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afternoon coffee

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“Well, looks like you finally survived a field trip unscathed.” Ned clapped his best friend on the shoulder as their tour group slowly dispersed. They had visited a museum exhibiting Renaissance paintings, apparently to balance out their STEM profile. Just moments ago, their arts teacher had dismissed them at the entrance of the museum.

Peter grinned. “Yep. And it’s nice that they finally trust us to find back home by ourselves.”

“Perks of being a junior, I guess.”

They trailed behind the five members of the decathlon team who had also been on this field trip with their arts class - MJ, Abe, Cindy, Sally, and Flash. MJ had proposed to get some coffee after the trip and maybe get some extra practice in before their next competition. Her only demand was that they wouldn’t go to Starbucks which, according to her, was too cliché for serious study meetings.

That was why they were headed towards an independent one now; Peter had suggested it. The museum was on the route between the tower and their school and that coffee shop was the only one Tony deemed acceptable for his high coffee standards, so Happy, Tony, and Rhodey almost exclusively got their coffee there. And Peter, whenever he got picked up from school or headed to the Tower by himself.

The doorbell of the café jingled as the small group walked in. It wasn’t very crowded on this early Wednesday afternoon; besides some elderly women in a booth on the left and two people in line at the counter, the only other person was the barista, Charlotte.

“Peter! How are you?” Sure enough, she’d spotted him amongst his teammates as they walked up to the counter. Peter knew her from their countless after-school visits and Saturday afternoon coffee breaks. She never seemed to take a day off and always took the time to talk to her regular visitors, no matter if they were old ladies or Tony Stark. Peter secretly thought that that was why Tony and Rhodey liked it here so much; they didn’t get a special treatment - everyone did.

“Hey, Charlotte!” Peter grinned. “I’m good, thanks! How are you?” 

“Can’t complain. Can I get you the usual?”

“That would be great, thank you!”

“The usual?” Flash scoffed. “How often do you come here, Parker?”

Peter shrugged. “Often enough, I guess.”

“You’re insufferable.”

Peter flashed him a lazy thumbs up and followed MJ and Ned to a booth nearby while the rest of the team placed their orders. Flash had been more or less civil to him ever since it had been proven that Peter knew Tony Stark personally, but he still wasn’t Peter’s biggest fan. He probably still thought it was all an elaborate conspiracy.

The others arrived at their booth shortly afterwards. MJ already had a folder with decathlon prep in front of her but seemed willing to wait until everyone at least had a beverage in front of them.

“One tall decaf latte, one triple special roast espresso infused with mocha aroma, one caramel chai, and one soy cappuccino with whipped cream for Peter?” Charlotte searched the room for the boy who was currently getting sneered at by Flash.

“What, Parker, did you order for all of us?” 

Peter rolled his eyes. Normally, he’d pick up coffee for Tony, Rhodey, and Happy as well whenever he stopped by - he’d forgotten to mention that today, he wasn’t on internship duty.

“No, they just - that’s just a mix-up. Charlotte, I meant just my usual, not - uhm, not everyone’s,” Peter ended lamely, unsure how to word it. Understanding dawned on her face.

“I’m really sorry, Peter! I didn’t know you’d stay here with your friends, I’m so used to your usual… entourage,” she replied with a twinkle in her eyes. Peter’s face flushed.

“As if Parker has an entourage -” Peter saw MJ kick Flash under the table which shut him up. He sent her a grateful look.

“Here, just take your latte, I’ll take the other ones back.” 

“No, that’s such a waste!” Peter gestured for her to set the coffees back down. “Maybe I could take them and make a quick detour to the tower to drop them off, we’re not that far - yes, Flash, the tower. These are for, uh -”

“His fellow interns,” Ned supplied. Peter had to suppress a groan. Hopefully, this story never got back to Mr Stark, Happy, and Colonel Rhodes. Charlotte must have been thinking along the same lines because she snorted quite inelegantly.

“You have other friends?” Flash shot him a critical glance. Peter chose to ignore him.

“I’ll just put these in a to-go holder, I’ll be right back,” Charlotte promised as she left their table.

MJ cleared her throat. “Okay, let’s talk about the next competition. I know, I know -” she raised her voice when several people started to groan, “we just had one last week, but it’s never too early to prepare. Nationals are in two months.” 

“Can’t we at least have a little break?” Cindy stirred her hot chocolate and looked up at MJ. She seemed, however, to already have accepted her fate.

“Sure,” MJ said, and several faces brightened. “You have until you’ve finished your first beverage.”

Ned snorted. Of course.

Sally started discussing her upcoming birthday party and Peter tuned out of the conversation. He stirred his latte, his gaze wandering around the store. Besides the team and the two ladies having an early afternoon tea, the store was void of customers now. Abe was trying to convince Sally to get chocolate cake for her party, which led Peter to an internal debate on whether he should get one of those pieces of cake that were on display at the counter when he suddenly felt a familiar tingle in his neck, and the sensation of goosebumps on his arms.

On instinct, he jumped up and shoved Ned and MJ down to the table. “Get down!”, he shouted, gesturing for everyone to follow suit. He may have accidentally used some of his enhanced strength because neither of them could put up much of a fight, but his gut told him that this wasn’t just a paper ball about to hit him - this was serious.

“What in the world are you on ab-” Flash froze when he followed Peter’s gaze towards the door where just at this moment, two masked men stormed inside the café.

Peter barely registered Charlotte’s scream and the commotion that his teammates made, not knowing whether they should make a run for it or somehow protect themselves. He tried to assess the situation - two men, masked, armed with guns, probably looking for money but not patient or smart enough to rob a bank. Peter doubted Charlotte had a panic button installed, and no one could call the police without attracting the robbers’ attention.

“Peter! What are you doing? Get the hell down here!” Cindy’s whispering voice reached him from underneath the table. Peter registered her voice and a hand trying to pull him down, but he shook it off and focused on the events occurring in front of him.

One of the gunmen aimed his weapon directly at Charlotte, another one held the onlookers at bay while blocking the exit. An easy task for Spiderman, but an impossible one for Peter Parker without giving up his identity.

“Ten thousand dollars. Cash,” the first gunman hissed at Charlotte. Her terrified expression made Peter furious at those criminals.

“I - We don’t have that much cash around, we have it delivered to the bank every day -” 

The robber raised his gun threateningly and Peter made a split-second decision. He stepped forward.

“Hey now, why so stressed? Ten thousand dollars? So not worth it. This will bring you jail time, you know?” 

He heard gasps behind him but forced himself into a completely relaxed stance. He wasn’t sure what his plan was - criminals usually weren’t a fan of logical explanations on why crime is bad. But maybe he could stall them until someone outside called 911. He briefly debated using his panic button which would alert Friday and thus Tony, but that was supposed to be for life-threatening emergencies. This was just like a normal Tuesday night for him, the only difference being that it was afternoon. He could do this himself. Ideally without anyone finding out he was Spiderman, but he placed his fingers on the wristband of his smartwatch nonetheless. He felt his web shooters form underneath his touch, concealed by his long-sleeved jacket.

“Shut it, kid,” the second gunman snarled, his weapon now pointing at Peter. Which would be fine if his friends weren’t directly behind him, only barely protected by a table and some chairs. He strained his hearing for sirens but couldn’t make them out yet. Instead, he heard Flash whisper “Parker’s gone fucking crazy”.

He slowly took steps sideways, away from his teammates to get them out of the possible shooting radius. “I’m just saying. Five years minimum. All that for ten grand?” 

“Kid, I’m warning you. Stand down,” the second guy snarled. Peter halted in what he deemed a sufficiently safe distance to the others behind him. His eyes darted towards Charlotte who looked utterly petrified.

“Ten grand, girl. We’re waiting.” The first guy addressed her. Peter guessed that she was in shock because she made no move at all.

“She already told you she doesn’t have that much. Looks like you didn’t plan this well, guys.” The second guy looked close to combusting. If this hadn’t involved his friends, Peter would be having a great time as Spiderman right now.

“You wanna play the hero or what? Maybe we should take you as a hostage, how would you like that, huh? I bet your parents would pay a good ransom.” The first guy redirected his attention to Peter which was what he had hoped for.

“Sure,” Peter agreed easily. Throw them off their rhythm, as a wise man once said. He noticed the slight moment of surprise on the criminals’ faces and had to stop himself from grinning. Confusing criminals was the best part of being a vigilante, next to the saving people thing.

“I should be worth, like, at least two goats. Or maybe even one of those cute mini pigs.” He heard MJ snicker under the table and he had to restrain himself from joining her.

“One more word out of you and I’ll make sure you won’t talk again, kid.” The second guy straightened his posture and aimed his gun directly at Peter’s face. It seemed like these guys would be stubborn about this. Peter saw Charlotte shaking herself out of her stupor and starting to open the register, presumably to assemble whatever cash she had right now. He felt anger rise in him - he wouldn’t allow her store to get robbed. And he had the means to stop it, even if it meant (in the worst-case scenario) having to give up his identity a bit earlier than he’d planned. He decided to try for a non-violent resolve again to buy some time for 911 to arrive before interfering himself.

“Listen, dudes -”

A shot resonated in the small store. Before his mind even registered it, his spider-sense had made him step aside and the bullet had narrowly missed him, which the gunman looked incredibly surprised about. He registered the screams of his classmates in the background and Charlotte who’d thrown herself behind the counter on the floor, covering her face.

That had been one step too far.

“I really wish you hadn’t just done that.” 

In one swift motion, he flung a web at the guy’s arm, pushed him to the ground while stealing his weapon and jumped over the table to the second guy, disarming him before he even fully turned around. About half a minute later, both criminals were on the ground and covered in webs, unable to move.

Peter tapped his watch.

“Karen? Call the nearest precinct, tell them they’ve got time.”

“Of course, Peter. May I suggest initiating the EA Protocol?”

Peter had almost forgotten about that - the “Endangered Anonymity Protocol”. He doubted they could control the damage entirely, but it wouldn’t hurt to try.

“Sure. Text Tony what happened, we’ll see what we can do.” 

He hopped down from the counter he’d been perched on, surveying the damage. Some toppled over chairs and a brand new bullet hole in the far wall, but nothing of substance. Insurance would cover that.

Peter ruffled his hair, his adrenaline quickly dropping again - one of the downsides of being enhanced. He shot a look towards the two elderly ladies on the left. “Do they need an ambulance?”

“I detect neither injuries nor symptoms of shock.”

Peter raised his eyebrows and smiled. “Seems like nothing can impress that generation, huh?”

Karen easily agreed. One of the ladies resumed sipping on her tea, and Peter deemed them to be fine.

“What in the world was that?” Cindy’s voice made Peter wince. His teammates had come out from under the table and were now staring at him with varying degrees of shock - with the exception of MJ, who just sent him a lopsided smile which Peter took as her equivalent of “well done”.

“Uh, I am testing new web shooters for Spider-Man and I have a talent for self-defence?” 

After a beat of silence, MJ said in a deadpan voice: “You just defied gravity several times, loser. And you’re talking to the decathlon team. Even Flash can figure this one out.” Flash still stared at him, his face steadily reddening.

Peter sighed. “Fine. I’m Spider-Man.” He held himself back from doing jazz-hands.

No one said anything, and Peter grew uncomfortable under all the staring. He was beginning to miss his mask. Charlotte stood at the counter, looking more proud than surprised and he figured that she’d known something was up with the random high schooler getting coffee with two Avengers and a bodyguard.

“So, uh, do any of you need an ambulance? Because Karen can call you one. My AI, that is.” 

“I detect no injuries, but will be happy to notify the emergency services if needed,” Karen’s voice came from his watch.

“Wait a minute -” Cindy turned around to MJ and Ned, the latter of whom shrunk a bit under her intense gaze. “Why aren’t you surprised? Did you know about this?”

Ned’s face grew red, but MJ just shrugged. “Not that hard to figure out.” 

“I knew something was up with you, Peter.” Charlotte seemed to have collected herself again and shook her head in disbelief but smiled nonetheless. “I just always thought you were Stark’s secret son.”

Ned snorted. “She’s not wrong.” 

What?” Flash exploded. “You’re Tony Stark’s son? Parker, I swear -”

“What? No, no! I’m not, I promise -” – “He kind of is, to be honest.” A familiar voice interrupted Peter, and he turned around to face Rhodey, wearing sweats and a t-shirt. He ruffled Peter’s hair when he reached him. “What’s up, kid?”

“Rhodey,” Peter whined. “Don’t encourage them.” 

“Oh my God, that’s War Machine,” Abe whispered.

“Tony got your text and says he’s handling it. As long as your friends and Charlotte -” he sent her a smile, which she returned, “- don’t spill the beans, your secret should be safe.” 

Peter felt the pit in his stomach ease up. It wasn’t ideal, but eight people knowing was still better than the entire world knowing. Well, ten if you counted the two tea ladies.

“Um, that’s cool. Tell Tony thanks, and stuff. Please.” 

“Fucking hell, Peter! Is that where you got those abs of steel from?” Cindy interrupted them, pointing accusingly at Peter’s abdomen.

Rhodey snorted but tried to cover it up with a cough. “Okay, I’ll leave you to it. Charlotte, if you still have those coffees for us… I’ll just quickly take those and he’d back to the tower. Tony will send someone to repair the damage later.” He sauntered over to the counter, leaving Peter to look down at his stomach and up again, where MJ was staring at him with an eyebrow raised and obviously barely containing her laughter. He felt himself blushing.

“Um, I guess so -”

“I told you he was fucking ripped! And you guys didn’t believe me!” Cindy whacked Sally’s arm half in excitement, half in frustration.

“Well, it was unlikely! And you didn’t provide evidence!” Sally defended herself, rubbing her forearm where Cindy had hit her.

“Yeah, because I’m not a creepy stalker -” 

“You saved us in DC!” Abe interrupted, having just realised the full implications of today’s revelations and causing Sally and Cindy to stop their bickering.

“Uh, yeah, I did. But it was nothing, really.” Peter rubbed the back of his neck.

“You literally saved our lives, dude. That’s not nothing.” Abe looked at Peter incredulously, as if he’d never seen him before.

“Thanks, I guess. But Ned and MJ help me a lot, for example by not kicking me out of the decathlon team when I miss practice.” He smiled at MJ, who just rolled her eyes at him like she always did. “And Tony too, of course. I mean, Mr Stark. He gave me the suit.” Suddenly, Peter grinned. “And Flash was right; the internship was fake, at least in the beginning. Now I do really work with him, but mostly on my own suit.” 

Flash just shook his head. “I knew something was fishy with that story. But I never would have guessed this, Parker.” He looked conflicted for a second before adding: “Thanks. For saving us. Twice, I guess.” 

“Hear, hear,” Ned muttered.

“So, would you guys mind not telling anyone about this? Because I’m kind of still doing this secret identity thing.” He smiled tentatively.

“Don’t worry, Peter,” Cindy smiled. “It’s the least we can do. Even if this would boost your reputation at school. You know how obsessed everyone is with Spider-Man.” 

He grinned. “Yeah, but it’s better this way. Mr Stark said we’d reveal it once I can sign the accords, and I kind of like flying under the radar for now.” 

“So what are we gonna tell the police? Do we have a plan?” Abe looked at the group questioningly.

“Just say that Spider-Man arrived, took care of things, and left again. I usually don’t wait for the police either, so it’s not unusual. I guess Tony will take care of the surveillance tapes.” Peter sat down in the booth again, his latte miraculously not spilt, but now too cold to drink. His friends sat down in their seats as well, and Peter felt like their dynamic was still more or less the same as before. If anything, he felt like they were closer, now that he’d trusted them with such a big secret.

After a few seconds, MJ broke their silence by sighing.

“Fine, you win. No practice today.” 

Peter gasped exaggeratedly. “What? No practice? If I'd known that this was all it took...”

The group dissolved into laughter as MJ rolled her eyes, and as Peter grinned and looked at his friends, he couldn’t help but think that maybe this afternoon had been for the best.