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Unprofessional

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"Mr. Stark--"

 

"'Tony', please."

 

Peter sighed. "Mr. Stark, you've got twenty minutes before the board meeting and Pepper was pretty insistent that you show up not covered in grease--again--so you need to get showered and changed."

 

Tony gasped loudly and spun his chair around to face Peter. "Why, Mr. Parker, are you trying to get me naked? You can just ask; I can't say no to that face."

He finished with a wink and stood, sweeping past Peter to the elevator. Fighting the urge to sigh (again), Peter gave himself a few futile seconds to will his blush down before he turned to follow the older man.

 

He couldn't believe he'd let things get this far. It was unprofessional, it really was.

 

***

 

When she'd hired him, Pepper had issued two warnings.

The first--that Mr. Stark would be difficult to manage--Peter had shrugged off. He'd dealt with difficult clients and kept to chaotic, air-tight schedules before; he doubted the genius could be much worse than some of the politicians and business owners with whom he'd already contracted. Sure, the contract with Mr. Stark would be his first long-term, live-in arrangement, but at the root it was just the same job, plus the added benefit of zero commute.

 

A week after Peter was hired, that first warning was rendered moot, anyway, when the billionaire handed the running of the company over to Pepper. Mr. Stark's primary responsibilities became bickering with the scientists and inventing things in R&D or solo in his workshop, showing up to shareholder meetings once a week, and attending whatever social function required the face of Stark Industries to make an appearance. Peter handled it flawlessly, because he was organized as hell (with his work, anyway) and had a knack for catching setbacks almost before they could occur.

 

It was the CEO's second warning that Peter regretted underestimating.

 

"Mr. Parker--Peter--he's going to flirt with you. Blatantly and frequently. He does it to all the assistants and individual security detail that are hired for close management. Don't take it seriously."

 

At the time, Peter had assured Ms. Potts, confidently, that Mr. Stark's flirting would not interfere with his job.

Her responding smile had been a tired one.

 

**

 

It had interfered with his job.

 

It interfered six days in, during the first gala he attended, when Mr. Stark--after two hours and a couple glasses of champagne--pulled Peter onto the dance floor and into a lazy but graceful waltz. The billionaire's hands had been confident and warm where they rested, guiding, on Peter's body. Peter's face had lit up like a fire engine, and Mr. Stark had winked at him.

 

(He hadn't noticed the height difference before, but when the billionaire had to tilt his head up just slightly to look at Peter's face, the younger was suddenly very aware of those scant couple of inches.)

 

It interfered two weeks after the gala, on the way to a morning shareholder meeting--the first one they skipped together. They'd walked out of Stark Tower and his boss had leaned in to murmur, "Come with me if you want to live" in a terrible impression of Arnold, and then proceeded to take Peter by arm and duck around the corner of the building to pile them both into a red Maserati. They'd ended up spending the day at Coney Island.

 

(Mr. Stark had grinned over at him when they'd gotten off the second roller coaster. At the combination of dark, shining eyes, and the exhilarated flush riding high on the billionaire's cheekbones, Peter's stomach had swooped as though he had never gotten off the ride, and he had abruptly realized he was in trouble.)

 

It interfered when Tony started deliberately touching him. Innocuous contact here and there, until the day Peter stopped by the shop in jeans and a t-shirt to check on his boss, and Tony stopped Peter on his way out.

 

"Pete, hold on. Your tag's out."

The light brush of calloused fingers against his nape had sent hot sparks skittering down Peter's spine. As soon as Tony finished tucking the tag back into his shirt, Peter had let out a too-bright "Thanks!" and left without looking back, breathless, cheeks on fire, his jeans suddenly too tight.

 

(After that, whenever Tony leaned in to whisper ridiculous things to him before entering a conference room or function, the billionaire would slide in close enough to brush their shoulders together, or maybe rest a palm lightly at the small of Peter's back. He started turning just to smooth Peter's lapels, or to fiddle with Peter's tie. It made Peter want to simultaneously push Tony away or pull him closer.)

 

It interfered every time Peter just...noticed things about Tony. Every time he watched Tony murmur to himself as he worked, lips parted just slightly and barely moving. When Peter realized Tony had started giving him the same small, affectionate half-smile he gave Ms. Potts when she was exasperated with him.

 

It definitely interfered when it became work to appear professional and dispassionate whenever he'd go down to see Tony in the workshop. There was always the chance he'd find the genius in a white wife-beater or shirtless, smeared with engine grease and sweat, his soft, worn work jeans hanging low on his hips. It bordered on impossible not to stare.

 

(The first time, Peter's breath had caught audibly, and Tony's gaze had sharpened.

 

"Is there something you wanted, Peter?" the inventor had asked, lowly.

 

Peter had recovered quickly, and while nothing came of it, the memory of that moment became a jumping off point for some of his first intense fantasies about Tony Stark.)

 

And four months in, it interfered when Tony ditched Peter at some politician's birthday party. Peter found him making out with a gorgeous woman in a dark corner. He'd seen Tony's hand pushing the fabric of the woman's skirt up her thighs, and felt the urge to both throw up and pour a drink over both of their heads (in the end, he'd accidentally stumbled into a nearby table in his haste to get away, causing way too many champagne flutes to shatter on the marble floor. Tony had whipped around and stared at Peter, flushed and stricken, with something like guilt in his blown pupils).

***

 

They slipped backwards, into a weird state of retracted intimacy.

 

Like a break up, Peter had thought once, before shoving the thought deep under a mental rug. He had defaulted to treating Tony like a regular client (i.e. not responding to Tony's flirting, quips, or efforts to be an ass), and Tony had apparently decided the best retaliation was obnoxiously flirting with Peter every time he referred to him as 'Mr. Stark'.

 

(Peter hated the distance, wanted desperately to close that gap, to go back to what they'd been...but he couldn't forget the image of Tony's hand on that strange woman's thighs; and until he could, Tony was 'Mr. Stark'.)

 

...And now he was here, Tony singing loudly and deliberately off-key in the shower (I Can't Fight This Feeling Anymore, REO Speedwagon), steam curling out from under the door, and Peter was valiantly wrangling his mind away from picturing how Tony must look under the hot spray. He had severely underestimated Pepper's most important warning, and he wasn't going to do it again. He was paying for his disregard in mass quantities of frustration, sexual and otherwise, and he and Tony hadn't even come close to sleeping together.

 

Peter thunked his head back against the wall, groaning. Awkward, endless boners and pointless sadness; it was like being back in high school.

 

...Tony was kind of a child.

 

The ballad abruptly cut off at the same time a dull 'thud' sounded through the bathroom door. Peter turned, instantly alert, gripping the doorknob, without turning it. "Mr. Stark?"

 

A grunt. "I'm good, I slipped--I'm fine," Tony called back, voice a little tight.

 

It didn't sound too bad, but..."Alright. If you need help, don't...I can come in," Peter finished lamely. Shit. No. He couldn't go in there, Tony was naked in there.

 

"Well, in that case--Oh God, there's blood everywhere!" Tony called dramatically. "Is that you, Mother? Do I follow the light?"

 

Peter rolled his eyes and let go of the door. "Alright, Mr. Stark--"

 

"Peter? Peter! Is that you? Is this the end?!" his boss made a loud sound Peter guessed was supposed to resemble a death-rattle, and he had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing.

 

He was not going to cave. He wasn't. It'd been weeks, and he'd been doing so well.

 

Tony kept going. "Pete, take down my last words, tell my--ow, shit--"

 

Peter froze. He heard a pained hiss.

"Okay. Hey, kid, there's actually blood," Tony called, the dramatic tone gone.

 

Peter sighed quietly. Praying to whoever was out there for strength, he put on his professional face and turned the doorknob.

 

"Okay, Mr. Stark, I'm coming in, make yourself...decent-ish," he said, walking in to the still-steamy room.

 

Tony was standing outside the enormous shower stall, one hand holding a fluffy white towel low and tight around his hips, the other pressed to the back of his head, a mild grimace on his face.

 

"You didn't say you hit your head." Peter walked right up to the genius, exasperation and concern taking precedence over his hangups about seeing his boss-slash-crush mostly naked.

 

"Here, let me see, turn a little--yeah. Move your hand," he gently gripped Tony's wrist to uncover the wound--

 

"Tony."

 

"Hm?"

 

Peter stared blankly. "There's no blood."

There was water, and damp hair curling at the nape of Tony's neck, and smooth, olive skin...but no blood.

 

"There is zero blood, here," he repeated, flatly.

 

Tony hummed again, glancing at Peter over his shoulder with a look of exaggerated innocence.

 

"Maybe it washed off. It was definitely there. You should probably do a full-body exam, Dr. Parker."

The billionaire waggled his eyebrows suggestively, and Peter wanted to laugh.He wanted to give in to the fond irritation; kiss the ridiculous leer off Tony's face, nip at the inventor's throat, pull away the towel and ask him to say 'sorry', and leave playful, punishing marks on Tony's skin until Tony apologized breathlessly and begged Peter to just keep going...

 

But past the promising heat in Tony's eyes was something that looked a little like hope, like caution, and it burned Peter. He couldn't believe in that look, couldn't believe that Tony might actually want anything more from him, because that meant believing that he could want more and still choose to rip Peter open...he'd looked right at him--his hands up that woman's dress--

 

"God damn it!" Peter burst.

 

Tony recoiled slightly, eyes wide.

 

"Fine!" Peter said, "fine, you--you fucking win, okay? Congratulations! You're so far under my skin it hurts to fucking breathe; you win!"

He yanked Tony into a brutal kiss, spelled out all of his hurt and frustration into the older man's mouth. But when Tony unfroze and started to respond, Peter released him and pulled back sharply, barely retaining the presence of mind not to bodily push him away.

 

"I'm done," he said, breathlessly, "I can't--I can't do this anymore."

Peter turned and walked out of the bathroom--heedless of Tony's exclamation behind him--and down the hall to the elevator in the penthouse entryway. He slapped a palm on the 'Down' button as his vision began to blur, the doors opening with a quiet 'ping' almost immediately. Footfalls approached on the marble as he climbed on, and he'd barely pushed his floor number when a hand caught the door.

 

The doors reopened to Tony, hair still dripping, wearing nothing but the towel and a look of bewildered frustration. When Peter just shook his head and pushed the 'Door Close' button with renewed vigor, the billionaire's expression tightened.

 

"Peter, damn it, stop. Will you come out and talk about this instead of running away?"

 

"There's nothing to talk about," Peter said petulantly, mashing the button again. He knew he was being a shit, but he needed this confrontation to end before Tony could say something that would give Peter hope he really didn't need.

 

"Oh, for--" Tony stepped into the elevator. "JARVIS, lock-down protocol: Going Down."

The doors slid shut with an electric clicking noise, the lights dimming to something warm and intimate. Peter scoffed incredulously, distracted for a moment. "Really? 'Going down'? That's not even creative!"

 

"It's funny, but it's also not the point. You took off like a bat out of hell; can you just talk to me?" The genius was looming, somehow managing to be imposing in only a fluffy towel. It was one of those moments that could make Peter forget that he was physically taller than Tony.

 

"It doesn't matter," Peter said again.

 

"It does--"

 

"No, it doesn't! It never mattered, it was never anything! We danced once, you flirted with me because you flirt with everything that moves, and then you tried to fuck someone else!"

The last words caught in Peter's throat; ripped out and left him hollow, like he was pulling out his own insides. "I know you know what I'm talking about," he continued, "I know you saw me!" Peter was practically yelling now, backing the other man--who was suddenly doing a lot less looming--to the other side of the elevator.

 

"Is that what you wanted?" Peter asked, with less volume and more shaking. His cheeks itched; he reached up thoughtlessly to swipe at one, and his hand came away wet. When he realized he was actually crying, it pulled him up short.

 

Tony stared back at him, eyes wide like they'd been when Peter had first snapped. Peter was crying in front of Tony Stark. In front of his boss.

 

That's all Tony was. Peter's employer. Not really even his friend, let alone his romantic partner. He'd just spent minutes yelling in his boss' face.

What the hell am I doing?

Peter nearly choked on a sob, and Tony suddenly looked alarmed.

 

"Pete--" Tony's was rough, agonized, as he reached out.

 

Peter batted away the extended hand, and stepped back. He squeezed his eyes shut, pushed his palms to his lids until he saw stars.

 

Fuck, this had gone so far.

 

Taking a deep, shaky breath, he started gathering himself. Straightened his spine. This is work. This is a job. Mr. Stark is a client.

 

He opened his eyes, and the genius now looked absolutely devastated.

 

"Pete, don't--don't pull away; kid, come on, just--talk to me," the billionaire pleaded.

 

Peter sniffled, but was proud when he otherwise managed to remain composed. He shot a short, plastic smile at Tony.

 

"You can release the elevator, Mr. Stark."

 

Tony stared at him, eyes bleak. "You can't--"

 

"I'm not resigning," Peter cut in, watched Tony's jaw snapped shut. The skin on Peter's cheeks felt tight where the couple of tear tracks had dried.

 

"Breaking down like that in front of you was inappropriate--" he said.

 

"Damn it, Peter--"

 

"--and it won't happen again," Peter finished.

The facade buckled a little, pain coming back through, but he grit his teeth and reeled it in. He could do this, could retreat into professionalism.

 

Into safety.

Chapter Text

Peter was tired.

 

It was six-thirty in the morning, he was on the Stark Industries private jet, and seated directly across from him was the man he'd yelled at less than 24 hours prior.

 

Tony hadn't even given him a day. One day.

 

**

 

Peter had cut off the argument in the elevator by stating that he would head down to the lobby, make sure to inform Ms. Potts that they were on their way to the meeting and apologize for the minor delay, and:

 

"Would that be all, Mr. Stark?"

 

Tony hadn't liked that.

 

Peter, in the moment, hadn't cared. Really.

 

The rides to and from the meeting had been...tense. Mr. Stark had obviously wanted to say something, kept trying, but Peter had shut him down smoothly each time. He'd given the man nothing but polite smiles and canned responses, a lot of "Sir" and "Mr. Stark".

 

When they'd returned to the tower, Tony had disappeared into R&D, and Peter had thrown himself into his own work, reviewing his employer's schedule for the next month and running a few inter-department errands for Ms. Potts. At the end of the day, he'd gone for run around the park, and then back to his tower apartment for a shower and bed.

 

(If he'd pushed himself harder and longer than normal that evening,until he was red-faced and a little shaky, covered in sweat, no one except the few other occupants of the park needed to know)

 

And then, at 4 a.m., Peter had been yanked into consciousness by the tinny ringing of his work phone.

 

He was informed that Mr. Stark was apparently taking an impromptu trip to the Silicon Valley SI branch for a couple days, and Peter needed to be ready to head to the airfield in the next hour. After giving his 'affirmative' and hanging up, he'd barely resisted the urge to chuck the phone across the room.

 

 

***

 

 

"Coffee?"

 

Peter opened his eyes to give Mr. Stark an unimpressed look. The man just stared back in placid expectation.

 

Peter sighed.

 

"Yeah, please."

 

Tony smirked and pushed a button. An attendant appeared less than a minute later, placing two cups on the table and disappearing.

 

Peter grabbed the cup closest to him but refrained from drinking, focusing on the warmth between his palms. He looked at Tony.

 

"You know, when two people have a heated disagreement, it's usually a good idea to take some time, get a little space."

 

Tony leaned in to pick up his own drink.

 

"Usually, an actual conversation is required to have a disagreement. I don't remember a conversation," the billionaire said, sitting back. "I do distinctly remember being yelled at, and then dismissed. In very intimate lighting," the man added, taking a sip of his coffee. His eyes were still fixed on Peter. Calculating.

 

Peter looked out the window.

 

As frustrated as he was, he couldn't help feeling a small rush of...satisfaction? Excitement? Something, that he planned on sweeping right under that mental rug, where it could keep company with his other complicated feelings regarding his boss. Professionalism aside, Tony didn't need that kind of ammunition.

 

"This could be considered entrapment," Peter said finally, taking a drink. The coffee was perfect.

 

"Well, Mr. Parker, the seat belt sign is off; you're free to move about the cabin. The luxury cabin of the best private jet money can buy, " Tony said, turning his seat slightly to recline. "Not a terrible place to be trapped."

 

Peter rolled his eyes. "You're an ass."

 

"That's no way to talk to your boss."

 

"You're an ass, sir."

 

"That's better."

 

 

***

 

 

The stop at the Silicon Valley branch lasted barely half the first day.

 

They'd touched down at San Jose International around nine a.m., picked up the (surprisingly understated) rental car, and gone straight to the branch.

 

Mr. Stark attended two meetings, about an hour a piece, and they spent the rest of the time being led around by a harried, high-level employee. Going off the slightly panicked look in the woman's eyes, Peter imagined she had been just as uninformed about the visit as he.

 

Finally, a little after two o'clock the tour ended. On their way out, one of the heads of the branch--a beautiful brunette in a sleek skirt suit--shook Tony's hand, smiled, and thanked him for visiting the branch.

 

The handshake went on a shade too long. Peter tensed involuntarily, and was immediately annoyed with himself.

 

Skirt Suit smiled at Tony.

 

"How long will you be in town, Mr. Stark? I'm sure we could find the time to show you some more of what the branch has to offer," she said. Her voice dipped a little at the end, her pretty blue eyes heating with something promising and almost predatory.

 

Peter's stomach soured, but Tony smoothly broke off the handshake.

 

"Thank you, Ms. Daniels, but this is Mr. Parker's first time in the Valley--Peter, Ms. Daniels--and I promised him a significantly different experience."

 

Mr. Stark gave the woman a charming but dismissive smile, lifted his wrist to glance at his watch. "I'm sorry, but we're on a bit of a crunch. Peter, say goodbye to Ms. Daniels. Have a lovely afternoon, ma'am."

 

He shot her one last absent smile and turned to bee line for the exit.

 

"Ms. Daniels," Peter nodded shortly, politely, trying to tamp down on the relief and...other things he was feeling.

 

Ms. Daniels just smiled back tightly, her eyes sharp.

 

He might not have tried that hard to hide anything.

 

***

 

"The Rosewood Sand, please," Tony said to the driver. The partition slid closed, and they were alone.

 

The billionaire sat angled so that his back fit against the corner, one foot on the floor, the other ankle resting on his bent knee. One of his arms was thrown across the backrest.

 

Peter returned the man's gaze coolly.

 

The ride to the hotel passed in weighted silence.

 

**

 

Tony, already familiar with the layout of the room, showered first, and Peter took the time to explore.

 

Their suite at the Rosewood Sand Hill Hotel was as extravagant as Peter had expected. Fully kitted out with a beautiful sitting room, a bathroom with an enormous shower, and a full bar. The balcony overlooked the stunning greenery surrounding the property, as well as allowing for a picturesque view of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

 

...and there was only a single bedroom, with one California king-sized bed.

 

Frustration curled in Peter's gut, and he held back a bark of hysterical, despondent laughter.

 

He heard the water shut off, and moments later, Tony came out in dark, worn jeans and a band tee, barefoot, hair still damp.

 

Peter took a deep breath, closed his eyes for a moment. "Mr. Stark--"

 

"Peter," Tony said. "Take a shower, throw on something casual. We'll go down to get some--"

 

"Nope. No."

 

"Pete--"

 

"Mr. Stark. There's one bed in this room. One. I'm sure the chaise over there is awesome, but I'm also sure you weren't planning on a round of 'rock paper scissors' for sleeping arrangements."

 

"Of course not. The bed's more than big enough for two."

 

Peter glared at his boss. "It's big enough for four, but it still doesn't qualify as space. Space that I shouldn't have to mention at all, because normal, healthy human beings don't force their presence on others when it's not wanted."

 

The muscle in Tony's jaw twitched. The man's expression was cool, but his eyes were flinty, and maybe a little hurt.

 

"You need to move past whatever it is you're holding against me, kid."

 

"And you need to quit trying to sleep with your employees," Peter fired back.

 

"Consider yourself terminated," Mr. Stark's tone was exasperated, his expression challenging. "You'll be eligible for re-hire in, oh, two days."

 

"Fine." Clumsy in his anger, Peter shucked his blazer before grabbing the hem of his t-shirt to yank it off over his head. He marched across the room to stand a few feet from Mr. Stark, his arms thrown wide open.

 

Tony didn't move, hands buried in the pockets of his jeans. The surprise in his gaze turned hotter.

 

Peter's responding arousal wove through his irritation, intensifying both.

 

"Well?" Peter demanded, heart pounding. "I'm right here. You've got the big-ass bed. Have at it." He glared at the motionless man in front of him.

 

"Unless," he spat out, "unless you're planning on taking up Ms. Daniel's offer from earlier. Or, maybe you could just go to the lobby and pick up some other insanely attractive stranger. I'm sure there's someone out by the pool that would be over the goddamn moon to get into bed with you--"

 

Mr. Stark crossed the distance between them in a few strides, taking Peter's face in both hands and kissing him roughly, cutting off the diatribe.

 

Just as Peter brought his hands up to bury them in Tony's hair, Tony pulled back; not completely away, but far enough to look.

 

From a few scant inches, he stared into Peter's eyes. The billionaire was still frustrated, but clearly amused, and his pupils were dilated.

 

"Jesus, kid. Anyone ever told you you're a fucking brat?" He teased as he snagged another short kiss, a quick nip at Peter's lower lip, and grinned at Peter's noise of indignation.

 

Peter shuddered when Tony's hands slid down to his waist, skin tingling as Tony's thumbs skated down and traced along his bare hipbones.

 

Oh shit. Peter weakly attempted to backtrack, to hold on to the last surviving shreds of righteous frustration.

 

"Hilarious, coming from you," he said a little breathlessly. "Something about a pot and a kettle."

 

He made himself let go of Tony's hair and step back to put space between them, and without those calloused fingers on his bare skin, Peter's brain made a more effective attempt to whir back to life. He dipped down to pick up his shirt from the floor and then stood to face Tony, shoving aside the short burst of disappointment when the genius didn't immediately pull him back in.

 

"Okay." He tried not to twist the garment in his hands. "I'm going to shower. Alone. And we're going to eat in a public place, and we're going to talk." He raised his brows at Mr. Stark, willing compliance.

 

"This place has excellent room service. And a nice post-orgasm glow does wonders for tough conversation." Tony's face was the picture of innocence, but his eyes were dancing.

 

Peter scowled at him, and Tony held up his hands in surrender.

"Okay, alright. Have your lonely shower. I'll save you a seat at the restaurant."

 

"You do that," Peter said, uselessly, and suddenly felt exposed. His cheeks heated and he was proud of himself for resisting the completely ridiculous impulse to stick his tongue out at Tony's knowing smirk.

 

**

 

In the shower, Peter tried to focus.

 

It would be best to just clear the air and try to build a more appropriate relationship with his employer. Yes, they'd kissed (and it'd been fantastic), but Peter was going to go down to that restaurant and put it all out there, establish the hell out of some boundaries. He was going to go in, professional guns blazing--

 

Glancing down at his below-the-waist situation, he sighed and turned the water temp down.

 

No he goddamn well was not. He was completely, hopelessly stuck, and he was going to dig himself deeper because he was a fucking masochist, apparently. It would at least explain why part of him was really starting to enjoy all of it.

 

 

********

Chapter Text

"Alright, kid; lay it on me."

 

Peter had just sat down. He flicked an amused eye roll at Tony and then gestured to the glass of water in front of him.

 

"I was thinking we could maybe order, first. I feel like I need a stronger drink for this."

 

Tony shrugged. "Already put the order in."

 

"Of course you did."

 

Tony's lips twitched. "Start talking so I can understand the reason we're here and not in our room taking advantage of that California king."

 

Ignoring the stupid little thrill at 'our room', Peter tried to will away his impending blush. He took a drink of water, a cheap excuse to break eye contact, and the server chose that moment to stop by the table and drop off their drinks.

 

When the server left, Peter met Tony's eyes again. The billionaire smiled at him, entertained but...encouraging.

 

Warmth bloomed in Peter's chest before he could quash it completely. Tony being receptive was perfect, but Peter wanted to be ready in case the conversation went south. He had to be.

 

"I don't know if you want what I want," he said.

 

Tony arched a brow.

 

"Not--not that," Peter said, clearing his throat, "I'm pretty sure we're on the same page about that part." Tony's eyes darkened, roaming over Peter's pinking cheeks, and Peter muscled back the flood of images that spilled forward from the fantasies tucked away in his brain.

 

"I mean--I don't know if we're on the same page about...the rest of it," he continued. "Sometimes it seems like you're right there with me, and then I remember--I'm not really sure how to deal with. Well. You're not--you haven't--"

 

"Take your time," Tony teased.

 

Peter scowled.

 

"You never apologized," he said, more sharply than he'd intended.

 

Tony's brows lifted. "For...?"

 

"The party. The Senator's thing," Peter said,"the woman in the red dress. The, uh. The one I saw you with."

 

Tony looked at him quizzically. "That was weeks ago."

 

"Yeah," Peter frowned, his chest going tight, "and in the bathroom the other night, when you were looking at me like--it was all I could think about."

 

He swallowed and looked at Tony. "You, uh. You pretended like nothing happened, after."

 

The billionaire just looked more bewildered, and Peter felt a sinking sensation.

 

"Because nothing did happen," Tony said, slowly. "You came in before it went anywhere. I stopped, we went home."

 

Peter couldn't find a response to that, busy working to school his features into something aside from hurt and raw incredulity at Tony's words, at the almost condescending tone.

 

Tony picked up his drink, swirled the amber liquid around in the glass. "We aren't dating, Peter. And anyway, I never saw her again. I don't even remember her name. It sounds to me," he said, "like you're trying to end this before it has a chance to begin, over what logically amounts to a non-issue."

 

Taking a sip of scotch, Tony leaned back, his eyes dark again, but devoid of the delicious heat from a few minutes before.

 

It took everything in Peter's power to not toss his drink in the billionaire's face.

 

"Wow." He took a deep breath. "Okay. A non-issue." A sarcastic laugh escaped before Peter could stop it.

 

"You know what, you're right, this is definitely a non-issue. It was stupid of me to even bring it up, or assume this conversation would actually be productive. I'm sorry I assumed there was any point to talking to you about any of this."

 

Tony sighed. "Pete--"

 

"Wow, you're really gonna keep going? I thought you were a genius, Mr. Stark," Peter spat coldly. "Oh, but by all means, go on. Tell me how wrong I was to react badly to seeing the man I might be falling for with his hands between someone else's legs," he stood up, managing not to flinch as the chair legs scraped the marble floor, 'Because you're right, this is definitely a non-issue, and I was obviously an idiot to expect a real conversation from you; I should've known better."

 

He picked up his drink, shot it back in one. "And this, Mr. Stark, is the reason we're not taking advantage of that California king."

 

Resisting the urge to smash it, he set the glass back down and moved mechanically for the exit, heart pounding in his constricted chest, gut roiling with nerves and anger and remorse as he left the restaurant.

 

**

 

When he got back to the suite, he sat down on the chaise and shoved the heels of his palms into his eyes, rubbing tiredly.

 

That was it.

 

He'd go back to formalities for the rest of the trip, and when they got back to the tower he'd go to Pepper and hand in his resignation. He should've done it the day before, should've just ended things right after the elevator. He still would've had to put in his notice, but it would've been a done deal, at least.

 

Hell, he should just go now. The rest of the trip had no specific itinerary, was just a part of Tony's plan to force proximity; there was no more work to be done, no more business meetings. Peter could just request they go back to New York that night.

 

Moving to lay down, he stretched out along the chaise, stared at the ceiling, and tried to shove back his embarrassing disappointment that Tony hadn't come after him.

 

His lids grew steadily heavier, the popcorn ceiling getting more fuzzy, and his last coherent though was that the couch wasn't actually half bad.

 

**

 

Beeping from the entrance of the suite jolted Peter awake. Blinking rapidly in the darkness, not quite remembering where he was, Peter went to sit up--and then a door clicked and opened, and he heard feminine giggling.

Peter froze. No. His stomach dropped, and then rose to block his throat.

 

"Hey, shh," he heard Tony practically stage-whisper, "you don't wanna wake anyone up."

 

There was more giggling, and then a shuffling noise.

 

Peter was actually going to throw up. This can't be happening.

 

"Anna--Abby, sorry--thank you so much for the escort, you've been an absolute delight, but I'm going to turn in for the evening."

 

The wash of relief lasted only until Peter's groggy brain reminded him that he didn't know where they'd been, or how long he'd been asleep. He tried to breathe as quietly as possible, concerned that his panic was going to become audible very shortly.

 

"Are you sure you couldn't use some company? I know those big beds can get lonely..."

 

Ugh. Despite his discomfort, Peter rolled his eyes.

 

"I appreciate the offer," he heard Tony say, "but I've got an early start tomorrow. Thank you again, sincerely, and I hope you have a great rest of your evening."

 

There was another sound of shuffling, another giggle, and then the sound of the door shutting.

 

Peter didn't move. Couldn't.

 

Footsteps approached the sitting room, and he shut his eyes, tried to relax and feign sleep.

 

Tony came up to the chaise, close enough that Peter could hear the minute shifting clothing as he sunk down low beside the couch, right next to Peter's head.

 

"Pete?"

 

Peter willed himself not to move. Kept his breathing sleep-even.

 

Another shifting of fabric, and then there was something near his face and he flinched.

 

Shit.

 

He opened his eyes, staring at the billionaire as his vision steadily adjusted.

 

Tony was stock still in front of Peter's face, wearing a deer-in-headlights look, one hand raised hesitantly and hovering near Peter's face.

 

Peter could smell the traces of scotch on Tony's breath.

 

Neither moved.

 

Expression mostly cautious, but becoming fondly amused, Tony slowly reached back out. He hesitantly brushed the hair back from Peter's forehead, and then more confidently carded his callused fingers back through through the locks, massaging lightly, pleasantly against Peter's scalp.

 

"You're gonna hurt your back, sleeping out here. Come to bed," he murmured.

 

Peter finally unfroze, sitting up and away from the unfairly good feeling of Tony's hand in his hair. Shifting to sit fully upright, he fumbled with the lamp on the side table until the light blinked on, then squinted and wiped at his eyes.

"What time is it?"

 

"Almost ten."

 

Tony didn't stand, he just stared up at Peter from where he knelt on the floor. He didn't seem drunk, but definitely wasn't sober; Peter could see it in the relaxed set of his shoulders, the openness of his gaze.

 

Exhaling tiredly, Peter felt a flimsy rush of animosity.

 

"You didn't want to invite Abby inside?"

 

Tony actually groaned, his head dropping forward.

 

"Because those big beds sure do get lonely, Mr. Stark."

 

"You're killing me here, kid," Tony said, tilting his head to look back up at Peter.

 

Peter stared back at him. "I'm putting in my resignation."

 

Tony stiffened.

Peter swallowed, but kept going. "If I weren't so tired, I'd ask to fly back tonight. But I mean it. I'm quitting." He blamed the residual grogginess of waking on the burning at the corners of his eyes, the tremble of his lips that he barely managed to fight back. He looked away to smooth his features back out with some effort, and nodded shortly.

 

"If we could go. In the morning."

 

The silence was oppressive. Peter's pulse pounded in his head. The beat seemed too steady for how difficult it was to breathe.

 

After a long moment, Tony got up to sit beside Peter on the chaise, a foot of space between them.

 

The billionaire dragged his palms down his face, ending with both hands in prayer position over his mouth, before they dropped listlessly to his lap. He huffed a humorless laugh.

 

"It's times like this I wish I still smoked," Tony said. Dragging in a long breath through his nose, he angled himself to face Peter. "I know the talk in the restaurant didn't go well--"

 

"What do you mean, Mr. Stark?"

 

Tony looked at him drily, but the corners of his mouth twitched upwards.

 

"Will you let me finish?"

 

"As long as you understand that I'm still going."

 

Tony's eyes went bleak for a flash, before he masked the emotion.

 

Peter felt a surge of both satisfaction and guilt.

 

Tony nodded. "Message received." He cleared his throat.

 

"As I was saying, I know that went poorly. I'm not good at this. Ah, feelings. Communication about feelings. I don't see a point in getting caught up in them. They make everything messy and drag problems out that could've been solved with more efficiency." He looked abruptly exhausted. "It's why things...tend not to work out."

 

Peter sighed. "Mr. Stark--"

 

Tony held up a hand. "Nope. It's my turn." He stared at Peter for a moment, hand twitching in the air before he dropped it back to his own thigh. His smile was pained, frustrated and wanting, and it fell away quickly.

 

"Pete. Kid," he said, tiredly, "I want you around. I want you happy. I want you any way I can get you. Shit, make me sleep on the couch, put me in the doghouse--just, throw me a bone, here."

 

"You just brought a strange woman back to the suite."

 

"I did. We flirted. We drank. She touched my arm, and I let her walk with me to the door, because I was going to invite her inside."

 

Peter flinched sharply.

 

"But I didn't. I didn't even want to. The only person I want to help me mess up those sheets was passed out in this sitting room." Tony swallowed. "Just...please, kid. Give me something to work with, here. Give me something to change your mind. Tell me how to fix this."

 

Peter closed his eyes.

 

When he opened them, Tony was still gazing at him, eyes red-rimmed with stress and drink, exhausted and hopeful.

 

Peter stood.

 

"You can do the work yourself." He ignored the thrill in his gut at the way Mr. Stark's eyes went rapidly from indignation to shrewd consideration.

 

"And you are staying on the couch tonight."

 

Peter walked out of the room without a backward glance, Tony's eyes burning into his back like a physical touch.

 

**

 

In the bedroom, Peter slowly removed his clothes, tried to will his pulse to slow.

 

God, he'd felt...powerful.

 

Sort of vindictive, too--that, he felt a little bad about; he didn't actually want Tony to hurt, he just wanted him to understand that Peter was serious, that he'd meant what he'd said.

 

But the small wave of doubt was at the moment far eclipsed by the electric rush of the conversation.

 

 

Peter's fantasies including Tony denoted no outstanding preference to who was in control; he'd always been as happy to imagine Tony bending him over the workshop table as he was to imagine bending Tony over himself.

 

He still felt that way, but man; he'd been hard since Tony had said 'please', had told Peter in no uncertain terms that he had--that he was--what Tony needed.

 

He wasn't going to be able to sleep like this.

Slipping between the covers in just his boxer briefs, he lay back and slid a hand under his waistband.

 

There were still doubts, but there was no way Peter would be able to forget this feeling. No way he'd be able to just let this go.

Chapter Text

They were back on the jet in the morning.

 

Peter had his tablet on his lap, was tapping out the beginnings of his resignation letter. He could feel Tony's eyes on him, but every time he looked up, the man was looking elsewhere; out a window, or fiddling with something on his phone.

 

It was awkward, and it was definitely Peter's fault.

 

**

 

The night had been...rough.

 

Alone in the massive, empty bed, the high of the sexual charge had faded. What little was left had been no match for the relentless, rising volume of the doubts that trickled back in.

 

After struggling through a few hours of restless sleep, Peter had dragged himself out of bed and through a quick perfunctory shower. While he'd packed his things, he'd contacted the pilot and flight crew to have the jet ready to go, wheels off the ground by seven sharp.

 

When he'd woken Tony to fill him in, Tony'd just stared at him, gears turning.

 

For a moment, Peter had almost caved. Thought about apologizing, canceling the flight; almost told Tony they should stay--Never mind, let's stay, let's order room service and spend the whole day messing up those sheets like you wanted, like I wanted--

 

But then the genius had stood silently and walked to the bedroom to pack.

 

**

 

"You're really doing this."

 

Peter straightened in his seat, clearing his throat. He met Tony's eye.

 

"I told you. I meant it." I'm sorry.

 

Tony nodded slowly and looked away, staring into the middle distance for a moment before his expression went flat, eyes empty, and he turned back to his phone.

 

Peter finished his letter and struggled the rest of the flight trying to convince himself the knot in his chest was smaller than it felt.

 

**

 

 

**

 

 

**

 

Most of Tony's 'science binges' lasted between eight and twelve hours. Peter was familiar with those.

 

This one was closing in on thirty-six.

 

The workshop table and surrounding floor had become a small landfill of wrappers, cans, and paper coffee cups, filling in the spaces between the bits of scrap metal and parts.

 

At the center, the genius was perched on a wheeled stool, his bloodshot gaze up and bouncing between multiple holo-screens, processing and reprocessing project schematics, blueprints, and walls of scrolling text. Every few minutes, he'd reach out to move something around or flick away an image to replace it with another, and then he'd sink back down, lips moving silently as he bounced ideas off himself.

 

Peter stood a few feet away, watching him work. The only reason he'd let the binge go on this long uninterrupted was because he had JARVIS ordering and delivering food down to the shop, and the AI had assured Peter that Tony had actually been eating.

 

"Mr. Stark."

 

Nothing.

 

"Mr. Stark."

 

When there was still no response, Peter sighed. "JARVIS, save and shut down the holo-display."

 

The screens winked out and Tony made an indignant noise, whipping around.

 

Peter's lips twitched as he fought a smile.

 

"I was in the middle of--Peter. Oh." Tony blinked and scrubbed at his eyes. "What time is it? Do you need something?"

The billionaire's hair was a mess, sticking up in places he'd repeatedly pushed his hands through. He clearly needed a shave, and his eyes were a little on the manic side from the overload of caffeine as much as lack of sleep.

 

Peter wanted to kiss him.

 

"It's two-thirty in the morning," he said instead, "you need a break."

 

"Just a few more hours and you can drag me out into the light of day, I promise," the genius winked and turned back to his desk. "JARVIS, bring everything back up--"

 

"JARVIS, security override. Code: Parker. Lock down all project files. It's Saturday, Mr. Stark," Peter said, "You've been down here since Thursday; you're taking a break."

 

Tony's back stiffened as Peter spoke, and Peter was bracing himself for the backlash; then, just as abruptly, the tension visibly slipped away.

 

Spinning lazily in his chair, Tony turned to face Peter. After a considering look, he reclined against the edge of the work table, his eyes making a blatant, drawn-out trek up and down Peter's body.

 

Oh. Okay.

The heat that pooled low in Peter's abdomen was bittersweet, and a welcome distraction from the plain ache he'd carried since California, since the day they'd returned and he'd handed his letter to Pepper; since he'd begun the contractually required thirty day notice.

 

In the fifteen days since, Tony had been distant; indifferent or outright cold for the first few days, before settling into the 'Tony Stark' version of professional regard (polite but dismissive). Peter hadn't made any move to bridge the gap (out of guilt, out of shame, out of pride), but he'd caught Tony looking at him a couple times; brief flashes of heat or tenderness or frustration that were hidden almost immediately.

 

The look the billionaire was giving him now was vulnerable and direct and pure heat. Peter doubted he'd be receiving that look if the man wasn't on a workshop bender, but when Tony's legs fell open just a little bit more, a little farther, Peter's eyes dipped down without his consent.

 

Even framed with the signs of almost-manic lack of sleep, Tony's smirk was lethal.

 

"Tell you what," he tilted his head, his dark eyes burning into Peter's, "I'll take a break if you help me relax."

 

**

 

"This isn't what I had in mind," Tony mumbled.

 

Peter quirked a small smile. "I know."

 

He glanced over.

 

It had been a bit of a struggle getting the genius to the penthouse, but Peter had managed to get him there and onto the media room couch without things going past a PG rating. He'd turned on the original Star Trek, and ten minutes into the first episode Tony had gone from sitting stubbornly upright to sort of curl-draping in the corner of the back and armrest.

 

The T.V. droned quietly on in front of them, light from the screen flickering over both of them. Peter watched as Tony's eyelids drooped, shot open for a moment, and drooped again.

 

He swallowed past the lump in his throat and tried to pay attention to the show.

 

Another fifteen minutes and Tony was out cold; eyes shut, lips parted slightly, breath even.

 

The billionaire always slept hard after a binge, dead to the world, a drained battery recharging. After six hours or so, he'd wake up, slump groggily into the penthouse kitchen to make himself a cup of way-too-strong coffee, and sit at the island until he was just human enough to take a shower and get back into the hectic rhythm of his life. Back to the workshop, or out to a meeting, or down to R&D to geek out with the scientists at the lab.

 

Months ago--God, it felt longer--when Peter had just started, Tony would wake up after a binge, have his shower and coffee, and needle Peter into picking out a place for breakfast--or lunch, or dinner. If Peter couldn't pick, Tony would drag him out to an insanely expensive bistro or some hole-in-the-wall that served food that felt like home.

 

The first couple of times, Peter had told himself it was an escape attempt--a rich, busy man looking for breathing room--and then later, as he got to know Tony better, started to think it was a mix of apology and gratitude that Mr. Stark never seemed able to express outright.

 

Tony Stark never really apologized. He could change his mind when presented with new data, could use that data to progress, to grow; but a direct 'thank you' or 'I'm sorry' was a vulnerability he just couldn't seem to allow himself.

 

Peter turned, sitting with his back to the corner, one leg bent on the couch and the other hanging off, foot on the floor. He gazed for a moment at the sleeping genius, letting himself feel the affection and the hollow space in his chest he'd been avoiding for days. For...months.

 

"I miss you."

 

The words felt too loud in the dark. Even knowing just how out the genius had to be, Peter waited.

 

When there was no response, he continued, softly.

 

"I saw you today, and I'll see you tomorrow....I've seen you almost every day for the last six months."

 

He chewed his lip. "I didn't know I could miss you when you're always around.

 

"That first--that charity gala--" Peter tilted his head to meet the cushion of the backrest, "We never talked about it. I still think about it. All the time."

 

The gala had been his first foray into Mr. Stark's societal obligations. He could remember those first days of employment: a client too busy to have a real conversation, and Peter, too busy acquainting himself with the new position and pretending he wasn't starstruck by his client to try.

 

He'd been at his post--just behind and to the side of his charge, discretely monitoring the people in the crowd--as the man worked the room, when Mr. Stark had turned smoothly but suddenly to face him. Peter had been dazzled by the glimpse of bright mischief and smooth confidence before he was guided into position on the dance floor, the billionaire's hands sure as he stepped in close.

 

He'd made some quip about needing a break from the yuppies and something about avoiding some socialite, but what Peter remembered most were Tony's eyes: warm, but curious, intense--like Peter was a puzzle, a machine he might want to take apart and understand.

 

When Peter's face had heated, Tony had winked and shot him a quick, playful smile before tugging him a fraction closer.

 

The moment had been a splash of color; Peter hadn't even realized his world was so grey--

 

A pinging noise sounded, jarring in the quiet of the room, and he was brought back to the present with a jolt.

 

Shit shit shit...He shot reflexive look at Tony as he leaned to scoop his phone from the coffee table.

 

Of course, he hadn't moved.

 

Peter glanced down at his phone. He sighed, willing his heart down from his throat.

 

Check-in timer. Christ. He'd forgotten to turn it off after he'd gotten Tony out of the shop.

 

Peter dragged a hand down his face.

 

The late (early?) hours seemed to fall on him all at once, and he was tempted to just fall asleep there; stretch out, push his legs across the cushions and see if Tony would adjust, tangle them together in his sleep--

 

Fuck. Time to go.

 

With some effort, he pulled himself up and went to move past the end of the couch to the elevator--and stopped.

 

He hesitated for a long moment, looking down at the sleeping billionaire.

 

Fuck it.

 

Before he could talk himself out of it, Peter leaned down to press a kiss to Tony's temple, and gently pushed a lock of messy, unwashed hair off his forehead.

 

Peter's chest went rubber band tight, and he pulled away.

 

He wondered, for the hundredth time since he'd handed in the letter, whether he was doing the right thing.

Chapter Text

"Tell you what..."

Tony gazed up at him, all dark eyes and lazy-smug smile.

"I'll take a break if you'll help me relax."

Peter smirked down at his boss, his heart thudding wildly.

"I'd love to, Mr. Stark."

Sinking to his knees on the concrete shop floor, Peter eased forward until Tony's thighs were warm at either side of his waist. He leaned in and brushed his lips under Tony's jaw, alternating between kissing and nipping at the skin of his throat and then lower to his collarbones as he slid his hands slowly over worn denim, from Tony's knees towards the hard length already straining near the zipper.

He let his thumbs graze along Tony's cock through the fabric, listened to him gasp and felt Tony's fingers tighten in his hair--

 

 

Peter woke with a start.

The repetitive buzzing from his nightstand pushed away the concrete details of the dream in short waves, until the images had the faded quality of an old memory.

He turned the alarm off and sat up, scrubbing his palms down his face. Shoving the covers back, he sighed down at his erection, and then pushed himself out of bed and began to zombie his way through his morning routine.

Peter had known he shouldn't have hoped for anything...but he'd hoped.

He'd woken up after he left the penthouse those days ago hoping that Tony might call him, might whisk him off to brunch, spend some time talking with him across some cheap Formica tabletop over cups of black coffee and a hot breakfast. Something from what they'd had before, something that wasn't frosty distance.

But, Tony hadn't said anything.

Not the morning after the binge, not in the days following, even though Peter could feel Tony's eyes on him from time to time when he wasn't looking.

He had one week left, and he was perfectly okay with it.

Really.

 

**

 

"...and I'm fine. Really," Peter said, picking at the edge of the couch cushion he was sitting on.

He'd been on the phone the whole time Tony was in the shower, and now he could hear the muffled sounds of the billionaire moving around his bedroom to get ready to head out for the shareholder meeting.

"Really."

"...Really, really."

At the other end of the line, Peter heard Johnny's snort over the faint sounds of wind, motorbike engines, and distant voices calling back and forth.

"Look, man, I know it's been a while, but I still for sure know when you're lying to me."

"No you don't," Peter grumbled petulantly, smiling in spite of himself when Johnny laughed at him.

The background noise picked up, engines and voices much louder, and Johnny pulled away from the phone to yell something before he came back.

"Okay, Pete, I gotta go, I'm up next. You got this shit, Parker; get through the week, get to the pad, and we'll do something when I'm back next week, yeah?"

"Yeah. Bye, dude. Be safe."

"Where's the fun in that?" Johnny hollered before hanging up.

Peter brought his phone away from his ear, and smiled at the flashing 'Call Ended', feeling lighter than he had in...god, in a while.

He was so grateful for Johnny Storm. The guy was a ball of reckless energy, but weirdly dependable--as long as he wasn't required to be physically present one hundred percent of the time.

Peter met him in their freshman year of high school, bonded with him over action movies, video games, and a shared interest in free-running, and then, when Peter came out to him in their sophomore year...they bonded over that, too. They dated for six months before mutually calling it quits, but stayed close until after they graduated college, distance a natural product of Johnny taking off to throw himself into extreme sports (a little of everything, but mostly motocross) and Peter getting started with his career.

Johnny was great at what he did and popular with the media, and even though consistent wins and big sponsors meant that he traveled more often than not, he'd bought a condo in Manhattan where he could crash when he wasn't on the circuit. In that condo, there was a spare bedroom that was always, always available for Peter to use.

Johnny made sure Peter had a place to go, even if Johnny himself wasn't there; even if they didn't talk for months.

Peter had shot him a quick email when he'd put in his notice, and hadn't heard anything until about twenty minutes ago, when Johnny had called. Before that, they hadn't talked since Peter had moved into the tower.

It felt good to tell someone about Tony, even just the Cliff's Notes version, almost as nice as it felt to know he'd get a full week with his best friend right after...everything.

He was still smiling at his phone when Tony came out of the bedroom.

Peter stood, shrinking his smile into something cordial and flat as he turned to his boss, and he saw a flash of something like suspicion flit across Tony's features.

"Ready to go, Mr. Stark?"

Tony looked like he was going to say something, and then the mask slid back in place.

"As I'll ever be, Mr. Parker."

 

*

 

That evening, when Peter got back from his run, he was beyond ready to shower and turn in for the night.

After he boarded the private elevator and pressed the button for his floor, he slumped back against the adjacent wall, let himself feel the burn in his muscles and the sweat cooling on his skin. Out of habit (and lack of other visual stimulus in the structure) he watched the digits change on the display

When the lift rose smoothly past his floor, his confusion lasted all of a few seconds, and then he groaned and scrubbed at his eyes before glaring impotently at the still steadily climbing numbers.

 

*

 

"This could be considered an abduction," Peter called as he stepped off into the penthouse, the elevator doors sliding smoothly shut behind him.

When no one answered, he frowned.

"Mr. Stark is currently in the Media Room reviewing sport footage."

"'Sport footage', huh? Thanks, J," he said as he padded through the suite.

The media room lights were dimmed to almost nothing when Peter opened the sound-proofed door. Tony sat planted on the couch, one arm along the back and the other on the armrest, a tumbler of scotch in his hand.

"Hey, Pete," Tony said, not looking as he gestured to Peter with his glass before throwing the drink back in one swallow, "Never told me you knew the all-American darling of extreme sports."

The muted clip on-screen was from the recent summer's X-Games, an interview between some media correspondent and...Johnny. Peter numbly watched past-Johnny's animated response to whatever the interviewer had asked, his gut roiling with disbelief and growing anger.

"You--Did you record my phone call?"

If Tony could hear the strain in his voice, he didn't mention it as he stood from the couch to walk past him out the door.

Peter followed stiffly as the billionaire crossed the small lounge to the black marble bar against the wall directly opposite. Moonlight spilled through the floor-to ceiling windows on the adjacent side, leaching color from the parts of the room not touched by the golden light of the wall sconces above the bar.

"The call was placed to a company phone provided to you by--well, me. I'd be well within my legal right," Tony said over his shoulder as he poured himself another drink, "But no. I had JARVIS trace the number."

Peter stopped a few feet back and laughed without humor.

"Of course--you couldn't just ask. You know, I can't believe I'm actually a little surprised you would do that to--"

"How do you know him."

"That's none of your fucking business, Mr. Stark, sir," Peter snapped, "and, frankly, I don't know why you care."

Tony didn't look at him, just stood facing the bar.

The silence stretched, and Peter couldn't take it.

"Well?" he demanded.

"Your face. After the call. You looked--"

"Happy," Peter cut in. "I looked happy."

"...Yes."

"So you committed a gross violation of privacy because you're jealous."

"I didn't say that," Tony said, not turning around.

Something spiteful clawed to the surface.

"I used to fuck him."

Tony's shoulders visibly tightened under his t-shirt, and uneasy heat bloomed in Peter's chest.

It had been an unnecessary, childish jab--provocative and cold and uncomfortably satisfying--and he braced himself for the genius to lob something just as harsh.

Nothing, for a moment...and then something quiet, bitten out.

Peter heard him.

Just barely, but enough.

"What was that, Mr. Stark?" he murmured anyway.

Tony tensed again, and then exhaled, going loose, as though his strings had been cut. He tilted his head back just a little as he swallowed his scotch, and then the glass came back down on the marble with a loud crack.

"Lucky. Him."

Fuck. Heat unfurled under Peter's skin at the unexpected concession, and he crossed the few steps between them, heart thudding in his ears, chest tight.

He heard and felt Tony's sharp intake of breath when he pressed up against the billionaire and crowded him forward against the bar. The genius made a quiet, desperate noise, arching minutely into the contact, and Peter leaned into him, using his weight to pin him still.

He smoothed his hands from Tony's waist down to his hips, and, after a moment of hesitation, he nuzzled into the hair behind Tony's ear and spoke softly, his voice wavering just a little.

"Thank you. That was...good. Sir."

Tony groaned in the back of his throat.

Peter was breathless.

"That wasn't so hard, was it?"

Chapter Text

Peter froze up.

 

This was it; he had Tony right there, pressed between himself and the bar, had the chance to get his hands under those ridiculously expensive clothes, figure out how to pull more filthy sounds out of the older man...but it felt wrong. He started to pull back, to pull away, and Tony reached up to wrap a hand around the back of Peter's neck.

 

"Don't stop there, kid," Tony said, breathlessly, squeezing a little, "You can do this. Give it to me. Come on."

 

But Peter couldn't. Not like this; not when it'd just be another result of them swiping at each other's emotional nerve endings. Not when it would be something hollow and angry and desperate.

He pushed his face into the side of Tony's neck and closed his eyes, letting himself breathe in the scent of Tony's skin and the faint intermingling of the scotch on the billionaire's breath. Sliding his arms up to wrap tight around the broad chest, he turned his head enough that Tony could hear him.

 

"You can't just--you can't just do that. You crossed a line. I can't--I can't reward you for--."

 

"Then don't reward me."

 

Peter shivered. "Tony--"

 

"If you stop touching me, you're fired."

 

A short laugh broke past the knot in Peter's throat. "You're an idiot."

 

Tony arched his hips back just a little, a hint of the pressure Peter wanted.

 

"You try to think when there's a hot twenty-something grinding on your ass."

 

Clamping down on his own response, Peter stepped back. The hand at his nape squeezed harder, resisting him for a moment, before going lax and sliding off as Peter pulled away until the only points of contact were his hands on Tony's waist. He watched Tony brace his palms on the marble counter top in front of himself, the inventor's head dropping to hang down between his slightly curled-in shoulders.

 

Peter was sorry as he finally let go.

 

"Tony, I--"

 

Tony's hands turned to fists on the marble.

 

"Don't go, Peter," he said. "Stay. Please."

 

Peter's chest clenched. He wanted to mold himself back against the billionaire--okay, I'll stay with you, I'll stay--but he couldn't bear the thought of doing this again. Over and over and over.

 

The room became a trembling gold and silver blur, and Peter squeezed his eyes shut.

 

"I can't. I lo--I can't."

 

He didn't bother trying to gather himself, didn't pull up the veneer of self-control. He just turned and walked quickly away, through the suite to the elevator.

 

He held it together until the doors slid shut behind him.

 

**

 

Over the next seven days, everything just...deteriorated.

 

 

* * * * * * *

 

 

"The meeting's in an hour--"

 

"I'm aware, Mr. Parker. I'll meet you at the car."

 

"...Okay, Mr. Stark."

 

 

* * * * * *

 

"Ms. Potts is requesting--"

 

"Pepper can call me herself. JARVIS, music."

 

Tony turned back to his work, and Peter walked away.

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

"Hi--hi, Mr. Parker; um, Mr. Stark told me to tell you that he--uh, he 'doesn't need a babysitter for blowing things up'."

 

The random R&D tech looked both starstruck and incredibly nervous.

 

Peter sighed.

 

 

* * * *

 

 

"I'm sorry, Mr. Parker, it appears your clearance to Mr. Stark's personal workshop has been revoked."

 

"All--alright, J. Thank you."

 

 

* * *

 

 

"Is he at least eating?"

 

"Meals are being delivered, and physical scans indicate caloric intake."

 

"Thanks, J." Peter scrubbed a hand down his face.

 

 

* *

 

 

"Ms. Potts, it's been almost three days. He's eating, but I'm locked out, I can't--"

 

"I'll check on him," Pepper said, rising from her seat.

 

"...Thank you. I'm sorry."

 

Her sympathetic--her empathetic smile burned him.

 

"It's okay, Peter."

 

 

*

 

After the movers collected his few boxes, Peter walked through the apartment.

 

The place was still furnished the way it'd been when Peter moved in: all clean, modern lines and minimalist decor. It was straight from the pages of an interior design magazine.

It was like he'd never been there at all.

 

In the bedroom, he sat down at the edge of the mattress. Stared at his hands. Remembered the cut of Tony's hips in his palms, the warmth of his body when Peter had been pressed up against him.

 

Don't go.

 

Stay, please.

 

Peter stood up and left the apartment.

 

*

 

Pepper called him to her office in the afternoon.

 

He didn't really want to go.

 

"Peter," Ms. Potts smiled warmly and professionally when the door opened, "Come in, please."

 

Peter slipped into one of the two chairs across from her, feeling small and trying semi-successfully not to white-knuckle the armrests.

 

The CEO cut an imposing figure seated behind the mahogany beast of a desk.

Her strawberry blond hair hung sleek and perfect down the lapels of her all-white skirt suit, her look contrasting boldly with the hue of the desk and the dark leather of her high-backed chair.

Framed by the overcast sky through the floor-to-ceiling windows behind her, she reminded Peter vaguely of a powerful mythological figure, recast in the trappings of American Corporate.

 

"You, uh, you wanted to see me?" He winced slightly.

 

A hint of amusement filtered into Ms. Potts' expression.

"I did. We need to review a couple other things before you leave the company; get all the ducks in a row, so to speak," she said.

 

"Oh, yeah, of course." Peter's grip on on his armrests relaxed slightly.

 

"I also wanted to speak with you about Mr. Stark."

 

Unable to muster a verbal response, Peter just nodded.

 

"As CEO," Pepper started, folding her hands on the desk in front of her, "I need to reiterate that you are contractually obligated to utilize discretion when discussing anything relating to your time under Mr. Stark's employ, and that the details of your relationship are not to be released to the media under penalty of legal action that would be brought upon you by Stark Industries."

 

"We weren't--" Peter cut himself off before Pepper could, and nodded, swallowing. Oh god. She knows something. She talked to Tony or watched the tapes or talked to JARVIS. She saw--

 

He was thrown off when Pepper stood from her chair and came around the desk. She grabbed and angled the other empty chair to face Peter, and sat down, putting a hand on his forearm closest to her.

 

"As someone who knows a bit about what you're going through," Pepper said, "I want you to know you did well."

 

Peter didn't know what to say. Pepper smiled at him sadly.

 

"He's...a lot," she said, exasperated and fond, "it takes a certain kind of strength to handle Tony Stark--"

 

"I'm leaving hi--the company, leaving the company," he blurted, flushing slightly. I'm running away from him.

 

Pepper just smiled softly again and squeezed his arm. "Sometimes the strongest thing a person can do is leave."

 

She gazed at him solidly in understanding, without pity or judgement, and Peter abruptly wished he'd been able to get to know Pepper better.

 

"Thank you, Ms. Potts," he said, swallowing.

 

"Pepper, please," she said.

 

With one last squeeze, she released his arm and stood to return to her seat behind the desk.

 

"Now. Per exit procedure, Mr. Parker, we need to review the contracts signed at the beginning of your employment, including..."

 

*

 

The rest of the meeting passed without incident, and without further mention of their initial conversation. When he stood to leave, Pepper walked him to the door and gave him a final warm smile before shaking his hand and wishing him well on his future endeavors.

 

There wasn't much left to take care of, as far as tying up his loose ends for work; he'd begun working on that the day he'd turned in his letter. Tony--Mr. Stark hadn't reached out to him at all, and there were really only small inter-department errands to be completed, so Peter used them to stop by a few offices, say farewell to some of the employees he'd gotten to know in the last seven months. None of the goodbyes were overly-emotional; mostly friendly well-wishing and the usual 'we have to get togethers' on which neither party really planned on follow through.

 

By the time six-fifteen rolled around, fifteen minutes before the official end of his day, he had almost convinced himself that he could pull off the goodbye he'd saved for last.

 

*

 

Peter stepped onto the private elevator and cleared his throat.

 

"Hey, J...can you take me to Ton--to Mr. Stark?" he asked.

 

There was a beat of silence, long enough that Peter considered Tony might have already revoked his clearance entirely, and then the lift began its smooth ascent.

 

As he tried and failed not to watch the numbers climb, he tried to figure out what to say.

 

It was great working with you, sorry I ran away after I didn't fuck you over the bar the other night. See you around!

 

Yup. Super.

 

The doors pinged open all too soon. When he stepped out, he just stood in the entry way for a moment. Tony hadn't come out to greet him immediately, and the idea of actually walking farther into the penthouse suddenly seemed like a terrible idea.

 

What if he wasn't even there? What if he was in the shop, watching Peter through a camera, waiting to see him search every room--

 

"Mr. Stark is currently located in the bedroom," JARVIS supplied out of the blue, making Peter jump.

 

He exhaled hard and pressed a hand over his eyes.

 

"Yeah. Thank you, J."

 

"You're welcome, Mr. Parker."

 

*

 

The room was in its usual disarray; a couple computer parts and remnants of small projects scattered on and around the large desk against the wall beside the door, a few items of clothing on the floor or over the back of the desk chair. Across from the door, the wall was almost entirely glass, made into a mirror by the darkness outside, reflecting back the golden glow of the single bedside lamp and a ghost image of the room, speckled by distant lights from the smaller skyscrapers visible from this side of the tower.

 

Tony was sitting propped against the headboard of the enormous bed on the wall left-adjacent to the door, a StarkPad in hand, a bottle of scotch and a glass on the nightstand next to him. He didn't look up when the door opened.

 

Peter stepped just inside the doorway, clearing his throat.

 

"Mr. Stark."

 

"Mr. Parker."

 

That bad-idea feeling was back, stronger than before, and Peter nearly turned and walked right back out. When he failed to say anything else, Tony looked up impassively.

 

"This is the part where you tell me why you're in my bedroom."

 

Cast in gold light and shadow, his boss was painfully attractive, with an unfortunate emphasis on painful. The nearly sixty-hour shop binge was still obvious on Tony's face--he looked exhausted, and he still hadn't shaved, his cheeks and jaw still faintly shaded with beard growth.

 

"I came to say goodbye, and--and to thank you. For the opportunity," Peter said, the words stiff and inadequate. "So. Thanks. And, um...yeah. Goodbye."

 

Cringing inwardly, gut churning, Peter turned to leave, before he could do anything to embarrass himself further. Like cross the room and climb onto the bed.

 

"So that's it." Tony's voice was carefully neutral behind him.

 

Peter stopped in the doorway, but he didn't turn back around.

 

Not even close. "Yeah. That's it." He cleared his throat. "And just--you know. Take care of yourself."

 

Autopilot carried him from the room towards the elevator.

 

It hadn't been enough, nowhere close, but it had to be. It had to be fine.

 

Because if it wasn't fine, then his chest might actually cave in. Then he might actually lose control and really cry in front of Tony Stark for a second time. If it wasn't fine, he'd want to fix it. If it wasn't fine--

 

Peter's fingers trembled where they were poised to push the elevator call button.

 

It's not fine.

 

He pushed the button, anyway.

Chapter Text

Tony stared at the vacant doorway.

 

He's gone. He's actually gone. Really, actually gone.

 

The thought was annoyingly clear, even through the not-yet-receded binge-fuzz.

 

He can't be gone.

 

Even in the wake of his disastrously stupid move with Peter's phone and his...friend (ex-lover--that's an image that's never washing out), and then the moment in the lounge (hard as hell and frustrated and shaking apart in the aftermath of being so vulnerable), even after the whole train wreck of the last week, he hadn't really believed it.

 

You're not allowed to be surprised. You knew where this was going. You always know.

 

And he had. From the very first time he'd looked at Peter Parker and thought: I don't know what I'd do without you.

 

He had the chance to have everything.

 

So he'd lit it all on fire.

 

He could still remember the look on Peter's face from that night, the way the brunet had been like a deer in headlights on the other side of a small ocean of champagne and broken flutes. For a moment, Tony'd panicked at the thought that Peter might actually cry--please, no, I'm sorry--and then the kid had done that shut-down thing he was so good at, back to being solid and fucking professional, zero to sixty in nothing flat. It had always reminded Tony a little of Pepper; just another reason he'd been so certain it was doomed.

 

The regret was immediate, but it was too late. And Tony was too selfish to just let Peter protect himself. He made it maybe one day before he started flirting. Ridiculous, ham-handed, stupid come-ons, just to see the way Peter's cheeks turned pink, or the way he'd try to hide a laugh. It felt almost normal...if Tony ignored the moments when he could see Peter remember why he wasn't letting himself laugh, why he couldn't just relax. The quick flashes of pain followed by grim resolve were torture in themselves, and Tony had done that.

 

And then that shower, that kiss. God.

They'd finally been okay for a little while, for a couple of days. So Tony'd pushed. Tricked Peter into the bathroom and tried to flirt it away, and it had almost worked. Almost. He'd seen the flare of heat in those warm brown eyes, and then suddenly it'd been a wildfire, a disaster that started with a rough kiss that was practically an attack, and ended with Tony's heart in shreds as he watched Peter cry and then gather himself back up behind a miles-high wall, while Tony begged him not to put it up.

 

You did that. It's your fault.

 

His attempt to fix it had been just as selfish. Stole him away the next morning. Enjoyed the way he could see Peter reacting to this new friction, the heady feeling of conflict mixed with want. He'd seen shades of dominance in the kid before, brief seconds that left Tony questioning, but the possessive way Peter had stared down the head of the branch at the Valley had given Tony all sorts of ideas, images chasing each other through his head the whole ride back to the hotel.

 

The next kiss had been so much better. Everything about it. Peter confidently (if clumsily) yanking his shirt off, all that lean muscle and smooth skin on display...equally as good as the way he'd suddenly gone breathless when Tony got his hands on those sharp hipbones.

 

And then Peter had cut too close to home. Asked for the apology. Wanted an explanation.

 

Tony fucked up again. He'd chosen himself.

He'd just needed it to not be a big deal, needed to not recall the way Peter had seemed as shattered as the glass in that pool of Dom Perignon all those weeks before. He'd excused it away, watched Peter think about throwing the drink in his face and then judged the kid for causing a scene. Shown up back at the hotel room with a woman he hadn't even wanted, begged Peter for a chance, and thought he'd gotten it. Jerked himself off laying on that chaise, to fantasies of a shirtless Peter looking at him the way he had when he'd told Tony to sleep on the couch.

 

And then he'd woken up to the nightmare of reality: that Peter couldn't even bear to spend another day alone with him, even on an all-expenses paid vacation in California. That Tony had fucked up that badly. That Peter was actually leaving.

 

He'd been angry. Angry with Peter for closing him out, angry with himself for blaming Peter. Angry with the immutable nature of the past. Angry with himself for being angry. He didn't want to drink, so he threw himself into the shop. Lost track of time. Made decent progress on the miniaturization of Arc reactor technology.

 

Tried to seduce Peter after going almost forty hours without changing his clothes or taking a shower.

 

That had been the last time Peter had smiled at him so fondly. Like Tony was something precious. A little bit of a blow to the ego, sure, but it'd felt so damn nice all the same.

 

God, he missed him.

 

"JARVIS, pull the recordings from the media room two Saturdays ago. The end of the last science marathon. Cast to the Pad."

 

He watched silently as the Peter in the video coaxed him onto the couch, watched himself slowly pass out as video-Peter shot glances over at him.

 

It went quiet, and Tony spent ten minutes watching Peter watch Star Trek, made himself endure the poignant weight on his chest.

 

"I miss you."

 

Tony stiffened, pulled the tablet closer to his face without thinking, staring rapt at the screen.

 

"I saw you today, and I'll see you tomorrow....I've seen you almost every day for the last six months...I didn't know I could miss you when you're always around."

 

"Me neither, kid," he murmured, suddenly sick to this stomach.

 

"That first--that charity gala--We never talked about it. I still think about it. All the time."

 

As video-Peter went quiet and smiled to himself, Tony felt a small, sad smile tug at the corners of his own mouth.

 

He remembered it, too. He remembered getting bored, working the crowd on autopilot, until he'd remembered his new, very attractive shadow. The flare of surprise and mild fluster when he'd grabbed Mr. Parker by the arm had been gratifying, but the rosy-to-red tint that poured into Peter's cheeks when Tony had pulled him in to dance had been a gift. He'd winked at the kid, stepped in close, and when Peter had blushed a little more and failed at hiding a smile, Tony had become...intrigued.

 

A loud, tinny pinging sound emitted from the tablet, and he watched Peter scramble for his phone. And then he watched him get up, pause by video-Tony...and bend down to kiss him.

 

**

 

Two days after Peter left, Tony went to Pepper's office with his idea.

 

He realized how much she must've liked Peter, because she agreed to help before he even offered his customary shoe bribe.

Chapter Text

The Monday after Peter left SI, he picked Johnny up from the airport.

Johnny's flight got in late afternoon. Per the Parker/Storm Long Distance Friendship Tradition, they'd gone straight from JFK International to the little hipster dive bar down the street from the condo, taking the last two seats at the far end of the bar, and ordered one Manhattan each (because tradition: Welcome back to Manhattan...and then shots.)

 

"Okay," Peter said, taking another sip of his drink, "...Okay. So...?"

 

Johnny planted his elbows on the bar and steepled his fingers, squinting into the middle distance.

 

"Show up naked in his bed. Or--in one of his cars. He's got some sick cars."

 

"Got it," Peter scribbled it on the napkin. "What else?"

 

"....That's all I got."

 

"You're an asshole."

 

"Oh; that sign you brought to the airport makes sense now."

 

Peter laughed and groaned. "Johnny, you dick, help me."

 

"Go sit down with him and actually talk about things."

 

"....Help me different."

 

"Take a shot. You're on vacation."

 

"I like that better. I feel helped."

 

 

**

 

 

"I didn't know it was possible to be so sad around so much champagne..."

 

"Pete, you fucking drama queen."

 

 

**

 

"He has a blowjob elevator?"

 

"What--no, it's like an elevator with a...blowjob setting. Mood lighting"

 

"...that sounds like the same thing."

 

**

 

 

"You said no to orgasms from Tony Stark."

 

"....uuuuugh."

 

"You said no--"

 

 

**

 

"And then she's like 'I know these big beds get lonely, Mr. Stark'--"

 

"Fuckin' Abby."

 

"Fucking Abby, dude."

 

 

**

 

"Peter."

 

"...I know."

 

"Peter. We haven't done the do since highsc--that one time in college."

 

"I know..."

 

"Like a bazillion years ago, Pete--"

 

"I knoooooowwww!"

 

"...."

 

"...."

 

"Pete..."

 

"Mm?"

 

"I made--Tony Stark was jealous. Of me."

 

"Ugh, Johnny."

 

 

**

 

 

"He could've been dead, under a pile of metal things and his enormous ego--"

 

"For sure."

 

"--and I couldn't even get in."

 

"To pick up his ego."

 

"Exactly."

 

"....What was your job, there, again?"

 

 

**

 

 

Peter tossed the keys haphazardly towards the kitchen island, heard them go skittering across a hard surface and then hit the linoleum somewhere with a loud, short jingle. He was still laughing as the door shut and the light came on.

 

"Dude, you still giggle."

 

Peter gasped. "I do not giggle. I have never 'giggled'."

 

Johnny arched his brows.

 

"...You giggle," Peter grumbled.

 

An arm draped around Peter's shoulders, and then he and Johnny were navigating the living room until they landed on the couch. Johnny let go of him to drop into the corner, and Peter lay back, his head on Johnny's lap, staring up at the popcorn ceiling.

 

Peter groaned. "I forgot how awesome this couch is, Jesus."

 

"It's a good couch." Johnny's fingers started carding through Peter's hair. It felt nice.

 

"Johnny."

 

"Yeah, Pete."

 

"What if we--"

 

Johnny laughed. "Nope."

 

"You're prob'ly right."

 

 

Peter lay in the silence for a moment, suddenly weirdly aware of the ticking from the wall clock.

 

 

"Johnny?"

 

"Yeah, Pete?"

 

"Love is stupid."

 

Johnny scritched at Peter's scalp. "Don't hate the game. Hate the players."

 

"Yeah, you're right."

 

"...."

 

"....Wait."

Chapter Text

Peter was too hungover to do more than stare, bleary and unimpressed, at Johnny, as he climbed into Peter's side of the cafe booth.

"Come on, Pete; smile and say 'Regret!'" Johnny said, throwing an arm around Peter's shoulders and grinning into the front-facing camera. Peter gave him a dry look, and Johnny took the pic before sliding out and into his own seat, focused on his phone display.

The second half of the Storm/Parker Long Distance Friendship tradition was the Hangover Breakfast (which was essentially Johnny dragging a half-dead Peter out for food, because Johnny was an overly-resilient asshole who almost never got a hangover), and this time they'd ended up at a tiny hole-in-the-wall cafe Peter had recognized immediately.

He dropped his chin into his palm, his other hand wrapping around his coffee mug, and gazed outside.

A pretty decent slice of sky was visible between the buildings across the street. It was overcast, everything kind of gray-pretty in that early-November way, significantly different from the morning Tony had brought him to this place, after the second shop binge of Peter's employment.

They'd taken one of Tony's sports cars, a gold Maserati ("Sure you don't want to drive, Pete?" "This car is worth more than my life, Mr. Stark.") that looked especially ostentatious parked in one of the few compact spots alongside the worn brick of the building. It'd been early, the summer sunrise pushing back the velvet of the night, and the two of them had sat in a window booth and worked their way through several cups of coffee, making easy conversation and getting caught up in stretches of eye contact that went on for too long to be casual.

Peter felt a twist of yearning as he recalled how, after a short while, Tony had hooked his foot around Peter's ankle under the table, how he'd smirked when Peter had blushed and looked out the window...

 

Johnny kicked him in the leg, and he jumped.

"Dude. Food. Quit pining and feed yourself."

Peter threw a sugar packet at him.

 

**

 

When they got back from the cafe, they settled on the couch and threw themselves into an overly competitive marathon of MarioKart. Eventually, after Peter was subjected to a frankly embarrassing number of losses, he heard Johnny drop his controller to his lap.

"Parker, what the fuck was that."

Peter scoffed, not looking over. "Sorry I can't play at my best the day after a tray of shots."

Johnny gave him a flat look, and then reached up and flicked him in the ear.

"Hey--"

"You're not doing this."

"...I'm not doing anything..." Peter grumbled as he rubbed at his ear.

"You haven't mentioned Tony once since last night," Johnny said, sitting up and forward, turning to face Peter. "Not once. When you're not talking, you're not 'moving on'; you're living in it. You always do this. You did it with Gwen. With MJ. With Harry. The only reason you didn't with me was because you were already my best friend, and I'm a persistent fuck who wouldn't let you wallow in your garbage in silence."

Peter opened his mouth--

"And don't you try to tell me I'm wrong," Johnny interrupted, "because I'm not."

God damn it. "This isn't--fuck. It's. Okay, yeah. Fine. Fine," Peter glared halfheartedly.

Johnny wasn't wrong. He'd resolved not to bring up Tony, with the dual purpose of pretending he wasn't constantly thinking about the billionaire, and not filling up his and Johnny's finite amount of quality time with his own heartbreak.

"Good," Johnny said, dropping a hand on Peter's knee, squeezing once before he let go and sat back against the seat with a snort. "'Not doing anything' my ass."

 

*

 

After the 'Kart confrontation, things felt....better. Easier.

The days were morning visits to the gym, afternoons arguing over video games and watching movies. Every few hours they'd wander out to restock on takeout. (At one point, Johnny had left by himself after telling Peter he'd learned some Chinese...and come back with one of everything from the Chinese place down the street and a very disgruntled look on his face. Peter had died.)

Johnny pulled him into a few selfies, usually during or after pissing him off or making him laugh. And Peter...let Tony's name come up in conversation. Mentioned him when he was reminded of the inventor--

 

(Scrolled through Netflix, stopped on The Terminator.

"Tony can't do Arnold," Peter said.

"No one can do Arnold," Johnny had replied easily. "Only Arnold can do Arnold."

They both spent the entire movie attempting to imitate Arnold.)

 

--and, eventually, he talked.

 

*

 

"It was good," Peter said, rolling his beer bottle in his palms.

They were sitting on the living room floor on Johnny's last night, leaning back against the front of the couch, a six pack between them. One of Johnny's arms rested across the cushions behind Peter's shoulders; the blond didn't say anything, just waited for him to keep going.

"I--he said we weren't dating. When I tried to confront him about that woman. Like that made it okay, like I was supposed to be like 'Oh, yeah, totally; let's fuck!'" Peter snorted shortly. Stopped rolling his beer in favor of picking at the label.

"He wasn't wrong, but...It was good, before. Before that night. And then he said that, and I felt...stupid. Young." He took a drink, grimaced. "Everything after that was just a cluster."

Johnny's arm slid off the couch and fully around Peter's shoulders.

"Yeah," Johnny said, pulling so Peter leaned against him, kissed him on the head, "You kinda did fuck it up."

"Gee, thanks." He felt Johnny grin.

"Anytime. But," Johnny let go so Peter could sit fully upright, turned to look at him, "sometimes 'stupid' is just 'scared'. You know Stark more than almost anyone else, now; do you actually believe it wasn't big to him, too, at all?"

Peter exhaled, looked down at the bottle in his hands. It was a question he'd avoided asking himself; if he accepted that, somehow, Tony had been just as freaked out as he was, even in a different way...then Peter had just been...hurting him back, even before the moment in the lounge.

He sighed, and Johnny reached up to squeeze his shoulder.

"Just...trust me. I'm sure he's thinking about you as much as you're thinking about him," he said.

 

 

*~*~*

 

 

Tony took another sip of scotch. Stared at the TV screen. Scrolled back to the first picture.

For the last week, Storm's Instagram feed had been all Peter.

Selfies together--in the booth at a cafe, Peter hung over and glaring at the side of his friend's face; in the gym, Storm flexing an arm while Peter smiled, exasperated and fond, from the treadmill behind him; Johnny kissing Peter's cheek while Peter glared murderously past the camera, a PlayStation controller in his hands; Johnny grinning in front of an enormous pile of take out boxes, Peter beside him laughing so hard there were tears on his face.

And the portraits. Fuck.

Tony confidently assumed those were done incognito, because Peter wasn't big on attention--he made his living as a shadow, for God's sake--and the kid looked way too relaxed; candid.

Fucking gorgeous.

A shot from behind, walking down the street; Peter glancing off to the side, hair tossed by the wind. Hands tucked in his jacket pockets, and long, toned legs in sinfully-fitted darkwash denim.

One in someone's apartment; Peter stretched out along a pale grey sectional, staring straight upward. One arm folded behind his head while other rested across his stomach, a sliver of skin visible between the waistband of his flannel pants and his soft-looking grey t-shirt.

A side profile of Peter in the gym, steadying a heavy bag with wrapped hands. Shirtless, in basketball shorts, hair damp and sticking to his forehead and nape, face flushed and lips parted like he was catching his breath. Eyes focused and bright with adrenaline.

(Tony was keeping the gym picture. Forever. The background for all his personal devices. A framed poster to hang on the ceiling over his bed. Forever.)

He'd been stung, at first. Hurt, uselessly jealous. Resigned himself to seriously considering scrapping his plan entirely. Almost called Pepper and told her to cancel--if not all of it, at least the end part.

If Peter was happy, he'd leave him alone. Let him move on. Stop checking (stalking) his not-ex's new whatever on social media.

But, after the first few pics appeared, he'd read the tags, and determined that Johnny Storm was a meddling shit.

Hashtag 'piningparker'. Hashtag 'hismoonandstark'. A few others, hidden among the superfluous amount of tags under each picture.

Tony begrudgingly approved. Very begrudgingly. And kept following the feed.

 

*

 

On what was apparently Johnny's last day in town, the athlete posted another selfie; this time, of he and Peter sitting in the airport gate waiting area, a pair of earbuds split between the two of them. Their smiles were a little smaller, softer. Pre-goodbye smiles.

Tony still wasn't sure about Storm, but by that point he at least didn't hate the guy, and he felt a twinge of sympathy for Peter. The depth of their closeness was obvious, even in a few pictures, and over those several days Tony'd gotten a glimpse of a side of the brunet he'd never had the chance to see before. Reminded him of he and Rhodey, and how long it'd been since Tony'd last seen his own best friend.

He hoped Peter was doing alright.

 

*

 

He stayed in the media room. Scrolled up and down through the photos. Considered and dismissed getting himself a few fingers of scotch.

"A verified user has submitted a direct message request to your Instagram. Would you like to accept it?"

Well, shit. Tony huffed a laugh. JARVIS was set up to screen everything, and usually declined any social media requests automatically. Unless he deemed it important. If this was what Tony thought it was, then his firstborn was as much a fan of Peter as his CEO.

"If you think I should, J."

"Request accepted, sir."

On the screen, a new photo appeared.

Another portrait, from the first day.

It was from the same booth, and it was definitely one of the places he'd taken Peter for breakfast--he recognized the plush-looking backrest, and the visible bit of the window decal. Peter was wearing a hoodie, the sleeves pushed up to his elbows. He was hunched forward, the long fingers of one hand wrapped around his coffee mug, the other propping up his chin while he gazed out the window. He looked fond, and sad. Wistful. Too tired and comfortable to hide his emotions, or maybe just too lost in thought to realize that they were written all over his face.

Under it was a short message:

Don't fuck this up.

Chapter Text

"I have a job for you."

"...It's four in the morning."

"Not in Germany."

Peter groaned and rubbed at his face. "Why are you like this."

"It's a one-night thing," Johnny continued as if Peter hadn't said anything, "it's one of my sponsors. He's got this big shindig in two days, his regular guy isn't available, and I suggested--"

"Four in the morning," Peter repeated flatly, glaring at the ceiling in the dark.

"Money and something to do," Johnny shot back, "Anyway--rude--I suggested that my very good friend who's very good at his job and looks amazing in a suit would be available."

"Johnny--"

"Come on, dude; I know you're bored as shit."

He wasn't wrong. It'd been two weeks since Johnny had left, and Peter had been doing the same thing every day: Go to the gym. Binge watch Netflix. Browse contract listings. Think about Tony.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Peter wasn't good at vacation. At being purposeless.

He sighed. "Okay. Alright. Just. Give him my info and go away."

"Will do. Love you, Grumpy Gills."

"I'm hanging up."

 

*

 

Two days later, he was in California, at an ocean cleanup fundraiser being held at the Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco.

The event itself was a standard high-class fundraiser--Black-tie, ten grand a plate--and the venue was beautiful, all dark wood and warm browns and golds, tall arched windows with tied back drapes.

His client, Dr. Richards, was a genius scientist on the more awkward end of the spectrum, but not unpleasant to be around. For the first hour or so, they made their way around the room at a glacial pace, Peter following while Richards stopped to pluck hors d'oeuvres from passing servers or make quick superficial conversation with the other party-goers while sipping champagne.

It was obviously possible Tony might show up, but significantly less likely than if it'd been held in New York, and Peter was both relieved and a little disappointed when he didn't see the billionaire among the throng of well-dressed socialites.

He'd fallen into autopilot--ready to react if necessary, but secure enough in the environment to tune out most of the conversation--and was silently imagining what it would be like if he'd attended the fundraiser with Tony, instead, when Richards leaned into his arm.

"So," the doctor said over his flute, a poor attempt at casual, "Johnny tells me you guys used to free-run together."

Discretely sidestepping just so they weren't in direct physical contact, Peter nodded. "Yeah, in high school and college. Haven't done it in a while."

"He showed me some of the old videos, insisted there was something beyond average about you," Richards said, again too casually. "From a physics standpoint, you aren't anything out of the ordinary; but your endurance and your flexibility were certainly impressive. Definitely versatile traits to have. Pleasantly so, in the right circumstances."

Ugh.

Peter held back a sigh. The delivery was too obvious to be anything but a little awkward; it was clear the doctor's attempt was a champagne-fueled moment of daring, rather than actual experience, and it made Peter cringe inwardly. While it wasn't the worst he'd been subjected to on a job--Reed Richards was, at least, not completely terrible to look at, and the flirting was more innocuously ham-handed than anything--he needed to nip it in the bud before the guy got any more buzzed.

"Dr. Richards, as flattered as I am by your assessment, and with all due respect to those in the profession, I'm not that kind of escort," Peter said smoothly.

"That's not what I've heard," Richards returned, playfully, taking another swig of champagne.

Peter's stomach rolled unpleasantly, and he was glad he could pass off his sudden aversion to eye-contact with the man as another scan of the room.

"Excuse me?" Peter said, the calm a little more forced.

"Everyone knows what Stark's like," Richards said, swapping his now-empty flute with a fresh one from a passing server, "he keeps quality company, and you certainly fit the bill."

The room abruptly felt smaller, the crowd more packed in together, and if Peter wasn't so fucking professional, he'd probably be hyperventilating.

Richards wasn't threatening him; he was just buzzed and socially oblivious, unaware of the weight of his words. At best, it was a regurgitation of speculation from some of the hundreds of people Peter had come into contact with while working with Tony, and rumors never really meant anything.

At worst, there was the possibility that Tony might be encouraging that narrative.

Because it was technically possible--especially if someone at Reed Richards' tier was saying something about it. This wasn't a gossip rag posting about Tony Stark out with his new boy-toy (there had been a short-lived phase in the tabloids that ended when they couldn't get anything substantially scandalous); this was someone who ran in the same, or similar, circles as Tony, talking like it was fact.

Peter gave him a flat look. "Well, I'm sorry to disappoint--"

"Richards! Fancy seeing you here. How's the wife?"

Tony was just there, suddenly, and Peter's surprise overrode his irritation with Richards. He blatantly stared at the billionaire...who didn't look back at Peter. At all.

Richards cleared his throat. "Ah. Hello, Anthony. Sue's good, thanks," he said a little sheepishly, shooting an almost comically obvious glance at Peter.

"I know I'm not the poster child of restraint, but I think you should maybe lay off the bubbly, Reed, before you bumble yourself into a harassment allegation," Tony said pleasantly. He plucked the mostly untouched flute from Richards' hand, gestured in mockery of a toast, and then vanished back into the fold as seamlessly as he'd appeared.

What the hell. Not even a glance.

Peter stared numbly in the direction Tony had gone while Richards fumbled his way through an apology and then an awkward statement that he should probably leave. Peter absently agreed.

*~*~*

Tony deposited the still-full champagne flute on a passing tray and took a winding route through the herd to the bar.

Fuck.

Seeing Richards standing so close, that stupid look on his face--Tony'd been furious. Still was. But it had probably been a bad idea to approach them like he did, even if he'd done it without showing any explicit favoritism--or actual attention at all--that might have fueled the rumor mill.

Peter could take care of himself; Tony knew that. Probably would've successfully deescalated the situation fine on his own, and done it gracefully, firmly, with just a hint of snark, because it was Peter's job to handle people like Richards. But Tony hadn't needed to see the kid's face to know the words had hit him the wrong way.

So, Tony had stepped in.

"Scotch, neat," he said tightly as he reached the bar. As his drink was being poured, someone came up beside him, close but not touching.

"You probably shouldn't have done that," his new companion stated as he picked up his drink.

Tony just arched a brow. "Well, it's your job to keep me from making poor decisions, Ms. Romanov."

"I'm not a miracle worker, Mr. Stark."

Taking a sip of scotch, Tony aimed a dry look at the gorgeous, elegantly dressed redhead beside him. Natasha just arched a brow right back, her lips twitching with a smirk.

Ms. Romanov had only been with him for about two weeks, and so far she'd been a godsend (a Pepper-send). Intelligent. Meticulous. Very attentive to Tony as a client, but completely uninterested in him as a man. It all made the transition from his time with Peter a lot easier to handle.

She was also incredibly persuasive. It'd taken her all of two days to get him to spill about the situation with Peter...in its entirety...with graphic detail. Tony had even told her about The Plan.

He'd wanted to go big: Have Pepper organize a charity event, send Peter an official invite. Order him a custom-tailored suit (God, but he wanted to see Peter in a Cucinelli), send a private car for him. He'd recreate that moment they'd never talked about, ask the kid for a dance, maybe get to see him blush again. And, after all of that, dinner at Masa, the most exclusive restaurant in New York, bought out for the night for just the two of them. Followed by a spontaneous flight to Paris or something equally as romantic.

His new security detail-slash-personal assistant had gazed at him and said "No." And then promptly refused to advise him on an alternative, because Tony needed to "figure it out on his own." When he'd reached out to Pepper, she'd seemed all too ready to dismantle the plan, and Tony wondered if his CEO had been waiting for him to make that call the entire time.

And now he was here, making things worse at a fundraising event he wouldn't even be attending if Pepper hadn't forced him to go, putting back scotch and replaying the look of shock on Peter's face when Tony had intervened unnecessarily.

He sighed and shot back the rest of his drink, put the tumbler down.

"I think I've put in enough of an appearance."

Natasha trailed just behind him as they headed for the exit, and Tony silently considered what the event would've been like if he'd been there with Peter. How he would've felt Peter's presence at his back like low-level electricity. The goofy observations he might've made just to see how long it would take for Peter's composure to crack, to see if he could get the kid to snort, or something equally undignified but amused.

Maybe he would've pulled him onto the dance floor again.

Tony was feeling disproportionately exhausted when they exited into the cool of the evening. He was fully prepared to get into the waiting car and head to the airport, back to New York and the tower and the distraction of his workshop--

"Tony, wait!"

He stiffened for a moment, before turning to see Peter coming towards him, looking slightly out of breath, the doors behind him still swinging shut.

The kid looked amazing in his more formal black and grey work suit, but Tony suddenly desperately wanted to see him the way he'd been in the pictures Johnny had posted: casual and comfortable. But, preferably, in Tony's penthouse, or lounging on the shop couch while Tony worked.

Peter stopped a few feet away. He looked surprised (probably because Tony'd actually waited...and didn't that burn a little), and then his eyes moved just past Tony...and closed off. But not before Tony caught a flash of anguish.

"Never mind--It's nothing, I'm sorry--"

He started to turn away, and Tony couldn't let him. Not again.

"Peter, wait," Tony rushed out, "this is Natasha Romanov, my security-slash-assistant. She's a lesbian."

Natasha snorted quietly behind him, and Tony had the fleeting urge to elbow her. But he was relieved when Peter paused in his escape and turned back to face him, even if the brunet's expression was slightly wary.

"That's...You're not...?"

"There's no Chasing Amy situation here, no."

"Chasing who?"

In spite of the seriousness of the situation, Tony sighed.

"Never mind," he said, "I'm not sleeping with Ms. Romanov. Even if I wanted to--and I don't--she bats for the women's team exclusively."

"Oh. Okay," Peter said, blushing slightly. "Then...do you have a few minutes?"

The car and was waiting behind him, the jet was set for takeoff in an hour and a half. Tony should definitely be leaving.

"I have more than that," Tony said immediately, instead. A bloom of intense, aching relief flooded his chest as he stared at Peter.

Peter stared back, something relieved but anxious, a little wary--Tony would take it. He'd take anything Peter wanted to give him.

Chapter Text

The past two weeks had dulled the hurt a little bit, had been the distance Peter needed to begin convincing himself he'd eventually be fine without the genius. Time heals all wounds, and all that. But seeing him again was...a whole new animal.

 

Watching Tony disappear back into the crowd had been heartrending. Any of the progress he'd thought he'd made in maybe starting to move on had been completely demolished in the space of maybe thirty seconds.

 

Tony'd looked so much better than the last time Peter had seen him--eyes clear, no beard shadow--and in a perfectly tailored tux. It had even been a little bit of a turn on (a lot of one), the way he'd talked to Richards, the confidence and venom behind that pleasant smile...

 

But he hadn't even glanced at Peter, hadn't looked at him at all. Even if Peter understood the reason...it still stung.

 

Which was why he wandered casually back in to the venue after he'd escorted Dr. Richards to his waiting car and transport security. He was incredibly thankful Richards was local, so Peter didn't have to spend much more time with him than necessary.

 

Inside the ballroom, the party was still in full swing, would be for at least another hour or two, but Peter didn't care about the party. He just wanted--needed--to find Tony.

 

Not that he had any idea what he was going to say; he honestly wasn't thinking so much about the words he'd use. Peter just wanted to see him again, to feel that hot, sharp wash of feeling unique to his old boss. It wouldn't do him any good in the long run, but he wanted that renewed image for his memories, something to hold on to when he went back to New York and that empty condo.

 

As he navigated the ballroom, he was quickly losing hope (every man in the room was wearing some form of the same black tuxedo)--

 

There.

 

He was there, just about to push through the venue exit, just before a cluster of other guests.

 

Speed-walking, Peter cut through the crowd and bee-lined for the glass doors, pushed out into the cool of the evening.

 

Tony was most of the way to his own waiting black car, and Peter jogged forward.

 

"Tony, wait!"

 

The words flew out almost without Peter's consent, and he watched the billionaire stop and then turn. Tony's expression was wary, which hurt a little...and then Peter noticed the redhead who was lingering close by, just behind Tony.

 

She was gorgeous. Stunning. Red lips, hair done up, dressed to the nines in a form-fitting gown that clung to and accentuated perfect curves.

 

Fuck.

 

"Never mind--It's nothing, I'm sorry--" Peter choked out.

 

He turned to go. God, Tony'd moved on so quickly; not that Peter could blame him, if she was the one he'd moved on to--

 

"Peter, wait, this is Natasha Romanov, my security-slash-assistant. She's a lesbian."

 

Peter froze. What?

 

There was a soft snort as Peter turned.

 

A quick glance at the redhead--Natasha--confirming that the sound had probably come from her; she looked amused. But his attention fell quickly back onto Tony, who was staring at him like he was going to vanish into thin air.

 

"That's...You're not...?" Peter could feel his face heating just a bit at his inability to form a sentence, but cautious hope eclipsed most of the embarrassment.

 

"There's no Chasing Amy situation here, no."

 

"Chasing who?"

 

Tony sighed, some of the tension in his face replaced with amusement, and it made something in Peter's stomach flutter.

 

"Never mind. I'm not sleeping with Ms. Romanov. Even if I wanted to--and I don't--she bats for the women's team exclusively."

 

"Oh. Okay," Peter said, the response feeling wildly inadequate with the clash of relief and nerves and everything else exploding in his brain, "Then...do you have a few minutes?"

 

"I have more than that," Tony said immediately.

 

Despite the billionaire's reassurance that he wasn't sleeping with his new security detail, the enthusiastic response was unexpected.

 

"Oh--well. Cool. Good," Peter said, wincing internally.

 

"There's coffee and privacy on the jet. We can talk there if you'd be willing to let me fly you home tonight. I'm assuming you have no more business with Richards?"

 

The offer was almost too much, but Peter wasn't going to pass it up.

 

"No, the assignment's done. I have reservations I need to cancel--"

 

"Consider them cancelled and well-compensated for the inconvenience."

 

The billionaire flashed a smirk at Peter and indicated the car with a head tilt.

 

*

 

The thirty-minute drive to San Francisco International was surprisingly comfortable, mostly because Natasha almost immediately roped Tony into a discussion (argument) about his schedule for the rest of the week, and then something about a deadline that was approaching for the latest Stark product. She went over everything with almost pointless detail, and Tony was responding with an interesting blend of snark and mild apprehension.

 

Peter realized only a few minutes in that she'd done it on purpose. He was thankful. It was nice to have some time to get his thoughts in order before he had to actually, you know, talk.

 

It'd been easy to tell Johnny about it, about how he'd felt, but Johnny was an outside party and his best friend. Talking to Tony about Tony demanded a significantly different approach--

 

But did it, really? Did he have to speak to Tony any differently than he'd talk to Johnny? The billionaire wasn't his employer, anymore; at worst, they'd argue and maybe Tony would want nothing to do with him, but Peter would still go back to the same condo and on to more contracts, meet more people. Life wouldn't halt right there.

 

At best...At best, they might--

 

The idea of things going well, the conversation resulting in more than just an amicable understanding, was too daunting to seriously consider. He shoved it to the back of his mind and slipped into the more comfortable hope for something that would just not ache quite so much as complete separation.

 

He was still fortifying himself when the car finally slowed and they got out to board the jet.

 

At the top of the steps, Tony turned.

 

"Get in, losers, we're going to New York."

 

Peter heard a sigh nearly identical to his own, and he glanced over at Natasha in surprise. She flicked him a smirk, and Tony groaned.

 

"Alright," the billionaire said, gesturing between the two of them, "none of that. No teaming up."

 

As Peter boarded the familiar aircraft, he let himself hope for just a little bit more.

 

 

*

 

 

Tension. Just...tension.

 

Without the buffer of a surrounding crowd or a public area, or even Natasha, anymore, the weight that existed between he and Tony took center stage. Peter couldn't stop thinking about anything but the circumstances of the last time they'd been on the jet together, and it was chipping away quickly at the courage that had gotten him onto the jet tonight in the first place.

 

There were several minutes of awkward silence. Tony wore his usual air of nonchalance in the face of discomfort, and Peter was--doing the same thing, sort of. Maybe mildly regretting accepting the invitation.

 

"So," Tony started, taking a sip of coffee, "Got any more long term arrangements set up soon?"

 

Peter fought back a frown, kept his expression neutral, fiddled with his own paper cup. He was a little surprise that was where Tony chose to jump in.

 

He glanced away. "I don't--I'm not really looking for another long-term contract. Gets too messy."

 

"You like messy."

 

The words were quiet. When he looked back, Tony was gazing at him across the table, amused and fond and sad. The genius wasn't even attempting to shield the emotions, and it threw Peter for a loop.

 

"I like certainty--" Bullshit, Parker, what are you even saying.

 

Tony snorted, most of the sentimentality falling from his expression

 

"Bullshit. If you needed 'certainty' you wouldn't have lasted a month at SI."

 

"I didn't realize you were the authority on the things I need--"

 

"Your practically life-long best friend is the next Evel Knievel," Tony said. "You see him maybe once a year, and almost always spontaneously, but you make that work. Before you worked for me, your contracts were maybe a few days long, and a ridiculously broad variety of clients and duties. You used to free-run, for fuck's sake. Tell me again you don't like 'messy'. How important 'certainty' is to you."

 

Peter had been prepared to argue mostly out of indignation and mild irritation that Tony had basically read his mind, but now a cold feeling settled in his gut.

 

"How do you know how often Johnny and I see each other?" he asked flatly.

 

As Tony went still and his eyes widened in an almost comical caricature of innocence, Peter's brain churned into overdrive. A rush of surprise, of perverse flattery, and then of anger--after everything, after the phone and the lounge--

 

"What the fuck--" he started, glaring as Tony's hands shot up in surrender.

 

"It's not what you think." The genius paused, shrugged. "It's kind of what you think."

 

"Dude--"

 

"It's half what you think," Tony said over his exclamation, "but the other half is Storm being a shit. Can I explain? Or would you like to yell at me and then attempt to make a dramatic mid-air exit?"

 

Before Peter could respond, Tony wrinkled his nose.

 

"Did you just call me 'dude'? Don't call me 'dude'."

 

Peter glared at him.

 

"Got it. Not important." Tony sighed and slumped back into his seat, ran a hand back through his hair and exhaled heavily.

 

Shooting a cautious look at Peter, he asked:

 

"So. Pete. Do you ever check your buddy's Instagram?"

Chapter Text

Watching Peter gaze silently at the screen of the tablet was torture. Pure torture. The brunet's face was a flat, emotionless mask as he perused the pictures Captain Adrenaline had posted, and that blank expression was infinitely more anxiety-inducing than any outburst. Tony couldn't do anything with nothing.

 

And helplessness was...not ideal.

 

'Stark men are made of iron', Howard used to say. He beat it into Tony--with words, with fists. Taught Anthony Stark what it was to fear weakness, to abhor it. Forged the first pieces of the armor Tony worked so hard to wrap around himself.

 

Somewhere along the way, Tony'd weaponized it, learned to point that fear at the people he loved, whenever love hurt. His arms-length approach to relationships usually ensured minimal blow-back.

 

But Peter crawled under his skin like no one else.

 

Tony'd ignored the pull for months. Flirted and stole Peter away and pretended he didn't notice how he was dragging Peter in closer and closer. Pretended he was just on a scenic route to an illicit fling with an employee.

 

The moment he stopped pretending had been the kiss of death. It hadn't been anything of significance; a morning after a binge. The way Peter had looked, still trying to wake up, even after a second cup of coffee, the start of a third. Tony had finished rambling about his progress on a higher-functioning AI, and Peter had been gazing at him, soft and amused and fond.

 

It didn't matter that Peter hadn't understood most of what he'd said (most people didn't). The kid had been listening. He always did. Gave Tony his undivided attention without making it look like a struggle. Kept Tony company when it didn't benefit him, when it was well beyond his job description. He always cared.

 

Instead of leaning over the chipped wooden table and planting one on the kid, Tony'd looped an ankle around one of Peter's, watched him turn red and look out the window.

 

They'd sat in that cafe for hours, gone through a couple pots of coffee as the sun came up--

 

That cafe. Shit.

 

He'd forgotten about--

 

Peter huffed a reluctant laugh suddenly.

 

"Hashtag 'his moon and'--that's terrible. Shouldn't have gotten him into GoT," Peter mumbled.

 

Tony pasted on a smirk, shot a glance over and picked up his coffee.

 

"I liked that one." Tony said before taking a sip. "Don't tell him I said that."

 

Despite his mild panic, Tony felt a rush of gratification when a smile ticked up the corner of Peter's mouth.

 

"He doesn't need the ego boost," Peter said almost absently as he tapped at the screen. "You should've seen him when--"

 

The abrupt silence wasn't a surprise, but Tony almost flinched anyway.

 

He had anticipated multiple reactions from Peter: Tension. Hurt. Anger, realistically. But the sudden wide-eyed look on Peter's face was as alarming as the blankness from a few moments ago, in that Tony had no idea what to do with it.

 

After a moment, the brunet set the tablet down on the table, planted his elbows on either side of the device, and pressed the heels of his palms to his eyes. Said nothing.

 

Tony glanced down at the StarkPad and barely managed to hold back a groan.

 

Shit. Okay. He'd reinforced the 'obsessive ex' impression. Possibly irreparably. And much more disturbingly, since they'd never actually been a couple.

 

"Pete--" Tony started.

 

A quiet, humorless laugh cut him off.

 

"You keep--" Peter inhaled shakily, "you keep doing things that make me hope. I'm so sick of hoping."

 

Peter's hand dropped, exposing damp, red-rimmed eyes. A panicked, splintering feeling spread behind Tony's ribs as the kid kept going.

 

"You won't--I can't--you keep hiding things from me--"

 

"And you keep finding reasons to run."

 

The hurt and indignation--the guilt--on Peter's face as he struggled with a response was gut-wrenching.

 

Tony hadn't meant to fling it out there. He knew he was at fault. He knew he fucked up. But he only ever played offense. He shouldn't have gotten so close, shouldn't be fighting like this--

 

"Tell me why I shouldn't," Peter finally bit out, glaring at him.

 

Tony took in the splotchy flush across Peter's cheeks and neck. The obvious distress in his eyes, the tight set of his jaw. Regret lodged a stone in Tony's throat as he stared back across the table.

 

Look what you did.

 

You're going to lose him. No matter what you say. You were always going to.

 

You already have.

 

'Stark men are made of iron'.

 

Helplessness was not his friend. It'd never done anything for him. But, God, he was tired of maintaining this unbreakable bullshit with someone he--

 

Someone special.

 

Tony rose from the white suede recliner, heart pounding, and stepped around the end of the table until he was standing beside Peter's seat. He left enough room for the chair to swivel to face him.

 

Peter stared up at him, now wary and more than a little confused. Tony wasn't sure what his own face was doing. It wasn't important.

 

"Tony, what..."

 

He lowered himself carefully to the floor as Peter trailed off. Knees to plush carpeting (he'd never been more grateful for the extravagant interior of the jet), Tony sat back on his heels. After a deep breath, he put his hands on this thighs, steadied himself, and looked up at Peter.

 

*~*~*

 

Turning slowly in the chair, Peter came to a halt when he was fully facing the billionaire.

 

"Tony, you don't have to--" Peter started, but stopped when Tony shook his head minutely.

 

It was too close to a fantasy to be possible, absolutely unreal. So much so that Peter had the fleeting, almost hysterical thought that he might actually be dreaming.

 

"I'm sorry."

 

Peter froze, a thrill shooting down his spine, and stared at the genius.

 

Holy shit.

 

There were a lot of ways to respond, but Peter's mouth was suddenly a desert.

 

Tony was gazing up with a blend of shame and resignation, jaw clenched. His hair was slightly mussed from when he'd pushed his hand back through it earlier, and the ends of his bow tie hung down, framing the couple of buttons he'd undone when they'd first sat down.

 

Peter felt a little guilty for wanting to mess him up more.

 

As the silence dragged, something like desperation slashed across Tony's features, a silent plea and something like fear, and Peter took a chance.

 

"I--" Peter swallowed, "I need you to be more specific, Mr. Stark."

 

The words came out soft and cold, and surprisingly steady.

 

When Tony tensed and looked down, shutting his eyes, Peter was sure for a moment that he'd made a huge mistake--

 

Dark eyes returned to fix on Peter's, raw vulnerability mixed with something almost rebellious. Challenging. He wasn't moving to stand.

 

"For that night. Specifically," Tony said, shortly.

 

Peter reflexively gripped the suede armrests.

 

Oh.

 

Not a mistake, then.

Chapter Text

Something felt off.

There was hunger under that wordless dare, but it was frantic, unsure, like Tony thought Peter was going to disappear...

...or reject him.

Guilt knocked the wind out of Peter.

If Tony was only offering this to keep Peter from leaving, they couldn't do this. There was a dark appeal to the idea, sure; but there was no way following through with it while that--God, that fear was present, was a good idea. And now Peter couldn't stop thinking about how he'd pushed Tony before, pushed until he'd made himself vulnerable, and then left.

Regardless of the circumstances, he shouldn't have...shouldn't have left him there, an emotionally vulnerable mess.

"Don't go."

"Stay. Please."

Tony might not have admitted to it in the moment, still might've shut Peter out, but Peter couldn't help but feel like he should've done...something; stayed or at least left him with more than half a response.

Peter realized he'd been silent for far too long when Tony's expression faltered. For a fraction of a second, the billionaire looked mortified with himself, and then that too familiar distance washed over everything else.

Tony started moving like he was going to stand.

Oh, no no no--

"Stop," Peter blurted, sick, shifting forward in his seat. "Don't get up!"

Tony stopped, stared at him for a long moment...and then the blankness just fell off his face, leaving him looking painfully worn out.

"It's okay, Pete. It was too much, I shouldn't have--"

"No! No, it wasn't--I mean, yes, kind of--but not for--ugh."

Before he could talk himself out of it, and before the bemusement on Tony's face could turn into something worse, Peter took Tony's face in his hands and kissed him.

It was supposed to be quick--a reassurance and a distraction (I'm here, I'm not going anywhere), a way to pull Tony out of the place he'd gone in his head--but the stiffness of surprise faded quicker than Peter'd expected, and then Tony was kissing him back.

Oh. Wow.

Tony tasted like coffee and faintly of scotch, and like himself. Like the memory of the kiss in the hotel room and the one in the penthouse shower.

Peter tangled his fingers in Tony's hair, keeping him close even though the billionaire was making zero effort to pull away. It felt good, warm and sweet and painful, the lingering sadness and doubt rubbing elbows with Peter's steadily increasing desire to know what the rasp of Tony's goatee would feel like on the inside of his thighs.

When Tony tried to coax him to open further, Peter broke away reluctantly, nipping at Tony's now kiss-swollen lower lip and dropping his hands back to the 'safe zone' of the other's shoulders.

"We really do need to talk," Peter said, knowing the breathlessness didn't make him sound particularly firm.

Broad palms, stacked one over the other, cupped Peter's right calf over the fabric of his suit pants, sliding up to wrap around the bulk of the muscle.

"Kiss me like that again and I'll do whatever you want," Tony said. After a considering pause, the billionaire shifted, spreading his knees just wide enough to fit Peter's right foot in the vee of his thighs before he settled back on his heels and just looked at him.

Oh. Peter had definitely had this fantasy before.

Their brief makeout session had left Tony's hair a little messier, his cheeks a little brighter. There were still hints of caution in his eyes, but he was gazing up at Peter like there was nowhere else he'd rather be than practically straddling Peter's shin.

He looked good like this.

"I shouldn't have to give you anything," Peter said slowly, watching for a negative reaction as re-threaded the fingers of his left hand into the hair above Tony's nape. "I want you to apologize because you mean it."

He waited for comprehension and approval to overtake the wariness in the other's eyes, and then Peter tightened his hold and tugged, drawing Tony's head back sharply.

Fuck—”

The surprised curse and the way Tony's lids fluttered shut was rewarding, but Peter practically got goosebumps when he felt the billionaire resist the hold, just barely, testing.

When Tony's eyes opened, they were at half-mast.

"You like that, Pete?" he said lowly, wetting his lips, "Like pushing me arou--"

Tony cut off with a gasp as Peter pressed the sole of his right shoe down lightly over the hard length already straining those expensive tuxedo pants. It was another chance, another risk, and Peter was being careful; he felt a frisson of excitement and relief at the expression of shocked pleasure on Tony's face.

"I do, Mr. Stark, but we need to stay on track," Peter said, relaxing his grip on Tony's hair. He'd used his 'difficult client' voice, pleasant but brooking no argument, and he'd done something right, because Tony canted his hips up into the pressure.

“You want more?” Peter asked.

"Always, kid," Tony said, voice warm and desperate, and Peter felt one of the billionaire's hands leave his leg.

The feeling of Tony pressing down to encourage Peter to add more pressure against his most sensitive place should’ve been incongruous with the intimacy of the moment, but it really wasn’t. They'd always been like this, even without the physical component; pushing at each other until one of them bent.

So Peter pushed, shivered at Tony’s curse and the way the billionaire’s fingers flexed and dug into his calf. Tony leaned forward to press his temple to the inside of Peter's knee, like he was grounding himself

“I want to give you everything,” Peter said, tugging lightly at Tony's hair again, “but I need something from you, first.”

Tony let out a breathy, incredulous laugh, and Peter felt a rush of heat and pride at getting the billionaire so worked up.

"I'm waiting," Peter said evenly, releasing Tony's hair entirely to sit back and gaze at him expectantly.

"Fuck," Tony muttered. He swallowed audibly and lifted his head. "You know, You know what I--"

A new, less fun tension trickled into Tony's expression. He looked so young and so tired at the same time, resigned in that way he'd been before they’d kissed, like he still expected Peter to bolt or look down on him.

Unease curled in Peter's gut, and he moved his foot back to the floor as he sat forward again, ready to end this already ill-advised game himself before it could make everything worse. But before he could say anything, Tony moved again, pressing his forehead to Peter's knee.

The heat between them cooled to a simmer, something more poignant flooding in. Peter's mouth went dry.

"You don’t know what you do to me," Tony murmured, quietly enough that Peter wasn't sure he was supposed to hear it.

After a beat of silence, the billionaire's free hand rejoined its twin, and the grip on Peter's leg tightened fractionally.

"I'm sorry. About that night. That woman. Everything that came after."

Peter returned his hand to Tony's hair, massaged lightly at his scalp. Warmth bloomed in his chest when some of the tightness eased out of Tony's shoulders.

"Why--" Peter cleared his throat, "Why did you do it? I thought we were...we were good, together," Peter said, pain leaking into the words.

Tony’s humorless huff of laughter brushed warm through Peter's pant leg.

"Self-preservation is the worst kind of devil to have on your shoulder," Tony said, lifting his head, brushing his lips across Peter's kneecap as he gazed up. "Very persuasive. Takes no prisoners." He arched a brow. "I can go over the laundry list of sins, if you want. Seems appropriate. I’m already on my knees."

The obvious flirting was both heartening and exasperating.

“That’s not an answer, that’s a distraction," Peter sighed.

“It’s what I’m best at," Tony said nuzzling Peter's leg and looking up at him

“Obviously not."

When Peter raised his brows at him, Tony sighed.

“You started to mean something,” Tony said, with an air of surrender. He rested his chin on Peter's knee. “I could say I did it for you, to protect you, but we both know that’s bullshit. I didn't want losing you to be an actual loss. So...evasive maneuver.”

The billionaire's tone was regretful, but not nearly as strained as before. It was...comforting, despite the words themselves.

“…You’re an idiot," Peter said, giving the hair in his hand a short tug.

“Yes. And you're less upset than I thought you'd be."

Tony didn't look so split-open, anymore; his gaze was more curious than wary, and he'd started sort of petting Peter's leg, stroking lightly up and down his calf with both hands, gently squeezing every so often. It felt good, a different, much more pleasant tension beginning to permeate the air between them, but Peter didn't feel right about watching Tony rip himself open (to the capacity that he could) without giving something back.

"I...I missed you," Peter said. "I couldn't--I can't stay angry with you. It sucked, all the back and forth and--I mean, there are things I should've done differently, too...The way I left, was..." he took a shaky breath, pressed his palms to his eyes. "I was upset--"

"Understandably," Tony said. Peter felt him move, and he let the genius gently push his knees apart.

"--but you asked me to stay, actually asked me, and I--God, Tony, I'm sorry--"

"Peter, look at me."

Peter looked--and made an undignified noise, clutching at the other man's shoulders when Tony sat all the way up, grabbed him by the backs of his knees and dragged him forward so his thighs bracketed the billionaire's waist.

Tony looked way too amused as he wrapped his arms around Peter, one hand splayed and supportive at the middle of his spine, the other sliding farther up to cup the back of his neck. Peter shivered at the bristly kiss that brushed under his jaw.

"I appreciate the apology," Tony said, smiling against Peter's throat, "but you're forgiven." Another kiss, over Peter's pulse. "I'm good. We're good," a gentle nip near his collarbone, "and we should definitely celebrate this rampant forgiveness with a lot less clothing. If you're on board."

"What, no jokes about the mile-high club?" Peter asked automatically, if a little breathlessly, letting his hands migrate from Tony's shoulders up into the other's hair. His stomach swooped when Tony muffled a short laugh against his skin before pulling back.

"Would you care to join me in the member's only lounge, Mr. Parker?"

"That was awful."

"You're not saying no."

Peter pulled him back in for a kiss.

 

*

 

He'd never been so lost in another person.

They'd been dancing around each other for so long, everything just translated into extended foreplay, as far as Peter was concerned. It was gratifying that Tony seemed to feel the same, wasting no time before pulling Peter down a short hallway and into the private back room.

He was up against the wall as soon as they were through the door, lost in the heat and taste of Tony's mouth as the genius' hands worked open his fly. He mourned for a moment when Tony pulled away to sink down to his knees, rucking up Peter's dress shirt to press an open-mouthed kiss on the trail of light hair just above his button fly--

--and a ringtone went off from somewhere in the vicinity of Tony's waist.

"JARVIS, Sock on the Door protocol," Tony said, the words warm against Peter's stomach.

The ringtone cut off, and Peter snorted.

"What if it was important?" he asked, sliding his hands back into Tony's hair as the billionaire dragged the suit pants and Peter's boxers down just past the tops of his thighs, far enough to free him.

"They'll leave a message."

"Are you sure you shouldn't call themoh fuck--" Peter knocked his head back against the wall.

Warm. Warm and pulsing. He was in Tony's throat, the genius swallowing around him, and wow, nothing else mattered except trying hold himself back from thrusting roughly into the tight, wet heat.

Not like he could go any further, anyway.

Moist suction dragged slowly along his length as Tony's tongue did things, and Peter looked down in time to see Tony pull off with a slick pop and then lean back in to swirl his tongue around the head.

"Tony--"

His fingers tightened reflexively when the genius smirked at him.

"Yeah, Pete?" Tony asked, nuzzling and then pressing an open-mouthed kiss to the base of Peter's cock.

No one had ever looked so smug with an erection pressed along their cheekbone, and Peter had the semi-hysterical thought that he'd never be able to see that expression on Tony's face again without remembering this moment.

I love you.

"We--we should definitely be more naked."

 

*

 

Undressing had been rushed and clumsy, hands bumping hands as they blindly plucked and pulled at each other's clothes because they couldn't stop pausing to kiss and touch each other. Tony had been just as driven to distraction as Peter, and it'd warmed something strangely innocent (given the circumstances) in Peter.

Now he was kneeling between Tony's legs, fingering him open more slowly than he knew the other would've liked, but they'd established pretty clearly that Tony would take it however Peter wanted to give it.

And Tony's frustration was a huge motivator for Peter to stretch him at a glacial pace. He added a second finger after an eternity, curling the digits as he pumping slowly, searching...and when Tony moaned and jerked like he'd been shocked, Peter made an exaggerated inquisitive sound.

He pressed a kiss to the corner of Tony's jaw. "Do you want another finger?"

"God, fuck, yes--"

"Or do you just want my cock?"

The sound Tony made was strangled, and it sent another rush of heat through Peter's chest.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Stark, I didn't quite catch that."

"You're--nghh," Tony grunted when Peter pointedly massaged the same spot.

"Yes or no, sir. No need to be rude."

He fell into a teasing rhythm, scissoring this fingers carefully and and only swiping over Tony's prostate every couple passes, keeping it just unpredictable enough that it pushed frustrated sounds from the billionaire. Part of him (the part not driven to distraction by the hot, deliciously vice-like grip around his fingers--was still in awe of getting to see Tony like this.

Six months of daily interaction meant that Peter had become visually familiar with most of Tony's body, way before the ill-advised confrontation in the penthouse shower. He knew how Tony's forearms looked when he'd rolled up his shirt sleeves after a taxing meeting or press conference; had seen the way sweat and smears of grease further defined the engineer's chest, abs, and back in turns after hours in the workshop; was privy to the way the paler skin of his upper thighs transitioned to the more olive tone of his legs in the times Tony'd forgone pants and wandered the penthouse in boxers and a shirt.

Now he got to learn (start learning--as slow as Peter was going with prep, thorough exploration would have to wait until they weren't both swallowed up by the resolution of almost half a year of tension) Tony's body, was getting to see those familiar lines and curves taught with anticipation and erotic desperation.

"You're a fucking tease, I knew you would be, it's always the straight-laced ones," Tony babbled, "You should've kept the suit on, fucked me like that--"

Peter added a third finger past that ring of muscle and leaned down to curl his tongue into Tony's mouth and steal away the almost comical indignation the genius expressed at the sudden stretch.

"Did you notice," Peter asked when he'd pulled back to kiss and nip along Tony's jaw, "the shoes I was wearing?"

He pulled back to take in the brief confusion on Tony's face, nodding as he saw the fresh flare of arousal wash over the billionaire's features.

"I was stepping on you with shoes you bought me, Mr. Stark."

It was a little off the mark; the expensive Italian leather oxfords had been provided in accordance to the dress code for the position, but they'd been purchased with SI funds, so it wasn't completely inaccurate, but the statement had the desired effect, Tony letting out an almost pained groan.

Calloused hands dragged Peter's face back so Tony could kiss him hard.

"I need you inside me yesterday, kid," Tony growled at him, and Peter just nodded wordlessly.

It was a few fumbling seconds before Peter got the condom rolled on, slicked on more lube and lined himself up, and then Tony was pulling him back down with a hand at the nape of Peter's neck.

They were less kissing than they were breathing into each other's mouths as Peter eased in inch by inch; he was on the higher end of average-sized, and even though he'd spent a while prepping Tony, and he knew Tony could take it (would like it) a little faster, some of the urgency had melted away on his side when he first felt that furl of muscle give way, something bigger than physical pleasure building with each roll of his hips.

When he was fully seated, he paused and moved to press his forehead to Tony's shoulder, nosed at the genius' collarbone and throat as he gathered himself, shivering as Tony smoothed his hands over Peter's ribs and up his spine while murmuring raspy encouragement and praise.

"You feel fucking amazing, you're amazing, you're perfect, Peter, God, I'm never letting you go, never again, move for me, sweetheart, Pete, please--"

Something bright and possessive and hopeful swelled behind Peter's ribs, and he lifted himself up enough to look Tony in the eyes.

"Say it again," he breathed desperately, cradling Tony's face in his hands, "that you'll never--say it again," he begged.

Heartbreak flooded Tony's expression as he clutched at Peter's shoulders almost painfully..

"Fuck, Pete, I'm gonna keep you forever, kid. Never letting you go," Tony said roughly, "Never, I promise--"

A sob ripped out of Peter's chest, and he pulled out and snapped his hips forward hard, trying to be as far inside the man under him as possible, before he pulled out again to begin an almost brutal pace.

"I missed you," Peter gasped, bracing himself with his elbows on either side of Tony's head, brushing parted lips across his jaw, mouthing artlessly down his neck. "You feel so good and I can't believe this is--fuck."

He came back up to lick into Tony's mouth with nothing but raw need, the kiss salty with the tears that had spilled without Peter's notice. There was no way he was going to last long, and he shifted up just a little, trying to angle his thrusts, took a couple minutes of searching until Tony cried out, and then Peter kept it there, reaching between them to wrap a hand around Tony's neglected, leaking cock and jerk him in time with his thrusts.

Tony's nails dug into Peter's asscheeks as the billionaire moaned Peter's name and tensed, spilling hot and liquid over Peter's fist and across his own stomach, and flushed and pliant when Peter sat back to grip Tony's hips punishingly, letting himself chase his own pleasure with frantic, jerky thrusts until he crashed over the edge with ground-out curse.

 

*

 

After Peter had retrieved a warm towel to clean them both up, the remaining hours of the flight were spent dozing, first apart, and then, when they'd cooled enough, tangled loosely together, exchanging sleepy kisses and half-conscious nonsense conversation until they landed at the private airfield.

They exited the jet last, and as they came down the steps to the tarmac, Ms. Romanov gave them both a brief once over, and then cocked a brow at Tony.

"You figured it out."

Peter was confused, but Tony just sighed.

"If you don't rub it in, you can give yourself a bonus. Make it generous.. Notify Ms. Potts to do the same."

"Yes, sir."

The redhead projected an impressive level of smugness without altering her expression, and Peter had the passing thought that he'd like to get to know Natasha better, especially when she shot him a wink when Tony wasn't paying attention.

 

*

*

*

 

*~*~*

 

There was still a long way to go. Tony knew that. Longer than the flight from California back to Manhattan.

Peter was solidly at his side, real and warm and there. The space between them thrummed with residual sexual satisfaction and the raw feeling of dropped walls, and it was unfamiliar in the way that was already igniting the engineer in him. Tony was going to learn this, pull apart and glean anything and everything he could from the tentative new reality.

The ride up to the penthouse was silent. Something needed to be said, but for the life of him, Tony couldn't find the words. Just stood beside the younger man, elbows brushing as they leaned together against the back wall of the elevator.

As the floor numbers counted forward, Tony mentally sorted through what the hell he could say. The things he wanted to say felt maybe too big. For right now. Declarations. Statements of intent. Offers in the equivalent of 'drawer space' in the penthouse (he was tempted to give the kid a whole floor if he'd agree to stay).

But, nothing. Nothing, even when the lift stopped at their destination, and Peter twined their hands together as they stepped out into Tony's space.

"J, Daddy's home," Tony said into the entry way. Peter made a quiet, amused sound beside him, and Tony felt a rush of affection for the brunet.

"Welcome home, sir. And to you as well, Mr. Parker."

 

And maybe Tony didn't have to say anything, yet, after all.