The stench of the assembly hall had always made Peter gag – even before his senses had become aggressively heightened. Now, the smell of four-hundred teenage boys and girls crammed into one space had become so overwhelming to him that he hated the fortnightly hour-long assembly more than anything – maybe even more so than physical education lessons with Flash.
Principal Morita was droning on and on. Something about which companies would be attending that year’s fairs, how they related to college applications and potential careers, all things that Peter had no interest in.
He knew his path. He’d finish school with great grades, study for an accelerated degree at MIT (just like Tony, who had promised to bring May on visits all the time, claiming he missed his old campus and wouldn’t mind the sentimentality tour), and then take his place in the research and development department at Stark Industries – the place that Tony had taken to saying was waiting for him, the second that he graduated. He’d work up the ranks, and maybe someday, he would run the department just like Tony did now.
Suffice to say, Principal Morita’s lecture was of little consequence to him, and he was bored out of his mind. He was way inside his own head, completely spaced out – thinking of ways to improve his webbing, thinking of solutions to the problems the research and development were currently working against – when the shot went off. His senses should have caught it early, should have known something was wrong but they didn’t and suddenly the hall was completely silent. It was as if a spell had been cast over them, snuffing out all the air, all the breath, all the life in the hall. The teachers were suddenly frozen in their place and the students were holding their breaths in the stands, eyeing each other nervously.
“What the –” Ned whispered beside him.
A second shot.
A few people shot to their feet, staring at the teachers, staring at the exits. The tension in the room was rising and suddenly the stench of teenagers was overcome by the stench of fear and adrenaline. The teachers jumped into action as if suddenly electrocuted, and begun to run towards the two sets of double doors, one each side of the hall.
“EVERYBODY OFF THE BENCHES, ON THE FLOOR, GET UNDERNEATH, AGAINST THE WALLS NOW.”
Peter’s senses kicked in. He hauled Ned upwards and rushed along with the rest of his schoolmates as everyone gripped hands and shook and some began to sob, practically toppling over one another in an effort to get to the ground. People were running down the aisles on either side of the benches, climbing down the stands, shoving in an effort to be quicker, quicker, quicker.
Teachers were piling chairs and court-side benches against the doors, one on top of the other. Someone had found a broom and shoved it through the handles on one set of doors and someone was dashing to do the same to the other. Principal Morita was urging people to take cover underneath the stands but also shushing them, his eyes flicking all around the hall. Peter and Ned had just made it to the floor, crowded in on all sides, when the third shot went off and the crowd became even more intense, pushing at one another so hard that they all seemed to topple at once.
There wasn’t any more room underneath the stands – they had been sat right near the top had been some of the last to get to the floor. Peter pulled Ned up against the wall and slid down. They were both shaking, and it was more of a tumble, Peter’s shoulder knocked into one or two people on his way down for sure. A few more students, the very last, surrounded them, trying to get as near to the semi-cover the edge of the stands gave, and Peter tried to make as much room as he could. There were two people between him and Ned now, and MJ was just past him, on the opposite side, and he could see Flash and some of his other classmates right in the middle of the crowd underneath the stands.
Peter tried to take a breath but his heart was beating too fast, his senses were driving him crazy with the noise of people sobbing and moaning and the sight of the teachers stood on either side of each doorway trying to get a glance of what was out there but also telling them “be quiet, be quiet, don’t make any noise, put your phones on silent, do it now, do it now, just breathe, follow drill regulations”.
He grasped at his pockets and pulled out his phone with shaking fingers. They had been trained for this – they’d had so many drills, with the teachers telling the students what they were meant to do if a shooter were in the school. They had them at least three times a year, but they were always in a classroom, every single time. They’d never done a drill where every student in the school was in the assembly hall. What if the shooter knew that. The thought made Peter’s eyes blur and he struggled to draw in a breath, forcing air down his throat suddenly felt like a torture method instead of a survival tactic.
He didn’t have his suit on him. He didn’t even have his web shooters on his wrists he didn’t have anything not a thing that could help his classmates. And what if the shooter came to the hall what if they broke down the doors what if they –
“Peter! Peter!” He turned his head along with everyone else crowded around him. A fourth shot cracked through the air. People jumped and wailed and huddled closer to one another. They sobbed and they shushed Ned and clawed at his arms, desperate for him to be quiet but Ned, white in the face, still caught Peter’s eyes. “Now might be a really good time to call Mr Stark.”
There was an intake of breath around him and he thought he might have heard Flash let out a humourless bark of laughter that was inappropriate considering the timing, and Peter felt the cold realisation sweep through his blood, so much so that his phone dropped from his clammy hands and struck the floor. The people around him were suddenly staring at him instead of Ned and really the whole hall was staring at him because they’d heard Ned’s voice across the quiet space, but he didn’t want to focus on that and then one of the girls shot forwards and grabbed his mobile off the floor, shoving it into his hands.
“Yes, of course, god, yes, okay, let me, I need to –” Peter could hardly breathe. His hands were shaking and there were tears in his eyes and he didn’t get the password right the first time, but he did the second time and then he accidentally scrolled past the ‘TS’ in his contact list but he finally found it and pressed it and held it to his ear and he knew the whole school had heard what Ned said and even the teachers were looking at him now and his legs were shaking so violently that –
“Hey kiddo.” Peter could have sworn his heart cracked as the chipper voice came through the line. The people around him sucked in a breath. They were packed like sardines. They could hear the conversation. “Listen I’m in the middle of a remodel at the moment and I swear you’re meant to be in school so help me if you’re skipping right now –”
“Tony.” Peter croaked. The man on the other end went silent. Peter hardly ever called him Tony. “Help. Help, please, now.”
“Where are you?” Tony’s voice turned stern in an instant. A sudden, metallic crash clanged through the phone and made Peter wince, and then there was the pounding of footsteps and he knew that Tony had been in his lab and was now running up the stairs. “What’s happening? Talk to me kid. What’s going on.”
Peter was hyperventilating. There were too many people watching him. Too many sounds, too many emotions, too much tension in the air. He could feel it all. He could barely speak, and his words were scrambled, and he didn’t know if what he was saying made sense to begin with, but he managed to get it out. “School. I’m at school. Friday assembly. There have been, been shots. Shots fired in the school. We’re all hiding in the assembly and the whole school is in the hall and there have been four shots fired, and the teachers have barricaded the doors –”
Tony let out a string of curses. Over the line a loud alarm began to ring, and Peter knew that Tony had activated emergency procedures inside the Tower, alerting all present Avengers of a crisis. He winced, the noise was piercing even through the phone and caused his temples to throb. “Fuck. Okay. Fuck. Peter, it’s going to be okay. We’re going to be there in three minutes. We’re at the Tower. Just three minutes, alright. We’re coming for you, you hear me. Kid? Tell me you’re listening Pete I swear –”
“I’m here, I’m listening, I’m listening.” Peter had his knees up against his chest and he was pushing his forehead against them and there was a hand on his shoulder that he wanted off. “Mr Stark you have to get here –”
“We’re leaving now.” Tony said through the phone, and Peter could hear him barking orders to someone the other end to GET YOUR FUCKING KIT ON NOW. And then back to Peter, his voice clearer but shaking. “Stay on the phone Peter. Can you stay on the phone for me?” There was raw sense of panic in Tony’s voice that Peter had never heard before – an urgency that felt more frightening to Peter than the gunshots in some ways.
Peter had seen the billionaire worried before, particularly back in Germany, facing off against his friends, and there had certainly been regret in the months that followed – a quiet sadness to the man that Peter could not have imagined before. But there had never heard a time when Peter had heard the great Iron Man sound panicked.
“Yes, yes I’m still on the phone. I’m still here. Fuck please be quick the whole school’s in here and we can’t –” CRACK. The girl next to him began to weep in earnest. “Fuck. God. Tony that was a fifth shot. When are you getting here the shots are getting closer to the hall –”
“Kid we’re about to be in the air.” There was a soaring, the sound of repulsors and then a second of silence before Tony continued. “We’re in the air right now kid and the school is only a minute by flight we’re gonna be there real soon just stay on the phone with me okay we’re coming to get you. It’s okay Peter, it’s going to be okay I promise you alright this is gonna be over really quick and then we’re gonna go get shawarma pizza’s for dinner and watch that stupid Alien movie you’re so bloody obsessed with –”
“Shawarma pizza isn’t a thing.” Peter interjected. He didn’t raise his head from his knees. He still felt the gaze of four hundred people on him. His senses made them feel like glass, piercing and cutting him where they fell. “That’s not – it isn’t –”
“Are you really arguing with me about this, right now?” There was a humorous lilt in Tony’s voice and Peter knew that he was trying to make light of their conversation. For both their sakes. “If I say it’s a thing, then it’s a thing. I’m a genius remember.”
“How could I forget.” Peter choked out. His legs weren’t shaking so badly. He wanted to look up and look at Ned, but he couldn’t seem to lift his head. “How far are you now?”
“The school is in sight, we’re approaching.” Tony told him. Peter thought he might hear the whistle of wind in the background, and Tony was barking orders at people. “1,2,3, drop! Hang tight Peter. Have there been any more shots fired? I’m going straight through the front doors how do I get to the assembly hall. I’m coming okay, I’m almost there you’re gonna see me real soon just tell me how to get to the assembly hall.”
“You… You…” Peter took a deep breath and finally raised his head from his knees and saw without surprise that four hundred sets of eyes were looking back at him. “You need to go straight down the hall once you are inside the doors, then down the left-hand corridor right to the end, then a right turn. Blue double doors. When you’re looking at the school from above, the hall is the largest building on the left-hand back corner.” There was a crash through the phone and Peter, and the group around him, jumped. “Shit what was that –”
“I blasted the front doors off.” Tony said shortly. “We’re here kid, we’re here, it’s fine.”
A sob crawled up Peter’s throat – sour and sore – choking him as it forced itself from his chest up towards his lips. “You have to be careful; Mr Stark promise me be careful you don’t know –”
CRACK, CRACK, CRACK.
A barrage of gunfire, closer than ever before, and the sound of a blast – and everyone in the hall was crying and glancing at the doors and Peter was panicking because he’d heard the gunshots from the hall, but he’d also heard them over the phone and Tony wasn’t responding. He scrambled onto his knees and people were bending away from him, but the phone was a lifeline against his ear. “Tony? Tony what happened are you okay what’s going –”
And from above them there was a crashing as a window smashed inwards – on the one side of the hall where no students were crowded and the glass hurtled to the floor along with a flash of black and red. Peter gaped with the rest of the student body as the Black Widow soared through the air and then rolled neatly onto her feet as she hit the ground. She stared around the room, and they all stared back. “Is everyone okay?” She called, as if she hadn’t just hurtled through the window of their assembly hall. “Is anyone hurt?”
Principal Morita took a moment to gape before he stood, legs shaking as hard as Peter’s had been, and the assassin turned on him in an instant, tracking the movement. Her hand was poised on the guns at her hips, but they relaxed quickly as Morita shook his head. “We’re okay. No one got into the hall.”
“Good.” Natasha said simply, and a strange sense of confusion and intrigue spread through the hall, replacing the fear and the tension as quickly as it had appeared. People were whispering and gaping at Natasha, but she paid them no heed. “My colleagues are taking care of the shooters. Now where the fuck is Peter Parker?”
Everyone turned their heads at the same time, and Peter, with tears tracking down his cheeks caught Natasha’s eyes the second she looked his way, following the gaze of the crowd. He saw the breath she took, the small amount of tension that left her when she saw him.
“Where’s Tony?” He demanded, before she could say anything. Natasha watched him as he struggled to his feet, hands scrapping the walls behind him. “The gunshots – the blast – where is he?”
The Black Widow smiled. “Hey Pete.” They both ignored the stunned looks of Peter’s peers at the famous – perhaps infamous – Avenger addressing him so casually, but he couldn’t help but turn to look at Flash’s gaping mouth just a little. “Glad you’re okay. Almost scared us there. He’s coming, don’t worry, he’s okay. The blast probably threw off his phone’s transmission. He’s still on comms. He’ll be here in just a –”
Half the students screamed as the assembly hall doors blasted open, and the chairs and benches the teachers had stacked were thrown against the stands. “In just a second.” Natasha finished, and through the now broken doors strode an entire cast of recognisable figures – but Peter only cared about one. He felt himself slump, his back finding the cold wall (or perhaps the cold was from sweat) as the infamous Iron Man, decked in red and gold, barged into the assembly hall of Midtown High - careening towards Natasha.
“That’s Iron Man!” “That’s Captain America!” “That’s Hawkeye!” “That’s War Machine!” “That’s “That’s the Falcon!” The whispers came and then suddenly someone was clapping, and Peter thought he was going to collapse if the noise got louder but it didn’t because someone was speaking, and it cut through the applause – a voice no one would dare speak over.
“Natasha –” Tony’s voice had never sounded broken before and that was what gave Peter the strength to push himself up and off the wall, even though he was still hyperventilating and there was definitely a black spot or two in his vision. “Where’s –”
Peter was stepping over his classmates, clumsy and slipping, and reaching out to grab the edge of the stands to steady himself. “Tony.” He called, and he knew it sounded weak, but the Iron Man suit turned to him an instant. And Peter knew that his eyes were red, and his cheeks were wet, and his entire body was shaking, but he tumbled across the hall with an arm held across his face and four-hundred people still watching. And suddenly the red and gold melted away and Tony was stepping out of the suit with a stricken expression, wearing a greased-up t-shirt and a pair of jeans stained with motor oil, and a new gasp echoed around the hall.
“Kid.” Tony breathed and that was all Peter cared about as he tumbled forward and crashed headfirst into his mentor’s chest. All he cared about as Tony’s arms wrapped around him immediately, pulling him closer as Peter’s head came to rest in the crook of Tony’s neck and they were both holding on for dear life. “Fuck. Jesus, kid are you alright? Tell me you’re alright.” Tony’s voice was desperate and his hands-on Peter’s back were the only thing keeping the teenager upright as he gasped for breath. “F.R.I.D.A.Y?”
The AI’s voice was calm and methodical. “Peter is having an anxiety attack, as are many people in this room right now. His heartbeat is above its usual rate and he is hyperventilating. Peter has no physical injuries. He simply needs to breathe.”
“No shit.” Tony muttered against Peter’s hair, and his hands traced the damp back of Peter’s shirt. “Hey, hey just take it easy, you’re okay, I got you. Everyone’s fine.” He released a long breath of air that ruffled the hairs on Peter’s forehead. “You almost gave me a heartache kiddo; you can’t keep doing this to me. I’m going to be grey by the time I turn forty. I have a heart condition you know.”
Peter’s huffed laughter seemed to calm them both, even though it came out in pants between gasping breaths. “You’re already way past forty, Mr Stark.”
“How dare you. I’m the ripe old age of thirty-six and not a day older. It’s the shawarma, you know. Keeps me young.” Tony’s hand was in his curls now and Peter found the strength to pull back just a little so he could look up at the man holding him. In his peripheral he could see the students gaping at them, could hear Steve and Rhodey telling the teachers that the two shooters had been detained and given over to the police officers outside the building. But Tony was staring down at him with glassy eyes and sunken cheeks and creased brows, and their hands were still wrapped around one another. “Don’t scare me like that ever again, okay kid? Never again.”
“Okay.” Peter whispered, and he leant his head back down onto Tony’s shoulder with a sigh. “Does that mean, you know, there’s ever a shooter in our school again, you don’t want me to call you?” Tony wrenched back; horror etched into his expression. Peter stumbled to get his footing now he wasn’t leaning on the older man. “Cause then you won’t get scared, right?”
“Don’t you dare –” Tony began spitting. He stopped when he noticed the shadow of a tired smile on Peter’s tear-stained face. Hand on one hip, he pointed at his protégé. “Bad, bad joke, Peter. You’re grounded.” Peter gaped, and there was a muffled laugh somewhere in the hall, but Tony continued. “Or better yet, you’re on house arrest. Yeah, house arrest. You’re going to be home schooled from now on, I’ll start teaching you the MIT curriculum. We’ll be done in a week. Anyway, you aren’t leaving my sight until you’re at least thirty-six. Got that?”
Peter stepped back, one hand rubbing at his eyes, but he didn’t miss the feeble attempt Tony made at reaching for his wrist. “You can’t keep me locked in the Tower or the compound or May’s flat until I’m thirty-six.” He argued.
“Like hell I can’t.” Tony scoffed. “Aunt Hottie will let me do whatever if it keeps you safe. So don’t play that bullshit game with me, alright.”
Steve tutted from behind them. “Language, this is a school Tony.”
“Can it, Grandpa.” Tony retorted sourly, and Peter laughed, and finally Tony smiled, the reality that Peter was safe finally resting on his shoulders and the relief seemingly playing on his lips. Peter’s heart was no longer beating faster than his thoughts could comprehend, and didn’t protest when Tony tucked him back underneath his arm. “It’s been an emotional ten minutes.”
“Thank you for getting here so quickly.” Principal Morita suddenly interrupted, and the rest of the Avengers turned to stare at him. The teachers seemingly withered under their gaze. “We are lucky that you were nearby, and that Mr Parker was able to contact you.”
“Of course.” Steve smiled. “Anytime, and anything for the kid.” He jutted his head back at Peter.
Morita hesitated. “Excuse me for asking, I appreciate this may not be the time… but I wasn’t aware that Peter’s internship entailed working with the other members of your, uh, superhero team, Mr Stark.”
The Avengers all blinked. Tony had gone stiff. He tugged on Peter’s hair; his fingers still tangled in the strands whilst the others turned back to look at Peter. “Kid…”
Peter ducked his head into Tony’s chest. “What?” He mumbled.
“Did you… Did you not tell people about us?” The gasp of feigned hurt came from Clint. The others wore similar expression of surprise. “Oh, I’m offended. I’m very offended so you know what kiddo you aren’t allowed to play on my Xbox anymore. I’m taking away gaming privileges.”
Steve turned to the Principal. “There’s seems to have been a misunderstanding.” He said. “Peter’s internship is exclusively related to his engineering work at Stark Industries, but through that we have each met him and spent time with him, particularly as he helps Tony modify aspects of our personal equipment and technology. He often stays late and ends up joining us for dinner at the Tower. We are, you know, close, outside of the internship. He’s part of the team.”
Shocked chattering broke out across the hall. Steve looked confused. He looked to Tony as if to check he had not said anything out of order, but Tony just shrugged.
“Peter? Anything you want to explain?” Rhodey prompted, and Peter cleared his throat.
“I, uh, didn’t specifically mention that I had maybe, uh, ever met any of you.” He winced at their hurt expressions. “They, people, know about my internship, obviously.. but, uh, well, the thing is –” He trailed off, not quite ready to say the words on the tip of his lips. He knew Tony wouldn’t be happy, and the man’s grip around his shoulders had already tightened immeasurably.
“Spit it out Peter, some of us have police statements to give.” Sam rolled his eyes. He flexed his shoulders and the wings on his back twitched. People gaped.
Peter grimaced. How had they got here. His head was pounding, but at least the wetness on his cheeks was drying and his breathing was under control. “A lot of people don’t even believe my internship is real, so… I thought it best not to mention this particular aspect and face, you know, more ridicule.” He tried to laugh it off, but the Avengers did not look pleased.
“The hell do you mean they don’t think your internship is real?” Tony bit out. “We filed paperwork with the school. You have an ID card. You have a final report to hand in to your teachers by the end of the term.”
Peter was steadily wishing that the ground would swallow him up, or at the very least Natasha would go ahead and execute one of her best roundhouse kicks to knock him out. “People just kind of, you know, thought I’d made it up.”
“Well I would like to think we’ve successfully corrected that issue.” Rhodey scoffed, but Tony wasn’t finished. He was glaring down at Peter.
“Why haven’t you mentioned this before?” He asked, and Peter shrugged. “Don’t just shrug at me young man. I could have spoken to the school; we could have figured something out. I’ve never asked you to lie or to keep your acquaintance with members of the team a secret.”
Peter resisted the urge to shrug again. “I know. I just preferred to keep a low-profile.”
Natasha and Clint scoffed. “And how’s that working out for you?”
Peter grinned sheepishly. “Not great, I have to admit, though I don’t think that’s entirely my fault.” He said, noticing that Tony still didn’t look happy. “But you know, I suppose Rhodey is right, we kind of solved that.”
Tony scoffed, unwrapping his arm from around Peter and stretching. “No kidding.” He drawled. His shoulder clicked with the stretch. “Let’s get out of here. Where’s your bag and everything kid, you’re coming with us to the Tower.” The head of Stark Industries turned to Principal Morita. “Thanks for the hospitality and all but high schools give me hives. We’ll give our statements to the police and be going. Pete’s with us.”
Morita looked hesitant, but then cleared his throat, trying to push out his chest and look important. “I’m sorry Mr Stark, the only people allowed to remove Mr Parker from school premises are those listed on his emergency contact list, especially given the circumstances. We’ll have to call Ms Parker to –”
“I am on his emergency contact list.” Tony said shortly, facing off the Principal. Steve and Rhodey seemed amused, their lips twitching in unison. Clint and Natasha were already making their way towards the doors. “So, no need to call his Aunt. She’s working a double shift at the hospital and is unlikely to pick up her phone. The kid stays with me.”
“How do you know May’s work schedule?” Peter’s brows furrowed. “And since when are you on my emergency contact list?”
Tony rolled his eyes. “May sends me her rota every two weeks so we can decide when’s best for you to visit the Tower. And I’ve been on your emergency contact list all year kid, as has Happy, just in case May is working and I’m in a meeting with the President – which is the only reason, by the way, that my phone would ever be off. He gets too twitchy. Ends up making me nervous. Didn’t I tell you to get your bag. Vamoose.” He gently shoved the boy towards the stands and Peter jogged up the aisle to retrieve his backpack, still sat right where it had been left when the first shots had been fired and they’d scrambled for cover.
He felt a bead of sweat at his forehead. He clasped the handrail as he made his way down and searched the students who were hesitantly getting to their feet or their knees, looking unsure of their next move. MJ gave him a thumbs up as he smiled at her. Ned jostled through and shoved at his shoulder, before pulling him in to a hug. They held each other for a moment, but Ned pulled back. “You have dinner with the Avengers? You never told me all that. Does Hawkeye really let you play his Xbox have you ever worked out with Captain America have you –”
“For the record, this –” Peter shook his hand, signalling to Ned’s expression. “This is why I didn’t tell you any of those things.”
“Yeah I suppose that’s fair.” Ned shook off the insult. “You alright?”
Peter took a deep breath. “Yeah, yeah I’m okay.” He whispered. He glanced back at Tony, now in an avid conversation with Steve, a police officer who had suddenly appeared, and Principal Morita, who looked fairly white in the face. “Do you want me to wait with you, while your Dad comes and picks you up?”
“No it’s cool –”
Principal Morita called out, “Students, we have been informed that the news are reporting shots fired here at Midtown. Please call your parents and reassure them of your safety. School is dismissed for the day, but you must return to your home rooms and sign out with your teacher before you leave. After that, you are welcome to go.”
Students began to climb out from underneath the stands, their hands still shaking, and their arms wrapped around their friends. Peter promised to meet Ned at their home room and returned to Tony, who promptly pulled him in, as students moved all around them. Some were darting across the hall and throwing themselves at friends and siblings, and Peter watched as the Smith sisters sobbed on one another and the Patel brothers embraced for much longer than they would usually let people see. Students were also retrieving their phones from their bags, and Peter, still tucked underneath Tony’s arm and surrounded on all sides by members of the Avengers, eyed them with unease.
“Tony?” He whispered, and the former playboy looked at him instantly. There was a small smile on his face that Peter suspected had everything to do with the younger boy calling him Tony instead of Mr Stark. “Everyone’s taking photos of us.” He tried to step away, but Tony’s grip tightened and refused to let him go. “This is going to be all over the news. It’s going to be all over social media – not only what you did today but the fact that it was me who called you, your reaction when you saw me. And the whole world’s going to see these photos of us and know I’m probably more than just an intern.”
Tony sighed, dragging a hand across his face. Rhodey spoke up quietly from beside him. “He’s right, Tony. We need a plan. The photos are probably already being sent to friends and family, I’d bet they’ll be shown on the news in an hour or less.”
“Well,” Tony murmured, and with a tug he brought Peter even closer to his chest. Peter stared at him confused. Tony rarely showed this much affection even after near-misses and Spiderman patrols. “If the photos are already out there, there’s only so much damage control we do can.” He eyed Peter warily. “You alright if I keep hold of you, in that case kid? The photos are a done deal. Pepper will manage the aftermath. And I’m… uh, I’m not quite ready to let you go, to be honest. You really did a number on my nerves today.”
Peter felt a tear prick at the corner of his eyes, and he slowly nodded his consent, leaning into the warmth of Tony’s torso. “Sure,” He said hoarsely, one hand on Tony’s shoulder and the other around his waist. “That’s fine. I’m fine with that. I, uh, I need to go to my home room and sign out with my teacher before we leave though, like Principal Morita said. I promised to meet Ned there.” He pointed to where Mr Harrington was ushering students out of the hall, before disappearing himself. “Do you want to come with me?”
Tony let out a long sigh, visibly relieved. “Of course, right there with you bud. Captain, Rhodey, you’re with me and the kid. Sam, head out to the police and start giving our statement. Or, if Clint and Nat have got that covered, then address any press that are present. We’ll be right there.”
Sam set off immediately, weaving in between the high school students and disappearing from view. Peter set off in the same direction. He refused to meet the eyes of those who were still not-so-covertly gaping at the arm wrapped around his shoulders, or the metallic suit that had automatically clanged shut and begun to follow them through the school.
The corridors were soon teaming with the student body, all rushing towards their classrooms or sprinting towards the front of the school where they would no doubt wait to meet their terrified parents. Peter allowed Tony, Steve, and Rhodey to follow him into Mr Harrington’s home room, where Ned greeted them, slapping Peter on the back. “What would you do without the guy in the chair?” He said teasingly, but there was such a sense of relief on the boy’s face, that Peter could only smile.
“I have no idea.” He said honestly, and Ned turned red. “Have you signed out?”
“Yeah, I got hold of Dad, he’s on his way now. You going to the Tower?” Ned glanced up at the imposing figures shadowing Peter. “Uh, actually, I take that back. I’m assuming you don’t have a choice.”
Peter huffed with laughter. His heart still beat against his ribcage, but the sense of relief coursing through him made him light-headed enough to feel like he could laugh. “I definitely don’t. You sure you wouldn’t like us to wait with you?”
Ned shook his head. “No,” He said, though he looked like he wanted to say something else, peering up at Captain Rogers with wide eyes. “Get going. I heard what Mr Stark said about damage control. You’re gonna have a busy-enough afternoon as it is.” He glanced around the homeroom. In the corner, a group of three girls were attempting to slyly take a few more photos of Peter and Tony.
“Yeah, I think you might be right mate.” Peter muttered, scratching at his hair.
“Kid, we really have to leave soon.” Tony stepped forward, interrupting them with a hand on his StarkWatch. He had the decency to look apologetic. “Happy’s waiting to take us to the Tower, and there’s already a ton of press arriving outside of the school. It’s going to be mayhem out there.”
Peter gave Ned one more hug, and they squeezed each other tightly. “Can’t believe we made it out of something like this, again.” Ned whispered quietly before he headed out of the door.
Tony pushed Peter towards Mr Harrington, who had been trying very hard not to openly stare at the superhero’s in his homeroom. At Peter’s approach, however, he looked up with a gentle smile. “Peter, my boy. Thank God you were here with us, eh. I’m sure Principal Morita will have a commendation all lined up for what you did today. I’ve got you all ticked off on the register, you’re free to leave. Have you been able to get in touch with your Aunt May? Let her know that you’re alright?”
“I didn’t do anything, just made a phone call.” Peter muttered, embarrassed. “No I haven’t got in touch with her yet, she’s at work, a double shift like Mr Stark said. But I’m sure she’ll hear the news soon and turn her phone on.”
Mr Harrington nodded with understanding. “Okay, that’s fine then. I’ll make the office aware they may receive a phone call. Off you go and uh, good luck, with the press outside. Make sure you’re careful. I’ll check in with you next week.”
“Thanks Mr Harrington.”
There was no less staring on their way out of the school, and as they approached the doors Tony grasped at the shoulder of Peter’s t-shirt. “Hold on to the back of my shirt kid,” He said gruffly, and Peter did as he asked. They stood to the side for a moment. “There’s a lot of cameras out there. Don’t wanna lose you.”
Steve took the lead, positioning himself two steps in front of them, while Rhodey wordlessly came up on Peter’s other side. The cries of parents and the shouts of the press and the flashing noise of cameras were starting to hurt Peter’s ears, and his grip tightened on Tony’s oil-stained t-shirt. He could still hear the clunk of the empty Iron Man suit following behind. Its shadow indicated that its arms were outstretched, refusing to let anyone within a meter either side of the group.
“F.R.I.D.A.Y, how many members of the press are out there?” Tony questioned, without looking at the suit. “Have Sam or Clint or Nat spoken with them and given statements to the police? And where’s Happy parked?”
“I have scanned the area and determined there are twenty-eight members of the press currently standing on school grounds. Twenty-two of them are holding recording devices. Three of the remaining six are here in a strictly parental capacity.” The AI responded methodically. “Clint and Natasha have given statements to the police, who have taken the detainee’s away from the school grounds and are now overseeing the evacuation of the students. Sam has given a short statement to the press, but they remain on the school grounds, presumably waiting for you make an appearance. A picture of yourself with Mr Parker has been posted online and is beginning to circle the internet.”
“Happy has parked your car to the left of the front doors, an eighty-six metre walk precisely from the bottom of the steps. He was not able to park closer due to the positioning of a school bus, which is now being moved. You will have to walk past the members of the media to get there.”
“Thorough as always, thanks girl.” Tony took a shaky breath and reached up to lightly tug on Peter’s curls. “Are you okay? Can you do this? We can always wait for them to disperse, or try another exit, or I can carry you away in the suit –”
“It’s okay.” Peter said, his gaze fixated on the doors. His head was already pounding. There was too many, too many sounds, too many lights flickering just beyond. “I just need to get out of here fast, or I’m going to have a really bad case of sensory overload.”
Tony face creased with worry. “Let’s go then.” He said, straightening his back. “You heard the kid, team, quickly as possible. Let’s get this over with.”
They tightened their formation and their grips, and stepped outdoors. The early afternoon light flooded over them and the press, noticing them immediately, rushed towards the doors, yelling questions from across the parking lot. Steve held out his shield, blocking them from coming too close, and Peter ducked his head down.
“You can do this kid,” Tony murmured, his own head ducked down over Peter’s. “It isn’t far. I can see Happy from here. He’s there ready for us. We’ll all shield you while you get into the car.”
“IRON MAN WHAT HAPPENED HERE?”
“HOW MANY SHOOTERS WERE THERE? THE POLICE REFUSED TO CONFIRM.”
“MR STARK WHO’S THAT BOY IS THAT YOUR SON?”
“CAN YOU CONFIRM THAT THIS IS YOUR ILLEGITIMATE CHILD?”
“MR STARK HOW DID THE AVENGERS KNOW THAT THERE WAS A SCHOOL SHOOTING?”
“IRON MAN WERE ANY OF THE AVENGERS INJURED DURING THE SHOOTINGS?”
“WHO’S THE KID? WHAT’S HIS NAME? WHERE ARE YOU TAKING HIM?”
“MR STARK DO THE CHILD’S PARENTS KNOW YOU ARE TAKING HIM FROM THE SCHOOL?”
The screaming surrounded them on all sides, and Peter’s breathing hitched as Tony guided him towards Happy. The press followed them the whole way. Shouting, yelling, bombarding them with questions. Tony was whispering to him, but he couldn’t help but try and block that out as well, reaching up to place one hand over his right ear, the other squished against Tony’s chest.
“Almost there kid, almost there.” Tony whispered. Peter should have put his headphones in, should have got his glasses from his bag should have taken some kind of measure against an overload because now the feeling at the back of his neck was pulsing pulsing pulsing and he was shaking and there were tears in his eyes and he might just start screaming if – “HAPPY GET THAT DOOR OPEN NOW.”
Even with his ears covered and the roar of the media Peter could hear Tony’s order, and Steve was suddenly to the side of him and the ground in front of him was taken up by a sleek black Audi and the door was being wrenched open. Tony tugged him forwards, a calming hand on his back guiding him into the vehicle and onto the plush leather seats. “Scoot over kid, go on.”
The clean, air-conditioned smell of Tony’s car (which to Peter always held a slight scent of motor oil) calmed him immediately, and Peter shuffled along just as Tony ducked and followed him into the car. He saw the red, blue, and white of Steve’s uniform as the Captain quickly shut the door behind them, and Peter breathed a sigh of relief.
“F.R.I.D.A.Y, get the suit to follow us home, keep an eye from the air.” Tony said into his watch.
“Yes boss.” The AI responded, and Peter heard the shouts of the press as the empty suit shot into the sky. Steve wrenched the passenger door open, squeezing his towering frame into the front seat and slammed the door shut behind him so hard Peter momentarily thought the window might crack.
Captain Rogers shuffled uncomfortably, and then awkwardly managed to pass his shield over the seats and into the back seat. The press were attempting to take photos through the windshield, and Tony helped Peter prop the shield on his knees to block his face. “Hold on to that for me, would you kid.” Steve said warmly and Peter managed a smile.
The Audi was steered carefully around the members of the media, and as soon as they were behind the car, Happy pressed the accelerator and they raced out of the school carpark and into traffic. Peter breathed a sigh of relief, lowering the iconic shield he held and slipping it down in front of his feet.
Tony carded his fingers through the young boy’s hair, and Peter shifting sideways, relaxing into the older man’s side. After a few minutes, the Avenger whispered, “How you feeling bud? Is your head any better?”
Peter hummed. The noise of the car and the streets and also Tony’s breathing in his ear was still amplified, still far louder than it should have been, but he didn’t feel as though a panic attack, or an overload was imminent. “Better.” He muttered, moving closer. “Not great, but better.”
“You’ve had one heck of a day kid. We’re just glad you’re safe.” Happy looked at them in the rear-view mirror, his voice low, almost under his breath. All the team handled Peter with kindness and care when he became over-sensitised, something Peter was always immeasurably grateful for. “We’ll be back at the Tower soon. Close your eyes.”
Peter did as Happy told him, cheek resting on Tony’s shoulder. He only opened them when Tony’s gentle kiss against his crown and the gentle whining of the break under Happy’s foot alerted him that they had arrived at the Tower, and sleepily climbed out of the car after his mentor. Tony kept an arm around him during the elevator ride to the private floors, still kept him close even after Steve left to change and they found Pepper, who practically ran across the floor and pulled the young boy into a tight hug.
“I’m okay Pepper, really.” He murmured as she inspected him. His pent-up adrenaline had been sapped. He felt heavy. Tony seemed to notice, and pulled him to the sofas.
Pepper followed. “I’ve spoken to May.” She said as they sat, and Peter’s eyes flew open. He hadn’t checked his phone. May would have seen the news by now. “She knows you’re okay, she knows you are here with us. She’s so happy you’re safe.” Pepper hurried to add, sensing Peter’s guilt-ridden distress. “There was a major road incident that the hospital are handling but she says she’ll be here as soon as she can. A couple hours, tops.”
Peter hummed in response, slumping into the cushions. The buzz at the back of his neck was now silent and he revelled in the quiet. He didn’t mind that May wouldn’t be there right away, he understood how important her work was, and he wasn’t hurt. “Thank you, Pepper.” He said, hoping it sounded as heartfelt as he meant it.
“No need.” Pepper said softly. She hesitated, eyes flicking up to Tony, and Peter frowned at the look of worry they shared. “There is… We do need to discuss… And I’m sorry, Peter, it’s terrible timing what with the day you’ve had –”
“Publicity. Damage control.” Peter interrupted. He felt numb. “I know. It’s okay.”
Pepper opened her mouth to continue, but the elevator opened, and they all turned as the rest of the Avengers poured out. Clint and Sam immediately went to the bar, reaching for drinks, whilst Natasha and Rhodey came to the sofas. Steve emerged from the corridor leading to their private rooms, now dressed in civilian clothes. Pepper sighed. “So much for a private conversation.” She muttered. Tony snorted.
“No such thing as privacy between family.” Clint said cheerfully, making his way over, but his smile became soft as his eyes zeroed in on Peter. “How you feeling kid?”
Peter didn’t respond for a moment, even though he knew, as the seconds ticked by, the adults were exchanging worried glances above his head. “I’m not sure.” He said finally, honestly. He stared up at Pepper with a blank expression. “Nothing’s going to be the same again, is it? I mean, after today…”
The look in Pepper’s eyes was sympathetic, and Peter didn’t look away from her even though he felt Tony tense up beside him. “The press are very curious to know who you are.” Pepper said, delicately. “Tony has never really been pictured with any children. He’s made it quite clear in the past that he isn’t, ah, the biggest fan of young people. And there are a lot of photos and videos from today already circulating the internet. They want to know what your relationship is.”
Peter felt the tears prick at his eyes. There was a pressure on his ribs, as if something heavy was sitting on his chest. He bowed his head. He could hear the heartbeats and breathing of every person in that room as they watched him. He took a deep breath, tried to steady himself, silently thanking Tony for the comforting hand rubbing up and down his back.
“What are they saying?” He murmured, peeking back up at Pepper. “The press, I mean, the comments, the people online. What are they saying about the photos?”
To his surprise, both Pepper and Rhodey smiled a little. “Oh, well, to be honest Peter, after Tony’s race to the school, his reaction to you being safe, and the protective way he led you whilst walking towards the car, all of which I’m sorry to say has gone online in the past hour - most of them are guessing that you’re Tony’s secret, illegitimate but biological child.”
A small squeak escaped Peter’s lips. He whipped around to see Tony, red in the checks, scratching at the back of his neck – the same nervous tic Peter usually exhibited. The inventor of the Iron Man shrugged. “Used to a bit of a playboy, not the most ridiculous claim that’s ever been made about me.”
Peter’s cheeks blush red. “Okay.” He said, taking another breath. “Okay. What do you want to do? I mean, you have a plan, right?” He looked hopefully around the group. They were kicked back, relaxing, most had drinks in their hands. Peter realised then how simple a day it had been for them – most of his classmates were going home traumatised, terrified, possibly so distraught their parents would keep them home from school for days or maybe weeks. But for the Avengers, stopping a school shooting, where no one was hurt, was an alarmingly quiet and potentially mundane day. The realisation hit him like a ton of bricks.
“Of course.” Pepper patted his knee, taking his expression for nervousness regarding the media. “But we won’t do anything without your consent. You’re a minor, Peter, so you are protected to a certain extent. The press can’t go to your school, or your apartment. They can’t follow you or take photos of you. This afternoon they were reporting on an incident at a school, rather than a minor specifically, so it was a little different.”
“But my classmates can leak information, and that can then be shared and commented on.” Peter said. “Right? They’ve already done it.”
“Yes, they can.” Pepper said. Peter ducked to avoid her sad smile. It was too pitying. “Which is why, with your permission, I would like to release a statement to the press regarding what happened this afternoon, and regarding your relationship with Tony. I think, in this case, it won’t do you any good staying quiet. The press will just create stories, they’ll say whatever they like even if it isn’t true.”
“And then we’ll sue for slander.” Rhodey said happily, raising his drink.
“I had a different idea.” Natasha murmured, and Clint chuckled by her side. They all went quiet at Pepper’s damning glare.
In the silence, Peter felt Tony shuffle forwards, his arm wrapping around Peter’s shaking shoulders. He let himself sink into the warm chest, the feeling of the arc reactor digging into his arm was a welcome distraction. “It’s entirely your decision Peter.” Tony said softly. “We won’t do anything, or say anything, that you don’t want us to. We can keep up with our lie, tell everyone that you’re my intern, whatever you like. Whatever you are comfortable with, we’ll do.”
Peter nodded. It was at moments like these that he could not help but think on how his life had changed. Who knows what would have happened in the school today, had he not had this weird personal-mentee relationship with Tony Stark. And now, sat there, being surrounded by them all, and their concerned eyes, was overwhelming him.
“Write whatever you want.” He told them quietly. “Just… yeah, release the statement.”
Pepper patted his knee again. “Thank you Peter, I’ll get our team on it. I really think it’s the best thing we can do right now.” She looked at Tony, guiltily, and stood to leave. “Are you coming? You should probably be the one to –”
Tony’s arm had tightened immeasurably around Peter’s shoulder. His voice was hard, though Peter didn’t think he meant it to be, when he spoke. “Sorry Pep, I told the kid I wasn’t letting him out of my sight until he turns thirty, and you know I hate to break a promise.”
Pepper laughed gently. “I do indeed.” She bent a pressed a kiss to Peter’s hair, smoothed down her skirt, and headed for the elevator, promising to return once she had finished drafting something the two boys could then look through.
As Pepper left, Tony turned his head upwards to the ceiling. “Hey F.R.I.D.A.Y, dim the lights at forty per cent, order the team’s pizza special, and queue up Star Wars on the television.”
The others made a noise of joking protest at the mention of Peter’s favourite films, but the young vigilante only watched as Tony settled back into the cushions, then twitched his arm, a silent invite. Peter sunk into his embrace without question. He would never normally be so cavalier about Tony’s affection – the man was not known for it, and to be offered it meant a great deal. But he was exhausted, his mind having gone from boredom to alert to adrenaline to exponential relief to severe anxiety to overload to silence to upset in all the matter of a few hours. His senses, having dealt with so much in so little time, were knackered. So he took the comfort Tony was offering him, and sighed when his mentor’s hand threaded back through his hair.
“Hey kiddo.” Tony murmured, so quiet that only Peter, with his enhanced hearing, could possibly hear him. “I know they keep asking you this… but it’s just you and me now. Are you alright?”
Peter’s eyes stung. The care in his mentor’s voice was all it took. He shook his head minutely, and curled further into Tony’s side. “I’ve never been so scared in my life.” He whispered. His voice cracked, and a tear slid down his cheek. “Even… after Germany, and every patrol…”
Tony, to his credit, did not say anything, only pulled Peter closer so the others could not see his face.
“But I didn’t have my suit. I didn’t have my web shooters. If they had got into the hall, I think, maybe, I still would have been able to hold them off, hopefully… but I froze, Mr Stark, I just froze.”
“Happens to the best of us kiddo, and you were in a terrifying situation.”
“I’m meant to be Spiderman.” Peter whispered. His guilt was gnawing at him. What if someone had died today. What if, like when Ben had died, someone was shot, all because he had frozen, and done nothing to stop it. “I have these powers. I can’t afford to freeze but I did. It was just like Ben. And if… if something had happened –”
“But it didn’t Peter –”
“It could have –”
“But it didn’t.” Tony interrupted him, and Peter peered up through wet lashes. Tony’s eyes softened immeasurably. “Peter, bambino. You – you have to distinguish between reality, and the ‘what if’s’. The thought of –” Tony took a deep breath, and pressed his lips together. “Look kid, I’m not great at pep talks, but I know this, alright. You can’t focus on what might have been, or could have been, had things gone differently. You’d never rest a day in your life. You did great today, end of. No one was hurt so you need to stop imagining a world where they were. I know that today was hell. I know that you’re scared of what could have happened but everyone’s safe. They’ll all safe and you’re safe, and that’s all that matters. As for freezing, well for one it really does happen to all of us. And secondly, there was nothing to freeze at. You acted quick enough that you didn’t have to intervene and I’m thankful that’s how it went. You did good kid, you really did.”
Peter had tears slipping down his cheeks in earnest. “Thanks Tony.” He mumbled, swiping at his cheeks. “You’re pretty good a pep-talks.”
“I’m not,” Tony huffed. “But you’re welcome bambino.”
They settled down, and Peter listened to the sound of Tony’s heart underneath his ear. The gentle ribbing and jabbing of the team flowed into mocking Peter’s favourite films and far too much pizza, until the quiet comfort of their voices lulled him to sleep. When he woke, it was to a darker room and a hushed conversation above his head. There were only two other heartbeats in the room besides his own, the rest of the team must have left.
“It’s too formal.” Tony was whispering.
“It’s a press release Tony –”
“I don’t like what is says about me and the kid –”
“Well then you write it!”
“Fine, give it here.”
“You’re impossible –”
“Pep, this is important. Just give me the damn phone.”
Peter listened to the exchange and the following shuffle, the clapping of Pepper’s heels against the floor as she left the room, and the gentle tapping of Tony’s fingers on a phone screen above him. He felt Tony’s other hand tapping on his side, an anxious tic, and the sound of Tony deleting and rewriting the press release at least a dozen times before he set the phone down.
“I know you’re awake Pete, you’re lying too still.”
Peter shifted so he was on his back. He had slipped down the sofa during his sleep, his head now resting just above Tony’s stomach, ear below the arc reactor. Tony looked down and smiled at the kid’s sheepish grin. “Hey Mr Stark. How’s it going?”
Tony snorted. “You’re awful. Did you sleep okay? How you feeling?”
“Yeah, I’m alright.” Tony stared at him. “I mean, not, you know, totally okay. But I’m okay. You helped, with what you said I mean, before.”
“Glad I could be of assistance.” Tony chuckled, but there was a prideful blush to his cheeks.
Peter nodded his head at the phone resting on the side of the couch. “You finish the press release?”
Tony wavered, the pause flickering over his face in the dimmed light of the room. “I’ve got something, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t say it’s finished. I need to edit it, maybe, uh, take some stuff out, rephrase it and such. And I need you to look through it, as well, make sure you’re happy with what I’m saying.”
“Gimme.” Peter said. At Tony’s raised eyebrow, Peter made grabby motions with his hands, waving them in Tony’s face. “The phone, gimme. I’ll read it now.”
Tony glanced down, hesitant. “It isn’t finished Peter, we should probably just talk about it first –”
“I can help you finish it, then. That’s what interns are for.” Peter’s teasing was gentle, but his eyes were determined. Tony knew it was a battle he wouldn’t win, so with a sigh he handed over the phone.
Peter settled comfortably, head still balanced on Tony’s abdomen, humming lightly as the older man’s hand returned to his hair. He opened the phone, and tried to ignore Tony’s anxious glances as he read through the statement. He could hear Tony's heartbeat speeding up, beating hard. He didn't understand why to begin with, but a little way into the statement, and his breath was catching in his throat.
“Just, just read all of it, okay, and then tell me what you think.” Tony said quietly.
Peter did as he had been asked, but by the end of the statement, his eyes had welled up and he knew he’d have to read it all again just to make sure he’d read it right. His grip on the tech was tight. It was a testament to the way he had practised managing his strength that the phone had not cracked between his palms.
“Okay, you’ve just been staring at the last couples lines for a good three minutes. Are you processing? Are you upset? You’re gonna give me heart failure kid. Is it too much?” Tony blurted, jostling his knee, and forcing Peter to sit up. The teen only continued to stare at the phone. “Pepper said it needed to be formal because it’s a press release but I didn’t like how they explained our relationship and I thought maybe a little more honesty was needed but if it’s too much obviously I can just edit it whatever you want whatever you’re comfortable –”
Peter suddenly swivelled where he sat, and threw himself across his mentor, arms flying in his haste to hug the man. Tony froze, completely pinned down underneath the boy. “I think it's perfect.” Peter whispered, and the breath Tony had been holding whooshed out. He wrapped his arms around Peter’s waist and held him tightly, inhaling the scent of the boy’s teenage aftershave (he really needed to buy Peter some good cologne) and cherishing the affection.
“You’re okay with it?” Tony asked softly. “With, uh, how I described us, and you?”
“Yeah, I mean… I feel the same way.”
“Yeah. I didn’t tell you before, cause you know, I didn’t want to freak you out, but I feel the same.”
“Oh.” They were silent for a moment, arms still wrapped around one another, before Tony began to smile into Peter’s hair, barely containing full-blown glee. He pressed a light kiss to the kid’s crown. “Good, that’s good then. Great.”
Peter climbed up, sitting to the side of Tony so that their legs were still pressed together. “Where’s the statement going to be posted? Like, on the Stark Industries website? Or is it being sent to media outlets directly?”
“It’ll be posted on the website, but also on various social media outlets – my personal accounts as well as those for the company. This is about me and you, it’s not a business statement. Is that okay?”
“You don’t have to keep asking. I’m happy with whatever.”
“I want to make sure you’re comfortable kiddo. You realise… this is gonna affect a whole lot of stuff, right?” Tony’s lips were pursed, his eyes drawn away from Peter in guilt. “People… people will be messaging you, commenting on you, media outlets and tabloids will write pieces about you… Obviously we’ll protect you as much as possible –”
“I know you will.” Peter interrupted. “It’s okay. I understand. We can’t avoid it, not after what happened at school and everyone seeing us.” He sighed, looking sheepish. He rubbed at the back of his neck. “One hell of a day, huh.”
Tony hummed, pushing himself off the sofa in a swift move. He held out a hand to help Peter up. “For all of us kiddo. Why don’t we head down to the lab and tinker with some stuff yeah? I’ll send this statement to Pepper for approval, and it’ll probably be posted in the next hour. Best we avoid the internet for the rest of the night.” As they began walking, Tony ruffled the teen’s hair. “I’m really glad you’re okay, Peter.”
Peter smiled, opening the door to the lab, replying quietly. “I’m glad you’re okay too.”
For the next few hours, they tinkered and messed around with the high-brow technology Tony had lying around. They discussed updates for each of their suits. Peter proposed his news ideas for the web shooters. Tony gave Peter a hug once Friday announced their statement had been posted online, and they actively avoided their phones for the rest of the night.
At 1am, they strolled back upstairs, and Peter picked his phone out of his pocket, showing Tony. He turned on the screen, blanching at the thousands of notifications he had received. He swiped them all away and allowed Tony onto his social media feed in order to turn off notifications for him. They shared another embrace before they each went to sleep, Tony still whispering how glad he was the younger boy was safe, how worried he had been, how he’d always be there if Peter needed him.
Peter went into his bedroom with a content smile on his face. He opened his phone with a deep breath, firstly replying to May’s apology for being late and promise to see him first thing when he woke up, telling her that he was fine and headed to bed, and then Ned and MJ’s texts, and deleting or ignoring any others from his classmates (there was even one from Flash, but Peter didn’t even bother open that one). There were no more notifications from social media pinging, but the numbers above the apps were in the tens of thousands.
He was about to power off his phone, turn his lamp off and go to bed when his eyes caught on the logo for Instagram. He hesitated. He knew he shouldn’t. He clicked anyway.
A new post for Tony’s personal account popped up, the first on his feed and filling his screen, and Peter felt his heart skip, and then burst with warmth at the photo attached. He slid down the bed as he grinned at the screen, his toes curling in the sheets. The picture had been taken in the lab (though the background was blurred and the majority of the table in front of them had been cropped out, to delete any evidence of secret Stark technology). Tony and Peter were bent over corner of the table, heads close together, with Tony clearly guiding Peter on how to connect two wires. They were both in casual attire – Peter was wearing one of his science pun t-shirts, and Tony was in a vest. There was a clear, quiet intimacy between them, a closeness.
Peter swiped across, looking at the second photo attached to the post. It had been taken only a minute after the first. In this one, Peter and Tony were stood up, backs straight, grinning widely at one another. Tony’s arm was snaked around Peter’s shoulders and back, hand reaching up into his hair as it usually was, and Peter was just beaming up at his mentor, smiling so wide Peter was sure Tony had made a bad joke about it. Tony’s smile was full of pride, soft and calm and loving.
They were beautiful photos; Peter couldn’t deny it. They displayed the close relationship Tony and Peter shared perfectly, their mutual love of science and technology, the way Peter looked up to Tony, the fondness Tony had for Peter.
And underneath, the caption read;
An extremely long and personal message from Tony Stark – who promises to be serious for once in his life.
Today has been a difficult day, for myself and many others. No doubt many of you will have seen by now that this afternoon, members of the Avengers were involved in stopping a school shooting at Midtown School of Science and Technology, located in the Forrest Hills area of Queens, New York. Thankfully the two shooters were caught and are now in custody, and no students, teachers or members of the school or public were hurt.
However, what was come to light in the midst of this is the personal relationship I, Tony Stark, share with one of Midtown’s brightest students, as a result of photos being taken and released by both students at the school and members of the media.
Introducing Peter Parker. Peter and I met by chance and I was quickly taken in by his sharp wit, teasing humour, and incredible intellect. He began to work as my personal intern at Stark Industries. As these photos show (and they are some of my favourites of Peter and I) we became close, spending our afternoons in the labs together, and our relationship developed into that of a mentor and mentee. It has, now, developed into a bond more reminiscent of a father and his son, and I can honestly say that I feel true parental love for him – something I never, ever thought would be possible for the selfish, hard-heartened former-playboy that I am to feel. But, the kid’s amazing, and I love him, and he’s wormed his way into my life. I have no intention of letting him go.
Peter was able to call me and alert the Avengers to the fact that there was a shooter in the school, whilst trapped in the assembly hall with the rest of the Midtown student body. Myself and five other members of the Avengers team arrived within four minutes, reprimanded the shooters, and reunited with Peter – as shown by many photos now published, without our permission, by the media. My heart goes out to all the students at Midtown Tech, and to all of the parents who received calls and heard the news and the felt the same kind of terror that I felt for Peter today.
I have no intention to comment further on my relationship with Peter. This statement has been published on the Stark Industries website as well as all other social media platforms, and there will no doubt be much speculation in the next few weeks over these words. However, I would like to make very clear that Peter is under the protection of myself, Stark Industries, and the entire Avengers team. Please remember he is a minor and therefore protected under the law – and even if this was not the case, is entitled to his privacy.
All in all, that’s my kid, so leave him alone or you’ll have me to deal with.
With kind regards and completely serious warning,