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Eremophobia

Chapter Text

Tony avoids the lab. It’s littered with Peter’s things that he won’t touch; refuses to move. Because, what? Throw them out? Erase the kid beyond how the Snap even had?

*

His beard is filling in now, connecting. Bits of his hair are long enough to curl behind his ears and Tony knows he looks an unstable mess.

But Peter would like this.

“Got a new look, Mr. Stark?”

And then Tony, feigning disinterest: “Get dressed, kid.”

*

Sleep comes with much champagne. When Tony wakes at one a.m., he lies with thoughts of ashes on his hands.

Breakfast is at daybreak but he skips it.

There’s dust in the kitchen now, and Tony doesn’t care enough to hate it as a drone zips by his window.

*

He eats a pickle for lunch, stands with it in hand while it drips down his arm, scenting his shirt.

*

He doesn’t sleep tonight. Something about how Peter called him sir in his final moments keeps him up, makes him wonder if the kid is really even fucking dead. If any of them are dead. And why was he too good to have survived?

*

Another week passes. It’s still silent outside, the population a fraction of what it’d been. Tony finds a crushed soda can beneath his bed and wants to scold the boy he knows had left it there. Because even that’s something—a something better than this. The glinting metal makes him rub his scar.

*

It’s tomorrow. The sky is opaque and grey. Tony comes across Peter’s old video logs on the tablet Peter left here in his backpack.

“Do you track me?” pixelated Peter asks. “You know, watch me? When I wear the suit?”

“And invade your privacy? Of course.”

“But Mr. Stark, you can trust me.”

He shoves the tech back into the bag.

*

“Everyone else said I was crazy to recruit a 14-year-old kid.”

“I’m 15.”

 

“And if you died...I feel like that’s on me.”

 

“I’m gonna need the suit back.”

“For how long?”

“Forever.”

*

Tony steps outside the following morning when the sky is pink and blue and draining the night. He inhales. Few are on the streets, though it’s been months.

Many don’t come through but he ignores all of his calls. He only keeps his phone charged for Peter, to begin with, the chance that Peter will need him and dial him somehow. But he knows that’s impossible. He knows that the Iron Spider is gone.

*

It’s August 9th when Tony goes to the market. He buys a cake—for the kid—who’d be 17 tomorrow if….

It’s a one-layered square, buttercream, the spider smack in the center. It’s something Peter would like. Simple; classic—like that first suit he had stored up in his ceiling.

That night, under a sudden spray of rain, Tony’s eyes steam with guilt.

*

Someone’s in the house.

Tony’s watch alerts him to activity in a guest room and he snatches from his bed, striding to it.

“Huh.”

Since he’s alone in the space.

Since tech requires updates and has glitches all throughout because he rushed and bought this place away from Stark real estate before the War.

He turns his back and sour disappointment rides his throat. There’s nothing here. There’s no one.

*

In the morning, Tony avoids the cake. He returns to the guest room, distracting himself with a search beneath the bed, then in the—

He sits up on his knees. Had someone been in the closet last night? Was he so off his game he actually left the room half-assed checked?

Now he stands. He faces the door, fists clenching; opening. His heart does a dance inside his mouth.

“Alright. Okay. No expectations. Just….”

He grips the knob.

*

There’s a fortress of webs in the corner. He measures it by sight, judging whether it’s big enough for a boy.

Or is it old?

A thing the kid had made some time ago without Tony ever knowing?

“Shit….”

Because it can’t be old.

Because he can’t face if it stores nothing.

And what if Peter’s inside, what if he had been alive but later suffocated in the dark of night?

Tony tugs his hair. He plants a hand on his hip, gesturing with the other to the shell of Peter’s recognizable web.

*

It’s been hours. He stands in the closet doorway with a slice of cake on a saucer before setting it on the floor, beneath the web.

He waits.

The edge of the bed is sinking underneath him.

*

Tony falls asleep on the floor with his back against the widest wall of the closet. He jerks awake to the blaring interruption of his snoring, scrambles to get on his feet, to see what’s changed.

The saucer is powdered with crumbs.

He stares.

*

“Peter,” Tony says. His voice is private. “I know you’re scared. I brought you some more cake, how about you come out, eat at the table. Or on the bed, you know, wherever. Just not in there, kid.”

He waits. The capsule doesn’t budge. He can’t even hear the boy breathe.

“Peter.”

Tony later sighs, setting the saucer on the closet floor.

*

Peter’s eaten half his birthday cake in two days. Tony can’t catch him in the act. He knows when Tony’s sleeping or off pissing elsewhere, and it’s then that Peter does whatever he does.

Tony sets up a camera.

He leaves the slice with the spider drawn on.

Soon, Peter should want to have a meal more filling with some food that once lived and pumped blood. It frightens him to think of leaving Peter to retrieve it. Perhaps he’ll order some things, make this simple.

Outside the room, Tony sits again with his back to the wall. He never hears Peter; the web being opened; the saucer. When he checks the footage that night, he swears at the camera.

*

Peter isn’t stupid, though a genius often lacks common sense. He knows when there’s a presence, he can feel it even with the hairs on his legs. So Tony removes the camera and he leaves the kid alone with the cake and spider drawing and dark of the closet.

*

Tony grits his teeth, punching the side of his leg when he finds the saucer empty the following morning. The sun hasn’t come up yet. It’s black throughout the rooms and Tony wants this to invite Peter out.

“Kid,” he says to the shell. “You gotta trust me out here. It’s just me. We can do this, we can get you outta there, get you cleaned up. You can even sleep in my bed, you know, the one you’re always plotting to steal?”

He listens. He wants to hear the fibers bend, a sigh, hell, even a bratty, “Leave me alone.” By dawn, when there isn’t so much as a minuscule flinch, “That’s it,” Tony declares, and heads for his tools.

*

All he does is heave a bucket of metal to the room, hoping the sounds will startle Peter, make him move.

*

Tony’s asleep when he hears it.

The guest room door is ajar just how he left it and he shoves it open on his way in.

“Gotcha.”

He grabs the foot sticking out from the shape scrambling under the bed. The metal is warm at the ankle, smooth against his hand, and he drags the body out with a grunt.

“Hey, hey—stop. Stop….”

He pins the thrashing kid underneath him. Without his suit, however, Tony isn’t a proper match. He flies across the room from the force of a kick.

The spider flees.

“I deserved that.”

And Tony follows, clutching his belly where the armored feet had launched against him.

*

There’s web through the house. Last he saw of Peter, he was crawling over the ceiling, scrambling fast and far from Tony’s reach.

*

Tony later finds him in the kitchen, sneakily gathering piles of food into a spiderweb bag.

“FRIDAY,” Tony says. “Shut off the suit.”

A small yelp sounds and Peter freezes mid-reach. Eggs crash to the floor from his hands.

“What were you gonna do? Eat them raw?”

“Sir. Please. It’s too bright.”

“And I’m sorry. But you can’t stay in there.”

“Mr. Stark—”

“Disassemble.”

The Iron Spider tears away from Peter’s sculpted body, leaving the lesser costume exposed.

*

“I know. I know.”

His arm binds Peter’s waist. Peter kneels where he landed when Tony caught him at the middle. Tony sighs behind him, drawing him near.

*

“Quick question of the rhetorical variety. That’s you, right?”

*

“Kid.”

“Yeah?”

“I’m gonna take the mask off now.”

Chapter Text

The mask is rolled halfway up Peter’s face when he grabs hold of Tony’s wrists.

“Mr. Stark?”

“Let’s hear it.”

“Are the lights off?”

Tony slides some settings on his watch. The eyes on Peter’s mask go wide and retract as Peter turns his head at sounds of shifting blinds.

“You’re safe, kid. Can I do this?”

“Yeah.”

“Gonna let me finish?”

Peter exhales. He nods. His grip on Tony’s wrists begins to tighten.

“Loosen the shackles, kid. I’m just gonna—see? It’s done; off.” Tony tosses the mask on the bed. “Painless, right?”

Peter doesn’t answer. He shifts at the edge of the bed where he’s been seated.

“Hey….” Tony kneels before him. “The lights are off, the windows are blacked. You can open your eyes.”

“Can I...have the mask back, sir?”

*

Peter wears the mask in the shower.

Tony was made to join him, to step into the chamber of glass and suffer the cascade of water in his clothes.

“You’ll stay, right?” Peter asks.

“Of course.”

“I mean, while I wash.”

Through steam, he watches Peter scrub away at his crack.

“Got some gold up there, kid?”

Peter’s head snaps around. The whites of his mask’s eyes narrow to slits.

*

“Mr. Stark?”

“Spiderling?”

Peter presses close. Tony’s at the counter with the bags of food delivered. He looks down at the kid, gives him a smirk.

“Sure you don’t want any more cake?”

Peter shakes his head. Hard.

“Good.”

*

Peter dashes up the wall with his plate. He’s not far from Tony, who’s eating at the island, but Tony wonders how this can be comfortable.

“It’s not safe on the ground,” Peter says.

*

Tony watches Peter more than he does his own food. It’s the way he looks in the shirt—Tony’s shirt—and the oversized pants and the mask. The mask is folded up just beneath Peter’s eyes so his mouth and nose are free for the meal.

“Thanks for dinner,” Peter says after.

“Still hungry? Plenty more in those bags.”

“I’m good for now, thanks.”

Peter plants himself on the island. His legs hang over the side and he rolls the mask back down along his neck.

“Wanna talk about it?”

“Not really,” Peter says. “Not yet, I mean.”

“Okay.”

*

“Can you come to the bathroom with me?”

Tony blinks.

“I gotta pee….”

Peter pins the hem of the shirt with his chin. Tony leans on the wall, his arms across his chest as he forces himself to look the other way.

“Healthy stream you got going,” he says.

“Yeah.”

“Youthful. Vibrant.”

Peter flushes the toilet. Tony studies the way he washes his hands.

*

“So. You tired yet?”

Tony looks down at his feet. Peter has planted himself on the floor right between them, legs crossed; the mask defiantly fixed.

“If you’re ready for bed, kid, I can tuck you in.”

“No, I’ll wait for you.”

Tony pushes forward in the armchair. He grabs Peter’s shoulder, ignoring the meaningless white noise of the news.

“It’s late. You’re tired. C’mon. You can have my room.”

But Peter falls away from Tony’s touch and shoots a web. It springs him up in the corner of wall and ceiling.

*

Tony allows Peter to crowd in his space as he brushes his teeth. The kid is in his way and he apologizes a lot, but Tony doesn’t mind. He understands. Besides; Tony’s pleased that Peter’s here, so much that he’s not ready yet for sleep.

“But it’s two in the morning,” Peter complains.

“And you’re more than welcome to my bed.”

“Are you gonna stay with me?”

“Are you gonna take off the mask?”

The mask’s eyes shrink with irritation.

“Just for the night,” Tony says. “You gotta be able to breathe, kid.”

“But it’s bright.”

Tony sits on the bed beside Peter. “Is that the only reason?” he asks.

“If I take off the mask, you’ll sleep with me?”

“Sure.”

“Okay. Turn off all the lights. Sir,” he adds in a hurry. “Please.”

*

Tony locks the bedroom door. Peter’s seated in the very center of the bed, which Tony sees in the lights dancing up from his watch.

He leans.

He reaches to the back of Peter’s head.

“Mr. Stark….”

“You’re okay.”

Slowly, the mask comes off.

*

Tony sleeps on the side nearest the door. Peter clings and sweats, and the sweat pastes them together where Peter’s fixed himself against Tony.

“Hey,” Tony soothes. He turns to prop himself up. “I’m right here. Same bed. Spread out so you don’t sleep so hot.”

“I’m not hot.”

“You’re sweating profusely.”

“Sorry…?”

“You know nothing’s gonna get you while I’m here. Right?”

“But you were there then, too. You held me.”

*

The next time Tony wakes, he hears Peter shuffling through the room.

“Looking for this?”

Tony raises the mask from under his pillow. Peter, who’s squinting past the lights thrown out from the watch, approaches Tony’s side of the bed.

Tony sits up. He pats the covers beside him, waiting for Peter to come have a seat.

“That was your birthday cake.”

“I sorta figured. The spider.”

“Hmm.”

“I’m sorry. I—I should’ve come out, I was scared and….”

“I know.”

“I thought you weren’t real. I didn’t wanna see another trick.”

“We’re talking about it now?”

Peter shrugs.

“Because I did hold you that day. And it fucked me up, kid.”

*

They don’t talk about it and Peter lets Tony keep the mask. They go back to sleep. Tony wakes first again and stares at the ceiling.

*

“Mr. Stark?”

“Yeah?”

“How did it...fuck you up?”

Tony turns his head. He looks toward Peter in the dark.

“It was on me. That you were up there. That you were doing adult things. That I made you an Avenger. All of it.”

Silence. Peter is processing and Tony is processing. It would be better with light, to actually see the kid and feel him out.

And then he hears the snivel. The small, hiccuped cry.

“I just wanted to make you proud, Mr. Stark.”

*

Peter’s back in the mask in time for lunch. He’s sitting on the floor between Tony’s strong legs, cushioned by the carpet beneath him. Every so often, Tony feeds him bites of crab when Peter’s head tilts back, the mask folded up.

*

“Mr. Stark,” Peter says.

Tony lowers his gaze from the TV to the kid cross-legged on his coffee table.

“Are we friends?”

“Like pals?”

The mask blinks.

“I’ve thought of you as a progeny,” Tony says.

“A…?”

“God, I forget how old you are. Like a son, kid. My son.”

“But dads don’t take showers with their sons. And they don’t sleep in bed with them, and wake up with boners with them.”

Tony’s chest becomes incredibly tight.

*

They nap on the couch. Peter fits himself into the curve of Tony’s body so he’s safely smashed between his chest and the cushion.

*

The mask comes off in his sleep and Tony stares. Peter’s soft and young and so vulnerable like this and Tony nearly slides the shield back down his head.

Chapter Text

“Karen.” Tony accesses Peter’s suit streams through his phone. “Show me May 2018.”

“Trial unsuccessful.”

“Show me June 2018.”

“Trial unsuccessful,” the AI sings.

“Okay. Show me...August 10, 2018.”

Tony jerks from his seat on the floor when lights project from his device’s screen.

The picture is black. Static. There’s tumbling—Peter—before it ends with a sudden, ringing silence.

There’s darkness here, too, wherever Peter’s found himself, but the Iron Spider reflects dim lights. Peter extends his hands toward the likeness of a door. On the opposite side, Tony bolts in the room.

*

Peter builds the cocoon once he’s certain Tony’s gone. He snatches the first gift of cake with a web through a hole.

*

“Kid,” comes Tony’s recorded voice. “You gotta trust me out here. It’s just me. We can do this, we can get you outta there, get you cleaned up.”

*

Tony paces past the end of the bed with his hand on his mouth. Peter is deep in sleep, buried under his covers.

*

“Karen,” Peter calls into the quiet. “Is he real?”

“Yes,” the suit’s AI says.

And there Tony is, snoring up against the wall inside the closet around the shell around the boy.

*

“What’s that?”

Tony swears when Peter startles him. He’s hanging from a web glued to the ceiling.

“I, uh, nothing,” Tony says, shutting it off.

“Was it me?”

“You, how could it be you?”

The mask emotes Peter’s suspicions.

*

“Do you remember the first time we met?” Peter asks.

Tony is shaving. Peter is in a hammock he spun between the wall and shower.

“Couldn’t forget it, kid,” Tony says when he recovers; when the memory of that twin bed dissolves.

“I mean at the Stark Expo. When I was little.”

*

It’s in a file somewhere. Tony watches repeatedly as he lands to rescue a boy wearing his mask, facing a robot that could crush him under its boot.

*

Tony pours Scotch. Peter leans on the counter across from him, his masked head tilting this way and that.

“I like the anchor beard, Mr. Stark.”

“Yeah? Well I like your face. Which I haven’t seen in a while.”

Peter, looking admonished, hangs his head.

“I’d like to. You know? See it.” He downs the Scotch. “Your face.”

*

That night, Peter comes to him with the mask rolled up. Tony sets down his glass—the fourth one he’s had—and stands.

“May I?”

Peter hesitates, then nods.

Tony reaches to slide the mask over Peter’s eyes, freeing the mess of hair that’s grown well out.

“Are the lights off?” Peter asks.

“Dimmed.” He studies the wrinkled nose and squeezed eyes. “You gonna give me the rest of it?”

“Okay, just...it scares me.”

“Why?”

“What if it’s not real? Like the place?”

“What place?”

Peter reaches blindly for the mask.

“Ah, ah. No.”

“I need it back.”

“Just a sec here. Relax. Breathe.” He stuffs the mask in his sweats so both hands are free to grip Peter’s shoulders. “Take a moment.”

“Okay.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah….”

He massages the large and little muscles he finds along Peter’s arms, giving them a reassuring squeeze.

“See? You’re doing it.”

“I’m not….”

“Yeah you are.”

Peter shakes his head; unleashes a smile.

*

Tony slips to a seat at the edge of the bed. Peter doesn’t move, though Tony checks over his shoulder every five or six seconds, just to make sure.

*

In the dark, Tony frees himself from his boxers. Pre-cum streaks his fingers as he strokes himself into a silent explosion.

*

It’s been three weeks since Peter’s birthday. Four days have passed since the event. Tony doesn’t acknowledge it, not even to himself, but he looks at Peter less like a son.

“Get the suit on,” Tony says one morning, when Peter’s done clinging through their breakfast. Tony stands in the center of the vast living space donning his untested Mark L1.

“You mean the...Iron...one?” Peter rises and asks.

“No. That needs repairs,” Tony says, “but the first one I made you will suffice.”

*

Tony sees that Peter is unsure. He changes his clothes in front of Tony and pulls the suit on, anyway, coming to face the large body of armor.

“The world is real,” Tony says, “and I’m gonna show you.”

*

An exit opens above them in the ceiling. Tony rockets up and feels when Peter’s webs catch onto his feet.

*

They don’t go far and steer clear of the city. Tony flies in small but rapid circles near his home and looks below as Peter uses his suit for support.

He’s magnificent.

All grace and gorgeous flows of geometry.

Tony can’t call back the flow of blood toward his groin, can’t stop the sudden bloom of his erection.

*

Iron Man spotted….
Spider-Man is alive, I repeat, live footage on….
Are the Avengers back? What does this mean for…?

Tony catches Peter’s masked eyes. Peter laughs at the news and bites his pizza.

*

“Did you like that earlier?”

It’s become a thing that they sit like this, with Tony in the armchair and Peter at his feet.

He nods, looks up at Tony—silent—the mask’s eyes giving a quick blink.

“You did perfectly,” Tony says.

“Thank you, Mr. Stark.”

“But we still need the mask.”

He’d observed it. Peter left it on when he’d undressed.

“And that’s fine,” Tony says. “You don’t have to do it all in a day.”

“But I wanna make you proud this time.”

“Kid. I’ve been proud of you since we first met.”

*

They shower together. Peter still refuses to be alone. He even takes a shit with the door wide open, and Tony teases, “funky little ass.” But things are different now; quite unlike their normal way. Tony doesn’t babysit.

He bathes.

He washes Peter’s hair, which Peter hasn’t done since he got back.

He scrubs Peter’s nails with a fingernail brush and smiles when Peter flashes goofy grins.

*

“Mr. Stark…?”

Tony locks the bedroom door.

“Are all...I mean, is it that big because you’re older? Like the size with the age and…?”

“What’re we talking about here, kid?”

“I just, in the shower. It’s not like I was looking or anything, Mr. Stark, nothing like that. I just saw your—”

“Dick.”

“—member. Oh whoa, okay. Dick.”

“And you think it’s because I’m older. That it’s like this due to some penile growth spurt.”

“Yeah! I mean, is it?”

“Some of us are just born better than others, kid, so that when age sucks the life from our—”

“Dicks.”

“—testosterone. I was gonna say testosterone, but you know? Good try. Great effort.”

Peter laughs.

“Ah…. Look at that.” Tony cups Peter’s jaw. “Be a honeylamb and show me more often.”

*

“What’s a honeylamb?” Peter asks at four a.m.

Tony wakes with a laugh. He sighs, petting Peter’s hair.

“A term of endearment,” he says.

“For sons?”

Tony pauses. “For anyone you want it to be for.”

Chapter Text

Peter sits outside the lab doors. He’s got that mask on his head, which follows Tony’s steps like he’s some puppy caged for chewing Master’s shoes.

Tony pretends to ignore him as he labors at his station, doesn’t want to go soft at the sight of him out there, waiting. He’s making something for Peter, getting back to the work he loves—the work that kept him sane post-Snap.

“Remember when I bought this place? A shack compared to Malibu and the penthouses, the towers, but….”

“Ms. Potts,” Peter offers.

“Yeah.”

“You had to get away. When she gave back the ring.”

*

Tony sets down his tools when Peter asks. He sighs. He stares at the human-arachnid with sorrowful eyes.

“No masks in the lab, kid. I told you.”

Peter shifts. He’s crouching with his knees pointed out, a hand on the glass, the other splayed on the floor.

*

“You’re gonna love this,” Tony says, and his mouth opens for more until he turns to see that Peter isn’t there.

The rolling stool collapses.

Tony drops his invention and bursts through the doors.

*

He hears the jumbled murmuring first. Whispers come out rushed and soft and twisted up with breath. Tony reaches the jamb of the bedroom sweating.

*

“Peter,” Tony’s voice calls in the room.

“Yes, Mr. Stark?”

“Trust me.”

Yes, Mr. Stark.”

“I know you’re scared.”

Peter moans. His greasy hand’s speeding up.

“We can get you outta there, in my bed.”

“Fuck.”

“I know,” the recording says. “I know. It’s me.”

*

Peter’s spread on Tony’s bed in the mask he’s hacked somehow. Audio sounds from its hardware, projecting Tony’s voice throughout the room.

Tony’s stuck. He knows these separate moments. Peter rearranged Tony’s words to form lines that mirror some of Tony’s most wicked thoughts. He stares, standing exposed in the wide-open doorway. Peter strokes the tip of his dick with a cry.

*

And he says things to Tony like, “I’m fucking cumming, sir,” and Tony can’t move. He doesn’t want to.

*

“Mr. Stark!”

*

Tony swings shut the door.

*

Peter tears out behind him. A moment later, he lands and blocks Tony’s path.

“Kid. Not now.”

“Just—Mr. Stark—”

“Pete—”

“Please!”

Tony shifts his weight. He doesn’t look down at the tent in Peter’s pants. He doesn’t see his own erection, either.

“Mr. Stark. Please.” Peter lifts his hands. “Don’t be mad at me like this.”

Tony turns to head back to the room. He slams the door just as Peter reaches it.

*

Peter doesn’t knock.

He punches.

Tony folds his arm against the door, forehead to forearm; one hand on the knob, his knuckles gone white. The house rattles with the force behind Peter’s fists. It stops. The door snaps off with a crunch.

Tony curses. There’s shock in his voice when he catches himself on the jamb.

“Don’t ever do that to me again,” Peter says.

He’s crying. The mask is crumpled up in his hand.

*

Tony backs in the room as Peter enters. He often forgets this kid he adores is fucking Spider-Man and that his strength alone could rip Tony in two.

His hand swipes past his mouth as he imagines getting pounded with the power Peter’s body’s got inside.

He sighs.

He faces the wrinkled bed.

Peter comes to his side as Tony drags the comforter to him, seeing better the twin streaks of cum.

“Don’t be mad. Please….”

“Pete….”

“You haven’t called me that since we were in space.” His breath hitches. “Mr. Stark!”

“Because I didn’t think you were real! I didn’t think any of this was real! Everyday, I think I’m gonna turn around, and you won’t be where you were when I just saw you. That you’ll be ashes on my hands again when I touch you and I can’t...do that a second time!”

Peter shakes his head. His eyes are red and his face is pink and he looks unbearably, beautifully real right now.

“And then I turn around today, after making those stupid fucking glasses for you. For your eyes.” His voice cracks there, as he gestures to Peter’s face. “And you’re gone. And I think, ‘I knew this was coming.’ And I get up—”

“Mr. Stark….”

“—and I find you on my bed hacking my shitagain—jerking off to my voice when I was fucking dying for you. Begging you to come out to me. To eat that goddamn cake outta my hands and let me know this was real.

“And all I could do was watch it. Just watch it, watch you look like that….”

They stand there, faces wet, Peter wringing the mask so much that Tony’s sure that Karen breaks inside it.

“I’m sorry….”

“What happened, Pete? Did you die? Where’d you go when you turned to ash, right under me, after you fought it—and you fucking did. You fought it, because you’re strong and your body is different. And I mourned you. On my birthday—on your birthday. I grieved you. Everyday. Especially today.”

*

They sit on the bed. The question remains unanswered. Tony brushes his thumbs along the mask.

*

“I’m sorry I yelled,” Tony says once his voice is right.

*

Peter swipes at his nose. His sweatpants—which are Tony’s—are splattered with tears.

*

“I can’t describe it,” Peter says.

“Try.”

“It wasn’t real. I just know it wasn’t—it wasn’t life, and it looked like it sometimes, it really did, but there were so many illusions about things I wanted to be there and the mask….” Peter swallows. “Before the Iron Spider suit caught me, I shoved it into my other suit. I felt claustrophobic with the Iron helmet on, so I’d make it come off so I could wear the one with Karen. But Karen didn’t work there, so I talked to myself, mostly. Which is fine, because that’s what I do anyway, but it was...sad. And dark. I—I saw you up there a lot, coming to get me.” His voice splits around a fresh set of tears. “So when I came back—and I dunno how I came, sir, I swear I don’t—I thought you were fake. I thought it was still tricking me. The place.”

*

Tony stands by the sink as Peter leans to wash his face. He watches him with a fierce flame of protection.

*

“I’m sorry I broke your door,” Peter says. “I can fix it.”

“And you will.”

Peter flushes bright. Tony slides apple in his mouth from his knife. Peter extends his hand for a piece.

*

“Mr. Stark? Will you...are you too upset to stay in the shower with me?”

*

Tony wears his clothes, and they drip and cling to his body under the spray.

He hates it.

Hates that now, he has to protect them, that Peter looks with worried, pleading eyes when he scrubs his feet.

They change Tony’s sheets, during which they both are silent. Peter sucks in a breath when he sees the stains he left behind and turns his eyes so Tony has no chance of catching them.

*

It’s late. Tony swallows his drink. Peter sits at the island with his cereal.

*

“What bed are—never mind, it’s wrong to ask, I mean, after earlier and...I’m sorry. I shouldn’t. I’ll sleep...by myself.” He exhales, being brave. “It’s fine.”

“Pete.”

Peter stops mid-turn.

“Come here.”

The tears are big in his eyes when he faces Tony.

“You went through something. And I went through something.”

Peter nods, hard and fast, blinking the tears and biting his lip.

“We’re here now.”

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

Peter crashes into him. Tony returns the embrace. He kisses his hair.

*

When they’re in a different bed in a different room with a working door, Peter rests on his belly, jerking out sobs. Tony turns to his side and peels the thick comforter off, exposing Peter’s back to central air.

“I know you want to be a good boy, Peter.”

“I—I do.”

“Shhh, you already are. You already are.”

Chapter Text

Tony opens his eyes to his hand on Peter’s back where it’d been when he soothed him to sleep. It’s sweet. He presses his fingers in before he sweeps them down the length of Peter’s spine.

*

Peter rouses as he’s being touched. Tony squeezes his side and easily draws Peter closer so they’re pressed to one another under the sheets.

*

“Tell me if it’s uncomfortable,” Tony says.

“It’s not.”

Tony sticks a kiss to Peter’s shoulder.

*

“When I was...gone,” Peter says, his soft voice unlike Tony’s, which is rough and deep with remnant sleep, “you would say things to me. In the place.”

“What things?”

“Like...I’m your favorite.”

“Mmm.”

Peter’s eyes shut with the second kiss.

“You’re doing perfectly, go on.”

“That you like my mind. My inventions.”

“I do. Keep being good for me, Pete. What else?”

“...My heart. You said you like my heart. That the world needs it.”

Peter’s head tilts when Tony’s teeth scrape his neck. His hands curl in the sheets beneath the pillows.

“Tell me if it needs to stop,” Tony says.

“It doesn’t.”

*

Tony has to know: “What changed yesterday for you to run off alone like that?”

Peter looks at him now. He’s so fucking pink and his hair is slumber-fussed.

“I dunno. It—like, it sorta came over me, seeing you look...alive. Real. Yeah.”

*

They fall asleep and wake up and fall asleep and piss and sleep and touch.

*

Peter shifts to lie on Tony’s chest. “Is this okay, Mr. Stark?” he asks, a hopeful depth in his eyes. Tony pulls him down, his hand large around Peter’s nape.

*

“Is it still tender?”

He’s asking about the scar left behind from being sliced through by his own armor.

“Yes,” Tony answers gently. He watches heavy-lidded while Peter’s fingers trace it. His lashes tickle each time he blinks.

*

“I like your voice, Mr. Stark.”

“I’ve witnessed.”

Peter folds his arms on Tony’s chest and hides his face; his laugh. Tony’s hand is lower—grazing above Peter’s ass—but he doesn’t ask. He doesn’t touch him there yet.

*

It’s noon when Tony scans Peter’s vitals with his phone as he sleeps a seventh time, unaware.

*

“Do you always do that?” Peter asks while they’re eating. “Scan me?”

Tony is surprised, though he shouldn’t be. He chews the food in his mouth as he recovers from the question, swallows it, says a simple, “Yes.”

“For how long?”

“Since the first night.”

*

This is the longest Peter’s gone without the mask. Tony watches to know when he’s pressed up against his limits, to gauge the perfect time to offer the glasses.

He steps behind Peter, who’s seated at the island with his tablet. “I don’t want you to hurt,” Tony says, palms flat on the surface so that Peter rests safe between his arms.

Peter pauses the video. The image freezes on Happy’s face, twisted with agitation mid-lecture in the driver’s seat of the car.

“I’m...okay,” Peter says. “A bit overwhelmed, I guess, but it’s fine. The lights are dim and—”

Tony lays a kiss on Peter’s nape. “Don’t lie.”

“Okay.” Peter tenses with a breath. “Okay.”

“Do you hurt?

“I—”

“And not just physically, Pete.”

Peter hangs his head. He nods. “Yes, sir.”

*

He faces Tony now on the round little seat, his feet upon the bars below. Tony slides the brown-tinted glasses on his face and gives a satisfied hum at how they fit.

“Mr. Stark….” Peter grabs the temples, adjusting the lightweight hardware as he blinks. “They’re…. Wow.”

Tony preens.

Peter slides his arms around his waist. “Thank you.”

*

While Tony drags a grey beanie over Peter’s hair, Peter draws his nose up Tony’s neck.

“Is this okay?” he asks in a timid little voice before he stamps Tony’s ear with a kiss.

*

At night, they head into the room it all started, to the closet, where Peter’s webs had been.

“How old am I now?” Peter asks. Tony sits on the bed, his forearms on his thighs as he watches Peter take it all in.

“Seventeen.”

“I wasn’t gone long.”

“No. You didn’t miss any birthdays.”

“I missed yours,” Peter says. He takes a seat on the bed next to Tony. “I figured that. That I wasn’t gone long, because you didn’t say you mourned on birthdays—plural. But...it felt like….”

“I know.”

“I’m sorry I did that, Mr. Stark. On your bed.”

“Why?” Tony asks. He looks at him.

“It’s just inappropriate, sir, I shouldn’t have done it, I shouldn’t have hacked the suit again, I just….”

Peter blows out a breath. Tony flicks his gaze down over him.

“Why was it inappropriate?” Tony asks.

“Because, you’re...older. And my mentor and friend and you even said I’m like a...son,” Peter strains to get out.

“You are like a son to me, kid. But life and relationships aren’t so linear. Things change. The world has changed. The world is different.”

Peter nods, rubbing his hands together. He exhales again. Tony grabs his thigh.

“Fifty percent of the population is gone,” Tony says.

“Fifty?” Peter looks pained.

“We have to survive with what we have. With who.”

*

“Good morning, Peter,” Karen says when Peter wakes and grabs his glasses, pushing them onto his face under the hat. He’d slept in it, repeating that it helped him feel safe, which Tony already knew. Still, it pleased him.

“Karen! Whoa—you’re back?”

And Peter’s beaming. And Tony feels his chest squeeze up.

*

“What are we?” Peter asks as he’s taking his morning piss, looking to Tony, who’s brushing away at his teeth.

Tony spits. “Impeccable timing, as always.”

“Sorry.”

Tony knows he’s not.

*

“But what are we?” Peter asks as Tony warms leftover pizza. He’s sitting on the counter, brown eyes big behind the lenses.

Tony steps away. He laughs, coming to settle between Peter’s legs.

“You’re—”

“Young.”

“—healing. Wow, kid, we’ve gotta start getting on the same page, here.”

Peter’s pink. Tony finds that it’s his new favorite color. He brings his face to Peter’s, kisses his cheek.

“So you don’t care?” Peter asks. “My age?”

“Of course I care, kid. But I’m not that fucking noble. It’s the apocalypse.”