somehow, as if the universe is punishing him, the pain sinks in right after he leaves.
the relationship was painful in itself, of course, in more ways than one - but the emptiness skip’s absence leaves him seizes his body and pins him to the bed until he can’t muster up the energy to breathe properly.
the trauma doesn’t come slowly.
he ricochets on the very first day, spiralling downward faster than he’d ever thought possible. the mental exhaustion is something he never allowed himself to feel when he was with skip: he hid emotional turmoil underneath flinches and tears, and this agony feels completely different to the sickening feeling he’d succumb his body to whenever skip left the room.
everything feels heavy and he finds himself dissociating under the suffocating duvet until he chokes on his own shallow breaths and forces his fingers to clasp around the bed and pull himself to reality. the air around him is too cold, too overwhelming all at once, and the tears he’d sworn had dried are hot and spilling over his lash line like a bleeding waterfall. he heaves through sobs, unable to decipher whether he’s upset about leaving, or about what he’d put himself through the past two years.
it’s the morning after he’d left, and his room is still the same at may’s house. soft, warm, and comforting, everything he’d never been able to feel when he was trapped inside skip’s apartment like a spider in a glass jar: uncomfortable, suffocating, and alone. he’s not even sure whether he’s allowed to feel so safe anymore.
the wall in front of him still holds all the poster’s he’d put up in his teen years, because skip would have never allowed him to put them up when he lived with him. he thinks of the walls in that apartment, the holes and the secrets they hold, and winces. no matter how much peter heals, no matter how his memories morph skip out of them, those four walls will still be suffocated by the endless pain that bedroom holds. the thought makes his heart grow heavy, and he leans forward into his knees to try and breathe properly.
surprisingly, the tears still come when he leans back onto the bed and curls into a ball, sobbing into his palms like it’ll heal him. despite how much he hopes, his fingers will always be too small to catch all the pain he wants to heal, and his body bears too many scars for him to ever believe fully healing is an option. skip had left a gaping hole in his heart, like a bleeding puncture wound he hadn’t been able to stop; the pain sits heavy in his chest, a rock he’ll never be strong enough to move, and not even mr. stark’s presence is enough to lighten it.
perhaps it’s the scruff around tony’s chin, or the large, vein covered hands that gently clasp the bed, or the low, gruff voice he speaks in, but peter flinches out of his body and bolts upright. if anything were to happen, he wants to be upright, able to defend himself.
(he knows full well even if he had the option he’d succumb to the exhaustive weakness his body holds, but he can try and pretend.)
tony had never been good at hiding his emotions, and his face is a masterpiece of agony and worry. it’s the mask everybody had worn since peter had turned up at the tower, battered, crying, and bleeding. he’s sure the stains he’d made when he’d fainted would be engraved into the tower’s lobby for as long as it stood.
“we need to go talk to the police, kid. they’re waiting downstairs.”
peter can’t bring his head to nod, his arms and neck heavy even as his body seizes itself into an eerily still, statue like composure. his mind’s working, but his body won’t, and the pain’s too much for him to pinch himself to consciousness.
“peter, please talk to me.”
he blinks slowly, like there’s weights tied to every one of his eyelashes. his lungs inhale a deep, stuttering breath, and he lets it out all at once.
mr. stark doesn’t speak for a while. he sits on the bed, fingers idly fidgeting, like he’s itching to just reach out and hug peter. he probably is, but he’s intelligent enough to keep his hands in his lap, and peter respects that; he needs to start deciphering the line between skip and every other person on this planet.
“peter, you say the word and i’ll have him in the most high security prison in the world. hell, you say the word and he’ll never bother you again.”
there’s a blanketed meaning in his words that has peter wincing. the unspoken promise of death lingers in the air, hot and heavy and choking, because peter knows full well that tony can make it happen soundlessly.
“i don’t know,” he confesses, still staring vacantly. “i don’t know what i want.”
“that’s okay. you don’t have to know right now.”
peter squeezes his slightly swollen eye shut, tears leaking out like a broken faucet when he shakes his head.
“is it bad if i want him dead?”
tony pauses, fingertips following the trace of a pattern on his bedsheet. hesitantly, with a bitten lip, he hovers his hand over peter’s knee and gently pats it down. his touch is soft, safe, and peter only flinches slightly: it’s like his skin recognises the comforting touch, burning it into his memory. he supposes it’s trying to mask the horrific memories it holds of skip, and he looks at tony with watery eyes. this is safe.
“no.” mr. stark says before he can speak. “no, it’s not. there aren’t words on this earth that can describe that man, but if anyone’s worthy of death...”
he stops, leaving another promise hanging in the air between them. for some heavy and albeit, reassuring, reason, the rock in his chest shifts slightly, allowing a weak smile to tug its way to his lips. he takes a deep breath in and holds it for a while, relishing in the secretive pleasure of lungs that are no longer empty for as long as he can.
“i’m scared,” he breathes, shifting forward slightly till their knees touch. “we live in the same town. he knows where i live. we-”
“you don’t need to worry about that.” tony says, firmly. his earlier words feel like a soft knife above peter’s head, terrifying and gentle all in one.
he supposes it’s true. he never wanted to see skip again. he wanted him dead; perhaps, if he couldn’t stop worrying about when the next time he’d see him would be, that at least skip’s death would put an end to that.
he wanted to kill him himself, even, to let him know how much his mere existence had come to bother him. it was some sickly form of revenge forming itself in gory visions and daydreams of fire that scared him enough to know that perhaps it was possible to kill him. if anybody noticed, which they probably wouldn’t, tony would sort it out. nobody had to know. nothing would come of it.
“i want him dead,” he confesses, eyes cast downward. “but i don’t.”
tony nods, his aura unusually calm. peter was sitting cross legged in front of him in an old t-shirt of ben’s and a pair of small shorts, milky skin littered in bruises and scrapes, and the older man didn’t seem to bat an eyelid.
unconsciously, peter brings a hand to his head, fingertips grazing the foreign fabric coating above his eyebrows. he’d threatened to leave a week earlier, and skip had smashed his head into a wall so hard he’d blacked out and woken up in the bathtub surrounded by his own blood. he’d have needed to go to the hospital, had he never been bitten by that spider; there were many other incidents he’d endured that, without the spider bite, would have surely killed him. the thought makes him shudder.
“i can’t see him again. i can’t even think about him.” peter says, eyes downcast.
“i can have him shipped out to whichever country i want, or i can have him rotting in a cell for the rest of his life. your call, underoos.”
peter stops, thoughts faltering. he knows tony won’t ever judge him, but it doesn’t stop the guilt clogging up in his throat; everybody expects him to be spider-man in this situation, to put his foot down, demand a safe, and fair trial and accept whichever consequence the court seems necessary. they expect him to be a good guy, to fight for equal rights and not wish death upon a living, breathing being. they expect him to be spider-man, constantly - it’s exhausting.
in truth, he’s not sure where spider-man stops and peter parker starts. because, yeah, he believes everyone should have a right to be treated equally, but skip had hurt him so terribly, buried nightmares so deep into his skin that peter was worried he’d never have the strength to scrub them out. maybe some people were just worthy of death, because it seems to be the only escape he’ll ever have from the metaphorical clutches of skip’s suffocating .
“i think...” he trails off, fiddling with his fingers.
what does he want? did he want him dead? did he want him in prison? did he want him underground, in a rotten jail he’d never leave to see daylight again?
did peter want to die himself?
he doesn’t know, and the crushing pressure weighs heavily on his chest, pressing and squeezing until he chokes out a breath. his lungs feel empty again, wheezing and serenading a phantom audience with its pathetic harmonies, an abandoned concert hall he’ll never have the energy to fill. peter presses down onto one of the cigarette burn marks on his wrist, and he blinks heavily.
“i want to die.”
tony breathes in sharply, sucking through his teeth as he looks up at peter with a jolt. his fingers are no longer tracing peter’s knee, having since frozen in place - he looks ghastly and pale, face washed with a faded watercolour. he looks ill, and peter’s not sure how he never noticed it before.
“what?” he manages to say, eyes flicking nervously back and forth on peter’s face. “peter, you don’t - you don’t mean that.”
“no,” peter shrugs, pressing into his skin like it’ll bring him back to life and extinguish the paralysing numbness he seems to constantly have. “i don’t. i don’t know what else to do, though.”
“peter, you don’t deserve to die. this isn’t your fault.” tony leans forward and gently removes peter’s fingers from where they’re pressing on the burn. he holds his hand loosely, with a sense of finality, and peter relaxes slightly.
“i know,” he nods, picking at the skin around his nails. “i know it’s not my fault. maybe it is. i don’t know. is it supposed to be this hard?”
“well, i put fifty dollars on you staying under your covers for another couple days, so you’re doing better than i expected.”
peter laughs half-heartedly, a watery smile gracing over his face. he still feels heavy, yet weightless, and he worries he’ll never fill that void. what was happiness when everything he’d loved had hurt him? what was left when he’d been through so much?
but when tony pulls out a small bag, he starts to feel a little better. only a little, but it’s there. that tiny speck of hope.
he hands him the bag, blank and devoid of colour besides a small note attached the handle. peter looks up at him again, slightly wary, and pulls the tag off gently.
this belongs to you. - t.s
he reaches into the bag, fingertips grazing a material his skin will never forget, and tears fill in his eyes; it’s been eight months since he’d been allowed back to may’s apartment, back to where his suit had lay dormant in his wardrobe gathering dust and mites.
“i don’t know whether it’s too early,” tony confesses, looking uneasy. “but i thought you could use it. something to ground you.”
for the first time in over a year, peter doesn’t feel so completely and utterly detached from himself, and from the world around him. the rock in his chest shifts, and shifts again, opening up a stream of thick, hot tears that spill down his face before he can blink. he can’t feel the scratching underneath his skin anymore, forgets the way his skin aches and breaks with scars and bruises. for the first time in so long, he feels like peter again, and it’s overwhelming.
he barely even needs to think about it. he throws his arms around tony’s neck, sobbing into his shoulder as his mentor holds him back just as tight, close and comforting, like he’s not afraid to touch him anymore - like he’d never let go if peter asked him.
“kid,” he breathes, and his voice sounds thick. “oh, i missed you. i missed you.”
peter nods, crying loudly as he pulls weakly at the shirt tony’s wearing. it’s a soft, beige, cotton shirt that he’d worn the first time peter had cried to him, and ever since then, it had been one of his main associates of comfort. just the knowledge that tony even thought to wear it forces thicker sobs out of his body, wracking and heavy, and completely dripping in raw emotion. it’s the first time he’s let himself properly grieve, and everything moulds together like a tight ball of sadness that’s exploded right in the middle of his chest.
“you didn’t deserve this.”
“i know.” peter mumbles through tears, nodding softly against tony’s neck. his mentor’s lips brush over his curls, pressing gentle kisses against his scalp. “it’s not my fault.”
tony nods, and sighs from above him.
“the police need to talk to you,” he says, hands rubbing over peter’s back when he flinches. “i’ll be with you the whole time.”
peter takes a deep breath and leans back, settling back onto the bed. he’s still clutching the suit, fingertips tight around the fabric like it’s a lifeline. he pulls it up to his face, burying it in it like it’ll blanket the reality that he has to face downstairs.
“i got you something else, too.”
tony pulls out a small, neatly folded shirt, brown with a small logo on the right of the chest. if peter had stopped crying, he’s certainly started again.
“mr. stark,” he says, breathless and choked up. “i don’t-”
“i know you wear ben’s when you’re upset. but that time you came over and you got a bad grade, i gave you this and-”
peter smiles, holding his suit in one hand and tony’s shirt in the other. it smells like him, a warm, crisp scent his brain immediately associates with safety. he knows exactly where he’d worn this, when, and how much he ached to wear it when he was at skip’s.
“i know. thank you.”
he doesn’t need to say much more, because he shows his gratitude in the way he pulls it over ben’s shirt, torso holding memories of two of the most important people in his life. he’d lost ben’s scent a long time ago, but if he concentrates, he can smell his uncle’s favourite spices mixing with tony’s crisp cologne. he looks up at the older man, and then at the framed picture he has of ben on his bedside table.
“are you ready? we’ll go at your speed.”
peter sucks in a breath. talking to the police means finalising everything he’s been through over the past two years. the insults, the bruises, the broken bones, the consent he never gave. everything will be out there, in a pack in a file of a police station, all of his worst nightmares written down in ink that’ll never fade. it means letting go of the illusion that skip still means something to him, that he ever meant something to skip. it’s torturous, and he feels sick at the thought.
his fingertips graze the suit on his lap, one hand fumbling with the hem of the two shirts. he’s chewing on the neck of tony’s shirt, an anxious tick he’d had ever since ben had died. mr. stark doesn’t mind, because he takes peter’s hand and holds in on top of the suit. he leaves a sense of safety in his grip, tight and gentle, reassuring him that no matter what, this will always be safe.
“yeah,” peter says and lets the shirt fall from his mouth. “i’m ready.”