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It starts in January, just after Christmas. It only takes Tony five minutes with F.R.I.D.A.Y. to confirm what it is. In the end, he’s not even surprised.

He hides it for months. He has to. It is a well known fact that an engineer is only as good as his hands. Tony Stark is just that: a pair of hands that create. If those hands fail, his identity, his purpose, is lost.

At first, it’s not hard to conceal. He doesn’t see many people besides Pepper, nowadays. Happy is far too busy running SI’s security branch to take much notice of the little things and Rhodey spends more time in D.C. than anywhere else. Pepper does ask about it, once, but Tony bullshits an excuse. He doesn’t know if she really believes it, but she doesn’t ask again. 

There’s only one other person who would notice, and the kid’s at MIT most of the year. In all honestly, Tony misses Peter like hell. Cambridge isn’t far, especially when you have a private jet and a suit that can achieve supersonic flight, but the billionaire has been trying to keep his distance. The kid needs time and space to find who he is outside of Tony Stark and outside of Spider-Man. Tony will be damned if he fucks that up.

But now it’s summer, and Peter is home.

He’d missed the hell out of this kid. They aren’t even talking at the moment. Peter is engrossed in a project in the lab’s corner while his mentor tinkers with Dum-E’s wiring, but there is a contentment inside Tony’s chest that makes the silence the most comfortable sound in the world.

And then his hands start shaking.

He tries to power through, like he always does, but it only takes him five minutes to lose his grip on the screwdriver and send the tool clattering across the floor.

The string of curses slips out before he can even think them through.

“Mister Stark? Is everything okay?”

Peter still calls him Mister Stark. Even after all this time. Even though the young man is very aware of his future inheritance. Even after fighting through a war side by side. This damn kid has never stopped looking at his mentor like the man can lift mountains.

And now he can’t even rewire a damn robot.

“It’s fine, Peter.”

But the kid is peeking over his shoulder now, looking at his shaking hands with a shadow of fear on his face.

Damn it.

“What’s wrong?” Peter’s eyes are flashing between Tony’s hands and his face. “Mister Stark? Is-is it your anxiety? Do you need something? What-what can I do?”

Peter rarely stutters, anymore. Tony hates that he’s the reason he’s doing it now.

“It’s fine, Peter.”

“You keep saying that, but I can tell it’s not true.”

“It’s fine, Peter.”

“Stop saying that!”

Tony’s hands are shaking even harder now. He can’t tell if the tremor is just naturally progressing or if his stress is exacerbating it.

“I’m saying it because it’s nothing for you to worry about, kiddo. I’ve got in under control.”

“You don’t always have to do this, you know.”

“Do what?”

“Try to handle everything on your own. You don’t have to. I want to help.”

Peter’s eyes are so genuine. He’d never lost that glimmer of innocence, even after Thanos. Something akin to hope kindles inside Tony whenever he sees it. Whenever he remembers that the kid was beaten, but never broken.

“I know you do, kid. But you don’t have to worry about me.”

“But I do worry about you, Mister Stark.” Peter is pulling him away from the wires with gentle hands. “And when you shut me out, I just worry more. Please tell me what’s wrong.”

Tony sighed, gripping the couch with white knuckles. Even then, he could still feel the tremor.

“It’s just a little shakiness, Peter. I’m not sick.”

“But…” Peter’s hands ghost over Tony’s. His face has taken on that soft, introspective quality that Tony has come to associate with the kid’s moments of deep thought. “But why are you shaking?”

“Don’t be an alcoholic, kid. Old age ain’t pretty either way, but it sure doesn’t help.”

Peter’s a genius, so it doesn’t surprise Tony that he connects the dots immediately. “Nerve damage.”

“Yep.”

“Is it…” Peter’s voice is hesitant. “Is it permanent?”

“I don’t know, kid. Is nerve damage usually repairable?” Tony didn’t mean to be curt, but his frustration was leaking out. “What use is a genius level IQ if you’re not going to use it, Peter? Don’t act stupid. It doesn’t suit you.”

Peter blinks. He’s seen Tony be harsh, but it isn’t usually directed at him. He’s seen so much of Tony’s rarer gentle side that the prodigy often forgets that his mentor is a notoriously bitter personality. “I-I’m sorry, Tony.”

Every ounce of anger rushes out of the older man at once. “Don’t apologize, Peter. I’m not angry with you.”

“Who are you angry with, then?”

These are the moments that make Tony’s head spin. The moments he remembers that while Peter isn’t a teenager anymore, he is still so painfully naive.

“I’m pissed at myself, buddy.”

Peter pulls Tony’s hands away from the couch. The billionaire looks down. The kid’s hands are soft and young and steady. They have decades of innovation just waiting for them. A lifetime ahead, glowing like a promise. But for Tony, there is only a clock running low on time. Numbered days. For a moment, he wants to hate Peter for it. 

“Why?”

“What use is an engineer with shaky hands, Peter?”

“But you’re not only an engineer, right?” The kid gives him one of those special smiles that make the older man’s heart fill with all sorts of obnoxiously gooey emotions. “You’re a lot of other things. More important things.”

“Like what?”

“Uh, you’re Iron Man.” Peter says it like there isn’t anything else in the world that could be more important or impressive. It occurs to Tony that to the kid, that’s probably true. “You’re a genius. You’re a billionaire, and the owner of a company, and an icon. And you’re a husband. And a, uh, and a…” Peter blushes, and Tony just barely catches his final words, “and you’re kind of like a dad, too.”

Tony doesn’t need to ask to who.

“You’re a really good kid, Peter.”

Peter looks at Tony like his mentor has just handed him a bushel of stars rather than a half-assed complement, and Tony decides that maybe he is more than a pair of hands, after all. 

Chapter Text

Peter bumps the screwdriver out of Tony’s hand with a clumsy elbow. He ducks underneath the workbench as soon as he realizes what he’s done, face already heating up in a blush.

“Oh. Sorry, Mister Stark.”

Tony’s world blurs out. All he can hear is the echoes of a frightened, cracking voice that is all too familiar.

Mister Stark? I don’t feel so good.

Please, Sir. I don’t wanna go. 

I’m sorry.

Tony cannot breathe. Peter is dying. He’s dying again and Tony just got him back and he can’t take this. Not again.

“Mister Stark?” Peter sounds scared. Shit. Of course he’s scared. He’s going to die. He’s going to die because Tony can’t save him.

Tony can never save him.

A hand touches his shoulder and Tony flinches back with a choked gasp.

“Oh, shit. I-I’m sorry, Mister Stark.”

No no no no no. Peter. Sweet, young, innocent Peter. He’d tried so hard to protect him. When he’d come back, Tony hadn’t even told him what happened. And the kid had asked. He’d asked and he’d asked and he’d asked.

(“What happened, Mister Stark?”

Tony is filled with sudden relief. He prays to an uncaring god that Peter doesn’t remember a single thing. “You don’t remember?”

“Uh, no. I remember being scared. Like, really really scared. I remember you. And, uh, did you hug me, maybe? I definitely remember someone holding me. And then I remember feeling sort of peaceful, and then nothing else.”

The words are the sweetest thing Tony had ever heard. “That’s good, kid. Don’t sweat what happened. It’s over now.”

“But-”

“Nope. No more questions. C’mon. Don’t you have a science project to work on? Let’s get that done and we’ll watch a movie. Any movie. Your choice, Underoos.”

“Can we watch Alien?”

Tony’s heart stills. “Any movie except Alien.”)

And Tony had never told him. No matter how obnoxious the kid got. No matter how curious he was. Tony couldn’t tell him.

He made everyone else swear to conceal it, too. Rhodey had been surprisingly easy to convince. Then again, he’d seen Tony stumble of Nebula’s half-wrecked spaceship with a stab wound in his side and an empty look in his eyes. He’d held Tony as the man broke down, screaming and sobbing about a frightened kid and a hand covered in ash.

Maybe Rhodey understood Tony’s urge to protect, now. Maybe he understood that nothing would stand in its way ever again.

Except something could. And it was coming back for the kid Tony had snatched out of its claws.

You can’t have him. Please. Please. Don’t take him.

I won’t survive it. Not this time.

“Mister Stark?” Peter’s voice breaks. I don’t wanna go. “F.R.I.D.A.Y.? What-what’s happening? I don’t understand.”

I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t know what’s-

His eyes had screamed fix it, Mister Stark, please but Tony couldn’t. All he could do was catch him as he fell and lower him to the ground so he that could disintegrate into the dirt of a planet that was light years away from his home. Press a hand against his shoulder and hold his frightened gaze until the very end. Until Tony fell forward against a ground painted in the ashes of a child who didn’t deserve it.

His child. His child’s ashes.

“Boss appears to be experiencing a severe anxiety attack.”

Peter sounds seconds away from tears. “Oh, god. What do I do?”

“It is advised that you attempt to help him control his breathing. It may help to ground him in the present moment. It is possible that the attack is rooted in his PTSD.”

“Right.” Peter sounds so unsure that Tony would give anything to reassure him. But he cannot move. He cannot do this again. “I’ve got this.”

There is shuffling, and then soft hands grip Tony’s wrists. He tries to pull away, but the hold is strong and unrelenting.

“Mister Stark? Can-can you look at me? Please?”

Sir, please.

Tony doesn’t want to open his eyes. If he does, he’ll have to watch his kid crumble all over again. But he had never been able to deny Peter anything, so he looks.

And he sees the white face of Peter Parker. Only this time, he is the one on the ground and the kid is hovering above him. The ground underneath him is not red dirt. It is the smooth linoleum of his lab’s floors.

He is not on Titan. And that means…

Peter.

The kid smiles at him, bright and youthful. “That’s me.”

Tony grabs the kid and envelopes him in his arms. Peter gives a brief cry of surprise before curling against his mentor’s chest hesitantly. Tony adjusts them until the majority of his body is covering Peter’s. His fingers find the pulse point on Peter’s neck and press down shakily.

A steady, slightly elevated thump thump thump presses back.

“You’re alright.” Tony whispers, trying to block out the echoes of a different planet. A different day. A different reality. “I’ve got you. You’re alright.”

“Uh, Mister Stark?” Peter’s voice is muffled by his mentor’s shirt, but the man doesn’t relinquish his hold. In fact, he presses a firm hand to the back of Peter’s head and drops his face into the teenager’s curls. “Aren’t, um, aren’t I supposed to be the one reassuring you?”

“Shut up, Pete.”

The kid laughs a little, and Tony revels in the way the giggle shakes both their bodies. Peter is alive. Peter isn’t going anywhere.

Tony doesn’t know how long passes with them both curled on the ground, but by the time he speaks both he and Peter are half asleep.

“Hey, Peter?” 

The kid turns his face into Tony’s neck sleepily. “Hmm? Yeah?”

“Don’t ever apologize to me again, okay? Just… just don’t.”

The silence stretches on for so long that Tony is almost certain the kid drifted off on him. Then, just as he is about to give into his own exhaustion, a drowsy murmur rises up from where Peter’s face is pressed against Tony’s throat.

“M’kay.”

Tony waits for Peter to fall asleep before he moves a cautious hand back to the pulse point on the teenager’s neck. He closes his eyes and lets the slow thrum of his kid’s heartbeat lull him into sleep.

And if he wakes up later to a killer backache but a peacefully sleeping Peter, he decides that this trade was entirely worth it.

Chapter Text

Peter.

Tony whispers the name with the reverence usually afforded to scripture. Steve spins from where he was clutching Bucky to see the billionaire wavering on his feet, eyes locked on a teenager standing just a few feet away.

So that’s Peter.

He’d heard a lot about this kid over the past month. It was difficult, fighting for a cause that had already failed. Hoping for an outcome that was dauntingly uncertain. They’d all stayed sane by talking about what they were fighting for. Who they were fighting for.

So Steve talked about Bucky and Sam. Rocket talked about Groot and the other Guardians. Thor talked about Loki and his people. Clint talked about his family. Natasha talked about Wanda and Fury. Okoye and Shuri talked about T’Challa. 

And Tony? Tony talked about Peter.

(”He can’t use chopsticks.”

Tony is sitting on the floor of the Guardians ruined ship. He, Steve, and Rocket are working on repairing it. Well, Tony and Rocket are working on repairing it while Steve does the heavy lifting.

The genius has a faraway look in his eye as he tells the story. “He’s so bad with them. I tried to teach him once, but we spent hours and by the end he was just as hopeless as when we started.” Tony shoved his fist against his thigh. Grates the knuckles against the leg until they crack and pop in protest. “When I get him back, I’m going to make him learn. I won’t let him out of my sight until he’s a chopstick pro.” The man’s eyes wander to his lap, and his next words come out strained. “Won’t let him out of my sight after that, either. Just to be safe.”

Steve is quiet for a moment before answering. “Because of the chopsticks.”

Tony gives a jerky nod. “Of course. Because of the chopsticks.”)

The kid’s eyes widen when he catches sight of his mentor, and then he’s just a blur of motion until his smaller frame slams into Tony’s. Steve is more than a little impressed by the fact that the older man manages to stay on his feet, rocking back with the force of Peter’s jump both otherwise seeming unphased.

“Mister Stark!” The teenager’s voice cracks as he breaks into sobs. “God. I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I missed you so much and it was so dark there and all I wanted was to come home and oh my g-”

“Shh, Pete.” Tony threads his fingers into Peter’s hair and rocks him back and forth. There is a paternal gentleness in the man’s movements that Steve has never seen in him before. “It’s alright. You’re alright. Everything’s alright.”

They both drop to the ground, then. Tony pulls the kid into his lap and continues their swaying motion. Peter is babbling nonsensically, violently distraught and shaking with sobs. Steve’s a good few meters away, and the teenager’s frantic gasps are making him feel panicky, but Tony takes it all in stride. He just holds him close and murmurs gentle, comforting words against the kid’s hairline.

“I’ve got you. It’s okay. Let it out. Just keep breathing for me, okay? Don’t stop breathing. I’m here. You’re not there anymore, buddy. You’re not there. You’re home.”

By the time Peter’s sobs fade into oblivion, the rest of the team and their recently resurrected friends have gathered in an awkward circle. Tony glances up from his kid’s curls, notices their presence, and sighs deeply.

“C’mon, kiddie. Going up.”

The billionaire tugs Peter to his feet, but doesn’t relinquish his grip. He tucks Peter firmly against his side and wraps his arm so tightly around his waist that he pins the teenager’s arms to his sides. The kid doesn’t seem to mind, however. He just leans into the contact with a heavy, exhausted sigh.

“So,” Tony says, projecting his voice across Wakanda’s battle-scarred forest, “is everybody up for some shawarma?”

Steve laughs, high and hysterical. “Really, Tony? That’s what’s on your mind right now? Shawarma?”

Tony shrugs. “I’m hungry.” He turns to Doctor Strange, who is smirking slightly at the billionaire, evidently amused. “So, what do you say, Doctor? Willing to help us get back to New York for some grub?”

The man laughs. His infamously prickly exterior seems to have been softened by the relief of, well, not being dead. “Why not?” The sorcerer conjures a portal with an absent gesture before catching the billionaire’s eyes and giving him a surprisingly sincere nod. “Well done, Tony.”

Tony regards the man silently for a moment. “You knew what would happen. You knew what I would lose.”

“I did.” Strange’s eyes flicker meaningfully Peter, who seems to be dozing on his feet. “I also knew you’d do anything in the face of that loss. Including, it would seem, the impossible.”

Something unspoken passes between the two men. Steve cannot fathom out what it is, but the moment passes and then Tony is turning to everyone gathered with a smirk.

“If you want shawarma, hop on through.”

And just like that, Tony pulls Peter through the portal and disappears.

“Well,” Natasha drawls, giving Steve a small smile as she saunters after him, “I assume he’s paying. And I could use a good meal.”

The adrenaline fades, and exhaustion creeps in.

Half of the group is asleep before they can even fill their stomachs. Steve would be, too, if it wasn’t for his super metabolism tearing through his fatigue and demanding to be sated. He stuffs his face and alternates between staring at Bucky and watching Tony with his kid.

The billionaire refuses to eat until Peter does. The kid tentatively gnaws on his first serving before his appetite finally kicks in. He ends up keeping pace with Steve, Bucky, and Thor for a while, which is impressive. By now, though, the kid is drifting off just like the rest of the superhero congregation.

Tony, on the other hand, seems wide awake, which Steve can tell is bullshit. The man has barely slept a whole night through since Titan. But every time his eyes start to droop with sleep, he shakes himself awake and keeps on staring at Peter.

In a way, Steve understands the feeling. When he isn’t watching Tony, he’s watching Bucky. Memorizing him. Try to push it through his head that he’s alive. That the universe fell apart but they pieced it back together.

(”He took half the universe.”

Steve looks at Tony sideways. “Yes.”

“He took the entirety of mine.”

Peter was the kingpin that held Tony together. The point on which his everything pivots.

Just like Bucky was Steve’s.

“We’re going to get them back.”

“I know. I just wish I hadn’t lost him in the first place.”)

By the time Steve shakes himself out of the memory, Peter has slipped sideways until he’s half propped against Tony’s chest and half slumped against the table. His head is pillowed against the billionaire’s arm, which is resting between the pair’s forgotten plates, while one of his shoulders is pressed against his mentor’s ribs.

Tony’s gaze is latched onto the steady rise and fall of Peter’s chest, which is soft and even in sleep. His free hand is alternating between brushing through the teenager’s hair or rubbing circles on the nape of his neck. Steve studies his expression. There is something impossibly tender, and impossibly sad, on the man’s face. He seems completely oblivious to the rest of the world.

(”He took the entirety of mine.”)

Slowly, ever so slowly, Tony starts to slump forward. Within minutes, he’s curled over Peter’s body, face pressed against the crown of the teenager’s head and face relaxed in sleep. 

And for the first time in months, Tony Stark rests.

Natasha’s voice sounds from the soldier’s left. “Isn’t that a pretty picture?”

Steve glances over to see her watching Tony and Peter with a fond smirk curling the corner of her mouth towards the sky. “Guess it is.”

“Don’t worry,” the ex-assassin is twirling a straw between her fingers, “I think Rhodey snapped one on his phone.”

He laughs, careful not to disturb the myriad of sleepers littered around them. “Tony’ll kill him.”

“Maybe.”

Bucky slips his hand into Steve’s and squeezes. He squeezes back. but keeps his eyes on Natasha. “I’ll have to get Rhodey to send me that picture.”

Nat smiles. “We could frame it. Give it to him for Christmas.”

Peter shifts, and Tony’s hand curls instinctively in his hair, soothing him instantly. Even in sleep, the billionaire is looking out for his kid.

“Sounds like a plan.”

Chapter Text

“You look good, Peter.” Tony smiles at the kid, eyes shining with fondness. “All grown up.”

Peter laughs, pointedly ignoring the little crows of “awe” Rhodey was making from where he was sprawled out on one of the hotel beds. “Yeah?”

His mentor seems determined to ignore his best friend’s mockery too. He gets to his feet and strolls over to grip Peter by his shoulders, sweeping a calculated look over the teenager’s tux. “Yeah.”

One of Tony’s hands slides up to cup the nape of Peter’s neck. He gives it a reassuring squeeze. “You nervous?”

The question makes Peter roll his eyes. “ I’m not the one getting married in a few hours, Mister Stark.”

“Guess not.” His mentor brushes a thumb against the bow tie hanging around the teenager’s neck. “You know how to do one of those?”

A blush races across Peter’s face. “Well-I, uh, I mean...”

“No biggie. I’ll teach you.” The older man undoes his own tie with a flourish. “Alright. Don’t try to do it yourself yet. Just watch what I do and then you can give it a short after.”

Peter nods, gaze zeroing in on his mentor’s hands. “Got it.”

His laser focus makes another rush of fondness pass over Tony’s face. This time, it’s accompanied by a soft laugh. At Peter’s questioning head tilt, the older man elaborates. “You’re cute when you’re concentrating. You look a little like a puppy.”

Rhodey pipes up from the corner. A glance out of the corner of Peter’s eye reveals that the Colonel is observing the scene with an expression of endearment. That realization only makes the teenager’s blush brighten. “You do. Like a little Labrador puppy.”

Tony’s gaze flickers over to his best friend, a carefree smile curling his mouth upwards. “Right?”

“Okay. Okay.” Peter glowers as the two men laugh at him. “Can you just teach me how to do this?” He realizes that his words could be rude, and adds to them quickly, his voice dropping into the tone he knows make the billionaire melt. “Please?”

It works. His mentor’s hand cards through Peter’s hair, brushing a few curls away from the teenager’s forehead. “Sure thing, kiddo.”

Peter gives Tony his most winning smile. “You can’t touch my hair once it’s all gelled up, y’know. So, get it out of your system now.”

Tony laughs, ruffling Peter’s hair until nearly ever lock is out of place. “Leave it be, kid.”

The teenager chokes. “Leave it be? Have you seen it?” He pulls an errant curl straight and nearly goes cross-eyed and he tries to glare up at it. “It’s a mess.”

“I like it. And it’s my wedding, so anything I say goes. And I say to leave the curls alone, buddy.” Tony lets his fingers linger for a breath longer against Peter’s scalp before pulling them back to his tie. “Alright. Watch closely.” He starts moving through the steps at a snail’s pace. “First, just tie a normal over knot. Then, make sure one end is a little longer than the other. Like this. See?”

Peter nods vigorously. The teenager can see his mentor fighting back a smile.

“Good. Fold the shorter side up. See how I did that?” Another nod. “Cool. Now, bring your longer end around the top. Make sure you’re using these two fingers to leave an opening. Now, pull that end through and pull it tight.” Tony finishes and adjusts the tie. “Just mess with it until everything looks like you want it to. You got it?”

“I think so.”

Tony grips Peter’s wrists and brings his hands to rest against the tie. “Your try, Pete.”

His fingers fumble with the slippery silk, but his mentor’s calloused hands are gentle and persistent, sliding over Peter’s knuckles as he guides him through each step.

It takes him a lot longer than Tony, but he ends up with a crooked but otherwise respectable bow. He grins up at his mentor excitedly and the older man gives him a proud nod, tenderly straightening the tie as Peter tugs at his cuffs.

“Good job, kid. We’ll make a man out of you yet.”

The pair just look at each other for a few seconds. In the end, it’s Rhodey who breaks the moment.

“Alright. Well, as much as I love the father/son bonding going on here, we’ve got things to do.”

Tony claps Peter on the shoulder as he moves away. The teenager didn’t even register how close his mentor had been standing until he left. Something childish in him whined at the lost of the man’s physical proximity.

“Right you are, Rhodey. C’mon, kid. I’ve got to deliver you to Happy for usher duty.”

“Yeah. Right. Of course.”

The older man slides a steadying arm around Peter’s shoulder as he guides him out of the room and down the hall. “You’ll do great. After everyone’s seated, come find me in the back rooms and Rhodey and I will take care of you from there. You’re walking in the processional with May, so that should be fine. After that, all you have to do is stand behind me and try not to look bored during the ceremony. Think you can pull that off?”

“Yes, Sir.”

Happy is waiting for them in the lobby. He’s wearing a tux that matches Peter’s. The ex-bodyguard gives the teenager a genuine smile when his gaze lands on him. “Hey, kid. You clean up nice.” He moves his attention to Tony. “You didn’t have to bring him down here, Boss. I could’ve collected him.”

His mentor just shrugs as he gives Peter a gentle shove towards Happy. “I wanted to bring him.” He pauses right before he moves back to the elevator. “Be good, buddy. I’ll see you in a bit.”

“See ya, Mister Stark.”

Happy nods towards the waiting car. “Move it, kid. Pepper will eviscerate us if we’re late.”

That got his feet moving. An angry Pepper was not something he was prepared for.

Ever .

--

Peter gets sent away from usher duty early in order to deliver a bouquet to Pepper.

He’s massively relieved. Especially when Happy tells him that he can go straight to Tony afterwards.

Escorting a bunch of strangers to their seats was surprisingly exhausting.

He knocks nervously and is greeted almost instantly by Black Widow herself. She cracks open the door and peeps out suspiciously. When she sees Peter, her lips twitch up in a rare smile.

“Hey there, маленький паук.”

He smiles at the nickname. “Hi Nat.” He holds up the bouquet. “Uh, delivery for the bride.”

She raises a conspiratorial eyebrow at him. “Promise to tell Tony nothing ?”

“I swear.”

“On your life?”

“Duh.”

Natasha opens the door and pulls him in. As soon as he sees Pepper, his mouth drops open.

She looks beautiful . And, to be fair, Peter’s knowledge of wedding dresses extends about as far as the few Say Yes to the Dress episodes he’s seen with May, but the dress looks expensive. Then again, she is marrying Tony Stark.

The dress itself is satin, and the fabric looks so soft and smooth that he feels a weird urge to touch it. The large bow at the front makes Peter reach up to adjust his own tie impulsively. Pepper’s hair is pinned up in an intricate crown that makes Peter’s head spin when he tries to trace the strands.

The moment she sees Peter, Pepper’s entire face lights up. He decides rather suddenly that the CEO could be wearing a burlap sack and she’d still look radiant. “Peter, honey!”

“H-Hey there, Miss Potts.” He winces a little at his stutter. “Y-you look beautiful.”

“And you look so handsome. Come here, sweetheart.”

Peter rushes to her side, offering up the bouquet nervously. She pulls it from his hands and sets it aside without a second glance, opting instead to brush a motherly thumb over his face. “Thank you, Peter. Stick around for a minute and let May have a look at you. I sent her to check on Tony. Is he panicking yet?”

The teenager giggles. “I dunno. Last I saw, he seemed okay. But that was hours ago. I’m heading to him after this.”

“Good.” She winks at him. “Stay close to him, alright? I’m trusting you and Rhodey to keep him together until the ceremony. Think you can do that for me?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

He hears a door open and close behind him. May is speaking as soon as she enters. “So, I checked on Tony and, well, it isn’t great. I think he-” She cuts herself off as Peter spins to face her. “Peter!”

She’s on him in an instant, cupping his face and sniffing back tears as she takes in his tux. “Oh, my baby. You look so, so handsome, honey. My handsome baby boy. Look how grown up you are.”

He hears Natasha snicker, and winces. Still, he doesn’t pull away. “Thanks, May.”

Finally, she releases him and brushes a few stray tears away from her cheeks. “Look at me. The ceremony hasn’t even started yet and I’m already crying.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Peter assures, smiling crookedly at her. “So, uh, is Tony okay?”

She winces. “I think you should probably run over there, Peter. Something tells me Rhodey could use the help.”

Oh no.

--

When Peter slips into the room for Tony and the groomsmen, his mentor is in full panic mode.

The billionaire is pacing, tugging anxiously at his lapel and cuffs and muttering under his breath. Rhodey is standing a few feet away, watching the man with a look of barely contained frustration on his face. He sees Peter before Tony does, and moves to greet him silently.

“Thank god you’re here.” The Colonel whispers, obviously trying to avoid catching his best friend’s attention. “I need you to do that thing you do.”

“Uh... what thing?”

“You know. When you get him to go into overprotective dad mode.”

Peter muffles a laugh against his sleeve. “What? Why?”

“Because he’s freaking out, and there’s still fifteen minutes to go. He needs a distraction, but he’s ignored everything I’ve tried.” Rhodey checks that Tony is still pacing rapidly, completely oblivious his surroundings, before continuing. “Make him mother you, or something.”

The teenager rolls his eyes. “How do I even do that?”

“I don’t know! You’re the one that does it all the time.” The Colonel scrutinizes his face briefly.  “Aren’t you nervous?”

“A little.”

“Good. Hype it up. Tell him you’re terrified. Use your puppy dog eyes. Like I said, make him parent you. Please , Peter.”

Peter sighs. “Alright. I’ll try, but I really don’t think it’s going to work.” He moves towards his mentor. “Hi, Mister Stark.”

The man whips to face him and desperately tries to school his expression into something that doesn’t resemble pure panic. “Hey, Pete. When did you get here?”

“Just now.” He lies. “What’s up?”

“Oh, nothing. Just waiting.” Tony grips his left wrist. It’s one of his many anxious ticks that Peter’s learned to identify over the years. “You good?”

He forces his breathing to ratchet up a notch and purposefully makes his voice come out strained and wobbly. “Y-Yeah. ‘Course.”

If his mentor wasn’t so stressed, Peter has no doubt that he would’ve seen right through the teenager’s facade. As it was, he buys it immediately. Tony’s eyes narrow and his entire posture changes. The nervous tension bleeding into alertness. His gaze, devoid of anything but parental concern, sweeps Peter up and down as he moves towards him. “What’s wrong, Peter?”

Peter can see Rhodey grinning smugly in his peripheral vision. He forces out a weak stutter as he resists the urge to give the Colonel a good shove. “N-Nothing.”

“Yeah. Not buying it.” Tony is gripping his shoulders now, eyes flickering across Peter’s face. “Want to try the truth?”

That would be sort of counterproductive, considering the fact that I’m trying to distract you. “I’m just, uh, I’m just a little nervous, I guess.”

Tony’s face softens. He runs a thumb over Peter’s cheekbone. The gesture is so similar to the one Pepper did earlier that it nearly makes the teenager laugh. “Hey, don’t sweat it. Everything’s gonna be fine. Worst part’s already over, buddy.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Tony’s hand migrates from his face to his curls. Peter resists the urge to point out the fact that his mentor is always messing with them. If he does, Tony might stop. And, as childish as it is, Peter really doesn’t want him to. “After the ceremony, all you have to do is eat and watch everyone else get drunk. I’ve seen you eat, kid. Something tells me that part’ll be a breeze for you.”

“Maybe I’ll get drunk with everyone else.”

Tony shoots him a warning look. “Don’t make me kick your ass at my own wedding, Pete.”

“I was joking, Mister Stark.”

“You better be.”

A nervous looking attendant pokes his head into the room. “Five minutes until we start, Mister Stark. Everyone should probably get in their places.”

“Shit.” Panic flashes over Tony’s face as his grip on Peter’s shoulders tightens painfully and the hand in his hair tenses. “Shit. Shit. Shit. Who thought this was a good idea?”

Peter answers for him. “Uh... wasn’t it you?”

“Yeah, but I’m stupid. Nobody should listen to me.”

Peter grins cheekily as he, Tony, and Rhodey move out of the room and towards the distant sound of the crowd. “I mean, I’ll agree with you there.”

His mentor shoots him a glare. “Thanks a ton, Pete. Is this karma? Was I really such a bad child that I deserved to end up with a snarky little shit like you for a kid?”

“You love me.”

“Unfortunately.”

They stop when they reach the congregation of bridesmaids and groomsmen that are mulling around by the doors that lead to the ceremony space. Rhodey moves to tug Tony towards a side door.

“Time to go, Tony. Say bye to Tony, Peter.”

“Bye, Mister Stark.”

His mentor just gives him a terrified glance before Rhodey hauls him through the door and, presumably, to the altar.

He can hear Peter’s laughter echoing behind him.

(It makes him feel a little better.)

--

If Peter’s being honest, the ceremony was one of the most boring experiences of his life.

He’s more than a little glad when it finally ends and the reception begins. He scarfs down every dish at the dinner with vigor. Pepper sat him and May with Happy, Sam, Steve, and Natasha, so the conversation is lively and Peter doesn’t have to stress about remembering anybody’s names.

After dinner comes the actual party, which Peter is a little hesitant about. Afterall, he’s literally the only person at the entire occasion that’s underage. Almost as soon as Tony and Pepper finish their first dance, however, the latter is pulling him into the floor with a glimmer in her eyes.

Tony notices and laughs. “What’re you doing with my kid, Pep?”

Pepper puts Peter’s right hand on her left hip and grabs his free hand in hers, bringing it to shoulder level. “We’re dancing, Tony.”

The billionaire rolls his eyes and slips his arm smoothly through May’s. “My wife has stolen your son, so I’m all alone. May I have this dance?”

Peter doesn’t hear her reply, because Pepper whisks him to the other side of the dance floor in a series of graceful steps. She’s patient and kind, guiding him through the dance with nothing but smiles and ease, even when he stumbles.

“Congratulations.” Peter whispers, glancing slyly at Tony. “He’s really lucky.”

The words sound cheesy, even to him, but they make Pepper smile. “Oh, I know.”

These are the moments where Peter sees exactly why Tony fell in love with her. “I think he knows, too.”

“He better.” She helps Peter regain his balance as he takes a particularly ungraceful step. “I wanted to thank you.”

“For what?”

“Lots of things, really.” She smiled at him. “Giving him something to live for. Reminding him that he’s human. You’re one of the best things that ever happened to him, Peter.” The teenager blushes at the praise. “But I specifically wanted to thank you for distracting him before the ceremony. Rhodey told me.”

“Oh.” She’s thanking him for that ? All he really did was stand around and let Tony mess with his hair. “It’s not a big deal. I’m happy to help.”

“I know you are, but that doesn’t mean I’m not grateful.” The song ends, and she releases him. “Well, I think I owe a certain Colonel a dance. Enjoy your night, sweetheart.”

Peter spends the rest of the evening on the outskirts of the festivities, but not in a bad way. He dances with May a few times, and Natasha once, but otherwise chooses to chat with the Avengers and some of the SI employees that he recognizes. The event is so chaotic that he barely sees Tony all night.

The reception finally winds down, and Peter is surprised when his mentor catches his eye and motions for him to follow he and Pepper out to the lobby. The newlyweds planned to leave for the honeymoon as soon as the party ended, so Peter sort of assumed he wouldn’t see them again until they came home in a couple of weeks.

Apparently, Tony had other plans.

He dashes after them with a quick promise to meet May by the elevators when he’s finished.

Tony greets him with a weary but genuine smile. “Hey, Pete. Sorry I didn’t see you much back there.”

“It’s fine, Mister Stark. I understand.”

“Well, still. You have fun, at least?” Pepper isn’t even trying to conceal the adoration on her face as she watches the two interact. “How was the cake? You like it?”

“Oh, yeah. It was awesome, Mister Stark. Really good.”

“Yeah? Good.” The billionaire clenches and unclenches his fists. “Well, we’ll be back in two and a half weeks. Promise to stay out of trouble until then?” At Peter’s vigorous nod, Tony huffs a laugh. “Okay. Good. That’s good. Pepper worries, you know.”

The woman in question barks out a shameless, indignant laugh. Tony ignores her.

“Anyway, I, uh, I just wanted to check in with you before we left. Say goodbye, and all that.” All of a sudden, there is something deep and serious in Tony’s eyes. “You feeling better?”

Oh, right.

“Yeah, Mister Stark. I feel great.” The teenager shuffles his feet awkwardly for a second before giving into his impulse and murmuring a nervous, “I’ll miss you.”

His mentor’s entire aura softens. He seems to fight with himself for a second before blowing out a breath and tugging Peter into his arms.

“You’re a good kid, Peter.”

Peter crushes his face against Tony’s jacket. The material is different than Tony’s usual suits, but his mentor still smells the same. Cedarwood, motor oil, and metal. Peter sinks into the familiar scents with a hum. “Thank you, Mister Stark. Congratulations, by the way.”

“Thanks, kid.” There is a pause. Tony rubs his hand up and down Peter’s spine. “For everything.”

The teenager smiles against his mentor’s shoulder. “Anytime.”

Chapter Text

It’s the middle of the day, and Tony is elbows deep in the engine of his Ford Roadster when the alert goes off.

“Boss?” F.R.I.D.A.Y.’s voice echoes from the walls. “Mister Parker’s heart rate has risen to over 100 beats per minute and his blood pressure appears to be climbing as well.”

Tony’s head snaps up. “Is he exercising?”

“No, Sir. The tracker in his watch indicates that he is stationary and has not engaged in strenuous physical activity for approximately 14 hours.”

“Shit.” He wipes the grease off his hands with an old t-shirt. “Call him.”

“Right away, Boss.”

The phone rings three times before Peter’s slightly breathless voice squeaks across the line.

“Uh, Mister Stark?”

“Hey, kid. You wanna tell me why your heart rate and blood pressure are spiking?”

“Oh, well, I, uh- wait, what? How do you even know that?”

The billionaire rolls his eyes. “F.R.I.D.A.Y. monitors your vitals. Don’t change the subject.”

“But I’m not even in the suit right now.”

“You’re wearing that watch I gave you, right?”

Peter groans. “Oh my god. Did you put F.R.I.D.A.Y. in my watch? What the hell, Mister Stark? That takes helicopter parenting to a whole new level.”

Tony’s heart twinges at Peter’s use of ‘parenting.’ He shoves the emotion down. “Good thing I’m not your parent.”

“Helicopter mentoring, then.” It sounds like Peter’s laughing. “I’m fine, Mister Stark. You can put away the suit you have on standby.”

Tony sort of hates the fact that he actually does have to disengage the suit he’d been about to send to Peter’s location. The kid knows him too well.

He glances at the screen displaying Peter’s vitals and notices that the numbers seem to be dropping somewhat towards normal as they talk, but they’re still a little too high for Tony’s liking. “Yeah? How come your vitals lit up, then?”

“I’m at school, Mister Stark. I have an oral presentation in Spanish. I’m nervous.”

Oh. Oh.

“Ah. Well, uh, oh.” He pulls up Peter’s location with a flick of his wrist and quickly confirms that the kid is indeed sitting in the back of his Spanish classroom. He ignores Peter’s snickers as he rapidly hacks into his school’s servers and checks one Peter Parker’s schedule. Yep. The kid definitely has Spanish at 1:15 on Mondays. A glance at the clock confirms that it’s 1:10. “Alright, then. Good. Spanish. Did you, uh, did you study?”

The kid chokes an answer through his laughter. “Yep. A ton. All freaking weekend, actually.”

“Good for you.” Well, at least the kid’s heart rate is back to normal. Maybe all he needed was a distraction. “Well, go clinch that A for me, kiddo.”

More giggles. Damn this kid, taking amusement from Tony’s distress. “I’ll try.”

“Oh, and kid?”

“Yes, Mister Stark?”

“Please take the watch off when you, uh, take care of any adult business, okay? That is not an alert I need to get.”

“Adult bussine-” Peter’s voice rises several octaves as his mentor’s meaning bleeds through. “I-I don’t-I mean, I’m not-”

Ah, payback really is sweet. “Bye, kid. Have fun in Spanish class. Remember: watch comes off during your big boy activities.”

“Mister Stark!”

He hangs up to the kid’s indignant squeaks. He laughs loudly when the monitor shows another abrupt rise in heart rate and blood pressure as soon as Tony mentioned sex.

He really loves that kid.

Chapter Text

“So… Peter.”

The kid doesn’t even look up from his AP Biology homework when he answers. “Yeah, Mister Stark? What’s up?”

Tony strolls over to where the kid is stretched out on the workshop’s couch and gently tugs the book out of his hands. “We need to have a chat.”

Peter’s full attention is trained on his mentor now. “About what? Is it about the Avengers? Is there a mission? I have a Decathlon meet in a few days but I can totally-”

“It’s not superhero related.”

“Oh.” Peter twists sideways and fixes Tony with a confused gaze as the billionaire sits next to him. “What’s it about, then?”

“I had a talk with May yesterday.”

The kid, bless him, seems to be completely oblivious. “That’s… nice?”

Tony sighs. “She told me that you’ve not been checking in when you’re on your patrols as much as you used to. She asked me if everything was okay.”

“Oh, Mister Stark, everything’s totally fine. I was just-”

The billionaire talks right over him. “So I checked the suit’s logs. And, well, it seems like you’ve been taking the suit off in the middle of patrols, kid. There’s chunks of hours where there’s no activity.”

He’s quiet for a moment, hoping the kid would hop in with a perfectly logical explanation. Instead, the teenager just stares at his lap and fidgets nervously with his hands.

Another sigh. Damn, this parenting shit was hard. He should’ve left this to May. “You wanna tell me why?”

“Does it really matter?”

Tony is slightly surprised by the kid’s words. They were meant to be snarky, but they just come out defeated and… shy? The kid hadn’t been shy with him for months. It makes the billionaire’s heart clench.

“Hey, kid. It’s alright. Whatever’s going on, we’ll handle it. Just tell me what’s up.” He considers his next statement for a moment before pushing it out. “I care about you, kid. And I’m worried. So is May. Just be honest with us, and everything’ll be alright. Can you do that?”

Peter takes a shaky breath. “I was with MJ.”

And… oh. That wasn’t what Tony was expecting. At all. “Your scary friend?”

The blush that races through the kid’s cheeks is bright and awkward. “My scary, uh, girlfriend.”

Tony can’t help it. He laughs. It is loud and breathless and desperately relieved. “That’s it? You’re sneaking out to spend time with your girlfriend? Peter, I thought you were doing drugs or something.”

Peter’s eyes widen. “No! No! I wasn’t-I was just-”

Something clicks in Tony’s head. “Peter. Why were you sneaking into your girlfriend’s apartment at 1:00 am?”

Wow. If Tony thought Peter was blushing brightly before, it was nothing compared to now. “No, uh, no real reason.”

“Yeah?” Tony shoved a hand over his mouth to hide his smirk. This was golden. Truly, wonderfully golden. “Well, congratulations, kid.”

What?”

Tony shrugs, still fighting back the laughter aching in his chest. “Getting laid for the first time is a big milestone in a young man’s life, and all that jazz. It’s a hell of a lot of fun, isn’t it?”

The kid looks like he’s torn between crying, laughing, and sinking into the floor. “Oh my god, Mister Stark.”

The fact that the teenager doesn’t stutter out a series of indignant excuses only confirms what Tony had suspected. Fantastic. This was, without a doubt, one of the best days of his life. Tony was gonna rib the kid about this moment for centuries. “You’ve got condoms, right?”

“Mister Stark, please-”

Peter.”

The use of Tony’s stern voice makes the kid’s protests silence instantly. The teenager gives a dejected sigh before murmuring. “Yeah. I’ve got condoms.”

“You’re using them, right?”

Yes.”

“Good.” Tony gives the kid’s back a friendly slap. “I’m proud of you, kid. The first notch in your belt.”

“Can I please excuse myself from this conversation?”

“Nope. Not excused.” The billionaire grins at the way Peter shifts uncomfortably. “Well, I’ve only met this girl a few times, and that’s completely unacceptable. So, we’re gonna go on what you kids nowadays call a double date. You and your little girlfriend plus me and Pepper.”

“God, that would be so embarrassing. Please don’t make me.”

“It’s either a double date, or I tell May what you’ve been up to and she grounds you until you’re 25. You pick, kid. Don’t let me down.”

“You’re not going to tell her?”

The juvenile hope on Peter’s face is adorable. God, how the hell is this precious child actually getting laid? He’s a baby. Still, Tony isn’t about to rain on his parade. He started a hell of a lot younger, and he went about it with a lot less sense than Peter. “Nah. Just… keep the escapades to a minimum, okay? Everything in moderation.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Perfect!” Tony claps his hands and then ruffles Peter’s hair. “F.R.I.D.A.Y.? Call Happy and Rhodey. Tell them we’re having a celebratory dinner with the Spider-kid. Don’t give them an option to decline. It’s mandatory.”

The AI responds about a minute later. “Colonel Rhodes inquires about the occasion we’re celebration.”

“Tell him that our favorite neighborhood vigilante is actually getting some action. We’re celebrating his transition into manhood.”

“Are you sure, Sir?”

Peter buries his face into Tony’s lap with a strangled groan. The billionaire has to choke back a laugh as he sets a hand on the teenager’s head. “Oh, I’m definitely sure.”

Chapter Text

“Mister Stark?”

Tony turns around very, very slowly. He can feel each beat of his heart tearing through his chest.

Not the kid. Please. Please. Please don’t take my kid.

“I don’t feel so good.”

“You’re alright.”

You have to be alright, Peter. I can’t live with anything else. I have to take you home.

The kid stumbles forward, clutching his stomach, and looks at his mentor with terrified eyes.

“I don’t-I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t know what’s-”

Peter slams into Tony’s chest, and the billionaire scrambles to take his weight. The kid’s entire body is trembling. He wonders, fleetingly, if these were the last moments he would ever hold his kid.

He wished, with all his might, that he’d done it more.

And then, instead of crumbling into ash like Tony imagined, the kid turns his head and vomits down his mentor’s side.

It hits the billionaire suddenly that Peter is solid. He is shaking and gagging and sobbing against Tony’s chest, but he isn’t slipping through Tony’s fingers. No ash or dust is flaking off of him and getting stolen away on the foreign breeze.

He’s been spared. They both have. They played Thanos’ twisted lottery and, somehow, come out on the right side of the 50%.

“You’re just fine, Peter.” Tony guides the teenager to the ground. The billionaire props his back against a piece of twisted rubble and pulls the kid against his chest. “You’re fine. You’re not going anywhere, buddy. You’re just in shock. He didn’t get you. You didn’t get picked.”

“I-I don’t-”

“You’re solid, Pete.” Tony guides the Peter’s hands to his chest and runs the kid’s fingers down across his stomach. “Feel that? Solid. You’re staying right here. Right here with me.”

Right here with me, Peter. Right here with me.

All of the breath rushes out of the kid on his next exhale. The teenager’s head drops back against Tony’s shoulder. He’s still shaking, although the billionaire isn’t overly surprised by that, but he’s relaxing. He’s breathing. He’s solid.

He’s safe. He’s okay. As long as he’s okay, I can do this. I can survive. I can face the end of the universe and not even flinch.

“I’m sorry.”

Tony starts, craning his neck awkwardly to look down at the boy’s face. “For what?”

“Threw up on you.”

Tony laughs, desperate and tight, as he curls his arms around the kid’s shaking chest. God. Peter’s alive. Peter’s okay. The universe has fallen but Peter’s okay. That’s all that matters. That’s all that’s ever mattered. “I forgive you, kiddo. Throw up on me anytime.”

Chapter Text

“Hey, look!” Peter bounced up, posture tightening in excitement and pulling him away from where he’d been slouched into Tony’s side. “They got a goal!”

“Yeah, but their player was offside. It doesn’t count.”

What ?”

He gave the back of the kid’s shirt a tug. “There weren’t two defenders in front of the goal scorer when the ball was passed. Means he’s offside, and the goal doesn’t count.”

“How do you even tell ?”

“The referee tells.”

“Well how does he tell?”

“He just does.”

“By magic?”

Tony smirked. “By magic.”

Peter dropped back into Tony’s side with a huff. The billionaire smothered a wince as the impact knocked the breath out of his lungs. “That’s stupid.”

“That’s the rules.”

“Rules are-”

“Nuh-uh.” He squeezed the arm around Peter’s shoulders in warning. “I wouldn’t finish that one if I were you, Spider-Man. My rules are good rules.”

The kid rolled his eyes. “I’m not talking about your rules, Mister Stark. I’m talking about these rules.”

There was a finite list of things that could distract Tony Stark from a good soccer game, and it turns out that Peter Parker was one of them. He dropped his eyes down to the kid, TV forgotten. “I’ll let FIFA know about your complaint.”

Peter wiggled around to face him, eyes wide. “Can you actually do that?”

He laughed, ruffling the kid’s hair, and returned his focus to the game without another word.

The kid sat quietly for about 30 seconds before he started fidgeting. Within the minute, he was blurting out more questions.

Which, surprisingly, Tony didn’t mind one bit.

“So who’s gonna win?”

He resisted the urge to scoff. Do you think I’m a psychic, kid?

Instead, he reached into his infinite well of patience that seemed to appear only when Peter was around and spoke quietly. “It depends. The team in red is supposed to be the better squad, but they’ve been playing pretty terribly the whole tournament. It’d be an upset, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the team in yellow won, especially if their offense keeps this assault up.”

“Offense keeps up... what assault?”

The billionaire pointed to the right of the screen. “Notice how the yellow players have the ball most of the time, and that the play is almost always in the red player’s half of the field?” Peter nodded, eyes locked on the screen and brow furrowed in concentration. If he didn’t know better, Tony would think that he was explaining the secrets of the universe to the kid. He hung onto every one of his mentor’s words like they were forged from gold. “They know that the red team’s defense is their weak spot, so they’re trying to wear them down.”

“Is it working?”

He spared a quick glance at the player’s positions. “So far, yeah."

“Good.” Peter shifted so that his head was propped up against Tony’s shoulder. “I want the yellow team to win.”

“Yeah?” He absently ran his fingers through the kid’s curls, eyes tracing the pattern of the players’ movements. “Why’s that?”

“They’re the underdog. I like the underdog.”

Fondness fuzzed up the billionaire’s throat. You would, kid.

A few minutes passed in comfortable silence. Tony let himself relax into the background drone of the commentator’s rambling and the steady rhythm of Peter’s breaths. He was so engrossed in the game that he forgot all about the hand that was carding through the teenager’s hair, but the movements never stilled or faltered.

Some things were just instinctual.

"See that guy?” Peter jumped a little, and Tony realized that the kid must have been dozing off on him. Really riveted by the game, I can see. “The one who just got knocked over?” At the teenager’s overly enthusiastic nod, he continued. “He plays for the British team I rooted for when I was growing up.”

“Why’d you root for a British team?”

He shrugged. “I had an American one too, but soccer’s really big over there. It was just for the fun of it, I guess.” He bit back a snarky comment about the choice of a simple penalty over a yellow card for the foul. “The new owners won’t put the money into buying the players that the team needs, though, so the club’s pretty shit now.”

“You can do that? Buy a soccer team?”

Tony smiled softly. “Yeah, of course you can. Why? You want me to buy you one?”

He was only half joking.

Peter giggled. “No, Mister Stark. But... but you seem like you really like this kind of stuff. Why don’t you buy yourself one?”

He paused, tuning out the game once again in favor of giving his full attention to the kid. “I’ve thought about it, but I wouldn’t have the time to run it properly. I’ve got too much on my plate with Iron Man and the Avengers and saving the world every other weekend to do something like that just for the fun of it.”

Peter’s voice was sad. “So you don’t do anything just for the fun of it?”

He answered without thinking. “I’m watching this game with you, aren’t I?”

Peter gave him a shy smile. “Oh, yeah. At least you watch the games sometimes.”

Tony rolled the next words around on his tongue before verbalizing them carefully. “Game’s not the fun part, kid.” He gave the teenager’s shoulder a gentle bump. “Fun part’s watching it with you .”

The kid’s nervous smile lit up into an unreserved grin. “Really?”

“Of course, buddy.”

Chapter Text

Ned and Peter are sitting on the floor of Tony’s workshop, a new Lego set spread out around them, animatedly discussing something to do with Star Wars. In all honesty, Tony isn’t really paying attention. He’s watching Peter for the week while May is out of town on a much needed vacation, free of the stress of keeping one Peter Parker out of trouble, and the kid had begged him to let Ned come over. He’d been doing a pretty good job of resisting until Peter busted out his puppy dog eyes.

Damn those puppy dog eyes.

The pace of the teenagers’ conversation changes, however, and that’s enough to make Tony tune in absentmindedly.

“So, wed, bed, or behead with Luke, Leia, and Han.”

Tony nearly rolls his eyes at the juvenile line of questioning. Of course the kids would end up thinking with their downstairs brains. Why did he let a bunch of teenagers into his lab, again?

Peter’s answer is immediate. If Tony’s being honest, it’s a little too immediate. “Wed Leia, bed Han, and kill Luke. Sorry, Luke.”

Huh. That’s… an interesting answer. Without hesitation, either. No qualification for the choice of Han. Most boys Peter’s age would be far too concerned about their masculinity to say something like that openly, even to their best friend.

Ned seems unphased. “Dude, Luke is way more your type.”

Tony stills his hands on the StarkPad he’s using to draw up a diagram as Peter shushes his friend quickly. “Ned! Shut up!”

Alright. Time to join in.

“You got a thing for Han Solo, kid?”

Peter groans. “I-I had to choose a guy for one of them, y’know? It’s not a big deal, Mister Stark. It’s just a stupid game.”

Tony watches Ned stare openly at Peter, eyes flickering wildly between his friend and the billionaire seated a few feet away.

It clicks. Tony laughs the moment that it does.

“Jesus, kid. Are you actually hiding your sexuality from me?”

Peter chokes. “W-What? What are you talking about, M-Mister Stark? I, uh, I don’t…”

Ned elbows him in the side. “Dude.”

Tony sighs dramatically. “You’re fine, Peter. I don’t mind if you’re gay. Seriously. And since we’re having a nice heart to heart here, I’ll even admit that I’ve done some pretty gay shit in my time too, bud. As long as you’re using protection, you can screw everyone and anybody that you want and I’ll be a happy guy. Capishe?”

“I’m, uh, not gay.”

“You’re a terrible liar.”

“I’m not!” Peter’s squeaky exclamation only makes Tony’s smirk widen. “I’m bi!”

“Wow. So you really are screwing everybody and anybody, huh? Well, congratulations on your optimal sexual orientation, kid. The sky’s the limit, and all that jazz.”

Peter just gapes at his mentor for a second while Ned tries to muffle his laughter in the kid’s shoulder.

Tony tries to break some of the tension. “How long’ve you know, anyway? How’d you figure it out?”

Ned’s entire body is shaking with uncontrollable laughter now, and Peter slaps his arm. “Ned! Stop it!” He turns back to his mentor. “I, uh, well, I wouldn’t say that there was a particular mo-”

The other boy finally detaches himself from Peter’s shoulder to snicker. “It was all because of Thor, Mister Stark.”

“Ned!”

“Come on! It’s too funny to not tell him! I mean, he knows Thor, Peter!”

“Exactly, Ned!”

Tony, meanwhile, is trying to fight back laughter of his own. “I’m sorry. Thor was the reason for your sexual awakening?”

Peter groans, shoving his face in his hands, while Ned just smirks. “It was amazing, Mister Stark. We were talking about Black Widow and then Peter just declares, unprompted, that he’d probably rather screw Thor. So I asked him if he was gay and he was like, “no, Ned! Of course not.” But then I was explaining to him that, uh, it isn’t entirely normal to thirst after random guys if you’re not at least a little gay and his entire face goes blank before he says, in the tiniest voice ever: “uh, Ned? I, uh, I think I’m not as straight as I thought.” It was the greatest day of my life, Mister Stark. I wish you could have seen it.”

Tony is bent over his worktable in hysterics by the time Ned finishes the story. His amusement is only bolstered by the look of pure horror on Peter’s face.

“I can’t believe you told him that!” Peter’s face is flushed so brightly that Tony briefly worries he’ll faint. “Ned!”

His friend only laughs harder, giving Peter a halfhearted pat on the back and burying his face into the other boy’s stomach.

After Tony’s certain Peter isn’t going to keel over on shock, he shoots the pair a winning grin. 

“So… are you two a thing, then?”

“Oh, uh, well, we…”

The billionaire feels a warm fondness run through him at Peter’s awkward stuttering.

Oh, yeah. They definitely are.

Chapter Text

The smack echoed across the room.

For some reason, the only thing that penetrated the shock of the situation in Tony’s head was that stupid Schoolhouse Rock song. A shot heard round the world…

Except this wasn’t a shot, and it didn’t start the Revolutionary War.

No. This was so much bigger, and so much worse.

This was the sound of someone slapping his kid.

In essence, it was also the sound that signed their death warrant.

“What the fuck?” Tony snarled, stalking forward. He felt coiled in a way he’d never experienced before. Primed and angry and full of cool conviction. “I hope you have one hell of an excuse for me to completely disregard keyed up.”

The man, one of the shareholders that had been getting on Tony’s nerves for what felt like literal decades, spun to face him with a surprising amount of confidence for someone who had just made the biggest mistake of their life. The moment he saw the look on the billionaire’s face, however, his entire being shriveled and shrunk.

Good, Tony thought, you should be afraid.

His gaze trailed briefly to the right. Peter was standing flush against the wall, eyes wide and cheek red. He glanced over at Tony as if he was looking for answers. Looking for a cue on how to react.

Frankly, he had nothing to offer him. He couldn’t see past his own blinding anger. No matter how much he wanted to, he couldn’t set it aside.

His want to comfort Peter was being overridden by his fury.

It was such a Howard thing to do, and that realization left a bitter taste in his mouth.

I’m supposed to be better than he was.

“He-He was-”

Tony cut the shareholder off before he could even attempt an excuse. “I’m sorry. Is there anything you can possibly say to justify hitting a child?”

His shoulders collapsed. “No.”

Tony swallowed. Fuck you, Howard. Fuck you and your legacy. I am not you. “Get out.” He waved a hand at the rest of the room. “All of you. Out.” He pointed his next words to the ceiling. “F.R.I.D.A.Y.? Tell Happy what happened. He’ll deal with him.”

“Yes, Boss.”

The man left without another word. Smart. Maybe he did have some self-preservation instincts, after all.

Just not enough.

By the time he got enough of a choke hold on his anger to breathe, the room was empty except for him and the kid, who was watching him with suspiciously teary eyes.

Unacceptable.

“Hey, Pete.” Tony extended a hand out to him, and the teenager stumbled over to him as if they were matching magnets. “C’mere.”

As soon as he was close enough, he brushed a thumb over the kid’s cheekbone. There wasn’t even the tiniest bit of evidence that suggested he’d ever been hit. Tony didn’t know if that was because there hadn’t been any real force behind the blow, or because of Peter’s advanced healing.

It didn’t really matter, he supposed. That shareholder was fucked no matter what.

He’d make sure of it.

“I-I’m s-sorry, Mister Stark.” Peter swallowed, hard. Tony could hear the sobs he was trapping in his chest through his inflection. “I d-didn’t mean to make him a-angry. Honest.”

“You don’t need to apologize, bud.” Anger flared through him at the thought that Peter actually felt guilty after some asshole had fucking slapped him. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“I’m still really, really-”

“Listen, kid. Don’t finish that sentence for both our sake’s. My poor hearts been through enough today.”

Peter grinned, a tiny bit of the weight lifting from his eyes. “Okay, Mister Stark.”

“I’ve told you to call me Tony.”

“I know, Mister Stark.”

“Seriously, Pete. Quit with the Mister Stark. You make me feel old.”

“Sure thing, Mister Stark.”

He looked at the innocence on Peter’s face, hope still unmarred by the harsh realities of the world.

Unmarred by one of the harsh realities he’d just come in contact with. Peter could look into the dark and still come out seeing only light.

And Tony was going to do everything in his power to keep it that way.

--

Peter had always been clingy.

It had escalated as he and Tony got closer. At first, it presented as unnecessary shoulder brushes and the tendency to fall into his side as the pair walked pretty much anywhere. Now, Tony had grown used to the kid hanging all over him at pretty much every available opportunity.

He pretended to hate it, but it satisfied some deep, instinctual need for pure human proximity that he didn’t get anywhere else.

Sure, he got intimacy from Pepper. But there was something different about closeness with a human being that had zero romantic or sexual conditions. The simplicity of seeking human contact for no other reason than to seek human contact.

Of course, these are the things he would never admit out loud.

Hell, it was hard enough to admit them to himself.

The clinginess always escalated whenever the kid was stressed or sad. It was just a fact. Whenever he knew that Peter was having a rough time, he sort of accepted the concept that he’d have his very own human octopus attached to his hip until his skies got sunnier.

And, obviously, being slapped by someone in a room full of strangers was going to do a number on pretty much anyone’s mood. So after Tony cocooned Peter back up in the penthouse with a movie and a cup of hot chocolate, he was completely unsurprised that it took Peter all of two minutes to crawl on top of him.

Hell, he’d even sat twisted in a way that invited the gesture.

(And, yeah, he was still pretty shaken up over the whole thing. So, it wasn’t too unwelcome to have a constant, teenager-sized reminder that everything turned out okay.)

He threaded his fingers through Peter’s curls, finding the exact rhythm and path that the kid liked on muscle memory alone. Every once in a while, he’d hit a snag and work at the spot gently until it came undone. He let himself get lost in the pattern. Card, snag, untangle. Card, snag, untangle. Card, snag, untangle.

He had no idea why, but playing with Peter’s hair never failed to bring the kid down from any sort of bad mood. The action seemed to work like some kind of unconscious trigger. No matter how keyed up he was, a minute or two of Tony messing absentmindedly with his curls would always morph the kid from a tightrope of tension to a settled sea.

It was how Tony greeted him, with a brief but affectionate ruffle at the crown of his head. It was how Tony reassured him, brushing his fingertips against the hair that grew at the nape of his neck. It was how Tony got him to fall back asleep after a nightmare, brushing steady circles through his curls until the panic faded into a distant memory.

He wondered, every once in a while, if the kid knew just how receptive he was to the action. He doubted it.

Sure enough, it only took a few minutes of Tony’s gentle rhythm for Peter to melt against his chest. The movie droned on uselessly in the background. Neither of them were paying it much mind, but it did give the room a nice blanket of white noise.

“Hey,” Tony whispered once the kid seemed totally settled, “I’m not mad at you, y’know.”

“I know.”

“Good.” He floundered. Something he’d learned rather quickly with Peter was that the want, the need, to comfort didn’t necessarily mean you actually had the skills to do so. He had the parental instincts down, but he was still working on the parental guidance bit. “I just, uh, wanted to touch base with you there.”

Peter laughed, low and lazy. “Consider the base touched.”

“I hope you aren’t making an innuendo.”

“I wasn’t.” Tony smoothed a hand down the back of Peter’s neck, and the kid’s fingers uncurled from his mentor’s shirt as even more tension leaked out of his shoulders. “Are you?”

“Absolutely not. I’m a responsible adult.”

“Sure.”

“That sounded like sarcasm.”

“Don’t know what that even is, Mister Stark.” Peter settled his cheek more firmly against Tony’s chest. “Never used it before in m’ life.”

He rolled his eyes, keeping his voice quiet so as not to startle the half-conscious teenager sprawled on top of him. “F.R.I.D.A.Y.? Put the lights on Night Mode, please.”

The room going dark was the only response from the AI, and Tony was suddenly grateful that he’d made her advanced enough to assess situations.

“Goodnight, Peter.”

The kid just pushed a lazy hand against his mentor’s chest in acknowledgement, murmuring something unintelligible under his breath.

It didn’t matter. Tony got the message loud and clear.

It was about an hour later that Pepper strolled through the door, stopping suddenly, mid-step, as she realized exactly what she’d walked in on.

Tony gave her a little wave with the hand that wasn’t occupied with spiking Peter’s curls up off his forehead. She laughed, returning the gesture and slowly stepping out of the room. 

When she spoke, she kept her voice quiet enough that he could barely pick it up. “He okay?”

“Yeah.” He assumed Happy had told her about the disaster of a meeting. “You know… just a bad day.”

She nodded, turning to leave and then pivoting back for a final exchange. “You know, Tony, parenthood’s a good look on you. Not that I’m surprised.”

Tony had to forcefully remind himself not to jolt. “You’re not surprised?”

She just smiled. “Not at all.” Her gaze lingered on Peter’s face, eyes sparkling. “I always knew.”

Chapter Text

Tony let himself bask in the glow of success for all of three seconds before he lunged into action.

If defeating Thanos was the victory, then a certain spider-kid, alive and breathing and decidedly not lost to a cloud of ash, would be his prize.

He found Carol Danvers standing beside Thanos’ body, Infinity Gauntlet glowing dangerously in the low light of Wakanda’s setting sun. Everything around them was painted an eerie gold as the evening rays filtered through the battle’s lingering dust. 

If Tony wasn’t so desperate to get to Peter, he might have stopped to admire how beautiful the aftermath of war could be.

Rocket was only a few steps behind him, one paw wrapped tightly around the wrist of who Tony assumed must be Groot. They shared the briefest nod. This was the kind of acknowledgement that was soul-deep, the kind that came from shared tragedy.

“He’ll be okay.”

Tony gave the raccoon a tight but grateful smile. “Oh, he better be. Or I’ll kick his ass.”

Rocket laughed, his lip curling up in a snarl. “Sounds like a good plan to me.”

Of everyone, he knew that Rocket understood. Both of them knew what it was like to lose a child. To look to the universe and beg take me, not them, and be met with only silence.

Thanos chose to sacrifice his child. But Tony and Rocket? That sacrifice was made for them.

“I need to get to Titan.”

Carol gave him a nod, eyes full of compassion, and opened a portal without another word.

He didn’t look back.

He stumbled past the Guardians, blocking out the ruckus of the team reuniting. He stumbled past Doctor Strange, who didn’t even try to intercept his forward momentum. He stumbled past rocks and debris and perilous chasms until he saw the dust-muted glint of the Iron Spider suit.

The Iron Spider suit, which wasn’t moving.

“Peter?” He dropped to his knees at the kid’s side and reached out for him. Please be solid. Please be alive. “Buddy? You’re alright, okay? You’re fine.”

He has to be. He has to be okay. If he’s not, then what was the fucking point?

The second his hand touched Peter’s shoulder, the teenager shot upwards. His arms flailed out, blearily trying to fight off what he thought was an attacker, and breath ratcheted up to a pace that Tony really didn’t like.

But then again, he was breathing. Tony could hear it.

Thank god.

His mind flashed back to when he’d just met the kid. The image of him lying, still and unmoving, at that airport tarmac was still enough to send thrills of panic down his spine.

If he really thought about it, that was the beginning. That was the first moment that he’d first realized why parents always seemed to roll their eyes at the phrase “secure your own mask before assisting others.”

It was in his bones now.

“Kid!” He caught Peter’s fists and tucked them back against his chest as gently as he could. “Still the same side. Guess who?” He felt his voice crack a little. “Hi.”

He could see the exact moment Peter realized who he was. Every ounce of fight leaked out of him. He let his head flop back against the Titan dirt on a release of breath, a relieved smile curling across his face.

“Oh, hey. Hi, Mister Stark.” Tony could feel the kid trembling under his hands. “That was-that was really scary.”

His lungs jumped in this throat, and he forced out a wet smile. “Believe me, kiddo. I know.”

It was as if the gravity of the situation descended on Peter all at once. His eyes widened, his lips wobbled, and Tony had all of a second to prepare before the teenager burst into full-body sobs.

It felt wrong, towering awkwardly over the kid while he was sprawled on the ground, so Tony pulled him up against his chest. Peter shoved his face into his shoulder, hands tearing into the back of his shirt, and it felt like a mirror image of another time.

(”I don’t wanna go. Sir, please.”)

He closed his eyes and took a shaky breath. “Pete?”

The kid’s voice was shaky, small, young. “Yeah?”

“Say something.”

“What?”

“Anything.”

I’ve relived those words a million times. Give me something new to remember.

“I, uh,” Peter trembled, and Tony smoothed a hand down his back in comfort, “I g-guess now is probably a bad time to make a Back to the F-Future reference?”

He laughed into the kid’s curls. “Yeah. We’re banning those movies. We’re also banning field trips, space, and ever leaving me or May’s sights ever again.”

Peter let out a laugh that settled into a sigh, sinking into his mentor’s chest. “Sounds good to me.”

Chapter Text

“We should meet for another debriefing this afternoon. Everyone good for around 3:00?”

“Sorry, Rogers.” Tony said, not glancing up from his phone. “Peter’s out at 3:15.”

Natasha rolled her eyes. “Have Happy get him.”

“No can do. It’s Friday.”

The entire team just stared at him. Tony snorted in indignation.

“Friday is Ice Cream Day. Kid and I are working through all the joints between his school and the Tower. I can’t ditch Ice Cream Day.”

“Tony, this is a meeting about how we’re going to deal with an elusive but highly volatile terrorist network.”

“Sounds like a meeting that can wait until the kid’s on patrol.”

Steve sighed, running a hand down his face. “When’s his patrol?”

“8:00 to 11:00 on weekdays. He gets to stay out until 1:00 on Fridays, though.”

Rhodey didn’t even try to muffle his groan. “Let him go out early, Tony. The kid’ll be thrilled and we can get the meeting over with when it’s still daylight.”

“Nope.” He said, popping the ‘p,’ “Routine is important for teenagers, and he usually eats dinner at 6:30.”

“Which means he could leave at 7:00.”

“Gotta have time to let the food settle, Rhodey. He’ll make himself sick otherwise.”

“I swear-” Sam threw his hands up in the air, laughing a little hysterically, “is this actually happening right now? Is everyone else hearing this?”

“Hearing what?” Tony snapped.

“You,” he replied, gesturing wildly at where the billionaire was sitting casually in one of the leather conference chairs and looking completely oblivious, “being a dad.”

Tony just stared, and then spoke in a deadpan. “I’m not his dad.”

Sam snorted. “You know his schedule.”

“I’m his mentor, it’s my job to check up on him.”

“You got new curtains in the Compound because the kid didn’t like the old ones.”

“The kid said that yellow makes him anxious-”

“You can name all his favorite songs in order.

“You do know that. I’ve heard you list them.” Rhodey added, a little apologetic. “And I mean, Tones, you’ve got his report card hanging up in your lab.”

“Kid got straight A’s in all his AP courses! That’s impressive!

“You’re his dad, Tony.” Steve broke in, trying to cover a smirk. “Honestly, I think the only person who doesn’t know that is you.”

There’s a moment where Tony just blinked, and then sighed. “You forgot Peter.”

Rhodey laughed so loudly that the entire room jumped. “Peter knows it better than anyone, Tones. In fact, the poor kid would probably be heartbroken that you didn’t know it, too.”

“He doesn’t want me as a role model.”

“You wanna bet?” The Colonel tugged out his phone with a smirk. “I think a little demonstration is in order.”

“He’s at school.” Tony muttered. “You can’t call him.”

“He’s at lunch right now, which you know very well.”

“How the hell do you know that?”

“Because I’ve heard you talk about his schedule more than I’d like to admit.” He hit dial and turned the line to speaker as it rang.

“Mister Rhodes, Sir?” Peter’s voice was breathless with excitement, and Tony smothered a fond smile behind his palm. “Is everything okay? Is Mister Stark alright?”

“Everything’s fine, Pete. Tony is, too. Just saw him, actually, and it got me thinking.”

“Oh, yeah? About, uh, about what?”

“Well, remember when you asked me about Father’s Day?” Tony’s eyes snapped up to meet Rhodey’s, and the Colonel just winked. “I think he’d like the first idea you had.”

“You think?” There was a pause, and Tony could practically see the kid scuffing the toes of his ratty Converse against the school’s linoleum floors. “I kinda feel stupid about doing something at all, honestly. What if he thinks I’m being, like, too forward about it?”

“Oh no, Peter, he wouldn’t think that at all. He was just raving about you in the meeting, actually.”

There was such a delicacy to the hope kid’s voice, and it nearly crushed Tony. “He was?”

“Absolutely.”

“Oh, that’s… that’s really nice.” Another pause. “He’s getting me for ice cream today.”

“I heard. He’s really excited.”

“He is?”

“Ice Cream Fridays, right? Made us schedule a meeting around it and everything.” Rhodey smiled. “Hanging around you is good for him, kid.”

“It’s-It’s good for me, too, Sir. It’s… really nice to have him around. I-I’ve always had May but then Uncle Ben and I-well, I didn’t really think I’d have that again, you know?”

Rhodey kicked his feet up on the table, braces whirring mechanically, and went in for the kill.

“Didn’t think you’d get to have another father figure, you mean.”

“Y-Yeah. A father figure. That’s-That’s what he is.” Peter sighed. “Is it… okay, do you think? For me to think of him like that?”

The entire room swiveled to look at Tony, and Rhodey held out a hand in an invitation for him to give or deny his consent.

He bit his tongue and rolled his eyes, shooting the Colonel a begrudging thumbs up, hyper-aware of the reaction it would incite. Sure enough, the rest of the team scrambled to muffle their amused laughter behind elbows and cushions.

“I think it’s totally fine, Peter.” Rhodey shot Tony another wink. “Something tells me he’d love it, actually.”

“Oh, that’s good.” In classic Parker fashion, he whiplashed the conversation from serious to lighthearted in a split second. His demeanor re-inflated, and his next words were practically vibrating with energy. God, Tony thought, I love this kid. “Do you need anything else from me, Mister Rhodey Sir? It’s just, it’s not like I don’t love talking to you, but I’ve got a Calculus quiz in a bit and I’d love to run through some of my notes before-”

“You’re good, kid. I’ll see you later, okay?”

“Yeah! Of course! Oh, and if you see Tony again? Will you, uh- actually, no. Nevermind. I’ll tell him myself. Bye, Mister Rhodey!”

“Bye, Peter. Good luck on your test.”

“Thank you!”

Sam was the first to speak once the line went dead, voice dripping with satisfaction. “Not his dad, huh?”

“Oh, fuck off, Wilson.” Tony pointed dangerously at Rhodey. “And you’d better not spill that kid’s Father’s Day plans, Rhodes. I want it to be a surprise.”

Chapter Text

“Can’t sleep, Pete?”

The kid jolted up, eyes wide and hands fidgety. “Oh. Hi, Mister Stark. I uh,” he let out a breathless laugh, shaking his head a little, “I didn’t think you’d be around.”

Tony smirked, amused. “Didn’t think I’d be around in my own Tower, huh?”

“No! That’s-That’s not what I-what I meant. Sorry. Yeah, no. I, uh-”

He sunk down onto the couch next to the kid, giving his shoulder a little squeeze to cease the tirade of stuttering. “Easy, squirt. I was just playing with you. So, why are we awake at,” he checked his watch and let out a whistle of surprise, “3:00 am?”

Peter shifted, face tired and laden with stress. Tony ached to brush it away, to pull it out and crush it out of existence. 

A little sigh. “Reasons.”

Make Peter Talk Procedures initiated.

He leaned back against the couch and tugged the kid along with him. He hit no resistance, not that he expected to. As of yet, he’d never seen Peter shy away from physical comfort. 

In fact, the kid seemed to thrive off of it. Even at moments where Tony himself would prefer for everyone to stay at least twenty feet away from him and remain dead silent, Peter longed for the lull of gentle conversation and an arm around his shoulders.

So he wasn’t really surprised when Peter flopped back against the couch immediately and rolled his head onto Tony’s shoulder, eyes squeezed shut and hands fisting into his mentor’s t-shirt. 

He rubbed a hand up and down the teenager’s spine. “Your eloquence never ceases to amaze me. Care to elaborate?”

Peter broke quickly, just like he always,

Yep, he thought, a little smug, still got it.

“Tomorrow is December 14th.”

“Ah yes, the dreaded December 14th.” He reached down to flick at the kid’s temple. “What’s December 14th?”

“MIT releases their admission decisions for Early Action on December 14th.”

Ah.

He felt like kicking himself. Why the hell hadn’t he put that damn date on his calendar? Had F.R.I.D.A.Y. set a reminder? Asked Pepper to make sure he didn’t forget?

Damn it.

“You didn’t tell me that.”

“I didn’t tell anyone that.”

“And why didn’t you?”

“I dunno.” Peter ducked his head low, voice wavering. “Didn’t want to.”

“That’s fair.”

Get Peter To Calm The Hell Down Procedures initiated.

He let the kid brood for a bit, busying himself with sliding off the hoodie he was wearing. Once it was off, he started threading one of Peter’s arms through the sleeve.

The teenager looked at him with a wrinkled brow. “What’re you doing?”

“Oh c’mon, kid. I know you like stealing my clothes. I’m actually giving this one to you. Aren’t I nice?”

“But… why?”

“Cause it usually chills you out.” He finished manhandling the kid into the garment and went to do up the zipper. “And you could use some chilling out right about now.”

Peter giggled, wrapping his arms around himself and pushing into Tony’s side. “You think?”

“I know.” 

He pushed himself around until he was half laying on the couch, head propped against the arm and feet still on the floor. It wasn’t exactly a comfortable position, but it did make obvious the opportunity for the kid to tuck himself between Tony and the back cushions. All he had to do was extend his arms in invitation and Peter was snuggling into his chest, demeanor already a little lighter.

“You’ll get in, kid.” He set a hand on the back of his head. “And if you don’t? Fuck it. We’ll do something else. No biggie.”

“Right. Yeah.” Peter sounded sad, and Tony hated it. When he spoke again, his voice was small, almost pleading. “Everything’ll be okay, right?”

“Course it will, kiddie. You’ve got me, and May, and Ned. At the end of the day, that’s all you need.” He smoothed down one of the kid’s errant curls. “And if MIT doesn’t want you? Then it’s their loss.”

“Really?”

He gave Peter’s shoulder a little squeeze. “Absolutely. You’re the best kid out there. Anybody who doesn’t see that isn’t worth your time.”

Peter yawned, somehow managing to stretch himself even more fully into Tony’s personal space. “Hmm.”

“Get some sleep, Peter.” He tucked the kid’s head in closer. “Whatever happens tomorrow, it’ll be alright.”

The teenager let out a tired breath in response, mouth closing and breaths settling into a much slower rhythm.

Tony watched him, eyes tracing patterns over his face. He couldn’t help but hate the fact that the kid was still so uneasy. Even as he drifted off, he could still see the lines of worry and stress written all over him.

Get Peter A Good Night’s Sleep Protocols initiated.

(He chose not to dwell on the fact that he had so many internal routines stored up when it came to the kid.)

He started to hum, almost absentmindedly. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t done it before, anyway. He usually hummed some random tune to Peter when he was coming down from a sensory overload, or waking up from a particularly brutal nightmare. It helped him fixate on something.

What was abnormal was the fact that, at some point, the humming changed into the soft lyrics of a song he hadn’t thought about in a long, long time.

“Stella, stellina, la notte si avvicina…”

The words flowed a lot easier than he’d anticipated. After all, his mother hadn’t sung to him in decades. But the lyrics and melody seemed to be ingrained somewhere deep in his subconscious. Even if he wasn’t entirely sure what the next line would be, his mouth instinctively formed the words.

He’d been a restless child. He quit taking naps way before the other kids in his classes, and he’d resisted his bedtime like the damn thing would kill him.

His mother had learned early on that tucking him into bed was useless. Instead, she’d carry him around the house, bouncing him gently and singing in his ear, until he nodded off against her shoulder.

She always used to say that her mother had sung that song to her, so now she sang it to him and that one day, he could sing it to his child.

Even then, he’d never really thought that he’d end up with a kid to go with the lullaby.

As if on cue, Peter let out a deep breath and turned his face into his mentor’s neck. Tony sang the end of the song quietly, gradually letting his voice fall into a whisper as he massaged his fingers against the kid’s scalp.

“Ognuno ha il suo bambino, ognuno ha la sua mamma,” he dropped his voice down to a near whisper, cupping the back of Peter’s head and closing his eyes, “e tutti fanno la nanna.”

For a minute, he just listened to the steady whish, whoosh of Peter’s breathing. Focused on the weight of his head on his collarbone. Centered himself around the borderline uncomfortable warmth that the kid was pressing into his chest.

An echo of a memory, replayed and rewinded a million times, flickered through his head.

His mother, settling him into bed with Jarvis’ help. Dropping a kiss to his forehead, swiping bangs from his closed eyes. Murmuring soft words, words that had never left him. Words he would remember until he couldn’t remember anything else at all.

Before he could really think about it, he found himself echoing them back to Peter.

“Sogni d'oro, piccolo.” He shuffled the kid more firmly against his chest, fierce fondness threatening to collapse his ribs. This is my kid, mom. I was yours, and this one’s mine. “Ti voglio bene.”

A sleepy smile slid across Peter’s face, and he mumbled his words into Tony’s collarbone, half-asleep. “Anch’io ti voglio bene.”

He froze, hand pausing on the crown of Peter’s hair, a few curls still ruffled up between his fingers. Shock settled into the cracks. Had the kid really just done what he thought he’d just done? 

“Uh, Peter?”

“Mhm?”

He swallowed, hesitant. “Do you speak Italian?”

“A little.” Peter’s hand tightened it’s hold on the fabric just above Tony’s heart.

“How…?”

“My Aunt ‘s Italian, Mis’er Stark.”

“Oh.”

“‘S okay.” Heavy eyelids blinked open, and Peter stared up at him with pure adoration on his face. “I liked your lullaby.”

For a brief moment, Tony let his head fall forward and a heavy breath thread through his lungs. Then, he re-found Peter’s gaze and re-instated his hand’s motions through his hair.

“I’m glad.” He let a nostalgic smile pull at his lips. “My mom used to sing it to me.” He paused, brushing the pad of his thumb over the kid’s temple. “She would’ve loved you.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” He dropped his head back back and closed his eyes. “Now go to sleep so I can go to sleep, kiddo.”

“M’kay.” The teenager closed his eyes with a smile still curled around his face, voice playful. “Will you sing to me again?”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Don’t be greedy. I thought you were already asleep.”

“Wasn’t.”

“I gathered that.”

“Please?”

He scratched at a specific section of Peter’s curls until the kid let out a muffled breath of satisfaction. “You can’t always get what you want, y’know.”

He ended up murmuring the song again, anyway.

Chapter Text

“Aw.” Tony held up a pair of Iron Man pajamas, grinning as widely as if he’d found a rare treasure. “Cute, kid.”

Hey.” Peter blushed, snatching them away from his mentor and carefully storing them in the box they’d dedicated for things to keep. “Don’t mock me.”

“Don’t worry, Pete. I’d never mock my biggest fan.”

They were standing in the Parker’s small storage compartment on the outskirts of the city, going through years worth of items that had piled up. Neither May nor Peter had been in it since Ben died, but now the facility was closing, which meant that they had to go through everything.

Which meant that they had to sort through dozens of bins weighed down with memories, marked by pieces of duct tape bearing Ben’s messy scrawl.

Peter had dreaded it, and the fact that he could see May dreading it too made him dread it even more.

A never-ending cycle of dread and repeat.

That was, until Tony broke it by offering to help.

Peter had nearly cried with relief when he’d offered that he and Peter could go through the items together. 

“You’ve got enough to worry about, May.” His mentor had offered with a charming grin. “The kid and I can handle it. It’ll be a fun boy’s activity. You’d like that, right Pete?”

And so far, he had liked it. They’d eaten greasy fast food while leaning against the outside of the storage shed, summer breeze tugging at their clothes. They’d taken a few breaks to play Uno on a stack of rib-height boxes. Tony had even brought a speaker, and they’d played loud 80s music while shifting through piles and piles of anything from school trophies to dishtowels.

Peter had dreaded these excursions at first. Had dreaded the concept of stumbling across thoughts he didn’t want to think. 

Now, though, he loved the trips. Loved the hours of comfortable banter that they threw lazily around the shed. Loved the sunshine, the music, the comfortable silence.

He could face the boxes crammed with ghosts, so long as Tony was standing at his side.

As if sensing the solemn direction of his thoughts, the man he’d just been thinking about poked him in the side with a yardstick. “Why do you have, uh,” he held up three more, a look of indignation on his face, “four yardsticks? Who needs four yardsticks?”

Peter laughed. “I think Ben got them free when an old Home Depot shut down.”

“That still doesn’t excuse it.” His mentor shifted a box, peeking into it. His face instantly lit up into a grin. “Jackpot.”

“What?” Peter’s head snapped up, suddenly on high alert. “What did you find?”

“Nothing.”

“Mister Stark.” He moved to yank the box away, but Tony pulled it back, grin only growing.

“Oh, kiddo. You were so cute with that bowl cut.” He tugged out a photo and held it up. “Ever thought of going back to that style?”

“Oh no. Is that a box of…?”

“Yep. Embarrassing childhood photos.” He shifted through a few more stacks, face softening from mischief to fondness. “You had braces? And glasses? Oh my god, you were adorable.

“I’m actually begging you to stop.”

Tony continued as if Peter had never spoken. “There are tapes in here, too. This is the best day of my life.” He selected one, and glanced at the label. “Peter B. Parker. End of Year Performance. 2005.

“I’ll do anything. I’ll wash one of your cars. I’ll play sick and get you out of one of those board meetings you hate. I’ll-”

Peter B. Parker. First Soccer Tournament. 2006.” Somehow, his mentor’s smile got even bigger. “Peter B. Parker. Halloween: Iron Man. 2007.

“Mister Staaaark.” He dragged out his mentor’s last name petulantly. “Please.”

Tony relented, setting the box aside. “I’ll spare you for now, kiddo. But don’t think we aren’t watching those later.”

“I hate you.”

“No, you don’t.”

He tossed a stuffed rabbit in his direction. “Yes, I do.”

Tony threw an old, peeling soccer ball back. “No, you don’t.”

“Yes, I-”

He stopped dead when he saw what Tony had just pulled out from where it had been wedged between a stack of bins and an old Science Fair poster board.

His mentor grinned. “A Razor scooter, huh? Wow, Pete. You never told me you were a cool kid.”

“Oh my god!” Peter lunged for the scooter, childlike excitement jumping in his chest. “I wondered where that went! Uncle Ben got it for me at a Police Auction.”

Tony smiled gently, understanding the weight of the reference as he passed the old toy over. “Wanna keep it, then?” He winked. “Maybe Spider-Man can re-brand himself as a scooter riding viglante. Leave the webslinging in the past. Now this is how you get around in style.”

Peter giggled, using the few feet of empty space around his feet to coast for a second. “It is pretty cool. More people should use them.”

“They should.” Tony crossed his arms, expression leaking with a kind of parental indulgence. “Know any tricks?”

His face fell a little as he pondered the question. “No. I-I never really rode it.”

“Why not?”

“Well, the best part was supposed to be scootering around with your friends, y’know?” Peter shrugged, trying to conceal the childish pang of rejection. “I didn’t, well, have friends. Not really.”

Tony frowned, hand clenching like he wanted to reach for Peter but had stopped the motion before it could begin. “What about Ned?”

“I didn’t meet Ned until Middle School, Mister Stark.”

“Well,” Tony said, taking the scooter from his hands and setting it beside the box of photos and tapes, “we’ll have to fix that, won’t we?”

--

A text popped up on Peter’s lockscreen early the next day.

TS: Meet me in the lab at 3:30. It’s important.

That afternoon, he’d rushed to the Tower in a flurry of excitement, possibilities jumping around in his head like heated popcorn kernels. Was it a mission? A new project with one of the suits?

The first thing he noticed when he ran into the lab was that it was empty.

Like, completely empty.

All the work tables had been taken somewhere. The only evidence of the old layout was the beaten up couch, still pressed in the corner of the room.

And sitting on the couch was Tony Stark himself, a lazy grin on his face as he watched Peter’s bemusement.

“Uh, Mister Stark?”

“Yes, Mister Parker?”

He took a few steps in his mentor’s direction, eyes still sweeping around the barren room. He hadn’t realized how big the space was before, with all the clutter. “What, uh, what did you do to your lab?”

Tony stood, then, and pulled two Razor scooters out from behind the couch. A brand new one, and Peter’s old one. “I made us a makeshift scooter arena.”

He couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation. Tony Stark, on a Razor scooter? “You can’t be serious.”

“I never learned how to ride one either, Pete.” He shoved the worn handles into Peter’s hands. “So, we’ll learn together.”

“It’s not hard, Mister Stark.” He pushed off, and glided a few feet before stopping. “You just do it.”

Tony followed, purposefully bumping into Peter but snapping a protective arm out to steady him when he wobbled. “Yeah? Wanna race, then?”

I can’t believe that this is my life. 

Despite the thought, his face lit up with a playful grin. “Oh, you’re on.”

--

They ended up splayed out on the couch, sweaty and tired but still smiling like little kids. Peter’s hair was curling in a way that would have made him self-conscious just a year ago. Now, however, he just basked in the looks of obvious affection that Tony was shooting his way.

Tony threw a lazy arm over his shoulders. “Have fun, Pete?”

“Yeah.” He rolled his head so that he was looking up at his mentor’s face. “Thank you.”

A pause. Then, a voice filled with something quiet yet genuine. “You’re welcome, kid.”

They sat in a silence for a while, happy to just breathe and exist and be contented by each other’s presence.

“Oh, I almost forgot.” Peter leaned forward and riffled around in his pockets before pulling out a folded piece of paper. “This is for you.”

“Oh?” Tony took it from his hand without a second thought. “You got me a present?”

“I didn’t really get it, exactly.” He shifted awkwardly as the man unfolded the paper. “You can throw it out, if you want.”

He studied the drawing even as Tony did. The childish lines, scrawled out in crayon. Iron Man, flying over a shoddy New York skyline. The message, letters big and blocky in the way only children could accomplish.

My favorite superhero is Iron Man. He is the best and bravest superhero. I love him.

Peter Parker 

His mentor blinked a few times, as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Then, he tugged the teenager back into his side, ruffling his sweat-damp hair in the process.

“Throw it out?” His gaze flickered between the smeared crayon and Peter’s hopeful eyes. “There’s gotta be laws about defacing pieces of classic art, kid. And do I look like I’d survive in jail?”

Chapter Text

Peter really, really loved Friendly’s.

Like, really loved it.

Tony didn’t really know why, exactly. It wasn’t like he saw anything exceptional about a chain restaurant selling sub-par diner food. And yet, the kid’s face always lit up whenever they drove past one.

And that’s how Tony Stark found himself frequenting nearly every single Friendly’s on the drive from Midtown to the Tower.

It was their thing, a mode of unspoken communication. Peter would slip into his car, radiating the brand of exhaustion that only stems from some shitty high school drama, and Tony would wordlessly pull into the closest Friendly’s.

The kid was give him a tentative smile, and by the end of the meal, he’d be motor-mouthing his way through some random story. He couldn’t really tell if it was the food, or the atmosphere, or, and this was an option that he only dared to consider after Pepper pointed it out, Tony’s presence in and of itself.

He couldn’t help the hope that it was the latter. That the kid just enjoyed spending time with him.

But either way, Friendly’s belonged to Tony and Peter. It was their turf. A fail-safe place where Peter felt relaxed.

So when Rhodey practically demanded to meet the kid, Tony knew exactly where to take them.

“You can help me pick him up from school tomorrow.” Tony offered, pulling out his phone. “Then we can get some early dinner. Kid’s always half-starved by the last bell. They don’t feed him enough for lunch.”

“Weird that you know that, but sure.”

“Oi.” He shot a glare at the other man. “Do you wanna meet the kid or not?”

“Oh, I wanna meet the kid.” Rhodey smiled at him in a way that made his next words seem a lot less sincere. “I’ll be good. I promise.”

Sure you do.”

He opened Peter’s messages and shot him a quick text. Kid deserved a fair warning, after all.

TS: Mind having an after school snack with Rhodey tomorrow? He’s dying to meet you.

It took the teenager all of five seconds to reply.

Kids these days.

PP: mr. rhodes??? yes!!! yes yes yes!!! !!!

God, he really hoped he wouldn’t regret this.

--

Peter slid into the back of the Audi with a shaky smile on his face. Tony gave him what he hoped was a calming glance before pulling out of the pick-up line and onto the road.

“Hey, Pete.”

Rhodey blinked at the nickname, then added his own greeting. “It’s nice to meet you, Peter.”

“H-Hi Mister Rhodes, Sir. I, uh, I’m, well I’m Peter. But you… already knew that cause you said my name, so…”

The Colonel chuckled, glancing at Tony. “Do you really scare the kid that much?”

“He doesn’t scare me!” Peter blushed at his outburst, shyly dropping his eyes to his knees. “I-I mean, I, uh, I just…”

“He stutters when he’s nervous.” Tony switched lanes and glanced at Peter fondly in the rear-view mirror. “He’ll get over it in a second, don’t worry.”

Peter blinked. “I-I don’t, I don’t stutter, Mister Stark.”

“Sure ya don’t, kiddo.” He took note of how red the poor kid’s face was and sighed. “Take a breath. You’re alright. I promise that Rhodey’s entirely un-threatening.”

“I’m not nervous.”

Teenagers: the most stubborn brand of humans on the planet.

“Mhm.”

“I’m not.

“I heard you the first time.”

Rhodey intercepted the conversation with a strange look in his eyes. Tony tried not to dwell on it. “So, Peter, got any plans after high school?”

Smooth one, Rhodes.

The kid blinked. “I mean, uh, college? Engineering. P-Probably something biochemical. B-But Mister Stark thinks I should do electrical.”

“That’s because he did electrical.” Rhodey nudged his friend’s elbow. “He’s biased.”

“Oi,” Tony shot back, “don’t tell me you wouldn’t be trying to recruit him for the military if you’d seen him in action. Kid’s brilliant.”

Peter flushed again. “Mister Stark.”

“Don’t ‘Mister Stark’ me. It’s true.”

Rhodey twisted in his seat as best he could, braces whirring. Tony caught him winking at Peter out of the corner of his eye. “So tell me, kid, ever thought about serving your country?”

No.” He didn’t mean for his voice to come out so firm, but the concept of Peter in an active war zone made his heart swoop down to his feet. “Hands off, Rhodey. Get your impressionable youth somewhere else.”

“Oh I’m sorry, Tones,” his best friend stared directly at him, a contemplative look on his face, “didn’t mean to rob your nursery.”

Oh, yeah, Tony thought, I’m definitely going to regret this.

--

Peter’s face lit up when they pulled up by one of their usual haunts. As soon as they were out of the car, Rhodey dropped back to Tony and nudged him in the side.

“Friendly’s?” Thankfully, the Colonel saw Peter’s excitement and had the good grace to whisper. “Really?”

“He loves them.” He shot him a look. “Don’t ruin it.”

A tiny smile tugged at the corner of Rhodey’s lips as Peter practically skipped through the doors. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

Their waitress was a friendly older lady who seemed to have no idea who Tony was. She led them to their table, and Tony pushed Peter into the booth first, eyeing the closest exits silently.

He always put Peter farthest from the door, in whichever spot had the most immediate cover. And today, since Rhodey was here, he could use himself as a human shield.

He’d be between Peter and anything dangerous. Good. That’s exactly how he wanted it to be.

They ordered their drinks and sat quietly for a second. Rhodey seemed to be silently contemplating him and Peter, much to the kid’s obliviousness.

Tony, meanwhile, watched the kid fidget for all of three minutes before sighing heavily and sliding out of the booth.

“Go on, kid.”

Peter just looked at him. “What?”

“Don’t act like I can’t tell you need to pee, bud. So go.”

Tony set an internal reminder to let the kid do something very unstressful when they got back to the Tower. He could practically taste his anxiety. “I-I’m good, Mister, uh, Mister Stark.”

Go, Pete.”

The kid relented, awkwardly shuffling away while running a nervous hand through his hair.

Rhodey had half-opened his mouth to speak when the waitress returned, setting their drinks down and addressing them with a too-bright smile.

“Are you ready to order?”

Rhodey glanced at Peter’s empty seat. “Actually, I think we’ll need-”

Tony, however, was already gathering up their menus from the suspiciously sticky table. “We’re ready.”

The Colonel raised an eyebrow at him, but didn’t protest.

The waitress pulled out her pen and flipped her order pad to a fresh page. “Would you like any starters?”

“The mini mozzarella sticks, please.” Tony smothered a stupid smile at the memory of Peter stacking them into a small tower.

“And what else can I get you?”

“I’ll get the Reuben.” He gestured to the empty spot beside him. “The kid’ll have chicken tenders with fries, and a grilled cheese.”

The waitress laughed a little. “Big appetite, huh?”

Tony shot her a charismatic smile. “Oh, you’ve got no idea.”

She straightened, a wave of motherliness swooping over her face. “Kid’s are like that, huh? But we love ‘em anyway.”

He bit his lip briefly before shrugging, passing his and Peter’s menus into her outstretched hand. “Sure do.”

She gave him another gentle smile before redirecting her attention to Rhodey. “And for you, Sir?”

He seemed to flail for a minute, still blindsided by Tony’s easy agreement. Then, he shook his head and let out a disbelieving laugh. “I’ll, uh, I’ll just have the All-American Burger.”

“Lovely.” She flipped her pad shut. “It’ll be out shortly. Oh,” she shot Tony a wink, “and be sure to flag me down again when your youngster demands his ice cream.”

Tony winked back, enjoying the way it seemed to further his best friend’s slow decent into madness. “I will.”

As soon as she was out of earshot, Rhodey fixed him with a serious stare. “Holy shit, Tones. The kid’s, what, thirteen?”

“He’s fifteen. We picked him up from a high school, Rhodes. Get your math straight.”

“Like I know what age kids are in high school these days.” After a moment’s hesitation, the man pressed on. “You shouldn’t, either, by the way.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’re Tony Stark.” He rubbed a hand down his face. “So, spill. How long have you known?”

“Known what?”

“About Peter.” Rhodey gestured at the faded backpack sitting by Tony’s feet. “Why didn’t the mother come clean when he was born? Or did she, and have you been hiding it this whole time?”

Suddenly, his best friend’s thought process dawned on him. “He’s not mine, Rhodey. Jesus. Not biologically, anyway.”

“You know his order, Tony. That waitress just insinuated that he was yours and you didn’t correct her.”

He sighed, already tired by the conversation. “He’s not mine.”

The Colonel didn’t look convinced. “Then what is this?”

“I don’t know how to explain it, alright? It’s just… the kid’s my responsibility.”

“Why in the world would he be-”

“Hey, Mister Stark.”

Tony shot Rhodey a look that clearly conveyed a message of shut it, and slid out of the booth to let Peter in. “Hey to you too, kiddo. Enjoy yourself?”

The kid scrunched up his face. “That’s gross.”

He laughed, ruffling his hair a bit as they settled back into their seats. “So, tell Rhodey and I about school today. Learn anything groundbreaking?”

“It’s high school, Mister Stark. I can’t think of anything less groundbreaking than high school.”

“Well, that’s a shame.” He smirked. “Guess I’ll have to teach you something revolutionary in the lab to day, as compensation.”

“Oh, yeah?” Peter gazed up at him with adoring eyes. “What?”

“Dunno.” He forced himself not to shift under the weight of trust he could see on the kid’s face. “I’ll think of it on the spot.”

They were interrupted by their waitress setting down a plate of mozzarella sticks at the center of the table.

“Oh, cool!” Peter popped one into his mouth, then winced when it burned. Tony just rolled his eyes and shoved his lemonade into his hand. “Did you order while I was gone?”

“Yep. Don’t worry. I got you your chicken tenders.”

“Mm.” He smiled brightly as soon as he’d swallowed his mouthful of stringy cheese. “I knew you would.”

He elbowed him in the side, careful to be gentle despite the kid’s super strength. “You want ice cream after?”

Somehow, no matter how much Tony spoiled Peter, every new offer lit up in his eyes like starlight. “Can I?”

He gave Peter a fond smile, the one that he never seemed capable of replicating when the kid was absent, forgetting all about Rhodey’s watchful gaze. “Of course, buddy.”

“Awesome!” Peter broke one of the mozzarella sticks in half. “Are you gonna get some, too?”

If he was being honest, he didn’t really want ice cream. But he also knew that Peter would feel more comfortable asking for it if Tony did too, so ice cream it was. “Duh.”

One glance at Rhodey affirmed that he’d be going through some rigorous questioning later.

But then again, he’d sit through a thousand interrogations if he could make Peter smile like that again.

He blinked at the thought.

Damn it. I’m in deep, aren’t I?

Chapter Text

Chapter Text

“What’re we watching, again?”

Peter plopped down beside Tony and tucked himself into the man’s side, a maneuver perfected through countless days of practice. “It’s an old BBC show called Merlin.”

“And why are we watching it?”

“Because MJ told me that if I didn’t, she’d spoil the ending.” Peter blinked up at him innocently. Tony sort of hated that it wasn’t an act. The kid really was that pure. “And because you said we could binge watch whatever I wanted.”

He had said that, to be fair.

It was Peter’s spring break, and May was out of town. At May’s request, he’d happily volunteered to have the kid over for the week. It wasn’t that they didn’t trust Peter to be alone for that long, exactly…

Okay, actually, yeah. Neither he nor May trusted the kid to be alone for that long.

Could anyone blame them? He was a magnet for trouble. Tony was surprised Peter could walk five steps on the street without someone trying to detach his head from his body.

And so, in the name of what May called his “co-parental service hours,” Tony’s weekend would be spent watching a cancelled BBC show and living off of microwave popcorn and delivered pizzas.

He guessed that there were definitely worse things to be doing.

“So,” Peter maneuvered through the Netflix interface like it was a second skin. He tried not to be jealous, “give me a rundown. On what kind of journey are we about to embark?”

“It’s a show about Merlin-”

“Holy shit, I would’ve never guessed…”

“Hey!” Peter laughed, hovering the mouse over the first episode. “It’s like a ‘what if?’ story. What if Merlin and Arthur were the same age, and Merlin was Arthur’s servant instead of this wise old wizard? It’s supposed to be really good.”

I can’t wait. “Alright, kid. Let’s have at it.”

Peter hit play and tossed the remote onto the coffee table, leaning his head against the top of Tony’s chest as the first scene faded into view.

“No young man, no matter how great, can know his destiny. He cannot glimpse his part in the great story that is about to unfold. Like everyone, he must live and learn. And so it will be for the young warlock arriving at the gates of Camelot. A boy that will, in time, father the legend. His name: Merlin.” 

And, damn it, Tony could already feel himself drawing the parallels between the gangly kid on the screen and the gangly kid curled up next to him. 

Peter had no idea, did he? He couldn’t see the path that Tony saw winding further every day.

He had no idea that he was going to change the world.

He watched the Evil King character execute some random sorcerer with a weird taste in his mouth.

It felt too real, too present. Too close to what Tony imaged Ross would do to Peter if he ever got his hands on him…

He shook the thoughts away. No. This was supposed to be fun. They were binge watching a lighthearted show over the kid’s spring break. The occasion did notlend itself to thoughts like that.

He decided that he liked Gaius from the old physician’s very first scene. He voiced that thought to Peter, quietly, during a lull in the dialogue.

“Why?”

Tony shrugged. “He’s gonna suffer.”

Peter dropped his head back, craning his neck painfully, to stare up at his mentor with wide eyes. “He is?”

He chuckled, letting the sound release some of the tension from Peter’s gaze. “Of course he is. His job is to keep the reckless kid alive. It’s not easy, let me tell you.”

Peter hit Tony with a pillow, and the episode rolled on.

“Tell me, Merlin, do you know how to walk on your knees?”

A flare of protectiveness for his Peter-stand in flared in Tony’s chest. 

He shifted Peter a little closer, as if protecting his kid would protect the one on the screen as well. 

He decided all at once that he didn’t like Arthur. He didn’t like him even a little bit.

“He’s an asshole.” 

Peter seemed unperturbed. He played with the cuff of Tony’s shirt lazily, eyes tracking the scene. “People can change, Mister Stark. You did, didn’t you?” The kid smiled his special, unburdened smile. “Give him a chance.”

It occurred to him that maybe, just maybe, he hated Arthur because the prince reminded him of an outdated version of himself.

Young, brazen, self-centered, cruel. Blind to the ways his actions could hurt and maim and kill. Following doggedly in the over-sized footsteps his father left. Driven by false arrogance, one-size-fits-all ideals, and overwhelming bitterness on his tongue.

He sighed. “Sure, kid. I’ll give Prince Asshole a chance.”

As it turned out, his forced sympathy for Arthur his deadbeat dad was a lot harder to hold onto than he thought it might be.

This Merlin character really knew how to look like a kicked puppy.

“I’m not a monster, am I?”

“Don’t ever think that.”

Tony tightened his grip around Peter’s back at the same moment the teenager shifted to cling tighter.

He wanted to tell the kid that Gaius was right, and that Prince Asshole was wrong. He wanted to tell him that Merlin wasn’t a monster. That nobody could help who they were, and that it wasn’t anything to be ashamed of.

He wanted to tell Peter that he wasn’t a monster, a freak, a mistake. He wanted to make sure he knew that Tony would tear down anyone who said otherwise.

Instead, he just smoothed a hand through Peter’s bangs and hoped he could feel it through the solidity of their half-embrace.

“If you can’t tell me, no one can.”

--

The first season fell away along with the daylight.

He watched Merlin, who he had to repetitively remind himself was not Peter, stumble through a million different mistakes. He watched him drink some poison (stupid), harbor some fugitive child right under the Evil King’s nose (stupid), and offer up his life in exchange for Prince Asshole’s (stupidstupidstupid).

It felt like every turn the character took made him want to smash his head into the nearest wall. Repetitively.

(On the other hand, Prince Asshole was slowly, and painfully, growing on him. Not that he was ready to admit that to Peter, of course.)

The final episode of the season faded into credits, and Tony wordlessly flicked off the TV.

Hey.” The kid’s protest might have held more weight if his eyes weren’t closed and the words weren’t soft with sleepiness. “One more.”

Tony made sure to keep his voice low and soothing, carding his fingers through the kid’s mess of curls. “You won’t even concentrate on it.”

“Will too.”

“Oh?” He turned the screen back on, slyly lowering the volume and hitting play on the next episode. “Okay then, buddy. Whatever you say.”

Peter’s breaths had evened out before the opening sequence could finish.

That night, Tony decided that sleeping on the couch was way underrated.

There wasn’t even a question of what they’d be doing the next morning. He sent Peter wordlessly to shower, ordered a couple of pizzas, and hit play the moment that the kid was re-situated on the couch, wet curls soaking into the front of his t-shirt.

At some point in the middle of the season, during an episode about a witchfinder, he let out an involuntary groan.

It was almost like this kid didn’t want to keep his magic a secret. At the very least, it seemed like he jumped at nearly every opportunity to reveal himself.

Peter flickered his eyes away from the screen and gave Tony a questioning look. “What?”

He rolled his eyes. “Merlin’s about as good at keeping his secret as you are at keeping yours.”

“That’s not true!” Peter’s glare just made him look younger. Tony nearly laughed at the way his face scrunched up. “Barely anybody knows I’m Spider-Man!”

“I figured it out, kid.”

“You’re you-”

“Ned.”

“To be fair, I didn’t know he was-”

“MJ.”

“She’s terrifyingly observant-”

“May.”

“She walked in on me!”

“Sure thing, kiddo.” Tony ruffled his hair playfully. “Why don’t you just shout it from the rooftops, huh? Might be a little more efficient, that way.”

Peter blinked, then huffed, physically turning away from Tony and fixing his eyes back on the screen. It was a clear dismissal, despite the fact that didn’t move away from the warmth of his mentor’s side.

The second season’s finale went to credits, and Peter stalled Tony’s hand before he could switch off the TV.

“C’mon, Mister Stark! We could totally watch the next season! It’ll only take, like, a few more hours.”

“Your idea of ‘a few more hours’ is actually about 8 hours, kiddo.”

“And?”

“You need sleep.”

“We’ve stayed up later in the lab.”

“On accident.”

“So?”

He tried his best to mimic May’s I am an adult and you will listen to me voice. “No, Peter.”

He kid blinked up at him imploringly. “Please.” 

(The third season was good.)

--

They watched the two part series finale on Tuesday morning. 

And, frankly, Tony wasn’t sure what he’d expected. But it sure as hell wasn’t… that.

“Just, just, just… just hold me. Please.”

Peter curled himself around Tony with a little whine. He rubbed the kid’s back comfortingly, gaze still transfixed on the screen. “No. He’s not supposed to die, Mister Stark. He’s supposed to live. He’s-He’s the Once and Future King. What about Albion? What about Merlin?”

He wondered if he could sue the BBC for making his kid cry.

“There’s something I want to say…”

“You’re not going to say goodbye.”

“No. Merlin. Everything you’ve done. I know now. For me, for Camelot. For the kingdom you helped me build…”

“You’d have done it without me.”

“Maybe. I want to say… something I’ve never said to you before. Thank you.”

He watched the character die with a weird feeling in his chest.

He’d never been one for sentiment in general, and certainly not for fictional characters. But… something about Merlin and Arthur had made him think of Peter and himself.

Peter’s voice was small. “Merlin would’ve trade places with him.”

Tony’s answer came so quickly that it surprised him. “Arthur would never want him to.”

You ever try trading places with me, kid, and I’ll kill you my damn self.

“But what’s the point?” There were undercurrents to Peter’s tone that told Tony they weren’t just talking about the show anymore. Apparently, he wasn’t the only one drawing parallels. “If I were Merlin, I’d rather die than live without Arthur.”

He tried not to hear the implicit I’d rather die than live without you in the kid’s words.

“Someone always dies first, kiddo. That’s just life.”

Peter buried his face into Tony’s shirt, sniffling a little. “Yeah, well, I don’t like it.”

He set a gentle hand on the back of his head, shielding him from the screen, the daylight, the world.

“I don’t like this ending, either.”

Tony took a deep breath, focusing on the way his ribs pressed into Peter’s at the apex. “If it makes you feel any better, kiddo, neither do I.”

He’d pondered his death a lot. Once, he’d thought towards it with a perverted sense of lust. 

But Pepper, Rhodey, Peter had changed that. Now, he just felt a peaceful acceptance. He wouldn’t go rushing to his grave but, when the time came, he couldn’t see himself reeling against it, either.

But for the first time, he thought about Peter.

If everything went the way it naturally should, he would die long before the kid.

He’d get to die, and Peter would have to keep living.

His parents’ deaths still left a hollow ache in his chest. He missed his mother with every single breath.

Is that what he’d be doing to Peter, when he died? Leaving him damaged irreparably? Dooming him to a life of sewing up his tattered grief?

He swallowed, hard, and shook his head.

Peter would be okay, because he’d prepare Peter. He’d give him everything he needed to do more than just survive once he and May were both gone.

He was going to make sure Peter thrived.

And he’d do everything he could not to leave the kid like Arthur left Merlin, or like his mother left him. Not violently, not suddenly, not in the heart of some blood-stained tragedy.

He’d linger, if he could. He’d grow old (something he used to shudder at the thought of). He’d give the kid’s kids too much sugar and poke him with his cane and complain about the technology Peter would incorporate into his newest invention to shroud the pride.

As he watched the final credits role over the dark screen, Tony Stark decided that he hated tragedies.

He also decided that he wouldn’t let his own life become one.

Chapter Text

Rhodey looked at Peter, and all he saw was Tony.

That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. He knew that some people would think it was. In Peter, he saw Tony’s brilliance, his ingenuity. The two bartered ideas back and forth like currency, slowly ramping up every concept until they were so far above Rhodey’s head that he quit even attempting to follow the conversation. He’d just sit back, relax, and enjoy the way Tony’s armor fell away whenever Peter was around.

It wasn’t just the intelligence, either. Peter had Tony’s kindness, too. It just wasn’t so shielded. They both had this visceral and undying determination to protect the people they loved, even at the cost of themselves.

The list of similarities could go on and on, from personality (brave to the last gasp, almost comically reckless, brutally witty) to appearance (he swore their curls literally matched some days). Most of it was good. Some of it… wasn’t.

Right now, he was discovering one of the things that was most definitely a negative.

Tony had never known when to stop. As it turns out, neither does Peter.

The kid stumbled into the Compound looking like he’d been hit by a bus. Dark circles rested under his eyes, heavy and far too old for a kid of just sixteen. His t-shirt was on backwards and his shoes were untied. His gaze held that same pre-occupied glaze he’d seen on Tony’s face over and over again. The look of a genius too immersed in… something to even comprehend the most obvious details of the world around them.

Oh good, he thought, now there’s two of them.

Rhodey had only left Tony’s lab a couple of minutes ago, and he hadn’t looked much better than his protégé. FRIDAY had informed him that the man had been awake for over 72 hours. Of course, he’d ignored all of Rhodey’s attempts to coax him away from his work and into bed.

Typical.

Maybe Peter would be easier to wrangle?

“Kid, you look terrible.”

Peter blinked as if he’d just noticed Rhodey’s presence. Honestly, that was probably the truth. “Oh. Hi, Colonel Rhodes. I, uh, I’m sorry. What’d you say?”

“Hi, Peter. I said you look terrible.”

“Oh.” Another blink. He vaguely wondered if the kid was going to drop right then and there. “I, uh, I’m good. Totally fine. Don’t worry.”

“Mhm. When’s the last time you slept?”

“Couple days.”

Wow. So Peter wasn’t only a much worse liar than Tony, he also didn’t even try to conceal the extent of his recklessness. He could work with that. “Peter. You need to sleep. Don’t follow Tony’s example.”

“I’m good. I’m Spider-Man. Means I can stay up longer than other people.”

“Yeah? Have you scientifically proven that?”

It took Peter a good few moments to process the question. It always amused Rhodey, albeit in a bitter sort of way, how sleep deprivation rendered even someone as bright as Tony dull and uncoordinated. It was only during Tony’s moments of pure exhaustion when Rhodey could outstrip him intellectually. If those occasions weren’t so concerning, he might actually enjoy them. 

“I, uh, I’m working on it.”

“On proving it?”

“Uh huh.”

“Well,” he gestured casually at the teenager, “looks like it’s going well.”

“Oh, thanks.” Did the kid actually think that was a compliment? “I, uh, ‘m gonna go to Tony now. I’ll see you later, Mister Rhodey.”

He watched Peter retreat, silently plotting a way to get both him and Tony to actually take care of themselves.

He had his work cut out for him, didn’t he?

He pushed his plan into action early the next morning.

It was a simple plan, really, but that’s why it was perfect. Tony and Peter were too smart to be fooled by anything elaborate. But something straightforward? Something that played directly into their weak points? Something that was so based on truth that you could barely even call it a trick?

That might work.

He rolled into Tony’s lab around 8:00 am. The man was feverishly working on some piece of the Iron Man suit. Rhodey knew he hadn’t slept.

“Hey, Tones.”

The genius jumped. He glanced over his shoulder and glared. “Jesus, Rhodey. You trying to give me a heart attack?” He looked to the ceiling. “F.R.I.D.A.Y., why didn’t you warn me he was here?”

“I did, Boss.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“I did. The notification is saved in my logs.”

“Then you must’ve saved it but not alerted me.”

“I did, but you did not respond.”

“Because you never said it.”

Rhodey groaned, cutting off the argument with a sharp, “Tony.”

“Yes, honey bear?”

He forced himself not to react to the nickname. “I’m worried about Peter.”

Tony’s attention zeroed in on him all at once. “What? Why?”

“Did you look at him yesterday?”

The man scoffed. “Of course I did. He… he came in here. And he worked on… something.”

“Mhm. But did you look at him?”

Tony floundered for a moment before conceding. Something told Rhodey that he would’ve fought a lot harder if he didn’t think Peter’s well-being was at risk.

Perfect.

“Not really, no.”

“He looks dead on his feet. I talked to him, and he said he was stressed. Super overwhelmed by school and Spider-Man and everything. Hasn’t slept in a few days.”

Tony’s fists clenched. “That damn kid, I told him to stop patrolling if it got to be too much. He needs-”

“He needs a break. To get away from everything. It’s Friday tomorrow, and he’s got Monday off because of some teacher training bullshit. Why don’t we take him away? Rent a cabin somewhere quiet. Leave the suits and the tech and everything else behind. He can just… be a kid for a bit. Get some sleep. It’d be good for him, don’t you think?”

Agree. C’mon, Tones. Agree.

He could see his friend’s inner battle: the drive to create versus the drive to protect.

His shoulders slumped. He pushed his tools away. Protection wins.

“Alright. You’re right. It’s a good idea. The kid won’t relax unless we force him. He’s too much like me.” Rhodey had to push down a laugh at the irony. “I’ll let his aunt know, and we’ll kidnap him after school if she gives it the go-ahead.”

“Sounds good to me.” Step one: complete. “Is he coming over today?”

Tony shook his head. He looked a little sullen. “Nah. He’s got Decathlon practice on Thursdays. Gets out at 5:00 and then usually takes the trains home.”

Fantastic.

“Sorry, Tones. Try not to miss him too much.”

“I’m perfectly capable of surviving a day without Peter Parker, thank you very much.”

He snorted. Sure you are.

He pulled his car up to Peter’s school at 4:50. A few minutes later, a small group of teenagers filed out the front door.

The rolled down his window and called to the one he knew. “Hey, Peter! Over here.”

A couple of the other kids stopped to gape. One spun and rambled excitedly to Peter, who looked baffled.

“C’mon, kid. I don’t have all day.”

Peter had scrambled into the passenger’s seat within a minute of the urging, ever polite.

“H-Hey, Colonel Rhodey. What’re you, uh, what’re you doing here?”

“Wanted to talk to you.”

“Oh.” The kid fidgeted. “Did I, uh, do something wrong?”

“Not at all.” Rhodey shot him a calming smile. “It’s about Tony, actually. Can I tell you something in confidence?”

“Mister Stark? Y-Yeah. Of course.” Peter straightened his spine, the picture of devoted attention. “You can count on me, sir.”

He smothered a laugh at the kid’s enthusiasm. He could really see why Tony adored him. “I’ve been worried about him. He’s overworking himself.”

“He is?”

He nodded. “He needs rest. And I’ve known Tony long enough to know that he won’t come quietly. So, you and I are going to trick him.”

Peter’s brow furrowed. “Trick him?”

“Yep.” He flicked on his indicator and pulled out into traffic. “Tomorrow, Tony’s going to accost you and say he’s dragging you away on a retreat to force you to relax. I suggested it.”

“I’m fine, Mister Rhodes-”

“Of course you are.” No, you’re not. “But Tony would’ve never agreed to the idea if he knew it was for him. But you?”

Realization dawned on the kid’s face. “You’re convincing him that the whole thing is for me so he goes along with it.”

“Bingo.”

“That’s really smart.”

“Well, I’m not Tony, but I do have my moments.”

think you’re brilliant.”

Something warmed in his chest. “Thanks, kid.” Focus. “I have a job for you during the trip.”

Peter’s face lit up with excitement. “What is it?”

“Distract Tony from anything work-related. You’re burned out, remember? Make him relax with you.” He reached out to give his shoulder a pat. “Think you can do that?”

“Absolutely.”

“Good man.” He didn’t miss the way the kid brightened at the term. “Knew I could count on you.”

Step two: complete.

Peter actually did a phenomenal job of faking surprise when he and Tony pulled up outside his school the next day.

Rhodey also got the pleasure of watching Tony silently fret over how pale and exhausted the kid looked. His friend kept stealing glances at Peter in the rearview mirror, entire body keyed up with concern.

Now you know what it’s like, he thought, a little spiteful, to worry constantly that someone’s going to spiral themselves into destruction.

The cabin was nice. It was a short hike away from a waterfall and surrounded by nothing but wilderness for miles. Peter looked genuinely excited by how massive the trees were, pointing out every one that seemed even slightly taller than the last.

(“Wow! That one’s even bigger! Do you see it, Mister Stark?!”

“That I do, Pete.”

“This is so cool!”)

By the time they were settled in, dusk had fallen over the forest. It was a nice night, but Rhodey was still surprised when Tony suggested that they all go sit outside on the screened porch.

His shock must have shown, too, because his friend sent Peter out ahead of them and whispered a hasty explanation.

“I read that fresh air might help him relax. Dunno if it’ll work, but it’s worth a shot.”

Sometimes, Rhodey was still blindsided by how much Tony really, really loved this kid.

“It’s a good idea.”

He could see Tony hiding a smile at the praise. “Thanks. Now go out and entertain the little monster for a minute. I’ll grab some blankets.”

By the time Tony wandered out, Peter was amusing himself with the cushioned porch swing. The kid twisted to smile brightly him as the door swung closed.

“Mister Stark! Look how cool this is! It’s got pillows and everything. It’s… it’s like a bed and a bench!”

Tony tossed Rhodey a blanket and motioned for the kid to stop swinging so he could sit with him. “It’s pretty cool, huh?”

“Yeah!” Once Tony sunk down beside him, Peter toppled shamelessly into his side, pulling his legs onto the swing. “It’s really nice out, too.”

“It is.” Tony carded a light hand through the kid’s hair, anchoring one leg on the ground to gently rock the bench back and forth. “Can you hear anything interesting with your super-hearing?”

Peter closed his eyes, face twisted in concentration. Tony watched him silently.

“I can the normal stuff, like your heartbeat. And, uh, I can hear the waterfall. I think there’s rabbits under the cabin. Oh, and there’s some deer, uh,” the kid opened his eyes and pointed to their left, “that way.”

“Hm.” Tony sunk back into the cushions, pulling Peter along with him. “Don’t get any ideas about bringing a rabbit home. May’ll kill me.”

The teenager grinned. “Sure thing, Mister Stark.” He met Rhodey’s eyes and mimed a little thumbs up outside of Tony’s view. “Can we go to the waterfall tomorrow?”

“‘Course we can.”

“Will you come with us, Mister Rhodey?”

Tony groaned. “Just call him Rhodey, kid. The ‘mister’ part is very unnecessary.”

“I second that.” He leaned back and tried not to smirk at the way Peter had not-so-subtly arranged himself so that Tony couldn’t escape. The kid was like an octopus. “You don’t need to be so formal, Peter.”

“Sorry, Mister Rhodes.”

“Well, at least it’s not just me.” Tony scratched between the kid’s shoulder blades. “And I’m sure Rhodey’ll join us if you ask nicely enough.”

“Of course I will.”

“Oh, good.” Peter yawned. “That’ll be fun.”

“Mhm.”

The conversation lulled for a while. Rhodey was content to watch his plan unfold. He could see Tony’s body relaxing in time with Peter’s breaths. The kid was nearly asleep when Tony spoke again.

“Hey, Pete?”

“Yeah?”

“Why haven’t you been sleeping?”

“Dunno.”

Huh. Rhodey watched Tony watch Peter. Not part of the plan, but interesting.

“You don’t know?”

“Not really.”

“Yeah. Not really buying that answer. Wanna sell me another?”

Peter sighed, burying his face into Tony’s neck, who just cupped the back of his head lightly. He didn’t stop the rocking motion of the swing. Rhodey smiled a little at the scene. Damn, they were actually pretty cute. He’d never get over seeing Tony so… soft.

Patient. Nurturing. Parental. 

“I just get distracted by stuff. I… forget.”

“You forget to sleep?”

“Yeah.”

Tony sighed. “The worst part of that statement is that I can tell you’re not lying.”

“‘M not.”

“Yeah, I know.”

They were quiet again. This time, Peter broke it.

“‘M sorry.”

“Don’t be. It’s alright.” He dropped his forehead onto the crown of the kid’s head, shoulders bowed with exhaustion. “We’ll go to the waterfall tomorrow, okay?”

“M’kay.”

Rhodey watched the two carefully. He felt like he’d just missed some secret code. Whatever it was had closed the conversation. Peter’s breath evened out first, but it didn’t take long for Tony to drop off, too. The swing settled into motionlessness.

He waited a full 30 minutes before creeping over to the pair and gently pushing Tony over until he was laying across the bench’s seat with Peter half on top of him.

He was pushing a pillows under his friend’s head when he stirred, arms wrapping more securely around Peter and eyes flickering open. 

“Easy, Tones.” He folded a blanket over Peter’s shoulders. “It’s just me.”

“Rhodey?”

“Yeah, man. I was just settling Peter.”

“He okay?”

“Sure is. Now be a good role model and go back to sleep.”

Tony turned his face into Peter’s hair and, for once in his life, actually listened to his advice.

Go figure.

(Peter would spend the rest of the weekend dragging Tony through a hundred different hikes and activities. Rhodey would spend his time marveling at the way the kid made Tony’s eyes light up.

He hadn’t seen his best friend look that carefree in years.

Maybe he could convince Tony to make this a monthly thing.)

Chapter Text

Tony had to admit that this Villain of the Week was definitely a step above the others. He’d been prepared for them. Within the first five minutes of fighting, he’d managed to have Tony’s suit disabled and Peter’s powers dampened by some drug he hadn’t even seen the guy manage to inject the kid with.

And now they were both cuffed, a couple of guards leading them down a long industrial corridor of this dude’s evil lair, and Villain thought it was okay to put a hand on his kid’s arm and talk to him like he knew him.

Yeah, impressed or not, Tony was gonna tear out his fucking throat.

He forced his hatred down. He had to act like everything was okay. For Peter’s sake.

“Tell me, Peter,” Villain’s voice was gentle in a way that made Tony’s skin crawl, “have you ever seen Star Wars?”

Tony snorted. “You had to ask.”

Peter glanced back at him with a shaky grin. “Uh, y-yeah. Maybe, uh, maybe once or twice.”

More like a couple hundred, kid. I hear lightsabers powering up in my dreams.

“Oh, good. That will make this process much easier.”

“Are-Are you gonna give me a lightsaber? Cause I’ve always wanted one of those.”

Villain laughed, as if Peter’s joke genuinely amused him. “As compelling as that would be, no.” 

Two guards rushed forward to open a set of wide, metal doors. Inside, there was a mostly empty room with a small pit in the center. 

Tony’s stomach dropped.

Yeah. He’d seen Star Wars, too.

“Han Solo is rather an interesting character, don’t you think? Not much like you, I imagine.”

Peter, despite the fear Tony could see in every inch of his posture, had the presence of mind to be offended at the comment. “I’m very much like Han Solo, thank you very much.”

Tony snorted. “You’re much more of a Luke, kid.”

“I mean… I guess that’s fine, too.”

Villain ignored their banter and continued to guide Peter closer to the pit. “You see, I’ve been planning your capture for quite a while, Peter. The drugs we’re currently using to dampen your powers are complicated and expensive to synthesize. It became clear very early on that we’d need another method to contain you.”

Tony could see the exact moment Peter let himself recognize the room, the pit, the reason for the Star Wars references. He saw because the kid balked, all at once, and an extra guard leapt in to hold him still.

“Ah, I see you recognize my machine.”

Tony couldn’t remember a time when he’d seen Peter truly afraid. Despite his age, the kid had nerves of steel. Even Rhodey had been impressed by his grit on a number of occasions. Now, though, his voice wavered like a child staring into the face of a nightmare. 

“I-I don’t want-”

“Relax, little spider. I’ve tested it extensively. Granted, the normal human body has proven too delicate to withstand the freezing process. I have hopes, however, that you will survive.”

Peter spun to Tony, eyes wide and pupils blown. “Mister Stark.”

Two words, and every ounce of Tony’s body lit up with protective fire.

“Fuck off, asshole. He’ll cooperate without any of your weird sci-fi bullshit. You’ve got me, remember? Stick a gun to my head and the kid won’t try anything. I swear.”

“I appreciate your suggestion, Stark, but I’m afraid I’ve already considered it. After all, I have very little interest in you. You’re really just here for insurance. However, I can’t risk either of you getting clever on me. One genius will be hard enough to contain. But two? With one of them enhanced? It’s too high of a risk.”

A gun clicked by Tony’s ear. Peter’s face went even whiter, if that was possible.

“Now, Peter,” a platform rose up though the mist until it settled at the top of the pit, “I imagine I can count on your cooperation.”

The kid pulled weakly at his captor’s hold. “Mister Stark?”

What do I do?

He swallowed, eyes flickering around the room. The suit was down, Peter’s powers were non-functional. There was a very real gun pressed against his skull.

He couldn’t see a way out. At least, not one that would come in time to stop this.

“It’s alright, buddy. You remember Return of the Jedi, right? Remember how that one starts?”

I’m gonna get you out. I’ll never let anything stop me from getting you out.

Peter was breathing heavy, but his eyes were fixed on Tony’s face. “Yeah. Yeah, I do.”

He nodded, slow and deliberate. “It’s gonna be okay, Pete. I promise.”

“Y-Yeah. I-I mean, i-it’s okay. Just like Han Solo, right?”

Tony ignored the growing smirk on Villain’s face. Instead, he focused on cracking what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “Does that make me Leia?”

“You should be honored, Mister Stark. I-I’ve always wanted to be Carrie Fisher.”

Villain gave Peter a hard shove onto the platform. Tony stumbled forward as much as his guards would allow, adrenaline making his vision blur.

“Hey, kid. Look at me.” He forced himself to ignore the tears threatening to spill out of Peter’s eyes. “I’m right here. Just look at me, okay? Don’t look anywhere else.”

Peter’s cuffed hands jerked out for him as the platform shuddered. “I-I love you.”

He bit his cheek. Keep your cool, Stark. “Hey, I thought that was my line.”

There was something desperate about Peter’s demeanor as the platform started to sink. “Mister Stark.”

I know, I know. I hear you. “I love you too, kid.”

“Mister Stark, I’m-”

Peter’s face was engulfed by a swell of smoke and fluid before he could finish.

--

The clang of Peter’s carbonite prison landing on the metal floor rang in Tony’s ears so loudly that he thought he may never stop hearing the echoes.

“Well, Stark. You’re rather in luck. It seems as though he survived the hibernation process after all.”

Tony couldn’t tear his eyes away from the kid’s face, twisted up in fear and pain and god knows what else, frozen in the metal.

For some reason, all he could think about was how entranced Peter would be by this whole thing.

“I,” he cleared his throat, gaze still fixed on Peter, “I’m going to kill you.”

Villain laughed. “You can try, Mister Stark.”

“Have you ever seen Star Wars?” He could feel his lips turning up in a snarl. “There is no try.”

--

It took Tony three days to rewire the lock in his cell.

It was three days too long.

The thing about Tony Stark was that he was formidable enough when he wasn’t angry. But when he was pissed? When someone he loved had been threatened?

He was unstoppable.

It took Tony three days to rewire the lock in his cell, but it only took him three minutes to put a bullet through the center of Villain’s forehead.

He never did learn the guy’s name.

Never cared to, either.

The only pitstop he made on his way to Peter was to try the suit, and that turned out to be fruitless. The circuits were fried. He’d have to overhaul the whole damn design. Awesome. Perfect.

Peter’s watch, however, was in perfect condition.

Which meant he had access to Karen.

“Hello? Karen? You with me?”

“Mister Stark?” He smiled at the choice of moniker. Like master, like AI. “Can I assist you?”

“I need to find Peter.”

“There are no live heat signatures in your area.”

“Yeah, I know. They froze him in carbonite. You’ll have to scan for high concentrations of carbon.”

“Carbonite? As in Star Wars?”

Of course the kid taught Karen about Star Wars. Why would he ever expect anything different?

“Yes, like in Star Wars. Please find him, Karen.”

“Right away, sir.” A moment passed. “I am detecting an unusually dense concentration of carbon two rooms to your left. Down the main hallway.”

“Thank you, Karen.” 

He jogged to the room she indicated, and couldn’t tell if he felt a rush of horror or relief at the sight of Peter, still frozen in his carbonite shell.

It felt like it took him hours to reach his side, but he imagined it was only a handful of seconds.

He ran a shaky hand over the metal covering the kid’s face before pulling himself together on trembling inhale.

“Karen? How do I get him out safely?”

The watch emitted a wave of light. A minute later, the AI responded.

“There is a panel on the side, similar to the one seen in Return of the Jedi. I believe that you can release Peter from there.”

He rushed for the panel. None of the buttons were labeled, but he assumed the big green one was probably what he was looking for. Maybe. Hopefully.

It was.

The carbonite melted away to reveal the pale, pain-filled face underneath it. Peter’s arms, previously raised in a tense, protective gesture, went limp against his sides as his face fell slack and, all at once, Tony found himself lunging to catch about 5′8″ of shaky, barely-conscious super-kid.

“Peter! Hey, hey. You’re okay.” He collapsed back against the wall and held him tight against his chest. “Shh. Relax, buddy.”

Peter groaned, arms and legs twitching. Tony rubbed his chest gently.

“Easy, Pete. Easy. It’s just me, it’s just Mister Stark. Told you I’d get you out, didn’t I?”

The kid’s head lolled from side to side, eyes blinking rapidly. “W-Where’m I?”

“Some warehouse in the middle of nowhere. Not actually sure exactly where, yet. You, uh, you got Han Solo’d.”

Understanding fell over the kid’s face, and he relaxed. “C-Carbonite.”

“Yeah, buddy. Exactly.” He pulled him closer. “Hey, Karen? Send a distress signal to Rhodey. Let him know where we are.”

“Right away, sir.”

“W-Why do you have K-Karen?”

“F.R.I.D.A.Y. got fried along with my suit, but they didn’t touch your watch. Hope you don’t mind me pinching your AI for a bit.”

“‘S long ‘s you give her b-back.”

“Always, kid.” He winced as a particularly violent shiver nearly jerked Peter out of his hold. “You alright?”

The kid turned his face weakly towards Tony’s voice. “Ugh. D-Don’ know. F-Feel gross.”

“Yeah, I can tell. Karen? What’s wrong with him?”

Peter answered for her. “Hybern-nation sickness.”

Seriously?

“I-I mean, I c-can’t see. ‘N ‘m dizzy. Fits.”

“You can’t see?”

Peter’s head shake was more of a jerk than anything else. “N-No.”

“Shit.” Concern made his chest feel tight. “That can’t be good.”

“Goes away after a w-while.”

“Peter, you’re basing all of this off of a fantasy movie.”

“B-Best I’ve g-got.”

“Mm.” He dragged a shaky hand through the kid’s hair. “Karen? Anything from Rhodey?”

“He is on his way. ETA: 39 minutes.”

“Tell him to make it 30.”

There’s a solid minute where the only sound is Peter’s ragged breathing.

“Colonel Rhodes would like me to inform you that you are, in his words, a pain in his ass.”

Peter let out a breathless laugh, and Tony decided that, for once, he might actually thank Rhodey for an insult.

--

Tony sat at the edge of the medical cot in the Quinjet. He could distantly hear Rhodey briefing Cho from the cockpit. F.R.I.D.A.Y. was finishing her third full-body scan of the kid. You know, just to be safe.

“As I’ve said before, Boss. The hibernation sickness, as Mister Parker calls it, does not appear life-threatening. He just needs fluids and rest.”

Tony glanced at the IV and scratched absentmindedly at Peter’s sweat-damp curls. “I’ve got the fluids.”

“I’ll be okay, Mister Stark.” He watched Peter try to pinpoint exactly where to look. He reached out and tilted the kid’s chin until his gaze was pointed in the right spot. “‘S kinda cool, y’know.”

“I’m sorry, but how can any part of this experience be considered cool?”

“‘M just like Han Solo. ‘S an honor.”

He stared, then laughed. “Only you.”

Peter turned his face into Tony’s hand and let his eyes fall shut. “Hey, Mister Stark?”

“Yeah, buddy?”

“Can we watch Star Wars when we get back?”

“No. Not ever.”

Ever?”

“Let’s start with a month and go from there.”

There was a pause, long enough that Tony was nearly sure Peter had dozed off. Then, he shifted and grinned.

“Can we watch Star Trek instead?”

Tony let out a bark of laughter. “Sure, kid. We’ll do Star Trek instead.”

Chapter Text

The first time it comes up on his playlist, it’s a Monday. Mondays are weird, because Peter gets to the Tower at 4:00 and Tony doesn’t get out of his weekly meeting with the board of directors until 4:30. That means that he usually spends those 30 minutes sprawled out on the soft couch in the penthouse’s lounge, earbuds in, listening to his music on shuffle until Tony comes to fetch him for the lab.

When the song comes on, Peter tries to listen to it. He really, really does. He doesn’t want Thanos to rule his life, doesn’t want Titan to dictate the music he listens to. This is one of his favorite songs, so he’s going to let a little PTSD make him skip it, for god’s sake. 

He does fine through the first verse. There’s nothing all that triggering about it. He’s kind of bopping by the time it gets to chorus.

He even survives most of the chorus. He actually thought that he might be able to do this until that goddamn line.

Hey, I’m gonna get you too…

He has no idea why it’s that line that sends him over the edge. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s directed at him. That up until that point, the song had been talking about other people but with that line, it’s talking about him.

That’s how it had gone on Titan, too. Up until it was his turn, he’d been sort of dissociated from the fear of watching everyone else crumble around him. It had been horrifying, yeah, but it had felt like the kind of horrifying you process later. The kind of horrifying that you can defer, step back from, put in your back pocket for a rainy day.

And then The Snap had come for him, and it had hit him all at once that he’d never see another rainy day.

It’s a little hard to depersonalize yourself from that.

He doesn’t remember throwing his phone across the room without enough force to shatter the screen and crack the drywall. He doesn’t remember scrambling over the side of the couch until his back smacks against the bar. He doesn’t remember sinking to the floor, clawing at him arms, sobbing into an empty room.

He doesn’t remember any of this, but that’s how Tony finds him 15 minutes later.

Peter’s vaguely aware of someone entering the room. Of footsteps, first purposeful, then confused, then panicked. They get closer in a rush, and then they go silent and a voice takes their place.

“Pete? Bud? Hey, hey. Look at me.”

He shakes his head, heart pounding. He can’t open his eyes. He can’t watch himself disintegrate. Not again, not again.

“Okay, okay. No looking, then. That’s alright. How about we just breathe, yeah? We’ll just breathe for now.”

“Can’t. Can’t. I-I can’t.”

“You can. You can breathe. I promise. I know it doesn’t feel like it right now, but you can.”

“No, no. Mister Stark, please. I-I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t know what’s-”

“You’re having a panic attack, Peter. Do you understand?”

He didn’t understand. He didn’t know what was happening. “‘M gonna disappear.”

There’s a hand on his face, rough and warm. “No, you’re not. You’re not on Titan, kiddo. You’re on the floor in my penthouse. In New York. On Earth. You’re nice and solid, I checked.” The voice’s breath hitches. “Try to open your eyes.”

He does, slowly. The light hurts, but then the figure kneeling beside him shifts and casts most of him in shadow.

Oh, the figure. That’s… that’s a figure he knows. It’s Tony. He knows Tony. Tony’s good. Tony’s safe.

“Hi, buddy.” Tony uses the hand that isn’t cupping Peter’s face to brush some curls away from his forehead. “Everything’s alright. See? No stupid orange dirt, no homicidal aliens. Just you and me and some carpet.”

The adrenaline is starting to recede. For some reason, his brain feels gross and lethargic without it. “Carpet.”

Tony laughs. “Interesting comment to fixate on, but yeah. You’re sitting on carpet.”

Peter glances down. Yup. Carpet. Huh.

“’S really nice carpet, Mister Stark.”

Tony shakes his head a little. “I mean, I guess. If I’m being honest, I’ve never really studied the carpet in here before. Pepper picked it out, I think.”

“Mm.”

He slouches forward all at once, earning him a surprised yelp from Tony as the man scrambled to stop him from face planting.

“Jesus Christ, kid. If you like that carpet so much, I’ll get you a sample or something. No need to break your nose on it.”

“Sorry.”

Tony tenses against him. “No, nope. Banned word, remember?”

“S-yeah, right. I remember.”

They’re quiet for a moment.

“What triggered that one?”

Peter sighs. Now that the panic had faded, the shame was swelling to take its place. “Song.”

“A song? What song?”

“Another One Bites The, uh, the y’know. By Queen.”

“Oh. Yeah, of course. I can imagine that that one might bring up some unpleasant memories, huh?”

“‘S so stupid. I love Queen.”

Tony adjusts his hold on him and sighs. “I’m well aware. They’ve got lots of other songs, though. Lots of other un-triggery songs. You know, the kind that won’t result with me coming in from a very stressful meeting to find my kid huddled against the bar sobbing his eyes out.”

Peter pulls away in surprise, then winces when the back of his head thrums with pain. “Oh, ouch.”

Tony zeroes in on him with the single-mindedness of a bloodhound. “Ouch? Where ouch?”

“‘S nothing. Just my head. Think I must’ve hit it against the counter.”

“You think?”

“I don’t really remember how I, uh, got over here, to be honest.”

“Oh, I love that.” Tony rolls his eyes. “You feel okay to stand? I wanna get you to the MedBay so F.R.I.D.A.Y. can check you over.”

“Yeah, I’m good.” He lets his mentor help him to his feet and gently guide him towards the elevator. “’M still sad about the song.”

Tony rubs his arm in consolation. “Once F.R.I.D.A.Y.’s given you the all clear, we’ll remind ourselves of everything else Queen has to offer. Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy is a personal favorite of mine-”

“It would be-”

Oi, lose the cheek. What about We Will Rock You, huh? That’s a good one…”

Chapter Text

He found Peter on the roof.

Chapter Text

Tony barely even recovered from the initial shockwave of the explosion, dust barely beginning to settle into the cracks on the sidewalk he’d been thrown into, before he was screaming into the comms.

“Spider-Man, report!” Static. “Pete? C’mon, Pete. Fuckin’ talk to me, damn it.”

A crackle, and then a familiar voice that was decidedly not Peter. “I’ve got him, Tones. Look up.”

A second later, Rhodey was dropping a soot-covered Spider-Man onto the pavement in front of him.

For some reason, the sight of the kid made his blood boil. The fear was still there, feeding him a steady stream of heart palpitations and adrenaline, but all he could focus on was the red-hot anger that seemed to spread through his entire body.

As it was, he didn’t even wait for Peter to be steady on his feet before snapping.

“What the fuck was that?”

The kid tugged off his mask, revealing a blood-flushed face and over-blown pupils. “I-I-”

“You what?” He could still feel his heart hammering against his ribs, the sight of Peter swinging towards a fucking bomb imprinted behind his eyes. “What could you possible say to justify what you just did?” When Peter stayed silent, he gestured wildly. “No, no. That wasn’t fucking rhetorical, Peter. I’m serious. Go ahead. I can’t wait to hear it.”

Peter blinked in surprise, as if he was confused by Tony’s lack of comfort and sudden influx of anger. “There were… there were still people there. I-I couldn’t just leave them-”

“You damn well could’ve!” Some distant part of him recoiled from how similar his voice sounded to Howard’s, how perfect his father’s rage seemed settle in his bones. It didn’t stop him, though. If anything, it only added fuel to the fire. “I ordered you to leave, and I expect you to obey my orders. Do you understand me?”

“I… I didn’t think you would-”

“No, Peter. You evidently didn’t think.” Pain raced down his left arm, and he clenched his fist hard enough for his fingernails to pierce the skin of his palm. “God, I could fucking throttle you right now.”

Peter flinched at the threat, tripping anxiously over his own words. “I-I’m s-sorry, sir, I didn’t mean to-”

“You could’ve died!” He wasn’t sure his voice could get any louder, but he’d evidently been wrong. The force of his shout had Peter stumbling away. The retreat sparked some predatory instinct in his gut, and he stalked after him until the kid’s back struck the front of a building. “Do you understand that, Peter? You could’ve died. Is that something you want? Do you want to die? God, fuck, you’re tempting me to help you.”

Peter shook his head, and a few tears slipped down his cheeks. For a minute, his fury shuddered. But then he remembered the moment the bomb detonated, not knowing where Peter was, having last seen him right there, right in the blast zone, right where the explosion’s violence wouldn’t even leave him a body to bury, and the veil of red fell back over his eyes.

“Well?” He lunged forward, and Peter instinctively brought his arms up to shield himself. He snatched him by his wrists and shook. Hard. Hard enough that he heard the dull thud of Peter’s back smacking against the brick behind him. “Answer me, Peter. You can speak, can’t you?”

All he got in response to the question was a choked off sob. A part of him to wanted nothing more than to stop, to protect the kid from whatever threat there was (even if that threat was himself), but he couldn’t. He couldn’t.

He wondered if this is what Howard had felt like, too. If he’d ever once wished he’d backed off once it was already too fucking late.

He was distantly aware of him shaking Peter again. “Well? Can’t you?”

The kid was staring at him with a wide-eyed expression that Tony had never seen directed at him before. His was breathless, caught somewhere between outright sobs and stunned silence. “Y-Yes, sir.”

“Then answer me. Do you want to fucking die? Is that what you want?”

“No. No. I-I-I’m so s-sorry. I’m sorry.”

“Oh, I’m gonna make you fucking sorry-”

A gentle hand landed on his shoulder, and Rhodey’s level voice poked at his fury. “Tony, I think it’s time to back off.”

He tried to jerk away. “Rhodey-”

“You’re hurting him, Tones. Let go.”

You’re hurting him.

I’m hurting him.

He blinked, and his gaze jumped from Peter’s face, to the tears that had slipped down to his chin, to the bruising grip he had on the kid’s wrists.

I’m… I’m… oh my god, I’m hurting him.

I hurt him.

He let go all at once. Stepped back. Felt shame, cold and vicious, sweep through him.

He looked down at his hands, and he didn’t see his own. He saw Howard’s.

I wanted to hit him. If… If Rhodey hadn’t stopped me, I think I might have hit him.

“Peter…”

All at once, Tony wondered how the hell the kid was still standing. Every inch of him was trembling, face somehow flushed and pale in all the wrong places.

“I-I’m so sorry, sir. Mister Stark. I-I didn’t… I don’t want to die. I’m sorry. Please… please don’t be mad. I’m… I’m…”

“It’s alright, Peter.” Rhodey stepped up beside Tony, hand still sitting firmly on his friend’s shoulder. “Are you alright? Are you hurt?”

“N-No.”

“There. That’s good. See, Tony? Peter’s just fine. Everything’s fine.”

Nothing is fine. I wanted to hit him.

I wanted… I wanted to hit him.

“I-I need to go.” He stumbled backwards until the suit folded over his chest, eyes never leaving the way Peter rubbed at his wrists and winced. “I… I just… I have to go.”

“Tones-”

“I need to go.”

The suit’s repulsers whined as he shot upwards.

I wanted to hit him.

--

He stumbled into the lab and fell onto his workbench, reaching blindly for the nearest project and attacking it with shaking hands.

I wanted to hit him.

He knew, right there in that moment, that he could never give himself the chance to consider it again.

“F.R.I.D.A.Y.? Don’t let anyone in. I want to be alone.”

“Of course, Boss.”

I wanted to hit him.

--

He didn’t see a single soul for the next three days, but he never stopped seeing the look on Peter’s face when he’d pressed himself against the wall.

It had been fear.

Peter had looked at him with fear.

--

“Mister Stark?”

He started so violently that he dropped the wrench he’d been holding, spinning around to stare at the teenager standing in his doorway. “Peter? What-how did you-?”

The kid glanced down shyly. “F.R.I.D.A.Y. let me in.”

“Well, she shouldn’t have.” He turned back to his workbench and gripped the edge until his knuckles turned white. “I didn’t want to be disturbed.”

“I know. I, uh, I sort of convinced her. She’s worried about you, I think.” He heard a shuffling as Peter moved closer. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“I… I’m fine, too. Just so you know. I’m fine.”

“Good. That’s good.” Swallow. Breathe. “Now go home.”

“No, thank you.”

He stood and whipped to face him. “Excuse me?”

Peter flinched, but stood his ground. “Are you going to shout at me again?”

Well, that took the wind out of his sails. His shoulders slumped, head bowing briefly before drifting back up. “No, I’m not.”

“Oh, good. That’s… that’s nice.” Peter fiddled nervously with his hands. “Mister Rhodey and I talked after you left.”

He grit his teeth. “Oh?”

“Yeah. I-I know… I know your father wasn’t that great-”

“Peter-”

“And Mister Rhodey told me that he used to… to shout and yell and… and throw things-”

“Peter-”

“But you’re not him, Mister Stark. And I… and I forgive you. For what happened earlier. I… I forgive you. I forgave you as soon as you’d run off, actually. So we can just… we can just forget it. You don’t have to-”

“No, wait, stop.” He held up a hand. “We… we can’t just forget it. We can’t.”

“We can-”

“Peter, we can’t.” Despite himself, he took a few jerky steps forward and reached up to cup to the side of the kid’s face. He didn’t understand when his hands had learned to be this gentle, how they could go from this to a reflection of Howard with just a minute of rage. “I… I wanted to hit you. I almost hit you.”

“But you weren’t going to.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I do. You’d never hit me.” The kid smiled, trust leaking from his eyes. “I know you wouldn’t.”

“Do you?”

“Yeah, of course I do. And… and I’m not just going to let you push me out because of one little thing-”

“You don’t understand, Peter-”

“No. Nope. You’re the one who shouted at me, so I think I get the last say.”

He smiled despite himself. “Really?”

Peter grinned back. “Mhm. That’s how this works. And I say that I forgive you. So we can move on now, right?”

“No, actually. Not… just… I… I have to say this.” He grabbed the kid’s shoulders and was surprised by the lack of negative reaction. If anything, Peter leaned into the grip. “You keep saying that I’m… that you’ve forgiven me, but I haven’t actually… you know, apologized. So… so I… I’m… ah, shit, fuck it. I’m sorry, Peter. I am… I am so, so sorry. I shouldn’t have shouted. That was, uh, that was wrong. And I shouldn’t have… I shouldn’t have done anything I did, actually. Can I just… can I just blanket apologize? Is that a thing I can do?”

There was something deep and sad in Peter’s gaze. “He never apologized for any of it, did he?”

“Why? Do I sound like I haven’t had a very good example?”

“Well, yeah. Sort of.”

He shook his head. “No, Peter. He… He never apologized.”

“Did he hit you?”

“Oh, Peter…”

“He did, didn’t he? That’s why you’re so caught up on the fact that you thought about hitting me.”

“You don’t need to worry about that, kid. It’s over now, anyway. Howard was dead long before you were even born.”

The sympathy in Peter’s eyes felt a lot like damnation. He didn’t deserve it. “So he did hit you.”

“I already told you it doesn’t matter.”

“It matters to me.” 

And next thing he knew, the kid was tucking himself underneath his chin and pulling him into a full-on, shameless hug.

“I’m sorry,” Peter muttered, words muffled against his chest.

He balked, slowly bringing his arms up to return the embrace. “For what?”

“That your dad sucked.”

He laughed a little at the kid’s word choice, hand unconsciously rubbing up and down his back. “Yeah, well, that sure as hell wasn’t your fault.”

“But I can still be sorry it happened.”

“You’re a really good kid, Pete, y’know that?” He sighed. “What’d I do to deserve you?”

“I dunno. Maybe it’s the universe apologizing for your dad.” The kid seemed content to prolong the hug for as long as possible. “You don’t have to be him, you know. You can make your own choices. I mean, you do make your own choices. He never said he was sorry, but you did. And all you did was shout at me. That’s not that bad. And I mean, I kinda deserved it.”

“You definitely did not.”

“I kinda did.”

“You saved people. I’m just… not used to looking after someone who has the same self-sacrificial complex that I do.”

“I swear I’ll try to be more careful, and I’ll try to listen to you when you tell me to do something.”

“And I promise to do my best to be more… rational whenever you do almost get yourself killed. Deal?”

The kid finally pulled away, a small smile on his face. “Deal.”

It was one of the first promises Tony had ever made that he had every intention of keeping.

Chapter Text

“Do you have your homework?”

“Yeah.”

“You sure? Did you check?”

Yes. I have it. I’m sure.”

“Is your phone charged?”

“99%.”

“I’ll allow it. What about a jacket? You’re only wearing a hoodie and it’s barely over freezing outside.”

“It’s 43 degrees. That’s significantly over freezing.”

“It’s still cold, so jacket, or you’ll make yourself sick. Bring a hat, too. It’s windy and if you get an ear infection then May will kill me.”

“Whatever you say, Dad.”

Peter froze, backpack half-slung over his shoulder.

Fuck. Bad move, Parker. Why the hell possessed you to say-

“Sorry, is that an attitude you’re copping with me?” Tony was leaning against the counter, mug of coffee cradled between both hands and a smirk playing on his lips. “Show your father some respect.”

“Sorry. Sorry. Not an attitude. I, uh, I was just joking. Didn’t mean to, like, say that. I’ll-I’ll go.”

“Whoa there, Pete.” Tony set the mug on the counter with a muted clank and stepped forward to block his exit. “Not so fast.”

He cringed. “I-I’m really sorry, Mister Stark-”

“You should be.” 

I fucked up. I fucked up. I fucked-

A small smile. Tony flicked his shoulder. “I told you to get a jacket ages ago and you still aren’t wearing one.”

Wait… what?

“Oh, well, I, uh…”

Tony rolled his eyes and disappeared around the corner, returning a few moments later with Peter’s warmest jacket in his hands. When the teenager didn’t reach for it, he impatiently started threading his arms through the sleeves.

Peter startled. “I can-I can do it myself, Mister Stark. I’m not a baby.”

“Uh huh.” Tony finished pulling the jacket over his shoulders and did up the zipper before Peter could think to reach for it. “There. Now Spider-baby’s ready for school.” He ruffled his hair with a grin. “Go on, then. Go learn.” He faked a sniffle. “God, they grow up so fast.”

He retreated to the door before Tony could try out anymore of his dad jokes, forcing down a laugh.

“Bye, Mister Stark. I’ll see you after patrol.”

“Bye, son! Don’t forget your old man while you’re out saving the world!”

The moment he was out of earshot, he burst out laughing.

I’m never going to live that down.

Chapter Text

He doesn’t even know how it happened.

One minute, he’d been crashing an spaceship onto an alien planet. The next, his spider sense was flashing and he was being flung (for the second time in a handful of minutes) across the ship, Iron Spider suit clanging and screeching as it grated against the metal floors.

There was an alien with antennas, which was weird, and then some guy with a mask kicked him down. He knew, distantly, that he should never have let himself get separated from Mister Stark in the first place. He didn’t have a lot of practice fighting multiple opponents at once, and he wasn’t sure Berlin really counted.

There was just so much happening. Pieces of the damaged ship were still breaking off. He could hear pipes bursting, circuits sparking. The air was a chaos of shouts and repulsers and the hiss and sizzle of Doctor Strange’s magic. He’d lost contact with Karen way back on Earth, when he’d torn off his original mask, but the complex equations and data from the heads-up display still raced in the corners of his vision. All he could see was flashes: flashes of movement, of guns, of falling debris. There was blood in his mouth, blood in his nose. Every lungful of air was sweet with sweat and smoke and kicked up dust. His suit was too tight, too tight, too tight. The metal plates pressed against his skin and he didn’t think they’d ever come off.

For a minute, he really didn’t want to be a superhero anymore.

He scrambled across the ceiling above Mask Guy. He had to get behind him, right? He could’ve sworn Mister Stark had told him to get behind the enemy during training once. Or was that just something he’d learned from the video games he played with Ned on Sunday afternoons? Either way, it was the only plan he had. 

It turned out to be a bad plan. A very, very bad plan.

He wasn’t thinking straight, and not taking that into account was his major mistake. His vision was so bright, so skewed, that he didn’t even notice Mask Guy turn to stare straight at him when he jumped, the extra legs Mister Stark had put in his suit curling around him protectively.

Not that it mattered, of course. The ropes of electricity that snapped around his torso made the whole suit short circuit anyway.

Everything got even scarier after that. A mix of sensory overload and, you know, being electrocuted, made his brain fuzz out. Even after the shock stopped (but the ropes stayed, to his dismay, clamped tightly around his ribcage), it still took him a minute to re-acclimate himself to having a body.

By the time that happened, there was an arm around his neck and a gun against his head.

Oh. Oh shit.

Mask Guy hauled him to where Mister Stark and Doctor Strange were still fighting with the other aliens. The gun squealed loudly in his ear as he armed it.

“Everybody stay where you are! Chill the eff out!”

Peter only felt a little bit better when Mask Guy turned to gun to point at Mister Stark. “I’m gonna ask you this it one time. Where is Gamora?”

He could see his mentor swallow hard, eyes dancing between Peter and Mask Guy (who had disengaged said mask and, from what Peter could see from the corner of his eye, looked surprisingly human) as he held his repulser towards them.

Mister Stark’s mask had also been retracted, and it struck Peter rather suddenly that he’d never actually been on the receiving end of his fury before. Sure, his mentor had been mad after the Ferry Incident, but that was nothing compared to the rage burning behind his eyes now.

He looked livid. And… scared. Really, really scared.

For some reason, his adrenaline-fueled mind couldn’t reason why.

“Yeah. I’ll do you one better. Who is Gamora?”

It wasn’t until the Blue Alien spoke that Peter realized Mister Stark had a hostage of his own. “I’ll do you one better. Why is Gamora?”

If Peter wasn’t so sure he was only a few seconds away from literally dying, he might have laughed.

Mask Guy’s voice was murderous. The gun was back against his temple. He couldn’t feel the metal through his mask, but he imagined it was cold. “Tell me where the girl is or I swear to you I’m gonna french fry this little freak.”

Something washed over Mister Stark’s face at the threat. Something wild and vulnerable. His voice was a mix of harsh determination and pure terror. “Let’s do it! You shoot my guy and I blast him! Let’s go!”

A massive gun folded out from Mister Stark’s gauntlet at the threat. Despite the circumstances, Peter felt a brief flash of awe at his mentor’s suit. It was cool.

“Do it, Quill. I can take it.”

Another wave of fear washed through his veins. Maybe the Blue Alien could take it. Peter was 90% sure that a direct blast from Mask Guy’s gun at close range would kill him, even with the safety measures he knew Mister Stark had packed into the suit. 

Then, Antenna Alien spoke. “No! He can’t take it!”

Doctor Strange shook his head dryly. “She’s right. You can’t.”

“Oh, yeah? You don’t wanna tell me where she is? That’s fine. I’ll kill all three of you and I’ll beat it out of Thanos myself. Starting with you.” 

Mask Guy’s arm tightened around his throat. The gun jammed into his temple hard enough to ache. Tears stung at his eyes. He didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to die. Please. He didn’t want to-

“Wait, what, Thanos? Alright, let me ask you this one time. What master do you serve?”

“What master do I serve? What am I supposed to say Jesus?”

Some of the fear left Mister Stark’s body. In fact, he almost looked annoyed, like when Peter told a really bad pun in the middle of a fight. “You’re from Earth.”

“I’m not from Earth. I’m from Missouri.”

“Yeah, that’s on Earth, dipshit. What are you hassling us for?”

He’s from Earth. He’s from Earth. He should know Mister Stark. Iron Man. He should know. 

He finally got up the courage to speak, and he hated how small and childish his voice sounded. He was sure Mister Stark could hear that he’d been choking back tears. “So you’re not… with… Thanos?”

With Thanos? No! I’m here to kill Thanos. He took my girl.” The gun fell away from his head. “Wait, who are you?”

The mask retracted. The suit must have sensed the danger had passed. 

He tried to force bravery into his voice. “We’re the Avengers, man.”

The arm around his neck disappeared. He pushed out a breath of relief and hauled in his first full lungful of air in god knows how long. The restraints around his torso were still painfully right, but at least he didn’t have a gun shoved against his head anymore. At least Mister Stark only looked a little bit frightened.

Antenna Alien looked surprised. “You’re the ones Thor told us about.”

“You know Thor?”

“Yeah. Tall guy, not that good-looking,” Peter couldn’t help but flinch back at that, face scrunching in indignation, “needed saving.”

“Where is he now?”

“Nidavellir.”

Mister Stark’s mouth twitched in frustration. “I’m sorry, he’s where?”

“Nidavellir. Place that makes Titan-killing weapons, apparently. He said he needed a hammer.”

“He has a hammer.”

“He told us that his first one got destroyed.”

“How the hell did-” Mister Stark shook his head. “Never mind. It doesn’t matter. We’re good, right? Awesome. Peter, c’mere.”

Mask Guy reached forward and held Peter’s bicep in an unforgiving grip. “Whoa, slow down. You give me my guy, and I give you yours.”

“Fine.” Mister Stark gestured for Blue Alien to get to his feet and then pointed at Peter’s chest. “But get those things off of him.”

The electricity binding his arms to his side disappeared and he relaxed, wincing the muscles in his shoulders pulled. Mask Guy shoved him forward as Mister Stark did the same with Blue Alien. The moment he was in reach, his mentor lunged forward and hauled him a few stumbled steps backward. 

Mister Stark kept a firm grip on his arm as he maneuvered himself so that he was between Peter and any danger. He didn’t look at him, although Peter could tell he was dying to.

“You good, kid?”

“Y-Yeah.”

“Alright. Hang in there.” He watched Mask Guy calculatingly. “You gonna introduce yourselves?”

“Quill, but most people call me Star-Lord.” He pointed at Blue Alien, then Antenna Lady. “That’s Drax and Mantis. Your turn.”

“I’m Tony,” he nodded in Strange’s direction, “Steven Strange,” he tugged Peter so he was just slightly visible to the other gang, “and this is Peter.”

Quill’s face brightened. “Hey! My name’s Peter, too!”

He forced a shaky smile on his face. He felt light-headed. “It’s a good name.”

“Yeah it is!”

“Alright, alright.” His mentor squeezed his arm lightly. “This is nice and all, but I’m gonna need some confirmation that we’re working together here. So,” he took a few steps forward, dragging Peter behind him, and held out his hand, “truce?”

Quill met him in the middle and gave a sharp nod. “Truce.”

“Perfect.” Mister Stark swung to face Peter head on, gripping his shoulders to hold him steady. “Hey. Hi. You hurt?”

“I-I don’t think so.” He swayed a little. The ground didn’t feel very stable, all of a sudden. “But I, uh, I think I need to sit down.”

“Okay, okay. Easy.” His mentor lowered him to the floor slowly, kneeling in front of him and holding him in a sitting position with concern in his eyes. “You’re alright.”

Quill’s face popped up over Mister Stark’s shoulder. “Is he okay?”

Mister Stark shrugged. “Strange?”

The sorcerer wandered over and looked Peter up and down. “Did his suit report any major injuries?”

“No. Just bruises.”

“It’s just adrenaline, then.” Strange gave Mister Stark a significant look. “He’s only a child, after all.”

The world spun around him lazily, like he was on a really bad tilt-a-whirl. “‘M not a child.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Mister Stark cradled the back of his head as he laid him down, leaving his hand buried in his hair like a makeshift pillow. “Not a child, we know. Now take a breather.”

Quill seemed to survey Peter, and winced at whatever it was he saw. “Uh, he doesn’t look too good, does he?”

Uh oh. Mister Stark looked pissed. His head snapped towards Quill and his voice dripped with venom. “Yeah, he doesn’t. Probably has something to do with the fact you scared the shit out of him, asshole.”

Quill raised his hands in surrender. “Hey, listen. I’m sorry, man. Didn’t know we were on the same side.”

“Doesn’t give you a right to-”

“Mister Stark?” He winced at the way his voice wobbled. God, he really didn’t wanna cry. He was an Avenger now, and Avengers didn’t cry, even if they were stranded in a wrecked spaceship on the homeworld of a psychotic alien. “‘S okay. Jus’ gimme a second, and I’ll be fine.”

He liked the way Mister Stark’s face melted when he looked back at him. It made his chest feel warm and gooey, despite the adrenaline crash. 

“I know you’ll be fine, kiddo, but you’re gonna stay right there until you’re 100% again, y’hear me? No jumping the gun on this one. There’re only so many heart attacks I can handle in one go.”

He gave a half-hearted nod, then dropped his head back against the cool metal floor with an exhausted sigh.

God, he hadn’t even gotten to the big fight yet, and he already felt like he could sleep for a million years.

Mister Stark’s hand, his real hand, not the gauntlet, was suddenly pressed flat against his forehead. “You doing okay, buddy?”

“Mhm. Just… taking a sec.”

His mentor’s voice was apologetic. “Alright. Just don’t fall asleep, okay? I’m sorry, kid, but we don’t have time for naps.”

He flexed his fingers and blinked his eyes back open, suppressing a groan at the ache in his ribs. His gaze collided with Mister Stark’s, and there was a brief moment when neither spoke.

Up until that point, he hadn’t really realized that fear in Mister Stark’s eyes hadn’t been for himself, or for Earth, or even for the universe as a whole.

Now, though, the subject of his mentor’s terror hit him like a ton of bricks.

The fear was for him.

A fresh wave of tears glazed his vision, and he blinked them away.

“This’s,” he swallowed, offering his mentor a lopsided grin, “this’s been a really long day, Mister Stark.”

He won a wry smile in return. “Yeah, kid, it has.”

“It’s only gonna get longer, huh?”

“Probably.” Mister Stark ran his hand through his hair, either not noticing or not caring about how stiff it was with drying sweat. “But it’ll be over eventually. You just gotta stay alive until then, alright? Promise me. Promise me that your number one priority’ll be staying alive.”

He nodded, desperately wanting to relieve some of the terror in his mentor’s eyes.

“I promise.”

He really hoped that it was a promise he wouldn’t have to break.

Chapter Text

“Peter, hey.” The hands were rough on his face, jolting him around. The movement hurt, distantly, but the sensation got swallowed up by the ice creeping through him. “Hey, buddy, c’mon. I’m right here. It’s Tony. It’s Tony. You hear me?”

Tony. Tony. Did he know a Tony? He… maybe, but the name didn’t feel right. It felt too peripheral for the familiarity of the voice, the accompanying hands.

He coughed, tasted metal. Scratchy fabric wiped away the wetness on his lips and cheeks. Huh. How’d the blood get there?

There was a crunch by his head, and then a new voice. Peter knew this one, too, but he didn’t really like it as much as the first. He wanted that first voice back, even if he didn’t really know who this Tony person was supposed to be.

“The medivac’ll be here in ten minutes, Tony.”

Man, who was Tony? Peter guessed he was important, cause everyone was talking about him so much, and he guessed it should probably bother him that he didn’t know, but he was just so tired.

“That’s not soon enough.”

“Well, that’s how quickly they can get here, so we’ll make do.”

“He’s-god, Rhodey, fuck. He’s bleeding out. He’s already in shock. I can’t-I don’t think he knows who I am.”

New hands were on his face, tugging up one of his eyelids. The light stung, and he tried to groan in response. It came out more as a wet gurgle, but it did the trick, because the touch retreated. 

“Peter. Can you hear us?”

He whined. He might’ve kicked his legs irritably. At least, he meant to, but his body felt so weird and heavy that the command might’ve gotten lost along the way. 

“Shh, shh.” The old hands were here again, shaking as they pressed against his cheeks. “I need you to look at me, Peter.”

Looking? Uh. He… He did that with his eyes, right? The eyes that the new hands had been touching. He dragged them open only to find a field of blurriness. Two shapes hovered above him.

“Hey, there he is.” He could barely make out movement from the shape on the right, so he assumed that was the person talking. The person with the old hands. The person with the voice that he liked. “You know who I am, kiddo?”

No.

He opened his mouth to say that, but all that came out was an aborted gag.

There was more metal, more hands. Turning him over, letting something hot and sticky trickle out of his mouth. The voices were talking over each other, one panicked and one eerily calm.

“Fuck, fuck, shit-”

“Breathe, Tony-”

He can’t breathe, Rhodes. Can’t you-”

“Medivac is only a few minutes out now. He’s holding on. He’s gonna be fine-”

“This is a long fucking way from my definition of fine, Rhodey!”

“M’s’er S’rk.”

Peter managed to surprise even himself with the slur. He hadn’t really intended to say anything at all, let alone a name, but the voices were starting to make him scared and those two words were just about the only thing left that he could remember.

“Peter! Hey!” He was being rolled over again, and one of the blurry shapes returned, the old hands on his face. “Hey, hey. Right here. Mister Stark’s right here, yeah?” That doesn’t make sense, Peter thought. Aren’t you Tony? “You’re gonna be fine. Just… just stay awake, okay? Stay awake, and everything’ll be alright.”

“Hurts,” he choked, because that felt like something he should be saying. It… It probably hurt, right? There was a part of him that knew that it hurt.

“I know, I know. I’m gonna fix it. Tony’s gonna fix it, okay? Just let the medivac get here.”

Man, this guy really needed to figure out who he was. Wasn’t he just Mister Stark, and now he was Tony again? Suspicious.

Wind brushed over his face. In the distance, a clatter of noise and shouts.

“Tony, they’re here.” Who is they? “You gotta step back.”

The nice voice let out a slightly animalistic sound of pain, and then Peter’s face was being tilted, cradled fiercely. Could you be cradled fiercely? Peter wasn’t sure, but that’s what it felt like. It felt like being violently sheltered.

“I’ll see you on the flip-side, okay, kid? And don’t fucking die. That’s all you gotta do. Just… just don’t fucking die.

And then the hands were gone. There were a few seconds where he was just floating, no touch to tether him down, and then there was so much touch that he was overrun with it.

Without the nice voice, Peter decided there wasn’t much reason sticking around, so he was happy enough to give in when something pinched his arm and the world was wiped away by a swell of something mind-numbingly cool.

He’d figure out the mystery of who Tony was when he woke up. Maybe Mister Stark would help him. If his memory was any indication, he was a pretty helpful guy.

Chapter Text

Peter had a habit of staring at his phone for what seemed like mindless hours in silence and then, without any prompting whatsoever, burst out with the most random statements.

For example:

“I want a pet,” the kid suddenly stated, eyes still staring at whatever weird teenager app that he was scrolling through.

“No,” Tony responded, also not looking up from his own work.

“Please?”

“No.”

“Pretty please?”

“Still no.”

“Is there nothing I can do?”

“There is nothing you can do.”

“Not a thing?”

“Nope.”

“Really?”

The corner of his mouth quirked up. Nice try, kid. “Yes.”

“Damn it.”

“Why do you even want a pet, Peter?”

“Why don’t you want a pet, Mister Stark?”

He rolled his eyes. “Oh, I don’t know. They’re unruly, expensive, and rarely do what they’re told. I’ve already got one of those around,” he shot an unsubtle look in Peter’s direction, “I really don’t need another.”

“But have you seen those little costumes for dogs?” Peter was staring over at him now, eyes pleading. “They’re so cute. They have, like, little hoods and everything.”

“Dogs don’t wear clothes, Peter.”

“But they do! Look!” In a split second, the kid was off the couch and at the table Tony was working at, shoving his phone underneath his nose and flipping through a never-ending stream of photos of dogs in, yes, literal clothing. “Aren’t they precious?”

“They’re fine,” he sniffed.

Peter paused, grin growing. “They make Iron Man costumes, y’know. For dogs.”

“Do they now?”

“Yeah. Wanna see?”

He narrowed his eyes at the kid. He knew what he was doing. Worse, he knew that it was kind of working, too.

Those dogs were, undeniably, very cute.

“One picture,” he acquiesced, and he knew he’d made a very bad mistake.

(Or, rather, he’d started to make the mistake. The real mistake would come three days later, in the form of Peter’s newest four-legged friend, which had both an Iron Man and a Spider-Man costume in his rapidly growing wardrobe.)

Chapter Text

If there was one thing that Tony Stark learned since he reversed the end of the world, it was that happy endings didn’t come with a hard stop.

To have a happy ending, there had to be something unhappy before it. Something to make the peace taste like a novelty, rather than just another day slipping past.

For Tony Stark, his unhappiness was more than getting stuck in a traffic jam on the way to an important meeting. It was more than getting ghosted by a Tindr date. It was more than spilling his coffee on the dashboard of his car.

It was life and death. It was staring into an abyss of stars, feeling himself fall. It was being the last one standing, knowing he should’ve done more. It was the betrayal of his best friend, metal crushing into his ribs.

It was holding his child as he died, his pleas bouncing around with pinballs in his head.

These memories, these unhappinesses… they didn’t just evaporate when his fairy tale came true. The weight was easier to bear now, but it still wasn’t light. The echoes still tingled in his spine.

But the kids… his kids made wobbling under the burden so blessedly worth it.

It must’ve been Peter who set them up to it. Morgan was bright, sure, but she was still relatively oblivious to Tony’s long stretches of nightmares and insomnia.

Yeah. It must’ve been Peter.

The two little monsters came barreling into the living room after spending most of the day playing on the dock. Tony had left them to it. Was that bad parenting? Maybe, but he knew better than he knew anything else that Peter would never, ever let Morgan drown.

Plus, F.R.I.D.A.Y. was monitoring their vitals and movements nonstop, with a suit primed and ready to swoop in at the earliest sign of distress, so…

Morgan’s hair was still wet when she flung herself into his lap, and a cursory glance at Peter showed that he was the same. There was no hiding his naturally curly hair now. It’d get even more unruly as it dried, and a part of Tony acknowledged that he couldn’t wait.

He liked it when his kids looked their ages. For Morgan, it was pretty much all the time. But for Peter… there were moments now when the maturity of everything caught up to him, and Tony saw the man he was becoming rather than the child that he was. He knew that was a good thing, really, and he was proud of that image. Proud of the person he knew Peter would be. A far better man than him, without a doubt.

But… sometimes Tony just wanted moments like this: his kids, looking like kids, bright-eyed and flush-cheeked from racing up the porch. Young enough to hold. Young enough to protect.

As if sensing his thoughts, Peter collapsed onto the couch beside him and Morgan. He kicked off his shoes, clumsily enough that Tony couldn’t help but snicker, and then pulled off Morgan’s before Tony could think to do it himself.

Bless this kid. Tony didn’t deserve him.

“Have fun?” He asked, grinning as Morgan buried her still-damp face into his neck. “See any sea monsters?”

“No!” Morgan sounded genuinely disappointed. “But Peter and I made a sand castle!”

“Yeah?” He glanced over at the kid, only to find him holding up his phone. A picture of a poorly constructed sand castle was pulled up, complete with stick-and-leaf flags and a dug-out moat. “Wow,” he poured awe into his voice. “That’s really good.”

It really wasn’t. He raised eyebrow at Peter as if to say really, is that the best you can do? and the kid shot a glare in response, pointing at Morgan and shrugging.

Ah, yes. Of course. They were in the I do it myself! phase.

“It is, isn’t it?” Morgan pulled her knees up to her chest and twisted around so that her head was resting on his chest and she could smile up at Peter. “Peter helped me dig the sand, but I did everything else all by myself.”

Tony doubted that was strictly true, but he patted her head anyway. “Well done, squirt.”

“She did a great job,” Peter said easily, then hooked one of his legs around Tony’s ankles and dropped his head onto his free shoulder with an exaggerated sigh. “It was a lot of work, though, wasn’t it Morgan?”

Morgan giggled, snuggling closer into Tony’s chest. “So much work.”

“So much work,” Peter echoed. “We’re just exhausted now.”

“Mm, yeah, Daddy,” Morgan’s body shook as she laughed, “we’re really tired.”

“Oh?” He drawled, glaring down at Peter pointedly. I know what you’re doing, brat. “Well, maybe it’s nap time for the babies.”

Peter glared back at the nickname, but didn’t argue. “Maybe it is.”

“Nap time happens in the babies’ beds, y’know.”

“Oh, but Mister Stark,” Peter faked a huge yawn and pressed closer, slinging an arm around Tony’s chest and, by proxy, Morgan, “I’m way too tired to make it. I’ll fall asleep on the stairs.”

You’re a little shit, Parker, y’know that?

Tony managed to unpin one arm just enough to try to reach for his StarkPad, which was discarded on the coffee table. “Dad has work to do, guys.”

Peter used a foot to kick it out of reached, then pinned him back against the cushions. Jesus. He forgot how strong the kid was, sometimes.

“Now he doesn’t.”

At some point during their little argument, Morgan had actually fallen asleep. It didn’t surprise Tony. This was about her nap time, anyway, and he did actually believe that spending a day with Peter by the lake was, in fact, very tiring.

He turned his face into Peter’s damp curls to hide his smile and dropped his voice low, not wanting to disturb her. “Are you proud of yourself, Parker? You’ve got me trapped.”

“That was the plan,” the kid admitted, sounding very smug.

He brought the arm he’d freed earlier up to the crown of Peter’s head, gently working through the lake-water knots that’d cropped up in the mess of curls. His other arm was pressed up against Peter’s, both of them cradling Morgan. Together, they’d managed to form a protective cage around her back, keeping her close and shielded and safe.

“Well,” he murmured, feeling himself melt into the couch despite himself, “that’s one of my babies down for a nap. How’s the second coming along?”

“Not a baby.”

“Alright, alright. How’s my very-grown-up and very-adult child coming along, then?”

“‘M very happy to nap.” Tony didn’t doubt it, considering how warm and loose the kid was growing against him. “You too, though.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he soothed. “I know that was your plan.”

“Please?”

“I will, buddy, I promise.” He pressed a gentle kiss to Peter’s temple, then carefully shifted just enough to do the same with Morgan. “Sogni d'oro, tesori miei.”

He didn’t get a response, but he really didn’t need one, anyway.

Despite his promise, when Pepper came home from the store about thirty minutes later, Tony was still very much awake. It wasn’t actually that he’d meant to be. He’d planned to let the comfort of having his kids hemming him in pull him down from the beginning, but he’d found himself reveling in the moment just a little too much to drop off.

“Hey.” Pepper knelt in front of him, eyes roving over the scene and love pouring out from every inch of her face. He imagined that that love was mirrored in his own, although he had every confidence that he could never look as breathtaking as she did. “What happened here?”

“The kids,” he said, a little helplessly, “they ambushed me.”

“It looks like it was a brutal fight.”

“It was.” He grinned. “I’m lucky to have made it out with my life.”

They froze for just a heartbeat, gazes locking. Oh, oops. Sensitive subject. Right. Shit.

She shook it away, though, smile returning and tension leaking out of her shoulders as she took a steadying breath. “You really are.”

They were silent for a while after that, which Tony was perfectly content with. He could hear both Peter and Morgan’s steady breaths in the quiet. They were almost synced.

“They’re so cute when they’re asleep,” Pepper finally said, standing only to bend over and pressed a light kiss against his lips. “Why don’t you join them, yeah? We can have a late dinner, I’ll wake you.”

Please sleep, she was saying. Please don’t self-destruct. Please let them help you.

And he did. He gave her an easy nod, rested his forehead against Peter’s hair, and let himself sink.

He didn’t have even a single bad dream.

Chapter Text

Peter struggles a lot with his memories of Tony’s death. He’s a little ashamed of how much it bothers him. He’s an Avenger, after all. Death shouldn’t leave these kinds of scars.

But it did. It had. The images of Tony slipping away, the smell of his charred skin, the way his breaths had wheezed in, out, then shuddered to a halt, arc reactor flickering into nothingness…

The memory of Tony’s hand falling limply away from Pepper’s was always playing in the back of his mind.

But most of all, he couldn’t stop replaying the fact that Tony hadn’t said anything to him. He’d just laid there, still and silent. Peter hadn’t gotten any last words, final comforts. All he’d gotten was hazy eyes and a bucketful of trauma.

There was no escaping the memories, no running from the horror that bubbled in his throat whenever they resurfaced. And he knew he couldn’t survive like this. Maybe even more so, he knew that Tony would never want him to.

So, he goes to Pepper.

There were only two people on Earth who truly understood. Sure, Steve and the others had watched from afar, but Rhodey, Peter, and Pepper had been on the frontlines. They’d been close enough to hear his last breaths, to see the life dwindle out of Iron Man’s eyes.

He could’ve gone to either Rhodey or Pepper, of course, but he chose her because the memory of Tony’s death wasn’t the only one that he could recall with frightening clarity.

In the settling moments, the ones that came in the shockwaves of that final breath, Pepper had kissed Tony’s cheek. Peter had felt like throwing up. Rhodey had held him back, steel arms around his stomach.

“Rhodey,” Pepper had gasped, “Rhodey, let him come, now. Let him… Just let him come.”

He’d been released, and he would’ve face-planted if Pepper hadn’t twisted around to grab his arm, steadying him as he sunk to his knees in front of Tony’s body.

“Mister Stark?” He whimpered. He’d reached for Tony like a child, hands grasping helplessly just inches from his motionless chest. It was a physical call for action, a plea to be held.

Tony hadn’t answered it, was far past that, now, but Pepper had.

She had pulled him into her chest, chin resting on the crown of his head. “Shh, sweetheart. It’s alright now. It’s over. It’s… It’s all over.”

“Tony?” At any other time, he would’ve been ashamed of how cracked and desperate his voice was, of his entire reaction in general. But then, he’d been strangely detached, out of control. “Tony.”

Pepper had been the one to guide him as he tucked himself against Tony’s chest, had been the one to rub his back as he sobbed. Eventually, she’d been the one who’d rocked him while Rhodey scooped Tony into his arms, to carry him back. To carry him home.

Although the memories were hazy, he knew that she’d stayed with him once he slipped into shock, too. She’d filled the role of May, of Tony, without missing a step. And she’d done it all while struggling under the weight of a loss that even Peter couldn’t begin to comprehend.

And, sure, Pepper had always been kind to him, but she’d taken more of an interest in him after… well, after. He knew it was probably only out of a lingering need to protect whatever Tony loved, but he clung to that connection all the same.

So he skips school, comes to the cabin when Morgan’s at playgroup. The conversation he needed to have wouldn’t feel right with her in the house. It would feel wrong.

As soon as the door opens, he can see Pepper’s surprise, see the reprimand on her lips, but then she takes in the look on his face, the bags underneath his eyes, and she ushers him in.

She makes him sit on the couch, offers him tea. He shakes his head, just curls into himself until she finally sits beside him.

“What do you need, Peter?” She asks, voice soft. Peter wonders if that’s why Tony fell in love with her: because her ability to gentle was good for his rough edges.

“I… I keep thinking about it.”

Pepper didn’t need clarification to at least understand the ballpark of his meaning. “Oh, Peter. It’s normal to feel the… the loss of presence in your life-”

He shakes his head. “No, no. I mean I keep thinking about it. About the.. the moment. It won’t stop playing in my head.”

“That moment that he…?”

“Yeah.”

The moment that he died.

“What bothers you about it?”

It feels like a ridiculous question at first. What bothers him about it? Well, the fact that Tony died, for one. The fact that he was just sixteen and confused and watching something horrific happen without the gravity of the moment really registering until after, until it was too late to really process it at all.

But then… but then he realizes that there was a reason behind why it bothered him so much. That despite the generic awfulness of the whole experience, there was one aspect that stung above everything else. One fact that he was constantly tangling himself up in.

“He didn’t say anything to me,” he whispers, voice breaking. “He… I don’t even think he knew that I was there.”

He would’ve comforted me. He would’ve said something stupid, smiled, cracked a joke. If he’d known I was there, he wouldn’t have acted the way he did.

He wouldn’t have just laid there.

“He knew,” Pepper murmured, and she said it like she never once doubted that it was true.

He wanted to believe it. God, he really, really wanted to believe it.

“How do you know?”

“Because I saw him recognize you, Peter. He… He wasn’t at peace until he saw your face. Didn’t you notice him look at you?”

“I… I don’t know.”

If he was being honest, he hadn’t been seeing much of anything at the time, besides the blur-wobble of unshed tears.

“He did.” Pepper tilts his chin up, the same way Tony used to, when he refused to look at him after a rough day at school or on patrol. “He looked at you like he’d be alright if that was the last thing he’d ever see. And I don’t think… I don’t think he could talk, sweetheart.”

“He talked to you.”

He hated how petulant it sounded, how childish and resentful. Of course Pepper deserved those final words. She was Tony’s wife, the mother of his child, the love of his life. What right did Peter have to resent Tony’s last gift to her?

But Pepper didn’t seem upset. She just smiled, genuine and sad. “And you heard how it sounded, didn’t you? He was trying not to scare you, Peter. At least, not anymore than he already had. You were so frightened. I think he knew that if he said anything, it would just make it harder for you to accept.”

He felt a sob threaten to crawl up his throat. When he spoke, his voice was strained with it. “He just… he used to talk so much.”

“I know. But, honey,” Pepper’s thumb swiped under cheek, caught a tear he hadn’t even known had fallen, “sometimes we don’t need to say anything to tell someone we love them.”

“Did he… Do you really think he…?”

“Loved you?” At his reluctant nod, Pepper laughed. “Peter, look outside. Half the birds, half the children, half of everyone: they’re all there because of you. Tony stitched the universe back together just so that you could live in it. If that isn’t love, what is?”

And for once, Peter didn’t really know what to say, either.

Chapter Text

Peter liked sitting on the Starks’ porch.

Pepper had mentioned to him once, with a weird hitch in her voice, that he’d naturally gravitated to Tony’s chair whenever he went out there. There was, of course, no way for him to have known that. No way for him to have consciously selected to curl himself up where his hero had once worn away the weeks.

But he’d chosen it anyway. Maybe some part of him, some low-laying instinct, had directed him there.

The chair had a nice view of the lake. Whenever he stared out over the property, he reminded himself that this was the view Tony would’ve seen, too. He wondered if they’d think the same things, notice the same details. A few of the trees close to the house needed trimming. Maybe Peter would get Happy to help him clean them up in a few weekends.

Pepper had only just left him. He… felt bad, about how they’d ended their conversation. He knew she just wanted to help him, he really did, and he knew that his decision didn’t make sense to anyone but him.

But he had to do it. Or, rather, he had to not do it.

He couldn’t. Not anymore. He just… couldn’t.

He knew Pepper was frustrated with him. May was, too. And Happy, Rhodey, even Strange had expressed a discontent with his choice.

The screen door creaked open, and a set of tiny footsteps drew nearer. He smiled in spite of his dark thoughts.

“Hey, Morgan.” He reached out to steady her as she climbed into his lab, curling against his chest. “What’re you doing out here?”

She looked up at him with Tony’s eyes. “Mommy said you were sad, so I came out to make you feel better.”

“Oh?” He stroked a few locks of hair out of her face, gently untangling them as he went. “Well, you’re doing a fantastic job, because I’m already feeling a lot less sad.”

He’d expected a smile at the comment, but all Morgan did was narrow her eyes and stare.

It was moments like these when Peter really saw Tony’s DNA shining through. She was already sharp as a tack, developmentally ahead of most kids her age. She was brimming with it, brimming with the brilliance Tony had passed down to her.

One of his final gifts. One of the only gifts he’d ever had the chance to leave her.

It hurt Peter’s chest to think about.

“Mommy says you don’t wanna be Spider-Man anymore,” Morgan finally blurted, tilting her head to watch his reaction.

He sighed. “No, squirt. I… I’m done with that.”

“How come?”

Peter flinched at the question. It was one he’d been asked a lot in the past few days. Why, Peter? Why would you say that, kid? What could possibly have possessed you?

He hadn’t answered any of them with the truth. It was too brutal to say, maybe, and the world was still made of broken glass.

The thing was, Peter had been there when Tony had taken his last breath. Thanks to his enhanced hearing, he’d heard the exact second his heart stopped. He’d waited for another beat, felt the drop of his stomach when it settled in that it wasn’t coming.

That moment had shown him the truth of what is meant to be a superhero. There was only one end for people like him and Mister Stark, and it was death. And, sure, maybe he could go down in a blaze of glory. Tony had, after all, and now people were building monuments and memorials in his name.

But did any of that really matter? At the end of the day, no amount of honor in death could reverse the fact that Tony was gone.

It was why Peter had danced around every demand for an explanation, because, if he was being honest, he was ashamed of himself.

He didn’t want to be Spider-Man anymore because he was terrified of dying.

He’d seen Tony do it, and it had looked… horrifying. His eyes had been empty, screaming out with a longing that Peter had never seen before. If he was lucky, he’d never see it again.

He didn’t want to die. Moreover, he didn’t want to die like that.

And Tony’s death? That was the future being Spider-Man promised him.

He didn’t want it.

“Being a superhero just isn’t a lot of fun, I guess,” he finally muttered, running a thumb along Morgan’s child-soft cheek.

“Daddy liked it.”

And look where he is now, huh?

He shook the thought away. “I did too, for a while. But I don’t anymore. It’s okay to stop liking something you liked before.”

Morgan’s eyes were wide. Peter wondered if he could tumble into them. For someone so young, he had the disconcerting feeling that she knew so much more than he did.

“But Daddy wanted you to be Spider-Man.”

The reminder pierced through him.

“He made you a special suit and everything!” Morgan exclaimed, sitting up straighter in his lap. “Daddy was a superhero, Uncle Rhodey is a superhero, you’re a superhero. It’s just what you are. Daddy said we were never supposed to change who we are. It’s, like, one of his rules.”

He let out a wet laugh. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” She laid back against his chest, curling a tiny fist around the fabric of his t-shirt. “Do you really not wanna be Spider-Man anymore, Peter?”

“No, Morgan.” He hated that it was true. “I… I don’t know what I want.”

He hadn’t known what he’d wanted since he’d begged Tony to come back to him, since he’d poured every ounce of himself into praying that he’d get just a little while longer, just one more chance.

He hadn’t gotten what he’d wanted then, and it was the only thing he’d ever really wanted.

How was he supposed to come up with something else now?

“I know what you want,” Morgan stated, and she said it with so much faith that Peter found himself believing her.

“And what’s that?”

She grinned up at him. “Juice pops!”

He’d gotten so caught up in the complexity of his thoughts that he’d forgotten that he was talking to a four-year-old. Still, the sudden diversion made him smile, chest and cheeks aching.

“Yeah? Well, I think we can arrange that.”

“They made Spider-Man ones,” she rambled. “Daddy always made sure we had some, and Mommy does it now, too.” She bounced on his lap in excitement. “They have a picture of you on the box!”

His smile dropped. “I’m… I’m really not Spider-Man anymore, Morgan. I know that Mommy might say-”

She cut him off. “You’ll always be Spider-Man.” She rolled her eyes at him. “Just like Daddy’s still Iron Man.” Something strange fell over Morgan’s face, and she met his gaze head on. “And just like Daddy still loves us even though he’s gone, right? Some things just are.”

Peter found himself blinking back tears, cupped both sides of Morgan’s face in gentle hands. He sniffed, hard, and even as a few tears dropped down his cheeks, she never looked away.

“Do you still want me to be Spider-Man?” He whispered, and he realized that that’s what he needed.

He needed permission. He needed someone to believe in him. For the longest time, that person had been Mister Stark.

Now he was gone, but he’d left something behind.

Left someone behind.

Morgan beamed, and her cheeks pushed up against his palms. “Of course I do! And Daddy would, too, by the way.”

His voice shook. He hoped she didn’t notice. “You think?”

“Duh,” she said, rolling her eyes again.

And just like that, the moment ended. Morgan squirmed out of his grip and off the chair, grabbing his hand and pulling him up after her.

“C’mon, Petey!” She yelled, dragging him towards the door. “We need juice pops!”

He laughed, and let her lead him.

Maybe he had a little superhero left in him, after all.

Maybe.

Chapter Text

Tony had always found the aftermath of violence the most harrowing.

Maybe it was because adrenaline was so adept at wiping away everything: guilt, hesitation, the sense of revulsion that came with being surrounded by the dying and the dead. In the thick of a battle, there was very little time for thought. It was act, move, flow from conflict to conflict without letting human nature drag you down.

While Tony was a little ashamed to admit it, he’d managed to forget about Peter for the rest of the battle. He’d been a lingering process in the back of his mind, the perpetual concern for children that only parents could truly understand, but he didn’t lend any conscious thought to the teenager swinging through the chaos in a suit Tony had built from scratch, a suit Tony had built to protect him from the things that he could not.

In the aftermath, though: when the dust glittered in the air, when the crunch of the suit’s metal boots on splintered armor sounded over-loud, over-exposed in the permeating quiet that had fallen over the Compound’s remains, Peter was one of the only things he could think about.

Pepper was fine. He knew because she’d been fighting at his side when it all came to an end: when the universe tumbled into breath-holding silence. It wasn’t a bad silence, though, wasn’t the same silence that had choked street corners and empty nurseries for the past five years. No, this was relief. This was the silence that came with shock, with disbelief, the silence that swelled over a room directly before the cheering, the crying, the joy.

Tony wanted nothing more than to plunge into that celebration, to reap the final victory that the Avengers had so painfully sowed, but no, no, no. There was no victory without him. No victory without Peter Parker.

“F.R.I.D.A.Y.,” he gasped, peeling away from Pepper and knowing, intrinsically, that she understood. Maybe she hadn’t at first, before Morgan, before the tumble of time and happenstance and positive pregnancy tests had forced Tony out of his self-imposed emotional exile, but Pepper was a parent now, too. If Morgan were somewhere in the smoking ruins that spilled out around them, he knew that she would be doing the exact same thing, and he would never, ever blame her. “F.R.I.D.A.Y., track the Iron Spider suit.”

“The suit is approximately 100 meters to your left.”

He banked hard, following the blinking Spider-Man symbol that F.R.I.D.A.Y. sent to his heads-up display. He remembered designing the little icon, remembered engineering the kid’s webshooters to display it on the ceiling, like a nightlight, like a beacon, and realized that he’d been reaching for Peter long before he even met him.

Even with a damaged suit, it only took a blink for Tony to reach Peter. The kid was staggering out of a crater, arm wrapped protectively around his ribs, and the relief of seeing him standing and walking and breathing nearly made Tony go weak at the knees.

It was one thing to reunite Peter in the middle of a war, to cling to him as death and violence played out like a symphony all around them. That hug had been a swell of endorphins and heartbeat, a compulsive choice because, as far as Tony was concerned, they were facing down the end, and there was a frighteningly high chance that at least one of them wouldn’t come out of this fight alive.

To think: Tony could’ve gotten Peter back only to lose him again, all in the span of an hour. He was sure that there was nothing on Earth, not even Morgan or Pepper or the life he had raised for himself, that could save him from that precipice. There was nothing worse than the darkness after a spark of hope was doused.

But now, in the quiet, he let himself revel in the kid’s existence. This was a child that had been dead for five years, a child he had mourned, a child that had possessed so many of Tony’s thoughts as he tried to navigate life through the guilt his tragedy had left behind.

Although it was hard to admit, even to himself, Tony knew that this was the child that he’d seen in every corner of his life, like a ghost. He’d seen him in the guest bedroom in the cabin, in the bed that should’ve been his. He’d seen him in the hospital room when Morgan was born, holding an infant that should’ve been a sister to him. He’d seen him… He’d seen him everywhere. Every day. He’d spent five long years catching glimpses of the child that he wanted. The child that he didn’t deserve.

“Peter,” he gasped, landing with a thud, trying to let the bloodied bodies slip into the background, tried not to think about how many lives he had ended today, how many lives Peter had ended today, “Peter, buddy, hey.”

The kid’s mask folded back, revealing dark bruises blooming over his cheekbones, under his eyes. His nose was crooked, obviously broken, with fresh red still running down over the old, crusted blood and dirt smeared over ever inch of his face. More than that, though, Peter’s eyes looked wrecked, and Tony was struck with a sudden, horrific realization that no matter how much he tried to shield Peter from the world, he would never be able to protect him from the memories Thanos had left in his head.

“Oh,” Peter rasped, taking a few wobbly steps towards him and wincing, as if every movement was a new kind of agony, “hey, Mister Stark. Is it… Is it over?”

The question hit Tony in the gut, heavier than any blow Thanos or his army could have ever have hoped to land. It was such a childlike thing to say, a phrase so deeply rooted in innocence. It is over? Like a thunderstorm, or a scene in a scary movie. Those were words spoken while eyes peeked between fingers, or with fingers hooked in belt loops. It was a call for reassurance, a child staring up at their hero, at their parent.

“Yeah, kid.” He stepped closer, reached out to pull Peter into his arms, for real this time. A deliberate choice, a sealing of some unspoken agreement. “Yeah, it’s over.”

“That’s… That’s… That’s good.” Tony felt the kid sagging into him. Exhaustion, probably. There was nothing like an adrenaline drop to leave your battery flashing on empty. “I, um, I dunno if ‘m…”

It was obvious that Peter was trying to form some thought, to convey something with the jumbled mess that came out of his mouth, but anything he tried to say got swept away with, apparently, his ability to stand on his own. All his weight tipped into Tony’s chest, hands slipping from where he’d been returning his mentor’s embrace to hang limply at his sides. Tony let out a strangled noise of concern at the sudden shift, rushing to situate the kid more comfortably against the cool metal of the Iron Man suit.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” He dropped to his knees, heart hammering in his chest as the kid’s deadweight hastened the descent. “Easy now, Pete. I’ve got you.”

Limp bodies were strange, really. They didn’t react in the ways you expected them to, and Peter felt too much like an object in that moment for Tony’s liking. Less like a human and more like a marionette composed of stringless limbs.

Even worse, Peter felt like a corpse. He felt dead. Tony had already experienced that horror once, had consigned the dust-laced memories of Titan to the depths of his consciousness, to the place filled with the things that he was too scared to remember, the things that, because of his fear, he was destined to never forget.

“Peter,” he murmured, manhandling the kid’s body into his lap, letting the suit fold away to expose the man underneath it. This wasn’t a moment for armor. Maybe it would’ve been, once. Before Thanos, before Titan, before Morgan. Now, though, he felt unshielded. Undone. Peter drew him out, excavated virtues and emotions that he didn’t know he had. “Buddy, c’mon. I said it was over, but I didn’t mean it was naptime. I know you’re a little banged up, and all, but you can’t just check out on us. That’s cheating.”

He dug his knuckles into Peter’s sternum as he spoke, wishing that he had Bruce on comms. Then again, he didn’t even know if Bruce was alright. Didn’t know if he was still alive, for that matter.

War was a terrible, monsterous thing, he decided. It was the darkest thing he’d ever been a part of.

Peter stirred, a groan working up his throat before anything else. Tony smiled at the sound, slipping his hand up to grip the side of the kid’s neck, firm and steadying.

“There you go, Spider-Man. Wake up for me.”

For the first time in maybe his entire life, Peter actually listened to him, eyelids fluttering open, one of his previously limp hands reaching up to grab a fistful of Tony’s shirt in a jerk of alarm.

“What…? Did I…?”

He smoothed Peter’s sweat-soaked hair out of his face, hand coming away wet with watery dirt and blood. He briefly considered making a joke, filling the silence up with humor, but pushed the compulsion aside. Despite being known for being able to turn any situation into a sarcastic snip, this just… didn’t seem like the right time.

“You checked out for a second there, but it’s fine. I caught you.”

He glanced down at his watch, mouth quirking up at the corner when F.R.I.D.A.Y. pulled up Peter’s vitals without prompting. There weren’t any major injury alerts, no real reason for the kid to have nosedived, except for the fact that he hadn’t slept, or had anything to eat or drink, since leaving Earth, and had gone through two adrenaline-fueled battles since then.

To Tony, Peter had been dead for five years. But for the kid, it was only seconds. He’d just been thrown into two life-or-death situations in the span of a couple of hours. Just as soon as he’d finished fighting Thanos the first time, Strange had been dragging him along to do it all over again.

“I… I can’t stop shaking,” Peter whispered, voice strained. Tony shushed him lightly, but the kid plowed on as if he couldn’t hear him. “W-Why can’t I stop… Why can’t I stop shaking?”

“It’s just the adrenaline drop, buddy. You’re in shock.”

It took Peter nearly half a minute to process that, eyes wide and glassy, gaze fixed somewhere just to the left of Tony’s face, and ribcage expanding and retracting rapidly in the man’s hold. “But I… I’m not… I don’t…” Tony waited patiently for the kid to force his thoughts out, rubbing a hand up and down his spine as he stuttered, “I don’t… I’m not… hurt.”

Yes, you are, Tony thought, a little grim, but he just shook his head in response.

“Psychological shock, kid.”

Shell-shock, his brain helpfully provided. Your child was in a war, and this is shell-shock.

“That’s real?” Peter asked, sounding impossibly small, his eyes slowly finding Tony’s, a tiny piece of him reaching back for the present.

“Unfortunately.”

“I… I think I’d like to… to not do that, now, please.”

He forced back a snort. “Yeah, I bet. You just have to breathe.” He slid a hand up and massaged the kid’s shoulder, wincing when he felt how tight the muscles were. “Try to relax. The more you strain your muscles, the more you’re going to shake.”

“I hate this,” Peter whimpered, but Tony could feel him trying to follow his instructions, slowly transferring more and more of his weight into his arms as his body loosened. “I hate this a lot.”

“Yeah, buddy, me too.”

“I’m scared.” The admission made Tony want to cry. It was one of the worst things he’d ever heard, he decided. He never wanted Peter to be afraid ever, ever again. If he could, he would erase that emotion from his mind, smooth it away until even the echo ceased to exist. “I’m-why am I still scared?”

“It’s alright.” He tucked Peter’s head under his chin, rocking him slightly, closing his eyes against the wreckage twisting up like a city skyline all around them. “Your brain just hasn’t caught up with reality yet. It’ll get there.”

“I don’t-I don’t think I’m a very good Avenger yet, Mister Stark.”

“No, no, hush. You were brilliant. You were absolutely brilliant. We couldn’t’ve won without you, buddy.”

“Were you scared?”

Tony paused at the question. Early on, one of Morgan’s pediatricians had told him that sharing his emotions with his daughter was healthy, that showing her that joy and anger and sadness were acceptable was a vital piece of her emotional development. But, despite that advice, he’d always struggled with it. It came to Pepper so easily. She seemed to instinctively know when to feign strength and when to admit weakness. But Tony? Tony had never understood those queues, have never been very good at reading scenes.

“Yes,” he whispered, hoping this was the right thing to say. “Yeah, Pete, I’m always scared.”

“Oh.” There were a few beats of silence. “Has it really been five years?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh… Oh god.”

He could sense the panic attack coming, and scrambled to diffuse it. That was the last thing they needed, considering how limp and warm Peter had finally grown in his lap. He wasn’t about to give up their momentary peace without a fight.

“Shh, shh. That’s not what you need to worry about right now. Don’t think about what happens next, just think about now.”

“What is now?”

He paused to consider. “Well, now is us sitting right here until you’re ready to face it.”

“What… What if it takes me a really long time to be ready?”

“Then we’ll sit here for a really long time,” he answered easily.

There was the unmistakable sound of repulsers firing off to his right, followed by the clatter of a suit landing in the nearby distance.

“Tones,” he glanced up to take in Rhodey and Steve, both loitering a few feet away, as if Tony was projecting some invisible boundary that neither was willing to cross, “you both good?”

“Yeah, we’re doing fine,” he said, surprised that his voice kept the same soothing quality he’d been using with Peter. From the looks on Rhodey and Steve’s faces, they were pretty shocked by it, too. “Just taking a quick breather. Enjoying the sunset.”

“Yeah?” Rhodey’s gaze flickered around them, drinking in the destruction, the death. “You maybe wanna take a breather somewhere else? Strange says the ruins aren’t structurally sound.”

Tony pulled back just enough to look down at Peter’s face, carefully wiping away some of the blood crusting under his nose. “What do you say, Pete? You ready?”

“Yeah,” the kid whispered, slowly pushing himself upright, although Tony kept a tight grip on his bicep as they both staggered to their feet, just in case. “Yeah, I’m good.”

They stood there for a few more seconds, both just breathing and existing and settling themselves in the fact that they still had the ability to do either of those things.

Then, Peter smiled.

“Hey, what’s all that gray stuff in your hair?”

“Watch it, punk,” he said, grinning back. 

The kid was still way too pale, tiny tremors running through him, but he was there. He was present. He was reaching for normalcy, for a tether, and Tony could do that. He could help him with that.

“God, I’ve got so much to tell you,” he breathed, thinking about Morgan. About the cabin, the lake, the Spider-Man murals littering every alley of Queens.

Peter, on the other hand, seemed to be fixating on another topic entirely.

“Did I miss any Star Wars movies?” Peter asked, leaning gratefully into Tony’s side as he pulled him under his arm.

“Mhm. D’you wanna know what the title of Episode IX is?”

“Oh, my god, did I miss it? Really?”

This was the aftermath of violence, Tony thought. It was picking his way through corpses with a child soldier glued to his side, reaching for childhood comforts because being young was all he had ever known. It was knowing that Peter would file the scent of burnt flesh and the sounds of final groans alongside memories of crayons and field trips to science museums. It was the loss of innocence happening right in front of him, watching reality erode at the grace period that Peter had before he was thrust from child into man.

“Yeah, you did. It’s, uh, it’s the Rise of Skywalker,” he forced out, voice strained. He hoped Peter didn’t notice, hoped he was too absorbed with those final dregs of naivety to recognize the scope of what these moments truly were.

By some miracle, Tony actually got what he’d asked for, and Peter just kept talking like his mentor hadn’t lied through his teeth, earlier, when he told him that it was over. That the war was done, ended, buried six solid feet beneath their feet.

This kind of violence never ceased. The moment Peter had first stepped onto that battlefield, there was never any hope of him getting to step off.

Tony just prayed he didn’t realize that for a long, long time.

Chapter Text

It was late. There was a full moon shining in through the window, casting the only light into the cabin’s living room. It had been out earlier, too, ghosting against the cloudless blue sky long before sunset. Peter had made a face when he’d seen it, had glanced over to Tony with mischief in his eyes and made a quip about how disconcerting it was to see things in places where they didn’t belong.

Like volcanoes in oceans, he supposed. Like the moon in daytime. Like a Stark as a father.

Pepper and Morgan had retreated to bed hours ago, unblemished by war and bloodshed and the insomnia that came with it. Peter, on the other hand, was curled into his chest, breathing life into darkness.

Neither of them had spoken for a long, long time. But when Peter shifted, fingers brushing more firmly against his side, Tony anticipated his voice a good few seconds before it finally came.

“What was it like?” Peter asked, the silence parting around his words like rippling water.

He didn’t shift, didn’t pull his gaze away from the moon in the window. The atmosphere was too peaceful for that. He didn’t want to break whatever spell had fallen over the room. It felt sinful to do that. It felt unclean.

“What was what like?” He murmured, fingers smoothing through Peter’s hair.

“The five years.”

His eyes snapped down to Peter, previous reverence forgotten. He assumed that he must look incredibly inelegant: craning his neck until his chin hit his chest, eyes wide, staring down the child laying half on top of him.

Peter didn’t move an inch. If he sensed Tony’s sudden alarm, he didn’t acknowledge it. His eyes stayed shut, expression peaceful, relaxed.

Like he hadn’t just forced Tony to reconcile with the most complicated period of his life.

What were those five years like? He wished he could tell Peter that they had been agony, that he’d spent every second of his days mourning his loss. It’s what he would’ve done, what he had wanted to do, if Pepper hadn’t pressed that positive pregnancy test into his hands.

There had been a desperate hope on her face when she’d done it: something wild and primal. She’d needed him, he’d realized. Needed him to step up, to provide, to fill the shoes that fathers were expected to fill. She was terrified that he was going to abandon her, that he would be swept away on a wave of grief, never to return.

That she would have to raise their child without him.

He couldn’t do that to her, no matter what his misery had wanted. And once Morgan had arrived, a precious bundle of midnight wails and morning giggles, he’d loathed the idea of raising his little girl in a house swallowed up by a perpetual wake.

It had taken time, but he’d moved on. He’d lived. Or, at the very least, he’d moved on as much as a man who’d lost a child could.

“I missed you,” he whispered, because it was true. He had missed Peter. Even as the immediate agony had dulled, there had always been a piece of him missing Peter.

“Rhodey said that you did better than he thought you would.”

There was a hint of accusation in the words, an undercurrent of hurt that Tony could understand, could relate to. Of course Peter would resent coming back to a world that had left him behind. The kid was good, he was kind, but he was still human. There was a piece of everyone that hoped, no matter how cruelly, that their death would leave irreparable damage. That they would be a tragedy that left no hope of recovery.

He understood.

“I had to,” he said slowly. “I had Morgan.”

“Yeah,” Peter breathed. “Morgan.”

“She was an accident, you know,” he blurted.

The kid’s eyes snapped open at that, head jerking up so their gazes could meet. There was confusion on Peter’s face, but there was hope, too. A tentative need for more.

“What do you mean?”

He had to get this right. He had to. Morgan would’ve been a hard enough addition for Peter to conceptualize in an ideal scenario, and this was anything but.

The kid hadn’t seen any of the in-between. Hadn’t seen Tony mourn, hadn’t seen how hard he’d sobbed when May had first held Morgan in her arms, looked up to him and said oh, Tony, he would’ve adored her in a voice that sounded like breaking. He didn’t know that, at playgroups, he’d get asked is this your only child? and immediately respond with no, I have two kids, actually, one just Vanished and watch the understanding pour over the other parents’ faces.

Peter didn’t know any of these things, but Tony could tell him.

“Morgan was an accident,” he repeated. “We… We didn’t plan her. Did I ever tell you that before?”

“No.”

“Well, I didn’t. Plan her, I mean. We didn’t.” He took a breath. “When I got back to Earth, I told Pepper that I didn’t want another kid. And then I… well, I really didn’t do well for those first few months. Spent all my time in the lab trying to figure out a way to reverse the Snap, to find a way to fix it. It was a dead end, of course. There wasn’t a way, not before Scott came back and gave me what I needed to invent time travel, but none of that mattered to me then. I felt like if I stopped working, I was giving up on you. And I just… I couldn’t face that.”

“Tony…”

“Shh, the adult is talking.” The phantom smile flashed across Peter’s face at the familiar line, and it gave him the propulsion to keep going, the necessary incentive to keep blindly groping for the right words. “When Pepper told me she was pregnant, I thought I was going to throw up.”

He could see amusement crash into the insecurity in Peter’s eyes, unbalanced and cliff-edge. “Did you?”

“No. Had a panic attack, though. Locked myself in the lab for a couple of days, although I didn’t actually work on anything. I stayed in there long enough to realize that I had to get up. I had to keep going. I didn’t have a choice, not anymore, not when there was a child waiting for me to get my shit together. You wouldn’t have wanted me to abandon my life, and I knew that, even if I wasn’t ready to admit it yet.”

“Of course I wouldn’t’ve,” Peter whispered, and he seemed to take some comfort in saying it, as if that fact lifted some of the guilt.

Tony knew that, above all else, the kid felt guilty. He felt guilty about dying, felt guilty about being so angry at the world for moving on while he was gone. It was a tremendous weight to bear. Too much, Tony thought, for someone so young.

Then again, Peter seemed to be the poster child for taking on responsibilities that were meant to be years ahead of him.

“There we go then,” he murmured, dropping his head back onto the arm of the couch, then pausing.

The conversation didn’t feel done. It didn’t feel complete. It was a subtlety that he might’ve let slide five years ago, but not now.

“Peter,” he picked his head back up, set two fingers under the kid’s chin and made sure that their eyes met again, “Morgan’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

More hurt. Tony hadn’t even realized how much these thoughts had been weighing on Peter until now, how over-full his brain must’ve felt with them.

The kid swallowed, nodding almost imperceptibly. Tony might’ve missed the movement if he hadn’t felt it press down against his hand. “Of course she is.”

“Yeah, but she’s tied.”

“With what?”

He gave Peter’s shoulder a playful shove. “With meeting you, dumbass.”

“Oh.”

“Oh.”

They were quiet again, a completeness filling the air. Tony let his eyes draw back to the moon, still peeking in through the window. Out of the corner of his vision, he caught Peter’s gaze drifting to the same spot.

“I’m glad you have Morgan,” Peter finally said, and while Tony peeled his gaze away from the sky, the kid didn’t. “And I’m… I’m really glad you were happy.”

It was, somehow, an apology and a forgiveness in one. An acceptance of the years that had been lost and could never be re-found.

He tilted his head, eyes tracing over Peter’s profile slowly.

“I’m even happier now.”

The kid still didn’t look at him, but the corner of his mouth quirked up.

“Me too.”

Chapter Text

F.R.I.D.A.Y. told her that Peter was in the workshop.

It was dark outside her window. Way past her bedtime, for sure, but she knew that her mom wouldn’t care. Not today. Never today.

She was still quiet while going down the stairs, though, just in case her mom was still awake. She might be. Morgan never really knew how she might act on today, but she knew it probably wouldn’t be normal.

Her dad’s workshop wasn’t locked, but she wasn’t really allowed inside. Well, she was, just not usually alone. Someone had to be with her because there was dangerous stuff in there. Her Dad’s old suits, inventions he’d been working on when he died, things that he’d built years and years before. She was pretty sure it would be fine for her to go in now, though, because Peter was there. She pushed open the door and saw him right away, leaning over her dad’s old workbench.

“What’re you doing?” She asked, hovering awkwardly in the entrance.

Peter jolted, swinging to stare at her. He was in his Spider-Man suit, but it was torn and singed in multiple places. Like he’d been in a fight. Like he’d been in a fight and lost.

He winced, hand pressed up against his side. Even in the dark, she could see blood dripping down his gloves.

“Morgan?” He looked like he’d been caught doing something he shouldn’t, shuffling nervously as he avoided her eyes. “What’re you doing in here?”

She flicked the light on, then crossed her arms, angry because she was scared. Because Peter always did this, always acted like she was a baby and he had to protect her. “I asked you first.”

“Don’t be a brat,” he said, but not unkindly. He was never unkind to her, even though sometimes she kinda wished that he would be. “Go to bed. Your mom’ll be mad if she finds you down here this late.”

“She’ll be mad if you bleed on Dad’s stuff, too.”

Peter flinched at the reference. Everyone did that. They always had. Sometimes she felt a little bad, because she had never shouldered Dad’s memory as painfully as the rest of her family. People talked about him and she got sad, yeah, but not sad like Mom and Peter did. She hadn’t really known him long enough.

“I’m not bleeding on Dad’s stuff.”

“You’re bleeding on the floor.”

He quirked up an eyebrow, smirking a little while he did it. It was the look he always used when he wanted to annoy her, but it always made Mom laugh, so she didn’t know how she felt about it.

“But not on Dad’s stuff.”

“You’re stupid,” she snapped, then went to grab the first-aid kit that was still hanging by the door. “You’re really really really stupid.”

“Y’know, I didn’t actually come here to get berated by a ten-year-old.”

Now she glared, throwing the kit on the worktable with a loud smack. “What’s ‘berated’ mean?”

Peter popped the kit open with the hand that wasn’t covered with blood, absentmindedly flicking through the contents. “It means what you’re doing right now. And it’ll be what your mom does when she finds you awake, too.”

“She won’t find me.”

“F.R.I.D.A.Y.’ll tell her soon.”

“She won’t bother her today.”

Peter’s face looked sad, all of a sudden, and Morgan felt a little bad about that. She kept forgetting that today was a hurting day. It was easier for her to pretend that it wasn’t.

“Yeah,” Peter muttered, twisting away from her and shoving a wad of gauze against his stomach. “Yeah, I guess she probably won’t.”

She knew that she was probably supposed to be quiet now. Even more, she guessed that Peter probably wanted her to leave. He didn’t like it when she saw him hurt, but it still happened a lot. Mom and Uncle Rhodey said it was because being a superhero was dangerous, and that always made her laugh because she knew that. She didn’t have a dad because being a superhero was dangerous.

“Is that why you’re bleeding? ‘Cause today is today?” She blurted, and Peter turned to watch her again.

“I’m bleeding because I got cut,” he said after a while, but he was talking all slow, like he was thinking everything through too much. Mom did that sometimes, usually when Morgan asked questions about Dad, but sometimes when she asked about other things, too.

“But why’d you get cut?”

Peter snorted. “Because people on meth are crazy.”

“What’s meth?”

“You’ll find out when you’re older,” Peter said, but he was smiling so she couldn’t really be mad at him. “I’m fine, Morgan. I heal quick.”

“Yeah, but you still got hurt in the first place.” She pointed at Dad’s workbench, accusing. “Was it because of today?”

“I already told you that it wasn’t.”

“No you didn’t. You just said it was because of something else, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be because of today, too.”

Peter smiled at her, but it wasn’t his happy smile, like the one he’d given her when he’d stayed over during a snowstorm last winter and she’d woken him up at sunrise so they could build a snowman together. No, this one was more like the one he’d given her when she’d been much smaller, and made him a card in class for Father’s Day because everyone had to make one and she didn’t have a dad to make hers for. She hadn’t understood why he’d looked so sad at the time, but she did now. He was always sad when he was thinking about Dad.

“You’re a lot like your father, sometimes,” he said, and there was the sadness, dripping down all over his face. “I’m not always sure that it’s a good thing.”

“Mom says that about you a lot,” she shot back.

“Yeah, I know.”

Peter hissed as he peeled the gauze away from his side, peering down at it with a badly concealed wince, and Morgan found herself scared-angry all over again.

“You’re gonna get really hurt one day,” she said quietly. She pulled anxiously on her pajama shirt while she spoke, surprised by how quickly she felt tears prick at her eyes.

Peter seemed to notice the change. He pressed the gauze back down over the cut, reaching out for her with his other hand. She stepped out of his reach, knowing it was petty and not really caring.

“Morgan…”

“I didn’t know really know Dad,” she whispered. It looked like Peter was going to butt in, but she kept talking before he could. “You and Mom tell me stories about him, and I learn about him in class, but I didn’t know him. I only remember him a little.”

Even though Peter still had blood on his hands, it looked like what Morgan had said was wounding him more than whatever injuries he was hiding underneath his suit. He stared back at her with wide eyes, fingers twitching where he was grasping both his side and Dad’s worktable. “I know, Morgan, I’m so sorry…”

“Shut up. I don’t want you to apologize. I want you to stop being stupid.” She took a breath, clenching her fists at her side. “I’m making a point. I didn’t have Dad but I did have you. And Dad… Dad died doing the same thing that you do all the time, and I know that you did a dangerous thing tonight because today is six years since he died and that’s stupid. It’s just… It’s so stupid.”

“Morgan, I-”

“I don’t want you to die,” she whispered, but it cut Peter’s voice off like she’d hit him. “You… You can’t. Not like Dad did. I won’t let you.”

Peter’s eyes were shining, and she felt a little bad. In fact, she wasn’t really angry at all anymore. She was just sad, and scared, and she missed her dad, and she hated it when she missed her dad because it was like missing the idea of a thing rather than a real thing, and she just wished she had a real thing to miss. Like Mom or Peter or Uncle Rhodey did.

“Morgan, come here,” Peter murmured, tossing the gauze onto the table and holding out his arms in a silent invitation.

She didn’t hesitate. She jumped forward, slinging her arms around his neck. Peter always seemed so tall to her, so strong and steadfast. 

She hated the material of the Spider-Man suit, it was all slippery and smelled a little like rubber, but she ignored it because it was still Peter underneath. Nothing else really mattered besides that.

“I won’t die like Dad did, Morgan,” Peter said into her ear, voice hitching on Dad, like it did a lot when they talked about him. “I promise.”

“Good,” she whispered back, throat tight and aching, “cause I’ll be really mad if you do.”

“Well,” Peter huffed a laugh against the crown of her head, “we can’t have that.”

“Yeah, cause then Dad’ll have to come back and kill you.”

“He would,” he said, voice wet. He paused for a moment, reaching up to ruffle her hair but not pulling away. “I’m getting blood all over your shirt.”

“It’s okay,” she smiled, tucking her face into his chest. It was a place she could always remember being safe, being loved. She didn’t miss the idea of her dad when Peter was there. She didn’t have to. “I’ll just make you buy me a new one.”

“Yeah,” Peter said, still chuckling and still crying, because Morgan guessed that people learned to live in contradictions when they loved someone that was dead, “I bet you will.”

Chapter Text

Tony was, for once, entirely off-duty.

Or, he was as entire off-duty as a father could be. Which, admittedly, wasn’t really off-duty at all. Either way, it felt like being off-duty, which he decided was pretty much the same thing.

The summer sun was warm on his face. He could hear the lake’s lazy waves lapping up on the shore behind him, the creak of the dock bobbing in the breeze. Clint and Natasha were at the grill, bickering over the proper way to cook a hot dog, and the rest of the team, old and new, were scattered all around the cabin’s grounds.

“No kids, huh?” Steve said, sitting down gingerly in the lawn chair set directly beside his own. It still caught him off guard, every once in a while, seeing Captain America himself so old and fragile. He was getting used to it, though, was getting used to seeing Steve as Steve rather than the idol that Howard had spent a lifetime worshiping.

He spread his arms out, leaning back and taking a deep breath of the grass-tinged air. “I’m a free man, Rogers.”

Steve’s eyes darted off to the right, where Happy, Pepper, May, and Peter were all busy playing with Morgan and Clint’s kids in a makeshift slip-n-slide. “But for how long?”

He grinned. “For as long as some soap and water can keep them occupied, and that’s quite long enough for me. I’ll be missing them desperately in about,” he glanced down at his watch, “twelve minutes.”

“I’m sure Peter will come fuss over you long before then.”

“Oh, I hope not.” He watched the kid’s face, bright and smiling, completely removed from the horrors that plagued their in-between moments, and let the sight cradle joy in his chest. “He deserves to forget about all that for a while.”

“Mm,” Steve hummed. “How’s the arm?”

“Serviceable,” he said, holding up the prosthetic, admiring the way the sun glinted off the gray metal. “Pete’s already got some schematics drawn up for a replacement. Morgan wants to help him decorate it, so I’m sure that’ll be a disaster.”

Steve snorted. “Kids.”

“Yeah.” He smiled, love running through him as he listened to Peter and Morgan’s twin laughter drift over on the breeze. “Kids.”

Of course, that was a very peaceful moment, and peace wasn’t really the kind of thing that lasted around the Stark household. Usually, it was the shattering of a vase or the wailing of a skinned knee that broke it.

This time, however, it was the simultaneous screech of multiple emergency signals. Half of the gathered party scrabbled to silence them, reading through the alert with furrowed brows. Tony reached for his own, then realized, in a delayed reintroduction with reality, that he didn’t have one.

Iron Man was retired. Tony Stark wasn’t a superhero anymore. He was just a man. Which, really, was exactly what he wanted to be, most of the time.

Then his eyes fell on Peter, webshooters folding down over his hands, and he wasn’t so sure.

“C’mon, Spider-geek,” Sam shouted, fastening his shield over his arm, wings already engaged and unfurling in preparation for takeoff. “Your Octopus friend is trying to take over the world again. It’s all hands on deck.”

The Iron Spider suit was already crawling over the kid’s skin. It was quite a sight. Eerily beautiful, if he could forget that the technology had been born of paranoia and war. Tony had never really had the chance to appreciate the dance of the nanites before, had always been inside the suit or watching Peter plummet thousands of feet, limp and unconscious.

“Yeah, yeah,” Peter called, flexing his fingers as the nanotech settled over them. “I’m coming, I’m coming.”

Morgan grabbed his leg, and the mask retracted as he looked down at her.

“Are you gonna go fight the bad guys?” She asked, eyes full of stars.

“Sure am.”

“Ooh,” she whispered, bouncing up and down in excitement, still clinging to the kid’s thigh. “Don’t let them catch you!”

“Don’t worry, M. Bad guys never catch Spider-Man.”

Tony pushed up from his chair, conscious of Steve’s gaze burning into his back. He didn’t know what he was trying to do. Stop Peter from going? No, not that, although that didn’t mean that he didn’t want to. He understood the call to war. Once you stepped into a suit, it was hard to step back out.

Tony had only done so because he’d been dragged, kicking and screaming. Because he was missing an arm, and a good portion of his lung function, and his entire right side was weakened and scarred. He hadn’t had a choice, and maybe that was a good thing. If he’d been given one, he probably would’ve died in the armor.

He was terrified by the very real possibility that that was how Peter would meet his end, too. That there would be nothing powerful enough to overcome the kid’s morals, his call to duty. He would die a hero, and people would call that a triumph, but Tony would still call it dead.

He saw May brush forward, cup Peter’s face, smile at him. There was fear in her silhouette: the same fear he’d seen in Pepper over and over and over again. For the first time, he felt it too. The fear of being the one left behind. The fear of waiting.

The fear of waiting forever.

Peter trotted over to him after he’d said goodbye to May, which left him a little warm and fuzzy inside. Before the kid could open his mouth, Tony leaned forward and pressed a kiss to his forehead, then pulled back and grabbed his shoulder, shaking him a little as he fought back another wave of helplessness.

“Swing fast,” he whispered, because it was the only thing he could think of, the only words that weren’t too raw to say in front of so many eyes.

Peter smiled, and it occurred to Tony that he looked older, now. Less child, more man. His posture was confident, eyes sparkling. He looked like a hero, like the kind of person that always won in the movies.

He looked like the future Tony had been waiting for.

He’d finally passed the torch. He could see the bearer standing in front of him, and he was proud. 

“Save me some hot dogs,” Peter quipped, winking, “and don’t let Morgan eat all the cake. I need, like, at least two slices all for myself.”

“You come back safe,” he murmured, “and I’ll give you all the hot dogs and cake you could ever want.”

“Square deal.”

“Parker!” Sam barked, waving him over with a smirk on his face. “The longer you wait, the more likely it is that your old man’s gonna kick it before we get back. As it is, we’re placing team bets on Steve.”

“Very funny, Sam,” Steve drawled.

“I heard you the first time, Cap!” Peter called over his shoulder, then turned back to Tony to grin. “Love you.”

He patted the side of the kid’s face, swallowing to cover up how terrified he was by the prospect of Peter going to fight a battle without him. That had never happened before. They hadn’t faced a world-threatening force since Thanos. Despite logic, Tony had been hoping that the finale really would be the finale. That they could rest now.

“Love you too, kid. Now go on,” he made a shooing motion with his hands, metal prosthetic catching in the light, a permanent reminder of his final act as Iron Man, as a hero, “the world’s waiting for Spider-Man to save the day.”

Soft nostalgia sparked in Peter’s eyes: the remnants of the first day they’d met, when he’d tripped over his words, too starstruck to think straight. “I’ll never be as good at it as you.”

“No,” he agreed, physically spinning the kid and shoving him in Sam’s direction, because he knew that if he didn’t, they’d both linger there forever. “You’ll be better.”

Peter jogged away laughing, shooting a web to the base of the Falcon’s wings to hitch a ride, in the same way that he would’ve done with Tony’s suit, if the world had spun them into a different route that day. Right before they took off, the kid swung to face Morgan and offered her a dramatic solute, letting the mask fold over his face, only a few shades darker than hotrod red. She clapped for him, little voice raised up in a cheer.

Tony sank back down into his chair, sparing Steve a halfhearted glance. They were pieces of history, now. The generation moving aside, content to be left behind.

They’d left the world in better hands, there was no doubt about that. Sometimes, though, Tony really wished that it didn’t have to be the hands of one of his kids. 

Chapter Text

Tony had been in a lot of firefights in his time, but he never got used to them.

He didn’t really know if that was a good thing or a bad thing. If it showed that he’d retained some of his humanity, or if it proved that he had always been ill-suited to the superhero job.

Then again, when the popping of gunfire went off and the world exploded into shattered glass and screaming, none of that philosophical pondering really mattered anymore.

Someone shoved him to the ground within a second of the first shot. The breath whooshed out of his lungs, sidewalk digging into his palms. There was shouting in his ears, the scrabble of shoes right next to his face, and then he was being hauled up. Shielded. Pushed up, down, forward. His knees his concrete, grass, asphalt. He scrabbled to call the suit, but then he remembered that he didn’t have it. He didn’t have it.

Screw Ross and his laws. Screw the Accords. Just… Just screw it all.

More gunfire. To his left, someone screamed.

A car door swung open right in front of his face, and someone shoved him inside.

Tires squealed. The car jerked as it hit a curb.

He gasped in air. Someone was talking to his right. The same someone that had pushed him down, had been shouting.

In the adrenaline drop of after, he realized that it was Rhodey. Because of course it was Rhodey. Of course.

The Colonel (which was a title that would never sit right in Tony’s gut, because the man would always just be his best friend, would always be the nerdy 18 year old who scooped him up at MIT and never let him go) was sitting beside him in the backseat, hand resting heavy on his shoulder. He looked easy and calm, especially for a man who had just been shot at. That’s probably what the military did for you, he supposed. Maybe he should’ve enlisted after all, just like Howard had wanted.

Then again, Tony had always been terrible at taking orders.

“Easy, Tony. You’re alright.”

He shook his head, tried to get a grip back on reality. His ears were still ringing, he could still hear the popping of bullets in his skull. “What-What the he-”

“Tony,” Rhodey said, firm and commanding, “breathe.”

“I am breathing,” he snapped. 

He felt like he’d lost something. Like he needed to-

He snapped back into himself like whiplash. It hurt, to hit reality at full speed, but the pain was drowned out by the terror.

Peter.

He scrabbled for Rhodey’s sleeve, fingernails tearing into his suit jacket. “Peter, Peter, Rhodey-”

He didn’t have to say anything else. Rhodey lunged forward, grabbed a walkie-talkie out of the front of the car, reaching past a driver that Tony didn’t even know the name of to do it, and started talking into it so fast that Tony’s shock-addled brain could barely keep up.

“This is Colonel Rhodes. I have Tony in the car. Is Peter secure? Does anyone have Peter Parker?”

Crackle of static. Then,

“Affirmative. I have Parker.”

Tony could’ve fainted with relief. His head swum, vision blurring at little at the edges. His chest ached, too. Probably from hitting the pavement so hard. Or, heck, maybe it was just from worry. Peter was bound to be the death of him someday.

He jerked the walkie-talkie out of Rhodey’s hands. “Get him on the line. I want to talk to him.”

“Sorry, Sir,” the voice said, and Tony didn’t recognize it, which made his heart skip, because the last time he’d seen Peter, the kid had been with Happy, going ahead to the car while Tony stopped to shake hands with the crowds gathered outside the gala. “He can’t talk right now.”

The color leeched out of the world. If Peter had been hit… if… if Peter had been hit…

Rhodey leaned forward, not pulling the walkie-talkie out of Tony’s iron-tight grasp, but slipping his hand over Tony’s so he could use it. “Is he hit?”

“No, Sir, he’s not hit.”

The reassurance only settled some of Tony’s fear. “Then why can’t he talk?”

“He’s… He’s vomiting in the car, Sir.”

“What the he-”

Rhodey gripped his shoulder again, shaking him a little to catch his attention. “Easy, Tony, this happens sometimes.”

What an absurd thing to say. How could anyone be so calm about his child vomiting in a car. There was nothing normal about his child vomiting in a car. 

Had he mentioned that his child was vomiting in a car?

He grit his teeth until his jaw ached. “What do you mean this happens sometimes?”

“I mean that it happens,” Rhodey snapped. “He might’ve gotten an elbow in the stomach, but it’s probably just shock.”

Just shock. Shock. They’d just been shot at, almost certainly because of Tony, and now his kid was in shock.

He regretted everything. He didn’t even know what everything encompassed, but he knew that he regretted it all the same.

“Is Happy with him?”

There was more static. The empty crackling was driving Tony mad.

“Hogan put him in the car.”

His stomach flipped. “But he’s not with him?”

“No, Sir. But he’s got two security guards with him, Sir, as well as me.”

Rhodey’s brow furrowed. “Why isn’t Happy in the car?”

“Hogan put the kid in the car then stayed behind for the ID agent. He thinks he saw something, something that might be-”

They hit a pothole. Pain, sharp and hot, lanced up his side. He gasped, reaching up to grab the spot with a wince. He kept his eyes trained desperately on the walkie-talkie, as if he could stare through the plastic and see Peter on the other side.

He heard Rhodey take a sharp breath, and then his chin was being gripped, gaze jerked away from the only line he had to Peter, to his kid-

“Tony?” Rhodey’s eyes searched his face. There was something wet on his lips. “Tony, did you get hit?”

He blinked at him. What? Did he get hit? Peter was vomiting in the backseat of a car, doors and steel and roads away from him, and Rhodey was asking stupid questions like did you get hit?

Hands dragged up his side, came away wet, and suddenly, Rhodey didn’t look very calm anymore.

“Turn around!” He shouted to the driver. “We’ve got a GSW.” Rhodey was grabbing his face again, forcing their eyes together. “Tony, breathe. Don’t pass out.”

He glared. “I’m not gonna pass out.”

The car jerked in a 180, tires squealing against the damp pavement. Rhodey steadied him as they tilted.

“Where’s Peter going?” He gasped, vision still swimming from the sudden change of inertia. “Where are they taking Peter?”

“To the Tower.”

“Where are you taking me?”

“To the hospital.”

“No, no. Take Peter… he needs to get looked at, too. And I wanna see him.”

I have to see him.

For a second, it looked like Rhodey was going to argue. Then, he just nodded, acquiescent, and used the hand not pressed against Tony’s abdomen to grab the walkie-talkie again.

“Bring Peter to the hospital. We’re taking Tony there now.”

Static. Then, the same voice as before.

“Affirmative. The kid wants to know why.”

Tony jerked a hand up, wrapped bloody fingers around Rhodey’s wrist. “Rhodey, don’t tell him.”

“He’ll find out when he gets to the hospital anyway, Tony,” he hissed, then spoke his next words into the walkie-talkie. “It’s a minor gunshot wound. Tell the kid that he’s conscious, talking, and still being a pain in my ass.”

He grinned.

Yeah, that’d make the kid feel better.

There was a stretcher and a medical team waiting for him as soon as they arrived.

Apparently, being a high-profile superhero billionaire won you some pretty good emergency medical care. Who knew.

It did not, however, win you any breaks in the pain department. Moving him onto the gurney still absolutely sucked. He’d been shot before, which probably wasn’t something a lot of people in the world could say, but he always seemed to forget just how much it hurt.

Rhodey was talking rapidly to one of the nurses as they wheeled him into the hospital and down a hallway.

“He’s got a GSW in his abdomen. Entry and exit wounds.”

The nurse nodded. “BP is 134 over 78. Pulse is 108. What’s his pulse ox?”

“98,” someone else shouted, just out of Tony’s view.

A man in a white coat was jogging beside the gurney. He was the first person to actually address him, smiling thinly. “Mister Stark, I’m Doctor Keller. I’m the trauma surgeon on duty. Considering the circumstances, everything is looking pretty steady. The exit wound is a good sign when it comes to any possible internal damage and we’re really liking your vitals.”

He felt like snarling. None of this was what he wanted. He didn’t care about the hole in his stomach. He cared that somewhere, his kid was vomiting all alone in the back of a car. 

“I swear to all that is holy,” he spat, “if I don’t speak to my kid in the next five minutes, I’m gonna attack someone.”

“He’s on his way, Tony,” Rhodey reassured.

“He’d better be.”

They rolled him into a trauma room, stopping in the middle and not wasting another second before swarming him. He heard the click of the stretcher’s breaks, the chatter of voices saying bits and pieces of things he understood and things he didn’t. Pairs and pairs and pairs of unfamiliar hands were touching him, poking and prodding and attaching monitors. There was a sting in the crook of his elbow as one of the nurses started an IV.

“Okay, Sir,” Doctor Keller said, patting his shoulder, “we’re just gonna get you stabilized. Do you have any medical conditions?”

“Well,” he drawled, “I’ve been shot. Does that count?”

Rhodey snorted.

He reached out and grabbed a nurse’s wrist as she reached for his IV, then re-found Doctor Keller’s face. “I want you to wait until I’ve seen my kid before you give me the anesthesia. Do you understand?”

Thankfully, the surgeon seemed to understand who was in charge in this situation, and it certainly wasn’t him or his staff.

“Of course.”

He let of the rest of the minutes blur by, nodding along with whatever Doctor Keller and his nurses said and trusting Rhodey to actually be paying attention.

Then the doors swung open, and a receptionist pushed Peter through.

Despite the pain still burning up his side, he could breathe again.

The kid was pale, shaking. His wide eyes blew even wider when he took in the scene in front of him: nurses and blood and all. 

“Tony?”

“I’m okay,” he called gently, pain getting shoved in the backseat, everything getting shoved in the backseat in favor of this kid, his kid.

“Tony?!” Peter repeated, more frantic this time despite Tony’s attempt to comfort him, and he rushed forward, slipping past the nurses and Rhodey and bumping into the gurney’s guard rail in his haste to get close.

“They didn’t hit anything,” he soothed, reaching up to brush some of Peter’s hair out of his face. “They’re just gonna look around and make sure.”

Peter’s eyes darted down to the bloodstain on his shirt and up to his face. “Are you… Are you in a lot of pain?”

“No. No, of course not.”

“Are you lying?”

“Of course he is,” Rhodey snarked, stepping up to grip Peter’s arm. “He wants you to tell all your friends how brave he was.”

“Duh. Plus, I want all these guys,” he gestured to the nurses, “to feed the reporters a story of how I was up-beat and joking around.”

“You are brave,” Peter said, looking close to tears.

“Peter, I’m fine,” he murmured, heart aching at how distressed the kid seemed. “I’m just so happy to see you, buddy.”

A nurse tentatively tapped his arm. “Sir? We really need to begin.”

“Right, right.” He glanced up at Rhodey. “Make him,” he jerked his chin towards Peter, “get checked out. Don’t let him talk you out of it.”

Peter was shaking his head, frantic. “No, no. I wanna stay.”

He smiled to cover up just how much the plea pierced him. “Won’t be able to fall asleep if you’re here, bud. You’re just too exciting to have around. Go on with Rhodey. I’ll see you when I wake up.”

“But-”

“Nuh-uh. No ifs, ands, or buts. I’m the adult here. Plus,” he reached out and poked Peter’s side, “I have a hole in my stomach, so I think I get the veto card right about now.”

“That’s not funny,” the kid whispered, weakly letting Rhodey pull him back, away from Tony, towards the doors.

“I thought it was pretty funny.”

“It wasn’t.”

“Well, I’ll work on my jokes.” He waved as Peter paused in the doorway. “See you later, squirt. Be good for Rhodey.”

“Don’t die,” Peter called back, voice hitching dangerously.

He nearly laughed at the absurdity of the request. “It’ll take a lot more than this to kill me, kid. Trust me on that.”

The doors slid shut, obscuring the kid’s face from view. And with Peter gone, with Peter safe, there was nothing left to cling to.

He gave the nearest nurse and thumbs up and let the drugs wash him down.

When he surfaced again, Pepper was there.

She smiled when she sensed his eyes on her, reaching forward to intertwine their fingers. “Hey, honey.”

He swallowed past the stinging in his throat. “Peter?”

“May’s got him in the waiting room,” she murmured, as if she’d been expecting the question. “They wouldn’t let him in until you were awake.”

He nodded, trying to kick his brain into gear despite the pain meds slogging through his system. “Is everyone okay?”

“There weren’t any fatalities. A few injuries, but nothing serious. Happy hit his head, but it’s only a minor concussion. They treated Peter for shock while you were in surgery, but he’s just fine now.”

The information absorbed slowly, but Pepper waited patiently. Always waiting, always patient.

“Did they catch them?”

“The gunmen?” It wasn’t an actual question, not really, but he nodded anyway as Pepper continued. “Yes. One’s dead, but the other’s been taken in for questioning.”

“Did they say why they did it?”

Something dark fell over Pepper’s face. “Yes.”

“And?”

She brushed a hand through his hair, biting worriedly at her lip. “You have to promise to stay calm.”

Foreboding was brewing in his stomach. Pepper never danced around an issue like this. She was always straightforward, bit between her teeth. 

“Please just tell me,” he whispered.

“You weren’t the target.”

He blinked, trying to process what the hell that meant.

“Then who was?”

“It was… It was Peter, sweetheart. They were trying to get Peter.”

Everything froze. There wasn’t enough oxygen in the room, wasn’t enough gravity to stop them all from peeling away from the ground. That… That couldn’t be. Peter wasn’t a target, wasn’t something that was meant to be viewed through a pair of crosshairs. Peter was a child.

“Why would they-”

Pepper was already talking, voice low. “Tony, these people are crazy-”

“But they tried to… they tried to k-”

“Yes, Tony, but we caught them, so they aren’t going to be able to try it again-”

“That’s not enough,” he hissed, bringing a hand up to cradle his tender side. “That’s… That’s not enough.”

“Oh, honey…”

“I want to see him.” He gripped the thin hospital sheets in his fist. “Please, Pep. I need to see him.”

“Alright,” she said softly, pushing to her feet, “I’ll go get him, but then you need to rest.”

“Wait. Pepper,” he called, stalling her in the doorway. “Does he know?”

Does he know who those bullets were meant for? Does he know that he wasn’t meant to make it into that car alive?

“No,” she said, voice grave.

“Let’s… Let’s keep it that way, yeah?”

She jerked her head in response. “I’m on it.”

It looked like Peter’s whole body went dizzy with relief when Pepper pushed him into the room. It seemed to be contagious, too, because the sight of the kid’s eyes, wide and hopeful, made his chest go fuzzy.

“See?” He grinned, gesturing at himself with his IV free arm. “Even old men can got shot and survive nowadays. Modern medicine is just that good.”

“You’re okay,” Peter breathed, and he sounded so airy and out-of-body that Tony was genuinely worried that he might just faint.

He kept up his smile, beckoning gently, trying to get the kid close enough that he could catch him if he did. “Sure am.”

“You’re okay.”

There was something manic filling up Peter’s gaze. Something that made Tony even more desperate to comfort, to protect. “Uh-huh,” he said, and the softness in his voice surprised even himself. “Everything’s alright now, buddy.”

The kid pressed himself up against the hospital bed’s barrier. “That was, uh, that was… scary.”

Peter sounded so small, and Tony was suddenly assaulted by the image of what the kid must’ve looked like while he was in surgery: frightened, alone, in shock.

He hadn’t forgotten how the kid’s uncle had died. And from the expression on Peter’s face, neither had he.

“Are you okay?” He asked, and he didn’t know entirely what he was looking for in an answer. Of course Peter wasn’t okay. At least, he wasn’t okay like that. Maybe he was asking for a different kind of okay. A superficial kind.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m okay.”

He smirked a little, reaching out to lightly poke Peter’s stomach. “No more puking?”

A blush flushed through the kid’s face, and the embarrassment was a nice change from the fear. “Shut up. At least I didn’t get myself shot.”

The words hit a little hard, considering the conversation he and Pepper had just had, but he forced himself to hide it. “To be fair, that wasn’t actually in my plan.”

“But it still happened,” Peter whispered.

“Wow,” he said, cracking a smile, trying desperately to coax the dejected look off of the kid’s face, “it’s almost like you’re starting to understand how I feel every time you go out on patrol and come home with a stab wound in your gut.”

“But that happens when I’m Spider-Man,” Peter said, voice tight and stricken.

And Tony understood. He understood the hidden meaning in the words.

“It’s not supposed to happen when we’re outside of the suits,” he murmured, finishing the kid’s unspoken thought with a gentle voice.

“Yeah.” The kid gave a jerky nod, as if solidifying something in his head. “Yeah, it’s not.”

He didn’t know what to say to that. There was… There was nothing to say. Peter was right. Why should any kid ever have to reconcile himself with the fact that people were going to shoot at them?

“I’m sorry I scared you,” he whispered, because that was all he had. It was the only truth left that wouldn’t hurt.

The corner of Peter’s mouth quirked up, and it was the first sign of a positive emotion that the kid had given him since entering the room. “Yeah, well, it was obviously your fault.”

He smiled. “Obviously.”

They’d figure it out, he supposed. His wound would heal, he’d quietly exert whatever authority he could to destroy whatever organization had targeted Peter in the first place, and the terror still lingering in the kid’s eyes would fade and flicker and die. They’d gone through worse things and survived. Peter certainly had, as much as that fact pained him.

They’d figure it out, because they didn’t have any other choice. Because they had to.

And, of course, because they always did.

Chapter Text

Peter had heard of sleep paralysis, but he was… pretty sure that this wasn’t it.

First of all, his spidey sense had been going off ever since they’d arrived at their hotel. And to be fair, the place was creepy. Plus, Tony pretty obviously agreed with him. He’d given the Victorian-esque decor surrounding the front desk one of his patented oh-god-kill-me-now glares, but had cut Peter off before he could verbalize a complaint.

It wasn’t like he didn’t know why. They were both holding their tongues for Pepper’s sake. She’d chosen the place because of it’s character, apparently, and she thought that staying somewhere with history would beat driving into the nearest city to find a Four Seasons.

Morgan, of course, had just enjoyed the gargoyles out front. Apparently, they were her new “friends.”

Peter was going to call an exorcist.

Or, actually, maybe Tony would have to call one for him, because he’d seen a decent selection of horror movies in his time, and it was never a good thing when one of the characters woke up paralyzed and staring down at a little girl sitting on the edge of their bed.

A little girl that most definitely was not Morgan.

Like he’d said, this place was creepy.

“Hello,” she said, and Peter just choked in response. He tried to ask who she was, what she wanted. More than anything, he tried to shout for Tony, but… but nothing came out. It was like there was a vice grip around his throat.

The little girl cocked her head to the side, a small, disconcerting smile on her face. “Will you play with me?”

Uh, no thank you, he thought, managing to struggle weakly on the bed, letting out tiny whimpers that would’ve been more than a little embarrassing if he wasn’t so sure that his heart was going to explode out of his ribcage, I’d actually really like for you to leave me alone to have my normal nightmares, thank you very much.

At first, he really had been 90% sure that he was dreaming. There was just… no way that this could be real. Now, though… he wasn’t so sure. He could feel sweat soaking into his t-shirt, could feel the sheets tangling uncomfortably around his ankles as he fought against the invisible force holding him silent and still. It… everything felt real.

It felt real, and that was fucking horrifying.

The little girl didn’t seem to need a response, and Peter had a feeling that the question wasn’t actually a question, anyway. Her smile didn’t fade, and she bobbed her head up and down, little pigtails bouncing as she did.

“I saw you playing with your sister, earlier. I want you to play with me, too.” Something sad fell across her face. “Nobody ever plays with me anymore. I’m all-”

His door clicked open, and the little girl stopped speaking, eyes darting over to the sliver of light falling over the bed. Suddenly, she didn’t look like a little girl anymore. Not really, at least. She seemed to be about Morgan’s age, and yet Peter had never seen that kind of pure, malevolent rageon her face before.

He hoped he never did, too.

“Shh,” she snapped, and Peter’s eyes slipped closed against his will, “you’re sleeping.”

Warmth melted through him, and his admittedly pitiful struggling stopped all at once. His breaths evened, gentled, and his head lolled off his pillow. His body felt asleep, but he was awake. He was awake.

“Pete?” Tony’s voice was safety and comfort and protection. “You have to promise not to laugh at me, but I… well, what do you and Morgan call it? My Dad Sense? Anyway, my Dad Sense was tingling. You alright in here?”

Thank god for the Dad Sense, he thought, and it tasted strangely like a prayer, if you save me, I will never knock you for it ever again. I promise. In fact, I’ve never been more serious about a promise in my life.

There were shuffling footsteps, and the mattress dipped as Tony settled down near his hip. Peter wondered if the little girl was still sitting there, too, or if she’d moved when Tony had.

Please leave. Please leave. Please, please leave.

A calloused hand smoothed over his face, brushing his sweat-soaked hair back.

“Oh, buddy,” Tony murmured, voice lowered in the soft-sweet way it always was when he thought that Peter was asleep. “Did you have a nightmare?”

The nightmare is happening, Mister Stark. As in, currently a thing. Please. Please. I’m here and I’m awake and I can’t move and I don’t know what’s happening to me.

“It’s alright.” But it’s not, Mister Stark, please, you have to help me. “I’m here now, yeah? Nothing bad’s gonna happen to you.”

It’s already happening. It’s already happened. Please, please-

“You’re really out of it, huh, kiddo?” Tony’s touch slipped away from his face, and his mentor started carefully working on untangling him from his sheets. “Did Morgan wear you out that much already?”

He found himself being tucked in, and the gentleness of Tony’s hands was a nearly comical juxtaposition with the terror filling up every inch of his body. Tony’s thumb brushed lovingly along his cheek as he moved his head back onto his pillow, his laughter quiet as he pried Peter’s hand away from the corner of the mattress, where he’d been trying to claw himself to safety.

“Sleep tight, m’kay?” Tony’s lips brushed against his forehead, and he wished he could cry. He wished he could do something. “And no more bad dreams, y’hear me? Iron Man’s orders.”

He stood up. The mattress sprung back, the floorboards creaked, footsteps moved away, paused.

An icy hand, a little icy hand, reached out and grabbed his wrist. The cold spread through him, slid up his arm, through his shoulder, up his neck, into his head. The world spun away, slow and lazy, like Mister Banner had just given him a huge dose of whatever pain meds he and Tony had synthesized for him and Mister Barnes.

Through the haze, he just barely caught Tony’s parting words.

“Love you tons, kid. See you in the morning.”

The door clicked shut, and Tony left him to his nightmare.

He… couldn’t remember when he’d started walking.

He couldn’t remember why, either, but he was holding someone’s hand. Or were they holding his hand? It felt like an important distinction, but thoughts were so heavy. So heavy and unwieldy and so obnoxiously hard to hold.

“We’re gonna go play!” A voice exclaimed. A high voice. A familiar voice, but not that familiar. It sounded like it was in his head, too. More direct and less sound wave. He didn’t know why that made sense but it did.

He didn’t know a lot of things.

They stopped in front of a building. It had flimsy glass doors, but there was a chain and padlock holding them shut. He felt a little bit like those doors. Flimsy and paper-thin and breakable. He’d never actually felt this weak before. Distantly, he could just make out a childish side of him, the side that found his current lack of control absolutely terrifying, whining and clawing and sobbing out for Tony.

He didn’t really know why, though. He didn’t feel unsafe. He just felt heavy.

The voice sounded again, somewhere to his right, and he knew that it was rude to ignore someone when they were talking to you but he felt so strange, so dazed, that the thought of turning his neck was just… too much. More than he could do, probably.

“They lock the pool during the nighttime so you’ve gotta let us in. Can you open the doors so we can play?”

He did. He barely remembered doing it, but he did. The chain snapped underneath his hands, and the voice giggled, bright and happy, and a cold grip re-found his fingers and pulled him over the threshold.

“I’ve always wanted a big brother,” the voice babbled, and he was distantly aware of the sound of the doors slammed shut behind them, even though he hadn’t touched them again. “You’ve been a good big brother to your old sister, but now it’s my turn.”

Sister? He… He had a sister. Yeah, that sounded right. She was important. He was supposed to protect her, he thought. Keep her safe. Her name was… something. Something nice. He liked her name.

They were standing in front of a metal safety railing, and the hand holding onto his tugged insistently.

“C’mon,” the voice urged, “you gotta climb over now.”

He did as he was told. The bars were cold, but so was he. He was… He was so cold. He hadn’t even realized until he’d thought about it.

God, he was freezing. It was an inside-outside freezing, too. He didn’t know that it was possible to feel ice crystals forming in your intestines but now he was pretty sure that it was happening to him in real time.

“Okay,” the voice said, cheerful, as if Peter wasn’t ice-burning, “now you’ve just gotta jump.”

He blinked his eyes open (had they been closed? Wait, how did he get here?) and took in his surroundings with numbed-out apathy. He was standing on the outside edge of a balcony. His arms were twisted awkwardly behind him, cold-stiff fingers wrapped around a metal railing, and there was a pool about a floor-drop underneath them. A covered pool. With clear plastic, maybe? He didn’t know. His vision was blurry, and his brain was mushy, and he didn’t remember how he got here.

“I can’t swim,” he said dumbly, eyelids drooping again. That seemed relevant, somehow. Like that was a thing that the voice should know.

He didn’t remember how he got here.

“I know!” The voice chirped back, and he guessed it wasn’t as relevant as he’d thought, because it sounded like the person who belonged to it was smiling. “But that’s okay. It won’t hurt, and then we can play together.”

He… He didn’t think that this was right, even though the voice seemed to think that it was. He didn’t want to jump. He didn’t want to be cold anymore, either. He wanted to go home.

He didn’t remember how he got here.

Had he climbed over the railing? He… He didn’t know. Why would he do that? He didn’t like heights.

He was scared.

“I want Mister Stark.”

The voice sounded angry, now, and Peter didn’t like that. He didn’t like making anyone angry, but he also had a weird feeling that jumping would make Mister Stark angry, and he didn’t wanna do that, either.

“I don’t want your dad. I want you,” the voice snapped, but then it softened. It had a tiny whine to it, and it reminded Peter a different voice of a different person but he didn’t know who they were. “Please? I don’t wanna be alone.”

Something slammed into the doors behind them, and even through the cold-blur, Peter kinda knew who it was before they were shouting.

“Peter?!” Tony screamed, words muffled through the glass. “Peter, look at me!”

He turned, ignoring how much effort it took, and blinked back at the man’s fear-struck face in a daze.

“Mister Stark?” He asked, and even though it felt like he was talking around ice, the moment felt like a gasp of clarity.

Oh, god. Oh god. Why was he up here? Why was he so cold? Why was he actually considering jumping into a-

Something grabbed his wrist and pushed.

He was in freefall. Air rushed past him, and the clarity slipped away like stability in, well, in a freefall.

He was so cold, so confused and unsure and so, so tired.

He hit the plastic hard, and then he was underwater. It was cold and loud and he thrashed and thrashed and thrashed, scared and numb and wrapped in ice and vice and parachute and pool cover and the distant buzz of Tony screaming for him.

At some point, he managed to break free from the plastic and clawed desperately up to the surface for a precious gasp of air, but then he was being shoved down, down, down all over again, and Tony was still screaming and Peter hated that he was making him sound so animalistic, so horror-fueled and afraid, but he didn’t know how to make it stop because nothing made sense anymore and he didn’t know where to swim, where to hit or kick or punch, and his vision was blotting out and his lungs were screaming, aching, desperately trying to force him to-

He gasped, and water rushed down his throat.

The world went quiet. Soft, almost. He stopped thrashing, limbs giving in, adrenaline throwing in the towel. It was nice. He guessed he understood what the voice meant, now. There was a peacefulness to this, a relief in losing touch. Tony’s shouts didn’t sound so sad anymore. He stopped processing the intent, only focused on how nice it was to hear his voice.

He only half heard the sound of shattering glass, only half heard the chaos of closer shouts, only half heard the huge splash of another body hitting the water a few feet away. He only half felt a new wave of water bob over his head, only half felt strong arms wrap desperately around his chest, only half felt his body be pulled up, to the side, over the lip of the pool and be settled down on cold tile.

He guessed he could probably breathe at this point, but he was so cold. So heavy. Waterlogged and undone. Maybe he’d just… maybe he’d just sleep instead.

“Peter,” Tony’s voice gasped above him, also sounding heavy and waterlogged and undone. “Peter, kiddo, don’t do this.”

“Tony, sweetheart, roll him over.” Oh, that was someone that Peter knew, too. He’d probably be able to recall her name if he didn’t feel about half a second away from slipping into oblivion. “We need to drain the water out of his lungs.”

Someone rolled him over, cushioned the side of his face so it didn’t bang against the floor. Hands rubbed at his chest, thumped at his spine. His lungs spasmed, stomach roiling like he was about to vomit, and it didn’t feel nice at all but then Tony seemed beyond happy about it, sobs of relief spilling out and his hands rubbed up and down his back, soothing and coaxing and Peter didn’t like how sick and tired he felt but he did like that. He liked that a lot.

“There you go, buddy.” Tony was crying. He was crying and choking and Peter felt really, really bad about that. “That’s it. Just like that. Cough it up. You… You gotta cough it up, Pete, you’ve gotta breathe.”

And he did. He gagged, coughed, gagged again as water and bile rushed back up his throat, burned through his nose. His first breath hurt like nothing else had ever hurt in his life, but he took a second because Tony was begging him to.

He didn’t remember how he got here.

Had he fallen into water?

“Shh, shh. That’s it. You’re doing so well, Peter. You’re doing so well.”

“Tony, we need to call an ambulance.”

“No, fuck. No. They’ll want to run blood tests and then they’ll figure out that something’s up with his DNA. And they’ll wanna know how he ended up in the pool, and if we tell them the truth then they’ll put him on suicide watch-”

Peter pried his eyes open, and the rest of Tony’s breathless speech seemed to die on his tongue. 

“Hey, hey,” the man murmured. His palm settled against Peter’s cheek, and the warmth was nice. It was so nice. He was so cold. “You’re okay, bud. I’ve gotcha.”

Something moved over Tony’s shoulder, by the pool edge, and Peter’s eyes lazily tracked the silhouette. It was a little girl, gray dress swaying around her knees, and he blinked. Stopped. Remembered.

He remembered. He remembered how he got there.

“T’ny,” he slurred, cold creeping up his neck, into his chest. He tried to grab a fistful of the man’s shirt, but he couldn’t move. All he managed was a weak twitching of his fingers. “T’ny, you gotta… ‘s a…”

“What, Pete?” Tony asked, eyes wide and wild. “What is it that you need?”

“No!” The little girl snapped, stomping her foot against the ground, flickering and blipping, aura bright and screaming. “No! You’re supposed to play with me.”

An ice-cold shock raced through him, like the opposite of lightning, and his eyes rolled back.

His eyes rolled back but he was still awake, just like earlier, because he remembered that now, he remembered all of it, but it also wasn’t just like earlier because his muscles were tensing and he felt his arms jerk inwards, felt his ankles drag against the floor, heard the little choking noises coming out of his own mouth.

He was going to die. She’d tried to drown him and that didn’t work so now she was doing this, and he was going to die.

At least Tony was holding him this time.

Tony, who was crying again. Tony, who’s shaking fingers were dragging desperately over his face. Tony, who’s voice cracked on every syllable but who refused to stop his comforting ramble no matter how often he tripped over himself.

“Oh, god. No, no, no. It’s-It’s okay, Peter. Everything’s gonna be okay. Mister Stark’s here and he’s gonna fix it, alright? It’s okay. I-Pep, call Banner. No, fuck, call Strange. Tell him to get his magical ass here yesterday. Pete? You still with me? I know it hurts but you’re safe. You’re safe, baby. You’re safe and I’m-I’m right here.”

He was so cold. Everything hurt. Something warm and coppery was filling his mouth, and he knew that that was wrong but then again he also knew that there were about a hundred other wrong things happening all at once, and everything was terrifying. He was supposed to be a superhero and superheroes weren’t supposed to be scared of stuff but maybe he wasn’t a very good superhero at all because everything was terrifying.

Something hissed to life by his head, and an orange light glowed through his eyelids. Tony was shouting at someone, using the I’m-not-actually-angry-I’m-just-scared voice that he did sometimes, when Peter or Morgan got into a mess that they shouldn’t have, and someone else was shouting back, and the clatter of voices was making his head hurt even more than it already did.

But then it all faded into quiet and Tony was talking to him again. He wasn’t yelling, either, which Peter liked because he really didn’t like it when Tony yelled at him. In fact, his tone was so soft that Peter could barely hear it through the blood rushing in his ears.

“You’re not allowed to die on me again,” Tony whispered, and Peter wished he could breathe. He wished he could promise Tony that he wouldn’t. “You’ve faced worse than this and come out the other side, Parker, so don’t you… don’t you dare die.”

Time didn’t seem to make sense for a while after that. For all Peter knew, he’d been seizing for ten years, or ten hours, or ten minutes, or ten seconds. The only constant, the only consistent thing, were Tony’s hands brushing something wet off his face and Tony’s voice running and running and running, until it turned into a while noise machine.

But then there was a shout, and a whoosh, and it felt like something was tearing out of him, like tags off of new throw pillows, like Velcro off of the Iron Man shoes he’d had when he was a little kid, and his consciousness tore away with it.

He wasn’t even awake long enough to appreciate the relief of his muscles finally going limp.

Peter woke up cold and confused.

He’d been in bed, hadn’t he? And this… this definitely wasn’t his bed. This was cold and lacking in blankets and… and…

And very not lacking in Tony Stark.

“-back to me now, Pete. I need you… I need you to show me that you’re still alive in there.”

He forced his eyes open, wincing at how badly they were stinging. His throat and chest hurt, too, and his whole body ached like he’d taken one hell of a beating. What had happened? Why couldn’t he remember?

“Huh?” He asked, blinking up at the blurry shape that he assumed must be Tony.

The man laughed, a little hysterical. “Very eloquent, buddy. Just… Just relax a second. We’ve been through a lot.”

Had they? When?

“Wha’ happ’ned?”

Huh. He hasn’t actually expected that to come out so slurred.

His vision was clearing, slowly but surely, and he could see just well enough now to make out the frown on Tony’s face.

“Don’t you remember?”

“No?”

A new figure was kneeling down beside him, and Peter wasn’t sure why that made him jolt, but it did.

“Peter,” Strange said, because yeah, that was definitely Strange. What was he doing here? Weren’t they on vacation? “This is very important. Is anybody else here besides me, Tony, and Mrs. Stark?”

He hasn’t actually noticed Pepper before, but he saw her now, kneeling just behind Tony and rubbing his back. Giving comfort to the comforter, he supposed, but Tony seemed too focused on him to notice.

“Why would there be-”

“Just look, Pete,” Tony ordered, voice frantic. “Please, just trust me and look.”

“Uh,” he glanced around the room, head aching as he strained his eyes, searching every corner for something that didn’t belong, “no? It’s just us.”

“You don’t see a little girl anywhere?”

Huh? What he hell was Strange talking about?

“No?” He shook his head, then regretted it when his whole body groaned in protest. “I mean, Morgan’s not here.” Adrenaline shot through him, and he tried to sit up, although Tony held him down pretty effectively. “Wait, is Morgan okay?”

“Morgan’s fine,” Tony said, face strained, “she’s fine. She’s asleep in her room. Please just lay back now, Peter. There’s only so many heart attacks a man can survive in a single night.”

“Sorry,” he murmured, although he wasn’t entirely sure what he was apologizing for.

“It’s not your fault,” Tony reassured.

Strange was quick to agree. “He’s right, Peter. Do you truly have no memory of how you got here?”

No matter how much he wracked his brain, nothing came up. He just remembered saying goodnight to Tony, changing into some sweatpants, and crawling into bed. There were no more memories after that, although there was a sneaking suspicion that he’d… that he’d missed something. Something important.

“No. I, uh, I just remember going to bed.” Peter caught Tony’s gaze, and held it. “What happened?”

“Shh,” the man said, and Peter hated it when he shushed him like that. It always made him feel small, and he only ever did it when Peter was asking a question that he didn’t want to answer. “It doesn’t matter right now.”

“It does.”

“No, it doesn’t.” Tony plowed forward before Peter could get another question in. “How do you feel?”

“Kinda like roadkill.”

Strange leaned closer. “But do you feel cognizant? No confusion, no sensation of someone else influencing your actions?”

That might be the most ridiculous question Peter had even been asked, and he’d been best friends with Ned Leeds for a solid ten years.

“Alright, alright,” Tony snapped before Peter could even begin to formulate an answer to that mind-bender, looking away just long enough to glare dangerously at Strange. “That’s enough. Let’s give him some space. No more questions, no more anything. Let’s just… we’re just gonna let the drowned kid breathe, alright? Jesus.”

Yeah, that would be nice. He’d just… He’d just lay there a second, wait until some of the pounding in his head receded, and then he’d-

Wait. Hold on.

Hold on.

Mister Stark had said… He’d just said…

“I’m sorry,” he tried to jolt upright again, but Tony’s grip stopped him, “I what?”

“Okay. So… So just let me get this straight,” Peter said, burrowing closer into both the comforter wrapped around his shoulders and Tony, who had yet to relinquish his grip on his shoulders since they’d gotten back to their hotel room. “You’re telling me that I got possessed by a ghost?!”

“Less possession, more influenced,” Strange responded, settling down on the coffee table in front of him.

Yeah, Peter thought, holding back a bitter laugh, like that makes it any easier to swallow.

“I was influenced by a ghost?”

“Indeed.”

“But… But why?”

Strange always seemed concerningly stoic to Peter, but the question brought a hint of sadness to his eyes.

“I had Wong delve into the history of the hotel while I dealt with the spirit. According to his research, this hotel has been operating since the late 1800s, but was purchased by the Campbell family in 1933. They had two children: Margaret Campbell, age four, and Philip Campbell, age sixteen. Margaret drowned in the swimming pool in March of 1934, three days after her fifth birthday. Since then, the hotel has reported at least eleven other drownings, all of boys between the ages of twelve and eighteen. Each story is similar. The victims go to sleep in their beds, sneak past their parents sometime in the night, and their bodies are found in the swimming pool the next morning. The deaths are usually ruled as either suicides or accidents.”

Tony’s arm tightened around him, and Peter was grateful for the anchor as he tried to process the barrage of information.

“I don’t understand,” he finally whispered, even though he thought that he might.

Strange watched him silently for a few seconds. In the end, it was Tony who spoke.

“She wanted him because of Morgan.”

“That would be our best guess.”

He swallowed. His throat still felt wrecked from, well, from drowning, apparently, even though he didn’t remember it.

“She’s been drowning kids who remind her of her brother.”

“Precisely.” Peter’s concern must’ve shown on his face, because Strange held up a calming hand. “But she won’t be hurting anyone else. I’ve laid her spirit to rest.”

Huh. Alright. If Peter didn’t already feel like he was in an episode of some random CW ghost hunting show, he certainly did now. “How’d you do that?”

Strange smiled thinly, then stood. His cape settled itself over his shoulders, waving a little as the sorcerer turned away. “A lesson for another time, perhaps. I’ll leave you, now. I imagine that Stark has it covered from here.”

Peter could feel the way Tony prickled at Strange’s dismissive tone. “I sure do, Dumbledore.”

Apparently, the sorcerer didn’t think that deserved a response, because he just opened a portal and stepped through without another word.

“You don’t have to be so mean to him, y’know,” Peter said, voice small. “He did save my life.”

Tony tensed, then forcibly relaxed. He set one of his hands on the back of Peter’s head and pushed his face into his collarbone. “Just go to sleep, kid.”

“Don’t you wanna go back to your bed?” He mumbled, voice muffled by the man’s t-shirt. He really kinda hoped that the answer was no.

“I have to watch you for dry drowning.”

“Oh.” Well, that was a relief. “Sorry.”

Tony sighed dramatically. “I don’t want to hear one more ‘sorry’ out of you until you’re 21, understood?”

“What if I actually do something that, like, I need to say sorry for?”

“Do you plan on doing something that you’d need to say sorry for?”

“I mean, no. Not really.”

“Then we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Tony rubbed his back, and Peter could feel the tiny tremors still running through his hands. “Now go to sleep.”

To be fair, he did try. It wasn’t like he wasn’t tired. He was exhausted. Which, according to Strange, was a pretty normal thing to experience when a ghost possessed or influenced or whatever’d your brain.

It was just that the longer he sat there, the more he thought about it, and the more absurd everything started to seem. He… He couldn’t believe that it’d been a pool. She’d had him throw himself into a pool. Of all the places, of all the scenarios where his super-strength might’ve actually saved him, she had to choose a pool.

He was laughing before he could stop himself.

“Hey, Mister Stark?”

There was a pause in Tony’s response, as if he was considering whether or not Peter had gone insane. “Mhm?”

“Did you know that I can’t swim?”

Another pause. Then,

“I swear to god, Parker-”

Chapter Text

Tony didn’t usually watch the news.

He got F.R.I.D.A.Y. to filter through anything genuinely important, but otherwise, he found it tedious. Besides, Morgan was still too absorbed in the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon to care about foreign conflicts and fiscal policies. As it was, Tony was way more well-acquainted with the latest preteen dramas than NBC’s news cycle.

He didn’t know why he decided to turn it on that night. He was probably just looking for some background noise. He was going through the paperwork for Morgan’s new pediatrician, because they were changing all of that around again, filling out a ridiculously long list of their family medical history, when the background babble crystallized into something discernible, something that actually warranted his attention.

“In a tragic update on the CalSci shooting, we’ve just been informed that the death toll has risen to thirteen. Details on the shooter’s motivations are still unknown, but authorities have revealed that they’re in possession of and are studying a manifesto that they suspect was written and distributed by the shooter. The names of the victims have yet to be released, but we’re expecting to have more information on that by the 11 o’clock news, so tune in then for an update.”

He blinked. The story twisted something in his gut, something incredibly familiar, a pain that he hated and loved all at once, and he glanced back to the kitchen on instinct. He could just vaguely make out Pepper’s silhouette. She was probably prepping Morgan’s lunch for the next day.

Planning ahead, just like everyone did. He bet that those kids had planned ahead. Their parents had, too. They’d planned for graduations and weddings and bought plane tickets for Christmas break. A million milestones that they’d never see.

He had to swallow multiple times before he was confident that he could shout without his voice cracking. “Did you know about the CalSci shooting?”

Pepper’s head popped into view, brow furrowed. “Sorry, honey, what did you say?”

“The CalSci shooting. Did you know about it?”

She stepped into the room, tossing a dishrag somewhere behind her. It was all so domestic, so normal. But for thirteen families around the country, nothing would ever be normal again.

She nodded. “They were talking about it at the office all day. It’s terrible. There were ten or so casualties, last I heard.”

“Thirteen,” he whispered, throat tight. “They… They just said thirteen.”

“Oh, Tony. That’s awful.”

“Yeah.” He shook his head, trying to rid himself of the dark thoughts creeping in on him. The thoughts of gunshots and linoleum floors and MIT. “Have you, uh, have you heard from May today?”

“No. Why?”

He forced a smile, pushing himself off the cushions and gesturing towards the porch. “Just been a while since we’ve had a check-in with our friendly neighborhood aunt, s’all. Think I’ll give her a quick call, see how she’s doing.”

The corner of Pepper’s mouth quirked up. She crossed her arms, a knowing glint in the edges of her expression. “Of course.”

The night was cool, but not chilly. He could hear crickets chirping in the distance, which was still a novelty, even after eight years. You didn’t get that in the city. Didn’t get the taste of fresh evening air, or the rustle of forest leaves in lakeside wind.

He liked it. He didn’t like the fact that he was still a good 200 miles from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

May Parker picked up on the third ring.

“Tony?”

He leaned against one of the porch’s columns, staring down the driveway with the foolhardy hope that he might find peace there. “Hey. Uh, I’m just checking in. You know, haven’t heard from you in-”

“He hasn’t called me.”

He flinched. Okay, yeah, he hadn’t expected her to be so blunt.

“I don’t know what you’re-”

“Oh, for god’s sake, Tony, just call him. He doesn’t have to call you first, y’know. You’re a big boy. You can initiate it.”

“I don’t like… I don’t want him to feel like I’m hovering.”

“There’s a big difference between hovering and showing him that you care. I saw the same news reports that you did, which are the same reports that he’s been seeing. You don’t think it’s gotten under his skin, too? Just call him, Tony. You’ll both feel better once you do.”

“If he wanted to call, he would’ve.”

“No, he wouldn’t. He’s hoping that you’ve been too absorbed in the lab or Morgan or both to notice what’s happened. He knows you worry. He’d never make it worse.”

He knew she was right. Life after Titan, after Thanos, had been… hard. He still forgot, on bad days, that Peter was alive. He’d never meant for the kid to see those struggles, but even he wasn’t that much of a master illusionist.

So he hung up the call, then he hung up his pride, and he ripped off the band-aid.

This time, it only took one ring.

“Mister Stark?”

He smiled, relief flowing out from his chest, making him weak in his knees, and any sting he’d been feeling vanished. He sank down on the steps, phone still clutched to his ear, the night air wonderfully cool and light in his lungs.

200 miles wasn’t so far, really.

“Hey there, buddy. Just, uh, just checking in on you. I’m not interrupting, am I?”

“No. No, of course you aren’t.”

“Oh, good. So how was class? Learn anything groundbreaking?”

“Eh. I had Statics so, like, how groundbreaking could it be?”

They meandered through the conversation for a few minutes, both gauging their footing, before they fell back into their usual rhythm. Peter told him funny stories from campus, and Tony updated him on Morgan’s latest milestones and schemes. He might’ve been imagining it, but he swore that the kid’s voice seemed to relax as the minutes wore on.

“Hey, Pete?” He murmured, sensing that the call was drawing to an end, needing to say something more, but not really knowing where he was going with it.

“Yeah?”

“Can you… It’s just, I know that you’re busy, and all, and I don’t wanna suffocate you, but… d’you think that you could call just a little more? I know we’ve been doing once a week, but it’s just that, well, especially after today-”

“Yeah,” Peter said, cutting him off. His voice sounded strained, like he was swallowing back tears. “Yeah. I-I’ll call more. I promise.”

“Alright, alright. Thanks, kiddo.” He pressed his knuckles against his knee. “I miss you, y’know.”

He could hear Peter’s smile. “I’ll be home for Thanksgiving in a couple weeks.”

“I know. Still miss you.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I know. I miss you too.” There was a pause, but Tony didn’t fill the silence. He could sense, even through a staticky phone call, that the kid had more to say. “Thanks for, uh, thanks for calling. I was really… we were all pretty worked up about the CalSci stuff, and I…” Peter sighed. “I’m just really glad you called.”

He smiled. He could feel that dopey, drunk-warm sensation again: the one that only his kids seemed to elicit. It swelled through him, and he closed his eyes, dropped his head back against the nearest column.

“Yeah. Me too."

Chapter Text

On days like this, the cabin was a haven, a lighthouse, a McDonald’s sign shining through midnight darkness.

(Okay, maybe his last metaphor wasn’t as romantic as the others, but it was still true. Midnight hash browns were the best hash browns. Fight him.)

Peter thought he was a pretty chill person. Hell, he was known for a being a chill person. Go to Peter, people said. He’s just so chill, people said. You could punch him in the face and he’ll apologize, people said.

(Okay, maybe nobody actually said that about him, because nobody besides, like, a handful of people actually cared about his existence, but if they did, that’s probably be what they’d say.)

But, sometimes, he just got frustrated. Like, kinda-wanted-to-find-some-abandoned-hunting-lodge-in-the-middle-of-a-forest-somewhere-and-tear-it-to-pieces-with-his-bare-hands frustrated. 

(Okay, maybe not a whole hunting lodge. Maybe, like, a cabin. Or a half-molded shed. The point was: he wanted to annihilate something. The more satisfying the thing was to destroy, the better.)

He’d admitted it rather shamefully to Tony in the lab, once, and the man had laughed so hard that Peter had genuinely thought he was going to hyperventilate.

“Jesus, Pete, you are not actually feeling bad for occasionally, just occasionally, being frustrated, are you? Because if you are, I’m selling you for a less faulty kid.”

As it turned out, Tony was probably gonna have to sell him, because the guilt never, ever abated. See, Peter wasn’t supposed to get frustrated. That wasn’t his purpose. He was a fixer. Fixers were patient, wise, and they certainly didn’t get frustrated. They didn’t get angry. Those emotions were not things that fixers felt.

Maybe he was faulty. Maybe Tony should sell him.

He was always a mess when he was pissed, and he always blamed it on inexperience with functioning when he was focusing so much energy on not punching the nearest object. He tripped getting out of his car, locked his backpack inside and ended up fumbling angrily with the trunk before finally, finally getting it open. When he got to the door, he missed the lock the first time and then it took him four tries to get the damn thing open.

(He nearly cried at that point. Which, was, you know, not his proudest moment.)

Tony was reading on the couch when he came stomping in, although the book was quickly discarded. Peter just threw himself face-first onto the unoccupied loveseat, groaning for a solid fifteen seconds before Tony’s amused voice interrupted him.

“You alright there, kiddo?”

“I’m gonna kill someone,” he said, monotone despite the lava in him, “and then I’m gonna kill myself, and then I’m gonna… well, I don’t actually know who’s gonna die after that bit, but the killing’s not ending there, I can tell you that.”

Tony whistled. “Wow, Pete. Resorting to a murder-suicide before dinner? That’s drastic, even for me. Must’ve been one hell of a day.”

He couldn’t stop the snort that jumped up his throat. God, he hated being so cynical. It really didn’t come all that naturally to him. It felt like wearing a suit that didn’t quite fit.

“You have literally no idea.”

“Wanna tell me about it?”

Poor Tony. He was the one who always had to listen to him complain. He barely did it with his friends, certainly never did it with May. Like he’d said before, that wasn’t his purpose, wasn’t his role in those dynamics.

But here? In the cabin, carefully cocooned in the safe-space of Tony’s world? Yeah, he could be a little whiny.

Still, though: poor Tony.

“I hate people,” he rambled. “I hate the world. I hate myself. I even hate the sky. Can I hate the sky? Is that, like, a thing I can do? You know what, don’t answer that, cause I do, so it’s a thing I’ve done either way.”

“Mm,” Tony replied, and Peter could hear the leather on the couch creak as he shifted his weight. “I have a proposition.”

“Does the proposition include me dying?”

“Uh, absolutely not. Haven’t we been over this? No dying, not allowed. You dying is off limits.”

“Tragic.”

“Shut up. Besides, my proposition is much better than dying.”

Peter turned his head, and used the one eye not smothered by the loveseat’s cushion to squint over at Tony. “What’s your proposition?”

“Scream.”

“Uh, excuse me?”

“Just scream. Loud as you can. We’re the only ones in the house, by the way, so you won’t worry anyone. Pep’s with Morgan at her dance class.”

“You want me to scream?”

“It’s therapeutic.”

“It’s weird.”

“No, it’s therapeutic,” Tony shot back, rolling his eyes. “C’mon, kid. I dare you.”

“No, no, don’t make this a dare-”

Tony was grinning, obviously beyond proud of himself. “I bet you won’t do it.”

“Mister Stark-”

“Who knew that Spider-Man was scared of a little screaming, huh?”

“I’m not scared-”

“You seem a little scared.”

“I’m not-

“You sure? Cause I’m starting to wonder if I need to-”

Peter buried his face into the cushion, and screamed.

He paused. Gasped in a breath that smelled like hot sweat and damp leather. Screamed again.

There were a few seconds of silence after he’d finished. Then,

“You done?”

He rolled onto his back, giving Tony his full attention. The man had his legs propped up on the coffee table, arms folded behind his head: the picture of relaxation. Definitely not how you’d expect someone to look if they’d just had a sixteen-year-old kid screaming their head off in their living room.

“Yeah,” he said. “I’m done.”

“Feel better?”

“A little,” he admitted, and it was true. The frustration was still there, lingering like a pit in his chest, but he knew it’d probably stick around until the next day, anyway, so any relief was, well, a relief.

Mostly, he was just feeling guilty for feeling those things in the first place.

“You’re allowed to be pissed off sometimes, y’know,” Tony said, studying his face. One day, Peter was determined to uncover how it was that his mentor always seemed to know exactly what he was thinking before he’d even finished thinking it. “It’s called being human. Even freakishly precious kids like yourself aren’t immune to that particular tragedy.”

“I don’t like it, though.”

Tony laughed. “I know. Seriously though, Pete, you’re a good kid. Give yourself some leeway. Not everyone can be cheerful all the time.”

Peter sighed, shoving a cushion off the loveseat just because he could. “But if I’m not cheerful, who’s gonna be?”

“Uh, I don’t know, maybe jolly old Saint Nicholas?” Tony rolled his eyes. “Anyway, who gives a shit? Everybody’s supposed to get their day in the sun, but that means that you’re allowed a day in the darkness, too.” He shuddered. “God, look what you’ve done to me. I just got poetic.”

Despite the resentment still brewing him his gut, he couldn’t resist Tony’s prodding. “It was good, Mister Stark. Like, really good. Like, Shakespeare who? Sorry, I don’t know him.”

“You’re obnoxious.”

“Hey, I’ve had a bad day.”

“Are you gonna sing a sad song just to turn it around?”

“Daniel Powter.”

Tony stared at him like he’d just spoken a foreign language. “Excuse you?”

“Daniel Powter,” Peter repeated. “He’s the guy who did that song, Bad Day.”

“Well, thank god I know that now,” Tony said, reaching out for the remote and turning on the TV. “Now, I say we drown our sorrows in awful television and pizza for dinner. Thoughts? Comments? Objections?”

The cabin: haven, lighthouse, midnight McDonald’s. All things that called out to people in the dark. “Sounds good to me.”

It looked like they were going to move on, that the previous moment had passed, but then Tony stalled, face growing serious again. “Actually, one last thing before I let you change the subject for good.” Tony pointed at him with the remote. “Remember this: you’re allowed to clean up your own messes before you clean up everybody else’s, and you’re not responsible for other people.”

“I feel responsible for other people,” Peter muttered.

“Yeah, well, you’re delusional.” Tony turned back to the screen. “Now: Family Feud or Kitchen Nightmares?”

“Star Wars!” Peter exclaimed, just to lighten the mood, and to see Tony’s face.

Sure enough, the fond-annoyance blossomed within a second.

No-”

Chapter Text

“Daddy?”

Tony looked up in surprise. It wasn’t often that Morgan wandered into his office when her favorite cartoon was on. It had weird animation, revolved around something like a family of ducks. He watched it with her, sometimes, but it never really made much sense.

“Hey, honey.” He beckoned her closer, and she eagerly made her way up to his chair. It was a display of comfort that he never would’ve showed with Howard, and he always cherished those moments. Little specs of validation. “What’s up?”

“Is Peter coming over today?”

He blinked. Morgan asking for Peter wasn’t out of the ordinary, per say, but it was strange that she was asking if he was coming on a school day. She usually understood that the kid had to stay in the city during the week, despite how much she didn’t like it.

“No.” He watched her expression carefully. “Peter’s at school.”

Her face fell. “Oh.”

“Why, darling?” He brushed his palm over the crown of her head. “Is everything alright?”

“I wanted to ask him a question.”

“Well,” he smiled softly, “I’m quite good at answering those too, y’know. Why don’t you run it past me, and if we can’t solve it on our own, then we’ll give Peter a call, m’kay?”

Morgan bit her lip. “We wrote our names at playgroup.”

He nodded. Pepper had told him about that, sent him a photo of Morgan, purple marker in hand and face twisted up in concentration, carefully tracing the outline of Morgan Stark beside a bunch of other kids.

“I heard. Mom said you did a great job.”

The praise didn’t light up in her eyes like it usually did. Instead, she kept gnawing on her bottom lip, obviously deep in thought. “I finished early so I got to do more names. I did yours, and Mommy’s, and Peter’s.” She stared up at him, full of that childlike intuition that constantly took his breath away. “Is Peter not my brother?”

Well, okay. That wasn’t what he’d been expecting.

“What’re you talking about? Of course he is.”

Logically, he understood that this question had been inevitable. Morgan couldn’t dwell within the cabin’s walls forever. Eventually, the world was bound to start shoving concepts of DNA matches and blood is thicker than water into her head. To most people, brothers were defined by genetics. Your mother birthed you, and your mother birthed your brother, and therefore you were siblings.

There was, as usual, little thought given to the outliers.

So, yes, he’d known. He’d known that this was coming. He and Pepper had even prepared for it, had talked about it before. And yet hearing it out loud was jarring . It had taken him so long, through wars and loss and reunions on battlefields, to finally understand that Peter had always been his kid. Sure, he didn’t donate any genes to his DNA, but that didn’t matter. In fact, nothing had ever mattered less.

“Mommy said that too,” Morgan muttered, face scrunched up in frustrated contemplation, “but Miss Chrissy helped me write his name and when I told her that his other name was Parker and not Stark she looked at me funny and then Katie’s mommy said that that meant he wasn’t my real brother.”

Cool. Awesome. Time to kill Katie’s mom. The next PTA meeting was gonna be awkward as hell.

He took a deep breath. These were… these were the hard moments of parenting. Trying to explain the complicated things without screwing it all up. But he’d done it before. He’d explained both Peter’s absence and sudden reappearance. He’d explained the loss of his arm and the ugly scarring on his face. He’d explained tragedy, and joy, and everything in between.

He could explain this bit, too. Or, at least, he probably could.

“Well, first of all, Katie’s mom is wrong.”

Morgan frowned. “You’re not supposed to say that about adults. Miss Chrissy said so.”

“Well, Miss Chrissy’s wrong, too. Adults aren’t always right.”

“Even you?”

He snorted. God, if only Peter was here. He’d be getting a real kick out of this. “Yeah, even me.”

“So Peter is my brother?”

“Of course he is. It’s just… Peter’s your brother in a special way.”

The concept seemed to glitter through Morgan’s face. She didn’t look confused or frustrated or sad anymore. She looked intrigued .

“How?”

Oh. He… hadn’t exactly processed that having this conversation also meant having the how babies are made conversation. How did he end up with all the hard parenting moments? Where the hell was Pepper when he really needed her?

“Well, see, your mom and I made you together,” he said slowly, really hoping that he could dodge the specifics of how they made her. “You’re half her, and half me. Do you want to learn a really big word?”

“Yeah!”

“Since your mom and I both made you, that means that you’re our biological child.”

“Is Peter not your bio ,” Morgan’s face screwed up as she chewed through the new word, “ biological child?”

“No, squirt, he’s not.” Although there are moments that I wonder, believe me. “Remember how I told you that May is basically Peter’s mom?”

“Mhm.”

“Well, he’s not her biological child, either.” He paused. This next bit was the really hard part. He’d set it up, but now he actually had to explain . “A lot of times, people become parents the way that your mom and I did when we had you. They get together and they make a biological kid. But sometimes, people become parents because they adopt kids.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that they pick them,” he said, because that was genuinely the simplest way he could think to put it. “They choose to become their parents.”

“Why?”

“Well, some kids don’t have any parents of their own, because they left or passed away, so that means that other people, like me and your mom and May, get to take care of those kids.”

Morgan nodded, thoughtful. “So you became Peter’s parent ‘cause his first mommy and daddy died?”

“Sort of.” He smiled gently. “It can get really, really complicated, but none of it actually matters, because this is all you need to know.” He bopped her on the nose. “Peter is 100%, without a doubt, certifiably your brother. It doesn’t matter if you’re not both my biological kids, you’re still my kids. Period, done, end of story. Oh,” he added, smirking, “and Katie’s mom is an idiot.”

Morgan glared. “Mommy said that it isn’t nice to call people that word.”

He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Damn Pepper and her genuinely optimistic life lessons.

“And it isn’t very nice of Katie’s mom to tell people who is and isn’t their brother either, is it?” He countered.

Morgan looked nonplussed at that. Eventually, she shrugged in defeat. “I don’t think Katie’s mom meant to make me sad.”

Jesus. These kids. They were going to be the death of him.

“I’m sure she didn’t.” Because if she did, I’m really gonna kill her. “Do you understand now, squirt?”

“Yeah!” She responded, previous trepidation forgotten. “Peter’s my brother ‘cause you decided that he is. ‘Cause you chose Peter.” She grinned. “That’s so cool! Like picking out a puppy from the shelter!”

Oh, boy. He was definitely telling the kid about that analogy later. He would never live it down.

“Exactly,” he said, biting back a laugh. “And if you’d like, you can tell Katie’s mom that next time you see her. That way, she doesn't accidentally make anybody else sad.”

Morgan’s face brightened at the thought. It was obvious that she hadn’t picked up on the sarcasm in Tony’s voice. Which, of course, had been the point.

“That’s a good idea, Daddy!”

He winked. “I’m full of those, you know.”

And, sure, Pepper was probably going to kick his ass after Morgan schooled Katie’s mom in How Not To Be An Asshole next playgroup session, but it would be totally worth it.

He’d have to have F.R.I.D.A.Y. hack into the playgroup’s security cameras. That was one event that he just couldn’t miss.

Chapter Text

Tony was doing a puzzle with Morgan when his phone rang. He knew it wasn’t Peter, since the kid had his own ringtone, so he let it go to voicemail.

Then it rang a second time, and he let that one go, too.

Three times, though, was more than a little excessive. And worrying.

He snatched up the phone and tried not to sound more irritated than was necessary when he answered it. “Who is this?”

“Thank god. Stark, listen, it’s Sam.” There was a commotion in the background, but the signal wasn’t clear enough for Tony to decipher exactly what the commotion was. “How quickly can you get to Brooklyn?”

“I’m retired, Wilson.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know.” The more he focused, the more he could pick up a genuine tint of distress in Sam’s tone. “Fights already over, but we need a little backup with your kid.”

That perked him up, and not in a good way.

“I’ll be there in ten minutes.” He stumbled to his feet, covering the receiver for half a second to shout for Pepper. Morgan just watched him with wide eyes. “Maybe… Maybe a little more. I don’t know. I’m taking the suit but I’m rusty. What’s wrong with him?”

“I wish I could tell you,” Sam said, grim. “Got smacked into the concrete pretty hard, we think. He’s bleeding pretty bad from his head, but he won’t let the medics close enough to treat him.”

Pepper had come bolting into the room in the time it took Sam to talk, and Tony gestured desperately at his phone, then Morgan.

Understanding fell over her face. Peter? She mouthed.

He nodded, and she didn’t look in the least bit surprised. After all, what else could get him this worked up?

Go, she mouthed, and he did.

He hadn’t been in the suit since Thanos, but he’d kept a few housing units stashed around the house, just in case. This certainly hadn’t been how he’d expected them to be used, but he was grateful for the foresight, because it meant that he only had to grab a unit from the entryway table before rushing out to the front lawn.

He transferred the call to his comms as the nanobots crawled over his skin, tossing his phone onto the grass.

“Stark? You still there?”

“Yeah,” he gasped, firing the repulsers. Just like riding a bike. “Is it the concussion? Is that why he’s so worked up?”

“We think so. One of the medics got close enough to see that his pupils are uneven, and nothing he’s saying is making much sense. It’s… It’s pretty bad, Stark.”

“Alright. Alright.” He pushed the suit harder. “Tell him I’m coming.”

There was a shuffling on the other side of the line, and Sam’s voice came through again, a little distant.

“Hey, kid, your dad’s coming, so you’d better shape up.”

He resisted the urge to snap at Sam for being so flippant. He knew, deep down, that he was dealing with the situation with the exact same mechanisms Tony would be using in his position, if this wasn’t his kid: humor, deflection.

“Tell him Mister Stark is coming.”

“What, we still pretending he’s not your kid?”

“No,” he said, pushing the words out through gritted teeth. “I just think that those distinctions are gonna be a little confusing for a kid who’s concussed out of his mind.”

“Yeah, alright.” There was another pause. “Hey, Parker. Mister Stark’s on his way, so you’re good, yeah? Chill out.”

If he hadn’t been so worried about Peter, he might’ve laughed at how painfully awkward Sam sounded. “You’ve got no idea how kids work, do you, Wilson?”

“Yeah, well, I don’t like ‘em.”

“Uh-huh.” The city was sprawling out underneath him, now, and he had F.R.I.D.A.Y. pull up a path to Peter, courtesy of the tracker in his suit. “Be there in a minute.”

It was 49 seconds later that he landed beside the wreckage of what was once a cafe. He didn’t even care to ask about what had happened, didn’t give the rest of the rubble a second glance. Sam, Wanda, and a group of medics were gathered around one of the crumbled walls. They parted as he pushed forward, and then there was Peter.

His mask was gone, laying forgotten a few feet away, covered in blood. Peter had pressed himself up against a corner of the crumbling foundation. It took Tony all of half a second to determine that the kid was just as out of it as Sam had suggested. His chest heaved up and down, his eyes darted across his surroundings without ever landing on any one thing. That, and his attention didn’t immediately snap to Tony. He knew, without a doubt, that Peter would already be scolding him if he’d recognized who he was, what he was doing.

“Hey, buddy,” he called out, coaxing, creeping closer. “You got yourself knocked around pretty bad this time, huh?”

Peter’s forehead creased as he struggled to focus, but he calmed just slightly, sagging back against the wall fragment. “Mis’er S’ark?”

“You’ve got it.” He knelt down a few feet away from the kid, patting a nearby chunk of rubble until Peter’s eyes drifted towards him. “See? It’s just me, kiddo. Heard you needed a little backup.”

“I… I don’…” Peter blinked, listing to the side. It took all of Tony’s self control not to lunge forward and grab him. “Wha’ happ’ned?”

“You hit your head pretty bad, Pete,” he murmured, concern rising with every word the kid slurred. “That’s why you’re feeling so scrambled.”

To his alarm, Peter hiccuped, eyes filling with tears. “G’nna disappear?”

His heart screamed in his chest. “No, no,” he reassured, a little rushed. “No, buddy. We just need to get you cleaned up and checked out, and you’ll be just fine. Think I can come closer?”

It took Peter a second to process that, but Tony could see the exact moment he did, because he reached his arms out, wordlessly calling him closer.

He scrambled forward, half walking, half crawling. Peter was even more of a mess up close. There was dirt, blood, and crusted vomit around the corners of his mouth. Sure enough, one pupil was blown over-wide, the other just a pinprick. Now that Tony was within reach, Peter nearly went cross-eyed trying to focus on him.

“Hey, you’re alright.” He gave an experimental tug on Peter’s shoulder, and the kid crumbled limply into his chest. He rushed to support his head, hyper-aware of the danger Peter had already put himself in by moving around with such a serious concussion. “Okay. I’ve gotcha. I’m gonna have a medic come look at you now, okay? That sound alright?”

Peter jerked weakly. “Going?”

“No, no,” he soothed, waving the nearest medic closer. “I’m gonna stay right here.”

“M’kay.” There was a brief pause, but Tony could sense Peter working through something, so he stayed quiet, waiting. “Mis’er S’ark?”

The medic knelt beside them, and he held up a hand, stalling her. “Yeah, buddy?”

“Where’m I?”

He swallowed against the panic building in his chest. “New York. You were on a mission.”

“Mission?”

“Mhm. Don’t worry about it.”

Thank god for Peter’s ceaseless trust. He just sank into Tony’s grip at the order, voice faint. “M’kay.”

The medic seemed to take that as her cue to move closer. She set down her duffle, rifling through it for a few seconds before catching Tony’s attention.

“Are you his guardian?”

“At this second? We’re gonna go with yes.”

He doubted that the answer would have sufficed if he didn’t employ her, but as it was, she just nodded.

“I’d like to sedate him,” she whispered, glancing nervously at Peter. “Just to be safe. Is that alright with you?”

Truth be told, it wasn’t necessarily Tony’s favorite suggestion of the day, but he nodded anyway, clamping down the rush of protectiveness with a firm push of logic. They’d need to treat Peter, probably put him through an MRI, and Tony couldn’t stand there and hold his hand through all of it. It’d be better for everyone, Peter included, if he wasn’t aware for it.

“Go ahead,” he said, gently situating Peter so that his arm was exposed.

All in all, the next few minutes went as smoothly as they could’ve. He managed to soothe Peter through the IV placement, and he went under without a fight. It wasn’t until Tony was sitting there with nothing else to focus on, gently cradling the kid’s deadweight against his chest, that he realized how badly he was shaking.

The rest of the team dragged a stretcher up, and the original medic touched his arm. “We’ll help you transfer him. Can you support his head?”

“Yeah,” he rasped, snapping himself back into focus. “Yeah. I’ve got him.”

“Alright. On 3. Ready?”

Peter was a heck of a lot heavier than he looked, but Tony had anticipated it, and the medics adapted quickly. He had to step back after that, letting them maneuver Peter into a neck brace and a dozen other things.

One of the medics gave him a grateful smile from across the gurney. He was strapping Peter down for the ambulance ride, and Tony had to physically stop himself from clenching his fists.

“Thank you very much, Mister Stark,” he said. “You were brilliant.”

He shot him a pained smile. “Just, uh, just doing my job.”

“Well, you’re very good at it.”

He didn’t know if he agreed, thought that if he was really that good at being a parent, Peter never would’ve gotten hurt in the first place, but he followed the stretcher into the ambulance anyway.

Chapter Text

The alert went off just after 3:00 am.

Which was, as a general rule, not one of Tony’s favorite times to get alerts.

“Boss,” F.R.I.D.A.Y.’s voice startled him from his hyperfocus on the exposed circuitry in front of him, “I have detected strange anomalies in Peter Parker’s vitals.”

He looked up in surprise. “What time is it?”

“3:03 am.”

He blinked. “And why the fuck is the kid in the suit at 3:00 am? It’s a school night. His curfew is 11:00.”

“Mister Parker is not in the suit. My readings are coming from the biotech in his watch.”

Okay. That… that wasn’t exactly ideal.

“What are the anomalies?”

“Mister Parker’s heart rate is unusually elevated and his blood oxygen levels appear to be rapidly decreasing.”

Did the kid go on patrol without his suit? Tony was going to kill him. “Where is he?”

“In his bed.”

Wait, what?

“Are you… are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“What the fuck? F.R.I.D.A.Y., track his phone.”

There was a pause as the AI completed the request. Then,

“It appears to be on the table beside his bed, Boss.”

“Call him. Now.”

“Of course.”

The sound of the phone ringing filled the lab. Tony pushed away his project. He had more important things to worry about now.

The phone kept ringing.

And ringing.

And ringing.

Your call has been forwarded to an automated voice messaging system. Peter Parker is not available. At the tone, please record your message. When you finish recording you may hang up, or press 1 for more-

“Push the call through, FRI.”

“Yes, Boss.”

There was a brief rush of static, and then quiet.

If he listened really, really hard, he could just barely make out the sound of someone breathing.

“Peter?” The kid must be asleep (or unconscious), because there wasn’t any answer. He tried again, louder. “Peter!”

He heard the rustle of sheets, then a huff of confusion.

“Mis’er St’rk?”

“Thank god, you’re alive. You had me wondering there for a minute.”

“Huh? Where’re you?”

He blinked. “Try your phone, bud.”

“Wha’? Why’re you in my ph’ne?”

No, no, no, no, no. The spark of concern that had settled at the sound of the kid’s voice lit right back up, bright and sharp. This was a serious step above you-just-woke-me-up-and-I’m-still-half-asleep confusion. This was… that was something much, much worse.

“I-I’m not. I called you, Pete.”

“Called me?”

“Mhm. Are you alright? F.R.I.D.A.Y. says your vitals went wonky and you seem… a little out of it.”

There was a beat of silence.

“I don’ feel good.”

He sat up straighter on the bench, hands clenching with fear. He’d known something was wrong before, but hearing the kid admit it only gave purchase to the panic. “What do you mean?”

“Feel weird.”

“Define weird.”

“Dunno. Head hurts. Feel sick.”

Tony blinked. “FRI? Does he have a fever?”

“No, Boss. Although Mister Parker’s O2 levels are dropping low enough to be an imminent concern.”

He leapt to his feet. A little early morning trip to Queens wouldn’t kill him. Who needed sleep, anyway? “Pete? I’m coming over, okay? Can you get up and wake May?”

“Not here.”

“May isn’t there?”

“No. Graveyard shift.”

“Okay. Okay. That’s alright. I’m gonna come take care of you. Just keep talking to me.” The suit folded around him and F.R.I.D.A.Y. flipped the call to his heads up display without being prompted. “Do you feel like you’re gonna throw up?”

“Mhm.”

“If you need to, just do it. I’ll clean it up later.”

“M’kay.”

“Good boy.” He rushed out onto the roof and shot into the air. He was so hasty in his takeoff that he had to quickly correct his trajectory with his thrusters, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. “Did you feel sick before you went to sleep?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

“Mhm.”

“Alright.” He muted himself and finally let the panic seep through his voice. “F.R.I.D.A.Y.? What the fuck is wrong with him? Is it the flu?”

“The flu does not usually involve such a rapid drop in oxygen levels.”

“Then what’s wrong with him?”

“My sources indicate-”

“Those sources better not be WebMD.”

“They are not.” If Tony didn’t know any better, he would’ve thought that F.R.I.D.A.Y. sounded offended. “As I was saying: my sources indicate that Mister Parker is likely suffering from a drug allergy. However, it is also possible that the symptoms are the precursor to an epileptic episode or a brain hemorrhage.”

“Why the fuck would he have a brain hemorrhage?”

“Considering Mister Parker’s age, state of health, and activity level, the most likely cause would be trauma. Until I can run a more in-depth scan, your best course of action would be to continue assessing his mental status.”

He switched his audio back on, nodding as if F.R.I.D.A.Y. needed his confirmation. “Hey, buddy. You still with me?”

“Mhm.”

“Good job. Hey, I have some questions to ask you, and it’s really important that you answer them honestly. I swear I won’t get mad.”

“M’kay.”

“Did you go on patrol earlier? Without the suit?”

“No.”

“Do you promise?”

“Mhm.”

“So no injuries I should know about?”

“No.”

“Did you take medicine before you went to sleep? Ibuprofen? Anything?”

“No.”

“Are you absolutely sure?”

“Mhm.”

“Alright. Have you ever had a seizure, Pete?”

“Wha’?” That question seemed to wake the kid up a bit. “No. Why?”

“I’m just checking. How do you feel?”

Peter seemed to contemplate that for a second.

“‘M… ‘M really tired, Mis’er Stark.”

“No. Nope. Stay awake, okay? I don’t know what’s wrong with you yet.”

“Somethin’s wrong wi’ me?”

This is wrong. This is so, so wrong. “Yeah, buddy. You told me you didn’t feel good. Remember?”

“Mm. Oh, yeah. I really don’ feel good.”

“I know. I’m,” he glanced at the ETA F.R.I.D.A.Y. helpfully threw up on the screen, “I’m three minutes away from you. Hang on.”

“M’kay.”

There was something impossibly frightening about having something wrong with Peter and not knowing what. He’d had to get used to the idea of the kid getting hurt on patrol, rolling into the Tower clutching a bleeding wound or a broken bone. It was an uncomfortable truth, but one he’d learned to assimilate into his life.

But this… this was exponentially more frightening. This was something happening to Peter, not Spider-Man. He could sew up bullet wounds and cast broken bones. He couldn’t fix something he couldn’t even diagnose.

God, he hated being stuck in the dark.

“Can you tell me more about what’s wrong, kiddo?” Honestly, he didn’t really expect to learn anything useful. He was just trying to keep Peter as lucid as possible until he could get there. “What feels bad?”

“Head.”

“Your head hurts?”

“Mhm.”

He could see Peter’s apartment complex now. Every inch closer made his heart rate climb. “Anything else?”

“Dunno. ‘M just… tired.”

“Alright. Remember what I said, though, right? No sleeping.”

“No sleepin’.”

“That’s it. Good boy.” He landed on the fire escape outside Peter’s room with the discordant clatter of metal on metal. It was loud enough to be unwanted at 3:00 in the goddamn morning, but Tony couldn’t bring himself to care. “I’m here, bud.”

“Took a long time.”

Don’t I know it, kid.

He ended up climbing through the window into Peter’s room. There was a part of him that nearly went into the main entrance and took the elevator to the apartment (May had given him a spare key, so he could’ve just let himself in), but the half-panicked ball of worry in his chest convinced him otherwise.

“Pete?”

The lump on the bed shifted. “Mis’er Stark?”

He rushed to the kid’s side, metal-clad knees knocking into wooden floors as he knelt beside the low-slung mattress. “Hey, squirt. Told you I was coming.”

Suddenly, an alert, red and flashing and impossible to ignore, exploded onto his heads up display.

WARNING: DANGEROUS LEVELS OF CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTED
DO NOT REMOVE HELMET
INITIALIZING OXYGEN RESERVES
OXYGEN RESERVES INITIALIZED

He froze in realization. 

“F.R.I.D.A.Y.?”

“Mister Parker’s symptoms match those of carbon monoxide poisoning, although it is notoriously difficult to diagnose without context. There is likely a leak somewhere in the building.”

“What do I-”

“It is advised to remove Mister Parker from the contaminated area and into fresh air as quickly as possible. I have notified emergency services. They should arrive within five minutes to assist the other residents.”

At some point during his hurried conversation with F.R.I.D.A.Y., Peter’s eyes had fallen shut. He didn’t move when Tony pressed his gauntlet against his shoulder. He shook him, first gently and then with more vigor, and the kid just stayed limp.

“Pete?” Nothing. Shit. “Alright. Don’t worry about it, kiddo, I’ve got it handled.” He tore Peter’s comforter away in a manner that definitely did not denote I’ve got it handled, but he supposed it didn’t really matter when Peter was unconscious. “I’m gonna pick you up now, okay? We’re going on a little trip.”

Peter offered no resistance when Tony scooped him up. And, fuck, the kid was heavy. Sometimes it was easy to forget that the kid was 5’8” of pure muscle.

Pure muscle that was now a complete deadweight.

Great.

He clambered onto the fire escape with a lot more grace than he’d really expected. Then again, he had the added motivation of not wanting to jostle the precious cargo cradled to his chestplate. As he went, he found himself babbling nonsensically to the kid.

“It’s all gonna be fine. I’m gonna take you back to the Tower and pump you full of oxygen. That’ll be nice, yeah? And I’ll call May, tell her that you can both bunk at the Tower until the leak gets solved. It’ll be great. You love sleepovers.”

Peter didn’t twitch during the flight back to the Tower, but F.R.I.D.A.Y. didn’t alert him to any worsening vitals, so he did his best to focus through it. He didn’t waste time taking the suit off when he landed on the roof, just headed straight for the MedBay.

“F.R.I.D.A.Y.?” He called, skidding his way into one of the MedBay rooms. “What do I do? Why hasn’t he woken up yet?”

“He needs oxygen, Boss.”

He felt like screaming. “He’s getting oxygen.”

“Not enough.”

He deposited Peter onto the bed in a tangle of uncoordinated limbs. His lips were tinged with blue, just slightly, and the sight made Tony feel like he wasn’t getting enough oxygen himself.

“Sorry, sorry.” He winced in sympathy as the kid’s head lolled unnaturally against the plastic mattress. “I’ll make you comfy when you can breathe, kiddo, sorry…”

F.R.I.D.A.Y. chimed in before he could even process that he needed her help. “The oxygen tanks are located in the hallway supply closet, along with tubing and a mask.”

He jogged out the door and tore open the closet door. It only took him a few seconds to bundle everything he needed into his arms, but they felt like wasted moments all the same.

He’d helped set up a few oxygen tanks in the past, and it wasn’t necessarily difficult. Attaching the tubing was made slightly more complicated by the tremors running through his hands, but he pushed through it. 

“There ya go, buddy.” Relief rushed through him once the mask was snug over the kid’s face. “All better now. Or, at least, we’re on our way, yeah?”

The next few minutes dragged by. Tony resisted the urge to glue himself to the vital monitors. Instead, he forced himself to trust F.R.I.D.A.Y.’s judgement, and stuck right by Peter’s side, brushing his hair back and talking gently. He knew firsthand the adrenaline rush of waking up in a place different than the one you lost consciousness in, knew how terrifying and disorienting it was. He wanted Peter to have an anchor: something that he understood, even if he didn’t understand anything else.

“His oxygen stats are improving rapidly, Boss,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. offered after what felt like an eternity. “I estimate that he is likely to regain consciousness soon.”

Sure enough, Peter groaned a minute or two later, forehead wrinkling and he shifted weakly against the mattress. 

“Hey buddy,” he murmured, cupping Peter’s face and tilting his head so he’d be lined up perfectly in the kid’s vision when he opened his eyes. “C’mon. Look at me, yeah? Let me know you’re alive in there.”

Peter’s eyes snapped open. For a brief second, his entire body keyed up, muscles coiling, but then his gaze cleared and his pupils found the face hovering above him and Tony could see recognition shoot through his expression. He melted, then, a tiny smile quirking up the corner of his mouth.

“Morning,” Tony whispered. Peter just blinked up at him slowly, brow furrowed in confusion. “It’s alright. Just keep breathing, nice and slow.”

A sluggish hand fumbled up to the oxygen mask, but Tony caught it before he could pull it off. “Yeah, I know. Leave that be. It’s helping.”

“Patrol?” Peter slurred, and Tony had to strain to make out the word through the mask.

He shook his head. “Shh. Don’t worry about it right now, alright?”

To his surprise, Peter relented, eyes drifting closed again, any hint of lingering tension releasing from his expression. “M’kay.”

Tony let his head bow forward, shaky with relief. He felt like he’d spend the rest of his life chasing after Peter Parker, scooping him up and stitching him back together again.

“I’m really glad you’re alright, buddy,” he said, voice low and strained.

Peter didn’t answer, just turned his face sleepily into his palm, but Tony didn’t need to hear anything from the kid, anyway.

He knew.

Chapter Text

Sometimes, Rhodey forgets.

In his defense, it was late. Past 2:00 am, if the clock in his car was to be believed, and it sure as hell felt like it was past 2:00 am. He hadn’t been able to get away from his meetings in D.C. until the sun had long set, and the drive from there to the cabin was over four hours. By the time the familiar mailbox finally lit up underneath his headlights, he could feel the road fatigue sitting uncomfortably on his eyelids.

It’d be worth it, though, in the morning. Morgan’s face when she saw that he’d come to visit always was.

Still, he didn’t know when the last time he’d gotten a full six hours of sleep had been. Last week, maybe? Or was it the week before that?

Jesus, maybe Pepper was right, and he really did need to take a break. They just weren’t as young as they used to be.

He’d expected all of the lights in the house to be out when he pulled into the driveway, but there was a dull glow coming from the garage, and he sighed.

He switched off the engine, grabbed his duffel, and used his key to slip inside. F.R.I.D.A.Y. greeted him in a hushed tone, and he just waved in response, knowing that her cameras would pick it up.

He gestured at the door that led to the garage. “I’m gonna go force him into bed,” he said, voice low.

“That would be appreciated,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. responded, just a touch amused. “He will not listen to me.”

“Barely listens to anyone,” he grumbled, grabbing the door handle and pushing his way inside.

Like he’d said: sometimes, he forgets. It was a surprisingly easy thing to do when the remembrance hurt, and it got even easier when you were pushing through exhaustion and denial and over thirty years of muscle memory.

The outline bent over the far worktable was an intensely familiar one: muscled shoulders, mess of curly, untamed hair, and he didn’t even bother drinking in the rest of the details. The memory that he unconsciously superimposed over the reality was so ingrained, so lifelike, that he didn’t feel like he needed to.

“Tones,” he called, the nickname soft and fond on his tongue, “it’s 2:00 am. Go to sleep.”

The outline froze. Then, a tiny voice floated back to him.

“Sorry, uh,” Peter swung around, running a stressed hand through his hair, “I’m… I’m not him.”

The realization of the lapse, of the magnitude of the lapse, smacked into him all at once.

“Shit. Shit, Peter.” He clenched his fist, shame and grief rising up in his throat. “I’m… Jesus, I’m so sorry. I was just…” 

He shook his head. How the hell was he supposed to justify forgetting that his best friend, a man who was practically this kid’s father, had been dead for over four years? How the hell was he supposed to apologize for that?

“It’s okay,” Peter said, offering him a shy, pained smile. He could tell that the kid was struggling to keep his voice light, forgiving, because the words just barely trembled in the air. “It’s… You’re not the only person who’s done that, ‘s all.”

There was a thick lump in his throat, and he swallowed it back. “I’m… not surprised. You… You look like him.”

Peter’s smile morphed into something more genuine. Still sad, but less sharply so. “Yeah. I, uh, I know. Pepper tells me that a lot. So does Happy, actually. It’s a thing, I guess.”

He didn’t know what to say to that, and he certainly didn’t want to think about the implications of it. Peter had spent most of his life following in Tony’s footsteps, to the point where everyone who had known Tony, really known Tony, could see the similarities as bright as day. And it wasn’t that Rhodey thought Tony was a bad role model, (in fact, he thought the opposite), but he knew where those footsteps ended.

In Rhodey’s mind, Peter was one of the last true remnants of Tony left on Earth. He didn’t know if he could bear to watch one of those remnants die.

“Well, I’m gonna head up,” he said, because he didn’t know if he could spend another second in a dead man’s workshop, trying to pull the pang of nostalgia out of the child he’d left behind.

“Yeah, yeah.” Peter nodded, half turning back to his project. “It’s late.”

“Sure is,” he said, turning away. Then he paused, hand gripping the doorframe. He’d never been particularly spiritual, and he knew that Tony sure as hell hadn’t been, but there was something making him stall, a warmth and affection that he wasn’t completely sure was entirely his own.

He loved Peter, sure, but… but this felt different.

(It felt exactly like Tony, but he didn’t think that he was ready to analyze that just yet.)

“Pete,” he called back, and he saw the kid jolt in surprise at the nickname. “I meant what I said. Go to sleep.”

“I’m almost done, though.”

Now, Parker. Whatever it is you’re working on can wait.” He let out a slow, measured breath, voice softening with it. “You know what Tony’d say if he knew you were down here this late.”

That seemed to work. The kid’s posture slouched with defeat, and he followed Rhodey back into the cabin and up the stairs without another complaint, a half-repaired set of webshooters forgotten on the table.

When they got to the kid’s bedroom, the one that Pepper had given him after the funeral, Peter stopped, hand poised on the handle and face pinched up in contemplation. “Hey, Rhodey?”

“Yeah, kid?”

“Do you… Do you think he misses me?” Peter’s voice hitched a little on the question, but he kept going as if it hadn’t. “Just… wherever he is. Do you… Do you think he wishes he was here?”

“I think,” he started, crawling his way through the words, hoping to hell he didn’t screw this up, “that if he’s able to do just about anything, he’s… he’s gonna be missing you, yeah.”

“And it’s,” Peter swallowed, “it’s good that I remind people of him, right? He’d… He’d like that, right?”

“Of course he would.”

“Okay. Yeah.” The kid met his eyes, and they both pretended that Rhodey didn’t notice the wetness on his cheeks. “Uh, goodnight.”

“Night, Peter.”

Once Rhodey was in bed himself, he asked F.R.I.D.A.Y. if Peter had actually gone to sleep. She said that he had.

“He’s not all like you then, huh?” He whispered to the ceiling, smirking through the tightness in his chest. “You’d’ve already scurried back down there, and lied to my face in the morning.”

He didn’t know if Tony heard him, if there was any of Tony left in this universe to hear him, but he knew that if he had, he was laughing, and that was enough.

Chapter Text

“Remember when you were little?”

Neither Peter nor Morgan look up from their respective phones. In Peter’s defense, Tony can see the familiar Gmail logo in the corner of his screen, which means he’s probably working, but at seventeen, he knows that Morgan’s just ignoring him for the sake of it.

It’s fine, really. All of that aside, he knows his kids, and he knows that they’re always listening. Even if they act like they aren’t.

Sure enough, the corner of Peter’s mouth quirks up. “You didn’t know me when I was little.”

“You seemed pretty little when I met you.”

“I was fourteen.”

“That’s little.”

“No,” Morgan says, finally looking up, laughter in the corners of her smile, “it’s really not.”

“It’s little when you’re my age.”

Peter sets his phone aside, too, and Tony feels a thrill of gratitude run through him. The Christmas tree is shining brightly in the corner of his living room, both his children are curled up on the same couch, and the world is aligned. Everything is perfectly, wonderfully aligned.

Peter’s eyes are twinkling, and Tony can tell that he’s only really arguing with him for the thrill of it all. It’s simple: a solid reminder that even as the years wear past them, some things will never, ever change.

“And how old is that, again?”

Ancient,” Morgan offers, grinning.

“You two are the bane of my existence,” he shoots back, kicking their feet aside and lowering himself into the space between them. Both of the kids make a show of repositioning themselves, but Morgan does a terrible job of hiding her smile. “Y’know, if you keep bullying your loving father, then Santa won’t come.”

“Santa’s not real,” Morgan deadpans.

“Shh!” He slaps a hand over her mouth. “We never told your brother.”

“Wait,” Peter says, mouth twitching even as he tries to hold a straight face, “Santa’s not real?”

“See, Morgan? Look what you’ve done.”

“Oh no,” she drawls. “Well, I’m just the worst. Better excuse me from all family functions until the end of time. That seems like the most solid punishment you could offer.”

Oh, yeah. Because Morgan just hates being the light of everyone’s lives. Her suffering was clear.

“Or,” he says, winking at her, “I could confiscate your phone and put you on Gerald’s feeding duty for the winter. Peter, thoughts?”

Morgan glares, and Tony swears that for a brief second, she genuinely forgets that they’re joking. “Why does Peter get to decide?”

“He’s a dad in training. He needs to learn.”

“On me?”

“Who else?”

“Go for the Gerald option,” Peter interjects, deadpan. “There’s nothing worse than feeding Gerald.”

Tony nods. “That’s true.”

“You guys are the worst,” Morgan whines, but she laughing now, too. “I want Mom and MJ.”

Tony turns to look at Peter. “She used to love us, Pete. What happened?”

“She’s a teenager. It’s the circle of life.”

“How tragic.”

Morgan grabs her phone, purposefully turning so that neither of them could see the screen. “I’m only still talking to Peter because I want to play with his baby. I hope you know that.”

“Oh, no hard feelings,” Peter shoots back. “I only talk to you because Tony makes me.”

He pokes both children’s arms. “Play nicely.”

Morgan rolls her eyes and Peter grins, unashamed. Both of their attentions are quickly reattached to their phones. Tony spends a while absentmindedly watching Peter answer emails, not really reading the contents but merely enjoying the fact that the kid seems to take to it so naturally. As if sensing his attention, Peter shifts closer, shoulder warm and solid against his own.

“What’re you even doing?” Morgan asks suddenly. “You’re just sitting there.”

“I’m thinking about how much I love you.”

For a second, their eyes meet, and he sees her expression gentle at the comment. Then, she shakes her head, grinning.

“You’re gross.”

They all go quiet again. After a minute or two, Morgan tosses her feet up onto his lap. It’s quiet enough in the room that he can hear Peter breathing, the winter wind battering against the windowpanes.

“What were we supposed to remember?” Peter murmurs after a while, and Tony jolts. He’d be so wrapped up in the ambiance of the moment that he’d forgotten they weren’t suspended in time.

“Huh?”

Peter’s head is tilted, just slightly, eyes soft and bright. Completely attentive, like they always are when he’s looking at Tony. For a long time, he’d thought it was the hero worship. It hadn’t been until Morgan was born that he’d realized that most children looked at their parents like that.

“You asked us if we remembered when we were little.”

Oh. Right. He had. The kid sure knew how to hold onto a moment, didn’t he?

“Hm. I did.”

“Why?”

He pauses. “I was thinking about the first Christmas we all spent together.”

“Oh, well,” Morgan drawls, “I clearly remember that, since I was five.”

“I remember,” Peter says, and his voice is quiet, reflective. “It was nice. Why were you thinking about it?”

He shrugs. Honestly, he wasn’t sure how to explain it. It had just… occurred to him.

It was our first Christmas as a whole family, and now you have a baby of your own on the way, and there are times where I miss that simplicity.

“I was just wondering if you remembered,” is all he says.

“Of course I do,” the kid whispers, and Tony can see his own thoughts reflected right back at him. Peter feels young, too. He feels the weight of the shift. He misses the normalcy of his childhood just as much as Tony does.

“God,” Morgan groans from off to the side. “You two are doing that thing again. You know, the thing where you say something without talking. It’s rude and weird.”

He pulls Peter in and presses a quick kiss to his forehead. It’s a gesture that he does rarely, nowadays. But sometimes, in these moments, the quiet ones, he falls back into it.

Peter’s smiling when he pulls away.

Chapter Text

Tony got the first text from Peter at the glorious time of 1:58 am.

He was, of course, not asleep. He was sitting at the kitchen island, munching on a post-midnight snack, but still. The principle remained.

The Kid: s o s
The Kid: im gnna call u
The Kid: plz say no
The Kid: then pick me up
The Kid: plz

He snorted, typing out his response with one hand while bringing his sandwich back up to his mouth with the other.

TS: got you

The Kid: ur the best
The Kid: u’ll be on speakerphone
The Kid: so… be cool be cool

A second later, his phone lit up with Peter’s contact picture. He let it ring a few times to give the impression that he was caught off guard, then answered it.

“What’s up, Pete?”

“Hey, Mister Stark.” To an untrained ear, Peter’s voice was as normal as could be. But Tony knew the kid well enough to detect the barest trace of discomfort. Wherever he was, he really didn’t want to be there. “I, uh, I have a question.”

“Shoot.”

“I know I’m supposed to be at the Tower by 2:30,” that wasn’t true, but he went along with it anyway, “but my friends and I really wanna go to get some food, so can I stay out later or do I really need to come back now?”

“No, Parker.” He made his voice sharp and stern, putting on the perfect show of over-strict-parent that he’d learned from Howard Stark himself. “I gave you a curfew, and I expect you to stick to it. No exceptions.”

He heard muffled voice in the background: obviously Peter’s friends trying to convince him to beg.

Please, Mister Stark?”

“I said no, Peter.” He stood, and waved to F.R.I.D.A.Y. to shut down the lights as he headed for the elevator. “I’m coming to get you. Where are you?”

“Mister Stark.” Despite the over-exaggerated whine, he could sense the relief in Peter’s voice. “Please?”

“Don’t argue. You’re coming home.” He wandered out into the garage and lazily picked on of his older Audis. It was dark, and late, and he didn’t really feel like putting on too much of a show. “Now, are you going to give me an address, or do I have to track your phone?”

Peter groaned. Tony could swear he could hear him stomping his feet in the background. In all honesty, he was impressed by his dedication to the act. “Fine.”

The kid rattled off an address. F.R.I.D.A.Y. calculated that it would take him about 20 minutes to arrive, taking into account current traffic condition. He conveyed that back to Peter, then hung up.

As it turned out, the address Peter gave him was to a bodega on a random street corner on the westernmost side of Queens. He was loitering there with his friends, a little unsteady on his feet and cheeks flushed under the streetlight. A quick survey of group told Tony that these were not Peter’s usual crowd. No MJ or Ned in sight.

Plus, MJ and Ned would’ve never let the kid get tipsy. He hadn’t been able to hear it through the phone, but he could see it now. He felt a flash of annoyance at the kid for galivanting around the city whilst intoxicated in the early hours of the morning, but pushed it down. He’d done much worse, at Peter’s age, and he hadn’t had superpowers to back him up.

He rolled down his window and glared, trying to force as much parental anger into it as possible. “Peter Parker, get your ass in the car this instant.”

“Mister Stark,” one of the kids asked, staggering significantly more than Peter. Where Peter was just dipping his toe into the ocean of drunkenness, this kid was clearly trashed. “Are you sure that Peter can’t stay?”

“Absolutely positive.” He turned his attention back to Peter. “Come on, Parker. We have a lot to discuss.”

Peter waved a morose goodbye to his friends and stalked towards the car, yanking open the passenger side door, flinging himself into the seat, and slamming it shut behind him.

The kid pulled his seatbelt over himself, fumbling with it for a few seconds before Tony reached over and latched it for him, then slouched into the window with a huff.

“I’m saying something really rude to you right now,” the kid snapped.

He put the car in drive, checked his mirror, then floored it while flickering an artificially disapproving look in Peter’s direction. “And I’m telling you that if you speak to me like that again, you’re grounded.”

They turned off on a different block, Peter’s friends disappearing around the bend.

Peter let out a laugh, false tension melting away. He pulled away from the window and shot Tony a lopsided thumbs up. “You’re the best at that.”

“At what?”

“At pretending to be pissed.”

He shot a sidelong glance at Peter, briefly considered stringing him along and pretending to actually be mad, then discarded it in favor of matching his smile. “Yeah, well, you’re not too bad yourself. Even if you are drunk.”

“I’m not that drunk.”

“No,” he agreed. “Although I’d love to know how much you had to drink to get there.”

“Oh, my god, Tony,” Peter said, seeming to take Tony’s easy demeanor and running with it. “So much. Like, a scary amount.”

He shot him a sidelong glace, just on the edge of disproving. The kid still shrank underneath it. “Not exactly my favorite thing you’ve ever told me.”

Peter winced. “Am I, uh, am I in trouble?”

“No,” he sighed. “It’s alright. We’ve all been there. Just, uh, just maybe don’t drink on street corners at 2:00 am, yeah? Just for my poor heart’s sake.”

“We didn’t drink on the street corner.”

“You’re not helping yourself.”

“I’m just telling you the truth!”

“Yeah, y’know what? Sometimes I kinda wish that you’d do a little less of that.”

“C’mon, don’t say that. I’m a model child.” Peter went quiet for a second, then nudged his arm from across the center console, tone dipping into something much more sincere. “Thanks for getting me, Mister Stark. Honestly, I was pretty bored.”

He smiled, eyes still fixed on the road, but watching the kid stare at him in his peripheral.

“Anytime, kid. I’m way cheaper than an Uber, anyway.”

“And much nicer,” Peter added.

He laughed. “Oh, I’d better be.”