Tony tapped his foot as he waited patiently for Peter to pick up the phone.
“Hi, Mr. Stark,” Peter’s voice finally said.
“Hey, kid, just calling to check in.” Tony spun idly in his desk chair, stretching his neck to try to rid it of a kink.
“That’s nice of you.”
“Uh-huh. So how are you?” Tony asked.
There was a long beat of silence. Tony raised an eyebrow.
An anxious hum, too high to be nonchalant despite Peter’s apparent efforts.
Yep, that’s what he thought. Classic avoidance techniques. Peter didn’t want to tell him the truth, but physically couldn’t lie to him. The only solution was to not say anything at all.
“Answer me, please.”
“I don’t want to,” Peter said firmly.
“Yes, because you’re clearly trying to hide something,” Tony replied, smirking.
“Yes, I am.”
“What’s up, Pete?”
Peter’s voice was whiny when he answered, and a little muffled like he was laying with his face smushed into a pillow. “I have a fever and my head hurts and May’s gone and I hate being alon—Ugh, I didn’t want to tell you!”
Tony laughed. The compulsion to answer a direct question from your soulmate was usually too much to avoid for long. Soulmates were rare, and the people who didn’t have them often debated about the ethics of forced truth-telling, but Tony had found that he never really minded. Peter almost never abused the power anyway, and when he did, it was for Tony’s own good. He tried to be as respectful about Peter’s non-answers.
“And why is that?” he asked, already grabbing his car keys.
“Because I don’t want you to think I’m some wimpy kid,” Peter muttered petulantly.
“You are a kid, buddy, but you’re definitely not a wimp,” Tony said, his own soulmate-candor seeping through.
Peter groaned miserably. “Can you come?”
“Already on my way,” Tony assured.
Tony let himself into the Parker apartment with the set of keys May had given him after Peter’s double life—and inadvertently the fact that he was soulmates with Tony Stark—had been revealed.
“Pete?” Tony called as he closed the door behind him, dropping his keys and a grocery bag with sick supplies on the table.
“In here,” Peter replied. Tony followed his sullen voice to the door of the kid’s room, fighting a smile as he peered in and saw Peter curled up in a ball on his bed, his eyes the only thing visible under the layers of blankets he’d piled on himself.
“Hey, buddy. Sick, huh?”
Peter just grunted. Tony came closer and put his hand on Peter’s forehead, frowning at the heat coming off of him.
“Yikes, kiddo.” Tony’s voice was soft and warm, that special tone he only adopted for Peter. “Are you sick to your stomach?”
“No,” Peter murmured, actively nuzzling into Tony’s palm like a cat. Tony had never seen Peter sick before, but he had seen him on pain meds and the boy was clingier than an octopus, so Tony wasn’t that surprised.
“Can I get you something to eat? I brought soup.”
Peter froze, squinting up at Tony with one eye. “Your soup?”
“No, from the deli down the street,” Tony said, confused.
“Oh, ok. That sounds good.”
“Hey, are you telling me my soup doesn’t sound good?” Tony asked, affronted. He’d made that for Peter a couple months ago, when he’d been out in a snow storm helping people dig out their cars. Now that he thought about it, Peter had never actually commented on the quality of it, just thanked him for his thoughtfulness. “Don’t you like my soup?”
Peter bit his lip, looking up at Tony with wide eyes and saying nothing, which was an answer in itself.
“You were very nice to make it for me,” Peter said, peering up at Tony apologetically, a bashful smile on his face.
“Oh, I’m nice, am I?” Tony asked, levering the boy up and beginning to gather up his blankets so he could move Peter to the living room for him to eat. “Come all the way over here when you’re sick and you insult my soup.”
“I didn’t say anything bad about your soup,” Peter pointed out. Tony wagged a finger in his face, squinting with exaggerated offense.
“You implied.” Peter snorted, rolling his eyes. He stood up, then nearly collapsed back onto the bed, saved only by Tony’s reflexes.
Tony steadied Peter against his side, letting him wrap his arm around Tony’s waist and lean his head on his shoulder.
“You’re probably dehydrated, too,” Tony murmured, rubbing the back of Peter’s neck.
“Probably,” Peter sighed.
“Come on, easy does it.” Together, they walked to the living room and Tony got Peter settled on the couch.
“There you go. And because I’m so very nice,” Tony said, shooting Peter a teasing wink that got a tired smile in return. “I brought your favorite blanket.”
Peter perked up a little, reaching for the thick, knitted blanket and sighing happily as Tony tucked it around him. Peter immediately pulled it all the way up to his chin, burrowing into the soft fabric.
“You’re adorable.” The words spilled out of Tony before he could tell himself to not open his mouth.
That was a side-effect of the soulmate bond people didn’t talk about much. It wasn’t just that you had to tell the truth when you spoke, there was this compulsion to speak: To answer every question, say every thought. You had to physically keep your mouth shut or the truth would leak out anyway. He supposed it meant that there were no secrets between soulmates, but there were some things—like the fact that Peter being curled up in his mom’s blanket, flushed with fever and cuddly, was one of the cutest things he’d ever seen—that wouldn’t hurt to stay in Tony’s head.
Peter opened his eyes and grinned up at him and Tony had to concede that maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing to say after all.
“How adorable?” Peter asked mischievously. Never mind. He regretted the words very much.
Rolling his eyes, Tony let himself answer, knowing that it would cheer Peter up a little bit. “The most adorable kid in the whole world,” he said, deadpan. It was true—it had to be true—but Tony could still make it his.
Peter blushed, pulling the blanket up in an attempt to hide it. “Mr. Stark,” he said, his voice both touched and embarrassed.
Tony huffed, shaking his head in fond exasperation, then went to get Peter his soup.
Tony turned on Stargate SG-1 while Peter ate, mostly tuning it out and answering emails on his phone. When the kid put his bowl on the floor and laid down with his feet in Tony’s lap, Tony looked over at him.
“Feeling any better?” he asked.
Peter shrugged, meaning he didn’t but didn’t want to tell Tony that.
“I’m sorry, kiddo. I wish I could fix it,” Tony said earnestly. He reached over and patted Peter’s hip comfortingly, then jumped when Peter flinched and yelped in pain.
“What was that?” Tony asked, his heart beating faster in surprise and worry.
“My hip,” Peter winced, then bit his lip.
Growling, Tony pulled the blanket off Peter then yanked his t-shirt up enough to see the red, swollen gash curving around his hip bone.
“Peter,” Tony hissed. “This is infected.”
“I know,” Peter whimpered, burying his face in a throw pillow.
“You know. You know? You said you were sick, how did you even—”
“I never said I was sick,” Peter interrupted, managing to look ashamed and indignant in a way only a teenager could.
“Ugh, Peter!” Tony said, standing up and stomping toward the kitchen where May kept the first aid kit. “Just because there are ways to get around the truth compulsion doesn’t mean you should.”
He came back and sat on the coffee table, opening the medical kit and unceremoniously tugging Peter’s shirt back up to get a better look at the injury.
“We’re supposed to trust each other with everything,” Tony growled. “How can I trust you when you keep important things from me?”
Peter scowled. “It’s nothing. I already cleaned it out earlier, it’s just still healing.”
“Right,” Tony scoffed. “I’m going to believe that when it took me hurting you to find out in the first place.”
“I can’t lie, remember? This is why I didn’t tell you!” Peter shoved Tony’s hands away then shakily pushed himself up to his feet. “All you do is lecture me. I don’t need you to take care of me, I just wanted you to be here.”
Tony exhaled heavily, standing as well. “Clearly, you do!” His heart was pounding in his chest, anger and fear and hurt all at once. He rubbed his left arm, hissing under his breath. “Of all the people to be my soulmate, why’d I have to get Spider-Man?”
There was a thud. Tony looked up to find Peter staring at him, his eyes huge, tears already gathering. He’d slumped against the wall, in exhaustion or shock, Tony couldn’t tell, but then his cheeks flushed red and he straightened, his eyebrows furrowing.
“Well, I’m sorry we got thrown together, then,” he snapped. Tony wasn’t sure if it was because of his tone, the pain on his face, or the words themselves, but Tony’s response was a gut reaction.
Then they both froze. Because arguing was one thing when you weren’t soulmates, when you could lie just to hurt. But when every word that you ever said to each other was honest, cruel words hurt even more.
“Pete, I didn’t mean—”
“Yeah, you did,” Peter said. He was leaning against the wall for support and it made Tony’s chest ache. “You couldn’t have said it if you didn’t.”
“Let me explain.”
“I don’t want—”
“It terrifies me.” Tony spoke over Peter’s protest, his heart in his throat. Peter stopped talking. “Knowing that you’re out there getting hurt is bad enough, but that you would... do everything you could to keep it from me. Peter, I’ve tried to keep things from you before and I know how much you have to fight to do it. The fact that you would go to such extremes to hide that you’re hurt—that’s a whole other level of fear that I can’t even put into words, kid, cause if you died, I would—I would die, I think.”
Peter’s bottom lip trembled and a tear spilled down his cheek. Tony’s breath caught, but he didn’t let himself move yet.
“I’m so proud of you,” he whispered. “For being Spider-Man. I didn’t mean I don’t want you as my soulmate. I don’t want anyone but you. Peter Parker, Spider-Man, all of it, I just... I just wish it didn’t mean this—” He gestured to the first aid kid, to Peter’s pale face. The words came easily, more easily than they did with anyone else. Not even Pepper could make him open up the way Peter could. He wasn’t sure if that was because of the soulmate bond or just because it was Peter.
“You said you were sorry we’re soulmates,” Peter reminded him, still crying. “You said it, so it’s true.”
Tony shrugged, helpless. “Cause I’m not good enough for you, Peter. I wish you’d gotten someone you didn’t feel the need to lie to.”
“I don’t mean to lie to you,” Peter hiccupped. “I just... I wanted you to come and watch a movie with me and hold me and cheer me up while I waited for it to heal. I don’t like worrying you, I—I just wanted you to be here,” he repeated.
“I am here.”
“Yeah,” Peter said, his voice breaking. He bit his lip as if holding something back, but then seemed to catch himself and spoke anyway. “You’re good enough. You are—you’re the best.”
“Peter,” Tony breathed.
“I want you to hug me,” Peter blurted out, his cheeks pink but his chin held high.
Tony didn’t need to be told twice. He took two strides forward and wrapped Peter in his arms, letting the boy lean his weight against him rather than the wall. Peter’s breath was still catching, stray tears dripping onto Tony’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry I lecture you so much,” Tony sighed. “I’ll try to be better.”
“I’m sorry I hide things from you. I don’t do it because I don’t trust you.”
Tony tangled his fingers in Peter’s slightly sweaty hair, humming. “I get it. You’re a teenager. If I had to tell the truth all the time when I was a teenager, I would have gone insane.”
Peter hummed, pressed his forehead against Tony’s throat.
“Can we start the movie watching and cuddling now?” Peter asked after another long moment.
Tony huffed a laugh. “That depends. Can I check your hip, just to make sure it’s clean?”
Peter sighed, sounding put upon, but he agreed.
Fifteen minutes later, they were once again on the couch, Peter’s wound freshly rinsed and bandaged. He was curled up under the knitted blanket again, his head on Tony’s thigh.
As the opening credits of the Princess Bride played, Peter turned onto his back and looked up at Tony with a small smile on his face. Tony brushed the bangs away from his forehead and gave him a questioning look.
“Thanks for coming, Mr. Stark,” Peter said softly.
Tony brushed his thumb under Peter’s eye. “What are soulmates for?”
“I don’t know, to love you or something,” Peter murmured, his voice sleepy.
Tony smiled. “Yeah. Love you,” he whispered to Peter, pressing his palm over the boy’s heart. “Or something.”
And Peter beamed up at him, because he knew it was true.