Peter’s phone chimes at 3:02, right as he’s sliding in through his window, two minutes past curfew. He drops to the floor softly, accidentally landing on a Lego piece from the latest Star Wars™ set, and bites back a cry of pain. Fucking Legos hurt. He stumbles over to his bed, tugging his mask off, and collapses with a grunt-that last perp hit him hard, he’s gonna hurt all over in the morning-as he pulls out his phone from the slim pocket at his thigh.
From harley <3 @ 3:02 AM
hey u up?
To harley <3 @ 3:03 AM
Peter watches anxiously as the bubble appears to indicate that his best friend is typing, and pushes himself into a seated position as soon as Harley responds.
From harley <3 @ 3:03 AM
u should sleep
i should sleep 2
im gonna do that
sorry dw ab me
No, fuck that, Peter thinks, and moves to grab his mask as he types back hurriedly.
To harley <3 @ 3:03 AM
i’m here for you
I love you.
From harley <3 @ 3:04 AM
sometimes life is just fuckin hard
And that’s what scares Peter. He yanks the mask on and slips back out the window, banging a knee in his hurry.
To harley <3 @ 3:04 AM
do you wanna call
From harley <3 @ 3:04 AM
i dont rly wna talk rn an u dont know asl
Peter mutters a curse, because he’s been trying to learn as fast as possible, as a surprise to see the look on Harley’s face, but it hasn’t been going amazing, and this is the worst thing that could’ve happened. He sends his next response as he fires a web across the street, starting to move towards the Tower. “Karen?”
“ETA for the Tower?”
“Twenty minutes and seventeen seconds.”
To harley <3 @ 3:04 AM
is tony up
or rhodey or pep
From harley <3 @ 3:05 AM
no an im not waking them up
Harley didn’t type it, but Peter knows the rest of the sentence is “because they don’t need to deal with this.” And he hates it.
To harley <3 @ 3:05 AM
want me to come over?
It’s ironic that he sends that while he swings towards the Tower. But not really.
From harley <3 @ 3:05 AM
u dont have to worry bout me
Fuck that, Peter thinks vehemently.
To harley <3 @ 3:05 AM
but i am worried
because i care about you
Peter watches as Harley’s bubbles appear, and then disappear, and then appear again, without paying attention to his surroundings. It’s only at Karen’s quick warning that he avoids slamming into a telephone pole.
From harley <3 @ 3:06 AM
The two-letter response is what Peter should have expected, and he feels gross for assuming Harley would say anything else. He can’t think about his feelings right now, because Harley is all that matters, and Harley doesn’t need this right now.
To harley <3 @ 3:06 AM
ok to which
From harley <3 @ 3:07 AM
Peter types his next question out with shaky breath, because the answer won’t stop the fact that he’s going to the Tower, but it will affect the speed of his arrival.
To harley <3 @ 3:07 AM
do you think youre gonna do something youll regret
He almost sobs when he sees Harley’s response, but he knew it was what the answer was going to be.
From harley <3 @ 3:07 AM
“Nine minutes and forty-three seconds, you’ve been moving faster than expected.”
Yeah, no shit.
To harley <3 @ 3:08 AM
im omw ill be there in 10
From harley <3 @ 3:08 AM
buy me dinner first lmao
Peter’s heart can’t help but skip a beat at the words, but he pushes his feelings aside. He’s using humor to deflect, he reminds himself. He’s just like Tony.
To harley <3 @ 3:08 AM
where are you rn
From harley <3 @ 3:08 AM
Peter’s phone almost flies out of his hands as he makes a sharp turn to avoid an oncoming building, and he regretfully slips it in his pocket.
“Karen, tell him my ETA, please.”
“Done.” Then, seconds later, “He responded with, ‘ok.’”
Peter swallows tightly, and reminds himself to breathe. The short answers are all Harley can provide right now.
“Okay, tell him-” Peter stops, because what could he possibly say that will help? You can’t help him, his brain taunts, you’re gonna lose him too. “I don’t fucking need this right now, shut the fuck up,” Peter says out loud, and then recoils at the force of his own voice.
“You want me to tell Harley-”
“No! No. I was just-talking to myself. Don’t tell him anything.” Then he’s reminded of something that Tony mentioned offhandedly one day, and it would be so fucking useful right now. “Karen, can you send him something that allows him to track my location?”
“Yes, it’s called the ‘Where’s The Baby Protocol,’ alternatively known as, ‘Nobody Puts Baby In A Corner Without Dad Knowing.’”
Peter rolls his eyes, because of course it is. “Can you do that? Send it to Harley?”
“Of course, Peter, it’s done.” And because Tony makes his AIs insanely true to life, she tacks on, “And if you’d like Mr. Stark to alter the names of any of his protocols, you can-”
“Not right now,” Peter says sharply, because that’s not his focus. All he can think about is Harley.
“Of course. Sorry, Peter.”
Peter feels his heart tug, because he loves his AI so much. “’s okay, Karen. ETA?”
“Two minutes and thirty-seven seconds.”
He swings forward in silence for the next minute, tense with worry but moving fluidly through the air, before Karen speaks again.
“Harley says ‘thank you.’”
He shoots a web towards the building across the street, and flips over it, gaining enough momentum to soar over the next street and land against the glass windows of Stark Tower. He begins to crawl upwards, counting floors as he goes, and when he gets to the 96th, he taps on the window lightly. It slides open silently at his touch, and he stumbles inside, banging a knee again but landing softly.
He slips out of his suit and binder quickly, throwing on sweatpants and a large sweatshirt, before his senses scream at him to turn around.
“Harley,” he whispers, staring at his best friend. Harley looks like shit, hair tangled and eyes glazed. “Hey. Do you wanna come in?” A shrug. “C’mere,” Peter offers, and Harley slips inside his room. Peter moves towards him. Too fast.
Harley flinches backwards, moving closer to the bed, and Peter stops immediately.
“Sorry. I’m staying over here. It’s okay,” he says, making sure Harley can see his lips to read. “Do you want to talk, or do you wanna try and sleep in here?” Another shrug, and Peter nods softly. “Want me to talk?”
“Okay,” Harley signs, and Peter breathes a sigh of relief.
“Hey, I actually know that one!” he tries, and gets a small smile in response as Harley moves towards the bed. “Do you wanna sit down, or lie down? Are you okay with touching?” Harley flinches violently at that, and Peter nods again. “Not gonna touch you. I promise. You can stay on the bed, and I’ll sit here.” He hooks his ankle around the leg of his desk chair, and drags it over. Harley curls up on his bed, his body forming a C-shape facing Peter. “Good?” Harley nods. “Good. Wanna hear about patrol tonight?” Another shrug, and Peter taps the ring finger of his left hand to his palm repetitively. “Okay.”
“Well, patrol tonight was relatively mild. I encountered another cult meeting, I don’t know how I keep finding these things, like, it’s weird, I think this is maybe the fifth? The first time was almost a year ago, and I was, like, just patrolling, and then I heard some weird-ass noises coming from this one building, and so naturally I go and take a look through the window, and there’s just a bunch of people sitting in a circle with their eyes half-open and the lights are somehow blood-red, some real mood lighting if you ask me. I was just gonna leave, but then one of them saw me, and they started chanting, and moving towards the window, and I’m not gonna lie, it sorta terrified me, but then one of them opened the window-still chanting, I should say-and somehow managed to ask for my autograph. It was weird as fuck, man.
“Second time I ran into a cult, it was because I was walking someone home from a bar because she didn’t feel safe, and we get to her apartment, and then in the lobby, there’s just a bunch of people dancing around a fire? Yeah, it was weird. I was thrown, but she just grinned at me, kissed me on the cheek-which was super sweet, by the way-and then she joined in with the dancing? They started chanting too, and I was honestly expecting the fire to change colors, or some weird shit like that, but it didn’t, so, I dunno. After that, I just left. She seemed like she could take care of herself, and I’ve walked her home a couple other times too. I still know nothing about the cult, though. Uhh, third time I wasn’t actually being Spidey, so I dunno if it counts, but I’ll tell the story anyway.
“I was looking for a job-” Harley widens his eyes slightly, and Peter sighs. “I know, I know, Tony pays me for ‘interning,’ but I feel like I should take responsibility anyway, that’s a conversation for another time. Anyway, I was looking for a job, saw an ad on Twitter-which is sketch, I know-but all this lady needed me to do was take out her garbage, so I was like, ‘yeah, easy!’ I get to this house, and she opens the door, with the creepiest grin ever, and asks if I’m there to, and I quote, ‘remove the remains.’ That freaks me out a little, but I nod, and so she shoves a bag of clothes at me? Which was weird. And then she tells me that the spirits would walk again if I didn’t burn them, so I sorta just nodded, left, donated them to a local shelter, and I did that for the rest of the week until she decided that she no longer needed assistance in ‘cleansing her soul.’ Weird.
“Fourth time I was on patrol again, MJ and Ned were running comms, and Ned picked up something on a police scanner about something that they were having difficulty handling at…I think it was at Yellowstone Park? Anyway, I was close by, so I swung over, and there was just a big fire? It was controlled, and there were people chanting around it in Latin, but they weren’t doing any harm, and the cops were just trying to get them to put out the fire, so I left. What is it with cults and fires, though? Is it supposed to channel energy? I don’t get it.”
Harley makes a small noise, and Peter watches as his eyes flutter shut. He knows Harley can’t hear him, but he keeps talking, just to fill the silence.
“Tonight, of course, was the most recent cult encounter, and it was probably the most mild out of all of them. I just ran into a few people carrying bags of what was probably blood, but it wasn’t human blood, so that was fine. I trailed them for a couple blocks, they met up with a few other people who had more blood, and then all that blood got dumped in a trashcan, which they then-betcha can guess-lit on fire. I think they were summoning something, they chanted for a bit, the fire died down pretty easily, they left, and then I made sure it was out completely. So, uh. Yeah.”
Peter’s almost 100% sure Harley’s asleep now, so he rolls his shoulders once or twice, then settles into the chair in an uncomfortable enough position to make sure he doesn’t fall asleep. If Harley wakes up with a nightmare, he’ll be there.
Peter texts May at 5:57, three minutes before her alarm will go off, so that she knows where he is, before turning his phone back off. At 6:11, Harley stirs, and his eyes blink open.
Harley grunts, eyes fluttering shut again, and Peter doesn’t know what to do. Then, “Peter? ’sat you?”
“Yeah. I’m here.”
“’m not doin’ hearin’ aids today,” Harley says softly. “’s too much.”
“Okay,” Peter signs, and Harley grins weakly.
“Mm, you do know that one.”
“Yup. How do you feel?” Peter asks, and Harley furrows his brow.
“Sorry. How do you feel?” he repeats, and Harley looks confused. Peter’s about to repeat it again, but Harley starts talking, voice quiet.
“Wha’ do you mean?” Then Peter sees something darken his eyes, and he hates it, hates watching Harley put his walls back up. “Shit. ‘m sorry. Fuck. I have to-shit.” He sits up, and Peter watches as his hands move frantically, signing things that Peter doesn’t understand and that Harley probably doesn’t want him to understand.
He taps the bed, drawing Harley’s attention back to him, and says clearly, “It’s okay.”
“I’m sorry,” Harley signs, and Peter knows that one.
“Don’t be. You didn’t do anything. I’m just happy you’re okay.”
“Okay. Fuck. I’m sorry.”
“Harley,” Peter says softly.
“Thank you,” Harley signs.
“Always. You’re my best friend.”
Harley grins, and Peter feels something bloom in his chest. “Fuck off, Snape.”
“Harley, what-” And then it clicks, and he laughs. “Idiot.”
“Want me to get Tony?” Peter asks, and he’s ready for Harley’s answer.
“No, he doesn’t need to-”
“Okay. Yeah. Please do.”
Peter’s mouth twitches in a smile, and he glances up towards the ceiling. “FRI?”
“Boss is already on his way.”
“Thanks, FRI.” Harley watches him questioningly, and Peter shrugs. “I know you don’t want me to leave.” Harley rolls his eyes.
“Don’t flatter yourself, Parker.” But Peter hears the softness of the words, and understands.
His senses yelp a second later, and he turns around to see Tony looking frantic in the doorway.
“Peter? FRI told me Harley was-” Tony stops, seeing Harley, and he immediately changes his course. “Hey, Harls,” he says softly. “You okay for a hug?” Harley bolts into his arms, and Tony lets out a grunt, but holds him back just as tight. “Guess that means yes.” He strokes Harley’s hair, but catches Peter’s eye over his son’s shoulder.
Peter freezes. That’s not a look he’s ever seen on Tony before. He stares blankly as Tony pulls back from Harley, signs something quickly, and Harley nods. Then he walks out of the room, and Peter flounders.
“Che diavolo è successo ieri sera? Pensavo fossi meglio di così, dovevi essere migliore.”
What the hell happened last night? I thought you were better, you were supposed to be better.
Peter flinches. What the hell does Tony mean by that?
Tony squeezes his fist and pulls himself together. “Fuck. Okay. Why the hell was he sleeping in your room?”
Peter stares. “What? Tony, I-”
“No. Cut the crap, kid. Please. I just wanna know why he was in here, and I wanna know why he reeks of booze, and I wanna know what happened last night.”
Peter swallows. He doesn’t understand what’s going on.“He wasn’t-” he starts, and his voice cracks. “He wasn’t okay last night, and we talked-or, well I talked, and he just happened to fall asleep in here, and I don’t know what you’re talking about-”
“That’s fucking convenient,” Tony snaps, and Peter stumbles backward. This isn’t Tony, Tony doesn’t act like this. Tony softens slightly. “I’m sorry. Just tell me what happened. Peter. Please.”
“Peter, did you take advantage of him?”
And Peter shatters.
Hands and touching and no, stop, get away, and please don’t, Skip, don’t touch me, I don’t want that, and come on, girlie, it’ll be fun, it’s an experiment, you like those, and no, get away, and shut the fuck up, and stop, and hands everywhere, and c’mon girlie, let me touch, and can’t breathe, can’t feel, stop it, leave me alone, and hands touching and grasping and feeling, and no, stop, and get off, and can’t breathe, help, stop, I don’t, I can’t, and shut up, it’s good for you, and you slut, and shit, can’t breathe-
“I have to go,” he chokes out, because that’s all he can say. There’s hands all over his body and he can’t breathe and no, please stop.
Peter opens his eyes seven hours later, and he’s wrapped in a thousand blankets on his bed. At home. He’s safe. May clears her throat, and Peter looks to her, gaze moving slowly.
“You back, hon?”
“Yeah,” Peter says, and his voice is raw.
“You. Window. Closet. Bedpost. Legos.”
May nods. “Okay. Okay, hon.”
Peter shudders, and it travels down his spine. “I hate this.”
May sighs. “I know. It’s gonna get better. But it’s something you have to deal with.”
Peter doesn’t say anything.
“That was a bad one,” May whispers, shifting in her chair. “You haven’t disassociated like that in while, hon.”
“Okay, honey. About an hour ago, I got a call from Tony-”
Peter shuts down. May’s voice continues, but it’s through a fog. Tony’s voice echoes in his mind.
“Did you take advantage of him?”
No, no, I wouldn’t, I can’t, stop, I’m not like that, I’m not him, how could you think that I was like him, I can’t be like him, I wouldn’t, but he did, and stop, I can’t, please let me go, stop-
The bed dips, and May’s voice comes back into focus. “-eter. Honey. Three things. Can you do that?”
Peter grunts, and says with difficulty, “Ch-chair. La-lamp. Swea-sweat-s-shirt.”
“Good. Can I touch you?” He nods, and she pulls him forward, into her lap, running fingers through his hair. “You’re okay, hon. You’re safe,” she whispers.
May’s hand presses into his chest. “In, 2, 3, 4. Out, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. There you go. You’re okay.”
“Am I like h-him?” he whispers, voice cracking.
“Peter,” May says, and her voice is strong, a juxtaposition with his. “You’re a hero. You are nothing like him. You are brave, and he is a coward. You save people every single day, Peter, you are so, so good, and you are nothing like him. You will never be like him. You are good, Peter. And I’m so, so proud of you.”
Peter swallows a sob. “Y-you-a-are you s-su-sure?”
“Honey, breathe. In, out, follow my breaths.”
She breathes deeply, over-exaggerated and loud, and Peter struggles to match.
They sit like that for what feels like hours, but when Peter finally chokes out, “’m good,” it’s only been seven minutes.
May tilts his chin, and he meets her eyes. Brown to brown. Parker to Parker. “Honey, I need you to talk to me.”
Peter’s eyes dart away. “I c-can’t.”
“Okay, hon. Not right now.”
And Peter hears Harley saying Fuck off, Snape. He smiles weakly. “Larb you, May.”
“Larb you too, honey.” He wriggles out of her lap, falling to the floor with a thud, and she laughs. “Good job, Peter.”
“Sure. Ouchie,” she mocks playfully, and stands up, brushing her jeans off. “Get your injured spider-butt up and come help me make dinner.”
“Okay. Can we do Mexican?” he asks as he watches her navigate the treacherous floor scattered with Legos. He reaches for a couple and fiddles with them in his hand, the edges of the plastic soothing.
“Yeah.” Almost free of the hell that is his room, May trips over a pair of sweatpants and stumbles the rest of the way to the door. “Your room is a shithole,” she says, deadpan.
“Yeah, but it’s my shithole,” he protests, and she rolls her eyes.
“Okay, Spidey, now come help me cook.” She moves to the kitchen, humming some current pop song under her breath and Peter feels his lips quirk up in a smile.
3 missed calls from mr. stark @ 11:17 PM
From mr. stark @ 12:34 PM
Peter, I’m sorry
Please answer the phone
I want to talk to you
I overreacted and I’m sorry
I know you would never do that
5 missed calls from mr. stark @ 12:52 PM
4 missed calls from mr. stark @ 8:07 PM
From mr. stark @ 9:23 PM
Three days later, as Peter’s working through calculus homework, Harley calls him. His phone vibrates on the edge of the desk, and he catches it before it buzzes to its death.
The call connects and he sees Harley, lying on his stomach in his room. “Hey,” he mutters.
“Hi,” Harley says, and his voice is slightly muffled by the pillow under his chin. Peter smiles softly. “You good?”
“I’m fine. Just stressed about school,” Peter says casually, and Harley seems to fall for it.
“It’s spring break, relax, nerd.”
“You’re a nerd too, nerd.”
Peter grins, and it feels right.
“Tony’s worried,” Harley says. Peter tenses, angles the phone so that Harley can’t tell. “And sorry. Worried and sorry. He wants to talk to you.”
“No,” Peter says automatically, “I can’t. Not-not now.” Harley nods.
“Okay. I get it.”
Peter heaves a shaky breath, steeling his resolve. “Tell him-tell him to look up Sk-” He coughs around the name, swallowing the bile that climbs up his throat. “Skip Wescott.”
“Okay,” Harley says slowly. “I will. Are you oka-”
“I gotta go, May’s calling,” Peter says, the hand that’s holding his phone shaking. He fumbles for the end call button and presses it, seeing Harley’s concerned eyes freeze on the screen before fading to his home screen. He tosses the phone away, curling into himself, and tries to steady his breathing. He feels fine.
From mr. stark @ 3:12 PM
Can we talk? Please?
Peter exhales sharply, and picks up his phone.
To mr. stark @ 12:34 PM
“Peter. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I never meant to suggest that you were capable of doing anything like that. I know you aren’t. You’re a good person, and I know you wouldn’t do that. I was concerned, and upset, and scared, and I didn’t think, and that’s no excuse, but if I had thought about what I was saying, I would’ve realized that that’s not who you are and you would never do that. And shit, I’m sorry that I triggered you, and I didn’t mean to take you back to that. You don’t have to forgive me, because I know that what I said wasn’t okay. But I need you to know that I’m sorry, Peter,” Tony finishes.
Peter breathes. In, out. “I do forgive you,” he whispers, staring at the floor. He hears Tony startle. “I know you didn’t mean it. But I think-I think I need some space. From working in the lab. And everything.” The floor blurs as tears form, and Peter swipes them away roughly. “I love you, and the lab, and the Tower. But I can’t be near you right now.”
Tony takes a shaky breath, and Peter waits for the argument. But Tony says, softly, “Okay. I understand. I love you too, Pete, and I understand.”
Thank you, Peter feels like he should say. But he doesn’t. Because he doesn’t need to.
“’m gonna go now,” he says to the floor. And he leaves, riding down the elevator in silence, and walking home slowly.
He feels okay.