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For Want of a Dad (in need of a son)

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“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.

It's nice.

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.”

“Sure.”

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.

“Yeah.”

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.

“Homework?”

“Finished it.”

“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.

“Larb you!”

“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.

Chapter Text

“I’m just saying, Thor could totally take the Hulk in a fight.”

“I don’t know, Ned, you might be wrong about this one. I mean, just think about it, the angrier the Hulk gets, the stronger he gets. Right? So, in theory, if he gets mad enough I believe he could beat pretty much anyone he's put up against.”

“No no no,” Ned suddenly stops in his tracks, turning to look heatedly at Peter, his hands gesticulating wildly through the air as he speaks, “The Hulk is still mortal, though, dude. Thor’s just as strong as him, plus he’s a literal god. A god! And besides, he has Mjölnir on his side. And lightning.

“But like, what if he didn’t have the hammer? Could he still even summon the lightning?”

“Well he’s not the 'God of Hammers', Peter! He’s the God of Thunder, of course he'd still have the lightning!”

“So wait, what if he—“

“I think you’re both wrong.”

Peter and Ned’s lighthearted bickering comes to an abrupt halt and they both look over to where MJ’s standing with her arms crossed over her chest, glaring at them.

“Oh yeah?” Peter asks with a grin, “Then who do you think would win?”

“Easy. I think Scarlet Witch would wipe the floor with both of them.”

“Really?”

“Yep,” she says, popping the 'p', “She’d hand them their asses without even breaking a sweat.”

“And why’s that?” Ned has the guts to question.

“She can get into their heads, doofus. You know, bend reality? Use all their worst fears against them, and their strengths. Make them fight each other. Simple.” With that said she turns on her heel and starts heading down the street before they can even respond, throwing a, “See you losers later,” over her shoulder as she goes.

Peter kind of adores her.

“Okay, well....says you!”

Peter laughs, giving Ned an incredulous look for the awful comeback while MJ flicks them the bird without missing a beat.

Says you?” he asks as they continue on their way.

Ned just shrugs, smiling and shaking his head. “I had nothing, dude. Absolutely nothing.”

They're walking down 21st Street toward Delmar's for an after school/before patrol snack, and Michelle had decided to grace them with her company, at least until they reached her subway stop. It's late February so it's still pretty cold out—not freezing anymore, thank god, but still cool enough to be bundled up, their breath fogging in the air with every exhale.

Peter will be so glad when it warms up and stays that way. Ever since the spider bite, he's had a much more difficult time dealing with the extreme cold that tends to blanket New York during the winter. Temperature regulation just isn't as easy as it used to be; but he supposes the superpowers are probably a fair trade off.

A few minutes after they've parted ways with MJ they arrive at the deli and slip into the back of the line, waiting for their turn to order. The place is busy, but not overwhelmingly so, and Peter takes a moment to scratch under Murph's chin when the cat saunters up to them atop the display case. “Hey, buddy,” he coos, “you’ve got your motor going strong today, huh? You happy to see me? Am I your favorite?”

Murph rubs his head against Peter’s palm a few times in answer, purring loudly, then moves along to his next adoring fan.

“So, how's that going by the way?” Ned ask, motioning back toward the street outside.

“How's what going?”

The line moves, they shuffle forward.

“You know....you're thing.

“My uh, my thing?” he asks, stepping up to the counter as the person in front of them takes their food. “What are you talking about? What thing?”

Mr. Delmar smiles brightly at the both of them, drawing their attention, a glint in his eye as he tilts his head toward Peter, “Number five with pickles, am I right?”

“Yep, and can you—“

“I know, I know—smoosh it down. I remember!”

“Yeah,” he nods, grinning, “real flat, please.”

“Pancake. You got it.” Mr. Delmar chuckles, then looks to Ned expectantly, waiting for him to order.

“Oh, uh, I'll take a number two, please,” the other boy says.

“And two waters,” Peter quickly adds, pulling out some cash and handing it over.

Ned hurriedly does the same.

“You got it, boys.” Delmar takes the money and meets Peter's eyes again, “Tell your aunt we miss seeing her around.”

“I will,” he easily agrees, and they move off to the side to wait, out of the way.

“I know you're trying to avoid the subject,” Ned continues, much to Peter's dismay, “but don't play dumb. It's not a good look on you.”

“Dumb? Ned, what are you even talking abou—“

“I'm talking about your crush. How's that going?”

Peter blushes, fierce. He can feel the hot burn of it all over his face, moving quickly down his neck while his heart beats fast in his chest, thumping against his ribs, his stomach fluttering and palms going sweaty in the pockets of his hoodie.

His body's betraying him, manifesting his embarrassment for all to see.

He's talked with Ned about his feelings for MJ before, of course; the guy's his best friend, he tells him pretty much everything. Well, except for when he was still keeping Spider-Man a secret. That's not an issue anymore, though.

So yeah, he's told Ned how he feels, but that's all it is....just feelings. It's just a pipe dream, an impossible want, a fool's hope. Michelle Jones is on a level all her own, a tier above everyone else; and Peter's stuck on the ground, watching her rise higher and higher out of reach.

And that's okay.

He knows nothing will ever happen; he's accepted it, but that doesn't mean he particularly wants to talk about it.

Still though, sometimes he can’t help but wonder about all the ‘what ifs’—especially when he catches MJ staring at him under the guise of ‘observing the human condition’, as she so often likes to say.

What if she feels the same way about Peter as he does about her?

What if she’s simply too embarrassed to say anything to him?

Or what if she's waiting for him to make the first move?

What if he’s just reading way too much into everything?

“I think you should tell her,” Ned goes on, oblivious to Peter’s inner turmoil, “I mean, what've you got to lose?”

“Um, my dignity?”

They share a lighthearted laugh at that, then their orders are both up and they take their sandwiches and drinks from Mr. Delmar, thanking him before heading toward their regular table way in the back of the building, where they like to sit and people watch.

Peter quickly opens his bag up to reveal the flattest sandwich ever, and he takes a moment to just admire it, to revel at how awesome a smoosher Mr. Delmar truly is before he takes a big bite and leans back in his chair, chewing happily.

Ned's busy doing the same thing, and they eat in companionable silence for a few minutes before the conversation picks back up again.

“So, have you given the camping trip any more thought?” Ned asks him between mouthfuls, and he groans internally at the change in subject.

He'd much rather go back to talking about his non-existent love life, thanks.

The trip is during spring break—a four day long trek out into the wilderness, camping and hiking and gathering who even knows what, learning all about nature and the great outdoors. It's part of a new thing Midtown is trying out, a sort of enrichment program that's supposed to help students keep their minds busy even when school's not in session.

But the real kicker?

It's an event specifically designed for fathers and their sons, which is something Peter doesn't have, and something he will never be.

Not again.

He's no one's son, and he doesn't have a dad.

Not anymore.

The girls are going on an equivalent trip with their moms, but he's pretty sure they at least get to stay in a hotel or something while the guys have to rough it, camping out in tents under the stars.

Peter's been dreading the whole thing since the beginning of the school year when they'd first announced it, to be honest.

He gets real quiet as he contemplates his answer, Ned watching him with big, hopeful eyes as Peter stares down at his half eaten sandwich and tries not to be sick. His friend has wanted him to go to this thing since forever, pretty much, and he doesn't know how to tell him that he'd rather stay home and pick up more patrols than spend four whole days watching everyone else get to bond with their dads while he sits on the sidelines feeling like an outcast, awkward, alone and out of place.

“I mean, you can totally go with me and my dad,” Ned quickly adds, his voice softening like he knows exactly what Peter's thinking. To be fair, he probably does. “You’re a part of our family. Totally. You're like my brother.”

Peter knows, absolutely and unequivocally, that Ned is his family, just as much as May is; and having Ned's dad around would be nice and all, but it's not the same. There's some things that just can't be replaced that easily. Or at all.

“I’ll think about it,” he finally mumbles.

“Or you could, um, you know, ask someone else. Like....like Mr. Stark.”

His head shoots up so fast at the suggestion that he thinks he gives himself whiplash. “Wh-What?”

“Mr. Stark,” Ned repeats, slow and deliberate, “You guys already spend lots of time hanging out together. Doing Spider-Man stuff, and lab stuff, and I don't even know what other kinds of stuff. Iron Man stuff? Oh! And he flew you all the way to Germany that one time, in his private jet and—“

“That was strictly a business thing, and Mr. Stark wasn't even on the same plane as me. Happy was the one—“

“Maybe, but still....dude, you're at his super awesome tower every week! Would he let you come over if he didn't like having you around? I don't think so. I bet he’d totally love to go with you. And it would be so awesome!”

“He doesn’t wanna go on a silly camping trip with a bunch of high school kids Ned, come on. He’s, he’s Tony Stark. He's Iron Man! He’s got way more important things to do with his time.” He pauses there, puts his hand up between them and starts counting things out on his fingers for added emphasis. “He's got Stark Industries business,” that's one finger, “and the Avengers, or what's left of them anyway,” there's two, “and then there's that whole mess with the Accords to deal with,” that's three, “not to mention meetings and charity events,” that's four and five, “He's super busy, and he just, you know, he doesn't have time for stuff like that. Kid stuff. Me. He doesn't have time for, for me.”

“I mean....I guess so....” Ned agrees with a sigh, but he seems extremely dubious about the acquiescence.

It doesn’t matter though. Sure, Peter would love for Mr. Stark to go with him. He’d love to be able to go fishing, and try to set up a tent, and roast marshmallows for s'mores, and tell corny ghost stories by a campfire, and do all the other stupid, silly crap that people do out in the woods with his mentor.

He wants that; of course he does.

He wants to do everything with Mr. Stark....everything he didn't get the chance to do with his own father, and everything he'll never have the opportunity to do again with Ben.

But he's too afraid to even ask the man about it.

Too scared to be rejected by him.

And besides, like he told Ned, Tony's super busy, and the last thing Peter wants to do is be a burden.

 


 

He goes on patrol for a few hours that night after he finishes his homework. The air is chilly, but the heater inside his suit does a wonderful job of keeping the cold away. It's probably one of his favorite features, actually. No matter the conditions, he can still go out and do his part to keep the city safe, remaining nice and dry and toasty while he's at it.

After all, criminals don't really care about the weather.

Case in point, he's already stopped two bike thefts, an attempted break-in at a used book store, a shady weapons deal in a back alley, and a mugging.

Just a typical Monday night in Queens.

He takes a break around 10 PM, shooting a series of webs between two buildings and fashioning a hammock to lay down on; and then he lets the breeze comfortably rock him from side to side as he looks up at the sky. There are no stars, just a smoggy blackness staring back at him; but he's used to that.

It's nothing new.

He closes his eyes and let's his mind wander, thinks back on his weekend, on his date with May. It had been a lot warmer than it is now, so they'd decided to go to their favorite Thai place and grab take out; then they'd set up a cozy picnic area in Astoria Park. They'd huddled close, sharing an over-sized blanket to keep the slight chill out while they talked and ate.

It'd been really nice, having her all to himself.

After, they'd walked around Wellington Court for a while, perusing all the street art and finding a few new Spider-Man murals he'd never seen before. They'd even taken selfies with them; and it'd been so silly, but also kinda great.

He wonders what Tony did all weekend, if the man had had any time at all to just relax and enjoy himself. Maybe with Ms. Potts.

He hopes so.

“Hey, Karen?” he starts, hesitantly breaking the quiet reflection of the moment.

Yes Peter?” she replies, tone soft and attentive as always.

“Can I uh, ask you something?”

Of course. You can ask me anything, and I will answer to the best of my ability.”

“Okay.” He pauses, biting his lower lip and contemplating how to broach the subject that he's been thinking about almost non-stop lately—even more so after his talk with Ned that afternoon. “How do you, uh, think Mr. Stark feels? About me?” he finally questions.

He feels pretty pathetic asking an AI something like this, something so personal and subjective, but Karen seems more like a close friend to him than a computer program at this point in their relationship. Sometimes he forgets that she's not a real person. She's always there for him when he needs her, and he knows she won't say anything to anyone else about their talks as long as he's not in any danger. She's loyal like that. Trustworthy.

I think he cares a great deal for you, Peter.”

“Yeah?” his stomach flips at the thought, something warm and happy settling in, “You uh, you really think so?”

Most definitely,” she confirms, quick and confident, “Tony has numerous protocols set in place to ensure your continued well-being. Keeping Spider-Man active and out on the streets is one of his top priorities.”

“Oh.”

Spider-Man.

His heart sinks a little at that—at the thought that Mr. Stark only keeps an eye on him because he’s special. Only spends time with him because he's enhanced, an asset.

When he thinks about it, though, he really shouldn’t be that surprised.

It makes perfect sense.

Mr. Stark is Iron Man. The Iron Man. He's Earth's Mightiest Defender, a founding member of the Avengers, the head of Stark Industries. He's a multi-billionaire, an award-winning engineer, a high-profile philanthropist. He's an extremely important man, and a very busy one as well. He doesn’t have time to worry about lowly Peter Parker, some stupid kid from Queens who just happened to get bit by a radioactive spider and developed superpowers.

Yet, he makes time for Peter anyway.

Right?

Every Friday night they have lab time together at the Tower. They work side by side on upgrades to his suit and new formulas for his web fluid. But it's not all about Spider-Man, is it? They do other things, too. Lots of other things. They build robots, and do silly experiments that sometimes blow up in their faces, and talk about how their respective weeks have gone. Sometimes they even get dinner delivered and watch Netflix while they eat; and Ms. Potts or Colonel Rhodes will join them from time to time.

They all make him feel so welcome and accepted, like he belongs there.

It’s nice.

It’s one of the highlights of Peter's whole week.

Peter,” Karen's voice brings him out of his wandering thoughts, “There appears to be an ATM robbery taking place four block to the west.”

“Okay.”

He sighs, leaving the comfort of his hammock behind and swinging back out into the city. As he flies through the air, though, he can't help but wonder: is Mr. Stark spending time with him because he actually wants to spend time with him, or is it simply because he's investing in Spider-Man?

Peter tries his best not to think about the answer.

Or about how much the truth might hurt.

 

Chapter Text

The next two days seem to drag on for Peter.

He goes to school, then to decathlon practice, then he spends a few hours patrolling. After that he goes home and does his homework, eats dinner with May, watches Say Yes to the Dress with her because it's her favorite show ever at the moment, and then heads back out for a second sweep around the city. He talks to Ned as he swings down 36th Street, he texts back and forth with MJ while he's riding atop the 7 Train, and he stops in at Delmar's to say hi to Murph because he loves the fluffy little fur ball. Then it's back home, where he showers, maybe watches a little TV to wind down, and goes to bed.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

All in all it's a pretty uneventful first half of the week, which is fine. Totally fine. Uneventful is good; great, even. Usually, if things are boring in Peter's life it means that nothing bad is happening—that no one's trying to actively kill him, and that's a great thing.

Even the crime around the borough seems to slow down after his busy Monday night. The most exciting thing that happens to him is on Wednesday evening, when Aunt May decides to try out a new recipe she's been really excited to make.

Or, at least attempt to make, in her case.

He always does his very best to be supportive of her efforts in the kitchen, but history has proven time and time again that May Parker is not a good cook. Like, at all. Seriously, if there was a competition for the worst cook in America, she'd win. Hands down.

Maybe there is, actually—it sounds familiar; he should look into it, see if they could win some cash or something.

Still though, he gives it a go, figuring anything she may inadvertently poison him with will be taken care of by his super healing.

Probably.

Hopefully.

He's wary at first, watching as she scoops spoonfuls of this gooey chicken mixture she'd made out of a big bowl and onto a rectangle of rolled out croissant dough, then she folds the dough over, pinching the edges together neatly. She repeats those steps five more times until she’s got six pockets full of chicken paste lined up in a cute little row on a cookie sheet, then she places it all in the oven.

After about fifteen minutes she pulls the pan back out and hands him one of the pockets on a plate. It’s still steaming, the pastry a nice golden brown, and it smells....kinda wonderful, actually; but he doesn't let his skepticism vanish completely.

Not yet.

After all, he's been fooled by tantalizing aromas before. It mean nothing.

So, after May sits down beside him he takes a slow, tentative bite, and his eyes instantly go wide with shock because....it's good. It's really, really good. Warm and flaky and creamy, all the flavors working together seamlessly to create a perfectly cohesive and seasoned experience for his tongue. He's pleasantly surprised by the outcome, and all of his uncertainty flies out the window as he starts to eat in earnest.

May smiles at his reaction, following suit.

He definitely wouldn't mind having this again, and he says as much, going back for a second helping, then a third—much to his aunt's obvious delight—before finally excusing himself, changing back into his Spider suit, and web-slinging around Queens.

The real excitement doesn’t begin until the next morning.

Thursday starts off bad and remains that way, with no break in sight.

He’d ended up staying out way too late the previous night, because even though crime had evidently taken a holiday for the last couple of days, lost pets had not; and he'd spent several hours helping a distraught single mother look for her seven year old daughter’s lost Pomeranian, Mr. Muggles. The furry little guy had slipped out of their back fence while the family had been out to dinner; and Peter had finally found him around 3 AM, happily chasing a group of frazzled squirrels around the trees and bushes of Kissena Park.

He'd returned the pooch to his overjoyed and grateful humans shortly after, and it had been a lovely reunion, but because of the late hour—or early, depending on how one looked at it—Peter had ended up sleeping clear through his 6 AM alarm.

In his rush to get out the door and off to school he’d skipped breakfast and managed to stub his toe, twice; and he'd still arrived ten minutes late to his first period class. A class that just happened to have a pop quiz scheduled for that morning. A pop quiz that he’d consequently had only half as much time to complete as everybody else.

It was not awesome.

The rest of the morning consisted of him attempting to stay awake while also doing his best to assure Ned and MJ that he was totally, one-hundred percent, a-okay fine, because apparently he looked like shit, at least according to Michelle.

“Dude, are you sure you’re okay?” Ned asks for the third time as they walk down the hall. It’s lunch hour now, finally, but they’re stopping by their lockers to drop stuff off before heading to the cafeteria. “‘Cause you kinda don’t look so good.”

“Gee thanks, Ned,” he grumbles, shooting his best friend an irritated glare.

“But he’s right,” MJ concurs from his other side, playfully punching him in the shoulder. He tries not to wince. “Like I said earlier, multiple times, you look like shit. So what gives, Parker?”

Her lips twitch into a hesitant smile as she waits for an answer, wild hair falling across her face like a shield, but it doesn't hide the genuine worry Peter sees in her eyes. It's the same worry that's mirrored in Ned's, and suddenly he feels bad for snapping at the other boy.

He returns Michelle’s smile, shrugging off the unsaid concern as he begins to enter the combination for his locker. “I’m fine guys, really. I just didn’t get a whole lotta sleep last night and I’m paying for it now. Got a headache. That’s all.”

Ned gives him a knowing look from behind Michelle’s back at that. He’d had a late night as well. Not as late as Peter, mind you, but he’d still dragged himself out of bed to help Spider-Man narrow down the dog hunt by hacking into security feeds throughout the area.

Peter owes him big time, that’s for sure.

If it wasn’t for his Guy in the Chair, he’d probably still be looking for sweet, fluffy little Mr. Muggles.

He finally gets his locker open after his third try at the combination and triumphantly throws his books inside.

And that’s when he hears it.

Flash Thompson's voice, echoing down the hall like an oncoming storm, or maybe some jagged nails on a chalkboard.

“Yo Penis!”

He groans, slamming his locker shut and then banging his head against the metal for good measure. Unsurprisingly, the action does nothing at all to alleviate the pounding in his skull or the throbbing behind his eyes. He closes them and takes a deep breath, steadying himself, willing some sort of supernatural patience to wash over him so he doesn’t completely lose his shit.

Spider-Man cannot kill anyone.

Besides, he can handle this.

He can totally, one-hundred percent handle this.

It’s just Flash being Flash. No big deal. No big thing. Nothing out if the ordinary. Just another typical day at the lovely Midtown School of Science and Technology.

“You guys go on,” he says, sparing his friends a quick glance and motioning for them to head to the cafeteria without him.

They share an uncertain look between themselves, but he doesn’t wait for their response. Instead, he simply turns back around to see Flash standing right in front of him, a shit eating grin plastered across his beady little weasel face.

“I heard you were thinking about going on that camping trip next month,” the other boy starts, smirking, “You know, the one during spring break?”

“Uh, yeah, I guess,” Peter mumbles in response, the subject causing his heart to race, beating frantically, nervously against his ribs, “I mean, it is for the students, and I'm a student, so....maybe....” Intrusive thoughts seep into his mind unbidden—thoughts of Ben, and then Tony. Thoughts of the trip and how much he actually does kinda wanna go, if only he wasn’t so utterly alone. “Why?” he asks, shaking off the moment and squaring his shoulders, a spark of defiance igniting inside his chest, “Why do you even care, Flash?”

Why?” Flash scoffs at the question, quirking a brow as he takes a step closer. There’s a small crowd beginning to form around them, curious onlookers milling about, and it makes Peter all the more anxious to get whatever the hell this is gonna end up being over with as fast as possible. “Well Penis, I’ll tell you why I care. You see, I’m pretty sure you’ve got your dates confused or something because although yes, you are technically a student here, this trip's not for you. It’s for the kids who actually have dads,” the boy laughs at that, loud and nasally, and Peter tries not to flinch. He feels the telltale sting of tears in his eyes, traitorous and scalding, mortifying, as Flash continues spewing his vitriol, “The one you need? The one for poor little orphans who don’t have daddies? Yeah, that trip's not until—“

Before Peter even knows what’s happening MJ is across the hall, slipping between Flash and himself. She's nothing but a dark blur of curly, frizzy hair and righteous, terrifying fury as she pulls her fist back and slams it directly into Flash’s smug face. There’s a loud, resounding crack that follows immediately after, like bone crunching against bone; and the noise reverberates down the hallway, amplified by his heightened senses, echoing in his ears, his head, even in his teeth.

Everything seems to move in slow motion after that.

Kids start to murmur amongst themselves, the occasional hiss or groan of sympathy reaching Peter’s oversensitive hearing as he watches fresh blood begin to trickle, then gush from Flash’s clearly broken nose. He can't seem to pull his attention away from the sight of all that red, not until Michelle's standing right in front of him, blocking his view of the aftermath. She looks him square in the eyes, breaking the trance he's in; and he swallows the thick lump of uncertainty rising in his throat, takes a deep breath, focuses on her and only her.

On the mischievous little half smirk on her lips.

The bright sparkle in her hazel eyes.

The delicate slope of her nose, sharp angle of her jaw.

The soft warmth of her hand, taking his, giving it a gentle squeeze.

Its nice. Grounding.

Helps to distract him from all the chaos.

He still sees Mr. Harrington and Coach Wilson rushing toward them, though; Wilson breaking up the crowd and sending all the bystanders on their way while Harrington hastily pulls a tissue out of his vest pocket and hands it to Flash, helping the boy tilt his head up and back to staunch the bleeding.

“So....I ah, guess I'll see you nerds when I see you,” MJ winks, giving his hand one more quick squeeze before stepping away and shooting finger guns at him and Ned both.

She heads toward Principal Morita's office of her own volition, and Peter just stares after her, his jaw hanging open in shock and awe. He's not sure what to make of everything that just happened, except that it was probably the hottest thing he’s ever seen in his life.

No, not probably.

Definitely.

Definitely the hottest.

That thought, however, is quickly overrun by guilt because he's pretty sure Michelle's going to be punished for that stunt, and it's all his fault. If he'd just had the guts to fight back instead of having a mental freak out it would be him heading to the principal's office instead of her.

“Dude,” Ned huffs, coming up beside him, “did that just happen? Like, I wasn't hallucinating that, right? That really just happened?”

“Yeah,” he sighs, “Yeah, I think it really did.”

They continue to watch as Mr. Harrington leads Flash away, helping the boy maneuver down the hall towards the nurse's office while still cupping his nose in his hands; then they head to lunch, because there's nothing else to do.

He doesn't really remember the walk there, or picking up a tray, or finding a table, or even sitting down. It's like he's in a daze, his mind hazy and clouded over, running on autopilot while his thoughts swirl around in his aching skull. He takes his fork in hand and starts playing with his food simply to have something to do; pushing a pile of mushy peas around, stacking up his chicken nuggets into a wobbly tower, stabbing the little brownie square over and over and over again. But he doesn't eat any of it.

He doesn't have much of an appetite.

He can't seem to get Flash's stupid voice out of his head. Can't stop thinking about all the hateful things that had been said to him, the look on the other boy's face as he'd called him an orphan.

Can't stop worrying about what's gonna happen to Michelle.

He doesn't know how long he just sits there in a semi-fugue state examining the fascinating lines on the table top, but it's long enough that Ned starts shooting increasingly concerned glances his way while simultaneously pushing his own food into Peter's line of sight.

First an apple.

Then a cheese stick.

A bag of chips.

Even a Twinkie—and Ned loves his Twinkies, so the situation must be dire.

He doesn't care, though.

He ignores it all, and he still doesn’t eat anything.

 


 

He’s tired on patrol that night. Too tired, probably. He's not surprised, though. He’s barely eaten anything all day and his energy’s way down as a result—because skipping meals when you've got a super metabolism is a Bad Idea, one that’s made even worse when you barely get any sleep. He knows this.

He does.

And he's definitely paying for it now.

His head's still killing him, even more so than it was earlier in the day; and he just feels sort of....off, like he's out of sync with his own body.

And on top of it all, he's still feeling immensely guilty about what happened at school.

What happened with MJ.

She'd stood up for him and now she’s gonna be stuck in after school detention for the next three weeks straight because of it. Because of Peter. Because he didn't take matters into his own hands and deck Flash himself. Because he'd let her fight that battle for him instead.

Or, more precisely, because he hadn't even tried to stop her from doing what he’d honestly wanted to do himself for years.

He'd just stood there and watched it happen.

But it's not like Flash didn't deserve it. He absolutely deserved to get punched in the face, had it coming, even. Karma's a bitch and all that.

Michelle says it’s cool though, because detention is full of people in crisis, and people in crisis are what usually leads her to create her best sketches; but Peter still doesn’t like it. She shouldn’t be punished for standing up to a bully.

It was pretty epic, though.

And hot.

But yeah, the point is, he knows he should probably take the night off from Spider-Manning and attempt to catch up on some much needed sleep, maybe try to clear his head and get a decent meal in his belly because he also knows from painful experience that fatigue, hunger, and distractions can lead to mistakes, and mistakes can lead to injuries; but he just can’t do that.

Patrolling keeps him busy, keeps him focused and moving, keeps his traitorous mind off of things he’d rather not think about. Namely, the stupid father/son camping trip and all the deep-seated issues that particular subject brings to the forefront of his thoughts. Like the sad fact that both of the father figures he’s had in his short life are now dead—his actual father, who he can hardly even remember anymore, and Uncle Ben, who he remembers with agonizingly painful clarity.

Mr. Stark had found him not long after Ben's death, after he’d been forced to watch his uncle bleed out on the dingy linoleum floor of a run down convenience store, a bullet wound to his chest and a puddle of blood on the ground surrounding them both, soaking into the knees of Peter's pants, the skin of his hands.

He'd thrown himself into being Spider-Man right after the funeral, probably as some kind of coping mechanism.

He’d done everything he could physically do in the aftermath of Ben's death. He'd donned his homemade suit and gone out every single day—afternoon, evening, and night—just trying to stay as busy as possible. Trying to forget how horribly he’d failed his aunt and uncle by not failing anyone else. By helping the little guys. Helping everyone he could, really.

By making sure Queens had someone in her corner, looking out for her citizens.

A hero for the people.

A few of his earlier deeds had even managed to find their way onto YouTube via shaky cell phone footage; and Peter’d gotten quite a kick out of watching them, analyzing his every move, figuring out what he could have done differently so he could be better for the next time. Eventually some of the videos went viral, including a clip of him stopping a bus with his bare hands; and that's what had ultimately led to him walking into the apartment one sunny afternoon and finding his childhood hero, Iron Man himself, Tony Stark sitting on his beat up old couch. The man had been eating a piece of May's horrible walnut date loaf and talking with her like it was no big deal at all.

At the time Peter had thought he’d walked into an episode of The Twilight Zone or something, it was so surreal, so unbelievable.

It had ended up being one of the best things to ever happen to him.

A scream pierces through the quiet of the evening, pulling him out of his rambling thoughts and back into the present moment, where he’s perched atop the roof of a five story apartment complex overlooking the borough.

“Karen, where’s that coming from?”

There appears to be a mugging in progress two blocks to the east, Peter,” the AI quickly replies, her voice calm and collected, “I sense only two heat signatures in the area.”

“Okay, cool. Or, well, not cool cool, but just....you ah, you know what I mean.”

Absolutely.”

He nods, the corners of his mouth quirking up at her genuine reply, then quickly stands to his feet, stretching his arms high above his head. He jogs in place for a few seconds to get his blood pumping, to clear his mind; and when he feels a little more at ease—his body primed and ready for action—he flings his wrist out, slinging a web across to the nearest building and swinging headlong towards the commotion.

“Let’s do this.”

 

Chapter Text

When he lands in the alley where Karen says the scream originated from he finds the two heat signatures the AI mentioned—a guy in a black ski mask, and a middle-aged woman in a skirt and blouse combo, the former pinning the latter against a brick wall by a dumpster.

The woman looks, understandably, pretty terrified by the situation she's found herself in, tears streaming down her face, leaving messy trails of black in their wake as she clutches her purse tightly to her chest. She’s trembling like a leaf, but other than the obvious fear she’s in she seems relatively unharmed.

At least for now.

Hopefully Peter can keep it that way.

He turns his attention back to the guy holding her, who appears to be of average height and weight from what he can tell—not too tall, not too thin, but still managing to tower menacingly over the frightened woman. He's in an all black get-up from the tips of his steel-toed combat boots to the top of his masked head, and he's wearing finger-less gloves that sort of remind him of his very first suit—the blue and red onesie, as Mr. Stark likes to jokingly call it.

There's a nasty looking knife in the dude's hand, the sharp, serrated blade pointing directly at his would-be victim's jugular; and the sight of it immediately puts Peter on edge, his Spidey-Sense surging over him like an electric wave.

It's not tingling, though.

There's definitely no tingling happening, of any kind.

“Hey now, come on,” he starts, putting his hands up in what he hopes is a placating gesture as he slowly inches forward, eyes trained intently on the weapon, heart beating quick as adrenaline rushes through him, “that’s really no way to treat a lady, man. Didn’t your daddy ever teach you any manners?”

The man jerks his head in Peter’s direction then, and his eyes go wide for a split second when he realizes he’s been caught red-handed. Unfortunately he seems to recover pretty quickly, tightening his grip on the woman and causing her to cry out at the rough treatment.

“Mind your own goddamn business, Spider Freak,” the guy growls—actually straight up growls, like he's maybe trying to channel Batman, or quite possibly just took a literal class on how to be the most cliché bad guy ever, in all of history. Villainy 101 right here, folks. “This doesn’t concern you, so just walk away.”

“No can do, dude. As long as you've got that thing,” he motions toward the knife, “at her neck it concerns me. A lot. A whole lot. It's all very concerning. You should know this—and wait, hold up a sec, Spider Freak? Really? Now that’s just plain rude. I mean, seriously....I wouldn’t go around calling you names.” He keeps moving closer, one step at a time, hoping the guy’s too wound up to notice his creeping advance. He just needs to keep talking, keep distracting him. Maybe piss him off real good—enough to get all of his attention, all of his anger completely focused on Peter. And that’s something he can totally do, too. No problem. “But if you really want me to, uh, I could probably come up with some good ones. You know, something super awesome. I'm sure there’s a whole lotta names out there that would fit you real nice. Like, let’s see....um, how about, uh, how about Sweater Face!” he points to the knitted ski mask over the guy’s face to help with the visual, and the dude flinches for a split second before tightening his grip on his captive. Not the best reaction ever. “Or, or, uh....Emo Mugger?” Even Peter thinks that one's freaking ridiculous. “Night Stalker! No, no wait, that one's way too cool for you....”

Emo Mugger huffs out a breath and draws the woman closer, pulling her away from the wall and toward where Peter's still standing in the middle of the alley. She's crying openly again, and the sight sends another jolt of dangerdangerdanger flitting down Peter's spine, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. He really needs to get her out of here, full stop.

Do not pass go, do not collect two-hundred dollars.

“You wanna keep it up, you little shit?” Ski Mask hisses, manhandling the poor lady, dragging her right in front of him like a human shield. Classic bad guy move. “This is your last chance to get the fuck outta here, or I'm gonna start gettin' real mad—“

“Oh, oh, oh! Wait a second! I know, I totally know!” Peter smiles, nodding his head up and down super fast, making a big show of it while quietly readying his web-shooters, “I've got the perfect one this time! And it fits you so well too, dude. So well. You're gonna love it, I promise. Just trust me. How about....you ready for it?” he pauses there for dramatic effect, meets the guy's eyes through the little eye holes of the ski mask, “....Night Monkey.

That apparently does it, because Night Monkey practically throws his hostage at Peter and then lunges toward the both of them in a fit of rage.

He only has a split second to act, using his own body to shield the woman as he turns them both around, then kicks the dude back as he shoves her—as gently as possible, mind you—away from the danger.

She doesn't immediately run, though. Oh no. Of course not. She just kinda stands there instead, staring at him like she's a spooked deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck. Frozen. Panicked. Her fight or flight response failing her spectacularly.

He tries to snap her out of it by frantically flailing, motioning for her to go, to run, to get the hell out, anything, anything, just get away; and she looks at him for one more terrifying moment before she seems to come fully back to herself and starts hightailing it toward the mouth of the alley, gasping a grateful 'thank you' as she goes.

Peter breathes a heavy sigh of relief as he watches her hasty retreat, the click-clack of her heels echoing in his ears the whole way.

At least he got her out of the crossfire.

He swivels back around just in time to see Sweater Face angrily charging at him again, and he quickly jumps out of the guy’s path, leaping onto the wall and scaling up the side before flipping back down to the ground. A very unexpected, and very unwelcome bout of dizziness slams into him full force at the sudden movement; and the abrupt shift of position causes vertigo to wreak havoc with his equilibrium, throwing off his sense of direction. It’s an odd reaction to say the least, especially for someone who swings between skyscrapers on a daily basis; and he tries to shake off the uneasiness he feels, focusing instead on aiming and shooting a web at the knife still clutched in the mugger’s hand. It misses its mark by a fraction of an inch, and a spike of pure, unadulterated dread turns his stomach as the web affixes itself uselessly to the side of the dumpster instead.

He bites back a disappointed groan and a not so kid-friendly curse in response.

That is definitely not a good sign.

When he takes a shot, he expects to hit his target because that’s what's supposed to happen. That's what he does. It's his thing. His calling card, his M.O. His webs are his weapons and he’s an expert at wielding them so he rarely misses; and when he does miss it's usually because he wasn't prepared to go out on patrol in the first place.

He manages to dodge the next strike that comes at him, maneuvering around the threat in a graceful arc until he's reversed his position with Ski Mask; then immediately goes to shoot another web, but he falters before he lets it fly, his reflexes still sluggish.

He can sense the wrongness in his body, the uneasiness; his aim seems off, sort of like he's been drugged—or deprived of sleep, or maybe starved.

Yeah, those both sound kinda familiar.

His head hurts like someone took a jackhammer to it; and he feels like he's weighed down, heavy and sinking, his bones filled with lead. He's just moving way too damn slow. He knows he is, and he knows this is not a good situation to be in.

And the worst part is he did it to himself; he has no one else to blame.

Everything about this so very wrong wrong wrong, and he really should have just stayed home, made himself rest, ate something—anything at all, for crying out loud.

But if he'd stayed home then where would that have left the woman he just rescued? Would she be okay right now, or would she have tried to put up a fight? Would she have lost? Gotten hurt, or worse?

Peter, you appear to be having difficulty focusing,” Karen chimes in, “Would you like me to call for backup?”

“No, no, it's fine Karen, I got this.”

He hastily shakes off her concern, as well as the inkling of fear that’s crawling around in his gut, and tries to concentrate solely on his target, aiming his web-shooter, firing and....missing the mark for a second time.

Shit.

Shit.

The guy uses the opportunity allotted to him by Peter's total and utter failure to slash at him again, the glint of silver glittering through the air as the blade manages to make contact, nicking his upper arm through the suit. It burns, but it's superficial so he'll have to deal with it later.

Maybe when he's not currently losing a fight to a dude he's sadly nicknamed Emo Mugger.

I'm afraid that you may not actually 'have this', Peter,” Karen notes, and he tries really hard not to roll his eyes.

Instead he just ignores her commentary and crouches down low, then kicks out quick, sweeping the guy's legs out from under him and watching as he lands hard on his back. His Spidey-Sense is on fire now, blaring inside his skull like a fog horn, shocks of unease skittering across his skin; but the dude's down. He's laid out on the ground, breathing heavy, moaning and groaning; so Peter takes a moment to catch his own breath. He just needs a second to get his wits about him. That's all. Just an instant to glance down and examine the cut on his arm, make sure it's as superficial as he thinks it is.

But it's the wrong move.

It's so, so wrong.

There's one last electric burst of dangermovenownowNOW!!! that invades his mind before he feels it—a searing pain that rips through his right side, the force of it knocking the wind completely out of his lungs. He doubles over from the blow, gasping for air, choking on it, throat burning, eyes watering, vision whiting out as he slowly looks down and takes in the sickening sight below. The hilt of the knife is sticking out of him, the red of his suit darker than it should be, than it has any right to be.

Ever.

He shakes his head and grits his teeth, hard.

Not real.

It’s not real.

What he's seeing can’t be real.

It can’t be. It can’t, it can’t.

But it is.

It’s really real, and he watches helplessly as the hand holding the weapon twists, then brutally yanks it from his flesh, a small whimper involuntary escaping his throat as the metal teeth drag along the edges of the wound it so carelessly created. Then there's an unwanted arm slithering around his shoulders, wrapping him up tight, strong and secure, pulling him in close to the guy he thought was incapacitated just a moment ago, holding him up as his knees start to buckle.

“Not so tough now, are you Spidey?” Ski Mask sneers, and Peter's so close to him he can see the steel blue of his eyes, can smell the acrid stench of his breath through both their masks as another sharp jolt of agony hits him full on, metal plunging back in, slashing through his suit, his skin, his muscle. Cutting a path deep into the very core of his being. He cries out then, moaning in anguish, unable to stay silent against the unyielding pain, the absolute torture, clinging to his attacker for any kind of purchase, anything at all to keep him upright; and he kind of hates himself a little bit for it. He's actively being assaulted, being stabbed, and he can't do anything about it except hold on to the person hurting him, the person that never should have been able to get close enough to do this to him in the first place. “You shoulda got the fuck out when I told you to, little insect,” the man mutters, leaning in close to his ear, a twisted smile in the whisper of his voice, “But you just had to be the hero, didn't you? And now you're gonna pay for it. You're gonna bleed out in this alley all by yourself. I mean, just look at you....you’re already dead.

There's one final slide of the blade as it makes a smooth exit, leaving behind nothing but devastation in its wake, and Peter just watches it all happen with a sort of sick fascination.

The weapon's gone now. It’s not there any more, not invading his body—he knows, he knows, it’s gone, he can see it, the absence of it, the places where it used to be—but his mind’s having a really hard time making sense of the situation because there are two jagged holes that have taken its place. Two small holes that should definitely not be there, so tiny, yet so indescribably significant at the same time. Horrifically terrifying as they gush red and wet down his front, painting him in slick hues of crimson-black, vibrant and violent.

He can’t make himself look away from any of it.

A part of him still doesn’t believe this is happening, it’s so wrong.

It can’t be happening.

It can’t be real, because it's so wrong.

He should have stayed home.

Fuck, why didn't he just stay home?

The arm holding him up suddenly vanished, the warm body against his retreating at the same time, and he immediately falls to the ground like his strings have been cut, like a stone sinking down into the depths of the ocean.

Cold and dark and lonely.

Frigid and tumultuous.

He’s still too transfixed by the steadily bleeding wounds in his body to care much about his position, though; and by the time he finally pulls his captive attention away from the bloody mess he’s been reduced to and looks back up, Night Monkey is long gone and he's completely alone in the alley.

Bleeding out.

All by himself.

Just like the guy said he would.

 

....you're already dead.

 

A shiver runs down his spine and he clamps down on the fear that’s wanting to surge to the surface, threatening to take him over, disable him even further.

He can’t let that happen.

“‘M not....an insect....” he rasps instead, because he’s gotta think about something else or he might just lose it, “spiders are....arachnids....you....you asshole.”

He stays on the ground trying to catch his breath for a while after that, just feeling his heartbeat pound relentlessly in his head, behind his eyes, deep down in his chest. The powerful muscle is working so hard, so so hard, doing everything it thinks it's supposed to do, everything it thinks Peter needs it to do; yet what it's actually doing is killing him faster, pumping his life right out of him, stealing it away and giving it to the open air.

It's almost funny.

Almost.

He knows he needs to move, needs to find shelter, someplace safe where he can let his guard down and allow his body the time it needs to hopefully heal itself. So after another minute spent slumped on the ground—or maybe five minutes, he's not too sure anymore—he steels himself and makes an attempt to relocate.

It takes a gargantuan amount of effort to even get one foot underneath himself, let alone be able to take all of his weight; so the moment he goes to stand, that foot slips and he crashes right back down to the pavement where he'd started. The abrupt movement and hard impact from the fall aggravate his already aching injuries, and he bites his bottom lip so hard in response to the sudden flare of pain that it bleeds—but that's okay.

It makes for a nice distraction, and he uses it, focuses on the thick, wet sensation running down his chin as he rolls onto his back; then he just lays there and tries to take in his surroundings as best he can, look for any unseen dangers lurking in the shadows. His vision's going spotty on him though, blurring at the edges, making even that simple task a bit more difficult to execute.

Everything's just a little too hazy for him to register, too distorted for comfort.

His midsection continues to throb in perfect time with his thundering pulse, and his arm burns hot where the knife initially cut him. He's surrounded by a puddle of what can only be one thing given the dire circumstances he's in; and it’s growing, steadily, seeping warm and thick below his palms, his back, the heavy scent of copper stifling as he breathes it in, has no choice but to choke on the rancid taste of it. There’s pennies coating his tongue, filling the air, and it makes him wanna vomit, the assault against his senses dragging him right back to that convenience store with Ben.

Right back to the horrific night he watched his uncle die in his arms.

He lets out a sob then, a cracked and broken sound that pierces through the peaceful quiet of the night; and he doesn't stop, doesn’t even try, unable to deny himself the release any longer.

There’s no point.

Instead he just keeps going and going, lets himself have a moment to break down, cry and shake, keen and wail. He lets every ounce of his anguish hemorrhage out of him in buckets because this is all just too fucking much and he can’t do it.

He can’t handle it anymore.

He can't.

He just can’t.

He's all alone, bereft, lying helpless and shattered in a dirty alleyway, pain shooting through him as rivers of warmth gush out of him—soaking his entire right side, cooling on his skin, between the suit and his body, sticky and itchy, squelching and sick sick sick.

 

You’re gonna bleed out in this alley all by yourself.

 

Those words haunt him, playing over and over again in his mind, and he wonders if maybe they’re true. Wonders if he’s going to die right here, bloody and alone, with his murderer's voice echoing painfully in his ears.

 

Chapter Text

You're gonna bleed out.

 

In this alley.

 

All.

 

By.

 

Yourself.

 

Peter maybe loses a little bit of time after that horrible thought, because one second he feels like he's nowhere, like he’s nothing, no one; and the next he hears Karen's voice speaking gently to him, bringing him back from wherever he'd drifted off to.

He's lying on cold, rough cement, hard and unyielding beneath him.

“—eter, can you hear me?”

“Hm?” He scrunches his eyes tightly shut and then opens them up, slowly, just a sliver, not even realizing that he'd closed them in the first place as he takes a moment to study his surroundings. There's a red brick wall a few feet away from him, and a green dumpster to his left, littered with trash. The sight confuses him, and it's not right. He's not right. He feels out of sorts, displaced and groggy, like he’s not even in his own body anymore. Like he's dreaming, perhaps, everything disjointed and tangled up in his aching head. “Kar'n?”

Yes, Peter, I'm here. It’s good to have you back with me. You weren't responding to any of my previous inquiries on your well-being, and I was starting to worry. You'd instructed me not to call for back up, but I’ve been monitoring your vital signs closely and they've been steadily deteriorating. They're now reaching critical levels.”

“Crit'cal?” he croaks, his throat closing up on the single word, pressure thrumming through his skull, “Tha'....tha' can' b'good. Right?”

He's so confused.

And tired.

And dizzy.

At first he's not exactly sure what even happened to him, what he must have gone through to land him in such a miserable state, or why he seems to be lying on his back in a dark alley, surrounded by garbage, cold and wet and alone; but when he tries to sit up and look around everything suddenly comes crashing back to him in dazzlingly bright detail—starting with the pain. It's blinding, white hot and scorching, a massive supernova radiating spikes of heat out from his right side, tendrils of it lancing through his abdomen, sparking down his legs and up into his chest.

His side is on fire, and he stifles a scream as the flames lick away at him, burning him from the inside out.

Because he'd been stabbed.

In the gut.

Twice.

He remembers now. Oh boy, does he remember.

Everything.

He remembers it all happening in horrifically gory detail.

Remembers looking into Emo Mugger's cold, dead eyes while the guy cut him up good and proper. Remembers how it all felt as it happened. Remembers not being able to do anything about it, not being able to defend himself.

Being absolutely helpless.

Completely powerless.

Utterly useless.

He remembers the taunting words spoken softly in his ear, the shiver of fear that ran down his spine at their implication; and that's definitely a memory he wishes he did not have. He doesn't need anymore nightmare fuel; he's already got enough, thanks.

Besides, he knows it shouldn't have happened to begin with. The guy never should have been able to get the drop on him like that, never should have been able to get close enough to be a threat to him at all.

He’s Spider-Man, for crying out loud. Spider-Man! He's a super-powered superhero, and because of that he's supposed to be better, so much better than this.

He's supposed to be stronger, faster, smarter.

He's supposed to be the best.

He hadn’t been on top of his game, though, and he’d had absolutely no business going out on patrol when he'd felt so exhausted, so distracted, so mentally and physically drained. It was a stupid, reckless, childish decision, and he's definitely paying for now.

The only real solace he has to cling to in this whole mess of a situation is the knowledge that the lady he'd helped had gotten away relatively unharmed.

Which is a whole hell of a lot more than he can say for himself.

Case in point, the fabric of his suit seems to be stuck to his skin, and every time he takes a breath or shifts his body in the slightest he winces as the material pulls on the edges of his bloody wounds, reminding him of the dreadful consequences of his actions.

Of his stupidity.

“—ertainly not good, Peter,” Karen's voice suddenly filters back in, grabbing his attention, and he's not sure how long she's been talking to him, “Your vital signs are very concerning. You appear to be experiencing moderate tachycardia and hypotension, with a heart rate of 144 beats per minute and a blood pressure of 92/48 at present. You're also sweating profusely, your blood glucose levels are dangerously low, and I believe you're starting to go into hypovolemic shock from acute blood loss. I am programmed to take immediate action when your injuries become life-threatening, therefore I am now initiating the Guardian Angel protocol. Calling Tony Stark.”

“No no no, Kar'n, just....please, don't. I—I don' wanna bother him. I don't—“

He hears the other end of the line start to ring in his ears and he stops protesting immediately. It's a losing battle at this point, it's done, and he's obviously in a lot of trouble. He needs the help. He knows he does. He's so far out of his depth right now it’s crazy scary.

“Hey kid, what's up?” Tony's voice answers after the third ring, relaxed and jovial, and it makes Peter wanna cry. The man sounds like he's at a party, some high end event—a fancy soiree or a charity ball or something—with Ms. Potts, probably. Peter can hear the faint strumming of music in the background, the clinking of glasses, people murmuring, laughing, having a good time. Not a care in the world. “Patrol goin' okay? You save any stray cats from trees? Any nice old ladies buy you a treat? You know, that sounds kinda good. I could really go for a churro right about now—“

“Mis'er S'ark?” he mumbles, a tear slipping unwillingly from the corner of his eye and rolling down his temple, into his hair.

The wet trail it leaves behind is hot on his skin, like a brand.

“Peter?” The other man's demeanor changes instantly at that, a complete one-eighty, his tone going from happy and joking to serious and grave like a switch has been flipped. He knows something's wrong, knows it's bad. It's so, so bad. “Peter, buddy, what is it? Are you alright? What's going on?”

“Mis'r, Mis'er Stark, I....I messed up. I'm sorry. I'm really, r-really sorry. But there was this, this guy, an' he had a, a, uh....he had a knife, an' I didn't see it comin'....I, I didn' see....not 'til it was too late. It was way too late....” He takes a shivering breath, grits his teeth against the pain that flares with the movement, and brings a shaky hand down to press along the stab wounds in his flesh. Fresh warmth begins to trickle through his fingers as more tears start to cloud his vision. “'M so s'rry....but I think I, um....I, I think I might need some, some h-help. Please, I....I really need your help....”

There's a beat of silence on the other end of the line, and it feels like it lasts an eternity.

“FRIDAY, patch me through to Karen and show me Peter's vitals and location, right now.” Peter can hear quick footsteps, and Mr. Stark apologizing to someone—Pepper, he thinks—saying something to someone else about a family emergency—and maybe he'll contemplate the significance of that phrasing later, if there is a later—then Tony's talking to him again. “Kid, you still with me?”

“Y-Yeah. Yeah, ‘m here.”

“Okay, kiddo. Listen, from what Karen's relaying back to me it looks like you've lost a lot of blood, so I’m gonna need you to stay awake, alright? I’m heading your way, and I'll be there in just a few minutes, I promise, but I need you to keep talking to me. It’s important, bud.”

“He....he c-called me an insect,” is what Peter answers with. He doesn’t think it makes any sense, but that's what his mind's decided to fixate on, so that's what comes out of his mouth. Like that's what's important right now, his biggest problem in the entire universe. Some asshole's ignorance. “But 'm not. I mean, th-they're not. Spid'rs—they're....they're 'rachnids. Aren’t they, Mi'sr S'ark? They’re, they're not....they're not....insec's....”

He's not really sure if Tony answers his ridiculous question because he loses some more time after that.

He thinks he does, anyway.

He’s uncertain as to how much time must have passed while he was out of it, but the last thing he remembered doing was going on and on to Mr. Stark about spiders or some nonsense, and crying a lot more than he cares to admit, and the feel of his own blood soaking into the skin of his hand through the suit; then there'd just been a whole lot of nothing—a big, blank void where the world should've been.

Dark and silent.

Vast.

Empty.

Hollow.

It sounds like it'd be a frightening place, terrifying and disturbing; but it really wasn't.

It was peaceful.

Nice, even.

And when he comes back to himself the second time, it’s not peaceful at all.

It's the opposite.

He feels cold all over, the chill reaching deep into his bones; and he can sense that his mask is off, the cool air hitting his bare skin. He should probably be way more concerned about that little detail than he is, but he simply doesn’t have the energy to care about a secret identity right now.

He barely has the energy to even exist.

Someone's yelling at him, from above, but it's not Karen. It's not a soft and gentle voice. It's harsh, and very, very loud.

“—eter?! Dammit, kid, don't do this! Wake up! Open your fucking eyes!”

Big, warm, calloused hands are cradling his exposed face; and they're shaking, trembling, tapping frantically at his cheeks, over and over again. His eyes slowly slip open in response to all the jostling, the harried movements, and he looks up to see the blurry red and gold image of Iron Man staring down at him.

Or, more accurately, he sees Mr. Stark staring down at him, and the Iron Man armor is merely standing guard beside them, eyes glowing bright, looking menacing in it’s sentry mode. The man must have flown here from wherever he’d been when Karen called him, but he's not in the suit anymore. He's knelt down on the dirty ground next to Peter instead, crystal clear terror etched into every facet of his haggard features.

Peter must look really freaking bad to elicit such a response.

He certainly feels pretty bad.

“Oh thank fuck,” Tony huffs, gaze roaming up and down Peter’s body, scrutinizing every detail of his appearance. His eyes look red and puffy as they come back up to Peter’s face. “Hey there, bud. Glad you decided to finally join me. I was starting to think you were slackin' off or something.”

“Mis'er S'ark?” His tongue feels like it’s two sizes too big for his mouth, and he tastes iron when he tries to swallow. His head aches and his chest feels like he got punched in the solar plexus about a dozen times; and he kinda just wants to go to sleep and forget any of this is happening. Forget how royally he screwed up, how much trouble he's in. “Is that....are, are you really ‘ere?”

“Yeah kiddo, I am. I'm right here with you,” Tony says, his hands releasing Peter's head as he leans back on his haunches, taking a deep breath. “FRI, scan him. I wanna know exactly what the hell we're dealing with. Everything.”

They're both quiet while FRIDAY assesses his injuries, and Peter uses the time to stare up at the night sky. There aren't any stars out, but that's pretty normal for New York City. He wishes he could see them right now, though. He thinks he could probably see them if he were in the country, or in the woods, maybe....camping, or whatever. It'd be something nice to focus on, anyhow, something pretty to look at, soothing—the twinkling remnants of celestial bodies long ago lost, dead before their light even had the opportunity to reach his eyes. Just ghosts, shooting through the vastness of space, where only dreams can touch them—the ultimate unknown.

A scientist's delight, really, because there's gotta be something else out there, right? Something bigger than him.

Bigger than all of them.

Mr. Stark's voice breaks up his wandering thoughts and brings him back down to Earth, back to reality, away from the unknown, the uncharted.

“Okay, girl. Tell Bruce to get the Med Bay ready to go. We'll be there shortly. Pete,” Tony's hand grabs his and he squeezes hard, harder than MJ had earlier—and god, that moment in the hallway at school seems like such a long time ago now. It's nice though, holding Mr. Stark’s hand. It helps to ground him, anchor him; keeps him from floating away into the stars, into the whispering void. Although he sort of wants to just let go and follow it, the void....see what happens to him, where it leads him. “Hey, Peter....Spider-ling, focus up. Eyes on me. I need to get you outta here, alright? FRIDAY says it's okay to move you so I'm gonna fly you to the Tower and Bruce is gonna patch you right up. Good as new.”

“'M s'rry, Mis'er S'ark,” he slurs, meeting Tony's gaze, hot tears suddenly pooling in his eyes, blurring his vision, overflowing, falling, raining down. Everything hurts, inside and out, and he doesn't wanna keep crying like a baby, he really doesn't, but he just feels so lost. Off-kilter and unmoored; and he wishes Uncle Ben were with him right now because he’s so fucking scared. He's so scared, and he doesn’t know what’s going on, doesn't know what's gonna happen to him, if he's even gonna make it out of this alley alive, and he just wants his dad. That's all he wants. He's just a scared little boy who wants his daddy to hold him and tell him everything's gonna be okay. Tell him that he's not gonna die. “I'm really sorry. I—I didn't wanna g’t hurt, didn’t wanna call an' be a both'r to you, didn', didn' wanna mess up your night. 'M so....so, so s'rry....”

“Hey, look at me.”

He does as he's told, opening his eyes and staring up at Tony; although again, he can't remember when he actually closed them to begin with. It's getting harder to focus.

“You need to calm down.” The hand holding his firms its grip while another one cups the side of his face, fingers gently combing through the hairs at the back of his neck. The motion helps to relax him, soothe him. It makes him sleepy. “You don't have anything to apologize for, Pete, and you're gonna be okay. It's all gonna be fine, just, just try to relax for me. Take a deep breath and calm down. With me, okay? Come on now, breathe in....”

He follows Mr. Stark's lead to the best of his ability, inhaling with the man as much as he can through the pain, and exhaling slowly, evenly, repeating the action several times over until he can think a little more clearly.

He knows what’s happening to him, knows he's hurt and needs to cooperate, stay calm, do what he's told; and he's not gonna freak out.

Not again.

He's not gonna die in an alley all by himself.

He's not.

Because he's not alone.

Mr. Stark's right here with him, and everything's gonna be okay.

Tony always makes everything okay.

Ben always made everything okay, too.

It's kind of like having his uncle back, in a way.

“Good boy,” Tony praises, continuing to card his fingers through Peter's sweaty hair, massaging, scratching at his scalp, “You're doing so well, kid, so well. Just keep it up. Keep breathing for me. In and out, slow and steady. And listen, you are never a bother, do you hear me?” he says, and now there's an undercurrent of steel in his voice, unmoving, unwavering, “Never. You need me, you call me. I don't care what time it is, or what I'm doing, or who I'm with. It's fine. It's always gonna be fine for you to call me. Understand?”

“Yeah, o-okay.”

“Good boy,” he repeats, their eyes locked, “Now that we’ve got that nonsense settled, let's get you up, huh?”

Tony lets go of him after that and he instantly feels like he's falling without the constant contact. Like he's suddenly underwater, his body heavier than ever, sinking down down down, farther than he's ever gone before; but it kinda feels like he's flying, too.

Like he’s soaring high above all the terrible shit around him, all the pain and the insecurity and the sadness—and it’s okay.

It's all okay.

He closes his eyes then, just lets them slip shut, and it feels so good.

He just needs to rest for a minute.

He's so, so tired.

“'M so t'red....”

“Hey hey, no. Pete, no you don't. Eyes up here. On me, bud. You gotta focus, gotta—gotta stay awake right now. No slackin' off, remember?”

He tries to open his eyes again, he really does. He wants to reassure the man that he's just gonna take a little nap, just for a few minutes, tops, but he can't.

There's lead weighing him down.

He mumbles something nonsensical instead of replying, and he drifts a little farther away from the alley, away from the cold, away from Tony.

Away from all the pain he's in.

It doesn't hurt as much anymore.

“Peter?”

There's a tapping on his cheek again, maybe. A soft little pat at first, light and hesitant, wavering; but when he fails to respond to the stimuli it starts to get a lot more insistent—harder, harsher, like a full-on slap to the face—and his head jerks to the side from the impact. It probably stings; or he thinks it should, anyway, but he doesn't actually feel anything from the hit.

What he does feel is a pointed pressure on his neck, bearing down, urgent, deep into the groove beneath his jawline.

“No no no, baby, come on. You gotta, you gotta wake up now, okay? Stop messing around and just open your eyes. Just look at me, kiddo, please. C'mon Pete....wake up. It's time to, to wake up, you gotta....you gotta—Fuck.

Mr. Stark's voice sounds panicked all of a sudden, wet and rough, slightly unhinged; and Peter wishes he could comply. Wishes he could do something about the man's rapidly growing distress, do something to comfort him, tell him that everything's gonna be okay, that he's gonna be okay—just like Tony did for him earlier when he was freaking out, but he can't.

He can't say anything, can't do anything except lay there.

The edges of his reality are blurring, distorting, fading into inky black.

He vaguely senses his body moving, shifting around; then he's being held, cradled as warm arms wrap him up and rock him, tenderly, like he’s something small and fragile.

Something breakable.

Precious.

Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

“Kid? Peter, Peter....please. Don't do this. Don't. God, bambino, not like this, okay? Not like this. Not here, not now, not—not ever. Do you hear me? Never like this. Never ever....”

The pressure on his neck moves to the other side, searching for something, and he continues to sway.

Side to side.

Slow and gentle, so very gentle.

It makes him feel safe.

Protected.

“C'mon....don't....don't, honey, please....please don't do something stupid here, 'cause I can't lose you. Alright? I can't, so just....just open your eyes. That's all you gotta do. That's all I'm asking you to do. Just look at me, Pete. Open your eyes and look at me, god—Peter, please! Please don't do this. Don't you do this. Don't—don't you fucking do this to me!” There's an abrupt halt then, a muffled groan, and Peter can feel wetness hitting his face, little drops, but he doesn't think he's crying. Not anymore. They're not his tears. “Kid....kiddo, please. You're, you're gonna be okay. You're gonna be fine, but you gotta stay with me. Don't leave me, Pete. Don't....just, just don't baby, don't—“

A sob cuts through the man's wounded pleas, a long, drawn out moan falling from above; and then Tony's just clutching him tight and saying his name over and over and over again, crying it out like a desperate prayer, a sacred petition.

A mantra of please and no and not him, not him; and it kind of breaks his heart to hear it all—to hear Earth's Mightiest Hero, his hero, the greatest man he knows—sound so completely wrecked.

So lost.

So unbelievably shattered.

Those frantic words are the last thing his fractured mind is able to register, along with a pair of strong arms, a warm chest, and soft rocking.

It feels like both love and sorrow.

Grief and mourning.

Desperation and completion.

It feels like an end.

The end, maybe.

His.

It's the final moment he has with his mentor, he knows it is, and he commits every second of it to memory before the darkness finally takes over, creeping in around him and dragging him under the roaring waves, covering him like a warm blanket, like a death shroud.

He decides to let it have him then. Decides it's okay to just let go and stop fighting it, let the shadows consume him, take him away, ease him into a place where he feels no more pain, no more fear, no more anguish.

No more longing or disappointment.

No more loss.

A place where he feels absolutely nothing at all.

The void.

 

Chapter Text

He wakes up to the monotonous sound of beeping in his ears, a steady electrical pulse droning on and on, welcoming him gradually back into consciousness. Immediately he can sense that there's something in his nose. Something running along his cheeks, looped back behind his ears, hugging the underside of his chin, and he's got a pretty good idea of what it is; but he brings a clumsy hand up to investigate anyway, feeling around with uncoordinated fingers until he's satisfied that his assessment is correct. It's a nasal cannula, the plastic tubing delivering a steady flow of warmed and humidified oxygen into his system.

He's pretty sure he's also got an IV, if the tugging on the back of his hand is any indication, the sticky tape pulling on his skin with the movement. It's probably pumping him full of super-drugs since he can't really feel a whole lot of pain, just a little bit of soreness, and for that he's immensely grateful.

He appears to be lying on an extremely comfortable mattress, with surprisingly soft linens for what can only be a hospital, and that's when it clicks into place for him. When he realizes exactly where he is. He knows without even having to open his eyes, doesn't think there's any other medical facility in the entire world that would have such high-end sheets on their beds. Such an insane thread count.

He's in the Med Bay of Avengers Tower.

He’s gotta be.

His theory is confirmed a minute later when he finally scrounges up enough energy to actually open his eyes, and the first thing he's greeted with when he does is the sight of Tony Stark slumped in a hard, plastic chair by his bedside. The position the man is in looks anything but comfortable, and he's probably gonna really regret falling asleep like that later, once he wakes up and moves around a bit.

Peter takes a moment to just quietly watch his mentor as he sleeps, studying his overall appearance and condition: arms crisscrossed over his chest, neck bent down low, glasses hanging askew across the bridge of his nose, hair jutting out wildly in all directions—kind of like he'd been pulling at it, running his fingers through it, carelessly, over and over again. That's a nervous habit Peter's picked up on over the last year or so; whenever Tony's stressed out or anxious he combs his fingers through his hair and paces the floor relentlessly, mindlessly.

He wonders if that's what the billionaire was doing, before.

Before now.

Before Peter woke up from whatever happened after the alley, because he can’t remember anything past that.

Past all the pain and the blood and the screaming.

Past Mr. Stark yelling at him to stay awake, don’t do this, please, not like this, don't leave me.

Past the inky blackness that took the world away from him—or maybe it was the other way around....maybe it took him away from the world.

He can't remember anything past the peaceful calm that greeted him in the end, when he'd decided to just let go and let the void have him.

Past the nothing that ate him up, swallowed him whole.

He stops that train of thought right there, because he doesn't wanna contemplate it anymore. He can't. Not now. Maybe not ever.

So instead he distracts himself, eyeing the disheveled look of Tony's clothes and quickly determining that yes, he was at some fancy event before Karen initiated the Guardian Angel protocol and called him. He's wearing what looks like a very expensive white dress shirt, the collar of it unbuttoned and the designer fabric horribly wrinkled, untucked from a pair of black slacks that don't look to be in a much better state. There's something staining the cuffs of both sleeves, dark reds and browns contrasting harshly against the crisp white, and the sight of it makes Peter's stomach clench, churning with nausea.

Blood.

That's his blood.

Peter's.

It's his blood that, not too long ago, had been gushing out of two stab wounds deep in his gut.

Because he'd been bleeding out.

He'd been dying.

In a dark alley.

Alone.

He swallows down saliva and bile in equal measure, willing himself not to throw up all over the nice sheets and fancy hospital gown he’s wearing.

“Mis'r S'rk?” he tries, his voice emerging as nothing but a cracked and broken whisper of a thing. His throat's sore from the attempt, like he swallowed shards of glass, or razor blades, or something worse—he doesn't even know. He coughs, the effort weak at best, then gives it another go, the words coming out a little more clear, “Mis'er Stark?”

The man in question instantly jolts awake at the sound, his back popping painfully as he sits up quick and straight; then he takes a deep breath and exhales it out before turning tired eyes in Peter's direction. They're red-rimmed and blood shot, puffy with dark circles underneath; and he looks like he's aged ten years or more, his face pale and gaunt, absolutely exhausted. “Pete?” he questions, voice soft as he moves closer, scooting to the edge of the chair and leaning in, against the side of the bed, “Hey there, kiddo. Finally decide to wake up, huh? How're you feelin'?”

“Um, ‘m a lil' sore.” He swallows again, eyes roaming, taking in a bit more information about the room. All the medical equipment centered around his bed, the dim lighting, the heart monitor that had gently ushered him back into wakefulness with its steady rhythm. The floor to ceiling windows that overlook Manhattan. It's still nighttime, from what he can see through the glass, and the twinkling lights of New York City sparkle bright below them. They kind of remind him of the stars, the vastness of all that deep unknown. The void, maybe. “Mostly um, mostly just tired,” he adds, bringing his attention back to the older man, “Um, how long've I been here?”

“Tired. Yeah, I bet you’re pretty tired,” Tony grumbles, running a hand along his face, scratching at his chin, his goatee, “You should be tired, especially after pulling a crazy ass stunt like the one you pulled last night. Kid, I’m gonna be real honest with you right now, okay? You just about gave me a damn heart attack. I swear to god, Pete, I was literally almost scared to death. To death. You hearin’ me? I can't handle that kind of stress. My heart can't take it, Jesus....”

“Aren't you s'posed to be, like, Iron Man or something, though?” he asks, a faint smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. The action hurts his bottom lip, and he winces. He remembers biting it to keep from screaming out in agony. “You're the, uh, the strongest person I know,” he softly adds, “Iron Man, he can do anything. You can....you can do anything, Mr. Stark.”

“Yeah, well, some things are a hell of a lot harder to deal with than others; and believe it or not, there's some things even Iron Man can't do anything about. Like last night. Seeing you like that, in that alley, on the ground, so still and pale and—and it wasn't....it wasn't good. Okay? It was fucking terrifying, is what it was, and I couldn't do a damn thing to help you. I just froze up; couldn't move, couldn't breathe, couldn't even think....” There's a brief pause, and Tony gets this haunted look about him during the quiet, like he’s reliving something awful in his head; or like he's trying his best to memorize every single detail of Peter's face. Maybe both. “Anyway,” he clears his throat, visibly collects himself, “To ah, to answer your question, you've been here for a while now, bud. Been asleep for about twenty-two hours, give or take. Apparently you were stabbed while out on patrol, twice. Once in the side, once in the abdomen; and you had a pretty nasty cut along your arm, but that's almost healed now. Small mercies. When I got to you you’d already lost a lot of blood, and you were going into shock. You ah, you were kind of delirious, out of it. You stopped responding to me all together eventually, and then I just—well, I couldn’t get you to wake up after that. I tried, god I tried, but I couldn't get you to do anything, so I just....I just rushed you back here. To the Tower. Um, Bruce, he and Dr. Cho....they ah, they took you in for emergency surgery right after that to repair all the damage that fucker did. The knife, it um, it nicked an artery, lacerated your liver, they had to....fuck, Pete, they, they had to give you three units of blood....” He stops again, runs his fingers through his messy hair, over and over, let’s out a heavy sigh. “I'm not gonna lie to you here kiddo, it was pretty touch and go for a while. You weren’t doin’ too hot, and at one point we didn't know if you were even gonna make it off the goddamn table.”

That surprises Peter.

He knew he'd been hurt and that it wasn’t good, but he hadn't realized it'd actually been that bad.

Not really.

He'd been so calm, so relaxed in the end, so ready to let go of everything, just go to sleep; but maybe that was merely his body's way of making it easier on him.

Making it easier for him to die.

“You’re real lucky, Pete, because this could have gone down a lot differently.” Mr. Stark sniffs, scratches at the side of his nose, gives Peter the smallest flick of a smile, his tone shifting to something a little less somber, a little lighter, “Your suit’s a mess, by the way, so it’s gonna be a few days before it’s repaired. You know, in case you were wondering. You did a real number on it this time—or, well, I guess that sorry piece of shit did a real number on it, but you know, whatever. It's not like you're gonna be needing it for a while anyway, because you're gonna be in that bed for the foreseeable future. You'll be lucky if you leave the Tower before you turn eighteen. We'll home school you or something—and no, I'm not even kidding. God, kid. You do realize you're supposed to stay away from the pointy ends of the weapons, right? You're not supposed to let them hit you, or impale you. That's just Superhero 101, Parker.”

Tony says it all jokingly, with an air of levity in his voice, but Peter can see the seriousness in his eyes, can see the tense set of his jaw, the stiff line of his body, the uneasiness that saturates every corner of the room. He can see the fear still lingering at the edges, and suddenly he feels insanely guilty for putting the other man through all this. He knows that if the roles had been reversed and he’d been the one to find Tony lying in a pool of his own blood, barely conscious, he would have had a complete melt down. The thought of something like that happening to his mentor is absolutely terrifying to him, paralyzing and debilitating—let alone if it had been May.

And then his mind snaps to his aunt and the heart monitor he's attached to roars to life, alarms firing off, blaring and beeping incessantly.

“Oh my god, May!” he blurts, trying to sit up and hissing as a sharp stab of pain shoots through his core, steals his breath. Mr. Stark is up out of the chair and hovering over him a second later, though; easing him back down to the bed and forcing him to stay there. “May,” he repeats, shaking his head, gritting his teeth, “Oh god, May....did you, did you call her? Or um, do I need to, um, do I need to do it, or—“

“Hey, shhh shhh shhh. Easy, Pete, easy. The only thing you need to do right now is calm the hell down before you hurt yourself.” There's a hand against his chest, applying just enough pressure to ensure that he continues to stay put. “Seriously kid, I'm not gonna be able to handle it if you get hurt again, so just take it easy. Please. For my sake. Besides, there's nothing to worry about. May's already here, right down the hall.” He stops and meets Peter's eyes, making sure he's paying close attention before going on, “She's been by your side all day, ever since you got outta surgery, so I told her to go and get some sleep. I'll have FRIDAY wake her up in a few minutes though, alright?” Peter nods, slow and shaky, and only then does Mr. Stark relinquish his hold on him, sitting back down on the edge of the chair. “Does May know....” he mutters under his breath, “Jeez Spider-ling, of course May knows. You think I'd be dumb enough not to call her right away? Pffft. She'd kick my ass six ways from Sunday if I didn't. Oh, and your friend Ted's been blowing up your phone, too. Persistent little thing, that one.”

“You mean Ned?”

“Right. Yeah. Ned. He's worried about you, obviously. I gave him the rundown, briefly, but you should probably give him a call yourself, let him know you're alive, hear it from the horse's mouth and all that jazz.” He motions to the bedside table where Peter's phone is sitting at the ready, then stands back up with a groan and heads for the door. “I'll ah, give you some privacy. Need to go update Pepper anyhow. She's been asking about you. Worried, you know how she gets.” He pauses at the threshold, leans against the frame. “Everyone—Happy, Pep, Rhodey, May, Bruce—they’ve all been hanging around, checking in, stuff like that. And, um, me,” he adds, voice soft, hesitant, “I’ve been right here, just sitting with you, keeping you company, watching you sleep—and that sounds super creepy when I say it out loud, doesn't it? Yeah....yeah, it totally does. But that's what I was doing. I was creeping. I'll own it. Couldn’t really leave, though. I ah, I wanted to be here, needed to be here, just in case you, um....well, you know, just....just in case.” He takes a deep, shuddering breath, then blows it out slow and steady. “Anyway. Let FRIDAY know if you need anything. Anything at all. She’ll make sure you get it.”

Peter nods again and watches as his mentor walks out of sight, a warm, fuzzy feeling settling deep and comfortable in his chest at the man's timid declaration. At the fact that Tony had apparently been sitting by his bedside the whole time he'd been asleep. At the knowledge that he'd watched over him, that he'd been concerned enough to stay by his side. At the pure, raw emotion that was so evident in the man's wavering voice as he'd explained everything that had happened.

But then Peter suddenly remembers that same voice, ragged and begging him to stay awake....

 

No no no, baby, come on. You gotta, you gotta wake up now, okay?

 

Pleading for him to open his eyes....

 

Just look at me, Pete. Open your eyes and look at me, god—Peter, please!

 

Screaming at him not to go....

 

Don't you fucking do this to me! Don't....just, just don't baby, don't—“

 

He clenches his eyes shut, shaking the memory away.

He doesn’t wanna think about it, about how broken Tony had sounded in that alley, or how devastated and desperate he'd seemed.

Doesn't wanna think about how much he'd wanted to comfort the man, wanted to soothe his pain but couldn’t.

Doesn't wanna think about how easy it was for him to just give up, just slip away and leave Mr. Stark all alone in the cold.

It hurts too fucking much to think about any of it.

So instead, he picks up his phone and unlocks it, revealing a plethora of notifications, including sixteen new text messages from Ned and MJ—but mostly Ned—twenty-three missed calls, and nine new voicemails. Sighing, he ignores all of them for the time being and opens up his contacts, hitting Ned's picture.

As the phone starts to ring he realizes, with slight panic, that he doesn't actually know what time it is. He has no clue, other than it’s obviously nighttime. That's a wide range of possibilities, and he hopes it's not too late to call.

“Peter?!”

The other boy sounds wide awake when he answers, so it's probably okay.

“Hi, Ned.”

“Ohmygod, Peter?! Wow, is this really you?! Are you, like, are you okay or whatever??”

“Yeah. Yeah, it's me....”

“Dude, holy crap! I've been freaking out all day! When you didn't show up to school I texted you, but you didn't reply, and then I called, and I kept calling and calling, but I could never get a hold of you, and when someone finally did answer your phone it wasn't you....it was Mr. Stark! Tony Stark! I actually talked to Iron Man, and it was awesome, like, so amazingly awesome; but also kinda not at all, because he, he told me you were hurt. He said you were in surgery and it wasn't looking good and, and—” Ned's hyperactive rambling comes to an abrupt halt, and Peter can hear him sucking in a big breath, then another, and another. “I mean, it's so good to hear from you, Peter, but like, seriously dude....what the hell happened to you?”

“I'm sorry I worried you,” he starts, leaning back against the plush pillow behind him, enjoying the silky sheets as they rub up against his bare legs, “But I'm okay. Now, I mean. I'm okay, now. It was just this little thing. No big deal. Just a little, um, a little stabbing—“

“You got stabbed?!? Holy crap holy crap holy crap....”

“I’ve had a building dropped on me, Ned, remember? A whole building. This isn't a big deal, by comparison.”

Peter closes his eyes and wills away the memories that rush into his mind of that night. Memories of metal and water and ash surrounding him, the smell of blood filling his nose, the pang of loneliness eating away at his insides.

This is no time to be flashing back to Adrian Toomes and everything The Vulture brought down on him. He's got enough on his plate already.

“Well, Mr. stark sounded like it was a pretty big deal.”

That snaps him out of the memory real quick.

“What? He did?”

“Yeah, man,” Ned's voice gets quiet, serious, “I mean, he never actually came right out and said it, but I could totally tell. He was really worried about you. He didn't give me a lot of details about how you got hurt, except that it was Spider-Man related—which, duh. Just told me you were in surgery, and then you were sleeping, but that he had the best doctors helping you. That he hoped you were gonna be okay, but that he didn't know for sure. I could hear it in his voice though, dude. He sounded just like my dad did when I fell off my bike in sixth grade and broke my arm in three places. Remember?”

Peter does remember that incident. Ned's dad was a complete mess the whole time. His mom had to drive them to the ER because his dad wouldn't let go of him long enough to do it himself.

“He, he did? Act like that, I mean?”

“Oh yeah. He was super scared. Like, legit, really freaking scared. Like, dad scared.”

Dad scared?

Mr. Stark was 'dad scared'?

About him?

Peter doesn't know what to think about that, and silence falls over the conversation for a while as he tries to process the information. Apparently Tony really had been worried about him. He'd been here when Peter had woken up, after all; hadn't even changed out of the clothes he'd been wearing, said he couldn't leave his side, just in case—and Peter knows exactly what that 'just in case' meant, too.

Just in case he didn't make it.

In case he didn't wake up.

Something about the thought makes him feel warm, makes his chest swell with some overwhelming emotion he can't quite place but is still familiar to him at the same time. It makes him feel insanely happy—not because he'd scared the man so much, of course, but because he feels special to him.

Like, for real.

He's someone special to Tony Stark—him, Peter Parker.

Not just Spider-Man.

Maybe not just Spider-Man.

Once again those thoughts bring back memories of Ben, of feeling wanted and loved, of belonging, of being accepted.

“So....” Ned eventually breaks the quiet, his voice hesitant, and Peter knows exactly where this is going, “do you think you're gonna ask him about the camping trip?”

Ned,” he groans.

The father/son camping trip is the last thing on Peter's mind at the moment. He'd almost died in an alley less than twenty-four hours ago, after being stabbed multiple times by a ninja wannabe, and he was recovering from major surgery.

He says as much.

“Dude, I was stabbed last night, I almost died, and I just had major surgery. I don't think now's the right time.”

“Okay, first, you didn't die,” Ned pipes up, “second, you've got your super spider healing mojo to back you up. You'll be good as new in a few days, tops. And third, you said yourself that it wasn't a big deal. 'Just a little stabbing'. That's what you said. So yeah, I think now's a great time.”

“I dunno....”

“Come on. It’s pretty much the perfect opportunity, when you think about it. I mean, it sounds like he’s already in major dad mode, so—“

“He is not in dad mode, Ned!” Peter hisses, a stab of pain shooting through his side, “He, he was just making sure I was alright. You know, doing the, the hero thing, I guess. This isn't....he's not....there's no dad mode.”

Peter's not even sure if he believes that anymore, though.

“Uh huh. Okay. Whatever you say....”

He's pretty certain Ned doesn't believe it at all.

“Besides,” he presses on, ignoring the inkling of hope sparking in his mind, fluttering in his gut, “I think Mr. Stark probably has way more important things to do with his limited time than take me on some silly father/son camping trip. He has priorities, and Spider-Man may be one of them, but I'm....I'm not.”

“Well, just think about it. You won't know unless you ask.”

“Yeah, I know,” he sighs, “Look, I'll think about it, I will; but for now I'm just gonna try to get some more sleep.”

“Okay. Call me tomorrow?”

“Sure.”

“Alright. Sleep well.” There’s a moment’s hesitation on the other end of the line, “I’m really happy you’re okay, Peter.”

“Me, too,” he smiles, “Goodnight, Ned.”

“Night.”

He hangs up and replaces his phone on the bedside table, then brings his attention back to the large wall if windows on the opposite side of the room. The city looks so peaceful from this altitude, so quiet; but he knows it’s not. It's just an illusion, a lie. There’s a million different things going on down there, millions of different stories playing out at this very moment.

Some of them are good, and some of them are really, really bad.

He’d gotten a taste of the really really bad stuff last night, as well as the night a Stark Industries cargo plane had been hijacked, crashing into fiery pieces along the beach of Coney Island with him on board—and that was after he'd already been buried alive beneath the rubble of an entire building.

That had not been a good night.

At all.

Mr. Stark hadn't been able to be there for him during all that, but he’d certainly been there for him in other times of need. Like when he’d very nearly drowned in the Hudson River, tangled up in a faulty parachute after plummeting into the water; or when he’d almost been ripped in half while trying to keep the Staten Island Ferry from falling apart with hundreds of innocent passengers on board.

Tony had saved him then, and he’d saved him again last night. He’d gotten to him before he’d bled out on the cold cement, before he'd died by the side of a smelly dumpster in a dingy alley all by himself.

Mr. Stark had saved his life.

Saved Spider-Man's life.

And Peter’s lucky, he knows he is.

He's so very lucky to have someone like Iron Man on his side.

Someone like Tony watching over him.

 

Chapter Text

There’s a soft knock on the door frame, and Peter startles a little at the sound, wincing as a twinge if pain darts up and down his side. Whatever drugs Dr. Cho has him on seem to be pretty darn good though, like Steve Rogers level good, because the discomfort subsides a moment later, dissipating into a dull ache, and then fading into almost nothing at all. He's grateful for the reprieve as he pulls his attention away from the window and the twinkling lights of the city below, glancing toward the door.

Mr. Stark's standing there, quietly watching him, arms crossed and an unreadable expression on his face.

“Hey.”

“Hey there, kiddo.”

Tony gives him a tired smile, slowly moving back into the room and striding over to the bed. He glares at the chair he'd vacated earlier like it personally offended him, then sighs in defeat and grudgingly takes a seat, the hard plastic creaking and groaning beneath his weight. He's changed into some clean clothes since the last time Peter saw him, a pair of comfortable looking sweat pants and an old, faded Metallica t-shirt; and as far as Peter's concerned, it's a definite improvement from the blood-stained formal wear he'd been in before. To be perfectly honest, he's more than thankful for the absence. He doesn't need to see the blatant evidence of what happened to him, doesn't want to see Mr. Stark covered in blood, anyone's blood, ever again.

Especially his own.

It looks like the man ran a comb through his hair while he was gone as well, maybe even splashed some cold water on his face, drank a few cups of coffee. He looks more awake, more alert and put together—his eyes a little less red, less puffy. He leans in close, elbows resting on his knees, hands clasped firmly together, and meets Peter's gaze head on.

“May should be in here soon,” he starts, “She knows you're awake, and she wanted to come and see you right away, of course, but I assured her that you're doing just fine. Told her to go grab a bite to eat, get some fresh air. Let us have a few minutes alone first.”

That gets Peter's attention, uneasiness instantly balling tight in his gut, churning away, and he shoots his mentor a wary look. Something must be going on if the man wants to have 'a few minutes alone' with him before May comes in, and it's probably not a good thing.

It's probably bad.

Really bad.

Like, what if he's not actually okay?

What if the knife did more damage than they initially thought it did?

Or what if his healing factor isn't working properly for some reason and there's permanent damage?

Oh god, what if he really is dying or something?

Or....what if Tony simply doesn't think he can handle being Spider-Man anymore because of what happened and wants to take the suit away from him again?

He honestly doesn't know which one of those scenarios would be worse.

“Mr. Stark, if this is about what happened, I promise I won't do it again,” he says, trying to reassure the man as best he can. His pulse is racing, the monitor he's hooked up to echoing it's unsteady beat, and he can feel tears welling up in his eyes, prickling at the corners. “I'm really sorry, and I'll, I'll do better. I will. I promise. I won't go out on patrol if I don't feel up to it, or if I—if I don't get enough sleep, or if I don't eat, or, or—“

“Hey, hey no,” Tony cuts off his frenzied apology with a raised hand, and he snaps his mouth shut, listening anxiously as his stress builds and builds on itself, “You don't have to apologize for last night, Pete. Jesus. If anything, I should be the one apologizing to you.”

“Wait, what? N-No,” he shakes his head in clear disagreement, “Why would you need to apologize to me?”

“Because,” Tony answers, “I lost my cool out there. I—I let my emotions get the better of me, and I freaked out, and I’m sorry. I’m so fuckin' sorry, kid. So sorry. I could’ve gotten you back here a lot sooner if I’d been thinking more clearly—but I wasn’t, and I didn’t, because I froze up. I just—I just froze, and all I could think about in that moment was losing you, and that I couldn’t. I couldn’t lose you, Peter. I just couldn't. I couldn't even fathom it.”

There's pain in the man's voice, jagged and rough, piercing right through him; and Peter wants to ease it all away, do for Tony now what he wasn't able to do for him the night before.

“You didn’t, though. You didn't lose me, Mr. Stark. I’m here, and, and I’m okay,” he tries, but Mr. Stark counters his argument with a quick and precise, “Are you, really?”, and Peter doesn’t know how to answer that question.

Is he really okay?

Physically he’s a little worse for wear, sure, but he’ll heal up fast. He always does. That’s one of the many perks of being Spider-Man.

But emotionally? Well, now that’s a whole different story. He's still trying to work through all the stuff that happened to him during the homecoming dance, and now he’s got another terrifying near-death experience to add to his growing list of PTSD-inducing trauma.

It’s....a lot to deal with.

“Peter, going through something like that, what happened to you last night, what happened last year, it’s....it's hard. That shit changes you. And you’re strong—god, kid, you’re so strong. You’re fucking incredible. But even the strongest people need a little help sometimes. So I'm gonna let you in on a not so little secret about myself. After the Battle of New York, and the whole wormhole incident—you know, when I thought it'd be a good idea to fly a nuke into space?—yeah, I was a damn mess after all that. A complete and utter train wreck. Drinking at all hours, not sleeping, lashing out at my friends, avoiding pretty much anything and everything, having panic attacks in public. It was bad. Pep....she could barely stand to be in the same room as me, and eventually she got so sick of it all that she made me get help. Made me go see a shrink. Can you even imagine something that?” he stops and quirks a brow at Peter, shaking his head and chuckling softly, “Me, seeing a counselor? Talking about my feelings? My issues? God, it was so horrible. I was horrible. I made that poor guy’s life a living hell for months. Seriously. It was a disaster of the highest order....until it wasn’t.”

There’s a moment of silence between the two of them then, a pregnant pause where they just look at one another; and Peter’s a little awestruck by the fact that Mr. Stark’s opening up to him like this. Telling him something so personal about himself.

“So, it um, it helped you?” he asks, timid yet also surprisingly interested in the answer, “Talking to someone, it, it helped?”

“Yeah, bud, it did. It really did. It helped me a lot. So if you ever think you wanna talk about it, you know....what happened last night, or with the Vulture, or whatever else might be bothering you, you can. You can talk to me, or I can set something up with a professional. It’s your call.”

He doesn’t know if he’s ready to open up to a complete stranger about all the crazy stuff going on in his head, let alone himself—he tries to avoid thinking about it all as much as possible—but it’s nice to know he has options if he wants them.

“So I could....I could talk to you, maybe? Um, sometime?”

Mr. Stark’s reply comes instantly, and with no hesitation.

“You can talk to me about anything, bud. Whatever you want. Whenever you want. Wherever you want. Just say the word and I’m there. I’ll even bring the pizza and the Mt. Dew.”

Tony sounds so sincere as he says that, and Peter nods his head in acknowledgment, his stomach doing a little flip.

He likes the idea.

He likes it a lot more than he thought he would.

He’s still a bit on edge though, still worried that his actions last night, coupled with the older man’s obvious concern for his mental state could be leading up to something bad.

Like, ‘Spider-Man taking a forced hiatus’ level bad.

Why else would Mr. Stark wanna talk to him alone?

“So you’re not, you’re not mad? About last night?”

“Mad? Of course not,” Tony scoffs, reassuring him with a flick of his wrist, “Scared? Hell yes. Terrified? Absolutely. But I’m not mad at you. Not at all. This wasn’t your fault, Pete. Okay? Things like this, they're....they're just gonna happen sometimes.” He lets out a weary sigh, heavy and battle-worn. Resigned. “It's part of the hero gig. I know it is. I don't like it, mind you, but I understand it. It's the reality of what we do. Sometimes we get hurt. Sometimes the bad guy gets lucky, and sometimes the good guy makes a mistake—like not eating,” he gives Peter a pointed look, “or not sleeping, but that's....that's not what I wanna talk to you about right now.”

He relaxes minutely then, some of the tension finally leaving his body.

“However,” Tony quickly adds, “we will be having a discussion about that, bud. A big one. Huge, even. Very in-depth and detailed; and rest assured, there's gonna be some new ground rules for Spider-Man to follow going into the future. Believe me. I’ve already got FRIDAY on it. There's a whole feeding and sleeping chart in the works and everything—working title: How to Care for Your Super-Metabolism.

Going into the future.

That phrase is what Peter latches onto, what helps to set his mind at ease. Mr. Stark's not taking the suit away from him, at least he doesn't think he is. It doesn't sound like that's the case.

There’s gonna be some new rules—and charts, apparently—but he can handle that.

He can totally handle that.

No problem.

He still doesn’t know what's going on right now, though.

“Okay,” he mumbles, eyebrows furrowing with growing confusion and a hint of worry, “But, um....if this isn't about last night, then what’s it about?”

“Alright, well, I'm gonna preface this next part by saying that I wasn't eavesdropping on you,” Tony begins, and Peter's heart leaps right back into his throat at the implication. He doesn't like where this conversation is heading all of a sudden. He didn't like it before, but he definitely doesn't like it now. Not one bit. “But I maybe sorta heard a little snippet of your talk with Ted earlier. Kinda. Some of it. Just like, a tiny, tiny little bit.”

“Ned,” he corrects automatically, biting his sore lip and waiting for the man to continue. He can feel his face heating up, can feel the burn of it all the way down his neck.

Can hear the beep beep beep droning on and on and on beside him.

“Right, Ned. Anyway, I was coming back to check on you, and I just happened to overhear my name being dropped. And you know me, right? Narcissist to the nth degree and all that. If someone's talking about me I perk right on up, gotta know all the deets. Gotta know exactly what's going on, with who, when and where, why and how long, how many times, are there pictures, yadda yadda yadda—so what's this I heard about a trip?” he stops rambling, tilts his head to the side and narrows his eyes at Peter. Thinking, calculating. “Something to do with camping, or....?”

“Oh, um, wh-what?” Peter sputters, immediately averting his eyes to stare at his lap instead of the other man. He tries to school his expression into something neutral so he doesn't give away his sheer panic, his complete and utter humiliation at the fact that Tony overheard him talking about the trip. He feels his hands start to shake with nervous energy, so he quickly tucks them under the covers, hiding them away from sight, bunching the silky fabric between his palms; but the stupid heart monitor betrays his anxiety anyway. No hiding here. No sir. His emotions are on full display, and he can't do anything about it. He's helpless. “It's uh, it's, it's nothing Mr. Stark.”

“It didn't exactly sound like nothing to me.”

He looks up then, meets his mentor's deeply concerned eyes.

“C’mon, kid. You can talk to me about anything. Remember? So what’s goin’ on? What’s up?”

“It’s just a ah, a thing,” he stammers, shaking his head and fixing his gaze back down to the blanket, “A, a thing with the school. A camping....thing. With some of the kids and their, uh, their d-dads—“ he hates, absolutely hates that he stumbles over that word. He hates it so much. “It's like a um, a father son type thing? Bonding, or, or something like that—I don't really know. Or, I mean, it is, I guess, but....” he trails off, and he chances another quick glance back up to Tony, seeing the man's face soften with something akin to sadness.

Or pity.

It's probably pity, actually. That would make sense, because that’s precisely what he is. He’s pathetic, and this whole situation is awful.

Mortifying.

“It’s nothing, Mr. Stark, really,” he continues on, shaking his head again, trying to keep himself together. He feels like he's coming apart at the seams, crumbling into ruins, to dust. “It's not a big deal. It's, it's not. It's not important.”

Suddenly there's a hand on his shoulder, giving it a light squeeze, and he tries really hard not to flinch away at the surprising contact. He remembers that same hand holding his tight in its grip the night before, bloody and cold. Persistent. Latching onto him and comforting him.

Keeping him calm and grounded.

Keeping him here.

“It really doesn't sound unimportant to me, bud.”

“Oh? Well, no, it's, it's not. Like, at all. I mean, it's....it's just....” his voice cracks. His face is hot, his chin wobbling, lip trembling; and he huffs out a frustrated breath. He doesn't know how to say it—what he wants to say, or what he feels like he needs to say, right now, right here—because this is all getting thrown out into the open and he's not ready.

He's not ready to face it, not ready to expose himself like this; and it hurts.

It hurts like a frayed nerve, charred and black.

And to make matters even worse, he's about to go all berzerker on the goddamn monitor pads that are stuck to his skin, just rip them clean off his chest to silence the continuous beeping. The wretched machine beside him won’t stop screaming his anxiety into the room, showcasing his growing unease, and he can't stand it.

The hand on his shoulder gives another squeeze, encouraging him to keep going, to say what he knows he needs to; and he lets his attention drift away from his lap, eyes trailing down along his legs until he gets to the tips of his feet, hidden and cozy under the blanket. Then he just stares at the two little juts in the fabric, wiggling his toes a bit because he can't bring himself to look at Mr. Stark when he says what he's about to say.

He just can't.

“It’s just that, you know, um, since my uncle, Uncle Ben, since he....well, since he....died, I don’t, um, I don't really h-have....uh, I don't, I don’t have....anyone....”

“Hey, look at me.”

He bites his lip hard to stop it from trembling even more, ignoring the pain it causes while he closes his eyes against the burning threat of tears. A monsoon of grief is washing over him, he can feel it, sense it coming, undiluted and unchecked as it filters through him, buries him beneath its heavy weight.

Punches him right in the gut.

Hits him over and over again with the hard, cruel reality of his life.

Of what he doesn't have.

He doesn't have a dad.

He doesn't have a father.

He has May—of course he does, he knows, he knows; and she's so great. She's everything to him. She's amazing, and perfect, and wonderful; and he would be miserably lost without her. He knows that. He loves her so much, and he knows that she loves him, too, more than anything else in the whole entire world; but it's not at all the same as having a dad.

It can't be.

It's also not a new development, but it still hurts him deeply every single day. It hurts so damn much to see everyone around him get to have something that he’s been longing for, that he’s so desperate to have as well.

Something that was taken away from him, multiple times—brutally, and with no remorse whatsoever.

Or, maybe the reason it's so painful for him to live with now is because he didn't appreciate what he'd had then.

Maybe he deserves to feel this way. Maybe he's being punished for taking it all for granted. For taking them for granted. After all, they're dead now. Both of them. Both of the men who'd filled a fatherly role in Peter's life are now dead and buried.

They're gone.

Forever.

Fuck, he really is pathetic.

He's just lying here, stuck in a hospital bed, hooked up to traitorous machines while his childhood hero sits right in front of him, and he's on the verge of crying his eyes out like a little baby. He's gonna break down any second, and it's so sad.

It's definitely not the type of behavior befitting a superhero, that's for sure.

Maybe Mr. Stark should take his suit away.

Maybe he doesn't deserve to be Spider-Man after all.

“Peter,” Tony’s voice breaks through his rapidly spiraling thoughts, that hand on his shoulder still a grounding presence as it moves up to firmly cup the nape of his neck, “Look at me, kiddo. C'mon. Please? Please look at me.”

He does.

His eyes flash up to meet Tony's and he locks onto them like a lifeline, a port in the raging storm of turmoil swirling around inside his head.

“You have someone,” the man says, and he sounds so sure about it, so reverent, like he's reciting a vow or pledging an oath. Giving Peter a solemn promise. “You do. You have someone right here, kiddo, right in front of you. You have me, and you will always have me, no matter what happens. I'll always be here for you. Don't you ever forget that. And hey, look....I—I know I can’t replace your uncle or your dad. I really do,” he pauses, nods, gives Peter the softest, most tender smile he thinks he’s ever seen, “and I don’t wanna replace them, either. That's not what this is about, alright? That's not what's happening here. Not at all. No one can take their place, and no one ever should; but I'd be more than honored to at least be counted among them. If you want me to. I think it'd be....well, it'd be pretty good company, to tell you the truth.”

Mr. Stark stops then, and the man's looking at him like he doesn't know what to expect next. Like he's afraid of what Peter will do, what he'll say in response; but Peter has no idea what to say to that unprecedented declaration.

Absolutely no idea whatsoever.

He’s dumbfounded.

He sorta feels like he's not even awake right now, honestly; that this is all just an elaborate dream sequence cooked up by his subconscious, a coping mechanism his body's utilizing to help him deal with the fact that he’s not actually here.

That he's not warm and safe in the Tower.

That, in reality, he's still stuck in that cold, dark alley all by himself, alone and dying from blood loss.

It feels like he's been hit by a train, and he can't breathe.

“You, you want to....I mean—you....you want....you wanna do what?”

His brain is short circuiting. Either that, or he’s going completely insane.

“You heard me,” Tony rasps, his dark eyes suspiciously misty all of a sudden as they stare into Peter's own. His voice sounds raw, the words thick and heavy with brimming emotion, sincere beyond belief—beyond any shadow of a doubt, “Hell, Pete, you're already my kid. Okay? Is that—is that okay? Fuck, I hope it's okay because that's just how I feel, plain and simple. You're my kid, and you're always gonna be my kid, and I'm always gonna be there for you. No matter what. I will always look out for you, always take care of you, because I feel like that's my job. Taking care of you, it's, it's my job, and I wanna do it, too. I do. Because you're what's important to me, you're my priority. You. Peter Benjamin Parker. Not some stupid board meeting, or some stuffy fundraiser, or SI, or Iron Man, or the Avengers. Nothing else even comes close. Just you, kiddo. So if you need me, I want you to come to me. I....I need you to come to me, bud. I need it. Okay? Can you—can you do that for me? Can you just come to me if you need me?” He finally stops there, waits until Peter gives him a dazed little nod, then continues on, words just flowing out of him like he's been keeping them bottled up inside himself forever and he finally found the release valve, “I need you, Peter. You're a part of my life now, a big part, and I wanna keep it that way. I like it that way, even. You....you make my world so much better, kid, so much brighter, and I love having you in it. You're my....you're my son, blood or no blood, so please....please, let me be there for you. Let me help you when you need it. Let me take care of you, and keep you safe, and protect you. Let me at least try. I....I really wanna try, bud. I really do. I wanna be a better father to you than my dad was to me, if you'll let me. If you'll give me the chance.”

It’s like something breaks inside Peter in that instant, snaps right through him, shattering his shaky resolve, and he just bursts into tears. Big, fat, hot tears. They’re streaming all down his face, rivers of them, wetting his cheeks and pooling in the hollow of his neck, making a complete mess of everything around him, and he doesn’t even care.

Not anymore.

Not at all.

He doesn't care that he's ugly crying in front of his childhood hero, because this is what he wants.

Oh god, this is what he's dreamt of.

He wants Mr. Stark to be so much more than a mentor to him.

More than a friend or a teammate.

More than Iron Man.

He wants him to be a dad.

Wants him to be his dad.

His dad.

“I’d um, I’d....I'd l-like that,” he says, his voice trembling and hoarse, throat threatening to close up around the words, but he’s gotta get them out in the open or he’s gonna explode. He can't stop crying. “I’d really, really like that Mr. Stark. If you....you know, um, if you, if you wanna....”

“Oh, I wanna.”

Before he knows what’s happening Tony's out of the chair and sitting on the edge of his bed, gently, carefully pulling him into a full on hug. Strong arms wrap around him and hold him close, and he automatically melts into the embrace, just falls right into it, tucking his head up underneath Mr. Stark’s chin and resting his ear flat against the man's broad chest.

Against the soft fabric of the Metallica t-shirt.

Against the spot where the arc reactor used to be.

And it all feels so right.

So perfect.

Warm, and safe, and secure.

“Shhh, baby shhh....you're alright,” the man murmurs against his hair, rocking them slowly back and forth while Peter continues to cling to him, his emotions bleeding out of him like a cleansing fire, “You're alright. Just let it all out, Pete. Just let it out and let go, 'cause I've got you. You hear me? I've got you, and it's all gonna be alright. You're gonna be alright. So just let it out, kiddo....just let go and let it all out.”

He does.

He lets it all go.

He releases everything he's been holding onto, everything he's been terrified to show to anyone—all of the pain, and the hurt, and the insecurity; the longing and the emptiness; his fear, his sorrow, his wants and desires—he lets it all out and allows Tony to hold him together while he does it.

Allows the man to shelter him through the storm, be his rock and his anchor; and he feels cherished.

Treasured.

Dear.

It's the same way Ben used to make him feel when he’d pull him in for a hug and tell him everything was gonna be okay; and he doesn't think he ever wants the moment to end.

“I love you,” Tony murmurs from above, the words faint yet unmistakable. Absolutely undeniable. Beautiful. The arms around him tighten ever so slightly, and he can sense lips pressing tender kisses to the crown of his head, over and over, fingers coming up to card soothingly through his hair, “You hear me, bambino? I love you. I love you so much, and I will always make time for you. Always. You got it?”

He smiles so big in response to that that it makes his cheeks hurt, and he nods, nuzzling farther into the hug, listening to the steady thump-thump of Tony's heartbeat against his ear, honest and unfaltering.

Sure and true.

“I....I love you too, Mr. Stark,” he whispers, and it feels like a weight is lifting off of him as he says it, like he's giving away an immense secret that's been suffocating him.

It feels like he can breathe again.

They end up staying like that for a while, just holding onto one another, enjoying the moment, the closeness; and the heart monitor finally begins to slow its infuriating pace. Peter may or may not fall asleep at some point, he isn’t real sure because of the drugs he’s on, but it doesn't even matter. He's happy, so immensely happy, and he could stay right here, right where he is for the rest of the night and be totally content.

Eventually, though, they do have to part ways—Peter’s pain medication only able to do so much before a change in position is deemed necessary; and Mr. Stark helps ease him gently back down to the soft mattress and fluffy pillows, swiping a thumb across his cheek to wipe away a straggling tear before once again taking up residence in the chair by his bed.

Peter scrubs at his eyes and his face, readjusts the blanket over his lap, smooths out the wrinkles in his hospital gown, and tries to collect himself as best he can.

Tries to wrap his mind around what just happened, what they just said to each other, what it all means.

It's gonna take some time for it to feel real, he thinks.

“So....when’s this nature shindig thing happening, anyway?” Mr. Stark asks, pulling out his phone and opening up the calendar app.

“Oh, um, spring break?” Peter has no idea why it sounds like a question coming out of his mouth when it's clearly not, so he tries again, hopefully adding a little more authority to his voice, “Yeah, it's um, it’s during spring break. March 12th through....through the 15th, I think.”

He watches with bated breath while Tony scrolls through his appointments, listening to the electrical beat of his heart speeding up ever so slightly.

Tries not to fidget too much while he waits for a verdict.

“Cool, cool. Looks like I'm free as a bird. Got nothin' planned,” the man glances up from his phone, beaming, voice jovial and eyes sparkling bright, “except spending time with my kid, that is. I’m all yours, Underoos. We'll give 'em hell. It'll be great. When we're done, Midtown High won't even know what hit 'em. Oh, and that little Flare brat who's always givin' you a hard time?”

“Um, you mean Flash?”

“Yeah yeah, that's the one.” Mr. Stark gives him a shark-like grin, “He's toast.”

“Cool,” he softly murmurs, a shy little smile curving his lips at the prospect, his stomach swooping and his heart fluttering against his ribs, “That sounds....awesome. Really, really awesome.”

“It totally will be, kid, because I have plans.”

May walks in then, putting their conversation on hold; and when she sees Peter she gives him the biggest smile.

“I came by a little earlier,” she starts, “but it seemed like you two boys were having a bit of a moment.” She gives them both a knowing look, winking at Peter as she moves up to the other side of the bed. He feels himself immediately start to flush again. “Baby, how are you feeling?” she asks, cupping his face between her warm palms, thumbs brushing lightly over his cheeks as she examines him with critical eyes, “I was so worried about you.”

“I’m fine, May, really. Just a little sore. I’ll be healed up in no time, though. Good as new. Spider powers, you know?”

“Yeah, yeah....you better be, mister.” She scoops him into another hug, her hand coming up to gingerly cradle the back of his head, fingers idly combing through his hair like she always does when he gets hurt or sick. “Jeez Peter,” she huffs, “spider stuff or not, you still scared the crap out of me. Seeing you like that? Oh, it was so awful, baby. So awful. I never wanna do that again.”

“I know, and I'm really sorry, but I'll be okay. And I'll be more careful from now on.” He means it, too. He's learned his lesson. No more going out on patrol if he's not feeling one-hundred percent. There's just too much at stake to risk it, too much that he has to look forward to. Too many people he cares about. “I’ll be really, really careful. I promise.”

Mr. Stark's still sitting in the horrible chair, one leg crossed atop the other, quietly watching their exchange; and Peter meets his gaze from over May's shoulder.

They share a private smile, just between the two of them, and it's full of so much love and hope and promise.

Promise for a future, bright and endless with possibility.

The future he's always wanted, maybe.

Definitely.

Yeah, he thinks to himself, it's all gonna be okay.

Better than.

It’s gonna be amazing.



 

End