It was day twenty-six of living in the inconspicuous house on the edge of Manhattan, when Peter broached the subject with Pepper for the first time. She was sitting on the sofa in pyjamas, her hair tied up in a messy pony tail, surrounded by papers, contracts and forms. Peter watched from the doorway as she scribbled her signature three times in a row and flipped to the next page.
“Hey, Pepper?” Peter greeted, moving to the sofa and sitting down at the end opposite her, where the papers didn’t reach.
“Peter,” Pepper replied, not looking up. She signed her name again, flipped the page.
“I’ve got an idea.”
Pepper finally looked up after signing her name once more. She’d taken the day off; Tony had gone in to work and the two of them had a system that made sure Peter was never home alone. He figured it wasn’t that they didn’t trust him, they just wanted to be there in case anything happened – it was about them caring. Everyone was steadfastly ignoring the truth: that Peter was their son, not just a kid they’d decided to look out for.
“I started Pride and Prejudice last night-” Pepper perked up, a smile lighting her face “-and I’m almost finished with it-”
“You’re almost done?”
Peter nodded, producing the book from behind his back. He had about fifty pages left; when he’d started reading the night before, he couldn’t stop. He’d fallen asleep around four AM, and upon waking, just started right back up where he left off.
“I’ll probably be finished by dinner, but Bucky told me there was a movie?” Pepper’s smile widened. “I was wondering if you wanted to watch it tonight?”
The papers were gone by the time the sky grew dark. Peter had changed into pyjamas because Pepper was still in hers, and when he finally flopped onto the sofa, the book finished, Pepper was ready and waiting with popcorn.
“You’re gonna love this,” she promised. “The 2005 Pride and Prejudice is the best on screen version yet.”
“They made others?”
“Of course they did,” Pepper said, cupping Peter’s chin as he ducked forward to swipe some popcorn. She held him there, looked him dead in the eye. “And you’ll never watch any of them, because they’ll pale in comparison, got that?”
Peter nodded and shoved a handful of popcorn into his mouth. “Got it,” he said through the food.
Pepper cracked a smile and laughed, the two of them shifting until they were comfortable on the sofa, the popcorn bowl in the middle seat and the two of them sitting either side. Peter draped his legs over the arm of the sofa, lying on his side to watch the movie and reaching overhead whenever he got hungry.
FRIDAY turned the movie on, and Peter watched, enraptured, until the final scene.
When Pepper cried, he tilted his head back to look at her, and she laughed, waving him away through her tears. He didn’t know what to do, so he nudged the popcorn bowl in her direction, and she took a few pieces, her gaze back on the television.
The second time was after Peter stopped counting the days. The Avengers were always in and out of the house, wanting to visit Peter and Tony, in the lab and outside of it. They always talked to Tony and Peter was pretty sure it was because otherwise he’d feel like a charity case – like they were coming to see him just to see if the HYDRA part of him was going to sneak back out and stab them in the back.
When they visited, they laughed and played card games; they talked about whatever book Peter was reading, or whatever movie he’d watched recently.
“Oh,” Peter said, when they were playing Uno. He looked to Bucky. “Pepper and I watched Pride and Prejudice.”
“Oh, yeah? Did you enjoy it?”
He nodded. “Yeah it was really good – Pepper says I’m not allowed to watch any of the other versions because they’re not as good.”
“Pepper’s right,” Steve agreed. “I watched this new version they made with zombies and, honestly, it was one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. Completely butchered the story.”
“Lily James was hot in it though,” Nat commented, sitting awkwardly due to the cast on her leg.
Clint shrugged. “Lily James is hot in everything, doesn’t mean Pride and Prejudice and Zombies wasn’t anything but a flaming pile of shit. Don’t read the book either, kid – not worth it.”
Peter frowned. “You can read?”
Laughter peeled out across the room as Clint glared at him. “Alright, just for that.” Clint was seated on the other side of Bucky, who was next to Peter, and he slapped down a +4 card with the confidence of a man who somehow knew that Bucky had one too.
Peter did not.
“You’re the worst,” Peter said as he counted out his eight cards. “Like, I grew up with Nazis, and you’re the worst.”
The others just laughed anyway, and the game continued on as if Clint hadn’t brought the total of cards in Peter’s hands up to nineteen. He really wasn’t good at Uno.
“I should watch Pride and Prejudice again,” Steve commented a moment later, picking the conversation up again. “I haven’t seen it in ages.”
“Me too,” Nat agreed. “Rosamund Pike is in it and I miss seeing her on my screen.”
“Who’s that?” Peter asked.
“She’s an actress. Played the lead in Gone Girl – have you seen it?” Peter shook his head and a smile stretched across Nat’s face. “Oh, we’re watching that too. Gone Girl is right up your alley.”
Steve laughed. “How do you figure that?”
Nat shrugged, eyed Peter like he was prey. “I just get the feeling about this kid. Like he would really enjoy watching a woman fake her own death.”
(He did. He and Nat watched it a few weeks later, when both Pepper and Tony were out, and Peter decided that Amy Dunne was his hero, and that Nat had a scary look in her eye when watching her.)
In the end, they sprawled across the sofa and arm chairs, FRIDAY dimming the lights and Pride and Prejudice playing on screen. The five of them moved around, went in search of snacks and commented on the movie, casually, friendly, with laughter in their voices.
“Did you see that?” Nat asked at one point. She’d moved from the armchair to Peter’s side, her broken leg propped up on the coffee table, and was leaning to whisper in his ear. “The way he moved his hand after he held hers?”
“It’s like he’s been burned or something. That’s good acting, kid. Take notes.”
Three quarters of the way into the movie, Pepper and Tony returned, their chatter dying when they saw four Avengers and Peter watching the screen. At one point, Clint had made them all sandwiches, when they realised they’d forgotten about dinner, and they were all eating, their eyes glued to Keira Knightley.
Without a word, Pepper left her handbag on the table, slipped off her heels and squeezed herself into the empty spot on the sofa, by Peter’s side. Tony exhaled a laugh through his nose and sat on the floor by her feet.
Peter didn’t look away from the screen when he moved his plate towards Pepper, offering her his other sandwich. She didn’t look away from the screen when she took it.
Peter didn’t watch Pride and Prejudice again for a while after that, instead powering through the long list of movies everyone had given him and focusing his efforts on school. He joined clubs, trained in track, despite the weather growing colder, and had Pepper sign a fake name for every permission slip.
It was the end of January when he watched it again.
He’d been Spiderman for all of two weeks; had saved a few lives, stopped a series of muggings and even caught a bus with his bare hands (he really hoped no one caught a photo or video of that – his parents hadn’t seemed to notice his vigilante exploits yet, and he was hoping to keep it that way for a little longer).
Then January 28th rolled around and Peter returned from “Ned’s house” (AKA patrol) to find Tony at the kitchen table. The mug of coffee in front of him had long turned cold, but he still held it, staring off into space. Tony didn’t notice Peter when he walked in, so Peter stood in the doorway, watching.
“Are you alright?” he asked when it was clear Tony wasn’t going to spot him.
Tony jerked his head to the side, and his features relaxed when he saw his son. “Yeah – yeah, I’m fine.”
“You were just staring.”
“Right.” Tony lifted the mug to his lips and grimaced at the cold coffee.
Peter hesitated before moving further into the room. He slid into the chair opposite Tony’s, dropping his backpack by his feet. “What were you thinking about?” Peter asked into the stretch of silence.
“The last decade,” Tony replied.
Oh. The last decade, by all accounts, had been a bad one for Tony Stark. However, from the vague knowledge Peter had, he knew that most of the decades in Tony’s life weren’t all that great either. Still, in the last ten years, Tony had lost his son, been abducted, tortured, forced to fight aliens, sentient robots and been poisoned by his own arc reactor.
“I was thinking about what ifs,” Tony added.
“We don’t play with those,” Peter replied, automatic. He’d heard Pepper say it once through the walls of their bedrooms. Tony must’ve caught the reference, because he nodded and let out a sigh.
“No, we don’t. This is how our lives have turned out – and they were hard there, for a while, but it was worth it to get us here.”
“Really? The wormhole was worth it?”
Tony’s gaze flickered to his cold coffee. “The wormhole was a prelude to a much bigger disaster, I’m sure,” he said. “But everything that happened, it led us back here. If we can’t change the past and that shitty fucking day in 2007, the least we can do is be thankful with how it worked out.”
Peter frowned. He hadn’t talked to either of his parents about what happened when he was young and taken – not since the glass box and Pepper’s confession; not since he was a prisoner, a jailspider, rather than a son.
Tony seemed to remember Peter’s presence and shook his head. “Anyway. Did you have fun at Ted’s?” He stood up abruptly and threw the coffee down the sink before starting up the coffee maker.
“I’m happy with how it turned out,” Peter said after a beat. Tony looked over with a raised eyebrow. “Us, I mean. Me being here. I’d take this life over the one in HYDRA any day, and I guess- I guess I never said thank you for taking me out of there. For this house and the sacrifices you and Pepper have made in the last six months. I mean, sure, sometimes I think about what my life might’ve been like if March-whatever-”
“-The twenty-eighth,” Tony supplied.
“Right – if it hadn’t happened. But, I can’t think about that, because that’s not what happened. This is what happened, and in this life, I’m really, I don’t know? Lucky? That everything that happened led me to that compound on the day it blew up, and the blood transfusion and you wanting me when you found out about the DNA-”
“We wanted you before that,” Tony interrupted. He was ignoring the coffee maker now, a crinkle between his brows as he tried to make himself clear. “Before we found out you were already family, Pepper and I were going to do exactly this – we were going to take you in and help you recover from HYDRA-”
“Because you needed a family,” Tony replied. “We saw that. We saw a kid, alone in a hospital bed who just held up a godforsaken building to save Pepper’s life, and we weren’t going to let you go to some SHIELD containment facility or keep living your life as if we didn’t care about you. It was a coincidence that you were related to us by blood because Pepper had plans to make you her son already in the works.”
Peter swallowed, his mouth dry. He couldn’t look at Tony anymore, so he focused on a tile on the wall, letting Tony turn around and finish his coffee. When he was done, he passed Peter, pressing his hand against his shoulder and giving it a light squeeze. When he let go, Peter found he wanted Tony’s hand back – wanted something of comfort, wanted, wanted-
Peter wanted his dad and he turned in his seat, a new fervour racing through his bones. “Hey, uh, Tony?”
“Are you busy right now?”
Tony glanced at the door way leading to the lab, and then back to Peter. “Free as a bird.”
“Do you wanna watch a movie?”
This time, when Peter asked FRIDAY for Pride and Prejudice, Tony laughed and said, “Pepper’s rubbing off on you, huh?” but didn’t say no. He got popcorn and drinks from the kitchen, found a few blankets to wrap around them, and they bundled themselves onto the sofa as the music swelled over the living room.
About half way in, Pepper came home from work, joining them on the sofa without hesitation. Peter sat between his parents, his blanket draped over Pepper, the bowl of popcorn in his lap, and felt that strange, content feeling welling up inside him. Pepper’s head came to rest on his shoulder, and Peter pressed his cheek into her hair, his stomach warming at the thought of this being his new normal.
When Pepper cried at the movie, Peter did too. He wasn’t sure if it was over Mr Darcy and Elizabeth, or if he simply felt the need to do it; but he did, and Tony wrapped his arm around he and Pepper, and Peter didn’t want him to let go.
Home, Peter realised, was becoming less foreign every day.