When Peter woke up, the sun had yet to rise, and Tony was missing.
His heart immediately began thundering in chest, all semblance of safety and warmth leaving his body in seconds, his mind immediately assuming the worst. Had Strange’s words come true and pulled Tony back to his home universe while they’d slept? The thought was like a vice around his mind, and he tried to calm himself by taking steadying breaths. Surely not. Magic didn’t work like that. Did it? Stephen himself hadn't seemed so sure. He took a staggering breath, trying not to give completely into the panic that rose in him like a tidal wave, threatening to drown him.
He untangled himself quickly from the blankets he’d somehow managed to twist himself into, his heart beating a terrified rhythm into his ribs as he tried not to wake anyone else up, sparing a glance towards Morgan and Pepper, who were curled together, the mother’s arm tucked carefully over her sleeping daughter. Peter wasted no time in taking the sight in, fear his motivating factor as he glanced wildly towards the recliner, looking to make sure MJ had remained where she’d fallen asleep.
She wasn’t there.
His heart dropped, and he felt like he couldn’t breathe. He tried to walk carefully and quietly out of the living room, not wanting to disturb the mother-daughter duo as they slept. Not, at least, until he’d figured out what exactly was going on. He entered the kitchen, immediately noticing the scent of coffee, strong in the air before his eyes happened upon the porch light, seeing it was on. His heartbeat slowed, and he took a steadying breath as he watched MJ throw her head back, a silent laugh escaping her while Tony bobbed his head animatedly, clearly trying to get her to agree to something. They both fell quiet shortly after, with Tony pointing towards the tree’s that lined the end of the property, their voices falling to hushed whispers.
Peter let a soft breath out through his nose, and steadied himself on the granite countertop, heaving lungsful of air as he attempted to fully calm himself. His hands shook as he made himself a cup of the steaming coffee, the adrenaline rush his fear had provided fading as quickly as it had come.
When he was satisfied with the amount of caffeine his mug contained as well as the steadiness of his hands, he made his way out on the porch to greet them. Tony spotted him, immediately, his brown eyes soft as he took him in. He raised a hand to his lips and pointed out into the yard, gesturing for Peter to approach quietly. His gaze followed the other man’s hand, and he immediately warmed at the sight of the family of deer quietly grazing at the edge of the tree line. He made his way towards MJ and Tony with quiet footsteps, sinking down into the porch swing beside Tony. The older man untucked his blanket from his legs and draped it over Peter’s legs instead, tucking the material under his opposite thigh gently, sharing his warmth. Peter smiled gratefully at him, and Tony pulled him close, settling him comfortably in the crook of his arm.
They watched in contemplative silence for a while as the family of deer moved closer towards them, their graceful movements leaving hoofprints in the snow-covered ground as they attempted to graze on the mostly barren lawn.
“I have corn, in the corner over there, if you want to grab it and feed them.” Tony murmured; eyes still trained on the animals. “I always kept it for days like this, when it starts to get too cold for them to find anything on their own. I must have done it here, too. I’m sure Pepper kept the tradition alive.” He continued, jerking his chin towards the large, half-empty white bag in the corner. Peter nodded and stood, the porch swing creaking with his movement. The deer all froze, looking up towards them and Peter waited patiently, his breath appearing in soft white clouds in front of him before dissipating in the cold air. When they finally lowered their heads again, he grabbed the bag and opened it quietly before stepping off the porch’s wooden steps and beginning to sprinkle it lightly on the surrounding snow. He could feel the weight of Tony’s gaze on him, and after a few moments, he was joined by MJ, her mittened palm dipping into the bag beside his and grazing his own uncovered fingers. She squeezed gently, teasing him, and she smiled knowingly in the soft light of the rising sun. He returned the look, gently squeezing back before grabbing his own handful and continuing to sprinkle it around them. The deer were watching them, when they looked up again, but they hadn’t run off. With snow crunching under their boots, MJ and Peter returned to the porch to let the elegant creatures find the meal they’d left them.
“I’ll leave you two to talk.” MJ murmured after a moment, leaning in to kiss his cheek once they had reached the top step. He could feel his skin flush under her gentle touch, and he ducked his head to prevent her from seeing it. She turned towards the door, tapping twice against his palm as she passed, and Peter was positive his face had turned a flaming shade of vermillion. It was almost as if she’d never forgotten him in the first place, immediately going back to the gentle, secret touches she always offered up when it was just the two of them. “I have a surprise for you.” She whispered over her shoulder, clearly trying not to scare the deer off. “Should be here in a few hours.”
“Okay.” He whispered back. I love you. The words burned as he held them at bay, simply offering her another smile. She dipped her head, smiling to herself like she knew something he didn't, before she pushed the door open and went back into the warm house. Peter cupped his hands over his mouth, blowing hot air into them to warm his nose as he made his way towards Tony.
“You don’t have to act like the blush is from the cold.” Tony teased, eyes sparkling as he swung gently back and forth in his seat. Peter caught the wave, sinking down beside him once more as the chair creaked lightly under him. The deer didn’t seem to mind the noise this time, too preoccupied with the feast MJ and Peter had provided.
Peter felt the blush rise to the tips of his ears.
“I didn’t think I’d ever have this again.” Tony said when the silence only continued to stretch between them. “Morgan and Pepper, safe in bed while I fed the deer.” He looked at Peter, his brown eyes soft. “You, beside me in the early morning, drinking coffee before we undoubtedly go down to the lab and work on some science experiment I know you've been dying to try.” He leaned over, tugging gently on the ends of Peter's hair that had begun to grow out after two months of not visiting the barber shop. “You," he continued, tone light, "red as hell because the girl you’re in love with loves you back.” He teased. Peter looked down, grinning dopily.
“I didn’t think I’d ever be here, again.” He confessed, his words drifting out before them and into the cold air before disappearing. He avoided looking at Tony, sobering suddenly at the thoughts that swirled in his head, worried he’d start to cry if he met the older man's eyes. “I thought all semblance of normalcy was gone forever.” Finally, he looked up at his mentor, noticing for the first time that at some point in the night, he’d gotten up and shaved, his facial hair back to the appearance Peter had grown to know so familiarly.
“Me too, kiddo.” Tony said, slinging an arm around his shoulder to pull him closer once more. “Really glad that doesn’t seem to be the case.” He murmured.
“So far.” The words left Peter before he’d even finished thinking them, and he could feel Tony still beside him. The older man let out a contemplative hum.
“I think you’re being a bit pessimistic there, kid.” Tony teased, knocking into him gently. “It’ll all work itself out.” Peter swallowed, and met his gaze again.
“What if it doesn’t?” He finally managed to whisper, almost afraid to say the words aloud, for fear they would come true. Tony took a steady breath and met his gaze carefully. There was worry there, underlying even the warmth, and Peter’s stomach twisted at the sight.
“Honestly, Pete? I’ve been thinking about it all night.” Tony’s hand squeezed the back of his neck lightly, his fingers brushing lightly at Peter's slightly too-long curls that rested there. “But I’ve decided, it doesn’t really matter. Even if I have to go back, at least I can rest easy knowing there’s an alternate version of my family out there who didn't suffer the same fate. They're safe. And healthy. And maybe I can get some sleep if I helped give them the closure they deserve.” He shook his head, mouth pursed as he broke his gaze, eyes drifting back towards the deer on the lawn. “I’ll have to be okay with it.” The words sounded more like an assurance to himself, and Peter’s heart ached at the mere idea of losing Tony again, let alone letting this one go back to a world where everyone he cared about had died at the hands of the man who had played an integral part in ruining Peter’s own life, here.
“I think—” Peter was cut off by the sound of the landline ringing inside the house, and they both looked up at the sound, quickly turning to stare at each other.
“Do you think it’s him?” Peter whispered, as the phone rang again. It cut off mid-ring, before Tony could answer, the quiet settling back over them as the bearded man swallowed, lifting the blanket off of his lap. Before he could stand however, Pepper appeared at the door, pulling it open and stepping out into the cold with them, shivering. She’d tied her hair up in a loose bun, and her blue eyes were tired, but bright.
“Hey guys.” She greeted, holding the phone close to her ear. “Stephen Strange is on the line. Sounds important.” She wiggled her eyebrows, unaware of just how important the phone call truly was. Peter’s face must have expressed his worry, because her own face twisted in concern. “You okay, Peter?” She asked, stepping closer and offering the phone to Tony, who took it woodenly, wordlessly lifting it to his ear as his eyes remaned trained on his wife.
“I’m, uh,” Peter’s throat suddenly seemed to be made of cotton as he attempted to speak, unsuccessfully. He coughed in an effort to clear it, covering his mouth in his elbow before looking back up at the worried wife and mother before him, who bit her lip. “Sorry. I’m okay, yeah. Just swallowed my tongue for a second.” He lied before smiling awkwardly, but Pepper seemed to take his excuse at face value, and she relaxed at the explanation.
“Oh good, you looked like you’d eaten a frog or something.” She teased and Peter tried not to wince at the idea of deceiving her.
“I can stay?” Tony interrupted, standing suddenly. “Oh, thank god.” He murmured. “Thank you. Okay. Talk soon.” And then he hung up, turning towards Peter, who stood, staring at him expectantly. “All good, kid.” Tony murmured, grinning. “Wong approved it all. I’m here for the long haul.” Relief swept through Peter and he stood, hugging Tony fiercely. Tony pressed a kiss to his curls and Peter hummed happily.
“Wait, wait, wait just a second.” Pepper interjected, stepping closer when they broke apart. Tony turned towards her, his face immediately sobering. “You weren’t going to be able to stay?” Pepper’s voice rose in pitch, her slender brows drawing together in concern. “And when exactly where you going to fill me on that little tibit?” She challenged, her mouth thinning into a sharp, disapproving line. “Probably would have been good to tell me there was a chance you would have to leave.”
“Pepper, honey—” Tony started, but Pepper cut him off.
"Oh, don't you dare 'Pepper, honey' me like that without an explanation, Anthony Edward Stark!" She growled, but Peter tuned out the rest, too distracted by the distant sound of wheels on gravel. Whoever was driving sounded like they were less than a mile away, and he wondered who it could be, all his worries dissipating at the idea of Tony not having to leave. He couldn’t even really find it in himself to care that Pepper and Tony had started to argue in soft whispers, too elated to get himself to focus on anything other than the sound of the rubble crunching as whoever was coming continued to approach. The deer seemed to notice it as well, lifting their heads as their ears twitched before, one by one, they dashed gracefully back into the cover of the trees, their white tails twitching as they disappeared from sight.
“Hey, um, guys.” Peter said, turning back towards the couple in time to watch Pepper gently swat at Tony before the man pulled her into a hug, which she quickly gave up fighting. “I think someone’s here.” He said, clearing his throat.
“Oh.” Pepper said, her words coming out muffled as her mouth remained tucked against Tony’s sweater-covered arm, tears lining her red-rimmed eyes. “That’s probably Happy.” She said, sniffling and lifting her head to wipe her nose with the sleeve of her sweater. “I got word to him.”
Happy broke down in tears at the sight of Tony.
Peter didn’t think he’d ever seen a grown man full on sob, but as the two friends’ united, he was treated to the sight of tears streaming down both their faces as they hugged in the yard. He could barely contain his own tears at the sight. Rhodey had come to, having picked Happy up from the airport and filling him in on what, exactly he had missed. He slung his arm around Tony’s shoulders once everyone had begun to calm down and once they realized how cold it really was, they’d all returned to the warmth of the house. MJ was waiting inside with Morgan drawing something beside her, as she talked quietly to someone on the phone. When she spotted Peter, she waved, a grin overtaking her face before she mouthed ‘sorry, it’s my dad,’ accompanying the words with a joking eye-roll.
Peter simply nodded at her before slipping into the kitchen and settling himself in a barstool as the adults gathered around Tony while he explained, for the god-only-knew-nth-time, what had happened. Happy listened, his face shining with joy, despite the story he was being told, clearly just happy to have his best friend back. When he’d finally stopped staring at Tony and had risen to grab himself a napkin to dry his eyes, and that's when he fully noticed Peter.
“Oh.” He murmured, softly. “Oh.” He covered his mouth, eyes sliding over Peter. “I know you, kid. Don’t I?” Peter nodded, mouth twisting.
“Yeah.” He murmured, standing. Happy looked him over, his face confused as he tried to place him.
“Ah.” He murmured. “May.” Peter felt tears well in his eyes at the reminder of his dead aunt, but he blinked them away and nodded. “You said you knew her through Spider-Man.” Happy continued, assessing him. “I feel like I might have missed out on the fact that there was more to it than that.” His voice was gentle, and Peter couldn’t help the one tear that escaped him, his chin wobbling as he tried to contain the rest.
“I am Spider-Man.” He finally said, dropping his gaze. “And May was my Aunt.”
“Oh.” Happy whispered. “Oh, come here, kid. I had no clue.” Happy pulled him into a hug, and Peter let him, laughing mentally at the irony. Happy, despite his nickname, had never been very affectionate before he’d forgotten him. But it seemed this Happy had had quite an eye opening experience in the past few months. “Sorry.” Happy murmured, stepping back and settling his hands on Peter’s shoudlers, looking him over. “I’m not usually very affectionate.” He admitted and Peter couldn’t help the small smile that stole over his lip at the shared thought. “But I’m starting to learn it’s better to let people know you love them and care about them while you can.” Peter nodded, wiping at his eyes and a deep laugh escaped the older man.
“Listen kid, I’m not really sure where we left off, so I hope you don’t mind filling me in.”
“I’d be happy too, Happy.” He said pointedly, wiggling his eyebrows as his tears dried on his face. Happy grinned and shook his head.
“He always like this?” He called over his shoulder to Tony, who shook his head, grinning.
“Always.” He confirmed.
“I vote we keep him.”
“There wasn’t much of a vote on that, I'm afraid, Hap.” Tony said, getting to his feet and approaching them, only to tug Peter under his arm once more, hugging him close. “The kid’s part of a package deal. Me and him. Can't have one without the other. Besides, he’s family.”
“Well, in that case,” Happy said, pulling a thin flask out of his coat pocket. “I’ll drink to that.” Tony lifted his own coffee mug, and Peter couldn’t help but smile as he noticed the light catching in his dad's dark eyes. The men clinked their two separate cups, a toast to the future that seemed to reverberate throughout the room.
Peter could only thank his lucky stars that Tony had decided to come back to them while he was on a break from school. He couldn't imagine having to stress out about finals while also getting to put his family back together, and he doubted he would have gotten any homework done.
They talked for hours, gathered around the kitchen table, Morgan switching places in people’s lap frequently, every one of them to content to hold her and cherish the extra time they now had. MJ never moved from her spot beside Peter, though he caught her frequently checking her phone, her brow furrowed in some sort of distracted concentration. He’d get her attention by gently tapping the back of his palm against her own, and she’d smile nervously before locking the device and setting it facedown beside her. He wondered what was pulling her attention away, but didn’t question it. Probably her dad, who she’d told him was out of town for the holiday, checking in. He wondered, if they ever got back to where they used to be, if she’d reintroduce them. He’d liked Mr. Jones well enough, and the man had seemed to approve him, before he’d known he was Spider-Man, at least. He laughed quietly to himself at the thought, and MJ knocked her shoulder against his own, drawing his attention towards her once more.
“What’s on your mind, Peter Parker?” She asked. All the noise around them seemed to dim as he looked at her, taking her fully in under the warm lights of the candles Pepper had lit.
“Just thinking about you.” He admitted and she laughed, shaking her head affectionately.
“Hm.” She murmured. “You’ll have to tell me all about it, later.” She nudged him again. “There’s a package at the door for you.” Peter quirked an eyebrow at her, and she just shrugged, smiling secretively. “I have my ways.” It was the only explanation she offered, and Peter shook his head, grinning as he stood and made his way towards the door. He shot another smile over his shoulder at her before turning and pulling the door open.
“Oh my god. Ned.” The words were quiet as they escaped him, and he took a deep breath as he looked his best friend over. And before he could stop himself, he was sweeping in and pulling the other boy into a bear-hug. “Thank god you’re okay. I’ve missed you.”
“Um, hi.” Ned squeaked from between his arms, pulling slightly away to look up at him, his face confused. “Not really sure how we know each other, but MJ did say she had a surprise for me. You must be it. Though, I’m a little confused why you’d be my surprise. This is a really weird Christmas gift, Michelle.” Peter’s laugh was so loud, it almost hurt his own ears, but he was too overjoyed to really care. Ned simply watched him, face curious as he let himself be hugged. “This is nice.” He murmured after a moment more of it, shrugging before lifting his arms to hug Peter back. “I’m Ned, but it seems like you knew that already.” He continued, waving his hands nonchalantly. “I’m assuming someone is going to explain what exactly is going on, though?” He asked and Peter let go so they could step back, assessing each other once more. Ned peered around hiss shoulder to look at MJ, who simply wiggled her fingers in greeting, her face revealing nothing.
“Why don’t you come inside? I can explain.” Peter stepped back from the doorframe, opening the door wider it to let his friend inside.
Ned did, without question, and Peter suddenly felt so complete, he was sure he was going to burst at the seams.
“Fuck, I knew it!” Ned practically yelped when Peter and MJ finished explaining everything. “Something’s seemed off for the past two months! I thought I was going crazy!” MJ grinned at him, her brown eyes bright.
“Yeah, I thought the same thing.” She looked at Peter, slipping her hand into his under the counter top. “But now, it feels like everything is exactly how it’s supposed to be.” Ned nodded eagerly, practically on the edge of the seat. Peter had always teased him, joking that if he were to be magically transformed into any sort of animal, it would have to be a Golden Retriever. Between his sunny disposition, fierce loyalty and the fact that any man would kill to have him as their best friend, he fit the bill, perfectly. The description still held true, even now and Peter couldn’t help the warmth the pooled in him at the reminder.
His eyes slid over the room, taking in everyone gathered there. Almost everyone he loved was there, and they were all safe. By some miracle, he’d gotten the man who’d helped shape the trajectory of his life following that fateful spider bite, back. And even after the whole world had forgotten him, he’d managed to end back up exactly where he’d gone missing. He watched Tony settle Morgan into a chair, kissing her nose before he began to attempt braiding her hair, his fingers clumsy from lack of practice. Pepper laughed delightedly beside him, and Happy and Rhodey simply clinked their glasses together, their eyes shining slightly with a soft sheen of unshed tears. MJ and Ned sat across from each other, her free hand waving in the air as she chatted with him animatedly, her other hand periodically squeezing his own.
Peter blinked back tears as he took the sight of all of them in, everyone chattering happily with each other, content to simply be in the presence of people they’d thought they lost forever. He didn’t have all the answers on how things were going to go from then on out; had no clue how things would work, in fact, now that a man who’d previously been assumed dead would somehow have to reenter society without question, nor did he know how the dynamic of his little found family would change now that he’d finally reunited with them, but he did know one thing for sure:
He was no longer forgotten.