Peter needs to change his ringtone to something less incriminating. Really, he keeps meaning to do it, but every time he opens his settings he gets distracted by the notification that he’s out of storage when he’s really not out of storage, and he ends up changing his wallpaper, somehow, and then he forgets to turn his ringer off and he’s in second period and his phone starts wailing the THX opening sound because he left his phone unlocked around MJ one time and she is truly creative with her pranks.
“Oh shit,” Peter says, fumbling it off his desk to flick the ringer off. “Lo siento,” he adds, looking to his teacher, flushing brilliantly over the curves of his ears.
Señor waves a hand and continues with his presentation on authentic Mexican cuisine. Señor is pretty chill, when it comes down to it. He always brings those Entenmann’s boxed donuts to school and tells his favorite students they have “detention,” which really means “come into school a half hour early and I’ll be waiting in my classroom with enough dessert to give diabetes to the entire Spanish Armada.” He grades like a loon, but it’s an even trade. Peter is well-fed in crumb cake and Ding-Dongs.
When he’s sure Señor’s eyes are locked on the white board, he grabs his phone from the pocket of his jacket and stands it against the screen of his laptop, hidden from the view of anyone who isn’t behind him. Which is no one, thankfully, because he really is the asshole who sits in the back row on the first day and naps until June.
A text from Tony sits on his lock screen. That isn’t unusual by any means, but it’s sort of strange that it’s coming now, when Peter is certain Tony is meant to be in a meeting about the Actual Goddamn Accords with the Actual Goddamn Rogue Avengers.
He opens the notification.
Today, 9:20 AM
[Let’s play 8 Ball!]
are you… okay?
play the ball
i command it
Ah. Good old avoidance tactics. Peter knows all about those. Intimately.
no wait really
like, answer the question
just this meeting, i’m on the verge of a complete mental breakdown
but other than that, i’m good, everything is so good
Shit i hit the black ball in
i’m off my game
i can’t believe you just executed that extremely difficult move
when you had no intention to
you could never recreate that
also like rip your mental state i guess but i’m in spanish so
idk how to, like, fix it rn
my b thought you had a free period
pay attention, you need to fill ur brain with smartness
you dare say that to me when ur in a meeting about the
ACTUAL GODDAMN ACCORDS
[sent with Slam Effect]
right now ???
the Actual Goddamn Accords give me agita
i mean, u also give me agita
sources say that is the nicest thing tony stark
has ever said to peter parker ever, historically
Peter rolls his eyes. He gives a cursory glance to the board at the front of the room and sees it covered with pictures of pozole in a handful of different sauces. Nice.
By the time he looks back at his phone, he has another Let’s Play 8 Ball! text from Tony.
He sighs deeply. He’ll research authentic Mexican cuisine on his own time, he guesses.
He clicks the game open and starts to play. If this is what it takes to keep Tony sane and occupied while surrounded by people that definitely tried to kill him that one time and probably scarred him for life, he’ll do it. It’s hardly the most taxing or degrading thing he’d do for Tony.
Even if Tony kicks his ass four times over.
have you ever MET an angle, kid
this is ridiculous
me? PHYSICS?? not in this universe
you literally swing between buildings for fun
isn’t that vectors and force and momentum,
angle of approach or whatever
my brain does all those calculations for me
sdjkaljkaslk idk what to tell u
can ur brain Just Do the calculation that can yeet me from this meeting
did i use that right?
omg the padawan becomes the master
can you come pick me up, i’m scared
i can’t even drive
like, really, are u okay
i’ll be fine, kid.
i’m resilient as shit
just bored, annoyed, and wildly uncomfortable.
perhaps an encroaching migraine. almost
definitely one of those, actually.
and they didn’t even supply GOOD COFFEE. the AUDACITY!
:o how dare they
wow i hate the implications of that
what are you thinking, weirdo
Peter starts to type up an answer—something completely unrelated to what he’s actually thinking, obviously, to throw Tony off the stench—but the bell rings, startling Peter so completely that he nearly tosses his phone.
Calc exam next period. That sounds—excellent, extremely good, great, he’s totally ready. Well, actually, he is ready, Calc is his shit, but exams. Speaking of the audacity.
He shoves his phone into his jacket pocket and hopes that Tony can handle himself for an hour or so, or until Peter gets a chance to check his messages again. Maybe he can get Colonel Rhodes to play with him. Or Natasha. Peter bets Nat would answer, and she’d probably beat him, too, which Tony totally deserves.
Peter shoulders his backpack, concern itching at the nape of his neck, and heads to Calc.
Tony hates this meeting.
He really does. He doesn’t think he’s ever felt this level of discomfort and disgust and disdain and all those other lovely d-words in his entire life. Like, having conversations with his old man was less awkward than this shit.
He sits at the far end of the conference table, leaned back as far as decorum will allow, legs crossed to give the impression that he’s completely aloof and unbothered by this entire situation when in reality he is, in fact, the most bothered.
Ross has been droning on for a good twenty minutes straight. He’s reading from a huge stack of papers and he’s only about a quarter of the way through them.
Tony doesn’t actually need to listen. He’s gone over them a million and one times, and even written some of them. Section 17.B, Charter A) the occurrence of a Class A misdemeanour made by a member of the Avengers Initiative upon foreign soil is a chargeable offence and can result in up to one year of jail time or a payment of $5,000...
“Wait a second,” Wilson pipes up, “you’re telling me that I’m gonna be charged real money to punch a bad guy in the face?”
Tony resists the urge to eye roll into the next room. “This is all standard stuff. The same charges are applicable to the average American citizen for the same type of offense—”
“I know that, dude,” Wilson says, “but you know as well as I do that what we do is different. Shit can get real heated real fast.”
“You just have to ask for clearance first,” Tony says. “None of this applies if your mission is approved by the government of the nation you need to, y’know, fight in.”
Wilson is clearly biting back something else, but Tony’s already returned his attention to his phone. He’s been texting Peter under the table on and off for, like, three hours, but his last few messages haven’t even been read yet.
i’m literally begging you with the entirety
of my being
all of my molecules
all of my atoms
they’re screaming for escape
A minute passes. Ross turns a page. To Tony’s left, Natasha’s eyes start to drift shut. He aims a quick kick to her calf and gives her a Look when she starts awake.
Nat sticks her tongue out at him.
Tony returns to his phone.
are you dead
“Stark, are we boring you?”
His gaze snaps up and lands on Ross, who’s looking at him expectantly. “Of course not, darling.”
“Is that sarcasm?”
“Me? Sarcastic? Never.”
Ross gives a long-suffering sigh. “Rogers here wants to negotiate Barnes’ terms.”
Tony’s stomach drops a little. It’s not that he’s scared of Barnes or even dislikes him—he’s had a lot of time to think about what went down in that Siberian bunker and what the Winter Soldier did to his parents. Sitting here, now, seven feet away from the man who choked his mother to death, it’s more apparent than ever that he’s dealing with two separate entities: the Soldier and Sergeant Barnes, one ruthless and completely devoid of emotion, the other broken down like a beaten dog.
His eyes are… well, they’re really sad. It’s hard not to sympathise. Plus he’s got that whole dejected body language going on, crowding into himself like he wants to take up as little space as humanly possible.
Tony gets that.
So he turns the phone off. “What are the terms?”
“I just think that five years of house arrest is a little too harsh,” Rogers says for Barnes. “Buck’s already spent time in Wakanda recovering. He’s better now, and he’s already lost so much of his life to HYDRA—”
“I would be amenable to cutting the time in half,” Tony says to Ross. “But it’s your call.”
Ross sighs and considers it, like they haven’t already had this discussion a dozen times over. The last time it had ended in screaming and a broken mug. Tony’s pretty sure there’s still a shard of ceramic somewhere in this room that he missed when he was cleaning up.
Ross scratches his chin.
Tony is gonna kill him.
“Three years,” he finally concedes, “but we get custody of the arm.”
“No,” Tony and Steve say at the same time.
They look at each other.
Tony goes on. “That arm doesn’t belong to the U.S. Government in any capacity. It’s a creation of Wakanda and it’s a part of Barnes’ anatomy. The same argument I’d use to defend the continued possession of my suit, I’d use for him. It’s a prosthetic.”
“It’s a weapon.”
“Yeah, and if some old cretin rips his fake leg off in a donut shop to whack his buddy over the head, his prosthetic is a weapon too. Your argument is totally invalid here. No arm.”
“No arm. Two and a half years of house arrest with a tracker.”
Ross is furious, but he’s not about to throw a fit in front of all of these people. He shakes his head with disgust but then says, “Fine.”
“Was that so hard?”
“Tony,” Nat hisses warningly.
Ross clears his throat loudly. “Back to business: sub-section 17.C demands that all Avengers check their weapons upon exit and reentry into the United States of—”
The door to the conference room slams open.
Eight heads whip around and there’s Peter, panting and gripping the wall. “Tony, you gotta help me.”
For half a second Tony actually falls for it. “What is it?”
“I feel… death’s cold grip…”
Peter promptly faints.
But it’s not, like, neat and clean or even believable. He catches his weight with his elbow when he goes down and comically sticks out his tongue. Steve Rogers still shoots out of his chair in a panic.
“Oh no, he’s dead. Well!” Tony claps his hands together and stands up, “Guess I’ll have to go bury him out back, might take a while, feel free to continue without me.”
He looks down at Peter just in time to catch the kid winking at Natasha, who snorts. “I don’t get paid enough for this shit.”
Barnes turns from Peter’s prone form. “You guys are getting paid?”
Tony goes over to Peter, who abruptly sits up with a dramatic, half-drowned gasp. “I lived, bitch!”
“What did you see in the afterworld?”
“Beyoncé on a cloud arm in arm with Ghandi,” Peter says. “It was beautiful.”
“Pardon me,” Ross snaps, “but who in the hell is this?”
“Oh, what, you mean you haven’t heard of me? I’m Peter Stark, Tony’s long-lost secret love child—”
Tony covers Peter’s mouth. “That’s enough,” he says, while Nat stifles a laugh behind him. “Very funny, kiddo, but you should probably go.”
“But I need help with my Calculus homework.”
“I’ve literally never heard anything as stupid as what you just said. There’s no way you need help with your Calc homework, you could do it in your sleep—”
“Tony,” Peter snaps, “I need. Your help. With my homework.”
He turns back to the others. “An urgent matter has come up. I apologise, but it simply can’t wait.”
Tony is already ushering Peter out the door.
“Pepper sent you?”
“Yeah. She said that it wasn’t fair for you to have to sit in a meeting that went on longer than a school day.”
Tony nods. “Makes sense. She’s perfect like that. So do you actually have homework or are we free to mess around in the lab? Because I’ve got some new specs I wanna show you for a suit and I was thinking we could tinker with the colour a little bit—”
He doesn’t need to turn around to know who’s calling after him. “Steve,” he says, waiting for him to jog up.
“I, uh,” Steve runs a hand through his hair, “I just wanted to thank you for looking after Buck in there.”
“Yeah, well, you know,” he sniffs, “no big deal. What’s fair is fair, I guess.”
“Technically fairness would indicate no punishment since Barnes isn’t actually responsible for anything the Winter Soldier did—”
Tony again claps a hand over Peter’s mouth. “Sorry, you know how tactless toddlers can be.”
Peter licks his palm, which Tony promptly rips away in sheer disgust. “You lizard!”
Peter laughs. “You had it coming.”
Tony makes a face and wipes his hand dry, looking back at Steve—who actually has this really dopey expression on his face, all fond and everything, and somehow the beard just makes it so much worse. He’s like a proud uncle or something.
“You know,” he starts, “TMZ had some really interesting things to say about you two—”
“It’s not true,” Tony blurts.
Peter grins. “You wish it was.”
“I do not,” he denies, and then hesitates. “Maybe a little. Anyway, did you have anything else you needed, Spangles, or...?”
Steve’s mouth quirks up at the sound of the old nickname. He shakes his head. “Nothin’. Just thanks. And sorry.”
“Again? I already received your fifty texts and emails.”
“You never replied.”
Tony squints. “I was busy.”
Steve nods and then, like an idiot, offers his hand for Peter to shake. The whole exchange is brutally awkward and Tony is pretty sure the only reason Steve doesn’t shake his hand too, is because it’s covered in reptile spit.
They watch him retreat. Then Peter says, “I read another article that suggested the beard was a symbol of Steve’s repressed love for his long-lost soulmate, Bucky Barnes.”
“Wow,” Tony deadpans. “That is... spot on.”
“I know, right?”
“Hm,” Tony says, letting that thought marinate a moment longer. He claps. “Alright, enough of that. Suit. Colors. Right? Cool? Fun.”
Tony starts walking, well aware that Peter will bob along at his side like a poor lost puppy. Peter keeps stride, but he’s shooting these furtive little glances at Tony, who might act like he enjoys all eyes on him all the time but it’s actually his greatest nightmare ever, pretty much, and so he says (with maybe a little too much salt), “What, do I have something on my face?”
“Yeah,” Peter says, and he prods Tony’s beard. “Pretty disgusting, if you ask me. Might want to take care of that before anyone else sees it.”
“You’re a brat,” Tony proclaims, stopping at the elevator. He pushes the button with his elbow because he keeps his building clean, thank you very much. No lizard spit where other people—people who aren’t enamored of all Peter’s disgusting quirks—can touch it.
They walk on side by side. When the door closes, Tony finally slumps against the wall, squeezing the bridge of his nose with his thumb and pointer finger. The headache itself isn’t awful, but shit if the tension and nausea don’t make him want to find a very deep hole and accidentally fall into it.
“I wonder if the rest of them are still in there,” Peter says. He bounces where he stands, looking through the glass walls of the elevator as they woosh down a few dozen floors. Tony wonders idly if Peter’s enhanced eyesight allows him to see what’s moving too quickly for Tony’s eye to catch.
“If Ross is there,” Tony says, massaging his temples, “then the rest of them ran out as quickly as they could manage. Anyone with an ounce of sense would rather hurtle through actual space without a suit than talk to that bastard.”
“He seems pretty terrible,” Peter agrees, eyeing Tony again.
“Oh, c’mon, kid,” Tony sighs. The doors open with a ding and they advance down the hallway towards the entrance to Tony’s lab. “Whatever it is, out with it.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Peter blurts out, leaning forward, eyes wide and achingly earnest. “Like, I know we joke about it a lot, but that probably really sucked for you and I want to make sure—”
“Holy shit,” Tony interrupts. His hand comes up to stop Peter where he stands. “There’s a spider on the lab table. A big, scary spider.”
Nat hisses and then flashes her signature smirk. “I came to wait for you.” She’s sitting criss-crossed and picking at her nails with the end of a screwdriver. She also looks surprisingly pale, almost weakened—as if her impersonal remoteness during the meeting was just as forced as Tony’s had been.
“Cute,” Tony squints at her and then at Peter, who has a knot between his brows. “I’ll allow it. Just this once.”
“As if you could stop me,” she says dryly. Tony’s known her long enough to catch the way she relaxes. It’s like her aura sighs or something. It’s weird and annoyingly endearing.
“So that meeting sounded pretty freaking horrendous,” Peter says pointedly, his hands behind his back, rocking on his toes. “Sounds like it must have been very distressing, emotionally speaking. Terrible, very bad. Very much, um, traumatic.”
“Mm,” Nat offers.
Tony ignores it. The kid doesn’t need to hear him complain about something so far out of his sightline. The Accords will have nothing to do with anything Peter does—Tony has made shit-sure of that—so there’s no reason to harp on it.
He falls heavily into his chair at the lab bench with a sigh. His back is tight from sitting all day. God, he hates being old.
Peter tries again. “I’m sure you’re both probably really exhausted. Maybe even upset. Distressed?”
“Pete,” Tony says tiredly. “What do you want from us, really?”
“I wanna help,” Peter whines, throwing his arms out. “You both look like crap. Take a nap . Let me get you a snack or something.” He snaps his fingers as if struck with a brilliant thought. “Do you have Gushers? Those always make me feel better.”
Nat, dropping her feet onto Tony’s legs over the table’s edge, says, “Don’t worry about us, little spinner. Once you reach Tony’s age, silence is loud enough to give you a headache.”
“I never said I had a headache,” Tony retorts petulantly.
“You said you had a migraine, like, hours ago,” Peter says. “Should I call Pepper? She’ll knock some sense into you both, I bet.”
Tony digs a thumb into the spot between his eyes. “You wouldn’t dare.” Nat kicks him gently on the chest, staring intently, like she’s trying to reassure him she’s still there.
“Oh, but I would dare,” Peter says. “I will dare. I’ll make FRIDAY get her right now if both of you don’t go sit on the couch and rest for, like, an hour. At least.”
Tony says, “I thought we were gonna tinker. Dabble. Potter about.”
“Another day,” Peter assures, coming over and taking Tony by the shoulders, standing him up. He reaches a hand out to Nat, making a little grabby motion. She rolls her eyes but stands.
He pushes them both to the couch, which wheezes a little under their combined weight. He and Nat scoot down in tandem, making themselves comfortable in the crease, knees and elbows poking, a merry mess of themselves. Peter shakes out the throw blanket Tony keeps here for when his dork of a kid knocks out mid-lab-bender. It falls over their laps. Tony looks up at Peter peevishly.
“Stay,” Peter commands. “I’m going to get you Advil. And soup. Soup fixes everything. You’ve gotta have soup in the fridge, right?” Peter turns, and starts his way out, scratching his ear. “FRIDAY, he’s probably got soup, right?”
“I can’t see inside the fridge, Peter,” she says.
“Liar. You probably have hidden cameras inside everyone’s asses—” The doors of the lab close behind him.
Nat punches Tony in the arm. “You’ve got a pretty good long-lost secret love child over there.”
Tony hums, staring at the closed doors. His chest is all warm and goopy and disgusting. He hates it. (No, he doesn’t.)
“The best,” he corrects. “I’ve got the best kid.”