“Hey Underoos, think fast!”
Peter rolls his eyes and doesn't think fast.
He does the exact opposite, actually.
His mind slows everything down and he doesn't have to think at all, doesn't have to even look up from what he's doing. He just lets his instincts take over, lets his hand fly up at the exact precise moment it needs to in order to snatch the yellow and orange projectile flying toward him right out of the air, a mere second before it would have made direct contact with his face.
There's absolute silence from Tony's side of the room after that, and Peter still doesn't look up at him, doesn't give him the time of day. He doesn’t acknowledge what just happened at all. Instead, he just sets what appears to be a rubber chicken—wait, really?—down on the table by his side, calm as can be, like it's the most ordinary thing in the world, a completely normal occurrence, because it kind of is, and then continues working on the trigger mechanism for his newest web-shooter design.
The ridiculous toy is the third object that's been launched his way in the last half hour, and it's definitely the most bizarre.
But whatever, par for the course and all that.
It’s Friday night, pretty late, and as usual he's sitting in Mr. Stark's private lab at the Tower doing one of the things he loves most: tinkering, building, experimenting. AC/DC is playing on a moderately loud loop through the sound system, there's several empty pizza boxes stacked up next to the couch in the corner, and poor DUM-E is attempting to mop up a puddle of Mt. Dew Peter spilled earlier. The robot keeps making these exasperated little beeps and wheezes, like it's actually annoyed with Peter and his clumsiness even though it was Tony who ordered the bot to clean up the mess in the first place.
All in all, it's a good night.
Another minute or so passes before he hears the unmistakable shuffle of sock-clad feet moving closer, and he finally pauses what he's doing. “Did you really just throw a rubber chicken at me, Mr. Stark?” he asks, humor laced in his voice and the hint of a smile curving his lips as the man hovers by his side.
“Yeah, well, your freaky spider thing always takes the fun out of that bit—”
“And yet you keep trying.”
“Sure do. Nobody likes a quitter. What do you call that thing anyway? The, um....” Tony pauses, his brows furrowing, a finger coming up to rest against his mouth like he's thinking really hard about something, putting in a real effort. He snaps his fingers triumphantly a moment later, all elaborate and showy, as he’s wont to do. “Oh yeah, I remember! It's the Peter Tingle, isn't it?”
“Ha ha,” he grouses, glaring up at his mentor's smug face, hair wild and cheeks covered in engine grease from his own project, “That's only what May calls it, although I have no idea where she came up with the name, and I can't get her to stop. I’ve tried, believe me. But that's definitely not what it's called! Like, at all. It's not a....tingle. How do you even know about that, anyway?”
“I have my ways.”
“Please please please, Mr. Stark, don't start calling it that. Please.”
He tries really hard to keep the whine out of his voice, but he doesn't think it works all that well if the laugh he receives in return is any indication.
“I'll do my best, bud, but I make no promises,” Tony chuckles, “I really thought I had you with the chicken, though. It's unexpected, right? Exciting. Surprising. Different....outside the box.”
“Maybe you should try a different box then,” he huffs, narrowing his gaze, “I mean, you're supposed to be a super genius or something, so you'd think you would've learned your lesson by now....”
“Oh, would you look at that. He's got sass tonight,” Mr. Stark smirks, his hands going to his hips, “Are you hearin' this nonsense, FRI? Tell me you’re hearin’ it.”
“Certainly am, Boss. I think Peter's very sassy.”
“He sure is, honey,” Tony readily agrees, glancing fondly up at the ceiling before moving his gaze back to Peter, seemingly satisfied with the AI's answer, “I see how it is, Mr. Parker. The youth of today....no respect for their elders. Such a shame.”
They share a moment of contented quiet, just being in the same space with each other, relaxed and comfortable.
Peter feels so calm and accepted when he's here, in the Tower with Tony, sharing time and space and banter. He's not ashamed to be himself. In fact, he can be as nerdy as he wants. He can let loose and geek out all over the place knowing that he's totally safe, and that Mr. Stark will probably start geeking out right along with him at some point.
Sometimes it reminds him of Ben.
That thought's kind of bitter sweet, though.
“Besides,” the man continues, clearing his throat and breaking the easy silence, “you know my MO, kid. When I start throwing weird shit at you it means it's about time to go. The later it gets, the weirder the shit; and I don't want Aunt Hottie to yell at me again because I kept you out past curfew. She's scary, and that one time was enough, trust me. I’ve learned my lesson.”
May is definitely a force to be reckoned with, there's no doubt about it, so he simply nods in agreement and starts putting his things away. He picks up his backpack from the floor and plops it down on the table, stuffs his completed homework inside, along with the web-shooter so he can continue to work on it throughout the following week.
He turns back to Tony when it's all put away and they walk toward the elevator together, side by side.
“Happy's waiting for you right out front, kiddo. He'll drive you home.”
“Oh, I can just take the subway,” Peter counters, shaking his head even though he already knows it's a fruitless endeavor, a moot point. Tony always has Happy drive him home on lab nights. Still, he goes on, “I take the subway all the time, and I don't wanna be a bother. It's really not big deal.”
“Nope. Nuh uh. None of that, Mr. Parker. Happy'll drive you, like he always does. He looks forward to it, even; and you don't wanna deprive him of the honor of chauffeuring your butt around, do you? It would break his heart.” Peter can't help but huff a laugh at that, because Happy most definitely does not enjoy driving him around. Tolerates, maybe. “But you know the drill—“
“Yeah,” he sighs, cutting the older man off mid-sentence and slinging his bag over his shoulder, “I know, Mr. Stark. I'll be sure to text you as soon as I get inside the apartment.”
“Hey, I just worry. Can't have my spider-ling getting into too much trouble. Gotta make sure you're safely put away for the night and all that.”
He grins. “I know, Mr. Stark.”
That's something else Tony always does—makes him call or text when he gets home from the Tower or from a late patrol, just to check in.
He can't really blame the man for his hyper-vigilance, though; Peter's given him ample reason to be concerned over the last year. There's been more times than he cares to admit where he's found himself in the Med Bay with either Dr. Banner or Dr. Cho stitching him up from some kind of on the job injury.
And if he's being completely honest, it's actually kinda nice to have people in his life who worry about him so much, who have his back if he gets into trouble; and between Mr. Stark and Aunt May, he's got that in spades. It almost feels like the two adults got together one day and decided to co-parent him or something, but he knows that's a ridiculous notion in actuality. It's just wishful thinking on his part, just him wanting something more from Mr. Stark.
Something more than he's entitled to.
Besides, Mr. Stark is a lot of things to him already. He's a mentor, and a confidant, and a teammate.
Maybe even a friend, at times.
He's a sponsor, certainly—at least when it comes to Spider-Man. The billionaire has given Peter so much that he's thankful for, so much that he'd never have the opportunity to have without the man's generosity. New, state of the art suits and upgrades; Karen, the amazing AI that helps him be the best superhero he can be; numerous high-tech gadgets and gizmos; a quiet place in the Tower where he can retreat to whenever he needs an escape from the hustle and bustle of New York City.
Seriously, Mr. Stark is so many things to him, for him, but he's not a parent.
Not a....a dad.
He's definitely not Peter's dad, no matter how much Peter likes the idea of that.
Tony's just watching out for an asset.
Watching out for Spider-Man.
That's all it is, nothing more.
That's the reality.
The elevator doors slide open and Mr. Stark's voice brings him out of his morose thoughts.
“Alright. I'll see ya later, bud. Have a good week, don't get into any trouble, call if you need anything, yadda yadda yadda.”
“Oh, right, yeah,” he nods, shaking off the melancholy, “I will. Thanks, Mr. Stark.”
He's pulled into a side hug, an arm wrapping around his shoulders, and he lingers there for a moment, just breathing in the scent of coffee, motor oil, and Axe body spray.
It's nice, the hugging.
The scent too, but the hugging is what really gets him, has his chest swelling with warmth.
It's a thing that started right after the whole Vulture fiasco, and it always makes Peter feel special when Tony does it.
“I mean it,” Mr. Stark continues, his voice drifting down from above Peter's head, “you need anything at all, you call me.”
He reluctantly pulls away from the embrace and hops onto the elevator, watching as his mentor disappears behind the closing doors. The ride down to the first floor is a smooth one, and when he steps into the lobby he can see Happy already waiting for him outside through the glass doors of the front entrance.
He waves toward one of the security cameras in the corner as he makes his exit. “Bye, FRIDAY.”
“Goodbye, Peter. I hope you have a lovely night.”
“Thanks,” he murmurs.
As soon as he's out in the crisp night air Happy's moving around the sleek Audi Q7. “You ready to go?” he asks, tone gruff yet friendly.
The man opens the back door for Peter and looks expectantly at him, so he slides into the SUV, letting his backpack fall to the floor between his feet. “Thanks, Happy.”
“No problem, kid.”
The door shuts, and he buckles up while Happy walks back around the car and climbs into the driver's seat, adjusting the rear view mirror until their eyes meet in the reflection.
“So, you have a good time tonight?”
Always, is what Peter really wants to say, but it sounds ridiculous in his head. Sappy and foolish. Still, it's the truth no matter how corny it may be. It doesn't matter what they end up doing, he always has a good time with Mr. Stark.
“Yeah,” he says again, smiling as Happy readjusts the mirror and pulls out onto the street, “Yeah, I really did.”
“May?” he calls as he walks through the front door, throwing his backpack onto the couch.
“Oh hey, baby! I'm in here!” the woman in question yells from the kitchen.
When Peter walks into the room he sees her pulling out two Tupperware containers full of leftovers from the fridge. They'd had turkey meatloaf the night before, and he can still sorta feel his stomach roiling from the after effects of the meal. It wasn't her best attempt.
“How was lab night?” she asks, hitching her glasses up the bridge of her nose and grabbing a clean plate out of the cupboard, looking at him questioningly, “Did you have fun doing all your science-y stuff?”
“Yeah,” he smiles, thinking back on the evening, “It was great. But I ah, I ate there, so....” he hooks his thumb behind him, motioning toward his room, “I think I'm just gonna go shower and head to bed.”
Normally he'd go out and patrol for a few hours before hitting the hay, but there's no patrolling on lab nights anymore, as per May and Mr. Stark's orders. That rule had been put into effect after Peter had gone out one night straight from the Tower and ended up on the business end of a 9mm because he'd been too tired and too distracted to notice his Spidey-Sense screaming at him to dodge the flying bullets.
It hadn't been a fun experience for anyone.
“That's my boy,” she gushes, placing the unused plate back on the shelf, “Sleep well, honey. Oh, and I was thinking we could do something fun tomorrow. Just the two of us. Maybe have a picnic at the park? Or hang out at the zoo?”
“Sounds great,” he nods in agreement, turning back to the living room to pick up his bag, throwing a, “Night, May!” over his shoulder as he goes.
“You too,” he laughs, shaking his head.
He enters his room, shoots off a quick text to Tony as requested, and gets undressed; then hops into the shower, letting the hot water beat down on his skin. As he washes off the remnants of the day he breathes in the steam, allows the heat and the pressure to relax his muscles and his mind. It's sort of like meditation in a way, and it loosens him up, helps him sleep. Once the water begins to cool, though—which, unfortunately, isn't that long in an old building like the one they live in—he gets out and brushes his teeth, takes care of the rest of his business. He throws on some flannel pants and a comfortable old t-shirt, turns off the light and crawls into bed, hugging his pillow close to his chest.
He's asleep within minutes, safely burrowed beneath the covers.
It was a great night.