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Falling into Place

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Chapter 1

Peter sucks on his straw until he gets air instead of Coke. He's probably had too much caffeine already, but due to his super speedy metabolism, he burns right through it and thinks it'll be okay if he has another glass. Mr Stark is listening to some old guy beside him at their table drone on and on, and he looks really bored, but Peter knows that it's probably important, and Mr Stark should at least pretend to listen, so he pokes him in the shoulder and whispers that he's going to get another Coke from the bar. Mr Stark gives a small wave of dismissal to let him know he heard, so Peter jumps up and makes his way through all the people socializing at the gala.

He's about halfway there when he spots the restrooms and rethinks his plan. He's had three glasses already, and his bladder could use a break, so he decides to make a pit stop.

There are a few old guys in the bathroom and some slightly younger ones, but it doesn't phase him. He's probably one of the youngest, if not the youngest person at the gala, so he barely bats an eye. By the time he's done his business, there is just one older guy left, and Peter barely notices him looking over from the urinals while he's washing his hands. It registers that it's kind of weird to make eye contact while you're pissing in a urinal, but he dismisses it and grabs for a towel. He's tossing it in the trash when he hears a click, and he looks up, a little startled.

The older man is now standing with his back to the door and looking right back at Peter in a way that makes Peter feel very uncomfortable. He's used to bad guys, of course, but that's when he's Spider-Man. Right now he's just Peter Parker. He could easily shove the guy aside and break through the door--he thinks quickly about doing it--but normal people can't bust down doors with a kick, so he risks giving himself away. And according to Mr Stark, it's really important that he doesn't do that.

The man looks about sixty, Peter thinks. He has gray hair and is balding near the top. He's definitely on the rounder side and is probably about twice Peter's weight. Peter thinks that the best course of action is to figure out what he wants, so he decides to hold his ground for the time being.

"Um, can I help you with something, sir?" he asks, even though every nerve in his body is telling him to get the hell out of the bathroom and find Mr Stark.

The man's lips curl into a grotesque smile, his teeth crooked and yellow. He’s still looking at Peter in a weird way--up and down and back again like Peter’s an expensive car that he’d like to drive. "A boy like you must be bored at an event like this," he says, pushing away from the door and taking two steps towards Peter. "Would you like to make the time go by faster?"

Peter is not sure exactly how to reply. He definitely wouldn’t like to spend any amount of time with this creeper. Does he say he has to get back to Mr Stark? Then again, he probably shouldn't even mention Mr Stark's name. The last thing he wants is to be held for ransom. No, it's probably best if he doesn't say that.

"What's your name, boy?" the man asks, taking two more steps until he is now an arm length away.

Peter backs into the wall, swallowing the bile that threatens to come up his throat.

The man steps closer, leaning into Peter's personal space. "I would prefer if you answered me." His breath smells like garlic and broccoli, along with an overpowering scent of booze.

Peter can't help himself when he shoves the man away. It's harder than he means to, and the man stumbles back, barely keeping his footing before he grabs a sink and rights himself. Peter has to dial it down. As grossed out as he is, he can't let this guy know that he's anything other than a fifteen year old kid tagging along to some boring benefit. He’s contemplating hitting the panic button on his phone that’s shoved into his pocket when the guy lunges toward him again and grabs his wrist, spinning him around until he’s pressed up against the wall. His face is smushed against the crisp white tile when the guy leans into him.

“You’re pretty strong, huh,” he says, his breath making Peter want to puke. “Good thing I like that.”

The man’s free hand is then on Peter’s belt, trying to get it loose. He’s panting and rubbing against Peter’s back, and it’s sick and disgusting. Peter wants to be anywhere else but there. He’s thinking about overpowering the guy when a hand moves down his front. Peter feels like he’s going to puke. He’s frozen for a second, not believing what’s actually happening, and then the next thing he knows, he’s gagging. A good amount of soda comes up, splashing on the tile floor, but the man doesn’t back away.

Peter is gasping and panting from vomiting. All he wants is to push him away, but he’s shaking so hard, he can’t get control of his limbs. Tears spring to his eyes just as there’s a knock at the door.

“Hello?” a man’s voice calls, and the handle on the door jiggles. And then softer, “The door is jammed.”

Tears roll down Peter’s face, burning hot tracks on his red cheeks. Someone is going to come in any second, and he’ll be okay without having to use his powers. “Get off of me!” he finally finds the composure to yell, kicking his leg and trying to jostle the creep away. His face hurts from being pressed against the wall, and his wrist is sore from being pulled on and twisted behind his back, but he doesn’t even care about those things when his foot finally makes contact with what he’s guessing is the creep’s shin.

“Ow!” the man cries, releasing Peter and jumping back.

“Pete! Are you in there?” Mr Stark yells from the other side of the door, and Peter feels like collapsing with relief. He tries to reply, and only a sob comes out. He’s shaking so badly with fear and relief that he can’t even get any actual words out.

The man is looking around, trying to find somewhere to escape to, but there is no other exit, not even a window. There’s now pounding on the door, so he takes one angry glance at Peter before dashing into a stall and locking himself inside.

“Stand back!” Mr Stark calls, and before Peter can respond, the door is blasted through. The dust clears, and Peter sees the Iron Man gauntlet through the splintered wood. His legs threaten to give out so he grabs the sink nearest to him, and hangs on while Mr Stark steps through the hole he made in the door.

The gauntlet retracts into Mr Stark’s wristband, and he rushes towards Peter. “Hey, what’s going on in here?” he asks, glancing at the vomit on the floor, and the front of Peter’s suit, which is also wet since he couldn’t turn his head properly. “Are you okay?”

Peter grabs onto him and clutches him tightly, pressing his tear stained face into Mr Stark’s collar. He doesn’t want to say what happened. He only points toward the stall that his attacker had locked himself into and then immediately latches onto the back of Mr Stark’s suit. The next thing he knows, he’s being pulled out of the bathroom, and then forced to let go of his mentor while Happy lowers him to a chair and sits on another in front of him.

“You okay, kid?” Happy says, putting a heavy hand on Peter’s shoulder. “Are you hurt?”

Peter shakes his head and rubs at his eyes. The answer to both questions is no, he guesses. He’s not physically hurt, but he’s definitely not okay. Nothing like that has ever happened to him before, and he’s having trouble processing it. He wants to put on his Spider-Man suit and wear it forever so that will never happen to him again. If he had been wearing the suit, he could have smashed that guy against the wall in a second, and no one would have known anything about Peter Parker. Being Peter Parker makes him vulnerable because he has to keep his strength a secret.

Happy scoots his chair closer and rubs Peter’s back comfortingly. “Don’t worry. Tony will make sure that guy goes to prison in an ambulance.”

When the police arrive and move in, Mr Stark finally comes out of the restroom. He finds Peter and Happy and sits down on the other side of Peter, leaning in to get a good look at his protégé.

Peter looks away. He has a feeling Mr Stark wants him to talk about it, and he doesn’t want to. At all. He just wants to go home. Or… actually, he doesn’t want to do that either. May will flip out when she finds out, and he doesn’t really want to deal with that either. He just wants to lock himself in his room at the Tower and never think about it again.

Mr Stark motions to Happy that he should scram. “Go get the car ready. Pete and I will meet you downstairs in a few minutes.” When Happy is out of earshot, Mr Stark places a hand on Peter’s shoulder. “I know you don’t want to talk about it, but I need to know what happened. Let’s head on down to the car, and maybe you can tell me a little then?”

Peter doesn’t know how to say it so he puts his hands over his face and tries not to cry. This is not how he wants Mr Stark to see him. He wishes he could turn back time and avoid the restroom all together. He wouldn’t have drank so much Coke. He would have stayed with Mr Stark all night. But it’s too late now, and he can’t change the past. He’s going to have to say something to Mr Stark eventually, even though he wants to change the subject and pretend everything’s okay.

“Alright, let’s blow this popsicle stand,” Mr Stark says and pulls Peter up by the arm. He puts his arm around Peter’s shoulders and walks him towards the exit while Peter tries to wipe the tears from his face.

When they get the lobby, and walk through the doors, Happy is waiting out front with the car, and Mr Stark ushers Peter into the back seat before climbing in after him. He motions to Happy to roll up the partition. “I get that this is hard,” he says, watching while Peter stares ahead at nothing in particular. “You don’t have to give me all the gritty details. Right now, I just need to know if I need to bring you to the hospital or something. So please, Pete. Give me the cliffnotes.”

Peter takes in a shaky breath. He understands why he should tell Mr Stark. He just doesn’t really want to. “He didn’t actually do anything,” he says at last, trying to be as vague as possible. “He just kinda--held me down. I kicked him, and he let go.”

Mr Stark lets out an audible breath. “Okay. We’ll let Happy drive us back to the Tower then.” He puts his arm around Peter. “You’re gonna be okay, bud. I’m really sorry that happened.”

Peter leans into him and closes his eyes. “It’s not your fault,” he mumbles.

“And don’t you worry about that creep seeing the light of day anytime soon. I have about twenty lawyers making sure he can’t come near you ever again.” Mr Stark squeezes Peter’s shoulder. “Right now he’s suffering from a black eye and possibly a concussion, but if I ever see him again, he’ll probably be wishing he was dead.”

Peter doesn’t want to cry, but he can’t stop the tears, so he grabs onto Mr Stark’s lapel and buries his face into his mentor’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Pete,” Mr Stark says, his voice sounding slightly fractured. “I should have been watching you closer. Then maybe this wouldn’t have happened.”

“It’s not your fault!” Peter says with more force into the collar of Mr Stark’s shirt and then sniffs, feeling bad. “Don’t blame yourself for this. If anything, it’s my fault.”

“Okay, I’m going to stop you right there. You are the last person who’s to blame.” Mr Stark has his hands on his shoulders now and is pulling him back to look at him. “You are a child, Pete.”

“But I’m also Spider-Man,” Peter says, and now he’s really crying hard, but he can’t help it. “I c-could have beaten the shit out of him, and I didn’t. I should have just d-done it. I don’t know why I thought I had to hide my identity from him. People probably wouldn’t listen to a w-word he said anyway.”

Mr Stark pulls him back into his arms and rubs his back comfortingly. “I don’t know what would have happened if you did, but I do know that none of that makes any of this your fault. That jerk shouldn’t have locked you in there. He shouldn’t have laid a finger on you. He is the one at fault, Pete. No one else.”

Peter knows that Mr Stark is right. What he said makes a lot of sense, after all. He just feels like maybe he could have done something differently to prevent it. He can think of a million things he could have done differently. But it’s too late now. He’s just glad he got away before anything else happened. And he’s glad he’s in Mr Stark’s car wrapped up in safe, strong arms.

“It is not your fault,” Mr Stark says again, giving him another squeeze. “What do you say to movies and popcorn when we get back? Maybe some ice cream later? I’ll even let you pick the movie this time.”

Peter sniffs and nods. Mr Stark knows everything that would help him feel better, and he appreciates the distraction. He especially appreciates Mr Stark letting him choose the movie, because lately, they’d been watching movies that Peter hadn’t yet seen. And right now he just wants to watch something familiar to take his mind off of everything.

~*~

Tony lets Peter fall asleep on the couch during the second movie, and doesn’t poke him awake like he usually does to make him move to his bed. Instead, he pulls the blankets up to Peter’s neck and can’t help but brush a curl or two away from his forehead while he looks down at him, feeling sad.

It could have been worse. It could have been much, much worse. He keeps telling himself that over and over. Peter’s going to be okay. They haven’t really talked about what happened much, but it doesn’t sound too bad. Peter’s clothes were all in place when Tony busted into the bathroom. That was good. But it doesn’t change how sick Tony feels thinking that something like that had happened at all.

And now that Peter’s asleep, Tony has to start thinking about telling May about it. And that is definitely something he doesn’t want to do. He’s kind of afraid she’s going to blame him and maybe she won’t let Peter hang around him anymore. Hell, Tony blames himself, so it’s not much of a stretch. If he were May, he would definitely put the blame on himself, too. It’s just that now that Peter’s been such a big part of his life, he can’t really imagine it without Peter.

So he decides to wait until morning, and then he could ask Peter before they tell May. If Peter wants to tell her himself, that should be his decision. If he wants Tony to do it, then Tony will definitely do it. What he’s afraid of is that Peter won’t want May to know, and Tony definitely thinks she should know. He can’t have her sending him her happy kid on Friday only to have him send back a damaged kid on Sunday night. Especially without an explanation.

He sighs and runs his hand through his messy hair, causing it to stick up. Then he crawls on the other side of the L-shaped sofa and grabs a pillow, fluffing it up and laying his head down close to Peter’s pillow. It’s going to be a long night, and he’ll be lucky if he gets any sleep at all. But he’ll be damned if he’s leaving the kid alone for a second. He will be there when Peter wakes up, and then they’ll deal with everything else together.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

When Peter wakes up, he’s a little sore but he’s used to that, so he cuddles back into his pillow and squeezes his eyes shut. As the seconds tick by he cracks an eye open and realizes that he’s in Mr Stark’s living room in the Tower. It’s quiet and comfortable, but he’s wondering why Mr Stark didn’t wake him up so he could sleep in his bed. Not that he minds exactly. It’s just weird.

He stretches a little and looks around. Mr Stark is asleep on the other side of the couch, lying on his back and snoring softly.

And then Peter remembers what happened the night before. His appetite immediately vanishes. He’s actually surprised he slept so well.

He wants to wake Mr Stark up, but Mr Stark should sleep. He never sleeps, and Peter feels guilty about waking him up, so he doesn't. He wants to be distracted just like he was last night. Alone in the quiet, it’s hard to stop the intrusive thoughts from coming, so he whispers to FRIDAY to turn the television on--at a low volume so he won't wake Mr Stark up.

Saturday cartoons do little to distract him. He can't stop the thoughts from coursing through his brain. The what ifs, the how comes, and the absolute disgust he feels way down inside. He used to feel safe all the time, but now that he knows gross men like that are out there, it makes him feel decidedly unsafe. He's okay as long as he's with Mr Stark, but he would definitely rather Mr Stark be awake right now. He just knows how little sleep Mr Stark usually gets, and it would be selfish of him to disturb the man. So instead, he takes out his phone to text Ned, quickly realizing he can't think of anything to say. He doesn't want to tell Ned what happened, but that's really all he can think about, and it's driving him crazy. He sets his phone back down on the coffee table and lets out a big sigh. Maybe he could make Mr Stark some coffee. Maybe the coffee smell would wake him up and then the coffee itself would keep him awake. Then again, he's not sure what he'd say to him anyway. What it boils down to is that he's just plain uncomfortable doing and talking about anything, and he's definitely uncomfortable sitting by himself not doing anything. That's for sure the worst ever.

He's in the kitchen trying to get the fancy coffee pot working when he hears someone clearing their throat behind him. He drops the whole carton of keurig pods and they scatter and roll all over the floor. Of course it's only Mr Stark behind him, so that explains why his senses weren't going crazy. "Sorry," he says, bending over to gather the pods up. "I was just trying to make you coffee, but I've never done it before, and it's way more complicated than I thought it would be. Give me five more minutes, and I'll figure it out though."

Mr Stark bends down to help him pick up the mess. "Stop. Don't worry about the coffee. I'll finish. It was nice of you to think of me though." He places five pods back in the box that Peter is holding. "You're probably the most selfless kid I've ever met."

Peter cracks a smile. "Well, it wasn't entirely selfless. I wanted you to wake up, actually. Mission accomplished?"

Mr Stark laughs.

"Oh," Peter says, walking across the room to grab an errant pod. "Also you haven't met all that many kids, so my competition is pretty scarce."

Mr Stark folds his arms over his chest with a satisfied smile. "Would you learn to accept a compliment, already? Geez, it's like pulling teeth around here."

Peter brings the pods back to the counter, letting Mr Stark grab one before he sets them down beside the coffee brewer. "I'm just a regular teenager. Well, besides the spider thing. That's a little different."

Mr Stark pops the pod in and then ruffles Peter's hair. "A little different?" he says, putting his arm around Peter's shoulders and pulling him in for a one armed hug. "It's okay. Different is good. You're definitely the best kid out there. I don't need to meet the others to know."

Peter smiles again. "I think you're a little bias, Mr Stark."

Mr Stark squeezes him. "Naw. You're the best. Final word. You can't argue with me since this is my house, and I make the rules."

Peter puts his head against Mr Stark's shoulder. "FRIDAY who makes the rules around here?"

"Boss does," FRIDAY replies. "However, I've noticed he's highly influenced by you, so one could argue that you indirectly make the rules, Peter."

Peter bursts out laughing while Mr Stark gapes at the ceiling. "Who taught her that?" Mr Stark asks.

"You did by your behavior, boss," FRIDAY says.

“Whatever. Who programed this AI anyway?”

“You did, boss,” FRIDAY replies.

Mr Stark ignores the AI and lets go of Peter to reach for the cabinet door. He pulls out another carton of keurig pods and shows it to Peter. “Look what I have,” he says, plucking out a pod from the top. “Hot chocolate. Just for you.”

Peter grins and takes it from him. This is exactly what he needs to forget about everything that happened.

“Boss’s grocery list is also inspired by you, Peter,” FRIDAY volunteers.

Mr Stark looks up at the ceiling. “That’s enough out of you, FRIDAY. Zip it.”

~*~

Peter has put the last bite of pancakes in his mouth and sipped the last of his hot chocolate when the air in the room changes and everything is quiet. Tony doesn’t want to upset the kid, but they have to talk about it. This isn’t something that can be swept under the rug as much as the two of them both want it to be that way.

“So,” Tony finally says, and Peter looks up at him in dread, his face paling and his eyes big with expectation. “We need to tell your aunt what happened. How do you want to do that?”

Peter pushes his mug toward the center of the table. “Can we not tell her? Is that an option?”

Tony sighs. He was afraid of this. “I don’t want to tell her either, kid. But, the thing is, I’m responsible for you this weekend. If she ever finds out what happened, and she probably will because of all the lawyers involved, she’s gonna be pissed. And not at you, but at me. And to be honest, she’s probably the second to last person I want pissed at me.” The first being Pepper, of course. Both those women hold the power to turn Tony’s world on end, and he doesn’t want to mess with either of them.

Peter looks down at his empty plate, his eyes hidden from view. “What if we stop the lawyers, and then we never tell anyone else? She won’t find out then, will she?” When he looks up, there are tears in his eyes.

Tony hates himself just a little more for being the cause of those tears. And even more for shaking his head sadly. “I’m sorry. Can’t do that. We gotta tell your aunt. I’m sorry, Pete. If you want, I can talk to her about it. You don’t have to say anything. You don’t even have to be there if you don’t want to.”

The tears spill over onto Peter’s cheeks, and he angrily wipes them away. “Doesn’t it matter what I want?” he asks in such a broken voice, that it makes Tony want to cry right along with him.

“Of course it matters,” he replies. “But hear me out. I’m trying to be a responsible adult here, and you know how hard that is for me. If you were May, wouldn’t you want to know about this?”

Peter sniffs and looks back down, fiddling with the sleeves on his hoodie. “I guess. But you don’t know her like I do. She’s gonna flip out. I’ll never get to leave the apartment again. She won’t let me come over here. She won’t let me go out as Spider-man. She’ll put me in bubble wrap and lock me in my room.”

The image fills Tony’s head and he considers it. Not a distinctly bad idea, he thinks. He and May might be on the same page, after all. Then again, he’d prefer Pete to be locked up in the Tower, where he could keep an eye on him.

“Stop imagining me locked up,” Peter says, his eyes back on his mentor.

Tony gives him a little smile. “Sorry. And she’s not going to lock you up, Pete. You still have to go to school, and I’m hoping she’ll still let you come here. There just isn’t any way around this. I’m really sorry.” He hops off his stool and puts his arm around Peter’s back. “So what do you want to do? Tell her yourself, or have me tell her?”

Peter leans into him. “I guess you can tell her. I don’t really want to talk about it.”

“Okay.” Tony rubs his arm and rests his cheek on the top of Peter’s head. He’s still incredibly pissed that the poor kid has to go through any of this at all. Once Peter goes home on Sunday night, he’s going to be out for blood, and not even Pepper will be able to stop him. But for now, his first priority is Peter, and he’s going to make sure the kid is okay before he does anything else. “I’m going to sit down in the living room to call her. You can sit with me or you can go to your room. Which sounds better?”

Peter sniffs. “I guess I’ll sit with you.”

Tony nods. He doesn’t blame him. He’d probably do the same. When he was a kid, he was always trying to listen in on his parents’ conversations--especially when they were discussing him. He’d actually gotten in trouble over it more than once. But Tony wasn’t going to treat Peter that way. If this is about him, then he has a right to participate in the conversation or at least know what’s being said. Besides, if he has something he needs to say to May, he can tell her later. Tony isn’t his dad, but he still feels responsible. He loves Peter, and he will do whatever he has to do to protect him and make him feel safe. Especially now.

“Alright, kid,” he says, pulling Peter off the stool. “Let’s just get this over with. She’ll be heading to work soon so we should catch her before that happens.” May works every other weekend, so the weekends she works, Peter tends to spend them at the Tower. It’s become such a routine that when Peter has something else going on, all Tony does is miss him. He can’t even imagine what will happen if May gets so pissed that she won’t let Peter see him anymore. But he’s the adult, and he has to do what’s right. Even though it might kill him in the end.

Peter follows him to the living room, and they sit together on the couch, Tony sitting like he’s on a business call and Peter pulling his legs up underneath himself, grabbing a pillow and cuddling into it like he’s pretending to be somewhere else.

“It’ll be okay,” Tony assures him while he pulls up May’s contact information on his phone, but he’s not really feeling that himself. He’s sure it’ll be okay for Peter, but May might completely flip out and lay into Tony. Peter doesn’t need to think about that though, so Tony keeps his mouth shut about his own insecurities.

He taps a few times on his screen, and then the phone is ringing in his ear. He waits, and waits, and just before he thinks the voicemail is going to pick up, May answers the phone in a rush.

“Tony? Everything okay?”

Great. Starting out panicked already, he thinks, taking in a breath. “Pete’s fine,” he says, because he doesn’t want her to think her nephew is some mangled mess in his medbay or something. “We just need to talk about something that happened yesterday. Do you have a few minutes?”

“Sure,” May says. “I’m just getting ready for work, but I can talk for a few. What’s going on?”

Tony takes in a breath and looks over at Peter who has his face buried in the pillow, his arms so tightly around it, and he’s afraid it’s going to pop. Tony hasn’t thought about how he’s going to tell May that her nephew was sexually assaulted. Everything he thinks of sounds alarming, and he doesn’t want to scare her more than he has to. So he just clears his throat and dives right in. “You know about the gala last night, right?”

“Yeah…” May says, sounding a little intrepid.

“Well, there was a real creep there. I didn’t know about him or I would have done something about it. I don’t know how else to tell you, but he locked Pete in the mens restroom, and—”

What?” May’s voice is so loud that Tony has to hold the phone away from his ear.

“He’s okay!” Tony assures her when he gets his wits back. “I don’t know any details because Peter doesn’t want to talk about it much, and I don’t blame him, but Pete defended himself. I busted through the door before anything bad happened. He’s just a little shook up, and you deserve to know about it. So I’m telling you.” Yes, Tony is telling her like a responsible adult. Even though he doesn’t want to. At all.

The line is quiet for what feels like forever.

“I know it’s my fault,” Tony says, his voice cracking. “I should have been watching him better. I shouldn’t have let him out of my sight. But I promise that I’ll never take my eyes off him again.”

“Stop,” May says, her voice shaky and wet like she’s crying.

Two things happen then. One, Peter is cuddling into Tony’s side, his arms wrapped around Tony’s middle, and two, tears are sliding down Tony’s cheeks. Well it’s official--he’s completely lost it now. He wipes his face with the back of his hand and then puts his arm around Peter’s back.

“Stop, Tony,” May says again, this time more firmly. “Maybe some things are your fault, but not this. I know you would do anything to protect Peter. And it sounds to me like you saved him from--well, whoever that guy is. So please don’t blame yourself.”

Tony holds Peter close and tries to think clearly. May doesn’t know him well enough. He’s really good at blaming himself for stuff, and he’s really bad at listening to advice from other people. But he’s glad that May isn’t mad at him, because now he can breathe a sigh of relief. No matter how much of a screw up he is, it means she’s still going to allow Peter to be a part of his life. “I should have kept a better eye on him,” he repeats. “I should have gotten to him sooner. He should have better way to alert me in these kinds of situations. In fact, I’m going to figure that out tomorrow. This will never happen again, I swear it.”

“You can’t wrap him in bubble wrap.”

Tony lets out a sad laugh. “That’s what he said you would do. And I sure as hell can! It’ll just be… a more high tech version.”

“Okay, okay. Just don’t overdose on coffee, alright? Can I talk to him please?”

“Hold on.” Tony pulls the phone away from his ear and looks down at Peter, whose face is buried in Tony’s shirt. “Hey,” he says, shaking his shoulder gently. “Your aunt wants to talk to you. Alright?”

Peter doesn’t move for a second, but then he sighs and holds his hand out for the phone. After Tony deposits it into his hand, he slowly moves it to his ear. “Hi, May. Yeah, I’m fine… I just don’t really want to think about it.” He pauses while May says something Tony can’t hear. “No… no. Nothing like that. God, May. Stop. I’m okay, I swear! Here, talk to Mr Stark again. See you tomorrow night. Yeah, love you, too.”

Tony takes the phone back. “Don’t worry,” he says before she can get a word out. “We’re going to eat all his favorite foods and watch his favorite movies. I won’t let him out of my sight for a minute.”

“That’s great, Tony,” May says. “I really gotta get going. Just--can you maybe keep him in the Tower and away from strangers for the rest of the weekend? Then I’ll talk to you tomorrow to see how he’s doing. Maybe staying home from school for a few days might be good, too. But we’ll see. Don’t say anything to him about that yet.”

“I already heard that,” Peter mumbles. “Enhanced hearing? Remember? I can hear everything she says.”

“Promise,” Tony says as if Peter hasn’t said a word. “Have a good shift at work. I’ll call you tomorrow.” After he disconnects the call, he squeezes Peter’s shoulders. “Looks like we’re ordering in this weekend, buddy.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

Mr Stark kept Peter busy the entire day. They worked in the lab, they watched movies, they ate a ton of food that probably wasn’t May-Approved, and they even worked out in the gym a little, testing out some new upgrades on Peter’s suit. So by the time they had finished a third movie, it was just after one, and Peter was falling asleep on the couch. This time, Mr Stark made him get up and move to his bedroom, where he changed into PJs and brushed his teeth before crawling into bed.

It was just that he couldn’t actually sleep. He was tired--exhausted even, but when he closed his eyes, all he saw was the creep’s nasty teeth and the sickening grin on his face. He didn’t want to think about it at all. He just wanted to sleep and then wake up in the morning for the bacon and egg breakfast that Mr Stark had promised. But no matter how long he lay there, sleep won’t come. Horribly intrusive thoughts fill his mind instead. Like should he tell Ned? What would happen if it got into the news? Then he’d have no choice. What if Flash found out? His life would definitely be a living nightmare then. Having to be reminded of it constantly would definitely do him in.

His anxiety has amped up so much that he pushes himself out of bed and decides to look for Mr Stark. He definitely won’t be able to sleep until he puts some of his worries to rest. But when he walks into the living room, it’s quiet and dark, and Mr Stark isn’t sleeping on any of the couches.

“FRIDAY?” he says, looking down the hallway that led to Mr Stark’s bedroom. “Is Mr Stark asleep?”

“Boss is working in his lab,” FRIDAY replies.

Peter looks at the time on his phone and sees that it’s a little after two. Is Mr Stark planning on staying up all night? He supposes that it’s not uncommon for Mr Stark to do that, but he still wishes the man would get more sleep. Maybe they can convince each other to sleep. So he travels down to the floor where Mr Stark’s lab is located and lets himself in using the hand sensor by the door.

Mr Stark is sitting on his bench, bent over something very small. He barely notices Peter walk in.

“Ah, Mr Stark?” Peter says.

Mr Stark looks up, a little startled. At first, when he sees Peter, he smiles, but then frowns in concern. “What are you doing out of bed?”

“Can’t sleep.” Peter sits down on the other side of the desk and rests his head on his arms, looking down at the circuit board that Mr Stark is carefully inserting into a device. “What are you doing up so late?”

“Working on a very important project that has to be done by the time you leave tomorrow.” Mr Stark screws in the circuit board and then snaps an LCD screen down on top of it. “This is a special version of a Stark watch that I’ve modified. It’s for you, by the way. And don’t worry. Your web shooters will still fit around it.”

Peter looks down at his mentor’s delicate work. He’s wanted a Stark watch for two years, but hasn’t been able to afford one. For one thing, you have to have a Stark phone to go with it, and he just got one of those recently from Mr Stark himself when the man had found out that Peter’s phone was practically cracked clear open. There is no way he could accept another expensive gift. “Oh no. I can’t accept that. Aunt May will kill me.”

Mr Stark looks up at him with serious eyes. “She won’t kill you. Promise. I already texted her about it. This is so we can keep you safe. With or without the suit on. It has a panic button here. See?” He turns the watch so that Peter can see two small maroon buttons, one at the top of the phone and one on the side. “You press them together to turn it on. And then I put in a tracker so I can find you easily. Do not turn it off.” He fixes Peter with a stern gaze. “I mean it. This is for your safety. If I find out you’ve removed the tracker, I’m going to personally put you in bubble wrap and lock you in your room. I’m not joking.”

Peter swallows and then gives him a guilty smile. He will definitely not remove the tracker because Mr Stark is for sure serious, and he does not want to be put in bubble wrap or locked in his room forever— and he has no doubt that’s something Mr Stark might actually do. “I promise I won’t,” he says.

“Just in case,” Mr Stark says as he snaps the sleek outer case onto the watch. “I’ve put a silent alarm on it if anyone ever tries to tamper with the device. That includes you and your nerdy friend. So don’t even think about it.”

“I won’t, I won’t!” Peter says, holding up his hands in submission. “Is it done? Can I wear it now?”

Mr Stark threads the sleek bands on either side of the watch and then turns it on. “Almost. Give me your phone. Did you bring it?”

Peter places his phone on the table. Once the watch has loaded up, Mr Stark taps it against the side of the phone, and both devices light up. There’s a message on the phone asking if he wants to pair them, so Mr Stark taps the yes button. Then the watch glows with a mirror version of the phone on its small screen.

“Okay,” Mr Stark says. “It’s ready now. You can put it on, but don’t play with it until tomorrow. You should get back to bed. I should also mention that there’s a fingerprint mechanism on the backside of the strap.” He turns it over so Peter can see. “You and me are the only ones who can remove it. And it’s one hundred percent waterproof, so you shouldn’t have to remove it on a regular basis.”

“It’s awesome. Ned’s going to be so jealous,” Peter says as he straps it onto his wrist.

Mr Stark smiles and shrugs. “Didn’t think teenage boys would want to be tracked, but whatever floats your boat,” he says, teasingly.

“This does more than tracking, Mr Stark,” Peter said, poking at the screen until he found where he could text on it. “Look, I can text from class now, and no one will ever know. And they can’t even take it away from me because they can’t get it off. This is brilliant.”

Mr Stark’s smile drops from his face. “If I find out you’re texting in class, I’m going to disable that feature.”

Peter grins at him. “I’m just kidding. I’ll only do that in emergencies. Promise.”

“Okay, good! Now get to bed, kid.” Mr Stark begins to rise from his bench.

Peter panics. He can’t go back to bed without settling his mind on certain issues. He has to keep Mr Stark awake until those are resolved. “Can we just talk for a second? Please?”

Slowly, Mr Stark sits back down, looking across the desk at Peter with curious eyes. “Sure. What is it?”

“I was just thinking about some stuff when I couldn’t sleep, and I wanted to ask you some things,” Peter says, averting his eyes. It’s still not easy to talk about it, but he has to know the answers. “Like, is this going to be on the news? Will the media find out what happened? Maybe they have already? I can’t go back to school if everyone knows about it, Mr Stark. I can’t.”

Mr Stark’s shoulders fall slightly, and he sighs. “Don’t worry. I had my lawyers there. Everyone in the building signed a nondisclosure agreement. There’s going to be hell to pay if any type of media finds found about it. I will personally see to it.”

Peter breathes a sigh of relief. “Okay, that’s good. Maybe I can sleep.” And he can worry about if he tells Ned or not later. It’s not that he doesn’t trust Ned to keep his secret, after all, he’s kept the Spider-man thing a secret, it’s just that he isn’t sure if he wants to even talk about it with him yet. Without worrying about the news media getting a hold of the story, he can think about telling Ned at his own pace. This is much better.

Mr Stark is smiling at him. “Good. I’ll sleep, too. Then when you get up, we’ll make breakfast. I’ll make my famous scrambled eggs. And all the bacon you can eat.” He stands up and takes a step away from the table.

“Mr Stark?” Peter says, staying put at the desk, waiting while his mentor turns to look at him again. “Have you ever had something bad happen to you? I don’t mean like what happened to me, but something scary where that’s all you could see when you closed your eyes?”

Mr Stark sighs again and sits back down. “Yeah,” he says reluctantly, like this is the last subject he wants to talk about, but will do it anyway for Peter’s sake. “That kind of happens to me on a regular basis… and it sucks. I’m sorry that it’s happening to you now. You wanna know how to get rid of it?”

Peter nods at him, very interested.

“Let’s skip the unhealthy coping mechanisms and go to reliable ones that work.” Mr Stark gets up and motions that Peter should follow him. The two of them exit the lab and travel up the elevators back to Mr Stark’s private quarters, where they end up in the kitchen. Mr Stark points at a stool by the counter, and Peter obediently sits down, wondering what sort of magical cure he’s going to concoct.

Mr Stark takes out a large container of hot chocolate mix and then opens the fridge.

“You know we could make that in the keurig,” Peter says, watching while he pulls out some milk and then reaches for two mugs.

“Not this kind,” Mr Stark says, turning to wink at him. “This is my sleepy time specialty. Just wait.” He fills both mugs with milk and then puts each into a microwave. Of course there are two in his kitchen. Why wouldn’t there be?

While they’re waiting for the milk to heat up, Mr Stark shows Peter some custom features his Stark watch has, including but not limited to vital sign readings and tracking his sleep patterns and activity. Then the microwaves beep, and Mr Stark takes out some spoons and begins stirring in the hot chocolate mix. To finish, he places two large marshmallows in each mug before sliding one to Peter from across the counter.

Peter takes a tentative sip. It’s rich and delicious and steamy, and he immediately takes another sip. “Why doesn’t everyone make hot chocolate with milk?” he asks when Mr Stark gives him a pleased smile.

Mr Stark shrugs. “I don’t know. But now you know the secret. Should we put on a movie until you’re sleepy again?”

Peter nods and follows his mentor into the living room where they unpause the movie that they hadn’t finished earlier. He drinks all his milk and falls asleep in the corner of the couch, warm blankets and a safe feeling the only thing he’s thinking about.

~*~

The rest of the weekend goes fairly smoothly. Peter eats Tony out of house and home, they watch enough movies to rot their brains, and by the time Sunday evening comes around, and Tony drives him back to his apartment in Queens and walks him up to the seventh floor, Peter says goodbye with one slightly teary hug and a mean grip on the back of Tony’s shirt. Tony assures him he can call or text whenever he wants and reminds him of the panic button on his new watch, also showing May at the same time. He gets another teary hug from May, and then he leaves.

And then it’s suddenly very lonely and quiet. Pepper is in Japan on a business trip, and won’t be back for week. Tony texts her, asking her to call when she gets a chance. He wants to fill her in on everything and maybe keep her on the phone until he feels just a little tired.

He should also probably stock up on milk and hot chocolate because he’s going to be avoiding some very unhealthy coping mechanisms until Peter is with him again.

This is why he doesn’t have children, he thinks before he crawls into bed that night, still awaiting a phone call from Pepper. She’s probably stuck in meetings all day, and due to the time difference, he won’t hear from her until morning. Great.

He wakes up to his phone ringing and reaches blindly for it on his nightstand, thinking it must be Pepper. “Hey, what time is it there?” he answers sleepily, his eyes drifting closed again.

“Tony? Assuming you’re in New York, it’s the same time here as it is there,” a female voice answers him. Though it’s definitely not Pepper.

He blinks his eyes open and squints down at his bright screen.

May Parker

Oh, shit. He sits up and presses the phone back to his ear. “Sorry, May. I thought you were Pepper. She’s in Japan. Why are you calling? Is Peter okay?”

“Not really,” she replies. “I mean, he’s here, and he’s safe, but woke me up an hour ago, and I can’t get him to settle down. I have to work in the morning, and he’s supposed to go to school--I just don’t know what to do.” She sniffs, and when she talks again, her voice sounds broken, “And he won’t talk to me.”

“Alright, okay,” Tony says, more to assure himself than to assure May. He’s got this. He can totally deal with this. Peter is technically okay. Yes, it’s heartbreaking and awful, but he’s safe, and that’s the main thing. He’s got this. “I’ll come over. He’ll be fine, I promise. This is just going to be hard at first. But we’ll get through it.”

“Okay,” May agrees. “Are you leaving now?”

Tony throws off the blankets and swings his feet over the edge of the bed. “Yeah. I’m getting dressed, and then it’ll take me thirty minutes if I drive really fast. Or I could take a suit. What do you think?”

“Don’t take a suit,” she says right away. “You’ll wake the whole neighborhood up!”

“Okay, fine, fine. I’ll drive.”

“Text me when you’re here so I can buzz you in. Thanks, Tony. I mean it. This means a lot.”

Tony agrees to the texting and hangs up. He wishes she wouldn’t thank him for something that he should have prevented in the first place. Literally, if it hadn’t been for him, Peter never would have been exposed to that creep, and it never would have happened at all. But he can’t change the past, so he throws on jeans and a t-shirt and grabs his keys before making his way to the elevator. He doesn’t realize that his shirt is inside out until he gets down to the garage and turns on the lights. By then, he doesn’t really care and gets in the fastest car he owns anyway. His kid needs him, and he hasn’t a moment to waste.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

Peter has been cuddled into May’s side since she got off the phone with Mr Stark. He pretends he didn’t hear their entire conversation. The embarrassment of having to call Mr Stark over in the middle of the night is burning within him, and he wishes he could just get it together enough so that she could sleep, and he could pretend that he was okay. But he can’t.

The second Mr Stark left that evening, he knew it was going to be a problem. He was back home, and everything seemed the same--everything except him. And he doesn’t really know how to deal with that. He couldn’t fall asleep in his own bed, which only upset him more. And when he knew he needed to be with someone, May was the only person there, and he doesn’t want to talk to her about it. How can he explain how he’s upset if he can’t even tell her?

So when May had thrown up her hands in defeat and said she was calling Tony, he tried to argue but ended up giving up rather quickly. Because to be honest, he wants Mr Stark. He wants to go back to the Tower where everything still kind of seems normal, and Mr Stark showers him with gifts and attention and everything he could possibly want or need. It’s not that May isn’t trying. She’s trying really hard. It’s just that he knows she has to go to work in the morning, and he knows he can’t face school or being alone when she leaves for work, and both of those thoughts terrify him.

He knows Mr Stark is there when May gets a text and gets up to let him in the door. As much as he wants Mr Stark to be there, he’s not all that thrilled about his mentor seeing him in such a pathetic state. Again. So he curls into a ball on the couch and pulls the blanket over his head, in effect, hiding. He knows it’s childish, but he doesn’t know what else to do.

He can hear everything May says to Mr Stark when she lets him in the apartment.

“Where is he?”

“On the couch. I’ll let you talk to him. I’ll be in my bedroom if you need me. Thanks for coming, Tony.”

“Don’t thank me,” Mr Stark says, and Peter isn’t sure why. “You get some sleep. We’ll be okay. Promise.”

A few seconds later, Peter can feel May’s hand on the back of his head through the blanket. “Don’t hesitate to come get me if you want me,” she says and then gives him a gentle pat.

Peter says nothing. He hears her bedroom door close, and then feels the weight of Mr Stark sitting on the couch beside him.

“Hey,” Mr Stark says, tugging at the blanket. “You gonna come out of there?”

Peter shrugs, so Mr Stark puts his arm around him even though he’s covered in a blanket.

“It’s okay,” Mr Stark says. “As long as you’re not too hot in there. Are you?”

Peter shakes his head before laying it down on Mr Stark’s shoulder. “Maybe a little,” he mutters.

“You know… I’ve seen you upset before. I’m not going to think any less of you just because of a few tears. Something really awful happened, and you have a right to be sad. What I’m trying to say is that you don’t need to hide from me. I’m on your side, Pete.”

“I know,” Peter says sadly, curling up more when Mr Stark strengthens his hold. “It’s just that this really sucks. I didn’t ask for this. I want to be in bed sleeping. I want to go to school tomorrow and not have to worry about any of this. But coming back here made it all seem so… real. And I want to forget it instead.”

“I wish I could erase it, kiddo.” Mr Stark rubs his back. “If I could build something that would do that, I would do it in a heartbeat. But I can’t. Trust me, I’ve tried. There are a lot of things I don’t want to remember either, but I’ve been cursed with a really good memory. Especially when it comes to terrible things. I can only speak about my own experience, but stuff like this--for me-- it got better with time. At first it seemed really fresh, like it would never go away, but then it faded eventually. It never completely went away, but it did fade. Everyone’s different, and you’re going to work through this in your own way, but until then, you just tell me what you need, and I’ll take care of it.”

Peter sniffs and raises his hand to wipe at his tears. He hopes what Mr Stark said about the fading thing will work for him, too. Although, he’s not sure about telling him about everything he needs. He doesn’t want to take advantage of Mr Stark’s kindness. He will, however, accept a little help. “What are you doing tomorrow?” he asks.

“Well,” Mr Stark says, “I believe I’m hanging out with a certain spider-kid tomorrow. But that’s only if he wants to skip school.”

Peter pushes away from Mr Stark’s hold so he can get the blanket off his head. “Really?” He asks, his hair sticking all over the place. “You think May will be okay with that? And you don’t have any meetings or anything?”

“Nope. Didn’t you hear? I’m basically retired. Pepper does all the work for me these days.” He flattens down Peter’s hair with his hand. “Gives me plenty of time to do whatever I want.”

Peter sniffs and looks at him for a few seconds. He’s not sure if he believes him. Mr Stark always seems busy. He thinks Mr Stark is just saying that so Peter doesn’t feel bad about taking all his time. Which he definitely appreciates, but he doesn’t want to be a burden. Especially to someone like Mr Stark. “If you’re busy, that’s okay,” he finally says.

Mr Stark frowns at him. “Are you listening, kid?” he says, nudging Peter’s shoulder. “Totally not busy. Oh wait, I guess I am busy. I’m busy helping you skip school tomorrow. But that’s the only thing I have on my agenda. Swear.”

Peter leans back against him and closes his eyes. “Okay, I guess I’ll be selfish.”

“You are the least selfish person I know,” Mr Stark says, his arm going back around him. “Also, have you ever considered it’s me being selfish? Maybe I like spending time with spider kids.”

“You only know one,” Peter mumbles. He can feel the stitching of an embroidered logo against his cheek. “Your shirt is inside out by the way. Did you know that?” When Mr Stark chuckles, Peter can hear the sound rumble through his chest.

“Yeah. I sort of got ready in a hurry.”

Peter opens his eyes back up and thinks about everything. Maybe Mr Stark is being honest. He’s pretty sure a man who can buy everything he wants whenever he wants it doesn’t waste his time on things he doesn’t want to. And maybe that includes Peter. If he didn’t want to be there, he could have told May no. He could have said he would come over in the morning. He could have offered to pick Peter up from school. Or he could have said he was busy and not come at all. No one forced him to come. So maybe he really does want to be there.

“You feeling sleepy at all?” Mr Stark asks, disrupting Peter’s thoughts.

Peter wraps his arms around Mr Stark’s middle and grabs onto his shirt, holding him in place. “Are you only staying if I’m awake?” he asks.

Mr Stark pats his back. “Where else would I be? Pepper’s in Japan. Rhodey is on some super secret government trip in a super secret place. Happy will probably quit if I call him. Can you think of anyone else I’d rather spend time with?”

“Yeah, but…” Peter squeezes his eyes shut. He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t know why Mr Stark wants to spend time with him, especially when he’s a teary eyed mess. That isn’t fun for anyone.

“No buts.” Mr Stark pulls the blanket up around them. “Listen. You’re the best. End of story. Nuh uh, no arguments.” He tightens his arm around Peter and kisses the top of his head.

Peter’s eyes pop open in shock. Kissing him on the top of the head is something May would do, and he’s a little confused for a second. Then again, Mr Stark has kind of been acting like a dad, so it’s not overly weird. What’s weird is that Tony Stark would ever consider someone like him, Peter Parker, as his kid. He’s not exactly sure he buys that. But he’s safe and comfortable and doesn’t have to worry about school or being alone tomorrow, so he closes his eyes again and lets Mr Stark’s hand on his back lull him to sleep.

~*~

Tony wakes up to someone poking him in the shoulder. He startles at first and then realizes where he is when he sees May’s long hair hanging down in front of him. Peter is still snuggled against him, and Tony has a crick in his neck from his head leaning back on the top of the couch.

“Hey,” May whispers, setting down a steaming cup of coffee on the coffee table for him. “Looks like you got him to sleep. You’re officially the best.”

Tony rubs his eyes and tries to get his thoughts together. He doesn’t know what time it is, and he almost asks FRIDAY when he realizes that FRIDAY won’t answer in the Parker household. Nevertheless, he feels like he’s had at least a good three hours of sleep. “You going to work?” he asks May.

“Yeah, just on my way out the door,” she says. “I was trying to get ready quietly. I’m thinking Peter should stay home from school if you’re able to stay with him. I’ll call the school and let them know he’s staying home. Is that okay with you?”

“No problem.” Tony tries to reach for his coffee, but he can’t with an armful of Peter, so May hands it to him. “Thanks. Yeah, I think it’s best if he stays home. I think it was just a little weird coming back here where everything was normal last night. He’ll get better. And if not, we can always set him up to see someone about it. I know some top of the line therapists who would make time in their schedule for him.”

May backs up a little. “That’s okay. Let’s just see how it goes for now, okay?”

Tony frowns. He knows May doesn’t like him to pay for things, but he figures if it involves Peter she will be a little more open to it. However her independence is as annoying as it is admirable. He’s used to throwing money at things and making them better. He doesn’t like that she won’t let him do that. Especially when if anyone deserves it, it’s Peter. But he’ll work on that. “Okay, fine,” he agrees. “You’re the boss, after all. Pete and I will just continue our movie marathon that we started on Saturday. No problem.”

May finally smiles at him. “Thanks. Text me if you need anything. I can’t always answer right away, but I look at them on my break. And if there’s an emergency, you know my work number.”

Tony takes a sip of his coffee. It’s hot and dark roast, just how he likes it. “Will do. But we’ll be fine.”

“I left some money on the table so you can order food,” she says picking up her purse and keys from the kitchen table. “I haven’t had a chance to go shopping in awhile, so there’s not much to pick from otherwise.”

Tony looks at her under unamused brows. “Seriously? I am not the babysitter. Take your money with you.”

May just smiles and quickly exits the apartment. Tony can hear the lock engaging, and knows she’s locking it from the outside. It’s probably what she always does when she leaves Peter alone in the apartment. When she’s gone, Tony sits in the quiet while he sips at his coffee. He’s still pretty tired, but that’s become his normal, so he doesn’t question it much. May has excellent taste in coffee, and he’s definitely going to drink it while it’s hot.

Ten minutes later, he has to go to the bathroom, so he carefully shifts Peter off of him and does his best to make him comfortable on the couch in the pillows and blankets. Peter stirs a little, but clutches the blankets and cuddles into the pillows before stilling once again. Tony brushes away the hair from his forehead and looks down at him, wondering when he started loving this kid like his own. It kind of took him by surprise because he hadn’t been expecting it. Just all of a sudden he realized he did.

After he uses the restroom and turns his shirt back right side out, he heads to the kitchen to get a good look at the food situation for himself. He finds some frozen vegetables and some frozen dinners that May probably takes to work. In the fridge, there’s a bunch of condiments, a pizza box with a slice of old, crusty pizza, and some Thai leftovers from who knows how long ago. The cabinets aren’t much better. He finds canned corn and beans and other things people probably put in casseroles or something gross. Tony’s not even sure he’s had canned green beans before. Um, yuck?

So he spends the next thirty minutes placing a grocery order to be delivered so that Peter will have breakfast when he wakes up, and May doesn't have to go shopping in the next few days. Instead, they can all focus on Peter healing. It’s really the least he can do. He just hopes May doesn’t yell at him. He takes twenty dollars out of the pile of bills she left for a tip for the delivery person just to say he used some of it. That way she couldn’t be too mad.

While he’s waiting for the food to be delivered, he sends off several emails to cancel the two boring meetings he has for the day. He’s expecting the food at any time, when his phone rings. He assumes it’s the delivery person, but Pepper’s face lights up on his phone. He almost forgot he had called her the night before, which seems like forever ago. So he hurries into Peter’s room and closes the door so he won’t wake up the kid while he’s talking.

“Hey,” he says once the call connects.

“Are you okay?” Pepper asks, sounding a little worried. “You didn’t spend all night by the liquor cabinets, did you?”

“No. Why would you think that? I told you that’s only there for guests.” He sits down on Peter’s bed, almost hitting his head on the bunk above him.

“You sounded so… sad. I’m sorry I couldn’t call you right away. I was in a place where I couldn’t step out, and they took me out for lunch. By the time I listened to your message, I had to go into another meeting, and then—”

“Shh, it’s okay. I’m fine.” He runs his hand over his face, feeling the weariness in his eyes when he closes them. “Things were just… not that great this weekend. Something bad happened to Peter at the gala, and I’ve been dealing with that since then. I thought he was going to be okay to go to school today, but then May called, and now I’m at their apartment. Poor kid. I’m trying my best, but you know this isn’t really my thing.”

“Tony,” Pepper said to get his attention. “What happened to Peter? You skipped over that part.”

He sighs. He doesn’t like telling people. He’s not going to tell everyone, but Pepper is his fiance, and to be honest, he always ends up telling her just about everything anyway. Sooner or later. So he may as well tell her sooner and get it over with. “There was a creep at the gala,” he says in a low voice. “He locked Peter in the bathroom and tried to—” He takes in a shaky breath. “He tried is the point, but he really scared Peter. This guy, Pepper, I’m going to make sure he never comes near Peter ever again. If I have to throw him into a black hole myself, I will do it.”

“Oh, Tony. You know this isn’t your fault.”

It’s the first thing she says, and he doesn’t know if he wants to cry or argue with her. Arguing with Pepper never gets him anywhere though, so he has no other choice. And then he’s wiping at the tears that slipped from his eyes without his permission. “I’m trying my best,” he says when he’s recovered a little. “You should be proud of me that I haven’t tracked this guy down and murdered him. That takes real self control, Pepper.”

“I am proud of you,” she says. “And I’m really sorry that happened to Peter. He’s the last person in the world who deserves to deal with any of that. But I’m so glad you’re there for him. You’re good for him, Tony. And he’s good for you. I think it’s important for you to focus on something positive and not fall too deep into your head.”

Tony grumbles. He hates when she’s right. Which is all the time. “Yeah, yeah. I know he’s good for me. But I’m not one hundred percent convinced that I’m good for him. I’m a really bad example for coping with trauma. What am I supposed to say to the kid? Do what I say and not what I do? No, wait. I’ve already said that to him. It’s really no credit to me that he’s such a good kid.”

Pepper sighs. “We’ve been over this. And we agreed that you should just listen to me when I tell you you’re good for him. What happened to listening to me? Did you forget?”

Tony can’t help but smile. “Sometimes my brain thinks it’s the boss. It needs constant reminding that that’s not the case. Probably not going to change anytime soon. Or ever. By the way, in one of its boss moments, I canceled all my meetings today. Don’t mention them to the kid if he ever asks. I told him I didn’t have anything going on today.”

“Great, just what I need,” Pepper says. “Two boys with martyr complexes. Lord, save me.”

“We’re going to work on Peter’s, but I’m afraid I’m too old to change. Can’t teach an old dog new tricks and all of that.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she says, a smile evident in her voice. “All I need is to get a certain teenage boy on my side, and I think I can maybe get you to do just about anything.”

“Don’t you have a meeting to get to or something?”

“It’s almost ten o’clock here. I’m going to bed, Tony. It’s another long day tomorrow, and I need to sleep. Text me, and let me know how the two of you are doing. Okay?”

“Sure. Don’t worry about me. I’ve got it all under control.” There’s a beeping in his ear and he looks down at his phone to see an incoming call from an unknown number. “I think the groceries are here. Gotta go! Love you!”

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

He switches the call over without waiting for her to reply. “Yes?”

“Fresh Delivers downstairs, sir.”

“I’ll buzz you up. You need a hand, or can you bring it up on your own?”

“Seventh floor? I think I’m going to need a hand if you’re able.”

“Alright, be right down.” Tony disconnects the call and shoves it into the back pocket of his jeans. He leaves Peter’s room and tiptoes back down the hallway and past where Peter is still sleeping peacefully on the couch. He wants him to sleep as long as possible. Just to be on the safe side, he grabs Peter’s keys from where they sit on top of his backpack and sneaks out of the apartment. This place should have an elevator. Hell, May should let him pay for a better place in a safer neighborhood, but he already knows how that conversation will go, so he puts the thought out of his mind for now and jogs down the seven flights of stairs.

The delivery guy almost shits himself when he sees Tony open the door to the apartment complex. In fact, he drops the bag he currently has in his hands, and it falls to the sidewalk with a thump. Tony sighs and walks over to him, inspecting the contents. He’s lucky it’s just their snacks in that bag and nothing is broken.

“Alright, come on,” he says, picking up the bag. “Load me up. We’ll take as many up as we can.”

The guy stares at him with wide eyes for what feels like way too long and then hops into action, reaching into the back seat of his car and giving Tony two very full brown paper bags to carry in each hand. Then he grabs the rest of the bags, and they look a little ridiculous carrying the massive load of groceries into the apartment. It’s a long way up those seven flights of stairs when one’s arms are loaded up with heavy groceries, but they make it there eventually, and Tony instructs him to leave the groceries in the hall by the door. Then he hands the guy the twenty dollar bill and thanks him.

Tony is reaching for the doorknob when he realizes that delivery guy is still standing there staring at him like he’s in a trance. “Alright, you’ve done your job, buddy. Now you can leave,” he says to drive the point home.

The guy turns on his heel with a high pitched, “Thanks!” and runs down the stairs, most likely wondering why Tony Stark is buying groceries in a run down apartment building in Queens.

Tony doesn’t actually care. He has other, more important things on his mind, so he begins to work at getting the groceries inside the apartment and putting them away. He checks on Peter to make sure he’s still peacefully sleeping, and then finishes up. He probably screwed up at where things go a little, but in fifteen minutes, he has everything put away at least somewhere and is making some more of May’s amazing coffee to sustain him for the rest of the day. While he’s waiting for it to brew, he sets out a box of pastries on the table and then puts one on a plate for himself.

“Mr Stark?” Peter says when he comes around the corner from the living room.

Tony is in the process of reaching for his donut when he sees Peter standing in the doorway with his hair sticking up everywhere and his eyelids drooping with lingering sleepiness. Tony abandons his donut and grins. “Hey, Pete! Did you sleep okay?”

Peter stretches and yawns, and when he opens his eyes, he looks a little more awake. “A little. Where did the donuts come from?”

Tony grabs a plate from the cabinet and hands it to him. “The store. Pick your favorite. I was thinking maybe I would make you an omelette, too. Want some orange juice?”

“Did you go to the store?”

Tony pours him a glass of orange juice even though he didn’t say he wanted it yet. “Sit down. What do you want in your omelette?”

Peter sits down like he’s instructed and reaches for the giant bear claw in the center of the box. “Wow, May never lets me have these!” He takes a bite and looks up at Tony with a mouthful of donut. “Can we wait on the omelette?” he mumbles.

Tony closes the box and takes it away from him after he sets down the glass of orange juice on the table. “Don’t eat all the donuts. May will kill me if I only feed you sugar.”

“No, really. Where did all this food come from? When I went to bed last night the fridge was empty, and I just saw in there, and it’s full!” His face sobers and he sets down the donut. “Are you doing this because you feel bad?”

Tony freezes from where he stands by the counter and then slowly turns to face him. Is he that transparent? “Of course I feel bad,” he decides to say. “No one wants to see you upset, Pete. Least of all me and your aunt. But that’s not the only reason.” The biggest reason is that Tony would do anything for Peter. Money means nothing to him, and if he’s not going to spend it on those he loves, then what is the point of having it? Peter never complains or questions him at all when Tony spends money on him while they’re at the Tower. Tony doesn’t see why this is any different, but he supposes it’s a little out of the ordinary. Peter and May have a routine, he’s sure, and it definitely doesn’t include Tony offering Peter multiple breakfasts the second he wakes up.

Peter sets down the donut, looking sad. “You don’t have to buy me everything,” he says, looking up at Tony a little shyly. “I only wanted to spend time with you.”

Tony’s shoulders slump and he sits down beside him. “Hey. Feeding you is not ‘buying you everything’. You have to eat and there was no food food here.”

Peter looks at the two twenty dollar bills still sitting on the table. “May left you money, and you didn’t use it.”

“I did, too!” Tony says, straightening up because he’s got this. “I gave the delivery guy a twenty as a tip. Besides, you do know I’m a billionaire, right? I think I can afford to buy my favorite spider-kid some breakfast and snacks. This is not something you need to worry about.”

“Okay, you’re right,” Peter says, cracking a smile. “But don’t come crying to me when May comes after you for not using her money.”

“I told you, I did,” Tony says stubbornly.

“This all cost way more than twenty dollars. I bet the donuts cost twenty dollars alone. You should take the rest of the money so it’s at least halfway believable.” Peter picks up the bills and holds them out to Tony who pushes them back towards Peter.

“I am not taking forty dollars from your aunt. If you’re so worried about it, you keep it and use it for lunch money or something.”

Peter stares at him stubbornly but doesn’t pocket the money. Instead, he sets it back down on the table. “Fine. It’s your funeral.”

Tony puts his arm around him and ruffles his hair so it sticks up even more. He has about ten funeral jokes ready, but decides to skip them given how many people Peter has already lost in his life. “I guess I’ll take my chances.”

~*~

When Aunt May gets home, Peter is eating M&Ms and popcorn and watching movies while Mr Stark is completely asleep on the other end of the couch, his legs stretched out over Peter’s lap. Peter has his bowl of popcorn resting on Mr Stark’s shins and looks up at May with a guilty expression.

“I’m still hungry for supper,” he says through his mouthful of M&Ms.

May pauses in the entryway to the kitchen, looks inside and then back at Peter. “Did he buy you a grocery store or something?”

“Something like that.” Peter switches to popcorn. “I told him you wouldn’t like it, but he did it before I was even awake.”

May sighs and throws her keys on the table before kicking off her shoes and then making her way towards Peter. She sits down on the other side of them, nudging Mr Stark’s feet away from her and then puts her arm around her nephew. “Are you sharing that popcorn?”

“Maybe,” Peter says, reaching for a handful. “If you promise not to kill Mr Stark.”

“It would be really weird to eat his popcorn and then kill him. Don’t you think?” May smiles and takes a handful, popping a few pieces into her mouth. “Did you two have fun today? Looks like you wore him out.”

Peter nods. “I don’t think he slept much last night. That was probably my fault.”

“Nope. Not your fault,” May says, and when Peter looks at her, she’s shaking her head and giving him a serious expression. “I think Tony would agree with me, too.”

“Probably.” Peter digs around in the bag of M&Ms, looking for red ones and picking them out while he thinks. “I just feel bad, May. Look at him. He’s Iron Man. What is he doing here with us? He should be…” He stops because he has no idea with Mr Stark should be doing. “Flying around the world showing off all his awesome things and then going on amazing vacations?” he tries. “Well, definitely something way more awesome than this.”

“Nope,” May says again. “Peter, Tony cares about you. There is no other reason why he’s spending time with you. You’re right, he could be doing a million different things, but he chooses to be here with you when you need him. And apparently buying out all the grocery stores in Queens, but that’s another issue. I’m sure he’s used to fixing problems with money, and that might work for some people, but we are not some people. I can buy my own groceries, and you tell him that next time he does something like this.”

Peter smiles because May went from talking about how much Mr Stark cares to a lecture on economics. “I already told him. He’s really stubborn.”

She kisses the side of his head. “Well, then I guess he’ll fit in here just fine then. Hey. Do you think you want to go to school tomorrow? Or should we see what Tony will try and buy you tomorrow?”

Peter turns away from her and looks at Mr Stark whose mouth is half open while he snores softly. He doesn’t want to talk about this. For one thing, he doesn’t even know if Mr Stark wants to stay another day. Basically, Peter has been with him since Friday after school. Mr Stark is probably getting sick of him by now. And really, he should go to school. Ned has been texting and calling him all afternoon, and Peter still hasn’t replied. Clearly he’s going to owe his best friend some sort of explanation, and he hasn’t decided what that’s going to be yet.

“Mr Stark is probably busy,” he mutters. “I should go to school.”

“If you’re not ready yet, why don’t you ask him when he wakes up?”

Because he wants to be ready. He doesn’t want to think about that creep for another second. Maybe school will be good, anyway. Maybe it would help distract him. As long as he can get some sleep. He doesn’t want to have another night like last night.

“Let’s have a family meeting,” May says.

Peter looks at her. “Isn’t that basically what we’re doing?”

May just smiles. “We’re missing someone.” She glances at Mr Stark and then looks back to Peter. “Why don’t you wake him up?”

Peter hesitates for two reasons. The first being that Mr Stark definitely doesn’t sleep enough. He deserves to sleep, especially after how much he’s been there for Peter lately. The second being that he wasn’t aware that May considered him as part of their family.

“Go on,” she says, urging him. “It stands to reason that if I’m like your mom, then he’s like your dad. Also, if we’re going to need his help with things, he should probably be awake to get his input in. And we both know he’ll definitely have an opinion.”

“O-okay.” Peter blinks at her for a moment and then turns to poke Mr Stark’s arm with his index finger. “Mr Stark,” he says, poking again. “Wake up.”

Mr Stark jumps awake, looking around like he fell into the middle of a warzone without his permission. “What? What’s going on? Where’s my suit?”

Peter pokes him again. “You’re still at my house,” he says. “You fell asleep during the movie. May wants to talk to you.”

“Oh.” He smiles and runs a hand through his hair. Then he sees May from around Peter. “Um… you’re not mad, are you?”

She smiles at him sweetly. “Mad about all the junk food you bought for Peter?”

“It’s not just junk food!” Peter says around the red M&Ms. “We had tacos for lunch. And I was thinking we could have spaghetti for dinner?”

May absentmindedly pets the side of his head without looking at him. “Sure, Peter. Look, Tony. We are not poor. You don’t need to buy us groceries.”

Mr Stark pulls his feet from Peter’s lap and sits up, stretching. “I know that. I was just buying what I wanted to eat today. Can’t really fault me for that, can you? Plus, I used some of the money you left as a tip.”

“Sure,” she says. “And everything you wanted to eat was all of Peter’s favorites, huh?”

“What can I say?” Mr Stark says, shrugging. “We have the same taste.”

“Mm hm. And I’m sure you just love gummy bears and sour patch kids. I saw giant bags of them on the kitchen table.”

“May!” Peter says, blushing in embarrassment. “Leave him alone. You said we were going to have a meeting, and this can’t be what you wanted to talk about.” Not that he wants to talk about serious stuff either, but if he’s going to go to school tomorrow, maybe they shouldn’t put that discussion off any longer.

Mr Stark perks up, clearly anxious to change the subject. “Meeting? What’s the meeting about?”

“Family meeting,” May clarifies. “Peter is thinking about going to school tomorrow. What do you think?”

For a moment, Mr Stark is at a loss for words, but he quickly gets it together. “I think if Peter thinks he’s ready to go to school tomorrow, then that’s great. If he’s not ready, then we can spend another day movie marathoning. I could even go pick up his homework that he’s missing.”

“No!” Peter says quickly, imagining Mr Stark walking into his school and asking for his homework. At least he wouldn’t be there to witness it, but he definitely would never hear the end of it from his classmates. Also, he doesn’t believe for a second that Mr Stark has a clear schedule for a second day in a row. “I want to go to school. Just, maybe... “ He looks over at Mr Stark, trying desperately to find the words he wants to say without sounding like a complete five year old. “Maybe you can stay here tonight and drive me to school? If you’re not busy that is.”

“Sure, buddy,” Mr Stark says, patting him on the shoulder. “I think that’s best, anyway. May? What do you think?”

May reaches for some more popcorn. “I think I’m going to put your name on Peter’s emergency contact list at school, if that’s okay with you. I’m usually at work when he’s in school so just in case, it’s probably good to have a second person on there.”

“Fine with me. If—” Mr Stark holds on up one finger. “--if you allow me to make spaghetti for dinner. And Pete gets to pick the next movie. You can have a turn next if you want one.”

Peter looks over at May, afraid she’s not going to like Mr Stark taking over her kitchen, but she’s settled into the couch and is reaching for the popcorn again.

“Okay, that works for me,” she says. “I hope you can cook!”

Peter smiles carefully and tries to relax. He watches Mr Stark get up and make his way toward the kitchen while he thinks about how he’s pretty sure anyone cooks better than Aunt May. Then again, he knows for a fact that Mr Stark is pretty good in the kitchen. He’s thinking about texting Ned back when Mr Stark sticks his head back into the living room from the kitchen.

“You wanna help, Pete?”

Peter jumps up, handing the popcorn and M&Ms to May. “Coming!”

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

Peter has the best night he’s had since before what happened on Friday. Mr Stark makes the best spaghetti he’s ever had, and between the three of them, they eat almost all of it, with just enough left over for May to put away in a container so she can take some to work the next day. Then they crash in the living room to watch movies. Peter laughs so hard at May and Mr Stark arguing about plots and characters, he almost doesn’t care when May tells him he has to start getting ready for bed at ten.

Almost.

He drags his feet to get his pajamas from his room and then to the bathroom, where he turns on the shower and then sits on the toilet lid with his phone, finally ready to reply to Ned’s texts. There’s a string of texts asking if he’s okay and wondering why he’s not replying. Is he lying in a gutter somewhere? The last one says he if he doesn’t hear back from him soon, he’s going to have his mom call May.

Peter: Sorry dude. I’ve been really busy this weekend. I wasn’t sleeping very well, so May let me stay home from school. I’m coming tomorrow

Ned: I’m so glad you’re okay!!!! My mom was literally about to call May. Next time just let me know. I was kinda freaking out

Peter: I’m sorry :( I’ll tell you more tomorrow. Good night!

Ned: See you tomorrow! Night!

By then, the bathroom is steaming, so Peter sets his phone on the sink and turns the temperature of the water down. He’s not sure exactly what he’s going to say to Ned tomorrow, but he figures he can decide later. Right now, thinking about it is just making him not want to sleep again. And that had been an absolute disaster last night, so he definitely doesn’t want it to happen again.

After his shower, he gets ready for bed and gets his things ready for school the next day. When he comes back into the living room, it’s just May sitting there. He freezes in the hallway, staring at the spot that Mr Stark had previously been occupying on the couch.

“Don’t look like that,” May says, pausing the show she’s watching. “He just went back to the Tower to shower and change. He’ll be back in under an hour. Why don’t you get into bed and try and sleep?” When he doesn’t move, she pats the spot beside her. “Come over here for a second.”

Peter doesn’t need to be told twice, and he makes a break for the couch, hopping onto it and putting his arms around her. “I’ll try and sleep better tonight,” he whispers into her shoulder. “Thanks for letting Mr Stark stay over again.”

“I don’t really mind him,” she says, holding him close. “He’s a little arrogant. Well, a lot. And he throws money at all his problems like it’s nothing. That’s kind of annoying. But I get why you like him. And I know that he makes you feel safe. I definitely don’t have to worry about anyone breaking in while he’s here.”

Peter laughs. “Yeah, that’s true. It’s just… I don’t want you to think that you’re not enough, May. Last night when you had to call him--you were doing great. It’s just that I don’t want you to have to know about all that stuff. You’ve been through enough. And I’m going to be fine. It’s just kinda hard right now.”

She ruffles his damp hair. “You sound so grown up. And I know you’ll be fine. I’m glad you have Tony to lean on. I think he understands you in a way I can’t. But that’s okay. The more people you have in your corner, the better. Now, how about you try sleeping before he gets back? I’ll send him in to check on you.”

Peter doesn’t let go of her.

“I promise. It’s going to be alright.”

“I know,” he says and finally lets go.

~*~

Tony is mildly annoyed that he has to walk up those seven flights of stairs again. And if he wasn’t trying to get on May’s good side, he probably would launch into a speech about all the better places they could live if only she accepted his help just a little. But he doesn’t see that going over very well at the current moment, so he bites his tongue when she lets him back into the apartment.

He’s still catching his breath and throwing the bag with his clothes and toiletries in it on the floor by the couch when May tells him that Peter went to bed an hour ago and wanted him to check in on him. Tony nods and makes his way to Peter’s bedroom, gently tapping on the door.

“Come in,” he hears Peter say from inside.

When Tony opens the door, he sees Peter sitting crossed legged on his bed. His phone is in his hands, lighting up his face. “That doesn’t look like sleeping to me,” Tony says and sits down on the desk chair that’s adjacent to the bed.

Peter looks at Tony a little guiltily. “I sort of have a problem with sleep. Remember? May said I should at least try until you got back. I did try, but I failed.”

"Anything I can do, kiddo?" Tony asks.

Peter sighs. "I don't know. Night time just sucks lately. I can't stop my brain. It's awful."

"Want me to make you some hot chocolate? Would that help?"

Peter looks conflicted. He looks down at his phone, but his gaze isn't focused. "Will you just stay here until I fall asleep? I can put a video on my phone to watch."

Tony puts his arm over the back of the chair and studies him. He feels so bad that Peter is having to go through all this. It's not fair. A kid like him should be worried about homework and friends and curfews. "I don't know. This chair isn't the most comfortable. And I'm old, so my back is starting to hurt."

Peter scoots over.

"I'm not sitting with you on your twin bed, Parker."

"Why not? I have some funny things I want to show you on youtube." He makes what Tony would call 'puppy dog eyes.' Talk about unfair.

Tony tries to be strong. "Watching funny youtube videos on your bright as all hell phone doesn't sound sleep inducing to me. Why don't you turn it off."

"What are you going to do, Mr Stark? Tell me bedtime stories?" Peter asks with a cheeky grin. It looks kind of creepy illuminated by his phone.

Tony holds out his hand. "Phone."

Sighing, Peter reluctantly hands it over.

Tony sets it down on the desk and then turns back to Peter who is looking at him expectantly. He doesn't know how to do this. He's not a father. He can stay up with Peter on weekends and watch movies and drink hot chocolate until he falls asleep, but this school night stuff is killing him. It's already eleven-thirty, and Peter definitely won't be getting enough sleep. "You know," he says, getting an idea. "There's a lot of exciting things coming up at SI. I have some projects I'm going to be working on coming up--prototypes for new products. Maybe you want to help me?"

Peter's eyes widen. "Really, Mr Stark? If you're being for real, then yes, I want to help! That would be so awesome. Ned's going to be so jealous."

Tony smiles, leaning his chin on his arm. "Of course, I'm serious. Who else would I have help me?" He usually works alone, and there are very few people on Earth he will allow him to help him in the lab, Peter being at the top of that short list. "Now, come on," he says, pointing to the pillow on Peter's bed. "Head. Pillow. Now."

Peter complies easily, but the expression on his face tells Tony that he's doing it reluctantly. "Just because I’m laying down doesn't mean I’m going to sleep," he mutters. "I've already tried this tonight."

Tony wonders if he should get May or go and ask her for advice. He has no idea what to do, but he'll try just about anything for this kid, so he shifts on the uncomfortable wooden chair and gets ready to give it his best shot. "Close your eyes," he says, ignoring Peter's protests. "I'm going to tell you about the projects I'm working on. Then you can pick which ones you want to help me with. But you don't have to tell me now. You can think about it for a few days or something. How about that?"

"Yeah, okay," Peter agrees. "But if you want to put me to sleep you should tell me about something boring. Like maybe tell me stories about when you and Mr Rhodes met. Weren't you my age? What did teenagers do back in the olden days?"

"Ha, very funny. It wasn't that long ago, Pete. Geez, you make me sound like I'm ancient."

Peter looks up at him like 'well?' and Tony just laughs.

"Okay, okay. I'll start with that and see where we go," he decides to say. "Close your eyes. That's the rule."

Peter squeezes his eyes shut. "Okay, I'm ready for my bedtime story, Mr Stark."

"Minimal talking. That's the second rule," Tony says. "You can't sleep if you're talking."

"You can if you talk in your sleep. You know this one time when I was sleeping over at Ned's house, he fell asleep and then he started talking about how there was a dragon in the room. There definitely wasn't a dragon in the room, so I kept asking him questions about it and--"

"Mouth shut," Tony says

"--turns out he was sleeping," Peter finishes. "Okay, I'll be quiet. You go on with your story."

Tony shifts again on the chair. He's going to have a numb ass by the time he finishes the story. He tells Peter all about how when he and Rhodey first met, Rhodey didn’t take him seriously. He tried to have nothing to do with him, but they were in all the same classes and got paired on so many things, he didn’t have a choice. And then when he realized how incredibly smart Tony was, even at such a young age, he finally started to give him some credit, and the two of them got along just fine. He skips over all the parts about parties and how Rhodey used to ‘babysit’ him on really bad nights. Peter doesn’t need to know about that. Then he goes into a story about how he invented the internet, which of course, isn’t true, and Peter would definitely know that. But Peter doesn’t say a word.

Tony stops talking and listens to his breathing, which is quiet and even. If he’s not asleep, then he’s almost there. So Tony watches him for just a while longer before he quietly leaves the bedroom and closes the door behind himself.

Tony, 1. Insomnia, 0.

Now if only he could get himself to go to sleep that easily.

~*~

Peter wakes up in the morning to May gently combing her fingers through the hair from his forehead. He feels tired and a little groggy. The last thing he remembers is Mr Stark telling him about Mr Rhodes and how they met at MIT a million years ago.

“Rise and shine,” May says, letting her hand fall away. “Tony’s making you breakfast. Pancakes.”

“Yes!” Peter says, sitting up to stretch and yawn. Mr Stark’s pancakes are definitely better than May’s pancakes anyway, but he won’t tell her that.

May gives him a smile and pats his head before leaving the room so he can get ready. And suddenly Peter is a little excited, because while Mr Stark has picked him up from school before, he’s never driven him to school. Then he remembers that he has to come up with some explanation for Ned, and he probably shouldn’t have put that off till the last minute. At the current moment, pancakes sound better than anything else, so he quickly gets ready for school and then rushes into the kitchen, where Mr Stark is flipping the last pancake over on the stove.

He sees the bag of chocolate chips on the counter and gets excited. “You made my favorite!”

Mr Stark turns to smile at him. “Someone’s pretty chipper for only sleeping six hours and some change. And of course I made your favorite. Though I also added in some bananas because May says you need some nutrients, too. Whatever that means.” He rolls his eyes and tosses three pancakes onto a giant stack on a plate beside the stove. “Help yourself, buddy.”

“Best breakfast ever!” He’s saying while he’s loading up his plate just as May walks into the room and looks at him, folding her arms over her chest. “I mean… second best breakfast ever. I really like your oatmeal and fig pancakes too, Aunt May.”

“Yeah, sure,” May says. “Don’t lie to me. I already tried some of Tony’s pancakes. His are definitely better.”

“You just need to put more unhealthy ingredients in yours, May,” Mr Stark says and then sits down at the table with a much smaller stack for himself. “Have you thought about oatmeal and peanut butter? You could throw some chocolate chips in there—”

“Sounds like a cookie,” May says, making her way toward the coffee pot. She fills her travel mug and then leans down to kiss Peter on the top of his head. “Alright, I’m out the door. Call me or Tony if you need anything, okay?”

Peter nods, his mouth already full. “Bye!” he mumbles around his food and then takes a long drink of his orange juice.

When May leaves, it’s quiet while the two of them eat. Peter wants to tell Mr Stark how much he appreciated the bedtime stories, but doesn’t want to sound like a kid, so he just keeps eating.

“Did you sleep okay?” Mr Stark asks when he finishes his pancakes and then moves onto sipping his coffee.

“Yeah, it was alright.” Peter still has three pancakes left on his plate, and he’s definitely going to eat them all. “Still a little tired though. Maybe tonight will be easier.”

“You want to come to the Tower this weekend?” Mr Stark asks. “May said it was okay. Maybe we can get started on those projects I mentioned last night.”

Peter thinks about it. Of course he wants to go to the Tower, but he also sort of wants to keep Mr Stark at the apartment. It’s kind of been nice having him there like a dad.

“If you don’t want to, that’s okay. Maybe some quiet time will be better,” Mr Stark says when Peter takes too long to reply. “Of course, I can kick everyone else out of the Tower if you want. We can do whatever we want. Food wouldn’t be May supervised. Didn’t like the bananas in your pancakes? We’ll just add more chocolate chips.”

Peter laughs. “I actually like the bananas. They gave it a little something extra.”

Mr Stark smiles back at home. “Well you let me know what you want to do.”

“Maybe Ned could come and spend the night on Friday? I sort of feel bad for ignoring him these last few days.”

“Sure, why not.” Mr Stark shrugs and then takes another sip of his coffee. “Alright, go brush your teeth and grab your school stuff. Then you better pray that no one vandalized my car last night.”

Peter runs off to do what he was asked, and by the time he gets back to the living room, Mr Stark is waiting for him by the door, playing with his keys. They walk down all seven flights of stairs to where Mr Stark’s car is parked out front, looking really out of place among all the old beaters that line the street.

“We gotta talk to your aunt about finding a better apartment,” Mr Stark says. “Preferably one with an elevator. One of these days I’m going to have a heart attack on the fifth floor.”

“It’s not usually an issue for me,” Peter says, letting himself into the passenger seat when Mr Stark opens the doors with his key fob. When they’re both in the car, he continues, “For one thing, it’s pretty easy to run up the stairs if you’re in good shape. And for another, I usually just climb up the wall. That’s actually easier.”

“Okay, but wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to climb up the wall?” Mr Stark starts the car, and they take off down the busy Queens streets.

“Eh, not really. I like climbing up walls.” Peter is looking out the window, the reality of what he’s doing dawning on him. Pretty soon he’s going to be walking into school with tons of people crowding around him. Ned will be there, and while he’s grateful for that, he’s also dreading telling him what happened. “Um… Mr Stark? Do you have any ideas about what I should tell Ned? I mean, I’m not sure I want to tell him what happened.”

Mr Stark is quiet for what feels like a long time. Then he finally says, “Of course it’s up to you who you want to tell. Until then, maybe don’t lie, but say something that’s also the truth. Like maybe say you had trouble sleeping. You can say you were with me all weekend, which is also true. Say it like it’s no big deal, and he won’t think it is either.”

“Okay,” Peter agrees, nodding to himself. That is good advice. Mr Stark gives great advice. “Thank you. I think that’s good. I can do this.”

“You can do it,” Mr Stark says. “But if you can’t, that’s okay too. Then call me, and I’ll come get you. Okay?”

Peter lets out a breath. It feels nice to have an out. Just in case. If things don’t go right, he knows that Mr Stark will be there for him. Usually he’s on his own because of May’s job, so he’s not used to it, but he likes it. Especially now when he needs it the most. “Thanks, Mr Stark. What are you going to do today while I’m at school?”

Mr Stark shrugs. “I don’t know. I guess I got a meeting or two this morning. Full disclosure, one is with the lawyers to update me on everything they’re doing to put that asshat away. If you don’t want to know about that, it’s okay, but if you do, just ask me later, alright?”

“O-okay.” Peter nods and looks out the front window. He’s not sure if he wants to know or not. On one hand, he wants to forget it all. But then again on the other hand, he wants to know if the guy is going to be out on the streets or what. The last thing he wants is to go to some other event with Mr Stark and have him show up. He needs to be prepared for this kind of thing, and he needs to learn to listen to his senses. “Um, maybe you could show me some self defense moves later? I mean, I know how to knock a guy across the room and into a wall, not that I ever meant to hit them that hard, but maybe it would be good to know how normal people get away from attackers. So if there is a next time—”

“There won’t be a next time,” Mr Stark interrupts. “But sure. I’ll set that up for you, kid. I definitely understand what it feels like to want to be prepared for things. Hell, I built a ton of suits for that very purpose. Pepper was pissed. But that’s another story. We’ll talk about when to do your training later. We’re almost here.”

Peter’s stomach is turning with anxiety, and he wishes he hadn’t ate quite so many pancakes. The car pulls up to the school, and he sits there staring out the window for a few seconds, trying to calm his breathing.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Mr Stark says, putting a hand on Peter’s shoulder. “Look, I see your friend waiting for you by the steps.”

Ned is waving at the car, but Peter knows he can’t see him through the tinted windows, so he doesn’t wave back. Instead, he swallows a massive lump in his throat. “I should have asked you to drop me off a block away. Now he’s going to wonder why you’re driving me to school and I’m going to have to come up with some other lie.”

“Just tell him that May is working. Again, that’s the truth. You gotta get better at this deflection stuff, Pete.”

Peter bites his lip. “I’m trying. Thanks for helping me.” He reaches a shaky hand down to the floor of the car where he retrieves his backpack and then puts his other hand on the door handle. He can do this. He’s going to do it. Before he opens the door, he turns and looks Mr Stark in the eye. “You’ll be here when I get out? Three?”

“On the dot,” Mr Stark says, giving him a warm smile. “Nothing would keep me from being here at three. Promise.”

“Not even the end of the world?” Peter asks, testing him.

“Definitely not that. Besides, if it were the end of the world, I would need your help, so in that case, I’d come get you first, and then we’d take care of the world together. Now scram. Your friend is getting impatient. See you at three, buddy.”

Peter takes a deep breath and opens the door. He looks back at Mr Stark one last time with what he hopes is a grateful expression, but it probably comes off as being more nervous than anything. “Thanks, Mr Stark. Bye!” He closes the door and then makes his way towards Ned, who stands up from his spot on the steps when he sees Peter.

“Um, Peter…” Ned says when Peter finally reaches him. “Why is Mr Stark dropping you off? I’ve only seen him pick you up before. And even then it’s usually Happy.”

“Oh, May is working so he said he would bring me,” Peter says, hoping he pulls off the unpracticed deflection that Mr Stark gave him. “Happy’s on vacation or something. I don’t know.” He really doesn’t know if Happy is on vacation or not. Considering he hasn’t seen Happy since Friday night, Happy very well may be on vacation.

“Oh. That’s cool.”

Together, the two of them walk into school, and Peter is amazed with how easy Ned accepted his story. Maybe this won’t be so bad. Maybe he won’t have to talk about it or think about it all day.

He actually does really well until he leaves third period with a hall pass to use the restroom. By the time he walks into the hallway and there’s no one else there, his senses are going crazy. He realizes that the last time he was in a men's restroom was on the night of the gala, and the second he pushes the door open, the sights and smells come flooding back to him. He can smell his attacker even though he knows logically that he’s not there, and when he blinks he can see his face and his yellow crooked teeth. The bruises on him are long gone, but he can feel the big, chubby fingers pressing into his bicep.

He shoves his earbuds in his ears and turns on the loudest song he can think of while he quickly does his business and then rushes out, breathing heavily.

Okay, so he hadn’t planned on that happening, exactly. Is this the way life is going to be from now on? Is he going to constantly worry that something will remind him of that awful night? Or will it be like Mr Stark said and fade away with time? He doesn’t know, but he doesn’t want to wait to see. Time? How long is that supposed to be? Does he have to endure these visions and anxiety while he waits for who the hell knows how long?

He’s not sure how long he’s been standing in the hallway with his back to the wall, when he feels a hand on his arm and nearly jumps out of his skin. But once he focuses his eyes, he sees that it’s only Ned, and tries to breathe.

“Hey, man. Are you alright?” Ned is trying to lead him away from the wall and towards the cafeteria because several classes are filing into the hallway. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost or something.”

The bell goes off before Peter can reply, and then suddenly he's on his knees with his hands clamped over his ears, grimacing in pain. Ned still has a hand on his arm and is trying to pull him up, but Peter can't move. The bell is so loud and feels like it goes on forever. When the noise finally ends and Peter opens his eyes, there's a crowd around him in the hallway. Some are whispering in concern, and then he hears a few laughs, like someone thinks it's funny. He lets Ned pull him up and together they stumble into the cafeteria.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

Peter is ultimately pulled into his normal seat in the cafeteria, where it’s beginning to buzz with the sound of hungry teenagers coming in to get their food and fill their stomachs. He doesn’t know why all of a sudden every single sound is piercing into his eardrums like a hot knife. And he doesn’t know how to tell Ned what’s wrong either. Scrambling, he reaches for his earbuds and stuffs them in, covering his ears with his hands once they are securely in place.

“What is wrong?” Ned is asking, and even though the sound should be muffled, Peter hears it clear as day. “Is something wrong with your ears?”

Peter shrugs and puts his head down on the table, squeezing his eyes shut and hoping that something starts giving. He went from the verge of a panic attack to his sense of sound going absolutely batshit crazy.

“What should I do?” Ned asks, still hovering in the seat beside him. “Should I call May? Do you want me to call Mr Stark? Maybe you should go to the nurse’s office. Is it a headache?”

Peter just gives him a little wave of dismissal and then puts his arms around his head and squeezes his eyes shut. He can’t possibly answer all those questions when he can’t even talk.

“Okay, but tell me if I should do anything,” Ned says, sounding concerned.

Peter gives him a thumbs up. He’s wishing he had stayed home again today. He’s not ready to be here. His body is telling him it’s too soon. And he’s kind of scared because his ears have never hurt like this before. He really wouldn’t be surprised if they started to bleed. Maybe he somehow ruptured his eardrums? Maybe he should let Ned take him to the nurse.

The longer lunch goes on, the more apparent it is that whatever is happening isn’t getting any better. Inside Peter’s head every single little sound is like a million microphones screeching in pitches that only dogs should be able to hear, but he hears every single one in stereo surround sound. If he didn’t have a headache before, he definitely has one now. All he wants to do is cry and get away from there, but he’s not sure he can make it on his own. He needs to ask for Ned’s help. If only he could talk. Just the thought of talking sends a shot of pain through his temple.

So instead, he grabs Ned’s sleeve, and tugs. He feels dangerously close to crying, which is not good because he’s pretty sure crying will make his head feel worse. That and he would rather die than cry in the cafeteria around all his peers. He needs to get out of there.

“You wanna leave?” Ned stuffs in the last few bites of his peanut butter and jelly sandwich in his mouth and then grabs both of their bags before taking Peter by the arm and helping him out of the cafeteria.

The hallway is better, but the noise from the cafeteria is still ringing loudly in his ears. He tugs Ned toward the door that leads outside, and then collapses down beside the building, breathing hard. It’s much better here. The cool air feels good against his burning skin, and the only sound is the wind sweeping across the parking lot and the sound of cars traveling down the city streets. He breathes and breathes for several minutes, willing the pain to go away.

“Are you alright?” Ned asks quietly. “You’ve been acting weird all day. And I know what it looks like when my best friend is in pain, so don’t try to lie to me.”

Peter shrugs. He has his arms wrapped around his knees and is trying to keep his breaths under control. That’s when a text pops up on his watch.

Mr Stark: Are you okay? Your vitals have been all over the place.

“Dude! What is that?” Ned says, getting a glimpse at his watch. “Is that a new Stark Watch? Man, that is awesome! And Tony Stark himself is texting you on it! You’re definitely the luckiest kid in school.”

Peter doesn’t feel very lucky at the current moment. Instead, he feels like his head is going to explode, but he nods at Ned anyway and then taps the watch to text back. Just a really bad headache. Sounds are really loud.

Ned is reading from over his shoulder. “Does it hurt to talk? Do you think this is related to the spider bite?”

Peter nods as an answer to both questions.

Three texts from Mr Stark arrive in quick succession.

Mr Stark: Should I come and get you?

Mr Stark: Are you in a safe place?

Mr Stark: Will you be okay for thirty minutes?

Peter texts back yes an answer to all three questions. It really makes it easier when it works out that way, he thinks, his head still throbbing.

“There’s only fifteen minutes left of lunch,” Ned says, checking his phone. “But I think I should wait with you until he gets here. It’s okay. I just have study hall next. No big deal.”

“I’m sorry,” Peter whispers, resting his head back down on his knees.

“Don’t be sorry,” Ned says. “You can’t help it.”

Peter knows he can’t help it, but that doesn’t make him feel any better. He still hasn’t told his best friend the life altering, awful thing that happened to him last Friday. He still doesn’t know if he will at all. And he feels terrible about it. This misery makes the pain worse somehow, and it’s all he can do to hold off the tears.

It’s a long thirty minutes of Ned quietly comforting him with his hand on his back before Mr Stark finally pulls up in the parking lot, parking his ridiculously expensive Audi at a weird angle and then stumbling out of the car like he’s on a mission.

The next thing Peter knows, Mr Stark has Peter’s head in his hands and is looking intently at him like he’s searching for any cuts or bruises. “Did you get hurt? What happened?”

His concern pushes Peter over the edge, and the tears he has been holding back spill over onto his cheeks. The pain in his head is burning hot, but it only makes him cry more.

Mr Stark kneels down beside him and puts two comforting arms around him, then he looks at Ned. “What happened? Did you see what happened?”

Ned shakes his head. “Not really, sir. I found him like this in the hallway. Then when the bell went off, he basically fell to the ground in pain, like the sound hurt his head really bad. He’s been like this ever since. He did indicate that maybe it’s because of the spider bite. I mean, it makes sense if he can see better and hear better, that those things might bother him in excess. Right?”

Mr Stark gives him a half smile. “You’re a pretty smart kid, aren't you. Help me get him in the car, and then you can wait with him while I go to the office to sign him out. I think a quiet room will do him good.”

“Yes, sir,” Ned says, and together, the two of them help Peter to his feet. The car is only a short distance away, and the next thing Peter knows, he’s sitting in the passenger seat with the door ajar, and Ned standing there, watching him. Ned carefully puts his backpack by his feet. “You’ll be okay, Peter. Mr Stark will make sure of it.”

Peter nods and wipes at his face. He’s just lucky that there is no one else outside to witness his pathetic misery. He wants to invite Ned to the Tower on Friday night, but he can’t find it in him to say the words, so he just taps it out on his watch and sends the message.

“Dude,” Ned says after he looks down at his phone, a little over excited. “For real? Did Mr Stark say that was okay?”

Peter nods. He hopes he feels better by then. His head has never hurt so much in his entire life.

“Oh God. This is the best day of my life. No wait, scratch that. Friday and Saturday combined will be the best days of my life. I can’t believe I’m being invited to spend the night at Avengers Tower! I’ve died and gone to heaven!”

Peter holds up his hand, indicating that Ned should take it down a notch.

Ned just grins guilty. “Sorry. I’ll be quiet now. But dude!”

~*~

Tony walks back into the school feeling his heart practically beat out of his chest. He's been on edge since he dropped Peter off at school, but when FRIDAY had alerted him of Peter's vitals, his fears were confirmed. He's glad the kid is at least safe, it just really sucks how much pain he must be in. Tony has no idea what is going on, but he's thinking he should have one of the doctors on the Avengers staff take a look at him.

The halls are pretty sparse with kids, and he gets a few open mouthed stares. He asks one kid how to get to the office, and the kid is in full shock before he points a finger towards the end of the hall. When he finally arrives, he lets himself inside and takes inventory of the room. It's a small office that has a door that opens up to what he imagines are more offices for the school staff. Sitting at a desk to the side is a woman with short red hair and glasses. When she sees Tony, she drops her pen and it goes clattering to her desk.

"Hello," Tony says, approaching the next. "I'm here to sign out Peter Parker. He's sick."

The secretary stares at him for a few seconds and then rushes to dig through something on her desk, papers fluttering about her. What she turns up with is a post-it that Tony can see has his name on it, as well as Peter's. "Uh, yes, it looks like his guardian called in this morning to add you as an emergency contact. Where is Peter? Is he okay?"

"He's in my car in the parking lot. He has a terrible migraine, and I need to get him home so he can rest." Tony shifts on his feet, getting a little impatient. "Is there something I need to sign, or..."

She reaches for her file cabinet and pulls out a form. Quickly, she writes the date and time on the top, and then fills in Peter's name, then Tony's name as well as the reason Peter is going home. When she's done, she slides it across the desk towards Tony and deposits the pen on top. "Sign here."

Tony quickly signs his name. "Okay, if that's all, we'll be heading out. Thanks."

The secretary, still a little stunned, doesn't say goodbye until Tony is almost out the door.

When he gets back into the hallway, there is only one kid that just stepped out of a classroom on the right. He looks at Tony, and his jaw drops. "T-Tony Stark?" the kid stutters. "What are you doing here?"

"None of your business, kid. Scram." Tony walks by him and towards the exit, on a mission. He needs to get Peter checked out. Who knows what spider DNA is doing to him, and it's concerning. He finally gets back to the car where he quickly shakes Ned's hand and tells him to get back to his class. He'll have Peter text him later to let him know how he is.

"Thanks, Mr Stark!" Ned says, looking up at him with stars in his eyes. "And Peter says I can spend the night at the Tower on Friday? I guess I'll see you then!"

"Um," Tony looks at him for a second and then at Peter. He had completely forgotten about that. "Sure. See you then." He gets in his car and closes the door, looking over at Peter with worried eyes. He grabs an extra pair of sunglasses and hands them to Peter. "Put these on, Pete. It'll help with the glare."

Peter puts on the sunglasses while Tony steps on the gas and winds his way out of the school parking lot. Peter is curling up in his seat, and Tony can tell he's still in a lot of pain. For once, Tony doesn't turn on his music or try and engage Peter in conversation. He just drives as quickly and as safely as he can through the city and towards the Tower where he's already notified the medical team that they'll be arriving shortly. "Hang in there, Pete," he says. "Almost there."

When they arrive, there is a doctor and a nurse waiting for them, and they help Peter out of the car and into a wheelchair. Peter tries to resist and say he can walk just fine, but he's clearly in too much pain to fight it, and allows himself to be lowered into the wheelchair. For the next hour, Tony sits by his side, whispering encouragements while the team runs some tests. Finally, when he's cleared of any major medical problems, Tony takes him back to his room to sleep off whatever the hell happened.

With the curtains drawn and the lights off, Peter climbs under the covers of his bed and rests his head down on the pillow. Tony pulls the blankets up to his neck and rubs his his back. "You text me if you need anything. Or let FRIDAY know. Whatever works best. Okay?"

Peter nods and closes his eyes. He looks a lot more comfortable than he did in the medbay. His body is still and relaxed and no longer cringing in pain. "Mr Stark?" he says, opening his eyes just as Tony is about to get up to leave. "Did you get to meet with the lawyers?"

Tony isn't sure he wants to get into the nitty gritty right at that moment. If Peter's head is already hurting, listening to lawyer talk is definitely going to make it worse. "I did," he says. "I don't want you to worry about anything. It's all being taken care of. We can talk about it more when you feel better. Okay?"

"Okay," Peter agrees, closing his eyes again. "If you promise."

"I promise." Tony brushes the hair from his forehead, the first time he's done that while the kid's been awake. Peter doesn't even flinch, so Tony tucks a curl behind his ear. "Goodnight, buddy."

Tony slips out of Peter's room and gently closes the door behind himself. When he turns around, he nearly jumps out of his skin. Rhodey is standing there with his arms folded and looking at Tony either like he's extremely disappointed or Tony's done something really, really awful. Either way, it's clear that he's pissed. Tony puts his hand over his heart. "You almost got blasted through the wall. I hope you know that," he says. "What the hell are you doing here? I thought you weren't due back until the end of the week."

"Mission ended early. But let's not talk about me." Rhodey grabs Tony's arm and drags him into the kitchen, pushing him toward a stool at the counter. "What exactly is this? FRIDAY, play that news clip."

A hologram appears over the counter and there's a reporter standing in an empty ballroom. She begins talking about the gala on Friday, and Tony puts his head in his hands while he listens. No matter how many non-disclosure agreements he has people sign, it seems like something always gets out. Luckily, Peter is a minor so no one can use his name on any news report, and there are no photos or video of the event, but the public now knows that a minor was sexually assaulted by a high profile businessman that was at the gala whose name isn't as easily suppressed as Peter's. Carl Milton's name is mentioned several times, as well as a picture of his mug shot shown. And unfortunately, Tony's name is mentioned because he is the one out for blood of course. Dammit.

"You better start talking," Rhodey says when the clip ends.

"It's a mess," Tony groans, his head still in his hands. "I don't know what the fuck I'm doing. I've been trying my best since it happened, and the kid is doing really well considering. I have all my lawyers on this, Rhodey." He sits up and looks his best friend in the eye. "Every single one. I didn't want it to get out. This poor kid shouldn't have to watch news clips like that! But you better believe I'm going to make sure this fucker gets the maximum punishment. I will call in all my favors to watch him burn."

Rhodey sighs and puts a hand on Tony's shoulder. "It's Peter, isn't it," he says, and it's not really a question. "This isn't your fault, Tony."

"Why does everyone say that?" Tony asks, putting his head back into his hands.

Rhodey let's go of Tony's shoulder so he can cross his arms over his chest. "Ah, maybe because we know you too well?"

"I need to be more mysterious," Tony mutters against his hands. "FRIDAY, put that on my list. Be more mysterious."

FRIDAY replies, "Got it, boss."

"Is Peter okay?" Rhodey asks. "Why isn't he in school?"

Tony leans over sideways on the counter so he can look at his best friend while he props his head up. "He had some sort of sensory problem. You know, there's a lot we don't know about how that spider bite affected him. It seems like it was mostly sounds that were bothering him. He was in so much pain that he was doubled over. The medbay staff ran all sorts of tests and everything came back normal. He's gonna sleep it off. I'll ask him more about what happened when he wakes up."

Rhodey looks concerned and doesn't say anything for a moment. When he opens his mouth, he hesitates. "How is he doing with the other stuff? He wasn't raped, was he?"

"No, thankfully," Tony says, squeezing his eyes shut for a few seconds. "He kicked that creep away from him and then I sort of blasted the door down. So physically, he's fine. It just really freaked him out. And I don't blame him. That guy was creepier than all shit. I'm not even going to tell you what I wanted to do with him."

"Probably for the best," Rhodey agrees. "Besides. I can imagine. Fucking creep! I'm on your side with this one, Tones."

"I'm just trying to do what's best for the kid," Tony says, sighing. "He doesn't deserve any of this. I just hope no one else is able to connect the dots. If this gets out at the kid's school, then I don't know what to do anymore."

"Sue the media outlets," Rhodey suggests. "You've done it before. Or hey. Why don't you cause some other drama. Then they'll focus on that instead."

"Both decent suggestions." Tony sits up again and thinks about it. Causing additional drama doesn't really bother him. He couldn't give two shits what the media wants to write about him, but he doesn't want it to affect anyone he loves, which it probably will. He's got more than himself to think about these days. Besides Pepper will have his head. He does, however, have unlimited resources, and he could definitely issue the media a cease and desist. He just hopes the damage isn't done already.

Groaning, he gets up from his stool and stretches stiffly. "I guess I better call the lawyers again. Pepper'll kill me if I start anything new. But good idea. Probably would have worked."

“No problem.” Rhodey stands up, too. “You want me to look out for the kid while you’re gone? His aunt isn’t going to come in here all pissed, is she?”

“Oh shit.” Tony slaps his hand over his face, letting it drag down slowly. “I forgot to let his aunt know that he’s here. I’ll text her. And yes, I’m just going to make a few phone calls from my office, but if he needs anything while I’m doing that, you’re the guy. Thanks, Rhodey.”

“I got you covered. Don’t worry about a thing.”

Tony smiles at him as he jogs off towards his office. Time to play damage control. Again.

Chapter Text

Peter wakes up in a very dark place, and it takes him a few seconds to remember what had happened. His head feels heavy and a little numb, sort of like it’s bruised from all the pain. He keeps his eyes closed and presses against his temples, trying to get rid of the numbness. He’s thankful it’s at least not painful anymore. It was the worst headache he had ever had in his life, and he hopes he can figure out what caused it, because he never wants to experience that pain again.

He taps his watch twice to make it light up, and the time displays. It’s just after three, when he should be getting out of school. Then he remembers that he didn’t have lunch when his stomach grumbles loudly. Not wanting to bother Mr Stark, he carefully slips out of bed and exits his room.

The lights in the hallway that are usually dim, seem very bright today, and he shades his eyes with his hand. Maybe he’s still feeling some of the side effects, he doesn’t know, but he hopes they’ll go away soon.

When he gets the kitchen, he's surprised to see Mr Rhodes standing in front of the refrigerator, and he stops dead in his tracks, his tired brain processing the situation. Where is Mr Stark? "Um, hi," he finally says.

Mr Rhodes turns around to give him a half smile. "Good morning, sleepyhead. Hungry?"

Peter finishes making his way toward the fridge. "Starving! Hey, aren't you supposed to be on some super secret government mission?"

Mr Rhodes' expression sobers. "Yeah, and it was supposed to be super secret, hence the name. Did Tony tell you that?"

"That's all he told me!" Peter quickly supplies, worrying a little. Oops, maybe he shouldn't have said that. He hopes Mr Stark won't be mad at him.

"Well, that's all he knew, so I didn't think he told you anything else." Mr Rhodes goes back to the fridge, poking around through some leftover Chinese that Peter and Mr Stark had ordered on Sunday. "Note to self: Don't tell Tony anything if I don't want Peter to know about it."

Peter grins because he loves that Mr Stark tells him everything. He wants to be included and in the know. It makes him feel like he belongs to something bigger than himself. "You wanna eat the Chinese leftovers with me, Mr Rhodes? They're from Sunday so they should still be good. My aunt says five days is the limit for leftovers."

Mr Rhodes smiles again. "Sure, kid. I'll heat everything up, you go get forks and stuff."

Peter hops to do what he's told. He's so hungry he's starting to feel a little dizzy, but maybe that's because of the headache, or whatever that was before. All he knows is that Mr Rhodes better eat pretty quickly, or Peter might just inhale everything. "Where's Mr Stark?" he asks once he has plates and forks set out on the counter. He thinks maybe he's imagining it, but Mr Rhodes seems like he's either avoiding the question or thinking really hard about it while he is spending his time looking very interested in sticking spoons in the different containers.

"Just a few business calls," Mr Rhodes finally replies before picking up several of the containers and bringing them to where Peter is sitting at the counter.

"Oh," Peter says. He has the distinct feeling that something is being kept from him, but decides not to ask now. He figures he'll have better luck getting it out of Mr Stark later on.

Mr Rhodes finishes bringing the containers over and then walks back to the fridge. "You want a soda or something?"

"Yes, please!" Peter says while he scoops some sesame chicken onto his plate. He's reaching for the fried rice when Mr Rhodes sets two cans of Sprite down and then sits in the chair beside him.

"Are you feeling better?" Mr Rhodes asks.

"Yeah, mostly." Peter cracks open his can and takes a sip. "My head still feels kind of weird, but the pain is gone. I have no idea what happened. I was in the hallway at school, and then the bell went off, and it was so loud, something in my head short circuited... or, I don't know, but it felt like a knife in my brain. After that, everything hurt. Like people whispering across the room even hurt a little."

"Ech, sounds rough, kid. I'm glad you're feeling okay now." Mr Rhodes scoops some food on his plate ,and the two of them eat for a while.

"Do you know when Mr Stark will be back?" Peter asks after he's demolished his sesame chicken and is eyeing the beef lo mein.

"Not sure." Mr Rhodes shrugs and then goes back to his food. "But if you need him, I'm sure he wouldn't mind getting a text."

"No, I'm okay," Peter mutters. He can take care of himself at the Tower. He's done it before, and no doubt he'll do it again. He figures after his stomach is sufficiently full, he'll get back in bed and watch movies or something. Maybe he should text Ned and May and let them both know he's alright, too. He ends up eating at least three fourths of the leftovers and Mr Rhodes eats a fourth, but they finish at about the same time, so Peter thanks the man and heads back to his room to do just what he planned.

Peter turns the television on in his room, sitting down to first text May and then send a few to Ned, assuring them both that he's okay, when whatever he's watching comes back from commercials. However, the show is immediately interrupted by breaking news. Or at least that’s what it says scrolling across the bottom of the screen.

He gets a dizzy and sick feeling just before he sees a grainy cell phone video of the gala the night he was attacked. The footage is of Mr Stark blowing out the bathroom door. Peter himself is nowhere on the video, but somehow the news station has figured out that Mr Stark has saved a minor from a sexual assault.

Peter turns the TV off the second he can move again and then stumbles into the bathroom where he sits in front of the toilet breathing fast, unsure if he’s going throw up or not. His headache is coming back, getting worse and worse with each breath.

The last thing he remembers are the black spots in his vision.

~*~

Tony ends the call he’s on because FRIDAY has alerted him that Peter’s vitals are going crazy. He has never run so quickly out of his office and through the living room to where the bedrooms located. He throws open the door without knocking and his eyes search for his kid, but he only sees an unmade bed with a remote sitting on the sheets.

“FRIDAY, where is he?”

“He’s in the bathroom, boss. There are no cameras in there, so I’m unable to tell you anything past that,” FRIDAY replies.

Tony runs into the bathroom, and his heart almost stops when he sees Peter slumped over on the floor beside the toilet. There is no vomit anywhere, so it doesn’t appear that he’s choking, but Tony rushes in and gathers Peter in his arms, brushing the sweaty hair away from his forehead. “Pete. Pete,” he says, slapping his cheeks lightly. “Wake up. You’re okay.” He says that more for himself than for Peter. To be honest, he’s not sure if he’s okay or not.

“FRIDAY, get the medical team in here right now!” Tony yells at his AI.

The noise must have gotten through, because Peter’s face scrunches up in pain, and he groans, cracking open an eye. “Wh-what happened?” he asks, his voice just above a whisper.

“I don’t know,” Tony says, wiping the tears from Peter’s face. “I came in here because your vitals were all over the place. Then I found you unconscious on the floor. Are you feeling okay?”

Peter blinks at him for a moment as he comes back to himself. He’s still looking pretty confused when he attempts to sit up, but Tony pushes him back down.

“No, no,” Tony says, his hand on Peter’s shoulder to hold him in place. “Stay there for a second. I don’t need a kid with a head injury because he passed out again. Speaking of which, did you hit your head the first time?”

“My head really hurts,” Peter says and covers his face with his hands. “But I don’t think I hit it. It kind of hurts like before, but not as bad.”

“Okay, buddy. You’re going to be alright. Let’s just sit here a second.”

Before Peter can reply, the medical team is at the door, including one sports medicine specialist who has fixed up more super heroes than he can count, one general surgeon who has operated on Captain America himself, and the general practitioner, who has treated everything from A to Z for the whole team. Behind them are three nurses, and when they all crowd into the bathroom, bending over Peter, he absolutely freaks out.

Tony watches in horror as one doctor gets a foot to the nose, the other backing away quickly. The nurses are pulling the injured doctor away while he groans in agony.

“Okay, okay. Sorry, everyone,” Tony says. “I should have warned you not to sneak up on us. Peter is a little leery of strangers rushing in on him. So if you can all just wait outside for a few minutes. He’s awake now, obviously, so emergency over.” He glances at the doctor with the broken nose. “We’ll fix that nose, don’t worry.”

By the time the team backs out of the room, and the surgeon mumbling a few select words under his breath, Peter is a sobbing mess clinging to Tony’s shirt and burying his head against his mentor’s chest.

“Hey, it’s okay, buddy. I should have told them not to rush in like that. It’s my fault.” Tony holds him close. “It’s just that you were unconscious when I called for them, and I was really scared. So, I’m sorry.”

Peter’s cries are so hysterical, that he can’t even reply. So Tony just rocks him slightly, back and forth, wanting to cry himself. He hates himself for being the cause of any pain Peter has to go through. He wishes he could take it all away from him. He holds Peter and tries to comfort him until his cries lessen and the grip on his shirt loosens. When Peter finally pulls away to wipe at his eyes, Tony reaches for the toilet paper and hands him a handful of it.

“This is s-such an awful d-day,” Peter stutters, still trying to catch his breath. “Pretending I’m okay is so hard. And then that head pain. And then I saw on the n-news—” He starts to cry again, and Tony pulls him back.

Fuck. He had seen the news report on the attack. Maybe that’s what brought this all on?

“I’m sorry,” Tony says, because that’s all he can think of to say. “I was going to tell you about all of that when you woke up. I was on the phone doing damage control, but it might be too late. They don’t have your name, Pete. They don’t know it has anything to do with you. And I will fight till my last breath to make sure they never do.”

“I don’t mean to cry all the time,” Peter says against Tony’s t-shirt. “I’m not usually like this.”

 

“I know, buddy,” Tony says. “It’s okay. I don’t care, I promise. Things are going to get better. I know they will. This is all my fault, by the way. If it weren’t for me, they would never even think that story was interesting.”

“You saved me,” Peter says, more tears running down his cheeks, which he quickly wipes at with the toilet paper. “My head really hurts.”

“I know, Pete. It’s killing me to see you in such pain.”

Peter is still wiping his eyes and doing his best to sniff the tears away. “Can we watch movies on my bed tonight? And you’ll stay with me?” When he looks up at Tony with those puppy dog eyes, he definitely has to know what he’s doing.

“Whatever you want, spider-kid,” Tony says, pulling him back. “Are you hungry? I’ll order anything you want. I can have sushi flown in from Japan. Just say the word.”

“Mr Rhodes fed me leftover Chinese food,” Peter says, relaxing against Tony again and closing his eyes. “It was good.”

“What the hell is wrong with him?” Tony says, patting Peter’s back. “That was from Sunday. Yuck. No wonder you feel sick.”

Peter chuckles. “Aunt May says leftovers are good for five days. And you know she’s right about almost everything.”

Tony can’t argue with that.

~*~

Tony spends most of movie night turning over what had happened in his mind and trying to figure it out. Either Peter was sick, or something that had happened was triggering these weird episodes of pain, not to mention the fainting spells. Considering he hasn’t gotten sick since he was bitten by the spider, Tony tends to think it’s the latter. He wishes he could talk to Bruce, who would definitely be able to help with the matter, but Bruce has been missing for almost two years, so that’s a no go.

He’s trying to decide what to do when FRIDAY tells him that May has arrived, so he slowly and carefully climbs out of bed, so as not to disturb Peter who has fallen asleep against his shoulder. Once Peter is propped up with pillows and looks content again, Tony slips out of the room and meets May downstairs in the lobby. Together, the two of them travel back up the elevator and take a seat in the kitchen, where Tony offers her coffee or tea.

“Tea, please,” May says, sitting down at the counter. “Is Peter okay? Do you think he’s sick?”

“I don’t really know.” Tony puts some water in the kettle and turns on the stove before he turns around to face her while he leans against the counter. “I think he’s had a lot of stress today, and maybe that triggered some of his symptoms. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to send him back to school so soon. Then again, the story leaking to the press definitely didn’t help. And don’t worry about that. My lawyers are sending cease and desist letters to all media outlets as we speak.”

May sighs, looking stressed. “I don’t know what to do,” she admits, pressing her fingers into the side of her head and squeezing her eyes shut.

“I haven’t asked him about it yet,” Tony goes on, “but I think he might be having a little PSTD regarding the attack. Or at the very least, some really bad panic attacks. I really think he needs to see a therapist.”

May hides her face in her hands, and it’s clear to Tony that she’s either crying or trying really hard not to, so he walks around the counter and puts his hand on her back, rubbing it gently. “Don’t worry. He’s going to be okay. I just think we need to get a better handle on everything so that this doesn’t happen again. I’ve seen therapists before. It’s not so bad. It’s a little scary at first, but I know some really good ones who will treat him well.”

“And they’re probably really expensive,” May mutters through her fingers.

“As far as I’m concerned, this is my fault, so I’ll be covering the bills. You won’t have to worry about any of that. Let’s just take care of our boy, okay?”

She’s quiet for a long time, and then she sniffs and wipes her cheeks with the back of her hand. “Okay, fine. I’ll drop the money thing for now. But only because it’s what’s best for Peter. And I think you’re right that he needs some help with that stuff. So why don’t you set him up with the best one you can find, and then we can take him there together.”

 

“Okay.” He smiles and pats her back before removing his hand. “That’s a deal. Send me your schedule so I know when you’re free. In the meantime, I think we should keep Pete home from school and then re-evaluate on the weekend.”

“Okay, that sounds good,” May says just as the kettle whistles and Tony heads back to pour the hot water into two mugs. “I’ll call the school about his assignments and pick them up after work tomorrow.”

“Oh, by the way,” Tony says, popping a tea bag into each mug and then walking them back over to the counter. “Peter asked his friend Ned to stay over here on Friday night. If he still feels up to it, you’re welcome to stay over, too. Pepper will be back this weekend, so I’m sure she’d enjoy the company.”

May holds up her mug and sips at the steaming tea. “Well, I do have off this weekend. And it would be nice to spend some time with Peter. I feel like I’m always working and you get him more. It’s not really fair.” She laughs a little, like it’s a joke. But Tony knows better.

“You know,” he starts out slowly. He knows this isn’t going to go over well, but he can’t ignore such a good opening to say it. “You don’t have to work so much. You can cut back your hours a little. I’ve been meaning to talk to you about your apartment. I’m basically an old man—”

May looks at him like he’s shitting her. “Stop now. While you’re ahead. You’re not that much older than me.”

“--and walking up seven flights of stairs nearly killed me when I was staying over there. Once I almost had to stop and dial nine-one-one. What I’m trying to say is that maybe it would be beneficial to move into an apartment with an elevator. And maybe one with underground parking so that I don’t have to park my car on the street.”

“Tony.” May sets down her mug with a little thud. “I don’t know why you’re saying this. You know I can’t afford that kind of apartment. Why do you think I work so many overtime shifts? When Ben died, we suddenly lost half our income. Half! There is no possible way I could move into a nicer apartment.”

“Yes, there is,” Tony says, taking a sip from his tea and avoiding eye contact. “I’ve actually come up with a really good way.”

She doesn’t say anything, but he can feel her eyes glaring at him, boring holes into the side of his face.

“Hear me out,” he says, turning to face her again.

“I don’t want to be your charity case!”

“Not a charity case,” Tony says, holding up his hands. “I’m doing this for selfish purposes. Please, allow me to make my life easier.”

She’s still giving him a death glare. “Is this really the best time to be talking about this? Shouldn’t we be talking about Peter?”

“This is about Peter,” he insists. “Maybe it’s better for him if he has his aunt at home more. Don’t you think?”

May can’t argue with that, so she bites her lip and continues to glare at him.

“Come on, May. Life has been hard for you and Peter lately. I care about you two, and want you to be more comfortable. I also really hate climbing up seven flights of stairs. How is there anything wrong with that?”

“Can we please talk about this later? I’m not prepared to be dealing with you and your generosity.” She picks her mug back up and sips at it, closing her eyes to calm herself. “I hope this is herbal tea.”

“Sure it is. It’s almost bedtime. Peter’s already sleeping. The guest room is is ready for you if you want it.”

“I don’t know.” She sips at her tea some more. “I have to work again tomorrow, and I don’t have any clothes here…”

“Pepper wouldn’t mind if you borrowed some clothes to sleep in. You can go home a little early and change before work.” He takes a gulp of his tea, and it’s too hot and burns his mouth. He swallows it anyway. “Or you could call in sick and contemplate my offer. Take care of Peter. He had a really hard day today, I’m sure he would appreciate you sticking around. And then when you go back to work on Thursday, you can see if they have a part time position for you.”

“Tony, you’re making my head spin. I’m tired, and I just want to kiss Peter and go to sleep.”

“Okay, then let me show you to the guest room. I’ll bring you some PJs.” He slides his mug closer to the center of the counter and then jumps off his stool. Ready?”

She hesitates for just a moment, but he can tell she’s so tired that she gives in easily, and follows him down the hallway. He’ll have to keep that in mind for the future. The secret to getting May to agree with you is to ask her when she’s really, really tired.

Before they reach the guest room, they stop at Peter’s room and quietly sneak inside. May brushes back the hair from his forehead and kisses him gently, wishing him sweet dreams while Tony stands by the door. What he would like, if he were being honest, would be if Peter and May just moved into the Tower. But he knows better than to ask that for two reasons. One being that May would never agree to that, sleepy decision making or not, and two, he knows better than to ask at all without running it past Pepper. Because everyone knows that Pepper wears the pants in the family.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

The next day is sort of the best, according to Peter. He eats another awesome breakfast and then sits in the living room watching cartoons while May runs back to the apartment to pick up a few things for the two of them since she called in sick to work, and Mr Stark makes some more phone calls, which he promises to tell Peter about later on that day. When both of them come back, they play board games and eat sandwiches for lunch from Mr Stark’s favorite sandwich place. It’s not as good as Delmar’s, but Peter doesn’t say that out loud because to be honest, they’re really almost as good. He answers a few texts from Ned, and promises to call him tonight so they can catch up a bit more.

His headaches are completely gone. Hanging out at the Tower with Mr Stark and May is the best, and he wishes every day could be this awesome. The only thing is with Aunt May there, they sort of have to be on their best behavior. It’s kind of like an unspoken agreement between him and Mr Stark. They will eat vegetables with every meal, cut back on any and all minor swearing, and spend decent hours in the lab. Of course lab hours were May free, so they could eat the unhealthy snacks that Mr Stark had stocked in a mini fridge by his desk.

After dinner, which was super delicious by the way, he tells Mr Stark and May that he’s going to go to his room to call Ned. So he gets on his bed, which was still unmade from the night before, and makes the call. He doesn’t know why he feels so nervous. It’s not like he plans on telling Ned everything.

“Dude,” Ned says instead of saying hello. “You missed the best day at school. Austin threw up in the hallway, and then Flash slipped on it. He landed flat on his face and chipped a tooth. I wish I had recorded it, because it was so classic!”

“Wow, that’s amazing.” Peter smiles despite himself. He can picture it in his head and doesn’t think he needs a video, but that would be amazing too. “I’m so sorry I missed that!”

“Maybe someone snapped a pic or took a video that hasn’t been posted yet. I’ll keep you up to date with that,” Ned says. “You think you’re coming back to school tomorrow? That seemed really painful, whatever was going on yesterday. Are you feeling better now?”

“Yeah, I think so. It was the worst. I have never been in so much pain before ever. And then it happened again later on. I don’t think I told you about that. Only this time I felt like I was going to puke. I didn’t, but I did faint on the bathroom floor. Then Mr Stark freaked out and called his medical staff. I kicked one of them in the nose. I feel really bad about that. I should send him a get well card.”

“You kicked a doctor in the nose?” Ned repeated as though it was the most amazing thing ever. “Dude! Why would you do that?”

“I guess I wasn’t really all there? Mr Stark says it’s broken in three different places, which is weird because I imagine the bone in your nose is pretty small. But I guess I kinda crushed it with my foot? I don’t know. Mr Stark said not to worry because he called in the best doctor to fix it though. The guy had surgery this morning. He gets a long paid vacation too, so hopefully he’s not too mad at me.”

“Don’t sneak up on you after you’ve fainted. Noted for future reference. So why do you think you’re having all these weird symptoms right now? Do you think the spider DNA in your body is mutating to something bigger and badder and more awesome?”

“Don’t say that!” Peter cradles his head in his hand. “If it is mutating, it doesn’t feel more awesome! In fact, it feels pretty crappy. And I need to stop. I hope it’s not that. Mr Stark is calling in some specialist that’s going to see me on Friday. And yeah… I guess I’m out for the rest of the week just to take a precaution. But don’t worry. The sleepover is still on for Friday night. May and Miss Potts are going to be here too, but if we want, they’ll all leave us alone.”

“Aww, I was really looking forward to hanging out with Iron Man.” Ned sounds slightly disappointed.

“Don’t worry,” Peter says, lifting his head and grinning because he knows that Mr Stark will join them if he asks. “I’m sure you can hang out with him a little. He’ll watch movies with us or whatever we want. Speaking of movies. I’ve watched so many these last few days, I think I overdid it a little. I need a new rec list or something. I’ll look for one tomorrow when you’re at school. Any genre requests?”

“Horror,” Ned says, and Peter can hear the smile in his voice. “All the classics. I’m sure there’s a list online somewhere.”

“Great. I’m going to be ready for this. Text me any snack and drink requests, too. Mr Stark was already asking me what I wanted today.”

Ned chuckles. “He spoils you rotten. It’s like he has to make up for not spoiling you for the fourteen years he didn’t know you.”

“That’s not true!” Peter says, a blush coming to his face. “He’s just rich, and he’s used to spending his money on things.”

“On things or you? Because it seems like he spends a lot money getting you everything you could ever need or want. Especially when you stay with him at the Tower.”

“Hey!” Peter is a little offended. “I don’t think you’ll be complaining about all that when you come here on Friday night.”

There’s a pause. “Are you there now?”

Peter quickly decides how to go about this turn in the conversation. “Uh, yeah. With the fainting thing, he and May thought it would be better if I stay here where there’s medical staff available. But I had to promise not to kick anyone else in the nose.”

Ned laughs. “Fair enough. Well, have fun at the Tower in your awesome room there where Mr Stark definitely doesn’t spoil you. I’ll be feeling jealous from way over here in my tiny bedroom with no superheros around to save me.”

“Shut up. Hey, I’m gonna start working on homework tomorrow. Is it okay if I call or text you with any questions? I’ll probably be fine, but just in case there was something I missed in class or something.”

“Yeah, no problem. Talk to you tomorrow!”

Peter smiles in relief. He’s so glad Ned didn’t bring up that news clip he had unfortunately seen earlier. If Ned didn’t ask him about it, then that meant that no one at his school was speculating on if he was the victim. Which was good. So good. Peter can breathe again. “Thanks! Bye, Ned,” he says and disconnects the call.

He heads back into the living room to see if Mr Stark made the popcorn yet, and catches him and Aunt May in deep conversation over the coffee table. Mr Stark has a yellow folder and he shuts it the second he sees Peter.

“What’s going on?” Peter asks, freezing where he stands in the entryway. “What’s in that folder?”

“Sit down, Pete,” Mr Stark says and pats the spot between himself and May. “We want to talk to you about something.”

When he hesitates, May speaks up, “Don’t worry, honey, it’s nothing bad. Just something we need to talk about. Come over here.”

Peter takes in a shaky breath and starts to walk towards them. He’s nervous, but he’s not afraid. His senses aren’t flipping out again, so maybe it’ll be okay. He sits down between them and stares at the folder on the coffee table.

“Tony and I have talked about this, and we came to an agreement,” May begins, putting her hand on his shoulder. “What happened was really crappy, and it was unfair to you.”

“And we want to give you the best advantage,” Mr Stark adds in, only to get a look from May that clearly said, ‘I’ve got this.’

“So,” May goes on. “We think it might help for you to talk to someone. A professional.”

Peter blinks in confusion. He doesn’t know what he was expecting, but this isn’t it. “O-okay… I guess that makes sense,” he says slowly. “I mean, it probably wouldn’t hurt. Right?” He turns to Mr Stark when he asks. He knows that May has never seen a therapist, but he wonders if Mr Stark has.

“Right,” Mr Stark assures him, putting his hand on Peter’s other shoulder. “I’ve seen so many therapists, I lost count.”

“Will I have to see a lot?” Peter asks.

May glares at Mr Stark. “No,” she says. “Just one if you like that one. If you don’t you can try another. Tony has had many problems and many years to work through them, which is why he’s seen many therapists. Don’t worry about that.”

“Not that many problems,” Mr Stark says, patting Peter’s shoulder before he removes his hand. “Okay, so I’ve had quite a few problems. It sort of comes with the whole superhero thing. My dad was also the worst, so that doesn’t help.” Mr Stark looks away when he says the last part.

Peter already knew that Mr Stark didn’t get along with his father, but he doesn’t know the full story. Clearly there is much more about that than Mr Stark hasn’t told him. Maybe one day he will tell him about it. “Okay, how do I pick a therapist?” Peter wants to know.

Now, Mr Stark opens the folder for him. “That’s what we were going over when you came in. On the left are the ones we didn’t think would be a good match, and then on the right are the profiles of the ones we were deciding between.”

“Do you want to help?” May asks. “Or should we pick for you?”

Peter thinks this is probably a pretty important decision, and definitely one he wants to make himself, but he appreciates being given the option. “Let’s see,” he says, taking the papers out of the right side and flipping through. There are only three there so it shouldn’t be too difficult. He reads over the bios quickly. Two are men and one is a woman. He doesn’t want Mr Stark and his aunt to know that he’s uncomfortable with the men because he doesn’t want to worry them. So he makes up a reason why he wants the woman. “Hmm, they all seem okay, I guess.” Then he plucks out the female’s profile out and hands it to Mr Stark. “How about this one. She says she watches a lot of movies in her free time. We can relate better.”

“Sounds like as good a reason as any.” Mr Stark shrugs and takes the paper, looking at it closer with his glasses down his nose. “Okay. I’ll call in the morning and set something up.”

May takes the paper from him. “I’ll call in the morning. I’m his guardian, after all.”

“Just wait.” Mr Stark snatches the paper back from behind Peter’s back. “I need to use my influence to get an appointment as soon as possible. So I think it’s better if I call.”

Before they can start a tug of war over the paper, Peter sighs and intervenes. “How about you both get on the call? That solves all your problems.”

Mr Stark wraps an arm around his shoulders and pinches his cheek like he’s a baby. “You are so, so smart. I couldn’t be more proud of you.”

May only laughs. “Well, we agree on one thing, at least!”

~*~

On Wednesday, Mr Stark and May schedule Peter’s appointment with his new therapist, Dr Caldwell, after Mr Stark faxes and receives back in return a non-disclosure agreement, even though he’s assured by the receptionist that the doctor is required by confidentiality laws to keep everything in the office between the two of them. He clearly does not want to take any chances on the matter.

The appointment is scheduled for ten o’clock on Thursday, so Peter spends a good chunk of Wednesday catching up on his homework and trying to feel mostly normal, though he’s not used to spending weekdays at the Tower, so that’s a little different. May goes back to work, but assures him she’ll be off for his appointment the following day. She got one of her coworkers to trade shifts with her, so it’ll all work out.

Peter falls asleep on Wednesday night feeling a little nervous about the appointment, but surprisingly, those thoughts keep his mind away from other, worse thoughts, and he’s able to fall asleep better than normal.

On Thursday after sleeping in a little and eating donuts for breakfast, the three of them get into the back of a car that Happy is driving, with Peter in the middle. May puts her arm around him and pulls him to her side. He tries not to act nervous, but he appreciates her warmth, and tries his best not to think about what’s coming up.

Once they arrive at the small office in Manhattan, May goes to check him in while Mr Stark sits in the small lobby with him.

“Are you okay?” Mr Stark asks, looking at him with concern.

“Ah, mostly. I think,” Peter replies. His leg is so bouncy that he has to put his hand on his knee to stop it. “I’m a little nervous about what she’s going to want to talk about.”

“Usually the first appointment is more like a getting to know each other session. Maybe she’ll touch on some hard topics, but the harder stuff will be for your next session. Or at least that’s how it’s been in my experience. You and I are good at talking, so it’s going to be pretty easy. I promise.”

Peter nods, his eyes darting around the room. The walls are a light sage green and a few paintings of peaceful scenes are hanging on the walls. In the center of the lobby is a table with magazines, as well as a little basket and some pens sitting inside of it. He wonders who would ever feel relaxed enough to read magazines here. Very strange.

May returns and sits on the other side of him, rubbing his back to try and calm him.

In what feels like no time at all, a tall woman with graying blonde hair comes out of a back hallway. She’s holding a clipboard, and she looks up at the three of them. “Peter?”

Peter swallows hard and prepares to talk, but for some reason his legs are stuck, and he can’t stand up from his seat.

Mr Stark leans in, his hand on Peter’s shoulder. “Alright, buddy. You can do this. We’re gonna be right here the whole time waiting for you. And you just let me know if you need us. I’ll be staring at my phone just in case. Okay?”

Peter nods and tries to will his legs to work. He can do this.

“Do you want them to come with you at first?” the therapist asks, surprising Peter.

“Can they?” he asks, feeling relief flood into his veins.

She nods. “Of course. Then when you’re comfortable, we’ll have them step out.”

Peter gives her a small smile. He’s already starting to trust her, which is good, considering what he’s there to talk to her about in the first place. Together, everyone walks back to the therapist’s room. On the way there, she introduces herself as Dr Caldwell, and then she and Mr Stark talk about the weather, which Peter has noticed adults tend to do a lot.

The room they step into next is low lit and calming. There is a couch on one end and a leather chair adjacent to it. Dr Caldwell shows them to the couch, and they sit down with Peter between them.

“So, Peter,” Dr Caldwell says, sitting down in her chair and crossing her legs. “Why don’t you tell me who you brought with you today.”

“Um,” Peter says, still feeling a little shaken, but then he feels May’s hand on his back, and it urges him on. “This is my Aunt May, and—” He looks at Mr Stark. “This is my...” Suddenly he’s at a loss for words. He doesn’t know what he’s going to say. He thought he was going to say Mr Stark was his mentor, but that doesn’t sound right. Mr Stark is more than his mentor. “...Mr Stark,” he says, feeling dumb.

May laughs to break the tension. “This is Tony Stark, who loves Peter almost as much as I do. He’s like Peter’s dad.”

Peter feels his cheeks heat up. He guesses that’s true. Mr Stark has definitely been there for him as any good father would be there for a son.

Mr Stark ruffles his hair gently. “We’re both on Team Peter.”

“Okay, great,” Dr Caldwell grins. “It’s good to have people who love you and are in your corner. I’m so glad that they’re here. Now, tell me a little about yourself, Peter. Like… what school you go to, what grade you’re in, your favorite and least favorite subjects. Maybe a little about your friends. That kind of thing.”

Peter finds these things easy to talk about, and before he knows it, he’s going on and on about school and Ned and hanging out in Mr Stark’s lab. He leaves out all the Spider-Man stuff of course, even though Mr Stark has assured him that the session is confidential. He figures he really wants to trust Dr Caldwell before he brings that up. When he pauses for a breath, Dr Caldwell asks him if he’s ready to let his parents leave the room.

Peter takes a second to reply because he has never thought about May and Mr Stark as his parents before, but he guesses it’s true in a way. Family isn’t always blood, of course, it’s those who end up being there each other the most--isn’t it? “Yeah, okay,” he agrees, and lets both May and Mr Stark give him hugs before they assure him they’ll be in the waiting room the whole time.

When the door clicks shut, his heart rate picks up. Maybe this isn’t a good idea. Maybe he should have waited to let May and Mr Stark out of the room. Everything seemed just fine while they were there, but now that he’s alone with the therapist, he remembers what they’re there to talk about. He’s so glad he picked the woman therapist right then because he has a feeling he’d be totally flipping out if he was shut up in this small room with a strange man.

“Take some deep breaths, Peter,” Dr Caldwell says when she sits back down from closing the door. “We’re just going to talk. Nothing scary is going to happen, and we won’t talk about anything you’re uncomfortable with. You’re in charge right now. Okay?”

He tries to breathe. “Okay,” he gets out.

Chapter Text

“Is there something you want to talk about?” Dr Caldwell asks.

Peter takes in another breath. “I don’t know. I mean, I know what I’m supposed to talk about.”

“But do you feel comfortable talking about that right now?”

“Not really?” He meets her eyes before looking down at his hands in his lap. He found a string on the hem of his shirt, and he’s tugging on it gently. “Maybe we can talk about why it’s so hard for me to tell Ned what happened. I mean, Mr Stark is the only person I actually told about it, and it was only a few sentences and mostly because he was sort of there when it happened. He’s the one who told May. And I think Mr Stark’s best friend, Mr Rhodes, knows too. But that’s okay. And now there’s the news reports about it, that Mr Stark is trying to stop, but I’m not sure it’s going to work. I’m really worried kids at school are going to figure out it was me. And then I’m not sure how I’ll ever go back to school. The one time I tried to go to school this week turned out awful. I mean, I had some sort of panic attack in the hallway, and Mr Stark had to come and get me. The pain in my head was so bad. I’m seeing a doctor about that tomorrow by the way, so don’t worry.”

“Peter, can I ask you a few questions about that?” Dr Caldwell asks when there’s a slight pause in his monologue.

Peter nods, looking up at her.

“Why do you think it’s so hard for you tell Ned?” she asks. “Do you trust that he’d keep it to himself?”

He swallows hard. “I don’t think he’d tell anyone. I just really don’t want him to feel sorry for me. Like if I told him, he’d feel bad for me, and then I might cry, and I don’t really want to cry in front of him. I don’t want him to feel bad for me. I’m okay, really. I mean, most of the time I am. Except for when something reminds me of it, and then I’m not that great. But I’m working on that. Or at least I’m trying. I mean… I guess that’s why I’m here. Right?”

Dr Caldwell gives him a gentle smile and nods. “You’re doing great, Peter.”

“Do you think I should tell Ned?” he asks.

“That’s up to you, of course. I’m just here to give you the tools to make things a little easier for you. Like, if you’re afraid he’s going to be upset and feel bad for you, tell him that up front. Tell him what you’re going to say is upsetting, but you’re working on dealing with it. Say that you’d like his support. That kind of thing. I’m guessing if he’s the friend you say he is, and he sounds like he is, then he’ll be proud of you for telling him.”

“Ma’am?” Peter asks, pulling at the string on his shirt again. “Do you know what happened? I mean, did Aunt May and Mr Stark tell you when they called?”

“They spoke with my receptionist,” Dr Caldwell answered, honest and upfront. “And all I know is that there was a man who sexually assaulted you. We don’t have to talk about that now if you don’t want to.”

He takes in a shaky breath because he hates thinking about it. And hearing her say it out loud somehow made it even more real. “It’s really hard to talk about,” he mutters. “Mostly because I don’t want it to be true. I want to wake up from whatever nightmare that was, and just go on with my life. But my stupid brain keeps reminding me that it happened, and it’s real. And not only that, but it could happen again. I’m mostly okay at home and at Mr Stark’s… well, his Tower, because I feel safe in those places, but when I was at school and I went into the bathroom, it was almost like I was there again. And then when I saw the news report too. Even though I was at the Tower, I saw the images on the screen, and my brain freaked out. I wanted to--I couldn’t control it.” He wipes away the tears that have fallen onto his face and accepts the tissue box that Dr Caldwell has handed him. “I didn’t really want to cry here,” he says and then blows his nose.

“It’s okay. What happened was scary and upsetting, and it’s definitely okay to cry about it. Can you describe a little more about what happened when you went into the bathroom at school?”

Peter nods. “I was by myself, which was good, I guess. I was fine until I stepped in, and then it was like it hit me in the face. I felt like I was back there in the same bathroom. Where that man attacked me. I could smell him and feel him like I was there again. I put in my earbuds and blasted my music to try and distract myself, but it didn’t work. The next thing I remember, I was in the hallway again. And I’m not sure how long I stood there. Ned found me. When the bell went off is when the headache started. It was the loudest sound I’ve ever heard in my entire life. Which is crazy because it’s just a school bell. I know it’s sort of loud, but this was like it pierced through my eyes and into my brain with daggers. It felt like my head was going to explode, and I just fell to the ground.”

Dr Caldwell doesn’t look alarmed or shocked. She only looks thoughtful and concerned, which makes Peter feel at ease. She isn’t going to freak out over anything he says. In fact, she’s probably heard ten times worse from other patients. He immediately feels more comfortable.

“I have some ideas to help you if that happens again,” she says, and stands up to take a CD off her shelf. “These are some recordings I made a while back with some breathing exercises. I want you to practice them. Especially when you’re in bed and having trouble sleeping, or when you can’t get the thoughts to leave your head. On the back there’s a link to where you can download them and put them on your phone if you want. Then when you’re in school or wherever and feeling stressed, you can listen and do the exercises. If you practice enough, you won’t need the recordings anymore.”

“Okay. I mean thanks,” Peter says, giving her a small smile and setting the box of tissues down on the couch beside himself. “That sounds good.”

“Let’s practice a few now, so I can show you how it goes, okay?”

Peter nods, so Dr Caldwell pops in the CD. The breathing exercises are really easy, and he likes them. They make him feel relaxed, and they clear his mind. He’s definitely putting these on his phone. They go through two of the exercises, and then Dr Caldwell puts the CD back in its case and hands it to Peter.

“Is there anything else you want to talk about right now?”

Peter shakes his head.

“How do you feel about our talk?” she asks.

He feels good--a little better than before anyway, so he smiles. “I think it went okay. Thank you, Dr Caldwell. Can I go back to the lobby now?”

She nods and grabs what looks like a postcard from a small table beside her chair and then scribbles on it. “I’ll come with you and talk to your parents about maybe some future appointments. Is that okay with you?”

“Yeah, I think that’s good,” he agrees, and gets up to follow her to the waiting room. When he gets there, May and Mr Stark practically fight over who gets to hug him first.

May wins.

~*~

After they get back from the appointment, Mr Stark orders pizza, and they eat a quick and easy lunch. Peter is so hungry after all that emotional work, and he feels a sense of relief, so it’s surprisingly easy to eat a lot of pizza. Mr Stark has a meeting, and May has to get ready for work soon, so Peter goes to his room to work on some of his homework. He’s sitting at his desk, leaning over a math text book when he hears a tap on his door. Because the door starts to open before he grants entry, he knows that it’s May.

“Can we talk for few minutes?” she asks after she pops her head in, giving him a soft smile.

“Um, sure,” Peter says, but to be honest, he doesn’t really want to talk. He’s had enough talking for one day. He just wants to work on math problems and then watch movies when Mr Stark gets back from his meeting. He also wants to look up a movie playlist for Ned and himself for tomorrow, which he hasn’t done yet.

May sits down on the edge of his bed and Peter scoots the chair around so he can see her better. “Don’t look so scared,” she says. “It’s just two things I want your opinion on. Nothing serious.”

He lets out a breath. “Okay. What is it?”

“First thing on the agenda… Tony wants to help us out a little more, and I told him that we can take care of ourselves, but he’s got a few points, so I just want to run it past you. How would you feel about maybe moving to a different apartment? Still close to your school and my work and all, but maybe in a little nicer neighborhood. Tony says he can’t keep climbing up seven flights of stairs, but I suspect he just wants to make things easier for us.”

Peter is a little taken aback by what his aunt is saying, and he sits there, staring at her with a blank look on his face for a second. “Um… I guess that would be okay? If it’s something he wants to do, then I don’t see why not. As long as you’re okay with it.”

“There’s one more thing about that. He wants me to cut back my hours so I’m around more,” May goes on, biting her lip while she formulates her next sentence. “Do you think you’d like it if I were around more?”

“May!” he exclaims. “Of course I want you around more! But I understand why you can’t be. It’s been hard since Uncle Ben died. When I’m sixteen, maybe I can get a job and help out a little—”

She stands up to put her hand over his mouth. “Stop. Your job is school right now. One day you’ll be out of school and make tons of money with your brilliant mind. Then you can help me out. Okay?”

Peter doesn’t say anything at first when she removes her hand. He wants to help out so May doesn’t have to struggle, but she’s right. Working so much that he can’t study properly will definitely hurt him in the long run. “So if Mr Stark did help us, what would happen?” he finally asks.

“I would still be paying for most things, but he would pay for part of the rent,” she explains. “It depends on what kind of place he’s thinking about, but I would make sure it’s not too ridiculous. Have you seen this place? It’s insane. No, it would just be nice to have something simple in a better neighborhood.”

He nods, thinking it over.

“Look, Peter,” May says, sitting back down on his bed. “Tony loves you. Everyone can see that. He thinks of you as his kid. You haven’t—you don’t really have a dad anymore, and I know that he wants what’s best for you. So if he wants to be your dad and help us out a little, then I’m okay with that. And you don’t have to even say how you feel about him because I can tell by the way you two are around each other that you love him, too.”

Peter feels tears prick at the corner of his eyes, because it’s true. He does love Mr Stark. Mr Stark has been there for him like no one else has, including May, because she’s been at work so much lately. So he appreciates that Mr Stark wants to help them out a little. Well, he probably wants to help out a lot, but Peter knows that May won’t let him go overboard, which is good. “Okay,” he says, wiping a little at his eyes before he clears his throat and blinks the tears away. “I’m okay with that. Whatever you two decide. I trust you.”

May stands up again and pulls him to her, holding his head against her with her fingers in his hair. “Thanks, Peter. You’re the best kid.”

“And you’re the best mom,” Peter replies, putting his arm around her waist and giving her a squeeze.

“Stop, you’re going to make me cry more! And there’s one more thing I have to say.” She kisses the top of his head and pulls back, reclaiming her seat on the edge of his bed. “Have you maybe thought about calling Tony by his first name? I haven’t asked him or anything, but I think he’d like that.”

“That’s just weird!” Peter says immediately. “I’ve been calling him Mr Stark forever! Don’t you think he’d think that was weird?”

“Maybe you should ask him,” she says, smiling. “I just feel like maybe your relationship has moved past formality. Huh?”

“Maybe…” he admits. “Maybe I’ll ask him while you’re at work tonight. If I don’t chicken out.”

“Okay, let me know what happens.” She stands up again and pulls him in to place another kiss to the top of his head. “I’ve gotta get to work though. Don’t say anything to him about the apartment. Maybe we’ll talk about that later, okay?”

“Sounds good, May.” Peter grins at her, and she waves while she leaves the room. He stares at the closed door for what feels like a long time and then shakes himself out of the trance. He’s not quite sure how this became his life, but it’s very strange. And he probably wouldn’t trade it for anything.

~*~

That rest of that day, Peter is a little nervous because of what he had discussed with May. He and Mr Stark hang out in the lab a little in the afternoon once Peter has caught up with his homework, and then they move to the living room, where Mr Rhodes joins them for a movie. Once it’s over, they both listen to Peter talk about his horror movie plans tomorrow when Ned will come over. Mr Rhodes laughs and makes jokes with Mr Stark, ruffles Peter’s hair, and then goes off to work on something he calls ‘top secret.’ When he walks back to the elevator, he’s mumbling about how he shouldn’t have even told them that much.

Peter laughs and watches him go. When the elevator doors close, he looks over at Mr Stark who is checking his messages on his phone.

“What do you want to do next, buddy?” Mr Stark asks, not looking up at him.

Peter imagines he’s texting Pepper, and he doesn’t want to interrupt, so he just waits.

It’s about thirty seconds when Mr Stark looks up at him. “Hey. You alright? You’re suddenly really quiet.”

“Are you busy?” Peter asks. “I wanted to--um--ask you something.”

Mr Stark looks really concerned. He sets his phone on the coffee table and pulls up a leg onto the couch so he can face Peter. “Sure, buddy. Shoot.”

Peter doesn’t really know how to ask him. He should have thought of this beforehand. It’s so weird. With Uncle Ben, he had always just called him that or Ben. Even when his parents were alive. This is different. Mr Stark hadn’t been there when Peter had taken his first steps or had his first birthday party. He wasn’t there for his first day of school or when he needed band-aids on bloody knees. Okay, so he’s patched up a few bloody lacerations, but that’s a little different.

“So…” he says, looking down at his blanket covered legs and picking off the fuzz balls from the fluffy material. “How do you feel when I call you Mr Stark?”

Mr Stark is quiet for what feels like forever, and Peter finally looks up at him. He looks a little shocked, like Peter just said something he completely wasn’t expecting at all.

“Um,” Mr Stark says, clearly searching for some words. “I guess that’s my name? Though to be honest, Mr Stark was my dad. And we all know how I feel about my dad. Me, better than anyone, of course. But, I’m used to it, you know. I don’t mind it.”

“Maybe… I could start calling you Tony?” He drops the blanket before he picks a hole through it. “Only if you’re okay with it, though!”

“Why wouldn’t I be okay with it?” Mr Stark scoots closer and puts his arm over the back of the couch. “Just about everyone calls me Tony. That is my name, after all.”

“I know, but I just wanted to make sure,” Peter mumbles. “I mean, you’re kind of a little more than my mentor now, so it’s maybe a little silly for me to call you Mr Stark. But then if you wanted me to call you that, then that would be okay, too.”

“You call me whatever you want to call me, and I’ll be just fine with it,” Mr Stark assures him. Then he points his index finger at Peter. “Just don’t call me stupid. Because we all know that isn’t true.”

That makes Peter laugh, and he leans back against the couch cushions, relaxing at last. “I don’t know,” he says, teasing. “Maybe I should ask Miss Potts if you’ve had any stupid moments. What do you think she’d say?”

The smile drops from Mr Stark’s face, but his eyes are still creased and twinkling. “That’s called blackmail, kid.”

“No it’s not!” Peter scoots away from him. “It’s only blackmail if I use the information to get what I want out of you. Which I did not say I would do!”

Mr Stark’s smile cracks again, but now he looks a little menacing. “You didn’t have to say it. I know you too well. Now I just have to figure out how to keep you away from Pepper.”

Peter grins. “Good luck with that. Doesn’t she get back into town tomorrow afternoon? Maybe I should send her a text.”

Mr Stark looks stunned for a second. Then he says, “FRIDAY, disable all texts and calls on Peter’s phone until I say otherwise.”

“No!” Peter cries, grabbing his phone from the coffee table to see if it worked. He tries to text Ned, but it looks like Mr Stark really does have that sort of control over his phone. “You can’t be serious.”

“I’m not.” Mr Stark leans back, smiling. “FRIDAY, please reinstate Peter’s connection and coverage. I was only kidding.”

Peter’s phone buzzes, indicating it’s back on wifi. “Oh thank God!” he says, hugging it close to his chest. “Note to self. Don’t mess with Mr Stark--um, Tony, or he’ll cut off your phone service.” He looks up at Mr Stark with a blush. “Sorry. There might be a little transition period with the name thing.” He points to his head. “I’ve gotta switch it up here first.”

Tony grins. “No problem, Pete. I have complete faith in you. And even if you slip up, it’s okay. Like I said, call me anything other than stupid, and we’re good.”

“Hmm,” Peter pretends to think. “How about I call you… Hammer Tech’s biggest fan?”

“How about I show you the door?” Tony asks, pointing to the elevator.

“You wouldn’t!” Peter cries out when Tony puts his arm around him and pulls him in for a hug. “Not when it’s almost dinner time, and you haven’t fed me yet,” he says in a much quieter voice. “That would be really mean.”

Peter tucks his head under Tony's chin and listens to the steady rhythm of his heart. He closes his eyes and thinks about how he could just fall asleep, safe and sound and without a care in the world. For such an awful week, some good things did come out of it. He and Tony have gotten closer of course, and now he's calling him Tony instead of Mr Stark. Or at least he's going to try to. Ned is going to come and spend the night at the Tower for the first time, and even his aunt is going to accept Tony more fully into their lives.

Tony pats his back, "I've got you, spider-kid," he whispers.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11

Peter is so excited for Ned arriving on Friday, that he forgets he has a doctor appointment with a specialist. Luckily, Tony remembers, and they meet him in the medbay to do the exam. Tony stays the whole time on Peter's request, and everything goes fine. The doctor diagnoses Peter with stress induced migraines based on his symptoms and the physical exam. He suggests an MRI as a precaution to make sure nothing else is going on, but is pretty confident it’s nothing too serious. He says that Peter should do his best to reduce stress and approves of the breathing exercises that the therapist gave him.

Peter is wondering exactly how he’s going to reduce his stress not only as Spider-Man, but as Peter Parker, too. Actually, at this point, he’s more worried about Peter Parker. Spider-Man can kick ass. Also, when he’s Spider-Man he wears a mask, so it’s probably going to be kind of easy to not be intimidated by just about anyone. He can web people up and swing to safety in a heartbeat. So there’s not much to worry about there. It sort of makes him want to wear his web shooters all the time. But he knows that’s not really realistic.

Tony puts his arm around him and leads him to the elevator. “See? We can work with this. You’re just fine.”

Peter nods and lets himself be led to the elevator. “Have you ever had an MRI?” he asks. “Is it scary? Is it expensive?”

By then, they’ve reached the elevator, and Tony lets Peter go in front of him. When Peter turns around, Tony gives him a look. “Really, kid? Do I look I can’t afford MRIs? That is not something you have to worry about, so let’s not even discuss it. I haven’t had one before, and I guess I’m sort of exempt now with all the shrapnel, but Rhodey has. I’m sure he’d be willing to tell you all about it.” He pauses. “FRIDAY, take us back to the penthouse.”

“Sure thing, boss,” FRIDAY replies, and the elevators moves up.

When the elevator arrives, Tony gives Peter a gentle push. “Why don’t you go get your room ready for Ned. Pick it up, set up your futon for him, whatever. I’ll make sure the grocery delivery arrived while we were with the doctor.”

“Sounds good,” Peter says. “Thanks, Mr St—” He had been running to his room when he skids to a stop and turns around. “Um, I meant Tony. Whoops. Anyway, thank you.”

But Tony is just smiling at him with his hand on the doorframe that leads to the kitchen. “No problem, Pete. Meet me back here in thirty. We’ll go pick your friend up.”

Peter is wondering if Tony will drive or if Happy is going to be driving. He hasn’t seen Happy in a while and wonders if he got a break, or if he’s working on some other project. He thinks about how awesome it’s going to be to pick up Ned from school in one of Tony’s cars. Ned is going to freak out. Like, he knows he told Ned that they would pick him up, but it’s still going to be amazing even if he’s expecting it.

He quickly throws his laundry in the hamper and pulls the blankets up on his bed. His room isn’t really all that messy as he’s only been staying there a few days in a row, so it doesn’t take long. He finally grabs a Stark Industries hoodie from the closet and pulls it over his head before he dashes out into the living room, ready to go.

He’s about to yell for Tony when his senses go off, and he spins around on his socked feet to face the elevator. Standing there in street clothes with a scruffy beard on his face is none other than Captain America.

Captain America looks just as shocked to see Peter as Peter as to see him, and the two of them stare at each other for what feels like forever. They don’t break their stare until Tony runs out from the kitchen.

“Did you order a ten pound bag of gummy worms? Because I’m pretty sure not even you could eat—” He stops dead in his sentence when he sees who is standing at the elevator. “Who let you in?” he demands, stepping in front of Peter.

Peter looks around him so he can see what’s going on. He’s not really afraid of Captain America, despite how strong the man is and how he could completely beat Peter up if he wanted to. But he can tell that Tony is a little on edge, the way he puts his arm out so Peter can’t get around him. Peter grabs onto the back of his shirt and peers around his shoulder.

“Ah,” Captain America says, a little flustered, his eyes flickering from Tony to Peter and back again. “FRIDAY let me in. She said you were here, so I came up. Can we talk? Who’s the kid?”

“None of your business who the kid is,” Tony says. “And maybe you could have called before you showed up? Maybe they didn’t do that in the olden days, but now everyone has phones, and I know you have access to one, and I know you know my number. So what’s your excuse?”

Captain America gives a guilty smile. “I was pretty sure you wouldn’t let me in if I asked in advance,” he admits and then holds up his hands. “But I come in peace, Tony. I swear. Can we please at least talk about this?”

“I’m sort of busy right now,” Tony says. “If you had asked, I would have told you that this is a really bad time. Like awful. I have company this weekend, as you can see, and I don’t need to drag them into whatever you have going on right now.”

“Okay, I get it.” Captain America takes a step back towards the elevators. “I’ll come back another time. How about tomorrow? That is if I’m not caught and thrown into prison by then.”

Tony sighs, his shoulders slumping. “Okay. Why don’t you go wait downstairs. All your stuff is still where you left it. Stay there, no one will bother you until I get back.”

“Where are you going?”

“None of your business,” Tony answers, his tone biting. “I’ll come down to talk to you later. Once my guests are settled. You can eat whatever you want, turn on the television. I don’t care. Just don’t tell anyone where you are. As a matter of fact, don’t call anyone. You’re on house arrest until we sort this out. Got it?”

Captain America smiles, looking a little relieved. “Got it. Thanks, Tony. I’ll see you later.” He gets back into the elevator and tells FRIDAY to bring him to the Avengers floor.

When the elevator doors shut, Peter tugs on Tony’s shirt. “What does he want?”

Tony sighs and turns around, looking at Peter with an expression that Peter isn’t used to. It’s sad, and it looks a little like he’s given something up. “I don’t know, Pete. Probably immunity. He’s technically a war criminal. And he knew he would be putting me in danger coming here, but he’s here anyway. I used to call him my friend, so I have to do something about it. Pepper is going to kill me.” He runs a hand through his hair until it’s sticking up, and then sighs. “Oh well. This is my life. Come on. Let’s go get Ned. You two can start your movie marathon while I talk to Captain Spangles and try and sort out what he wants.”

“Okay,” Peter says when Tony turns and walks towards the elevator. He wonders if he’ll officially get to meet Captain America later on. So far, he’s only met him as Spider-Man, and that was just briefly.

~*~

It’s a little weird riding to school at the end of the day in Tony’s orange Audi. He’s used to getting picked up, but he hasn’t been there since Tuesday. It feels like it was so long ago that it’s almost like he doesn’t actually belong there anymore. He hopes he can go back to school on Monday. He’s feeling better every day, anyway.

They’re parked outside the school waiting for Ned, and Peter has a million questions to ask, but he bites his tongue. Tony hasn’t offered up anything about Captain America since they left the Tower, and Peter has a feeling he isn’t going to. Peter wants to know everything about what happened and what Tony is going to do, but he thinks that’s a drawback of being a kid. Adults never tell him the most important things. Especially when it’s about famous war criminals. Bummer.

He’s working up the nerve to ask if maybe he can officially meet Captain America later on, when he sees Ned come out of the back door of the school and figures it’ll have to wait. He rolls down the front passenger window and waves at his friend.

Ned looks so blissfully happy, Peter is surprised that his feet spur him towards the car. When Ned reaches it, he opens the back door and slides in, a permanent grin on his face. “Wow, this is awesome. I’m in Tony Stark’s car. Best day of my life by far.”

Tony chuckles. “You’re welcome, kid. Seat belts on!”

Ned straps on the middle seat belt so he can look up into the front of the car better. “What are we going to do when we get there?”

Peter wants to go with Tony to the meeting with Captain America, but he knows without asking that he’s not allowed to do that, so he turns and grins at Ned. “Snacks and movies, of course. We got all the best snacks. We even have stuff for a sundae bar tonight. I’m stoked.”

“Whoa, that’s awesome!” Ned says, and his eyes go glossy like he’s imagining the biggest sundae ever.

They talk about what Peter’s missed at school and all the dumb gossip that was going around that week. Peter is glad that he doesn’t hear one word about the attack a week ago at the gala. Clearly the kids at school aren’t concerned with it or don’t think it applies to any of them. He’s so glad that Ned doesn’t bring it up, that by the time they reach the Tower, he feels like a new person. He almost forgets that Captain America will probably be watching television like a normal person on the floor beneath them.

Ned’s eyes are so big as he looks around the lobby. He gets a kick out of FRIDAY, and he can’t wipe the smile off his face while they travel up to the penthouse in the elevator. “Will I get to see the labs?” he asks. “I bet they’re awesome.”

“Of course they’re awesome,” Tony says like it’s completely obvious. “They’re my labs, after all. But those have restricted access.”

“Mr Stark!” Peter whines, forgetting for a second that he’s supposed to call him Tony now. “Please? We won’t touch anything. Promise.”

Tony looks down at him, his expression softening. “Okay, fine. Maybe tomorrow. If you both behave yourselves and promise to make a dent in those gummy worms.”

Ned raises his hand. “I’ve got the gummy worms covered!”

They’re laughing when the elevator opens and they stumble out, Peter grinning and Ned looking around like he’s absolutely amazed by Tony’s living room. It’s gorgeous, of course, with it’s plush furniture, expensive decor, and a giant, state of the art, LED television, but Peter is so used to it that he doesn’t even pay attention to all that stuff anymore.

All three of them are startled when Miss Potts steps out of the kitchen. She’s wearing a navy blue suit dress with matching heels and has her hands on her hips. “What the hell is going on here, Tony?”

“Couldn’t you tell by all the junk food in the kitchen?” he says, suddenly looking tired. “It’s a sleepover.”

Miss Potts stops and looks at Peter and Ned who are staring at her, Peter in surprise and Ned in awe. She clearly hadn’t even noticed them at first, because her expression melts, and she holds her arms out to Peter. “Oh, Pete! Come here!”

It’s really easy to fall into her arms. Miss Potts embraces him like a mother who hasn’t seen her child in a long time. He just closes his eyes and hopes she doesn’t say anything about the attack in front of Ned, because that would be the worst thing ever, and he’s not sure he can handle it right then.

“I missed you so much,” she says, giving him one last squeeze before releasing him. “So you’re having a sleepover, huh? Will you introduce me to your friend?”

He looks at her with a grateful smile, hoping to convey to her how much he appreciates her tact. “This is my best friend, Ned. He goes to the same school as I do.”

“Oh, of course I know Ned!” Miss Potts says, and steps over to shake Ned’s hand. “It’s great to finally meet you.”

“The pleasure is mine, ma’am!” Ned says, shaking her hand excitedly.

After Miss Potts lets go of Ned’s hand, she turns back to Tony. “I don’t mind the sleepover, Tony. That’s not what I was talking about.”

He gives her a guilty grin. “Pete got a hug,” he says, holding his arms out. “Don’t I get one?”

Her eyes bore holes into him for a moment longer before she sighs and lets herself fall into his arms. He kisses her face and wraps his arms around her waist, lifting her off the ground for just a second. Both Peter and Ned turn away.

“I forgot what this was like,” Peter says quietly to Ned. “May and Ben used to do that. Seriously gross to watch your parents kiss.”

“Dude,” Ned whispers. “Mr Stark and Miss Potts are not your parents.”

“Um…” Peter isn’t sure what to say. Of course they’re not his parents. “Duh, I know that. It’s just that they’re old, and that’s gross.”

“I don’t know,” Ned says, smiling. “Miss Potts is kind of hot.”

“Okay, stop. Let’s just not think of her that way, alright? I’m going to get sick or something, and I want to be able to eat all those awesome snacks Mr Stark bought.”

Ned just smiles when Peter pulls him towards the kitchen.

~*~

“I’m talking about your visitor one floor below us,” Pepper says when she sees that the kids are disappearing into the kitchen. “What the hell is he doing here, Tony?”

“That’s actually a very good question,” Tony says with a half smile while he tries to pull her body back to his. “I was just about to pick up Peter’s friend from school when he showed up right in this very place without even calling. I sent him downstairs until I got back. Apparently he wants to ‘talk.’”

Pepper finally relents to his tugging and allows him to press a kiss to her temple. “You’re really lucky I missed you. How could you not text me and let me know? I was completely caught off guard when I heard him moving around down there and asked FRIDAY if she knew what was up. Tony.” She pushes him back again. “You are aware that this man rammed his vibranium shield into your chest, and left you to die in Siberia, right? How did you not set any security against him coming back to the Tower?”

Tony shrugs and leans in to kiss her again. “I don’t know. I guess I forgot?”

“Whatever. I don’t believe that for a second.” She kisses him once more and then braces her hands on his chest. “How is Peter? He seems okay.”

“It’s been a rough week,” he says, and by rough, he means extremely hard, and that’s even putting it mildly. His heart has broken several times for Peter. “He saw a therapist and a neurologist. He seems a bit better today. And I think he’s glad that his friend is here. It brings a bit more normalcy back. I’ve kept that news story out of the headlines as much as I could, so there’s that. I guess it’s one day at a time.”

She places her hand on the side of his face and runs her thumb across his cheek. “You’re such a good dad, Tony.”

“Really?” he asks, brightening. “Then maybe we could—”

Pepper puts her finger over his lips. “Nope. Didn’t say that. But I’m glad you have Peter. I meant it when I said you two were good for each other.”

“Me too,” he says against her finger, smiling. “Okay, well, I better go talk to Stars and Stripes before he gets too anxious and comes up here. I can’t have Peter’s friend seeing him. Ugh, it’s already a disaster. The last thing I need is that kid blabbing about it to his parents.”

“Well, good luck,” Pepper says, pushing away from him. “Where is Rhodey today, anyway? I feel like he should be with you when you talk to Steve.”

Tony shrugs. “I don’t know. I’m not his keeper. But if he is here today he’s probably taken care of the situation already. Don’t worry, sweetheart. I’ll be fine. And FRIDAY will alert you if anything goes wrong.”

“Yeah and then what will I do? Come to pull Steve Rogers off your mangled body? I hate to break it to you, but I’m not that strong. You want to bring Peter with you?”

“No,” Tony says immediately. “He’s going to have fun with his friend. Don’t worry, Pep. I got this. There won’t be any violence, I promise.” He grabs her by the waist and kisses her again. “I’ll let you know when I’m back. Okay?”

“Okay,” she mutters, agreeing reluctantly. “I’ll make sure the boys are entertained.”

“Oh, May is staying the night too, by the way. You two can drink wine on the patio or something.” He turns to get on the elevator and hits the down button.

“We don’t have a patio, Tony.”

“Then the roof. You can drink wine on the roof.” The doors open and he steps in, turning around to smile at her. “FRIDAY, bring me to the Avengers level.”

The doors close on Pepper’s unimpressed face, and Tony shoves his hands in his pockets. He wants to get this over with and kick Steve out, but he has a feeling this is going to be more complicated than that. He doesn’t realize his heart is beating faster than normal until the elevator doors open, and he stops to take a breath.

The layout of the Avengers floor is similar to his private penthouse floor, except there is much more seating in the living room, and a second, smaller elevator near the bedrooms that goes to the next level down where there are additional bedrooms, all empty now. Rhodey and Vision had been the only ones occupying this area until Vision took off, and now Rhodey has had the entire area all to himself when he’s in town. The place is like a ghost town, but with less dust since the housekeeping staff still goes through and cleans on a regular basis.

Tony hears a clattering sound in the kitchen, so he heads in that direction to find Steve standing at the counter, cutting up a tomato for a sandwich.

“You want a sandwich?” Steve asks, glancing up briefly.

Tony wants to make a joke about how it’s nice when people offer him his own food, but he bites his tongue and shakes his head. “Can’t say I’m hungry.”

Steve shrugs, picking up the slices and piling them onto two giant turkey and roast beef sandwiches. He smashes them down a little so he’ll be able to get them in his mouth, and then sets them on a plate. “Where do you want to sit?”

“I think here’s fine,” Tony says, gesturing to the large island counter that they’re already standing around. “Sitting in the conference room would be a little silly since there are only two of us, and I’m pretty sure Rhodey’s not here considering you’re still alive.”

“Hm.” The humming noise Steve makes sounds a little suspicious and a little doubtful as he glances at Tony over his plate.

“You go first.” Tony pulls out a stool and climbs up onto it, folding his arms over his chest and focusing his gaze. “I assume you’re here for a reason?”

Steve clears his throat. “Yeah. Actually, the team is kind of tired of running. They’re thinking about coming back.”

“And they sent you to negotiate the details?” Tony asks, flabbergasted. “Not the best move, but I can’t say I expected any better when you’re their leader.”

Steve has the decency to look offended before he lifts the first sandwich with both hands and takes a giant bite. Clearly he’s using the time he’s chewing to think of a response.

Tony just stares at him until he’s swallowed his mouthful.

“The reason I came,” Steve finally starts, “is because I was pretty sure you wouldn’t accept a message from any of them. So I’m delivering it myself. We want to come back, but we understand that there will be a lot of problems with that, considering most of us are… wanted fugitives. So we’re going to need your help.”

Of course. They want his help. That’s what it’s always been about, hasn’t it? Tony bites his cheek so he doesn’t say something stupid, but it’s really hard and he’s not used to censoring himself. “So, you thought you could use and me and my resources when it’s convenient for you and then send me a big fuck you when it isn’t? Wow, I should consider myself honored.”

Steve sets his sandwich down and narrows his eyes at Tony. “That is not what this is about, and you know it. What happened in Siberia… you have to admit we were all a little crazy that day. I was only trying to stop you from doing something I knew you wouldn’t want to do when you had a clear mind. You know that.”

Tony admits to himself that he does know that, but he isn’t in the mood to say it outloud at the current moment. “And the Accords? To hell with those? Or are you willing to give it a second shot?”

“Maybe with some revisions, we can come to an agree—”

“No.” Tony puts his hands flat on the counter. “You are not in the position to bargain or make any type of demands. I could turn you in right now if I wanted to. I think we’re going to play by my rules or you can go fuck yourself.”

Steve sighs and takes a swig of of his soda. “You’re right, of course. I’m really in no position to bargain. I want something, you have the ability to help me. I should be asking you what the terms are. Do you think maybe we can have an old fashioned meeting? I can get everyone back here, and we’ll go over the terms. Your terms, that is. We can either agree, or we go back on the run.”

“Or someone finds out that all of you are here, and then I get thrown in jail when you run away. Hmm, let me think about that.” He rubs his chin briefly. “How about no. How about you call me a week from today, and we can discuss this further. You’ve had a while to think about what you want to do, but you just sort of sprung this on me, and I have a lot going on right now. So I need some time.”

“Okay, I get it. That’s reasonable.” Steve picks up his sandwich again and takes another bite. “Can I ask you a question?” he asks after he swallows. “Is that kid your son?”

Tony isn’t expecting the question, and he hesitates. “No,” he finally says. “I mean, not biologically. Leave the kid out of this, okay? If one hair on his head is harmed, I’m going to be out for blood. Got it?”

“Whoa, I’m not going to do anything to your kid. Relax.” Steve holds up his hands. “I still consider you a friend, Tony.”

“I feel sorry for your other friends,” Tony mutters and hops off the stool. “I expect you to be out by morning. And don’t come back to my floor. If you need anything from me, ask FRIDAY.” He sighs and turns back toward the elevator. “I guess I’ll talk to you next week.”

When the elevator doors close, Tony presses his fingers over his eyelids and lets out his breath. He doesn’t want this. The split of the Avengers was hard enough as it was, and he is just getting used to his new life--he is finally becoming happy with his new life--he doesn’t need the rogue Avengers to come back and throw a wrench into everything.

“FRIDAY, tell Pepper I’m on my way back up,” he mutters against the palms of his hand.

The elevator dings, and the doors open back up to the penthouse where he can see Peter and Ned have made nests on the couch, surrounded by all their snacks and favorite drinks. At least someone is happy, he thinks.

Chapter Text

Chapter 12

Peter and Ned have eaten so many gummy worms and drank way too much caffeinated soda, that Peter is sure May would not approve. But he has a good hour before she gets off from work, and then she’ll probably stop at home first, so he has a fair amount of time to pack everything back into the kitchen before she gets there. He hears Tony come back up the elevator, and glances at him as Pepper pulls him into the hallway, but considering he looks physically okay, he doesn’t stop him. Especially since Pepper has been away for a while and maybe they want some time together.

Yuck.

He hands the bag of gummy worms to Ned.

“Was that Mr Stark coming back?” Ned asks quietly. “Where do you think he went?”

Peter shrugs even though he’s assuming he knows Tony went to see Captain America. He desperately wants to meet the man, but considering how Tony acted the last time they were all in a room together, he’s guessing it wouldn’t be okay for him to wander down to the Avengers level of the Tower.

“Do you think he’ll watch with us later?”

Peter shrugs again. He would have said that definitely, Tony would be watching them, but that was before Captain America had shown up. Now he’s not so sure. “Maybe.”

“It’s okay if he doesn’t,” Ned says, possibly sensing Peter’s hesitation. Or maybe it’s completely obvious with Peter’s one word answers and shrugs when he usually talks a mile a minute. “I mean it would be awesome if he did, but if he doesn’t, this is still one hundred percent amazing. I’m going to tell people all about this for the rest of my life. How I once spent the night in Avengers Tower.”

Peter thinks Ned would absolutely be flipping out if he knew Captain America was one floor below them. It’s really hard to keep a secret from his best friend. It’s even harder to keep more than one secret from his best friend. He feels really bad about all of his secrets, and he has thought about telling Ned about what happened at the gala a week ago, but to be honest, he just doesn’t feel ready. He wants to have fun and forget about all of that, but he doesn’t know why it’s so hard. His stupid, traitorous brain keeps thinking of it again and again.

“You’re being really quiet,” Ned says when Peter says nothing. He turns to pause the movie and then looks back at Peter. “To be honest, I noticed it when I got in the car today. Are you alright?”

Peter swallows hard because he hadn’t realized he’d been acting all that different, but clearly it’s obvious to Ned. And why wouldn’t it be? Ned knows him so well. Of course he would notice. “Sorry, Ned,” He says, looking down at his hands, which is a horrible habit. He wants to look people in the eyes when he talks like he used to. It’s just really hard to lie to someone who knows him that well--someone who will probably see right through him. “The headaches have been bad, so I guess I’ve gotten used to being quieter than usual. Don’t worry, I’ll be back to normal soon.” He looks up during the last part and tries to smile, because that’s for sure true. Or at least he wants it to be true.

Ned smiles back. “I hope so. That headache you had at school looked so painful. I hope you don’t have any more like that.”

“Thanks,” Peter says, his smile easier now.

“You’re welcome, man.” Ned unpauses the movie and they settle into watching the film. When the second movie is about to start, Peter brings their snacks back to the kitchen and returns with new drinks. By then, Tony is standing by the couch, answering Ned’s questions about the Iron Man suit that Peter has already heard a million times. He thinks that if this keeps up, they aren’t ever going to get to watch the movie. Ned will talk Tony’s ear off for sure.

“Hey, Pete,” Tony says when there’s a break in the conversation. “You really want me to hang around?”

“Of course he does, Mr Stark,” Ned speaks up before Peter has a chance.

Tony still looks at Peter for verification, which Peter appreciates. “True, kid?” he asks.

“You can stay,” Peter finally replies. “Ned already thinks you’re cool, so I guess you pass the test.”

“Gee, thanks.” Tony rolls his eyes and sits down beside Peter on the L-shaped couch, his legs stretching out over the shorter end. “What happened to your snacks?” he asks, glancing down at the coffee table which only has two cans of orange soda sitting on it.

Peter leans towards him a little and says in a quiet voice, “May will be here any minute. I hid the gummy worms in a cabinet she can’t reach, by the way.”

Tony chuckles. “Okay, fine, but don’t tell me she’s making dinner.”

“Nope,” Peter replies. “Miss Potts said she wants to cook.”

Tony looks a little surprised, but he smiles anyway and tugs a blanket free from Peter’s nest. “Sharing is caring,” he says when it finally comes free.

That makes Peter laugh. He’s still laughing when Ned starts the next movie. This movie is so ridiculous that it’s funny, and the three of them makes jokes and laugh all the way through. They are still laughing when May arrives and ruffles Peter’s hair, says hi to Ned, and pokes Tony in the shoulder affectionately. Then she promptly joins Pepper in the kitchen to probably drink some wine and hopefully not screw up their dinner.

The entire evening is so much fun, Peter almost forgets about his problems, including Captain America who is probably still in the building, but he hasn’t had a chance to ask, and Tony hasn’t offered up the information with Ned there, of course. May is tired from her long week at work, so she turns in a little early to the guest room she usually sleeps in, and Tony ends up following Pepper to bed after eleven, so Peter and Ned are left alone in the living room to finish up their fourth movie. After that, they’ve discussed taking the fifth movie to Peter’s room where they can both get into bed and continue the movie marathon.

The fifth movie is particularly scary. There are no ghosts or monsters or demons. This time, the villain is a serial killer. He ties up his victims and tortures them. If Peter is being honest, it’s not fun to watch, and it’s putting him on edge. He wants to turn the movie off, but he doesn’t know how to tell Ned, so he tries his best to distract himself with repeating his breathing exercises in his head over and over.

During a particularly awful scene, he has to close his eyes.

“Oh, dude!” he hears Ned say, so he opens his eyes. On the screen is the main character who has been backed into wall. It’s dark, and they can hear the killer breathing in the pitch black of the rest of the room.

Peter pulls his blanket over his head and puts his fingers in his ears, trying his best to slow his breathing, but with his ears plugged, all he hears is his own breathing, and it’s freaking him out even more. He can’t slow it no matter how he tries to repeat the breathing exercises over and over again in his head. What good are they anyway if they don’t help him when he really needs it?

“Peter?” He hears Ned say and the sound on the television is muted.

Peter thinks he hears Ned asking him what’s wrong, but the sound is fading out. His head is starting to hurt, and he’s not in the Tower anymore. Instead, he’s once again sitting in the corner of the room on the cold tiled floor of the bathroom at the gala, only this time the room is dark like it was in the movie, and he can hear that man walking towards him slowly, his shoes clicking against the tile and his breath breathing in and out quickly, getting faster and faster the closer he gets.

He screams things like “Get away from me!” and “Leave me alone!” but no matter what he says, the man continues to get closer, his breath getting louder and faster all the while.

~*~

Tony is sleeping when the alarm goes off on his phone, and he shoots up in bed, looking around himself in panic. Pepper tugs at his sleeve. “It’s Peter,” she says, her voice sounding a little afraid. “FRIDAY and I have both been trying to wake you up. His heart rate is too fast. FRIDAY says he’s probably having a panic attack. You better go check on him.”

Tony blinks a little to wake himself up, and then pats in the general direction of Pepper’s hand. “Thanks. Don’t wait up for me, I guess,” he says and climbs out of bed so he can rush out the door and down the hallway.

In the living room, he finds Ned sitting beside what must be Peter under a blanket. He can hear Peter sobbing, and Ned is trying to talk to him to find out what is wrong, but Peter is not responding.

Tony doesn’t take chances, and rushes over to put his hand on Ned’s shoulder, drawing him back from Peter. “Back up. He kicked someone in the nose the last time he was like this, and they had to have surgery to put their face back together. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“H-he told me!” Ned cries, and in the light of the television, Tony can make out the tears welling up in his eyes. Peter’s poor friend is clearly concerned for him, and it touches Tony’s heart.

Peter’s sobs subside a little, and Tony sits down in the spot that Ned has vacated. “Hey, Pete. It’s me,” he says. “Can you come out of there?”

“No!” Peter cries, curling further into himself. “I want Mr Stark!”

“This is Mr Stark right here,” Tony says in what he hopes is a calm voice. “Don’t you recognize my voice? Come out of there so I can help you.”

He sobs a little more, and then it’s quiet. “It’s so d-dark,” he suddenly says, his voice cracking. “Mr Stark, it was awful.”

“FRIDAY, turn on the lights. Not super bright, though. Just dimmed.” The lights click on, and Tony looks back to Peter. “Is that better, buddy? Come on out of there. You’re safe. You’re at the Tower in the living room with me and Ned. No one is going to hurt you.”

He can hear Peter sniff through the blanket. “I’m sorry, Tony,” he says so quietly, Tony almost doesn’t hear it, but since he’s calling him Tony now, it’s a sign that he’s not stuck somewhere else anymore, so Tony lets out a breath.

He tugs on the blanket until he uncovers Peter’s messy, curly head. Peter immediately draws his knees back up and puts his arms around them, burying his face in the crook of his elbow. “What happened, bud?” Tony asks gently. He wants to put his arm around Peter’s shoulders, but definitely doesn’t want to get hit, so he takes it slow and moves a little closer.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Peter mumbles, and then says in a watery voice anyway, “Maybe I should have read the descriptions of the movies before I put them on the playlist.”

Tony glances at Ned, who still looks terrified from where he sits on the other end of the couch. “Ned, why don’t you go get ready for bed.” At Ned’s hesitation to leave, Tony adds on, “It’s okay, this isn’t your fault at all. Pete just needs a little time, and he’ll meet you in his room, okay?”

Ned just blinks at him, but gets up from the couch anyway, glancing sadly at his friend and then hurrying off to Peter’s bedroom.

“I feel awful,” Peter says, still hiding in his arms once they hear the click of Peter’s bedroom door. “I didn’t want to be like this around him. I’m a miserable, pathetic—”

“Stop,” Tony says, putting his hand on Peter’s back because it’s clear that Peter is most definitely back to himself. “You’re none of those things. And don’t you think he’d understand if you explained just a little about what you’ve been going through this last week? Look, Pete. I’m pretty old. I’ve met a ton of people and have only really had a few real friends in my life. I’ve also had a lot of bad ones, and I would hope by now I know what good friends look like. Ned is a good friend.”

Peter sniffs and then shakes his head slightly. “I know you’re right. I already know that about Ned.” He sits up a little and wipes at his face with the backs of his hands. But when his eyes meet Tony’s, they well up with tears again. “I didn’t ask for that to happen. I couldn’t stop it. I tried my breathing exercises that Dr Caldwell gave me, and nothing worked. Only your voice pulled me out of it at the end. What good are those breathing exercises if they don’t work when I really need them to?”

“Come here, kid,” Tony says and opens his arms to Peter. When Peter’s breath hitches, and he falls into Tony’s embrace, Tony tucks his head under his chin and holds him tightly. “Let me see your watch.”

Peter turns a little so he can hold up his wrist to Tony, who taps it twice so the display lights up. He navigates to the screen with his vitals. Peter’s heart rate is still fairly high at ninety-five, and his breaths per minute is also elevated, but not nearly as high as FRIDAY had reported it was earlier. “You’re doing great with the breathing exercises,” Tony says, letting his wrist go and watching him tuck his hand back in between them. “But you get better the more you practice. You’ve only been doing them for what, two days? It takes longer to get really good at them.”

Peter looks up at him, dislodging Tony’s chin from the top of his head. “How do you know that?”

“Wasn’t it already established that I’ve seen my share of therapists?” Tony says. “Trust me. I know all the tips and tricks. Put your ear against my chest, and we’ll practice together, okay? Just for a minute, and then when you’re ready, maybe you can think about what you’re going to say to Ned.”

Peter grumbles just a little but he presses his ear to Tony’s chest anyway. “How about you tell Ned, and I’ll just crawl into a hole?” he suggests.

“Shh,” Tony hushes. “Just breathe with me.”

Together they take slow breaths in and out until Peter’s eyes droop and close. Tony rubs his back gently for a while. He didn’t mean to put him to sleep, but he knows from personal experience what a panic attack will take out of someone, and to be frank, they’re exhausting. He doesn’t want to wake Peter. He wants to let him sleep, but they still have to deal with Ned, so he pinches Peter’s arm gently.

“Hey, Pete. Come on. Let’s go talk to Ned, and then you can go to sleep.”

Peter groans like Tony just woke him up to go to school.

“Come on. You can go back to sleep later, I promise.”

With Peter’s superhuman strength, he holds Tony still. “Nope. Stay here,” he mutters against Tony’s shirt.

It’s probably not a good thing when your kid can overpower you. Tony is lucky that Peter doesn’t usually use his strength against him, but now, when Peter’s half asleep still, Tony isn’t sure Peter realizes what he’s doing. So he pats him on the back a little harder. “Come on, Pete. You gotta move to your bedroom so we can talk to Ned. And you have to let me up to do that.”

Peter takes in a deep, shaky breath, and for a second, Tony thinks he’s going to cry again, but he doesn’t and releases Tony to rub at his sore eyes instead. “I don’t really want to do this,” he mutters.

“I know, but you have to tell him something.” Tony rubs his arm. “He’s really worried about you. You’ve got yourself one devoted friend there, and he’s probably going to want to know what happened to make you so scared like that. Can I recommend something like the truth? Up to you, of course.”

Peter stands up slowly and reluctantly like someone is physically dragging him off the couch. “Okay, fine. I guess I don’t have a choice.”

“You want me to come with?” Tony asks, standing up after him and following him towards the hallway where the bedrooms are.

Peter stops and shakes his head. “No, I’ll be okay. It’s gonna suck, but I’ll be okay.” He throws himself at Tony again and squeezes him tight in an attack hug. “Thanks, Tony. I love you.”

For a second, Tony is surprised by his words and doesn’t say anything. But then he realizes that he’s doing nothing but grinning and trying not to cry and holding onto Peter with all his might. “I love you, too, Pete. And I’m proud of you. You’re being very brave, and I believe in you with everything I’ve got.”

~*~

Peter still feels shaken from his panic attack, or whatever the hell that was. He’s not really sure if it was a panic attack or some sort of PTSD thing because he was definitely somewhere else for awhile, or at least it felt like it. He might ask Dr Caldwell next time he goes to see her. Not that names really matter, but it would just be nice to call it something.

Tony is still standing by his bedroom door when Peter slips inside. Peter doesn’t know how long he’ll stay there, but it doesn’t bother him. He knows that Tony is just looking out for him, and he’s okay with that.

Inside the room, Ned is sitting on the made up futon, and when Peter walks in, he looks at him with wide, worried eyes. “Dude,” Ned says a little hesitantly. “Are you okay?”

Peter nods. “Sort of.” He walks over to his bed and sits on the end, looking down at his hands in his lap and trying to get his words together. “I guess I haven’t told you everything that’s been going on lately. I’m sorry.”

“Ya think?” Ned says.

Peter looks up at him. There’s a small look of betrayal in Ned’s eyes, and it makes Peter feel really guilty. “I’m sorry,” he says again. “It’s been really hard, and I didn’t want you to feel sorry for me.”

“Peter,” Ned says, determined. “What happened?”

It’s clear to Peter that he’s not going to come out from this conversation without telling Ned everything, so he just takes in a breath and prepares to say it. “At the gala that Mr Stark took me to last Friday… there was a creep there. He locked me in the men’s room and tried to… well, he didn’t actually. But it really freaked me out. Mr Stark broke the door down, and now the guy is probably in jail. I actually haven’t asked about that yet. Part of me doesn’t want to know if he’s not in jail because...”

Ned is looking at him with an unblinking stare that can only be described as shock. And then he breathes in, looking like he might want to say something, but only little lines form in his brow. He’s feeling pity for Peter. Peter can tell. So he puts his hands over his face and tries to breathe again. This is exactly what he didn’t want. This is exactly why he didn’t want to tell him.

Then he feels the bed beside him give to Ned’s weight, and Ned places a sturdy hand on his back.

“Hey,” Ned says. “I don’t know what to say, I’m sorry. But I’m sure that really sucked. I just wish you would have told me sooner because I could have helped you, man. I mean, isn’t that what friends are for?”

Peter sniffs. He doesn’t want to cry again. He’s had enough crying in the last week to last him a lifetime, and he wants to be done with that for good. But clearly, he isn’t over what happened. As much as he tries to forget about it, he can’t. It’s like things just come up out of nowhere and slam right into him. He can’t prevent being reminded about it no matter what he does. Tony was probably right. Peter will have to give it some time. It’s just that that’s hard, and he wants to be better right now.

This weekend was supposed to be fun. He is surrounded by all his favorite people, and then he has to ruin it by freaking out? At least May is sleeping and doesn’t know about it. Yet. Tony will probably tell her in the morning.

Ned taps him on the shoulder. “Hey. I mean it. I’m there for you. If you’re upset by what happened, I’m not going to judge you for that. You’re my best friend, Peter. And I would be upset if that happened to me, too. So it’s okay.”

“I’m really sorry I didn’t tell you,” Peter says, finally lowering his hands. “I thought about telling you last weekend. It was just at first I didn’t want to talk about it at all, and then I didn’t want you to feel sorry for me. By the time I went back to school that one day, I didn’t want to talk about it then because I didn’t want to freak out while I was there and pretending to be normal… but clearly that didn’t work at all. The second I went into the bathroom… I’m going to have to work on that.”

“Is it all bathrooms?” Ned asks, looking over at him with wide eyes. “Or just certain ones? How have you been taking showers and stuff?”

That makes Peter want to laugh because it’s just like Ned to ask a load of ridiculous questions. “I haven’t bathed for a week, and I’ve been pissing off the side of the Tower. Geez, Ned, of course it’s not all bathrooms! Small ones don’t bother me because I go in there by myself. I think the large ones are kind of scary because I don’t know who will be coming in after me.” Peter’s breath stutters a little when he takes a breath in. He hadn’t really thought about that until just now, but it definitely explains why he’s fine using his bathroom at the apartment, or any of the bathrooms at the Tower. It’s because he feels safe there. It also explains why he kicked that doctor in the nose.

“Okay,” Ned says, nodding. “So how about I’ll go in with you. I can guard the door and make sure no unsavory characters get in. Would that make it better?”

Peter thinks about it. “Yeah, actually. That would help.”

“And if Flash comes, I’ll shut the door in his face,” Ned says and then laughs, holding his stomach as he chuckles. “That’s probably as about unsavory as anyone gets at school.”

Peter laughs too, imagining the door slamming in Flash’s face. He would probably start screaming in the hallway, demanding to be let in. And it would be hilarious. Until, of course, he and Ned eventually came out of the bathroom. Then it might not be so much fun. “Thanks, Ned. You’re helping a lot.”

“See?” Ned grins at him. “I told you that’s what best friends are for. You need to stop with the secrets. I’m on your side, Peter.”

“Sorry.” Peter smiles. “I’ll work on that, too.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 13

The rest of the night goes fairly well. Peter is surprised how much better he feels after telling Ned. Hiding something was not fun, and it made him uncomfortable, but now that Ned knows that he may be triggered by certain things, it’s much easier for Peter to act like his regular self. Instead of continuing their horror movie marathon, they switch to a comedy, which gets them laughing again.

By two in the morning, they are both ready to sleep, so Peter asks FRIDAY to turn out the lights, and then they talk a little more before drifting off. Well, Ned drifts off. Peter can tell by his slight snores that he’s asleep. Peter lies in bed a bit longer without sleeping. He’s used to Tony sitting with him until he falls asleep, which has been the trend since the attack, but it’s not so bad because Ned is there, and Peter can hear him breathing, so it’s not much longer before he drifts off as well.

Peter wakes up suddenly when he hears the elevator moving. It’s still really dark, and he looks at his watch to reveal that it’s only five in the morning. He wonders who could be using the elevator so early so he whispers to FRIDAY, wanting to know if Tony is still asleep.

FRIDAY whispers back, “Boss is still in bed, fast asleep.”

Peter knows that May has off, and there is no reason for her to be on the elevator that early. He doesn’t think it’s Miss Potts either since she is probably tired from traveling. Since it’s Saturday, she probably doesn’t have to work this weekend either. There is only one other person in the Tower, and that’s Captain America. Maybe he’s leaving the building? But if that’s true, then Peter won’t get to meet him. And he desperately wants to meet him even though it’s clear that Tony doesn’t want that to happen.

He sits up in bed for a while, contemplating what he should do. There is no hope of sleeping now. He’s cold and tired and restless, so he grabs his Stark Industries hoodie from the chair beside his bed that Tony usually sits on, and pulls it over his head before climbing out of bed and tiptoeing past Ned and towards the door. He creeps out of the room and closes the door gently behind himself, then he makes his way towards the elevator where he can see its position on the digital numbers above the doors. The elevator is on the roof.

“FRIDAY,” he says quietly. “Who took the elevator to the roof?”

“Captain Steve Rogers took the elevator to the roof, Peter. He is currently still up there.”

Peter’s heart rate rises, and he has to do a little bit of his breathing exercises to get it to go down. The last thing he needs is Tony waking up because FRIDAY has alerted him that his heart rate is too fast again.

Once his watch assures him that his heart rate is in normal range, Peter presses the up button on the elevator. “Will you take me to the roof, FRIDAY?” he asks when the doors open.

“Boss has strict instructions to inform him if you leave the Tower,” she replies.

“I won’t leave the Tower,” he says and steps inside. “I’ll just hang out on the roof for a little while, and then I’ll come right back here. Would you have to tell Mr Stark then?”

“No,” FRIDAY says. “As long as you keep your feet on the roof, I do not have to inform him.”

The doors close, and Peter holds up his wrists. “I don’t even have my web shooters on me. And I promise I won’t fall off the roof.”

FRIDAY is silent, and the elevator moves up the one floor to where there is roof access. Here is where the quinjet can land and take off from, and Peter has been up here before. He usually comes up with Tony, but he’s been here by himself a few times. Mostly to look out at the sky and think about things when he’s staying at the Tower. Tony would probably kill him if he went out as Spider-Man. He still can’t believe it’s been over a week since he’s put on his suit. Even if he wasn’t pursuing Captain America, he wouldn’t mind getting some fresh air and looking out over the city lights.

The elevator doors open to reveal the empty roof, except for Captain America who is leaning against the rails at the other end. When the doors open, he turns around, startled, and looks at Peter. It feels a little like deja vu as they stare at each other once more.

“Uh, Mr Captain America, sir?” Peter says at last. “Sorry for following you up here. I just… kind of wanted to meet you.”

Captain America’s face is stoic, or the part of it that Peter can see is, anyway. He’s wearing a baseball cap and a beard is covering half of his face. He’s hardly recognizable except for his blue eyes that are shining off the city lights. “Are you sure that’s a good idea, son?” Captain America says after a moment’s hesitation.

“Yeah, no one knows I’m here.” Peter takes a few steps closer. “I heard the elevator running and asked FRIDAY who was using it. She told me you were on the roof, so I came up here.”

“Why would you do that?”

Peter shrugs. “I wanted to meet you, and I knew Tony would say no if I asked.”

Captain America seems to be studying him. “Have you known Tony for a long time?”

“A year and a half now, I think. Why?”

“Just curious.” Captain America shrugs when Peter reaches the railing. “I think that’s around the time I left. That’s probably why we haven’t met before.”

Peter gives him a small smile. ‘Left’ is a vague way to put it. Captain America left because of the Accords and then he and Tony fought, but Peter isn’t exactly sure about the details. “Tony is really mad at you,” he says. “Do you know why he’s so mad?”

Captain America blinks. “He hasn’t told you? Then I don’t think I should either, son. He’s already mad enough at me. If he finds out I’ve been telling you things, he’ll have my head. Hell, if he finds out I’ve been talking to you at all, he’ll have my head. He specifically told me to stay away from you. What’s your name, by the way?”

Peter thinks that it’s him who sought out Captain America, not the other way around, so if anyone is going to be in trouble if Tony finds out, it’s most definitely Peter. Then again, Tony never specifically told him to stay away from Captain America. “Um… it’s Peter,” he says. “And I just want to understand more about what happened. I think it’s kind of important.”

“Then you should ask Tony,” Captain America says in a stern voice that Peter recognizes from all those PSAs that they play at school. “Is he your guardian?”

“Not really,” Peter says.

“Either way, that’s his business. Not mine,” Captain America goes on. “If he wants you to know what happened, then he’ll tell you himself. Are you an orphan?”

“Um… I guess technically I am?” Peter looks out at the night sky, still lit up with the lights of New York City. “My parents are dead. But my aunt is my guardian, legally. Tony is sort of like—”

“Really pissed off right now,” Tony’s voice comes from the elevator. “What the hell are you doing up here, Pete?”

Both Peter and Captain America whirl around to face him.

Peter wasn’t expecting Tony to sneak up on them like that. In fact, he wasn’t planning on Tony finding out at all, so he has no excuse readily prepared. Instead, he just gapes at Tony, wanting to say something, but for once, there are no words coming to him. And for some reason ‘I just wanted to meet him!’ doesn’t sound like a good enough excuse, so he closes his mouth in defeat.

“Get back to your room,” Tony says. “You have company over, remember? Don’t say a word about this to him, by the way. We’ll talk about it when your friend leaves.”

Oh shit. Peter takes one last look at Captain America, who gives him a shrug that probably means something like, ‘nice try, kid,’ and then walks towards Tony and the elevator. When he reaches Tony, he looks up. “I’m sorry,” he says.

Tony puts a hand on his shoulder. The look in his eyes is a mix between anger and disappointment, but there’s a tinge of sadness there too, and it breaks Peter’s heart. He didn’t mean for this to happen. He’s already put Tony through enough. He didn’t mean to give Tony even more stress, especially when it was something he has control over.

He’s also more than a little afraid that Tony will throw Captain America off the roof, so he takes in a breath and thinks of something else to say. “It was my fault. He didn’t do anything. Please don’t blast him off the roof.”

Tony takes in a breath and squeezes Peter’s shoulder. “I promise,” he says in a quiet voice. “But only because you asked nicely. Now go try to sleep some more. I know you were up late.”

Peter wants to say ‘yeah right,’ as if he could fall back asleep after having an almost full conversation with Captain America. Instead, because he wants to show Tony that he’s going to do what he says, he nods and continues on his way to the elevator.

He feels Tony’s disappointment wash over him when the elevator doors close, and he’s alone, standing there against the back of the elevator wall while FRIDAY takes him back to the penthouse level. That had been a really bad idea.

Once the elevator arrives, he steps out and makes his way through the quiet living room and to his room, where Ned is sitting up in bed waiting for him. Oh great. More lies. Just when he promised Ned last night he would stop keeping secrets.

“I know you have your own bathroom in here, so where did you go for so long?” Ned asks.

“Um, good morning to you, too,” Peter says, his back against the door while it clicks shut, trying to smile.

“Peter,” Ned says in a warning voice. “Are you okay? Did you have another panic attack? Do I need to call Mr Stark?”

Peter sighs and walks over to his bed with heavy feet. He falls down on it face first and pretends he isn’t there for two seconds.

“Peter!” Ned says more loudly that time.

Peter turns on his side to face his friend. “No. Don’t call Mr Stark. I’m fine. This is something else, and I know I said I wasn’t going to keep secrets, but it’s secret Avenger business, and I’m on strict orders from Mr Stark not to tell you anything.”

Ned gapes at him, his facial expression going between awe and outrage and back to awe again. “Secret Avenger business?” he repeats as if the words are magical. “Oh, now you have to tell me! Are you going on a mission? Is New York under attack again? Are you going to go and save the city with the other Avengers?”

“I’m serious, Ned.” Peter sits up and pulls his legs under himself. “He’ll literally kill me if I say anything.”

“He will literally not kill you. I’ve been watching him. You’re like his son. Mr Stark will let you get away with anything. He was even going to let me in his lab just because you asked him. So I think if you told me, he would probably forgive you.”

Peter takes in a deep breath. “Look, Ned. I said I wasn’t going to keep secrets anymore, and I meant that. But this isn’t my secret, and I promised Mr Stark I wouldn’t say anything, so I’m sorry. If I find out later that I can tell you, I definitely will.”

Ned is quiet for a few moments, but then he sighs and leans back into his pillows. “I guess I understand. But tell me this. Is it really, really awesome?”

Peter smiles. “It’s really awesome, yeah. Like, I wish I could describe how awesome it is! But Mr Stark is really pissed. He told me to go back to sleep. When you leave he’s probably going to yell at me.”

“Naw,” Ned says, waving his hand at Peter as if to dismiss his words. “He’s going to tell you to listen to him next time, and then he’s going to buy you stuff.”

Peter bursts out laughing. “Is that what you think he does?”

“Doesn’t he?” Ned shrugs. “That watch is so awesome by the way. I’m totally one hundred percent jealous. If he gets you a new watch, can I have that one?”

Peter looks down at his watch and smiles. “I would, but he made it so only me or him can get it off using our fingerprints.”

Ned’s eyes widen and he blinks, taking it all in. “That is so cool!”

~*~

Tony waits on the roof until he sees that the elevator has returned to the penthouse, and then turns back to Steve who hasn’t moved from where he’s been standing at the railing.

“Tony,” Steve starts, “I didn’t seek him out. He basically came up here to talk to me. Something about hearing the elevators? Maybe you need to oil those up or something, because if he heard the elevator from his room, they must be pretty loud.”

Tony clears his throat before Steve can think about why it’s strange that he didn’t hear the elevator while he had been in it. “Not the point,” he says, shoving his hands in his pockets and walking out towards his former friend. “I specifically told you not talk to him, and I come up here, and you’re asking him personal questions? About me? That kid is a motormouth. He’ll talk about anything and everything. I don’t want you to ask him another question. Ever.”

Steve holds up his hands. “I won’t. I swear. He—he seems like a nice kid. I was just trying to get to know him.”

“Well, stop.” Tony stands still about four feet away from him. “And he is a nice kid. And absolutely one hundred percent none of your business. I don’t even want you to look in his direction again.”

“Aren’t you being a little over protective?” Steve asks, smiling cautiously. “What do you really think I’m going to do to him? You think I’d actually hurt your kid?”

“No, not physically,” Tony answers immediately. “But I don’t trust you, and I don’t want him to trust you either. You always have this dumb look on your face. People tend to trust you. They put their blind faith in you. You’re a hero to some people. I don’t want him to look up to you.” Though that’s not the only reason why Tony wants Steve to stay away from Peter. He doesn’t want Steve to find out about Spider-Man. He wouldn’t call that the main reason, but it’s pretty big. Enhanced individuals like Steve and Peter are under a certain risk that Tony and Rhodey and the others are not. Steve may be the government’s pet, but Tony will be damned if that ever happens to Peter.

“I get it,” Steve says. “I betrayed your trust. You have a right to feel the way you do. For the record, I’m sorry.”

“You’re not sorry,” Tony says, his fists balling in his pockets. “You would do whatever was necessary to protect Barnes.”

“And wouldn’t you do whatever you had to do to protect Rhodey or Pepper? What about Peter?”

Tony’s blood boils. Everything that he’s been mad about for so long is coming back to him like no time at all has passed. It’s not Steve’s fault that Rhodey got hurt. Not directly, anyway. Tony blames himself for that, but then again he also blames himself for letting them all in through his walls, anyway. This isn’t a new game for him. It’s just that he wishes Steve wasn’t here to rub it in his face. “Of course I would do whatever I had to do for them,” he says once he finally gets his wits back. “But I would do that for any of my friends. I included you on that list at one time, you know. I just wish I had known that I wasn’t on your list.”

He can see that Steve is struggling to find the words to say, but all he comes up with is, “I’m sorry, Tony. I’m really sorry. I’ve been on this earth for almost a hundred years. He’s my oldest friend. Of course I hate what he’s done when he was being controlled, but that’s not his fault. Howard was my friend, too. I hope you can see that some day.”

Tony doesn’t give two shits about Howard Stark. Though, he does wish that Howard could see what his dear friend was now doing to his son. He wishes Howard knew that it was Steve’s dear friend who had killed his wife and Tony’s mother. But he can’t, and he never will. It’s Tony who’s left to pick up all the pieces, and he resents it. Big time. Right now, the fact that Steve was his father’s friend, isn’t doing Steve any favors. “None of that explains why you didn’t tell me about it. And no, I’m not going to spaz out this time and push you off the edge of the Tower or anything. But I’m still mad. And it can never go back to how it used to be. If you’re contemplating coming back and working with the Accords, then you need to know that. Things are going to be very different.”

Steve nods. “I get that. And you’re being very reasonable, considering. I know I’m not in any type of place to make suggestions as I’m the war criminal in this scenario, but why don’t you look over the Accords, make any suggestions you see fit, and then we can talk again next Friday. Do you think if your lawyers talk to the powers that be, we can get this whole thing settled?”

“No, you’re not in any position to make suggestions,” Tony agrees. “And my lawyers are currently very busy with other matters.” He rolls his eyes. “But I suppose I can spare one or two to ask a few pointed questions.”

Steve smiles. “Great. This is great progress. I’ll go pack up my things and slip out the back door before the sun comes up. Oh, and don’t forget to include all our new friends in on the Accords this time. You know, Ant Man and Spider-Man.”

Tony bristles. “Spider-Man will not be a part of the Accords. End of discussion.”

“I know that Spider-Man is young,” Steve says, not heeding the dangerous tone in Tony’s voice, “but I could tell he’s enhanced. He has to be a part of the Accords. He is eighteen at least, right?”

Tony bites his cheek because he doesn’t want to discuss Spider-Man with Steve or anyone else.

“Tony,” Steve says in that voice that patronizing makes Tony want to punch him in the nose. “How old is Spider-Man?”

Tony has to bite his tongue. He wants to tell Steve to fuck off and leave like he had just been planning on doing a second ago. Any answer Tony gives him is not going to be good enough, anyway. Steve is definitely not as smart as Tony, but he’s not entirely stupid, either. He can put two and two together, and Tony has a feeling he’s awfully close to making the connection.

“You wouldn’t bring a minor on the battlefield, would you?” Steve asks, folding his ridiculously large arms over his broad chest.

Now Tony feels like he’s the one getting scolded. “Spider-Man will not be a part of the Accords,” he says, repeating himself. “Final answer.”

“Tony!” Steve says, narrowing his eyes. “How old is he?”

“Not old enough to sign a legal document!” Tony finally says. “So unless you agree to leave him out of this, then there is no deal.”

Steve’s mouth is a thin line while he looks at Tony, studying him for what feels like forever. “Okay. Fine,” he says, “but I want you to know that I think you were being extremely irresponsible to bring a child into this fight.”

“You’re not saying anything to me that I haven’t said to myself a hundred million times,” Tony says. “So save your breath.”

Steve lets his arms fall to his sides. “I would think that now that you have Peter, you would understand that—” His striking blue gaze comes back to rest on Tony.

Tony grabs his sleeve and guides him back to the elevator. “Time to leave, Cap. This has been a nice visit and all, but I think we’re done here. I’ll talk to you next Friday. You know the number and all that jazz? Good. Great! Bye!” He shoves Steve into the elevator. “FRIDAY, Take Cap back to the Avenger’s floor. If he’s not out in an hour, alert me on my phone.”

Steve is staring at him with a mix of shock and outrage. His jaw is still half open when the elevator doors shut, and Tony almost falls to his knees.

“Fuck,” he says to the concrete floor. “I blew it.”

Chapter Text

Peter and Ned do end up falling back asleep a little later and don’t wake up until the scent of bacon wafts through the vents and under the crack in the door into Peter’s room. Then they’re up immediately and join the others in the living room for a later breakfast. Peter is afraid that Tony is mad at him, but Tony gives him extra bacon and pats him on the back, so Peter is pretty sure he can’t be all that mad.

Tony even keeps his promise to Peter and Ned about letting them look around his lab, though he tells Ned not to touch anything without asking first. Peter builds a robot and Ned programs it, and by two, they have a tiny robot that follows some pretty complicated commands. Tony seems impressed at how the two of them work together and offers to let them use his lab for their entries in the robotics competition in the spring. Ned looks like he’s died and gone to heaven, and Peter just grins because he’s so happy to have them both on his team.

They stop for some food before dropping Ned off at home, and then it’s just Tony and Peter alone in the car on the drive back to the Tower. Peter feels like this is probably what he’s been dreading all day, and Tony is very quiet for the first few minutes of the return trip.

“Look,” Tony finally says while they’re stopped at a red light. “I know you want to meet your heroes. Captain America is very exciting and all that. But you aren’t some regular kid. I didn’t want them to know about you because I don’t trust them, and they could potentially reveal you to the government. I’m trying to protect you, Pete. I know I’m doing a shitty job at it, but I’m trying.

Peter looks at his profile, and he looks very sad. Whatever is happening is tearing Tony up from the inside, and Peter doesn’t want to contribute to his pain. “I get it,” he mumbles. “I’m sorry I went up there when I knew you didn’t want me to. Are you mad?”

“No.” Tony steps on the gas when the light turns green. “Why would I be mad at you when it’s me who’s screwed up? I’m sorry, Pete. I was up on the roof talking to Steve after you left. I told him again to stay away from you. I let him see how much I care about you. Then I was about to get rid of him when he asked me about Spider-Man, and I flipped out.”

Peter blinks at him. “Did you blast Captain America off the roof?”

Tony glances at him, his brows furrowed. “What? No. I’m trying to tell you that I think he figured out that you’re Spider-Man. Or more specifically, spider-kid. He was starting to insist that you sign the Accords, so I had no choice but to inform him that you’re not legally able to sign any government paperwork.”

“Oh,” Peter says because he’s not sure how he feels about Captain America knowing his secret identity. He doesn’t think that Captain America ever had to deal with what he’s going through. Maybe he won’t understand. “He won’t tell anyone, will he?”

“Not if he wants to live to see one hundred,” Tony says between his teeth.

“Should I be afraid that everyone’s going to know I’m Spider-Man?” Peter asks.

“No, I don’t think he’ll say anything. I sent him a message from the burner phone he left me just to be sure.” Tony sounds resigned and exhausted, and he probably is. Peter kept him up half the night with his anxiety attack and his trip to see Captain America on the roof. He probably needs a nap.

Peter looks down at his knees. “I’m sorry, Tony. This is all my fault.”

Tony glances at him. "We've been over this, Pete. Not your fault."

"Well, it's not your fault either," Peter shoots back at him. "You're doing your best. You just said so."

"I said I'm trying my best," Tony clarifies. He gets in the left hand lane to make a turn.

"Same thing," Peter mutters.

"No," Tony says, his voice rising. "It's not. It means I'm failing, Pete. Now please—will you just listen?"

Peter clamps his mouth shut and makes a hand gesture that Tony should continue. He'll listen, of course, but that doesn't mean he has to agree. Tony is always blaming himself for everything, and this time, it's most definitely Peter's fault.

"Let's not fight over this," Tony continues after he makes the left turn safely. "I guess it doesn't really matter whose fault it is. What matters is that we need to make sure that Peter Parker and Spider-Man remain separate. At least until you turn eighteen, we can't have anyone knowing about you. I don't think Steve will say anything. I guess that's one thing he's good at—keeping secrets. But I just want you to be extra careful. If the other Avengers come back, we may have to tell them, but you better believe they will all be signing non-disclosure agreements."

Peter nods. "Okay. I'll be careful. I promise, Mr Stark."

Tony turns to give him a pointed look.

"I mean Tony," Peter says, smiling. "Whoops. How did you know I was up on the roof, anyway? FRIDAY assured me that if I went up there she wouldn’t tell you as long as I kept my feet on the ground.”

“It wasn’t you, kid. She alerted me because Steve Rogers was up there.”

“Oh. So you're really not mad?" he asks when it's been awhile since Tony has said anything.

Tony sighs. "I'm more stressed out than anything. I want you to be okay. And then Steve comes back, and now I'm losing it. These things could have at least spaced themselves out a little."

"I think you need some hot chocolate," Peter says after thinking about it for a few seconds. "And maybe a nap. You're probably tired because I kept you up half the night."

Tony laughs. "Yeah, probably. You too, kid. New rule. Enforced Saturday nap time. For today at least."

Peter looks up at him when he pulls into the Tower's underground parking entrance. "You're seriously not sick of me yet?"

Tony pulls into a space next to the rest of his cars he keeps at the Tower, puts the car in park, and kills the engine. "Are you kidding? You're my favorite person. But don't tell Pepper that." He points at Peter. "Swear it."

Peter grins. "I swear!"

Tony and May agree that she and Peter will spend the next week at the Tower because now that Tony is working on rewriting the Accords, he won't have a lot of time to run around. And with Peter going back to school on Monday and his appointment with his therapist, it just makes sense to keep everyone close at hand. May is also going back to work. She has a meeting with her supervisors to maybe change her shift rotations, which is definitely a big step for her. Peter knows she doesn't want to accept Tony's help, but he also knows they're both doing it for him, so he can't feel anything other than grateful. And a little guilty, but that seems to be his default mode lately.

Monday goes as well as it can possibly go at school. Peter is nervous and a little scared again, but Ned helps, and he makes it through the day. Happy is waiting to pick him up, and to his surprise, Tony, as well as May, are in the backseat waiting, too. They look like they're keeping a secret, and no matter how many times he asks what's going on, they just smile at each other and don't reply.

Peter is not sure how he feels when they pull up to an apartment building in Queens. It's not his apartment building. It's a new one... clearly the one that Tony has in mind, but now May is seemingly on board too, so he guesses this is happening? He's not sure why he feels strange about it. Maybe it's because it feels more like they're leaving Uncle Ben behind. Or maybe it's because this is all new, and he sort of wants everything to be familiar right now. But either way, he can't work up the excitement like May and Tony want him to.

"What do you think?" Tony asks when they step into the unit.

They're pretty high up, and the unit is in the corner that is private from the street view. It's really nice. It has a big open living room and kitchen, and when Peter peeks down the hallway, he sees entrances to two bedrooms and two bathrooms. The entire floor is covered with glossy wood. It looks like it's out of a magazine, and he feels like their furniture would not only be unable to fill the place up, but it would also look horribly mismatched.

"Um," he says, peeking around the corner into the room that he assumes would be his. "Can we maybe do this another time?"

Both Tony and May's faces fall at Peter's reaction. "What's wrong, Peter?" May says, walking over to him and putting her arm around his back. "Don't you like the apartment? It's still in Queens and actually closer to your school. And it's closer to the Tower."

Peter shrugs and looks down at his feet. He hates that they put him on the spot like this. And he wishes they would have asked him first before bringing him here. Of course it's Tony's style to surprise him with expensive things, but this is something that he needs to ease into. "Of course, I like it," he mutters. "It's just that... maybe this is a little fast? I like our old apartment. Moving is not fun." He's saying everything he can think of to convince them without telling them the real reason why this makes him so uncomfortable.

Tony, who has been standing in the living room and looking at them from down the hallway, jumps into action and walks to Peter's other side, putting his arm around his shoulders. "Okay. I get it. We'll talk about it first. No problem."

Peter glances up at him. "You already bought this place, haven't you."

"No... of course not," Tony says and squeezes Peter's shoulder. "Well, it doesn't matter either way, because if you don't like it, then you don't like it. How about we look at some places together?"

Peter wants to yell at him that no, they will not look at places together. Because he's not ready yet, and Tony isn't his dad and doesn't get to make that decision anyway. But he is being ungrateful and a brat, so he bites his lip and looks down at his feet still. "Can we talk about this later?"

"Sure, we can." Tony says, but sounds a little unsure. He has no clue why this is bothering Peter, and Peter feels so bad about it, but he can't talk about it now. Tony gently pushes him towards the door. "Let's get out of here."

Peter spends the ride back to the Tower avoiding worried glances from May and ignoring that they are giving each other concerned looks from over his head.

"I'm sorry," Tony says to Peter when May goes to change out of her work clothes and take a shower.

Peter is standing in front of the refrigerator reaching for sandwich meat and a soda. He doesn't feel especially hungry, but he didn't feel very hungry at lunch either, and figures he should at least try to eat something. He doesn't turn to look at Tony when he asks, "What are you sorry for?"

"Springing that on you," Tony replies. "You're right. We should have talked more about it first. I just—want you to be closer when you're not here. I have some anxiety about you getting hurt and stuff, and I want you to be closer. It's probably not very healthy, but there it is."

Peter feels upset and kind of bad about thinking that Tony wasn't his dad earlier at the new apartment, because if there's anyone in this whole universe he would want to be his dad, it's Tony. He knows he's letting the stress of everything get to him, but that's still not fair to Tony. He's trying his best, Peter knows. Also, he understands anxiety, and it's definitely not something he wants to cause within Tony. So he shoves his sandwich things and the can of soda on the counter and then rushes to Tony, putting his arms around his middle and hugging him close.

"No. I'm sorry," he says. "I didn't want to say anything while we were there. But it sort of bothers me how it doesn't bother Aunt May that we're leaving everything behind. Like everything about Uncle Ben is at our old apartment... and she didn't even think about that?"

Tony puts his arms around Peter's shoulders. "I didn't think about that either. I'm really sorry. Why don't we wait until after all this stuff with the rogue Avengers is over with, and then maybe we can think about the new place again. What do you think?"

Peter nods against the smooth material of the lapel of Tony's sports jacket.

"I'm glad school went okay today, kiddo."

"Me too," Peter mumbles and squeezes his eyes closed while he listens to Tony’s heartbeat. It wasn't a hundred percent okay, but it was definitely way better than it could have been. Ned definitely made sure that no one picked on him, but Peter could tell that Flash was revving up to something by the way he stared at them from across the cafeteria. If anyone had asked why he'd been out, Peter said it was because of migraines, which no one doubted because of what had happened the previous week on that one day he had attempted to go to school. Then again, he wouldn't put it past Flash to pick on him about anything and everything. Peter can handle Flash picking on him about migraines. What he can't handle is if anyone were to find out about the attack. Thankfully, Tony's lawyers have kept his part in that secret so far, but Peter still worries about it.

"Maybe you want to talk to your aunt about why you're feeling so bad about this?" Tony asks.

Peter opens his eyes. "Not really," he mutters. "If it doesn't bother her, it probably shouldn't bother me. I just need to get over it, I guess."

"Nuh uh." Tony puts his hands on Peter's shoulders and pushes him back so they can look at one another. "If something bothers you, then it's okay. I know your aunt would listen to you if you told her. Maybe she's dealing with all this a different way than you are, and that's okay too. But if it's bothering you, it might help to talk about it."

Peter sniffs. "I'll think about it," he says, averting his eyes.

Talking to May about Ben is kind of a sore spot for him. And on top of everything else going on, he is pretty sure it might be a little too much at the current moment. But Tony is probably right. He should talk to May about it. And if he knows May at all, which he does, she is probably going to be the first to bring it up. So really, he doesn't have much of a choice. He may as well resign himself to the fact that he will be talking about it, and yes, it will probably suck.

"You hungry?" Tony says when Peter doesn't let go of him. "Why don't you go turn on the TV. I'll make you a sandwich. Pepper and I are going out to dinner tonight, so you and May will be here by yourselves for a little while. Might be a good time to have a talk."

Peter squeezes Tony harder because he doesn't want him to leave. He wouldn't mind staying at the Tower if they didn't have to get rid of their old apartment, but he knows that's unrealistic. Why would May work so hard when she doesn't have to pay rent? When May had brought it up to him earlier, he was agreeable, but he didn't know it was going to happen so fast. He thought he would have time to say goodbye and pack up his things slowly and move on. Now he feels rushed and overwhelmed, and he doesn't know how to handle that on top of everything else.

"Pete," Tony says in a strangled voice. "You're squeezing the air right out of me."

"Oh, sorry." Peter lets go of him and backs up, looking embarrassed. "Where are you going for dinner? Maybe you could order in and stay here with us?"

Tony gives him a half smile. "No can do, buddy. Pepper made reservations at her favorite place in Manhattan. She will definitely kill me if I cancel."

Peter tries not to look sad. He's not Tony's son, and even if he were, he shouldn't be asking him to stay home from his date with Miss Potts. That just makes him selfish. Especially since he's already taken up the majority of Tony's time recently. "Okay. I'll be fine," he says but he doesn't know if he's trying to convince Tony or himself more. "I'll go and start on my homework in the living room. Will you still make me a sandwich?"

Tony is already walking over to where Peter left his sandwich fixings. "On it!"

Peter is still working on his homework that evening when May sits down on the other side of the couch. The television is on, but at a low volume, and Peter is bent over his Stark pad and a text book when she clears her throat.

"How's homework coming?" she asks, smiling at him when he looks up.

"Fine," he says. Actually, it's going a little slow. He's distracted and his brain keeps wandering while he's trying to read. But he doesn't find it all that difficult, and it will be done soon, so that's all that matters.

"You got a minute to talk?" she says.

"Um..." Peter looks back down to his book. Yeah, he doesn't want to talk. But just like he thought, she was going to ask him about the apartment. "Sure..." he says a little hesitantly.

"It's just that I thought you were okay with the apartment thing," May goes on. "We had talked about it a few days ago. Remember?"

Of course he remembers. "Yeah, I know, I just thought maybe that was sometime in the future. Not like next week."

"I'm sorry, Peter. But you know how Tony does things. He gets it done fast and efficiently, and then before I knew what was happening, he was shoving these brochures in my face. But don't worry. He says we can take our time on this and then when we're ready, we can look at it again."

Peter bites his lower lip. He doesn't know when May has been talking to Tony since they got back that day, but it was probably over text. They probably text about him and his problems a lot, and he's not sure if he likes that. Then again, it's nice to have people care about him. "Okay," he says, because he can't think of anything else to say.

"Peter," she says after a pause. "I wish you would tell me what's bothering you about this. There are so many great things about this apartment. Like Tony said, it's closer to your school and the Tower. And it's still in Queens. I know that's important to you."

"It is," he says, closing his text book on his Stark pad. There is no way he's getting out of this conversation so he may as well commit to it. "The apartment is amazing. I love it. But..."

May patiently waits for him to go on, her face in an expression of concern.

"Don't you feel like part of the past is there in our old apartment? Like... that's where I grew up. And that's where... that's where we lived with Ben. If we leave there, then..."

May's expression turns sad and tired. "Oh, Peter. You shouldn't feel bad about that. Of course the past is important, and I miss Ben too. He was a big part of our lives, and he still is. But he's not in the apartment. This is going to sound really, really cheesy, but he's in here." She puts her hand over her heart and then points at Peter's chest. "And in there. we can't get rid of him no matter where we go."

Peter hates that his eyes are filling with tears because he's honestly had enough of crying. So he swallows the lump in his throat and holds them back. "I know that. I just need a little while to process everything." The truth is, he hadn't exactly thought of it that way, and he's glad May said it, because she's right. Memories don't live in things. They live in people. It reminds him of a few lines from the Lion King, but he keeps his mouth shut about that because that would make May laugh, and he doesn't exactly feel like laughing.

May smiles. "Okay. I get that. How about you let me know when you're ready."

"Sure. Are we going to stay here at the Tower still? Or will we go back to the apartment soon?"

"Do you want to go back?" May asks, putting her arm over the top of the couch.

"Um..." Peter shifts his eyes away from hers. He's not sure if wants to go back yet. He's kind of in a weird place right now where he's not sure what he wants to do. If he goes back to the apartment, then Tony will probably not go with them... especially with Pepper in town for a few days. And he definitely knows that he wants Tony around. Even if May weren't working so much, he would still want Tony around. Even if he were feeling better, he would want Tony around. Then he realizes that maybe that's part of the issue. He doesn't want to leave the Tower. "I think we should stay here a little longer," he finally says, but doesn't give May any hints as to why. "If I have any say in it."

May smiles. "I guess that's technically up to Tony, but I don't think he'll mind if we stay. Why don't you finish up your homework, and then I'll get us some ice cream. There are tons of toppings left over from this weekend."

Peter nods, smiling back. "Okay, sounds good."

~*~

By the time Tony and Pepper get home from their date, May is putting a few dishes into the dishwasher. There are several ice cream toppings on the counter still, and May moves to grab them before Tony can.

"Well, he's fed and homework's done," she says, smiling at both him and Pepper. "I'm going to head towards bed so I can get to an early shift in the morning. He's all yours!"

Pepper pats Tony on the shoulder. "She's talking to you, dear. I have a few phone calls to make before bed. See you there?"

"It's highly likely," Tony says and leans to kiss Pepper before she and May hook arms and go off to talk about whatever women usually talk about, clearly before Pepper begins making phone calls. They're probably conspiring against him. He doesn't know. So instead of thinking too much about it, he walks out to the living room to find Peter on the couch wrapped in blankets.

"Hey, kid," Tony says, falling down next to him. "How's it going?"

Peter glances at him and then looks back at the TV. He seems a little distant and sad. "I'm okay."

Tony stares at him and thinks that this must be what it's like to raise a teenager. He knows by looking at Peter that he's not one hundred percent 'okay' but it's kind of hard to work on fixing it if the kid won't tell him what's going on. "Why don't you get ready for bed and then text me when you want me to come sit with you. Okay?"

"Actually..." Peter says while he untangles himself from the blankets. "I think I'll be alright tonight. You don't have to come in."

Tony is kind of shocked because besides for the night that Ned stayed over, he's sat next to Peter every single night, and he doesn't know why today is any different. Unless maybe something happened at school he doesn't know about, or maybe Peter is still upset about his uncle and the new apartment. He's not really sure, but it's clear that Peter doesn't want to talk about it because he's walking away from Tony and saying goodnight.

"Goodnight!" Tony calls just before he reaches the hallway. "Tell FRIDAY if you need me!"

He waits in the living room for a good fifteen minutes in case Peter changes his mind, but when the house is completely quiet, he decides he may as well make use of this free time, and sneaks down to his lab to work on some of his neglected projects. He also wants to do some upgrades on his suit with some of the Avengers possibly coming back. He can't have himself looking outdated for that.

He's putzing with some nano tech when he hears the door to the lab open.

"Can I come in?" Peter asks, standing in the doorway in his pajamas. He has puffy eyes like he’s been crying, and his hair is messy like he’s been tossing and turning in bed.

Tony nods. He’s not sure how long he’s been sitting in the lab, but the clock on the wall says it’s one, so at least several hours. “Come here. I want to show you something.”

Peter sits down on the stool beside his and leans in to look at what he’s working on. Together they fix the wiring on the Iron Man gauntlet until Peter’s tears have dried.

“Can’t sleep?” Tony asks when Peter leans his head against his shoulder.

“I guess not,” Peter says, and his eyes are already closed. “I guess I need you. Sorry, Mr Stark.”

Tony shifts so that he can get his arm around Peter. “It’s okay, bud. Anything in particular bothering you tonight?”

Peter’s arms come around him, and he closes his eyes again. “I don’t know.”

Tony knows from experience that that is Peter for ‘I do know, but I’m not sure I want to tell you,’ so he rests his cheek against the top of Peter’s head and sighs. “Are you still upset about the apartment? Or Did May talk to you about it?”

Peter sniffs. “Yeah, she did. I guess I-I just realized something. Like—“ He pauses. “Never mind. It’s really stupid. I’m fine, Tony.”

“Oh no! You were so close!” Tony rubs his arm. “And it’s definitely not stupid. So none of that!”

“Okay. I just—just thought I was doing better, and then I didn’t want to waste your time so—“

“Stop. Stop right there. I don’t want to hear any of this talk about wasting my time. You are not wasting my time.”

Peter looks up at him. “But what about Miss Potts? Maybe you would rather spend time with her instead.”

“Of course I want to spend time with her. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be with you. And don’t you worry. She gets plenty of time. Besides, she’s the one who said you’re good for me. She approves. And if Pepper approves then there’s nothing else to worry about. Trust me on that, kid.”

“I know you say that all the time,” Peter says. “But I’m not actually your kid. You aren’t required to put up with me. I was just feeling like I’m taking advantage of you, and that’s not fair. I mean look at you. You’re here getting stuff done. If you were with me, you’d just be wasting your time.”

Tony rubs his arm again. “First of all, you are my kid. Blood or not. And second, I’m not ‘putting up with you.’ You’re my kid, and I love you. I want to be with you when you need me. You’re not bothering me or wasting my time, and Pepper understands. End of story.”

Peter squeezes him and sighs but doesn’t say anything.

“You want to try to sleep again?” Tony asks. “I’ll come sit with you. Maybe I can tell you about the times I pranked Rhodey. We had this prank war going on for years. I most definitely won.”

“Yeah, I want to hear about the pranks,” Peter agrees. “I’m thinking we should reinstate prank wars. Might be even more fun when the other Avengers come back. If you let me talk to them that is.” He grins up at Tony.

Tony’s smile falls from his face. He knows if the others come back to the Tower the chances of keeping them away from Peter is slim to none. There are a lot of big decisions to make regarding that, but he’ll have to wait until the Accords are signed before he really gets into it with Peter and May. This is life changing shit, and he’s got to be prepared for it.

“I’m guessing that’s a no,” Peter says, his face falling.

“Not a definite no.” Tony stands up and pulls Peter along with him. “Let’s just see what happens after the Accords are all done and signed. If that even happens. There are a lot of things that have to work out with a bunch of people who have already fought about this. So it might not even happen. If it does, then we’ll talk about what we’ll do with the Avengers in the Tower. And maybe there will eventually be some pranks. Are you going to be on my team?”

Peter rolls his eyes and lets Tony push him out of the lab. “Of course I’m on your team. Whose team would I be on if I wasn’t on yours?”

Peter watches while Tony locks the lab up and has FRIDAY turn off the lights. He’s leaning against the wall and looking really sleepy, so when Tony is done locking up, he tugs Peter with him into the elevator, and they travel together back up to the penthouse, Peter’s head resting once again on Tony’s shoulder.

When they finally arrive in Peter’s room, he’s a little more awake and suddenly a lot more morose than he had been a minute ago. Tony wonders if it’s because he’s still concerned he’s taking up Tony’s time or if it’s something else. He hates that his kid is sad, and there isn’t much he can do about it other than distract him.

He goes to sit in his regular chair but Peter is tugging at his sleeve. Their eyes meet and Tony knows exactly where this is going. He probably wouldn’t have climbed in with him a few weeks ago, but right then he decides he’ll do anything for this kid, and that includes letting Pepper wonder why he never came back to bed that night. “Move over,” he says to Peter. “I’m probably going to get motor oil all over your sheets.”

“Don’t care,” Peter mumbles as he curls into Tony’s side. “Maybe I can sleep tonight if you stay. Will you still tell me about the pranks?”

“Sure,” Tony says, settling down into the pillows. “I’ll start with a short one just in case you fall asleep really fast.”

Peter grumbles, but he barely lets Tony get halfway through the first story before he drifts off.

Chapter Text

Chapter 15

Peter wakes up to May poking him in the shoulder. When he opens his sluggish eyes, she is standing over him with her finger to her lips and pointing somewhere beside him. Then Peter remembers that he had basically asked Tony to stay with him, and the extra warm pillow he’s cuddling into is indeed Tony Stark himself.

“Come on. I let you sleep in,” May whispers. “But Happy is waiting downstairs so hurry up and get ready for school. And don’t wake Tony!”

Tony is on his back with one arm over his head and the other being used as a pillow for Peter’s head. His head is facing Peter a little, and he lets out a little snore just as Peter attempts to get up. Peter is extra careful while he moves away and crawls out of bed. Part of him feels guilty that he kept Tony up so late away from his projects, but the other part of him wants to wake him up so that Tony will take him to school. He hates being so conflicted.

Honestly, he wants to tell May that he should just skip school today, but he knows how that will go over already, so he decides to just get on with it. He’s ready in ten minutes, and when he leaves his room, Tony is still fast asleep, probably drooling all over his pillows. Gross. May hands him two granola bars and a bottle of water and then pushes him toward the elevator. “Love you!” she says just before the doors close.

Peter is left alone in the quiet elevator while it descends, and he realizes he’s not exactly awake yet. He thinks he maybe got five hours of sleep, and he’s definitely starting to feel it. And then he’s wishing he could crawl back into bed instead of into the back seat of Happy’s car.

“Hey,” Happy says when he does just that. “What’s up, kid? No Tony today?”

“He’s asleep. May wouldn’t let me wake him up, but she has no problem waking me up.”

Happy chuckles and then drives off. “Don’t worry. I’m sure he’ll be ready for you again when school gets out.”

“Probably,” Peter admits, but it just makes his fear of taking up all of Tony’s time resurface. “Hey, Happy. Question.”

“Sure,” Happy says.

“What does Tony do while I’m at school?”

“Umm...” Happy hesitates. It’s clear by his long pause that he’s contemplating his word choices carefully. “He goes to some meetings, and sometimes he’s on the phone. Or he’ll go into the lab and not come out for hours.”

“Do you think maybe he misses doing those things when I’m around?”

Happy glances back at him like he’s crazy. “Why are you asking me that?”

Peter shrugs and mutters, “I don’t know. I just don’t want to waste his time.”

“Waste his time? Who gave you that idea?” Happy sounds legitimately pissed off at whoever did. And technically, it was Peter himself. “Tony hates meetings. And phone calls. Why do you think he put Pepper in charge? And you know how he feels about his lab. But from what I can see, you fit in there pretty well there. So I don’t know what you’re worrying about, kid.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Peter says in an attempt to end the conversation. He’ll admit that Happy is probably right, but he still doesn’t really get why Tony would spend so much time with someone like him.

“Probably?” Happy asks immediately, sounding offended. “I’m most definitely right.”

The conversation turns to other random stuff before fizzling out entirely. Peter’s thoughts turn to school. He finds himself feeling a little content, like his life is almost normal and somewhat easy, which it mostly for sure is not. But it seems like it is, and he can live with that for now.

~*~

Tony stretches and yawns, and when he opens his eyes, he freezes, a little shocked to be surrounded by Star Wars bedding. Then he remembers that he had been telling Peter about his and Rhodey’s prank war before he had fallen asleep himself. The sun is coming through the gaps in the curtains, and Peter is long gone, probably off to school. Tony feels bad for a second because he had wanted to drop him off himself, but as long as Peter got there, Tony figures he can pick him up when school is out, anyway. He’s about to stretch again and work on making his way towards some coffee, when he hears voices in the hallway.

“Don’t worry, he’s fine,” May’s voice says from outside Peter’s door. “Looks like he got some sleep instead of spending all night in the lab.”

“Well, at least there’s that,” Pepper says, sounding relieved. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found him sleeping on his desk.”

“Peter is kind of the same,” May says sniffing. “It’s like pulling teeth to get him to come home for curfew. I don’t want to say I’m glad this all happened, because I’m definitely not, but at least I don’t have to worry about him being on the streets right now, and Tony practically watches him like a hawk, so that makes me feel better, too.”

“They’re good for each other, I think,” Pepper says, a smile in her voice. “If it were up to me, you and Peter would stick around permanently. I can’t be here all the time, May, and to be honest, I don’t think it’s a good idea to leave Tony alone so much. If you stay here, you and Peter can keep an eye on him while he keeps an eye on Peter.”

“Tony is an adult,” May says, hesitating a little.

Tony snorts softly. May obviously hasn’t gotten the memo.

“A self destructive adult,” Pepper corrects, which Tony admits that is pretty damn close to the truth. “He wants to be better for Peter, so he’s keeping himself in check. This is the best I’ve seen him in years.”

“I guess I didn’t know him back then,” May says quietly. “But I did see some of the news articles about everything, so I’m not going to disagree with you. It’s just that I don’t want to take advantage of the two of you. I can provide for myself and Peter. It might be kind of tight at times, and I have to work quite a bit, but I can do it.”

“You are definitely not taking advantage of me or Tony,” Pepper says. “You never have, and you never will. Tony and I love Peter, and we love you, May. You’re like family now, and we want you to stay.”

“I don’t know,” May mutters. “Tony got us this amazing condo in Queens. It’s closer, and it’s so nice. He says I can pay him rent I can afford, and then he’ll know that we’re safe. I know he has issues with worrying about Peter and all, and he doesn’t like to park his car on the street, so I let him do it.”

“Okay, fine. That’s great. You can stay there when you’re sick of him. Or if he has some weird superhero guests over, whatever… but just know that you and Peter are always, one hundred percent, welcome to stay here whenever you want. In fact, I encourage it. Look, May, I’ll even give you the key to the liquor cabinet. You’re in charge when I’m out of town. Okay?”

May laughs. “I don’t know about that. I’m not sure if I’m up to hiding keys from Iron Man in his own house.”

Pepper laughs along with her. “I was mostly kidding. But seriously, he’s doing so well lately. Everything is going to be fine as long as we keep them together.”

“You’re right,” May admits after a few seconds. “I’ll think about this. The condo kind of freaked Peter out, but he seems really comfortable in the Tower, so I’ll talk to him about it later. I’m a little afraid to take Tony away from him, so I’m guessing we’ll be staying here a little longer anyway.”

“Yes, think about it,” Pepper says, her voice fading as their footsteps take them farther down the hallway.

Tony is still under Peter’s blankets until the sound of their footsteps disappear, and then he quietly slips out of bed. His joints crack a little, but it’s kind of nice to feel rested for a change, so he stretches and yawns before he reaches for the door. He peeks out into the hallway to make sure the coast is clear because eavesdropping on Pepper and May is probably a capital offense, and he doesn’t really want to die. At least not without getting coffee first.

~*~

When Peter arrives at school, he says goodbye to Happy and thanks him for the ride before heading inside where he finds Ned at their lockers. He’s about to say hello and ask about the chemistry test they have that day when he’s suddenly slammed into the front of his own locker, his face pressed up uncomfortably against the cold metal.

It happens so fast he barely has a chance to react, and for a second, everything stands still. The next thing he knows, he’s in the bathroom at the gala again for a split second, and then he’s stumbling away from the locker, his vision spotty while he gasps for air. He grabs onto Ned’s arm for dear life while he tries to catch his breath and blink the spots away. I’m okay, he tells himself. I’m at school. I’m okay.

When his vision clears, he sees none other than Flash Thompson standing in front of him with his hands clenched into fists at his sides.

“What’s the deal, Flash?!” Ned demands.

Flash ignores him. “Migraine is gone, Penis?”

Ned bristles. “Leave him alone!”

“I also heard that Tony Stark was here last week when you went home sick,” Flash goes on as if Ned hasn’t said a word. “Some kid said he saw you get into his Audi in the parking lot.”

“He told you he has an internship at SI. What more do you want from him?” Ned’s face is turning red from anger and frustration.

Flash folds his arms over his chest and rolls his eyes. “Are you trying to tell me that his boss picks him up from school when he’s sick, Leeds? No. Something else is going on. And I’m going to find out what that is.”

Peter is pretty sure that whatever he says is going to be the wrong thing. Also, Flash is the last person in the world he wants to know his secrets, so he keeps his mouth shut.

Unfortunately, the silence causes Flash to notice Peter’s watch, and he reaches down and grabs his wrist. “What is this?” Flash says, turning it over roughly. “Looks like the newest model Stark watch. He’ll probably give you another one if you lose this one.”

Peter normally would have jerked his hand away from Flash’s hold and probably easily broken away from him, but something in him freezes, just like when he had his face pressed against the lockers. The last time he had his wrist forcibly held, was back at the gala, and once again he finds his breaths coming in short, his heart rate rising at the same time. And because he hasn’t quite recovered from the previous incident, this one is about ten times worse, and he feels like he’s on the verge of breaking down. Which is bad, because there is no way he can allow himself to have a breakdown in front of Flash.

“Let go of him!” Ned yells, but before he can make any sort of move, a message comes up on Peter’s watch.

Mr Stark: Are you okay?? Your heart rate is going crazy.

Flash sees the text and drops Peter’s wrist like he suddenly got burned. There’s a brief moment of shock and disbelief on his face before he quickly collects himself and his eyes raise to meet Peter’s, his gaze almost unhinged. “What sort of alternate universe is this where Tony Stark monitors your heart rate?”

“The kind where you’ve had your head up your ass for the past year,” a voice comes from behind Peter.

They all turn to see Michelle Jones standing there, her arms folded over her chest and a look of pure vengeance in her eyes. “How many times has Peter told you he has an SI internship? Are you stupid? Oh, wait…”

More texts are coming through, but Peter is still shaken from Flash grabbing his wrist that he just stares at them.

Mr Stark: Answer me or I’m calling.

Mr Stark: I’m serious!

Mr Stark: PETER????

“I don’t have to listen to you, Michelle,” Flash says, refocusing his angry glare from Peter to Michelle just as Peter’s phone begins to vibrate in his pocket.

The last thing Peter wants to do is answer a phone call from Tony in front of Flash, but when he doesn’t pick up, Tony just calls back again.

Dude!” Ned says, poking him in the ribs with his elbow. “Everyone knows who’s calling you. Just answer it before he blasts a hole in the school to get to you!”

Peter jumps into action and fishes his phone out of his back pocket. “I’m okay,” he says instead of hello when he the call connects.

“Are you?” Tony demands. “Then why didn’t you pick up the first two times I called? Or answered me when I texted? Kind of worried here, Pete. Your heart rate was 120.”

“I’m at school!” Peter says in a hushed voice, and hates how he sounds a little angry when he’s actually not. “Kinda hard to reply immediately,” he adds. “Sorry.”

“School hasn’t started yet,” Tony says, because of course he knows everything about Peter’s schedule. “Give it to me straight, Pete. What is going on?”

“Can we please talk about this later?” Peter says through his teeth.

“Ned,” Tony says. “Let me talk to Ned. Give him the phone now. He’s there, isn’t he?”

Peter sighs a long suffering sigh and holds out his phone to Ned. “He wants to talk to you,” he says. How embarrassing.

“Hello, Mr Stark, sir,” Ned says into Peter’s phone. “Yes, I think he’s okay.” Ned’s eyes drift to Peter while he listens. “Well, see, there’s this kid at school who…” He makes eye contact with Peter and gives him an apologetic shrug like he’s sorry but has no choice. “...who kind of picks on Peter.”

Peter can hear Tony say, “What?!” really loudly but isn’t sure if the others can hear it. On the other side of the hallway, Flash is gaping at them in rage and disbelief. “Let me talk to Peter again,” Tony says.

“Yes, sir,” Ned says and then sadly holds the phone out to Peter.

Peter hesitates before taking the phone, and then turns his back to everyone and puts the phone back to his ear. “Don’t be mad,” he says as quietly as he can.

“Sorta mad here,” Tony says. His voice is calm, but Peter can hear the unsettled anger underneath the surface. “Not gonna lie. How could you not tell me you were being bullied? I should have gotten you that watch months ago.”

“Can we please talk about this later?”

“Are you sure you’re okay? Your heart rate is still kind of high. Ninety beats per minute.”

“That’s because you’re embarrassing me!”

There’s a pause, and then Tony clears his throat. “Lemme get this straight. You’re embarrassed of me. Tony Stark.”

“No!” Peter says because that’s definitely the furthest thing from the truth. “Not of you. I’m embarrassed because all my friends are staring at me while you scold me.”

“I’m not scolding you, Pete,” Tony says, his voice gentler.

“You kind of are. Now please... can we talk about this later? Please?”

Tony sighs. “Okay. As long as you’re alright. But we will most definitely be talking about this later.”

“That’s what I’ve been asking for,” Peter says between his teeth.

“Text me at lunch, okay?”

“Okay, I will. Bye.”

“Bye, Pete.”

Peter disconnects the call and slides the phone back into his pocket. Michelle and Ned are both staring at him, and Flash looks like he’s about to slide down the lockers to the floor and start crying.

“I don’t know what is happening,” Flash says, almost under his breath.

“Accept the truth, Flash,” Michelle says, annunciating every word. “Peter clearly knows Tony Stark. Get over it!”

Flash’s mouth clamps shut as he looks at Michelle and then at Peter briefly before refocusing his gaze back to Michelle. “I don’t have to listen to you,” he spits out, venom in his voice.

She doesn’t reply right away, just shifts her weight from her right to her left foot and then looks down her nose at him. “Oh, so I guess you don’t want to be on the decathlon team anymore?”

Flash’s eyes widen. “You wouldn’t.”

She shrugs like it’s no skin off her back.

“Okay, fine,” he says between his teeth. “But I still think something isn’t right here.” His eyes move to Peter. “You’re hiding something.” Then he grabs his backpack off the floor and storms off down the hallway.

“Duh,” Michelle says after he’s out of earshot. Then her honey eyes flicker to Peter’s. “So Tony Stark is your dad now. Hm. Interesting.”

Peter has no idea how to reply to her because, well, she’s right. And apparently Ned is tongue tied too, because he is silent as well. Michelle just shrugs again and turns around to calmly walk to her class.

“Dude,” Ned says when it’s just the two of them. “Does she know?”

“Well, I didn’t tell her!” Peter whispers. “Come on. We gotta get to class. I hope Flash will leave me alone for awhile.” He follows Ned towards where their Chemistry class is starting any minute now. “And I hope I can convince Tony not to murder him.”

“Dude!” Ned says again. “That would be awesome.”

~*~

Tony spends the rest of the morning reading articles about bullying and how to go about dealing with it, even though he should probably be working on the Accords. He assumes that Peter’s situation is relatively mild, but he doesn’t know for sure. Some things he reads are pretty scary though, so by the time he picks Peter up from school, he has an action plan. What he really wants to do is tell May, but he wants to hear what Peter has to say before he does that.

He leaves thirty minutes early to go get Peter that afternoon and pulls up to the school, parking his car by the curb while he listens to his music and waits. He’s trying not to stare at the door through the tinted windows and instead looks out the driver side window at the cars passing him by. So when the passenger door opens, he jumps a little and moves to turn down his music.

Peter gets in quickly and buckles himself in before looking up at Tony warily.

Tony tries not to give him an expectant look, but he’s dying to hear this whole story, so if he is, he can’t really help it.

“You are mad at me!” Peter says, turning away and letting his forehead rest against the window.

"No, no," Tony says and switches the car into gear. He's mad, but it's not really Peter he's mad at. "I'm mildly frustrated with you for not telling me or May. I'm mad at this kid who's picking on you. Is now a good time to discuss this, or—"

"I guess," Peter mutters. "And I'm sorry I didn't tell you, but I've been handling it on my own just fine."

"Yeah?" Tony glances at him as he pulls out of the school parking lot. He supposes Peter thinks that a heart rate of 120 signifies that he's been handling it. "Then why did FRIDAY alert me about your vitals? That doesn't sound like handling it to me. Especially when your resting heart rate is sixty."

"I know," Peter mumbles. "I look at it a lot. And maybe it wasn't exactly Flash who freaked me out. I mean, he's the one who did it, but it's not exactly his fault." He's avoiding eye contact and looking out the window, but there's a crease between his eyebrows like he's worried or nervous about something.

"Huh?" Tony says, doing his best to study his expression while he drives. "Gonna need more details, bud. Also, what kind of a name is Flash?"

"I don't know. His real name is Eugene."

Tony snorts. "Oh. That's why."

Peter turns to him and smiles a little. "You laughing at Flash almost makes this all worth it."

"Listen," Tony says once they both stop giggling. "This little shit is probably not even worth your time. You just gotta teach him that you're not going to put up with him anymore."

Peter groans and leans against the window. "You sound like May. And I know all of that. I've tried it. But it seems like it gets worse the more stuff I say to him. So I just let him say what he wants and keep my mouth shut. It seems easier that way."

Tony's quiet while he thinks about what Peter has said. This Flash kid is making fun of Peter while Peter just stands there and takes it? He doesn't like that at all. Peter should be sticking up for himself and showing this kid that he's not going to put up with it. Tony wants to drive back to the school so he can tell him off himself, but he resists because he doesn't know the whole story yet. "Why don't you tell me exactly what happened?" he says to remedy this.

Peter sighs and glances at him. “Okay, fine. So… he kinda pushed me into the lockers and grabbed my wrist. It was a little like what happened when… when… anyway, I guess I just freaked out. Only a little bit though! I’m sorry.”

Tony’s blood has already started to boil, but he swallows his anger because he’s realized that Peter didn’t really say much and glossed over everything. “Okay, Pete,” he says, taking in a good breath, because this is hard. “I let you skip over what happened at the gala, but this is different, and you’re going to have to tell me everything. Then we can know how to deal with it best.”

Peter grumbles and looks over at him with what he probably considers angry eyes, but to Tony, he’s still adorable.

“No minimizing!” Tony says, trying his best to resist reaching over and pinching the kid’s cheek.

“So, I didn’t even see it happening,” Peter begins, looking away from him. “All of a sudden, I was shoved into the lockers. I had some weird flashback, kind of like before, where I wasn’t at school, I was at the gala, but then I fell away from the lockers and it stopped. Ned was there, and it was okay. I was going to be just fine. I saw it was Flash who did it, and I wasn’t hurt or anything, just kind of freaked out because of the flashback.”

The long version of the story isn’t making Tony any new friends. He’s trying his best not to openly seethe. This Flash kid is dead.

“Stop making that face,” Peter says, giving his shoulder a gentle shove. “It wasn’t at all like the gala. Flash doesn’t know what happened to me, so there’s no way he could have known that it triggered me.”

Tony looks at him briefly. “I don’t even care what Flash did or didn’t know. He shouldn’t be shoving people into lockers. And he especially shouldn’t be shoving you into lockers if he knows what’s good for him. He’s lucky you’re defending him right now, because all you would have to do is say the word, and I’d drive back to the school and request a meeting with your idiot principal. This kid would be toast. Does he know that I have the ability to block his application from any college in this country?”

“Tony, stop!” Peter says, patting his arm in the same place he had just shoved. “You’re doing that thing where you go overboard.”

Tony grits his teeth because he’ll go overboard for Peter if he wants to go overboard. But he doesn’t want to freak out in front of him, so he takes in a few breaths, focusing on the road back to Manhattan and the Tower. “Sorry,” he says after a long pause. “Go on. What happened next?”

“This is why I don’t ever want to tell you things like this, by the way,” Peter says. “Yeah, Flash is a jerk, but do you really think it’s fair to make sure he can’t get into college?”

“Maybe,” Tony mumbles. “Okay, so you’re probably right. This kid is probably some loser who’s going to go to a mediocre college and get a mediocre job and live a mediocre life. That’s punishment enough, I guess.” It’s really not, but Tony wants Peter to tell him the rest of the story, so he says it anyway. “Let’s hear the rest of the story.”

“Okay, fine. So Ned yells at Flash to stop and leave me alone. I’m trying to catch my breath because I’m still freaked out, and then he notices this.” Peter holds up his left wrist so Tony can see his Stark watch. “No one at school has a watch like mine.”

“No one in this universe has a watch like yours, Pete,” Tony interrupts.

Anyway,” Peter says. “He sees it, and he wants it, so he grabs my wrist. I’m still trying to recover from being shoved into the lockers, and I’m not expecting it, so you can guess what happened.”

Tony’s heart is breaking for him. “Flashback number two? God, kid.”

“Yeah, and that’s when you texted me about my heart rate. Flash saw the texts on my watch because he was looking right at it. He let me go, and I’m okay. He didn’t actually hurt me. I get hurt way worse on any night i’m out in Queens trying to stop criminals from stealing things or whatever. It’s just that it triggered me,” he mutters the last sentence and then looks up at Tony with big brown eyes. “But you can’t blame him for that. He doesn’t know. He’s just doing his usual dumb routine which doesn’t usually bother me… only it did today because of that. So it’s really no big deal, and you don’t need to do anything because like I said, I have it all under control.”

Tony wants to yell at him that he clearly does not have it under control because no kid should ever be treating him that way at all. And if Tony has anything to do about it, which he plans on, no kid will ever treat Peter that way again. But Tony doesn’t say it. He bites his tongue instead and tries to clear his head.

“I know you want start calling every college in the United States and put him on some ban list right now, but please, Tony,” Peter says, his eyes begging, “If he finds out it’s all because of me, he’s only going to make my life worse.”

“New plan,” Tony says, doing his best to smile calmly. “Before I call all the colleges and universities in the United States, I’m going to call my lawyers and they’re going to get started on getting this kid expelled. And then I’m going to call the cops and get a restraining order. He’ll never come near you again. How’s that sound?”

Peter’s jaw drops. “Completely unnecessary!”

“Okay, okay,” Tony admits, rolling his eyes. “But can we at least tell May? Maybe she can handle this better than I can. I’m kind of a newb and all.”

“Tony,” Peter looks at him like he’s the most out of touch person on this planet. “No one says ‘newb’ anymore. And please don’t tell May. I’m practically begging you.”

“By insulting my pop culture references? I think you need a better tactic, kid.”

Peter actually chuckles at that, and Tony glances over at him, determined to give him a severe look, but failing the second he sees Peter’s smiling face, and his smile blossoms over his face as well. He clears his throat, deciding to change course. “How about we table this discussion until tonight?”

“Okay,” Peter says, his smile fading just a little.

“I’m not trying to come down on you,” Tony says, turning onto the street where the Tower is located and then pulling into the driveway at the back of the building that leads down to the underground parking. “I’m just trying to make sure you’re okay.”

Peter sighs a very teenage sounding sigh, grabs his backpack, and gets out of the car once it’s parked. “I know,” he says over the top of the car to Tony. “And I appreciate it. But maybe next time you can give me like five seconds to reply before you flip out?”

Tony grins and walks around the car, so he can squeeze Peter’s shoulder. “How about four seconds?”

Chapter Text

Chapter 16

That night while Pepper and May are making dinner, Tony works on his suit while Peter finishes up his homework on the couch by Tony’s workbench. Tony’s a little stressed out, and considering that the whole Flash situation isn’t resolved, he’s having trouble focusing on the technology beneath his fingertips. Peter is sitting cross legged on the couch, staring down at his math assignment and scribbling in answers for what feels like forever. When he finally looks up, Tony jumps on it.

“So,” he says, wiping his hands on his pants. “If you don’t want to tell May or speak with the principal, then how do you propose we fix this situation?”

Peter’s expression looks a bit frustrated, but it’s obvious he’s trying not to show it. ”How about I let you know if it gets worse?” he suggests hopefully.

Tony frowns. The likelihood of Peter reporting future bullying to him is slim to none. “No can do, buddy,” he says, shaking his head. “Any other ideas?”

“I don’t know what else to say,” Peter says, exasperated. “I’m really tired. I’ve been staring at these easy math problems for an hour, and I’m still not done.”

Tony feels for him, he really does. The poor kid got barely any sleep, then had to deal with a bully, and now Tony won’t leave him alone about it. He probably just wants to eat dinner and go to bed. He’s about to suggest telling May again, and even opens his mouth to do so, when an idea hits him. It will take a bit of work, but Tony knows he can pull it off. He is Tony Stark, after all. And it’s brilliant, really, like just about every other idea he’s ever had. This way, he doesn’t have to talk to May or call Peter out in front of the principal at all. And if he does it just right, he can get Steve back at the same time. It’s perfect.

“What are you smiling at?” Peter asks, bringing Tony out of his thoughts. “It looks evil. Like you’re planning something.”

Oh shit. The kid knows him too well. “Nothing,” he says. “Just thinking about the Accords, that’s all.” Well, it wasn’t exactly a lie.

“That’s deflection,” Peter says, pointing at him. “You’re the one who taught me that. You can’t use it against me!”

“Sure I can,” Tony says, grinning. “I’m the master of deflection.”

“Yeah, until you decide you’ve had enough, and you just blurt stuff out.”

Tony just shrugs because he’s right. “Nah, I’m good. No blurting this time, kid.”

Peter stares at him, his mouth a tight line. “Does this mean you are or aren’t going to tell Aunt May or the principal?”

“I promise your name won’t be mentioned,” Tony says instead of answering the question directly.

“Oh no,” Peter says. “I’m seriously scared now.”

“Is that sarcasm?”

“No. I’m really scared. Like seriously and honestly terrified. You have unlimited resources. What are you going to do?”

Tony makes like he’s zipping his lips.

“Great,” Peter says, sighing and leaning back against the couch, looking more tired than ever. “Now I’m going to have nightmares about what you’re going to do.”

“I promise it’s not bad,” Tony says, sitting down beside him. “But speaking of nightmares, do you think you can sleep any better tonight?”

Peter’s little smile falls off his face. “Is Miss Potts mad you didn’t go back to your room last night?”

Tony recalls the conversation he heard between Pepper and May that morning and hesitates. It was clear to him that Pepper definitely wasn’t mad about it. Later that morning, she had looked at Tony like she knows him too well and patted his cheek like, ‘it’s okay, honey,’ which isn’t exactly the response he had wanted when he slipped his arms around her waist, but oh well. But does Tony regret staying with Peter last night? Hell no.

“Of course she’s not mad.”

Peter looks at him like he doesn’t believe it.

“She’s not!” Tony insists. “Also, you didn’t answer my question.”

“Oh yeah, that one.” Peter smiles guiltily.

Tony smiles back. “Yeah. That one.”

“Well, hopefully I’ll do better tonight. Hey, question. Why is it that everything seems a hundred times worse at night?”

“That’s a great question,” Tony says because it’s often what he’s thought about himself. He can’t even recall all the awful nights he’s had. Much, much, much worse than any of Peter’s nights—mostly because of his poor coping methods. The thing is, those things worked at first. That is until they didn’t, and then it was a million times worse than before. But he’s not going to tell Peter about that now. “I think the nights are worse because that’s when you stop and think. During the day, you have so many other things to distract you. At night, it’s just you and your brain. And personally, my brain doesn’t care for me.”

Peter blinks at him sadly. “Mine doesn’t either.”

Tony just gives him a half smile and taps his fist to Peter’s shoulder. “Then it’s a good thing I do.”

Tony doesn’t know what he’s expecting, but the kid’s eyes suddenly look watery, and the next thing he knows, Peter is hunched over with his face in his hands, his math homework slipping to his side, forgotten.

“Hey, hey,” Tony says, rubbing his shoulder. “What’s wrong?”

Peter sobs quietly for what feels like forever, but then he sniffs and wipes at his face. “I just—I don’t understand.”

Tony grabs a few tissues from the box on the cluttered table beside the couch and pushes them into Peter’s fingers before he puts his arm around him and pulls him in. “Tell me what you don’t understand.”

“I don’t get why.” Peter’s voice is watery, and he blows his nose and squeezes his eyes shut while he leans into Tony. “I don’t know why you care about me,” he says against Tony’s shirt.

“Oh, Pete,” Tony says into his hair. “We’ve been over this. Just last night, actually.”

“I know,” Peter cries, “But I just can’t figure out how I’m worth it. Like, I think and I think about it, and now after today, all the kids at school are going to know about it, and everyone is going to wonder why, too. And I don’t even have an answer for them!”

Tony feels distressed. How can he convince this kid that he’s the best kid ever? What can he do to make him see it? He sucks at this so much. “Listen,” he says, tightening his grip on Peter’s arm. “I’ll say it again, and I’ll say it a million more times—as many times as you need to hear it. You’re the best. One hundred percent, no doubt about it, the absolute best. If anyone should be questioning their worth it’s me. I mean, look at me. I’m an absolute mess who can barely take care of himself much less anyone else. If it weren’t for Pepper and Rhodey, I’d probably be in a gutter somewhere. Peter, it’s me who doesn’t deserve you. I ask myself every day what right I have to let a kid like you look up to me.” He pauses and takes in a few breaths because spilling out his emotions isn’t something that’s easy for him. “Pepper says you’re good for me, but I was thinking that I’m probably not good for you.”

Peter pulls away from him so suddenly, that Tony is left blinking at him in surprise.

“That’s not true!” Peter cries. “You are the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time. After Ben died, all I had was May, and for what felt like forever after that, she was so sad, she couldn’t really be there for me like I needed. She’s better now.” Peter sniffs and blows his nose into the tissues again. “But it wasn’t the same. And it’s still not. It’ll never be the same. But now that we have you, it’s okay. Does that make sense?”

Tony smiles a soft smile and nods. “If you had let me finish, I was going to tell you that I overheard May this morning telling Pepper that I was good for you, too. I’m not sure I one hundred percent believe that… but it must be at least partially true if she said it.”

Peter takes a deep breath and falls back into Tony’s hug. “Okay good. Now I don’t have to be mad.”

“Though maybe you have just a little idea of what I feel like you when you put yourself down. Huh? I love you, Pete. And it hurts to hear you talk about yourself that way. Of course you have worth! You are the smartest, kindest, funniest person I know. Everyone wants to be around you. And I’m so proud of everything you’ve accomplished. I can’t wait to see what else you have in store for us.” Tony rubs his back and squeezes his eyes shut. To be honest, the future is a little terrifying. Peter is under no obligation to keep Tony in his life, and the thought is so scary, he just holds onto Peter tighter. He feels so incredibly selfish for thinking about it, so there’s no way in hell he’s going to say it out loud. Peter doesn’t deserve to be burdened with his selfishness.

“Okay,” Peter says quietly. “I’ll try not think that stuff anymore. Just promise me if I’m wearing my welcome out, you’ll tell me.”

Tony gets his hand into Peter’s curls. “Chances of that happening—zero. But hey… is that maybe another reason why you didn’t want to look at the new apartment?”

“Maybe a little,” Peter admits. “Like, what if you get sick of me, and then I’m there using your stuff and living in a place you pay for. If we get rid of our old apartment, then we’ll have nowhere to go. May is legally responsible for me. You don’t have to be.”

“That’s true…” Tony says slowly. Peter definitely has the weight of the world on his shoulders. He doesn’t want to be a burden to anyone, and Tony isn’t sure if he’ll be able to stop the kid from feeling that. Peter has been dealing with feelings like these probably since his parents died when he was really young. Tony was much older when his own parents died, and he had so many resources at his fingertips, he never had to rely on anyone else for anything that money could buy. “But listen,” he says gently. “I may have money, but for a long time, I didn’t have family. And then the people who I thought were family betrayed me. Several times, actually… anyway, what I’ve learned is that family doesn’t come from blood. They’re the people who have been with you through it all. Good times, bad times, and everything in between.” He puts his hands on Peter’s arm and pulls back from the hug to look at him. “Wouldn’t you say that’s us?”

Peter nods and smiles, his watery eyes shining. “Okay. I see your point. Yeah, I want to be a part of your family. Is there any type of initiation process I should prepare for?”

Tony smacks him lightly on the shoulder and then laughs before quickly sobering up. “Actually yes. You have to be a superhero of some degree. Think you can handle it?”

Peter looks up and acts like he’s thinking about it. “Um, maybe. Would a friendly neighborhood Spider-man count?”

“Only if Spider-man promises to call me every time he’s sustained any type of injury, and we have a deal.”

Peter looks back at him. “A scratch? Is that exempt?”

“Nope.” Tony gives him a smug smile. “Even the tiniest scratch or bruise is applicable.”

“Okay, fine.” Peter groans and Tony ruffles his hair.

~*~

Peter sleeps better than he has in a long time that night. He falls asleep fairly quickly with Tony sitting beside his bed, and when he wakes up in the morning, he actually feels a little like a normal person again. Well, as normal as he can get, anyway.

May is already at work when he makes his way into the kitchen, and he instead finds Tony and Miss Potts sitting in the kitchen sipping coffee. Tony has his Stark pad, and Miss Potts is already on a phone call. When she sees Peter, she points to the counter where a stack of pancakes and sausages are waiting for him before getting up and taking the call out of the room.

“Sleep okay?” Tony asks while Peter cheerfully fills a plate.

“Actually, yeah,” he says and sits down beside Tony. He reaches for the syrup and dumps it all over his plate.

Tony grabs it from him and sets it in front of where Pepper had been sitting. “That’s enough of that. You looking for a sugar rush?”

“Maybe.” Peter grins and grabs his fork, digging in. He’s starving. He could eat five platefuls just like this. “How about you?” he asks through a mouthful of pancakes.

“Do I want a sugar rush? No thanks. I don’t want diabetes any time soon.”

Peter swallows his bite and rolls his eyes. “No! Did you sleep okay?”

“Oh, I see,” Tony says, reaching his fork across the counter to stab a sausage. “Yeah, pretty well. I had a few distractions.”

“Ew,” Peter says, turning back to his plate. He doesn’t want to think of Tony and Miss Potts like that. “You’re lucky absolutely nothing will kill my appetite.”

Tony stares at him for a couple seconds. “Huh, funny your mind went there. I was talking about the Accords, genius. Cap is coming back on Friday, and I want to have a proposal ready. So it’s just about done. Just meeting with the lawyers this morning to make it official, and then tomorrow I gotta meet with the FBI.”

Peter blinks at him, noticing for the first time that morning that Tony is dressed for the office in a suit and tie instead of for the lab where he usually wears old t-shirts and jeans. He knew Captain America was coming back in a week, but it still seems like it happened way too fast. “The FBI?” he says, cutting off some more from his stack of pancakes. “Why the FBI?”

“The rogues are federal war criminals,” Tony explains. “It’s in the FBI’s jurisdiction. Government blah blah blah. The lawyers will deal with that.”

Peter sets his fork down and looks back at Tony. He had just said that nothing would ruin his appetite, but he can think of one thing that would, so he wants to clear that up before he finishes the rest of his breakfast. “You’re not going to get in trouble, are you?” he asks. “You won’t go to jail, right?”

“Federal prison,” Tony corrects. “And no. Those big shot lawyers? I pay them to keep me out of there. So don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere. Eat your breakfast, Mr Nothing-kills-my-appetite Parker.”

Peter smiles and picks up his fork. He’s not sure how many lawyers Tony has all together, but he’s pretty sure it’s more than enough to do exactly what Tony says they’ll do.

“Speaking of lawyers…” Tony says cautiously once Peter has finished the majority of what’s on his plate. “The creep at the gala… and I’ve already talked to May about this, and she’s on board. She says it’s ultimately up to you. I wish I could do everything for you, bud, but in order to get the maximum sentence for him, they need you to make a statement.”

Peter wishes he could take it back when he said that nothing affects his appetite. Apparently besides Tony getting into legal trouble and Peter not being able to see him, he’s also found a new thing he’s terrified of. Right now he regrets all the pancakes and sausages he just stuffed into his mouth.

Tony rubs his back. “You know I would do it for you if I could. But like I said, this is up to you. No one is going to force you to do anything. And your aunt and I will be there with you every step of the way.”

There are approximately three large bites of a pancake and a half of a sausage left on his plate, but Peter puts the tip of his index finger on the edge of the plate and pushes it toward the center of the counter. He wants to tell Tony that there is no way he wants to testify in front of courtroom full of people. Even if it’s confidential, he doesn’t think he can sit in the same room as the attacker and say anything out loud, much less keep at all composed. “If I don’t do it,” he says finally, looking up at Tony with worried eyes. “Does that mean he goes free or gets probation or something?”

“Not for sure.” Tony’s voice sounds sad as he rubs Peter’s back a bit more firmly. “But if you do give a statement, the lawyers say it’s in the bag. May can still press charges even if you don’t because you’re a minor, and she’s your guardian.”

Peter looks down at his hands. He hates this feeling. He wants so badly to forget about the whole thing, and he thought he was doing better. But now he’s reminded that it’s not over yet, and it makes him feel sick. “If I did give a statement,” he after breathing in and out in a careful manner for several moments, “would it be in front of him? In front of everyone?”

Tony’s arm goes around his shoulders. “Actually no. I asked. Since you’re a minor, you would leave a videotaped statement in front of a social worker who will be asking the questions.”

Peter leans his head against Tony’s shoulder and squeezes his eyes shut. He doesn’t want to cry before school. The last thing he needs is to show up with red rimmed, puffy eyes so that it will be really easy for Flash to make fun of him. “Okay,” he whispers. “I’ll do it. But only because I want him behind bars. I won’t be able to sleep knowing he’s out there.”

“You’re so brave,” Tony says softly, rubbing his arm. “I’ll let them know today while you’re at school, and then they’ll get this ball rolling. You wanna get this over with ASAP, right?”

“Yeah.” If Peter keeps his eyes closed and his head against Tony’s shoulder, all he can smell is the faint scent of Tony’s cologne mixed with motor oil, and he can pretend none of this is happening. He can feel safe and protected and tell himself that everything is going to be okay. Maybe when that creep is actually sentenced and locked away, he can start to put it all behind him for real.

“Okay, drink your orange juice,” Tony says after a while. “Spider-kids need plenty of vitamin C. And I’m pretty sure Happy’s waiting for us.”

Peter opens his eyes and leans away from him. “Are you riding with us to school today?” he asks hopefully.

“Look, kid,” Tony says smiling. He hops down from his stool and reaches for his coffee mug so he can down the last bit in it. “The only reason I didn’t go with yesterday is because no one woke me up.”

“Not my fault!” Peter says, feeling his spirits rise. This he can handle. This is familiar. This helps him forget about the previous conversation, and he welcomes it. “May wouldn’t let me wake you up. If you have any gripes about it, you can take it up with her.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Tony says, smiling while he gets up from the stool and pointing to Peter’s glass of orange juice. “Drink it. I’ll go get your backpack while you guzzle that down.”

Peter nods, picking up the half sausage and chewing on that before downing the juice. Everything’s going to be okay. He’s got Iron Man protecting him. Tony and his lawyers will make sure everything goes well. He should be excited about the Avengers coming back instead of worrying about that. As far as he knows, he’s the only kid who has a huge possibility of staying in the Tower with them all. And he can’t wait.

On the way to school, he chatters excitedly about the other Avengers coming, and Tony and Happy indulge him, even though Happy seems a little disinterested in the subject. Peter thinks if it were up to Happy, he would rather the Avengers didn’t come back, but he doesn’t say so for Peter’s sake, which Peter appreciates. Tony seems a little excited, but Peter also thinks that’s more for his own benefit. The issues between Tony and Captain America are probably worrying him, so of course he isn’t over the moon like Peter is, and Peter understands.

By the time they turn into Midtown’s parking lot, Peter is still on the same subject. “When do you think I can tell Ned about everything?” he asks Tony when Happy stops the car.

But Tony is looking out the window, not hearing him.

“Looks like we’ve got a situation, boss,” Happy says as suddenly the car is surrounded by photographers and reporters.

Peter is surprised at first, and then his senses kick into overgear, and he puts his hands over his ears and squeezes his eyes shut. There’s a loud, piercing noise, that he expects only he can hear, and the only way he figures that out is because it’s similar to what’s happened recently with the anxiety and the migraines.

Tony puts his arms around Peter’s cowering form. “Keep driving!” he calls to Happy. Then he says more softly to Peter, “I guess you’re skipping school today, Pete.”

Peter can barely hear him. He presses one ear against Tony’s chest and presses harder to the other ear with his palm. He’s trying to do his breathing exercises like he was taught, but the pain is pretty bad, and he’s trying not to hyperventilate. Luckily, the farther they get from the reporters and the school, the less the pain is.

“I think I have a problem,” he says, wiping a few tears from his eyes once the pain has lessened enough to talk about it.

Tony has his hand on the back of Peter’s head, and he’s ruffling his curls in a way that makes Peter close his eyes. “Are you okay?” Tony asks. “Feeling better?”

Peter nods slightly against Tony’s chest. “A little. It’s just… that wasn’t a flashback, and I wasn’t even feeling anxious. Those reporters didn’t really scare me, either. I mean, I was in the car, and I knew they weren’t getting in. But for some reason, my brain thought maybe something bad was going to happen? I think my senses are confused.”

“It’s okay,” Tony says. “We’ll figure it out. You’re okay.”

Peter doesn’t know whose sake Tony is saying that for. “I’m feeling better,” he says to assure him. “Are we going back to the Tower?”

“You’ll be late if you do,” Happy says helpfully from the front of the car.

“Late for what?” Peter asks, sitting up straight and looking between the two men. His head is starting to hurt again, but at least the throbbing pain is gone.

Tony’s hand slips from his hair. “Remember I was telling you about finishing up the Accords today? Well, that’s in…” He looks down at his fancy Stark Tech watch that looks very similar to Peter’s. “Thirty minutes from now.”

“Oh,” Peter says. “Can I come with?”

“We’re being followed,” Happy interrupts before Tony can reply.

Both Tony and Peter turn to look out the tinted back window to see two black Lincolns following behind the Audi. “Shit,” Tony says. “Well, they won’t be allowed in, and they don’t need to know why I’m there. But I don’t want them to get any photos of you, Pete. Unfortunately, I don’t want to let you go back to the Tower by yourself either.” Tony has his fingers on his chin as he stares back at the cars following them. He seems to be saying it more to figure it out for himself than for Peter’s information. He taps his watch. “FRIDAY, any idea why the media was at Pete’s school?”

“Yes, boss,” FRIDAY’s voice comes through the speaker on his watch. “According to several local and national news reports from this morning, people are speculating about your relationship to Peter. One story even has the headline, ‘Tony Stark’s secret love child goes to New York high school.’ But that’s from the National Enquirer, so I’ve already discounted it.”

Tony turns around, sighing. “Thanks for the info, FRIDAY.”

Peter makes a face. “Secret love child? Um, yuck? I am definitely not that.”

Tony laughs and ruffles his hair. “You wish, kid. In any case, you might have to miss school for a while until this blows over. Maybe Ned can get your homework for you and you can do it this weekend?”

“Okay,” Peter says just as his phone buzzes in his pocket. He pulls it out and looks at the screen. “Speak of the devil.” Both he and Tony lean over to read the screen.

Ned: Where are you? There are all these reporters out here asking me tons of questions about you. What should I do?

“Tell him to say no comment and get inside ASAP,” Tony says. “They can’t follow him inside.”

Peter nods and quickly taps out a reply to his friend. To be honest, he’s a little upset about this new development. He doesn’t know why he hasn’t thought about this happening before. Of course living in the Tower and hanging out with Tony all the time was going to draw suspicion from the media. As far as he knows, there aren’t any other kids that Tony mentors. Of course they are curious about Peter.

“You know you can trust me to take the kid back to the Tower,” Happy says from the front seat once he’s pulled up in front of a very tall building in Manhattan. “Kind of used to security detail around here, in case you forgot.”

Tony taps his chin while he stares ahead through his tinted glasses. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, Hap, but I’d rather keep Pete with me.”

“Yes,” Peter says under his breath, and Tony looks at him, half with disapproval, and half with amusement. But then the reporters and photographers begin to get out of their cars, and Peter’s headache starts to throb a little.

“Give me your sports coat, Hap. I’m not letting them get any pictures of Peter.” Tony holds his hand out towards the front seat and snaps his fingers.

Happy grumbles, but takes it off with considerable effort. He’s a little too big to be moving around that much in the driver’s seat. Once it’s finally off, he hands it back, and Tony throws it over Peter’s head.

“Happy, you smell weird,” Peter says once he’s surrounded by the coat.

“Shut it, kid,” Happy says. “Get out of the car, both of you.”

Chapter Text

Tony helps Peter out of the car and puts his arm around him while they’re walking up to the building. Peter can’t see a thing and relies on Tony’s arm around his shoulders to guide him. He can hear the shutters going off and all the questions that are being yelled in their direction, but all Tony says is, “No comment,” and ushers Peter inside.

“Can I take this off now?” Peter asks when the door closes and it’s suddenly very quiet. “I wasn’t kidding when I said Happy smells funny.”

Tony chuckles. “Wait till we get to the elevators. There are big windows here, and they’re still snapping photos outside.”

“Okay,” Peter agrees, and lets Tony lead him around a little longer. He can feel the edge of the elevator doors with his hands, and then Tony turns him around. He goes to take off Happy’s coat when he hears the doors close, but Tony squeezes his arm.

“Just wait a second. I’m pretty sure it’s just the lawyers up here, but just in case, wait a second. Okay?”

“Fine,” Peter grumbles. He’s starting to feel a little claustrophobic, but he can hold off for a few more seconds.

There’s a ding from the elevator, and Peter can hear the doors open. Tony directs him out out onto the floor, and he’s ready to pull the coat from over his head off when he hears the footsteps of fancy shoes against the marble floor.

“Tony, nice to see you,” the strange man says. “Did you kidnap someone?”

Tony laughs, and begins pulling on Happy’s coat, but now Peter is frozen. He knew there were going to be lawyers, but he didn’t think how he would feel about being around strange men. He thought he was getting better, but this feels a little like a setback.

“I suppose I kind of did?” Tony says. “I mean, his aunt knows I was taking him to school, but the media had swarmed the place, so I brought him here with me.” Tony pulls off the coat to reveal a very ruffled Peter Parker. “You okay, bud? Why don’t you text your aunt and tell her what happened and where you are.”

“Um, okay,” Peter says, taking the coat in one arm, and boosting up his backpack with the other. He reaches for his phone while not taking his eyes off the man and then follows him and Tony down a hallway towards a back room. He’s not leaving Tony’s side for a second. And he’s not going to look down at his phone to text May until he’s sure that Tony won’t leave him.

When they reach the small conference room, Tony pulls out a chair for Peter and points to it.

“Are you staying here?” Peter asks quietly, still standing there beside the chair and letting his backpack and Happy’s coat fall down next to it.

Tony pats his back. “Yeah, I’ll be right here,” he says, pulling out the chair right next to Peter’s. “That’s Rick, by the way. He’s the lead attorney on your case. If you want to ask him any questions, you can.”

“Um,” Peter says, glancing at Rick who has taken a seat across from them. He slowly lowers himself into the chair, watching while Tony also sits.

“This is Peter?” Rick says, obviously overhearing their conversation. He stands and holds out his hand. “It’s nice to finally meet you. Tony speaks the world of you.”

It surprises Peter how much he does not want to shake Rick’s hand. Tony picks up on it, and gestures that Rick should sit back down. Peter feels embarrassed and inadequate and suddenly feels like he would rather face the media than shake this man’s hand. Then again, he’s not getting any sort of weird vibes from Rick, which is good. And if Tony trusts him, then that says a lot.

“I’m sorry, sir,” Peter says, trying to make up for not shaking his hand. “It’s nice to meet you, too. Thank you for working on my case.”

“Do you have any questions, Peter?” Rick asks, giving him a gentle expression from across the table.

“Um.” Peter thinks about what he and Tony had discussed earlier that morning. “When am I going to have to give a statement? Do I have to prepare anything in advance?”

Rick glances at Tony, and then looks back at Peter before speaking again. “I’ll try to schedule it soon. I need to call the district attorney later today and see how quickly we can get the ball rolling. Sometimes the defendant tries to delay the trial. We’re going to do everything we can so that doesn’t happen. You’d like this to be over as soon as possible, I imagine?”

Peter nods. “Yesterday, if possible, sir.”

Rick and Tony both laugh, and then Rick clears his throat. “I imagine they’ll be ready for you in a week or so. And you don’t have to have anything prepared. Just answer all the questions truthfully and do your best.”

Peter wants to exit this conversation. He has all the information he needs at the moment, and he doesn’t want to work himself up thinking about it when that won’t change anything. “I think I’m going to text May now,” he says quietly to Tony.

“You got your earbuds?” Tony asks. “Why don’t you put them in while Rick and I talk a little, huh? Mostly about the Accords, which has nothing to do with you, so you don’t have to worry about it.”

Peter nods and reaches down in the front pocket of his backpack for his earbuds. His day has gone from weird to weirder. It’s his own case that he doesn’t really want to listen to. He wants to know everything he can about the Accords. But Tony is really smart and observant, so he doesn’t suppose he can get away with just pretending to listen to music. He pushes the earbuds into his ears and turns on his music, making sure it’s at a low volume. He thinks he can maybe hear a little bit and piece some things together that way. Tony doesn’t know exactly how good his hearing is, after all. Then he occupies himself with sending May a text to let her know what happened and playing games on his phone while he tries to listen in on the conversation about the Accords.

Tony projects page after page of a document onto a white wall beside the table they’re sitting at, and Peter pretends not to be reading it, but it’s hard. Especially because he catches Tony watching him, so he ducks back into his seat and stares at his phone again. So far, the Accords seem like a bunch of rules and regulations for the Avengers and any other enhanced individual recognized by the federal government. It’s mostly what Peter expected, but now he’s wondering just how long he can stay under the radar. He has some questions for Tony when they get back to the car. He definitely wants and needs to be Spider-man again. It’s just that he needs to figure out his other stuff first.

What he doesn’t realize is that after lunch, two federal agents are meeting Tony in the very same conference room along with two of the lawyers. Tony seems a little hesitant to allow Peter to listen in on this conversation, but when he suggests that Peter wait in the lobby, Peter grabs his cuff and holds on with all of his strength. He gives Tony his best pleading eyes until Tony sighs and puts his arm around him.

“Okay, okay,” Tony says in a low voice while he leads Peter back to the conference room. “I don’t mind you talking in front of the lawyers. I pay them to keep all my secrets, so they’re trustworthy. But under no circumstance will you say anything other than ‘hello’ and other such pleasantries when you are the company of the agents. I don’t want them getting any ideas. If anyone asks, I’m your mentor, and you’re part of the internship program at SI. They’re not stupid, so they’ll know about what happened with the media this morning. If you need my attention, call me Mr Stark. Got it?”

Peter nods. “Don’t say much of anything. Call you Mr Stark. Got it. What if they ask me personal questions?”

“Put your earbuds in and act like you can’t hear them.”

Peter looks up at him with raised eyebrows.

“Yeah, that’s right, Spidey,” Tony says, squeezing his shoulder. “I know you were listening to every word we said in that Accords meeting. You’re lucky I trust you.”

Peter smiles guiltily. “To be honest, this is probably one of the most boring times I’ve ever skipped school. I worked ahead in all my classes. I’ll probably just watch youtube for awhile since I have nothing better to do.”

“Okay, good. That’s fine. Why don’t you grab your things and sit over by the windows. Then when they come in, just wave and go back to your stuff. That way you won’t have to talk to them at all.”

Peter picks his backpack up from the floor and then looks back at Tony. “What are you going to tell them?”

“What we discussed before. You’re my intern, there was a media mix up at your school so I brought you with.”

“What if they want me to leave the room?”

“Then I’ll have Happy come and sit with you,” Tony says after thinking about it for a second. “In fact, I’m going to text him now and tell him to be in the area, just in case that happens. Does that work for you?”

Peter nods, but bites his lip while he thinks about it. He’d rather stay with Tony, but he knows that Happy will make sure nothing bad happens, too.

But after the FBI agents and the two lawyers enter the room, Peter has made himself comfortable on the floor in the corner of the room. He has all his things spread out and is sitting cross legged while he watches a dumb video on his Stark pad. The agents wave at him and smile at him, but besides asking Tony a few questions about his internship, they say nothing more about him. Peter probably thinks he looks a little younger than he actually is, and in this situation, it doesn’t particularly bother him. At least he doesn’t have to leave Tony, and that’s all that really matters to him at that moment.

The only thing about the meeting that concerns him is towards the end when one of the agents brings up Spider-man. Tony stays calm and collected. He insists that he doesn’t know much about Spider-man, but is pretty sure he’s just a kid. Peter thinks that maybe he’s trying to get them to overlook the issue, and he’s right when that’s exactly what the agents do, except Peter notices that one of them is writing quite a few notes in his notebook.

It’s a little scary. Are they going to try to track him down? Will Tony get into trouble for lying to the feds? He has to do his breathing exercises and then try his best to focus on his video in order to calm himself down. The last thing he needs right now is a panic attack.

~*~

“You did really well in there,” Tony says once they’re safely back in the back of one of his Audis. Peter’s hair looks incredibly tousled now that Happy’s coat has messed it up once more, and it’s adorable. “I’m proud of you, bud.”

Peter passes the sports jacket back to Happy who has his hand held out from the front seat. “I don’t know why,” he mutters. “I was kind of pathetic.”

“Some of what they were talking about in there was pretty scary,” Tony says, signaling to Happy that they should head back to the Tower. Luckily for them, the media had given up for the day. If they were waiting for them back at the Tower, it wouldn’t even be a big deal. That place was a fortress. Tony had made sure of it.

“Actually I have a few questions about that,” Peter says quietly, picking at a string that’s coming undone from his backpack. “Are they going to find me? And what happens if they do?”

“Over my dead body will they do anything to you,” Tony says, feeling an anger bubble up inside him. “I’d like to see them try, actually. No, wait. Scratch that. I do not want to see them try. But don’t worry, kid. I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that never happens.”

Peter is still and quiet while he stares out the window. “Sounds like all of this is going to make it a lot harder for me to be Spider-man. I’m not sure I like the Accords.”

“The Accords are for adults, Pete,” Tony says. “Not you. They don’t know how old Spider-man is. If they did, they wouldn’t even be asking. I promise.” Though to be honest, Tony isn’t exactly sure of that himself. Of course, they can’t force Peter to sign anything since he’s a minor, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t do other things to… contain him and his powers. The thought terrifies Tony.

“I’m not really ready to put the suit on yet anyway,” Peter mumbles, but doesn’t look at him. “Clearly, I’m still so messed up that I can’t be in the same room with adult men without you right there with me. So I’m a little crazy to even think I could run around Queens stopping crime all the time.”

Tony sighs. He doesn’t want Peter to feel this way. He wants Peter to feel sure about himself and secure with the people around him. “Oh shit,” he says, putting his hand to his face. “I forgot about your therapy appointment. May is going to kill me.”

“You want me to turn around?” Happy says from the front seat.

“No, no. We’re already late. I’m not sure I should bring Pete there anyway with the media out for blood. I better call May.”

After he gets off the phone with Peter’s really irritated aunt, who was already at Dr Caldwell’s office waiting for them, he phones the doctor herself and arranges a session with her for that evening at the Tower.

“Pretty sure you’re the only person who can get anyone they want to show up at wherever you want them,” Peter says when he disconnects the call.

Tony just smiles at him. Of course, money talks. Everyone knows that. Peter is right. He can get whoever he wants to be wherever he wants them to be, but if he wasn’t Tony Stark, then he wouldn’t have had to do any of the other things that prevented them from getting to Peter’s therapy appointment. So really, he ends up having to use some of his wealth to pay for the price of his fame and fortune. It kind of sucks, but there it is.

When they get to the Tower, May is already there in the kitchen, putting a snack together on the center island countertop. It looks to be a spread of fruit, cheese, and crackers. Something that she can’t possibly screw up.

“You know, I did feed him today,” Tony says, leaning against the counter while Peter tosses his backpack down by the door so he can grab a few apple slices.

“And surprise of all surprises,” May says, giving him a forced smile, “he’s still hungry. What do you know?”

Peter, having demolished several apple slices, is now going for the cheese and crackers. “I’m starving, May. Thanks. Oh, and yes, Tony did feed me. A lot actually. He made me pancakes and sausages for breakfast and for lunch we ate subs. It’s been kind of a stressful day.”

“He’s trying to say he burned his way through calories by being chased by paparazzi and worrying about things,” Tony says. “He’s okay though, aren’t you, Pete?”

“I’m fine,” Peter says with his mouth stuffed with cheese.

“Oh, by the way, I phoned Dr Caldwell. She’s coming around seven see to him anyway,” Tony says to May.

May’s eyes widen, and her jaw almost drops. “She’s coming here? Because you were late bringing him to his session? How much did that cost?”

Tony gives her a tight smile. She sounds a little angry with him, and he doesn’t like the way Peter looks up, extremely curious from his food and stops chewing. “Ah, Pete, why don’t you take that into the living room? When you’re done, call Ned and ask him if there’s any homework assignments you have that he knows about.”

“Not fair,” Peter mumbles, but takes the plate with him and leaves the room anyway.

“Let’s not talk figures,” Tony says when Peter is safely tucked away in the living room. He and Dr Caldwell hadn’t even discussed figures. He figured he would do that later when they could have a private conversation, far away from spider-ears. “It was my fault we were running late, so I fixed it. End of story.”

“No, no, not end of story.” May moves so she’s standing opposite him on the other side of the counter. “We’ve taken advantage of you and your checkbook enough. Call her back and see if there are any openings for tomorrow. I know you’ll be busy tomorrow, but I can take him. I have tomorrow off, so it’ll work. And starting next week, my new schedule starts You know, the one you insisted upon?”

“Things might be a little crazy around here tomorrow,” Tony says, ignoring her comment about her schedule. He knows he’s changing the subject, but having Peter and May hanging around the Tower probably isn’t the best idea since Cap and who knows what other rogue Avengers might be joining him there. He doesn’t want to tell May all the details because technically she’s a civilian, and he doesn’t want to involve her in something where it’s best she stays out of it. Then again, he doesn’t want the media circus stalking Peter if he leaves the Tower, either. This is a mess. A complete disaster. And on top of that all, Peter knows just about everything that’s going on after he sat through all the meetings today and pretended not to listen to every single word that was spoken. He was going to fight tooth and nail to be there.

“Tomorrow?” she says. “What about today? Tony, the world thinks that Peter is your biological son. Now, I wasn’t there when Peter was conceived, thank God, but I’m pretty sure we can say that that isn’t true.”

He shrugs and looks away from her. “That was kind of a weird time in my life. I can’t exactly say, to be honest. I did spend some time in New York here and there back then—”

Tony!” she says a little louder than necessary, but it does the job of making him look at her. “What are you going to do about this?”

“Let it blow over,” he says, giving another shrug. “This isn’t the first time someone has tried to say I’ve fathered a child.”

She raises an eyebrow. “But I’m guessing it’s the first time you’ve acted like anyone’s father. You think that might make it a bit more believable?”

Tony was stunned into silence for a second. He hadn’t actually gotten that far in his thoughts yet. “Okay, so you have a point. If it doesn’t blow over, we’ll hold a press conference. They’re going to leave him alone. Don’t worry. I’ll make sure of it. We’ll just have to have a conversation with him about holding off on Spider-man for a while. Don’t want the media catching him swinging through a window at the Tower or anything.” Not to mention with the Accords going on, it would be the worst time ever for anyone to figure out his identity. But he wasn’t going to tell May that. Yet. No need to worry her if he didn’t need to.

“Alright,” she says after a moment of thinking it over. “I agree with you. No more Spider-man until this all blows over.”

What? I thought that was my decision?” Peter is standing in the doorway where he’s holding an empty plate. “Like, when I’m ready, I could make the decision for myself.”

“Were you listening in there?” May asks, a hand on her hip.

“I just came in to get something to drink.” Peter sets the plate down and then looks to Tony. “Do we have any soda left?”

Tony sighs. “Were you listening, Peter?”

“You know I can’t help it,” he says softly and makes his way towards the fridge. When neither one of them say anything, he grabs a can of Coke from the fridge and turns around to face them. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to. But can’t I be a part of this decision? Like at all?”

“Put that can back, Mister!” May says pointing to the fridge before Tony can reply. “Take something without caffeine.”

Tony clears his throat. “No caffeine after school when you have a sleeping problem.”

Peter puts it back, and grabs a can of Sprite instead. “So if I don’t have a sleeping problem, I can have it?”

Tony is about to say something when May speaks up. “No, no you may not. You know the rules. Take that and your homework to your room and close the door. We’re trying to have a private conversation, and it’s not okay for you to listen in, and it’s definitely not okay to talk back to us.”

Peter lets out a long sigh and then makes his way to where he’s left is backpack. “Fine.”

“I’ll come talk to you before Dr Caldwell gets here,” Tony says just as Peter’s at the threshold to the living room.

“Yes, mom and dad,” Peter grumbles without looking back. “Geez.”

Tony and May look at each other once they hear his bedroom door shut.

“Good job,” May says, holding up her hand for a high five. “Way to be on the same page.”

Tony gives her a weak high five. “Am I his dad?”

She picks up a slice of a banana that Peter missed from the plate and shoves it into her mouth. “Basically.”

Chapter Text

“Hey,” Peter says when Ned answers the phone. “Sorry about today. I wasn’t expecting that at all.”

“Wow, Peter,” Ned says, his voice sounding somewhere between excited and cautious. “There were so many reporters in the school parking lot. I could barely get to the door. Apparently they saw us hanging out somewhere or something because they were asking me a ton of questions and wouldn’t leave me alone until I went inside.”

“You didn’t tell them anything, did you?”

“No! Of course not!” Ned pauses. “Well, maybe I did say that you’re my best friend. I probably shouldn’t have said that because when I got home they were waiting for me. My dad had to call the cops. He was not happy.”

Peter’s face falls while he thinks about the consequences. Is he not going to be able to go over to Ned’s anymore? Will Ned not be able to visit him at the Tower? Will he and May never get to go back to their apartment in Queens ever again? What about all the stuff they left there? Surely Tony would take care of it, right? “I’m sorry,” he says to Ned at last. “I hope your dad isn’t too mad at me.”

“He’s not mad at you, Peter,” Ned says immediately. “He knows this isn’t your fault. He’s kind of mad at Mr Stark though. He actually asked me if you were his biological kid. Are you?”

“What?” Peter says a little more loudly than he wants to. “No! Of course not! We don’t even look alike!”

“Ah, you kind of do. A little, anyway. There was this article posted online that had your photos side by side. It was a little convincing.”

“Well, I’m not. God, Ned, I can’t believe you would fall for that. You’ve only known me for like ever. I’m not his biological kid.” Peter pauses because he feels a little like he’s betraying Tony by saying that. “I guess I’m kind of his kid… but not biologically. That would be weird.”

“Oh, okay. That makes sense,” Ned says. “But why doesn’t Mr Stark just tell them that then?”

“This literally happened today,” Peter says, stressing each syllable so Ned gets it. “He hasn’t had a chance. He has a lot of other things to deal with. Remember that secret Avenger stuff I was telling you about? He’s sort of busy.”

“I’m dying to find out what that is, by the way. But I know you can’t tell me, so I won’t ask again. Unless maybe things have changed?”

“Nothing has changed, Ned,” Peter says, already getting tired of this conversation. “Anyway, I called because I wanted to know if there was any homework assignments I missed. I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to go to school tomorrow. I’m hoping I can on Monday though.”

“That sucks, dude,” Ned says, but gives Peter his missing assignments. Once they hang up, Peter is left staring at his text books, not really feeling like doing the assignments right then. He’s feels like he’s been working on homework all day anyway.

He’s about to turn the television on when there’s a quiet knock at his door.

“Come in,” he says, glancing up at the door from the remote.

The door opens, and then Tony is standing there with a half smile on his face.”Is it okay if we talk for a second now?”

“We talk all the time,” Peter says, a little exasperated, but then scoots over on his bed. “Yeah, sure. But only if it’s for a second, like you said.”

“Ha ha, very funny, smartass,” Tony says and sits down on the end of Peter’s bed. “Sorry about the caffeine thing, but you have to admit it’s not a very good idea when you already have trouble sleeping.”

“I know,” Peter mutters, turning off the display on his phone and setting it on the bed. “And it’s you who has to deal with me all night since May has to go to work, so I should probably listen to you.”

“Yeah, probably,” Tony agrees. “Hey, look on the bright side. We didn’t ban hot chocolate. You can have as much of that as you want. But I didn’t come in here to talk about your drink choices. I wanted to talk about Spider-man.”

“Oh.” Peter looks up at him. He feels really bad about the whole Spider-man thing. On one hand, he wants to go back to how it used to be, running around Queens and helping people however he can. He feels like that’s in his bones, in his blood, in his chemical makeup. But on the other hand, he’s a little afraid. And he absolutely hates it.

“Hey,” Tony says, putting his arm around him. “Don’t look like that. It’s gonna be okay. As much as May and I want to take Spider-man away from you, we can’t. He’s a part of you, and he’s not going anywhere. It’s just that temporarily, I think maybe it’s a good idea if he stays inside the Tower. There’s a gym in this building you know, built for superheroes. You can practice and train there. You know, keep in shape and all that stuff. Then when all this nonsense with the Accords is over with, and you’re no longer being rumored to be my secret love child, things can go back to normal.”

Peter puts his cheek against Tony’s chest and tries to take in some good, deep breaths. He knows Tony is right about everything, but knowing that doesn’t stop the internal conflict inside of himself. “What if I can’t be Spider-man anymore?” he finally works up the courage to say. “I mean, what if my anxiety is so bad that I can’t go out there and fight crime anymore?”

For a few long seconds, Tony doesn’t say anything. Then he squeezes Peter’s shoulder. “We should maybe talk to Dr Caldwell about that tonight, huh? Don’t worry, kid. This is something that’s a work in progress. But I promise it gets better, and we’re doing everything we can so it will.”

Peter sniffs. “Yeah, you’re right. I should ask her.” He pulls away from Tony’s hold. “Am I allowed to talk with her about Spider-man? Does she know?”

“She doesn’t specifically know,” Tony says, smiling at him, “but it’s all in the non-disclosure agreement she signed. Something the lawyers wrote about Avengers related activities, blah blah blah.”

“But I’m not an Avenger,” Peter says.

Tony pats his back. “Hey, if I send her superheroes, then it’s Avenger related. So don’t worry.”

Peter’s eyes widen. Does that make him an Avenger? Maybe an honorary Avenger? He grins, thinking about it. “So I’m basically an Avenger,” he says, flexing his bicep.

Tony pulls his arm back down to his side. “Let’s hold our horses there, spider-kid. When you’re eighteen, we’ll talk again. Besides, I’m trying to keep your name off the Accords. That’s why we have to stay under the radar for now. Also, let’s not tell your aunt about that, okay? She doesn’t need to worry about it unless it happens since there’s technically nothing she can do about it.”

“Okay, fine,” Peter says, shaking Tony’s hands off his arm. “I won’t say a word to Aunt May about the Accords. I wasn’t planning on it anyway.”

Tony grabs him and hugs him tight. “When your secret keeping skills improve, I’ll leave it to your discretion. Until then, you get regular reminders.”

Peter gasps. “I am the best secret keeper I know! Six whole people know about Spider-man. Let me tell you, that is a great feat!” He didn’t exactly include Michelle in that estimate, but he doesn’t know for sure if she knows, and he figures the lower the number the better, so he just goes with it.

“Yeah, for you,” Tony says, releasing him and then ruffling his hair before standing up. “Finish up your homework, smarty pants. We’ll come get you for dinner.”

~*~

Peter’s therapy session goes just fine. He talks to Dr Caldwell about Spider-man and what it means to him to be Queen’s hero. He touches on how he feels if he can’t go swinging around the city, and she tells him that he’s a teenager, and he can’t hold himself responsible for not stopping the crimes of strangers. Honestly, he’s heard it before from both Tony and May, and no matter how many times anyone says it, he will still feel responsible. Sometimes he can’t sleep at night knowing that people are hurt or dead just because he wasn’t there to help him.

It’s a lot.

But then she asks him if he would blame Tony for not being there to stop something awful, and he kind of sees her point. Of course that wouldn’t be Tony’s fault. Tony would one hundred percent be there if he could, but there’s no possible way he can be everywhere, especially when he’s been so busy with Peter lately.

And then he sees her point. It’s a double standard. He expects more out of himself than he expects from those he loves, and he definitely needs to stop doing that. It’s not fair to himself.

He’s just not sure he can.

They talk about breathing exercises and some tips and tricks to help Peter through things like the media circus probably waiting for him outside as well as for when he has to give his statement in court. All in all, it’s very helpful, and he leaves the session feeling like he’s got things a little more under control.

He spends the rest of his night curled between May and Tony on the couch with a giant bowl of popcorn on his lap and taking turns picking movies. Miss Potts gets home late and puts blankets over them all before tiptoeing to her bedroom. Peter knows it was her because he wakes up for a second and sees her placing a soft kiss to Mr Stark’s forehead.

And it’s a good thing they stopped to have movie night, because days following that are nowhere near as pleasant.

Peter wakes up the next day alone on the couch. He’s tucked in like a burrito probably by the combined efforts of every single adult in the penthouse, and he’s sweating, so he gets up to take a shower and change his clothes before drifting to the kitchen to look for breakfast.

Miss Potts is sitting at the counter eating a piece of toast and some fruit when she notices him and looks up. “Oh, I’m glad you’re awake,” she says, getting up to put two pieces of toast in the toaster for him, too. “It’s kind of a busy day today. Tony already had to leave for some meetings, and your aunt went to work. I’m due downstairs in—” She looks at her watch. “—ten minutes. So you’re kind of on your own today. But I’ll be in the building if you need anything, so don’t hesitate to text me.” She pushes the bowl of fruit on the table towards him. “And if you don’t like anything we have for lunch here, just tell FRIDAY, and she’ll order whatever you want. One of the interns can bring it up to you. I think with all the media stuff happening lately, it’s best if you stay up here.”

“Okay,” Peter says, a little overwhelmed. He knows Miss Potts is a busy woman, but that was a lot of information all at once, and he’s still kind of waking up. “When will Tony be home?”

“I’m not sure, dear.” She sets a plate and the butter along with a knife by the toaster. “But you can text him. He’ll be able to reply to you by at least lunch time, I would hope.”

“Okay, thanks, Miss Potts,” He says and begins to peel a banana. Being home from school isn’t really all that fun if he has to spend it alone.

Miss Potts grabs her briefcase and then steps around the counter so she can brush a damp curl from his forehead. “Like I said, don’t hesitate to text me if you need anything. Also, consider Happy on call, too. He’s carting Tony around today, but he’s not far from here.”

“I’ll be fine,” he says through his mouthful of banana. “Have fun at your meetings!”

“Thanks, Peter. Have a good day!” She steps out of the kitchen and around the corner towards the elevator.

When he hears the elevator doors open and close, and then the gears, pulling it down towards the conference room floors, he lets out a sigh. He’s already done all his homework, and Ned is at school, so now that Pepper has left, he settles in for a boring day.

Peter: I didn’t know you were going to be gone all day. What am I supposed to do here?

Tony: Sorry, Pete. When I scheduled all this stuff, I thought you’d be in school. I should be home by 2 though. Don’t forget to order lunch.

Peter: Yeah but what am I supposed to DO?? I’m bored

Tony: I don’t know. Play video games? Watch TV? Go back to bed and sleep till noon like a normal teenager? You could go play in the gym 3 floors down. No one will be in there so you can Spidey it up all you want.

Peter: I didn’t know I could go down there without you. Maaaaaybe that might be fun. I’ll let you know

Tony: Okay, just be careful. I don’t want you to get hurt.

Peter: I promise I won’t. I’m always careful

Tony: Yeah okay. I’ll check in with you later. Meeting is starting. Love you.

Peter sends three different heart emojis and then finishes his breakfast. Toast and fruit is just fine. In fact, most days he just eats a giant bowl of cereal or a few granola bars. It’s just that he kind of got used to Tony spoiling him. He knows that Tony wasn’t planning on him being home, but he feels a little sad about it… a little lonely, maybe. So he decides to distract himself with Tony’s suggestion of going down to the gym. He’s been there a few times when Tony was trying to gage his strength or test his powers, and once when he was so wound up that Tony had made him run laps until he wore the energy off, but this is the first time he’s been there by himself.

So it’s of course a little different. The gym is big and quiet, and every footstep echos around the walls. He decides to lift some weights, but the ones made for Captain America aren’t even heavy enough to give him any real resistance. The bar ends up breaking under all the weight he put on both ends, but he doesn’t get hurt and figures Tony won’t be too mad about it. Once he has all the weights put away and the broken bar sitting on the bench, he decides to run. But running around a track without anything interesting to look at is pretty boring, so he slips on his webshooters and decides to climb the walls instead. The gym is is about three stories tall so he gets a little height, but once he gets to the ceiling he realizes there is nothing to swing to. He spends a little time crawling around the ceiling and then drops down.

By noon, he’s starving, so he asks Friday to order him some Chinese food.

“FRIDAY,” he says after she’s placed the order. “What did Miss Potts mean when she said someone would bring it up to me? Who is going to bring it up to me and how will they know it’s for me when it arrives.”

“I’ll tell them, Peter. Miss Potts left instructions with the front desk, so they’re already aware that you might be ordering some food.”

“Okay, good,” Peter says and makes his way to the living room to take it over and find something to watch for when his food arrives. He sends a text to Tony saying that he’ll save him some food and then promptly gets absorbed in a streamed series.

It’s not until the elevator doors open that he realizes something is wrong.

“Chinese delivery for Peter?” A guy’s voice says from across the living room.

Peter has to turn around and look over the back of the couch to see the guy standing there with a bag of food and holding onto a beat up looking phone. He’s kind of scruffy looking and has a good sized pot belly. On top of his head is a hat bearing the logo of the Chinese restaurant Peter ordered from.

“You’re just a normal kid,” The guy says, looking from his phone to Peter. “I don’t know why everyone wants pictures of you.”

“I thought someone from the front desk was supposed to bring that up,” is all Peter can think to say.

The delivery guy shrugs and snaps a few more pictures. “They were busy and said I could come up. Here’s your food.” He pockets the phone and holds the bag out towards Peter.

Peter doesn’t know what to do. It’s just one guy, but he was taking photos of Peter without asking permission. It feels a little more than creepy. And being that he’s alone in the penthouse, he would rather tell the whole world his superhero identity than take a single step closer to this man. “You can--um, why don’t you leave it there,” he says, his fingers clutching to the back of the couch. Why the hell did he put his webshooters away?

The man gives him this smile like he thinks Peter’s a little crazy. “Okay, buddy. Sure,” he says, placing the bag of food next to where he’s standing on the floor.

Peter wants to scream. He hates that this guy is using a nickname that Tony uses. “Okay, now you can leave,” he says, hoping his voice doesn’t sound as shaky as he feels.

“Enjoy your food,” the guy says and turns to walk away. His eyes find Peter’s once more when he turns around in the elevator, and just before the doors close, he snaps a few more photos.

The doors finally close, and Peter has lost his appetite entirely. He’s practically shaking when he says, “FRIDAY, make sure no one else stops at this floor unless it’s Tony or Miss Potts or my aunt. And please tell Tony what happened.” He pauses and then whispers to himself, “I don’t know what to do.”

He’s still frozen, kneeling on the couch and staring at the bag of food sitting on the shining hard wood floor when his phone rings. He digs it out of his pocket and puts it to his ear. “Hello?”

“Peter, what is going on? FRIDAY just sent me an alert saying that the delivery guy was in the penthouse taking pictures of you? Are you kidding me? And more importantly, are you okay?”

“I think so,” Peter says a little numbly. The feeling is coming back to his fingers and toes now that Tony’s voice is in ear. “I told FRIDAY to not let anyone but you, Miss Potts, and May off on this floor. But Tony, the guy left the food here. I don’t know what to do.”

“Stay right where you are,” Tony says. “That alarm kind of put an end to this last meeting, so I’ll be there in ten minutes depending on how quickly Happy pulls the car around. The Tower is on lock down, and Friday is working on deleting those photos from that man’s phone as we speak. As long as he hasn’t sent them anywhere, no one is ever going to see them.”

“Okay,” Peter says, sinking a little ways back into the couch. Just knowing that Tony is on his way back makes him feel better. “So I'm going to leave the food right where it is, right?”

“I’ll take care of when I get home.” Tony says.

In the background of the call, Peter can hear a door shutting and then some wind, followed by the sound of a car door opening.

“Happy’s here. Why don’t we stay on the phone?” Tony says gently. “It’ll just be a few minutes now, anyway.”

“Okay,” Peter agrees. He sits down sideways and props his arms up on the top of the couch so he can watch the elevator. He feels like he would know if someone were on their way up, and he kind of did before, but he wants a little more warning. He thinks if he’s paying attention and not engrossed in some stupid show on TV, then maybe he can be a little more ahead of the game.

Tony clears his throat. “Why don’t you tell me what you did today. So far, I mean.”

That seems like so long ago to Peter, that it takes him a second to pull it up in his memory. “I went to the gym like you suggested. It was pretty boring by myself. Oh, and I broke some of Captain America’s weight equipment.”

“Eh, no sweat. Broke it--how did you break it? You didn’t get hurt, did you?”

“No, I’m fine.” Peter leans against his arm, continuing to stare at the elevator. “It’s just that Captain America’s weights weren’t heavy enough so I kept trying to fit more on the bar. Then it broke. Nothing fell on me or anything, and I picked everything up. He might need another bar though. If he comes back.”

Tony chuckles. “Kid, you are something else. One day I want you to tell him that. Just make sure I’m in the room because I need to see it. Okay?”

Peter lets the corners of his mouth curl up a little. “Okay, I will. If he comes back that is. Otherwise, I might not ever see him again.”

“We’re pulling into the garage. I have to go fire whoever let that guy up to the penthouse, but give me five minutes, okay? The next time the elevator door opens it’s going to be me and Happy.”

“Okay. Thanks, Tony.”

“See you soon, Pete.”

They say goodbye and disconnect the call, and Peter is left back in the silence of the penthouse while he continues to stare at the elevator. About five minutes later he can hear the gears of the elevator turning and pulling it up towards the penthouse. He knows it’s Tony, but his heart is still racing until the doors open and Tony and Happy emerge.

Peter jumps over the back of the couch and runs to Tony, throwing his arms around him. He doesn’t realize how tense he really was until Tony’s arms circle around him, and he finally takes in some full breaths.

“You’re okay,” Tony says while Happy makes a loop around the discarded Chinese food on the floor.

“Definitely smells like Chinese food,” Happy says. “I probably wouldn’t eat it though. Just in case. You never know what some weirdos are up to. That guy might have just used the opportunity to get a few pics and came off as a creep, or someone may have intercepted the actual delivery guy outside. Can’t take any chances. You’ll have to eat something else, Peter.”

“Maybe I’ll just make a sandwich,” Peter says against Tony’s shoulder.

Tony gives his back a few pats. “I’m proud of you, kiddo. You handled that really well, and you’re doing great. From what I saw briefly on the security footage, he looked pretty creepy. I probably would have blasted him back into the elevator. You handled it so maturely, and I’m so proud.”

“You want me to send this out for testing?” Happy says, picking up the bag of food with his handkerchief. “Or should I bring it downstairs and put it in the dumpster?”

“Use your best judgement,” Tony says and then pulls away from Peter, leading him in the direction of the kitchen. “I’m sick of sandwiches. How about pancakes for lunch? We can make them together.”

“Testing it is,” Happy says from behind them. “Let me know if you need anything else. Otherwise I’ll see you tomorrow. Sorry that happened, Peter.”

Peter turns to look at him from over his shoulder. “Thanks, Happy.”

“Bye, Hap!” Tony says and pushes Peter the rest of the way into the kitchen. “You sit down. I’m going to get you something to drink.”

Chapter Text

Tony keeps to his word and fires not only one, but two people--the intern who let them up to the penthouse suite, and the receptionist, who stood by and watched it happen. They’re just waiting on the results of the food Happy sent in for testing, but in the meantime, Tony is very hesitant to leave Peter alone. To remedy this, Tony reschedules all of his meetings at the Tower. He doesn’t care if he has to pay people extra. He doesn’t want to leave Peter alone right now. The kid can physically protect himself, Tony thinks, but emotionally, he’s still healing, and he doesn’t want him to come across any unnecessary scares to slow down his progress. It’s already going to be stressful enough with the rogue Avengers most likely returning any day now, and Peter’s statement for court which is no doubt right around the corner as well.

With Pepper out of town for a few days and May working the last of the extra shifts she had picked up before cutting her hours, Tony is on his own when the first night after the photo taking delivery guy broke in, Peter wakes up from what appears to be a really awful nightmare.

“Hey, bud,” he says, sitting down on the edge of Peter’s bed and cautiously reaching out a hand.

Peter is curled in on himself, his legs pulled up to his chest and his arms wrapped around his knees. His face is buried in the crook of his elbow, and he’s practically shaking. He freezes for just a second when Tony’s hand touches his back, and then he leans into him.

Tony gathers him up until he can tuck Peter’s head under his chin and then rubs his arm. “You’re okay. You want the lights on a little?”

Peter shakes his head. “I don’t want to—Let’s just not talk about it.”

“We don’t have to talk about it,” Tony says. “You just tell me what you want. A movie? We can turn some stupid show on your TV. Do you want me to stay? You don’t have to be anywhere in the morning, so you can stay up if you want.”

It’s quiet for a few moments, and then Peter says, “What about you? Do you have to be anywhere in the morning?”

“Just one meeting, but it’s at ten. Here at the Tower. It’s one now, so if we watch a movie or something, no big deal. I can take a nap later or something. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be just fine.”

Peter sniffs. “Okay, let’s watch a movie. But if you fall asleep, that’s okay.”

Tony grabs a box of tissues from the nightstand and hands them to Peter. “Do you want a snack? Some water? Hot chocolate?”

When Peter’s done blowing his nose, he looks at Tony through the darkness, his eyes still shining with tears. “I’m fine, Tony. You don’t have to wait on me. I can go get my own drink.”

“I don’t have to, but I want to. Unless you want to come to the kitchen with me, because I could definitely use some water.” Tony knows that Peter would have been okay without him, but he just wants to make it as easy as possible for the kid. It kills him to see Peter cry, and he’ll do whatever he has to do to make it better.

“Okay,” Peter says, shoving the box of tissues off his lap and climbing out of bed to follow Tony to the kitchen.

They make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with way too much jelly and then eat them over Pepper’s favorite china on Peter’s bed. Then with the dishes stacked neatly on the nightstand, neither of them can stay awake to finish out the movie. FRIDAY ends up turning the television off when it’s clear that neither Tony nor Peter are going to turn it off themselves.

~*~

The next day, Happy sends out an email to the entire staff at the Tower, educating them on who should be let up on certain floors, and then spends two whole days fielding email replies with questions and concerns from various staff members. On Thursday, he gets the results of the food testing back from the lab, and thankfully, no one was trying to poison Peter.

Tony is relieved. It makes him think that maybe it was just a weird delivery guy who spotted an opportunity as opposed to a dirty paparazzo looking to sell scandalous photos to a trash magazine. In any case, he has his already busy legal team send a letter to the restaurant, informing them of what their employee has done and notify them that no one from their establishment is allowed on Stark Industries premises ever again.

Surprisingly, this is the least stressful thing he deals with. Between the pending return of the rogue Avengers and keeping Peter occupied and calm throughout the week, he definitely has his hands full. It also doesn’t help that the stranger just wandering into the penthouse has made Peter’s nightmares worse. Tony is tired and stressed, and because Pepper isn’t there anyway, he doesn’t fight it and just plans on sleeping in Peter’s room, protecting him from whatever nightmares he doesn’t want to talk about.

“What happens tomorrow?” Peter says quietly when he’s supposed to be falling asleep on Thursday night. “Are all the rogue Avengers coming back? Or will it just be Captain America?”

Tony has avoided telling Peter the details. He doesn’t want Peter to know exactly what’s happening because if it doesn’t happen, or if something else happens, he doesn’t want him to be disappointed.

“It would help me to know so I can mentally prepare myself,” Peter adds, no doubt sensing Tony’s reluctance to spill the details. “Really not a fan of surprises right now.”

Tony has his hands behind his head and is staring up at the ceiling. He supposes he should talk to May about all this first, but he’s been busy, and May has been busy, and this is all literally going down tomorrow, so at this point, he’s not sure what kind of choice he has in the matter. It would almost be cruel to not tell Peter.

“Okay, bud,” Tony says after taking in a deep breath and then rolling to his side a little.

Peter is curled up in his blankets, his curly head resting on his pillow, and his big brown eyes are looking at Tony expectedly.

“So they’re coming tomorrow, hopefully around eleven. And I’m not one hundred percent sure exactly which Avengers will be showing up, but for sure Steve, and I’m thinking probably Barnes, and Wilson. Maybe Nat and Clint. I don’t know. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.”

Peter’s eyes are shining at him. “Will they be moving in tomorrow if everyone agrees?”

“I don’t know, really. It’s a possibility. I had the staff go through their suites and do some heavier cleaning, so everything should be ready if that’s the case.”

“Yeah, but what about me? Am I going to see them?”

Tony tucks the blankets around Peter a little tighter while he thinks. “That depends on how willing they are to sign non-disclosure agreements about you. Do you want to see them? Would they make you uncomfortable?”

Peter smiles. “I’m a little too tucked in now.”

“It’s okay,” Tony says, leaning up onto his elbow so he can tuck Peter in on the other side. “This way I can keep you safe. See? Look how safe you are. I won’t ever have to worry again.”

“Ha ha, very funny.” Peter rolls his eyes but does not struggle out of the blankets, which he no doubtedly could easily do. “But to answer your question, I don’t think they’d make me uncomfortable. I trust them if you trust them.”

“Yeah, let’s wait on the trust thing,” Tony pats his shoulder. “In the meantime, they can be around you only when I’m there. Are you okay with that?”

Peter nods. “Maybe with all the Accords stuff over with, you can be around more. I kind of missed you this week.”

“Kid, I literally came running when you called. We ate together and watched movies and worked in the lab, and I didn’t even leave you when you were sleeping. Don’t I get any credit for that?”

“Yeah, but you were at meetings a lot. Even if they were at the Tower,” Peter says, shrugging. “It’s really boring here by myself when everyone is at work.”

“Well, next week you can go back to school, hopefully.”

Peter breaks out of his blankets a little and scoots closer to Tony. “I’ve thought about that,” he says, waiting for Tony to put his arm down so he can lean against his shoulder. “Do you think the press are going to be there like before? How am I even going to get inside if they are?”

“Security detail.” Tony reaches over to give his hair a ruffle. “Don’t worry about any of that. I’m equipped to get you in and out of wherever you have to be without incident. Once you’re in the school, I think everything should be okay. We can have Happy lurk around a little to make sure. I don’t want to cramp your nerdy style.”

Peter groans. “This is so weird. I used to be a normal kid. Now I’m a superhero living with the Avengers and having security follow me to school because the media thinks you’re my dad.”

“Close your eyes,” Tony says, poking his shoulder. “No nightmares tonight. We’ll take things one day at a time. Tomorrow we deal with the rogues, and then after that, we’ll worry about school and the media. It’s going to be okay, Pete. I promise.”

“I’m not really tired,” Peter says, but he cuddles more against Tony’s side anyway. “No nightmares if I don’t sleep.”

“Shh,” Tony hushes. “No nightmares if I’m here to scare them away.”

~*~

Peter’s week has been all over the place. On one hand, he’s had such a great few days hanging out with Tony, finally giving in to letting the man spoil him rotten. It’s just so much easier than fighting it when he’s already so exhausted from that delivery creep and the awful nightmares he’s been having.

The pending arrival of the rogue Avengers distracts him from all these thoughts when he wakes up and makes his way to the kitchen to find something to eat.

“Morning, Pete,” Tony says from the other side of the counter where he’s leaning over a donut and a cup of coffee while he reads something on his phone. When he sits up to smile at him, Peter notices he’s still wearing his pajamas.

“You didn’t tell me what time the meeting with the other Avengers is,” Peter says, hopping up onto a stool. “How long will it be? You’re not going anywhere, are you?”

“Slow down, kid,” Tony says, holding up the hand that isn’t attached to his coffee mug. “Before I give you anymore details, I need you to promise me that you’ll steer clear of the conference rooms. I don’t want you anywhere near those government officials looking to sign up superheroes to the Accords. You understand how important it is that you stay away from all that, right?”

Peter presses his lips together as he formulates an answer. Of course he understands, but that doesn’t mean he likes it. There is nothing he’d rather do than sit in the lobby and watch all the Avengers come in. Besides Captain America on the roof, he hasn’t seen them up close since Germany, and that was different. But yeah, it totally makes sense why Tony would never approve of that. “Spider-man isn’t going to sign the accords,” he says, his shoulders falling. “Got it.”

Tony takes a sip of his coffee. “Yeah, and neither is Peter Parker. I trust you, Pete, I do, but things happen, and I need to make sure you stay clear of all the drama today. So Happy is going to keep you company.”

“No!” Peter groans. “Happy never wants to do anything fun.”

“I’ll give him strict instructions that you’re in charge of activities--as long as those activities keep you in the Tower and away from the action, it’ll be all up to you. That includes lunch. Order his least favorite food, I don’t care. Do your worst.”

“Happy’ll probably eat anything,” Peter mumbles, reaching for a donut. “But yeah, I agree. I know it’s important. I’ll make him watch cartoons. He always says the voice actors annoy him with their stupid voices.”

“There you go.” Tony smiles and takes another bite of his donut. “Meeting’s at eleven,” he mumbles. “Happy gets here at ten. I’ll go down at ten-thirty in case anyone arrives early. My phone will be off, so if you need me in an emergency that Happy can’t handle, tell FRIDAY. Okay?”

Peter nods. His donut is already half gone. “Nothing is going to happen, Tony. I mean, if anything does, it’ll be with the Avengers, not with me. I’m so boring. I mean, i’ll be so bored. I love the Tower and all, but I’m kind of sick of being cooped up. I hate to be that kid, but I kinda wanna go back to school. I just hope the media will leave me alone.”

“Don’t worry. The press’ll be all over the Accords and the Avengers that they’ll forget about you. And if they don’t, Pep’s gonna put out a press release, or we’ll do a press conference to clear things up. And threaten them with lawsuits. It’ll be smooth sailing after that. For the most part, anyway. You, mister, just have to stay out of trouble. Remember what I said about not doing what I do?”

Peter nods and smiles through the sugar. “I heard about you as a teenager. You were kind of crazy. Honestly, I don’t think I could do what you did if I wanted to. For one thing, I’m pretty sure I could drink a ton, and it wouldn’t affect me. You know, spider metabolism?”

Tony narrows his eyes at him and sets the coffee cup down harshly. “And how would you know that?”

Peter holds up his hands in defense. “I don’t! I just said I’m pretty sure. I haven’t tested it or anything, though don’t you think it would be interesting to find out?”

“No!” Tony says right away, looking horrified. “I need you to forget about that right now, Pete. You’re gonna give me a heart attack.” He puts his hand over his heart and closes his eyes for a moment while he breathes. When he opens them, Peter’s donut is gone. “I think the only reason my dad cared about my extracurriculars is because he hated bad press. I’m going to tell you right now, Peter--I would take all the bad press in the world over you getting hurt in any way. Please tell me you don’t plan on sending me to my cardiologist.”

“Okay, I promise.” Peter reaches for another donut, but Tony slaps his hand away.

“One donut. After that you move onto fruit. May’s order’s, don’t look at me like that.”

Peter leans onto the counter and groans like he’s dying. “I want another donut, Mr Stark.”

Tony looks at him for what feels like a long time and then shoves the box of donuts towards him with a sigh. “Fine. But only because Happy’s on spider duty today. Don’t tell him I said that.”

Peter just grins and reaches for the biggest, most chocolate covered donut he can find.

But when he’s halfway through it, and his fingers are all sticky and covered in chocolate frosting, Tony gets up from his seat and walks around the counter to pat Peter on the back. “I’m going to go get dressed to impress. You finish that donut and wait for Happy, okay? Maybe turn on the TV? I’ll be out in a little bit.”

“Okay,” Peter mumbles because his mouth is still full. He watches Tony leave the room and then stares at the box of donuts, wondering if he should sneak a third one, but he’s actually pretty full, and Happy will probably get him something awesome later, so he decides to skip it. Less trouble if he disobeys both May’s and Tony’s orders, anyway.

He’s watching something stupid on TV when the elevator dings and he turns to see who it is. Ever since the creep that broke into the penthouse, Peter’s been a little on edge every time the elevator arrives at their floor. This time, his senses tell him it’s not a threat, but he still stares at the doors, quickly running through a plan of action if it isn’t Happy.

But it is, and the man steps into the penthouse, his eyes quickly finding Peter from over the couch.

“You okay?” Happy asks.

“I’m fine. Tony got us donuts. They’re on the kitchen counter if you want one.”

Happy lights up and changes course to the kitchen. A few minutes later he returns to the living room with a sprinkled donut on a plate and then sits on the other end of the couch. “You know,” he says, his mouth a little full. “No one is going to get on that elevator that isn’t supposed to be. We upped security. Not only is staff trained, but FRIDAY can detect bio-signatures, and only certain people are authorized. There is no way for a stranger to get up here. In case you were wondering.”

“Tony told me that,” Peter mumbles, relaxing into the cushions and staring back at the TV. “I trust you and Tony and FRIDAY… but I don’t know. I’d rather see it with my own eyes. There’s something really violating about a stranger coming into your space uninvited. I sort of hate it.”

“Yeah, I understand. But I promise, it won’t happen.” Happy takes another bite of his donut. “What are you watching, anyway? Looks stupid.”

“Only I can say it’s stupid,” Peter says and turns back to the TV. He’s said the same thing to Tony a few times. Tony will complain but he still sits and watches them with Peter. Peter figures Happy will either do the same or get up and do something else.

“It’s fine. I got stuff I can do,” Happy says just as Tony re-enters the room, looking like pure gold in his suit which Peter is sure is extremely expensive.

“So?” Tony says, holding out his arms a little and turning around for them. “Does this suit say ‘sign or get out’?”

Peter pauses his show. “I think it says whatever you want it to say.” He smiles. “Looks great.”

“Thanks, kid. Well, I’m off. Wish me luck.” Tony catches Happy popping the last piece of his donut into his mouth. “FYI, Hap, donut time is over. May is going to kill me if he eats the rest of those donuts.”

“Lock up the donuts,” Happy mumbles. “Got it.”

Peter gets up from the couch and moves to hug Tony, squeezing him probably just a little too hard.

“If you’re wishing me luck,” Tony says in a strangled voice. “I’m gonna need some air in order to talk some sense into them.”

Peter loosens his hold but doesn’t move his head from Tony’s shoulder. “Sorry. I just wish I could come with you. I know it’s a really, really bad idea, but I still wanna go. I hope it doesn’t take too long.”

“Do you hate spending time with me that much, kid?” Happy asks from the couch.

“Don’t worry,” Tony says, ignoring Happy and patting Peter’s back. “It’ll maybe be two hours tops. I’ll text you when I know more, okay?”

Peter still doesn’t let go. He doesn’t want Tony to leave. The last time all the Avengers were together was in Germany, and that was a disaster. What if things go wrong again? “How about if I dress in all white and stick to the ceiling? That way if things go wrong, I’ll be there to protect you.”

Tony laughs. “Yeah, no. Sorry, buddy. But I don’t want you to worry about me. I’ll have my gauntlet watch, and ten suits can be called by a simple command. I know I’m not going to need those things, but just in case, everything’s ready. So please, try not to worry.”

Peter sniffs. He would feel a million times better if he could just stay with Tony, but he also doesn’t want to blow his secret identity, and he knows that Tony doesn’t want him involved in the Accords at all, so he gets it. He’ll just have to wait. “It’s going to be hard waiting,” he mumbles against the collar of Tony’s suit.

“I know.” Tony gives him a squeeze and pats his back again before drawing himself out of the hug. “Remember your cartoon plan?”

Peter can see Happy glaring at them out of the corner of his eye. “Okay. But can I have another donut?”

“No,” both Tony and Happy say at the same time.

It’s quiet for a few seconds before Happy says, “What’s this cartoon plan?”

Chapter Text

Chapter 20

Tony leaves Peter with Happy and travels down to the conference rooms. He’s not taking any chances. Not only does he have ten Iron Man suits available if needed, but Tower security is beefed up. There are cameras everywhere, as usual, but security is instructed to inform the authorities if anything goes wrong.

He feels a little bad about it all. He used to trust these people with his life. But they left in a fight, and they’ve been gone so long, that he can’t be sure anymore. Also, Steve’s betrayal really shook him to the core. It’s going to be a long time before he trusts any of them again like he used to. He’s not even sure he’ll ever get there. All he knows is that in the meantime, he has to keep them at arm’s length from Peter.

It’s going to be really hard, he thinks just before the elevator doors open and steps out on slightly shaky legs. The meeting is being held in the biggest conference room on that floor, and it’s located all the way in the back. Tony feels a little lightheaded, like he can’t believe this is happening, but he presses on and makes it to the room

When he opens the door, he’s a little shocked at how few rogue avengers there actually are. He glances at the others at the table and notices that even though the rogues are back, there still isn’t all that many of them. There’s Steve, of course, and sitting down on either side of him are only Natasha and Sam. Tony can’t say he’s sad that Bucky Barnes isn’t there, and he figures that Wanda is off with Vision who knows where. Clint and Scott, he knows, are currently on house arrest so they can be with their families. Logically he knew all this, but it’s still a little of a shock to see how very small the team is now. All it does is make him want to hold Pepper and Peter and Rhodey and Happy even tighter.

A very nervous and awkward looking staffer breaks up Tony’s thoughts by making his way towards him. The look on the staffer’s face shows such relief to be getting out of the room, that Tony immediately steps aside.

“Everything’s ready, sir,” the staffer says. “Just waiting for the legal team and a few government officials.”

Tony motions that he should leave. “Thanks. I’ll take it from here.”

The second the door closes, and they’re alone, the silence seems deafening.

Steve stands up and clears his throat. “I’ll start,” he says, taking a few steps around the table and towards Tony. “I’d like to thank Tony for inviting us back, even though things haven’t been the smoothest in the past. We may not agree on everything, but I think we agree on the core values, so I’m hoping we can find some common ground.”

Tony shakes Steve’s extended hand. “Maybe you should wait until you hear the terms, Cap,” he says, half jokingly.

Steve laughs good naturedly, but Natasha and Sam only have sober expressions behind him.

Tony tries not to let it bother him. Sure, he cares about all the Avengers in some capacity or another, Natasha more than some of the others, but in her case, he doesn’t necessarily take it personally either. Sam, he can take or leave. And man, is he glad Bucky isn’t there. “So,” he says. “Anything anyone has to say before the officials get here?”

Steve’s shoulders deflate a little. “We’re done running, Tony. We’re tired, and we want to come home. We miss home. But there are a few points that we may have to hash out, just to warn you.”

“There is one point in particular that he has to hash out,” Natasha clarifies, meeting Tony’s gaze with her steely blues. “Do you want to tell him that now or later?”

Steve clears his throat and looks back at Sam. “Maybe now would be better. Just so you’re not caught off guard.”

“Um, alright,” Tony says, glancing at the door to make sure the lawyers and the FBI representatives aren’t on their way in. “Go ahead, I guess.”

“Bucky is recovering in Wakanda,” Steve begins tentatively. “I want to make sure you’re open to possibly having him on the team when he’s completely rehabilitated. And I mean one hundred percent, Tony. You can have whatever expert you want check him out. All I’m asking is for an open mind.”

Tony knew there would be issues like this, and actually, he had already thought of this particular one. He meant to stand strong on his decision to bar Bucky from the Avengers and from his property all together. But Steve’s proposition wasn’t an agreement about Bucky joining the team necessarily. The deal he was suggesting was to leave that in Tony’s hands, which Tony definitely appreciates. Also, if he says no to such a deal, he’s going to look like a huge asshole.

Then again, he doesn’t want to agree too quickly, or they might get the wrong idea. It’s never good to be too eager in a business deal. So he rubs his beard and pretends to think about it. “I”m actually really glad you told me about this,” he says, raising his gaze to meet Steve’s. “It gives me a while to roll it over in my mind before we sign anything. So thank you.”

Steve gives him a smile and a nod. “I really hope we can come to an agreement. I think we’re willing to bend on some things, if you’re willing to bend just a little too, this might be able to be worked out.”

Tony doesn’t reply and takes his spot at the end of the conference table while Steve sits back down beside Natasha. The truth is, Tony has made a lot of concessions with the rewrite of the accords. Then again, his mind has changed on some things over time. Though he still wants to do what’s best for the world and its citizens, he now has a pint size superhero to worry about. And that is one subject he one hundred percent will not budge on.

There’s a slight tap on the conference room door and then it opens, several lawyers, a few FBI agents, and Nick Fury himself filing in with some friendly smiles and a few scowls before they take their seats at the table. One of Tony’s lawyers passes out thick folders that each contain two copies of the Accords document. One, Tony knows, is for their reference, the other, is for each Avenger to sign. After today, All the other Avengers, including Clint and Scott, will be given the opportunity to sign.

“Hello, everyone,” the lawyer says, smiling. “I would have liked to have gotten the copies out to you before this meeting, but… well, given that that couldn’t happen, I thought I’d go over it briefly, then give everyone a chance to read it. When we come back after lunch, then you can have the opportunity to ask questions and discuss alterations.”

The lawyers then take turns going over different parts of the agreement, including the part that’s the most important to Tony--no enhanced person under 18 will have to adhere to the Accords for any reason--and then they break for lunch. There are sandwiches brought in, but Tony steps out to check his phone. He wants to see how Peter and Happy are doing.

He’s standing in the hallway smiling at a photo of Peter taking a selfie of him and Happy with giant stacks of pancakes. Peter has the biggest grin on his face while Happy looks a little pissed off. His mouth is full and their is a dab of syrup on his chin. It’s perfect.

“Cute kid.”

Tony looks up and almost jumps. He didn’t even notice Natasha sliding up beside him in the hallway. “Excuse me?”

“The kid,” Natasha says, not backing up. “He’s cute. What’s his name?”

Tony stares at her for a moment, his thoughts spinning around. It’s becoming increasingly clear that he’s not going to be able to keep Peter any kind of secret from anyone, especially Natasha. “Classified,” he tells Natasha anyway.

“Well, you got Happy babysitting,” she says like he didn’t just refuse to tell her Peter’s name. “I bet he loves that.”

Tony takes a few steps away from her, still looking at her and trying to size her up. He hasn’t talked to Nat in so long that he’s not really sure what her motives are. Not that he ever really knew about those much in the first place. It just makes everything that more confusing. “I’ll be back after the break is over,” he tells her and then turns, making his way down the hallway. He’s got a good twenty five minutes left. He figures he’ll go check on Peter himself instead of just call. It’s not like he’ll get any privacy for that anyway.

When he gets back to the penthouse, he finds Peter playing video games in the living room and Happy in a pancake coma on the couch.

Peter pauses the game the second he can and then gets up from the floor. “You’re back already?” he asks when Tony flops down on the love seat. “Did everyone agree?”

“Not yet,” Tony asks, putting his hand over his eyes. He’s tired and stressed and just wants the meeting to be over with. “Everyone took a break to look over the documents and get some food. I can’t eat a thing. But would you get me some coffee? Happy brewed some to go with his pancakes, didn’t he? Adorable picture, by the way. Did he make you pancakes for lunch or did you order out?”

“He made them. Chocolate chips and everything. Almost better than yours, but not quite.” Peter starts rushing towards the kitchen. “I’ll go get your coffee!”

Besides Happy’s snoring, Tony revels in the quiet until Peter returns with a mug of black coffee. He sips it while Peter takes a seat beside him.

“They don’t have coffee at the meeting?” Peter asks.

“I guess I was so keyed up, I forgot to bring any with me.” He gives Peter a soft smile. “Thanks, Pete. You’re the best kid.”

“You can thank Happy,” Peter says. “He made it. I mean, when he wakes up you can thank him. I think he’s down for the count. If I drank that much coffee, I would definitely not be sleeping.”

Tony nudges him. “He’s probably immune to caffeine by now. All those years carting my ass everywhere, and now yours? He was bound to crash eventually. You let him sleep if you can. I better get back to the meeting, but you have fun with your games, okay? Text me if you need anything.”

“No, you text me if you need anything,” Peter says, giving him a quick side hug.

Tony gets up from the love seat, being careful not to spill his coffee. He should have told Peter to grab him a to-go cup, but he doesn’t mind that much, so he just ruffles Peter’s hair and then makes his way back to the elevator. “Hopefully this’ll just be a few more hours. I’ll keep you posted,” he says just before the doors close, watching Peter wave at him.

The second he’s alone in the elevator, his apprehension returns, and by the time he gets back to the conference room, his coffee is nearly gone, and he doesn’t even remember drinking most of it.

Everyone else is looking up from their documents to see him walk in, but they don’t say much and then return to the task at hand. Once the meeting starts again, they waste no time getting into it.

“I wanna know about this clause,” Sam says, pointing his index finger down at one of the pages. “Enhanced minors are not to sign the accords? Who knows what kind of weirdos might be out there, and we’re just going to let them run around and do whatever the hell they want? That doesn’t make sense at all!”

“Sure, it does,” Tony says, talking before thinking. “A minor cannot sign a legal document.”

One of the men from the FBI clears his throat. “No, they cannot,” he agrees. “If there are any troubles with minors, we will deal with them in a way similar to how juvenile courts do. If there are no problems with said minors, then they will sign when they turn eighteen. That is, if they want to be involved in the business in any sort of way. On the other hand, if they want to lead a normal life, then they won’t be forced to sign.”

“That makes perfect sense to me,” Steve says, glancing sideways at Tony. “But I’d like to make an addition to the contract, if everyone is in agreement.” He goes into Bucky’s situation and how he’s being rehabilitated in Wakanda. Everyone agrees, even Tony, that once Bucky is given the all clear by Wakanda, a separate specialist with the FBI, and Tony’s specialist of his choosing, he be given the option of coming to be at the Tower with the rest of the Avengers.

Nothing is written in stone, and it puts Tony in control just a little bit, which he likes. After all, it is his home. No matter how rehabilitated Bucky is, the man did kill Tony’s parents. Having him around Pepper and Peter is not something he wants to think about right now, but maybe in the future they can come up with some sort of solution. At least, he’s open to finding a solution, and maybe that’s what matters.

They go over some other details and change a few minor things before everyone signs and then the meeting is over.

Tony feels spent. Not only is his anxiety running rampant, but now he suddenly has three new people who live with him--three new people who he wants to keep away from Peter. At least for the time being until he’s sure he can trust them again. And let’s be honest, he’s not sure if that will ever be possible.

“You okay?” Steve asks when the lawyers and the agents leave, and it’s just the remaining Avengers left in the room.

Tony takes a second to respond, mostly because he’s not sure exactly what he should say. He’s spent so much energy thinking about the Accords and getting everyone to sign, that he didn’t devote much thought to what happens afterwards. “Yeah,” he says slowly. “I’ll be fine. Probably just need some sleep or something. But hey, I think we need to go over a few house rules. Not Accords related. No contracts. We’re essentially roommates again, so I think it’s important to go over this kind of thing.”

The three of them sit back down at the table and wait for Tony to continue.

“You guys know the main stuff,” Tony says, waving his hand like it’s no big deal. “Pick up after yourself, keep the common areas clean, blah blah blah. But what’s changed is—” He pauses to swallow. He doesn’t know why his mouth is so dry. “I’ve got some… guests staying with me. And I’d like to make sure they get their privacy. So until I say otherwise, I need everyone to stay away from my floor. If you run into my guests, be polite, but I’d appreciate it if you excuse yourselves as quickly as possible.

Steve is looking at his hands which are folded on the table while he twirls his thumbs. Natasha’s eyes are burrowing into Tony’s unrelentlessly.

And Sam is blinking at him, confused. “What? Who are your guests?” he asks when no one else says anything.

“You may have missed the thing I said about privacy,” Tony says, not missing a beat. “They’re people I want to keep away from this whole thing. That’s really all you need to know. I trust the three of you enough that I know you’ll be respectful around them. But please, don’t pry into their business or my business involving them. And keep to your own spaces. That’s really all I ask.”

Steve finally looks up at him, a half smile on his face. “Sounds reasonable. Thanks, Tony.”

Tony nods and moves to get up, grabbing the handle of his coffee cup on the way. “And if you need anything, you can ask Friday. She’ll order most things for you. Within reason, of course.”

The three of them rise up while Tony pushes in his chair.

“What about team meetings? Training sessions?” Steve asks when it’s clear that Tony’s done.

Tony walks to the door, but turns back to look at them before he leaves. “Let’s give it a week or so to settle in. After that we can discuss that kind of thing.”

“Okay, yeah,” Steve says. “I guess we can just move our things back in? What little we had with us, anyway.”

“Yeah, of course,” Tony says, glancing out into the hallway like he wishes he were there instead. “It’s your home, now. Do whatever you want. Excuse me.” He makes a break for it before Steve can stop him again, and quickly walks down the hallway and towards the elevator. Things are not back to how they were. And they are definitely not what anyone would call ‘normal,’ but that’s probably going to take a long time.

Now that that’s settled, though, Tony has Peter to think of. He suddenly has a lot more time without the Accords looming over his head, and he knows exactly what to spend it on.

Chapter Text

It’s almost four in the afternoon when Tony gets back from the Accords meeting. Peter notices he looks more exhausted than he’s looked in a long time, but he has a smile on his face, albeit, it looks a bit nervous.

“So, it went okay?” Peter asks, his arms still around Tony. “Are they coming back?”

“Yep. They’re here now, and probably moving in as we speak.” Tony pulls away from him, his hands on Peter’s shoulders while he smiles. “How was your day so far? Did Happy behave?”

“I guess,” Peter says. “He kind of snored on the couch most of the time.”

Happy comes out of the kitchen with a cookie in his hands. “I don’t snore. And hey, boss. You need me for anything else, or can I take off?”

“You can take off,” Tony says, letting go of Peter’s shoulders. “I hope you got a good nap in. There shouldn’t be much going on tonight, but just in case, keep your phone on.”

Happy barely blinks. “So I guess that means they’re back,” he says, sighing. “I’m not carting everyone around, just so you’re aware. My ride services apply to you, Pepper, and the kid. And maybe May. I’ve got stuff to do, Tony. You wouldn’t believe the stack of paperwork I have to go through.”

“I know, I know,” Tony says, holding his hands up in surrender. “Don’t worry, I’ll only call you if there’s an emergency. Otherwise, consider the weekend yours. I don’t anticipate anything going wrong, but you never know.”

“I know how it is.” Happy reaches out to ruffle Peter’s hair. “Take it easy, kid. I’ll see you on Monday.”

“What’s on Monday?” Peter asks, looking back and forth between the two adults. “Am I going back to school?”

Tony just sighs and takes off his glasses, pinching the bridge of his nose between his index finger and his thumb. “I’m really sorry, kiddo,” he says, letting his hand fall and looking at Peter again. “There has been a lot going on today. But I just got word this morning that they want you to give your statement on Monday. Happy’s going to drive us. I still have to talk to your aunt about getting off work. But don’t worry. Everyone’s going to be there for you.”

Peter wants to get that statement over with. He wants to put that guy in jail and never think of him again. But the thought of actually doing it is completely terrifying. He doesn’t want to talk to a stranger about what happened that night. He never even wants to think about it again.

“Hey, it’s alright.” Tony says, putting his arm around Peter’s shoulders and pulling him in. “You’re okay. We’re going to do this together, and it’s going to be over before you know it. And we’re also going to have an awesome weekend. I promise.”

“Yeah,” Happy says, giving him a reassuring smile. “I’m not going to let anyone come near you, so you’ve got nothing to worry about. I better head out though. Have a good weekend.”

“Thanks. You too,” Tony says while he and Peter watch him get into the elevator, waving as the doors close. When they’re alone, he squeezes Peter’s arm. “It’s gonna be okay. I promise. You wanna work on something in the lab? Or watch a movie? Whatever you want to do, buddy.”

Peter is still a little shaken, and he can feel his heart pounding at the thought of having to give that statement. He would love to go into the lab and forget about everything while he and Tony work on some complicated project, but Tony looks like he’s about to keel over, so he knows what he should probably pick. “Movie sounds good. Maybe we could like… leave the penthouse tomorrow? I’ve been bored out of my mind here.”

“Not sure that’s a good idea,” Tony says slowly, leading a detour to the kitchen and grabbing a glass from the cupboard so he can pour himself some water. “You want anything?”

“No thanks,” Peter says, patting his stomach. “I ate a ton and drank a ton, so I’m good. But seriously, don’t you think I’ve been cooped up here enough? Maybe we could go do something. We could wear disguises if it helps.”

Tony looks him over, his brows furrowing a little in thought before he claps a hand on his shoulder and leads him back into the living room. “We’ll see. Maybe something small, like we could get ice cream or burgers. But we should talk to May about it first, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, probably,” Peter reluctantly admits, his shoulders falling. He loves the Tower, but he needs to get out. He’s been well on his way to getting cabin fever for what feels like forever, and he needs to get out and get some fresh air or something before he goes crazy. “If May says it’s okay, can I have ice cream and burgers?”

“Okay sure,” Tony says, falling to the couch where the blankets are already messed up. “But not in that order.”

Thirty full minutes later, Tony is fast asleep on the couch and Peter is bored out of his mind. Sure, he loves watching movies. It’s probably on his top ten list of things to do. But it’s not nearly as fun when Tony is asleep. He can stay up late and watch movies by himself whenever he wants. What he’d rather be doing is seeing what the not-so-Rogue Avengers are up to. He knows they’re in the Tower based on what Tony said earlier, but he would love to see them training in the gym, or having a discussion over dinner. He also knows that Tony probably wouldn’t like him creeping around and spying on them, but if he just happens to overhear some conversations while he’s walking down a hallway or something, Tony won’t be able to blame him for that, will he?

He carefully gets up from the couch, careful not to wake the sleeping Tony, and creeps to the elevator. Tony hasn’t exactly told him where he can be since the Avengers are back yet. He knows he has to stay in the Tower because of the press, but gym isn’t off limits. It’s located on the Avenger’s level, conveniently, so he can use that as an excuse to do a little snooping around.

“FRIDAY,” Peter says once he’s in the elevator and the doors close securely. “Take me to the Avenger’s level. I’m going to go to the gym.”

“There are currently three additional people occupying that floor, Peter, and according to Boss, you’re supposed to stay away from anyone not on the security list.”

“Are those three individuals on the security list?” Peter wants to know even though he’s pretty sure of the answer.

“No, Peter,” FRIDAY says. “They are not. I suggest you return to the penthouse. Boss is very concerned for your well being.”

He huffs. He understands that Tony cares about him and wants him to be safe, but he wouldn’t have let the Avengers come back if he didn’t think it was safe. “What if I just check out the gym for a few minutes and promise to go right back up? I think I left my hoodie there.”

“I can confirm you did not leave your hoodie in the gym.”

He should have known better. FRIDAY can see almost everywhere in the compound. “Well, can you tell me what the Avengers are doing?

“Yes,” she says. “Captain Rogers is lifting weights, Ms Romanov is in her room putting her things away, and Mr Wilson is in the kitchen making a snack.”

“Oh, okay,” Peter says, feeling defeated. “I guess I’ll ask Tony if I can go to the gym tomorrow or something. I’m just so bored, FRIDAY. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Tower. It’s way better than being cooped up in my apartment, but I really, really want to get out of here for a little bit.”

“I’m sorry, Peter, but you are required to stay in the Tower. Boss is currently asleep. I suggest you go back to the living room. You could probably put on your favorite movie, and he wouldn’t even notice.”

“Alright,” he mumbles. “Open the doors back up. I’ll go back to the penthouse.”

They spend a lazy evening together while they wait for May to get back from work, and then the three of them have dinner together before May heads off for bed. She’s meeting a few coworkers in the morning for breakfast, and she’s exhausted from working so much that week, so it’s only natural that she turns in early.

Peter is in a weird state between being groggy and restless, and he knows that kind of feeling isn’t good for nightmares. What he needs to do is get out, get some fresh air, and swing around until his energy depletes a little, but with Tony keeping him inside, that is definitely not going to happen. Not to mention, he hasn’t exactly put on his suit in a while, and he’s not really sure he’s ready for that. What would be great is if he could swing around the gym, but no. He isn’t allowed to do that either.

“What’s wrong, bud?” Tony asks after asking FRIDAY to turn the TV off.

Peter can’t help but let his rotten mood take over a little. “I can’t stand being stuck here all the time. I’m so bored!”

Tony thoughtfully stands up and begins to fold the blankets from the couch, setting them one by one in a stack where he had previously been sitting. “I said we could go out for ice cream tomorrow, didn’t I?” he says, reaching for the blanket that’s covering Peter’s legs, and gently pulling it off of him.

“Yeah, but I’m literally going stir crazy in here. It’s like cabin fever times a billion.”

Tony straightens up and rubs his beard, looking down at Peter. “A billion, huh? Well, that sounds pretty serious.”

Peter groans and turns to flop right onto the pile of perfectly folded blankets. He hates when Tony teases him when he’s legitimately in a bad mood.

“Hey, hey,” Tony says, nudging his shoulder. “If you leave those poor blankets alone and get ready for bed, you can have Ned over tomorrow. If he can come that is. What do you say? Good deal?”

Peter opens his eyes and perks up, slowly raising himself from the blankets. “Really?” he says, not being able to help the smile that comes over his face. “Even with the Avengers here, you’d let Ned come here to see me?”

“Yeah, pretty stupid of me, huh?” Tony says, smiling back at him. “I’ll have one of the security guards bring him up. I don’t want to bother Happy this weekend, if I can help it.”

“Okay, yeah!” Peter says excitedly, reaching for where he left his phone on the cushion beside himself. “I’m gonna ask him right now! Maybe his mom can drop him off!”

“Okay, but don’t tell him about the Avengers. We’re going to shoot for a press conference early next week, I guess. I don’t want anything leaking before then, and no offense to your buddy, but he talks really loud.”

“Yeah, no problem!” Peter says immediately. He would have agreed to almost anything to switch up his weekend a little. Having Ned over is the next best thing to getting out of the Tower, so it’s an easy compromise. Not telling him about the Avengers does kind of suck, but he’s been keeping it a secret this long anyway, so what’s a few more days?

“Hey!” Tony says from the other side of the door.

Peter freezes where he stands in his room. He had been so excited about texting Ned to see if he wanted to come over tomorrow, that he practically shut the door in Tony’s face. “Sorry!” he calls.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Tony mutters, but it’s clear he’s not actually upset due to the hint of a smile in his voice. “You want me to sit with you tonight?”

“Um…” Peter is thinking hard about it. He’s done okay the last few nights, but Tony hasn’t actually left him. Then again, he’s feeling much better than he was than just a few minutes ago. Maybe with something to look forward to his brain will focus on that instead. “I think I’ll be okay,” he finally says. “Can I come get you if I need to?”

“No problem,” Tony says. “Sleep tight, kiddo.”

“Night!” Peter calls back. “Love you!”

“Love you, too,” Tony’s voice is a little quieter.

Peter can hear the soft sound of his socked feet as he makes his way down the hall. He’s a little worried. The nightmares he’s been dealing with recently have been some of the worst. They’re violent and awful and so real, and he doesn’t even want to think about them. But it’s going to be okay because Tony and May are just down the hallway. If he needs them, he can be there in a few seconds tops.

He pushes that all out of his head and flops down on his bed, hurriedly texting Ned.

Peter: GUESS WHAT

Ned: WHAT???

Peter: Tony says you can come over tomorrow! Please say yes. I’m dying here. He won’t let me out, so the only thing that can happen is for people to come in. Say yes because I’m bored out of my mind!

Ned: Like I would ever say no to Avengers’ Tower! Let me ask my mom quick.

Peter: if she can’t drive you, I’ll find someone who can pick you up. Or Tony will. You know what I mean!

Peter jumps up and digs through his drawers till he finds a fresh pair of pajamas. He can’t stand watching his phone waiting for a text, so when he sees that Ned still hasn’t replied, he runs into the bathroom and quickly gets ready for bed. His toothbrush is hanging out of his mouth when his watch buzzes with a reply.

Ned: She says yes! What time? She can drive me if it’s before noon

Peter spits out the toothpaste and dashes back to his phone.

Peter: I’m sure that’s fine! Whenever she can. I don’t think we have any plans tomorrow. Tony did say he’d take us out for ice cream, but I don’t think he cares what time. Just let me know when you’re coming so I can tell him. Yessss!! I can’t wait!

Ned: Ice cream with Iron Man? That’s gotta be the best thing ever

Peter is so thrilled to not have to sit on the couch and watch movies all day, that he doesn’t even bother to tell Ned to be cool about it. Instead, they chat about everything they’re going to do tomorrow until Peter’s phone slips out of his hand, and he drifts off.

~*~

Tony is just coming up from the lab and putting a few things away in the kitchen when he hears the sound of something crashing coming from the direction of Peter’s room. He nearly drops the mug he’s holding so he can run there, his heart beating out of his chest. He’s not sure what is going on that would cause that loud of a noise in the middle of the night, but there’s no way in hell he’s going to ignore it. He runs down the hall as fast as he can, and throws Peter’s door open.

“FRIDAY! Lights!”

The lights snap on, and illuminate Peter’s room, but nothing except his nightstand, which is on its side, and everything that had been sitting on it, including a now broken lamp, scattered across the floor. Tony’s eyes find Peter, and he’s sitting on the edge of his bed in tears, gripping his shoulder and squinting at him through the bright light.

“Lights to thirty percent,” Tony says, rushing over to Peter to get a better look. “What happened, bud?”

“I’m not really sure,” Peter says, wiping at his face with the hand that’s not clutching his shoulder. “One second I’m sleeping and the next I’m waking up from a nightmare--on the ceiling. I guess I fell and knocked the nightstand over. I kinda hit my shoulder on the corner. It hurts but I’m not sure if it’s bleeding. Sorry, Tony.”

“Don’t apologize,” Tony says, gently moving Peter’s hand away from his shoulder. “Let me get a look at it.” He raises the sleeve of Peter’s t-shirt to expose the injury. It’s almost like a dent into the skin, which is broken a little, but not bleeding too much. “It doesn’t look so bad. Can you move your arm?”

Peter cautiously tests it out, rotating his shoulder and then bending his elbow for good measure. “Yeah, I think it’s okay.” He suddenly freezes, his eyes darting to Tony’s. “Something’s not right.”

“What? What do you mean?”

Peter grabs Tony’s shirt in his fist and whispers, his voice shaking, “There’s someone in the room.”

Tony puts his hand on Peter’s uninjured shoulder and stands up straight. “FRIDAY, lights back to a hundred. Tell me who’s in Peter’s bedroom besides us.”

“Natasha Romanoff, also known as the Black Widow, is standing on the other side of Peter’s closet door,” FRIDAY replies as if it’s no big deal.

Tony’s shoulders deflate for just a second in relief before the anger bubbles up his spine. He lets go of Peter and stomps over to the closet door, slamming it shut to reveal Natasha, dressed in black sweats with her hair tied back. “What the fuck! I literally asked for one thing, Nat. One thing.

She doesn’t even have the decency to flinch at his outburst. “I heard a crash. My room is right below Peter’s.” She leans a little around Tony to give Peter a wave. “Hi, by the way.”

Tony sidesteps so he’s effectively blocking her view of Peter. “I asked for you to stay out of the penthouse and leave my guests alone.”

Natasha shrugs. “I was checking in to make sure you were okay. Is that now allowed? We’re kind of roommates, aren’t we? Also, this doesn’t exactly look like a guest room.” She steps around him and openly checks out Peter’s room. “Looks like Peter lives here.”

“It’s really none of your business,” Tony says, following her around the room. He’s contemplating what he’s going to do if she gets too close to Peter when she turns around and looks at him with hard eyes.

“First kid I’ve ever heard about that wakes up from nightmares on the ceiling,” she says. “You didn’t seem to think that was strange.”

It’s at that point that Tony realizes she’s basically figured most everything out, and there’s no point in continuing to hide the truth. Natasha isn’t stupid. She’s insanely adept when it comes to finding out secrets. He knew he wouldn’t have been able to hide Peter’s secret identity forever, but he thought he’d at least get through the first night. “Yeah, so he can stick to the ceiling. So what? Can you maybe get out of here so he can go back to sleep? It’s the middle of the fucking night!”

Natasha has the nerve to look back at him like he’s out of line. “Okay, okay. I was just making sure everything was alright, but if you want me to leave, I’ll leave.” She hurries out the door but then pokes her head back around the corner. “Nice to meet you, Peter,” she says before disappearing again.

Tony rushes to the door to shut it. When he turns around to look at Peter, the kid’s tears have all but dried.

“I don’t know whether to freak out because the Black Widow was in my room or cry tears of embarrassment because the Black Widow was in my room.”

Tony just blinks at him. Of course Peter has completely brushed over what all of this means. “How about take a deep breath or two and think over the conversation she and I just had, if you were listening at all, that is.” He waits while Peter pauses to think. When a knowing look comes over his face, Tony continues, “Yeah. You were on the ceiling. She may not have seen it, but she heard us talking about it. She may not know your secret identity, but she’s bright enough to know you’re not an average teenager. One word to Cap about this, and she’ll have it all figured out.”

“Captain America knows?” Peter says, teetering between excitement and terror.

“Yeah, remember your little rooftop rendezvous with him a while back?” Tony walks back over to Peter’s bed and sits down beside him. “Let me see your arm again. I wanna make sure it doesn’t need a band-aid or something.”

“Oh, that’s right.” Peter rolls up his sleep so Tony can look. “You said you had texted him asking him not to say anything. But I didn’t know that he knew for sure.”

“Ninety-nine percent sure he knows,” Tony mutters, leaning forward to inspect the wound. It’s a little black and blue now, but it’s already starting to scab over with Peter’s advanced healing capabilities. “This looks okay. Does it hurt?”

“It’s a little sore,” Peter says. “What happens now? I mean, now that they know?”

Tony sighs and gently folds down Peter’s sleeve. “I think we’re going to have to tell them. Hold a team meeting like the old days. You can come if you want. Of course, we’ll have to ask May about it first. I think I should handle that. There’s really not much of an option, but we shouldn’t do it without at least making sure she knows about it.”

Peter scootches back in bed, pulling his blankets back around him. “When will the meeting be?”

“As soon as we can swing it.” Tony runs a hand through his hair. He’s tired, and the added stress of the Avengers isn’t helping. “Before they start talking among themselves, I think. FRIDAY, set May’s alarm for seven. She and I need to have a talk over coffee bright and early. Then schedule a meeting with the Avengers in the common room at eight. Wake them up at seven-thirty and tell them it’s mandatory.”

“Sure thing, Boss,” FRIDAY says. ‘Colonel Rhodes came in last night. Should I tell him he’s to come as well?”

“Yeah,” Tony says. “Might as well. He needs to officially sign his papers, anyway.”

“Consider it done,” FRIDAY replies.

“Tony?” Peter says quietly from his spot on his bed, now buried beneath all his covers. “Can you stay here tonight? I know I said I was gonna do better, but that was kind of not fun. I’d feel better if you stayed.”

Tony definitely isn’t going to admit it would make him feel better to stay too after all of that, so he readily agrees, nodding his head once. “Move over then. I’m just gonna go brush my teeth and stuff, and I’ll be back, okay?”

“Alright,” Peter says, watching while Tony gets up from his spot on the bed and walks to the door. “By the way, I’m not afraid of the Black Widow. I mean, I’m sure she could kick my ass any day, but I don’t think she would if she didn’t have to. What I mean is, I didn’t feel threatened by her, although it’s a little creepy knowing someone can get in my room without me even knowing.”

Tony leans against the door frame, tired and gazing at Peter from across the room. “FRIDAY, new protocol. If anyone besides Peter, May, Peter’s friend, Ned, or myself enter Peter’s room, I need you to announce it out loud and reveal the identity of the person entering to every room on this floor. Also, send a text to my phone with that information if it happens.”

“Got it,” FRIDAY says. “What should I call the protocol?”

Tony’s tired brain thinks for a second. “Stranger Danger.”