“It’ll wash out right?” Peter asks for the millionth time that morning.
“That’s the goal.”
“What do you mean, ‘that’s the goal?’” he demands. “It’s not a guarantee? Are you telling me I could be stuck with purple hair for an indefinite amount of time?”
MJ straightens his head so he’s looking back at the mirror instead of twisting around. It’s too late to stop now, given that she’s already mid-way through the dyeing process. It had taken her weeks to convince him to let her do it—mostly because she wants to see how it turns out on someone expendable before she tries the red on Wanda.
“MJ,” he whines.
“It’ll wash out,” she promises distractedly.
“But what if it doesn’t? What if I’m stuck like this forever? Oh my god, people are gonna start calling me Barney the Dinosaur.”
MJ hums. “Did you know the dude who played him used to keep cocaine in the tail of the suit?”
Peter grins at her reflection. “I love you.”
It’s funny how he says stuff like that all the time but it still sends her into an existential spiral. Sure, her parents are okay: they feed her and make sure she’s clothed and give her money if she needs it, but they’ve never really been good with affection. Physical things like kisses on the cheek or hugs or hand holding still throw her to this day, because she’s just not used to it. Worse: the verbal expression of feelings, the mortifying ordeal of being known.
But for Peter it’s easy. For Peter it’s like breathing. He never learned to shy away from things like that, doesn’t stiffen when someone touches him.
The worst part is, MJ has discovered that the cold, blunt exterior she’s put on for years is actually just a front for a touch-starved fucking marshmallow. The first time Peter had ever kissed her forehead she’d like, melted. It was embarrassing for her, but he hadn’t even seemed to notice the way all of the tension in her body had ceased to exist, or how all of the knots in her stomach had uncoiled.
Suffice to say she blushes and tries very hard not to look at him. If she does she might do something gross like say it back.
“Do you think it’ll look good?”
MJ rolls her eyes. “You’d look good with any hair colour.”
His eyes light up. “Really?”
MJ tugs on a curl so his ego doesn’t inflate. He gasps and then whines again. She grins. “Oops.”
Peter pouts. He looks kind of ridiculous right now, burritoed in an old Finding Nemo beach towel with purple streaks of dye on his chin and nose. She finds herself thumbing them away, all up close and in his space. He turns his head to look at her and he’s smirking a little, and his eyes have that softness to them, and oh no! suddenly they’re kissing.
The next thing she knows she’s being spritzed with something wet and cold. MJ rounds and finds Ned on her bed, squirting at her with the bottle she uses to water her cacti.
“Disgusting,” Ned proclaims before she can even yell at him. “I’m trying to exist here.”
MJ points the dye brush at him. “I will cut you.”
“No, he’s right,” Wanda calls from MJ’s bedroom floor, where she’s situated playing video games and ‘doing homework’—multi-tasking my ass, MJ thinks. “If the two of you could refrain from sucking face for like, ten minutes, that would be amazing.”
“You can’t even see!” MJ snaps, leaning around the corner to glare at her.
“But I can hear,” Wanda says dryly, “and that’s almost worse.”
MJ’s cheeks flame. She ducks back into the bathroom and returns to Peter’s hair. He opens his mouth to speak.
“Don’t say anything,” she cuts across.
Peter grins. “Yes, ma’am.”
Idiot. She’s in love with an idiot and her friends are idiots, too. Well, not Wanda. She is, after all, a legitimate Avenger with really cool mind-control powers, plus she sometimes calls MJ at three in the morning just to talk and MJ, who usually sketches the whole night through anyway (because she is a complete dolphin and only ever half-sleeps), is always grateful for the distraction. Also she brings snacks and coffee when they hang out. And she always compliments MJ’s drawings—she even has one hung up in her bedroom.
Ned on the other hand? Equal parts evil menace and adorable nugget.
“I’m not fuming.”
“Really? Because there’s a mirror right in front of my face and unless you’re trying to imply you’re some kind of a vampire—”
“Just shush,” she says, straightening his head again. “I’m almost done.”
“Alright Count von Count.”
MJ literally has to pause just to shove down her laughter. She irately returns to the task at hand but after a few minutes of relative calm—minus the sound of Ned taking notes and Wanda’s video game effects (which include but are not limited to: muffled Wilhelm screams, choking noises, and gunshots)—her anger fades.
She is Mother Gothel and Peter is Rapunzel.
Her touches turn gentle and his head starts to loll, eyes fluttering shut. MJ assumes he’s just falling asleep until he literally fucking faceplants against the rim of the sink.
“Oh my god!” she screams, unable to stop him from falling right out of his chair. “Peter, what the fuck?”
“What happened?!” Wanda demands.
“I don’t know! I think he passed out or something!”
She leans over him while Ned comes running over. Like an idiot, he starts spraying Peter with the stupid water bottle.
“Dude, what are you doing?!”
“Trying to wake him up!”
MJ snatches it away. She goes back to listening for a heartbeat and to her immense relief finds one, but there’s a gash on his forehead now and it’s bleeding down either side.
“Fuck,” she breathes, jostling him. “Peter? Wake up! Peter!”
Nothing. Wanda squeezes into the bathroom. “Move over.”
“What? No, we have to get him to the hospital or something—”
“MJ,” Wanda’s fingertips start to glow, “move please.”
MJ scrambles off of her boyfriend. Wanda then places her hands on either side of Peter’s head. She closes her eyes, breathes deeply, and says, “Wake.”
Peter’s eyes shoot open and he gasps, sitting up so quickly he almost knocks skulls with Wanda. She has the foresight to move, though.
MJ grabs for Peter. Her heart is pounding so loudly she’s pretty sure everyone can hear it. “Peter? Are you okay? How many fingers am I holding up?”
Peter blinks. “Wow, I am so disappointed you didn’t use that as an opportunity to flip me off.”
“Four,” he says, and then, “ow.”
MJ tackles him in a hug. It’s probably not the wisest course of action but she can’t help it. “You scared the shit out of me,” she breathes.
“Oh, sorry,” he says, like a moron. “I’m fine though.”
“It’ll heal,” he tells her dismissively. “Don’t worry, this happens to me all the time.”
MJ blinks. “What.”
“I just said it’s not a big deal!”
“It is so a big deal! You could’ve died!”
“MJ, I love you, but I have literally gone headfirst through concrete before. This is nothing.”
To say she’s severely disturbed is an understatement. MJ looks to Wanda for support, but the witch is still scrutinising Peter with narrowed eyes. She looks kind of like she’s in a trance when she reaches out, fingertips red, and tries to touch them to his temples.
“Ah!” Peter leans away. “What have we said about non-consensual mind reading?”
Her shoulders slump. “Sorry, I just… your energy is significantly depleted. I think that’s why you passed out.”
He shrugs. “Makes sense. I haven’t eaten all day.”
“Peter,” Ned blurts, “all day? Do you have any idea how much food you probably need? Are you taking your vitamins? Are you drinking enough water?”
“Oh my god, I only need one fussy father figure—”
“No, this is important,” MJ snaps. “Ned, get him a granola bar. Scratch that, make it two. No, the whole box.”
He salutes. “On it.”
Peter rolls his eyes and leans against the wall. MJ wets a towel and starts dabbing the blood off his face. He’s right: it’s already like halfway healed.
He turns to look at her. “Are you really gonna make me eat the whole box?”
“Cardboard and all.”
Her face flushes. “They’re chocolate covered ones,” she says softly.
Peter brightens significantly. MJ grabs a bandage from the cupboard and puts it over the wound, though he probably won’t need it for very long.
“I’m gonna go—um, help Ned,” Wanda says abruptly, and leaves the two of them alone.
MJ leans back to look at him and sighs. Then she grabs his face and kisses him softly: on the lips, on both cheeks, on the tip of his nose. It makes him smile. She loves his smile.
“You need to take better care of yourself,” she tells him. “Because I got so scared I peed a little. No cap.”
Peter bursts into laughter. “Wow, really?”
“It’s not funny!” She says, even though it kind of is. “You’re already risking your life every day—”
“Please, all I do is save cats from trees and help old ladies across the street. I’m a glorified fireman.”
“Bullshit. We both know you do more than that, and I’m not about to say that you should stop, but if you go on like this you won’t be able to do anything at all.”
“MJ, it was an accident. I stayed up too late last night and I was in a rush this morning, and I’m always nauseous when I don’t get enough sleep.”
She hums, considering, and then says: “All the granola bars. And we’re gonna go get a pizza.”
“Oh, how terrible. Woe is me—”
“Shut up.” MJ grabs his hands. “Come on, let me wash that shit out of your hair. The last thing you need is to be ingesting chemicals on top of everything else.”
She kicks the bathroom door closed and has him lean over the sink so she can rinse it all out. The water runs violet and he makes little sounds like a purring cat she can’t help laughing at. “Feels good,” he mutters sleepily.
“Please don’t pass out in my sink.”
His eyes open again. “Not gonna.”
MJ towels him dry. His hair is unruly and sticking up in every direction and not as purple as she’d want, considering the dye didn’t really get to sit, but it still looks cool. Grinning, she fluffs it out, and then kisses his nose again. “All done, Barney.”
Peter pouts. “Meanie.”
“Yeah, yeah. Go eat.”
He gives a dramatic bow. “As you wish, m’lady.”
MJ snorts as he goes. God, he’s gonna give her a stroke one day.
Whatever. He’s totally worth it.
Johnny hasn’t had his powers for all that long.
It’s been six months since Sue went into orbit and he followed her the way he’s always done, clinging to her arm and shouldering his way into the pilot’s seat of a freaking spaceship.
Then things got weird and explode-y and he caught on fire and hasn’t gone out since.
Well, he has, but not really.
Six months of being the human birthday candle, of fighting with Grimm, of squeezing his humungo thighs into heat-proof spandex and saving New York or whatever. Six months of waking up bare-ass-naked because he overheated and burned through his fifth pair of boxers that week. Six months of being too scared to go to school, because what if he flares up in woodshop and burns the room down, or starts glowing under the skin while changing for gym class, or evaporates the water in the science lab? Like, people know his identity, but he doesn’t want to freak them out or anything.
Thus, five months of homeschooling with Reed—who is kind of a putz but also kind of really good for Sue, so Johnny endures it—and only leaving the house when he’s hungry or suited up. It sucks major ass. Like, dookie ass. Gross ass. Johnny has never been good at being lonely, but that’s all he is now all the time.
It also makes four months of knowing Spider-Man, who single-handedly flipped all that on its head.
Okay, he’d known of Spider-Man before: knew the guy existed, known about him since the very beginning when he had that shitty pajama suit and kept wiping out and hitting the glass walls of like, H&M and Macy’s, but he met Spider-Man on a fateful night in mid-June under a startling sherbet sunset when they were both trying to vandalize Trump Tower—because why wouldn’t they want to vandalize Trump Tower, and what’s a little well-maintained arson and strategic webbing between new friends—and he’s been… not obsessed, but a little fanatic ever since.
Maybe fanatic isn’t the right word either. Actually if Johnny is really baring his soul here, the correct word—the correct words—are: irrevocably infatuated with and also maybe sort of turned on by his fine ass in that suit.
Johnny is seventeen. Let him be horny in peace.
Plus, it’s not like Spidey is a bad guy to be in-like with. He’s totally muscley and his heart is literally the size of Eurasia. Johnny has watched him pull cats from trees even when they try to shank him, and he’s helped him tug people out of smoldering car crashes, and the stupid, terrible Mets are his team.
(Only people with enormous hearts can handle all the pain of watching the Mets suck, season after season, and still be alive and well enough to put the damn blue and orange cap on again.)
Basically, he knows the main thing inspiring him to perform solo vigilante justice on top of the crazy world-ending shit with the Four? Is the boy in the webbed pajamas.
They don’t hang out all that much because Johnny still (for the most part) handles aliens, while Spidey handles people locked out of their apartments. But when they do hang out, it’s because Johnny sees him swinging by and makes the executive decision that it is time for them to bond.
That’s the type of night it is tonight. They’re not doing much, but they are swinging—or in Johnny’s case, flying—big loops around the peak of the Chrysler building, watching the pigeons bobble past and pointing out all the punch buggies.
“That’s a red one,” Spidey says, letting go of his web with one hand to point.
Johnny squints through the heat-waves radiating off his body. “Oh, shit! Good find, bro.”
Johnny does a corkscrew, pulling ahead of Spidey so he can look at his masked face as they wind. “So,” he says, with the utmost amount of casualness that he can manage, “how was your day, Webhead?”
The eyes on his mask squint. “It was… fine,” he says. “Why? Should I be worried? What’s going on?” Then, white eyes blowing wide, “Did you kill someone? You totally accidentally killed someone, didn’t you? I’m too young to dump a cut-up body in the Hudson.”
“What?! Dude, no. Who do you—I was just trying to be like, friendly.”
Spider-Man presses one hand to his chest, bobbling in his swing as the added friction of his elbow poking out turns him slightly. “Sorry, I’ve been spending way too much time around Deadpool. But I’m touched. Relieved, even. Also my day was fine. Had this Spanish quiz, aced it. Oh gosh, I had the best taco in a bag at lunch. Fritos, man. Totally underrated.”
“I can get on board with a flavored corn chip,” Johnny says, smiling a little. God, he probably looks like a doofus. Good thing he’s literally made of fire so this guy can’t see him blush.
“What about you? How was your day?” Spidey asks.
“Good,” Johnny feels himself growing redder, hair flopping onto his forehead as he nods. “It was good. Sorta boring at first, but not anymore.”
“Hell yeah it’s not, ‘cuz we’re screwing around!” Spidey crows.
Johnny is very mature. He is so mature. They’re screwing around. Holy shit.
He focuses very hard on flying—he’s so cool, he can literally fly, Spider-Man can’t fly, Johnny is obviously out of his league, right? Right?—and ends up doing another corkscrew, because he’s hoping being dizzy will keep him from Seeing and Feeling Things.
“Hey,” Spidey says suddenly. “Are you hungry? Because I could go for a pizza right now. Like, a big pizza. A whole pizza, probably, with olives and—um.”
“Um what? No, really, please go on about the pizza toppings because I’m totally hungry and could definitely use the inspir—oh my God.”
Johnny is suddenly very glad he looked over his shoulder.
Because Spidey is fucking hurtling towards the street, limp like wet paper but eight times faster, and he’s doing nothing to stop the fall.
Johnny dives, cursing, pulled in tight like an arrow because there is no fucking way he can logically get below Spidey to catch him—just considering like, gravity and terminal velocity. But force of will. He’s got that. Gravity has no force of will so he’s definitely gotta win.
He can feel the wind tearing at his cheeks, his hair flying, the flames licking up around his knees and over his thighs—come on—and he strains faster because Spidey might bounce back from bullet wounds in a few days, but Johnny doesn’t want to imagine the sight of his limbs splattered on the ground crawling themselves back together over the course of a week or something. He pictures the whole area closed off with yellow tape so no one can steal a hand.
That’s some spooky Halloween shit. God, the goop.
They’re a good twenty feet from the ground—too close, too close, too close—when Johnny gets a hand around Spidey’s shin and yanks him up. He pulls up with both hands so he can get his arms around Spidey’s waist instead, and rightens them in the air. No dislocated ankles today! No sir! No ma’am!
“Fucking hell!” Johnny hollers once he’s got a good grip: one hand on the back of Spidey’s head to keep it from rolling loosely on his neck, the other so tight around his waist that Johnny might worry he’d pop if he weren’t so fucking ripped. He nods down at the horrified crowd on the sidewalk, “Yeah, he’s fine, ran out of webs. Turns out they don’t come out of his body. I know, I’m disappointed too.”
He then rockets up to the building tops so he can scan for a flat roof.
He finds one quickly and lays Spidey out, still limp.
“Ahh.” Johnny shakily rises to his feet. “Ahhhhh.”
He hops on his toes for a second, shaking out his hands. He’s gotta take the mask off. Figure out what the fuck is happening. But Spidey is like, super beyond weird about his mask, always saying shit like no you don’t get it, you’ll literally die if you know it’s me, it’s a pandemic and I’m patient zero, and it’s not like Johnny is so vain that looks really matter in true love, but he doesn’t even know if the guy is breathing—
He kneels down next to Spidey’s head, grabs the neck of the mask in his hands, and pulls it off.
True Love’s Kiss from Enchanted starts playing in his head. The sunset starts grinning sappily down at them, shrouding them in an ethereal, golden glow: honey dripping down the curve of a glass jar, sand underfoot, wheat fields blowing something gentle in the rush of August’s breath, a cold one with the boys. Not-pigeon-birds come flying around them in droves, twittering, butterflies hot on their tails. Emoji hearts surround Spidey’s head. Johnny is gonna faint.
Johnny would not be proud to admit the sound he makes. It’s something like “Hnngh.” It’s really tragic.
Spidey is hot. He’s got fucking huge ears, fine, but he’s also got this nice nose and these adorable little freckles and a stupid wonky eyebrow and Johnny is actually, well and truly fucked. Even though he’s all pale and passed-out and all, he’s pretty. Like, the whites of his eyes are poking out from between his eyelashes like the moon between bare branches—
Johnny startles, remembering what he was doing.
He leans forward and holds his palm in front of Spidey’s nose, waiting for breath.
It comes. Even and normal, totally regular person breathing.
Spidey groans as if on cue. “Ahfggh.” He reaches up and knuckles his eyes. “’The heck happened.”
“You fainted in midair,” Johnny trills as relief turns to magma in his stomach. “Dude. Dude.”
Spidey’s eyes shoot open. He slaps his palms over his face. “You weren’t supposed to see me! Johnny!”
Johnny does feel bad, for real. A little bit. “I still don’t know your name,” he assures. “And I’m not about to go looking, promise. If you don’t want me to know, it’s your secret.”
Spidey splits his fingers a little and peers up at Johnny hopefully. “Yeah?”
Johnny shrugs. “Yeah, sure. Besides, not like I could google your face or whatever.”
Spidey snorts and flops flat, limbs akimbo.
“Hey, so what the fuck,” Johnny asks.
Spidey blinks up at him. “Just fainted. I do it all the time. It’s super dramatic and usually very, very funny.”
Johnny stares. The audacity.
“Uh, dude? That was not funny, not even a little bit. Are you like, healthy? Are you anemic?” With fervor, “Are you dying?”
“I’m fine, I think.”
“I totally think I should give you mouth to mouth right now,” Johnny says, eyes-wide, solemn. “Just in case, you know?”
“But I’ve been breathing this whole time,” says Spidey.
“Yeah, but—I mean, you can never be too careful. Right? Right.”
Spidey’s ears go red when he blushes. Johnny hates it. He hates it. Absolutely disgusting.
God help him. He’s swooning.
“Can you—” Johnny yanks on the ends of his hair, “—get that checked out, or something? Because that’s fucked, man. Like, really fucked. You could’ve straight up died. I thought I was having a heart attack for at least two minutes straight right there.”
Spidey breaks out in this enormous, soppy smile. “Aww, you care!”
“I—that is what you got from that? Not ‘yes, Johnny, my hero, you’re so right, take me to the hospital right now so I can figure out if I have, like, a brain tumor before I literally splat onto Forty-Second and Lexington.’”
Spidey has the foresight to look chastened. Like a puppy. “That is a valid point. Johnny, my hero, my homeslice—” Johnny hides his crestfallenness as best he can because, what the fuck, he saved Spidey’s life and then got homeslice-zoned, “—take me to the nearest pizzeria.”
Johnny starts to say, “Finally, something that makes sense,” but he stops, because no. “What? Spidey. Is the pizza man going to check your vitals? Is he going to take your pulse and—and check if you have a fever, or if you're dehydrated or whatever?”
“I’m dehydrated for you, Johnny,” Spidey says, clumsily moving his limbs into the vague impression of a Vogue cover pose.
Johnny is going to fling himself off this roof.
“Can we just.” He presses the heels of his hands into his eyes until those brightly colored light things swallow his vision because legally, morally, he cannot keep looking at Spidey right now. “Let’s go. Fine. Pizza. I’ll just carry you.”
“My prince,” Spidey proclaims, lifting his arms. “Oh shit put my mask on, Prince Johnny. It’s like I’m Cinderella and you’re returning my lost accessory, this is fucking cute.”
That’s it. There’s nothing else to say on the topic.
He yanks Spidey’s mask over his stupid big ears, careful not to squish his nose, and then grabs him around the waist, heaving him to his feet.
“Mm,” Spidey says, leaning his head on Johnny’s shoulder. “I’m gonna eat sooo many olives.”
Johnny says a hail Mary, mentally crosses himself, and leaps, burning even before the flames catch him.
May doesn’t think it would be asking too much of the universe to have one day of uninterrupted peace.
She works six days a week—sometimes seven, depending on how tight money is—busting her ass in the NICU, wearing through the elbows and thighs of her scrubs. And she loves her job. She loves seeing the relief in a new parent’s face when their baby is cleared to go home, loves holding tiny fingers and stroking little bellies while she does her rounds on the night shift, loves taking care of the little ones—littler than she ever knew Peter, littler than she’ll ever have to call her own, what with an internal birthing suite as hospitable to new life as the desert to a polar bear. It’s what she’s meant to do, helping these families pull through.
But babies screaming, wheezing for breaths from underdeveloped lungs, shaking and blue-fingered and deaf?
That hurts. It pulls the life out of her chest.
And she goes home after, tries to make a meal out of scraps, tries to clean the house because her teenager is a slob, tries to remember to open the windows because the whole place smells like mold and dust but they can’t really fix that. She tries to remember what days Peter stays at school for Decathlon, tries to invite MJ and Ned and Wanda over so that the house doesn’t feel so empty, tries to answer Tony Stark’s texts even when they consist of things like i think that guy brad on the bachelor is a hunk, or you like rosé, right? you look like a rosé lady. yeah you are. come over tn, i have literally three bottles and no other friends.
And sometimes Peter comes through the window with wounds he deems too minor for Tony to fix up—black eyes, sprained wrists, concussions—so May needs to keep the freezer full of ice and the cabinets full of ace bandages and gauze and suturing thread.
So she can fix him. Her child, who moonlights as a spider-ninja or something.
(She can’t watch the news anymore. He’s always on it.)
And she does the bills, and the taxes, and takes care of the mail, and looks at every letter from every college Peter receives and thinks you deserve this! you deserve this! and her chest hurts all the time, but she’s managing.
She is, really.
When she finally manages a day off, however? Christ. You bet your ass she’s taking it.
Thursday has May waking up later than she ever has the luxury to, after more hours of sleep than she’s used to getting. The house is silent. Immediately it feels like something is wrong.
(It isn’t. She’s just not used to not being shaken awake or startled by her alarm or a slamming door. And that’s weird, but it’s a good weird.)
She gets to stretch, to stand by her window and stare out at Forest Hills—dingy and green and cracked—and feel a little fond. She gets to lean out over the sill, four stories above the ground, and let the sun hit her face: golden and sweet against the chill of the air. It’s quiet this far out from the city, and the apartment building must be empty by this hour. It feels still but volatile, like a stray elbow will smash all of it.
She makes herself a tea rather than a coffee—she doesn’t need the boost this morning, and isn’t that the thrill of thrills?—and sits at the dining table while she drinks it. She can’t remember the last time she sat at the dining table. She runs a hand over it idly, sort of wonderingly.
Her and Peter usually eat in the kitchen, standing at the counter or over the sink with a hand under their chin to catch spills.
They live in the rush, in the in-between spaces, in the elevator ride rather than the destinations.
May is so grateful for her life, and for all she has—Peter, goodness, Peter, he’s her everything, her moon and stars, throwing silver light onto the navy blue sheet of her days—but slowing down… It’s nice.
She finishes her tea, washes the mug, and sets it on the drying rack. She runs herself a bath, tosses a handful of lavender salts into the water, and swishes it around with her foot. She lights a bunch of candles, says, “Oh, fuck it,” and pours herself a tall, tall glass of wine over ice. She drops a curly straw in it and settles into the tub, taking a long pull and feeling tension seep out of her shoulders.
She closes her eyes and leans back.
Somehow, at some point, she falls asleep—maybe she is old if wine is knocking her out. May awakens to a thud like the fucking fridge falling over. She starts, pruney handed, chin dipped under the stale water, her heart beating out of her chest.
May shoves her hair out of her eyes and unplugs the drain as she stands, toweling the flowery water off her skin. She wraps herself in a robe and ties it hastily, jogging out of the bathroom completely uncaring of the wet footprints she leaves on the hardwood.
She doesn’t make it far before stopping short.
In the middle of the hallway lies Peter: face-down with his cheek smushed against the wood, his backpack pinning him, starfished like he’s been dropped by the tide.
“Oh, grazie Dio,” May says. “I was way too bored today.”
She comes down on her knees and pulls Peter’s backpack off, dropping it to the side so she can roll him over.
“Fucking kid,” she mumbles. “What’d you do this time? As long as you didn’t OD, I won’t be mad, promise. That’s a really low bar. Even you can clear it.”
Once she’s got him face-up his head lolls, eyes rolled back. He’s white as a sheet, but his pulse is steady and strong.
She smacks at his cheek. “C’mon, amore. Wake up.”
He groans, loud and long. He pops one eye open. “Hi,” he says meekly. “Hi, May.”
“Hi,” she says back, grinning wryly at him.
“I passed out.”
“I know. I heard you fall. I thought you went right through the floor, landed in poor old Miss Tanaka’s living room or something.”
“You’re not freaking out,” he notes.
“Are you kidding?” she snorts, sitting down and taking his feet in her hands. She starts pumping his legs in circles towards his chest. “This is the least terrifying thing you’ve ever done. Do you remember that time you accidentally bit into a peanut butter sandwich?”
“Mm,” Peter hums fondly. “Anaphylactic shock. Always a good time.”
“Or your first asthma attack?”
“Ben cried so much I was afraid we’d have to get him an inhaler.”
May grins. Sometimes when they mention Ben, it feels like something in her chest chips off the whole. The arm of Venus de Milo, or a china plate put down with vitriol. But this memory—this feels good to remember, here in the middle of the hallway while she bicycles Peter’s legs.
He softens. “Hey,” he says. “Do you remember that stupid song you used to sing? And we’d like, sit on the couch with the bottoms of our feet pressed together and do little bike circles with our legs?”
“Andiamo in bicicletta-ta-ta-ta,” May sings, feeling the crinkles at the corners of her eyes like each one has been a smile she’s given Peter—feeling she’d take a hundred more to make him look at her like this even one more time—“con un buco in la calzetta-ta-ta-ta.”
That’s all there is to the song. It’s hardly a song at all. But it used to make Peter laugh his head off, his glasses slipping off his nose and his cheeks going pink, and so May sang it again and again, and they bicycled their legs together, and now the memory makes her teary.
Peter grins at her, big and soft and still a little pale.
She can almost feel Ben against her side, squeezing her tightly to him and smacking a kiss hard on her temple; can almost smell cologne and dog fur clinging to his skin from that weird Borzoi his boss used to bring into the office; can almost see his faded jeans and pocket-tee and big mossy eyes. She sees him everywhere, muscle memory, but now she’s sure she feels it, feels him, in this stupid single moment taken out of her stupid busy life, and she’s grateful for it.
“Come on, tough guy,” she says, dropping his legs. “I’m gonna take your temperature and stuff you full of fruit. I bet your blood sugar tanked.” Then, with more urgency than she’s managed all day—which frankly still isn’t much, because she really did drink two glasses of wine through a curly straw and then take a three hour nap—she says, “Wait, you’re not concussed or something, are you?”
“Nope,” says Peter.
She squints. “Get injected with weird substances?” Pauses. “Drink? Smoke weed?”
“I won’t be mad! Just be honest!”
“I didn’t take drugs, oy gevalt.”
He’s got his palms clapped to his cheeks, which have gained their color back. He starts scooting backwards away from her on the hardwood, sock feet slipping, soft sweatpants helping him glide.
May snorts a laugh and watches him go, backwards and backwards until he turns the corner into his room headfirst and disappears an inch at a time.
May watches the spot where he’d gone fondly.
She’s an angry potential Worst Chef In America contestant who raised a half-spider doofus with a soft, overgrown frat boy. She has no free time, breathes around corners so she can’t get caught stealing a moment to catch up, and knows how to crochet better than drive. Her life is a series of tragedies she stitched together with her own shaking hands, and the thread is knotted, but it’s a quilt all the same.
She hears a thud in Peter’s room.
“Pete?” she calls.
“Tripped this time! My bad! Wow, I’m so clumsy.”
She wouldn’t want it any other way.
Nat loves tailing people.
She likes to see the way people act when they think no one is watching. It’s like a character study of sorts. It’s also a good way to figure out the true nature of someone’s personality, or to figure out if they’re pulling a double cross.
Or to pass the time when she’s bored out of her mind and has nothing else to do.
She’s been keeping a good thirty feet between her and Peter for the better part of two hours. Nat had followed him from Midtown into the city. Since then she has noticed three things about Peter Parker:
1. He gives old ladies his seat on the train
2. He picks up litter whenever and wherever he sees it, and tends to mutter things like ‘save the turtles!’ and ‘sksksksks’ when he throws it away
3. Any time he eats anything, he’ll finish, pat his stomach, and say: “om nom nom nom nom deliiiiiicioso” like the backpack from Dora the Explorer.
It is incredibly disturbing. Nat is disturbed.
And yet, she’s also comforted by the knowledge that Peter isn’t hiding some secret, evil alter ego. After being raised by the KGB, escaping, and then studying under Fury at SHIELD, she’s grown excessively paranoid.
There’s no reason for that here. He’s just a kid—a little dorky, sure, and kind of weird—but a kid nonetheless.
Tailing him is more entertaining than tailing Steve, anyway. God, that had been a complete mindfuck of a week: a morning run at the ass crack of dawn followed by coffee and a bagel, then back to his place for a shower and a real meal (at least nine eggs, scrambled, and a steak); then he’d ride the F for a good few hours and sketch bystanders wherever he ended up.
Nat’s having war flashbacks just thinking about it.
Peter is better, though. He’s chaotic and ridiculous and has almost walked into eight different poles, only to jerk out of the way at the last second like the Matrix is glitching or something. He trips over his own shoes and holds his phone super close to his face like a grandpa and speaks in, so far, at least four different languages.
It’s dark now, because it’s winter and Nat is miserable for it. Even still, she’d much rather be out here trudging through the slush and getting snow in her hair than home alone with nothing to do but read case files and watch reruns of Grey’s Anatomy.
Nat sips the coffee she’d grabbed from a cart. It’s almost gone and tepid to boot. She keeps going, though, following after this little idiot as he walks through Central Park. Who the hell knows where he’s going—definitely not him, that’s for sure.
“Hey kid! Don’t feed the geese!”
Nat looks up at that and sees the kid in question: maybe twelve, all bundled up in a puffer jacket, frozen in place. Then he snaps out of it and hurtles the bag of bread in his hand over the side of the bridge he’s standing on. He hauls ass.
“Oy vey,” Peter says, and then, “Hey Nat, think you can find me a branch or something? I don’t have my web shooters and if we don’t get that bag, they’ll eat the plastic.”
Nat barely has time to process the fact that he’d been aware of her presence the entire time, because next thing she knows, he’s toppling over the side of the bridge and into the water below.
“Oh, fuck,” she says, running for a better vantage.
The creek is pretty shallow, thank god, but it’s also freezing as all Ad. Nat leans over the edge and sees him, face up, eyes closed, surrounded by geese.
The thing about Natasha is that, while she might be strong, she also happens to be tiny.
Standing at 5’3” means that everyday life involves a lot of neck craning and the tell-tale ache in the arch of her feet—a result of standing on her tippy-toes for ridiculous amounts of time. If she needs to intimidate someone she busts out the platform boots. If she needs to seduce someone she wears three inch stilettos because otherwise, she’d be flirting with their chest.
Back in the Red Room, her ballet instructor had fawned over her petite and elegant figure. Now, Nat feels like a fumbling idiot as she desperately drags a completely unconscious and soaking wet Peter Parker down the hallway of her apartment complex.
Nat’s just glad all of her neighbors are asleep because otherwise she’d be forced to reenact Weekend at Bernie’s or something.
Peter had groaned once on the cab ride here, which means he’s at least alive but probably pretty concussed. He’s also got a nasty cut on the side of his head that she needs to sew up, or in the very least disinfect.
Nat pauses in the middle of the hall. She pants for a second, covered in a sheen of sweat.
Then she grabs him by his wrists and goes in short spurts, pausing every few seconds to suck in deep breaths. “Sooksin,” she whispers. “Why are you so heavy?”
She imagines it would probably be much worse to drag Steve halfway across town and consoles herself that this, in the very least, isn’t as bad as that.
Nat reaches her door. She fumbles for her keys and finds them in the pocket of her trench coat. After she unlocks the door she kicks it open as wide as it’ll go, but still ends up conking Peter’s head against the wall.
“Hnnng... pickles,” Peter mutters.
Nat rolls her eyes. “Great. Thanks for that.”
She drags him the rest of the way and shuts them both inside, dead-bolting the door.
She turns back to Peter, spread eagled in her foyer, and wipes her forehead.
Nat elects to patch him up right there so she can regain some stamina. She flushes out the gash on the side of his head and gives him a few quick stitches that’ll no doubt need to be removed by morning, and then wraps his whole head with gauze.
It’s right around then that Peter’s eyes snap open. He grabs her wrist and says, urgently, utterly terrified: “JFK is trapped inside the moon.”
Then he passes out again.
“You know what? I bet you’re right,” Nat says to him.
She decides to move him onto the couch. It’s slow going and she accidentally drops him more than once. Peter is completely out of it now though, and he stays out of it as she strips him of his soaked shirt and trousers and wraps him up in a heated blanket.
An hour later, he sniffs the air deeply before opening his eyes. “Hot chocolate?”
“Just for you,” she replies, nudging his legs so that she can sit opposite him. “How are you feeling?”
“Hmm sleepy,” he says, curling against the cushions. “Wait—how’d I get here? Where am I? Why am I naked?”
“My apartment in Little Odessa,” Nat replies. “And you’re not naked, I left your boxers on.”
“Would you rather have hypothermia?”
Peter pouts. “No.”
“Good. Drink up.”
Peter’s brows draw together. Instead of listening to her, he starts looking around the room, gaze lingering on the framed portrait of a ballerina above her fireplace and the little succulent garden by the window. He squints at her. “Cute place.”
Nat rolls her eyes. She leans forward to inspect him and check under the bandage. The wound is already looking a little better. God, she wishes she could have enhanced healing.
“Any idea why you dropped like that?”
He shrugs. “Happens all the time. I don’t eat enough and,” he snaps his fingers, “I conk out like fucking Frodo when the Eye of Sauron sees him—”
“Okay, now you’ve lost me.”
“Liar,” Peter snaps. “Don’t pretend like you don’t secretly love those movies.”
Nat squints. “Well,” she sits back, “at least it was for a good cause.”
Peter nods. “Very serious business, feeding birds. Learned that from Ben. I remember one time he bought me this nasty salt bagel and I kept tearing chunks off of it and tossing it to the geese when he wasn’t looking, but then he caught me at it and told me it was bad for them.”
Peter’s lip twitches a little. “I started crying because all I could think about was all the birds I’d probably killed by chucking my sandwich crusts out of the cafeteria at lunch. But see, the thing about Ben is, when I cried it made him cry, so we were just sitting there surrounded by all these fucking geese sobbing our asses off.”
His head tilts and his gaze is far away. “He was a really big dude. Like, Steve Rogers big. I remember he was rocking me back and forth and telling me everything was gonna be okay—but I couldn’t breathe all of the sudden because I was being smushed against this brick in a flannel coat that smelled like challah and—” his breath hitches, “he offered to come back as a goose after he died even though he didn’t believe in that sort of thing.”
Nat smiles softly. “Sounds like he was a good guy.”
“Oh, the best.” Peter pauses. “I bet he really did get reincarnated as a fucking goose just for me. He was so extra.”
Nat nudges his leg as she laughs. “What kind of pizza do you want?”
“Something with olives,” he says. Nat’s dialling the number on her phone when he whirls around. “You grabbed that stupid bread bag, right?”
Nat stiffens. “...No?”
“Natasha! What the hell did I just almost die for?!”
Ned has absolutely no idea how he ended up with the role of Melancholy Jacques.
Like, he’s gone to great and painstaking lengths to present himself as a positive person, and most of the time people totally buy it, which means he doesn’t suck at acting or whatever. The problem is that on the morning of auditions for this semester’s play, As You Like It, Ned had been...
Well, he’d sort of been pissed off.
It wasn’t even a thing with Flash. It was his mom’s fault. His mom is the reason he’s stuck playing Grumpy Jack. She’d been asking him all sorts of interrogating questions about what he got up to all day and threatened to turn his phone tracker on again and bam! Ned had gone to school scowling.
Now he’s trapped and it is not cool.
Their drama teacher, Mrs. Bradbury, had brushed off all of Ned’s concerns that he wasn’t right for the part. She’d started ranting about some kind of spark Ned apparently had and Ned had zoned out because Betty was monologuing on stage and wow, she is so talented.
Now, Betty is out sick and Mrs. Bradbury’s decided to have Peter stand in for her.
Which is fine because they’re still rehearsing the parts where Rosalind is disguised as a boy, so Peter doesn’t have to walk around in a dress or whatever.
But it still sucks because Betty is like, ninety percent of the reason Ned is in theatre class. Without her it’s just him and Peter and Flash and a bunch of other kids who are only here to be trees and bushes and side characters.
Okay, so they do more than that, but Ned kind of zones out unless Betty is performing.
Right now Flash is practising his lines as Oliver. He’s also playing Duke Senior because they don’t have enough students for all of the roles. This play is gonna be really confusing for the five people that come to see it.
Peter, who normally doubles as Duke Fredrick and Orlando—the role Ned wanted, because it meant he got to profess his undying love for Betty through prose—is now muttering Rosalind’s lines under his breath. Ned watches them both miserably. He doesn’t need to practise. He knows his material.
“‘Twice did he turn his back and purposed so, but kindness, nobler ever than revenge, and nature, stronger than his just occasion, made him give battle to the lioness who quickly fell before him; in which hurtling from miserable slumber I awaked.’” Peter looks up. “Why do they have to talk like that?”
Ned shrugs. “It’s Shakespeare dude.”
“Yeah but wouldn’t it be like, a cool hot take to modernize all the dialogue?”
“Nah, you can’t do that,” Ned says. “The prose masks all the crazy.”
Peter sucks his cheek. “Even more reason to do it. These plays could actually be entertaining that way.”
If Betty were here she’d start ranting about language and poetry and how important it is to be authentic when performing, and Peter would probably say something like: but what if I want to be authentic to myself instead of Mr. Bill? and then they would start arguing about the difference between respecting original material and just being a pretentious douche—like Flash for example, who is so fucking extra with this shit Ned is surprised his eyes haven’t fallen out of his head from how many times he’s rolled them.
Ned knows his friends so well. It’s so exhausting being the observant one sometimes.
And predictably, MJ is late. “Yo, sorry, I got caught up with Mr. Harrington—oh, she’s asleep.”
Ned nods. “Took too many Xanax I think.”
Mrs. Bradbury snorts as if confirming this fact. She’s got her head tilted back and her glasses are askew. They could be dying or vandalizing the stage for all she knows.
Ned flops miserably onto his back.
“You know if I weren’t here on a scholarship my parents would be paying like twelve grand a year for tuition here,” MJ says as she runs up the stairs to join them, “and we have teachers like that. I mean what the hell, you know?”
MJ drops her sixty pound book bag like, two inches from Ned’s head. Then Peter says, “Hi,” all moony-eyed and she says “Hey,” back, and then they’re kissing and it’s so terrible.
Ned never thought that they would be that couple: super into PDA, heart eyes all the time, holding hands whenever possible. It’s ridiculous, especially because MJ seems like this really closed off person, all touchy and stuff.
Except with Peter. She’s always reaching for him, always trying to make contact. Ned doesn’t even think she realises she’s doing it. Sometimes she’ll be reading and his head will be in her lap and she’ll just stroke his hair for fucking hours.
Ned wants that.
God. He craves. He laments.
“If you could stop eating each other and practise now?”
They break apart and look down at him. Peter, frowning, nudges Ned’s shoulder with his shoe. “What’s got your penis in a pretzel?”
Ned laughs because he can’t help it. Peter is such a fucking idiot sometimes and he grins down at Ned because that’s exactly the reaction he’d been going for. “You’re an asshole,” he gasps.
“Yeah,” Peter agrees, sitting down beside him. MJ sits on Ned’s other side. “Are you okay though? Because you’ve kinda seemed down all day.”
Ned hums. “Betty’s not here.”
“Ooooh,” Peter says. “I see.”
“Yeah. It sucks. And like, I don’t even wanna do this stupid play and I don’t wanna be this stupid character. Everything sucks.”
MJ nods. “Mood.”
Peter frowns. “I thought you liked Shakespeare?”
“I do, but not like this. Putting on plays without changing up the material is so fucking boring and overdone.”
And Ned knows exactly what Peter is thinking. He’s thinking: soulmate soulmate soulmate soulmate soulmate soulmate soulmate, probably accompanied with a backdrop of singing angels and warm heavenly light. He’s so in love with her it’s ridiculous.
Except it’s not because MJ is pretty cool so like, whatever.
“Hey Parker!” Flash snaps. “Wanna get back to what we’re actually supposed to be doing?”
“Oh yeah, because I’m so scared of what Mrs. Bradbury’s nostrils will say,” Peter mutters, but stands anyway.
“That’s right,” Flash nods. “I’m your dad now, which means I get to tell you what to do.”
Peter stares. “Hey Flash, um, what the fuck.”
Ned and MJ snort. Flash and Peter start to bicker about their scene together and then they’re angrily tossing lines back and forth. Peter keeps telling him to “fucking commit to it.”
Flash, as Oliver, is basically yelling his speech about “commuting me unto my brother’s love” and “dyed his blood onto the shepherd youth.”
And then Peter faints.
“That’s what I call commitment,” says Tree number 2/lighting guy.
“Yeah, I get it,” Flash snaps at him. “I just don’t understand how I’m supposed to actually practise with him! His energy changes the whole dynamic and—Mrs. Bradbury, are you even listening to me?”
“Hmghf,” Mrs. Bradbury snorts awake. She straightens her glasses. “Yes? What?”
“I said, Peter is a terrible actor and I can’t get into my role when I have to play off of him.”
“Oh, shut it Flash,” MJ snaps. “You’re just jealous because he got the role you wanted.”
“I am not!”
“Hey, um, guys?” Ned pipes up nervously.
“You’ve been bitching all term about this whole play! Why are you even a part of it? Just drop out if you don’t like your character!”
“I can’t just drop out! I need this class for my extracurricular activity!”
“You have like five extracurriculars!”
“Guys!” Ned shouts. Their heads swivel around. “Um, Peter hasn’t moved?”
MJ’s eyes widen. She scrambles to stand and runs over to Peter’s prone form. Mrs. Bradbury yelps and shoots out of her chair, muttering, “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear,” as she runs up the stairs. Ned follows.
Peter looks pale. He’s breathing, thank God, and when MJ urgently pats his face he mutters something like “heigh-ho.”
MJ scowls. “Peter, wake up.”
Ned thinks it’s literally just her force of will that gets Peter’s eyes to shoot open. He blinks dazedly and then focuses on her. “Hi, Emmie.”
MJ leans back, unamused. “You dick.”
“What, like I did it on purpose?”
“Well you know what happens when you don’t eat!”
“I forgot,” Peter snaps. “Also, I had an apple this morning, okay? I’m trying here.”
“You’re killing me.”
Ned stops them before they can start bickering like an old married couple. He holds out a finger. “Follow it,” he says to Peter, who rolls his eyes but does so.
“I still want you to go visit the nurse,” Mrs. Bradbury says. “You never know what these things could mean. As a matter of fact, I think due to the circumstances we should cut class short. Everyone disperse.”
Ned rolls his eyes. “Come on, I’ll take you,” he says to Peter.
“Me too,” MJ pipes up.
They haul him to his feet. Peter grumbles something and Ned grabs both of their backpacks so he doesn’t have to carry anything. The hallways are still empty when they exit the auditorium.
“I don’t need the nurse,” Peter says, as soon as they’re out of earshot. “What I need is a cheeseburger.”
MJ squints at him. “Are you sure?”
Peter’s face softens. They’re doing that thing where they say stuff with their eyes. “Yeah, I’m sure. I’m fine, okay? I promise.”
The last he says to both of them, and Ned has to admit he’s relieved to hear it. Yeah, sure, Peter downplays a lot of shit—but if something is really serious, he tells them.
Most of the time, anyway.
So Ned shrugs. “Cheeseburgers it is.”
Tony always feels so at peace in the lab.
It’s his liminal space: the only place he has complete control over everything in his life. He’s got robots and AIs who listen to him, and elements that do whatever the hell he forces them to do. He can nap on his couch and know nothing can touch him. He can lock the room and have metal shields slide over the windows and doors. He can choose by hand who gets to know the password for entry, and change it anytime he wants. (It’s currently rhodey1234 because Rhodey is his sugarplum princess and his everything and who else’s name would he use?)
He gets to make sure it feels like sharing rather than invading when people come inside.
The first time he brought Peter into the lab, he was so sure it would feel like cutting a little slit down the front of his chest, peeling his skin back, showing his ribs; the soft bits inside of himself.
But it wasn’t. He’d watched Peter bounce over to the bots and introduce himself, start petting them and calling them good boys, wow, such good boys, and it felt like he was just a fixture Tony had been missing until then, as if the space was finally complete.
Tony has pretty much wanted him to stick around ever since. The days Peter isn’t here are too quiet, the lab too spacious without his chirpy voice echoing off the walls and his messy head bouncing around the room—pacing and muttering equations to himself the way a tortured artist probably recites their own poems.
(Tony wouldn’t know about that. He doesn’t know any tortured artists, and frankly, he doesn’t want to. He has enough trauma as it is. Oh, God, is Steve a tortured artist? This is the worst thought Tony has ever had. He’s shutting it off, get out, bleach, he needs bleach and a funnel to stick in his ear.)
Anyway. The lab is a safe space. A secret space. A hovel, if you will. A man cave, but very, very cool and badass. With lots of cars instead of sweaty football jerseys, and the smell of motor oil rather than stale beer.
It’s also a great place to do super secret things without getting caught—like wrapping up a horde of Hanukkah presents from the pair of them for May, Peter’s left-side neighbors, and the owner of the bakery Peter gets his favorite babka from.
Peter is practically enveloped in wrapping paper. He’s got pre-ripped pieces of tape stuck to the seam of his jeans, sticking out like shiny little scales, and a pair of scissors held between his teeth. A stretch of ribbon sits around the crown of his head. In his lap is a candle whose scent is Homesick, described as smelling of butter, apple, potato, vanilla, and musk. Peter says May will like it or perish.
He’s such a doofus. Tony adores him.
Tony has a little necklace box he’s wrapping for May. Nothing too fancy, nothing expensive—just a delicate goldish chain with this artsy little sun pendant dangling from it. He thinks it fits May’s hippie-dippie vibe. Maybe it’ll bring some light into her life.
Ugh, now he’s making metaphors. Disgusting. Maybe he’s the tortured artist. Abort. Abort.
He cuts off a piece of dreidel-studded wrapping paper, watching out of the corner of his eye as Peter bobs his head and sings along to his Jews!! playlist. That Adam Sandler Hanukkah song has come on eight times already. Tony’s been pretending his eye isn’t twitching for the sake of the kid, who had pink cheeks and this stupid grin on his face as he sings the chorus with unparalleled enthusiasm.
Tony crumples a scrap of tape and paper and lobs it at Peter’s head.
Peter doesn’t even grace him with a glance in his direction. “A hate crime. Antisemitism. I’m reporting this to the tabloids.”
Tony rolls his eyes. “The last thing I need is an antisemitism accusation. Tony Stark says all Jews should be pelted with wrapping paper balls!” He snorts. “That would be so unfortunate. My dad was literally Jewish.”
“That doesn’t mean you can’t have internalized feelings of prejudice towards the Jews,” Peter says, his tongue poking out as he turns the candle box over in his hands, spotting a gap where the paper didn’t reach. He looks crushed for a moment before shrugging, grabbing the roll of paper, and chopping a piece off in the general shape of the gap. “Just like gay people can be homophobic or whatever.”
“Quote, Michelle Jones,” Tony says. He grabs the ribbon and stretches out a length of it. “I can sense when her influence is ripe in your words.”
Peter grins all gooey and gross. “She says I need to be more politically active. I told her that she’s right because she is correct ninety-nine times out of a hundred.”
“And the other one time? What is she then?”
Peter snorts. “Super correct.”
Tony grins a little, feeling weird and fond for this quiet moment: just the two of them sitting messy on the linoleum like they’d been tossed there among the scraps, a guitar cover of Hava Nagila playing quietly, tape everywhere, Peter’s stupid jeans tucked into his stupid fuzzy socks. (And yes, Tony is absolutely wearing a matching pair. They’re bright blue and have snowflakes.)
Tony taps the underside of the arch of Peter’s foot with his toe because the two of them are fucking precious.
Peter promptly keels over.
“Oh my god!” Tony yelps. “I killed him!”
He throws down his scissors and crawls to Peter’s side, shaking his shoulder with one hand and feeling for a pulse with the other. “I’m so not at peace right now! This is my goddamn sanctuary, Parker! Is nothing sacred with you?!”
He lifts Peter’s head onto his lap as delicately as he can, brushing his bangs off his clammy forehead, and mumbles, completely insanely, “I’ve got you. I’ve got you,” over and over in a fucking crazy person loop because his kid just fucking knocked out when Tony prodded him like he accidentally flicked Achilles’s heel with a pebble.
He finds Peter’s pulse on the side of his neck and it’s fucking fine, and Tony is literally unraveling from the inside out like he’s a tapestry and someone stepped on a loose thread dangling from the bottom of him but they had gum under their shoe and now he’s just—completely losing control of this metaphor but maybe it’s okay because Peter blinks an eye open.
“I made it out of clay,” he mumbles along with the dreidel song.
“I hate you,” Tony says severely, quite the change from what’d he’d been murmuring a second before. “You’re the worst person alive. What the fuck.”
“Just…” Peter opens his mouth wide.
“What, are you catching flies?” says Tony.
Peter wrinkles his nose. “No, just—drop some noodles or something in there, mama bird. It’ll fix everything, trust me.” He opens his mouth again in a wide O.
Tony shakes his head in disgust. “Do you remember which gutter I found you in? I need to go ask for a refund.”
He feels Peter’s forehead again, with the front of his hand and the back, just to be extra thorough. He measures his pulse for probably the fifth time, and Peter just lays there with his mouth open and takes it. Tony is fairly certain Peter is actually smiling around that gaping maw of his, the corners of his eyes all crinkly.
Peter reaches a shaky hand up and taps Tony’s chest twice, right where the reactor used to sit. He closes his mouth just enough to say, “Calm down. Your heart sounds like the Kentucky Derby.”
“You smell like the Kentucky Derby,” Tony retorts, moving to press two fingers to his own pulse so he can compare it to Peter’s.
“That was a weak burn.”
“Sorry, I’m stressed.” Tony squints at Peter. “Did you eat today?”
“Yes,” Peter says defensively.
“What did you eat?”
Peter hums and closes his eyes. “Mm, I found the stash of gelt in the cabinet under a bag of rice. Had some of that.”
Tony stares. “Are you a fucking chocolate bloodhound?” comes out first, but then he catches himself. “You thought that gelt was enough to keep you alive for a day?”
Peter shrugs a shoulder. “The sugar high I got after eating it was so crazy I thought it was laced with crack, so. I wasn’t thinking straight.”
“You thought it was laced with crack and you didn’t say anything?”
“Well, I didn’t really think I was cracked out! Just, like.” Peter rolls his eyes. “Never mind. I’m not arguing with you about this.” He starts trying to roll off Tony’s lap.
“Ah ah ah,” Tony leans forward to bodily trap Peter in place, all but smothering him in the fabric of his sweater. “Hold it right there, Phil Dunphy. I’ve gotta fix you first.”
Peter squirms. “What, you gonna poke me with a screwdriver until I stop fainting every five minutes?”
Tony freezes. “You’re fainting every five minutes? This is a normal thing?! A normal thing I didn’t know about?! I thought I knew everything about you! I thought everyone told me shit like this! What happened to trust?”
“I knew you’d react like this,” Peter groans. He smacks loosely at Tony’s back to dislodge him. “C’mon, lemme up.”
“You’re going to sit on that couch,” Tony says. “And I am going to go make a fucking feast and probably cry on the phone to May because I thought she liked me but apparently she doesn’t, not enough to let me know when our kid is—possibly dying, possibly very sick. Possibly anemic,” Tony says, feeling very dramatic but rightfully so.
“Can you make mac and cheese?” Peter asks, voice small.
Tony finally sits up. He softens all at once and brushes Peter’s hair off his forehead one more time. “Yeah, kid,” he says. “I have you.”
Tony smacks a bottle of pills down onto the counter in front of Peter, who is shoveling oatmeal into his mouth with stunning speed and dexterity.
Peter looks at it uncomprehendingly and Tony drops his hands on his hips. “Shove one of those bad boys in your face hole,” he says.
Peter swallows thickly. “You made me pills in ten hours?”
Tony shrugs. “Once I had your bloodwork it was easy. I just filled these with whatever you’re deficient in—which is a lot, so many deficiencies. Too many actually, eat a fucking vegetable sometimes I’m begging you. The three-week-old corpse of an addict at the bottom of their swimming pool has more vitamin C in it than you have in your very alive, very young body.”
Peter, who had been unscrewing the cap with a look of intense focus while Tony talks, shakes a pill into his palm. His eyes bug nearly out of his head.
“You take three of those a day,” Tony commands, crossing his arms, “until I say so.”
“Is that a calendric time period? Fortnight, month, until Tony says so?”
“Hey, no snark from the fainting dandy in the background of a Dickens novel.”
Peter sputters and lifts the pill closer to his eye. “Tony.”
Tony scowls because the kid so much as saying his name makes his stomach all glowy and happy. Fuck that.
“I literally can’t swallow this. The circumference of this pill is like a redwood tree. It’s wider than my mouth. Literally look at this.” Peter gapes like a fish for a second, turning his face to the side so Tony can see the glorious silhouette of his four chins, mouth straining as wide open as humanly possible while still having a jaw hinge. He holds the pill in front of his lips. It is not bigger. It is the size of a Nyquil pill. Tony has seen Peter swallow mouthfuls of spaghetti that could probably choke a whale. He will be fine.
“It’s practice,” is what Tony says.
Peter turns towards him, just the left side of his face curling into a look of wrinkled incredulity. “For what.”
“Okay,” Peter says loudly, dropping the pill onto the table and covering his ears.
Tony snorts and comes to stand beside his stool at the counter. He plops the pill onto a spoonful of oatmeal, then lifts it, making some fun little airplane noises.
“Ooh, ecco che arriva l’aereo,” he says in a baby voice, nudging Peter’s closed lips with the tip of the spoon.
Peter makes the mistake of opening his mouth to protest and Tony shoves the spoon in, clicking his teeth.
Peter sputters for a moment before realizing resistance is futile and this really is his life now. It takes him three tries to gain the courage to swallow, but he manages it and then gasps like Tony’s just choked him.
“I’d literally rather keep fainting than ever do that again,” he announces.
Tony stares at him and then drops his face into his hands, screaming delicately.
Peter snorts a laugh. “Aw, I’m kidding. Stop, I’m just being dramatic.” He reaches out and takes Tony’s bicep in his hand, shaking him. “Stop yelling, I’ll take the pills so I stop swooning.”
“You’d better,” Tony says, muffled by his palms.
Peter’s head tilts into his chest. When Tony doesn’t react, he nuzzles with force.
Tony can’t help smiling. He lifts an arm and tucks Peter close.
“Hey,” Peter whispers, “thanks. If I choke on one of those pills and die, just know my last thought will be of you. Then I can come back and haunt you for vengeance.”
It startles a laugh out of Tony. He pulls Peter closer, dropping his chin on Peter’s head. He smells like teenage boy, ugh. “Even in death we’re sticking together, kiddo.”
Peter knocks his forehead on Tony’s collarbone like a cat. “’Cuz you have me.”
Tony smiles, disgusted and a little disbelieving. “You know it,” he says. “I have you.”