean he’s immune from being a stupid college student who makes stupid college student mistakes.
God, is it tempting to take him up on the offer. If Tony were a younger man he probably would. No, being honest, he definitely would. But he’s not. He’s old, and he’s tired, and he’s learned that some things, some people, are not worth fucking up just to get your rocks off, no matter how many times you’ve gotten your rocks off thinking about getting your rocks off in that particular person.
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that. Still no, though. I’m flattered, but no.”
Peter shrugs, and it’s a sign of how inebriated he must be that he doesn’t look particularly embarrassed. “I knew it was a longshot. But I figured, had to try at some point, right? And what better point then when I’m too drunk to talk myself out of it?” He pats Tony’s knee. Above his knee, really. Too far above his knee. “Still, I don’t take back the thing about you being hot. You should also be happy. You deserve that, Mr. Stark.”
He lets his hand linger too long before finally getting up and disappearing back into the party. Tony watches him go with more than a little regret, but also a great deal of pride in himself for holding strong.
The next morning, he wakes up to a string of texts from Peter, who apparently had second thoughts about his boldness once he sobered up. There’s a lot of I’m sorry! and This is embarrassing, and Let’s just forget that ever happened?
It’s forgotten, Tony texts back. Don’t worry about it at all.
And then, just to prove the point, he adds, I still expect you at training as usual on Saturday. Don’t think being mildly awkward at a party gets you out of having your butt kicked, young man.
Tony probably should have thought this plan through more carefully. Should have added to his calculations that once the door was cracked open, he’d have to keep holding strong, and self-denial has never been one of his best qualities. Should have realized that having Peter inches away, sweating from rounds of wrestling in his private gym, tank clinging to his body, panting and bright-eyed with adrenaline, might be too much to deal with.
But he didn’t think about any of that, which is how he ends up with his tongue shoved down Peter Parker’s throat the first time he gets him pinned beneath him.
“Holy shit,” Peter says, before kissing him back. And then, “Wow,” and then, when Tony starts biting at his neck, “Fuck, fuck, Mr. Stark, I’m gonna—”
It’s over in less than a minute. Peter turns bright red, and looks a little like he wants to disappear into the floor.
“I—uh—my senses,” he rambles as Tony rolls off him, stunned and shaking. “I mean, it’s not normally that bad, but usually I have some warning, and, like, it’s not normally you, and I really wasn’t expecting—”
“Okay, okay, I get it,” Tony interrupts. He doesn’t really mind. In fact, he’s mostly concerned about what would have happened if Peter’s overenthusiasm hadn’t gotten in the way. His own dick is half-hard and wondering why he stopped the kissing. It had quite liked that. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have—“
“No! Mr. Stark, I’m not saying you shouldn’t—”
“I’m saying it,” Tony cuts in, forceful. He sighs. This was really, really stupid. “Can we just…pretend this didn’t happen?”
“Peter. Please, I’m asking nicely.”
Peter looks like he wants to keep fighting, but he wilts under the steady insistence of Tony’s glare. “Yeah, fine, if that’s what you want.” They sit there, breathing heavily, awkward, until he adds, “I, uh, I guess I’m going to go get cleaned up. And then, um, leave?”
“You do that,” Tony agrees. “I’ll stay here for a bit.”
Stay here and reflect on the many ways he’s a complete and total idiot.
Tony actually thought that might be the end of it, which just goes to show that he hasn’t internalized a single thing about who Peter is as a human being. Two days later he’s woken in the middle of the night by F.R.I.D.A.Y. announcing that Peter Parker is at his apartment window.
Because of course he is.
Tony could ignore him. He’d probably go away eventually. Except he might not, and it’s the middle of the winter, they’re twenty stories up, it’s really, super cold. It wouldn’t be safe to force him to stay out there. He basically has to let him in.
(Yeah, that’s the justification he’s going with. Leave him alone about it.)
Turns out Peter isn’t even in his suit, which is a little horrifying given the below-freezing temperature. His face is flushed and pink, hair messy. Strands fly everywhere when he pulls off his hat, a lumpy monstrosity that Tony suspects is a Christmas gift from Happy, who has for some inexplicable reason taken knitting up as a hobby.
Tony crosses his arms. He tries to look imposing, though he suspects the attempt is hindered by the fact that he’s in sweatpants. “Well?” he demands. As if it’s not perfectly obvious what Peter is doing here.
“So I’ve been thinking,” Peter starts in that breathless way he gets when he’s about to say a lot of words all at once. “You kissed me. You kissed me. Really kissed me. Not to be crude but you went for it, Mr. Stark. And you weren’t even drunk or anything, which means you must’ve really wanted to. And it’s pretty obvious that I really, really want that too. And basically, in conclusion, we should do that again. Right now.”
He punctuates this thought by biting his lip, which undercuts the sense of determined confidence that propelled his little speech. It is also, unfortunately for Tony, unbearably adorable in a way that has no right to be sexy but one-hundred percent is.
“This is a bad idea,” Tony tells him, bluntly. He already knows he’s going to kiss him in about thirty seconds, but he has to at least put it out there.
“Don’t see why.”
Because I will fall in love with you if I give myself half a chance, Tony doesn’t say. It would just make Peter’s eyes light up like it’s Christmas again. He’d be all “but that sounds great, Mr. Stark,” because he’s eighteen and just out of a relationship and doesn’t understand that Tony being in love with him would be bad for everyone involved, especially Tony.
Instead he tries, “Pete, you’re smart enough to know why.”
Except of course that’s not an answer at all. That’s a carefully calculated nothing that just serves to make Peter smirk like he knows he’s won, because he absolutely has. “Not very persuasive, Mr. Stark. If that’s the best you’ve got, I think I’m going to kiss you now.”
Tony lets him.
Peter makes it five minutes and at least out of his pants—though not out of the ill-fitting boxers underneath, which Tony instantly wants to replace—before coming. But instead of going red he shakes it off, pulls Tony close, and growls into his ear, “I can keep going, Mr. Stark.”
He rubs his cock against Tony’s leg to prove the point. It’s still rock hard.
If Tony hadn’t already known he was in trouble, that would’ve done it.
They keep going.
The really dangerous part of the whole situation isn’t that Peter comes four more times that night (though, oh boy, is that the best damn superpower side-effect Tony has ever heard of; it’s an honor and a privilege to experience it up close and personal). It’s that he stays over after, slipping into a content sleep without even asking, one arm draped over Tony’s stomach.
He looks so peaceful, hair messed and matted, limbs sprawled everywhere, taking up so much space it would be annoying if Tony’s bed weren’t a king. Tony could get used to looking at him like this.
It’s a problem. It’s definitely a problem. But that doesn’t mean he can’t enjoy it in the moment, right?
It’s the most solid night’s sleep Tony’s had in longer than he can remember, but he still wakes up before Peter. No surprise there. Tony’s seen his schedule: no classes before noon. Factor in patrolling, and there’s no way the kid wakes up before ten in the morning if left to his own devices.
He doesn’t even stir when Tony slips out of bed, which is just fine with Tony. He splashes water on his face, pulls on the first set of clean clothes he can find, and bolts from his own apartment, instructing F.R.I.D.A.Y. to tell Peter he had a meeting, and that of course he’s welcome to anything in the apartment and a ride, on Tony, wherever he wants to go.
Running away from his mistakes? You fucking betcha.
He does not have a meeting. He hides in his private SI lab. He cranks up AC/DC and ignores Peter’s texts when they finally start coming, around eleven. And keeps ignoring them when they turn into phone calls, and—
Okay, he only holds out for forty-five minutes before the guilt gets to him.
(The guilt, and the memory of Peter whimpering underneath him as he wrung a fifth orgasm from him, words gone except for “Mr. Stark,” gasped like it was torn from somewhere deep in his core.)
“We’re not doing this every night,” he tells Peter that night, hand already on his dick.
“Sure we’re not, Mr. Stark,” Peter agrees, in a tone that conveys how little he believes it.
Yeah, this is already a disaster.
It takes Tony three weeks to realize exactly how bad things are. He’s done his best to keep whatever this is to just sex, if you can call anything about their sex just. He’d talked himself into thinking that confining things to the realm of hedonistic pleasure would somehow help keep his feelings in check, save him from heartbreak when this experience reaches its inevitable expiration date. Sure, the sex is good. Great. The best sex of his considerably-experienced life. But even the best sex does not a grand romance make, he’s old enough to know that.
Except, as he has done one too many times to still be making this particular mistake, he’s underestimated Peter Parker’s ability to be absolutely the most amazing person he knows.
So now here he is, twenty stories up, webbed to the outside of his own apartment on an unseasonably sunny day, clinging to Peter, who’s busy fucking him confidently, hands at either side of his head, knees braced against the wall. Their lips only part for the brief moments when Tony breaks away to take in the soaring cityscape around them, stomach swooping with a combination of fear and adrenaline.
This is by far the craziest place he’s had sex. What really gets him is not the experience—though the experience is A-plus, fantastic, would experience again— but that the whole thing was entirely Peter’s idea. Peter, who’s wearing a smirk like he knows how impressed Tony is. Peter who stops thrusting long enough to stare into his eyes and say, “Mr. Stark, thank you. So much. I never thought I’d find someone willing to do this.”
Peter, who is as god damn insane as he is.
How is he supposed to not fall in love? Impossible. Completely impossible.
The next morning, he doesn’t rush off to an invented meeting or fuck Peter right up until the moment he has to leave for class. Instead, he cooks him breakfast: banana pancakes and a nice fruit salad, because if he’s going to bother to do it, he might as well do it right.
When Peter groggily wanders into the kitchen and sees Tony’s creation his eyes go wide. “This is new,” he observes with a small, pleased smile that makes Tony want to melt. “Did I do something right?”
Oh, just everything. Every single thing.
Tony doesn’t say that. He keeps not saying things, recently. Instead, he goes with a lighter touch: “Mr. Parker, I’m insulted. Do you think I’m incapable of being nice just for the hell of it?”
Peter shrugs and slips into a stool at the kitchen island, making vague motions at the coffee Tony has already brewed. Even with “just sex,” they’ve spent enough time together for Tony to now know that, along with making stupid choices in the romance department, another way Peter is just like every other college student is he’s very cranky without coffee in the morning.
“More sex in high places,” he says as Tony hands him a giant mug. “Got it.”
“Still insulted,” Tony tells him, plating the food. “But that’s not a conclusion you’re going to find me arguing with.” Peter gives him a smirk that’s so perfect, he can’t help adding, “Hey, you haven’t been by the lab recently. Want to come over this weekend? I’ve been working on a couple projects that could use a second look.”
“Yeah?” Peter sounds eager, smirk turning into a full grin, big and surprised. He must’ve been worried that he’d inadvertently sacrificed that part of their relationship in favor of this new one. Which, to be fair, was a valid concern. Tony had been avoiding it. Peter’s brain was sexy enough before they were actually having sex. Mixing the two is a terrible idea. That way lies falling even deeper.
Knowing that doesn’t stop him from nodding and saying, “Yeah, of course. My lab is your lab, you know that.”
That Saturday he and Peter spend seven hours in the lab. A full five actually involve doing science, and the other two are used experimenting with a vibrating dildo Tony built specifically for Peter, which basically counts as science.
Just as Tony is considering suggesting they grab a pizza and and move the dildo experiments to his place, Peter tells him he has to go. There’s a birthday party he wants to make it to, some friend from his robotics club.
“Sorry to abandon you,” he says, hands lingering at Tony’s waist after kissing him goodbye. “Are you cool with this?”
“Yeah, yeah, of course,” Tony assures him, even though the honest answer is he’s dreading going home alone. He’s gotten far too used to having Peter there. “Why wouldn’t I be? You don’t owe me anything. You should have your own life, that’s…good. It’s good.”
Peter’s smile flickers slightly. “Yeah, right. Of course. Well, see you tomorrow?”
“If you want.” Why would he say that? Oh right, because he’s dreading going home alone, and that is not a healthy place to be if he wants to preserve his sanity when this thing ends. “Or not. Spend time with your friends. Study. Go…tailgating? Is that a thing college students do?”
“Not at Columbia.” Peter’s smile is definitely becoming forced. “But my dorm is having a board game night tomorrow…”
“Wow, that’s really nerdy, and I went to MIT.” With a level of self-sacrifice he thinks is quite admirable, Tony takes Peter’s hand and squeezes it. “But yeah, board games sound fun. You should go. The amazing sex can wait one night.”
“Can it though?” Peter tugs him close. “I could be twenty minutes late to my party…”
Tony leans into the kiss. He’s done enough sacrificing for one night.
He makes Peter an hour late. Then he calls Rhodey and spends the rest of the evening getting very, very drunk. Because they haven’t caught up since that hour at the holiday party, not because he’s disappointed he doesn’t get to spend the night with the person he already spent his entire day with.
Not at all.
Peter goes to board games the next evening. Tony calls Rhodey to see if he wants a Bros Night Two: Electric Boogaloo, Bigger and Even Drunker.
“Some of us are responsible people who have jobs, Tones.” After a concerned pause—yes, Tony can tell it’s concerned even over the phone, and no, he does not appreciate it—he adds, “Do I want to know what’s going on with you?”
“Nope.” God, he can already imagine how that conversation would go. Nowhere fun. “You decidedly do not.”
“Is it going to kill you?”
“Not in a literal way.”
“Well then.” Rhodey sighs, long and heavy. “Try not to drink too much on your own. As a favor to me.”
Tony hangs up the phone. He stares at the bottle of whiskey already open on his dining room table.
He definitely drinks too much on his own. It doesn’t make him miss Peter any less.
“So,” Peter begins a few days later. His head is resting in Tony’s lap as they both work, Peter reading some hulk of a book for his Russian literature class, Tony fussing with the look of SI’s latest energy-efficient light bulb on a tablet. “It’s Valentine’s Day this weekend.”
Tony puts his tablet aside, letting one hand fall to Peter’s hair, the other landing on his stomach. “This is true.”
Peter turns his book face down on his chest. “So, um, there’s like—a Valentine’s dance? At school? It’s supposed to be ironic, you know? Cheesy decorations, heart shaped cupcakes—kinda silly but it’s a fundraiser for fighting heart disease, and everyone’s going…” He trails off, looking up at Tony hopefully.
“Kid, if you want to go to this party rather than spend the evening with me, that’s fine.” Very, totally fine. He hasn’t already booked the back room at one of the city’s most exclusive restaurants, the kind of place that serves thousand-dollar wine and, more importantly, can ensure absolutely no information about who dines there leaks to the press. Nope. “That is, in fact, completely appropriate.”
“No, that’s not—” Peter places his hand over the one Tony has on his stomach. “I want you to come with me.”
“Let me get this straight: you want me to be your date to your college Valentine’s Day dance?”
“Yeah?” Peter’s face collapses into a sad crinkle when Tony raises his eyebrows skeptically. “I mean, I know it’s not up to your usual standards, but it could be fun, and I just thought we’re like…people who would spend Valentine’s together? At this point?”
Tony sighs. The fact that seeing any disappointment on Peter’s face is almost enough to get him to agree to go to a college party is the surest sign yet that he’s absolutely under the kid’s thumb. He’d do just about anything for him. But there are limits. Mostly imposed by a sense of dignity and the knowledge that the headlines the next day would be a nightmare. But still, limits.
“We are ‘people who would spend Valentine’s together,’ but I can’t show up to your college dance. Think about how that would go, Pete.”
After a moment of contemplation, Peter nods, head digging into Tony’s thigh. “Yeah, okay, I guess you’re right.”
He sounds so disappointed. Unacceptable. “How about this? I was going to take you to dinner that night. Let’s move it to the night before. You can stay over, we’ll do brunch, lab, whatever you want—we’ll still spend the day together, with plenty of time for you to reenact Animal House after. Win, win, win.”
The smile he gets in response is worth the knowledge that he just agreed to move his Valentine’s Day plans around for a school dance. A school dance.
This is going to end so, so poorly.
Peter is overwhelmed by the dinner. He gets tipsy off two glasses of the thousand-dollar wine—Tony had thought his powers would translate to super-tolerance, but it turns out his metabolism means alcohol hits him harder than normal, leaving him giggly and wide-eyed at the waiters bringing them a constant stream of small plates.
“This is easily the best meal of my life,” he gushes by the time they’re at the pastas. “Thank you, Mr. Stark.”
Tony can’t hold back a chuckle. “Kid, we’re having Valentine’s dinner right now. You can call me Tony. I think we’re there.”
Peter opens and closes his mouth several times before finally shutting it and nodding. He takes a long sip of his wine, the corner of his lips curving up, as if he’s trying to hide a smile. “Sounds good. Tony.”
That night, Peter won’t stop saying his name as Tony kisses him, gentle and tender, hands exploring carefully, thoroughly, as if they don’t already have each other memorized.
“Do you have any idea, Tony?” Peter asks, barely more than a whisper, when Tony finally enters him, slowly, foreheads pressed together. His eyes sparkle, tears collecting at the edges.
“Any idea of what?” Tony asks without thinking, too lost in the pleasure of feeling Peter around him to process.
“What this means to me.”
Peter kisses him before he can reply, deep, holding him in place so he can’t pull back to respond. Not that he knows what he would say, anyway. Maybe, Yes. Or, I know what you think it means. Or, the really painful truth: Not nearly as much as it means to me.
He kisses back, and doesn’t say anything at all.
The next morning, they don’t actually make it out of bed until long past brunch. They order in, they fuck again, they decide they’re having too much fun to make it to the lab.
They’d promised each other they wouldn’t exchange gifts, but Peter bought him a keychain anyway. Well, two keychains: Iron Man and Spider-Man, jury-rigged so it looks like they’re flying together, holding hands.
He hands it over with a buzzing energy, shy and pleased with himself all at once. “I know it’s kinda cheesy, but, like, what do you get a literal billionaire, you know? I mean, you don’t know, but…you know?”
Tony kisses him. “It’s perfect.”
Tony’s gift to Peter—because of course he got him one—is a new suit with a special stealth mode, which Peter loses his mind over. Tony thinks the keychain is better.
“I don’t actually have to go,” Peter says when six o’clock rolls around. He nuzzles into Tony’s armpit, somehow, amazingly, still having energy to move after their seventh fuck of the day. “I can stay. Screw the dance.”
The selfish, self-destructive part of Tony wants to take him up on it, but that way lies madness. Just because he wants to spend every waking second with Peter doesn’t mean he should. It’ll be that much harder when he has to say goodbye.
“Nuh-huh, I didn’t change a reservation for nothing,” he chides. “Go. Have fun. You’ve given me more than enough of your time.”
Tony only gets moderately drunk by himself that night, which he thinks is a real accomplishment.
He’s woken at five in the morning by a very drunk Peter Parker crawling into his bed.
“Wha—” he starts to ask, before Peter cuts him off with a sloppy kiss that tastes like Kahlúa.
“Missed you,” Peter slurs in explanation, collapsing on top of him. “Didn’t want to not be here.”
Tony plants a kiss in his hair. He smells like sweat and cheap vodka. “How’d you even get in here?”
“F.R.I. let me in. Told her I wanted to surprise you.” Peter nips at his neck, biting slightly too hard. “She likes me.”
“She shouldn’t have done that. F.R.I.D.A.Y.,” he adds, louder, “we’re going to have a chat tomorrow.”
Now that he’s thinking about it, giving Peter blanket access to the apartment actually makes sense, and he fully plans on doing it in the morning. Still, that should’ve been his call, not his AI’s, no matter how well she knows what he really wants.
“Are you mad?” Peter kisses up his neck and onto his ear. “I thought you’d be happy to see me.”
“I am.” Way, way too happy. “But I thought you were spending the night with your friends.”
“I did.” Peter’s kisses move to his throat, tongue finding the hollow there and licking. “Then I missed you. I missed you so much.” With the struggling flail of an inebriated person attempting to do something that is normally very simple, he pushes himself up to look Tony in the eyes. “I love you. You know that, right, Tony? I love you a lot.”
It’s like being hit in the chest, the wind literally knocked out of him. God, he wishes that were true. Really true, not the drunk rambling of a freshmen who’s probably still hung up on their high school sweetheart and is definitely too young to understand what loving someone like Tony even means.
“You’re sweet, kid,” he says, kissing the tip of his nose. “You’re also drunk. I promise I won’t hold you to that in the morning.”
Peter frowns, looking confused. “But I do. You don’t have to say it back or anything, but I do. I love you.”
Tony presses his eyes closed, taking a deep breath and reining in the urge to return the sentiment. That would help exactly nothing.
“Go to sleep, Pete,” he insists. And then, to soften the blow, he adds, “I’m very happy to see you.”
The next morning the sex is as great as always, but Peter gets quiet while Tony cooks breakfast, curling up on the couch in the living room with his phone rather than joining him in the kitchen to watch or help or tease like he usually does. The apartment is open layout, and Peter places himself so Tony can see him grinning at the screen, occasionally laughing in such a pointed, exaggerated way it’s clear he wants Tony to ask him about it.
It’s petulant and childish and Tony feels guilty enough to give him what he wants anyway. “What’s so funny over there, kid?”
“Just looking at Snapchats from last night,” Peter says with strained cheer. “And this morning. All my friends are at brunch. Looks like fun.” He pauses, and then adds, quieter, and probably more honestly, “Maybe I should’ve stayed at home last night after all.”
Tony realizes he’s gripping the spatula so hard it hurts, nails digging grooves into his palms. What had he expected? He rejected Peter last night, of course he’s upset.
Which is fine. It’s fine. Peter’s mad at him, but that’s okay. That’s better than Tony opening up his heart more than he has. So what if Peter gets a little bruised in the meantime? Sleeping with your older mentor is asking to be hurt, after all. And Peter’s not the one who’s really, actually, In Love with capital letters. He’s misreading a crush and really great sex because he’s eighteen. This will be a good lesson, really. Tony is basically doing him a favor.
This line of justification lasts long enough for Tony to get the omelet he’s making out of the pan. Then, almost without thinking about it, he finds himself joining Peter on the couch, taking his hands. Peter looks up, startled. “Tony, I—”
“I love you too, Peter,” Tony says before Peter can start to apologize or something equally ridiculous. “I really do. Sorry about last night, it’s just a very scary thing for me to admit.”
Because here’s the thing: he can’t stand to see Peter hurt. Not even a little bit. Not even if there’s a lesson there. Not even to save himself worse pain later.
Besides, this whole thing is going to destroy him when it ends either way. What are relative degrees of miserable when they finally break up if he can make Peter smile like this, disbelieving and speechless, in the meantime?
“I—you—really?” Peter slides his hands up Tony’s arms and around his neck, scooting forward into his lap. “Are you serious? You’re not just saying it to make me feel better? I don’t want you to lie—”
“It’s definitely not a lie.” He is just saying it to make Peter feel better, but it is not a lie. How much easier his life would be if it were. “I love you, Peter Parker.”
Totally. Completely. With all my heart.
He doesn’t add any of it. But when Peter pulls him into an enthusiastic kiss, knocking him backward onto the couch, he can’t help thinking it’s all true.
Tony gives up on pretending after that. He can’t possibly keep up the charade. Not when Peter is around, constantly, using his new entry privileges every chance he gets, stopping by between classes to throw Tony across his kitchen counter and gush “I love you” over and over until he’s too breathless from being fucked to form the words.
Not when—worse, so much worse—he’s slowly moving himself in, leaving books on Tony’s coffee table, stealing a corner in a drawer for pajama bottoms and boxers. The sight of him sprawled on the floor before dinner, contorted into some impossible pretzel shape over a book, pencil in his mouth and lined paper scattered everywhere, is becoming routine, and Tony wants him to stay forever.
He’s a teenager, doing homework, and Tony wants him to stay forever.
In his defense, the homework is for the most advanced physics and chemistry classes Columbia has to offer, with problem sets so complicated Tony sometimes has to take a minute to think it through when asked for help. And this is a teenager who always slips out the window after dinner, dressed head-to-toe in Tony’s tech, only coming back hours later, sweating and smiling, full of stories about the people he’s helped and the crimes he’s stopped. The part of him that might have worried his feelings for Peter are inappropriate has long since been drowned out by the obvious truth of how incredible he is. How completely unlike anyone else who exists. He’s stopped blaming himself for falling in love with someone so clearly worth loving.
But that leaves more room for the part of him that’s worried about what happens when Peter decides he’s done with the bad-decisions phase of his love life and moves on to someone who might actually be in the realm of good enough for him. There’s a weight in his stomach that gets heavier every day. A panicked voice in the back of his mind that can’t stop yelling a warning. He’s in too deep.
Because this isn’t just love, this is it for him. Peter’s going to pack up and move on with the ease of the young and Tony’s going to be left with nothing, because how could he possibly, possibly move on from this?
“What’s that for?” Peter asks, coming up behind Tony, snaking his arms around his waist to look over his shoulder at the invitation he’s holding: large, made of heavy cardstock with fancy script scrolling across it, looping so many times it’s hard to read. Obnoxiously ostentatious.
Tony reaches back to grab Peter by the waist and pull him closer. “CFO’s wedding,” he says with a sigh. “I think I actually have to go to this one.” He spins in Peter’s arms until they’re facing each other. “You’re too young to know this yet, but weddings are a pain in the ass.”
Peter takes the card out of his hand, reading it closely. “I could find out.”
“I’m not following.” He’s mostly not following because he’s distracted by the feel of Peter’s body between his legs. He leans forward to mouth kisses along his neck.
“It says you have a plus one. I could find out how much a pain in the ass weddings are in person.”
Tony stops kissing in favor of looking Peter in the face. “You want to go to my CFO’s wedding?”
Peter shrugs. “I want to do things with you. If this is what you’ll be doing on”—he looks closer—“April 16th, then yeah, I want to go to your CFO’s wedding.”
Yes, please, the selfish part of Tony longs to say. But he pushes it down, swallows the desire, and, as kindly as possible, explains it’s not a good idea. It’s the kind of wedding that will have the public eye on it. Interested parties will be outside the gates, cameras at the ready. People will want to know who Tony Stark’s just-barely-not-jailbait date is.
“So?” Peter asks, hands slipping under Tony’s shirt. “Is that a problem?”
“Yeah, it’s a problem.” Tony rolls his hips forward, pressing against Peter’s thigh, wanting more of his touch and less of this conversation. “If we’re going to be splattered all over Page Six it should be for something better than the wedding of a guy I see three times a year at board meetings.”
“If?” Peter draws back, looking suspicious. “We have to go public sometime. Right?”
“When,” Tony corrects. “Sorry, when.”
But as he gives Peter a reassuring kiss, he promises himself it won’t happen. He’ll find a way to keep putting it off until Peter calls the whole thing quits. Spare him the indignity of public scrutiny. He doesn’t need to be known as that kid who dated Tony Stark for a hot second. It’s the kind of thing that follows you, and Peter has too much to offer to be overshadowed by something so inconsequential.
This is going to break Tony. No reason it has to fuck up Peter’s life, too.
Normally, Tony wakes up before Peter. Makes breakfast or simply stays in bed, holding him close, memorizing the way his body feels in his arms: the steady rhythm of his breathing, the soft sweep of his skin, smooth over defined muscles. But a few days after the thing with the wedding invite Tony opens his eyes to find Peter already up and staring at him, hand stroking gently at his beard.
“You’re up early,” he mumbles, reaching for a kiss. But Peter doesn’t lean into it. In fact, he dodges Tony’s lips, which might be a first in their relationship. “Um, did I do something wrong?”
Peter shakes his head, but he looks concerned. He drops his hand to Tony’s chest, settling over the scar there. “Tony, are you happy?” he asks. Tony doesn’t think he’s ever heard him sound less sure of himself.
“Of course.” The reassurance comes easily because it’s true. Of course he’s happy, he’s pretty sure he’s never been happier. Yes, he’s also constantly bracing for impact on the other side, but that has nothing to do with anything. “Why would you even ask that?”
Peter’s jaw works a confused back and forth, lips twisting and parting and closing again as he tries to piece together a reply. “No reason. I was just…wondering.”
“Well, I am.” This time, Peter does lean into the kiss, though, unless Tony’s imagination is getting the better of him, it’s with less enthusiasm than usual.
It’s not until later that day Tony remembers Pepper asking him a similar question, near the end of their relationship: “Tony, are you really happy? Is this really what you want?”
He’d tried to lie his way to yes, but she’d seen right through him and, to his relief, told him, with her usual kind directness, “I’m not happy, either.”
As soon as the thought is in his brain it latches on and won’t let go: Maybe Peter had been looking for the answer to be no. Maybe he’d wanted Tony to give him an out. It’s been two months, that’s right on target.
When Peter comes over that night, Tony almost finds the courage to ask, Kid, are you happy? But he doesn’t. Now that the thought is there he can’t let go of the possibility that the answer is no. The more he mulls it over, replaying their recent interactions on repeat, the more likely it seems. And call him selfish, because he is, but he wants this to last just a little bit longer.
So instead of asking he drops to his knees, takes Peter into his mouth, gets lost in the taste of him, determined to make every moment he has left count. That, at least, Peter still seems to enjoy.
“So, spring break’s next week,” Peter tells him over dinner later, with a kind of forced-casualness that makes Tony’s stomach drop.
“Yeah?” he replies, as if this is news to him. As if he hadn’t debated booking a trip to Europe, pulling up flights and planning out routes before closing it all in disgust because that’s the opposite of keeping things casual and a surefire way to get the public to notice. He had, however, been hoping the break might mean Peter would spend the days in the lab with him. He’s put aside a few R&D projects he thought he’d be interested in, and may have been toying with a more advanced version of the dildo they could, uh, continue to experiment with. “Got any plans?”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” Peter’s face does that thing again, the jaw-working, lips contorting thing. “I’d been thinking we’d get to hang out and I was really, really looking forward to that, but now my friend Ned wants to go down to Mexico to do a classic spring break trip. Which is so not my scene, you know that, but we don’t get to see each other very much now and so I think I want to go?”
Okay, yep. Spring break in Mexico. That sure sounds like the kind of event that ends a normal college relationship. Makes sense with the “are you happy” question, too. Tony can feel his face heating, his heart beating faster. He is not going to freak out about this. He is quite literally too old to have a meltdown over his…actually, what should he call Peter? They haven’t ever labeled it, and boyfriend sounds hopelessly immature. Well, why not call him what he is: the person he’s fucking. He is far, far too old to have a meltdown over the person he’s fucking going on a spring break trip. So he won’t. He refuses.
“Definitely go,” he says with a lightness he thinks is pretty convincing. “Friendship is important. You gotta keep the good ones. I’ve known Rhodey since I was younger than you, and he’s just about the only person who can stand me.”
“Pretty sure I can think of at least one other person who can stand you.” Peter smiles, but his shoulders still look tense, like he’s bracing for a fight.
“Guess so.” Tony tries to make his smile genuine. “And just for that, how about I loan you and—Ted was it?”
“How about I loan you and Ned the jet? Fly down in style? You’ll be the coolest kids there.”
Peter’s face lights up. “Really? That would be awesome.” But then the brightness goes out. He takes a deep breath. “But, um, so—I think it’s not just going to be me and Ned? He, uh, he invited MJ too? Totally as a friend. Like, completely. I’m pretty sure she has a girlfriend now. And even if she doesn’t, I mean, obviously—it’s just that we were friends first and Ned wants to see both of us and honestly I didn’t even expect her to want to go, and—”
“Pete.” Tony reaches across the table to grab his wrist. Touching is the best trick Tony has found to break him out of his rambling spirals. It works now; he goes quiet with an apologetic half smile. “It’s fine. If anyone understands staying friends with your exes it’s me. Mine still runs my company.”
Intellectually he knows that’s correct. It’s the correct thing to say, and it’s the correct opinion to have, and also, god damn it, he is not about to be jealous of some eighteen-year-old girl.
Except he is. He totally is. Her, and if not her, all the other teens and twenty-somethings currently packing their bags for Mexico. Young and hot and drunk, hard to resist, and Peter’s going to be the most irresistible one of them all, with his shy smile and toned body and ridiculous hair and—
Fuck. He’s doing it, he’s freaking out.
“Are you sure you’re okay with this?” Peter slips out of Tony’s grip and reverses their position, fingers wrapping around Tony’s wrist. “I mean, she was going to share our Airbnb but I could find a different one…”
Tony holds in a laugh he knows would come out nervous and revealing. “No, no, don’t change your plans on my account.” He can feel the walls closing in, the end rushing toward him, and in a wild, thrashing attempt to head the panic off at the pass, he dives into the deep end. Maybe it’ll somehow be better if he’s the one who rips the Band-Aid away. “You know, we never really set boundaries on this thing we’re doing.”
“Um. I guess not?”
“And spring break, I know what that’s about. It’s hard to imagine, but I was once young and cool.”
Peter’s fingers unlatch from his wrist and drift down, stroking the back of his hand. “You’re still much, much cooler than I am. And I don’t want to do any of that. I’m really just going to be Ned’s wingman and hang out with my friends.”
“You say that now.” Tony weaves their fingers together. “But you might feel differently once you’re there. And if you do—you don’t have to restrain yourself because of me.”
“What?” Peter pulls his hand back. “Are you serious?”
It’s not the delighted are you serious of someone who has just been given permission to mess around; not the are you serious Tony would’ve had at Peter’s age, if he’d ever found himself entangled in anything close enough to a relationship to require this conversation. It’s confused and hurt and maybe even angry.
Tony instantly wants to take it back, except it feels right. Well, not right, but like the walls have stopped caving in. Or no—more accurately, they’re still crumbling around him, but at least he’s the one pulling them down. It’s comforting to have some control. Steer into the storm. Okay, okay, okay, most accurately: he has no idea what he’s doing, but he can’t get himself to stop.
He shrugs. “Just if you want.”
“Okay, wow. Well, great.” Peter sounds really upset, now. “I did not realize that’s where we’re at. Uh, fantastic. That’s really—okay.” He picks up his fork and stabs at the chicken on his plate. “Glad we cleared that up.”
“I’m just—you don’t owe me anything you don’t want to give, Pete. That’s all I’m trying to say.”
“Got it.” Peter’s voice is tight. “Sounds good.”
Tony flails desperately, trying to get the conversation back onto a more comfortable track. “Do you…do you still want the jet?”
Peter gives a small, disbelieving laugh, knife working with terrifying force, tearing the poor chicken apart. “Yeah, sure, why not? Thanks, Tony. That is really nice.”
It doesn’t sound like he actually thinks it’s nice at all, and Tony can’t help but feel like he royally screwed this up. But he can catch his breath again, and that has to count for something.
That night, Peter doesn’t come back after patrol. He sends Tony a text: I’m really tired, and I have midterms before break. Should probably stay in the dorm.
Yeah, seems right. Tony digs out a bottle of vodka and drinks until he passes out.
The next time Peter comes over—two days later, with an apology about a group project that got out of hand and yes, Tony had spent the entire time freaking out and no, he does not mention that even a little—things seem normal again. He’s all smiles and kisses, full of chatter about a recent campus scandal and suggestions for a new Thai place to order from.
In fact, he acts so normal it’s not until the next day that Tony realizes he didn’t say “I love you” once.
Peter leaves for spring break on Saturday. Sends photos of himself on the jet, giving thumbs up. Adds a video of his friends. Ned, a round, smiling boy, rambles enthusiastically in a way that makes it obvious why he and Peter are best friends, gushing out in a single breath, “Tony Stark I can’t believe I’m sending you a video this is the coolest thing that has ever happened to me this is even cooler than Peter being Spider-Man”—Peter looks offended in the background—“thank you.”
MJ, who Tony begrudgingly admits to himself is pretty, in a try-hard, punk-girl way, stares sardonically into the camera and asks, “How many people had to die to afford this jet?” It’s not until Peter pokes her that she adds, “Thanks for sharing your blood-money plane. It’s pretty cool.”
Under other circumstances, Tony thinks he would like her. Under present circumstances, he can’t stop playing the video, dissecting the easy way Peter touches her, the laughing look they share at her comment. He kind of hates her.
And then hates himself because, again, he’s jealous of an eighteen-year-old. Which is…not good. It’s not good. He knew this thing was a bad idea from the start, and now here’s the evidence.
He has a feeling this is going to be a very drunk week.
By the afternoon Tony is well into a bottle of rum he bought fresh for the occasion—he’s not really a rum guy, but mixing it with coke seems appropriately juvenile given the whole…everything…about this situation—and Peter is well into getting drunk on the beach. Which Tony knows because he won’t stop sending him photos and videos. Aggressively.
He has the dubious pleasure of watching Peter’s entire journey unfold. Getting to the Airbnb. Exploring the town. Buying a piña colada bigger than his face. Sitting out by the ocean, drinking the ridiculous piña colada. Swimming. Emerging from the ocean wet and gleaming and so unbearably attractive Tony can literally see a guy checking him out in the background of a selfie.
Which is fine. So totally fine.
Having fun? Tony finally writes, after receiving a video of Peter singing, very drunkenly, to the music spilling out of an open-air club. The street around him is packed with gyrating bodies, and the whole thing honestly looks miserable, which definitely means Tony’s aged out of being any fun at all.
Yeah. It’s super great :D
Amazing. Super. Fantastic. Just what he wanted to hear.
He resorts to hitting things in his lab. When he turns his power tools up loud enough, he can almost drown out his thoughts.
“Call from Peter Parker,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. cheerily informs him at way-too-late-to-be-getting-a-call-o’clock. He almost tells her to send it to voicemail, but who is he kidding? Of course he takes it.
“Hey, kid. Please tell me you haven’t ended up in a Mexican jail or something.”
Peter giggles on the other end. The sound fills the lab, making Tony miss him to a ridiculous degree. “No, no, safe at home. Well not home, but you know. This stranger’s home we’re staying in. Which is pretty nice, actually. I was kind of worried but it’s actually really big and—wait. I’m getting off topic. Did I wake you up?”
“Nope.” Tony blasts the drill he’d been using. “Hard at work.”
“But it’s…” Peter trails off into indistinct muttering that might have to do with time zones. “It’s 4 a.m. in New York! Why’re you working?”
“Very bad coping mechanisms.” Whoops, that’s a bit too honest. “Why are you calling? Aren’t you busy having a super great time?” Fuck. He had not meant to be that sarcastic. His brain-to-mouth filter must be taking a break. “How’s MJ?” Fuck.
“Wow.” There’s a long pause. “You know, I don’t know why I called. I—forget it. Sorry to interrupt.”
“No, wait, Pete, I didn’t—”
“Peter Parker has disconnected.” F.R.I.D.A.Y.’s tone is blatantly disapproving. When did he let her develop that much personality?
“You know,” Tony tells her, “I feel like I was both too drunk and too tired to take that phone call. You should’ve stopped me.”
“Would you like me to block future calls from Mr. Parker?”
“Actually, that’s not a bad idea.” Since apparently he can’t keep his stupid mouth shut. “Yeah, do that if my BAC is over—what do you think, .12?” He pauses, remembering about the Mexican jail. “Unless it’s an actual emergency.”
Tony powers the drill back up. There. He’s making great decisions.
Peter sends him scattered photos throughout the next day. He looks chipper and glowing in all of them, big smiles, lots of thumbs up and arms thrown around his friends.
Tony decides his safest bet is just not to respond. As the evening wears on, the stream of images trickle off into nothing.
That night, he falls asleep at the desk in his lab. Peter doesn’t call.
The next day, Peter doesn’t bother sending any photos at all. Tony doesn’t leave the lab. He doesn’t eat.
He does, however, keep plugging away at the bottles he has stored in the lab fridge. Booze and robotics, best kind of spring break there is.
He’s still awake—though kind of hazy about it, poking at schematics, tools abandoned because Dum-E had started running into him in alarm after he almost dropped a blade on his foot—when the call comes.
Not from Peter. From Michelle Jones.
“Who is—oh.” Michelle Jones. MJ. Tony’s curiosity gets the better of his sense of self preservation. “Put her through.”
A drawling voice fills the room, boldly assertive over the background clatter of what sounds like a busy bar. “You’re an idiot.”
More distantly, another voice, male, shouts through the din, “MJ, you can’t tell Tony Stark he’s an idiot!”
That’s not Peter, so it has to be the other one. Tom? Neil? Ned. That’s it.
“Why not? He’s being an idiot.”
“Can we table the am-I-an-idiot conversation in favor of the one where you explain how you got this number and why you’re calling it?” Tony cuts in before they can get into what he is positive will be an annoying argument.
“I stole it from Peter’s phone.” That’s MJ. She doesn’t sound apologetic about it.
“May I ask why?” Tony says it slowly, trying to cover his drunk confusion with stern disapproval. “Feels like I’m at least owed an explanation.”
“I thought it might be useful one day. If I ever need to yell at you for war profiteering.”
Fantastic. “Okay, I need to change my number. Noted. Why are you calling, exactly? I’m pretty sure I didn’t get back into weapons manufacturing in the last twenty-four hours.”
“Because you’re being an idiot.”
“MJ!” There’s a shuffle, an exclamation of “ouch!” and then Ned’s voice, louder, saying, “Sorry Mr. Tony Stark, ignore her. You’re obviously not an idiot, you’re a genius. But you should really call Peter before he does something stupid.”
Tony is hit with a sudden urge to vomit, which he thinks only has about fifty percent to do with the amount of alcohol he’s consumed in the last two days. “What’s going on? Is he okay?”
“Oh, he’s great.” That’s MJ again, a little faint—Ned must have taken the phone—but sarcasm still loud and clear. “Peter is definitely the kind of person who genuinely enjoys going home with random guys. He’s totally not just doing it because he’s mad at you. Everything’s fine here.”
“He what.” Tony nearly falls off his stool, but Dum-E is there to steady him. He pats him, appreciative. At least he has one person—er, bot—who will never leave him. “Wait. Not my business.”
“See? Idiot. Ned, give me the phone.” More shuffling.
Tony brings a hand to his forehead, rubbing his temples, which does nothing to relieve his mounting headache. He needs to reconsider every life choice that has led him to this moment.
“No! Stop hitting me, I’ll tell him!” A sound like maybe the phone was dropped, and then Ned again: “What MJ is trying to say is Peter has been calling you all night and I don’t know why you aren’t answering but he’s definitely about to leave with this gross guy. I mean, yes, he’s hot, I guess, if you’re into guys, but he’s really sleazy and he’s so not Peter’s type and we really think he just wants to hear from you. So you should call him before he does something he regrets.”
“Let me get this straight. You, two teenagers I have never met, called me, Tony Stark, on my private line, to give me relationship advice?” Okay, he is in love with a teenager; this is pretty much what he gets for that tremendous life choice. But his teenager is a superhero, which is different. And—fuck, his teenager is also about to sleep with someone else. Which is exactly what he told him to do. Because—because—
Because if that’s what he wants to do, he should. Because this was always going to end. Right. “Peter’s a grownup who can make his own choices. And for your information, he has not called me once today.”
“Actually,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. cuts in, “Peter has called you ten times in the last four hours.”
“Oh my god is that F.R.I.D.A.Y.?” Ned gasps. Tony ignores him.
“What?” he growls. “F.R.I., why didn’t you tell—oh.” His heart drops as he remembers his instructions about blocking Peter’s calls if he’s drunk. He’s been drunk for a while. “Oh, fuck.”
He is an idiot.
He’s a total idiot.
And he doesn’t want any of this at all.
“Okay, Bobbsey Twins, we’re done here.” He waves at the ceiling and then immediately instructs F.R.I.D.A.Y. to call Peter.
One problem: he doesn’t pick up.
Tony is suited up and ready to go in minutes. He has F.R.I.D.A.Y. text the Wonder Twins with instructions to keep Peter around for as long as they can. Which. Jesus. He’s asking two college freshmen he’s never met for help. Life choices, Tony. Doesn’t matter. This is what his life has come to, and he’s just going to accept that for the moment.
He blasts off, latching onto the location of Peter’s phone. He can be in Cancún in under an hour.
He lands in the middle of the street to wild cheers and applause, which he ignores in favor of pushing past the crowd into the bar. Over the course of his flight he received several increasingly frantic messages from Ned and MJ, who have apparently only just managed to keep Peter from leaving.
The room is large and crowded with very young, very drunk people who are very, very loud. But one of the advantages of being an internationally known superhero is people get out of your way when you tell them to, and it doesn’t take long for Tony to make it to the bar. He instantly spots Peter, pressed close against a tall, wide, blond man who looks straight out of central casting for the part of world’s douchiest frat bro. Peter is smiling up at him, straw in his mouth as he sips at one of those ridiculous giant drinks. Frat Douche has his hand on the small of Peter’s back; Peter, leaning against the bar, is rubbing one foot along Frat Douche’s calf. That’s a move Tony taught him.
He stops, suddenly feeling precariously close to genuinely being sick right then and there. He closes his eyes, inhaling deeply. The smell of stale beer and sweaty college students doesn’t help. Fuck, fuck. He did not want to see that. He doesn’t want it to be happening. He shouldn’t have told Peter to do what he wanted—
No, wrong. Peter should do what he wants. Tony shouldn’t be here. That’s the actual problem. He shouldn’t have done any of this. If he hadn’t given in when he knew, knew it could only end one way, he wouldn’t be at a bar on spring break in Mexico wanting to die because the teenager he’s been fucking is flirting with someone else and—
“Is that Iron Man?!” someone shouts.
Tony opens his eyes. Peter is looking straight at him. Too late to back out now. Before Tony can regain his sense of balance or purpose or anything other than sheer panic, Peter is bearing down on him.
“What the hell?” He grabs Tony’s arm, grip rough and strong, and tugs him toward the door. Tony follows without protest—he’s happy to do this without an audience. People are already pulling out their cell phones. Which. Damn. Publicity. He’d been too panicked and nauseous and drunk to think about the fact that Tony Stark showing up in the middle of spring break is the kind of thing that gets noticed.
“F.R.I., block all messages out of this bar,” he instructs via earpiece as they exit. It’s probably too late, but it’s worth trying.
Peter shoots him a furious look at that, dragging him around the corner into an unpaved strip of dirt between the bar and the next building over. Miraculously, the alley is empty, probably because it’s dark and smells like vomit.
Peter smacks his hand to the middle of Tony’s chest, pushing him against the wall; brick snags against his thin tank, rubbing painfully where the fabric doesn’t cover his shoulders. “Let me get this straight: you show up out of nowhere in the middle of my vacation, but you still don’t want people to know about us? What the fuck, Tony?”
Tony’s hands are shaking, his entire body trembling. What the fuck is he doing here, exactly? He’d been drunk enough when he made the decision that he’s not sure he can justify it now that the adrenaline of flying has knocked some sobriety into him. But he can’t just stand here without talking. “Your friends called me—”
“They what?” Peter buries his face in his free hand with a groan that sounds more embarrassed than angry, which is a step up from the tone he was using a few seconds ago. “Oh my god, I don’t know who to kill first.”
“That should probably be me,” Tony offers. “They were just trying to help.”
“Okay, sounds good.” Peter raises his head, eyes no longer burning with the fury they’d had when he first spotted Tony, but expression not exactly on the friendly side of things, either. “Seriously, what is happening? You ignored my calls all day, now you’re here.” He waves his hand in a confused circle. “Explain.”
Tony opens his mouth, tries to think of an explanation that makes any sense, closes it again. Rinse and repeat. Third time’s the charm, except what comes out is less an explanation than a confession he didn’t consciously choose to make: “I don’t want you to sleep with that guy.”
Peter snorts, shaking his head. “I thought I could ‘do what I want.’”
Tony’s fingers curl and uncurl involuntarily, stress riding through him like a hot wire. “You can. You should. I—fuck. I’m selfish, Peter. I’m selfish, and I’m hopelessly in love, and I just—” He grabs Peter’s face, pulling him into a rough, brief kiss. Peter returns it with equal force, and something in Tony collapses in relief. “I’m handling this terribly,” he explains, pulling back. “I get that. I don’t know how to let you go. I thought I was going to be able to, but I just don’t know how.”
Peter swallows, eyes raking across Tony’s face, as if trying to take in everything about him. “Why do you have to let me go? Did I do something wrong? I mean I know something’s been up but I don’t know what I did—If you told me I could try to fix it—”
“No, no, no, no.” Tony shakes his head furiously, so furiously it must look silly. Still a little drunk, maybe. “No. You’re perfect.” He stops to smooth Peter’s hair, which is plastered across his forehead, sweat making it stick at odd angles. How to explain this? “You’re perfect, but you’re eighteen.”
“Wait, is that—”
Tony places a finger on Peter’s lips, cutting the protest short. “I know this thing has an expiration date, Pete, and I let that get to me. I told myself I wouldn’t, that I’d just enjoy it while it lasted. But let’s be honest, I wouldn’t be me if I weren’t fucking up every good thing that happens to me, so here we are. Sorry I couldn’t be a mature adult about it. But, hey, this way you get the full Tony Stark Experience. It’s going to be quite a story to tell on future dates. You can put it in your Tinder profile. Is that how Tinder works? I kind of missed that whole phase.”
He’s rambling, he realizes that. Also part of the Tony Stark Experience. Peter is looking at him with a bemused expression, eyebrows drawing closer and closer together as his little speech goes on. To his surprise, when he finally stops talking, Peter pulls him into a tight hug.
“Um,” Tony says, because of all the reactions he expected, that was not one of them. “What?”
“You aren’t sick of me,” Peter says into Tony’s neck, lips pressing into the dip in his collarbone. “You weren’t trying to get rid of me.”
Tony slowly brings his arms around Peter’s back to return the embrace. “What? No, of course not. I could never get sick of you.”
Peter looks up, eyes wet with unshed tears. “Well, me either. I don’t know where you got the idea this has an expiration date, because I have no expiration date in mind. How about never? Never sounds good to me.”
“Pete.” Tony sighs. “I know you think that’s true now, but give it a few months—”
“Tony, no.” Peter squeezes tighter. “Don’t be patronizing.”
“Kid, I’m just trying to be realistic here. You’re in college.”
“So, I know what this is.” Tony sighs again, deeper, adjusting until his arms are around Peter’s shoulders, holding him as close as possible. “I’m the stupid mistake you make when you’re eighteen. The one you look back at later and think, ‘man, that was fun, sure did learn a lot, glad it only lasted six months.’”
“Yeah? And what does that make me?” Peter sounds annoyed, but he keeps clinging. “A midlife crisis?”
“No, kid, you’re it.” Tony breathes in the smell of him. Strong overtones of rum and maraschino cherry, but under that the scent of waking up in the morning next to the person he loves. His heart clenches at the realization that this could be the end of all that. “You’re the one I spend the rest of my life being glad I got to have for even a second. But don’t worry about that, it’s not your problem. I knew what I was getting into.”
Suddenly, there’s a kiss on his neck, warm and soft. Then another, then lips at his ear, Peter’s voice whispering, “You’re it for me, too. You’ve been it for me for years.” He draws back, fixing Tony with a stern gaze. “It’s not my fault I was only eighteen when I worked up the courage to ask you to give it a shot. If I’d known you were going to hold it against me I would’ve waited.”
“Peter—” But Tony stops. He doesn’t know where to go from there, so he tries his favorite trick: defensive joking. “Sounds like it is your fault, actually. Should’ve been less gutsy. Your bravery is a real character flaw.”
Peter doesn’t quite manage to hide his smile. “Very funny. But seriously, Tony, I’m not naive. I’m not stupid. Telling me to sleep with other people was really shitty. It hurt. Ignoring my calls was also really shitty.”
“In my defense, ignoring your calls was more a miscommunication with F.R.I.D.A.Y—”
“Stop. I don’t care.” He stands a little straighter in Tony’s arms, as if he’s made a decision. “I don’t care about any of that. That’s not my point. My point is I want to be with you, but I can’t do that if you don’t believe me when I say it. So you have to pick. Either you break up with me, or you be with me. No more hiding it, none of this ‘I can do what I want’ bullshit. I want you. I am picking you. Do you pick me back?”
With those eyes looking at him, determination blazing across that face, how could he possibly say no?
“Of course I want to be with you, kid.”
Peter breaks into a smile so fiercely happy, Tony almost believes he means it when he says this is going to last.
Twenty minutes later—after kissing turns into rutting and then gets precariously close to a front page story about Tony Stark’s public indecency before they come to their senses—they stumble back inside to tell Peter’s friends that while he loves them, he’s staying in the four-star hotel Tony has managed to book.
“You couldn’t have gotten us a room, too?” MJ asks, expression pointedly blank as she observes them over her own giant drink.
“I could,” Tony offers, slinging his arm over Peter’s shoulder. He’s feeling magnanimous, and they did earn it. “They said everything is booked up, but I have a knack for getting things unbooked.”
“No,” Peter cuts in. “You guys do not get rewarded for calling my boyfriend without my permission. That’s weird.”
“But we helped!” Ned protests, pointing at them. “This definitely looks like we helped.”
Peter shrugs, mischievous. “Still weird. I’ll see you guys tomorrow!”
“Sorry, guys, he’s calling the shots tonight.” Tony gives them a salute. “Thanks for the help. Now lose my number.”
Ned salutes back, smiling, apparently already over the disappointment of not getting a room upgrade. “It’s been an honor working with you, Tony Stark.”
“I’m keeping the number,” MJ tells him, but if he’s not completely mistaken the edges of her lips almost form a smile as she adds, “Just in case.”
Tony lets Peter drag him away without protesting that further. Who knows, maybe he’ll need Jay and Talkative Bob to tell him he’s an idiot again one day.
“So, boyfriend, huh?” he asks as they emerge onto the street.
“Hell yeah,” Peter confirms, flashing him that dazzling smile again. “You’re stuck with me now.”
“By the way, I want to come with you to that wedding,” Peter tells him later that night, curled naked in his arms. “To make up for being so shitty this week.”
“Fine,” Tony says with an exaggerated sigh. As if that sounds like anything other than heaven. “I’m pretty sure that after tonight the cat’s going to be out of the bag anyway. I hope you know what you’re in for. The press attention on this kind of thing is not fun.”
“Doesn’t matter.” Peter kisses him, deeply. “If I get to be with you, it doesn’t matter.”
The press attention is bad. May’s reaction is worse. Rhodey isn’t exactly a big fan either.
But it’s worth it. It’s all worth it. Because every day, he comes home to Peter. Every day, Peter tells him he loves him, and he gets to say it back, meaning it more deeply than he had known was possible.
When his CFO’s stupid wedding rolls around, Peter is there next to him. As they’re complaining about the mediocre food in the cab home, Peter says, easy, without hesitation, “When we get married the food has to be great. That’s my one demand.”
Tony nearly chokes, struggling to keep his voice steady and light as he replies, “Oh, we’re going to get married, huh?”
“Well, yeah, unless you’re really against it? I know, it’s a flawed institution, but May will pretty much kill me if she doesn’t get to walk me down the aisle.”
“I have nothing against the institution,” Tony assures him. “And I will make sure we book the best chef in town.”
Peter laughs and pulls him into a kiss, comfortable and familiar, and Tony finally, finally, understands this thing really doesn’t have an expiration date.
By the time the kiss is over, he’s already planning the proposal.