"Eyes on the target?"
"Affirmative. Prioritize speed."
"Remember to minimize property damage. We don't want a repeat of Geneva."
"God, I remember Geneva. That was a shitshow."
"Can we - cut the chatter?"
"Let's do this smoothly. Take him down fast. This is important."
"Got it. We ready to move?"
"Let's go... now."
The Avengers burst into action like a firework. The rogue sorcerer currently wreaking havoc in Harlem is their target, and while Tony will admit Strange usually handles people like him it's interesting to have a new kind of opponent. It doesn't hurt that this is a very good test run for the new Accords he's been trying to push; if they can take this guy out without damage or injury, there's a high chance the UN will accept the modifications in their upcoming meeting about it. The new agreement is a blessing compared to Ross' proposal, which caused the Avengers to get bounties on their heads from the fight with Thanos. The UN threw out the charges and Ross, and now Tony and Rhodey are in charge of restructuring the Accords. This mission needs to go well.
Steve is on the sorcerer's left, Natasha on his right, with Rhodey flying above and Sam and Clint coming from behind the guy. Tony and Peter are attacking from the front, though Tony's not enthused about Spider-Man being with him. He's been trying to keep his distance from the kid after Titan, and this isn't exactly helping.
Cap throws his shield and the sorcerer lunges out of the way just in time to collide with Natasha's boot. He's kicked back and lets out a snarl as he raises his hands, orange light coalescing before Tony raises his repulsor and fires. The guy's shoulder is punched backwards by the blast. Clint shoots, and from the thud that follows Tony recognizes that he's fired an impact arrow. The sorcerer yells out a string of indecipherable words Tony can't make out before loosing his hands wide, sending a crackling beam of energy towards them.
"Look out!" Tony shouts, and dodges to the left. There's a shout and his head jerks to the side to see Spider-Man crumple in mid-air, hit by the blast.
"Shit! Spider-Man, are you injured?" Sam demands. There's no response.
"Kid?" Clint asks.
"He's out." Natasha's voice is businesslike as always over comms. "Take the target down."
A clang reverberates through the air, and Steve grabs his shield as the sorcerer it bounced off crumples. "Done." The old design of red, white and blue glints in the sunlight. After the war, after everyone reformed and Thanos died, Tony left Steve's old shield in his room. They still haven't spoken about it, but Steve looks just like the old patriotic posters with his face plastered on them in that moment.
Tony lets out a breath. "Good work. Fifty seconds. He didn't have a chance to push us back more seriously."
"Is the kid okay?" Rhodey asks.
"Checking now," Natasha says. Tony turns to see that she's crouching over him. "Pulse is fine. He's unconscious."
"Let's get him back to Bruce," Steve suggests.
Sam clears his throat. "I'll carry him."
"Thanks, Wilson," Tony says.
"What are we doing with this guy?" Clint asks, gesturing to the crumpled sorcerer on the ground.
Suddenly, there's a fizzing noise. Tony rolls his eyes as an orange portal materializes and Stephen Strange steps through, grabbing the sorcerer by the collar and hauling him closer.
"Stark," Strange says, nodding.
"Strange," Tony responds. The doctor hauls the rogue sorcerer bodily through the portal and, quickly as it opened, it closes again and the Avengers are left stunned and detainee-less.
"Well," Clint says finally. "Guess we don't have to deal with him anymore, huh?"
"Strange'll handle it, though he could probably have bothered asking us first," Tony tells him. "Let's get back to Bruce."
They fly back to the Tower, Sam carrying the unconscious Peter while Tony carries Clint and Steve hitches his ride with Rhodey. Natasha doesn't return immediately with them, citing other stuff to do briefly.
Bruce is ready and waiting when they enter, placing Peter carefully in the medbay bed. Tony starts dialing May while Steve explains what exactly happened and the other Avengers leave to return their mission gear and stow their weapons. One of May's conditions for letting Peter continue as Spider-Man was contact between her and Tony as to Peter's whereabouts and wellbeing, so he's bound to let her know. She's off in Switzerland with Pepper currently, setting up the global awareness fund for their new charity. It's a joint venture between SI and May herself, though she's listed as the official founder. FEAST is set to help a lot of people. When he gets through, he gives her a quick run-through of the situation.
"Bruce is looking at him, but he's okay for now," Tony tells May.
"Thanks, Tony," she says. "Can you... can you call if anything more serious develops?" She sighs slightly. "I hate that I'm... desensitized to this kind of thing, but I really need to stay if I can. And he can get through a quick hit, can't he?"
"Yeah, he can," Tony confirms. "He's strong, and his healing factor is even stronger. I'll call you later, okay, May?"
Bruce doesn't find any trace of injury when his examination's complete, making him frown.
"Breathing is normal," he says, sounding slightly puzzled. "There's no sign of any abrasion or wound near the head, or the signs I'd expect of a concussion. I'm going to check a few more things."
He starts attaching electrodes to Peter's chest, an array of transparent discs connecting to a steadily-beating heart monitor.
"That's normal. I'm going to check his pulse."
Bruce brings out a small device and clips it onto Peter's finger. Tony recognizes it as a pulse oximeter. He turns his attention to the screen showing Peter's vitals, but as according to his limited medical knowledge they all seem normal.
"Well," Bruce begins, frown deepening. "There doesn't seem to be a reason he's been knocked unconscious. I can't see why he's not awake."
Tony worries his lip. "That doesn't sound good."
"It's not," Bruce says.
"I'll call May and let her know there might be something more serious," Tony suggests.
"That's a good idea," Bruce agrees. "It could be something I've missed, but -"
Bruce breaks off as a crash shakes the room and Peter lurches upwards blurrily, unsteadily, and there's a shout from someone in the room as Bruce rushes over to the now frantically-beeping heart monitor and Peter's eyes dart around wildly, confused, and he jerks in the bed. Tony's frozen at the sheer panic radiating off Peter, and Steve's voice cuts low through his unsteady breathing.
"Peter, it's okay, alright? Just focus on my voice," Steve says calmly.
Peter freezes for a second, eyes flicking to focus on Steve for one still moment. Then, his gaze drags sideways to Tony, and his eyes clear of confusion.
"Dad!" he breathes.
The room goes silent.
Bruce looks like someone's slapped him across the face, and his brow half-furrows as he looks to Steve and then Tony. Steve is staring intently at Peter. Peter's eyes are fixated on Tony, and the older man feels his heart pound in his ears.
"Excuse me?" he says finally, voice muted and quiet in the stillness of the room.
Peter falters, just slightly, smile fading. "I..." He trails off, taking in the room fully for the first time. The look of horror on his face grows as moments pass, the other occupants of the room frozen to the spot. He looks down, and blanches when he sees the Spider-Man suit. "Oh, God, oh my God, this isn't..."
Tony can't speak. Dad!
"Peter," Bruce says gently, putting a hand on the kid's shoulder, "can you tell me what day it is?"
Peter glances upward. "It's, uh... it's Thursday."
It's a Tuesday. Bruce's expression tightens. "And the month?" he asks.
"August," the kid says uncertainly, and Tony's heart thuds. It's the middle of damn July. Something is very wrong.
Steve looks between Bruce and Peter as Tony grasps onto the table beside him, trying to keep himself grounded with the feeling of the cold metal frame on his fingers. "Bruce?" he asks lowly.
Bruce bites his lip, then digs out a pocket torch from his coat. "Peter, I'm just going to check your pupil size, okay? I'm sorry if it's harsh on your senses." He clicks it on and shines it in both eyes, and Peter winces slightly.
"I don't... what's happening?" he asks, sounding horribly confused.
"Follow my finger," Bruce responds, and starts moving in regular circles and patterns in the air. "I'm just checking for signs of a concussion, Peter. You seem confused, but don't worry, alright? It's all fine."
"I'm not..." Peter trails off as Bruce's finger drops.
"Count from ten to one, please," the scientist requests, and Peter does so smoothly, though his face is lined with worry.
After a few more seconds, Bruce stands up again. Tony folds his arms, shifting his weight. He doesn't know what to do in the stilted silence of the room. "So?"
Bruce pauses, looks down at Peter, and shakes his head. "Let's go outside for a second," he suggests, and Tony nods. Steve gives Peter a small smile before following them out, and then the door to Peter's room is shutting and Tony bends over, hands on his knees.
"What the fuck?" he breathes in a rush, and then there's a hand on his back.
"Stay calm, Tony," Bruce tells him.
Tony straightens, clenching and unclenching his fist. God, he wishes he had his stress ball on him. "What the hell was that? What kind of concussion makes him say... say that?"
There's a reason Tony Stark doesn't have children. He doesn't have a hope in hell of raising them right, not with Howard's upbringing and his own trauma on top of it, but here he is regardless and a teenage superhero is calling him fucking Dad and he doesn't have a frame of reference, doesn't have a way to deal with it. The last time he started acting like a concerned parent, trying to get FRIDAY to force Peter back to Queens from the Q-Ship, the kid died. He died in Tony's arms, because Tony was too damn selfish to stay away.
"He doesn't have a concussion," Bruce says.
Steve steps forward, frowning. "What is it, then?"
Bruce hesitates. "I... there's nothing out of the ordinary. He doesn't have a concussion or any sign of head injury that could have caused this confusion. I don't have an explanation for it."
"We should ask him."
"No," Tony blurts. "I need... I need to go. I need a moment, Rogers, alright? Don't... don't start the fucking interrogation without me."
"Tony," says Bruce. "Tony."
"Tony, you're having a panic attack," Bruce says gently, from somewhere off to the side. Tony realizes his vision is blurring, and he can hardly see.
"I'm not," he hears himself protest. "I'm... I'm fine, alright, I'm... fuck, Bruce -"
"Tony, just keep breathing, okay?" Bruce's voice is calm, but Tony's heartbeat is loud in his ears and he's getting dizzy. Why is there no air?
"Tony, can you hear me?" comes another familiar voice, and he vaguely recognizes it as Rhodey. He lurches toward the source of the sound, grabbing out and latching onto an arm. The person grips him back, a tight, focusing touch on his shoulders, but Tony is spiraling away.
"Rhodey, I can't... I can't breathe," he gasps out.
His voice is soothing. "It's alright, Tones. You can. Just in... and out. Follow the rhythm, yeah? It's easy. In... and out."
"He called me his fucking dad, Rhodey, I -"
"It's okay. We can deal with that later. Just concentrate on breathing for me. Can you do that, Tones?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I can, okay, I can."
"Good. In... and out."
"Jesus Christ," Tony curses.
"You got it, Tones. In... and out."
Tony's vision stops swimming, mercifully, and suddenly a cool rush of air fills his lungs. He coughs slightly, and looks up to see Rhodey watching him intently, steadying him.
"You okay?" he asks, eyebrows raised slightly in concern.
Tony nods, suddenly painfully aware that Steve is still in the room, standing with folded arms in the corner. His eyes are so much heavier than Rhodey's, or even Bruce's. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm good," he says, and detaches himself from Rhodey's grip. "Thanks," he adds quietly.
Rhodey's eyes crinkle as he smiles. "It's all good."
"I'm going to go and check on Peter," Bruce suggests, making both of them turn to him. "Make sure he's okay."
Tony nods again. "Sounds like a plan," he says, mouth dry from his panicked breathing earlier.
"Do you want to come?" Bruce asks gently.
Tony hesitates. Steve decides it's appropriate to wade in, and says, "You shouldn't. It won't do him any good to see you panic again."
And damn if he doesn't make a good point, but Tony is still angry over what happened with Ross. "I'm going in," he says in response. Fuck you, Rogers.
Steve sighs. Bruce nods slightly. "Okay, Tony," he acquiesces. Tony fights back the urge to yell at the man for how gentle he's being; he had a panic attack. He knows he should be more grateful, but he's not going to shatter if Bruce doesn't treat him like glass.
"You sure you'll be okay?" Rhodey asks, and Tony winks at him.
"'Course I will, platypus."
Steve throws his hands up. Tony ignores him, and the super soldier walks off. Rhodey gives him one last nod, and then heads off to follow him. Tony doesn't begrudge him that; he knows that, aside from Pepper, Rhodey is possibly the most busy occupant of the Compound with his UN Liaison work.
"If, uh... at all possible," Bruce begins, "staying calm would probably help him."
Tony nods. "Alright."
They approach the door, and Tony hears FRIDAY talking. He reaches out to grab Bruce's sleeve, and the other scientist stops and looks at him questioningly. Tony makes a hold on gesture.
"...July," FRIDAY is saying, voice calm.
"That doesn't make sense," Peter protests. "I swear, it was my birthday like six days ago, FRIDAY -"
"I'm not sure how that is, Peter," FRIDAY says diplomatically, "but I can assure you my date is definitely correct."
Peter's silent for a moment, before he asks, voice small, "What year is it?"
FRIDAY pauses. "2018," she responds, and there's a tiny noise of pain from Peter that sounds way too much like the sound he made on Titan.
I don't feel so good.
Tony takes a step back, and Bruce frowns in concern. "I... can't do this. You go, Bruce."
"Okay," Bruce says, staring at him. "Tony -"
"Make sure he's alright, Banner," Tony calls, already turning away from Bruce and the room and the scared look he knows too well that will be in Peter's eyes. He's not ready to see it again; he wishes he'd never become familiar with it in the first place.
It's just a concussion, he tells himself, though his instinct is yelling at him that it's more complex than that. He didn't mean to say that.
He keeps walking.
thank you all so much for the response to last chapter! i'm so, so happy you guys are enjoying it, and what i have in store to come.
on a side note i've just seen the new endgame trailer and it absolutely destroyed me. the irondad is strong with this one. i honestly can't decide if i'm excited or dreading the movie! anyway, please enjoy this chapter (a little smaller, but hopefully enjoyable all the same!).
When Bruce steps in the room, Peter's gaze immediately snaps to him.
"Hey, Peter," he says, and the kid gives him a tight smile.
Not Dr. Banner, Bruce notes. It's about time Peter started using his first name. "How are you feeling?"
"Fine," Peter says, nodding. "I think I'm okay to leave the medbay...?"
Bruce eyes him for a second. "I overheard FRIDAY telling you about the date," he begins, and Peter's face shutters.
"Yeah, I think I was just a little bit confused. Must have been the concussion, right?" he says, smiling slightly wider. There's nothing behind the expression.
"You don't... seem to have a concussion, Peter," Bruce says carefully.
"It probably healed," Peter suggests. "My healing is fast."
Bruce levels a look at Peter again. He's acutely aware of exactly how fast Peter heals, thanks to his researching a viable painkiller for him to use, and it's not quick enough to completely erase every trace of a concussion. He could easily fight Peter on this, but the expression in his eyes is just on the defensive side of pleading. Bruce sighs slightly, and gives up.
"Okay, Peter," he agrees. "Let me know if you feel dizzy, or more confused, alright?"
Peter's already unclipping the oximeter from his finger and swinging his legs out of bed. "I will," he says. Bruce raises an eyebrow, and Peter widens his eyes. "I promise!"
Bruce smiles. "Good," he replies. "Go on."
Peter darts out of the room, tugging at his suit like it's uncomfortable, and Bruce watches him go.
Since Sakaar and Thanos, the boundary between Dr. Banner and the Hulk has thinned slightly. It does mean that Bruce now retains some semblance of control over the Hulk, but it also means the Hulk can make his voice heard during Bruce's conscious hours. Bruce isn't a fan of that effect, though Natasha tells him it's an improvement to their previous unsustainable situation: the one that ended in the Hulk abandoning Earth and eventually destroying their route back.
Now, though, the Hulk is growling in discontent in the back of Bruce's mind. Something wrong! he's yelling, and Bruce frowns as he looks at the doorway Peter disappeared through.
I know, he tries to send back.
The Hulk rumbles again. Talk.
He clearly doesn't want to talk.
Bruce sighs, and pinches the bridge of his nose. "I don't think that will work, big guy." Peter, he knows, is not one for communication. He's startlingly like Tony in that respect, unwilling to seek help way too often to be healthy. Bruce still remembers when he found out about Tony poisoning himself with palladium before they met. They didn't speak for two days, and then Bruce finally broke down and hugged Tony tightly.
"You idiot," he'd said. "You should have looked for help."
Tony had protested that he didn't know Bruce at the time, and the scientist had shaken his head.
"I'm not the only one you can get help from, Tony," he'd refuted. Bruce knows, now, that the advice is still kicking in for Tony; Peter's the same way. He's not going to be able to help by asking directly.
We'll keep an eye on him, Bruce assures the voice in the back of his head.
The Hulk makes a hmph sound, a cross between a huff and a snort. Good. Protect spider.
Bruce sighs again, and goes to clear up the discarded oximeter still on Peter's bed.
- - -
The morning after he's released from the medbay, Peter oversleeps.
This in itself is a new development. Peter's usually up at the asscrack of dawn, in Tony's opinion, though Pepper usually refutes that with a stop being dramatic, Tony, seven o'clock is not dawn. This time, though, Peter has slept in for an extra couple of hours and is now running around the kitchen in a rush, searching and scrabbling through drawers. Tony hears the commotion as he passes the doorway, and he's about to decide whether to go in or not (because is he ready to discuss the dad yet?) when Peter speaks.
"Shit, I'm so late," Peter mutters, rifling around on the counter for something. "I know I left them here. FRI," he says, slightly louder, "Where's Morgan? Oh, and do you know where my keys went?"
Who the hell is Morgan? Tony thinks, frowning. He takes a small step further back, just so Peter won't see him.
There's a hesitant silence from the AI, and Peter frowns and looks up.
"FRIDAY? Are you okay? Has she already gone?"
"I'm fine, Peter," she tells him. "I don't seem to have a Morgan in my records, however," she adds, and Peter stills.
"Oh," he says. Then, "Oh."
"Peter," FRIDAY says gently.
"Shit," Peter mutters, voice shaky, gripping the edge of the countertop. "I... fuck, I forgot."
"Peter, I think you should talk to -"
"Mute. Shit, override," Peter says immediately, cutting her off midsentence. "Erase logs for the last five minutes, code three six A two nine one dash P T three R."
"Logs erased," FRIDAY responds, voice oddly robotic.
Tony reels back. Peter is not supposed to know that code. It gives him full administrative control over FRIDAY. He programmed it in, yes, like he's made a code for Rhodey and Pepper, but none of them know that. He hasn't been able to bring himself to give any of them that power yet. So how does Peter know?
Peter sighs. "Sorry, FRI," he murmurs quietly, an undertone of guilt in his voice. "You can unmute now."
"Certainly," FRIDAY replies, sounding more like herself again. "Good morning, Peter."
"Morning, FRI," he says.
Tony backs away.
When he's safely in his lab, he brings up FRIDAY's internal records. There is, indeed, a completely blank spot where Peter erased the logs. Tony swears under his breath.
"Shit," he mutters.
Tony doesn't know how to deal with whatever's happening. Peter is asking about people who don't exist, using codes he shouldn't know and referring to Tony as his dad, and he doesn't know what could have caused that. It must have been something serious, and Tony suspects it has to do with the sorcerer they fought, but he can't bring it up without having to mention the dad incident. He doesn't know why that gets to him so badly, but the thought of Peter thinking of him like a father figure causes raw panic to surge in his chest. He doesn't deserve to have any effect on a kid like Peter, not when all Tony will end up doing is break him.
I don't feel so good.
"Shut up," Tony hisses.
"Are you alright, Boss?" FRIDAY asks. Tony unlaces his hands from behind his head.
"I'm fine, FRI," he sighs. "It's been a long day."
"It's twenty past eight, Boss," she says, sounding slightly amused. "You have been awake for thirty-seven minutes."
"And a damn long thirty-seven minutes it's been." He pauses then, staring at the screen. "FRI," he begins.
"If you wanted to find out how someone knew a piece of information," Tony says, "how would you do it?"
"Ask them," she suggests.
Tony shakes his head. Talking to Peter means dealing with the dad thing. That can wait until another day. "No, won't work."
FRIDAY is silent for a moment. "Check where they could have found out about it."
Tony leans forward. "You might be onto something there, FRI. That's my girl. Can you bring up a list of the people who've recently tried to access the locations for your override codes?"
"Certainly, Boss." The list in question pops up on the screen, and Tony scrutinizes it. The most recent is him, just now, then FRIDAY herself, then... him again, three more times.
Tony frowns. "When did you check them?" he asks her. "Why?"
"This morning," FRIDAY tells him. "Peter asked me to verify his code was correct. I compared the hashed strings and then erased my recordings of them."
"Was it right?"
Tony swears. This hasn't helped him find out where Peter got the code from in the first place. "Thanks anyway, FRIDAY," he mutters.
He resolves to talk to Peter. Later. His phone vibrates in his pocket just as he comes to the conclusion, and he pulls it out. The caller ID reads Little Shit in glowing letters, and Tony presses Accept.
"To what do I owe this honor, Keener?"
Natasha finds Peter tugging on his mask, one leg out the communal floor's window, at ten in the morning. She crosses her arms and clears her throat, and Peter jumps and looks round.
"Oh! Uh, hey, Nat," he stutters. Natasha's irrationally proud of the fact that Peter has never once attempted to call her Ms. Romanoff or anything like it. She attributes it to the death glare she'd given him when he'd called several consecutive Avengers by formal titles and then turned to her, and she'd told him to call her Nat or else, unless we're in the field.
"What are you up to?" she asks.
Peter glances out of the window, then back at her. "Just patrol," he says.
Natasha nods. "Could you use a friend?" she suggests, and Peter looks slightly startled.
"Uh, sure. I..." He hesitates. "I don't need a babysitter."
Natasha raises an eyebrow. Peter's a smart kid, and everyone knows it. Nobody's sent Natasha to go spend time with him, but she can sense something is off. Steve told her about Tony's panic attack, and she'd understood where it came from. She doesn't doubt she'd react similarly badly herself if anyone ever decided to call her mom. After that, she wants to make sure he's okay and put her mind at rest. To do that, she needs to be allowed along.
She shrugs. "I know. I'm bored. I want to get out of the Tower," she tells him, and though he looks briefly confused he seems to agree.
"Fair," he concedes. "Sure, then."
"Will you teach me to use webshooters?" Natasha asks, and Peter stares at her.
"Will I... what?"
"Teach me," she repeats. "I told you I was bored, didn't I?" To be perfectly honest, she wants to be able to keep up with him. Spider-Man swings everywhere, and Black Widow will be a severe hindrance if she doesn't find another method of transport beyond running around on the ground.
The bright eyes of Peter's mask stay the same innocently-wide size, but she can tell he's narrowing his eyes behind it. "Okay," he says, at length, and leans over. He unzips two small compartments Natasha hadn't properly noticed before, and pulls out a pair of gleaming silver contraptions. There's a thin, flexing line of what looks like silicon rubber leading to a tiny red button in the center of each shooter. "These are my spares," Peter explains, fiddling with one of them. "I'll just... adjust the trigger sensitivity. They'll be too heavy right now," he tells her, which is a fair point. Natasha suspects that, were they to fight with no holds barred, Peter could quite potentially beat even Steve. His strength is something else.
He passes them to her, and Natasha slips them on over her wrists. They fit snugly, reminding her of her Widow Bites. She flexes her right hand a few times, turning it over as she looks at it.
"So you press this to release a web," Peter explains, guiding her middle two fingers to the red trigger. Natasha presses down and thwip! The shooter recoils slightly, a stream of silvery web fluid shooting out of it to splat against the opposite wall. Peter laughs slightly. "There you go," he says.
Natasha smiles. "Pretty impressive," she says, aiming again and catching the end of it. The web arcs through the open window and onto the building opposite, where it hangs in a line like a taut thread. She tugs on it experimentally, then harder; it resists her strength and remains intact. Natasha raises an eyebrow.
"Yeah, they support quite a lot of tension," Peter explains. "They have to, to be able to support bodyweight."
"How do I swing?" she asks.
Peter reaches up to rub the back of his neck. "Well, uh... it's a little hard to explain. You need to make sure you swing for a second time at the apex of the first, or -"
Natasha jumps, clutching the web still in her hands. Peter blanches and yanks his mask on, rushing after her. She hears a thwip behind her.
"Wait! Nat!" he's yelling, but Natasha is already out of the building and flying through the air, holding tight to the web, swinging straight past the opposite building.
Air rushes by her, in her ears and her eyes, and she nearly lets out a whoop. It's a rush like nothing she's experienced before. She feels herself slowing down as the street yawns beneath her, and Natasha lets go of the web and falls incredibly fast and tenses for a second, frozen, before she remembers and snaps her fingers against the trigger, sending another stream of web fluid to the side of the buildings that line the street.
"That's it!" Peter shouts behind her. "Keep going!"
Natasha grins despite herself as she releases and fires again, hair whipping around her face as she flies. She narrows her eyes against the tearing wind, and spots a flat-roofed building around thirty feet away. She presses the trigger and angles her body this time, spinning to point straight at the roof. She goes down and she's accelerating, wind pulling and grabbing at her skin, and then she reaches the upward swing and hangs in the air for a moment before she lets go. Natasha drops down and rolls as she hits the roof, springing up to standing flawlessly. Peter touches down a second later, and she turns to see him raising an eyebrow.
"You're a natural," he tells her. "You better not steal my gimmick."
Natasha makes a face at him. "Us spiders are good at spinning webs," she says, and Peter laughs.
"That's a good line," he responds.
She smiles. "So," she asks, glancing around the roof, "where do you usually go from here?"
Peter shrugs. "I make it up as I go along," he says, and then taps his mask. "Karen helps me find the big stuff, but otherwise I just swing around and find crimes to stop as Spider-Cop." Natasha chuckles slightly at the faux-deep voice Peter puts on, and he grins. "Too much?"
"Just right. Where do we go first, then?"
Peter hums for a second. "I'm thinking Harlem. I haven't started there for a while."
"Lead the way."
Peter leaps off the roof and fires a web, and Natasha jumps after him. A rush of endorphins makes her let out a whoop, and the sound of Peter's laughter filters back to her as she slipstreams behind his swinging.
"Down there!" Peter suddenly yells, and Natasha's gaze darts to follow his finger to a tall, narrow alley to the right of them.
Peter drops the web and fires at the side of the alleyway he's aiming for, darting towards and sticking horizontally to it. He jumps down to the ground smoothly, and turns back to look up at Natasha. She loosens her grip slightly, the twining texture of the web smooth against her hands as she starts to slide down it.
"Jump!" Peter shouts, and Natasha grimaces slightly. She's always disliked heights, especially after Budapest. Thanks a lot, Clint, she thinks, and lets go.
The wind rips at her hair as she falls, getting closer and closer to the ground until she throws out her wrist and snaps her fingers onto the trigger. A web shoots out and anchors her to the side of the brick, and she stomps her feet horizontal and angles them. Friction drags at the sides of her boots and Natasha slides down the building before jumping off at the last minute and landing square on the ground.
Peter raises an eyebrow. "Okay," he says, "points for style."
Natasha winks, and then a frantic voice reaches their ears. Peter's entire demeanor changes; his head snaps up, alert, and his body goes tense as he darts towards the sound. Natasha follows, snapping out a pair of knives from her waistband. Peter makes a shushing motion over his shoulder, and peers round the side of the alley.
On the side of the adjoining street, mostly empty of people, there's a guy in running gear and a grey tank top looking tense and worried. His eyes are darting around his surroundings as the figure in front of him inches closer, yelling something. Natasha's eyes narrow; the shape of a gun is half-visible from behind the mugger's outline.
Peter murmurs, "You ready?"
Natasha nods. "Any day."
"Hey!" Peter shouts, standing up straight suddenly. The mugger whips round, gun raised and pointing towards them now. "Didn't your mom tell you it was rude to steal stuff?"
"Fucking prick!" he curses, loosing off a shot that Peter dodges smoothly.
He straightens up again, crossing his arms faux-casually. "Wow. You really do need to learn some manners."
Peter fires a web and leaps forward, flying with his foot outstretched to kick the mugger in the face. The guy lets out a howl and stumbles back, and the runner dodges out of the way of the two of them as Natasha sprints in, brandishing her knives. The handles are cool and straight-edged in her hands, and she grips them as she raises an eyebrow at the runner.
"I'd run, now," she says, jerking her head away slightly, and he nearly trips over himself in his haste to get away.
"Thank you!" he calls over his shoulder before he disappears, and then Natasha refocuses on the other guy.
Peter has his hands webbed together around the gun, and the mugger has a furiously twisted expression on his face as he struggles to escape and land a hit on Spider-Man. A trickle of blood is running from his nose.
"Just fuck off!" the guy yells, and Peter mock-sags.
"That's no fun," he says. "You guys are meant to banter back with me! C'mon, say something like I crush spiders every day for breakfast."
The mugger glares. "The hell is wrong with you?" he demands.
Peter cocks his head. "Like... right now, or...?"
"Yeah, you're right. Well, this has been a nice conversation," Peter continues, effortlessly ducking under a wild swipe the guy makes with his webbed fists, "but I'm going to have to cut it short. Same time next week?"
He doesn't wait for a response before he shoots off three more webs, anchoring the guy's torso securely to the wall. He struggles, but Natasha knows from experience how difficult Peter's webs are to escape. He has no chance.
Peter squints up at the building for a second, noting down the address they're at before pulling out his Stark-model phone and sending off a text.
"Nice one," Natasha says, and Peter does a mock-bow.
"Why, thank you." He gestures to the seething mugger. "I've texted the NYPD, so we can swing on out now."
"You have the NYPD on text?" Natasha asks. As far as she knows, none of the Avengers have that sort of relationship with authority. Though the Accords were declared open for negotiation and change after the war with Thanos, most governments still hold distrust for the Avengers. She's surprised Peter's different.
He just shrugs, like it isn't a big deal. "I'm the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, aren't I? They know who I am, I know who they are, I send them text about criminals they can arrest... y'know, typical work friends."
Natasha smiles slightly. "Where to next?"
With the aid of Peter's enhanced hearing and Karen's monitoring of social media for emergency keywords, they track down five more minor crimes to stop. Three are more muggings, one is an attempted B and E, and the final one is a holdup in a bank on Third. Peter returns more and more to the kid Natasha is accustomed to knowing, snapping off puns and quips as he fights as naturally as breathing. It changes, however, after the sixth total crime.
They're swinging through the Lower East Side, on the lookout, when suddenly Peter makes a motion with one hand.
"Time out," he says, voice slightly breathless. "Nat, I... time out for a sec."
Natasha's brow furrows as he webs his way up to the closest rooftop, skidding to a halt on the flat surface. She follows, and touches down just as Peter starts fiddling with his mask.
"Ugh," he groans, fisting his hands by his side as if he wants to rip it off.
"What's wrong?" she asks.
Peter turns to her and pushes his mask up to his forehead, making a face. "Nothing. It's just... this fabric is really stuffy. I've gotten more used to my regular mask, you know?"
Natasha narrows her eyes, just slightly. What? "Regular mask?" she probes, and Peter opens his mouth to reply before something in his expression freezes and he goes still.
Since she can remember, Natasha has been training. Espionage, infiltration: the Red Room taught it all to her, and she can still recall the lessons. One such course was a thorough training on micro-expressions. They're subtle, but she's had years of careful curriculum to equip her to detect them on almost anyone she sees. It's why, without a shadow of a doubt, Natasha can see a mess of conflicting, tiny expressions flit across Peter's face at her question. His lips tense, and his body stills. Fear. His jaw locks, jutting forward just slightly. Distress. Then, just as quickly as they appear, it's like the tiny signals are wiped from Peter's face. Instead, he blinks one, two, three times. Too many. He's about to lie, Natasha's mind warns her.
"I, uh... just meant this hasn't been washed in a while. It stops being breathable when it's dirty," Peter lies, gaze darting away from her slightly.
Natasha frowns slightly, and she knows the exact moment Peter notices the expression because his shoulders rise up just a little. He's getting ready for a flight reaction.
"Let's go," Peter mutters, avoiding her gaze, and yanks his mask back down. He webs away with no warning.
"Shit," Natasha murmurs, glancing down and fiddling with the shooters for a second. She runs towards the edge of the building and leaps, firing a stream of webbing as she rushes to catch up with Peter.
It carries on for another half-hour, during which Peter is so far removed from the quipping Spider-Man she was just on patrol with that it's hard to reconcile the difference in her mind. He's quieter when addressing civilians and criminals alike, and he barely speaks to Natasha again. She always just catches up with him in some alley or street, a random person webbed up beside him, typing out a furiously quick text, before he stows the phone away again and he's off. She has no chance to catch her breath, and no chance to talk to him. Natasha supposes that's why he's doing it.
Things change, once again, after that; it takes about an hour, but gradually Peter starts slowing down and talking again and even addressing Natasha. She doesn't go near the subject of the mask, and neither does Peter. It's roughly approaching one o'clock when he suddenly slows, and asks Natasha if she's hungry. He ends up leading her to a small sandwich shop in Queens called Delmar's, which Peter insists is the best sandwich shop in New York, Nat, you're missing out if you don't try it. He pops off an order so quick that she can tell he's a regular, and doubles it for her. The owner of the shop, whom she assumes is the eponymous Delmar, gives both of them a wink when Peter asks for the sandwiches to be flattened.
Natasha has to admit, they're damn tasty. Though they're on the slightly soft side, she finds herself enjoying the sandwich. She's shared multiple arguments with Bucky about how soft a sandwich should be; Bucky's the firm defender of soft every time, but Natasha has always liked them crunchy. She's never going to admit she likes this one to him, though; she doubts he'd let it go for a while.
The city seems to calm down a little after they've eaten, and eventually Peter decides to call it a day for now. He assures Natasha he'll be back later, in the evening when there's more crime to stop for Spider-Cop. They both head back to the Tower, swinging almost in sync; the rhythm has become surprisingly natural for Natasha over the day. She resolves to talk to Peter about it sometime in the future; maybe she could use a variation on the technique. She doesn't want to cramp his style, but it's not like she's not already similarly spider-themed.
When they touch down in the Tower, Peter somehow navigating the sheer, monotone face of the building to find the exact window they left through, FRIDAY greets them.
"Welcome back, Peter, Agent Romanoff. How was patrol?" she asks. FRIDAY still doesn't trust her or the rest of the Rogues fully, it seems, though Natasha doesn't blame her. The clinical introduction is usually all they get: Agent Romanoff, Agent Barton, Captain Rogers.
"Good, thanks, FRI," Peter answers, shooting a smile up at the ceiling as he tugs his mask off. His curls bounce with the movement, and Natasha starts taking the webshooters off. "What time is it?"
"Two-fifteen," FRIDAY says, and Peter nods slightly.
Then, he blanches. "Shit!"
Natasha's instantly alert. "What?"
"It's lab time! Shit, I - I gotta go!" he stutters, nearly grabbing his webshooters from Natasha's hands.
"Peter, wait!" she calls, but Peter is already sprinting away from her and nearly falling over in his haste to rip off the Spider-Man suit while running.
He rounds the corner and disappears lightning-quick, and she sighs.
"FRIDAY," she asks, still staring in the direction Peter disappeared in, "what's lab time?"
FRIDAY pauses for a moment. "I don't know," she admits.
Natasha's lips purse.
it's a long one this time, folks - returning to tony woo!
thank you guys so much for all your comments so far; it makes my day reading them all before i update. i'm so so glad you're liking the story!
we also have some accords in this chapter, because i hated the mcu version
and also just ross in generalso here's the resolution! it won't be a hugely major plot point going forward, so don't worry - peter whump is still the main focus.
anyway - without further ado, here you go! <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The Iron Man repulsor is shot.
Tony's not sure when it happened. It could well have been the sorcerer fight, and he was too wrapped up in the aftermath to notice the damage in his suit, but he's still kicking himself he didn't notice it earlier. He's been in his lab for about three hours, working and focused on fixing the burnt-out circuit in the left gauntlet. The resistor array failed, resulting in a current overload that reduced all the components to smoking husks. Tony's lucky he's got everything he needs right here, right now; sometimes, he'll go to fix a function or a feature of the suit and realize that he's used up all his stock of some component or other and isn't able to fix it anymore.
It's extremely annoying.
Tony reaches almost subconsciously for the mug of coffee beside him, perched on the edge of the desk. His fingers close around the handle, slightly slippery in his greasy hands, and he's just about to take a sip when there's a crash and he drops the mug back on the table, spinning round.
"Hi!" Peter blurts, skidding into the lab and letting the door swing shut behind him.
"Jesus Christ, kid," Tony curses, holding a hand to his heart. "You nearly gave me a heart attack."
A flash of guilt crosses across Peter's face, and his grin falls. "Sorry," he says, quieter, and suddenly the levity is gone from the room. Tension stretches between them like a taut string.
"So, uh," Tony begins, suddenly uncomfortable on his chair, "what's up?"
"It's lab time," Peter says, sounding slightly confused. "I mean, I'm late, but I'm here! Two o'clock on..."
Tony's aware that confusion is prominent in his face. The hell is he talking about? Tony's lab has never been open to anyone save him, and the limited access he's given Rhodey and Pepper. Nobody else has ever worked on it, and he definitely didn't schedule any lab time with Peter: so he's sure his confusion is showing clearly.
Peter trails off slightly, seeing the expression on Tony's face. "Oh," he says faintly. "Oh."
"Lab time?" Tony asks, frowning slightly. "I don't... Peter, I..."
The kid's smile goes plastic, fixed across his face like a doll. "I just meant that... maybe we could work together in the lab. If that's okay. I could work on my suit," Peter adds, voice cracking slightly on the last word. His eyebrows furrow at the sound.
Tony is lost for words for a few seconds, before he realizes he should probably say something. "Uh, sure," he agrees eventually, then kicks himself. That is not what he meant to say. "Just don't touch anything," he adds, trying to salvage the situation. Great job.
Peter's fake smile widens slightly, and he comes further into the lab. Tony can see now that he's holding the Spider-Man suit in his hand in a loose, baggy coil of material. "Thanks, uh... Mr. Stark," he says, sounding slightly hesitant.
Tony nods, and goes back to working on the repulsor mechanism.
It's a few minutes later that Peter draws his attention again. The kid has set himself up on the empty desk to the right of Tony, and he's facing away. The suit is laid before him. Peter has connected all the right electrodes and wires to the inner workings of his mask, in exactly the correct way. Blueprints of the suit are displayed in an array before him on the holographic screen, and he's typing with fascinatingly fast speed on Tony's keyboard. As Tony watches, attention firmly lost from the gauntlet, Peter pushes himself on the rolling chair to the right slightly. His eyes are still fixed on the screen as he reaches down to the drawer beside him, pulling out a screwdriver without even looking. He shoves it behind his ear as he rolls back, going straight back to typing furiously.
Tony knows several facts about this situation that simply do not fit with what he's seeing. For one, Tony has never shown Peter how to repair and edit the suit. He shouldn't know how to do it. He shouldn't know his way around the lab and its tools so fluently. Additionally, he's never taught the kid about FRIDAY's lab subsystems. Even if he could chalk Peter calling up the Assembly code within the mask to blind chance, there's no way the kid would know where the right blueprints are stored. There's no way he should be able to edit Karen's code like it's nothing, typing out lines like he knows exactly what he's doing. And even, even if Tony were to overlook all of that, Peter should not be able to use Tony's keyboard design. That design is known only to Tony. It doesn't use conventional letters of any kind, just made-up symbols and complex gestures, and there's no manual or anything. It's Tony's own creation, and he damn well hasn't taught Peter. It's literally impossible for him to know; and yet, here Tony is, watching a teenager navigate his highly-advanced lab with ease.
Something incredibly weird, wrong, is going on.
Tony tries his best to go back to focusing on the repulsor, but every time he's just forced himself back into the mechanical zone Peter does something else that shocks him. Once, the kid even balls up one of the holographic blueprints of Tony's, of the suit, that he's taken upon himself to edit, and throws it over his shoulder. It lands in FRIDAY's virtual hoop, and Tony nearly feels his world tilt on its axis. What the fuck is going on? he thinks, over and over, thoughts looping as his concentration lapses.
Eventually, FRIDAY notifies them both that the other Avengers request their presence for dinner. Tony and Peter both head upstairs, the kid seemingly oblivious as Tony stares. He can't pull his eyes away from Peter's head. What's happening with you? When they reach the communal area, Clint lets out a whoop.
"There they are!" he announces, and Steve's head pokes over the top of the couch. Natasha looks up from where she's reclining on an armchair in the corner, and her gaze flicks straight to Peter before it shifts to focus on Tony. He looks straight back, and something in her eyes tells him she's watching the kid too. "Right on time," Clint adds.
"Clint got Chinese," Sam calls from opposite him, waving a pair of cheap wooden chopsticks in the air.
Tony walks over to the free space on the couch, sitting down next to Rhodey. "Good call, Clint," he says, smiling. Clint gives him a wink. They haven't healed the rift between them entirely, not just yet, but Tony's grateful Clint is willing to work with him on mending their relationship after the disaster that was the original Accords agreement.
Peter nearly follows, but stops just before he sits down. "Wait. Where's...?"
He trails off, eyes sweeping the room. Tony glances around too. Rhodey is beside him, Bruce on the other side of his best friend, and Natasha is in the armchair next to the couch. Sam and Clint are on the smaller sofa, and Steve is sitting opposite Tony with an empty space beside him.
Peter seems to count in his head, too, and everyone turns to look at him. He flushes slightly. "Right," he says. "Everyone's... here."
Dinner, though not their quietest, isn't a loud affair. Natasha talks a little bit about her and Peter's patrol earlier, and Rhodey tells them all about a virtual run-in he had with one of the UN senators earlier. It ends with Sam holding up a middle finger to the absentee councilman, making them all laugh. Tony doesn't realize how hungry he is until suddenly there are spring rolls and bowls of rice in front of him, and soon he's loading his plate like the others. As is tradition, they all join in to give Steve communal shit when he goes for thirds despite knowing it's necessary. The super-soldier just rolls his eyes and keeps going, widening his eyes dramatically whenever he adds another piece of prawn toast to his plate. It's almost like old times.
The illusion dissipates, though, as soon as dinner is over. Peter, uncharacteristically quiet throughout the whole meal, disappears upstairs as soon as Clint declares it's over. The Avengers watch him go with various expressions; Tony is sure his matches Natasha's, caught between concern and suspicion.
"FRI, what's he doing?" Tony asks suddenly. "Patrol?" There's an explanation. It'll be that.
"I presume Peter is getting ready to sleep, Boss," FRIDAY responds. "He is in his room."
Tony is silent for a second. Not that, then. "Hmm."
"Don't be such a dad, Tony," Clint jokes, sending him a raised eyebrow. "All teenagers do weird shit sometimes."
"Don't call me that," Tony snaps back, and the atmosphere flips like a switch and goes icy.
Clint looks like he's been slapped, and everyone tenses. Tony swears internally at himself.
"Shit," Tony curses. "Sorry. I'm sorry, Clint. I... just can't... I can't be that. Sorry."
Clint nods slowly, and the frigidity of the room dissolves slightly. His eyebrows are drawn; there's a slight look of concern on his face. "Okay, Tony. No worries."
Tony looks down, ears burning. "Thanks," he mutters. "Sorry."
He can't be that. He tried to parent Peter once before, and it ended in death and dust and destruction.
The next morning, Peter sleeps in again. If it weren't in the middle of break, Tony would have woken him up earlier, but the kid just rolls out of bed at ten in the morning. FRIDAY, as per Tony's worried midnight request the night before, alerts Tony when Peter wakes.
"He's up, Boss," she tells him quietly, and Tony breathes a slight sigh of relief.
"Thanks, FRI," he says. "Can you ask him when he's -"
"He's trying to go back to sleep," FRIDAY interrupts.
"I can't provide more information with just the microphone," FRIDAY warns, "but it sounds as though Peter is not moving. He is trying to sleep again."
Tony swears. Peter has been an early bird for all the time Tony's known him. The microphone is breach enough of privacy (they'd set it up after Peter started getting nightmares about his homecoming, to help alert the right people if he started struggling in the night) but Tony almost wishes he had a camera in the room to explain something about what's going on with his kid. Almost. Drugs, he'd accept. He'd be pretty damn angry, and worried beyond the stress levels recommended by his cardiologist, but he'd accept just one concrete reason for Peter's strange behavior. Right now, he has no leads and no idea and it scares him.
Tony breathes in slowly, and makes a beeline for Peter's room. When he reaches it, there's no sound from within; it seems like FRIDAY's right. Tony thunks his head on the wall by the door for a second, wishing he knew what was going on, and then raises it and raps on Peter's door.
"Up and at 'em," Tony says loudly through the wood, and then it's swinging open and Peter is on the other side looking disheveled and disgruntled.
"What?" he mumbles.
"You're burning daylight hours," Tony tells him, and tries to silence the voice in his head, sounding suspiciously like Clint, calling him out for acting like a dad. "Come on, let's go. Up."
Peter glares at him then, an intense expression that startles Tony. The kid has turned away in the next second, but Tony stays in the same position, slightly shocked by the searing stare. He wasn't expecting that big a reaction.
"I'm getting dressed," Peter mutters, and promptly shuts the door in Tony's face.
The older man just stares, and then turns around. What the fuck? he mouths to himself.
He doesn't get another chance to see Peter before Tony has to leave with Rhodey. It's their important meeting today with the UN council to discuss their new, Avengers-friendly Accords, and it all hinges on the mission they've just completed. Tony tries to push his nerves away as Rhodey walks up and raises an eyebrow. Ready?
Happy drives them both to the UN HQ on 42nd Street a tall, glass-fronted building with arrays of flags out front. Tony recognizes the newest addition, the panther-emblazoned flag of Wakanda. Happy pulls up at the entrance, and his face narrows when Rhodey and Tony are escorted up the steps by the council's own security force.
I'm watching you, he mouths as he locks eyes with Tony from inside the car. Tony gives him a shit-eating grin and a wave in return.
When they're inside, they're led straight to the conference room.
"You're late," grunts the head of security, a thin man with a tight suit who Tony suspects is much more of an administrative figure than a fighter.
"The meeting's at twelve," Rhodey points out. "It's eleven forty-five."
Tony rolls his eyes at Rhodey, who makes a face back. The double doors in front of them swing open, and then there are the five UN members from the major countries specifically assigned to liaison with the Avengers. They're sitting at a long table, styled like panel seating. They're using the smaller room today, though the space is still comparatively large. Tony and Rhodey take the two empty chairs before the council, clearly designated for them. Tony feels vaguely like a kid about to be scolded by a schoolteacher.
The first part of the meeting goes as it usually does. The UN representatives say some clearly-scripted bullshit, Rhodey says the right things back, and Tony tries not to fall asleep. He's not great at this part. The second half, however, is when things start to get interesting. He tunes back in at the mention of the sorcerer's fight.
"...understand you took down the combatant with no civilian injury," one representative begins. His nameplate reads REP. BRADDOCK, beside a small UK flag.
"That is correct, sir," Rhodey responds.
"Congratulations," chips in another. Wong, from China. "We also received reports that property damage was minimal, which warrants further thanks."
Rhodey smiles slightly. "No problem, councilman."
"On that note," the fifth senator, the Russian REP. RASPUTIN, adds, "how is Spider-Man? We understand he was hit during the apprehending of the suspect."
"He's recovered," Tony says in response, before Rhodey can formulate a reply. "He wasn't injured seriously."
One of the representatives, Batroc from France, starts nodding sagely. Tony knows the US member of the council by name, Rep. Morales, and he focuses on the man as he leans forward at that.
"In that case," Morales says, and Tony feels his heart lurch, "we believe your test run has been a success. The revised Accords have been approved. Congratulations, Lieutenant Colonel Rhodes, Mr. Stark."
Tony's face breaks into a grin, and he can barely restrain himself from standing up and whooping. Finally. Finally. He's been fighting for these rules since Sokovia, rules to tighten their responsibility and accountability but not to hinder their freedom, and the new Accords are finally real. They'll hold the Avengers responsible for any lives lost or property damaged, save for extenuating circumstances like the Chitauri attack and Thanos, but they'll protect them too. They have the freedom to act whenever they deem necessary, themselves, and members whose identities are still hidden retain the right to keep them that way unless they cause enough damage to warrant an unmasking. Primarily, that's Peter, and the new rules will help keep him and May safe in a big way.
"Thank you, councilman," Rhodey says, voice carefully level. "Thank you," he repeats to the council at large.
"You are dismissed."
As soon as they're outside the building and back in Happy's waiting car, Tony lets out a yell.
"We did it!" he shouts, and Rhodey grins next to him.
"Damn right we did," he says. "Dream team, Tones."
"We did it," Tony repeats. "Holy fuck, Rhodey. Thank you so much."
Rhodey makes a psh sound through the corner of his mouth. "Wasn't all me," he says.
"No, but a hell of a lot of it was," Tony tells him. "Nobody else could have been a better liaison. We did it, platypus!"
Rhodey laughs out loud.
yes i did give all the senators names of existing marvel characters
adfhdfh life has actually gotten INSANE and i don't have enough time to reply properly to your comments today, but i have got so many from all of you and i love them! thank you all so so so much for reading and commenting. i love you all. <3
a little less irondad this chapter, but with more team dynamics. we're hurtling towards the climax now, so - enjoy!
When Tony gets back to the Tower, his happiness fades. The high from winning the Accords fight dissipates incredibly quickly upon reaching the glass door to his lab; he stops at the door, and stares. He expected his lab to be empty: it's not.
Peter is there, in front of a huge movable whiteboard he's procured from somewhere that's covered in scribbles, formulae and drawings. One of his webshooters is lying dissected on the table before him, and the blueprints he was working on yesterday are displayed in a hovering hologram. They're still visibly Spider-Man specs, but there are alterations there that Tony can't make sense of. Karen's coding is splayed out on the opposite side of the holographic screen. Peter's humming a tune Tony doesn't recognize. The Spider-Man suit is lying on the table like it's being dissected, and Peter is leaning over it and fiddling with the insides of the mask. As Tony stares, Peter's voice reaches his ears.
"I have to remember to look at this tonight," he's mumbling to himself, picking up a pen as he talks. "Web mechanism still needs improving. Compression... still not the same." He writes down what he's mentioning, ringing them in a list. "Karen's OK for now," Peter murmurs. "I still need to upgrade the fabric, though. What... damn, what polymer was it?"
Tony loses track of time, just standing and watching the kid. It's almost like something has taken him over, changing the Peter he knows.
"I was about to come and find you," a voice says quietly beside him, and Tony jumps. He turns to see Bruce, gesturing to Peter. The kid's now doing a small dance as he works, nodding his head to an imaginary beat. "He's been in there since you left."
"I don't know what's happening with him," Tony says, mouth dry. "He... I don't know what's going on. He shouldn't be able to do... any of this," he says, waving a hand for emphasis that encapsulates the entire insane scene.
"Talk to him," Bruce suggests. "Seriously, Tony -"
"Bruce?" comes a voice, and Tony and Bruce's heads both snap up to see Peter staring at them. Tony is about to come up with some excuse, some way to explain why they're both just watching him, but Peter's face suddenly breaks into a smile. "Bruce! I was just about to - do you think you could help me?"
Rude, Tony's brain snarks.
Bruce frowns slightly, stepping into the lab. "Sure," he says, sounding far from it.
"I'm trying to improve my web formula," Peter begins, pointing to a cluster of markings on his insane whiteboard, "but I can't get it to dissolve right. I was wondering -"
"Peter," Bruce interrupts, "I'd... I'd love to help, honestly, but I don't really know much about this."
Peter frowns. "I thought your doctoral thesis was on the induced decay of biochemical substances, though," he responds, phrasing it like a question. "This is... y'know, adjacent."
Bruce eyes him, and Tony can nearly feel the confusion radiating off him. "None of my PhDs are in biochemistry, Peter."
Peter swallows audibly, and his face takes on that same slack quality Tony is beginning to recognize. "Of course not," he says. "Sorry. I'll... I'll clean this up."
"Peter -" Bruce begins, but the kid is already striding over to his workspace.
He flips the whiteboard over and pushes it to the corner with the perfect force. It rolls to a halt in exactly the right position, tucked away and out of sight, as Peter grabs the shooter and reassembles it. It takes him seconds, and it takes all Tony has to stop his jaw physically dropping at the speed and surety of the movement. Peter makes a gesture that closes all his holographic documentation, and slings the Spider-Man suit over his shoulder before striding out of the room. Bruce and Tony are both left staring after him, speechless.
"That was weird, right?"
- - -
Clint and Natasha are in the common room when Peter comes in, angling himself towards the kitchen that's behind them. Clint spots him first, and gulps his mouthful of soda down quickly.
"Kid!" he calls, and Peter turns. Clint navigates to the home screen of Netflix. "We're about to watch a movie."
"Do you want to join?" Natasha asks, and he sees her twist round in her seat.
"What are you watching?" Peter asks.
"The Matrix," Clint tells him. "Absolute classic." He selects the profile of Strongest Avenger, and Natasha slaps him lightly as she tries to hide a smile.
"Oh, absolutely!" Peter agrees, sounding excited. "Sure!" He comes bouncing down on the couch between Clint and Natasha from nowhere, smiling widely. "I love this movie," he says. "Ned thinks it's one of the best old films."
"Old films?" Natasha asks, one eyebrow up.
"Yeah, you know. Like... The Matrix, and Alien, Jurassic Park, Fight Club... all those ones."
"Kid, those are not old. I refuse to accept that," Clint says, shaking his head.
"I wasn't even born then," Peter points out. "They're old."
"Are you implying that we're old, Peter? Two superspies who might take offense at that comment?" Natasha asks, voice sweet, and Peter stills slightly like a rabbit in headlights.
"Of course not," he backtracks, and Clint laughs as the light flicks off above them.
Despite their brief argument about what constitutes old, soon all three of them are engrossed in the movie. It's a classic for a reason, and they're all gripped despite how many times they've all watched it: Clint can remember at least three times with the whole team, not counting all the times he's watched it solo or with Natasha, or with Laura and the kids. When they get to the iconic Morpheus scene, Laurence Fishburne holding out his hands, Peter laughs out loud.
"That reminds me," he says, "I saw a really good Star Wars meme this morning." He pulls out his phone, swiping the screen brightness down when he opens it. "I bet Cooper would appreciate it."
Peter starts typing, and Clint looks straight over his head to Natasha. She's staring right at him, something unidentifiable in her eyes.
COOPER? he signs, fingerspelling rapidly.
Natasha shakes her head. DON'T KNOW.
There's no way Peter's talking about his son, Clint reasons. Cooper hasn't met any of the other Avengers; it'd be a freaky coincidence if Peter knew him.
Peter pauses then, fingers stilling above his phone. The light casts his face into harsh blue, illuminating the furrowed ridge of his brow. "I, uh... can't find his number." The kid swallows. "I'll send it some other time," he says quietly, pocketing his phone.
They carry on watching, and Peter doesn't smile for the rest of the movie.
- - -
Sam is walking back from training, slightly out of breath and definitely too sweaty to go out in public, when he enters the kitchen to get a snack. That in itself is normal; he has a little stash above the second-to-last cabinet on the right to keep him going after sparring or working out. What's not normal is that Peter is there, and he's cooking.
Peter's aunt has garnered a reputation around the Tower for her cooking, and Tony's not much better. As far as Sam knows, Peter has only ever had cooking experience with those two, and his portfolio comprises of various burnt meals or blown appliances. Parker Luck, as both Peter and May have mentioned before, seems to affect their cooking most of all; but here, now, standing in front of Sam, is Peter standing in front of a stove and stirring something. Nothing is on fire.
"Hey, Pete," Sam greets, and the kid turns before smiling at him.
"What're you making?"
"Stir fry," Peter says, gesturing to the pan on the stove. An array of brightly colored vegetables is sizzling in oil. Sam recognizes green beans, small kernels of corn, slices of orange carrot and several large strips of chicken, the latter looking more done than the vegetables. A small container of sesame seeds is positioned next to a small bowl of steaming, recently-boiled noodles.
Sam raises an eyebrow. "Nice. Need any help?"
Peter pauses for a second. "Sure. Can you get the soy sauce? I think it's in the second cabinet."
Sam helps Peter for a little while. The process is relatively easy, and Peter directs Sam to add the soy, lime juice, red pepper and honey, and then adds in a sprinkle of ginger. Peter is surprisingly competent considering his previous attempts at cooking, and Sam tries not to comment on it. Eventually, though, curiosity overtakes him.
"So, uh... where'd you learn to cook?" Sam asks.
"It had to happen sometime," Peter defends. "Mostly I just taught myself at ESU. Keeps roommates happy, y'know?"
Sam frowns. Peter's in high school. "Empire State University? You go to summer camp there or something?"
Peter's shoulders tense up suddenly into tight knots. "Yeah," he says, sounding slightly strained, "summer camp."
The chicken lets out a dramatic sizzle, and Peter's attention flicks back to the pan. He adds the bowl of noodles and tips in half of the sesame seeds, and stirs the pan briefly before depositing it onto two plates. When they're done, Peter grabs half the meal and disappears without a word. Sam's left alone in the kitchen with a plate of stir fry and a frown, looking after the kid. He must have said the wrong thing, though he can't think what it was. Steve comes in a few minutes later, just as Sam is resigning himself to digging out a fork and trying it.
"Hey, Sam," he says.
"What's up, Steve?"
"Not much, actually. Have you, uh... seen Peter recently?"
"Yeah, he just left," Sam tells Steve. "About five minutes ago."
Steve looks pensive, crossing his arms. "Hmm. He was... a little strange."
Sam straightens. "I noticed that, too. What happened?"
"He got a phone call from his friend. Ned, I think. He completely missed that they were meant to hang out today," Steve explains.
Sam frowns. "That ain't like him. Why'd he miss it?" Peter talks about Ned to anyone who'll listen, in the same way Sam used to talk about Riley. That kind of bond is obvious, and it's odd Peter just stood him up like that.
"Said he forgot," Steve responds. "He never forgets stuff like that. He's a good kid."
Sam narrows his eyes, staring down at the plate of stir fry. "He cooked this. Properly, by himself."
Steve, thankfully, doesn't run with the joke he could have made about Peter's cooking history. Instead, his eyebrows furrow. "That's strange."
"You think something bad's going on?"
"I don't know yet," Steve says. "We need to keep an eye on him."
"Agreed," Sam acquiesces, then holds out the stir fry. "Want some?"
WELCOME to my favorite chapter!
shit goes down.
also, for those wondering - tony is indeed a Dad to two separate teenage geniuses and still hasn't really twigged it. sshh, don't tell him.
Gradually, Peter's wake-up time gets later and later. He starts skipping movie night, instead heading up to bed strangely early. Tony finds himself missing the kid's lively talk at dinner; he's started eating as fast as possible, then running upstairs to bed. The worst part is that he doesn't know what to do about it.
Three days after the second lab debacle, Tony gets a text.
LITTLE SHIT: Mom said yes. I'll be there tomorrow.
He spends the day preparing, getting FRIDAY to arrange the right people to set up the guest room in the Tower. At three-thirty the next day, Harley Keener arrives in Stark Tower.
Tony is there to meet him at the doors, and he nearly does a double-take. Harley's grown since they last saw each other; now, he's a similar size to Peter. His hair is just as messy as it was, though it looks as if someone (likely his mom) tried to tame it.
"Hey," is all he says, and then Tony is pulling him into a hug.
"Hey, kid," Tony greets. "How are you?"
Harley nods. "Pretty good," he says, looking around. "Man, New York is big."
"Yeah, it is. How's Abbie?"
"She's good," Harley says. "How are you?"
Tony takes a moment to answer.
"Hanging in there," he admits. "Why don't I take you inside?"
Harley follows as Tony walks back into the Tower, shepherding him away from the crowd that's already beginning to form and make wide eyes at some kid talking to Tony Stark! Tony, personally, is used to giving precisely zero shits about public opinion and attention. Harley, however, is still stuck in Rose Hill until he gets off to college next year, and Tony knows he's never come close to the sort of experience that New York holds. It's why, as soon as they're in, Tony guides him straight up to the Avenger floors and away from the glass-windowed foyer. The kid saved Tony's life back in Tennessee; if any non-superhero has a right to be up there, it's him.
The lift opens at the communal floor, weirdly empty. Tony frowns as they step out; he'd expected most of the other Avengers to be here. He'd planned a short but expansive introduction, a quick one that would keep the potentially-awkward, individually-requested explanations of Harley's being here at bay, but it's clear now he won't be able to use it.
"FRI," Tony asks, brow furrowed, "where is everyone?"
"I believe Captain Rogers suggested a mass sparring session. Agents Romanoff and Barton, Mr. Wilson and the Captain are currently in the training rooms. Colonel Rhodes is not currently in the building, and Peter has just woken up and is on his way to training. Doctor Banner is in the kitchen."
Harley squints up at the ceiling. "Who's FRI?" he asks.
"FRIDAY? My AI," Tony says, and frowns lightly. "You know her, don't you?"
"I knew JARVIS," Harley corrects. "What happened to him?"
Tony's breath catches, just slightly, and out of the corner of his eye he sees Harley's gaze snap to him. "He, uh... he died," he admits quietly, and Harley's face falls.
"Damn," he says softly. "I'm sorry, Tony."
"It's okay. It was a while ago."
"Doesn't make it better, though," Harley points out, and Tony swallows.
Just then, he's saved from replying by the appearance of Bruce. The doctor rounds the corner from the kitchen, holding a can of soda in his hand, and Tony takes a step forward.
"Bruce!" he greets.
"Hey, Tony," Bruce responds, looking slightly confused. "Who's this?"
"I'm Harley," Harley says, sticking his hand out. The doctor shakes it. "Cool to meet you."
"Harley helped me in Tennessee," Tony tells Bruce, who nods as realization dawns. Bruce is the only other person who knows about that; Tony had called him up for help with removing the arc reactor after it all blew over, trying to get his professional opinion on how his body's manufactured dependency on the electromagnet could be overcome. Eventually, the whole explanation as to why exactly he wanted to remove it came out.
"Well, it's nice to meet you, Harley," Bruce says, looking back to Harley and giving him a smile. "I'm Bruce."
"I know," Harley says, sounding excited. "Tony sent me a bunch of your research on the long-term effects of the super-soldier serum. Wasn't as cool as the stuff I read on the actual original experiment, but it was still awesome."
Bruce smiles, eyes crinkling at the corners. "Thanks, Harley," he says, slightly awkwardly, and Harley laughs. Bruce crosses his arms slightly, tilting his head and turning to Tony. "So, uh... what...?"
"He's staying with us for a couple months over summer break," Tony explains. "I thought it was probably time to show him some stuff more advanced than a shitty potato gun."
"Excuse you," Harley says, shooting him a look of mock outrage. "That potato gun was pioneering."
"It's only 'cause -"
"Harley!" comes a voice, and all three of them spin round to see Peter standing before them, openmouthed. "Holy shit, I didn't realize you were here! How's your mom?"
Tony stares as Peter strides right up to him, pulling him into a tight hug.
"Uh," says Harley, gaze flicking to stare at Tony.
"You should have told me!" Peter carries on, completely oblivious, beaming. "Just a text, or -"
"Peter," Tony interrupts, trying to keep his calm and not yell what the fuck, "this is Harley."
Peter looks at him oddly. "Yeah, I know."
Bruce shoots Tony a look, and he makes a gesture with his palms facing up. What do you want me to do?
"This is, uh... pretty awkward. I don't think I've met you before, dude," Harley tries, taking a step back from Peter. "Sorry."
Peter frowns, and glances between the two of them, before visibly realizing they're not joking. Horror fills his eyes, and he takes a stumbling step back. "Fuck," he breathes. "Fuck, I... shit, I'm sorry."
Harley looks freaked-out to say the least, eyes darting around the room. "It's, uh... it's okay, man. I'm Harley."
Peter shakes his head. "I can't do this," he mutters, eyes wide.
"Peter -" Bruce begins, but the kid is already backing away like a cornered animal.
"Fuck," he whispers again, and then he darts out of sight.
Harley exhales. "Who was that?"
"That was Peter," Tony says, trying not to let his worry seep into his voice.
He has to do something about this, now. Peter and Harley have never met; unless Peter is developing some weird kind of psychic ability, something very bad is going on.
"Tony," Bruce says softly.
Harley glances between them. "What?"
"Nothing, kid," Tony answers. "C'mon. Let's... let me show you around the lab."
"Okay," Harley says, sounding slightly doubtful.
Tony heads over to the lab, resolving to talk to Peter properly later. He needs to get over himself and talk to the kid, he knows; it's not helping anyone to stay away right now. Someone needs to sort it out. First, though, he intends to spend a little while with Harley; Peter can wait an hour.
He pushes away the voice in the back of his mind screaming that he needs to go now.
When Tony finally wraps up their lab tour, much longer than intended, it's around ten o'clock at night. Harley is yawning, exhausted from the jet lag, and he decides it's probably time to turn in. He shows Harley to the newly-made up guest room, and then walks over to Peter's room across the hall.
"He's asleep, Boss," FRIDAY says softly.
Tony pauses by the door, and sighs. "I'm really fucking this up, FRI. I don't know what to do."
"Just talk to him, Boss. You can't do worse than that," FRIDAY tells him, and damn if she doesn't sound like Pepper in that moment.
Tony thunks his head against the wall, bracing himself with one arm, and takes a breath. "I'm sorry, Pete," he says eventually. "I should be better than this. We're going to talk about it tomorrow, okay?"
There's no response. Tony was expecting it, given his reticence the last time he knocked on Peter's door, but the silence is physically tangible all the same.
"Okay." His voice comes out heavy. "See you tomorrow, kid."
He heads to bed, trying to fall asleep without Pepper with him to ease his worries.
In the morning, Peter does not wake up. By eleven, Tony decides he's had enough, and goes up to Peter's door, rapping loudly.
"Come on, kid, open up. We need to talk," Tony says through the wood. "I know I've been being a dick, but I'm sorry. I'm really sorry, Pete." There's no answer. Tony knocks again. "Peter?"
"I can't hear any movement, Boss," FRIDAY says. Tony hopes he's imagining the hint of worry in her voice.
"Peter," Tony repeats, louder, heart pounding in his ears. "Peter, you need to wake up."
"Fuck it," Tony swears, and busts the door open, kicking the lock.
The door swings open with a bang, hitting the opposite wall with such a loud sound he expects the kid to bolt upright. He just stays motionless, though, a crumpled pile on top of his sheets. His face is lifeless, slack, blank, and only the slow rise and fall of his chest tells Tony the kid is even alive.
"Peter?" Tony breathes. His chest feels tight as he rushes over to Peter's bed, grabbing his shoulders. "Pete! Shit, fuck, shit -" He breaks off, heart hammering as he takes a stumbling step backwards and runs his hands through his hair. "FRIDAY, get Bruce in here right fucking now."
"He's on his way. Stay calm, Boss," FRIDAY reassures, but Tony is panicking now.
"Holy fuck," he stammers, half to FRIDAY and half to the unconscious Peter. "How did I miss this? How -"
"Tony?" comes a voice, and Tony whirls to see Bruce striding in. "FRIDAY called me, I - what's going on?"
"He won't wake up," Tony says, trying to keep his voice level. By the change in Bruce's expression, he figures he doesn't do a great job.
"Just keep breathing, Tony, okay?" Bruce placates, moving over to Peter.
Tony wants to scream that Bruce shouldn't be reassuring Tony; nothing's even happening to him, he's just being over-dramatic. It's Peter that needs his help, Peter that won't wake up -
"FRIDAY, please could you monitor his heart rate?" At her confirmation, Bruce turns to Peter. "Peter, can you hear me?" he asks gently.
"No change, Dr. Banner."
Bruce bites his lip, then claps loudly in a shock that sends Tony's already-racing heart sprinting off the edge of the cliff of his panic.
"Shit," Bruce mutters. "I don't... I don't know what to do."
"You're all he has," Tony chokes out, throat tight. "You're... you have to do something."
Bruce looks at him with something unidentifiable in his eyes, then moves to the foot of Peter's bed. "Help me carry him. We can monitor him in the medbay."
Tony nods. "Fine. Okay. Bruce -"
"Not now, Tony. Just concentrate on Peter, and keep breathing," Bruce cuts him off, though there's no malice in his tone. It's clear Bruce has slipped into his focus zone, so Tony shuts up and goes over near Peter's head.
"One," Tony says. "Two."
"Three," Bruce completes, and they both lift Peter in unison. He's terrifyingly light; Tony knows he's been the same featherlight weight since the spider bite, but it still doesn't help his nerves to feel as if the kid is light enough to float away in his arms.
Tony helps Bruce carry Peter to the medbay in a haze. He still doesn't wake up, despite the near-fall they have while trying to maneuver him through the medbay doors. When they get inside, Bruce puts all the equipment he can on to monitor Peter; it's a mirror image of the aftermath of the fight days ago. After the heart monitor reads steady and Bruce records the pulse oximeter's readings, he pronounces Peter comatose. Tony tries and fails to stave off his panic, and manages to dissociate entirely through Bruce telling him what their next moves can be. Eventually, he comes back to awareness to Bruce's steady, worried gaze in front of him.
"Hey, Tony," he says softly. "Are you back?"
"Shit," Tony murmurs, looking around. "Sorry. I didn't mean to -"
"It's okay," Bruce tells him. "Are you alright to stay with Peter? I'm going to let the others know."
Tony nods, getting to his feet (when did he sit down?). "Yeah. That's okay."
Bruce purses his lips slightly. "Okay, Tony. I'll be back soon."
"Thank you, Bruce," Tony says, mouth dry.
Bruce smiles slightly. "It's okay."
He leaves after that, and Tony's alone with Peter and the steadily-beating heart monitor. Its calm rhythm is a sharp contrast to Tony's heart, thumping whenever he glances at Peter's still form for too long.
Truth be told, Tony thought he had it all figured out. Logically, the events of the Snap followed on from each other; if he hadn't got involved, Peter wouldn't have died lightyears from home on Titan. Looking at it objectively, Tony acting like Peter's dad led to him getting hurt; at the time, it had seemed irreversibly fatal. The next step to keep him safe was, clearly, to stay away. He's been doing just that, though, and now Peter is hurt badly again without Tony's interference. Hell, if Tony had been there for him it might have been better; he could have had someone to talk to about this. Staying away is just as harmful as pretending to be Peter's parent, and Tony can't figure out which one is worse.
The kid isn't his. Biologically, they have no connection. Still, though, there's a tug in his chest every time he thinks about Peter getting hurt; if Pepper were here, she'd tell him it's his paternal instinct kicking in. There's no denying it; Tony can't keep up the facade any more. He'd admit now that he does consider Peter a pseudo-son if it meant that he would wake up, but Peter would just stay motionless. Tony can't help him, and it's just as bad as the pain he felt on Titan.
Tony sighs, and lets his head hang lower. "Please, kid," he mutters. "I need you to wake up."
The door opens, and Tony's head jerks up as his train of thought dissipates. The Avengers are all assembled: Natasha and Clint stand beside Steve and Sam, Bruce in front of them like a teacher who's lost control over his class. He spreads his hands, just slightly.
"Harley stayed in the lab, but... they all insisted on coming back with me," Bruce says, sounding sheepish.
"Sorry-not-sorry," Clint quips.
"How is he?" asks Natasha. Her voice is quiet.
Tony glances down. "Asleep."
Sam asks, "What happened?"
"I don't know," Tony says, and Bruce nods his assent. "I -"
His pocket vibrates then, insistent, and Tony recognizes the staccato pattern as Pepper's designated vibration. At his look, Bruce nods. "Go. He'll be okay for now."
Okay equals stable equals not good, Tony translates in his mind, swallowing the brief swell of panic that rises in his throat like vomit. "I'll be right back."
Bruce nods, and Tony digs his phone out of his pocket as he pushes past Steve to get out. PEP, reads the caller ID. Tony's eyes go wide.
"Shit," he breathes. It hits him like a brick; he hasn't contacted May about Peter yet.
Tony resolves to call her as soon as he can to tell her what's happening, and presses Accept on Pepper's call, lifting the phone to his ear.
"Hey, Pep," he says, and even he can hear the lost tone in his voice.
Pepper doesn't seem to notice, though. "Tony! Tony, I have something important to tell you," she babbles excitedly, in that way he knows she does when she's trying to tamp down some of her excitement. "So I've been feeling nauseous this trip, and then I was due but I missed it -" Tony scrunches his brow slightly, listening to her talk, half-distracted with thoughts of Peter. "- and I talked to May and she gave me advice, and then -"
"What's going on?" Tony asks.
There's a beat of silence before she says, pride audible in her tone, "I'm pregnant, Tony."
It takes a moment for the words to sink in, and then Tony just gapes at the phone. Pepper's pregnant. He's going to be a real father, responsible for a whole life. It takes him a second to process, and he realizes he's standing with his mouth wide open.
"Pep, that's... wow."
"Tony, I - I love you," she tells him, voice warm with happiness. "And I know it can wait until we get back, but... do you remember my uncle? The crazy one? Morgan?"
"I was thinking, though obviously it's way too early to decide, but... it's a nice name, don't you think?"
Tony's mouth is dry. He realizes at some point during the conversation he's turned to face the medbay, the glass partition in the wall giving him a clear view of Peter comatose in the bed. There's a heavy expression on Bruce's face; as Tony watches, Natasha puts a hand on his shoulder.
"Tony? Are you okay?"
"I'm going to have to call you back, Pepper," Tony says, almost robotically. A dial tone fills his ear, and he looks down to see his thumb on the icon to hang up. It hits him like lightning, fast and shocking; he can't think about a new kid when his own is in trouble. He looks back up at the window, and pushes the door open.
Everyone focuses straight on him when he enters, and the sudden attention nearly throws him. He takes a breath, though, and steadies himself.
"Pepper's pregnant," Tony says blankly.
"Tony, that's -"
"Pepper's pregnant, and she just suggested the name Morgan," Tony continues. "Morgan is the person Peter was asking about six days ago."
Steve frowns, and everyone seems unsure of what to say. "Tony, what -?"
Tony cuts him off. He needs to say his piece, get it out in the open and then fall apart. He has to keep going. "He didn't realize I was there when he was asking FRIDAY, and then he erased her logs using a security code nobody on the planet knows except me. I've been walking in on him building new components for his suit that don't make sense, trying to - to replicate something, almost, and attempting to create a web formula with techniques that haven't been discovered yet."
He's expecting another round of confusion, but lightning sparks between Natasha's eyes and she gets it. She gets what Tony's trying to say, that Peter knows what he shouldn't and is acting so unlike himself it's not possible. "That's what he was talking about," she murmurs.
"What?" someone asks.
"He was talking about his regular mask when we went on patrol, and when I asked him about it he lied. Tried to deflect," Natasha says, and Tony may not have a spider-sense like Peter does but even his internal alarm bells are ringing, now.
"Are you sure?" Steve questions, and Natasha focuses her laserlike gaze on him.
"I know a liar when I see one, Steve. He must have been talking about the mask he was trying to recreate."
Bruce mutters something inaudible and glances over to Peter, and Steve's frown grows deeper. Tony takes in a breath, his vision clearing. His focus is returning now that he's finding more pieces of the puzzle, and he knows his own moods well enough at this point to recognize he's entering hyperfocus.
"Nat and I watched the Matrix on Tuesday," Clint begins, and Tony's gaze moves to him. "Peter laughs at a scene, and then he goes Cooper would love this, or something -"
"I saw a really good Star Wars meme earlier," Natasha recites, unprompted. "I bet Cooper would appreciate it."
Clint blinks. "Wow, okay. Way to take the spotlight from me," he says, but the joke falls flat and his face slips back into seriousness. "But... he tried to send it to Cooper. And I know it's probably not my Cooper, but... he likes Star Wars too. It sounds really dumb, but it just... it freaked me out," Clint finishes.
"Well, if we're all snitching," Steve begins, Tony's face hardening subconsciously on hearing his voice, "I overheard Peter's friend call him."
"Ned?" Tony asks, and Steve nods.
"Apparently they were meant to hang out together, but Peter forgot."
Tony shakes his head. "That kid never misses anything with Ned. Or MJ."
Natasha frowns. "That isn't like him."
"His memory was enhanced with the bite," Bruce contributes. "Considering his personality, too, I find it hard to believe he forgot. He was... disoriented on Saturday, too, just before he left the medbay."
"How?" Sam asks.
"When he woke up, he was confused," Bruce begins, and Tony and Steve both nod. Tony quickly stops, and tells himself it's not petty. "After he woke up fully, he still didn't know the date. He was arguing with FRIDAY, and when she told him the year, he... I think he panicked, and shut down slightly."
"Jesus," Tony mutters. He should have paid more attention to the year thing, instead of indulging himself and staying away like a five-year-old with a grudge.
"He also seemed to think I had an eighth PhD in biochemistry," Bruce says, tone slightly thoughtful.
"Walked in on him making stir fry," Sam says suddenly, making everyone turn to him. Tony feels like he's in some crappy detective thriller where the case has already been solved, but he's still struggling to get the solution himself. "And by making, I mean successfully cooking. No fire, no burning, and it tasted pretty damn good."
"When the hell did he learn to cook?" Clint asks, astonished. "I still remember last time."
Tony does, too, though his new kitchen doesn't.
"ESU, apparently," Sam responds. "He said it pleased his roommates. Tried to pass it off as summer school."
"He's never been to ESU," Tony says, slightly numbly.
"If I may," FRIDAY begins, making everyone startle and look up, "I might have some more evidence of strange behavior. I am missing several log recordings. Boss, you mentioned Peter erasing one a few days ago, so I compared my current logs with the emergency backup footage. I found several discrepancies."
Holy shit. Tony had forgotten he installed that failsafe, a way to record everything FRIDAY sees in a place only accessible to her for emergency use. He's so damn proud of her for remembering, and using it without his order.
"Why didn't you check earlier?" Steve asks.
Tony is about to round on him when FRIDAY responds, coolly, "I did not realize I was missing specific log files until Boss mentioned it and I searched the footage, Captain Rogers."
"What did you find?" Natasha questions.
"I can play the recovered files," FRIDAY suggests, and Tony nods.
sorry for the slightly slower chapter - but the avengers are all caught up to speed now! friday has some interesting things to show everyone next chapter. ;) the question several of you have been asking will be answered!
also, thank you all for your comments! i know i keep repeating this, haha, but it honestly makes me so incredibly happy to hear what you guys think. i love you all!
(last thing i promise) finally, i think there's been a little bit of confusion with the posting schedule so i thought i'd clear it up real quick! chapters are every three days (so the next one is on the 20th) up until the final update which will be a day early. this is because i'm going to see endgame on the 26th, and depending on how that pans out i could possibly struggle to conjure up the ability to post chapter 10 after watching it!
anyway, that's all from me! hope you enjoyed the chapter - and keep being awesome, you guys. <3
The TV screen at the other end of the room blinks to life, and the Avengers turn to face it as a view of the kitchen opens up before them.
"Shit, I'm so late," Peter mutters, searching through the cabinet drawers. It's a different view, but Tony still recognizes the first day after the medbay. It's the time he mentioned Morgan, the incident that set everything sliding down the too-slippery slope to this still medbay room and the rapidly-darkening faces of the assembled Avengers.
Tony finds himself not paying attention to the video, instead zoning out to look at the present Peter. The kid's expression hasn't changed from its static blankness. He wishes Peter would wake up, if only so Tony could apologize and say how damn sorry he is. He'd stay awake, after that, and Tony could do better. His legs grow leaden, his heart weighing him down as Peter's confused voice rings out from the screen. Absentmindedly, he sits in the chair beside Peter's bed, and he reaches out to touch the kid's hair. It's a gesture he'd started doing almost ironically, before Titan, that had nearly morphed into something more heartfelt before Tony cut ties with all the familiarity. Peter's curls are soft under his hands, and he strokes the kid's hair gently as his recorded self erases FRIDAY's memory. The video cuts out. Natasha mutters something under her breath in Russian.
"I have four more relevant files," FRIDAY says, voice slightly subdued.
Tony glances around the room to see everyone still looking intently at the TV screen; it doesn't seem like they want to stop, now everything's being flung out into the open and they're finding out what actually happened. "Play them, FRI," he tells her.
The first of the four is short. It opens on Peter in the common room. A small notification pops up in the top corner of the screen, reading TUESDAY 11:26.
"That's... what, half an hour after we watched the Matrix?" Clint asks.
Natasha nods, eyes fixed intently on the screen. Her brow is furrowed.
"Okay, I think I got it," Peter says to himself. He's fiddling with his phone, entering in a string of digits Tony doesn't recognize. "This has gotta be it. C'mon, Coop."
He raises the phone to his ear, and in the present FRIDAY informs them all, "Enhancing audio."
It's like a switch is flipped; suddenly, they can hear what Peter's hearing through the cellphone. It rings a few times before a child's voice picks up.
"Hello?" they ask, and Clint goes white.
"What the fuck?"
Peter, on the screen, looks equally stunned. The color slowly drains from his face.
"Who is this?" the boy asks. "Lila, I told you to stop prank calling me! I'm telling Mom."
Peter jerks, then, and nearly throws the phone across the room in his haste to hang up. "Shit," he mutters. "Shit, fuck."
"Are you alright, Peter?" FRIDAY's voice rings out, the slightly-tinny undertone telling them it's her past, recorded self speaking.
"No," Peter mumbles. "No. I... shit. FRIDAY, erase logs -"
The screen cuts out.
Tony sags slightly. "Who was that?"
The question is mainly addressed at Clint, who's still staring like he's seen a ghost, but it's Natasha who answers. "That was Cooper."
"Wait, Cooper?" Sam asks, frowning. "Cooper Barton Cooper?"
Natasha nods. "Yes."
"How do they know each other?" Clint asks, sounding utterly shellshocked. "They've never met. I would know. I would know, right? How - how is that possible?"
Tony shakes his head. "I don't know."
"Fuck," Clint breathes, exhaling slightly. "This is getting weird. He looked so shocked."
"The question is," Bruce says, "what was he expecting?"
"Not a child," Steve points out. "Clearly."
"Play the next one, FRIDAY," Clint says, shaken look still on his face.
"Commencing second playback."
This video is timestamped as Wednesday, the displayed time surprisingly early in contrast to Peter's recent waking times. It's showing the view from FRIDAY's corridor camera, just outside the rooms. Peter's walking up and down with a deep frown on his face, checking each room systematically. Tony recognizes the specific area as the guest corridor; aside from a few, infrequent visits from Wakanda and the UN, nobody has ever stayed there.
"FRIDAY," on-screen Peter asks, "where's May's room? I can't find it. Too early," he chuckles slightly, seemingly trying to lighten the question.
Past-FRIDAY's voice is polite, though slightly concerned. With each of these logs, Tony is starting to realize just how fully-formed a person she's becoming. "I'm sorry, Peter. I don't understand."
"You know, May's room? She came to live here... what, three months ago? Am I on the wrong floor?"
"May Parker does not live in the Tower," FRIDAY tells him.
Peter's face drops slightly, that same slackening Tony has seen so frequently over the past few days. "What?"
"Current residents of the Tower include -"
"I've done it again," Peter says suddenly, cutting FRIDAY off. "Shit."
"Peter, would you like me to -"
"Is she still in Queens? She's safe, right?" Peter asks, sounding slightly anxious.
FRIDAY pauses for a second. "Ms. Parker is currently in Switzerland with Ms. Potts. As far as I can confirm, both are unharmed."
Peter exhales, seeming to take solace in the fact. It only lasts a second before he's muttering the wipe command again, and the screen goes dark once more. Tony can see all their reflections in the black glass, several different shades of haggard, staring in shock.
"Shit, Pete," he murmurs, looking at the comatose kid. Subconsciously, he smooths Peter's hair down slightly. "Why didn't you say something?"
Natasha sits then; the movement is surprisingly loud, heavy, even, and everyone turns to look at her. She fiddles with the edge of her sleeve. "Play the next one," she says bluntly.
Tony pretends not to notice Clint trying to subtly sign OK to her; he's not sure he can deal with much more emotion at the moment.
This log is from Thursday, the day Harley texted Tony to confirm his mom was okay with him coming to visit. Idly Tony wonders if Harley's doing alright currently; he's alone in the Tower with all of them holed up here. He doesn't have time to check in with him via FRIDAY, though, before the action starts happening.
"Okay, Peter. You've done this a million times before. Just like lab." Peter's voice rings out over the camera view of Tony's own lab; how the kid got in there, he doesn't know. His current permission is only supposed to let him in while Tony's there.
"Peter used an override code to gain access to the lab without you present," present-FRIDAY supplies.
"Of course he did," Tony mutters.
"Web formula three point one, take two," Peter murmurs from the screen, subvocalizing as he sketches out the words on his giant whiteboard. It's cleaner than the last time Tony saw it, without the insane scribbles covering every inch; he has a feeling it's not going to stay that way, though.
Tony frowns, then, as the numbering sinks in. He'd helped Peter with the last revision of his formula, he remembers, and it definitely wasn't this high. "FRI, what's the latest formula you have us down as working on?"
"One point four," FRIDAY says. Tony bites his lip.
"You've done this before," Peter's mumbling. "You just have to remember last time." He starts writing on the whiteboard, sketching out a neat organic formula. The perfect hexagonal shapes stick in Tony's mind as Peter continues, writing a few chemical equations before rubbing them out and altering them. Eventually, he must strike intellectual gold because he lets out a slight whoop and underlines the latest formula twice. "Yes!"
Screen-Peter turns round, a grin on his face, looking round his shoulder for something they can't see before his smile drops slightly. Tony has a feeling he's looking for someone, who's not there.
"Okay," he says. "Next up, suit."
Peter pushes the whiteboard away and it goes rolling towards the other end of the lab. He brings down the blueprints he was working on when Tony saw him in one fluid gesture, a motion FRIDAY has been taught to recognize from Tony. It's eerie seeing someone else copy the movement so exactly. Peter tinkers for a few minutes, the Avengers watching transfixed as he deftly detaches and disassembles and deconstructs parts of the suit. Others, he reconstructs with flawless speed in ways Tony is struggling to comprehend. The audio is murky at this point; it's just vague mumbling, Peter talking to himself as he works. Just before the log draws to an end, the audio becomes clearer again.
"That's not right," Peter mutters. "Shit, I... the release went here, right?" he asks to nobody, leaning forward to circle a specific section of his new design with his finger. "Dad?"
Tony's heart clenches. Peter turns round. An expression crossed between crestfallen and confused passes over his face as he looks at the lab, then looks down. "FRIDAY, I'm... I have to erase you. I'm sorry."
The screen goes black for a third time, and Tony suppresses a curse. Clint bites his lip slightly, and Steve shifts. Sam shakes his head. Natasha stays still, rigidly, unnaturally so. There's a tiny exhale of air from Bruce. FRIDAY carries on without a word.
The fourth and final log is by far the worst. From the timestamp, it's clear it's straight after Peter met Harley, the last time Tony saw him awake. The location tag tells them it's from Peter's bedroom; it means there's no video, in accordance with his stance on privacy. FRIDAY's usually only meant to record room audio in the event of an emergency, but it's clear from the red text in the corner of the screen that she decided to initiate emergency recording. When Peter's voice starts filtering through the room, her reasoning is clear.
"- talk about it. Please... don't call anyone. Just until I finish. Please." His voice is stuttering, broken, raw; his tears are audible. Even after his homecoming, even after the goddamn snap, Tony has never heard the kid sound this defeated.
"Okay, Peter," past-FRIDAY acquiesces, a hint of worry ringing through her tone.
Peter hesitates for a second, a tiny hitch in his breath coming through the room's speakers. "I don't know what to do, FRI. The dreams, they... feel so real. It's like... is this true, or is that true? Because it's... it's so hard. It's really hard. I... can't decide which one is the right one, and... I don't know what I'll do if this is it. I... I haven't met Cooper yet, you know, and... I keep forgetting Ned and Harley and me don't work at SI anymore. Harley, he... Jesus, he doesn't know who I am."
Tony and Clint stiffen at the same time, and something broken flits across Natasha's face. Her eyes, usually carefully composed, are vulnerable; it's clear the tone of Peter's voice is something she can emphasize strongly with.
"And... fuck, and Morgan," Peter continues. Tony represses a curse, instead tightening his right fist to avoid hurting the kid with his left. "I really, really miss her, you know? She was eleven. She was a proper person. She loved physics. She kept saying she wanted to go to space, and Dad hated it, but... it was her dream. I loved her so much, and now she just... doesn't exist. Unless she does, and that's real, and... and then why do I have to keep coming back to this? It's so different, and I -" Peter breaks off, a sob coming through the speakers. "I don't know if I can keep living it. I just want to go back to sleep and see them again."
"Fuck, kid," Tony whispers. The pieces are slowly coming together, far too slowly for his liking; he should have figured out what was happening with his kid so much earlier.
"I keep saying Dad," Peter says brokenly. Tony's heart thumps. "I know it's a different him, but I stopped calling him Mr. Stark years ago. It feels so wrong. I can't remember the right formula, either, the one we developed three weeks ago, but I keep - fuck. I keep forgetting what's real, or... what's here, at least, and what... who's different."
Peter just breathes for a few seconds, the sound ragged through the speakers. Tony's heart aches. There's no room for doubt now; Peter was calling him Dad. Every time Tony rebutted him, it was Howard all over again. He's let his kid down so, so badly, and it hurts like nothing else he's ever felt. On Titan, Peter died because of Thanos; now, it's Tony's fault. Peter's still here, but he's lost him all the same and this time there's no intergalactic madman to blame.
"I don't know what to do," Peter whispers.
Past-FRIDAY's voice is gentle. "Do you want me to call Boss, Peter?"
There's a sharp rustle, like the kid's just sat bolt upright. "No! No," he says hurriedly, and Tony's chest burns at the words. "No. I can't... I can't see him right now." He hesitates, and there's a beat of silence. "I'm sorry, FRI. I'm so sorry."
"For what, Peter?"
He hesitates. "It... feels so wrong. I shouldn't be doing it, I know, and Dad would be so mad, but... I don't want anyone else to know. And you have to tell Da - Mr. Stark. FRI..."
"Are you recording?"
"The Emergency Recording Protocol has been activated, yes."
A heavy sigh. Then, I'm sorry, so quiet the apology is barely audible. "Erase logs since you started the Protocol," he says, louder, sounding disgusted.
"Peter, I must advise -"
"Secondary override alpha one-one-three."
The screen goes black. Nobody speaks for a few seconds, Peter's broken voice hanging in the air. Tony lets out an unsteady breath.
"So," Clint says, shaken, "he's been dreaming? Of us?"
Natasha's voice is grim. She's staring at Peter. "It would seem so."
(ok forewarning for the very first part of this i promise i'm not anti-steve i just
am small and angery)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Holy shit," Sam says, slightly hoarsely. "That's one intense dream, then."
"That's why he was so weird with Harley," Tony murmurs. "Because he knew him in this freaky dream. How is that possible?"
The realization hits him like a lightning bolt, then. The goddamn sorcerer. He hit Peter, and they all thought he'd got away with it unscathed. They didn't work out he'd been hit with so much worse than a physical injury.
"Fuck," Tony breathes. "That prick. God, I... shit. We should have seen this earlier."
Bruce's expressions says all he needs to know; the scientist has worked it out, too. "We didn't know this was possible, Tony. Nobody's to blame here except the guy that did this in the first place."
Tony just shuts his eyes. He knows Bruce is right, logically, but he can't stop the part of his brain that's screaming at his sheer stupidity.
"How do we fix this?" Steve asks. His voice is low. It's the final straw.
Tony jumps up. "You know what, Captain Star-Spangled Asshole?" he yells, and the mood shifts like quicksilver.
"No. You shut up now, Rogers. There's no easy, magical fucking fix we can find for this. You just don't get it, do you? You tried to fix the Accords, and look how that fucking went! It always, always, goes wrong, but not for you, right? You always get out fucking unscathed because you're Captain Perfect, right?"
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Tony is aware that this is neither the time or place for this. But, for whatever reason unbeknownst to him, the floodgates have opened and now he can't stop.
"So how do you think we fix this, huh? Maybe we should go ask Bucky? Or do you have the answer in that magical American brain of yours? Do you happen to know an expert in just this topic, huh? Neuro-atypical, magical dreams? Because I sure as hell -"
"Tony?" Natasha asks quietly.
"I do," he murmurs, his own voice sounding slightly distant. "I do know an expert."
"Strange," Bruce finishes, hope coloring his voice as realization dawns. "He'll know what's happening."
"Who?" Sam asks, frowning.
"Stephen Strange. Wizard guy. Sarcastic as hell - he's a sorcerer," Tony says.
Natasha asks, "Do you have his number?"
"He told me he didn't have a phone, and I never decided if that was a joke or not, but... we'll go to him."
A beat passes.
"What are we waiting for?" Sam asks.
Tony flings his arms out, and a second later an Iron Man gauntlet comes careening towards him and flies onto his arm with a jolt and a thunk. "Nothing. Wilson, you've got wings. You're with me. Let's go."
Ten minutes and a hurried flight later, Tony and Sam are standing outside the Sanctum Sanctorum.
Tony steps up, and his gauntlet retracts before he thumps his fist on the door. "Strange!" he hollers. "Strange, I know you're in there, and I need your help!"
He holds his breath for a second, pressure building in his chest before there's a click and the heavy door swings wide open. The darkness around Strange retracts like a camera lens focusing, the Sanctum and its contents within brightening as they look, and his scarlet cloak settles around him perfectly as he stares at them with lowered brows.
"Stark," he greets. "What's happening?"
"Peter's in trouble. The kid, I mean. Spider-Man. He's in trouble," Tony rambles.
"Wait, he knows?" Sam asks, half-hissing the words under his breath. "About the kid?"
"We've all worked together before," Tony mutters back, and tries to push away the memories that come with thinking about it.
I don't feel so good.
He shakes himself back to the present, and Strange narrows his eyes. "What kind of trouble?"
"You see the news last week?" Sam asks, and a wave of gratefulness washes over Tony. His heart is hammering too fast to explain properly.
"I did," says Strange. "I picked the sorcerer up after you detained him, in fact."
"That was you," Sam murmurs, raising an eyebrow. "That makes more sense."
"Did he get hurt?" Strange interrupts, bringing them back to the more urgent topic.
"We didn't think so," Sam begins, "but he's been behaving weird."
"He's been dreaming. Bad," Tony says. His voice is shaky. He doesn't know why, but it feels horrifyingly, suddenly similar to how he felt after New York.
How did you get out of the wormhole?
I don't feel so good.
"Okay, Tony," Strange is saying, and suddenly he's come closer to Tony and the Sanctum door is swinging shut. Tony blinks. "Let's go."
"Okay," Tony says. "Okay."
Sparks fly, and suddenly a whirling disc of orange light opens up like an iris in front of them. Tony can see the Tower corridor clearly through it, the one that he knows runs next to the medbay. Strange lowers his hands, and Tony steps through without hesitation. The doctor follows, and then Sam stumbles out as the portal closes behind them and clinical light shines on them. The Sanctum is long gone.
"The hell was that?" Sam gasps, disoriented.
"Sling ring," Strange says. "It'll wear off. Where's Peter?"
"Through here," Tony answers, already striding over to the door to the medbay. He pushes it open and the Avengers look up as one. Natasha stands straight upright as soon as he enters.
"What happened?" she asks.
Strange steps through behind Tony, steps clicking as his cloak wafts behind him. Sam is right beside the doctor. Tony jerks his head to the side, shrugging slightly.
"He's here," he says.
Strange walks over to Peter's beside and Steve and Bruce part seamlessly to let him through. Tony doesn't manage to get closer, instead relegated to the second row of people crowding his kid's bed. As he watches, heart pounding, Strange begins drawing flowing symbols in the air. His hand arcs and light shoots out from behind it, curving into fractals that spiral out in fragments across Peter's body. Orange light bathes the room as the design grows more complex, delicate patterns emerging between bold strokes as Strange cuts through the air flawlessly. He makes a snapping motion and the light flashes, becoming near-solid before them. A tiny section of the bottom of the pattern glows yellow, and another patch seems to die off and fade. Strange frowns slightly.
"Ah?" Tony repeats. "What does that mean? Ah?"
"I... have found the problem," Strange says, and his voice holds such an obviously heavy tone that Tony's mouth goes dry. "Peter has, indeed, been affected by a spell."
"Can you fix it?" Bruce asks.
Instead of answering, Strange carries on. The room is silent as he talks, everyone focused on his words. "The spell seems to be a dream charm. It is itself reversible, but... I'm concerned about some aspects. From what I can see, it has limited ability to draw likely components of the future inside the dream. From Peter's perspective, he has likely been living another life while dreaming, most probably multiple years into the future. So, to answer your question, Dr. Banner, I could indeed fix it and remove Peter from the dream. However, I cannot predict the psychological effects of such a removal."
Tony can't speak. His kid hasn't just been dreaming of another life; he's been dreaming of the future.
How many years has he dreamed of?
"You have to bring him back out," Clint says, quietly. "I... when Loki used the stone on me, I didn't realize what I was doing. I was living in a fantasy, but... it wasn't real. I had to get out eventually. We have to get Peter out, too."
Natasha nods, but her eyes are lined with old pain. "I agree."
"He might be... disoriented," Strange warns. "Please be careful of your own reactions. It will be easier on him if you all remain calm."
Calm. Calm. For now, at least, Tony needs to calm his racing heartbeat even if just to help Peter. He can do that.
"I'm bringing him out now," Strange murmurs, and then he's drawing a second, concentric pattern that overlaps the still-hovering first. Sparks fly as he pushes the designs together and makes a minimizing motion, before they shrink down to a tiny size and Strange pushes the air towards Peter. For a second, nothing happens; then, there's a groan. From Peter.
He rolls over slightly, screwing his eyes shut as he blinks a few times. Then, his cheeks go pale. He stares, blinks again, and his breath hitches.
"No. No, no, no, I don't - I don't want to be back, no -" Peter rambles, words slurring together desperately as his eyes widen.
"It's alright, Peter," Strange says gently. "It's over."
Peter presses balled fists against his ears, panic racing through his expression. "No," he cries. "Please, put me back."
Tony's heart shatters, then, and he crouches down to Peter's level. He's about to speak when Peter notices, and glances at him; the kid takes one look and screws his eyes shut, letting out a sob. "No, it's not fair -"
"Pete," Tony says softly, and Peter goes silent. "Peter, it's okay."
Peter looks at him, then, and Tony can see raw pain in his eyes. They look far older than they should. "It's not," he whispers.
"I want to go back," Peter says. "I want to go back. I... everything was right."
"It was a dream, Pete," Tony tells him. He's trying to keep his voice steady, but, fuck, it's hard when Peter is teetering on the edge of breaking completely. Tony's done that before; he'll be damned if he lets his kid shatter too. "It wasn't real."
"I know," Peter sobs, "but why can't I stay there?"
"Because this is real, Pete," Tony tells him, and he doesn't know where the words are coming from but suddenly he knows exactly how to communicate Peter's importance to him. "This is real. This. Us. And..." He breaks off, choking up slightly. Fuck. "We need you here."
Peter's expression calms, just slightly, and he's staring at Tony like the key to the universe lies with him.
"I need you here," Tony adds.
"Really?" Peter whispers.
"Really, kid," Tony says, voice cracking on the second half of the sentence.
"Everything was right there."
"We can make it right here," Tony tells him. "We can."
It's only then, when a beat of silence and a flicker of belief passes between them, that Tony realizes the other Avengers have at some point filtered out of the room. It's just him and Peter now, on the same level, and Peter is hanging on to Tony's words like a lifeline.
"Kid," Tony begins, and hesitates. "Kid, I'm... I'm so sorry."
"Mr. Stark -"
"No, Pete. This is all my fault. I'm so sorry," Tony admits. "After you... on Titan, you died, and I couldn't deal with it. I thought that the moment you started... the moment I started acting like a damn parent, you died. And... I couldn't deal with that."
"I'm sorry," Peter whispers.
Tony shakes his head. "None of this is your fault, okay, kid? It's me, being... fucking shitty about communication. Letting my daddy issues get in the way. Truth is, if I... had a son, I would be damn proud if he turned out anything like you did. I'm sorry I didn't see this earlier."
"You don't have to -"
"I don't have to do anything I don't want to do, Pete. This isn't something I have to do. I... this is real, kid, I promise you. This is what I think of you. You're a genius and you're a damn hero, but more importantly you're Peter Parker. You rejected my offer to be famous because you wanted to carry on giving directions to random people and helping cats down from trees. I took away your suit and you still managed to save the day. Kid, you... you mean so damn much to me. I'm so, so sorry."
Peter lets out a small sob, and reaches his arms out. Tony leans forward and hugs him tightly in return. Peter's grip is strong and grounding around him, a tangible pressure that Tony's grateful for.
"I was so scared," Peter mumbles into Tony's shoulder. "I'm - I'm so sorry I didn't tell you. I... I just..."
"You were scared I'd reject you," Tony finishes softly, and Peter lets out a fresh sob as he nods, hugging Tony tighter. "It's okay, kiddo. I'm not going anywhere."
After a long moment, they detach. A brief moment passes, Peter's breathing slowing slightly, and Tony opens his mouth to speak.
"I saw you. Working on your suit," he says, and Peter draws back slightly. There's a wary look in his eyes, like he's ready to initiate a fight-or-flight response. Quickly, Tony recovers. "I didn't mean... I just wanted to say that, you know, we could... always carry on improving it together. And your new formula. And... I can encourage May to live here, if that's what you want."
Peter's face is open and shocked for a second, before a smile breaks across his face like warm sunlight. "I'd like that, Dad," he replies.
Peter freezes. "I... I didn't -"
Tony reaches forward, and pulls him into another hug. "Then it's settled," he says, passing over the moment. Peter relaxes into the embrace, arms squeezing Tony tightly back. "Whatever you want, kiddo, we'll do."
everything revealed! i hope it lived up to your guys' expectations - only one chapter (more like an epilogue) to go. thank you guys so much for sticking with me this far! <33
happy (?) endgame day everyone! (at least in the uk lol)
i hope everyone gets to see it soon, and if you've already seen it then please don't put any spoilers in the comments - both for me and for others! (i'm sure i don't have to remind you guys because everyone reading this is great and non-spoilery, but just to cover it anyway).
as a quick psa, if you're avoiding endgame spoilers DO NOT scroll through any new marvel fics on ao3. the tags are spoiler-filled, and so are the summaries - i made this slightly dumb mistake and i've now had a pretty big chunk of the film spoiled for me. don't let it happen to you! <3
anyway, without further ado, let's get into the final chapter!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
A few days (and a couple of emotional phone calls to Pepper and May for each of them) after Peter's released from the medbay, awake and trying to recover, he comes up to Tony in the middle of their lab session. Harley's out in New York doing something Tony probably doesn't want to know about, and Pepper and May are due to come back in one day.
"Can we talk?" he asks, and Tony puts down the soldering iron he's working with.
"Sure, kid," he responds, and flicks off the iron's switch.
They sit at the other end of the lab, backs against the wall and on the floor. Peter waits for a few beats, staring at Dum-E across the room, before he starts to speak.
"I spent years in that dream," he begins. Tony is silent; it's the first time Peter has been remotely willing to open up about his dreamworld. "I wanted to stay in New York after I graduated Midtown, with you, so I went to ESU. And... you know Clint's son? Cooper? We met through the mentoring scheme. I mentored him in second year. I graduated, eventually, and then Ned came back to New York and Harley turned up and we all went to work at SI. He was... he was perfect, you know? Harley, I mean." Peter's cheeks are dusted with slight pink when Tony looks at him. "We, uh... we got into a relationship. He was on a trip to go see Abbie and his mom in the dream, so when I saw him I thought he was back. And then... you know. You were there. I kept mixing everything up."
Tony doesn't know what to say; from the slight pause that follows, Peter doesn't either. "It's over now," he tries. Peter nods.
"I know," he says quietly. "I just... I need to share some of it, you know?" Then, he looks up at Tony, something sparking in his eyes. "You retired from Iron Man, too."
"What?" Tony asks, staring. "Seriously?"
Peter nods vigorously, a smile growing on his face. "You finally listened to Pepper when you had your kid. Her name was Morgan Stark, and she was so fucking cool." Peter's eyes light up as he talks, using his hands to gesture. "She was smarter than both of us and you were so mad. She wanted to go to MIT and to space and it really stressed you for a while, but you got over it and you helped her build a rocket. Dum-E extinguished it," he continues, openly laughing now, "and it just fell apart on the floor. And she slaps you, right, and she just goes Dad, is your old suit this bad? No? Then why did you build my rocket wrong?"
Tony laughs. Morgan sounds like a little shit, exactly how he'd imagined her when FRIDAY first revealed through Peter exactly who she was.
Peter's smile fades slightly. "I miss her," he says.
Tony looks sideways at him. "Did I ever tell you my news?"
Peter turns to face him. "News?"
"Okay," Peter says, nodding.
Peter's eyes go wide, and he straightens. "Seriously? Congratulations!"
Tony grins. "You know what Pepper suggested when she first told me?"
"That you should learn how to function properly yourself before taking care of a baby?"
"Ha. Funny. No. Pep has an uncle, see, and she suggested using his name for the kid."
"Morgan," Tony says.
Peter stills. "Really?"
"Yeah, kid," Tony tells him, smiling. "I told you you could have everything here, too."
Peter hugs him tightly. "Thanks, Dad," he says quietly, words half-muffled both by emotion and Tony's shirt. "I love you."
"I love you too, kiddo," Tony responds, and Peter's hug tightens.
The next day, they're in the lab again. They're both in companionable silence and working on their separate projects when there's a click; they both turn to see Harley walking through the door.
"Hey," Peter greets. Tony raises an eyebrow and pretends to turn back to his work; the two teenagers haven't interacted since Peter's first disastrous impression, and he doesn't want to cramp Peter's space if he's going to try again. He keeps an eye on them in the reflection of the device he's working on.
"Hey," Harley responds, angling slightly towards Peter's desk. "Nice to see you again."
Peter lets out a half-laugh. "Yeah, um... about that. I was wondering if we could... you know, try the introductions thing again?"
Harley shrugs, smiling slightly. "Sure."
Peter stands up, and Tony sees him wipe the grease on his hands off on the towel lying beside his workspace. He sticks a hand out. "I'm Peter Parker."
Harley takes it. "Harley Keener."
"Nice to meet you," Peter tells him, grinning.
"Well, Peter Parker," Harley says, "what are you working on?"
God, this is a match for disaster and possible property damage if he ever saw one. "Don't blow up my lab, you two," he says loudly, not turning round. Harley throws him a middle-finger gesture without looking.
i absolutely adored writing this fic, and the past month has been brilliant. i love each and every single one of you, whether you commented every chapter or just felt able to leave a kudo - you've all made me so happy! <3
i hope you all enjoyed it, and thank you so much for coming along for the ride with me.