Flying through New York is more challenging than it seems. The suit is unlikely to let him crash into anything, but this city is full of sharp turns and unexpected construction work, so just finding a good route between skyscrapers can be unpredictably complicated.
Tony hasn’t lived in New York since he was a kid, but it seems like he’s going to have to take up residence in Stark Tower for the duration. (For the duration of what he’s not sure yet.) He’s flying back there when he sees the person falling.
At this distance it’s just a dark blur, dropping between the buildings. Tony accelerates too much and he’s only a few lengths away from the falling body when he realises that it’s changing direction in midair.
The blur has resolved itself into a man, mostly covered in red and blue, who turns his masked head and snarks cheerfully at Tony, “Hey, I’ve got the right of way here!”
Tony pulls up vertical. “Hi. Sorry. Thought you were jumping. Falling. Something not…” He can see the fine lines now connecting the man to the nearest two buildings. “You’re Spider-Man.”
“What gave me away? Was it the webbing? Damnit, I bet that’s why the bad-guys always know who I am.”
Tony can’t see the face under the mask, but he’s heard the tone often enough. He grins back. “I wouldn’t know,” he says. “I try to stay under the radar.”
Spider-Man laughs. “Sure. I hear press-conferences are what all the low-profile heroes are doing this fall.” There’s a yell, somewhere far beneath them, and Spider-Man looks down. “That’s my cue.”
“You’re okay on your own?”
“It’s a liquor store hold-up. I let an out-of-towner help on one of those, in my own city, I will totally deserve the mockery.” He drops twenty feet and then calls, “But thanks for the offer!”
“We should probably stop meeting like this.” Spider-Man flies past him and shoots a jet of webbing at a pair of alarming amphibious eyes.
Tony fires his repulsors at another frog, which leaps ridiculously high to avoid him. “Was that really the best you could come up with?”
“I’ll admit it wasn’t my best work. Your buddy there is freaking me out. I think he’s trying to eat me. They eat spiders, you know.”
“You could have just swung on by. We had this under control.”
“You can’t see my eyebrow, but rest assured, it is quirked at a disbelieving angle.”
On the comm. by Tony’s ear, someone coughs. Tony looks around and makes the introductions. “Avengers, Spider-Man. Spider-Man, Avengers.”
Spider-Man uses a lamppost to flick himself around at high-speed. “Nice to meet you.”
Steve fires his shield across the street, taking out an impressive quantity of frogs. He does his little three-finger salute/hello thing. “Good to meet you too.”
On radio, Coulson asks, “Stark, how exactly do you know Spider-Man? We don’t-”
“Wait a minute. One second Fury’s all ‘part of a bigger universe’, and the next I’m not allowed to talk to new people? And then you wonder why I never know what you want from me. Gah.” It's not so much that the frogs are tough, as that they're persistent and numerous. Thor thwacks one down to the ground and it bounces back up again, bloodied but still determined to do whatever it is giant frogs do. “Hey, isn't this a biblical plague of some kind? Should we be concerned here?”
“This is what concerns you?” Natasha asks. She kicks a frog in the throat, which is just the kind of thing that didn't happen to Tony before he met these people. Natasha touches back down to the ground. “So far as signs of apocalypse are concerned, we have seen worse than frogs.”
“True,” Tony agrees. “But when the Hudson starts running red, I want it to be noted that I was right.”
“I'll let the papers know.” Spider-Man glides past Tony, bouncing off a SHIELD jeep, helicopter and riot-shield in that order. He collects the frogs the team has taken out, binding them together in the middle of the road. “Webbing lasts about an hour. I’d get them out of the way before then. Does SHIELD have a nice pond in the atrium? If not, I know some French restaurants that cater exclusively to giants. I bet you could make some good money.”
“We’re actually okay in that regard,” Tony says dryly. “But thanks.”
Spider-Man shrugs, and for all that’s he’s skinny, Tony can see the shift of muscles in his shoulders. “Must be nice.”
“It's not bad. Are we done here? I have a meeting to avoid. Spidey.” He nods. “Thanks for the assist. And see how we let you help without any out-of-towners crack? Drop by later, I'll even buy you a beer.”
Spider-Man leans backwards off the lamp-post, face upside down relative to Tony. “Oh right, I'll just swing by Stark Tower and pick you up will I?”
Tony shrugs. “If you like.”
He's still not expecting Spider-Man to come flying through the open window.
Tony puts his hand to his chest. “Jesus Christ. Warn a guy.”
Clint pokes his head out of the living room. “Are we under attack, or are you just shrieking for no reason? Oh, hey, it's your Spider-friend.” He looks at Spider-Man. “Ignore Tony, he's twitchy about his security. JARVIS is gonna be in so much trouble for not setting off an alarm on you. Despite the fact that Tony’s the one who left the freaking window open.”
Tony cuts in. “Clint, you're coming dangerously close to losing your Tower access privileges. I thought you and Steve were shooting things on X-Box? Because clearly we didn’t get enough of that today.”
Clint nods. “Fine, but next time you yell for help, I’m not coming.” He goes back into the living room, but leaves the door open. This is why they can have no secrets in this place.
Spider-Man looks down. “Sorry about that.”
“You couldn't knock?” Tony asks.
“Yeah. Anyway. I get that you were probably kidding with the drop by thing, but I couldn't resist the chance to snoop around in here. I left the camera at home, I swear.”
“Just as long as this doesn't end up on your Facebook. And I wasn't kidding about the beer. Mostly. Wanna go somewhere? I can fly us, we could be in Bruges by midnight.”
He laughs. “I actually have work in the morning, but thanks. Plus, I can do my own flying.”
Clint’s voice drifts out of the other room. “I’d be flattered he’s even offering. When one us needs a ride all he does is bitch.”
Tony shouts back, “I’m not your own personal airplane!”
“I was falling forty-nine stories!”
“And whose fault was that?”
Steve sighs his heartiest long-suffering sigh. “Tony. Clint.”
Spider-Man cocks his head. “Should I leave?”
Tony stares him down. “You stay right there. I’d offer to take you out for drinks, but you’re… did you seriously plan on going out to a bar in the costume?” Tony has, in fact, gone out to bars in the Armour, but it’s not generally considered healthy behaviour.
“Secret identity,” Spider-Man reminds him. “Some of us have one.”
Tony shrugs. “Okay. We have plenty of alcohol here anyway.” He peers dubiously at Spider-Man. “Assuming you’re legal to drink.”
Tony doesn’t find most people that interesting. Spider-Man is definitely interesting. It’s not even the secret identity thing – SHIELD is full of people who may or may not be using their legal name during interactions with Tony. Spider-Man’s not even the only person Tony’s ever worked with without seeing their face (he really hopes Fury knows who was on the other end of those Helicarrier conference calls).
The secret identity doesn’t hurt the intrigue, but its main effect is just to make Tony so curious that he pisses the kid off. ‘Kid’ is still a hazy concept, but he’s definitely got the age narrowed down to ‘younger than me, old enough to drink’ which is fair enough.
“There must be people who know,” Tony says.
“Why must there?” Spider-Man asks, sitting on a stool by one of Bruce’s lab tables. “I need a screwdriver.” He’s poking at the insides of one of his web-shooters, after he took what looked like a lightning-bolt to the arm. Tony swears their rogues’ gallery is getting weirder. Spider-Man says, “I’m not all teamed-up like you. It’s just me.”
“Yeah? So who does the tech work on those things?” Tony points at the web-shooter.
Spider-Man looks around at him. “I made them.”
Tony takes a moment to digest this. “Oh my God, you’re a science geek.”
Spider-Man glares, something made slightly more threatening by the huge reflective eyes of his mask. “And? You’re a science geek. Dr Banner is a science geek. You guys aren’t as cool as you think you are.”
“Just Bruce is fine,” Bruce says calmly.
“I know!” Tony says, less calmly. “That’s why this is great. Come on, look at this.” He pulls Spider-Man by his lycra-clad arm. He must have designed this too: something thin enough that his powers can still work through it. He’s science smart, not just quick with a comeback. Tony hasn’t been this excited about a person in ages.
“I’m not like a PhD or anything,” Spider-Man protests half-heartedly.
“You designed web-shooters, because just being made radioactively capable of climbing hundred-story glass buildings wasn’t enough for you. You’re plenty science geek enough for this crowd. Now come and look at this.”
Tony and Bruce have been working on this analysis for weeks. He needs a fresh pair of eyes, and now he has one. Electric villains notwithstanding, this is turning into a good day. He knew there was a reason he liked this kid.
Sometimes Tony gets bored.
Okay, often Tony gets bored.
There are plenty of things he could be doing, but if Tony goes off to find weapons-traffickers on his own again, Steve will be disappointed. There’s only so much of Captain America’s disappointment a person can take in one month, and Tony has already exceeded his quota. He can’t tell anyone this, because it will only enhance the troubling popular perception that the two of them have started to get along - that Tony might care more than he should when Steve gets worried. Tony should never have allowed himself to get involved in the whole team thing.
Tony goes to the roof of the tower and lets the suit pull up around him. He jumps, and the city turns to a blur rushing past him. He likes flying around the city in the dark. He likes the lights.
The suit’s HUD blips at him - he is monitoring traffic cameras and one of them has caught something. Tony changes direction.
Tony can be quiet when he wants to be; he’s been working on the stealth capabilities of the armour. He takes up a position two blocks away from where Spider-Man is efficiently, acrobatically, taking down the six members of a street gang. He fights like he was made to do that, and Tony has watched the set of the kid’s body when he’s in the tower – he doesn’t always move that way. Sometimes he holds himself like he’s used to getting shoved around, or pushed past in the street. Now he spins in the air, kicking out and twisting. Web flies, angles perfect, and now there are six neutralised criminals bound together at the side of the road. Tony quietly puts in a call to the nearest precinct house.
He flies down to hover beside Spider-Man. “You know, we have cops for this kind of thing.”
“Yeah? Well we have Security Councils for the kind of thing you do. You ever let that stop you?”
“Not so much.”
“Yeah.” He sighs, takes off through the air. He doesn’t speed up to get away when Tony follows him. “You do the big stuff.”
“That’s not quite-.”
“Which is cool. I’m not really built to take down demigods. But if you’re- if you see something like that, you can’t just walk on by. Or fly on by, in our cases. You regret it later.”
“Believe me, kid,” Tony says. “I get it.”
Spider-Man turns around in the air, sending web behind him and going flying backwards so he can glare at Tony. “I’m not a kid.”
“You’re younger than me,” Tony says, because that’s something he’s sure of.
“Your whole team is younger than you!”
“And apparently the truth hurts now.”
“Well if you would just-.” They stop up on another rooftop. Tony flips his faceplate down. “Someone at SHIELD probably already knows, you realise. Secret identities don’t mean much to them. They’re really only keen on secrecy so far as it concerns the relationship between them and the unsuspecting public.”
Spider-Man shrugs. “I’m pretty good at hiding. Just one of my many bonus skills.”
“I’ll bet.” Tony wishes he could see the kid out of the mask. It’s not the identity so much as the face. Spider-Man’s mask doesn’t give much away.
This explains why Tony doesn’t see it coming when Spider-Man slides his fingertips underneath the bottom of his mask and tugs it up, just a little. Tony sees a narrow chin and a pink mouth set in a serious expression before Spider-Man sets his gloved hand on Tony’s jaw and kisses him.
It only lasts ten seconds or so. After, Tony manages an outstandingly articulate, “What?” before Spider-Man takes a leap off the building and makes a speedy getaway.
When he gets back to the Tower, Bruce is in the lab. He looks at Tony. “Tell me you’re absolutely sure he’s not sixteen. Or a super-villain.”
“I’m absolutely sure he’s not sixteen. Sixteen year olds don’t- anyway. I’m mostly sure he’s not a super villain. Well. No, fine. He’s a sneaky bastard, and I’m pretty sure he thinks he’s funnier than I am, but he’s not a super villain.”
The corner of Bruce’s mouth tilts up. “So you’ve had worse dates then.”
The others are less than convinced. Tony wouldn’t mind so much living in the house of the hot yet incredibly judgemental people if he was getting any of the action they think he is. He hasn’t seen Spider-Man for more than a week, and even if he had, he’s not sure about the logistics of having an illicit affair with someone who won’t take their mask off. This isn’t to say he hasn’t thought about it.
An alarm beeps. Tony looks up. “JARVIS?”
“Sir. Your young man is hanging outside the window of the main lounge.”
“Has someone been feeding you romance novels? My young man. Are you on the case now too? Wait- what? He’s hanging outside the window?”
“He appears to be in some distress.”
Tony runs into the lounge. “Open the damn window then!” He gets his hands around Spider-Man’s waist and pulls him inside. “Were you going to wait there all night?”
“You told me to stop swinging right in.”
“I did not, I told you to knock… and you’re bleeding.”
“Yeah. I was in the neighbourhood, thought you might have a Band-Aid around here somewhere.”
There’s a gash running down the side of his face, with the mask torn around it. He has brown hair. And something has tried to claw a hole in his chest. Tony asks, “How are you even still-.”
“You’ve never flown home with a cracked rib or two?”
Tony puts that out of his mind. “JARVIS! We’ve got first aid type stuff around here, right?” He looks at Spider-Man. “I should take you to a hospital.”
Spider-Man’s laugh is soft. “How many times do I need to say ‘secret identity’ before it sticks?”
“Look, I can buy silence, okay? I’m really good at buying that kind of thing.”
“I’ll be fine. I was just hoping I could get patched up a little before I go home and worry-.” He stops.
Tony doesn’t push it. “JARVIS!”
Natasha comes into the kitchen, holding a box. “Hello.” She unpacks gauze and bandages, and then a suture kit.
“You know what you’re doing with that?” Tony asks.
Natasha stares at him. “Tony. I’m fairly sure everyone in this building knows more about field medicine than you do, so just let me work, okay?”
Tony looks at Spider-Man instead. “And you. What the hell were you doing to get cut up like that? You’re lucky you didn’t bleed out on the way here.” There’s still a lot of blood. “You sure I can’t buy a hospital for you? Or at least a few doctors? Natasha knows what she’s doing, sure, but if that gets infected or you need…”
Spider-Man says, “I heal fast. I’d have thought you’d be used to that, the guys you hang around with.”
Tony flinches at the casual way Natasha pulls the skin back together. “I see it happen a lot. I’m not used to it.”
Spider-Man turns his head to face Tony straight on. “I’m fine. This happens to me a lot.”
“Well that’s because you go out and fight crime in a layer of spandex. I should make you something. I could-.”
“Tony,” Spider-Man interrupts sharply. “No. I’m fine with what I have. Thanks. I need- what I do, I need to be like this. If that means I get a little banged up from time to time then that’s just how it is.”
“Seriously,” Tony persists, “the two of us could get you something that actually-.”
“No. No way.”
Natasha pats Spider-Man on the shoulder. “Done. Try not to get the stitches wet. I’m going to bed.” She looks pointedly at Tony, and leaves the room.
Tony taps his fingers on the table. He starts clearing away the first aid kit. “Okay then. So we’re ignoring the kiss thing.”
“You took off about three seconds after it happened and haven’t been seen since.”
“I guess you seemed like you knew how to find me if you were looking. Was I wrong?”
With that, he gets up from the table and goes leaping out of the window again. Tony is beginning to suspect they’re never going to finish a conversation like normal people. That’s probably fair – normal doesn’t look to have been on the table for either of them in years.
He catches Spider-Man reading the Daily Bugle. Tony hadn’t realised he was a masochist – the editor really has it in for the kid. The newspaper doesn’t like the Avengers much either, but it seems to have a particular vendetta against Spider-Man.
Tony steals the paper and flicks through until he finds the gossip pages. “Settle something for me.”
There’s a picture of some of the Avengers and assorted others at a charity event Tony organised. (Tony financed it anyway. He outsourced the organising to Pepper and her increasing number of minions.)
Tony says, “I’m not asking for details. Just a bracket. Point to the person who’s closest to you in age. If only so I don’t need to punch Clint – I’m not saying I couldn’t take him, but he and Natasha double-team me.”
Spider-Man laughs. He examines the photograph for a moment and says, “I guess I’m a bit older than her.”
He’s pointing at Darcy, so thank fuck. That’s still some alarming number of years younger than Tony, but Clint definitely no longer has room to talk.
“Is it important?” Spider-Man asks.
“No,” Tony says. “I just like to know things. And you can get everything about me from the tabloids.”
“Not true,” he says. “I learned all your weird hang-ups the hard way. Seriously, what’s with the hand thing?”
“Handing,” Tony corrects. “And I have my reasons.”
“You are the weirdest person I know,” Spider-Man says. “And it’s a scary long list.” But then he taps the Armour’s faceplate in a universal signal for ‘and I’m going to kiss you anyway’, so Tony figures it can’t be all bad.
This time, at least, he gets a call. Or they get a call, whatever.
Steve says, “There’s a situation.”
That can’t be good. The worse a thing is, the more euphemistic the noun SHIELD uses. “… Okay,” Tony says. “What kind of situation?”
“Coulson says there was an attempted bank robbery, and it looks like it’s getting out of hand. Somebody walked through a wall? And now there are buildings falling down.” Steve pauses. “He says Spider-Man’s down there already.”
Tony meets Steve’s eyes. “And it looks like he could use some help?”
“So we’re going in, right?”
Thor says, “Tony and I will make faster speed.” He smiles broadly. “We must go to the aid of our arachnid friend.”
Tony shakes his head. “Arachnid he’s cool with. ‘Blog’ leads to a three hour discussion on the differences between dreamsharing and high speed broadband.”
“Tony,” Steve says.
“We’re going, we’re going.”
Tony’s not sure if he and Thor count as the big guns or not. The jet will get the others here soon enough, and they need to do something now. It’s not just because Spider-Man’s there, but Tony doesn’t want to leave him at a scene like that alone.
He finds Spider-Man trying to keep the exterior wall of the bank from falling flat onto the street and crushing the panicking crowd. Tony says, “I could blast it into smaller bits, or I can help you hold it up until we get the civilians clear. I’m pretty sure it’s not just sticking back on.”
“That’s because you don’t know my secret webbing recipe.”
“True, but unless you-.”
“Just hold the wall still and stop taking.”
Tony puts a not inconsiderable amount of effort into propping the wall up and holding it there. Spider-Man is a blur, moving around him and webbing the cracks. Tony lets go, gingerly, and the wall holds. Spider-Man makes victory arms.
“You are a ridiculous human being,” Tony says. “Spider human being.”
“Okay, but the wall’s staying up. Now we just need to hope Thor and Captain America dealt with the reality melting gun, and then we can go home.”
Spider-Man ducks; Tony fires at the man holding the gun. The device looked to be held together with spit and desperation before Cap had entered the fray. Now it’s sending out sparks, and only working one time in three. The only reason this thing has gone on so long is because there are still civilians around, and large pieces of building keep disappearing. The other two men are still holding the black bags of cash - all this over a bank robbery. Tony guesses they don’t know how to stop now: things went a little south and then escalation happened. People need to know when to give up. Tony’s not always the best at that himself, but there aren’t many people bull-headed enough to keep going when Captain America is staring you down.
“Banner, you nearby?” Tony radios. “Where are we on that thing?”
“It’s not matter transference, and it’s not disintegration.”
“Good. Excellent. And now that we know what it isn’t, any clues on what it is?”
“It’s having some kind of deteriorating effect on the bonds holding the materials together. Which is why they used it to walk through walls, obviously. The webbing wasn’t a bad idea – the structure of that should help nullify the worst of it.”
“See?” Spider-Man says. “Bruce thinks it was a good idea.”
(There is a yelp behind them. Natasha or Clint must have found a clear shot.)
Tony says, “Yeah, but Bruce has also been known to… let’s just say his scientific methodology has been known to need work.”
“My methodology is fine,” Bruce argues. “My testing practices have been a little non-standard.”
Cap, seemingly ignoring the byplay, stares down the gunman. “That’s good. Now just slide the device towards me, slowly. Good.”
Coulson calls, “Okay, let’s bring in clean-up. And get that thing to Dr Banner’s lab.” He adds an aside, just for Tony. “If it brings down your building, it’s on the two of you.”
Spider-Man bumps Tony’s arm. “Remember to tell them the webbing goes in an hour. Or the bank’s just going to fall down again, and that’d be a good day’s work ruined.” He ducks past Tony, and heads away down the nearest alley.
Tony follows him. “God, you’re even worse at this than I am, aren’t you?” (He radios back to Coulson: “Webbing is not a permanent building material. You’ve got about forty-five minutes.”)
Spider-Man asks, calling over his shoulder, “Worse at what?”
“Hunting in packs. Stick around a while, you might find it’s not all bad.”
“No thanks. I’m not really the type.”
Tony remembers saying that. He answers, “Apparently you won’t know until you try.”
“That’s what they say about doing drugs, and we all know the answer to that one.”
“No one says that about drugs. And even if they did, the point is-.” He loses Spider-Man around a corner. “You did good today. We all did.”
“Doesn’t mean I want to do it every day,” Spider-Man shouts. Tony gets around the corner. “Though I guess once in a while isn’t so bad.”
Spider-Man is hanging from a line of webbing attached to the underside of some fancy brickwork, in an inverted crouch with his feet pressed together over his head. Tony says, “That cannot be comfortable.”
“Another one of my spider-tricks. I am super-flexible.”
“If that was a come-on, it’s not necessary. Though it’s useful information.”
“Can you turn all your monitoring crap off, or is SHIELD on all frequencies?”
Tony huffs. “Please. Like I’d let them have the override on my armour’s comms? Okay, we’re off radio. Now what? More secrets of the spider-tricks?”
Spider-Man executes a leap, twisting himself right-side up and adhering, all of a sudden, to Tony’s suit. He balances lightly on the toecaps, as if it takes no more effort than breathing. Tony doesn’t want to move, afraid of knocking him loose, though he’s not totally sure he could do that by accident. Spider-Man stares at him. “Ever use this on radio and I’ll- you use codenames on your frequencies, right?”
“Sure, most of the time. Coulson’s a stickler that way. And the others aren’t public the way I am, even if they- what’s this about?”
Spider-Man tips backwards, enough that Tony grabs hold of him by instinct. He has Spider-Man’s narrow fingers caught in the grip of his armoured hands, palms pressed together right where the repulsors are.
Spider-Man smiles, though there’s no mouth on the mask. He says, “Peter.”
“What?” Tony asks.
“You don’t get the whole thing, or not yet anyway but- Peter. I’m Peter.” He tugs free of Tony’s grip and goes spinning off into the spaces between the skyscrapers.
Tony mulls the name over, turning it around in his head. Peter. That works.