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Peter figured he had gotten away with sneaking the medication for so long because the Starks had settled into a routine. The Tony who first took Peter in would have noticed instantly, he helicoptered so much. But they had just passed their year anniversary of being a family (Do they count as a family if they don’t adopt him? Isn’t he just their ward? Kind of like a squatter? Do they even want to adopt him?) and they trusted him so much more than they had in the beginning.

 

He liked living with the Starks, even if they were both incredibly busy people. Between running a multi-billion-dollar company, running what remained of the Avengers, trying to keep control of the Accords, and a hundred other things Peter didn’t know about, Peter was lucky to see them for over an hour in the evenings.

 

But that was fine! Peter was sixteen, he knew they didn’t have hours to spend just hanging out with him. Sure, Peter had full access and joined Tony in the workshop whenever he could, but between all of his meetings and business trips the mechanic was rarely in the space anymore. Pepper was also always happy when Peter visited her in her office, but Peter felt so in the way and out of place whenever he did.

 

So, they didn’t see each other that often, at least they weren’t hovering like they had when he first came to live with them. Tony would practically follow him into the bathroom, like he was concerned his new so- ward was about to have a mental breakdown while brushing his teeth.

 

Peter was no stranger to grief and he had done what he always did before, thrown himself into other, Spiderier, activities with reckless abandon. Of course, this had led to a brief “time out” (“Just for a little while, Pete. You need to get your head on straight and getting a concussion isn’t going to help anything.”) after an unfortunate event involving a crowbar. Spider-man was still heavily restricted, having an insanely early curfew of 7pm (“Come on, Mister Stark! No good crimes happen before 8pm, this is ridicules!”) and only being allowed out on weekends after Peter had finished all homework. Karen enforced these rules with a vengeance, even when both of the Starks were out of town.

 

That was also an insane recent development. The Starks, owners of Stark Industries, Iron Man and Virginia Pepper Potts themselves, trusted Queens nobody Peter Parker enough to leave him alone in their penthouse for weekends at a time. The couple had left him alone for three days in a row the month before. Okay, so Friday was always watching and Happy dropped in everyday, but it still felt like a major accomplishment.

 

(But it also kind of didn’t. Because maybe he missed the days when Tony would hover and drag Peter along wherever he went like an unwilling shadow or Pepper would apologize for having to go to a board of directors meeting and hug him so tightly he felt like he would never fall apart. Maybe he missed being sandwiched between them on the couch, while a documentary only Pepper was interested in played and Tony ran his fingers through his hair. Maybe he missed being treated like he needed the extra comfort.)

 

They didn’t worry too much about leaving him alone anymore. They thought he was practically over May’s death. Sure, grief took a long time to dull and the pain never really went away, but they knew that he wasn’t about to crumble into a million pieces over her.

 

Peter didn’t think he was crumbling, he didn’t think the pills were too much of a problem. He was coping! They were helping him cope! Sometimes he just wanted to be able to not think about his life, everyone he had lost, the responsibility of Spider-man, his neglect of said responsibilities, or the fact that he was on his third set of guardians. He had even come up with a list of rules so that he could keep it all under control.

 

  1. Never more than half a pill.
  2. Never multiple days in a row.
  3. Absolutely no Spider-manning after.
  4. Don’t let anyone know.

 

It was a short list of rules, but he felt like he covered all the important and obvious points. He still had 15 whole pills in the cabinet of his par- guardian’s bathroom. (Peter didn’t dare to take more than a single pill from the bottle at a time. He and Friday had a convoluted arrangement and Peter didn’t know enough about her protocols to get around them. Peter tried not to think about what would happen if she told on him (or what would happen when he ran out.))

 

Peter had set up a routine, slip into Tony and Peppers bathroom every six days, take half a pill before bed every third night, enjoy the euphoria it brought, and repeat.  Peter had it all under control and he knew that if he stuck with his plan nothing would go wrong.

 

What Peter hadn’t anticipated were to adverse side effects. Maybe it was naive of him, but he had figured his Spidery-side would keep him from having to deal with that sort of thing. But he couldn’t ignore what he was experiencing. The first time he realized what was happening was his second week of sneaking pills.

 


 

 

His alarm woke him that Friday morning to a throbbing pain behind his eyes, his stomach rolling, and a soreness in his shoulders like he had swung from skyscraper to skyscraper for a week straight. He laid looking at his ceiling for a long minute, swallowing down bile in his mouth (and the shame, god he was so ashamed. What was he doing, he knew better than to take opioids, what the hell was wrong with him) he pushed himself to his elbows, squeezing his eyes shut as the change of altitude made his head spin.

 

The pain had him instantly longing for the medication he was planning to use the next day, knowing it would bring instant relief. That was his first warning sign.

 

It was 6:30, which meant that Pepper was already busy doing CEO things and Tony was still asleep in their room. Peter didn’t think he would ever be brave (desperate) enough to sneak into their bathroom while they were there. Which was another reason he hadn’t taken the bottle. He didn’t want them to be easy to get. He didn’t want to be able to grab one as soon as he had the slightest ache. Because sure, maybe he was naïve, but he wasn’t an idiot. He knew how addictive the little yellow pill could be.

 

So, Peter suffered through the aches and nausea, forced himself through the motions of his morning rituals and was pulling his jacket on as he hurried out of the private elevator, running through the pristine foyer of the building with his shoes untied, his backpack clutched in one hand. The doorman barely had time to dodge as the teen tripped outside, shooting the flustered man a sloppy salute. Peter threw his backpack into the floorboard and had just scrambled into the backseat of the car that was waiting when his 7am alarm (Which he fondly named his hurry the eff up Parker or ur gonna be late again omg pls alarm) blared. The loud ringing earned him a glare from his driver, who was already smoothly merging with the traffic.

 

“How are you doing this morning, Mr. Sneezy?”  Peter asked with a faux polite smile, because he was (kind of) trying to be nicer to the man. “Your buzz cut looks extra severe today. Very intimidating.”

 

The burly man glared at Peter through the review mirror, refusing to answer. Peter sighed dejectedly and slumped into the leather seat, resigning himself to another silent forty-minute drive. Peter didn’t know why he even bothered acknowledging the driver anymore. It was no secret that they disliked each other; between Peter refusing to call him by his actual name (So Peter might have forgotten the man’s name. All he remembered from when they were introduced that it started with “Sn” and he had instantly thought of how funny it would be if Mr. Sta- Tony had two drivers named after Snow Whites dwarves. And then he had called the man “Sneezy” on accident and it was too late for him to ask what his actual name was now.), then there had been Peters multiple escape attempts, and the fact that the no doubt over qualified man was basically babysitting a bratty teenage boy. It was safe to say they had a rocky relationship.

 

Tony and Pepper had sat him down two separate times to talk about his rude behavior towards Sneezy. Both times had started with Tony trying to not laugh when Peter called the beefy man “Mr. Sneezy” and ended with Pepper muttering about having to deal with a second disrespectful genius. Peter didn’t think they understood his resentment, even though Pepper had nodded along with furrowed brows, one of his hands between both of hers, while Peter tried to explain why he didn’t need a bodyguard or babysitter. He had been dismissed, his arguments invalidated with Tony simply saying, “Well, we’re the adults, so this is how it’s going to be.”

 

As Peter gazed out the heavily tinted window he wondered why it was a surprise to the adults around him that he didn’t like the bodyguard/driver. First of all, he was Spider-man, an enhanced individual, why would he need a normal human man for protection? Second, Peter had been raised in this city! It wasn’t like he was some tourist who was going to wander away and get lost and mugged. He knew how to handle himself. He didn’t need a babysitter to watch his every move.

 

(Maybe the Starks were still hovering, just using someone they hired to do it instead of doing it themselves. Peter tried not to feel like a responsibility unimportant enough to be delegated.)

 

And Sneezy was rude. He was worse than Happy, in Peters opinion.

 

Peter ignored those resentful thoughts, somehow dozing off during the commute, his aching head awkwardly propped up against the seatbelt, lanky limbs curled into a tight ball.

 

“Hey, Peter. Peter, we’re here.” Sneezy’s deep voice startled the teen awake, his head swimming as he squinted towards the front doors of Midtown. He raised a hand to brush his bangs out of his eyes, coat sleeve falling to reveal a bare wrist. Sneezy’s dark eyes narrowed as he asked in an accusatory voice, “Where’s your watch?”

 

“In my bag,” Peter rushed to answer, trying to open the door which still had child locks engaged. The other students had long since gotten used to the sight of him being dropped off by a personal driver, the gawking and gossip having died off after the second month of classes, so Peter was eager to fall into the familiar hierarchy of high school life. Eager to pretend to just be Peter Parker for a while, not Peter Parker-ward of the Starks.

 

“Really? Put it on.”

 

“Aw, come on, man,” Peter whined, throwing his head against the headrest, already sensing his coming defeat. “Just let me out.”

 

Sneezy’s only response was to turn around in his seat and fix Peter with an unimpressed stare. The teenager managed to hold the stare for about 30 seconds, a new personal best, before he caved.

 

With slumped shoulders, he reached into the front pocket of his backpack and pulled out the slim Stark watch, clasping it around his wrist. Peters enhanced hearing was able to pick up the faint sound of the locking mechanism engaging. He tried not to compare it to the sound of a cage being locked. He wouldn’t be able to take the watch off until he was back at the penthouse about to take a shower.

 

He was still pretty proud of winning that argument. If Tony and Pepper had had their way the watch would never come off. Tony had been adamant that the device remained on at all times, to record his vitals and track his location. Peter had been adamant that it was weird for him to record his vitals while he was in the shower, emphasizing the common showering habits of a teenage boy. Tony had been unmoved, his dark eyes likely seeing straight through Peter, but Pepper had given in, if only so she didn’t have to think about such things. Peter was convinced the embarrassment was worth the simple freedom of being able to take the tracker off.

 

Satisfied, Sneezy unlocked the doors and Peter scrambled out onto the sidewalk.

 

“Tie your shoes!”

 

“It’s a statement!” Peter called over his shoulder, merging into the flow of students rushing into the building.

 


 

 

The second warning sign Peter noticed while sitting in his first period class.

 

Mr. Brine had allowed them to pick their own partners for the discussion time, so Ned was sitting next to him, ranting about his opinions on Hamlet’s mental state. Peter wasn’t a big Shakespeare fan and having not actually read the play which they were assigned the week before, was mostly just nodding along to what his best friend was saying. Peters jaw was clenched tight in discomfort and his mind kept wandering back to the pill he had hidden in a film canister on his desk in the penthouse.

 

He kept thinking about how much more manageable the loud conversations around him would be if he had just taken the pill when his head started hurting that morning. How the rattle of the air conditioners, the buzz of the lights, the heavy breathing of the kid on the other side of the room, would all just be distant pleasant hums around him if he just taken the pill when he first woke up.

 

The slight desperation in his own thoughts had Peter freezing, a feeling of panic suddenly spreading through him. His chair screeched against the linoleum floors as he stood, the majority of the other students giving him confused glances. Ned started to ask if he was alright, but Peter cut him off, “Mr. Brine, may I be excused?”

 

“Sure, take the pass.” The teacher didn’t even glance up from the thick book he was reading.

 

Peter hurried down the empty hall to the restroom. He locked himself in the stall furthest from the door, pulling out his phone. Opening the browser, he switched to a private window, but then paused. Did it even matter if he switched to incognito mode? Tony Freaking Stark monitored his cellphone activity and no doubt had filters watching for key word searches.

 

Groaning, Peter locked his phone and buried his throbbing head in his hands. What was he even planning to search? ‘What are the early signs of an opioid addiction?’ God, he felt like such an idiot. Why was he doing this? Tony and Pepper would be so upset with him if they found out. He couldn’t even imagine how many more restrictions and protocols would be made if they knew. They would over react so much, he would probably end up homeschooled and have to wear one of those baby leashes.

 

And now his anxiety was making the nausea from this morning come back with a vengeance, great. The day already sucked and it wasn’t even second period yet.

 

He was the one who needed to stop over reacting. It wasn’t a big deal. He was freaking out over nothing. He had only taken a total of two and a half pills. He wasn’t addicted or anything. He just logically knew he would feel better if he had taken one this morning. That didn’t mean he was forming a dependence or anything.

 

Slipping his phone into his back pocket, Peter exited the stall, locking eyes with his reflection as he washed his hands.

 

“Relax about it. Okay?” He told himself firmly, pointing a wet finger at the mirror. Rolling his eyes at his own behavior, Peter dried his hands, exited the bathroom, and made his way back to class.

Chapter Text

The rest of the morning passed uneventfully, after Peters initial bathroom freak out. Peter had drained his water bottle twice, hoping the hydration would help with the ever-present pounding in his skull and by lunch he was ready for a nap. He sorrowfully picked at his lunch, pulling the sandwich apart while his stomach rolled uncomfortably.

 

“I mean, sure, there is always artistic interpretation or whatever, but would it have killed him to tell us just a little bit about what’s happening on the stage?” Ned fumed around the straw in his mouth. Ned had continued to complain about Shakespeare’s lack of stage directions all the way into their lunch period, after being harshly corrected by Mr. Brine in class.

 

“Scholars try and say it’s because he was so brilliant and wanted to make the audience think, but I think it’s because he was too lazy to write it out when he would be there in person to direct them.” MJ agreed, pointing an apple slice at Ned with a sage nod of her head. Peter had been silently watching their conversation for the last 15 minutes, occasionally interjecting, but his two friends where giving him space on account of his headache (and gloomy attitude, but they didn’t tell him that, instead just texting each other about it.) She glanced down when her phone chimed, the screen lighting up from its place on her tray. “Shit, there was another one.” She muttered to herself, a frown overtaking her face.

 

“Another what?” Ned asked curiously.

 

“Missing enhanced person. This one from Indiana. Suspected kidnapping. Police just got the call.” She murmured, eyes glued to her phone.

 

“How do you even know about it already?” Ned craned his head, trying to read the file on her phone upside down.

 

“I used my government uncle’s information to so that I get the police reports.” She stated like it wasn’t a super badass thing to say, still reading the file. MJs eyes darted up, a thoughtful look on her face. “How do the Starks feel about all the enhanced individuals vanishing without a trace?” She asked in an accusatory tone.

 

“Um, not great? I mean, who would feel good about innocent people going missing?” Peter replied in confusion, feeling a shiver crawl up his spine. He pulled his jacket tighter around himself.

 

“That’s not what I was asking, Idiot.” She leaned across the table towards her two classmates. They shifted forward in responses, eyes widening at the girl's sudden serious expression. “You’re enhanced Peter. Don’t you think your guardians are probably a little concerned about you disappearing?”

 

“Dude,” Peter leveled a deadpanned look at his friend as he held his arm up, pulling his sleeve down to reveal the Stark watch. “I basically have an ankle monitor on right now.”

 

“That’s good,” MJ nodded, ignoring the fact that Peter obviously didn't think it was a good thing, leaning back a little. “Do they know anything about the missing people?”

 

“I mean, Tony probably knows everything about the situation, but he won’t tell me anything.” Peter said with a shrug, trying not to feel bitter. He got that possible human trafficking of enhanced people might be a little above Spider-man’s paygrade, but as an enhanced individual he felt like it was kind of his right to know what was happening.

 

“I think it’s the government. Maybe Stark is in on it.” MJ crossed her arms over her chest, raising her eyebrows.

 

“Okay, you Anarchist, sure,” Ned laughed.

 

Any defense Peter would have made on behalf of Tony was cut off by a dull tremor from his Spider-sense, like someone was dripping cold water down his neck. No actual danger, just an extreme annoyance. The source of the tremor became apparent when Flash’s voice rang out from behind him.

 

“Hey MJ, you coming to my party tomorrow night?” Flash, who wisely had a healthy amount of fear and respect for the decathlon captain, tried to stay on her good side as much as possible.

 

“Yeah and I’m bringing the Losers.” MJ deadpanned, eyes daring the hair gel covered boy to argue with her.

 

“Um, I don’t think I want to go-”

 

“No, come on, Parker, come to the party! It’ll be fun,” Flash interrupted his protests. His tone was dripping with smarmy politeness, making Peter wonder if he was still trying to get his seat on the team. Sucking up to MJ by letting her bring her loser friends to a party would certainly be a new tactic. Ned was nodding so much Peter wondered he would hurt his neck.

 

“You guys, I’ve got plans,” Peter thought back to the film canister on his desk.

 

“You’re going to the party,” MJ left no room for argument.

 

“See, it’s settled!” Flash clapped his hands, walking backwards away from their secluded table, “See you tomorrow. I’ll text the details to the group chat.”

 

“No way Tony will let me go to a party. You know I have a stupid early curfew.”

 

“No, Spider-man has a stupid early curfew. Peter Parker has a very reasonable curfew of 10:30. Come on man, it’ll be fun.” Ned practically begged. “You ditched me at our last high school party and that was over a year ago and who knows if we’ll ever get this opportunity again. Soon we’ll be in college and never see each other again and then one day I’ll show my year book to my kid and they’ll say ‘Daddy, who is that?’” Ned raised his voice several octaves, “And I’ll say ‘Well, that’s my old friend Peter, he never wanted to do anything fun ever and I had to leave him behind to his sad hermit ways.’

 

“Ugh, stop guilting me. God, fine, I’ll ask.” Ned whooped with excitement and MJ gave a small grin in triumph. Peter closed his eyes against the harsh lights of the cafeteria, “That doesn’t mean he’ll say yes. We were literally just talking about the fact that he put a tracker on me.”

 

“But, you’ll still ask?”

 

“Yeah, I’ll ask.”

 


 

The rest of the school day flew by in a haze to the lethargic boy. He couldn’t remember feeling this fatigued since Aunt May- (Hardly sleeping in uncomfortable hospital chairs, clutching a frail hand in his own, Tony dragging him out of the room and into a bed. Tony staying with him till he fell asleep, a callused hand working the tangles from his hair.), since last year.

 

As the final bell rang, Peter gathered his government notes, standing quickly. A sudden head rush had him gripping the edge of the desk, blushing as the girl behind him chuckled at his stumbling.

 

He said goodbye to his friends outside the school, again promising to ask if he could attend the party. He could see the black car waiting for him in the pickup line, the tinted windows impenetrable to even Peters enhanced sight. Stifling the urge to run the opposite direction, towards Queens, towards home, he stomped down the steps, nearly falling to the ground when he tripped and collided with another student.

 

Sneezy made no acknowledgement that he had gotten in the car, except for engaging the child locks. Peter pulled his chemistry book from his bag and began working his way through his homework. He was nearly done with it a twenty minutes later when Sneezy’s baritone voiced interrupted his focus.

 

“You almost fell.”

 

“Huh?” Peter unintelligibly replied, pencil pausing in the middle of a sentence.

 

“When you were coming down the steps, you almost fell,” The large man caught the teenagers eye through the review mirror, “Because your shoes are still untied.”

 

Peter scowled the remainder of the ride.

 


 

It was a little past 4pm when Peter raced through the empty penthouse to his bedroom. He flung open his closet door, retrieving his Spidey-suit from its storage case. He was half undressed when the AI addressed him.

 

“Peter, to maintain your required calorie intake you should eat something before you go.”

 

“I was going to swing by Delmar’s and get my usual.” Peter patted the pocket on his suit which he knew contained a single hundred dollar bill. The issue of allowance was a common argument in the Stark household, as Peter refused to use the card or ridiculous amount of cash which had found their way into his wallet (Actually Bens old wallet, the leather worn and soft, comforting and painful at the same time.). With Pepper acting as mediator, a compromise had tentatively been reached, one that didn’t weigh too heavily on Peters overactive guilt complex. Peter would use the money which found its way into his possession without feeling like a burden and give however much he wanted to someone around him who looked like they needed it. Tony would replace the money he spent and not force him to buy excessively frivolous things. 

 

Peter remembered what it felt like to be one missed check away from homelessness, knew how much the generosity of a stranger could mean.

 

His earlier discomfort and exhaustion were forgotten in his excitement. He finished pulling on his suit, slapping the spider emblem to tighten the intuitive fabric around himself. Pulling on the mask, the boy grinned as the display came to life, information flashing across the peripherals of his vision.

 

“Hello, Peter. How was school today?” Karen’s soft voice rang through the mask.

 

“Oh, pretty good. Nothing that exciting happened,” Peter replied distractedly, checking the levels of his web fluid. The canisters were half empty, but it was more than enough to last him his short patrol.

 

Satisfied with his assessment, Peter crossed the room and nearly smacked his head against the patio door when it didn’t automatically open. Groaning, Peter pressed his forehead against the glass, “Friday, what now?”

 

“Have you completed all your homework?” Could AIs sound patronizing? Who was he kidding, Friday was made by Tony Stark, being patronizing was probably in her base coding.

 

“Oh my god, yes, Friday. I did all my homework on the drive home. Let me out already.” The teenager tried to find the seam on the handle-less door, thinking maybe he could wedge it open. Or he could always just break the glass.

 

“Very well. Have a safe patrol, Peter.”

 

Finally, the doors glided open, releasing the vigilante into the city he loved.

 


 

The penthouse was silent to Peters enhanced senses when he returned, meaning Pepper was most likely still at SI. Pulling the mask off with one hand and slapping the emblem with the other, Peter stepped out of the suit

 

“Is Tony here?” Peter asked the AI, stepping into his grandiose bathroom (Peter thought it looked just like Kylie Jenner’s, but Tony didn’t like the comparison). Peter rolled his eyes as the shower automatically began running, Friday always two steps ahead.

 

“Boss is in his workshop. He said you are welcome to join him.”

 

“Cool, I'll go down in a minute,” Peter hummed, standing in front of the vanity mirror, then saying impatiently, “Friday, the watch.”

 

The warm metal loosed against his skin, the nano-bots disengaging their tight hold enough for him to pull his wrist free. The boy sighed as he placed the watch on the counter, rotating his wrist appreciatively as he stepped under the stream of water.

 

After washing the day’s activities and sweat from his skin, the boy exited the shower, towel drying his hair as he walked into his bedroom. Peter quickly dressed in a pair of comfortable joggers and a tee-shirt, pausing as he looked at his desk. If Tony said he could go to the party he wouldn’t be able to take the pill, so maybe he should use it tonight? But that messed with his whole schedule and put him taking the pill a day sooner than planned.

 

Shaking the thoughts from his head, Peter left his room to make his way towards the stairs in the living room. His bare feet slapped against the stairs as he descended, the sound of classic rock music growing louder.

 

The noise lowered to a more Spider friendly level as the boy entered his code in the panel on the wall, causing his mentor to look up from the holographic files floating around him.

 

“Put some shoes on.” Tony’s eyes went back to his work, expertly manipulating the holograms as he signed his name on a line.

 

“Seriously?” Peter had frozen mid step and now dramatically slumped his shoulders, eyes rolling up to glare at the ceiling.

 

“You know that’s a rule. Do you want to lose a toe?”

 

“You’re literally just doing paper work.”

 

“Doing paper work while surrounded by dangerous machinery. I have a pair of sneakers by that bench, just slip them on.” Tony pointed vaguely towards one side of the cluttered room.

 

“Why is everyone giving me so much shit about my foot wear today?” Peter aggressively muttered to himself as he shoved his feet into the ratty shoes.

 

“Hey, language.” Tony reprimanded with no real heat, still focused on his task.

 

The post-Spider-manning exhaustion had Peter collapsing into a rolling chair, propelling himself closer to his guardian with one foot. The man was wearing dress pants and a graphic tee-shirt, a suit jacket hanging off the back of his chair, meaning he most likely had a meeting with someone important at some point that day.

 

He bounced into the older man’s chair with his own, as if he were driving a bumper car, causing Tony to tear his eyes away from his work with a fond smile. He took in the sight of his kid, slumped comfortably in the chair, wet hair curling messily around his face, wearing a pair of shoes two sizes too big. The fond smile didn’t last though and was quickly replaced with a displeased frown.

 

“Why aren’t you wearing your watch?”

 

“It’s in my room.” Peter picked up a measuring tape, pulling the tape out several times and letting it snap back into place as the silence stretched. He finally glanced up finding the man with his arms crossed and an eyebrow arched. Peter flashed his most innocent smile, “Dude, I’m at home and you’re here! It’s fine, I’ll put it on later.”

 

“Before you go to bed?” Tony pointed an accusing finger him.

 

“Before I go to bed.”

 

The inventor nodded, satisfied with the agreement, returning to his work. Peter replaced the measuring tape with a screwdriver, twirling it between his fingers anxiously.

 

“So, I have a question.”

 

“You usually do.”

 

Peter continued to fiddle with a screwdriver, worrying his bottom lip.

 

“This is the part of the conversation where you ask…” Tony flicked an amused expression towards the teenager.

 

“Um, so, Flash is having a party tomorrow night and MJ is going, but she doesn’t want to go without me or Ned, but Ned doesn’t want to go without me, so can I- um- can I go to the party?” Peter cringed at his own awkward rambling.

 

Tony made a curt gesture with his hands making the holographs vanish. He turned his chair to fully face the boy next to him, a serious expression on his face, “What kind of party is it?”

 

“I don’t know, like a regular high school party? I’ve only been to one of Flash’s things before and it- well it wasn’t that fun. But MJ and Ned really want me to go.” Peter said with a shrug.

 

“Okay, I need more details then just ‘regular high school party’. What time, where, what will you all be doing?”

 

“Oh, Flash texted the decathlon chat,” Peter pulled his phone from his pocket, scrolling back through the group chat to find the earlier message, “So, um, he said that people are gonna start coming over at 7 or 8 and that it’s technically his brothers party, but his brother has like no friends or something so Flash invited people. MJ and Ned are going together at 8 and I think everyone’s just hanging out?”

 

“How old is Flash’s brother?”

 

“I don’t know, I think he’s a senior? He doesn’t go to Midtown.”

 

“How late will it go? You know you have a curfew.”

 

“I know, I don’t really want to stay all night anyway. I just don’t want to flake out on Ned and MJ.”

 

"Will you be going anywhere else? Or just staying at Flash's house?" 

 

"I don't think anyone is planning to go anywhere else," Peter felt unprepared for the sudden interrogation. 

 

“Will there be drinking?”

 

“I don’t know, I can’t control everyone’s actions,” Peter threw his hand up in exasperation. “I won’t drink.”

 

“Okay, um,” Tony, seemingly out of questions, ran a hand through his hair, looking like he wasn’t prepared or sure how to handle the conversation. This happened every now and then. Peter would ask a question or do something which seemed to reminded Tony of his responsibilities as a guardian, a job the man still wasn't 100% convinced he could do.

 

“I have a late meeting tomorrow, but I can take you at 8-”

 

“Actually, Boss, you have a video conference scheduled with Tokyo at that time that is imperative you attended.” Fridays Irish accent interrupted.

 

“Right, okay, I’ll have your driver take you at 8 and pick you up at 10, okay? Is that enough time for a regular high school party?”

 

Peter furrowed his brows in confusion. Tony was good at hiding his emotions, but Peter was able to see a little bit of worry in the mans pinched expression.

 

"Yeah, that's fine," Peter answered, perplexed by his guardians behavior. 

 

"Alright, okay, good." Tony seemed to be searching Peters face, a concerned frown on his face. 

 

“Okay,” Peter drew out the word.

 

With a decisive nod Tony brought the holographic files back and Peter pushed his chair over to his own work station, the two of them working in silence until Pepper arrived home.

  

 

Chapter Text

It turned out Flash’s brother was a senior, only a senior in college, not high school.

 

Sneezy had dropped him off, looking dubiously at the suburban home, before huffing out a sigh. The driver indifferently reminded Peter he would be close by and to text if he wanted to leave earlier than planned.

 

A hollow sort of grief sat in the boy’s chest as he nodded and exited the car, memories of the last time he was dropped off at a high school party and his aunt’s excitement swirling through his head. That memory was over a year old and tainted with bitterness now.

 

No doubt if Tony had been the one to drop him off the man would have locked the car doors and driven straight back to the penthouse at the sight of the party in full swing. The house was already full of people, crowded and pulsing with music in a way that made Peters senses cringe. As the teenager wandered through the entry way of the home, he was bombarded by the smell of too many bodies in too small a space, drinking too much alcohol and touching each other too much. Everything was just too much. Too loud, too in focus, making Peter desperately long for something he knew would dull it all. Peter self-consciously stood in the doorway of the living room, rubbing his fingers across the band of his watch, suddenly wondering if he should just text Sneezy and go back to the penthouse. Tony would probably be thankful if he came home early.

 

“I think the rating just went up to PG-13 for Teen Partying and Sexual Content,” MJs voice dryly said over Peters shoulder. Whipping his head around he was relieved to see his two friends, taking note that Ned was without his iconic ‘Party Hat’.

 

“Oh, hey, how long have you guys been here?”

 

“Not that long,” MJ eyed the party goers in obvious disdain, making Peter think she already felt she had been there long enough. She seemed to cast aside her displeasure, grabbing Peters sleeve to tug him through the crowd.

 

“Is it just me, or are we significantly younger than everyone here?” Ned asked uncertainly, clutching the hem of Peters jacket, making the three teens resemble a preschool hand holding chain.

 

“Yeah, I’m defiantly feeling more pubescent than usual,” Peter agreed with a grimace as a guy with a full beard stumbled into him. Like, come on, they’re in high school, no one’s beards should look that luscious.

 

“Yeah, turns out Flash’s brother is an even bigger dick than him. He decided to take over,” The girl said with an eye roll, pushing a dancing couple out of the groups way as she headed towards the back of the house. “I thought Flash was going to shit himself when his brothers friend brought in a keg. I think their parents are going to be back by midnight, so I don’t know how they plan to clean this all up.”

 

“How did they even get alcohol? I thought Flash’s brother was a senior?”

 

“Yeah, in college, dumbass.”

 

“Betty texted me that the team is in the basement,” Ned interrupted the bickering from the back of train, causing his two friends to suddenly pause.

 

“Hold up, Betty texted you?

 

“How long has that been a thing?”

 

“No, no, no, it’s not a thing. Don’t make it weird!” Ned desperately cried, much to the delight of his friends, who mischievously began asking him more details about the apparent text conversation and upcoming wedding.

 


 

Peter had to admit, despite his earlier reservations, he was having fun. Most of the decathlon team was at the party and the teenagers all readily clung to each other in the presence of so many older kids. Still, despite how obviously out of their depth they were, the high schoolers were enjoying themselves. His near constant headache had receded to a distant pressure. They played card games, ate junk food, laughed as Gabe choked on a shot, and laughed even harder at Flash running around in distress. All in all, they were having a pretty good time, hiding away in the basement from the more mature partying.

 

Handing his soda to Ned, Peter announced he was going to go find a bathroom, “Think of me!” Gabe slurred back, really playing up the fact that he was the only one bold enough to drink.

 

Peter wandered up the stair and his senses were again assaulted, his head throbbing in time with the beat of the music. Sticking close to the walls Peter made his towards the second floor, sidestepping intoxicated college students as he went.

 

Peter had half hour until Sneezy would be back for him, which was honestly somewhat disappointing to the boy. He had expected this party to be just as catastrophic as the last one, but he was now wondering if he could text and convince Tony to let him stay a little longer.

 

‘I would probably have more luck if I ask Pepper,’ The boy mused as he pushed open the door to the bathroom. He was startled from his contemplation at the sight of another person in the small room. The man was bent over the counter, face nearly touching the marble.

 

“Oh, shit, I’m sorry, I’ll just-” Peter sputtered out, his face burning with embarrassment.

 

“Nah, you’re fine man. I’m done in here,” The guy straightened up, sniffing loudly as he vigorously rubbed his nose. “You’re one of Eugene’s friends, right? One of his little nerd club buddies?”

 

“Um, I guess,” Peter replied, desperately trying to not stare at the white powder streaking across the older, ‘and attractive, damn’, man’s nose and cheek. “You’re his brother, right?”

 

The guy nodded, popping the ‘p’ as he said ‘yep’, “Pretty great party, huh? Considering it had to start like, stupid early.” He gave Peter a dopey smile, with perfect white teeth.

 

“Oh, yeah, great party. So great, like, so much fun. I mean, I’m having a great time and you look like you are too,” Peter made a jerky motion towards the taller guy, feeling his face heat with embarrassment. “And everyone else seems to be having a great time,” His speech finally came to an end when a particularly loud bass drop caused him to flinch and pause, lamely muttering, “So that’s great.”

 

The man chuckled at Peter’s rambling, an easy smile on his face as he made to leave the bathroom.

 

“Wait! Um, you’ve got a little,” Peter pointed at his own nose, wondering if he would burst into flames from his awkwardness. His face felt hot enough to start a fire.

 

The man’s eyes widened and he quickly turned back to the counter looking at himself in the mirror which hung over the sink. After wiping the powder from his skin, he turned an assessing gaze on Peter, a slower, more genuine smile starting to curl his lips.

 

“Thanks,” He stared at Peter for a beat, before nodding to himself and reaching a hand into his front pants pocket, pulling out a little plastic baggy. He held the bag out between two fingers and simply said, “Here.”

 

“Um, what,” Peter looked dumbly at the offered bag, able to see that it contained a single white pill capsule.

 

“It’s nothing crazy, like a hallucinogenic or anything. It makes things a little less loud, would just help you relax a little,” The guy chuckled, leaning a hip against the counter, his eyes half lidded, “I can tell you need to.”

 

“Um, I don’t really like-” Peter flailed his hands before touching his nostril and sniffing loudly. His eyes widened at his own humiliating behavior.

 

The guy barked out a loud laugh, running a hand through his black hair, “Dude you can just swallow it, it just hits you a little different if you snort.”  He grinned at Peter, his eyes warm.

 

“Besides, first ones free,” The man winked, his grin becoming shark like as he pushed past Peter, thrusting the bag into his hand.

 

Peter stood frozen in the bathroom, staring at the pill in his hand. He should just throw it away. Right? It would be completely crazy to not just throw it away. But, what if someone else found it and took it? He shouldn’t let that happen either. He was just going to hold on to it. There was no way he was going to take it. Right?

 

‘I’m not going to take it. It probably wouldn’t even do anything with my metabolism and a stranger just gave it to me. I pretty sure Captain America has a PSA about this.’

 

But still, Peter stared at the tablet, a feeling of dread settling in his stomach. Swallowing the lump in his throat, the boy pocketed the baggy.

 

As he washed his hands, he looked at himself in the mirror. Messy brown hair, a pale angular face, and dark under eye circles gazed back.

 

“You’re not going to take it, okay? You just don’t know how to dispose of it. Right?” There was a slight desperate edge to his voice.

 

Peter wandered back down the stairs, the activities even more overwhelming to his senses than before. Peter kept his eyes open, looking for Flash’s brother, hoping he could just give the tablet back. He never saw the man, the only thing noteworthy he saw was two people knock over a vase as they aggressively made out.

 

“Hey guys, I need to head home,” Peter announced to his group of friends as he typed out a message to Sneezy. He was met with a chorus of whining, from all except Flash, who was dejectedly hunched over with his head in his hands. “Um, Flash?”

 

“What,” the other boy didn’t even raise his head, no doubt thinking of his upcoming castration at the hands of his parents.

 

“Um, what’s your brother’s name?”

 

“Emmett?” Flash whipped his head up, is eyes enraged, “Have you seen him? He needs to get all of these fucking people out of our house, before our parents get home, but I can’t find him.”

 

“No, but I did see some people knock over a vase.” Flash let out an anguished moan, falling back onto the couch.

 


 

The ride back to the penthouse was just as silent as ever, Sneezy rolling up the divider so he didn’t even have to look at Peter.

 

'This one feels heavier,’ Peter thought as he rubbed his fingers over the small lump the tablet made in his pocket, while riding the private elevator up to the top floor.

 

Pepper and Tony were both in the living room when Peter entered. Pepper curled up in her usual spot in an arm chair, Tony standing behind the couch a coffee mug in one hand and a dish towel in the other.

 

“You’re back early,” Tony said in surprise.

 

“Yeah, I was ready to come home,” Peter was able to see both of his guardians faces light up at his use of the word ‘home’.

 

He shuffled into the living room, flopping face first onto the couch. He could give the tablet to Tony. Sure, the man would ask a ton of questions, but Peter could be honest and say he just didn’t know what to do when Emmett gave it to him. But then Tony would hover even more and probably find out a way to arrest Emmett, which would be such a dick move. He and Flash were barely civil, getting his brother arrested was sure to make him hate him again. And the guy wasn’t mean or anything, he didn’t deserve to go to jail. In fact, he was really nice, if anything he was just way too generous. ‘Maybe I could convince Tony to send him to rehab?’

 

Peter was interrupted from his somewhat hysterical internal rambling by a dish towel smacking him on the back of the head. He rolled over with a scowl, groaning out a “What?” at his guardian.

 

“Did you have fun?” Tony placed his elbows on the back of the couch so he could hover over Peter, making it so that about 90% of Peters vision was the man’s face.

 

“Um, yeah. The whole decathlon team was there, we all hung out.”

 

“So,” He drew out the word, squinting suspiciously at the boy, “Did you drink anything?”

 

“What? Um, I had a Dr. Pepper?”

 

“Really? Just a Dr. Pepper?” Peter nearly went cross eyed as Tony leaned even closer to him.

 

“Yeah…? Oh wait, I had a drink of MJ’s coke, because it was that new Orange Vanilla one and I hadn’t tried it yet.” There was no way Tony could know about the tablet, no way he could know about the internal struggle Peter was going through.

 

“Then why do you look so guilty?” Tony’s eyes were focused and determined, a dangerous commination for his teenage ward who definitely had something he was trying to hide.

 

“Tony, leave him alone.” Pepper, like the angel she was, interrupted her husband’s interrogation, “I’m glad you had fun.”

 

“Thanks,” Peter muttered, rolling away from Tony’s still hovering face so he could stand up. “I’m going to get ready for bed.”

 

“It’s barely 10 and it’s a weekend,” Tony was now frowning in disappointment, “We could watch a movie or something.”

 

“Nah, I’m just gonna-” Peter pointed towards the hallway, quickly retreating.

 

His enhanced hearing was able to pick Pepper and Tony’s voices as he made his way into his bedroom, leaning his head against the unlatched door.

 

“He’s not hanging out with us because you made him uncomfortable.”

 

“I didn’t make him uncomfortable, I was just asking him how the party was.”

 

“No, you were interrogating him.”

 

“Pepper, he looked guilty and you know how he’s been recently. It’s not like my concerns are out of nowhere.”

 

“Tony,” Pepper sighed, “It’s barely been a year. This has been a huge adjustment for him- for all of us. With losing May, moving in with us, with everything, he’s done so well. But, you can’t expect him to behave all the time, to not act out. It’s stressful for us to know that enhanced are being taken, but imagine what it’s like to be one. And we both know it’s just going to get more difficult with the b-”

 

“Friday, is Peter listening?”

 

“Peter is listening at his bedroom door.”

 

“Peter, come-”

 

The boy slammed the door shut, effectively cutting off the order as the soundproofing in his room was engaged.

 

He harshly rubbed his eyes with his fists as he collapsed into his desk chair. The tablet sat like a piece of lead in his pocket. He could flush it down the toilet. Not even the person who cleans his room would know if he did that.

 

Pulling the baggy out as he sat in the chair felt like defeat. Quickly, like he expected to be caught at any moment, the boy retrieved the film canister from where he had stashed it in the back of his desk drawer, and traded the contents of the baggy for the half yellow pill within. He swallowed the half down, panic welling up inside him. The lid snapped shut with a satisfying sound, reminding Peter of a judge’s gavel convicting someone guilty.

Chapter Text

 “My stylist is coming over in an hour, you’re getting a haircut,” Tony said as he walked past Peters open bedroom door.

 

“Wait, what?” Peter called back raising his head in alarm from where it was buried in his mountain of pillows, laptop opened on his stomach. Tony walked back into view, pausing in the doorway.

 

“There is a gala tomorrow that you will be attending,” Tony paused, slanting a hard look at the teenager when he opened his mouth to protest, effectively silencing his complaints. “And you will be getting your hair cut in an hour, because I am tired of looking at your baby Bee Gee hair.”

 

“You can’t just make me cut my hair,” Peter argued back, sitting up in the center of his bed, the quick movement causing his bangs to flop forward into his eyes.  The boy ignored Tony’s raised eyebrows and the challenging look on the man’s face, eyes wandering around his room, briefly settling on his desk before he looked back at his guardian. Peter threw up his hands, “You can’t! Its unethical or something.”

 

“Unethical,” Tony pinched the bridge of his nose, letting out an exasperated sigh, before seeming to ground himself, replying in what Peter thought of as his ‘Patronizing Coaxing’ voice. “Your hair hasn’t been cut in over six months, and before that you only got a trim. I think it would be best if it was cut, so I called my stylist. He will be here in an hour.” The man paused, an expression flashing across his face before Peter could decipher it, “What if he just trims it and makes it look more intentional, instead of this overgrown shrub look? I can’t have you looking like you just wandered in from the streets at the gala.”

 

“I don’t want a haircut.” Peter petulantly replied, ignoring the insult as he ran his fingers over the curls which just brushed below his chin.

 

“Too bad, you’re getting one.” Tony deadpanned, “Take the compromise, before I take privileges.”

 

Peter scowled at the threat, even as he clutched his laptop tighter.

 

“Take the deal.” Tony hummed out.

 

Peter worried his bottom lip, already knowing he had lost this battle, looking suspiciously at his guardian, “Just a trim?”

 

“Just a trim.”

 


 

The stylist seemed nice enough, idly chatting with Tony as he set up his tools, both of the men completely ignoring the fidgety boy sitting uncomfortably in the salon chair. Peter didn’t know why he had been even slightly surprised to see the swivel chair when he walked into Tony’s closet (more like clothes room, seeing how the closet was the size of Peter and Mays old living room and kitchen, if not bigger), the man had a habit of being over prepared for every situation.

 

Peter flinched when the stylist made the first cut, but forced himself to relax when he caught Tony’s displeased frown, internally chanting that it was just a trim and it would be more trouble than it was worth to fight Tony on this. Taking a steadying breath, the teenager was able to pleasantly zone out, mindlessly playing on his phone as his hair was cut.

 

He was 2 years deep in someone’s cousins Instagram page from the party last weekend, when he was startled from his stalking by the stylist announcing he was done. With a flourish, the stylist turned the chair around to face the vanity and Tony, who was leaning against the counter.

 

Peters face rapidly drained of blood, a feeling of horror washing over him.

 

His hair was gone.

 

His hair was gone.

 

Well, not gone gone, just cut much shorter than what he had wanted. Much shorter than he thought he and Tony had agreed to.

 

The stylist ran his fingers through the hair above Peters ears before he began to style the top, asking Tony what he thought. The inventor wasn’t able to reply before his ward was interrupting.

 

“What the hell, do you only know how to do one hair cut?” Peter exclaimed, lurching away from the man’s hands, his wide eyes locked on his reflection.

 

“Okay, hey, watch the attitude.” Tony sternly said, his gaze on his kid even as he gestured for the stunned stylist to leave. The stylist hastily retreated, not even gathering his tools in an effort to avoid the upcoming argument.

 

“Watch the- I look like you! Did you plan this? What the fuck Tony!” Peter shouted, standing to address his guardian, his hand shaking with anger.

 

“Hey, don’t use that tone with me!”

 

“No, you don’t get to be mad at me,” Peter shouted, “Did you tell him to cut my hair like this? Even after we agreed on just a trim?”

 

“I knew it would look better if you had an actual cut and style, but you were too stubborn to listen to me.” The older man threw his hands up in exasperation.

 

“You can’t- It’s unethical! You- You can’t just-,” Peter gasped for breath, anger mixing with a familiar feeling of helplessness, a feeling of having no control over himself. He clutched the sides of his head, turning his eyes back to his sheared hair in the mirror, “Why would you do this? You can’t just- It’s not okay- It’s not okay to just do this!”

 

“Okay, you need to calm down,” Tony cut his frantic rambling off, holding his hands up in mock surrender.

 

“Don’t tell me to calm down! You just cut my hair without my consent! This is violating!”

 

“Now you’re being dramatic,” Tony sighed rubbing a hand across his face in exhaustion. Pepper chose that moment to walk into the closet, no doubt drawn by the boys more and more frantic exclamations.

 

“What is going on? Peter, honey, why are you so upset?” Pepper asked in confusion, already looking tired of the argument she’d walked in on.

 

Peter blamed what happened next on many thing, including but not limited to- hormones, stress, his headache, Tony’s controlling style of parenting, and the fact that Pepper was now the only one in his life who addressed him with that kind of loving endearment.

 

The boy tried to form words, but instead frustrated tears spilled out of his eyes, so he settled for pointing at Tony, who he could see was now looking at him in shock.

 

“Peter,” Pepper gasped out, taking a step towards his, no doubt intent on trying to comfort him though his tears. But humiliation had Peter wiping the wetness from his face, stepping away from the woman and fleeing the room.

 

It was a stupid thing to get this upset about, Peter knew it was, but he couldn’t stop the anger from swelling within him.

 

The boy slammed his bedroom door shut with more force than necessary, briefly contemplating barricading it with his dresser, but dismissed the idea when he realized Tony would just use a gauntlet to break his way in.

 

The door blocked out the sound of Pepper chastising Tony and the man’s loud excuses.

 

Eyes burning with frustration the teenager rushed into his bathroom, again slamming the door. The sight that greeted him in the mirror was just as startling as it had been the first time, causing the tears to spill over, flowing down his flushed cheeks.

 

May would never have done this to him. Would never have forced what she wanted so strongly. This thought made the tears well up again, frustration and anger mixing with grief.

 

“Friday, the watch.” Peter ground out past the lump in his throat.

 

The AI didn’t reply, simply follow the shower protocol and allowed the nano-bots to disengage. Rushing back into his bedroom, Peter slipped the watch in his back pocket, shoved his feet into his sneakers, pulled on his jacket, and tossed his cellphone onto the bed. He paused at the door, turning back to rummage around in his closet. After a brief search, he found the hat he was looking for and clutched it in his hand as he slowly opened his door, senses on alert.

 

Racing through the living room, Peter was still able to hear his guardians bickering in Tony's closet, but he chose to tune them out, not caring enough to know if Tony had successfully convinced Pepper that he wasn’t in the wrong. Entering the private elevator, Peter shoved the red beanie over his short hair, freezing when the AIs voice chimed overhead.

 

“It is currently 10pm, you have a half hour before curfew.”

 

“Okay,” Peter nodded his eyes narrowed in anger, “I’ll be back by then.”

 

Peter waited till he left the building before he ditched the watch, knowing the all seeing AI would simply lock the front doors if he didn’t have it on his person. The watch was stashed in a potted plant right outside on the front steps and the boy was finally free to haunt the streets he knew.

 


 

Well, kind of knew. Peter was born and raised in Queens, the boroughs life practically flowed through his views. He could have never gotten lost in that part of the city, he knew every nook and cranny of that place.

 

Manhattan was a different story.

 

It wasn’t that Peter was lost, he knew exactly where he was and how to get back to the penthouse. It was that this borough wasn’t his home. He didn’t know where he could escape to in this part of the city, he didn’t know anyone who’s house he could walk to so he didn’t have to be alone, he didn’t know any corners where he could simply exist without being in the way.

 

So, Peter wasn’t lost in that he didn’t know where he was; he was lost in that he didn’t know where he belonged. Peter knew that his life was different now. He knew that there was no way it could ever go back to the way it was. He knew that May wasn’t waiting at their apartment with Thai and a hug to sooth his distress. He would never get that again. He didn’t really even have a home, all he had was the penthouse which felt so hollow and lonely most days, but suffocating and oppressive the others. He had Pepper's empty endearments and unfamiliar embrace. He had Tony’s empty workshop and controlling protectiveness.

 

These thoughts spurred the teenager through the city, until he found a suitably deserted office building. He quickly made his way up the fire escape of the unfamiliar building, only stopping his rushed movements when he was leaning over the ledge, the cool wind stinging his flushed cheeks. Ripping the hat from his head, his eyes searching the horizon for something familiar.

 

The building was pretty tall and allowed him to gaze across the brightly lit city scape. Normally the sight would have calmed him, made him feel more secure, something he desperately craved. It did the opposite now.

 

He didn’t fit in to this city, not like he used to.

 


 

It was over four hours later when Peter began to make his way back to the penthouse, his jacket pulled tightly around himself to fight the shivers crawling up his spine. He guessed he had stayed out too long, his muscles aching and his stomach hollow.

 

Brushing the dirt off the watch made bile rise up the back of his throat, as he stared hopelessly at the time piece. He was amazed he hadn’t seen any Iron Man suits patrolling the city looking for him, a self-righteous Tony ready to yell at him.

 

The lobby attended didn’t acknowledge his entrance, used to his odd wandering habits as she continued to scroll through her phone. Friday was also silent as Peter rode the elevator up to the top floor, but the teenager imagined he could feel her judgmental stare on the back of his head. He sunk deeper into his jacket and pulled the hat lower to fully cover his ears, as he tentatively left the elevator, bracing himself for Tony’s anger.

 

Peter wasn’t sure how many ‘Runaway attempts’ this made. (Tony and Pepper’s words, not his own. He didn’t think he was ever really running away, more he just wanted to get away for a while. But his guardians always made such a big deal about it, always acted like he was a dog that got loose and would have never come back on his own. But Peter always came back. He didn’t have anywhere else to go.) Peter didn’t want to have to fight more, the chill taking the anger from him and leaving only weariness.

 

Tony was waiting in the living room alone, which made the dread from before double. There would be no Pepper to keep the man’s anger in check, no Pepper to act as mediator and soften the blow of being treated like a misbehaving pet.

 

Peter stopped at the sight of the man, who was watching him from the couch with an unreadable expression. The two of them stared at each other, the seconds dragging on. Peter was unwilling to break the silence, didn’t see why he should be the one to start the inevitable conversation when Tony was the one who started the conflict.

 

Tony finally sighed heavily, dragging a calloused hand across his face, “Come sit down.”

 

Peter’s feet stayed stubbornly planted, a thread of anger weaving through him at the command. He didn’t want to sit down just so Tony could stand and be even taller than him as he chewed him out.

 

Tony looked up when he didn’t hear his command automatically followed. An expression of remorse flashed across his face when he took in the sight of his kid, huddled in on himself, eyes alight with resentment, unwilling to come closer to him.

 

He softened his voice, “I’m not going to yell at you, please just come sit down.”

 

Peters feet dragged across the polished floor, until he delicately sat on the far end of the couch, his eyes locked on his shoes. They had come untied again, the dirty laces in stark contrast with the floor they laid on. One lace was missing an aglet, the string fraying at the end.

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

Peter’s eyes darted up to his mentor’s face, surprised he wasn’t being lectured at for going out without his watch and breaking curfew. Normally his bangs would have provided him some cover to study the man without him knowing, but his bangs were gone now and the two of them made eye contact. The man did look sorry, but Peter knew he was good at acting.

 

“I shouldn’t have had him cut your hair shorter than you wanted. It was controlling and cruel and- god, kid,” Tony dragged a hand across his face again, breaking eye contact, “That was such a Howard move and I never should have done that.”

 

He paused, seeking out Peters eyes again, but the boy was unwilling and turned them back to his frayed shoe lace.

 

“I’m trying to do this right, but I don’t have a lot of reference material, you know? I just have a bunch of parenting articles and I probably take what they say too far. I saw that you had been hiding behind your hair and I just wanted- well, it doesn’t matter what I wanted. We both know I was just trying to get my way. It was the wrong thing to do and I’m sorry.” The man hurriedly spoke the words into the space between them.

 

It was a pretty good apology, Peter had to admit. Pepper must have coached him through it while he was gone.

 

“Okay.” The boy muttered.

 

Peter could feel his eyes on the side of his head and heard him take in a deep breath.

 

“Just okay?”

 

Peter shrugged.

 

The silence dragged on again, until Peter looked up at Tony. The man was watching him with regretful eyes, his lips in a straight line.

 

“I won’t do something like that again, okay?” Peter nodded with a sniff, looking at his shoes and hating himself for the wetness he could feel polling in his eyes.

 

“Hey, come here,” He looked up to see Tony’s arms open, a searching and vulnerable expression on his face.

 

The boy slumped forward into the embrace, trying to smother his tears in the older man’s shoulder. He hated that he wanted comfort. Hated that the only one who could offer the comfort was who he was upset with. Hated that he didn’t have May, hated that he wasn’t in Queens, hated that his hair was gone.

 

“I’m still really mad at you,” Peters voice sounded thick with his unshed tears.

 

“Yeah, well, I’m pretty mad you ran away for four hours without your watch or phone.” Tony smoothed a hand down his spine when he felt the boy stiffen to pull away, tightening his embrace as he rested his cheek on the top of the boys hat clad head. “It’s fine, I understand why. Just, please don’t do it again. Please, don't run away anymore.”

 

Peter simply nodded, doubting that he would obey. Tony was too prone to disregard boundaries and Peter was too prone to running from his pain.

 

“I’m sorry,” Tony whispered onto the top of his head before pulling away, ending the embrace before Peter was ready. “Go to bed,” He said as he stood from the couch, squeezing the boys shoulder as he went to his own bedroom, where his wife was already asleep.

 

Peter stared after him, feeling cold and small in the sterile living room.

Chapter Text

 

MJ:

what do you think he would do if i shaved it all off?

 think it would piss him off??

PP:

I mean, probably, but then I would be bald

And I dont want to be bald

Thats like the opposite of what I want

 

 

“What are you looking at?” Tony leaned against the kitchen counter, angling his head to try and see the screen of Peters phone. The boy, in sync with the man’s movements, moved the phone closer to himself, obstructing Tony’s prodding eyes.

 

“Instagram.” Peter didn’t look up from his phone. His tone was dull, the anger from the night before still simmering. The penthouse had been silent that Saturday, the drama from the night still fresh in everyone’s minds. It didn’t help to ease the atmosphere that Pepper had to run to SI to work before the gala that evening, that Tony had spent the day hiding in his workshop, and that Peter was unwilling to seek either of them out.

 

“Really? It looks like you’re texting someone.”

 

“I was commenting on a post.” Peter finally looked up, his gritted teeth and narrowed eyes daring his overbearing guardian to continue his interrogation. Tony held his hands up in mock surrender, muttering about teenage hormones under his breath as he turned away to make himself a coffee. Peter internally bristled at the demeaning comment, locking his phone as he stood, “I’m going to my room.”

 

“Oi, we need to be out the door by 7, so go get ready,” Tony called back, his back still to his ward.

 

“Oh, I’m not going.” Peter replied flippantly, not stopping his trek across the spacious living room towards the hallway.

 

“Excuse me? What do you mean you’re not going?”

 

Peter sighed heavily at Tony’s baffled tone, squaring his shoulders as he turned around to face his guardian, “I don’t want to go, so I’m not going to.”

 

“Um, hold up, no? That’s not how this works,” The man motioned at the space between the two of them before pointing at the boy, “You are going to the gala tonight. One of the main goals of the organization hosting is being family centric, I feel like it would look pretty shitty if their main benefactor showed up without part of their family.”

 

Tony referring to them as a family making Peter momentarily blanch before he threw up his hands in exasperation, saying, “I don’t want to go, and I thought you were going to stop making me do things I don’t want to do.”

 

“That is not at all what I said and you know that.” Tony crossed his arms, his detached tone and unamused expression letting Peter know he wasn’t going to win this argument. “It will only be a few hours and then Pepper and I are heading to the airport straight from the gala, so you can spend the rest of the weekend moping in your bedroom in peace.”

 

Peters heart sank hearing that his guardians were leaving again, even as his hands clenched in offense at Tony insinuating he moped in his bedroom all the time.

 

“How long are both gonna be gone?” Peter could feel his bravado shrinking, his defiance being replaced with a feeling of abandonment. Peter was proud that his voice didn’t reflect the childish emotions he felt, instead it was detached and cool, mirroring his guardians attitude.

 

“I’ll be back Tuesday night. And hey, remember that Friday is always watching and Happy will drop in at least once a day, so don’t try anything, okay? Behave.” The man sternly said.

 

Peter scowled at the command and stomped his way down the hallway.

 


 

Peter decided he liked the pink wine was the best. The dark red one had been too bitter, the yellowish white one had an almost vinegary taste, and he honestly thought he was going to choke on whatever the dark amber liquid was.

 

(It tasted like a sterile hospital room, like doctors shaking their heads in regret, like oxygen cannulas and helplessness.)

 

Peter had been playing this game the whole party. The rules were simple; avoid talking to any of the guest, try all of the different foods being carried around by the tuxedo dressed staff, and try as many different beverages as he could that were also being served. The final, and most important rule, was to not be caught by Tony or Pepper as he attempted this. They would both certainly overreact and there would be hell to pay.

 

‘They never told me I wasn’t allowed to drink,’ Though he was also certain they wouldn’t be too pleased with it. He honestly doubted the alcohol would affect him at all and he wasn’t too proud to admit this game was mostly an act of rebellion.

 

This wasn’t the first fancy gathering Peter had been forced to attend, though during the other two he had been too clouded by grief to have the energy to be frustrated. He had trailed after Tony and Pepper like a lost puppy, at one humiliating point he had realized he had the back hem of Tony’s jacket clutched in his hand, like he was a preschooler scared to be separated from his parents. Tony and Pepper hadn’t acknowledged his mortifying behavior, save for Peppers eyes being extra soft when she had hugged him goodnight and Tony holding him tighter and longer than he usually did.

 

(And sure, Peter could admit the extra comfort had been nice, but he was sixteen, not six! He didn’t need to follow his parents, ‘Guardians, they haven’t adopted me, so they’re not my parents,’ to feel safe at some party.)  

 

This time was much different. This time Peter was frustrated about the fancy suit Tony had stuffed him into (More like followed him into his bedroom and demand he comply by putting it on or “So help me Peter, it’s one night. If you don’t get dressed right now I will replace your whole wardrobe with Armani and you’ll look like that dumb Boss Baby thing you tried to make me watch, do you understand?”) Most of all, he was enraged about his short hair, perfectly styled by Tony after he had dressed him like an unwilling doll. The man had had the decency to at least look a little ashamed of himself before pulling the pomade out of the bathroom drawer. But Peter still felt that the humiliation of being treated like something to be handled, or controlled, or molded, he felt that the anger could make him do just about anything.

 

He was also frustrated with the privileged 1% around him giving him stares that varied between pitying, disgusted, and envious (Peter didn’t know which he hated more, people feeling bad for his misfortune or coveting what he wished he had never received).

 

The looks had died off as the evening progressed, the lavishly clad people mingling with each other, completely ignoring the resentful teen in their midst. Apparently even Tony Starks orphan lost its novelty after prolonged exposure.

 

As he leaned against a wall near the towering windows, a glass of the pink wine he didn’t know the proper name for held loosely in his hand, Peter couldn’t help but feel satisfied with himself. While he hated to admit Tony was right about anything, especially when he was already pissed at him, he knew the suit fit him well, and the haircut made him look more mature and composed then he felt. The wine probably helped with that too.

 

Peter gazed across the vast room, spotting Tony with his arm around Peppers waist, both politely listening as the other guests they were standing with spoke. As Peter watched, Tony casually said something with a smirk that didn’t carry across the room, causing those around him to laugh. Pepper simply turned to scowl at her husband, which caused Peter to grin into his wine glass.

 

Maybe I should switch to water,’ Peter thought with a sting of guilt as he looked into the nearly empty glass. Sure, he was frustrated at Tony for making him come when he didn’t want to, still furious about the hair incident, but he knew him sneaking drinks would really disappoint his guardians, something he even now really didn’t want to do. Peter knew Tony struggled with alcohol, knew that the glass Tony was holding in his hand contained either iced tea or apple juice. So why was he behaving so poorly?

 

Peter swallowed down his regret and shame, placing his nearly empty glass on a passing tray. The teenager turned to gaze out the window at the glowing city. The satisfaction his rebellion had brought was gone, in its place all he felt was embarrassment. (And like he could use a hug, particularly one from Tony. Like the one he once got after he messed up something potentially dangerous in the workshop and had known Tony was really mad at him, but all Tony did was hug him and run his fingers though his hair and told him they could fix it.)

 

A slight buzz from his sixth sense was the only warning he had before a warm hand was gliding across up his bicep, latching onto his shoulder.

 

“Why do you smell like a winery?”

 

 “Someone spilled their drink on me?” Peter said, hating that he said it like a question. He subtly trying to lean away from his guardian, who was slightly stooped so they were eye level with each other.

 

Tony looked down at Peter’s spotless white shirt, “Want to try again? This time without the lying?”

 

“Um, I was taste testing?” Shit, he needed to get control of his voice, he sounded like a middle schooler.

 

“Taste testing.” The man repeated the words, his dark eyes stormy as he squeezed the boys shoulder harshly before letting go. “Is this something we’re going to have to have a conversation about?”

 

Peter scowled, “No, I was just-”

 

“Just what? Blatantly disrespecting me?” The man snapped before taking a steadying breath and running a hand through his styled hair, “God, I sound like my dad.”

 

Peter watched as the man pulled out his phone, his focus quickly leaving the boy in front of him, “What, are you just gonna ignore me?”

 

“I’m not ignoring you, I just don’t have time for this right now. And is that what this was? You wanting my attention?” His eyes never left his phone as he rapidly typed, his lack of interest making it clear to Peter he didn’t care what the answer was.

 

“What’s going on?” Pepper smoothly entered into the conversation, sliding her arm through Tony’s so they were both facing the boy. She concealed her agitation from the other guests with a smile that only Tony and Peter could see the strain in.

 

“I’ll tell you later.” The man put his phone away, eyes trailing across the boy’s face. “Time to say bye, Happy is waiting downstairs for you.”

 

“Are you seriously just sending me away?”

 

“You didn’t want to come to this in the first place, don’t act so upset.” The man bit back, but cut himself off with a shake of his head, “No, nope, I’m not doing this,” The man freed himself from Peppers grip, quickly entering Peters space to pull him into a quick hug. “I’ll see you Tuesday, don’t do anything stupid while we’re gone. Respond when I text you. We’ll talk about this when I get back.”

 

Peter was ridged the whole half second the hug lasted, almost wanting to shove himself away, almost wanting to hold on to the back of Tony’s jacket.

 

“Goodbye sweetheart, we’ll see you soon.” Even though she was obviously confused by the conversation, Pepper pulled the teenager into her arms, kissing the top of his head before letting go.

 

Tony nodded his head towards the exit, “Go home.”

 

Peter didn’t bother responding to the dismissal, simply turned on his heel and stomped away.

 


 

Friday automatically turned on the lights as Peter made his way through the silent penthouse.

 

The boy left a trail of clothing, which he knew would be cleaned up by invisible staff before the morning even came. His dress shoes were discarded by the elevator, his suit jacket on the floor by the couch, and his tie somewhere near the kitchen. What did it matter if he made a mess if it was so easily cleaned up and ignored? Besides, it’s not like anyone else was there to care. He was completely alone.

 

That thought caused the boy to take in a trembling breath. He wasn’t going to cry. He wasn’t. It was just that the last two days had been really exhausting and fighting with Tony always made his feel terrible. And he knew he was in the wrong for drinking at the gala, he knew that Tony was really upset with him and he knew Pepper would be so disappointed in him when Tony told her how Peters anger made him act out. And he was already annoyed that Tony would tell her, that the one person in his life who still somewhat coddled him would look at him with so much disappointment soon for something that wasn’t even a big deal.

 

He realized he wasn’t just mad at Tony. If anything, he was mostly upset with himself. Upset that he was behaving the way he was, frustrated that he kept scaring his guardians when he ran away, frightened that he kept taking the pills, humiliated that he wanted someone to comfort him and scared that he would be rejected if he asked.

 

‘What does it matter if I’m rejected, I’m already always alone.’ The teenager thought bitterly, scoffing into the empty air.

 

 The lights of his bathroom seemed particularly harsh to the teens sensitive eyes, the bright glow causing his head to throb.

 

“Friday, can you dim the lights to 50%,” The boy requested, popping the buttons of his shirt with shaky hands.

 

“Of course, Peter,” The AI replied, her voice making the boy think about how his only company was a piece of coding (admittedly a very intelligent piece of coding, but still).

 

In the dimmed lighting, Peter stared at his reflection. His freshly cut and styled hair, open dress shirt which cost more than a months rent at his old apartment (the place he truly thought of as home, the place which he hadn’t seen in a year), his shadowed eyes which had seen more than their fair share of tragedies. Peter thought he had never looked more unlike himself, had never looked more like a stranger, had never looked so old.

 

Maybe it was the disassociation of self that caused his next actions.

 

Or maybe it was just reckless rebellion.

 

Before he could process what he was doing, Peter was holding the tablet from the party in his hand, standing in front of his desk. He stared at the unknown drug and then threw it into his mouth, swallowing it down.

 

As if in a trance the boy walked back into the bathroom, splashing cold water on his face when he got to the sink. He looked at himself in the mirror again as he dried off. He looked more like himself now.

 

Holy shit.

 

Holy shit.

 

‘Did I really just do that?’ The growing panic was a familiar feeling to Peter, horror racing through his body as he lunged for the toilet. ‘I didn’t mean to do that.’

 

He fell to his knees in front of toilet, raising a violently trembling hand to his lips, unsure what to do.

 

Do I throw it up? I don’t know how to make myself throw up,’ Pushing two fingers past his lips, he stared into the water of the bowl, feeling tears prickle his eyes. ‘I don’t know what to do.’

 

As the panicked thought of calling Tony flashed through his head, the boy was hit by a wave of dizziness, causing him to grip the sides of the bowl with both hands to keep himself from falling sideways.

 

Slowly, (‘Or did it happen quickly? And he just couldn’t tell?’) a warmth rushed over him, his panic seeming to melt away as he swallows against a rush of endorphins. It felt like his mind, between two breaths, went from overwhelmed and frightened to foggy and peaceful. The guilt is gone, the shame is gone, pretty much everything he felt was gone. His mind was like a still pool, crystal clear and empty.

 

Peter didn’t know how long he rested on the floor of his bathroom, the abrupt lack of anxiety leaving him sitting numbly on the hard floor, gaze fixed on the empty space in front of him.

 

Eventually, Peter rose from his slumped position and found his way to his bed, swaying slightly as a walked. He flopped onto the mattress, rolling with uncoordinated limbs until he was facing the floor to ceiling windows. The boy laid on his bed staring out at the city scape, marveling at the glowing buildings. His mind was slow, thoughts drifted through like smoke, barely visible and impossible to hold on to.

 

He didn’t really know what he was feeling. It was if an ever present burden had suddenly been lifted off him and without it there was nothing tethering him to the earth. He felt like he could have actually been laying on the ceiling, that he could have floated up there without realizing it. It was like May wasn’t gone, or maybe she was and it just didn’t matter anymore. It was like every anxiety or insecurity he had ever had was gone. It was like Peter was gone.

 

As he stared at the horizon line, all he knew was that it was finally bringing him peace. He felt like he finally fit into the starless sky, felt like he was glowing himself. He knew was that it didn’t really matter that he didn’t have a home or a family or May. It didn’t really matter that he was alone. None of it mattered. All that there was, was the beautiful glow of the lights through the city’s pollution.

 


 

Awareness came slowly the next morning.

 

Peter felt like he was wading through molasses as rolled on to his back, squinting eyes glaring at the ceiling above him.

 

‘Do I have the flu?’ He wondered internal, not daring to voice the question to Friday and make his throbbing headache worse.

 

Then he remembered the night before, remembered the gala, the drinking, being sent away by Tony, taking the mystery tablet.

 

Peter slowly pushed himself into a sitting position on the bed, taking in that he was still wearing his dress shirt and pants. He leaned forward until he was able to cradle his head in his hands, a hysterical laugh bubbling up inside him.

 

He took the tablet that Emmett gave him. Holy shit, he took a random drug some guy he didn’t know gave him and didn’t die.

 

Peter flopped backwards, sprawling across his mattress, a laugh finally leaving him. Sure, he felt, physically, really bad.  Honestly, he may need to throw up soon. But emotionally? He had an overwhelming feeling of excitement flowing through him.

 

He had never felt anything like that tablet.

 

And he knew where he could get more.

Chapter Text

It was 4 in the afternoon by the time Peter managed to force himself out of bed, his desire to spend the day buried under pillows outweighed by his desperate need to use the bathroom. The room spun dangerously when he stood, bile rising in his throat, the burn making his eyes water. The teenager stumbled his way into the bathroom, hunching over the toilet as he gave a few wet coughs. Once he was sure he wasn’t going to lose the contents of his stomach, Peter went through his normal routine, changing his dress clothes for sweats, before collapsing back into his blankets.

 

Laying with his eyes closed, Peter listened to the near silent penthouse. He could hear the air humming through the vents, the whirl of electricity running through the walls as Friday monitored the rooms, wheels crunching over paper as Dummy moved around in the workshop two floors below, and a slow drip from the kitchen sink. With his senses, the world was never truly silent, but Peter felt like the lack of other people puttering around the space made the air echo with neglect.

 

In a sudden rush, Peter rolled onto his side, digging through his blankets until he found his phone. He had several notifications from Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter, a couple missed texts from Ned, and most worryingly, two missed texts from Tony.

 

TS:

Friday says you’re still asleep. Text me when you wake up.

Text me, Peter.

 

The first text had come in around 11 and the most recent text a little over a half hour ago, when Peter had just woken up. He rolled his eyes at Friday’s snitching and Tony's oppressive hovering, but replied that he was awake.

 

In three taps, Peter had a new chat opened. He typed out a message, deleted it, tried to reword the text, deleted it again, and finally retyped the first message. He decisively pressed send, pursing his lips as he immediately wondered if he should send another message saying never mind.

 

Flash responded surprisingly fast and was forthcoming with his brother’s number, asking why and shockingly taking Peters flippant reply of “He just seemed chill” without any protest.

 

The next text was even harder to type, each time he worded the message it seemed awkward or too detailed.

 

PP:

Hey Emmett, this is Peter, Flash’s friend. We met in the bathroom of your house? and I was wondering if we could meet up? Like today if youre free

Idk just wondering

 

Turning his phone off silent and throwing it onto the mattress, Peter rolled onto his stomach, smoothening himself in the pillows. The boy held his breath, listing all the reasons in his head why this was a terrible idea. Even as he tried to convince himself, he could feel in the back of his head that he was going to do it anyway. His lungs burned from the lack of air so Peter turned his head sideways, gasping in a breath, dismay curling through him.

 

His phone chimed.

 

Unknown:

Took you long enough ;)

Meet in that park near your school in an hour.

Bring cash.

 

Apparently, all the Thompson’s replied to texts quickly.

 

Squinting against the light coming in from his window, Peter pulled his suit from his closet, digging the cash out of the hidden pocket. He rubbed the two fifties between his thumb and fingers, running his tongue over his teeth in contemplation. His heart was rapidly pounding in his chest, the muscles in his shoulders and arms sore and tight.

 

What was it? Excitement? Fear? Panic? He couldn’t tell, but he knew he was going to go through with it.

 

Spite was a strong a motivator.

 


 

Sneezy was unexpectedly compliant, not questioning Peters need to go to the park two blocks down from Midtown at 4:30 in the afternoon on a Sunday, simply humming in acknowledgement of the directions and merging with the traffic.

 

Peter sat in the backseat, nervously switching between apps, when his phone chimed again, this time with a text from Tony asking why he had left the apartment. The boy’s eyes widened as his thumbs hovered over the screen, unsure how much to lie.

 

The teenager finally settled on simply saying he was on his way to a park, his anxiety worsening as he pressed send.

 

“Text me when you want to leave.” Sneezy gruffly said as Peter slammed the door and hurried down one of the paved paths. Peter could see that the park was fairly deserted, by New York standers. The sky was rolling with dark clouds overhead, the threat of a storm and the sharp chill in the air scaring most of the usual Sunday park goers away.

 

Peter easily spotted Emmett, the dark-haired man sitting on a swing in the empty playground, a cigarette loosely held between two fingers. Peter slowed his steps as he drew closer to the man, anxiously running a hand through his hair and straightening the collar of his jacket.

 

The crunch of Peters shoes on the gravel under the swings caused Emmett to twist his head around, his closed off expression morphing into an easy grin.

 

“Well, took you long enough,” The man gestured for Peter to take the to the empty swing beside him, sliding the cigarette into his mouth and fishing a lighter out of his pants pocket.

 

Peters next step fumbled, his eyes flickering to his watch which told him he was 10 minutes early.

 

“I meant it took you long enough to take it.” Emmett rolled his eyes at the teenager’s obvious confusion. “Lasted a whole week before you caved, honestly I’m impressed. I pinned you as being more impulsive than that.” Emmett paused, not turning his eyes away from where they were looking out across the playground. “Come on, sit down. Looks weird if I’m the only one swinging.”

 

Peter hesitantly sat down on the swing, his stomach rolling with nerves. He wrinkled his nose at the strong smell of tobacco hovering around them. The boy opened his mouth, but couldn’t find the words. What was he doing? Asking his classmates brother for drugs? What was wrong with him? He was Spider-man, a vigilante, he regularly stopped drug dealers and here he was hoping to score off of one.

 

“I’m gonna stop you before you get going into another ramble,” Emmett held his hand up, causing Peter to snap his mouth shut, his teeth audibly clicking. Emmett swiveled his head to look at the boy, an amused grin on his lips, before he shifted his expression, an air of professionalism suddenly surrounding him. “I’m assuming you’re here because you want to buy more, not just because you wanted to hang out with Eugene’s “Chill” older brother.”

 

Peter pinched his lips into a straight line, embarrassment burning his cheeks as the older man quoted his text back to him. When Emmett raised an eyebrow in question, obviously expecting an answer, Peter slowly nodded, wishing he had the strength to shake his head no.

 

“Great, so I’ve got some different options then. I’ve got some blow, candy, e, hydros, and I think a couple bars on me. I can get just about anything you want though.” The man patted his jacket pockets before exclaiming, “Oh, and I’ve got a couple roaches.” He shrugged, grabbing a hold of both the swings chains, the cigarette dangling from his lips as he leaned back.

 

“Um, okay, um,” Peter blinked, shocked about the fast moving conversation and unsure how to process everything the man had just said, while also wondering what even candy was. “What, uh,” Peter coughed into his sleeve to clear his throat. “What about what you gave me at the party?”

 

“Huh,” Emmett rubbed the skin under his eye, flicking his cigarette into the grass, “The party was two Fridays ago, so it was mostly some D mixed with some O, a few other fun things thrown in. That was actually a new blend, not many people have been trying that. Lots of controversy and talk surrounding it too.” Emmett looked at Peter in contemplation, seeming to be deep in thought. “How’d you take it?”

 

“What? Um, I swallowed it?”

 

Emmett nodded his head slowly, pursing his lips, “Okay, fine. It’s $60 a tablet.”

 

“Oh, wow, uh,” Peter dug into his pants pocket, pulling out the two fifties, “I only have fifties, do you have change?”

 

Emmett stare at the teenager long enough that Peter began to shift uncomfortably, before he coughed out a laugh, a look of amused disbelief on his face. “No, I can’t make change. But, here,” The mans hand darted out and grabbed the two bills, smoothly slipping a small plastic ziploc into Peters palm. Peter looked down, catching sight of the two innocent looking tablets within, “I’ll make you a deal, $20 off since it’s your first purchase.” Emmett flashed the blushing boy a wink, pushing himself to his feet. “It was good to see you again, kid. Text me when you need more and want to meet up. Maybe next time we’ll get coffee.”

 

Peter stayed sitting on the swing, watching as Emmett walked down the paved trail, a light rain blurring his retreating form.

 


 

School the next day was a struggle for the teenager. The rain from the day before continued to come down all through the night, escalating into a full thunderstorm which shook the windows of the penthouse. Peter wasn’t scared of storms, he had always loved to watch the lightning light up the sky and enjoyed the sound of the rain falling. But things were different now and as the boy aged he had discovered some things were scarier when you were alone. So, he hadn’t slept much the night before, the crack of the thunder startling him awake whenever he would doze off and the weight of the two tablets making him toss and turn.

 

He managed to stumble through the whole day without incident, only receiving a handful of concerned looks from his teachers and friends, but no one said anything to him about the dark circles under his eyes or his listlessness, so he counted it as a win.

 

It was a sneak day, which meant that Peter knew he would sleep well that night, the painkiller always soothing him into a deep dreamless sleep.

 

The sleek black car Sneezy drove was waiting in the pickup line and Peter automatically made his way towards the vehicle, opening up Spotify on his phone and looking for a good playlist, fumbling one handed with his backpack as he opened the car door.

 

Peter was settled into the car, seatbelt clipped across himself and eyes still glued to his screen when he noticed that they hadn’t moved out of the pickup line. Looking up the boy made eye contact with the driver, causing him to pull his earbuds out.

 

“What?” Peter narrowed his eyes at the driver in suspicion.

 

Sneezy visibly steadied himself, drawing in a deep breath, “So, I have some new.” The man paused, obviously uncomfortable with what he was about to say. “There was an accident, no one was seriously hurt,” The man rushed to say when he saw the boy’s eyes widen in fright. “But Mr. Stark had to return to New York so that he could see his primary medical physician. He is currently at their medical clinic and asked me to bring you to him.”

 

Peter stared in shock, his blood running cold. Tony was hurt. His guardian was hurt and asking for him to come see them in a medical facility.

 

“What happened,” The words came out in a monotone, which Peter counted as a blessing. He didn’t particularly want to have an emotional break down in front of Sneezy and give the man more reason to think of him as a bratty emotional kid.

 

“I wasn’t given too many details, but it appears that Mr. Stark electrocuted himself while working in R&D in Malibu.” Sneezy turned around, putting the car into drive, “Mrs. Potts-Stark urged”, (‘Demanded,’ Peter thought somewhat deliriously) “that he return to New York and be checked over by his own doctors, because of his prior heart conditions.” The burly man shrugged, signaling an end to the conversation.

 

Peter nodded, turning his gaze out the window, fear rushing through him.

 


 

Peter wearily followed Sneezy through the familiar hallways of the private clinic the Starks used. He kept his eyes on the scuffed toes of his shoes, unwilling to look up and make eye contact with the nurses who’s names he couldn’t remember. He knew they would smile at him sympathetically, ask him how he was doing, just like they used to when he would come and visit over a year ago. He felt nauseous with how familiar the situation was.

 

The boy nearly walked into Sneezy’s back when the man suddenly stopped walking, pausing outside an open door. Peter peaked around the drivers’s large frame, catching sight of a white hospital bed with a pair of jean clad legs lazily stretched out across it, before a doctor was walking out of the room, telling them both they were free to go in.

 

Sneezy simply turned to Peter, motioning for him to enter the room.

 

Peters eyes flickered all across the minimalistic space as he slowly walked in, his eyes never landing on the bed and the man it held.

 

He heard Tony sign, the sound making him want to shrink in on himself and he came to a stop at the foot of the bed. Peter felt small, childlike, as he stood there, listening to his guardian thank and then dismiss the driver.

 

“Hey.” Tony’s voice greeted. Peter thought he could hear a thread of annoyance curling through it, but mostly the man just sounded exhausted.

 

“Hi,” He didn’t look up, simply kept his eyes locked on his own hands which were fiddling with the footboard.

 

“Listen, I know we haven’t been on the best terms lately, but what happened on Saturday-” Tony began only to be cut off by Peter.

 

“Are you okay?” The boy interrupted, finally looking up and wringing his hands together. The man looked fine, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, his hair styled in its normal messy fashion.

 

“What?”

 

“Are you okay? Sneezy said there was an accident and now you’re here and you had me come see you and I just-” Peter gasped out, clenching his trembling hands tighter, trying to conceal their shaking.

 

“No, hey, no. Stop, I’m okay. I’m completely fine.” Tony held his hands up, his wide dark eyes locked with Peters. “I swear, I perfectly alright. I was just having some chest pain after getting shocked a little bit and Pepper found out and kind of forced me to come home early. No big deal, just my wife making me see a doctor even though I’m completely fine.” The man rolled his eyes dramatically, before sobering and patting the mattress next to him. “Come here.”

 

Peter hesitated before he dragged his feet towards the man, stopping within arm’s reach in, but not taking a seat.

 

“I’m sorry.” Tony apologized, “I should have thought about how me telling you to come here would upset you.”

 

“I’m not upset,” The boy quietly protested, rubbing a sleeve across his eyes, wishing he was in his bed under his comforter. Tony slanted a disbelieving look at the teenager and then rolled his eyes in exasperation.

 

“Fine, okay, you’re not upset. But I’m still sorry, okay?” Tony raised an eyebrow, the fact that he was sitting on the bed making him eye level with the teenager.

 

“Yeah, okay,” Peter muttered back. The boy paused for a minute, guilt curling through him as he chewed on his bottom lip. Finally, he quietly said, “I’m sorry for drinking at the gala. I was angry and I just, I shouldn’t have done anything I did that night.”

 

Tony’s eyes softened, one side of his mouth lifting into a soft smile. The man nodded and reached out a hand, tugging Peter forward until he could wrap his arms around him. “I accept your apology and I’m sorry about how I acted then. I shouldn’t have just sent you home with Happy. Just, don’t do something like that again, okay?”

 

Peter melted into the embrace, glad he could hide his face as he felt shame burn brightly through him. The guilt sat heavily in his stomach as he wrapped his arms around Tony’s middle, wishing he wasn’t scared to tell him the truth and wishing he was able to obey.

 


 

Peter had passed the time at the clinic trying to distract himself by watching New Girl, sprawled across one of the side chairs with his feet propped up on Tony’s bed, mindlessly picking at the food they had delivered. They had had to wait for the numerous test Pepper had insisted on to come back before they were allowed to leave, the doctor urging the billionaire to rest and not over exert himself. The man himself was unmoved by the doctor’s discharge instructions, claiming he was completely fine, even as he clutched his chest and gritted his teeth in pain.

 

It was several hours after they arrived that Happy drove them home from the clinic, the man ignoring Peters presence in favor of arguing with his boss, who was adamant he was fine to fly a suit back to Malibu and attend the board meeting the next day.

 

Peter simply put his headphones in, wondering how he was going to get a yellow pill out of the master bathroom now that Tony was home.

 

The lights of the penthouse slowly illuminated as Peter and Tony exited the elevator, Friday calmly greeting them.

 

The two said goodnight in the hall, the exhaustion of the day urging them towards their beds, both wishing for a dreamless sleep they knew they were unlikely to receive.

 


 

“I don’t understand.” A dry mouth, a fact stated.

 

“There’s nothing they can do.” She repeated. Swallowed spit, trying to be strong. “And I didn’t want to worry you if it was nothing. And then I didn’t want to worry you because it was something, but it doesn’t look good, baby. The doctors, they don’t have hope.” She smoothed his hair down, cradling his face between her palms, looking like she wanted to cry, looking guilty and sorry.

 

“No,” The protest was barely audible, like he was begging her to be lying. 

 

“I know, sweetie, I know. But I’m not going to give up. I promise, that’s not what this is,” Her hands, cold, boney, (He should have seen that she was unwell, the signs were all there, she was so thin, so delicate, so breakable.) reached out to hold him, pulling the boy into her arms, “I’m going to keep fighting, okay? I’m going to do this.” 

 

He nodded, numb.

 

“But,” She paused, “There are just some things I want to be sure of, you know? I want to make sure you’ll be okay. Just in case,” Another pause, he searched her eyes, dreading the sentence he knew would follow, “Well, in case I’m not here.”

 

“I could never be okay without you,” He gripped the sleeve of her shirt, barely keeping his strength in check.

 

“Don’t talk like that.” Her eyes were suddenly stern, her grip tightening till it was painful and bruising. “Don’t even think like that.”

 

“It’s true,” Behind him he heard someone shift on the couch. The voyeurs, the imposters, witnessing a private moment and Peter was suddenly so mad at them, so angry about how the adults had all organized this conversation. How these people who had no right to be involved knew before him, how they were all making decisions without him.

 

‘This isn’t how it happened the first time, I wasn’t angry the first time,’ The thought drifted through his mind as the scene changed, the familiar love seat under him shifting into a hard plastic chair, the warm lighting of the room being replaced with harsh florescent lights.

 

The beeping of a heart monitor and the hum of an oxygen concentrator filled the small room, the machines surrounding the frail occupant of the bed.  

 

She was so pale.

 

‘She already looks dead,’ Peter choked on a breath as the thought flowed through him. Suddenly the boy was flying into consciousness, lunging upwards so that he sat panting on his bed. He was freezing, his blankets thrown off the side of the bed, causing him to shiver and wrap his arms around himself, the oversized hoodie and sweatpants he was wearing providing little warmth.

 

Without thought, the boy rolled out of bed and pushed his door open, stumbling into the dark hallway. Friday slowly raised the lights, helping the boy to not collide with a wall in his hast. In a few short steps, he was pushing open the other bedroom door and stopping, his hand still clutching the doorknob.

 

The light spilled in, waking the single occupant of the room. Tony sat up, blankets pooling around his waist, and his hands clenching into fists before he recognized the silhouette standing in the doorway.  

 

“Pete? Kid, what’s wrong?” The wan groggily said, squinting through the darkness. “Fri, raise the light 5%.”

 

In the soft illumination of the bedroom, Tony was finally able to see the boys flushed face and shaky expression. The man’s voice softened even more, turning coxing at the sight of the teenager lingering just outside the safety of his guardian’s bedroom. “Hey, it’s okay, come here, Pete.”

 

The embarrassment of waking Tony up because of a nightmare was outweighed by the boys desire to be comforted, causing him to trip the final few steps into the bed, collapsing against the older mans chest. Tony let out an oomph of discomfort at the sudden weight, but wrapped an arm around the teen to maneuver them into a more comfortable position.

 

“What’s wrong, Peter? Why are you awake?”

 

Peter sucked in a shuttering breath, shaking his head no. He never talked about his nightmares, never knew how to verbalize how the memories of simple mundane conversations had become so horrifying. How seeing the face of someone he loved become so frail was so much more traumatizing than any of the other atrocities he had experienced in his life.

 

Tony simply sighed, leaning back until he was resting against the headboard, a lap and armful of lanky distressed teenager held securely against himself. Letting out a hum, the man raised his hand to card through the tangled curls on the top of Peters head, carefully combing them with his fingers and then softly saying, “I know I don’t say it enough, or I guess at all, and we’ve been frustrated with each other too much lately for me to show it, but I care about you so much Peter.”

 

The admission doubled the guilt inside the boy, forcing him to wonder if Tony would have said that if knew what his ward had been doing. Peters hands tighten in the martial of Tony’s sleep shirt before he pushes himself away enough to make eye contact, dislodging the man’s hand from the top of his head.

 

Peter searches Tony’s face, desperate for assurance, “No matter what?” He can’t help the guilty pleading tone which leaks into his voice and he can see that Tony hears it, the man’s expression shifting into suspicious worry.

 

Tony studies him for a beat, “What’s going on?”

 

“Nothing, just- No matter what?”

 

In the darkness of the room, Tony reaches his hand up, cradling the boy’s cheek, worry in his eyes, before tugging the him closer, slotting Peters head under his chin, “Yeah, no matter what.”

 

Peter nods at that, tension leaving his body as he goes boneless against his guardian, drowsiness and relief making his eyes drift shut.

 

The two of them remain like that, Tony unwilling to break the silence and disturb the teenager, even as his gut urges him that something is deeply wrong. After a handful of minutes Tony begins to shift them downwards, rousing Peter from his light sleep.

 

The boy begins to sit up, making Tony tighten his embrace to hold him in place, a sick feeling of uneasiness drifting through the man.

 

“Hey, no, it’s fine. Why don’t you just sleep in here tonight, okay?” Tony tries to sooth, running a hand down the boys spine.

 

“No, I’ve got school tomorrow.” The boy incoherently mutters, sitting up and rubbing his eyes with two fists. He looks up, catching Tony’s concerned gaze, causing him to whisper out, “Sorry for waking you up.”

 

“Don’t be sorry, I’m pretty sure that’s like a part of this whole job.” The man tries to smile, but it looks too forced to be authentic.

 

“Still,” Peter pauses, sliding out of the smooth sheets, “Um, I guess, goodnight then.”

 

“Yeah, goodnight.” The man watches as his bedroom door is delicately shut, unsure if he should call the boy back in, unsure if he should demand to know what was wrong.

 

Chapter Text

 

The bedroom door shut with a soft click, muffling the sound of Tony tossing and turning down the hall. Peter leaned the back of his head against the frame, his heart beating erratically, possibly from left over adrenaline from his nightmare, possibly from the panic from going into Tony and Peppers room. He had been so close to confessing, the words lodged in his throat, cutting off his air, but begging to be freed.

 

He felt sick. His hands were shaking, his muscles aching, nausea making saliva pool in his mouth. He wished he’d stayed, wished he could have the security of Tony’s company to ease his discomfort, even though his suffering was his own doing.

 

Peter squeezed his eyes shut, pushing his fists harshly against his temples. The boy imagined if he just pushed a little harder he could crack his own skull, which would relieve the mounting pressure. In a sudden rush of movements, he lunged across the spacious room, ripping the top drawer of his desk open so quickly the whole desk loudly skidded across the polished floor.

 

The clatter made him freeze, straining to hear if his guardian had heard the commotion. Admittedly, all the boy could hear was the pounding of his own heart, but after waiting a minute and Tony didn’t come charging into the room demanding what he was doing, he deemed it safe enough to dig through the top drawer. His searching hand landed on the film canister safely hidden in the very back of the drawer.

 

The canister rattled slightly as Peter carried it with him into the bathroom. Sitting down on the closed lid of the toilet, the teenager spilled its contents into his hand. The sight of the two tablets calmed his racing thoughts, the weight of them promising tranquility and peace. Putting one back in the canister, the teenager held the other to his chap lips.

 

It was easier to swallow the tablet this time, even with the nausea. Maybe because he was more conscious, more himself, maybe it was because he knew what to expect. Maybe, and most likely, because the memory of the high it had brought two days earlier was making giddiness overwhelm all the other emotions he had been feeling.

 

Peter, with his elbows digging into his knees, rested his head in his palms, sinking into the endorphins that rushed up to greet him.

 


 

Peter didn’t so much wake up the next morning, as he became aware that he was stooped over the toilet in his bathroom, wetly coughing into the porcelain bowl, while his wakeup alarm rang out from Friday’s speakers.

 

A string of bile ran from his mouth into the bowl and the boy blinked blankly at it. The dark color of the bile tinged the water a murky yellow.

 

He shouldn’t be throwing up. He had only taken one tablet, which wasn’t enough to make him this sick, right?

 

God, I don’t know, I don't even know what the tablet is,’ The boy stared into the discolored water with a confused expression, ‘What the fuck am I doing?’

 

“Peter,” Friday’s soft voice floated through the room, a note of hesitation in it, “Would you like me to alert Boss that you are feeling unwell?”

 

“No,” Peter coughed again to clear his throat and then spat into the water, flushing the evidence down, “No, don’t. I’m fine.”

 

“Peter-”

 

“Friday, drop it. I said I’m fine.” The boy stood, his legs shaking under him like a newborn deer. He clutched the sink counter to keep his balance and stared at his reflection. Closing his eyes against the glaring light, he blindly splashed his face with cold water before brushing his teeth.

 

If he thought he felt sick the night before he must be dead now. There wasn’t truly a way to describe how he felt, his physical discomfort only being amplified by his emotional pain.

 

He felt like shit. Physically, emotionally, metaphysically, fuck, basically any “ally” he could think of. He had no idea what was in that tablet, he knew he shouldn’t trust Emmett and that whatever was in the tablet was probably incredibly dangerous, but he was already craving another.

 

With a groan, the teenager sunk to the bathroom floor, pounding head cradled in his trembling hands.

 

He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t do today.

 

At least not on his own.

 


 

When asked, Friday informed him that Tony was already down in his workshop, having most likely given up on trying to get back to sleep after Peter woke him up, so sneaking into the master bathroom was easy.

 

Deciding what to do with the yellow pill when he had retrieved it was much more difficult.

 

The teenager went through is morning routine slower than usual. He doubted his stomach could handle food, so he skipped breakfast. He was pulling on his Midtown hoodie, the yellow pill securely in his pants pocket, when his phone went off with his 7am alarm, prompting him to trip into the waiting elevator. He needlessly slammed his thumb against the ground floor button, standing on one leg as he shoved his foot into his shoe.

 

“Peter, you do not have your watch.” Fridays voice accusingly rang out.

 

“Seriously?” Peter groaned, racing through the penthouse to retrieve the timepiece from his nightstand. When he passed through the kitchen on his way back and noticed a pair of Tony’s sunglasses sitting on the counter. With a shrug, the boy shoved the tinted lenses on. Back in the elevator the boy indignantly clasped the tracker on his wrist and then held it above his head and wildly waved it at Fridays censors, “There, satisfied?”

 

The AI didn’t respond, simply closed the elevator doors and delivered the boy down to the ground floor, where he rushed out to climb into the waiting car.

 

“You’re late,” Sneezy glared at the flushed teen through the review mirror. The driver wasn’t able to make eye contact with the boy though, due to the sunglasses perched on his nose. The man watched in irritation as his charge pulled a red beanie on and scowled.

 

“Yeah, had a slow morning, so step on it.” Peter bit back, working to untangle his headphone cord with one hand, while the other one searched for a playlist to drown out the consuming sounds of the city around them. The pill dug into his leg through the material of his pants during the car ride, a constant reminder of his dilemma.

 


 

Peter made it a whole period before he caved, headache and overwhelming sensory information finally becoming too much for him to handle. He had been asked by a hall monitor to remove the borrowed sunglasses as soon as he stepped through the front door of the school and in his first period class told to take his headphones out. Without the barrier the objects provided, Peters senses were constantly assaulted by the influx of sensory information.

 

Luckily none of his teachers had made him take the hat off, like they did the day before. Peter had hated the eyes of his classmates he could feel on his hair and worse yet, the compliments he received. His friends had been sympathetic, though they both did admit that the forced haircut looked good on Peter.

 

A particularly loud scrap of a chair on the linoleum floor had Peter surging from his desk and requesting the pass from the teacher. Peter made his way to the closest restroom, his fingers rolling over the pill in his pocket. Pulling the pill from his pocket, the boy stared at it with wide eyes. He’d never taken something outside of the safety of his bedroom. He didn’t think anyone at the school would realize that he had taken anything, he was pretty confident he would be able to act sober. The pill would just make him feel better and he was only going to take a half. If anything, his friends would probably like drugged up happy Peter better than grumpy sober Peter.

 

Peter nodded in resolution and with familiar movement, he broke the pill in half and swallowed it down with a handful of water from the sink.

 

The rest of the day was a pleasant blur. The painkiller making the teenager feel lax and content. He was able to joke with Ned and MJ in a way he hadn’t since last year. The weight of his losses, while not completely irrelevant like when he would take a tablet, was numbed and bearable. A snide comment made by Flash, which normally would have made him flinch away, caused Peter to laugh, startling the bully and Peters own two friends. The only downside was how drowsy he felt, usually resting his head on his arms while he deliriously joked with his friends.

 

Ruefully, Peter wished he could always feel like this, could always feel like the lines were blurred, like the world was soft, like he was in a protective bubble away from reality.

 

The high didn’t last though and in his study period after lunch Peter could feel the effects of the drug drifting away. He had never taken a pill during the day and usually fell asleep before the half wore off, so the teen honestly hadn’t known how long to expect the pill to last. The feelings of clarity had him itching for the other half, even as he thought about how much better a tablet would feel, and his hand creeping towards his pocket.

 

‘What does it matter if I take the other half? I’ve already broken rule number two anyway,’ Peter thought, the sound of Ned chewing gum in the seat next to him making his ears ring and skin crawl.

 

As subtly as he could manage, Peter pulled the half from his pocket, and keeping it in his palm, put his hand to his mouth. A quick drink from his water bottle had him relaxing, waiting for the effects to kick in.

 

Looking up, Peter realized he had an observer, MJs sharp eyes staring at him beneath furrowed brows.

 

“What are you doing?” The girl demanded.

 

“What? Nothing. I’m not doing anything.” Peter could feel a bead of sweat roll down his spin as he struggled to groom his expression into something believable. MJ was too smart, too perceptive, for Peter to do something so stupid in front of. ‘Holy shit, did I forget she was sitting with us?’

 

“You’re acting,” She paused, waving a floppy hand at him, “I don’t know, weird. Twitchy.”

 

“I always act weird,” Peter argued back, hoping the pill would kick in soon so he wouldn’t feel so anxious and expose his guilt to his sharp-eyed friend.

 

“LOL True,” Ned interjected, his eyes still firmly glued to Peter’s chemistry notes.

 

“Did you seriously just say ‘L O L’ out loud? And by saying each letter individually?” MJs head swiveled so quickly to look at Ned Peter wondered if she had hurt her neck. His two friends then quickly dissolved into a friendly argument about how to properly say LOL out loud, Peter laughing along and offering his opinion, relieved the attention was off of him.

 

Oh,’ Peter relaxed back into his chair, peace rolling over him in a gentle warm wave, quieting the shame which seemed to always burn in his gut, ‘That’s better.’

 


 

Tony was sitting at the dining room table facing the entry way, holo-screens being projected from the table and lit up around him. Peter strolled out of the elevator and didn’t notice his guardian due to the music blaring though his headphones and his gaze being locked on his phone screen.

 

Peter was trying to decide if he should go out as Spider-man. Logically, he knew it was a terrible idea. Logically, he knew most of what he did was a terrible idea. But, there was also that nagging thought in his head arguing about how much more fun it would be to swing through the city with the effects of the pill thrumming through his veins. Though just as strong as the desire to see the city through his blurred vision, was the desire to just fall asleep and escape the guilt he knew was coming.

 

His name being called had Peter pulling a headphone out and blinking as his eyes from behind the sunglasses as he adjusted to not looking at his screen.

 

“Yeah, hi.” Tony waved sarcastically at the teenager, no doubt having called his name multiple times before Peter heard. “Where do you think you’re going? And are those my glasses? You know what, I don’t care. Come sit down.”

 

Peters shoulders slumped in defeat, his stomach sickly rolling with fear. He was still definitely a little bit high and Tony was a genius who had struggled with substance abuse. Peter knew there was no way he was getting out of this conversation without alerting his guardian of what he was doing. ‘Fuck, he may already suspect.’

 

Peter avoided eye contact as he pulled off the glasses and sunk into the chair opposite Tony’s. His backpack thumping to the floor echoed through the penthouse.

 

He could feel Tony staring at him, but fear that he would give himself away had Peter staring at his hands which were folded in his lap. They trembled slightly, whether from anxiety or the opioids Peter didn’t know.

 

“We need to talk about what happened at the gala.”

 

Looking up, Peter found his guardian staring intently at him, the man’s arms cross as he reclined in the dining room chair. The projections had been dismissed, so nothing was obstructing their view of one another.

 

Peter didn’t ever really think of the inventor as a business man, not since his name had changed from Mr. Stark to Tony, but looking at him now, composed and unwavering, his blank expression giving nothing away, Peter could imagine it. With how fast his heart was pounding, Peter could also imagine his guardian as the Merchant of Death, a name the man had tried so hard to repent for and erase, as he stared into his unrelenting dark eyes.

 

Realizing the boy wasn’t going to offer anything to the conversation without prompting, Tony swallowed and internally reminded himself not to yell, asking in as calm a voice as he could muster, “Want to walk me through what was going through your head on Saturday? Why you thought trying to get drunk at a benefit gala was such a great idea?”

 

Peter scowled in offense at the condescending question, momentarily forgetting his fear and indignantly biting back, “I wasn’t trying to get drunk!”

 

“Oh right, excuse me, sorry. What was it you said you were doing? Taste testing?” Peter huffed and looked away, crossing his arms over his chest and slumping forward in the chair as if trying to hide himself from Tony’s eyes. ‘And there goes my composer,’ Tony thought at himself. “Really Peter, please, walk me through what you were thinking. You said you were angry, but tell me why you thought that was such a great idea. Where you trying to get back at me somehow?”

 

The teenager didn’t respond, thoughts of how he was already so much farther than alcohol resentfully floating through his head.

 

“Fine, okay, never mind. Do you know how many people noticed that you were drinking alcohol? Do you know what they’re saying now?” Tony uncrossed his arms to lean forward onto the table, trying to catch Peters gaze, “They’re talking about how much you act like a younger me. About how cycles always repeat themselves.”

 

Tony placed both elbows on the table top and cradled his head in his hands, a bitter laugh making Peter look up. Shame and guilt were battling for dominance inside the boy, even as anger had him wanting to lash out at the older man.

 

“Tell me why, Peter. Just because you were mad at me? Because of some latent grief issues that are just now coming to light? Explain it to me, because I’m not repeating any cycles.” The slight desperate edge in Tony’s voice had Peters resolve crumbling.

 

Peter worried his bottom lip, not wanting to talk, but also knowing he needed to. It wasn’t fair. He was already so tired and still high, he couldn’t handle any emotional manipulation right then.

 

The two of them sat in silence. It was obvious to Tony that Peter was about to say something, about to explain himself, just as it was obvious to the man that he didn’t know what to say.

 

“It’s stupid,” Peter finally whispered, raising a shaking hand to rub at his eyes.

 

“What’s stupid?” Tony’s tone was significantly softer, almost gentle. The man no doubt realized he had a better chance of getting the boy to open up if he kept himself from yelling.

 

“Why I did it. I was just-” Peter cut himself off, his eyes darting up but only able to look at Tony’s shirt. It was one Pepper had gotten him, Peter noted, all black except for a tiny red chili pepper on the left side, over where Tony's heart was. Peter imagined how Tony would react if he told him the truth, the whole truth. If he confessed about the yellow running through his veins or the white hidden in his desk. Peter swallowed down those words, his shouldered raised towards his ears defensively as he simply admitted, “I was just mad.”

 

Tony nodded, clearly waiting for more of an explanation. When none came, the man sighed, “Well, that’s not going to happen again, okay? The drinking part, obviously you’re going to be mad again, look at who you live with.”

 

Peter cracked a smile at the joke, seeing it for what it was, an olive branch.

 

“Yeah,” The boy sniffed and wiped his nose with the back of his hand, finally offering his guardian eye contact, “Yeah, I won’t do that again.”

 

“Great,” The man loudly clapped his hands, making Peters ears ring, “That’s settled, so I can check that off my to do list. Next order of business.” The professionalism was back in a flash as Tony straighten himself in his chair. “Punishment. I’m thinking two weeks grounded seems fair, but I am willing to raise it to three if you feel that is necessary.”

 

Peter quickly scowled at that, shaking his head no.

 

“Okay, two weeks no Spidey, friends, or lab time it is. Seems reasonable to me.” The man pushed his chair back from the table, and began moving away from the dining room, “I’ll be in the workshop, go do your homework.” The man paused in his trek towards the elevator, a memory of Howard dishing out constant punishment and zero praise making him backtrack to where Peter was still sitting. Stooping down, Tony pulled him into a quick hug, “You’re a good kid, okay?” The man pressed a barely there kiss to the boy’s temple and then left the room.

 

Peter stayed sitting for several long minutes, wishing he had confessed, but also glad he hadn’t. After a while, he stood on aching legs and wandered into his bedroom, collapsed onto his bed and allowed the drowsiness to pull him into unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

 

He woke curled on his side, blankets pulled up to his chin, though he knew he hadn’t even taken his shoes off before falling asleep the day before.  His alarm had yet to go off, but murmurs of a soft conversation drifting through his open door had him surfacing from his dreamless sleep. His eyes and mouth felt painfully dry as he slowly blinked, eyes struggling to focus on the cityscape outside his window. The sun was beginning to rise, making the boy guess it was about 5:30 in the morning.

 

He could go back to sleep, if he wanted, hide from the nausea sobriety brought, or figure out a way to get a yellow pill from the master bathroom. But he was able to make out Peppers voice, probably talking to Tony in the kitchen, and he hadn’t seen the woman since the gala. He knew she would be disappointed in him, knew that Tony had told her about his behavior, but he also knew she would most likely still hug him and call him ‘honey’ or ‘sweetheart’.

 

The idea of comfort outweighed his desire to ignore his aching body and spurred him to roll out of bed.

 

He found them both in the kitchen, Tony fixing a new pot of coffee, wearing the same clothes as when Peter had last seen him, meaning the man had been up the whole night. Pepper was more appropriately clad for the hour, wearing a pair of flannel pajamas and draped in a dressing gown, her long hair pulled messily on top of her head.

 

Their conversation stopped when they heard the boys shuffling footsteps, both turning to watch him blindly stumble into the room, his eyes barely open against the light. Pepper huffed out an amused breath when the teenager slumped against her side. Turning to face him, she wrapped the boy in her arms, smiling into his messy hair.

 

“Good morning, Peter.” The woman’s voice was full of fondness, giving no indication she was upset with him. Fear Peter didn’t know had been weighing so heavily left him, making him go boneless in the embrace. Pepper leaned more of their combined weight onto the counter, tightening her arms around the lanky teen. “You’re up early.”

 

“Heard you two talking,” With his eyes closed and wrapped in Peppers warm hug, Peter imagined he would be able to fall back asleep standing up. If he used his stickiness it would even be pretty easy to do. “When did you get back?”

 

“Hm, around 8, you were already asleep.” The woman rested her hand across his forehead and then smoothed down his hair, causing Peter to practically purr. It wasn’t often he sought out prolonged physical contact, the affection often tainted by bittersweet memories of May. Half-conscious, it was easier for him to indulge in the motherly care Pepper was always willing to give. “Do you feel alright?”

 

He nodded into her shoulder. A pointed cough from Tony had the boy looking towards the man, who seemed to be having a silent conversation with Pepper over Peters head. With a wary glance, Peter pulled away from Pepper, looking between his guardians. Pepper looked exasperated with Tony’s stubborn expression. The dark-haired man shook his head, gave Peter a tightlipped smile and turning on his heel headed in the direction of his workshop. Pepper let out a disappointed sign, turning her eyes to the teenager who had watched the whole exchange in confusion.

 

“I don’t have any appointments today until 9, so why don’t we get ready and go get breakfast?” Pepper asked, smoothing her expression into neutrality.

 

Squinting at the woman in suspicion Peter slowly replied, “I have school.”

 

“We’ll have plenty of time if we get ready now and I can drop you off after.”

 

“Okay,” Peter drew out the single word, eyebrows furrowed as his drowsy mind tried to piece together the strange behavior of the adults. “I’ll go shower.”

 


 

Pepper was ready before the teenager and insisted on driving them herself. Peter was relived at the lack of drivers and bodyguards, acutely aware of their looming presence no matter the situation. If Sneezy had driven them Peter would have been forced to put his watch on. Instead, the tracker was safely tucked away in the front pocket of the boy’s backpack, the lightness of his wrist feeling like an accomplishment.

 

The diner Pepper brought them to was quaint and empty, menu boasting about being family owned for over 60 years. The woman who sat them had a pile of white hair on top of her head, the towering structure of it held in place by several large clips. She had greeted Pepper like an old friend, and after a quick hug, sat them in the furthest booth from the door.

 

Pepper was looking over the menu, seemingly in no rush to start any conversation, even as the boy in front of her nervously fiddled with the wrapper from his straw. The car ride had been silent, save for the quiet NPR which played over the radio. Peters earlier relief had faded as the ride progressed, until he was convinced Pepper had taken him to breakfast simply to tell him how disappointed she was in him.

 

“What are you-” Peppers eyes snapped up as the boy interrupted her question.

 

“Are you mad at me?” The words were jumbled together, anxiety making Peter draw his shoulders up to his ears.

 

“What? No, I’m not mad at you,” Pepper furrowed her brow, dropping her menu and reaching across the table to grab hold of Peters twisting hands, “Why do you think I would be mad at you?”

 

“Because of the gala and then this morning Tony didn’t even say anything and we never do this,” Peter waved a hand at the space between them, trying to think through the pounding of his head, “So, I don’t know, you’re mad at me.”

 

Pepper stared at the teenager, blinking several times before squeezing his hands and them releasing them. She leaned back in the booth, taking a sip of coffee from her chipped mug.

 

“I’m not mad at you, disappointed,” Peter looked down at his lap, the single word making shame flush his cheeks, “No, stop, listen to me.”

 

Her mug clinked as she set it down on the table, the liquid nearly sloshing over. “I’m not disappointed in you,” Peter rolled his eyes, already able to predict what she would say next, “I’m disappointed in how you behaved, but not in you. That’s an important distinction, okay? And I’m not mad at you either.”

 

“But, Tony, this morning-”

 

“Tony is working through his own issues and sometimes needs to be reminded that you are not him. He’s just- I don’t know, projecting. Okay?” She nodded earnestly when he made eye contact. “We’re not mad at you.” Pausing, she quirked a corner of her mouth, a slightly sarcastic smile lighting her face, “Of course, obviously were not very happy with you right now, but I feel like the grounding slash house arrest made that pretty clear.”

 

Peter groaned, throwing his head back, but was thankful the heavy atmosphere had lifted as Pepper laughed at the boy’s dismay.

 

They soon ordered their food, falling into an easy conversation about how their weeks had been. Though swallowing his pancakes was difficult due to the nausea slithering in his throat, Peter was enjoying himself. His physical aches were outweighed by how nice it was to have Peppers undivided attention. Peter hadn’t realized how much he had missed having the focus, didn’t realize how neglected he had been feeling.

 

As Pepper was signing the receipt, Peter’s phone chimed with a text and his stomach lurched painfully when he saw the name of the sender.

 

ET:

Coffee?

 

Peter stared at the screen until his eyes blurred, his hands suddenly numb.

 

“Peter? Are you alright?” Pepper questioned, slipping her pen back into her bag. The boy flipped his phone face down, trying to school his expression into something that wouldn't reveal his guilt.

 

“Yeah, yeah I’m fine.”

 

“Okay, I’m going to go to the restroom and then we can go. Watch my bag.” The woman pushed herself to her feet, squeezing his shoulder as she passed.

 

As soon as he heard the restroom door lock, the boy quickly unlocked his phone.

 

PP:

I have school

ET:

After. Know the Ground Café? It’s a couple blocks from Midtown.

PP:

Ok yeah

I can meet you there

ET:

Bring cash.

 

Dread sat heavily in the boy’s stomach, his eyes landing on Peppers bag. Peter didn’t have any money, had no way to get any before meeting Emmett.

 

But Pepper always had cash.

 


 

Though he had enjoyed his breakfast with Pepper, anxiety over his after-school plans constricted around his heart. He wished he had brought the second tablet with him. Wished he had been able to take something to help with the guilt and shame which seemed to smother his thoughts.

 

He drifted through the day, trying to keep his discomfort in check, even as he felt irritation begin to thrum through him at his classmate’s antics. The day before, under the influence of the yellow, he had been able to laugh, to participate. But now it was all he could do to keep from smothering his face in his hoodie clad arms. His friends gave him space at lunch, though he did notice their disappointment at him not being in the same mood as the day before. MJs stare was piercing, her observant eyes tracking his movements as he pulled his sandwich apart.

 

He carried the watch with him the whole school day, safety in his hoodie pocket, hoping Tony wouldn’t notice the lack of vitals it was recording.

 

Finally, the final bell rang, a quick detour had Peter tucking his phone and watch into his locker. He had deleted the conversation between himself and Emmett earlier, and was desperately hoping Tony wouldn't search through his deleted content where he no doubt discovered Peters plans of meeting up with a drug dealer. The front steps of the school were crowded with students, providing a useful cover to the teenager. Catching sight of the tinted windows of Sneezy’s car Peter pulled his hood up, clutched the strap of his backpack, and turn in the opposite direction.

 


 

The café, though small and run down, was crowded and full of activity, people talking in loud voices and the machinery the baristas were using buzzed loudly. Nevertheless, Peter was able to spot Emmett through the crowd, his eyes instantly being pulled in the dark haired mans direction.

 

The man looked worse than the last time Peter had seen him, his eyes sunken, his hair unwashed, stubble darkening his jaw. He was tightly clutching a paper coffee cup, but as Peter walked towards him he was able to see a slight tremor in the other man’s hands.

 

“Did you bring cash?” The man asked without a greeting, his eyes somewhat narrowed at the high schooler.

 

“Um, yes, yeah I did.” Peter said, sliding into the chair across from Emmett. He was thrown off by the man’s sudden hostility, having expected him to be as charismatic as the other times they had talked.

 

Emmett raised an eyebrow, one hand extending across the table, palm up. Peter hurriedly withdrew the three folded bills he had taken from Pepper from his pocket, eyes darting around to make sure no one was watching the exchange. Emmett curled his fingers around the bills, quickly counting them in his lap.

 

“So, you want five Hypers?” Emmett questioned, his dark eyes dull as he reached into his jacket pocket. He pulled out a bottle and small plastic bag, quickly counting out five white pills. 

 

“Is that what I got before?” Peter watched the pills drop into the bag, his palms sweating as his mouth watered. He ached for one, to dull the noise, dull the guilt of what he was doing, dull the grief.

 

“Uh, yeah,” The man ran a tired hand through his hair, causing it to stick up haphazardly. “Or it’s called EHO. I actually just found out the name of it today.”

 

Emmett stared at the teenager for several long moments, opening his mouth like he had something to say, and then simply shaking his head and standing. His hand settled on the younger boys shoulder as he paused, his expression conflicted.

 

In a mirror image of how Pepper had squeezed his shoulder at breakfast Emmett did the same, dropped the baggie into Peters hand and left the café.

 


 

Exiting the café, Peter found himself wandering towards the Subway, his feet knowing the path even as his mind wandered. He tucked himself into a seat on the train, separate from the few other commuters, his arms wrapped tightly around himself as he struggled under the weight of the five pills. His hood was still pulled low over his face, hopefully hiding him from the security cameras Peter wouldn’t be surprised Tony had hacked to try and find him. Angling his body away from those in the train with him and with slow movements, he retrieved the plastic baggie.

 

It was easy to pop open one of the tablets, easy to dump half of the contents into his mouth and use his spit to seal up the other half. It was easy to sink into the euphoria it brought.  

 

He didn’t know how long he rode, or how he ended up where he did, he only knew that when he came back to himself he was standing outside the building in which he lived, the sky overhead dark and the air considerably cooler. He could feel that the influence of the tablet was receding, but he didn’t feel completely lucid, he felt like he was floating through a dream. Watching the people dart around him on the street, hearing the cars honk and tires skid, but he was untouchable and separated from the activity.

 

Friday didn’t speak as he rode the elevator up and Peter didn’t have to cognition to imagine her judging him.

 

Tony and Pepper both were waiting when he walked in, both rising to stand when when he entered the living room. Peter couldn’t read their expressions, though he would guess and say Pepper’s was concern and Tony’s was suspicion.

 

Without a word Tony raised his hand reveling Peters phone and watch.

 

The three of them all remained silent and standing. Peters eyes darted to Tony when the man swallowed, something like fear hidden in the mans dark eyes.

 

“Where did you go?” Tony asked in a monotone, the hand holding the phone and watch still raised.

 

“Nowhere.”

 

“No, I call bullshit.” Pepper muttered a soft ‘Tony,’ at the mans harsh tone, urging the man to be gentler. “Where did you go?” Tony bit out each word.

 

“Just to a coffee shop, I worked on some homework,” the boy shrugged, unmoved by the aggression. He was still to blissed out to feel the appropriate amount of fear.

 

“Peter,” Peppers composed voice interrupted before Tony could reply, causing the man to twist on his heel and face away from the other two, his free hand rubbing at the center of his chest. “Why did you run away? This morning was so nice-” Some clarity came back to Peter at the sight of the insecurity that flashed across Peppers face. “This was just unexpected.”

 

“I didn’t- I wasn’t running away,” Peter rushed to say, the room blurring as he rushed a few steps forward, “I just wanted to be alone for a while.”

 

“Peter, you can’t,” Tony turned to face the teen expression stormy, each over bitten out, “There is so much you don’t know about right know, so much that we are protecting you from. You can’t just ‘be alone for a while’, it’s not safe. It’s not safe for people like you right now.”

 

“You keep saying that, that there is so much I don’t know about,” Peter threw up an exasperated hand, gesturing at the two adults with choppy movements, “But you never actually tell me what’s going on! MJ has told me more about the ‘dangers’ than you two have!”

 

“No, you’re not making this our fault,” Pepper interrupted, a note of steal in her voice. “We’re not doing this to hurt you, we’re protecting you, you just need to respect us and obey us.”

 

Peter scowled, but was unwilling to argue with the woman. His thoughts were to clouded for this conversation, his words jumbled and nonsensical in his head.

 

“Another week.” Tony said, “And I’ll be holding onto this till tomorrow.” The man raised Peters phone. “There are left overs in the fridge, eat something before you go to bed.”

 

The couple left the living room, hands intertwined, while Peter stared down at his scuffed shoes.

 

He didn’t eat anything before he slumped into his bedroom, instead stashing the four while tablets with the other and rolling the half between his fingers.

Chapter Text

 Peter could admit that things were out of his control.

 

Really, he knew he had been playing a dangerous game. He knew that he was past the point of just stopping on his own. He knew he should tell someone and ask for help.

 

But he didn’t want to.

 

He knew that there would be confessions and tears and rehab programs and stricter rules. Tony and Pepper would never trust him again. Ned and MJ would think he was so weak. His teachers and classmates would find out, they would all watch him with suspicion and judgment. The media would say he was just following in Tony’s footsteps.

 

And was it really worth all that drama?

 

So maybe he didn’t have control over it all anymore, but it wasn’t a big deal. It was all okay.

 

He was fine.

 


 

Two weeks had passed since Peter met Emmett in the café, two weeks since he had stolen money from Pepper. Peter knew that things were rapidly spiraling and he didn’t know how to get control back.

 

 But he had a system. It was a terrible system, but it was still a system.

 

Text Emmett, take money from Peppers purse, figure out a way to escape the constant hovering of his guardians, friends, and driver, meet Emmett in a different obscure location, closer and closer to his school as the boy tried to avoid having more time added to his grounding by leaving without the watch, and repeat.

 

He could tell Tony and Pepper where at their wits end, constantly trying to keep control of the teenager, but both unable to be present enough due to all of their other responsibilities. He could tell they didn’t understand what had caused the sudden shift in the boys behavior (though sometimes he wondered if Tony really did know, his intelligent eyes watching Peter with a blank expression, always seeing more in the small details than others did in the big picture). But Peter was an enhanced genius, even in his near constant inebriated state he was still able to evade the hovering, outwit the AIs, and sneak out.

 

He could tell his friends had also noticed a change, but he knew it was too soon for them to be too concerned, having already watched him suffer through several roller coasters of emotions with each loss he faced. It was almost expected by them for Peter to constantly be experiencing some type of identity crisis.

 

The tablets muted the guilt of ignoring his responsibilities and Peter was somewhat grateful that he was grounded from Spider-Man, the punishment and lock down of his suit providing him with a responsible excuse for not helping his city. 

 

Time was blurring.

 

The days blended straight into the nights, the world and all it contained was always a gentle hum around Peter, unobtrusive and distant. His alarms were the only thing that kept him on schedule, Fridays reminders spurring him to complete basic tasks.

 

The boy felt like he was always in a dream, the world warped and indistinct. Half the time he couldn’t tell if he was really even awake.

 

He didn’t dream anymore. Never saw her when he closed his eyes. He didn’t even really think about her anymore.

 

He couldn’t tell if missed her.

 


 

Peter was paranoid, terrified of being caught. His more lucid moments were spent tiptoeing through the penthouse, constantly vigilant of the watchful gazes of those around him. He was positive his guardians had noticed his sudden change in behavior, was positive Pepper would notice his thievery, that he was about to be found out at any second and sent away to some exclusive lockdown facility till he was 18. They would say it was for his own good, because they cared about him, but Peter knew that they regretted taking him in, that they would be thankful for the excuse to get rid of him. He was a pretend son and a shit one at that.

 

The only thing that reduced the anxiety of his paranoia was the exact thing that was causing so much of it. It was a vicious cycle of using to escape from his issues but in turn creating more. Peter newest issue being that he had built up a tolerance, in the course of a week going from using occasionally to taking two or three tablets a day.

 

He had run out of the yellow pills alarmingly fast, using them to numb the pain of coming down from the white tablets. There was nothing left to gentle to crash of the white leaving his system and the boy found himself contacting Emmett more and more often, purchasing more and more tablets. The pain of the come down was near unbearable and the boy found himself living with a near constant tremor in his arms, pain in his head threatening to split his skull, and nausea in his stomach making eating more than a couple bites unbearable.

 

There was only one thing which provided relief and escape.

 


 

Emmett was waiting near the belchers, ever present cigarette burning between his chapped lips. The playing field in front of the man was deserted, the stormy weather keeping all PE classes of the day confined indoors. The rain had briefly let up, but the clouds over head rolled threateningly, an occasional crack of thunder hinting at another downfall.

 

“We’re a tobacco free campus,” Peter remarked in greeting, wiping his running nose with the back of his trembling hand. Emmett rolled his eyes, something like exasperation fliting across his lips.

 

Emmett’s moods were unpredictable. One day acting as if he and Peter were close friends, the next barely speaking a word. Even in all that, Peter didn’t dislike the man, choosing to think that they had something close to a friendship, at the very least an understanding of shared habits.

 

“Yeah, and yet we’re still doing this.”

 

Peter grunted out something close to a chuckle, reaching into his pocket to retrieve the crumpled hundreds he had snatched from Peppers wallet the night before.

 

“Um, so,” Peter looked up, confused by the hesitation in Emmett’s voice. The dealer had reached into his own pocket, pulling out a now familiar plastic bag that Peter was startled to notice had only one pill and a small slip of paper in it.

 

“Why is there only one?” Peter interrupted before the man could explain, horror coating his stomach, “I told you how much I would be able to buy.”

 

“Yeah, I-” Peter had never seen Emmett look so unsure of himself, the conflict in his expression reminding Peter of that time in the café all those weeks ago. The man shifted from foot to foot, eyes looking everywhere but at Peter, “I won’t be able to get you anymore of the EHO, man, I’m really sorry.”

 

Peter thought he was going to be sick, panic quickly overwhelming his mind. He needed more than just one, he had taken his last tablet before school, knowing he would be buying more during his lunch period. There was no way he could survive without more, no way he could keep living without the white.

 

“Why?” Peter slumped against the metal railing next to them, thankful his voice hadn’t revealed the desperation clawing up his throat.

 

“My supplier, well, they told me that they wouldn’t be selling to me anymore so,” The man shrugged uncomfortably, “I can’t sell to you.” Emmett ran a hand through his hair, locking eyes with the younger boy, expression serious, “But I can get you almost anything else, stuff just as good or even stronger. Okay? You don’t- you don’t need to take more of the Hypers, alright?”

 

“I don’t- Emmett, I don’t want anything else! Come on man, we had a deal,” Peters hand were shaking worse, the bills crumpled tightly in his closed fist. He wanted to take a step closer to the taller man, use his strength to show him how much he didn’t want anything else.

 

“Kid, you don’t understand, okay? You need to switch to something else.” Emmett emphasized, hard eyes seeming to reflect some of Peters own desperation.

 

“Don’t just tell me I don’t understand, fucking explain!” Peter stepped forward, a feeling of pleasure rushing over him when Emmett took a step back, fear widening his eyes.

 

“It’s complicated, okay? My supplier says she’s been hearing a lot of weird talk about EHO and doesn’t want any of us selling it, she says people can only get it directly from her now. It’s- it’s some really bad shit, kid, okay? If I had known I wouldn’t have given it to you at that fucking disaster party. I would have flushed that shit down the toilet, but she told me to spread it out.”  Emmett looked away, his face pale. It was beginning to rain again, softly, a fine misty falling on both of them. “People are saying-” Emmett swallowed loudly, shoving his hands into his pockets. “You only really feel the full effects if you’re not all the way human.”

 

Peter froze, anger leaving him as quickly as it came. Emmett knew.

 

Emmett knew that Peter was more than human.

 

And so did his supplier.

 

“And, kid,” Emmett turned his worried but sincere gaze back to Peter, “I don’t get why she has to sell it directly to you, and-” the man paused again, lowering his voice to an unsure whisper,“I think they’re using the flow of EHO to track enhanced. I don’t think you should meet her.”

 

The man reached out a hesitant hand, settling it on the boy’s narrow shoulder, “Just, get off it, okay? I think something really bad will happen if you don’t.”

 


 

He lasted till the next morning.

 

He had planned to ration the final tablet Emmett had given him and ignore the slip of paper in the bag with it containing an unfamiliar number. And he had, somewhat. Normally, thinking he would be able to get more with a simple text, he would have taken one while talking to Emmett, so he had lasted much longer, over 18 hours longer than usual. 

 

But he hurt so much. 

 

The boy was fairly positive he had a fever, his brow sweaty and hands clammy. The muscles in his back and arms were unbearably tense, burning like he had walked through a fire. He couldn’t eat, everything he had tried to choke down ended up in the toilet minutes later, tears running down his face at the feeling of stomach acid in his throat. 

 

His mind was plagued by thoughts of how disappointed May would be in him. All he could think about what how much he had failed all those around him. All he could think was that he didn’t deserve their love, that he didn’t deserve the powers of Spider-man when he was so weak. 

 

All in all he felt really shitty, the only saving grace in the situation being that Pepper was busy with an SI emergency and would be gone the whole night and Tony was still ignoring him, only using Friday to relay messages. Peter had heard the man go into his bedroom around 4 and fitfully fall asleep. He was still sleeping, now at 6, so Peter doubted he would be bothered by the man. 

 

The boy was huddled in the corner of his shower, knees draw up to his chest, hoping the warm water would soothe his aching body and stop the violent trembling of his limbs. He coughed out a sob, tears mixing with the water raining down on him. 

 

He was dying. He could feel it. There was no way he would survive this pain without taking the final tablet. 

 

But then this would just happen again. Without getting more he would just go through this again and in the end he knew it would kill him. 

 

He could text the number. 

 

Emmett had all but said that it belonged to his supplier and he could be wrong about the whole situation. Maybe nothing bad would happen, maybe it didn’t matter to the supplier that Peter was enhanced. 

 

He could text the number and meet them, finally get relief from the terror running through him. If he didn’t he was positive he wouldn’t survive the white fully leaving. 

 

The boy lurched out of the shower, barely managing to wrap a towel around his shivering body as he rushed into his bedroom, pulling the baggie from his desk. He stumbled back into the bathroom, sitting heavily on the closed lid of the toilet as he shook the contents of the bag into his hand. 

 

Peter threw the tablet into his mouth, and hastily chewing it, he soon felt the effects of the drug washing over his nerves. He slumped in relief, almost weeping  from the sudden lack of pain. He was more clear headed with the HEO in is system, able to pull his phone towards himself with a single sticky finger. 

 

He gazed with dulled eyes at the slip of paper, unlocking his phone and typing out a message. 

 

PP:

eho?

 

The reply was immediate, as if the owner of the phone had been waiting.

 

Unknown:

Gurnsy Park 12pm. Bring cash. 

 

Peter sighed in relief, dropping his phone back onto the counter as he cradled his head in his hands. He knew the park, about a half hour from Midtown, in a seedier part of the city. If he left during his lunch he would get there right on time. 

 

His watch was already removed, laying on the counter next to his phone, so that was one obstacle already out of the way. 

 

He just had to get past Sneezy and make it through the school day. 

 

He could do it. 

 

Unexpectedly, Peters hurry the eff up Parker alarm went off, making the boy realize he had zoned out, losing an unknown stretch of time. 

 

Peter raced back into his closet, hastily pulling on an outfit and then pulling a box from the very top shelf. 

 

He hadn’t opened this box since last year, hadn’t thought he ever would again, but desperation had him digging through the dusty contents, searching for the relic he knew was within. 

 

Ben‘s old watch was nowhere near as fancy as the one Tony had made, but hopefully it would be enough to convince Sneezy to unlock the car door. 

 


 

The drive was as silent as ever, Sneezy rolling up the divider and Peter struggling to hide his anxiety. 

 

He could barely feel the white. 

 

His mind was too clear, the world too loud. He wasn’t sure he would be able to make it till lunch, let alone 4pm. He was thankful for the negligence of his driver, positive one look would reveal to the adult all that the teenager had been doing. 

 

Finally they made it to the school, Peter pulled his bag up into his lap, waiting for the car to roll to a stop before would be able to jump out. 

 

“Where’s your watch?” Sneezy had rolled down the divider, eyes reflected in the mirror as he watched the antsy boy. 

 

Peter held up a trembling hand, barely pulling down his sleeve to show a flash of the dark band and reflection of the timepiece. He could feel his heart pounding in his toes, he was positive he would be found out and his one chance at relief would be taken. 

 

Sneezy grunted in acknowledgment, unlocking the door. 

 

His wrist felt far lighter without the tracker. Stepping out of the car, the boy took a deep breath, pride bubbling up inside him that he wasn’t caught, that he was (temporarily) free from the lurking and always watching presence which weighed so heavily on his wrist. Unlocking his locker, Peter placed his uncles watch and Tony’s watch side by side, slamming the door shut with a satisfying click. 

 

He was going to be able to get more. Emmett was probably being paranoid about HEO being used to track enhanced. It was just a street drug. It would be fine.

 

He didn’t have to be scared. 

 


 

The call came during his free period, which meant Friday had most likely woken Tony up to tattle on him. Peters anxiety had grown as the minutes passed, fear making his mouth dry and his spider sense buzz down his spine. 

 

Rubbing a fist over his eyes Peter answered the call on the second ring, knowing if he waited much longer Tony would force it through and be even more frustrated with him.

 

Why don’t you have your watch on.” He didn’t even say it like a question, he just demanded an answer, not bothering with a greeting.

 

“I forgot it at home.” Peter replied flatly, his eyes jumping all over the classroom, looking for an escape. They both knew it was a lie and not a very good one. 

 

The boy quickly considered the pros and cons of hanging up the phone and leaving the school now, but fear had him simply clutching the phone tighter. He was scared to meet the supplier, he realized. He wanted Tony to figure it out, to save him from doing something really stupid. 

 

Really? Because the tracker says it’s at your school, probably in your locker, seeing how it hasn’t moved all morning.” Oh, Tony was really mad now. His voice was harsh and gritted, like he was trying to keep himself from yelling.

 

Peter didn’t want to lie again, didn’t want to make the situation worse, so he stayed silent. He didn’t want to, but he knew he needed to meet the supplier. 

 

Put it on.”

 

“No.” And there he went, his stubbornness making it worse. But, fuck it, he really didn’t want to wear that watch, didn’t want to feel the lurking and always watching presence weigh so heavily on his wrist. And he had to meet the supplier, even if he was scared. He couldn’t go through the pain again. That would all be ruined if Tony knew where he went and followed him.

 

Excuse me?” Tony’s voice was incredulous, full of irritation. “Want to repeat that?

 

“I said no. I don’t want to.” And now he sounded like a petulant child. Great.

 

Peter, put on the goddamn watch.

 

“No. I don’t want to.”

 

I’m not doing this today, Peter.

 

“Then let it go.”

 

Okay, fine, be like that. I’m on my way to your school.

 

The call disconnected. Peter hid his face in his crossed arms, feeling frustrated tears well up. He didn’t know what to do, he didn’t know what he wanted. He needed to get more white, which meant he had to meet the supplier. But he was so afraid to take more, so afraid that it was a trap. So, maybe he wanted Tony to come get him. He didn’t know. He was too confused and conflicted to understand his own feelings. 

 

Tony was no doubt calling the school right then to have Peter pulled from class. This was confirmed when barely five minutes later the front office was calling for him.

 

Trying to subtly wipe the tear tracks from his face, Peter exited the classroom, heading to his locker to gather his things. The watch’s sat on top of several text books, one looking entirely too innocent to Peter for all of the turmoil it was causing him. The sight of it made tears blur his vision again, as he shoved the tracker into the front pocket of his backpack. Putting it on now felt too much like defeat. Like giving up. The hallways were luckily empty as the boy listlessly made his way to the front office, dreading having to see his mentor turned warden.

 

“Peter Parker?” The woman in the front office asked, continuing when he nodded, “Your dad is going to be here soon, so you can-”

 

The door leading outside had whipped open, cutting off the woman as she stared in surprise at the sweat suit clad man who entered.

 

“Just sign him out here?” Tony’s words were clipped and straight forward, he hadn’t bothered to take off his dark lensed sunglasses, making it obvious he didn’t have time for the situation. The receptionist nodded mutely, her flushed face giving away how intimidated she felt as she pushed the clipboard forward. It was a known fact among the school staff that Peters guardian was Tony Stark, but knowing the information and having to interact with the powerful man where two very different things. “Come on.”

 

Tony held the school door open for him and walked with his hand gripping the back of the boy’s neck, almost like he was afraid Peter was going to make a run for it. This wasn’t so far from being a possibility. He had parked illegally on the street right outside the school, Peter noted, no doubt not having the patience to find a parking space.

 

“Get in.”

 

‘What was with him holding doors open today?’ Peter thought somewhat hysterically as he slid through the open door into the passenger seat of the black Audi. Peter flinched at the sound of the door locking behind him, clutching his backpack to his chest, almost like a shield (or like a little kid with a stuffed animal, but Peter didn’t want to think that and feel even younger than he already was). Peter would have to figure out another way to get to the supplier. He could do it, he was a genius and Spider-man. 

 

Tony slowly made his way over to the driver’s side, but paused before getting in. From where he sat, Peter could tell that he had his hands on the hood of the car and just seemed to be standing there.

 

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, but was more likely about 10 seconds, Tony slid into the driver’s seat. He didn’t start the car, instead turning in his seat to study the kid next to him. Peter dared a glance up at his guardians’ face, taking in the blank expression he was wearing and the dark glasses hiding his eyes. It didn’t seem fair to Peter that Tony was always allowed to hide whatever he wanted from him, but demanded complete transparency in return. ‘I’m going to start wearing sunglasses all the time too.’ Peter though defiantly.

 

“Give it to me.” Tony held out his left hand, waiting palm up. Dread replaced the defiance as Peter retrieved the watch from his backpack with a shaking hand.

 

When he went to place it in Tony’s upturned palm, faster than his hazy eyes could track, Tony’s right hand reached out and wrapped around his wrist. In a movement so smooth only the inventor of the device could have accomplished it, Tony had the watch fastened around the boys bony wrist.

 

Peter gasped as the locking mechanism engaged and tried to rip himself away from the older man, but Tony wouldn’t allow it and simply tightened his grip in response.

 

“Why didn’t you put it back on? So that you could ditch your driver?” Peter hated that he couldn’t see his eyes, hated that he had to look into the reflective lenses. The teenager shook his head, refusing to answer, eyes locked on the hateful watch and hand wrapped around his, as he still struggled to free himself. He wouldn’t be able to meet the supplier with the watch, he knew he wouldn’t be able to get away. He couldn’t tell if he felt relief or dread about that. They both knew he could use his enhanced strength, could easily break every bone in Tony’s hand. But, they also knew doing so would be an even bigger act of disrespect. His voice was deadly calm as he asked, “Where were you planning to go, Peter? What were you going to do? Answer me.”

 

“Nothing!” Peter, for the third time that day, felt tears welling up in his eyes. He weakly clawed at Tony’s hand, desperation to get away increasing as he felt intelligent dark eyes watching him.

 

“Nothing? Peter, don’t lie to me.” Tony emphasized his point by harshly snatching Peters free wrist and shaking the boys’ arms, “You know how dangerous it is for someone like you right now, you see what the media is saying, you have know why I’m so worried.”

 

Peter continued to struggle, trying to himself pull away, and didn’t respond.

 

“Tell me what’s going on, Peter.”

 

The boy shook his head again, the tears finally fallings. Humiliation burned through him at his own weakness, his own failures, his own rebelliousness. He was scared to go through the pain of coming down again, could tell by the headache clouding his mind it was quickly approaching. He gasped out a small sob, as he slumped forward, his forehead hitting Tony’s collarbone almost painfully. The older man finally released his grip on his wrists, instead wrapping his arms around his shaking shoulders. Peters arms where trapped between their bodies, (‘Trapped, always trapped.’) his tears refusing to stop as his guardian (‘Dad? The receptionist said dad, but Tony wasn’t, didn’t want to be, his dad, and he definitely wouldn’t when he knew the truth.’) held him closer, the center console digging into his stomach.

 

“Pete, come on, please,” One of Tony’s hands was rubbing soothingly up and down his back, tracing his spine, the other protectively curled around the back of his head, holding him in place. “Just tell me what’s going on.”

 

“No,” Peter choked out, harshly shaking his head, even as he pressed himself closer to the man holding him. Peter felt Tony’s arms tightened around him, before he sighed loudly, turning his head to bury his nose in Peters curls.

 


 

After Peters tears had stopped and Tony had ended the embrace, the ride back to the penthouse was silent. The atmosphere in the car was tense with Peters resistance, with his unwillingness, with his secrets. Tony hadn’t asked him anymore questions and Peter wouldn’t have answered if he did.

 

They pulled into the private garage under their building, Tony neatly parking next to his other vehicles. They sat in silence, neither of them making a move to exit the car as the overhead lights dimmed.

 

Peter glanced over at Tony when he cleared his throat. The man seemed to steel himself, clutching the steering wheel in a white knuckled grip.

 

“It’s not coming off again, alright?”

 

“Tony-”

 

“No. It’s not coming off, no matter what. Not when you get home, not when you shower. I don’t care if you’re fucking someone in there, you’re not taking it off.” Peter flinched back from the acidic tone, his shoulder hitting the passenger door. “Oh, yeah, I saw straight through that argument, but I let it slide because I didn’t want to be unreasonable, and you hadn’t given me a reason to not trust you yet.”

 

The fact that he didn’t trust him anymore went unsaid.

 

Tony turned to face him again, taking off his sunglasses. Betrayal shined in Peters eyes.

 

“It’s not coming off.”

 

Peter fled the car, racing into the private elevator which would take him straight to their penthouse. Friday must have been feeling merciful, as the doors shut before Tony had even gotten out of the car. The elevator sped to the top floor and Peter stumbled out into the spotless living room as soon as the doors opened.

 

Tony didn’t understand, he didn’t know what kind of pain was waiting for Peter if he didn’t get away and meet the supplier. Peter would have to break a window, go with the tracker on, damn the consequences.

 

He had to get to the supplier. 

 

Pepper was standing in the kitchen, her phone held to her ear. Her eyebrows shot towards her hairline at the sight of the tear stained teenager clumsily pulling his jacket off.

 

“I’m going to have to call you back. Yes, wonderful, goodbye.” She set her phone on the counter, rounding the marble island to hesitantly make her way towards him, “Peter? What are you doing home from school?”

 

His brown eyes snapped up to meet hers, a gasp of surprise leaving his mouth and a feeling of hope spreading through him. Pepper would talk some sense into Tony. Pepper would make him take the watch off him.

 

“Pepper,” He raced across the spacious room, holding the watch out to her, “You gotta- you need to make him take it off me.”

 

“Peter, what are you talking about?” She grabbed the outstretched hand, her loose hold a stark contrast to Tony’s previous bruising grip. She pulled the distraught boy into a hug, smoothing his messy hair with one hand, “Honey, what’s going on? Why aren’t you at school?”

 

Her tone was so coxing and gentle, Peter almost wanted to tell her. Wanted to tell her about sneaking out, wanted to tell her he wouldn’t be able to with the watch cruelly attached to him, about the tablets that made him ache but he couldn’t stop taking, and about the little yellow pill that he had thought he could control.

 

He was saved from making such a mistake by Tony exiting the elevator. The man had removed his sunglasses, but his eyes were just as dark and unmovable. Peter pulled himself closer to his almost mother, hiding his face in her long hair, his eyes burning with humiliation.

 

“Why are you home?” Tony asked casually, hands hidden in his pockets.

 

“I have a lunch meeting and wanted to change before it.” Pepper sounded frustrated, but held the boy tighter when he went to pull away. “Why is he acting like this?”

 

Peter glanced out from Peppers hair to find that Tony was watching him, intelligent eyes taking him in. He looked like he had almost solved a puzzle, but the more pieces fell into their place, the more he disliked the image they created.

 

“Tony! What is going on?”

 

“He won’t let me take it off. He came to my school and put it on me.” Peter held the offending timepiece up for Pepper as proof. He all but whined, “I don’t- I don’t want to wear it.”

 

“Oh Peter, honey, you know you have to keep the watch on-”

 

Peter wrenched free himself from Peppers embrace, backing up until his knees hit the couch. He slid to the ground, leaning against the back of the couch. He was crying again, tearing at his own skin, pulling at the watch with all of his strength, but the nanotech simply fixed itself over and over, refusing to be removed. He felt like an infant, strapped into a car seat, trying to remove straps with uncooperative and clumsy limbs. He was so frustrated (desperate). He wanted them to hold him and console him, but was also so mad at their betrayal. What a strange feeling, knowing the person you wanted to comfort you was the one causing you the pain.

 

“Tony, what is going on?”

 

“I’m not taking it off him, Pep. You know what’s happening out there, you know that enhanced are getting snatched faster than we can track. And he,” Tony pointed at the boy who was franticly tugging at the watch with a shaking finger, a furious edge in his voice, “Keeps trying to run off to god knows where! And we- I- I don’t know what to do!”

 

It was Tony’s tone that made Peter pause, the desperation and anguish in the man’s voice, the admittance of not knowing what to do. Looking up, Peter saw that the man looked extremely distraught, the hand still pointing at him trembling with nerves. Somehow this is worse than his anger, worse than the ferry incident.

 

Swallowing down his tears, Peter turned his eyes to Pepper, who was watching him with an unreadable expression. Slowly, like she was scared of startling him, she lowered herself to the floor, elegantly sitting with her legs bent beneath her. 

 

“Peter, what’s wrong?” Her voice was calm, her tone that of a CEO of a fountain 500 Company, her steady eye contact promising that she would have a solution to the boys problem. 

 

Peter stared back, gasping in several breaths as he tried to collect himself. He wanted to tell her. He wanted Pepper to fix it. He wanted Pepper to take care of him, to love him even though he had failed in such an extreme way.

 

“Pepper, I really messed up,” her outline was blurred by his tears, but he could see her encouraging expression and nod, urging him to continue. “You know- you know that drug? That, um, some people can take, but en- enhanced people get really addicted to?”

 

By his second sentence her encouraging expression had morphed into one of stricken horror, but Peter didn’t dare look away. He could hear Tony’s heart racing, could imagine the anger he would see on his face if he looked away from Pepper. 

 

“Yes, Peter, we know about the drug,” the woman whispered, her mouth set in a grim line. 

 

“I’ve been taking it,” the words were barely audible to Peter himself, but he knew his guardians heard his admission, by the thickening of the air and the way they both held their breath. Closing his eyes to block out the woman’s heartbroken expression, the boy continued, “I’ve been- I didn’t- I didn’t mean for this to happen- I don’t want to anymore, but I just hurt so much and I- I don’t know what to do.” 

 

The penthouse was silent for what felt like an eternity, Peters eyes squeezed shut so he wouldn’t have to see the horrified expressions on his guardians faces. Peter nearly flinched away when he felt a calloused hand wrap around his forearm and another cup his cheek, wiping away the tears with trailed down his face. Opening his eyes he was met with Tonys dark eyes, his mouth set in a deep frown. Suddenly, the boy was being pulled forward into a tight embrace, Tony's arms securely wrapped around him, Peter half way in the mans lap. Peter could hear Peppers quiet gasps behind them as she cried, but he simply buried his face in the man's neck, hiding from the shame his admittance had revealed. 

Chapter Text

I began writing this story when I was trying to stop using, the months long hiatus was actually due to me getting sober and I had no intentions of finishing this story because I was done focusing on using.

I started using again and in turn, writing again.

I don’t think I’ll finish this story. I haven’t used in months and I think the only way I would be able to finish would be to revisit those thoughts, which I don’t think is safe for me.

I want to finish it. I want to give all of my readers the closure this fic needs. I get comments rudely begging for another chapter, but I know you all don’t understand what you’re actually asking of me.

I want to finish this.

I want the story to be complete.

I’m unsure when that will be though.

I have written what I know, written my own feelings. But I’ve never gotten help, I don’t know what happens next.

I am marking this story as complete. Just wanted to give you all some perspective and insight into what it has taken for me to write this.