Chapter 1: Saturday Evening
The day had been the hottest on record for the month of July. Hot and humid and smelly and sticky. The subways had melted down—almost literally—and Queens was grumpy.
Peter sensed the grumpiness in the number of domestic spats he heard through windows that were open to let in what little breeze there was. He sensed it in the number of fist fights––and one knife fight––he broke up between kids younger than him who were just trying to escape the heat of their unairconditioned apartments (and their grumpy parents) by hanging out on street corners. And he sensed it in the altercation he broke up between a dude with an ice cream truck and a dude with a baseball bat he tried to put through the truck’s windshield.
Peter had a hard time picking sides in that one. On the one hand, ice cream guy was just trying to make a living. On the other hand, he thought you could only hear “Turkey in the Straw” so many times before it became a default insanity defense.
By the end of the day, he was feeling a little grumpy himself from dealing with New Yorkers who were not inclined, on a day when the heat index had reached a hundred and eight, to thank their friendly neighborhood Spiderman. Also, his last rescue of the day had been a dog tied up in someone’s yard, and that had pissed him off. He’d broken the poor, panting dog’s leash and gotten him into the shade with a bowl of water, but what he’d wanted to do was steal him away altogether.
Peter liked to think that most people were decent, but some people seemed to go out of their way to disprove the theory.
All in all, Peter was happier than usual to be swinging home. The climate control in his suit had held up pretty well—it would’ve been impossible for him to be out all day otherwise––but he was still feeling sweaty and gross. There were also some serious storm clouds gathering on the horizon, and the one kind of weather he’d promised both May and Mr. Stark he wouldn’t web swing in was thunder and lightning.
He got home just as the first drops started to fall, swinging through his window and collapsing onto his bed. He hit the spider emblem on his chest and the suit went loose, letting him shrug out of it. He rolled over and turned on the fan by his bed, and lay in his boxers, letting the air blow over him.
Maybe six hours of web swinging in heat and humidity had taken it out of him more than he’d realized. He should get up, take a shower, drink some water, and make himself dinner. May was upstate visiting her sister for the weekend, and Peter had just barely managed to convince her that he should be allowed to stay on his own––with Mr. Stark on speed-dial––so he had to be extra responsible about taking care of himself.
Five minutes, Peter promised himself. He swallowed against his dry throat and closed his eyes. Five minutes.
He was woken by an enormous clap of thunder. He jerked upright, heart pounding, and nearly fell out of bed. There was a breeze––much cooler now––blowing through the open window, bringing splatters of rain with it. Peter yanked his window closed just as a flash of lightning lit up the street, followed by another enormous boom. Then the skies opened up and the splatters of rain became sheets.
Peter sat up slowly. He hadn’t been asleep for more than twenty minutes or so, but he was feeling a little... weird. Achy and headachy and just sort of off kilter. He rubbed his eyes. He had weird after images in his vision, like he’d looked at a bright light, but the apartment was dark. Maybe from the lightning just now.
Food and water would help, he decided, and dragged himself off the bed. He pulled on a pair of pajama bottoms and went into the kitchen. He drank a glass of water standing at the sink and then stood blinking at the fridge, trying to make a decision about what to eat. Nothing looked good.
He had to eat something. Mac and cheese, he decided, and took a box of Annie’s down from the top shelf. He put a pot of water to boil and turned the box over to remind himself of the instructions. He squinted at it. The bright spots were still there, but they’d moved around and grown, and they were kind of... pulsing. He rubbed his eyes and tried again.
He couldn’t read. The words were there, but it was like each of them fell out of his head as soon as the next one entered. He couldn’t read. He’d been reading since he was four years old, and now he just couldn’t do it.
Peter’s breathing quickened. He didn’t remember getting hit on the head, but maybe he wouldn’t remember if it’d been a hard enough blow. He reached up and felt his head; surely there’d be a bump or something. But there was nothing.
He was starting to feel kind of sick. The pulsing lights were getting to him, and it didn’t help that he was starting to seriously freak out. He wasn’t a medical expert, but he was pretty sure that seeing things that weren’t there and suddenly not being able to read were not good symptoms.
He turned off the water under the pot, because he definitely did not want mac and cheese now. He didn’t want anything. In fact, he was pretty sure he was going to be sick.
He tried to keep his breathing even as he stumbled into the bathroom. He didn’t hit the lights; he had the feeling that wouldn’t be a good idea. He sank down on the bath mat and cradled his head in his hands. Pain was flaring in his head, centered on the left side, right behind his eye. Wincing, Peter tried to put pressure on the spot; that alleviated the pain a little, but he was still left with the pulsing lights and the nausea.
This was not good. What if he had a tumor? What if he had an aneurysm? That was a thing, wasn’t it? People just fell over dead because a blood vessel in their brain had burst. Was there any kind of warning, Peter wondered––like, say, a headache and weird lights? That seemed like the sort of thing that would happen before you started bleeding out in your skull.
He was going to be sick, he realized, and lurched for the toilet. But then he didn’t throw up after all. It was like somewhere between his brain and his stomach, the signals got scrambled, and he just ended up leaning over the toilet, feeling really, really sick. Peter slumped sideways and rested his head on his arm, feeling overwhelmed and miserable and alone and trying not very successfully to stop himself from crying.
He didn’t know how long he’d been like that when his phone beeped. He’d forgotten he even had it on him, but he must’ve slipped it into his pocket when he’d left his room. He fumbled it out and looked at the message. It was from Mr. Stark, but he couldn’t even begin to make sense of it.
“FRIDAY?” he managed.
“Good evening, Peter. You didn’t check in after you returned from patrol,” FRIDAY replied through the speaker in Peter’s phone. “Boss would like to confirm that you’re uninjured and don’t need assistance.”
“Um,” Peter said. “I don’t... I don’t know...” If it was nothing, he didn’t want to bother Mr. Stark with it. But he was pretty sure that he and May would both be pretty upset if Peter ended up dead from an aneurysm because he didn’t say anything. Peter himself wouldn’t be pleased about that, either.
“Mr. Stark is calling,” FRIDAY said. “I will take the liberty of connecting you.”
“Wait,” Peter said, but it was too late.
“Hey, kid,” Mr. Stark said. “Everything okay? You know you’re supposed to check in with me when you get home.”
Peter didn’t know where to begin. Worse than that, it seemed like his reading problem had become a speaking problem. “I’m––I can’t––there were these lights.”
“Lights?” Mr. Stark repeated. “What lights? Is the power out at your apartment?”
“No.” Peter had almost forgotten about the storm, but a clap of thunder made him jump. “There were lights, and then I started to feel kind of sick. Mr. Stark, I can’t read!” he added, unable to keep the distress out of his voice.
“Wait, kid, hold up––you weren’t hurt on patrol, right? This all happened after you got back?”
“There were lights, and you felt nauseated, and then you couldn’t read.”
“Do you have a headache?”
“Yeah. Like... behind my eye. Do you think...” Peter paused and sniffed. “Do you think it’s an aneurysm?”
“Jesus, kid, no. I think it’s a migraine.”
Peter blinked. Everything felt like it was processing at half-speeding. The lights were obscuring half the toilet bowl, a half-crescent of just... pulsing black void. Not really lights, now that Peter was thinking about it. The nausea was much worse. He swallowed hard. He really didn’t want to throw up while he was on the phone with Mr. Stark. “A migraine?”
“Yeah. Have you ever had one before?”
“Okay.” Mr. Stark’s voice was surprisingly gentle. “It’s unpleasant, but it’s not life threatening, I promise. It’s a bad headache with aura––that’s the lights––and nausea. It’s definitely not fun, but you’ll be okay.”
“Oh,” Peter said. He relaxed and dropped his head to rest on the edge of the bathtub. He swallowed again, feeling as though his grip on his emotions was even more tenuous than it had been when he’d thought he might be dying. “Mr. Stark?” he said in a small voice. “I feel really bad.”
“I know, kid. Tell you what, give me––shit, okay, give me an hour, because like Spiderman, Iron Man shouldn’t be flying around in a thunderstorm, so I’m going to have to get to you the old fashioned way. But give me an hour and I’ll be there with Excedrin and Gatorade.”
“Y’don’t...” Peter bit his lip. “You don’t have to. S’just a headache.”
“Migraines aren’t just anything. They suck. Also, I promised May that I’d keep an eye on you this weekend, and she scares the hell out of me.” Peter cracked a smile. Mr. Stark being afraid of May would never not be funny. “Hang in there, kid. Drink some water if you can.”
He was really thirsty, Peter realized then. But also still really nauseous. He had the feeling anything he drank would just come back up. “I’ll try. Thanks, Mr. Stark.”
They disconnected. Peter leaned his head against the cold, smooth porcelain of the bathtub. The throbbing behind his eye worsened until it felt like someone was stabbing him repeatedly.
He hadn’t known a headache could feel like this. His eyes flooded with tears. He wished that May was home, or that he’d agreed to go to the tower for the weekend. He’d wanted to prove he could take care of himself, but it would’ve been nice to have someone else there to take care of him right then.
An hour, he told himself. He just had to hang on for an hour. An hour was nothing in the grand scheme of things.
It just felt like forever.
The thunder and lightning had started to move on by the time Tony arrived at the kid’s apartment, leaving behind heavy rain and overflowing storm drains. There was no parking to be had for four blocks in any direction, and Tony drew the line at walking in the rain in Italian leather loafers anyway. He made Happy drop him off in front of the building and told him he’d call when he needed to be picked up.
At least he hadn’t been stuck trying to get here from upstate. Not for the first time was Tony glad he hadn’t sold the tower. Gutted and renovated the top ten floors, sure, so that no square inch of them was the same as when the Avengers had lived there––but not sold.
“You sure you don’t want me to stay?” Happy asked, frowning.
“I think I can handle one kid with a migraine,” Tony replied, rolling his eyes. For someone who had made a big show out of not liking the kid for the first six months he’d known him, Happy was sure terrible at hiding his protective streak.
Happy did not look like he agreed that Tony was capable of handling it, but he was at least silent in his judgment. Tony climbed out of the car with his bag of Excedrin and Gatorade and dashed through the rain to the front door of the Parkers’ building.
May had given him a key for emergencies, and Tony had accepted it without mentioning that it was, in fact, unnecessary. By that point, Tony had already bought the building. He’d quietly made a few improvements––repairing the broken elevator, firing the negligent management company and do-nothing super, and hiring a daytime doorman so people would stop stealing packages. He’d also––even more quietly––installed several top of the line security features, including cameras at all the entrances and on the roof.
He couldn’t do much more than that without May Parker smelling a rat, but it was something. It let him sleep at night, anyway, since May had flatly refused to let Tony buy them an apartment in a high security building. He knew there would be hell to pay if she ever found out the truth, but that was a problem for his future self.
The building was quiet, everyone in for the night because of the heat and the storm. Tony let himself into the Parkers’ apartment. Most of the lights were off, save for one in the kitchen. It looked like Peter had stopped in the middle of making dinner; there was a box of Annie’s mac and cheese on the counter and a pot of water on the stove. At least the burner was off.
He glanced into Peter’s room, but it was empty. Bathroom, then.
The lights were off, but there was enough ambient light coming in the window for Tony to see Peter curled up against the bathtub, head pillowed on a towel. He stirred as Tony came in and crouched down beside him. “M’ssr Stark?” he mumbled, lifting his face. Jesus, the poor kid had been crying. Peter hadn’t even cried when he’d broken his elbow last month.
“Hey kid,” Tony said, keeping his voice quiet. “How’re you doing?”
“Not good,” Peter admitted, voice trembling. He let Tony help him sit up, back against the bathtub. “Never felt like this before. I don’t like it.”
Tony didn’t like it either. Peter’s eyes were dull, all his vital spark snuffed out. Tony squeezed his shoulder. “Did you throw up?”
“No,” Peter mumbled. “Wanted to, though. Feel so sick. And it hurts, like... like someone’s stabbing me in the head.” He looked up at Tony, eyes watery and half-shuttered. “I just want it to stop.”
“I know, kid,” Tony said, reaching out to stroke a hand through his hair. Peter leaned into the touch, eyes closing. “Migraines are idiosyncratic. That means everyone is different, and different things work for different people. So we’re going to try a few things and see what helps, okay?” Peter nodded. “Let’s start by getting some Excedrin into you. I brought my Imitrex pills, too, but I can already hear what your aunt would have to say about me giving you meds that weren’t prescribed to you, so we’ll start with the OTC stuff.”
“Pro’bly none of it’s gonna work,” Peter predicted morosely.
“Well, maybe not,” Tony admitted. “Let’s try anyway. And we’ll wash it down with some Gatorade, because I’d bet my Maserati that you’re dehydrated. You were out all day in the suit, weren’t you? Did you stop to eat or drink anything?”
“No,” Peter admitted.
“Yeah, so, not enough fluids or food, out in the heat all day, and then a massive change in air pressure when the storm rolled in this evening. Any one of those might’ve been the trigger, or it could’ve been the combination of all three that did you in.”
Peter didn’t look like he was tracking, so Tony decided to shut up while he got pills and fluids into him. The good news was that while the kid obviously felt like shit, he wasn’t feeling so sick that he was unwilling to sip at the Gatorade Tony had brought. He was going to have to program a reminder into Karen for her to tell Peter stop and drink something if he was out in the suit for more than a couple of hours.
After a few minutes of sitting together on the bathroom floor, Tony realized that the kid was sort of listing toward him. Not quite leaning, more like... melting in his direction. Slowly but steadily, as though Tony wasn’t going to notice when Peter eventually ended up on his shoulder. Tony caved with a sigh, putting his arm around Peter’s shoulders, and Peter took that as an invitation to slump the rest of the way into his side.
“How you doing, kid?” he asked. “Is that Gatorade helping?”
“Not really,” Peter murmured. “But ’m less thirsty.”
“Well, that’s a start. How’s your pain?”
Peter hesitated. “Like... a six. But the nausea and the lights...”
“The lights are the worst,” Tony agreed.
Peter made an interested noise. “You get migraines?”
“Occasionally. Not that often anymore. The worst ones were when I was––um. Well, there was this time back when I had the original arc reactor where I was sort of... dying.” Peter made a dismayed sound, and Tony tightened his arm around his shoulders. “I didn’t die, obviously. But palladium poisoning will give you some fucking awful migraines. And even now, a couple times a year, something sets me off––usually it’s red wine when I haven’t had enough sleep, or at least Pepper insists that’s what it is.”
“It’s so weird. S’ss... s’like... my brain isn’t my brain.”
“Yeah, I know that one,” Tony said. He curled his arm around, sliding his fingers into Peter’s hair. Peter made a wordless noise and went basically boneless. Tony smiled to himself; the kid was obviously weak for having his hair touched. “Besides the lights, I always thought feeling stupid was the worst part. And the Imitrex makes it worse for me.”
Tony gave a quiet laugh. “Yeah, it does.”
He stopped making Peter talk after that, just kept his fingers moving in and out of the kid’s hair while he drank the Gatorade. It took him almost forty-five minutes, but eventually he managed to drain the bottle. He’d melted all the way into Tony’s side by then and was halfway into his lap. Tony knew from past experience that the kid was clingy when he was tired or stressed, but not feeling well apparently unlocked a whole new level of clinginess.
Tony thought he should probably do something about that. Push the kid away, make him sit up, set some nice firm boundaries. He should want to do that. And the part of him that was panicking because nursing the kid through a bad migraine was serious parent territory, there was no denying that––that part of him did. But most of him... didn’t. Most of him wanted to lean into it the same way the kid did. As though it was that easy.
“Mr. Stark?” Peter murmured, lifting his head. “You okay? Your heart is beating kind of fast.’
“I’m fine, Pete,” Tony said, smiling down at him. “How’re you doing? Think maybe we can get off the floor?” Peter nodded. “You want to go to bed and or lie down in the living room for a bit?”
“Um.” Peter hesitated. “Are you staying?”
If you want me to was on the tip of Tony’s tongue. But if he said that, Peter would say he was all right on his own, because there was nothing the kid hated more than feeling like he was a burden, and then Tony would either have to leave––which he didn’t want to do––or convince Peter to let him stay. Better to just avoid the whole fiasco.
“Yeah, thought I’d stick around,” Tony said. “Lousy weather for me to ask Happy to come back out in.”
“Yeah, “ Peter said, visibly relieved. “Yeah, that’s true. Um... living room, I guess.”
Tony helped him up. He swayed dizzily once he was on his feet, and they ended up braced over the bathroom sink for a minute or two because Peter thought he might throw up. But eventually they were able to shuffle unsteadily out of the bathroom.
The living room was mostly dark. Tony helped Peter stretch out on the sofa, then went to get him another Gatorade and some crackers. He should really eat something more substantial than crackers at some point, Tony thought, but he didn’t think that’d be an option until at least tomorrow morning. He really hoped the worst of this would have passed by then; Tony had had a handful of multi-day migraines in his life, and he ranked them above open heart surgery in a nice clean hospital (albeit below open heart surgery in a cave) in terms of misery.
“Thanks,” Peter mumbled, accepting the Gatorade and crackers.
“How’s the headache?” Tony asked, ducking his head to try and get a look at Peter’s eyes.
“Better, maybe. Like... a five. The, um, the lights are mostly gone now.” Peter drew a deep breath and closed his eyes, obviously trying to marshal his mental faculties. “Could you... there’s a quilt on my bed,” he said, looking embarrassed and very young. “Could you get it for me? I always have it when I don’t feel well.”
“Sure, Pete.” He didn’t bother to stop himself from ghosting a hand over Peter’s hair as he left the room.
The quilt in question was a t-shirt quilt, obviously handmade, now faded and worn and a little too small. The shirts had all had science puns on them, Tony realized, sort of like the nerdy shirts Peter often wore when he came over to the tower. Tony paused, then folded the quilt more carefully over his arm. He didn’t know for sure whose shirts they’d been, but he could guess. Richard Parker had been a biochemist by training.
Tony brought one of Peter’s pillows back out with him, too. “Here you go,” he said, draping the quilt over Peter’s lap.
Despite the heat, Peter wrapped himself up in the quilt. Then he moved over, making room for Tony to sit beside him. He leaned against him, resting his head on Tony’s shoulder. “Thanks for coming,” Peter mumbled.
Tony was digging for the remote between the couch cushions. He finally found it and turned the TV on, then put his feet up on the mismatched ottomon. “Well,” he said then, “I did promise your aunt I’d keep an eye on you.”
“Mmhm,” Peter said, sounding as though he wasn’t fooled by Tony’s deflection. He never was, unfortunately. “Um... dunno if I can watch anything. I still feel pretty... not all here.”
“I know, kid. I’m not putting on anything you have to follow, and we can turn it off if looking at the screen is uncomfortable. But I think this is almost better than Imitrex.” He found what he was looking for on Netflix and loaded it.
Peter was quiet for a few seconds, frowning at the TV. “How old is this?”
“Hey, we made some good stuff before you were born. Like Star Wars.”
“Yeah, but... this is literally just a dude with big hair... painting? He’s just gonna paint?”
“Because he’s Bob Ross, that’s why,” Tony said, feeling exasperated, or maybe just defensive of his own coping mechanism. Bob Ross had gotten him through a lot of migraines when Tony hadn’t had anyone else around to help. “He is going to paint some happy fucking trees and you are going to lie down and zone out while he does.”
“Um, okay,” Peter said, and did indeed lie down. His pillow was tucked up against Tony’s thighs, so his head was almost but not quite in Tony’s lap. It was easy for Tony to reach down smooth the hair back from over his forehead, though, and easy for him to tug the quilt up so it covered Peter’s shoulder. Peter had some of the quilt bunched up in his arms, like a teddy bear. It had clearly been made for a much smaller Peter. Tony pulled a blanket down from the back of the couch so it covered the rest of him.
“Thanks,” Peter said with a sigh. He went quiet, staring blankly the TV. Tony sank deeper into the sofa. The apartment was slightly too warm, rain pattered against the windows, and Bob Ross droned on soothingly about how there were no mistakes, only happy accidents. Tony hadn’t been sleeping well, but he had the feeling that wasn’t going to be a problem tonight.
“I guess this is pretty nice,” Peter admitted drowsily, as the first episode rolled straight into the second. “Soothing.”
“Told you. How’s your pain?”
“Mmm. Better. Not so sick.”
“Could you...” Peter hesitated.
“Just ask, kid.”
“Couldyoustrokemyhairagain?” Peter asked, so fast that it took Tony a second to parse it.
“Oh,” Tony said, only a little awkwardly. “Sure.” He sank his fingers into Peter’s hair, focusing on separating out all the curls that’d gotten matted together from hours in the Spiderman suit. The kid probably needed a shower, but he finally seemed comfortable, and Tony wasn’t about to move him. Tony rubbed the pads of his fingers against Peter’s scalp; Peter made a noise that was remarkably like a cat’s purr and sank even more heavily into the sofa. Tony smiled to himself.
Another episode, another mountain landscape. “How you doing, Pete?” Tony asked softly. On the screen, Bob Ross was brushing back and forth across the canvass, cheerfully blending the base of the mountain into a lake.
“Mmm,” Peter replied groggily.
Tony smiled to himself. “Let me know if you need anything.”
Tony unlocked his cell phone and typed a message one-handed to Happy. In for the night. Will let you know when we’re up and moving in the morning. Gonna try to bring him to the tower. Then he texted Pepper to let her know what was going on, and then, finally, May.
May was concerned, but Tony managed to convince her to wait until the morning to call, since Peter was pretty close to asleep. She agreed readily to his plan to take Peter back to the tower. That was what both of them would have preferred to begin with, but Peter had lobbied hard to be allowed to stay on his own. He’d been scheduled to come over on Sunday anyway, though, so this didn’t change their plans much.
Finally, he set his phone down and let his head fall to rest against the back of the sofa. It was surprisingly comfortable with his feet up on the ottoman, and he was loath to move Peter now that he was resting. Tony let his eyes track the movements of Bob Ross’s paintbrush until his eyes drifted shut.
Peter woke to his pillow moving beneath him. He grumbled and burrowed in deeper, pinning his pillow––and the leg beneath it––to the sofa. “Kid,” Mr. Stark said, sounding amused, “you gotta let me up. I have to pee.”
Peter sighed but let Mr. Stark up. He used the opportunity to stretch out, his spine decompressing from a night spent curled up on the sofa. He blinked his eyes open. Early morning light was streaming in the living room windows, and the clock on the DVD player said it was not quite seven o’clock.
Mr. Stark came back. Peter sat up just enough for him to slide back in, then lay down with his head and shoulders properly in Mr. Stark’s lap this time. Mr. Stark threaded his fingers through Peter’s hair. Peter gave a contented sigh. He’d always loved having his hair played with. He was a little embarrassed that Mr. Stark knew that now, but not embarrassed enough to tell him to stop. He let his eyes drift shut, wondering if he might go back to sleep for a bit.
“How are you feeling?” Mr. Stark asked.
With some regret, Peter gave up on going back to sleep right then. “Okay.”
“Define ‘okay’ for me.”
“Um.” Peter opened his eyes and squinted, taking stock. “Not... bad. Not like last night. Just kind of... I don’t know. Weird.”
“Maybe? I don’t know what that feels like,” Peter pointed out.
Mr. Stark smiled down at him. “You feel kind of foggy? A little woozy and nauseous? Like the headache and everything might come back if you’re not careful?”
“Yeah,” Peter admitted. He paused. “I think I might also be hungry. Like, really hungry.”
“Probably.” Mr. Stark rubbed his thumb between Peter’s eyebrows. “You need to take it easy today. If you do too much, you might end up with another migraine. No Spiderman, okay?”
“Okay,” Peter agreed easily. He didn’t want to go out as Spiderman when he felt like this. And he and Mr. Stark had had other plans anyway. “Can I still come to the tower?”
“Yeah, of course. But I think we should save working on your suit for another time. It’s supposed to be less miserably hot today, so maybe we can sit by the pool.”
Peter frowned. “I was looking forward to working on the suit.”
“We can find some time next week to work on it,” Mr. Stark said. “You need to give your brain a break. As someone who’s tried to work through migraines and paid the price every single time, trust me when I say you’ll be doing yourself a favor.”
“Hmm. I guess,” Peter conceded, deciding he didn’t have much choice. And he did feel kind of crappy––not as crappy as he had the night before, but definitely not a hundred percent.
“You want to sleep some more?” Mr. Stark asked. “Or do you want me to call Happy and have him come and get us so we can get breakfast before the brunch crowd hits?”
Peter did want to sleep some more, but food sounded good, too. And if he spent the day lounging by the pool at Stark Tower, he could nap then. “The second one.”
“Okay. It’s going to be a few minutes. Why don’t you go take a shower?” Mr. Stark suggested, prodding Peter into sitting up. “You’ll feel better. And then you should call your aunt.”
Peter agreed and shuffled off to take a shower. He spent a long time under the spray, letting it hit his neck and shoulders, grateful for the recent abundance of hot water in the building. It felt good to let it work out some of the knots in his back from sleeping on the sofa, and the water on his scalp drowned out some of his lingering headache.
He zoned out for a while, not moving to soap up or wash his hair, until Mr. Stark knocked on the door. “Kid? You okay in there?”
“I’m fine,” Peter called back, and forced himself to grab the soap.
Mr. Stark had a giant glass of water waiting for him when he came out, dressed in shorts and his “Han Shot First” shirt. Mr. Stark saw the shirt and rolled his eyes, but Peter was pretty sure he was secretly amused.
“Happy’ll be here in about half an hour,” Mr. Stark said, handing him his phone before heading toward the bathroom. “Call your aunt!”
Peter took his glass of water into the living room and sprawled on the sofa. May’s phone rang three times before she picked up. “Hi sweetie,” she greeted him. “How are you feeling?”
“Better,” he said, snuggling into the sofa. He pulled the quilt made of all his dad’s old science t-shirts over his head and closed his eyes. “Still not great. Migraines suck, May.”
“So I hear. I’ve never had one.” She paused. “Your mom used to get them, though.”
Peter opened his eyes. “Really?”
“Yeah. I think one even landed her in the hospital once.”
“Don’t tell me that,” Peter groaned.
“Sorry, kiddo. You seem like you’re doing okay, though. Tony’s taking good care of you?”
“Yeah. He says I need to take it easy today or I might get another one, so we’re going to go back to the tower and hang out by the pool, I guess.”
“That sounds nice. Feel free to stay over there. I won’t be back until mid-afternoon tomorrow, and it sounds like Tony knows how to handle this even better than I would. Let him look after you.”
Peter pulled a face where no one could see it. His desire to be babied was at war with his desire to not have Mr. Stark see him as someone he had to baby. Still... maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing, staying over at the tower. He always slept really well there. The soundproofing in his bedroom was almost enough even for his sensitive ears, and the black out curtains were truly black out. The AC was also way better than what they had at the apartment.
Peter suspected, though, that most of why he slept so good at the tower was that he felt extra safe there, knowing Mr. Stark was nearby. Which he absolutely would never admit out loud to anyone.
“Maybe,” Peter finally said. “I’ll let you know.”
May had to go soon then, to help her sister get the kids ready for the day’s outing. Peter emerged from his blanket cocoon and sat up to finish drinking his water. He still felt dehydrated from the previous day’s Spiderman activities. He needed to drink a lot more water next time.
Happy and Mr. Stark took him to a hipster diner on the Lower East Side that was famous for their pancakes. By eleven o’clock there would be a ninety minute wait for a table, but at 8:30 they had their pick of places to sit. Peter’s stomach was still feeling iffy––or maybe it was that his head was still feeling iffy––but it growled audibly at the smell of pancakes and maple syrup when they walked in.
“Get something with protein,” Mr. Stark told him once they sat down. “And don’t overdo it. Eat slowly, stop if you start to feel weird. Trust me, throwing up in a public restroom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
“And if anyone would know, it’d be Tony,” Happy added. Mr. Stark flicked a straw wrapper at him, and Peter smiled.
Peter ended up ordering the country breakfast with an extra side of bacon; Mr. Stark got the smoked salmon scramble, and Happy ordered the buttermilk biscuit sandwich. Mr. Stark also ordered a stack of blueberry pancakes with warm maple butter. “For the table,” he told the waitress with a smile.
“Thanks,” Peter muttered to him once she’d left. He always needed to eat more than was socially acceptable to order.
“No problem, kid,” Mr. Stark said. “And we can always have them box it up for us to take home if you don’t finish it.”
Normally, finishing it wouldn’t have been a problem, but Peter took Mr. Stark’s advice and ate more slowly than usual. He got through his ham and eggs and maybe a third of the pancakes before he started running out of steam. A wave of fatigue crashed over him, and he wished they could leave so he could lie down and have a nap.
Mr. Stark must’ve sensed it somehow, because he asked for the check and for the leftovers to be boxed up. Happy went to get the car, and Mr. Stark reached over and casually rested one hand on the back of Peter’s neck, while he scrolled through his phone with the other. He pressed against the base of Peter’s skull with his thumb.
“Whoa,” Peter breathed, as pain he’d barely been aware of vanished. He let his head drop.
“There’s a pressure point right there at the base of your skull,” Mr. Stark said quietly. He let up after a moment but kept his hand on the back of Peter’s neck. “Actually, I wanted to ask you––Pepper’s massage therapist is coming to the tower today. Do you want me to see if he has an hour free to see you?”
“Oh,” Peter said, uncertainly. “Jeez, that’s really nice of you to offer. I don’t know... I’ve never done anything like that. Isn’t it expensive?”
Mr. Stark gave him a look. The look said, Are you serious?
“Right, okay,” Peter said grimacing. “Um. Do you think it’ll help?”
“I do think it might help,” Mr. Stark said, taking his hand back. “And if the issue is that you’re not comfortable taking your clothes off, you don’t have to. He can just work on your head and your neck, maybe your hands and feet.”
It hadn’t even occurred to Peter that getting a massage would involve taking his clothes off in front of a stranger. He definitely was not comfortable with that. Just having his head and neck rubbed sounded okay, though. Maybe it’d be like having his hair stroked, only... more. That sounded nice, actually.
Still, there was something about it that just felt weird to him. Maybe it was that he’d always thought of massages as a rich people thing. Not the sort of thing that May could ever afford. Peter knew that May worried that he was going to get used to living like Mr. Stark. Peter didn’t think there was much danger of that, but just knowing she was worried about it always made him think twice before accepting anything that wasn’t Spiderman-related.
The waitress came back with the check. Mr. Stark handed over his AmEx and she left again, and still Peter didn’t say anything. The longer he sat there without saying anything, the more he felt like Mr. Stark knew everything he was thinking.
Finally, Mr Stark said, “If it helps, we had a massage therapist coming in twice a week when the Avengers were in residence.” His voice was remarkably even, considering how hard Peter knew it was for him to talk about the team. “Being a superhero is hard on your body.”
“That’s different,” Peter said, glancing away. “I don’t need it because I got hurt as Spiderman.”
“So only Spiderman deserves nice things?” Mr. Stark replied, raising his eyebrows. “That doesn’t seem fair. Especially since Peter Parker is just as immune to painkillers.”
Peter pressed his lips together and shrugged.
Mr. Stark sighed. “Pete, listen to me. You don’t feel well. I can see it on your face. Painkillers don’t help you, and I think this might. It isn’t anything I can’t afford to do for you, and he’s already coming to the tower for Pepper’s appointment. Are you really going to be stubborn about this?”
When Mr. Stark put it that way, Peter guessed it sounded kind of silly. And if he was honest, he did sort of want to try it. “All right,” Peter finally conceded. “Thanks, Mr. Stark. That sounds nice.”
“It will be,” Mr. Stark promised. He signed the check, and they stood up. “I’ll have FRIDAY see if he’s got an hour free.”
“Thank you,” Peter said again, quietly.
“Don’t mention it, kid.” Mr. Stark put his arm around Peter’s shoulders as they left the diner. There were a few more people waiting for tables now, but it was still early for brunch; Peter hoped they didn’t end up on the internet. The last thing he wanted to deal with today was TMZ.
Happy was waiting with the car. Peter breathed a sigh of relief as he and Mr. Stark climbed in the back. It was cool and dark inside, and he was tired.
“Hey, Pete,” Mr. Stark said, nudging him. “Put these on.” He handed Peter a pair of sunglasses.
“You’re squinting. It’ll help with the light sensitivity. Sorry, should’ve had you put them on before.”
“Oh.” Peter slid them on. That was better. “Thanks.”
Mr. Stark shrugged off his thanks, as he so often did. “It’s gonna take us a little while to get uptown. Lean on me and close your eyes for a bit.”
Peter decided he was too tired to argue. He pulled his knees up onto the seat and leaned against Mr. Stark’s shoulder. After a moment, Mr. Stark wrapped an arm around him, holding him securely against his side. Peter nestled in close and closed his eyes.
The storm the night before had broken the worst of the humidity. It was still hot as balls, but without the humidity the day ended up being a nice one to lounge in the shade by the rooftop pool.
Midway through July and it was the first time Tony had done that this summer. Truth be told, the pool reminded him too much of the handful of summers he’d had the team around—of BBQs with Bruce at the grill, of setting off 4th of July fireworks for Steve’s birthday, of the group effort involved in convincing Thor he needed to wear a swimsuit. Tony’d had the pool and the deck renovated along with everything else, but still, being up here was slightly too reminiscent of happier times.
But for Peter, Tony discovered, he was willing to get over it. Peter deserved pool deck BBQs and swimming with all of Manhattan at his feet. Dealing with his own bitterness seemed a reasonable price to pay to give him that.
BBQs and swimming might have to wait for another day, though. At the moment, Peter was curled up on the bed in one of the shaded cabanas, asleep or close to it. Tony sprawled out beside him, reading the novel Pepper had left behind when she’d gone inside for her massage. He didn’t read a lot of fiction, but it felt like the right kind of day for it.
It had been a long time since he’d last read a printed book. He kept trying to scroll down and feeling stupid when it didn’t work.
He was eyeing the pool and considering a swim when Pepper returned, wearing a thigh-length white robe over her bathing suit. She looked several degrees more relaxed than when she’d left. The stress lines on her face were less visible, and there was something easier in her posture, as though she’d let go—however temporarily—of the weight she carried on her shoulders on a daily basis.
“Maurice is ready for Peter,” she said, stretching out on Tony’s other side. She rolled her shoulders and stretched, pointing her toes with a sigh. “Is he awake?”
“Not sure. Pete? You awake?”
“Sort of,” came the mumbled response.
“You still want to give it a try?”
“Yeah.” Peter sat up, rubbed his face, and reached for his sunglasses.
“It shouldn’t hurt, so if it’s too much, just say so,” Tony told him. “And if he’s not pressing hard enough, tell him that, too.”
“Maurice is a teddy bear,” Pepper added. “And he gives a fantastic scalp massage. You’ll love it, Peter, I promise.”
Peter nodded, looking less trepidatious. He shoved his feet into his flip flops and headed inside.
Pepper put her feet in Tony’s lap. Tony covered her ankle with his hand and squeezed it gently. “Poor kid,” Pepper said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him this quiet. He must really be feeling under the weather.”
“He’s doing better than he was last night,” Tony said ruefully. “I think he’ll be back to normal by tomorrow.”
“Mmm,” Pepper said, closing her eyes, a faint smile on her face. “I don’t know if I’ve said, but I’m glad you decided to take a more hands on approach with him. You’re so good with him.”
Tony shrugged, uncomfortable. “He’s a good kid. Makes it easy. May does all the heavy lifting.”
“Hmm. Maybe.” She smirked at him. “He’s good with you, too.”
Tony sniffed and deliberately opened the novel he’d been reading, burying his nose in its pages. “I don’t know what you mean, Ms. Potts.”
“Of course not, Mr. Stark.” She yawned. “I’m going to take a nap. Don’t save the world without telling me first, all right?”
“No promises,” Tony replied, their usual exchange. Pepper rolled over gracefully and fell asleep. Tony sat with his book in his hand, looking out at the pool, blue and sparkling in the summer sun.
“Is Peter okay, FRI?” he finally asked.
“Peter’s pulse rate indicates that he’s on the verge of falling asleep, boss,” FRIDAY replied through his watch. “There is no cause for concern.”
“Thanks,” Tony said, relaxing. Maybe he should take a nap, too. He opened the book up and placed it face down over his face to block out light. That was one advantage printed books had over tablets, he reflected.
The sun was going down over the Manhattan skyline by the time Peter re-emerged. Tony and Pepper had abandoned the cabana for the pool; Pepper was lounging on one of the chaises on the sun shelf while Tony hung off its edge, kicking idly in the deep end. They were bickering about what to do for dinner. Tony wanted to grill; Pepper wanted to order in, because she had zero faith in his grilling abilities.
There may have been historical precedent for her lack of faith, but Tony wasn’t about to admit it.
Tony had just about won the argument when the door to the penthouse slid open and Peter came out. He wore swim trunks and had a leftover blueberry pancake, rolled up like a burrito, in his hand. He paused at the edge of the pool, and Tony realized the rolled-up pancake had several strips of bacon in it.
“I can’t decide if that’s disgusting or brilliant,” Tony said, eyeing it.
“Brilliant,” Peter said through a full mouth. He swallowed. “I’m starving. I feel like I haven’t eaten in three days.” He shoved another bite of his pancake-and-bacon burrito into his mouth.
“You’re in luck, then, we were just thinking about dinner,” Pepper said, smiling at him. “Tony thinks he’s going to grill.”
“I am going to grill,” Tony insisted. “It’s not hard. Steak sound okay to you, kid?”
“Yes, please,” Peter mumbled. He swallowed his last bite, wiped his hands on his swim trunks, and stepped into the ankle-deep water of the sun shelf. He plopped down on the edge, hanging his feet down into deeper water.
Tony folded his arms and rested his chin on them. “You look about a thousand times better,” he observed, looking up at Peter.
“Massages are amazing,” Peter said, flopping backwards with a splash. Pepper laughed. Peter propped himself up on his elbows and looked at Tony. “He did this thing on the bottom of my foot, and it made my headache go away. Then he started rubbing my head, and I just passed out. For three hours! I can’t remember the last time I took a three hour nap. I don’t even usually sleep three hours at a stretch at night.”
That was a little worrying, but Tony decided to let it go for now. “See, what did I tell you?” He tweaked Peter’s big toe. “Glad you’re feeling better, kid.”
“Me too,” Peter sighed. He sat up. “You need help with dinner?”
“Nah, I’m just gonna do steaks and corn on the cob.”
“And salad,” Pepper interjected.
“Ugh, fine, and salad. You’ve got time to squeeze in a swim before then.” Tony shoved himself up and onto the sun shelf, almost gracefully. Peter stood up and did a perfect backflip off the shelf into the pool.
He surfaced, grinned smugly. “Show off,” Tony accused, before going to grab a towel and head into the house.
Peter’s laughter followed him inside. Tony felt something in his chest that had been tight and tense ever since he’d called Peter the night before finally relax. Tony didn’t know when it had happened, but his world wasn’t right if Peter Parker wasn’t laughing.
He paused in taking the steaks out, leaning against the door of the fridge. He was briefly overcome by the memory of the weight of the kid against his shoulder, against his side, the way he’d looked up at him, so openly trusting. Tony didn’t think he’d ever had anyone look at him like that before, not even Pepper.
It was a scary thought, Tony admitted. There were so many ways for him to fuck this up. But it wasn’t as scary a thought as it should have been––or as scary as it had been even six months ago. For all the ways there were for him to fuck it up, he was starting to think there might be more than a few ways for him to get it right.
Starting with feeding the growing Spider-kid. Tony shook off the moment of introspection and pulled the steaks out, along with some salad dressing for a marinade. After all, he had something to prove.
Pepper might be right about him and Peter, but she was dead wrong about his grilling abilities.
I hope that was fluff enough for all of you!
The "hipster diner famous for its pancakes" in the LES that Happy and Tony take Peter to is based on the Clinton Street Baking Company. Their wait for brunch is indeed at least ninety minutes on the weekend, but fortunately there is a cat cafe right down the street, which is what I used to always do while we waited.
Next up: "5 Times Tony and Peter Had Each Other's Backs... and 1 Time They Needed Some Help." Gonna take care of six of those prompts in one fell swoop.