Peter doesn’t sense it before it happens; he’s on edge, a nervous jittery buzzing beneath his thin skin, the purple splotches of last night are fading, receding but there’s an ache lingering in his bones, embedded and deep rooted that he can’t help but wince when he moves his shoulder a wrong way, when Ned slaps his back to give Peter a start as a greeting in the morning, heart leaping from his chest to the back of his throat. His bag is heavy with books and copies and his suit, a constant amongst his things that’s buried in one of the front pockets securely so no one could ever find it because there’s fear always at the back of his mind, fear of something, anything, and he needs to be Spider-Man to be strong.
But he’s feeling light for once, feeling able to breathe and to be able to laugh without hating the sound or wishing he hadn’t been so loud.
It’s easier to think through the tangles in his mind, to make sense of what’s his own thoughts and what’s not; it’s hard, but Peter's learning and sometimes he can fall asleep without the help of the prescribed pills lying in the orange bottle on his bedside table. He tries to focus on the good days, the days where he’s not drowning beneath the weight of all he feels, dragging him beneath the surface of the sea of static that he thought he was going to die in. And he talks.
Before, his tongue would never waggle and shake free the words he wanted to say, wanted to cry and he would feel them pile up at the back of his throat, a lump making it hard to breathe through whenever he became too bogged down, too overcast with grey clouds and dark skies of thoughts and tears. He’s trying, trying so very hard even though sometimes he wishes he could go back to those times where no one knew anything and no one ever thought to ask him if he was alright on the inside, too.
Mr. Stark listens when Peter talks. If Mr. Stark was a sensible adult, he would ring Aunt May and unbox all of Peter’s inside stuff to her but Peter begged, cried and pleaded to not tell Aunt May because Aunt May had too much on her plate and she would send him to therapy and therapy cost so much and he didn’t want to talk to a stranger, please Mr. Stark, she can’t know, I can’t let her know, please don’t tell her. And Mr. Stark didn’t. The only condition was that Peter talk to him if he didn’t want talk to Aunt May because Tony loved and cared for Peter and he didn’t want him suffering in silence alone. Peter doesn’t mind talking to Mr. Stark, doesn’t mind telling him the things he’s scared to acknowledge because Mr. Stark understands and doesn’t just pretend to understand like a therapist would. Mr. Stark knows, knows what Peter talks about and it makes Peter so, so, so relieved because it makes what he feels real, that it isn’t in his head and that he isn’t being strangled by his thoughts over nothing.
But Peter doesn’t want to burden Mr. Stark, doesn’t want to unbox all the inside stuff weighing him down until he can’t take it anymore and sends Peter away from his company forever. So, Peter only talks when Mr. Stark asks, when he stares at Peter with knotted eyebrows and unconcealed concern hanging on his face, carved and moulded into his features as if it were always there. Peter stumbles, he fumbles, but he talks anyway, silently and rushed but Mr. Stark doesn’t push, doesn’t care that Peter can’t put his feelings and thoughts into coherent sentences, like when a child would babble nonsense that only its parent could understand while all others remained in the dark.
And Peter feels guilty about not talking about it with Aunt May, knew it would hurt her feelings that he never talked about it with her first because she was the one who raised him, loved him and cared for him and shouldn’t he have the decency to be honest? But Peter can’t, he can’t get the words out, staring at his takeaway food and thinking how easy it would be to just tell Aunt May, to tell her about his tangled thoughts and the knot in his chest and how he cried himself to sleep beneath the glowing stars that burst from his nightlight. She would cry, she would be upset, she would hold him so tightly that Peter would feel as if all the cracks in his body were glued back together but everything would change. No more Spider-Man. No more time at the Compound. Aunt May was already working enough, already doing enough for him and he wanted her to be able to sleep at night without wondering if Peter was falling apart in the room next to him.
And, in the end, he couldn’t. He couldn’t find it in him to say the words to her and he swallowed them with the day old take-out food bitterly, trying not to throw it all back up onto the table from how his stomach was trying itself into knots because Aunt May deserves a happy Peter, a healthy Peter.
So now, Saturday is a different time; Mr. Stark realises Peter won’t talk unless asked, as if he knows Peter’s hesitance in talking about the silence in his head that’s far too loud and far too crowded; he sits Peter down, the two talking about school, about homework and schoolwork and Spider-Man work and it’s all leading up to what Peter already knows, trying to prepare himself as the two sit opposite each other on the stools, Peter moving himself back and forward as he gazes down at the marble counter top, finger peeking out beneath his baggy jumper and tracing the warped specks as Mr. Stark asks, Peter, do you want to unbox your inside stuff?
It takes a while, a little bit of gentle pushing and prodding on the part of the older man when Peter stays silent, curls in his eyes and glaring at the gleaming counter top, digging his finger into it and wondering if he can break it with his strength, can make a dent, can make a crack. For all his super hearing, he could block out all other voices so easily, the fuzz and static in his head becoming louder and louder and if he could press that bit more, he would be sure the marble would crack beneath the pressure of his index finger.
And then, Mr. Stark would cover Peter’s hand with his hand, the tan so out of place on Peter’s pale skin and he would duck his head to peek at Peter from beneath the boy’s curly fringe, that same soft smile on his face. Those days are the worst, where Peter doesn’t want to unbox his inside stuff, because he feels as if he’s ruining everything, ruining his friendship with Mr. Stark and then Mr. Stark will get sick of him and not want to help Peter unbox his inside stuff anymore.
But Mr. Stark stays, constant; Saturdays are constant, talks are constant, unboxing is constant, hugs are… are sporadic, but they exist. Peter is as starved for physical affection as much as he denies himself it; Aunt May doesn’t coddle him, doesn’t hold him as he sleeps anymore because he’s growing into a man now and men weren’t suppose to want to be held, like Uncle Ben being awkward with Peter wanting hugs as he grew older and taller because it was strange for a teenage boy to want to be openly affectionate. There would be teasing, teasing at Peter’s intense want and need of hugs, of affection, and Aunt May would give a sharp reply back at Ben before kissing Peter’s curls. Boys weren’t supposed to want hugs, they weren’t supposed to want to be held. So, Peter became more reluctant to return the hugs Aunt May would give, showing his discomfort that she didn’t understand but understood because he was a boy and he was growing into a man and he wasn’t supposed to want hugs.
He was so starved for it that he was ready to cry whenever Mr. Stark would wrap his arm around his shoulders, proudly clapping him on the back and ruffling his curls because he wanted it, needed it and then Mr. Stark understands it, giving him hugs when Peter’s face is red, blotchy and wet from the tears, smoothing out his hair and letting Peter sob into his shirt, not caring about the tears that stain the material. It makes Peter that less reluctant in unboxing his inside stuff.
And life… life is what it is for Peter. He’s sixteen now, so young and supposedly bold, and there’s that age old, fine wine of his mangled feelings buried in the bottom of his stomach that doesn’t taste as bitter anymore. He’s not healed, but healing; Saturdays are unboxing days but there are times he visits the Compound after school when he doesn’t want to wait at home in silence until Aunt May comes home because she doesn’t want him going out doing his rounds until she’s there and able to see him off safely.
He understands that, he does, but it doesn’t mean he always listens to her, and she knows he doesn’t; but she never gets angry, only worried and in a flurry of making sure Peter is okay, is able to stand and walk and breathe and speak without being in pain. Sometimes, if it’s been a particularly hard night, she cuddles him, kisses the top of his hair and sneaks on a bandage onto a cut that will be healed in the morning and Peter loves it, loves being loved. He doesn’t say it, doesn’t want to seem weak but they just know. Aunt May knows about his reluctance and is always making sure he’s okay with the affection, and Mr. Stark… maybe it’s because he’s never really been so affectionate with Ben, with his father, that Peter just latches to Mr. Stark, so tightly that he sometimes forgets he’s so much stronger than Mr. Stark and worries about breaking him. But Mr. Stark doesn’t seem to mind, doesn’t seem all the bothered when Peter stands too close, holds onto the older man so tightly so that he won’t drown. Aunt May is always so ready to give him love but with Mr. Stark it’s… uncharted territory. He’s still learning, still realising how to navigate their friendship. But Mr. Stark doesn’t mind, doesn’t tell Peter to ‘man up’ and to stop crying so much; it makes Peter wonder if his father ever held him, allowed Mr. Stark to cry into his shoulder and Peter wants to ask but doesn’t know how, doesn’t feel like it’s right.
But Peter trusts Mr. Stark; he trusts him to help Peter unbox all his inside stuff, to be there when it counts, to be constant. Maybe he’s making up for the radio silence those few months, maybe it’s some other reason Peter doesn’t care to know about because Mr. Stark is here, he’s helping Peter, he’s by his side and he loves and cares about Peter which is more than Peter could ever have asked for, dreamed for.
So, Peter begins to feel lighter, not better because the festering blackness in the back of his mind doesn’t seem to go away but it doesn’t carry as much weight and darkness as before and it’s bearable above all else. Peter can go about his day without being dragged down by the blackness in his mind, can even go without noticing it before something brings his mind back to it, brings his mind to that dark place that he wants to box away; yet if he boxes it away, then it stays in his mind, but if he unboxes it then it can leave him, can go somewhere else other than the corner of his mind. It’s a thought he’s had recently and he can’t wait to talk about it with Mr. Stark on Saturday, even though Saturday seems so long away despite it only being Wednesday. He woke up that morning to Mr. Stark wishing him luck on the Spanish test that even Peter forgot about but had told Mr. Stark two and a half weeks ago and he didn’t even feel panicked about failing – and not because he found Spanish easy, oh no, it was because Mr. Stark had wished him ‘good luck!!!! :^)’ and Peter felt like he could accomplish anything coupled with Aunt May giving his temple a quick kiss and a side squeeze before rushing to go off to work.
And it was such a good day that Peter never once thought something could go wrong.
Ned seems to notice Peter’s good mood and is quick to ask Peter if he wanted to come over Sunday (he knows Saturdays are days reserved only for Mr. Stark) so that they can watch the newly released Castlevania series since Ned loves the games and it’ll only be for a few hours so Peter quickly agrees, glad he can just be Peter in more ways than one. Ned seems shocked, surprised, relieved that Peter takes the invitation and he tosses Peter a smile, a soft one as if to just say thank you. And Peter is excited, is ecstatic to spend time with his best friend and it makes his mind torn, his attention so divided that he doesn’t sense it happening; he’s in a school and, in the beginning, it was hard being aware of everyone and everything but now he’s turned it down and tuned it out, the sensory overload no longer plaguing him as much as it used to. And Peter curses himself for it, for being so stupid and thick headed to not just realise that it was high school and it was Hell on Earth for Peter, for so many kids.
It’s happens quickly while Peter is talking to Ned quietly in hushed whispers about stopping a robbery the other night and narrowly missing a bullet by a hair’s width; the shoulder with his bruise, a large purple splash laced with indigo and navy curving around his back, is jostled and hit so roughly and suddenly that even Peter lets out a gasp of pain, barely stifling the sound as it tore through his throat while fire ripped its way through his back, to his chest and down his arm, angry, fiery. His hand reaches up to his shoulder and he quashes down on the yelp behind his lips as Flash makes his way past Peter, sneering and seeming pleased at Peter’s reaction.
“Aw, look, pussy Penis Parker is hurt,” Flash sneered, facing Peter head on as Peter slouches and reaches a hand up to the back of his shoulder, trying to stem the hurt that was ripping through him at a pace that Peter’s body couldn’t handle. Peter glares at the bully, wanting nothing more than to push him over but he can’t because he’s stumbled and Ned’s caught him, asking him if he’s okay but Peter can’t answer because there’s a fury in his chest, running through his veins and Ned copies Peter’s scowl, trying to pour as much hate as he can into his glare.
“Piss off, Flash,” it’s Ned who’s saying this but it doesn’t sound like Ned, not his best friend who’s usually so nice and smiling but now he’s cold, harsh at the edges with his teeth sharpening his words into knives to dig into the skin of the other boy. The pain subsides but it lingers in Peter, an echo as he remembers the night before of falling off the roof and slamming into the concrete, thinking he would fall through it as the air rushed from his body, drowning in the never ending agony. Peter stands, wheezing and faces Flash, sneering and smarmy Flash who stares at Peter as if he’s nothing more than dirt. Maybe that's all Peter truly is. “Don’t you have a couple of kids to go beat up?”
“Need your boyfriend to fight for you, Penis Parker?” Flash sang and there’s ice in Peter’s throat, hard heaving ice that’s cracking as he tries to bite his tongue, teeth nearly drawing blood as he realises that people are stopping and they’re staring, a freak show for them to observe and it makes Peter’s skin crawl, wanting to hide away but he tries not to wilt, tries not to feel the anger at the people just watching and not doing anything because it’s better him than them. It’s better him than anyone else.
There’s a loud slam of a locker and a sigh follows, boots thundering on the ground and it’s MJ, looking unamused, looking sour and bitter but there’s something in her eyes that’s hidden beneath the tight curls of her fringe, hands in the pockets of her jacket as she stands in the middle of Flash and Peter and Ned, back to the latter and showing where she stood, against the tide of Flash’s words. She pops some pink bubblegum in her mouth, smacking her lips and her eyes sharpened into picks as she stared at Flash. “Need your daddy to fight for you, Flash?”
There’s a wave of sniggering amongst the audience, watching and waiting for something, anything to ease their bloodlust and Peter burns because it was such a good day, such a nice day and he had woken up able to hear his real thoughts through the tangle of his mind and it was Saturday soon and he didn’t need this now, didn’t need a scene, a mess to mangle his insides and his mind. Peter lingers, silent and no longer brought down by the shuddering pain of last night but he’s caught in the web of the students around him, mingling with their friends and whispering as they watched the standoff, watched Flash steadily turn red beneath his cheeks, cheeks puffing slightly as MJ popped her bubblegum.
Smacking her lips again, she reached up to push at the fringe that hung like a curtain around her eyes as Ned smiled, relieved and glad they had a warrior of words on their side. Peter wasn’t glad, he wanted this to end, wanted to go home and finish his homework and go to the Compound. If he had his mask, it would be easier, hiding his face hid his feelings and made him feel like someone other than himself. But now he wasn’t Spider-Man, or even Peter Parker. He was Penis Parker and he couldn’t stand up to Flash because he was a terror that had lingered all through the years, a constant every single day of Peter’s school life.
“You always feel the need to butt in on Penis Parker’s fights, weirdo?” Flash snarled, sneering and seeming smug, as if he’s won, as if there was a battle to win in the first place. Peter doesn’t mind the shift of attention from him and Ned to MJ because she can handle it so much better, can handle her words better and herself better. She doesn’t become reduced to pathetic vision of herself, seeming so unbothered.
“Hardly his fight when you started it.”
“Fuck off, weirdo,” Flash spits back, not caring about the people watching, not caring that he’s red in the face, barely able to hide how annoyed he was at how little MJ cared about his words, how she stared expressionless at the bully, popping her bubblegum yet again.
“You’ve always been brawn over brain – not that you have much brawn to begin with.”
“Just piss off, Flash,” Peter hissed, digging the corpse of his voice from its grave at the bottom of his throat, not caring that it snarled, that it cracked and he wants to leave wants it to end and Flash is redder now, angrier and curling his fists at his side. MJ tosses him a smile over her shoulder as Ned smirks at Flash but Peter doesn’t care. He’s tired, the tangles are getting knotted again and Flash has ruined his entire day, has sent him spiralling down the rabbit hole of his thoughts, nails digging into the walls made of self-hate, self-loathing, to try and climb out but it isn’t working and he’s being dragged down again, boxed in again. Peter steps forward, downcast and gloomy as Ned follows, MJ unsure if she should do the same but doing so anyway. “Go bother someone else for attention.”
Peter has had enough and the flame in his chest burns, burning through him so quick at a rate that he can barely keep up with it, all the air in his lungs being sucked up and it’s hard to breathe but no one notices, no one cares. It’s all boxed away and if he pretended to be okay then he would be okay. Peter shoulders past Flash, not caring for the look of venomous hate that’s seared there, not wondering why Flash hates him so much because he’s never done anything wrong to the bully to gain so much hatred. And Peter moves past it all, blocking out Ned gushing to MJ as she pops her gum, past the hum and murmur of the crowd, past the silence and static of his mind because he needs to get to Spanish class for his test because Mr. Stark wished him luck and he needs to do well so he can tell him, make him proud.
And, because he shuts everything off, it’s too late when Flash springs again.
His bag is torn from him, ripped from his shoulders and the angle makes a yelp rise in his throat before being squashed down; his hands are tangled in the straps before being free and he hears shouts, hears yelling and people oohing and ahhing as Flash opens the mouth of the bag, MJ and Ned too late to stop him as the bag opens its gaping maw, teeth glinting and gleaning in the light before it purges forth all of Peter’s books unto him.
The first book hits and it chews into Peter’s forehead, taking a chunk from it and that’s all it takes, that’s all it needs before Peter crumbles, becomes small and fragile and there are books hitting his back, his head, his shoulders and his bruise, knees aching from dropping. That’s all it takes and they hit him, brute force and oh, God, he’s there again, he’s trapped and he can’t breathe. There’s dust in his eyes and it’s forcing itself down his throat, into his mouth and every breath he takes is filled with concrete, with dirty water, oil and filth. He can’t breathe because there’s a building on top of him, the roof has caved in and Toomes is laughing at him, at how pathetic he is. Peter’s hands are on the back of his head, trying to protect it because he doesn’t want to be spilled out onto the floor, doesn’t want Aunt May to see him all red and gushing.
He tries to see but can’t because he’s trapped back there and there’s a steel pole digging into his leg that’s bent at an angle and he’s screaming, he’s screaming but no one can hear him because no one cares; Mr. Stark took his suit and Aunt May is angry at him for disappearing and he’s ruined everything and now he’s going to die. He’s heaving, gulping, trying to see through the tangled pain in his body but he can’t because he’s dying, he can’t breathe and his throat is bleeding from his screams, red raw and tender, mangled flesh. He’s weak, pathetic Peter Parker and he can’t stand with the weight on him, can’t move because he’s nothing – suit or not.
“Shit! Peter, are you okay?”
“What the fuck, Flash?”
“Pete, you okay?”
“Oh my God, you’re bleeding.”
It’s ringing, echoing so sharply in his ear and the world is too much; Peter’s eyes burn, sting and he’s trying not to fall apart but it’s hard, so, so, so hard and he can’t breathe with so much concrete on him. He’s going to die, oh God, he’s going to die and Mr. Stark is going to think it’s his fault and Aunt May will be alone and no one will ever find his body and he’s going to die alone. A shuddering, heaving breath reaches his lungs but it’s half a sob and everyone is muttering, whispering to one another about pathetic Peter Parker who can’t even free himself from a collapsed building because he isn’t Spider-Man; he’s weak, he’s a child who can’t fight, who can’t do anything, he’s pathetic and it’s constant, the tangles, the frayed knots, they’re always there, always present.
There are hands, too many hands, on him, tugging at him and he’s trying to tell them it’s no use because he’s trapped beneath the rubble and there’s no way out, no way free and he can’t get the words out but he wants to scream, to tell them to stop touching him – stop, stop, stop touching him because his skin is burning and bruising, bluing and purpling but they won’t let go, won’t listen to his inside screams that are so loud that, surely, they must have heard him. He stares at the sneaker stained linoleum floor, the dull reflection of light winking at him and Peter feels it might open up and swallow him. He doesn’t find himself minding all that much. On the side of his face, there’s something warm dribbling down his temple, oozing; Peter pulls himself free, not looking up from the ground because if he does, he knows he won’t be able to stop the tears. His voice is soft, gentle, fraying on at the seams and at its tethers. “I’m fine.”
Hands are on him again and Peter is screaming at them to let go, to stop touching him but they won’t listen and he jerks free but no one notices, no one cares. Ned is worried and his eyebrows crease together as MJ shoves all his books into his bag again, the textbooks scattered on the floor and opening in a grin of whitened, thin paper teeth, as if pleased from hurting Peter. “Peter, you’re not okay, you need to – ”
“Leave me… leave me alone.” His words are unheard, uncared for as MJ stands with Peter’s bag, her glowering at Flash and not paying any attention to Peter while Ned mumbles words of useless comfort to Peter; Peter wants to leave, wants air and space and to swing from building tops and narrowly miss the ground because he loves the thrill of falling, of dancing with death before pulling himself free from its embrace. He wants to cry, wants to go home, wants to go to the Compound, wants Aunt May and Mr. Stark because he doesn’t want to feel like this, doesn’t want these constant overflowing boxed things inside of him to weigh him down like an anchor tied to whatever stable part of him to drag him beneath the static sea. He trembles, bottom lip wobbling because he can’t go to them because he’s pathetic Peter Parker now, always crying, always wanting hugs and coddling.
“I didn’t even hurt him that much,” Flash defends but there’s a wobble in his voice, worry – worry not for Peter, but for himself, worry that he’ll get into trouble and they’ll have to call everyone’s parents and Aunt May in because of the whole ordeal. But it doesn’t matter because Flash will get off with little to no punishment and he won’t look Peter’s way for an entire week then he’ll be back to what he normally does: making life even more unbearable for Peter. “He’s overreacting.”
“He’s fucking bleeding, Flash,” MJ hisses and there’s so much venom and poison in her words that Peter is surprised her tongue didn’t erode away from it. Flash’s face grows pale, mouth parting and panic seeps in as MJ glares at Flash, a giant over his quivering form and Peter’s hands are shaking, are trembling because Ned is standing so close but Peter wants space, needs it and craves it but his friend ignores his screams, his words and places his hand on Peter’s sore shoulder.
“Pete, we’ll get you to the nurse’s office and – ”
“Leave me alone,” Peter snaps, breaking but his hands are shaking so much and he can’t look at anyone, can’t find the courage or strength to lift his eyes like he lifted the roof of the fallen building and he snags the bag from MJ’s hand, the girl shocked at his coldness, at his sudden action. He slips it on his shoulders and he can imagine Flash being relieved at Peter not wanting this to get out of hand but it was out of hand because he was falling apart and it was hard to breathe. He’s screaming but no one can hear him and he’s trapped, alone. Peter thinks he will never find high school to be the best years of his life. “I’m fine. I’m fine.”
He says it more to himself, to convince his mind that it’s true but he can’t believe the words and he’s a broken record, scratching and making no sense as he moves away, pushing past everyone and everything because there’s something clawing in his chest, digging its nails into him and Peter knows what it is and it’s getting harder to breathe, to think and he’s falling apart and all the stitches and Saturdays in the world couldn’t stop it.
“Peter, you aren’t – ” Ned begins but it’s lost because words are wind and they rush over Peter’s head.
He’s heaving breaths that can’t reach his lungs, a burning ache pooling in them that's leaving him drowning in it, and he’s drifting, blinking hard and trying to dispel the mistiness in his eyes but it’s no use and he’s lost beneath the waves, beneath the silence and static. The broken record plays on. “I’m fine. Leave me alone. I’m fine.”
He does not reach for the hand that tries to pull him free from the constraints of his mind and, far in the distance, the bell rings. He’s sorry that he can’t tell Mr. Stark about passing the Spanish test.
By the time he reaches the bathroom, Peter is staggering on his feet, not seeing right because there’s a wetness in his eyes that’s overflowing, like water over the lip of a jar and there’s silence, so much silence that his mind becomes too loud just like how his breathing is echoing off of the tiled walls, the green tinged and spotted mirrors standing seemingly mockingly on the wall, throwing his reflection back at him and the mess he has become. He does not want to look at himself, does not wish to see his face, but he does and he burns again, fists clenching and nails nipping at his palms, scarlet half-moons waxing and waning in his palms. His eyes are red and he’s pale and there’s a smear of scarlet down the right side of his face, crimson fingers threatening to slip into his eye as he stares, glaring. His nose is frosted with pink and his cheeks are blotchy and his hair – oh, his hair, his hair, is such a mess of curls and knots that it’s nothing like it was this morning.
He’s lost, lost in the rubble, in the concrete and the maze and mess of his mind and Peter stares at his eyes, stares and wishes they weren’t his because they’re overflowing now and brimming with tears and a monstrous sob ribs through him, shoulders heaving and collapsing in the large jumper he’s wearing. Peter turns away from his reflection, wishing it were gone and his cry is thrown back at him, wails so old and carrying dust from how long he’s been holding them in. He can’t do this, he can’t do this. He’s dying, he’s dying and no one can hear him and he’s all alone and no one is going to notice he’s gone.
He fumbles for his phone, dragging himself into one of the disgusting stalls and sits, locking it as he can’t control his breathing, letting it get worse and ragged and there’s spittle flying from his mouth from the heaviness of his sobs, fat tears rolling down his cheeks and he hates himself, hates himself for crying, for being over whelmed and he uses one hand to find Aunt May’s name and the other tugs at his curls, pulling and tugging at them for a semblance of pain that spikes but isn’t enough. It rings and Peter tries to hold back his crying but can’t, doesn’t have the strength and the dam is broken and his cries are so loud that he’s worried about someone hearing, worried they might see him as he is and turn the other way because no one would ever want to know more about this mess, the monstrosity that is Peter. It rings out and there’s silence but Peter persists, bending over on the toilet seat so his elbow rests on his knee, the pain in his skull grounding him slightly as his leg bounces, jerking the tresses trapped between his fingers cruelly.
It rings out again, and Peter tries not to become even more undone as he tries for a third time.
“Please, Aunt May. Please pick up. Please, please, please…”
Aunt May isn't picking up.
She isn't picking up and Peter is crying, crying so hard it's breaking his entire body, shuddering and gasping and that sea of static is bringing him under, drowning him beneath the surface he's trying to break through. He's going to die, he's going to die beneath the waves and the tears and the hand clasped on his mouth is harsh, the air unable to get through his nose and to his lungs. The blood on his forehead is cold now, sticky and in his hair, his eyebrows and drooling down the side of his face. Aunt May isn't picking up and Peter is falling apart.
So, he calls the only person he has left.
He calls Mr. Stark.
He’s screaming at himself not to, that Mr. Stark has better things for doing than spending time with Peter, than pulling himself from his life because Peter was a such a fucking cry-baby who couldn’t handle the weight of a building on his shoulders. But there are whispers through the silence, through the static, and they tug at Peter’s hand, makes him scroll through the short list of names that seems so long and he sees it there, a tear from his jaw slipping and splattering on the screen, scattering into a million pieces. Through the wailing of his mind, through the tears and the heaving sobs wracking his body so much he feels like he might crumble, Peter presses ‘call’ and ignores the way his chest becomes a tight ball, guts gripping as he continues to bounce his leg, the pain in his skull mounting as the phone is pressed to his ear. He’s crying so loudly now and it’s guttural, pitiful and hard to hear and Peter clasps a hand over his mouth, uneven breaths barely making it through his running and blocked nose.
And, it rings.
Part of Peter hopes Mr. Stark doesn’t pick up, a part telling him he won’t pick up because he has better things for doing than talking to Peter. It makes the sobbing worse and the hand on his mouth is iron, the muffled cries hurting his throat, strangling him as it rings.
He doesn’t want to be alone, please Mr. Stark, please, I have no one else, I don’t want to be alone, I can’t breathe, I’m dying, I’m dying, please, pick up, please –
“Hey, Pete! Someone is acting the rebel by calling during school. How'd that test go?”
That’s all it takes and Peter can’t hold back the weeping from behind his hand, he squeezes his eyes shut, a flurry of tears falling down his face and he’s bawling, sounds so loud and echoing that they could shatter glass; Peter is curling in on himself, gripping his hair tighter and that pain is now just pain, not grounding, not helping him to see sense and it makes him fall further apart, all the stitches he had used to sew himself together breaking and there’s a flood, a flood of tangles, tears, thoughts and inside stuff that have been waiting to be unboxed for so long but he’s been ignoring them and they’ve become bloated, festering. Peter gulps in the air and it isn’t enough because it leaves him instantly and his hands are shaking, so much so that his phone quakes as it rests against his ear.
“Mr. Stark – Mr. Stark, please, please, please help me.”
“Peter? Peter, are you okay? What’s happened, Peter?” It’s Peter now, not Pete or kid and it brings Peter to reality as he hears the worry, the shuddering concern and unbridled fear that’s no longer trying to bury itself in Mr. Stark’s words. And Peter knows he needs to tell Mr. Stark for everything to make sense but Peter can’t and he blubbers, weeping and sobbing into the phone and clutching at his chest through his jumper, gasping so much he feels like that he’s going to explode because he’s not in control of his actions anymore and no matter how much air he takes in, it’s not enough.
“She’s not answering, she’s not answering and – and there’s so much, so much inside stuff, Mr. Stark,” Peter practically wails and it makes no sense, makes no sense to anyone but Mr. Stark and Peter knows its okay to trust him with inside stuff because he had inside stuff too and he wanted to help Peter. He’s gulping breaths like an out of water fish and his face is warm, hot from the tears and the blotches on his skin and the blood on the side of his face is cool now, crusting. He’s gushing, spilling and bleeding out but it’s okay, it’s Mr. Stark and Mr. Stark was a genius who knew everything and anything and he could put Peter back together if he fell apart. “I can’t, there’s so much of it everywhere.”
“Peter, Peter listen to me. I need you to listen to me, okay?” Oh, he’s sounding frightened now – scared by Peter’s cries, by his words. Peter didn’t want to scare Mr. Stark with his inside stuff but it’s too late now and he’s crying harder because he messed it all up, he’s ruined it all because he was so weak and pathetic. He could barely even defeat Toomes, how could he ever hope to be as strong as Mr. Stark? “Can you do that for me, Peter?”
Peter nods and sends tears scattering, those that managed to clutch to his eyelashes falling instantly, staining his jeans, the puddle hanging from his chin dripping and drooling onto the front of his hoodie and he runs his sleeve along the bottom his nose, not really caring anymore but he remembers Mr. Stark can’t see him so he chokes out a yes through his crying. “Okay, Peter, I need you to tell me, as best as you can, what happened. Can you tell me what happened, Pete?”
He’s Pete now, and a blubber leaves him as his tongue ties itself into knots, choking out nonsensical sounds as his cries catch in his throat, the bouncing of his leg doing little to quell the nervousness that buzzed in his skin. There was such a softness in Mr. Stark’s voice, a kindness and fondness that it brought on a whole new wave of tears and sobbing unto Peter, made him sniffle and try to form the words he needed to say but couldn’t say because he couldn’t even breathe, couldn’t even think. But Mr. Stark always knows what he means when he doesn’t say what he means and it’s good because, right now, Peter can’t even push out sentences that make sense. “The books – the books were mine but then they weren’t and he poured them on me and then it was the building. I was in the building and I couldn’t breathe and I was going to die, Mr. Stark. I was going – going to die alone and – and – ”
“Hey, hey,” Mr. Stark hushes, making soft noises to calm Peter, to help him be able to think through the memories and the tangles. “Pete, it’s okay, you’re here. You’re with me and you’re alright.”
No, no, no, he didn’t feel okay, he felt like he was dying. He couldn’t stay here, couldn’t die in a place that he hated with people that hated him. No, he needed to go – to leave, to find people who loved him. He wanted to be held, he wanted Aunt May, he wanted Mr. Stark. “Please, I can’t stay. Please, Mr. Stark, I’m – I’m going to die, I can’t breathe, I can’t – I can’t. I have no one else, you’re all I have. Please, Mr. Stark, please.”
And there’s no return answer for a moment, and Peter can’t stop the gushing of sounds that leaves him, the weeping, the choked cries as he thinks that Mr. Stark probably hung up on him, didn’t want to deal his stupid teenage problems because he was just a stupid teenager and of course he was going to die alone because who cared about him? All he ever did was drag people down and he was a burden, as heavy on the shoulders of others as the building was on his own. He’s heaving, nails digging into his chest and wishing he could just tear it open to stop how tight it was feeling and Mr. Stark was gone because he didn’t care, no one cared, he was alone and he was dying.
Then, a miracle.
“Alright, Pete. I’m here, I’m here. Please don’t cry, I’m coming for you,” Mr. Stark all but whispers and it echoes in Peter, bouncing off on the hollowness of his insides as he tries to listen to Mr. Stark, to listen to his words and how soft and gentle they were, making Peter feel so fragile and ready to break. Maybe he was, maybe he was really that weak but he trusted Mr. Stark; he trusted Mr. Stark so, so much that it hurt his heart and his head and he didn’t care how long he would have to wait because Mr. Stark was coming for him and he wasn’t going to die alone. Peter can hear movement on the other side of the line, feet moving and rushing about. “Listen, Pete, listen to me, I need you to listen to me, okay?”
“Okay.” It’s all Peter can say because he’s so relieved and the sobs are softer now because Mr. Stark is coming for him, he’s not going to be alone.
“I’ll need to call the school and tell them that I’m coming to collect you. You need to be at the office before me, alright? You need to tell them you aren’t feeling well and that you’re being collected by a family friend,” Mr. Stark rushes and Peter can barely absorb one word before there’s another and another but he hears them, nods along to them even if Mr. Stark can’t see him and sniffles, soft whimpers leaving his lips as he hears the starting of an engine, mumbling on the other end from a person that wasn’t Mr. Stark. “Can you do that for me, Pete?”
“Yes,” Peter replies. There’s a tiredness in him, one that covers his bones and his leg stops bouncing. His eyes hurt from how much he’s been crying and his shoulders are hunched, the hand on his chest loosening, now free. He’s not going to die alone, Mr. Stark is coming for him, he’s not going to die.
“Okay, good. Good. Now, I need to hang up – it’s to call the school, alright?” Mr. Stark explains, hastily sticking on the last few words after Peter left out a sound of alarm at being separated from Mr. Stark, at being left in silence and static once more but despite the reasoning, he doesn’t like it, doesn’t want to be left alone. But it’s Mr. Stark and he trusts Mr. Stark, trusts him more than he could ever say, ever think. “I’ll be there as shortly as I can, Pete. I’m coming, alright? I’ll be there soon. You’re going to be alright, kid. You’re going to be fine.”
Peter can’t find the words because he’s so lethargic, weary and sluggish from crying, from the tangled mess in his mind and he nods to no one and half whispers alright and then, silence and static.
He doesn’t know whether to break or pull himself together, phone pressed to his ear, the heat from the screen like a hand of a lover that Peter will never know, the burn steadily growing and there’s a red square from where it was pressed to the side of his face, the feeling of its heat lingering. Peter sits, slumped, sniffling and hiccupping from his crying and the tears on his cheeks are cold now, dried and cracking on the skin and the blood is hard and crusty on the side of his face, hidden by the mass of curls that were swept over it. Peter knows he needs to wipe it away but he can’t and he can’t fail Mr. Stark, can’t disappoint him again.
Peter rises, a roof on his shoulders, and tugs at the straps of his bag, slipping his phone into his pocket and leaves the stall, not caring to catch a glimpse of himself in the mirror. He doesn’t care, doesn’t want to see himself and it doesn’t matter because Mr. Stark was coming and he wasn’t going to die.
The room is small, smelling of old books and a trace of stale coffee and it’s warm, unbearably so and Peter’s cheeks are flushed because of it, trying to cool himself down by sipping from the bottle of water that he’s holding between his palms, staring at the liquid while his finger picked at the remaining remnants of the label that he had scratched off long before. It’s been exactly thirteen minutes since Mr. Stark said he was coming for him and time only continues on.
The receptionist is casting worried glances at Peter but doesn’t bother him, doesn’t think he’s lying about feeling unwell because he’s so pale and he knows she can see the lingering redness in his eyes and how his hair is flat against his head, the ache from his previous tugging pulsating every once in a while. He pats at the curtain of hair in front of the cut on his forehead to hide the trail of blood and makes sure it’s hidden, unseen because he doesn’t want anymore trouble. He wants to leave and he wants Mr. Stark to be here, a constant by his side like Aunt May so that they can unbox the inside stuff because they were piling up in Peter’s mind to a height he could not fathom.
The receptionist had been on the phone when Peter first arrived and there was a strange, disconnected concern for his appearance as she whispered a confirmation into the phone and hung up. Peter mumbled his explanation and she nodded sympathetically, explaining that she was just on the phone to the family friend and Peter would be able to leave when they arrived – it seemed that, some time ago, Aunt May had put Mr. Stark’s number as the emergency number if she couldn’t be reached. This piece of information was new to Peter and it stilled him, lips parting in disbelief at the revelation.
And so, Peter waits.
He listens to the ticking of the clock, the distant ringing of phones, of the hushed tone of the receptionist as the scratching of her pen on a notepad rinsed and wringed Peter’s ear, becoming louder and louder as he continued to scrape away the sticky paper on the side of his bottle. The couch is small and lumpy beneath Peter, worn and torn from the years it had been constant here and it has a strange smell to it, too; Peter doesn’t like it here, doesn’t like this small, close and warm room that he can’t breathe in. He wants to call Mr. Stark because it’s been nineteen minutes now and he isn’t here, hadn’t tried to call Peter and Peter really, really doesn’t want to burst into tears in front of the receptionist but they’re stinging his eyes and there’s a lump in the back of his throat that’s choking him, strangling him.
He doesn’t want to die alone but now it’s been twenty two and a half minutes and Mr. Stark isn’t here, and oh, God, he’s dying, he’s going to die alone and no one can hear his screaming –
There’s footsteps, and the door opens and a rush of cold air rushes in and Peter can breathe. He looks up from the curtain of his curls and he’s here, he’s come for him, he’s not going to die alone, oh, God, he’s not going to die. It’s Mr. Stark and he’s looking so out of place for this small room, name too big to be standing in a high school but he’s there and he’s worried, concerned and frightened and the receptionist’s mouth drops in shock, not bothering to keep up any air of professionalism and Peter can feel himself choking up again and the bottle is crushed in his hand, plastic crackling through the room.
Mr. Stark, from where he stands, spots Peter so easily and his body sags, relieved and it makes the prickling in Peter’s eyes worsen; he’s here, he had said he was coming, had promised and now he was here for Peter. The door is closed behind Mr. Stark and it’s all Peter can do to stop himself from crying out as the receptionist stares agape, mouth parted and unable to believe the sight before her. Mr. Stark smiles that smooth smile, grinning at the woman behind the desk as he tries to keep up the appearance of professionalism, not rushing to Peter and gathering him up in a hug like Peter desperately needed.
“I’m Tony Stark, we spoke on the phone,” Mr. Stark says, grinning and the receptionist nods dumbly. At another time, Peter might have laughed but he doesn’t. “I’m here to collect Peter Parker.”
She flashes her eyes in disbelief at Peter, as if she couldn’t believe that someone like pathetic Peter Parker could ever be friends with Tony Stark and Peter drops his eyes, staring at the crushed plastic bottle in his hand, wringing it even more so to fight the tangled mess in his mind that wanted to wrap around his throat. Slowly, the receptionist stands, slowly and spooked. “Of course. I’ll… I’ll get the papers needed.”
Maybe it’s a lie, maybe she wants to give the two a few moments to talk, or to gossip with the other staff that the Tony Stark was here, or maybe it’s the truth but either way, she leaves the room, casting Peter a glance once more, the same glance of concern as she had moments ago, before she opens the door, a sigh of cool air rushing in before there’s a soft click of the door closing in its place and then, it’s just the two of them.
It doesn’t take long for Peter’s lip to start quivering because Mr. Stark came and his grip around the plastic bottle is getting tighter and tighter because he doesn’t want to fall apart, doesn’t want to break into tears; it doesn’t matter because instantly Mr. Stark is moving to make his way beside Peter on the old and lumpy couch.
“Hey, it’s okay, Pete. You’re alright,” Mr. Stark reassures, unaware that his presence is what is making Peter want to cry. He sits beside the teenager, slinging an arm behind Peter’s shoulders and pulling him into his side, Peter’s bloodied temple resting against the older man as he continued to stare down at the contorted remains of the plastic bottle that was crushed in his palm. Mr. Stark smells of his cologne, of metal and leather. “You’re okay, kid. But I need you to tell me what happened, alright? Can you do that for me?”
Peter sniffs, and his words are choking, caught in his throat while he continues to wring the bottle in his hand, desperately trying to breathe in and out, in and out, in and oh, God he can’t breathe. Mr. Stark’s hand is moving up and down Peter’s arm in comfort and Peter wants to hide, wants to be anywhere but here because a strangled whimper leaves him and his cheeks are so warm, heated and spotted with splashes of pink and there are shuddering breaths leaving him, trying to stop the tears that want to leave. He’s cried so much that he doesn’t think it would be possible to have any more tears but they’re here, constant and fat, ugly droplets are hanging on his eyelashes that he wants to push away but can’t.
His lack of words seem to make Mr. Stark even more alarmed, creases forming between his eyebrows and Mr. Stark begins to smooth down his hair, the ragged and ratty curls being unknotted and brushed behind the curve of his ear; it’s what Aunt May would do whenever Peter used to have bad nightmares when he was younger and it hurts because he wishes he was that young again, that all the monsters were only in closets and not in his head. He can’t look at Mr. Stark, doesn’t want to in fear of seeing disappointment, of seeing impatience and annoyance but Mr. Stark continues to brush through the matted curls on Peter’s head, brushing them gently away from his face so that he can see Peter better, can see his red, misty, downcast eyes and trembling bottom lip, and it soothes Peter, makes him remember that he’s not going to die alone because Mr. Stark came for him and he’s not going to be alone.
Mr. Stark’s voice is soft, hushing and he tugs Peter closer, not caring that the teenager is all but wanting to bury himself into the shoulder of him, not caring if Peter would stain his suit with tears and Peter’s eyes remain glued to the hands crushing his bottle, ignoring how the plastic is jagged against his palm, leaving impressions into the skin. Mr. Stark’s hand in his hair is brushing at his fringe, trying to free Peter’s face from the constraints of the curtain of curls and Peter gives a sniffle, unable to speak, unable to find his voice and Mr. Stark leans in and Peter feels something being pressing against the crown of his curls, Mr. Stark’s lips. It’s like what Aunt May would do when Peter was young and had skinned both of his knees but his hurt isn’t so easy to find now and Peter becomes more distressed because he wants to tell Mr. Stark, wants to be comforted and held but doesn’t feel worthy enough to be shown such kindness by the older man. “It’s okay, kid. I’m here, I’m listening. You can trust me. You know that, right? You can trust – ”
Mr. Stark’s words pause and, for a brief moment, Peter thinks he’s going to rip Peter away from him and leave but his hands hand paused and he’s tugging at his fringe, tugging at the tresses that are caught in the gash on his forehead, stuck in the dribble of blood down the side of his face and Peter’s heart leaps into his throat, tongue glued to the roof of his mouth as Mr. Stark pushes his fringe aside, eyes wide and there’s a fire in his features, nostrils flaring and jaw clenched; would he think Peter weak for not being able to handle such a small, insignificant injury? He’s had worse and he’s healed, so what was the difference now? Peter burns with the shame and he lamely ducks his head from Mr. Stark’s hand, letting the curls fall in front of the cut again but Mr. Stark isn’t having it, reaching up again to stare at it, taking it in. He seems angry and Peter hopes it isn’t towards him. “Shit. Shit, Peter, what happened? Who did this? Who hurt you?”
Oh, oh no, it’s going to get out of hand and Peter’s heart leaps and bounds in his chest, gasping for air and clawing for it and Peter panics, not wanting to seem like the weak, pathetic cry-baby Peter Parker that he is and Peter shakes his head beneath Mr. Stark’s touch, his brown tresses moving about him as he does so, a half hearted cough clearing his throat to speak. “It was my fault.”
Mr. Stark isn’t happy with his words, if anything it seems to make him angrier, fire and fury and Peter doesn’t want him to think he’s weak, that he can’t fight without the suit because he needs the suit, needs it because he needs to be Spider-Man, to be strong if even for such a short amount of time because it was better than being the pathetic Peter Parker that he was now. Peter can’t look at Mr. Stark and the older man leans forward, desperately trying to catch Peter’s avoiding gaze and seeming softer, less fiery. “No, no it isn’t your fault. I know it isn’t your fault and you’re just taking the blame.”
Peter can only look at him for a moment before turning to the distorted plastic bottle in his hand, the grip he had around it tight and strangling like the one that was around his throat, all those tangles from his mind winding around his neck like a noose. Beside him, Mr. Stark shuffles and reaches into his breast pocket, pulling out a magenta square and he unfolds it, scrunching it in his hand as he pulls back Peter’s fringe, stunning Peter as he wipes at the dried blood there, patting at it gently as it begins to fade away; Peter’s teeth bite down on his bottom lip as Mr. Stark takes the bottle from his hand to wet the end of his handkerchief, making it easier as he cleans up the mess that is Peter. For a moment all is silent, Peter sitting slumped and glum and trying not to fall apart as Mr. Stark erase the stained crimson on Peter’s temple, on his forehead, grimacing at the injury that is slowly stitching itself back together, not quick enough for Peter’s liking. Then, he’s back at brushing Peter’s curls, voice low and soft. “Tell me what happened, Peter.”
Peter reaches up to swipe the underneath of his pink frosted nose, the tip gleaming as he swallows the lump in his throat, the lies gathering there; he can trust Mr. Stark because Mr. Stark was here, he came for Peter when Peter called and he made sure Peter wasn’t alone.
“It got out of hand,” Peter lamely mumbled, hands wringing around each other now that the bottle was gone from his grip; his knuckles faded to bone yellow, skin taut and stretched as his hails bit into the back of his hand, leg jittering slightly to stem the uneasiness in his body. “He was annoyed and I told him to piss off.”
Mr. Stark frowns, dabbing at the cut on Peter’s forehead before he stops, the side of Peter’s head damp from the water and he refolds the small square, placing it into the pocket of his pants as he leans back into the lumpy and uncomfortable couch, arm over the back of Peter’s shoulders and seeming displeased at the teenager’s words. “So this guy... hit you?”
“No,” Peter explains, shaking his head and chewing on the inside of his cheek, anything to curb the knots in his stomach, the way his chest felt too tight for his beating heart. Peter tries to speak, tries to make sense with his words for once because Mr. Stark looks so angry and Peter doesn’t want that anger directed towards him, doesn’t want to be on the receiving end of that fire and fury. “He… he got my bag and he dumped all my books on top of me. One of the corners hit me.”
Peter reaches up to tap the cut on his forehead, Mr. Stark’s eyes following as he did so and there was a hardness in his eyes, jaw clenching as Peter dropped his hand again, squirming and wishing he could speak better, could be better and not so fragile and prone to fits of tears. Mr. Stark ghosts his hand around the cut, taking in the redness of it and he chewed on his words, not wanting to spill the anger he had to whoever had done this around Peter. “Does he do this often?”
Mr. Stark’s words seem so cold and Peter retreats into himself, fingers aching and stiff from how tightly he wound them around each other, shoulders lifting and falling, voice a gentle murmur that could barely be heard by anyone but Mr. Stark. “I suppose.”
“Not ‘suppose’, it’s yes or no, Pete,” Mr. Stark says, seeming so much more cold and business like that it doesn’t seem like the Mr. Stark he knew, the same one would helped him with homework sometimes, the same one who would help Peter with his suit and help him unboxing his inside stuff. “Does this guy bully you often?”
Peter’s voice is gently, feathery whisper, only having enough strength to carry to Mr. Stark’s ears. “Yes.”
There’s a pause, a silence and Peter can’t imagine what Mr. Stark is thinking as he stares at the gash, at how red it is, how it’s healing and stitching itself back together but it’s still there and it would be for the next few hours and it would still be there in Peter’s mind; then, Mr. Stark nods, as if in agreement with his thoughts and he gently musses up the curls on the crown of Peter’s head, soothing Peter’s erratic self and he leans in closer towards Mr. Stark, finding comfort in him and glad that he was able to do so. But it’s shattered.
“Then this needs to be dealt with.”
Peter is in alarm, heart too big for his throat and he’s choking on it, panicking because no, no, no they couldn’t tell anyone because then Flash would take his anger out on other people and he’d only go back to bullying Peter but it’ll be worse and he can’t, can’t handle it being any more worse. “No, please, Mr. Stark. It’s better – ”
“It’s better you than others, is it?” Mr. Stark asks and there’s that snap in his voice again but it’s not supposed to be directed at Peter and Peter knows this, knows it’s towards Flash but he can’t help thinking that maybe Mr. Stark is annoyed with Peter, annoyed that Peter dragged him all the way down here and is being difficult with him.
“I heal fast,” Peter mumbles, bringing the sleeves of his jumper over his hands and fiddling with the cuffs as he was prone to do. “Others don’t.”
“Just because you heal fast doesn’t mean that you need to be hurt,” Mr. Stark says, sharp and pleading, trying to make Peter see sense but Peter can’t because if it’s him, then no one else gets hurt and no one else has to be put through the pain that comes with it. It’s better him than anyone else, it always is. Peter shakes his head, tongue tied and trying to calm his breathe and Mr. Stark pauses, sighing and Peter worries that Mr. Stark is getting sick of him, is getting sick of his inability to just unbox all his inside stuff like a normal person could. He doesn’t mean to be difficult, doesn’t mean to cry so much and doesn’t mean to want to be held and coddled and cuddled but he can’t help it and Peter hates it. Peter hopes Mr. Stark doesn’t hate him for it too. “Shit, Pete, this… this isn’t normal. If he doesn’t get punished he’s just going to go out into the real world thinking he can treat people like this.”
Through the mangled mess of his thoughts, Peter knows Mr. Stark is right, knows what he’s saying is making sense but it doesn’t help him in becoming unhesitant.
“What do you want me to do?” Peter murmurs, pulling at the loose threads that were attached to the cuffs of his jumper, rolling them between the pads of his fingers before letting them flutter to the ground, anything to distract himself from Mr. Stark’s clicking tongue as he tightens his hold around Peter.
“Tell your Aunt, for starters,” Mr. Stark offers and he feels Peter tense beneath his arm, shoulders sharp and hunched and Mr. Stark senses it, Peter’s hesitance and fright at telling Aunt May because he didn’t want to worry her anymore, didn’t want to cause her any more concern. Mr. Stark caught Peter’s gaze again, features moulding into a soft stare, his hand reaching up to brush a loose stray hair away from Peter's eyes. “She loves you, kid, and I know she would fight to the last man if it meant that you’d be alright.”
Peter knows this too and it’s what makes him feel even more guilty because Aunt May deserves a happy Peter, not the Peter that he was; Peter wrings his hands, jaw clenching and sucking in a deep breath because he knows Aunt May won’t be able to understand the inside stuff even if she can understand the rest; it’s hard to speak and she’ll only get worried when Peter’s tangled thoughts become too hard to form into words. He ignores the quivering lip as he stares at huis hand, focusing on Mr. Stark as he continued to brush back the stubborn, bouncing curl that wouldn’t sit behind his ear. “Will… will you be there?”
Mr. Stark pauses in his actions and Peter glances through his wet eyelashes to see Mr. Stark with a stunned look on his face, not expecting Peter’s words. His mouth parts, trying to find the words he wants to say and it’s the first time Peter has ever seen him at a loss for words. “You want me to?”
“Please. It’s… it’s hard talking about it with Aunt May,” Peter begs, croaking and finding the courage to look at Mr. Stark, to see through the gathering mistiness in his eyes and he ignores the coil in his chest, the fear of having everything out in the open, spilling and gushing free from Peter. “She doesn’t… she doesn’t understand the inside stuff. I don’t want her to know about… about the rest. Not yet, anyway.”
Mr. Stark purses his lips, as if weighing Peter’s words in his mind before sighing, deeply and tiredly, a small curve on his lips as he pats the back of Peter’s head, giving a gentle nod at Peter’s request; I makes Peter want to cry with relief, to hug Mr. Stark and thank him a million times over and again. “Alright, kid. I’ll be there – of course I’ll be there for you.”
“Thank you, Mr. Stark,” Peter begins and he’s tearing up again, falling away to nothing and his voice shudders, quivering and his bottom lip is trembling because he’s so, so, so relieved that Mr. Stark is here, that he’s come for him and that he isn’t alone and he’s not going to let Peter be alone. He wants to sob again and Mr. Stark can sense it, arm around Peter tightening and it only makes Peter feel even more emotional, able to speak through the tangles. “Thank you so much, for coming here, for being – for being – ”
“Damn, kid, you’re tearing me apart, come here,” Mr. Stark says and Peter thinks he hears a crack in his voice but it’s gone before he can delve in on it and then he’s gathered into Mr. Stark’s arms, pulled into a hug by the older man, an arm wrapping over the back of his shoulder and the other going up to rest on the back of Peter’s head, holding the teen to him and Peter doesn’t stop himself from burying himself into Mr. Stark’s chest, anything to stop the onslaught of another burst of tears, anything to let him believe he’s anywhere but this Hell on Earth, that small and warm room.
Peter’s arms wind over Mr. Stark, resting and clutching at his back, wondering if it’s okay to hold onto him so tightly because his suit must be so expensive and Peter doesn’t want to ruin it, doesn’t want to destroy it with his touch but Mr. Stark doesn’t say anything, if anything he holds him tighter and Peter takes in a shivering breath past the lump in his throat, eyes squeezed shut so tightly that stars and galaxies burst and fade in the darkness of his vision. He feels Mr. Stark’s hand on his head, unconsciously resuming the smoothing of Peter’s knotted hair and there’s that cord in his chest, the tightness that comes with loving being loved. He loves being loved, loves being held and coddled and he doesn’t feel that shame for once, that burn because boys weren’t supposed to want to be held, to be hugged because Mr. Stark doesn’t care and he’s a man and he holds Peter like Aunt May would, isn’t ashamed to do so.
“Constant,” Peter whispers, mumbling beneath Mr. Stark’s chin and the older man pauses in his smoothing down of Peter’s hair.
“Thank you for being constant.”
He feels Mr. Stark press his lips against the crown of Peter’s curls again and Peter knows he’s not alone now, not going to die and Peter breathes.