Peter Stark sat on his bed, feet kicking listlessly back and forth. Hands clasped in his lap. Eyes stinging with tears that he refused to let fall. He was too big to cry. Too old to let a fight with his dad hurt him like this.
No. Not just a fight. The worst fight of all fights. A one-sided shouting match that had quickly turned into a two-sided one. A fight that had started with a stab wound (like, a really minor one) and his father discovering him in his bathroom attempting to stop the bleeding. His dad had stood frozen for a long moment, jaw dropping, and then had raced into the room, gabbing towels to press against his side.
"What...oh god...Peter...what happened?" He hadn't been angry yet. He'd placed a hand on Peter's face as if searching his eyes for the truth. "Are you okay? What...Peter what...what happened?"
And Peter had tried to brush it off. He'd tried so hard. "Oh...it's fine, Dad. Just a scratch…"
"Peter someone stabbed you!" His father had cried, shaking his head, and now Peter thought back to the way his dad had pressed his hand to his cheek and hot tears finally escaped. His dad had been so worried. He'd been worried when Peter had gotten so sick and when he'd discovered these powers...and now...now he was just angry.
What if his dad didn't love him anymore?
"Did this happen at school?"
Peter had shaken his head.
"Because if someone at school stabbed you then…"
"It didn't happen at school! I promise it's just...it's just a cut. It's fine."
It had, in fact, been a stab wound. From a knife. Courtesy of the criminal he'd stopped from robbing a bodega a few minutes ago, quickly swinging home, sneaking in the window, and then throwing his suit under his bed where he'd hoped it wouldn't be found.
He'd made the suit himself, usually at night, in bits and pieces after his dad had gone to bed. He had his own lab space, and he'd perfected his web fluid along with his webshooters a few months ago before starting on the suit.
Never in his life had Peter been more proud of something he'd made. Never had he wanted to show soemthing to his father more. And he was working on his own AI, just like his dad's!
His dad had taken one look at the suit and blanched, turning green like he was going to throw up. "You. It's you…"
"I swear, it just started when this guy was getting mugged and then…"
"You've been lying to me...for months?"
"No! Not lying!"
"So you have been going to Ned's and staying late for Robotics club and this…". He'd shaken the suit. "This is just, what? Pajamas?"
"No...I mean…". Peter had started, but his dad had been too angry. Too furious to listen.
"I have these powers and I can stop bad things from happening!" He'd cried at one point.
"No!" His father had slammed a hand onto Peter's desk, eyes wild with fury and something else. Something like fear. "No! You aren't doing this. No more. Never again!"
"But I'm not a little kid!"
"You're my kid!" His father had never screamed at him like that. Had never pointed a finger in his face and screamed.
"I just wanted to be like you!"
His dad had gripped the suit in a tight fist, shaking his head and backing away, the coldest disappointment in his eyes. "And I wanted you to be better."
Better, Peter thought as he sat on his bed, staring holes in his carpet in an effort not to cry. There was no 'better' than his father. No one was better. He could never be better. And now...now his father hated him. He'd lied to him and now his dad didn't trust him...he'd never let Peter be Spiderman.
He had lost Spiderman and his dad all in ten minutes.
Without the suit and without his dad, he was nothing.
Peter stood, stumbling over to the window, eyes shut tight against tears that fell anyway. His father hadn't said anything about being grounded, he thought, hands pressing against the window and opening it. "Friday?" Peter asked, voice catching. "Where's my dad?"
"Your father is currently in the lab." She sounded upset...almost contrite, and he sniffed.
"Can I leave?"
"Your father has not specified that you must stay here."
Peter grabbed a hoodie, pulling it up over his face,, wiping a rough hand over his eyes. His dad hadn't seen his prototype webshooters he'd had hidden in his desk drawer, so he grabbed those, making sure they were full of web fluid, then jumped out the window, barely glancing around to make sure he wasn't spotted.
His swinging led him to Central Park, then further as he tried not to think of those first years with his dad. Was that what it was going to be like now? Would his dad forget him again? Would the rest of his birthdays be spent with his father in the lab? Would he stop coming to parent teacher meetings? Would he stop loving him again?
Peter didn't stop until he found a tall apartment building to perch on, knees pressed against his chest, face hidden in his knees. When he heard the familiar sound of the Iron Man suit approaching, he thought about jumping again. About seeing how long he could stay ahead of his father. If he could escape. Maybe he should have run further. His dad didn't want him anymore anyway. Why not just run?
But it wasn't the Iron Man suit that landed in front of him. It was War Machine.
Uncle Rhodey stepped out of the suit, and Peter hid his face in his knees again, not wanting his uncle to see him cry. But the man came right over to him and sat down, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. "Your dad's really freaking out, buddy." He murmured, and Peter gave up on the silent crying, turning his face and hiding it in his uncle's shoulder. "Oh, Pete…"
"He doesn't want me anymore…"
"Woah...hey…" Rhodey shook his head but Peter just clung to him, soaking his shirt in tears.
"He...he hates me! He's going to forget about me again."
"Pete...no…" Rhodey whispered, turning and wrapping both arms around him, rocking them both back and forth on the rooftop. "No...Peter, he doesn't hate you. He's terrified. He…" The man sighed, placing a firm hand on Peter's back and rubbing gentle circles there. "He called me, freaking out, telling me that he'd yelled at you and now you were gone...god, Peter, he's so scared. He doesn't hate you. He could never hate you."
"He used to."
Rhodey sighed, shaking his head again and putting his other hand on the back of Peter's hair, holding him close. "No. Peter, he never hated you. He...you know your dad had his issues. He was an alcoholic, and a workaholic. He didn't have any idea how to be a father. But he got better. And he loves you more than anything in this world." Rhodey pulled away a little then, looking Peter in the eye. "You've got to know that, Peter." He gave him a sad smile that Peter was unable to return. "You scared him. The scariest thing in the world to him is something happening to you, and he walked in to find out that you'd been stabbed. He's so afraid of losing you."
Peter sniffed, lowering his eyes. "I wanted to help people like him...like all of you. And I can now!"
Rhodey leaned in, pressing his forehead against Peter's . "I know. You're just like your dad, you know? You both want to make the world better. And you will. Give your dad some time. He thought he was going to lose you less than six months ago, and now he's afraid of that happening again. But his love for you, it's not conditional. He loves you no matter what, and he always will."
Peter wiped a hand over his face and leaned his forehead against Rhodey's shoulder when he pulled away. His uncle wrapped him up in a hug once more, pressing a kiss to his hair. "And I love you too, kiddo. You ever need a place to run away to for a little while, you've got a key to mine, remember that."
"I will." They sat like that for a moment before Peter spoke again. "I really love being Spiderman," he whispered, wiping his eyes.
"I know you do. Your dad always loved being Iron Man...helping people. And the fact that he could be in the spotlight didn't hurt." Peter gave a watery chuckle. "But you're only fourteen. Like I said, give your dad a little time. Let him get used to this. Then maybe bring up the whole masked vigilante thing. Okay?"
Peter nodded, and his uncle patted his shoulder.
"How's your side? Your dad told me everything."
"It's fine." In reality, it ached, but Peter didn't want to tell him that.
"Alright. How about you swing home? I'll tell your dad that I found you and that you're on your way home. Sound okay?"
Peter hesitated before nodding, wiping his face again and hoping he didn't look like he'd been crying.
When Peter climbed in through his open window, his father barely let himself straighten before yanking him into his arms, and Peter hugged him just as desperately, hiding his face in his dad's chest. "Dad, I'm sor…"
His dad squeezed him tighter, pressing a rough kiss to the side of his hair. "Shh….it's okay. I'm sorry...no more yelling. I promise. I'm so sorry."
Peter shook his head. "I shouldn't have lied to you."
"No. You shouldn't have." He pulled away then, bringing a thumb up to wipe a tear from Peter's cheek, his expression soft and full of the love that had lived there for so long. "But it's okay. We can talk about that later. I'm just so glad that you're okay." Before Peter could speak, his dad pulled him "I love you so much. More than anything. I never want to make you feel like you have to run from me."
Peter nodded, squeezing his dad as tightly as he dared. "I love you too, Dad."