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Whumptober 2019

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Iron Man needed his help. His body sliced through the air but that was what he focused on, what he repeated as he flew across town. Not that he was ditching Ned. Not that May forbid him from going out tonight and not that he already had bruises littering his body from his patrol earlier that night. His side protested as he turned a corner but he kept pushing because Iron Man called.

Peter’s eyes narrowed in concentration as he pulled his legs back to streamline his body so he would be more efficient. This was his chance to prove that he was capable of playing with the big boys. Germany had been a huge disaster. He could admit that looking back on it now. He hadn’t followed instructions and got hurt. It was no wonder that Mr. Stark was weary of having him help out after that. Peter winced at the memory of Mr. Stark’s expression when he found out Peter hid his injury.

He was lying down in the hotel room when he heard a knock. Peter figured that it was just housekeeping so he ignored it in favor of trying to roll onto his side. Footsteps grew fainter outside when he didn’t answer. Darkness descended on the room and he heard a knock, louder this time. His eyes closed thinking he could ignore them again. The door swung open and Peter’s eyes flew open as he tried to get out of bed. The movement was so sudden that he tumbled to the ground and let out a low groan.

“Peter?” Mr. Stark called out.

Peter looked up from the ground and saw the man with his hands on his hips. Mr. Stark must have saw something in his eyes and knelt down next to Peter, silently helping him back on the bed. His eyes were sunken in and Peter wallowed in the guilty feeling of keeping him from sleep.

Mr. Stark asked him if he was okay and when Peter assured him it was nothing, he gave Peter such a look that Peter wished he had invisibility for a superpower. The man meandered around the room, getting a glass of water and some pain pills before sitting at the desk chair on his phone. Peter sat in bed playing with the ends of the quilt not knowing if he should talk and jumped when another person knocked on the door. Mr. Stark called out to enter and some man Peter didn’t know came in with a bag in hand.

The man turned to Peter at a nod from Mr. Stark. He came up and started looking at Peter’s side. Peter’s face burned and when he looked up Mr. Stark was gone from the room.

His stomach churned when he thought about how alone he felt after that. It was no wonder that Mr. Stark hadn’t contacted him after. That didn’t stop the hope that filled him after every voicemail. He could prove himself if only he had the chance. Nothing ever came from his attempts. Happy sent him a message saying they would contact him if he were needed and then nothing but radio silence.

Peter told himself that was why he needed to hack into Stark Industries. The only way to prove himself was for Mr. Stark to actually see him in action. Faithfully he listened to his scanners and would find the places that needed his help. Peter would lend a hand wherever he could, mostly on the sidelines. He made sure the buildings near a hazard were evacuated or the police were notified. There was never any direct interaction between him and the Avengers because he was nervous that they would stop him from helping at all. It was a dichotomy he didn’t try to hard to think about. He wanted the Avengers to acknowledge his help but on the other hand if they knew about it he would get in trouble. Peter would tell himself that at least he was doing something.

The message came over the scanners that Iron Man was alone and in need of backup. Without thinking about the consequences Peter climbed out of his window and was on his way.

It was time to step up to the plate.

The buildings loomed over him like trees in a forest, blocking what little light there was left and making him weave through the obstacles as he made his way to the source of the call. His eyes widened and his body hit the edge of a building as he skidded to a halt.

“Karen?” He asked, keeping his voice low.

“There are guards stationed at every exit, all armed, and there are extra guards on the south entrance around an enforced room.”

His vision shifted and when he peered off the edge of the roof he could see into the building along with the heat signatures of its inhabitants. His feet pounded on the roof as he jumped up and down loosening his muscles and cracking his back.

“Can you get a read on Mr. Stark anywhere, Karen?”

“Negative.”

“I’m betting he’s where the extra guards are stationed. They’re always so predictable.” He stopped to breath out once while he thought. “This is what we’re going to do. I don’t know who is in there or why they have him so I’m a disadvantage. They, on the other hand, aren’t expecting anyone so that’s where they’ll be at a disadvantage and we’ll have them.”

“Correct, but your skills aren’t at the level necessary to infiltrate the building with that many people.” He smiled savagely trying to pump himself up.

“So much faith in me, Karen. That’s why we’re going to work together on this one. I’m going to send Droney to the north entrance, in order to divert their attention away from what I’m doing. Then me and you are going to go in the south entrance and take them down one at a time.”

“There are some holes in that plan like…”

“We don’t have time.” He snapped at his AI annoyed to feel himself blushing. “Sorry Karen, but I think this will work. At least it will give Mr. Stark a chance.”

“He would want you to be safe.” He could feel his breath turn heavy and shame filled Peter. Maybe he couldn’t do it. Maybe he should wait for someone else to come? An immediate word flitted through his mind: No. Peter couldn’t just wait for someone else. He was able and he was going to do it.

“How would I know? Now, no more distractions. Deploy Droney.”

Peter watched as the bot unclamped itself from his chest and flew down off the roof and into the darkness. Not waiting anymore he jumped down and scaled the wall, keeping to the shadows.

There was a slight tremble in his hands as they stuck him to the wall. For a moment he stopped to catch his breath, which was shallow and loud. He turned around so that his back rested against the wall.

He could do this. He had to do this.

Peter closed his eyes and took one deep breath in and with a count of ten let it out. He pushed all his emotions behind a wall. One that wasn’t made of bricks or wood but it was made of all his doubts. No one could break through them and today they would help shield him. He needed to help Mr. Stark.

From the outside, if one looked closely, they wouldn’t be able to see any physical difference from one second to the next in the young superhero sticking to the wall. For Peter, that one-second was a world of change. His posture straightened, his muscles steeled themselves and his mind focused. The webs adorning his chest expanded and contracted along with his breath at a slow, even tempo. With one last breath Peter opened his eyes and jumped from the wall, his legs and arms confident of their strength.

The ground raced forward and with practiced ease he landed without a sound, running forward like a thief darting between the shadows. Two guards stood at the south entrance.

He crept closer and struck silently. The web spun through the air at one and he caught the other from behind in a chokehold. He pressed his arms tighter until he felt the body go limp in his arms. The other guard tried to get free from the webbing that glued him to the wall but he was stuck flailing. Three more webs and the man’s wrists were bound. Peter repeated the action with the second man and took his ID before using it to enter the building.

Like a honed weapon Peter used his skills he had been working on since Germany and brought the guards down one by one. One in the hallway caught him in the ribs but he didn’t acknowledge the crack besides a small wince no one could see under his mask.

Peter fought his way through the building and finally came up to the hallway connecting the room. He didn’t let himself feel proud for getting this far. His only task was to get in that room.

“Droney was taken down and guards are alert now.” Karen said. He nodded at the cruel necessity and his mouth set in a straight line.

He could hear the guards laughing at something inside the insulated room. Squaring his shoulders Peter turned down the hallway and stood in front of the closed door. He glanced down at his pocket feeling the ID card residing there. The card might not have the clearance to get in the room and if not, everyone would be alerted to his presence. Droney’s sacrifice would be for nothing then.

He backed up then got into a deep racing position, his hands braced on the outsides of his legs, which were in a deep lunge. His entire being was focused on the steel prize in front of him. With an imaginary gunshot, Peter moved confidently and started the race toward the door. His arms pumped and his cheeks puffed with forced air as he gritted his teeth.

The door sprang apart under the pressure of his hands and clattered open. The guards stood at the ready and fired at him. He slid down on the ground and kicked one of the men’s legs out from under him while simultaneously webbing the other’s gun out of his hand. He kicked the downed guard and went still as a flare of pain bloomed in his already tender arm. He webbed the man to the wall not bothering to silence him. The groans echoed around the room and Peter let them wash over him. Let the man’s vocalization act as his own cathartic release he wouldn’t let out from behind his wall yet.

His hand found it’s way to the outer part of his arm and came back dyed a dark maroon.

“Karen?” He whispered not wanting to be louder than the man hanging up.

“Gunshot wound. Not life threatening but I suggest turning back and alerting the police now, Peter.” His hand tightened around the wound, making the pressure radiate the pain to a larger area.

“No.” He hissed. “I can’t turn back now.”

“Peter, you aren’t making rational…”

“Thank you Karen. I can take it from here.”

The AI stayed quiet and the hung up man was unconscious now but Peter didn’t notice that the only sounds left were coming from him. His breathing and the dripping liquid that saturated his suit traveled downward and dripped on the floor.

Peter took a moment to inspect the room he was standing in. The steel doors were wide open and he noticed the indent of his fingers from where he pushed it open. The room had one long square of light on the floor and he looked up to see a window opening to another room. With caution he walked forward. He kept his back to the wall and turned to peer into the glass.

The emotional part of his mind was still locked away and for that the tactical part approved. Through the glass he saw a mangled lump of red and gold metal thrown on the ground. Two dull eyes peered at him from beside what looked like a foot.

Peter saw two guards standing over a figure in some chair bolted to the ground. His brown hair was matted and sweaty. The guards were laughing and one bent forward grabbing a tuft of hair and pulling it back. Peter could see the tendons in his neck strain and the white of his skin stood out against the mass of bruises painting his face. His expression was strained and he tried to say something only to be silenced by one of the men over him.

Peter allowed himself to swallow once, to take a moment to let rage wash over him. It was one emotion he let spill over his wall. Peter ducked out of the view of the window. He heard the groans coming from the other room and with hands on the wall Peter shuffled over to the door. This time he did grab the ID badge from the man on the wall and scanned it.

“Hey Jim, is it time to switch out yet? This jackass isn’t giving us anything.”

Peter stood in the doorway and watched the men talk. They were turned away from him and cocky in their stances. That was their first mistake. Mr. Stark’s left eye was sealed shut but the other one widened as he saw Peter. His head was still held back by one of the men and Peter let them see their captives’ reaction to his presence. They twisted around and started rushing forward instead of grabbing their guns. That was their second mistake.

“Taser webs, Karen.” His voice was cool and loud. Peter gave them enough time to hear it but they continued forward not heeding his intimidation. That was their third and final mistake.

Two webs launched and embedded into the necks. Peter watched with narrowed eyes until they were lying on the ground. Tremors shook their supine bodies but he allowed the taser continue injecting its currents. Drool ran down their faces as their bodies arched off of the floor.

“Peter…” The whisper came from the chair and broke through his observations. He detached the tasers and stepped over the bodies running to Mr. Stark. Kneeling beside the man Peter catalogued the visible injuries. His head was sagging down now that someone wasn’t forcing it up.

Peter worked methodically, his mind running through the procedure before enacting it. He broke the cuff around the bound ankles, noting the redness festering underneath. Next, he broke Mr. Stark’s right wrist fetter leaving his hand free to move. The hand remained limp resting in the open metal not taking the freedom given.

Peter’s hand hovered over the last restraint. He glanced up to look at Mr. Stark’s eyes. His eye.

Blood smeared across his face in some kind of perverse war paint and for the first time since entering the building Peter noticed his heart was pounding. Its rhythm saturated into his blood stream and made his veins vibrate with untapped motion. He could see the dirt lodged into each small line around the man’s eye. The eyes that should both be open and not one glued shut by his own inflamed skin.

Peter remembered one of the times they were working in the lab before Germany. Pepper had came in to remind Mr. Stark that there was a charity event later that evening he was obligated - “forced” as Mr. Stark said - to attend. He mumbled in good-natured protest and turned to ask Peter to go.

“Me? Mr. Stark, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Why not? I’m hosting it so I can say who goes.” Mr. Stark’s eyebrows rose almost comically and if not for his serious tone Peter would have laughed. Instead, a lump hollowed out in his throat.

“But… I’m not fancy or anything. I’ll just be in the way.” He looked down and played with the hem of his shirt. Peter was about to try and explain, to say anything so Mr. Stark would stop staring at him when he felt the man’s hands wrap around his fidgeting ones.

“You don’t really think that. Do you Peter?” For some reason the thought of seeing his expression was too much to bear so he continued to avoid to look down.

“I just meant I’m not like the people that go to those types of things.” He hoped that that would end the conversation.

Little did he know that Mr. Stark knew that he wasn’t like the people who went to those events. He knew that Peter wasn’t vain or used the events for some ulterior motive; even Mr. Stark used them to benefit himself. No, the kid was good. Made him want to be good and he knew he had to help him see that goodness. To show Peter that it was special. That he was special.

Mr. Stark squeezed his fingers and asked Peter to go, saying they would have a great time. It wasn’t what he said or how but it was the way the man looked away after uttering his request. The way mouth was wavering between a frown and smile. Peter saw how he looked back at Peter; hope blossoming in his face when he nodded his assent.

And Peter couldn’t bring himself to regret it even when he found himself in the elevator on the way to the party pulling at his tie that he made too tight. He didn’t realize how nervous he was until Mr. Stark grasped his shaking hand for the second time that day before the elevator doors opened and they were thrown into the mass of people waiting.

It felt like decades ago and Peter wasn’t sure why he was thinking about it now. The actual party was a blur but the sincere look in Mr. Stark’s eyes as he said he wanted Peter there and the feel of the man’s callused hand over his was ingrained into his memory.

Peter’s hand hovered in midair. Fingers grasped his, conducting the shaking into the other’s body. Peter looked down to see the hand missing from the opened restraint.

“Peter… ” He said again, throat scratchy and voice barely above a whisper but Peter heard it loud.

His hands shook harder. Mr. Stark gazed at him. The same wide-eyed expression Peter remembered from the day in the lab.

“It’s okay kid.” Peter shook his head. Mr. Stark’s features distorted as tears streamed down his face.

His eyes moved down and ripped open the last cuff, retracting his hand as if it had been burned. Damp material clung to his forehead as Peter fell forward and rested his head against the man’s knees.

Their hands tangled together, fingers smashed in a rough embrace. Peter wasn’t sure if Mr. Stark was comforting him or the other way around but as he glanced out of the corner of his eye, Peter thought they looked like a grotesque depiction of hands in prayer. He couldn’t tell whose hands were shaking, maybe both of them were.

All Peter knew was that Mr. Stark was still sitting in the room he had been locked in. Not because he was still restrained but because Peter was keeping him there.

He pulled himself up and with Mr. Stark leaning against his side they went to leave the room. Peter looked back once to spy the broken Iron Man suit discarded on the floor. He turned forward and led them away from the chair, from the room, and to safety. Peter didn’t want Mr. Stark to see the suit. For him to get some idea that it was him that was broken when in reality it was just a chunk of metal.

After the nurses bandaged him up, reprimanding him about his wounds, Peter sat besides the bed staring at the sleeping body lying in the dark. Mr. Stark’s hand rested outside the covers. Afraid he would wake up Peter moved slow, not risking even a disturbance in the air. Forward he went and put his hand in Mr. Stark’s.

Small tremors shook his fingers but he let them run their course. Peter’s wall came down and the emotions so closely guarded before came plummeting out now that he was safe.

He felt the warmth of Mr. Stark’s hand and after a while the tremors stilled. Peter had answered the call that wasn’t for him and now Mr. Stark was safe. The man might be mad when he woke up but Peter let a small smile fall into place. Iron Man may not have been looking for his help but he got it and Peter was one step closer to proving himself. He rested his head on the bed besides their clasped hands and let himself sleep.

Chapter Text

He pushed his way through the crowds of people, his eyes bypassing the faces of the parents who stood around the room. The thought that he didn’t belong wormed its way into his mind, itching and begging for attention like a bad rash. It didn’t matter if he belonged or not now. She was his kid whether the others thought so; whether his mind accepted it or not. He had bore their gazes and whispers enough in the past year. He would do it forever and be grateful for each and every judgmental glance. As long as she was okay.

He muttered apologies under his breath as he wound his way to the front. The cold tile stung his left foot. The foot that was slipperless. There was no time to be embarrassed that he was in pajamas or that one foot was completely bare. The call came at three a.m. and Tony was stumbling down the hall before he hung up.

A bombing. Words he never in his worst nightmares expected to hear but nonetheless what the man with an infuriatingly calm voice told him over the phone. There was a bombing and to please make your way calmly to the following address. To hell with that, he thought. Tony stumbled from bed, throwing on his robe, and ran out of the Tower using his suit to get there as fast as possible.

She was supposed to be on a field trip. It was a sleepover or something where they got to camp at the top floor of The Hive. He hadn’t paid attention to the specifics when Penny told him about it, only that it was for a Decathlon teambuilding and now he was regretting it. He remembered her saying something about Flash not being there because he got suspended for… something. He should have paid more attention. Tony did remember that May was chaperoning so that she could finally see Penny compete. He remembered the way a smile lit up her face when she told him how excited May was to get off work and spend time with her.

It was set to be a quiet weekend for him. Tony tinkered in the lab but didn’t get much done. Truth be told he missed his little intern’s voice filling the lab. The cold walls didn’t seem so barren when she was there. He stopped himself from texting her but she sent him photos and updates of how everything was going. There were photos of Penny pretending to fall over the balcony and ones of her and Ned playing on their old Nintendos DS. They made him smile until they stopped. Tony assumed they just went to bed for the night. That was until the phone call came in.

Tony’s hands shook as he approached the woman who looked to be in charge. He noticed the clipboard in her arms and how people stood apart from her but circled the woman as if they were waiting for something. There were deep circles under her eyes and Tony swallowed at the dullness of them.

“Name?” His voice failed him at the quiet tone in her voice. It was so similar to the one over the phone that Tony had to take a moment. He detected an acceptance in her voice. There was no question of why or who’s child it was just that he was there. They both knew that no one would voluntarily come forward if they weren’t supposed to be there.

His heart tightened.

“Penny. Penny Parker.” He got out. “And May Parker.”

She flipped through the papers and he was dismayed to see so many names on the list. Her eyes met his for a moment before returning to the clipboard.

“I’m sorry, Sir.” She began and Tony felt his back stiffen. His mind jumped to a thousand worse conclusions and yet nothing was as terrible as what she told him. “Mrs. Parker didn’t make it. Ms. Parker is in room 220. You need to take the elevator to the second floor and the nurse there can tell you of Ms. Parker’s condition.”

Tony stood there for a moment staring at the woman whose name he never asked. Her eyes softened as she looked at him but then hardened as she nodded to someone behind him. The urgent glances to his back set him to motion and he moved away from the line that formed behind him.

May was gone. May was gone.

Did Penny know? This would kill her.

A million images flashed through his mind of the two women that had barreled into his life. Mother and daughter had a bond that, only on bad days, he would admit that he was jealous of. It made him miss his own mom.

Tony recruited the girl but they were the ones who took him into their lives; adopted him into the family, if you will. First was the casual way they would tell him he was always welcome. Then somehow they would go see movies together, analyzing and debating them the whole way home. The thing that hooked him forever was the weekly dinners. Tony found himself roped into it, trapped when May found out he would be alone for the weekend. He showed up way to nervous for what it was and brought an over the top gift basket and the fanciest bottle of wine.

He could remember the way May’s eyes widened at the gift before hugging him tightly. Over the course of the spaghetti that tasted just like his grandmas, May continued to utter her praise and Tony shifted in his seat with guilt. Truth be told he made Happy get the wine and basket. After that first time Tony took the time to learn which wines May liked best. He even learned how to make some bean appetizer he remembered Pepper making once. Both May and Penny liked it and it became a regular dish at their dinners.

She welcomed him with open arms and a never-ending supply of hugs into their own fractured family. She gave him a family at a low point in his life and now she was gone.

The elevator doors opened and he walked toward the nurse. The tall man was busy talking to someone in front of him so Tony had a moment to stop. He thought back to what the lady with the clipboard said, “Can tell you Ms. Parker’s condition.” That meant that Penny was hurt. May was gone and Penny was hurt.

His heart constricted tighter.

“Name?” The nurse said and Tony felt the sudden urge to scream come over him. She wasn’t just a name! These people were so much more than a name on the list. As soon as the rage swept through him it quieted down and Tony was left numb. It was useless. The nurse knew that undoubtedly better than he did and it would cause more time to elapse before seeing Penny. He repeated her name and ignored the searing pain it caused him. It was inconsequential. He had to see Penny.

“Room 220. She’s stable and resting now.” Tony nodded and walked down the hall the nurse had pointed at.

He stood outside of her room listening to all the people rushing around trying to find their own loved ones. His hand reached to hold the knob and he noticed his fingers trembling against the metal.

The light from the hallway invaded the room and cast shadows onto the form lying under the pressed white sheets. She looked so small, he thought. Her head sunk into the limp pillows and if Tony didn’t know any better he would have said she was just sleeping. He moved from the doorway into the room and fell into the chair beside the bed. Up close Tony could see she wasn’t just sleeping. There was no ‘just’ about it. There were scraps etched into her face. Small bruises painted down her neck and continued under the covers where he couldn’t see.

“Oh, God.” He whispered as he took in the dark circles, the cast of her arm, and the way her chest was raising and falling to fast. A frown marred her face in the sleep Tony was sure wasn’t restful.

He closed his eyes to cage the tears hoping to escape their confines. His hand found hers, eyes narrowing when he felt the plastic encasing her hand. Her fingers twitched and he grasped them in spite of the cast digging into his hand, maybe because of it.

“I’m here, Penny.” He said. “It may not be much but I’m here.”

She didn’t reply, not that he expected her too, but he squeezed her hand a little tighter hoping she could feel he was there if she couldn’t hear him.

Nurses came and went checking on their patient but he stayed like a faithful dog. When it was time to change her bandages Tony was sequestered to the hall. He leaned against the wall and listened to the other people talk about what happened.

As he was sitting there revenge plots and plans for new weapons spun through his mind but ‘gas explosion’ was not the target he had pictured. One of the mothers wept into her sleeve as she explained what had happened. Tony’s head hit the wall as he stared up at the ceiling.

A simple gas explosion. Although when he thought about it there was nothing simple to it. There was no reason for it. The gas was sightless, tasteless, and something, they were still investigating, set it off creating an impact that took the lives of ten students and four adults. A freak accident that happened to coincide with the Midtown Decathlon field trip and created a chain reaction at 2:17 a.m. that would change the lives of many.

What could you even think about that? Tony was finding it impossible to think coherently at all. He sat there, one foot freezing against the tile and listened to the tears around him.

The nurse called him back into the room. Penny’s eyes were open but didn’t move from the ceiling above her. Tony pulled up the chair someone moved while he was gone and sat next to her. Their breathing mingled at two different rhythms and Tony sped his up to match hers.

He knew he had to tell her what happened to her aunt but he couldn’t bring himself to break the silence. His chest seized at the thought of disrupting the last minute of peace she might have but deep down Tony knew that her peace was already plucked away.

“May died.” She said, clinical and low. It reminded him of the resigned tone of the lady downstairs and how there was a heaviness in the way she asked for a name.

“I’m so sorry, Penny.” He said knowing that the sentiment would never be enough but not knowing what else to say. She continued to stare at the ceiling and Tony wondered if she was angry with him. Angry the he hadn’t been able to save her.

“I keep thinking I should have been able to smell the gas or run fast enough to get everyone out of the building but I knew I couldn’t. Of all the powers in the world, I get the ones that couldn’t help.” Her voice so cold before became passionate with hate. Tony could hear the venom in her voice over what she thought she lacked.

“They came too late for Ben and weren’t enough for…” She paused to swallow. “For May.”

He stayed silent but noticed that she was squeezing her hands so tight that her knuckles were turning white around her cast. He reached forward and gently put his hand over hers. Tony watched as her eyes fell from the ceiling and landed on his hand. Slowly she moved and clasped their hands together. Large tears welled in the corners of her eyes. They sparkled as they rolled down her cheeks and when she finally spoke it was hoarse like she had been screaming.

“I miss her so much, Mr. Stark.”

He thought back to when his own parents passed. He hadn’t spoken of it to many people but that didn’t stop them from talking about it to him. Their words were rooted from a good place but it mostly left Tony numb. They all said things like his parents wouldn’t want him to be sad or that they were in a better place now. They were useless words that Tony took at face value at the time. He thought that the deep well that was carved into him at their passing was not sadness but selfishness because of their words. So he pushed it down. He did anything he could to try and fill it so he could ‘live his life the way they would have wanted’.

What he knew now was that no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t live the life they wanted because they weren’t there with him. He knew that the well wasn’t selfish but natural to grief and he never wanted Penny to feel like she should hide away. That she shouldn’t feel anything because other people were uncomfortable with loss.

“Good.” He said and her eyes widened at his solemn tone. “I want you to miss her. So much. I want you to think about her whenever you miss her, whenever you want. I want you to love her so much it hurts and when the time comes I want you to talk about her. When something reminds you of her or when you wished you could tell her something. Penny, I …” He stopped when her hand tightened around his.

“Thank you and thank you for being here, Mr. Stark.” He looked into her eyes and saw sorrow that shouldn’t ever appear in one so young, in one so good. It was the same thing he saw in the mirror too many times to count.

“I know this isn’t what you need to hear right now but I’m here for you. No matter what I’ll be here.”

“That’s exactly what I needed to hear.” She blinked slowly, her eyes ladened with exhaustion.

“I love you, Penny.” Her breathing slowed and again he matched his to hers.

“I love you too, Mr. Stark.” She said with closed eyes. His thumb rubbed back and forth against her knuckles.

Tony stayed in his chair the rest of the night and days after until the kid was discharged. They drove in silence back to the Tower, Tony’s head filled with thoughts on the unpredictable nature of life.

Three years ago this tiny slip of a girl flipped onto his radar. He thought of how she was at first. The awkward way in which she would ask an endless amount of questions, her hero worship often making her stumble over words and blush like a tomato. Once that ship had sailed nothing could stop her mouth, though she still blushed when she spoke too fast.

He thought about the way she talked about being Spidergirl. The way her face would light up with pride when she helped someone, even if it was just crossing the street. Tony remembered the different smiles she had given him through their time together. The first one when she saw him sitting on her couch with May. The one where her lips curled up at the ends when she was trying not to laugh and the one he would give anything to see again. It would infect her whole face, radiating through her eyes and warm his very heart to see it.

Their mentorship to friendship happened so naturally. Well, as naturally as two superheroes becoming friends could be. Then his adoption into the Parker family occurred. He brought the wine and they brought more than enough love to smother him. Tony was sure he got the better deal out of the arrangement. He smiled as he thought about how May would find the most obscure board games and they would sit for hours trying to figure out how to play. How she took hours off to come see Penny at the lab and how her hugs reminded him so much of his moms.

He glanced down at the sleeping girl. Her head rested on the door of his car and the hum lulled her into a fitful sleep. Carefully he opened the door and scooped her out. Her head rolled onto his shoulder; thankfully her cuts were already healing.

Tony walked them through the Tower and to her room. There were no noisy adults there. No one to make him feel like he didn’t belong, but with Penny in his arms he knew that he would always belong.

Chapter Text

He should have listened to Mr. Stark. If only his pride hadn’t gotten in the way, they could have went about this in a procedural manner. They could have rescued him and been back in time for dinner. Instead he let the sleepless nights and being talked over compound inside of him. He let himself storm off thinking that he could do everything himself.

And why couldn’t he? He was Spiderman after all. It was a fact that the Avengers always seemed to forget when they were talking tactics for missions. They never forgot his age though. They never forgot that he was still in high school and technically a Junior Avenger or Avenger in training or, worst of all, Baby Avenger.

At first the nicknames didn’t bother him. He didn’t care as long as the word Avenger was in there somewhere. To be included in the group at any capacity launched him over the moon but somehow along the way the nicknames turned mocking. There was a hint of derision that he couldn’t help as well or do as much because of it. Peter had to control a flinch anytime someone said one of the names. It wasn’t his fault he was young.

Mr. Stark defended him against the others. His savior always came to his defense but the others started getting angry with the man. What person took a fourteen-year-old kid to Germany to fight? His hands would tremble when they brought that argument up. It was a long time ago and he proved himself over and over again; at least he thought he did.

That was why when Rhodey said he couldn’t go on this latest mission it tore him up. The man was like a cool uncle to him. He was the one that always treated him as a person rather than something too fragile to deal with. He spoke clearly and, as much as he hated to admit it, logically. From a tactical aspect he shouldn’t go, but his hackles rose and to his mortification Peter snapped at him.

He remembered the way Rhodey’s eyes widened only to calmly explain why he couldn’t come. How he wasn’t trained for this type of mission. That there were aspects the others in the group were better prepared for but none of that registered. He said Peter couldn’t go and that was all he heard. The others looked at him with concern but he ignored them to turn to Mr. Stark. Looking back on it now he realized how childish the action was; when daddy says no to something you turn right to mommy and ask the same thing. His eyes plead with Mr. Stark but in the end he sided with Rhodey.

He gave the last refusal and that was final.

His fingers crushed together and he stormed out of the room not caring that he pushed the door so hard the handle was crushed into the wall. He didn’t care that he could hear the talk, not even quiet whispers, from the other Avengers behind him. Peter went straight to the roof in order to cool down. Winter was around the corner and his breath smoked out of his mouth.

Everyone was being so nonchalant about the whole thing but this was Loki. He was Thor’s brother and they were being their usual selves and moving so slow. Sure, Loki technically wasn’t an Avenger but he helped them sometimes. The information he passed along helped everyone on more than one mission. Thor was resplendent whenever Loki showed up and even Mr. Stark didn’t seem to hate him anymore. The others were a little wearier but Peter could see him trying to be civil. Peter liked his humor at least.

His hands gripped the railing but he released it before he damaged to the metal. Mr. Stark would not be happy if the whole building was destroyed in a fit of anger. Peter breathed out again and leaned forward cradling his chin in his palm.

He thought back to the first time that they met.

It was one of those fancy charity parties that Mr. Stark would throw sometimes. The Tower sparkled as people milled around talking about whatever fancy things adults did.

He hadn’t wanted to come but Mr. Stark wanted to introduce his intern to some competitors. He said he wanted to ‘show off that he had the best intern and make them all red with jealousy’. Peter arrived in some of the nicest clothes he owned, blue dress pants that tapered off above the ankle and a nice button down shirt. May wanted him to dress shoes but he opted for converse. As soon as he got there he realized he should have listened to May. His blush should have been permanently on his face it was there so often through the night.

The amount of people attending dwindled down and Mr. Stark got pulled away to talk with someone so he made his escape to the bar looking for some water. He stood to the back, waiting for the bartender to look over from where they were talking to someone else. Peter looked at the heels of one of the women at the bar and frowned at his own comfortable shoes. He waited some more and clasped his arm in front of him, his fingers playing with the end of his sleeves.

He stared decidedly forward when he felt a presence behind him. The hairs on the back of his neck raised and he stepped closer to the bar. The person stepped forward and Peter swallowed as his eyes bore into the bartender. Maybe he could just go to his room?

“You must be the famous Peter Parker.” A smooth voice spoke behind him and Peter turned, plastering a smile on his face, and nodded. He was extra cautious at events like this to represent Mr. Stark in a positive way.

A tall woman with blonde hair stepped forward. She was beautiful and Peter had the urge to make sure his hair was still in place. He quelled the urge and fidgeted with his sleeves.

“I’m Cassandra Paen. Nice to meet you.” The woman brought her hand forward and Peter waited a moment before shaking it. He noticed the maroon manicure on her hands and again fought the compulsion to make sure his hands weren’t dirty.

“Nice to meet you as well, Ms. Paen. I hope you enjoy the night.” He managed to smile at least semi-convincingly and turned to walk away when he felt a hand on his arm stopping his movement.

If he wanted, Peter could have removed the hand with no effort. He could have done it quickly and with no pain or with all his strength as he could manage but he didn’t. Instead Peter smoothed his frown out and turned back toward the woman noting the frown she did nothing to hide.

“Peter, I can call you that right?” Peter nodded unenthusiastically. “I wanted to talk to you about a job.”

“I have a job Ms. Paen and I’m quite happy, thank you though.”

“A job for Spiderman.”

At that statement Peter’s smile froze and then melted off under the heated glare Ms. Paen was sending him. No outsiders knew he was Spiderman. Only Mr. Stark and the Avengers knew. And how did she know? No one was supposed to know!

The women smiled and added: “There now I have your attention. Why don’t we find a place more… private to talk?”

Peter felt sick and didn’t notice the hand on his arm slid around his back until he was pulled tight against the woman’s side. He looked around trying to see someone he knew, anyone at all. The bartender continued talking to the couple at the end of the bar and the room was otherwise vacated.

“Now Peter. You’re such a talented young man and I can’t help thinking we could work so well together.” Her hand squeezed Peter’s arm and he could feel her nails slowly move in a circle.

“Look I should be going. I don’t know what you’re talking about or what you think your talking about but you’re mistaken.” Ms. Paen laughed and continued to drag Peter out of the room and down the hallway.

His heart was pounding. All Peter could think about was how easy it would be to move away from the arm holding him and run but he stayed pliant while they walked. Something stopped him from moving away.

They made it to the hallway and Ms. Paen still didn’t let go. Why wouldn’t she let go? All he knew was that Peter didn’t want to be alone with this woman, whoever she was. He took in a deep breath before stopping causing the woman to stop as well.

“I really need to go back. I think you’re confused and you need to leave. I’m supposed to meet someone and they are waiting for me now”Peter’s voice shook as he stared at the floor.

The arm unwrapped from his body and the woman suddenly appeared much taller than she had a moment ago. She stepped forward, backing Peter into the wall, and loomed over him. Peter’s breath stilled. His fingers trembled against his pants and he felt so small, so weak.

“Listen here you little snot… I know what you are and if you don’t cooperate you can’t even imagine what we could do to…”

“Is there a problem here?” Both their heads turned to the sound of the voice and Peter’s knees felt weak with relief.

Before this he had only seen Loki at a distance but he knew he was Thor’s brother and that he was reformed. Mostly reformed. He smiled widely at the newcomer and Loki’s eyes searched his face for a moment before switching over to the other occupant of the hall. Ms. Paen smirked and moved her hand to rest on the wall so that Peter’s face was blocked from view.

“Nothing at all. If you’ll be on your way we were just having a private conversation.”

It was quiet and his stomached clenched. What if he left? He had to leave now. Peter gathered up the crumbs of courage left and spoke up. He wasn’t sure how but the woman’s face when he did still haunted him.

“I’m so glad you found me.” He said from behind the arm. “I know we were supposed to meet in the lab but we can walk there together.”

Peter ducked under the arm before it could grab him again and made his way to Loki. He played the part perfectly and a lazy smile crossed his face. He bowed shallowly to Ms. Paen and bid her goodnight. Peter couldn’t look back; every fiber of his being needed to leave and never see her perfect blonde hair again. Loki fell into step beside him.

His knees shook and he put his hand in Loki’s, suppressing his surprise at how cold there were. They walked in silence and he hoped he couldn’t feel the trembling in his fingers. Peter’s vision tunneled and he couldn’t think straight. He was grateful when Loki took the lead and steered them back to the party. Before they entered he stopped and looked Peter over. Peter stared at his face noting that no emotions crossed it besides the barest of flashes through his eyes. It was to fast for Peter to decipher.

“Stark’s in there now. I would appreciate my name not be mentioned.” He smiled at his dazed nod and left without another word. Peter stumbled into the room and into Mr. Stark’s care. He never thought to wonder what Loki was doing at the Tower that night.

Peter never mentioned Loki’s name but kept his assistance at the forefront of his mind. Over the months after their first encounter he would see him here and there. He was always alone and curiosity pricked him. What was Loki doing and why did no one else seem to know he was there?

On several instances he tried to approach him but he ignored his greetings. His pride hurt, he thought two could play and started ignoring him. This did the trick and piqued Loki’s interest. Soon he found he would pop up in the elevator and other places making it his mission to annoy Peter.

All in all, Peter found that he couldn’t hate him even if they met in a different way. He even started to like him. May would have said it was in his nature to see the good in people but he truly thought that Loki was different than what people thought. Deep down maybe but it was still there.

They came to have long talks about everything and anything. He wasn’t sure what Loki thought of him but Peter began to think of him as a friend and that was why he was so upset when everyone, even Thor, weren’t worried when Loki was taken. They displayed the pictures of the facility where he was kept during the meeting and Peter heard what the others were saying about the place to know that it was serious.

He was there. Alone.

Peter took it upon himself with all the bad decision making skills of a stereotypical teenager to rescue him himself. That’s how he found himself commandeering one of Mr. Stark’s jets, landing (crashing) said jet into the building, and ending up in a cell sans Loki. His hands were restrained in some type enforced metal and try as he might he couldn’t break out of the cuffs.

One of the first things they did was take off his suit so he was stuck in biker shorts and a thin under armor top. He could feel the air rushing into the cell making the hair on his arms stand on end. Pretty soon his fingers tingled at the ends. Once in a while there were footsteps out in the hallway but other than that it was quiet. His stomach clenched around nothing. Time went by but there was no way to keep track.

He coughed, wincing at the hoarseness now that the cell was finally free from his voice, and felt him eyes droop. No! His head snapped back. There was no way he could fall asleep. What if someone came in when he was sleeping and … who knows what could happen?

Peter snorted to himself. Anything would be better than being alone at this point. The white walls surrounding him were sterile and he missed the feel of the breeze in his hair and the smell of freshly cut grass. His mind kept flipping between thoughts but he was tired and it was hard to concentrate.

Finally the door swung open and his head tipped up. A man in a white coat wheeled in a cart into the room and toward him.

“Hiya Doc.”

The man didn’t reply but pulled up his sleeve and rubbed a cotton ball on the juncture at his elbow.

“That’s cold!” He whined.

Still nothing and he pulled out a needle. It set his heart racing.

“Don’t bring that thing near me. Stop!”

He didn’t stop and he couldn’t stop him. The metal encasing his limbs rubbed and inflamed the tender skin it was touching. He inserted the needle without looking up and Peter flinched when burning liquid was injected into his arm. The pain intensified, burning up and through his body.

“Stop.” he whispered. There was a vague image of the man walking out of the room before his head dropped forward and darkness descended.

-

A hair fell into his face and tickled his lips. He blew it away but it floated down and touched him again.

Where was he?

His neck ached when he brought it up. The white walls surrounded him and he remembered. The hair tickled his lip again and he brushed it out of the way. A gasp escaped him when he noticed his hands were free. Peter rubbed his wrists avoiding the swollen skin where the metal rubbed. He tried to stand up from the chair with haste but fell forward landing on his hands and knees.

“Ugh.” His head was pounding and his arms shook under the weight of his body. Try as he might his legs wouldn’t move from under him. With heavy breaths he started crawling to the door. The room spun around his head but he made it to the other side of the room.

“Hello?” He yelled out ignoring the burning in his throat. Peter felt shivered and felt his forehead. Sweat came off onto the back of his hand.

Peter sat against the wall next to the door periodically bringing his hand up to rap on the cold metal. It was pathetic attempt but it made him feel more in control. Why did they release him from the restraints? He lifted his arm up inspecting the small needle marks at his elbow. They could have dosed him with anything and now it was inside of him. Peter could feel it inside of him.

What did they inject him with? His arm trembled and he let it fall into his lap. His breath came out in pants. The muscles in his limbs were tired from his journey across the room. What did they inject him with? Peter got back on his hands and knees, and tried to stand up. By the time he made it to his feet he was panting and felt the sweat gathering on his lip. What did they inject him with? He raised his fist and banged it on the door. The muffled sound made him want to scream. He banged it again and again and cradled his hand against his chest. Nothing happened. What did they inject him with? His body slumped forward and came to rest on the door. Peter never felt so weak before. Not since… What did they inject him with? Not since before the spider bite.

What did they inject him with?

The trembling in his legs got worse and they gave out underneath him. His body flopped against the hard cement and he blinked away the tears gathering in his eyes.

Why didn’t he listen to Rhodey? To Mr. Stark?

Peter laughed then. They were full-bodied laughs that left him out of breath by the time he was done. The floor was cold beneath him and he let out a scream that morphed into a moan. Who cares if anyone heard, maybe they would take pity on him. His eyes closed and he drifted off as tears slid down his cheek.

The sound of the door opening woke him but he kept his eyes close. His heart pounded inside of his chest and he worried it would give him away.

“Peter?” A voice asked and his eyes flew open. A smile lit his face before he giggled.

“Loki! I knew you were here.” He said before frowning. “I found you first so the others can pound sand for all I care.”

The man opened the door further pushing his feet caught behind it. He came further into the room, kneeing before him.

“Are you alright, child?”

He stared at him a moment. He had never called him a child before now. Loki had always laughed with him before when he told him about the nicknames the others gave him. His vision tunneled on Loki’s face, the target available to pit his anger against.

“I’m not a child!” He yelled at him, his hands balled together. The smile on his face from earlier gone unnaturally fast.

Loki looked him over eyes targeting his elbow and raised his hand to feel Peter’s forehead.

“You have such cold hands. Did you knooowww?” He sang the last word and missed the way the man’s eyes narrowed as he flung his hands in the air above him.

“We need to get you out of here.”

“Okay, but you have to tell them I rescued you.” On a second attempt he managed to lift his hands and grasp Loki’s shirt pulling him closer. “Please, I wanted to rescue you and they’ll think I’m a just a stupid child. I am strong. I am.”

“Yes. Yes you are Peter. You rescued me from here after all.” Loki didn’t smile but there was a quiet ease in his eyes.

He let the tears fall. Loki’s hand wrapped around his own just as his fingers slipped through the material of Loki’s shirt while his other hand caught the back of his head before it hit the ground. He shifted his arms so that he could stand up and after several tries Loki picked him up all the way.

He wiggled in his arms and laughed at his frustrated expression.

“Stay still you infuriating…”

“You like me. I know that.” Peter lifted his arm so that he could bop his nose but misjudged the distance and pressed his chin. His head flopped back as more laughter twinkled out of him.

“I do not.” He spoke low and stepped over something. Peter looked back over Loki’s shoulder and say guns and bodies scattered on the floor. Distantly he hope they were sleeping.

“Yes, you do.”

“Do not.”

His smile faded from his face as he gazed at his harsh expression. Sadness welled up inside of him. Maybe he was telling the truth. Maybe he really did annoy him.

“I thought we were friends?” He said, sniffling into his shoulder. Peter heard him sigh and suppressed a smile. “Come on Loki. Say it.”

He remained quiet and he tried to get out of his arms, swinging his legs. Loki held him tighter and glared at him face.

“Saaayy it. Say it!” He said in obnoxious voices.

“If you will quiet yourself?” Loki waited until he nodded. “Fine. I suppose that we are indeed not enemies and I’m not bored when we have our discussions.”

His heart panged and this time a different emotion overtook him. That was basically the sweetest thing he ever said. Peter brought his arms up and tried to hug him. He tried to say something else but the fog in his mind thickened and made him more confused.

“Where are we?” He whispered as he brought them to the top of the building, leaning Peter against a short wall. The muscles in his neck protested as he tried to look around. Loki sat next to him.

Peter was confused but he knew he was safe. He was Spiderman and if that wasn’t enough Loki the funny god was right besides him. His head rolled to the side and a sigh escaped him. He was so tired.

“Tell me a story.”

Loki’s voice floated in and out of his mind until he closed his eyes.

Peter woke up in the Medbay a pounding headache assaulting him. The memories were hazy and were not forthcoming. He blinked at the people surrounding him.

Mr. Stark was upset but winked at him when everyone else left. Rhodey apologized once he was out of the Medbay. Of course that was right before he lectured Peter about responsibility but he withstood it graciously and gave him a hug after.

Loki visited him once everyone was gone. He just sat there in silence.

“Tell me a story.” He said bored of sitting in the infirmary. His eyebrows quirked at the small laugh Loki gave at his request before launching into what had to be made up. He asked him if they were about Loki and the only response he got was a sparkle in his eye.

On the fifth day in the Medbay he gathered enough memories to piece together and when it was his nap time, he grumbled when everyone started calling it that, he stayed awake and tried to remember more.

The congratulations from everyone and the wink from Mr. Stark. They all thought he rescued Loki. That was the only way it made sense. Loki lied to them. For him. It didn’t escape his notice that no one called him one of those nicknames again.

Thor went so far as to knight him or what he thought was the equivalent to knighting someone wherever Thor was from. When he showed Loki the pin his eyes widened for a moment before he scoffed at it stating it was not impressive.

That was the second time he saved Peter and he smiled when he remembered how Loki basically admitted they were best friends.

That day when he visited, Peter was convinced he could walk through walls; he looked into his green eyes.

“Thank you.” He whispered and he smiled when Loki ignored him before launching into a story about how Thor tried to outdrink Volstagg. The thunder god didn’t stop until he was drunk out of his mind and on the ground.

Peter never did tell anyone it was really Loki that saved him. The incident set off a chain reaction through their team and slowly, with trail and error, Loki was not welcomed but tolerated by everyone. When he left to go back to his planet Peter hid on the roof. His age was far older than before but his first instinct was still to storm off.

Loki came onto the roof and stood beside him, asking for the pin that Thor gave him years ago. With only the mildest blush Peter pulled it out of his wallet and handed it over. Green smoke sunk into it and Loki put it back in Peter’s hand.

“Tell me a story.” Loki said and when Peter began talking, his voice echoed in a pin worn and battered that Loki took out of his pocket. He threw his head back and laughed calling it an alien cell phone.

Loki looked indignant but could never come up with something cooler to call it when they used it, separated by thousands of planets.

Chapter Text

In all the futures Doctor Strange experienced during his meditation this one was the worst.

He feared the outcomes and their varying results but this was it. This was the one. He had seen plenty of others. Witnessed the cries and heard the tears from the people of the universe. Stephen Strange burdened himself with the knowledge of what it would be like to lose to Thanos. He saw how the world would change under the Titan’s vision of balance and watched as the earth withered away under the bonds of its master.

Stephen lived through universes that weren’t whole either, in destruction or in peace. They were half formed. Ones where people survived but they didn’t live. Important figures never lived or died to soon and their presence pulled a dent in history. Their deeds wiped away from consciousness.

His partiality to certain peoples could never be used in the equation to finding the right path but even still, he cried as he saw the people he loved vanish millions of times over.

As he hovered on the barren planet Stephen knew it was his responsibility to find the plan to get the universe back. Their universe. It would be impossible to ignore the effects of this battle on humanity but he had to find the one where its far-reaching hands ravaged the least.

His eyes burst opened and he cried out as he fell onto the rock below him. He knew what they had to do.

Tony Stark grabbed his arm, steadying him and he stared into the man’s warm eyes keeping a wince from his face. The man was strong but would he be strong enough to get through this? To play his part? Time enough would answer, he thought.

His eyes wandered around landing on their motley crew. He relayed to them what he saw. Parts of what he saw. There were no words to describe the depth, the sheer magnitude of what Thanos was attempting to create, it was grotesque but in a disturbed way a masterpiece in the end. In layman’s terms he told them enough information to get their attention. It was enough to inform them what needed to be done without actually telling them what would happen.

If there was a feeling left in Stephen after his meditation drained him it wasn’t remorse. He knew better than anyone what the consequences of their actions here were and with a steeled expression he told them what they were required to know and nothing else.

“14,000,605.” He used his doctor voice paired with a flippant tone in order to keep the trembling out of it. This was important. Every single one of them had to think this was the only way. That was the only way it would work.

Then Stark asked the question he was dreading: “How many do we win?”

There was no one definition of winning. A more important question would be what outcome was worth the cost? That would reveal too much though. His determination wavered for a moment. This was too large for him, one man, even if he was Master of the Mystic Arts. The immeasurable difficulty of their task sat in his chest, squeezing the very breath out of him until his eyes settled on the young boy in front of him. Wide brown eyes gazed at him filled with such trust that Stephen began to understand why Stark was so protective of the boy.

The boy moved forward and placed a hand on Stark’s shoulder. The man looked at him with such determination that Stephen was impressed and hoped it would remain. Stephen looked back over to the boy and told them there was only one outcome where they would win. The boy’s eyes hardened but he didn’t think that he really understood what that meant. How small their chances were.

Stark looked back and reached his own hand over to rest on the boy’s shoulder. The normally aloof expression he wore softened when he gazed at the boy and Stephen got the strange notion that maybe Peter did understand. Maybe he knew deep down the sacrifices they all were going to make.

Their plan was set and so was his own. He would be the first to brace Thanos’s attention but not the last.

Thanos entered his old home and the play began. With constructed nonchalance Stephen drew him in and like a child to candy Thanos couldn’t resist the urge to lecture before striking.

The presence of the others, hiding, biding their time crept into his consciousness and he wondered if Thanos could feel it as well. His powers were great and Stephen wouldn’t have been surprised if they were really the fool in this play.

A glow of red Thanos controlled rewrote a past reality before him. Giant spectacles and lush gardens grew before his eyes and for a moment Stephen let himself feel pity for the creature in front of him. His home now beautiful and whole contrasted with the empty reality that was lying behind the façade. His home was gone. Thanos knew keenly what it was like to be alone and he was willing to bear the burden so that others in the universe didn’t have to face his fate. What he didn’t understand was that his greater good was a worse kind of fate than he faced.

The scenery vanished along with the Thanos’s past. What he proposed was too great. It was too much for the universe to handle but there was a glint in his eyes and Stephen began to understand why he was called the Mad Titan. His will to save the universe burned through Stephen as he gazed into his eyes.

That was the scariest aspect of Thanos. He wasn’t evil. He was attempting to do something horrible for the greater good so that people would be better off. So that they would live better lives. Stephen knew that his vision wouldn’t always unravel how he wanted. He knew that the universe would not be better for it.

“The hardest choices require the strongest wills.”

Stephen felt his heart clench. Did he know? The Titan’s words reflected his inner struggle with their plan. With his plan. He remembered the naïve strength in the boy’s eyes and reinforced his own will. He had to keep strong. He had to.

“I think you’ll find our will equal to yours.”

And in that way they were equals. Stephen would do what was necessary. They all would. He saw it in the set of Star Lord’s chin, in the innocent smile of Mantis, and in the gaze that passed between Stark and his ward.

Stephen brought his hands up to ready position and his will was sealed.

Chaos ruled. Dust rose and screams echoed onto the decrepit buildings from all parties. They gave it their all and more. They funneled their humanity and the humanity of billions into their fight, leaving nothing left.

He observed everyone as best he could while fighting, making sure they were all playing their part. It was valiant to see the bond between Stark and his ward take shape in the fight. As he glanced at them Stephen almost smiled at how protective they were of each other. Peter was in the grips of Thanos and Stark came flying in with jets knocking their enemy out of the way. Similarly Peter distracted Thanos when Stark was under attack. It was strange to see them moving so in sync, almost graceful.

They were close. Peter almost had the glove off. It was so close. But Stephen got too involved with their attempts he forgot that this was supposed to happen. The boy wasn’t supposed to get the glove off.

As he watched the glove slip back on and saw Peter sail across the sky with Mantis in his arms Stephen remembered the look on the kid’s face when his mentor turned back to Stephen earlier. The boy stared at the back of his mentor’s head like he was trying to memorize it. If Stephen was in awe of his determination before it was nothing compared to that look. He could literally feel the love radiating through the bond between them. In that moment Stephen believed he was ready. That there was nothing that would stop Peter from protecting those he loved and it was almost his time to take center stage.

They were doing poorly. At least that’s what it looked like. His body was more and more battered and Stephen could tell his teammates were moving slower. Doubt began to creep into his mind and he had to remind himself that this was according to plan.

It didn’t matter that he knew the outcome already; Stephen kept fighting. He used every trick he knew but still ended up in their enemy’s grasp. Pain bloomed in his stomach as something pierced him and he was distracted. His head landed against the cement and his vision wavered as an ache spread through his head. For the first time that day Stephen let himself rest. He panted in shallow bursts against the rock and held his hand to his stomach. The battle was obscured from his view but he knew.

His eyes caught the glimmers of purple light reflecting off the dismantled spaceship. His stomach ached as his muscles tried to move him and a grimace crossed his face as he pushed his hands under himself in order to see better. So he could witness the consequences of his choice.

Stark was front and center becoming the part of leading man extraordinarily well. He was also losing. The sound of skin hitting metal echoed around him and despite everything Stephen tried to move forward, tried to save his teammate. His legs collapsed under him and he cursed their rebellion.

His legs were motionless and Stephen moved his eyes upward to watch. It was almost beautiful the way Stark’s armor moved. There was a wave like motion in the way it receded in one spot just to drift somewhere else when needed. His chest pounded as he watched the armor on Stark’s leg move upward leaving more skin unprotected.

Thanos bashed his helmet away with ease.

He wanted to cry out and warn Stark that what he was doing wouldn’t work but a power came over him. Like the immobility of his legs Stephen was left voiceless. He wasn’t sure if it was the powers to be or his will manifesting from earlier but whatever it was left frustrated tears in his eyes as he watched the suit and man get pummeled to ashes.

Stephen was so focused on Stark that he momentarily forgot what was about to happen. He was ingrained in the present and began to believe that Stark could do it. That man could win against the Titan. His breath left his chest when he watched in slow motions as Stark’s arm rose backward. Like before his suit moved and formed into a blade hidden before his body. He cheered for Stark and forgot to look behind him, forgot to keep track of the boy who was so very important to his plan.

Stark’s arm thrusted forward but it was easily grasped and relieved of its sharp burden. Out of the corner of his eyes Stephen saw a streak of red swing past him. The metallic suit glinted in the sun looking so much like his mentors. It was then that Stephen remembered.

His eyes swiveled between each spectacle. Now equipped with the blade Thanos wound his arm back and forward. The red blur moved into motion, knocking Stark out of the way.

Stephen expected chaos to ascend on their battlefield but instead silence permeated the course. Thanos’s eyes widened as he saw the blade protruding from the small body now standing in front of him. The boy’s hands delicately cradled the entry site, blood seeping onto them and down his suit.

Stark looked up from where he lay on the ground. His expression wasn’t angry or sad. His eyes tweaked in puzzlement trying to understand what happened, why he was on the ground instead of in front of Thanos.

Peter fell forward and Thanos reached out to stop him from falling. The large purple hands were gentle as they took Peter’s shoulders into their grip. His weight continued to fall and Thanos guided him to lie on down.

Stark watched with an unchanged expression and Stephen cursed his knowledge. He tried to get up again. His legs spasmed under his efforts but he couldn’t move. He couldn’t do anything.

Stark looked from Thanos, who was staring at the blade, to Peter’s form. Thanos pulled off Peter’s mask. As soon as it was gone the spell of puzzlement Stark was under disappeared. Peter coughed and Stark crawled forward. His motions jerky, kicking up dust in his wake, and his mouth panted in order to get to Peter.

Thanos knelt next to Peter staring at the youthful face that was revealed. Stephen thought it was ironic how this boy’s expression could cause such a reaction in such powerful people. How his sacrifice was the key to fortifying his will and breaking the Titan’s.

Stark came upon the body and his hands hovered over the wound, his eyes tracing the liquid escaping its confines. His eyes moved toward the boy’s face and crumpled at the sight. Peter’s eyes stared at the man he admired.

“Mr… Mr. Stark. Is that you?”

“It’s me Peter.”

“Tell May for me. Tell her I love her.”

Stephen couldn’t see Tony’s face but his voice conveyed all the emotion not in his view.

“Don’t Kid. You don’t get a goodbye speech just yet.”

The boy wasn’t listening. With effort he brought his hand up to clasp Stark’s.

“Thank you, Mr. Stark. For everything.”

Stephen could see the way Stark’s hands, the one bare, smoothed over Peter’s forehead. He wiped the tears the boy shed off his face and whispered something to the boy that Stephen couldn’t hear now and wasn’t privy to in his vision. Stark bowed his head so it was touching the boys.

It was silent.

With a sped like Stephen had never seen before Peter’s suit contracted over his body and transferred to Stark’s suit, creating an amalgamation of the two. Stark jumped across Peter and encased Thanos’s throat with his hands squeezing until his knuckles were white. Thanos tried to beat him off but Stark held strong against the blows.

Stephen breathed in sharply and found he could finally move. His magic wound through the air and latched onto the purple hands. The suit moved around Stark’s body and onto Thanos’s mouth where it created another cuff. He moved to grip the gauntlet. His eyes were hard as he tried to remove it. Then a spiteful sparkle entered them. Again Stark’s arm came back and another blade formed, this time he raised it high and brought it down severing the arm from body.

Thanos let out an ugly cry against the cuff and fell forward. Blasters exploded out of the suit and Stephen tightened his magic. The world was orange lights and muffled screams until the dust settled.

Thanos’s form was black and prone. His face buried against the ground. Stephen looked away from the body not releasing his magic yet.

The gauntlet was in Stark’s hands. His eyes gazed at the gold reverently; taking in the stones that had cost them so much before traveling to the small body he knelt by earlier.

“Don’t.” He warned even though it was useless.

Stark held the weapon in his hands, weighing it and what he was about to do, before sliding the glove onto his hand. A wave of power tore through the field and a rainbow radiated through Stark’s profile. His back bent unnaturally and a low groan emanated from him. He turned away from Stephen and moved to the boy.

“Please…” He heard the whisper from where he stood. A warm orange glow surrounded Peter.

Stephen watched as the blade made from Stark’s own suit crumbled into the atmosphere leaving nothing projecting from the body. Peter remained motionless.

He watched as Stark bent forward, his shoulders shaking.

He watched as Stark moved again and his mangled arm came into view.

He watched and waited to see what he already witnessed.

Peter convulsed forward with a cough and Stark’s shoulders shook harder. His hands came up to cup the boys face. Stephen looked away not wanting to intrude on their reunion for a second time. He heard the others start to move and find each other.

He sat down heavily and observed mentor and ward embrace. He didn’t bother to staunch the bleeding in his stomach or stop the magic from leaking out of the wound.

It was too late for that now. He had played his part.

Stephen Strange sat on Titan and smiled at the fact that maybe he had been wrong. Maybe this wasn’t the worst future. He just wouldn’t be there to see it.

Chapter Text

Lord Stark stared at the man across from him with hard eyes. His gaze was unyielding even when the whispers reached a crescendo. He raised his eyebrow, challenging the bastard to look away. When the whispers and attention peaked to an almost comical level Lord Stark decidedly looked away and the room hushed at the snub.

The tension vibrated through the room and still turned away he spoke. “Do you accept?”

The tensioned radiated and then froze. For a moment no one breathed. Anthony was a patient man and would stand there all day if he had to. He knew that there was every reason for the man to decline and even more at stake if he didn’t.

Lord Andrews exited the room muttering curses under his breath. He snatched his gloves and hat out of the Butler’s hand, enlightening the man a name like Friday was not acceptable for the noble profession.

He thought as he walked out onto the front step that everything about Lord Stark was ridiculous. Everything except his money. That, Fredrick thought, was not something to be mocked.

The carriage door slammed shut but his eyes rested on the house. The large windows and parapets dripped with their master’s wealth and Fredrick grinned wickedly. It all should have been his. His eyes closed as the carriage moved forward. Visions of the voluptuous interior and the woman that had nearly been his laid in his memories. He had a duel to prepare for.

-

Back at Stark’s Townhouse, Tony sank against the chair in his drawing room. Why had he been cursed with a daughter? The devil take him now. He rose up and straightened his cravat, running his hands through his hair.

The light under Penelope’s door was unlit. Like a warning bell his knock rang out through the hall. He heard a faint call to enter and twisted the handle.

His daughter was draped across the bed like an expensive throw. Her velvet dress shined in the firelight and her curls, which every morning were meticulously fashioned, were spread in disarray over the satin bedspread.

“Penelope?”

She raised her head and Tony’s heart stopped for a moment. Tear tracks seeped into her face, leaving glistening strokes on her pale cheeks. She reminded him of a cosset lamb. The tainted innocence painted her face. He averted his eyes to afford her more privacy.

“Daddy.” She said with a whimper and fell back onto the bed. Tony strode forward, decorum forgotten, and gathered his daughter in his arms. Despite the many layers of her dress she felt small in his arms.

“What am I going to do with you, my dear?” He whispered into her hair, kissing the crown of her head.

Her shoulders shook harder and his hand patted her back, wishing not for the fist time that her mother were here to deal with these outbursts.

“There, there.” He said.

He knew the moment Penelope came back from tea with the marvelous Lady Pepper that something was wrong. After a carefully worded comment to Penelope he found that it was him alone who thought it was wrong. He noticed a rapid change in her countenance, the way she held herself straighter after the afternoon.

Upon discovering his daughter met a certain gentlemen Tony’s curiosity was piqued. After her debut into society many men applied themselves in hopes to gain his daughter’s good nature but none succeeded so far. Small comments kept cropping up through dinner about this ‘certain gentlemen’, as she referred to him. If she knew how much the moniker was said Tony was sure she would have censored herself. Fortunately, her expression remained unguarded, as it was the two of them.

“Penelope, am I to learn what this gentleman’s name is?”

A becoming blush stained her cheeks and Tony was reminded how young the girl was.

“Lord Andrews, Father. All the ladies were positively enchanted, I’m sure.”

“And what about you?” He said with a smirk noting the way her cheeks darkened and her eyes wouldn’t quite meet his.

“I don’t know what you’re implying father but I was perfectly cordial to everyone at tea. You know Lady Pepper insisted I bring you those scones you so like.” Her distraction worked and the matter was forgotten… then.

Another luncheon came and Tony listened to the reports of latest news from Penelope while he perused the paper. She stopped talking and Tony lowered the paper. Her hands fiddled with the silverware. Tony huddled behind the paper once again feeling the weight of her eyes through the print.

“Was there anything else of note?”He finally spoke after the room was bathed in silence for to long and he could practically feel her words ready to burst forth.

“And Lord Andrews was there again, father. He talked almost the whole time with Mrs. Board, of course he had to as she was the host, but at the end we had an enlightening conversation about his beliefs about science and he went on to explain the most fascinating work done by…” She paused. “By a woman. Her name was Fulhame and she is a chemist. It’s most uncommon I know but it’s amazing to hear. And he didn’t seem scandalized by it one bit and he…” She trailed off and bit her lip.

“And he what? Don’t leave me in want of the conclusion of your riveting conversation.”

“And he took my opinion into account. Why I believe I might have even given him new thoughts on the subject. It was exhilarating.” Her eyes closed as her head came to rest on the back on her seat. A small smile she wasn’t aware of graced her face.

Tony smiled as well. It was… frowned upon for women to be educated beyond the domestic arts but, as his daughter, Tony sought the best tutors and education money could buy. As a result her mind was widened to the possibilities of the world. She was a great conversationalist and well read but many looked down upon those same characteristics because of her sex.

It was difficult seeing the way many suitors withdrew their interest when she brought up Descartes, a favorite philosopher of hers, or some other topic that women shouldn’t know of. It was to their detriment, Tony thought sourly, but it continued to hurt when she would question her studies after such events happened.

This was the second time Penelope brought up the name of Andrews and Tony’s curiosity needed to be sated. He played with his cup before draining it. In his preoccupation he failed to notice the strange look come over Penelope’s face. His daughter’s chair screeched along the ground as she stood.

“Don’t stand on ceremony, father. I’m retiring for the night.”

“Are you feeling well?”

Her hands clasped in front of her, a blush staining her cheeks. “Quite so. I am tired that is all. The day has worn on me more than usual.” She bent down to kiss the crown of his head and quit the room.

Tony was left with a full plate and an equally full head.

-

The following day found him greeting his old friend, Lord Rhodey. They were situated in his study with a glass of brandy each.

“Well then?” James’s back was to him and the fire cast shadows on his face.

“What do you know of this Lord Andrews? The name certainly doesn’t sound familiar to me.” Rhodey turned around and topped off their drinks before sitting across from him.

“I don’t know much, Anthony. I know he recently came back from abroad. I can do what I can to find out more though.”

He spun his finger around the rim considering his friends offer. “Please.” He said tersely.

“What interest do you have?”

“It’s not me with the interest” Rhodey’s eyebrows rose. “Penelope has had conversations with this ‘certain gentleman’ and I was curious.”

“Not again. You did this with that, what was his name? The Harney fellow. He met Penny, showed some interest, and you hired a detective to follow him. How is she ever going to find a husband if your shadow masks her from view?”

Tony glared at his supposed friend. To bring up that incident brought foul memories. He was correct in hiring the man to follow Harney. It was found out that he was a fortune hunter and nothing more. In the end he stopped the entire acquaintance from evolving before his daughter’s attachments were secure. He sent Harney packing with a stern word and pockets as light as they arrived.

He leaned back in the chair and stared down into the glass admiring the way the amber liquid mimicked the qualities of a gemstone; the way its rich tones changed color depending on the firelight.

“Find out for me would you?”

“As you request.” His friend said in reply.

-

James proved invaluable to him once again. He worked quickly and efficiently to scent out the new meat. Tony was informed at once with what he found.

One Lord Fredrick Andrews was the son of Lord Andrew Andrews, and was just as ridiculous as his forebearer’s name. The whereabouts of his wealth were put into question after some unfortunate interests, the rumors were he had a proclivity for gambling, and his debts were piled high in cities across the continent. After that he prolonged his grand tour in Europe indefinitely. Andrews only returned recently to take in the sights of his home. One of which appeared to be his daughter.

In the time between his request and receiving the information Andrews had called upon her twice and Tony had the opportunity to take the measure of him himself.

Even if the information arrived earlier Tony’s first impression would not have been worse. In the end he was left with an opinion he wasn’t amused with. Oh, his manner was pleasing and anyone could see he was educated but there was something in his eyes. They were cold and distant when his smile spoke of cheer.

He was an attentive guest to all his hosts and showered every aspect of the drawing room with compliments. Tony observed his manner, especially when everyone’s attention was diverted elsewhere. To the casual eye nothing changed but, being a man of the world, Tony appointed himself a good judge of character and he watched as the man’s smile faded. How his eyes followed his daughter’s figure around the room. Something about it made his stomach clench and it grew worse after James relayed his history.

Maybe he was being overprotective. Lord knows it happened before but his daughter seemed unaware that the object of her budding affection, anyone could see she was smitten, was a cad. She conducted herself properly and with all the grace of an excellent hostess but her own eyes would linger on the gentlemen past Tony’s liking. In her gaze Tony found the innocent hope begin to grow and he was abhorrent to take it away. As he watched her speak to their guests he marveled at her ability to put them at ease and guide the room through the afternoon.

Penelope had grown up well considering her past.

His own thoughts took a darker turn. Richard and Mary Parker were life long friends of his and every time he looked at his daughter’s face he was reminded she was theirs as much as his.

Although it was thirteen years past since Penelope arrived, it felt like yesterday that little girl with dark circles under her eyes came to his door. Her parents passing crumpled her constitution and for a long time she would tremble at every sound and raised voice.

The police told him there was a freak robbery. The couple was known for their prestige and jealousy along with rumors followed them through life. One night a desperate man with a gun sealed their fate. Tony’s fate was sealed that night as well.

The Parker’s adored their closest friend but knew his bachelor lifestyle obstructed his life from progressing healthily. His grand tour took up five long years of his life and the mindset proceeded much longer. It was with great disbelief that the Parker’s bequeathed their most precious treasure to him. Their daughter.

His life changed the moment she shuffled across his doorway and stood there, petticoats frilly and a stuffed bear clung to her chest. She stood there handing her small gloves to Friday and in the sweetest voice murmuring a ‘thank you so much, Sir’ to the butler.

Tony watched from upstairs, unseen, as she stood in the middle of the room unnaturally quiet for a child and so very small. Her hand came up to brush against her cheeks and Tony descended down to see his new ward. Her back straightened and she looked at him right in the eyes before curtsying low. Something about the action made his heart throb.

“Good afternoon, Lord Stark. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

Her manner was precise and, while not cold, distant in their formality. Their encounters onward continued as they begun. They ate breakfast together on days when Tony wasn’t hung over from the club and sometimes he took tea but other than that he left her alone in the care of her nanny.

Months passed where, looking back on it now, Tony could see he was tiptoeing around the girl. How did one interact with a child when he himself was barely older than one? In a way he was afraid. Afraid he would somehow ruin the girl with everything that he was.

This didn’t stop no matter how often he passed by her room and saw her playing alone or with the pictures he would sometimes find under his study door that were created with a youthful hand. It wasn’t until he came home late from the club one night and saw the nanny rushing down the hall that something changed.

“What is going on here?” She flushed before bestowing a small bow; her eyes strayed to his ward’s room.

“Sir, it’s Penny. She’s had another nightmare.” He blanched at the informal use of her name and his eyes strayed to the room. He wasn’t aware that she had been having any nightmares at all. He waved the nanny back to her room against her protests and hearing the cries turned to go where they originated.

The moonlight streamed into the room creating strips of silver light on the floor. The girl’s face was illuminated but instead of youth, it seemed old. Her eyes were scrunched and her mouth turned down by unseen torments. With long strides he crossed the room and with hesitation sat on the edge of the bed. His presence did not ease whatever burdens the girl faced and Tony had to keep from flinching at the tear tracks marring her face.

As he stared down at her face an errant verse came to him, “And what if all of animated nature be but organic harps diversely framed, That tremble into thought.” Nature’s torments and memories were indeed fashioning Penelope into a harp but instead of sweet music, the world was graced with the melody of her cries. It was cruel perhaps that such a child should know such sorrow and Tony wished he could do something, anything to help quell the sound.

Tony closed his eyes and not bearing to listen for another moment let his hand cradle her curls. He whispered to her comforts she should have heard long before. The music of her pain grew in intensity and helpless he continued to sit there rubbing his thumb along her forehead. He cursed his avoidance and his guilt for not being strong enough to face her earlier.

She should be with her real family. Her parents would have known what to do. How to raise her but she was left with Tony who was not doing justice to the faith they placed in him.

She woke with a start and on seeing him quieted at once. Looking away she hastily wiped a clenched hand across her face and Tony’s heart throbbed again.

“It’s alright, Penelope. I’m here now and I’m sorry that I wasn’t before.” Her bright eyes, so wide and trusting, looked at him and he felt a shift inside his chest.

He started when a small hand slipped into his and when he applied pressure around her fingers, her face crumpled once more. She launched herself at him and his arms wrapped securely around her. They held fast and stayed like that through the night. Her shoulders stilled as the sun rose and her breaths became low and steady.

Tony was afraid her sleeping face might hold the anguish he saw before but when he gathered his courage he found her much altered. Her lashes brushed against her clear cheeks, still rosy from the tears, but it was the forgiveness in her large brown eyes that undid him. He had been the abominable to her and yet she forgave so easily. Tony wasn’t going to betray that trust. He would become worthy.

After that they grew much closer, inseparable even. Tony decided to quit the club. The people were a bore there anyway and he had neglected his estate. He decided they would move to the estate in the country and spend more time with his ward. His daughter. Reflecting back Tony would always be mournful of the short lives his friends led but his gratefulness for their own trust in him would never fade.

It was astounding how fast the child bloomed into a young adult and, if he were being honest, Tony wasn’t ready for her to move to the next stage of her life. In the past he may have been overprotective and too harsh in his judgments of those who sought to claim his daughter. It served him well and now with this new threat Tony’s instincts were ready.

-

The newspaper lay unread at the breakfast table. His mind was somewhere far away when the door opened and the object of his thoughts came floating in. It was an apt description for she moved so gracefully that her feet seemed not to touch the ground.

“And what has you in such a pleasant mood, my dear?” He said already fearing the answer.

“Father, I fear I have a confession to make.”

“Before you do may I make a suggestion?“ She nodded and he leaned forward. “Please, think before you give your heart away. It is precious and shouldn’t be handed out to just any suitor that seeks your hand.”

A blush covered her cheeks and she stared decidedly on her breakfast but Tony knew it wouldn’t be long before she spoke. Not a quarter hour had passed before she lifted her gaze and stared hard at him.

“Father, Fredrick loves me. He has told me so.”

He straightened the newspaper, making sure the edges were folded neatly and properly before placing it on the table next to his plate. Tony ignored the use of Andrews’s given name, for now.

“I was afraid you would say that.”

“Afraid?” She exclaimed and instead of answering he steepled his hands in front of him. He regarded his daughter calmly while wishing she were still a naive child who had no interest in romance.

“I would like to talk to this man.”

“Yes, that’s just the thing. Talk to him alone and see what I do. Once you talk you can see!” She said and Tony wasn’t sure whether she was trying to convince him or herself.

-

Lord Andrews entered his study after Friday showed him in. Tony nodded to the butler and regarded the new occupant at length. No nerves showed on his face and Tony was impressed with his steel.

“I have heard a great many things about you, Andrews.” He said neutrally. The man had the decency to flush but gave no outward sign of his inner thoughts or that Tony disregarded his title.

“Not everything you hear is to be believed.” Tony snorted. He knew that the hard way. “So, what do I owe this summons?”

“Did you know that my daughter stands to inherit 30,000 pounds per annum from me when I die?” He said looking down at his hand.

“I did not.” Andrews replied tersely.

“Yes and that’s on top of what her parents willed her. Though,” He stopped to look at Andrews. “Not a pound will go to her if she marries someone I disapprove of.”

“And how does one win your approval?” An air of derision applied itself to his speech and Tony inwardly smiled.

“Of course the first object is to win my daughters affection. Her sensibility in this is much better than mine but if by some miracle she doesn’t see a cad for what he is I will be there to stop it.”

“And is that what you’re doing? Stopping it?”

“I would always stop a union if one was being dishonest.”

“See here. I have never been dishonest in my life.”

“Oh?” Tony asked before opening his desk drawer and pulling out a stack of notes. “Then all these notices of debts uncollected have nothing to do with you, Andrews?”

The man floundered for a second before straightening his jacket. The flush deepened and Tony watched as he tried to collect himself.

“I am a changed man.” He said as a smile crossed his face. “Penelope has changed me and I would do nothing to harm her.”

“Ah, and now we get to the main problem is that you have just lied to me, thrice.” Andrews made to answer but Tony held up his hand. “You are not a changed man. There are debts accumulating in this city as we speak. My daughter will have nothing to do with you again and you have harmed her by trifling with her affections. If I ever hear you speak her name so casually again you can bet I won’t let you walk away so easily.”

“So I don’t have your blessing?” Tony could hear the anger lacing his words.

“My good man, you never asked for it but if you did I would be confident in saying that you would never receive a blessing from me.”

“We shall see what you’re ward has to say about that.”

“Don’t.” Tony raised his voice for the first time. “She’s not my ward, she’s my daughter. Be honest, do you really want a wife who can’t support your tastes in life?” His attempt to appeal to the wants of the man fell short.

“You’re bluffing. That’s your daughter” Tony’s hands clenched at how he said the word. How he spoke it insincerely, like it didn’t matter. “If I told her she would be heartbroken.”

“Over you or the money? I know she doesn’t care about the latter and are you willing to risk the former?” He said and watched as Andrews growled. His blush deepened with anger and he marched out of the room. The door slammed shut enclosing the room in silence. Tony sighed deeply, hoping his bluff worked and Lord Andrews would make himself scarce, as he believed the money had.

What Tony didn’t realize was at that moment Lord Andrews was preparing to leave their home in haste. Penelope came down the stairs having spied Fredrick arrive earlier and disappear into her father’s study. She noted the red taint to his face and quickly made her way to his side.

Penelope never was interested in the things her nanny taught her growing up. Her love was for what her father and various tutor’s imparted to her. Science and philosophy were the gateways into understanding the world and further to understanding herself. “I think, therefore I am” was one statement she would go back to over and over. The fact that she was a woman did not stop her from being - from thinking. Some people liked to remind her it wasn’t becoming to have such outlandish ideals but how could she ignore everything out there waiting to be thought of.

She couldn’t remember much of her life before coming to live with her father. Vague memories drifted into her thoughts sometimes but they were all hazy. She remembered every second of her time with her father. Those first months were some of the loneliest she faced. She tempered every action and word out of her mouth hoping that her new caregiver would come to like her. At the time she dare not hope for love.

Her nanny was an elderly lady by the name of Alice and was her saving grace. Alice always looked after her. Bathed her when she threw tantrums, read to her, taught her, and most importantly, loved her. She couldn’t remember how many times she awake from a nightmare to find nanny Alice sitting there beside her. That was until it wasn’t Alice there and her father instead. It scared her to see the man she placed all her hopes with sitting there and readied herself for a scolding. His eyes spoke of much sorrow and begged for forgiveness that was never needed. She could see he was finally ready to accept the love she had for him and her father hugged her tight.

Now that she was grown, Penelope knew all about her father’s antics and in the end she was only grateful for his protectiveness. Lucius Harney was one of the few she was disappointed to see go. The man was always so nice to her, even tolerating her interests. Fredrick was the first to accept them, even encourage them, which was why Penelope found herself so admired. Acceptance was an addictive feeling and she wasn’t used to it from many people outside of her family.

Penelope knew her father could be harsh with people he didn’t like, which was why she thought a meeting between the two would help alleviate any problems that might arise. Seeing him upset strained her heart and brought doubts to her mind. She asked what was the matter and her breath stopped short when he grabbed her by the upper arm.

“My darling,” he said. His body dwarfed hers and he walked her back until she hit the wall. His eyes had a strange look about them and Penelope tried to talk to him only to be quieted. To her dismay she found her hands shaking at her sides. “We shall be wed. Whether your father allows it or not.”

“What… What are you talking about Fredrick? You’re scaring me?”

“I don’t care if he never gives his blessing.” He said and looked down at her. His hand released her arm and her own reached up to rub the spot.

“I’m sorry, my darling, but your father has vexed me so.”

“I don’t understand.”Her voice trembled at the force he used. No one had ever touched her in such a violent temper before.

“I’m sure you don’t.” And he patted her cheek. He was treating he like a child, like it was her fault he grabbed her. “I know you told you’re father to test me and I know you would never throw the money away like that. For that I am very grateful, my love.” She cringed but didn’t know why. What money was he talking about?

“I count the hours till I see you again.”

He caressed her cheek again and Penelope was glad it was with a gloved hand. She slid down the wall, staring at nothing, after the latch closed. There was something wrong. His eyes were like nothing she ever saw before and she was sure if she had first seen him this way, she would not have liked him. Fear settled into her core when he grabbed her. He was completely changed from before and Penelope was left unsettled.

Penelope sat there as the light passed through the room. She didn’t notice Friday come into the room and hurry out. It wasn’t until her father’s distinctive strides sounded that she looked up. He knelt beside her and wiped under her cheek surprised to find she was crying.

“My sweet girl. What happened?” At the concern in his voice the fears she had not been able to articulate in her thoughts were blown away. Everything was wrong and she couldn’t understand what Fredrick was talking about. Her heart was pounding hard and she looked to her father for help.

Like the night their relationship as father and daughter started she flung her arms around him and was comforted by the strong arms that enveloped her. In broken words she whispered what happened, trying to make sense of it. Tears slid down her face and onto his shoulder until the well inside ran dry. Languid and weak after her father picked her up and carried her to her up the stairs.

“I love you, Penelope. I always will.”

“What are we going to do about…?” She couldn’t bring herself to say his name and a sour feeling filled her thinking about the man she thought loved her.

Worries filled her head. What if he spread word about her? What if he twisted the events to create falsities? What if…

“Don’t worry, I will take care of it.” He waited until she was asleep before leaving the room and making his way out of the house.

-

Penelope’s heart dropped at the sight of her father cleaning a pistol. Rumors were running rampant through the house and she barged into his study to see if they were true.

She knew that he had the weapon tucked away somewhere but she never wished to know where. They were gruesome things and bestowed unwanted memories into her mind. Her father knew she hated guns. She hated the sight of them and could never forget the smell. Her parents… her parents were shot before her eyes and she would never forget that night or the pale color of their faces as they lay there.

“Don’t do this. Please, Father.” She ran toward him, eyes pleading.

“I have to, my dear. He wronged you and it is up to me to see that justice is served.”

“It doesn’t matter. Please, forget about it.”

“I can’t.” He was always stubborn. “Not when you remind me every time I look into those haunted eyes. I have to do this.”

“No.” she said, equally stubborn. “No, you don’t.”

A sigh burst loose and she sat in a chair, her legs weak. “Who is your second?”

“James.”

“And now your bringing Uncle James into this. It’s not worth it.”

“You will always be worth it.”

Penelope fought back tears but was unsuccessful.

“I hate those things!” She cried out and pushed her face into a pillow. She would never forgive herself for letting that man into their home. Not if her father was hurt. She couldn’t think of if something worse happened. It was a small mercy that she wasn’t there for the issue of the duel. Penelope would have done anything right then to stop it. Now there it was to late. There was no stopping it.

“I’m going” She decided that if it was happening she must be there. Whether in solidarity or to harden her guilt she wasn’t sure.

“No.”

“I’m going, father. I don’t care if I have to steal away or beg Friday to take me.”

“He wouldn’t dare.”

“He would if I asked him” Penelope could tell he knew so too. Friday always had a soft spot for her.

“It’s dangerous.” Tony whispered, his voice cracking.

“I need to be there.”

He nodded not liking it but knowing nothing would stop his daughter once she set her mind.

-

The morning dew caressed the blades of grass and Tony breathed in the brisk air. He looked down at the head of curls next to him and kissed the crown of her head.

It was time.

What was mere rumor grew into gossip that had a crowd gathered around their decided location. The gentleman, Tony couldn’t bear to say his name, stood at the other end of the field; his posse smaller than Tony’s. James stood on his other side and offered the occasional wit to help lighten the mood.

He pulled his pistol out and what little color on Penelope’s face disappeared. He knew she hated it. He did too in a way. They used to adorn his wall as decoration in his study until she entered for the first time and screamed at the sight of them. Penelope ran and buried herself in his arms crying about her parents. After that he put them away and they never talked about it.

The weapon felt heavier than its physical weight in his hand, like a burden he wasn’t quiet prepared to carry. He hugged his daughter close and her smile wavered.

“I love you.”

His heart clenched as she gripped his jacket tight. How could he ever live without her? She saved him from a lonely existence, from never truly living, and that was why he had to do this.

With a nod to James he turned and walked to the middle of the field where the gentleman waited. No words were uttered but Tony saw a glassy quality to his opponent’s eyes that made his heart pound. Their mediator recited the rules and they turned their backs on each other to walk ten paces out.

It was silent and the moment stretched out. Tony stood looking at his family. James was grave and his eyes stayed trained on his opponents back twenty paces behind. Penelope’s never left his face and he gave a silent prayer of thanks that she was in his life. She was his daughter and nothing on heaven and earth could change that.

The two men turned at the same time and Tony raised his hand to the sky while the other’s stayed pointed forward. Their guns went off at the same time and by the time the sound faded one of them was on the ground.

A scream tore out of Penelope as she ran forward. The ground dug into her hands and knees but she paid no mind to the dirt staining her dress. She brought her hands up to cradle the mess of hair atop her father’s head like he had done so long ago when he thought she was sleeping.

“Daddy…” She whispered bringing her hand down along his face, wiping the dirt that fell on it away. Her other hand migrated to his stomach where a deep color seeped from within.

She glanced up and saw Fredrick coming straight toward them. Damp sweat came upon her brow and she moved forward placing her body over her father’s. His face was red with anger and his eyes glassy and wild. Uncle James and another man came forward to hold him back. His yelling ripped through the air and she turned away unable to stomach looking at him.

Penelope blocked her surroundings and focused on the brown eyes that were fluttering open and shut before her. Her hands soaked as she maintained pressure over the wound. She cringed when the doctor moved her away but let the man work. Her father’s hand settled on hers.

“Penny…” he said.

She tried to hug him tighter than she ever had before.

The doctor said it was urgent they go she held his hand in the carriage back. The ride back took forever and the whole time prayers left her lips and journeyed to wherever they were received.

When he was laid up in bed and the wound festered. The fever making him weak she stayed and diligently nursed him. His health returned and Penelope wept in the chair she occupied for what felt like a lifetime.

In the coming years they slowly made their way into society again. Both father and daughter weary to trust any new acquaintances. When James introduced Lord Leeds into their circle Penelope stayed distant for a long time. With encouragement from her Uncle James and grudging acceptance from her father Penelope knew Eddard’s affection was true.

The time came and Tony was there to walk his daughter down the aisle. A smile rested upon his face as he gave the person he loved most into the care of another. It was a beautiful ceremony and many a tear was shed.

Many years after when children played around his feet and his daughter and her husband took care of him in old age, Tony could smile and know he made Richard and Mary proud.

From time to time when Penelope frowned he was reminded of the tears he overheard during his convalesce. She never asked about the certain gentlemen and after that fateful day Tony never saw the pistol again.

His life had been good and when he found himself in his bed for the final time, his daughter and their family surrounding him, Tony couldn’t quite manage to keep the tears from his eyes.

“We’re here, father.” She said and leaned forward to capture his weathered hand. He smiled one last time and basked in the warmth from the fireplace.

Chapter Text

Peter stumbled through his window and into their apartment. His left arm dangled useless at his side and the pain, which had been almost too acute before was gone now. He distantly realized this situation was serious. Their apartment complex was on fire. His arm was damaged and he needed to get to May.

Heat spread through his room. Peter strained to see through the smoke that was building. His ankle ached with pressure as he limped forward. It landed the wrong way on a fallen board and he was sent sprawling. His right arm moved forward to catch him but the other flapped as if devoid of bone. The ground slammed into his body knocking the wind out of him.

Peter lay there for a moment, listening to the cries from his building and its occupants before pushing himself up with his good arm and continuing forward. It was difficult crawling with one arm. Sweat dripped down his face and Peter tried to blink away the droplets caught in his eye. He tried to remember the fire safety rules he learned in kindergarten but nothing was forthcoming at the moment. All he knew was Kingpin attacked his home and everyone was suffering because of it. It wouldn’t look like the man was involved but Peter knew his style. Make it looked innocent, like an accident, and no one would be any wiser. All to get vengeance against him.

May’s groans were clear from the other room and he ignored the throbbing in his joints to move faster. The fire was spreading and heat licked his body. He entered the kitchen and grabbed a damp rag from off of the dishwasher. He gagged at the rotten food smell against his nose and mouth but kept it pressed to his face. It was better than not breathing at all.

“May?” He called out but could hear no answer. “May!” He said louder this time and could hear her whisper his name from her bedroom.

The smoke made it impossible to take in a full breath. Peter was subjected to the tainted air and rotten smells with every inhalation. Turning into the room he could see May’s arm draped over the side of the bed. He crawled forward knees burning from the exertion and gazed at her. Soot covered her face and ingrained itself in her laugh lines, making the beautiful turn sour. He dragged her onto the floor taking the damp rag from his mouth and tying it around hers. Her breathing was shallow before and Peter hoped it wasn’t his imagination that it seemed easier on the lower elevation.

Her eyes remained closed. Peter took one large breath before he stood up, legs shaking. Taking both wrists in one hand they made their way forward. Fire bloomed around them creeping closer to their bodies as Peter dragged May behind him. They passed furniture and homework all sitting out as if their world wasn’t being burned to ash.

His skin was hot. Hit throat was hot. Everything was hot and Peter couldn’t remember what it felt like to breath easy. Smoke infiltrated his lungs and burned its way into his body. He staggered against the counter, the edges digging into his stomach. His vision tunneled as he took another breath in.

The door to the apartment was only a few feet away but Peter knew he wouldn’t make it. All of his powers and he wasn’t strong enough. He dragged May forward as far as he could take her before collapsing to the ground. His chest hyperventilated in its pointless search for fresh air. Peter’s eyes fought against the temptation to close and he stared at May’s face.

Peter looked past the soot and scratches on her cheeks. She was peaceful there. Looking at her face one wouldn’t suspect they were in a burning building that they might never get out of. Peter lay there, unable to move but hating himself for giving up. His hand to cupped the side of his aunt’s face before holding her hand and with a frown Peter closed his eyes.

-

The fire truck screeched to a stop in front of the apartment complex in Forest Hills. They were exiting the truck before it was in park. The ladders, hoses, and equipment were unloaded with practiced precision and Samuel Savel said a quick prayer to the powers that be before he and his team entered the building. Most of the families were out already but it was their job to make sure everyone was. To evacuate as many people as they could.

Samuel and his team split the building into sections and methodically searched the rooms. The fire’s plague spread throughout the building, infecting the walls and weakening its structure. This would not be a fast one. His suit was heavy on his body but he pushed through.

He raised his voice in hopes that someone would hear. He heard a muffled cry come from his right and he looked into what once was a sitting room. A young man lay trapped under a fallen board. Samuel moved quickly, pitching the board off and gathering the body into his arms.

Back and forth he climbed the stairs. The damage increasing each time and he knew they were running out of time. Most doors were open because people left in such a hurry. Samuel came upon a closed door and mentally crossed his fingers that it wasn’t locked.

The door opened and he called out but didn’t here any response. Moving further into the room he called again. Planks from the ceiling were strewn along the room and as he pushed one aside he saw something.

There were hands clasped together on the ground. He traced one and saw a woman. Her face was obscured by a cloth, making it hard to see what she looked like. The other revealed a young boy about the age of his own twins. It was only when the women groaned that he realized he stopped moving. Samuel was unusually strong even for a firefighter and with the strength of few he gathered them into his arms.

The buildings structure was irreplaceably damaged and the stairs were no longer an option. He trudged through the apartment and to the window. The ladders they set up earlier on the A-side were there and his teammates took the two burdens from him before he went down the escape. Everyone was out but there was no time to rest. They worked tirelessly to contain the fire; making certain that no other building would face the same fate.

He knew first hand how anguishing it could be to loose all of your possessions. How you could never look through old photographs when the mood struck. There was this deep pining for something long gone that would well up inside you and even though they were just possessions, they were still important. Especially the photos.

His own home was taken about ten years back to a gas leak. All of the photos from his childhood and of his children before age five were burnt away. He could still remember one from a beach day they took when they turned five. All of his family gathered around a sandcastle and a nice lady took the picture for them. Last he saw it was hanging on his fridge.

Samuel leaned against the truck and stared up at the blackened building, his face unreadable. His teammates left him alone knowing he needed time to think after a mission.

He straightened suddenly and got up to check on the survivors. Some of them already went to the hospital but the last two were still there. Samuel stopped when he saw the famous red and gold suit standing to the side.

He swallowed before moving to stand beside the suit. The helmet came off and he saw Tony Stark’s face for the first time in person.

“You pulled them out?” He said and Samuel nodded with a knit brow.

“Is there something I can do for you?” He asked, wondering why Iron Man was here in Queens.

The man didn’t answer but looked over to the boy resting on the gurney. For the first time Samuel took note of what the boy looked like.

His brunette hair was matted down onto his face and his eyes were sad despite the smile directed at the EMT. He looked far younger than Samuel first thought. His breath left him when the blanket covering him moved and he saw what the kid was wearing. The red suit iced with black lines peeped out from under the blanket. A large arachnid was prominently on display. The same symbol Samuel had seen thousands of times on the news. Samuel found his head whipping to the side, staring with wide eyes at the man next to him.

It was known throughout New York, probably the world, that Iron Man took the New York based superhero under his wings. Samuel’s sons were huge fans. He was a huge fan. Spider Man helped the firemen countless times before but he hadn’t known he was so close to home; someone so young.

Metal fingers curled around his shoulder and he looked away from the young boy to glance at his mentor. Gone was the man he was used to seeing in the news. The Tony Stark that stood in front of him was vulnerable. He was real.

His eyes glistened and he spoke quiet and sure.

“Thank you. Thank you so much.”

Samuel nodded and watched as the pair met eyes. A smile that was so like his boys crossed Spider Man’s face and Stark walked away from him toward the boy. His hand came up to settle on the his shoulder. Spider Man looked up and Samuel could see the tears forming. The boy’s face was covered when Stark leaned forward and gripped him in a hug. Samuel turned away not wanting to invade on their privacy and made sure there were no reporters around.

He couldn’t wait to get home and tell his twins whom he saved that day.

Chapter Text

It was eleven months since he moved into the tall building and Peter had only seen Mr. Stark a total of seventeen times. When Peter mentioned it to his nanny, the man’s eyes narrowed for a moment before congratulating him on counting that high.

His new home was huge and every time Peter explored he found something new. His nanny, Mr. Chi, couldn’t be there at all hours of the day and night to look after Peter so sometimes he was left to himself. Jarvis was always there if he needed help but Peter knew the rules. Rule seven stated that if a door wouldn’t open it meant he wasn’t allowed in. That was easy enough to follow because it enforced itself. The rest of the rooms were fair game to Peter and that was all he cared about. So much alone time meant boredom and his curious nature needed to be sated somehow.

He explored methodically, room by room, as the days went and took careful note to remember where he left off so the next day he could continue his way. Sometimes he ended up meeting people in his explorations. They would smile and sometimes, if they weren’t busy, would talk to him. Truth be told Peter looked forward to those times. He couldn’t wait to tell someone about what he discovered.

It was on such excursion that he met his friends, Ms. Pepper and Rhodey. They always made time for him though he knew they were busy and they never patronized him. Rhodey would greet and say goodbye to him with the warmest hugs. Ms. Pepper snuck him treats sometimes and helped him with his homework from Mr. Chi. Sometimes he wasn’t sure if he was exploring or trying to catch a glimpse of them.

Mr. Chi gave him homework to complete throughout the week and he was by far the person who Peter spent most of his time with but Mr. Chi was not his friend. It wasn’t that Peter didn’t like him, the boy was hard-pressed to find anybody to dislike, but there was a strict distinction between teacher and student. He diligently finished the work so that the man would be pleased with him.

The last person who remained was the one who took control of him when his parents died. Mr. Stark was also the person that Peter saw the least and wanted to the most. He was curious about the man who saved him from being alone. Who plucked him from darkness and took him to a magic tower. His dreams were the only things that were not affected by their new surrounding. No matter how much Peter wished it they were disturbed by shadows and when he woke up, heart pounding and sheets tangled, he was left with a deep longing for his family.

-

It was the anniversary of Peter coming to live in the Tower. It was also the anniversary of his parent’s deaths and Peter was not behaving today.

If asked, Mr. Chi would say that Peter was an unusually bright boy that, when applied, was a fast learner and overall nice person. If pressed for more Mr. Chi might say that there was something missing when the boy smiled. Something in the way his eyes hardly lit up contrasting heavily with the bright smile on his face.

Peter was not smiling today. He ran out of his lesson with Mr. Chi and, asking Jarvis not to let his teacher know where he was, found one of his favorite closets. Peter sat on a makeshift chair he fashioned out of an upturned bucket and stared at the door.

His head bent forward to rest on his crossed arms and Peter sat there in the dark.

-

Tony Stark’s day could not get any worse.

First a business deal fell apart. Of course, Pepper blamed it on the fact that he was late… and hangover. His life consisted of meeting after one more meeting and his mind was melted by the end of each day so he wasn’t sure what she expected.

All he wanted to do was go back to his floor, have a drink or two, and collapse for the night without any intrusions. He grimaced at the thought. No matter what his instructions were Jarvis insisted on informing him when the kid woke up from a nightmare and contrary to what the press thought Tony had a heart. He could hear the disapproval in the AI’s tone when Tony acknowledged but didn’t move from his floor.

What was he supposed to do? He wasn’t the kid’s father. No, his father was pushing up daisies on a hill somewhere. Tony wasn’t anyone’s father and didn’t know how to be. How could he be one when he never had one himself? If Tony were around more he would have felt awkward living with a child. As it was his own insecurities turned to annoyance at having to curb his life to fit the needs of some kid.

He tried, he would tell us, to welcome the kid into his life at first. The day after the boy came he had breakfast catered. A real smorgasbord spread out on the table for them only to have the boy stick his nose up and nibble at a piece of toast.

After that Tony let the boy stew and a week later he tried again. This time he took the kid to see a movie. Again, it did not go well and when the boy started crying, Tony realized that a crime movie wasn’t the best way to bond with a five year old whose parents were just murdered.

Frustrated and embarrassed Tony didn’t trust himself anymore but was too proud to ask for any advice. From that point he kept their interactions short and businesslike.

Every time he ran into the kid he was left confused. Tony was sure there was some type of vital translation errors between them because something would happen that would invariably confuse him. It happened last month when he came into one of the kid’s sessions with Mr. Chi. Tony stood at the back of the room shifting his feet back and forth and debated whether Mr. Chi was right. Would the kid want him there? He hadn’t seen Tony yet but was showing some type drawing he finished. Tony felt the breath rush out of him. There on the page was, if the misshapen facial hair was anything to go by, him. He was there with what looked to be all sorts of weeds around him and then in the corner Tony thought it looked like the kid. At least it was small enough. The figures were so far apart though and blocked by all the weeds. Tony wasn’t sure what to make of it but Mr. Chi was looking at him like it was important but he couldn’t understand and Tony fled the room.

He refused to think about why the kid drew that and what it meant, but he couldn’t get it out of his mind. Why was he surrounded by such dense green and did his facial hair really look that out of control? It seemed like the kid was always around a corner but sadly he was the person Tony saw the most. He sat down at his desk and snorted at how pathetic that sounded. Pepper was avoiding him recently and would leave all their interactions to over the phone and Rhodey was busy with work…or also avoiding him. Tony didn’t know nor did he care. He was fine.

He played with his pen and gazed around his office. On the walls were paintings that Pepper acquired for him. They were neutrals tones, grey and beige, and matched beautifully with the furniture. His desk was the only piece that Tony picked out for himself and sat in the middle of the room. In fact it was something he made from old Iron Man suits that he soldered together. It had thin steel legs that intertwined and twisted under a thick glass top. Tony loved how you could look through the top at so many different angles and not see what was holding it up. Only by standing just right would you be able to see the delicate metal supporting the glass.

Tonight, Tony stared blankly around the room, noticing for the first time how out of place his desk looked. The grungy style of the desk looked out of place among the sophisticated decorations. He sighed and put his head in his hand.

Everything would be fine if he could get some sleep inside of trying to psychoanalyze his furniture.

-

If asked Tony could tell us the name, age, and relevant information recorded on the file for one Peter Parker. If asked again he would flounder and instead of admitting he knew nothing personal about him, would say that the boy didn’t like toast or violent movies. When pressed once more Tony would storm out of the room without answering.

When he walked into the living room of his floor he was displeased to see Mr. Chi sitting on one of his couches.

“Oh,” he said before moving to the liquor cabinet. “You’re still here are you?”

The man sighed and Tony’s cheek twitched. No good had ever come from finding the man staying late to talk to him. Usually Tony was subjected to these little talks once a month. Sometimes more depending on how the boy was doing and Tony hated them. Hated the pleading in Mr. Chi’s eyes when he talked to Tony. It was the same look Pepper and Rhodey would give him and made him feel like a villain.

“As I have recommended multiple times, Mr. Stark…”

“Please, just Tony.”

“As you wish. I have told you, Tony, the boy needs guidance. He needs someone to look up to. Rules and boundaries so he is not walking aimlessly along life’s path.”
Tony snorted but didn’t look up from his glass the uneasiness grew in his stomach.

“And I told you. I’m not the man for the job. I wouldn’t be able to keep my rule from becoming a dictatorship.”The man across from him shook his head.

“I thought it wise to tell you...” He paused and waited for Tony to look up.

“Yes?”

“You know what day it is.” Tony rubbed his hand down his face before draining the glass and filling it again.

“Yes. Its Friday.” He said with sarcasm

“Indeed, it is and not just any Friday. Peter is currently hiding in the closet on the fifty-seventh floor.”

“Again?” Tony asked.

The man sidestepped his question with a suggestion that sounded more like a command: “I think it prudent if you go find him. Personally.”

Tony swallowed at the hard look coming from Mr. Chi. It wasn’t the first time he’d been subjected to it and Tony was sure it wouldn’t be the last. Resignation dripped from his expression as he wished the man a goodnight. He wondered how well he would have succeeded under Mr. Chi’s tutelage when he was a child.

He started down the stairs forgoing the elevator to lengthen the time it took to get there. The closet was at the end of a rarely used hallway and Tony’s eyes purposefully avoided it as he walked closer. When he stood in front of it he saw the no light emerged from under it. Tony wondered how long the boy had been in there.

Not letting himself be cowed by a five-year-old Tony strong forward and knocked.

“Peter?” He said with no response. “Peter.” Annoyance seeped into the name and infused it with purpose. Tony was wrong. The day could get worse.

“Open the door. Now.” His ear pressed flat against the door and still not a sound could be heard. He paced back a forth for a moment, his eyes straying to the closed door.

“Jarvis. Unlock the door, please.”

Jarvis seemed to be giving him the cold shoulder because without a word the door opened. The light from the hallway flooded into the tiny room. Tony glanced in and saw what looked to be some kind of chair, complete with handles made of old stacked cleaning bottles. It was… resourceful.

He stepped closer and spied a shoe covered half in shadow. Tony followed the shoe into the shadow and spotted a leg and then a small body attached. He lay quiet and still. At first Tony thought he was sleeping, he couldn’t see the boy’s face but he liked to imagine that was all but the boy hadn’t moved when Tony entered.

The ground rushed up to hit his knees and Tony stared at the boy. His hands reached out in front of him toward the small body but stopped before they could touch him. What if he hurt the boy without knowing?

His hands trembled in the air and staring at the child thoughts of his own childhood burst from their box in his mind. Isn’t that the same excuse he gave Howard? It was certainly the way he managed as a child. Howard couldn’t possible have known he was hurting Tony so it wasn’t the man’s fault. It was an accident. His father told him that many times but now Tony didn’t want to repeat the same accident.

“Peter?” He whispered and realized it was the first time he ever spoke the boy’s name out loud; At least in his remembrance. Ironic than that the boy wasn’t awake to hear it. His chest rose and fell rapidly. Faster than he thought was normal. His hand moved on its own to ghost over his pulse. It was too high. Tony’s breath stopped and he pulled his hand away, shaking, as if he was burned.

“Jarvis?” He said not sure what he was asking,

“His pulse is high, Tony. You need to get him to the Medbay. He has suffered from what seems to be a panic attack, again.”

There was that word: again. Like the definition itself, the word kept repeating over in his life and Tony was starting to hate it. It meant that there wasn’t one bad thing but multiple. That the burdens would continuously stack up on each other creating an unmanageable load.

He took in a deep breath and gently picked Peter up before walking to the Medbay. He held the body in his arms away far into the air but his neck bent to look uncomfortable. Slowly Tony brought Peter closer to him and rested the small head on his shoulder ignoring the warmth before picking up his pace.

The nurse on duty bristled when she took Peter’s pulse and other vitals. It was strange seeing the normally active child in bed, still. It was strange seeing him in general. His hair which Tony now guessed was freshly cut when he came to live here was now longer and little curls rested against his forehead. Small freckles lay underneath the curls and along his chin and cheeks. Tony wondered what color eyes he had. Wires wrapped around him creating a strange sort of cage and Tony took a sat in a chair to the side until the nurse came back.

“Alright Mr. Stark. He’s going to be fine. From what we gathered he must have had a panic attack, which caused him to fall and hit his head. It was lucky you found him. I suggest you watch him for twenty-four hours and then check back in. Lots of rest and no stress.” She said, checking Peter over once more before leaving him alone in the room.

Tony rested his forehead on his clasped hands and stared past them to the ground. The sound of the machines whirling and their breathing filled the room and gave the illusion they were the only two people in the world. He glanced up at the boy again and caught the deep circles ingrained under Peter’s eyes. Nobody that young should be so tired; nobody that young should be lying in a hospital bed.

He thought back to the many conversations he had with Rhodey and Pepper. On first meeting the two were smitten with the boy. Somehow they came across Peter and immediately fell in love. They set up some sort of intervention for him complete with his favorite cake but Tony wouldn’t listen. Wouldn’t see past his own history to see the possibilities in Peter’s. After their last attempt to talk sense into Tony was met by an intoxication level they hadn’t seen in a while they left him to simmer. They hadn’t been back to see him again.

How was he supposed to handle caring for another person? A child? It was too much and Tony wasn’t ready for it. His eyes flitted to the door; hope building that someone would arrive and be able to fix everything. The door remained closed. Worries and doubts plagued him through the whole night but he sat there next to Peter.

The sun long past disappeared when he noticed the kid’s body trembling. He quickly took off his jacket and laid it over the boy, its length covering Peter’s whole body. Tony wrapped his arms around himself and stayed vigilant.

The renewed sun appeared but Tony’s will remained unchanged. He had no late night revelations about what he should do. Their little hospital room was untouched by anything from the outside and Tony felt as though he aged a lifetime by daybreak.

The small hand twitched and then a groan came from the boy.

“Peter?” He said, tasting the name on his tongue for what felt like the first time.

“Mr… Mr. Stark?” The voice that responded was weak and dry. Tony hurried to lift some water and watched as Peter gulped it down murmuring a weak thanks. He watched as Peter’s head flopped down onto the pillow and turned to look at him.

Warm brown eyes regarded him. Tony should have guessed that was their color, was ashamed he hadn’t known. They were a mixture of many browns. In one corner there were gold flecks and in the other there was a beautiful hazel that reminded him of his mother’s eyes. Peter smiled at him and Tony’s heart stopped.

Thankfully a nurse came in before Tony had to say anything and he took the opportunity to make a phone call. He felt odd contacting someone from work but it needed to be done. He had to cancel the meetings scheduled for this morning. Tony stepped back into the room not a quarter hour later and curled his hands into light fists. He hurried out and went to the nursing station.

“We thought you were going back to work so we had someone take him back to his room.”

Tony nodded and with heavy feet left the Medbay. The air in his office was stale, unused, and he had the errant thought that maybe they had been locked away in that little room for a thousand years.

He sat in his chair and started opening emails. No one cared it was Saturday. There was always work to be done. He worked on autopilot and answered them but the image of the Peter in that closet never was far away.

On more than one occasion he was tempted to see how Peter was doing. In the end he stayed in his office. Tony stayed seated at his chair staring at the beige paintings wondering why, all the sudden, his heart felt heavier and the glass of brandy to his right didn’t comfort him as it normally did.

Chapter Text

What everyone knows about being stabbed is how much it sucks. Oh yes, it’s true what they write about. There’s a distanced pain as you discover the object lodge inside you. Inside what always seemed to be an impenetrable armor but instead was just skin and tissue at the end and not much protection at all. Then the realization occurs and the pain sets in. That all is true and it hurts like a motherfucker. What people forget to talk about is what happens after you get stabbed. That is what really sucks.

Tony wiped a hand across his face as the toilet bowl filled with regurgitated food swirled around until it flushed from his sight. His forehead was damp with sweat from the effort of heaving and he leaned heavily on the counter while washing his hands. His eyes wandered from his hands to the mirror. His face stared back at him and he was reminded why he limited the action these days. The first thing he noticed was the proportion of gray hairs appeared to be winning out against the brown. He swiveled his head back and forth to examine the hair but was left disappointed. At least Pepper liked it, he thought. She told him on more than one occasion the sprinkle of new color made him looked distinguished.

Grabbing the toothbrush on the counter he scrubbed thoroughly making sure the foul taste was gone before rinsing. He had another doctor’s appointment that afternoon he was not looking forward to.

Tony walked over to the couch and sat down next to Pepper. The woman took one look at him and knew. He could tell by the way her smile fell ever so slightly but, with all the practice she had, it came back full force. She motioned with her hand and he cuddled closer to her. Her small hand carded through his hair and Tony felt himself close his eyes.

Pepper had been his rock ever since coming back from Titan. She was his everything in a world that lost half of everyone. He couldn’t contain the relief he felt at seeing her when he came off that spaceship and literally fell to his knees at the sight of her. His Pepper was alive. She would still be able to hug him, to love him, and to tell him off.

Life was… fine. Well, it was far from perfect. The world was broken and he was the cause so that didn’t help his conscious, but Pepper was there and, at the moment of his return, that’s all he needed. There was never a time for rest but Tony was in a sort of hibernation. A numbness set into his bones and for a while he couldn’t feel anything.

Then the complications arose. Pepper was thoroughly pregnant at the time but she was there by his side through appointments and surgeries, and her faith never wavered. Who would have thought fighting and almost staving to death in space wasn’t good for someone after being stabbed?

The abdominal pain tipped him off and after Pepper badgered him into going to the doctors was how they found the first set of adhesions. They were scar tissue set inside of his body and were a physical reminder of the stabbing. It was an enemy made from his own skin and forged by the blade Thanos welded. The doctors found that the adhesions connected parts of his intestines together and ended up blocking passages that should have otherwise been open. It created a tugging and if he was unlucky a tearing of the tissues inside of him.

It was rough that first time when Pepper was pregnant. The two of them were spread thin and Tony’s failing health was not helping but the episodes happened infrequently after that. Throughout the years they would crop up or get infected. They were always serious enough to worry. Surgery no matter how small was a big deal.

The worst had been a couple years after his sweet Morgan was born.

They called Happy in to come look after Morgan while Pepper rushed them to the hospital. Seven long days he spent in the ICU with nurses and doctors rushing in and out of the room. All he could think of as they prodded his body was he was gone. Gone from his child, his little girl. He missed her sweet child smell and the way she would crinkle her nose at his dad humor. How could a child make sense of a parent being gone? Worry filled him that she would forget him or think he abandoned her.

As soon as he was stable Happy brought her to his room. She stood unsure in the doorway, staring up at him. He tried to smile but his muscles wouldn’t answer the command. His worry gnawing and for once he was silent. Instead he simply held out his hand. She rushed forward, her legs unsteady but smile wide at seeing him again.

With a jump she was on the bed and Tony stifled a cringe. He could bear the pain and didn’t want her to leave yet. Morgan paid no mind to all the wires around him. Her little arms wrapped around him as best they could and he smiled for the first time in a week. He couldn’t even imagine what he looked like. His hair was probably sticking everyway. The tubes sticking out of his skin and bandages made him queasy thinking about them and he couldn’t imagine what Morgan thought. Pepper came in the room and the three of them sat and laughed together. He ignored the Nasogastric tube coming out of his nose and the nurses’ interruptions as best he could.

That trip was the longest and most severe. He was so thankful when he was able to go home and be with his family.

As Tony sat of the couch he was beyond thankful that nothing like that happened since. It was still hard to keep food down sometimes but with the surgeries it was easier. His intestines weren’t totally scrambled eggs now he liked to joke.

Five years ago Thanos stabbed Tony on the planet of Titan trying to save the world. He glued the wound together and fought on, loosing the battle in the process. They lost more than just the battle. The world lost half of everything and he lost the kid.

Tony looked over to the kitchen to see their internship photo. He face grimaced as he turned away. He was not ready to smile over the memories yet. He didn’t think he would ever be ready for that, not when there was still a dash of hope left. That hope was something Tony would never lose hold of.

The permanent reminders of those events were etched in his skin in the form of a scar. It was puffy and pink standing where the blade entered. On top of that was another scar. This one was longer but thinner and was the artistry of the surgeons who saved his life on the two occasions. There were other scars from incisions and other reminders from his battles across his life littered over his skin.

He also knew what lurked beneath the healing skin. A tangle of organs that remained invisible from the outside but visible to him. They would always be a reminder of what happened on that far away planet. At times all he wanted to do was forget but his pain wouldn’t lie to him. The numbness let him hibernate for a while but it was gone now and the pain remained. It wouldn’t let him forget all that was lost so Tony held onto it. His body, physically altered, held onto the pain and remembered.

Chapter Text

“It’s for you own good.”

The cool metal enclosed around his wrists and then his ankles. This was the guard’s second attempt at fastening them but the metal felt no warmer. The first try he was able to slip out of the circlets so they needed to be tightened. He learned not to resist long before.

Peter’s head hung down and the wells in his eyes long dry. The guard’s hand guided his wrist into the restraint. It was gentle and so at odds with the action of chaining him to the wall. The guard left and the other man came in to check on him.

He knew they were right. They always were but he couldn’t help but glance up to see if there was any mercy in the man before him. Ice blue eyes stared back and his head dropped again. Nothing. There had never been mercy and would never be mercy for him during his time here.

The color of the man’s eyes brought memories of his uncle. Today, unlike most times, Peter allowed himself to wallow in the happiness he wasn’t going to know again. His uncle was smiling and spinning Peter around in the air. The feeling of flight. Of his smile so wide his face might split open because it couldn’t contain his happiness. His Aunt was combing back his curls while he wore his Uncle’s too big suit and shoes for a talent show he put on. He could remember the picture of him that used to sit on their mantel. His front two teeth were gone but he smiled anyways as he stood behind a makeshift podium and pretended to sing for an audience of a million.

It was always nice to spend time in his memories. It was leaving them that were a problem. Reluctantly, Peter put them safely back in the box in his mind. They were only to be used on special occasions and he tarried to long in them. Peter went back to staring at the hands in front of him.

They looked almost no different than they had a year ago. His fingers were slimmer and the bones more prominent but as he stared down at them he would never imagine the strength they held. His fists clenched and he reveled in the way his nails, short as they were cut, dug into his skin. At least he could penetrate through it.

“Stop.” He grinned and looked starting from his white coat and into his blue eyes again.

“Why? What are you going to do to stop me?” The man’s eyes narrowed at his words.

“Don’t think we won’t hesitate to put you in the grey room.” A tendril of cold wrapped itself around his chest but he gave no sign on the outside of it taking root.

They always used ‘we’. Whether there was actually one person or a whole group of them visiting in his little room they always used the pronoun ‘we’. It made them seem more contagious somehow. Like soon he would be wrapped up into the group and become a part of them.

“Not over this you won’t.” His confidence far outstripped what he actually felt. He couldn’t go back there. There was too much time lost.

“Don’t test me, Peter.” He stayed silent after that. He hated when they used his name. The way they said it made it fell unclean. It was the one thing that was untouched after the serum and they insisted that even that didn’t come out unscathed.

“You’ll have another test later today so be ready.”

Footsteps receded and with the sound of the door closing he let a flinch was over his face. His hands were trembling, which caused a domino effect on the chains running to the wall. The conjoined metals shook out of time with his hands and created a strange rhythm in the otherwise quiet cell.

They were speeding things up. Doing more and more tests and Peter was sure something big was coming. Maybe he could tell that it was too much. Too soon. Peter shook his head. He tried that before and hadn’t liked the consequences. That was his first entrance into the grey room.

Hours passed as Peter sat on his bed. Idle thoughts drifted back and forth but he never reached out for one of them. Instead he let them pass by. The keys turned in the door and his heart started pounding. It was time.

One of the guards cam in, the doctors would never degrade themselves with carting him to the test room, and unhooked the chains before grabbing him by the back of the neck. Cold hands flexed on his neck as they led him down the hallways.

A slim object was jabbed into the back of his side ready to paralyze him if he tried to move in a way they didn’t want. This was standard practice that Peter didn’t have much fight in him anyway. Most of his fighting was against himself.

They led him down a route Peter once memorized with hope of leaving. Soon they were in the antechamber of the test room. The antechamber was small and the nurses were already in a flutter around him. They hooked him to the machines and began testing his vitals. They reminded him of what he remembered of hummingbirds. There was a way they moved so quickly and never seemed to stop in one place for long.

“The subject is functioning as expected, sir. His heartbeat is higher on average but we’ve found that normal when there are two tests in one day.”

The man from earlier entered the room and picked up the pad with his stats. His finger swiped lazily across the screen and his eyes moved forward to peer at Peter.

“Stressed today?” He said.

Peter let himself smile. “No, sir.”

“Alright, let’s get him in there.” He said to the nurse hovering on standby. He turned to Peter and added, “And no funny business. You know procedure by now.”

At once the wires around him were gone and Peter was stepping up to the test room. He swallowed once not looking back. With hands clasped behind his back he stood waiting.

He couldn’t let himself think about all the tests before. Not when another was so close. Through the wall to the other antechamber he could hear hearts pounding and the quiet chatter of the occupants inside. One heartbeat was faster than the rest and Peter honed in to the erratic sound.

The door opened and the test subject stepped in.

Peter forced himself to stare at the small boy in front of him. He had a mop of curly red hair. It was vibrant against the white walls that surrounded them on all sides. His freckled face was turned back to the room he just exited and upon turning and seeing Peter his heartbeat raced faster. Small green eyes stared up at him and Peter cursed them. Cursed himself. Maybe he was already apart of the we.

“This is test subject thirty-two. Proceed.” The voice over the speakers spoke.

Peter dropped down to the balls of his feet and balanced on the palms of his hands. The boy backed up but was stopped by the closed door.

“Please...” He stuttered out.

Peter knew what he should do. What he had to do. It was all too similar to his first time there. When he thought he was alone and they could fix everything, but he couldn’t do anything to oppose them now.

“Move.” He said, low and flat. Peter knew he couldn’t break protocol no matter how much he wanted. The boy stayed pressed against the door and he repeated his command. He towered over the boy and took a step forward but the boy trembled and closed his eyes. Peter stood there conflicted and hating himself.

“Test subject thirty-two, engage.” The red haired boy looked up with tears in his eyes, falling down his youthful face.

“I can’t.” He murmured and Peter grieved for him.

“Come on, kid.” He said low. “I don’t mind. Just do what they ask.”

Peter saw that the boy’s eyes hardened and he knew he was gone. The scared child was replaced with someone entirely different. The boy ran forward screaming. Peter held his ground and at the last moment dodged him.

They danced back and forth but Peter kept on defense. He knew it wouldn’t last long. The boy was weakening already. His aim was off and his hits weren’t impacting as hard. Peter ground his teeth at the reprimand through the audio system.

“Attack.”

The boy thought it meant for him but Peter knew better. He knew what was really going on.

He rushed at Peter again. This time Peter didn’t dodge it. This time Peter struck fast. His hand came up and grabbed the boy by the back of the shirt before lifting him up off the ground. Peter slammed him down so his face hit against the floor. He pulled himself to his hands and knees and held his nose, which was letting blood run freely.

Peter watched as he tried to stand up but his disorientation was too great. On the offense now Peter moved forward but the boy caught him around the ankles and pulled back to punch him in the knee. He swore and hit him in the back again.

This one was strong but he could tell like all the others he wouldn’t hold up. Peter wavered for a moment, glancing at the body trying to get off the floor.

“Attack.” The voice said again and this time the boy glanced up in horror as Peter walked forward. He fell back on his butt and scooted away.

“No...” He said but Peter continued walking forward.

“No!” He yelled when Peter didn’t stop. A flush worked its way over his face and Peter grimaced. The boy sealed his fate. There was no easy way out of this for either of them.

The boy pitched forward, saliva falling from his mouth. He attacked with abandon curling his small frame around Peter.

“No, no, no.” He screamed. His nails ripping Peter’s shirt and skin and Peter let him for a moment, not caring.

Then he struck and secured the boy in a chokehold. He kept him there, letting the boy’s arms flung out and hit him. Slowly, he applied pressure tighter and tighter until the figure went limp in his arms.

He knew he would get in trouble. Peter stared at the boy. His hair was mussed from their fight and blood dripped down his chin but his brow was smooth and he looked so peaceful. The protocol was broken but Peter couldn’t do what they asked. He couldn’t dispose of the boy in his arms. He had tested the boy’s strength and response; he just hadn’t done the rest.

The nurses came in and grabbed the boy from his arms. They injected something into him and carried him out the door he came in. Peter walked back to his room, the door now open. The man in the coat eyed him and walked to the door. Before he exited the man turned to look at Peter.

“Take him to the grey room.”

Peter’s heart squeezed until he felt out of breath and his vision tunneled as the cuffs were placed over his hands again. They walked him down, his feet dragging until they came upon the room.

Grey was perhaps a kind name for it, not to mention misleading. The walls were pitch black with no lights installed in the room. The only light would come from the hallway when they saw fit to retrieve him. Peter hated the grey room but he knew he deserved it. Not for what they thought. No, he was glad the boy survived but he deserved it because Peter wasn’t strong enough to save him. He knew that next time the boy would be tested against someone stronger, someone worse and Peter wouldn’t be there then. It was for his own good so he didn’t struggle when they took him in and attached the chains to the wall.

Peter leaned his head back against the wall as black smothered him. The cool metal caressed his skin but this time he held onto the sensation. In his normal room he hated the feel of the metal. It was a reminder that he was chained like a dog on a leash. There was no doubt he deserved it. Look what he’d done to the freckled boy. The chains made him feel less than human. But here in this room his senses were skewed. After the door was shut and he was alone he couldn’t tell what way was up or down. Here in the grey room the chains kept him grounded. They let him know he was still alive. That he was real.

Peter closed his eyes and thought of the first time they tested him. The first time they gave him the serum and he was no longer Peter Parker.

Chapter Text

A week passed and Tony was a wreck. Only seven days but it could have been a million for all he knew. Tony found himself half way to the door to check on Peter but each time with failing conviction he made himself go back to his chair and stare at the paintings instead.

It was like all the sudden there were reminders that there was someone else living in the Tower with him everywhere. There seemed to be a shortage of toast, although he knew the boy didn’t go to his floor. Tony noticed the small stools that were positioned in almost every bathroom for someone to reach the sink.

His thoughts inevitably circled around to himself. How was he supposed to overcome a lifetime of thoughts about himself in so little time? As it turns out, he would have help along the way from the very boy he was trying not to think about.

-

Peter was sure something was wrong with him. All week there was this itching feeling that crawled along his skin but no matter if he tried to assuage it or not, it sat there lurking beneath his skin. He also found himself feeling spiny lately. It was the same feeling that overcame him in the closet before everything went black.

He remembered waking up in the Medbay with Mr. Stark at his side and if not for the hospital bracelet he refused to take off Peter was convinced that it was a dream. It was a lovely dream, though. He didn’t care that he must have passed out or he was now sequestered to his room and Mr. Chi’s class. None of that mattered. Peter was over the moon that Mr. Stark was there. He had been the knight in shining armor and rescued him again. Like he did when Peter came to stay with him.

Throughout the night Peter remembered opening his eyes. Each time the worry that he was an apparition grew until he peeked and the man would be right were he was before, quietly sitting vigil over him. It was more than he could have wished for and on the anniversary of his parent’s death Peter didn’t feel so alone. But with all fairytales and good dreams we have to wake up.

Peter knew he what happened as soon as the nurse escorted him back to his room. Mr. Stark had to get back to his life and Peter did not fit into that equation. He was prepared and kept the memory locked away for when he needed it. What Peter wasn’t prepared for was how empty his chest felt. There was a moment when he smiled at Mr. Stark and the man’s shocked expression changed. That stranger’s face morphed into something gentler. His brown eyes softened as they regarded him and Peter felt something change.

That beginning went unrealized because he was swept back into his normal routine. Mr. Chi maintained his razor wit and dedicated tutelage. Peter life’ continued to run like clockwork. The only thing different was the memory of that beautiful dream and the emptiness in his chest.

-

He wasn’t sleep well lately. Peter could feel something building inside of him. Strange dreams and dense grass surrounded something he was reaching for. Something he was trying to find. He woke up shaken and often times with tears running down his face. Not even the memory was helping anymore and Peter had taken to staying up as late as possible. Who would know anyway besides Jarvis? The AI warned him that it was vital to motor functions to get enough sleep but it wasn’t worth it.

Today his eyes drooped and there was this bundle of awareness in the back of his mind. Peter started second guessing all of his actions. Was he being stranger than normal? Was he pouring his cereal right? Did he even like cereal? The thought startled him and Peter slowly put it back hoping no one had seen instead opting for toast.

His breath came heavy as he rushed to his tutoring. Mr. Chi didn’t comment but Peter felt his eyes linger today. Come to think of it, it happened all week.

“That’s good, Peter, but you need to move the five into the next column over.” Even Mr. Chi’s voice sounded extra soft and something about it made Peter’s hands clench.

His teacher stood behind him and Peter scooted up to the front of his seat. When Mr. Chi took his pad of paper to correct it Peter found he had tiny pricks of premature tears in his eyes. What was the matter with him? His heart felt he’d just ran around a playground. Peter raised his hand and Mr. Chi’s brow furrowed.

“Can I be excused?” He said, noticing that his vision seemed hazier than normal. He thought it was at least. Maybe this was how he saw all the time. Mr. Chi asked him if he was okay and Peter nodded before hurrying out of the room not noticing the way his legs wobbled on his way out.

Mr. Chi noticed thinking the boy was under too much pressure and sighed to himself before asking Jarvis were his boss was located. The man first made sure Peter made it to his room before making his way to Tony’s office. He entered without knocking and Tony slowly lifted his head to see the man who visited entirely too much that week.

“What is it this time?”Tony prepared himself for some type of verbal set down. In a way he was almost becoming fond of them. Mr. Chi pulled up the chair and sat assessing him. Not for the first time he felt a wave of pity for Peter for being at the end of that stare and remaining strong.

“Peter was distracted this week and will not tell me what’s wrong.”

“Distracted how?”

“I believe you should talk to him.”Tony looked down at his desk but couldn’t see the legs he built holding it up.

“I can’t.”

“Excuse my language but that’s complete shit.” The man saw his wide mouth expression but continued. “You’re doing more harm than good by leaving him alone. He’s not feeling well and needs a parent to look after him.”

“I’m not that.”

“You’re as close as they come. Tony, you know he needs you.”

He thought stubbornly that he didn’t know that. Actually, the last year illustrated that Peter was doing fine on his own. He had been fine without his father, too. The image of Peter’s small body lying in the bottom of a closet surfaced. The small shoe half shrouded in darkness.

If asked Tony would say that Mr. Chi’s nagging finally caught up to him and that’s why he decided to go talk to Peter. If pressed again he might mumble under his breath about needing something from the other level of the Tower. What he would not do was admit that he was worried for Peter… not aloud anyway.

-

Tony found himself standing outside of Peter’s bedroom pacing the hall. He raised his hand but snatched it away before he could knock. Tony sighed and stepped forward again. He knocked and heard no answer. Again he rapped on the door, trying to keep the frustration from creeping up.

“Peter?” He said and thought back to last week when he was in a similar situation. Tony wasn’t ready to admit he was worried but he could admit it to himself. “Jarvis, can you open the door.”

The AI was still giving him the cold shoulder but complied. Something loosened in his chest at the sight of Peter sitting safe on the edge of his bed. His back was to Tony but he could see Peter’s outline in the window and found himself walking across the room.

He was struck with how long it was since he’d been in the room. It was before Peter permanently moved in. Tony had Jarvis order anything the Ai thought a young boy would like but never saw how Peter got along with everything. Tony ignored the guilty pull in his chest.

Before he came on the boy Tony noticed how clean the room was. All the counters were bare besides one photo frame turned down on one of the cabinets. There was some paper sticking out of the closet but everything else was placed in the drawers. Even Tony had clothes strew over his floor at the moment.

Tony came around and sat on the bottom of the bed away from Peter. The boy remained facing forward and Tony was struck with how out of place he looked in his own room. Peter sat on the edge of his bed. His hands were clenched on his knees as he stared out the window. Tony’s weight braced on his hand resting on the bed and Peter whipped around to stare at him. He leaned back away from the boy’s space and furrowed his brows. Peter’s eyes were glassy as they stared at him. He held up his hands in surrender, though he wasn’t sure what he was surrendering to.

“Mr... Mr. Stark?” Tony could hear the pauses in his name and the silent room echoed Peter’s loud breaths. He leaned forward trying to catch the boy’s eye but it drifted back to the window.

“Peter, can you tell me what’s wrong?” Peter didn’t answer but his breaths continued harshly.

“Mr. Stark, I think something’s wrong.”

Tony watched with bated breath as the boy’s eyes rolled into the back of his skill. His body pitched off the bed and Tony leapt forward. There was no time to hesitate, no time to worry about hurting the boy. He was already hurt now by his inaction. Tony’s hands came around Peter’s shoulders between his neck and back and he laid the boy back onto the bed, not minding his legs, which were still dangling off. He didn’t realize he was yelling his name until Jarvis finally broke his silence and talked over him.

“Boss, Peter has passed out because of lack of oxygen. He had what seems to be a panic attack, again.”

He cursed that word for the second time. Again and again the boy was subjected to horrible things that no person should be to in their whole lives. It wasn’t fair and Tony felt like it was his fault. He knew something was wrong and yet he brushed it under the rug, to afraid of what he might do to think of what he should do.

His hands hovered over his shoulders before descending and moving him so his whole body was on the bed. Tony sat beside him and gently moved his hair out of his fair noting the small freckles fading slowly as fall began to fade to winter. Peter’s eyes fluttered open and he asked for water. After bringing it over Tony sat beside him. He hadn’t realized his hand was resting against the boy’s forehead until Peter smiled.

They sat like that as the light passed over the room. Tony’s thumb brushed back and forth along his hairline and slowly Peter’s breaths slowed. He lost track of time after thirty minutes but after that Peter’s eyesight started to normalize. The tunneled haziness left and he was left looking at the silhouette of Mr. Stark who was staring out the window.

When Mr. Stark asked Peter said he was fine. He was sorry for freaking out. When the man gave him a withering look Peter blushed and admitted he was nervous about what happened and that it would keep happening. He went on to tell Mr. Stark how he felt like he could breath, like his body was spinning for no reason. Mr. Stark continued to sit by him, not ever looking toward the door or sighing. The man gently carded his hand through Peter’s hair. He wasn’t sure that the man knew he was even doing it and deep down Peter wondered if this time he really was dreaming.

-

Tony stood behind his desk chair and gazed down at the table. The picture Peter colored lay covering the glass. Jarvis called the nurse for him and after she check Peter over. She told him that the boy should talk to someone and get as much rest as he could. It was as he was ushering her out that Tony spotted it sticking out of the closet. Curious he grabbed it out once the boy was asleep again and took it with him. It did say his name in the corner so he didn’t feel so guilty.

The coloring caught his eye and Tony reached out to flip it over. On the back was another drawing done by Peter. This side was dated five days ago and recreated what looked like Peter’s stay at the Medbay except he was wearing some type of metal armor. It was chunky with a rounded helmet and looked ridiculous. The more he looked at it the more awesome it looked. Fantastical vines threatened to encroach into the room but he stood in their way.

Again, something loosened in his chest and Tony felt strange. Different somehow.

He made sure Peter was resting and asleep before leaving. He asked Jarvis to update him on the hour so he was… Tony checked his watch, due for another update in fifteen minutes. He made it all of two minutes and thirty-two seconds before: “Jarvis?”

“Peter’s heart rate is normal. He is asleep and resting.”

Tony let a small smile on his face and leaned back in his chair gazing at the drawing.

Chapter Text

“Come on Peter!” Morgan yelled as she bounced up and down in excitement.

Her hand grasped his and pulled him out of bed. One would have thought that the girl had superpowers with the way she got the teenager out of bed so fast. In a way, she did have superpowers and they were all the more potent than others he’d come across. Her powers weren’t strength or speed. They were the powers young children have. The innocence in their expressions filtering the world and, for a time, they could impart their rose-tinted outlook to those around them. Those who had lost it with age.

Peter stumbled to catch up with her. He loved the way her little feet padded on the wood flooring. Morgan could never walk anywhere. She ran, or danced, or jumped everyplace. It was something to make the trip fun, she said.

She promptly sat down at the counter resting her elbows on the island with her head in her palms. There was an expectant look in her brown eyes as she regarded him and, for a moment, it wasn’t her eyes Peter saw.

“Can we have pancakes?” She said and Peter swallowed before shaking the thought away.

“Yeah, Monkey. How about blueberry?” Peter knew they were one of her favorites and smiled when the girl threw her hands up in the air with excitement. He started making the batter and as he knew she would, Morgan jumped down from the chair and insisted on helping him. Together they cooked the pancakes, creating a huge stack of fluffy goodness.

Peter drowned his in syrup, always the real stuff, while Morgan dusted hers in powdered sugar. He marveled over her restraint in topping choice until she reached over and poured syrup on it before hopping off her chair and getting the whipped cream. He suppressed a snort at the creamy goo decorating her breakfast. Their plates were all but licked clean and like two old men they leaned back in their chairs, hands on their stomachs.

“Well, Monkey. What did you want to do today?”

The girl looked up and a smile stole across her face.

“Pigeons!”

Morgan was obsessed with feeding the pigeons in one of the little parks near their cottage. It mystified Peter because the first time they went was the day after the funeral.

May went back to work and Pepper invited him to stay with them. The house, which he was staying at for the weekend, was too filled for Peter. Every room he went in there were picture frames and reminders so when Pepper invited him to go to the park with them he jumped at the chance to get out for awhile. The drive was quiet and Peter listened to Morgan’s strong heartbeat in the back. Her feet tapped against each other filling the quiet.

Morgan hopped out of the car once they pulled in and the two women walked in front. Peter hung behind watching as they took bread out of a bag and spread even chunks on the ground. The birds had flown off when they first arrived and were hesitant to come back even with the temptation of food.

“Mom, why won’t they come back?” Morgan asked, her voice laden with disappointment.

“They will, Sweetie. We just have to wait.”

Morgan stood there with one foot resting on the other with her hand in Pepper’s. The birds bobbed closer but kept their distance. Peter stood behind them watching as they watched the birds. He tried to enjoy the day. The breeze was light and the sun warm for the season but grey thoughts clouded his mind.

Morgan pulled on her mom’s hand and Pepper knelt beside her daughter, putting her hands on her shoulders. If not for his powers Peter would not have been able to hear Morgan’s question. He wished he didn’t hear it.

“Why won’t Daddy come back?”

Peter couldn’t see their faces but he heard a hitch in Pepper’s breath. He could hear the increase in her heart rate and how her knees slammed against the pavement as she pulled her daughter into her arms. Peter had to listen as she spoke low and explained why Tony would never smile at her again.

Their cries tore into him but Peter did nothing but stand there and listen; watching as the people he loved tried to make sense of the unbearable. Their arms wound around each other. Morgan’s small ones not circling around Pepper completely.

As if sensing their distraction the pigeons infiltrated the grass around them. Peter watched the birds circle their huddled figure and eat the bread lying on the ground.

In the end Pepper was right. The birds came back with time. Tony wouldn’t.

-

Peter was sure Morgan would never want to set foot in the park again. He knew he didn’t, but time after time when asked what she wanted to do, Morgan faithfully answered that she wanted to see the pigeons.

Peter could tell that Pepper didn’t care to go back by the way her brow would furrow and the suggestion of other things to do, so he volunteered. He looked over at her face, which was pressed against the window of the car. She was looking out at the forest they were passing on their way.

Most of his weekends were spent at their cottage. The city was too much for him. It was always busy and he was thankful to have a place where he could breath. It wasn’t often that Pepper was gone but this weekend there were meetings mandatory to attend. Peter said he could watch her for the weekend and so far spoiled the girl to all her whims.

As much as the memory of the first time they went to the park haunted him, he had to say that the park was nice. Not only were there birds to feed but also a jungle gym and pond at the park. They spent hours there but Morgan never grew tired of it.

He parked the car and Morgan raced away scattering the birds that accumulated at the center of the sidewalk. She always did that. Scattered the birds only to watch them come back. He gave her the bread piece by piece until it was scattered on the sidewalk.

Morgan raced to the swings after begging Peter to push her high. He restrained his strength but sent her into the air, letting her laughter ease the tightness in his chest. He pushed harder and Morgan soared into the sky screaming with a mix of excitement and tinge of fear. Next she ran off to the jungle gym. Peter stayed on the ground as he watched her climb the ladder.

Absentmindedly he rubbed his chest. There was a pressure residing there since he came back making it difficult to breath sometimes. He had yet to really think about what happened with everything. How he was trapped in blackness for years before plucked out and thrown into battle. To say he was avoiding would be an understatement. May thought if he went out on patrol again it could help release the stress and aid in his sleep but his suit stayed locked under his bed in Queens.

The last time he’d worn it was the final battle and the sight of the red suit still sent his heart racing. Truth be told he didn’t deserve it. He didn’t want it anymore. Spiderman was someone else. Someone Peter Parker wasn’t at the moment. Peter knew that someday he would don the symbol again but right now he couldn’t.

He glanced up to see Morgan hopping on the unstable bridge. She was exactly like him. Her movements, the way she talked, and god, her eyes were a replica of Tony’s. There was a pang every time he saw them, every time she looked at him.

At first he was worried she would hate him. That she would see his failures but with those superpowers of children she possessed Morgan took him under her wing. She made sure he had blankets and a stuffed animal to look over him at night. Much to his and Pepper’s amusement she would leave little chocolate kisses for them around the cottage. He loved her like he never thought he would but hoped for. She was the sister he never had, his best friend, and in her own way Morgan made things better.

But although he loved the weekends at the cottage, inevitably all the reminders and love got to be overwhelming. When that was the case he would go sit on the dock.

On one such morning when the fog caressed the still water he sat there without a coat or shoes having ran out of the cottage for air. Tiny shivers wracked his body but he sat there overlooking the water. He heard the little patter of feet and despite his foul mood, smiled. Morgan climbed up, all knees and elbows, and settled next to him. She threw a blanket over them all covered with twigs and leaves from dragging it down the path to the dock.

They sat together and watched the sun rise for the day. Her head rested against his shoulder and as the sun broke the horizon she grabbed his hand, grounding him in the present and away from his thoughts.

“Peter, watch!” She yelled and Peter whipped around realizing he walked away from the play structure while he was thinking. Her small legs vibrated with enthusiasm at the top of the platform; a fireman pole in front of her.

“Look at me!”

“Monkey, wait till I get to the bottom.” he yelled and started jogging forward.

His eyes never left hers and they widened as she jumped.

Her legs swung too wide to wrap around the pole and bounced off the metal causing her body to hit the pole. The pole’s diameter was wide for her small hands and she couldn’t get a hold of it. The metal seemed to slip of out her fingers. Peter watched as she fell backwards. The air provided no resistance and her head fell back to hit the structure she just jumped from. Peter felt as if he was running through tar. He couldn’t get there fast enough and what felt like slow motion moments before fast-forwarded and her body was slamming into the ground. Stillness settling her always-moving body.

Peter pumped his arms and legs hard to get there. Distantly he heard someone yelling. He heard the coos of the birds and more distressingly he couldn’t hear the sound of laughter anymore. The ground hit his knees as he knelt by her prone body. His hands shook as they hovered over her back. What should he do?

It was silent as he fished his phone from his pocket and he realized he had been the one screaming. He swore when his phone got stuck in his pocket. Finally it came free and he dialed 911 and then Pepper. He tossed it aside and crumpled to the ground beside her. Morgan’s face was lying toward him and he could see mulch sticking to her skin. He brought his hand forward to wipe it off ignoring the way his hand shook. There was no way he could move her. If there was spine damage any motion could make it worse. Dark liquid pooled at the back of her head and tears formed in his eyes from staring at the wound.

“Monkey?” He whispered like he was trying to wake her from sleeping. If only he brought his webs. If only he was paying closer attention.

“Damn it!” He screamed, startling the birds on the sidewalk.

Peter wasn’t sure how long he knelt there but he reveled in the way his knees burned. The ambulance came with mountains of equipment. His face was tight with dried tears and he stayed by Morgan in the crowded ambulance. His hand eclipsed hers and he looked helplessly at the straps around her body. The foam around her neck and limbs so the moving vehicle wouldn’t jostle her and they made her look small and weak. Peter hated the sight of it all.

The hospital was crowded and Peter listened to the moving carts and nurses’ talk. He tried to block out the sounds of sickness plaguing the walls but it was inevitable in such a place. The one thing keeping him from breaking down was the sound of Morgan’s heartbeat. In all the time and transfer to another gurney the steady beat never wavered. It was faster than normal but strong as ever.

She was taken out of his sight and Peter slid down the wall covering his face with his hands. This was his fault. It was his duty, a need to look after this family and she had been hurt.

“Peter?” He couldn’t face her yet. Couldn’t look Pepper in the eyes and tell her that it was his fault. “Peter, sweetheart, I just saw Morgan and she’s going to be okay.”

“I’m so sorry, Pepper. I can’t even begin… I’m sorry.” He cried and she stooped down to sit next to him. Her warm hand took his and she kissed his knuckles.

“It’s okay,” she whispered. “It’s okay.”

A sob bubbled up from his throat and he pressed his knees into the sockets of his eyes. Her hand rubbed down his hunched back and a small laugh escaped him. It was ludicrous she was comforting him. He looked up into her blue eyes.

“Can I see her? Does… does she want to see me?”

“Of course she does, Peter. There were five stitches but she’s fine. She got a concussion so she has to stay up for now anyway.” He must have looked doubtful for she added, “I promise.”

“She just jumped and I wasn’t there to catch her.”

Pepper closed her eyes and hugged him giving him the forgiveness he knew he didn’t deserve.

-

He lingered in the door before going in. Her small body was tucked into the bed, white bandages covering her head. Peter knocked and stuck his head in. Goosebumps covered his arms. What if she hated him? What if she screamed that she never waned to see him again? What if…

“Peter!” She said, her voice twinkling. “Mommy just left.”

Peter walked in and sat in the chair already pulled up next to her. He played with his fingers.

“How are you doing, Monkey?” He said quietly.

“Peter, what’s wrong?” Peter forced himself to look at the bandages. To stare at the evidence of his failure.

“I’m so sorry, Monkey. I should have been there and now you’re hurt.”

She stayed silent and Peter lacked the courage to look at her.

“It’s not your fault.” She said and he looked up into her eyes, into Tony’s eyes. “It’s not your fault, Peter. You came back and you stayed that’s all that matters.”

For a moment Peter was sure that it was Tony in front of him. That it was his mentor forgiving him in spirit for all of his failures. Peter grabbed her hands, holding on for dear life.

“Monkey, I love you.”

“I love you too, Peter.”

-

His alarm blared and he hit the machine wincing at the cracks he heard from under his hand. Scratching his back Peter grabbed a sweatshirt and left his room. Morgan’s room was dark and he could barely see her sleeping figure in the poor light. He tiptoed over and sat down on the edge of the bed.

“Monkey, time to wake up.” He shook her shoulder gently and could hear her breathing change. She hid a smile and pushed his hand away pretending to snore.

“Monkey’s don’t make that sound. I think that’s a Morgan creature under all these blankets. Who took my Monkey?” He said a tore off the covers, tickling her sides.

Laughter broke out and her hands tried to push his away before attacking him with her own tickles. Peter reached and rubbed his hand on the top of her head feeling the short hairs against his fingers.

She got ready and they left the house quietly. Some bread and picnic food was loaded into the car and soon enough they found themselves at the park. Morgan was out of the car as soon as it parked but Peter stayed seated watching as she chased the pigeons away. Her hair had grown out some but it was still only above her scalp. He reached up and felt his own hair that was the same length. She looked back and he got out of the car getting the bread.

The two of them sat on the benches and threw the bread in front of their legs. Soon enough the hungry birds came cooing and one brave one came forward to take the bread right out of Morgan’s palm.

Peter glanced to the side. Morgan was leaning forward to look at the grey birds. He could see the jagged stitches sticking out from her sheered hair and winced. In a week they would take them out but the scar would be permanent. Morgan asked him a question about why the birds choose this park and he did his best to answer.

The bread ran out but the birds stayed in front of them as they talked into the late morning.

After the stitches were put in she was self-conscious that the doctor’s had to shave part of her hair to get to the wound. Peter willing and eager to do anything to help her feel better decided it would be best if she shaved off her whole head. Surprisingly Morgan liked the way it looked on herself. It made it all the better when Peter came out of the bathroom with his own matching haircut.

“Want some lunch, Monkey?”

She jumped up scattering the birds away, but Peter knew they would be back. They would always come back.

Chapter Text

Peter stared at the pamphlet in his hands. The pages shook making the words hard to read. He wiped a hand across his face not quite believing this was his only option.

It’s your fault, a voice whispered in his mind.

He stared blindly around the waiting room hoping there was someone ready to help other than the doctor in front of him. Someone to see he was drowning on the air he was breathing. There was no one. Everyone who cared was dead.

He nodded his head and sealed his fate. With efficiency Peter rarely saw in the medical world May and Ben’s bodies were taken care of. He assumed the agency expedited everything because the funeral happened the next day. It was small, effective, and Peter still felt like there was no time to breath, to grieve. As soon as the ceremony was done he was being transported to the new facility.

It was a long ride and Peter’s head rested on the window as he watched the buildings become trees and pavement become grass. The words: Helping Youths in Distress and in Recovery Agency were bold red against a black background and welcome him to his new home. His eyes traced over the words and Peter felt a hope he hadn’t thought possible since before his life stopped. The robbery played over and over in his mind despite the protests. His aunt and uncle’s pale faces haunted him no matter where he looked. He shook himself away from those thoughts. The car pulled up to the stately building and he was led in.

The first week was normal. He had classes and sure, the teachers were harsher than usual, but they expected improvement and Peter knew he was lacking. There was no free time but Peter didn’t mind. It kept his mind busy instead of dwelling. All together it was better than one of the state orphanages. That’s what the man at the hospital said after all. Peter had to believe that. He knew without a doubt that this was the right place.

It wasn’t until he saw the doctor again that something felt weird. He was taken aside and they told him that he passed. That they assessed him and he was ready for the next step to help progress the company’s mission. Peter ever the people pleaser nodded and said he was ready to help. The next day he was transferred to another room. It was smaller but Peter didn’t mind. He was helping and that’s what mattered.

Life went on after that and he forgot all about their talk until one day he was called out of class. He entered what looked like a doctor’s office and his shyness overcame him in the face of a billion nurses. The doctor from before came in to where he was sitting.

“Hello, Peter.” He said going through some papers. “We are going to be gathering a base line today. Is that alright?”

Little did he know that it would be the last time the doctor asked his permission for anything. He winced at the sting of the needles but it was over quickly and he was sent back to his room. Peter paced the length and lay down. Tired as he was, sleep didn’t come easy.

He wondered what they needed a baseline for.

-

“You see.” The smooth voice said. “What we are trying to do is important. A new line of Captain Americas and you at the helm. A new way to assist people of this generation.”

Peter was mesmerized. It was almost too good to be true but Peter believed it nonetheless. He would do this to help people, to protect people like May and Ben. If this was the way, he was willing. The needle injected into him and his body instantly felt the liquid seeping into him.

“Don’t move.” The doctor spoke, warning clear in his voice. Peter’s limbs, his very muscles screamed and he arched off of the table.

“I said, don’t move!” It was his second and last warning. Steel cuffs circled around his wrists and ankles, and a large one came around his chest, holding him to the table.

Peter closed his eyes as tears wept out of his eyes. The liquid burned his face. The chains held him down so he wouldn’t move. May and Ben’s faces looked down on him until they faded and nothing was left but the pain. It seared into his skin, into his soul and Peter cried out. His fingers twitched, yearning to claw at the restraints.

“Don’t move.” The voice whispered through his mind and Peter shuddered but stilled himself. He locked the pain so his body didn’t react outwardly.

The serum penetrated into Peter and plucked his very innocence from him. All he could remember was the command the voice said coldly. All he could do was listen and obey.

He opened his eyes after what seemed like centuries and had the strength the Peter Parker never knew in his life before. From the first test to the very day that he gave up Peter wished that the man had never found him crying in the hospital hallway. He wished as they injected him with new serums that he never held that pamphlet in his shaking hands and that he never gave his life away so blindly to strangers offering hope.

Months later Peter sat with chains around his extremities in the grey room and wished that someone would find him. That someone would save him.

Chapter Text

Peter Stark.

His hand hovered over the notebook and the ink soaked into the paper, burrowing in the creases like vines winding through the trees. He stared down at his name before sighing and writing the name Michelle Jones underneath it. Peter watched as the ink feathered along the fibers until it reached the other name below it, connecting them together. With a small grin he looked around his room to make sure no one was watching and drew a heart around them.

His smile faded when he heard the doorknob twist. His father told him to stay in the tower and more specifically his room. Peter noted the lines around his eyes and the way his voice was low and uneven. When he promised to stay safe Peter could practically feel the relief in his dad’s expression and he said Peter was too stubborn to follow directions. Now Peter wished that he hadn’t obeyed his dad’s request.

The door opened silently. His dad always knocked twice in short succession and Pepper let off a trill of light taps before opening the door. He basically had his whole families knocking methods memorized just like what their footsteps sounded like. This was no one he recognized.

His gut tightened when the man invading New York stepped into his room. He didn’t seem to notice Peter at first, which he thought was unusual, and pressed his back against the now closed door. Wasn’t the man supposed to be a god?

Peter’s heart pounded like drums and he was surprised when the sound didn’t give him away. His breath sped up unconsciously to match the invader’s breath and Peter couldn’t move an inch. From his profile Peter could see the way his curls were falling against his cheeks. The greasy locks emphasizing the hollows in his cheeks and the cuts torn into his skin. His uniform was disheveled and if Peter didn’t know better he would say the man looked like he was just thrown out of a ship midair. The whole ensemble created an intimidating image and fear curled around his heart.

The man scanned the room before landing on Peter. His breath left his body as the man froze. The only noticeable movement was the narrowing of his eyes. The action wasn’t enough, however, to block the vibrant blue from escaping Peter’s notice. The color looked unnatural somehow on the person in front of him.

Peter held his breath not able to say anything. The cold blue bore into him and Peter had the wild thought that maybe the intruder could see into his mind. That he could read every thought and action before Peter himself knew they passed. He opened his mouth but all that left was a gust of air. His eyes searched the room for anything to use. His phone was behind him and his fingers twitched toward it. Nothing else would be of use to him in his room but his eyes landed on a picture of him and his dad when he was young.

In the photo his left tooth had fallen out and he was dressed up as a zombie with rotten brains and all. His father changed up his usual costume of Iron Man when Peter complained it was lazy and predictable. Instead he went as a vampire with a cape and fake teeth.

Loki found the picture Peter was staring at and a smile similar to the Cheshire cat crossed his face. He took a step towards Peter and Peter automatically leaned back. The edge of the desk digging into his back but it wasn’t far enough.

“Is this the great Stark junior? Hiding away in his room?” The soft voice floated in the air and pierced Peter.

How did the man know exactly what was bothering him so much? He voiced Peter’s own thoughts on the matter and frustration tinged the fear. The fact that he was a teen and would be going against super aliens didn’t register with Peter. He only thought about the fact that everyone else was fighting and he was sequestered to his room. Loki somehow knew and voiced his insecurity.

“I’m….I’m not hiding.” He said and noted how pathetic the defensive words sounded.

“Aren’t you?” Loki responded. Peter missed the softening in his eyes and a green swirl fight for dominance.

“I’m not strong enough to do anything. I’m too weak.” Peter did notice a rage return to Loki’s eyes. He flinched back as Loki came charging forward.

There was this kinetic power about him and Peter realized the man could do anything. He wouldn’t be able to stop him. Loki hovered tall and mighty over Peter who, if asked, didn’t feel strong enough to even pick up a pencil. He was certain this was it. Somehow his words provoked the man and Peter was dead.

It was silent and Peter gathered the courage to look up. Loki’s face was narrowed in concentration. His eyes closed and his head turned up in an imitation of a prayer. Slowly, as if in great pain, Loki lowered his head and rested his gaze on Peter again.

Vibrant green eyes stared down on him. Was it normal for Asgardian eyes to change color? Loki gripped his shoulder but it wasn’t harsh as Peter expected. It was too tight but it almost was comforting.

“Never say that again.” He spoke in a quiet voice and Peter thought he was talking to himself now. “No one is too weak to help. You are strong enough to help if you have the will. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are not.” Peter nodded and Loki’s shoulders fell. Peter thought he might be dreaming when a small smile came to Loki’s face. Silence fell on them and Peter relaxed his shoulders now that he thought Loki wasn’t there to kill him.

A loud roar came from outside his bedroom and the quiet bubble they were in popped. Both of them turned to see the Hulk smash through the wall of his room. Cement and dust spewed everywhere and the hand of Peter’s shoulder tightened.

Peter loved Bruce. The man was always willing to help him with homework or to chat about anything and everything. What he never told anyone, especially the man, was he was afraid of the Hulk. He knew logically that he would never hurt Peter but the unpredictability of his nature put Peter on edge and he felt guilty every time the thought came to his mind.

Sitting there in front of the raging Hulk, Peter’s whole body tensed. Hulk roared when he saw Loki’s hand resting on his shoulder and turned to face the intruder. Spit soared out of his mouth and he couldn’t tell if he or Loki was trembling at their predicament. Then the finger’s stilled and Peter somehow knew his eyes were blue again.

“Enough!” Loki yelled out. “I am a god and I won’t be bullied…” His voice was drowned out by another roar and Peter could see the veins popping out from the Hulk’s forehead.

The Hulk moved forward. Peter was frozen to the spot. His hands trembled against his side. The Hulk arm reached forward to grab the man standing next to him. Peter watched as he grabbed his leg and threw him into the air and then smashed him down into the ground. Than again into his bed. Loki was cocooned by the indent of the hole in the ground. His body looked small next to the large slabs of cement. Hulk raised his arms together over his head and stepped forward to bring it down on the god already beaten to the ground. He could die!

Peter acted without thinking and jumped up. He raced over to stand in front of the supine figure.

“No!” He yelled up at Hulk. The green man’s eyes narrowed and his chest broadened to look bigger. “Hulk, please stop!”

Hulk yelled at his face and his heart stopped at the strength pouring off of the Hulk. Peter needed to help. He had to do something. Loki wasn’t all right. He was lying motionless and Peter knew he should help.

“Hulk don’t smash.” A giant voice sounded but Peter was too afraid to look away from the green figure in front of him who was growling and staring at Loki.

“Peter!” Another voice sounded and he knew his dad made it home.

The Hulk twisted to look behind and growled once more. Peter finally understood the phrase if looks could kill and breathed out when Hulk turned to leave. He smashed another hole in the wall directly next to the first one he made on entry.

Peter collapsed onto the ground not caring about looking weak. He heard rubble moving behind him and brought his fingers up to feel his pulse. It was racing but the beat grounded him. The tempo continued to climb but he had done it. How had he done it?

He tensed when a hand rested against his shoulder. Red and gold entered his vision and then his dad’s stern face. The man knelt next to him and opened his mouth to talk. Peter beat him to it and weakly said, “I didn’t leave my room just like you asked, Dad.“

His dad’s face softened and he pulled Peter into a large hug. Peter clung tight knowing his dad was safe and home. He looked up to see Loki next to his brother. The two were talking and Peter was surprised when Loki held out his hands voluntarily. Thor cuffed them and turned his brother to lead him out of the room. Loki stopped before exiting and turned to him.

“Thank you, Peter.” He said and with a nod he was gone.

His dad looked at him with a furrowed brow and Peter shrugged, not ready to talk about the strange encounter in his room. He looked around the space not believing that the crumbles of furniture were all that was left of his room. His dad walked around to assess the damage and let out a whistle at the man-sized crater where his bed used to be. He noticed something on Peter’s desk, the only furniture to survive, and picked up a notebook.

“Michelle Jones? That wouldn’t happen to be the illustrious MJ, would it Peter? You know I have her mom on speed dial…” Peter got up and swiped the notebook from his hand. He could tell he was blushing from head to toe and wished the Hulk had better aim.

“Dad…” He whined.

His dad pulled him close and hugged him tight again.

“I Love you Peter.“ He said.

“I love you too, Dad.”

Peter stuffed the notebook in his backpack and the two of them left the demolition cite. He was relieved that the whole floor didn’t take as much damage as his room.

“How about pizza?” Peter nodded, never being hungrier but a thought stopped him.

“Dad. I think something was wrong with Loki.” His dad snorted and continued to head to the kitchen.

“There’s a lot wrong with him, Peter.”

“No, I mean. You should look into it. He had two different eye colors and behaved different depending on which color.” His dad’s eyes narrowed as he thought. “I think something was wrong with him. He was… strange but kind of nice -believe it or not -when they were green.”

His dad stared at him but Peter didn’t shrink under the intimidating glance. He faced down the Hulk today. He could withstand a stare from his dad. In fact he felt like he could run a marathon, like he could do anything.

Tony smiled at Peter’s determined face and pulled him in for another hug. He couldn’t get enough of them and would take any reminder that his son was safe. That Loki, Hulk, or any other threats didn’t take a piece out of him. He smiled as Peter hugged him closer.

“I’ll see what I can do.”

Chapter Text

“You alright in there, Peter?”

Peter stared at the door that separated him from Mr. Stark, guilt lacing his already churning stomach.

“I’m alright, Mr. Stark. I’ll be out in a minute.”

The man replied and Peter heard footsteps growing fainter. He leaned his hands against the sink breathing a long breath out. White tiles gleamed from every corner of the meticulously styled bathroom. Peter was reminded of all the At Home magazines May and him drooled over in doctor’s offices. The bathroom was insane. The whole cottage was insane. Well, they called it a cottage but it was more like a mansion in his opinion.

Peter couldn’t believe he was in California with Mr. Stark and Pepper. The changed temperament from New York was already thawing their seasonal gruffness but Peter couldn’t seem to shake the anxious armor he wore back home.

Mr. Stark said he was more than welcome to join them. He insisted in reality. May smiled and practically forced him out of the apartment, bags thrown on the sidewalk next to him. That’s how Peter found himself on a private jet with Mr. Stark and Pepper on their way to the beach house. Did it get any crazier than that?

The first day they spent in bed. Peter had never slept better and the waves just beyond his window acted as his personal sound machine. He tried to stay up late, to take a moment to breathe and listen to nature’s noise but he was drifting off in minutes.

The next day they went hiking. Hot and sweaty from Pepper’s warm up portion of the hike, him and Mr. Stark trailed behind her grumbling about the long trek. He swore her energy never weaned and thought that maybe she should have been the superhero.

Today was a pool day.

He turned and finally looked at the mirror. His skin, which frustratingly was sprinkled with blemishes before, was healing. The discoloration was still there but they didn’t look as angry. In New York he tried to avoid reflective surfaces as much as possible. There was something going on at every second of the day it felt like and Peter didn’t have time to take care of himself along with what felt like the whole of New York. So the little things slipped. He found himself too tired to brush his teeth or sometimes even shower. One day turned into more than he was proud to admit. He loved spending time with his family but he hadn’t felt as present lately. There was something that made caring about himself hard and it was starting to show. He knew it, May knew it, and it seemed like Mr. Stark knew it, too.

After being in the sun and getting through their hike yesterday the dark circles of his eyes weren’t quite so sunken in. Peter knew what remained unchanged was hidden under his t-shirt.

His fingers flexed against the counter until the tips were white. Peter exhaled before he took the bottom of his shirt and ripped it over his head. The material fell to the ground. The folds and wrinkles creased as it settled against the tile. Peter closed his eyes before raising his head. He felt stupid keeping his eyes closed and tried to convince himself it would be fine. It couldn’t be that bad.

Peter opened his eyes and his breath caught. His chest was pale, which made the dozens of scars stand out like beacons against his skin. Some were large and faded while others were long and thin but angry looking. Each one told of a different fight. A different weakness of his and he hated them. He heard some people viewed scars as a way of showing his strength or courage in the face of danger, but each permanent mark in his skin was a reminder of every loss, every weakness he had that someone took advantage of.

The one perpendicular to his collarbone was from a mugging. He gave the backpack back to the man it belonged but when going home Peter had been distracted and the mugger came back. It was a short struggle but he caught Peter unaware. The small scars that looked like holes were from some type of shrapnel. The projectile expanded into smaller pieces and flew into his back.

Some were puffy and misshapen, and others were small but numerous expanding all over his upper body. His hand came up to run over the raised edges. It shouldn’t matter what he looked like. Yet, it did. Mr. Stark and Pepper shouldn’t be stuck staring at the mess his body was.

It wasn’t that he thought they would hate him or anything but if he was disgusted looking at himself, wouldn’t they be? Then questions would follow, along with the stares, and… He could feel the blush working its way up his chest and onto his cheeks.

Carefully he put on his swim trunks and turned to face the door. It would be fine. It was fine. He reached his hand out and the cool metal sunk into his fingers but he couldn’t open the door. Peter couldn’t force himself to leave the bathroom and expose himself in front of two of his favorite people. Someone knocked and Peter fell back against the sink.

“Peter? Do you need help with something?”

He hadn’t heard Mr. Stark walk over and his heart was pounding.

“I’m… I’m fine. I just,” He gave a heavy sigh. “I…”

“Peter, talk to me kid. What’s the matter?” The man’s voice always took on this gentle quality when he was with Peter. He thought maybe Mr. Stark didn’t even know it did that.

“Mr. Stark, it’s nothing”

“Look kid it’s not nothing. Why don’t we talk it out?”

“It’s embarrassing.” He said harsher than he meant and there was silence from behind the door.

“There’s nothing to be embarrassed of.”

“How do you know?” Peter slid down the drawers to sit in front of the sink. His arms crossed around his knees and he stared blankly at the sterile tiles.

He heard Mr. Stark’s heart beating. The way it sped up the slightest as they talked. He heard the man run his hands through his hair and one of his hands lean against the door. “I don’t know. I’m sorry that was unfair. Can I come in? I hate talking through doors.”

Peter nodded before he realized that Mr. Stark couldn’t see but he opened the door quietly anyway and stared down at him.

“What’s the matter kid?”

Peter sighed and looked away. He wasn’t sure why he was making such a big deal about everything. The thoughts kept running around his mind and he was stuck, like the thoughts were lodged into his attention and wouldn’t come loose. He felt Mr. Stark squeeze in through the door and sit next to him.

“There are so many, Mr. Stark. It’s stupid.”

“They aren’t stupid at all.”

They stayed quiet and his thoughts became more cynical. Maybe he could show Mr. Stark a taste of it. Maybe he could show Mr. Stark before he could judge Peter. He twisted his arm out in front of them to where a raised, worm like scar was facing up on his elbow.

“This one isn’t recent. I was running down the stairs to greet Ben after he’d been gone on a business trip. I didn’t put my toys away and tripped into the stoop. I got five stitches from it and this little one.”

Peter moved and lifted up his hairline so Mr. Stark could see another long thin scar.

“This was from that building that fell on me with the vulture. I was lucky it was that small in the end.”

He heard Mr. Stark swallow but he ignored it and started to move again. Mr. Stark rested his hand on Peter’s arm and tapped is chest to where Peter knew the famous arc reactor once resided.

“We’ve all got scars kiddo.” This time it was Peter who swallowed. Mr. Stark tapped his chest once more. “This one was from a doctor who saved my life…”

The man proceeded to tell his origin with detail Peter never heard before. On and on they shared the stories etched onto their bodies. They had been together for some of them but nonetheless they continued with their retellings until they were laughing and smiling. That was how Pepper found them.

“What are you up to in the bathroom floor?” She said with a small smile.

“Nothing, Pepper dear. Just plotting on how we are going to get you swimming.”

“I told you I have a meeting later today so I can’t until tomorrow.”

“We’ll just have to see about that.” Mr. Stark said before climbing to his feet and squeezing Peter’s shoulder. He rushed forward, chasing Pepper to the pool.

Peter took a deep breath and left the bathroom, his shirt forgotten and crumpled on the floor as he chased after them. He watched as Mr. Stark tried to lift Pepper up but in the end she wrestled out of his arms. Her and Peter pushed Mr. Stark in the water. He came up gasping for breath and smiled at them standing on the edge of the pool.

“Help me up.” He said and lifted his arms so they could lift him out of the water. With both their hands secure he pulled with all his strength and sent them toppling into the water.

It was the perfect day and Peter smiled as they watched a movie in front of the fire later that evening. Mr. Stark leaned over and mussed his hair.

“Thanks for inviting me. Mr. Stark.”

“We love you, Peter. Scars and all.”

They sat watching the movie and Peter felt his eyes pulling closed, ready to sleep after a full day.

Chapter Text

The time for someone to save him was long past and only remained a half extinguished thought in Peter’s mind. He was used to the way things were run. The cold metal around his wrists didn’t sting anymore and neither did the broken promises.

Many things about his former life were tucked away deep into the recesses of his mind. They lay dormant, waiting for Peter to remember how to access them again. Sometimes he remembered how thoughts of his uncle and aunt used to give him some solace if he needed extra help or an escape, but they remained closed off so the person he was now wouldn’t taint them.

Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into years. Peter wasn’t sure his exact age but he felt old. In terms of physical abilities he was still strong and fast. He was one of their best successes after all but mentally he was weary. He watched disinterested as new children came into the facility with hope he once had in their eyes. He watched as that expression dulled as they were faced with needles and tests. Their faces forever changed by the realities of the place they resided.

There were only a few times in the following years that Peter fell out of line.

The last was with Robin. He remembered the small red-haired boy’s face as he attacked Peter. The muscles strained under his hand as he held the boy till he passed out and hated himself for it. Peter tried to convince himself that it was better than outright hurting the boy. That he was doing him a favor but he knew it wasn’t true. A true favor would have been to put Robin out of his misery. Peter was selfish in not wanting to take part in a larger violence, in not wanting to stain his soul anymore than he had and he knew that Robin paid the price. He was alive and was left to face whatever they pushed at him.

Peter saw him from time to time. They continued to make new serums and tested them. Peter was there when the results didn’t go well. Some new formulation reacted badly with the boy and Peter watched behind the glass as he screamed and writhed on the floor. They pressed his face into the mats in order to hold him still to restrain him.

Peter stepped forward and placed his hands on the glass. His fingers strained against the window turning white. He thought absentmindedly it would be easy to break through and jump into the room to stop them. The doctor placed a hand on his shoulder and Peter’s hands hit his side.

He would never forget the sound of the boy’s cries. Why wouldn’t they let him cry out? Why try and stop it at all? They crescendoed and Peter pulled away from the hand on his shoulder. A wince tore through his body. Every harsh word and cold needle pierced him as he listened to Robin cry.

Peter stepped back and burst forward through the window and to the boy. Glass fell everywhere, stinging his cheeks and arms but Peter ran forward. People were screaming after him but he made it to the boy and took his body into his arms. The boy’s eyes were red rimmed and fogged with tears. Drool sopped out of his mouth and when he looked down there was the red injection site at his elbow. Gently he wiped his sleeve across the boy’s mouth, which was grim and shaking.

“Hey there, it’s okay. It will be okay. Can you tell me your name?”

The boy shivered and quietly muttered his name. There was a strange connection in giving someone your name, in using someone’s name. It was one of the reasons Peter held his own name close. Why he didn’t use it and hated when the doctors and nurses used it so liberally. By giving Peter his name he wasn’t merely a boy anymore but he was Robin. A small scared child that was holding him like a last lifeline.

It had been since May that Peter held someone in anything but violence. It seemed Robin felt the same connection because his arms wrapped around Peter’s waist and he buried his head against Peter’s chest. The nurses and guards caught up with them running and grabbing the boy, but he held onto Peter.

The two boys held each other close grabbing skin and clothes in order to stay together. He growled at the orderlies but they remained focused on pulling the boy away. Robin started whimpering when they began to hit him. Peter tried to block them but he couldn’t cover the boy all the way. Robin’s screams muddled against his chest. He could feel the vibrations through his very being and wept inside for the deranged sound.

With a particularly hard impact Robin let go and they grabbed a hold of his limbs. His arms strained toward Peter as they dragged him out of the room and away from the only source of kindness he’d known. Peter stayed sitting on the ground. His arms went limp by his side and he could feel the breath fluttering in his chest.

He didn’t protest as the guards hauled him up or when the doctor sent him to be punished. By the time he was released from the grey room it was difficult to remember his old name. The chains around his wrists didn’t ground him in the present. Instead it was the yells reverberating through his head.

He saw Robin only once more after that. Another serum testing gone wrong and this time it was irreversibly so. The boy’s body rested against the examining table. There was a small hand dangling off the edge and Peter couldn’t see his pulse from beneath the translucent skin. He ignored the people around and walked up. His hands were firm but gentle as he tucked the boy’s hand by his side and under the white cloth. Something in him wanted to peal it back. Something insisted that he look his inevitable future in the face and to understand what he had caused, but he was a coward.

Peter stood there until he was called back to his cell. He didn’t turn around but the spot where the boy lay was filled with his absence. Peter left any remaining positive thoughts on the table with Robin and finally accepted his fate.

Once he dreamt of epic rescues with walls crashing down and chains melting to nothing. He remembered wishing for a miracle or even a happy accident that would lead him to freedom, but he realized those dreams weren’t attainable. Peter focused his energy on surviving.

-

When a rescue did come it was not in any of the ways he dreamed. There were no white knight barging in and galloping him away on their mighty steads. The knight instead came clothed in a suit and his armor was the slicing truth of the law. Truth be told it was almost mundane in the way it happened and Peter loved every second of it.

The orderlies were late to bring his food. Peter clenched his fists but didn’t bother complaining to himself. The back soaked in the cool spot from the wall behind him and his eyes fluttered closed. He sat like that for the day, waiting for someone to come.

The voices echoed down the hallway but he couldn’t make out what they were saying through the reinforced walls. His eyes opened when he heard the locks move and he sat up when the door swung open, moving his wrists forward so they could unlock them as normal.

Unusual scents filled his nose and people he had never seen before stood in the doorway. He caught a glimpse of red hair and heard a woman delegating people to other cells further down. Then a man stepped into the room and looked at Peter.

The first aspect of the stranger that Peter noticed was he was wearing a suit. It looked expensive to Peter but he wasn’t sure he was the best judge of clothing. The man’s eyes crinkled and Peter noticed his facial hair. It was in a strange shape, one he’d never seen before but somehow it complemented the man’s face.

Peter could hear his heartbeat and the footsteps of the others walking down the hall. The man stared at him in a way that Peter felt strange. Who was he? Peter lowered his wrists down to his thighs and saw the man wince at them. The sound of metal clinking permeated the room. He took a deep breath and stepped forward. Peter remained still and stared straight at him.

“Let’s get you out of here.” The man said as he took out a small cylinder. The small metal was red and acted like a laser, cutting through the metal. The broken cuffs fell onto the pallet under him and all Peter could do was stare at the restraints that held him for years. For some reason the beginnings of tears gathered at the corners of his eyes. The man cleared his throat and Peter whipped around to stare at him. Who was this man?

Peter blushed when he beckoned him forward and he hastily got up. It was strange being able to move without someone dictating his movements and for a moment Peter thought he should run. The door was open and waiting for someone to use it and it would be so easy to. Peter looked over at the hateful glare the man was giving his room and after the embarrassment faded, he felt a wave of gratitude. He wanted to thank the man a thousand times over but caution tempered him against that.

They left the room. Peter had nothing to grab and the two winded through the hallways. He saw other children for the first time. Most were younger than him, probably the age he was when he came. They were all hugging and celebrating. It confused Peter.

Then they came upon a set of doors. Peter stepped outside for what felt like the first time in his life. The wind was cold but it was fresh and real. The moon streamed on his face and masked the parking lot in silver light. Peter stared at the back of the man who liberated him.

And like he was taught to do he pushed all his worries aside and decided life couldn’t get worse than it was. He followed the man to the back of a car. He turned to Peter and his grim expression softened a bit. He laughed and brought his hand forward.

“I’m Tony. Ask me or Happy here.” He pointed to the driver. “If you need anything.” Peter stared at the hand and brought his up. With the lightest of pressure he folded their hands together and shook Tony’s hand. “I’m going to make sure everyone else is out and then we’ll get you some food. How does that sound?”

What he wanted to say was it sounded crazy. Did he know that Peter’s life was changed forever? Peter felt like he was standing on a precipice and being asked to jump off for the thousandth time. To trust that there was someone there to catch him this time without ever having proof. Food was the last thing he could of but there was this sort of expectant, hopeful look on the man’s face so Peter nodded.

His hopes flared as dozens of children came streaming out of the doors he exited from. They all piled into similar cars as him. A piercing sensation filled his chest when he realized that Robin would never come out of those doors. The boy would remain stuck in the building forever, bound in chains that would never be released.

He pressed his palms into his eyes and startled when the man came back.

“Hey kid, are you alright…?” The visions of Robin disappeared and were replaced by the man. How strange it seemed that a suit was so much like a knight’s armor in that moment. The black gleamed in the moonlight, fitted and meticulously tailored. Not a button was skewed despite venturing into the building.

“Peter.” He responded after realizing the man was trying to find out his name. “My name is Peter.”

The name was foreign on his tongue but he was never surer that it was his. Here, in this strange car, staring at the full parking lot, he could become Peter Parker again. He wasn’t sure what the future would hold but now he could look forward to one.

The man got into the seat beside him.

“Stark!” Someone yelled from outside of the car and the man turned to talk to them.

Peter was struck with a certain familiarity at the otherwise unfamiliar name. Images of May and Ben crying and hugging him close came to him. He swore he had the feeling of flying and, even stranger, a red suit poised in front of him. Peter staring up at the back of the metal man as he turned around. The mask was bright against the night sky and flew him to his uncle and aunt. He shook the thoughts away, unable to grasp what he was seeing in his memories. The car began moving forward and Peter glanced at the building for the last time.

The hum relaxed his overcrowded mind and the fragmented memories faded into the background. His arms shivered and the man must have seen for he took off his suit jacket and handed it to Peter. He stared at the material and then at the man with the strange facial hair.

“Thank you,” he whispered and could feel tears budding in his eyes.

He was free.

Chapter Text

Penny shrugged off her coat and tossed it onto the wall where her backpack was already hanging. The lab was devoid of people so she invaded the center and began getting out the notes her and Mr. Stark were working on over the past month.

Her hands shook as she tried to organize the papers. Mr. Stark was sure to keep the lab at a temperature she could handle, the cold affecting her more after the spider bite, and Penny realized that it was from anger. The words May threw at her echoed through her mind and louder still were the angry words she yelled back.

Today was the climax of months of calm requests and anxious gazes. The pleading in her aunt’s eyes transformed them into exasperated yelling when Penny came back with more bruises from patrol. How could May ask her to do that? It wasn’t like Spidergirl was a separate person from her. It wasn’t like she could turn it off at the flip of a hat.

Spidergirl was as much a part of Penny, as Penny was Spidergirl. They were both integral parts of her, literally seared into her blood. The spider bite changed her very chemical makeup and May expected her to stop being Spidergirl? It was asking her to stop liking science classes, to stop watching The Good Place, or to stop being friends with Ned. It didn’t work that way.

Penny tried to explain that to May. Well, yelled it at her and like every typical teenager she stormed into her room, slamming the door behind her. As Penny snuck out of her window she gleefully thought that it would show her aunt the error of her ways. Sitting alone in the lab on a day she wasn’t supposed to work with Mr. Stark, Penny felt stupid and every bit her young age. Tears pricked at the corners of her eyes and the papers lay forgotten. Why did she yell at her at aunt like that? There had only been worry in her eyes but Penny snapped.

“Penny?” She whirled around to see a blurry-eyed Mr. Stark in pajamas standing in the doorway. A blush came over her cheeks at the realization that Friday probably woke him when she came into the lab. She sniffed and hoped he couldn’t see the baby tears forming.

“Hi, Mr. Stark. Sorry for waking you.”

“It’s no problem, Penny. What are you doing here at,” he checked his watch. “Three in the morning?”

Guilt flooded her further. She hadn’t noticed how late it was, but now that he mentioned it the fatigue creeping into her limbs was all the more noticeable. Penny stood up and began stacking all the papers up.

“I’m so sorry Mr. Stark. I wasn’t thinking and needed a space to think and this was the first place I thought of.”

She looked up when no response came. His eyes were narrowed and she could feel their piercing gaze but it wasn’t hard. There was a softness there she would catch a glimpse of when she spoke up without hesitation or that one time after she thought he’d been hurt and she went up and hugged him. She remembered the burn across her cheeks when he stiffened but then his arms warmed her in an embrace. They pulled away from each other and his eyes had that same softness they had now.

“I’m glad you think of this place as your home.”

It wasn’t exactly what Penny said but as soon as the words left his mouth she knew it was what she meant. The tower had become a safe haven for her. It was somewhere she went when school was rotten or patrol went badly.

There was the kitchen her and Mr. Stark celebrated her birthday in. They tried to make a cake there but flour ended up decorating the floors and cupboards. Her bedroom sat down the hallway upstairs and her favorite books were stacked messily under the window. Friday would tease her about how they should be arranged alphabetically to stick with a library status quo, but she thought it looked instagram worthy with all its organized chaos.

The best aspect of coming to the tower was all the time spent with Mr. Stark and Pepper. She looked forward to seeing them and hearing about their lives. Their banter reminded her of how Ben and May used to talk to each other. The first time they all had dinner together it left her heart aching. She had to slip away to the bathroom and cried. Pepper knocked on the door and asked if she could enter in a way that left no room for a no. Quietly she slipped in and sat next to Penny on the floor. The woman didn’t ask what was wrong or give her advice. Instead she sat there and wrapper her arm around Penny’s shoulder.

It was more than comforting and Penny found herself leaning into the warmth. They stayed like that, silent except for the occasional comment, until Mr. Stark found them with freshly baked cookies. They all sat around the bathroom, she wondered how sanitary it was, and ate the dessert while laughing at a story Pepper told. It was wonderful and the beginning of something. The next month Mr. Stark gave her her own room in the Tower and it was her home away from home ever since.

“Yeah it is.”

Everything was put away and she walked over to grab her coat off the hanger. She headed toward the door, trying to slip past Mr. Stark.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“It’s late, Mr. Stark.”

“Yes, I’m the one the informed you.” He said poking her in the shoulder.

“And that’s why I need to get home.”

“That’s exactly why you should stay here with me.” He looked at her skeptical expression. “Come onnnn. It will be fun.”

He looked so expectant and eager, like a puppy waiting for its meal.

“It’s three in the morning. I don’t know how much fun that will be.” She said. There was no way she wanted to go home at the moment and the thought of her aunt’s disappointed face was something she did not need to see right now. A quiet part of the back of her mind told her she would be impeding on Mr. Stark’s hospitality. That she shouldn’t use him because she messed up but she quickly shushed the cruel words. Mr. Stark wouldn’t offer if he didn’t mean it.

“You’ll see.” He said with wagging eyebrows.

They made their way upstairs and Mr. Stark set about making pancakes. He put on music and she watched from her perch at the island counter as he tooled about with practiced ease. For all the claims that he didn’t know how to cook he looked comfortable in the kitchen. Her stomach growled at the golden stack on her plate. Penny loaded hers with syrup and Mr. Stark stuck with classic plain.

It was quiet and Penny’s mind began worrying again. Her mood sunk as she tried to think of what she would say when she saw May again. He bumped shoulders with her and a shaky smile swept across her face.

“Talk to me, Penny.“ He said.

It was something he said a lot. When she first started the internship and spending more time with him the statement filled her with anxiety. Why would Tony Stark want to hear anything she had to say? What could she even think that sounded smart? Of course when he uttered those words every reasonable thought flew out of her mind and she was left speechless. But through their relationship Penny began to appreciate it. The words were directed enough that Penny knew he wanted her to talk about but general that she could ignore the request and speak about whatever was on her mind.

Sometimes she would go off on a tangent about her favorite book character or how no one noticed how bad Dippin’ Dots was. He would take them in stride, knowing she wasn’t ready to talk about the more serious topics, and not press her. Other times it allowed Penny to express her fears and worries. One time she confessed a crush or a failed test, and Mr. Stark always did his best to offer support.

Today she didn’t want to talk about her and May. This was partly because there was a small part of her worried that he would agree with her aunt. What if he thought it was too dangerous being Spidergirl and that it would be best if she hung up the cape, so to speak? She looked into his brown eyes and her throat closed up. No, he could never think that. Mr. Stark was her number one fan or so he liked to remind her all the time. With some caution she relayed the fight to Mr. Stark, trying to remain as fair in her retelling. With some blushing she told him how rude she was with her aunt and tried not to notice the small look of disappointment he had with the words.

“I just don’t know why this came up all the sudden. I’ve been really careful lately even when it’s a pain. I’m trying so hard Mr. Stark and I don’t know if she can see it.” She was starting to tear up and looked down at her empty plate. His hand landed on her shoulder and she leaned into him.

“May knows, Penny. We all do and I think that’s where her worry comes from. I think May wants you to live a normal life. You know, have sleepovers, build Lego ships with Ned, and ask Liz to the homecoming.”

“Mr. Stark!” She cried blushing at his words but he kept talking.

“That’s what I want for you. Don’t get me wrong, Spidergirl is the shit but I also don’t want you to miss out on anything. I want you to live for yourself and sometimes I worry you can’t do that if you’re living for the whole of New York.”

His hand swept back and forth on her shoulder while she thought. The weight calmed her racing heart. She replied slow and thinking through each word before she said it.

“I get that Mr. Stark but I can’t stop. Even if I could I wouldn’t want to. I feel alive when I help someone across the street or someone gives me churros. I love looking after my city.”

He sighed and kissed her head.

“I know you do, Penny. Don’t worry about May. She’ll come around. I would bake her those chocolate brownies she loves though. Desserts always help as a forgive me gift. At least that’s what Pepper always says. ”

They smiled at each other and Penny yawned.

“Let’s get you to bed.” He said and placed the dishes in the sink. Mr. Stark walked them to her bedroom and after some fussing made sure she was all tucked in. It was sweet the way he worried about whether she would be cold or not. As always, he reassured her that Friday was there if she needed anything and that him and Pepper were down the hall.

“Thank you, Mr. Stark.” She said and smiled when he brushed her unruly hair back from her face.

“I love you, Penny.”

She yawned again and returned the sentiment, smiling at how those words brought warmth to her chest. He turned the lights off and Penny’s eyes drifted closed, ready to fall asleep and dream.

-

Tony closed the door, careful to make sure there wasn’t a noise, and made his way back to the living room. He wasn’t quiet ready to sleep for the night and wanted to get some work done before he did. He grabbed his phone and sat on the couch, staring at the dark screen. Tony sighed and sent a text off to May. He told her what happened and that Penny was safe and staying the night.

In all honesty he could understand where May was coming from. He watched as there were increasingly dark circles under the kid’s eyes and how, busy with school, she had no time to relax. Lately, he got into the habit of reminding Penny to eat. At first she tried to pretend like she didn’t know what he was talking about but after a few attempts she caved. It helped when she found out he could actually cook something edible. The plus was that it helped him remember when he was supposed to eat because he was worried about her.

Worried was a word he would never describe himself before but it was now officially added into his repertoire. He worried about her eating, her patrols, and always her safety. But there were also smaller, less significant things he would find himself thinking about. Would she ace the social studies exam the following week? Was she going to ask Liz to the homecoming and would the other girl say yes? All these thoughts started so slow he didn’t have time to stop them. They were errant and brief when they first met but slowly they became more prevalent. He wouldn’t stop them if he could.

Tony could also understood Penny’s thoughts on the matter. He knew how important all of this was to her. He could see the way her eyes would glow when she came back from a patrol or how her legs would always catch her when she jumped. He knew all to well how that part of your life became so important to you. How what people thought of as a separate person fused into you and was a part of yourself.

So Tony decided to do nothing. May would understand with time and he would do everything he could to keep Penny safe. May called him back. She said that she understood and that she overreacted when the girl came home from patrol. There was a desperate regret in her tone and she apologized over and over to him and Penny. He did his best to calm her and listen, and in the end she thanked him. He knew that her and Penny would be fine. That May was just working and he let his thoughts drift to work.

After working he stumbled into bed and kissed Pepper on the shoulder before burrowing under the covers.

Tony thought about all the new improvements he could update Penny’s suit with and how Karen could become smarter. He thought it was crazy but he actually considered making some new rules for the kid. Maybe a curfew or something like that. He shivered at his adultness for a moment. May was her mom and responsible for her but there was nothing he wouldn’t do to help share that responsibility. It was an honor to be able to and not the burden he assumed it would be.

He smiled and reminded Friday to send him the recipe for those brownies May liked.