“Hey, Pete. You know about Harley, right?” Tony spun around fancily in his chair to fix the teen in question with a contemplative raise of his brows. Peter turned away from his project momentarily to cast a glance at his mentor in response.
“Uh, that kid from Tennessee you’ve been collaborating with for, like, the past month?”
Peter hated that kid…
“That’s the one,” Tony grinned brightly. He spun in his chair again, turning back to the work he had abandoned. “He’s wanting to come down for a couple weeks to help me out on a new suit. He’s had a few promising ideas. I want you to meet him.”
Peter blinked dumbly at the admittance from the man. Mr. Stark wanted him to meet his sworn enemy? Of course, Mr. Stark didn’t know about his silent, one-sided rivalry he held with the boy he’d never even met, but… still! He’d been fighting desperately for even the tiniest amount of Tony’s attention while he’d been rather preoccupied talking to this Harley kid about their project. Who knows how far he’d have to go if the other teen actually came for a visit? Gosh, Peter could see it now…
“Yeah, sure. When’s he coming?” Peter shrugged, hoping Mr. Stark wouldn’t catch on to the mild irritation lacing his tone.
“He’s coming next week. I thought-”
“Spring break week?!” Peter cried out, spinning in his chair to settle his mentor with a wide-eyed glare to match his flabbergasted outburst.
“Well… yeah. I thought it’d be perfect for you two-”
“But that was the week I was staying here with you and we were going to do cool stuff together!”
Gosh! He sounded like such a whiny baby.
Peter didn’t even know how the situation was able to make itself worse, but it had. He couldn’t believe that this prick had the audacity to waltz back into Tony’s life after who knew how many years and demand attention from him. It almost took a whole year for Mr. Stark to stop addressing him as if he were an immature, irresponsible child and invite him over to see his lab. A whole year! From the stories Peter has heard about this ‘Harley’ kid, they had barely even known each other a couple days back then!
Gosh! And now his obnoxious rival was eating up all the attention like candy… and Tony notoriously had a limited attention span when it came to things without mechanical parts or red hair accompanied by clickity-clackity heels.
“Now Pete,” Tony lamented, summoning his practiced ‘Dad voice’. “I think this will be good for you. I’m sure you two will be good friends. And we can still do things with Harley here; he’s really smart too, you know.”
And, yes, Peter did, in fact, know that Harley was a genius too. How could he not? Tony practically told him and anyone that would listen every day. He can still remember when he was the one being bragged about by Tony Stark. Which *ahem* was before ‘Harley’ came prancing back into the genius’ life from a legit midst of nothingness.
“But c’mon,” Peter whined, “that’s like the only week I have off before school ends. And then I have to go on that summer trip… we were supposed to hang out…”
“I know Pete,” Tony sighed, almost sounding guilty, but not quite, “I know you were looking forward to it just being the two of us. Sometimes we all have to make sacrifices though kiddo. I thought that this would be a fun bonding experience for all of us. Harley’s a lot of fun.”
Peter sulked and slowly turned back to his own project while Tony continued trying to reason with him dejectedly.
“You need to get used to him eventually. He’s graduated high school and I plan on giving him a high-profile intern job with R&D. So, he’ll be around a lot.”
Intern? Intern?! Peter couldn’t believe it. He thought that reckless, brunette, genius, teen boys were just a dime in a dozen, but he supposed if anyone were to attract them it’d be Tony Stark. It was stupid of him to think that he was anything special to begin with…
“What’s got you all riled up this time ‘round Spider-baby?” Rhodey asked, plopping down next to him on the couch as he scribbled out numbers angrily onto his Calc homework. Tony had been too busy talking to Harley to help him out like he usually did.
“Nothing,” he muttered, releasing a growl as he realized he’d done the whole equation wrong and immediately began running the eraser violently across the page. The thin sheet ripped dramatically, and it only fueled his anger. He seethed and struggled to not lash out as he started crumbling the paper into a tight ball.
“Ah, yes,” Rhodey chuckled slightly, “I forgot it was opposite day today.”
He probably thought he was sooo funny.
“It’s not. Everything’s fine.” Peter insisted, pulling out another loose sheet of paper from his binder.
“I can see that,” Rhodey mused as he watched Peter scribble the equation across the top line of the paper again.
They sat there in companionable silence as Peter tried and failed at solving the problem once again. Some genius he was. No wonder Mr. Stark preferred Harley.
“Where’s Tony?” Rhodey finally pipes up when he watches Peter fail another attempt, “Doesn’t he usually help you out with this stuff?”
“Yeah,” Peter huffed, sounding dejected. His scribbling paused and he stared down at the paper. “He’s busy though. Harley’s coming to visit and they’re sorting it all out.”
“I see,” Rhodey admits, nodding his head. “Well, I’m no genius like Tony, but I know my way around numbers. I didn’t go to MIT for nothing kid. Let me take a crack at it.”
Peter’s eyes light up momentarily at the offer of some much-needed help and he eagerly handed the paper over.
“We just started doing differentials, and my teacher didn’t tell us how to do all the weird e’s and natural logs.”
“Oh, that’s easy. Lookie here kiddie…”
Peter savored the last few moments he had with his mentor before Harley arrived. They were both waiting at the airport for him, because apparently Harley’s mother was extremely insistent that Tony didn’t just hand off the responsibility to one of his lackeys. Apparently, neither Harley nor his family had ever been outside of Tennessee, so both were somewhat nervous with the spontaneous vacation.
“I’m totally dreading having to do those assignments Mr. Stark,” Peter spieled, hoping to get in as much as he could before the genius’ attention was inevitably averted to the new teen intern arriving in the next few minutes. “It’s like I don’t already do enough homework during the school year. They just have to hand out packets of work that we haven't even covered yet.”
“I can see how that would be a problem,” Tony chuckled, “Maybe I can hel- Look there he is!” Tony points at a mass of bodies coming through the gate exits. Peter immediately spots a tall, lanky teen boy, and he gulps at the striking similarities between them. No wonder Tony liked Peter so much… he probably reminded the man of Harley. Tony and Harley go farther back than he and Peter did… no wonder.
“Hey kid,” Tony smiled, looking excited as the older boy hurried up to the waiting pair.
“Hey old man. How’s it hanging? Long time no see.” Harley laughed and didn’t even hesitate to throw his arms around the man’s neck in a friendly hug, and to Peter’s utter and complete surprise… Tony hugged him too, with a friendly - not at all awkward - pat on the back to go with it!
“Stop calling me old you brat,” he teased, clapping him on the back and pulling away from the hug to get a fresh look at him. “Look at you kid. I remember when you were just an annoying little toddler of a child.”
“Yeah, well, what did you expect after 7 years?”
7 years?? He was practically the same age as Peter! And he was done with high school? Oh goodness, how was he supposed to top that?
“Whatever,” Tony muttered lightheartedly. “Let’s go get your bags. Oh!” He turned to look at Peter as if just remembering he was there, “and this is Peter. He’s a science nerd too.”
“Replaced me already Stark?” Harley feigned hurt.
“Sure did,” Tony quipped back.
Peter’s heart hurt at that; it stuttered obnoxiously against his chest. He knew it was just a joke. He knew. That didn’t make the blow any softer though.
It only seemed to get worse from there...
Instead of throwing his arm around Peter’s shoulders like he would usually do, Tony threw them around Harley’s instead, chatting animatedly to the young teen as they navigated their way through the throngs of people. At least Peter got a firm hand on the back of his neck to guide him so he didn’t get lost as if he were a small child. That was at least something, right?
Then, when they got to the car, Harley had immediately shouted shotgun, because he was a jerk like that. Tossing Peter a teasing look as he hopped into the front seat of the Audi. Tony just laughed as he stuffed luggage into the trunk and Peter sulked and grumbled under his breath as he climbed into the backseat, ready to endure through the excited chattering that was sure to emit from the front of the car.
When they got back to the Compound, Peter felt for a moment that things would get better, because Mr. Stark through an arm over his shoulders instead of Harley’s as they walked in… but things didn't get better. Tony told him to show Harley to the room he’d be staying in… which, conveniently, just so happened to be Peter’s room. The other guest rooms were full because the Rogues had come back along with a few added guests, and Mr. Stark for some reason thought it would be a good ‘bonding opportunity’ for them… yeah right. So, yeah, Peter would be sharing a room with his undeclared arch nemesis too. How great was that?!
Then, maybe an hour later when they headed down to Mr. Stark’s workshop, Tony and Harley were quick to get to work on their joint project while Peter went off to work with his lonesome self at his desk. It was just as Peter expected. They offered to involve Peter in the project of course, but… it just felt wrong somehow.
And he longer he was down in the lab with nothing but his web shooters to distract his overeager mind, the longer he contemplated the angered feelings that had been accumulating in his gut since it’d been declared that Harley would be coming for an impromptu visit. The more he thought, the more the guilt began to replace the anger. And the more guilt he felt, the more he realized how much of a clingy, selfish child he’d been acting.
Mr. Stark wasn’t his Dad. Mr. Stark didn’t have to give him his sole attention at every hour of every day. Heck, the man didn’t have to give him any attention at all, but he did. So, therefore, Peter should be grateful for what he received and not what he had to share with others, and even what could possibly be taken from him entirely. It was never his to begin with… so he had no right to get upset.
Thoughts like this continued to plague his mind, and he became a bit… panicky.
Harley had every right to come visit.... Apparently, according to the conversations he could overhear, Tony and Harley had kept in good contact through the years. Harley didn’t have a father either. The teen had every right to imprint on Tony just like Peter had done, because the man was great. He was caring and funny, and just a bit overbearing... the perfect father in Peter's mind. He shouldn’t get jealous and declare a silent war against someone when they were simply seeking for the same comfort and validation that had been and was still seeking. It wasn’t right. It was selfish.
Peter got to see Mr. Stark almost twice a week! Harley didn’t get any of that. He got a few phone calls and facetimes, but that was it!
Why was he such a selfish, ungrateful brat? Aunt May hadn’t raised an ungrateful brat.
Peter dropped his head in his hands and sighed, trying to find at least some way to validate his feelings so he wouldn’t have to feel so guilty. He couldn’t find anything.
See… Peter wouldn’t be feeling any of this if Harley just… if he hadn’t come at all. Still, that didn’t help to quench the deep-seated guilt pooling in his stomach. He didn’t know why something that made Mr. Stark smile was making him so mad. Wait! He did know! He was selfish! Oh yeah, how could he possibly forget?
So, in an attempt to compensate for the unreasonable hatred he had developed towards the teen, he made extra effort to not hate him… if that made any sense.
It seemed to work too.
Since they shared a room it was fairly easy to get to know him, because apparently Harley enjoyed having nearly an hour conversation in the dark before falling asleep at night. Peter learned a lot about him during the first night, and it turned out to be pretty easy to like him. His personality was cool and amusing; a lot like Mr. Stark’s.
Peter made an extra effort to be nice and happy the next day too. Things went about the same way, except towards the end of the night, they watched a quick movie before bed.
Then, on the second night, things got a little deeper… Harley asked about Peter’s parents and how he came to know Tony, and, well… Peter told him. Which led to Peter asking Harley a similar question, due to the specifics social edicate. Peter empathized with him instantly, especially when the teen shyly admitted his embarrassing dependence he’d acquired towards the genius after only a month of near constant contact, and how grateful he was for the time he was able to spend with him. That wasn’t something to ease the guilt in Peter’s stomach at all, but it definitely gave Peter a more mature view on the matter. He got a new friend out of it too.
The next day, though, Peter caught on to something rather unnerving.
He had spent so much time worrying that Harley was going to steal time away from Mr. Stark that he hadn’t realized how much time he was actually stealing away from Harley. He hadn’t really noticed the fact that Mr. Stark was somewhat of a mother hen and took every available opportunity to check on him and make sure he was doing okay. He’d been blinded by his jealousy before, and perhaps a little peevish the past couple days after realizing that he was actually the one in the wrong, but yeah! Mr. Stark wouldn’t stop fussing over him every hour or so, even when he was in the midst of a detailed planning stage with Harley. Peter got a glimpse of the frustration that flickered across the other teen’s face when Mr. Stark paused in their ministrations to turn and address Peter, yet again… making sure he wasn’t thirsty or hungry for lunch even though it was barely noon, for perhaps the third time that morning.
That’s what made up Peter’s mind. He could relate to Harley way too easily, and he hated the idea of the dude not being able to get the most out of his once in forever visit with his undeclared father figure. He was a nice guy, and he’d been through a lot in life too… it wasn’t right for Peter to be a constant interruption to their rare bonding time. So, he dismissed himself from the lab, apologizing to Mr. Stark for his demise, and shooting a knowing look and a ‘you’re welcome’ wink to Harley, who just rolled his eyes in response.
Mr. Stark, of course, put up immediate protest.
“Oh, c’mon kiddo. Am I being pushy again? I won’t ask anymore, I swear it. You don’t gotta go, I know I promised you we’d spend this week off school together.”
Peter flinched inwardly. He didn’t know how he could have possibly thought Tony was replacing him. The man just cared too much sometimes. He had too much care to go around to ever run out of it. His attention span may be meager, but his affection never was.
“It’s cool Mr. Stark. I gotta get a head start on that homework anyway.”
“Alright,” Tony voiced warily, watching reluctantly as Peter gathered up his things and headed for the exit, “let me know if you need help on anything.”
“Sure thing Mr. Stark,” Peter smiled sadly.
He was doing the right thing - he knew that. It was just hard… but at the same time so liberating to know he helped another fatherless kid get to know their wished-to-be father-figure.
“Hey, um, Colonel Rhodes?” Peter piped up hesitantly, approaching the man in the kitchen, clutching a thick pile of paper in his hands, “I’m reviewing for my AP exam, and these practice questions are ridiculously hard. Can you help me a little bit?”
Rhodey grinned and put down his mug of coffee to accept the thick packet offered to him. “Sure kiddo let’s get setup at the dining table. This is probably gonna take a while.”
“Hello?” Peter peeked into the hi-tech lab, looking much different from Mr. Stark’s, with the overall cleanliness, “Mr. Bruce, Dr. Banner, sir?”
“Oh, hello, Peter,” Bruce greeted warmly, snapping his head to the side to look at the teen. “What can I do for you today?”
“Oh, um, well I got some homework… and Mr. Stark is kinda busy… and Mr. Rhodes doesn’t know a whole lot about Chemistry…” He trailed off a bit, a bit nervous having to ask the world-renowned scientist for help on his high school homework. “An-and there’s some Biology too… it’s just kinda hard, and I was hoping that you could just explain a couple things to me?”
“Of course!” Bruce chirped eagerly, pushing displays and rolly tables out of his way as he approached Peter, “let’s take a look.”
“Hey, kiddo, how’re things going?” Tony asked, venturing up from the workshop after his three-day binge with Harley. Heck, Peter thinks they might have even slept down there if they had slept at all. “Sorry that I sorta abandoned you up here, we were kinda in the zone down there, weren’t we Harley?” Tony turned to the grease-stained teen beside him for confirmation. The boy nodded, laughing slightly before heading in the direction of the kitchen to retrieve some water.
Peter smiled… his jealousy had significantly dissipated over the past three days, and he was happy for them. He’d actually had a pretty great time in Mr. Stark’s absence anyway. Of course, not quite as great as it would have been if the man had been there himself, but it was still good. So, not much room for him to complain.
“It’s okay Mr. Stark. I’m sorry I didn’t go down to visit you guys more than I did. I was just wanted to focus on my homework… it’s kinda hard to figure out on my own, y’know.”
“Well, I got some time now. Pull it out here kid,” Tony smiled, dropping down on the couch next to him, wearing an excited grin despite the bags beneath his eyes, and kicking his feet up on the coffee table. “I’ll walk you through those tricky differentials again and whatever else might’ve stumped you. I swear the education system is just getting worse every passing year-”
“It’s okay Mr. Stark, I finished it already?”
“Oh,” Tony voice rose a pitch in surprise, eyebrows raising as well, “did you want me to check answers or something on the ones you're unsure of?”
“No, it’s okay,” Peter smiled comfortingly at the man, “Mr. Rhodes helped me with my Calculus already.”
“Rhodey?” Tony spluttered indignantly, seemingly surprised by the notion. “Oh... well, what about Chemistry? You were going on and on and on the other day about the ridiculous amount of unneeded work. Did you get that finished up too?”
“Yep,” Peter nodded proudly, not quite registering the perturbed expression on Tony’s face after he said it, “Dr. Banner helped me out. He actually said I can come by tomorrow so we can go over some flash cards we made together. I need to memorize a few things, but after that I should ace the final exam easily.”
“Okay,” Tony nodded solemnly, gazing out blankly at the room while he thought, “well, I’m not excellent in the subject, but if you still need some help with the English packet, I’m-”
“It’s all good, I got Ms. Natasha to help me. She’s actually really good with languages Mr. Stark, did you know that? She speaks, like, a ton of them!”
Peter hesitated when he saw Tony grit his teeth in frustration. He wasn’t sure what he had done to frustrate the man. He had done him a favor! He left him alone so he could focus on making a bond with his newer teenage intern! He’d even done all the work so he didn’t feel required to help!
“You good Tony?” Harley asked, taking note of the engineer’s distressed face when he reappeared with two glasses of water.
“Yeah, all good kid. Just thinking about what I can do with Pete here since I’ve practically ignored him the whole week.”
Peter smiled at the thoughtfulness, but at the same time… he really didn't want Mr. Stark to feel obligated to spend time with him.
“Hey, Pete, you ready to go kid?! I don’t got all day!” Clint suddenly appeared in the room, twirling a set of car keys on his finger. “Oh, hey Stark. How’re you and your new MiniMe getting on? I don’t think we’ve had the privilege of meeting this one.”
“This is Harley,” Tony introduced gruffly, staring the man down. “What’re you and Peter doing?”
“Oh, the kid mentioned that he hadn’t started on his hours for driving yet. He needs a ton of practice before he’s allowed to get his license apparently! So, I offered to take him for a little spin. Why? Did you need him for something? I’m sure we can postpone it until later, right Pete?”
Peter’s brows furrowed when he took in Mr. Stark’s fidgety nature, sitting rigidly on the couch, rather than his original relaxed position.
“No, no, it’s fine. Just don’t let him kill anyone. His Aunt will never let me see him again. Stay safe kiddo.”
Then, with that, Tony shot out instructions for Harley to eat and shower before disappearing from the room himself with his head bowed slightly, muttering nonsense under his breath. Soon, only Peter and Clint were left in the room.
Peter couldn’t help but feel good at knowing he hadn’t gotten in Mr. Stark’s or Harley’s way. Of course, he was a little upset that he didn’t get to spend quite as much time with his mentor as he was hoping, but he was glad he was able to help Harley out all the same.
Tony was getting pissed. It was Saturday and he and Peter still hadn’t done anything bond-y related all week. He and Harley had long since finished their project, and Peter’s empty desk was giving him the jitters. He knew what the kid was oh-so busy doing, and it made him the slightest bit angry. He didn’t understand why the kid seemed to be going out of his way to avoid him. It didn’t seem like anything was wrong when they talked!
“Hey, kid, wanna have a little training session before I head back to the lab?”
“No thanks Mr. Stark. I’m still kinda tired from my session with Steve. He’s real intense, did you know that Mr. Stark?
“Hey, buddy, want me to go out on patrol with you? Harley’s off visiting colleges right now.”
“Sorry Mr. Stark,” Peter actually looked slightly guilty for that one, “but I promised I’d help Bucky with his new computer game. I have to teach him how to set up mods… I think that might take a while. Maybe next time?”
“Hey, Pete? Wanna go out to dinner with me and Harley?”
“Can’t! Sorry Mr. Stark!” He had shouted urgently, making an effort to shove Sam over in an attempt to affect the character on screen. “In the middle of a Mario Kart tournament... Yes!”
It was driving him crazy!
“Hey, um, Tony?” Harley started out worriedly, eyeing the man from across the table, “you good?”
Tony’s grip tightened momentarily on the screwdriver as he tried to repress the accumulating frustration. It doesn’t last long, though. He throws the tool down and stares up at Harley scornfully.
“Hey, no need to get fussy at me!” Harley’s quick to defend himself, dropping his own tools to throw his hands up in defense.
“It’s not you kid,” Tony grumbles with a slight roll of his eyes, turning his attention back to his project.
“Is it Peter? You keep glaring at his desk…”
Tony stays silent for a moment, risking another glance up to stare at Peter’s desk a few tables down. The silence permeates in the room and for a moment Harley didn’t think he was going to say anything. Boy, was he wrong…
“Since when did he become so chummy with ‘em, huh?” The man scoffed, turning back to look at the surprised boy across from him. He dismisses the befuddled expression and keeps right on going in voicing his frustration. “I mean, c’mon! These bastards know that’s my kid, and now they’re all eating up his time when he was supposed to spend the week with me! We were gonna do all these fun projects and we haven’t done anything yet! There’s only a day left of his vacation! I was going to help him with his homework too, cuz, y’know, that’s what I do, right? I mean, it’s not too unreasonable to for them to have some manners and at least ask-”
“Heck, man, you better spend some time with your old man before he has a hissy fit,” Harley voices as he adjusts the sheets on the air mattress he’d been sleeping on. “Or at least another one.”
“What are you talking about Harley?” Peter laughed as he climbed onto his own bed.
Harley gives him a look.
“I’m talking about the full half-hour frustration fueled rant your Dad went on about after you turned us down for dinner. He went on and on about how you guys hadn’t done anything together the whole week. It was actually pretty funny. It looked like he was about to throw a tantrum or something.”
Peter stared at him for a moment, a little dazed by the admittance.
“Are you kidding?!” He cried dramatically, “I’ve literally been going out of my way so you guys could spend time together without me.”
“Well, why the heck would you do that?” Harley laughed, looking at him as if he were crazy.
“You need a Dad!” Peter argued defiantly, throwing his hands out to gesture in the other teen’s direction, as if he were the one to blame.
“So?” Harley scoffed, “doesn’t mean I have to steal yours… You do realize there’s this thing called sharing. It’s quite popular nowadays-”
A pillow was subsequently slammed in his face.
“Shut up,” Peter muttered a bit embarrassedly.
“Whatever,” Harley muttered, tossing the pillow back at him, “but you better get your butt down in the shop with us tomorrow. I don’t wanna deal with one of our Dad’s tantrums on my own again.”
Peter stared at him, dumbfounded, but Harley ignored him.
The lights had long since shut off when a slow smile slowly inched across his face to replace the gob smacked hole.
It would be kinda cool to have a brother.