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Um, I'm Invoking Parental Rights

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***

 

1.

It’s happening before Tony’s even aware of it. He would like to say he doesn’t know what sets it off but that’s a lie. He knows. He knows exactly what it was and he hates that he does because it’s ridiculous. He is Tony Stark and he should not feel the start of a panic attack just because one Steve Rogers moves his arm a little too fast, a little too much towards him. But it does and suddenly his chest is constricting, breath catching in his lungs. It makes him think that this was all a mistake, that he shouldn’t have agreed to amend the Accords, that he shouldn’t have invited the Rogues back. Invite is probably too strong of a word. It is, however, the one he’s sticking with.

But those circumstances have led to right now and it’s only been a couple of hours but him and Steve are already fighting again. Fight? Well, it’s an argument but Tony’s nerves react like it’s a fight. It’s a simple disagreement over the wording of one law but it’s quickly escalated into something more than that and everyone’s dirty laundry is suddenly getting aired out. Tony wouldn’t have been so quick to call Steve a traitor if Steve hadn’t already called him a coward. But that was then and this is now and now is so much worse because Tony can’t breathe.

He doesn’t know exactly what brings it on. The memory of Steve slamming his shield into the arc reactor in his chest. The niggling of uncertainty of never knowing if Steve had known he’d had the shrapnel removed or if he’d actually been willing to kill him. The fear of being alone, again, somewhere cold and without help. Maybe it’s all three or maybe it’s none but it’s enough to have Tony’s sweat run cold and his hands shake. He sees Natasha frown out of the corner of his eye but his mouth is moving before she can. Whatever he says must be Tony Stark enough because Steve doesn’t bat an eye, just barrels on and all the while Tony feels like he’s drowning.

There’s blood rushing through his ears, white noise filling his head, black spots whirling in front of his eyes but he ignores them. He has to.

He’s IronMan after all.

And he can’t let Cap’ know he’s broken him this badly.

Although, Tony knows, the cracks were there long before that.

His heart rate spikes as his breathing stops altogether and Tony knows FRIDAY’s going to interject any second - and isn’t that going to be embarrassing? - but before she can, Natasha moves, again. Just the tiniest movement and then a voice cuts through everything, leaving only silence in its wake.

“Dad?”

Tony recognises the voice. The voice, but not the word its saying. He whirls around, blinking twice. Peter Parker stands awkwardly at the edge of the hall that leads to the room Tony’s given him when he stays over. He’s dressed in Star Wars pyjamas because of course he is and his socks are mismatched. Peter’s looking between them all with wide eyes but his attention never truly leaves Tony.

He doesn’t know how he does it, but Tony manages to speak. “Yeah kid?”

Peter grins at him and just like, several things loosen in his chest. Peter shuffles that little bit closer but still doesn’t enter the room proper. “I...I mean, you’re busy, I...I know that but uh, I mean, my homework. I-I-I can do matrices-”

Tony cuts him off by raising a hand. “We’re being loud. I get it Pete.” He then narrows his eyes - hey, might as well keep up pretences. “It’s ten P.M. at night. So help me if the next words out of your mouth are “and it’s due tomorrow”...”

He doesn’t need to finish, not for the way Peter manages to flush and Tony thinks he actually managed to hit that on the head. He turns back to where the Rogues are staring at him dumbly, eyes flying between him and the kid. He plasters his face with the fakest smile he can. “Sorry Cap’, this’ll have to wait.”

Steve doesn’t even try to argue, mouth snapping shut when Tony claps a hand on Peter’s shoulder and leads him down the hall. They shuffle into Peter’s room and while Tony is the adult, it’s Peter who takes control of the situation. He pushes Tony down so he’s sitting, leaning against the kid’s bed, while said kid calls up to his AI.

“Hey FRIDAY? Can you make an audio compilation of Mr Stark explaining matrices to me?”

Certainly Peter,” comes the pleasant reply before doing a remarkable job of splicing Tony’s voice together. As if anything of Tony’s isn’t remarkable.

He does jump though when Peter comes to sit next to him, pressing their shoulders together and bumping his knee against Tony’s. Tony shoots him a look that he hopes is as powerful as he’s intending. It probably isn’t.

“Kid, I’m fine.”

Peter smiles, and Tony will admit he hates the way it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “Me too Mr Stark; I’m always fine.”

It shouldn’t do things to him but it does and Tony is suddenly pressing a hand against his eyes so no tears escape. He’s better than this. He should be better than this. But then there’s Peter and Peter doesn’t care, just shifts even closer and Tony may have a thing for personal space but this, somehow this is okay.

“You really got homework?” he manages to choke out.

“Nope,” Peter grins, an actual one this time. “It just...sounded like you could use a break.”

Tony manages a smile. “Sounds about right kid.”

Something about the nickname makes Peter pale and he’s suddenly on his knees, hands flailing. “And about the whole dad thing, I-...I know you-that...it wasn’t meant to-! I...I just thought that-”

“Peter.”

Peter cuts off immediately, though there’s something in his eyes that is vaguely hopeful. Tony doesn’t even pretend he’s going to deny him. He holds up a finger. “One. This is my one exception, understand?”

“Thank you Mr Stark, thank you!”

He continues to prattle on for the next hour but Tony doesn’t mind. And even when the kid falls asleep against his shoulder...well, he doesn’t mind so much then either. 

 

***

 

2.

Tony won’t lie. He’s...uncomfortable. He knows he probably shouldn’t be. Scratch that, he shouldn’t be. He’s a grown man and his childhood insecurities are exactly that: childhood. Ergo, not pertaining to the present. There is no substantial reason as to why Steve being encouraged by Sam and Wanda to share stories about Howard Stark should make him feel as though there’s bile crawling up the back of his throat. He should, as they are, be able to laugh at Steve’s ridiculous stories. Because apparently his father was ridiculous in his youth. But there’s some hurdle in his brain he can’t jump over. So he’s stuck here. After all, abruptly leaving the table in the middle of dinner would make him look like an asshole and no one else is shooting him looks enquiring as to whether or not he’s okay.

Because he should be. He absolutely should be.

Tony then realises that someone - a vital someone - is not at the table. Someone who probably got so immersed in their work that not even Dum-E or FRIDAY would be able to pry them away. Someone only Tony can seem to get through to. And just like that, his phone in his hands. It so often is, no one even thinks twice about.

Can you cry on cue?

Uh…
Is it bad if I say yes?

Tony bites back a grin.

Nope, exactly what I need. Have at it DiCaprio!

He doesn’t get a response but Tony doesn’t put his phone down either. He replies to some messages on Pepper’s business number and then sends a few more, less PG ones, to her personal phone. He checks their stocks and dismisses about a hundred emails and good lord, is Steve still telling stories? He really is like a grandfather. 

And then, the blessed call comes.

Boss?

Steve looks almost upset at being interrupted but Tony doesn’t even look up from his phone, just shoots a “yeah?” over his shoulder.

It appears Peter is crying in your lab. He said not to alert you bu-

“On it,” Tony says a little too quickly but he knows he can get away with it. It fits the role he’s trying to play brilliantly. It takes him less than ten steps to reach the elevator, dinner all but forgotten. Tony’s almost free when a hand curls around the door and he inwardly groans at Steve barging his way in. He then realises it’s his tower and so rolls his eyes.

“He seems like a good kid,” Steve tries, holding his hands up in surrender. “I want to make sure he’s not hurt.”

Tony’s gaze turns steely. “You honestly think I’d let anything in this tower hurt my kid?”

Steve physically reels there and it’s such a good look on him Tony makes a mental note to save the footage later. The elevator then shudders to a stop and Tony is off, Steve on his heels. While Tony’s sure the super soldier cares - he’s embarrassingly good like that - Tony also knows they’re all trying to find out more about Peter. The number of times they’ve tried to break into Peter’s room attests to that. Good thing Tony gave Peter the highest clearest, the same level only he and Pepper have. Not even Happy can get into Peter’s room once it’s locked.

Pushing open the door to the lab, Tony has to take a moment to remember it’s all fake because fake or not, Peter’s doing a brilliant job. He’s still tinkering away at something but he makes swipes at his eyes every few seconds. His shoulders are hitching with sobs and he’s doing the absolute best at looking like someone trying to keep everything together while their whole world falls apart. Tony lays a hand on his shoulder. “Hey Pete.”

He doesn’t get to say anything more before Peter shatters. He latches onto Tony’s jacket and even Tony has to wonder if this is all fake now because seriously? His body moves before his mind does, drawing him in and tucking Peter’s head under his chin. 

“S-Sorry,” Peter stammers and okay, yeah, he’s lying because - unfortunately - Tony’s heard this kid when he cries and he does not sound like that. 

“Bad day?” Tony guesses and Peter just goes along with it, nodding weakly against his chest. Tony sighs. “High school, huh?”

“Yeah, well, you...y-you know...Penis Parker, just...even with you being my dad, I…”

That sounds a little too specific and Peter must know it because he goes rigid. Tony’s jaw sets. “We’ll discuss that later.”

And they will, there’s no lie there. If that really is something Peter’s being called, there’ll be hell to pay. Stark or not, Tony’s not going to let his kid be treated like that. He also very much denies thinking precisely what he just thought and goes back to just holding Peter, a hand subconsciously coming up to run through his curls. Over his head, Tony meets Steve’s gaze, one eyebrow quirking up.

“Um, a little privacy?”

Steve clears his throat awkwardly and gives Peter a shoulder pat which is just as awkward before leaving. Peter waits until the elevator doors close before sitting up, scrubbing his face on his sleeve. His grin is a little too wide and Tony narrows his eyes at him.

“You know that trick’s never gonna work on me now, right?”

Peter swears. He then blinks before grinning again. “Yeah it will. You hate seeing me cry Mr Stark.”

And maybe Tony does but it makes his jaw drop nonetheless. He cuffs the kid over the back of the head. “And we’re still talking about the school thing.”

“Huh? School thing? I don’t...I can’t read suddenly, I don’t know.”

Tony doesn’t know what that means and, quite frankly, he doesn’t want to. He lets the matter drop...until a few hours later when he’s alone and asks FRIDAY to monitor Peter at school and to alert him to any and all uses of the term ‘Penis Parker’. The AI agrees and, if Tony’s not mistaken, sounds a little too pleased.

Good.

 

***

 

3.

Tony doesn’t like to think that Peter keeps saving him but, essentially, that’s what he’s doing. He isn’t saving him from death or any life-threatening situations but he is saving Tony from terrible social situations and the odd panic attack or two. And if Tony has to be Peter’s dad to do it, then so be it.

(Also, about that, if Tony’s not wrong Natasha’s figured out he’s pulling everyone’s strings but she also can’t quite pinpoint who Peter is. Tony’s thankful for that much at least. As for everyone else, they’ve kind of just accepted Peter in some sort of bizarre shocked way but then, known for being a playboy in his youth, Tony can understand perhaps why they don’t entirely discredit it. Although, seriously people? He was responsible!)

But anyway, the next time Peter “saves” him, it’s on a school afternoon. Peter’s made himself at home in the tower since May’s away in Connecticut for the week and she’d rather him with Tony than home alone. Tony’s seen Peter’s neighbourhood and he more than agrees. So now Peter is sitting at his dining table plodding through his homework while running some sort of chemistry experiment on his right. Tony doesn’t usually allow experiments at the table - well, he does, Pepper doesn’t - but it’s Peter and the rules never seem to apply when it comes to Peter. Tony is sitting at the other end of the table, a coffee in one hand, StarkPad in the other while Steve sits opposite, coffee and newspaper in hand. Tony will be honest, he didn’t know people still made newspapers. They’re having a conversation they’ve been having to have for awhile and yes, Tony has been mentally prepping himself but nothing prepares him for Steve saying,

“No more putting it off Tony. I’ve already organised it. Bucky’s gonna be here tomorrow.”

Tony nearly drops his coffee and, by comparison, the StarkPad in his hand gets gripped painfully tight. It feels like ice has been poured over his head and yes, he’s been putting this off but he thinks he needs more than twelve hours notice when his parents’ murderer is about to enter his house. His private living space. His sanctuary. Steve can harp on about the Winter Soldier and Bucky Barnes being two separate people all he wants and maybe some aspect of it is true but he has to see it from Tony’s point of view, surely. Surely he can see how hard it must be to differentiate the two. To see the man who strangled his mother and not be overcome with...something.

That crippling feeling in his chest is back and Tony’s warding it off as best he can. He doesn’t bother sending Steve a smile when he reaches for him, just holds up a hand as the other comes to pinch the bridge of his nose. He tries to breathe deeply but it catches. And then it releases because Peter - Peter, bless him - makes the tiniest noise. Like he was going to speak and then suddenly thought better of it. It’s a lifeline though, and Tony’s grabbing it.

“Yeah Pete?”

Peter chews on his bottom lip indecisively before shaking his head. “N-Nothing Dad.” He goes back to his homework but Tony knows this little act, this routine.

Peter,” he says, a little more firmly this time.

Peter flushes, glancing between him and Steve. “I...It doesn’t...No, Mr Rogers is more important Dad. Maybe you should-”

“Son,” and Tony knows it’s just an expression, a remnant of the 40s, but he loathes how Steve says that at his Peter. “I’m sure Tony would like to know.”

Tony folds his arms and shoots his eyebrows up at Peter. Peter fiddles with his pen a bit more before throwing it down and looking out the window. “I just...the decathlon meet...I-You...well, you said you’d-...and I…”

Tony pulls a face he hopes is sympathetic. “Right, the decathlon.”

Peter’s already adding fuel to the fire and god, does Tony love this kid. “I-I know it’s tomorrow and I know you said you’d come but if it...I mean, i-it’s Captain America Dad and that’s...yeah, that’s pretty cool.”

“Peter, nothing is more cool than me getting to watch you kick other kids’ butts at science stuff, you understand?”

Peter’s mouth snaps shut, cheeks flushing bright red. Tony nods to himself, turning to Steve who’s already waving him away. He looks like he adores them and honestly that’s just disgusting. He takes his leave and Tony is finally able to breathe; a big, deep breath that goes right to the bottom of his lungs. He feigns wiping sweat from his brow, sending Peter a smile.

“Quick thinking there kid.”

Peter returns his smile a little crookedly, hands twisting together. “Well, yeah, I thought...and it’s not, I mean, we do...that is, I-”

Tony’s eyes fly skywards. “So you actually do have a decathlon meet tomorrow?”

“Yeah, but it-”

“And you want me there?”

“No! That’s not-”

“Oh, so you don’t want me there?”

“No, no, of course not Mr. Stark-”

“Kid, help me. I’m getting confused here.”

They both stop, Tony tapping the table impatiently while Peter stares at him, mouth hanging slightly open. They say nothing for the longest time. It’s only Tony’s phone going off that breaks the silence, Tony picking it up and bringing it to his ear.

“Right, tomorrow then. Send me the details or I will be calling the school,” he orders before answering.

He leaves before Peter can even protest. And if it ends up on a few social media accounts and then spreads further from there that he, Tony Stark, attends a high school decathlon meet, what of it? 

 

***

 

4.

Tony doesn’t dodge a lot of meetings. He may act like he does and he’s been known to walk out on a few or just no show to several others but when it comes down to it, when it really matters, he’s always there. Plus, to be honest, he doesn’t actually have a lot of say in any of Stark Industries’ business decisions - nope, that’s all Pepper. But when it comes to things like the Accords, like arc reactor technology, things he’s actually personally a part of, he always makes sure he’s free. Tony doesn’t skip out, no matter how much he often wants to. He may have spent all morning bemoaning the fact to Peter as he rode with him to school just so he could at least have Peter’s morning energy to get him through the day.

But regardless, it’s now approaching lunch time and Tony’s going to split the second the meeting’s paused because he thought he and Steve butted heads hard but it’s nothing compared to how Steve and Ross do. Tony’s head is pounding from all the yelling and circular arguments. He’s already taken the legal dosage of tylenol but hey, a few more probably won’t kill him. It’s either that or a scotch. Tony hasn’t decided yet.

He doesn’t get to decide though. Doesn’t get to because his phone chooses that moment to go off.

Everyone swivels around to him like he’s done some great wrong but hey, the literal owner of Stark Industries. Phone calls happen. 

(He’s also screened them so that most recognised numbers get sent immediately to voicemail so the fact that this one doesn’t is...odd.)

Tony’s answering the phone even while Ross is telling him to put the phone down, opening with a suave greeting that immediately turns into a frown. It takes him a moment to keep up with the voice on the other end not because they’re speaking fast, but because he needs a second to two to process context.

And then the lightbulb goes off and he’s smothering down a smile. Okay, that little shit.

“Midtown Hi-...Oh, Pete.”

That’s all he has to say before a hush falls over most of the table, literally all the Avengers and Rogues hanging off his words. Rhodey knows his game but he plays along nonetheless. He finds it funny, apparently. Ross is looking between them all in confusion but Tony makes sure his face has that concerned edge he knows he needs in a situation like this.

“Surely his aunt...Uh huh, I see...No, tell Pete I’m on the way. I’ll be there within the hour.”

Ross gives Tony a look like he’s made a very bad decision but Wanda and Natasha are all but urging him out the door while Rhodey’s yelling out, “Fill me in on the way!”

Tony doesn’t even say goodbye, just takes the elevator straight down to the parking lot under Stark Tower and jumps in whatever car is closest. The trip down to Queens probably gets him a speeding ticket or two but Tony’s already got FRIDAY dismissing them because hey, family emergency here. He slides into a parking space outside Midtown High and jogs up to the administration building. Several jaws drop when he walks in but that’s hardly anything new.

“I’m here for Peter Parker?” he announces, hooking his glasses into the v of his shirt.

The receptionist slides a clipboard his way and Tony scribbles out his signature next to Peter’s name. He then clears his throat when no one actually, you know, directs him to Peter and that seems to break the moment. The receptionist hastily points him down the hall while the school nurse stands at the door and beckons him over. Peter’s inside, body wracking with shivers and his eyes are watery.

“I’ll take it from here,” Tony says to the nurse, hooking a hand around Peter’s arm and hauling him up. Peter comes easily enough, smiling up at him. “Hey Mr Stark.”

Tony jumps in the driver’s side of the car and Peter hesitates before copying. He shoots Tony what is definitely a nervous, was-that-okay? smile and Tony’s only response is to pass him a spare pair of sunglasses from the glove compartment. Peter slides them on before burrowing into the chair, hoodie tucked right up to his ears. Tony frowns and flips the car’s top up, swapping the cooling for heating, even though it’s not that cold out. Peter looks thankful enough, letting out a contented sigh.

“So how’d you do it?” Tony asks.

Peter looks a cross between sheepish and proud. “I can’t...Since, you know, I can’t-...my temperature doesn’t thermoregulate-”

Tony absolutely did not know that and he’s already planning to incorporate a feature into Peter’s suit that monitors his temperature and responds accordingly.

“-I kind of just...sat outside for gym in the shade in only a t-shirt and-”

“You froze yourself, to fake sick?” Tony cuts in, the need to clarify clear.

Peter very much avoids his gaze. “And then I told Aunt May not to answer when the school called a-and she knows I’m going with you anyway Mr Stark so it’s fine and I just thought that with the meeting…”

He trails off, Tony clapping a hand on his shoulder. “Thanks kid.”

Peter doesn’t say anything after that, just hides further in his hoodie until they arrive back at the tower. Tony steers him straight for the couch and fetches one too many blankets from his room. Peter assures him he’s fine but Tony can still see the shivers in his body. He also doesn’t want to point out that unless Peter stays sick, he’s going to get dragged back in to the meeting. As it is, he’s setting up FRIDAY to play Star Wars when the party reconvene and really, who gave them access to his personal floor?

Peter must hear them arrive because he suddenly starts coughing and Tony’s quick to round the couch, resting a hand on his shoulder. Peter’s grinning at him but his voice is pathetically weak. “Dad? I don’t feel too good.”

Tony playfully lays a hand on his forehead. “You don’t feel great either.”

Ross is looking at him like he’s grown a second head but also like he knows he can’t claim Tony has procured a fake child. Tony makes to stand, to excuse himself more than anything, when Peter’s hand shoots out and grabs his wrist. Well, that settles that then. He chuckles.

“Guess Pete’s got me for the afternoon. Sorry gentlemen - and ladies - duty calls. FRIDAY will fill me in. Now chop chop people!”

It’s a clear dismissal and Tony turns his back on the crowd, lifting up Peter’s feet so he can slide underneath them. Peter mumbles a thanks right as Finn escapes with Dameron on the screen. Tony makes a shooing gesture over his shoulder when no sound from the elevator is heard and that, at least, gets them moving. Tony sighs in relief when the doors slide shut, patting Peter’s leg twice.

“Thanks kid. I owe you.”

Peter’s smile is warm and genuine. “No worries Mr Stark.”

Tony ribs him playfully. “At this point, at least call me Tony.”

Peter’s nose screws up. “No thanks Mr Stark.”

Tony ribs him again and Peter just laughs. “Remind me again why I keep you around?”

“Because you love me?” Peter tries hopefully.

Tony softens. “Now who ever said anything about that?”

 

***

 

5.

Somehow, in the middle of everything, Bruce comes back. It takes all of them off guard and Tony can’t tell who’s left reeling more. He’s missed a lot and filling him in is...hardly pleasant. They dodge the subject and skirt around it as much as possible, try to play happy families.

It’s kind of a really dumb idea though because Bruce doesn’t hold seven doctorates for nothing and while he may not be the most switched on when it comes to reading people, it’s impossible for literally anyone to miss the obvious shift in their team dynamics. There’s a very clear ‘us and them’ that wasn’t there before and not everyone is fully on speaking terms with each other. Tony won’t go in a room alone if only Steve and Barnes are in there. Wanda and Vision are still awkwardly trying to make amends. Everyone averts their gaze when Rhodey walks in except for Tony. All in all, it’s not that Bruce notices it’s more, how could he not notice?

Which leads them to where they are right now: i.e. explaining the situation to Bruce.

It wouldn’t be so bad, really it wouldn’t, if everyone didn’t have to justify they were right in their views. Yes, Tony was but if everyone else could just agree with that this would all go a lot faster. It would also be less of a hassle and there would also be less venom spewing. Bruce being Bruce, can see both sides but despite months of everyone else pretending they could, it’s obvious they can’t.

Tony’s back to his original standpoint and so is Steve and Tony’s confident this is the moment everything they’ve worked for falls apart and the Accords are swept off the table again. Which...absolutely has him burning with rage because he has done everything in his power to make adjustments and amendments where necessary. He’s made loophole after loophole and would it kill people to just have some accountability? Even Natasha wants it for god’s sake! Surely that means something. 

He doesn’t say anything, he doesn’t even think he thinks it, but he must show something because Bruce’s hand is suddenly on his arm. “Hey Tony, are you-”

If Bruce asks if he’s okay Tony’s going to scream because he’s managed to hide this for so long but Bruce doesn’t. Maybe the startled squeak behind them has something to do with it.

It definitely does and even Tony doesn’t know how Peter’s managed to do it, how he’s convinced FRIDAY, because Peter’s friend, Ted, stands there at his side, mouth open and probably not breathing. Peter looks a little sheepish but more proud than anything and he has in his hands something Tony knows he wasn’t in possession of four hours ago when he finished school. And Tony certainly didn’t buy it - although he would have, had Peter asked. So this must be where Ted comes in.

“Um, I did tell you Dad,” Peter says, which is utter bullshit and his smile says he knows it too.

“Am I expected to remember everything you tell me?” Tony jokes, Peter laughing. He then nudges his friend forward.

“This is, I...This, everyone, this is Ned. He’s my, um, well, you know...He’s my best friend. And, uh Ned, these are…”

He shrugs helplessly and Ned - Ned, not Ted, okay - stands there helplessly. Peter hisses at him something that sounds very much like “come on, stop staring!” and urges his friend forward. They go to duck passed them when Tony snags Peter by the collar.

Excuse me,” he says grandly, “But is that the new Millennium Falcon with it’s over seven thousand and five hundred pieces?” He knows it is - it’s all Peter’s been talking about for weeks. He then claps his hands. “Class dismissed; it’s lego building time with the boys!”

Ned looks like he’s going to faint at having the actual Tony Stark build lego with them while Peter lights up like a Christmas tree. They set up in the lounge room and Peter must have done a supply run when he got Ned from the lobby because he pulls out a quite frankly alarming amount of junk food from his backpack.

“Nope,” Tony says, taking a good half of it away and finding healthier alternatives in the kitchen. Peter groans loudly and...did his kid just pout at him? “Friday night or not, you’re not eating all of that,” Tony admonishes. 

Everyone else filters out the way they always do when Peter appears. Peter only comes up once or twice a week unless May is away - rare - and so they seem to be of the opinion that when Peter is there, he gets all of Tony’s attention. Tony doesn’t mind. He’s rather fond of the unsaid agreement actually. Ned is still freaking out when Tony takes a seat on the side of coffee table Peter and Ned aren’t occupying but he hands Tony the instruction book when he asks. Only for Peter to snatch it back and say they were building it first. Tony scowls and Peter laughs.

He then stops abruptly as another figure comes to stand at the edge of the table, hands twisting together nervously. “Um, do you think I-”

“You’re Bruce Banner,” Peter breathes.

The instruction booklet is thrown in Bruce’s face in a very poor attempt at an invitation. Tony laughs and it’s the best feeling he’s had in a long time.

 

***

 

+1.

There’s something, something just on the edge of Tony’s hearing. It’s enough to wake him up from sleep though. It’s also enough to rouse Pepper, who stirs beside him. They share a look of confusion but no alarms have been triggered and there’s no recurrence of the noise. Tony would brush it off except he’s not that kind of guy and then FRIDAY’s voice fills the room and okay, he’s definitely not brushing it off.

Boss, Peter has awoken and appears to be in distress.

They share a look and then Pepper shoos him out of bed. Tony’s already going though, grabbing a sweatshirt and tugging it on even as he damn near bolts to Peter’s room. A few heads pop out along the way so clearly the others have heard Peter too. But at the sight of Tony they seem to relax and some part of him is oddly proud at that. Tony doesn’t even bother flicking on the light when he pushes open the door - because Peter never locks it, why would he? Peter’s hunched up on his bed, sobbing into his knees.

“Hey, hey,” Tony soothes, clambering onto the bed and pulling Peter into his side. “Pete, hey, you’re alright.”

“Dad?”

There’s no one here this time to hear it but somehow that just makes it all the more meaningful. Tony squeezes him harder. “I’m here kid.”

Peter’s arms come to wrap around him tightly and Tony’s fingers start running through his hair. He’s more than familiar with nightmares and know how much they can rattle a person. He’s a little hurt though that Peter has to experience them so young. But then he also knows, Peter hasn’t had life easy. He lives with his aunt, for one, and he’s been through so much shit already because of his powers and the responsibilities that come with. At sixteen, he’s seen a bit too much.

“You wanna tell me what happened?” Tony asks.

Peter shakes his head, though he brings a sleeve up to wipe at his eyes. Tony bats the hand away, doing it himself. “Well then, what do you want? Wanna go back to sleep, watch a movie? We could tinker in the lab for a bit. Have I told you about the new improvements I’ve thought of for your suit’s damage resistance?”

“No,” Peter admits but he also levels Tony a look. “Mr Stark, i-it’s late and-”

“Oh so it’s Mr Stark now? What happened to dad?”

Peter burns and Tony grins. He ruffles the kid’s hair for good measure. He is, however, surprised when Peter takes him up on it.

“Okay, but Dad it’s late. Well, probably early-...past midnight, anyway! So we should, I don’t know, be sleeping? Don’t you-...I have school. You have meetings, right?”

Tony sends his eyes skyward. “You do realise I have terrible sleeping habits, right?” Nevertheless, he scoots Peter over until they’re both leaning comfortably against the headboard. He flicks on the television with a wave of his hand and asks FRIDAY to lower the volume. Peter stares at him in disbelief before Tony places the remote in his hand. “Go on. We literally have all of Netflix and there has to be something you want to watch.”

Peter chooses something near the top before burrowing into Tony’s side, head thunked against his shoulder. Tony keeps an arm around him just in case. In case of what, Tony doesn’t know, just in case.

And if they’re found like that in the morning, both fast asleep, they’re not going to mention. Pepper will keep the photo though. And hang it in the apartment. And keep several back ups. It pays to be prepared.

 

***