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all these better days

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Tony’s tinkering in the lab when FRIDAY pipes up. “Peter Parker is here, boss.”

“Send him in, FRI,” Tony says, not even glancing up from his project. He has an R&D presentation for SI in only fifty hours and at least a week’s worth of work to do between now and then. 

Just a few minutes later, Tony hears the tell-tale whoosh of the lab doors, and the sound of worn converses squeaking against the floor.

“What’s up, kid?” Tony asks nonchalantly.

“Hey, Mister Stark,” Peter says, sounding more subdued than normal. The tone of his voice is so different from his typical exuberant greeting that Tony’s focus is broken, glancing up and watching as Peter trudges over to the workstation Tony had cleared off for him.

Tony’s eyes narrows when the kid lets his backpack fall haphazardly to the floor with a thump as he practically collapses into his seat, staring listlessly down at a pair of disassembled web-shooters he’d started on the week before.

“Everything all good, underoos?” Tony asks.

Peter looks up at him with wide eyes - as if caught doing something nefarious - before humming a non-response and getting right to work. Tony watches him for a few more moments, debating between saying nothing or pressing the teen. He may not be the kid’s dad but he’s not a moron either– something is clearly up. 

Ultimately, however, he decides it’s not really his place. 

After all, it had only been a month since the Coney Island debacle. Sure, Tony had made good on his promise to himself to take more interest in the teen, their weekly lab sessions quickly becoming something he’d - despite himself - come to really look forward to. 

But he still barely knew the kid, and had no idea if his pestering would be welcome or not. Besides, Peter was fifteen– what teenager isn’t moody from time to time? 

If anything, the uncharacteristic lack of enthusiasm just proved Peter was more human than his DNA conveyed.

With a shrug, Tony turns back to his own work, quickly becoming engrossed again. At some point he distantly registers the kid standing up and wandering away in the direction of the side bathroom, but he hardly gives it a thought.

Some time later - Tony isn’t keeping track - FRIDAY announces, “Mister Hogan has arrived to take Peter home, boss.”

“Damn kid, time flies when you’re having…" Tony trails off, brow furrowing when he sees Peter’s not at his workstation, “…fun.”

He looks all around the lab, but Peter’s nowhere to be found. Yet his backpack’s still here, so where did he go?

Bathroom suddenly pops into his head, and Tony turns to see the door is indeed still closed. Has Peter been in there this whole time…?

Tony strides over, putting his ear to the door for a few seconds. Hearing nothing on the other side, he lifts his head away and gives three brisk knocks.

“Pete? You in there?”

Tony hears some small sort of scuffling on the other side before a small voice calls out, “I’m fine, Mr. Stark. I’ll b-be out in just a minute.”

Tony rolls his eyes. Even with a door between them he knows the kid is lying through his teeth. 

“If you’re fine kid, why don’t you let me in, eh?”

There’s a few moments of silence before he hears a sigh followed by some inaudible muttering. The handle clicks and the door opens to reveal Peter standing before him, one hand clutching his stomach and the other pressing some of his weight against the inside bathroom wall. 

“S-see? I’m fine, Mister Stark.”

Tony takes in the teen, growing more skeptical as he registers Peter’s appearance. The kid is pale - paler than he was even the day after he took down the Vulture when Tony paid him a visit via drone - and on top of that, his brow is slick with sweat.

Shit. The kid isn’t moody, Tony realizes - he’s sick. God, how hadn’t he picked up on it before?

But no– Tony can admonish himself later. First thing first– getting the kid safely home and in bed. 

“Hate to say it, kiddo, but you look like I used to the morning after a dozen martinis. Why didn’t you tell me you were sick?”

Despite seeming like he could hurl at any moment - and Tony suspects that’s exactly what kept the kid in the bathroom so long - Peter manages to look affronted.

“Spider-Man doesn’t get sick, Mister Stark.”

Before Tony can think better of it he raises a hand to Peter’s forehead, concern only rising further at the heat he feels there. “That fever you’re sporting begs to differ, kid.”

Peter looks like he wants to argue but instead he simply closes his eyes, leaning gently into Tony’s cool palm.

Tony can’t help but feel a surge of affection at the way Peter lets out a soft sigh, the arm clasped tightly around his stomach relaxing just a tiny bit.

He’s gotten used to a lot of different reactions from kids since he became Iron Man– giddy excitement, shocked hero worship, quiet shyness… but he’s never had a kid take comfort in him like this before.

The soft moment is broken when Peter lets out a full body shiver, the smallest of brrrr sounds escaping from between slightly chattering teeth.

“Alright, underoos, I think it’s time to get you home before you keel right over,” Tony says, opening the door farther and ushering the kid back into the main area of the lab. He doesn’t second-guess himself when he places a hand on the kid’s back, guiding Peter over to stand by the door before running over and grabbing the kid’s backpack for him.

As he walks back over he spots one of his old MIT hoodies laying across the back of a chair, and snags that too.

“Here, put this on,” he says when he gets back to where Peter stands, raising his arm and holding out the hoodie to the teen. Even as Peter shivers again, he shakes his head, looking at Tony in confusion.

“B-but Mister Stark, I thought I w-was leaving–”

“And you are. With my hoodie. Well, your hoodie if you want to keep it. I got at least a dozen from MIT just like this one.”

When Peter still doesn’t grab the hoodie, Tony lets out a put-upon sigh, setting down the kid’s backpack and starting to lift the garment over Peter’s head like he’s a toddler who needs help dressing. 

“Well, if I must–”

Peter paws at him weakly, barely managing to snatch the hoodie out of his hands and shooting Tony a scowl that’s about as intimidating as a newborn lamb.

“I can put it on by myself, Mister Stark.”

Tony just shrugs his shoulders. “Can you? I couldn’t tell.”

Once Peter has the hoodie all the way on, he leans over - Tony not missing the tiny grunt of pain at the movement - to grab his backpack from the floor, slinging it over a shoulder.

Tony looks him up and down for just a moment, something like pride settling in his gut at the thought of this genius mentee of his actually attending Tony’s alma mater some day– and wow, where did that feeling come from?

With an awkward grunt he gestures to the door, the two of them heading out– Tony ignoring his impulse to wrap an arm around the kid’s shoulders.

They make it all the way out to the garage in silence, Happy waiting in an idling car. Tony opens one of the back doors for Peter who slides in with a soft groan, immediately leaning his head back and closing his eyes.

Tony pauses. “Is Aunt Hottie gonna be home when you get there?”

The kid gives the tiniest of head shakes, eyes staying firmly shut. “Nah, she has a late shift at the hospital,” he murmurs, and Tony doesn’t miss the lament in his voice at the words. 

Tony glances back at the garage side door that leads toward the lab before turning back to the kid, thoughts wavering. Peter is definitely old enough to be home alone with the flu for an evening, and Tony has so much work yet to do…

Tony slides into the backseat next to the teen after only a moment’s hesitation, jostling Peter who lets out a squawk of surprise. 

“Mister Stark, what are you–”

“What does it look like? I’m gonna hang out with you ‘til your aunt gets home.”

Peter eyes go impossibly wide. “But–”

“No buts,” Tony interrupts. “If I let you go home just to be on your own and you get even more sick May will have my head, kid. And your aunt is maybe the scariest person I’ve ever met.”

Peter continues to eye Tony skeptically, before a small smile tips his lips up. 

“Okay, Mister Stark,” he says, before lifting up the back of Tony’s hoodie to wrap around his head. He leans his head back again, face twisted toward Tony.

The sight is frankly nothing short of adorable, and once again Tony finds himself trying to tamp down the weird new emotions he’s feeling.

Tony doesn’t miss the knowing smile Happy throws him, shooting his friend a don’t you dare say a word look in response. Happy just smirks, putting the car into gear. As they make their way to Queens, Tony obstinately stares out the window, though he listens for every soft breath at his side.

He thought the kid had fallen asleep, but halfway there he feels someone’s eyes on him. Tony turns to see Peter watching him with an almost tentative expression, one of the curls at his temple falling into his eyes.

“Can I really keep the hoodie?”

Tony shoots him a look of mild disbelief. “I only take my garments back when the situation involves dumbass decisions and ferry fights, Pete. For the last time, yes– keep the hoodie.”

Peter gives him a weak but genuine smile - his cheeks flushing a tinge of pink that overtakes the ashen skin tone dogging him since he walked into Tony’s lab - before leaning his head against Tony’s shoulder and closing his eyes once more.

Tony looks down at the teen in surprise, body tense. Damnit, he barely knows this kid - was only ever supposed to be his mentor. 

So why does parenting him feel so right?

Ah, to hell with it, Tony finally decides. He never once fought the gut instincts that led to him becoming brothers with Rhodey and then Happy, or falling in love with Pepper– Tony’s not going to fight this either.

He lifts his arm to pull the kid in, Peter letting out a sigh of contentment in response, burrowing even further into Tony’s side like he’s done it a million times before. 

“Thanks, Mister Stark,” Peter says so softly that he barely hears it. Tony can’t help the fond smile that overtakes his features as he watches Peter quickly succumb to sleep against him, safe and warm. 

Well, shit. There goes mentoring, he supposes. 

Tony squeezes Peter’s side gently, pulling him in even closer. “You’re welcome, underoos.”

Parenting it is, then.