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A Parent Apparent

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As Tony started digging the hamburger patties and steaks out of the small refrigerator Rhodes and Happy wandered over, each with a beer in hand. Neither of them had offered Tony one. They already knew what he answer would be. The man hadn't had a drop of alcohol since the morning he's picked Peter up from the hospital. Granted, even before that it was only one or two beers on the occasional Friday night. Instead, they stood around and began to jest in good-natured fun. "You're going to be cooking tonight?", Rhodes had laughed. "No one told me that."

 

Then Happy had his turn, of course.  "Yeah.  I don't know about this.  Do you actually know what you're doing?"

 

"Of course, he doesn't.", Rhodey chimed in with a smile.  "Have you seen how much shit he blows up?  This can not possibly end well."

 

"Both of you stop it!", Tony finally half-shouted over the playful insults.  "You both know damn well that I know what I'm doing.  Now, hush."  He was smiling despite the rise in his voice.  Before either of them could get another word in Tony turned his attention to Peter who was just starting to shuck off the towel to stand.  "Hurry up and get over here, Kid.  I need some back up before these two start insulting me again."

 

Smiling, Peter slipped on a dry t-shirt and walked towards where the men were all standing still feeling slightly chilled.  "What do you need me to do?"

 

Before Tony could give a single instruction, Rhodes was talking.  "Oh, Thank god, you're here.  I thought Pepper was actually going to leave Tony alone with a fire... this makes so much more sense."

 

"Does it?", Happy questioned.  "I'm not sure this one's going to be much better--"

 

"--He's already better.", Tony cut him off, handing Peter a plate of steaks.  "Here, carry that over to the grill, we'll start with those."  When he turned to follow behind the boy, he glared over his shoulder and mouthed, 'Leave him alone.' to the two still laughing men.  He knew they would never intentionally hurt Peter's feelings but he just wanted to eliminate the risk altogether.  Tony had been looking forward to this day and so far everything had been damn near perfect.  He wanted to keep it that way.  

 

"Fine, we'll leave you two alone but only because I'd hate to interrupt the precious father-son bonding session.", Rhodes called after them with glee.  Tony half-glared at them again before joining Peter.

 

Standing by the grill, Peter held his hands out towards the heat and Tony laughed.  "What!?", he asked defensively before dropping into a more sheepish tone.  "...I'm still cold."  

 

Dropping the steaks onto the grill, he smiled.  "Yeah?  Well, you'll be hot here in a minute.  This is going to take a little while."

 

"Hmm", Peter nodded as he watched Tony.  "Good thing there's a pool then."

 

Tony's mouth fell open in mock horror.  "Are you planning on abandoning me the second you break a sweat?"

  

Peter grinned back mischievously.  "Would you jump in after me?"

 

"Are you about to make a run for it?", Tony asked, cutting his eyes at the boy.  He was only half paying attention to the steaks at this point.

 

Peter considered taking off and flipping into the pool but thought better of it.  He'd just managed to shake off the last of the lingering chill.  "Nah.  I want to help you."

 

"Uh-huh.  You just don't want to have to dry off again.", the man deadpanned.

 

His wide smile faltered into more of a self-conscious grin.  "Maybe.", Peter laughed lightly.  

 

Tony just smiled and ruffled the boy's hair before poking at the cooking steaks.  Later on, once the steaks were flipped, he sent Peter to get the tray of hamburgers.  "Alright, I did the steaks, you're in charge of the hamburgers.  Just drop them on there nice and even."

 

Peter did as he was told and stood back a little.   Sometime later, Tony was handing him a spatula and telling him it was time to start flipping.  Hesitating, he just started at the half cooked patties and shifted on his bare feet.  "I don't know how.", he complained. 

 

Tony rolled his eyes and flipped the first one in one smooth motion.  "See, not complicated.  They pay sixteen-year-olds minimum wage to do this shit."

 

"I'm not sixteen yet, Tony... and no one is paying me anything.  They get training!", Peter stated nervously.  For some reason, he felt like he needed to do well, to impress his mentor.  He didn't want to jump right in and mess it up.

 

The man couldn't see what the big deal was.  "Pete, I've seen you do literal rocket science.  You can flip a burger.  Just slide it under and turn it.", he said, hand over hand taking Peter through the motions.  

 

Feeling more confident after having done it once, even if it was with assistance, Peter went in for his first real try.  He did as he was shown and it went perfectly.  He started going through the motions and was quickly finishing the task. Tony was murmuring words of praise every few minutes and that seemed to keep him going.  Then when he got down to the last few he hit a snag.  The spatula didn't slide under the next patty quite so easily and he was worried it was going to make a mistake.  "Tony?  This one's stuck.  What do I do?"

 

Tony who had been chatting lightly with Pepper turned around.  "Hmm?  Oh.  No biggie, just force it under in one quick motion.  Give it a little upward push if you need to pry it off."  He could see Peter's brain at work.  "Stop it. If it breaks or whatever, it's not a big deal.  We have plenty."

 

Nodding his head, Peter started to force the spatula under the patty as Tony has said.  As he did so, he started to give what he thought was some light upward force but in his nervousness, it must have been more than that.  As soon as he did the top portion of the patty broke off and went flying over his shoulder and hit Happy squarely in the chest before falling to the ground with an audible splat.  Slowly turning around he could see all eyes on him and he really, really wanted to be embarrassed but the look of shock on Happy's face was so hilarious that he couldn't help but laugh.

 

"Did you just throw and half-cooked hamburger at me?", Happy asked in disbelief. 

 

Tony was ready to step in but Peter was quick to reply.  "No!", he laughed.  "I was trying to flip it over but it was stuck.  Tony told me to use a little force to get it off and I guess I kind of messed up.  I'm so sorry!"  At this point Peter was hardly getting a breath in between fits of laughter, causing everyone around them to start laughing as well.  

 

"That is definitely your kid, Tony.", Happy said without humor but the smile on his face when he turned around gave him away.  As did the snort of laughter that came out of him seconds later as he was trying to wipe the residual grease off of his shirt with a damp towel.  "Like father - like son."

 

Tony, himself was having trouble keeping his snickering to himself as he shook his head and directed the boy to finish the job before they burnt.  

 

Once Peter had finished flipping all of the burgers he backed up away from the grill, wiping his brow with the hem of his shirt.  Tony had been right.  He was hot from standing over there for so long.  He figured he could get away with sitting by the pool with his feet in the water until it was time to do anything else so that's what he did.  Ned swam over and rested his arms on the side of the pool and the two of them talked until Peter heard his name being called.  As he was getting up into a standing position, the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end.  Not know what sort of danger he could possibly expect at a pool party he ignored it until he felt two hands on his back giving a forceful shove.  Being unprepared and on a slick wet surface, Peter easily toppled over straight into the water but not before his quick reflexes kicked in and allowed him to grab ahold of the shirt belonging to his unknown assailant.  

 

Unexpectedly hitting the cool water after being so warm sent a shock through his system and he came up gasping for air, still holding onto whoever had pushed him in.  The sense of danger had passed but his heart was still rapidly pounding in his chest.  He continued to use all of his strength to hold onto the cloth in his hands as he tried to orient himself.  It wasn't until he heard Tony's familiar voice yelling 'Pete!  You need to let go.  Let go, let go, let go.'  that he was able to somewhat snap out of the stupor he'd been in and do just that.  Upon letting go of the cloth, he heard a harsh breath come up beside him, followed by some words but his brain wasn't registering them as he continued to stare at Tony.  He could see his mouth moving as he gestured in his direction but nothing was computing.  Still not having his own panic completely under control he wasn't able to calculate who it was in the water with him but he could feel the water ripple by his sides as they moved closer but there was no warning of danger.  Then hands were on him again, at least two pairs, but this time they were gentle and urging him over towards the steps where Tony was calf deep in the water waiting for him with an open towel.  

 

As soon as the towel was wound around his body, Tony was in his face.  "Are you alright?  Calm down, Kiddo--"

 

"--I'm so sorry, Tony.  I didn't mean for--"

 

"--Can it!", Tony shouted before going back to Peter.  "Come here, Pete.  Breathe.  You're alright."  ... and Peter did breathe as he melted into Tony's embrace.  He was fine.  Everything was fine and he could take in his surroundings again. 

 

The first thing his eyes fell on was a soaking wet Happy who appeared to be somewhere between terrified and remorseful.  Peter wanted to say something to make him feel better but no words came.  Instead, the man spoke to him.  "Kid, I didn't mean to scare you like that.  I was just messing around with you.  I'm sorry.  I really am."  Peter nodded in response and continued to snuggle into Tony's warmth.  When he turned his head, May was looking at him with concern and he wanted to go to her but he also didn't want to leave the comfortable position he was in.  Pepper, as always, seemed to read his mind and helped his aunt to her feet so she could come to him with her support.  Soon he was enveloped by all three of them.  

 

In less than five minutes he was back to himself enough to remember what he'd been doing before landing in the water.  "Shit! The hamburgers!", he shouted nearly hitting Tony in the chin as he snapped his head up.

 

"Hey, language.", Tony said with a small glare before letting his face fall back into neutral.  "They're fine.  Rhodey and Ned took over.  In fact, I bet it's ready.  Hungry?"

 

"Yeah.", Peter replied with a sigh as he wriggled his way out of the grasps of the worried adults.  "Thanks for, uh, yeah... um.  Just thanks...and sorry.", he said looking between them.  

 

"Nothing to be sorry for.  We just wanted to make sure you were okay.", May said before looking over at Happy who was still looking sort of anxious about everything despite the fact that the entire ordeal and recovery had lasted less than fifteen minutes.  "No harm done.", she said before her eyes crinkled up in mirth.  "Just, maybe don't do it again."

 

"Never again, ma'am.", Happy sighed.  "I thought it would be fun to knock him into the water after the whole hamburger thing.  I didn't know he would freak out.  I really am sorry about that."

 

Peter looked at him with a wavering smile.  "It's okay Happy. I'm sorry I dragged you under the water."

 

"Mr. Stark thought you were going to drown him!", Ned unhelpfully provided.  "I was going to try to save him but he told me not to go near you yet.  I thought was going to call a suit and that would have been both terrifying and awesome but then you let go and we sort of pushed you out of the water."

 

Looking hot with shame, Peter collapsed onto a bench between Pepper and the chair where May was sitting.  "Yeah.", was all he could get out because he didn't want to admit to his friend that he was sort of fuzzy on what was going on for a few minutes there and could have easily clocked him right in the mouth.  Possibly breaking his jaw.  Even Tony hadn't approached him, though he was sure that if it had been much longer he would have.  From there, Pepper changed the subject and things quickly became light again.  

 

Next thing he knew, Tony was plopping down across from him and handing him a plate.  "Eat.", he commanded before cutting up his own steak.  Peter didn't have to be told twice and was quickly devouring a well-dressed hamburger that he declared to be the best one he'd ever eaten.  Tony huffed a laugh.  "Modest much?", he teased.

 

"I didn't really think about that part.", Peter said with his mouth full.  

 

Tony, pointed at him with the knife he was holding.  "Don't be gross.  I'm over here, trying to enjoy this perfect steak that I cooked, and I can't do that with you spitting all over the table."

 

"Perfection, huh.  Now, who's the modest one.", Pepper lovingly mocked from across the way.  

 

"Textbook narcissist", Tony pointed out while gesturing towards himself.  

 

"Tony, Nothing about you is 'textbook'", Rhodey added from the background.  

 

~o~o~o~o~o~

 

Much to Tony's relief, Peter hopped right back into the pool after dinner and continued to mess around with Ned until well after dark.  Only coming out to tell May 'good-night' and later to see Happy and Rhodey off.  In fact, the two friends stayed in the pool until Tony dragged them out at ten.   Partially because he was just done and ready to go inside and partially because the temperature was dropping and the kid was cold enough getting out of the pool when it was in the mid-eighties.  "Alright, alright, time to get out.  I'm ready to go inside and I don't want Spider-boy freezing to death."

 

"Oh come on, Tony!", Peter called out across the way.  "Five more minutes!  Can we go down the slide one more time?  Please?"

 

"Yeah!  Please, Mr. Stark?  Just one more.  That's it I swear.", Ned pleaded alongside his friend.

 

Rubbing his hands down his face, Tony gave in and told them it was fine.  This lead to cheering and splashing as the two jumped out of the pool and ran full speed towards the slides.  Tony shouting after them to slow down before waiting for them to climb back out of the water.  He tossed a towel at Ned before tightly wrapping one around Peter himself.  "Let's get inside so you can dry off and change into something more comfortable.", he mumbled towards the boy as he started using a second towel to rub down his hair.

 

"I'm hungry.", Peter said through his chattering teeth.  "Are there any more hamburgers?"

 

"Yep.  I'll warm one up for you while you get dry.  You want one Ned?"

 

"Yes please!", the other boy quickly returned. 

 

About the time Tony had two warm hamburgers ready, the boys emerged from Peter's room.  Ned was comfortably dressed in shorts and a baggy t-shirt, while Peter was snuggly dressed in sweatpants, the sweatshirt Tony had given him and had a blanket around his shoulders.  Tony smiled at the bundled up teenager.   "How do you survive the winter, Kid?"

 

"I don't, Tony.  Snow is going to kill me and I should just to move to Hawaii.  Then I can be the 'Friendly Island Spider-man'.  It'll be awesome... and warm."

 

Tony scrunched up his face in concern.  "Is it really that bad?"

 

"Yes.  Thank God there's a heater in the suit.  That was like the best idea you ever had.  I swear.", Peter praised before biting into the warm burger.

 

"I'm rather fond of the parachute... you know, now that we have the whole directional censoring thing figured out.", Tony replied flippantly.  

 

Peter looked at the man beside him and snarked, "I won't need a parachute if I freeze to death."

 

Tony sighed as he rubbed his hand up and down the boy's back.  "We'll see what we can work out before fall hits.  For the time being, you want some hot tea or cocoa or something?"

 

"We have cocoa?" , Peter asked with raised eyebrows.

 

"No... but I can probably make some.  Pretty sure we have everything we would need for that.  FRIDAY?"  When the AI confirmed that they, did, in fact,  have everything they needed to make a pot of cocoa he got to work.  While the first batch burnt slightly, the second came out perfectly and all three of them sat on the couch with three mugs lined up on the coffee table as they turned on the game system.  

 

Pepper walked out of the bedroom shortly after, curled up in the chair with some tea and watched them for a while before taking her leave and going to bed.  Tony following close behind.  "No staying up all night.", Tony said before he made it all the way to the hallway. "I mean it.  It's eleven-thirty now.  Be in bed by one.  Yeah?"

 

"Yes, sir", both boys mumbled in unison, never taking their eyes off the screen.