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The first time Tony'd seen the kid, he was smitten. He’d been... excited, to say the least, to meet the mind behind the truly innovative web fluid biomechanical design. Antsy to see if the kid really would be able to make it work given the time, the equipment, and the materials. Tony probably wouldn’t have been there to meet him when he came in to interview, but he’d been working on the suit, and the nanotech equipment and the biotech equipment were in the same lab.

 

Then there he was.

He looked expensive. That was the bizarre initial thought that Tony had about him, and later he’d wonder if it was that he was expensive like champagne is expensive or if it was that he was expensive like crashing a car is expensive. Expensive like designer clothes or expensive like designer drugs.

He was beautiful. Like blown glass. Like a Chihuly. Something Tony would like to put in a glass case at a charity ball to show his rivals that he’s operating at a different level from them. His eyes were exactly the blue-grey of where ocean meets sky in the west when the sun is still mostly hidden in the east. The texture and color of his skin made Tony think of the the early winter roses in the Paseo el Rosedal in June in Buenos Aires and the employee who yelled at him for touching one that had just been such a delicate cream-pink color he had to touch it—that was the color of the kid’s cheeks exactly the first time Tony looked him in the eye. The hair—it was the kind of perfect shiny curls he’d seen women pay thousands of dollars in stylists, products, and equipment for and still not achieve. Tony noticed the beautiful bones, the structure of his face, the sweetness of nose and lips and slenderness of neck and waist. And because Tony was a bad man, he noticed the backpack’s rips and tears, the unraveling sleeves of the worn, too-big sweater, the threadbare jeans and the duct tape on the sneakers and the hinge of his glasses. He saw the shame and the shy and the hero-worship in the kid’s eyes and thought I could work with that. 

“Got real dressed up to meet me, huh, kid?” Tony had said, winking to communicate that he didn’t mind the kid’s odd style.

Pepper had touched the kid on the middle of his back when he froze, eyes wide and starry, staring at Tony with pinkness on his cheeks. “It’s okay, Peter. He doesn’t usually bite.” Then, to Tony, “He’s brilliant, Tony. Go ahead, ask him your question.”

Tony had stood up a little straighter, wiped his forehead with the dirty Kimwipe he’d been using to mop up extra oil from the nanotech implant he’d been working on, looked at the kid and asked away. “What are you going to do if you make this project of yours work? The web fluid?”

Tony had found that this was the litmus test that would predict whether a shiny new intern was going to be something, going to make it, going to be more than a one-hit wonder. It was just open enough that kids could reveal themselves in their answer. Some talked about what they’d do with the money. Some talked about where they saw their invention fitting into other Stark tech. Some talked about using it to get into school, into the work force, into positions of power. One notable candidate had told Tony point blank, “Honestly, sir, I never thought I’d get this far. I have no idea.”

None of those are necessarily bad answers. But Peter’s answer was just what Tony was looking for.

“I’m... I’m not sure, yet, Mr. Stark, but according to the analyses I’ve been able to run without having the final formula, I was thinking that the hardness and the lifespan of the fluid could be altered to suit other purposes. It’s... biodegradable, gone after an hour, but if we could alter that at will, it could function as a catch-all environmentally friendly alternative to plastic. I think I could make it last anywhere between ten minutes and four years. It could be used for... packaging, maybe.”

Tony had smirked at the kid, causing his blush to darken. “Just by changing the length of the polymers, or..?”

Peter had shaken his head instantly, then seemed to realize who he was correcting. His voice came out very soft. “No, sir. Not just that. I think that by altering, uh, the structure, the methylation, I could give it a sort of... artificial half-life before the peptide bonds start to break down. And treating it differently I could alter the relative hardness. But some of it might call for gene-cloning biomaterial production techniques, which are—”

“Time-consuming.”

“Yes, sir. ... But that’s just another obstacle, isn’t it?”

Tony had met Pepper’s eye over the kid’s head, her eyebrow cocked like Told you. He’s just like you. “Excuse us a moment, kid. Peter, right? Yeah, excuse us a moment, Peter. Feel free to look around.”

They’d watched him from the other side of the glass. He moved like a kid in a candy shop, too excited by everything to turn his attention fully to anything. But the way he interacted with the equipment—there was no confusion, no look of overwhelmed unfamiliarity. It was the body language of a talented self-taught chef setting foot in a professional kitchen for the first time. Peter’s eyes said home and his body said safe and the way his hands fluttered over the equipment said I know how to use this but I’m not sure if I should. It was gorgeous to watch.

“Which, uh, which program did he apply to again?” Tony had asked, distracted by the beautiful boy looking around his lab. 

Pepper’s arms had been crossed over her chest, her calculating look fixed on the back of his head. “He didn’t.”

“What?”

“He just... emailed his design into the public fan-mail email we have set up for you.”

“Why the hell would he do that?”

Pepper had paused, considering her words. Tony hummed, looking at her as he waited for her to continue. There was a wrinkle around her nose that told Tony she was working off intuition instead of facts, which wasn’t her favorite thing to do. “I couldn’t tell you why I think this, but I think the kid thought he wasn’t going to be around to see what we did with his design.”

Tony had considered this briefly. “Well. Fuck it. Give him access to the lab, 24/5. As soon as you’ve confirmed he didn’t submit the design anywhere else.” Then he’d left to let Pepper get on with her job.

...

From then on, Peter would be around sometimes when Tony was. Mostly weeknight evenings and afternoons. The first time it happened was less than a week after they’d first met. Tony had strolled in, a latte in his hand and the nanotech suit on his mind, to find Peter standing near the table Pepper had cleared off for him, looking terrified with both hands flat on the tabletop, a beaker filled to the brim with something whitish equidistant between them. “Mr. Stark! I’m so—I’m so sorry, Mr. Stark, I didn’t know you were going to be here or I wouldn’t have—”

His face had been flushed and his beautiful eyes sparkling with panic, but he had stood his ground as Tony approached him, setting his latte down on his own desk and carelessly draping his suit jacket over his chair. “No, no, kid. Calm down. We haven’t been properly introduced. Call me Tony.” 

Tony had stuck out his hand, watching Peter’s face alternate between pale and flushed until he settled on splotchy red cheeks and bloodless lips. But he didn’t shake Tony’s hand. Tony had blinked at the kid, baffled, trying to remember a time that a nobody kid from Queens thought he was too good to shake Tony Stark’s hand. He had looked like he was going to faint, though. Is he just too scared to shake my hand? That’s sort of cute. “You alright, kid? I don’t shake just anybody’s hand, you know.” Peter had mumbled something that Tony didn’t catch. “What was that?”

“I can’t. I’m stuck, Mr. Stark. I’m so sorry.” There had been tears gathering in the corners of his eyes. Tony had looked from his storm-on-the-high-seas eyes to his hands, which, upon second glance, did indeed appear to be stuck to the table. Concentrating, Tony had been able to see the sheen coating the sides of the beaker and a rough two foot in diameter circle of the work surface.

Tony’s words had escaped before he could think them through. “That’s adorable. How long will you be stuck for?”

The blush had darkened until Tony wondered if it was uncomfortable. “... 45 minutes more. I think. I’ve been here for a bit already. Sir.”

“How long, Jarvis?” 

Peter’s jaw had dropped open in wonder when Jarvis had responded, “13 minutes and 23 seconds since Mr. Parker slapped his hands down on the table in frustration.” His eyes were wide and bright, looking around the room for speakers, cameras, and microphones he wouldn’t find, and then  he looked at Tony like he hung the stars and had arranged them just for him. He had looked kissable, touchable, vulnerable.

But then they’d just chatted, because Tony Stark wasn’t going to fuck a high schooler, even if they were 18. The kid hadn’t exactly relaxed, but the terror eventually was taken over completely by the hero-worship, the color in his cheeks fading to a pleasing pink, and god, the kid was funny. Tony had found himself explaining the nanotech suit idea to him, how Tony thought he could store the whole thing in the arc reactor slot in his chest. And the kid, bless him, the little dork had quipped, “Most men try to make everything bigger, not smaller.” Then’d turned so red it looked like he was going to pass out.

Tony was wrapped by then, he knew it, knew that he had a weakness for people who were too good for him and who could tease him that way. Knew he had a weakness for pretty things and for hero-worship. He’d forced himself to laugh like everything was normal, wink, and say, “Yeah, well, kid, I don’t have anything to compensate for.” The kid had blushed even harder, pulling at his hands like he wanted to escape. It felt like a bad omen, but Tony just hadn’t let himself think about it too hard.

...

Over the next six months, they developed something like a friendship. Tony had told Jarvis to let him know when Peter was in the lab. To make sure he’s not overworking himself—he has to finish school, he’d told himself at first. Someone has to make sure he isn’t going to get himself hurt, when he’d started watching him over the security camera. Then, when he had started conveniently showing up to parallel-play with the kid, It’s less lonely when there’s someone else in the lab. Then Tony had started feeling more validated when Peter proved to be first an excellent target for rubber duck debugging, then a talented assistant—cheerleader, collaborator, and companion all in one. Peter had been there, watched as Tony installed the Mark 50 into his own chest. 

Tony frequently thought about that moment. The feeling of the suit forming around himself, the thrill of breakthrough, the rush of power. The testosterone and adrenaline that thrummed in his veins when he looked down at his sweet little intern through the mask, the kid staring right back with a blush on his face and awe in his eyes. Jarvis in his ear, saying, “Sir, your pulse is alarmingly elevated.”

...

With the benefit of hindsight, Tony could see the red flags. The trembling hands, the seemingly very narrow wardrobe—four shirts only, each more ill-fitting than the last, not a single pair of shoes other than the duct-taped ones he’d shown up in for his interview—the jutting bones of his wrist, the odd injuries, the times that Tony had turned on the security cam at odd hours of the night to see Peter asleep under his work station with his head on his backpack... The lack of jacket, gloves, hat, scarf, or anything else for winter when it came. He’d thought Peter was eccentric, not...

“Homeless,” Tony repeated, voice cold as he accepted the thin folder proffered to him by Pepper. She nodded, looking upset, sitting down next to him by the little cot they had Peter laid out in, hooked up to an IV and a steadily beeping heart monitor. Tony opened it and read the summary whatever employee had been charged with putting the folder together had written for him. Peter Benjamin Parker. Age 19. Graduate of Midtown high, freshman at LaGuardia Community College, major undeclared. Orphaned at age 6 by a car accident, lived with aunt and uncle May and Benjamin Parker until age 16, when they were killed in a B&E that, according to police records, Peter slept through. Entered the foster system, recorded as a runaway six months later. No record of a place of residence of any kind, including a dorm room, since then. Began Stark Industries internship in the spring of his senior year of high school. 

“I should have—” They both stopped, having spoken at the same time, and instantly know that neither of them would win the who’s-fault game they had almost begun to play. Pepper sighed. “He just... collapsed?”

Tony scrubbed the palms of his hands over his eyes until he saw stars. “Yeah. Doc said it was hypoglycemia. He was acting kind of weird. ... He looked at me and looked down at the calculations on the table and said, ‘I’m not done with my test, Mr. Nelson.’ Then he hit the floor.” Pepper winced at the imagery.

They sat in silence for a moment. “I’m gonna set him up in the Tower,” he decided out loud.

Pepper’s eyes squeezed shut, long suffering. “You’re going to put a teenaged civilian in Stark Tower, which is your house and also where the Avengers all live and hang out.”

“... You have a point, Pep?”

“It’s not gonna look awesome when the media catches wind, Tony. He’s going to look like a live-in gold digger.”

Tony rolled his eyes at that. “So? He’s of age. He’s been of age since before I met him. We don’t pay him as an intern and since he didn’t win anything through any of our grants, scholarships, or fellowships, so no one can claim favoritism. It’s on the record that he was homeless. Even if I announce that he’s my new live-in catamite, I’m going to look charitable at best and predatory at worst.”

“And you’re going to do it anyway.”

Tony grinned at her. “Of course. Make the arrangements. Send him over when he wakes up and eats something. I’ll tell the team.” 

...

Tony knew then, of course, that he’d already made an unhealthy decision. He saw how he was bringing the kid closer at the same time he was sealing off the exits. But the kid needed a place to stay, food, clothing, affection. And Tony wanted nothing more in the world than to give him that and everything else.

...

“Tony, you can’t—” But Tony could, and Rhodey knew it, so they both paused, staring each other down. “Well, you shouldn’t,” he tried instead. “That’s not appropriate. That kid is twenty years younger than you.”

Tony shook his head, wagging his finger condescendingly. “Only 18. And he has nowhere else to go.”

“Are you fucking— Steve! Steve, get in here, I need back up.”

Once Steve understood the situation, he took Rhodey’s side immediately. “Tony, this is the Avengers headquarters—”

Tony cut him off. “I trust this kid, Steve, he’s a good—”

“Do you trust him with your life? Do you trust him with ours?”

“Yes,” Tony answered, realizing as he did so that he knew almost nothing about Peter. But. You can’t fake adoration or respect, not really. Peter had both for Tony in spades. And Tony knew he was almost as starry-eyed for the other Avengers. “You’ll love him, Steve, trust me, he—”

Jarvis interrupted him. “Peter Parker is on his way up to the penthouse, sir.”

Chapter Text

Peter had miscalculated. 

The Friday night Tri-Beta meeting had gotten cancelled. That was usually the only free food that Peter could find on Fridays. He had poked around the fliers, but with finals over, there wasn’t really anything going on. It was freezing out. Too cold to beg. Too cold to try to find the strange leather-clad man who sometimes gave him food. He’d been so tired, so hungry, he’d gone up to his normal hiding spot in the library—inside the ceiling over the second floor men’s restroom, where he had a hidden flashlight and some stolen throw pillows from the couches on the first floor, as well as a plush pink blanket that someone had worn to the library and somehow left behind—and fallen asleep, not remembering until he woke up in the early hours of the morning that since finals were over, the library wasn’t going to be open until Monday morning.

He'd spent Saturday morning looking for food, occasionally so winded by the effort that he'd needed to lay down on the floor to rest. His stomach ached—whatever he found, he ate immediately. It wasn’t much. Half a pack of peanut butter crackers left on a study desk on the third floor, a granola bar stolen from behind the IT desk, and a 3/4 full bottle of Gatorade from a trash can. He had slept for most of the afternoon and evening on one of the couches on the first floor, then read until his eyes swam and gone back to sleep in his hiding-hole, waking occasionally and listening for signs that the library was open again. 

When the Monday morning cleaning crew left the men’s restroom, Peter let himself doze back off before getting down from the ceiling, locking the door, and washing his hair with hand-soap in the cold water from the sink. He splashed at his torso as well, wishing the gym was open so that he could shower and get warm. Then he got dressed and ventured out, relieved to see one or two other students milling about the bookshelves. 

When he reached Stark Industries, it was 9:05am Monday, December the 10th. His last full meal had been Thursday at 6pm, gotten from a breakfast-for-dinner free meal event in his campus’s cafeteria for finals. Peter’s hands shook as he tried to pull his ID out of his backpack, and he swiped it the wrong way four times before he thought to flip it over. It was in the low forties, windy, and Peter couldn’t feel his fingers or his toes or his ears. The lobby felt almost oppressively warm, causing Peter to erupt into violent shivers as he stepped inside.

He didn’t really remember getting to the elevator, just being in it, alone, slumped against the wall, and Jarvis choosing the correct floor for him when he made no move to push the button himself. “Mr. Parker, may I have permission to scan you for illness and injury? It would appear that you are extremely unwell.”

“No, thank you, Jarvis,” he ground out. He wasn’t even hungry anymore. Just nauseous. His stomach felt sore from being empty for so long. His head swam as the elevator moved.

The lab was the only place Peter really felt safe anymore. He loved it—loved the tech, the atmosphere, the safety. Loved seeing Mr. Stark there, loved feeling important and smart enough that Iron Man, the Tony Stark would ask him his opinion and listen to him when he gave it. It made him feel like the luckiest man alive. By the time Peter made it to the lab, all he could think was act normal, Parker. Do some work. Act normal or you’ll lose this opportunity forever.

He didn’t remember anything after that. 

...

When he woke up, the nice woman who had conducted his interview was there. He appeared to be in some kind of a small private hospital room, attached to state-of-the-art equipment. It looked expensive. The first words out of Peter’s mouth were, “Oh, no.”

“Are you alright, Peter? Should I call the nurse?”

Peter shook his head, causing a bit of his nausea to return and compound his throbbing headache. He squeezed his eyes shut and moaned in pain. A cool hand laid over his eyes and it made him think of his Aunt May, so he stayed still. When a straw touched his lips and Ms. Potts whispered for him to drink, he obeyed. The apple juice tasted like pure sugar after so long without eating, but he kept drinking. When it was gone, he opened his eyes, feeling marginally better, and Ms. Potts helped him sit up, handing him a cup full of thick, warm-ish liquid that kind of smelled like tomato soup. “Drink that,” she said, her tone making it clear she wasn’t going to be entertaining questions until he’d done so. “It’s basically liquified protein and vitamins.”

When it was gone, too, Peter’s stomach uncomfortable and achy-full, he laid back down and looked at Ms. Potts, who looked right back, concern pulling at her lips and her eyes. “So what happened?” he croaked.

“You collapsed. You were half starved. Do you feel well enough to answer some questions?” The tone was clinical, professional, but not exactly cold. Peter nodded, anxiety swelling in his chest as he imagined all the different ways this conversation could end in him not being invited back to the lab. He braced himself as she parted her lips to ask her first question. “Are you homeless?”

That. That wasn’t what he was expecting. He felt his cheeks color and he dropped his gaze down to his colorless hands. “Yes, ma’am.”

“How long have you been homeless, Peter?” 

Peter’s eyes were burning. “Two years, ma’am.”

“How have you been getting by?”

Peter’s voice broke a little on his first attempt. He cleared his throat, rubbing his palms together nervously, and said as truthfully as he could, “Different ways, ma’am. It’s not unusual for kids to sleep in public places at the school. There’s usually enough free food on a college campus not to starve if you know where to look for it.”

“What do you do over the summer?”

Peter paused. Evasively, he answered, “Different things. It’s warm enough to sleep outside, then.”

“Why didn’t you tell us that you needed help?”

Peter was thrown for a loop by this. He chanced a glance at Ms. Potts up through his eyelashes. “... I... I didn’t think...” What, he didn’t think they’d care, didn’t think they’d still want him to intern? The real answer was that Peter was ashamed to let the great Tony Stark know that Peter wasn’t clever enough to keep himself off the streets. “Do you have to tell Mr. Stark, ma’am?”

Ms. Potts’ eyes softened. “He knows, Peter. Did you think he would think less of you if he knew this about you?” The tears spilled over for just a moment before Peter could blink them back. He wiped at them with his hand and Ms. Potts patted him on the knee in a painfully maternal gesture. “Don’t you worry, Peter. Tony doesn’t think any less of you. In fact, he’s moving you into Stark Tower as soon as you’re feeling better.”

Peter’s heart stopped. His brain stopped. The confusion must have shown on his face, because Ms. Potts pushed on obliquely, “He feels guilty for not noticing before, and he likes you very much. He’s always had a bit of a... let's call it a savior complex.”

Peter was shaking his head. “Ma’am, I can’t even afford this doctor visit, I can’t possibly pay rent in Stark Tower—”

“You’re misunderstanding, Peter. You’re just moving in. Tony wants to take care of you.”

“He— what? He can’t. He can’t possibly. What do you mean? He can’t—”

Ms. Potts shushed him. “Shh, sweetheart. Trust me. This has already been decided and nothing is going to change his mind. Your options are one, quit the internship and walk away completely—” A look of dull satisfaction crossed her face at Peter’s terrified look at this prospect. “Two, allow Tony to take care of you for a while to assuage his guilt; or three, make a run for it and get dragged back by the Iron Man himself. It’s your choice.”

...

That’s how Peter came to be in a wheelchair (even though he was perfectly capable of walking), being pushed around by the bodyguard of a billionaire genius playboy philanthropist (who should have been bodyguarding said billionaire genius playboy philanthropist), inside of Stark Tower (where Peter had absolutely no business stepping foot, or wheel). He was so tired he could barely put up an internal fight about it, though, let alone an external one; his anxiety about how he could possibly pay Mr. Stark back was so intense that it was short-circuiting his brain.

Then he was being wheeled out into the most beautiful, elegant, expensive kitchen/living room he’d ever seen, even in magazines or on TV, and his idol Tony Stark was there at the counter, next to Captain America and War Machine, and all three were staring at him. It was so overwhelming, combined with the nausea, the headache, the bright lights, that Peter promptly leaned forward and threw up onto the beautiful hardwood floor.

...

“Yeah,” Steve whispered dryly to Tony as everyone stared in stunned silence at the beautiful, dazed boy in the wheelchair who looked absolutely devastated that he’d just vomited in front of them. “He’s a real charmer.”

...

As it would turn out, Peter had managed to catch a cold and develop a worryingly high fever. He didn’t wake fully until Tuesday afternoon, and when he did, he kept his eyes shut, wondering vaguely if he had really 1. Met Dr. Bruce Banner, PhD, PhD, PhD, MD and 2. Explained his entire scientific history essay he’d written about Dr. Bruce Banner, PhD, PhD, PhD, MD to Dr. Bruce Banner, PhD, PhD, PhD, MD himself. While he was trying to treat Peter. While there was a thermometer in Peter’s mouth. While he was trying to listen to Peter’s breathing.

A moment later, Peter was glad he’d remained still with his eyes closed, as he heard a familiar sigh and realized with a flush of heat that his idol was in the room with him. He thought that his pretending to sleep might buy him more time to think about how he was going to break it to Mr. Stark that he couldn’t possibly accept his generosity-

“Nice try, kid, but last I checked, sleeping people don’t blush.”

Caught. Peter reluctantly opened his eyes, feeling his face burn even hotter at being called out, and groggily tried to sit up in the bed. Before he could react, Mr. Stark was on his feet, supporting him with a strong hand between his shoulder blades and arranging pillows behind his back so he could lean back against him. The action was so shocking—Tony Stark, playing nurse to a scrawny homeless kid from Queens?—that Peter couldn’t even find his tongue to protest until Mr. Stark was already settling back down in his chair next to the bed, expression pensive as he gazed around the room. 

“Mr. Stark, you didn’t have to—”

“Will this be comfortable enough for you, kid?” 

Peter’s jaw snapped closed. Bewildered, he followed Mr. Stark’s eyes around the large bedroom, taking in the peaceful pale grey walls adorned with black and white photographs of New York, the dark wooden floors, the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the city, the solid-looking, brand new reddish wooden bed frame, dresser, and desk, the softness of the mattress beneath him and the luxurious sheets and quilt laid over his legs. Frankly, it was the nicest bedroom he’d ever been in. He literally couldn’t imagine how anything could be better. 

Mr. Stark’s eyes were critical as his gaze roved over the room. “I don’t know what you like, kid. We could paint the walls, get some different furniture. You aren’t afraid of heights, are you? I’d like to keep you in the penthouse with me, but we could move you down into one of the apartments on the second floor—”

“Mr. Stark.” The dark eyes found Peter’s and softened just a tad. Peter saw it and felt guilt clench in his stomach over the fact that he had let Mr. Stark find out enough about his life to pity him, to feel like he’s responsible for picking him up out of the gutter like a bag of kittens out of a dumpster. He swallowed hard and made his voice matter-of-fact. “Mr. Stark, to be frank, I slept on some plywood inside the ceiling of my university’s library over the weekend. I’ll be fine. And I can’t stay here.”

Peter could see the older man’s jaw tighten. “Why not? You have someplace better to be?”

Ouch. “I’m not your responsibility, sir, you don’t have to—”

Mr. Stark stood abruptly and bent over the bed to look down at Peter, one hand rested on the mattress near his thigh. “Listen here, Peter.” His voice was low, threatening, and arrogant, like in the interviews in which the reporter pissed him off. “I don’t have to do anything. I want to do this. I want you to stay here. Generally, I get what I want. Am I understood?”

Peter felt his face burning and found that he couldn’t look Mr. Stark in the eyes. Helplessness, shame, and fear swirled in his stomach as he remembered other men who had given him a place to stay. Everything has a price when you’re poor, and the less you have, the higher the price you pay. This was something Peter had learned. His voice was barely a whisper when he managed to speak. “What do I have to do to stay here?” Sex, servitude, maybe guinea pigging some type of experimentation?

There was a pause. Mr. Stark’s voice was relaxed when he spoke again, straightening up from his threatening stance over Peter. “Well, I’d be disappointed if you dropped out of school or quit working in the lab. Other than that, nothing. Why?”

Liar. “I understand, sir.”

“Good. Get some rest, then.”

...

Steve was on him almost before the door was all the way closed. “Tony, you can’t keep watching the kid sleep, it’s inappropriate and—”

Tony interrupted him. “He’s awake now.”

Steve rolled his eyes. “So that’s why you finally came up for air. You’re way over-attached to this kid, Tony.”

“Go meet him.”

“What?”

“Go talk to him. You’ll understand if you talk to him.”

The two men stared each other down, challenge offered and needing to be accepted. There were a lot of awkward pauses when they argued, these days. They always needed to pause and gauge how upset they really were. “Fine.”

Tony idled outside the door to Peter’s room, answering emails on his phone, as he waited for Steve to re-emerge. When he did, he looked positively perturbed, glaring harshly at Tony with his arms crossed over his genetically engineered chest. Tony raised his eyebrows in question, watching Steve struggle for words with a bit of apprehension. What had the kid said?

Finally, Steve ground out, “I think I love that kid.”

Tony gave a little whoop of victory at the admission, a shit-eating grin so wide as to be painful stretching his lips. Steve looked like he was still struggling with the emotions evoked by his conversation with Peter—Tony understood the feeling. “He’s just got this aura, Tony. I think this is what a... a maternal instinct feels like. He’s so sweet, like a puppy dog. He kept stuttering and calling me Mr. Captain Rogers sir. He’s adorable.” Steve looked moments away from asking whether they could keep him. “He even asked me to try to convince you that you didn’t need to take care of him. He’s like an anti-golddigger.”

“Smart, too,” Tony added before he could stop himself. “Do you think he could charm the others enough that they’ll get off my back about letting him stay here? He could be our mascot.” Dr. Banner was already smitten, of course, charmed by the boy who wanted to talk about his work more than his super hero identity. But what about the others?

...

That morning was the most surreal of Peter’s life, as one Avenger after another entered his room with looks of confusion and doubt hidden under politeness on their faces. He found himself struggling to find a way to address them. 

“Mr. Colonel Iron W-War Machine Patriot sir, it’s an honor, wow!”

“Nice to meet you, Ms. Widow, sorry, that is, uhh, Ms. Black Widow?”

“Mr. Soldier—Mr. Winter—hello! Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t, it’s okay if you don’t want to shake hands, I’d understand—oh, wow. Mr. Winter Soldier, your arm is beautiful—wow, I’m sorry, so rude of me—”

“Mr. Falcon— ... Mr. Sam, sorry, sir, I didn’t know— yes, sir, Mr. Sam, sir, I—”

He’d signed “Hello, my name is Peter,” to Mr. Hawkeye while saying the same out loud. “I’m sorry I don’t know more sign, Mr. Hawkeye. I—I, that is, when I was a kid, I learned some because I thought you were cool, but it’s been so long since I studied it, sir—”

Even more surreal, they all seemed to like him. Call me Nat, call me Clint, call me Rhodey, a friend of Tony is a friend of mine, are you comfortable there, do you need anything? It was like he’d stepped into a weird twilight zone scenario in which he’d traded his soul to be popular with the coolest people on the planet. All this in borrowed pajamas with an IV needle in his arm, in the penthouse of Stark Tower. Maybe he’d actually starved to death in the ceiling of the library? 

...

“If anything ever happened to that kid, I’d kill everyone in this tower and then myself.” 

More than half of the people in the room didn’t understand Natasha’s reference, including Tony who only knew that it was from something, but they all understood the meaning behind it. Peter was pure and sweet and genuine, something hard to come by in the life of a super-human or a soldier or a secret agent or a businessman. None of them had pets, of course, not living the sort of life that lent itself to having an animal depend on them for food and shelter, and maybe that was part of why the whole team wanted something like Peter around the penthouse. Even Bucky had been kind of taken, saying to Steve in earshot of Tony, “People always either ignore the arm or get a look of pity of disgust on their face. This kid called it beautiful and apologized for bringing attention to it. ... He should teach disability sensitivity training.” To which Clint had piped in saying that the kid knew he could read lips and still signed the best he could to be polite.

Tony felt validated in his irrational affection for the kid by seeing his teammates react similarly to him. The only concerns had been confirming that he had no surviving family and no criminal record, and that he really was 19. The fuss began to die down after that, and people started pairing off into patrol groups. No one thought it was odd Tony didn’t head to the lab that day.

Chapter Text

Peter felt a little suffocated. He was cleaner than he’d been in weeks, having taken a real shower with real hot water and real shampoo. He was wearing borrowed clothes, but they were also very clean. He had a strong suspicion from how low-waisted the jeans were that they belonged to Natasha, but that wasn’t unreasonable—heck, they were still a bit too big on him. He’d even indulged himself enough to use some of the lotion he’d found on the sink that smelled like lemon and candy. He’d flossed his teeth—how long had it been since he’d had tooth floss? Then there had been deodorant—another luxury he couldn’t always afford—and q-tips to clean his ears with, clippers to trim up his broken nails. Looking in the mirror, he felt transformed, from a dirty homeless kid to maybe an anorexic nerd. His hair was down nearly to his shoulders now that it was clean and brushed—the hand soap tended to make the curls bunch near his scalp—and he frowned to note he looked almost feminine with it. 

He looked and felt better than he had in weeks. But was it good enough? He’d been asked to get ready to have dinner with the fucking Avengers. The last time he’d eaten with someone at a table had been the Thanksgiving dinner at the shelter in November. In addition, all of his own clothing had disappeared and he’d not been supplied with any shoes or socks. Maybe he could just say he still feels sick. It’s not untrue; he was a bit unsteady on his feet and he could feel the fabric of the clothes on his fever-sensitized skin. But he was also hungry, and the last time he’d sat down to a meal was a month ago. He found himself heading down the hallway towards the sound of voices, uncertain as to how to navigate the luxurious space, almost unable to process it—the glass, the marble, the gilding and the black and white photography of New York City. 

Then he turned the corner and there were the Avengers, mostly in casual clothing, lounging around a stylishly modern living space with white leather couches and armchairs and glass and metal coffee tables. Eating take out from the little folding paper boxes. Dr. Banner perched on the arm of a love seat next to Ms. Natasha, who was sitting next to Mr. Hawkeye and chatting with him; Mr. Barnes on the floor, resting his back against an armchair next to Captain Roger’s feet, who was talking across the group to Mr. Wilson and Colonel Rhodes. And Mr. Stark, half sitting on and half standing against a metal end table, ostensibly speaking with Dr. Banner but with his dark eyes fixed intently on Peter’s. 

“Something wrong, Peter?” Captain Rogers asked, concern pinching his brow. 

Peter spoke before he considered whether he should. “You guys look like you’re on the set of a sitcom like this. It’s very... domestic?” A few of the people in the room who knew what a sitcom was like laughed. 

“Take a seat, sweetie.” It was Ms. Natasha who spoke. She gestured at the ground near Mr. Barnes, and Peter obeyed, falling into a graceful cross-legged position. He never thought Ms. Natasha, the Black Widow, would be so kind, and he couldn’t help but smile at her as she stood to hand him a take out container and a pair of chopsticks. It was... nice. Comforting.

...

Tony raised his eyebrows at Nat, wondering where the hell she dug up whatever maternal instincts she’d been repressing, but her answering glare was a decent enough reminder that she could and would kill him in his sleep, so he didn’t pursue the thought. He tried to focus entirely on Bruce’s thoughts on his nanotech idea as conversations resumed around the room, but he couldn’t stop noticing how Peter’s shoulders hunched over the container of food—like he was afraid someone would take it from him. He looked good, really good, all cleaned up with clothes that somewhat fit him and his hair neat. Biteable.

“Where you from, kid?” he heard Sam ask. 

The boy politely sat his food down on the floor to answer. “I’m from Queens, Mr. Wilson. Where are you from, sir?”

“Just Sam is fine, kid. Queens. My parents too. Your family always been from Queens?”

“My parents and my uncle were from Brooklyn, sir. My aunt was from Georgia.”

“Ah. Makes sense then why you’re so yes sir no sir. Your Aunt raised you more Southern?”

“I suppose so, sir, I—”

“Are you listening, Tony?”

Tony refocused his attention from Peter’s lips onto Bruce with a bit of difficulty. “Yeah, of course. I agree that it’s going to need to be connected to an AI. I’ve been wondering if I should develop one from scratch or just integrate Jarvis...”

...

As dinner was winding down, Tony was once again distracted from his conversation (with Rhodes and Clint this time) by Peter quietly addressing the group to say, “Thank you to whoever let me borrow their clothes. Uhm. Ms. Natasha, do you know who I should ask about getting my shoes back?”

The shoes had been incinerated. They were gross up close, honestly. The rubber was worn smooth on the bottom, the fabric was blackened with the grime of the city, and the whole structure was more duct tape than shoe, anyway. Nat knew this because she was the one who’d suggested burning and Tony saw this knowledge written on her face. After a moment of deliberation during which he profoundly enjoyed the look of panic in her eyes, he threw offhandedly into the room without looking up from his emails, “Oh, yeah, kid. Those are gone. Gonna get you some new clothes.”

There was a pause. Tony looked up at the kid, trying to make it casual, but was stricken to see the darkening of his cheeks and the look of shame and guilt in his eyes. More than one accusatory look was being directed his way, and he let himself for a moment despair that his team was already siding with the kid over him. 

The kid mumbled something, stormy eyes fixed on his bare feet. “What was that?”

The voice was very strained, bordering on tearful when the kid spoke up. “I said, I can’t afford the new clothes, Mr. Stark.”

There was a shift in the energy of the room. Sam was the closest; Tony watched him twitch like he wasn’t sure what to do, then pat the kid on the back, a tad awkward. Tony would have done anything to be the one who got to touch him, comfort him—he shook his head abruptly. “Kid, I don’t know why this isn’t getting through your skull, but you aren’t going into debt by being here. Consider it compensation for the hours you’ve been putting in at the lab.”

The kid’s mouth opened, then shut, then opened again as their eyes met, thunder rolling in their inclement irises. “Mr. Stark, do you have any idea how disparate an intern’s paycheck is from this?” 

There was silence, then a strangled chuckle. Betrayed, Tony turned his gaze to Steve, who was visibly choking back laughter. “I’m sorry, Tony, but the kid has a point. Do you?”

...

After some discussion that Peter barely understood, as his ears were still rushing with the adrenaline of questioning Tony fucking Stark, most of the Avengers filtered out of the room, bidding Peter and each other good night. Ms. Natasha had guided him to sit down, given him a half-hug that smelled like clean linen and leather, and whispered into his hair, “Just let Tony do his thing.”

That’s what I’m afraid of, Peter had thought acidly. 

Captain Rogers and Mr. Stark sat down across from him on the same couch, looking rather like stern parents as they did so. Peter stared hard at his hands, his face hot—from blush or fever, he wasn’t sure anymore—feeling uncertain, like he were falling or drifting in water. 

“Peter—” The voice was distinctly Captain America, and reminded him viscerally of the anti-drug videos featuring the hero they used to show during health class in high school. “You can’t keep wearing borrowed clothes, and the ones we took from you were beyond repair. You need new clothes.”

He hunched his shoulders, ashamed to have his state of dress criticized in this way. “Sir, I can’t pay you back,” he insisted, voice small. He shut his eyes against Mr. Stark’s next words.

“Kid, what is all this nonsense about paying it back? Do you think a wardrobe is going to break my bank?”

The joke met silence, and Peter realized that he was shaking. “Please, sir,” he said to his lap. “Just tell me now what I have to do.” More silence. Antsy, Peter continued shakily, “Please just tell me, I can’t stand the waiting.”

Finally, after a prolonged moment, Mr. Stark spoke again. His voice was coldly polite. “Kid, I really don’t know what you mean.”

Peter pulled his knees up to his chest and addressed his feet as he pushed out, “Mr. Stark, please just tell me. Is it sex? Experimentation?” One or both of the men must have flinched at this, because there was the sound of creaking furniture and shuffling clothes. He shut his eyes and waited for his sentencing.

...

Tony felt hollow. He saw it reflected in his old friend’s eyes as they looked to each other for guidance. Steve found it within himself to speak first. “Have you... been asked for sex in exchange for a place to stay before?” Much more tact than Tony could have managed. All he could feel just now was rage and pity as the beautiful boy slowly nodded his head against his knees. He felt Steve inhale, then continue with the same gentle tone, “Peter, I promise you, that is not what this is. Do you really think that the Avengers keep sex slaves around the tower?”

Peter’s face pushed harder against his knees. The kid was tiny, he thought suddenly, imagining how well he’d fit in Tony’s lap. He angrily pushed down the longing that thought sparked in him as the kid reluctantly mumbled No, sir into the fabric of his jeans. 

“Do you think that Stark Industries is progressing through human experimentation?”

“... No, sir.”

“Do you think that Tony Stark, Iron Man, coerces kids into sex?”

Tony’s gut twisted.

“... No.” 

“Okay then. All we need from you is your secrecy about what goes on in the tower. And for you to continue your internship, of course. Understood?”

“Yes, Captain.” The kid finally lifted his head then, his eyes red and raw-looking, the skin of his lower lip looking irritated, pink and kissable. He looked embarrassed. “I’m sorry, sir, it was rude of me to think... to think that...”

“It’s okay, kid.” Tony barely recognized his own voice. “It’s okay.”

...

Is Tony different from the other people just because he isn’t asking for sex? Does wanting it from someone he has power over make him automatically bad? He wasn’t sure. He just knew his body and his heart ached when he saw the brimming-with-tears beauty of Peter’s shy, oceans at dawn eyes. 

... 

That night was the first time Tony caught the kid cleaning. It was 3am; he’d awoken from a stress dream and was heading to the kitchen for a whiskey to sip on while he answered emails until he got tired again. He’d stopped in the entryway to the living area, confused by the sight of the kid on his hands and knees in the half-light from the windows, scrubbing the floor like it owed him money. The position pulling the loose pajama pants tight around his ass and thighs and the shirt draped so that Tony could count vertebrae and ribs. “Kid?”

Peter jerked, obviously frightened, and spun around, barely avoiding falling into the damp area of the floor he was working on. “Mr. Stark!” His cheeks colored beautifully; Tony took a step forward at the sight, unable to help himself. “I didn’t, uh, I didn’t expect—”

“What are you doing?”

The kid looked exhausted, dazed, like maybe he hadn’t slept yet. “I just thought... since I’m staying here... and I threw up on the floor...”

They held eye contact. “You don’t have to clean.”

Tony was stepping closer to the boy on his knees. It felt dangerous.

“You don’t have to do anything.” Tony was right in front of him, now, close enough that the cool blueish light of the arc reactor highlighted the kid’s cheekbones and made his hair look sort of silver. He held his hand out and bit back an unidentifiable emotion as it was taken, and he lifted the boy to his feet as easily as anything. They stood closer than was casual, Peter’s head tipped far back and Tony’s tipped down so that their eyes connected. Tony’s jaw worked for a moment, then, without his brain’s permission, he was saying, “There is something you can do for me.”

Peter’s voice was breathless, too quiet to read. “Yes, sir?”

Tony watched the long lashes flutter in anxiety, in exhaustion. “I’m interested in you.” He paused and watched the kid struggle with the wording he’d used. “That is, I find you interesting. Will you tell me about some of the things you’ve been doing to keep afloat, out there by yourself? Maybe one a night?” It seemed like an inappropriate question, but Peter was nodding, then Tony had his arm around the kid’s shoulders and sat him down on the couch, sitting next to him (but not too close, he was careful) and listening attentively as the kid spoke.

Chapter Text

I don’t know what you want to hear about, Mr. Stark. It’s not like the boxcar children. ... oh, it’s, uh, it’s a book series for kids. Never mind. You wanna... you wanna hear about something I’ve never told anyone, Mr. Stark?

Last winter, I was... cold, and hungry, one night. It was during that ice storm. Do you remember? Yeah, in January. I didn’t have anywhere to go, I’d had to... leave my previous place. Unexpectedly. I was desperate, so I went to a bar. I thought, at the least, those don’t close until early in the morning. And if I were really desperate, maybe someone could take me home. I hadn’t decided yet. I’d never... done anything like that before.

It was really loud in there. Lots of people. I was there for a while, I didn’t have much energy to dance, so I just hung out near the wall, watching people. This older man started talking to me. He seemed nice, at first, but then he asked if I wanted to have fun, and he gave me a pill. I took it from him, and said I’d go take it in the bathroom, if he didn’t mind. I don’t know why he let me walk away with it, really. He was acting like it was ecstasy, but I was pretty sure it was a roofie. 

You have to understand, Mr. Stark, I was desperate. I hope you won’t... judge me. I left that bar with the pill and went to different bar down the street. There was another nice older guy, and when he invited me back to his place, I said sure, but only if you’ll take this. It’ll be more fun that way. He took it in the taxi. He was almost gone already when we got to his apartment, I had to help him to the bed. He was asleep as soon as I laid him down.

The next day, he couldn’t remember anything. I told him, wow, last night was amazing. I can barely even walk. I made a big show of limping around. I told him how wonderful it was, how I couldn’t wait to do it again, but I was too sore. He bought it. He was really taken with me. I stayed there and ate his food for a few days, then, when he went to work that Monday, I stole all his canned food and left. 

... Mr. Stark, you don’t have to look at me like that. I know it was wrong. ... That’s nice of you to say, but we both know that you’ve done more interesting things to survive. Wait, what are you—oh. Yeah, I still feel warm. Everything is a little hazy. I think that’s why it’s been so easy to talk to you. I feel almost like I’m drunk. Usually I’m too scared of you, but honestly, right now, I’m not sure if I’m dreaming. 

Yes sir. Yes sir. Yes, a little dizzy. You don’t have to carry—oh. Well, if I’m already here. ... I don’t get why you think that’s funny. Okay. 

Okay.

I will.

Goodnight to you, too, Mr. Stark.

Chapter Text

Over the next few days, the kid relaxed a bit into the rhythm of the tower. He kept to himself unless explicitly asked to join someone for something, but he had no shortage of invites to do everything from make breakfast with the kitchen staff to talk science news with Bruce to shoot paintballs for Rhodey and Sam to dodge midair in the training room. He was a light in the tower, truly, sweet and funny and genuine. Tony tried to keep his distance a bit during the day, but he saw how Steve watched him watch the kid and knew that he was going to be found out. 

It wasn’t his fault. The kid fascinated him. The beauty, the tragic but often funny and clever stories he told Tony each night like he was the princess trying to avoid execution in Arabian Nights, the brilliance, the way that the kid looked at him. The admiration. The way that when Tony asked him to come with him to the lab, he was shaking with nerves, beaming, too shy to speak. 

Once Tony had made it clear he genuinely didn’t expect labor or sex from him, Peter stopped being quite so jittery—though Tony still frequently found him cleaning something compulsively, and he could not be dissuaded from helping the kitchen staff—and started the shyly longing glances again, the ones Tony could never quite convince himself weren’t in his imagination. It was sweet. Heady. It made Tony feel powerful, which in turn made him feel sick, because the reality was that he did have power. Money, influence, age, experience, weapons. The Iron Man suit. Why did he feel the need to have poor little Peter when he could have anything?

... 

Peter had never felt better. He supposed he must be the luckiest person on the face of the planet. He was always clean, never hungry, never cold, never in danger. Free to read, to help cook, to work on his project in the lab or scratch out notes on a legal pad Rhodey had let him have. He was surrounded by his heroes, his idols, all of whom seemed to like him and be okay with having him around. He struggled frequently with the feeling that he could never repay all of this to them—literally or emotionally—and was frequently scolded for cleaning things or asking permission to have water or anything else from the kitchen. 

But he found other ways to be as low-cost as possible. He nearly always kept the lights out in his room, took very short showers, ate only what he was given, and learned how to use the expensive, intricate coffee equipment in the kitchenette adjoining the bar area of the living room that no one had apparently ever bothered to figure out. By the time everyone realized he’d figured out when they woke up and how they took their coffee, they were willing to see it as sweet and didn’t ask him to stop. Clint jokingly made him a name tag and taught him how to sign What can I get started for you today?

Barista to the Avengers beat homelessness any day. 

But the best part was that Mr. Stark was always awake first. 5:30 almost on the dot. And he’d be too tired to tell Peter to go back to sleep until after they were sitting together at the counter, sipping fine Italian espresso together. He got to hear Mr. Stark work through whatever ideas he’d had while sleeping or while trying to sleep and gently correct him on things he’d realize on his own once he was firing on all cylinders again.

“Sir, why does it have to be a necklace? Wouldn’t a bracelet be more discrete and have less chance of being ripped off?” was the revelation this particular morning. Mr. Stark had been blearily mumbling into his cup about nanotech self defense devices for civilians, trying to figure out how to get a necklace to have guaranteed constant skin contact without looking like a collar. 

The answer was that Mr. Stark was tired and since his arc reactor was over his heart, he was stuck on the idea that a nanotech defense suit would have to originate from the chest. But Mr. Stark just stared at him, completely blank, for nearly 45 seconds, as Peter sniffed cautiously at the burning hot liquid in his own little mug. It smelled, under the obvious coffee smell, like damp leaves; Mr. Stark had assured him that was a sign of quality.

“This is why I need you, Peter,” he finally said, taking a long sip from his espresso as he did so and shaking his head slowly. “Most people would either assume that I must have a reason for doing something that seems stupid or be too scared to point it out.”

It was, in Peter’s memory, one of the only times Mr. Stark had ever used his given name casually. It made him feel warm. 

They chatted about the challenges posed by asymmetric suit rendering—Tony dismissed the idea of having two bracelets, saying that it would be harder to get them to work together than to program the nanotech to start from somewhere other than the middle—and they briefly discussed an earring instead, but decided it would be too heavy and too easily ripped out to be comfortable. By then, Peter was bustling around the kitchenette again, knowing that in short order he’d be joined by the Colonel, the Captain, and Ms. Natasha, who took their coffee with creamer, with sugar, and black, respectively. 

“I love this kid,” Ms. Natasha groaned as she stiffly lifted herself into one of the chairs by the bar, accepting the coffee and a banana from the fruit basket graciously. She always acted like her muscles weren’t awake yet early in the morning. “Even though he’s starting to look better in my clothes than me. Glad to see you’re putting on a bit of weight, Pete.”

Peter beamed, blushing and unable to make complete eye contact. He’d also noticed that the women’s size small shirts he’d been wearing were getting a bit tighter at the chest. She had started inviting him to the gym with her shortly after he’d recovered from his stomach bug and he was very proud of his limited, but rapid, progress. 

“Ah, that reminds me,” Mr. Stark muttered mostly to himself, eyes brighter now that the caffeine had had time to take effect. “Your clothes should be here today.”

Peter didn’t know how to respond—he still wasn’t sure how to feel about that kind of a gift—but was saved by the arrival of the good Captain, looking bright-eyed as usual as he too sat at the counter, eyes fixed on the newspaper in his hands. Mr. Stark rolled his eyes as Peter sat his coffee, two sugars, in front of him. “Grandpa still reads the physical paper,” he snickered. 

The Captain ignored Mr. Stark, setting the paper down and pointing at an article. “Why didn’t anyone tell me there are two Sudans now?” 

“Oh, that wasn’t actually that long ago,” Peter replied, leaning up on tippy toes to see the article, the title of which read South Sudan to Return to Pre-War Oil Production Levels by 2020. “I was in like, 5th or 6th grade when that happened.”

Natasha snorted into her coffee. “No one tell grandpa about Alaska and Hawaii, he may not be able to take it.”

The Captain frowned at her, indignant, and Peter turned around and started a new espresso drip to hide his amusement. “Look, Nat, you try going to sleep knowing there are 48 states and waking up to 50. I literally fought under a different flag than the one we use now!”

“Good thing we didn’t change the colors, too, Steve, or else you’d have to rebrand completely.” That was the Colonel, who nodded his thanks to Peter upon accepting his coffee. 

Mr. Stark was standing up to leave, a grin still on his face. He patted the Captain on the arm, looked at Peter, and said, “Alright, kid, when you’re done playing barista, get dressed to go in to the lab. My coffee-and-copies intern is on vacation, so you’re filling in. Cool?”

Peter blushed. “Cool.”

...

Steve caught Tony in the hallway as he was exiting the kid’s room later, having deposited an armload of packages onto his bed. “Were you talking to Peter?” the man asked Tony, falsely casual.

Tony shook his head, walking down the hallway with Steve towards his own bedroom. “No, he was in the shower. Just putting his new clothes where he could find them. Why?”

“You really like him.” They both stopped. Tony grimaced, thinking about denying it. But the Captain wasn’t done. “And he’s absolutely devoted to you, Tony.” Tony wouldn’t meet his eye. Steve shifted, looking uncomfortable. “Look, Tony, I’m the last one to judge people for who they fall for. I don’t think that this situation is... impossible. But you can’t make the first move.”

Tony swallowed. “I wouldn’t,” he said, sounding more sure than he really was.

“Even if Peter wants this as much you do, this can’t ever be healthy if you are the one pursuing him.”

His eyes shifted to the side, still unwilling to meet his longtime friend’s. “Is it that obvious?”

Steve laughed out loud. “I think the way Rhodes put it was, the only person more starry-eyed than Peter looking at Tony is Tony looking at Peter. We want the best for you, Tony, but we want the best for him, too. So we don’t have any reason to step in unless you two fail to be the best thing for each other.”

“What about the age difference?” Tony asked masochistically. 

Steve shook his head. “It’s not that bad, all things considered. It’s legal and mutual. You just have to remember the power imbalance.”

That was the real problem, they both knew. It wasn't just age. It was age and wealth and influence and the suit. It was the fact that Tony could make or break him, literally and figuratively. 

...

Warm and smelling of lemon candy, Peter stepped out of the bathroom, wrapped in a towel, skin pink with scrubbing and sticky-damp with water and lotion. His eyes fell on the bed and his stomach dropped. “What is all of this?” he asked the room rhetorically.

He nearly fell over in surprise when the room responded. “That would be your new wardrobe, Mr. Parker.” 

Momentarily distracted from the pile of packages on the comforter, Peter squinted around at the walls and ceiling. “Jarvis? ... I didn’t know you were in here.”

“I’m in every room, Mr. Parker.”

A thought struck Peter and he felt his cheeks heat up. “Uh, Jarvis, are there... cameras? In here?”

“Yes.”

Peter pulled the towel tighter around his body in defense. “Does... does Mr. Stark look at the video?” he asked, his voice trailing upward to a squeak at the end. 

Jarvis paused. Peter had learned that this meant he was checking protocols against each other—most often, it was the be honest to Mr. Stark and guests protocol against the don’t make Mr. Stark angry protocol, but sometimes it was against the keep Mr. Stark’s private life private protocol. This seemed to be the latter. “Mr. Stark does not look at the video,” he finally responded.

“What does that mean, Jarvis?”

Jarvis was caught. “Technically, sir, I look at the video and tell him if you are okay. If it isn’t too private, I also tell him what you’re doing.”

Peter sat down on the bed in a huff. “Do you tell him when I have nightmares?” There was silence. It seemed almost guilty. Incredulity leaked into his voice as he plead, “Jarvis, do you report to Mr. Stark every time I have a nightmare?”

No response. From what Peter understood, Jarvis would only lie to outsiders, making silence more or less a confirmation. It was a huge security flaw, but a useful one, which was why Peter hadn’t said anything about it yet. He wasn’t sure how to feel about this revelation. It was almost sweet. And it made the frequency with which he ran into Mr. Stark in the middle of the night when he went to the kitchen for water make much more sense. 

“Jarvis, please don’t record any video while I’m changing,” he settled on finally. “And tell me if anyone overrides that command.”

“Certainly.”

That made him feel better. He turned his attention to the packages. They were all plain priority mail padded envelopes and boxes of different sizes. He grabbed one at random and pulled it open. The material inside was deep red, luxuriously soft—he dropped it, panic rising in his throat again, and began opening all the packages like they were bombs and laying out the clothing within.

Soon he was staring down nothing less than five beautiful silk-blend button down shirts, five pairs of slacks in grey and black, five pairs of designer jeans ranging from faded and torn to dark and neat, a dozen or so T-shirts, a handful of beautiful sweaters, two winter coats in red and blue, a pile of “bamboo-spun” boxer briefs and socks, pajamas made of a material so fine he didn’t want to touch them, and a matching set of beanie, gloves, and scarf in red. Lined up neatly next to the rest were three pairs of shoes. The first were beautiful black leather boots that laced up to a bit below mid calf, the second were a pair of running shoes that felt light as air, and the third was a pair of brown leather slip-on loafers. These were what he ended up staring at, eyes burning and shoulders shaking, as in his mind’s eye he saw himself stealing duct tape from a classroom because his only pair of shoes had the sole coming apart from the fabric...

Before he even knew he was running, he was being caught and held to someone’s chest. He wriggled in their arms, sobbing, toes barely touching the floor, and heard an alarmed voice calling, “Steve? Steve, get in here!”

He choked on his tears, burying his face into the man’s shirt and hyperventilating pitifully as he heard heavy footsteps approaching rapidly from the other room. “Bucky, why are you—why is crying? Why is he in a towel?”

“I have no idea! You take him!”

“Christ, just set him down, Bucky!”

His feet hit the floor and his knees buckled, but he stayed upright, one hand on the knot of the towel at his waist and the other trying in vain to shield his tear-stained face from scrutiny. He was shepherded back into the room and he sunk down onto the floor, head in his hands, as the Winter Soldier calmly observed, “Ah. Stark went overboard again.”

He heard someone kneel down next to him and glanced up through his eyelashes at them. To his surprise, it was Mr. Barnes, not the Captain, face schooled but not unkind. “What’s wrong, kid?”

Peter sniffled and scrubbed his hands over his face, feeling ridiculous. “I’m sorry, sir, I’ve just... I’ve never been given something so nice before. And. I haven’t chosen my own clothes... in... years. I got overwhelmed when I tried to...” He shrunk into himself with a humorless, self directed snort of derision. “This is so stupid. I got overwhelmed when I thought about having to choose something to wear.”

Mr. Barnes looked sympathetic. Peter was briefly distracted by Captain Rogers stepping toward the bed and beginning to interact with the clothing, but Mr. Barnes moved to block his view. “Hey, it’s okay. I understand. It can be really overwhelming to have a lot of choices where there used to be none. Take your time, no one expects you to adjust instantly.”

Peter nodded shakily and tried to control his breathing. He thought distantly about the last time he’d gone clothes shopping with May—it was to get a tie for the Mathlete tournament. All of Ben’s had looked too old on him, she’d said, holding a pink tie up to his chest and squinting— 

Mr. Barnes patted him on the shoulder, breaking the memory. “You wanna stand up?”

Helped to his feet, Peter looked back to the bed to discover that Captain Rogers had put almost everything away. Left on the bed was just a pair of dark wash jeans, the red button-down, the blue coat, and the boots. He looked up at him, red, and whispered, “Thank you.” 

To his surprise, the Captain’s ears reddened a little and a pleased smiled came to his lips. “Just happy to help, Peter,” he said, sounding like he meant it. Then they were gone, Mr. Barnes offering him an awkward two-fingered wave as they left. 

Now all Peter had to do was emotionally process the fine materials and precise tailoring of what clothing was left on the bed. Easy-peasy.

It took another couple of short pauses to breathe, but eventually he was dressed—wearing clothes that fit felt almost like bondage after years of wearing whatever he could steal from the lost-and-found that didn’t hang off of him too terribly much. Normal and alien all at once. He recognized himself in the mirror, but then again, he didn’t.

...

There was that word on Tony’s lips again. Expensive. Like fine wine. Like a risky investment. Tony had known the kid was going to look better in clothes that fit—especially considering he’d had Jarvis rip his measurements from a body scan and he’d picked everything out himself—but he wasn’t prepared for the effect. The kid looked like he’d been born and bred for the express purpose of marrying well. He looked fresh out of the box. Mint condition. The deep red brought out the sweet creamy color of his skin, the stormy bluegrey of his eyes, and the fit of the dark jeans called attention to his form in a way that flattered it. Like he’d suddenly gone from scrawny to lithe. The hair, too, overlong and messy, lent him the effort-to-look-effortless look of a model pretending to be surprised to see the camera crew when they’ve “just woken up.” 

“You need glasses,” Tony said, his voice a little breathier than he had intended. The rest of the thought was then you could really rock the sexy nerd look, but he bit that down, and to his surprise, Peter immediately looked a little ashamed. All at once, Tony remembered the the kid did actually need glasses, and they’d been MIA for... a while, at least. “Where are your glasses?”

“I... I don’t know,” he said, sounding genuinely unsure as he approached Tony slowly, like a weary deer. “I don’t know why they weren’t with me the day I... collapsed. They barely helped anyway. It’s okay, Mr. Stark, I don’t need them.”

Tony sighed a bit long-sufferingly and checked his watch. “What’s that say?” he asked quickly, pointing at an old poster of the original Stark Tower design sketch. The kid squinted, looking stricken. Cute. Tony chuckled and clapped him on the shoulder, pushing him gently down the hall. “C’mon, kid. I’ll have someone take care of you when we get to the lab.”

Tony caught himself staring as Peter was lead away by one of the techs from the biomed floor, watching the fabric of his new clothes tighten rhythmically across his shoulders, his thighs, his ass, as he walked briskly to keep up with his somewhat taller escort. It was too early, he thought vaguely as he looked at his watch, to look that edible. He wanted to hold Peter, to bite him, to stroke his skin. To have him, another fine thing to add to the collection. Tony Stark wanted the best of everything and Peter was clearly the best.

...

Peter couldn’t shake the feeling that people were looking at him as he headed back from the biomed lab, where a handful of employees had helpfully figured out his prescription and gotten an MD to write it up and send it out. He was quite used to people’s eyes sliding right over him, from classmates who wanted to avoid sitting next to the guy who smelled bad half the time to New Yorkers who didn’t want to acknowledge a kid sleeping on a bench. The clothes—which fit him better than anything he’d ever owned, he was sure, even back when he lived with Aunt May and Uncle Ben—made him feel exposed, or silly, like maybe he was playing dress up, but he kept catching the eyes of both men and women who seemed appreciative, curious; a few of them maybe even a little lustful. 

Then there was one who looked a little hungry. 

Peter darted his gaze down immediately to his feet when he made eye contact with a broad shouldered man of maybe thirty or thirty-five years who had the very recognizable glint in their eyes of someone somewhat less than sane. It’s a subtle detail that is imperative to survival when interacting with other people scraping by on the street. Peter could recognize it at a pace.

On the sidewalk or in an alley, avoiding eye contact would usually mean avoiding interaction. But the rules are different in a hallway and that was how Peter found himself standing directly in front of the strange man, staring down at his outstretched hand. “Eddie,” said the man, voice the same sort of just-slightly off that his eyes were. “I haven’t seen you around before. Do you have a minute to talk?”

Peter’s hand was shaking just a little as he accepted the handshake and looked far up into the taller man’s face to blurt out, “Peter, nice to meet you. Sorry, I’m on my way to the lab. Mr., uh, Mr. Stark will be expecting me.”

The man’s eyes lit up and he leaned over Peter a bit, tightening his grip on their handshake when Peter went to withdraw. “The fabled new intern,” the man stage whispered conspiratorially. “Would you have a moment for an interview?”

Belatedly, Peter realized he was speaking to a reporter. He’d been briefed specifically not to talk to reporters at all. Panicking, he tried harder to pull away, inadvertently backing himself into a wall when Eddie followed him, one hand still gripping Peter’s fingers painfully and the other placed flat on the wall somewhere above his right shoulder. His vision swam, heart beating arrhythmically, heat uncomfortable in his face and ears as he struggled to find his tongue. 

The man bent down close to his ear, and his voice could only be described as a purr. “Or maybe you’d have time for me to take you out tonight?” 

Peter scrunched his eyes shut, turning his face away helplessly. “Sir, please let go, I need to-”

But suddenly the heavy presence of the strange reporter was gone. 

...

Tony was massively overreacting.

He’d seen Peter looking like he was trying to phase through the wall to get away from Eddie Brock, the sleazy reporter famous for liking to kick up mud where it wasn’t deserved, who was bent over with his face close to Peter’s neck... And by the time Tony had reached them he was just in the suit, and if you’re in the suit, it’s easy to pick people up, so it seemed like the easiest way to separate them was to just... pick Brock up by the shirt.

Which he did. 

Through the display, he saw the facial recognition software focus on the man’s face and some of his information popped up towards the side—employer, awards, age—but he was more interested in the smug smirk playing at the corners of his lips. Tony realized instantly that he’d been had. Reacting this way over what was supposed to just be his intern was going to look unusual, and tabloid news thrived on things that looked unusual. 

“I hate reporters,” he snarked, coolly trying to play of the display of his temper. “Don’t you have anything better to write about? Politics, foreign affairs, firefighters and kittens?” He set the man down a few feet from where he’d had Peter against the wall, tilting his masked face derisively. “Leave my interns alone and get out, you don’t have permission to be here.”

Brock was dusting himself off, already walking away with a cocky set to his shoulders. “You can’t keep me from getting in, Stark, you can only ask me to leave.” 

Tony rolled his eyes, silently commanding the suit to retract. It peeled away like shedded skin, disappearing as it did so, a sensation that was not unlike stepping out of a bath. Behind him, Peter spoke, sounding a little dazed. “That’s not even true. This is private property.”

He couldn’t help snort at that, glancing over at the kid to take in the heaving chest, the red cheeks, the absolute adoration in his eyes as he looked at Tony. The testosterone and adrenaline the situation had pumped in told him to pick Peter up next, maybe push him up against the wall and ask him who he belongs to, but he tried to shrug it off as he mumbled something about the devil you know and the devil you don't. “If they aren’t sending Brock, it’ll just be someone else that I don’t know to kick out. C’mon, kid, I need your help with something in the lab.”

...

The day after the strange incident with the reporter, the team were all called away on a multi-pronged mission against various hydra bases. He was told what was going on in chunks as he walked them up to the helipad at 4:30 in the morning, having been stirred by thundering footsteps as people were preparing to leave. “We’re all going different places, actually,” Bruce had said. 

“I’m going to the Philippines with Rhodes and Bruce,” Nat had piped in.

“The government has information about some sort of event that is going to leave a lot of bases under-populated,” Steve had said, shouting a little to be heard over the footsteps. “We’re gonna attack all known, accessible bases at once and seize their equipment.”

Then there had been a hand in Peter’s hair, ruffling it playfully. “Be good, kid,” Tony had said, looking him in the eye with a little smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth. Then he was watching the Avengers walk away in their full cinematic glory, silhouetted against the light of the army helicopter as they walked in formation, fully geared for battle. 

Then, strangest of all, stranger than being in Stark Tower in the first place, he was now in Stark Tower alone.

He went back downstairs. It was quiet. Immaculately clean. Empty. Easily three hours before Ms. Elvira and her daughter would show up to cook breakfast. He left her a note before he headed out. 

Chapter Text

The plane ride back to New York was long; it felt even longer than the four days he’d spent fighting hydra agents in seige warfare. For the fifth time since the ten hour flight began, and for the umpteenth time since he’d left New York, Tony stepped out—this time to the bathroom, there not being many other places for privacy on a jet—and whispered to his watch, “Jarvis, is he okay?”

“Yes, sir. Mr. Parker is in the lab.” 

“It’s 11pm.”

“Yes, sir. He’s asleep there.”

“Show me.”

Then, projected to the scale of about five inches, there was Peter, curled up on a table in the lab with a blanket and a throw pillow he recognized from the bedroom he’d put the kid in. Sound asleep. If Tony leaned in close, he could see the chest rising and falling under the blanket. The kid was curled on his side, knees towards his chest and eyes hidden in the crook of his arm, the new glasses folded neatly next to his head. It made Tony’s chest ache.

...

Of fucking course.

Of course he was stuck to the fucking table again when Mr. Stark came back.

He had heard the door open behind him and twisted, frightened by the intrusion after long days alone there, to find that it was only Mr. Stark, strolling in with the aviator sunglasses and his suit coat over his arm like no time had passed, like Peter was still just the goofy intern that hung around the lab sometimes. It made his chest squeeze and he felt himself blushing as he waved, words spilling from his mouth in a tone of complete admiration before he could even try to reign it all in. “Mr. Stark! How was the mission? Are you hurt? Is anyone else hurt? It’s really late, what are you even doing here?”

Mr. Stark’s mouth was twitching like he was trying not to smile, but Peter couldn’t see his eyes under the dark aviators. “I could ask you the same thing, kid. What have you been doing here in the lab the whole time I’ve been gone? You’ve barely left.” He must have seen the indignation Peter could feel tightening in his face, because he continued quickly. “We’re all fine, Pete, mission successful. You look tired. What’s all... this?” He gestured vaguely.

Peter looked down at his right hand, which was buried under a small mound of web-like semifluid protein that had exploded out in all directions, sticking his hand to the 250ml Erlenmeyer flask and sticking the flask to the table. “... Science?” he tried, awkwardly, then, “What time is it?”

Mr. Stark looked down at his watch. “Ten minutes after midnight.” Peter realized that there was no reason for the man to have come out here just to pick him up unless he missed him, then realized that Mr. Stark could see that realization on his face. The man shifted, looking a little flustered.

Peter saved him from trying to explain. “In that case, Mr. Stark, Merry Christmas! This is your present.”

At last, the aviators came off, and Mr. Stark’s dark eyes traveled slowly over the explosion of white, the table, and Peter, making him blush. Finally, a hint of irony in his voice, eyes glinting with dark humor, the man intoned flatly, “Oh, you shouldn’t have.”

“I’ve been stuck for two hours!” Peter said excitedly. Mr. Stark’s eyes widened in shocked concern and Peter realized that this was not an adequate explanation for the situation. “Oh! Let me explain. You see, Mr. Stark, I heard you and... and some of the other Avengers talking about how you needed better ways to restrain people without hurting them. So I modified my formula and figured out how to hyper-compress it.” He gestured at a pile of metal canisters about the size of film tubes. “If you could make a gun to load that into, it could shoot this stuff up to 35 feet, I think, and it’ll hold pretty much anything for up to four hours. And it’s biodegradable!”

Peter was smiling proudly down at the material and therefore didn’t see Mr. Stark coming until it was too late. His whole body seized up when the arms went around him, tilting dizzily into the embrace as his idol crushed him into his broad chest. Mr. Stark’s body was warm and hard, his hold gentle, and he smelled like aftershave and W-40, and Peter couldn’t breathe.

Then it was over and Mr. Stark was stepping back, clearing his throat awkwardly. “I love it, kid. It’s brilliant. But how do I get you out of it?”

Recovering, Peter shook his head like a dog, knocking his glasses askew, then took a deep breath and locked eyes with the taller man, grin widening. “It’s flammable,” he said sweetly. Mr. Stark paled. 

...

It was the best Christmas Peter had had in a very, very long time. 

He slept until noon, tuckered out by the long days in the lab and Mr. Stark’s infectious stress over the controlled burn of the webbing. I won’t be able to sleep if I burn you, the man had said simply, and Peter had given in and let him do it a little bit at a time. When he awoke and padded out into the living room, embarrassed to have slept so late, he found an ornery looking Colonel Rhodes stuck to a wall with his invention while Ms. Nat cheekily pretended to blow smoke away from the little web fluid shooter gun in her hand, surrounded by other laughing Avengers—Mr. Wilson fully bent over at the waist in his mirth.

Peter blinked slowly at them, processing that they were all holding and examining more of the little guns as he waited to be noticed. “What do you think, kid? They work beautifully. Just ask Rhodey here.”

Natasha turned, beaming at him. “I love it, Peter, thank you.”

“It’s an excellent idea, Peter, well done,” praised the Captain himself. Others were nodding in agreement, some looking at Peter and some looking down at the guns or examining the webbing around Colonel Rhodes with equal measures of awe.

He swayed on his feet, overwhelmed, but a firm hand caught him by the bicep. He turned his head—Mr. Barnes wasn’t looking at him, just supporting some of his weight, and he murmured, “Well done. They’re all impressed with you.” 

...

As it would turn out, the Avengers had gotten him presents as well. And they refused to take no for an answer when he tried to refuse them.

They weren’t wrapped or anything, and didn’t appear to be from anyone in particular—like they had brainstormed all together and not bothered to pretend they hadn’t. He was given a stylish Swiss Army brand backpack filled with new school supplies, a handful of books ranging from fantasy novels to virology texts, and a very cute plushy cat that he strongly suspected had been chosen by Mr. Barnes and the Captain based on the amused looks they were shot when he hugged it to his chest, beaming at them all.

Mr. Stark had approached him, looking almost weary and cockily refusing to make eye contact as he always did when he expected Peter to challenge him. He tossed something onto Peter’s lap. It was a Stark Industries brand smart phone. He stared down at the glowing screen—it was unlocked and the stylized Avenger A was emblazoned in the background. Instinctively, he opened the contacts and looked blankly at the names listed there. Bruce, Bucky, Clint, Happy, Natasha, Pepper, Rhodes, Sam, Steve, Tony. 

He was blushing, wordless. “Mr. Stark...”

“Don’t get emotional on me, kid. Merry Christmas.”

...

Later, when Steve got him alone, all he had to do was raise his eyebrows at Tony to get him talking.

“I’m sticking to practical presents,” he defended himself, despite the fact that Steve was clearly not on the attack. “I’m being good. Honestly, I still don’t think the phone even makes up for the fluid gun.”

Steve shrugged his shoulders at that, not willing to agree out loud, but Tony knew he had been just as taken with the new non-deadly incapacitation device as everyone else. Instead, he said, “The more invested we get in this kid, the bigger a liability he becomes. We need to talk about how this is going to work in the long term.” Read: if anything happened to this kid I’d kill everyone in the building and then myself. 

...

Peter was a bastion of focus, a deep pool of concentration, perfectly balanced in the face of any obstacle; this is what he told himself over and over again, sometimes out loud, as he carried a brand-new 4 million dollar instrument—he wasn’t sure what it was, but judging by the delicacy of it and a view identifiable features he guessed it was nanobiotech related—in his hands with the reverence of a man making pilgrimage with a priceless artifact. He knew his terror must be written over his face with exclamation points as he shuffled slowly, slowly down yet another hallway based on the looks of deep sympathy he was getting from other interns. How do you handle transporting an item worth more than your life for the great Tony Stark if not with abject terror?

Imagine how he felt when he nearly dropped the damn thing.

The sensation of lips on his neck, sudden and unannounced, had been such a shock, especially in his high-stress state, that he’d jumped, screamed, and nearly lost his grip on the priceless instrument. He froze up, panicked, obediently holding the instrument out with both hands, perfectly helpless. There was a low laugh in his ear, deranged but not in and of itself cruel; it took Peter a moment to link the sound to the memory of Mr. Stark in the suit, holding a reporter by the collar like a mangy stray cat. Heavy, warm hands settled on his hips and pulled Peter’s slight frame into him. Peter shut his eyes and mewled something that was supposed to be Sir, I am in a hurry and this object is very delicate, but he was interrupted. 

“You are a beautiful man, you know that? I can barely help myself. I just want to bite you.” Peter felt the teeth on the side of his neck, gently grazing and then clamping down with a sharp, unpleasant sting that made his skin crawl as the grip on his hips wandered onto his knotted stomach and up to his chest and Peter could do nothing but endure; even if he had the willpower to move he couldn’t fight without the risk of breaking his package. The teeth released him but the hands pressed tight against his rib cage, as though Brock wanted to feel his stuttering heart. “You thought any more about that date? I love the new glasses, by the way, they make you look-”

“Hey! Hey! Brock, I swear to god, if I catch you harassing another intern, I will eat you alive!” 

Peter sagged in relief at the sound of the unfamiliar, angry woman’s voice, sliding to the floor as he was released. The relaxing of all his muscles at once gave him a bit of a head rush, and he knelt with the buzzing in his head for a few seconds, not processing the argument going on over his head. “-up, kid, are you alright?” she was saying, her hand wrapped around his bicep.

With her assistance, he stood, finally getting a good look at her. She was blond with shocking blue eyes, wearing a lab coat over formal office attire. Peter guessed she was only a few years older than him at most. “Thank you,” he whispered, finding it within himself to grin lopsidedly at her. “If I had dropped this thing, it would have been my head.”

She growled a little, arms crossing. “His head, you mean,” she corrected. She stuck out a hand to him, then withdrew it with an understanding smile when Peter looked down at his package in alarm. “Gwen Stacy. I’m a PhD student, but Brock thinks I’m Luanne Stacy, the head of the lab.” She pointed conspiratorially to her nametag, which, sure enough, only read STACY. “He’s terrified of me, so just threaten him with “Dr. Stacy” if he bothers you again. Are you alright? Where are you going?”

“I’m fine, thank you. I’m heading up to the biochemistry lab to deliver this to Mr. Stark.”

She smiled at him. “Great! I’ll walk with you.”

They chatted like old friends the whole way to the lab, doing a lot to calm his nerves. Peter found he immediately liked her very much.

... 

Tony watched out of the corner of his eye, not turning his head from his work, as Peter paused outside of the glass wall of the lab to smile at and chat with a beautiful young woman in a lab coat who looked to be about Peter’s age. The casualness of Peter’s smile, the warmth in his eye, the easy laughter—Tony felt something monstrous curling up in his chest as he watched. That’s who he should be with, he thought. Not some dirty old man.

Tony didn’t acknowledge the kid until he set his nanobiooxidative polymerizer on the lab bench and he chirped, visibly pleased with himself, “I got it here in one piece, Mr. Stark! I have to admit, it was a little touch and go there for a minute.”

Forcing himself to look at the beautiful boy, Tony opened his mouth to respond only to have the words die on his lips, zeroing in on the very clear oval of rapidly bruising, red indentations on the kid’s neck. “Who the fuck bit you?” he demanded, reaching out and snatching Peter’s collar to tug him closer. The boy stumbled, yelping, and clapped a hand over his neck, guilt and shame blooming in his eyes to match the blood coloring his cheeks and nose. 

Tony grabbed his risk with his other hand, not letting go of Peter’s shirt, and wrenched it away from his neck, holding it extended as he leaned in to examine the damage to his fair skin. It was definitely a bite, not a hickey. He heard Peter’s breathing hitch and speed up and felt his heartbeat accelerate in his wrist. The kid tilted his head to the side to allow Tony to look and murmured apologetically, “It was that reporter again, Mr. Stark, I’m sorry.” 

Tony’s vision went dark in places as he imagined, for a moment, how good it would feel to bury his teeth in the boy’s skin and mark him, put his own claim there to override Brock’s. Then he blinked, saw the fear and shame on Peter’s face, and withdrew. His voice was an approximation of normal when he spoke. “He’s not getting back into the building, kid, so don’t worry about him. And don’t be sorry, it’s not your fault that fucker is such a creep.”

...

Hours later, Peter was still tingling with how he’d felt when Mr. Stark had held him by the wrist and the collar, like he was an object in the best possible way because he was Tony Stark’s object. It was almost worth being bitten on the neck by a stranger.

...

Peter usually could never look directly at him this close, or for this long. He let his eyes linger on the cut of the jaw, the way the stubble faded into the goatee, the distinctiveness of nose and eyebrow that underlined that this, and no one else, was Tony Stark, genius billionaire playboy philanthropist. The beautiful dark eyes danced with humor and promise and Peter felt safe enough to step into the bubble, to lean into the broad chest and push himself up onto his toes and press his lips to the place where neck met jaw. The feeling was like melting, like a wave of hot warmth. He came, thrusting fruitlessly against his mentor’s body, and woke up, gasping and covered in sweat and other fluids, to the isolated darkness of his bedroom in Stark Tower.

He scrubbed his hands over his face, letting out a noise that started as a groan and ended somewhere around a whimper. He had it bad. For a man who by all measures should not even be giving him the time of day, leave alone everything he’d already given Peter. How could he be so selfish as to want this, too?

Chapter Text

I used to sleep in the ceiling at my high school, too, you know. Really. In my cafeteria. That’s where I originally got the idea. If I timed it just right, I could pull myself into the ceiling just after the bell and before the cleaning crew arrived and then I’d just wait for them to leave.

It was great, they always had fresh food. Milk, apples, things like that. If I couldn’t store it, you know, there was no point in spending the little cash I had on it. So I’d steal the packages in small amounts so they wouldn’t notice it missing, things like cookies and crackers.

Things were easier then. It was a public school, and they knew a little about my financial situation, so breakfast and lunch was free every weekday. And I was cocky, I thought that if it was all going to be this easy, I’d be fine.

I was wondering when you’d ask about that. Yeah, I ran away from the foster home. The guy used to beat me if I wasn’t awake and doing chores at 5am before school... I’ve always wondered how he had the energy to be that angry so early in the morning.

Oh, don’t, Mr. Stark. Really. That’s not even the worst of it.

...

Oh, I... uh, that is...

...

Yes. Sorry. Maybe next time, Mr. Stark.

Chapter Text

Somehow, life went on. Things became routine; things that should never have been routine for a man like Peter Parker became routine. Lifting weights with Black Widow, playing chess with War Machine, pouring over data with the Hulk, taking signing and archery lessons from Hawkeye. Discussing current events with Captain America and trying to explain 20th century history to him. Calling the Winter Soldier by his first name (he had insisted, then forced his hand by refusing to respond to anything else, a strategy Peter hoped the others didn’t pick up on). Sharing exasperated looks with the Colonel when other Avengers were bickering like children. It was normal to him when three or four Avengers would take their coffee from him and explain that they were going on a mission and they’d be back in a few days. It even became normal for Peter to tease the heroes in his limited Spanish to Elvira, who would giggle and play along. 

It was good. 

Then one morning, Peter was getting ready for school like a normal college student. Showering and brushing his teeth in a private bathroom. Pulling on fine clothing that fit him well. Shouldering a backpack that was both stylish and practical and was full of brand-new notebooks, pens, pencils, and binders. Pocketing a smart phone. He could hear other people getting ready and hanging out in other rooms and he felt more at peace than he had in years.

“I’m not five,” he protested weakly a few minutes later, already knowing from experience that it was a losing argument. Mr. Stark never changed his mind. The man was leaning casually against the counter, wearing tennis shoes and shades and an expensive hooded sweatshirt. There was a stubborn set to his jaw that told Peter he was wasting his breath as he reasoned, “I can walk myself to school.”

Predictably, Mr. Stark snorted. “I know, kid. I just want to make sure you know the way. New school and all.” At Mr. Stark’s insistence, he had switched to a Manhattan university that was able to give him enough in the way of scholarships to cover tuition and textbooks. A lot of options start opening up when you don’t have to worry about room and board.

Peter did not miss the look the Captain shot him that clearly said Tony, I don’t think he needs a super hero escort, and I certainly don’t think it needs to be you. But he had learned that Mr. Stark was a very anxious person when it came to the physical safety of those that were important to him, and by some fluke, that now included Peter. Peter watched Mr. Stark avoid the Captain’s eye with an air of false indifference, belied by the tense set of his shoulders, and knew that he was going to be walked to school one way or another.

So that was how Peter found himself walking the six blocks to his new school with an incognito Tony Stark (shades on, hood up), chatting amicably with him about the progress he’d been making and a conference Mr. Stark had submitted an abstract to on his behalf. It was a beautiful morning, cold but clear, and Peter was ecstatic to be spending time with his hero. So of course now would be when someone would recognize him. And of course it would be this someone.

Peter squeaked as he was enthusiastically bear-hugged and spun around in a circle, but after a moment of panic, he recognized the gushing voice and the smell of leather. “Put me down, Pool,” he complained, interrupting the giant, leather-clad man’s litany of expressed worries over his well-being. They were attracting a lot of odd looks, even from apathetic-as-a-rule New Yorkers.

“Oh, Webs,” he was saying as he sat Peter back down, casually brandishing a katana at Mr. Stark as he tried to intervene, making incredulous noises. “I really thought you were dead in a ditch somewhere. It’s been so cold out and I haven’t seen your sweet ass in weeks. Where have you been? Is this your sugar daddy or something?” Peter watched with humor in his eyes as his odd friend finally looked at Mr. Stark long enough to register who he was under the half-assed “disguise.” Additionally, Peter would treasure the look of unadulterated shock and confusion on Mr. Stark’s face for years to come. “Holy shit,” Deadpool stage whispered. “Don’t look now, but I think your sugar daddy might be the Iron Asshole.”

Mr. Stark finally gathered himself enough to sputter out, “Christ, kid, you know this guy?”

Deadpool was sheathing his weapon, evidently considering any friend of Peter’s a friend of his. “Hell yeah, we know each other. You see, in most universes, Webs here is a spider-themed superhero and we team up to stop crime, like Bonnie and Clyde, except sexier and the good guys. I’m Bonnie, in case that wasn’t clear. But in this universe, a kid in his class cheated off of Webs on a test and claimed Webs cheated off of him, so he wasn’t allowed to go on the field trip where he would have been exposed to a radioactive spiderbite. Right, Webs?”

Peter shrugged, smiling. He’d always thought Deadpool’s weird stories were charming. Mr. Stark looked more like he’d smelled something terrible than amused, though, so Peter started to disengage from his street friend. “Yeah, but, I’m doing great. I live in Stark Tower now. But he’s not, my, uh, my sugar daddy.” He blushed. “Anyway, it’s great to see you, but I’m going to be late to class. Catch up soon?”

Then the red-leather-clad mercenary was taking off down the street, blowing kisses and calling out filthy sexual come-ons as Peter grabbed Mr. Stark by the arm and started power-walking in the opposite direction. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Stark, he’s a friend. He feeds me sometimes. Oh!” He dropped Mr. Stark’s arm like it was a hot coal, stepping a little farther away and coloring deeply. “I’m so sorry I grabbed you like that!”

Mr. Stark still seemed to be struggling with the fact that sweet little Peter Parker was acquainted with Deadpool, but managed to choke out, “No problem, kid, let’s get you to class.” 

He didn’t even press the issue like he usually would.

What a good morning!

...

What a shitshow.

“Look, Bruce, just throw the knife.”

Was Tony being unreasonable? Well, yes, probably. Was he right? Also probably. Was this a healthy coping mechanism? Not at all, but no one asked you. 

Bruce’s perpetual air of exhaustion seemed to thicken as he tried to process Tony’s latest insane demand. His eyes flickered between the kitchen knife in his hand and his long time close friend’s drawn, stressed face. He looked briefly around the biomechanics lab, visibly wondering if he was being pranked. His mouth opened and shut twice before he spoke. “Tony, why  exactly do you want me to throw a knife at you?”

Tony huffed, exasperated, and, in one breath, explained condescendingly, “Today when I walked Peter to school I found out he thinks he’s friends with Deadpool—the deadliest fucking mercenary on the planet, fucking hell—and I can’t let him go out on his own knowing he’s on that sick fuck’s radar, so I need you to throw a knife at me to test the defense device I’m trying to make for him.”

Tony watched his friend struggle to follow. “Is this mark 1?” Bruce asked tentatively. Tony nodded. “So you have no idea if it’ll work?”

“I’m not an idiot, Bruce. Plus, it’s my invention.” He paused. “I’m about 80% sure it’ll work.”

...

“Why is your hand bandaged?” Peter asked, concerned, taking Tony’s right hand into his own.

The gesture, the warmth of Peter’s skin, the cloudy sky eyes squinched with worry behind the sharp frames of his adorable glasses, the tone of true care—it all made Tony’s heart race. They had just sat down for their nightly story-telling session and Tony had only just gotten back from the lab an hour ago. He had to remind myself to respond instead of just watching the way Peter’s fingertips skimmed the bandage. “Just an accident in the lab. How was school? Did you get home okay?”

Tony knew he had, because he had sent Happy to pick him up. Peter’s withering look told him that he knew Tony knew. He felt the corner of his mouth pull up into a sorry-not-sorry sort of smirk, prompting Peter to roll his beautiful eyes. But Peter had the grace not to call him out with words. “It was good, Mr. Stark. My new professors seem a lot more qualified and, uh, engaged I guess. The students too.”

Tony’s mouth was moving without his permission again. “You can call me Tony, you know. I think we’ve moved past Mr. Stark.”

Peter’s eyes met his, shocked and shocking, all storm on the horizon and awe and electricity. No sound escaped his sweet lips as they formed the word Tony reverently, like a prayer. Distantly, Tony watched Peter realize he was still holding his hand and drop it; the blush reddened his cheeks in splotches that grew and melted together before his eyes. He dropped his gaze, his thick eyelashes hiding the blue-grey color for a moment, and silently mouthed his name again. Tony ached to hear him say it. Moan it. Scream it. Whisper it in his ear.

“I don’t think I can,” Peter admitted, rubbing his palms together anxiously; face blood red and eyes shyly averted.

“You can, I’m giving you permission.”

“No, like,” Peter paused. His voice grew fainter with each word. “I physically can’t do it. I open my mouth... but nothing... comes... out...”

Tony watched him try again, fighting a smile when the kid only managed a mortified squeak. He buried his face in his hands, obviously embarrassed, and, generously, the man decided to cut him some slack. “That’s fine for now, I suppose. But we need to talk about Deadpool.”

Relieved, Peter looked up, eyes searching Tony’s face as his blush faded from “allergic reaction” to “mild sunburn.” His eyebrows pulled together and Tony couldn’t tell you why it was cute but damn, it was adorable. “Why?”

Making a frustrated noise in the back of his throat, Tony leaned forward and explained as succinctly as possible, “He’s a very dangerous man and a highly trained killer. He’s immortal and absolutely insane.”

Peter blinked. Then he shrugged and said, “So?”

Tony wondered briefly if he was having a stroke. “So. Uh. So you shouldn’t be friends with him.”

The kid shook his head and laughed. “It’s okay, Mr. Stark, I’m not afraid of him. He likes me. I’m safe with him, I promise.” Peter must have seen his growing anger in the clench of his fists or his eyes, because he continued quickly, “Do you want to hear how we became friends?”

...

I ran into Deadpool one day while panhandling outside of a bar called Sister Marge’s or something. ... Yeah, Sister Margaret’s, that’s it. ... what’s with that face? ... ... oh... ... That... makes sense. I used to hang out there because the bartender would sometimes give me a bit of cash if I would deliver notes around town for him. ... I mean, yeah, I figured the notes weren’t ‘can I borrow a cup of sugar.’ Anyway. 

Anyway, one day this enormous dude in head-to-toe red leather starts to come in. He stops in his tracks, like, he froze. Then he just started talking a mile a minute about spiders and alternate universes and superpowers and stuff. I didn’t follow any of it, but he kept saying, “I’m so glad you aren’t dead.” He even hugged me.

I thought that was the last of it. The next day, the bartender guy asked me if I’d considered looking on Craigslist to see if I could figure out temporary housing. I’d been sleeping in his back alley, you see. ... ... Oh, it wasn’t as bad as all that. Really. 

I didn’t find much, but there was one weird one. Basically, it was a man who said he was lonely and wanted to keep someone as a pet for a few days. $400 in cash and three meals a day while you were there. The ad said it was sexual, but he didn’t want to actually have any sexual contact. 

... Mr. St— ... I know, but— ... Well, yeah, but— ... Mr. Stark! I know it was stupid. I did a lot of stupid shit back then. Do you want me to finish the story or not?

... Okay. Thank you.

So, I thought about it for a while. It was getting colder and I was hungry all the time. There was a freeze kind of early that fall and finally I used the bartender’s computer to find that ad and reply to it. A few days later I was on my way to some stranger’s house in a taxi.

... I know, Mr. Stark. But look! I’m not dead. I promise. 

The deal was that I’d be there for three days. It was... it was... I mean... ... I know I don’t have to. I feel like you deserve to know, though. ... Honestly, I don’t know what I mean by that, either.

Aw, my face is so red... Ugh. The guy kept me in a dog kennel, naked, and had me... had me eat out of a dog bowl. I wasn’t allowed to talk. He’d put a leash on me and walk me around the house. And... pet my head while he watched TV or read a book. He seemed really lonely; I didn’t see him talk to anyone else while I was there. 

At the end of three days, he just... Didn’t let me go. I was terrified. I had no power, no clothes, and every time I tried to talk he’d shush me. I was young and scared of him, scared he might kill me or something if I pointed out he’d gone over. So I just went along with it. 

I was there for two weeks. ... no, it really wasn’t that bad. It was... humiliating. But I was full, physically safe, warm. There really weren’t any sexual advances, even. 

Yeah, anyway. One day there was a knock at the door. The guy wasn’t going to answer it. Then the door just flew off its hinges and there was Deadpool in the doorway. 

He got me out of the kennel, got me dressed, and took me back to Sister Margaret’s. He never made me feel like he looked down on me or pitied me, though. I’ve liked him ever since. He gave me his number and said not to do anything that stupid again. From then on, if I were in danger, I’d have someone to call. I never did end up calling him. Too stubborn, I guess. But he’d come find me every now and then, give me food, ask me about my life. Once he even brought me antibiotics when I was sick.

So yeah, I don’t think Deadpool is scary. He’s... chaotic. But not evil or broken. Really. Evil and broken are both scarier than chaotic.

... Mr. Stark, do these stories change how you see me? ...

No. ... 

No. ... I don’t think that.

Point taken, I guess.

Hey, Mr. Stark? ... Thanks.

Chapter Text

Tony slowed as he approached the lab. It was 8am on a Saturday; the building was mostly deserted. Tony himself likely wouldn’t have been there if he hadn’t woken up to find that Peter wasn’t in the tower. Jarvis, after a brief moment of panic, had told him to find the kid at the lab. He paused at the glass window, smiling as the guitar riffs he’d been hearing down the hall snapped together with the name of the song. Peter was there, bobbing his head as he bent over papers laid out over a lab bench.

Tony opened the door as quietly as possible, though he was certain Peter wouldn’t hear him over the music anyway. He realized that the kid was singing along and his smile grew even larger, fondness squeezing his heart. His singing was absolutely average, which Tony somehow found charming. “Even on my favorite table, he can beat my best. Disciples lead him in, and he just does the rest!” What a choice in song. If Tony wasn’t already near to picking out wedding invitations, this certainly would have tipped him over the edge. 

He was standing directly behind the kid for the line that deaf, dumb, and blind kid, sure plays a mean pinball. To his delight, Peter began to vocalize the instrumentals as well. Precious. Tony stood there a moment, trying to determine how best to make an impressive entrance without scaring the kid—he could make the song change, maybe?

Before he could decide, however, the kid whirled around, seemingly in search of some tool or maybe another of the dozens of tests he’d printed out, and spotted Tony at last. He yelped, trying to abort his violent motion, and lost his balance, plopping gracelessly but safely to the floor. Tony couldn’t help himself; the laughter was automatic, worsened by the hurt little pout the kid gave him from the floor. 

“You scared me!” he accused, glasses askew. Tony merely shrugged, still chuckling, and offered the kid a hand up.

The kid stared at the proffered help, looking a little dazed, a little star-struck, his seaglass eyes darting between it and Tony’s face. Coloring just a bit in the cheeks. Biting his lower lip. It was exactly the sort of awed reaction Tony had wanted to elicit, made sweeter by the fact that he hadn’t had to induce it on purpose.

Peter just always looked at him like that.

Their palms met and Tony lifted the lanky form with ease. He held the kid’s hand a moment longer than strictly necessary and then coughed, casting around for a safe topic of conversation. Luckily for him, one came easily and he was able to play off the interaction in a way that Peter, by now an awkwardly fidgeting, blushing mess, could not. “So what’s eating you? Nervous about the meeting today?”

Peter sagged a little at the reminder and leaned over to turn the music down to below conversational volume just as it switched to Highway to Hell. “Yes, sir,” he admitted readily. “I wanted to just run through all the data again—how do I know for sure that the samples I’m going to give them will biodegrade on the right timeline?”

The kid was staring down at his numbers again, tense and anxious, readying himself for rejection. Tony fought the impulse to just say Don’t worry, sweetheart, I’ll fund your research. You don’t need investors. But he knew that wasn’t appropriate, wouldn’t help the kid grow, and, really, wasn’t necessary. Peter would get investors for his project on his own merit because it was brilliant, the science was sound, it filled a niche in the market, and it was going to make every early investor a very rich man. On second thought, maybe Tony (or at least Stark Industries) should invest. 

Tony reached out a hand, hesitated, then set it gently on Peter’s shoulder, causing him to start. He turned his head, eyes quizzical. Their faces were close together—not within kissing distance, but certainly closer than was casual. “Listen, kid. You know it’s going to biodegrade on that timeline because it always biodegrades on that timeline. You’ve done everything you needed to prove your concept and it’s all worked fine. You are going to do great. Understand me?” Mute, stunned, the kid nodded, face reddening. “Good. Don’t prove me wrong. ... I hate being wrong.”

He released Peter and turned his eyes elsewhere, certain he would kiss the kid if he had to look at him a moment longer. His eyes lit upon the phone, now most of the way through Highway to Hell. He snatched it up and began to thumb through the Spotify playlist the kid was using. “AC/DC, Guns and Roses, Led Zepplin, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne... nice, kid, I’m a big fan of the classics... There’s some more modern stuff too, though, I guess. Five Finger Death Punch, Godsmack. Not sure I would have pegged you for a rocker, Pete.”

Tony carefully didn’t look over as the object of his affections responded, sounding a little sheepish. “Oh, yeah, I used to wear the band shirts and the vans and everything. It was part of my aesthetic I guess you’d say.” Tony opened his mouth, but Peter cut him off quickly, “No, Mr. Stark, I think I’ve outgrown that, you don’t need to... I don’t miss that.” 

Tony finally looked over as the kid paused. He watched Peter gather his thoughts. “I don’t miss that,” he repeated slowly. “I missed being able to choose music to listen to, though. It’s a luxury I didn’t even know I missed. Thank you for that.”

Feeling awkward but pleased, Tony quickly deflected the gratitude, setting the phone back down on the bench. “Well, you’ve got good taste, anyway, kid. Want me to show you how to get Jarvis to play it over the speakers?”

...

Peter was admittedly still embarrassed to be caught singing along to Pinball Wizard (though, had Mr. Stark entered ten minutes prior, it would have been Don’t Stand So Close to Me, which would have been decidedly worse), but Mr. Stark’s kind words—and presence, if he was being honest—had calmed him down immensely. Now they worked in relative silence, one or the other occasionally humming along to whatever came up on the playlist. 

“Maybe I should run another—”

“No, you shouldn’t,” Mr. Stark interrupted him distractedly, not looking up from the little red and blue object he was working on. “You’ll just make yourself more nervous. Come look at this.”

Peter obeyed, sidling up as close to his idol as he dared to peer down at the strange object. It shimmered—no, it was moving, the little nanobot particles dispersing, like they were subject to entropic forces moreso than whatever Mr. Stark had programmed them to do. It looked like little more than a puddle of liquid technology. Mr. Stark was interacting with a monitor-sized projection of what vaguely resembled a control panel for an airplane, complete with dozens of switches, buttons, and sliders. He waved his hand and it all turned a friendly green color that suggested to Peter that it was working. Fascinating.

“Touch it,” Mr. Stark instructed him. “Just tap it with your finger, like this.” He demonstrated by tapping his forefinger against the surface of the bench.

Hesitant, but instinctively trusting the older man, Peter obeyed, barely brushing the surface of the techno puddle with the pad of his finger. It felt cool to the touch—like water—and as Peter watched the particles flow up his hand in amazement, the sensation was like nothing so much as dipping one’s hand into a cool, clean stream. He had an insane desire to drink it. The shimmering dance took a very long time—it seemed to Peter that the puddle never shrank, even as nanobot particles left it—but Peter was enthralled into silence, only vaguely aware of the smug aura emitted from the inventor beside him. The bots did not travel past his wrist, instead seeming to coalesce there and condense, building something that eventually began to take shape. Before his eyes, they were forming into a perfectly smooth bangle of sorts, shiny dark blue and red. By the time Peter realized what it was, the puddle had begun to shrink rapidly. 

He looked up at Mr. Stark, eyes wide and curious. “It’s just a bracelet?” he asked, knowing that a wrong guess would prompt Mr. Stark into an explanation faster than one that was on the right track—he appeared to be a big fan of the Socratic method when it came to Peter. 

Predictably, Mr. Stark’s grin widened. Handsome, Peter’s brain supplied, quickly shushed. “Not just. Alright, kid, hold still.”

The bracelet had finished forming. Obediently, Peter didn’t move as, in the blink of an eye in seemed, the suit spread out from his mentor’s chest, forming around him like an extension of himself. The mask hid the friendly, familiar face, and one palm rose towards Peter’s chest, a high pitched whine emanating from it as the pulse thruster glowed.

Shocked, Peter stumbled backwards, confusion and fear gripping him. His heart rate accelerated rapidly as he cried out, throwing his hands up in a futile defense. He was barely aware that his wrist seemed to be vibrating until the feeling of cool water spreading quickly up his arm and over his chest scared him into a fully tripping backwards over his own feet and falling to the ground painfully. He opened his eyes and looked down, panicking to see the shimmering bots shooting up his chest towards his neck and face—! He shut his eyes against it, noises ripped from deep within himself emitting from his throat, as it covered his face and closed over his head, his feet, his other hand. 

It took him a moment to realize he could still move. He opened his eyes and looked down, greeted by armor with similar shape and jointures as the Iron Man suit but with much less bulk and in dark reds and blues. He looked down at his hands, noting the clean movement of the joints against each other as he flexed his fingers and the absence of pulse thrusters. When he looked up at last, he realized he was looking through a shimmering, possibly electric shield projected from his own chest. Beyond that, the Iron Man, his stance somehow cockily pleased even without the facial expression to go along with it.

“What the fuck,” Peter whispered. He flinched as the pulse thruster went off with a screech of energy, but the shield seemed utterly capable of taking such a blow, rippling ominously but otherwise unscathed. When the ringing in his ears stopped—it had been as much from his panic as from the sound of the thruster going off—he could hear Jarvis saying Sir, the defense suit mark 8 has received a significant blow, what do you advise?

“Withdraw armor, Jarvis, the trial was successful. Put that in the notes.” 

Peter watched the shield evaporate, his skin tingling with the sensation of stepping out of a cool bath that accompanied the retreat of the bots. When they left his face, he gasped for air, though he’d been able to breathe just fine when they were there. He put his head on his knees to try to control his breathing, holding the wrist with the bracelet out to the side like he didn’t want to be too close to it.

“You alright, kid?” Mr. Stark asked, voice equal parts concerned and amused.

“You shot me,” Peter responded gruffly, finally looking up to see a gold-and-red hand held out to him as a peace offering. “You could have asked first.”

It was a ridiculous thing to say—hey bud, next time, ask before you shoot me, yeah?—and he could feel his face flushing with both residual anger and fear as well as embarrassment; after all, this was now the second time in an hour he’d fallen on his ass in front of the coolest person on the planet. He didn’t yet take the proffered hand. There was a pause, and the mask went up, revealing a legitimately apologetic face. “Sorry, Pete. The fear had to be real. It’s programmed to kick in when your body shows physiological signs of fear. It’s attuned to you now.”

Peter inhaled and held it, feeling his heart, still thudding, slow gradually. “Well, the fear was real,” he grumbled, finally taking the cool metal into his hand and allowing himself to be lifted to his feet as though he weighed nothing. “What do you mean, attuned to me?” The suit was retracting—it was really cool to watch on a body that wasn’t yours. Mr. Stark was turning to the side, projecting casual disinterest as he did so. Peter knew him well enough to know that this meant he was being given something. “Mr. Stark, whatever this is, you really can’t give it to me—it had to have cost a fortune to make and it seems a little dangerous anyway—”

Mr. Stark interrupted him as usual. “Well, kid, hate to break it to you, but I’ve already given it to you. It won’t work half as well for anyone else. And for the record, it’s a purely defensive device. The worst it can do offensively is shock someone who touches you with intent to harm.”

Peter looked down at the device. It was shockingly light, even for nanotech; almost like it wasn’t there at all. He shot Mr. Stark a withering look but couldn’t catch his eye. “Think of it as a good luck charm for your meeting tomorrow,” he continued, essentially ignoring Peter. 

“Why?”

The man’s broad shoulders tensed a little hit his voice stayed casual. “Why what, Pete?”

“Why do you think I need this?”

“Hopefully you don’t.”

...

There was an answer to Peter’s question, of course. At first it had been Deadpool, who he suspected was stalking his beautiful intern during his walks to school. Then, Deadpool had confirmed the stalking when he hand-delivered a stack of photos to Tony after breaking into his office. They contained many, many photos of Peter walking through the streets of New York, sometimes doing cute things like petting stray cats or herding runaway toddlers away from streets and back to their mothers. But many of the other photos clearly showed none other than Eddie Brock, camera slung around his neck as he followed Peter at a distance.

“Figured you should know,” Deadpool had said. 

“Why the hell are you following Peter?” Tony had demanded.

“Why the hell are you letting that scummy creep stalk Webs?” he’d countered. “I’m going on a month long mission soon and I won’t be available to make sure Webs gets his sweet ass to school okay. God, he’s accident prone. I don’t worry so much when he has super powers, but non-super Petey makes me nervous. Do your job better, Iron Ass.”

Fair. 

Most of the team noticed the bracelet immediately and were able to figure out what it was. No one criticized him, but Steve had pulled him aside and asked astutely, “What kind of data are you able to pull on the kid with that thing?”

Vitamin levels, sugar levels, hormone levels. Heart rate. How many calories he was consuming and how many he was burning. Where he was at all times. “A lot,” he had admitted. “The kid is vitamin D deficient, for one.” 

A look of realization had crossed Steve’s face. “You’ve... you are using it to decide what you feed him, aren’t you?” He had paused, thinking about what had been served to Peter, and guessed, “Low on iron and vitamin B, too?”

Tony had nodded. Steve had merely looked impressed. “I’ve never seen such controlling behavior used for so much good,” he had said, tone and eyes somewhere between joking and warning. “Watch yourself, Tony.”

How can I, he’d thought acidly. He’s all I want in the world.

Chapter Text

Steve hadn’t been too worried.

Sure, Tony was a little over-protective of the kid, but it was all within an appropriate range. The kid needed a little bit of hovering, to be honest; he was headstrong and self destructive in the way an overachieving medical school student is. He forgot to eat, forgot to sleep, forgot to look both ways crossing the street.

So Steve hadn’t worried.

Then, when Bucky had told him, “The kid talked to me a bit about his past last night,” like it was a casual conversation, then proceeded to relate the story of Peter’s earliest days of homelessness to him, he’d been even more supportive of keeping Peter under a careful eye. According to Bucky, when Peter ran away from his first foster home, he went to stay with a wealthy friend. The father molested him and he ran away. Poor kid. How much bad luck can one teenage boy have?

Steve himself had grown pretty attached—so had Bucky, to be talking about nightmares at 2am with him—so he’d tagged along with Tony to stand stoically in the hallway outside of the room where Peter was pitching his bioplastic to investors. He was nervous for the kid; he was familiar with tough debriefs and job interviews, if not with this exact situation. He wasn’t entirely clear on what was being invested in. The lab? Peter? The product? They were in there an awfully long time.

He had watched Tony pretend he wasn’t anxious for the kid, too, pretending to check emails. Steve could see he was just opening and closing the same one over and over, eyes fixed on the screen as though he were paying any attention at all to it. Then the door had opened, and Tony’s head had snapped up, eyebrows raising just a tad in question as his eyes met Peter’s.

Peter had thrown himself into Tony’s arms. Tony almost didn’t catch him, he was so surprised, but then he’d wrapped his arms around the kid’s ribs and held him tightly, beaming down into his hair as he shouted into Tony’s chest, “I’m fully funded, Mr. Stark! A hundred percent!”

Tony’s head had dipped so that his lips brushed the most fly-away bit of Peter’s hair. Steve could see it in his eyes, then, the desire to press kisses to the smaller man’s face, the adoration, the pride. The cracking restraint of a man in love with something that is untouchable. He saw the way Tony’s hands fisted in the kid’s shirt, aching to keep on holding him, how his face softened in his presence. He saw how Tony didn’t even seem to notice the amused investors filing out with packets of information and little pieces of bioplastic in their hands. He saw how Tony struggled to let go as Peter pulled away, grinning ear to ear up at him.

That’s when Steve had known that Peter wasn’t going to get out of this unscathed. And neither was Tony.

Chapter Text

As usual, it was Peter’s own stupid decisions that had lead to him getting hurt. He’d gotten to street level on his way to school before realizing that he’d forgotten to put the nanotech bracelet back on after his shower. He’d looked way, way up to the penthouse, considering, but decided he couldn’t go back for it without being late to class. Besides, he’d thought. He’d lived on the streets for years. He’d be fine. 

He had failed to take into consideration the fact that despite just being plain old Peter, he was now plain old Peter with friends in very high, very strange places. 

He’d been walking past one of the many alleyways between Stark Tower and the University when something had closed around his bicep—in an instant, he looked down and was seized with dread to see that it was an inhumanly large, pitch-black hand—and pulled. Before he could scream, a second enormous black hand pushed into his face, its fingers closing around his head. Peter couldn’t breathe. He was kicking and punching, he knew, but to no effect—the strikes becoming weaker as spots of color burst before his eyes. It took much longer to fall unconscious than he thought it would, as his body grew weak and his thoughts chased each other, disjointed and confused. 

...

It was only 9:30am when Tony’s world fell apart. Like some of his other terrible days, it began with someone breaking into his office. 

Unlike any previous terrible day, however, this time there was a body on his desk and a mercenary in his chair. As Tony froze, hand still on the knob, Deadpool gestured jerkily towards the desk as if to say, You see what happens when you don’t take care of your toys? Tony swallowed hard, looking at the form laid out before him. Crumpled, head turned to the side. Slight and beautiful. “Is he,” was all he could say. He said it again, not wanting to hear the answer. “Is he.”

Deadpool shook his head. When he spoke, his voice was venomous. “No, fuckface, he’s not dead, no thanks to you. I think he’s drugged, his heart rate and breathing are very slow. But steady. Pretty sure he’ll be fine.”

Oddly assured, Tony stepped towards the form and laid a hand on the slight chest. Sure enough, when he concentrated, he could feel the rise and fall of his breath. It made his knees feel weak. The numbness he’d felt upon emptying the room was swirling down the drain, leaving him dizzy. He took in the torn clothing. The shirt was sliced to ribbons, the chest beneath scratched with three long, evenly spaced red lines, dried blood beading at intervals along the minor injury. There was a bit of blood in the hair, too. Peter’s hair, his brain tried to get him to internalize, but he refused. He ran his fingers through it, parting it and finding the shallow punctures on the back of the scalp. Not serious. 

His fingers were in Peter’s hair. Peter was unconscious under his hands. He had failed. 

Tony sat abruptly, allowing the movement to remove his hands from the vulnerable form. The inanimate white eyes of the Deadpool costume mocked his impotence. He couldn’t look at them; he put his head in his hands. “What the hell happened?”

“You relied on technology to keep Webs safe without even trying to understand who he is as a person,” Deadpool bit back acidly and immediately. “If you knew him, you’d know he doesn’t think he’s important enough to protect and that he wasn’t going to wear your fucking tracking device.” 

Tony’s eyes darted to the bare wrist. “Jarvis,” he said tonelessly. 

The answer was immediate. “It’s in his bedroom, sir.”

“I’m going to kill him,” Tony whispered, settling a gentle hand on his chest once more to feel his breathing. 

“You almost did.” 

Tony flinched, but didn’t protest as Deadpool continued, voice flat. “I found him unconscious in an alley with a thing called Venom crouched over him, licking him.” He tossed an envelope onto the desk near Peter’s feet. “I don’t have much about the Venom thing because I have better shit to do than your fucking job, so figure it out.” 

Deadpool stood, reaching out a leather-clad hand to fondly ruffle the kid’s hair. His voice was distinctly less fond as he spoke to Tony. “Look, Compensation Man, if this happens again, I’m comin’ for you.” 

Tony nodded vaguely, eyes fixed on Peter. “Understandable.”

...

When Peter awoke, he felt almost like he’d been transported back in time. He was in his bedroom, the great Tony Stark at his bedside, an IV in his arm. The only evidence that time had passed was the marks he’d left on the room by living in it—the homework on the desk, the books stacked on the wardrobe. Mr. Stark was watching him with a tender expression that hurt Peter to look at. He glanced down and back up, and was almost relieved when he saw the softness turning to anger in his eyes. 

“Why weren’t you—”

Uncharacteristically, Peter interrupted. “I just forgot. I’m sorry. Did I cause much trouble? Was I gone long? What happened?”

Mr. Stark watched him and he watched Mr. Stark out of the corner of his eye. It was a long, tense moment before the man spoke, turning his head away as he did so. “‘No trouble,” he said. Then, “I... didn’t know what had happened until Deadpool brought you to my office.”

He was holding something out to Peter. It was the bracelet. Wordlessly, Peter held his hand out, and they both sat in silence as it melted back onto his wrist. Still beautiful. A gift he should have appreciated. 

“Why did you even take it off?” 

Peter appreciated the visible effort Mr. Stark put into not sounding offended. “To shower,” he admitted. “Then, I just... I just forgot, Mr. Stark. I’m sorry.”

He watched Mr. Stark put his head in his hands. “It’s waterproof,” he said after a moment. Peter blushed, stammering, but his idol interrupted him with a hand on his knee. “Alright, kid. Please know this will never happen again. Just tell me what you remember and I’ll start working on this.”

...

Life went on.

Peter only left the tower with an escort after that. He never took off the bracelet. Mr. Stark checked on him in the mornings if he wasn’t up in the kitchen first, studying. It was odd, but what wasn’t about his life? He was having wet dreams about the philanthropist who took him in and took personal control over his life to protect him from the now dual threats of homelessness and whatever a Venom was, and said philanthropist’s AI couldn’t tell the difference between waking from a nightmare and waking from a wet dream so if he went for a glass of water Mr. Stark would be there on the couch and Peter would have to remember not to just go and sit on his lap and see where it went and everything was fine. Really. Peter was fine. 

...

Tony did it when other people were around so that it wouldn’t seem inappropriate, relying on the other Avengers making an arguably flawed assumption that if he wasn’t hiding it, there were no ill intentions. They were all a little testy with him in the two weeks since the Venom incident. Nat especially seemed to relish in escorting Peter to school since Tony thinks a house arrest anklet can do the job. Not necessary. Tony already felt horrible. Digressing, though, he asked Peter in front of Steve, Nat herself, Bruce, and Sam. Just to be safe.

Tony rested a hand on the back of Peter’s chair and leaned in to take a look at the homework. It was Spanish—the university Peter was attending required four semesters of a foreign language. “Oh, the subjuntivo,” he said casually, sympathetically. Cool as ice, nothing belying the sort of naughty feeling had about his request. “I remember that one, it’s tough. Oh, I wanted to ask you, kid, there’s this big stupid charity ball in a couple of days and I wanted to see if you’d be my plus-one. There would be a lot of networking opportunities and I know some people are anxious to meet the Stark Industries intern working on the bioplastic project. Whaddya say?”

Peter turned his beautiful stormy-seas-to-make-you-feel-adrift eyes on him and it stole his breath for a moment. Wide with awe, soft with affection, bright with surprise and anticipation. “I-I’d love to, Mr. Stark. Are you sure?”

Tony ruffled the kid’s hair, delighting in the pinkish hue it brought to his cheeks. “Of course I’m sure, I’m always sure. I’ll see about getting you a suit. You know, Bruce speaks Spanish if you need to practice with someone.”

He removed himself without looking too hard over at Steve, giving him weary looks over his newspaper. Listening to Peter stumble over his Spanish was cute, too. 

Chapter Text

“Can I borrow some scissors, Mr. Stark?” Peter asked, shuffling his feet as he hesitated in the doorway to the living area. It was a bit late in the evening and most of the Avengers had retired to various private activities; Mr. Barton had headed out to spend a week with his family. They were alone.

Mr. Stark looked up from his tablet, the glow illuminating the shadow of facial hair across his strong jaw. He pushed his reading glasses up onto his forehead like sunglasses and regarded Peter for a moment, dark eyes searching and calm. It was unusual—Mr. Stark tended to have a sort of distracted energy about him. “What for?” he asked eventually, raising an eyebrow at Peter.

He blushed, belatedly realizing that 9:45pm isn’t a normal time to need some scissors. Shifting his weight from one foot to the other and removing his glasses to clean them (and avoid eye contact), he mumbled, “My hair. I don’t... want to embarrass... I don’t want to embarrass you at the charity ball.” He gestured to his head, referring to the sort of half-wild overlong curls dismissively.

Mr. Stark’s calm gaze settled somewhere above Peter’s eyes for a moment. He sat his tablet down onto his lap and patted the couch cushion next to him. “I like your hair,” he told Peter as he approached, shuffling forward until he could perch himself onto the couch a respectable distance from the older man. “It’s... pretty.”

Peter froze at this admission, his face and body growing hot under the other man’s scrutiny. He shut his eyes when Mr. Stark reached out a sure, calloused hand towards him, shivering ever so slightly when he felt a loose curl pulled taut and released. “I can get you an appointment to have it cut,” he offered, a drop of reluctance to the way he said it.

Sucking in a breath through his nose, he shook his head minutely and whispered with reverence, “If you like it, I’ll keep it.” In the silence that followed, Peter opened his eyes; a thrill ran through his stomach when he saw his idol’s face just shy of too close to his own to be appropriate, his eyes unreadable, his hand still only inches from the side of Peter’s face.

Then something shifted and Mr. Stark sat back, the motion lazy and confident, eyes flicking about the room in the perfect image of the distractable genius. Peter’s body sagged against the release of tension and his head swam for a moment from the change in stress level. “It’s up to you,” Mr. Stark told him, flippant. “Wanna help me out with something?”

Peter perked up a little at this. “Of course! In the lab? This late at night? What is it?”

Mr. Stark grinned indulgently and stood, offering a casual hand to Peter. He took it, delighting as he always did in the brief contact and in the feeling of being guided to his feet by a man like Tony Stark. “No, just in my bedroom. ... That’s not what I meant, Pete, calm down, I could cook an egg on your forehead if you keep blushing like that. What kind of a guy do you think I am, anyway?”

...

Tony felt oddly nervous to be inviting Peter into his bedroom. It was a tasteful space, he’d always thought, matching the modernity of the rest of the house but making allowances for wooden furniture and plush grey rugs. It was spacious and open, the California King size bed proportionate instead dominating the space. The floor to ceiling windows looked out over a gorgeous view of New York City. Surely the kid would be impressed, right?

Clearly he was. Tony watched his eyes rove over everything, catching on framed photos and dog-eared books as well as on markers of luxury, like the way the room lit up when Tony entered, seemingly normal patches of the ceiling glowing like daylight. His bluegrey eyes lingered on the unmade bed for a moment. It was a mess of pillows and blankets, in sharp contrast to the relative neatness of the rest of the room—even the desk was fairly tidy. “I hate getting into a made bed,” Tony explained, smirking at the way Peter jumped when called out on staring. He kept talking as he approached the sliding doors that lead to his gratuitous large closet, somewhat glad the doors were shut so he wouldn’t have to explain why he owned so many fine suits. “It takes too long to get everything back where I like it.”

Tony waved his hand before the full-size mirror ajoined to the door and it snapped to life, glowing faintly like a screen; simultaneously, his watch projected the controls for it. “Run dress-up protocol,” he commanded of the room. Then he turned to Peter. “I’ve been trying to see how hard it would be to get this to work for other people. Come step in front of it.”

He watched the kid instantly obey, looking a little uncomfortable as he glanced between his pajama-clad reflection and Tony. Tony looked down and hit a button at random, only wanting to show Peter what it does.

The kid yelped and stumbled back, head bobbing as he looked between himself and the mirror. He cautiously raised an arm and grinned when the reflection mirrored him perfectly, delighted with the tech. Tony smiled indulgently at the Peter in the mirror—he was wearing a very classic Tony Stark style suit, black with a red tie pocket and square, aviator sunglasses on his face. It was very cute, like the kid was going as him for Halloween. Peter picked his bare foot off the ground to examine the tread on the Oxfords his reflection was wearing, clearly impressed with both the attention to detail and the way the clothing moved with his reflection, bunching naturally around the joints. “Mr. Stark, this is so cool! Did you make this?”

Tony nodded; it was mostly true. He’d written a bit of code and then had his AI develop it with daily feedback, but he’d made the AI, so Tony had made this program by proxy at the least. “Thought we could use it to figure out a suit for you,” he said, swallowing at the way the kid beamed at him. So pretty. He tapped a button and the aviators disappeared, revealing his normal frames. “I think this is a little too mini-me. You’re too vibrant for black anyway.” Tony didn’t know what that meant and clearly neither did Peter, but neither commented as the man’s fiddling fingers caused the suit to turn spring green.

They both laughed—it was positively ridiculous looking. “I look like I host a game show for kids,” Peter crowed, delighted. Then, in a goofy announcer voice, “Hello and welcome back to Lil Titans, where we force children to engage in mortal combat to win a puppy. I’m your host, Peter P., back again to see who will take home this week’s Lil Titan badge of honor!”

“What kind of dog?” Tony inquired, unable to stop himself from laughing at the idea of a show about kids fighting each other over a puppy.

Peter shrugged and smiled up at Tony. “Just a mutt from the pound. But he’s a really, really good boy. So it’s worth it.”

Something tugged in Tony’s chest and he cleared his throat, looking  down and starting to fiddle with the controls in earnest. After trying navy and maroon, he settled on slate grey and touched up the way the suit fit to emphasize the slenderness of waist, helping the kid look a bit taller. Peter was clearly delighted by it, turning in the mirror to examine himself but offering no suggestions or criticisms. “Any preferences, kid?” he asked, scrolling rapidly through differently patterned ties.

The kid’s eyes met his, soft and sweet and Peter. “I’ll wear anything you want me to,” he insisted, with a earnestness of tone that made Tony’s knees weak, made him want to dress the kid up every day and show him off to the world and—

He shook himself out of it. “A purple tie, then, I think,” he suggested, not looking at Peter at all as he made his selection—gentle lilac. “What do you think?”

The suited image in the mirror was stunning, catwalk ready, edible, but Tony only had eyes for the barefoot boy standing there in his pajamas looking like Tony had just given him a magic lamp instead of helped him pick out a suit. “It’s amazing, Mr. Stark.”

...

People had fussed over him when they’d gotten ready to go to the charity ball. Ms. Nat had run her fingers through his hair, eyes critical but approving, and told him very seriously that he was adorable. It had made him blush, oddly pleased to be told he was presentable and worthy of praise. “Needs a waistcoat and a hat, in my opinion,” the Captain had joked, clapping him on the shoulder. “But I’m a little old fashioned.”

“Very sexy,” Bucky had told him under his breath, face and tone unreadable. No one else heard the exchange but Dr. Banner had commented on his flush, asking him if he felt alright. Bucky had a way of saying exactly what Peter needed to hear, whether Peter knew what he wanted or not. He was a good friend that way, and not afraid to say something that might be considered strange if he thought it needed to be said. It had been exactly the sort of thing he needed to feel a bit more confident. It’s one thing to be the adorable intern following Tony fucking Stark around a ballroom; another entirely to be an attractive young man on his arm.

It wasn’t a date, Peter knew, but still. It felt good to think that maybe he could be mistaken for a beau instead of just a plus-one. They were even matching a little—the pocket square peaking out of Mr. Stark’s suitpocket was definitely lilac. “It’s so people know to return you to me,” the older man had joked in the car. Right after, he’d said, “C’mon, kid, calm down, it’s not so scary. I’ll do all the talking.”

Peter was scared. He’d never done anything remotely like this. The fear seemed to slowly stiffen his joints until he was on the sidewalk outside the venue, the party clearly already in full swing—in hindsight, of course Tony Stark was going to be showing up late—and he was completely unable to move, breathing unsteadily and compulsively wiping his sweaty palms on the insides of his pockets. His eyes lit upon the sign by the door. “You didn’t tell me this was your party,” he said breathlessly as his eyes scanned the words 9th Annual Stark Industries Charity Ball.

Mr. Stark shrugged. “Didn’t think you’d come if you knew how much attention we’re getting,” he said blandly. “C’mon, Pete.” Peter shut his eyes and took a deep breath; as he did, he felt Mr. Stark’s palm settle on his lower back and felt calmer. They began to walk, and as they moved inside Peter opened his eyes.

It was glamorous, all mood lighting and gilding and champagne flutes and women of all ages in classy-sexy gowns, men in fine suits holding glasses of red wine. Twin marble staircases twisted onto the second floor, filled with yet more people, and from somewhere Peter could hear music, the beat modern but classy and hypnotic. The hand pushed harder into his back and he took a half step closer to Mr. Stark he walked them into the middle of the room. There were suddenly dozens and dozens of people pressing in all around them; all of them knew Tony by name and shook his free hand, beaming at him, beaming at Peter, shaking Peter’s hand and asking how he liked working in Tony’s lab.

“I-I-I, I love it,” he’d stuttered out to the first wave of wealthy socialites, eliciting a tittering laugh from them. The first half hour passed in a whirlwind of people that all looked the same to Peter’s dizzied mind, old women with big diamond earrings who called him cute blending together the same way that the businessmen and their particular brand of pleasantries did.

“Stark! How the hell are ya?” This was the third man at least to greet Mr. Stark exactly like that. Tony grinned at him, a more genuine smile than most he’d been giving, and he addressed Peter directly for the first time in several minutes.

“Peter, this is Dr. Perilloux. He’s head of graduate admissions over at MIT; if you can believe it, he was the PhD student who was in charge of my dumb ass not blowing up the lab when I was a freshman. Dr. Perilloux, this is the kid I emailed you about. Care to chat him up a bit?”

Peter blinked shyly at the man holding his hand out to shake. He was very handsome, dark-complected with warm eyes and a very wide smile; his close-shaven hair was speckled liberally with white. “Pleased to meet you,” he said politely as he shook the man’s hand.

Dr. Perilloux was already looking at him as though he wanted to impart advice and mentorship, clearly trusting whatever Mr. Stark had told him and finding it valuable. It was disarming and made him feel warm that Mr. Stark thought highly enough of him to make this man think highly of him as well. “Good to finally meet you, Peter. Tony says you’re a handful, but if I could handle him trying to making my lab into a bomb, I’m sure I can handle your bioplastic boobytraps. Can I tell you about MIT?”

Peter’s hair raised on his arms when Mr. Stark leaned in to his ear and whispered, “You okay if I leave you here?”

“Y-yes, sir,” he stuttered, answering them both and letting Dr. Perilloux lead him away by the arm.

...

Peter found quickly that he really liked Dr. Perilloux and Dr. Perilloux really liked him. “I know you have a few years left,” he was saying just before it happened. “But I expect your graduate application on my desk when you start applying. Understood?”

Peter beamed at him, taking his hand to shake again. “Of course, Dr. P. And I really do hope you’ll come by the lab sometime?”

“Only if you visit mine, too,” he bargained jovially, clapping Peter on the shoulder. “I probably need to find my wife before she gets too much into the champagne, so I’ll let you get back to Tony. Can you handle it on your own?”

Peter nodded and smiled, waving a little as the man left him alone in a sea of well-dressed strangers. Scanning for a familiar face took a long moment, but he eventually spotted Mr. Stark telling an animated story on the second floor. The sight of him let him relax something in his shoulders that he hadn’t known was tense, and for a moment he just watched the expressions crossing his handsome face, happy to have found him.

By the time he reached the second floor, Mr. Stark’s captive audience had dispersed and he was standing against the balcony, speaking to a man angled away from Peter. His dark eyes met Peter’s and softened from the hard expression he’d been wearing just a bit; he gestured Peter forward and when he got close enough, he could hear the last bit of his introduction. “—working on a really innovative bioplastics project in my lab. Peter, meet Norman Osborn.”

Peter’s blood ran cold as their eyes met, the name echoing like it had been dropped down a stairwell. Looking down his nose at Peter, the man raised his eyebrows, winked, and let a slow, lascivious smirk twist his lips just enough to know that he’d been recognized, found. The shock of it was like swallowing a big chunk of ice, sharp, painful, and cold, blocking his throat and sitting heavy in his stomach.

Peter didn’t put out his hand and neither did Norman. “Pleased to meet you,” he said stiffly. The man inclined his head. “Sorry to be rude, Mr. Stark, but my mouth is dry. I’ll be right back?”

Without waiting to be dismissed or meeting Mr. Stark’s concerned gaze, he turned and strode off, fighting panic.

...

“Very cute intern,” Osborn said flatly as they both watched Peter walk away, back rimrod straight and body language very tense. “How much for his contract?”

Tony snapped his eyes to the other man, straightening up so that he no longer rested any weight on the banister of the balcony. “Not for sale,” he bit out, no longer bothering to hide his inherent dislike of his old business rival from back before Stark Industries came to dominate every market they shared.

Osborn’s eyes were calculated, knowing, and like he had with the reporter, Tony felt distinctly that he had been played. The kid was a major weak spot; he needed a better strategy to deal with that. “Ah,” the man said lightly. “So this is more of a Ganymede situation.”

It took a moment, but the allusion connected in Tony’s brain and he shifted into a more aggressive stance, stuffing his hands in his pockets in an illusion of casualness. “He’s my intern, not a sex toy. Don’t talk about him—or me—like that.”

The other man cleared his throat. “Perfect. If he isn’t spoken for, then, I think I’ll ask him to come home with me tonight. I can think of a few ways I might convince him.”

Suddenly, Tony’s hand was clamped tight around the other man’s wrist; he didn’t remember moving. “You absolutely will not,” he hissed close to Osborn’s smirking face, rage making it hard for him to keep his voice calm.

“You’re showing your hand, Stark.”

They stared each other down. Tony couldn’t think straight. How do you claim someone without claiming them? Finally, when Osborn turned—ostensibly to go find Peter—Tony staked his claim, with a cocky finality: “Mr. Osborn, I hope you won’t insist on hitting on my boyfriend in front of me.”

“Your boyfriend?” Osborn responded instantly, voice projecting to attract the attention of other party-goers.

Tony was aware of at least a half-dozen pairs of eyes fixed on his face as he spoke with false friendliness. “I was going to wait until later in the evening to make the announcement, but if you’re forcing my hand, I’ll go get him and we’ll do it now.”

Osborn’s smile was equally false. “Please do. How wonderful, Tony.”

...

Peter was staring at himself in the mirror, gripping the sink and hyperventilating as he tried to catch his breath, thankful no one else seemed to be using this particular restroom. He didn’t think that a panic attack in the bathroom was a good look for Tony Stark’s plus-one at a Stark Industries event.

He fought to calm down and slowly succeeded, heartrate returning to normal, dread dipping to background levels. He breathed. He thought about Norman Osborn and he thought about everything his life has been since then. Eventually he was calm enough to look himself in the eye and say, “Alright, Peter, just go tell Mr. Stark you don’t feel well and ask to go home. You can handle this.”

His bracelet beeped and he looked down at it for a second—it didn’t usually make noise. Interested, he examined it for a moment, trying to keep his mind off of his situation, but before he finished looking for what function had emitted the noise, the door was slamming open to admit a harried looking Tony Stark, eyes wild as he ran a worried hand through his hair. Their gazes met and Mr. Stark sighed with relief.

“Thank god I found you, kid. Listen, I fucked up and told a bunch of people we’re dating and I need you to play along. Oh!” He was grabbing Peter by the arm, ignoring his deer-in-the-headlights expression and locked muscles as he tugged the smaller man out of the bathroom. “And for the love of god, kid, call me Tony.”

Chapter Text

Tony couldn’t tell if he was dreaming or having a nightmare.

Here he was, the object of his affections on his arm at his own event-of-the-year party, men and women alike staring with interest, envy, lust, jealousy, seeing Peter for what he was: precious, beautiful, a luxury item, and distinctly his. His and no one else could have a piece. Tony’s because he is the best and the best because he is Tony’s.

Simultaneously, even as Tony was grinning broadly, proudly around at those watching them move through the crowd, conversations falling into whispers, even as he tugged Peter a little closer to his side by the waist, he could feel the tension in the kid’s shoulders, the tightness of his spine, the heat and discomfort on his face. Tony felt like a Venus fly trap that had just snapped shut. He’d just changed Peter’s life permanently, dragged him kicking and screaming into the public eye. He’d given him no choice. Sure, Tony was fairly certain the kid had a crush on him, but that doesn’t lead naturally to this.

I’m a monster, he thought as he helped Peter onto the stage, his legs wobbling like a newborn fawn, waving his hand in the air as he did so. In a second they were standing at the podium, Peter looking like he’d faint, leaning into Tony for support. Tony was fairly certain this would look like shyness and comfort-seeking from the outside so he just braced his arm to take a bit of his weight as the music quieted. With his free hand, he tapped the microphone, pretending he didn’t already have the attention of absolutely everyone in the ballroom, dozens of people leaning over the second floor banister in awed silence as a hundred more migrated closer to the stage.

“Good evening,” he greeted them, cocky as always, “And welcome to the 9th annual Stark Industries charity ball. If you’ll remember, last year we raised 3 million dollars out of our 2 million dollar goal for Heifer International.” Raucous applause; Tony left it unsaid that he had matched the raised funds. It was classier that way, and they all knew. “This past year, we chose the Boys and Girls Club to be the recipient of our fundraising and we set the goal at a cool 3.2 million. Do you think we made it?” More cheering. Tony could see cameras in the crowd, pointing at him and the beautiful, blushing, bashful boy at his side, who, despite the situation, Tony could see looking at him with admiration out of the corner of his eye.

“Let’s see if we did. Someone drop the curtain thing, will you?”

Tony wheeled Peter around as the enormous red velvet curtain behind them shivered, jerked, and fell to the floor in a heap; revealing the number $3,764,940. He saw the kid’s lips form the word wow as the crowd behind them burst into the loudest round of applause yet. He turned to face the crowd again as he waited for it to fade, his heart beginning to beat faster and faster as the Moment drew nearer.

“I have another announcement,” Tony intoned into the mic. “I guess I can make as many as I want, though, it’s my party. But this one is very special. Some of you may be wondering who I’ve brought up on stage with me.”

There was a titter of conversation from the crowd below, and someone called out incredulously, “Yeah, Stark, who’s the kid?”

Peter turned his head to look at him, eyes wide, lips parted just slightly. He hesitated, searching Peter’s face, and he saw the kid steel himself before he grabbed Tony’s hand, interlacing their fingers and turning shy smile and red cheeks to the crowd. The reaction was deafening, cheering and shouts, questions hurled at them from every direction, and just because he fucking could, Tony pulled their interlocked hands to his mouth and kissed the back of Peter’s hand, looking into his eyes as he did so, sure he could see in them the storm on the horizon that would capsize them both. His chest felt tight and he realized his face was aching from the smile pulling his lips.

Tearing his eyes away with difficulty, he cleared his throat into the microphone, taking it off of the stand while he waited for the crowd to let him speak. “Everyone, I’m very proud to introduce you to Peter Parker, my... boyfriend. Say hello to him.” There was a chorus of hellos among the chatter, cheering, and dubious shouted questions like how old is that kid? Peter waved shyly, blushing still, and tucked his hair behind his ear. Adorable. “Many of you were introduced to him as my intern, which is also accurate. We fell in love in the lab after he got the job; classic, really.” Scattered laughter. The room was uneasy but the vibe wasn’t yet negative. Tony could make due with that.

Studiously avoiding looking at Peter’s face, upturned towards him and questioning, he continued impulsively. “I’m pleased to tell you that Peter is choosing this year’s fundraising beneficiary. Peter?”

He handed the kid the mic, trying to communicate an apology with his eyes as Peter shot him a look that clearly said what the fuck, Mr. Stark? His hands were shaking and Tony held his fingers tighter as he faced the crowd and inhaled deeply, eyes shutting for a second. He opened them and suddenly his eyes were bright and his smile very sweet. “Hello—oh, that was loud, sorry. Hello everyone.” He paused a little too long, mouth moving, then shook his head, smile turning bashful. “Sorry, I’ve never spoken to more than maybe 20 people before, I’m really nervous.”

The kid’s a genius. The crowd was falling for him, Tony could see it; utterly charmed by Peter the way everyone was. And buying himself time to think at the same time, brilliant. “I’m—I’m very pleased to announce that this year’s, this year we are donating to the—the Ocean Cleanup North Pacific Foundation, an organizatuon dedicated to removing plastics—including microplastics—from the oceans.” Peter grinned widely at the applause that met this announcement. Good choice, kid, he thought fondly.

“Uhh,” he continued awkwardly, shuffling a little and looking at Tony for guidance. “Save the bees, plant more trees, clean the seas?”

Tony nodded reassurance, chest squeezing, as the crowd cheered once more, smiling and taking the microphone from Peter. On impulse—like everything he’d done that night—he tugged Peter close and pressed his lips to the side of his head briefly. This elicited another loud reaction from the audience, including more questions about their relationship, but Tony spoke over them. “You heard him. No point in saving the world from aliens if we kill it anyway, right?” Polite laughter again. “Alright, somebody drop the goal reveal poster.”

After a pregnant pause, a huge white canvas unrolled from out of sight behind them, $4,000,000 printed on it in plain lettering. Amid the applause, Tony turned off the mic, set it down, flashed a peace sign to the audience, and guided Peter backstage. They’d go out the back.

...

They didn’t speak all the way to the car, but Mr. Stark didn’t let go of his hand, either, not until he was opening the door for him and ushering him inside, telling Happy to stay in the driver’s seat through the window as he did so. The door shut, and Peter met Happy’s gaze in the rear view mirror as Mr. Stark walked around to the other side. His shock must have been evident, because the man’s eyes narrowed and he whispered urgently, “Kid, what the heck happened?”

Peter opened his mouth to answer but found he didn’t know what to say. Mr. Stark just told the whole world we’re dating and I don’t know why. I just chose a charity to receive a multimillion dollar donation with no prior warning. Tony fucking Stark held my hand and kissed my head. None of that was any good, so he just shrugged helplessly at Happy as the door opened and the subject of all his wildest dreams slid into the back of the car as well. “The tower,” he told Happy, not looking at Peter at all.

The car began to move and everything other than the engine was silent, Peter and Mr. Stark both pushed a little closer to the doors than usual, not looking at each other. Anxiety ate through his stomach like acid and he felt like he couldn’t breathe. Had he done something wrong? Why had that happened? Was Tony going to be angry with him? What was going to happen next?

A phone buzzed. Peter jumped, but it was Mr. Stark’s. He pulled it out and looked at it, his expression growing pained, then answered it stiffly. “Tony speaking.”

Peter could just barely hear Captain Rogers on the other side, voice dangerous—below it, other shouting Avengers, their words unintelligible. “What the fuck are you doing, Tony?

Tony looked up at the ceiling of the car. His lips formed a little O and he blew out a noisy breath. His voice was matter-of-fact. “If I knew, don’t you think I’d tell you?” Peter couldn’t help but smile a little behind his hand at that. He couldn’t make out Captain Roger’s response but it sounded furious. “I know you said that,” Mr. Stark whined.

Then why did you do that?

Dark eyes met Peter’s for a fraction of a second. “Someone was telling me they were going to try to take him home. So I just. Said. He was my boyfriend. So that they’d stop.”

Happy’s sharp inhale was loud in the following pause. Peter’s hands felt numb. He wondered vaguely if it was Osborn. He wondered viscerally if Mr. Stark was being protective or possessive, something in his stomach twitching at the thought that the other man didn’t want anyone else to have him.

The Captain’s voice was strained. “You couldn’t think of any other way to make them stop?

Tony pursed his lips. “It was the first non-violent option I thought of.”

More shouting on the other end of the line. There was some static and a loud clunk and to Peter’s surprise, the next voice that spoke was Bucky’s. “How’s the kid?” he inquired evenly. Then, a bit quieter, “Sit down before you have an aneurism, Steve.

Mr. Stark made full eye contact with him then, dark gaze questioning. Peter felt it as heavily as though the man had pushed him against the door of the car with all his strength. After a moment, he realized that he was actually waiting for Peter to answer Bucky’s question. Peter blinked, tried and failed to speak, and settled on just giving Mr. Stark a thumbs-up and flushing so dark his ears burned. “He says he’s good,” Mr. Stark responded at last, his questioning gaze lingering. Peter nodded jerkily in confirmation and they both looked away again.

Bucky hummed into the phone. “He better be,” he said, clear and even. Peter could just barely make out Ms. Nat in the background yelling about him. The phone beeped to announce that the call had ended. Mr. Stark’s hand slowly fell back into his lap and they both stared straight ahead.

Happy broke the silence first. “What the fuck, Tony?”

Before anyone could say anything, Peter’s phone went off. Hesitantly, he pulled it out of his pocket, looked at the screen, blanched, and answered it, terror written over his face as he whispered, “Yes ma’am?”

Peter, it’s Pepper Potts. I just saw the news, can we talk?” Her voice was gentle but serious and urgent. He nodded, then remembered he had to speak and said yes, ma’am again.

“Wouldn’t you rather talk to Mr. Stark, Ms. Potts?” The man in question visibly flinched at the name, tensing up.

Oh, no, sweetheart, we aren’t on speaking terms just now,” she said sweetly, murderous intent concealed in her innocuous tone. “I’m afraid I need to ask you for a few favors for the sake of the company. Are you ready?

The conversation was mercifully brief. “Yes ma’am. ... ... Yes. ... Oh. I see. That... makes sense. ... Yes ma’am. ... No ma’am. ... Yes. I’m sure; I can handle it. ... ... ... R-really, Ms. Potts, it’s the least I could do. ... I know. ... I will. ... You too, goodnight.”

Peter pressed ‘end call’ and set the phone neatly in his lap. There was a pause and Peter spent it looking at the very faint glow of the arc reactor through Mr. Stark’s dress shirt, mostly hidden by the black tie. “Did you hear that?” he asked the man lightly, not looking up from his chest.

“... No, kid. What did she say?”

Peter reminded himself to breathe. “She said to tell you that you’re an—an—an idiot,” he stammered. Happy snorted. “And that this could have been swept under the rug if you hadn’t, uh, if you hadn’t publicly let me make a decision on behalf of the company.”

Mr. Stark nodded slowly. “That’s. That’s fair.”

Continuing to speak was a struggle. “She asked me to pretend to be your—your—” He couldn’t say it, he was choking on the word. “She asked me to pretend that... we’re... you know...” He swallowed. “Together.”

“Together,” he repeated, voice blank.

“Together,” Peter agreed, voice scarcely more than a terrified whisper.

Mr. Stark cleared his throat, awkwardly scrubbing his hand over his beautiful jaw. “So that it doesn’t look like I let random flings decide the course of a multi-billion dollar company.”

Happy snorted again.

Isaidyes,” Peter forced out all at once, feeling Mr. Stark’s eyes snap to the side of his face. He looked determinedly out the window.

“You said yes,” the man repeated after him again, tone incredulous.

Peter nodded tightly. “I said yes.”

“Why?” Peter peaked at him out of the corner of his eye, reading the confusion and worry and guilt on the other man’s face.

“What are friends for?” he squeaked, missing the nonchalant tone he’d been aiming for by a mile. Happy made a noise like a wounded animal in the front seat.

...

After Pepper herded the kid into the other room for a Talk, Tony was similarly sat down on the couch in his own living room and forced to answer to the Spanish Inquisition that he, for some unknown reason, let live in his tower rent free. Ungrateful bastards.

“You’re making the kid pretend to be your boyfriend,” Nat was asking, finally sounding more tired than angry.

Tony frowned at her. “Pepper is the one that asked him, not me.”

“Tony, think really hard about exactly who caused her to have to do that.”

Point taken.

Suddenly Steve was leaning down close to his face, eyes hard. “Tony, that kid is smitten with you and you know it. He’d do anything for you.” Tony lowered his eyes and stayed silent, guilt constricting his stomach. Apparently that’s exactly what Steve had been looking for. “I told you, Tony, I told you that you have to let this kid initiate this. Why didn’t you listen?”

Tony looked at his hands. His ears were hot. “I just needed to do it,” he told Steve’s shoes, voice breaking. He cleared his throat. “I needed him to be mine and safe.”

Nat’s hand collided with the back of his head, but it wasn’t painful. When he looked up, the mood of the room seemed to have changed from anger to disappointment and sympathy. Bruce looked distinctly uncomfortable in the background, hands in his pockets and eyes off to the side like he was afraid of being asked for an opinion. Tony didn’t blame him in the slightest.

“What are you going to do?” Barnes prompted him.

Tony met his eye as he thought of how to answer. “Be an awesome fake boyfriend?” he tried. The groans and overlapping reprimands he received for his efforts told him it was going to be a long night.

...

At 3am, having been shepherded to bed by Ms. Nat and Ms. Potts after being grilled for hours on whether he was sure, whether he could handle the spotlight, etc, Peter could still hear alternately calm and raised voices coming from the living room and knew that Mr. Stark’s night was far from over.

Why had he done it?

The obvious, stupid, immediate answer was the one Peter wanted to be true; Mr. Stark had feelings for him that went beyond the paternal and mentor-y. Maybe Mr. Stark liked him back. Maybe Mr. Stark thought he was cute. Maybe Mr. Stark wanted him.

Peter shut his eyes, body tingling with the memory of heat in Tony’s eyes above their joint hands and the press of his lips against Peter’s knuckles. The memory of being pulled against his side, cocooned between the muscle of his chest and the muscle of his arm. The feeling of stubble against his forehead and a kiss on his hairline. The tension of sitting in silence on the car ride home, the way Mr. Stark had looked in the light of the city at night, handsome and mature and occupied with thoughts out of Peter’s reach. The pride and affection when he’d handled the mic okay on such short notice. The matching pocket square and tie.

Was there another reasonable explanation?

Maybe it was just eccentricity and paternal instinct. Maybe Mr. Stark had just had too much to drink—though, no, Peter was pretty sure he hadn’t had any alcohol at the party.

Maybe he wants you, something greedy in his heart whispered. Maybe he wants you and only you. The memory of the heat in Mr. Stark’s gaze rolled over him again, like molten chocolate, hot and sticky, and that was the color exactly now that he thought about it, dark, rich chocolate.

He was hard.

Dizzy with exhaustion and arousal, he slowly smoothed a hand down from his chest to crotch, brushing against his erection through the fine, silky material of the pajamas Mr. Stark had bought for him. It felt—it felt—so good. Hot and urgent, the slickness of silk over his smooth skin a delicious tease. His body hot and wanting, legs spread open, he panted into the dark silence of his room, imaging Mr. Stark over top of him, looking at him with exactly that heated expression from earlier. We fell in love in the lab, he repeated like a mantra in his head, until it sounded less a memory and more like a statement of fact.

Peter turned his head into his pillow, arching his back and crying out Mr. Stark! into it. His body seized into bowed stillness as he came, breathless, the sensation washing over him making oxygen seem superfluous until it was over and he collapsed panting back into the sheets.

What was he going to do?

Chapter Text

Watching the fallout was weirdly funny.

Tony sat watching the news in silence with his colleagues, avoiding their eyes as they watched some punk on TV’s interview clip for the fourth time—it had only taken a few hours for them to find someone who claimed to know Peter.

Yeah, I went to high school with him. We’re only twenty, you know, he always said he’d marry rich before the age of 21, but I thought he was joking. Doesn’t have the looks for it, in my opinion.” The first time Tony had heard it, he’d choked a little; the jealousy was so plain as to be jarring. No one could possibly claim that Peter wasn’t beautiful.

There was an indignant noise from behind him and Tony turned a bit in his seat to see that they’d been joined by the man of the hour. His hair was messy from sleep but he was dressed in casual clothes, rubbing one eye with his fist and rolling the another in irritation. “Flash Thompson is calling me a gold-digger on the news,” he said faintly, rounding the couch to sit delicately on the arm—as far from Tony as possible, he failed not to notice.

Steve turned to the kid with interest. “So you were friends with this kid? We were debating whether or not he really knew you.”

Peter’s eyes didn’t leave the reporter speculating about his whereabouts and the length of their fictional relationship as he replied. “I wouldn’t call him my friend. More like a bully. He actually shoved me into a locker once.”

This made Tony bristle a little, eyebrows drawing together and his mouth opening to offer to do something to rectify that, but he thought better of it—for once—and stayed quiet as the woman on screen transitioned into wondering why the pair haven’t been seen in public. “Speaking of not being seen together in public,” Tony said, and immediately shut his eyes against the wave of irritation that washed over him as he realized he’d immediately failed to continue thinking before he spoke. Old dog, he guessed as he pushed forward, keeping his tone and body language carefully casual. “Pepper has informed me that I’m taking you out on a date.”

The room grew uncomfortable. Bruce muted the TV, mumbled something about coffee, and walked away. Smart man.

Peter’s face was red; he was staring down at his hands. He glanced up—at Barnes, out of all people, he didn’t understand why the kid had taken to him that way—then managed to ask pseudo-evenly, “W-when?”

Tony cleared his throat, pointedly not making eye contact with Steve or Nat. “Tonight. If that’s okay. Do you...” he trailed off awkwardly. “Uh, do you have plans already?”

A snort of laughter escaped the kid’s throat, surprising Tony. He smiled hesitantly as the kid turned a shy little grin on him, still laughing. “Mr. Stark, do you really believe I could possibly have plans that are cooler than going to hang out with Iron Man?”

...

Peter was sitting at the counter with a mug of coffee in his hands discussing date plans with the man he’d had a celebrity crush on since he was 6.

Honestly, it was so bizarre he couldn’t even react to it, just push forward like everything was normal. “Oh, kid?” Mr. Stark was saying, eyes on his own mug. The man stood on the other side of the counter, looking tired, with a bit more growth around his goatee than usual. But still handsome. Always. “You have to call me Tony. It’s gonna look really bad if you’re calling me Mr. Stark.”

Peter’s cheeks went pink at that. “Okay,” he said.

Mr. Stark met his eye, eyebrows lifted in expectation. “Go on.”

“Right now?”

“Yeah, kid. Right now. Tony. Go.”

Silence.

Mr. Stark’s eyes squeezed shut. “Turn around,” he commanded. The hairs on Peter’s arms rose up at that but he obeyed, turning himself so that he could no longer see his idol-turned-mentor-turned-friend?-turned-boyfriend? “Alright, kid. Say, uh, say ‘Tony Hawk.’” Embarrassed by how difficult this was for him, Peter mumbled the name of the famous skateboarder back. “Louder, kid.”

“Tony Hawk.”

“Good boy,” Mr. Stark joked. Peter felt the words in his groin and gasped, the sound nearly silent. “Alright, now, picture Tony Hawk and just call him Tony.”

How the hell was Peter supposed to think about Tony Hawk when Tony Stark just called him a good boy? He floundered for a moment, forcing himself to think about Hawk and all his twitter posts about people telling him he looks like Tony Hawk. “Tony,” he said at last, voice even. He heard Mr. Stark inhale sharply behind him and wondered desperately what he was thinking.

“Good, kid. Really good. Alright. Can you say Tony Stark, all together?”

“Tony Stark.” That was easier for some reason, always had been.

Mr. Stark cleared his throat. “What’s Iron Man’s first name?”

Peter’s heart started beating a little faster and he clenched his fists in his jeans. “It’s, uh, it’s, Iron Man’s, his first name is Tony.” His whole body felt hot and tense and he was intimately aware of Mr. Stark’s eyes on the back of his head.

“Say my name.”

Peter’s eyes slid shut, heat rolling over his body like a wave, his pants getting tight as he rolled that soundbite over in his head a few times, languishing in it. “Tony,” he gasped, and even he could hear the heat in it. Behind him, Mr. Stark choked, and Peter froze, mortified, waiting for his sentencing.

“Do you have to do this in the kitchen? It’s indecent.”

Peter flushed darkly, looking up at Colonel Rhodes in absolute humiliation. “Should I take him into my bedroom to do it, then?” Mr. Stark snapped back immediately. “Would that be more appropriate?”

It was only when Mr. Stark responded that he realized the comment had actually been directed entirely to the older man. What had the Colonel seen? Ignoring the part of him that said, Yes, please, let’s continue in the bedroom, he offered the Colonel an apologetic grin. After a moment, the man returned it, before rolling his eyes at Mr. Stark and saying, “Just keep it PG, Tones.”

Then they were alone again. “Face me.” Mr. Stark’s tone precluded negotiation. The sound slid down his spine like ice and he struggled to obey, turning slowly and gripping his mug harder. The older man’s eyes were dark and demanding and overwhelming and Peter was drowning. “Do it again.”

Peter’s mouth wasn’t working. He looked down at the arc reactor and spoke to it instead of the swirling emotion in the other man’s eyes. “Tony,” he mumbled.

He started as something caught his chin, lifting up his face. Tony Stark was touching him, tilting his head back, eyes roving over Peter’s face with unknowable thoughts concealed within them. “Look me in the eye, kid. What’s my name?”

Hard as a rock, embarrassed, each of those things feeding into the other in a feedback loop, Peter’s brain was close to short-circuit. “Tony.” Had he said that? He couldn’t remember. But Mr. Stark was smirking and he made an approving noise that went straight to Peter’s erection, so yes, he must have.

“Good job, kid.”

Then he let go and Peter slumped into his chair, hiding his relief in his mug as he took a long swallow from it, glad to be able to hide his face even if the fact he was hiding was transparent. “You know,” he told the delightfully bitter liquid cooling within it. His voice came out a little breathy and he cleared his throat before he continued. “You know, Mr. Stark, you can’t call me ‘kid’ if we are going on a date, either.”

Mr. Stark chuckled into his own mug at that, taking a leisurely sip before he responded. “Point taken, kid. What were you thinking? Baby? Cupcake? Honeybuns? Sweetie? Darling?”

A little annoyed by how clearly Mr. Stark was enjoying tormenting Peter, he glared. “Just Peter is fine.”

“‘Just Peter’ is a weird pet name, but okay. Where do you want to go on our date, Just Peter?”

Rolling his eyes, Peter shrugged. “I don’t know, Mr. Stark. What are the rules?”

The older man hummed, turning to refill his mug. “No rules,” he decided. “Anything you want. Just has to be public enough to let people take pictures of us.” At that, Peter thought again of the photo that had been on the news, of Peter—looking handsome and refined—under Tony Stark’s arm, blushing and grinning stupidly as the older man pushed a kiss against the side of his head. He wondered what Mr. Stark thought of it. “Is there anywhere you’ve always wanted to go in the city, maybe? We could always go somewhere outside of New York, of course, if you wanted.”

“I’ve never left New York,” Peter responded without thinking.

This visibly threw Mr. Stark for a loop. He set his mug down with a thump, fixing an incredulous gaze on Peter. “What, never?” Peter shook his head, mute, a little embarrassed. “New York State or New York City?”

“City,” Peter admitted.

“You’ve never been to a beach? Seen a mountain? Gone hiking? Camping?” Mr. Stark’s voice rose a little more with each additional suggestion as Peter shame-facedly shook his head to all of it. “Have you ever seen a tree that wasn’t planted by a person?”

“No, probably not,” Peter admitted.

“Do you know how to swim?”

“No, sir.”

“You’ve never—”

“Mr. Stark, if it’s not in New York, I haven’t done it or seen it.”

That shut him up.

Mr. Stark checked his watch, looking distraught. “Fuck, I wish I’d known, I’d have been taking you places already. It’s too late to make plans for a beach, I think, I have a meeting in the morning that Pepper insists I can’t miss...”

“You don’t need to take me—”

“Kid, we both know how this conversation is gonna end, so let’s just skip it, yeah? Can you be ready to get on a plane in, like, two hours?”

“Mr. Stark, I thought you said—”

He was interrupted again, Mr. Stark turning away as he spoke, seeking distracted. “We aren’t going too far, kid, the plane ride will be less than hour. Meet me here at 1pm.”

Well, when you put it that way, Peter thought sarcastically.

He had plenty of time before 1pm, so he took a moment to finish his coffee and think about the intense conversation they’d had only a few minutes previously—the thrill of it still made his skin hotly sensitive against his clothing. The little noises Mr. Stark had made, the way he’d touched Peter’s face, the look in his eye—surely, surely the only possible explanation was that he liked Peter. Right? The thought made him warm all over, but nervous and antsy.

Could Peter even handle a man like Tony Stark?

Was he anywhere near good enough?

What if he was wrong?

Maybe he should just play in cool and wait for Mr. Stark to make the first move. Peter bit his lip in worry, thinking that maybe Mr. Stark would think he wasn’t interested. Maybe he could bait the man into making a move?

Could he, Peter Parker, scrawny need extraordinaire... seduce Tony Stark?

It was laughable. But worth a try?

...

“Okay,” Tony reasoned with himself in the mirror, trying to scrub the delicious sound of his own name on Peter’s lips from his mind before he lost it completely. “Okay, you can’t initiate because the power imbalance would make it impossible for Peter to respond freely to it. Okay. So. What if. Maybe if I flirt with him enough he’ll grow the balls to start something. What do you think, Jarvis?”

“Peter is terribly shy, sir.”

Fuck, I know, it’s cute. Inconvenient right now, though.”

“He’s also very insecure.”

“Yeah, no shit, Jarvis, he— ... oh.” Tony chewed on that a moment, the way forward illuminated. “You’re saying that I need to make it really, really obvious that I think he’s the best thing in the world.”

“A sound strategy, sir.”

Chapter Text

Peter stuck his head out of his room cautiously to see who was in the hall—luckily, it happened to be one of the people he’d feel comfortable asking his question. “Oh, Bucky! Do you have a minute?”

The man looked startled, both by his sudden appearance in the door and his request, but nodded once and entered the bedroom at Peter’s beckon. “What’s up, Peter? Something... wrong?”

Peter probably looked like a mess—he could feel his hair was sticking up from running his hands through it, and he was shirtless. “No, not really,” he started, closing the door behind his friend. “I just need advice and I don’t have...” He didn’t finish his sentence and Bucky didn’t look like he needed him to. Peter cleared his throat. “I’ve never gone on a date. I-I know it’s not a real date, but I don’t know... like, what to wear or anything. And this is gonna be—” What was the word Ms. Potts had used? “—televised.”

“Ah,” Bucky replied, voice casual. It made Peter feel better. “I understand. I’ve actually also never been on a proper date.”

Peter scrunched his brows at the older man. “You haven’t? But you and Captain Rogers—”

Bucky shrugged. “I guess we’ve never had time. That said, I can still make you pretty for your date. I have impeccable taste. As you may have noticed.” He actually smiled at Peter, fleeting but genuine, and walked over to the dresser to start rifling through things. “Go take a shower, you need to start over on your hair.”

...

Not long after, Peter was dressed again—in tight-fitting darkwash jeans, boots, and the smart red button down he’d received some time before—seated on the edge of the bed, facing away from Bucky, standing behind him armed with a comb. “Do you think I’m supposed to flirt with him?”

Bucky hummed. “Probably.”

“How do I do that?”

A metal hand rested briefly on his shoulder. “You are attracted to Tony, aren’t you?”

Peter flushed deeply. “No, I—”

“Peter.” Unable to speak, he rubbed his palms against his thighs, head dipping in shame. After a moment, he felt the comb return to his hair, working carefully at the wet curls. Bucky spoke after a moment. “Touch him when you want to touch him. Say the things that you want to say. That’s all.”

A pause. “You’re really a great friend, Bucky. Thank you. For being... honest. And blunt.”

He felt the other man tense a little, then take a deep breath and relax again. “It’s really nice to be honest and blunt,” he said. There was truth in his words. “There’s a lot of things I’m allowed to say now that weren’t acceptable in the 40s. Hell, we didn’t even have the word ‘gay’ yet. I didn’t know it existed.”

Peter could suddenly see how much something like this could mean to a man like Bucky.

...

Tony could tell Peter had put a bit more effort than usual in. His hair was neater, his boots shiny-clean, the shirt tucked into his jeans. But it was still only Peter, in the clothes he normally wore to his internship. It was so, so sweet it made him pause. So simple and genuine—like Peter had cleaned his pickup truck in anticipation of picking Tony up for the dance. So different from the slinky dresses, heavy makeup, or clouds of cologne that people usually donned for a date with him.

Just Peter.

“You look good, kid,” he said, noncommittal, turning his head to hide a smile when Peter blushed shyly at the praise and Natasha encouraged him enthusiastically, Hell yeah he does. “I have something for you.”

He passed the bundle into the kid’s outstretched hands, noting the sweet surprise and confusion on his face. “Oh, Mr. Stark, that’s not—”

“It’s Tony, remember? And trust me, you’ll need it.” He leaned back casually against the counter, watching with a deep sense of pleasure as the cloth fell unfolded between the kid’s hands, his eyes moving up and down the fabric with sparkling amazement within them. “Try it on.”

Peter looked him in the eyes for a moment, biting his lip; he looked over at Nat, who waved him on impatiently, before he began to pull the coat on. It fit him like it was tailored to him—it was, of course, but the work was pretty good for having been ordered on such short notice. Slate grey wool, it reached down to mid-thigh, and when Peter’s shaking hands did up the large black buttons and smoothed down the lapels, it pinched in at the waist and fit handsomely at the shoulders. It made Peter look expensive, spoiled. Tony liked that.

“Where are we going, anyway, Mr. Stark?” Peter asked, breaking the litany of thank-you’s and you-didn’t-have-to’s that Tony had been ignoring.

“Just upstate,” he answered noncommitally, gesturing the kid along with him towards the elevator. “But we’ll be outside for a bit. Car’s waiting, you ready? See you, Nat.”

...

The car ride wasn’t long. Mr. Stark had brought his laptop, saying, “I hope you don’t mind, kid, but I need to write a few emails before I can focus on this.” Peter really didn’t mind—he had liked looking at the buildings and the people through the window, and he had especially liked looking at Mr. Stark making faces as he wrote, obviously mimicking whatever emotion he imagined himself having if he were speaking. Frustration, annoyance, humor. It was cute.

“Did you know that you make faces when you write?”

“Did you know,” Mr. Stark had responded slowly, still typing, “That you’re a brat?”

Then there was the plane. “Seats twelve,” Mr. Stark had said, then described the engine and the adjustments he’d made to it.

“I’ve never flown,” Peter had murmured. Then an arm was around his shoulders and he was being led towards the private jet whether he was ready or not.

As it would turn out, Peter was not ready.

He was shaking visibly by the time they were fully on the plane. It was loud from the engine and small, all things considered, and somehow that was scarier, even though it was a fight against gravity and lighter should be better. But Mr. Stark had shushed his worries and guided him to sit, only rolling his eyes a little bit when Peter immediately grabbed both armrests, eyes shut tightly.

“We don’t have to go, you know,” Mr. Stark had said, voice gentle.

Peter opened one eye. “I want to be able to travel,” he’d said, earnestly, looking at Mr. Stark with desperation.

Then the man had leaned in, close, close enough for Peter to smell aftershave and Mr. Stark. Then he’d heard a click—his seatbelt—and the man was leaning away, smirking down at him. “You’re cute when you blush.”

...

Tony was on cloud nine.

The kid was obviously petrified. Excited. Clutching the armrests as the plane lurched into motion. Grinning ear to ear, eyes shut in fear, saying, “Mr. Stark, this is so cool...”

“Need me to hold your hand, kid?”

Tony watched Peter tense up, wondering why he’d said that, wondering if he was making him uncomfortable. Then he saw something like determination harden around Peter eyes and he held his hand out to Tony, saying, “Please.”

Their hands touched, then Peter’s fingers gripped his, warm and soft. As the jet started to accelerate, the grip tightened, and Tony watched fear battle exhilaration on kid’s face as they took off. Then the kid gasped, eyes flying open and he lurched towards the window, never loosening his grip on Tony’s hand. Peter watched New York City and everything in it shrink away and Tony watched the world open up in his eyes.

Tony knew then that he wanted to show Peter the world.

...

“Wow.”

“I know, it’s gorgeous, isn’t it?”

“... Wow.”

Seeing his chance—and aware of the cameras pointing at them, ever-present since they landed—Tony wrapped an arm around Peter, pulling his back to Tony’s chest. The kid hardly noticed—his mittened gloves were gripping the icy rails as he looked out over the grandeur of Niagara. It was loud, the sound echoing in Tony’s chest near where his heart was thumping to be so close to the beautiful boy bundled up in his arms, lips parted and red with cold, his breath visible with each exhale.

He turned his head and met Tony’s eye. “It’s so beautiful,” he breathed. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” His eyes shone, blinking rapidly against the wind, watery and stormy and bright and looking at Tony like he’d given him the waterfall instead of taking him to it. It made the tourists and the cameras fall away for a moment, and all he could think was kid, you are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

Tony leaned in and kissed his cheek, just on impulse, relishing in the little body in his arms and the faint warmth of him through their layers of clothing and his sweet cistrusy smell and his smooth and soft his cheek was beneath Tony’s lips. Peter tensed, whispering hotly, “Mr. Stark, what are you—”

“Cameras,” he whispered back against his skin, one gloved hand snaking up to cup the side of his head, jostling his glasses by accident. He righted then, then pulled Peter closer to his chest. “This okay?” Peter nodded, relaxing into his hold, and Tony held him while he drank his fill of rushing water and icy beauty.

...

Peter was drunk on the beauty of the falls, how it had roared in his ears; the way his pulse had rivaled it when Mr. Stark boxed him in with his own body, the older man’s arms trapping him between his warmth and the frozen rails over the rushing water. He was drunk on holding the man’s hand, laughing with him, leaning into each other as they walked through Niagara, New York, looking at storefronts.

Feeling brazen, he pushed into Mr. Stark’s side, shivering. “I’m cold,” he complained, looking up through his eyelashes at the handsome man. It wasn’t untrue—it was absolutely freezing and Peter couldn’t feel his nose or his toes.

Mr. Stark looked down at him, surprised. “Sorry, Pete, you’re so skinny, I forgot.” He looked around for a moment. “Stay here, I’ll be right back.”

Peter watched him stride away, looking important and attractive and it washed over Peter again how insane it was that he was here, with Tony Stark, instead of sleeping under the bar at St. Margaret’s. It made him dizzy—he sat down with a huff on a bench, just trying to process everything. He wasn’t given the opportunity, however.

“Mr. Parker!”

Peter jumped, smiling awkwardly at the young woman who had just plopped down beside him. “Oh—do we, uh, do I know you?” he asked as politely as he could before he saw the microphone. “Oh, I’m sorry, that was stupid, you’re a reporter!”

She grinned at him, flipping her short brown hair and holding the microphone a little closer to Peter. “Are you on a date with Tony Stark right now?”

Peter smiled sheepishly at her and leaned into the mic, trying not to sound nervous. “Uh, yes, ma’am, I am.”

“You’re an item?”

Peter laughed. “I thought we made that clear at the charity ball?”

“I supposed you did. What’s it like? The whole world is dying to know.”

Peter opened his mouth to respond with something generic, but then he saw Mr. Stark returning, looking concerned about the woman recording him. “It’s wonderful,” he breathed. “Would you excuse me?”

He got to his feet to greet the man, accepting the to-go cup from him. “Hot cocoa,” Mr. Stark said shortly, looking over his shoulder at the woman on the bench and the camera crew behind her. “Everything alright?”

Peter glanced over his shoulder at them and then leaned up on his toes to press a kiss to the man’s stubbled cheek, not missing the way his breath hitched as he did so. “Everything’s perfect. Is this for me—” He tried to say Tony, but it wouldn’t come out, and he knew he was still in earshot. His panicked eyes met Mr. Stark’s, but when he spoke his voice was still smooth and casual. “Anthony?”

The corner of Mr. Stark’s lip quirked up. “Sure is, cupcake,” he responded, amused, offering Peter his arm. He let the older man steer him away from the bench and the TV crew, glad that his cold-bitten cheeks would hide his embarrassed blush. “Where do you want to go next?”

The hot cocoa was delicious. It burned his gums and tongue but the thick, rich sweetness of it warmed him radially out from his stomach. “Anywhere,” he replied easily. “Anywhere you want. You should try this, it’s delicious.”

They paused, huddled together on the cobbled sidewalk, ignoring gawkers and passers-by as Peter pushed the paper cup into Mr. Stark’s hands. He could barely see the eyes through the sunglasses, crinkled around the corners with an affectionate smile as he raised the cup to his lips obediently and took a shallow sip. “It is good,” he agreed. “You okay to walk and talk a bit longer? I like to hear your stories. What was this about you being president of the Decathlon team?”

“You have to be kidding me, Mr. Stark,” Peter laughed as they continued their walk through the scenic little town, looking up at the sky when he noticed a few errant snowflakes dancing down around them. “You’ve been everywhere—done everything. I’m barely 20 and I’ve never done anything cool.”

Mr. Stark frowned a bit. “I thought you were 19?”

Peter shook his head, taking another sip of his drink and smiling at a rapidly melting snowflake in the older man’s quirked eyebrow. “My birthday was a while ago.”

The man stopped in his tracks. “Your birthday is July 1st,” he insisted, voice raising a little.

Peter shook his head. “No, sir, it’s January 7th. You must have flipped the month and the day.”

“Shit, kid; I’m so sorry. Why didn’t you say anything?” The man looked genuinely guilty—it made Peter upset.

“No, no, Mr. Stark, it’s fine, I promise. I haven’t celebrated my birthday in years. You didn’t need to do anything.”

Mr. Stark harrumphed, clearly offended, and shifted to hug Peter to his side. “I need to get you a present. What do you want? A laptop? A car? Can you drive?”

Peter sputtered a little at the suggestions, unsuccessfully attempting to tug himself out from under Mr. Stark’s arm in protest. “No, Mr. Stark, really, it’s fine,” he darted his eyes around, looking for some way to distract him. “And no, I can’t drive. Oh, look, an aquarium. I’ve always wanted to go to one. Can we?”

...

Tony’s heart felt swollen. His hand clenched in the coat he’d insisted on carrying for Peter once they’d gone inside the half-abandoned aquarium. The kid’s slight form was silhouetted against the glow of the enormous coral reef tank before him, his nose and hands pressed to the glass, almost as speechless as he had been looking at the falls. The aquarium itself was nothing to write home about—dark and a bit small, though with a heavy conservation tilt that Peter clearly enjoyed—but the look of wonder and heart-wrenching joy sparkling in the blue light reflected onto his face was priceless, precious. And all his. There were no cameras or other tourists around. Just Tony and Peter and a beautiful moment with the fish.

Struck with inspiration and sure that the kid was sufficiently distracted, he sent a quick set of texted instructions to Happy. It helped alleviate the guilt of having forgotten Peter’s birthday just a tad.

...

Peter had been suitably impressed when Tony’s mere presence near the hostess stand had gotten them seated immediately in what was clearly an expensive and very busy restaurant. He kept his eye on him as they walked towards the table he’d reserved—tucked a little out of the way, more private but still clearly visible to some of the room—waiting for the moment that he realized what was visible out the 15 foot tall glass wall that made up the perimeter of the room. His reward was Peter’s lips parting in surprise, eyes lighting up as they found the falls once more, maybe three quarters of a mile away, nestled into the snowy town below beautifully.

They sat so that Peter was facing the room and the falls, Tony’s back to both. His stormy eyes flickered back and forth between the falls and Tony’s face, like he couldn’t choose one that was more amazing, more worthy of his attention.

Truly, Tony couldn’t remember being happier to be near anyone.

...

Mr. Stark removed his sunglasses and set them on the beautiful, polished wooden table, his eyes on Peter’s. He was clearly pleased with himself and with Peter’s reaction to the view.

“Wow, Mr. Stark,” Peter breathed, unable to decide between looking into his warm, dark eyes or at the the way the setting sun was turning the spray of water over the falls pale yellow.

A foot nudged his under the table. “Tony,” he corrected, smirking. “Or Anthony, I guess. God, the tabloids will have a field day with that. I’m fairly certain I broke up with someone in my twenties and told a reporter that it was because she called me Anthony... I don’t even remember what her name was, let alone the real reason I broke it off.”

Peter blushed. “I couldn’t say it,” he admitted. “I hope that whoever you broke up with doesn’t take offense?”

Mr. Stark waved that away. “No, no. I’m sure she won’t. Oh, good, a waitress. I’m thirsty.”

Peter sat placidly, smiling at the waitress as Mr. Stark accepted a menu on his behalf and ordered them both water. “And, sweetie, if it won’t get you into trouble—” Peter could plainly see that the young woman, barely older than himself, was positively preening under the celebrity attention and would do whatever was asked of her. “—could you put a glass of Dom Perignon in a mug or something? I’d love to let Peter try it but I don’t want the headlines tomorrow to read Tony Stark plies underage boy with alcohol.”

The man winked conspiratorially and the girl giggled, flashing them both a genuine smile as she nodded. “Right away, Mr. Stark.”

Peter grinned at Mr. Stark. “I didn’t peg you for the kind of dirty old man who called the waitresses ‘sweetie,’ Mist—, um, T-Tony.”

Mr. Stark frowned at him. “What’s wrong with that?”

Peter shrugged. “The modern feminist movement is pushing away from normalizing men in positions of power calling women pet names like sweetie or honey because it’s demeaning.”

“My dad did it,” Mr. Stark defended himself. Peter raised his eyebrows at him, and after a moment, Mr. Stark’s expression turned thoughtful. “Maybe you have a point there. What should I call her instead, then?”

Shaking his head in exaggerated exasperation, Peter laughed, “You could try her name. Or call her ma’am. Or some gender-neutral nickname like captain or buddy.”

“Captain?”

Peter grinned. “Sure, call her captain.”

“I’d rather call her by her name, I think.”

“Suit yourself, Anthony. It was Kaitlyn.”

For a moment, they sat in companionable silence, Peter mesmerized suddenly by the pinks and purples cast over the waterfall. He startled when Mr. Stark enthusiastically greeted the waitress upon her return. “Kaitlyn! Thank you so much, dear.”

The girl blushed as she sat down two glasses of ice from her tray, then a mug of bubbling golden liquid in front of Peter. He proceeded to pour water from a large glass jug into each other their glasses. “Of course, Mr. Stark. Ah, Mr. Parker. I’ll be right back to take your orders.”

As she walked away, Peter nudged Mr. Stark’s foot again, smirking at the older man. “Aw, she likes you, Mr. Stark.”

Peter gasped, eyes falling shut as the man’s foot found his again, tracing up the inside of his calf teasingly. “Tony, Pete. And I don’t care if she likes me. Try that, will you?”

Obediently, he raised the delicate white teacup to his lips, smelling the sharp, fresh scent of the liquid before he let it hit his tongue. The bubbles burned down into his stomach, but it was ice-cold, refreshing, a tad sweet over the bitter of the alcohol. “It’s good,” he whispered, eyes shut against the feeling of it.

He felt a hand close over his on the table. “I’m glad you like it. Have you decided what you want to eat?”

Blushing, but not taking his hand away—that wouldn’t look good, for the papers—he frowned down at the one-page menu before him. “Honestly, M-Uhh, A-A-Anthony, I don’t, I don’t know what any of this is.” Seeing the concerned look in the other man’s eyes, he continued quickly, “That’s okay, though! I’ve never really eaten anything new that I didn’t like. Will you order for me?”

...

Tony was fucking delighted to find that Peter had been telling the truth about not being picky. Beef tartare and oxtail consommé to start, then Blanquette de Veau with risotto for Tony and duck confit for Peter, and the kid loved all of it, exclaiming over morels and sorrels as much as the top-quality cut and cook of the meat. The kid relaxed throughout his mug of champagne as well, something Tony noted with amusement as he responded to his feet pressing against his legs with bitten lips instead of tensing shoulders. And the kid was charming, funny, asking Tony about the different ingredients and listening patiently to the answers.

It was so cute.

Peter looked a bit sleepy by the time the girl—Kaitlyn, he reminded himself—came to take away their plates, replacing them with a single serving of what looked to be a rich chocolate lava cake with vanilla ice cream and raspberries. “On the house,” she giggled, setting two spoons down on the plate before she left them.

Seeing his chance, Tony stood and quickly slid in next to Peter in the booth, catching his wide-eyed stare and smirking. He leaned in close enough to smell his citrus-sweet smell and whispered, “C’mon, let’s give them a show,” as he pressed their thighs together and threw an arm around his shoulders, pressing in close. He felt Peter gasp, sigh sweetly, and nod his acceptance, leaning into Tony in a way that betrayed his need for physical affection.

Bracing himself, he grabbed a spoon, scooping up a bit of cake, molten chocolate, melted ice cream, and half a raspberry to be thorough before holding it up to Peter’s sweet, delicate lips, feeling as though he were drowning as the kid met his eye, blushing, parted his lips and let Tony place the morsel inside. Tony’s eyes were fixed on the place that Peter’s lips closed around the stem; then on how his eyes fluttered shut in pleasure and he made a happy little noise when Tony’s free hand stroked the side of his neck.

Tony startled when Peter’s right hand fell on his upper thigh. He glanced down, taken for a moment by the sight of it, small and pale against the dark fabric that stretched over his muscular leg. He wondered if it was as obvious to Peter that he was hard as it was obvious to Tony that Peter was hard as he gathered up another bite to feed him, meeting his stormy grey-blue eyes as he did so. He leaned in, purring approvingly, “You look amazing, kid. Like you were made for this.”

...

When Peter stumbled into his bedroom late that night, emotionally and physically exhausted from his day and having needed to loudly wave off questions from the Avengers that had been following their date on social media, he almost missed the addition to his room but for the glow it cast in the dark.

It was at least forty gallons, supported by a beautiful new wooden cabinet. Within it, colorful corals and dancing anemones provided a backdrop for tangs, starfish, and a handsome lion fish, among others Peter couldn’t identify. There was a big yellow bow on the top, and a printed note that said, Happy Birthday, kid.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Peter had to be dragged away from the fish tank by Mr. Stark.

“C’mon, kid. If I have to face the inquisition, so do you.”

Peter had barely even turned his head from the tank. “Hold on, I’m almost done naming them.”

Mr. Stark had crouched down next to him, looking into the tank curiously. “Naming them?”

“Yeah. The Dottybacks are named Petunia and Daisy, the Tang is named Mr. Socks, the Red Sea Star is named Renegade, the coral is named Carolina...”

“What is the lion fish’s name?”

“I haven’t decided yet.”

“You should name it something weird and involved. Like how people name horses.”

“What, like, American Pharaoh?”

“No, kid. Like, “As Good As it Gets” or “Something to Remember” or “Costs as Much as a Down Payment on House.”

“So something weird and obnoxious.”

“... Yeah.”

“Can I name him Belated Birthday Present?”

“... Yeah. I like that. Now c’mon, our ‘friends’ want to dissect our date.”

...

The first thing Ms. Nat insisted they watch was a Buzzfeed listicle entitled Could Peter Parker be Tony Stark’s The One?

The first bullet point was actually the whole Anthony thing—apparently Mr. Stark had broken things off with a model named Ella Ward for calling him that. Another showed a blurry gif of Peter pushing the paper cup into Mr. Stark’s hands—He lets Peter hand him things. “I forgot that was thing with you,” Peter murmured, apologetic, but Mr. Stark just shook his head, expression unreadable.

The next bullet was about the PDA. “I guess they’re right,” Peter realized out loud. “I-I’ve never seen you on the news being affectionate to a girlfriend.” But Mr. Stark wouldn’t look at him. The next one was Tony has never gone public with a boyfriend. That seemed true, too.

Tony looks taken. A shot of Mr. Stark standing behind him by the falls, face pressed into the nape of his neck. And so does Peter. It was the clip of Peter saying “It’s wonderful,” eyes shining with affection and amazement.

Peter felt a little laid bare by it. By the way Mr. Stark was avoiding eye contact, maybe he did too.

“You guys are such great actors,” Colonel Rhodes complimented sarcastically, eliciting laughter from the other assembled Avengers.

“Shut up, Rhodes.”

...

That Monday morning, Peter was almost late for school because of how hard it was for him to tear himself away from watching the sweet babies in his new fishtank swim around. Then by the time he slid into the room, only a minute or so before the bell, there were almost no seats left—strange, it was usually only about 3/4 full. Was there an exam today?

He froze—there were eyes on him. Phones pointed at him. People standing up on desks and chairs. Shouting. Stark’s whore decided to show up, was the first thing he made out clearly. It’s really him, wow, he’s even cuter in person! was the second. Then Professor Hawthorne at the front of the room, her voice high-pitched. Sit down! If you aren’t a student here, you need to get out! This is a classroom!

Something was thrown—a small rock. It missed. A girl screamed—Peter may have, too, he didn’t know. The sensation of cool water washed over him and when he opened his eyes, a small crowd was hovering just beyond the perimeter of the barrier projected from his chest, some angry, some trying to ask questions, but Peter slid to the floor, the metal of his suit loud against the tile and even louder when he crossed his arms over his face in defense.

He’d had things thrown at him before. Handfuls of change, food, even rocks. He’d been yelled at, spat on. Get a job, usually. Or Faggot! But it was usually just one or two drunken assholes, spoiled kids, or entitled middle-aged white women. Never a crowd. Never a crowd comprised of people professing both love and hatred, screaming about being a huge fan as well as about Peter being a gold-digging whore.

...

Tony saw it on the news, first. Peter Parker accosted at school; reveals an Iron Man suit. Underneath, shaky video of Peter crouched in the corner, the sleek red and blue nanotech suit on and keeping back the crowd that campus security was struggling to deal with. “Window, Jarvis,” he commanded, getting to his feet.

“Tones, don’t you think you should let them handle it?” Bruce implored, following him as the suit spread out from his chest and one of the huge living room windows slid open, letting in a strong wind that scattered the paperwork Pepper had brought him.

Tony didn’t bother answering.

...

Everything went quiet when the Iron Man walked into the classroom. For a moment, Peter wasn’t sure what had happened. Then he looked up, and there was the red and gold hero himself, impervious and unreachable under the mask. He didn’t point blasters at the crowd or do anything else threatening—smart, that wouldn’t have gone over well. As the man approached Peter, the crowd dispersed and the barrier died away.

Peter found himself looking at the red and gold metal glove once more. Watching his own hand—blue and red and far more slender—take Iron Man’s was surreal, even as he was lifted onto his feet. “You alright, kid?” came Mr. Stark’s voice, almost in his ear. After a moment, Peter realized that it had come from the speakers in his own helmet—he’d bet that no one else could hear it. Unsure if his own was set up the same way, he just nodded.

The mask peeled back, and Mr. Stark’s face was revealed—then his body. He was just in torn jeans and an AC/DC T-shirt—Peter was fairly certain Tony Stark hadn’t been seen in public in a T-shirt in at least six years. He tapped Peter’s wrist and his own nanotech suit rolled back as well. Their fingers interlocked and Tony pulled a pair of dark sunglasses out of his pocket and placed them on Peter’s face, plucking his eyeglasses out of the day in the same smooth motion. When he spoke, his voice projected loudly. “C’mon, Peter. These people—” The sneer was clear enough that people flinched. “—Don’t deserve the eye contact.”

He was glad of it. He kept his head straight and chin high, mouth pressed in a hard line. No one would see his eyes watering, and without his glasses, he couldn’t really see them, either.

...

“So Peter is doing online schooling now,” Tony announced upon entering the living room a half hour later, Peter himself in tow. He watched the kid slouch onto the couch next to Barnes, pushing his hands over his face and up through his hair, sunglasses falling into his lap as he did so. His eyes were red-rimmed, looking at the flat screen blankly as it played a video of Tony’s suited figure approaching Peter’s and helping him up.

“I’m sorry, Pete,” Steve said, moving to Peter’s other side and clapping a hand on his shoulder.

The mood of the room was mostly anger. Clint was frowning at the television, eyebrows drawn together, his hand smoothing over Nat’s back. Her rage was very cold. “Threw a rock at the kid,” she mumbled to Clint. “Throw a rock at them if they do it again.”

Bruce hummed. “I can tutor you in pretty much anything,” he offered quietly.

“Dibs on American history,” Sam joked.

Tony wondered how Peter had become so important to all of them so quickly.

...

Tony found quickly that he loved taking Peter out on dates, though due to the uptick in time needed spent in the office and the lab, they were sticking mostly to New York City. From John’s Pizzaria to Le Bernardin, from Central Park to Broadway, from the MoMA to the Met. They went out almost every night for the next two weeks.

Peter let Tony dress him up, in beautiful sweaters and button-downs. Peter let Tony take him out and watch him react to delicious food. Peter let Tony hold his hand all through Hamilton even though there were no eyes on him and let Tony kiss him on the cheek as he stood in front of the Starry Night. And Peter didn’t question Tony about spending Valentine’s Day in the lab, working together on trying to make Peter’s bioplastic come out clear instead of blue.

Tony couldn’t remember being happier.

Then fucking Thor showed up.

...

Peter was trembling.

Thor, God of Thunder.

Thor, savior of the Earth.

Thor, son of Odin, protector of Asgard.

Thor, Avenger.

Thor, on his way up to the penthouse, right then, to the penthouse where Peter lived and had an excuse to be during a visit from fucking Thor.

Mr. Stark was side-eyeing him, just on this side of pouting as Peter bounced his leg anxiously, eyes fixed on the door that the legendary man would be walking through. “I thought I was your favorite Avenger?” he asked, audibly trying not to sound petulant.

Peter flickered his eyes over to Mr. Stark, eyes wide. He tried to smile at the other man. “Of course you are, but he can control thunder.

Mr. Stark rolled his eyes and mockingly mouthed back, but he can control thunder, Mr. Stark!

Peter was too nervous to really care, however. “Do you think that, like, practitioners of judeo-Christian religions are allowed to believe in Thor?” he asked distractedly, scraping his nails against the fabric of the slacks he wore. “They aren’t supposed to believe in any other gods or worship false idols. Do you think Thor posters count as a false idol? Do you get a free pass on believing in something if it’s real and you can touch it? Or is it just that they can’t believe he’s actually a god?”

“It’s too early for philosophy, Pete,” Mr. Stark chided him, patting him on the knee and making him jump. Before Peter could continue, though, he heard a booming, larger-than-life laugh echoing down the hall and he froze, flushing very red.

“He’s here,” he squeaked.

Mr. Stark sighed and pushed himself to his feet, grabbing Peter by the arm to haul him up as well. “Look alive, kid, you only get one first impression. Don’t accept any alcohol from him, it might taste like honey but it’ll fuck you up.”

Peter turned his head to ask him a question about that, but then there he was, armor, cape and all, Mjolnir in his left hand, framed by other laughing Avengers on either side. He was shockingly handsome, bearded with wild, long hair and bright eyes. “Tony!” he shouted. His voice was deep and accented like something out of a fantasy film. “Dear old friend, how are you?”

Mr. Stark released Peter, looking resigned; Peter only had a moment to wonder why before the larger man picked Mr. Stark up off of the ground in a bone-crushing hug—he could hear the creak of bones and the shallow gasp as air was forced from his lungs. He took it like a champ, though, patting Thor on the back before he was sat back down and catching his breath through his nose to make it less obvious he’d been winded.

Thor wasn’t paying attention to that, though. His warm eyes were on Peter, making him feel like a butterfly under glass. “Oh, and you must be Tony’s new whore. Very pretty,” he complimented Mr. Stark.

...

Tony watched with no small amount of amusement as Peter’s face flushed deeply and his knees buckled a tad, his mouth opening and shutting like a fish, shocked into silence by being called a whore by an alien god at 8:30 in the morning on a Tuesday. “Boyfriend, Thor, the word we use here boyfriend,” Tony laughed. “I didn’t buy him, I earned him.”

Thor visibly considered this, looking between the two seriously. He cracked a cheeky smile and raised an eyebrow at Tony. “My apologies, Tony, I assumed your money would take you farther than your charm in securing a prize such as this.”

Tony rolled his eyes amiably, but Peter squeaked, drawing the attention of the room back to him. He looked like he hadn’t been expecting that, turning impossibly redder and in serious danger of turning and fleeing. Deciding to save him some dignity, he turned to Thor and let him off the hook. “Really, Thor, though, we’re just pretending to be dating in the first place. Earth politics, it’s a little complicated.”

Tony’s heart froze as Thor turned his stunning eyes back to his Peter. “Is that so,” he said, voice thoughtful, interested. No.

“Yeah,” Tony said, voice harsher than he’d expected. Then, looking for any way to take Thor’s attention off of Peter, he forced a laugh. “Have you seen Clint yet? He probably didn’t hear you come in.”

...

Peter watched them leave. When the coast was clear, he sank into a chair, nearly gasping for breath, his whole body burning with what had just happened. After a moment of catching his breath, he looked up to find the good Captain smirking at him a little. “What?” he demanded breathlessly.

Captain Rogers fought a smile, turning and clearing his throat. Bucky’s expression was unreadable but his eyes belied amusement as well. They exchanged a glance and then the Captain spoke. “That worked for you, didn’t it, son?” he asked with an impressively nonjudgmental tone considering his obvious mirth.

Peter glared hotly at him. “You try getting called a, a whore by a literal god and see if it doesn’t get your blood pumping,” he grumbled, feeling validated when Bucky shrugged consideringly, raising an eyebrow at Captain Rogers.

The two older men smirked at each other, some kind of communication passing between them as they did. “We can’t tell Tony,” the Captain scolded fondly. “We’d get the kid in trouble.”

Finally calming down, Peter shook his head regretfully. “We aren’t really dating, remember? I don’t think he’ll care.” He missed most of the next round of silent communication between the two older men, focused instead on straightening out his clothing in preparation for continued social interaction.

...

Peter had situated himself to do his online schoolwork on the couch—higher chance of seeing a certain God of Thunder as he wandered around the Tower, you see. He absolutely had not expected this.

It was evening when Peter’s solitary studying turning into an impromptu cuddle session with a god. “Peter,” the man boomed as he settled comfortably next to him on the couch, trapping Peter between the arm of the couch and his own body, thrusting a wine glass into Peter’s hand. “I’m so pleased to have this opportunity to sit with you. I’ve brought you some mead, created in my home, Asgard. I’d be so happy if you would try it and enjoy it and let me get to know you.”

Peter was stunned, clutching the stem of the glass in shock as the god—he was so big, holy shit—removed his borrowed laptop from his knees and set it on the coffee table, his head turned to look Peter directly in the eyes. His smile was bright, beaming, imploring. “Please, drink.”

Mr. Stark had told him not to. But how do you refuse a god? And how do you refuse a man as beautiful as Thor? He raised the glass to his lips and inhaled. It smelled like chrysanthemums and cool breezes and the way bees sound. He took a sip. Honey. “Wow,” he whispered.

“We have many beautiful things in Asgard,” Thor was saying, voice still overloud, his hand coming to rest on Peter’s thigh. “Shall I tell you about them?”

...

When Tony found them, Peter was destroyed, hammered, giggling and unfocused, words slurring, sitting in Thor Odinson’s fucking lap. He froze in the doorway, Thor’s hearty laugh echoing between his ears, and he vaguely felt Steve’s hand close around his elbow in warning, the other Avengers tensing as well as the kid threw his head back in laughter at whatever story of glory, war, and gods Thor had deigned to tell him.

Before he could react, though, Peter’s eyes lighted on him. “Mr. Stark!” he called, heaving himself to his feet. Thor’s hands went out to prevent him falling as he swayed, but they were unneeded. “Mr. Stark, have you seen this? Mr. Thor said it was made by a, by a, a dwarf, a real one, u-using a star to make it, a real dwarf—”

Peter was going for Mjolnir. The whole room lurched towards him to stop him hurting himself on the immovable object sitting on the coffee table; Thor was on his feet, hands outreached, but he stumbled backward and fell onto the couch as Peter scooped the hammer up into his arms like it was nothing more than a heavy box, stumbling over to Tony to show him.

“Isn’t it cool, Mr. Stark?” he asked when he reached the older man, gazing down blearily at it. “Look at the little Celtic knots.”

“R-really cool, kid,” Tony squeaked, choking on the words. “Real cool, uh, why don’t you give it back to Thor?”

...

Within ten minutes, Peter was passed out face-down on the couch, his thin wrist threaded through the leather strap of Mjolnir, oblivious to the Avengers having a conference around him as he snored lightly into the couch.

“Why the hell did you get him drunk?” Tony demanded as soon as they all sat down, everyone looking around at each other uncertainly. More than one person fixed Thor with accusing looks.

“To charm him,” Thor said, unabashed by his actions but still staring wide-eyes at the unassuming form on the couch. “I found him quite alluring and wished to share my culture with him. You said he has no powers?” The subject change was abrupt; Thor clearly did not care as much about his questionable seduction methods as his hammer.

“Nope, no powers. You got a completely normal human kid obliterated on half a glass of your date-rape juice,” Tony snarled, vaguely irritated to see that Barnes looked almost as pissed as he felt.

Thor’s eyes snapped to Tony’s, clearly confused. “I’m not sure what you mean by ‘date-rape juice,’ friend Tony, but I assure you I had only pure intentions with young Peter. I would not initiate sexual activity with one so drunk. I was going to wait until tomorrow. You’re certain he has no powers?”

Tony ran his hands through his hair, speechless.

Steve took up the mantle. “He could have gotten hurt, Thor,” he scolded. “That’s not appropriate at all. Peter isn’t old enough to drink here in America.”

Thor looked frustrated. “That’s the nation we are in currently, yes?”

“Yes, Thor. And while Tony and Peter are not yet officially dating, Tony is very sweet on Peter and he probably would like you to keep your hands to yourself.”

Thor looked between Tony and Steve, understanding dawning. “I see. Truly, Tony, if you can woo such a magnificent young man, I applaud you.” There was an awkward pause. “You’re certain he has no powers?”

...

A while later, Thor took his leave, apologizing liberally to Tony about attempting to woo his belovèd.

He’d forgive Thor. But it was definitely a relief to have him gone, along with the hammer he had to slip out from between Peter’s fingers. No one really knew what to say about sweet little Peter being worthy to heft Mjolnir—Thor had explained quietly that he likely couldn’t summon lightening with it, but it was a relief all the same to see it removed from his reach. Other Avengers were still milling about, pretending not to be talking about the boy drooling onto the fine white leather of Tony’s couch.

When Barnes went to move him, Tony protested, saying he could do it. But he’d already stirred the kid, and Peter was grabbing Barnes’ sleeve and looking blearily into his eyes. “Bucky,” he mumbled. “Buck, did I... did I pass out?”

Barnes nodded, clearly aware of the eyes on them as Peter continued, eyes sliding shut. “Damn. Does... does Mr. Stark know I got drunk with Thor? He’ll be—he’ll be super mad, Buck.”

Tony made eye contact with the long-haired man. He shrugged and shook his head no. He’d save the kid the awkwardness—and maybe the knowledge that he can lift Thor’s hammer. “No, Pete,” Barnes reassured him. “Close your eyes, I’ll help you to bed.”

Peter looked so small and sweet curled up against Bucky’s chest—the same way he had perched on Thor’s mighty knee. It made Tony’s chest ache.

“Bucky?” Peter mumbled into Barnes’ chest as they walked away, barely audible to the other people in the room. “Isn’t Mr. Stark cute?” Barnes tossed an amused look over his shoulder at Steve before they disappeared into the hall.

Nat whistled low. “You’re a damn drama magnet, Tony,” she commented dryly. Clint snorted.

Chapter Text

PETER: DID I GET DRUNK WITH THOR LAST NIGHT?

BUCKY: YES. L.O.L.

PETER: IS MR. STARK MAD?

BUCKY: NOT SURE IF HE KNOWS. HOW IS YOUR HEAD?

PETER: FINE. NO HANG OVER. I THINK HE SAID THE MEAD WAS ENCHANTED NOT TO CAUSE THEM.

BUCKY: PROBABLY THE ONLY REASON YOU ARENT DEAD. :-P

Peter rolled his eyes at Bucky’s use of emojis and pocketed his phone, rubbing his tongue over his teeth as he rolled over in bed. They were a bit fuzzy, and his breath smelled like rotting honey, which he was pretty sure wasn’t even possible. It was a Saturday; Peter usually spent those training with some of the Avengers or out on the town with Mr. Stark, but he was pretty sure he could remember sitting in Thor, God of Thunder’s lap the night previous and didn’t want to stick around to see if Mr. Thor remembered it, too.

He was kind of over the whole God of Thunder thing a bit. Mr. Thor was just a big stupid jock, sweet and genuine and beautiful. Just a guy who happened to have powers. Like Bucky, or the Cap, or Dr. Banner. And while Peter certainly had flirted back a bit with him last night, he didn’t want to continue that interaction with him sober and in the daylight.

It was just a confidence booster, he told himself as he showered and brushed his teeth. He winked at himself in the foggy mirror—a massive confidence booster.

He still wanted to get out of the Tower, though. The problem was that Peter didn’t have a lot of business outside the Tower these days other than his research now that he could no longer attend school, and Mr. Stark had expressly forbidden him from working at the lab on weekends. He hadn’t been out alone in... a while. There was really only one thing he needed to take care of, come to think of it. The thought of it deflated him a little, but Peter shook it off, quickly emptying the backpack he’d gotten for Christmas and shouldering it on the way out of his bedroom.

It was a little early, but after coffee-time for most Avengers, so Peter was a little startled to find Mr. Stark in the living space, typing away at his laptop with a little frown on his handsome face. “Hey, Pete,” he greeted, glancing up, then did a bit of a double take. “You, uh, going somewhere?”

Peter suddenly felt like he’d been caught sneaking out. He shifted his weight from one foot to another. “Uh, yeah. If that’s alright. Sir.”

Mr. Stark’s face looked a little ashen at that. “Of course,” he replied stiffly. “Want me to ride down with you?”

...

Of course Tony knew that taking Peter out of school was controlling. Of course he knew it was controlling to make him wear the bracelet. Of course he saw how he was blocking off all the exits, waiting for Peter to realize how trapped he was. But he didn’t realize how bad it was until he was standing in the elevator with the kid, panic clawing at his throat as they drew closer and closer to the moment that Tony would have to let him walk out of the Tower alone.

...

The elevator ride was suspiciously slow—as crazy as Pete felt for even thinking it, he wondered if Mr. Stark was able to control its speed. Especially as the older man leaned against the wall opposite of him, faux-casual, arms crossed, body posed in such a way that positively invited Peter to look, at the muscular legs, the way his biceps and shoulders pulled at the sleeves of his hoodie, the cut of his jaw and the set of his hip, all cocky, arrogant, beautiful. After a moment of silence, Peter realized he’d been staring, and almost apologized before he realized Mr. Stark was staring right back.

Once he noticed it, he could feel Mr. Stark’s gaze like a warm weight. The older man slowly scanned up and down Peter’s body, moving from tennis shoes up to Peter’s waist, the places his shirt was pulled taught by his backpack straps, the bracelet on his left wrist, his hair and face and lips, where they stayed. Experimentally, Peter bit his lip and fixed his eyes on Mr. Stark’s, watching with pleasure as they darkened and the other man straightened up his posture.

He didn’t expect Mr. Stark to approach him. He leaned into Peter’s space, his hands finding the railing on either side of Peter, their eyes still locked as he struggled to process Mr. Stark’s proximity, the smell of him, his radiant warmth, and Peter’s own need to kiss the arc reactor.

Tony’s voice was far too close and deep. “Where are you going?”

“J-just thought I’d run an errand.”

Mr. Stark leaned in. Peter gasped, shifting, his head tilting back to maintain eye contact. The man’s voice was low. “Alone?”

Peter’s heart was thrumming, pace unforgiving. He couldn’t breathe. “Y-yes. Wanted to, wanted to leave everyone alone to, to spend time, to spend time with Mr. Thor.” When Mr. Stark only stared at him, gaze unreadable, Peter stumbled on, voice quieter with each word. “I don’t wanna... be... in the way...”

“In the way,” the man repeated. Peter nodded, and when Mr. Stark shifted, his hand rose and fisted in the man’s hoodie, independent of his own free will. To both Peter’s relief and dismay, this seemed to shake Mr. Stark out of whatever darkness had taken him over, because he shook his head and stepped back. When he spoke, his voice has returned mostly to normal. “You’re not ever in the way, Pete,” he assured him in stead. “You live in the tower. You’re always welcome, kid. ... But just so you know, Thor left this morning to see to some business he had on Earth. He probably won’t be back for a few months.”

“Oh,” Peter whispered, as at last the elevator slowed to a stop and the doors pinged open into the lobby of Stark Tower, where people were bustling back and forth, oblivious to them. Casually, Mr. Stark stepped towards him, taking Peter’s arm and walking him towards the big glass doors.

In Mr. Stark’s grip, looking out at the windows at the cold Manhattan streets beyond, Peter’s stomach dropped. In his mind’s eye, he saw the crowd at his school, the rock sailing through the air at him. He imagined reporters and cameras and Mr. Stark’s voice floated through the anxiety, quietly asking, “You be safe, okay, Peter? I’ll be waiting for you here at the Tower.”

The older man opened the door for him but Peter couldn’t move. “Come with me,” he breathed impulsively. “Please, T-tony?”

They both paused, evaluating one another. “Sure,” Mr. Stark murmured back, taking his hand. “Anything for you.”

“C-can we, can we walk there?”

“... Yeah. Let’s go.”

...

“A library?”

“Yeah.” Peter looked up at Tony through his long, pretty eyelashes, nervously brushing his glasses farther up his nose with the back of his hand. “My old school library.”

Tony swallowed, looking up at the brick building. He slowly put up his hood and slipped sunglasses on his face. “Where you lived in the ceiling?” he asked slowly.

Peter nodded, wordless, and shoved the door open. It was still early—the library inside was mostly empty. He watched Peter’s eyes scan the room before lighting on a librarian, tense shoulders sagging in relief. “Michelle,” he called, voice barely above speaking level. The girl behind the desk looked up, pushing wisps of tight curls out of her face as she did so, eyebrows raising when her dark eyes found Peter’s.

“You’re alive,” she greeted when they approached. Her eyes darted to Tony, clearly recognizing him but not reacting or addressing him. “Heard you’ve been busy.”

Peter grinned lop-sidedly at her. “You could say that. Listen, you know how you used to joke about me living in the ceiling here?”

The girl blinked owlishly at them. “I wasn’t joking,” she responded.

Peter blushed, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. “Good, me neither,” he said, apologetic. “Can I grab my things from out of the ceiling above the men’s room?”

Michelle shrugged, then passed him the keychain from her belt loop. “Go ahead. Lock the door so no one sees you rummaging in the ceiling and gets ideas. And bring back my keys, or I’ll get fired.”

Within a minute or two, Tony was watching Peter climb from sink to the top of one of the bathroom stalls and then push up into the ceiling. He watched him disappear into the darkness above, the knowledge that Peter had lived there bone-deep and sharp and painful. Failure, a voice in his head sneered. You can’t protect him or anyone else, either. Tony swallowed painfully.

“Mr. Stark?”

“Yeah, kid?”

“Can I hand things down to you?”

“Sure.”

Tony’s eyes and throat began to burn as he was handed the sum of Peter’s life before him. First, dirty, torn clothing and old textbooks. A battered copy of the third Harry Potter novel. A photo album, bound in faux red leather. A quilt. A study Bible. A small jewelry box, rattling when jostled. An urn.

Tony stared down at the simple little urn for a moment, unable to process it. Peter’s head appeared in the hole made by moving the ceiling tile, looking drawn and guilty. “Could only afford one,” he said, looking at the object in Tony’s hands. “They’re in separate bags in there, but I could only afford one urn. I like to think they would want to be so close.”

“We could have come sooner,” Tony whispered.

Peter shook his head. “I didn’t because I wasn’t sure if staying at the Tower would work out. No one has ever looked up here in the year I lived here, so I thought they’d be safer here.”

Safer in the ceiling of a public university library than with Tony.

A few more books were passed down. The Road by John McCarthy and Flowers in the Attic by V. C. Andrews. By the battered covers and the loving way Peter passed them down, Tony guessed that he was holding Aunt May and Uncle Ben’s favorite books.

When Peter clambered down, red-faced, Tony caught him by the wrist and pulled him in tightly, wrapping his arms around the kid’s thin shoulders, pushing the kid’s head into his chest, heedless of the eyeglasses that he knocked halfway off Peter’s face. They stood swaying for a moment, Tony’s nose pressed into Peter’s hair. “It’s okay, Mr. Stark,” Peter mumbled, muffled, into Tony’s hoodie, his hands smoothing up and down his back. Tony only held him tighter.

Chapter Text

Peter

Good evening, Mr. Stark. ... Yeah. They’re in my room now. I set them up so they could see the fish tank.

... I do, Mr. Stark, thank you, I love it. Best birthday present ever.

... You want to hear about my aunt and uncle? They were lovely people, Mr. Stark, you’d have liked them. Do you want to see pictures? ... okay, but you can’t make fun of my baby photos. ... You promise?

... Here’s one of Aunt May, Uncle Ben, and I right after they took me in... I was six. ... Some kind of accident, like a car crash. They were never very detailed telling me about it. ... Oh, that? Middle school prom. Don’t I look like a dork?

... Good eye, Mr. Stark, that is Harry Osborn. We were school friends. Oh, and there’s Flash, the guy from the news who called me a gold digger. Anyway, there’s Aunt May and Uncle Ben on their wedding day. Isn’t she beautiful? ... I’m not sure why they never had kids. Maybe I was too much of a handful on my own. ... Yeah. They loved me very much.

... No, they didn’t leave me anything. We rented our apartment and all of their savings were tied up in trying to open a homeless shelter called F.E.A.S.T. Without Aunt May directing everything, the plans just fell apart. The money was already gone... and I didn’t want to sell the jewelry. ... Yeah, a shelter. They were very giving people. They gave me so much... I wish they could see where I am now. ... Thanks, Mr. Stark. I like to think so.

...

Bruce

Evenings like these, increasingly common since Peter moved in, were Bruce’s favorite. Peter seemed to bring with him this delicate air of domesticity and love. People wanted to be near him, even Bruce, who didn’t much like people, so more and more they seemed to congregate wherever Peter settled down in the evenings. Even with his mind buried mostly in the paper he was reviewing for the American Journal of Mutant Genetics, Bruce appreciated the feeling of family that cradled the room, created purely by Peter’s decision to lay on the floor in the living space and everyone else’s desire to be nearby.

Looking up from his line-editing, Bruce basked in the feeling evoked by the sight of Sam quietly explaining who people are and the historical context of his latest American film lesson for Steve and Bucky—Shawshank Redemption this week. Natasha was practicing her sign with Clint—Bruce thought they were also talking about the movie, but his ASL was far from solid. Tony, buried in emails about the company, making faces at the computer as he typed. Rhodes sitting in a kitchen chair pulled from the other room so he could watch over his shouldet as Peter worked on what Bruce thought must be some sort of American government paper, judging by how often the man was having to reproach Peter for paying more attention to the movie than his essay. History was the only thing Peter couldn’t seem to focus on.

The kid was on his stomach, socked feet rubbing together in the air, chewing on his pencil. Terribly normal. Bruce was almost jealous. But the contentment staved off the envy, and Bruce shut his eyes, picturing them all around a warm fireplace, Peter as some sort of golden retriever. A happy little family.

Tony rubbed his eyes and groaned, catching Bruce’s attention. His old friend stretched, back bowing and fists above his head—and unfortunately, this motion caught Peter’s eye as well, his grey eyes fixing somewhere on the man’s torso. Bruce winced. Things between the pair had been... tense, to say the least, ever since Thor’s visit two weeks prior. Oblivious to Peter, Tony caught Bruce’s eye and winked; then his wrist flicked and something bounced off of Bruce’s forehead, making him flinch.

Tony chuckled—so did a few other people, including Clint, who earned a scowl from Bruce as a reproach. The tablet stylus Tony had thrown rolled off of Bruce’s lap to the thick, plush rug soundlessly.

“What if I just,” Bruce held his hands out in demonstrative gesture, “Hulked out because of that?”

Tony rolled his eyes. “I have a protocol for any and all hulking eventualities,” he replied snottily. “Don’t you worry, big guy. Toss that back, will you?”

Bruce snorted, returning to his work. “If you throw it, you pick it up. You aren’t a child.”

Tony parted his lips to argue, but Bruce watched as Peter stole every ounce of the man’s attention as he pushed eagerly to his hands and knees, calling, “I’ll get it, Mr. Stark, don’t worry,” as he crawled over to Bruce’s chair.

Bruce politely shifted his legs as Peter pushed his face towards the floor, looking under the armchair and reaching an arm underneath. He cocked an eyebrow at Tony, whose cheeks had tinged pink and whose mouth was slack, staring unabashedly at the show Peter had unwittingly put on for him, but the man didn’t notice, too wrapped up in the kid scrambling towards him on hands and knees, stylus clutched in his hand. When he reached Tony’s feet, he rose to his knees and offered it to him, grinning, pleased with himself.

Tony accepted it, looking a little stunned, eyes fixed on the kid’s face. To Bruce’s unsurprised horror, he pushed his fingers briefly through Peter’s hair and murmured, voice oddly deep and sort of dark, “Thanks, kid.”

Peter, starved for attention as they all knew, shuttered his eyes and shivered a little at the contact and praise, cheeks coloring fetchingly. Bruce was frozen, feeling rather like he was trying to go unnoticed by a T-Rex by staying as still as possible. Sam had no such fear of awkward social interaction, merely clearing his throat pointedly. Bruce watched Peter’s eyes snap open as he reeled backwards, obviously horrified at himself, and scrambled to his feet, mumbling something like be right back as he went.

Bruce hated cringe humor. He felt like his stomach was trying to implode with secondhand awkwardness as he watched Tony’s dark gaze trace Peter’s footsteps out of the room, so fixed on the kid’s movement that he twisted his body a little to watch him go.

“Well!” Clint interrupted the silence as soon as Peter was out of earshot, clapping his hands to his knees. “That was fucking awkward.”

...

Steve

Steve was having a weird day, even for a superbeing who had spent decades frozen in ice only to conveniently wake up the same biological age as his former lover/best friend. It began in the early afternoon, when he sat down to read the paper near Bucky and Peter playing chess. Tony was away for a board meeting and, fortuitously in the same city, a retcon mission on a potential bioagent base owned by a shady company called Fisk. He and Bucky tended to keep Peter company when a mission or the company kept Tony away for longer periods of time; this morning, the last of three that Tony would be gone, should have been the same.

It took a while for him to realize that the pair, normally deep in discussion as they played by now, were silent. “Why so quiet over there, Buck? Pete?” Steve asked, concern in his tone, over the top of his newspaper.

“Peter is losing a bet,” Bucky replied instantly.

The kid’s head shot up. “That’s what you think,” he hissed indignantly, clearly agitated.

Well, okay.

He tried not to think too hard about what the bet might have been when, twenty minutes later, Bucky sat back with a self-satisfied grin directed at Peter, slowing crumbling into himself as he realized he was in checkmate. “Have fun,” he called out to their backs as Bucky hauled Peter up and dragged him pouting down the hallway.

I will,” Bucky called back.

...

Hours later, Steve had almost forgotten about the encounter, thoroughly distracted by his afternoon spent training with Clint and Sam. He was in a good mood and wanted to share it with Bucky; as he approached their bedroom, however, he paused, realizing he could hear voices coming from it. Approaching cautiously, he peaked his head around the door only to find Bucky and Peter still together, both wearing only boxers, sat cross-legged on the bed with their heads bent together in what looked like a very serious conversation.

“Buck?” Steve called out blankly, not sure what exactly he was looking at.

His friend’s eyes met his. They were sparkling with humor in an otherwise blank face and his tone was completely flat as he answered loudly, “Girl talk. Get out.”

Obediently, Steve stepped back and shut the door softly, staring bemusedly at the doorknob as the conversation picked back up, unintelligible through the wood. Odd.

...

Steve was certain by the evening that whatever was going on was going to be big and dramatic; he was equally certain he was prepared for it. He was only half right.

That evening, he found himself discussing strategy and politics with Nat, Clint, Bruce, and Sam. It was a really great conversation; so much so that when Tony walked by, looking absolutely exhausted and a little bruised, he was disappointed that his old friend didn’t seem up to joining them. Forty minutes later, though, the conversation screeched to a halt when (almost) all of them distinctly heard a door open and Peter scream in panic, “Bucky, wait, like this? No, you can’t be-! Put me down!

They all tensed up, turning their heads towards the door, even Clint immediately catching on that something was very wrong. Steve was halfway to his feet, ready to deal with whatever was happening, when Bucky appeared in the doorway, effortlessly holding Peter out in front of him to avoid the underpowered kicks and punches the frantic boy was throwing his way. Steve sank back into his seat, exactly as blown away as everyone else by what they were seeing.

Peter was wearing—well, shorts was a little too kind; they were closer to lace panties. Black and skimpy, highlighting exactly how much of his smooth, healthy-looking skin was on display as Bucky resolutely marched into the room. When the poor kid saw them, he went completely still, face red and shameful, and urgently begged Bucky, “Please please please for the love of god put me down put me down put me down—”

Bucky didn’t acknowledge the kid—or their audience—as the odd pair moved quickly through the living room and into the other hallway, the one where—oh, no.

With a glare from Nat that said control your boytoy as clearly as if she had shouted it, Steve sprang to his feet and hurried after them, just in time for him to see Bucky pull Tony’s door open—he could hear a thump within the room as Tony no doubt panicked at the intrusion—and shove Peter, nearly naked, into the room before he shut it and pressed his back against it in one fluid motion.

Their eyes met. Steve struggled for words as the doorknob jiggled and a fist pounded at the door. “Bucky, why did you—”

“Come on, we were all tired of the pining.”

“This isn’t appropriate, Buck, let him out!”

Bucky paused and they both heard the doorknob being released, then silence. The man cocked an eyebrow at Steve. “Doesn’t sound like he wants out anymore.”

“Should I be—should I be concerned that you locked yourself into a room with another man for hours and came out with him in lingerie?” Steve finally demanded, overwhelmed.

Bucky shook his head immediately, bafflement crossing his face. “Of course not, why would you be?”

Helplessly, Steve pinched the bridge of his nose and, holding back some of his irritation, murmured, “Please don’t make me ask you to explain yourself.”

Bucky’s grin turned suddenly wicked. “Damn, I was going to make you beg. Kidding, kidding! I’ll explain, c’mon, old man.”

Chapter Text

“Let’s decide it with a wager.”

Peter eyed Bucky suspiciously, frowning. “What kind of wager? Also, the kids these days usually just say a ‘bet.’”

Bucky rolled his eyes, setting the elbow that held his coffee mug on the counter as he leaned across to Peter. “A bet, then. I’ll help you like you asked me to either way. But if I win, we do it my way, and if you win, we’ll do it your way. Deal?”

The man stuck out his original hand to Peter, who glowered at it. “Hold up, first, what exactly is the bet?”

Bucky blinked, having obviously not decided this yet. He glanced around the room, eyes lighting on the chess board. “Chess,” he suggested lightly.

Peter huffed. “You suck at chess.”

The other man laughed. “Sure. Best two out of three?”

...

Bucky beat Peter soundly in the first game, leaving Peter gaping like a fish, confused and upset. “Have you been, like, hustling me?”

The man’s expression was faux-innocent and baffled. “Why, no, Peter, whatever would give you that idea?” When Peter began to protest, Bucky waved him down. “The reason I usually lose is because I decide before the game begins what piece I want to win with. As a challenge. I can almost never do it.”

Peter flipped him off as he set up the next round, nerves nearly choking him.

...

Peter’s focus was so intense that he didn’t even notice the Cap was in the room until he spoke. “Why so quiet over there, Buck? Pete?”

His head snapped up at Bucky’s flippant response that, “Peter is losing a bet,” bristling indignantly despite the fact that he knew he was losing.

“That’s what you think,” Peter tried to smirk and psych the other man out, but he didn’t think it landed based on Bucky’s amusement. He moved his knight, resting his forefinger on its sparkling black marble head as he considered the board, trying to see any way out. Bucky yawned, looking at him out of the corner of his eye with cheeky arrogance.

A while later, Bucky shifted his queen into check—no. No, checkmate. There was no where for his king to move. He puffed out his cheeks, surveying the pieces, a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. “Huh,” he concluded quietly. “That’s checkmate, isn’t it?”

Bucky nodded, grin uncharacteristically wide. He jerked his head in beckon as he stood, waving to the Captain as he did so. “Have fun!” the man called from the couch as Bucky caught Peter by the wrist to pull him away.

The man winked roguishly at him before calling back over his shoulder emphatically, “I will.”

“Asshole,” Peter hissed back, tugging uselessly as though his mere mortal muscles could break the Winter Soldier’s grip. Bucky rose his eyebrows at him and swung their hands together sarcastically, skipping once to underline the gesture. Peter gaped, looking over his shoulder to see if the Cap had caught that, but the man was buried in his newspaper.

To Peter’s surprise, they were heading towards the room Bucky shared with the Captain. He planted his feet, shot through with nerves at the idea of going into Captain America’s bedroom, but Bucky was utterly unphased, nearly yanking him off his feet as he walked through the doorway.

Released, Peter blinked around at the room, confused enough that he turned and looked through the door to make sure they were still in Stark Tower. The room looked like nothing so much as a turn of the century library, all wood and leather with an imposing bookshelf taking up much of one wall, old-fashioned lamps and a hardwood desk completing the feeling that they’d stepped back in time. There was even a fireplace, merrily cracking and snapping as it cast shifting light over a muted red rug and a pair of leather and wood reading chairs. Peter was positive it was technological as the tower had no chimneys, but it was very convincing.

Bucky paused at the look on Peter’s face, glancing around as though seeing the room for the first time. “It was really kind of him.” The man’s voice was soft, reverent.

Peter fixed his eyes on the side of the older man’s handsome, serious face. “Mr. Stark did this?” he pressed, curious.

“Yeah,” Bucky hummed in thought. “It’s... my favorite place to be. He wanted to do something similar for you, but he was worried it would make you uncomfortable if he pushed it on you.”

“He was right.” Peter cast his eyes around nervously, voice dropping to a whisper. “So, what’s the plan?”

Bucky shook his head, crowding into Peter and guiding him to sit in one of the reading chairs before he settled into his own. “First, we talk. Do you like Stark?” he asked bluntly.

“Yes, of course.”

“As a friend?”

“I... I like to think he’s my friend.”

Bucky eyed him consideringly, his metal hand scratching at his facial hair, loud in the quiet of the peaceful room. “Why wouldn’t he be? Don’t you spend time with him, laugh with him, tell each other stories, keep each other company?”

“Yeah, but I’m just—”

The other man interrupted him, leaning forward. “Just what? Just a homeless kid from Queens?” When Peter nodded, shame-faced, Bucky tsked, fixing his eyes carelessly on his fingers as he numbered off his list. “Just a kid, or are you an attractive, intelligent, funny, generous, sweet young man?”

Pressing his lips together, Peter shook his head, ready to argue, but Bucky cut him off again. “Do you like him romantically?”

Thinking of the squeeze around his heart he’d felt every time he’d laid eyes on the man since the moment he had leaned back into his chest at Niagara, Peter nodded minutely, picking at his nails to avoid looking at Bucky as he outlined the obvious.

“Are you sexually attracted to him?”

“Y-yes.”

“Do you want to have sex with him?”

Something twisted in Peter’s stomach and a sharp pain in his knuckles made him clench his fists. “Yes. Um, eventually.”

They regarded each other for a moment, Peter all-too-aware of his blush. “Eventually,” Bucky repeated, considering him. “But not yet.” Peter shook his head. “Why not?”

Peter looked at his lap. “I have some issues to work through first,” he ground out, addressing his knees. Bucky made a prompting noise but said nothing, forcing Peter to stew in the following silence until he worked up the courage on his own to continue speaking, picking at lint on his jeans at he did. “Like... like, uh, I don’t really like how I look. Naked. I think my... I think my chest looks weird. I’m too skinny.”

“What else?”

Inhale. Exhale. “I’m afraid it will hurt.” Breathe. “I’m afraid that he won’t stop if I say no.” Deep breaths. Just keep talking until it’s all said. “I’m afraid I will freeze up and not be able to say no.”

“Let’s start there.”

Peter’s body tensed like a drawn bow as the other man’s hand fell on his upper thigh. Like he was watching from the window, he saw the man’s thumb rub circles on the outside of his thigh while his fingers dug in just slightly at the sensitive inner area. “Tell me no.” The hand was moving at a glacial pace up his thigh. Peter was dizzy. “Tell me no, Peter.” Bucky’s fingers were digging in, pulling the leg closest to him away from his body so that his knees fell apart. He leaned in; he smelled clean, like the woods, and a little like mint. Peter realized it was his breath and shut his eyes, sucking in panicked lungfuls of air. “Tell me no.”

“Stop.”

Everything stopped. When Peter cracked his eyes open, gasping for air, eyes watery, Bucky was back in his chair as if nothing had happened. “You okay?” the man asked eventually, expression tinged with guilt but as resolute as always.

Peter rubbed at his eyes, sniffling as quietly as he could, nodding miserably. “Asshole.”

Bucky patted his knee, the contact distinctly platonic this time. “Ready to try again?”

...

By the third or fourth round, Peter was able to say no immediately when something crossed a line, even smile at Bucky as he did so. As the older man sat down from having leaned over Peter in a mock attempt at stealing a kiss, he realized he really did feel better about maintaining his boundaries, as unorthodox, rude, and pushy as Buck’s method had been.

“Do you trust me not to hurt you or do anything you don’t like?”

Peter met his eye, allowing himself to really internalize the fact that he was alone in a bedroom with an unreadable, previously unstable superhuman/war weapon. His voice was sure. “Yeah.”

Bucky nodded as though that settled everything. “Then you should trust Stark to do the same, shouldn’t you?”

That... made too much sense. It was too simple. Peter frowned. “You’re making me feel stupid.”

“That’s the idea. Take off your shirt.”

“Is this... is this another setting boundaries thing? Because I’d rather not.”

“This part of the training exercise is not optional.” There was a brief standoff. Bucky’s serious eyes scanned his face; then he nodded, reaching behind his head and grabbing a fistful of his own shirt, tugging it over his head. “We’ll do it together, then.”

Feeling dazed, Peter found himself obeying, thinking vaguely that his past self would never believe anyone who told him that one day he’d undress alongside the Winter Soldier. In a moment, he stood in his boxers, blushing, arms crossed self-consciously over his chest as an equally underdressed Bucky tugged him over to a mirror.

“What do you see?”

Peter met his eye in the mirror, then surveyed his own body, feeling nauseous. “A skinny kid.” Again, the pause that told him his answer wasn’t going to cut it. “I-I see a short, skinny, awkward kid. With overlong hair and an average face. Just... just a forgettable kid.”

“What do you think I see when I look at myself in the mirror?”

His eyes landed on Bucky’s shoulders, his chest. “A god,” he answered instantly. His eyes widened and he rushed to clarify. “You-you look like the marble statues of, like. Hercules.”

Bucky’s eyes were critical but unconcerned as he appeared to take in his own image next to Peter’s, weight shifted casually to one foot in an unintentionally perfect contraopposto. “I see scars, mostly. Scars and a metal arm.”

Stunned silence followed. The older man nudged Peter, the gesture friendly, forgiving him without words. “What do you think people see when they look at you?”

“I-I don’t know.”

“Do you think it might be different from what you see?”

“... y-yes.”

“Do you think that Stark could have his pick of lovers?”

That stung. “Yeah.”

“Do you think that he’d choose you because you’re skinny, awkward, and average?”

“... probably not.”

Bucky clapped his hands together with an air of finality. “You should assume that anyone who is willing to take your clothes off wants to see you naked. As a general rule. Me excepted, as this is a special circumstance.”

Peter snorted. “You sure know how to make a guy feel special.”

The man looked at Peter out of the corner of his eye, through his long dark hair and said simply, “You are special to me, Pete. Why else would I be here?”

Two hours later, they’d spoken in depth about sex, on a variety of topics ranging from technique to safety and emotion; abuse, love, fantasy, memory. Peter felt more at ease with the concept of it than he could ever remember feeling. He still blushed when the Captain interrupted them though, only noticing they were both half naked when the intruder scanned over both their bodies, baffled by the sight. Bucky—who had been mid-sentence talking about managing pain and keeping the mind focused during sex—had merely looked up at the man and joked, “Girl talk. Get out.” Then, when the door shut, he quipped with a little smirk, “You’d think he lives here with the way he barges in.”

Evening was closing in on them as Bucky wrapped up his explanation, voice growing a little rough. He flopped back on the bed with a sigh, leaving Peter free to consider the scars on his chest a little closer. Many were red and puckered, sort of itchy-looking. Others were flat white outlines or pink indents. Peter really didn’t think they detracted from the man, though. Which he supposed had been the point. “Alright, kid.” Bucky groaned to the ceiling. “I don’t think I’ve ever talked to someone for that long in my life. Go take a shower, get ready, do absolutely everything you need to in order to feel confident. I’m going to rest a moment.”

“Why do I need to get ready? What’s next?”

“Seducing Stark. Obviously.”

“Wait, today?”

Bucky cracked open one eye to regard him, heedless of the panic Peter knew was on his face. “You have other places to be?”

...

When Peter emerged from his bathroom, damp and clean and dressed in fresh clothes, he found Bucky sitting on his bed, photo album open on his lap. “Jarvis,” Peter scolded, addressing the ceiling. “I told you not to let people in without me knowing.”

Jarvis’s voice was not apologetic. “Mr. Barnes said it was important.”

Peter rolled his eyes. Bucky turned the album slightly, pointing at a photo of Peter, age 8, absolutely covered in shaving cream, being held at arms length by his laughing uncle. “It’s cute,” the man said, sounding as though he was worried Peter didn’t know.

“It’s private,” Peter responded, but without bite. He perched next to Bucky on the bed. “That’s my Uncle Ben. You know, he was a fan of you and the Captain.”

Bucky nodded slowly. “I’m honored,” he murmured, causing Peter’s heart to swell. He turned his head to hide how much that meant to him, sure it would be visible in his eyes if they made eye contact. “Oh. These are for you.”

Peter accepted the handful of black cloth without hesitation, unfolding it between his hands and pausing, his heart dropping into his stomach. “No.”

“I won the bet. An honorable man wouldn’t back down.”

Peter glowered at the man. “Bold of you to assume I have honor.”

Bucky changed tactics, giving Peter his best big, sad eyes. They weren’t very good. “Please? Just try them on.”

Peter wavered. “I still don’t think I want to jump straight into having sex with Mr. Stark.”

Bucky shook his head. “You don’t have to. I’m hedging my bets on him initiating a kiss. But. You’re getting ahead of yourself. Just try them on.”

Really, Peter should have known better.

Chapter Text

Peter banged his fist on the door, his other hand frantically twisting and pulling the doorknob, but to no avail—the door may as well have been a wall for all Peter was able to open it. Cold, embarrassed, overwhelmed, he rested his head against the cool wood, hand stilling on the knob. Bracing himself with a deep inhale that did nothing to calm his thudding heart, he turned, finding Mr. Stark sitting on the ground in a tangle of blankets and pillows, looking absolutely gobsmacked as his eyes outlined Peter’s body.

“I’m so sorry,” Peter moaned. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Stark, I-”

“Was that Barnes?” the man asked, eyes flicking over his shoulder to the door. “Why—?”

Peter interrupted him, finally releasing the knob to spread his hands out in a desperate plea for mercy. “Bucky was just trying to help, sir, I’m so sorry. The truth is—” His face was so hot. He could barely catch his breath as he pushed on in a rush. “The truth is that I like you, just, so much, and I wanted to be your boyfriend for real. More than anything. I told Bucky and he said I should try to seduce you—this was all his idea—I’m so sorry.” Mr. Stark was getting to his feet, expression complicated. Peter looked down at his toes rather than attempting to parse it. “I know that’s selfish of me, you’ve given me everything and I’m still asking for more. This was so stupid, I should never have—”

Peter’s words died in his throat as the man before him reached behind his own head and tugged off his form-fitting dark brown sweater in one fluid motion, revealing an expanse of hard muscle that he found he couldn’t look away from. He pressed back against the door, transfixed, feeling terror and arousal mix in his stomach, remembering belatedly that any arousal would be apparent in the ridiculous little shorts—

Mr. Stark held the cloth out to him, wordless. Peter blinked down at the offering, shoulders sagging in relief even as the crushing realization that his appearance hadn’t overwhelmed the object of his affection with lust broke over him. Eyes burning, he accepted the sweater and tugged it on gracelessly. It fell down to almost mid-thigh and the sleeves went past his hands. He picked at them as he stared at his bare feet, murmuring a shame-faced, “Thank you.” He’d never felt like such a stupid kid in his life.

Mr. Stark’s arm closed around his elbow and he dipped his head close to look level into Peter’s eyes. He stared at the man’s eyebrow, trying not to blink in fear that it would dislodge the embarrassed tears in his eyes, awaiting the I don’t see you that way, kid speech sure to follow. Peter’s eyes flicked down to the man’s lips of their own volition; mortified, he started to apologize again only to be cut off by the press of Mr. Stark’s mouth against his.

Soft and warm. Scratchy. Tasting like mouthwash. There was an arm curling around his waist, pulling him in, a hand sliding up his arm into his hair, tilting his head back. The man’s lips moved slowly, sweetly, in a rhythm Peter found came to him as naturally as breathing. His fingers were clenched in the short dark hair at the back of the man’s head, pulling him in closer, and he moaned into the kiss, blissful.

...

Reeling, Tony pulled back from the kiss, mourning the loss of contact between their lips the moment they parted. The kid’s eyes were shut, single tear-tracks on either side evidence of the turmoil he’d struggled to express in the moments before they had kissed. Like moving through water, Tony slid his hand from Peter’s hair to his cheek, wiping at the wetness with his thumb. The eyes fluttered open, and they were the exact color of where the sea meets the sky at dawn.

“Oh,” the kid said.

Tony smirked, trying desperately to hide his own swirling feelings of triumph, of want, of guilt. “Oh,” he repeated, teasing.

Peter was struggling for words, fingers clenching and unclenching in Tony’s hair, the sensation prickling up his spine with every repetition. His eyes were searching Tony’s, full of wonder, amazement. So sweet. So cute in Tony’s sweater, collarbones exposed, sweet and blushing. Tony decided after a long moment to cut him some slack. “I like you, too, Pete.”

“Oh.” The poor kid looked stunned. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

Peter looked at him, confused, visibly unsure what to say. To Tony’s surprise, he pressed up onto his toes and pushed his lips to Tony’s once more, the contact delicate and warm, fleeting as the kid settled back down into his heels. “Okay,” he echoed, smiling wetly and removing his hands from Tony’s hair to wipe at his eyes. “I-I’m glad.” Tony watched the kid glance down to his lips and back up. “Can we..?”

He didn’t really recognize the gruff voice he replied with. “Of course. Whatever you want.”

...

Peter was kissing Tony Stark.

He could barely process it, could barely think, drowning in the passion and the feeling of the man’s tongue against his, the scratch of his goatee, the feeling of weightlessness that accompanied the man gripping his thighs and pulling him up into his arms, the heat and hardness pressed against his body and between his legs. “Fuck, Peter,” the man whispered against his lips, the sound almost lost in the hammering of Peter’s heart, his gasping breaths. Peter clutched harder at the man’s shoulders and tightened his knees around his waist as he bent over, lowering Peter to the bed.

“Wait, Mr. Stark—” Peter panted, pushing back lightly at the man’s shoulders. Their eyes met; the older man’s lips were wet and pinked, his eyes warm and dark like hot chocolate.

Mr. Stark—Tony?—leaned in, pressing butterfly kisses along Peter’s cheek to his ear, making him shiver and arch into the broad, muscular chest caging him in. “Shhh. It’s okay. Whatever you want.” He kissed Peter again, chaste and sweet. “Just gotta tell me.”

Eyes sliding shut, Peter returned his hands to the man’s hair, pulling him in closer, pressing their bodies tightly together and rolling his hips up experimentally against Mr. Stark’s hard stomach. He hissed at the sensation, electric and satisfying, and—unwillingly seeing Bucky in his mind’s eye saying you have to communicate clearly and effectively at all times—pleaded in a voice no more than a ragged whisper, “Just touch me?”

Mr. Stark sat back onto his knees, prompting Peter to open his eyes again, worried he’d said something wrong, but the man didn’t look upset at all; his gaze burned into Peter’s, chest rising and falling rapidly, looking down at him as though he were something beautiful, priceless, something gossamer and glass. His calloused fingertips touched the burning strip of skin exposed between the ridiculous little shorts and the sweater, the sensation bordering on ticklish, making him squirm and gasp. The man pushed his hands up over his stomach, fingers brushing up his sides, bunching the sweater up under his arms.

He knew he was blushing, probably looked like an idiot, but Peter could only lay back and take things in, arms splayed over his head, clenched in the mess of blankets and sheets he was laid out on. Mr. Stark looked like a wet dream, masculine and muscular, beautiful, all combat scars and glowing arc reactor, all cocky smirk and iconic facial hair, looking at Peter as though he were something fine. He couldn’t take it; he turned his head to bury it in his arm as the man’s thumbs hooked onto the little shorts and pulled. They slid down a little. Peter whimpered as he felt himself exposed, pressing his knees together into the man between them. The man’s voice was deep, shattered, secretive and reverent. “You are so beautiful. Like a Chihuly.”

“A-a what?” Peter croaked, voice muffled in the sleeve of his borrowed sweater, unable to reconcile how hard he was with the knowledge that Tony fucking Stark was looking at him.

A fingertip touched the underside of the head of his cock; his whole body jolted at the contact and he made a horribly embarrassing sound. “I’ll explain later,” Mr. Stark promised roughly. “Can I touch you?”

Peter didn’t hesitate, though he also couldn’t make himself reveal his face. “P-please, Mr. Stark?”

The older man groaned, the sound pained, longing, lustful. “Fuck, kid,” he rasped, broken-sounding and hungry. His hand closed around the base of Peter’s throbbing cock, causing him to buck his hips and whine. Mr. Stark’s other hand traced over his ribs, his chest, the flat plane of his stomach as he began to stroke Peter, murmuring encouragement he had to strain to hear under the sounds he couldn’t control himself from making.

The man flicked his thumb over the head on an upstroke and Peter threw his head back, gasping and pushing his hips into the contact, eyes squeezed shut as he forced himself to focus only on the sensations. “Good,” the man praised him darkly, repeating the motion. “Good boy.”

Peter’s stomach and thighs clenched, his balls drawing up as his pleasure turned to pain for a fraction of a second, urgent and immediate, before radiating out in waves of warmth and twitchy pleasure. In the moment after orgasm, body weak and sensitive, he realized he’d just cum over Mr. Stark’s hand and his eyes flew open, horrified, lips parting to apologize. His brain went offline when he saw Mr. Stark still kneeling between his legs, one hand resting on Peter’s raised knee, shamelessly examining the cum coating the back of his other hand.

Mortified, Peter twisted, turning his head and reaching out when he found a box of tissues encased in black metal on the bedside table. He snatched up several, then pushed himself into a sitting position in front of Mr. Stark and grabbed his wrist, refusing to look at his face as he wiped away the mess he’d made. “I’m sorry,” he murmured as he turned the man’s hand to clean his palm.

The other man barked in surprised laughter, startling Peter into finally meeting his eye. He was relieved to find warmth, affection, and amusement there instead of irritation. “Did you think I didn’t know what was going to happen if I did that?” the man chuckled, reaching out to brush the hair out of Peter’s face.

Peter flushed, stammering, “O-of course you d-did. I just...”

Mr. Stark leaned in and pressed his lips to Peter’s forehead. “I loved that,” he assured him. “I really loved that. You were perfect. I’m... glad that Barnes decided to force our hands. I was tired of pining.”

Peter raised his eyesbrows at him, unable to hide his delight. “Pining?”

The man rolled his eyes and lightly cuffed Peter over the ear. His eyes found Peter’s again and softened the way they did every time their eyes met. He leaned in, his warm palm cupping Peter’s cheek, and asked gently, “Will you stay here with me tonight? I think I’d sleep better.” When Peter paused, amazed by the request, he cleared his throat and removed his hand before continuing in a voice closer to his usual casual arrogance, “You don’t have to, of course. Not a problem. I told you, it’s whatever you want.”

“N-no!” Peter protested, making the man flinch. Cringing at his own inability to communicate like a normal human being, he grabbed Mr. Stark’s hand off of his lap and held it. “I mean, I’d like to stay. If. If that’s okay with you?”

Obviously delighted, though trying not to show it, Mr. Stark smirked and rolled his eyes. “I wouldn’t have asked if it wasn’t okay with me, kid.”

Peter’s returning grin flickered as his gaze fell to the man’s lap. He swallowed. “Should I—?”

Mr. Stark shook his head immediately. “No, kid. Too soon, I think. Don’t look at me like that. I promise you, I’m a grown ass man and I can handle waiting. Especially for—for you.”

Taking a deep breath, Peter laced their fingers together. “Okay,” he murmured, trying to ground himself. “Okay, Mr. Stark.”

He shut his eyes as the other man leaned in and pressed a kiss to his forehead, whispering conspiratorially against it, “Really, kid, if we are going to do this, you gotta call me Tony.”

Chapter Text

Tony was watching the kid out of the corner of his eye as he stood near the other side of the bed, only his fingertips on the sheets, a mixed expression of terror and desperation slathered over his sweetly blushing face. Giving Peter a moment to collect himself, Tony turned and padded towards his dresser, retrieving another pullover to wear to bed—fully dressed seemed oddly appropriate, though the part of his mind that remembered what it felt like to have social anxiety snarkily whispered that he was acting like a child having a sleepover instead of an adult inviting a lover to bed.

Ah. Social anxiety. Of course.

Without turning to look at him, Tony called as casually as possible back to the frozen-stiff young man near his bed, “Would this be easier for you if I gave you clear instructions and yes or no questions to answer?”

Peter exhaled heavily. “God, is that an option?”

“Is that a yes?”

Please,” the kid pleaded, relief and shyness bleeding together to make his speech only a breath. Tony nodded to himself, pulling the sweater on and wondering whether he should offer him real shorts. Selfishly, he decided against it. What more was there to lose?

Tony turned, eyeing Peter, who stared back, hands clasps together through the sleeves hanging off of them. He was so—so beautiful. So delicate in feature. So cute shifting his weight from one foot to the other nervously as his stormy eyes darted between Tony’s face and his chest. “Are you ready to get into bed?” A nod. “You’re still sure you want to sleep here?” Another. “Get in, then. I’ll get the light.”

Tony could turn off the light from the bed, of course. He only needed to ask Jarvis. But this way Peter could settle into the tangle of sheets and pillows in a moment of privacy and Tony—Tony could take a deep breath and push back the guilt and doubt and arousal eating at him for a while longer.

Unsure if the low lighting made it harder or easier to accept the reality of the boy finally in his bed instead of in his dreams, Tony drew back the sheets upon reaching the other side of the bed and climbed in. The sheets were cool, but he could sense warmth nearby in the darkness, hear the purposefully steady inhale-exhale of someone trying very hard not to be nervous. Tony settled down, sinking comfortably into the plush mattress and his favorite pillow, wondering fiercely what the boy was thinking as they both—as far as Tony could tell—stared at the dark ceiling in silence.

“Do you.” Tony cleared his throat. “Do you want to.”

Peter’s voice was a squeak. “Yes.”

Relieved, Tony felt his eyes fall shut and his shoulders relax. Heart swelling, he lifted the blankets up a little and murmured into the warm darkness, “Come here, then.”

Peter—bless him—obeyed instantly, eagerly, shuffling towards Tony and pausing just before they made contact. With mortification blooming in his tone, the kid asked urgently, “Y-you were going to say ‘cuddle,’ r-right, Mr. Stark?”

Tony grunted an affirmative, catching Peter’s shoulder with one hand and guiding him to rest his head on the man’s chest. The weight was deeply comforting—bizarrely, the man thought for a moment about the security vests he’d seen marketed for small dogs that were afraid of thunder storms. Shoving the thought away, he tilted his head to press a kiss to the citrusy-smelling curls under his chin and rested his hand on Peter’s delicate hip.

Peter was statue-like at first, but gradually, over minutes that Tony spent agonizing over whether he was comfortable, happy, warm enough, regretting his decision to do any of this, he began to shift into a more natural position. He moved so that his knee rested on Tony’s leg and placed his hand lightly on his chest, in front of his face. After a while, his fingers clenched just slightly in the fabric of Tony’s sweater and his head burrowed just a little further into his chest. All the while, Tony tried to be still and nonthreatening, like Peter was a housecat he might startle away if he moved, tracing a thumb on the kid’s hipbone through the sweater.

“Mr. Stark?” The voice was so quiet Tony had almost missed it. He squeezed the kid’s hip to show him he was listening, heart beating faster in anticipation of what he had to say after half an hour of holding each other in silence. Peter took his time getting ready to speak, twice inhaling like he was going to start without being able to. Finally, he murmured simply but with an aching sincerity that made Tony’s chest hurt, “Goodnight.”

Oh, Tony thought. I’m fucked.

“Goodnight,” he murmured back, quiet enough that he hoped Peter wouldn’t catch the roughness of his voice. “Sleep well, Peter.”

...

It wasn’t until Peter’s breath slowed enough that Tony was sure he was asleep that he allowed himself to think critically about the situation he’d allowed them to create.

He’s a kid. Well, not really. He’d be old enough to drink in less than a year. And he was more mature than a lot of twenty-somethings...

You sound like a creep. Don’t make excuses. But— Humbert.

He’s—He’s damaged. Traumatized. He can’t know he wants. When he moved in with you he was scared you’d demand sex from him. But now he trusted Tony. Was asleep in his arms. Had come apart under his hands. And what a sight that had been.

Tony shut his eyes against the remembered image, guilt and self-disgust mixing with the arousal that washed over him. So sweet and soft and sensitive. So shy. The way he’d cleaned Tony’s hand afterward, too, the action reverent and yet loving and intimate. Peter had a way of making Tony feel equally like he was a benevolent god and a tame pet. Like he saw Tony Stark, the icon, as clearly as he saw Tony Stark, the man, and he liked them both.

Peter made a little snuffling noise against Tony’s chest, shifting his legs before sighing and falling still again. A dream. Slowly, so slowly, Tony raised his free hand to the one rested in a loose fist on his chest, trailing his fingertips across the back of it. It was warm and soft. They’d held hands, of course, for the cameras. Tony thought of them often, the kid’s hands. He’d thought of the way they handle tools in the lab, the way they dance aimlessly over whatever he’s doing when he’s uncertain, the way they rub against his thighs when he’s nervous. He’d thought about the little scar on the back of his right thumb and how he might have gotten it. He’d thought about the little callous on the side of his finger where his pencil rests. Tony wasn’t sure why they fascinated him so; maybe because they looked so delicate. Maybe because his mother used to say you can take the measure of a man by looking at his hands. Maybe because his own were so calloused, scarred on the knuckles and the palms, his right ring finger still crooked from the second time he’d broken it. He didn’t know. Maybe it was just because it was more acceptable to stare at someone’s hands than their ass.

Gently, Tony pushed Peter’s bangs back, prompting the kid to make a muffled moaning sound and turn his head to hide more of his face in Tony’s shirt, his fist pulling the fabric so that it was mostly covered. Feeling guilty for having disturbed his bed partner, Tony tucked his hand back under the blanket, resting it on the bit of his stomach that had been uncovered when Peter pulled on his shirt. He wondered what time it was.

You jerked off a kid, his mind reminded him. A kid brought to your bedroom against his will.

He asked me to, Tony thought desperately. He asked me to. He enjoyed himself. Didn’t he?

He was pretty sure Peter hadn’t been faking or hiding anything. His face had looked so open. Overwhelmed, yes, but enjoying himself, pushing his hips up, clenching the sheets and crying out. God, what beautiful noises he’d made. You can’t fake that.

He was hard again. He’d been hard on and off for an hour or two at the least. Maybe if he handled that he’d be able to sleep? The thought of waking Peter to excuse himself to the bathroom was unacceptable, though—he knew the kid rarely slept the whole night through because Jarvis told him so.

Experimentally, he pushed his hand under his waistband, wrapping his hand around his hard cock. Could he do it without waking Peter?

He moved in slow, shallow strokes, careful not to jostle Peter’s head on his chest as he went. He held each breath and let them out slowly, controlled, so that a change in breathing wouldn’t disturb Peter. He thought about the kid asleep in his arms, his laugh, his body, his lips. The way he had looked spread out under Tony. It took a long time because of the secrecy and the slow pace, but eventually, he came, holding his breath as his heart hammered against his chest, imagined visions of Peter, fucked open and begging him for more, fading from his mind’s eye. When he exhaled, it was a little shaky, and he had a strong, restless desire to stretch his legs and his arms.

“That was hot,” Peter mumbled sleepily.

Tony jumped, swearing, so startled he nearly knocked the kid off of his chest. “Shit, kid, I didn’t mean to wake you.”

Peter shifted his body, pressing against Tony’s side. He could feel a hot bulge on his thigh. “S’okay,” he murmured, yawning. “Go to sleep, Mr. Stark. Everything is fine.”

It wasn’t. But he did sleep.

...

Peter woke up naturally a little after 6am, as he always did. He’d woken up several times throughout the night, each time astounded anew to find himself sleeping in the arms of his idol, his savior, his shining star. He was sorely tempted to cuddle back up to Mr. Stark, but he was gripped by one of the many realities he’d had to face that morning: he would need to do the walk of shame. Past a group of people that were A. more or less his only friends on the earth and B. the fucking Avengers.

Fuck.

A little stiff from opting to sleep with his head on the rock-hard chest of the Iron Man as opposed to one of the many stupidly-soft feather pillows, Peter pushed himself up into a sitting position, eyeing the man he’d slept on.

Mr. Stark appeared to still be sleeping peacefully, sheets and blankets pooled around his hips, one knee raised up with a pillow stuffed under it, one arm slung over his face to cover his eyes and the other resting palm-up in the space Peter had been occupying. He was unfairly handsome, cut and strong-jawed and with an air of roguish arrogance that should have seemed immature on a man his age but somehow worked. Terribly unfair.

Tempting. But with a full bladder and the knowledge that the Tower would begin stirring within the hour, he slid out of bed and headed for the door. Pausing at the doorway, he turned and looked at the bed again, wondering if he should... leave a note? Or something? And he was still only wearing the shorts and the sweater. Maybe he could borrow something? He cast a dubious look at the dresser, uncomfortable with the idea of looking for anything in it.

Nothing for it. He’d make a run for it. Get dressed, shower. Greet Mr. Stark with coffee as usual.

Of course there was someone in the living room. Peter had spent all his luck when someone had noticed his bioplastic blueprints submission to Stark Industries.

It was Ms. Natasha and Bucky, the latter clearly having been asleep in his chair until a moment before Peter entered. Ms. Natasha looked unusually bright-eyed for the hour, a cup of coffee in her hands. She looked over it at him, quirking a brow at him curiously.

“Why are you awake?” Peter blurted.

“Making sure you’re alright,” Bucky groaned, rubbing deeply shadowed eyes. “I’ve been here almost since I dropped you off. It was my... how did Steve put it? My due diligence.”

Ms. Nat sat her mug down and rose to her feet, grabbing Peter by the shoulder and the chin when she reached him and tilting his head back, eyes searching. “I woke up a while ago and couldn’t get back to sleep. Are you okay? Did Tony do anything he needs to be killed for?”

“How’d it go?” Bucky added with a yawn.

Peter blushed deeply, glancing past Ms. Nat to the wall. “It was fine,” he said stiffly. When the woman’s eyebrows shot up, he rushed out, “No, I-I mean, it was good. I liked it. We didn’t, uh, that is, we didn’t do “it,” but he asked me to stay the night, we had, a, uh, a sleepover I guess?”

“A sleepover,” Bucky mumbled, burying his face in his hands as Ms. Natasha released him, reluctantly backing up. “Did you at least kiss? If you didn’t, I’m quitting.”

“We kissed,” Peter replied shortly. “Can I go? Not that I’m, not that...” He glanced meaningfully between them, shuffling his feet. “Thanks. For worrying. Get some sleep, Bucky, will you?”

...

“... sleep, Bucky, will you?”

Tony waited a moment for Peter’s footsteps to fade down the hall, straining to hear the door to his bedroom open and shut. “Told you,” he heard Barnes tell Nat, still sounding exhausted.

Shoving his hand through his hair, Tony retreated to his bedroom, wondering whether Peter was okay, wondering what he’d fucked up. Should he have let Peter know he was awake? Pulled him back for a kiss, invited him for a shower? Woken up before him and brought him breakfast?

Tony didn’t know.

Maybe he was just nervous? He’d bet the kid had never woken up in a man’s bed before, not one he’d actually wanted to be in. Maybe he thought he’d overstayed his welcome. He was young, after all. No one gives you a roadmap for things like this.

His cellphone was on the nightstand. It would be immature to send a text, he was pretty sure. But maybe Peter needed a little of that.

TONY: HEY KID. DID I SCARE YOU OFF?

He tossed the phone down, running his hands through his hair again. The phone didn’t go off immediately. You did, his mind whispered. You scared him and he ran away.

“Jarvis, where is Peter?” he demanded anxiously to the room.

The reply was instant. “In the shower, sir.”

Oh. That was also a logical explanation. “Thanks, Jarvis.”

He changed clothes to give himself something to do other than pace, but when he was fully dressed there was still no response. So he brushed his teeth. No response. Spent a while fixing his hair in the mirror. Nothing. Started shaving around the goatee.

Finally, the phone buzzed on the counter. Ignoring the shaving cream still slathered onto his left cheek, he snatched it up to read it, more messages popping up as he did so.

PETER: NOPE
PETER: WANTED TO TRY TO DODGE THE WALK OF SHAME
PETER: DIDN’T WANT TO WAKE YOU
PETER: JOKES ON ME, THEY WERE WAITING FOR ME IN THE LIVING ROOM LOL

Tony leaned against the counter, practically sagging into it in his relief. “Fuck, kid, you scared me,” he murmured on a sigh.

TONY: SOUNDS LIKE THEM
TONY: WYD NOW?
PETER: JUST GOT OUT OF THE SHOWER. WHY?
TONY: YOU DIDNT INVITE ME?
TONY: JK
TONY: MEET YOU IN THE KITCHEN IN A BIT?

Risky. Tony tapped his fingers against the counter as he waited for a response.

PETER: SURE :)

Thank god.

Chapter Text

The Spanish Inquisition, it would seem, had found a new target. By the time Tony emerged from his bedroom for the third time—he’d opened the door only to remember at the last moment he’d forgotten to finish shaving—the whole lot of them were crowded around the counter where Peter stood determinedly making coffees as though nothing was wrong, face bright red and lips pressed tightly together.

Silence fell when Tony entered, a half-dozen amused expressions turning his way instead. “Here, Mr. Hawkeye,” Peter spoke cheerily into the quiet, hanging the man in question a mug with dignity despite his flushed face. God, he was perfect. He’d handled the paparazzi and every other prying asshole he’d come into contact with perfectly.

“Are you bullying my boyfriend?” Tony asked lightly, stepping up to the counter as well with a wink at the beauty standing behind it. Peter blushed, looking pleased, before turning towards the machine again shyly.

“Boyfriend,” Rhodey repeated pointedly, gaze fixed on Tony.

“If he’ll have me,” Tony replied evenly, looking between his and Steve’s expectant faces. He hoped he looked as serious as he felt.

Peter spoke up then, rounding the counter to press a hot mug of fragrant coffee into Tony’s hand. “I’ll have you,” he murmured shyly, avoiding eye contact. He smelled fresh and clean, citrusy. Tony wanted to hold him, but couldn’t bring himself to reach out the few inches to grab him and pull him in.

“Good,” he breathed, aware of all the eyes fixed on them. “Pack a bag. Let’s go celebrate somewhere less crowded, huh?”

Peter’s stormy ocean eyes flashed up to his. “Really?”

“Really?” Clint repeated, sounding equally surprised. Tony glowered at him as Nat rolled her eyes.

...

Mr. Stark had walked him to his room, holding his elbow in one hand and the mug of coffee in the other. He’d spoken low as they walked, clearly displeased by the heads turning to watch them go. “Look, kid, sorry to spring this on you,” he’d said. “We don’t need an audience to settling into a... relationship. Plus, I did say I’d show you everything. Let’s start with the beach.”

“It’s March,” Peter had replied, looking at the man quizzically. They’d reached the door; the hallway was relatively private.

Mr. Stark had quirked a grin at him. “It’ll be warm enough to sunbathe at least. Probably not warm enough to swim, granted. I promise you’ll like it.” He had paused, considering Peter. “You like animals, don’t you?”

So much, he’d thought, thinking back to a thirteen year old Peter who’d wanted to be a biologist instead of a biochemist. Not as much scholarship money to go around for ecologists. “Yes?”

“Cool,” Mr. Stark had said, and then he’d kissed Peter, soft and short. “Meet me in the living room in about a half an hour? I need to make a couple of phone calls before we go. Don’t forget to bring your school things.”

“Okay,” Peter had replied, dizzied by the kiss and the prospect of imminent travel. Then Mr. Stark had ushered him through his door and left him standing in the middle of his room, staring at his tidily made bed, unable to think anything except I didn’t sleep there last night. He grinned. Not gonna sleep there tonight, either.

While packing, Peter thought a bit about how much he missed having friends to text stupid questions like Hey guys what the FUCK should I pack for a weekend getaway with my new boyfriend that I live with? He’d lost contact with his high school friends, Ned and MJ, shortly after graduation due to not having a phone. He’d stopped talking to Harry long before that. He was sure Bucky would respond if he were awake, and maybe even Deadpool would too, but they were both older. It didn’t feel the same as asking other young dumbasses. And he didn’t want to burden anyone with an excessive amount of mentoring; Bucky had more than done his part for the week.

Peter wondered briefly as he carefully rolled up T-shirts and an extra pair of jeans into his backpack whether his old friends would be happy to hear from him. They must know by now that he was safe; he’d been all over the news for the last several weeks. You could email them, his mind whispered. Nothing is stopping you. How would that message even go? Hey Ned, MJ, remember me? It’s Peter, we were best friends and I disappeared so that I wouldn’t burden you with my homelessness? Anyway things are good with me. How are you? No. It would be weird. They’d feel obligated to be friends again.

Peter realized with a start that he’d spent nearly twenty minutes stressing about it, leaving precious little time to stress about what clothing he should bring. The problem was that, in putting on some muscle in the gym and even a few pounds of much-needed fat from being well-fed for the first time in years, a lot of his clothing was starting not to fit. That was a problem he’d never thought about with tailored clothing; you have to remain exactly the same size and shape to keep wearing it. At least the shoes would still fit.

What’s the weather going to be like, anyway? Peter didn’t know; it was March, but they could be going anywhere. “It’s summer in Brazil,” he told the sweater in his hands, staring at it like it might answer him. He wasn’t even positive people went to Brazil to go to the beach. Surely they did, it’s a coastal country... “What am I talking about, I don’t have a passport.” He was pretty sure Tony Stark being Tony Stark wouldn’t get him through customs without a passport. Would it? Was that a perk of being an Avenger, defender of the earth?

He pulled out his phone.

PETER: WHERE ARE WE GOING? I’M NOT SURE WHAT KIND OF CLOTHES TO PACK.
TONY: SAN DIEGO. DON’T BOTHER BRINGING MUCH.

What the hell did that mean?

Peter googled the weather in San Diego. High 50s and 60s all week, with rain on Tuesday. Okay.

...

PETER: CALIFORNIA? I CAN’T WAIT!
TONY: ;P

“That’s how the kids text these days, isn’t it?” Tony asked the room at large as he tossed his phone aside, turning back to the flurry of emails that needed to be sent before he could focus on Peter. There was one at the top he was leaving unread; the subject line was REPORT, RE: “VENOM”, WEEK 7. They had continued to find nothing but security footage of the creature—something large, black, and humanoid—slinking around in secure locations, ranging from corporate offices and labs to government buildings and banks. He took and left nothing; a ghost. No other reports of attacks on the street. Only Peter.

“It appears the “kids” use emojis for the most part, sir,” Jarvis responded drily. “Peter seems disinclined to both, however.”

Tony paused. “You have his texting history?”

“Of course.”

Tony glanced guiltily towards the door, then checked his watch. “Has he texted anyone that wasn’t a contact in the phone already when I gave it to him?”

“Yes, sir.”

Tony frowned, chest feeling tight. “Full report. What’s the deal?”

Jarvis paused, synthesizing information into a concise explanation. A very important skill for an AI, one Tony was proud to have managed to develop in Jarvis. “He’s added three contacts to his phone. One is Gwen Stacy, the PhD candidate that works on the 32nd floor—” Tony knew about her; they occasionally took coffee breaks together. He’d felt much better about that situation once he’d learned that the girl was an out-and-proud lesbian. “—Another is a boy named Matt Flannery, to whom it appears Peter was assigned to do a project for an online course—” Tony vaguely remembered Peter talking about that. “—And the last is Wade Wilson, AKA Deadpool.”

Tony groaned. “Really? How often do they talk?”

“Not often. Just after Christmas, Peter sent him a message saying ‘This is Peter, you can reach me here from now on!’ And Mr. Wilson responded with an eggplant emoji followed by a double heart emoji. They haven’t spoken since.”

“Good.”

“Sir, if I may?”

Tony’s jaw tightened. He knew what Jarvis was going to say. “You may not. But I promise I won’t ask again.” He paused. “Will you tell me if it looks like he’s getting involved with someone else?”

“Yes, of course.”

Tony nodded stiffly and stood. He’d show Peter the best time of his life. He wouldn’t want to flirt with anyone else. Hopefully.

...

This time, Peter didn’t ask Mr. Stark to hold his hand when they took off. He still gripped the armsrests tightly—careful not to dig his fingernails into the leather—as he watched the ground beneath them begin to move, his stomach lurching at the feeling of increased gravity in the moment of take off. He couldn’t stop the hysterical giggling that escaped his throat as they rose into the air, or even wipe the exhilarated smile from his lips as he grinned stupidly over to Mr. Stark.

“Does it really get old?” he asked.

The man’s dark eyes softened. Peter loved that look. “It does,” he admitted. “But you know, flying in the suit doesn’t.”

Struck by this statement, Peter peered down at his wrist skeptically. “Does mine fly?”

“Do you want it to?”

Peter brushed his fingers over the bracelet, looking between Mr. Stark’s gentle face and the shrinking shoreline below. The metal was never cold, always just a little less warm that his own skin. “I wouldn’t know how to fly. Could I try it? Maybe you could, like, pick me up?”

The man’s head tilted to the side, a smirk twisting his lips at the corners. “Would you be scared?”

Peter blushed. “Terrified. Can we?”

The man barked out a laugh, nodding. “Of course, kid. I told you, anything you want.”

Biting his lip and lowering his gaze, Peter pushed shyly, “Anything?” Mr. Stark swallowed, jerking his head once in affirmation. His hooded eyes drifted down from Peter’s face, giving him just enough confidence to continue. “When... when it’s safe to unbuckle, can I come sit with you, Mr. Stark?”

Mr. Stark leaned back further into his seat, scratching his fingers through the salt and pepper hair at his temple, crossing his feet at the ankle. His other hand moved conspicuously out of his lap. Peter shifted, feeling warm, gaze fixed on the man’s eyes as they trailed slowly from Peter’s face all the way to his feet. “It’s my plane, Peter, you don’t have to wait,” he murmured, tone conspiratorial. “It’s nice to just be able to look at you.”

Peter choked, staring down at his knees as he struggled blindly with the buckle. Desperate to seem normal, casual, he said the first thing that came to mind, which was unfortunately just the truth. “I still can’t. Look at you. Makes me nervous.” He looked up, meeting Mr. Stark’s eye with horror. “Fuck, was that out loud?”

“You can.”

“What?”

“Look. I’ll even close my eyes.”

He did. Peter stared at his closed eyes for a moment. Then at his lips, and the amused smile there. The neatly groomed quality of his hair and goatee, elegant and roguish at the same time. His broad shoulders and strong thighs, the body of an active man. His hands, too, bore evidence of hard work, the fingers crooked, the palms rough. He was dressed so sharply, always; Peter had always liked that, even before they ever met. He could see the arc reactor’s outline through his button-down, the glow faint through the dark blue fabric.

The belt clicked open under Peter’s hands, surprising him. He hadn’t realized he’d continued to fuss with it. He stood, a little unsteady on his feet, and he was pretty sure Mr. Stark wouldn’t be able to hear what he was doing over the roar of the plane engines. He stepped closer, still staring, trying to force himself to feel like this was all normal, that he had a claim, however fleeting, on the singular Tony Stark. He inched closer; his knee touched the inside of Mr. Stark’s, making him jump. Then his smirk widened, head tilting blindly back, expression expectant.

Inhaling slowly, Peter nudged the side of his foot with his own; to his distant amazement, the man obediently drew his knees together, creating enough space on either side that Peter could straddle his legs. If he had the balls. Did he?

He pushed off his tennis shoes, digging his toes into the carpet. Then he shifted forward, setting one knee on the leather next to Mr. Stark’s thigh. “Is—is this okay, Mr. Stark?”

“Tony,” the man corrected automatically, a little breathless. “And I told you, kid, anything you want.”

Galvanized, Peter eased into the man’s lap, bringing his shaking hands up to his face. He trailed his fingers from the bare skin of his cheek down to the bearded chin. “Peter,” he murmured back.

“Is this Call Me By Your Name, now?”

“What? No. Call me Peter.”

Mr. Stark slit his eyes open. “Alright, Peter. Call me Tony.”

Peter hesitated, then nodded. “Okay. Can I kiss you... Tony?”

“Of course,” the man whispered, leaning in closer. Their lips met; he let his eyes fall shut and felt his glasses being plucked from his face. Mr. Stark—Tony—tasted like coffee and peppermints.

...

Peter could smell the ocean from the moment the rental car’s door opened. It smelled salty in a way it never had in New York; salty and warm, maybe, heavy on the air. “This is it,” Tony was saying, gesturing up at the beautiful bungalow, blue with white trim and tons of windows, but Peter’s eyes were fixed on the faded wooden fence and the gate, the stepping stones through the grass the lead to it. “Private. I’ve always preferred that over the luxury hotels. Especially since I’m with you. Not particularly interested in sharing.”

Mr. Stark—Tony’s arm wrapped easily around his waist and Peter only stiffened up for a moment before relaxing into the man’s side. Three hours of cuddling, making out, and chatting had been remarkably effective at breeding a little more familiarity. “What is it, kid?” But Peter couldn’t speak, couldn’t take his eyes off the gate. He could hear the waves crashing on the sand.

...

Tony followed the kid’s stormy gaze, deciding the only thing he could be looking at was the path to the backyard. “It’s beachfront,” he commented, squeezing him briefly before letting go. “Want to go check it out?”

“Yes,” Peter whispered, grabbing his hand and lacing the fingers together. Tony smiled down at the top of his head and began to pull him forward. He reached the gate first and undid the latch, pushing it open. There was a strip of tropically green grass between the ivy-covered fence and the garden pull of spiky plants and bird-of-paradise flowers, broken only by the stepping stones.

The ocean got louder as they walked, the few blocked by a hedge; the path lead them through a door onto a screen-in back porch. It was nice, full of comfortable furniture and campy ocean decor, with a bar off to the left and a hammock off to the right. But Peter didn’t see any of that, he knew. He was frozen, staring out the screen to the beautiful white sands and brilliant blue ocean beyond, lured by the crashing waves and calling seagulls.

Tony understood; he’d loved the ocean when he was young. Seeing that Peter wasn’t going to move on his own, he dropped down to one knee, pulling on the laces of the kid’s right shoe, then the left, ignoring his little confused noise. “Take them off,” he ordered, standing back up and toeing off his own leather shoes, stepping on the toe of each sock to pull them off.

Peter looked up at him briefly, his eyes deep and shining with the feelings the ocean had invoked in him. He obeyed, and let Tony take his hand and lead him through the screen door and down the wooden steps onto the sand. It was warm and soft, warmer than the air—it was only about 68, despite the bright sun—and Tony saw Peter’s eyes dart down in wonder at the feeling, making a small pleased noise in his throat.

They walked down past palm trees, beach chairs, and a fire pit to just before the line that marked where the sand was wetted by the surf. Tony glanced up and down the beach—the other houses were very nice, respectfully far away, some with docks. Mostly private residences, which was exactly what he’d wanted. A breeze was lifting Peter’s curly blond hair off of his face as he looked out over miles of blue, interrupted only by sailboats and a very distant cruiseliner on the horizon.

His eyes didn’t leave the water as he demanded urgently, “Can I get in?”

“It’s probably like 55 degrees, kid.”

“But can I go in?”

Tony raised his eyebrows at Peter, considering. He’d done dumber shit when he was twenty—a vague memory surfaced of getting out of a hot tub on the back porch of a lodge high on a mountain in... Colorado? And jumping directly into the seven or eight feet of snow piled beyond the porch. “Go for it. But I’d strip down if I were you.”

Tony rolled up his sleeves as he watched Peter tear off his shirt like it had personally offended him, then unbuckled his belt and shoved his jeans down his thighs without undoing the button and zipper. He stood for a moment in his red boxers, tilting his face up to the sun, then whipped his glasses off and tossed them onto the abandoned pile of clothing before he ran full tilt towards the waves, shrieking delightedly when the cold water soaked him up to the thighs on the first wave. He dove in, and Tony wondered for a wild moment whether he could swim.

Then he reappeared, hair plastered to his head, skin blistery pink from the cold, holding himself. He turned towards the shore, teeth chattering visibly, and yelled joyfully, “It’s really fucking cold, Mr. Stark!”

“I believe you!” Tony called back, laughing. “I hope you know I don’t know where the towels are!”

Chapter Text

All in all, Peter was fairly sure he’d spent less than 90 seconds in the ocean. It was frigidly cold, so cold he’d had trouble catching his breath after he went under. On first getting out, the wind was almost worse; every hair on his body was standing on end he was sure and his junk was practically trying to burrow into him. But the sand was warm, and other than the icy water dripping from his hair and his boxers, the sun dried him fairly quickly. He stood in the sunshine looking out over the ocean while Mr. Stark went back around to the front to find the key and get him a towel from inside.

Watching the surf, he noticed that sometimes when the tide went out, there were skittering little animals left on the sand. Fascinated, he crouched down, close enough that the cold water splashed up his ankles when it went out. He yelped at the sensation, then gasped when the water went out, revealing a couple of hermit crabs the size of his pinky nail dragging their shells and colorful little clams that burrowed down and created little bubbles on the wet surface of the sand. He dug his hand into it, scooping out a handful and cupping his other palm over it. When the next wave came, Peter used the water to quickly sift through his handful to find the treasures hidden within it.

Broken seashell shards and three little clams—orange and brown—lay on his palm. Peter examined them carefully; after a moment, one of the clams’ shell cracked open and its tongue (or foot, maybe? Peter was unsure) slid out to drag itself across his hand.

The next wave surprised him; he’d been too focused on the little clams in his hand. This time, as the water churned away from his feet, he reached out and gently snatched up a hermit crab, which he placed next to the clams to watch. It took a while for it to peek out of its shell; Peter watched in joyful amazement as it hesitantly pushed its eye stalks out, then one delicate little leg after another, each not much larger than a needle. It was the color of sand, with dark speckles, sporting a very small green snail shell with chips broken off the rim.

“What do you have there, Pete?” Mr. Stark—Tony—called from the porch. Twisting to look over his shoulder, Peter stood and trotted over to him, grinning broadly as he held his hand out for the man’s examination. As it had before, the hermit crab spent a moment hiding before beginning to drag its shell across Peter’s sandy palm. The clams, it would seem, had decided it was not moist enough to stick out their tongue-foot-things. “Very cool,” the man complimented, bending down to see the crab closer. “Did you name him?”

“Fauntleroy,” Peter responded instantly. “And the clams are Riki, Tiki, and Tavi.”

Peter smiled lop-sidedly at the older man as he tried to hide an amused snort behind a grunt of acknowledgment and a swipe of his knuckles across his lips. Tony smiled back, cupping the hand that wasn’t holding an oversized towel to the back of Peter’s head and pulling him close to kiss him on the cheek. “There are tide pools we can go to tomorrow,” he said when he pulled back. “Lots of little crabs and things in them. Do you want to go?”

“Really?”

“Yup. Aren’t you cold? I brought you a towel.”

Peter eyed the beautiful, perfectly white fluffy towel and then looked down at his sandy hands. “Be right back,” he said, turning back to the shore. He ran to meet the incoming wave, which was somehow colder than he remembered, bending over to release Riki, Tiki, Tavi, and Fauntleroy into the water and swishing his hands around to clean them off.

When he returned to Tony—still unfairly handsome, barefoot with his sleeves rolled to the elbow, wind in his hair, sunglasses pushed up carelessly onto his head—he held out his hand for the towel, but the man batted it away, unfurling the cloth and draping it over his shoulders, wrapping him up before embracing him. He smelled good and clean; it complimented the scent of the ocean perfectly. It was a smell Peter was absolutely sure he’d never forget: happiness and sunshine.

...

The bungalow was lovely and homey, very different from the modern style Tony had chosen for the Tower. The furniture was all white wicker, light-colored wood, and blue cushions, with paintings of sailboats and anchors and whales on the walls, conch shells on coffee tables and everything else. Spacious and airy, open floor plan, with natural lighting, with no wall separating the kitchen and the living space. The entirety of the upstairs was the master bedroom and bathroom. The instructions he’d given his secretary had been Big enough we won’t feel crowded, open enough we can’t be alone. That woman was a genius. Maybe she needed a raise. Eyeing the bathroom where he could hear Peter rinsing off, he pulled out his phone and scrolled through his messages. That was her name—Catalina.

TONY: GIVE YOURSELF A RAISE, SEND THE PAPERWORK TO PEPPER
SECRETARY (CATALINA): YES BOSS. ENJOY SAN DIEGO. YOUR TICKETS ARE IN YOUR INBOX. THERE SHOULD BE DRINKS & SNACKS IN THE HOUSE ALREADY.

Tony really liked her.

He turned back to the bed and its fluffy, pinterest-y quilt with the sailboat pattern and too many decorative pillows. Tony’s old carry-on roller suitcase—from back when he was the CEO instead of Pepper and he traveled four days a week—was on the center of the mattress, with Peter’s school backpack slumped against it. He liked the sight, honestly.

He pulled the suitcase closer and unzipped it, extracting a pair of jeans and an AC/DC t-shirt from it, the sort of thing he usually only wore in the workshop. He changed into it quickly, shoving the dirty clothes into a drawer—something Pepper had always teased him about, his habit of living out of the suitcase and using the dresser as a hamper when he was away from home. She was the only other person he’d ever felt the need to take places and give gifts to.

Tony hoped that was a good sign. He pulled his phone back out.

TONY: AM I FUCKING THIS UP?
PEPPER: WE AREN’T TALKING RIGHT NOW.

Tony frowned at his phone.

TONY: WHY?
PEPPER: WAITING TO HEAR BACK FROM PETER THAT HE’S NOT BEING HELD AGAINST HIS WILL
PEPPER: DON’T GO OVERBOARD.

That was probably good advice.

...

When Peter emerged from the bathroom—peeking his head out to find the bedroom empty—he found that Tony had laid out clothes for him; his outfit from earlier had gotten a bit sandy. It was his pair of fashionably-faded skinny jeans, blue boxers, and a shirt he didn’t recognize. It was soft, red with grey lettering that said Massachusetts Institute of Technology in a circle around the school’s crest, which appeared to be some sort of blacksmith looking away from a scholar with a book open on his arm, with a ribbon declaring MENS ET MANUS underneath; mind and hand, if Peter remembered his high school Latin. It fit him perfectly.

Mr. Stark—Tony, he scolded himself—hadn’t set out socks, and since he had gone out of his way to set out underwear, Peter decided that must mean he should skip them.

Padding down the steps barefoot felt domestic. Comfortable. It matched the dizzying duality of the brand-new nature of their relationship and the fact that they’d been dating for months. Finding Mr. Stark—no, Tony, finding Tony in the kitchen, also barefoot, rifling through take out bags and pulling plates out of the cabinet as he whistled along to Santa Monica by Everclear, that was domestic, too, and beautiful.

I just want to see some palm trees, I will try to shake away this disease,” the radio was singing. “We can live beside the ocean, leave the fire behind, swim out past the breaker...” Peter tapped on the little pocket-sized speaker sitting on the counter, turning the music down a bit.

“Pete!” Tony exclaimed when he noticed Peter in the doorway, a broad grin spreading across his face. “I ordered lunch. I was wondering, have you ever eaten sushi?”

“Yeah, once,” Peter answered, thinking distantly about Harry’s 15th birthday dinner, when they’d gone out to some upscale sushi restaurant in Manhattan. He shook his head to dispel the thought. “I liked it.”

“Good. Come eat, kid.”

Tony started opening boxes, snatching up a pair of disposable chopsticks and using them to point out different types. Nigiri, yellowfin, temaki, eel, expertly plucking them up and transferring them to their plates. Peter didn’t absorb any of it, distracted by the man’s voice, the sheer volume of food on the counter, the fact that he was so patiently explaining everything from what made the rice sushi rice to the difference between maki and uramaki in a tone that didn’t make Peter feel talked down to. Like he just thought Peter might find it interesting.

“You really like food,” Peter commented as he accepted his plate, covered in an array of different types of fish and sushi that he had no hope of remembering the names of.

Tony paused, looking at Peter out of the corner of his eye as he picked another pair of chopsticks. “I do,” he agreed, tone neutral. “Expensive interest, picked it up from my father. Am I boring you?”

Peter set his plate on the table and stepped up close to the man, leaning into him as he pressed up onto his toes and kissed him. “No, I like it,” he murmured as he fell back onto his heels, smiling at Tony’s pleased expression. “I’m starving, c’mon. It’s gotta be like 2pm in New York and I haven’t eaten. What’s the red stuff on top called again?”

...

It turned out that Tony was a good bartender in addition to being a foodie.

“I don’t drink much anymore, kid, I hope you don’t mind,” he was saying as he appeared to work on a potion behind the bar on the back porch, pouring by eye and smashing together what Peter thought was mint with some limes.

“I know you don’t drink, Mr. Stark. I mean, Tony,” Peter responded without thinking as he settled into the barstool across from him. He cringed when the man shot him a knowing smirk, winking at him as he poured clear alcohol from at least half a foot over the glass. “Sorry.”

Tony shook his head, popping the cap off of what appeared to be bottle soda water with a bottle opener with a tacky plastic starfish glued onto the handle and topping off the glass with it. “You probably grew up hearing about me on the news,” he acknowledged.

It sounded like a prompt, so Peter took it as one, blushing as he accepted the glass. “Yeah. I mean,” he paused, wondering if he should finish his sentence. “I might have had an action figure? Of you? When I was a kid?”

Peter stared down into the glass, watching the liquid bubble. It looked like how the blood in his face felt. When he chanced a glance up at Tony, he was taken aback by the expression on his face. It was almost like he was in pain. “God, that’s cute,” he told Peter, making him blush even hotter if possible. The man cleared his throat and looked down at the little green bottle of soda water before shrugging and taking a sip of it. “So you know I quit drinking.”

“And I know you quit smoking.”

Tony raised an eyebrow at him. “What else do you know?”

Peter raised the glass to his lips, but he was too nervous to drink. He set it back down on the marble bar a little too hard. “I know you haven’t dated anyone for a few years,” he blustered, trying to feel brave. “I know you’ve never had a boyfriend publicly before. Only girlfriends.” Emboldened by Tony’s clear amusement with these statements, he continued, “I know you started at MIT when you were fifteen. I guess that’s why you got me this shirt?”

Tony took another casual sip from his bottle. “That was mine,” he corrected. “Thought it might fit you. MIT colors look good on you, by the way. I hope you remembered to keep in contact with Dr. Perilloux.”

Peter looked down at the shirt, surprised. “This fit you?” he demanded, eyeing Mr. Stark’s broad shoulders dubiously.

“I was fifteen when I got that shirt,” he defended himself, laughing. “You just said it. What else do you know about me?”

“I know your net worth?”

Tony waved him off. “I don’t, so don’t tell me. It stresses me out. Something more interesting.”

Peter smirked into his glass. “Once you were found passed out behind the wheel of a Ferrari. That was in a fountain. In, like, Las Vegas?”

“Vegas sounds right. What else?”

Peter thought for a moment. “Uh, weren’t you publicly disowned by a fraternity in college?”

The man rolled his eyes. “Yeah, Phi Delta Theta. They were kind of homophobic anyway... are you gonna try it? I promise I didn’t make it very strong.”

Oh. Peter had forgotten about the drink. He picked it up and took a sip. It was sweet and sour and bitter all at once, and he coughed after he swallowed. Then he took another sip. It was actually... really good. “What is this?”

“A mojito. I eyeballed it, though. Is it alright?”

Peter shrugged. “I don’t know, I’ve never had a mixed drink before. But I like it. Are you sure it’s okay if I drink?”

The man smiled—the gentle one Peter only ever saw direct at him. “Of course, kid. I’m glad you like it.”

...

“Wait, Pete, you’re going to burn,” Tony called after the somewhat tipsy, shirtless young man struggling to lay out colorful beach towels on the sand, smirking when he stumbled, giggling, and flopped gracelessly onto the pink one. He didn’t answer Tony.

Smiling and turning away, Tony began digging through drawers in the bar, certain one of them had been full of sunscreen—yup, there it was. He grabbed a bottle and one of the little sticks and headed out to enjoy the late afternoon sunshine with his new boyfriend.

“You’re a winter New Yorker, kid,” Tony scolded him, taking in his smooth, pale back. “You’re going to burn if you lay out like that.”

Peter propped himself up onto his elbows, shooting Tony a dazzling crooked smile. “I need shorts,” he said as if Tony hadn’t spoken. “I’m going to have the weirdest tan lines from sunbathing in jeans.”

“We’ll get you some tomorrow,” Tony promised, sinking into a sitting position on the green towel next to Peter’s. He uncapped the bottle of sunscreen and squirted it directly onto Peter’s lower back, making him squeal at the cold. “Shush,” he teased, leaning over to begin rubbing it in.

“Won’t you burn?” Peter complained as Tony rubbed his palms over his back, dipping down to get his sides as well. God, he was pretty.

Tony shook his head distractedly, sitting back up to get more sunscreen. “Nah, kid. I’m Italian. I don’t really burn.”

“Bullshit,” Peter declared, his voice muffled because of the fact that his face was pressed into the towel. “You’re barely even Italian.”

Tony rolled his eyes as he started in on Peter’s arms, being as thorough as he dared. “I speak Italian,” he protested. “I thought you read all about me on the internet.”

Peter turned his head, giving Tony a confused look as he picked up the kid’s other arm. “Is that public knowledge? I don’t think I’ve ever seen it mentioned anywhere.”

Tony frowned, considering. “It’s not a secret. Maybe it never came up. It’s not a very useful language to know.”

Peter rolled clumsily over onto his back, shutting one eye against the glare of the sun. “Say something in Italian, then.”

Tony took his time with the sunscreen, waiting for Peter to tell him that he could do his stomach and chest himself, but he didn’t, so Tony started rubbing it in there, too. His skin was so smooth, interrupted only by occasional freckles and the sweet trail of hair leading down from his belly button to his waistband. “Mi innervosisco sempre quando parlo in italiano,” he complained. “It reminds me of taking lessons from my mom. She was a real stickler for grammar. In both languages, come to think of it.” Tony’s hands were rubbing the kid’s neck and shoulders. It felt like a dream.

“That was hot,” Peter sighed, before an awkward expression came over his face and he sat up, knocking Tony’s hands away. “The Italian, I mean. Not... Not lessons from your mom.”

So fucking cute. Tony leaned in and kissed him on the nose. “I knew what you meant,” he assured him. “You got pretty tipsy for only having two. Come here, your face will burn.” He uncapped the stick and pulled Peter closer by the arm, focusing his attention on applying it properly.

“Can I have another one?”

“Maybe later.”

...

Tony ended up carrying the kid to bed around 8:30, which, in Peter’s defence, was nearly midnight in New York time. His skin had been tanned lightly golden in the sun, new freckles speckled across his face and shoulders already. Tony was pretty sure the kid’s nose was sunburned, which he felt a little guilty about.

He’d passed out with his head on Tony’s thigh while they watched the sun go down on the horizon and only stirred a little when Tony lifted him into his arms. “That was pretty,” he had whispered into Tony’s neck.

Tony wouldn’t know. He had been watching the beautiful boy drifting off in his lap.

He didn’t say anything else until Tony was moving their bags and pulling down sheets one-handed, Peter’s weight balanced precariously on his hip. “Oh no,” the kid had murmured, making Tony tense up, worried he was going to be sick. But his words were almost worse. “Is it time to have sex now?”

“No. No, no, no, Pete. We’re just going to bed. Do you want me to sleep downstairs?” Peter’s eyes cracked open as Tony laid him down. Peter lifted a hand to Tony’s face, and he let the younger man guide him down into a kiss, gentle and sweet and full of the roiling emotion that had been threatening to overtake him all day. He tasted like mint and rum.

“Sleep here with me, Mr. Stark,” Peter murmured against his lips.

Tony kissed his forehead, shutting his eyes against everything he was feeling that he didn’t want to give words to just yet, a sort of lovesick melancholy making his voice quiet as he spoke. “Anything you want, kid. Anything.”

Chapter Text

Peter woke up to his phone vibrating in his back pocket. He dug it out, confused and disoriented—where am I?—and squinted at the bright screen. He had more than one new message. He shut his eyes for a moment, dropping his phone onto his chest. Right. San Diego. The beach. Tony.

He turned his head. Tony. Asleep on his stomach, his face turned away and his arms under his pillow. He’d babysat Peter all afternoon, making him drinks, feeding him leftover sushi. Stone cold sober the whole time. Do you want me to sleep downstairs? A gentleman to boot. Peter was fully clothed, unmolested, and hydrated.

Peter picked his phone back up to look at his unread messages.

3:55am, BUCKY: SHOULD I PICK OUT MY BRIDESMAID DRESS OR HAVE YOU ALREADY ELOPED?
4:02am, STEVE: IGNORE BUCKY. IS EVERYTHING GOING OKAY?

Peter smiled down at the screen. He sent two texts, the first to Bucky and the second to the Captain.

PETER: DONT START SHOPPING YET, IM STILL A BLUSHING, RINGLESS VIRGIN
PETER: YES SIR. HOPE THINGS ARE OKAY BACK AT THE TOWER!

The other text was from Ms. Potts; it was time stamped for about 10:30 the previous morning. Oops.

PEPPER: LET ME KNOW IF YOURE IN NEED OF A RESCUE MISSION.
PETER: EVERYTHING IS FINE, MS. POTTS. PROMISE!

Peter was fully awake by then. Tony, not so much; he was dead to the world as far as Peter could determine. Sitting up in bed, Peter tried to concentrate on something other than the man he was in bed with. He read a bit on his phone about tides and tide pools, coastal ecology, the history of San Diego and its naval base... But he couldn’t focus.

He got to his feet, padded as quietly at he could to the bathroom. Washed his face, brushed his teeth. But when he returned, it was still only just five in the morning, and there was still an attractive older man in his bed. An attractive older man who had taken him to California and seemingly expected nothing in return. Peter never got anything for nothing in return. It made him want to give Tony everything. He stood for a long time at the foot of the bed, trying to pin down where what he wanted ended and what he thought Tony wanted began.

...

Tony wasn’t sure when he was going to let Peter in on the fact that he was a light sleeper, but today wasn’t the day. He drifted in and out as Peter tried to occupy himself, as he got ready, and then when he stood near the foot of the bed, evidently deep in thought about something. He’d almost fallen back to sleep by the time the kid decided what he wanted to do. The options were limitless, after all: run, cry, go back to sleep... come cuddle, maybe?

Luckily for Tony, the decision was less run for the hills and more want you bad.

Tony tried to stay as still and calm as possible as he heard a gentle click—Peter’s glasses being set on the bedside table, he was pretty sure—and Peter climbed onto the bed and straddled the backs of his thighs, then drew down the sheets covering his naked torso—he’d gotten hot in the night and figured he’d forgo the shirt and just sleep on his front so the light from the reactor didn’t bother Peter. Light fingers brushed over his ribs and he shifted a little, sighing and turning his head to the side.

Peter leaned down over Tony—warm, his breath smelling like toothpaste—and pressed his lips to his shoulder, making gooseflesh rise on his arms. “Good morning, kid,” he murmured, letting himself sound more sleepy than aroused.

Peter’s lips found Tony’s neck next, making him clench his fists in the sheets and suck in a deep breath through his nose, trying to stay quiet. He spoke directly into Tony’s ear, his voice low and intimate, in stark contrast with his words. “Did you know that the tide goes in and out twice a day here? I guess it does most places... I didn’t know that.”

Tony turned his face so that Peter wouldn’t see the amusement written there. “I think I did know that,” he said as neutrally as possible. “Did you sleep well?”

Peter’s hands were tentatively smoothing over his shoulder blades, fingers catching interestedly on some of the scars on his upper back. “Yeah.” His voice was breathless. “Did you?”

Tony moved to roll over; Peter lifted some of his weight off to allow the motion, but didn’t settle back down when he’d positioned himself on his back, choosing instead to support his weight with a hand on the pillow next to Tony’s face. He tilted his head and kissed the kid’s inner wrist, gaze fixed on the way his sweet lips parted, their blushed color obscured by the monochrome blue-white light emanating from Tony’s chest. “Yeah,” he lied. He’d woken up several times worried that maybe he’d let Peter drink too much and he’d be sick in his sleep.

Peter’s other hand hovered over the arc reactor, hesitant. Tony captured his hand and laced their fingers together, settling their interlocked digits over the interesting bit of tech that kept him alive and housed his Mark 50. The action dimmed the light considerably, but he could still faintly see it reflected in Peter’s eyes and off the wetness of his nibbled-upon lower lip. Tony let his hand fall away, watching the light dance over Peter’s beautiful face as his fingers mapped out the edges and ridges of the reactor as though he could divine its secrets through touch alone.

“It’s beautiful, Mr. Stark.” Tony opened his mouth to say something—maybe compliment him, maybe tell him again to use his given name—but then Peter boldly sat his weight onto Tony’s legs again and smoothed his palms over his stomach. Tony’s words, whatever they would have been, became a quiet oh. “I-is this okay?” Peter questioned him nervously, withdrawing his touch.

“Of course,” Tony responded instantly. After a moment, Peter went back to exploring, each touch so shy and light that it felt like teasing. He could feel his cock hardening, sufficiently hidden under all the blankets and sheets bunched up around his hips. At least, it was until Peter moved to the side and pulled them down past Tony’s knees.

His erection was apparent, the bulge in his sweatpants distinctly and insistently cock-shaped. Holding his breath, Tony wondered what the kid was going to do; he couldn’t make the fine details of his facial expression out in the dark, though he looked... exhilarated? It wasn’t negative, at least, he was fairly sure. When Peter made no move, only looking, Tony laid a hand on his knee and told him with every drop of sincerity and affection he could bring himself to reveal, “You don’t have to do anything, Pete. Nothing you don’t want to do.”

Peter’s response was instant and unambiguous. “I want to touch you.”

Tony’s breath caught and his cock jerked. Fuck. He struggled to think clearly in the short silence that followed, only realizing the sweet young man straddling him was asking for permission when he shifted nervously, like he wasn’t sure whether he should get off. He squeezed Peter’s knee through his jeans and made an approving noise in his throat. “You can touch me, Peter. You don’t have to ask.”

“Oh,” Peter responded awkwardly. So cute. His fingers played with Tony’s waistband for a moment. “... Can I..?”

“Only if you want.”

Tony shut his eyes against the feelings ignited in his chest when he felt Peter’s curious tug on his sweatpants. He lifted his hips up, allowing them to slide down, his erection springing free from its uncomfortable pushed-down position to lie against his stomach, achingly hard. He groaned against the gratifying sensation of Peter’s delicate fingers wrapping around the base of his cock as he shifted his weight further towards Tony’s knees. Peter trailed his fingers up his cock, and again, he could have mistaken the gesture to be teasing if he weren’t positive it was shyness.

Tony’s eyes snapped open when he felt hot breath on the head of his cock, hands raising to stop Peter, ask him if he was sure, but then those sweet, soft lips wrapped around him and he was lost.

“Fuck, Peter,” he gasped, his fingers finding a home in the kid’s overlong hair, gripping loosely, careful not to push or pull as his young lover sucked the head of his cock, his tongue rubbing back and forth across his frenulum. The sensation was thrilling, electric, hot and wet, so immensely satisfying, both physically and emotionally, as he watched in the dim light as more of his cock disappeared into the object of all his fantasies’ mouth.

He felt, then, Peter rub himself against Tony leg, just below his knee, and moan around his cock. Groaning, Tony moved his knee a tad higher, giving him a bit of a better angle, and he rutted against it. “Good boy,” Tony nearly growled, too focused on not pushing his head down to control his voice. “You’re so good for me, Peter, fuck, yes.” The last word came out deeper as his lover took him deeper into his throat, his fingers digging into Tony’s thigh on the gag and his hips stuttering.

A minute or two or five passed; Tony wasn’t sure, he was lost in the sounds and sensations of his sweetheart sucking his cock so well, so eagerly. “Do you,” he inhaled sharply when Peter rolled his tongue around the head of his cock, their eyes meeting in the dark. “Fuck, kid. Do you want it in your mouth?”

Internally, Tony already hated himself for the leading question, but Peter moaned and nodded clumsily, still sucking with diligence. He pushed his head back into the pillows, trying to control the sounds emanating from somewhere in his chest so he wouldn’t scare the poor thing; but Peter was relentless.

Feeling his orgasm about to come over him, he fisted Peter’s hair at a distance that he could only suck the head so Tony wouldn’t accidentally choke him, murmuring fuck kid hold still. Then it broke, his cock throbbing with his hammering pulse, each brush of Peter’s tongue over the head making his hips jerk a fraction of an inch, completely involuntary. “Good boy,” he repeated as he was coming down, his words a pant, realizing belatedly that he’d never asked if it was okay to refer to the kid that way.

But when his brain caught up to what Peter was actually doing a moment later, he was pretty sure he didn’t mind; he was swallowing around Tony’s cock, grinding his erection desperately against him. He pulled his mouth off with a pop and pushed his head against Tony’s hip, moaning wetly against his oversensitive skin as rode out his own orgasm against Tony’s leg.

“Fucking perfect, kid.”

Peter giggled helplessly into Tony’s hip, sagging into him as though he’d been robbed of every bone in his body. Overwhelmed by his need to hold, to kiss, Tony wasn’t able to stop the command come here from leaving his lips.

Peter obeyed instantly, crawling up Tony’s body to bury his face into his neck. Tony wrapped his arm around his shoulders and pulled him closer, trapping one of his feet under his leg, which was still tangled hopelessly in the sheets. His skin was warm, soft, a little damp to the touch from sweat; they stuck together a little where Peter’s arm laid across Tony’s abdomen.

Relaxed, sated, happy, Tony pressed a kiss to his head. “You’ve definitely done that before,” he accused playfully.

He could feel Peter’s shy smile curl against his neck. “Only a couple times,” he admitted readily. “I like it. I liked that a lot.”

Tony’s heart felt like it might burst. “I’m glad,” he whispered into his sweet Peter’s curls. “I’m really glad.”

Chapter Text

Peter let himself out onto the second floor balcony while he waited for Tony to brush his teeth and get dressed. It was dark out; the half moon wasn’t visible from Peter’s position but he could see the light from it glittering on the ocean. The stars were remarkable; Peter had no idea that so many could be visible at once. He didn’t take his eyes off of them for a long time, soothed by their twinkling and the sound of the waves crashing on the beach below.

He ran his tongue over his gums—they felt a little swollen from the suction. He didn’t mind at all. He heard the sliding door open behind him, but didn’t turn to look until Tony’s arm wrapped around his waist. “Do you still want to try flying?” he asked casually, as though he were asking Peter if he wanted to go for a drive. “We can fly over to some tide pools that I’m pretty sure are nearby. It’s low tide right now. We’ll still need to wait for daylight, though.”

“Yes.” Peter’s voice sounded breathless. “Can we? Right now, I mean?”

The older man hesitated. “I don’t want you to get cold...”

“I’ll be fine. C’mon,” he tapped the faint glow of the arc reactor through Tony’s shirt. “Where’s the ‘on’ button?”

He chuckled and touched the reactor himself; Peter had no idea what he’d done differently, but before his eyes the Mark 50 began to melt into being around the man. In the blink of an eye, his lover was gone, replaced by the Iron Man, who held out a metal hand to him, mask tilted in question. “Ready, kid?” The voice was altered slightly, like it was being heard through a speaker. It probably was.

Peter took the proffered hand, allowing the suit to manipulate his arms to wrap around the neck. The Iron Man crouched slightly, and Peter was tilted into his hold, the metal arm squeezing tightly around his back and under his thighs. “Can you swim?” the man asked suddenly, sounding vaguely worried, the mask tilting down towards Peter’s face.

“Kind of?”

The man hummed. “Better not drop you then,” he murmured, gripping tighter. “You ready?”

But before Peter could answer, the whir of the thrusters started up, the armor holding him beginning to vibrate almost imperceptibly. Peter hugged himself to the suit harder, shutting his eyes and hiding his face, heart stuttering as they suddenly rose into the air, seemingly leaving Peter’s stomach behind on the balcony.

After a moment in which he could scarcely breathe, Peter opened his eyes; they were really flying. Fancy houses and condominiums, many of them brightly lit in the dark of early morning, flew past them. Though they were at least thirty feet in the air, craning his head, Peter could see that the force of the propulsers was disturbing the surface of the water. It was exhilarating—the wind, the fact that only Tony’s grip on him was preventing him from falling into the dark water, the cold—and Peter whooped, vocalizing his excitement to the night stretching out all around them.

It was over almost as soon as it had begun; Peter estimated they’d gone less than two miles. They hovered over a patch of beach nestled between two large expanses on dark rock; at the other end of the beach was a steep cliff with rocks and flowers, a wooden staircase leading up to a neighborhood full of beautiful homes, three and four stories tall but narrow and pressed close together. The Iron Man lowered almost gracefully, blowing sand away as they neared the ground. When Peter was placed on his feet, he stumbled, and by the time he caught his breath and his balance both, he looked up to see Tony, suitless, hands on his hips as he surveyed the dark ocean.

“How’d you like it, kid?”

“It was amazing,” Peter gushed. “But I’m a little dizzy. Is that normal?”

Tony caught his arm, looking amused, and began to lead him over to a smooth rock that jutted out from the sand, urging him to sit. “I guess. No one has ever told me they were dizzy after flying.”

Peter tugged Tony down next to him and leaned into him, shutting his eyes against the little bit of vertigo still hanging on to his stomach. “Do you fly with people often?”

He felt Tony shake his head. “I don’t usually fly with my dates, if that’s what you’re asking. Just move civilians sometimes. Occasionally I give a teammate a lift during a mission. Not all of them can fly, after all. Why? Jealous?” His tone was light as he elbowed Peter, who elbowed him right back.

“No, just wondering,” he insisted, though secretly, he had hoped that this wasn’t a standard Tony Stark third date sort of move. He hid his smile, looking out over the black ocean and leaning into Tony’s shoulder. “It’s beautiful,” he whispered.

“Mm,” the other man agreed. “It is.”

They lapsed into a comfortable silence, the darkness closing them off from the world like a curtain drawn around them. They were quiet for a really long time, long enough that the stars started to disappear as the sun began to threaten to rise behind them, in the east.

Peter looked out at the horizon, feeling his bangs lift off his forehead in the cool breeze. He couldn’t quite tell where the ocean ended and the sky began; it blended together in a beautiful grey that bled out to silvery blue above their heads and in the rocking waves stretched out before them. He dug his toes into the cold, dry sand. He felt small, like people always said the ocean made them feel in books, but it was a comforting emotion. The ocean stretched on for miles and miles, fathoms deep and impossibly wide, and Peter was just a man. Tony, as well. Everyone he’d ever loved and ever hurt and ever been hurt by were only human and that was okay. He felt full, in a way he hadn’t for years. Peaceful. He felt compelled to words, but he didn’t know what he needed to say until he was speaking.

“I was sexually abused,” he told the ocean calmly. He heard Tony’s breath catch beside him, but the man said nothing for a long time, waiting for him to speak. But Peter had nothing profound to say about it. It had happened, it had been painful, and it was over. It wasn’t an interesting story; most of the other homeless kids he knew had similar ones. And many who weren’t homeless, come to think of it. “I’m almost always okay now, though,” he finally decided as a way of concluding his thoughts.

Tony’s shoulder bumped his own. “Was it your foster father?” he asked, voice impressively neutral; but Peter could hear the hint of impotent rage pushed down beneath it. He knew the feeling.

Peter shook his head, watching the horizon, still looking for where sea met sky. “No,” he said, hesitating. Then, “After I left my foster home, I stayed with a friend. It was his father.” He saw in his mind’s eye the man’s cold face, heard his voice, remembered how he’d felt—like he was falling—when he’d encountered him unexpectedly at the charity ball. But he had no power over Peter now. And he was always just a man.

“I can—” Tony began, but Peter cut him off.

“Promise me you won’t.” He turned his head and met the man’s eyes. Grief made him look older, tired. Peter didn’t want him to look like that, not for him. “Promise me you won’t try to... to figure out who it was, press charges, threaten them, anything. I don’t need any of that. I just want to keep moving on.”

“Peter—”

“Promise?”

Peter reached out, laced their fingers together. Then he looked out at the horizon again; finally, he could make out the line, the sky turning the lightest of blues while the ocean darkened. Beautiful.

“Okay,” Tony agreed after a while.

Peter leaned his head into Tony’s shoulder. “Are you okay?” he asked.

Tony shifted, as though startled by the question. In the instant that he processed the words, he nodded, but then he wrapped his arms around Peter and dragged him closer, half into his lap, and buried his face into Peter’s hair. He could feel the man’s breath on his scalp and hear his heart thudding in his augmented chest. “Did I hurt you?” he whispered hoarsely into Peter’s hair, his fists clenching in Peter’s shirt.

The rawness of it made Peter’s odd mood fade a bit. Confused, he twisted in Tony’s grip until their faces were level and Peter could look at him in the brightening light of the early dawn. He searched the man’s eyes, reading guilt and regret there; it made his chest hurt. “This morning?” he realized out loud, making Tony wince. “No. No, of course not. I told you I wanted to. And that I liked it.”

The other man look unconvinced. Peter leaned forward and kissed his nose, then took his hand and lifted it up so that he could kiss his knuckles, too. “Just keep letting me decide,” Peter pleaded with him, eyes wide as he tried to tell Tony without words how honest he was being. “I feel safe telling you what I want when you ask me.”

Tony’s hand was in his hair at the back of his head, warm and insistent as he drew Peter in for a proper kiss, slow and wet and intimate. They pulled apart at the same time, their foreheads resting together as they held eye contact, Peter smiling shyly and Tony still looking a little like he needed to fight something. “Do you think it’s light enough now?” Peter asked as neutrally as he could, holding out an olive branch of normalcy. The sounds of cars and pedestrians were starting to float down from the neighborhood behind them in the grey dawn of the early morning.

“Not yet,” Tony murmured before pressing their lips together again; just a peck, sweet and simple. He hummed in consideration as he pulled back, turning his head towards the sky. “There, now it’s light enough. Come on.”

They walked the short distance to the large rocky outcroppings together, abandoning their shoes in the sand. Tony stepped up first, then offered his hand to Peter as though it was a long way up—in reality, it was only about eight inches. He still accepted the help up, holding fast to the man’s fingers as he surveyed the tidepools stretching out before them away from the sandy beach they had settled in. The rocks were worn smooth by the waves and grown over green with algae where they were wet; the dips, grooves, and holes in them were filled with still water that reflected bright white from the brightening sky. They’d be filled with life, Peter hoped.

“Look, Pete,” Tony whispered, elbowing him and pointing. There was a bright white seabird standing a distance away, staring into a larger pool of water intently. Peter didn’t know what it was for sure, but his mind supplied him with the word egret as he watched it.

“It’s beautiful.”

They watched it for a moment longer before the siren call of all the little crustaceans Peter wanted to see called him to kneel down on the slimy rocks to peer into a pool of water.

At first glance, the pool appeared to be lifeless, though beautiful. It was maybe 18 inches deep, littered with shells and rocks half-buried in the sand. But as Peter’s eyes adjusted to looking through the surface of the water, he saw how profoundly wrong that impression had been. Clams outlined a divet in the side of the rock, black, clustered closely like spikes or scales; hermit crabs and snails skittered and inched across sand and rock alike; limpets and chitons in shades of grey, brown, green, and orange melded to the crevices of the rock; a shore crab darted out from under a small outcropping to pick at what Peter thought was a dead snail.

“Wow,” he whispered. Distantly, he felt Tony crouch down beside him.

“That’s a turban snail, I think,” the man said, reaching down into the water to pluck it gently from the sand. The shore crab darted back to its shadowy hiding place and all the shell-dwelling creatures retracted in unison at the intrusion. He grabbed Peter wrist, turning his hand over and plopping the shell into his palm. It was rather cold and wet, smooth; indeed shaped a little like a turban, a fat black pyramid with sloping sides, roughly an inch in diameter. Peter examined it closely, tracing a fingertip over the hard operculum, which retracted deeper into the opening as he did so.

“It’s so cute.” Peter could hear the reverence in his own voice. “I think you’re right, Tony. I read about some of the different tidal species these morning.”

“I used to come here with my mom,” Tony responded easily, plucking another shell out of the sand. This one was a crab; he placed it on Peter’s palm next to the snail. “She was interested in the nudibranches and the starfish more than the snails, but she used to know all the species. I think you would have gotten along.”

Peter tore his eyes away from the hermit crab long enough smile at the man. “I hope so. Did you say we might find starfish here?”

They did find starfish. A banded seastar, to be exact, with long, strange arms. And a sea urchin, of a strange species that was purple with short, blunt-looking spikes. A four inch long snail-looking thing with a twisting shell that Tony identified as a whelk. A strange cluster of what looked like turtle feet that Peter was pretty sure he’d read were called gooseneck barnacles.

“What is that?” Peter exclaimed, pointing down at the large, slimy, blackish-reddish creature dragging itself across the sand three feet below. He knelt down at the ledge to look closer. “Some kind of giant sea slug?” It was a foot long at least.

Peter looked up at Tony for his input, seeing him frown down at the creature, squinting. He stayed standing. “I think so. I’m not sure. Want me to ask Jarvis?”

“Jarvis is here?”

Tony smirked. “He’s always with me,” he said with a put-upon air of enigma, winking, then tapped his chest. Peter missed the mask forming, distracted by his knee slipping a little on the algae; when he looked back up, Tony was still clothed normally, but with the Iron Man mask in place. He set his hand on Peter’s shoulder for balance and leaned over, looking down at the water below. Then the mask retracted, melting away like ice in the sun, and Tony told him, “It’s a sea hare. Jarvis says that if we poke it with a stick, it’ll squirt ink like a squid. Wanna try?”

“That’s mean,” Peter scolded, looking down at the sea hare with interest. “He does look squishy though.”

“Did you name him yet?”

Peter considered the creature. It was hideous. “Professor Slughorn,” he decided. Tony laughed, turning away as Peter went back to watching the good professor’s slow progress towards shade.

“Ah, damn,” Tony murmured, tapping Peter’s shoulder and pointing inland. “I think I confirmed our identity to some lookie-loos on the shore. They’re coming over. Do they really think I want to talk to them?”

Peter looked over his shoulder. “They’re kids,” he noted. “C’mon, if I had seen you at the beach when I was thirteen, I would have lost my shit.”

There were three of them, obviously locals; they were dressed like many of the young californian’s Peter had seen, and they had the shaggy hair and tanned skin. One of them cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted over the ocean from about 30 feet away, “Hey, are you Iron Man?”

“No, but I get that a lot!” Tony shouted back. The kids giggled, talking to each other unintelligibly.

“Yes you are!” a different boy called.

Peter rolled his eyes at Tony and got to his feet. “Yes, he is! Come say hi!” Tony gave him a withering look, but Peter just brushed their shoulders together amiably.

“I have an idea,” he said, noticing at last that there were other beach goers beginning to arrive, laying out blankets and looking at other tidepools in the distance; there were people walking down the sidewalk, too. One pointed at them, but their companion shook her head and they walked on. Peter imagined the conversation had gone, is that Tony Stark? Nah.

The kids dared to come pretty close, standing a about two yards away on the rocks. They looked at Tony like he was a god; he supposed he basically was. “Hello!” Peter greeted them, waving.

“You’re Peter Parker,” one answered him, looking amazed.

Peter was a little taken aback, but he smiled and nodded. “Yup! Do you want Anthony’s autograph? I can make him give you one.”

They nodded, excited, but the one in the middle—the one with the blue ballcap—looked stricken and whispered urgently to the others, “But guys we don’t have a pen!

Peter laughed in a friendly way. “Tell you what. Anthony can take a picture with you guys, but you have to do us a favor. Sound good?”

The one in the red shirt was already taking his phone out, the other two nodding enthusiastically. “What’s the favor?”

Peter hooked his arm around Tony’s stiff elbow, leaning into him. “Well, we want to be left alone. Do you think you could handle turning everyone else away? Like bodyguards?”

They look delighted at this job discription. “This is hella cool,” one whispered as his buddy hesitantly lifted up his phone and asked, “Can I take a video?”

Tony was smiling now, nodding in agreement. “Sure, kid. Fire away.”

It was really cute. One kid turned on the camera and spoke into it, narrating everything in an affected attitude of overconfidence. “Hey everybody it’s ya boi, hanging out with T.J. and his boyfriend and Tony Stark and his boyfriend.” The kid turned so that they were visible over his shoulder, his casual tone belied by his excited grin. One of the other boys—T.J., Peter assumed—called out I’m not gay, asshole, to which his supposed boyfriend responded don’t be homophobic, bro. “Do you have a message for my fans, Mr. Stark?”

Tony winked at the camera. “Don’t do drugs, kids.”

“What about you, Mr. Parker?”

Peter was again startled to be asked, but he could see in the recording that he hid it well. “Stay in school!” he said, smiling broadly.

The kid recording turned again so that it was his face with his buddies in the background. “Alright my dudes, you heard the man. Don’t forget to like and subscribe!”

The kid ended the video. Tony raised an eyebrow at him. “Your fans, huh?” he teased.

Unperturbed, the kid answered proudly, “I have thirteen thousand followers. I’m an influencer.”

No, really, Peter thought but didn’t say. Stay in school. But the kids were nice and asked to take a picture together for their parents. They got to work immediately after, shooing away a trio of college-aged women hovering around on the shore and calling out to other interested-looking people, Mr. Stark is hella busy! He doesn’t want to talk to you!

“They’re enthusiastic,” Tony noted, still grinning. “Good idea, Pete.”

“I like kids,” Peter responded, looking for the sea hare. It seems it had squeezed under one of the rocks; he hopped to the next outcropping of rocks in search of another pool to look at. The tide was coming in now, and Peter was getting hungry, so he wanted to get his fill of the pools before they had to leave.

Tony stepped across as well, looking down into each pool as he explored around. “Do you want them? Kids, I mean?”

Startled, Peter looked over at his date, but Tony wasn’t looking at him, instead bending over to look down at something in the water. The knees of his jeans had turned green from the algae; Peter’s, too, now that he looked. “I don’t know,” he answered honestly. “Do you?”

“There’s another starfish over here. A little red one. Uh. I’ve never thought much about it, to be honest, kid. I’d be okay with it.” He held a hand out to Peter to help him balance as he made his way over to look at the seastar. It was very cute, about palm sized and fat, with little dark ridges.

Peter reached into the cold water and stroked its back, feeling the hard, rough skin. “Let’s name her,” he suggested. “Maybe... Martha?”

Tony snorted. “If you have kids, I hope you aren’t allowed to name them.”

Chapter Text

“My jeans are filthy,” Peter commented casually, eyeing the green knees and the sand ground into fabric. Tony looked down at his own; they were in a similar state. They’d just been seated in a restaurant a few blocks away from the beach where they’d gone tidepooling. It was cute, stylishly modern with kitschy sugar skulls on the walls and bright colors.

The waitress came by before Tony could respond, introducing herself as Marie and giving them glasses of water and laminated one-page menus. He could see instantly that Peter was delighted with his glass; they were clear, with hundreds of raised bumps in different colors and a dark blue rim. Tony watched him turn it in his hands, examining its irregularities as he finally answered him. “No worries, Pete. They were too tight anyway. I was thinking I’d take you clothes shopping today.”

The kid looked startled, turning his bluegrey eyes on Tony, wide and sweet. He set the glass down before he responded, spreading his palms out in a stop gesture. “C’mon, Mr. Stark, you’re killing me,” he groaned. “The clothes I have are fine.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Did you really just call me Mr. Stark? I thought you’d finally gotten over that.” Peter merely glared at him, prompting him to continue. “Peter, really, you need new jeans at the least. And I promised I’d get you some shorts; summer is just around the corner anyway. San Diego is a great place for it. California vogue is very stylish in New York.”

“I have my own money, Tony, I can handle it myself.”

This surprised Tony. He raised his eyebrows. “What? How? Been hocking stuff from the Tower?”

Peter huffed, offended. “No, of course not.” Then, shyer, “Promise you won’t be mad?” Tony paused but nodded; he had no idea what the kid was going to say. The kid’s expression turned shame-faced as he leaned in and whispered, “I’ve been writing people’s essays for them.”

That... wasn’t what Tony had been expecting. He barked out a laugh, surprised and amused. “Really? That’s adorable. How much have you made?”

Peter hesitated again. “A hundred and fifty,” he said. “But I don’t really have access to it right now. It’s in a PayPal account. I’ve been trying to figure out how to turn it into cash so I can use it to take care of myself. So you don’t have to.”

Tony set his elbows on the table, leaning in and tapping Peter insolently on the nose. “I like taking care of you,” he reminded him, delighting in how his cute, freckled little nose wrinkled up. “And that won’t cover the sort of clothes you need anyway.”

Peter scowled at him, batting his hand away. “I’ll just go to Goodwill. Maybe you’ve heard of it, it’s where poor people go to buy rich people’s old stuff.”

Tony pushed his sunglasses up onto his head, meeting Peter’s eye. “I love that you care enough to do that,” he said, letting his voice be soft, gentle. “Really. You’re an absolute sweetheart. But you understand that you can’t wear hand-me-downs, right?”

Peter looked vaguely offended, huffing, his ears turning a little red. “Why not?” he demanded. “Not good enough for you?”

Ouch. Tony grabbed his hand off the table and held on to it, even as Peter tried half-heartedly to tug it away. “Kid, you don’t understand. I don’t care.” That wasn’t 100% true; he took great pleasure in seeing Peter in fine clothing and would be disappointed to see him return to oversized, dirty shirts and duct-taped sneakers. Nevertheless, he continued, voice low so as not to be overheard, “But as far as the media is concerned, you’re an accessory. Whatever you do reflects on me. If you aren’t dressed to the nines, sporting all the latest tech and everything else, people are going to say I’m not taking care of you properly. Or that I don’t care about you. They’ll speculate on the news that I’m about to trade you in on someone else.” Peter was looking at the table by then, his cheeks flushed red and his expression downtrodden. Tony stroked his thumb over the kid’s knuckles. “I want everyone who sees you to know how much I care about you.”

“I don’t want to just be a sugar baby,” Peter said, looking immediately like he hadn’t meant to say it. He glanced up at Tony, visibly worried he’d offended him.

Tony leaned in and kissed him on the cheek, unable to help himself. God, the kid was such a sweetheart. “Good, because I don’t want you to be my sugar baby, either. That sounds boring.” He paused, smirking. “It does kind of turn me on to buy you things, though, I have to admit.” The kid immediately colored all the way down his neck, unable to make eye contact. Tony released his hand and reached out to brush the end of his sleeve, over his bicep, feeling the fine material. “Turns me on to see you wear what I get you, too.”

A woman gasped beside them. Tony released Peter’s shirt, panicking a little at the sound, unsure if someone was hurt; his hand was halfway to the reactor when he saw that it had been the waitress, staring at him bug-eyed. “Holy shit, you’re Tony Stark,” she deadpanned. “I didn’t recognize you at first. Fuck, I served my other table before even taking your drink order, I’m so sorry—”

Tony waved her down, smiling in a way that he hoped communicated that she wasn’t going to lose her job—or her tip. “No problem, no problem. Uh, Marie, right? Just bring us whatever you think is good. Unless you want something in particular, Peter?”

The kid looked startled to be addressed—he often did, come to think of it, like he was still getting used to being asked about opinions and preferences—and looked down at the menu, terrified. He clearly hadn’t looked read a word of it. “I’m fine, thank you, ma’am,” he squeaked, holding out the menu to the waitress with a shy, awkward smile.

The woman, still reeling from the surprise of recognizing Tony, blinked at the menu and at Peter a moment, then blurted out just as awkwardly, “I wondered whether the cute, shy nerd thing was an act. You’re really just a dork, aren’t you?”

The woman flushed a deep shade of red when she realized what she’d said; the pair stared at each other, horrified, both baffled by the interaction they’d just had. A weird choking, wheezing sound escaped Tony’s chest as he began to laugh, hunching his shoulders and bracing himself against the table with the force of his fit of mirth. By the time he calmed down, the pair had somehow gotten into an apology contest, each insisting to the other that they were so sorry, so sorry, which set Tony off laughing again.

“He is a dork,” Tony wheezed his agreement, wiping at his eyes and grinning broadly up at the embarrassed woman. “I love that about him.” Peter buried his face in his hands, making Tony need to swallow down another wave of amusement. He cleared his throat. “Don’t worry about it, sweetheart. Where were we..? Ah, yeah. Dealer’s choice, whatever you think is good.” He plucked the menu out of Peter’s grip and stacked it with his own, handing them to the speechless waitress. “Thanks.”

Peter spoke into his hands, sounding absolutely humiliated. “You called the waitress sweetheart again,” he pointed out.

Tony rolled his eyes. “She called you a nerd. I think that gives me a free pass to call her pet names, too.”

...

Marie, for all her social failings, had excellent taste; or maybe the restaurant was just really good. Everything was fresh and flavorful. Peter had been particularly interested in the fresh avocado, explaining shyly that he’d always really liked it but didn’t get to eat it often. He’d also surprised Tony by loading up his food—it turned out that the restaurant specialized in street-style tacos—with salsa so spicy that just smelling it had made Tony’s eyes water, though Peter insisted it wasn’t too hot and had a good flavor.

To Tony’s amusement, Peter made him rehash almost their entire discussion from earlier, Peter going so far as to ask Tony what account of his he could transfer his earnings to as repayment as they stood outside of a high-end boutique specializing in men’s casual wear. He eventually shut the kid down by saying, “If you ask one more time, I’ll start feeling offended,” and guiding him inside with a hand on his lower back.

A sales assistant greeted them almost before they were through the door. The man—dressed in fine all-black slacks, shirt, shoes, and tie—looked them up and down, gaze catching critically on their knees, and declared haughtily, in heavily accented English, “I will fix. You will like better.”

The man took a tape measure out from his pocket, but Tony waved him down, an ugly feeling rising in his chest as he pictured someone touching Peter, even just to take his measurements. “I have all the numbers already,” he said, pulling out his phone and opening the email he had Jarvis send him the day before to show to the man.

How?” Peter demanded behind him, petulant, but Tony didn’t answer, launching instead into a discussion with the salesperson about styles and materials and what all they needed.

...

Peter felt distinctly like a doll. Tony had been changed into a new pair of jeans almost immediately; they fit him perfectly and were almost the exact same style as the ones he’d been wearing before, though a bit darker. It didn’t seem fair that Peter was being paraded arounded in all different colors and styles, prodded and turned in circles as Tony discussed Peter’s body type (slim was the main word that got thrown around, peppered with the occasional skinny and even a delicate), his coloration (rosy was the word the stylist used), and his “aura” (the word cute got used more than he would have liked, but he was pleased when the stylist described him as being very cute on first look, very sensual on second) with a complete stranger who looked at Peter like he was an interesting problem to solve.

He’d seemed particularly pleased when he put Peter in a pair of skinny jeans that had been bleached so much that they approached white in places. “Perfect,” he had said, “You wear with this.” He had Peter try on a form-fitting heather grey t-shirt with a large white line drawing of a desert landscape on it that had also been artificially faded to look ‘vintage.’ Personally, Peter thought he looked sort of silly and tried to argue that he didn’t need any new shirts.

“But it’s cute,” Tony had said, eyes dark as he looked Peter up and down. “Wear it for me?”

That’s how Peter ended up leaving the shop dressed in an entirely new outfit, feeling uncomfortably aware of the fact that he was holding a very heavy bag full of new clothing. But Tony seemed overly pleased, unable to keep his hands off of Peter as they waited for a Lyft to pick them up, talking about how Peter would be more comfortable laying out on the beach in his new shorts.

“Can I take you out for dinner tonight?” the man had asked him. “I want to show you off.”

It made Peter feel good, warm, uncomfortable, overwhelmed, wanted. He found that when he looked up at the man—his boyfriend, the one and only Tony Stark—he could only ever say yes.

Yes, anything you want. I’m yours.

...

Tony ended up taking the kid to some upscale steak place that Happy suggested in San Diego’s Little Italy called Born and Raised. It’s supposed to be a real who’s-who, he’d said.

“I’m underdressed,” Peter hissed at him the moment they walked in, eyeing the all the gleaming wood and well-dressed patrons sipping martinis and cutting into steaks larger than their heads as though they were actively threatening him. He grabbed Tony’s sleeve, stepping halfway behind him as though to hide.

“You’re with me,” Tony responded, voice low, stepping out from in front of him and placing an arm around his waist.

Peter shot him a look that clearly said what the fuck is that supposed to mean? But judging by the adorable look on his face when the host greeted him as ‘Mr. Parker’ without being told who he was, Tony thought maybe he understood.

“You’re a regular Kim Kardashian, now, kid. You should launch a fashion line,” he joked when they sat down, enjoying the way Peter’s face scrunched up in disgust and confusion. Ah, well. He’d let the kid realize he was famous at his own pace. He paused. Peter may not have known why Kim Kardashian was famous, come to think of it. How old would he have been when the sex tape had come out? ... Eight?

Tony shook his head. Better not to think too hard about it.

Peter didn’t open his menu when they received them. When Tony asked him why, he averted his gaze, shy, and said, “The prices stress me out. And you know more about all this anyway. Can’t you just order for me?”

Tony found himself talking about food again. About why meat is aged, and the difference between wet and dry aging; what a tomahawk was and why that was different from a ribeye; what wagyu meant and the four main different kinds. The whole time, Peter listened intently, asking questions, looking always at Tony as he spoke. Smiling. Starry-eyed. Sweet. Happy because Tony was happy.

He’s falling for you, a nasty voice whispered in his mind. How are you going to fuck it up? How are you going to fuck him up?

I’m not, he thought back as they ate, as they drove home, as they walked along the beach in the twilight. I’m not going to fuck it up, he thought as he tackled Peter onto the hammock on the back porch, as he kissed his laughing lips while they swung wildly back and forth, as they struggled together to get undressed without getting dumped onto the floor. I’m not going to fuck him up, he thought as he touched him, as he drowned his cries of pleasure in kisses, as he stroked him until he came over his stomach again.

His lips wanted to give shape to so many truths he wasn’t ready to acknowledge.

...

The next day was their last in San Diego. Try as he might to remember it all as a narrative, for Tony, the memories of it would always be fragmented, each beautiful by its own right and connected nonlinearly to the rest, like the individual bits of blown glass that make up a Chihuly.

Peter, in the car, begging to know where they were going. Guessing stupid things like the moon and Chuck E Cheese and Australia.

Peter, standing on the sidewalk, staring up at the sign, his lips silently forming the words San Diego Zoo Safari Park, then turning to Tony, wide-eyed, and saying, “Really?”

Peter, standing stock-still in the middle of a crowd, studying a map and mumbling to himself about the most efficient path they could take.

Peter, nearly in tears, nose pressed against the glass, telling a bull frog the size of a dinner plate that he was a ‘good boy.’

Peter, still and peaceful, watching a tiger bathe itself as he sat in Tony’s lap on a bench, resting as they waited for a light sprinkle of rain to move on.

Peter, trumpeting in a fairly good impression of the baby elephants playing in the distance, laughing, reading their names out loud to Tony and speculating about which was Mkhaya and which was Umzula-zuli.

Peter, shyly nodding when Tony asked him if he wanted to feed the koi fish, and his delighted squealing as they writhed in the water at his feet, desperately trying to name all of them before they dispersed.

Peter, too distracted by his monologuing about whether the joey in the mother kangaroo’s pouch was too big to be in there (Tony was of the opinion that he was; the poor mother’s stomach nearly brushed the ground as she waddled) to notice the aggressive duck following him until it took a chunk out of the map he was holding and then bit him on the ankle.

Peter, eyes fixed on a rhinoceros and its calf, leaning into Tony’s chest and talking about conservation genetics and the zoo’s role in changing how breeding programs all over the world operated.

Peter, looking around the aviary like he’d found home and never wanted to leave, only to turn around and jump, tripping and falling to the floor, startled by a huge, hideous bird that Peter told him was called a Shoebill Stork when he got back on his feet.

Peter, knocked out in his arms on the plane ride home, exhausted, snoring lightly due to the awkward angle his head was at, nestled under Tony’s chin.

Peter. Beautiful, sweet, his. Peter.

Chapter Text

Clint, Nat, and Bruce were doing recon in Turkmenistan and Sam had accompanied Barnes on his biannual trip to Wakanda to get his arm serviced, so it was only Steve and Rhodey in the Tower when they got home. Peter was plainly glad when Tony told him, clearly too tired to deal with everyone at once. Such a cute little introvert.

The two men met them in the entryway despite the late hour. “Awww, did you miss me?” Tony greeted them, releasing Peter’s hand for Rhodey’s and stepping into a half-hug, then patting Steve on the shoulder as well.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Rhodey joked, smiling wide. “How was your trip?”

Tony told him a little about it, watching Peter shyly hug Steve around the neck in greeting when his old friend opened his arms, laughing and hefting the kid up and making him squeak before setting him back down. Rhodes stuck out his hand to Peter to shake in greeting, asking interestedly, “The San Diego Zoo, huh? How was it?”

Peter’s eyes glowed as he looked up at Rhodes, clasping his hands in front of himself. “I loved it, Colonel,” he told him, simple and genuine and honest. It made Tony’s heart hurt and he couldn’t fight the indulgent grin off of his face, even when Steve raised his eyebrows at him, silently teasing.

Rhodes ruffled Peter’s hair. “Glad to hear it, Pete. Sorry to steal him from you, but I need to talk shop with Tony for a bit. Is that alright?”

He watched Peter process this, process the fact that he was being given the opportunity to decide what Tony was allowed to do. Being deferred to. Tony watched his sweet lips silently form around the words steal him from you. He wanted nothing—nothing—more than to be alone with him again, to kiss him over and over until he believed that he owned Tony body and soul.

Peter’s voice broke through his thoughts, cheerful, sweet. “Of course! Just let me say goodnight.” He turned towards Tony, blushing, his beautiful grey eyes averted shyly as he stepped into his space, putting a hand on his chest just over the reactor for balance as he pushed up onto his toes and pressed a kiss to Tony’s cheek. “Goodnight,” he whispered.

“Goodnight, Peter,” Tony rasped, looping an arm around his waist to pull him in closer for just a moment. “Sleep well.”

Then the kid was turning away, laughing at Steve’s lame excuse to get him alone for a second—it had been let me help you with your backpack—and heading down the hall with him, talking a mile a minute about San Diego. Tony’s heart lurched to watch him disappear around the corner, knowing another man was walking him to his room... But he was being ridiculous.

“You’ve really got it bad, huh, Tones?” Rhodey asked him, voice quiet.

Tony inhaled. Exhaled. Nodded, not taking his eyes off of the empty hallway. He forced himself to turn his head, though, and smile at the man looking at him with an expression of concern tinged with tenderness. “I do,” he admitted, rubbing the back of his head roughly. “Anyway, let’s talk shop. Stark Industries shop or Avengers shop?”

...

The Captain followed Peter into his room, listening patiently as he struggled to find words to describe how cool California had been. “—like, we have an ocean here and it’s pretty and all but it’s not a beach, you know?” he was saying, stepping over to the fish tank. “Hey guys, did you miss me?”

“I made sure they got fed while you were gone,” Captain Rogers assured him as he set Peter’s overly full backpack on the bed.

Peter turned to him, grinning impishly. “Is that code for ‘I fed your fish?’” he asked, laughing when the man’s ears turned a little pink.

The overly large and muscular man looked ridiculous shuffling his feet like a schoolboy. “I hope you don’t mind that I went into your room, Peter.”

He shook his head immediately. “No, no, of course not. Really, thank you so much.”

The Captain looked relieved. “Oh, good. No problem, Peter.”

Peter looked at him, expectant, waiting for whatever questions the protective man had for him. The first one wasn’t really what he was expecting, though.

“You’re going to continue sleeping separately, then?”

Peter blinked, feeling his face heat up a little. He leaned his hip against his desk, returning his gaze to the colorful tank as he answered. “Y-yeah. It was my idea. I thought it might be good for, you know. Boundaries. I didn’t want to mess things up because we were moving too fast, you know?”

Captain Rogers relaxed a little at this, some of the worry disappearing from the set of his eyebrows. He uncrossed his arms as well. “That’s also why you’ve chosen not yet to consummate your relationship,” he guessed, tone distinctly one of approval.

Peter scrubbed his hands over his face, groaning. “You sound like you’re my dad,” he complained.

The other man laughed, surprising Peter a little, and raised his palms up in a defensive gesture, shrugging. “I’m just glad that at least one of you two is mature enough to pace yourself,” he clarified. “I’m proud of you for looking out for your best interests, is all.”

Tony is my best interest, he thought. “I just don’t want to mess anything up. I’m... really happy, Captain.”

The man stepped towards him and clapped a heavy hand on his shoulder. “I’m glad, Peter. Really glad.”

...

“I’m a mature, responsible adult, capable of making healthy decisions,” Tony told his ceiling at 2:30am that night.

Jarvis responded, though Tony hadn’t really meant the statement for him. “Shall I lock the liquor cabinet, sir?”

Tony lazily waved a hand, dismissing this suggestion. “No, thanks. Maybe Peter’s bedroom door.”

“The lock on Peter’s bedroom door was disconnected from my server, sir. For this reason precisely.”

This was true. Tony had disabled his own ability to lock and unlock the door or personally access audio and video from his bedroom during a moment of strength so that he wouldn’t be tempted in a moment of weakness. Or, god forbid, if he drank. “Is he asleep?”

“Yes, sir.”

Tony was as far from asleep as a man could be. He’d spent an hour catching up on work related tasks that had been building up while he was gone, two on going over all the fruitless Venom notes. He was restless; his bedroom was brightly lit and suffocating and lonely. All he could think about was the previous night, when he had rolled over in bed to see that Peter had kicked off his blankets and was sleeping curled up on his side, his pale back glowing in the light from the moon, and he’d wrapped an arm around his waist and held him close until the morning came...

His bed was big and empty.

“I shouldn’t,” he said. “Peter said we haven’t been dating long enough to share a room.”

It’s not sharing a room until you’re clearing out dresser drawers and putting your toothbrushes in the same holder, reasoned an antsy voice in the back of his head. You’d just be visiting.

“Peter might feel uncomfortable if he knows I can’t sleep without him.”

Or maybe he’ll feel wanted and special.

“What if I scare him? Jarvis, he doesn’t sleep naked, does he?”

“No, sir.”

It’d be hotter if he did.

Tony sighed, rolling over onto his stomach and shoving his face into a pillow. He couldn’t breathe, though, so he rolled over again, finding himself staring at the ceiling once more.

“Time?”

“3:02am, sir.”

Fuck.

...

Peter woke from a distressing dream to the even more distressing realization that something was getting into his bed. He jolted upright, a scream on his lips, images flashing in his mind—the black hand that had dragged him into the alley, his abuser’s face in the dark, the homeless man who’d once woken him up and beaten him senseless for daring to sleep on ‘his’ bench—but a familiar voice said, “Shh, kid, sorry, sorry...” as familiar arms wrapped around him and pulled him back down and a familiar, clean smell filled his nostrils.

“Mr. Stark?” he mumbled, still half asleep, his heart still racing. He snuggled into the man’s chest, eyes sliding shut. “Tony? Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, Pete, just couldn’t sleep. Shh.”

“I was having a stress dream,” he responded, speaking into Tony’s sweater.

“Yeah, kid? What about?” The man held him tighter, stroking his arm gently up and down.

Peter yawned. He was a little more awake by then, awake enough to shiver when Tony’s other hand pushed under the waistband of his pajama bottoms to hold his bare hip, his thumb rubbing circles into the junction of his thigh and his pelvis. “You asked me to clean one of the old Iron Man suits,” he murmured, shifting to press his stirring erection against the man’s side, making him inhale sharply and grip his hip harder. “But every time I touched it, a part fell off, and every time I tried to put it back together, it broke into more pieces.”

Tony shifted onto his side; in the darkness, Peter felt their noses brush and his lover’s warm breath on his own lips. “Sounds stressful,” he murmured, voice low and sultry and fucking sexy, and god, Peter was awake now, hard as a rock, aching to be touched. “Can I take your mind off of it?”

Peter nodded, gasping shakily when Tony’s hand gripped his arm and pushed him onto his back, following him down with open-mouthed kisses on his throat. “Good boy,” the man growled against his jaw, making him blush and arch his hips a little. Tony had discovered very, very quickly how much Peter liked to be called that and used it to his full advantage at all times. Very unfair.

“Oh!” Peter cried as the man shoved his shirt up, his hands tightening around his ribs as his mouth explored his stomach, the sensations hot, wet, naughty. He ran his fingers through Tony’s hair—god, he liked it, thought about touching it more often than he’d like to admit—and tightened his grip when the man’s tongue found his nipple, choking back a moan.

“You’re so fucking sexy,” Tony groaned against his heated skin, his tone making Peter’s stomach flutter in anticipation. “I want to put you in my mouth, sweetheart. Will you let me?”

Peter’s breath caught. He deliberated, nervous, biting his lip, and his knuckles ached, but he just said, “We can try that.”

Tony’s fingers caught his waistband and pulled, his lips moving with it, kissing down his thigh and making him squirm. Then he licked his way back up, urgency in the way his mouth moved and his hands pushed Peter’s knees apart, in the way he laved his tongue from the base of his cock to the tip, making Peter cry out again, unable to help himself, panting and twitching his hips, mewling in a way that could only be called pitiful as his lover went back to kissing his thigh.

Then his teeth were grazing against the skin there, in the most sensitive part of his inner thigh, and panic shot through Peter like he’d touched a live wire, making him kick out and push the man away by his head.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” he panted, scrabbling up into a sitting position and throwing his arms around the dark figure that had pulled away from him. “I’m sorry, I panicked, please forgive me...”

He was close to tears as Tony returned his embrace, holding him tightly and shushing him. “It’s okay, kid, calm down,” he was saying, voice gentle. “It’s me that should apologize, I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Did I kick you?” Peter whined, voice breaking, shame burning in his stomach.

The man laughed, the sound warm. “I’ve been kicked by much stronger, much angrier people, I assure you. Do you want to try again? It was the nibbling, right? I won’t do it again, I promise.”

“I’m still sorry,” Peter insisted. Then, quieter, his blush hot yet invisible, he knew, in the dark, “It’s just that I’ve been bitten there before and I didn’t like it. And you surprised me.”

“It’s okay, Peter,” Tony repeated. Then they were kissing again, slow and sweet, and Tony was lowering him back to the bed, kissing down his throat, over his chest, his waist, his hips, mouthing at the base of his cock as he panted into the darkness, nerves and pleasure mixing, climbing to an apex as the man took the head of his cock into his mouth.

The sensation was indescribable. Peter felt like he was balancing between orgasm and bald-faced panic, teetering back and forth, breaths coming too fast as his lover took his cock into his throat. He shut his eyes, trying to focus, but his mind was screaming at him. What if you taste bad? What if he thinks your cock is too small? What if you come too soon and it turns him off?

Tony slowed to a stop after only a few minutes, and Peter cringed in shame, trying to disappear as he sat up onto his knees between Peter’s legs, his large, warm hand laying down flat on his chest. “You okay, Pete?” he asked, voice gentle, pained, worried. “You went soft. And your heart is going a mile a minute. Was I doing something you didn’t like? Do you want to stop?”

“N-no!” Peter protested, voice overloud. He swallowed and continued quieter, “No, it felt great, I just got. Nervous.”

The man leaned forward and kissed Peter, his palm still resting over his violently beating heart. “Do you want to stop?” he asked again, even softer. “You know we can stop, right? Anything and everything you want and nothing more. I promise.”

Peter wrapped his arm around the man’s neck and kissed him, hard, pushing his tongue into the man’s mouth, sucking on his lower lip; then he pulled back and they were both breathing heavier, Tony’s fingertips curled bruisingly into his chest, and he begged, “Please, Tony, will you just touch me instead?” Then, blushing, pleading, “Finger me, please, sir?”

Tony groaned, pressing his forehead into Peter’s shoulder. Peter waited, antsy, for a response, lips parted, ready to take it back, but Tony’s low, gravelly voice, dark and lustful, cut him off. “Fuck, you’re so fucking perfect, Pete.” Then, still dark but also playful, “Did you just call me sir?”

Peter flushed, playing their conversation back in his head. “I-I think I did,” he whispered, mortified. “I’m sorry, I—”

“Do it again. Ask me again.”

Peter mouth went dry. The tone was dangerous, the words a command, but he felt distinctly safe, protected, as he obediently pleaded, Please touch me, sir. And when Tony’s hand wrapped around his cock he realized he’d gotten fully hard again. He pushed his hips up into the man’s hand, moaning, and faintly he heard a little popping noise—a lid. Tony’s hand left for a moment and returned slick, his grip tighter, and Peter faintly recognized that he was whimpering, that Tony’s name was falling from his lips over and over.

He threw his head back, biting his lip hard to keep his silence when he felt the fingers of Tony’s other hand brush slickly across his entrance. The man paused; worried by the sudden silence, Peter realized. “Please,” he panted, voice broken and desperate, and Tony obeyed him, pressing a slick finger into him as he worked the head of Peter’s cock in his other palm.

The sting was lovely, grounding, the stretch perfection, and Peter turned his head, muffling a half-swallowed scream into his pillow as he came, pushing back on the intrusion as his cock pulsed with every stroke of Tony’s hand.

“You are so beautiful.” Tony’s voice was reverent, full of lust and desire and affection, as he released Peter’s sex and slipped his finger back out, leaving the muscles feeling oversensitive.

“It’s dark,” Peter responded stupidly, spent. “You can’t even see me.”

“I don’t need to.”

Peter didn’t know what he meant by that, precisely, but it made him feel warm, wanted. “Let me suck you,” he said, trying to escape from the emotions the older man always seemed to evoke in him.

“You don’t have to, Pete, we can just go to bed. Lay down.”

Peter licked his lips, chest heaving. “Please,” he tried. “Please, sir?”

He’d come to realize pretty quickly that he’d discovered the magic words that could bend the great Tony Stark to his will.

Chapter Text

Peter was becoming remarkably good at accepting new normals.

This one included a clingy billionaire that snuck into his bed in the middle of the night, sure. And laying on the ground by his feet when he did homework. And sometimes it included letting said billionaire jerk him off as he lay spread out on a table in the lab. And other times it included brand new, expensive outfits laid out on his bed before every date.

New new normal.

And some parts belonged to the old new normal. Online classes, lessons from various Avengers, being massively outclassed by Ms. Nat in the gym, chess with Bucky (the damn hustler), and curling up by the fireplace to read in the evenings. Unfortunately, Tony needing to leave on missions and business trips didn’t change, though now he called Peter briefly in the evenings to check in. Overall, it was great. He felt... loved. Like he was family. Starting to date Tony properly had broken down some walls and it seemed everyone felt more comfortable being affectionate towards him. Everything was perfect.

Then Peter had to go and break his arm like an idiot.

...

Peter was bent over at the waist, hands on his knees, struggling to catch his breath. “C’mon, Peter, you’re doing great!” Captain Rogers encouraged him, gesturing him back over. Peter just shook his head, unable to speak, and the other man laughed. “You almost got me that time, Pete! Try again.”

It was a pretty typical afternoon so far. Tony had left with Colonel Rhodes, Mr. Hawkeye, and Dr. Banner on a mission two days previously, leaving Peter in the care of Natasha, the Captain, Bucky, and Mr. Wilson. It was a good group; Peter could hear Natasha teasing Mr. Wilson for not being able to squat as much as her in the background, Bucky calling out additional jabs from where he stood nearby throwing knives into a target. The last one thunked into the bullseye along with the others as Peter straightened up; turning, the man caught his eye and gave him his characteristic half-smile.

“I’ll help you, Pete,” he offered as he approached, squaring up to the Captain with a smirk. He watched the Captain’s eyebrows raise up, fighting a smile, and tilt his head; Bucky shook his head minutely and laughed. Peter was always amazed by their ability to communicate that way. “Alright. Steve and I will spar. You try to get a punch in. And we’ll try not to step on you. Sound good?”

Peter snorted. “I’d probably die if either of you stepped on me. How much do you weigh? It has to be more than 200 pounds.”

Both men nodded. “Well over,” said the Captain.

Bucky brandished his arm proudly. “Two pounds less since I got my newest upgrade,” he bragged. At Peter’s unimpressed look—he’d already mentioned several times how pleased he was with the newest edition of his arm—he coughed and muttered, “About 240, yeah. That’s why we’ll try not to step on you.”

Peter weighed less than half of that, the last time he’d snuck onto the scale on the counter in the lab. He was very pleased, though, as he had finally passed into the low end of the normal BMI range for his height. He thought about sharing this information, but decided that they worried enough about him without worrying about his BMI, too. Instead, he just nodded his assent and took a step back to give them space.

They exploded into movement almost before Peter had finished his step; Bucky had tried to surprise the Captain and been blocked, taking a punch to the ribs for his efforts. Watching them fight was like watching a ballet; they moved almost as one, countering every shift and strike from the other as though they could read each other’s thoughts as well during a fight as they did during a conversation.

When Peter joined in, he felt less like a dancer and more like he was playing a high-stakes game of dodgeball. He tried a basic kick, first, while the Captain was busy blocking a furious rain of punches; but the man caught his foot without breaking stride and shoved him down as he ducked into a crouch, twisting behind Bucky. The wind left Peter’s lungs as he hit the mat, but he scrambled back up immediately, exhilarated.

He tried a punch, next; it missed and he hopped backwards to avoid getting caught between them. Before he could go in again, Bucky caught a kick to the chest and stumbled back several feet. Everything was still for a moment as Bucky clutched at his sternum, grinning ear to ear like an absolutely insane person, and launched himself back into the fight.

The man—the Winter Soldier, Peter was viscerally reminded—was like a force of nature, stealing ground from the Captain as he turned to defense, blocking, dodging, even doing an oddly graceful half-jump backwards. Bucky pulled back a little; the Captain looked a bit disoriented, and something in Peter’s chest said now, do it now, and he threw everything he had into a punch aimed at the man’s stomach.

Peter didn’t know what happened, it was too fast. He’d be told later that it went like this: Steve grabbed his fist with one hand, and muscle memory had him bringing his other palm against the outside of his elbow, with force that “wouldn’t have hurt Bucky,” he would insist apologetically. From Peter’s perspective, it was more like he threw a punch, heard a snap, and felt a pain in his arm like he’d been stabbed with a knife.

“What the fuck, Steve?” he heard Bucky hiss as he slid down to his knees, cradling his arm to his chest and bending his head down until it almost touched the ground. He heard more shouting, and rapid footsteps as Nat and Mr. Wilson jogged over.

He heard the Captain saying, it was an accident, I swear, it was an accident, sounding like he might cry, and he felt a small hand smooth down his back and Natasha spoke in his ear, urgent but gentle, “Let me see, Peter, let me see.”

The initial stabbing sensation was fading gradually to a sharp, deep soreness that intensified with every movement. He began to push himself up and felt Bucky’s metal hand close around the bicep of his good arm to help him. He kept his eyes shut and groaned, feeling nauseous, as Mr. Wilson sucked in a breath through his teeth and said, “Damn, that’s broken, alright.”

Peter tilted his head up and made eye contact with the Captain. The man’s face was crumpled with regret, his hands held out in front of him like he wanted to help but was scared to. “It’s okay, Captain,” Peter forced out through gritted teeth. “I’m okay.”

“Peter, I broke your arm!

Peter was being helped to his feet by Mr. Wilson and Bucky; he could hear Natasha on the phone with someone behind him. “It was an accident,” he insisted, refusing to look down at his throbbing arm. He had a weak stomach when it came to injuries. Something struck him suddenly and he whined low in his throat.

“What’s wrong?” Bucky demanded, sounding a little panicked.

“Tony is going to flip,” Peter whispered.

Mr. Wilson whistled. “Man, I’m glad I’m not you,” he told the Captain.

...

Peter was taken to a state-of-the-art clinic that he had no idea existed on the third floor of the Tower. “We need professional healthcare, too,” Mr. Wilson had explained while they waited for whatever doctor Ms. Potts had contacted to arrive. “And we can’t risk civilians by getting treated in regular hospitals. Some of us also have... special needs that require specialty equipment, or potentially exploitable weaknesses that call for confidentiality.”

Natasha piped in then. “Buck and Steve need reinforced needles, for example. The regular ones bend.”

Peter huffed, amused despite his pain. He appreciated that they were keeping him company and distracting him; it really helped. “Captain,” he joked, voice drawn, “if I had landed a hit, it would have broken my hand, wouldn’t it?”

The man gave him a sheepish look from where he sat on one of the rolling stools that littered the lab-like space. “Yes, if you had gotten a good one in,” he admitted. “But I knew you wouldn’t be able to land a punch.” Peter laughed, and the man’s eyes softened. “You know, Pete, I broke your arm, I think we’re on a first name basis now.”

Natasha spoke before Peter could respond. “Peter only calls people that are nice to him by their first name,” she said snootily. “Right, Pete?”

He met her eye and blushed, remembering the previous week when she had twisted his arm behind his back during an absolutely humiliating, never-to-be-repeated wrestling match and refused to let him up unless he promised to drop the ‘miss’ when he addressed her. “Yes, ma’am,” he agreed, making a show of flinching when she raised her hand in a mock-threatening gesture.

...

Peter did end up using the man’s given name a little later. When the doctor—a lovely young woman named Dr. Freeman who wore her hair up in an elaborate bun—put his X-ray up on the board for everyone to see and he saw the fractures and the surprisingly dramatic space where the ball of his elbow joint had been knocked out of socket, everyone was silent. Peter—who by then wasn’t feeling his arm as much and was a little out of it from whatever was in his IV—took one look and deadpanned, “Damn, Steve. What did I do to you?” Bucky helpfully smacked him over the head for emphasis.

...

Four days away from Peter had been tough on Tony. He liked Avenging, absolutely; the adrenaline, the fight, the knowledge that he was putting good into the world, he lived for that. But the last two nights he hadn’t even been able to call, SHIELD having forbidden them from making contact with anyone outside the mission in case the signal was intercepted. But that was over now. He was sore, exhausted, bruised, and definitely less than immaculately clean and groomed, but now he was re-entering the Tower, Clint, Bruce, and Rhodey at his heels, and he could go see Peter, ask him about his week, maybe even eat dinner with him. It was only five, still early.

He was wondering whether Peter would stay the night with him if he asked when he turned the corner in the hall to his bedroom and was startled to see Steve outside the kid’s door, pacing back and forth. He stopped when he saw Tony, straightening up and greeting him. “How was the mission, Tony?”

“It was... good,” Tony responded slowly as he approached, searching his old friend’s face. He was hiding something. “Is everything alright here?”

Steve’s hands were on his hips and he wasn’t meeting Tony’s eye. “Everyone’s okay now,” he said, and Tony felt ice slide into his heart. “But we had a little accident.”

Tony’s eyes flickered to the door and back to Steve. His voice, when he spoke, sounded like metal; his question was a statement. “What’s wrong with Peter.

“Well, we were sparring, and Bucky suggested that we should—”

“Cut the bullshit, Rogers. What’s wrong with him?”

Like through water, Tony watched the man’s mouth open, then snap shut. Then, blinking rapidly, he stated, “His arm is broken.”

Tony was shoving past him and into Peter’s bedroom before Steve could get out of his way, following right on his heels and saying his name over and over, but he only had eyes for Peter, looking drowsy on the bed, sat up with pillows behind his back, sporting a clunky, hot-pink cast that spanned from mid-bicep to wrist. Peter’s eyes meeting his calmed the storm in his stomach; his knees felt weak when the kid smiled and waved lazily at him. He vaguely noted that Bucky and Natasha were sitting together on chairs dragged in from the living area, ostensibly keeping the kid company.

“Hi, Tony,” Peter said, smiling wide. Tony watched his eyes shift between his own and something behind him—Steve, he realized. “Captain Rogers told you he broke my arm, then?”

Tony felt Steve tense up behind him and he saw Peter’s eyes widen with the realization that Tony hadn’t known how his arm had gotten broken. He couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, all he could do was stand very, very still and try to control his anger. “It was an accident,” Steve’s voice was saying, sounding apologetic, and his hand touched Tony’s shoulder; as though through a long tunnel, Tony saw himself turn, smashing his fist—Iron Man gauntlet having formed without him even realizing—into the man’s cheek.

He saw Steve stumble back, shocked, one hand cupping his jaw, the other held out in a plea. The man’s mouth was moving but Tony couldn’t hear anything past his heartbeat in his ears as he took another step forward and threw another punch, then another, Steve dodging each, his brow furrowing, and he was still saying something Tony couldn’t hear—then the other man drew his fist back faster than Tony could follow it and clocked him in the eye.

Pain burst like stars and Tony stumbled backwards; he would have fallen but someone caught him and held him upright. He lunged again at his old friend, anger seething in his stomach, doubled now with the pain, and finally a sound reached him through the din of his violent thoughts.

“—p, I said STOP!”

Peter.

Tony turned his head, stunned. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that everyone else was staring, too, at the boy in the bed whose face was flushed with anger. It was—by far—the loudest Tony had ever heard the gentle boy do anything, and judging by the shocked expressions of the others in the room, none of them had ever heard Peter yell, either.

Natasha released Tony’s shirt—ah, that’s who’d caught him—and stepped in between Tony and Steve, pointing at the door. “Get out,” she said.

“But—”

“Get out, both of you, and I’ll tell you when you can come back in.”

...

Only a few minutes later, Tony and Steve were sitting at the bar in the kitchen, silent. Neither of them had spoken as Tony pulled ice packs out of the freezer and hand towels out of a drawer. Nor had they spoken as Tony set one of each on the counter in front of his old friend and sat down beside him, hissing as he pressed the ice to his rapidly-swelling-shut left eye.

They didn’t speak until Clint wandered in, a backpack slung over his shoulder and his hair wet, having evidently decided to shower and shave before he headed home to see his wife and daughters. He paused, eyeing them both, and set his bag down. “What... happened?” he asked, tone cautious.

“I broke Peter’s arm, so Tony punched me, so I punched Tony,” Steve explained briefly, sounding pained and tired.

Clint blinked at him. “You broke Peter’s arm?” he asked, incredulous. “Did I read your lips right? Hold on.” He fiddled with his hearing aid. “Say that again.”

Steve buried his face in his hands for a moment, but remembered to uncover his lips as he responded dully, “You heard me right, I broke his arm.”

“Dude, what the fuck?”

Steve laid both hands out flat on the table, palms up. “It wasn’t on purpose!” he pleaded, glancing over to Tony as he did so.

The anger had mostly left Tony, leaving him feeling drained. “I know,” he said. “I know. I’m sorry I hit you.”

Steve huffed out a breath. “I’m sorry I broke his arm.”

“You’re forgiven,” Tony murmured, pressing the ice harder into his eye. “But if you do it again, I’m going to break your boyfriend’s arm back.”

“Wait, back up,” Clint interrupted. “How did you break his arm?”

Tony listened intently as Steve explained what had happened, but interrupted him when he mentioned Peter staying in the hospital area overnight to monitor the swelling after they reset his elbow. “Wait, when was this?” he demanded.

Steve side-eyed him. “Day before last.”

“And no one called me?”

“Peter said you’d abandon mission if we told you.”

Tony felt his jaw tighten at that. It was true. But he didn’t want to hear it. 

Chapter Text

Bucky watched Nat herd the two quarreling men out of the room; in truth, he was still recovering from hearing Peter scream like that. It was almost like he hadn’t believed Peter was capable of it; maybe he hadn’t. Peter, to him, had always been something soft and quiet, a contrast to his own hard and quiet.

The silence that followed the click of the door being shut was loud, all the louder for containing Peter’s heavy breathing. He chanced a glance up at the kid, taking in his heaving chest, his red ears, the way he rested his forehead on his knees, his good arm wrapped around his legs and the broken one jutted out to the side. Bucky cleared his throat, unsure what to say, and made eye contact with Nat, who looked equally uncomfortable where she stood leaned against the door, her arms crossed over her chest. She shrugged at him, communicating the same helplessness he felt.

Peter tilted his head so that he was looking right at him, his temple still rested on his knees. Bucky felt the corner of his mouth twitch up. “I don’t know about you, Pete,” he said, “But that was kind of hot. Don’t you think?”

Something tugged in Bucky’s heart as Peter gave a surprised giggle, his lips turning upwards into a painfully sweet smile; in the next moment, though, the kid turned his face back into his knees and his shoulders began to shake and Bucky realized with a sickening drop in his stomach that he was crying. He stood; but he hadn’t thought the motion through and wasn’t sure what action to take. Relief made his breath catch as Natasha stride over and sat on the edge of the bed, wrapping an arm around Peter’s thin shoulders and drawing him in against her.

They stayed like that for a while. Eventually, it occurred to Bucky to offer the kid a tissue; he accepted it, sniffling, and balled it up in his fist.

“I don’t know how to handle this,” Peter finally admitted. “I don’t know how to handle any of this. I don’t know how to handle Tony.”

Bucky felt sick. He watched Natasha’s slender fingers card through his hair, watched her pull him close to her. She shushed him and said, “It’s okay, Peter. You don’t have to know everything right now. You can learn.” She paused. “You can also leave, you know. We won’t let him do anything stupid if you do.” She stroked his hair again as she continued pensively, “I doubt he would, though. He tends to direct destruction inward, not outward.”

“I don’t want to leave,” Peter insisted, his scratchy voice muffled by Nat’s shoulder. “He’s just... a lot. Sometimes.”

“You can ask him to stop,” Bucky said, surprising himself. He hadn’t realized he felt the need to join the conversation. “You know that, right? You get to make rules. You get to set boundaries and enforce them. But you have to say something.”

Peter hiccuped pitifully. “I know,” he whispered. “I know.”

Chapter Text

The Captain—Steve—was allowed back into Peter’s bedroom first, escorted in with Nat’s hand on his elbow. Peter felt, emotionally, like a rung out dish towel by that point, drained by his long conversation with her and Bucky about what he’d say to Tony. Steve could plainly see this. He looked guilty; a bruise was forming on his cheek.

Before he could say anything, Peter met his eye and said, “I’m so sorry.” Then, when the man looked confused, as Peter thought he would, he continued evenly, “You got hit because of me. I’m going to make sure Tony understands that it wasn’t appropriate. Did he apologize?”

Steve, stunned, merely nodded, his eyes flicking between Peter and Bucky, still stationed beside his bed, his boots up in another chair and his arms crossed casually. “Alright,” the man agreed after a moment. “Thought I don’t think I needed an apology from you, Peter. ... I’ll let you talk to Tony.”

The man turned to leave and Bucky stood to follow him. Peter turned his head to look at him, and his panic must have been visible in his eyes because Bucky reached out and patted him on the knee. “Like we talked about,” he said. Then, quieter, leaning in, “Look, kid, you don’t need me to be here. You have this handled. Understood?”

Peter searched his dark eyes, his heart beating hard in his chest, but he nodded, touching his fingers to the back of the man’s metal hand as he pulled it away. He kept his eyes on where it had been as he heard the door open; for a moment, he was alone. Through the open doorway he heard a terse exchange.

“Stark.”

“... Barnes.”

Then, Nat: “Take your pissing match somewhere else. You coming in or not, Tony?”

Then the door shut. He listened to Tony walk over and sit down, exactly where he had Peter’s first day in the Tower. In his mind, he could hear the detached arrogance, the words generally, I get what I want. It hardened his resolve.

After a moment of silence, Tony laid his hand on the bed near Peter’s good arm, palm up, fingers relaxed. Something in him sagged, comforted, and he laced their fingers together. “I missed you,” he murmured.

Tony’s grip tightened in a momentary squeeze and his voice was very gentle. “I missed you, too, kid.”

Peter let himself pick at the callous on the man’s thumb with his own thumbnail as he tried to figure out what to say. “We have to talk,” he tried, his voice surer than he felt.

The man sighed, shifting in the chair, but his tone didn’t change. “I figured.”

Peter tried to gesture with his other arm and winced in pain. He looked up, at Tony’s handsome, unshaven face and his blacked eye. He looked rough around the edges, dangerous. It was attractive. He watched Tony’s lips move as he spoke. “You’ve been crying,” he noted, regret coloring his tone and darkening his eyes.

“I’m not a pet,” Peter responded. He saw pain blossom in the man’s expression and looked down at their linked hands. “I’m also not your employee. You can’t control what I do, or pick fights over me. You have to give me space, and privacy. I haven’t left the Tower alone in months, Tony. That isn’t healthy. You’ve only stayed out of my bed for the whole night twice since we got back from California. You have to calm down.” Peter was shaking with the adrenaline of confrontation. He thought he might be crying, too, but he wasn’t sure until he blinked and felt more tears fall down his cheek to his neck. He hated crying.

Tony’s other hand cupped their linked fingers, warm, and Peter saw that the knuckles were bruised. His voice was very raw when he spoke. “You’re right,” he said. “I—I’m sorry, Pete. You’re right. I just. I just need you to be okay.”

Peter looked back over at him. His head was bowed over their hands and he couldn’t see his face. His stomach was churning with anxiety, affection, fear, and he leaned over and pressed his lips into the man’s thick hair, stroking the man’s hand with his thumb as he sat back up. “I’ll be okay,” he promised. “Let me get hurt. Let me decide. I chose to spar with superheroes. I all but deserved a broken arm. You have to accept that and any other stupid choice I might make.”

The man nodded jerkily and rubbed at his face with one hand. With a horrible jolt in his stomach, Peter realized he was crying, or about to. “I have to tell you something,” the man said, and Peter felt fear ball up in his stomach.

“What?” he asked as lightly as he could. He refused to let himself think of all the possibilities.

Tony lifted his head; his eyes looked a little red. He didn’t look directly at Peter as he spoke. “This,” he said, his fingertips brushing along the bracelet he’d almost forgotten he was wearing. “It’s not just defensive.”

Peter stared at him, uncomprehending, then down at the little device. “It’s... also offensive?” he asked, confused.

Tony shook his head, looking pained. “No, look. Jarvis?” He held free hand out, nodding to his watch, and it projected a holographic screen littered with numbers and letters.

“Is that,” Peter whispered. He cleared his throat, scanning all of the information he was being shown. “Is that my location at the top?”

Tony hesitated, then nodded.

Peter’s head was spinning. “Blood pressure,” he read out loud. “Blood sugar. Vitamin D3, Vitamin B12, Niacin, Iron. Fuck, Tony. What did you even want this information for?”

The man’s grip tightened again. “You passed out in my lab,” he murmured, voice low and urgent. “I was trying to make you healthy again.”

“You needed to know where I was at all times to do that?“

“You got kidnapped!”

Peter pulled his good hand away and covered his face with it, trying to breathe. “Is there anything else I should know?” he asked, breathless, fighting off a long-overdue panic attack.

Tony paused. Peter turned a glare on him and he pulled back, holding both hands up defensively. “No! No, there isn’t. I was just thinking. Making sure.”

Peter nodded once, and they lapsed into silence. His mind was going in a million different directions. He was angry, confused; he felt violated.

Tony interrupted his thoughts. “I’m so, so sorry, Peter.” His voice was anguished. “I know I did it the wrong way but I’m just trying to take care of you. All I want is to take care of you. Please, let me do better.”

Peter looked at him through his eyelashes. “Do you see me as an equal?” he asked.

The reply was instant, earnest. “Of course.”

Peter considered this. “Give me equal clearance. To access Jarvis. So that I can be in control of how I’m being monitored and know that you can’t go behind my back.” It was an insane demand, he knew, but maybe it would lead to a compromise that—

“Done. What else?”

Peter blinked at him, baffled. “What, really?”

Tony scrunched his eyebrows together, looking confused by Peter’s confusion. “Yeah. Did you hear him, Jarvis? From now on, report to us both if we give conflicting commands.”

“Very good, sir.”

Then Tony’s dark, intense eyes found Peter’s again, pinning him to the bed as effectively as corporeal binds. “What else, kid?”

Peter struggled to think. He felt like he was trying to word a wish to a wily genie. “Jarvis, please let me know if Tony accesses any of my information. Immediately. You better have a good reason if you do,” he threatened. When the man looked appropriately chastised, he continued. “That includes no longer notifying Tony if I wake up in the middle of the night with a nightmare. Let me decide if I want company.”

“Very good, sir.”

Tony nodded, too, and Peter turned a little more fully towards him. “Stop coming into my room when I tell you I want to sleep alone.”

“Okay.”

“Stop buying me new clothes for no reason. I’ll let you know if I need something.”

“Okay.”

“No more gifts at all, actually.”

A pause. “What about birthdays and holidays and stuff?”

“No more no-reason gifts, then. And you can’t go overboard for holidays.”

“Alright.”

“You can’t punch anyone over me or otherwise punish them for something they’ve done to me. You can stop someone who is like, actively threatening me, but you can’t go around exacting vigilante justice for shit that’s already happened.”

“Okay. Is that everything?”

Peter was staring at the man, amazed. “I didn’t think it would be this easy,” he admitted to the older man, who laughed, the sound pained.

“Was this easy for you, kid? Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad, but I feel like you just tore my heart out.”

Peter could see it in his eyes that it was true, could see the pain and grief and repentance, and he reached for him, feeling something slide into place in his heart and make him whole again when he obeyed, climbing onto the bed, kneeling over Peter’s body and kissing him, both of his hands cradling Peter’s face.

They pulled apart, their foreheads still pressed together, and Peter could still taste him on his lips. “I’m sorry I made you have to tell me all of this,” Tony whispered, like it was a secret. “I’m sorry I keep making you be the responsible one.”

Peter shrugged his good shoulder and tried a smile. “Someone has to be,” he said. Tony’s returning smile was crooked, almost comical when taken together with the black eye. “Sleep here with me? I missed you.”

“Sure, kid. Anything you want.”

Chapter Text

When James got the text at 200 hours the second night after they had completed their mission and returned to the Tower to find that the idiots they’d left behind had managed to break Tony’s boyfriend, he felt like he’d been waiting for it.

Tony had mentioned to him hours before that there had been a serious discussion and he’d been banned from Peter’s bedroom. He—and everyone else—had noticed that Tony rarely ended the night wherever he began it if he didn’t begin it with Peter.

There had been a brief time, after the cave, that Tony had frequently slept in James’s bed. He’d never complained, of course, but he could understand why Peter had chosen to put an end to the behavior. He was too young for a live-in boyfriend. Young men and women need to have their own space at that age.

So, yes, he was awake already when the text came in. Still dressed. As though he’d been waiting; maybe subconsciously he had been.

TONES: RHODEY
TONES: PLS COME GET ME

James got to his feet, stretching; he heard his shoulder pop and the mechanical joint at his knee creaked. He needed some oil for that. He left his room and went down the hall towards the common area, half expecting to find Tony on the floor, halfway through an expensive bottle of whiskey, having thrown away seven years on the wagon, the last three of those without so much as a drop. But he wasn’t there.

With a sinking feeling in his stomach, James made his way to the hall that housed Peter’s bedroom, where he found Tony sitting on the floor with his knees drawn up and his back against the wall opposite the door. He whispered, not eager to include Peter in on the conversation, “What’s going on, Tones?”

Tony didn’t lift up his head. His hair was standing up from where he’d been running his hands through it, and even in the low light James could see how miserable he looked. “Just a long-overdue exercise in self control, Rhodey,” he whispered back, despondent, and held out his hand.

James took it and pull the man to his feet and into a half-hug. They stood for a second, their sides pressed together, contact easy with their bred familiarity, and then he walked Tony down the hallway back to the living room. When they sat down, he saw Tony’s eyes flicker to the wooden liquor cabinet behind the bar.

“My knee joint has been bothering me,” James said. It really only needed oil, but Tony needed a distraction and James thought the man secretly felt better about the accident whenever he was able to work on the tech that helped him stay mobile. “Will you take a look while you tell me about what’s going on?” He’d learned a long time ago that the best way to get Tony talking was to give him something to do with his hands.

“Sure,” his old friend agreed, turning and rifling through coffee table drawer for the extra set of miniature screwdrivers James kept there for nights that he wanted to sit with everyone while he maintenanced his legs. He watched Tony pat his thigh when he found them. “Pop it up here.”

Chapter Text

Peter relaxed in ways Tony hadn’t known he was tense in the weeks that followed.

He laughed more. He didn’t look guilty when he teased Tony. He initiated physical contact more. He even slept better when he spent the night in Tony’s bed than he had before. He started suggesting destinations and activities for dates, which Tony found he liked; Peter even used some of the money he’d saved up to take Tony out to the movies, something Tony hadn’t done in a public theater in years.

Tony learned a lot about him over the next few weeks. He learned that Peter liked to walk early in the morning; “meditation,” as Peter put it. Most often, he liked to walk alone, but sometimes he invited Tony along and they spent an hour or two exploring Central Park. Peter had an adorable habit of picking up leaves that he thought were particularly pretty and carrying them for a while before putting them back on the ground to decompose. He was also very good at catching and locating bugs, which was a little less charming.

He learned that Peter took more risks and was more creative in the lab when he was there alone. He arrived one day hours after Peter had walked over alone to find him splattered with dried eco-plastic, scraping little droplets from the floor, his glasses, and lab bench with a razor; he’d looked up at Tony, beaming, and said, It exploded, but it was almost clear before that!

He learned that Peter had a high need for silence and privacy. He’d called Pepper at one point, asking if that was normal, and she had sighed and said, Tony, not everyone needs company as much as you do. That had stuck with him. Peter started to tell him when he needed quiet. He’d say, I’m going to go read for a while or tell Tony he was going for a walk. But sometimes, Peter would curl up next to him on the couch while he worked and say, Tony, I’m too tired to talk, but can I sit with you? And they’d work together, quiet, and Peter would sometimes rest his feet in Tony’s lap and he’d hold the kid’s ankle in between bursts of typing.

But Tony also learned how much Peter cared about meeting his needs. He learned that Peter could tell by looking at him whether he was asking him to stay the night for selfish reasons or because he needed it, and that Peter always said yes when he needed it. He learned that if he took hold of Peter’s hand and told him, I really need to be close to you, Peter would hold him so tightly for so long that it was like he thought he could squeeze all the anxiety away. And Peter never stopped looking at him like he was the most interesting man in the world when he went off on a tangent about his work, or about some obscure culinary topic, or his personal opinions on modern versus classic rock music. Tony learned that Peter listened because he wanted to listen, cared about what he had to say.

Tony hadn’t been able to put his finger on what was different, precisely, until he’d come in late to the lab one morning, Peter having beaten him there by several hours, and found him dancing.

He had headphones in, eyes shut, bopping his head wildly to the beat—really, he was bordering right on headbanging—and air-drumming enthusiastically, twisting and rocking his hips like a rock star. Tony’s grin felt like it would break his face in half. “What’s he listening to, Jarvis?” he asked as he stepped into the lab, shrugging off his suit jacket and draping it over his desk chair.

After a pause, Jarvis answered with an air of disapproval, “Hot for Teacher by Van Halen, debuted in 1984. Notably, it was the last single released before David Lee Roth left the band in 1985 due to—”

“Got it, Jarvis,” he interrupted, still unable to wipe the smile off of his face. He leaned his hip against Peter’s workbench, and something must finally have alerted Peter to his presence because he jumped, eyes flying open, and started laughing as he pulled out his headphones and tried to smooth down his hair. He was blushing a little, but he didn’t look embarrassed. Just happy.

With a warm clench in his stomach, Tony realized all at once that this was the difference. Peter was comfortable. He felt safe. He wasn’t trying to be anything. He obviously felt like he could be his own dorky self and not disappoint Tony. He was thinking too fast to realize Peter was moving until their lips met and the kid was laughing against them, “Did you enjoy the show?” with a little wink, his cheeks red, and Tony wrapped his arms around him and said yes into his hair.

Then they parted, and Peter was leading him by the hand over to see how his experiments were going—he’d had prototype soda bottles filled with cola to confirm that they could stand up to the pH. But Tony wasn’t ready to let him off the hook. “Hot for Teacher, huh?” he teased.

Peter blushed again and raised his eyebrows, lifting his finger to his lips with his broken arm. “I’ve always had a thing for authority figures,” he stage whispered, mock-serious. “Don’t tell anyone, but I’m totally sleeping with the guy who got me this internship.”

Tony raised an eyebrow at him, feeling lust pool in his stomach. “Really,” he said, letting his voice drop an octave as he hooked a finger through Peter’s beltloop and pulled him in closer, delighting in how the kid melted in his grip. “In that case, I might know a way you could earn a raise.”

Peter’s eyes shuttered closed and his voice came out soft and breathy. “Can’t right now, I’ve got samples in the centrifuge. Maybe I could come by your office when they’re out... sir?”

He could wait.

...

Peter was so, so happy.

He hadn’t realized how suffocated he had been feeling until he was able to leave the Tower whenever he wanted. He slept better, he made a major breakthrough with his eco-plastic in the lab, and he’d even started going on walks again, something he’d sorely missed without even realizing it.

The first few days were rough on Tony, he knew. He saw the man’s hesitance, his impatience, the way that he struggled not to baby Peter, the way he struggled against his own clinginess. But with gentle reprimand and praise—so subtle he knew that Tony didn’t always notice he was doing it—the man relaxed, and Peter with him. Every day, Tony was learning how to treat him as a partner instead of a pet. How to care about him without always caring for him. How to let go. And, maybe best of all, how to ask Peter to give him intimacy instead of asking if he can take it.

Peter found it rewarding and satisfying when the man melted into his embrace. It wasn’t better or worse than being pulled against Tony’s chest and held, just different. Peter found that he liked initiating things. He’d always been too nervous, before, always worried that he’d do something wrong.

Peter felt safe asking for things now; or even telling Tony things. Standing in front of the man’s office door, he felt an echo of the anxiety that had curled around him when he told Tony he was applying to summer research positions.

Okay, Tony had said, his gaze steady on Peter’s.

And you aren’t going to pull any strings in terms of my applications, Peter had added.

... Okay, he’d grumbled, clearly put out. But then he’d kissed Peter on the cheek and acquiesced, I don’t think you need the help, anyway.

That had gone well. This should, too, right?

He knocked. From inside, he heard Tony’s voice, irritated, call, “Go away!” Then there was a pause, and the man sounded distinctly less upset when he continued, “... Unless that’s Peter.”

Peter edged the door open and popped his head in, sending the frustrated-looking man a sympathetic look. “Not going well?” he asked. The man’s mood seemed to have soured in the two hours that had elapsed since he came by the lab that morning to check in.

He scrubbed his hands through the salt and pepper hair at his temples, groaning. “Not as well as I’d hoped,” he griped. “Fisk filed another patent lawsuit. Doesn’t he have anything better to do than try to convince people that Stark Industries is stealing tech from him?” He picked up a folder, opened it, scowled, and tossed it back down as Peter walked into the spacious room. “And still nothing on Venom. He’s like a ghost.”

Peter shut the folder without looking at it. “It’s okay,” he murmured, rounding the desk and settling into the man’s lap. Tony’s arm wrapped around his waist automatically, and Peter felt his shoulders unknot a little when he hugged him, careful not to press his cast too hard against his back. “Let me take your mind off of it?”

He heard, rather than saw, Tony’s smirk, as the man nosed his hair away from his neck and kissed the hollow of his throat. “Are you here about the raise, then?”

Peter nodded, letting his head tilt back. There was adrenaline and lust thrumming in his heart; he hoped enough of each to communicate what he wanted to Tony. “I want to try something,” he told the wall, gasping as he felt the man suck on his pulse-point, his hand squeezing Peter’s inner thigh.

“What is it?” was spoken directly into his ear, deep and dark and full of interest and promise. Peter hesitated, nervous, and reached a hand into his pocket, pulling out the bundle of thin, soft rope he’d found in Tony’s bedside drawer a few days prior. He pressed it against the back of Tony’s hand, and the man took it from him, pulling his lips away to study it. “Hm,” he hummed. “You or me?”

Peter turned his head so that their eyes met, a relieved smile, produced by the man’s utterly nonjudgmental tone, making him sound downright impish as he joked, “I didn’t realize tying you up was an option.”

Tony leaned in and nipped at his neck, making him shiver, and the hand that had been pressed against his stomach slid down to cup his erection through his jeans. “I told you that you could have anything,” the man rumbled into his throat. “So what will it be?”

“Me,” Peter gasped, arching his hips up into Tony’s palm. It felt so good, and it made talking so much easier. “Just my good arm. Take it slow, you know?

“Sure,” Tony agreed readily, removing his hand from Peter’s hardness. Before he could complain about the lack of friction, though, he was being lifted into the air, the movement effortless. He heard Tony pushing papers aside before he was laid down on one end of the man’s unnecessarily large, L-shaped wooden desk.

Tony followed him down, standing to the side and bending over to drown Peter in kisses, one hand tangling in his hair and the other fussing with his belt buckle. By the time the man pulled away, his lips felt swollen and he was breathless, lifting his hips to let him tear his jeans and boxers down together, huffing out a laugh when they got tangled with his tennis shoes and Tony cursed.

Those were pulled off, too, and suddenly Peter was half-naked, one bared leg hanging off the desk and the other propped up, with his heel on the flat top. He felt heady, naughty; aware of the darkened glass that lined the far wall and the single unlocked door that separated them from the rest of the building, but he liked it.

One of the best side effects of he and Tony’s Serious Conversation was how much more Tony trusted him to tell him what he wanted during sex. And how much more Peter wanted to tell him what he wanted.

The man bent down over him, kissing and sucking at the skin below his belly button, making Peter writhe at the delightful tickle/pleasure combination; he was unbuttoning Peter’s shirt with one hand, something he’d always found it amusing that he was so good at (he’d teased Tony about it once and he had smirked and said you wouldn’t believe how fast I can unhook a bra), but now he was just grateful that he could be nude sooner, feel the cool air on his hot skin.

Tong pulled him into a sitting position and kissed him again; soft, this time. Then he pulled away and gently lifted Peter’s broken arm. The tender expression on his face as he unbuttoned his cuff and helped Peter out of his shirt made him feel warm all over, wanting, and when he was naked he hooked the cast behind the man’s neck and pulled him in to whisper in his ear, Now tie me, please. He heard Tony’s breath hitch, felt his facial hair scrape his own cheek as the man nodded, and Peter felt his callused palm spread over his chest and push him down slowly.

Something smoothed over in Peter’s heart in the moment that his back hit the wood and the hand kept pressing, pinning him down. His eyes fluttered shut and he moaned, feeling his blush spread down his chest. Tony’s fingers wrapped around his good wrist and pulled his arm up, laying it flat against the table above his head, and his voice came in close to his ear, dark and quiet. “Stay still, Pete. ... Good boy.”

He felt good. He was hard, painfully so, but he felt only contentedness, want, security, as the soft rope was looped around his wrist and tightened. He kept his eyes shut as he heard the man crouch down, felt the rope pull tight; then he was tied.

Peter knew, logically, that all he’d need to do is roll off the table, where he’d have enough slack to easily undo the knot. As much as he liked knowing it, he felt no desire to do so as large, warm hands slid over his chest and down to his hips, then over his legs and back up, teasing, appreciating. “What do you want now, kid?” Tony asked, and his voice sounded wrecked, eager, but still so patient, and Peter loved it.

“Whatever you want to give me,” he answered immediately, the words torn from the deepest part of his heart, his voice desperate. He didn’t feel the need to reiterate any of the boundaries they’d set; he knew Tony knew.

The man’s hand wrapped around his cock and squeezed; Peter cried out, arching, only to feel lips latch on to his left nipple and suck hard. Then he shifted up, and Peter could smell him, that delightful clean smell of aftershave and soap and clean clothes, and his whole body shuddered as he felt his tongue trace the shell of his ear, felt the hot breath as he whispered, “I want to finger you until you come all over yourself.”

It was filthy, but not over the top. Tony never called him names or exaggerated or stroked his own ego when he talked dirty. He let his voice do the work, and it worked for Peter.

He moaned his assent, letting his legs fall open, and stretched out on the table, hooking the fingers of his broken arm around the rope that held his good one. “You’re beautiful,” Tony told him, and Peter opened his eyes to see the reverence in his tone reflect in his face, as well. He wasn’t disappointed; Tony was flushed, excited, his eyes dark and intense. They flitted away from Peter as he pulled open a drawer and rifled through it, ostensibly looking for lube.

You’re beautiful,” Peter echoed.

Tony’s eyes met his again, his lips softening into a fond smile. “Shush,” he murmured, and Peter heard a lid being popped off. “Close your eyes. Focus on how you feel.”

Peter wasn’t sure if this was a command or a suggestion, but he took it as the former, heaving a shuddery, anticipatory breath as one of Tony’s hands eased his thighs apart—he could feel the cool air against his entrance—and the other wrapped slickly around his cock, pumping him slowly, tightening minutely when Peter threw his head back and moaned.

“You’re perfect.” He felt a fingertip press against him and his held his breath, tense, wanting—then it slid in and he keened as Tony found his prostate on the first try, the way he had every time since the first occasion he’d had the opportunity to locate it. Peter saw stars and pulled on the rope in earnest; it hurt his wrist but that seemed to make him want it more. The man seemed more than happy to give him exactly that, thrusting the digit in and out and hitting the same spot each time. He was nearly growling when he demanded, “Do you want another one?”

Peter nodded, trying to catch his breath, and cried out when yet another steady thrust against his prostate made him whole body clench in pleasure, pushing his hips up into the fist around his cock.

“Use your words.”

Yes!

Adding a second finger was exquisite. It stung; it pulled against his entrance every time it shifted. Every thrust into his body, every stroke of his cock made him twitch and cry out, and Tony was there beside him, hushing him when he got too loud, praising him for being good, for being beautiful, and when Peter came it was almost a surprise, like he had forgotten that the rhythm he’d fallen into wasn’t permanent, wasn’t forever.

He felt the first spurt of his cum splatter over his abs; then each subsequent pulse of his cock as it leaked out more, making Tony’s last few strokes slicker, louder. As he came down, he finally cracked his eyes open, squinting into the light, his chest heaving as he fought to catch his breath. The fingers slipped out of his hole; the hold on his spent cock was released, and Tony pressed a kiss to his sweaty forehead before he turned away. Peter heard a drawer open at about the time the endorphins began to drop off, and by the time Tony had turned back around, he was shaking, his casted arm pressed against his leaking eyes, as he pulled his knees up and together.

“Whoa, whoa,” Tony murmured, startled, when he caught sight of Peter. He was sure he looked pretty pitiful and that made him feel worse. “What’s wrong, kid? Did I do something? Did you want to stop?”

Peter felt the rope around his wrist jerk, heard a snap, and then it was loose and Tony was pulling it off of his wrist. He inhaled shakily, wiping at his eyes as strong hands helped him sit up, one muscular arm wrapping around his shoulders and holding him close as the other cleaned up him gently with a towel. “I don’t know what’s wrong,” he finally whimpered, pushing farther into Tony’s arms. He was already starting to feel better, actually, as Tony set the hand towel aside and carded his fingers through his damp hair. “I’m sorry,” he sniffed. “I feel stupid.”

His lover lifted him into his arms and settled back down into his desk chair, holding Peter close all the while. “Don’t be sorry,” he comforted, stroking his bare back. “Was it just hormone rush, you think? That’s pretty common.”

Peter laid his head against Tony’s shoulder, relaxing a little more. “Have you ever had it happen to you?” he asked quietly.

Tony hummed, thinking. Peter could feel the vibrations. “I think so,” he said. “It’s been a long time, though.” Then, more uncertainly, “Did you like that? Was it what you wanted?”

Peter laughed wetly, nodding. “I loved it,” he insisted. “Really. That’s why I feel so stupid.”

“Don’t,” was the only thing Tony responded with, holding him closer.

Anxiety dripped into Peter’s stomach, though. “Y-you liked it, too, right? You don’t think I’m... like, weird?”

“No, Peter. ... I think you’re perfect.”

Chapter Text

Peter woke slowly; the shifting restlessness of an anxious dream—something about stacking buttons, but he kept knocking them over, and he’d been trying to explain why they needed to be stacked but he couldn’t—fading into the dull discomfort of a full bladder, made all the worse by the warm weight slung across his belly.

Tony’s arm. His hand was tucked under Peter’s bare hip. Peter turned his head in the darkness, barely able to see the shape of the beautiful man who slept on his stomach beside him, lightly snoring. Peter craned his neck to give him a peck, and his clean smell, overlaid with an earthier tinge of sweat, reminded him viscerally of the night before, of the man on top of him, rocking their hips together, their erections sliding together, and Tony’s lips peppering his face with kisses as Peter came from the friction of it.

He was smiling like an idiot, but no one needed to know that; the room was dark and the only other occupant was asleep. Remembering what he’d said as he came made him blush; he’d meant it, but he hadn’t really meant to say it. Luckily, Tony either hadn’t heard him or saw the look on his face and cut him some slack by not mentioning it.

It was still really early, but Peter felt oddly awake. Ready to start the day. He eased out from under Tony’s sleep-slack hold, snatched his glasses from the bedside table, and tiptoed to the restroom, where he took care of his full bladder, washed his face, and borrowed Tony’s toothbrush to scrub his teeth. He eyeballed his hair, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort this early in the morning. He was itching to cut it, but he figured that Tony would be upset if he hacked it off willy-nilly and he wanted to put off asking for a proper haircut a little longer. He was pretty sure he couldn’t afford the sort of cut that could make hair like his social-elite-mixer ready.

He padded over to Tony’s dresser, easing the top drawer open, where he had an emergency set of clothes ready to go, nestled in beside numerous pairs of socks. He pulled them on, then, quiet as you please, glided back over to Tony’s side of the bed, pressing a short kiss to the back of his head and smoothing a hand over his arm before he left, turning the knob all the way to the side so that it wouldn’t click when he pulled it shut.

The living room window looked out over New York City in all its predawn glory, bright as day but whiter, more artificial, with darkness between the bright lights. He felt a surge of affection for the city, one he thought with no small amount of amusement must be easier to feel from the penthouse of Stark Tower than it had ever been at street level.

He found the TV remote—an unnecessarily sleek, modern object with the SI logo at the top—lodged between the cushions in Dr. Banner’s favorite armchair and settled down on the edge of the couch, thinking he’d turn on the news for a bit before he started on coffee. He hoped he wouldn’t be on it; he tended to be mentioned most often by the talk shows that aired after midnight and before corporate America woke up, in little celebrity gossip sections that dissected every date he was documented as going on with Tony. Two weeks ago, his broken arm had been front-page gossip mag news, as the press took the idea that Tony had broken it during a domestic dispute and ran with it.

Peter smirked to himself, still endlessly amused by the expression on Ms. Potts’ face when he suggested they should announce that it was actually America’s sweetheart, Steve “Star-Spangled” Rogers, that had broken his arm.

He mashed the volume down button while the flat screen television was still booting up, not wanting to wake anyone, but when the screen flashed onto a blonde woman with a serious expression speaking behind a desk, he’d accidentally muted it. He looked down at the remote, carefully pushing the up button one tap at a time—if you held it a second too long, it would start booming—and froze when the voice faded into his hearing.

“—were shocked this morning by the arrest of Norman Osborn, founder and CEO of manufacturing and technology conglomerate Oscorp, in the early hours of the morning, as you can see here.” A pause, and Peter was watching his abuser be lead out of the building his penthouse was in—as familiar to him as his own apartment in Queens—in handcuffs, not by the police but by FBI agents in full riot gear. His stomach dropped.

Sources say that the shocking list of charges leveled against him include child sexual abuse, creation and distribution of child pornography, and human trafficking. What do you think, John?

The camera switched over to a white man in a fine suit who blinked too much, and he was saying something but Peter couldn’t hear him. His blood was roaring in his ears, his stomach cramping with violence, and he was shaking all over. Suddenly he was vomiting into the sink, with no recollection of having moved to the kitchen, and he was staring down at the puddle of bile thinking you promised you wouldn’t. You promised, Tony. You promised.

His notebooks were sitting on the coffee table and he opened one to a random page with a shaking hand and the only thing he could think to write was you promised you wouldn’t so that’s what he scrawled there. He left it open and started walking, his vision blacking out in places, and he was hyperventilating and suddenly he was a block away from the Tower and dawn was breaking and he was slumped against a brick wall in the lip of an alley, barely able to stand.

Peter had left his phone next to the notebook, he was fairly certain. It wasn’t on him, at least. But the bracelet was. He stared down at it, the blue-red exterior as flawless as it had been the day he put it on months ago after being attacked and never taken it back off. It’s a tracker, he thought. It’s a tracker, it’s a tracker. A memory of Ms. Potts swam in front of his eyes, saying, or three, make a run for it and get dragged back by the Iron Man himself.

He gripped it with the pads of his fingers on the broken arm, trying to twist it off. It had always just sort of shivered and expanded when he used to take it off, but now it was stubbornly stagnant, pressing painfully against the bones in his hand when he tried to force it, and he was crying, heaving sobs wracking him, shaking too hard to get a good grip, thinking this is a handcuff, not a bracelet, thinking why was I so stupid?

“Whoa,” a voice said, oddly familiar, oddly unsettling, and Peter looked up to see a vaguely familiar man in front of him, tall and broad with scruffy hair. The reporter, his mind supplied him after a moment. Something Brock, or Brock something. “Is that you, Peter? ... Do you want help with that?”

Peter nodded, gasping for air, and thrust his good hand out towards the man’s chest. Both of his hands came up to cup Peter’s, and he was making this odd purring noise, but Peter was too upset, too dizzy to process it. The warm fingers circled his wrist. The man examined the band; then he gripped the band with one hand and pressed Peter’s thumb gently into his palm with the other.

Then there was a jarring snap, fiery pain, and Peter knew his thumb had been broken. He screamed, vision whiting out at the edges, and saw the man toss the bracelet further into an alley. He sank to his knees, cradling his broken hand to his chest with his cast, his eyes fixed on the way that a blackness was wrapping itself around the man’s skin; oddly like how the Mark 50 melted in but more organic, spastic, irregular, and he was growing bigger, reaching out to Peter with horrifyingly familiar black hands.

Something went pop in his head and he knew nothing more.

...

Tony, who’d drifted off with a pleased smile curving his lips after he’d received Peter’s kiss, woke an indeterminant amount of time later to a phone call.

He groped for the phone on his bedside table, groaning and squinting at the caller ID. “Pep,” he mumbled into the receiver when he managed to answer it with his half-asleep fingers.

Tony, good, you’re up, I—”

“Up now,” he grumbled. “Where’s the fire?” He saw his shirt crumbled on the floor near the foot of the bed and bent stiffly to pick it up.

I have good news! Oscorp stock is plummeting, they might be going under all together—turn on the news, will you?

“What?” Tony asked stupidly. “What could possibly have gone that wrong in the last 24 hours?”

Wait and see,” Pepper was gushing, clearly delighted. “They’ve really stepped in it. And I’m so glad the nasty motherfucker got caught if even half of it is true.

Pepper didn’t cuss like that. It must be something pretty extreme, he thought. “Who, Osborn? Hold on, I’ll call you back after I get caught up.”

He threw on his dirty shirt and half-jogged out into the living room; Steve was already there, looking a little lost, staring at the TV with a notebook in his hands. “Tony, have you seen this?” he asked the moment they made eye contact.

He shook his head. “Just got a call from Pepper, what’s...”

But the words died on his lips. The words OSCORP HEIR TO SPEAK ABOUT THE ALLEGATIONS OF CHILD PORNOGRAPHY, SEXUAL ABUSE LEVELED AGAINST NORMAN OSBORN were splashed across the bottom of the screen, while an upset-looking blonde woman talked a mile a minute about what could be expected from the press conference. Tony whistled low. “That’s one way to destroy a company,” he commented. “Always thought he was a creep, but not that kind of creep. Disgusting.”

Steve tilted his head back and the fear in his voice was palpable as he asked, “Jarvis, where is Peter?”

Tony’s head jerked to look at him; then down to the notebook. He stepped closer, craning his head to look, and saw the words YOU PROMISED YOU WOULDN’T in messy, emotional writing, filling up most of the page. Jarvis was saying, “It appears he’s removed his bracelet. It is less than 300 yards away; in an alley, I believe.”

But Tony wasn’t making the connection. He didn’t understand; refused to understand, maybe. In the silence, he heard a young man’s voice, trembling, saying, “—against my father. I don’t know, yet, exactly what has happened, but I’ve been informed that the FBI found home-made videos of children performing acts of a sexual nature in my father’s office.” Tony turned towards the screen, transfixed, as the kid—definitely Harry Osborn, looked just like his dad—took a painful breath and continued. “I do not condone these actions, and neither does Oscorp. We will both be severing all ties to Norman Osborn.”

Tony’s ears were ringing as the kid made a few more visibly scripted, diplomatic statements about the company, blinking rapidly, then stared down at the page, looked back up, and burst out, “I need—I need to apologize.” His handler stepped forward, looking concerned, and the kid side-stepped him, saying, “I had a friend who used to stay over at the house, and I need to apologize to him. I would never—” His voice broke, and Tony’s heart with it. “I would never have brought you into the house if I knew. And I’m sorry that I’ve been angry all this time that you disappeared from my life and I didn’t know why. I’m so, so sorry, P.

In Tony’s mind, he saw the homecoming photos of Peter standing in a small group that included Harry Osborn. He heard Peter saying I was sexually abused... I stayed with a friend. It was his father... Promise me you won’t.

Steve was shaking him, saying his name. “Tony, we need to move, Peter is gone,” and he couldn’t breathe, “Listen to Jarvis. Jesus, Tony, focus!”

Jarvis sounded worried, too, and he was saying, “I have a recording, sir, I—”

“Play it.”

“Sir—”

“Play it!”

They listened, together, Tony and Steve, to Peter’s heart-wrenching sobs, his hyperventilating, a man’s faint voice offering help, and then a visceral scream, followed by scrapes and clattering.

“Where was this?” Steve was asking Jarvis, and Tony could barely hear him over the agonizing scream echoing in his ears, and they were talking about security footage and then he heard Jarvis say transform and Steve said, “Jarvis, do you think it could be the—the Venom?” and Tony’s world was ending.

Chapter Text

Peter knew pain, first, seemingly before consciousness.

His hand, throbbing, sharp pain that spiked with every sluggish beat of his heart.

His head, then, feeling as though it were in a vice, as though it would burst like a watermelon hitting the pavement if a single ounce more pressure were added.

Finally, the agony of thirst; his throat was shredded, and in the first moments of consciousness, he rubbed his dry tongue against the inside of his cheek, the entirety of his mouth tacky; his eyes, when he opened them, so dry that every uncomprehending blink at the low, dirty ceiling dragged over his lenses and irritated them.

Where was he?

He was laying flat on his back, his legs uncomfortably jutted upwards, resting against a—a soft wall. There was a wall behind his head, too. Also sort of lumpy-soft. He was in a... an indent. A hole?

He was in a bathtub.

His eyes were focusing now, and as he carefully, slowly, achingly pulled his knees towards him, bending them, resting his bare feet against the pillows and blankets that lined the tub, he saw the rusted faucet. There was an odd slithery/clanky noise that stopped when he stilled his legs again, and after a moment he identified its source to be the chain that was leading from his right ankle. Using his broken arm, he pulled a little on his pantleg, revealing a metal cuff there.

His eyes ached and he let them fall closed. In his mind’s eye, he saw the red and blue bangle he was accustomed to having around his wrist. It was somewhere in an alley now.

Tony designed it to be not able to be removed.

He felt nauseous. He lifted his fingers—on the hand that wasn’t sporting the broken thumb he was afraid to move or look at—up to his lips and felt that they were bone-dry, cracked. He pushed a finger into his mouth and felt the ridges on either side of of his tongue.

I’m dying, he thought calmly.

He floated on that thought for a moment.

I’m in a bathroom. There’s probably water.

Forcing his gritty eyes open again, he turned his head, following the chain on his ankle over the side of the tub. Beyond it, he saw what he thought was a dirty, cracked mirror, reflecting the same yellowish paint that adorned the ceiling.

Sinks have mirrors. Sinks have water.

Getting himself up into a sitting position without the full use of either arm required more abdominal strength than he had in that moment, but somehow, with creative uses of his elbows and pushing with his feet, he got his legs under him and he stood, swaying, his broken arm braced against the tile wall to his left and his broken hand curled against his chest. He could see where the chain on his ankle lead, now. It attached to the pipe under the filthy, cracked porcelain sink. He squinted; his glasses were sitting next to the knobs.

The sink was dripping. When he saw it, he realized he’d been hearing it the whole time. Drip. Drip. Drip.

Getting over the side of the tub seemed a monumental task, but somehow, even with his throbbing skull, his nausea, his spotty vision, he managed it. He didn’t look in the mirror as he twisted one of the faux-crystal knobs, the plastic of it stained yellow with neglect, and shoved his head under the lukewarm water that streamed out.

The first burst of moisture seemed like it could fix everything. He drank greedily, swallowing over and over, never moving even as water soaked his face, his hair, the front of his shirt.

Then he was vomiting again, the water still the same temperature it had been on the way down, and he was shaking, but he thrust his head back under and drank again, this time a little slower. It stayed down. He stood hunched over the sink with the water running for the better part of an hour, taking long breaks between additional swallows, until his eyes no longer felt as though his eyelids were made of sandpaper. He didn’t turn the water off until the need to urinate hit him. That seemed like a good sign.

He turned his head to the side, grimacing as the motion made him feel nauseous again. There was a dirty toilet between the sink and the bathtub. The idea of moving over to it make him want to lay down and die, though, so Peter clumsily undid his pants with his non-broken hand and pissed into the sink, instead. The urine stung; it was dark and smelled so strongly of ammonia that it made him gag. So he started the process of hydrating himself again, wondering vaguely how much time had passed.

Feeling marginally better after the second round of drinking produced much clearer, non-painful fluid and a cursory exploration with his fingers revealed a re-hydrated tongue, he finally turned the water off and slipped his glasses on to look around the room.

The only light came from a window made of those thick, wavy blocks of privacy glass, the grit between them black with mold. The door was obviously new; it was made of some sort of metal, hollow judging by the noise it made when Peter tapped his fingers against it, and there was no knob on this side of the door. Pushing it with his shoulder did not help at all. The bathtub he’d woken up in was arranged like some sort of nest, lined with mix-matched throw pillows and old, faded quilts. They didn’t smell.

Peter put the lid down on the toilet and sat heavily, wondering what to do.

Stop procrastinating, a voice whispered in his head. You need to handle your hand.

Peter inhaled deeply through his nose as he sat his broken hand on his knee, bracing himself before he looked down. Nausea rolled through him as he did; the digit was folded unnaturally against his palm, and the whole structure was bruised purple, swollen so badly that he couldn’t see the wrinkles on the knuckle of his thumb.

Experimentally, he tried to move it; the pain was radial, intense, and he bit down a scream, his vision spotting again.

You’re never going to be able to use it again if you don’t set it, the voice in his head said. It sounded suspiciously like his Aunt May. His eyes burned, and for a moment, he was nine, sitting on the toilet in the cute little rose-wallpapered bathroom in his apartment in Queens, and his aunt was bent over him, her smile deepening her crow’s feet as she shushed him, holding a cotton ball soaked in alcohol in one hand and his shoulder with the other, and her voice was gentle as she said it’ll hurt a lot more if we let it get infected, sweet-Pete. He could feel the phantom sting of the cut that he’d gotten on his forehead, playing basketball with the older kids on the block.

He shuffled slowly back into the bathtub and sat, his back leaning against some of the lumpy pillows and blankets. He picked up the corner of one of the quilts and folded it a few times, setting it between his teeth and clenching his jaw.

Tears sprung to his eyes as Peter’s fingers wrapped around the broken digit of his dominant hand and jerked it into place. He screamed into his gag, and everything fell away.

...

It had been 34 hours since Peter went missing. Tony hadn’t slept in that time, and he was holding a sobbing, naked seven year old girl in his arms, tears tracking down his own face as he watched Barnes tug his shirt off to give to her.

They were standing in the basement of a mansion in upstate New York, and this was the second trafficked child that Tony and his current team—Barnes, Sam, and Nat—had rescued from the child trafficking circle Osborn had been running, a seemingly widespread organization among east coast elites called The Green Goblin. Steve, Clint, Rhodes, and Bruce had rescued two from a cabin in Massachusetts.

Tony set the girl down, and he knew he was talking, saying comforting things, saying I’m the Iron Man, that’s how you know everything is going to be okay and looking into her big brown cow eyes steadily until the fabric of Barnes’s shirt slipped over her head and fell down to her shins. He picked her back up and carried her upstairs, carefully avoiding walking her through the room where her captor—some oil tycoon—was handcuffed on the floor, being seen to by the rest of his team until the FBI arrived.

Luckily, it didn’t take long, and Tony was able to hand the girl off to a female agent with soft eyes immediately upon reaching the front porch. He looked over at Barnes and he felt his lips moving before he had thought it through. He said, “Why have I been focusing all of my attention overseas when this shit is going on in my backyard?”

Barnes tilted his head, crossing his mismatched arms over his bare chest, and said plainly, “Because it was happening over there, too, and they weren’t even hiding it.”

They had leads on two dozen other suspected members of the child trafficking ring known as the Green Goblin and no real proof that the Venom was related at all, except that he’d been seen on tape in several corporate buildings owned by the men they were investigating. There was no sign of Peter anywhere. No one they were interrogating knew anything about him except that, when shown pictures under duress, one had said, I’ve seen him before. He was Osborn’s boy for a while. Then he’d directed Tony to a book on his shelf—The Great Gatsby—and in it, he’d found a flash drive that was burning a hole in his pocket.

In a quiet moment as they flew to their next lead in northern Pennsylvania and his team tried to catch a half hour of sleep, Tony plugged the drive into his suit and said, “I’m sorry to make you do this, Jarvis, but can you see if Peter is on this anywhere?”

When Jarvis responded a full minute later, he sounded badly shaken. “Yes,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s useful. It’s dated to about five years ago.”

“Thank you,” Tony murmured. He took the drive back out and stared at its innocuous plastic casing. He’d give it to the next FBI agent he saw. “You can delete it from your servers, Jarvis.” He paused. “And you’re free to delete your memory of the last five minutes if you’d like.”

Thank you, sir.”

...

When Peter next woke, he felt like his thumb had been smashed in with a hammer. He thought faintly of the book Nat had given him for Christmas; it was called Outlander, and towards the end of the first book, the love interest main character, a Scottish highland warrior in the pre-Culloden era named Jamie Fraser, is tortured, his fingers bashed in with a mallet while his hand is nailed to a table. His wife fights a wolf to save him. He wondered if Tony would. He wondered if Tony knew he was missing, not just run away.

He felt significantly less dizzy, and while his mouth was a little dry, his eyes felt fine and his tongue wasn’t ridged. He was considering getting to his feet to go after more water when he became aware that something—someone—was moving beyond the door.

Peter froze up, fear thrumming strong in his veins, his eyes fixed on where a doorknob should have been as he heard footsteps stop outside of the door. Then with a click, it was opening up, and Peter’s face was blank and calm as he looked up at the reporter again. He was in survival mode.

“You’re up,” the man greeted him, smile fond and voice approving. The dissonance between his comportment and the circumstances made Peter’s spine tingle. “How are you feeling?”

Peter’s mouth was moving before he could tell himself to shut up. “Like someone broke my hand, knocked me unconscious, and kidnapped me,” he stated, tone vaguely sarcastic. “How are you?”

But the sass seemed to please the man. “Excellent, my love, excellent. Did you miss me? I’ve been missing you.”

Voice flat, Peter heard himself say, “I honestly don’t even remember your full name. It was Brock something, right?”

He watched anger spark in the man’s dark eyes, his nostrils flaring, and Peter’s feet were screaming at him to flee but there was nowhere to go. Then the man blinked and he was calm again, the transition unnatural. His head cocked to the side, eyes distant, like he was listening, and he murmured, “No, it’s fine, I’ll introduce us.” He looked into Peter’s eyes and said, “It’s Eddie. And other half is Venom. I’ll answer to Venom, but he won’t answer to Eddie. Got it?”

No, Peter thought, what the fuck, but he nodded stiffly. “Why am I here, Eddie?”

The man sat down on the edge of the bathtub, reaching out for Peter’s hair, but he jerked his head back. With an indulgent smile, the man—Eddie—laid his hand back on his own lap. “I saved you,” he told Peter, his words dripping with sincerity. “Stark broke your arm, didn’t he? Poor thing. Now you have me, instead.”

Peter felt distant from himself. It had been a useful defense on the street, in the foster home, with Osborn, in that fucking cage; he hoped it would serve him here, too. “You broke my thumb,” he pointed out dully. “Doesn’t that make you just as bad?”

To his surprise, the reporter laughed. “Oh, lamb. I did that to protect you. And to make it up to you, I even got that sick fuck arrested. He’ll never hurt you again, Peter, I promise. Neither of them.”

The world was spinning away, and Peter finally realized how fucking stupid it was to think that Tony must have had something to do with Osborn’s arrest. What, did he think the man had gotten up in the night to do a background check on him and figure out which friend he stayed with in high school? But out loud, he just said, “That was you?”

He was too shocked to protest the hand in his hair the next time. “Of course, my love. I had to.”

“Why?”

“It’s part of the process.” Peter watched him tilt his head again, still listening to something. Venom? Was the black monster thing inside him, maybe? Were they communicating? His voice was lower as he continued, “No, humans don’t work like that, buddy. ... Really. ... You’ll scare him, hold on, hold on.”

The man stood and hurried out of the room, and Peter almost called him back before he registered the dark tendrils curling up Brock’s neck and shut his mouth. He turned the corner, leaving the door open, and Peter felt goosebumps erupt all over his body at the inhuman, dangerous voice he heard from the next room. He didn’t want to, but he needed to listen, needed to figure out what this thing wanted from him.

What do you mean, the pheromones won’t work?” a new, strange voice, the creature, was saying; he sounded pissed, and his footsteps were loud, heavy. “That’s my mate, they should be working. ... They don’t..? Humans are so fucking weird, Eddie, I don’t understand them at all.

There was a longer pause, and for a moment, Peter thought maybe he would be coming back, but the creature made a noise like he was trying to get someone’s attention and continued speaking. “Look, here is how it’s supposed to work. You smell a compatible mate, you build a nest, and you hold them there until the bond has set in. You don’t have anything like that? ... No wonder humans are so fixated on trying to attract mates, that sounds insufferable. ... Stock-homed Syndrome? ... That could work. How long would it take?” Another pause, then the creature made a disgusted, irritated noise. “Fine. I’ll be patient. It won’t take if I have to force him.

Was it an alien? Peter, truthfully, was terrified of aliens; he’d been little when New York was attacked, when he’d seen his idol, Iron Man, on the news, fighting horrifying armored sky centipedes, throwing nuclear bombs through black holes. And it had called him a “compatible mate,” which frankly sounded horrifying. Peter thought briefly about facehuggers, the movie Predator, and the oviposition porn that MJ had found on reddit when they were fourteen and forced Peter and Ned to look at to ‘share her pain.’

Dizzy, realizing distantly that he likely was having trouble focusing due to low blood sugar, he missed a bit of the conversation, tuning in to hear the creature say petulantly, “I’m not going to scare him. ... Fine, for now.

There was an exasperated sigh, and then the reporter’s head popped into the doorway, grinning broadly, and he said, “Sorry about that. Are you hungry? You were out for a really long time,” as though Peter were a sick houseguest and not a hostage.

Peter stared at him, hoping his face communicated something along the lines of dude you broke my hand and chained me to a sink and I’m laying in a nest an alien built in a bathtub. It must have connected for the man, because he shuffled uncomfortably in the doorway, but he didn’t leave. “Fuck you,” Peter heard himself spit.

Why is he so fucking stupid?

Brock stomped towards him and Peter raised his casted arm to shield his face and his broken hand, but the man’s fist balled up in his hair and pulled, wrenching his head back until they were glaring into each other’s eyes, nose-to-nose, and Peter could swear the brown irises had turned black. “You will love me,” the man snarled directly into his face before smashing their mouths together in a sick facsimile of a kiss.

Stunned, Peter touched his fingers to his lips as the door slammed shut. When he drew them away, there was fresh red blood staining them, more filling his mouth from where his own teeth had cut into his lower lip. He gagged.

Chapter Text

It had been 126 hours since Peter disappeared.

Tony hadn’t slept for more than an hour at a time since then and the last time he’d asked Jarvis, his BAC was over .20. He’d thrown up several times since then, though. Maybe it was lower now. He laid his head down on the desk for a second, certain that if he could just shut his eyes for a moment, he could solve the puzzle and find Peter and bring him home. When he lifted his head a moment later, it was to the sound of the door opening, and he was still drunk, and when he looked at the clock he realized it had now been 128 hours since Peter disappeared. Pepper was stroking his hair. He was crying, shoulders shaking, bitterness in his heart.

“I don’t know where he is,” he said.

“I know,” she said.

“I love him,” he said.

“I know,” she said.

He laid his forehead on the wood again and spoke directly into it. “He told me he loved me the night before I lost him. And I panicked and didn’t say anything.”

Pepper’s hand was still carding through his greasy hair. “Tell him when you find him,” she urged.

...

Each day brought some fresh hell.

I just want to know you, the man had huffed into his ear, holding him close after he’d busted Peter’s lip. Just let me know you. That was long enough ago that his lip had healed. Peter wasn’t sure how much time that was in days. A week, maybe. He still couldn’t use the thumb on his right hand without incapacitating pain.

Peter was tired to his bones and deeper. His existence was composed entirely of long stretches of agonizing boredom in which he paced back and forth endlessly, until the joints on his ankles protested and he could no longer bear the slithering and clinking of the chain he dragged with him, and brief bursts of pain and terror.

He smelled horrible. Some time ago, Brock had entered the bathroom with a box of babywipes in his hand, stripped him, and wiped him down. Peter had fought him until he earned a punch to the gut for his troubles, then he’d just stared at the wall, silent, refusing as always to answer his inane questions about Peter’s favorite books and bucket list items and where he liked to be touched. The baby wipe bath hadn’t helped much and he hoped the smell would make his captor less interested in him, but it didn’t seem to bother him.

“I have another incentive for you to talk, today,” Brock told him brightly as he entered the room. Peter had been dozing, curled up in the bottom of the tub, naked. Truly, he didn’t mind so much that his clothes had been confiscated as a punishment for his silence; it was starting to get pretty hot in his little prison during the day. The three-ish days without food had been worse, but he still hadn’t cracked.

Wouldn’t give the fucker the satisfaction.

Peter sat up slowly. His body ached. His hand throbbed. His legs and arms were littered with bruises, from being struck, from falling, from being held in the air by hands wrapped around his ribs and shaken. He kept his face blank at he took Brock in; he was clean, his hair damp, his clothes fresh. He had one arm hidden behind his back.

Peter’s voice was like a shard of ice. “Is it a puppy?”

Brock chuckled like this was very funny, settling down on the lid of the toilet as he looked at Peter. His eyes were soft and fond. Peter had had no choice but to conclude a few days into this ordeal that the man really, genuinely liked him, however sick and twisted his treatment of him was. “You’re actually not that far off, my love,” the man said, a note of praise in his tone. “I realized that you aren’t going to be swayed by punishment inflicted on yourself. So I brought a stand in.”

He pulled his hand around to the front and balanced a hidden jam jar on his knee. There were holes stabbed in the lid and a fat toad sat at the bottom, one little hand braced against the glass wall of its enclosure, the sac on its neck rhymically expanding and deflating. Peter was fairly certain it was some kind of bullfrog. He hadn’t seen life other than roaches and Brock in so long that for a moment, he was mesmerized, forgotten joy swelling in his chest as he examined the fat little fingers and the beautiful brown and gold irises.

Then he blinked, and turned his eyes on Brock. He was sitting patiently, his palm resting on the lid of the jar; his eyes only for Peter. He was smiling.

“You’re threatening to hurt the frog,” Peter stated. “You’re saying that if I don’t answer your questions, you’ll hurt the frog.”

“Yes,” Brock replied easily. “I thought maybe I’d add a little water every time you refused until it drowned. Or maybe I’ll just squeeze it. What do you think?”

Peter shut his eyes, shoving down every single shred of grief, rage, fear in his chest. He opened them and looked at the stoic little frog again. Trapped. Like Peter. Despite himself, he laughed, scrubbing his palms over his eyes, and he didn’t look up as he admitted softly, bitterly, “You really are getting to know me.”

The smile on Brock’s face was unnaturally wide. The phrase uncanny valley flashed through Peter’s mind. “So you’ll answer me.”

“... Yes.”

“Do you want to hold the jar, lamb?”

“... Yes.” The jar was passed into Peter’s possession and he held it in both hands, looking into it, at the textured skin and the moist handprint it left on the glass when it tucked its foot back in. There was some moist leaf litter at the bottom, so Peter wasn’t worried about him drying out. “Will you put him back?” he asked, and his voice wavered. He cleared his throat. “After we’re done talking?”

He shut his eyes against the revulsion in his stomach as the man’s hand smoothed down his greasy, matted hair. “Of course. No harm comes to the frog if you talk. I’ll put it back exactly where I found it, under the same tree, over by the Dairy in Central Park.” A pinky was held out in front of Peter’s face, but he merely looked at it, not removing his hands from the jar.

Peter coldly looked away, back to the frog. In his head, he decided to name him Gama. “I believe you,” he bit out, curt.

The hand hovered for a moment, then withdrew. Brock moved to sit on the edge of the tub and his hand rested on Peter’s raised knee. “Alright, then, my love. Let’s begin... Hm. What was your favorite book when you were little?”

Peter spoke to the little frog in the jar, keeping his voice steady and emotionless. “It was Are You My Mother? by Dr. Suess.”

The hand on his knee tightened and the man emitted the odd purring noise he sometimes made. It was loud; Peter could only assume it was the Venom showing its pleasure. “Good boy. What about when you were in high school?”

He swallowed. The frog was perfectly still other than its breathing and as he felt Brock’s hand return to his ruined hair, he tried to imitate its stillness. “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

He could do this. He could do this. Brock’s hand was smoothing up and down his thigh familiarly. He asked a question and Peter pretended it was the frog speaking. “I... prefer nonfiction. P-pretty fond of Eric Larson lately,” he stammered. “I had just started his book on the, the Lusitania.”

“Tell me about it,” the frog urged him. So he did.

...

It had been nearly thirty days since Peter had disappeared.

The Green Goblin was, as far as they could determine, dead. They’d assisted in arresting all 38 of the members they could determine and directly or indirectly rescued more than fifty children, ages 3 to 16. Tony had met more than half of the men involved at various functions; one used to work for him, over the communications technology department. After that, they’d also busted a related child pornography ring and handed over a flash drive full of IP addresses to the FBI.

Tony had signed paperwork that created a new department of Stark Industries with a half-billion dollar budget for the next three years called the Children’s Defense Fund. It worked within the Sokovia Accords and dispatched heroes where government employees couldn’t go. Tony was told the organization would be up and running by the end of the week.

His own team had been run ragged tracking down every shady individual in the city that could possibly have information on Venom, or Peter’s whereabouts. Clint, late the previous night, had broken down after another mission; he’d looked at Tony and said, I love you, Tony, and I’m so sorry, but I need to go hold my kids. There had been a flare of anger, and then he’d looked over to see Natasha with Bruce’s head on her shoulder, almost asleep, and the exhaustion and frustration and anger in her light eyes had deflated him.

They’d all gone to the Tower to rest. As long as you need, he’d made himself say. Clint, if I see you back here in the next week, I’ll knock you out.

His team had done some truly excellent work. None of it had brought them any closer to Peter.

Now Tony’s checklist was all checked, every lead tracked down, and he was empty-handed, painfully sober, lying facedown on the floor in his office, trying to think. Trying to figure out what to do.

There’s nothing you can do.

The fact was that Venom seemed to leave no traces and have no allies. Few knew of him; none knew him.

A few weeks ago, the media had realized that Peter Parker, sweetheart of one of the richest and most powerful men alive, hadn’t been seen in weeks. The shitstorm that followed—that continued—had surely pushed whoever took Peter deeper into hiding. The official story about Peter was that he was gravely ill. The favorite theory in the news was that Tony had infected him with HIV.

His office door creaked open. Tony didn’t bother moving. “Go away, Pep,” he mumbled into the cool hardwood under his forehead. Uncertain footsteps approached him. He groaned into the floor. “I haven’t been drinking, Pep, just leave me alone. I’m fine.”

“I’m glad you’re not drunk,” an indignant, unfamiliar female voice told him. “But will you get up, please, Mr. Stark? I have some questions for you.”

Well, that’s not Pepper. Tony turned his head, looking way, way up to the young woman who stood near his outstretched hand, looking deeply unimpressed. Tony pushed himself up into a sitting position, eyeing her bright red hair, pulled back into a high, professional ponytail, and the device in her hand. A reporter. She stuck her hand in Tony’s face insolently, smiling in a deeply unfriendly way, and said, “Mary Jane Watson, Daily Bugle. Could I have a moment of your time to ask you about Peter Parker?”

Tony batted her hand away, fleetingly thinking that he’d rather be dead on the floor than speaking to a reporter. Stiffly, he pulled himself up using the side of his desk. “Who the hell let you in here?” he demanded, groaning as he settled back into his desk chair. He watched her eyes—they betrayed a deep intelligence—scan him, taking in his full beard, his dirty clothes, the bruises under his eyes.

She lifted her clipboard. “If you walk with confidence, look irritated, and carry a clipboard, you can get into anywhere.”

“Well, get out,” Tony responded, surreptitiously beginning to close folders open on his desk that contained information about the Green Goblin and Venom. He didn’t look at her.

“Where is Peter Parker?” she asked. She sounded angry. Furious, really.

Tony rolled his eyes. “Do you really think I gave him HIV? God, you media types are stupid.”

“No,” the girl snapped. “I think you bought him from Norman Osborn and I think you’re hiding him somewhere so he can’t tell.”

Tony’s head snapped up, the emotions her accusation had riled in his stomach unbearable. He looked directly into her face, feeling himself turning red, as he stood with such violence that he knocked his chair over, his palms slamming down on the table; but then all the wind was taken out of his sails when he really looked at her.

“You’re Peter’s friend,” he whispered.

She had flinched from him, but her eyes were still hard, accusatory. “No,” she denied, “I—”

But Tony was ignoring her. He slammed open one of his drawers, pulling out a photo album in red faux-leather. He threw it onto the desk and began to flip through it, stopping when he found one of the pictures he’d spent many, many hours staring at over the last month. He pressed his index finger into the plastic covering the little photograph, glancing between the woman standing in his office and the teenage girl in the wine-colored dress with one arm around Peter and the other around Harry Osborn. “That’s you,” he said unnecessarily.

The woman—Mary Jane—had stepped forward, her eyes fixed on the photo, and a little sob caught in her throat. “He’s really not sick, is he?” she murmured when she looked up into Tony’s eyes, the realization tightening her face as he watched. He wondered distantly what she’d seen in his expression that had convinced her.

He shook his head slowly. His eyes darted down to the recording device in her palm. “Turn that off and we can talk.” Then, the moment he heard the click, he said, “He’s missing; someone took him and I can’t find him,” the words torn from him like he’d been waiting for years to tell her.

Her eyes were fierce, fresh, unburdened by weeks of fruitless searching. “Tell me everything.”

...

Peter was exhausted by how long he’d been talking. Earlier, he’d had a coughing fit from how dry his throat had gotten; now he held the jar in one hand and a plastic cup with a half-inch of apple juice in the bottom of it in the other.

“Anything I can do to make you more comfortable before I go put the frog back?” Brock asked, his voice very, very pleased. It made Peter want to spit at him.

He hummed like he was thinking, his eyes narrowing as he thrust the cup at his captor. “You could, I don’t know, uncuff me, let me go outside, let me fucking leave.”

The hand that had been caressing him between the legs—Peter was so numb he couldn’t even really feel it, just a dull tugging feeling and disgust—tightened, then released him. His hands curled around the jar protectively as the man’s palm struck the side of his face, snapping his head to the side with a painful crack and knocking his glasses into his lap.  A concerning burning sensation bloomed in his neck. He gasped, but the pain radiated out and faded, leaving only soreness. A pulled muscle.

A finger hooked under his chin. “Be reasonable, lamb.”

The fact was that there was something he needed.

The padding of his cast was nearly black with filth; Peter couldn’t remember the last time it had been completely dry. And it smelled foul, rank, sort of evil. The skin beneath it burned and itched. He needed to ask for it to be removed. Even if his arm wasn’t fully healed—and he was pretty sure it was—it was better than gangrene.

But the thought of asking the man for anything made his stomach turn.

He must have been quiet for long enough that Brock gave up, because he plucked the jar out of Peter’s hands. Peter’s shoulders tensed, worried Gama would meet a terrible fate for his silence, but Brock merely set him on the floor near the door and turned back, hesitating, his eyes on Peter. He cocked his head to the side like he always did when Venom was talking to him.

“No, no,” he muttered, shaking his head. “We finally made progress, we shouldn’t— ... Yes, b— ... Fine. I’ll ask.” His eyes refocused on Peter. “Venom wants to meet you properly,” he said. “Is that okay?”

That sounded horrifying, but Peter kept his face blank. He saw an opportunity in this; to keep his pride as well as his arm. “If you’ll remove my cast,” he bargained flatly as he replaced his glasses onto his nose; a trade was far better than a favor. “Then sure.”

Brock’s eyes brightened. “It’s a deal,” he said, and Peter could see black tendrils creeping over his neck and he shut his eyes tight, pressing his forehead against his knees, his broken hand with the weak, crooked thumb hidden between his thighs and chest.

The transformation was silent. The creature’s voice sounded, really, mostly normal, but there was an undercurrent to it that sort of reminded him of those videos of cats and dogs ‘talking.’ “My mate,” it rasped, almost reverent. “Look at me.

Peter was shaking. Almost hyperventilating. But he lifted his head. Opened his eyes. It was huge; black as tar, with a horrific, alligator-like grin, all teeth; white, fleshy, eye-shaped patches on the head; the fingers on the hands were long, sharp, with too many joints. Peter wasn’t breathing anymore.

It stepped towards him. Peter perceived the moments as though a strobelight were flashing in the dirty little bathroom, each fragment of an image disjointed from the last.

He was staring at the faucet and he could see the teeth near his head out of the corner of his eye; he was trembling all over. One of the huge black hands settled over the entirety of his upper back, the fingertips curling under his arm. The skin was smooth, dry, and cold, oddly scaly. So was the long, tentacle-like tongue that dragged up the side of his face. But Peter didn’t move, even as the sharp ends of the fingers dug into his ribs, leaving shallow punctures. Even as it rasped the words, “You are divine.” Even as Peter realized with a sick jolt that the thing didn’t use its mouth or tongue to speak.

Like through a microscope, he watched the other hand reach for his wrist, melting, covering his hand, creeping under his pink cast. The cool and dry was almost a relief; but then there was pressure, as the blackness that surrounded his arm expanded, pushing against the cast, and he cried out in shock as it burst into pieces.

Stunned, Peter stared down at the red, swollen, raw skin of his arm as the blackness peeled away. The part of his brain that wasn’t forcing everything that was going on into a different compartment to be dealt with later, the part that sounded like Aunt May, was whispering, That’s a yeast infection. You need to keep it clean and dry.

He felt the cold, dry tongue curl around his neck. Distantly, he thought it felt like an alligator’s stomach. He’d held a baby one on a field trip in middle school, and he’d been so amazed by how soft-yet-hard the scales were. “Good boy,” Venom rasped, unimpeded by the fact that his tongue was otherwise occupied. Where did the voice even come from? “In time, you will come to crave me. Then I’ll make you mine.

Half delirious, knowing in the back of his mind that he hadn’t taken a breath in at least a full minute, Peter thought again about face-huggers. He laughed, the sound choked, and then he realized it had been a sob, not a laugh.

The tongue and hand withdrew. Peter gasped for breath into his knees as he felt Brock’s shockingly human hand, warm and soft, smooth down his spine. “Goodnight, my love. ... Venom says goodnight, too.”

...

An hour later, Tony had explained pretty much everything, laying out notes like puzzle pieces on the desk, the floor, the corkboard on the wall. When he was finished, he looked to the woman—MJ, she’d asked him to call her—expectantly. She’d asked nothing but intelligent questions, made insightful connections, and Tony had a wild hope that maybe she’d have the answer ready to go in her pocket. Instead, she was looking at him incredulously.

“You’ve gotten no external help on this?” she demanded, her finger tapping angrily on a blurry image of the Venom in Oscorp headquarters. “You have billions—billions—of dollars at your disposal, you could hire the best and brightest investigators in the world, and you’re just keeping all this information between yourself and your buddies?”

Tony was taken aback. He slumped into his chair, unable to formulate a response; he was too fucking tired. They aren’t just my buddies, he thought as he tried to untie his tongue, blinking up at the near-stranger forlornly, They’re the Avengers. “... None of the professionals know how to handle something like this. With the, uh. Mutants and superpowers and stuff.” Eloquent.

MJ jabbed a finger at him, unappeased. “Then hire other mutants. Hire a fucking mercenary, hire aliens. The only reason you haven’t—” She poked him in the sternum and he looked down at the point of contact dumbly; her voice was acidic, sarcastic, cutting. “Is because you’re a megalomaniac who secretly thinks he’s the only one that can solve the case and save the damsel. With all due respect, Mr. Stark, get over yourself.”

Tony spent a moment just looking into her angry green eyes; he liked her almost as much as hated himself, even if her words had felt like knives between his ribs. He watched her watch him silently form the word mercenary with his lips. “I... know who to call.”

“Then fucking call them,” she bit out. “I’m calling Ned, we might be needing him soon.”

Tony paused, his hand hovering over his cell. “... Who?”

Wordlessly, not looking up from her phone, MJ tapped her finger on the photo Tony had pulled out, indicating the third boy in the photo, a chubby, goofy looking kid wearing a tie patterned with hibiscuses, like a Hawaiian shirt.

“... Why?”

Lifting her phone to her ear, she glowered at Tony. “Do you really think I got to your office, on the top floor of Stark Industries, with a clipboard? How do you think I opened your office door? Ned got me in. He made me this.” She tossed him an ID card. “Hey, Ned, yeah, everything’s fine... No, I didn’t ‘find him yet,’ listen—”

Tony was looking at a level 9 access card with MJ’s face on it and a fake name. He wouldn’t have been able to tell it from the real deal with a gun to his head. Hesitantly, he pressed it against the scanner that locked his filing cabinet; a little click announced that it had unlocked. It wasn’t anything he or Bruce couldn’t have managed, but still.

“I’m gonna have to hire that kid,” he mumbled, head swimming from exhaustion. But for the first time in a while, he felt sort of hopeful. Seeing the name Deadpool in his contacts made him pause, made him doubt, but MJ shot him a vicious glare and he hit the call button on instinct. God help him.

Chapter Text

The first thing Deadpool had done upon entering the room was slice open Tony’s cheek.

It was so fast he barely saw the man move and the blade was so sharp that for at least ten seconds, it didn’t even hurt. Then Tony found himself half leaned back against his desk, one hand raised in a Don’t shoot gesture while the other braced against the heavy furniture, keeping him upright, and the katana that had cut him was just barely grazing his throat. The mask was fixed on him, unmoving, emotionless; then the figure did a dramatic double-take, squealed, and said, “Oh em gee, it’s MJ!”

Tony slumped, exhaling shakily, as the man’s attentions were turned towards the woman who’d spent almost the last three days straight with him in a conference room they had commandeered on the 34th floor. Tony watched the man’s attention turn then to Ned—who had proven to be a more than capable ‘guy behind the screen,’ as he liked to put it, ripping encrypted data so fast that Tony wasn’t sure he’d be able to compete—and gasped again, exclaiming, “And Ned! Hey Ned! You know, MJ, you usually don’t have red hair in the universes where Ned isn’t blond... You guys usually rock the whole POC thing together.”

Tony was slowly realizing that he should have removed the nearly-children before he invited a psychotic, immortal mercenary to meet with him as he watched Ned and MJ, both frozen, seated behind their respective laptops, exchange a look of terror and confusion. Ned was the one who spoke; surprisingly brave kid, that one. “Do we... know you?”

“Not in this universe,” Deadpool responded easily, fluidly sheathing his weapon the way most men put away their wallet. “But in some, we know each other, or I know of you. You’re usually Webs’s girlfriend after the first one dies. Don’t worry, you’re my favorite of Spidey’s romantic partners by far. Much better than Iron Fuckface over here. And you, Ned, my man! You’re usually either his best friend or his rival in a love triangle.”

Tony touched a finger to his cheek; when he pulled it away, it was dark red. “Deadpool thinks that he can see into different universes—or something, I’m not that clear on it—and that Peter is normally his... crime fighting buddy? And that he’s a spider-themed superhero,” he explained, dazed, staring at the blood.

Deadpool scoffed. “I don’t see into different universes, I’m cursed with omniscient, ever-changing knowledge of my infinite selves. Get it right.”

“My apologies,” Tony heard himself say dryly. His shirt collar was getting wet.

“Wait, how do you know Peter?” MJ asked, looking confused. Deftly, she tossed Tony a box of tissues; he caught it against his chest and obediently pulled several out to press against his cut. He assumed it wasn’t bad, though it stung; otherwise he’d probably be given more than tissues.

Deadpool was moving over to the corkboard, studying their notes. “Cosmically? He’s my heartmate. In this iteration of the universe? He’s my friend and a homeless kid I check on sometimes.”

Ned piped in then, looking almost as starry-eyed as he had when he’d met Tony a few days prior. “Wait, so, do you know who Venom is? Is he, like, in the other universes?”

Tony groaned and MJ coughed into her hand, but Deadpool answered her seriously, leaning in to study a grainy security footage photo on the wall. “Not in this universe,” he murmured. “I’m usually Venom. Or sometimes Peter is Venom. Or that one guy—Flash something. Do you know him? ... Yeah, that guy. I don’t know, it’s all jumbled up in my head, like fucking alphabet soup but it’s not even the Latin alphabet, you know? But yeah. I’m usually Venom.”

MJ shot Tony a look and he shrugged at her, blotting at his chin. “You told me to hire the best. Here he is.”

Then he was looking down the barrel of a Glock, and Deadpool hissed, “Flattery might get you into my pants but it’s not getting you out of the consequences of failing to take care of Webs, Stark. As soon as we find Peter, we’re going to go at it Gladitator style, naked and covered in oil—or is that the Greek wrestlers who did that?—it doesn’t matter, the point is, I’m going to hold a sword to your neck and Peter will give me a thumbs or a thumbs down to decide whether you die. ¿Tu me entiendes?

Then the hulking, leather-clad figure withdrew, his voice light and childish as he turned towards MJ, asking kindly, “Could you catch me up to speed, carrot-top? I already have some leads to run down but we shouldn’t waste time if you’ve already elimated them.”

MJ looked between them, hesitating, then Tony saw the walls come down over her eyes, determination pinching her freckled nose. “Of course. Mr. Stark, why don’t you get cleaned up and go lay down? You look awful.”

Ned shot her a look that clearly said, Did you just tell Iron Man to leave us alone with a famous psychopath? and really, Tony agreed. That was a terrible idea. “I’ll clean up,” he compromised. Then, acknowledging that his brain was still catching up to the fact that Deadpool was even in the room, he sighed and continued softly, “And I’ll rest, but I’ll do it in here. Okay?”

“Okay,” she said. Then, looking up at the enormous man beside her, she gestured at a map and began, “So, Peter’s been gone a little over a month; we have audio from his defense bracelet and video from the convenience store security camera across the street right here...”

...

Peter was aware of Brock’s eyes burrowing into the side of his head as he stared blankly down at the photo album in his hands, down at his own face, his own body, at himself through the window in the biochemistry lab, from a rooftop as he walks arm-in-arm with Tony. The man leaned over him, turning the page for Peter, and murmured as he revealed another set of photos of Peter in public places, “You’re just so beautiful, lamb, I had to share.”

Judging by the length of Peter’s hair and the gauntness of his face in the early photos, Brock had been watching him for months. It was horrifying, violating, nauseating, but Peter sat perfectly still, emotionless, silent, obediently taking in each page as Brock patiently revealed them to him.

...

Deadpool had left two days before. He occasionally texted them, telling them to cross a certain person of their list of potential Venoms, but other than that, it was radio silence.

Tony couldn’t remember how the hope had felt when MJ had first arrived. He was helping her affix an array of times and places of Venom sightings to the wall, accompanied by security footage of the inhumanly large black beast sulking through the halls of corporate buildings, but in his head, he was thinking, What are the chances that he’s even still alive? Everything in his body, his soul hurt at the though, but he couldn’t stop thinking it. What are the chances?

MJ took a step back. “All these companies have had major scandals recently,” she said. Tony surveyed the list. It was true; Fisk, Oscorp, that lab downstate that got in trouble for human experimentation, the far-right newscaster who was caught fucking an underaged intern...

A moment or two passed, each of them thinking their own thoughts. “Looks like the break-ins all happened in the month leading up to the scandal,” Ned supplied, clicking away at his keyboard, sounding disinterested. More silence. Then Ned spoke again. “That’s weird. It looks like all the stories were broken by the same guy.”

Tony whipped his head around towards the exhausted kid at the desk; he saw the exact moment that the lightbulb went off in his head the way it had in Tony’s. “That is weird,” MJ agreed, clearly not paying that much attention. Then she stiffened up, too, looking at Ned, and they shared a broad smile.

“Gimme a name, kid,” Tony urged, rounding the desk briskly, ready to face down the fucker that had stolen his Peter, ready to finally look him in the eyes and know that he was going to kill him. He stopped dead when he saw the face, though.

“Some reporter named Eddie Brock,” Ned was saying. “Tell that Deadpool guy, I’ll work on getting an address.” Tony could only hear the roaring in his ears.

...

Deadpool beat them there.

The Venom was horrible up close, like something out of a child’s nightmare, and it threw Deadpool’s broken body aside like a toy; it smashed against the bricks and crumpled to the floor, moaning, pushing up onto clearly broken legs.

Tony released Nat before they had even reached the rooftop, and she was gone off the side towards the thing before his metal boots even hit the ground. Sam and Rhodes were touching down beside him, releasing Bucky and Steve as they did so, and they were running, too, and Tony took a step forward but Steve’s hand clenched around his arm and said “Get Peter,” just as Natasha’s scream echoed up at them, distinct from those of the civilians, and Tony nodded once and launched himself into the air. Get Peter, he thought, hearing metal smash against metal behind him. Get Peter.

...

Tony had seen a broken Chihuly once.

He’d gone home with a college friend for the holidays to the Keys; his buddy’s parents’ vacation home, complete with a one-of-kind work of art hanging from the living room ceiling. It was the first time he’d ever looked at one knowing was it was. He’d seen them before, of course, in casinos in Nassau and luxury hotels in Vegas, but he’d never really looked at one until then. It was so beautiful, so colorful, each twisting piece of glass different from the last, yet the effect was cohesive, like each part belonged where it was and no where else.

They’d all woken up to the crash at about 1 in the afternoon after a rager party the night before. It had sounded like a car had gone through one of the floor to ceiling windows on the first floor; Tony’s first thought had been that someone had leaned against a window and fallen through, perhaps.

They’d all gathered around the dining room, where the priceless, hand-blown glass chandelier had fallen from the ceiling through the glass table. Tony had seen the first shard of colorful broken glass on the third to last step; they were littered all over the first floor. The shards of color had grown denser until Tony could see into the dining room, where it was piled several inches thick, beautiful and irreplaceable and broken. A bad install job, they’d found out later.

Tony had bent down and picked up a blue, spiraling piece, with the point broken off, and examined the shades of translucent azure and sapphire and navy that ran through it.

That’s what Tony thought of as he looked down at the kid in the tub. He was naked, nestled into a pile of filthy, stinking quilts and pillows. There were angry red cuts on his ankle where he was shackled; his whole body was littered with bruises, in a rainbow of colors from sickly yellow to deep purple. He had a black eye and a busted lip and a clearly infected cut through one of his eyebrows. His hair was matted, unrecognizably dark, and probably beyond saving.

His eyes were fixed on Tony’s, but they were blank. Clearly, Peter knew he was there, understood that he was there; Tony’s impression was that the emotionlessness was intentional, calculated. He let himself draw strength from it, clearing his mind, grateful that Peter couldn’t see his face through the mask, couldn’t see the horror and grief in his eyes.

He lifted his hand, pointing his palm at the chain on the floor. The resultant bang made Peter flinch, cowering, and Tony fell to his knees, his mask rolling back from his face, and he saw Peter’s eyes widen—he looked like hell, he knew, nothing like how bad Peter looked but still not good—and reached out to cup his face in both red-and-gold metal hands, holding him. “I love you too,” he insisted, his voice cracking. “I love you too, Peter, I’m so sorry I didn’t say before.”

One of Peter’s trembling hands reached out and touched Tony’s cheek, the one without the scab across it, stroking the unkempt beard. “Oh,” he murmured, and there was a flicker of the normal storm in his beautiful bluegrey eyes. “Good.” Then, slowly, his hand falling away, “Can we go home?”

The com built into Tony’s suit burst into life before he could answer; Peter cringed away from the sounds of sirens and distant yelling. Steve’s voice came on, breathless, nearly shouting, “Tony, we—it’s under control. Fury is sending a specialist, apparently there are more of these things. But it’s unconscious. Do you copy? Did you find Peter? Over.

A hint of gallows humor tinged Peter’s voice as he reached out weakly to grab his glasses from the side of the tub. “Is that Steve? Tell him I said hi.”

And Tony’s face hurt—he was smiling, dear god, how long has it been since he’d smiled like this?—as he opened the communication line and said. “I copy, Steve. Peter says hello.”

Oh, thank god.”

“Thank god,” Tony echoed. “Let’s go home, Pete.”

Chapter Text

Peter felt fine, really.

After his vitals had come back more or less normal, with the exception of a remarkably low blood sugar reading. When the saline drip they put in his arm ran out and Peter opted to wait until the rest of his body had healed to break and re-set his thumb, he’d only needed to turn his best doe-eyed expression on Tony to be allowed to go to the Tower.

At his request, they’d set him up in Tony’s room. Dr. Banner had checked his temperature and rubbed antibiotic cream into his arm and the cut on his face, then asked him seriously, “Peter, do you want people to come see you? I’ve been keeping everyone out—Tony included, that’s the only reason he’s not in here already. I can make them leave you alone.”

Peter was so fucking tired. He wanted to say no, but he’d seen them all in passing and the looks of weariness, relief, and exhaustion on their faces, the bruises under their eyes, their scrapes from the battle they’d fought against Brock and Venom, and he found himself saying, “It’s okay, send them in.”

And they came in. All of them. Stroking his legs, holding his hands, asking him how he felt, telling them what he’d missed out on. He probably looked and sounded like an idiot, blinking owlishly around at them and giving one or two word answers to everything, refusing to let himself feel or think about anything. They seemed to understand. As things began to calm down, they found seats, settled into something like how it had felt to hang out for movie night. Bucky rested his metal hand over Peter’s forehead because he said he liked the coolness; Nat sat cross-legged on the bed with him; Steve stood next to Bucky, their shoulders brushing; the Colonel sat on the edge of the bed; Mr. Wilson and Mr. Hawkeye, who’d flown in from seeing his family, sat shoulder to shoulder on Tony’s desk, dragged closer to Peter for that express purpose.

And Tony sat in a chair by the foot of the bed, his hand clasped loosely around Peter’s shin through the sheets covering him, and looked into Peter’s eyes like he was the only thing in the world, quiet. Like he knew he’d have the chance to talk to Peter after everyone else left.

Numb, feeling a little smothered, Peter looked down at his hands and shyly murmured, “I missed you all so much, but I’m really, really tired. Can I rest?”

There was a chorus of agreement, but Bucky shifted his hand to the top of Peter’s head, frowning. “Would you feel better if we got you cleaned up, first, Pete?”

The idea of being really, really clean was almost as lovely as the idea of standing for long enough to take a shower sounded awful. “I don’t think I can,” he answered truthfully, to which Bucky immediately volunteered his services. “Thank you,” he said, hoping he looked half as grateful as he felt as he took Bucky’s metal fingers in his own and squeezed them gently. “Really. But I’d be more comfortable...”

He turned his gaze on Tony, wondering if the man would mind. He looked really, really tired; older, too, with the fully grown in salt-and-pepper beard. The man nodded once, his eyes soft, and that was that.

Fifteen minutes later, Peter was naked, pressed flush against his equally naked lover, moaning under the delightful jets of hot water that were hitting his back. “I love your shower,” Peter mumbled into Tony’s wet shoulder, and the man squeezed his arms tighter around Peter’s waist in answer.

“I missed you so much,” Tony murmured, and Peter heard the tears in his voice. He wasn’t ready for tears. He wasn’t ready to acknowledge that he’d been gone for more than a few hours. Much more than a few hours.

“I haven’t taken a shower or a bath since I left,” Peter admitted. “The water wasn’t hooked up to the tub.”

Tony hummed, sliding his palm down Peter’s back, rocking them both back and forth. “You smell terrible, kid.”

Peter snorted. “Clean me up, then.”

Tony did. He started with a warm washcloth and a lotion-like substance that smelled like apricots on Peter’s face, fussing over his broken-out skin and scrubbing at his nose, working carefully around the waterproof bandage he’d placed over Peter’s infected cut. Then he used the same cloth to get under his fingernails, and at some point Peter looked down and saw that the white cloth had turned faintly brown. “I was dirtier than I thought,” he told Tony, a little dizzy.

“You should see the color difference between the clean skin and the dirty skin,” Tony responded, not looking up from Peter’s hand. “Do you want to sit down? The bottoms of your feet were almost black.”

With a careful arm around Peter’s waist, Tony helped him lower himself to the tile floor, and Peter leaned his back against the shower wall and luxuriated in the heat and the steam. He drifted as Tony knelt by his legs, scrubbing carefully between his toes and at the ball and heel of his feet; then he threw out that washcloth, now nearly black in places, and picked up another from the stack he’d brought with him, switching over to Peter’s normal body soap, the lemon one. He looks skinny, Peter thought, vaguely worried, as his eyes drifted open and closed, as Tony painstakingly worked up his legs, gentle with all the bruises.

Peter woke up, having been unaware that he’d fallen asleep, when Tony grabbed one of his arms and started working it over. He had another clean washcloth. He avoided the red patch where his skin had been infected—it looked and felt much better, but touching it still hurt—but otherwise paid close attention to every bit of skin, even when Peter squirmed ticklishly. He dimly noted that his untouched arm, the one with the poorly-healed thumb, really was darker than his legs, though his skin was red from the friction and heat of cleaning.

Peter realized the man was crying sometime between him finishing both arms and starting in on his neck and chest. He was hiding his face—probably didn’t want to upset him—but kept rubbing the back of his hand over his eyes. Peter draped one of his newly-scrubbed arms over Tony’s shoulder, burying his hand in the man’s wet hair, and held him as he worked, tilting his head back against the wall and drifting again.

The feeling of a hand on his cheek broke through the numbness, and Tony spoke for the first time in a long while. “C’mon, Pete. Lean into me. I need to do your back.”

When Peter didn’t even attempt to follow instructions, Tony wrapped an arm around his ribs and hefted him until his head rested against the man’s broad shoulder. He felt yet another washcloth be discarded into the growing like in the corner, then a new one being lathered up, Tony arm’s moving around him, warm and slick. Having his back rubbed—even just to get clean—felt lovely.

When that was all done, Tony pulled Peter over to the ledge in the shower and sat down with Peter’s shoulders between his knees. “Let’s see what we can do about your hair, kid,” he said, falsely cheerful.

While he hadn’t looked in a mirror, Peter knew his hair was bad. It moved as one unit, and when he felt it, it was a solid mass, flexible but impenetrable. But he felt that Tony needed to come to realization that it was beyond saving for himself. To his credit, he worked soap into it and tried to detangle it with his fingers for so long that Peter almost believed he was making progress.

His hand fell heavy on Peter’s shoulder. “... Kid, I...”

Peter wrapped his own fingers around Tony’s, squeezing them. “I know,” he said, voice flat, lifeless. “Do you have clippers?

As it turned out, he did. They were even waterproof. Peter didn’t have to move. Tony sat back down behind him, he heard the clippers switch on, he felt his mass of hair be lifted off of his nape, and then the faintly familiar buzzing sensation of a haircut. It reminded him of when he was little and he went to get his school-mandated short hair touched up with his uncle at the barber.

Peter’s hair came off all in one piece. It was disgusting; something you’d think came out of a drain, not off of someone’s head. Peter didn’t want to look at it. Tony had thrown it onto the pile of dirty washcloths and if Peter kept his head straight forward, he couldn’t see it.

Tony helped him to his feet, holding him and shampooing his now very short hair briskly. Peter didn’t look at his face, just clung to his shoulders, swaying on his feet.

“Are you alright, Peter?” he asked as he shut the water off, trying to catch Peter’s eye.

I don’t know, he thought. “I think I just need to sleep.”

Tony regarded him for a moment, studied him; probably trying to decide whether he thought Peter was lying. Then he sighed, shoving his wet hair back, and said, “Okay, let’s get you back to bed then.”

Honestly, Peter was fairly certain that he fell asleep while being towelled off. He had no recollection of walking to the bed. It was the best, deepest, most dreamless sleep he’d had in years.

...

Waking was disorienting.

Where was he? Not the tub.

But the ceiling was familiar. Where did he know it from?

“Mr. Stark?”

“Yeah, kid, I’m here.”

Peter turned his head stiffly; his body hurt, his neck ached, but he felt good otherwise. Safe. “Tony,” he said when his eyes lit on the man. He was sitting up in the bed, cross-legged in pajamas, scratching at the back of his head. He looked better, especially when his lips curled into a smile at hearing his name. Peter tried to smile back but some instinct within him was telling him not to show weakness and he didn’t feel up to fighting it.

“How’d you sleep?”

Peter hummed, watching the man rub at his beard. It was sort of handsome, in an unkempt way. “Good. Is something wrong? You seem... antsy.”

“Nothing wrong,” Tony denied, looking troubled.

He didn’t believe him at all, but he didn’t push the matter, either. He decided the change the subject; he had millions of questions. “Hey... How did you even find me?”

“I had help.” It was an evasive answer; it made Peter bristle with indignation, but he bit it back, watching Tony suddenly scramble off of the bed. “Hold on, I’ve just had a thought,” he assured Peter before disappearing briefly into the restroom. When he reappeared a moment later, he looked equally distressed, but he just sat back down, took Peter’s hand, and said, “You slept for almost fourteen hours, kid. You hungry? Oh, do you want your glasses back? I fixed the broken hinge while you were sleeping.

...

Tony’s heart broke as he watched Peter eat. The kid hunched over the meal Elvira had brought—just toast and jam, easy on the poor thing’s stomach—like he was afraid someone would take it from him. It was exactly how he’d eaten when he first arrived at the Tower. He watched the kid set the plate on the bedside table, looking tired again, and scratch absent-mindedly at his new, short hair, trying to ignore the prickling on his own scalp as he did so.

God, Tony missed his curls. His hair now was very, very short, and it didn’t look bad, not at all, just... not like Peter.

“C’mon, Pete,” he urged Peter when he was finished chewing and had set aside his glass of water. “We need to wash your hair.”

Peter gave him a weird look, confused. “... Why?” he asked plainly.

“Don’t worry about it,” Tony pleaded. “I’ll tell you after it’s taken care of. Deal?”

The kid leveled him with a long, searching look, but eventually nodded and allowed Tony to help him to his feet, with an arm around his waist. He left Peter in the bathroom for a moment to go open the door for Elvira, who tactfully ignored Peter’s intense gaze as she began stripping the bed.

Tony turned on the water, counting on the kid being too tired to connect all of the dots until the issue was resolved. The instant he helped Peter under the spray, all the muscles in his shoulders relaxed and let out a sweet little sigh of contentment, a bit of the tension easing from his eyebrows. Peter had more or less held on to his cold comportment the entire time he’d been home. No tears, no real smiles. Nothing.

Tony picked up the bottle he’d sent for, angling the label away from Peter, standing still under the spray and apparently still content to let Tony wash him as he pleased. He lathered the kid’s short hair, rinsed. Lathered it again and rinsed it. His hand was full of soap once more when Peter turned suddenly, looking at him blank-faced, and asked, “Do I have lice?”

Tony hesitated, then nodded. He dug his hands back into Peter’s hair. It was cute, really, a little boyish, but it suited him. And it would grow out to something a little more reasonable. As he rinsed Peter’s hair out again, guiding him under the spray, he kept an eye on Peter’s face, watching him process everything. You could see it as clearly as if there was a little screen on his forehead that said buffering.

The fourth handful of soap went into Tony’s own hair, then his beard. He needed to shave that. Peter’s eyes came back online, watching him, and he stated calmly, “I gave you lice.”

Tony hesitated, both his hands buried in his own hair. He nodded. Something in his chest fell and shattered as he watched Peter’s face crumpled, fat tears welling up in his beautiful eyes, and the first gut-wrenching sob was torn from his throat. Tony barely caught him as Peter fell against his chest, the broken dam seemingly too much for Peter to remain standing. Tony held him, hushing him, stroking a soapy hand over the back of his head, and waited for him to cry it all out. It took a long time.

Chapter Text

After delousing himself and Peter, Tony wrapped him up in and towel and offered to help him back to bed. Peter, understandably a little clingy, had demanded, “Wait, where will you be?”

That’s how Peter came to be sitting on the counter wrapped up in a towel, eyes red but dry and focused behind his repaired glasses—they’d been really crooked from the bent hinge—as he watched Tony take a straight-edge to the thick beard at his cheek.

“How’d you get that cut?”

“... Deadpool.”

“Why did he cut you?”

“For losing you.”

Peter huffed, digging his palms into his towel-clad thighs. “That wasn’t your fault. Why was Deadpool even there?”

Tony focused on his shave a little longer, not sure Peter was ready to hear about the rag-tag team that had discovered Venom’s identity. Out of the corner of his eye, though, he saw the beginnings of righteous anger stain his cheeks and pinch his nose. “I have surprising news,” Tony told him; even he could hear the hesitance in his tone, hesitance that glued Peter’s eyes to his face. “Do you feel up to hearing it?”

Peter had become expressive again. It was a relief, truly, like finding an undamaged heirloom in the wreckage of a house fire. Tony watched out of the corner of his eye as his face flitted between uncertainty, doubt, longing, and suspicion, like a kaleidoscope. He carefully kept his own eyes averted, giving Peter the privacy to decide for himself what he wanted to say. “... Tell me.”

Tony had finished the bulk of both cheeks, though the goatee needed to be edged up and trimmed. He wiped his face with a towel, stalling, feeling a sort of warmth wash into his stomach at the thought of the two brilliant young people who he’d spent nearly a week straight with, who seemed to love Peter as much as he did. “Do you know what your high school friends are up to? Mary Jane Watson and Ned Leeds?” Tony saw Peter’s stomach drop, shock and terror on his face, and rushed on, “The news isn’t that they’re hurt or dead, calm down.”

In measures, Peter did, eyeing him suspiciously, taking deep breaths. “MJ... I think she’s getting a journalism degree. And she works on small investigative articles for the Daily Bugle during school breaks. According to his mom’s Facebook, I think Ned is still in school at NYU. ... Why? How did you know about them?”

“Well,” Tony stalled, trying to figure out where the story began. “You’ve been gone for a while. The media eventually realized you were missing and we told them you were sick.”

Peter’s eyebrows were pinched together cutely. “Wait, why didn’t you just tell them I was kidnapped?”

“Kid, if we told the public about every alien, mutant serial killer, and other non-strictly-human threats to public safety, there would be chaos.” Tony paused as Peter conceded the point with a nod. “Anyway. About a week ago, a reporter broke into my office demanding to know where you were.” He decided to skip the accusation about having purchased Peter. “That was MJ.”

Peter looked stunned, the storm is his eyes swelling into a monsoon. “MJ helped you find me? You met MJ? Holy shit. I haven’t spoken to her in years.”

“I know,” Tony responded dryly, “She’s furious with you. Ned, too.”

“You met Ned?” 

“I did. They’re both really, really great people. And they miss you, kid.”

Peter’s hand caught his, his glass face showcasing affection, grief, need. “Are they okay? Like, how are they?”

Tony wrapped an arm around him, pulling him right against his chest, and murmured into his spiky-short hair, “They’re good, Pete. They want to see you. They’ve been waiting for you to feel up to it. Do you want to see them?” He felt Peter nod against his chest and his heart swelled. “Now?” Another nod. “I’ll send a car for them. Let’s get you dressed, huh?”

...

Steve kept Tony company as he supervised Peter’s reunion with his old friends from the respectful distance of the kitchen. He could see the backs of their heads, all pushed together like they were sharing secrets, and he couldn’t hear them except for the raucous bursts of laughter and MJ occasionally calling Peter a ‘thoughtless idiot.’

He thought he’d be anxious to leave Peter, but the sheer joy on his face, the happy tears in his eyes when MJ flung herself into his arms and started crying into his shoulder and smacking him on the chest, had convinced Tony he’d be okay. He’d walked away just as Ned had stage whispered, “Dude, how did you end up here?”

“They have a lot to catch up on,” Steve noted, not looking up from the newspaper he had spread over the counter. Tony nodded non-commitally, distracted from the sounds of conversation coming from the other room when Steve noisily turned the page, revealing a black-and-white photo of Peter laughing into his cup at something Tony had said in a restaurant near Central Park. His casted arm rested on the table, his hair was long and curly, and his face looked full and healthy. Tony ached with longing when he saw it, but quickly resolved that he’d restore it if it took everything he had.

The caption was, ‘Peter Parker mysteriously ill; not seen in public in over a month.’ Tony hummed at it. “They didn’t see Peter when we took him from that apartment in Harlem?”

Steve shook his head. “No, but look, I made the front page.”

Tony took in the large front page photo of Steve, looking righteous and all-American with his boot pressed into the back of the Venom, which seemingly unconscious in the ground, his eyes burning down at his captive. “Very heroic,” he complimented. “You know, Pepper wants to raffle off an interview with Peter. Proceeds to a good cause and all that; make it seem like there really wasn’t anything wrong other than him being sick.”

“Why a raffle?” Steve questioned, the corner of his mouth quirked up when they heard Peter squawk indignantly in the next room.

Tony was trying not to smirk as well, ignoring Peter’s cries of, Hey, why don’t you try pretending to date a billionaire and see how smooth you are! “So that it doesn’t look like we’re manipulating information by hiring an agency we control. They’ll still be vetted, obviously, we don’t need to hand Peter off to Alex Jones or anything like that.”

Steve nodded gravely, visibly pretending to know who that was. “Not anytime soon, though?”

Tony shook his head. “No, we’ll give it a week or two. Let his hair grow out a bit, put on some weight, get back to sorts.”

...

Tony could see how tired Peter was plainly. Tony had hovered, working on neglected responsibilities and projects, as Peter spent hours catching up with his old friends; after they had to leave in the early afternoon, tearfully making Peter promise to ‘text them every day or else,’ he’d spent the evening with Barnes in the living room, joined by a rotating cast of other Avengers until well into the evening.

Tony pulled back the sheets for Peter, aware he was being a little overbearingly worried but unable to help himself as he tucked the kid in, felt his forehead, whispered questions into the dimly-lit room about how he felt, whether he needed anything, gently plucked off his glasses and set them on the bedside table. He shut his eyes against all of the feelings he’d been trying to keep in check as both of Peter’s hands slid into his hair, gently tugging him down into a slow, heated, open-mouthed kiss.

He felt Peter pull on his sleeves and climbed onto the bed, obedient, gently resting some of his weight onto his warm, thin form under the blankets. Peter sighed, tilting his head back leisurely, and Tony took advantage of the exposure of his slim neck to press chaste kisses to it, humming affectionately into his skin. He smelled like lemons and love and Peter. It was good.

“I love you,” Peter whispered, as though it were a secret. It was only the second time Tony had ever heard him say it and it melted him.

Burying his arms under Peter’s shoulders, holding him close, Tony echoed, “I love you.” He could feel the truth of it in his bones.

“I want you,” Peter answered, rolling his hips up against Tony’s. He responded with a gentle press of his own, careful not to irritate his scrapes and bruises. Tony let his kisses turn open-mouthed on Peter’s neck; he heard him moan, felt him shift to press their cocks together through the fabric of their pajama bottoms. “I want you inside of me.”

His stomach clenching, brows drawing together, Tony pulled away from Peter’s neck, resting their foreheads together. He looked into his bluegrey eyes, dark with lust, demanding, and earnest. “... I’m... not sure that’s a good idea right now, Pete.”

The lust burned up into anger before Tony’s very eyes, and he pulled back, shocked, hovering over Peter as he watched it color his cheeks. “Don’t baby me, Tony. I said I want it, that should be enough.”

Feeling sick, Tony reached up to cup his cheek, but Peter batted his hand away. “Kid, you’re a little fragile right now. We don’t need to take a step like that before—”

Peter’s little fist struck him on the sternum. It didn’t hurt, not really, not physically; it must have shown in Tony’s eyes, though, because Peter wavered, his eyes beginning to water. Tony wrapped his hand around the fist still rested on his chest, leaning back to watch the beautiful young man beneath him struggle silently between rage and despair.

“Do you want to talk about it, kid?” he asked gently, keeping his tone neutral.

Peter bristled. “Do you want to talk about Afghanistan?” he snapped back instantly. Before Tony could even begin to process the emotions that had evoked in him, before he could move away to regroup, before he could anything other than stare at Peter in disbelief and hurt, the kid was pushing himself up and throwing his arms around Tony’s neck, his whole body shaking, and he was whispering over and over, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it, Tony, I’m sorry.”

After a moment, Tony held him back. And he held him the whole time Peter was telling him about his time in the bathtub. About the photo album. About the touching. About the frog. About the dreams and the hallucinations.

Tony didn’t realize he was crying until Peter pulled back, looked into his eyes, and wiped the wetness from his cheek. “Thank you for holding me,” he said, like it was some big favor.

“I’ll hold you through all of this,” he promised.

...

Peter got better remarkably quickly. He was insisting on getting back to normal as soon as possible, picking up where he’d left off on his online classes—the program had kindly given him an extension—and going back to his normal routine. His outbursts of anger and tears became exponentially shorter and less extreme with each instance. He was tough; that’s one of the reasons Tony’s chest got tight when he looked at him.

Tony woke one night more than a week after Peter got back to the sickening realization that his bed was empty. The panic faded quickly, though; Peter frequently got up in the night to wander around or sit by the window after a nightmare, no matter how much Tony begged him to just wake him up and let him hold him. I’ll be okay, he always said, and Tony knew it was true but didn’t care. Peter didn’t have to do any of this alone and he needed to know that.

Tony lifted his head, eyes scanning the dark room, and his eyes fell on Peter, sitting cross-legged by the floor-to-ceiling window that looked down at nighttime lower Manhattan, framed by the thin rectangle of light he’d created when he opened the blackout curtains just wide enough to sit with his knees pressed against the glass. Tony slid out of bed, hearing his hip pop as he did so—man, he really was getting old—and padded over to Peter, grasping the thick curtain and pulling it wide so that he could sit down beside him.

Peter looked to be deep in thought, pensive. He didn’t turn his head towards Tony or say anything, but his sweet, soft hand with the crooked thumb shifted onto Tony’s knee. Tony rested his own hand on top of it, leaving him to think for a while, looking down at the tiny cars far below, marked by red breaklights and white headlights.

Tony was easily bored, though, and after a while, his eyes were on the side of Peter’s face again, watching him think. “What are you thinking about, Pete?” he asked, like he did every night that Peter had a nightmare or couldn’t sleep. The answer was almost always either, just a dream I had or Brock. And Tony was ready for that. He wasn’t ready for Peter’s answer this time.

“Conservation genetics,” he said. Tony blinked, stunned, and Peter trailed a finger down on the glass absent-mindedly as he thought aloud, “I read this paper a while ago about ghost alleles. The idea was that there’s this population of coyotes in Texas than interbred with red wolves in an outbreeding depression event. And now the coyotes have wolf alleles that the wolves have lost. They’re trying to isolate the alleles and reintroduce them to the wolves to increase genetic diversity.” His calm grey eyes met Tony’s, his brows furrowed in deep thought. “But if we can do that, I was thinking, you know, there are preserved specimens all over the world. In museums, private collections, specimen libraries... I wonder if you could revive extinct alleles that way. Prevent the inbreeding vortex. You know?”

Tony laced their fingers together. In his head, he was celebrating, he was stroking Peter’s hair and saying you’re doing so well, I’m so proud of you. He was shouting to the ceiling that Peter was getting better, that his eyes looked light and untroubled, that Peter was going to be okay. But out loud, he just murmured, “You’re really interested in conservation, huh, Pete?” and tightened his grip on Peter’s fingers.

Peter was smiling at him in that way that made him feel like he was falling. “Yeah. But I’m a biochemist.” He shrugged. “No time for conservation genetics.”

Tony tilted his head, confused. “You don’t have to pick one, you know. I didn’t. Neither did Bruce.”

Peter shot him that fond, loving little grin that said we weren’t all born with a silver spoon up our ass and kissed him on the cheek. “I should probably stay on one course until I have a career established, don’t you think? Besides, I’m not exactly the same caliber as you and Dr. Banner...”

Tony was shaking his head. “This really isn’t getting through to you, is it, kid?” He grabbed Peter’s chin, tilted his head, lost in his long, gorgeous eyelashes, and insisted, “Pete, for one, you’re absolutely on our level. For another, you’re mine. That means you can have and do and be anything you want. If you want to study genetics this week and biochemical engineering next week and Swahili the week after that, you can.”

Peter was grinning ear to ear. “You’re going to spoil me,” he accused, crawling into Tony’s lap like he owned it.

“That’s the idea,” Tony laughed, pulling him close and showering his face in kisses.

Chapter Text

“We can still postpone, Peter, are you sure you’re ready?” Ms. Potts was asking, fussing over his collar as he looked over her shoulder at the intimidating row of lights and cameras set up in her office. “Mr. Jameson can be... tough. Not that I don’t think you can handle it, of course.” She smiled reassuringly, eyes fixed on his hair as her nails ran through it, making it sure it stayed in place.

Peter blinked up at her, nervous. “It’s been three weeks since I got home, Ms. Potts. I’m not going to get more ready. ... He’s not, like, homophobic, though, right?”

She shook her head quickly. “No, no. Just traditional. He probably disapproves of the age difference more than the fact that you’re both men. I wouldn’t let you go into something like that on your first interview. You remember everything I told you last night, right?”

He hesitated, then nodded. He didn’t explicitly remember it all, but he knew the gist, and it had all been common sense for the most part. “Do I look alright, do you think?” he asked, trying not to sound nervous.

She smiled wide. “You look devastatingly handsome, Peter. Do me proud, our market value is depending on you.” She winked to soften the pressure of the statement, looking over as his interviewer walked in. “Good luck, Pete,” she whispered, then trotted away, her heels clicking on the floor.

J. Jonah Jameson was a large, broad man, with more salt than pepper in his hair and beard and a rough, smoker’s voice. He shook Peter’s hand cordially—he smelled like cigars—and while his eyes and mouth were very serious, he raised his greying eyebrows and told him, “Just stay calm. I won’t go easy on you, kid, so you better be ready to handle it.”

Oddly enough, Peter was fairly sure that this was meant to be comforting. Jameson had been MJ’s boss at the Daily Bugle for a few months before he retired to run the local news segment Just the Facts with J. Jonah Jameson, the show that had won the raffle for Peter’s interview. She had told him over the phone that he was a hardass, but she thought he secretly cared a lot about his employees. He could see it, honestly, as the man settled into the chair opposite of him and waited for Peter to answer the cameraman that he was ready before he nodded as well.

Peter tried to smile at the camera as the man began the interview, his dark eyes intense as he spoke. “Good evening, New York, and welcome back to Just the Facts with me, your host, J. Jonah Jameson, the last honest reporter in the business. I’m joined tonight by Peter Parker, the quote-unquote ‘beautiful’ young man who rocketed from a nameless Stark Industries intern to the dubiously enviable position of dating one of the New York elite’s most confirmed bachelors, Tony Stark, the Iron Man and the president of one of the most powerful companies on earth. Welcome, Peter, how are you this evening?”

Peter inhaled. Be yourself, he told himself. “That was a bit of a run-on, but I’m flattered you called me beautiful,” he joked. Too much yourself, he thought, panicking internally. But he thought he saw Jameson’s lip twitch as he cleared his throat.

“Peter, as you can imagine, the world has a lot of questions for you. Unfortunately for you, so do I, and the first one is how you broke your arm a few months ago, just before your disappearance.”

His eyes didn’t break from Peter’s face for a moment as Peter shifted in his seat, glancing towards the camera. He’d practiced this. “Well, I thought it would be a good idea to try sparring with Ms. Natasha Romanov,” he said brightly. They’d decided that they needed to blame someone because saying he’d fallen would be suspicious, and saying it had been a powerful woman who wasn’t twice his size instead of Captain America would go over better. “Clearly, I was wrong. It was an accident, though.” He glanced towards the camera. “Anthony was very hurt by the idea that people thought he’d broken it.”

Acknowledge the rumors and dismiss them, Ms. Potts had told him. He hoped he was doing it right.

“I see,” Jameson said. “But then you disappeared for an entire month. Why is that?”

Peter swallowed. He could do this. His voice came out calm, gentle, and he addressed Jameson, ignoring the camera. Everyone I know personally already knows, he told himself as he began to speak. “Well, Mr. Jameson, I can’t talk too much about it until after Norman Osborn’s trial is finished,” he stated. The implication was clear and Jameson was very still, his eyes very serious. Peter cleared his throat, looking down at his lap then back up. “I’m one of the nine victims pressing charges against him. Perhaps I could come back on the show to discuss it with you after everything is resolved in court?”

He saw that Jameson was taking the comment for the olive branch that it was, understood that Peter was going to let him continue the interview despite the faux pas of accidentally asking him about sexual abuse live on the air. He inclined his head just slightly. “I’m very sorry to hear that, Peter,” he said. “I, for one, can not wait to see that monster rot in prison.”

He sounded like he meant it. Peter smiled at him, accepting the gruff apology for what it was, and Jameson smoothly changed the subject, though still utterly without delicacy. “Another question everyone has been asking is whether you started dating Tony Stark because of your internship or you got your internship because you were seeing Tony Stark.”

He cocked at eyebrow at Peter, making him blush a little. He clearly thought there was a correct and an incorrect answer and Peter hoped he was giving the right one. “I met him through the internship,” he assured Jameson. “I worked in his lab for a long time before he even noticed the massive crush I had on him.”

Jameson hummed thoughtfully. “Have you accepted any pay raises or promotions since your relationship began?” he asked, accusation clear.

Peter was surprised he was able to stay calm while being cross-examined, but he didn’t let it show as he answered coolly, “Frankly, sir, I’m still technically not on the Stark Industries payroll. I’m an unpaid intern.” He cracked a smile. “Such is the plight of any undergrad student, right?”

Jameson grunted. “Sure. But you did move into Stark Tower.”

Peter blinked innocently at him. “Yes, lots of people live with their boyfriends, Mr. Jameson.”

The man crossed his ankles and leaned back in his chair, visibly sizing Peter up. “I underestimated you,” he said. Ms. Potts had told him he’d say something like that, try to disarm him with a compliment. Peter tried not to let it work. “Let me be blunt, son, because I think you can handle it. Why do you think that you, Peter Parker, the intern, found yourself dating one of the richest and most powerful men on the planet?”

The word golddigger hung in the air, as clearly as if the man had shouted it. But Peter was ready for this question.

“Well, Mr. Jameson.” Peter’s tone was measured. “Frankly, when people ask that, I don’t believe it’s really what they want to ask. I think there are other questions they’re trying to ask, such as, it is all about money? All about sex?” He glanced down at his hands, thinking. “The answer is no to both of those. I don’t care about money or luxury. I’ve starved, I’ve slept on the streets. I’ve never wanted anything more than a roof over my head and something to eat. I don’t ask Anthony to buy me things. And he doesn’t ask me for sex. I’m very sexually attracted to him, obviously, but we haven’t even had sex yet—excuse my blunt wordchoice, Mr. Jameson—because I’m old fashioned and he’s a loving, patient man who is not only with me for sex.”

Mr. Jameson seemed a little stunned. In the face of the silence, Peter pressed on as boldly as he could, maintaining eye contact as he did so. “I think the other question they’re asking is why a young, reasonably attractive man would want to be with someone so much older. To that, all I can say is that you all have eyes and you can all see that Anthony is a very attractive man. Hell, when I was thirteen and just realizing I was gay, I had a poster of him in my room.” He grinned suddenly. “He didn’t know that. I hope he’s watching, he’ll get a kick out of it.”

Peter thought saw Mr. Jameson smirk at that despite himself just before he continued. “Which, of course, brings me to the question of whether I know what I’m doing, if I’m too young to see that Tony Stark and some kid from Queens is a bad match. Frankly, you’d be right to ask. I’m too young to know what I’m doing. I have no experience. But I know that I feel happy, safe, unpressured, and fulfilled within my relationship and I don’t think most people can say that. If it turns out we weren’t meant to be, I know I spent my energy on someone who respected and cared for me and helped me grow. I don’t know what else I could ask from a first love.

“And finally, I think the question people are really trying to ask is why I’d choose to give my best years to someone who’s already spent theirs on other people... It’s true that my twenties will likely be my best years. I’m young, I’m healthy, I’m happy, my academic career looks promising, I have great friends, and I’m in a passionate relationship with the man of my dreams. What people don’t realize is that Anthony’s best years weren’t his twenties. He spent his twenties drinking, gambling, destroying himself and others, crashing cars and breaking hearts. He didn’t like himself, he wasn’t happy, he wasn’t healthy, and he wasn’t ready to be in love.”

Peter faltered, looking into the camera and away from the intense eyes of the reporter. “I—I’m glad, really, that I wasn’t born closer to the same year as him. I wouldn’t have liked him if I’d met him when he was twenty-one. I believe that Anthony is giving me his best years just like I’m giving him mine. If he needed an extra decade to be the man he is today, I’m glad he got it. I love him exactly how he is and I’d be lucky to spend the rest of my life with him.”

Peter felt his face grow hot. “Ooooh,” he groaned, rubbing his palm on the back of his neck and glancing apologetically between Mr. Jameson and the camera. “We hadn’t really talked about the future yet. Did I just propose on live television?” He looked bashfully into the camera. “Hey, Tony, if you’re watching, I love you, but I don’t think I’m ready to get married.”

There was an odd, choked sound from the other armchair, and Peter looked over to see Jameson bent over, laughing, literally slapping his knee. “Alright, folks,” he chuckled, wiping at his eyes, “You heard it here first; there’s no agonizingly televised celebrity wedding on the horizon for this young man just yet. I’m afraid that’s all the time we have, so as always, keep your eyes open, New York! Goodnight, and thank you again for coming on, Mr. Parker.”

As soon as they were signaled that the camera was off, Peter sagged into the chair, relieved, eyes shutting as he dug his fingers through his hair. “That was terrifying,” he mumbled into his hands. He felt nails in his hair again and peeked open one eye to look at Ms. Potts, who was smiling proudly down at him. “Did I do okay?” he asked.

“You were perfect, Peter, everyone is going to love you. Adorable, just adorable. Let me call Happy, I’ll get the car ready to send you home. You did great.”

She stepped aside, pushing her phone up to her ear, looking up at something behind Peter. He twisted in his seat, finding that Jameson was standing behind his chair, a hint of humor still deepening the wrinkles around his eyes. “You did pretty good, son. Did they train you?”

Peter quirked his lips up at the man. “Nooo,” he said, sweetly sarcastic, “I’m just naturally well-spoken and adept at handling personal, accusatory questions all the time.”

To his surprise, the man laughed, clapped a hand on his shoulder, and said, “I’d be honored to interview you again when the trial’s over.”

Peter’s smile faded a little, but he still nodded up at the man’s avuncular face. “I’ll take you up on that. But next time, you have to give me the questions in advance, I’m not up to crying on live television.”

“Fair enough, son,” he said. “It was a pleasure.”

...

Tony swept him up into his arms the moment Peter walked into the room, smacking loud kisses against his cheek as he blissfully ignored Peter’s shrieking laughter and unwilling squirming, as well as the jeers and shouts from the other assorted Avengers in the living space, including Bucky’s unnecessarily loud, I know you own the whole building, Stark, but can you get a room? Peter could clearly see that Tony didn’t care, was clearly too busy being proud of Peter for rocking his interview even though he’d been throwing up from nerves just that morning.

Tony set him back down, settling his hands possessively on Peter’s hips, and his broad, roguish grin was all for Peter. “I can’t believe you just refused to marry me on national television,” he said, breathless. “You did great, kid.”

Then they were kissing, Clint was gagging loudly in the background, and he was laughing into Tony’s mouth. They broke apart, both of them giggling, high on love. Tony pointed aggressively at Bucky, declaring, “I will get a room, but not because you told me to,” to which Bucky threw up his hands and rolled his eyes, turning pointedly away from them as Peter dragged the man down the hall.

Tony shoved him up against the door the moment they made it into his bedroom, his body warm and hard against Peter’s, his tongue and teeth and lips on Peter’s neck. Then he pulled back, pressing their foreheads together, and his eyes were searching Peter’s, deep and dark and intense. He held his breath, desperate to hear what the man would say, he couldn’t—

“Did you really have a poster of me?”

Peter blinked at him, knocked off of his rhythm. “Yes. It was your Time’s Man of the Year portrait. It was on the back of my door.”

“The one where I’m holding the Iron Man helmet under my arm like a basketball?” he asked. Peter nodded, and then Tony was howling with laughter, holding on to Peter like he’d fall if he didn’t, his head shoved into Peter’s chest and his fists clenched in the sleeves of his nice button-down shirt. “I love you so much,” the man gasped between his fits of mirth.

Peter’s face hurt from smiling, and Tony was heavy but he held on to him as best as he could, trying to keep him from falling. “I love you, too, Tony.”

Chapter Text

Even before he was done laughing, Tony was hefting Peter into his arms, carrying him to bed, giggling between heavy kisses to Peter’s throat that made sparks shoot through his spine. “I need to touch you,” he pleaded through his amusement. “Can I?”

“Of course,” Peter gasped, letting out a little laugh of his own as Tony tossed him gracelessly onto the nest of pillows and blankets that the man called a bed. He tossed his glasses aside and started working on the buttons of his shirt, letting his legs fall open in invitation as he watched Tony struggle to tug off his boots. “I was sort of thinking you could do a bit more than that... That would be easier if you unlaced them, you know.”

A huff of exasperation told Peter that Tony conceded the point, and his talented fingers began working on the laces instead. “You askin’ me for a blow, kid?” he asked, sultry, glancing up at Peter just long enough to shoot him a lascivious grin that made Peter’s skin prickle pleasantly.

One boot thudded to the floor, and then the other, and Tony grabbed him by the belt, pulling him to the edge of the bed until he could feel the man’s erection against his ass. Peter hooked one ankle behind the neck of the man standing between his legs and pressed the heel of his other foot against the man’s thigh, pushing him closer, letting how much he liked feeling Tony against him color his tone as he caught his eye and told him, “Actually, I was hoping for a bit more than that, too.”

Tony raised his eyebrows at him, grinning wickedly. “You want me to tie you up again?” he guessed, his hands a little rough as he undid Peter’s belt and pulled it out of the loops with a yank. His fingers fisted in the sleeves of Peter’s dress shirt and they struggled together to get it off without changing positions.

“A-actually,” Peter gasped again as Tony’s teeth grazed his collarbone and he pressed his erection against Peter with a powerful roll of his hips. “Actually, I was thinking you could put it in me.”

“Ah, my fingers,” Tony responded sagely, beginning to tug on Peter’s slacks as he did so.

Peter was about 85% sure that Tony had, in fact, cottoned on to what he meant, and just wanted to hear him say it. Amused and exasperated, Peter lifted his hips to let the man pull off his jeans, then grabbed him by the collar of his shirt, pulled him down into a blazing kiss, and then over-enunciated his request as clearly as possible: “I’d like to have anal intercourse with you and I’d like to be the receptive partner. Please.”

“Well, since you said please,” Tony acquiesced, smirking, his lips beautifully kiss-swollen, and then his eyes grew serious as he worked his fingers into Peter’s hair, which had only recently become long enough again to tell that it was curly. “You sure, kid? There’s no rush.”

“I’m absolutely positive. Take off your shirt.”

“Demanding,” Tony scolded him, teasing. “I kind of like it.” And Peter laughed when he said yes, sir, the words muffled by the shirt he was tugging over his head.

...

They’d had a lot of serious conversations after Peter had returned home from his stint in captivity.

...

Peter couldn’t think. It was overwhelming, perfect as it always was, the dual penetration of his mouth with Tony’s tongue and his ass with Tony’s fingers. He was writhing, panting, keening against the man’s lips as the pads of his fingers worked his prostate. Tony broke the kiss to nibble on his ear, the sensation so hot and sudden and erotic that Peter tensed all over in pleasure.

“That’s so fucking sexy,” Tony was growling in his ear. “I love feeling you tighten around my fingers. Do it again.” The command was accompanied by a swipe of the tongue over the shell of Peter’s ear, so disobeying wasn’t even an option if he’d wanted to. “Good boy.

...

“You know I didn’t break my promise, don’t you?”

This had been whispered into Peter’s ear like a secret. He’d been wrapped up in Tony’s possessive grip, having been woken by the man thrashing in his sleep and crying out.

Peter had stroked his hair, then pressed the man’s head down to rest again on his thin chest, shushing him. “I know. I’m sorry, Tony, I wasn’t thinking. It was stupid.”

“It was stupid,” Tony had murmured into the fabric of Peter’s pajama shirt. “I had a dream you left me over it. But, like, we had a kid together and you left me with the kid.”

“Like I divorced you?” Peter had asked, amused despite himself. He’d felt the man hesitate, then nod, then his grip on Peter had tightened and his shoulders began to shake. “Hey, hey, shh. I’m sorry, Tony. I promise I won’t ever make an assumption like that again.”

“You better not, kid,” he’d whispered, tone petulant.

...

The stretch of the third finger was delicious, though the added pressure made the rough calluses around the blunt nails a little harder to ignore. It didn’t quite hurt, but it wasn’t comfortable. Peter felt himself clamp down on Tony’s shoulder with his teeth, sucking hard, trying to convey how overwhelmed he was, how good it all felt, because his tongue wasn’t fucking working. He pressed his hips into the sensation, moaning into Tony’s skin as the man hissed and pressed his erection into Peter’s inner thigh.

“I want you, Peter,” Tony groaned, capturing his lips in another bruising kiss.

The moment they parted, Peter tried to speak, but then those fingers were pushing against his prostate and he cried out wordlessly instead, his body tensing like a bow. When he caught his breath again, he dug his fingers into Tony’s hair, looked deep into his melted-dark-chocolate eyes, and pleaded, “Then take me.

...

Having the bracelet back had felt like coming home. He and Tony had both stared at it in silence for a while.

“This one is different,” Peter had noted.

Tony had hummed, wrapping his fingers around Peter’s wrist and turning it to examine the device. “It’s the Mark 9. I’m trying to develop them for the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders.”

“I couldn’t take the last one off.” Peter heard the accusation in his own tone. “That’s why Brock broke my thumb.”

Tony flinched, releasing Peter’s wrist. “I’m sorry, Pete. That was... really unfortunate. It’s designed so that the wearer can’t be blackmailed into taking it off, so if there’s no immediate, incoming threat but you’re in an elevated state of fear, it won’t release. I didn’t... it didn’t occur to me that someone could just break your hand before you registered them as a threat.”

“So this one will come off if I try to take it off.”

Tony had hesitated, looking conflicted. “Yes. ... But I wish you wouldn’t.”

“I won’t. I promise.”

“Really?”

“As long as you promise it comes off.”

Tony had smiled, kissed him on the cheek. “I promise.”

...

It barely even burned when the head of Tony’s cock popped into him. Peter’s head was thrown back, gasping, whimpering at the intensity of the heat and pressure, and Tony’s lips were everywhere on his face, giving him sweet, fluttering little kisses.

“Does it hurt at all, Pete?” he asked, voice and eyes anxious, and Peter shook his head.

“Not at all,” he answered honestly. “You feel amazing.”

Tony pressed in deeper, and Peter’s legs convulsed around the man’s waist as the movement brushed his cock against Peter’s prostate, pulling a sound of his chest that he hadn’t been aware he was capable of making. “I promise you, kid,” Tony panted, his eyes falling shut, his hands smoothing over Peter’s stomach and chest and arms with a sort of restless reverence. “It is nothing compared to how it feels to be inside of you.”

...

“You know that I’m probably going to go away for graduate school, right?”

Tony had looked up from his laptop, startled. “... Yeah. I’m still hoping you go to MIT.”

“You know you can’t just drop everything to follow me there, right?” Peter wasn’t sure why he’d decided to pick this fight right then, but now the words had left his lips and there was no taking them back.

Tony had just nodded, though, looking a little sad but not really upset. “Yeah, kid, I know. I’ll miss you like crazy, but I promise I won’t distract you too much. ... That said, I reserve the right to come at least twice a month to see you.”

Peter had hummed, pretending to consider this. “Fine, Tony, but I reserve the right to call you whenever I want. Unless you’re on a mission.”

Tony’s smile had been brilliant. “Deal.”

“That was easier than I thought it would be.”

“You always say that, Pete. I’m starting to think it’s you that causes drama, not me.”

“Shut up.”

...

Making love to Tony was just as intense as everything else was with him. He fucked into Peter like it was his job to make every thrust perfect, like he’d die if he didn’t get to Peter to scream out in pleasure, like the fate of whole world was riding on his ability to get Peter to cum around his cock. He was gorgeous; Peter was mesmerized by the rhythmic flexing of the muscles in his abdomen and in his arms, and by the swirling promises held in his dark gaze.

“I’m going to cum,” he managed to gasp out, his fingers curling into Tony’s biceps, his legs locking around his waist, bucking up so that his cock was rubbed between their stomachs.

“Yes, you are,” Tony agreed, words scarcely more than a growl. He snapped his hips into Peter again, punctuating the premonition, and Peter was tipped over the edge.

...

Peter had asked Tony to tie him to the bed.

“Now you’re mine forever,” Tony had joked when the last knot was tied.

Pulling experimentally on the bonds, Peter had responded, blushing, “I already was.”

“But now you can’t run away.”

And Peter had seen on his face that he hadn’t really meant to say that, saw his shoulders slump and his face pinch. “I’m not going to,” Peter had promised, his voice earnest.

Tony’s hand had fallen on his chest, warm and heavy. “You could.”

Peter had shifted under the man’s intense gaze. “No, I couldn’t. I’m tied up, remember?” he’d tried to joke, but Tony hadn’t laughed. “Do you trust me?”

The man had nodded, not looking at Peter.

“I know I can’t really say anything to convince you right this second, Tony. But I promise I’m not going anywhere. And I’m going to prove it to you every single day until you believe me. You don’t even have to tie me up.”

Tony had given him a sort of side-eyed look. “But I can tie you up. If I want to.”

“Duh.”

“Hmm, okay,” he’d said. “I think you should start trying to prove it by being good for me while you’re tied up. Maybe you’ll convince me that you’ll still be good when I let you go.”

Peter had rolled his eyes; then he’d regretted it when Tony chose to dig his fingers into his sides, tickling him merilessly for his insolence. It wasn’t sexual, but it was intimate, and when Tony had finally let him catch his breath, they’d both been laughing.

...

His whole body tingling with the aftermath of his own earth-shattered orgasm, he held Tony tightly against him as the man shuddered, silent, his hips stilling with his cock throbbing deep inside. Every pulse made Peter’s whole body twitch, made him whimper, and it was so hot in the room all of a sudden. When Tony pushed himself up a little with his hands spread flat on the mattress on either side of Peter’s head, their skin peeled apart, damp with sweat and Peter’s release.

“You alright?” Tony asked gently, breathless, stroking Peter’s sweaty bangs back from his forehead.

He nodded—the words weren’t coming to him yet. He could feel the cock buried inside him growing softer, the sensation strange and uncomfortable, and he gently pushed on Tony’s hip, encouraging him to pull out. He did so, leaving Peter feeling empty and delightfully sloppy. “I didn’t think it was going to be that good,” he admitted when he gained control over his tongue, pulling Tony down beside him and wrapping a possessive arm around the man’s waist.

Tony scoffed, but his eyes were so, so gentle as he stroked Peter’s cheek, pressed a chaste, slightly salty kiss to his lips. “Of course it was good, I’m Tony fucking Stark.

Peter snorted, the sound undignified. “Dork.”

“You love it, kid.”

Peter grinned as he rested his head on Tony’s chest, listening to his heartbeat, still thudding from exertion. “I do,” he agreed. “I really do.”

Chapter Text

“What are the frogs called, again?” Tony was asking him gamely. Peter could see that he was in the lab; he’d set his phone against something so that he could work while they talked. He was wearing a filthy white shirt, covered in soot, but it was still more than Peter; he was sitting on his cot in just his underwear, sweating in the hot, humid night air. “I was trying to tell Pepper about it, but I couldn’t remember.”

Mantella aurantiaca,” Peter enunciated clearly. “The little yellow and orange ones that I showing you in Dr. Choi’s office when he invited me to the release.” He was in a village near Ambakoana, Madagascar, the only place in the world the golden mantella could be seen in the wild.

Peter grinned stupidly down at the camera as Tony leaned in, his voice concerned as he questioned, “And the release went well?”

Though he’d been working on the project since nearly the beginning, he’d been surprised when Dr. Choi, the lead investigator, had invited him along with himself and two PhD students to supervise the release of over one hundred captive-bred, genetically-modified-to-increase-genetic-diversity individual frogs. Really, all Peter had done was develop techniques to extract and PCR DNA from different types of preserved specimens; he’d had no part at all in modifying the embryos or rearing the frogs.

“It went great,” Peter heard himself say, remembering the joy that had made him feel swollen as he watched the colorful little frogs cautiously hop around on the flora of the place they didn’t know was their home. “Oh, and Tony, my ecoplastic is everywhere here! I usually don’t know unless it’s advertised, ever since I figured out how to make it clear, but here it’s all still light blue.”

Tony hummed. “That’s great, kid,” he said, sincerity dripping from every syllable. Then he turned a massive pretend pout towards the camera. “But you don’t sound like you miss me.”

Peter laughed, then guiltily glanced at the doorway, beyond which he could see the PhD students bent over their notes, working by the light of a few dim lamps. They didn’t seem bothered, however. “I do miss you. So much. How are things back home?”

Tony waved a hand airily. “Fine, fine. Say, what day is it?”

“Tuesday,” Peter answered easily. Then it hit him and his eyes slid shut, groaning against the realization that snapped into place when he said it. “... Happy anniversary.”

Tony made a tutting sound, turning his head so that Peter couldn’t see his lovesick smile. “Three years,” he tsked. “Three year anniversary and you forgot. I didn’t forget. I got you a gift. Where’s my gift?”

Peter tried to maintain an appropriately penitent expression against the man’s outrageous whining. “Uhh.... Do you want an illegal frog? They’re pretty popular pets, actually.” One of the PhD students shot him a peculiar look and Peter shrugged at her. Tony laughed. “What did you get me?”

“A ring,” Tony answered instantly. “It can be an engagement ring or a promise ring or whatever you want it to be. But you have to wear it, that part isn’t optional.” He was digging through his pockets, unaware of the squirmy joy pooling in Peter’s stomach, staining his cheeks red, stealing his breath. “Where did I put it...? Oh, here we go.”

In his palm was a simple little ringbox. He held it close to the camera and popped it open, revealing a gorgeous, shining ring within it. “Is that... wood?” Peter asked, breathless, and Tony nodded proudly, an arrogant smirk on his handsome face.

“I didn’t think you’d go for diamonds and gold, so I got this made for you instead. The metal band in the middle is actually part of the very first defense bracelet I ever gave you, back when we first met. ... Do you like it, kid?” Tony looked suddenly a little insecure, and Peter made a noise of protest against the expression before he could rangle his tongue into speaking.

“I love it. I love you.” His face was burning red and he was aware that he had the undivided attention of both PhD students now. “It can be an engagement ring.”

Tony fumbled the box, nearly dropping it in his surprise. He leaned down closer to the camera, ostensibly studying Peter’s face. “Really?”

“Really.”

“Wow.” Tony’s face broke into a delightfully crooked grin. “Now you’re really stuck with me.”

Peter rolled his eyes. “More like you’re stuck with me.”

Tony was nearly dancing in place in his excitement. “Wow,” he said again. Then, a little more wickedly, “Celebratory phone sex?”

Peter blushed, sputtering, and the PhD students were both staring into his room with no small amount of horror on their faces. “It’s not exactly private, here, Tony.”

“It’s not private here, either,” came Bruce’s faint, long-suffering voice from off camera. “Congratulations on your engagement, Peter.”

“Thanks, Dr. B!”

Tony shifted partway off-screen, then back, looking far too antsy to continue working on whatever he’d been fiddling with on the lab bench. “You’re coming back the day after tomorrow, right?” he asked. “I can still fly out there to ride back with you. I know how you get on plane rides...”

His eyes were soft and worried; Peter had called him almost in tears after the 23 hour flight. He still got claustrophobic anytime he knew he couldn’t leave a given place. “I’ll be fine,” he promised. “I’ll see you in two days.”

“Two days,” Tony repeated reluctantly, sounding as though he thought this was entirely too long. “Alright, Peter. Two days. I miss you. I’m glad your frogs...” He waved his hands vaguely. “... frogged properly. I know you were worried about that.”

Peter couldn’t fight the amusement from his face. “They frogged perfectly,” he confirmed. “I think I’m disturbing the real researchers, though, so I’ll let you go.”

“Alright, Peter. Goodnight, I love you.”

Turning his head and the camera so that the students in the other room couldn’t see him, he made a kissy face. Tony made one back, eyes sparkling with joy. “I love you, too, Tony. Enjoy your afternoon, don’t blow anything up.”

He heard Dr. Banner sigh in the background and got the distinct impression that something had already blown up. “I’ll do my best. Bye, Pete.”

“Bye, Tony.”

Peter was staring at his still, silent phone after the man had hung up, still grinning like a loon. A cautious voice piped in from the other room. “Did you just get engaged?”

He looked over at Dr. Choi, standing in the doorway with a delighted expression, unable to wipe away his stupid smile. “I think so!”

Chapter Text

The phonecall from Deadpool had interrupted dinner. He’d sounded a little guilty when informed of this, but insisted, “Really, Webs, I think you’ll want to have a look at this. Bring Iron Bitch with you if you have to.” There had been a crash, and he’d said, “Oops. Anyway, it’s not super time sensitive. Like, you can finish dinner before you head over, but, like, don’t stop for a quickie.”

So that’s how Peter and Tony ended up driving through the Lincoln Tunnel on their way out of town at 9:30pm on a Monday, debating why Deadpool would call Peter of all people. “Like, we’re friends, sure,” Peter mused as he carefully breaked to keep himself aligned with the slowing traffic. “But I’m not exactly an inherently useful person, you know?”

Tony patted him on the leg. “You’re a delicate little academic,” he agreed mock-seriously. “Waifish, fainting... philosophical.” Then, when Peter glared at him, he just chuckled and said, “Eyes on the road, Pete.”

It didn’t really make any sense at all until Deadpool met them at the door to the creepy cabin in the middle of nowhere that the address he’d texted Peter lead to. He’d ushered them inside, then down what appeared to be a flight of stairs hidden behind a book-case, judging by the way the shelves were swung out to allow their passage. The scene below reminded him of nothing so much as Dr. Montgomery’s herpetarium in that terrible A Series of Unfortunate Events movie, but with less natural lighting.

Every surface, including much of the floor, was crowded with various enclosures—mostly tanks—that held all sorts of strange creatures. Many of them Peter didn’t recognize, but a quick survey of the room revealed a pit viper, poison-dart frogs, cane toads, deathstalker scorpions... “Holy shit,” Peter whispered.

Deadpool hummed his agreement. “I know, right? This guy deals in poisons. Dealed in poisons. Dealt in poisons? It doesn’t matter, the point is that he’s dead upstairs in his reading room and I don’t know who to call about getting all this shit out of here.”

Peter wandered closer to a large, strange-looking plant with thick, creeping vines as he murmured, “I don’t know who to call either, ‘Pool. I guess I could call Dr. Choi and see if he knows?”

A hand grabbed him by the back of the shirt and yanked him away from the plant. Deadpool held onto his elbow, saying urgently, “Don’t go too close to that plant thing, it’s a little rapey.” Peter could hear the man’s cheeky grin as he continued conspiratorially, “Ask me how I know, it’s a really hot story.”

Peter didn’t believe him and gave him a look that said as much, but he didn’t seem bothered by it. Judging by the look on Tony’s face, he didn’t believe Deadpool either, but he still steered Peter away from the odd plant, just in case.

Dr. Choi picked up on the third ring. “Hey,” Peter greeted him, making eye contact with Tony and enjoying the man’s deeply uncomfortable expression as he leaned over to peer at a vicious-looking centipede with flourescently red legs. “It’s Peter. How’s it going? ... All good, all good. Listen, the Stark Estate just came into possession of around a hundred or so venemous and/or poisonous frogs, snakes, insects, arachnids— ... Yeah, they’re alive. ... I’m not sure what they all are. If I take photos can you work on figuring out who might be able to take them? ... You got it. Thanks so much.”

He looked back up at Tony, who visibly wanted to leave. “This is going to take a while,” he said. “Do you want to go ahead home? Deadpool can probably give me a lift home.”

Deadpool nodded enthusiastically at this but Tony shook his head. “No chance I’m leaving you with a room full of animals—” He shot a pointed look at the leather-clad man who stood whistling and looking in at what Peter thought was a Gila Monster. “—and people who can kill you. Why can’t we just euthanize all of this? Or let the FBI handle it?”

Peter pointed indignantly at a tank that he was pretty sure contained a rare Albany Adder. “Some of these—a lot of these—are endangered, Tony. And the FBI definitely wouldn’t take care to put them in capable hands. At least let me rehome the reptiles and amphibians?” Tony nodded reluctantly, looking like he was about to crawl out of his skin.

An hour into this quest, as Deadpool obediently helped him move tanks around and Tony hovered, Peter discovered the real danger of this mission in the form of a putrid green and neon blue spider, the size of a dollar coin, standing on the empty tank he’d been examining with its front legs raised into the air and its fangs flexing threateningly. It was right at eye level with Peter, where he was crouched on the floor, and he stared at it, fear clenching his stomach. “Oh, fuck,” he whispered, catching Tony’s attention; he heard the man cut off a panicked noise when he realized what was happening.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Deadpool raise a gun towards the spider. Peter’s eyes darted over to him, trying to communicate with his eyes the message Jesus Christ Deadpool if you shoot you’ll break open more tanks and we’ll all die. So he wasn’t looking when it launched itself onto Peter’s face and bit him.

He screamed, the sound more fear than pain, but the spider was dead in his palm before he had even fully processed what had happened. The sting burned and nausea swept through him as he sat down on his butt, leaning his head forward woozily. He vaguely registered Tony beside him, Iron Man suit in place, asking Jarvis for help identifying the spider.

Peter heard Jarvis say, “I’m not sure, sir, but it’s reading as radioactive.” He heard Deadpool stop cursing, which was odd because he hadn’t really registered the shouts until they stopped.

Deadpool figured it out first. “Fucking finally,” he said. “Hell yeah, Webs, crime fighting buddies!”

Peter looked up at Tony just in time to see the man’s face go white as chalk as it clicked for him, too.