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Just Once

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"Kid."

Peter glared down at the damaged web shooter in front of him, narrowing his eyes as he prodded once more at the release, concluding that there was a chance this one wouldn't be salvageable. 

"Kid." 

He flipped it over, examining the exterior damage again to check that he hadn't missed anything. His wrist twinged with the movement, but the slight pain was ignored - it was hardly the worst injury Peter had suffered during his time as Spider-Man. Honestly, the damage to one of his web-shooters was much more of an annoyance than a bruise that would be gone by morning, anyway.

"Kid!"

"Huh?" Peter exclaimed, head jerking up and to the left to look at the man leaning against a perpendicular desk. His arms were crossed over his chest, and he had one dark eyebrow hiked up in what appeared to be a mix of amusement and exasperation.

"Oh! Hi, Mr. Stark!" Peter glanced back to his web-shooter, setting it back down on the metal workbench in front of him. He then returned his attention to the man who had apparently been trying to get his attention for who knows how long. "Sorry. I was a bit focused, and I didn't notice you."

Tony gave him a look. "Aren't you supposed to have heightened senses? And you didn't hear me? You'd think someone like you would be on constant alert."

Peter frowned. "Normally, I am. I'm just… tired, I guess," he said with a slight shrug, looking down. 

Peter wasn't about to explain to the man that another factor contributing to his zoning out was that Peter, on levels he didn't tend to think about, recognized himself to be in what he considered to be a fairly safe environment. If anything were going wrong, he'd know due to his Spidey senses, and, even without that, Karen or F.R.I.D.A.Y. would be sure to alert him.

"How long have you been in here?" asked Tony. 

"Um…" Peter's eyes flicked over to a digital clock a couple of surfaces away from him.  1:34. When had it gotten so late? Or so early? "...about two hours."

Tony made an exhaled "humph" sort of noise before saying, "Uh-huh. F.R.I.D.A.Y., how many days this week has the kid gone out on patrol?"

A crisp Irish lilt answered, "Mr. Parker has utilized his suit on all five evenings of the week so far, Boss."

Tony nodded slightly. "Thought so." He looked down at the web-shooter lying innocently on the metal work table. "What are you doing here, Pete? You have school tomorrow." He paused and frowned before correcting himself. "Today. Whatever. You have school. If part of the suit gets damaged, you let the A.I. let-"

"Karen," Peter supplied, and Tony would normally be somewhat exasperated about being interrupted - even though he had no qualms interrupting people, himself - but he was used to the kid's apparent need to verbally vomit at frequent intervals by this point. Tony wasn't sure when, and he wouldn't admit it if asked, but, at some point, the trait had gone from being mildly annoying to endearing.

"Right," Tony continued breezily, "you let Karen let me know, and I fix or replace the piece." Tony gave Peter a strange look. "Why didn't your… Karen inform me that one of your shooters was damaged?"

Peter's brown eyes shifted away from Tony's, not meeting his gaze. "I, um… I may have told her not to bother you with it."

Tony frowned in petulance. "You can't just do that. Can he do that?" Tony asked.

"Mr. Parker has been given leeway, under your own instruction, to determine if damage to the suit is minimal enough so as to not require alerting you," responded F.R.I.D.A.Y.

Tony appeared to be slightly taken aback. "When did I do that?"

"Approximately six months, two weeks, and three days ago, Boss."

Tony scowled slightly to himself. "Well, amend that. Anything that interferes with the primary functionality of the suit shouldn't be considered minor."

"Will do, Boss," the A.I responded promptly, and Tony nodded to himself before turning his attention back to the kid, who had been regarding the interaction between the man and his artificial intelligence without comment. 

That was weird. Tony looked the kid over, noting the bruise on his wrist, the scratch on his left cheek, and, most importantly, the darkened skin under his eyes and the apparent heaviness of his eyelids. 

"Go home, kid. You obviously need sleep. I'm surprised your aunt hasn't been interrogating me about why you aren't back yet."

Once again, Peter avoided eye contact, and he didn't respond, even though he knew the reason his aunt hadn't been worried. People didn't tend to worry over someone when they were under the impression that said someone was asleep a couple rooms over. And Peter felt guilty. He did. May had set an eleven o'clock curfew, and Peter had returned from patrolling by then. He'd even said goodnight to May, who had been curled up on the couch, eyes half-mast and fixed lazily on the TV, where some show Peter didn't recognize was playing. She'd looked up at him, slightly more awake, her face illuminated by the flickering light of the TV, and she had responded with a soft smile and a, "'Night, Peter. Sleep well." He'd made his way back to his room, where he had left the window open, pushed a pillow under the blankets on his bed in case May decided for some reason to check in on him while he was "asleep," and carefully crawled out of the room. Normally, he stuck to the curfew, but how was he supposed to patrol the next night if one of his web shooters was busted? 

It had taken him quite a bit longer to make his way from the apartment to Stark Tower, where F.R.I.D.A.Y. had let him in. Having only one functional web-shooter made things more difficult, but he had still managed.

“Kid?”

Peter actually did look up, now, at the hint of concern in Mr. Stark’s voice.

Mr. Stark stared at him for a second before declaring, “Yeah, I’m gonna call Happy and have him take you home.”

“Mr. Stark, you really don’t need to-”

“Kid, I’m pretty sure you just zoned out, there. Between having one shooter down for the count and the fact that you look like you’re about to pass out all over my worktable, you’re clearly not fit to be spidering all the way back to your apartment, so I really don’t want to hear it.”

Peter stared for a couple of seconds, and Tony would have thought that it was some sort of battle of wills until the kid blinked slowly and pulled himself up from the chair, reaching out to gather his stuff.

Tony cleared his throat as Peter’s hand went for the busted web-shooter, and Peter’s hand halted, his eyes once again meeting Tony’s as the man said, “Leave it.”

“But-”

“You can drop by after school tomorrow to pick it up. Seriously. I don’t know how you are going to stay awake during your classes." Then, Tony's tone changed, becoming more exaggerated. "What a shame. Wouldn’t want to miss the announcement.” Then his brows furrowed. “Actually, I’m not sure when they’ll make it, but it’s gotta be soon, right?”

With confusion, feeling slightly more awake, Peter started to ask, “What announcement?” but Mr. Stark cut him off and shooed him out of the room with a, “See ya tomorrow, kid!”

Tony Stark was not surprised when, about 45 minutes later, Happy Hogan - who called to complain about how he “has no kids and still ends up driving one around all the time,” and that he “didn’t sign on to work for SI just to be some glorified soccer mom” - informed him that Peter Parker had fallen asleep and slept through pretty much the whole ride back to his apartment.

 


 

(the following day, at Stark Tower)

 

“Boss, there is an incoming call.”

Tony paused what he was doing for a split second before continuing. “Bit busy, here, Fri,” he said, spinning the hologram schematics 180 degrees and zooming into the shoulder section of the projected armor, removing the outer layer of the pauldron with a flick of his hand. “If it’s Pep, tell her I know and that I’ll be there by 7:00.”

“Your meeting is scheduled for 6:00, not 7:00,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. supplied.

“Yeah, 6:00. Right. Tell her I’ll be there and that she doesn’t need to keep interrupting me.”

“I will be sure to do that if Miss Potts calls,” the A.I. responded with what sounded like amusement to Tony. Sometimes she had such an attitude.

Tony hummed to himself under his breath, muttering, “Who is it, then? Rhodey?”

“The incoming call is listed as being from Bertram Hindel.”

This time Tony actually did pause his movements.

“Hindel? How is he calling? I thought his number was blocked.”

F.R.I.D.A.Y.’s voice was smooth. “Mr. Hindel was informed, as requested, that he will no longer be working as an attorney for Stark Industries. Normal dismissal procedures have been followed. I’m not sure how he got your personal number.”

“Is the call still actively ringing?” Tony asked distractedly, as he returned to his work.

“Yes.” If F.R.I.D.A.Y. had a head, Tony imagined she would have been nodding as she said that. “Would you like me to decline it and add the number to the blocked list?”

“Got it in one.”

 


(Midtown School of Science and Technology, last period)

 

“I want these unit conversions done by the beginning of class on Tuesday. You guys have the whole weekend and Monday to work on these, so I don’t want any excuses,” Mr. Cobbwell announced, looking directly at Chris Buongiorno as he said the last bit. Chris sunk down into his seat ever so slightly. 

Peter had been having difficulty paying attention in his classes that day, and Ms. Warren had already made a comment during physics about it, asking if he was alright, which had been a bit embarrassing. Thankfully, he had never really struggled with chemistry, so he doubted the homework would give him any trouble. Though, it was a bit weird, Peter thought, glancing at the clock, that Mr. Cobbwell was giving them the homework so early. They still had about 20 minutes left of class.

“And, last, but not least,” Mr. Cobbwell said, drawing Peter’s attention to the front of the classroom, “As the teacher of your last class of the day, I have the responsibility to set aside a portion of your allotted class time to inform you of an upcoming field trip-”

At this, the class broke into murmurs, including Ned, who turned to Peter and questioningly  said, “I thought the MoMA trip was months from now?”

Peter shrugged to his friend, and Mr. Cobbwell raised his voice above the din and loudly repeated, “-to inform you of an upcoming field trip, made possible by the September Foundation.”

Peter’s heart dropped, and suddenly he felt very awake. There was an inkling of dread worming its way through his mind.

Mr. Cobbwell continued, “These are the permission slips; take one and pass. If you want to go on the field trip, you have a week and a half to turn the slips in, and you’ll need a parent or guardian to sign. The last section of the slip only needs to be filled in if you have a family member who wants to accompany as a chaperone, but they have to be over the age of 25 to do so.”

Sally spoke up. “Mr. Cobbwell, you haven’t said where the trip is going to be.”

Peter heard another kid, who went by Tiny for some reason, joke to Flash Thompson, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure the September Foundation has nothing to do with the Museum of Modern Art,” but Peter didn’t think anyone beside himself, Flash, and maybe a couple of kids near him heard it.

Mr. Cobbwell looked over to where Sally was sitting. “Yes, Ms. Avril, I was getting to that. If you have to ask something, please raise your hand.” With that, he turned his attention to the class as a whole. “As I was saying, and as you’ll see on the permission slips, in four weeks, we will be taking a tour of Stark Tower.”

The class burst into chatter, and Peter wanted to drop his head onto the desk in front of him.