“So like, the issue is that I like learning and I need to go to school to get a good education in order to be qualified for an actual career,” Peter tells Ned as they stand at their lockers.
“How is that an issue?” Ned asks in confusion.
Peter sighs dramatically. “I hate school,” he says, as if that explains everything.
Ned nods sympathetically. “Makes sense. Oh, the joys of social hierarchy. Also, I forgot the solubility rules, so I totally bombed that part of the quiz today. Which means I’m probably going to fail, which means I’ll be kicked out of school, which means I’ll have to work at McDonald’s for the rest of my life and live off of a minimum wage salary.”
Peter pats his back consolingly. “You and me both, man. School just proves what we already knew: the world is conspiring against us.”
Ned scoffs. “Okay, but at least you have Spider-Man,” he points out, saying the name quietly so no one overhears.
Peter gives him a weird look. “Oh yeah, loved getting bitten by a fucking radioactive spider. It was like getting a kiss from Mother Nature.”
Ned shrugs. “Who cares? You’re staying with Tony freaking Stark. How is that, by the way?”
“Oh, it’s great!” he says enthusiastically. “The man has, like, zero parenting skills, so I get to eat whatever I want, and we just stay in his lab all night.”
“Dude, your life is so not real,” Ned says incredulously. “Have you heard from May?”
“Yeah, she said she’ll probably be home this weekend. I think she feels bad, but her work really needed extra hands with the hurricane relief, so it’s fine.”
“Gotcha. Hey, what do you – whoa!” Ned exclaims. “What’s going on?”
As they turn the corner, as large mass of students clogs the hall, all trying to peer over each other to get a look at whatever’s caught their attention. Before Ned and Peter can get any closer, though, the crowd parts down the middle by a seemingly invisible force.
That is, until Tony Stark steps through.
As usual, he’s wearing a three-piece suit, his trademark sunglasses, and in his hands is – what the fuck? – a Spider-Man lunchbox.
Tony’s eyes lands on the pair of them, and he casually makes his way over to them, as if Iron Man walking through a high school is normal.
“Hey, Pete! I was just looking for you,” he informs Peter.
“Hi, uh, Mr. Stark. Um. Hi. What are you, uh, doing here?” he asks, trying to ignore all the blatant stares that are now focused on them.
“What? A billionaire can’t just come by to see his favorite mentee?” He’s smirking though, and Peter knows the superhero is taking great pleasure out of embarrassing him.
“No,” he retorts flatly.
Tony puts his hand on his chest dramatically. “Oh, how you wound me. Betrayed! By one of my very own! What ever did I do to deserve such treatment?”
“Jesus Christ,” Peter mutters. “What do you want? Ned and I were just about to head to lunch.”
“Ah ha! And that is where I come in. I am, as usual, here to save the day.”
Peter raises an eyebrow and gives him an unimpressed look. Tony huffs. “Sheesh, tough crowd to please, apparently.” He holds out the lunchbox. “Lunch. You left your’s.”
Peter thinks back, suddenly remembering that oh yeah, he definitely did leave his lunch on the counter. However, it’d been in his old Star Wars lunchbox that he’d had as long as he could remember.
Noticing his look, Tony gestures to the bag. “I took the liberty of getting you an upgrade. We all know how much you like Spider-Man.”
Yup, I’m definitely filling his Iron Man helmet with ramen noodles now.
“Wow. Thanks,” he says, sounding anything but. He takes the bag gingerly. “Now I won’t starve. A true hero you are. Really living up to your name.”
Tony pretends to blush. “You’re too kind. I’m just here as a completely selfless act of service.”
“Sure. So, can you, like, leave?” Peter says impatiently.
Tony shoots him an affronted look. “Well, I know when I’m not welcome. Which, let’s be honest, never actually happens because I’m a famous genius billionaire. But I really do have to get going.”
“Oh, thank god,” Peter breathes. Tony laughs and ruffles the kid’s hair, knowing it’s all in jest.
“See ya later, kid.” He turns to Ned. “And you – be sure he actually eats it.” Ned looks like he’s about to faint. And with that, Tony turns on his heel and struts out, leaving behind a bunch of astonished high schoolers. Peter’s pretty sure Flash’s jaw is about to hit the floor.
After a second of stunned silence, Ned looks over at Peter and smirks. “What was it you were saying earlier about ‘zero parenting skills’?”
Peter groans. “Shut up.”
Ned’s laughter is drowned out by the mass of students headed excitedly in their direction.
“Dude, you look like shit,” is how Ned greets him.
Peter doesn’t even have the energy to be offended. He certainly feels like shit, flashes of hot and cold racing through his body and forehead beading with sweat.
“It’s fine, we’re fine,” Peter says, not at all reassuringly.
“Yeah, okay,” Ned scoffs. “Why are you even here?”
Peter sags against his locker tiredly. “We’re supposed to be going over Shell integration and the Trapezoidal rule in calc today. I can’t afford to miss it. Also, we have decathlon practice after school today and MJ will kill me if I miss it. Again.”
He startles when a light slap meets the back of his head.
“Speak for yourself, loser. We don’t want your disease,” MJ says from behind him.
“Sorry, May raised me to always share,” Peter jokes. “Anywho, it’s too late for me to go home now. May’s already left for work. What a shame.”
MJ just rolls his eyes but Ned tosses him a doubtful look.
“Come on!” Peter protests. “Seriously, I don’t even feel that bad!”
Three class periods later, Peter’s more than ready to retract his earlier statement. He definitely feels that bad.
He’s in the middle of Anatomy class, and he can’t, for the life of him, keep his head up. His muscles are aching just with the small bit of effort it’s taking to use an arm to prop his head up, and he’s so, so hot but can’t seem to stop quivering.
At this point, he’s completely tuned out the teacher, entirely focused on trying to keep himself from throwing up in the middle of class because God knows Flash would never let him live that down.
His phone buzzes.
Chair Guy: dude
Chair Guy: you look like an actual zombie
Peter groans internally.
Friendly Neighborhood Peter: thanks.
Chair Guy: hey I have a great idea bc im a genius who goes to a smart kid school!!!!
Chair Guy: go :) home :)
Friendly Neighborhood Peter: no :)
Peter quickly puts his phone away, and he sees Ned shake his head in exasperation. The rest of the class passes by in a cloudy haze of sickness, and he blinks up blearily when a shadowy figure stands in front of him.
“Peter. Peter! Yo. Dude, come on, class is over. Even Dr. Arrington has left,” Ned informs him.
Peter groans, tossing an arm over his eyes with the thought that maybe if he doesn’t look at Ned, he’ll just go away.
No such luck. “Peter, if you don’t get up, I’m calling May.”
Immediately, Peter’s head shoots up, and he winces as the dull throb in his head intensifies.
“You can’t! She’s at work, her phone’s off anyway because she’s not allowed to be on it. Plus, I still have Calc! And Decathlon!” he protests, but even he can hear how weak it sounds.
Ned just rolls his eyes. “I’m pretty sure at this point, MJ would kick your ass if you showed up to practice. Go home and we’ll all send you a ‘Thank You’ card.”
Peter swats at him weakly.
“Peter, seriously. We gotta go,” Ned says, hoisting Peter’s bookbag onto his back. “Think you can get up?”
The vigilante stares at him blankly. Ned sighs.
“Yeah, okay,” he mumbles to himself. “We are not fucking doing this.” Louder, he says, “Peter, give me your phone.”
The exhausted teen tiredly reaches into his pocket, groaning at how heavy an achy his arms are. He hands his friend the phone. If he were more aware of what’s going on, he ‘d be much more suspicious. However, at the moment, Peter wants nothing more than for his friend to stop talking so the pounding in his head will cease.
“Thank you. Stay here for a second,” Ned tells him, and Peter doesn’t even question it. Not like he could move even if he wanted to.
Maybe I can Uber to my Spanish class, his feverish brain thinks.
He’s not actually sure how long he drifts in and out of clarity, but at some point, he opens his eyes to feel a gentle hand carding its way through his hair, and he instinctively leans in towards it.
“Hey, Pete,” a soft voice says. It’s a nice voice, Peter thinks. Not too rough, but just enough gravel in it to create a low comforting sound. And it’s… vaguely familiar.
Peter lowers his eyebrows in confusion and wills his eyes to open – when did he even close them? – so he can see the owner of the familiar voice.
“There we go. He’s alive! A true miracle.”
Peter nearly closes his eyes again, because obviously he’s still dreaming. There is no way that Tony freaking Stark is kneeling in front of him, stroking his hair, and gently coaxing him awake. Not possible.
“Yeah, it’s me, kiddo,” Tony says, obviously reading the surprise on his face. “To be fair, I’m probably just as surprised at this development as you are, but your friend Ted, here –“ he gestures to said teen who offers nothing more than a shrug “ –called Happy saying that you’re dying, and we just happened to be in the area, and I also happen to be a superhero. So.”
Unreal, Peter thinks, and closes his eyes, ready to let unconsciousness swallow him whole.
“Ah ah – no. Nap time for the spider baby later,” Tony jokes, but Peter cracks his eyes open to see the worry lining his mentor’s face. “I say we blow this popsicle stand.”
Peter nearly sags with relief at how good that sounds. He’d do just about anything to sleep. But then he remembers why he’d been so determined not to stay home in the first place.
“I can’t!” he protests, finally speaking up. “Calc. Integration.”
Tony stares at him in disbelief, and then turns to Ned, who’s still watching the exchange with a look of awe.
“Did he just say what I think he just said?” he asks incredulously.
Ned just gives him a long-suffering look and nods. “Yeah. He’s dumb.”
Tony scoffs. “That’s an overstatement,” he grumbles under his breath. Louder, he says, “Peter, you do realize that you’re literally talking to a genius, right? An actual engineer who literally built a flying suit? And the arc reactor? I think I can teach you some damn calculus. Goodness gracious.”
Peter just blinks at him. “Oh.”
“Yeah. Oh,” Tony repeats, but he can’t help surge of utter fondness that rushes through him at the sight of the tired kid, still pressing into the hand in his hair.
“Come on. Happy’s waiting for us. I’ve never actually dealt with a sick – anything – before, so this’ll be a great learning experience for the both of us,” Tony says conversationally. He gets up, groaning at the ache in his knees, and takes Peter’s bag from Ned.
Peter immediately lets out a whine at the loss of contact. The noise strikes a chord deep within Tony, and he tries not to think too hard about it.
“Sorry, kid. Come on, up you go,” he encourages, hoisting the kid to his feet. Peter sways tiredly on his feet, and Tony is quick to steady him.
“Whoa, I got you,” Tony soothes. He runs a quick hand over the kid’s forehead and lets out a low whistle at the heat that meets his hand. “Sleep. You need lots of it. So do I, actually. What do you say we get to Happy before the evil man makes us walk?”
Peter smiles weakly and nods, stumbling beside his mentor, thoughts going blurry again as they make their way to the front of the school.
As promised, Happy is waiting for them, and it takes a little while longer to wrestle the kid’s lanky limbs into the car and across the backseat. Again, Peter lets out a whimper at the loss of contact, and Tony coughs to cover the soft smile that’s threatening to appear as he slides in next to the teen.
And if his hands end up back in Peter’s hair?
Well, no one ever has to know.
It was a stupid argument, if you could even call it that. Really, it was just Flash being a dumbass, as usual. Which, usually is a thing that Peter can handle – is used to handling – but today is just not one of those days.
Patrol last night had been rough, more mentally taxing than usual. Peter’s not exactly sure what about it made it so, but it left him wired up with an anxiety that followed him into sleep, prompting unwelcome nightmares and flashbacks of a variety he hadn’t experienced in a while.
Truth be told, he knows it’s kind of his own fault. He’s been overworking himself, staying out longer and longer as Spider-Man, coming back by May’s curfew only to sneak out hours later when he hears her breathing even out.
Then he comes back and works on homework and studying, getting a mere two or three hours of fitful sleep, surviving mostly on coffee and pure, stubborn willpower throughout the day. This all does nothing to calm the ever-growing wave of anxiety.
So, to be fair, this was probably a long time coming.
Flash just happened to be the catalyst.
Peter and Ned sat in their usual spot in the cafeteria, Peter comparing his homework answers with Ned’s. When Flash walks up, Peter immediately tenses, already preparing himself for an onslaught of insults.
(And how stupid is that? He’s Spider-Man and yet he’s reduced to nothing at the mercy of a stupid high school bully.)
“Hey, Penis! Ready to get your ass beat in the science fair this weekend?” Flash mocks. And to be honest, Peter finished his project weeks ago in the confines of Tony’s lab, analyzing how robotics can be used to enhance prosthetics and make them more effective and efficient.
And, at this point, he’s so tired, he doesn’t actually care who wins. He never did, really.
“Isn’t ‘Penis’ a little old by now? Surely you can be more inventive than that,” Peter taunts. And yeah, maybe not his smartest move ever, but whatever.
Flash flounders for a second, unsure of how to respond, before his face clears again. “I could, but this one suits you best. It’s kind of iconic, don’t you think?”
“Hey, Flash, you know what’s funny?” Ned steps in suddenly, and Peter groans. “How Peter’s smart enough to land an internship with Stark Industries, and you haven’t even heard back yet.”
Flash flushes with a mixture of embarrassment and anger. “Yeah, and how much do you suppose your little sidekick has to pay just to polish Tony Stark’s shoes? You know, there’s actually been speculation that there’s a something a little more – should we say? – kinky going on there,” Flash says with a suggestive smirk, and Peter immediately sees red at the very implication of his hero doing something like that.
“Shut the fuck up, Flash,” Peter snarls angrily, and Flash narrows his eyes at him coldly.
“What was that, Penis?”
Peter stands up, well and truly angry now. “I said ‘Shut up.’ You don’t know anything about him. And I’m sorry you couldn’t get an internship with him when I could, but I guess Stark Industries knows talent when it – “
A sudden flash of cold and wet leaves Peter sputtering. He barely registers the fact that Flash is standing in front of him, the cup in his hand totally empty, because the wave of anxiety that’s been building up the last few days decides then and there to pull Peter under.
No longer is he in his high school cafeteria. No, he’s back in the lake, alone and tangled and trying so hard to break free of his confines. The water is cold, seeps straight to his very bones, and against his will, his lungs take a desperate breath in, but all he gets is more water.
He can’t fucking breathe.
God, what if he dies like this? Just a useless body floating on a lake, and maybe it’ll be days before he’s found, and May – oh god, May! – will be left completely alone to deal with another bout of grieving.
And Peter – god, he doesn’t want to die, he’s not ready to do that yet, he’s supposed to graduate and watch the next Star Wars movie release with Ned and there are so many more people he needs to save, and also he’s just plain scared.
If only he could breathe.
The unexpected and familiar voice shocks him, and he flails towards it, hoping it’ll bring him closer to the surface.
“I’m right here, bud, it’s okay. You’re okay. I’ve got you,” the voice tells him, and it sounds so convincing and real and soothing that he tries with everything in him to believe it.
“Hey, it’s me – Tony. I’m right next to you, and we’re both in your crappy school cafeteria,” the voice – Tony – informs him, and Peter frowns in confusion because Tony shouldn’t be here, he’s going to drown, too.
“Tony,” he gasps, hands finding purchase in warm fabric. Dry. It’s dry! But – what?
“Yeah, kiddo, it’s me. Open your eyes and look at me. It’s okay, I promise,” Tony coaxes him. And because he’s never had a reason not to trust him mentor, Peter cracks his eyes open, immediately cringing at the water that drips into his eyes.
“That’s it, good job,” Tony encourages, and Peter tries to let the sight of his mentor drown out the feel of water burning his nose.
“Mr. Stark?” he asks in a small voice. “W-what? I-I don’t – “
“Shhh, it’s all fine. You’re at school. You had a pretty bad panic attack. Your aunt wasn’t picking up, so they called me,” Tony explains. Peter takes in everything around him, drinking in the sight of the now completely empty cafeteria, save for him and Tony.
“I didn’t – I didn’t mean – I’m so sorry, Mr. Stark,” Peter says, cheeks flushing red with shame. Tony gives him an incredulous look.
“Peter,” he says gently, reaching out to tilt the boy’s face up. “Look at me. You didn’t do anything wrong. You never have to apologize for something like this.” Tony’s gaze darkens suddenly. “The only person who should be apologizing for anything is the childish, cruel, immature bully who did this to you.”
Peter opens his mouth to protest. “No – it wasn’t his fault! He didn’t know that would happen.”
“And that makes it okay?” Tony scoffs. “No, kid. That’s all on him.”
Peter stays silent, not willing to admit the man is right, as usual. Tony studies him for a moment, then lets out a heavy sigh.
“How are you feeling now?” he asks the teen.
“Fine,” Peter lies instinctively. Tony just raises an eyebrow at him. “I don’t know. That – that wasn’t supposed to happen. Usually I have it under control,” he says, looking frustrated.
“It?” Tony prompts.
Peter tugs anxiously on his shoelace. “I guess sometimes I still think about the lake? Because I was tangled and stuck and it was – “ He cuts off, throat closing abruptly. Tony puts a hand on his shoulder, grounding him.
“Scary,” Tony finishes for him. Peter just looks down. Tony sighs again, looking more tired than ever. “Pete, you gotta keep me in the loop with these things. And if not me, then May or Ned or someone you trust. It’s okay to feel like this. Hell, I’m scared all the damn time.”
Peter looks surprised at the confession. “What?”
Tony laughs bitterly. “How do you think I became Iron Man in the first place? It was because I’m scared. My suit? It literally just started out as a physical manifestation of my anxiety.”
“Does it get better?” Peter asks, and he looks so small in this moment that Tony’s heart cracks right down the middle.
Tony hesitates before answering. “Yeah, kid. It does. But it takes a while, and it might not ever go completely away. You just have to communicate with us. Think you can do that?” Tony asks, looking Peter straight in the eye.
Peter swallows thickly and nods. “Yeah.”
Tony looks intently at him for another moment and then nods in satisfaction. He moves to get up and groans. “Fantastic. I think all that emotion just gave me heartburn,” he complains, rubbing his chest dramatically.
Peter smiles, the somber atmosphere broken. “Or maybe you’re just old,” he jokes.
Tony pretends to look offended. “Rude. Offensive. You owe me one whole compliment for that.”
“Nope,” Peter says. Tony nudges him gently.
“Oh, come on. No nice things to say about your favorite superhero?”
“Who said you’re my favorite superhero?” Peter smirks deviously.
Tony’s eyes widen in mock hurt as Peter gets up and starts to walk out without him. “Two compliments! Now you owe me two!” Tony calls as he walks after him.
And Peter’s answering laugh? Totally worth it.
First of all, the fact that aliens decided to attack New York City during school hours? Rude.
Which is Peter’s first thought when Tony calls him right before his fourth class of the day. It goes a little something like this:
“Kid. We’ve got aliens attacking New York – again, don’t they ever learn? – and it’s all hands on deck,” Tony informs him.
Immediately, Peter lights up with excitement, already feeling the first shots of adrenaline at even the thought of fighting with the Avengers again.
“Yes, of course!” he gasps excitedly, making a beeline for his locker to grab his suit.
“Great, meet us at – “
“Hey, loser,” MJ greets, not caring that Peter’s on the phone. “Where are your safety glasses? You need them for lab today.”
“Shit,” Peter mutters, feeling his heart drop to his feet, because normally, hell yeah, he’d skip class to go fight with the freaking Avengers! Except today’s lab counts as one of three big exam grades and he literally cannot miss it.
“What was that?” Tony asks, sounding preoccupied.
“Uh, Mr. Stark? Can the emergency wait, like, an hour?” Peter stammers. Immediately Tony’s full attention goes back to the teen.
“What?” he demands sharply. “Why?” There’s a pause in which Peter is more than reluctant to answer, but Tony catches on quickly and groans. “Oh, Jesus Christ. Let me guess: Spanish test?”
“Chem lab,” Peter mumbles. He can practically hear Tony rolling his eyes.
“Kid, you can make it up. New York needs you right now,” Tony says matter-of-factly.
“But, Mr. Stark! I won’t be able to make this up, she said the only way we can miss it is if we’re in the hospital dying or it’s an extreme emergency,” Peter protests.
“So aliens aren’t an emergency now?” Tony deadpans.
“I mean, yeah, but I can’t exactly go up to her and say that I need to leave for something like that!” Peter says delicately, conscious of MJ standing nearby with a bored expression. “Anywho, I’ll be there in like an hour tops, I promise,” he says quickly before hanging up, and oh boy, he’s going to get an earful for that later.
Immediately, his phone starts buzzing again but he stuffs it in his bookbag hastily. MJ gives him a weird look.
“Your boss is fucking weird,” she comments.
“Tell me about it,” Peter mutters as they walk into class.
They sit down at one of the lab benches and wait for their teacher to start giving them instructions. Today’s lab is the Synthesis of Aspirin, and yeah, nothing they’ve done so far is nearly as cool or advanced as his web fluid or the stuff he makes in Tony’s lab, but he’s still excited. And nervous. Because he really needs a good grade on this.
Once instructions are given, Peter and MJ start methodically setting up lab equipment. Peter’s getting the hot water bath ready while MJ measures out the salicylic acid when a sudden hush falls over the room.
Curious, Peter and MJ both look up to see what’s going on and Peter immediately wishes the ground would swallow him whole.
Tony Stark is standing in the doorway.
He strolls in with calm strides and a casual confidence and walks right up to the teacher.
“Hello, Dr. Mead. I’m terribly sorry, but we need to take Peter out of class. There’s an emergency at Stark Industries, and it’s sort of all hands on deck. He’s our best intern, after all,” he says charmingly.
She looks flustered in a way that Peter never imagined he would ever see of his usually very collected teacher.
“Um, I understand, but this lab is an exam. Is there any way it can wait after?” she asks hopefully, and honestly, Peter admires her for not just immediately caving into him.
Then Tony takes off his trademark sunglasses and looks at her with such a stern look that Peter immediately resolves to buy her the best teacher appreciation gift ever.
“I’m afraid not. This is a matter of utmost importance. Surely you have make-up labs?” he asks in such a way that implies the only correct answer is yes.
Dr. Mead opens her mouth as if to protest before finally just settling on saying nothing at all, before turning to the back of the class, where Peter is resisting the urge to hide under the lab bench.
“Mr. Parker, you may be excused. We can discuss make-up times later,” she announces, and Tony smirks, triumphant.
Peter’s face burns with embarrassment as he grabs his bag and walks out the room, feeling everyone’s eyes on him.
Tony ruffles his hair, and Peter swats at it in mock irritation.
“Was that all really necessary?” Peter demands when they’re alone in the hall. Tony shrugs.
“Nah. But then you hung up on me, and I’m petty,” he says. “But actually, I was already on my way to come get you. Cap, Nat, and Rhodes have got the situation contained, but they could really use some help, and we’re the only ones around.”
Peter, now that he’s not so worried about his grade, perks up with excitement again. “Man, this is so exciting!”
Tony gives him a fond look. Only Peter would find an alien attack exciting.
“Sure, kid. Now let’s go kick some alien ass.”
At first, there’s nothing to indicate why Peter’s spidey sense is suddenly going off like a blaring alarm.
His whole body is seizing with panic, everything in him screaming danger! But he strains his ears to listen for anything out of the ordinary and turns up empty, so he just shrugs and chalks it up to his anxiety going into overdrive.
Later on, he’ll hate himself for it.
Not even five minutes later, deep he hears it, clear as day: the crack of a bullet, one after another.
He shoots up in his desk, on high alert, and everyone around him starts looking around in confusion, not really comprehending the noise. For a second, he’s right along with them, not quite willing to believe that he’s hearing what he’s hearing, because no fucking way is this happening right now.
Then he hears the scream.
It cuts through the haze of the confusion that had clouded the room, and immediately Mr. Johnson runs to the door, knocking off the lights and covering the door window, and everyone is pushing to the back of the room.
Peter takes the moment of chaos to grab his suit out of his bag, and quietly slips out the other window, hoping that everyone was too preoccupied to notice.
“Hello, Peter,” Karen greets pleasantly.
“Karen!” Peter says urgently. “Call 911 and tell them there’s a shooter at Midtown. Contact Mr. Stark. Activate Stealth Mode.”
“Got it,” she says, and then a silence follows wherein Peter assumes she’s following his directions.
Without further pause, Peter quickly follows the sounds of students screaming and gunshots, praying and praying that no one’s bit hit.
“Peter,” Karen says, “Mr. Stark says to stay put; he and some of the crew are on the way, and so are the police. You are not to engage with the shooter.”
All it takes is another piercing scream for Peter to decide that’s definitely not what he’s going to do. He can hear students near the exits evacuating, but as he goes deeper into the school, it becomes eerily quiet. He tries not to focus on the hundreds of heartbeats skyrocketing in fear.
He rounds a corner and finds a student curled up under a water fountain, shaking and crying. She jumps and whimpers in fear when he enters her line of sight, eyes flooding with relief when she realizes who he is.
“Sp-Spider-Man,” she gasps, tears streaming down her face. He quickly shushes her, not wanting to draw any attention to them in case the intruder is nearby.
She shakes her head insistently. “H-He already c-came by. He’s at-at the classrooms b-by the audi-auditorium.”
Peter nods in determination. “I’ll take care of it. You need to stay hidden. If other people start running, join them. Stay quiet. You’re doing so good.”
And fuck, Peter doesn’t even know if that’s the right advice, because this is so much different than anything he’s ever dealt with before. These are his classmates – his friends – who’s lives are being threatened.
As he nears the auditorium, everything seems more still and foreboding, and he can hear a single set of footsteps walking calmly across the floor. Peter leaps up to the ceiling and rounds another corner.
He nearly falls back down at the sight that meets him.
The first door to his right his open, a body lay strewn in the doorway, and something in Peter’s brain shuts down, absolutely refuses to acknowledge the reality of the sight before his, refuses to go into the room in fear of what else he might find.
He hears gasps and soft sobs, but he pushes it all away and lets his gaze zero in on the figure at the end of the hall, gun raised towards another classroom.
The sound of the bullet, this time, is deafening, and Peter wastes no time before crawling until he’s just above the figure.
In the blink of an eye, Peter’s on top of him, wrestling the gun out of his grip and punching the guy with a ferocity that’s unfamiliar. He hits. And hits and hits and hits, because this guy attacked the wrong fucking school and those are Peter’s friends.
Peter sees red, flashes of anger and blood and oh god his friends, are they okay? And it hits him, suddenly, the gravity of everything that’s happened in the last ten minutes, the way his school will never be the same because of one person’s decision.
“Spider-Man, stand down,” a voice cuts through the haze, but he ignores it in favor of tossing another punch, but before he can, a metal hand wraps itself around his wrist.
“No!” he snarls. “This one deserves it!” He fights against the arms that wrap around his waist, thrashing against the hold.
“Kid. It’s me, Tony. It’s okay. It’s going to be okay. We’ll take care of him, you’ve done great. Your job here is done.”
With those words, Peter sags against his mentor, allowing the hard armor to support him and the weight of everything to sink in.
“I’ve got you, I’ve got you,” Tony says, gently picking the young hero up and letting the police come in and take over. No one even bothers to question him. It’s common knowledge that Spider-Man and Iron Man are close, and no one is willing to get him in trouble for beating the shit out of someone who deserved it.
Tony cradles the kid’s head to his chest, no longer caring who sees, only focusing on getting Peter out of there. Steve, Sam, and Natasha can handle the rest, he figures. There are cops everywhere, and scared students are being rushed out in a line to meet desperate parents waiting for them outside.
Happy is waiting for them, and Tony has never been more grateful for his status as Iron Man than now; no one tries to stop him.
Tony quickly deactivates his suit and gets the kid in, settling them both into the back seat, and Happy wastes no time trying to push his car through the crowd, glancing back at the duo with deep worry etched into his features.
Peter hasn’t said a word, and they’re halfway back to the Tower, where May is meeting them, when the teen starts shaking violently, clinging to Tony.
“Oh god,” Peter sobs, pulling his mask off, and Tony absolutely breaks at the raw terror and grief on the kid’s face as the weight of what’s happened hits him. “Tony,” he gasps, pulling his mentor closer.
Tony wraps his arms around the kid, hugging him with an unprecedented fervor. “Shhh, it’s okay now. I’m right here.”
But Peter’s hyperventilating now, tears soaking the man’s shirt. “I-I couldn’t – I was too late. I think – I think – Tony, I saw – “ and he doesn’t get past that, because he can’t. He can’t make the words push past his lips.
If he doesn’t say them, maybe they won’t be true.
Instead, he squeezes his eyes shut and presses his face into Tony’s chest, crying violently.
And Tony? Tony doesn’t know what else to do other than murmur soft words of comfort that he knows are falling on deaf ears. So he settles back in his seat, Peter practically in his lap, and runs his fingers soothingly through the kid’s hair. It’s going to be a long road to recovery, he knows.
But he’s in this for the long haul.
Tony stands against his desk, arms crossed and sending a flat look to Pepper, who’s looking at him with an equally determined expression on his face.
“Tony, come on,” she says in exasperation. “He’d be thrilled, and if nothing else, it’d be great PR. I think people would really like seeing you be so invested in an intern, personally taking him for a deeper look at what you do.”
Tony rolls his eyes. “Pep, Peter’s already seen what I do. Hell, he practically lives in the lab after school. He literally has his own room here.”
“Sure, but he only ever sees Tony, his hero, mentor, and father figure.” Tony opens his mouth to protest that last label, but Pepper cuts him off. “Shut up, it’s true and you know it. Now, as I was saying, I think it’d be really beneficial for him to see you as Tony Stark, a business man, company owner, and employer.”
“The answer is still no!” Tony says.
And yet somehow, that conversation led up to now, with Peter standing awkwardly at his side at eight in the morning, staring at the main floor of Stark Industries with awe on Take Your Kid to Work Day.
“Mr. Stark, thisissocool!” Peter exclaims in one big breath. Around him, workers are bustling about. Tony, quite frankly, can’t believe he’s never taken his fake intern into the main part of his building. A careless oversight. It’s impressive, really, that the whole “internship” story has managed to hold up for this long.
“Whoa, calm down, kid,” he says, watching the kid fondly as he practically buzzes with excitement. Peter looks at him with wide eyes.
“What are we going to do today? Are you going to boss a bunch of people around? Build stuff? Paperwork? Now that I think about it, what do you even do?” Peter asks, sounding breathless. Tony just shakes his head in awe, wondering how after all this time, the kid can look at him like he hung the moon.
(And he would. He’d hang a thousand moons in the sky if that’s what Peter wanted.)
“Well, first of all, Pepper’s usually the one who bosses me around, so I’m sure you’ll get to see some of that today. We have a press conference at one. Oh, don’t worry, it’s no big deal. We’ll introduce you as one of SI’s interns and explain that I decided to take this day, when a lot of other kids would be around, to show you the ins and outs of what I do. They’ll love it,” he reassures.
And they do.
But Tony’s not surprised, really. The kid has a way of getting everyone wrapped around his finger.
Peter, awkward and nervous at first, quickly gains a bit of confidence, occasionally answering a reporter’s questions with typical teenage sass, but always with a soft smile so as not to offend.
“How did you two meet?” one curious reporter asks. Tony puts a hand on Peter’s shoulder.
“Well, this one here is a huge dumpster diver. I actually got an opportunity to see his skills at fixing and making tech with natural ease, so I encouraged him to fill out an application for the internship. His application was outstanding, to say the least, and the rest, as they say, is history,” Tony says with a smile.
“Peter, were you a fan of Iron Man even before the internship?” another reporter asks.
Peter laughs. “I mean, who wasn’t? But really, I was always a bigger fan of Mr. Stark himself. The work he’s done to create a clean source of renewable energy? That’s insane! I can only dream of making strides like that. I watched a documentary on his robots over the years when I was younger, and I remember thinking, ‘I want to be like him!’ It’s actually what led me to start dumpster diving and fixing old tech. I never even imagined it could lead me to work under the man who inspired me.”
Peter shrugs, missing Tony’s stunned gaze trained on him, while the reporters listen with rapt attention.
“So yeah. Iron Man is amazing and all, but the real hero is the man underneath the suit, which I think people like to forget. The suit isn’t heroic – it’s the man underneath it that is.”
Tony is speechless. Absolutely speechless and completely overcome with an emotion he can’t quite identify as Peter looks over at him and offers him a shy small, as if worried he’s maybe said something wrong.
Tony’s throat clogs with the amounting of affection he has for the awkward, precious, genius, and selfless fucking kid, and he’s nearly knocked off his chair by the force of it. He clears his throat roughly, before addressing the crowd that’s busy melting.
“As you can see,” he says, wrapping an arm around the teen. “I brainwash my interns well.”
The crowd laughs, and the spell of emotion is broken.
However, when Tony goes down to his lab that night, long after Peter’s been dropped back off at home by Happy, he finds a sticky note attached to one of his computers, the messy scrawl deeply familiar.
There’s only four words, but they make Tony’s heart swell in his chest.
I meant every word. -P