Chapter 1: Tall, non-fat vanilla latte with soy milk
“There you go.” Peter set a tall paper cup on Tony’s desk.
Tony looked up from his project and eyed it suspiciously. “What is that? Are you trying to poison me, now?”
“Tall, non-fat vanilla latte with soy milk”
“So you are trying to poison me.”
“It’s coffee,” Peter said with a hint of impatience.
“Barely,” Tony sniffed.
Peter quirked an eyebrow. “Not what you said after I took your coupon.”
“It wasn’t that big a deal.”
“Happy said you cried about it.”
“I’m going to fire him.”
“All right – I made up the part about the crying.”
Tony sighed and turned his back on Peter, focussing on his project again. “You shouldn’t have spent all that money on something I’m not even going to drink.”
Peter blew out a long, irritated breath, crossing his arms. “It’s actually just black coffee. To make up for the coupon I stole.”
“You also stole a few hundred bucks.” Tony reminded him.
“You’re being an asshole.” Peter growled. “I’m trying to do something nice here, which – by the way – is kind of new to me. Can you just drink the freaking coffee? It’s not hard.”
He turned on his heel and stormed out, slamming the door behind him.
Clint looked up when the elevator doors opened and Peter stomped into the lobby with a thunderous look on his face.
“All right there, kid?” He asked, setting his coffee mug back on the table in front of him.
“Tony’s an asshole,” Peter snarled.
“I can relate. You and him fighting?”
“I bought him coffee.”
“How very dare you.” Clint said.
“He’s an asshole.”
“So you’ve said,” Clint said, frowning. “Maybe ease up on the swearing, though?”
“What, are you Captain ‘Hawkeye’ America now?”
Clint gave him an unwavering stare. Peter huffed, then finally looked away. “Fine. Sorry. I’m just pissed.”
“Here, how about this,” Clint held up that months Forbes magazine. Tony was smirking at them from the cover. “You can cut it out and use it to throw darts at. Trust me, it works wonders.”
“I think the kid is mad at me again,” Tony announced to Pepper when she came down to the workshop. “Did you see him?”
Pepper leant against the doorframe. “No – and what did you do this time?”
“Nothing. I’m totally innocent. Can you go talk to him?”
“No, Tony.” Pepper said. “I can’t always fix this stuff for you.”
“But I don’t even know what I did wrong.”
“Why don’t you tell me what happened, and I’ll tell you what you did wrong.” Pepper said, a small smile on her face.
Tony glowered at her, but then did recount the short conversation from that morning, while Pepper listened patiently. “See?” He concluded. “It’s all water under the bridge. If I accept his gift, it would seem like I haven’t forgiven him for taking my stuff.”
“No,” Pepper said slowly, “If you don’t accept his gift, it seems like you haven’t forgiven him for taking your stuff.”
Tony blinked at her. “What do you mean? I told him it wasn’t a big deal and that he shouldn’t have bothered.”
“Tony, I love you, but you’re hopelessly tactless,” Pepper informed him.
When Tony entered the lobby, he found Peter and Clint sitting at the table. Clint gave him a sympathetic look: Clearly he had been subjected to Peter’s ranting about how Tony was the worst person on the planet. Peter’s posture was stiff and he didn’t acknowledge Tony.
Tony sat down and stapled his fingers together. “It has been brought to my attention that I was a bit too short with you this morning.”
“Has it also been brought to your attention that you’re an asshole?” Peter asked with a waspish edge.
“No,” Tony said, “I pretty much knew that already.”
He watched as Peter tried to suppress a chuckle, the boy’s shoulders quivering ever so slightly. Point for Tony. “Look, kid, I was just trying to make clear to you that you don’t owe me anything. Didn’t we clear all this up months ago? I don’t even understand where you suddenly got the idea to get me coffee today.”
“Well, me neither!” Peter exclaimed. “I just came by a coffee place today and it reminded me... Didn’t think I’d get yelled at for my trouble...”
Tony frowned. “I didn’t yell at you. But if you felt like a didn’t appreciate it, I’m sorry. And by the way, I did drink the coffee, all right? It was good. In fact, it was heavenly.”
“Really?” Peter said, his eyes lighting up. That was clearly all he needed to hear, and Tony couldn’t help but be annoyed at himself for causing a fight over something as simple as Peter wanting to give him some coffee.
“Yes, really. Thank you for buying it for me. So are we good?”
“Okay,” said Tony.
“Okay,” said Peter.
“Hang on,” said Clint.
The others turned to him.
“Seems to me one more apology is in order,” Clint continued.
Tony sputtered. “What did I do now?”
“Not you,” Clint told him, before fixing Peter with a pointed look.
Peter huffed and shoved his hands in his pockets, slouching in his chair. “Fine. Sorry I called you an asshole. Four times.”
Clint frowned at him. “Why don’t you go find the definition of ‘apology’ in a dictionary and then come back with a real one?”
“Clint, it’s fine,” Tony said, rapidly feeling his discomfort grow again. “It was my bad.”
“It’s not fine,” Clint insisted. “You think I’d accept any of my kids calling me asshole to my face? Even if I was maybe the one who screwed up?” He turned to Peter with a stern face, pointing a thumb at Tony. “This guy here cares about you and is doing his absolute best for you. And sure, his absolute best might still not be perfect, but he still deserves your respect.”
“Did you just say I’m not perfect, Barton?” Tony demanded, desperately trying to joke his way out of the conversation.
“No one is.” Clint said, still looking at Peter.
“All right, I’m sorry!” Peter blurted out. “I am, okay? It’s not like I’m the politest person in the world. Calling someone an asshole isn’t that big a deal for me!”
“Well, it’s kind of a big deal in the rest of the world. So mind your words in the future.”
“I’m sorry,” Peter repeated.
“Okay,” Clint said. “Now, hug it out.”
Tony guffawed, an incredulous look on his face. “Wha- who are you, Oprah?”
“Lay off him, Clint,” Peter muttered. “He doesn’t want to hug.”
Tony huffed, reached to the chair next to him and pulled Peter into a one-armed hug. “I have no problem hugging you, kid. I’m just not used to Dr. Phil dictating who I should hug and when.”
“Enough with the TV personalities already,” Clint said, rolling his eyes. “I’m a dad. This is what I do.”
“You’re not bad at it,” Peter admitted.
Clint sent him a smile, then got up and left the two of them at the table, much to Tony’s relief. He really wasn’t keen on showing too much affection in front of his fellow-Avengers. He sat back again, though he still absent-mindedly rubbed Peter’s back with one hand.
His eyes landed on the Forbes magazine on the table. He frowned.
“Did you... draw a big butt on my face?”
Chapter 2: Do you wanna build a snowman?
Tony shivered as he stepped onto the roof. That morning they had woken up to the first snow of the season. Personally, Tony absolutely hated snow. It made him want to lock himself into his bedroom with and endless supply of hot cocoa. He couldn’t imagine where Steve had gotten the idea to hang out on the roof of the tower of all places.
“Rogers?” Tony faltered in his steps when he realized exactly what Steve was doing. The ugliest snowman he had ever seen was staring at him. One eye was bigger than the other, the mouth was made of barbed wire, and the two rusty pipes sticking out at weird angles were probably supposed to be arms.
Tony shot Steve an incredulous look. “You made a snowman?”
Steve didn’t even seem bothered that he was caught working on that monstrosity. “Yeah,” he said lightly, stepping back as if to admire his handiwork.
“It looks like shit,” Tony said. “It looks like it wants to murder me.”
“I didn’t have a lot of materials!” Steve argued. “It’s not like we can use sticks and pebbles up here. We got creative with it.”
“Well, thanks for a week’s worth of nightmares! Don’t forget to push it of the roof when you’re done.”
“Don’t be a dick, Tony.”
Tony’s retort died on his tongue when he heard the creaking of boots in snow and Peter padded into sight, dragging a large cable cutter with him. “Hey, Tony! Look, Steve and I made a snowman.”
For a split second, Tony was at a loss for words. “Yeah – so you did!” He then said. “It’s... it’s awesome.”
Peter beamed at him, then turned to Steve. “I couldn’t find a broom, but this might work?” He held out the cable cutter.
“Looks great,” Steve agreed, turning to Tony with a mischievous sparkle in his eye. “What do you think, Stark?”
“Uh – yeah. Sure. Good choice,” Tony said. “Very homely.”
Peter carefully leaned the cable cutter against one of the snowman’s arms, making the damn thing officially look like a serial killer.
“Wanna help us make another one?” Peter asked.
Tony was still eyeing the snowman with suspicion. “I don’t like snow,” he muttered.
“You don’t like anything that doesn’t run on electricity,” Peter countered, before getting a thoughtful look on his face. “Hmmm... actually that would be a challenge. A snowman-robot.”
Tony huffed. “Oh, sure. Think of ten more ways to make the thing even more terrifying.”
Peter seemed lost for a moment. “What do you mean?”
“Stark’s a bit afraid of the snowman,” Steve said with the widest sorry-not-sorry grin imaginable.
“I’m not afraid of a pile of snow, thankyouverymuch!” Tony protested. “Don’t say stuff like that in front of Peter, he thinks I’m cool.”
Peter’s smile grew wider and he crossed his arms. “Oh really? You don’t like Larry? What’s not to like? Look at him. He’s smiling at you.”
“Yeah – – just a little advice for you,” Tony said, “if anyone ever comes up to you smiling like that while holding a pair of cable cutters, run like the freaking wind.”
“C’mon,” Peter said. “Help us! We were gonna make him a girlfriend.”
Tony sniffed. “Well, don’t forget to give her the chainsaw. I think we have one somewhere. I’m going inside.”
He turned and shuffled back towards the warmth of his comfy tower. But after only a few paces, a snowball hit him square on the back of his head. Sputtering, Tony turned around to see both Peter and Steve pointing at each other with innocent expressions.
“Don’t throw snow at me!” Tony said. “I’m wearing my expensive shirt.”
“Larry did it,” Peter said innocently.
“Oh, reaaalllly?” Tony scooped up a handful of snow and both Peter and Steve dived for cover.
"What are you looking for?" Pepper asked.
Tony was rummaging around the kitchen cabinet. "Cocoa powder. I need to recover from a snow ball fight."
“I thought you didn’t like snow,” Pepper said.
Tony ruffled his own hair, spraying half melted snow everywhere. “I’m still on the fence about it, to be honest.”
Peter and Steve trudged in, too, leaving wet tracks on the carpet.
“You cheater!” Peter said accusingly, as he rubbed his freezing hands together. “You can’t just bail on a snow fight without saying anything! How long have you been down here?”
“About ten minutes,” Tony said. “And I think I took my fair share of snow in the face. Two against one, who’s really cheating here?”
“How about some hot cocoa for everyone?” Pepper suggested. “Tony was just making some. He’s very good at it.”
Sure. Tony could take another blow to his reputation. He was apparently doomed to be known as the man who was afraid of snowmen and had excellent cocoa recipes.
“Well, that’s an offer I can’t refuse,” Steve said, taking off his scarf and sitting down.
“With whipped cream or marshmallows?” Tony asked with a long-suffering sigh.
Peter perked up. “Both!”
“Oh, and Tony?” Steve said, opening a kitchen drawer and taking out something pink and flowery. “Since you’re wearing your ‘expensive shirt’... You may wanna wear an apron!”
Chapter 3: The Field Trip
Yes, I went for the old Field-Trip story. But hopefully a fresh take on it!
When Pepper entered the room, she spotted Peter at the table, his head buried in his arms.
“Rough day at school?”
Peter’s head shot up, but he relaxed when he saw who it was. “I guess..” he murmured. “I’m stressed out and Flash keeps getting on my nerves.”
“Why are you stressed out?”
Peter sat up a little straighter and stared at his hands for a little while before taking a breath in. “Do you ever get high schools.. you know... like... field trips... kids getting a tour?”
“Okay. Do they ever get to meet Tony or anyone else?”
Pepper lifted her eyebrows “High school kids? Well.. generally, no. I don’t think Tony would ever subject himself to that.”
Peter looked slightly more hopeful. “So there is no interaction? For all Tony knows, they’re not even there?”
Pepper squinted her eyes at him. “Why do I get a feeling you’re up to something?”
“I just need a little favor from my favorite partner in crime.”
Pepper quirked her lips. “Brown nosing. But continue.”
“My class is going on a field trip to Stark Tower in a few weeks. And I need Tony to not know about it.”
“Gotcha.” Pepper said without blinking. “Don’t worry about it. I’ve got your back.”
She should have known it wouldn’t be that easy.
“Oh, for god’s sake,” Tony murmured as he squinted as his screen. “Peter is here!”
“What – what?” Pepper said.
“His tracker shows him walking around the building! Is he skipping classes again? I’m going down there.”
“Oh, crap,” Pepper sighed. “Are you really constantly tracking his suit?”
“After every stunt that kid has pulled? Of course I am!” Tony exclaimed. “It’s called the baby monitor protocol.”
“That’s kinda cute,” Pepper said with a fond smile. “But... don’t go down there. Peter is here on a field trip with his school. He hasn’t told anyone he works here and doesn’t want them to find out.”
“Excuse me? I am shocked and dismayed! Being an intern at Stark Tower is a tremendous honor!”
“Of course,” Pepper said patiently.
“I should probably go down there and make a little speech,” Tony pondered, an evil grin spreading across his face.
“Tony, this is exactly why he didn’t want you to know!”
“Don’t worry,” Tony called as he made his way to the elevator. “I’ll pretend like I have no idea he even exists!”
Pepper sighed. This sounded like a recipe for disaster. Poor Peter.
Tony made sure to really strut out of that elevator like the awesome genius billionaire he was. As he approached the huddled group of students, the first one to notice him was the teacher, a tall, skinny, bald man with large glasses who looked like a nervous owl.
The man made a panicked little noise and when some students turned to see what was wrong, an instant silence fell over the whole group. From the corner of his eye, Tony saw Peter edging to the side to try and hide behind Ned, but Tony ignored him for the moment.
“Hi there!” He said cheerfully. “What have we here?”
The tour guide, some woman who probably worked for him but who he had never seen, seemed to be the only one composed enough to answer that question. “These are students from Midtown Tech, and their chemistry teacher Mr. Larson, sir. They are here on a field trip.”
“Sounds delightful,” Tony said. “Let’s have a quick impromptu little Q&A, sound good?”
“Oh – Sir, that’s very... but we don’t want to keep you.” Mr. Larson stammered.
“Nonsense! I always make time for visitors coming to the tower,” Tony said, flashing a smile and ignoring Peter’s ‘are you kidding me’-look. “Always happy to take a few minutes out of my day, especially for such gifted kids. Some of you might just end up working here one day, after all.”
Tony turned straight to Peter, who had a dark - very dark - look on his face, and slung an arm around his shoulders. “This young man here, for example. You look like you might be interested in working here in the future. What’s your favorite subject?”
“Piss off!” Peter muttered.
Mr. Larson made a strangled sound in the back of his throat and looked like he was about to faint, but Tony just kept on talking. “Right then – maybe this kid over here is more interested?” He threw his other arm around Ned’s shoulders and squeezed both boys against his chest.
Ned’s whole face lit up. “Oh yeah, To- Uhm.. Mr. Stark Iron Man, Sir! That would be awesome. My favorite thing would be to be a window cleaner here, because the amount of windows in this place is insane.”
“You dream big, kid,” Tony said. “Anyone have any questions for me?”
He released Ned, but kept his other arm firmly wrapped around Peter. A few hands were raised timidly and Tony answered a few questions, ignoring Peter’s squirming and muttered cursing beside him.
After about ten minutes, Tony made up a story about some important phone call to Japan. He gave Peter a final tap on the shoulder and nodded at the others as the tour guide led the kids into the next room.
Mr. Larson lingered for a moment, still looking panicked. “I apologize, Mr. Stark. Mr. Parker... he’s always been a trouble maker... in detention all the time... didn’t think he would be this rude to a stranger but I can’t say I’m surprised either...”
Tony suddenly didn’t feel very cheerful anymore. “It’s fine,” he curtly said. Mr. Larson probably thought his short response meant that it was not fine at all, because he stammered out a few more apologies.
Before Tony could politely tell the man to get his shit together and go back to his students, they heard a commotion in the next room, and after a few seconds the tour guide poked her head around the doorway. “Sir – some of your students seem to be having an argument.”
Ned’s head suddenly popped out, too. “Flash and Peter are fighting – It was Flashes fault!” He hastily added.
“Oh my god,” Mr. Larson moaned, before rushing into the room. Tony winced when he heard glass breaking, the teacher yelling, “PARKER! Get off – get off him, now. THOMPSON!”
Tony stepped inside and saw Peter rolling over the floor with another kid while Mr. Larson was nervously jumping up and down next to them, clearly afraid to physically interfere. There was broken glass everywhere – some cabinet had been knocked over. Tony pushed a few students out of his way, stepped past Mr. Larson and grabbed Peter around the waist, pulling him back. Peter kicked him in the shins – rather painfully.
“Ouch - Hey!” Tony yelled. “HEY!”
Peter finally seemed to realize who was holding him back, and then calmed considerably.
The other kid - Flash, apparently – was still lying on the ground, moaning. “NngAahhh... He broke my ribs! Mr. Larson, expel him!”
“Man up!” Peter snarled. He tried to rip his arm from Tony’s grip, but Tony only grabbed him tighter and made eye contact with the teacher.
“I will have a talk with Mr. Parker for a moment.” Tony said. “If someone would get that young man to reception for some ice – and the rest of you... do enjoy the rest of your tour.”
The teacher looked at him with large, surprised eyes, but seemingly did not dare protest. The other students also looked on with wide eyes as Tony marched Peter out of the room. The last thing Tony saw was Ned’s worried frown.
Tony sat Peter down on the side of the bathtub before starting to rummage through the cabinets.
Peter looked on with a deep frown. “What are you doing?” He finally asked.
“You’re bleeding,” Tony said calmly, nodding his head at the tiny cuts that the pieces of glass had left on Peter’s forearms. He grabbed a piece of cloth and some disinfectant and sat next to Peter. “Hold out your arms.”
“I can do that myself,” Peter snapped, already reaching out for the bottle of disinfectant.
“Stop being a little shit and hold out your arms!” Tony barked.
Peter grumbled something undoubtedly very rude under his breath, but he did hold out his arms, and Tony started to carefully dab at the cuts.
“Do you bother that kid a lot?”
“Me bothering him?” Peter said. “Me bothering him?”
“He seems to think you have broken his ribs.”
“He’s fine,” Peter snarled.
“FRIDAY, give me an update on that other kid’s vitals,” Tony said.
“Mr. Eugene Thompson appears to have a few bruises and some minor cuts. He is being tended to at the moment,” was the immediate report.
“Told you,” Peter said, looking smug. “He always bitches about nothing.”
“Interesting,” Tony said. “You were pulling your punches?”
From Peter’s raised eyebrows, he clearly hadn’t expected that question.
“Spider-Man could easily have cracked that kid’s skull,” Tony clarified.
“Yeah, well, I’m not Spider-Man right now,” Peter murmured. “So I shouldn’t hit too hard.”
“So even when you’re rolling around the floor fighting with another kid, you still have the presence of mind to hide your actual strength?”
“Impressive, innit?” Peter said, smirking. “Aren’t you proud of me?”
“No, I’m royally pissed off, actually. Do I need to remind you why you got suspended from school last time?”
“No you don’t,” Peter said with forced calmness. “I remember it perfectly. I punched that asshole Faris right in the middle of his fat nose.”
“What’s wrong with you today?” Tony challenged. “You’re always a bit snarky, but it’s never this bad.”
“Because you’re messing with me!”
“Sure, when am I not? That can’t be all.”
“You’re messing with me in front of Flash. I don’t need anyone giving that fuckwit more ammo to breathe down my neck all day.”
Tony put the cloth down and grabbed some band aids to cover the biggest cuts. “Okay, who exactly is ‘Flash’ and why would he be breathing down your neck? Is he a super-hero, too? Sure has a name like one.”
Peter blew out a long breath. “Where do you want me to start? He’s jealous, arrogant, a bully, a snob.”
“Does he bully you?”
“No, and he’s regretting that he ever did,” Peter said through clenched teeth. “And now that he realized I’m not an easy target anymore he just tries to pick on Ned as if I won’t notice. The next time I see him do it, I’m going to pound on him just as much!”
Before Tony could launch into a lecture, the door opened and Pepper stepped inside. She surveyed the room. “How are we doing?”
“How did you know?” Tony questioned.
“I asked FRIDAY for an update to make sure you weren’t completely embarrassing Peter.”
“Well, he did.” Peter complained. “Tell him to back off.”
Pepper crossed her arms. “How about you tell me why your classmate is currently sitting at reception with an icepack against his nose? Have we not discussed this quite thoroughly several times before?”
Peter hunched and looked away. He always seemed to respond much better to Pepper’s lectures than he did to Tony’s. That always made Tony a little jealous, in spite of how he always vowed that he much preferred Pepper dealing with this stuff anyways.
“Sorry,” Peter muttered, “but it was Flash.”
“I know it was, FRIDAY gave me all the details. And I know what he said to Ned, but if you can’t learn to control yourself then you’re the one with the problem. And you’ll be the one getting in trouble.”
“Which is freaking unfair,” Peter grumbled.
“No it’s not – and we discussed this!” Pepper said firmly. “When something happens you alert a teacher.
“They don’t do shit. And then Flash gets away with everything, as usual.” Peter mutters despondently.
“Maybe not this time.” Pepper says.
Tony turns to her, eyebrows lifted. “Hatching a plan?”
“FRIDAY played me back some of the things he said to Ned and it’s really completely unacceptable. I don’t even want to repeat them here. That obviously doesn’t make fighting OK, and you will have to answer for that in whatever way the school sees fit. But at least we can maybe manage to alert your school’s staff to the level of bullying going on in their classrooms.”
“Thanks Pep,” Peter said, looking a little less miserable now.
Pepper nodded. “I’ll go talk to the teacher and tell him we’re your guardians so he shouldn’t worry too much. I think the poor man is close to passing out.”
“I don’t want him to know that, though!” Peter protested.
“Come on, Peter. After today, he’ll probably want to call your parents. What name do you think will pop up in his book when he does?” Pepper asked. “Yet another reason to behave yourself in school. Don’t give them a reason to call us in.”
She left and Tony also got up to put away the bandages and disinfectant.
“Sorry about that glass cabinet thingy,” Peter whispered. Tony turned back to him and watched him nervously biting his nails. How the kid could change from a seething mass of anger to an awkward, innocent puppy within seconds was always a mystery to him.
Tony sighed a deep sigh. “Can I hug you, now that people aren’t watching?”
Peter flushed a little, but got up to lean into Tony’s embrace. “Sorry I mess everything up,” he muttered.
“Sorry I embarrassed you in front of your class,” Tony responded.
Peter scoffed. “Shut up, you’re not really sorry.”
Oh, the kid knew him so well
Chapter 4: Raise your glass
I’ve been asked [Obsidi4n] to show more background related to Ben, which will definitely come up from time to time! But it won’t be all in one story, but rather bits and pieces revealed now and then. This story has some of those bits and pieces.
“I would like to raise my glass,” Tony announced, “to another job well done. Steve, quick thinking with the shield; Natasha, I don’t even know where that twirly kick-thing came from, but it worked.”
Natasha raised her glass, too, with a subtle upward quirk of her mouth.
“We make a pretty good team, you know...” Tony mused. “Could be worse. I’ve seen worse. But Pepper and I make the best team,” he turned to Pepper. “Isn’t that right?”
“You’ve never been very good at speeches,” was her only reply.
“I’ll drink to that!” Sam shouted, quickly clinking his beer bottle against Pepper’s wine glass and taking a large sip.
“You’ll drink to anything,” Steve told him.
“And you’ll drink to nothing, will you? Are you really sticking to a diet coke of all things?”
“It was on my list!” Steve said, defensively.
The five of them were gathered around the table for a small ‘we caught the bad guy’-celebration. They usually went to some bar for that, or a shawarma place, but Tony had promised Pepper to be home quickly this time, so he had suggested to bring the party to the tower right after delivering the stolen goods back to their rightful owners.
“And they didn’t even thank us or anything when we brought back their bioweapon,” Natasha complained. “After I almost got shot!”
“Maybe you shouldn’t look at people so menacingly when we return their stuff,” Tony said. “It tends to put people off.”
“It still sucks.”
Tony waved his hand. “Yeah, yeah. Guess, what, the whole world sucks.”
“That’s called gravity, Tony.”
A round of laughter drowned out the ‘ding’ of the elevator bell, and none of them realized that someone else had entered the room until they heard a small “Hi.”
Tony nearly spilled his beer as he turned to Peter, who was hovering right next to him.
“Jeez, kid. You almost gave me a heart attack. Did you just get home?”
Peter nodded silently, his gaze drifting from one Avenger to the other.
Pepper gave him a tiny wave. “How was dinner at Ned’s place, honey?”
“Fine. I’m going to bed,” Peter said.
Tony blinked. “It’s not even nine yet.”
Peter shrugged, already turning away from them. “Yeah. I’m tired. See you tomorrow.”
“O-okay then. Good night.” Tony watched the kid leave, then turned to Pepper, who gave an unconcerned wave. “I’ll check on him later.”
Tony nodded. Peter never missed a chance to stay up late. His bedtime had been a topic of frequent discussion. Tony had never seen the kid voluntarily turn in early.
“So what’s next?” Sam asked. “Charades? Karaoke? Never have I ever?”
“How about ‘see who can be quiet the longest’?” Natasha suggested.
“You’re a buzzkill, Romanoff.”
“Fine,” Natasha relented. “How about Twister?” She lifted her legs off the floor and wiggled her toes, a sparkle in her eyes.
“Or ‘the floor is lava’?” Tony supplied, smirking.
“I don’t know any of these games,” Steve said with a frown.
“Ooh, I know!” Tony said, clapping his hands together. “Let’s browse through the internet and help Steve catch up to the twenty-first century! Sounds like a plan?”
“Start with that rainbow cupcake cat.” Pepper said.
After about half an hour of Star Wars trailers, Moon Landing footage and Gangnam style, Tony muted the sound for a moment. “Hey FRIDAY, is Peter asleep yet?”
“Not yet,” FRIDAY told him.
“All right. But he is in bed, though?”
“Peter Parker is currently lying under his bed.”
Under his bed. Right. Pepper and Tony exchanged a glance.
“What does that mean?” Sam asked, his forehead wrinkling.
“I’ll go,” Pepper said, setting her glass down.
She entered the elevator, which automatically took her up to the floor where their bedrooms were. Peter’s bedroom was right across from her and Tony’s room. Peter used to sleep under his bed every night when he had first moved in, but they had been working on that and the last few months had been better. She wasn’t sure what could have happened to make Peter want to retreat back under there.
She knocked on the door before carefully pushing it open and poking her head inside. “Peter? Can I come in?”
A scuffling sound, somewhere in the dark. “Uhm... yeah,” Peter hesitantly said. “I’m under the bed, though.”
“I know. Can I join you?”
“Er – sure?”
Pepper carefully shuffled forward, her eyes still getting accustomed to the dark. She didn’t want to turn on a light in case that would make Peter feel less safe.
When she reached the bed, she lay down. She could just make out the outline of Peter. “Hi. You haven’t been there in a while.”
Pepper manoeuvred herself until she was under the bed next to Peter, but careful not to touch him.
“Are you not feeling okay?”
“I’m fine.. It’s just... It’s dumb.”
“Did something happen at Ned’s?”
Silence as Pepper waited for Peter to elaborate. Silence was always the best way to get Peter to say what was on his mind.
“You’re going to say it’s stupid,” Peter finally muttered.
“That doesn’t sound like something I’d say.”
Silence again. Pepper could hear, and somewhat see, Peter picking at the bottom of his mattress through the bed springs.
“Everyone is drinking,” he finally blurted out.
It hadn’t even occurred to Pepper that that might be an issue, but of course it would be. The Avengers got together for drinks all the time, but not usually in the tower, so Peter wouldn’t be used to it. And Peter had had plenty of bad experiences with drunk adults.
Before she could think of something to say, Peter nervously blabbered on: “And I know okay? I know nothing will happen. But it still just makes me feel.. on edge, I guess.”
“I understand,” Pepper said carefully, trying to think of the best way to deal with this development. She could go down and tell the others to stop drinking and ban all alcohol from the tower – Steve certainly wouldn’t object. But that might just encourage Peter’s beliefs that everyone turns into a monster after one beer.
“All right, honey, this idea might freak you out a bit, but how about you come down and sit with us for a little while?”
No response, but Pepper could practically feel Peter’s incredulous glance.
“We’re having a drink, but no one is getting drunk.” She elaborated. “Sitting with us might help. You know, like people who are afraid of spiders need to hold a spider to get over it?”
Peter didn’t argue with that logic. “Tony’s been drunk, though,” he mumbled. “Like, drunk drunk. It was on the news.”
“Hmmm, you’re referring to his birthday party melt-down, I suppose,” Pepper recalled. “Yes, he was a mess. I was very displeased with him. He put a hole in the ceiling. But people mess up, and he hasn’t been drunk since.”
“Hm,” Peter said, sounding unconvinced.
“Why don’t we just give it a try?” Pepper coaxed. “We’re showing Steve online videos about all the things he has missed, I’m sure you have lots of suggestions. And there might be a round of ‘Twister’ later.”
That finally elicited a small chuckle from Peter.
“You’ll just sit next to me on the couch,” Pepper continued, feeling encouraged, “and we can agree on a secret signal in case you feel a bit overwhelmed and you need me to make up an excuse to get you out of there. Like... you ask me what time it is?”
“What if I want to know what time it is?” Peter said, a hint of his old cheek in his voice.
“Then you ask someone else, smart-ass.” Pepper teased him.
Tony hadn’t had this much fun in weeks. They had somehow ended up showing Steve an episode of Sesame Street, which he actually seemed to enjoy immensely, when the elevator doors slid open again and Pepper and Peter entered the room.
“Hey kid,” Tony said, keeping his tone airily on purpose. “Couldn’t sleep?”
“Guess not,” Peter muttered, half-hiding behind Pepper for some reason.
Tony raised his eyebrows at Pepper, who just gave him a patient smile and put an arm around Peter’s shoulder to guide him to the couch. They sat down together and Peter snuggled up against Pepper.
“Want a drink, kid?” Tony said.
Peter frowned at him and Tony raised his shoulders. “What? They say warm milk helps! Or tea.”
“Oh – right.” Peter said, his face clearing up. “Tea sounds good.” He turned to the large TV screen they were all watching, a puzzled expression appearing on his face. “Is that... big bird?”
“The one and only,” Tony said, getting up to make tea. “Do I need to bring another beer for anyone? Pep, more wine?”
“No, I’m good,” Pepper said.
“Bring more food, though,” Natasha added.
Tony went to the kitchen, still focussing on the muffled conversations filtering in from the living room.
“What type of bird is that, anyway?” Steve asked.
“A big bird.” Natasha said.
“A canary.” Sam corrected her. “Pretty sure it’s a large canary.”
Tony would never ever admit it, but he was thankful to the others for continuing their banter and not bothering the kid to find out what was wrong with him. Peter knew Steve and Natasha pretty well, by know, so they would definitely notice that Peter was having one of his moods.
When Tony returned with tea and more snacks, the episode had ended and Sam was singing, terribly out of tune: “Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Streeeeet..”
“Use GPS.” Tony said. He handed the cup of tea to Peter, who was still huddled up against Pepper and muttered his thanks. Tony sat down in an arm chair next to them and lifted his feet up on the coffee table.
“So what’s next?” Steve asked. “I’m a little tired from being subjected to all that weird stuff, to be honest.”
“Why are we even doing this?” Peter asked quietly.
“Just a little celebration. A bioweapon was stolen this evening and we returned it.”
Peter looked dismayed. “Without me!”
Tony gave him a stern look. “Yes, you hooligan. You were having dinner with Ned, and this didn’t fall into the friendly neighborhood-category, anyway.”
“Fine,” Peter grumbled. “Could have used the distraction, though. All teachers were being major assholes today.”
“Is that why you were upset before?”
Peter shook his head. “No, it’s just... When I saw you guys drinking beer it reminded of my uncle. Because he would drink a lot, and it wasn’t pretty.”
Sam froze, his beer bottle lifted half-way up to his mouth.
“Oh,” Steve said, looking disturbed. “Should we put it away?”
“Nah,” Peter said. “I’m sitting with you now, aren’t I? And – uhm – you guys aren’t so bad.”
“We aren’t,” Tony assured him, reaching over to squeeze his hand. “We might make lamer jokes than usual, but that’s about it.”
“Yeah, I noticed,” Peter said, smirking.
Natasha still looked unsatisfied. “Wait, your uncle? But I thought... I mean... weren’t you on the streets?”
“Well, yeah,” Peter said dismissively. “By choice.”
Natasha looked down at her drink with a deep frown. It was quiet for a little while.
“We’re really happy you’re here.” Steve finally offered.
Peter flushed a little. “Er – Thanks,” he muttered.
“Good,” Pepper smiled, squeezing the boy’s shoulders. “Now, any suggestions for what we should do next?”
Peter cocked his head as he thought. “Hmm.. I actually have an idea.”
Tony looked over to him to see a little mischief glinting in his eyes. A good sign.
“Is it an idea that will get us into legal trouble?” He joked.
“That depends on what databases we need to hack into to make this happen,” Peter replied, dead-serious, and Tony almost choked on a peanut.
“Have any of you guys ever seen Captain America’s PSA’s?”
A beat of silence.
“Oh, no....” Steve said.
Chapter 5: the cupcake stealers
“What happened to my cupcakes?”
Peter sent an accusing glare at Sam and Clint who sat around looking innocent.
“No idea,” said Clint.
“You’ve got frosting on your nose!” Peter pointed out.
“Damnit!” Clint cursed, rubbing his nose.
“Not cool, guys! I got those for Tony for a special occasion!”
“There’s one left.” Sam pointed at the tray.
“Sorry, Peter. We couldn’t resist. We’ll get you new ones tomorrow,” Clint promised.
“Tomorrow is too late! I needed them today.”
“Why? What’s today?”
Peter lifted his chin. “It’s a surprise. FRIDAY, can you ask Tony if he has time to come up here?”
When Tony stepped out of the elevator, Peter was waiting for him, holding a cupcake, an absolute evil smirk on his face. Sam and Clint were sitting on the couch, looking on with mild interest.
“What’s going on?” Tony asked warily.
“I got you a cupcake.”
“I can see that. What is the occasion?”
“Well, today is the ‘Respect for the Elderly’-Day. In Japan. Like every year.”
“You little shit,” Tony said as Clint and Sam roared with laughter.
Peter tried and failed to plaster an innocent expression on his face as he held out the cupcake. Tony rolled his eyes and grabbed it, then pointed at him. “Just because I’m going to eat this, doesn’t mean I’m forgiving you for that comment any time soon.”
“I can’t believe you bought six cup-cakes just to get that joke in,” Clint said, wiping at his eyes.
“You got me six cupcakes? Where are the other five?” Tony asked greedily, all indignation suddenly gone out the window.
“Take a wild guess!” Peter said, jerking his head at the two men on the couch.
Tony squinted at them. “Oh really? That means no desert for you guys tonight.”
“Whatever, grandpa,” Sam replied gleefully.
“You want to make it two days?” Tony warned, taking a bite out of the cupcake.
Sam opened his mouth for a comeback, but Clint poked him. “Shut it! I heard Bruce is making brownies.”
A snort from Peter’s direction made Tony turn back to him. He cocked his head and squinted at Peter. “All right, kid, out with it. No way did you go through all this trouble just for a laugh. So let’s hear it. What do you need me in a good mood for?”
Peter awkwardly swung his arms back and forth. “Mmmwell... I need a new backpack.”
“A new backpack. Uhm – and a calculator. Chemistry book.”
“Are you for real? I got you a new backpack last week. Why do you just keep chucking them behind a garbage can for homeless people to find?”
“No – but look – I left it in a really safe place this time,” Peter started babbling, nervously bouncing up and down on his feet. “I put it inside the garbage and, like, even covered it with a little rubbish, which was kinda gross and stinky, but I figured I’d just wash it later. And, I mean, they really should just think of a system to warn you that a trashcan is about to be emptied, or when the garbage men come they should sort of sift through it a little to see if there’s nothing in there by mistake, you know? Because people throw stuff out by mistake all the time. Right? You know... you know what I’m saying?”
Peter faltered under Tony’s unimpressed glare.
“So the bottom line is, your brand new backpack is gone because you threw it in the trash?”
“Sort of..” Peter muttered, looking apologetic.
“I’m very much inclined to just send you down to the landfill to find it.”
Peter huffed and crossed his arms. “Why, is a new one going to put a dent in your savings, Mr. Billionaire?”
“Why don’t you get smart with me after you've managed to hold on to your next one for longer than two weeks. Can you do that for me?”
Peter nodded, looking grumpy
“Looks like your cupcake plan didn’t work much.” Clint remarked.
“Well, maybe it would have worked if I had had six of them, genius!”
Tony couldn’t help a chuckle at that. He lifted a hand and slapped it down on Peter’s shoulder, squeezing a little. “All right, kid. Just try and be careful. Next time, leave it up a tree or something. Now, how about you give me a little mission report?”
Peter’s face lit up again. “Oh, guess what? There were these guys who stole the wallet of a blind man! I mean, who does that, right? Even I didn't do that back when I would sometimes steal shit. And they didn’t even see me follow them, and they thought they got away, and they were like ‘har har, good luck to that guy describing us to the cops’, and then I swung down and was all like ‘Yeah? Describe this!’ And... and I kicked them.” He finishes, a little out of breath.
“Sounds good,” Tony said, trying to ignore Clint and Sam who were clearly trying to hold back laughter. “Left them for the police?”
“Yeah. And took the wallet back to the guy.”
“Good man. I’m proud. Let’s go out and celebrate, hm? Come on, I’ll buy you a cupcake.”
“Oooh,” Clint said. “Can we come? We’ve worked hard today, too!”
“No!” Peter said before Tony could even react. “Get your own cupcakes, you cupcake stealers.”
Tony grinned widely. He slung an arm around Peter’s shoulder, gave Sam and Clint a sweet little wave; "You heard the boss!" And the two of them sauntered over to the elevator.
Just two tough guys going out for some tea and cupcakes.
Chapter 6: Yes, mom
Inspired by StarryKitty013 suggestion for a sick-fic!
“Tony, are you awake?”
“Pep, I’m always awake.”
Tony felt the mattress shift as Pepper turned to him and propped her head up on her hand. She softly poked his shoulder. “You remember I’m going on a business trip next week, right?”
“And you remember next week is Peter’s spring break, right?”
“Yes, Pepper. What’s wrong?”
“Just hoped you had put two and two together and arranged for some time off next week to take care of him.”
Tony sent her a flat look. “He’s not six years old, Pepper, he doesn’t need a babysitter.”
Pepper gave him an exasperated look that somehow still looked patient. “No he doesn’t need a babysitter, he needs a parent.”
“Okay. See if Clint is available.”
“I’m kidding, come on!” Tony spread his hands. “I’ll be here, Pep. It’ll be no problem at all.”
Okay, big problem, Big problem. “What do you mean you never get sick?” Tony demanded, pacing back and forth next to the couch where Peter had taken refuge.
The kid coughed again and sniffed. “I just don’t. Not once since I got the bite. What - do you ever get sick?”
“Of course I get sick, I’m not super-human. I once sneezed into my own helmet while flying around. It was... profoundly disgusting.”
Peter laughed at that, but his laughs quickly dissolved into coughs that wrecked his whole body, and Tony tried not to lose his calm. Pepper had been gone for precisely two days, and of course it had to be today that FRIDAY had deemed it fit to inform Tony that Peter had woken up with an elevated temperature.
“But how are you sick now if you never get sick?”
“Beats me,” Peter murmured, patting the blankets around him and pulling them closer. “And it had to be during spring break. Why can’t I get sick on the day of my history presentation or something?”
Tony definitely felt that the kid has his priorities all screwed up, worrying about his history presentation when he was clearly infected with a mysterious and potentially lethal virus. “FRIDAY, call Dr. Cho!”
“I don’t know, Mr. Stark,” Dr. Cho said as she carefully felt for any swelling in Peter’s throat. “It looks like a common flu. I wouldn’t be concerned about it.”
Tony scoffed. “Oh, trust me, I wouldn’t be concerned about it either, if I hadn’t recently been informed by a reliable source that this kid doesn’t get sick. Ever. Am I the only one here who remembers that he is a super-human? Something is clearly wrong!” Another coughing fit from Peter demonstrated his point perfectly.
“Tony, I’m sure it’s fine,” Peter rasped. “Just... get me a cup of tea or something...? Pretty please? It kinda hurts.”
“What? What hurts?” Tony asked, springing into action.
“Throat,” Peter muttered, rolling onto his side and pulling his legs up to his chest. He looked miserable.
“Tea is good,” Cho patiently advised him. “And I’ll give him some acetaminophen. Other than that, just let him rest. I see no reason to be concerned.”
Tony went to the kitchen to make tea, but he certainly wasn’t planning on leaving it at that. Dr. Cho clearly didn’t understand how dire the situation was. He wanted to call Pepper, but he didn’t really want to admit that he couldn’t deal with things himself. So he told FRIDAY to contact the next best thing on his list.
“Kid – wake up. There’s a doctor here to see you.”
“What... another one?” Peter rolled on his back, rubbing his eyes, and looked up at Bruce Banner who was awkwardly standing next to Tony. “Oh. Dr. Banner. Wow – nice to meet you.”
Bruce smiled at him, but then gave Tony a somewhat stern look over the rim of his glasses. “Tony. You called me up here because your kid has a temperature?”
“You are a doctor!” Tony argued.
“I’m a physicist. Your kid has the flu.”
Tony wanted to scream. Did no one understand the gravity of the situation? “Which would be very ordinary, except that this kid doesn’t get the flu! He is enhanced! This is not supposed to happen!”
“Dr. Banner, save me,” Peter whispered dramatically. “He has been like this all morning.”
Bruce cracked a smile, before dutifully clearing his throat. “I’ll, uhm, give him a full physical, Tony. Why don’t you go make him some tea?”
“All I’ve been doing all day, but okay,” Tony paused for a moment when he remembered how Peter usually didn’t warm up to new people too fast. “Will you be okay with Bruce?”
“Yes.” Peter said. “Go away.”
Tony was still trying to decide how much honey was an appropriate amount for a cup of tea when Bruce entered the kitchen. Tony turned to him. “So, how are the results?”
“Judging by how energetically he discussed gamma radiation with me, I’d say his brain is doing fine.”
“Okay, I already know the kid is smart,” Tony said. “Please tell me you’ve got something better to explain all this.”
Bruce sighed, leaning against the door post. “Peter told me he has spring break at the moment.”
“And he has taken a few days off from his usual vigilanting activities.”
“To be more exact, Pepper grounded him.”
“Have you considered that his illness might be psychosomatic?”
Tony blinked. It wasn’t often that Bruce used words he didn’t understand, and it sure as hell didn’t put his mind at ease to hear unknown five-syllable words being thrown around while his kid was seriously ill. “Okay, unlike some people, I didn’t read my word-of-the-day calendar. What does that mean? Is it terminal?”
“Again, Tony, it’s the flu,” Bruce said, looking exasperated but patient – like a bulky, hairy version of Pepper. “A health complaint is psychosomatic when it has no direct physical cause, but instead could be explained by emotional factors. His psyche might be interfering with his health.”
“So you mean it’s all in his head?”
“Not exactly. The illness is real. I think his emotional state could be compromising his healing abilities, allowing him to get sick.”
Tony frowned. “That makes no sense. This kid used to sleep on the streets, he’s been shot at, he has jumped into burning buildings, not to mention he was adopted into a crazy new family. But he is getting emotions-sick now?”
“I’m sure getting adopted by you was very traumatizing indeed.” Bruce said with a soft smile. “But getting caught up in shootings and fires has just kept his adrenaline going. Ever noticed that you tend to get sick more quickly during vacations? Some call it Leisure Sickness. The fact that he can finally relax might mean that his defences are down.”
Tony hummed. “Okay... So what do you suggest I do, call a therapist?”
“No. You let him rest, put on his favorite TV-show, bring him soup and fresh orange juice, and pretty much just let him be sick. His body will sort itself out. There’s nothing wrong with being ill. It’s probably good for him to take a time-out.”
Bruce left a copy of his latest paper on the table next to Peter, who was fast asleep when they returned from the kitchen. Tony hovered for a while, not sure what to do with the cup of tea now, before finally putting it down on the table, too. Bruce gave him a little pat on the pack. “He’ll be fine, Tony. Call Dr. Cho if anything gets worse.”
Bruce left, and the room settled into calm tranquillity as Tony sat down in an armchair to do some work.
Every now and then, he glanced down at Peter, whose breathing was raspy but even. He knew his reputation with Bruce was probably in shreds after this morning, but at least he felt a bit less frantic about Peter’s mysterious fever. If there was any Avenger he trusted, it was Bruce
He was aware of Peter slowly opening his eyes and peeking at Tony’s hologram screens about an hour later.
“No,” Peter mumbled as he pulled his blanket over his head. “Feeling just as knackered. But you not hanging over me is helpful.”
“Little hooligan,” Tony muttered.
Peter chuckled, but once again those chuckles quickly turned into sharp coughs that made Tony wince. “Drink your tea, kid.”
Peter peeked out from under the blanket and sniffed as he saw the cup standing on the table. “How long has that been there? Must be cold.”
“How dare you doubt my abilities,” Tony said. “There’s a nanoheater in that cup, your tea is at perfect temperature.”
“You overdo everything,” Peter told him. He did however sit up a little and carefully picked up the teacup. “Did Dr. Banner leave?”
“Yes, but he left you his latest paper for some ‘light reading’. I believe it hasn’t even been officially published.”
“Cool. I’ll let him know if he made any mistakes in it.”
“Hooligan,” Tony repeated. “Bruce doesn’t make mistakes. That’s why I asked him to examine you.”
“He didn’t actually examine me, we just talked.”
Peter took a careful sip and his face lit up. “Ooh - This tastes really sweet. I like it!”
“I put honey in it.”
“I can’t believe how much of a mom you become when I get a cold.”
“Shut up and drink your tea.”
Peter stuck his tongue out at him.
By Wednesday, Peter’s temperature was down to a normal level, but he still had a cold and a nasty cough, and couldn’t even walk to the bathroom without getting out of breath.
“This is so annoying!” Peter exclaimed as he pounded his fist into one of the couch cushions. “I want to go outside or something!”
“Bruce said you need to rest,” Tony said. “Come on – we can watch another movie. Snuggle up in those blankets, now!”
Peter grumbled under his breath, but he did pull his blanket closer. “Have you ever taken care of someone who was sick before?”
The question took Tony by surprise. “Uhm – well, not like this, I suppose. If you’re working your way around to another joke about me being a mom, I swear to God...”
Peter smiled. “Nah, I kinda enjoy seeing you freak out over my health. Been a long time since anyone cared that much.”
Tony wasn’t sure how to respond to that. “To be honest, it scares me a little how much I care about you,” he finally admitted.
It was quiet for a while, until Tony heard a small sniffle coming from the couch.
“Crap, did I make you cry?”
“NO!” Peter said defensively. “I have a cold!” He wiped his nose. “That was really nice though. Probably about the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”
“Can we watch Lord of the Rings?”
Tony recognized that Peter wanted to avoid a conversation about ‘feelings’ just as much as he did. “Sure. The first one?”
“How about all three?”
Tony blew out a long breath. “Let’s start with one, and then you take a nap and we’ll see if you’re up for another one.”
“Shut up and drink your tea.”
Pepper dumped her suitcase on an armchair and flopped down on the couch between Tony, who looked about as tired as she felt, and Peter. “Phew. That was grueling. Don’t expect me to get any work done tomorrow. How was your week?”
“Fine,” Tony murmured, his eyes still closed. “Peter got a little sick, but I had it under control.”
“He freaked out,” Peter informed her. “And he pretty much duct-taped me to the couch.”
“Sounds like he had it under control,” Pepper said, not batting an eye. “You feel better?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. An inch away from overdosing on tea, but otherwise fine. I think Tony’s worse off than me.”
Pepper smiled at him, then turned to look at Tony, whose head had fallen back against the back of the couch. “Tony? Are you still awake?”
“I’m always awake, Pep.”
Chapter 7: A good example
“Oh good, honey, you’re here,” Pepper said. That was never a good start to Tony’s evening. When Pepper was in a romantic mood she always called him ‘Tony’. When she wanted something done, she called him ‘honey’.
“I have plans,” he said.
Pepper frowned as she took some pins out of her bun to let her hair fall down. “What?”
“Whatever charity thing you want me to attend, I can’t come. I have plans.”
“Next week, on Wednesday?”
“Well, cancel them,” Pepper declared firmly. “Peter’s teacher is coming over on one of their standard home visits.”
“Uhuh. Do they really do home visits, or is that something they made up as an excuse to get access to my tower?”
Pepper kicked off her heels. “Don’t be dramatic, Tony. It’s important to have good communication with the teachers. I was actually very impressed they take the time to do home visits. Just let me know if you’re planning on being completely insufferable, because if you are, I’ll just talk to him myself.”
“Yeah, you talk to him.”
Pepper stomped her feet a little, which would have had much more effect if she’d still be wearing those gigantic heels. “NO! I want you to talk to him, too!”
“I thought I was insufferable?”
“You’re not insufferable, you’re just pretending to be so much that it puts people off. Tony, it’s important to get to know his teachers!”
Tony would gladly agree to disagree. “It’s not as if we don’t already know everything. I did a background check on all of those teachers.”
Pepper stared at him, then shook her head a little. “Right. Maybe don’t mention that when he comes here.”
“Mr. Harrington, his science teacher.”
“Peter speaks very highly of the two of you,” Mr Harrington said as he shook their hands.
“Stop lying to me,” Tony said.
Mr. Harrington faltered, looking unsure.
“Don’t listen to him,” Pepper said. “Please, sit.”
They all took their seat around the living room table. Peter was there too, looking like he’d rather be anywhere else. Tony could sympathize. He had a mild headache after sleeping even less than usual and had refused to take off his sunglasses, in spite of Pepper’s prodding.
He was content to just listen to Pepper and the science teacher hashing everything out between the two of them, but Mr. Harrington decided to hold some pieces of paper out to him for some reason. Tony just stared at them for a moment.
“He doesn’t like to be handed things,” Peter said. “Here – I’ll read it to him.”
He reached out to take the papers, but Tony quickly snatched them from Mr Harrington’s hands. “I don’t trust you to actually read me the real thing,” he muttered as he turned the papers towards himself. Peter stuck his tongue out at him.
The papers turned out to be Peter’s most recent report card. Tony eyed Peter’s grades over the top of his sunglasses, then glanced at Peter. “How did you get a C+ in chemistry? You are brilliant!”
“That would be on account of me not handing some stuff in on time,” Peter said, looking completely unbothered.
“Yes,” Mr Harrington said, nodding. “Peter could certainly be a straight A student if he weren’t so thoroughly lax when it comes to deadlines.”
Pepper frowned at that. “Do we need to start monitoring your schoolwork?”
“No,” Peter said, looking at her as if she had said something utterly ridiculous. “I pay attention to my grades. If I can afford to let something slide, I let it slide. If I got an A on my history test, who cares if the next essay is handed in a little late? I’m still at a C average.”
“It’s not just about the grades,” Pepper pressed. “You’ll have to learn to deal with deadlines. Adults have to deal with them too, you know!”
“As if Tony gives a shit about deadlines!”
“Uhuh - please don’t follow Tony’s example.”
Tony coughed a little. “Pep, kindly refrain from – uhm - deriding my magnificent personal achievements.”
“I’m not deriding your achievements, I’m merely criticizing your lack of maturity,” Pepper informed him.
“Aha,” Tony nodded. “In that case, please proceed.”
Pepper folded her hands. “Peter, do you realize how many doors would open to you as a straight A student? I mean, you want to go to a good university, right?”
“As if I can afford to go to Harvard or something!” Peter exclaimed.
Pepper actually slammed her fist down on the table at that, making all three of them jump. “YOU don’t have to afford anything! As your guardians, it is our responsibility to pay for your expenses! Do you even realize that that’s how it’s supposed to work?”
Peter gaped at her. “What, you’re paying for me to go to college now?”
Pepper huffed out a breath, dropping her head into her hands.
“Sorry...” Peter said, “but, uhm, you do realize I’ll be off age, right? Technically, you won’t be responsible for anything.”
Pepper lifted her head to look at him. “Family is not about technicalities,” she finally said. “And it’s not your fault; we should have been clear about it. It’s our job to pay for your education. It’s your job to get good grades. Deal?”
“It must be somewhat confusing to live in this new arrangement,” Mr Harrington said. “I’m sure there are many details still to be hashed out. But I do believe, on the whole, it has been a welcome change for you?”
“Sure,” Peter said. “I mean... it’s Stark Tower and I intern here as well, and uhm, I get to work with Tony in his workplace, which is awesome, and Dr. Banner is here sometimes and helps me with my essays and stuff...”
Mr Harrington nodded. “I would hope that this arrangement means more to you than having a nice place to work, though.”
“Oh, yeah,” Peter immediately said, which surprised Tony a little. “I was just focussing on the other stuff because you’re my teacher.”
“And you think your academic achievements mean more to me than your personal wellbeing?” Mr Harrington shrewdly observed.
’Well, yeah, duhh’ was written all over Peter’s face, but he said “Er – no?”
“Do you feel at home here?”
“Oh. Sure. Uhm – Pepper and Tony are really great,” Peter said, actually going a little red and suddenly appearing very interested in a coffee stain on the table.
“Pepper is doing a fantastic job,” Tony said, feeling like he couldn’t really take credit when all he ever did was say the wrong thing at the wrong time.
“They’re both great,” Peter stressed.
“I am great,” Tony easily agreed. “At other stuff, though.”
“That’s not... I don’t know... you give me advice.”
Tony stared at him. He couldn’t particularly remember ever really giving advice, and if he had done so, it couldn’t possibly have been anything sensible. “What advice have I even given you?”
“Stuff like... to shut up and drink my tea”.
Pepper hid her smile behind her hands, her eyes sparkling with mirth. “That sounds about right,” she said.
Pepper walked Mr Harrington out once they had finished, the two of them chatting away about social niceties as the elevator doors slid shut.
Peter groaned and dropped his head onto the table.
Tony sympathetically patted him on the head. “What’s wrong? That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“No,” Peter said, the sound muffled. “That was a groan of relief about all the shit he didn’t bring up.”
Tony’s hand stilled. “Oh reeeally? Like what didn’t he bring up?”
Peter quickly lifted his head of the table. “Uh – nothing. Don’t tell Pepper I said that. I should go do my homework.”
“Volunteering to do your homework to get out of this conversation?” Tony joked. “Well, it’s got to be bad.”
Peter just gave him a smirk. “Of course not! I’m just... getting my grades up as I promised. Bye!”
Tony watched him sprint up the stairs.
Oh yes, the kid would be fine.
As long as he followed Tony’s example, of course.
Chapter 8: A big fat piece of
N: Did you tell them?
P: Yeah, Ned. It’s fine.
N: What they say?
P: They’ll take care of it.
N: You rly told them? Promise?
Peter sent the reply with a deep frown and put his phone down. He knew Ned meant well, but his friend just didn’t understand that he could deal with this sort of shit just fine on his own.
He watched the screen of his phone light up – Ned was calling him, now. He clearly didn’t believe Peter had actually talked to Tony and Pepper about what had happened today. Peter grabbed his phone, sent the call to voicemail with a tight face, then turned his phone completely off and slammed it down on the table.
Tony looked up from his work, distracted, and eyed Peter’s angry frown. “Girl problems?”
Peter did his best to school his features into a more nonchalant expression. “No. Everything is fine.”
Tony snorted. “Sure, kid.” He didn’t ask any further, though. And Peter wasn’t planning on telling him any time soon about his uncle turning up at school today. Knowing Tony, he would probably order FRIDAY to have Ben arrested or something...
Peter had spotted his uncle waiting for him in his car, parked just outside the school gates after school. He had hesitated, but had decided to see what the man wanted. As it turned out, nothing new. Ben had just been angling to get some money for more booze, as usual. He had ranted about how Stark was so rich he wouldn’t even notice if Peter took some of his stuff, and how that was the whole reason he had agreed to the whole guardianship thing anyway. He hadn’t even bothered to step out of the car, just hanging out the window to yell profanities at Peter.
“Bet you are already swimming in it, aren’t you?” Ben had snarled. “Bet you made sure to stuff your own mattress with his cash. And what do I get for providing for you for years and years? Nothing but a goddamn restraining order on my doormat!”
Peter hadn’t really felt in any mood to point out that his uncle had actually never provided for him in any way that counted.
“I’ll be here again tomorrow,” Ben had continued. “So you’d better bring me some straight cash, or at least something I can sell easily.” And, cursing some more, he had stepped on the gas pedal and sped away, knocking the side mirror off of another car.
And that’s when Peter had turned around and almost bumped into Ned, whose face clearly said that he had heard the whole thing.
Peter had tried to convince his friend that he could deal with his uncle just fine, but he hadn’t been very successful.
Peter signed in frustration, running a hand through his hair. He just needed to keep Ned’s worries at bay for today; tomorrow he could show him that ignoring the whole thing was the best way to make Ben give up. His uncle was usually all bark and no bite.
He tried to focus on his project, stealing a glance at Tony. “Can you come take a look in a minute? I think it should be working, now.”
“Sure,” Tony said, frowning down at his phone that had started buzzing. He tapped the screen and lifted it to his ear. “Happy, now what? ... What? ... He said what? .... Put him through. - - Yes, hello?”
Peter felt a sense of trepidation – surely he wouldn’t... But then, sure enough, he clearly heard Ned’s voice crackling through the phone, blabbing away at Tony, whose face grew more furious by the second. “I see...” He said, his eyes flashing towards Peter. “Hmmm.... I see...”
Feeling his heart hammer in his chest, Peter dropped his project to the table and jumped up.
“You - Stay here!” Tony barked and Peter froze in place. Tony lowered his voice again, as he spoke into the phone. “Thank you for the update, Ned, I’m sure Peter can provide further details for me.” His eyes took on a steely glint, and Peter couldn’t help but gulp a little.
Tony tapped the screen again and lowered his phone. “Well. That was your friend Ned,” he said, his voice a bit too casual.
Peter crossed his arms. He sure as hell wasn’t going to go down without a fight. “What did he want?”
Tony didn’t even bother playing along with that. “Why didn’t you say something?” He demanded. “That goddamn asshole is not allowed within three hundred yards of you, let alone talk to you!”
“I’m not allowed to have a little chat with family?” Peter growled.
“Oh, chat, did you?” Tony mocked. “Because Ned made it sound like you were mostly being screamed at.”
“Whatever,” Peter said, feigning indifference. “He left, so what’s the big deal?”
“The ‘big deal’ is that he’ll apparently be back tomorrow, expecting a suitcase full of money!”
Fucking hell, Ned really had crammed every detail from that afternoon into his thirty second phone call with Tony.
“So what’s the story there?” Tony roared. “Seems like something you should maybe have mentioned. Unless you were planning to steal from me. Wouldn’t be the first time after all!”
That felt like a slap in the face. Peter felt his eyes well up with tears. Not wanting Tony to see them, he turned on his heel and fled the room.
“Pete? You in here?”
Tony didn’t piss off. He carefully pushed the door open further and stepped into Pepper’s small office where Peter had taken refuge. The blinds were closed and the lights were turned off. Tony saw the vague outline of Peter huddled up on the couch. He felt around until he found a light switch and the lamps flickered to life.
“Piss off!” Peter repeated, flinching against the light. Tony winced at the actual tears running down the kid’s face.
“Shit,” Tony muttered, moving closer. “I’m sorry, kid. I’m so sorry. God, I’m such an ass.”
Peter buried his face in his hands and started sobbing. Tony cursed again and sat down on the couch next to him. “Come on, kid, please?” He said, spreading his arms.
He was surprised, but relieved, when Peter immediately threw himself at Tony and accepted his hug, pressing his face into Tony’s shoulder and wrapping his arms around Tony’s neck.
“I w-wasn’t g-going to st-steal anything,” Peter declared, hiccupping his way through the sentence.
“I know, kid,” Tony muttered. “I was just angry at him and took it out on you. I’m a big fat piece of shit.”
Peter didn’t respond to that, though he did tighten his arms a little more around Tony’s neck as he cried.
“Did he hurt you?” Tony quietly asked.
“N-no, we just talked.”
“Don’t say that,” Tony said, annoyance flaring up inside him, though he tried to make sure not to let it seep into his voice this time. “He didn’t talk to you, he threatened you.”
“H-he always says stuff like that,” Peter croaked. “And then he never actually d-does anything. So it’s fine.”
“It’s definitely NOT fine. I want you to feel safe at school.”
“Yeah,” Peter said thickly, and then timidly added: “Can you s-send Happy to pick me up tomorrow?”
“I’ll pick you up tomorrow,” Tony promised. “And I’ll make sure the police pay your uncle a little visit tonight.”
He heard Peter make a little noise of protest, and sighed. “Kid, if we do nothing, he’ll keep coming back. But, oh sure. You want to leave the police out of it? Because you know what, I think that can be arranged. In fact, I have a whole army of enhanced superhero’s who I’m sure would need very little incentive to pay your uncle a little visit off the record. Hmmm... I think I’ll enlist Natasha.”
“That’s not funny,” Peter gasped.
“I’m not laughing,” Tony replied, voice steely with determination.
“All right!” Peter cried out, sounding panicked. “Just t-tell the police. Don’t send Natasha or anyone to his house, okay?”
“Okay.” Tony replied, easily. In fact, he had already told FRIDAY to inform the police about Ben violating his restraining order, but it was just as well that he had gotten Peter to agree to it, albeit with a bit of blackmail.
“Will you really pick me up tomorrow?” Peter asked sheepishly, seeming a bit calmer now.
“Yes. Have I ever broken a promise?”
Peter seemed to be thinking about that for a while. “No, I don’t think so,” he finally murmured.
“There you go, then. You feel better?”
“Good.” Tony’s shoulder was starting to feel numb, so he shifted a little.
“No, w-wait,” Peter cried out.
“I wasn’t leaving!” Tony said. “I’m not leaving. I’m just... getting comfortable.”
He carefully kicked off his shoes and lifted his legs onto the couch, leaning his back against the armrest, and then pulled Peter close again, tucking the kid’s head into the curve of his shoulder and stretching out his own legs along the length of the couch. He could feel the tension slip from Peter’s shoulders as the kid relaxed in his arms with a deep sigh.
He carefully stroked Peter’s back, noticing how he could feel some of his ribs through his thin sweater. Yeah, this kid definitely needed to eat more.
They sat in a comfortable silence for a while. Peter sniffled quietly and fiddled absentmindedly with the buttons on Tony’s sleeve. After a few minutes, Tony carefully tugged at a strand of the kid’s hair to draw his attention again.
“Pete, promise me you’ll tell me if your uncle tries to contact you again?”
“Tony.... I don’t want to bother you. What, you think I can’t deal with it? Because I can!”
“Whether you can or can’t is irrelevant,” Tony bit out. “You shouldn’t have to. That’s all that matters.”
“But if I tell you, you’ll get all bent out of shape again!”
“I don’t get bent out of shape,” Tony said indignantly. “I just have a – uh – slight problem with impulse control. Did I mention I’m sorry about yelling?”
“Yeah you did,” Peter dryly quipped, “right around the time when we established you were a big fat piece of shit.”
Okay, the kid seemed to be back to his old self again. Good.
“You know I care about you, right?”
“I know,” Peter muttered. “Although it’s still just weird, because I don’t understand why. I’ve never done jack shit for you except give you trouble.”
“Well, I like you around.”
Peter sat up a little so that he could look Tony in the eye, wiping the last traces of his tears away. “But why?”
Tony huffed. “How would I know? It’s not like I’m super in touch with my feelings and emotions.”
Peter cracked a smile.
“Look kid, I’m hardly perfect either. If it weren’t for Pepper, you would probably have run out the door screaming a long time ago.”
“You stay stuff like that a lot,” Peter observed. “It’s not really true, you know? I mean – Pepper is... she’s safe because she stays the same. She’s ... steady. But come on, you’ve been like my idol for basically my whole childhood. I always wanted to be you when I grew up.”
“A big fat piece of shit?”
Peter lightly punched him in the arm. “You know what I mean. That thing you said to me, it’s the other way around, too.”
Tony couldn’t help but smirk a little. He was never big on words himself, although he was getting better. So sure, he could settle for Peter’s cryptic way of saying ‘I care about you too’.
“So, you’ll tell me if your uncle tries anything?” He asked, returning to their original topic. “Or tell Pepper, if that’s any better?”
“I promise,” Peter said. A little too easily, Tony thought; and possibly just to get Tony of his back. But it was a start. Tony had his own ways to keep track of Ben’s movements, anyway. And oh, he would be using them.
“All right then,” he said. “Hey. You need to eat more. Wanna make some pancakes?”
“Blueberry?” Peter asked, his eyes lighting up a little.
“Whatever you want, underoos. Whatever you want.”
Chapter 9: Spinning
Steve jumped out of his skin and Natasha spilled her drink when Tony’s voice suddenly boomed at them from the ceiling. “CAP! You at home?”
Natasha set her mug down with a muttered swear and patted at her wet sweater with a disgruntled expression. Steve looked around to find the source of Tony’s voice, but didn’t really find one. It seemed that Tony had borrowed FRIDAY’s speakers - all of them - to communicate with them. “Tony? What? Yes, I’m here. Where are you?”
“I was in DC. On my way back. Got a call from the kid.” Tony’s voice was clipped. “He’s in trouble. Go get him. FRIDAY will give you the coordinates.”
Steve jumped up immediately, exchanging a concerned look with Natasha.
“He was on patrol?” Natasha asked as they moved swiftly towards the stairs.
“Yup. Not sure what happened. Peter called me. Said the bad guy took off, but he got shot with something weird. Just.... I’ll be there as fast as I can.”
Sirens were flashing in front of the bank on the corner when they arrived, but Steve turned his back on all of that, instead heading into a small alley.
Natasha stayed near the car to survey the surroundings for any sign of criminal activity, but at this point it looked like the bad guys had indeed fled the scene.
Steve found Peter exactly where FRIDAY instructed him to look; in the alley behind some dumpsters, huddled up against the wall. Steve noticed with some alarm that the kid’s eyes were large and unfocussed as he looked up at Steve. The second thing he noticed was that Peter wasn’t wearing his suit. Instead, he was wearing his everyday jeans and a T-shirt that said “If you believe in Telekinesis, raise my hand’.
“H-h-hey Sssteve,” Peter slurred. “They tried to rob the bank.... And now I feel funny. Everything is spinning.”
“All right, Peter, no worries.” Steve crouched next to him and found what Tony had described: a small circular pin on Peter’s lower arm near his wrist, that looked like it had embedded itself into Peter’s skin with a whole bunch of tiny hooks. It looked freaking painful. Even more worrying was the little blinking light in the centre, as if the thing was activated to... do what?
“Peter, do you feel nauseous or anything?” He asked as he carefully felt for Peter’s pulse. The kid was breathing normally and his heart wasn’t racing. If anything, he looked more relaxed than ever.
“Nah,” Peter said, blinking slowly. “I just feel.... Steve.... When’s your birthday?”
“Fourth of July,” Steve replied slowly.
“Oh,” Peter said, looking upset. “I didn’t get you anything.”
“That’s okay, Peter, it’s April,” Steve reminded him, hooking his arms under Peter’s shoulders and lifting him to his feet. Peter’s behavior reminded him quite a bit of all those videos he had been shown of people coming back from the dentist.
Deciding to leave the ‘figuring it out’-part to people like Tony, he scooped Peter up in both arms and rushed back to the main street where Natasha opened the car door for them.
Steve nearly dropped the incoherently mumbling Peter from his arms when Tony’s voice boomed from the speakers at an even louder volume as soon as he entered the tower.
“You got him? You got him? You got him?”
“Yeah, Tony – Stop yelling!” Natasha said. “God. The whole building is shaking. Here, Steve. Put him on the couch.”
“Tony?” Peter called out, looking around, seemingly not understanding why he could hear Tony’s voice but not see him.
“Is he OK?” Tony asked impatiently.
Steve deposited Peter on the couch, before taking a close look at the weird pin again. “There’s a sort of button-shaped pin attached to his wrist. I don’t know what it’s doing but it has a little blinking light... so it’s - ahhh - probably working with some sort of battery.”
“Is he in pain?” Tony asked, and Steve knew the man had to be agitated since he didn’t even comment on Steve’s lack of insight into anything to do with batteries and blinking lights.
“No – I think it’s just a heavy sedative or something. Should I try and pull it out?” Steve asked uncertainly, moving aside a little to let Natasha throw a blanket over Peter.
“No don’t!” Tony barked. “Let me get a look at it first. I’m only a few minutes away.”
”A few minutes? I thought you were in DC? Just how fast does Happy drive?”
“Oh please,” Tony said, but didn’t explain further. “Just stay on the line and tell me if anything changes.”
Sure enough, only minutes later, Tony came marching in, already carrying his laptop under his arm. With only a terse nod at Steve and Natasha, he set his laptop down on the table besides Peter and took the boy’s hand, immediately prodding at the pin.
Peter, who had been dozing off, cracked his eyes open at that and a tiny smile formed on his face. “Hey... Tonezy-wonezy...”
Tony lifted an eyebrow, but didn’t comment on the nickname. “Hey Pete. This thing hurting you?”
“No but I... I feel weird.”
“I know kiddo. Let’s take a look at it, shall we?” Tony said, already making a holographic scan of the pin appear in front of them with a few clicks.
Steve sucked in a breath and took a step back. He still always found it a bit freaky how Tony could make his computer-technical-stuff appear in midair.
“Am I.... am I going to feel like this forever?” Peter asked with a worried frown.
Tony shook his head, tsk-ing. “Have some faith in your genius mentor slash personal hero, hm? I’ll figure something out.”
Steve rolled his eyes and moved back to sit in an armchair. Natasha remained next to Tony, eyeing his computer screen with a slight frown. Tony started typing away like mad on his laptop with one hand, the other hand moving the holographic scan back and forth.
“I have to get back to Queens...” Peter mumbled. “I have to – uhm – rob banks.”
Tony chuckled as he turned away from his computer screen and took Peter’s hand in his to closely study the pin again. “You’re robbing banks now?”
“No – I mean – I have to... what’s the word?”
“Prevent?” Tony suggested.
“I have to sabotage the banks,” Peter confirmed.
Tony just shook his head. “Don’t you worry. I’m sure Queens can survive for a little while without their Spider-Man.”
“I didn’t catch the bad guy,” Peter said, sounding morose.
Tony tucked the blanket around Peter a little tighter. “I know kid. You’ll get ‘em next time. What do you think FRIDAY?”
“It appears to be a common sedative, slowly leaking into his system. The dosage would be dangerously high in the average human, but Mr. Paker’s fast metabolism balances it out.”
“Figured as much,” Tony said, getting up. “All right. Easy fix. I just need to get the right materials so I can shut the thing off from the inside. Be right back. Kid - Natasha and Cap are right here with you, OK? Let them know if you need anything.”
“Okay,” said Peter, pulling the blanket up to his chin. “Bring me back a present.”
“What sort of pin does that?” Steve demanded as he followed Tony down the stairs. “Is that a modern age thing I wasn’t yet aware of, or do bank robbers suddenly have futuristic weapons?”
“It is not a common weapon, no,” Tony said, frowning. “Although it doesn’t look like it’s terribly complicated to make. But with an extra strong sedative? Doesn’t sound like it was made just to shoot at the average person. Sounds like they wanted Spider-Man to come to them.”
“I’ll figure it out, Rogers,” Tony said, a bit impatiently. “Can you just go and sit with my kid for now?”
“Here,” Tony said when he returned, and put a small, wooden spinning top of all things in Peter's hand. Peter lifted it close to his face and inspected it with a tiny frown. “Wha--?”
“I brought you a present,” Tony clarified.
Peter immediately seemed to well up. “That is so nice!”
Tony sat down with a grin and ruffled Peter’s hair. “Gotta say kid, I quite like you this way. Too bad I’ve already fixed it.” He took out a small, white, donut shaped machine – and with a simple press on a button and a high pitched beep the little light stopped blinking and then the pin dropped to the floor, leaving only a small circle of tiny puncture wounds on Peter’s arm.
“All right...” Tony said, scooping up the pin, holding it up against the light and eyeing it for a while as if it had personally offended him.
“So what’s next?” Natasha asked.
Tony snapped back to attention and looked down at Peter. “Well, first of all... kid... you get some sleep, okay? You’ll feel better when you wake up, I promise.”
“Okay,” Peter murmured as he dutifully closed his eyes, the wooden spinning top clutched in his fist.
Tony sat back with a sigh and looked at Steve and Natasha. “So... No sign of the baddies, huh?”
Natasha shook her head. “’I’ve already hacked the police reports-” Well, of course she did “-and it seems they didn’t steal anything; according to witnesses, they took off rather suddenly. Something scared them off. Possibly something small and spider-like.”
“Yeah,” Tony looked a bit gloomy. “I’m gonna have to chew the kid out for running in half-cocked like that. Too bad I can’t sedate him for that part.”
Steve shook his head a little. “Did you alert Fury?”
“Yeah, he’s on it.”
“What do you think they were after with a gun like that?”
“Well...” Tony sat back, rubbing his forehead. “There’s only so many reasons I can think of for why someone would want to sedate but not kill a super-hero.”
“You think they wanted to do something to him?” Steve asked, feeling his stomach clench a little.
Tony pursed his lips, but merely shrugged in response.
“But they took off after shooting him,” Natasha said. “Doesn’t really fit the pattern.”
Tony sniffed, letting his gaze wander to the sleeping Peter. “Let’s hear the kid’s version of the story before trying to reach any conclusions.”
Steve nodded. After that, the room lapsed into silence. Natasha picked up a book, Steve the newspaper. And Tony was just staring off in the distance, occasionally frowning about something. At some point, he seemed to give up on his train of thought and picked up his laptop again.
A few hours went by in comfortable silence as Peter slept peacefully. That is, until the elevator doors suddenly opened and Happy stumbled out, panting, clothes in disarray, a look of panic on his face. “T–Tony’s gone missing!” He exclaimed.
“Uh – yeah – I’m right here, Happy,” Tony said, lifting a hand.
Happy gaped at him for a good five seconds. “You.. you’re here. You’re here?” He finally managed.
“Where else would I be?” Tony said obliviously.
Happy pressed his lips together and balled his fists. “Tony – you can’t just do that! For god’s sake, I was still in the middle of my anecdote and I turn around and the backseat is empty! What the hell?”
“Wait – so you didn’t drive back here?” Steve asked Tony.
“Oh, please,” Tony said again, though this time he did explain. “We were in a traffic jam, so I popped out and flew back in my suit.”
“And you couldn’t very well have let me in on that?” Happy growled.
“Well, you were in the middle of a captivating story,” Tony said. “I didn’t want to interrupt. I mean, the part about the guy in the place with the thing. Fascinating stuff.”
“I swear to God, Tony, there had better have been some big freaking emergency. So, do tell! Did someone die? Do you need Pepper to come hold your hand?”
“Actually, Peter got hurt,” Tony replied. “And he was resting.”
Steve turned to Peter and saw that the kid had indeed woken op, blinking as he looked between Happy and Tony. At that last remark, he gave a sheepish grin, waving a little at Happy, who had turned to him, too.
“He doesn’t look hurt,” Happy said, eyes narrowed in suspicion.
“Hey, I got shot!” Peter said, indignantly. “And they drugged me!”
“They drugged you?”
“Yeah. I think they wanted to experiment on me.”
“What?” Tony said, his laptop almost sliding from his lap as he jumped to attention. “What? What makes you think that?”
“Relax, it was a joke.”
“That’s not something to joke about!” Tony said.
“God,” Peter muttered, grabbing the blanket and pulling it over his head. “I’ll go back to sleep. Wake me up when it’s not ‘too soon’ to make jokes about it.”
“Oh, no,” Tony said, his voice turning ominous as he grabbed the blanket with one hand and yanked it away. “Let's talk. You wanna explain why you weren’t wearing you suit today? I mean – these guys saw your face, do you have any Idea what the consequences of that could be?”
“Okay, you can’t be mad at me!” Peter protested, sitting up a little. “I did everything like how we agreed. I was going into an alley to put on my suit and sneak in through the back entrance, and I was going to call you for back up! I was! But there was this guy posting at the back door and as soon as he saw me he just shot that stupid gun-thingy. I didn’t even get a chance to get my suit – as far as he knew I was just some kid!”
Tony mulled that information over for a bit. “All right – so I guess your identity is safe. Although it’s weird that they would shoot such a strong sedative at random. If it were any other kid, it could have been lethal.”
“I think it was an accident,” Peter said, and when Tony threw him an incredulous look, he shrugged. “I turned the corner just as he stepped outside. He sort of yelped and then fired that thing at me. Honestly, I think it was just his first time robbing a bank and he got nervous or something. As soon as he hit me, he was all like ‘Oh, shit, fuck, goddamn, fuck-’..”
Steve cleared his throat.
“Oh right,” Peter said without pausing. “I mean, he was all like ‘oh gosh darnit how inconvenient’. And then he ran away. I don’t think he meant to fire it at me, really!”
Tony didn’t look very appeased. “Well, until we are sure what they wanted, I think you should lay low for a while.”
“Lay low how?” Peter asked slowly.
“How can I let you go out there, knowing that a bunch of maniacs with dart guns are after you?”
“So you’re telling me I can’t go patrolling?” Peter asked, looking genuinely distressed at the prospect.
“Not until we’ve caught these people,” Tony explained.
“But what if that takes months?”
“Then it’s months,” Tony said firmly. “Queens will survive.”
“I’m not going to do that,” Peter said calmly.
Tony blinked. “Come again?”
“I’m sorry, but no. You can’t tell me to just sit back for who knows how long. And if you do, I’ll go out anyway.”
“I’ll take the suit away.”
“Then I’ll go out without it,” Peter replied, still calm, as though he was stating simple facts. Tony couldn’t help but gape at him a little.
“Look Tony – I’ve always done everything you’ve asked. I’ve followed the rules, right? I stayed close to the ground, I called for back-up when I needed it, I reported everything back to you. Always. And frankly, I think I deserve a medal for it because it’s not like I ever listen to anyone else ever.”
“I’m flattered,” Tony said, dryly.
“You should be,” Peter informed him. “But this... this is too much. Those guys aren’t even dangerous, I still think they didn’t mean to shoot me.”
“Not you Peter Parker,” Tony said, “but walking around with a sedative exactly strong enough to incapacitate a superhero like Spider-Man? Sure, nothing fishy about that at all.”
“Well, maybe the bank’s security guard is just a very very fat dude,” Peter said, frustrated.
“Oh, yeah. The size of an elephant. Sure.”
“I’m still going out.”
Tony lifted his chin a little. “We’ll see what Pepper has to say about it.”
Peter rolled his eyes. “Sure.” He sank back into the pillows.
“So, to answer my earlier question,” Happy said, “yes, you need Pepper to come hold your hand.”
As it turned out, Tony didn’t even have to wait for Pepper to come home that evening to pronounce the final verdict. Fury video called him in his office less than an hour later and told him that there had been a turn of events.
“They turned themselves in.”
“What?” Tony narrowed his eyes. “What are they playing at?”
“They’re not playing at anything. They’re just really. goddamn. stupid.”
Tony raised an eyebrow. “Care to elaborate?”
“Well, first of, your suspicions were correct,” Fury told him. “It was a plot to abduct. Wasn’t even necessarily Spider-Man they were after. They just wanted to draw you guys out by robbing a bank and then sedate one of you – whoever showed up. The whole thing is idiotic. Believe me, if these are the guys you need to worry about, you got nothing to worry about. They’re a bunch of amateurs. It would be sad if it weren’t so damn funny. The guys still think they killed a kid, one of them was actually crying about it. He shot at Parker because he panicked, that’s all. Told the cops they felt so bad about it that they decided to give themselves up.”
“All right,” Tony said slowly, feeling a bit better knowing that there wasn’t an evil genius out to kill Spider-Man. “What’s going to happen to them?”
“Armed robbery, attempted murder and attempted abduction? It ain’t gonna be pretty, that much is sure.”
And so, very much relieved that the threat had turned out to be a minor one, but a little grumpy that he had kicked up a fuss about nothing in front of Natasha, Steve and Happy, Tony trudged back to the living area.
There, he was met by the odd sight of Peter, sitting cross legged on the floor with a concentrated frown, staring at the wooden top as it spun happily around on the floor. Both Steve and Natasha were still sitting in their armchairs, eyeing Peter fondly. Tony stared too until the spinning top finally came to a stop, and Peter whooped. “That was almost a minute!”
Tony cleared his throat and Peter looked up at him. “I have assessed the situation,” Tony said evenly, “and decided that it should be safe for you to patrol again.”
Peter looked surprised. “What happened to the ‘maniacs with dart guns’ supposedly chasing me?”
“They’re probably harmless,” Tony said airily.
Both Peter and Steve gave him strange looks, but Natasha merely turned a page in a book and then, with an almost bored voice, asked: “FRIDAY, did Tony get any updates about the bank robbery?”
“Don’t answer that, FRIDAY,” Tony said, quickly.
Natasha smirked at him.
“Well, fine,” Tony relented. “Turns out they were just a bunch of bumbling idiots with a stupid plan. They’ve already been arrested. How was I supposed to know?”
“Maybe because that’s pretty much exactly what I told you?” Peter suggested.
Tony chose not to answer that. Peter thankfully, decided to drop the matter too, though he did exchange a knowing smile with Natasha which was a bit annoying.
Peter lifted the top. “I can keep it, right? Or is it some million dollar thing with gold decorations or something?”
“Nah. That’s just yellow paint. I made it a few years ago,” Tony said, not really understanding why Peter would even be interested in something as boring and useless as a wooden toy.
Peter stared at him. “You – you made this?”
“Yeah. I used to make stuff out of wood all the time.”
“That’s so cool,” Peter said, looking awed. “Can you teach me?”
Tony felt his heart swell a little. “Sure, you hooligan. But only because you always listen to me so well.”
Peter grinned. “Thank you, my wise and knowledgeable teacher.”
“I am wise and knowledgeable,” Tony mused.
And then he sat with Peter and explained how he had carved the top from sycamore wood. And if it made him look like a total dad in front of Steve and Nastasha, he didn’t care one bit.
Clint entered the living area and scanned it, finding no one except Peter, who was hunched over his books, chewing on a pencil. “Hey Peter. Have you seen Nat?”
Peter looked up, the pencil dropping to the table. “No. Going back home?”
“Yeah. And Nat is coming along for the weekend.”
Peter hummed. “It’s weird how you are always just here for a few days.”
Clint chuckled. How someone who could stick to ceilings, who lived in a billionaire’s high-tech tower with a super-soldier from before the war and a scientist who turned green when annoyed as roommates, could find something as mundane as going home to your family ‘weird’ was beyond him.
Peter probably misread his expression, because he quickly added: “I don’t mean it’s weird to spend time with your family. Just... Like... Nat and Steve. They’re always here. And Bruce is always here, although he usually stays on his own floor.”
“Yes, I do seem to be the odd one out,” Clint agreed. “But I’m happy to be. Don’t want to miss seeing my kids grow up.”
“What neighborhood you guys in?” Peter asked. “Because if it’s in Queens, maybe I’ve been on the roof of your house!”
“Actually, it’s not in New York at all,” Clint said, amused that Peter had immediately assumed that it was. “We’re pretty far out: Edge of the forest, no other houses for several miles.”
“Woah...” Peter said, looking like he’d never heard of that possibility. “Where do you get food?”
“We drive to a nearby village,” Clint explained, smiling even wider now. “But we also grow some stuff ourselves, like carrots and beans.”
Peter looked at him in complete awe. Clint had never felt more like a super-hero.
“I’ve never been outside of New York,” Peter confided in him. “Except for this one field trip with school. We went to DC. The museum about Space was cool."
Now Clint was the one to stare. Never been outside of New York? Well, he could see how that was possible, of course. But still... how was that possible?
“Come with us for the weekend,” he suddenly heard himself offer. “You can travel back with Nat Sunday evening.”
“I can’t come to your house!” Peter protested.
“I have... homework.”
Clint huffed and waved a hand around. “You can do that from there. My wife is a teacher, she’ll be happy to help out.”
Peter looked tempted, but also very hesitant. “I don’t want to ruin your weekend.”
“What are you talking about? You’re not ruining anything.”
“Well, your wife probably won’t like me.”
Clint frowned at him.
Peter shrugged. “Just saying. You know what I’m like.”
“No, what are you like?”
Peter actually grinned at that. “An annoying little bastard,” he said, sounding like he was quoting someone.
“Is that what your uncle used to say?” Clint sneered.
“Just because he’s the one saying it, doesn’t mean it’s not true.”
“That’s it,” Clint declared firmly. “You’re coming. I’ll talk to Pepper about it. Start packing.”
Clint hummed a tune as Natasha turned the car onto a narrow country road. The closer he got to home, the more cheerful he became.
He glanced at Peter in the back seat. The boy had a nervous expression on his face that Clint had never seen before. It was sort of adorable.
“After that next turn, you’ll see the house,” Natasha announced.
“Okay...” Peter mumbled. He sounded anxious, but he did sit up a little to get a better look.
The trees parted, and suddenly there were flowery meadows and green slopes as far as the eye could see, with patches of trees here and there. The house was on the edge of the forest, overlooking the meadows. It was april, and flowers were blooming abundantly
“Wow...” Peter breathed, and Clint grinned.
They drove up to the house, and as they stepped out of the car the front door of the house flew open. Two kids barrelled outside, yelling ‘AUNTIE NAT!’ as they threw themselves at Natasha.
“Well, that’s nice!” Clint said, pretending to be offended. “No hugs for your old man?”
Cooper and Lila giggled, but didn’t let go of Natasha. “We saw you just yesterday, dad.” Lila said.
“Glad to be home,” Clint replied. He reached out and patted Peter on the back. “I brought another guest. This is Peter.”
“Hi!” Lila said, brightly.
“Hi...” Peter replied.
“Peter is very good at climbing stuff. You won’t believe how good,” Clint said, and at Peter’s confused look he added: “Cooper and Lila love to climb trees. I’m sure you can give them some pointers.”
“Cool,” Cooper said, his face lighting up. “Want to see the tree in the back? We built a tree house!” And without waiting for a response, he grabbed Peter’s arm and dragged him away. Lila followed.
Clint grinned at Natasha, and they turned to grab all the luggage.
Laura was waiting for them inside, a soft smile on her lips, carrying Nathanial in her arms.
“There’s my big boy!” Clint cooed as he took the toddler from her. “You like me more than you like Natasha, don’t you?”
“Daddy,” Nathanial confirmed.
“You are hereby officially my favorite,” Clint announced.
Laura rolled her eyes, winked at Natasha. “So... where’s this ‘new kid on the block’ you were going to bring me?”
“Out back,” Clint said. “Cooper and Lilia invited him to their tree house.”
“I’ll go introduce myself, then.” Laura said. “You guys.... start dinner.”
“Yes ma’am,” Clint said.
When the kids came inside for dinner, Peter looked a lot more at ease already. His jeans had large stains and his hands were muddy.
“Wash your hands!” Clint warned, batting Cooper’s hand away when he wanted to reach for a piece of tomato.
Dinner was comfortable and fun. Laura endlessly quizzed Peter about school. It wouldn’t have been Clint’s favorite topic to talk about, but Peter didn’t seem to mind, and it kept him included in the conversation.
That evening, Clint joined Peter on the porch, where he was reading a book. Clint eyed the title. “El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha…” He read out loud.
“I have to read it for Spanish,” Peter said a little grumpily.
“You don’t like Spanish?”
“I prefer math and science and stuff.”
Clint just nodded as he sat down.
“I like your kids,” Peter said, after a while. “And Laura. And the house is insane.”
Clint smiled. “Yeah? Didn’t expect you to be impressed, coming from the Avengers Tower to this.”
“You remember I used to live in a storage locker, right?” Peter dryly reminded him.
“Hm,” Clint said, frowning, but deciding not to linger on that subject. “Tomorrow, we could go hiking. If we leave early, we might see a few deer. If you want to.”
Peter wanted to.
The weekend turned out pretty much how Clint hoped it would. He felt like he had definitely given Peter a taste of country life. They took long walks in the forest and did some work in the garden. Laura spent a few hours helping Peter with his homework and Lila and Cooper roped Peter into doing some finger-painting with them.
Clint also noticed that Peter took a lot of naps, and made a mental note to ask Pepper whether the boy got enough sleep.
“Comfy couch?” He playfully asked as sat down on the edge of the couch where Peter was lying. They had just had lunch. Cooper and Lila were playing monopoly on the rug in front of them. Cooper was, as per usual, winning by cheating at every turn.
Peter blinked and rubbed his eyes. “Yeah. I just feel tired. I don’t know what the ffff-fudge is wrong with me,” he said, changing his choice of words just in time as his eyes flickered to Cooper and Lila. The kids didn’t seem to pay attention either way, engrossed in their game.
“Nothing, I’d say,” Clint reassured him. “This is what you’re supposed to do when you have a little break: rest. This place is not as hectic as the city, so it’s easier to relax.”
“Hm,” Peter mumbled in agreement. “This is like... one of those therapeutic meditation retreat places.”
Sunday afternoon rolled around, and Pepper and Tony were expecting their kid to be back that evening.
Natasha stood on the porch for a while, sharply assessing her surroundings, purely out of habit. A bird giving an alarm call somewhere in the forest – probably startled by a fox or a bird of prey. A cloud of dust in the distance signalling a car passing through. A large branch had recently broken off from the chestnut tree. Most likely, it had snapped off during one of Lila and Cooper’s tree-climbing adventures.
She let her gaze wander to Peter, who was sitting under the large chestnut tree in the backyard. Lila was teaching him how to make a necklace out of dandelions and Peter was patiently nodding along to her clearly very detailed explanation. He was holding himself in that way he usually did when he felt at ease. Peter was the kind of kid who was anxious when meeting new people, but completely unbothered by sleeping in a different bed. So being away for the weekend was at the same time a big deal and not a big deal at all.
She did still spot a few signs of anxiety in Peter as he good-naturedly endured Lila’s lecture: the way he hid his hands inside his sleeves, or the way he kept constantly wobbling his leg up and down, up and down.
She approached the two of them and smirked at Peter. “Shall I snap a picture?”
“Don’t you dare tell Tony about this,” Peter said, although he made no move to put the dandelions away.
“Well, I won’t have to if you give that thing to him when we get home. Just look at him with your puppy dog eyes and tell him you made it just for him, and I bet he’ll even put it on. And then I’ll definitely snap a picture.”
“Hilarious,” Peter said, straight faced.
“Either way, you’ll have to finish that in the car,” Natasha told him. “You should start packing. Thirty minutes till departure.”
This time, Peter grinned. “Aye, aye, captain.”
Natasha dumped the bags in the trunk. She gave Nathanial one last cuddle. She ruffled Cooper’s hair. “Where is your sister?”
“On her way,” Cooper said, looking a little exasperated for some reason.
Clint gave Peter a one armed hug. “See you soon, kid. I might pop around the tower again later this week.”
“I had a really nice time,” Peter said. “Uhhh – thanks for putting up with me.”
“You’re welcome to come back any time,” Laura said warmly. “Good luck on your biology test tomorrow.”
Lila approached, her face a little red from running around the meadows and her arms full of dandelions. “Here,” she said, breathless, as she dumped them all into Peter’s hands.
“Uhhhh. Great. Thanks.” Peter replied.
“You can just throw them out the window once you’re out of sight,” Cooper said, which earned him a swift kick from his sister.
Just when they turned onto the highway, Peter’s phone buzzed.
Peter glanced at it. “Tony asks if we’ll be home in time for dinner.”
“We will be.”
Peter nodded and started tapping away at his screen.
“Why did you say: ‘Thanks for putting up with me’?” Natasha suddenly asked.
Peter looked up from his phone, confused. “What...?”
“When we said our goodbyes, you told Laura ‘thanks for putting up with me’. That’s a weird thing to say, don’t you think?”
“No,” Peter said, wrinkling his forehead. “I was a guest, wasn’t I?”
“Yeah, but that makes it sound as though they weren’t happy to have you.”
Peter mumbled something incoherent.
“Dunno. I make trouble all the time."
“I certainly won’t deny that. But this weekend you were the most well behaved kid in the whole house.”
Peter grinned. “That’s just because I was mostly sleeping.”
Natasha didn’t smile along, but frowned. “I just don’t like that you feel like you have to apologize for being yourself. You’re a good kid, you know?”
Peter gaped at her for a while, before shaking his head and returning to his phone. “It was just something I said.”
“But you say things like that all the time. When Clint invited you, you said you didn’t want to ‘ruin’ his weekend.”
Peter almost dropped his phone this time. “How do you know about that?”
“Clint told me. Because he doesn’t like the way you talk about yourself, either.”
“I was just trying to be polite...” Peter said, looking uncomfortable.
“So you know you’re a good kid?”
“Sure,” Peter said, clearly indulging her.
“Let me hear you say it, then. ‘I’m a good kid’. On three. One, two..”
Peter just snorted.
“I’m not kidding, Pete!”
“God,” Peter muttered. “You’re worse than my therapist.”
“Say it,” Natasha threatened. “Say it, or I’ll tell Tony about your little dandelion project.”
“Mean!” Peter protested. “Okay, okay! ‘I’m a good kid’. There! Jesus fucking Christ, it’s like I’m on freaking Oprah. Can’t believe you waited until you had me locked in a speeding car to bring this up."
“Barely acceptable,” Natasha merely commented. “But good enough for now. We’ll work on it again next time.”
“Oh yes. I have another weekend planned in three weeks. And you’re coming.”
“Oh,” Peter said, his face clearing up. “That would be nice. You’re sure Clint and Laura are okay with that?”
Natasha sent him a flat look. “Why wouldn’t they be?”
Peter, wisely, didn’t respond to that. “Thanks for bringing me.” He said instead. “Or... am I not allowed to say that either?”
“No, that’s fine,” Natasha said, finally smiling. “Thanks for coming along, it was nice to have you.”
Peter pulled a face. “Uhuh..”
Natasha smiled and fondly shook her head. Still barely acceptable.
But good enough for now.
A while ago, someone asked me to write a oneshot around Peter's history with Skip Westcott. I've been thinking about it. It could be interesting to incorporate it somehow. But I also had doubts because Peter already has a lot of 'issues' to deal with without throwing that in the mix. And also because sexual assault was already a theme in the original story (and Peter was not the victim there). I was wondering if any of you have an opinion about it?
Chapter 11: Itsy bitsy spider
“Oh for fuck’s... Tony get that thing away from me! No DON’T get that thing near me! I swear, I’ll kick you in the balls!”
Steve shook his head, his hand resting on the doorknob, as he listened to the commotion on the other side of the door. Clearly, Tony had discovered a new way to mess with the spider-kid. Steve pushed the door open with some trepidation and saw Tony grinning innocently as he took another step towards Peter. Peter gave a high pitched yelp in response and ran around the table to put more distance between himself and Tony, almost tripping over a chair. “Tony, I’m NOT messing around, I’m serious!”
“What’s going on here?”
Tony looked up at Steve, and lifted his clasped hands. “Guess who’s afraid of spiders?”
“I’m not afraid of spiders!” Peter immediately protested. “I just don’t want to touch them, because they’re gross and have way to many legs and don’t come closer!” He grabbed a book from the table and lifted it when Tony took another step closer.
“Aw, c’mon, Petey,” Tony said. “It’s a tiny one!”
“I don’t care! If it’s got eight legs, it’s not coming near me,” Peter practically screeched, looking torn between throwing the book at Tony’s head and holding on to it as a spider-flattening-weapon.
“Just last week you said you weren’t afraid of anything,” Tony reminded him. “So how do you explain that?”
“How can you be afraid of spiders?” Steve asked. “You’re Spider-Man.”
Peter crossed his arms, clutching the book to his chest, but still eyeing Tony’s hands with suspicion. “Okay. First of, I’m not afraid of spiders,” he stubbornly insisted. “And second, you know how I became Spider-Man? One of those little fuckers bit me and I spent about twelve hours delirious and in pain and thinking I was probably dying! So excuse me for preferring to stay away from them.”
A valid reason. And Tony seemed to agree, because he lowered his hands a little, looking contrite. “Oh, ugh – fine,” he said. “I’ll just go put it outside, I guess.”
“I’ve never heard that story,” Steve said as he moved aside to let Tony trudge past him, hands still clasped around the spider. “How exactly did all that Spider-Man stuff come about?”
Peter just shrugged, keeping a close eye on the door that Tony left through. “We went to a science exhibit. I got bit by a radioactive spider. Got really sick. Then got super-powers. ... Tony once said that every human eats about twenty spiders in their sleep.” He randomly added, looking worried.
“I’m pretty sure that’s just a myth,” Steve assured him. “Doesn’t sound likely.”
“Yeah? Does it sound more likely that a spider-bite can fix your bad eyesight and give you the ability to climb up walls?”
“Touché, I suppose,” Steve said. “So you used to wear glasses?”
Peter shrugged. “Nah, too expensive. I just used to go around squinting at everything. Don’t really know how that part came about, anyways. It’s not as if spiders are known for super-eyesight. But I’m not going to complain.”
“I can relate,” Steve said. “Have I told you the story about my asthma? I had it, and then they injected me with the serum, and it was gone.”
“Wow,” Tony commented as he sauntered back in. “That is a great story. Very compelling. You sure know how to work your way towards a punch line.”
Steve rolled his eyes, but before he could retort, Peter interrupted, pointing an accusatory finger at Tony. “No way did you take the spider all the way outside! You were gone for like half a minute!”
“I just put it in a corner somewhere,” Tony said, holding up his hands to show that they were spider-less. “You want me to go all the way to the ground floor for one measly spider? You know how many stairs this building has?”
“Yeah, too bad they didn’t think to put in an elevator,” Peter mocked. “Oh wait. They did!”
“The elevator takes forever!” Tony complained. “I’ve been trying to get that fixed for ages. It’s becoming a real problem.”
Peter scoffed. “Oh, right, ‘a real problem’. I hear they’re raising money in Zimbabwe to help you out.”
“I put it in the hallway, Pete,” Tony said, a tad impatient. “You don’t have to worry – I’m sure it won’t crawl into your mouth when you sleep.”
Peter shivered at the idea. “Oh – ugh – so gross. And I’m not even worried about that part, all right? I just.... You know... where’s that spider supposed to get food up here?”
“Let me get this straight,” Tony said. “You were ready to squash that thing with a book moments ago, but now you’re worried about the spider’s wellbeing?”
“I don’t want to touch it, but I don’t want it to die!” Peter said, looking genuinely upset. “Please just bring it outside, Tony? Pleasepleaseplease?”
“Damn those puppy eyes,” Tony sighed as he turned and left the room again, apparently in quest of finding the spider. Steve would have bet anything, however, that he was just going down to the coffee bar for a quick espresso. Either way, Peter looked appeased.
When Tony reappeared about ten minutes later, he held his hands behind his back and had a mischievous glint in his eyes. Steve knew that look all too well and braced himself, but Peter remained oblivious. “Did you take it outside?”
“Yeah,” Tony said airily, stepping closer. “And found something else. Here - catch!” He threw something small and black at Peter, who shrieked and jumped out of the way. A large, rubber spider dropped to the carpet.
“TONY! I’m going to KILL you!”
Chapter 12: Trust (part 1 of 2)
As requested by 'semideadpanda'
Warning for mentions of past sexual abuse.
Yeah, this will be a 2 part story. I wanted to give this one enough space / attention.
The new intern looked innocent enough. A young student in his early twenties who got excited about everything and was, according to Pepper, very gifted in the IT department.
But Tony knew better: that little shit couldn’t be trusted. It was the hair that gave him away; that hipster bun just screamed ‘evil’. His constant smile and collection of silly bow ties didn’t make things any better. It was as if the kid had a gps on him, too, because any time Tony went downstairs the kid was somehow always there. And any time Tony called down to reception for something, it seemed like it was always him answering the phone.
“Good morning, Mr. Stark!” A voice blared into his ear, and Tony almost dropped his paperwork. He turned to see the intern, the current bane of his existence, smiling expectantly at him. “Er – morning, Emilio.”
The kid was wearing a red bow tie with purple polka dots, and Tony found it a little nauseating to have a garment in those colors anywhere near him. No, scratch that. He found it nauseating that a garment in those colors even existed.
“Can I get you some coffee, Mr. Stark?” Emilio asked.
“No thanks. I was just on my way to get some myself.”
“I’ll walk with you!”
“Not necessary,” Tony curtly said.
“Oh, but I don’t mind in the slightest.”
“No, but I do.” Tony said. “So, shoo!” He waved his hands at Emilio, who didn’t seem the least bit offended.
“Of course, Mr. Stark! I’ll leave you to it, then. But let me know if there’s anything you need.”
Tony needed some peace and quiet.
As far as Tony was concerned, Pepper was dangerously lax about supervising her employees. “I don’t trust him, Pep! He’s probably a corporate spy.”
Pepper looked unimpressed. “He’s twenty-one and still lives with his mother.”
“That’s just his cover story. I’m pretty sure there’s a microphone in that bow tie.”
They entered the living space, where Peter was sitting at the table, bent over his laptop.
Tony patted his shoulder. “Hey kid! What are you doing?”
“Watching myself on YouTube,” Peter said as if it was the most normal thing in the world. “How about you?”
“Complaining to Pepper.”
Peter smirked. “What else is new?”
“Indeed,” Pepper agreed. “Tony – if you’re so particular about who you want to hire as an intern, maybe you should do the interviewing next time.”
That sounded like a bad plan. “Nah,” Tony said, “I’ll just stick to what I always do; hack into their police records and facebook page to find out everything there is to know about them.”
“You can’t do that,” Pepper protested.
“Actually I can, and it’s quite easy,” Tony said. “I do it to everyone who steps foot in this place. Even you, Pep.”
“I’m not on facebook,” Pepper reminded him, not seeming perturbed in the least.
“No, but your police records are quite extensive” Tony joked.
“Wait,” Peter interrupted, looking uncomfortable. “Did you... You didn’t actually hack into my police files, did you?”
“Not yet,” Tony said, his eyes narrowing. “Why so concerned?”
“No reason. Just... You can’t hack into everything! Did you hack into Darcy’s files too, or what?”
“I wouldn’t hack your therapist,” Tony protested.
“Oh really?” Peter scathed. “Because privacy means jack shit in this house. I already have a tracker in my suit and FRIDAY monitoring my every move.”
“I didn’t hack my way into your therapy files,” Tony said, as calmly as he could muster. “Or into your police records, though I do still wonder why you would care this much, given everything we already know about you. What else could you possibly have done that’s so much worse that we can’t know about it?”
“Nothing,” Peter said, looking frustrated. “It’s just the principle of the thing!”
“Let’s drop the subject now,” Pepper said, firmly. “No one is looking into anyone’s files, all right?”
“All right...” Peter muttered, though he still carried a deep frown.
“So,” Tony said as he and Pepper sat side by side in their large bed that evening, both of them with their own laptop in front of them. “What do you think Peter did?”
Pepper didn’t need any time at all to realize what Tony was talking about. “Irrelevant, Tony.”
“How is that irrelevant? He’s keeping stuff from us!”
“Of course he is,” Pepper said, in the same matter-of-fact tones. “He’s a teenager. I would be concerned if he didn’t keep stuff from us. You’ll damage Peter’s trust if you go snooping into his files.”
“What does it matter if he never finds out I did it?”
“It matters because this is about you trusting him, too,” Pepper said. “And when it comes to trust, you’re just as bad as Peter. Why can’t you just have peace with never knowing?”
“You’re no fun,” Tony told her.
“All right,” Tony announced the next morning over a bowl of cereal. “I won’t look in your police files, because you know what? I trust you. But if you trust me, you’d tell me what you’ve been up to. Because no matter what it is, you’re still my kid.”
“Tony, you don’t want to know,” Peter said, as he stuffed his books into his backpack, avoiding eye contact. “Just trust me on this.”
“Oh, so it’s for my own good, is it?” Tony mocked.
“I have to get to school,” Peter merely said.
“This talk isn’t over,” Tony warned, waving his spoon at Peter. “We’re your guardians. If it’s a big deal, we should know about it, and if it’s no big deal, there’s no reason to keep it from us.”
“You know what? Fine,” Peter bit out, suddenly looking Tony dead in the eye. “Since everyone seems so intent on me telling you, here it is: I didn’t do a goddamn thing but I did make a statement about being sexually assaulted, which I would have preferred to keep from you, but there you go. Happy now, you control freak?”
Tony felt the blood drain from his face as he dropped the spoon to the table. “Wha-.... you.... how.... when....”
“Very eloquent,” Peter sneered.
“I.... I don’t....” Tony stammered, having no clue what to say or how to deal with this information. His throat felt dry and with some difficulty, he swallowed. “What happened?”
Peter snorted. “What, ‘show me on the doll where the bad man touched you’?”
“It’s not something to joke about!” Tony croaked, looking at Peter with wide eyes.
“Hey, I’m the one who got fucked, so don’t tell me what I can or can’t joke about!”
A wave of panic overtook Tony at those words and he pressed his fingers against his eyelids, trying to take controlled breaths.
Peter growled in frustration. “Jesus – Darcy kept saying I should tell you about it and I warned her it would be the worst idea in the world. Look at you!”
“Darcy – Darcy knows about it?” Tony said, gasping for breath.
“Yes!” Peter said impatiently. “She’s the one who told me to go to the police, because obviously my uncle couldn’t care less.”
“Just... just give me a moment...” Tony mumbled, pressing a hand to his chest.
Peter sighed a deep sigh. “I didn’t actually get fucked, you know,” he said, suddenly sounding like he wanted to comfort Tony.
“Would you please stop saying ‘fucked’?” Tony asked, his eyes pinched shut.
“What do you want me to say, ‘made love’?”
“How about raped?” Tony grated, gripping the edge of the table so tightly that his knuckles turned white.
“You know, Darcy could probably hook you up with some techniques to help with that hyperventilation you got going on,” Peter unhelpfully told him, his face stoic.
“Therapy? Please. I don’t need therapy.”
“Oh? Why?” Peter challenged, quickly getting worked up again. “Because it’s for pussies?”
“No ... I ... that’s not ... I just mean ....”
“Oh, do speak your mind, it’s not as if I care about your approval, anyways.” Peter grabbed his backpack and slung it around his shoulder.
“Wait!” Tony shouted. “You can’t just leave now!”
“I’m late already, I have to get to school,” Peter grumbled. “Why don’t you in the meantime figure out how you feel about me now that you know.”
He stomped out.
Peter would be back from school at four o’clock. So Tony had until then to get himself under control and figure out how to deal with this properly. His first order of business: enlist Pepper.
Pepper took his explanation in with a deep frown. “Who assaulted him?” She asked.
“I don’t know.”
“How long ago was this?”
“I don’t know, Pepper! I didn’t cross-examine him, I was busy having a panic attack!”
“Hm,” Pepper said, pursing her lips. “I suppose it’s best if we call Darcy.”
“Darcy – yes!” Tony said, relieved. “That’s a good idea. Call Darcy.”
“It might be best if you call her,” Pepper said. “You’re the one he – uhm – talked to.”
Tony didn’t really look forward to a heart to heart with Peter’s therapist, but he reckoned it was about time for him to get better at this sort of stuff, so he nodded with some reluctance.
Darcy didn’t pick up at the first try, which didn’t help calm Tony’s nerves. He tried to get his mind off things by going down to his workplace and do some work.
After about half an hour, his phone buzzed: It was Darcy. Tony quickly picked up. “Hello. Darcy?”
“Yes – returning your call?” She sounded older than Tony had expected.
“Thanks for calling. It’s Tony. Stark. Peter’s guardian. Parker.” Jesus, he couldn’t even properly get his name out.
Darcy didn’t seem to notice or mind. “Ooh, how lovely to get a call from you, dear!” She said. “Heard so much about you. Only good things, of course.”
“Well – that might change,” Tony murmured. “Uhm – this morning Peter and I had a bit of a thing. He... he told me he was s-sexually assaulted once,” he stumbled over the words.
“Oh, that’s wonderful,” Darcy immediately gushed. “I’ve been trying to get him to tell you for ages. So much better for him to share.”
“Yeah – well, I probably didn’t react so great,” Tony said, darkly. “It freaked me out a little, and I didn’t know how to react, and before I could get my shit together, he’d already left for school.”
“I see,” Darcy said. “Well, first things first: how do you feel about it?”
Tony swallowed. How did he feel about his kid being assaulted? “I don’t... I don’t really know what happened,” he admitted. “I just know that it happened.”
“And why did that trouble you?”
“Why did it trouble me?” Tony asked incredulously.
“Yes, dear, I believe your words were ‘it freaked me out’.”
“I...” Tony blew out a breath. He couldn’t believe he was about to say this to a total stranger. “I’m not good at this sort of stuff,” he admitted. “I’m just afraid of doing it wrong and screwing him up.”
“Don’t worry about that. No one is good at dealing with sexual assault. All Peter needs to know is that you support him no matter what. And deep down, Peter does know it or he would never in a million years have told you.”
“I sort of nagged him until he told me, though,” Tony confessed.
“Trust me, dear,” Darcy said, firmly. “If Peter wouldn’t have wanted you to know, he would have found a way around it. He might not even realize it himself, but the fact that he did tell you, means that he trusts you. I promise you that.”
Feeling significantly better after the phone call, Tony browsed through his contacts to send a message to Peter.
T: Sorry I was useless this morning. Let’s talk when you get back, okay?
Peter’s short reply came after about ten minutes.
Two letters, but it was good enough for Tony.
When four o’clock rolled around, Tony was nervously pacing around the living space. He was already on edge, waiting for Peter to get back from school so they could finally talk things out, and Emilio hadn’t made things better today by pretending to bump into him by accident on three separate occasion.
And so Tony chose to vent his frustrations from the entire day by ranting about Emilio while Steve, who was unfortunate enough to be the only other person present in the room, patiently listened. “I’m tired of him following me around everywhere like a stray dog! What does he want from me? Why do I have to deal with his bullshit every day?”
“Tony, calm down...”
“I bet you he’s just itching to sell our corporate secrets to the competition or something shady like that. That has to be it. Either that, or he’s just some pathetic idiot who thinks I’ll adopt him if he sticks around long enough. God... remind me why that kid is even here again?”
“Because he’s smart?”
“Yeah, he is smart...” Tony muttered. “His only redeeming quality. Pep won’t let me send him away. But I’m telling you, as soon as I get a chance to get rid of him, he’s out of here.”
“You don’t think you’re being dramatic?”
“It’s called instinct, Steve! I never liked him from the moment he set foot in here. But Pep signed the paperwork, so I’m stuck with him for now.”
His tirade was cut short by a small ding from the elevator.
Tony turned and saw the door slide open to reveal Peter. Tony felt a pang of relief at first – finally he could have a proper talk with the kid – but that faded away when he saw the kid’s frown and stiff posture. He and Peter only made eye contact for a second before Peter slammed a button in the elevator again and the doors slid shut again.
“What’s that about?” Steve asked.
“Guess he’s still mad at me..” Tony murmured.
Steve looked sympathetic. “What’s it about this time?”
“Just the usual stuff,” Tony said evasively. “I’ll go see if he’ll talk to me.”
He took the stairs up to Peter’s bedroom, but found it deserted. He even dropped to his knees and checked under the bed for good measure, but Peter wasn’t there. “FRIDAY? Where’s the kid?”
“Mr. Parker is not in the building.”
“What? I just saw him!”
“Mr. Parker entered the building, then immediately left again.”
Tony frowned, taking out his phone to get a signal on Peter’s suit. “Did he go patrolling?”
“Mr. Parker left his backpack with his suit on the ground floor.”
What the hell?
Tony took the elevator down to the ground floor and, sure enough, found Peter’s back pack flung to the side next to reception. And of course it was Emilio who was beaming at him from behind the front desk. “Afternoon, Mr. Stark!”
“Seen my kid?” Tony asked, not bothering to greet back.
“Oh yes, young Mr. Parker came through a few minutes ago. Seemed to be in a hurry.”
“Did he say where he was going?”
“No. Shall I try his phone for you, sir?” Emilio already reached for the phone and dialled the number, but lowered it when they heard Peter’s phone buzzing from inside his backpack.
No suit, no phone. No way to track him.
Chapter 13: Trust (part 2 of 2)
It was getting dark, and Tony was getting frantic. Peter had never missed dinner. There was no way to track him. They had tried Ned’s house and even Darcy’s home number. No one had seen him. Pepper looked worried, and when Pepper looked worried, Tony had reason to panic. Peter had been missing for four hours.
Tony didn’t have the faintest idea why the kid had left. Sure, this morning had been a colossal blunder, but it was weird how the kid had come home only to immediately leave again. And he thought the short ‘OK’ from Peter had meant that he was okay with talking things out.
“I think I’ll go try the storage lockers,” Pepper said. “If he’s not there, I’m out of options.”
“Then what do we do?” Tony asked, having never felt so useless.
“I don’t know,” Pepper murmured.
Tony’s phone buzzed. It was an internal call, straight from reception. He usually didn’t even bother with those, but this time he picked up, just hoping that maybe it was someone with news about Peter.
It was Emilio of all people who greeted him in his overly cheerful voice. “Hello Mr. Stark, hope you’re having a nice day! I have Mr. Parker on hold for you.”
Tony blinked. “Ben Parker?” He asked stupidly.
“No, I have young Mr. Peter Parker asking for either you or Miss Potts. Can I put him through or should I say you’re busy?”
“Put him through!” Tony shouted, almost adding you complete utter imbecile.
“Will do, sir!” Emilio happily responded. “And a good day to you, sir!”
Tony practically growled in response, but then nervously reached for Pepper’s hand as he waited.
A hesitant voice came through. “Uh... hello?”
“Pete!” Tony said, tightly gripping Pepper’s arm. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m... I’m fine,” Peter said, though he sounded far from it. “Sorry I took off. I’m on my way home, all right? Might take a little while.”
“Where are you?”
“Uhm,” there was a shuffling sound on the other side of the line. “I’m at a gas station... uhm... somewhere near Scranton. I hitchhiked.”
“...Why?” was all Tony could think to say to that.
“I don’t know,” Peter said, and Tony heard his voice break.
“Peter – it’s OK. We’ll work it out, all right? I’m coming to pick you up.”
He heard Peter blow out a long, shaky breath. “N-no that’s okay, I can make my way home, I don’t even know exactly where I am.”
“I’ll have FRIDAY trace this call,” Tony firmly said, “and we’re coming to pick you up, okay? Just wait there.”
“Okay,” Peter replied in a small voice.
It was completely dark by the time they reached the gas station. Pepper was driving as Tony peered out the window for a sign of Peter. He and Pepper had spent their whole journey discussing strategy. Pepper, in all her wisdom, had brought Peter’s jacket and some food and water. But other than that she appeared to be unsure on what the problem was and how they had to deal with it, which unnerved Tony a little.
Tony finally spotted the kid sitting on a bench, legs pulled up and arms wrapped around them, with his forehead resting on his knees. He looked small and lost, and Tony swallowed before turning to Pepper.
“So what do we do?” He asked.
“Give him a hug,” Pepper said. “And wait for him to start explaining.”
She slowly manoeuvred the car close to the bench. Peter lifted his head, squinting against the headlights.
Pepper turned off the engine, and as they stepped out of the car, Peter rose to his feet. Tony noticed his distrustful stance and guarded look.
Deciding to simply follow Pepper’s advice, he stepped forward. Peter’s first instinct was to flinch, but Tony ignored that and pulled him into a tight hug. He heard Peter’s breath hitch, before the kid slowly leant into the embrace. Pepper joined in, wrapping her arms around both of them.
Peter drew in a shaky breath. “I’m s-s-s... I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he sobbed, his voice muffled against Tony’s chest. Tony just gripped him tightly. He still had no idea what the hell was going on, but at least he had his kid.
He felt Peter shiver, and Pepper must have felt it too, because she lowered her arms. “Let me get your jacket,” she calmly said, before stepping back towards the car.
Peter just stayed where he was, clinging to Tony, still muttering apologies.
“Shhh – it’s okay,” Tony said. “I’m sorry, too. That wasn’t stellar parenting from me this morning, huh?”
Pepper returned and wrapped Peter’s jacket around him. Peter leant back, sticking his arms through the sleeves before hugging himself. “It’s n-not that..” he managed, wiping at his eyes. “I p-probably shouldn’t have sprung that on you anyways. But ... but this afternoon, when I came home and you were shouting at Steve about a kid that you hated... you... you weren’t talking about me, right?” His voice cracked on the last word.
Tony froze. “You heard that?”
“Uhm – yeah. Super-hearing and all that,” Peter said, his teeth chattering together as he shivered, and Tony realized he hadn’t even responded to the original question. He swallowed. “Pete, you can’t really believe that I would say things like that about you. Or that Steve wouldn’t bash my face in if I ever did, for that matter. You can’t think that of me – can you?”
“I guess not,” Peter murmured. “I mean.... at first I did and I really freaked out. But that’s why I called you, you know? Because once I calmed down a little I figured you probably wouldn’t. Because I – I trust you and stuff.”
Tony felt his throat tighten. He realized how significant it was for Peter to say this. He reached out and carefully wiped Peter’s wet cheeks, then squeezed his shoulders, not really knowing what to say.
Pepper cleared her throat. “Why don’t we talk more in the car where it’s warm?”
Tony felt like that was her subtle way of giving him and Peter a little space, so he crawled in the back with Peter, while Pepper got behind the wheel and started the engine.
“You didn’t hitch a ride with any creeps or weirdo’s, did you?” Was the first thing he thought to ask.
“Nah, it was fine,” Peter murmured. He sat sideways in his seat, hugging his legs against his chest. “People aren’t that bad, on the whole. A lady lent me her phone. She was nice. She bought me a churro.”
“We brought food too!” Tony said, only now remembering it. He reached across the back seat to retrieve Pepper’s bag and pull out some sandwiches. For some reason, that just seemed to upset Peter again. “Th-thanks..” he muttered, blinking quickly. “Sorry for making you guys drive out here and just... everything.”
“Well,” Pepper said from the front seat, “the last time you ran away we had to hunt you down because you thought we would throw you in prison. This time you came back on your own accord. So I’d say there is progress. Maybe next time you won’t run away at all, and just talk to us when you freak out about something?”
“Yeah,” Peter muttered. “After everything this morning, I was just on edge. I think I was sort of expecting you to.... Well.... When I told my uncle what happened with Skip, he basically just laughed in my face.”
“I’m not your uncle,” Tony said, frustrated.
“I know. It just reminded me. And this afternoon when I heard you say those things... I say those things to myself all the time. That I live in your house and annoy you and people only like me because I’m smart and I know it’s not really true, okay? You don’t have to say it. Darcy and I talk about it all the time. But it’s this voice in my head that doesn’t shut up, so it’s easy to believe that people are talking about you when they say the same kind of things you always say to yourself.”
“I know about those little voices,” Tony nodded. “It’s hard to be nice to yourself. I probably can’t just change the way you feel about yourself – at least not any better than whatever Darcy is doing – but I can let you know what I feel because I... I think the world of you. You’re my kid. I love you. You’re one of the best people I know.”
“You gotta know some pretty shitty people then,” Peter weakly joked.
Tony just shook his head a little. “So... who’s Skip?”
“Oh,” Peter flushed and suddenly became very engrossed in unwrapping the sandwich from the tin foil. “Well, he’s the one who... you know.”
“Still in prison I assume?” Tony said, menacingly.
“I don’t think so,” Peter muttered. “I don’t really know what happened to him. He was sixteen when it happened, you know? That changes things.”
“How old were you?”
“Eleven. We met at the library. He was really nice. Whenever I had a fight with my uncle I would go stay at his house. He was my friend. That’s what messed me up the most. I don’t even care that he p-put his hands all over me, I’m just mad because I trusted him.”
On impulse, Tony leaned forward and pulled Peter into another fierce hug.
Peter relaxed in his arms with a long exhale. “I’m okay now, Tony,” he finally said.
“I know,” Tony muttered. He did know. Hell, Peter was probably better at dealing with his issues than Tony was with his own. Peter certainly was better at putting his own thoughts and fears into words. “I’m just sorry it happened. You don’t deserve bad things happening to you, you’re such a good kid.”
“So everyone keeps saying,” Peter mumbled.
“I’ll keep saying it until you start believing it,” Tony promised.
Peter sat up a little and continued picking at the tin foil until he had freed his sandwich, and took a bite. Tony didn’t ask anything else for a while, to give the kid a chance to still his hunger. After a short while, it was Peter who spoke first, giving a ‘therapy quote of the day’. “Darcy said that trust is a choice. You can never be sure that you won’t get screwed over, but if you never trust anyone, you’ll just be alone forever.”
Tony barely even understood what that meant, but it seemed to be important to Peter, so he nodded. “How old is Darcy anyways?”
“About seventy, I think.”
“How is she not retired yet?”
“Never asked,” Peter said. “But don’t give her any ideas. I need her.”
Peter finished the rest of the sandwich and rolled the tin foil into a ball, tucking it into his pocket. He then sidled closer to Tony again, leaning his head against Tony’s shoulder and yawning a little. “So – uhm – who were you talking about anyways? This afternoon, with Steve?”
“Just this new intern we have,” Tony replied evasively.
Unfortunately for him, Pepper was clearly still listening to their conversation and immediately caught on. “Ugh, you were slagging off Emilio again?”
“Oh, Emilio,” Peter said, scrunching up his nose. “I don’t like him. He smiles too much.”
“Thank you!” Tony exclaimed. “Hear that, Pepper? Peter hates him, too. Now can we fire him?”
Pepper just made an exasperated little noise.
Tony tucked Peter into bed that evening. It seemed a little silly. He had never done it before, and he couldn’t remember anyone ever tucking him in, either. But he needed to be sure that everything was one hundred perfect okay now.
“If you don’t want to go to school tomorrow, I’ll write you a note,” he offered. “You’ve had... quite a day.”
“M’fine,” Peter mumbled. “Just tired. This running away business is tougher than it looks.”
Tony cracked a smile, giving Peter a light punch in the shoulder. “You hooligan.”
“Tony?” Peter said. “Don’t... Don’t send Natasha to Skip’s house or anything, all right?”
Tony crossed his arms. “I fail to see why you would care what happens to that dickwad.”
“I just want to leave the past in the past,” Peter said, with pleading eyes.
“Fine,” Tony grumbled. “I won’t.”
“Don’t go looking into my police records for his last name either!”
“Pete, I promise. I keep my promises, right?”
“Yeah, you do,” Peter said, nodding. “I believe you.”
“Good,” Tony said, pulling the blankets tight around his kid. “Sweet dreams, underoos.”
And so Pepper and Tony ended up sitting side by side again, on top of the covers, each staring at their own laptops, just like the night before.
“I’m not sure if you even realize it, but you said ‘I love you’ to Peter.” Pepper suddenly said.
Tony lifted his eyebrows. “When?”
“In the car on the way back.”
Tony thought about it for a moment. It sounded very unlike him. “Are you sure?”
Pepper smiled. “Yes I’m sure.”
“Well... okay,” Tony said, feeling uncomfortable. So what if he said it? It wasn’t that big a deal, was it?
Pepper nudged him. “You big old softie,” she said fondly. “Who’d have thought! You keep saying you’re so bad at this, but you’re not bad at this at all. You know what? You need to trust yourself more, too.”
“You know what?” Tony drawled. “You and Darcy should go out for tea sometimes. I’m sure you’d have a hell of a time discussing me.”
“Hmmm, that sounds like a good idea,” Pepper said, her eyes glinting.
“I was kidding!” Tony immediately backpedalled. To his frustration, Pepper didn’t react to that. She just shut her laptop with the same soft smile on her face and slid under the covers.
“Don’t stay up too late,” she said. “You have an early meeting tomorrow.”
“I have a feeling I’ll sleep through it,” Tony said casually.
Pepper just smiled even wider. “If you’re not out of bed on time, I’ll send Emilio up with some breakfast in bed. Night!” And without another word, she pulled the covers high and closed her eyes, leaving Tony to gape at her in horror.
Chapter 14: Bust the windows
Cursing under his breath, Nick Fury barged into Tony’s workshop. Tony was nowhere to be seen, but this time, Fury wasn’t coming for him. “Mr. Parker. Just the man I wanted to see.”
Peter looked up with a distracted look on his face. His hair was sticking up in all directions and he had a screwdriver in one hand and a hammer in the other. He dropped both objects to the table. “Uhm... hi?”
“Nick Fury, head of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” Fury said as he stalked forward. “Just got some interesting news this afternoon. Your uncle reported to the police that someone spray painted his car, busted the windows and popped the tires.”
Peter had stepped back but didn’t say a word.
“Did you trash your uncle’s car?” Fury demanded.
“No...” Peter muttered.
Fury raised a single eyebrow. “You sure about that?”
Peter ducked his head and looked away. Fury hardly needed more evidence. He huffed out a breath and started pacing again. “Goddamnit, kid! I get that you’re pissed at him, believe me, I get it. But I would have hoped you’d have a little more self-restraint. Using your superpowers for revenge purposes. What the hell were you thinking?”
Peter pressed his lips together and didn’t respond.
Fury turned back to the entrance to see Pepper frowning at him as she entered the room, looking between him and Peter. “Tony is not here.”
“I came for this one,” Fury said, jerking his head at Peter.
“I can’t imagine anything you’d need from Peter that doesn’t also involve me,” Pepper said, a little coolly. “So why don’t you call me first, next time, instead of cornering my kid?”
“I’m not cornering him,” Fury protested although, glancing at Peter, he noticed the kid did seem very ill at ease. He took a little step back to appease Pepper. “Someone trashed Ben Parker’s car this morning.”
“Really?” Pepper said, airily. “How did that happen?”
Fury folded his arms. “Why don’t you ask your Spider-kiddo? He just admitted it!”
Pepper turned to Peter, a surprised look on her face. “Peter? Did you trash your uncle’s car?”
Peter glanced at her, but then sat back down at his work desk and picked up the screwdriver again without saying anything.
“And I’m wasting my time making up a cover story to give to the cops!” Fury ranted.
“Since when does SHIELD concern itself with car vandalism?” Pepper asked.
“SHIELD monitors possible threats,” Nick said. “HE’s one of them. I thought his days of using his powers for breaking the law were behind him?” He gave Peter a piercing look.
“Peter,” Pepper calmly repeated, “did you trash your uncle’s car?”
Peter glanced at her, at Fury, and then finally slowly shook his head.
“What do you mean ‘no’?” Fury demanded.
Peter shrugged, looking a little lost.
Fury was not having it. He planted his hands on the table and leaned forward. “What do you mean, ‘no’?” He repeated.
“Nick, calm down a little, would you?” Pepper asked in a firm tone, giving Fury a look that communicated a lot.
Taking in Peter’s closed off expression, Fury huffed, leaned back and pulled out a chair, sitting down. “You went to your uncle’s house and trashed his car,” he said with forced calmness, “didn’t you?”
Peter shook his head again.
“You said so when I came in!” Fury said, frustrated.
“Did not!” Peter suddenly protested, immediately looking like he regretted his outburst and ducking his head again.
“Did not?” Fury echoed.
“You asked if I had done it and I said ‘no’,” Peter mumbled.
Fury was about to protest, but then he suddenly remembered that that was actually very much how the conversation had gone.
“Huh,” he said.
Pepper gave him a flat look. “Seriously, Nick?”
Fury crossed his arms. “Well... he didn’t say it very convincingly.” He explained, somewhat apologetic. He eyed Peter up and down. “So... You really didn’t do it?”
“No,” Peter said, frowning.
“Peter was at school all day. I picked him up and he went straight down here to work on a project,” Pepper said. “I could have told you that over the phone. You know very well he doesn’t react well to strangers.”
“He is standing right here!” Peter said in a loud voice, crossing his arms. “And I’m fine! Just don’t like being accused of stuff.”
“Well, who trashed the man’s car?” Fury asked, annoyed, and not planning on apologizing any time soon.
Pepper gave an elegant shrug. “How should I know? He doesn’t live in the best of neighborhoods. Stuff like this happens.”
“I’ll tell you who did it,” Peter bit out. “Mister Ben Parker himself. He did it. You can bet your ass on that. His latest attempt at insurance fraud. Just a new way to get money for booze. Oh – and thanks for bringing all that up, always happy to discuss my uncle with perfect strangers.”
“Why weren’t you this talkative when I came in?” Fury complained.
“You know very well why,” Pepper interrupted. “And now that you’ve got what you came for, can we bring this little meeting to an end?”
Fury sighed, rubbing a hand across his bald scalp. “Fine. Give my best to Tony.”
Pepper smiled a friendly smile. “Will do. Have a nice day.”
Peter watched the man leave before turning to Pepper. “What am I, your puppy?”
Pepper raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Well, if you say so...”
“What does that even mean, ‘he doesn’t react well to strangers’?” Peter demanded.
Pepper smiled a little. “Sorry. That might have come across a bit weird. I was just a little pissed at Fury for catching you alone. Pretty sure he did that on purpose.”
“I can handle myself,” Peter mulishly announced, lifting his chin.
Pepper bit her lip to stop herself from smiling, then patted Peter’s cheek. “I know you can, my stubborn little puppy.”
Peter gave an indignant squeak. Pepper sneaked an arm around his shoulders. “Come on, honey. Let’s get your mind of it. Ice cream?”
“With chocolate sprinkles,” Peter said. “And lots and lots of whipped cream.”
Chapter 15: Tony Stark Lunch Box
“No thanks, Tony, I’m just here for-“
“Sure? I just got a new machine.”
“Aren’t you way too early? When does the meeting start?”
“We may have to swing by another place on our way there.”
“Unless they have free coffee there, I’m going to go with nope.”
Happy blew out a long breath. “Can I at least explain?”
“Sorry, am I interrupting again?” Tony said. “I think it’s all the coffee going to my head.”
“There was a call from Ben Parker today,” Happy said, talking right over Tony. In his experience, bringing up Ben was a good way to get Tony’s attention. And he was proven right, as Tony immediately lowered his coffee mug and narrowed his eyes. “What?”
“He wanted to let you know that he’s going to terminate his lease for the storage locker. He cleared everything out, but he says there’s still some boxes with stuff that belongs to Peter that you can collect.”
“How uncharacteristically polite of him,” Tony said disparagingly.
“I gave you the censored version. We can swing by on our way to your meeting. Or shall I just go and pick them up for you myself?”
Tony was about to agree, but caught himself at the last moment. “Hm – let me just talk to the kid first. God knows he has a tendency to throw a fit when he feels like I’m not including him in these sort of things.” He turned towards the sound of a light snoring filling the room.
The kid had, coincidentally, arrived home about twenty minutes earlier, and immediately more or less passed out on the living room sofa, limbs flung in every direction, neck craned in an awkward position. Tony rounded the couch and, after eyeing his Spiderling for a while, slightly bumped his knee against Peter’s foot which was sticking out from under the blanket.
He slurped his coffee as he watched Peter jerk his head, blink groggily and turn on his back. “Mmmw... Hey Tony. What're you doing?”
“Watching you sleep,” Tony said, in his creepiest voice.
“We got a call from your uncle,” Tony said, sitting down on the table in front of Peter. “He’s getting rid of that storage locker, and apparently there’s still some stuff of yours in there.”
Peter frowned. “He’s giving up the storage locker?”
“Then where am I supposed to sleep after you kick me out?”
After you what? Tony almost dropped his coffee mug from his hand, spluttering incoherently.
“Just kidding,” Peter said, a lopsided grin forming on his face.
Tony shook his head and ran a hand across his face. “You have issues, kid.”
“Yeah, fuck you too,” Peter said lightly, as he kicked the blanket away. “Shall we go pick it up right away, then?”
“We can,” Tony said, “or Happy can just go and grab them for us.” He lifted his coffee mug towards Happy, who was still patiently standing by the table.
“And pass up on the chance to revisit my old home where I have so many lovely memories?” Peter asked.
“On the off-chance that you’re not being sarcastic, you can come along, but I do have a meeting afterwards.”
“I was being sarcastic,” Peter said, already lying back down and pulling the blanket close. “Pick it up, whatever. Or just chuck it in the garbage. If I haven’t missed it yet, it can’t be anything important. I don’t care. Can I go back to sleep now?” He turned so that his back was to Tony. Tony suppressed the childish urge to stick out his tongue at the back of Peter’s head. The kid was being more snarky than usual. But bringing up Ben tended to have that effect, and Tony could understand.
He got up and walked back towards Happy. “Can you just go pick them up while I’m in my meeting? Not like you have anything better to do in that time...”
“Good to know you consider me such a valuable employee.”
“Wouldn’t trade you in for anyone, Hap!”
The meeting bored Tony out of his skull. He spent the entire way back to the tower complaining to Happy. He had completely forgotten about the other man’s little errand until they entered the ground floor garage and Happy asked him to help carry some of the boxes.
“Yeah. Remember that stuff you sent me to collect because I didn’t have anything better to do?”
“Still holding on to that, huh? Where are the boxes?”
“In the trunk. There’s three of them.”
In an uncharacteristic mood of selflessness – possibly to placate Happy who still seemed grumpy about Tony’s earlier comments – Tony offered to carry two of the three boxes.
Tony stumbled out of the elevator, the boxes blocking most of his view. He shuffled in the general direction of the table.
“Steady, there,” Steve’s voice came from right in front of him, and a moment later, Cap plucked one of the boxes from his arms and carried it to the table, where Natasha was sitting.
“Cleaning up the attic?” She asked, one eyebrow lifted.
“Something like that,” Tony said, as he opened the first box. “Huh. Looks like this one is just books. Is Peter here?”
“FRIDAY, ask him to come down if he can.”
Happy dumped his box on the table too, and sat down with a heavy sigh.
“Where did this come from?” Steve asked, opening his box, too. “Oh, jeez. This is just a load of scrap metal. Leftovers from your old suits?“
“Not mine,” Tony said as he pulled the third box towards him, “but Peter may have dabbled in a bit of – Holy crap!”
Natasha and Happy immediately rose to their feet and Steve leaned over to see the contents of the third box.
“Oh, wow,” Natasha murmured.
“That’s adorable!” Steve chirped.
The box was filled to the brim with toys. But not just any toys: Black widow action figures, a miniature version of thor’s hammer, a green Hulk-hat, and right in the middle, a lunch box with Tony’s own face staring up at him.
Steve pulled a plastic Captain-America-Shield from the box. “In case the real one ever breaks,” he said with a grin.
A noise behind them and they all turned, Steve still holding up the plastic shield as if prepared for battle, to see Peter padding into the room in his PJ’s and with bare feet.
He looked back at them with bleary eyes. “What?”
“Sleeping again?” Tony asked.
“I was up all night patrolling!” Peter argued as he moved closer to the table. Then he froze, looked at the boxes, at the two action figures in Natasha’s hand, at the plastic shield in Steve’s, and Tony saw an expression of horror appear on the boy’s face as Peter realized what he was seeing.
“Can’t believe you almost wanted to throw this stuff in the garbage,” he teased. “You’ve got quite a collection here.”
Peter flushed in embarrassment. “Uhm – I don’t... that’s just... I mean...” It wasn’t often that Tony saw Peter fumbling for words. “I didn’t even know that stuff was still... I mean... I haven’t played with that in years... Not since I was twelve... I used to be pretty obsessed with super heroes.”
“Look!” Natasha exclaimed. “He can actually shoot!” And, after pressing a little button, the tiny Hawk-eye figure launched a small plastic arrow across the room.
“Aw!” Natasha said, leaning over to ruffle Peter’s hair. “Just when I thought you couldn’t get any cuter.”
“Damnit...” Peter murmured, before raising his voice. “Can we get rid of this stuff already? I told you I don’t want it.”
“Are you sure?” Tony asked, picking up one of the books. “These are in a pretty good condition. And some of those toys might be collectables.”
Peter winced at that, looking decidedly unhappy. “Uhm... We can maybe donate it? To be honest, I stole most of that stuff anyways.”
“I thought you played with them until you were about twelve?” Steve asked with a slight edge to his voice.
Peter lifted his chin. “Your point being?”
“How about we put these boxes in your room,” Tony intervened, “and you can look through them whenever you want, away from our prying eyes. You don’t have to decide right away.”
“Whatever,” Peter grumbled.
Natasha dropped the action toys back down in the box, and Tony scraped his throat. “Steve? The shield?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah – of course.” Steve put the shield back, too.
“They’re going to lord that over me forever..” Peter complained once he and Tony had brought the boxes to his bedroom. “Did you have to unpack that box in front of everyone?”
“How could I have known?” Tony asked, still feeling gleeful and not at all sorry.
“Gahh... so pathetic...” Peter mumbled.
“What the hell are you talking about? It’s perfectly normal to play with toys when you’re a kid. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you wanted to keep them.”
“I’m not nine years old anymore!”
Tony rolled his eyes, scoffed. “Did you not see Natasha and Steve just now? Natasha was pushing every button on those action figures to find out what they did and Steve was carrying that shield as if he was about to fight a toy-Ultron. We are all still a tiny bit nine years old on the inside. Don’t be ashamed of that part of you.”
Peter looked marginally more relaxed, now. “I guess,” he murmured.
“I suggest you invite them all for a little round of ‘see whose action figure is the coolest’ later. I guarantee you they will be all over it.”
“Hmmmm,” Peter said.
That evening, Pepper looked on with mild surprise as the living room exploded in noise and activity.
“Hand over Thor’s hammer, you fiend!” Natasha yelled, smashing her own action figure on top of Steve’s. “You are not worthy!”
“I have worked out a solution to prevent the nuclear catastrophe!” Bruce enthusiastically said, pushing a miniature Dr. Banner forward.
“Bruce, we’re fighting right now – where’s the Hulk action figure?”
“I much prefer this one,” Bruce said, a little miffed.
“Aaaaaand now this one is dead,” Clint said, pressing the button and shooting a plastic arrow straight at tiny Dr. Banner’s chest.
“Well, fine! But if the world ends in a nuclear explosion, don’t come crying to me!”
“ROOOOAAAAR!” Tony bellowed as he threw the Hulk hat on top of the pile of action figures.
Pepper turned to Peter who was standing next to her, a dazed look on his face. “Aren’t you going to join in?”
“I’m just... trying to process this first,” Peter murmured.
Pepper smiled and patted him on the cheek. “Ah, yes. These are the people who we trust to keep the city safe. And you’re one of them, now. Too late to back out!”
“Come on, Peter!” Steve yelled. “We need someone to grab Thor!”
With a final amazed headshake, Peter stepped forward to sit down with the group.
“Tomorrow we’ll go out and buy a Spider-Man action figure!” Steve stated. “Then we can really get this party started!”
Pepper smiled, stood up from the table and walked towards the elevator. “Goodnight!”
The others were too engrossed in their game to even notice that she was leaving. But that was okay. All of them, including Peter, were grinning widely. Pepper let the elevator doors slide shut, making a mental note to definitely use that Tony-Stark-lunch box for Peter’s packed lunch tomorrow.
Chapter 16: Mr Delmar
Mr Delmar had just closed up his Deli and was sitting in a corner to catch up with his administration. Owning a business was mostly fun, but the paperwork seemed to become worse every day. It felt as though he had to fill out a form for every single item that went across the counter. Yes, running a business was hard work.
It had been raining all afternoon and he wasn’t looking forward to the trip home. Though, at the same time, he couldn’t wait to be home, have dinner with his daughter and watch the playoffs with her. He didn’t care much about sports himself, but his daughter was mad about it.
He was mostly hidden from view, but if he peeked around some shelves, he could catch a glimpse of the outside world. There weren’t a lot people on the streets right now, and anyone who was outside was hidden under an umbrella or a raincoat. A boy in a dark hoodie rounded the corner to enter the alleyway next to the Deli. Mr Delmar caught a glimpse of his face and froze – was that...? No, no way...
He left his paperwork and quickly moved to the front door, stepped outside and peeked around the corner into the alleyway. The boy was standing near the backdoor to his Deli, clearly dawdling, shifting his weight from leg to the other while he stared at the backdoor. He had his back turned towards Mr. Delmar, so it was hard to be sure.
Mr. Delmar stepped forward a few paces. “Peter?”
The boy whipped around, and Mr. Delmar now definitely recognized the face of the boy he hadn’t seen in almost a year. Peter used to hang around his Deli on a regular basis. It had started with some free leftovers here and there when it became clear to Mr Delmar that the boy needed them. Peter never asked for them. He would just lean against the counter with a hangdog expression on his face, until Mr Delmar shoved some food his way, grumbling “there, if that’s what I have to do to get rid of you..” Peter would grab the food and, without as much as a thank you, bolt for the door.
Until one time when Mr Delmar had managed to cut off the kid’s escape route, crossing his arms as he frowned down at the boy. “Hey kid, if you’re gonna eat my food, you may as well help with the sweeping up, huh?”
The kid had blinked at him. “Sweeping up?”
“Yes, and then I’ll make you a proper sandwich. The broom is over there. Come on, kid, que no te voy a comer ni nada.”
“With pickles?” Was all the boy had asked in return.
They had settled into a new pattern: Peter helped him clean up the shop and Mr Delmar would make him a sandwich with pickles and quiz him on his homework to make sure the boy was still going to school.
Then came the time he had left Peter in charge for a few minutes while he ran down to the bakery on the corner to see if they had any change because he was out of single dollar bills. When he had returned, there had been a line of angry customers waiting to be served, Peter was nowhere to be found and almost two hundred dollars in cash was missing from the register.
He had never seen Peter again.
He was surprised to feel that same pang of betrayal he had felt a year ago, only as fresh as if it all happened yesterday. “What are you doing here?” He asked rather harshly.
Peter didn’t say anything, but he took an envelope from his pocket and held it out to him wordlessly, a wary expression on his face. Mr Delmar took it. Inside the envelope were four neat, unfolded fifty dollar bills and a plain white card: I’m sorry for taking your money. I hope you can forgive me but it’s OK if you don’t. –Peter.
“Where did you get this money?”
“I didn’t steal it if that’s what you think,” Peter said snidely.
“You are in no position to get this defensive about that particular question,” Mr. Delmar growled.
Peter had the decency to flush at that and look away. “Just thought I should bring that back,” he mumbled after a short silence.
“It’s been almost a year.”
“Yeah..” Peter murmured. “A lot has happened since then.”
Mr Delmar closed the envelope and held it back out to Peter. “I can’t accept this.”
Peter’s eyes widened and he made no move to take the envelope back. “Why not?”
“Because I don’t know where it came from.”
“I didn’t steal it!”
“Give me one reason why I should believe that.”
Peter huffed out a breath. “It’s from my allowance, all right?”
“Oh, really? Do your parents know how you are spending this money?”
“Yes, I told them,” Peter said. “That’s to say... uhm.. the people I live with. They know. My – uhm – one of them is waiting in the car. You can ask him if you want.”
Mr Delmar turned to see a car parked on the main streets, engine running and head lights on as the rain beat down against its windows.
Without another word to Peter, he strode back to the main street, crossed it and tapped against the tinted window next to the driver’s seat.
The window slid down, and some dude with sunglasses and a goatee gave him a friendly smile. “Hi there.”
“May I have a word with you?”
“Sure thing. You want to hop in the car or invite me into that delightful shop of yours?”
Not sure if the man was being sarcastic, Mr Delmar jerked his head towards his shop. He preferred to have this conversation on his own terrain.
Dripping water, the three of them sat down at Mr Delmar’s tiny table. The guy in the suit, who introduced himself as Tony, looked distinctly uncomfortable sitting on the tiny stool.
Mr Delmar put the envelope on the table, then turned to this Tony-guy who was apparently in charge of the kid. “You know what happened, I assume?” And, before Tony could nod: “What happened is I gave him food, then I gave him trust, and then he stole two hundred dollars from me.”
“I gave it back...” Peter muttered stubbornly, and Tony gave him a quick glance.
“And I can double that, you know,” Tony said to Mr Delmar. “Triple it. If that makes things better.”
“That does NOT make things better,” Peter said before Mr Delmar could react. “You can’t just throw money at the problem!”
Tony raised his eyebrows. “Really? I thought that was what you were doing.”
“It’s not about the money,” Peter said impatiently.
Tony cocked his head. “What’s it about, Pete?”
Peter frowned at him. “It’s about... saying I’m sorry, you know –“ He turned his gaze to Mr Delmar. “I am sorry. You were the only guy who was nice to me back then and I messed it up. After I stole the money, I couldn’t sleep for about a week.”
“Neither could I,” Mr Delmar said slowly.
Peter flinched at that. “I’m sorry,” he repeated quietly.
“And I don’t care about the money,” Mr Delmar continued. “I would have given you the money if you needed it. Didn’t I always give you things when you needed them?”
“Yes,” Peter whispered.
“But you didn’t think to ask nicely?”
“I didn’t think at all, I just saw an opportunity and... it’s like my survival instincts took over.”
“He was living on the streets,” Tony helpfully supplied, which earned him a baleful glare from Peter.
“I figured as much,” Mr Delmar muttered. He eyed Tony up and down. The man sure was a strange character. “And you’re taking care of him now?”
“And what makes you qualified for that job?”
Tony wasn’t unbalanced by that question in the slightest. “The fact that I’m engaged to a extremely stable and capable lady. She can handle me, which says enough, doesn’t it?”
“And what line of work are you in?” Mr Delmar continued.
Tony’s lips twitched a bit. “I – uh – I’m a business owner, much like yourself.”
“And your wife?”
“She helps me run it.”
“Very unstable, running a business,” Mr Delmar mused. “A lot of paperwork, too.”
For some reason, Tony still looked very amused by his enquiries. “Don’t worry. Our business is running well enough for us to provide for the kid.” The man promised.
“Is he going to school?”
“Of course. He’s at the top of his class,” Tony said, and a look of pride flashed across his face. It made him look slightly more like a normal human being and Mr Delmar nodded in approval. “Very well.”
He turned back to Peter, who had followed the interaction with some trepidation, and now looked back at him with wide, hopeful eyes.
“I suppose you did well, bringing this back,” Mr Delmar said brusquely as he tapped the envelope lying on the table. “And I’m... happy to hear you’re doing well. The best thing you can do to make up for your past mistakes, is to be as good a person as you can be.”
“I will, I promise!” Peter said fervently.
“Pero este tío es un vato loco,” Mr Delmar added, jerking his head at Tony.
“What’s that?” Tony asked.
Peter grinned at him. “He likes you.”
Mr Delmar held out his hand and Peter shook it, looking relieved.
“Good luck then, kid. Be good.”
“Thanks,” Peter said, looking a little nervous again, “but I was hoping that I could drop by sometimes. Buy a sandwich, or something. And pay, of course.”
“Well, sure. I’d like that.”
“Cool. Does your daughter still work here on Saturdays?”
“Get out of my store,” Mr Delmar said, but without any real venom. Peter chuckled gleefully.
Mr Delmar tucked the money safely away in his register. He almost threw the card with Peter’s apology away, but held himself back at the last moment and tucked it into his pocket. It meant a lot to him that the kid had come back after all these months. If anything, it showed that the incident had been weighing heavily on the boy’s mind – more heavily than on his own. Peter would be fine.
If that strange Tony dude didn’t end up in debts, that was. Yes, running a business was hard work.
Chapter 17: Melancholic
“But Pep, they live in the middle of freaking nowhere. I would be bored out of my mind within minutes of arriving.”
“Peter always enjoys his weekends there,” Pepper argued, tapping her pen against the table as she eyed the papers in front of her. She and Tony were sitting at a table covered in official documents. She couldn’t really remember why she had thought it would be a good idea to do this together. Tony was absolutely useless when it came to anything that required putting a pen to paper.
“Weekends, sure. But that’s not the same as actually living there. That’s bordering on child abuse, that is,” Tony earnestly said.
“I’m sure they’d be happy to take Peter in. We can start by just asking them?”
“Sure,” Tony agreed, before grinning widely. “I’m betting Steve will be complaining that we didn’t consider him.”
An unexpected voice suddenly boomed down at them from above their heads: “Finally trying to get rid of me? Took you long enough.”
Pepper and Tony both jumped out of their skin, Tony knocking his coffee mug to the floor.
They looked up to see Peter dangling from the ceiling, hanging upside down. He wasn’t wearing his suit, but had his web shooters clasped around his wrists, and he had his trademark mischievous grin on his face.
“One of these days,” Tony said, picking up his chipped mug, “you’re gonna give us both a heart attack. And you know what will happen then?”
“I’ll have to push you around in wheelchairs?” Peter suggested.
“No, you’ll have to move in with your next legal guardian who is being appointed by us as we speak.” Tony turned to Pepper. “Actually, that gives me an idea. Can we just pick the worst person that comes to mind? At least that will encourage Pete not to scare us into our graves.”
He looked up as Peter landed on the floor next to their table, a frown on his face as he looked at the papers scattered across the table. “Is that really what you’re doing?”
“It’s good to be prepared for anything, honey,” Pepper said, pointing at a chair. “Why don’t you have a seat? I’d like to hear your opinion.”
“This is really not necessary...” Peter murmured, though he did sit down.
“What’s your back-up plan, then?” Tony said. “Back to the storage locker?”
Peter merely sent him a long, disparaging look. “I never make plans,” he finally said, a bit haughtily. “I just wait and see what the day brings.”
“Well, I plan everything, all the time,” Pepper said. “So how about we discuss it for a bit?”
Peter crossed his arms, disgruntled. “How about you just try to stay alive?” He suggested.
Pepper smiled, reached out and squeezed Peter’s arm. “I promise you I’ll do everything I can to stay alive, honey.” She nodded towards Tony. “And we’ll both have to try to keep this one out of trouble. But it’s good to have a plan B just in case, because I’ll feel better knowing that you’ll be safe no matter what, OK?”
Peter stared at her, speechless. Finally, he sniffed and looked away. “Well, sure, if it will make you feel better.”
“Excellent!” Pepper said, clapping her hands. “So – as you may have overheard, we were considering Clint and Laura.”
“The only people in our group of friends who somewhat approach what might be considered ‘normal’.” Tony joked.
“OK, that’s fine.” Peter said indifferently. “I like Clint and Laura. I guess I won’t really be able to protect New York, though...”
“We did actually also consider Ned’s mother,” Tony said carefully. “That way, you could stay in New York, stay in the same school.”
Peter frowned deeply. “Hm, dunno. She doesn’t have a lot of money. That’s why I never bothered her with my problems.”
Tony waved his concerns away. “She would of course be compensated. I’m more concerned that she won’t be able to properly deal with – uhm – your alter ego.”
“I wouldn’t tell her about that!” Peter protested, eyes widening.
Tony shook his head. “I don’t like the idea of you living somewhere and having to hide who you are.”
“Look, wherever I go, it will never be ideal!” Peter snapped. “Because I’m always just thrown into another situation that no one prepared for, which is fine anyways, because I’m used to it. I don’t have high standards about where I sleep, you should lower yours, too.”
“Of course it won’t be ideal,” Tony calmly replied. “No situation where Pepper and I are dead is ideal, in fact, as far as I’m concerned, being dead is at the very bottom of the list of ideal situations. But don’t tell me to lower my standards when it comes to you, kid. You may be used to sleeping in the streets, but Pepper and I are going to make sure that that’s never going to happen again, no matter what.”
Peter flushed, and became suddenly very interested in his web shooters, ducking his head and picking at a loose thread of web fluid.
Tony exchanged a look with Pepper, who gave him an encouraging smile and started to gather the papers together. “I suggest I start by contacting both Ned’s mother and Clint and Laura to see how they feel,” she said, adopting a businesslike tone. She then leaned over and kissed Peter on the cheek. “Okay, Pete?”
“OK,” Peter mumbled. “But let’s just agree that you’re not going to die, all right?”
“Sure,” Pepper briskly replied, before getting up, tucking the papers under her arm and marching towards her office, leaving Tony and a chagrined Peter at the table.
“I was in a really good mood before!” Peter complained. “And now I feel all... melancholic.”
“Who are you, William Shakespeare?”
Peter lifted his chin. “What, too many big words, Mr. Genius?”
“Ah,” Tony said, “there’s the bratty teenager who gives me gray hairs.”
Peter just stared at the tabletop, morosely. “I like living here.”
“I should hope so.”
“I’m serious, Tony.”
“I know Peter. It’s just a back-up plan. All sensible parents have one. Let’s assume it will never happen.”
Peter suddenly stood up so fast that his chair almost toppled back. For a split second, Tony thought he’d said something wrong again, but then Peter bounded over to his side of the table and flung both his arms around Tony’s neck. “I’d be really sad if you died.”
Completely taken by surprise, Tony didn’t immediately know what to say, so he just patted Peter’s back for a bit. “I think the word you’re looking for is ‘melancholic’,” he finally managed.
“Screw you,” Petter muttered, but Tony could hear the smile in his voice. “I’m gonna go hug Pepper.” And without another word, he turned and dashed out the room.
Tony shook his head, smiling. Who’d have known? Boring paperwork did have its plus sides, after all.
“Heard that, FRIDAY?” He asked smugly, leaning back in his chair. “I guess now two people will be sad when I die.”
“I’ll start composing a list, sir.” FRIDAY deadpanned.
Chapter 18: The Academic Decathlon
- New York, seventh floor of Avengers Tower -
Of all the times Tony had wrecked his suit during a mission, this one was the worst. Not just because the damage was bad, but also because Tony was under incredible time pressure. Peter’s decathlon tournament in Washington D.C. started in less than four hours, and Tony didn’t want him to be the only kid without any parents in the audience. He had planned to just fly there in his suit, but that wasn’t going to happen any time soon.
Which left Tony with a dilemma. He could work on fixing his suit, hope it would take less than three hours to fix it, which would give him enough time to fly to D.C. with it, but he would run the risk of not fixing it in time and missing the whole thing. Or he could jump in the car right now, race to D.C. and hope not to be too horribly late, but still running the risk of, well, missing the whole thing.
Mr Harrington had apparently been trying to get Peter to join the decathlon team for months, but Tony and Pepper hadn’t heard about it until a few weeks ago. Ned had been invited to dinner and let something slip, earning him a kick under the table and a death glare from Peter, but it was too late.
“What’s an Academic Decathlon?” Steve had asked, blissfully oblivious to the undercurrents in the room.
Peter had groaned, and crossed his arms. “I guess we’re talking about this, then...”
“Hey, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to,” Tony had said. “Did you know Pepper was on the decathlon team too, in her days?”
Peter’s eyes had widened at that, and suddenly, the prospect of being part of the team became much more interesting to him.
In the end, Peter had joined the team mere weeks before the Decathlon finals in D.C., which apparently didn’t sit too well with his teammate Flash, who had been degraded to first alternate at the last minute. Tony would have sympathized, if it wasn’t for the fact that he knew well enough by now that Flash was a little shithead.
And now it was the day of finals, and Tony wanted to be there, damnit!
He hit the button again to see if his repulsor beams had been fixed, but all that did was create a little puff of smoke. Tony swore loudly.
“At ease, soldier.”
Tony whirled around to see Natasha smirking at him from near the entrance. “Don’t you think you can leave that until tomorrow?” She asked. “You got banged up pretty badly today. Maybe rest a little?”
Tony touched the side of his face, where a large bruise was no doubt forming. “No time. I have to get to D.C.”
“To D.C.? I didn’t know you were planning on going to Peter’s finals.”
Tony felt a little annoyed. Trust Natasha to have every stinking detail about his kid’s personal schedule memorized. “Yeah, well, there’s a lot of stuff you don’t know, miss Romanoff.”
“Actually there isn’t.” Natasha calmly replied. “So you were planning on flying in with your suit? I’m sure Peter would appreciate an entrance like that.”
“I’m not an idiot!” Tony snapped. “I found a place on a roof somewhere where I can land without being seen. All I need is for this fucking thing to fucking fly!” He flung his screwdriver across the room. “It’s his first finals, and if I’m late he’s going to hate me!”
Natasha looked at him the way she would look at a toddler having a tantrum, and then finally said. “Just hop in the car. I’ll drive you. You’ve seen me drive, right? I bet I can make it in time.”
“And without getting me killed?”
“That I can’t guarantee.”
What choice did he have? “Let’s do it.”
- One traffic Jam away from Washington D.C -
A few hours later, they were hopelessly stuck in traffic. Even more frustrating was the fact that Tony could already see Washington D.C. in the distance.
“Can’t we go around?”
“It’s a traffic jam, Tony. No, we can’t go around.”
“GaaaaAAH,” Tony groaned, pounding his fists against the dashboard in frustration. He could just picture Peter’s disappointed face, looking out into the audience and not recognizing anyone. Damn those puppy eyes, always making him feel guilty!
“Would you calm down? You did what you could, Tony. Peter will understand. Force majeure.”
“It’s almost three O’clock by now!”
“So, we’ll catch the ending! That’s the most important part, anyway. Now, if you take a look in the dashboard compartment, there should be a hat in there. Just make sure people won’t recognize you.”
-Washington D.C. (finally) -
Heart pounding in his chest, Tony sprinted up the stairs towards the entrance, Natasha following in his wake.
Being careful not to draw attention to himself, Tony found a side door, wedged it open and slipped inside.
He knew immediately that he was too late. A few people were stacking chairs and someone was already taking down the banner at the stage in front. Here and there, small groups of people were lingering, chatting.
“We... we missed it...” Tony said, feeling strangely empty inside.
“Sorry Tony,” Natasha said, sounding like she genuinely meant it.
Surveying the room from the safety of a dark corner, Tony spotted Peter standing next to the stage, talking to teammates. One of them was holding a giant trophy, and Tony could guess what that meant.
“Oh .... My .... Mr. Stark?”
Tony turned to see Ned standing next to him, staring with wide eyes. “Black Widow? What are you... what are you doing here?” His voice dropped to a whisper. “Is there like a secret plot to infiltrate the Decathlon board?”
“No, Ned, everything is fine,” Tony said. “I just wanted to watch the tournament. Can you – uhm – ask Peter to come over without drawing any attention to us?”
“Sure thing Mr Stark!” Ned said, and he shot off like a rocket. Tony watched him grab Peter’s arm and whisper urgently to him. He watched Peter frown and look in his direction. The kid detached himself from the group and approached Tony and Natasha. He looked suspicious at first, but as he came closer, his face cleared up.
“Holy shit, it is you!” Peter squinted at him. “Nice hat. What happened to your face?”
“Attack on some military base,” Tony said indifferently. “So, uhm, you... you won?”
“Yeah.” Peter said. “I can’t believe you’re here! Did you really drive out just for the finals?”
“Well yeah. Natasha almost caused several accidents on the way here. But we were too late.”
“I can’t believe you came, though,” Peter said happily.
“But we were too late.”
Peter beamed at him. “Tony, it’s OK. You risked your life getting here. Message received.”
“Told you he’d be fine,” Natasha said, smugly.
“I’m still sorry I missed it,” Tony offered.
Peter shrugged “I didn’t expect you to come at all. I’m sure you’ve both got better things to do.”
“Better than watching you crush you opponents? Hardly.” Tony scoffed.
“I did crush them,” Peter confirmed, nodding.
“So...” Tony said. “You want to go get some ice cream? Unless you and your team are going out for celebrations.”
“Ice cream sounds good,” Peter said. “Let me just tell Mr Harrington that I’m driving back with you guys.” And he hurried away.
Tony blew out a long breath, not looking at Natasha. “Go ahead. Say it.”
Natasha squeezed his arm. “You’re a total dad.”
“And I’m going to tell everyone how much you freaked out over this.”
“And you’re lucky your kid is more emotionally stable than you are.”
“Don’t push your luck, Romanoff,” Tony warned her. “Or you’re not getting any ice cream.”
Natasha just smirked, and didn’t make any further comments.
Peter returned, shrugging into his jacket. “Where do we go where no one will recognize you?”
“I know a place,” Tony said. “It’s a total dump, and since I already look homeless with this hat, we’ll fit right in. I’d be very surprised if any reporters find us there.”
“Imagine the headlines, though,” Peter joked once they had left the building, moving towards the car. “Iron Man and Black Widow having ice cream with mysterious but extraordinarily handsome young man. Flash would get an aneurysm!” He grinned widely.
“You’re in a pretty good mood,” Natasha observed.
“Well.. I had a good time,” Peter admitted.
Tony flung an arm around his shoulders. “I bet you got all the questions right,” he said, smugly. “After all, you learned from the best.”
“I did,” Peter confirmed, nodding sagely. “Dr. Bruce Banner!” And before Tony could react to that, Peter ducked out from under his arm and took off towards the car, cackling in glee.
Tony rubbed his temples. Between Peter and Natasha, he was in for some snarky comments over their ice cream sundae. But hey, Peter was smiling, so he didn’t mind.
God bless those puppy eyes.
Chapter 19: Jealous
Munching on a donut, Tony sauntered towards Pepper’s office to see if he could do the usual thing of annoying her until she gave up on her work.
As he opened the door, he almost bumped into Peter.
“I was just leaving,” Peter murmured. His eyes looked suspiciously moist and Tony lowered his donut. “Are you OK?’
Peter gave him a tiny smile. “Yeah, I’m fine. Bit of a sucky day. I’m going to take a nap.” He hurried off.
Tony watched him go down the hallway until the boy disappeared around a corner.
He then turned back to Pepper, to find her leaning back in her chair as she looked him up and down, her laptop pushed off to the side. “Good to know you have time for donuts in spite of all the important deals we have to close this week.”
Tony ignored the jibe. “What does the kid have to be upset about? His summer break has just started!”
“He doesn’t like the summer break,” Pepper said with a fond smile, and Tony almost choked on his donut. “He – what? Why?”
“Bad memories, I guess.” Pepper said. “No school, no proper home to go to, all your friends abroad on vacation... need I go on?”
“Huh,” Tony said, frowning in concern.
“This year will be different,” Pepper reminded him. “So it’ll be fine. But just so you know, Ned is leaving tomorrow for some science camp and our foolish kid was too hesitant to ask us if he could go, too. It’s too late for that, now. But maybe we can find some things to do together next week. That seems like the perfect job for you to plan for us.”
Tony didn’t respond. He just stared down at what was left of his donut with a deep frown. It bothered him that Peter hadn’t wanted to ask for something as simple as going to a summer camp. With all the snarky comments the kid usually made left and right, it was easy to forget how apprehensive he could be about certain things.
“Why doesn’t he just tell me stuff like that?” He asked. “I spend time with him in our workshop almost every day, for pity’s sake!”
“Well, the fact that he told us at all might be progress,” Pepper said. “Who knows how many similar situation we don’t even know about because he never brought them up?”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
“Yes.” Pepper said. “Baby steps, Tony.”
Baby steps... baby steps... Tony grumbled under his breath as he marched down the stairs. Easy for Pepper to say. She always seemed to understand the best way to go about things. Seemed to only need a few words to understand what was going on in their kid’s head. But Tony was just making things up as he went along, and he needed these things spelled out to him, damnit!
No wonder the kid always talked to Pepper when something was bothering him. Tony had been more than fine with that at first, but now he wanted to step up and do more. He wasn’t that self-indulgent, self-centred playboy anymore, or at least he hoped he wasn’t. And sure, he was still hopelessly tactless about some stuff, but he had definitely gotten better with other stuff. However, Peter’s default setting was still to go to Pepper first when he had something weighing on his mind.
He stopped in front of a bedroom door and lifted his hand, banging loudly against the door.
A shuffling sound on the other side, and the door was pulled open by Clint, bow and arrow in hand. “What’s the emergency?”
“I need to talk to you.”
“Oh,” Clint said, lowering the bow. “Uhm – sure?”
“Can I come in?”
Clint glanced over his shoulder. “Of course. But we’ll have to snuggle up on my bed,” he offered with a grin.
Right. Tony had forgotten how minimalist Clint’s room was. Like a prison cell. “Let’s go downstairs.”
They went down to the living area and Clint turned on the coffee machine while Tony sagged down in a chair.
“What am I doing wrong?” He asked.
Clint lifted an eyebrow. “Do you want me to answer alphabetically or chronologically?”
Tony didn’t laugh. “I’m serious.”
“All right,” Clint said. “Be more specific, then.”
“I want to be a good parent. You seem to know the ropes. What am I doing wrong? I need some ‘dadvice’. Gimme a crash course.”
“You don’t need a crash course,” Clint assured him. “You’re doing fine. Taking in a teenager with a shitload of emotional baggage, without having any prior parenting experience? Trust me, the fact that you’re still sane is a real feat.”
Tony made an impatient noise. “I want to be more than just ‘sane’. It bothers me that Pepper is always the one dealing with the real stuff.”
“I thought you liked it that way?”
“I thought I did, too,” Tony grumbled. “But I guess I don’t anymore.”
“Did something happen?”
Tony sighed and studied his nails. “Nothing major. It’s just the little things all adding up. Pepper is the only real parent in this little arrangement, that’s what everyone thinks.”
“I think that’s just what you think everyone thinks,” Clint told him. “We all know how much you care. Peter knows it, too. It’s pretty obvious you worship the ground he walks on.”
“Let’s not get dramatic.”
Clint smirked. “Natasha did tell me about your Decathlon-meltdown a few weeks ago.”
Of course she did.
“Can you just solve the problem for me, Barton?”
Clint rolled his eyes and turned back to the coffee machine. “Maybe there isn’t a problem. But if you feel so strongly about it, talk to Peter. Or Pepper. Coffee?”
“Do you remember me mentioning something about closing important deals?” Pepper asked a tad impatiently when Tony poked his head into her office again. The piles of paper on her desk were now getting so high that she almost disappeared behind them.
“Doesn’t ring a bell,” Tony said. “You can do all that tomorrow, right?”
“What do you want?”
“The science camp thing is bothering me.”
Pepper glanced up at him, then pointed at the seat on the other side of her desk with her pen. “Have a seat.”
Tony sat. “I’m liking this ‘stern principle, misbehaving student’-vibe we have going on,” he joked.
“Sorry,” Pepper murmured as she continued writing out forms. “I’m just busy.”
“You made time for Peter.”
“How is it different? I am upset, too! Make me feel better!”
Pepper gave him a long, appraising look, then put the pen down and pushed the forms aside. “Very well. How come it’s bothering you? I told you; baby steps.”
“It’s not that,” Tony said. “I mean.. it’s not just that. It bothers me that you’re the one he talked to.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?”
“It’s good that he talked to someone,” Tony agreed. “It’s just that he always talks to you. I’m... I guess I’m jealous..” Tony finally managed. He was pretty sure he had never admitted feeling something like that before.
“Well, well. Who’d have thought...” Pepper said, a small smile forming on her face. “From the man who told me to deal with ‘everything even remotely to do with feeling and emotions’ when Peter first moved in.”
Tony crossed his arms. “Don’t kick me when I’m down! Can you just... send him to me next time he comes to you with a problem?”
“I don’t think it works like that.”
“Can’t we just try?”
“I get jealous too, sometimes, you know,” Pepper said, instead of answering.
Tony gaped at her. “What? Why?”
“Because he has fun with you. You’re the one who can always make him laugh. I mean, come on..” and she chuckled, waving one hand around “..his face lights up when you enter the room! I guess that’s what parenting is. We both have our parts to play. That’s why I asked you to come up with something to do next week. Because you always know how to cheer him up.”
“Oh,” Tony said, feeling a little ridiculous, suddenly. “I guess that makes sense. So... So you think we’re both pulling our weight?”
“Let me put it this way,” Pepper said. “If you cared as much about this company as you did about Peter, I wouldn’t be neck deep in forms right now.”
No ignoring that dig. “I can – uh – maybe take some of that off your hands?”
“Excellent idea,” Pepper said, immediately sliding the pile of forms towards him and getting up. “I’ll be downstairs drinking coffee if you need me.”
“Pepper told me about the science camp.”
“OK,” Peter merely said, not taking his eyes off his book.
Tony had found him curled up on the sofa later that evening, with a large pile of science books balancing on the arm rest. It seemed that the summer break had only encouraged Peter to do more studying. Tony sat sideways on the sofa, next to Peter, leaning his head in his hand. “Why didn’t you want to tell me? You know I don’t bite.”
“Dunno,” Peter mumbled. “It’s pretty expensive. Ned only gets to go because the Flip Flop Foundation is paying half.”
“Huh, Stark Enterprises funds that charity,” Tony realized. Nice to know that kids like Ned got something out of it. Based on what he knew about Ned’s home life, his mother probably wouldn’t be able to afford it otherwise. But Tony and Pepper didn’t have that problem. “You were worried that it would bankrupt us?” He joked.
“I know you have more money than the queen,” Peter said, grimacing. “But asking for money sucks either way. Can we change the subject? Pepper already gave me a whole lecture.”
“Sure. I just brought it up because I figured we should do something else. Do you want to go to the beach next week?” Tony suggested.
Peter’s eyes lit up and he finally looked up from his book. “I’ve never been to the beach!”
“That’s a ‘yes’, then,” Tony confirmed. “You can swim?”
“Yeah,” Peter said. “I – uhm... I... I don’t have any, like, swim trunks, though,” he added, shyly.
“We’ll buy you some, then.”
“OK,” Peter mumbled, a tiny frown back in place.
Tony lightly poked his kid’s shoulder. “Pete, I’d buy you a Cadillac if you asked for one.”
Peter smiled. “That would be horrible,” he said earnestly. “Please don’t. But I’ll take some swim trunks with gold embroidery hand sewn on by old ladies somewhere in Italy thank you.”
Tony laughed. “You hooligan.” He reached out and ruffled Peter’s hair. “I’ll go arrange our beach trip, then.”
He got up and trudged back to Pepper’s office to set a date for their little family adventure. Knowing her, she would be going over the forms he filled out earlier to make sure he didn’t mess anything up.
Time for Tony to annoy her until she gave up on it.
And maybe bring her a donut.
Chapter 20: The Soirée
A whole crowd of people in expensive dresses and suits had taken over the third floor of the Avengers tower. To Peter, all those people and all that noise were like an assault on his senses, and he could feel one hell of a headache coming on.
Peter knew why Tony and Pepper had forced him to attend this... what had Pepper called it again.... soirée: It was their latest attempt to get him to ‘mingle’. Contrary to Peter, they didn’t think it was a very good idea for him to spend the entire day in bed, snuggling under a blanket, playing online games. Peter didn’t really understand why, because as far as he was concerned, that was exactly what his summer break was for. He liked being in bed. It was nice and warm and snugly and it was a pleasant, constant reminder that he had a good bed now.
The event this evening was meant to promote the Stark industries’ connection to the Avengers initiative, which meant some of the other Avengers were here. Clint was with his family, and Bruce had politely declined, too, but across a sea of people, Peter could see Sam and Steve playing pool. He would have joined them, if it wasn’t for the hoity-toity people they were playing with. As it was, he preferred to remain hidden in his own corner of the room, right next to a table full of expensive-looking snacks.
Peter turned and saw Natasha, wearing a deep red, sparkly dress and high heels. “Oh – wow. That looks expensive.”
“I hate wearing dresses,” Natasha grumbled, pulling at the fabric.
“You look like the queen!”
“The queen is ninety,” Natasha reminded him. “So, how are you holding up?”
Peter shrugged, shuffling his feet. “I’d rather just be in my room.”
“Ah well, so would I,” Natasha said as she surveyed the crowd. “At least you don’t get bothered with questions about the Avengers. That secret identity thing you got going on isn’t such a bad idea.”
Peter couldn’t suppress a shudder at the idea of all these fancy people knowing his identity and bombarding him with questions. He already tended to get anxious when the hallways at school were too crowded, let alone when he was in a room full of strangers.
He jumped when he suddenly felt Natasha's hand on his arm. “Pete, are you okay?” She was frowning down at him.
“I don’t like crowds,” he admitted. “And I have a headache.”
Natasha’s frown deepened, but before she could ask more questions, some guy in a fancy suit sidled up to them. “Ah, Ms Romanoff! I was curious about your views on the new project Bay Bridge.”
“Oh – I’ll be with you in a moment, sir,” Natasha said, in an extremely polite voice that Peter had certainly never heard from her before. “I would just like to finish my conversation with this young man here.”
The man looked down his nose at Peter. “Who does this one belong to, then? Shouldn’t he be with his chaperone? Surely someone can see to him while we discuss business?”
“Could you fuck off?” Peter asked irritably.
The fancy-suit guy huffed. “Well, I never! Who let you in, you hoodlum? Because I’m going to make sure they kick you out!” He stepped closer to Peter, very much invading his personal space, and Peter took a step back.
“Excuse me,” Natasha said calmly, “but I believe the kid told you to fuck off.”
The man’s jaw dropped to the floor.
“I’ll be with you in a moment,” Natasha said, before waving him away. Spluttering incoherently, the man retreated back into the crowd.
Natasha didn’t seem perturbed in the least, turning back to Peter. “If you don’t feel well, go to bed. Pepper and Tony will understand.”
Peter was not so sure. Pepper had been quite adamant that he would attend this evening, after FRIDAY had informed her at dinner that Peter had spent the entire day browsing Netflix.
FRIDAY was such a goddamn snitch.
“I think I’m probably grounded if I duck out now,” he told Natasha.
“That’s bullshit,” Natasha declared firmly. “You don’t get grounded for being sick.”
Peter wanted to protest that ‘sick’ was a bit of an exaggeration, but they were interrupted again by the fancy-suit guy, who marched up to them, practically dragging Tony by his arm.
“That’s the one!” The man growled. “Why is this young man even attending?”
“Mr Ridgeworth, this is Peter,” Tony said. “He’s my intern. Peter, this is Mr. Ridgeworth, he is a board member at Stark industries.”
“I demand you fire him at once!” Mr. Ridgeworth said, dramatically pointing a finger at Peter.
“Why, what did he do?” Tony asked with interest.
“I have never in my life encountered such a rude... foul-mouthed... ill-mannered...”
“Look,” Peter said impatiently. “If you had just fucked off when I told you to fuck off there wouldn’t be any problem!”
Tony coughed. Mr. Ridgeworth turned purple. “Do you see?” He shrieked indignantly.
“Absolutely unacceptable,” Tony said, nodding.
“And so...?” Mr. Ridgeworth demanded.
“Miss Potts is in charge of the interns.” Tony said. “I’ll take the matter up with her.”
“No spine, I see!” Mr. Ridgeworth barked. “I’ll go find her myself.” He marched off.
“Keep it up, kid,” Tony said, winking. “Pepper and I have been trying to get him to resign from the board for ages.”
Peter didn’t smile back. “Can I go to my room now, please?”
“Can’t you just wait it out?” Tony asked. “Hang here in the corner with Natasha, feast on the free snacks, insult a few more board members? It’s just twenty more minutes until I give my speech, and after that everyone is free to go.”
“Okay,” Peter said, but he looked unhappy.
“Why didn’t you tell him you’re not feeling well?” Natasha asked once Tony had sauntered off.
“I don’t want him to make a big deal about it,” Peter muttered. “And he has to give his speech.”
“Go talk to Pepper, then,” Natasha pressed.
“I’m not coming near there,” Peter objected, glancing distrustfully towards the table where Pepper was sitting.
He had spotted Nick Fury immediately upon arriving at the party, and had kept an eye on the man at all time, fully prepared to hide under a table if he came too close. But so far, Fury had spent most of his time talking to Pepper. Which had the unfortunate consequence that her position was now ‘compromised’ and Peter wasn’t going anywhere near her thankyouverymuch.
“You don’t like Fury?” Natasha asked, somewhat amused. Damn her and her keen observations.
“No I don’t.” Peter grumbled. “He wants me in jail.”
Natasha hummed softly, a sparkle in her eyes. “I seem to recall you thought the same thing of Tony and Pepper when you first moved in.”
“With this guy, it’s for real,” Peter said. He rubbed his forehead, but dropped his hand back down when he saw Natasha following the movement with sharp eyes.
She crossed her arms, impatiently tapping one finger against her arm. “Peter, go sleep. Or at least have a lie-down on the couch until the rest of us have finished here. I’ll explain things to Tony – no don’t tell me you’re fine,” she continued when Peter wanted to interrupt. “If you are not on your way upstairs in ten seconds, I will get Mr Ridgeworth back over here to complain some more. Ten... nine... eight...”
“I hope you enjoyed my speech, and if you didn’t, I hope you had a good nap,” Tony finished. There was a scattering of chuckles and applause, and Tony made a final, tiny bow before leaving the stage and making a bee line towards Pepper.
“Have you seen Peter?”
Pepper looked around. “I haven’t seen much of him this evening. I believe he is avoiding me.”
“Uhuh,” Tony said, his gaze drifting to Nick Fury for a moment. “Well, I promised him we could leave after my speech. By the way... Did Mr Ridgeworth come see you?”
“What?” Pepper asked, distracted. “Oh – yes. He said he’d been grossly mistreated.”
“I told him he probably had it coming.”
Fury chuckled. “Yeah. You lot are going to give the poor guy a heart attack. Oh, and FYI, your kid left about half an hour ago,” he pointed towards the stairs. “He was being dragged out by Ms Romanoff.”
Tony found Natasha sitting in an arm chair in the dimly lit living area on the eleventh floor.
“Where’d you hide my kid, you hijacker?”
Natasha gave a slight nod towards the couch in front of her. “Don’t turn on the lights,” she warned him in a low voice.
Tony walked around the couch. He had clearly woken Peter up from a little nap. The boy blinked up at him, rubbed his eyes, then slowly sat up. “Hey. Is the party over?” He asked, looking at him blearily, then quickly adding: “Natasha made me leave!”
Natasha rolled her eyes. “He has a headache,” she informed Tony.
Tony nodded, then sat down next to Peter. “People are leaving,” he told him. “But it might be a while before everyone is actually gone. And you caused a bit of an uproar amongst the board members, I do believe.”
“Well, that’s your fault for making me go! Don’t expect me to ever take over your job, because if I have to attend one more bloody soirée I’m going to end up killing someone, I swear to God,” Peter complained, as he lay down on his back, this time with his head on Tony’s lap. Peter’s eyes were pinched shut and he looked like he was in quite a bit of pain. That didn’t keep him from babbling away, though. “That fancy-suit guy just pissed me off and I just wanted to stay in my room tonight and watch bloopers of all my favorite shows, which would have been way more – ooh, that’s good...”
Tony chuckled as he carefully rubbed circles on Peter’s forehead. “Bad headache?”
“No,” Peter lied, “but keep going though.”
Tony heard Pepper’s heels clicking against the marble tiles as she entered through the door behind him. “Is he here?”
“Yup,” Tony said. “He has taken refuge on my lap. Don’t turn on the lights.”
Pepper walked around the couch. “Did something happen? Is he ill?”
“A bit,” Tony said.
“Not at all,” Peter denied stubbornly. But he may has well have said nothing, because Pepper was already kneeling beside him and laying a hand against his forehead. “You are burning up a little bit.” she established. “That’s the second time you’re getting sick during a vacation. I think we should take that as a sign you work too hard, which is not surprising.”
“Does that mean you’re going to let me stay in bed all day?” Peter asked eagerly.
Pepper gave him an unimpressed look. “It mostly means that we need to renegotiate the balance between your school-work, your Spider-Manning and your free time once school resumes.”
Peter looked very unsatisfied at that. “It’s your stupid party that made me sick!” He protested.
“Yes, in hindsight that may not have been the best move,” Pepper agreed. “For more than one reason. But I was just... worried. I know Tony and I work a lot. We can take a day off here and there, but other than that, you need to find a way to keep yourself busy this summer. And staying in bed all day is not what I had in mind.”
“It’ll be better when Ned gets back from camp in a few days,” Peter assured her. “But if I promise to go outside every day, will you promise not to drag me to any more stupid soirées?”
“Deal,” Pepper said, tugging at a strand of Peter’s hair with a smile, before standing up and moving to the arm chair next to Natasha.
“So.. seriously none of you are going to chew me out for telling a board member fuck off?” Peter asked, looking suspicious.
Pepper gave him a flat look. “We’ll chalk it up to you being unwell.”
“And Ridgeworth being an ass,” Tony added, absentmindedly carding a hand through Peter’s hair.
“Way to set an example, honey,” Pepper chided, exchanging a look with Natasha.
“To be honest, I may have dropped the f-bomb to Ridgeworth as well,” Natasha confessed, looking only slightly apologetic.
Pepper huffed. “I see it’s up to me to teach some manners around here.”
Tony grinned at her, then patted Peter’s head. “Pete, don’t tell people to fuck off. It’s bad form. Next time, just stick to ‘take a hike’ or ‘evacuate the premises at once’.”
Peter giggled. Pepper’s sigh sounded more than a little exasperated.
“I suggest I get our poor sick child to bed,” she said, getting up again. “Before he gets any funny ideas.”
“I second that motion,” Tony said, poking Peter to get him to sit up.
“Veto!” Peter cried out. “I veto that!”
“You don’t get to have a veto,” Tony told him as he practically lifted him up from the couch and set him on his feet. “Let’s go, you hooligan.”
“Yes, Pete,” Natasha said, her eyes crinkling at the corners. “Evacuate the premises at once!”
Pepper frog-marched a half-heartedly protesting Peter towards the elevator. “Say goodnight, honey!”
“Fine!” Peter whined, leaning heavily against Pepper as they waited for the elevator doors to open. “Night everyone.”
Tony gave him a little wave. “Goodnight, buddy.”
Pepper steered Peter into the elevator and pressed the button.
Peter sagged against the wall of the elevator, pressing one cheek against the wonderfully cool metal of the wall.
“If you are still sick tomorrow, I’ll see if I can cancel some meetings,” Pepper said, looking a little worried again, and it occurred to Peter now that she was maybe feeling guilty about not spending more time with him in his summer break. Maybe that was what today had been all about.
“I’m fine, Pep,” he told her, standing up a little straighter to illustrate his point. “You don’t have to babysit me, I know you have an important job.”
“You’re more important,” Pepper countered.
That was nice to hear, even if Peter didn’t really agree that it was true. “I’ll ask Steve or Sam to teach me to play pool tomorrow,” he said. “That’s the advantage of a whole tower full of Avengers; there’s other people who can keep me company, too.”
“I suppose,” Pepper murmured.
The elevator doors slid open and Peter turned to Pepper. “So.... I’ve got it from here. Unless you wanted to read me a bedtime story.”
“Would you like me to?” Pepper asked, not even sounding like she was kidding, and Peter smiled. “Naw, a hug will do.”
He got one, a really tight one, and a kiss on the forehead for good measure.
“Good night, honey,” Pepper said. “Let FRIDAY know if you start feeling any worse.”
Peter nodded and gave a final, tiny wave before padding towards his bedroom door. He had to admit, it was very easy to have someone like FRIDAY to communicate with Pepper and Tony even from his own bed if he wanted to.
She was still a damn snitch, though.
Chapter 21: Sweet sixteen
With some inspiration from Ashleyparker2815/Isi1dur !
Two weeks until Peter’s birthday
Ned squinted his eyes as he dug through the box full of socks at the bottom of his closet. Where the hell were his Spider-Man socks? He wanted to wear them because Peter was coming over and Ned knew how much it pissed Peter off to see any Spider-Man related merch.
And pissing Peter off was one of Ned’s favorite pastimes.
“Hey man,” A voice suddenly sounded behind him and Ned jumped, banging his head against the shelf above his head. With a mumbled swear he turned around.
“Your front door was open,” Peter said.
“Oh yeah,” Ned muttered, rubbing his head. His mother tended to just leave the door open all the time now that it was summer. She liked when neighbors could just walk in and out. Ned wasn’t a big fan, himself. Some of the neighbors’ kids had discovered his mother’s candy stash and were now visiting a little too often.
“There’s some little girls playing hide and seek in your living room,” Peter said, as if reading his thoughts.
“Yeah,” Ned said, resigned. “Our house is becoming a community center.”
“What were you doing?”
“Looking for my Spider-Man socks,” Ned said, perking up.
Peter pulled a face. “I’m going to kill Tony for giving those to you...”
“It was a nice gift,” Ned said. “Hey, speaking of gifts, your sixteenth birthday is coming up. What do you think Tony and Pepper will get you?”
“Dunno,” Peter said, looking a little uncomfortable. “Nothing too flashy, I hope.”
“Some people get a car when they turn sixteen.”
Peter shuddered. “That would be horrible. I’d feel like a total jock.”
“Got it,” Ned said. “No car.”
Nine days until Peter’s birthday
“Front door was open!”
“Sure..” Ned murmured as he was lying face down on the grass in their tiny back yard.
“Are you okay?” Peter sat down next to him, cross-legged.
“Oh yeah. I’m just enjoying life. The sun is nice, huh?”
Peter gave him a strange look. “It’s... lovely.”
Ned rolled onto his back. “If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you want to be?”
“The Netherlands,” Peter said without a moment’s hesitation.
Ned cracked a smile “Why, because they only have six weeks summer vacation?”
“You got it.”
Ned chuckled. “You and your summer break-aversion... Aren’t you having a good time this year, you know, living with actual nice people and all?”
Peter shrugged as he pulled out some blades of grass. “Yeah, I guess. We went to the beach a few weeks ago. That was real nice.”
“Really?” Ned asked. “I thought you had that weird phobia?”
“So... if you could be anywhere in the world right now, you would want to be at the beach?”
“I suppose. Why, you wanna go?”
“No,” Ned said. “I was just curious.”
Six days until Peter’s birthday
“Hey man. Your front door-“
“Right. Was open.”
“What are you doing?”
“Hiding our candy from the neighbor’s kids. Do you think it’s safe here?”
Peter leaned against the doorpost. “In your laundry hamper? Sure. If you like your fudge smelling like your feet.”
Ned straightened himself, eying the laundry hamper. “Good point.” He turned to Peter. “Hey, speaking of food, do you like cheesecake?”
Peter blinked. “Uhm.. well, sure?”
“What’s your favorite kind?”
Peter looked highly confused by now. “I don’t know, what kinds it there?”
“Lemon?” Ned suggested. “Strawberry? Chocolate?”
“All of those are fine. I mean, it’s nothing compared to your mom’s chocolate cake, but... Did you want to go out for cheesecake?”
“No,” Ned said. “I was just curious.”
Four days until Peter’s birthday
TS: Hey, Ned.
TS: Where do we stand
TS: on the birthday cake?
NL: Hi Tony he maybe got a little suspicious but he did tell me some of his favorite cakes and stuff it was a bit random at first but he did mention one favorite but I don’t know if you’ll want to do it
TS: Well neither do I until you tell me what it is.
TS: Is it space cake?
NL: No he mentioned this chocolate cake my mum sometimes makes I can ask her to make one and bring it to you but I don’t know if that’s weird I’m sure she’ll do it if I ask she loves Peter she’ll do literally anything for him
TS: Ned, might I interest you in the concept of punctuation?
Ned chortled, but before he could type a reply, Peter suddenly walked into his bedroom. “Hey, man!”
Ned slammed the lid of his laptop down in a frantic motion.
Peter narrowed his eyes at him, looking suspicious. “What are you doing?”
Ned swallowed. “I .... was .... looking .... at porn?”
Peter noticed the door to his bedroom creaking open, but he didn’t open his eyes. It was his birthday, damnit, he should be allowed to sleep in.
He suddenly felt the blankets being snatched away and he groaned, turning around and opening his eyes. It was Sam, standing next to his bed with the blankets in his hand.
Peter glared at him. “What if I slept naked?”
“Huh,” Sam said. “Didn’t think of that. Happy birthday.”
“I’m not coming down yet,” Peter said, wrapping his arms around his pillow. “I’m sleeping in.”
“No, you’re not,” Sam said. “We’re going to the beach.”
Peter lifted his head off his pillow. “What?”
“Car leaves in thirty minutes. If you’re not in it we’re going without you.”
Peter barely had time to process that before the door opened again and Ned of all people stuck his head inside. “Come on, Pete! It’s your birthday!”
Peter gaped at him. “Are you coming?” He finally asked.
“No,” Sam said, rolling his eyes. “He’s just here to help you get dressed and then he’ll go back home. Yes he’s coming. Now get up! We’ll see you downstairs in five.”
It was a few hours’ drive to get to Tony’s private beach where they were guaranteed complete privacy. Bruce was driving their mini-van. Tony and Pepper were squished together in the front seat, Ned sat behind them between Steve and Sam, a look of pure elation on his face, and Peter was in the back with Natasha.
“How much does a private beach cost?” Ned asked, fascinated.
Peter kicked the back of his chair.
“Oh. Was that an inappropriate question?”
Pepper spread out a large picnic blanket on the sand, while Steve effortlessly stuck a giant parasol in the sand. “Cake first!”
Tony set down the crate he was carrying and took out the plates, then unwrapped the cake from tin foil.
Peter stared at it. “Is that...?”
“My mum made it!” Ned confirmed, clapping his hands.
Peter stared. “How did you... when did you guys even...”
“I was in cahoots with Tony!” Ned said, wiggling his eyebrows.
“Is this the part where we sing happy birthday?” Bruce asked as Tony started cutting the cake, and Peter made a panicked little noise in protest.
Tony glanced at him. Peter seemed a little overwhelmed already, and looked frankly terrified at the prospect of a whole group of people singing to him. “No singing,” Tony said. “It’ll ruin the vibe. Don’t you know Steve sounds like a crow drowning in a bucket of water when he sings?”
That had Peter cracking a smile.
“This cake is really good,” Bruce said after taking a bite. “Can I call your mother for the recipe?”
Ned stared at him, a bite of cake lifted half-way towards his half-open mouth, and Tony could see his eyes glaze over as he was probably imagining how that phone conversation would go.
“Bruce likes to bake,” Natasha explained. “His brownies are famous Avengers-tower-wide.”
Sam and Steve quickly decided to go for a run up and down the beach. Ned, Bruce and Natasha went swimming. Peter stayed with Tony and Pepper under the parasol, dozing off on a large towel. “It’s a good things your birthday is not in November,” Tony told him. “Or this day would have been very different.”
Bruce approached and poked Peter with his foot. “Peter, want to come swim?”
Peter cracked open his eyes. “Uh - Maybe later,” he said, a bit evasively.
“When we went to the beach a few weeks ago, he wouldn’t swim, either,” Tony said. “He barely dipped his toes. We spent the whole day building sandcastles.”
“Yeah,” Peter reminisced. “We made an Avengers tower.”
Bruce cocked his head. “So you like the beach but you don’t want to swim?”
“Spiders and water don’t mix,” Peter told him. “Ever seen a spider go swimming?”
“No,” Tony said. “But since you’re afraid of spiders, that should only encourage you to dive in.”
“I’m not afraid of spiders!”
“Can you swim?” Bruce asked. “Because if not, we’ll teach you.”
Peter stretched, looking annoyed. “I can swim.” He emphasized. “I like swimming. In a swimming pool, not the ocean. It’s just... really big. And there’s... you know... things in there.”
Tony glanced towards the wide open water, then back at Peter. “Watched too many shark movies?”
“I’m fine with sharks. It’s the whales that freak me out.”
Tony pushed his sunglasses up. “Whales? But whales don’t do a damn thing! They’re like.... large floating teddy bears.”
“It’s called cetaphobia. It’s a thing. Look it up.” Peter snapped.
“Jeez, kid. So our list of things you’re afraid of expanded from just spiders to now include whales as well?”
“I”m NOT afraid of spiders!!!”
In the end, Ned managed to convince Peter to wade into the water up to his belly button, where he awkwardly stood for a few minutes before proclaiming “Well, OK, this was fun” and quickly making his way back to shore. And so they mainly spent the day building even more sand castles, playing volleyball, sunbathing and eating more cake.
When the sun started setting, they built a campfire to have a barbecue. Then it was time for presents. “Here,” Tony said, as he dumped a whole pile of them on Peter’s lap. “From Clint and Laura, too; they wish you a happy birthday.”
A millennium falcon LEGO set, plus a few new sciency shirts, and a Spider-Man action figure. Peter looked equal parts delighted and embarrassed as hell.
“So,” Tony said. “The beach, the cake, the presents... did we get it right?”
“Yeah,” Peter said, happily. “This is great. Thanks, you guys.”
“You’re very welcome.”
“I just can’t believe I’m here. You know where I was on my birthday last year?” Peter asked with a wry smile. “I was at the library. I had just finished reading this book on paleoanthropology, and I was looking for a new book. Guess which one I picked?”
Tony smiled and leaned over to give his kid a one armed hug. “Yup, you sure read your way into our lives!”
“I don’t get it,” Steve said. “Which one did he pick?”
“Tony’s books,” Pepper explained. “And then he wrote Tony a letter, pointing out all the mistakes.”
Sam threw his head back and roared with laughter. Natasha was quick to join in.
Steve just looked curious. “You wrote books?” He asked Tony.
“Let’s change the subject,” Tony said.
One day after Peter’s birthday
TS: Hey Ned,
TS: You wanna come over
TS: and build the millennium falcon with Steve and Peter?
NL: OMGYES I was just texting Peter but he didn’t reply yet
TS: He is still in bed. I’m going to wake him up in a moment. Steve is getting impatient.
TS: Like a dog who needs his walk.
TS: Don’t tell him I said that.
NL: On my way!
TS: Ok. And thanks for your help. Peter had a really good time yesterday.
NL: If you ever need a guy in chair I’m available!
Chapter 22: The planetarium
combining the requests by FixYou1394 and StarryKitty013
Peter looked up from his dictionary when Tony shoved a flyer in his face. “Have you been to the planetarium?”
“No,” Peter said, closing the dictionary and putting it away.
Tony eyed the large book with a frown, distracted from his own train of thought for a moment. “What were you doing?”
“I’m a nerd, okay? How is that news to you?”
“Hmm,” Tony said, smiling. “Speaking of nerds, some kid I know sent me a message. He is coming to the city to visit the planetarium and I thought you might want to go with him. He’s your age.”
“Some kid you know...” Peter repeated, looking very suspicious. “Just how many underage superheroes are you currently harboring all over the country?”
“He’s not a superhero,” Tony said. “But there was this time when I faked my own death and then secretly stayed in his garage.”
Peter gave him a long unreadable look. “You know what? I don’t even want to know,” he finally said, snatching the flyer from Tony’s hand. “Hmm.. planetarium. We went to the Museum of Natural History on a school trip once, but we didn’t actually go to this one.”
“So is that a yes, then? Oh, and invite Ned. I’ll cover everything. And then I’ll meet you guys for lunch later.”
“You’re not coming?”
Tony shook his head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. In a crowded place like that, people will be all over me.”
“True,” Peter nodded. “Well, all right. Why not. What’s his name?”
“We have to see the space show,” Harley proclaimed, clapping his hands. “They project a light show onto the ceiling. It’s supposed to be really awesome.”
“Cool,” Ned said. “And let's get something from the gift shop for Tony, later!”
“Preferably, some socks,” Peter said, nodding. “Some very uncool, geeky socks.”
They had just been dropped off by Tony, and now made their way to the theater where the space shows were held. They had picked Harley up from the train station on their way here, and so far, Peter approved of him.
The theater was dark and voices were hushed. As they found their seats, Peter felt his sight and hearing automatically enhance. He picked up on an annoyed father somewhere across the large room, telling off his son in whispered undertones. Apparently, the little boy had somehow lost his shoe and was now in tears.
The lights dimmed even further and a cool female voice told them the show was about to begin.
Suddenly, lights exploded all over the ceiling and a music boomed from the speakers, followed by a voice: “Way out here... Ten million light years from planet earth... every point of light is a galaxy, containing billions of stars.”
Peter flinched heavily. The sudden loud noise made his ears ring. The flashing lights made him fuzzy. Peter squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. Shook his head. Oh crap. He knew this feeling. Sensory overload. Of course it had to happen when he was with someone he had just met.
His hand searched for Ned’s arm and he squeezed. Probably very hard.
“Ouch – what?” Ned whispered.
“Uhm...” Peter murmured. His mouth was dry and he tried to swallow but couldn’t. His dizziness was growing by the second, the ringing in his ears was getting so loud he could barely hear anything, and those goddamn lights just kept flashing. His legs and his arms were starting to tingle and he felt like he couldn’t breathe.
He could feel arms lifting him up, and tried to focus his attention on setting one foot in front of the other, trusting Ned to steer him in the right direction. Left, right, he hit a wall and sank to the floor. He felt hands on his shoulders, shaking him. He wanted to tell them to turn off the damn lights, but still found himself unable to speak.
Suddenly, ice cold water was thrown into his face and Peter sputtered heavily. The shock of the cold sensation made the ringing noise in his ears drop significantly. He looked up. Harley’s face was slowly swimming into view. He was kneeling in front of Peter, an empty cup in his hand. “Sorry,” he said. “Are you okay?”
Peter blinked a few times and looked around. He was sitting on the floor in the bathrooms. A tap was dripping. A single shoe lay in the corner. “Huh,” He said, shaking his head again and wiping some water away with his sleeve. “You snapped me out of it. How’d you do that?”
Harley frowned as he set the cup down. “You’ve never had a panic attack before?”
“Well, yeah I have,” Peter said, figuring ‘panic attack’ was probably the best way to explain what had happened to him without bringing up Spider-Man. “But I usually just sit in a dark room until I feel better. This worked better, though.”
“Tony taught me, actually.” Harley said with a smile. “He used to get panic attacks. This seemed to help him. He snowballed himself in the face, to be precise.”
“These aren’t panic attacks, exactly,” Peter mumbled. “Wait – Tony used to get panic attacks? He never told me that. That’s weird.”
“That is weird,” Harley agreed with a smirk. “He sure seems like the type of guy who would be really open about that sort of stuff.”
Peter cracked a smile.
“Are you okay?” Ned asked, concerned.
“Just a little nauseous..” Peter mumbled, closing his eyes and leaning his head back against the wall. Actually, his head hurt like hell, too, but at least the pain wasn’t blinding anymore. “I’m just gonna... stay down here for a bit. You guys can go back to the show.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Ned said.
“Maybe we should call Tony?” Harley suggested.
“No!” Peter insisted, even though he actually really wanted Tony or Pepper to be here right now. “I’ll be fine. I don’t want to ruin the day. Just.. give me a moment. Can we turn off the lights?”
“They are automatic,” Ned said. “I couldn’t find a switch.”
Peter blew out a long breath and rubbed his forehead. “Fine... I’ll make it work. Uhm... one thing, though.” He lifted a shaking hand and pointed. “There’s a shoe in the corner over there, and I think I know who it belongs to.”
Harley took it upon himself to bring the shoe back to its rightful owner. Ned waited for the door to close behind him before turning back to Peter.
“That hasn’t happened in a while.”
“Yeah,” Peter said. When he had first become Spider-Man, it had been hard to get used to his heightened senses, and any place with bright lights or loud noises could set off an attack like this one. After a while, though, he had become better at adjusting to any type of situation. Except, apparently, this one. “I’ve just never been to a theatre like this before. First the darkness, then all the noise and lights... My senses got all mixed up.”
“Do Tony and Pepper know about this?”
“So Tony will know what I mean if I send him a message that you had ‘sensory overload’?” Ned asked, already tapping away at his screen.
“My life has gotten a lot worse ever since you got Tony on speed dial,” Peter told him.
“I wouldn’t have to call him all the time if you took better care of yourself,” Ned pointed out waspishly. Peter stuck his tongue out at him.
Going outside made his headache even worse, but they had to make their way to the parking lot where Tony had told Ned he’d meet them.
Ned had hooked his arm into Peter’s as if they were two grandma’s going out for tea.
“There he is, I see him,” Harley said, pointing at a black car with tinted windows.
Tony stepped out of the car as they came closer. “Bad luck, huh?” He said, looking Peter up and down.
“M’okay…” Peter mumbled, shuffling closer and sagging against the car. “Just need to lie down for a moment.”
“Should we go home?” Harley asked.
“No - Come on, guys,” Peter pleaded. “I’m just gonna feel like shit if I make you leave now. Please just go back inside, pleasepleaseplease?”
“You may as well,” Tony told them. “Peter here is gonna take a nap in the backseat. I brought him a blanket.”
“What about you?” Harley asked him.
Tony shrugged. “I brought my laptop. I can work from the car. So take your time.”
Lying in the backseat of a car with blacked-out windows, a blanket pulled all the way over his head and with the sound of Tony tapping away on his keyboard, was about the most relaxing scenario Peter could have imagined. He dozed off after a while, and when he woke up again, the headache was completely gone. He turned carefully, still afraid the pain might suddenly come back, and pulled the blanket down a little. He spent some time looking at Tony’s profile as the man sat in the front seat, hunched over his laptop, frowning deeply.
After a while, Peter slowly sat up and peeked over Tony’s shoulder. “You made a mistake there,” He said, pointing at the screen.
“Damnit,” Tony muttered. “Go back to sleep, kid. You’re too smart for your own good.”
Peter yawned a little. “I’m feeling fine. Why did you never tell me you used to get panic attacks?”
It was quiet for a moment. “Well, there was never any reason to tell you,” Tony finally said.
“Do you still get them?”
“Remember the time you told me about Skip?” Tony said. “You’ve practically seen me have one.”
“Oh,” Peter muttered, feeling very guilty suddenly. “I didn’t realize… I mean… I didn’t mean to make you feel that bad. I shouldn’t have-”
“Don’t be an idiot,” Tony interrupted him sharply. “It’s good that you told us. How I deal with it is my problem. That’s why there was never any reason for me to tell you. Because I’m the adult taking care of you, not the other way around.”
“Yeah, OK,” Peter conceded as he wrapped the blanket tighter around himself, “but it’s not about who takes care of who, though. It just helps knowing that other people have their own stuff to deal with and it’s not just me.”
“It’s not just you.” Tony said.
Peter wriggled past him and clambered into the front seat, bringing his blanket along. “How long was I asleep?”
“Almost two hours.”
“Really? Felt like just a few minutes.”Peter yawned again. “I’m pretty hungry.”
As if on cue, Tony’s phone buzzed and he looked down at it. “Ned says they’re on their way back, so we can go grab lunch.”
“When did you even give Ned your number?”
“Around the same time your uncle decided to show up at your school.”
Peter had sort of figured as much. He was too tired to be annoyed about it right now. “Doesn’t he just send you endless, rambling messages?” He asked. “That’s what he does to me. Really early in the morning, too. ”
“No. I think I am still sufficiently intimidating to him.” Tony looked up from his laptop and at Peter. “How are you feeling? You know, other than hungry?”
“Fine..” Peter said. An attack like this usually left him feeling very tired for the rest of the day. But being tired was something he could deal with.
Tony reached out and carded a hand through Peter’s hair. “We’ll have lunch at home,” he promised. “And then you can sleep some more.”
“Hmmmm… sleep…” Peter said, smiling.
Harley cracked another egg into the frying pan and turned up the heat. “What do you want, Ned? Scrambled? Sunny side up?”
They had arrived back home and Harley had taken it upon himself to make lunch for everyone while the rest of them crashed on the couch. The fact that Harley had never been in Tony’s kitchen before didn’t deter him in the slightest, as he opened cabinets and drawers left and right. “Do you guys have a cheese grater?”
Tony shrugged. “We had one, but it just disappeared.”
“Huh, just like my dad,” Harley said.
A muffled chuckle could be heard from the couch where Peter was hiding underneath a blanket. Ned’s eyes, on the other hand, widened dramatically.
“Don’t worry,” Tony told him. “That’s just Harley’s sense of humor. And Peter’s, too, clearly.”
Peter pulled the blanket down a little so his face became visible. “Pepper left, too. Went out for groceries and then just… never came back.”
“That was ten minutes ago,” Ned said. “She’s coming back.”
“Let’s lock the door,” Peter said. Harley burst out laughing. Tony looked at the three teenagers sat around him, shaking his head. How had his life come to this? Ned appeared to agree with that sentiment. “There’s two of them now!” He complained to Tony.
“Yeah, don’t worry,” Tony assured him. “One of ‘em will be in Tennessee by tomorrow.”
“Why are you sending me to Tennessee?” Peter asked.
“Stop blabbering nonsense, you hooligan!” Tony said, throwing a pillow at Peter. “You’re tired. Go sleep.”
“Food, first!” Harley said, setting plates in front of them.
Peter wolfed down his lunch, finishing way before everyone else. He sagged back onto the couch with a sigh. “I’m sorry about today, guys.”
“I’m sorry that water is wet,“ Harley said.
Peter frowned at him in confusion. “What?”
“Oh, excuse me,” Harley said. “I thought we were apologizing for things that weren’t actually our fault.”
Tony smirked at Peter, who seemed at a loss for words. “Kid, you have met your match.”
Peter didn’t even protest. He actually gave a little smile. In spite of the sensory issues, it seemed that Peter had had a good day today. And, just as important, so had Harley and Ned.
“Oh - We got you a present, by the way,” Harley told Tony, and he threw something in his lap. It was a pair of socks. With Einstein’s face on them. “How did you know?” Tony said dryly.
“We got you something, too,” Ned told Peter, reaching into his bag.
He pulled out a plastic tube containing eight colorful planets the size of ping pong balls. “They are glow in the dark. You can hang them from your ceiling and have your own space show,” Ned explained.
Peter smiled, turning the tube over in his hands. “Thanks, guys.”
“We’ll go back to the planetarium another time,” Tony promised him. He wasn’t sure how he would be able to visit without people recognizing him and crowding them, but he would get it done. If he pulled some strings they could maybe visit the museum after hours.
“OK,” Peter said, a soft smile on his face. “Let’s skip the space show, though.”
Chapter 23: Dr. Strange
“…he was banished to another dimension, but has previously tried to send his astral form to earth to search for me in an attempt to trap me in the Dark Dimension where the demonic Dormammu resides. There are now signs that he has managed to escape that dimension.” Dr. Strange finished.
“Huh.” Tony said, his head reeling a little from the long-winded explanation. “Kinda puts my own problems into perspective.”
“Indeed,” Dr. Strange drawled. “There’s no immediate reason for concern, but I would appreciate if you kept a lookout for any unusual activity.”
Tony had been sitting at the kitchen table for about half an hour now, discussing sorcery and alternate dimensions with a man he had only briefly met once or twice before. He wasn’t sure how exactly he could be of any help, but it was flattering to his ego that Strange wanted to keep him informed.
The elevator gave a small ‘ding’ and Peter stepped into the living area, hair sticking up in all directions, wearing a hoodie over his pajamas. His steps faltered for a moment, and he seemed a little thrown by seeing a new face at the table. But he was clearly determined not to let it show, and approached. “Morning.” He glanced at Strange. “Cool cape.”
“It’s a cloak.” Dr Strange returned haughtily.
“Whatevs,” Peter responded, yawning, as he shuffled around the table. “I’m Peter, by the way.”
Peter looked mildly offended. “Why is that strange?”
Tony sat back in his chair. “No kid, this is Dr. Stephen Strange. He’s… a friend. Dr. Strange is here to discuss some concerns he had.”
“Oh yeah?” Peter said, smirking as he looked Strange up and down. “What – did you feel a great disturbance in the force?”
Strange didn’t respond. He merely leveled Peter with a long stare.
“Just a little Star Wars reference for ya…” Peter said as he reached for the cereal.
Strange’s stare remained unwavering and Peter clearly felt a bit uncomfortable, turning to Tony. “Does he hypnotize? Or read minds? Because if he does, I’m out of here.”
“Do you?” Tony asked Strange, not actually sure of the answer himself.
Dr. Strange slowly shook his head.
“Then quit leering at me, you creep!” Peter complained.
“Just trying to figure out why there’s a teenager walking around Avengers Tower in his pajamas,” Dr. Strange calmly said.
“Well, figure it out while staring at the fruit bowl!” Peter snapped, opening the refrigerator door.
“He talks like you,” Stephen Strange told Tony. “Are you related?”
“Is he your ward?”
“I’m his adopted stray,” Peter said, returning to the table with a large bowl of cereal.
Tony scrunched up his nose. “That’s a bit crass.”
Dr. Strange ignored his complaint. “Why did you adopt a stray?”
“Can we not call it that?” Tony asked, impatiently. “Dr. Strange, meet Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man.”
“Spider-Man?” Strange echoed, looking Peter up and down with renewed interest. “How old is he?”
“Just turned sixteen.”
“Hmmm.” Strange traced his goatee with his fingers, eyes narrowed slightly.
Peter looked annoyed. “Not to your satisfaction?”
“I was expecting someone older.”
“Well, then go away and come back in a few years!”
“Play nice, Peter,” Tony chided.
Peter huffed and started shoveling cereal into his mouth. Tony always had a feeling that the boy would be sleeping in much longer than he did now if his hunger didn’t force him out of bed around ten o’clock every morning. It was usually around that time that Peter would show up in the living area and start inhaling large amounts of food.
He turned back to Dr. Strange. “So, do you have a description on this Kaecilius fellow? You know, so I have something to go on other than ‘dude who does magic’?”
“Whadduya mean magic?” Peter asked, spraying bits of cereal everywhere. “Like, balloon animals?”
“More like Master of the Mystic Arts,” Strange said sternly. “Kaecilius has been using those forces for evil.”
“Ooh. Like Darth Vader?”
“Why don’t you just eat your breakfast.” Tony suggested. “The adults are talking.”
“But I can help!” Peter said, looking decidedly more interested now than when he had first entered the room. “Tell me what he looks like, I can be on the lookout for him!”
“Dark wizardry is a little above your pay grade, kid.”
Peter bounced up and down in his seat. “Oh, come on! I won’t try and attack him or anything, I’m not an idiot. But let’s be real, I can do more than you. You only go out as Iron Man when there’s, like, a nationwide emergency or something. How are you ever going to spot someone suspicious walking around the city? I am out on the streets almost every day!”
The kid had a point, but Tony wasn’t planning on admitting it any time soon. It was bad enough that Peter insisted on being a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. The idea of him trying to track down some evil wizard actually gave Tony chills.
Peter had apparently read his thoughts, because he said: “Tony, I’ll just warn you when I see him. I won’t attack him, I won’t! Pinky promise!” He held up one hand.
“Very well..” Tony relented, and Peter pumped his fist, turning to Dr. Strange. “What will you do when we find him?”
“Banish him back to the dark dimension.”
“That is the shit…” Peter breathed.
The first few days after Strange’s visit, Tony felt on edge and deeply regretted his decision to involve Peter.
After a few days, his nervousness ebbed away as things stayed quiet. Peter reported nothing more exciting than the usual bicycle thefts and lost pets. Just one more week and Peter would be going back to school and have other things on his mind than evil sorcerers.
But of course it was on the last day of Peter’s summer break that things went awry. Tony was in his workshop when a map of New York popped up on the screen, one neighborhood flashing red. “Emergency service reports indicate unusual activity in Lower Manhattan.” FRIDAY informed him. “Twenty one 911 calls in the last five minutes.”
Lower Manhattan. Where Stephen Strange lived. “Pull up the images from local surveillance cameras,” Tony ordered, sitting up straighter.
A moment later, light erupted all over his screen. The camera images were grainy, but the street looked like it had exploded, and bright lights were still flashing.
“Due to a local power outage at the scene, I’m afraid there isn’t much footage available.” FRIDAY explained.
“See if any other Avengers are available and give them the coordinates!” Tony called out, already summoning his suit towards him with a few taps at his watch.
His helmet had barely closed around his head when a call came in from Peter. “Tony? Uh – I think I found that dark wizard dude! Voldemo- no, what’s his name?”
“Do not engage!” Tony barked.
“Yeah, no shit!” Peter yelped back. “That strange doctor guy – oh hell, sorry, I can’t remember anyone’s names. He’s here. They’re throwing fireballs at each other!”
“I’m on my way! Just stick to helping the civilians, keep them out of the line of fire!”
When Tony arrived, the scene was chaos. Police had set up a perimeter, which was about all they could do at this point. Tony spotted Dr. Strange in the street, battling a man who had to be Kaecilius. They were firing off one energy beam after another at each other. As Tony looked on, Kaecilius blasted a large jet of red, fiery light towards Strange who deflected it with such force that the trees along the street snapped as if they were tiny twigs. Several buildings around them had partially collapsed already and Tony hoped that everyone had made it out alive. He landed on a rooftop. “FRIDAY, scan the buildings for heat signatures! - - Peter, where are you?”
“Four o’clock!” Peter called out, and when Tony turned to his right, he spotted Peter swinging from a building across the street towards the perimeter line. He was holding something that was definitely not a person, but Tony couldn’t really make out what it was.
“I think .. all the people .. are safe!” Peter continued, panting.
“No heat signatures detected in any buildings nearby,” FRIDAY confirmed. “Although there are still people hiding inside the houses further down the street. For now I’d estimate that it’s safer for them to stay inside than to evacuate.”
Down in the street, a stray beam hit a parked car with a loud bang, launching the vehicle across the street. Dr. Strange had to dive out of the way and Kaecilius closed in upon him.
“Thanks FRIDAY.” Tony said, eyeing Peter who had dropped the object off at the perimeter line. “Pete – what’ve you got there?”
“Just a little birdie cage!” Peter yelled back, already turning and swinging towards him. “Did FRIDAY find any more people?”
With a ‘hmpf’, Peter landed next to him on the roof and joined him as they looked down on the street where sparks were still literally flying. “What do we do?” The kid asked, nervously.
“Your job is done.” Tony said sternly.
“What? But I can-“
“Nope. You did good, now stand back and we’ll handle the rest.”
“Tony, we’re here,” Steve Rogers reported into Tony’s ear at that exact moment. “What’s our plan?”
They arrived back to the tower a mere half hour later. Peter was waiting in the eleventh floor living area, staring at them from the kitchen table with a grumpy expression.
“There he is!” Steve slapped the boy on the shoulder. “You did the most important job of us all, Pete. We just got rid of the guy. You made sure no one got hurt. Some old couple asked me to thank you for saving their little birds, by the way.”
Peter just grumbled something.
Tony walked around the table and gave Peter a tight hug. “Thanks for doing what you’re told, buddy,” he said. “It helps that I can trust you to keep yourself safe; that way I can focus on getting the job done rather than worry about you.”
“Are you ever going to let me help you fight?”
“We’ll discuss it when you’re eighteen.” Tony simply said. “Want to join for celebratory pizza?”
“Fine..” Peter murmured. The prospect of food always put Peter in a better mood.
Tony nodded and looked at Dr. Strange, whom they had managed to persuade to join them. “Any preferences from you?”
Well, of course he was.
“So, did you banish the guy?” Peter asked Strange as they all flopped down on the couches and the arm chairs around the coffee table. “Uh – to that demon dimension?”
“Indeed I did. And this time for good, I should hope. I was impressed by how quick you arrived at the scene.”
Peter looked a little thrown at the compliment, then shrugged. “I would have heard that first explosion from twenty miles away.”
“Do you patrol the city every day?”
“Not every day. Whenever I have some time to spare.”
“All over New York?”
“Mostly Queens. But Manhattan too, now that I live here.”
Dr. Strange delved into his pocket and took out a simple, white card. “This is my address. ‘Swing’ by whenever you need.”
“Oh,” Peter said, taking the card with a surprised look on his face. “Thanks.”
“What do you know?” Tony said, slapping Peter on the back. “Even pretentious wizard guys can’t resist your puppy eyes.”
Stephen Strange flicked some imaginary dust from his robe. “I’m not pretentious, Stark. I’m just so, so much better than you in every conceivable way.”
“Oh yeah? You’re welcome for getting rid of that dark wizard for you.”
“Please. You wouldn’t stand a chance against a sorcerer on your own.”
“That’s it!” Tony declared. “Arm wrestling match, you and me, right now!”
“Play nice, Tony,” Peter teased. “Now, go order some pizza. The adults are talking.” And he turned back to Dr. Strange to discuss Queens, Manhattan, Avengers and Sorcery.
And Harry Potter.
And Lord of the Rings.
And Star Wars.
Peter tried, really tried to clear his mind as he opened his book on the first page. He had somehow missed that he was supposed to hand in a book report in three days. He hadn’t even begun reading the stupid book, so it looked like he wouldn’t have any time to go patrolling this week, which had put him in a foul mood.
His English teacher, Mr. Li, had it in for him, as well. And Peter may have been a teeny tiny bit rude during today’s lesson. Mr. Li had reacted by writing an angry note about his misbehaviors ‘to be signed by a parent or guardian’, as if Peter was some goddamn six-year-old. The note had described Peter as ‘disrespectful’ and ‘foul-mouthed’.
However, the note also stated that Peter’s grade ‘had gone up at a suspicious rate since the previous year’. In other words, now that Peter was finally doing his best, his teacher assumed he was probably cheating.
And now, Peter felt stressed, annoyed, frustrated, angry, and a little anxious. Not that he thought Pepper and Tony would believe the teacher over him, but he wasn’t looking forward to opening a whole can of worms by discussing his problems with his teachers.
He had wanted to talk to Pepper and Tony about it during dinner, but then some of the other Avengers had decided to join them even though Wednesday evenings were usually just for the three of them. Normally, Peter would have enjoyed the extra company. But now was not the right time.
After dinner, Pepper had made herself scarce, so Peter sat on the couch and attempted to start reading his stupid book while waiting for her to come down. He’d rather talk to her than Tony, because he was sure that Tony would immediately send a lawyer down to the school to sue the teacher or something.
It was eight o’clock when Pepper finally entered the room, but Peter could tell from the way she was dressed that she was about to leave for some fancy schmancy party. Well, wasn’t that just perfect.
Peter saw her glance around the kitchen and he already knew what she was going to say.
“Peter, I believe it was your turn to load the dishwasher tonight?”
Aaand there it was. Peter sank down further into the cushions of the couch and turned a page in his book. “I’ll get to it.”
“That’s what you said last week, and then it was still there in the morning.”
“Well, I’m busy right now! Those dishes aren’t going anywhere you know!”
“At this rate, no they are not,” Pepper replied, crossing her arms.
“Well, hire someone to do it for you, then,” Peter grumbled. “Not as if you’re short on cash.”
“Stop being so immature,” Pepper chided with a frown. “You are acting like a spoiled child.”
“So now I’m spoiled?”
“You are acting spoiled. There’s a difference.”
“Well, you’re acting annoying! No – wait, you ARE annoying. There’s a difference.” Peter mimicked.
“Don’t take that tone with me,” Pepper warned him.
“What tone?” Peter snapped.
Pepper’s nostrils flared with irritation “I’m going to a charity event now, and when I get back, this kitchen had better be spotless!” She bit out. She snatched her briefcase off the table and marched out the door, stomping her feet slightly louder than usual. The door slammed shut behind her.
Peter kicked a pillow for good measure, then settled back on the couch to finally focus on his book. But after a few minutes he noticed that he wasn’t able to concentrate, and with a muttered curse, he flung the book across the room.
He hated fighting, but somehow still ended up doing it all the time. And then it never took long for his feelings of anger to turn into a nagging pit of dread in his stomach.
And so he loaded the dishes into the dishwasher. And then scrubbed the kitchen counter. And the sink. And the floor. Well, Pepper had said spotless. It didn’t make him feel any less guilty, though.
“What are you doing?” Tony asked as he was passing through to get his usual dose of coffee.
“Nothing,” Peter snapped while vigorously attacking a persistent stain on the fridge door handle.
Tony threw up his hands. “If you say so. Wanna come down to the workshop?”
“No. And don’t spill coffee anywhere,” Peter grumbled.
Tony poured himself a cup with exaggerated, precise motions. “There. Does that live up to your standards? Or should I send Dum-E up here to spray every surface with Dettol?”
Peter cracked a tiny smile. “No, that’s fine.”
“Good. If you change your mind about coming to the workshop, you know where to find it..” The man strolled away.
Peter cleaned the kitchen until there was nothing left to clean, but after that still couldn’t focus on his book. He was mad at his teacher and so didn’t feel particularly inclined to put a lot of effort into this book report. At the same time he wanted to keep up his grades because he had promised that he would. He was mad at Pepper for not somehow magically knowing that he had needed to talk to her. He didn’t care how unreasonable that was. And he was mad at himself, most of all, for being such a fucking screw-up all the time.
It was now almost 11 PM which meant he was supposed to be in bed. He knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep like this, but if he stayed here any longer, Pepper might give him another lecture about staying up too late.
He was still sitting on the sofa, by now in complete darkness, hugging a pillow as if it were a teddy bear, when Pepper finally entered the living area almost an hour later.
She didn’t seem to notice Peter until she flicked the light switch. Peter squinted against the sudden brightness. Pepper set her briefcase down and approached him.
“Hi honey,” she said lightly. “Feeling better?”
Peter slowly shook his head. No, he didn’t feel better. He felt miserable.
“It’s very late,” Pepper said as she kicked off her heels. “Does Tony know you’re still up?”
Peter shrugged, warily following her movements.
“Didn’t want to go to bed angry?” Pepper asked, sitting down next to him.
Peter ducked his head, unconsciously hugging the pillow even closer. “Yeah, I guess...”
Pepper spread her arms. “Come on, then.”
Peter dropped the pillow and slid over to her side of the couch, leaning his head against her shoulder. Pepper carefully rubbed his back and dropped a kiss in his hair, and Peter suddenly felt like he was on the verge of tears.
“I love you, Pep,” he murmured. “I’m sorry I’m always so annoying.”
“Oh, honey...” Pepper sighed.
“Don’t say I’m not!” Peter said fervently. He hated it when people told him he wasn’t annoying when he knew very well that he was.
“You can be very annoying.” Pepper said. “And I love you too.”
Peter chuckled and snuggled a little closer.
“You’re such a good kid, Peter,” Pepper murmured into his ear. “I wish you’d realize that.”
For some reason, Peter always ended up just feeling worse when people said nice things to him. “I’ve done a lot of bad shit, Pep,” he muttered. “You don’t even know half of it...”
It was quiet for a moment “Well, maybe you’ll tell me about it one day.” Pepper said. “We love you and support you no matter what.”
Peter didn’t want to think about all that right now. “I really hate fighting,” He said instead. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
Pepper didn’t seem concerned at all. “It’s normal to fight sometimes. Maybe it’s even good.”
“I think that you wouldn’t start a fight with us if you didn’t feel safe doing it.”
“Well, I must feel supersafe here, then,” Peter muttered.
Pepper quirked a smile. “Maybe you do. Do you remember the first massive fight we ever had? About you watching R-rated movies?”
A tiny smile broke through on Peter’s face. “Yeah. You made me watch all High School Musical movies as a punishment.”
“Yes,” Pepper recalled. “But also, before that; you assumed that we were going to throw you out. We had to stop you from packing your bags.”
Peter gave an embarrassed little chuckle, wrapping his arms around his knees. “Yeah... I don’t think that anymore.” He did remember that fight. And how Tony had snatched his packed bags from his hand and yelled at him not to be such an idiot. And how, later that night, Tony had suddenly popped up behind him when he was on his way to the toilet. Apparently, the man had ordered FRIDAY to wake him if Peter as much as set a foot outside his room, to make sure he wasn’t running away again.
Well, okay, things had changed since then. Maybe he did feel safe.
“So am I grounded or anything?”
“Seeing as how the kitchen is cleaner than I’ve ever seen it, I’d say we’re good,” Pepper said.
Peter nodded and sat up a little straighter, tugging his sleeves over his hands. “I actually kinda wanted to talk to you today.”
“Okay,” Pepper said.
A silence ensued.
“For someone who wants to talk, you’re not saying much,” Pepper finally commented.
Peter grimaced at her, then picked up his book and took out the note he had tucked in there. “You have to sign this.”
Pepper lifted an eyebrow before taking the note with one hand and lightly skimming it, her frown deepening as she read.
While Peter was anxiously waiting for her to say something, the door slid open and Tony shuffled in, looking up with surprise when he saw Peter. “Hey, you still up?”
“Yes,” Pepper said before Peter could react. “Good to know you keep such close tabs on our kid when I’m not home.”
Tony scratched his head, looking a little sheepish as he approached them. “I got caught up.” He murmured.
“Uhuh,” Pepper said, before handing him the note.
Tony sat down in an armchair to read it, while Pepper turned back to Peter. “Care to elaborate? The note is pretty vague.”
“Promise you won’t get mad, okay?” Peter pleaded.
“I will promise you no such thing! Now, out with it.”
Peter gave a long-suffering sigh. “Well, first off, you should know that this teacher is an asshole.”
Pepper looked unimpressed. “Why don’t you just stick to the facts?”
Peter crossed his arms. “Well, I was maybe a little distracted during class, because I was making notes about an improved formula for my web shooters. And then Mr. Li tried to take my notes from me because I wouldn’t tell him what it was.”
“And then I told him it was my scientific research on the direct proportionality of the length of teachers’ surnames to their penis’ size.”
Tony threw his head back and roared with laughter.
“Tony!” Pepper exclaimed.
“R-right, sorry..” Tony managed, his shoulders shaking with suppressed laughter. “Uhm – that... that’s really disrespectful, Pete. Don’t ever do it again.”
“And what does he mean by your grades being ‘suspicious’?” Pepper pressed.
“Well, I went from a C+ to an A+.” Peter said.
“That’s because you worked hard.”
“Yeah, suspicious, innit?”
Pepper frowned. “What, does he think you’re cheating?”
“Probably…” Peter muttered. “Can you just sign it and not make a big deal out of it?”
Tony held up the note. “Is this why you were in a bad mood today?”
Peter looked up. “You noticed?”
“I’m sorry,” Tony mocked, “Were you under the impression that you were good at hiding your emotions?”
“Screw you..” Peter muttered, wrapping his arms around his knees. “I’m just stressed. That note doesn’t help.”
“I’ll sign that,” Pepper said, holding out her hand. “And Pete… he might not be easy to deal with, but… don’t insult him anymore. You’re hardly going to convince your teachers of your good intentions if you are disrespectful to them. Maybe have a good talk with him tomorrow?”
Peter gave her an incredulous look.
“Isn’t that how you and I always solve our differences?” Pepper asked, this time with a tiny smile.
“Yeah, but you’re reasonable,” Peter said.
“Well, Mr. Li might just surprise you,” Pepper merely said, folding the note and tucking it away. “I’ll sign this, and I want to you take it to him tomorrow and talk to him, all right? When you get home, I want to hear how it went. And if he’s still unreasonable, I’ll give him a call.”
“And if that doesn’t help, I’ll just send a lawyer down there,” Tony added.
Suddenly, Tony’s solution sounded like the better one. “I should have come to you first,” Peter told him
“Glad we established that,” Tony said, nodding. “I mean, who needs reasonable solutions, right?”
Peter smiled and picked his book up from the table. With everything cleared up, hopefully he’d finally manage to get through the first chapter of his book in bed.
“Good night, then,” he told Pepper and Tony, and after they’d wished him a good night in return, he got up. He shuffled towards the elevator, the book clutched to his chest.
Probably, he’d fall asleep right on top of it.
Up next: Peter talks to his teacher!
Also, a little disclaimer: I just discovered that there's actually a character called Martin Li in the spiderman comics appearing as an enemy of Peter Parker ... That was a total coincidence, I just googled 'short last names' :) ... So no, the teacher won't suddenly turn out to be a supervillain!
Chapter 25: Mr. Li
A short follow up to the previous chapter, 'note from a teacher'
“Class dismissed!” Mr. Li announced, and at that precise moment, the school bell rang. Mr. Li always prided himself in using every second of his lesson time effectively. After almost forty years in the business he had perfected that art. He only got two hours a week with these troublemakers, after all.
Students filed out one by one, eyes glued to their phone. Some of them could barely be bothered to look up at him to return his stern ‘goodbye’. “Goodbye Ms. Hanson. Goodbye Mr. Zaveri, do not unwrap that sandwich until you are in the canteen unless you want a detention. Goodbye Ms. Parveen, your shoelaces are untied.”
“That’s just fashionable now, Mr. Li,” she told him.
“Is a neck brace fashionable, too? Because if not, tie them.”
Sometimes he wondered how many of these little buggers would already be dead if it wasn’t for him.
One student was lingering, and Mr. Li sincerely doubted that it was because the boy wanted to thank him for blessing them with a lesson that had taken him two hours to prepare during the weekend. “Mr. Parker, how can I help you?”
Peter Parker, the current bane of his existence, took out a crumpled piece of paper and held it out to him. “My note from yesterday.”
“I see you’ve taken special care to return it to me in good condition,” Mr. Li said disparagingly, taking the note from him and sitting at his desk to inspect it. “What is this signature?”
“Pepper Potts,” Peter murmured. “That’s my... guardian’s name.”
“What happened to your uncle?”
He saw Peter stiffen slightly. “What do you mean?”
“I know your uncle is your legal guardian. I talked to him at more than one parent-teacher conference. This note is fraudulent!”
The boy had the nerve to blatantly roll his eyes at that. “I don’t live with my uncle anymore,” he said.
“Well, this probably won’t surprise you, but he didn’t want me.”
Mr. Li leaned back in his chair and assessed Peter for a while. He vividly remembered both his meetings with Peter’s uncle. The first time, the man had clearly been drunk. The second time, he had spent ten minutes venting about what, in his eyes, was wrong with his nephew, decidedly taking the wind out of Mr. Li’s sails. Their principal Mrs. Hemsley had even been in touch with CPS to discuss the matter, although that didn’t do much. So, no, he couldn’t say that he was surprised. But probably for different reasons than Peter thought.
“Very well,” he said. “I’ll check your records for this.. Pepper Potts, of course. But I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.”
He waved his hand in dismissal and turned to the bookcase behind him to gather the volumes of poetry he would be needing for tomorrow’s lesson. After a while, he noticed that Peter hadn’t moved, however. “Uhm... she said I had to talk to you,” the boy said, awkwardly.
Peter seemed to think about that for a while. “Why’d you say my grades were suspicious?” He finally asked.
“Because they are,” Mr. Li simply said.
Peter’s frown deepened. “So you’re just accusing me of cheating for no reason?”
Mr. Li scoffed. “Please. I know the stories. Wasn’t it you who hacked the school system in your first year to change your grades?”
“It’s different now,” Peter said, looking frustrated. “I’m doing my best, all right? Why are you always on my case? What have I ever done to you?”
Mr. Li slammed the pile of books down on his desk and leaned forward. “You spray painted my car!”
“Oh,” Peter said, and Mr. Li saw realization dawn on his face. “Oh yeah...”
The boy said it as if he had only just remembered, and that just angered Mr. Li even more. “Yes,” he emphasized. “You’re a hooligan, is what you are!”
For some reason that remark made Peter smile. “Yeah, I am,” the boy said. “Uhm... sorry about that.”
“Apology not accepted,” Mr. Li said haughtily.
“C’mon,” Peter said. “You know, I never told you... I mean... I got the cars mixed up. I thought that car belonged to Mr. Faris.”
“Is that supposed to make it any better?”
“Yes, because Faris was a goddamn perv who touched up my friend!” Peter exclaimed.
Mr. Li pursed his lips. The entire Faris-fiasco had caused quite a stir at the school. He’d always known Paul Faris as a kind man with a good sense of humor who spoke fondly of his students. Thinking about the ugly truth behind the mask still made him feel a little queasy now, a year and a half later.
“Sorry about the car,” Peter repeated. “I’ll pay you back and we’ll call it even?”
“Your uncle’s insurance took care of it,” Mr. Li informed him.
Peter actually chuckled at that. “That must have pissed him off nice and good.”
“Don’t say ‘pissed’ in my classroom,” Mr. Li rebuked him as he started shoving the poetry books into the large plastic bag he had brought
“Okay. But I’m ... I’m really trying, all right?”
“So making inappropriate remarks about me during class is your definition of ‘really trying’?” Mr. Li asked, pointing at the note to remind Peter of yesterday’s offence.
“Uh – FYI my life used to be way more messed up that it is now,” Peter informed him, crossing his arms. “Compared to back then, I’m fucking delightful!”
“Do NOT use that word in my classroom if you know what’s good for you, boy!” Mr. Li warned him.
“Sorry. I’m never going to be an exemplary student, you know? But I am trying.”
Mr. Li eyed him for a while. “Very well...” He finally said. “As your teacher, it is my duty to instil good social skills and civic responsibility. So the best way I can help you ‘try’ is by giving you a detention every time you cross the line.”
Peter shrugged. “Fair enough. Just don’t accuse me of cheating.”
Peter looked sceptical. “So you believe me?”
“Innocent until proven guilty, hm?”
Peter huffed. “Well, that’s a big fat ringing endorsement, thanks.”
Mr. Li shook his head at him. “I know you are intelligent, Mr. Parker. There is no doubt in my mind that you can get these high grades if you are working hard.”
“No 'but'. I supposed it would strain credulity to deny that I might need to re-evaluate my approach of you.”
“Say what now?”
“Remarkably limited vocabulary,” Mr. Li lamented. He held out the plastic bag. “In simpler terms; let’s try a fresh start. Now, help me carry these to my car and then we’ll call it even.”
Chapter 26: Contagious
A request from Alyx. I did take some liberties with the request, hope that’s OK!
“Mr. Parker wishes me to inform you that he is sick,” FRIDAY notified Tony one Saturday morning.
Tony looked up from his laptop. “He’s sick?”
“No.” FRIDAY replied.
Tony needed a moment to process that. “Are you malfunctioning? Is he sick or isn’t he?”
“Mr. Parker wishes me to inform you that he is sick,” FRIDAY repeated. “But he is not sick.”
Another beat of silence. “Are you saying he’s faking it?”
“I’m merely presenting you with the facts,” FRIDAY told him. “Mr. Parker wishes me to inform you he has a ‘freaking bad case of stomach flu’ and that he threw up.”
“Did he throw up?”
Right. “Okay,” Tony said. “Thanks FRIDAY, tell him I’m coming up.”
“Mr. Parker is on his way down,” FRIDAY reported. “He claims to be in dire need of tea with honey.”
Okay. The kid certainly knew how to play his cards right. But two could play at this game. Peter wanted to be sick? That could be arranged.
“Hey kid,” he said when Peter poked his head through the doorway a few minutes later.
“Hey. I’m sick.” Peter said.
“Yeah, FRIDAY told me. Stomach flu, huh?”
“Yup,” Peter said as he shuffled in. He was wearing his pajamas and had his blanket wrapped around his shoulders. “So – uhm – I’m just gonna lie down on the couch.”
“Okay…” Tony said slowly, following Peter’s movements as the kid padded towards the couch and sank down on it, wrapping the blanket around himself.
He left his laptop at the kitchen table and approached the couch, hovering next to it for a while as he watched Peter. If today were a school day, Tony would have assumed that Peter was trying to weasel his way out of a test or a boring lesson. But today was a Saturday, so what was he up to? “Did you have any plans today?” He asked. “Uhm, anything I should cancel?”
“Nope, nothing,” Peter murmured. He coughed. It sounded almost convincing. “Can we watch a movie?”
“If you’re sick, you should really just sleep,” Tony said. He knew how much Peter hated doing nothing.
And indeed, Peter looked very unsatisfied at his suggestion. “Last time I was sick, we watched movies together all day!” He said. “And you made tea.”
Somewhere in Tony’s brain, the clues began to add up. “You want tea?” He asked.
Tony went back to the kitchen to boil the kettle. And to think. He hadn’t spent much time with Peter in the workshop this week, simply because he had recently finished a large project and was now waiting for inspiration to hit him. Was it possible that Peter was pretending to be sick just so Tony would watch movies with him all day? That would be… well, adorable, but also a little heartbreaking.
He took the tea back to the couch and handed it to Peter. “What movie do you want to watch?”
“Don’t care..” Peter murmured. “Something fun. You’ll watch it with me, right?”
“Of course.” Tony sat down and waited a few seconds before dropping the bomb. “You know kid, if you want to spend time with me, you can just ask me. You don’t have to pretend to be sick.”
It stayed quiet for a moment. “FRIDAY snitched on me, didn’t she?” Peter finally asked, chagrined.
“Yup, right off the bat.”
“Goddamnit…” Peter muttered, before pushing the blanket away. “Well, fine, I’ll get dressed.”
“Don’t be silly, come on,” Tony said, pushing him back down with a steady hand. “Look – why didn’t you just ask me?”
“I just really wanted to watch a movie. And the only time you ever watched a movie with me was when I was sick. You don’t usually do stuff like that.”
“That’s true,” Tony agreed. “But still, you could have asked. You can ask for stuff you want, all right? I won’t always say yes, but I won’t brush you off either, you know?”
“I know…” Peter said, looking put out and a little embarrassed.
“So, do you want to watch movies all day?” Tony asked.
“Well, yeah, but –“
“So ask me.”
“Ask you what?”
“Ask me if I want to watch movies with you all day,” Tony said patiently.
“I already did!”
“Not in that half-baked way. Ask me properly!”
Peter looked a little exasperated. “Dear Tony Stark, will you please watch movies with me all day, sincerely Peter Parker?”
“Well, I had a meeting planned around lunchtime – but hang on,” Tony fished out his phone and dialed a number, waiting for the other person to pick up. “Hi Nelly, listen, I can’t come to the meeting today. My kid has a bad case of stomach flu,” he lied easily. Next to him, Peter made a muffled noise and bit his hand to stop himself from laughing.
“Yeah … Yeah, we’ll postpone it. … Thanks, Nelly! See you then.” Tony put the phone down. “She hopes you feel better.”
“I can’t believe you did that!”
“Really? Because it’s exactly the kind of thing I always do. Now – let me have half of that blanket.”
They were half way through the first movie when Pepper entered the room. “Hello my boys! Have you both had breakfast?”
“Yeah..” They said in unison.
“You look snuggly,” Pepper commented as she eyed the blanket they were hiding under.
“We’re both sick,” Tony said.
“What?” Pepper exclaimed, walking closer. “What do you mean?”
“We have the flu.”
Pepper planted her hands on her hips, narrowing her eyes. “Is it man flu?”
“Yup,” Tony said. “Will you fluff up my pillow?”
Pepper rolled her eyes. “Scooch over, you big babies,” she said, before joining them on the couch. “What are we watching?”
They were half way through the second movie when Happy appeared in their living area, looking Tony up and down. “Are you going to the meeting dressed like that?”
“I forgot to call you,” Tony said. “I’m not going to the meeting. Peter is sick.”
“I’m sick..” Peter echoed, sticking out his bottom lip and looking at Happy with wide, innocent eyes.
Pepper wisely kept her mouth shut.
“He threw up three times today,” Tony continued. “It was not a pretty sight.”
“The third time I threw up all over Tony,” Peter added. “It got stuck in his hair, and-“
“Okay, thanks, I don’t need the details!” Happy interjected quickly, holding up a hand. “Bottom line is, you don’t need me?”
Tony tapped a finger against his chin. “Well, you can bring us some coffee if you want.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” was Happy’s only reply to that, and he marched back towards the elevator.
They made it to movie four before anyone else appeared in the living area. This time, it was Clint, carrying a big bag which he dumped on top of the kitchen table.
Tony looked around. “Are you leaving?”
“Are you dense?” Clint asked, offended. “I’m not leaving, I’m arriving. I just got here, I haven’t been here in weeks!”
“Oh. Yes, of course. You’ve been dearly missed,” Tony assured him.
“Good to see you again, Clint,” Pepper said, warmly. “How are the kids?”
“Horrible,” Clint replied with a smile. “Glad to be rid of ‘em for a few days.” He approached and sat down in an arm chair. “So what’s with the retirement home vibe in here?”
“We are all sick,” Peter explained.
“Yeah. I have the flu. Pepper has a cold. And Tony has diarrhea.”
“I thought I smelled something,” Clint said without batting an eye and Peter laughed.
Clint reached out and laid a hand against Peter’s forehead. “Well, you don’t feel warm,” he established. “But better safe than sorry. Do you want some chicken soup?”
“Yes, please!” Peter nodded vehemently.
“I’ll get right on that,” Clint said, getting up again.
When the credits of the fourth movie started rolling, even Peter seemed to have had enough. “What’s for dinner?” He asked as he stretched lazily.
“Haven’t thought about it yet.”
“Shall we make pancakes?” Peter suggested.
Tony looked at Pepper, who gave a little nod of permission.
“Sure,” he said. “FRIDAY, please ask everyone whether or not they want to join for dinner.”
He got up to and they moved to the kitchen to gather all the ingredients while Pepper and Clint stayed on the couch, chatting about farm life.
“Thanks for today,” Peter said, a little shyly.
Tony shook his head. “You don’t have to thank me for spending time with you, kid. I just wish you’d feel comfortable asking me for anything you want, whatever it is. I like doing things for you, okay?”
“Okay..” Peter said with a tiny smile. “I’ll try.” And he started cracking eggs into a bowl.
“Don’t sneeze into the batter!” Clint called from the couch. “I don’t want to catch that stomach flu.”
“Don’t worry, Clint,” Tony replied. “I’m pretty sure it’s not contagious.” And he ruffled Peter’s hair before reaching for the mixer.
Time to produce some extraordinarily wonderful pancakes.
Chapter 27: One step at a time
Steve had never gotten a phone call from Peter, so he had to do a double take when his phone buzzed and he saw the kid’s name appear on his screen.
He picked up. “Hello?”
“Hi – Steve?” Peter sounded nervous. “Uhm, are Tony or Pepper there?”
“No, do you need them?” Steve asked, already getting up to go look for them.
“No!” Peter said quickly. “Can you come pick me up, please?”
Steve blinked. “Pick you up? From school you mean?”
“Yeah. It’s really important. Please?”
Steve frowned. “What’s going on?”
“I’ll tell you when you’re here, okay? Will you come? Pleeeeeaase?”
How could he refuse? “I’ll be there in about half an hour.”
Steve pulled up in front of Midtown Tech and leaned back in the car seat, fishing out his phone to let Peter know he had arrived. Only seconds after he had sent the message, Peter called him again.
“Okay, here’s the deal,” the boy said, speaking quickly. “See that dude with the beard and the blue coat near the gate?”
Still highly confused, Steve lowered his head a little to peek out the window. He spotted the man Peter was talking about; chubby, with a patchy beard and a baggy coat, leaning against the stone pillar near the front gate, staring at the school’s entrance. “Yes.”
“Okay, that’s my uncle. I’m gonna walk past him real quick and then we hop in the car and – “
“Hang on,” Steve interrupted with a deep frown. “He’s not allowed to be here.”
“Yeah, no shit,” Peter bit out. “Why do you think I called you and not Tony? Dude would freak out. Can we just get out of here?”
“Sure,” Steve said, figuring that this was not the right time and place to start a discussion. “You see my car?”
“Yeah, I’m coming out.”
Steve hung up and then lifted his phone again to snap a picture of Ben in case he would need the evidence later. If the man thought he was gonna get away with this, he had another thing coming. Realizing that Peter would still have to walk past Ben to get to the car, Steve got out so that he could interfere if necessary.
He saw Peter come out the front door; hood up, head ducked between his shoulders, approaching with hurried strides.
Ben noticed him too, and stood up a little straighter. “Hey – hang on!” He said when Peter came closer, reaching out a hand to stop Peter from leaving the terrain.
“Don’t touch me,” Peter snapped, stepping out of the way.
Steve moved forward. “Is there a problem here?”
Ben gave him a dismissive glance. “No. Get lost. This is my son, so mind your own business.”
“Well, it just so happens I’m here to drive Peter home,” Steve calmly said. “So, you wanna change that story?”
Ben seemed a little taken aback at this new information, and Peter used the opportunity to quickly step around him and move to Steve’s side, pulling his arm with a pleading expression. “Steve, let’s go.”
Ben huffed. “Well – I just need to talk to him for one moment. No need for him to be such a pussy about it.”
Steve set his jaw. “If I were you, I’d be a smart man and go home,” he told Ben. “Oh, and prepare some tea for when the cops come over, because I promise you, they will. C’mon Pete, we’re leaving.” He put an arm around Peter’s shoulder and they turned away from Ben.
“I wasn’t finished!” Ben bellowed. He stepped forward and put a hand on Peter’s shoulder.
That turned out to be a mistake. Before Steve could even react, Peter whirled around and his fist shot out, and the next moment Ben was lying on his back on the sidewalk, clutching his right arm as he yelled in pain.
Peter stepped back, looking a little shocked. “Well – that was your own damn fault!” He snapped.
Ben pushed himself up a little with his good arm, still panting with pain. “You’ll pay for that! And I mean that literally! Argh – shit. I have to go to the hospital! You little shit, you broke my arm! I’m going to sue you six ways from Sunday!”
“Let me see that,” Steve ordered brusquely as he knelt in front of Ben. Hmm. It didn’t actually look broken. But definitely a dislocated shoulder. Well, damn. That complicated matters. Steve didn’t really know Ben Parker, but based on what he did know, he wouldn’t put it past the man to actually sue. Now, Steve couldn’t let that happen, could he?
Ben was still groaning, cursing a blue streak. Steve ignored him and turned back to Peter, who looked pale. “I should drive him to an Emergency Room, I guess… Are you okay getting home by yourself? You probably shouldn’t come along.”
“No,” Peter said quickly. “Fine. It’s fine. I’m… I’ll find my way home.”
“I hope you get hit by a bus!” Ben snarled.
“Shut up,” Steve told him.
The drive to the emergency room was about the most unpleasant ten minutes of Steve’s life. And that was saying something.
“Still hasn’t improved his behavior one bit, I see!” Ben ranted. “What else can you expect? He never was worth a squirt of piss, just like his damn parents who were stupid enough to get themselves killed! And don’t for one second think you can dump him on my doorstep again once you get tired of him. Learned my lesson the last time, yes I did! He’s your problem, now.”
“He’s not a problem,” Steve said shortly.
“If you really think that, then you’re a goddamn idiot. This is the second time he’s put me in the hospital. Fucking kid is a menace, I’m telling you, you’ve no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into. You’d think he’d learn to control himself but no siree Bob! He’ll be behind bars before he’s off age, mark my words!”
“If you don’t shut up now, I’ll dislocate the other shoulder, too!”
When Steve finally arrived back at the tower, emotionally drained from the endless barrage of insults and complaints he’d had to hear, Peter was waiting for him in the lobby by the entrance and ran up to him with a nervous expression. “Hey.”
“Hi - - Hi, Peter,” Steve said, stopping and looking him up and down. “Are you okay?”
“Fine,” Peter said quickly. “Is he pressing charges or anything?”
“No. We made a deal.”
“Okay,” Peter continued, shuffling his feet. “Uhm – in that case we don’t need to tell Pepper or Tony, right?”
Steve gave him an incredulous look. “Please tell me you’re joking?”
“Look, I’m really sorry I punched him,” Peter said with pleading eyes. “It just happened – can we forget about it?”
“You’re sorry…” Steve said slowly. “You’re sorry.”
“Can we forget about it?” Peter repeated.
“No.” Steve said curtly. “But if you prefer, you can talk to Pepper and Tony yourself.”
He could practically see the little wheels spinning in Peter’s head. “Yeah, that’s fine.” The boy finally said. “I’ll talk to them.”
Steve had his dinner in his own room to give Peter time to talk to Tony and Pepper. He tried to focus on something else, but he just found himself replaying today’s events in his head over and over again. He kept glancing at the clock, feeling restless. As soon as he felt he had given Peter enough time, he went downstairs.
There, the atmosphere was suspiciously tranquil. Tony and Natasha were sitting at the kitchen table: Tony was writing out some list, Natasha read the newspaper. Steve hovered next to the table for a while, eyeing Tony. The man didn’t look as if he had recently received very upsetting news.
Well, here it goes. Steve cleared his throat. “Peter told you what happened today?”
Tony looked up, blinking as Steve’s words sunk in. “What happened today?”
Right. Steve couldn’t say he was surprised, but had Peter really expected that Steve wouldn’t check to see if he’d actually talked to Tony?
So he sat down and told the whole story, how Peter had called him that afternoon, the confrontation with Ben, and the drive to the emergency room. “I made a deal with him.” He finished. “He doesn’t sue about the shoulder, we don’t sue about the restraining order.”
Tony had listened to the story without interrupting, although his eyes were flashing dangerously. “Huh. That’s not the Captain America I know. Aren’t you all about doing things by the rules?”
Steve was getting a little tired of that reputation. Just because he was one of the few Avengers who didn’t have a complete disregard for safety regulations? “I’d rather make things easy for Peter.”
Tony slammed a fist down on the table. “Then let’s start by throwing his uncle in jail! The man hasn’t got a leg to stand on – he broke his restraining order, and the shoulder thing was self-defense!”
“Self-defense is a tricky subject,” Natasha warned him. “I mean, Ben didn’t attack them, he was just being a major dickwad. No doubt, with the lawyers you can pay for, you’ll get Peter off the hook. The question is, do you really want to put him through a lawsuit?”
Tony grumbled. Steve knew he wouldn’t want to put Peter through a lawsuit, but he clearly didn’t like the idea of Ben getting away with violating his restraining order for the second time in a year, either.
They didn’t get much time to talk it over, though, because suddenly Tony fell silent, froze and looked at a spot to Steve’s right. When Steve turned, he saw that Peter had entered the room and was now watching them with suspicion.
‘Hey Peter,” Tony said carefully. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine!’ Peter snapped. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
Not off to a great start.
“Steve told me about today’s incident,” Tony continued, stepping around the table to approach Peter.
Peter’s face turned ashen and he turned to Steve. “You promised you wouldn’t say anything!”
“I gave you a chance to talk to Tony first. You missed it.”
He had expected that Peter would be unhappy about this, but he didn’t anticipate the explosion of anger that ensued. “Fucking asshole! Are you kidding me?” Peter shouted, his skin flushing with anger.
Steve blinked, surprised. Peter had never sworn at him like that.
“Why can’t you ever mind your own fucking business!” Peter continued his rant. “I’m not a goddamn child, let me take care of my own problems!”
“Language, kid,” Tony warned, lifting a hand to put it on Peter’s shoulder.
“Piss off!” Peter shot back, shrugging the hand off and turning away.
Tony grabbed his arm. “You’re not leaving! I want to discuss this with you.”
“Yeah and NONE OF YOU give a SHIT about what I want, do you?” Peter yelled at the top of his lungs.
“Peter – calm down!”
“FUCK YOU! Let go of me!” Peter bellowed, trying to twist himself free.
“Or what, you’ll dislocate my shoulder?”
With a snarl, Peter ripped his arm from Tony’s grip and turned on his heel. He stormed out of the room, but with Tony in hot pursuit. Steve could hear slamming doors and yelling voices, further and further away until it was quiet.
He turned and exchanged a look with Natasha, who looked a little pale.
“Peter? Come on, open the door.”
Tony sighed, leaning against Peter’s closed bedroom door and wondering how to best handle the entire situation. Should he just bust his way into the bedroom or did Peter need time to cool off?
“FRIDAY, ask Pepper to come up here,” he said quietly.
“I’m NOT talking to Pepper either!” Peter yelled from behind the door. Damn his super hearing.
“FRIDAY, override the lock. Peter, I’m sorry, but I’m coming in,” Tony announced, and after hearing a click he pushed against the door to open it.
He spotted Peter on the bed – or rather, he assumed that the lump buried under the blankets was him. Well, at least the kid was on the bed and not under it. That was new.
“Fuck off!” Peter bellowed from underneath the blankets. That part wasn’t new.
“Yeah?” Tony challenged, stepping closer. “And then what? We never talk about what happened today?”
“There’s nothing to talk about!”
“You know there is.”
“GET. OUT. ASSHOLE!!”
Tony had never seen Peter this angry. And there wasn’t really a reason for the kid to be angry at him, so Tony just went ahead and assumed that really, something else was going on.
“I won’t talk or ask questions,” he offered. “Can I just sit with you?”
“What’s the point of that?”
Tony took that as permission and sat on the edge of the bed next to the pile of blankets. Pepper always said that silence was the best way to get Peter to speak his mind. So he leaned his head in his hand, looking around the room. It was ridiculously small by his standards, but Peter much preferred it that way. And there were books everywhere. The desk, the floor… Tony even spotted a few books webbed to the ceiling for some reason.
“What’d he tell you?” Peter finally asked in a small voice, muffled even further by the layers of blankets.
“That your uncle showed up at school, you had words,” Tony said, keeping his voice carefully neutral. “Dislocated his shoulder, Steve made a deal with him that he wouldn’t sue.”
He heard a first sniffle, a shuddering intake of breath. “It was an a-accident.”
“I know it was.”
“But it wasn’t!” Peter cried out. “I mean, it was but it wasn’t. I just g-got so angry at him.” He was definitely crying now.
Tony sighed, lifting a hand to put it on top of the blankets, slowly rubbing Peter’s back. “Peter, I promise you, I don’t blame you for a moment.”
“Why the hell not!?” Peter exclaimed. “I literally f-f-fuck everything up everywhere I g-go.”
“Really, Pete? Everything? Everywhere?”
Peter didn’t answer. The crying continued unabated, though, so Tony rubbed his back some more. He really wanted to dive under the blanket and hug Peter until all the bad feelings were gone, but he knew that Peter wasn’t ready for a hug yet, so he waited.
“It’s just so s-scary that it can happen so easily,” Peter hiccupped. It’s like sometimes I just … I just forget I have spidey strength. What if it h-happens again?”
“I literally wouldn’t give a damn if you broke both his legs,” Tony announced, although he realized as soon as he said it that that might not be the type of thing a responsible parent would say.
“I don’t mean him!” Peter cried. “What if I get into a fight with someone else and I lose c-control?”
“There’s no reason worry about that, just because it happened this once.”
“It happened t-twice,” Peter blubbered. “I g-gave him a concussion when I was f-fourteen and that’s why I moved out.”
Tony stilled his arm as he processed this new information. “What?”
Peter started sobbing even louder now, and it was clear that they had reached the crux of the matter. “I p-pushed him down and that g-gave him a concussion. And then I f-f-figured I shouldn’t come home anymore b-because I’m d-d-dangerous. What if I get into a f-fight with you or Pepper and I hurt you too?”
Tony felt a little out of his depth. How long had the kid been worried about that? He knew that it would never happen. But he didn’t know how to convince Peter of that. Why the hell wasn’t Pepper here yet? No – no wait. He could handle this.
He began by taking a deep breath. “Pete, let’s start by making one thing clear: Your uncle was an abusive drunk and an utterly incompetent guardian. He’s the one who messed things up. And all this time you’ve been beating yourself up because you shoved him back one time? And you ‘moved out’ to protect him? Don’t you see that that’s just proof that there’s nothing dangerous or bad about you? You put literally everyone else’s wellbeing before your own.” He paused for a moment to wait for a reaction, but Peter said nothing. The sobbing had subsided a little, though, so Tony assumed that he was listening. “As for you ‘hurting’ me or Pepper: I hardly think the messed up relationship you had with your uncle can be compared to what we have, can it?”
“N-no..” Peter admitted, sniffling. “But that doesn’t mean I won’t s-screw it up. I just always feel like I’m not really a good person. Like, inside.”
“Yeah, well, you know what? That’s what happens when you live with someone who treats you like crap. They talk bullshit the whole time, but when you’ve been hearing it for so long, you start to believe it. And now Pepper and I are working our asses off trying to undo the damage he did. Because it’s not true, Peter.”
The pile of blankets finally moved, and a moment later Peter showed his face - well, part of his face at least – and peeked at Tony with red-rimmed eyes. “You don’t really know that. I’ve only been here a year. And in that year I’ve started fights and pissed off board members and ran away from home..”
“That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, that just means you’re a teenager,” Tony informed him. “Everyone has done bad things in their life, literally everyone. It’s part of being human. Pepper used to steal her teacher’s toupee in elementary school. Not once, but like, four times. Made the poor guy so stressed out that he had to quit his job.”
Peter pulled the blanket further down, staring at Tony skeptically. “You made that up!” He accused.
“Nu-uh,” Tony said. “Ask her later. We all do things we regret. I could list my own shortcomings, but we’d be here all night. No one is expecting you to never make mistakes. But generally, Pete, believe me: The world is a better place because you’re in it. That’s what it’s about.”
“But I wanted to hurt him. And then I did. That’s messed up.”
Tony reached out and smoothed Peter’s hair back from his face. “Listen, kid, maybe if you had dislocated his shoulder and then walked around here boasting about it, I would lecture you a little. Not even that much. I’d still understand. But instead, you’re in here crying because you feel so guilty. The only thing messed up about that is that you’re blaming yourself for what he did to you. He’s the one who apparently thought it was a good idea to violate his restraining order just so he could yell at you some more.”
“But what if it happens again with someone else?” Peter repeated his earlier question, his eyes stormy with worry.
“It won’t,” Tony said with conviction. “What you have with your uncle.. that stuff runs very deep and that’s why you lash out. How many fights have we had by now? You’ve had plenty of reasons to punch me in the face and you never did.”
“I don’t know …. I don’t trust myself.”
“I trust you,” Tony said. “Maybe that’s enough?”
Peter appeared to think about that for a while. Then, he sat up, leaving his blanket fortress to scoot closer to Tony. “M’sorry,” he mumbled.
God, this kid… Tony pulled Peter close with a long exhale. “Are you apologizing because your uncle is a scumbag?”
“No..” Peter said, and it sounded like he almost chuckled. “I mean for yelling and stuff.”
“Ah yes,” Tony said. “That was quite impressive. I think Steve will feel better if you apologize to him, too.”
“Yeah,” Peter murmured. “Can’t believe you said ‘language’.”
“Totally did!” Peter said, finally smiling a little and lifting his hand to wipe his tear-streaked face with his sleeve.
They sat in silence for a little while longer. Tony absentmindedly rubbed Peter’s back, while wondering how long it would take to recover from a dislocated shoulder. He hoped it was very long. FRIDAY probably knew. This didn’t seem like the best time to ask her, though. But speaking of which…. “FRIDAY, where the hell is Pepper?” He asked. “Didn’t I ask her to come up?”
“Miss Potts is waiting on the eleventh floor,” FRIDAY reported. “She thought it would be best to wait downstairs and let you two talk. Should I ask her to come up after all?”
“No,” Peter said before Tony could react. “Let’s go downstairs.”
Tony leaned back so he could look Peter in the eye. The kid wasn’t crying anymore, but he still looked like hell. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah. I wanna know if you were telling the truth about that toupee.”
“What’s with the long faces?”
Steve looked up as Sam sunk down in an armchair, eyeing them all with raised eyebrows. “Do we need a round of twister to cheer everyone up? – ouch!” He glared at Natasha, who had leaned over and punched him lightly in the shoulder.
“There was a little incident with Peter’s uncle today,” Steve explained. “And now Peter is upset.”
“He’ll be fine,” Pepper said. “Tony’s with him.” She was the only one who didn’t seem worried, calmly sipping her tea as she leaned back into the couch. Steve honestly thought she had a lot of faith in a guy who had been classified more than once as a ‘textbook narcissist’.
Sam leaned forward and poured himself some tea, too. “Did he get hurt?”
Steve shrugged. “Not physically. Actually, Peter managed to dislocate the guy’s shoulder.”
“Oh, good,” Sam said, liberally adding teaspoons of sugar to his tea.
“I don’t think Peter would agree with that,” Natasha commented.
As if on cue, the elevator doors opened and Peter shuffled out with Tony in his wake. He looked pale, with watery, red-rimmed eyes. Tony put a hand on Peter’s back and guided him closer to the couch.
Pepper lowered her teacup, setting it back on the table as she looked him up and down. “Hi honey...”
“H-hey,” Peter mumbled, shuffling his feet and not looking at anyone. “Steve, I’m sorry I yelled at you..”
Steve felt his heart clench and reached out to squeeze Peter’s arm. “Pete, it’s okay. Really, it is.”
Tony gave him a curt smile, before patting Peter on the back. “Have a seat, kid.”
“Want some tea, Peter?” Sam asked.
“Yeah,” Peter murmured, before climbing onto the couch next to Pepper, wrapping his arms around her waist and leaning his head against her shoulder.
“Hey sweetie,” Pepper said, lifting her free hand to stroke his hair. “Rough day, hm?”
Peter mumbled something incoherent.
Sam handed him a mug of tea and Peter sat up a little straighter to take it, cradling the mug in both hands. “Hey Pep – did you ever..? I mean… Did you actually…?”
“Here’s the thing,” Tony cut in smoothly, leaning back in an armchair and putting both feet up on the table. “Peter thinks he is a bad person, because his uncle was an asshole who made him feel like a bad person.”
Peter gaped at him. “Tony!”
Tony ignored him. “I then explained that everyone does bad things sometimes and that he’s no exception. He didn’t believe that. So I told him about the time you stole your teacher’s toupee.”
“What?” Pepper yelped.
“What?” Natasha exclaimed at the same time, leaning forward. “Did you? Did you?”
“C’mon Pep,” Tony said with a big smirk. “Tell us all about it. It’ll make Peter feel better.”
“Oh god…” Pepper said, going a little red. “Well - I don’t know what was wrong with me. In my school we had swimming lessons, and for some reason I hated them with a passion. The teacher had a toupee and he took it off every time we went to our school swimming lessons. I stole it from his bag and threw it in the pool when he wasn’t looking. I figured it would cut our swimming lesson short. Well, I was right. He started screaming murder and made us all leave, but he never found out who did it. I managed to do it three more times. After the fourth time he sent us all straight home and the next day he called in sick. He never came back.”
Tony was cackling with glee, clapping his hands together.
“It’s not funny!’ Pepper exclaimed. “Being a teacher is a tough enough job without having to deal with little punks like me. Whenever I think about it I feel terrible. I hope the poor man is okay now, I wish I could send him a card or something. He wasn’t even a bad teacher, I just hated swimming.”
Tony poked Natasha, who sat next to him. “What about you, Romanoff, feel like sharing?”
“Uhm, no,” Natasha said. “I was KGB, remember? Suffice it to say, I wish stealing a toupee was the worst thing I ever did.”
“Fair enough,” Tony said. “Kid, Natasha did bad things once, but we like her now, right?”
“That’s different,” Peter murmured. “That was, like… indoctrination.”
“It’s not that different,” Natasha told him. “It actually surprisingly similar.”
“I got one for you,” Sam said, diverting attention away from Natasha. “When I was young, there was this kid in my street who was always nasty to me. He was obsessed with cars, and he always lugged a bag around with little toy cars that he would play with and he wouldn’t let anyone else touch them, which always made me angry. This one time I was at the playground and spotted his bag by a tree somewhere. So I shook all those toys out and then crushed them under my boot like a psychopath. Then I hid in a bush to wait for him to come find his bag, which he did after about ten minutes. He cried, man, did he cry. Bawled his eyes out as he crawled across the ground, collecting all the pieces. I thought I would feel satisfied about it, but I felt horrible. I couldn’t sleep that night. The next day I took all my pocket money, went out and bought him a load of new car toys. We actually became friends after that.”
“..and that’s the story of how Sam and I met.” Steve added, nodding.
Peter, who had covered his mouth with both hands during Sam’s story, now made a squeaking noise. “What?”
“Just kidding,” Steve said with a grin. “I grew up before the war, remember?”
Tony turned to him. “What about you, then, Captain ‘goody-two-shoes’ America? Any dark secrets in your past? Surprise us.”
Steve looked contemplative for a while. “I stepped on a bug once.”
Tony stared. “Fucking A star, Rogers. You’d better come up with something better, unless you want to be responsible for Peter thinking he’s a bad person?”
“Relax Stark, it was a joke. I stole a car when I was fifteen.”
Tony pulled his feet off the table and leaned forward, slamming his hands down on the wooden surface. “You stole a car. YOU stole a CAR?”
“I also was a best man at someone’s wedding once and then lost the rings.” Steve continued. “That was right before the war. Oh, and I accidentally set fire to a shed when I was about twelve.”
“Hold on!” Tony exclaimed. “Hold on a damn second! I… I don’t even know where to start. You stole a car?”
“Oh yeah,” Steve said. “Everyone got a car in the twenties, and then during the great depression people suddenly couldn’t pay for gas and these things were just rusting away in the streets. The one we stole belonged to my neighbor, a middle aged man. I had found out that he kept the car keys in his shed which he didn’t even lock, so we took them. We were planning to just go around the block once to see what it was like, and then bring it back. Of course, we were too stupid to realize that not having gas would be a problem for us, too. After only a few minutes, the car started spluttering and gave up. So then we had to push it all the way back. My neighbor didn’t find out, but one of my friends really got in trouble because a friend of his mom’s spotted us pushing the car back home. And his mom was a fearsome lady.”
“Do you feel bad about it?” Peter asked quietly.
Steve set his teacup down, carefully considering his response. “Well, sure,” he said. “A little. I know it wasn’t right. But we were young and dumb. And I think I made up for it since then. No point dwelling on it.”
Peter eyed his teacup contemplatively. Pepper lifted a hand to tuck a strand of Peter’s hair behind his ear. “So what about your regrets, honey? I sure hope giving your uncle a well-deserved kick in the butt isn’t one of them?”
“I don’t know.. I guess not..” Peter murmured. “It’s not that. I mean, it’s not just that. I don’t even know anymore. But I guess… I guess everyone does bad shit sometimes.”
“Point made!” Tony called out, raising both hands above his head. “Tony wins another round!”
Pepper ignored him, instead steering the conversation into new territory. “And the next time your uncle contacts you, hm?”
“I know…” Peter muttered, ducking his head. “Call you or Tony.”
“We’ve discussed this before,” Pepper said.
“And yet you didn’t call us today.”
“Yeah….” Peter said again, clearly having great difficulty meeting her eyes. “I just didn’t want to turn it into a whole thing. But I guess it did turn into a whole thing.”
“We can only help you with problems you don’t hide from us, you know,” Pepper continued. “I don’t care if you think it’s stupid, or if you think you did something wrong. We’re happy to help you with anything. Because you’re a really good person. Will you just believe me on that? You have so many good qualities.”
“Oh really?” Peter said, looking skeptical. “Name one.”
Well, he did ask.
“To start with the most obvious ones,” Tony said, “you’re pretty much the brightest, most gifted, most resourceful person I know. You could turn a radio into a helicopter using only a hammer!”
“And you’re really good company,” Natasha added. “You have a good sense of humor, you’re not afraid to speak your mind and you have cool views on a lot of things.”
“You always want to do the right thing,” Steve said. “And you’re determined to get it done. You’re idealistic, and sincere, and compassionate…”
“And you make the best pancakes,” Sam cut in with a grin.
“Okay, okay,” Peter protested. “I said ‘name one’!” He was smiling, though, and leaned back into Pepper’s side. “You guys are all so nice..” he mumbled.
“We’re not really,” Natasha said, an amused glint lighting up her usually stoic face. “We’re just nice to you because you’re a sweet kid.”
“Yeah..” Peter said with a smile, for the first time not deflecting the compliment. Which was progress.
Steve felt like he could have kept naming good qualities for hours. But he mentally filed them away for another day when Peter might need another pep talk.
After all, these things needed to be dealt with one step at a time.
So instead, he poured himself another cup of tea and told the story of how he unintentionally dropped two wedding rings to the bottom of a lake during a fishing trip. And how he accidentally set fire to a shed that his friends’ father had just finished building with his own two hands. Because he could tell the stories cheered Peter up.
One step at a time.
Chapter 28: The couch incident
Tony scratched his head as he surveyed the mess around him. It wasn’t that bad, really. This could be fixed.
His stomach dropped to his feet when he heard the elevator bell. He turned, and was relieved to see Peter step into the living area. “Peter. Oh – good. I thought Pepper got home early.”
“Why would you be - - Holy shit. What happened here?” Peter faltered in his steps, taking in the mess around him. “Was there an earthquake on just this floor or something?”
Tony lifted his chin. “I had to get some work done.”
“Which involved cutting the couch in half?” Peter asked, pointing.
Tony looked back towards the two halves of the couch, lying on their sides, feathers scattered everywhere. It looked like a furniture murder scene.
“My suit’s laser got a bit out of control,” he admitted. “I wanted to try this new thing where I my lasers would change colors as I shot them.”
Peter picked up a piece of metal shrapnel, turning it over in his hands as he looked at Tony. “You mean you want to attack your enemies with disco lasers?”
“Yeah, why not?”
“You make a lot of weird choices,” Peter told him.
Tony raised an eyebrow. “You are one of them.”
Peter spread his hands, smirking. “Exhibit A.”
“Would you just help me? We gotta clean all this up and then go out and buy the exact same couch and get it back here before Pepper gets home.”
Peter narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “Why before Pepper gets home?”
“Because this morning she claimed that reprogramming my suits in the living area ‘always ends in disaster’,” Tony said, mimicking Pepper’s voice. “And I told her she was being dramatic. So now I need to prove my point.”
“So you want me to help cover up your blunder, and lie to the woman who took me into her home?”
“Basically. Are you in or out?”
Cleaning the living area mostly involved shoving all the pieces of shrapnel into the elevator and taking it down to Tony’s workplace where they kicked it into a corner. Tony could deal with that later – Pepper hardly ever came down here anyway. Next, Tony asked FRIDAY for the address where they had bought their couch, and they drove down there to see if they could find a match.
Thankfully, there were hardly any other customers at the store. There were a lot of couches, though.
“What about this one?
Peter shook his head. “Slightly too dark.”
“It looks the same, but….” Peter sat down on it. “No. Too soft.”
“What about that one?”
“That one has flowers on it, Tony.”
“We’ll tell her we had a creative mood and decided to paint it,” Tony suggested, feeling slightly desperate.
“You want to tell Pepper we painted the couch?” Peter repeated, dead-pan.
“Got any better ideas?”
“Wait – I think I see it!” Peter exclaimed, jumping up and rushing over to a corner. “Look!”
And indeed, it was a perfect match. Tony heaved a relieved sigh. He had never in his life been this happy to see a couch. “Awesome. Let me go pay for this thing.”
The couch didn’t fit in the elevator, so it had to be carried up the stairs.
“I’ll do it,” Peter offered.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Tony said. “Why would I let a scrawny kid like you drag this couch all the way up to the eleventh floor?”
“I have super-strength,” Peter reminded him. “No offense, but it’s easier for me to just do it myself than having to do it with you.”
Point taken. Watching Peter singlehandedly lift up a couch and carrying it up eleven flights of stairs was quite a sight.
Peter gently placed the couch down where the old couch had been, and he and Tony stepped back to admire their work.
Tony was pleased with the result. “Do you see any difference?”
Peter cocked his head. “Maybe move it a few inches to the right? So it’s lined up with the carpet.”
“Good eye,” Tony complimented, throwing his full weight against the armrest and moving the couch into a better position. “What about the cushions?”
“Perfect. Hang on - - no, yeah, perfect. Hey, and didn’t there use to be a stain on the armrest over here?” Peter pointed.
“Oh yes! That’s where I almost made a burn hole when I was reprogramming my suit in here last time.” Tony tapped his finger against his chin. “We’ll recreate it…. Let me grab my soldering iron!”
“You really want to burn a hole in your brand new couch?”
“I need to prove a point over here, kid!”
Once everything was perfectly in place, they went downstairs and innocently hung around in the lobby, until Pepper walked in the door a mere twenty minutes later. Tony was very much looking forward to seeing the look on Pepper’s face when she saw their spotless living area. He had even put some fresh flowers in a vase on the kitchen table for that extra touch.
“Hi there!” Pepper said when she spotted them. “Were you waiting for me?”
“We were just hanging out,” Tony said dismissively, standing up. “Welcome home!”
“Why, thank you!”
The three of them stepped into the elevator, and Pepper pressed the button for the eleventh floor.
Tony half expected an interrogation, but Pepper didn’t appear to be very concerned about the state of her living room. Instead, she turned to Peter. “How was school today, honey?”
“Pretty nice. Someone pulled the fire alarm,” Peter said. “It wasn’t me!” He added when he saw the look on Pepper’s face.
“All right,” she said in her ‘if you say so’-voice. “Shall we order sushi for dinner?”
“Don’t you want to know how my project went?” Tony asked.
Pepper blinked. “Oh. Sure,” she said. “How did your project go?”
“You’ll be happy to know that everything went well, and our living area is spotless,” Tony told her.
“Ah. So you managed to put in that light-show feature you wanted?”
“Oh – well, no. I decided against that.”
“Probably a wise decision,” Pepper said with a smile, just as the elevator stopped and the doors slid open. Pepper pecked Tony on the cheek, and left the elevator. Tony hung back and turned to Peter. “Thanks again, kid,” he said quietly. “We made a good team today.”
“You owe me one,” Peter told him.
“Tony?” Pepper called out.
“Why is there a completely different couch in our living room?”
Chapter 29: United front parenting
Based on AshleyParker2815's prompt.
Pepper checked her watch, then opened her briefcase to take out some paperwork. It was Thursday, around 5 PM and Happy had just informed her that he had departed from Avengers tower in their van, which meant that he wouldn’t be at their hotel until near midnight.
She and Tony were in Montreal at the moment, having arrived by private plane the previous evening. Meeting business partners, attending conferences… None of it was very exciting. The upside of being in Montreal was that Tony didn’t have a workshop to hide himself in, and so he didn’t have any excuses to skip meetings and let Pepper do all the work. She glanced at Tony, who was sitting on the bed, on top of the covers, his face illuminated by the screen of his laptop. “Do you want to go out for dinner?”
Tony pursed his lips contemplatively. “I don’t know… I kinda feel like hanging out here and ordering room service. Unless you wanted….?”
“No,” Pepper said. “Room service sounds nice.”
A quiet night in.
The quiet lasted until around 9 PM, when Pepper’s phone started buzzing: A video call from Peter. She lifted the screen and answered the call. “Hello, honey!”
The image was dark and grainy, and the sound wasn’t great, either. She could barely make out the outline of Peter.
“Hey Pep!” Peter said. “How is Canada treating you?”
“Very well. As always,” Pepper said. “Where are you? It’s very dark over there – and what’s all that noise, are you outside?”
“Oh – it’s nothing,” Peter said, evasively. “I was patrolling and just found a little corner somewhere.”
Tony had jumped off the bed, leaning in so he and Pepper shared the screen. “Hey, buddy!”
“Hi Tony. I miss you guys!”
Tony looked skeptical. “We’ve been gone for one day. And we’ll be back Sunday evening.”
“Still, I miss you. Next time you leave, can you not tell Steve that he’s in charge? He’s taking it waaaay too seriously. Can I come to Montreal?”
“Please? I’ve never been in another country.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Pepper asked. “Tomorrow is Friday, it’s a school day.”
“But I miss you!” Peter whined. “And don’t we learn way more from real life than in a stupid school? Don’t you see how enriching the experience would be for me? I’ll learn about your business stuff, and I will practice my French! Please?”
“C’mon, Pep, let him come!” Tony chimed in.
Pepper gave him a flat look. “Ever heard of united front parenting?”
“Nope,” Tony said. “What’s that? Sounds boring.”
“Tomorrow is a school day,” Pepper repeated, but her resistance was wavering. She had already been feeling guilty about going on a business trip with Tony and leaving Peter with the other Avengers. It made her feel like a bad parent.
“I’ll bring my schoolbooks and everything! Pleeeeeaase? Just this once Pep?”
“Oh, very well,” Pepper finally relented. “I suppose missing one day can’t hurt, just this once. If you promise to do all the homework. And I will make sure you actually practice your French.”
Peter’s face split into a wide grin. “Awesome!”
“We’ll just have to figure out how to get you here. You could take an early train tomorrow. It will take quite a long time, but you can fly back with us on Sunday - ”
“Yeah… about that… You’ll be pleased to hear I’ve already figured out a solution. Because I’m in the back of Happy’s van right now, so I’ll be there in about two hours!”
“You - - what?”
Cursing loudly, Happy slammed his foot on the breaks, steering the van onto the shoulder where he came to a full stop. He opened his door and marched around the van, throwing open the back doors.
Peter blinked at him, sheepishly, his phone still in his hand. “Hi!”
“Yeah – he’s here,” Happy said into his earpiece. “I’ll deal with him.”
He pointed a finger at Peter. “You – get your ass in the front seat. You have any idea how dangerous it is to sit in the back like that?”
It was nearly midnight when Happy and Peter arrived at the hotel. Pepper and Tony were waiting in the lobby, carrying similar deep frowns.
“Thank you so much, Happy,” Pepper said, taking out a keycard and handing it to him. “You’ll join us around lunchtime tomorrow?”
“Yes,” Happy said, with a grumpy look at Peter. “Have you informed Steve? Because he’ll freak out when he notices the kid is gone.”
Tony merely gave a short nod, so Happy nodded too, took the keycard and left without another word.
Pepper and Tony turned their attention back to Peter, who was shuffling his feet.
“Sorry about that,” Peter said with a grin. “But you said I could come, right?”
“We booked you a room,” Pepper said curtly, taking out a second keycard.
Tony slammed a fist down on the table in front of him, making Peter jump a little. “Not cool. Just because we’re putting a roof over your head for the night doesn’t mean we’re not royally pissed off!”
“I said I was sorry!” Peter exclaimed. “What, you want it in writing?”
“What I want is for you to even remotely sound like you mean it! Hiding in the back of a van – do you know how dangerous that is?”
“Yeah, I do,” Peter said impatiently. “Happy ranted about it for two hours.”
Tony talked right over him “ - Not to mention you decided to just come out to Montreal without permission even though tomorrow is a school day.”
“You gave me permission!”
“When you were already nearly here!”
“It’s the same thing!” Peter exclaimed, looking frustrated.
“It’s not remotely the same thing,” Pepper said calmly. “Manipulating us into agreeing to something you had already done... I have half a mind of putting you on the next bus back to New York.”
“Well, fine!” Peter snapped. “I wouldn’t have come anyways if I knew you were gonna be such assholes about it.”
“Hey!” Tony barked, pointing a finger at Peter. “Too far, kid.”
Pepper thrust the keycard at Peter. “Just take that, go to your room and stay there! I don’t want to see you again until breakfast tomorrow.”
“You’re a goddamn tyrant!” Peter snarled back, before snatching the card up and storming out.
Tony watched him leave before turning to Pepper. “You don’t want to talk this out before we go to sleep?”
“Oh no,” Pepper said in a low, dangerous voice. “I think I want him to let him stew on this for a while. At what time does the first train or bus to New York leave tomorrow morning?”
Tony took out his phone. “I’ll look it up. But honestly, I don’t know if we should send him away. Then he’ll be angry with us and we’ll be angry with him and we’ll be four hundred miles apart for three more days with no chance of talking it out. I don’t like that idea.”
“What do you suggest?”
The next morning around seven AM, Tony and Pepper made their way downstairs to the breakfast buffet. They were early, and the restaurant was relatively quiet. But even so, Peter had apparently gotten up even earlier, because he was already sitting in a corner booth, eating.
When Peter saw them approaching, he quickly put down his fork, eyeing them warily.
Giving Pepper a tiny bow, Tony let her slide into the booth first, before sitting down next to her.
“Morning. Did you sleep well?” He asked Peter nonchalantly.
Peter gave him a bleary look. “What do you think?”
“I for one slept like a baby,” Tony said. “Orange juice, Pep?”
“Ooh, yes please. And could you pass me a napkin?”
“Anything for you, my dear.”
“Can you just yell at me already?” Peter burst out, a pleading look on his face. “I fucked up, all right? Can you just hit me over the head or something? I can’t deal with this… You know I can’t deal with this…”
Pepper gave him a frosty look. “I haven’t heard an apology yet.”
“I’m SORRY!” Peter said. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry-“
Pepper finally allowed a smile to soften her features. “Does he sound like he means it?” She asked Tony.
“Yeah, I’d say he does,” Tony judged.
Peter blew out a long breath. “You guys are killing me…”
“It’s called united front parenting,” Tony informed him. “Apparently.”
“And apology accepted,” Pepper added. “How long have you been down here?”
Peter still looked uneasy, his eyes hooded. “Umm - About an hour.”
Pepper quirked an eyebrow. “You’ve been eating for an hour?”
“I didn’t have dinner yesterday.”
“Hm,” Pepper said, frowning. “You didn’t bring any food with you on your ‘journey’?”
“I know.. It was my own stupid fault… blah blah blah..”
“It was stupid, yes,” Pepper said. “But you could have mentioned something. We may have been angry, but we’re not going to withhold food as a punishment. That would be inappropriate.”
“Well - ” Peter started, before catching himself and picking up his fork again. “It doesn’t matter anyways..” He mumbled. “Um… so… Am I going back by bus or what?”
“We’re not sending you home.”
“You’re… You’re not?” Peter’s wide, hopeful eyes were enough to make anyone’s heart melt.
Pepper wasn’t about to admit that, though, because she was supposed to be angry. “No. We want to keep you here, where we can keep an eye on you. And as long as you’re here, you might as well use the time to learn something.”
“Yes,” Tony added. “Which is why you’re going to write us an essay. ‘Why it was a stupid idea to stowaway in a car to Montreal, and ten things I learned while I was there’. Five pages long at least. On my desk by Monday, please.”
Peter gaped at him. “That’s a fucking joke, right?”
“You wanna make it ten pages?”
“And in French?” Pepper added, smirking.
“Okay - you’re enjoying this way too much,” Peter said, pointing his fork at her.
“Well, I am a tyrant, after all,” Pepper shot back.
Peter had the decency to look embarrassed at that. “I didn’t mean that,” he mumbled, going back to pushing his scrambled eggs around his plate.
“It’s up to you,” Tony said. “Write the essay, or get on the next train back to New York.”
“All right!” Peter said. “I’ll do your stupid essay.”
“I’m adding another page for every snarky comment you make!” Tony warned him.
“I’ll do your essay,” Peter corrected himself.
Tony nodded. “Good.”
“We’ll make sure you have plenty to learn,” Pepper said. “You’re going to the The Redpath Museum of natural history this morning, and after lunch you can walk to the library to study French in their Language Laboratory.”
Peter looked a little confused, now. “You’re punishing me.. by sending me to a museum and a library? You know I’m a geek, right?”
“Are you requesting a different punishment?”
“No,” Peter said quickly. “I’ll go.” He pushed his plate away, then looked up at them through his lashes. “So – are you not angry anymore, then?”
“Okay,” Peter said, shuffling in his seat. “Then can I…? Can we…?” He faltered, but Pepper had a pretty good idea of what he was trying to ask.
“Come here, you,” she said, opening her arms and folding Peter into a warm embrace.
Tony moved around the booth to get in on the hug, squeezing both of them tightly. “We love you, you hooligan,” he said, and Peter chuckled weakly.
“We should eat,” Tony told Pepper after a few seconds. “We have to leave in about half an hour.”
They all sat up straight and Tony left to get some waffles for himself and Pepper.
“So where are you guys going today?” Peter asked.
“Tech conference all day,” Pepper replied, not feeling too thrilled about it.
“When are you done?”
“Around dinner time.”
“So we have dinner together?”
“Okay,” Peter said, looking pleased. “I did miss you guys, you know.”
Pepper studied him for a while. The scrutiny seemed to make Peter feel a little uncomfortable, because he ducked his head and looked away. “Do you think we work too much?” Pepper finally asked.
“Didn’t mean it like that…”
“I worry about it sometimes…” Pepper admitted, taking a sip of her orange juice.
“Why?” Peter asked, his brow furrowing in confusion. “Apart from these business trips, you usually work from home, so you’re always close by.”
Peter gave an unbothered shrug. “Well yeah, but I can work with Tony in his workplace and I know I can always come to you when I have a problem, no matter how busy you are. And we have dinner together every night. That’s the whole reason why I missed you this week. It’s not because I never see you, it’s the opposite: It’s because I’ve gotten so used to us all having dinner together, so it felt weird to eat my dinner with just Steve.”
“All right,” Pepper said slowly, feeling a little better.
“Do I need to get you a mug that says ‘world’s best mum’ on it?” Peter asked with a smirk.
Pepper lowered the glass of orange juice, giving Peter a look that was amused, exasperated and fond all at once. “You are a sweetheart.”
“Speaking of sweet hearts,” Tony said as he appeared next to them, “tadaa!” He set down a plate of heart-shaped waffles in front of Pepper.
“And hey,” he added as he sat down, “if Peter gets to go sightseeing, maybe I can-“
“No!” Pepper interrupted, cutting into the waffles.
“-but there’s two of us and they only need-“
“Don’t you dare abandon me at this boring convention!” Pepper warned him. “You’re coming.”
“Do I have to?”
“Yes. Today we work, tomorrow we work, Sunday we all go sightseeing together.”
Tony grumbled and Peter grinned.
The following Monday afternoon, Tony found the essay, neatly placed on his desk, with a rather long title:
‘Making it to Montreal: An argumentative essay on the pros and cons of united front parenting, or: un essai argumentatif sur les avantages et les inconvénients de présenter un front commun face à un enfant. By Peter Parker. Peace out.’
Chapter 30: Asking for what you want
“What do you think?”
Tony turned the screen of his tablet towards Peter to show him the picture. Peter looked up from his homework, though he didn’t stop chewing his pencil. “What am I looking at?”
“Our new pied-à-terre in Spain.”
“All I see is a big pile of sand.”
“Well, it’s an empty lot now, but I’m going to have something built so we can go there on vacation. Also, do we not feed you enough?”
Peter locked eyes with him, a small confused frown on his face. “What?”
“I mean, there’s still some leftovers in the fridge, you don’t have to eat all our pencils.”
Peter pulled a face at him. Tony smirked, before turning the tablet back towards himself. He scrolled through the pictures. “Perfect location, great view, nice and secluded… I’m thinking five bedrooms in case we want to bring guests.”
“Can we put in a swimming pool?”
Tony looked up at Peter, who was leaning his head in his hand, his homework forgotten. “You want a swimming pool?”
“And a hot tub,” Peter added.
The corners of Tony’s mouth tugged up into a smile. “Well, someone knows what he wants. Portable hot tub or in-ground?”
“Oh, yeah,” Peter said. “Because I buy hot tubs all the time so I definitely know the difference. Do I get my own bedroom?”
“Can I get one of those big round waterbeds?”
“Why don’t you compose a list of requests?” Tony suggested, feeling more amused by the second. For someone who had always preferred to sleep in the smallest bedroom in the whole building, Peter certainly didn’t seem to mind a little luxury. Peter – who was still chewing his pencil, by the way.
Tony had learned to recognize this as a tell-tale sign, so he gave Peter a stern look. “You wanna tell me what you’re stressed about? Before you chew that thing in half?”
Peter let the pencil drop to the table and huffed out an exasperated breath. “Can’t a guy do his homework in peace around here?”
“Ever heard of lead poisoning? Pencils can kill you.”
“Pencils contain graphite, not lead,” Peter informed him, a tad snootily. “The only way you could kill someone with a pencil is if you’d stab them with it.”
“Would you just tell me what’s bothering you?”
Peter dropped his eyes back down to his books and started doodling randomly in the margins of his math homework. “Darcy is retiring.” He finally murmured.
Tony froze for a second. Then, he shut his tablet off and put it away. “Oh. Like, right away?” He hadn’t met Darcy very often, but he knew Peter was very fond of his therapist.
“No. In a few months. January. The school is making her retire, they say she’s too old. They’re hiring someone new.”
“You want me to send a lawyer down there?”
Peter gave him a dark look.
“I’m not even kidding,” Tony said.
Peter didn’t respond, instead continuing his doodles. “Well, she’s starting her own practice from home,” he tentatively explained. “So, um, I could go to her house for sessions. But then obviously it won’t be free anymore. It’s just twice a month, though, and… well… you’re rich. So I figured you wouldn’t mind.”
“Twice a month? I thought you were going every Wednesday?”
“That was before the summer. I’m doing better now, so we changed it.”
“Oh,” Tony said, feeling a little bad for not knowing that.
“So, I can go, right?” Peter asked. “I know I can’t stay with her forever but I just really like her. … Why are you grinning like some idiot?”
Tony gave a mild shrug. “I like that you’re asking for what you want. Albeit a bit apprehensively. Of course you can go.”
“It’s just that therapy is quite expensive.”
“Yet you have no problem requesting things like a hot tub and a waterbed,” Tony teased.
Peter smiled and continued his doodles for a while. After a few minutes of silence, he suddenly asked: “Do you think it’s weird I’m in therapy?”
Tony blinked. “No, of course not. Why would I think that?”
“Dunno...” Peter murmured. “We never really talk about it.”
“Well, I didn’t want to push you,” Tony slowly said. “But we can talk about it if you want.”
Peter stayed quiet so Tony went first, asking something he actually had been wondering about. “What do you do with her? Just... talk?”
Peter shook his head. “We play games. And we discuss my homework. The homework she gave me, I mean. She gives me these sort of exercises that I have to fill out.”
“Do you talk about me?” Tony asked. He realized as soon as he asked it that the question made him sound a little self-conscious. Maybe that’s why Peter was giving him a knowing smile. “All. The. Time.” the kid said.
Tony adopted a smug look again. “Only good things, I assume. Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, and all that.”
“We talk about how you act superior to mask deep-seated feelings of insecurity,” Peter said in tones of mock-innocence.
Tony punched him lightly in the shoulder. “You hooligan.”
Peter just grinned.
“But she doesn’t know about the Spider-Man stuff, does she?”
Peter shook his head. “No. But that’s generally not even relevant anyways. We discuss other stuff.”
“Did your uncle know you received counseling?”
Peter’s grin fell. “Yeah..” he said unhappily.
“Did he think it was weird?”
“Of course. But he thought everything I did was weird, so it didn’t matter.”
“It’s not weird,” Tony assured him. “It’s… brave.”
Peter sent him a smile, before picking up his eraser and getting rid of all the doodles on his math homework.
Tony took that as a sign that Peter had said everything he wanted to say on the subject, and turned on his tablet again, scrolling through the pictures.
Peter wiped the eraser residue away, then gazed at Tony’s tablet for a little while, before finally speaking up again: “Can we put a giant slide in the pool that starts from the roof?”
“No,” Tony said. “Now you’re going too far.”
“C’mon! It would be awesome!”
Tony threw an arm around Peter’s shoulder and pulled him closer, ruffling his hair with his other hand. “Sorry kid,” he said. “But that’s life. You can’t always get what you ask for.”
Chapter 31: The science fair
Based on a prompt by SpookyNudist [nice user name :-) ]
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“…because an excited nucleus that does not disintegrate in some other way will usually drop down to lower energies through the emission of photons in the gamma ray range. But sometimes it gets stuck in a metastable state that takes far longer to – Are you still with me, Peter?” Bruce reached out and snapped his fingers in front of Peter’s face.
Peter blinked, looked at him, then gave a sheepish grin. “Sorry. Thinking about something else.”
“That much is clear,” Bruce said with a gentle smile. “Do you want me to continue, or is there really no point in that?”
“Actually..” Peter said. “Would you mind taking a look at my project for the science fair? It’s in a few weeks, but I’ve already finished it.”
Ah, science fairs. Back in the day, Bruce’s own high school hadn’t been interested in organizing anything like that, so Bruce would simply experiment in his basement at home, driving his parents crazy. If only his younger self had known he would end up pretty much living in his very own laboratory, where he could listen to Mozart, drink herbal tea and wear soft woolen socks as much as he liked, while experimenting with anything he put his mind to.
“I’d love to see it.”
Peter returned a few minutes later, depositing his project on Bruce’s desk. “It’s a LEGO robot.”
“Interesting,” Bruce said, pushing his glasses up higher, rolling up the sleeves of his knitted sweater and leaning forward, giving the robot a tiny push. “Is it one of those with a color sensor, that can follow a black line?”
“Similar concept,” Peter said. “It’s a robot that can search a room autonomously, detecting dangerous chemicals. It uses a porous silicon chip that temporarily changes color when the chemicals touch it, and then a sensor in here detects the changed color. So, you know, it could be used for finding chemicals without having to expose humans to them.”
Bruce stared at him. For a long time. So long, that Peter started to look a little concerned. “Where did you get the sensor?” Bruce finally asked.
“I... made it?” Peter said, looking as if he was worried he had done something wrong. “I used a tiny light that bounces off the silicon chip, and then a photodiode to convert the light into an electrical current. When the chip changes color, the light bounces off differently, so the voltage changes. – Do you think it’s any good?”
“If I had a yearbook right now I would vote you ‘most likely to cure cancer’.”
“That would be awesome.” Peter said earnestly. “So you think it’s good, then?”
“I think they might as well just hand you a PhD,” Bruce said, carefully picking up the robot to study it from all sides.
Peter went a little red. “It’s not that good.”
“No, that was a hyperbole,” Bruce agreed. “But it is very good, nonetheless. If I’m not mistaken, this thing will attract all the attention at the science fair.”
“Oh,” Peter said, suddenly looking unhappy. “You really think so? I mean… It’s just LEGO.”
“That’s beside the point entirely,” Bruce assured. “It’s about the concept. If scientists were to use the sensor and the porous silicone, and simply build a stronger robot, it could be useful for all sorts of things – even Mars exploration! I highly doubt any of your classmates will produce anything up to this standard.”
“Hm,” was all Peter said. Bruce looked at him over the rim of his glasses, giving the boy a knowing smile. “Not looking forward to being the center of attention?”
“Maybe I’ll just make a model of the solar system, instead…” Peter muttered, shuffling his feet. “How does that sound?”
“Like a plan incongruous with reason,” Bruce said eloquently, carefully placing the robot back on the desk. “That would be a waste of a great idea.”
“I won’t waste it… I mean, if you think people can use my idea, maybe we can send it somewhere?”
“I should be able to get into contact with researchers who study the properties and potential applications of porous silicon,” Bruce confirmed, nodding. “I would certainly like to tell them about your idea, whether you decide to use it in the science fair or not.”
A few days later, Tony suddenly appeared in Bruce’s lab. “Did you know about Peter’s school project?” He demanded.
Bruce put down his tea and tilted his head. “Which one? His DNA research for biology, his robot for the science fair, or his essay on drought patterns for geography?”
“The robot, of course,” Tony said. “And what the hell are drought patterns? No, never mind, not interested.” He started pacing the room. “Apparently Peter made some Nobel Prize-winning robot and now he doesn’t even want to take it to the fair!”
“Ah,” Bruce said. “So he is going for that model of the solar system, then?”
“You talked him into that?”
“No. But I may have given him cold feet to some degree,” Bruce admitted. “Either way, I hardly think it matters.”
“It’s just a science fair, Tony,” Bruce said. “And he prefers to keep a low profile. It doesn’t mean he is discarding his ideas. In fact, he has already asked me to get in touch with researchers who could use his invention.”
“But this thing could make the front page!” Tony complained, clearly missing Bruce’s point. “And a model of the solar system? His classmates are just going to find that lame!”
“Maybe you care more about that than he does.” Bruce suggested gently. “Cup of rooibos tea?”
When Peter next came down to Bruce’s laboratory to work on his homework, he looked decidedly more grumpy than last time. It was only two days until the science fair, and Bruce had a pretty good idea of what had put Peter in a bad mood.
“Tony says I should bring the robot to the science fair,” Peter said unhappily, when Bruce asked him about it. “Do you think I should?”
“I think you're putting yourself under too much pressure over the whole matter.”
“But Tony said if I don’t do it, I’m underachieving!”
“Yes,” Bruce said with a soft smile. “Tony has a way of presenting his opinions as facts, especially the more specious ones.”
“You think he’s wrong?”
“I think he’s imagining himself in your position. Whenever Tony creates something unique, he needs the world to know about it, because that’s Tony. He maybe doesn’t fully understand that you are fine with people using your ideas without anyone making a big deal about it. He probably feels that it wouldn’t be fair to you – he’s just looking out for you. At any rate, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to showcase your talents to the world in the future. You’re only sixteen.”
“So you’re saying it’s better not to take this thing to the science fair?”
“You misunderstand me,” Bruce said, shaking his head slightly. “I don’t think anything is better than anything else. Just do what you want to do, not what other people want you to do. Care for some cinnamon tea?”
“There,” Peter firmly declared to his audience of Avengers, setting down a 3D model of the solar system that showed all the planets and their trajectories around the sun, on their living room table. “This is what I’m taking to the science fair, and that’s that.”
“Nice job on Neptune,” Natasha complimented randomly.
“What’s that?” Bruce asked, pointing at a round, flat, cardboard object Peter still held in his hand. It appeared to have lots of lines and numbers on it, and several rotating parts.
“That’s the astrolabe.”
“What?” Tony asked.
“Astrolabe,” Peter repeated impatiently. “It’s a very important historical instrument that was used in antiquity to identify planets. It uses a stereographic projection and a turning board. I recreated one so that I can demonstrate how it worked, using my model of the solar system. My version includes trigonometric scales and a tympan to convert equatorial to ecliptic coordinates and vice versa.”
Tony gaped at him, clearly only having understood half of that explanation.
“Well, that sounds great, honey,” Pepper said.
“I thought so,” Peter said, satisfied. He picked his solar system back up. “I’ll just go put on some finishing touches, then.”
Tony waited until Peter had exited the living area, before eagerly turning to Bruce. “Do you think he’ll make the front page?”
Bruce couldn’t help but chuckle. “I don’t know, Tony. We’ll see. Anyone up for a cup of chamomile tea?”
1) Peter’s project was inspired by Anna Simpson, who won prizes in 2009 with her science project: A Chemical-Sniffing LEGO Robot.
2) Also, I’d like to mention again that English is not my native language and so please feel free to point out spelling mistakes, or any strange choice of words, or just leave general ‘that’s not how things work in the US’-comments. I won’t be offended at all! I’d be happy to improve my writing that way.
Chapter 32: The do-over
A prompt by FixYou1394
Tony knew he had fucked something up badly when he opened his eyes and recognized the ceiling of their medical bay. His first order of business: Wiggling his toes. Which they did, so... yeah, at least he wasn’t paralyzed from the waist down. His head felt fuzzy from what had to be some sort of pain killer. And he did feel the weight of something heavy on his chest, but not in an uncomfortable way. He looked down and spotted a mop of messy, brown hair that could only belong to one person.
“Pete?” He asked, but the boy didn’t stir. Leaning to the side a little, Tony could see that he was fast asleep. Peter was stretched out on the bed, along Tony’s side, head on Tony’s chest and one arm slung around him.
And he looked fine. A little peaky, but fine.
Tony did not yet remember what had happened …. but he did remember that Peter had been right there with him when it had happened.
Closing his eyes and taking a steadying breath, Tony tried to make sense of his fuzzy brain and reconstruct the events leading up to this. “FRIDAY, how long have I been in here?”
“Since yesterday afternoon,” FRIDAY immediately informed him.
That’s right… he had picked Peter up from school to take him out for ice cream… and then what had happened? … Something about Peter’s spidersenses going haywire … There had been an explosion … And then Peter told him … No, wait, he had told Peter to wait in the car …
The door opened and Pepper stood in the doorway, one hand resting on the doorknob, her eyes fixed on Tony. “How is he?”
For a moment, Tony thought she was asking him about Peter, but FRIDAY responded smoothly: “Stable and alert.”
“And perfectly capable of speaking on his own behalf,” Tony added, his voice somewhat slurred.
Pepper seemed to deflate a little, then stepped inside, closing the door behind her. “Certainly sounds like you’re back to your old self.”
Tony rubbed his forehead. “I just remember a building collapsing on top of me.”
“Yes,” Pepper said. She started smoothening out the wrinkles in his sheets with precise motions, her lips pressed into a thin line.
Tony frowned as he tried to recall what had happened after that.
“Peter pulled you out.” Pepper explained, as if reading his thoughts. “And got you back here.”
Tony hummed, looked down at the kid again. “Did he get hurt?”
“From what I understand he got a nasty burn on his arm. But it had healed before he even arrived back at the tower.”
Tony carefully rubbed a hand up and down Peter’s arm to make sure that his kid was really in one piece. “Isn’t he supposed to be at school?” He asked after a few moments of silence.
Pepper pursed her lips, her eyes flickering to Peter’s face. “Yes,” she said. “He has been… distraught. The teachers sent him home.”
“Why was he upset?” Tony asked, still wrecking his brain to try and remember all the details about yesterday. “Was he in danger?”
Pepper stared at him, looking like she was trying to figure out whether or not he was being serious. “He was upset because you got hurt, you dunce. He watched a building explode with you inside.”
“Oh. Right,” Tony said, feeling a little embarrassed. “Am I OK?”
“You are now,” Pepper said. “Your suit mostly did its job. But somehow your arc reactor was malfunctioning for a while, so it was a close call. Bruce and Helen managed to fix you up.”
“Gas explosion,” Pepper said. “Yes. The great Iron Man almost brought down, not by a super villain with vast and awesome powers, but by a gas leak.” She said it without any trace of humor in her voice.
“Peter warned me that something was wrong in that building as we drove by,” Tony said slowly, his memories seeping back in. “And then FRIDAY detected elevated methane levels. I was still getting everyone out when… Shit. Anyone dead?”
Pepper shook her head. “Four injured. Not including the two of you.”
“That’s a freaking miracle.”
“You saved them,” Pepper said, with a tiny smile this time.
“Did my suit survive?”
“It’ll probably need some repairing. We left it down in your workshop.” Pepper reached out and slowly carded a hand through Peter’s hair. Tony noticed a worried look on her face.
“Are you okay?” He asked her.
“Yes,” Pepper said. “It was pretty scary, though.”
Pepper leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. “You’re fine now,” she said. “Get some more sleep.”
When Tony next woke up, it was in the middle of the night, and the room was quiet apart from a slight whirring from the machine next to him. When Tony turned his head, he saw that the room wasn’t empty after all. Someone was sitting in the window sill, his dark silhouette standing out against the night sky.
The kid yelped and fell to the floor with a dull thud. “Ouch!” He said, glaring up at Tony.
“Do you have any idea what time it is?” Tony demanded.
“Ten past three.” Peter replied.
Tony huffed impatiently. “Why aren’t you in bed?”
“Couldn’t sleep,” Peter muttered, getting to his feet. “How are you feeling?”
“I had hoped for a few nice morphine-induced hallucinations,” Tony joked. “But I guess I’ll make this work.”
Peter glared. “That’s not funny.”
“It’s a little funny.”
“No it’s not,” Peter tersely informed him. “Are you hungry? Thirsty?”
Tony lifted an eyebrow. “Are you my nurse?”
“Just tell me if you’re hungry!” Peter bit out.
“Would you stop being so angry?”
“Then stop cracking jokes!” Peter snapped.
“Since when do you not like my jokes?”
“Since you almost died, you asshole!”
“Well, I’m fine now,” Tony assured him. “No reason to be upset.”
“Well, FUCK YOU!” Peter yelled, his skin flushing with anger, his voice cracking. “I have to dig your unconscious body from a pile of rubble and FRIDAY tells me if your arc reactor doesn’t get fixed soon you might DIE and you’re telling me NOT TO BE UPSET?”
“Okay…!” Tony said in a soothing voice. “Okay.. C’mere.” He held out a hand to Peter and Peter reluctantly took a few steps forward, his whole posture screaming resentment. Tony leaned out and grabbed Peter by the sleeve of his pajamas, pulling him closer.
“And also, by the way, I never liked your jokes,” Peter went on, sniffling slightly. “They are corny and lame and… and snobby.”
“I know,” Tony said, tugging at Peter’s arm. “Come on..”
Giving in, Peter climbed onto the bed and snuggled up next to Tony. “And if any of you guys die too I don’t think I could get over it.” He mumbled.
“Yes you could,” Tony firmly said, wrapping an arm around Peter. “It would really suck, and it would suck for a long time. But a lot of people care about you, and you would find a way to move past it eventually.”
“That’s not what I want to hear!” Peter complained. “I want you to promise that you’re not going to die!”
“Even though I realize that I am pretty much the greatest person alive,” Tony said airily, “I don’t control life and death. So I can’t possibly promise you that I won’t die. None of us can. I could choke on a peanut tomorrow!”
“Well, ain’t that just a big fat bucketload of comfort?” Peter muttered.
Tony sighed as he tried to think about how to best explain himself. How did normal parents prepare their children for the possibility of death? – Did they even at all? Finally, he decided just to be honest. “I don’t really know what I’m supposed to say,” he admitted. “I don’t want to make you feel bad, but I don’t just want to talk bullshit, either. Of course I’ll try not to die, but it could happen to anyone, that’s just how it is.”
Peter grumbled a little.
“If it makes you feel any better,” Tony continued, “I definitely have more motivation to keep myself safe than I used to. Because I have you now. But when people are in trouble, I have to help them. If anyone can understand that, it’s you, right?”
“I do understand that..” Peter murmured. He shifted on the mattress, rolling onto his side a little more and slinging one arm around Tony, assuming the same position Tony had found him in when he had first woken up. “It was just scary. And I’ve never seen Pepper cry before… Or heard Bruce yell that much. You should leave better instructions on how exactly that arc reactor works.”
Tony hadn’t really realized until this moment how the events must have impacted everyone else. Suddenly he wondered how he would have felt if he had had to dig Peter’s body out from under a building, and the mere thought made his stomach clench, so he pulled Peter even closer and dropped a kiss in his hair. “I’m sorry I scared you.”
“S’okay... I forgive you.”
They must have fallen asleep after that, because the next thing Tony knew, sunlight was streaming through the curtains, his head felt clear, and Pepper and Bruce were hovering over them.
“How is he?” Bruce asked.
“Stable, alert and - I believe - perfectly capable of answering for himself.” FRIDAY summed up.
Tony smiled. “Thanks, FRIDAY.”
“No chest pains?” Bruce pressed.
“Nope,” Tony said. “In fact, I feel better than ever. Can’t remember the last time I slept this long. Good job on the arc reactor, buddy. I owe you one.”
“You owe me about a hundred by now,” Bruce pointed out. “I’ll leave you all to it, then.”
As he left, Pepper sat down on the edge of the bed and Tony reached out to take her hand. “I know I already said this, but I’m sorry.”
She simply smiled. “It’s all right, Tony. You always gotta save the world, that’s just the man I fell in love with.” She then leaned in and carefully poked Peter. “Peter? Time to wake up, honey.”
“MmmmmMmm.. What time izzit..?” Peter murmured sleepily, lifting his head off Tony’s chest.
“Almost seven,” Pepper replied. “Do you want to go to school today?”
Peter sat up slowly, lifting a hand to flatten his messy hair a little. “Yeah… I’ll go.”
“Good,” Pepper said, reaching out and squeezing his shoulder before turning back to Tony. “I suppose it’s no use trying to convince you to take it easy for a day?”
Tony considered that for a moment. “I suppose it’s no use trying to convince you to take a day off? You know, so we can go out for lunch and celebrate me not being dead?”
Pepper smiled. “Hmmm.. consider me convinced.”
“Good,” Tony pushed the blanket away. “Come on, Pete. I’ll drive you to school. And this afternoon I’ll pick you up and we’ll go out for ice cream, okay? We’ll call it a do-over.”
“Do-over!” Peter agreed, leaning in to give Tony one final, firm hug. “Okay – I’ll go take a shower. See you at breakfast!” And he shuffled out.
“I’ll get dressed, too,” Tony said. “See you downstairs.”
“Yes,” Pepper agreed, leaning in for a quick peck on the cheek. “Let’s celebrate that we’re alive.”
Chapter 33: The mouse, the beetle and the catfish
For AntimonyAvenger who wanted a parent-Natasha moment.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Natasha settled in an armchair with a contented sigh, opening the book on Russian Folklore that Clint had bought her last week. She had started reading it several times, but something always seemed to come up and she hadn’t even finished the first chapter. This time, she wasn’t going to let anyone or anything keep her from engrossing herself into the rich and magical history behind Russian folk tales, not even -
Natasha didn’t look up, but slouched down in the armchair, lifting the book a little higher so her face was hidden behind it. She could hear Tony stomping closer, but still didn’t look up as the man came to a stop right in front of her.
“Something’s wrong with Peter, and Pepper is not here, and I have to leave for a conference right now.”
Natasha slowly lowered the book. She had promised herself to let no one distract her from reading her book – but Peter was the exception. “What’s wrong with him?”
“He’s….. in a bad mood.”
Natasha gave him an unimpressed look.
“I’ve tried to cheer him up, but nothing is working!” Tony complained. “And I don’t like seeing him like this. I must have told him about twenty jokes, but he just got annoyed with me.”
“You don’t say,” Natasha said, lifting her book again and turning the page. Tony was always a bit of a control freak when it came to Peter, especially when the kid seemed even a little unhappy. Which was adorable, sure. But also a little annoying.
“He says there’s nothing wrong with him and that he’s feeling down for no reason. But that doesn’t just happen!”
“What, you’ve never felt down for no reason?” Natasha asked, incredulously. “What a simple life you must lead.”
Tony impatiently waved a hand around. “Can you just go up there and do one of your magic tricks for him or something? The one where you make the ace of diamonds disappear? I have to leave, I’m late already.”
Peter was sitting on the balcony, his legs dangling over the edge, his forehead resting against the wooden railing as he watched the traffic below. He didn’t seem particularly unhappy to Natasha. In fact, he looked quite peaceful.
“A little chilly out here,” she commented as she stepped forward.
Peter didn’t move, but Natasha could see him blowing out a breath. “Did Tony send you up here to tell me a joke? I don’t need to be cheered up, okay?”
“Duly noted,” Natasha said, delving into her pocket and taking out an old postcard she had had for years. “I brought you something.”
Peter looked up and took the postcard, staring at the picture on the front. It was a colorful painting of a woman flying through a forest on her broomstick.
“It’s Baba Yaga.” Natasha explained.
Peter studied the postcard, running a finger across the picture. “Who’s Baba Yaga?”
Natasha sat down next to him, stretching out her legs. “Baba Yaga is many things. Sometimes a demon, sometimes a goddess. Sometimes she tricks people for a laugh, sometimes she is just evil. But I’ve always preferred the stories where she appears as a friendly spirit who helps the protagonist.”
“There once was a boy who never smiled,” Natasha said in a sing-songy voice, immediately launching into her tale. “No matter how hard anyone tried. And his father became desperate, promising that anyone who could make his son smile, would be appointed the leader of his giant tech conglomerate. And as soon as he had proclaimed this, people from all over the kingdom flocked to his company tower; princes and princesses, noblewomen and noblemen, soldiers and civilians. They told jokes and stories, they juggled and did tricks, but the boy would not smile.
There was one Russian woman who had lived at the tower for a long time. So long that she could still remember a time when the boy smiled a lot. And so she set out to find the thing that would make the boy laugh.”
“I didn’t know this woman was interested in becoming the head of a company,” Peter said, raising an eyebrow at Natasha.
“Oh no, she doesn’t care about the tech company,” Natasha explained. “She just wants to boy to smile again. She journeys through a large forest where, suddenly, Baba Yaga appears to her. She tells Baba Yaga the whole story. And Baba Yaga gives her a mouse, a beetle and a catfish, and tells her that these animals will help her solve the problem. So the woman returns to the tower with the mouse, the beetle and the catfish, and they all go up to the eleventh floor, where the boy is sitting on the balcony.
The woman sends the mouse to him, first. After a few minutes the mouse comes back and says: ‘I talked to him!’. And the woman looks at the boy, but he still isn’t smiling. So she sent the beetle to him. After a few minutes, the beetle comes back and says: ‘I talked to him!’. And the woman looks at the boy, but he still isn’t smiling. So she sent the catfish to him. After a few minutes, the catfish comes back and says: ‘I talked to him!’. And the woman looks at the boy, but he still isn’t smiling.
So the woman becomes angry and says to the animals: “You three are worthless! You were supposed to make him laugh!” And then the mouse shakes his head and says “It was never our job to make him laugh.” And the beetle says: “We just needed to tell him that no one is happy all the time.” And the catfish nods and adds: “And that it’s okay to be sad sometimes.” And then the woman finally understands that everyone has sad moments, but those moments pass. And it’s okay to be sad sometimes.”
Peter still didn’t smile, but an amused glint was lighting up his eyes. “Well maybe the woman should send the mouse, the beetle and the catfish to the father to tell him that.”
“Oh, the woman tried,” Natasha assured him. “But the father was a very stubborn man.”
“Who also cared a lot about his son and wanted him to be happy.” Natasha added.
Peter looked down at the postcard again. “Sure,” he said.
“…but the story is not really about the father,” Natasha continued.
“The only important thing is that the son realizes that it’s okay to be sad sometimes, no matter what other people say,” Natasha said.
Peter frowned a little, but the question weighing on his mind turned out to have nothing to do with being sad or being happy. “How did the catfish get to the eleventh floor?” He asked.
“Are you really asking me to get into the logic behind a fairytale?”
“Since you just made this up, yeah.”
“I did not make it up,” Natasha protested, pretending to be offended. “This is a century-old folktale. All characters portrayed in it are fictitious and any resemblance to persons living or dead is completely coincidental.”
“Sure,” Peter repeated, amenably. “Can I keep this?” He held up the postcard.
When Tony returned from his conference, the eleventh floor living area had a homely and cheerful vibe. Steve and Bruce were playing pool. Peter sat on the couch, grinning ear to ear as he battled Sam and Pepper in a game of Mario Kart. They didn’t even hear Tony come in. Natasha, who sat at the kitchen table reading some Russian book, did see him and nodded in greeting.
Tony set his suitcase down on the table and nodded back at her, feeling relieved. “Well done,” he said, with a meaningful glance at Peter.
“I didn’t do anything,” Natasha assured him.
“What do you mean you didn’t do anything?
“I don’t know what to tell you. A few hours went by and he just cheered up, all by himself. Has anyone ever explained to you how emotions work?”
Tony ignored the jibe. “So he’s fine?”
“He was always fine,” Natasha told him. “Being in a bad mood is fine. No one is happy all the time. But it’s sweet that you’re so worried.”
Tony lifted his chin. “I don’t worry, Romanoff. I simply observe.”
Natasha gave him a smile. “Aww, Tony. Don’t be defensive. It’s okay to be worried sometimes, you know.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Well,” Natasha said, leaning forward in her chair and folding her hands in her lap. “Let me tell you a little story about a mouse, a beetle and a catfish…”
Hello dear readers,
at the moment, I feel a little out of inspiration for new stories, and I don’t think I’ll be able to come up with anything new anytime soon. That’s why I labeled this one shot collection as ‘finished’ for now. As some of you know, this happened once before (after chapter 14) where I had a hiatus of a few months, and then inspiration came back and I started writing again. That may happen this time, as well, so maybe I’ll come back to this collection in a few months. But I can’t make any promises. Maybe this is it…
I still have some prompts from all of you on my list and I might get to them in the future, but once again, I can’t promise anything.
In the meantime, thank you all so much for reading and commenting. I just realized that it’s been a year since I started uploading ‘I told you I had issues’, my first venture into writing fanfiction. I’ve really enjoyed writing these stories, and I love how engaged you all are! Thanks again :-)
Chapter 34: The true Christmas spirit
I know it’s the middle of August, but according to my timeline it’s December in the Avengers world :-) So here’s a little Christmas cheer!
“Goddamn, it’s cold out,” Tony announced to the room as he stepped out of the elevator. “I’m staying inside for the rest of the day. No, scratch that, I’m staying inside until March at least.
His audience - consisting of Peter, Sam, Natasha and Bruce - didn’t look nearly as sympathetic as Tony thought they should.
“Relax, it’s not that bad,” Sam said.
“Easy for you guys to say,” Tony grumbled. “Look at you, sitting around the table sipping tea like a bunch of old British ladies.”
“This coming from the guy who has his own recipes for hot cocoa with marshmallows,” Peter quipped.
Tony playfully punched him in the shoulder. “Hot cocoa is a tough guys’ drink, don’t let anybody tell you different.” He took off his jacket and threw it in the general direction of the couch, then poured himself a large cup of steaming coffee before joining the rest at the table.
“Tonyyyy…?” Peter started, in a tone he usually reserved for when he needed a favor.
Peter adopted that puppy-dog expression that Tony could never resist. “Are you gonna buy a Christmas tree soon?”
Tony lifted an eyebrow. “It’s not even December yet.”
“It’s December tomorrow and literally everyone else in the world has already put up their decorations.”
“When you say ‘literally’…”
Peter ignored that remark. “Last year, Christmas was a total dud around here. And I didn’t want to say anything about it because I hadn’t been living here that long. But you guys didn’t even put any candles out or nothing! We just had that big-ass dinner that you didn’t even cook yourself. I’m used to having a proper Christmas, okay?”
“Did you celebrate Christmas with your uncle, then?” Tony asked, thinking that that didn’t really fit his image of Ben Parker.
“No, with my parents. And after that, with Ned and his mom. You could take a page out of their book. You’d barely even recognize their house around the holidays. That’s what I want around here, too.”
Tony didn’t feel too excited about that prospect.
“We can hang stockings, and put tinsel everywhere,” Peter continued, getting more and more enthusiastic. “And we’ll get a huge Christmas tree and decorate it, and put candles out, and hang lights, and get a big, stuffed reindeer! What do you think?”
“I’m allergic to pine trees,” Bruce said.
“I’m not much of a traditions guy, anyways,” Tony added.
“Some countries in eastern Europe decorate their Christmas trees with spiders and cobwebs,” Natasha said with a smirk.
“Peter’s afraid of spiders,” Tony reminded her.
“You guys are all lame!” Peter complained. “And I’m not afraid of spiders.”
“Don’t worry Pete,” Sam said, pointing a finger at him. “I feel you, buddy. We could use a little Christmas cheer around here.”
“Fine, fine,” Tony said, still feeling pretty indifferent. “I can hire a guy to set up a plastic tree, if that’s what you want.”
“We don’t hire a guy,” Peter protested. “I wanna do I myself, that’s the whole point.”
“God…” Tony muttered, taking a large sip of coffee.
“C’mon Tony,” Peter said, looking annoyed. “This is important to me. You don’t even have to do anything, can you at least just get on board?”
“Fine, fine – just take my credit card,” Tony said, thrusting it at Sam. “Get whatever you want, I don’t care. Happy now?”
“Yeah, that’s the true Christmas spirit,” Peter mocked.
“C’mon, Pete,” Sam said, snatching up the credit card and already getting up. “Go get your coat. It’ll be fun!”
With a final, disparaging look at Tony, Peter slid from his chair and stomped towards the stairs, still grumbling under his breath.
“What did I do now?” Tony muttered.
Sam drove the two of them down to some fancy store called l’occidant, where Tony had told him to go. Peter seemed to look about as uneasy as Sam felt, stepping into the large store with marble floors and huge glass cabinets.
Peter turned up his nose at some fragile crystal ornaments in a nearby display. “Why the hell are we here?”
Sam smiled slightly, shoving his hands into his pocket. “Tony said he always gets his Christmas presents here.”
“This place reeks of rich folks,” Peter said unabashedly. He glanced at a price tag. “Damn - If we go to a cheap place, we can get about ten boxes of Christmas ornaments for this price.”
Sam agreed, but he did have one question. “You sure you want to buy ten boxes of Christmas ornaments?”
“I want to decorate the whole eleventh floor,” Peter explained. “I wanna make it look like – how do people say it? – Christmas got drunk and threw up all over our living area.”
“I see, I see,” Sam nodded, a serious expression appearing on his face. “We’re gonna need a bigger car.”
Totally worth it, Sam concluded, as he took in Peter’s elated expression. They had found what was probably the cheapest, tackiest Christmas outlet in the city, and Peter clearly considered this a dream come true.
“It’s a pink Christmas tree!” The boy exclaimed running from one corner of the store to the other. “Look – Sam, look, it’s an inflatable snowman! Oh my god – it’s a toilet seat cover with Santa’s face!”
They pretty much emptied out the store. Snowy pine cones, paper stars, artificial Christmas trees in bright colors, garlands, gigantic candy canes, ribbons and bows, huge candles, and boxes and boxes full of plastic baubles in all colors and sizes. Peter was jumping up and down with glee as they crammed everything into the car, the head of a plastic reindeer sticking out the window.
“I wonder if Pepper is going to freak out,” Sam said as he turned the car out of the mall parking lot.
“I bet she’s cool with it,” Peter said. “She’s not dead inside like Tony.”
Sam chortled, shaking his head. “So what’s the way for you to celebrate Christmas? Food, presents, the whole shebang?”
“E-very-thing,” Peter confirmed with much emphasis. “Christmas movies, Christmas carols, Christmas dinner…”
“We heard nothing about that from you last year.”
“Uh, yeah – last year around this time I was still getting over the fact that Tony wasn’t actually planning to put me in jail. I was in no mood to bring up Christmas cookies and shit like that. Did you ever watch ‘miracle on 34th street’?”
Sam assumed that was a movie. “No, what’s it about?”
“There’s this guy who is hired as the new Santa in a mall and he makes a load of people happy, until he gets arrested, but then at the end it turns out that he-“
“Hey, no spoilers!” Sam barked, interrupting him. “Imma watch it later.”
They piled everything into the elevator and took it up to the eleventh floor. Pepper was the only one in the living area, sitting sideways in an armchair, her legs dangling over the armrest, reading a book on computer programming of all things.
“Is that really how you spend your time off?” Sam asked.
“Good afternoon to you too,” she replied, glancing at the boxes and bags behind them with a quirked eyebrow.
Sam figured he should give her a heads up. “We’re gonna decorate the shit out of this floor, Pepper.”
Pepper nodded, not seeming surprised in the least. “Tony mentioned it.”
Peter looked around. “Where did Tony go, anyways?”
“He had to go out and get something,” Pepper said. She seemed a little evasive, and Sam lifted his eyebrows at her, but she merely smiled in return.
Peter didn’t notice. “Whatever suits him…” He grumbled, turning back to grab an armful of decorations.
They started out by setting up the three fake Christmas trees they had brought, and filling them up with the many, many ornaments they had bought. That alone took about an hour, even with Peppers help.
“We need some back-up,” Sam stated. “FRIDAY, Where’s Rogers at? He’d be happy as a pig in shit doing this stuff.”
“I’ll update him about your current activities,” FRIDAY reported.
“Yeah, you go update him about our current activities,” Sam mimicked.
Peter poked him. “Don’t make fun of FRIDAY!”
“I thought you hated her?”
“No I don’t!” Peter protested, actually looking a little concerned, glancing at the ceiling. “FRIDAY, I don’t hate you, you just gotta stop snitching on me all the time.”
“Duly noted,” FRIDAY said. “And Mr. Rogers is on his way down.”
As it turned out, Steve took Christmas decorations very seriously. Especially when it came to pointing out possible fire hazards. “You know what? You can be in charge of candles,” Sam told him, once he got tired of Steve’s barrage of ‘helpful’ advice.
The four of them together managed to cover every surface of the living area in decorations.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had any Christmas decorations here,” Sam said. “How did you guys celebrate Christmas in your pre-Avengers time?”
But Sam would never know the answer to that question. Because in that moment, the elevator doors slid open and revealed just about the most amazing thing he had ever seen.
“HO HO HO, Merry Christmas!” Tony boomed, throwing up both hands as he stepped out of the elevator. He was wearing a Santa costume, complete with black boots, big belly and fluffy, white beard.
It was the last thing Sam would have expected to see today.
He also certainly had not expected Peter to drop everything he was holding, yell out “OH MY GOD IT’S SANTAAA,” and jump forward to throw his arms around Tony’s neck.
Clearly taken by surprise, Tony laughed. Then he cleared his throat and reverted back to his character, adopting a deep, booming voice. “Have you been well-behaved this year, then?”
“Not at all!” Peter declared, grinning from ear to ear. “But you look awesome!” He leaned back and pinched Tony’s fake belly. “I thought you weren’t a traditions guy?”
“I’m not,” Tony said. “But I figured; if it’s important to you, it’s important to me.”
Peter smiled and hugged Tony again, wrapping his arms around Tony’s giant belly and burying his face in the fluffy beard.
They both turned when the room was lit up by the short flash of a camera.
“Sorry, Tony,” Sam said, grinning as he lowered his phone. “Had to get some proof of this in case I ever need to blackmail you.”
“You’ll have to try harder,” Tony said, pulling down his beard to talk more freely. “There's worse pictures of me than that all over the internet.”
“How do you like the decorations?” Steve asked him.
“They’re…” Tony faltered for a moment. “…colorful.” He finished finally, patting Peter on the head. “I guess I can put up with them.”
“That’s the true Christmas spirit,” Peter said, but this time he was smiling.
“I think we’re pretty much done,” Pepper said, wiping her hands.
“Yeah. Get used to it,” Peter said. “This is gonna be our living area for the next month.”
“Looks pretty damn good if you ask me,” Sam announced, glancing around.
“So what’s next?” Steve asked.
Sam turned back and raised his eyebrows at Tony. “Well, Santa… How about some hot cocoa for everyone?”
Chapter 35: Renovations on the thirty-seventh floor
based on a prompt by 8salfeti8
Pepper found Peter sitting on a tattered couch in an abandoned office on the thirty-seventh floor, reading a book. His jacket and backpack were lying on the floor. All offices on this side of the thirty-seventh floor had recently been vacated because they were up for renovation soon. Pepper wasn’t all that surprised that Peter had already discovered this new hiding place.
“You sure found a quiet spot,” she said, shaking out of her wet coat. It was a stormy December day and rain was beating against the office window.
“Then how did you find me?” Peter asked.
“Figures. She’s a snitch. You were looking for me?”
Pepper threw her jacket on a desk, but held on to her large paper bag. “No, just wondering where you were.”
“Did you go shopping?”
“Yes, I did.” With sweeping movements, Pepper took a lime green dress from the paper bag and held it up in front of her. “Tell me: How do you think this dress would look on a six months pregnant woman?”
Peter dropped his book, eyes wide. “You’re pregnant?”
“What? No!” Pepper lowered the dress, looking down at her stomach. “I guess I should lay off Bruce’s brownies, huh?”
“I didn’t mean it like that...” Peter said quickly, blushing. “I mean… I just thought you were giving me like a clue.” He picked up his book again, rubbing at a page to get rid of a crease.
Pepper shook her head, smiling as she folded the dress again. “It’s for a good friend of mine. We studied accounting together. Also, Tony and I aren’t even trying to get pregnant. Also, also, if I did get pregnant, do you really think I would wait until the sixth month to inform you about it?”
“Why not?” Peter said, shrugging. “It’s your baby. You can tell people whenever you want to.”
Pepper sat down next to him, dropping in a kiss in his hair. “Well, you’re my baby too!”
“Uhuh...” Peter said, closing the book and hugging it against his chest. “I’m really good with kids, FYI. I used to babysit for my neighbors all the time back when I still lived in Queens. And I always really enjoyed it. Except for the part where my uncle would steal all the money I made. I even know how to change a diaper!”
“Well, then you know more than me,” Pepper said with a smile. “But, as I said, Tony and I have no plans to that end.”
“You’d make really good parents.”
“Being a parent to you is enough for-“
“Yeah, yeah,” Peter interrupted impatiently. “I’m just saying I would understand if you wanted a – um – a real kid.”
“All right, Pinocchio,” Pepper said in a teasing voice.
Peter rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean.”
“Peter, you’re no less real than any other kid we could possibly have. The decision to adopt is just as significant as the decision to try and get pregnant.”
“Maybe normally,” Peter said. “But in my case you sort of had to because of my spider-powers. You let me stay here because I was a problem that needed to be solved. You can’t pretend like that’s not true.”
“No,” Pepper agreed, sinking further down into the couch cushions and pulling Peter closer, before choosing her words very deliberately. “There is some truth in that. Our commitment to you was partly circumstantial. I simply wanted to put a roof over your head and set you on the right track. I certainly didn’t imagine back then that I would end up loving you as much as I do now.”
Peter flushed bright red and ducked his head, squirming beside her. “Why do you always gotta say such nice things to me…” He murmured.
“You tend to feel bad when I say nice things to you, hm?” Pepper established.
Peter shrugged. “Dunno.”
“I think you do know.”
Peter hesitated for a while. “I just feel like it’s all dumb coincidence,” he finally admitted. “If I hadn’t gotten bit by that spider and appeared on your ‘radar’, I’d still be sleeping in a storage locker. If I wouldn’t already be in jail. I wasn’t really supposed to be living here, I just got lucky.”
Peter seemed a little thrown by that question. “So…. So what did I ever do to deserve to get lucky?”
“You know the definition of luck, right?” Pepper asked dryly as she slowly rubbed a hand up and down Peter’s back. “Deserving has nothing to do with it. In the end, everyone deserves a family and a home. But luck… that’s just what happens in life. Sometimes there’s ups, sometimes there’s downs. You’ve had plenty of bad luck in your life already. If you ask me, it was about time for some good luck to swing your way. I just wish you had come into our lives sooner, and we could have taken care of you from a younger age.”
Peter sighed. “Yeah, me too. Although, as long as we’re wishing, if my parents hadn’t died at all, that would’ve been cool, I guess. No offense.”
“None taken. If I could bring them back from the grave for you I would do it in a heartbeat.”
“Thanks, Pep,” Peter murmured, shifting a little so he could put his head on her shoulder. “I’m really happy to be here.”
“Well, good. Because we just fit together. We’re a family. This is it. No new babies for us.”
“Okay,” Peter said, “but I’m just saying if you did have a baby, I would help out and stuff.”
Pepper felt like rolling her eyes. How many times would she have to say that she wasn’t planning on having any babies? No use arguing Peter’s point, clearly. “All right.” She simply said. “That’s very sweet of you.”
Peter seemed satisfied with her response. He sat up a little straighter and reached for his backpack, tucking his book away.
“So, how long until they’re gonna start the renovation in here?” He asked, turning back to Pepper.
“This Monday, I believe.”
“Damn,” Peter said. “I’ll have to find another hiding spot.”
Pepper smiled. “In a building with 93 floors, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.”
Peter slowly shook his head. “My life is so weird,” he sighed.
Pepper chuckled. “It sure is, honey.”
Chapter 36: In the principal's office
Justsomerandomladywhoapperentlylikesyourwork requested a parent-teacher conference. I hope this counts.
Peter called into principal’s office. You have time to go get him?
Natasha blinked down at the message that had appeared on her screen, before looking up at Pepper, who was sat next to her at the table, typing out a report while humming under her breath.
“Did you get this message from Tony?” She asked.
“What message?” Pepper asked, and Natasha turned the screen of her phone towards her.
Pepper read the message, her facial expression going from surprise to concern to exasperation in rapid succession. “Can you believe that?” She muttered, turning back to her computer and clicking furiously to start a video-call.
Seconds later, Tony’s face filled the screen of her laptop. “Yes, dear?”
“Tony – what do you mean Peter was called into the principal’s office?”
“Oh,” Tony looked a little confused. “He got into a fight. Wait, I didn’t send you that message, did I? I thought I sent it to-“
Tony could clearly tell that Pepper was not amused. “Well… well, I thought you were busy with that meeting, dear.”
“I am busy,” Pepper snapped, glancing at the clock. It was about ten minutes until she was supposed to leave for her meeting. “But this is a job for a parent, Tony! So next time just contact me first. I can cancel the meeting. By the way – why aren’t you going? I thought you were just out shopping for socks and underwear?”
“First off, good call not ending that sentence after the word ‘shopping’, I really feel that Romanoff needed to hear the details. Second off…” Tony trailed off for a moment. “…the principal… well... I’ve met her, and… she scary.”
Pepper narrowed her eyes.
Unsurprisingly, only fifteen minutes later, a grumbling Tony stepped out of the car in front of Midtown Tech. Happy held the car door open for him. “Want me to wait here or come inside?”
“Might as well come in,” Tony said. “You may have to pretend to be my lawyer.”
Tony remembered the way to the principal’s office. The hallways were blissfully deserted, but whenever they walked past an open doorway, Tony could see students inside craning their neck or poking their friends as they caught sight of him. He quickened his pace.
The small waiting room in front of Mrs. Hemsley’s office was occupied by only two people. The first was Mrs. Hemsley’s assistant, who did a double take when he saw Tony enter the room, and dropped the pen he was holding.
The second was Peter, who didn’t acknowledge Tony at all, stiffly sitting in a chair with his arms crossed. He had a defensive look on his face, and Tony got the feeling that the kid wasn’t going to be cooperative.
“Wanna tell me why we’re here?” Tony asked, sitting down next to him.
“As if you don’t know,” Peter grumbled.
“A fight, is all I know. With whom?” Tony asked, and, when an answer was not forthcoming: “Does it start with an ‘F’?”
“Who the fuck else?” Peter snarled.
“And why isn’t Mr. Flash sitting in here, waiting for his parent or guardian to get a lecture from the principal?”
“Because I always get blamed for everything?” Peter suggested.
Tony couldn’t help but notice Mrs. Hemsley’s assistant rolling his eyes and huffing a little.
Peter noticed it too and clenched his fists. “You mind your own business!”
“You wanna try and calm down a little before talking to the principal?” Tony suggested.
“What do I care what that asswipe thinks of me?” Peter half-shouted, and in that exact moment the door opened and Mrs. Hemsley appeared in the doorway, stern face, hair tied up in a bun, scanning the room across the rim of her glasses.
Peter’s face immediately flushed and he ducked his head, looking away. Clearly, he cared at least a little bit what Mrs. Hemsley thought of him.
“Mr. Stark,” Mrs. Hemsley greeted, her eyes piercing into his. She made no indication that she had heard Peter. “Thank you for arriving so quickly. Why don’t we start with you?” That sounded ominous.
“Oh – uh, just me?” Tony asked.
“I will invite Mr. Parker in after a few minutes,” Mrs. Hemsley said.
Tony had actually been thinking of bringing Happy along, but it seemed like he would have to go onto the lion’s den alone. “No problem,” he lied, getting up.
“So how bad is it?” Tony asked as he sat down.
Mrs. Hemsley pursed her lips. “Mr. Thompson got away relatively unscathed this time.”
“What set them off?”
“According to Mr. Thompson, he was antagonized by Mr. Parker in the cafeteria ‘for no reason’. Mr. Parker is refusing to speak on his own behalf.”
“He was probably exercising his right to remain silent,” Tony said, “until his lawyer is here. Which he now is, in case you hadn’t noticed. Best lawyer in town. So if you were planning to suspend him - ”
Mrs. Hemsley looked impatient. “I see no reason to suspend him at the moment. On the whole, I am very content with the improvements in Peter’s attitude. Even Mr. Li seems to have warmed up to him. And I know Mrs. Abercrombie is very pleased with his progress as well.”
“I’m sorry...” Tony said. “Mrs. Abercrombie? That name doesn’t ring a bell. Which subject does she teach?”
Mrs. Hemsley blinked, looking a little thrown. “She’s… well, she’s our counsellor.”
“Oooohh,” Tony said. “Darcy?”
“Darcy,” Mrs Hemsley confirmed. “For a moment there, I was worried Peter had never even mentioned her. She will be retiring after Christmas, though.”
“So I’ve heard,” Tony said. “If you’re not going to suspend him, then why did I need to come over?”
“I was hoping to give Mr. Parker a good scare,” Mrs. Hemsley said with a straight face. “But additionally, there is something else I’ve been meaning to discuss with you. As you know, Peter is doing very well academically. After he missed seven months of school, we didn’t have a choice but to have him re-take several classes. However, he has been a straight A student for months, with seemingly little effort.”
Tony nodded. “I hardly think he really fell behind. During those months when he didn’t come to school, Peter practically lived at the library. Pretty sure he still learned a lot down there.”
“I see. Well, if Peter skipped to the more advanced classes, he would be back with his peers.”
“I think that would be good for him,” Tony agreed, slowly feeling more enthusiastic. Who knew he’d be coming out of all this with good news? “He would be back in Ned’s class. He doesn’t really connect with his current classmates – I get the impression that he doesn’t easily make friends.”
“He doesn’t,” Mrs Hemsley confirmed. She slowly tapped a pen against the desk, giving Tony an appraising look. “He would then, of course, also be in the same classes as Mr. Eugene Thompson.” She calmly pointed out.
“Ah,” Tony said. He hadn’t thought of that.
“If that leads to weekly fights in hallways and classrooms, it won’t exactly benefit Mr. Parker’s school career.”
“So what does that mean?”
Mrs. Hemsley shrugged elegantly. “Nothing yet. I suppose we’ll just have to be on his case even more than we already are, and see how things go.”
“All right,” Tony said, clapping his hands. “Let’s do it. Where do I sign to make this happen?”
Mrs. Hemsley finally smiled a little. “How about we ask Peter what he thinks, first?”
“Right.” Tony said, feeling a little embarrassed. “Good call.”
“He will, of course, also get a detention for starting a fight,” Mrs. Hemsley informed him. “Unless he gives me a good excuse for his behavior today.”
“I think, knowing Peter, he would prefer to just take the detention.”
Mrs. Hemsley rose from her chair. “Probably true.”
When they stepped into the waiting room, it was a little more crowded than they had expected.
Peter was still sitting stiffly in a chair. He looked like he wanted the floor to swallow him up. Happy was in the chair next to him, slouching as he read the newspaper. And sat next to them, neatly lined up, were Steve, Sam and Bruce. Steve had put on glasses and a hat, Sam was wearing a hoodie and sunglasses, Bruce a baseball cap. Mrs. Hemsley’s assistant was staring at them, unabashedly, clearly seeing straight through the feeble disguises. He looked about ready to faint.
“What are you all doing here?” Tony asked.
Steve looked up from the brochure he was reading. “Oh, um – we all got this message from you saying someone had to come down to pick Peter up.”
“Oh. … Right,” Tony said, suddenly remembering how he had sent that message to the whole group, hoping someone would respond. “Forgot about that. Didn’t Pepper tell you not to come?”
“Why would she tell us that? We weren’t even at the tower.”
“I was at an important convention across town, Tony!” Bruce added, looking annoyed.
“My bad,” Tony said. “But nice to know I can count on you if I ever need you.”
“We’ve fought aliens together, but this made you realize you can count on us?” Sam questioned sardonically.
Tony huffed. “Not like you had my back last time; you were about two blocks too far to the west while I was busy taking down the bad guys.”
“Because you gave me the wrong coordinates, Mr. Genius playboy philanthropist!”
“Can you guys work out your personal problems on your own time?” Peter complained. “I would like to get this over with so I can go home! I have a lot of homework.”
Mrs. Hemsley cleared her throat. “Mr. Parker, why don’t you come in with us? I’ll try to make it quick.”
They sat back down, and Tony didn’t wait for Mrs. Hemsley to start speaking. He turned to Peter. “You wanna tell me what Flash did?”
“He didn’t do anything this time,” Peter grumbled. “He just looked at me funny, and I don’t like his stupid face.”
Tony felt a little disappointed. Peter was smart enough to know better. He knew Peter, and he knew that this was just how the kid ticked, but he also realized that it wouldn’t be long before these fights would actually lead to him being suspended or even expelled.
“Detention,” Mrs. Hemsley calmly said, writing out a note. “For a week, starting tomorrow.”
“For a week? I just shoved him once.”
“For no reason, apparently,” Tony bit out, feeling annoyed. “You just wait until Pepper hears about this!”
Peter looked like he was trying not to laugh at that.
Mrs. Hemsley clearly didn’t want to waste any more time on this case than necessary, and immediately moved on to their next subject. Peter looked a little taken aback as he took in her suggestion of taking classes at a higher level. “Uhhhh… Why…?”
Mrs. Hemsley raised her eyebrows. “You’re acing all your classes, so why not? I’m surprised you’ve never brought this up yourself.”
“I never thought about it, I guess…” Peter said. “And I don’t know how that would even work.”
Mrs. Hemsley immediately whipped out some documents. “You’ll have a larger workload for a little while. You’ll have to take two English classes at the same time, but we’ll allow you to skip a math class and go straight to pre-calc, as long as you do some studying during the Christmas Holidays. I’ve worked out a schedule for you.” She slid the document across her desk.
“Oh, wow….” Peter mumbled, looking a little overwhelmed as he picked it up to study it.
“Not bad for an asswipe, hm?” Mrs. Hemsley dryly remarked.
Peter flushed a bright red.
“Ned says half the school is completely convinced they saw the Avengers walking through the hallways,” Peter commented as they drove back to the tower.
Tony was sitting in the front, next to Happy. Bruce had gone back to his convention, so Peter sat in the back, squished between Steve and Sam. He was staring at his phone. “But he says the other half is convinced it’s just a big hoax, so I guess we’re fine.”
“Yes, everything is fine,” Tony said, voice dripping with sarcasm. “Never mind that we all had to come down to the principal’s office because you started yet another fight at school.”
“Not my fault that you apparently alerted everyone in your contact list. Seems I was lucky we didn’t get Thor or Dr. Strange, or God forbid… Nick Fury dropping by!”
Tony ignored the dig. “Just get started on that extra work for your new classes this afternoon.”
“I’m not gonna do all that. Calculus is easy.”
Tony twisted in his seat so he could look Peter in the eye, taking off his sunglasses and pointing them at Peter. “I’m not going let you mess up your education. So let me be very clear right now: You WILL be doing the extra work. All of it. And if you ever, EVER get suspended for fighting, I’m going to make your life during that suspension a hell. A long list of chores. No friends coming over. No electronics. And no Spider-man suit.”
Peter slouched in his seat, grumbling. “That’s a bit much.”
“Well, don’t get suspended, then!” Tony barked. “Easy enough! And next time I get called into the principal’s office, I will send Fury down there to deal with you. Is that motivation enough for you?”
Peter actually paled a little at the prospect. “All riiiight!” He said. “Jeez…”
“Just be happy you have a parent who cares about your education,” Steve advised him.
“Damn right,” Tony muttered, putting his sunglasses back on. “Someone’s gotta care…”
“I care!” Peter protested.
“Well, then, next time before you bash someone’s head in for ‘looking at you funny’, think about how a suspension will affect your application to a good university!”
“Fine, I won’t fight,” Peter said, before getting a thoughtful look on his face. “What if he hits me first?”
Tony waved a hand around. “Then, by all means, punch him in the face.”
“Tony!” Steve exclaimed while Sam burst out laughing.
Chapter 37: The dad talk
based on prompts by 8salfeti8
“I want to invite someone over to the tower tomorrow,” Peter said one evening as the three of them sat down for dinner.
“You mean, someone other than Ned?” Tony clarified. Peter never invited anyone else to the tower, so that would certainly be a first.
“Yeah,” Peter said, an awkward look appearing on his face. “And it would be great if you could behave as normally as possible around her.”
“How’s this?” Tony asked, before sticking out his tongue and crossing his eyes. “Nice to meet you, Peter’s girlfriend...” he slurred.
“I’m serious Tony!” Peter exclaimed, going a little red. “And who said anything about a girlfriend?”
Tony waved his fork around. “Please… ‘act as normally as possible’? That is girlfriend-talk. And with that look on your face? You’ve got it bad, kid.”
“Pepper!” Peter whined.
Pepper poured herself another glass of wine, smiling. “We’ll be absolutely delightful,” she promised, winking at Tony. “Won’t we, honey?”
“I’m always delightful.” Tony stabbed a potato, splitting it in half. “So. How long’ve you been keeping this girlfriend a secret from us, hm?”
“She’s not my girlfriend,” Peter stubbornly insisted. ‘We’re just messing around a little.”
“Messing around?” Tony echoed.
“That came out wrong,” Peter quickly backtracked. “I just mean… Okay, fine, I like her, all right? But we’re not serious or anything, so please, pleeeeaaasse don’t drop the g-word in front of her when she’s here tomorrow.”
“Very well,” Tony said. It seemed like they had entered the awkward girlfriend-phase of Peter’s life. Honestly, he was looking forward to it. He smiled as he took another bite of his food.
He had no way of knowing that Pepper, as she set down her wineglass, was about to thoroughly ruin the rest of his evening.
“Peter, did your uncle ever give you ‘the talk’?” Pepper asked.
Tony choked on his food and coughed loudly.
Peter looked about as mortified as Tony felt. “Yes!” He said, but something in his voice gave him away and Pepper narrowed her eyes at him in suspicion. “He did!” Peter insisted.
Tony had to agree, though, that it didn’t really line up with what he knew about Ben Parker.
“All right,” Pepper said in that ‘if you say so’-voice of hers. She cast a meaningful glance at Tony, which Tony translated as ‘I hope you realize you’re going to have to deal with this’. He felt a little queasy at the prospect and downed the rest of his wine in one gulp.
Tony paced around his office, phone pressed against his ear as it dialed. Why was Clint never at the tower when he was needed?
“Hey there, Tony!” Clint voice sounded, cheerfully. “You’ve reached the Clint Barton-corporation. Press one for Avengers-business. Press two for ‘dadvice’.”
“Two, you asshole!” Tony barked into the phone.
Clint chuckled. “All right, what’s up?”
“Peter has a girlfriend and Pepper wants me to talk to him about it. What do I say to him?”
“How should I know? My oldest is eight, I don’t have to deal with that kind of shit yet.”
Tony felt a little thrown. If Clint couldn’t tell him what to do, then who could? “So how do I figure this out?”
“I don’t know… trust your instinct.”
“I can’t, because my instinct is to let Peter do whatever the hell he wants, but that’s not right.”
“Because Pepper said so!”
“So…? Maybe Pepper’s wrong.”
That sounded so ludicrous to Tony that he was lost for words for a moment. “Wrong. Wrong?”
“Pepper is very precise, on top of everything. You are more permissive, laid-back. You just have different parenting styles that are both equally valuable. In the end, we’re all just winging it, that’s what parenting is all about. I personally don’t see anything wrong with letting Peter figure this stuff out for himself. He’s sixteen and he’s a smart kid. I honestly doubt there’s anything you can tell him that he doesn’t already know. Just let him know he can come to you if he has any questions. You know… Promise him you’ll try not to be your usual sarcastic self if he ever needs your advice.”
“You should be the next Dr. Phil, dude,” Tony said, dead-serious.
“So what’s her name, anyways?” Tony asked, sitting down next to Peter on the couch.
Peter looked up from his book, distracted. He gave Tony a somewhat suspicious look. “MJ,” he finally muttered. “And I’m not giving you a last name because I don’t want you to google her entire backstory.”
“I know her name is MJ and she goes to your school,” Tony said, counting on his fingers. “Do you really think it would take me more than twenty seconds to find out her full name? - - Don’t worry, I won’t,” he emphasized when he noticed Peter going a little pale. “I’m just saying, don’t doubt my awesome abilities.”
“You mean FRIDAY’s abilities,” Peter remarked.
“I designed FRIDAY, so everything she achieves is ipso facto my achievement.”
“Point taken,” Peter murmured, focusing on his book again.
Tony nervously tapped his fingers against the armrest of the couch, before finally asking: “Peter, have you… have you ever been… intimate with someone?”
“I don’t know,” Peter immediately said, voice dry. “Are we counting Skip?”
Tony instantly felt all the blood drain from his face.
Peter clearly saw it. “Sorry,” he said quickly. “Just a joke… In my twisted sense of humor. Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize for that,” Tony snapped, closing his eyes and taking a steadying breath. “Goddamn... I forgot about that motherfucker.”
Peter’s eyes took on an amused glint. How he could deal with some of his traumas so lightly was a mystery to Tony.
“So your first sexual experience was negative,” he established.
“Yes, but it’s fine, Tony,” Peter said, looking awkward again. “I already talked to Darcy about those things. And I’ve had sex-ed at school, all right? I know… uhm… how stuff works. Anything you wanna add?”
“…Don’t get her pregnant,” Tony said.
Peter cracked a smile.
“I just want to say that if you ever do have questions, you can come to me, all right? And I promise I’ll be normal about it.”
“You mean like this?” Peter asked, before crossing his eyes and sticking out his tongue. “Pewwer, you can tawk to me me awout anywwing!”
“Oh, knock it off, you hooligan.”
MJ was a girl with dark eyes and a stoic face. She was about a foot taller than Peter. Peter seemed a little intimidated by her, and Tony could understand why. MJ reminded Tony of a younger Natasha, which was… somewhat ominous.
They were all sitting at the kitchen table, and Pepper had been making small talk for the last ten minutes. “Oh – more tea?” She asked.
“Yes please,” Peter answered quickly. He still looked apprehensive and kept casting suspicious looks at Tony.
Tony waited until Pepper had left the table before turning to MJ.
“Listen, I’m sure you’re a great girl,” he said, “but let me make something clear. This kid is my son in every way that counts. If you ever hurt him, I will hunt you down and kick your ass. That is, if the other Avengers don’t get to you first.”
Peter kicked him under the table. “Tony, what the hell?” He looked mortified.
“Just giving her ‘the talk’, as well,” Tony said innocently.
“I won’t hurt Peter,” MJ calmly said. “He’s way too pretty.”
Peter’s mouth dropped open, and he went redder than Tony had ever seen him.
Tony grinned widely and leaned in to shake her hand. “Welcome to the fam, MJ.”