Peter is still unsure of Morgan. Tony introduced them hesitantly; she threw herself headlong into being a little sister. After all, she doesn’t know anything else. But the idea still doesn’t sit right with Peter, even months later. Loving her, he knows, is instinct. He’s no match for her dimpled cheeks and sharp eyes. He’s loved her from the first time she made him laugh. But loving her and being a big brother are two different things.
Taking her out for ice cream seems like a simple step. Bonding with her over sugar and independence is natural. Sitting in the corner booth so she can watch the cars pass feels right. He should know by now—nothing is ever that easy.
Peter feels himself reaching across the table before he knows why. Roughly, he yanks her underneath. He hears Morgan’s sharp whine just as the shop door opens.
He shushes her, ducking underneath the table. His expression makes her tense. When she opens her mouth again, Peter shakes his head. He tugs her into his lap, barely able to move in the tight space. Every moment that passes, he feels the tension in his muscles build.
The screaming starts.
“Out! Out—everybody out. Outside now!”
Morgan flinches violently. She curls into his chest, clutching his shirt. Her fingernails are digging into his collarbone. Peter breathes through it. With trembling hands, he smoothes the top of her hair. He doesn’t want to give away their hiding spot—something low in his stomach tells him to stay out of sight. A small stab of panic pricks his heart. He presses his palm against her cheek.
Nothing will happen to Morgan. Peter’s here.
They have guns; he can smell the metal. He knows why the patrons and employees flinch back and rush to obey in a stampede of feet. But the vice around his stomach says that’s not what makes them dangerous. He listens, trying to hear their demands. But his villains make none. Why here? Why now? What do they want? A fine tremor runs through the five year old in his lap. The vice constricts.
This is happening because of Morgan. They do not care that Peter’s here.
Glancing down, he sees the top of her head. A pair of black boots passes their table. He claps a hand over her mouth. It eclipses half of her face. She shakes so hard he can feel her teeth rattling. She wets herself; it seeps into Peter’s jeans. He curls his arm more tightly around her waist. It’s tiny. She’s tiny.
The boots pass their table again. Barely daring to breathe, he gazes down into her eyes. They’re brown.
Morgan Stark has brown eyes.
Peter knew before they met that he would die for her. In this moment, he realizes he would kill.
The boots lower a gun beneath the table. It’s pointed right between Morgan’s eyes; right over Peter’s chest. She whimpers.
The gun waves to them, “Peekaboo.”
Peter doesn’t have to think.
Shoving Morgan behind himself, he slides from underneath the table. Peter’s too quick for the man. He elbows him in the temple. Before he can blink, he’s passed out on the floor. Peter disarms his victim, and shoves him away.
Firmly, and without looking at her, he orders Morgan, “Stay under the table. Don’t come out until I come get you.”
Finally, Peter can see what he’s facing. Five more men, all with guns. Only him standing between them and Tony Stark’s daughter. Seconds are all that he has.
In an instant, they’ve begun firing. Before they pull their triggers, he drops. Dull fire still tears at his side. Ripping a booth away from the wall, he barricades himself in. Peter flips onto his back, panting. Morgan watches as he tears at his sleeves to reveal the bracelets on his wrists. He crosses his wrists, activating his suit. Their eyes meet as the mask closes around his face.
Now bullet-proof, but still bleeding, Peter launches himself from the ground to perch on the back of his barricade. Bullets sing against his armor.
“Karen.” He barks.
“Set the webs to Stun.”
With his webs now effectively made into tasers, he binds the two nearest men. They collapse. He shoots a web at the ceiling, using it as leverage to swing himself forward. His feet connect solidly with a third mad; Peter feels his ribs crack beneath his toes. Landing in a crouch, he aims his next web at the remaining men’s legs. He yanks them forward onto their backs over broken glass and into his waiting fists.
As quickly as it began, it ends. He’s dizzy, trembling. The shift from peace to chaos leaves him swaying.
Sighing, he says, “Karen?”
“Call the—call the cops.”
He slumps, “That’s, that’s good. Call Mr. Stark?”
“FRIDAY was informed as you put on your suit. He and Mrs. Potts are set to arrive in ten minutes.”
Relief courses through his veins, “Thanks, Karen.”
He trips over prone bodies; he wants to hurry, but his feet drag regardless. As he clambers clumsily around the booth he used as a shield, Karen says something about a bullet wound. The words drip out of his ears before they reach his brain. He stumbles when he gets to their hiding place. Dropping to his knees, Peter peeks under the table.
Morgan’s wide, tearful eyes stare back. He realizes now that she’s still clinging to her ice cream cone.
“Peter?” Her voice shakes.
Fluidly, his mask retracts, “Yeah, Kid. It’s just me.”
When he reaches out, palm up to take her hand, she flinches back. He swallows. What must she think of someone so capable of violence?
“It’s Peter,” He whispers, throat tight, “It’s just me.”
Backing farther into the corner, she whimpers, “I’m not supposed to come out.”
Peter nods, too tired to correct her, “Good thinking. I’m gonna—I’m gonna come in.”
He feels more like a puppet with cut strings than a person. Slowly, he folds himself under the table. He settles beside Morgan but doesn’t touch her. He groans without understanding why. Sirens sound far down the road. He groans again.
“Karen, get rid of the suit.”
It melts off, nothing more than bracelets again. The rush of cool air stings his side. Closing his eyes, he lets his head flop against the wall. As he’s drifting, fighting to stay awake, he feels painful pressure on his thigh. He cracks his eyelids. Morgan’s knee rests firmly against his bone. She pauses climbing into his lap. He smiles sleepily at her. Gently, he scoops her into his legs. The weight of her shoulder pressing into his chest is painful. He hugs her closer.
“Don’t worry, Mo. Your dad is gonna be here soon.”
Tony will be here soon. The thought lulls him to sleep.
He wakes to hands pulling Morgan from his lap. Before he can open his eyes, Peter’s lashing out. He locks one arm around her torso and uses the other to trap the offending hands.
He struggles to focus, dizzy with adrenaline and fatigue. But he can trust that voice.
“Yeah, Kid. It’s just me.”
He sighs, relaxing his arms. She’s immediately lifted out of his grasp. Morgan sobs into her father’s arms. Tony rocks her back and forth. Sudden tears stab at the back of Peter’s eyes. Burning pain sears his side, but he can’t remember why. When Tony asks him a question, he doesn’t understand.
Shaking his head, Peter says, “I’m sorry.”
“Pete, I asked if you’re hurt. There’s blood on both of you. Whose blood is that?”
He did everything he could. He tried so hard. He never meant to let her get hurt. He’s so sorry. He’s sorry. He’s sorry.
“Peter,” His voice is tight, “Stop apologizing. Which one of you—oh, God.”
Tony tenderly tugs up the hem of his shirt. Automatically, Peter catches his wrist. His grip is weak.
“Kid.” Tony breathes, eyes wide.
“I’m sorry.” Peter’s voice breaks. He can hardly see through tears. The fatigue tugs at him again.
With Morgan still in his arms, still weeping into his neck, Tony leans forward. He grips the back of Peter’s neck.
“Hey, hey, Pete. Hey, stick with me, Baby. Stay awake for me.”
“Tony.” Pepper’s voice cuts through his, “Let me take Morgan to the paramedics.”
When his hand leaves his neck, Peter opens his eyes. Tony passes their daughter to Pepper; at the last second it looks like he won’t be able to let go. She hurries away. Weary, Peter lets his eyes close again.
“Not a chance, Buddy.” Tony grips his hand hard enough to hurt. Peter tries to squeeze back, “I need you to stay with me. The paramedics are gonna be here soon. Did you hear me? Peter Benjamin Stark, do not close your eyes—stay awake with me.”
He’s wants to. He’s trying. He fails.
The next time he wakes up, he’s gummy. Or fuzzy. Probably both. It takes a few moments for him to float back to himself. He blinks at the ceiling. The hand in his gives a soft squeeze. Lightly, he curls his fingers. He twists his stiff neck.
May smiles back, eyes tight, “Hey there, Mr. Parker.”
At his cotton-light voice, she smiles again. He breathes for a moment, trying to remember where he is. When he can’t, he turns back to May.
“What’s going on?”
“You got shot, Honey.” The blunt sentence doesn’t register. Her forehead crumples, “You were with Morgan, remember?”
He gasps. Muted, blunt pain digs into his side at the movement. He tries to beat back the fog around his eyes, “Where is she? Is she okay?”
“She’s fine, Peter, she’s fine.” May rubs a soothing thumb over his knuckles, “She’s with Tony and Pepper.”
Tony. Tony wanted him to do something, didn’t he? And he called Peter something, didn’t he? He needed something, didn’t he? He doesn’t know the answer to any of the questions that press at his skull. Overwhelmed, he feels his eyes overflow.
May hums in that special way that means she’s about to cry, “It’s okay, Baby. You did such a good job.”
“It’s still hazy, Honey. Morgan couldn’t tell them much, and you’ve been sedated. But witnesses said men came in with guns—does that sound right?”
He nods, “They wanted Morgan.” When she cocks her head to prompt him, he gives her a teary smile, “Peter tingle.”
She laughs, thumbing away the moisture on his cheeks, “That’s my boy.”
He must’ve fallen asleep again, because he opens his eyes. He’s not as foggy this time. He turns his head, expecting May. Tony’s at his side instead. The lines in his face smooth when their eyes meet.
“Hi, Mr. Stark.”
“Good morning, Sunshine.”
Tony’s eye twitches, “She’ll be fine.”
“I’m sorry.” The air in chest escapes on a sigh.
“You’re sorry that she’s going to be alright?”
Still half-asleep, Peter shakes his head, “No.”
“Good. Because that was the only thing that happened that you’re responsible for.”
He swallows, incapable of agreeing, “What did they want?”
“We went with the angle you gave us and Goon Number Three admitted they were waiting for Morgan to be out without a security detail. They didn’t know she had one.”
The praise escapes him.
“Also,” Tony continues, waiting for Peter to meet his eyes, “You call it your ‘Peter Tingle’? Is that a joke? Is that some sort of joke that I’m just not getting?”
He manages a weak smile, “You’ll have to ask May.”
“Believe me, I will.”
As the silence passes comfortable and transitions to awkward, Tony stands. He perches carefully on the edge of Peter’s bed. Peter struggles to avoid his eyes.
It wasn’t what he was expecting, but he can’t pretend to misunderstand. Still, it feels undeserved, “For what? If I hadn’t—if it weren’t for me we wouldn’t have even…” He chokes. The image of Morgan’s brimming eyes bursts into his mind.
“What? Did you think I was going to keep her in that cabin for the rest of her life?”
“It was my idea to take her out, if I had just—“
“She’s a Stark, Peter. If anyone should know what that means, it’s me. I should’ve known someone would try to ruin it.”
A Stark. The label brings back a hazy, pain-filled moment. He hears Tony’s frightened, tense voice: Peter Benjamin Stark.
When he sees the change in Peter’s expression he asks, “What?”
Peter thinks about deflecting, and under normal circumstances he would. But he’s tired and he’s scared; he wants to understand. From the calculating look in Tony’s eyes, he knows that Peter’s about to say.
“You...you called me. You called me a Stark.”
Tony blinks. Peter stares back. His expression shifts rapidly, as Tony’s expressions often do. It’s as if he can’t decide how he wants Peter to think he feels.
“Yeah,” Finally he agrees, “I didn’t think you remembered that.”
“Yep.” He nods awkwardly. “Guess so.”
With more patience than he feels, Peter waits for him to sort out his thoughts. He feels restless and on the brink of crying.
“Look, Pete, I—“ He sighs, “I’m—I’m sorry.”
Before he tells himself to, he’s saying, “You don’t need to be.”
The corner of Tony’s mouth twitches. He waits a beat before saying, “You’ve always been my kid, you know that right?”
Peter nods, looking away to conceal his tears.
“I guess I panicked. My kids were hurt—I didn’t think about the difference.”
The difference being that Morgan will always have a legitimate claim, and Peter never will. He bites the inside of his cheek.
Tony grabs his hand suddenly, “Because there isn’t one. Not to me.”
Inhaling, Peter closes his eyes. He just lets himself hold Tony’s hand.
Tony says, “So someone is very anxious to see you. She doesn’t get how you were able to sleep for a whole day, or why you went right back to sleep before she could see you.”
Peter smiles, “Is she here?”
“Can’t get her to leave.”
If it’s possible, his smile widens.
“You up for a visitor?”
When Peter nods, Tony stands, “I’ll show Her Majesty in then.” He turns to leave, then double takes. Before Peter realizes what’s happening, Tony leans over his bed. He cradles Peter’s cheek with his metal hand, and presses his lips to his forehead. “Love you, Squirt. Thank you for protecting her. Don’t scare me like that again.”
Ignoring how badly his side hurts, Peter reaches up to trap him in a hug, “I don’t plan to.”
It takes longer than it should for Peter to let go. Tony helps him lie back down, easing gently down with a hand on his back. He looks as tired as Peter feels. As he turns to leave, he absently pats Peter’s cheek. Peter grins softly at the paternal motion. Tony doesn’t notice.
Once alone, he uses the moment to wipe his cheeks. Fresh tears make the effort futile; he eventually gives up and lets his hands rest at his sides.
Morgan trips in with all the breathless energy of a child. She beams. Peter feels himself start to cry again; she really is fine. Silently, Tony shadows her. He helps her onto the bed. Her movements are careful and deliberate—she did this dance for weeks after Tony’s arm. When she’s settled to her satisfaction, she stills.
Peter smiles, “Hi.”
“You’re okay?” Her expression is familiar. Eyes narrowed, head tilted—it’s the same face Tony makes when he wants to understand.
Nodding, he says, “I’m doing great.”
“Dad said so.”
He wants to laugh. Looking up at Tony, he says, “Yeah, he’s usually right about me.”
Morgan doesn’t answer, but she nods, as if she understands perfectly. She probably does. When no one speaks, Peter reaches out slowly.
Resting his hand on her knee, he asks, “Are you okay?”
She hesitates. When her eyes flick to Tony, Peter’s do too. She leans in like she’s about to tell him a secret. Despite the discomfort in his side, he mimics her.
“I was really scared.”
His heart aches. He remembers how she flinched away when he came too close; he sees himself through her eyes and shrinks back.
Swallowing, he says, “I was too. I’m sorry.”
Her tiny hand pats his consolingly, “You’ll be okay.” She nods along with her words, “Mommy said so.”
Peter looks down, studying his hands, “Your mom’s really smart.”
He doesn’t want to keep talking about what happened. He doesn’t know how. Can he assure her that he isn’t dangerous when he knows it’s not true? Would it even help? He’s always been the one in need of comfort. Now that she’s staring at him, expecting something more, he doesn’t know how anyone does it.
Tony rescues him with a gentle hand to Morgan’s head, “Well, Dame Stark has been asking me if you’re able to have hugs yet.”
After his arm, the doctors gave them all strict instructions on how they were allowed to touch him. Half of Tony’s body was burned, some of it left unsalvageable. This translated, in very simple terms, to absolutely no hugs.
“That sounds like something you’d be up for, Sir Parker?”
With an expression that tells him she expects to be disappointed, Morgan waits patiently. Peter smiles, lifting the arm on his good side.
“Bring it on.”
She’s as careful as she’s capable of being. One of her clunky, tiny shoes smacks against Peter’s leg. He holds her close, resting his cheek atop her head. She curls her fingers in the fabric of his hospital gown. When Tony sits at the foot of the bed, Peter pretends he doesn’t see him swipe at his eye. He kicks him gently in the back. Tony laughs and grabs his ankle.
“If I hurt you, you have to tell me.” Morgan insist firmly. “That way I can move.”
“Don’t worry about me, Mo.” He kisses the top of her head, swiftly and softly, like Tony did to him. “I’m doing just fine.”