When Aunt May dies, Peter and Ben have to think about a downsize.
The idea of actually moving isn’t the difficult part. Peter isn’t like Ned or MJ, who have grown up in the same houses all their lives. Peter, Ben, and May had moved twice since he came to live with them, so he has never attached too many memories to the spaces he’s left behind. Home is where the heart is, and all that. Peter would have the three of them live in the smallest studio Queens has to offer if it meant getting Aunt May back. Stuff doesn’t matter.
Well, most stuff.
After one year, almost to the date, they finally find a new place and get ready for the move. Packing is a slow affair. Peter and Ben are able to be practical when it comes to May’s things. Most of her clothes, her least valuable jewelry, those things are donated or sold. Ben lets Peter be in charge of May’s small collection of glasses. Peter tells Ben he put them in the donation box, but he stows them away with his things, for some reason. It’s not practical, but the idea of parting with them makes him inexplicably sad that he figures it’s worth holding on to. And if Ben knows, he doesn’t say anything. It’s not like glasses take up a lot of space.
Pianos, on the other hand, are a different story.
“I dunno, bud,” Ben sighs, dragging a hand down his face. He stares at the busted up Baldwin like it’s an unsolved Rubik's cube. “I don’t think we can keep it.”
Peter knows Ben’s right, but all he can hear is May’s mediocre singing on a random Tuesday morning, playing a song made up on the spot to wake him up for school. This is a puzzle he wants to solve. “We can’t put it in storage?”
Ben’s hand falls to the back of Peter’s neck, giving it a gentle squeeze. “I’m not sure,” is what he says, but Peter knows what he’s really saying. “I’ll try to work something out, okay?”
He nods, and his uncle drops a kiss to the top of his head. An apology for what’s to come.
“You should get going,” Ben says when they spend too much staring at the piano. “Internship starts soon. Wouldn’t want to keep the great Toni Stark waiting.”
“Eh,” Peter shrugs, and his uncle laughs; he can’t help but crack a grin at the sound.
Peter ends up swinging to Toni’s place with the intent of making up for lost time. But he’s still late when he stops by Delmar’s for sandwiches and sodas; he doesn’t know how but Toni is the only person Peter has successfully gotten hooked on the number five, extra pickles, squished down flat. Doesn’t matter how late he is if he has a killer sandwich to make up for it.
But when he walks into the lab, mask still on, he realizes that Toni’s probably lost track of time. She’s staring intently at dozens of holographic blueprints, swiping them back and forth with a wave of her hand. Her workbench is littered with scribbles and little math problems, as well as a cartoon doodle of Rhodey as War Machine, telling the press to fuck off. Her hair is down, which isn’t necessarily unusual, but Peter hardly ever sees her without her hair pulled back in some way.
What’s really unusual is the glasses.
“Hey, Shortstack,” Toni says, lips quirking in a smile before she looks away from her work. She writes something down before she looks up, smile broadening when she sees Peter with the sandwiches. “And he brings gifts! Really gunning for Intern of the Month, I see.”
Toni gets up and helps herself to one of the sandwiches, oblivious to Peter’s mini-crisis. She hops up on her workbench, feet settled on a rolling chair. “So, what’s the plan for today? We can work on coding for your AI.” She takes a bite of the sandwich, pickles spilling out. One lands on her thigh and she’s quick to grab it and drop it in her mouth. “Or,” she sucks the mayo off one of her fingers. “We can go down to the garage and work on that car, that might be fun. Or. Spanish homework.” She shrugs before she chases a pickle that’s about to fall out of the sandwich. “You always need help with that.”
All Peter can fixate on is: “Glasses?”
“Hmm?” she says absently before realization unfurrows her brow. “Oh, yeah.” She pushes them up the bridge of her nose with one knuckle. “Had ‘em about a year now. Working on a better contact lens. In the meantime.” She gestures to her face before she points a threatening finger Peter’s way. “ Don’t tell the press. If they get a whiff I’m getting old, it’ll be all anyone talks about for a month.”
A beat of silence passes between them while Toni takes another bite of the sandwich. “Oh, no, Miss Stark, you’re not old!” she says in what she must think is a good Peter impression: a terrible squeaky and lively voice. “How could you imply such blasphemy!”
When Peter still doesn’t say anything, she scoffs. “What? Mayo on my face?” she swipes uselessly at her cheeks before she wiggles her glasses again. “My crow’s feet too much beauty for you to handle?”
Finally, Peter snaps out of his stupor. His cheeks heat in embarrassment when he realizes he’s been staring. He hadn’t meant to. It's just.. “Sorry, Miss Stark. With the glasses you kind of look like..."
He can't say it. Can't even finish the thought. He trails off, gesturing to nothing.
Her expression softens as she reaches forward and muses his hair. Normally it’s a quick affair, an attempt to make his hair stick out in odd shapes but this time her touch lingers, tucking some of his longer curls behind his ear. “You okay, kiddo?”
“Yeah,” he smiles, swatting her hand away when she tugs on his ear. He settles on the workbench beside her and starts to unwrap his own sandwich as well as pass over the sodas. “A little out of it. Got a lot on my mind since we’re moving next week.”
“Right, right,” Toni says with a snap of her finger. The can of soda pops and hisses before she downs about half of it in one chug, wiping her mouth with her sleeve. “You and Uncle Hottie need any help?”
Peter wrinkles his nose at the nickname and Toni laughs. “No, we’re fine.” He thinks of the piano, collecting dust, and his frown deepens. He glances over at Toni, eyes tracing the oversized purple of her lenses and his heart aches with what he’s lost. “It’s just...”
“Just what? You don’t need movers do you? I’ve seen you lift DUM-E with one hand.”
“No, we’re good on that front.” He slumps over, feeling defeated. “There’s no room for May’s old piano at the new place. And we can’t afford a storage unit. We have to get rid of it.”
Toni shakes her head. “Nah, you don’t have to do that.”
“Miss Stark, really, we can’t -”
“I’ll take it.” She says. “You can keep it here. Tickle the ivories whenever you want.” She pauses to take another sip of her soda. “I didn’t know you played.”
“I don’t, that’s the thing.” Peter sighs. “That piano sucks. It’s ugly, it’s worn, it’s never been tuned. She could never finish a song without laughing and banging on the keys. I hated every time she played it. But…”
“It’s hers.” Toni smiles softly. “I get it.”
“We’ve always taken it when we moved,” Peter says. “She was adamant. She and Ben got in fake fights over it. I can’t imagine living anywhere without it. Leaving it behind makes it feel…”
Real. She’s really gone.
Toni knocks her toe against his leg. “I meant the offer. I can really keep it here, if you want.”
“Thanks, but.” He shrugs. “It’s not the same.” He pauses, picking uselessly at his sandwich. "And I don't know if I'd want it to be." He shakes his head, as if that can make the thought fall out of his head. “Can we work on the car for today? I want to start with paint by next week.”
Something Peter can’t decipher contorts Toni’s expression before her normal twinkle returns to her eyes - flanked by newly framed crows feet, at that. “Car, you got it. Now surely you don’t want all those pickles, do you?”
He passes her the rest of his sandwich.
Three days later, Peter comes home to find that the piano is gone.
He hurries to his room and stays there for the rest of the night in hopes Ben won’t find out how heartbroken he is.
He falls asleep with May’s glasses in his hand.
Moving to their new place is a quick affair, but not without it’s chaos. Even with Peter’s super strength and his insistence that he carry all of the heavy things when pedestrian eyes aren’t on him, Ben apparently can’t entirely delete the imagery of a thirteen year old asthmatic nephew with noodle arms. He tries to carry Peter’s banged up IKEA desk up their fifth story walk up only to drop it; the whole thing collapses at the bottom of the staircase.
After that, Ben kinda loses his privilege to be in charge of who carries what.
What they kept of May find it’s home first; a few of the paintings she picked go up on the wall, and Peter lays May’s glasses on his nightstand due to the fact that he no longer has a desk. But then they put up old movie posters in the living room. Some of his Star Wars figurines make it into corners in the kitchen. They cover the fridge in funny magnets. May’s personality is still there in snapshots, but the home is new and fresh and purely Ben and Peter’s. It’s both painful and a relief - a feeling Peter doesn’t understand.
And even when everything has its place, Peter still looks around the room, wondering where they could have put the piano.
One day after school, he spots a familiar Audi in front of his new complex. Peter bolts up the stairs, taking two at a time. The last time Toni showed up at his house, he got to go to Germany, fight with the Avengers against other Avengers, and got punched in the eye by Steve Rogers.
He hopes Toni can top it.
She’s sitting with Ben on the couch when he walks in, and it’s déjà vu. Toni’s even eating one of Ben’s chocolate chip cookies and much to Peter’s amusement, he sees she brought Tupperware with her.
“Hey, Pete,” Toni says around a mouthful of cookie. “How was school?”
“Boring.” He drops his bag by the door. “Please tell me you’re here because you have a mission for me. My passport is still valid.”
“How does an ecological terrorism threat in Indonesia sound?”
Ben coughs and Peter’s ears go red.
Backtrack. “I mean like. It’s not fantastic that there’s a threat but it’s uh, fantastic that I, Spider-Man can put a stop to it. Are you going?” Peter shakes his head. “I mean, uh, of course you’re going, you’re Iron Man, I just meant. Like is this, uh…”
He trails off as Toni’s grin reaches shit-eating levels.
“Oh.” Peter deflates. “You’re messing with me. There’s no mission, is there?”
“Nope,” she says, making the word pop. “But the enthusiasm is very cute. I’m definitely voting Spider-Man for team mascot at the next meeting.”
“Spider-Man isn’t a mascot.”
“Well, not yet . That’s what the meeting is for.”
Ben tries to smother his laughter, but it’s a poor attempt. “So,” Peter starts, “If there’s no mission or job or whatever, then why are you here?”
She leans forward off the couch, putting her feet down from the coffee table in the process; the red bottoms are the brightest decoration in the living room. “Who says I’m not here to offer a job? Maybe I’m here on my ninth attempt to persuade your uncle to work for me as my personal chef.”
Ben snorts. “I’m not giving you that cookie recipe.”
Toni starts piling said cookies into her Tupperware. “I cracked the code on your nephew’s freaky spider goo. I made like, one billion different web combinations for that stuff. And yet I can’t replicate this goddamn cookie. What’s in it?” she takes a bite. “Organic sugar? Rare chocolate grown on an unknown island?” A pause. “Cocaine?”
“Relax, relax. It’s not cocaine.” Another bite. “I’d definitely know if it was cocaine.”
“Honestly, I think it just needs the touch of a shitty oven.” Ben tosses his thumb behind him, towards the kitchen. “I can’t explain it.”
“Alright. Hocus Pocus it is. I’ll have to tell my wife it’ll be awhile until it’s results can be replicated. In the meantime.” She shakes the container. “Thanks for the magic cookies.”
Peter looks past Toni at Ben and frowns; his uncle simply shrugs like he doesn’t know what’s going on either, but he’s not hiding it that well. He looks back at Toni and narrows his eyes, skeptic. “What’s going on.”
Toni tries playing the same trick; tosses her ponytail and flutters her eyelashes about like she’s about to make a statement in the press. “Just the tail end of Toni and Ben’s monthly Peter Parker update.” She shakes the container again. “Meeting was catered and everything.” She grabs the blazer jacket of her suit but instead of putting it on, she tosses it over one shoulder. “See you Saturday?”
Peter can only manage to nod dumbly. Toni gently knocks her fist along Peter’s chin as she heads for the door. “Later, kiddie.”
When she’s gone, Peter looks back to Ben, who’s already pointing to his room. “Dropped off a present for you. Had to bring the suit and everything.”
That severely peaks Peter’s interest - what on Earth did Toni bring him that was so cumbersome or heavy it required the Iron Man suit?
A desk, Peter discovers as he stumbles into his room.
But not just any desk.
It’s made from an old upright piano.
He can’t believe it. As he looks over every inch, he counts the scratches and dents and he knows that it’s one hundred percent his aunt’s old piano, and yet: it isn’t. It’s not a piano anymore, not technically. There’s plexiglass over the keys to make the top of the desk, an exposed soundboard on the back, lights at the top, shelves. Toni took a piece of May and made something new that they could hold on to. A memory, but not a ghost.
It’s just what he needs.
And he’s so, so grateful.
Toni’s added a few trinkets. She’s given him a new Star Wars figurine, a new laptop (okay, not a trinket for him, but definitely a trinket for her) and a new backpack on the piano bench. But the best part of all is what’s on the top shelf.
May’s glasses collection.
Of course Toni noticed. She always does.
In the end, it’s a split second decision that follows a split second idea when he notices May’s favorite pair of sunglasses on the end; rose gold, with the lenses in the shapes of hearts. Peter grabs them and heads to the door.
“See?” Ben says as Peter hastens to put his shoes back on. “I didn’t really drop the desk, I did it on purpose so Toni could - Peter?”
He leaves his uncle in the dark as he runs down the stairs, hoping to catch Toni before she’s gone. Luckily, she’s only unlocking the car, slipping her blazer back on, when Peter makes it down to the street. “Lordy, that was fast,” she says with a grin when she spots him. She sets the cookies on the hood of the car. “I thought I’d have more time before - oomph!”
Peter rams into her, giving her the biggest hug he can manage.
She returns it immediately, wrapping one arm around his shoulders while her other hand rests on the back of his head, smoothing his hair over. “You like it, yeah? Plenty of space to do your Spanish assignments and whatnot. Which you will be doing if you ever want to make the roster for the next real Avengers mission.”
“Yes. Yes. All of that.” He hugs her tighter. “I love it. It’s perfect. Thank you.”
He feels a quick kiss to the top of his head. “You’re welcome, honey.”
When he pulls away, he shoves the sunglasses under her nose. “Here. I want you to have these.”
Toni hesitates, but takes the glasses anyway; she holds them delicately. “Peter -”
“Try them on.”
She sighs, but humors him. She slips on the glasses and strikes a pose, a hand on her hip. “So? How do they look? Almost as good as May, right?”
Peter’s smile quirks to one side. “Yeah,” he says. “Almost.”
Toni smiles; it's soft and gentle and the best smile she can give. “Well, that’s all a girl can ask for. Almost as good as May Parker. I should put that on my resume.”
“Does that go before or after failed cookie baker?”
“It goes between billionaire and Iron Man, you little shit.” and Peter laughs pretty loudly when Toni reaches forward and pinches his nose.
“Keep them.” Peter says when Toni goes to take them off. “I mean it. They look good. And May would want someone to wear them.”
Toni adjusts them with a quick flourish. “I’ll take good care of ‘em, kid. Thank you."
She blows him a kiss before she grabs the cookies off the car and slips into the driver’s seat of her car. “Later, darling,” she says in a cheesy, fancy, old Hollywood voice. The door closes and the car comes to life before the window rolls down. “Oh, and kid?” Toni tips the sunglasses down. “Tell anyone I couldn’t hack your uncle’s cookie recipe, and your internship is cancelled.”
He doesn’t even have time to tell her she could just ask him for the recipe before she’s giving him a wink and pushing the glasses back up. He barely steps back before the window rolls up and she drives away, tires screeching.
Oh well. Another time.
For now, he’s got Spanish homework.