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no such thing as bad press

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He didn’t know precisely what he’d done wrong in his life that had led to this very moment, but it must have been something truly terrible. Otherwise, this just wasn’t fair.

Peter perched on one of the tall stone pillars of his school’s fence, trying not to put any weight on his right ankle (which hurt a lot ever since he’d ungracefully landed on the fence instead of the other side of the fence) and tugged on his backpack which was stuck a few feet away on the ornamental (or just, really fucking annoying) metal spikes. It proved to be a difficult task with just one functioning leg and no desire to be impaled on the fence. Maybe this was just what he got for using (or trying to use) spider-powers in broad daylight, in civilian clothes and while he should have been at his decathlon meet.

“Karen, how’s the fire doing?” Karen had sent him an alert during decathlon practice about a fire on the other side of Queens that was threatening to spread to several buildings. He wouldn’t normally leave school to attend superhero duties, unless it was something dangerous where his abilities would really make a difference – fires and evacuations leading the list.

“Sources say they are close to getting it under control. No casualties.”

Peter sighed. They didn’t even need his help, so this had pretty much all been for nothing. He should probably still go and see for himself, though – most people were excited to meet him (at least as Spider-Man), and his presence might cheer them up and distract them from the day’s events.

“Peter, you have a stable fracture in your ankle. I’d advise you not to move.” Karen’s voice sounded from his Starkwatch.

“Karen, I can’t just sit here forever. Can I climb down this thing with just my hands and one leg? You know, Spidey-style?” He critically eyed the pillar he was sitting on. It was way taller than a fence had any business being, in his opinion.

“You certainly could, Peter, though you shouldn’t put pressure on your right leg by walking or swinging. I am also obligated to inform Mr Stark if you leave the school grounds during lessons or extracurriculars, which technically so far you have not done.”

“What? Karen –“

“Boy! What are you doing up there?”

Peter froze in his tracks. An elderly lady looked up at him, frowning.

“Uhm –“

“Are you breaking and entering?”

“What? No! This is my school, I’m, um – I’m taking pictures for the school newspaper,” Peter invented. “It’s totally fine, totally legal and everything –“

“How did you get up there?”

New Yorkers didn’t normally care how people got places, and Peter had seen some weird shit on patrol. But of course he had to encounter a concerned citizen in this time of crisis.

“Uh, my friend helped me up here but I hurt my ankle so now I’m just… waiting for a teacher.” He congratulated himself on having improved upon his skills of deception, at least when it came to strangers. He doubted there were any teachers around, but it was probably better that way because he’d have a lot of explaining to do – and more detentions really wouldn’t look good on his record.

“Oh dear, your ankle? Is it bad?” In fascination, Peter watched the lady transform from strict adult into a caring grandma and he would’ve been touched if he hadn’t had the inkling that a grandma was even harder to shake off than an amateur detective.

“Not at all –“

“Peter has sustained a fracture and needs medical attention,” Karen’s voice sounded from his watch. The elderly woman eyed the device critically.

“What was that?”

Peter froze. “That’s my fitbit.” Okay, so maybe his lying skills weren’t exactly off the charts yet. Why was Karen ratting him out to a complete stranger, anyway?

“What’s a fitbit?”

“Uh, just – don’t worry about it, it’s a fitness watch of sorts, you can just leave me here –“ Peter was glad the fire in Queens was being attended to, because he was beginning to doubt he’d ever make it out of this predicament.

“No! Your watch said you need medical attention!”

“What’s happening here?” A man in his thirties approached them and Peter wondered if this day could get any worse. His ankle was really starting to hurt now that the adrenaline had worn off and the more people gathered here, the less likely he was to get down anytime soon.

“Nothing! It’s fine, sir, you can just keep –“

“This young man is stuck up there with a broken ankle,” the woman informed him helpfully.

“It’s not broken!” Peter protested weakly. It was kind of broken, but it barely mattered. He had super healing, after all.

The man looked up at him, shielding his eyes against the sun. “Sorry, just had surgery on my shoulder so I can’t lift anything. But I’ll call 911 for you, alright?”

Peter watched in horror as the man pulled out his phone. Why were there always zero witnesses for crime and countless for his embarrassment? “No, sir – thank you, that’s very kind, but you don’t need to bother 911 –“

“The news just said there’s a big fire downtown, I’m not sure they’ll have vehicles for non-life-threatening injuries,” the lady pondered.

“Still, we need to call someone – maybe Spider-Man could help out?” Peter was pretty sure his heart stopped for a second. The man thought for a moment, then shook his head. “No, he’s probably at the fire too… and anyway, I wouldn’t know how to reach him.” He shrugged, and Peter marvelled at the irony of this conversation. Also – how long would it take to build a bat signal for Spider-Man?

While the two continued brainstorming possible ideas, Peter sank back on his pillar. He heard people around the corner walking in this direction, and it wasn’t too long until the evening rush hour. With this steadily growing number of witnesses and the threat of Karen informing Mr Stark if his foot so much as touched a public street until decathlon was over in two hours, there was little he could do but submit to his fate. But he also didn’t want to end up on TV as the headline “Student Stuck on School Fence – Admission Criteria For STEM Schools Called Into Question”.

“Look, I’ll call my – my dad, okay?” Peter interrupted the adults on the ground. “He’ll help me out, you really don’t need to stay here.” It wasn't like he could call Aunt May out of work for something as silly as this.

The grandma shook her head resolutely. “We’ll stay until we know you’re safe. This is New York, who knows what’ll happen if you just sit up there all by yourself!”

Peter sighed in defeat and searched his pockets for his phone until he realised he’d left it in his backpack, which was still in an unattainable position for him. That left him with –

“Karen? Can you text – you know? Him?”

“You mean your father, Peter? Of course,” Karen sounded too smug for an AI. A few moments later, she had a response.

“He says he’ll be here in two minutes.”

“Great. I guess that means he’s not coming in a car?” That would take him way longer, and of course Tony Stark wouldn’t pass up a chance of being dramatic, especially when Karen told him Peter wasn’t in some kind of life-threatening altercation but in an ideal position to be teased relentlessly for the coming months. Or years.

“Iron Man's capability to fly is well suited to resolving your situation, Peter.”

That got the attention of the two people on the ground below him.

“Did your watch say Iron Man is coming to rescue you?” The younger man asked, frowning up at Peter. He decided there was no use in creating some kind of unbelievable story here – Tony could deal with these two later. They didn’t seem like the kind of people who’d sell information to the press anyway, so he might as well give up the act.

“I mean, he could just send a suit on its own. But I’m pretty sure he wants to witness this himself, so yeah. – You might need to sign an NDA,” he added as an afterthought, especially considering he’d called Tony Stark “dad”. He did that sometimes, in the beginning ironically, now he wasn’t so sure anymore. But obviously, it wasn’t a great idea to do it in public if he didn’t want people to ask too many questions.

“I think Iron Man will attract some media attention anyway, young man,” the lady said goodheartedly. Peter sighed. Yeah, that was the problem. But at least “Iron Man Saves Dumb Student” was better than “Dumb Student Impaled on Fence” or “Spider-Man Revealed Scaling Pillar with Broken Ankle”. He was also impressed that his two companions took the information that Iron Man would be showing up in less than a minute in stride, even though the man still eyed him a bit warily as if he thought Peter was pulling some elaborate joke, or as if this was some post-surgery hallucination.

“Iron Man incoming in 30 seconds, Peter.” Yeah, he knew, he’d heard him.

Leaving aside the unfortunate circumstances of the visit, Peter couldn’t help but brighten as he saw the Iron Man suit landing smoothly a few feet away. It was still as amazing to witness as it had been ten years ago, when Spider-Man and superheroes were something he never even dreamt of having in his life.

The suit smoothly retracted and Tony Stark stepped out.

“Ma’am, sir,” he nodded towards the pedestrians. The lady waved back. The man was staring at the suit, now empty, standing on the pavement. Tony turned towards Peter, a smile forming on his face.

“Got yourself in a bit of a situation, huh, kid?” Peter decided Tony was entirely too delighted at the sight of him sitting on a pillar with his backpack entangled in the fence.

“You could say that. Did you have to come in the suit?”

Tony looked offended. “You love the suits!”

“I love working on them, I don’t love to be carried in them like… like a cabbage, or something,” Peter huffed, adjusting his position. He winced when he moved his ankle. It was probably already starting to heal, and Karen said it was stable so it would most likely heal correctly, but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt.

Tony frowned. “Okay, I’m just going to put the cabbage comment up to the ankle pain. Let’s get out of here so we can fix your foot and discuss your unusual whereabouts during a time which should be devoted to your school nerd club." Peter rolled his eyes and Tony shot a quick grin at him. "Ma’am, sir –“, he turned towards Peters newfound companions, “thank you for staying here. I’ll send NDAs your way, along with some thank yous for keeping the kid company.” He smiled, and they smiled back, forming some kind of mutual understanding. Maybe it was based on dealing with teenagers.

After a pause, Tony broke the silence. “Friday?” The suit encased him, and even though the thrusters started at the minimum necessary capacity for him to hover a few feet above the ground, just high enough to reach Peter, it caused the bystanders to quickly move back. Peter had forgotten how impressive thrusters could be when you’d never seen them up close before.

Seconds later, Peter found himself face to face with Tony, the faceplate retracting. Peter held back a laugh; the suit always made Tony’s head look really small. He’d never tell him that, but it looked funny.

“You ready, kid?”

Peter nodded and let himself be picked up. Tony was careful to support his hurt leg so he wouldn’t have to move it a lot.

“Don’t forget my backpack!” Peter couldn’t see it as the faceplate had re-formed in preparation of the flight, but he knew Tony was rolling his eyes.

“I can’t believe you’re making Iron Man fly around with a kid’s backpack, petit chou.”

Peter grinned. “It’s what dads do, Mr Stark.” A second later, he frowned. “Did you just call me a cabbage?”

“Did you just call me a dad?”

Peter shrugged, watching the buildings of Queens become smaller as they were ascending to the New York sky. “You are carrying my backpack. Voluntarily.”

“I should’ve left you on that fence.”

“Yeah, but you wouldn’t.”

Peter heard Tony sigh, but it wasn’t enough to mask the fondness in his voice.

“No, I wouldn’t.”

---

Iron Man Saves Teenager! Inspired by New York’s Favourite Hero Spider-Man?

Tony let himself fall on the couch next to Peter, disbelievingly staring at the TV. “Did you pay them to run that headline?”

Peter grinned broadly. “Didn’t have to. I’m New York’s favourite hero, after all.”

Tony chucked a pillow at him that Peter easily dodged, laughing.

“I don’t know why I keep you around.” Still, Tony carded a hand through Peters curls as Peter contently settled against his side, a bowl of popcorn in his hands.

“You know what they say, there’s no such thing as bad press. I’m sure Queens would love it if you visited your role model Spider-Man sometimes,” Peter teased, the question implied between the lines.

Tony smiled and stole a piece of popcorn. “I’m sure we could arrange that.”