Tony dropped his head into his hands, fighting the urge to throw the tablet across the room. This was supposed to be simple. Hell, he'd specifically put the word 'simple' at the end of his search. Building robots was simple. Coding his own AI was simple. But making this stupid birthday cake was decidedly not simple.
It was the first year he would actually see Peter on his birthday. The year before that, Peter had been celebrating with his aunt, and they hadn't quite established a schedule for lab days. The year before, Tony had been doing his best to keep the kid at arm's length while also trying to sell the tower he'd since bought back. It was more convenient for him to have a base in the city...it let him see the kid more often and Peter didn't have to go as far on internship days. Plus Happy was a lot less grumpy when Peter could get himself to the tower vs the days he'd driven him to the compound upstate.
It was Peter's seventeenth birthday, and Tony felt like he was finally getting the hang of this whole mentor thing. He and Peter spent at least one day a week together, there had been more than one occasion when Peter had just stayed the night at the tower, and Tony had converted the guest room he usually stayed in into Peter's bedroom, complete with bed and desk and signed superhero posters. They'd had driving lessons together, although Peter didn't have a car yet. Tony was planning on getting him one for graduation, but he'd have to clear it with May. Maybe if it was a sensible car...or one that he and Peter could build together. After all, the kid would need to know how to fix cars if he was going all the way to MIT.
May was even coming around. After she and Happy had started dating, she'd softened toward him a little, giving her blessing for the sleepovers and internship days as long as Peter had plenty of time for his homework and friends, which Tony agreed with. He didn't want the kid turning into him, growing up before he was ready. It was why he totally supported Peter attending high school for the full four years. Let the kid be a kid...he'd have plenty of time to be an adult.
Peter's birthday just happened to fall on lab day this year, and Tony had reluctantly offered to change their usual day, not wanting the kid to miss out on spending his birthday with his friends. But the kid had responded to his text with an assurance that it was fine. He had to go to school that day anyway, and he said that he and May would be doing something together that weekend...and Tony had been excited.
He'd ordered balloons by the truck-full, filling the living room and kitchen with balloon bouquets in red and blue. He'd wrapped the kid's present and put it on the kitchen counter, then hung a banner from the kitchen ceiling. "Happy Birthday Peter."
And now, staring between the balloons and the banner and the third attempt at baking a birthday cake, he started to feel a grain of doubt in his chest. What if it was too much? What if the kid didn't want any of this? He wasn't Peter's father or uncle or anything resembling family. He was just a mentor. And he didn't doubt that Peter liked spending time with him, but what if the kid didn't want to spend his birthday with Tony? What if this was just over the top and awkward and what if, after this, the kid stopped coming around as much? This is what he'd been afraid of from the beginning, ever since realizing how sweet and earnest and good this kid was. Tony could never maintain relationships with people like Peter...he always ruined them. Always drove them away. And now that he cared so much for Peter...now that he practically loved the kid, he had no idea how he was going to survive losing him.
He was just about to take the balloons down…to start throwing away all these ridiculous invitations and throw out the lopsided two layer cake with messy blue frosting and Peter's name written in sloppy, haphazard red icing, when the elevator chimed and Peter stepped out into the living room. Tony froze, dropping his hands from where they'd been about to grab the cake, and cursed himself for not keeping track of the time. The kid had been a little early recently, probably because he'd been swinging to the tower from school instead of waiting for the bus. He should have known! He should have planned this better.
Peter stood stock-still in the living room, wide eyes taking in the balloons and the banner, then finally falling on the cake and the wrapped box. "Is...Mr. Stark, is this...for me?" he asked haltingly.
"Uh…" Tony forced a smile onto his face. He could save this. He could brush it all off and tell the kid that it had just been a joke. "Yeah, kid. I…"
But before he could say anything else, his arms were full of a bouncy teenager squeezing him so hard that he thought the kid might have broken a rib...not that he minded. The relief he felt was so great that he could barely breathe anyway. Let the kid break his ribs if he wanted.
"You did all this for me?" The kid pulled away, the smile on his face so wide and disbelieving that Tony had to chuckle.
"Yeah, Pete. Happy birthday."
Peter turned to the cake then, and Tony started to cringe, but Peter looked back to him with stars in his eyes. "And you made this? For me?"
"Well, it does say Peter on it so…"
The kid threw his arms around him again, and this time Tony patted his back, ruffling his hair with his other hand. "You didn't have to do this, Mr. Stark!"
"You only turn seventeen once, buddy. I thought we'd make it special." He hesitated, then couldn't help the self-deprecating comment. "Sorry the cake's a mess…"
Peter pulled away, wide-eyed and almost offended. "It's not a mess! It's the best cake ever! Can we have some?"
For a moment, an irrational part of Tony's mind told him that Peter was messing with him. Making fun of him. But Tony dismissed that part of him immediately. This was Peter Parker. The kid didn't have a mean bone in his body, and his face was 100% earnest. He loved the cake. He loved it because Tony had made it for him. "Of course you can. It's your cake, buddy."
They both cut themselves huge slices of cake, carrying them into the living room amongst the balloons and Tony turned the TV to the Office where they rewatched the Dinner Party episode for the thousandth time, Peter laughing at all the same places as the first time they'd watched it. Tony had been a little nervous about sharing one of his favorite shows with the kid, sure the boy had either seen it before, or that he wouldn't like it...that he'd think it was lame or too old or too simple. But the kid had loved it from minute one, and it had become their tradition to watch it together, always picking up where they'd left off. Peter had cried at the finale, wiping his eyes subtly when one character had told the camera that he wished there was a way to know that you were in the good old days before they were gone.
Tony had cried too, glancing down at Peter and knowing that this right here, this time spent with this kid that he was growing to love like his own son...this was the time he would always look back on. And sitting beside Peter on his birthday and watching the kid laugh and stuff his face with cake...Tony knew that this was the beauty in ordinary things another character would talk about in the finale. This was the thing he'd always remember.
When they were finally done with the cake, Tony grabbed Peter's present and dropped it onto the boy's lap, scooting back so that he could face Peter and pausing the TV. "Alright, kiddo. Let's see what you think."
Peter looked down at the little box, cocking his head, then smiling up at Tony. "Mr. Stark, you didn't have to…"
Tony waved him away. "Yeah yeah, I know. Just open it, Pete. You're killing me with anticipation here."
Peter laughed, then tore into the wrapping paper, pulling out the web-shooters with a confused head tilt that made him look like a puppy. "Oh...did you...you improved my web-shooters?"
Tony chuckled. "Even I couldn't improve your original design much. Stand up and put them on." The kid did as he was told, putting them on and standing in the middle of the room, watching Tony with something like nervous anticipation. "Now say Karen."
Peter tilted his head again, that confused smile still on his face. "Okay. Uh...Karen?"
The suit did exactly as Tony had hoped, the nanites bleeding out from the web-shooters and covering the wide-eyed boy with his red and black suit, the nanites moving twice as fast as they did in Tony's suit, covering the kid so quickly that it barely took five seconds for the kid to be completely encased. "Bleeding edge. What do you think?" Tony asked with a grin, crossing his arms a little proudly.
"Mr. Stark...it smells like a new car in here!" Tony laughed, but the kid wasn't done, practically hopping in excitement. "This is so cool! Is this nanotech? I thought you weren't even done putting it in your suit?!"
He wasn't. Peter had become priority number one the moment he'd turned down a spot on the Avengers. Tony was going to protect his kid. At all costs.
"And Karen! You put her in here too!"
"Of course I did. I know you love her."
The kid lifted his hands and Tony figured he was staring at the interface. "Woah...how did you even come up with more web-shooter combinations?"
Tony grinned. "I'm basically Pepper's trophy husband, so I have a lot of free time. If you want the suit to retract, just think about it."
The lenses on the iron spider suit closed, and he had to hold back laughter as the suit retracted, revealing Peter's 'concentrating' face. When he opened his eyes, he stared down at his own skin incredulously. "This...Mr Stark, this is the coolest present ever!" He cried, practically jumping up and down, and this time Tony was prepared for the hug. He stood up, wrapping his arms around Peter and patting him on the back as the kid hopped in place. "Thank you."
"You're welcome, buddy. I'm glad you like it. I figured it was time for an upgrade." He stepped back, hands on Peter's shoulders as he grinned at the boy who wasn't so much a boy anymore. He was a young man. And Tony was so, so proud of him. "Happy birthday, Peter."
They never made it down to the lab that day. Instead they watched the Office and ate more cake. They ordered pizza and Peter ate most of the cake for dessert, and then Peter insisted on getting a picture of the two of them with all of the balloons. Tony put up a token protest, but in the end, he was happy to let the kid drag him over to the balloon bouquets, the two of them smiling at the camera, his arm around Peter as the boy took the picture. And then they went back to watching TV on the sofa, Peter eventually dozing off on Tony's shoulder thanks to the copious amounts of sugar and bread he'd eaten. He ended up spending the night, and the next day, he invited Tony to tag along with him and May for Peter's official birthday dinner.
Peter texted him a copy of the picture they'd taken later, and Tony had it framed, placing it on his desk where it would remain for the rest of his long life.