"Maaaaaaaaay!" Peter's warbly little voice carries over the length of the apartment, teary and verging on a panic that nearly makes May drop her coffee. She flies down the hall and into the bedroom where they've set up the portable crib that Richard and Mary send along with Peter whenever Ben and May take him for the weekend. Leaving Peter Parker unsupervised for more than three consecutive minutes is always a risky endeavor, but she had thought slipping out into the kitchen for a precious moment of quiet before he woke for the day was safe enough. With Ben called away to fill in for a sick coworker, it was likely to be the only quiet she had a chance at today—or at least, it would have been.
Her breath catches in her throat as she rounds the doorway to find Peter teetering precariously on the lip of said crib. He's half in and half out, wee legs flailing for balance and chubby hands scrabbling for a handhold in the mesh wall of the crib as he begins to tip over the side. May dives to catch him as he tumbles, thanking her lucky stars for all her time in the catcher’s spot during high school softball. She fumbles until he's safely right side up in her arms, and she can slump against the side of the crib in a haphazard heap of relief.
"Oof! Always gotta start your day with a bang, huh, kiddo?" May pops a loud, smacking kiss against Peter's brow as she straightens up to heave a sigh over the near-miss. Passing his first birthday had seemed to flip some sort of switch in Peter, turning him into the most fearless little daredevil May has ever had the pleasure of babysitting. If an obstacle can be climbed, Peter scales it the minute any adult back is turned (he's a clever little booger, she'll give him that). If there's room to run, Peter will charge into it on wobbly toddler legs as if he hasn’t a second to waste in exploring the broad horizons of the living room floor or the pantry threshold. If there’s an adventure to be had…Peter is always neck-deep in it.
If she didn’t know better, she’d say he was angling to give them all heart attacks before his next birthday.
The situation's only saving grace is that Peter isn't shy about screeching for help as loud as his little lungs will let him when he truly needs it. Sometimes, that comes out in the wordless cries that May has come to read as expertly as she reads her crosswords—high-pitched for the aggravation of exploration thwarted by a childproofed cabinet, short and sharp for the pain of a tiny toe stubbed against a table, low and mournful for the grief of a toy accidentally nudged out of reach—but these days, more often than not, it surfaces in May's own name.
She isn't too humble to admit being a little smug that it's among the first words Peter manages to conquer, coming in after Mama and Dada, but just before Ben's slightly more complicated syllable. There's something warm and tender and gratifying about knowing that she's among the first places her favorite—her only—nephew turns to for safety. It isn’t necessarily surprising, given how much time he spends with her—he’s at the apartment she shares with Ben at least a few days out of every month, when his parents are called away to the high-level meetings and conferences and research summits that May doesn’t even begin to try to keep track of—but it gives her the warm fuzzies nonetheless. With no other nieces or nephews to spoil and no children of her own on the horizon, Peter is…Peter is everything.
May presses another peck to Peter's cheek for good measure as he hiccups in her lap, his eyes wide in the uncertain, bewildered way that means he isn't quite sure whether he should cry just for the principle of the thing or whether the scary moment has passed for good. His little fingers latch onto her shirt like the smallest of vices as he wriggles to fit more securely into the crook of her arm.
"You're okay, bugaboo," May croons as she hauls them both upright to go wrangle some breakfast. “I’ve got you.”
"May! May, May, May!" Peter shrieks from the living room floor, his shouts dissolving into giggles as Ben pulls him into a headlock for better tickling access. "Save me!"
May giggles with him as she pads in from the kitchen, half-groggy as she sets three steaming mugs—coffee for her, cocoa for Ben and Peter—down on the coffee table. She props her hands on her hips to watch her boys roll around on the carpet like a pair of overexcited puppies and smiles, hesitant to break the tableau with so much as a word.
It's taken Peter so long to laugh again.
Hearing him chortle until he collapses against Ben's chest in a spent, happy little heap makes the knot of worry May's been carrying around since the funeral unfurl a little. Losing Richard and Mary has taken a toll on all of them. For Ben, it’s the loss of his brother, his greatest friend, the last remnant of his family apart from Peter all rolled into one. For May, it’s the loss of the best friends she’s ever had. But for Peter, of course, it's a million times worse. For Peter, it’s everything he has—his parents, his home, his stability—gone in one fell swoop.
He goes quiet as soon as they bring him home. Withdrawn and shell-shocked as they all scramble to find some sort of balance in the strange new world. The same home he’d lounged about in every other weekend since he was a rugrat seems to intimidate him for the longest time…right up until now. Giggly Peter is a new thing, only having crept out of his shell in the last week. May just hopes that it lasts.
Ben waggles his fingers again, and Peter bolts up with a shriek, diving straight for May's legs to hide behind her knees. That, at least, hasn’t changed. He scurries to Ben for fun, for advice, for a piggyback ride through crowded streets—but May is still a safe place to run to.
"Are you harassing my Peter?" May chides, her smile widening as Ben rolls to his feet to saunter over to them. "Shame on you, Ben Parker."
"Yeah! Shame!" Peter pipes up, still snickering as he peeps around May's legs for a cheeky grin up at Ben.
"I think that's a strong word." Ben leans in to hook both arms around her waist and draw her in for the hello kiss that always comes with his return from overnight shifts. He smells faintly of the smoke lingering from a midnight callout, of firehouse antiseptic and the clean, sharp shampoo he does his best to scrub it all away with. She smiles into the embrace anyway, savoring the sliver of time they all have together in the space where their schedules overlap. A quiet hour or so before May is due to scrape herself into her uniform just as Ben is shucking his to tumble into bed while Peter scampers down the hall to where Mrs. Leeds (she alternates drop-off days with them, bless her soul) will walk both him and her own son to the kindergarten three blocks down. It's hectic and hard and May wonders if life is ever going to slow down enough for any of them to catch a breath. But, just as often, she wonders if that relentless push to keep up isn't what has kept them all going.
"Oh, I dunno...starting tickle fights is a pretty serious offense around here," May says as she pulls back a smidge, still comfortably sandwiched with Ben's arms around her waist and Peter's around her knees. She tips her head down to wink at Peter, who winks clumsily back in return. Ben laughs, an infectious rumble bubbling out of his chest as his eyes turn fond. Come to think of it, May hasn’t heard enough of that in the past few months, either.
"I will have you know I don't start tickle fights—I finish them!" The last words slide into the same mischievous growl that curled through the apartment a moment earlier as Ben surges forward to sweep both May and Peter into a playful tackle that leaves them all in a giggly, breathless tangle on the couch. Peter squeals and May laughs and Ben beams at her over the top of Peter’s head, his smile more blindingly happy than it’s been since the plane crash. May grins back and lets her head loll back to rest on his shoulder. The movement takes Peter with her, sparking another little giggle-shriek that sets them all off again and loosening the worry-knot in May’s chest even further. It's true, she supposes, that life won't ever feel complete in the same way it once did. But that doesn't mean it can't be good in its own way. Things were different. But the three of them would make it.
"May." Peter's hands creep from the shock blanket draped around his shoulders, but the rest of him doesn't budge. He sits frozen to a plastic chair in the cold light of the precinct with bloodstains on the cuffs of his hoodie and tear tracks carved down his cheeks to mirror the ones coursing down May's. "May, I—I—"
His voice catches and skips like a record caught in a broken groove, but his hands reach for her as his face begins to crumple. The memory of much smaller Peter doing the same flashes abruptly across May’s mind, and her fingers instinctively reach for him right back. Even with the swirling maelstrom of terror and heartbreak and rage spinning through May's mind, the sight of Peter shattering pushes it into a far corner to be processed and dealt with later. For now, she rushes forward to crouch in the chair next to Peter's and gather him into her arms.
"I know, baby, I know." She isn't sure what she knows, apart from the fact that the pain twisting on Peter's face as he buries it in her shoulder is the same pain that throbs through her chest with every heartbeat. She doesn't fully know what happened. She doesn't know what they'll do now. The only thing she does know is that Ben is...gone. And the only beacon of clarity left to anchor her in that horrific reality is Peter. His hands have clenched into her sweater, trembling as they cling to each other. May props her chin in his curls and tightens her grip. Whatever happens now, however they survive, she has her focus. And Peter has her.
"May! I need your help!" May perks up as Peter skids through the apartment, wide-eyed and out of breath. He rarely asks for help with anything other than buying new backpacks (How many does one teenage boy need? The parenting guides never mentioned that.) these days, so this is…new.
He goes nearly breathless as a cascade of explanations about Liz Toomes and the Homecoming dance comes pouring out of him, sending him pacing all over the living room as he babbles and gestures. It's almost too good to be true, too much of a relief to be true...May beams as she flies into action, helping him put in a rush-order for a corsage and tracking down his suit where it’s been shoved into the back of the spare closet. She tries not to let herself put too much stock in one dance's effect on a life, but it feels like a sign. A turning point.
A wall had sprung up between them in the months after Ben, a sudden and inexplicable change in Peter that May still can't quite put a finger on, but which worries her to her core. The barrier rises all the more with the advent of the Stark internship, but doesn’t seem to retreat an inch even when that falls through. Secrecy and lies and distance aren't like him, but layer after layer of them have built up until half the time, May isn't sure the boy in front of her is the boy she knows at all.
But, as they struggle through tie-tying tutorials and wriggle through a series of dance moves that eventually leave them both cackling at the ridiculousness of it, May feels them inch another careful step back towards normal. It isn't much, and it certainly isn’t how she had envisioned the day of Peter’s first dance—every new milestone they pass without Ben stings—but it’s something. And, as she drops a jittery Peter off at his date's house, it leaves her more hopeful than she has been in ages.
"Uh...hi, May." Peter waves weakly from where Iron Man cradles him against his metal chest. Tony stands precariously on the fire escape outside May's window with a chagrined Peter locked in a fussy bridal carry that would be hilarious if May didn't know that sheepish tone of voice so very well. “Do we have any ice packs?”
"Peter.” May sighs as she pushes back the curtains and nudges her bedside table out of the way. “What did you do?"
"He picked a fight with a brick wall," Tony pipes up when Peter stays guiltily silent. His suit retracts to let him shuffle through the limited space of May's bedroom window, staggering a little under Peter's weight, but steadfastly refusing to put him down until he can safely deposit him on the bed.
"At least I won," Peter mutters as he shucks off his mask and exposes the beginnings of a nasty bump over his temple. Something in May’s stomach turns. It always does when her boy comes home bruised up or bloody. He’s strong and brilliant and capable, she knows that…but the sight of the collateral damage of the life he’s thrown himself into never fails to leave her uneasy.
"Denting the stonework with your skull isn't winning." Tony flicks the end of Peter's nose for emphasis, but the fondness of the touch belies his glare. May just frowns and brushes a tentative hand over Peter's curls, absently testing for further bumps and scrapes.
"Nah, FRIDAY says he'll be fine—little concussion, maybe bit of a headache from that goose egg, but it'll pass by morning." Tony says as he folds casually into a seat atop the chest at the end of May’s bed, close enough to snag Peter’s hand when it tries to slide up and poke at the wound. "Might keep an eye on him tonight and tomorrow, though—he wasn’t at his most eloquent—or coherent—when he called for a little Iron Taxi service."
May's brows rise. She turns to Peter, half incredulous. The days of a Peter who cried out for help in anything less than life or death seemed to have passed right along with the glasses and the asthma. She misses it sometimes, just for the reassurance that came with being kept in the loop. He's gotten a little better since the spider came out of the bag, as it were—a fact due mostly to Tony, if she's being honest—but it’s still a surprise.
"Mr. Independence actually called for back-up?"
"He did. And the sky isn't even falling."
May snickers as Peter huffs an exasperated sigh and threatens to start throwing pillows if they don't stop. Tony just grins, but all the sharpness of the press photos and tabloid spreads May once associated him with is gone, replaced by a softness that always takes May aback.
“Okay, okay—I’m going to go find that ice pack.” May pauses in the doorway, narrowing her eyes at the way Tony now favors the shoulder that had supported most of Peter’s lanky teenage bulk. “Actually, I think we’ll go with two ice packs.”
She exits to the sound of theatrical declarations of undying love from Tony and muttered jabs about “old man muscles” from Peter and bites back a quiet smile herself. She had never planned on co-parenting with a billionaire. Or with anyone other than Ben, really. With him gone, the expanse of Peter's childhood—of raising and protecting and guiding their baby—had stretched ahead of her as a lonely road only wide enough for one. And that had been before the superpower variable had even entered into the equation. Still, as strange as the new arrangement is, she can’t help being at least a little grateful.
At least now, she isn’t the only person in the world ready to spring to Peter’s rescue when he needs it.
"May." Peter's eyes are red-rimmed by the time May gets to him, Happy trailing protectively behind her as they enter the safehouse Pepper has bundled them off to for the time being. "May, I'm so, so sorry about—"
"Shhh, shhh, shhh—not your fault, sweetheart, not your fault at all." May cups his face in both hands, tugging him down enough from where he’s pressed himself into the corner of the low ceiling to press a gentle kiss to his forehead. It's an effort to stay soft when she's so angry—she's been broiling with rage ever since the idiot from the Daily Bugle flashed her boy's photo across her TV for all the world to see. But Peter needs comfort, not righteous fury. "It'll be okay—we'll be okay."
There’s a watery, incredulous huff as Peter slides down the wallpaper. “How? May, how in the world are we going to fix this?”
May purses her lips as she plops on the floor beside him to curl both arms around his shoulders. The tone would sound petulant under other circumstances, but the way Peter’s voice cracks despite his best efforts to stay cool and calm and grown-up just makes it heart-wrenching. And, really, it’s a fair question with the world crumbling down around their ears. Just as before, she doesn’t know where they can go from here…Their private life has been gutted, sliced open and laid bare before either of them knew it was happening. Her phone hasn’t stopped buzzing with calls and texts from…well, everyone. Coworkers and old friends and PTA members. Classmates of Peter’s and so, so many numbers she doesn’t recognize. Wherever they go from here, nothing’s going to be the same. Her job, his school, the quiet little routine of their quiet, newly-rented post-Blip apartment—once again, May wonders how often fate is going to shake up their snow globe just for the fun of it.
“I don’t know,” May murmurs as she strokes his hair, because honesty has always been the only way to go for her throughout her bumbling foray into parenthood. It’s always seemed to work the best for everyone. Today, though, it’s hard to get the words out. “But we’ll make it.” She lists sidewise to press a kiss to his cheek. “We always do, don’t we?”
Peter lets out a noncommittal hum, but lets himself melt against her side just as he used to when he was small. It’s too much for him all at once, May knows. The many, many injuries of the disastrous Europe trip have only just finished healing completely, and he tires easily even when he hasn’t just had the shock of a lifetime. May crosses her legs and settles in to sit with him as long as he needs the reassurance of her presence. Happy fades in and out of the background to stride around the perimeter of the house, checking doors and windows and cracking the shades to glower out at anything that even hints of threat. He pauses occasionally to shoot them concerned glances and once to set a pair of bottled waters at their feet, but keeps his distance for the most part. May mouths a thank-you as Peter finally dozes off on her shoulder and supposes that whatever happens with this particular shake-up, they’re all in it together. That, at least, is a comfort.
"May, can you come pick me up? I'm done," Peter grumbles from his end of the video call. His dorm room is visible in the background, dimly-lit and awash with scattered textbooks and lecture notes and the occasional bit of discarded Spider-suit draped over the furnishings. It looks as if it’s been ransacked by a tornado and frankly, so does Peter. It’s no wonder, with all the things he juggles. Between the usual mountain of classwork, the occasional call to action by one Avenger or another, and a bit of dabbling in the business side of things at Stark Industries, not to mention his attempts to keep up some semblance of a social life, May’s a little surprised that Peter is still standing.
May hums sympathetically, squinting at the fuzzy view of the textbook Peter is currently thumping his forehead against. Her fingers itch to catch him before he lands another blow, to smooth back his curls and kiss away the worry lines starting between his brows. But no amount of maternal instinct stretches all the way from Queens to MIT.
"Go easy on that big brain, slugger. Last I checked, you still had a couple more years to go—you sure you're done?"
"Totally. I quit. I've resigned. Withdrawn without a refund!" There's a muffled shriek of frustration behind the pages of what appears to be an advanced history text, and May bites back a smile. It figures. Sure, these days her boy had a deeper voice and a razor that saw use more than once a month and a steady girlfriend, but he still couldn't slog through anything that wasn’t math or science without a bit of groaning and grousing. "Who needs college anyway? S'dumb."
"Uh-huh," May says, drifting into the same humoring tone she'd once used back when he was still bemoaning the uselessness of AP geography. "It's not all bad, bugaboo—if I recall, you spent a good hour telling me all about that lab of yours last week."
“The lab’s great,” Peter concedes, “But the homework is ridiculous.”
“That’s college, sweetheart. That part is never fun.” May shrugs before forging on, figuring the best way to break the funk is to steer away from it. "You know, there's going to be a care package headed your way soon. Baked goods, enough sugary goodies to give even your metabolism a run for its money...the works."
Peter's eyes narrow. "Your baked goods?"
"No, those are from Happy." May snickers at the flicker of relief in Peter's eyes. "The gummi worms are my contribution. And those weird little cheese cracker things you like. There’ll be a few surprises from Morgan and Pepper, too—act surprised when they ask about them, though. You didn’t hear any spoilers from me.”
“’Course not,” Peter says, his expression smoothing ever so slightly with the thought of so many little pieces of home coming his way. He sighs as he sets the book aside and props his chin in his hands, leaning closer to the camera as if it would bring him closer to her. “Is it Thanksgiving yet?”
“Almost.” She’d been counting down the days just as meticulously as she suspected Peter was. She’d known the first semester without her baby was going to be hard, but she’d had no idea it would be this hard. With Peter being the focal point of her last thirteen years, the one constant among more ups and downs than she ever could have dreamed of, cutting that all done to a weekly video call and the occasional barrage of emoji-laden texts leaves a hole so big she can’t imagine how it’s ever going to scab over and heal. “Happy’s already scouting the butcher shops for the best turkeys.”
There’s an insistent beep on Peter’s end of the line, and his face falls at the rhythm of that particular tone.
“Crap. That’s a work thing. May, I—”
“I know, sweetheart, you’ve gotta go—” May blows a kiss at the camera. “Good luck with studying and with…work. I larb you.”
“Larb you, too.” Peter grins, warm and a little wistful as the screen blanks out, but still looking happier than he had when the call began. May sits back against her couch and sighs, casting a glance at the calendar on the wall across the room. Two weeks ‘til Thanksgiving. They can do this.
"May, look—" Peter's voice is a reverent whisper as May eases into the hospital room in the low light of dawn. Peter is little more than a silhouette against the golden glow beyond the window, slump-shouldered and rumpled from a night spent in the confines of the maternity ward, but he cradles the bundle tucked into the crook of his arm with more attention than she's ever seen him show to anything else. "—she's here."
"I know," May whispers back, mindful of MJ's soft, well-earned snores from the bed as she closes the door to the private suite softly behind her. She’ll have to congratulate her properly later, but she knows better than to wake a lady who’s just white-knuckled her way through early labor. The fussing and gushing and happy chatter take a clear backseat to a good nap.
May had meant to be there for the birth itself, sitting in the trenches with the rest of the family as they invaded the waiting room of the carefully vetted private hospital Pepper had personally recommended. But the little troublemaker in Peter's arms had had her own ideas about proper timekeeping and chosen to make her grand entrance a full two weeks early. On the one weekend May and Happy were a solid four hours away, checking in on his mother.
But that doesn’t matter now. She’s here, the baby’s here, and nine months’ worth of giddy excitement is bubbling over in her chest.
A lump rises in her throat as Peter pushes back the hem of the blanket, revealing a tiny, puckered little face. It hadn't sunk in until now that her baby would soon have his own, but looking into that face leaves no room for doubt. There's plenty of Michelle, with the dark curls framing her face and the soft brown of her features, but the more she looks, the more she sees of Peter. The same sweet button nose he had had at that age, the same funny little pursed-lip expression he still got when he was put out—she was an adorable amalgam of both of them, and it makes May’s heart just about swoop out of her chest.
“We're calling her May, you know. May Michelle."
May's breath catches in her throat as she gapes between the baby—May, apparently—and Peter, who watches her with a soft sort of smugness. She dimly recalls MJ musing about the inequality of matronymic to patronymic names and the pathetic lack of female juniors and "So-and-So the Seconds," but it hadn't really occurred to May that the conversation foreshadowed anything in particular. Let alone this. Sure, she knows that MJ isn't close to her own family, but the knowledge that she and Peter chose to share the name of their firstborn with May above anyone else pulls that lump right back up into her throat.
"You're both such saps," May says into Peter's shoulder as she crushes the half of him that isn't occupied with baby-holding into a fierce sidehug. And if her voice is scratchy with sniffles, well, that's her business.
"Wonder where I get that from..." Peter murmurs back, quiet in consideration of tiny May's droopy eyelids as he bends to press a kiss to May the First's cheek. "Love you, May."
"Love you, too, baby.”
There's a mewl of discontent barely loud enough to break the pre-dawn silence, but plenty loud enough to make Peter freeze. May watches him gingerly re-situate the baby in his arms, shifting and squirming to find a spot that doesn't turn the squeak into a squall. Peter's eyes lift to hers for a split second, wide with an open sort of panic she hasn't seen since he was small and tumbling out of cribs for the fun of it. The familiar uncertainty makes her heart clench, but in the best way as it hits her that Peter has finally landed back in a sphere where she can be of real help. She knows a lot more about kids—or at least about Parker kids—than she does about metahuman problems or biochemical engineering puzzles or any of the other tasks that fill Peter’s schedule now.
Not, it seems, that he's going to need too much help. May skims a hand over Peter's shoulder as the baby quiets, and smiles, gentle as she watches him croon and bounce and murmur sweet nothings to his own little bundle of responsibility. He doesn't need a lot from her these days, as strange as it always is to admit that he's all grown up. She doesn't see that changing, even with the new addition (aside from the requests to babysit that she's already looking forward to). But it doesn't change the fact that she's always going to be there. Always going to be ready. She can't do anything less. Not for her boy.