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Safety Net

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As much as Peter loves the internship and his relationship with Tony, there is one thing that he can do without.

Meetings.

He hates them.

With an absolute passion.

He's been to so many that he's starting to hate the word.

Tony drags his intern to company meetings sometimes. Peter doesn't get it - he's just a kid - he may be a genius, but he doesn't understand this stuff...nor does he want to, honestly.

It seems like every meeting is just created to bore people to tears. Peter's convinced that all the speakers have a secret contest for how many times they can say the same thing in how many different ways.

Tony, himself, is also bored to tears during these meetings, so the duo's time is usually spent either thumb wrestling under the table or secretly passing notes like they're in a grade school classroom. These notes range from tic-tac-toe to hangman or just making fun of the speakers. They almost got caught a few times due to at least one of them snorting or laughing at a comment.

The next time Peter is in the lab, Tony has yet another meeting to go to, "Hey, kid, why don't you come with me again? You'll learn a lot."

Peter resists the groan that is forming in his mouth and turns to look at his mentor, "Are-Are you sure? I mean - I just don't know how much I'll get out of it."

Tony goes up to his protege and puts his right hand on the kid's shoulder, "Pete, when you inherit the company someday, you're gonna be so glad that you came to these things. By then, you’ll at least have somewhat of a clue as to what's going on. C'mon, kid, humor me, at least.”

Peter's eyes bug out in utter disbelief.

Him? Inheriting Stark Industries?

What the fuck?

Peter shakes his head and snaps out of it. That's definitely another conversation for another time.

Peter lets out a defeated sigh and plasters on a fake smile, "Okay, sure."

-

As Peter suspected, this meeting is just the same as the previous half a dozen or so that he's attended.

Is it possible for someone to actually die of boredom?

There are supply and demand, profits and losses, new marketing strategies, stocks, and so many other boring words that Peter tries to tune out. He tries to resist the temptation to look at the clock on his phone every few seconds.

The duo are sitting at a long, rectangular table in a conference room with about eight other people. Peter is at Tony’s left side, closest to the back wall. The man speaking has a voice that could mimic one of those monotone golf commentators on TV.

Peter starts to look at the clock on his phone yet again when he notices it.

Tony’s left hand is under the table, shaking up a storm, and he's gripping his stress ball so tightly that it looks like a small, deflated football.

The pieces slowly start to form in Peter's head. He thinks back to the other meetings that Tony had dragged him to.

He had his stress ball with him for every single one of them.

Peter has known about the occasional shaking since Tony took away his suit after the ferry incident. Tony actually had to grab his left wrist to try and stop the shaking.

Tony's anxiety is acting up again.

So that means that every meeting the mechanic had dragged his protege to wasn't because he wanted the kid to get an educational experience.

He didn't want to be alone.

Peter suddenly feels like the dumbest, most insensitive person on the planet. How could he have never noticed?

All those times that Tony started playing rounds of tic-tac-toe or wrote down funny comments about the speakers, it was all to keep him distracted.

At this point, Peter has completely ignored whatever the fuck the speaker is talking about and is now thinking of what he can do to help.

The spiderling decides to go with his gut feeling.

Peter scoots his chair so that it's closer to Tony's, to the point where the chairs are almost touching.

The web-slinger gradually takes the stress ball out of his hero's hand and quickly replaces it with his own hand before Tony panics.

Tony is just staring blankly at the PowerPoint presentation, trying to keep from delving completely into an anxiety attack and embarrassing himself.

So when he suddenly feels his stress ball - his safety net - disappear from his hand, he panics, but only for a brief second before he feels a hand takes its place.

The mechanic looks down and he feels like he could cry.

Tony ignores the embarrassment of his intern finding out why he really drags him to these boring-ass meetings and instead just squeezes.

Peter lets his hand become Tony's new stress ball.

Over the next couple of minutes, Tony’s focus is on nothing but this kid’s hand that is in his own.

The twitching gradually starts to slow down and the genius, ever so slightly, starts to relax.

Tony refuses to look at Peter; he can feel his cheeks getting redder by the second. Here is Tony Stark, a superhero - the same superhero who threw a missile at aliens - is having to rely on the comfort of a teenager to keep himself grounded.

What does he have to say for himself?

Peter smiles when he sees Tony’s hand becoming more relaxed. Whatever the teen is doing, it must be working because he can hear his mentor let out a small sigh of relief.

When the spiderling sees that Tony’s hand has finally become completely relaxed, he decides to let go of his hand. He figures that Tony doesn’t want this kind of comfort for longer than absolutely necessary.

But just when Peter starts to let go, his mentor squeezes back even harder.

Peter looks up at Tony with a surprised expression. Tony looks back and his face is filled with embarrassment, which Peter feels horrible for. There’s nothing that his hero should be embarrassed about.

Peter then leans against Tony, making sure that their shoulders are touching. The teen then squeezes Tony’s hand and gives him a soft smile.

Tony smiles back, using one of his rarer smiles that makes his eyes crinkle with fondness. What the hell did he do to deserve this kid?

They stay like that for the rest of the meeting. They look at the presentation and pretend to care about the graphs being shown.

They’re the last ones in the room when the meeting is over.

When the door closes, Tony slouches in his chair and relaxes completely.

He still hasn’t let go of Peter’s hand.

Tony looks directly at his also relieved protege and utters a soft, “Thank you. You have...you don’t know how much I needed this.”

Peter looks back at him and gives a light shrug. He’s trying to brush it off like it’s no big deal for Tony’s sake, “Anytime, Mr. Stark. Why didn’t you just tell me sooner?”

Tony rubs his eyes in despair, “Kid, the last thing that I want is for me to burden you with my own issues.”

“But I burden you with mine, what’s the difference?”

“You’re a kid, kid. You’re my responsibility and not a burden; it’s part of the ‘job description.’”

Peter rolls his eyes, “No offense, Mr. Stark, but that’s bullshit. I’m just as capable of helping you as you are of helping me. If you ever need a distraction or...or anything, really, please, just tell me.”

Tony locks eyes with his kid, again, “You’re not gonna let this go, are you?”

Peter responds with a smug smile, “Nope...guess who I get that from?”

Tony rolls his eyes, “Haha, very funny.” Tony’s tone then turns serious, “Listen, I know how much you hate going to these things, but...thank you for sucking it up and coming with me anyway. You don’t know how much I appreciate it.”

Peter squeezes his mentor’s hand in reassurance.

Tony continues, “And don’t worry, I won’t make you come to these things anymore.”

The web-slinger is suddenly confused, “Wait...you’re not gonna bring me to these things just because I figured it out?”

Tony pretends to be in thought for a few seconds before he nods, “Yup, pretty much.”

“But what if you have another day like this?”

“I’ll be alright as long as I got that thing.” Tony then points at the stress ball that Peter is still holding in his other hand.

“But...I don’t want you to be just ‘alright.’ I want to come with you, not just to meetings, but to anything. I don’t want you to be alone.”

Tony shakes his head and softly chuckles, “I don’t know what I did to deserve you, spider-boy, but I’m glad I got ya.”

Peter lets go of his hero’s hand and gives him a hug. The teen’s arms are wrapped around Tony’s torso and his head is leaning against said hero’s collar bone, “I could say the same thing about you, Mr. Stark.”

Tony hugs right back. The position is a little awkward since they’re still sitting in office chairs, but they always make their hugs work. Tony then kisses the top of his kid’s head without even thinking.

They both freeze in shock.

Peter’s mind is racing a mile a minute. Did freaking Iron Man really just kiss the top of his head? May and Ben are the only other people in his life to ever do that.

Does this mean that they’re like...family now?

At that thought, Peter melts into his father figure’s chest. Them being like family, now that is an idea that he can get behind.

All that Tony is thinking is fuck fuck fuck fuck, why in the world did he do that? This just appeared in his top three of his most embarrassing moments of all time.

But just as he’s thinking about how he can do damage control, he feels his kid relax completely against his chest.

Tony is surprised that Peter is just...cool with it. The mechanic then gives him another smile and relaxes his arms around the kid.

Hmm, he might just have a new safety net.